The Gleaners

Day 127 of 365

It has been a long day, but I did some writing on a topic that is so important to me–gleaning. I have been reading about it for years, but my interest in it goes back to my childhood when my great grandparents had a print of a painting hanging in their home. I was mesmerized by it.

Only later in life would I learn the painting was this one, called “The Gleaners” by Jean Francois Millet, a French Impressionist. I am writing about this painting and the importance of gleaning in my adopted home state of Maine for an upcoming issue of Modern Farmer. It’s a dream for me to write this piece for such a prestigious publication. I have worked hard, but I have so much anxiety about it.

My essay is due in the morning. It is finished minus my need for a better transition to the conclusion. I will have to sleep on it.

Isn’t this painting magnificent?

The Piano Tuner

Day 126 of 365

Today was one of the strangest days I think I may have ever had. I am not able to write much about it, as there is much processing to do. But on the very sad side of things, I have bad news about my kitty, Sophie. She has taken a serious turn for the very worse. She is old and has been struggling with her health for some time. Nearly three years ago, the vet said she might have a year left. Sophie showed him, but I am sad that she is not immortal. I am heartbroken, actually, that she is not immortal. I had to call today and make an appointment for Friday for her. I may not be able to write much in the coming days.

photo credit: Geert Pieters, Unsplash

On the better side today, the piano tuner came today to tune the piano. I adore this guy. He farms and tunes pianos and has lived all over and has great stories. We talked far too long today about tomatoes and apple trees (he used to work at an apple orchard in Washington state) and the love letters he wrote to his wife when they were apart for a year. I also learned about some of the interesting places he has tuned pianos. He said he tuned a piano in Massachusetts one time, and the owner of the home told him she told every single person who came to visit the history of the house. It was the house where Henry David Thoreau died. He said the lady said Thoreau was there, with his sister, and I do know his sister was with him when he died. How fascinating is that?

I wish we could invite this guy for tea and stories. I really wish Sophie was immortal.

Oh, Ruby

Day 125 of 365

Yesterday, Ron let me sleep late after a tough week of mom worry. I was worn, so he got up and did the morning chores by himself. When I got up later, he told me Ruby had moved herself from the garage to the coop. I was skeptical, but he said he was sure he saw Ruby in the coop and couldn’t find her in the garage. I was still skeptical.

Sure enough, I found her hiding in a dog crate in the garage, still broody. I can’t believe she has gone broody yet again. This is the third time this summer. The first time, she raised babies. Then, a few weeks after her babies were let go, she went broody again. Thankfully, on her own, she just snapped out of it. I was so glad. That hen lays beautiful eggs. But she has laid eggs for just a few weeks this whole summer. She went broody again last week, and she’s been screaming and squawking at everyone in the garage ever since.

Ron is worn from her behavior. Broodiness does make a hen particularly difficult. They will try to fight you all the time about all the things, including you just walking by. Today, Ron told me we should close the doors on the dog crates, so Ruby can’t hide in there and be broody.

“But Juliet needs to lay her egg in the crate,” I explained.

“Well, can’t Juliet just find someplace else?” he asked grumpily.

“Oh, she’ll lay someplace else, and we’ll never find them.”

He wasn’t happy with this response, but I went outside and opened the dog crate door when Juliet started squawking to let me know she was ready–in her crate. Ron and I made the plan to close Juliet in the crate while she was laying, lock Ruby out, and when Juliet was done, grab the egg, let her out, but close the crate to keep Ruby from getting in there. We do need to break her from being broody.

This plan worked, except Ruby attacked Ron when he went to get Juliet’s egg. Good times!

Juliet lays a perfect khaki egg. When Ron saw it, he said, “Yeah, I can see why you don’t want to lose this egg.” I was satisfied that he understood the importance of the egg.

But poor Ruby. She’s so difficult. She sat for hours on top of the crate, which is covered in seed starter containers. It could not have been comfortable. Later, when my son and I got home from cello lessons, we found her perched on top of one of Ron’s homemade sawhorses, near a quilt we use when we take our bikes out in the pickup; she was just pretending like she was in a nest. I swear, I could tell she was pretending, trying to make the best of it.

I felt so badly for her, but truly, she already raised babies this year. We can’t have any more babies. She has to wait until next year. So I started singing to her.

Ruby is named after my grandmother who I don’t really remember, but apparently, she adored me before she died when I was about three years old. Her name is magnificent to me, and when Ruby, our chicken, was a baby, she was so beautiful and red, I figured Ruby was the perfect name. Truly, however, my favorite part of having a chicken named Ruby is singing to her “Ooh, Ruuuuby,” just like in the song. Of course, that song is actually quite terrible in its content–about violence and war and anger and betrayal–but that chorus is catchy, isn’t it? I love to sing it to Ruby. Most of the time, she talks back when I sing to her.

Ruby is VERY talkative. One time, she was getting ready to go to sleep in the garage when my son was outside beatboxing, in as much as a white kid from Maine can beatbox, when he said he was going to have a beatbox contest with Ruby. So he went over to her and did some beatboxing for her. I am not kidding you. She looked at him long and hard and then just let out all kinds of chicken noises like I have not heard. She was loud too!

My son said, “Ok, Ruby, you win.”

Today, when I got in her face and started to sing her song, she let me have it. She just squawked at me so loudly. It wasn’t that far off from her beatbox competition submission. She hurt my ears for sure. Maybe my singing hurts her ears. I wouldn’t doubt it. I love music but am a terrible singer.

Honestly, I am not sure how we are ever going to get her back into the coop, but soon, it will be winter, and then we have to figure something out.

Oh, Ruby!

It’s all on the line.

Day 124 of 365

I did not work with the elderberries today. They sit in the fridge, and I feel panic that they may go bad if I don’t get to them soon. I feel like harvest is this constant race against waste–waste of food, waste of water, waste of my husband’s hard labor–and I loathe waste anyway. So I feel some anxiety that I didn’t get to the elderberries today.

The birds have eaten everything I didn’t pick. The birds got about 75 percent of the harvest, as I just needed enough to make a batch of jelly or syrup, but I will feel extra terrible if I took berries from those birds (I have discovered the Robins are the main elderberry eaters, which surprised me) and waste them. Ugh. Just writing about the possibility of wasting makes me feel a little sick. I should probably write at some point about waste, although I worry it would just come out as a long rant.

I left the elderberries at the expense of my anxiety because I just had to work on some Farmer-ish work today. We are running a booth and I am presenting several times at the Common Ground Fair in Unity, Maine in a little less than two weeks. Literally, everything is on the line for us as a journal. If our books do not sell at this fair, a fair full of nothing but our target audience, the journal as we know it will fold. But I am not even going to allow such a thought. I think this is going to be our chance to really launch. I think this is a time to shine.

But there is much preparation. We have never run a booth before. I am trying to imagine every possible thing we need. We will have books, both volumes of the annuals, t-shirts, and I have to figure out some kind of giveaway to get people follow our site. We’ve had cards made; a banner has been ordered, as has a sturdy tent for our spot at the fair; t-shirts are being printed and set to arrive the day before the fair; Ron’s office is full of boxes of print annuals. I have to figure out how to make a garland out of scrap fabric, buy some flowers, make some posters, figure out money, and then hope and pray.

Okay, I am actually going to get back to work. I have to set up more items in the Etsy shop and figure out some labels for our candles. They sell pretty well, but I am convinced they would do better with some cool labels. I have the idea to put some quotes from Farmer-ish poetry or public domain poetry (I’m thinking Thoreau) on the labels. And I have to cut up the fabric for the garland.

I really need a marketing team. Maybe a personal assistant. Ron does pretty well though on the assistant part. He’s terrible at marketing though. In fact, I’m afraid to leave him running the booth while I have to go present at the fair. He’s a fantastic human. He’s not the greatest with people.

I am hopeful though. There is a lot on the line for us, but the new annual is so beautiful I almost can’t believe I made it. That has to be a good sign, right?

Elderberries

Day 123 od 365

It’s been another long day of putting up food. I love harvest, but it can be a tough time when I working on my classes and also putting up so much food. I am thankful for all of it, but the days are long.

Today, it was more sauce. We have made so much sauce this year that I am almost out of jars. Thankfully, I had a friend give me some extra jars this year, or I would not have had enough for today’s batch. So far this week, we have put up two or three batches of sauce (it all runs together), corn, carrots, and I baked quite a bit of zucchini bread and muffins to freeze.

Tomorrow, I must tackle the elderberries. For the first time in two years, the birds left some elderberries for me. I have always made syrup in the past, but I would like to try to make some jelly this year. That will be my mission tomorrow, but I am a bit nervous. I have never made elderberry jelly before, but I am determined, as I am convinced it will be so beautiful. I mean, just look at these berries. The jelly has to be pretty, right?

Cat Sitter

Day 122 of 365

All week, I have been cat sitting my daughter’s cat. Her cat, Marley, is magnificent. Marley used to be our whole family’s cat, but Marley and Sophie didn’t get along, so when my daughter moved into her own apartment, she took Marley with her. My daughter adores Marley too, so it was a win-win. But my daughter is in between apartments this week at a time when there is a housing and rental shortage is so many parts of our state. Maine is experiencing an influx of new people.

So I am hanging out with Marley all week, but our last day together is tomorrow. It has been a treat. She’s just this fantastic cat, and I am thankful for the time with her. It will be good to get back to giving Sophie my full attention since she is so near her end, but Marley has been wonderful to get to know again. She’s very sweet and loving, and she has just one eye. We don’t know how it happened. We adopted her from the Humane Society when she was about 2 years old, and she already had just one eye then. In fact, her mystery was a part of her appeal.

Ron said cats with one eye can see into the spirit world, so you know we had to adopt her. I still wonder if, somehow, she can. She has been looking deeply into me this week, and it feels like a powerful stare.

It started the first night she was here. I was sitting next to her, and she raised up and leaned into my face and just stared. I think she was remembering me more deeply than she remembers me when I see her at my daughter’s house. She just stared and stared at me–with her beautiful eye–and I, of course, I wondered about her other eye.

She has done this several times since that first night, but she has not stared so long and so deeply as she did that first night. I wonder what all she thinks about me.

I love to study our animals (dogs, cats, chickens, and ducks–and we used to have a few fish). I try to study them from my personal observations, and then I will research and read everything I can on what is known in the scientific community about their behaviors and intelligences. I probably should have studied Biology in school. I was just raised that girls didn’t “do science,” though I remember setting the curve on every single Biology exam in college, and there were at least 150 people in those classes. I only mention this to say, though I love to teach writing, I wish I could go back to school and get some degrees in Science. I think I might have been good at it, and I have deep worries about higher education right now. Of course, going back to school very expensive, and I still owe from my first degrees, so…I’ll keep studying our animals and researching the science journals and magazines myself.

I’ll also try to enjoy Marley tonight before she goes home tomorrow. What an honor it has been!

Morning Chores, September 7

Day 120 of 365

This morning, I took pictures while Ron and I were out doing our morning chores. I enjoy morning chores most of the time, but I still get busy and forget to admire the beauty around here. These pictures remind me of how lovely it is and how fortunate I am. I hope you enjoy these pictures too.

This us butternut squash from the squash garden. Ron built a prettier fence for the squash garden this summer, and it sure made for the most beautiful picture this morning.
This is the back side of our chicken coop. It needs to be repainted. I have been saying this for two years.
Our sweet ducks!
I just loved this spider web.
Every morning, Ron has to feed all of the baby chickens because I can’t do it. The big chickens run all over me and just go eat the baby food. They mind Ron though. He just has a presence, I guess.
Or the chickens know me far too well.
This is a Gardener’s Sweetheart tomato plant. These tiny tomatoes are the best things ever on homemade pizza.
The one and only Lucy! She’s 8 years old and still going strong. I have a hypothesis about this: She was broody every summer for years. She raised three rounds of babies but was broody two more years after that off and on. I think all her breaks from laying have extended her life. For years, I read farmers say this was a myth, but I am starting to see some research and more farmers (interestingly, mostly female farmers) assert this. If this is indeed the case, my Marshmallow should live forever. She’s broody again! I’ll bet that hen lays about ten eggs per year.
This is our youngest little rooster from this year’s season of babies. There’s something about him I really like. He’s beautiful and a stinker, but there’s something about him.
One of my muppets! Isn’t she adorable?
And, last but not least, the beautiful Piatigorsky. She’s still so sweet I almost can’t believe it.

Love

Day 119 of 365

I have been working all day with a soft start to homeschool and putting up corn and making sauce and baking zucchini bread and grading papers. But I wanted to give a quick update on my kitty. She is doing a little better. At her vet visit today, she had gained a tiny bit of weight–1.4 ounces to be exact. I was a little hopeful, but the vet reminded me that we are still at the end with her.

I don’t feel ready. I love her so. And, of course, just being at the vet is so hard because it reminds me of my Gus. It hasn’t even been a year since he passed suddenly. Thinking about how much I love Sophie and loved Gus reminded me of how wonderful and terrible love is. You just gotta love big, but that means you will, eventually, hurt big. Yeah, wonderful and terrible.

One time, I had a friend and colleague ask me how I could just love so big. This confused me. I just thought love was big, but after I thought about it, I could see what he meant. I do love big. Because of this, I know big pain is coming for me very soon with Sophie.

Chances are, if you are reading my blog, you love big too and know the big pain of loss too. It’s so hard, right? But what else is there to do?

Carrots (Part 1)

Day 118 of 365

First of all, if you are still with me, thank you. I am starting to wonder if this whole 365-day idea was a maybe a bad idea. Today, I am writing about carrots. I try to write a good essay every now and then, but today, it’s just carrots–carrots and worry.

This is “Carrots (Part 1)” because today we processed just what was left of our Oxheart carrots. These are sturdy, short, thick carrots from France, and I adore them. They have been feeding us and our farm shares for about two months, but it was time, well maybe past time, to pull them today. We chop them up into little sticks and eat them all winter in stir fry and lo main dishes. Our other carrots, some Yellowstone and Scarlet Nantes, will be cut into coins for stews and soups. We will eat no other carrots all year other than the carrots we grow. This is true for almost every single vegetable we eat. Maybe every single one. I can’t think of any vegetables that we buy at the store. We eat what we grow and just try to stick to it. This is how we make our dollars stretch far beyond what I might have ever imagined–and eat really good food at the same time. I should try to write more about how we do this later this week, perhaps, I am proud of us for this.

Oh, wait, I just thought of one vegetable we buy–peas for the ducks. I think that’s it though.

Today is also a day of worry. Tomorrow, I have to take my older kitty, my first cat, to the vet. She has been struggling for years with a variety of health problems. The vet told me last time “we are close.” If she has responded well to the medicine, she might have some more months. If she has not, well, then, I can’t write the words. Her name is Sophie. She is the most beautiful cat I have ever seen, and I adore her. I am hoping for a few more months, but the dread for tomorrow feels so heavy in my chest. It almost feels hard to breathe. Isn’t that strange?

So please send good vibes for Sophie. Oh, and I have a Ruby update. She has been living in the garage all summer, doing pretty well, avoiding the reality that fall is upon us, and come winter, she will have to back to the coop. Tonight, I couldn’t find her anywhere. Guess where she was! She was back in her crate and broody. I crawled into the crate and scooped her up and drug her out. She screamed and screamed at me.

“No more babies, Ruby,” I told her. I then closed the door on her crate, so she couldn’t go back inside. She sat in the garage and yelled and yelled at me. I, of course, could not let her have her way on this matter. That chicken!