The Darkness.

When I was a kid, I remembering it getting pretty dark at night. Dark enough for my sleepover friends and I to sneak out of the house and walk around in the middle of the night – as long as one avoided the streetlights. Someone that I dated used to complain about that darkness; he lived in an urban area where darkness and shadows were hiding places for muggers and such, and he never did get used to a black sky. The night sky by his home was a sort of glowing red color. You could see your shadow at night.

In my old town today there is “light pollution” – that same, pervasive sort of red glow that fills the sky. Its source is the multitude of strip malls, highway shopping centers, big-box retail parking lots, and ever-present landscape lighting (why does one need to shine lights up into trees, anyway?), etc. At the old house I could stand on my back deck and see stars, but really just the very big ones.

Now that we’ve moved further west and away from the city, it is a nice feeling to have darkness at night. While we do have a street light in the front yard to light the driveway, the minute you walk away from it’s light print you are again cloaked in the darkness. Because it is so much darker here in the country, one is afforded the opportunity to see thousands of stars twinkle in the night sky.

Whenever I look up at the winter sky, I try to find Orion. I’m not really well-versed in stargazeology, but I can find the belt of Orion and then work my way out from there to locate the Big Dipper. I know enough of mythology to know that Scorpio, Orion’s nemesis, was sent to the summer sky by the gods because he and Orion didn’t get along.

While looking at Orion, my eye catches the slow creep of a satellite working its way across the sky, low to the horizon, moving from south to north. We don’t see many jet planes at the farm because we most thankfully have moved away from the landing path of Newark Liberty Airport. (At the old house, a new jet would cross the horizon and work its way across the sky every 45 seconds. Clockwork.)

The other night I was standing quite still on the front porch, watching a couple of rabbits move across the yard, and listening to the tiny crunching sounds their paws made as they tentatively hopped through the snow. I glanced up to see a meteor streak across the sky, just over the barn. I was glad to be in that moment.

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Winter Views (Nearly Wordless Wednesday).

This gallery contains 3 photos.

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Chicks.

chicks_buff_orpington1

I now belong to a chicken coalition.

Three of us flocked together, put all out seed money into one cup, and placed a big order for day-old chicks.

We purchased Buff Orpingtons, a great dual-purpose, heavy breed that does well in cold and is relatively calm. Or so I’m told by my friend who has chickens. This is a first for me. I am diving head-first into the world of poultry. Despite Mat’s assertions of, “Chickens are easy. Taking care of them is a no brainer,” I am a little edgy about being responsible for the entire bunch all at once.

It’s easy to say something is easy when you know what you’re talking about (and I don’t). The 75 chicks are going to be staying at Silver Spring Farm throughout their chick-dom, as I have the biggest coop. It’s going to be interesting. I’m thinking of starting a “how many chicks will make it long enough to grow feathers” pool.

The countdown to chick day is on! I say… BRING IT! RAH!

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Quotable Sunday. Where Health Care Should Begin.

“Our primary health care should begin on the farm and in our hearts, and not in some laboratory of the biotech and pharmaceutical companies.”
― Gary Hopkins

organic-farmer-vs-gmo-farmer

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The Wood Stove. (Pioneer Woman)

This Lopi Liberty stove keeps our 2,094 SF toasty warm

This Lopi Liberty stove keeps our 2,094 SF toasty warm


In the 6th through 9th grades, I belonged to a scouting organization called Pioneer Girls. I still remember the theme song:

Pioneers who crossed the prairies
In the days of wagon trains
Pressing on with strength of purpose
Scaled the mountains, crossed the plains.

I used to think it funny that we were a flock of suburban girls in a club about pioneers, but didn’t realize at the time that I was really a pioneer woman in training. Pompton Plains, NJ, where I grew up, was at the edge of the ex-burbs back in the 1960’s and 70’s, and our suburban-sprawl-tract-home was situated right at the dividing line between civilization and country. We had curbs and streetlights and sewers on our street, but behind us were corn fields, horse farms and forests.

That rural-ish world was my playground. I would hike, bike, hide, and later kiss boys out there in the no-man’s-land of my town’s wilderness. We would have picnic lunches and campfires. I would dig up clay by a certain stream’s edge and try to make little pots with it. I had a copy of The Herbalist (yes, as a kid) and Storey’s Field Guide to Wild Plants in the basket of my blue Schwinn, and I would scour the woods and fields looking for, and learning to identify, medicinal and native perennials.

I was pocketing all this knowledge away so that I could become what I am today.

I never had any contact with wood stoves, however.

Fast forward to today. I had a big woodstove installed in the farm house. It heats the entire place – both floors – toasty warm, thanks to its large size and optional electric blower (worth every penny of the $250 extra it cost). The most appealing aspect of all this is that I can gather wood for free and turn it into heat. Of course, this year, being our first winter in the house, I purchased cord wood already seasoned and split. I am accumulating wood for next year’s use. Free. FREE!

I also quite like the ownership of the heat. When we were cold in the old house, we would flip a switch and the gas boiler would do all the work. PSE&G was responsible for my heat. Now it is my job. I make the heat happen. I own it. I am more self-sufficient today than I was before.

I’m finding that the seemingly useless information I tucked into my brain as a child is now quite beneficial. I can identify trees by their bark, their shape, their dormant leaf buds, and sometimes by the mosses and lichen and fungi that grow on their bark and roots. This is coming in very handy for identifying and choosing hardwoods for the stove.

The one thing I didn’t learn as a child was how to keep a wood stove lit. I learned the hard way one morning when we were most inconveniently out of fire starters and the mercury was hovering at -2F. Lighting a wood stove really is a pioneer skill – I remembered the Pioneer Girls song “pressing on with strength of purpose,” and got out the shovel, raked up the glowing embers hiding in the ashes, put in some kindling and puffed, puffed, puffed with the bellows until… TAA DAA!~~~~~ Fire.

I now start the stove that way every morning. Yes, it would be easier to stick in a kerosene-soaked fire starter and balled up newspaper and just light a match, but where is the challenge in that? It is much more fun to get on my Laura Ingalls Wilder persona and light it the pioneer way.

When the stove is fired up, finding the Hoover and Chloe is a cinch.

When the stove is fired up, finding the Hoover and Chloe is a cinch.

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Friday Poetry 2.

Bee flower 1Excerpt from “Bee-Master,” by Victoria Sackville-West

Forget not bees in winter, though they sleep.
For winter’s big with summer in her womb,
And when you plant your rose-trees, plant them deep,
Having regard to bushes all aflame,
And see the dusky promise of their bloom
In small red shoots, and let each redolent name-
Tuscany, Crested Cabbage, Cottage Maid-
Load with full June November’s dank repose,
See the kind cattle drowsing in the shade,
And hear the bee about his amorous trade
Brown in the gipsy crimson of the rose.

In February, if the days be clear,
The waking bee, still drowsy on the wing,
Will sense the opening of another year
And blunder out to seek another spring.
Crashing through winter sunlight’s pallid gold
His clumsiness sets catkins on the willow
Ashake like lambs’ tails in the early fold,
Dusting with pollen all his brown and yellow,
But when the rimy afternoon turns cold
And undern squalls buffet the chilly fellow,
He’ll seek the hive’s warm waxen welcoming
And set about the chambers’ classic mould.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To The Farm.

Hello again, all. I know… I know… It has been far too long since I’ve posted here, and yes, I acknowledge that it’s all my fault. Some things had to give, and sadly this was one of them.

But I’m back. Yay/Boo

The ride to this point in time has been very interesting. I’ll try to sum it up in brief, which is difficult for me.

Never in a million years did it occur to me that my old house would sell after 12 days on the market (including a holiday weekend). I was convinced that it would take months to generate any interest in a two bedroom house with one 6×9 bathroom. I was wrong. A lovely young couple put in an offer on the place – and wanted to close in 60 days, when I had expected 90.

The packing nightmare began. 18 years of hoarding, packed and moved one pickup truck at a time.

Then a new septic system. And a radon system. And a water treatment system.

Then – oh oh, the farmhouse wasn’t ready! I had been stalling the build-out because of finances not being in place. When they suddenly were, we activated the panic button. Mat did an amazing job getting work done for us. Just amazing. We did have to find some place to stay for a while…

Enter the campground. We moved into campground local to the farm house. It was seven weeks of fun (she speaks with tongue in cheek), living in a 12×40 space with two dogs and a cat, several most determined giant millipedes and all the inventory for Lee’s Bees. The campground was lovely, the owners were lovely, but it was Purgatory and we wanted to ascend to heaven.

After the campground we spent weeks moving in and unpacking, picking up construction debris outside and working, working, working. Then I dealt with a horribly successful Christmas season with the Lee’s Bees business, which doubled in size from the year before. In between the campground and Christmas, my son graduated from Parris Island boot camp, went to Marine infantry training, graduated from that, came home on leave and is now permanently posted far away.

Blistering cold, frozen pipes, 3 cords of firewood and…….. and……….

And now we are at here. Today. That wasn’t terrible, was it? I do promise to revisit with pictures all the fun construction-y bits that you’ve missed. Next post: The Wood Stove.

(and coming soon: THE CHICKS!)

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One Word.

SHEETROCK.

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Cleaning Out the Hayloft.

Hayloft LeeI can do a lot of stuff on my own. A lot. I didn’t get to where I am today by depending upon others for help. All through school, I would beg and cajole my teachers until they would let me work alone and skip all those “group projects” where I would end up doing all the work anyway while everybody else goofed off and then would be happy to share my A grade at the end. I know independence can be considered an admirable quality, but it becomes a detriment when you genuinely need help to complete a project.

I’m learning, and Silver Spring Farm is my teacher. The first time I had friends help me with work was the construction of the bee yard last year and it turned out great. This year I have tried more collaboration and it is starting to grow on me — I no longer feel like an annoying imposition on other people’s lives. My cousin, Maureen, helped me clean the house attic with such gusto that I looked forward to her company on projects! It doesn’t help that she is a totally awesome, also independent, woman. (This is a trait that runs in the family for good or bad.)

She really likes digging through garbage for treasures. So much so, that she begged to be included when it came time to clean the various haylofts in the barns. As did my friends, Lisa and Harry, who look for any excuse possible to hang out with us at the farm. Lisa is a great pitcher-inner, a Girl Scout leader class-mom-type and probably the tidiest person I have ever met. Something I’m surely not.

We cleaned out the main hayloft of the old, post-and-beam barn. Best guess puts its construction at the same time as the big house next door: 1795-1805. I regard the barn as being much “newer” than the house (1730), but to put this into perspective, 1805 would be 8 years before Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice. 1805 is 7 years before the War of 1812. In 1805, Thomas Jefferson was sworn in to his second term as President, Lewis and Clark began their expedition to discover the wilds of the American mid-west, while Napoleon Bonaparte was tearing up Europe. And the Congletons had built themselves a barn.

We threw down the garbage and Bill and Harry loaded it into the pickup. When the bed got full they would drive it all over to the dumpster.

We threw down the garbage and Bill and Harry loaded it into the pickup. When the bed got full they would drive it all over to the dumpster.

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My cool cousin, Maureen, likes to dig for treasures.

My cool cousin, Maureen, likes to dig for treasures.

My friend, Lisa.  She's Mrs. Clean - a good friend to have if you're me!

My friend, Lisa. She’s Mrs. Clean – a good friend to have if you’re me!


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Windows On My World.

Someone literary once said, “The eyes are the windows of the soul.” Maybe, it was Shakespeare. Maybe, it was someone else — but no matter. The words are true. When speaking of houses in the same terms, it stands to reason that a house’s windows are the windows of it’s soul. Well… Of course!

A window says so many things — conveys so many messages. Because our house is so old, we can only imagine all the events that have been watched from those windows. Halley’s Comet, three times. Union soldiers, marching off to war. Redcoats, marching in for war. Lenne Lenape indians. Wildcats, boars, countless cattle and maids in white dresses. Porsches, Model A’s and wagons. Travois.

What kind of windows do you put in a house that has seen so much, yet keep in the heat and keep out that howling winter wind that whips down the valley? I chose Silverline, very pretty white vinyl windows with dimensional grilles and gas-filled panes. They look just like lovely colonial windows, only are absolutely air tight, and tip in for cleaning. Windows made by Anderson, that do all the exceptional things wooden Anderson windows do, only without needing paint.

I deliberated over this for quite a while. I’m in my early 50’s, still strong and limber enough to climb ladders and wield paint brushes, and wash buckets. How will I paint those windows in 10 years? In 20? And that is the reason I heeded the vinyl siren’s call. After feeling bad about another “unauthentic” choice for the house remodel, I thought a little about the Second Amendment.

The first Americans expressed their right to keep and bear arms by owning flintlocks and Kentucky long rifles, because that was the technology of the day. What guy from 1780, if teleported to today, wouldn’t say, “Oh, hell yeah!!!” if given the opportunity to take a nice Remington .270 rifle, or an AR-15 back in time upon his return? So I drank the vinyl window Kool-Aid.

And the ones installed so far… look great. Absolutely great.

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