Monday, December 31, 2012


Bucklet was born last March. His mother died shortly after his birth, so Bucklet became a bottle kid. We bonded with him immediately. He was affectionate, cute, and tiny. He maaed mournfully when we left him in the barnyard after feeding him. He spent most of his time with Ditsy Baby, another bottle animal, and in general, hung out with forty sheep and four does.
We only keep male animals in two situations, one as a vasectomized teaser to get the females cycling together, or two as a breeding male. With only four does, we didn’t need a teaser, but we did need a breeding buck, so we decided to keep Bucklet. He grew slowly. I wasn’t sure if he’d be tall enough or mature enough to breed the does come fall. The does spent September hanging out at the fence between their pasture and the ram pasture. I didn’t think they could be bred through the fence. But eventually they stopped hanging out at the fence line.
By November, Bucklet had changed, like a young man, spitting and swaggering as he entered puberty. He didn’t spit but he did swagger and he developed an even more disturbing habit. He urinated on his face and front legs. Adult bucks also stick their heads in a doe’s urine stream to see if she is in heat. No wonder male goats are known for their horrid odor.
When we put Winthrop the ram and Bucklet the buck in with the females, Bucklet seemed to have no interest in the does; he mounted sheep after sheep. He mounted sheep from the front, from the side, and occasionally from the proper position in the back. But he was fortunately too short and of the wrong breed to impregnate my sheep.
Over a month later, he began following the does. Perhaps he had figured out sex while practicing on his sheep friends and was now sure enough of himself to take his place as dominant male in his goat flock.
We returned Winthrop and Bucklet to the ram pasture in mid-December. They had been with their females for two heat cycles, so we should have a good percentage of pregnant animals. Three weeks later, Winthrop went over the fence and Bucklet went through the fence back into the barnyard. We wrestled them back onto the ram pasture and reinforced the fences. Did they leave because their ladies were in heat or because we hadn’t fed them first?
We won’t know how many animals are pregnant or how well our new breeding males have done until lambing begins in April. I can hardly wait until then.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Winter greens

We grow food in our small greenhouse. Most years we just start seeds in the spring, but this fall I brought in parsley and rosemary, friends gave us a celery plant and a pot of New Zealand spinach, and Dave started a row of lettuce. Our greenhouse is just a wide spot in the stairs to the basement with only a tiny space for plants, so we can’t produce all our winter veggies or even many of the greens we need, but after a month, our lettuce is 2” high and filling out. It’s time to plant the next crop of greens and we’ll include arugula and perhaps kale. Next fall I’ll transplant some peppermint to a pot so we’ll have fresh mint for chimichurri sauce and for peppermint liquor during the winter.

After the amazing desserts of the holiday season, Dave and I have vowed to eat fewer cookies, cakes and pies, but still enjoy a bit of sweetness in the evening. Peppermint liquor on a small scoop of vanilla ice cream makes a delicious, delicately flavored light green sundae, especially in the depths of winter.

Peppermint Liquor
2 cups fresh mint leaves
2 cups vodka
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
5 drops green food coloring
Wash and dry mint leaves. Crush leaves and combine with vodka in a quart jar. Mix well and store covered in a cool, dark place for one month. Stir weekly.
To make a syrup, bring water to a boil. Stir in sugar and stir until sugar has dissolved. Cool.
Strain the mint leaves from the vodka and then stir in the sugar syrup. Add green food coloring. Store in decorative bottles. Serve on vanilla or chocolate ice cream for a delicious sundae.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Cranberry Orange Sundaes

Photo by James Barker

There are cranberry bogs in west central Minnesota. For several years, a friend brought us cranberry sauce made from berries he had picked himself in the swamps near his house. I don’t have the time in October and November to pull on my knee high boots and slog through the freezing swamps near our house, but I do love cranberries.

Two years ago, we planted four high bush cranberry bushes. They haven’t thrived, but they are still alive, finally outgrowing the weeds that threatened to engulf them. This year, we had ten berries on our bushes – a beginning.

I am eagerly awaiting next fall’s crop because I love cranberries. My favorite cranberry sauce requires a food processor or a meat grinder. I haven’t made it in a long time because and we lost our meat grinder in one of our moves years ago. Every Thanksgiving, I bemoan the loss, but I don’t think of it early enough to order a meat grinder on line and you just can’t find them in stores anymore. This fall, a friend brought a meat grinder converted to a table lamp into the shop where I am a partner. I thought aloud about buying the lamp and reconverting it to a meat grinder. My friend laughed and the next day she brought me a meat grinder.

So this year we had cranberry-orange sauce for Thanksgiving. It tastes bright and fresh with turkey. It’s tart and sweet flavors combine wondrously with plain or vanilla yogurt. But the really magical combination is cranberry-orange sundaes where the sauce complements the cold sweet of vanilla ice cream. Frozen cranberries in the freezer and a meat grinder in my cupboard mean that we can cranberry sundaes (either with yogurt or vanilla ice cream) any month of the year. Perhaps we should plant a few more high bush cranberries next year.

Cranberry – Orange Sundae
1 package fresh cranberries
1 – 2 oranges
¾ cup sugar

Grind the cranberries and oranges (peel included) in a meat grinder or food processor. Mix in the sugar. Refrigerate. This sauce tastes better the next day.
Serve on yogurt or vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The soul of my computer

When we got back from our last trip, my computer was dead. It wasn’t a catastrophe because I had backed up everything on my external hard drive so that I’d have access to all of my writing and photos in St Louis.

Dave took the tower down to our computer repair shop and when it was done, I brought it home and connected all the wires. The screen came up with all the appropriate icons and programs, but the soul of my computer was gone. My daughter’s laughing faces didn’t greet me from the desktop. Gmail didn’t know who I was. Ten years of manuscripts were missing. Two and a half years of photos of my grandsons were gone. All the files were empty.

Dave’s laptop and my computer use the same operating system and are pretty much the same in many ways. But my computer always opened photos with Microsoft Picture Manager and we worked well together. Dave’s computer favored Serif and I couldn’t use it at all. The book I’m writing was only three clicks away in my old computer. I need ten double clicks to find it on my external hard drive. This computer tower hunkered beneath my desk is not my computer!

I know that I can reload everything from my external hard drive back onto my desktop, but I won’t. The external drive will become old storage like the 3 ½” floppies I have in a fire proof safe under my desk – archived, but not easily accessible. Ten double clicks is too cumbersome for files I use daily or weekly. Gradually, I’ll even forget what files are on my external hard drive.

Gradually, my computer will develop a soul again, but it won’t be the same computer and it won’t have the same soul. I won’t accidentally run across the letter from the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer accepting my article on natural dyes. I won’t glimpse Newton and the cat BC playing when Newton was a puppy or a single thistle blossom glowing in the late afternoon sun.

I am a different person than I was last year or five years ago, and so, my computer will have a new soul, and by extension, become a new computer. Today, I will begin by finding a new photo of my daughters to smile out at me from my desk top.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Late harvest

Mullein in late summer

The leaves are gone from the trees, only the brussel sprouts remain in the garden, cold nights freeze the ponds. Fall is well settled and winter is creeping closer. This morning I picked fresh green mullein in our pastures. The sheep don’t particularly like the fuzzy oval leaves, but I love them – for dyeing.

Common Mullein, Verbascum thapsus, is my favorite dye plant. With copper sulfate as a mordant, I can produce a beautiful mossy green fiber from a handful of leaves and a skein of my favorite yarn. To dye with mullein, the wool must first be mordanted. A mordant is a metal salt that helps the dye color attach to the wool fiber. Without a mordant, most natural dyes yield beige.

I simmer two pounds of fresh leaves in a big dye pot for thirty minutes (you can also use dried leaves). Then I strain out the leaves and add copper sulfate to the dye pot. I stir until the blue crystals are completely dissolved and then submerge 2 pounds of freshly washed wool. I then simmer the wool for thirty minutes, turning the mass occasionally to expose all the wool fibers to the mordant and to the dye liquor. For more information on dyeing with natural dyes, see From Sheep to Shawl: Stories and Patterns for Fiber Lovers.

There is something deeply pleasing about dyeing wool our sheep have produced with a plant that grows naturally on our land. This morning as I walked the fields in search of mullein, I appreciated the scent of the manure Dave spread on the fields yesterday, the cool autumnal breeze on my face, and the sight of our sheep lying in the sunshine, the colors of their patched coats blending into the brown grasses.

I haven’t stepped back in time – I’m wearing a polar fleece jacket and carrying the mullein in a plastic bag, but I did leave my cell phone in the house and I’m not rushing off in the car. Today I am fully at home on the farm, appreciating and using one of the last green plants we harvest in the fall.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The taste of honey

We extracted honey this weekend. As the little hexagonal cells that the bees had filled over the summer emptied, we filled jars with the beautiful golden sweetener to use over the winter. The house was fragrant with the aroma of honey, the floor was sticky with drips and we sated our palates with the incredible taste.

This year we extracted honey from hives in three different locations. Steve and Kanita brought boxes from their hives in the Twin Cities, Paul and Jenny’s came from East Silent Lake and ours from the farm. Each honey had a unique taste. Steve’s was made in a forest, the bees visiting the trees, wild flowers and local farm market gardens to create a honey with a floral taste. Paul and Jenny’s bees also lived at the edge of a woods with some grain fields in the distance. Their honey was similar to Steve and Kanita’s, obviously from a combination of wildflowers. Our hives sit at the edge of the home woods, overlooking a big wetland, beside an alfalfa field. Every year, our honey has a wonderful minty flavor. Our guess is that the bees spend a lot of time at the Motherwort blossoms. Motherwort is a part of the mint family and blooms early and long in the woods, so it could give a minty flavor. But who knows what the bees find for nectar the rest of the time. Alfalfa is supposed to give a light, subtle, spicey flavor with a mild floral aroma. Basswood blossoms yield a light honey with a strong biting flavor and a woody scent. I know our bees find both blossoms, but I don’t recognize the flavor notes in our honey.

Whatever the cause, our local honeys have spoiled our families for store bought honey. That pasteurized spread which is a blend of honeys from many different beekeepers, is sweet, but has no special flavor. Varietal honeys on the other hand, can range from sweet to sour, citrusy to minty, soft to bold. No matter the source, whether we spread it on toast, stir it into chai, or drizzle it over vanilla ice cream, our honey is a treat.

Honey sundaes can be simple, just a light coating of honey thickening on vanilla ice cream, or complex, a light coating of honey thickening on bananas sliced over vanilla ice cream. Either is an incredible way to experience the taste of honey.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Stealing honey from the bees

photo by Lehigh Valley Parenting

Dave and I stole the last of the honey from our bees yesterday. It went well. Some years it’s a more harrowing experience. Like the year Dave had a tiny hole in his pants…

It’s hard to think rationally when you have a bee in your pants. Is it better to remove the bee immediately or to wait until you’re away from the rest of the bees before you drop your pants? Dave compromised by running half way up the path from the hives to the house before he dropped his pants. Bad decision. You can’t run fast with your pants around your knees. The bees have quite a range.

I made an even worse decision while looking for the queen in my dad’s hive. The bees were angry at my intrusion and flew around me, crawling across my bee suit, running into my bee veil. Each collision produced a miniscule thud. I tensed a little more at each thud. On one of those collisions, a bee flew through a small opening at the bottom of my veil. When it flew past my face – on the inside of my veil – I panicked and ripped the veil off to let the bee out. Net result? Instead of one bee inside my veil, I had dozens tangled in my hair. I ran screaming for the lake and stuck my head under water. My mother patiently squished every entangled bee with her bare fingers and then combed them out of my hair. Neither of us was stung.

Unlike wasps, bees don’t sting for fun or as a hobby. Bees die after stinging, so only sting in defense of their hive. Now, when we work on the hives, I try to appear relaxed and non-threatening so that the bees don’t feel the need to sting.

Yesterday, everything worked well. Dave took the lid off the hive and laid it aside. Using a crowbar like hive tool, he separated the frames from each other and lifted them out of the hive individually. He brushed the bees off each frame and handed them to me. I admired the regular array of hexagonal cells capped in golden bees wax, set them into a traveling box and covered it to keep the bees from returning to their honey. The entire process took only a short time and no bees threatened us. Obviously we had been able to persuade both ourselves and the bees that all was well and we weren’t a threat to their hives.

Then we stole their honey.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

We were just curling up for a nice read on a rainy evening last summer when the tornado siren cut through the rush of the wind in the trees. We grabbed Oolong the cat, Newton the dog, Hillis’ pet mice Stormageddon Dark Lord of All and Jareth, our knitting, our computers and our books and tramped down the basement stairs. Shortly after we’d settled, made sure that the mice were out of reach of the cat and the cat was out of reach of the dog, the lights flicked off and the howl of the wind generator was silenced.

Our basement has improved since the years it was a pit with random rubble walls (one including a mysterious thigh bone) and a dirt floor, but it is still windowless. Our senses registered only the floor under our seats, the wall at our backs, and the roar of wind and rain. It was eerie. Dave and Hillis booted up their computers, but without electricity, our wireless router was down. We used the light of the computers to see our knitting.

Hillis found the weather report on her Iphone, a confirmation of what we already knew, but reassuring all the same - some contact with the outside world. No all clear siren sounded, but after about an hour, Dave ran out of patience and went outside to adjust the downspouts and redirect water from the basement floor. We ventured upstairs, lit a dozen candles and continued reading on a rainy evening.

When the electricity came back on at 6 A.M., we discovered the narrow path of the wind through our woods. Tree after tree fallen, like a trail of dominoes, before the chicken coop, after the chicken coop and through the orchard. This years apples were the only real casualties on our farm. Some trees lost many apples; some trees held their apples, but broke under the force of the wind.

We harvested the last surviving apple from a tree that didn’t survive the wind this afternoon and stored enough for many caramel apple sundays.

Caramel Apple Sundays
1 tart apple per person
Caramel sauce (either store bought or from scratch. I've included my favorite recipe below)

Chop one apple into each bowl. Drizzle caramel sauce over it and enjoy.
If you need ice cream for the "sunday" part of this dish, slip a scoop under the chopped apples.

Caramel Sauce
1/4 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup cream
1 t vanilla

Bring butter, sugar and cream to a boil. Add vanilla, remove from heat and beat until smooth. Serve warm or cold. This sauce is thicker when cooled. Refrigerate left overs.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Too Many Melons - Sunday of the Month

This summer has been one of the warmest in my memory, and unlike the rest of the Midwest, in this part of Minnesota we’ve had enough rain. Our garden has grown enthusiastically as a result. We’ve harvested one or two succulent ears off of every corn plant. The cabbage and broccoli have grown faster than the cabbage worms. The carrots are fat and orange.

The warmth this summer has given our melons a boost and they win first prize for productivity and taste. Dave planted two varieties of watermelon and three of cantaloupe and when we are patient enough to wait until they are completely ripe, the melons are magnificent. Most summers, about the time we figure out what a ripe cantaloupe looks like, we’ve eaten them all – green.

This year we have enough melons for our learning curve to flatten out. The cantaloupe are ripe when the background color behind the netting is a warm beige, not a light green. The watermelon are ripe when there is a small yellow spot on the bottom of the fruit and when the little twisty vines at the stem end of the fruit are dry.

We serve the watermelon plain, with mint and feta cheese, and with tomatoes.
When Dave cuts into a ripe melon, the scent fills the room and my mouth begins to water. Today we had one cantaloupe for breakfast and two different cantaloupe and a watermelon for lunch. Tonight we had cantaloupe shakes for dessert. On the off chance that we can’t eat or give away the melons fast enough, I freeze cantaloupe for shakes later in the year. There is no such thing as too much melon.

Cantaloupe Shakes

1 medium ripe cantaloupe, diced – about 5 cups
2 T lemon juice
2 T sugar
¾ c milk
1 pint vanilla ice cream

Blend cantaloupe, lemon juice, sugar and milk until smooth. Add ice cream. Blend again. Serve with a long handled spoon. Serves 4.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Selling wool

Sales are not my forté. I sell lambs with reluctance. I have a web page that is slowly bringing in new wool customers, but I sell most of my wool to people who come to my house for two fiber days a year. I’m not very good at pricing or advertising.

Last year I joined the Mercantile on Main, a limited liability partnership, because it sounded like a good way to sell my yarn, my roving, and my books. Each of the members has different strengths – some keep the records, others work on advertising. A few are great at display, while others work on legal documents. Somehow it all works and it has been so much fun!

A year after we first opened our shop in an old gas station, eighteen women and one man signed their names to a deed of sale and bought the old municipal liquor store in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota. We renovated the building – ripped down interior walls and floors, replaced ceiling and plumbing, added a window, and then filled the space to bursting with interesting things.

The Mercantile on Main sells all kinds of items just like an old-fashioned mercantile. We have Asian groceries, antiques, fabric and sewing supplies, collectibles, hand made jewelry, silver jewelry, hand made clothing and toys, art and art supplies, crafts, farm raised beef and poultry, Tervis Tumblers™, soaps, candles, cookbooks, wool roving, yarn, and knitting supplies, as well as my books.

The hard part about being a partner at the Mercantile on Main is that I have to work at the store two to three days a month, just like every other partner. The great part is that I sell my books, yarn, and roving year round. The best part is that I have gotten to know an incredible group of people who encourage each other. With their help, I’m getting better at pricing and beginning to enjoy selling.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Guest post

My parents are two of the strongest people I know. When most people say this they are speaking about strength of character. When I say this I am talking about physical strength (they are pretty good at the character part too).

Anyone who has ever baled hay by hand knows that there is just no way you could ever replicate such a physical experience in the gym. 8-12 hours of lifting 50 pound bales all the while balancing on hay wagon! They don't make a workout machine to reproduce this experience. And even if they did no one would have the time to use it.

I think about these things because I'm a personal trainer, and the daughter of a shepherdess. I work with city types; lawyers, financiers, actuaries, and bankers. My clients are amazing people and, with a little help, they have become pretty fit folks. But as a rule, they really aren't in same fitness class as my mom and dad. This is not a character judgement. It is just a fact.

How could they possibly be when their careers demand 6 to 10 hours a day of sitting. I work with some of the most motivated, most focused, and toughest people you're likely to find. They work really hard to keep their bodies in good shape. But they are at a disadvantage. No amount of willpower, no amount of dieting, and no amount of fitness schemes can make up for a sedentary career.
You can't sit for 8 hours and then in one giant burst make up for all that time in 1 hour at the gym.

It is no mystery to me why we face an obesity epidemic. Our bodies are not made for this amount of sitting around. Our bodies are made to move.

In recent years I've done my best to help my clients, my friends, and my family to adjust their lifestyles to be more like farmers, or gatherers, or hunters. I encourage them to do a 10-minute workout here and 30-minute walk there:
Walk to the grocery store and carry home a bag or two. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Stand up and stretch, maybe do some pushups every 30 minutes or so when you are at your desk. Rough house (safely) with your kids for ten minutes instead of watching T.V. Go for a walk after dinner... You get the idea.
This sort of up and down rhythm is what our bodies enjoy. Too much stillness can cause damage. Likewise too much physical activity in a short span of time can cause damage. When you arrive at the gym compelled to get all your physical activity in, in one fell swoop, you expose yourself to injury. When you sit at a desk all week and then hurl yourself into a day-long mountain biking adventure you expose yourself to injury.

What we need is to find the middle ground. Plenty of moving and plenty of rest throughout the day. On, off, on, off, on, off (as my 1-year-old son Jasper is so fond of saying).

So if you don't have the good fortune of being a sheep farmer I'd encourage you to figure out how to sprinkle micro-workouts throughout your day. If you need some suggestion on what to do why not visit your local sheep farm. I'll bet they have plenty of wood for you chop, hay for you to collect, trees to trim, sheep to herd, thistles that need to be policed, and manure to be shoveled. They probably won't even charge you for the workout!

Will all this make you as strong as my parents?
I doubt it. But you may lose a pound or two, and more importantly it will make you feel a whole lot better.

Amber Ellison Walker lives and works in Minneapolis as an in-home personal trainer. She splits her time training clients and taking care her 1-year-old son Jasper. One of her favorite things in life is returning home to the sheep farm. She is even up for an occasional 3:00am lambing session or a ride in the hay wagon. She is the owner and head trainer at I Think I Can Fitness.

Written with the help of Jesse C. Walker, a small business online marketing consultant, who also happens to be Amber's husband.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Raspberries - Sunday of the Month

Raspberries, that mid summer fruit that epitomizes vacation time - soft, sweet and fleeting - are a pleasure at which you really have to work. Raspberries are so ethereal that they were seldom sold in grocery stores until modern modifications created a tougher berry. Although they are much larger and do survive packaging, shipping and reselling, store bought raspberries are pale reproductions of the original.

Traditional raspberries ripen in a thicket; every inch of bush covered in thorns to catch at your clothing and scratch your skin. Yet each berry is so fragile that they stain your fingers as you pick and your lips and tongue as you eat. Your fingers must work gently to pick the berries from their stems, and you have to spread them in wide containers, berries less than an inch deep, to keep them from crushing each other.

Picking berries forces you to slow down, just a little - a small taste of vacation in your berry patch. There is nothing small about the fragrance or flavor of home grown raspberries. The scent of berries hanging thick on their branches in the warm sun entices and the bright, intense flavor as you slip one into your mouth grabs at your taste buds and shouts “Yes! This is summer!”

Wild Raspberry Sunday

The absolutely best way to eat raspberries is sprinkled liberally on a dish of vanilla ice cream. But if all my Sunday of the Month blog entries are plain fruit on ice cream, they will get boring fairly rapidly. The following “Sunday” came from a friend who ate something similar in a restaurant and figured out her own version of the raspberry treat. I altered her recipe for our family’s taste buds.

1 cup fresh raspberries divided into 3 small bowls
2 Tablespoons powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon sour cream or yogurt

Mix the sour cream (or yogurt) and powdered sugar until well blended. Spoon mixture over the raspberries. Serve with small spoons to make the treat last longer.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dave and I are both 64 years old. Most of the time we don’t feel that old. We know lots of people our age with bad backs, bad knees, or big bellies that limit what they can do with their bodies. We know farmers who have to use a four wheeler instead of walking their pastures, who raise beef cattle instead of dairy cattle because it’s physically easier, who shifted from small square hay bales to big round hay bales so they wouldn’t have to lift by hand. Only skidsteers or tractors can lift the big rounds.

Haying and lambing are the two most physically exhausting times of our year. During haying, if we don’t have extra help, we lift 70,000 pounds of dried alfalfa in 50 pound bales from the baler to the wagon, from the wagon to the elevator, and from the elevator to the stack in the mow. During lambing, we spend hours of every day out in the cold. We walk, kneel, lie down, climb, lift, wrestle, chase, and tackle much more than we do the other eleven months of the year.

One of the reasons we can still immobilize a 150 pound ewe or lift a 50 pound bale, or catch a 10 pound lamb that squirts around the barnyard much faster than we can, is that we keep in good shape the rest of the year by working and exercising. Dave rows, I run or snowshoe almost daily, and we both work out by Skype with Amber, our daughter and personal trainer. That one hour workout each week, by a trained person who sees us better than we see ourselves, stretches tight muscles, strengthens weak muscles, improves our balance and keeps us limber. I hadn’t realized how the range of motion of my head had decreased until Amber helped me enhance it. When I wrenched my back lifting Dave’s backpack before a camping trip, Amber helped me focus on the muscles that hurt and then strengthen them. She worked with me for over a year until the pain was completely gone in almost every situation. Dave hadn’t seen the changes in his posture until they began to improve with his weekly workouts.

The work necessary to farming helps keep us active, but having our very own personal trainer keeps us fit enough to continue farming.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

For as long as I can remember, our family celebrated summer with hand cranked ice cream. My folks had an old freezer with a faded green bucket held together with twine. It didn’t matter that the bucket had cracks between the wooden slats – the important part was the metal canister that held the ice cream and the dasher that churned it.

When the family gathered, Mom made up the custard and Dad bought a big block of ice and chopped it into shards with an ice pick. The he layered salt and ice around the canister and the rest of the family turned the crank until the ice cream was hard and only the strongest of us could move the handle. Everyone helped because the family rule was that if you didn’t help, you couldn’t have any ice cream.

When Dave and I were married, my folks gave us a hand crank ice cream freezer and we continued the tradition with our family and friends. Home made ice cream is best when eaten the first day, and it takes about a half an hour of cranking, so we try to have a crowd around when we bring the freezer up from the basement.

Last year, we presented our daughter’s families with hand crank ice cream freezers for their anniversaries. Their sons, Kieran and Jasper, are a little young to turn the crank, but they’re a perfect age to pick strawberries. For strawberry sundays, slice the strawberries and sprinkle with sugar. Make your ice cream and ladle on the strawberries – a perfect treat for an early summer evening.

Grandma’s Homemade Ice Cream

2 cups white sugar

3 eggs

2 ½ cups milk

1 ½ teaspoons flour

2 tablespoons vanilla

pinch of salt

1) Cook the above ingredients slowly, stirring constantly, until thick.

2) Cool.

3) Add fruit if desired (1 box of mashed strawberries, 7 mashed peaches, or several mashed bananas).

4) Add 1 pint whipping cream.

5) Place in canister of freezer. Place dasher into canister and cover. Add 3 pounds of ice and 3 ounces of rock salt around the canister in repeating layers until you reach the bottom of the cover.

6) Work on a tile floor with towels available or outside as the tub will leak as the ice melts.

7) Churn (turn the crank) until frozen, thick and creamy. Stop when the handle becomes hard to turn or when the motor complains. May take up to 30 minutes.

8) Carefully wipe the salt and ices off the cover of the canister before opening.
9) Remove dasher and lick it clean.

10) Recover canister. Let ice cream ripen half an hour to an hour in the ice cream freezer covered by a heavy towel or in the refrigerator freezer for up to six hours before serving.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A week ago Tuesday we gathered with friends to watch the transit of Venus across the sun. It doesn’t happen very often that Venus passes between the sun and the earth – Tuesday was only the second time in just over 100 years. In 1639, it was such an important event scientifically that scientists and observers went all over the world to record the time that Venus began crossing the sun and the time that it finished the crossing. Scientists hoped to determine the distance from the earth to the sun using those measurements. In 2012, although many people did, we did not take measurements. We ate a picnic dinner beside our oat field, watched the sun through filtered binoculars, and talked - an important opportunity to enjoy the evening and to decrease the distance between friends.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sunday of the Month

We try not to eat a lot of desserts. But there are certain local foods that just need celebration and a Sunday of the Month seems like a good way to celebrate. May brings us the first of the wild greens – lambs quarters, amaranth, and dandelion. But the best May treat is rhubarb, tart and red and full of flavor after a winter of less interesting stored fruits.

In May, I make rhubarb crisp, rhubarb cake, rhubarb chutney, and I freeze rhubarb to use the rest of the year on yogurt. But the absolutely best way to use rhubarb is as a sauce on ice cream. My favorite is vanilla, but I would imagine that rhubarb sauce on strawberry ice cream or on raspberry sherbet would be pretty spectacular too.

Rhubarb Sauce

10 stalks of rhubarb cut into ½” – 1” pieces (about 8 cups)
¼ cup water
Cook in a covered pot on medium for 15 – 20 minutes. (watch out that it doesn’t boil over)
Sweeten to taste with about ¾ cup white sugar.
Serve on ice cream and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tag, you're knit!

Twice a year we invite fiber people to our farm. They bring projects to work on, food to share and sometimes, show and tell. We provide dye pots and dyes, a space to gather, and sometimes, new experiences. We always have sheep to pet and fields and woods to walk. This year we started a weaving on my garden loom with different people adding shots of color. Participants also made felted can cosys (see Patterns on my website for directions), learning the basics of wet felting in the process. Fiber day is a chance to reconnect with old friends, meet new people, and share ideas. Past fiber days have given me new knitting patterns and new directions to take in felting and weaving. The biggest surprise this year was to find my mailbox covered in knitting with a little sign that said “Tag, you’re knit!” I’m keeping the mailbox sweater to use at our next fiber day, but I’m going to knit something to tag someone else and pass on the yarn graffiti.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Spring came early and late

Spring came early to the north woods, tricking us into thinking that summer would as well. I put my ficus benjamanica out on the deck before Easter and we’ve had more than ten freezing nights since then. We tapped our maple trees the 12th of March, hoping that we hadn’t missed the sap flow during all the warm February and March days. Three days later, we heard the first tip, tip, tip of maple sap into the cans hanging on the trees. The sap ran for two weeks, even though it only froze twice in those two weeks. After more than thirty years of sugaring, the only thing we knew for sure was that it had to freeze at night and get above freezing during the day for the sap to run. And here we’d had our first sugarbush at a new site and the trees continued to run, day after day, night after night, when the temperature barely dipped into the thirties. The syrup we made was darker than usual whether because we were at the end of the season or because it never cooled down at night and the sap began to spoil; but it still had good flavor. We pulled our taps two weeks ago; the sap from almost every tap was yellow, a sure sign we were done. The blood root were just beginning to bloom, just as they have every year in the past when we cleaned up after sugarbush. In the last two weeks, it has been cold and freezing many nights. Yesterday when I was trimming branches along the trail to the bush, blood root leaves still curled around new buds, although most of the white flowers were done. When I walked back along the path later, The trunks were stained with sap under the cut branches. How much more syrup would we have collected if we’d waited for the normal cold spring weather to return?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Guardian of the flock

Alpacas are part of the story of predator control for sheep flocks. We’ve had an alpaca for about six years and I have to admit that basically, I have Kaylie because she’s so cute. She runs like a muppet, has a top knot, and very hairy legs. I love the way she looks and moves. I also love her soft, soft fleece.

But her real value to the flock is as a guard animal. This weekend, Loki, a visiting mastif, raced toward the barnyard gate. Suddenly, in a flurry of movement, the sheep dashed around to the back of the barn and Kaylie stood alone, between the barn and the gate – head up, alert, ready to take on any threat. I don’t know what she’d do if a predator actually breached the fence and got into the barnyard. Alpacas are known to bite and can have a deadly kick.

It was the gate that stopped Loki; not an alpaca that weighed less than he did. But her height, her black fur, and her upright ears have intimidated dogs in the past. Once, Buddy, a visiting dog whose owner wondered if he could herd sheep, came into the barnyard on a leash. Kaylie screamed, the sheep disappeared behind the barn, and Buddy his behind his owner at the far end of his leash. – as far from Kaylie as possible.

Our first line of defense against predators is always a good, tight stock fence with two strands of barbed wire on the top and a strand on the outside at the bottom. But Kaylie is our extra insurance. With her in the pasture, I sleep well even when the coyotes howl.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bottle babies

photo by Amber Walker

Bottle babies can be a real pain. When you bend over to feed lamb a, lamb b butts your nose, bringing tears to your eyes. They suck your fingers in a vain attempt to get milk while waiting for their turn at the bottle. They tangle with your feet when you walk through the barnyard. They baa incessantly in your ear while you feed their siblings.

Bottle babies happen for lots of reasons. Bucklet’s mother didn’t have any milk. Christmas’ mother died. 63’s mother was too ditsy to stand still for a lamb with sore joints to keep up with her. Sometimes ewes with triplets don’t have enough milk for three babies and we bottle feed the weakest one. Sometimes lambs have sharp teeth or a painful suck and their moms keep trying to get away.

Bottle babies can be a real pain. But they make you laugh on gray days. They continue to recognize you and approach unafraid, no matter how old they are. They wrap themselves around your heart. They make you cry when they die. Bottle babies can be a real pain, and yet they always add to the joy of lambing.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Feeding hay on the ground

Most sheep raising books say never, ever feed your sheep on the ground. It’s a good way to infect them with worms or coccidia. I’ve been in barnyards (even mine after a good rain or in the late spring) that make ground feeding an obvious hazard. But I also know several good shepherds who fed their sheep onto snow as long as the snow was fresh and clean.

That’s the technique we use. When there’s clean snow, we spread hay onto the snow. It forces our sheep to exercise, important for the health of the mom and the fetus, and it distributes their manure throughout the pastures rather than just around the feeders. Come spring we can tell exactly where we fed hay onto the ground - the grass there is greener and grows faster because of the manure.

This year has been a barren, snowless time for feeding. Both Dave and the sheep were unhappy using the feeders. Dave didn’t appreciate how fast they filled with stems the sheep didn’t want to eat and which he then had to clean out of the feeders. The sheep didn’t like the way the tasty leaves sifted through the stems to the bottom of the feeder. They complained all the time. When the snow finally came, we all rejoiced. Once again we can feed hay on the ground. Of course this year, within a week the snow is almost gone. But while it lasted...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Little Things

After the big wave of lambing has rushed over us, we can take the time to notice little things. Those treats are there all the time, but only appreciated when we aren’t rushed or sleep deprived, when we open ourselves to seeing them.

Yesterday I noticed (as if for the first time) how the light from outside the barn door glowed through a lamb’s ears. Last night I marveled at the warmth of a new mother’s teats as I expressed milk for her hungry lamb. This morning I smelled clean wool as I pressed my body down on an anxious ewe while Dave gave her a shot.

Those little things – the sparkle of snow crystals in the moonlight, the crisp imprint of a lamb hoof in new snow, the soft rustle of sheep settling into fresh straw – those little things are such a big part of a good life.

Friday, March 2, 2012


We need solitude. I think that’s why we live in the country. It’s not that we don’t like people; we love it when friends and family come to visit and we enjoy every minute of their stay whether it’s measured in hours, days, weeks or months. We enjoy the stimulating conversations, the music we make, the arts and crafts we create, the cooking we do together and even the work we accomplish together. Family and friends make our lives meaningful and rich.

But we also need the time when it’s just us and the animals, the fields and the forest, and no people for as far as the eye can see. Blizzards enforce our solitude. As long as we don’t have to be somewhere else when a storm rips through, we fill the wood box and the bird feeder, shut the sheep in the barn and hunker down, surviving quite well on the meat and vegetables in the freezers and the pantry shelves holding jam, honey, tomatoes, pickles, maple syrup, and Dave’s home brewed wine and beer. We do much more than survive as our driveway fills with snow and our only connections with the outside world are the telephone, the computer and two pair of snowshoes. That solitude enriches and nourishes our souls.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Special Delivery

Welcome to the latest multi-sensory lambing simulation. So far, it has to be all in your imagination, but someday.... However, even in its simplest form, this will be a special delivery.

You’re going to do this all by yourself. Well, actually, not all by yourself, Dave is here to lay across the ewe’s shoulders to keep her from running away. She’s been in labor for over two hours and it’s time to figure out what’s going on.

Okay, wash your hands, leaving them soapy. Kneel behind your patient. The smell of wool, manure and amniotic fluid fills your nose. Touch the fingertips of your right hand to the thumb tip forming a wedge and slide your hand through her vulva into her uterus. Now close your eyes to better ‘see’ what your fingers feel. You can hear the rustle of sheep settling into the fresh straw bedding, the small baas of lambs looking for their mothers and the loud, strident calls of the mothers.

Your hand squeezes through the hard ring of her pelvic bones into a warm space with hanging veils of what feels like wet silk or plastic wrap. There! Your fingers touch something smooth and solid. Explore it. Feel the division between two parts. Follow the division back a short way until the smoothness becomes rough. You’ve found a hoof.

You need to find either another hoof or a head next. Slowly move your fingers until they encounter something else hard. Explore. Does it feel the same as the hoof? Is there a dividing line through it?

The dividing line is longer and the surfaces it divides are rough and soft, not smooth and hard. Run your fingers along the line again. That line is the lamb’s mouth. Sometimes you can feel tiny teeth there. Slide your fingers back, deeper into the ewe’s uterus, while still touching the lamb’s head. Feel the slight indentation of the eye sockets. Find the domed back of the lamb’s head.

Now you have a head and a hoof, enough to deliver a lamb. Not so fast! Because your fingertips don’t have eyes, you have to be sure that the hoof and the head are part of the same lamb. Slide your fingers down the back of the head, over the soft folds of the ear. Keep moving; trace the anatomy of a shoulder to the long bone of the front leg, the ankle bones, two long toes bones and then to the smooth hoof. Yes! All one baby.

Grasp the hoof between two fingertips and your thumb. Pull gently, feel it slide toward you. Suddenly, the hoof pulls out of your grip. Good, a nice active lamb. Gently run your fingertips back up the leg, across the shoulder and up the neck. Cup your fingers over the back of the lamb’s head and gently pull toward the opening to the ewe’s vagina and the bog, cold, outside world.

The lamb moves toward you. Shift your fingers again to the hoof. Ease it through the vulva, out in the open. Feel around the pelvic opening with your other hand, second hoof. Face. Slide the fingers of your second hand over the back of the lamb’s head while pulling down and out on the first hoof. As the lamb’s shoulder clears its mother’s pelvic opening, a nose joins the leg.

You can open your eyes now. Your finger tips have done their sightless job. White nose follows white hoof as you continue pulling. This is a long lamb. Pull, pull, pull. The ewe grunts and moans as you pull. Finally, the lamb’s hind legs slide out of the space where it has lived and grown for the last five months.

Grab a towel, clean the head off first. Wipe the amniotic fluid away from the lamb so it can breathe air. Smooth the towel down its nose and then begin rubbing the curly white haired body. The lamb takes a shuddery breath and sneezes.

Now, you may take a shuddery breath, sit back on your heels, and relax.

Dave moves the lamb to it’s mothers head and her tongue comes out, licking the lamb clean and dry, encouraging it to breathe. Dave hands you the barn notebook. Date, time of delivery, sex of lamb, identity of the mother. You check the ewe’s ear tag. 20 orange.

20 orange. The ewe we were afraid had a uterine torsion. Such an easy delivery when we worried that it would be so hard. This was indeed a special delivery.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Predator and prey

Yesterday, while spreading hay in the pasture, Dave found a footprint in the crusty snow. It wasn’t a hoof print, we see them so often that we don’t notice them any more. It was a large, rounded print with four pads and what could be indentations of claws.

“Have you brought Newton out here I asked?” Dave shook his head.
“Coyote or big cat? Bob cat?”

We glanced around At least four perimeter pastures opened into this pasture. All their gates were open. I headed to the house for the camera, a ruler, and the Field Guide to Animal Tracks, and Dave set off across the pasture to close gates.

The tracks were 2” front to back, and 2.5” wide. Red fox. Foxes ate mice and shrews; not even in the coldest, most snowbound winter would they take down a baby lamb, and this had been a mild, open winter. We relaxed.

Just as coyotes and bobcats act like predators, the sheep behave like prey. When Dave checked the sheep that evening he could hear coyotes yipping in the far distance. All the sheep were in the barn and Kaylie, the alpaca, was standing guard just outside the barn door. Dave closed the gate to the feeding pasture so that the animals were confined to the barnyard, our most secure space.

When I went out at 11 PM, 56 and her twins were out in the barnyard, but not together. The lambs were both baaing, their voices high and vulnerable sounding. They were within twenty feet of their mother, but she ignored them and concentrated on eating. and they were too young to have learned to walk around the feeder to find her.

I fed and watered the ewes in the jugs and checked to make sure that their lambs stretched, a sure sign that they were getting enough milk. 56’s lambs’ baas followed me as I walked toward the house, their voices clear and piercing in the quiet night. ‘Those baas will carry a long way,’ I thought, ‘perhaps as far as the coyotes.’ I returned to the barnyard and herded the lambs gently around a feeder until they found their mother and quiet descended on the flock.

As I walked back to the house, I listened carefully for the yip of a coyote. Silence, that deep night country silence not disturbed by the sound of cars or even of dogs barking, surrounded me. I shut the night and its silence outside, dropped my coveralls on the floor beside my boots, and climbed the stairs with Newton’s toenails clicking on each step behind me. I snuggled into bed next to Dave and breathed the prayer of all shepherds everywhere. ‘May I be the only predator my flock knows.’

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mother and baby

mother and baby
black alpaca standing guard
fresh snow this morning

Thursday, February 16, 2012

3 AM in the barn

The 3 AM barn check is the hardest part of lambing. We put off doing it until the first lamb is born and then continue with it until the last lamb is born. At 3 AM, we feed any moms in jugs, replenish their water buckets, check to make sure all the new lambs are well fed, and check for even newer lambs – moms in labor or just delivered.

All this makes sense after the lambs start coming, but for the last week we have been doing the 3 AM barn check with no new lambs, and lately, with no lambs or moms in jugs. We get up in the middle of the night and stagger bleary eyed out to the barn on the off chance that there will be new babies.

One week ago, 12 hours after our first lambs were born, I jumped out of bed when the alarm went off, slipped easily into my clothes and went striding out to the barn, awake and excited to see the babies again and hopefully find new ones. The ewe’s eyes glowed at me from the back of the barn. Everyone was calm, no new babies disturbed their rest. The next night, I didn’t wake quite as easily, I couldn’t find the sleeve hole of my sweatshirt and my feet went between my long underwear and my jeans when I tried to pull them on all together. Obviously, I needed to nap during the day if I was to be at my best at 3 AM. The next two nights, with a couple of naps under my belt, I was functional, if not really awake. But all those nights, I woke, dressed and walked to the barn for no reason.

I don’t remember waking at night when our kids were little. Dave says he got up with them. I nursed them, so I know that I did wake, but I have no memory of it. Our daughters, Amber and Laurel, have just spent the past year waking at night to the hungry voices of their sons, and not just at 3 AM, sometimes at 11 and 3 and 5. How do they do it and still function the next day?

Once Dave got home from work, he took over the 3 AM barn check because he frequently works nights and thus is theoretically better adapted to it. I don’t complain too hard, I just sleep right through the alarm at 3 AM when he is home and thank him in the morning.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Gift

On the first day that lambing could possibly begin, 56 yellow presented me with a pre-birthday gift - two healthy, white ram lambs. I was not as overjoyed as I should have been.

Usually, the ewes don’t get pregnant the first day the ram is introduced. Usually, we have two or three days, sometimes even a week of “lambing” before the first baby is born. That’s why this year, Dave planned to work at the ER the first four nights of lambing. That’s why I hadn’t bought new ear tags or replenished my colostrum supply. That’s why I had four meetings scheduled in the next four days. It wasn’t why I was still finishing Valentine’s gifts and our holiday letters (that was just slowness on my part). Whatever the reason, I wasn’t ready for lambing. But that didn’t matter, the lambs were here.

Dave clipped their umbilical cords, dunked the cord ends in iodine, and stripped milk from their mother’s teats at 2 PM. When I came back from my first meeting, one of the lambs looked kind of hungry. He didn’t stretch or shake when I set him on his feet; his skin was sort of wrinkly, not smooth like his sibling’s; and he baaad. I checked his mom’s teats. Plenty of milk in the left one, only a drop from the right. And her udder was hot and hard on the right. I gave her an antibiotic and would keep watching her.

By my 3 AM check, the wrinkly lamb’s wrinkles were more pronounced. That could be due to dehydration, or the fact that he was part merino, a breed with very wrinkly skin. But he seemed hungry and I hadn’t replenished my colostrum supply! I vaguely recalled a small container of powdered colostrum in one of the garage freezers. I trudged back to the garage and dug through the freezer until I found it. I measured the colostrum and warmed water and mixed them until the colostrum dissolved. Then I scoured the house for a plastic pop bottle. We don’t drink pop, but someone must have left one at some point. Nothing in the recycling. Nothing in the fridge. In a back corner of the pantry I found a bottle of iced tea. It didn’t have quite the right threads for the nipple I used, but it would work.

I tried to feed the wrinkly lamb. He wasn’t very interested. In fact, I couldn’t get him to drink at all. His belly felt flat, not concave, so he probably was nursing on his mom. I decided to stop worrying and look at him with more rested eyes at my 7 AM barn check.

Three days later, the wind across my face was no longer balmy. When I breathed, the cold caught at the back of my throat on each breath. The setting sun stained the western sky a beautiful orange that silhouetted the trees in our woods. Both lambs and number 56 were doing well. My Valentine’s gifts and holiday letters were finished. I only had one easy meeting left. Dave was due home in 24 hours.

As I walked back to the house and a nap on the sofa with a good book, I felt relaxed. I could lie around and read or sleep for three hours and not feel guilty. There were no problems in the barn, and no “to do” list in the house. For the next month, our responsibilities were to watch over the sheep and do what needed to be done to feed and clothe ourselves and sleep. This is the gift of lambing, the gift of simplicity.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

20 orange

We sheared two weeks ago - 41 sheep and 10 volunteers. At times I felt like Tom Sawyer; these people were all here because they wanted to experience the adventure of shearing sheep. They wanted, if just for a day, to live on the farm.

It was a perfect day for it, not too cold, not too warm. The sheep behaved admirably. The fleeces were nearly all perfect. The company was convivial. We had great conversations both in the barn and in the house over lunch.

Tom, the shearer, finished in 3 ½ hours, a new record. We weren’t quite done skirting fleeces yet, so the women insisted that we return to the barn after lunch and finish. They hauled the new fleeces to my storage shed and then bedded the barn with fresh straw. The sheep came in out of the cold, snuggled down into the straw and relaxed.

All except for 20 orange, a young white sheep who lay down next to the hay feeder instead of eating and didn’t want to move into the barn. I noticed a slight discharge from her vagina. Ooh, watch this ewe, I thought.

Sunday, she came slowly when Dave called her to eat. She didn’t seem a part of the flock. By Monday, she was back with the other sheep, seemingly fine. But a week later, she still had a slight bloody discharge.

Our sheep were a good week away from lambing; she’s not very big, and she doesn’t have much of an udder. I worry that she might have twisted her uterus when we sheared her. If we’re lucky, it twisted back and she and her baby will be fine. If the lamb isn’t lucky, she’ll lose the lamb. If we’re really unlucky, we could lose the ewe.

My books talk about reversing a uterine torsion by laying the ewe on her back, inserting your hand into her vagina so that you can feel when the torsion is reversed, and then rolling the ewe from side to side until the twist untwists. We won’t be able to tell what has happened until she goes into labor. I think we’ll get a second opinion then. This sounds like the kind of situation where I really wish I could use the Tom Sawyer technique and have someone else do the job.

Friday, February 3, 2012

For Love of Wool

One of the side effects of raising sheep and playing with fibers is that wool tends to become a decorative accent in your home whether you plan it or not. I have a beautiful basket of my natural colored yarns – creamy crystal, frost white, subtle, variegated oatmeal, light gray silver, medium gray smoke, dark gray charcoal, warm brown chai, dark gray brown chocolate, and my newest yarn, almost black coffee. Those are my yarn samples and I display them because I love the natural colors. In the entry way, we have another basket of yarns in blues and greens, because I love blue. In our bedroom, I have three large baskets of wool yarn and roving that doesn’t fit in my yarn dresser, the suitcases full of yarn piled decoratively in Laurel’s old bedroom or in the thirty odd plastic bins in the basement. Actually, that’s not fair, the bins in the basement are yarns to sell; the rest are my yarns to knit or crochet or weave.

Right now, I also have twenty bags of white fleece from 2011 in my entryway. I bring in a bag from the wool shed, skirt off the grungy bits, measure the fiber length, weigh it and set it in the pile to be spun into bulky yarn or the pile to be carded into batts for felting or mattress pads.

With all this wool in the house, Newton is in heaven. When he’s not sleeping, he’s snuffling for wool, enjoying either the tangy scent and flavor of lanolin and manure in the fleece, or the incredible mouth feel (I do not know this from personal experience!) of the clean, carded or spun fibers. If I can’t find Newton, chances are he’s head first in a fleece or a basket of wool, completely in love.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Mostly, I write with a pen – I’ve used pencil, marker, even crayon (in the middle of the night when I was about 17 – a great piece of poetry I still remember.), but pen is my standard.

Somehow, pen seems more permanent than pencil, and as a writer, I want my words to resonate across the decades, to last forever. My notebooks were page after page of my blue or black scrawls until Athena, the publisher of my book, From Sheep to Shawl, persuaded me to reward myself with a brightly colored pen. Her favorite was hot pink. It took me a couple of years, but now I buy colored pens fairly often. My favorites are purple and teal.
I use the brightly colored pens for writing , but they also work really well for editing. You can’t ignore a purple comment or correction on a page of black lines.

Many writers do their composition right on the computer; I still use paper for my first and second drafts. My mind works better when it can use circles and arrows and carets on paper as a part of the editing process. Only then can I type the third draft, or if I’m skillful, the final draft, into my computer.

I like colored pens for writing except when I’m in the barn. I used to keep all my barn records in pen, for permanence you know, until the day we were giving shops and I spilled a bottle of rubbing alcohol onto my barn notebook. The ink is permanent, but my words weren’t. The alcohol dissolved the ink and spread it until it precipitated out at the edges of the pages in beautiful clouds of purple, green, blue and black, all content gone.

Now, I write with pencil in the barn, I keep my writing notebooks away from alcohol, and I try to remind myself that nothing is permanent.