Monthly Archives: June 2012


Glacier Bay, Alaska

Twenty years ago my not-yet-husband Jesse spent the summer working in Glacier Bay, Alaska.  He fell deeply in love with it, and has longed to go back ever since then.  When you live in the midwest, Alaska is no weekend car trip.  It’s a big deal!  Hence, we have never made it there since he returned.  Until now, that is.  We knew a full-fledged family vacation, complete with lodgings and meals, airplane tickets for six and the other trimmings, wasn’t likely to happen.  Unless maybe we sold the house.  Or one of the kids.  Not gonna happen.

So after some daydreaming on his part and urging on mine, he eschewed the idea of taking the whole family, and modestly packed our oldest daughter off for a ten day wilderness camping expedition in Glacier Bay National Park.  Camping, youth hostels and dried beans and rice were doable!

Cecily at Bartlett Cove

I get to retrieve them from the airport late tonight.  They will have good stories and good memories to share, and I’m sure they won’t let me sleep a wink on the drive home.

My wandering hero at Blackwater Pond. I seem to remember another photograph, twenty years before, in the same spot.


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The Golden Hour

This is the front porch of the Cooperstown Bed and Breakfast in Cooperstown, NY. If I could wave my hand and make it so, everyone would have a lovely spot somewhere to sit and renew mind, spirit, and body whenever they needed it.

I have asked some of my friends what their favorite rituals are.  Sadly, many of them can’t answer that question.  Is this world so fast paced that we have lost our ability even to recharge ourselves?  To take in the beauty of the moment?  It is important for people to have signposts in their lives, I think.  We do have some spread out throughout the year – holidays, birthdays, special events such as weddings.

But what about in the day-to-day?  How many todays have flown by, running one into the next until each day becomes a nearly indistinguishable yesterday from any other?

It was near dinnertime yesterday on the long drive home from the Holland/Saugatuck, Michigan area where I had taken my two youngest children tent camping.  I was driving, looking forward with anticipation to this morning when I would once again  take part in my own daily ritual.  I was actually a bit distressed that here I was, again, thinking about coffee on the porch in the morning.  Is it even healthy to think about it so much?  It seems that I actually start looking forward to this ritual by midafternoon about every day, and my thoughts continue to come back to it throughout the rest of the day.  For me, it is a beautiful, necessary start to my day.

I wake earlier than my children, but after my early-rising husband, who has already headed downstairs to his office most days.  I put either tea or coffee on and I steam my milk on the stove.  Every step to preparing my coffee is calculated, though not necessarily important of itself.  But it must be done to get to the good part!  Then, weather permitting, I take my coffee to the front porch, spread a throw across my lap, and look out over my flower beds and across the lawn at the orchard and the woodland trees.  There are always birds about – many times woodpeckers and hummingbirds.  Bees and dragonflies flit busily around the flowers.  The fresh air, the morning light… it is all part of the experience.  I can nurse my coffee there for an hour, and I often do, alone with my thoughts, the sights, sounds, smells, and breezes of the morning.

My own front porch, with the periwinkle blue door that makes me smile. If I could, I would capture the essence of my mornings for you … the flowers, the trees, the sunshine, the flying creatures, the birdsong. You must conjure it up in your own mind, and add the loveliness to it.

Oh, there are variations, of course.  If the black flies or mosquitos are bad, I zip myself into the screened in canopy tent on the back deck.  If it is too cold I will cocoon myself up in the club chair in my bedroom or out on the back sunporch with the kerosene heater burning.  If I am traveling, I will seek a hot drink that makes me happy, and search out a quiet spot to enjoy it.  But it is the time that is valuable.  The sipping, the reflecting, the slow start to my day.

My Grandpa used to wake at 6 am and sit at the kitchen table for an hour or more with his black coffee and a newspaper.  At the tender age of eight, or ten, or even twenty, it sounded like madness!  But I am his grandchild, there is no doubt, with a bit of my Dad thrown in.  Dad has an appreciation for the outdoors I never saw in Grandpa.  But you put the two together and there is nothing finer, nothing more rejuvenating to me than a slow, savory drinking of hot tea or coffee smack dab in the middle of nature in the morning!

I have asked my friends.  Now I ask you.  What are your favorite rituals?

Do you have any?  Would it do your spirit good to create one that is uniquely you?  Mine is a beautiful, invigorating, reflective, creative, altogether necessary part of living a beautiful life.  I hope you can enjoy such frequent stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of moments in your own life.


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Farm Spotlight: Spur

Cecily is practicing exercises in “Bridleless Riding” with Spur. Look, Ma! No hands! Cecily is fourteen now.  Imagine her as a small-sized ten-year-old on this long-legged lady!

Our beloved mare, Shalimar Spur, is the granddaughter of the renowned harness racing superstar Cam Fella.  Cam Fella raked in over $2,000,000 in race winnings over his career and has sired at least sixteen million-dollar-plus earning offspring, and at least 268 other high earners in succeeding generations.  Cam Fella was one of those rare equine superstars with a heart the size of Texas, that just refused to be beaten.  And he rarely was.  Cam Fella “did his winning face-to-face, looking the competition in the eye and not letting it past.” He died at the Kentucky Horse Park, and rests there in their Hall of Fame.

Cam Fella: A major force in the world of Harness Racing.

That “heart” sums up our Spur pretty well.  She takes after her grandsire in her exceedingly long legs and her big heart.  She loves to race, and though she has been retired from the racing circuit many years before she joined our farm, there is nothing she loves more than to be hooked up to a cart.  Every pleasure ride we take is, to her, another chance to shine!  She comes up to the corner down our lane, and, I just know, she thinks “Here it is!  I’m rounding the corner for the home stretch!”  And she invariably speeds up her already breath-taking trot.  In fact, her canter (which she had to be trained to do – Standardbreds are trained “out of” cantering, since they cannot break out of a trot into a canter during their harness races) is not a lick faster than her trot.  Imagine a horse who can trot as fast as she can canter!  And she’ll look any horse in the eye and refuse to let it past.  She just speeds up faster and faster – she doesn’t quite get that a trail ride isn’t a competition, and that it’s okay to let another horse pass her!  LOL!

But I love Spur’s heart.  She’s really Cecily’s horse.  Cecily acquired her several years ago when she was about ten years old and only knee-high to a grasshopper.  And it seemed ridiculous to me that she didn’t want a smaller horse.  Spur is 16 hands tall with legs that go on forever!  But Cecily is nimble, and mounting her from the ground – without a mounting block – has been no challenge for her.

And Spur does love to go.  Oh, she loves to go!  When we first got her she was geeky.  You’d start to mount and the minute your foot hit the stirrup she was off!  Her previous owner liked her that way – geeky to go and mildly crazy.  But she’s not really like that.  Not anymore.  She is patient and kind (unless you’re a horse lower in the pecking order – then she’ll put you in your place).  Cecily has worked with her consistently for three years now and taught her all kinds of things, from basic control, to patience, to riding bridleless.  Who would have thought you could mount a geeked-up ex-race horse, who would stand there patiently and wait for your signal to move out.  And without reins or a bridle.  Cecily is still working on fine tuning that, but she can get Spur to “whoa” and “go” and turn and flex her head all without any reins.  I’m impressed!

Spur is getting older now.  She’s around twenty years old.  She wouldn’t be considered worth much anymore to most people, as older horses are often shied away from when someone is looking to buy – whether for driving or riding.  And her earnings record was never impressive enough for her to be used as a broodmare.  But she gets more valuable to us as time goes by and she learns more and more at Cecily’s hands.  I’d still never let anyone without significant experience ride her outside of the arena, but she’s a valuable addition to our farm, and has been a valuable ingredient in who Cecily is and who she is becoming.

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Deliciousness! Strawberry Crepes

My handsome husband whisked me away to the Widow’s Watch Bed and Breakfast on the shores of Lake Huron in Harrisville, Michigan last August 13 to celebrate our anniversary.  Proprietor Ann Hall made us the most scrumptious crepes for breakfast, serving them with the raspberries that she’d picked fresh that morning.  They were fabulous with raspberries!  And they’re fabulous with strawberries, too.  If you are anywhere near Michigan, do give Ann a call and book a room at The Widow’s Watch.  The accomodations are adequate, the food is better, Ann herself is wonderful, and the opportunity to sit in the wicker chairs on the front porch, gazing out over the harbor on Lake Huron is the cure for absolutely whatever ails your mind and soul!  When you call, tell Ann that I sent you!

After we returned to the very dailyness of everyday life, I had to find that recipe.  I found a recipe on Taste of Home’s website for Strawberry-Banana Crepes that was a good approximation to what Ann had served us.  Of course, it is really good with any berries.  I’ve made it with strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and a mixture of several kinds of berries.  Any berry will do!  I tweaked the recipe I found at Taste of Home just a tiny bit and here is what I came up with:

Strawberry Crepes

1 c. all purpose flour

1 Tbs. sugar

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 1/2 c. milk

2 eggs

Butter for greasing your crepe pan (non-stick pan really is needed)

1 – 8 oz. pkg softened cream cheese (don’t use low-fat here.  It’s not worth it)

1 small carton Cool Whip

1/2 c. powdered sugar

Sliced strawberries, or any kind of berry or berries you like, 1-2 cups


Heat your crepe pan (an 8″ non-stick skillet) over a medium flame – a griddle may also be used in a pinch.  Mix together flour, sugar, cinnamon, milk, and eggs until well blended.  Pour a thin layer of batter into the crepe pan – about 2-4 Tbs.  Lift and tilt pan to coat bottom evenly.  Allow to cook until edges and top begin to dry out.  Flip crepe and cook an additional 15 or 20 seconds.  Remove from skillet to a wire rack to cool.  Continue cooking crepes until batter is gone.

In a large bowl, while crepes are cooling, beat together softened cream cheese, Cool Whip and powdered sugar until light and fluffy and ingredients are well-mixed.  Spread two rounded tablespoons of Cool Whip mixture down the center of each crepe, and fold the sides of the crepe over top.  Sprinkle with berries to your liking and serve immediately.

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Filed under Home, The Country Kitchen

Horse Fall Injury – Saved by the Arnica!

Last week I fell of my horse.  I sustained injuries which were relatively serious, yet at the same time pretty innocuous because I’d been wearing a helmet and didn’t break any bones.  Saxton and I hadn’t been working in the arena more than about three minutes when my son, who was out sawing up firewood, pulled logs down off the pile, causing it to tumble and crash and generally make scary noises.

Saxton spooks on a pretty regular basis, and I’ve never fallen off him when he spooked before.  He usually jumps to the side, then stops and I can recollect my lost balance and get him back on track.  Not so this time.  Whether the pile kept crashing (which I suspect) or Saxton was just being a fruitcake (which is also a definite possibility) I don’t know.  But he spooked, I lost my balance, and before I could regain it, he spooked again, then spun around.

That was it for me.  I went flying off, tearing my hip flexor tendon in the process.  I flew through the air, landed on my mid-back, and smacked my head extremely hard against the ground.  Cecily tells me, though I haven’t seen it yet, that there is a “splotch” on the back of my helmet where my head hit the ground.  My very first thought was, “I am so glad I have my helmet on!”  If I hadn’t been wearing it, that “splotch” would have been on my skull.

I laid there for a good several minutes while Saxton, who evidently thought that “it” had gotten me – otherwise why was I lying on the ground, right?  … had gone bucking and tearing around the arena.  My kids came running down to help and brought me some arnica pellets (smart kids!!!).  I couldn’t stand up, really.  My back was spasming when I tried to straighten.  But after an arnica pellet, I slowly stood up and managed to begin lunging Saxton.  After all, you don’t want your horse to think that, because he dumped you, he gets a free day off.  Cecily came down and relieved me, which was good because I could hardly stand up!

The arnica I took is a homeopathic remedy made from the arnica flower.  It helps ameliorate shock and traumatic injury, including bruising.  I keep plenty on hand because with four kids somebody is often getting kicked in the ribs at karate or falling off their horse – oh, wait, that’s my husband and me.  Never mind about the kids.  Usually when we do something pretty serious like smash a finger, we’ll take maybe four or five doses (it’s the frequency, not the amount of dose that matters with homeopathics).  I must have taken about nine doses that day and three or four over the next two days.  It made a huge difference in my recovery.  I was sore.  And by the end of the day, I couldn’t actually use my left leg or lift my head when I was lying down.  Severe whiplash and a torn hip flexor tendon attachment.  I’ve had horse fall injuries four other times in my life.  This has been, by far, the most serious and extensive damage, although no broken bones as in two other falls, but I also am having the quickest recovery.  The doctor told me my injuries were similar to those sustained in a serious car accident.  Wow.

In addition to the arnica pellets, I also used an arnica oil preparation on my neck where the whiplash has rendered my neck pretty useless for awhile, and on the spot where my tendon was torn.  Great stuff!  I wouldn’t do without either one.  Though if I had to pick just one I’d go with the pellets.

Anyway, no I’m not selling my horse.  He didn’t buck me off, though he bucked like a fool after I was on the ground.  He wasn’t being ornery, he was being a horse.  He’s a prey animal.  Their strongest instinct is to flee from danger, whether that means they lose their partner or not.  It’s every man (or horse in this case) for himself.

We just need to work on ramping up his desensitization and get him a bit less reactive to “scary” things!

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Leafrollers in the Orchard

The “Gala” tree in the forefront is about 8′ tall. 

We have leafrollers in our orchard.  They prefer the Honeycrisp and Sweet Sixteen trees for some reason, and seem to stay away from all the other trees.  On the surface, it seems easier to spray for them to get rid of them.  But spraying would also reduce the population of beneficial critters in the orchard, and could add a good dose of poison to the apples I’m going to eat, as well!

The easier way?  Pick off the leaves that have leafrollers in them and squash them!  It actually takes less time to do that right then, while I’m there, than to go get a sprayer, mix up some spray, spray the trees, empty and clean the sprayer and put it away – not to mention having to go buy the stuff…  Easier still?  Pay the kids ten cents apiece for each leaf with a leafroller in it that they can find, show me, then squash the dickens out of!!!  Go kids!

Erin Lahey: Writer, editor, and host of the Small Home Farm Radio podcast.

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The Arena Rundown: Designing and Building a Dual Purpose Arena

Cecily riding her horse, Spur, during the maiden voyage in the newly completed riding arena. The arena doubles as a paddock when not in use by riders.

The arena was finished last week, and I launched into installing the hotwire on the top of it right away.  Then the skies opened up and it rained cats and dogs here for two days over the weekend!  We finally went out into the rain to finish it up.  Except for a few miscellaneouse pieces of hardware I need to pick up the next time I get to town, it’s done!

Although I did some groundwork with Saxton, The Very Handsome Gelding (ahem!) before it rained, I didn’t get a chance to do any riding until yesterday.  The first ride of the year!  I am always, always nervous the first time around.  I really like Saxton a lot.  And I respect him.  His personality and attitude are very similar to mine.  He likes to work, and he likes to be challenged and to learn new things.  And he’s a little bit lazy.  LOL!  There is certainly a lazy streak in me, though most people would never tell!  Probably because I get busy doing something inconsequential – like baking cookies – when I don’t want to get down to the real work on my to-do list!  And occasionally he freaks out and acts like a fruitcake.  I don’t know if I act like a fruitcake, but I have been known to freak out when someone opens a second jar of mayo or loaf of bread before the first one is gone!  Well – mildly.  I complain a lot.

So when I first got Saxton, and he was feeling, not just a little lazy, but a lot lazy, and he didn’t really like the idea of some relative stranger taking him out for a ride, he bucked me off.  Twice.  Oh, ow.  First time I broke my finger, second time I messed up my back – a lot.  So although we have reached a very amiable relationship now – he has learned to respect me as his leader, and I mean, he is very respectful.  I do still have some very painful memories lingering (and a painful finger that never quite healed all the way back to normal) centered around the first ride of the year.

All that explanation, I know.  But it was just to say, I was nervous.  I tried to really relax and hang loose, though, because a horse feels that tenseness in your muscles, no matter how small.  Then they start thinking , “Hey, if she’s scared, there must be something to be scared of.  I wonder what it is!  Oh, no!  It might eat me!”  Everything is a potential predator to a horse.  There’s an adage in the horse world.  Horses are afraid of only two things.  Things that move, and things that don’t move.  So I tried to really relax and just review some of the lessons we were learning at the end of last year.  He was a little rusty on some things, fabulous on others, and he moved out a little fast for nervous ol’ me.  But he did great.  I didn’t get bucked off.  All is well!

And the new arena is really nice!  So much more room to do our stuff!  Wow!  And with the fence so high (54″), in spite of the hotwire on the top of the fence, it didn’t faze him a bit.  He put his face right on the rails, wasn’t nervous about getting zapped.  It was exactly what I was trying to achieve with the new fencing!  So here are some photos during and after construction:

It took our family about one solid month of work to clear all the brush and trees out of this area for new expansion.

Then the excavators came. They hauled away several dozen loads of stumps, chitlings, and dirt. Our good neighbor, Russ, took a mountain of dirt off our hands to fill in a giant low spot on his property. We were so grateful! The excess dirt after grading the arena to slope away from the barn made a pile 8-10′ high by 90′ long and probably 25′ wide!

From the far corner of the new clearing, looking back at the lonely little barn. It seemed hard to imagine what things would be like once the fence was installed.

Can you see the two corner posts in the upper left of the photo? We went with 45-degree angle corners instead of 90-degree angles. They make it easier to work the arena with equipment when you need to groom the footing. All corner and end posts were concreted in place for good stability … especially in this super-sandy soil!

The two men who installed our fence take obvious pride in their work. I appreciated very much the pains they took to make it beautiful and long-lasting. See how level the rails are? They also packed the base of each line post with limestone to prevent them from shifting or sagging in this loose sand. I wouldn’t have known to do that! This is what things looked like at the end of the first day of rail installation.

The finished arena.  Looking toward the east end.  Betsy is riding Lacy.

Standing in the front paddock, looking to the west end of the arena. Cecily is riding Spur.

I tried to capture the front paddock in this photo. It’s a small pen. We can put a horse in here if they need to be separated, quarantined, or if we are using the stalls to tack up horses. We have four horses, but only three stalls. I was thinking of putting a tie-ring on one of the posts in the front paddock so someone could be tacking up a horse, or tying their horse to the “Post of Knowledge” after a lesson. But so far, since Saxton will just stand next to the door of the tack room without being tied and I can just tack him up in the paddock, I haven’t seen a pressing need to install one yet.

We have two “walk-throughs” constructed right into our fencing. This one is in the front paddock. You can’t see that the water trough is immediately to the right inside the paddock, and the water pump is immediately to the right outside the paddock. This way we can walk through easily to dump the stock tank and scrub it, or add Basic-H or anything else to the water easily. The third post, spaced between, and in front of, the other two line posts, keeps horses from getting through, but lets a person in.

This is the second walk-through. It’s in the exterior fencing, not the arena fencing.  The fencing here encourages the horses to walk up past the house if they get loose somehow (okay, really to tear up, like they’re crazy-mad) and to the orchard (their favorite grazing spot!) and eat grass.  It makes it so easy to catch them!  The fence also keeps them from going out into the street and getting hurt, too.  The board across the top keeps a horse from getting out into the road (this would not have worked when we had a mini). The blue gate to the left is one of the double-gates that goes across the driveway from our road to the horse barn. Often we have to drive down there and do something and we don’t want to open the gates all the way, so we just squirt under the top board of the walk-through.

After the hard fencing was all installed, we added one hotwire along the top of the rails (as seen behind me in the photo above). It is high enough that the horses don’t mind putting their noses on (or near) the posts or rails when we are doing certain exercises that call for it. That handsome, studly gelding is Saxton. Do I sound biased? Saxton rocks!

Our stalls are open-sided so that when no one is actually riding, the horses use it as their paddock. We rigged up this clever hotwire system to both subdivide the paddock and have temporary stall gates to keep horses in or out of stalls. Each stall gate is made of two insulated fencing handles with electro-braid tied between them. Then we bought special three-way connectors that you can hook them into. So we can have handles hooked into the connectors on each side, and/or a very long version of the stall gate strung on step-in posts from the stall divider to a post on the opposite side of the paddock.  This makes a long, skinny paddock that we can completely take down when we want the full use of the arena. We keep Lacy in her own paddock since she’s so old and eats so slowly. The other horses would finish her grain and hay and she’d be even skinnier than she is now!  That step-in post that is just sitting directly in front of the stall divider is there to keep the horses from getting too close to the “rail” under the overhang – a poor design flaw of mine.  I didn’t consider how close our heads would be to the 2′ overhang of the barn roof.  But this is a great solution.  The horses stay off of it, and if they run into it they’ll just knock it over and that’ll be the extent of it.

Here is a close up of the three-way electrical connectors. We have to make sure each stall’s wire gate is hooked into active electric somewhere along the circuit if we want the gate electrified. We don’t always, though, because the horses already know they don’t want to touch it, so even when it’s not on they don’t usually test it to see!  The two electro-braid strands coming off the middle subdivide the main arena into a large paddock and one smaller, 24’x95′ paddock for Lacy.  

That’s all for now folks! ‘Bye from me (yellow shirt) and Saxton (blue saddle pad). I know it’s hard to tell who is who! And for you real horse people, never mind the mixed media with the western bridle – love that bling!!! – and the English Saddle. I get much better contact for training with my English Saddle. And Saxton looks even more gorgeous with all that bling on his brow!


Filed under Farm, Horses