Monday, January 28, 2013

Refrigerator Masterpieces

I have a papered refrigerator. Nowhere else in the house is papered; I learned years ago that paper doesn’t stand up to little fingers and rambunctious boys. But the refrigerator is covered with the artwork of grandchildren. When they come to my house one of the things they like to do is color. To that extent I keep coloring books and crayons replenished on their little table.

Their mother wants to know why they don’t color at their own home, at least not as much as here. I don’t know. Maybe it’s the choice of pictures in the coloring books, or the chance to use fresh crayons. I remember how wonderful it was to get new crayons and how it motivated me to color more pictures.
So these pictures are displayed with pride on the frig. They use every magnet available, and orderly cover the entire front with their masterpieces. 

Last night I was researching horse poems for a project, and came across a song entitled “Watercolor Ponies”.* The songwriter talks of the pictures of water color ponies on his refrigerator door, and how soon the children will be gone and the water color ponies will ride away. Great song to remind parents, and grandparents, how time flies and children do not stay little long. 

Next time they color I am going to join them. And when it’s time to hang more pictures on the frig and there’s no room, I will have them choose the ones they want to save in a folder, so some day when they are grown, I can look back and remember these days of childhood pastimes, coloring pictures for grandma’s frig.

*Watercolor Ponies by Wayne Watson, Nov 15, 2005 album “How Time Flies”

Friday, January 25, 2013

Lambing Time

 Well, it’s that time of year again. That time between the busy holidays of Christmas and the spring activities of Maple festival and Easter. In other words, the dead of winter and the lambing season.
Lambing: icy winds whistling thru the barn cracks, buckets freezing, and all the extra work of filling hay racks and pushing through the flocks with feed while they try to run you down and grab mouthfuls from the bucket before you even get a chance to dump it in the feeders.

I maintain that most if not all people get involved with sheep before they know what they are getting into. It’s a learn by experience curve, and old shepherds only tell you what you can think to ask and in the beginning, that’s not very much because you don’t even know enough to know what questions TO ask. By the time you see what it is all about, you are hooked on these stupid, irritating, satisfying and peaceful animals.

You know what old timers say about sheep? “They are born looking for a place to die.”  That is never more true then at lambing time. When the temperatures fall below freezing, especially if it’s a lot below freezing, that’s when the ewes will pick to lamb. It may be forty degrees for a week, and they will wait until the first night it gets below twenty. They will pick the coldest, darkest part of the barn to give birth, and if they have twins, sometimes will get up and move to a different location to have the second, leaving the poor first one to fend for itself and try to relocate mom.

So sometime after midnight-gee I think that could sound like a country song- I bundle up and head for a lamb check. On a good night it’s a quick peek and back to bed before I think my body has even realized it’s been awake. But on the coldest night as I near the barn I will hear the unmistakable crooning of a mom to its baby and the high pitched bleat of the newborn. Then the adrenaline kicks in, and I move into high gear, no longer sleep walking. 

I check everything: who has lambed, how many, are they up, have they nursed? I move mom and babies to a lambing jug, a small pen arranged with heat lamp and water bucket. I towel babies and check teats to make sure milk is flowing. Sometimes I struggle to get the lamb on the nipple. Once they are cold they lose the instinct to suckle. There are all kinds of complications that can occur, but the best feeling is to see lambs butt the udder to let down the milk, wiggling their little tails as the warm fluid hits their tummies. 

No matter how late it is, I stand and watch with satisfaction. Because they can so easily give up the struggle to survive, I will take a few moments to relax against the jug wall and think of future plans. For the next 2 months, this is my life.

Friday, January 18, 2013


Why do we agonize over names so much? Of course, naming a child is a big deal. A name has meaning, and it can be a link to the child’s heritage, a part of belonging. But we also take days sometimes to name an animal. Sometimes the name of an animal will pop into my head like I know who that animal is. My Christmas puppy of five years ago is named Jingle Bells and we call him Jingles for short, or if I am being affectionate with him, Jingle bellies (like the jelly beans I love). And when we got his mate the following Christmas, it only made sense to name her Bella. Jingles and Bella, yes, well.
People ask me all the time if I name my sheep. Of course. Everything on this farm has a name. The sheep are registered animals, at least the show ones. And it’s actually easier to refer to a sheep by a name rather than a number. My sheep are named along their blood or family lines. For instance, my grandson’s champion ewe lamb this year is named Mallory. Her mother’s name is Valerie (rhymes). She was born on Valentine’s Day, and her mother is Darlene, whose mother is Darla, whose mother is Spanky.(See the link from Little Rascals?) Spanky is one of our original sheep, when we decided we were really going to do this sheep thing. She is a mix of several breeds but she had a nice fleece and was an excellent mother. So we have kept every ewe lamb of that line. One of her daughters was Spring (starts with same letters) who then had Robin, who then had Phoenix whose babies all have names starting with “PH”.
So naming an animal is a fun game. The grandchildren like to name the lambs, with grandma getting right of veto. And they love to play the name game with me, saying “who is that? Who is their mother?” and hear me recite back to the original sheep and where that sheep came from.
Naming a horse is even a bigger deal. Sometimes a horse comes with a name, maybe even a registered name and then you are stuck with it. Imagine our consternation when the registered Quarter Horse came with the name Candy Honey Bunny and was used to being called Honey! Now I don’t know about others, but I reserve the name Honey for my husband and little children. And we already had a Honey Bunch, so why not Honey Bunny. We even go around singing their songs: Aw Sugar, aw Honey Bunny, you are my Candy girl.. and Sugar Pie Honey Bunch… But I must admit it gets confusing sometimes.
So my point? At least we don’t have common boring old names, like Brownie, Blackie, Spot, or Blaze. Our past Amish neighbors are not usually so creative. The vet’s computer finally spit back the names King and Prince and Queenie as indistinguishable from all the other client’s horses of that name. So next time you name your pet, please give it a name all its own. Something other than, “NO NO Bad Dog!”

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Do You Have An Accent?


 I don’t have an accent. That’s not to say people from Pennsylvania don’t have accents. I have a friend everyone recognizes when she phones, and she wonders why. We tell her she has a “dutchy” accent-from the Pennsylvania Dutch (actually German descendants) of the area. And then of course she puts on the real heavy accent as a joke. 

I remember traveling to Vienna Austria when I was in college. The first Sunday there I attended church and thought, “Oh no, my German is so terrible I can’t even understand it spoken by natives.” My host family assured me that no, they had been speaking a German dialect. What we learn in school is considered High German and everyone knows it. 

So when we moved here, I thought there would be no problem. Everyone speaks English. Not the “King’s English” that we used to imitate when we were in high school, putting on the British accent, although I was never good at it, but could do a passable Irish brogue. 

I found out differently. One of the first Sundays here the pastor spoke about the “wheel” of God. Later my husband and I compared notes and the same thought had run through our minds, with the same aha! light bulb of realization. Was he talking about the passage in the Bible in Ezekiel where the prophet talks about wheels? Only reference either of us could think of where a wheel was mentioned in the Bible. No. He was actually talking about the WILL of God. 

Or the time of miscommunication over a pen. NO, I didn’t need a pin. I needed a pen. OH, that is called a writing “pin”, so you would know the difference between a pen and a pin. And of course, the same problem ariseswhen you switch tin and ten. How much money do you want? They haven't made pennies from tin since Revolutionary times!

The most humorous of all was the lady I called about a dog. She actually had two advertised and I wanted to know about them. She proceeded to tell me that were “na kid” or at least that’s what I thought she said. I thought, “They’re what? Naked? Dogs naked? They have no fur, or what?” So I said, “Excuse me?” and we repeated the exchange several times before she got frustrated with this stupid northerner and said, “They’re not related!” Oh, they’re no KIN!

Of course now that we’ve lived here awhile, we don’t have these problems anymore, although we have been back to that lady and while I had no trouble understanding her, my daughter said she was really glad I was along because she didn’t know what the lady was saying. I still don’t think I have an accent, but I can’t say the same for my son. Even his native West Virginian wife says how his accents thickens the longer he is in conversation with other natives. 

What is it? It’s not southern, it’s not anything I’ve ever heard before, but I believe it may have something to do with the Scottish immigrants that settled in the area, and the fact that for the longest time West Virginia mountain people were so isolated that their English did not change as much as elsewhere in the United States. 

So when you come for a visit, don’t worry. We do speak English and are understandable for the most part. If you need to ask someone to repeat themselves, they don’t mind. They probably just think you have a funny accent.  A soda is a “pop” and ice tea is always sweet; those are the important things.