Thursday, February 19, 2015

Nothing Tougher than a Barn Cat!

I am very pleased to report that even with the temperature at -3 this morning, the animals of Harrison Farm are all doing fantastic!  On my many trips to the barn today, my devoted companions have been my awesome barn cats: Mask & Peppermint.  Even with the snow, these two cats are almost always running around my feet while I do chores.

Peppermint is originally from Jorgensen Farms.  He was one of the infamous litter of Jorgensen Farms kittens that are now grown up.  His siblings Basil, Lovage, Sage, and Girl Thyme are still at the farm in New Albany, but Peppermint became a problem there and needed a new home.  He was the most anti-social of the litter, and could not be caught by a human.  This was a huge problem -- as the cats have a very special Kitty Cottage at Jorgensen Farms where they go during events.  I volunteered to give him a home, and he has flourished at Harrison Farm.  Peppermint often hangs out on my back porch, and waits for me to head to the barn.  It is hard for me to believe that this cat that once hated humans now follows me around the farm like a dog!

Mask is my original barn cat, and was born at Harrison Farm.  She is incredibly loving to humans, but detests other cats.  Even though Mask & Peppermint look like they could be siblings, she absolutely cannot stand him.  This seems to encourage Peppermint to try harder to get her to play -- usually resulting in Mask slapping him across the face.  Mask is about ten years old now, and she is a fantastic mouser.  She is also tough as can be: I have nursed her back twice from injuries, and she continues to be the Grand Dame of the Barn.

In contrast to these two wonderful barn cats is my house cat, Cash Cat.  Cash does spend time both inside the house and outside.  During this cold snap, however, he seems content to stay in the house.  Cash is quite intimidated by both Mask and Peppermint, but likes to go outside despite this triangle of feline animosity.  Cash came into my life when he was a tiny kitten.  He barely had his eyes open when I found him . . . in the mouth of my beloved Pyrenees dog Sheba!  He was not hurt; Sheba was just carrying him around like a toy.  At that time, Cash was so small that he barely had his eyes open.  I fed him kibble softened in milk at first, and he rapidly grew into a little Tasmanian Devil (no joke: that is how he is known at the vet clinic).  Cash -- the Cat in Black -- is a wonderful companion, and keeps the back porch clear of mice.

It intrigues me that cats adapt so well to their surroundings.  Mask & Peppermint are very content outside even in cold weather.  I have tried previously to bring Mask onto the back porch in the winter, and she resists this heartily.  I can only compare it to the way humans also acclimate to different temperatures: I recall visiting my father in Florida during wintertime as a child, and when the temperature would fall into the 50s, I would be wearing a sweater while the Floridians would be bundled up in heavy coats . . . And visitors from parts of Canada would still be in shorts on the beach!  

My barn cats, just like my livestock, have plenty of water & extra food in the cold winter months.  They know where the comfortable spots are in the barn to bed down at night, in order to stay warm.  They are alert & healthy, and they earn their keep by being good hunters.  Animals have different needs in this manner: many dog breeds must spend as much time as possible inside a house during cold temperatures, others (like Pyrenees dogs) are very comfortable outside in colder temperatures.  Likewise, my goats & sheep grow winter coats of cashmere & wool that help them to stay comfortable in the winter.  I am an advocate for providing the best care possible for each specific type of animal, recognizing that they have unique needs!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Winter time at Harrison Farm

I love my little farm, with all its tedious nuances.  In the winter time, it can be more of a struggle to complete the daily chores.  There were many things that required extra attention today.  The livestock need more calories in this weather so that their bodies can keep them warm, and thus I end up carrying more hay & grain to them through the snow.  They still need fresh water (especially since they are only a few weeks from kidding & lambing), and the ancient frozen water lines of the barn often result in me carrying bucket after bucket of water from the house to fill their troughs.  The chickens do well tucked into their little henhouse, but I have to check for eggs frequently.  In these cold temperatures, the eggs will literally freeze and crack open.  This is the reality of a small farm.

With the cold weather which we have had this week, I have been extremely grateful that my little farm is in a good situation.  I am relieved that I made the decision to scale down my herds, as it is much more manageable with only 30 goats and 15 sheep.  I am pleased that the mothers which I kept are strong & hardy, and are proving themselves very capable of tolerating this weather.  I am grateful that the animals bred later in the fall, and will not be having babies until March.  And, I am delighted that the twin lambs -- who were surprise arrivals in January -- are growing well thanks to a wonderful mother sheep.  In particular, I am happy that my work schedule at Jorgensen Farms has slowed down, allowing me to be home at my farm this week.

I have never lost my amazement at the beauty of winter snow on the farm.  And the resultant challenges just make me more proud of my tough animals . . . And also make me hope that I am becoming tougher.  Farming truly builds character.  That character develops from being frozen and kicked and peed on.  It comes from making mistakes, and learning from them so that future situations are better.  It comes from falling over in the snow while carrying a bale of hay, from spilling a bucket of water that immediately freezes on your overalls, from chasing the goat that always gets out through drifted snow.  Truly, farming is a rare education.

Farmers do take great pride in being "tough".  There are times when I wonder why anybody would farm (Come be a farmer!  Work long hours in bad conditions for little pay with no time off!), but I cannot imagine my life any other way.  I admit that I can fall prey to the temptation to mock those I hear complaining on the local news on how terribly miserable it is to have to walk from their house to their car in this weather to drive to their 40-hour per week job with benefits.  The reality, though, is that every life and every job has its struggles.  I am blessed to have a life that has made me tougher, made me more resourceful, and taught me to value the good things around me.  Farming is difficult, but it builds integrity.  I wish everyone could have the opportunity to deliver a baby lamb and watch it grow.  I wish everyone could learn the reward of accomplishing something that is truly a physical struggle, like baling hay in the hot summer sun.  I wish everyone had to slaughter their own meat at some point, and come to terms with the reality of the cycle of life for both animals and humans.  I wish everyone could have the pleasure of baking cookies with eggs from their own chickens or grilling chops from an animal they raised.  Farming is tough, but there are few things better for building integrity.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Happy Presidents Day from Harrison Farm!

My grandfather & I shared a mutual love of history, and this greatly shaped my childhood.  Other children went to the zoo, to amusement parks, to local swimming pools. I was taken to forts where my grandfather shared stories of Indian attacks, to battlefields where he regaled me with information about the Civil War, and to an astonishing number of cemeteries where we paid our respects to American heroes.  He reserved his greatest admiration for President Abraham Lincoln -- and since I was convinced that my grandfather was absolutely correct about everything, I echoed that sentiment.

My grandfather told me stories about Lincoln's youth when I was a child, and then gave me his own books about the president to read as soon as I was able.  Thanks to my grandfather's tutoring, I was as enamored of President Lincoln as he was.  He took me to Lincoln's home in Springfield for the first time when I was eight.  It was a wonderful trip, and I have returned to visit twice since then.

On my first trip to Springfield, we saw an exhibition of sculptures related to Lincoln -- including several busts of the president -- by my grandfather's friend, the artist John Frank.  Mr. Frank resided in Missouri.  We visited his studio there a couple of times during my childhood, and each visit he sent me home with a gift.  I treasure the small bust of Lincoln he gave me, and remember vividly my excitement when he let me pick out any print I wanted to take home from his studio.  That print of a winter scene, as well as the sculpture of "The Prairie Lawyer" are fantastic mementos of my youth.  Although I was young, I knew that my grandfather greatly valued his friendship with Mr. Frank.  My grandfather always enjoyed conversing with others who shared his love of history, and who could offer their perspective on history.

In my grandfather's den, he had a plaque hanging on the wall with a Lincoln quote.  I now have it hanging in the farmhouse kitchen so that I see it every day.  It reads: "I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.  I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him."  My grandfather was very good at living that sentiment.  I am working on it, and I have thought of that phrase often while on my winter task of organizing & cleaning the farmhouse.  

My personal favorite quote of Lincoln: "I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday."  That line reminds me that it is incumbent upon us as humans to keep moving forward, keep striving, keep improving . . . And to a certain extent, to be forgiving of our yesterdays because we did not yet know what we do today.  It may be small victories or it may be something grand, but integrity is built upon a willingness to be a better person.  Sloth is easy, improvement is hard -- but it is much more rewarding.  

I spent my Presidents' Day feeding animals in the cold, and then continuing my cleaning process for the farmhouse.  My personal victory today: I took apart the Oreck sweeper, figured out why it was not working properly, and successfully put it back together all by myself.  Certainly a very small victory in the scheme of the world, yet I am definitely wiser today about vacuum cleaners than I was yesterday.  I suspect that for Lincoln and for my grandfather -- Giants though they are to me -- there were likewise plenty of days with only small victories.  What made them great was that they persevered, they kept going even when the going was tough, and that prepared them to be men of character.  Reading and observation taught me that my grandfather and Lincoln both struggled in life, both wrestled with melancholy & disappointment, and both grew to be men of integrity despite these challenges.  They inspire me.

I hope that on Presidents' Day, all Americans take time to reflect on the leaders of our nation.  They were all just individuals like us, with all the frailties of being human.  Yet men like Lincoln and Washington and Jefferson rose to the challenge of their executive office and left lasting legacies.  Presidents' Day is not about sales at stores or the fun of a day off work.  It is about people like us who dedicated their life to serving our country to the best of their abilities.  It is about honoring their noble qualities -- and learning from their failures.  It is about taking their examples to be the best American that we can personally be every day . . . Whether it is in a small way or in a grand way, we can aspire to be a better American (and a better person!) each and every day.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day from Harrison Farm . . . With heat!

In addition to the wonderful challenge of living in a home that contains the accumulated belongings of five generations of the Harrison Hoarding Gene, I also have the blessing of trying to manage the workings of the old farmhouse itself.  Serving as the caretaker for this structure often leaves me feeling like the captain of the Titantic.  We narrowly avoided a significant iceberg today with the furnace.  

The original part of the farmhouse dates from the early 1800s.  Each family that owned it -- and each generation of those families -- did some form of expansion or renovation.  This has left me with a structure that is like a ramshackle telescope.  My office was once a porch, the downstairs bathroom was the former milk house, the upstairs has no heat, and the basement was dug out in the 1950s (under an already existing house!)  I endeavor with persistence to manage all the issues that arise from maintaining such a residence.  Upon returning home from Jorgensen Farms last night, I discovered that the heat was not functioning.  And it was very cold!  I went through my usual troubleshooting (propane tank was stocked, air filter was new, no issues at the breaker box, thermostat was functioning, cycling the furnace off and restarting showed an LED light pattern that indicated the system was normal for operation), and still no heat.  After watching several on-line videos and investigating a few Do-It-Yourself forums, I realized that I was out of my realm for needed repairs.  And I settled in for a very cold night . . .

Fortunately, I also have my heroic & insane Valentine, Matt Karikomi.  By the time he was able to look at the furnace, it was late at night.  There was much banging, cursing, and grunting coming from the basement while he addressed the issue.  Around 4am, heat was restored.  There was a condensation issue that had caused the Watchguard cycle to prevent the burner from igniting, and thus no heat for Katherine.  While investigating all this, it also became apparent to Matt that the aged sump pump -- which I have been encouraging to keep limping along -- was no longer functioning efficiently.  Thus, at 6am (with the house back up to a bearable sixty degrees), Matt headed off to Home Depot to investigate sump pump options.  After he returned, I fixed Matt a breakfast of sweet rolls and coffee.  I had baked the sweet rolls for him the previous day as a special Valentine's Day treat, imagining a much more romantic scenario where we would indulge in a delicious repast of coffee & pastries.  Instead, after serving my Scandinavian-Japanese "Schneider" a meal, I went straight to bed to enjoy an hour of sleep with heat. Some women have flowers & chocolates & romance for Valentine's Day.  I have a working furnace and a new sump being installed.  But much better than that is having a man who stayed up through the early morning hours to make sure my home will keep functioning!

The sweet roll recipe that I make is adapted from my prize winning recipe from when I was in 4-H.  When I was young, National 4-H Congress was held in Chicago.  I got to attend as the State Winner for Breadmaking when I was 14, and it was an amazing opportunity.  I am very grateful for the experiences which I had in 4-H.  I learned to cook, to sew, to give a speech, to get stains out of laundry, to win, to lose, to be a camp counselor, to form lasting friendships, and to be tough.  Making rolls is a simple task, yet I am very glad that 4-H offered me the training to master such skills.  I only regret that I did not take projects in home repair!  Thankfully, in Matt I found another former 4-H member who does have those skills!

Harrison Farm Valentine Sweet Rolls
Dissolve 2 packages yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in 1cup warm water; let stand 5 minutes.
Combine 2/3 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, half cup softened butter, half cup shortening in mixer.
(For shortening, I use Crisco sticks that are like sticks of butter.  My Emma taught me to use these, and they will change your attitude about baking -- no more messy shortening covered measuring cups!)
Add 1 cup boiling water and stir thoroughly.
Add dissolved yeast, again stirring thoroughly.
Beat at a medium speed, add 2 Harrison Farm eggs and 3 cups flour (I use King Arthur All Purpose).
Gradually mix in 4 more cups flour to make a soft dough.
Place dough in a greased bowl and let rise in a warm place for 60-90 minutes.
Punch dough down and knead. Divide in 3 parts.  
Roll out each into an 8" by 12" rectangle.  Add melted butter and cinnamon sugar.
Gently roll, and then slice into 12 rounds.  Place these into a 9" round greased pan.
Allow to rise in a warm place 30-40 minutes, then bake at 325 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

The above photo was taken after baking.  I separated the dozen sweet rolls from each of the three pans, covered them individually in icing, and then gave them as Valentine's Day treats.  According to Val Jorgensen, they were "delightful"!  Matt gobbled them down for his breakfast, and seemed quite pleased.  Do not forget the icing (omitting the icing can cause Joe Blystone to go into palpitations!), and I suggest enjoying the rolls with Starbucks Cafe Verona blend coffee.  They taste even better in a heated home on a cold February day!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Harrison Hoarding Gene

One of my strongest Harrison tendencies is to save everything.  I am truly my grandfather's daughter in this regard -- with a devotion to family history (and all the associated historical items) exacerbated by a Depression-mindset to save everything.  I save things constantly in case I would want them "some day" . . . And every time I actually use something which I saved (even if I hoarded it for a decade before actually using it), I triumph at my resourcefulness.  The longer I live, however, the more I realize just how untenable this situation is for a productive life.  The belongings of generations of Harrisons literally surround me . . . And sometimes drown me.

When my great-grandparents moved to our current farm in 1927, they had purchased a home with all its belongings -- and one current resident who had not yet left.  Berger Road is named for the Berger Family, who lived there from the late 1800s until my family purchased the farm.  Delano Berger, in fact, stayed at the house for several weeks even after my great-grandparents moved in.  His mother, Sofronie, had passed away a couple years before Delano sold the farm . . . And when my great-grandmother moved in she found that Delano had touched nothing since his mother's death.  Sofronie's church clothes were still lying on the bed were she left them the day she died.  When Delano moved out to a smaller place, he left many of the Berger Family possessions in the farmhouse.  My great-grandparents, their own parents, and my grandparents all accumulated numerous items -- many of which still remain at the farm.  Being surrounded by the treasured items of several generations is a wonderful thing . . . And sometimes overwhelming.

Matt & I are completely opposite: I keep everything and he keeps nothing.  That being said, he is very respectful of the deep family connection I have to objects, as well as my need to find my own bizarre form of closure with an item before I can dispose of it.  Having other people around me is good motivation for me to organize my belongings.  Thus, my desire to have a peaceful atmosphere to welcome those I love is one of my strongest motivators for cleaning.  The perfect example of this situation was when my Aubry & my Emma convinced me to clean out the refrigerator a couple months after my grandmother moved to her retirement community in 2012.  It is very difficult for me to dispose of another person's items, and they rightly realized that the refrigerator was a needed place to begin!  Aubry & Emma were both near the conclusion of their undergraduate careers at that point, and they set the primary rule that if something had expired while they were in high school then it was thrown away without question.  The "prizewinning" item?  A bottle of Karo Syrup whose label declared it the baking item of choice for the 1980 Olympic Team.  The best part about this was that my grandmother was on at least her third refrigerator since 1980 . . . She had literally moved the old bottle of Karo into each subsequent refrigerator!  I get my instincts honestly!

This winter I have been working sporadically to truly organize the farmhouse.  I recently dedicated myself to cleaning my grandfather's den.  How hard is it for me to divest of items?  He passed away in 1996, and I still think of the items in that room as his.  Sorting through Harrison items can be a definite adventure.  I found some truly memorable objects today.  I love locating something significant in the stacks of mundane objects!  Things to keep: a ticket for my mother's college graduation and a business card from when Auntie worked at Ohio Bell.

Of course, finding fun things is truly the needle in the haystack of Harrison memorabilia.  I tossed stacks of appliance manuals which we no longer own, receipts for items which are long gone, and magazines that were ancient.  I saved things which struck me of interest, for example the receipts my grandfather had kept from the hospital stays when his daughters were born.  I read that Jan's birth in 1947 at St. Ann's was at a cost of $46.05, while my mother (born a month premature) tallied a hospital bill of $80.18 at Grant Hospital in 1949.  Prices rose by 1953 when Jill was born at Grant: $110.80.  And one more receipt followed in 1957 for the little one they lost.  It is amazing how these mundane pieces of paper -- kept for sixty some years -- seem to tell vast stories of joy & sorrow, birth & loss.  

Here are my hints for sorting through the accumulated objects of life . . .

1.  Only keep the things that bring you joy.  My dear friend Stephanie recently taught me this concept, and it is a very important idea.  I have stopped asking myself if I could possibly use something someday (that is the kind of thinking that led to the great Karo syrup situation!), and instead I ask myself if something brings me joy.  In my case, unfortunately, a LOT of things bring me joy -- but I have stopped the Becky Harrison-inspired habit of washing & keeping recyclable containers "just in case" I ever need them, as well as the Ina Harrison-mandated habit of keeping every receipt ever received.  And interestingly enough, the fewer objects around me, the more joy I find in them!

2.  Use things.  Use them up and wear them out -- do NOT save them for "some day" . . . Some day rarely comes.  I saw this in both of my parents: saving things to enjoy some special day in the future.  And in both their cases, I ended up responsible for culling through everything they kept.  I was incredibly saddened after my mother passed on, and I realized that her wedding china -- always saved for some day -- was severely damaged by sitting in boxes unused for so long.  I wish she had enjoyed using it, instead of saving dishes which ended up broken & unused.  Items that are well-used have been well-loved.  I threw away all the expensive, broken dishes, but how I treasure her childhood Teddy Bear that was so well-loved & worn that he is filled with beautiful memories!

3.  Dispose of things which would burden those who come after you.  The reality is that we will all pass on, and someone will be entrusted to deal with the things we left behind.  Do what you can now to make sure that task will be one of love & respect.  Keep only the things that are necessary or joyful.  If a letter or an object could hurt someone else if they found it, get rid of it now.  I have found too many letters and notes speaking of dislike of other family members, disappointment in the birth of girls instead of boys, anger at perceived hurts.  Such things do not instill love & respect in subsequent generations.  The legacy of the grandparent who empowered & inspired me stands much greater than the legacy of the grandparent who left me written records of bitterness.  If you have items that would hurt others, dispose of them . . . Or better yet, become a person who rejects hurtful words & thoughts & actions in total.  Keep things that bring joy, and banish those things that pollute.

During the summer before my senior year at college, I did an independent study for my history degree in which I catalogued my great-grandmother's papers.  Being a good Harrison, she saved everything -- but what a joy it was to read the thoughts and impressions of a positive, hard-working woman who loved adventure!  It is wonderful to sort through the belongings of a previous generation and feel inspired, while wishing that you could have known that person.  When I sort through objects, I try to keep in mind what a positive experience it was for me to read through the papers of my great-grandmother, in the hopes that it will help to shape what I personally leave for future generations.  I hope what I leave behind will make previous generations proud, and leave future generations inspired.  


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Doody the Goat

Doody the Goat, noted political commentator and social media guru, passed peacefully at the age of eight and a half, surrounded by his Harrison Farm friends.  Renowned for his political expertise, Doody the Goat ended his career as a prognosticator by correctly calling every race he predicted in November 2014.  Doody was the son of Kell B. and Dexter Manley, and was preceded in death by his parents, his sister Howdy, and his best friend Clementine the Goat.  He was born in February 2006, and often reminisced on his early friendship with Sean Haley (who offered many bottle feedings to Doody after Kell B. passed unexpectedly).  Along with Thunder the Sheep, Doody the Goat served as the bellwether for the Harrison Farm herd for many years.  Doody & Thunder were immortalized on the Ohio Farm Bureau collage of county images -- a display that has appeared at the Ohio Farm Bureau offices, at the Ohio State Fair, and on a plaque presented to Governor John Kasich.  Doody is survived by 30 goat friends, 15 sheep friends, 25 chickens (to whom he rarely spoke), Flirt the Horse, Cecilia the Donkey, and 1 loving goatherd.  Doody had pre-planned a simple Eco-friendly composting service at Harrison Farm, which the immediate animal family attended (except Pat The Goat, his longtime frenemy).  Doody asked for no flowers to be sent upon his passing, but was open to donations of hay for his survivors.  Doody's last words were, "MAA . . ." -- loosely translated as "Eat more lamb . . ."