Monday, December 27, 2010

BRRRRRRR It's Cold: Animal Update

I took this photo of the chickens eating breakfast on Christmas Eve morning.  They are a beautiful group aren't they!

For those of you that wonder what the temps are like in the barn and how the animals cope they do quite well.  If the temp outside is hovering around 20 degrees it is typically 32-34 inside the barn because of the horses.  Horses, as they eat and digest hay, create heat so in a sense they are the furnaces of the barn.  We had done quite a bit of insulating in the barn as well so it is quite cozy.  The temp outside this morning was 12 degrees without the wind chill taken into account and it was around 30 in the barn.  Last year I was dealing with frozen buckets and a frozen water holding tank every day.  So far so good this year due to the new insulation.  Last night was the first time so far that there was a very thin layer of ice on the water holding tank.  Not bad at all.

Morgan, our pot bellied pig, finds warmth under a big bed of straw with fleece blankets.  The chickens have their thick feathers and are doing very well so far without a heater.  Laying lots of eggs!  Bad Blake, our barn cat, has lots of coziness in his "apartment" in the barn and if needed we have a heating pad for him that we have yet to need.  Last year you could feel the wind in the barn.  Now it is as quiet as winter itself.

Woke Up Feeling Sad or Christmas is Over

So that's that!  Christmas is over!  Childlike I waited for it all year and it has already come and gone.  It is always perfect on so many levels.  My brother Todd and my sister in law Jenna were to head back to NYC sunday night but due to the looming snow storm they tried to get a jump on it and decided to fly out sunday morning.  This was not to be as their flight was canceled.  Having to go to work on monday staying another day was not an option so they took the train across the state.  Rather than hanging out with them for the day on sunday Sarah and I had a lazy day, which in and of itself was pretty great.  We watched The Flaming Lips - The Fearless Freaks documentary which was amazing.  We also watched Crocodile Dundee and Crocodile Dundee II on AMC.  A very cozy day of relaxation after several days of running around for the holidays.

The train from Buffalo to NYC takes at least 8 hrs due to all the stops in between.  They had a stowaway, Teddy, their maltese dog.  Amtrak does not allow pets which I was quite surprised about.  Most of the people that were on the train had flights canceled and that was plan B or C.  I was picturing several hundred stowaway dogs emerging from their hiding places once everyone got off the train.  How cute would that have been!  I got a text from Todd at 4 in the morning.  They had finally gotten home and it was a blizzard; the cab having to drop them off a block away from their apartment.  This involved carrying several bags of luggage and Teddy.  I was picturing very deep snow, Jenna on Todd's shoulders and Teddy atop Todd's russian fur hat with luggage in tow!  HA!

At one point I woke up from a nap in the afternoon feeling very sad because that overwhelming feeling that you get when something that you have anticipated all year has come and gone, coupled with missing Todd and Jenna, had washed over me.

I didn't have time to dwell on in though because right after that it was dinner time in the barn and the animals were so excited to eat, despite the bitter cold.

Gord Downie (of The Tragically Hip) wrote this poem that sums up how I feel about Christmas once it's over:
Christmas Day (for Edgar)
My dad always used to say, 
just after the presents'
"Well, it's as faraway now
as it'll ever be."

I'm thinking about that as
the stewardess cracks the 
public address system:
"For those sitting in Economy,
there's no music 
for you today."

Merry Christmas everyone!  Mine was perfect.  I hope yours was too.
For those of you that did not yet see the Christmas card that I designed for us this year, here it is.  I was going for a vintage hockey sweater look.  I took the logo that Todd designed for us and "Christmas-ified" it with color.  Boy would I love to get a jersey made for the farm!



Sunday, December 26, 2010

Familial Plug:

Art and design has always been a big part of my life.  It is in my genes: my maternal grandfather Leo, my mom, my dad and my brother.  It isn't a small part of me.  It is very much who I am.  I see art and design in everything.  It is very much part of life on the farm.  From the photos for this blog, the general image of the farm that is important to us, the landscape design that I love to do so much and my love of interior design as well.  It runs deep in our family.  I encourage all of you that are reading this to check out my brother's new photography book on his web-site.
Many of you that know him, know that he is an incredibly talented artist and photographer.  If not you will once you see his site.  On his site he posted his entire book that is full of his photos: a combination of rock and roll, portraits, buildings, etc.  It is one of the most gorgeous books I have ever seen.
For any rock stars/musicians reading this can't afford not to have him photograph you.
Yes, he is my brother but he is hands down one of the most creative and talented people I know.  He inspires me to be the same.  We both love life and take the time to capture its moments.
If you are interested in purchasing a copy or simply want to tell him what you think of it please email todd at  For those musicians reading this contact Todd.  He'll make you look good!
ps-check out my design and photography as well at  There is a link to my mom's site above.  Be sure to check it out.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Dirty Life

I got this book from my parents for Christmas...amazing read so far...true story (memoir) of a writer's life change as she fell in love with her future husband, a farmer, moved from manhattan to a 500 acre farm in northern NY state and fell in love with an agrarian life. Great book! Can't put it down.
I highly recommend it for anyone that enjoys reading this blog as her experience is very much that of my own. So good!  They are truly self sufficient, growing and raising everything they need to eat and live on their own land.  Not only that but they are a food co-op supplying food to 150 people throughout the year.  click this link to order the book: The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Time at COTW

Last year we did not put up a tree as we were just moving in right before Christmas and Traveler was hospitalized with leptospirosis.  I couldn't be happier to see a Christmas tree in our house this year.  It always ups the coziness of a house!  This is the view from the back patio looking in.
This is the view from the kitchen looking into the great room...
If I don't get to blog again before Christmas I want to thank all of my readers a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah and a Happy, healthy New Year!  We love you all!  Thanks for your kind words and encouragement in our first year at Czar of the Woods Farm.

Peace and Glory arrives at Czar of the Woods Farm

Peace and glory arrives at Czar of the Woods Farm.  Have you ever been blindsided by love at a time when you least expected it?  Has that person or animal ever filled a hole in your heart where you didn't even realize there was one?  It usually happens when you are going along in life thinking that things are complete and perfect, at least for now, and along comes someone or some animal that finds you, more than you find them.  Paths cross for a reason and maybe you push those feelings away, trying hard not to believe them or maybe not wanting to upset the balance that is your routine as you have known it.  The more you get to know them the more you realize that they are perfect and it would be silly for you not to jump off the cliff and give it a try knowing full well that if you didn't you would kick yourself.  Probably forever.  Insert Mirka, pronounced Meerka and meaning peace and glory in polish, (into our lives and hearts).  Mirka, a dog, came in as a stray to the hospital (brought in by a good samaritan that found her) and after doing my due diligence trying to find her owner and having no success she is now at her new forever home, czar of the woods farm.  Mirka is full of love, has not a mean bone in her body and wants nothing more than to be part of the family-other animals included.  If these are her wishes then she has won the lottery in finding us.  I am shocked that no one was looking for her.  Their loss, our gain.  For the 5 days that she was at the hospital, you have no idea how hard i tried not to fall in love with her.  As we bonded, and bonded, and bonded some more (even napping on top of me during my lunch hour last thursday) she decided that she would have nothing of the sort and used all the love that she had to seal the deal.  I may have been the last person at work to accept that she was coming home with me. 

Not wanting to upset the balance at home with our current animals we decided that we would at least try things out with her for the weekend to see how they all accepted her.  She was going to be fostered until we said otherwise.  Mind you, Sarah hadn't even met her at this point yet was already in love with her.  I only told her about her a couple days before while I sat in my truck getting ready to pump gas.  Sarah, being the great wife that she is, and animal lover, at this point, already opened her heart and told me to bring her home site unseen.  She has that much love to give (and trust that I know a good animal when I meet one I suppose).
The bottom line was that Traveler, who is now 10, needed to accept her.  If it wasn't going to work out with him it wasn't going to work out with us, no matter how much we loved her.  We couldn't do that to him at this point in his life.

Surprise number one: Traveler loves her!  He first met her at work for a meet and greet.  accepting if not somewhat indifferent towards her.  Excellent.  Once we brought her home he took her as his buddy.  He really has taken a shine to her-they are buddies.  They go for walks together; Mirka wanting to be right next to her big brother.  He lets her play with his toys and he is very possessive of his toys-especially the stuffed ones.  I have seen him greet her with kisses on the mouth which is a dog message of acceptance and greeting that dates back as long as wolves have been around.  He is not jealous when she smothers us with kisses and lets her bound around the house in her ~year and a half full of energy body.  She is just the right temperament for him.  She is very well behaved and allows Traveler to be the boss and lets him relax (sidenote: sorry Nala, who was a pitbull that lived with us for a bit in 2003 but drove Traveler nuts because she wanted to play play play and he wanted to relax relax relax.  She has lived happily with Sarah's parents ever since) 
Test number two: she does not want to eat the cats (any dog that may have never met one might want to).  Initially she was afraid of some of them, indifferent towards some and interested in the rest.  Mirka knows that command "leave it" and if she tries to play to hard with the cats, a simple "leave it" does the trick.  The cats are quickly realizing that she is not there to eat them. 

I really didn't know if I could deal with a change in routine either.  Walking 2 dogs in the morning in addition to barn chores...but you know what, it has been fine.  I give all the credit to Mirka.  It is amazing how a dog that a little over a week ago we didn't even know has now figured out our routine to the point where it feels as though she has been there for years.  They are amazing animals indeed.
Parents-this one is short...they met her and loved her immediately.  Bought her a winter coat the next day.  You can see how Mirka is a spreader of love and smiles, bringing light to everyone she meets.

I brought her over to my parents house for her to meet my Gram, whom if you didn't already know, is Traveler's best friend.  He comes first in her world.  Mirka was on her best behavior exploring the house first and then spreading her love there as well.  My Gram quietly watched to see how Traveler tolerated her and I think she was surprised at just how much he did.  She didn't say much but i could tell she was opening her heart to another polish "stara baba," even though mirka is a young lady!

On the ride home from my parents house she curled up in a little ball on the front seat; sound asleep, Traveler in back.  She only awoke when I pulled in our driveway and shut the truck off.  She woke up from that deep sleep and seemed happy, if not still a bit surprised, to be home.  This warmed my heart.

At this point you are probably wondering what kind of dog she is.  Wait for it.  Mirka is a pitbull.  "OH THE HORROR!"  Right?  Isn't she going to eat all the kids in the neighborhood, us, the animals, fight to the death and kill, kill, kill?  Don't you have to feed her a steady diet of babies?  NO.  period.  For all of you that were enjoying the story up to this point and turned "breedist" on me and now have backed off a bit it is now my turn to educate you.  It was no accident to wait until much later in the story to reveal Mirka's breed.  I wanted you to fall in love with a nice dog rather than be mentally blocked by her breed.  Pitbulls get a bad rap because on the news you only ever hear about the bad one's that do bad things.  Any breed that is raised in a bad environment has the potential to do very bad things, that's right any breed.  Even your favorite breed.  With any breed of dog that has a few bad seeds it is a product of irresponsible ownership, bad breeding and ignorance.  This is especially true with pitbulls because they often live in bad environments, are around bad people and as a result can be bad dogs.  These are the exceptions i promise you that.  Pit bulls, by nature, are loving family dogs, that love people, kids, most other dogs and always seem to be bursting at the seams with love and those "clam face" smiles.  They are happy to be alive, happy to be loved and share life with you.  All the while making your life better.  They want to play, cuddle and sleep.  I know plenty of people that own them and they all would agree.  
Introducing Mirka (again pronounced meerka): she has brought us peace and glory...and I will add happiness to that.  Welcome home Mirka!
ps-this morning before I left for work Sarah was in the bed with Traveler on one side and Mirka on the other.  A Sarah sandwich with dog bread if you will!  I hope Sarah left for work eventually...I wouldn't blame her if she didn't! :)
pss-thank you to our friend Erin for finding the name!

Mirka tries on her new sweater!

 Babooshka on Pani Mirka!

 Sarah and Mirka napping...this is one of Mirka's favorite things and she is somewhat of a blanket herself.

Traveler and his new little sister, Mirka.

Traveler catches a snowball while Mirka romps around in the snow.

Chickens Get Used to Winter

The girls have been surprisingly busy, working hard producing eggs, despite the cold weather.  They are producing anywhere from 12-16 eggs/day and I am selling them at work.  Typically 7 dozen/week.  Not looking to make a profit but simply break even.  Chicken feed gets increasingly more expensive.

Here I get ready to clean the coop.  Since the chickens don't spend as much time outside during the cold months (even given the choice when it isn't terribly cold they opt to stay indoors) it gets messy in the coop because chickens produce a lot of manure!  It gets stinky and I have to clean it every few weeks.  i use the respirator to prevent myself from breathing all the dusty allergens and the ammonia can also be strong.  This is never a problem in the summer.  Yes, I know.  I look hot!  "Luke, I am your father-hooorrrhhh, hoooorrhhhh"

This is what I remove from the coop every few weeks: straw coated in chicken manure, mixed with stones that I used for substrate in the coop.  I shit you not (pun intended) this pile weighed at least 500 pounds!  I want our chickens to be happy.  the stall next to their coop was available so last weekend my Dad and i expanded the coop from ~100 sq feet to a total of ~ 244 sq ft.  My friend Carole joked that these are truly free range chickens.  Free range is no cages so they have always been now they have a lot of room.  More than some apartments in NYC I joked.

These are our 2 chickens that are buddies.  In the summer they were getting picked on and lived together.  Now in the winter the other chickens are more tolerant but they still hang together.  Here I caught "Sunbutter" sitting on top of "Roadrunner Boese" in a nest box.  So sweet.

Someone Reminded Me Today that it's Still Fall

Traveler has no complaints.  He was made for this!  I do like winter but the older I get the less it's about fun and it is all about driving and snowblowing.  Adults do not get snow days, aside from teachers.  I need a toy (read snowmobile)!  Going out to the barn in sub freezing temps makes one long for the warm weather.
 Bad Blake, our barn cat, thinks twice before going out...he definitely misses summer!
 Czar and Ember romp in the snow...
 Czar, our almost 26 year old arabian, is acting like a youngster.  Horses love the first few weeks of snow.  It's new to them all over again.

View of the backyard looking out our back doors.
View of the barn.  Everything looks gorgeous in this winter wonderland.
 View of our road looking south-ish.
 The barn outside at night...