Farm Life

Peacefully at rest

cowsSaturday was my last day of work and let me tell you, the weather gods were shining on me, FINALLY! It was the first nice day outside that I’d ever experienced working on the farm. Oh the irony! The last few days before that were cold and rainy. One day it was so bad that my clothes were completely soaked. To add insult to injury, after a long day of shoveling in wet gloves, I painfully discovered that I had rubbed all of the skin off my palms and was now left with a combo of abrasions and blisters. Let me tell you, the shower that night was one of the most painful I’ve ever experienced. Soap of any kind, plus warm water and blistered hands = ouchy! Try not to scream and scare the neighbors kind of ouchy.

turkeyTo put that in perspective though, I went to work on Thursday and my supervisor was so relieved/happy to see me, which always feels nice. I guess she’d forgotten when my last day was and to be honest, after each day, I don’t think anyone expects me to return the next morning. However, I’m a tough cookie and I was determined to stay until the bitter end of my two weeks, come rain or come shine. That morning, the roof of my co-worker’s (Russ & Jenn) barn had literally collapsed under the weight of the accumulating snow and ice. They run a successful horse boarding facility that houses 20+ horses, chickens, pigs, etc…(and soon a zebra!) in Saugerties. With the help of friends, farm volunteers and another CAS staff member, they were able to get all the horses and chickens out alive. No creature was harmed, luckily. So, that left me, my supervisor and the new guy to run the farm, which explains her relief when she saw me. Needless to say, we got the job done with style and our hearts went out to Russ and Jenn.

The sick thing about that entire situation was that the insurance company told them not to touch a single thing before the adjuster came to see it. Okay, that’s fine…understandable. Except the adjuster wouldn’t be there for another week! WTF!? Part of the barn was still useable at that point, it was just the 2nd story hay loft that caved in. With some snow clearing, tarps and quick repairs the ground floor could be relatively stable and usable, yet with the forecast calling for freezing rain the next few days and them not being allowed to touch anything, I’m sure the barn suffered far more damage than necessary. It makes me angry to ponder and reminds me of Katrina all over again. soapy stachesThese last few days of being a free agent have been restful. That’s basically all I’ve been doing is sleeping. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I’ve also caught up on laundry, house cleaning, bill paying, food shopping, made an order of soapy staches, and started the next round of cold processed soap making. Yes! My first batch didn’t come out as I had planned but oh well. It’s still really nice stuff: 100% carrot juice; organic coconut milk; olive, organic coconut, castor, rice bran and avocado oils; plus titanium dioxide and activated charcoal to add a decorative element. The decorative element was a complete fail because the soap seized up on me before I could swirl the colors. I’m still soaping at too high of a temperature darn it! Like I keep saying, soap making is both an art and a science. And just when you think you’ve got the science figured out and can move on to the art, you find the entire process completely kicks your ass and you have to go back to the start (that actually rhymed quite nicely and reminds me of the Coldplay song, The Scientist). Thus, most of the bars I ended up rebatching last night with sweet orange & basil essential oils and it ended up a translucent green akin to baby poo. I had wanted to make a sweet orange soap anyways and I would’ve had to rebatch it because that’s the best way to make citrus essential oils last in cold process soap. (For some reason, citrus doesn’t have the staying power that other oils do in CP soap.) So now I have some vibrant, carrot-colored, unscented bars for the folks with sensitive skin and some nice smelling, baby-poo-green bars for those who’d like to expand their sensory experience. Either way, they’re both great soaps, they’re just not sexy to look at. Oh well. I’ll get ’em next time tiger!

cold processed soapTomorrow is my big interview for the Programs Manager position at the farm. I’m crossing my fingers and toes. I really hope I get the job but if I don’t, I have a backup plan that I’m equally satisfied with. It’s the first time I can think of that I’ve crafted such a fantastic win-win scenario.

I’ve made my peace with life and the job situation and after this I’m washing my soapy lil hands of it all. This past year I’ve come to the realization that I’m a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. I’ve applied for jobs that I’m perfect for yet people don’t even have the courtesy to acknowledge that they’ve received my resume. I’ve applied for jobs that I’m both overqualified and underqualified for and have only heard the sounds of chirping crickets back. This never-ending job search has diverted my attention away from the things I want to do in life. The things I set out to do when I moved here a few years ago. Instead of being offended or wondering what is wrong with me, I have to realize that many of my brilliant friends–far more wonderful and intelligent than I–are in the same boat. In fact, I’m one of the lucky ones because I’ve managed to expand the range of things I can do far beyond just what I went to school for, such as making soap. My friend Cathy forwarded me this email from a scientist with a PhD who is wondering if he’s the alone in this. Here’s what he had to say:

Last night the PBS NewsHour profiled several Ph.D. instructors who were working as adjunct faculty, receiving no benefits and surviving on teaching whatever isolated courses they could scrounge.  One young Ph.D. graduate, a single mother who genuinely loved her field, was surviving on food stamps and assistance from her family.

I would like to know if there are people here on ECOLOG who are enduring similar circumstances–who followed their dreams, put in the grueling hard work as graduate students, and are now genuinely struggling to survive in their field, or simply survive at all.  I would like to know who here on ECOLOG has been caught up in the corporate-model conversion to adjunct teaching which has become increasingly common throughout the U.S., and whether any of you feel you can continue in your chosen disciplines.

I am interested in neither condemnation nor plastic platitudes from the comfortably established, the self-satisfied and the lordly-wise.  If you feel entitled to lecture from your keyboard on how and where these people went wrong, then don’t.  I’m not looking for that, and they aren’t either.

But if you are like the young Ph.D.s profiled in the news segment–or even someone not so young, and caught up in the same circumstances–please contact me off-list, because I’d really like to hear from you.

This is the grim reality people. Never in a million years would I tell someone to go to college unless they were absolutely guaranteed a good job once they graduated. Nevertheless, I’ve made my peace with the fact that I may have to give up my beloved apartment and leave Connelly. It may or may not be in the cards and right now it’s out of my hands for the most part. If I don’t get the job, I have Yellowstone waiting for me. Andrew is coming back and we are promised double the hours and several backpacking trips! That should make for some damn fine blogging! It’s a win-win.

herford cowPeace out, peeps!

Farm Life

Dark and Stormy

A snow stormy Connelly
The lovely but harrowing view from my window this morning.

Well, it’s been one heck of Valentine’s Day! I hope you’re spending yours someplace where you’re warm, well-fed and surrounded by loved ones. The weather these past two days has been, to put it mildly, challenging. I think the snow accumulation totalled somewhere around 20 inches and we have another 2 to 4 inches coming tomorrow.  My “fun” (that word is comprised of, dipped in and drizzled with sarcasm at this point) began yesterday. I was working outside at the farm all day and, of course, the snow completely pounded us from the moment we arrived. It began as large, luscious flakes that quickly turned into a horizontal, wind-whipped whiteout. To make matters worse, it was my new co-worker’s second day on the job (and I thought I started at a bad time)! He could have completely run for the hills but instead he and I totally rocked it. Together, we worked with summertime efficiency and accomplished more than my supervisor had ever thought possible in a snowstorm. We all triumphantly left work knowing that we showed the day who was boss.

road conditions
My view as I waited, with my neighbor behind me, for the plow to finish clearing our road.

I managed to successfully white-knuckle it home thanks to my new snow tires and when I arrived just outside of Connelly, my neighbor pulled me over to say that they hadn’t plowed any of the roads…at all. It was 4 pm and nothing had been touched. Ahh… Connelly, the little hamlet that Kingston forgot including the town plows. As luck would have it, the plow was right behind me so my wait was minimal. Once my neighbor and I gunned our cars up the hill, I had, in the matter of minutes, aggressively carved out a spot for my car to safely ride out the rest of the storm. I was still so pumped from the day that I even paid it forward by shoveling out the neighbors car in the driveway. Then I settled in for a relaxing night with Tuna and WordPress (I know, it’s romantic.). By the time I was ready for bed I could hear the freezing rain pounding on my windows and I knew I was in for an early morning of excessive, agonizing digging.

snow buried car
My car is in here somewhere.

I woke up at 5 am to check the situation and come up with a game plan. The roads were completely covered, as well as my car, and even the evidence of my neighborly deed was buried by 10 inches of snow. In the end, I begrudgingly decided that my fate was in the hands of the town plow and that I was going to have to practice patience. I was a tad bit concerned that there might be a repeat performance of yesterday’s single 4 pm showing but as luck would have it, the plow came at 7:15 am to clear the roads AND encase my car in a sturdy, rock-hard snow bank. Thanks mister, you shouldn’t have!

I called my supervisor to tell her that I was running extremely late and that I’d get there sometime before next year and she was just so glad to hear that I was coming into work in some way, shape or form. She’d already experienced her own snowy snafus which included driving her truck into a ditch. Luckily, with the help of four manly strangers who agreed to stand on her rear bumper, she was able to get out.

Back in Connelly, the whole block banned together to dig one another out with shovels and snow blowers and with their help I was on my way to work by 9 am. I left feeling just like the Grinch whose heart grew several times its size because of all the good deeds being witnessed. On my way to work, through all the slides and sludge, I drove by a little person and a very tall man walking along the busy street together. They were all bundled up, seemingly happy, and I couldn’t help but think of how I love this world sometimes. I love that mother nature has made each of us unique. We have little people, we have extremely tall people, we have all shapes and sizes and that’s really freakin’ fantastic! Life would be so boring if we all looked alike. Mother nature is a genius!

petunia the pitbull in the snow
Petunia was traumatized by how deep the snow was. She ran out, peed, and refused to venture back out after that.

I arrived at work to find a snowy shit-show. I hadn’t even made it halfway down the driveway before I saw a volunteer–who drove all the way from NYC in the storm (we have the best volunteers!)–had gotten her rental car stuck. All of the animal houses were buried and needed to be dug out before we could even go in to feed or water them. So needless to say, the shoveling was never-ending. I got the farm truck stuck seemingly a million times and had to use my patented rock back and forth technique. The snow was over Pep and Pepita’s fence (a sassy yet adorable duck couple) so they literally waddled right out of their enclosure and onto the frozen pond to join a flock of wild ducks. Since we’re buds, all I had to do was call for them at the end of the day and they came right to me, thankfully. The list of near disasters was fairly endless but it all turned out great because we pulled it together…AND there was cake involved which is always a good motivator.

a snowy animal sanctuary
A volunteer demonstrating the depth of the snow. The homestead looking all inviting. A glorious view of the farm featuring billowy blue skies and Kerrie’s arm.

On the way home I stopped for dinner at an Italian restaurant I frequent (the owner calls me Roll In The Hay because I always come in covered in hay) and they gave me flowers for Valentine’s Day. I was so darn touched. I’d forgotten what day it was. When I arrived home I opened up a package from Ling Ling and in it I found an infinity scarf that she had knitted me (or Petunia), a glorious pair of thermal footie pajamas that I will never take off, tons of chocolate and several gossip magazines which I absolutely loathe–but like train wrecks, I can’t look away from them once they’re in front of me.

petunia the pitbull
Petunia enjoying my flowers, footie pajamas and scarf. She tried to eat my flower though…ungrateful tramp!

This morning, as we dug out the animal enclosures, I asked the NYC volunteer how they were handling the storm down in the big apple. She mentioned witnessing a slap fight between two cranky women who had enough of bumping into one another on the subway. All people kept saying was that it was too early for a fight and all the volunteer kept thinking was that it isn’t about the time of day, it’s about the inappropriateness of fighting with a complete stranger over personal space on a crowded subway car. I couldn’t help but see the contrast between her experience and the one I just had in Connelly where we all helped one another. We’re only about an hour apart but the difference is night and day. All in all, for having to work in such a terrible storm, it’s left me with a tremendous feeling of satisfaction, hope and more than anything I feel grateful.

Farm Life

Quitting with class

Catskill Animal SanctuaryWell, I’m looking for an eloquent way to say this but the only thing that really sums it all up is to say that this week really shit the bed. I’m not particularly impressed by my potty mouth but that expression is spot on. I can’t say that it was a terrible week, but it was by no means the stuff of dreams either. Let’s just call it a turning point for me. My first day back to work from my relaxing weekend consisted of getting up at 5 am to shovel my car out from the blizzard the day before. Some would say that I should have taken more initiative by shoveling out the night before work but I’ve learned the hard way that when you park on the street, you have to shovel right before you’re planning to drive anywhere. If you wait too long, the plow will just nonchalantly bury your car and completely undo your many hours of grueling work. So my physical agony began at 5 am and continued on for the rest of the day. I just transitioned from shoveling snow to animal poo. (I assure you, my life is mega glamorous!)

By the time I got to work, I couldn’t keep up the pace and my co-workers finally got the memo that I’ve been slowly writing from the very beginning: I’m not physically built to do this level of work. I am not of the “anything a guy can do, I can do better” mentality. Let me rephrase all of this for the ladies out there who may feel their feminine wiles being ruffled. I am physically able to do hard, physical labor but I can’t perform the same tasks in the same amount of time as a large man who has been doing farm work all his life and unfortunately that is exactly what my job requires. This is a man’s world and an extremely tough, strong, body-builder-type woman’s world too. Despite my best efforts, I’m apparently neither.

With all that being said, I decided honesty was the best policy. The last thing I want is to be unemployed again but I don’t want to be an unwanted, burden to my employer either. For the last few days, I could tell that everyone was uncomfortable around me. They avoided me, wouldn’t look me in the eyes, etc… They’re all so nice that they didn’t deserve this. So I decided to defuse the situation. The first moment I had my supervisor alone I came right out and said “Soooo, I’ve come to the conclusion that I really suck at my job.” She literally stopped, bent over and let out a sigh of relief and laugh at the same time. It was a classic moment. She became absolutely giddy after I said that. Literally, the dark cloud looming over her head for the past few days instantly turned to sunshine. Her reply was “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.” She said that her and the rest of the staff loved me so much that they didn’t want to see me go so they’ve been cooking up ways to make me stay. They even came up with a whole “Jaime Boot Camp” idea where they would have me shadow everyone for a few weeks so I could learn all their tips and tricks to being fast. I was extremely moved by the trouble they were secretly going to because the last few people they had in this position they had no problem asking to leave. I officially gave her my two weeks notice and I told her that I wanted to stay but maybe I could find a different position that would be more suitable. She proceeded to rattle off all of the open positions and told me to go for it and that she’d back me up. She was so happy and so was I. It was surreal.

The rest of the week went a lot smoother after that and my supervisors and co-workers were a lot more at ease. They were sad but at least the pressure was off of them to make someone fit that just wasn’t fitting. With all that being said, the wheels are turning and people are coming up with ideas and ways to make it so I can stay in some capacity. Today, I’m interviewing for their Programs Manager position, which I’m well qualified for and I’d be great at. Wish me luck!

I guess the moral of this story is that it pays to speak up. If something’s not working, just be honest and say so. Don’t just stop showing up. Don’t just give up or check out. I may be out on my ass after this, but at least I can say that I left with their respect and friendship. I’m leaving on the best of terms and if something comes up that they think I’d be good at, I know they’ll contact me. I’m proud that I was able to approach such a tough situation with humor and honesty instead of continuing to do a sub par job and getting fired because of it.

Now, let’s enjoy some farm photos while we still have the chance:

farm photos, pig, feral cat
Going clockwise starting at the top left: Alex and I covering Roscoe the pig with straw. He loves it!; A majestic shot of the sanctuary.; More of Roscoe flinging the straw around and building his nest.; Zombie the feral cat. He gets into the worst fights and comes at the end of the day completely mangled. Last week I thought he was a goner because he couldn’t even use his back legs. However, he’s back in action now.

Farm Life

A questionable horizon

goat with chickens
This is my buddy Stencil, the ringleader of the mischievous Goon Squad. He might be my favorite animal on the farm. He’s my constant companion throughout the day. These broiler chickens are also wonderful to have around. Seeing them run when they hear food hit their dish might be the best thing ever.

This is going to be a short and sweet post because I need to jump into bed, watch Sherlock and give my body a much-needed rest. I’m not going to lie, I’m struggling. My job should be getting easier but it’s only becoming more painful. My body is just not tolerating the work and yet the rest of me absolutely loves it. Ahh…the irony of it all. Usually I have the exact opposite problem. A big part of my job is being able to lift heavy bails of hay, jumping in and out of truck beds, shoveling wet bedding and wrestling large animals for health checks. To make matters worse, they just received a load of hay bails that are so heavy that it took two of us to load them onto the truck this morning. They’re each about 75 pounds and they make me want to wet my pants every time I lift one. And don’t think for a second that I’m alone in this sentiment. My big, strong, male co-workers all agree: they’re pants-wetting heavy, no doubt about it.

It looks like I may face a tough decision ahead. I love this job, it’s everything I’ve wanted, but I’m in such physical pain that it keeps me up at night. Even my trusty Aleve isn’t cutting it. Morning yoga and hot packs at night are helping so that’s a start. And my friend Carrie gave me this homemade coconut and peppermint oil concoction that I’ve been using as a muscle rub. It feels amazing and has helped to aleviate the some of the soreness. Whatever she puts in that stuff is pure magic.

I guess overall, I’m just having a hard time accepting the fact that I might not be living in a “normal” 37-year-old’s body. Perhaps years of grueling field work and improperly healed injuries are catching up with me. My co-workers and supervisors are so understanding (which makes it all that more crappy if I decide to leave). They keep telling me that this kind of work is not for everyone and only I can say for sure if it’s too much.  However, I’m not willing to throw in the towel just yet. I’ve still got some fight left in me and maybe I’m just experiencing some prolonged growing pains. At least that’s what I’ll tell myself… until the muscle rub wears off and my body snaps in half.

Farm Life

My life on the farm

Farm chore list.
These are my duties for the day. By “sheaths” she means clean horse penis. Yup, I had to take a photo of that. This is my life and I’m actually enjoying it! What does that say about my mental health? Don’t answer that!

Welcome to the freezing arctic tundra of New York! Good gracious, it’s cold!

It’s been a little while since I checked in but I have a decent excuse…I hope. I’ve actually been itching to write every day for the last few weeks but I wanted to overhaul my blog before I went ahead and posted anything else. I wasn’t sure how I was going to go about switching up the blogs without losing readers so I needed some time to ponder the best course of action. Yesterday, I was able to combine my two blogs and hopefully those that may have been lost in the shuffle will somehow find their way back.

Regardless, I need to catch you up. On Monday, I finished my second full week of work at the animal sanctuary. So far, so good, but man do I hurt. It’s physically painful and there are some moments when I can’t help but wonder if I’m strong enough to efficiently do my job. All of my co-workers say that I’m doing great but I have my doubts. However, the pluses definitely, by far, outweigh the minuses. I work outside (which is usually great except for working in 2 degree temps which I did today), I have no desk or office, I’m never sitting, I can cancel my gym membership, I usually only work with three other people, all of my co-workers are absolutely wonderful, I hang out with animals all day, there’s no drama, the days go by fast, I know what’s expected of me, a professional chef cooks the staff vegan meals on a semi-regular basis, I get cruelty-free eggs and wool, and it’s straightforward, uncomplicated work. It’s everything I’ve always wanted so I can’t complain. Not one bit. In fact, I’ve never felt happier. And yes, in my spare time, I’ve been doing a lot of sewing, quilting, and overall tinkering. I’m so much more productive and imaginative when my livelihood doesn’t depend on what I’m creating. It’s really taken the pressure off and I have a feeling that my crafts will flourish because of it.

Here are some farm photos for you to enjoy:

Mr. Tumnus and the rest of the goats.
The goats specialize in unzipping my coat and eating my clipboard.

Cows and vehicles

cows

Chickens
The roosters orchestrate the perfect single-file assembly line for health checks & glove heists.

farm injuries

And I know you’ve seen the following photo of Lambert laying an egg, but I just wanted to report that Lambert died today. We are all very, very sad, especially his lady-love Hannah. We’re not sure why he died. It was all extremely sudden seeing as though he was a mere, seemingly healthy, 1.5 years old. He’s going to Cornell tomorrow for a necropsy, which will hopefully tell us more. He was a part of the beloved Goon Squad which roams the farm wreaking glorious havoc. He was a wonderful character and will be missed by all. We brought his body back to the farm to let the rest of the Goon Squad and Hannah say goodbye. They each lined up to sniff him and pay their respects. Each one walked away with their heads hanging and wandered off for a little alone time. Hannah didn’t know what to think and seemed reluctant to approach him. To date, she has outlived three partners so she is, sadly, no stranger to loss. RIP Lambert.

sheep