Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Happy Mug

Ah, December. Although this means the farm stand closes for the season, it's still a hectic, busy time for us, just like everyone else. It's seemed especially busy recently, as I've been working away from the farm a bit.

Working away is an unfortunate fact of life on most family farms. I feel very blessed that I've been able to be home, full time, for about two and a half years now (wow!). And although money is always tighter both around the holidays and winter in general, I have some ideas to expand winter sales and have been working hard to set the online store up, so I wasn't actively looking to do anything else. Instead, it was more a matter of helping out a fellow local food provider, and a chance to learn a lot.

Awhile back, in one of the group, monthly emails from Happy Mug coffee, Matt Shay (owner) asked if anyone would be interested in helping him out a bit. I let him know that I'd love to learn more about his coffee, since I sell it but am not really very knowledgeable, and I was genuinely curious about the process. He replied he basically jut needed someone local to help run to the post office and such, but I told him to keep me in mind if things changed. It's been a busy December for him, and last week it worked out that he needed some help, and my schedule was clear.

A lot of what I was there to do was pretty routine stuff for any business...printing labels, packaging the product, boxing up some holiday gift assortments, and helping to send online orders out by mail. But up until this point, Happy Mug Coffee has been a one-man show. Even as I was doing things like weighing green coffee and putting it into a bag, or putting labels on bags of coffee, Matt would be close by, and he is absolutely a wealth of knowledge. He's also passionate about responsibly grown and traded coffees and freely shares his knowledge about the coffee trade in general, and the respective farms and coops behind particular varieties of coffee he sells. We also drank, not surprisingly, a LOT of different kinds of coffee together. If he tried a new variation on the roasting process of a bean, we'd try it. Or we would try a couple in succession so he could help illustrate differences about what he does. In many regards, it was like a wine tasting, where you are trying to pick out certain notes. While it was no surprise to me to learn that beans that grow in different places can taste differently, by tasting it was amazing to be able to sample for myself how the area of the world a bean is grown in profoundly affects the flavor. Coffee grown on Pacific islands, in places like New Guinea, have low acidity because of the volcanic rock in the soil. Coffee grown in Asia (places like India or Yemen) tends to be bitter and have lots of undertones of herbs and spices, possibly because they are grown in close proximity. African coffees often have notes of citrus or blueberry, but absolutely not in the way a flavored coffee does.

I also learned about the roasting process, and even roasted a batch or two myself! This is not nearly as impressive as it sounds, because Matt has a state-of-the-art roaster that has an amazing digital panel. He can set up profiles of things he roasts often, so it can be set to operate itself! The temperatures are digitally controlled, so if it is a standard coffee, you just measure out the amount you want, pick the matching profile on the screen, pour the coffee in the hopper, pull the lever to send it to the roasting chamber, and make sure the lever goes back and starts the timer. Then, it will roast and dump the finished coffee, you don't have to do anything else! The part that takes knowledge (and taste testing!) is setting up the profiles in the first place. Many roasters aren't nearly this automated. In most places, it is actually roasted by ear to an extent, because the beans make popping sounds (like Rice Krispies or popcorn) at certain, key times of the roast. He even talked me through an entire roast, just so I could see, hear and smell just what was going on. It was fascinating and I'm very thankful to have been asked.

I was amazed at how committed to freshness Matt is. If you walk upstairs to where Happy Mug is (above King's Building Supply in Tidioute), you can't just grab a bag of coffee. There are no prepackaged bags laying about, just small bins with freshly roasted coffees (I would be shocked if any contain coffees roasted more than a week prior). Coffee is roasted in small batches, often just a few pounds at a time, to order. In Matt's opinion, if your coffee is more than about three weeks old, it's time to replace it with something fresh!

I was also amazed at how much business he does selling green (unroasted) coffee beans. I know that homebrewing your own beer or wine is becoming increasingly popular, but I was simply unaware of the homeroasting trend. Apparently, there aren't a lot of places where you can order just a pound or two of green coffee beans (it is imported in sack weighing over 100 lbs), and even fewer who sell organic, fair trade beans to boot, so Happy Mug ships all over the nation. It was really neat to check out all the different bulap bags, from many countries all over the world. Sometimes it was just easiest for Matt to tell me to look for something (a purple stripe or a picture of a cow) rather than trying to decipher the foreign language on the bag.

It was really neat to be able to sample a ton of different coffees. He gets in some amazing bag was such a special, hand-picked coffee, that the name of the owner of the estate was on the bag, and only six bags of it exist in the whole world. I wish I could tell you I loved it, but although a tomato-like taste is supposed to be the sign of a great coffee, I just couldn't really appreciate it. Not my favorite at all! I also got to sample some Blue Mountain, which is apparently the BMW of all coffee...a highly recognizable, upper echelon brand name (after the region in which it grows). And costs something ridiculous like $30 per pound. Most Blue Mountain coffee is a blend, so it is more affordable, but those blends are actually 90%  of cheaper coffee and only 10% good stuff, making it pretty impossible to pick out the flavor of the actual Blue Mountain. I was fortunate to be sipping a cup of 100% Blue Mountain, and that was a coffee I'd gladly have another cup of!

At the end of the day, I also got home to bring home a bag of something. I woke up last week with the Morning Blend, which I've been told all the cool kids are drinking because it's Happy Mug's coffee of the month. Dan's new favorite is the Extroverted Tanzania, which I enjoy as well.

It seems Happy Mug's Christmas rush is over, so I'm home baking cookies to go with all this great coffee. I'm looking forward to going back sometime in the not-too-distant future as well, as we've talked about my managing the business if Matt wants to get out of town for a few days. It's a huge responsibility to be trusted with something like that, but I'm hoping I'm up to it. And so thankful to have had the wonderful experiences of roasting and tasting and, most importantly, learning more about great local food!

You can visit Happy Mug online at please be patient if you're ordering as the website is being completely redone and will hopefully be fully functional in the very near future.


What Now?

It's early December, so for us that means the farm stand season has finally come to a close.  We're so thankful to everyone who stopped by the farm and supported us over the past season...without folks like you who believe in what we do, we wouldn't be able to do what we love!  

One question I get frequently as the season winds down is ", what are you going to do all winter while you're closed?"  It truly amazes me how many folks think I'm going to have a leisurely winter holiday in Florida or somewhere warm.  (Well, maybe the Keys...if some relatives would be kind enough to move back so we have a reason to visit!)  The truth is much less glamorous.  Dan and I spend the winter doing lots of things, but soaking up sun generally isn't one of them.  There are more animal chores this time of year than any other, as the horses, cows, sheep and goats need to be fed hay while the pastures lie dormant.  The horses spend a lot more time in the barn, so there is more manure to move.  Keeping fresh water in all the pens of birds, bunnies and other critters is extremely important, and when it's bitterly cold, something that may have to be done 3-4 times per day.  

There are, of course, lots of "inside" projects, too...this is the part of the year where we can paint a room in the house or take up a new hobby.  For all the things we do here, we're always looking towards learning more to make ourselves more self-sufficient.  This winter, Dan & I hope to get started in leather crafting a bit.  I'm also hoping to play with some of his newer woodworking tools and make some signs & other decorations around the farm.  I haven't really mentioned him in the blog, but we got a young horse, Montana, earlier this year, and I hope to work more with him now than I did in the summer.  It's also a time to review what worked over the past year, what didn't, and what we want to do in the coming year.  The seed catalogs starting arriving before Thanksgiving, and after the holidays I'll devote quite a bit of time inventorying what seed I have, what I want, and then trimming that down to what we can afford, both in terms of money and garden & greenhouse space.

It's also a time to do more of the hobbies we already have...Dan looks forward to more blacksmithing, while I'm excited to have more time to devote to stained glass and jewelry.  The farm stand is closed for the year (tomorrow will actually be my first Saturday off since May 19, and I have to say that's pretty exciting!) but I am trying to make more of a go of our online store.  This week it's been a major project to upload lots of new items to the store.  I have a selection of some of the more popular canned items, plus a couple gift baskets, and now I've got a nice selection of listings of my handmade jewelry, and I've even got a few stained glass items up!  All handmade by me here at the farm, of course.   

I am extremely fortunate to be able to pick and choose what I do each day (at least after the animals are taken care of!) and this time of year means far more leeway in what HAS to be done on a given day vs. what I FEEL like doing.  It's a luxury that makes all the hard work of being self-employed worth it.   On this gloomy, damp day I'm making room in the freezer by making spaghetti sauce from the tomatoes I ran through the food mill & froze, when I had more canning to do than time to do it, earlier in the garden season.  I don't mind having the stove on for hours today, and it's pretty amazing to me that the only store-bought ingredients going into the pot today are salt, sugar, and vinegar. (Although I make vinegar, too, it's not tested for acidity and therefore not safe for canning.)  Everything is boiling now, and in the next few hours when I just need to stir every so often, I'm working on more jewelry plus a new decorative hop vine wreath idea I have...if I get ambitious, I'll list some more items online.  It's great fun to be making things like jewelry and stained glass, and I'm really hoping to have more of a supplemental income this winter from it as well.  The hardest part so far seems to be resisting the urge to keep most of it for myself!

 If you're shopping online this year, we'd love it if you took a look around our virtual store.  I ship nationwide! Visit our online store at:  We wish you happy holidays and stress-free shopping!


Conference Review

The second weekend of November, I attended the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy's annual conference and had an absolutely wonderful time.  The ALBC's mission is to preserve rare breeds of livestock.  Most people think of tigers or pandas when they think about endangered animals, but the truth is that many farm animals are endangered, too.  Industrial agriculture favors only the animals that do well in the overcrowded, grain-based production systems that have taken over our food supply.  The ALBC lists over 180 breeds of livestock & poultry which all have great qualities, but are in danger of dying out because they only do well on small or grass-based farms.  It's an organization we wholeheartedly support, since we raise some of those breeds listed; Belgian horses, Dexter cattle, Bourbon Red turkeys, Toulouse geese and Delaware, Barred Rock and Golden Phoenix chickens.  

The conference was an amazing mix of people- everything from dedicated breeders to folk who just support the mission, but haven't yet made the leap to keeping livestock of their own.  I learned a lot from the sessions I attended, and I hope people learned from the session I presented as well.  Of course, speaking in front of a national audience is a bit intimidating (and I really hoped that the name of the conference room wouldn't be a bad sign, since I was speaking in the "Cape Fear" room!)  but I felt that I knew my material well enough.  After all, I was just sharing my story of how we farm with the work horses.

Friday night was an amazing dinner, full of meats from rare breeds like Mulefoot hogs and Pineywoods cattle, all donated by ALBC members. (Ironically, one of the best ways to save rare breeds is to eat them...consumer demand for rare breed products, like meat, eggs, milk & fiber, encourages more farms to raise them.)  And that enjoyable meal was made even better by a wonderful keynote speaker...Diane Ott Whealy.  She and her husband founded Seed Savers Exchange, a non-profit farm dedicated to preserving heirloom seeds and plants- vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers.  Their mission mirrors that of the ALBC, just preserving plants rather than animals, although they have incorporated some heritage breed livestock to their farm as well.   I've been buying seed from SSE for years, and hearing her story was amazing.  She has just written a memoir, called Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver.  I've been thinking about buying it anyways, and while I usually hate to pay cover price, this time all the proceeds when right to the ALBC!  I was really excited to actually meet Mrs. Whealy later in the conference and have her sign my copy.  We chatted for a minute, about seeds of course, and even have the same favorite lettuce, Grandpa Admire! I can't wait to sit down with my copy and read more about her story.

I felt a lot calmer Saturday morning once I got my PowerPoint loaded and ready to go. My presentation was titled "Horse Farming 101: How We Farm with Belgians" and as the title suggests, was a basic introduction to the use of draft horses on a small farm.  I talked about the advantages of farming with horses, both in sustainability and economics. The bulk of the presentation was just showing our machinery on the projector and explaining the use of the implements and what tasks they do on the farm. Although the crowd wasn't as large as some other sessions, I thought the speech went well, and I got some very positive feedback afterwards, including from ALBC staff.  

 My presentation featured lots of pictures of the team hard at work.


 I learned a lot at the other sessions about caring for and marketing rare breeds.   The keynote and pleneray sessions were inspiring.  I listened as some very distinguished folks talked about breeds and seeds.  Success stories of how parts of our farming heritage have been saved by these organizations, in very real ways rescuing the last members of a breed from the slaughterhouse door, or of discovering a rural gardener still growing a vegetable variety once thought extinct.  About how what we all, as stewards of rare breeds and seeds, do is important and how very much it matters. While I think networking with other small farmers or learning about research or marketing success stories are very valuable things, the inspiration of the importance of what we do as small farmers is what I hope to hold onto the longest.  

 Before Friday's dinner, I was chatting with a woman in the hallway who also raised horses.  We spoke casually about farming, family and our respective parts of the country.  During the dinner, her husband got an award from the ALBC for pretty much single handedly rescuing the Marsh Tacky breed of horse from extinction.  It's exciting to be part of an organization like this, because although I can't to much to save elephants or pandas,  every time I pull a Bourbon Red turkey poult from the incubator or plant a funky "new" (to me and my customers, anyway) heirloom pepper or watch a mother Dexter cow with her newborn calf, I'm making a difference, too.

 Meeting one of my inspirations, Diane Ott Whealy

To learn more about these wonderful organizations (Or better yet, join us and become a member!) visit:

American Livestock Breeds Conservancy-

Seed Saver's Exchange- 


Thankful Time

I had a wonderful post typed out on the ALBC conference, but the computer ate most of it.  So, more on that next week...

 It's Thanksgiving week!  For most of us, it means food and family, and if we're lucky, some time off.  For me this year, it's craziness, though!  After the conference I attended in North Carolina, I took some much needed time away from the farm to hang out with three of my siblings (I'm the oldest of 6!).  I had a great time visiting and catching up with sibs, spouses and their kids and returned home last Thursday to all the post-vacation stuff...laundry, catching up on email, and juggling orders from customers looking to stock up on our meats before the end of the season.

 This week is our final week of the farm stand season, and we'll be processing the last of the chickens tonight and the last pig Friday.  It's the time where I start thinking about how our farm year went and all I have to be thankful for, but instead of musing that online today, the plan is scrubbing and baking.  

This year, for the first time, I'm hosting family Thanksgiving.  I've cooked holiday meals for Dan and I in the past, and had Matt over, too, but this year will be the first time I've cooked for my Mom and siblings.  Honestly, I'm a little nervous about it, which is a bit on the crazy side.  I cook from scratch pretty much nightly, and far more so than most folks, so a whole turkey is no big deal, and I'm already pretty skilled at making sure everything comes out at the same time.   Nothing that I'm cooking is difficult to me or something new, but I guess there is that little voice in the back of my head that worries that this will be the year Emily ruined Thanksgiving by (insert disaster mashed potatoes, burned stuffing, whatever).  So today I'm continuing to scrub the farmhouse so it's fit for company and baking.  Since baking is my least-perfected skill, I thought it would be good to do it ahead so that I have a chance to adjust if things go wrong.  However, I'm feeling pretty good, as I'm making a pumpkin cheesecake recipe I've tried before, and it came out awesome the first time.  The other dessert is a Shea family tradition, but also pretty foolproof, and the last thing you'd expect to be served at an organic farm feast.  But the Candy Bar Pie, made with chocolate pudding, graham cracker crust, cream cheese, Cool Whip and Snickers bars requires no baking and just needs to be part of our celebration.  

For the big day, I'm going classic (in my opinion, now is NOT the time to try new recipes!)...roasted turkey and homemade gravy, Mom's famous stuffing recipe, mashed potatoes, my home-canned cranberry sauce, green salad, and a winter squash side.  Maybe some sweet corn, too.  When I talked to my mom on Sunday, she asked what she could bring, so I put her on beverage duty.  I'm excited to have my family sit around the table together, give thanks, and dig in. 

Wishing you and your family a wonderful holiday week filled with family time and great food!  Happy Thanksgiving to all! 


Packing Up

On a farm like ours, it is hard to get away because the livestock are always hungry, whether you need a vacation or not.  However, now that the garden is done for the year and the stand has only a few more weeks left, it is easier to plan to get away. 

I am so excited to be leaving for a trip to North Carolina this week.  Dan will be staying here at the farm and watching the stand for me this Saturday, as well as taking care of the animals and birds.  I will be on a working vacation of sorts.  I am headed to Cary, NC for the annual conference of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, an organization dedicated to the preservation of endangered livestock breeds.  I'm hoping to learn a lot and meet folks who are dedicated to small farming and heritage breeds, like us.  And I am beyond excited to actually be one of about a dozen presenters on Saturday! My presentation is titled "Horse Farming 101: How We Farm with Belgians."  I'll be sharing photos of us at work, explaining why we choose to farm with horses, what we see as the advantages to using draft power, and describing some of the tasks and antique machinery we use here.  I will be one of three morning breakout sessions running concurrently, so I have no idea how many conference attendees will choose to hear my story, but I think it is very exciting.  It's certainly the biggest presentation I've ever's for a national audience!  So today, I'm putting the finishing touches on my PowerPoint and running through it.  I'm also doing laundry and packing my bags, because three of my siblings live about an hour away, so I'll spend a few days relaxing and visiting with them before heading back to the farm.  I'll be sure to post photos and details when I return! 


For more information about the ALBC, its mission, and the conference schedule, check out !


My New Family

I have been most blessed to be welcomed, with open arms, into a new family of sorts lately. I shared the story of my pony, Sara, and how much she meant to me, but one blog entry couldn't possibly cover our whole story. Her story actually had a horrible beginning...she was one of over 30 Morgans who were rescued from starvation and death by a wonderful organization called the Equine Rescue League in Leesburg, Virginia. After I adopted Sara, I sent pictures back to show how well she was doing, and got a reply of thanks, and that it might help her son find a forever home too. Although I occasionally received a newsletter from them, and had contacted them a few times in the 20 years Sara and I were together (just to say she was doing well), I never really made personal connections, nor knew anything about what happened to the rest of the herd, including what became of her baby. When Sara passed, I let the ERL know, and gave them the link to the tribute I had posted here. It was forwarded to the ERL's Facebook, and Amanda, who manages that page, had actually adopted two of the Stafford County Morgans, as the group was known. One had passed, but the other is alive and well. Her friend Tara has three as well, and she kindly offered to let me meet the group, as the herd was related many times over, she called them Sara's “cousins”. I asked if anyone knew anything about Sara's son- what happened, if he was still alive, if he had had a good life. I told her if it was possible that I would love to see a picture. Upon further communication, Tara's three horses turned out to be Sara's full brother, her niece, and in an amazing twist of fate, her son Gus. He gives lessons to young girls at her horse sanctuary and looks so much like his mom it brought tears to my eyes. They also pieced together the fact my Sara had not one, but two colts before she came to me. A picture of the younger one, Sammy, has been found, although it seems where he went is at present time unknown. I guess Sara wanted me to find her family, and it's been amazing the way these women have reached out and embraced me despite the fact we've never even spoken on the phone to each other. Our bond is having our lives graced by a very special group of horses. My personal Facebook page is blowing up with pictures of these special Morgans. Amazingly, they are not all that far from Tom & Betty, so I look forward to the day I can visit in person and meet these special horses and humans. I know Sara will always live on in my heart, and I can't wait to share more of her story with them, and hear the stories of Gus, Mia, Justin, Flower, Disco, and all the other Morgans who are my special girl's relatives.

Fall Babies

Although fall is generally harvest time and not baby season, we've had some adorable little ones join our family this month, bringing both happiness and heartache.  Our brood cow Lil usually has a calf each spring, but something happened and we noticed she came into heat around the first of the year.  While that was a bit of a disappointment, she is getting to be pretty old, and things like that are part of life.  We have been anxiously watching her and knew the time was getting close, but we let her stay our in the pasture.  It's actually more sanitary to give birth outside if the weather cooperates, and Lil has had something like a dozen calves without assistance, so we weren't too worried that she would need help. Of course, when the day finally arrived, it was cold and wet.  In the interest of giving the calf the best start possible we decided to bring them into the barn for a few days.  

Dan had walked out to check on her on Wednesday, and sure enough there was a healthy calf on the ground, far up in the pasture.  I was in the middle of canning some Apple Pie in a Jar jam, so I couldn't really drop what I was doing, so Dan and his brother Matt took the truck out into the pasture.  They loaded the calf into the bed and put a lead rope on Lil. She didn't need any encouragement to follow along and kept an eye on the little one the whole way down.  This was the first calf born since our bull matured, and he seemed protective as well, as he also followed the truck all the way down to the barn.  While things like that can be a pain, it's good that he takes to the calves.  We have a large population of coyotes locally, and having the bull keeping watch over the girls and their little ones is actually kind of nice.  By this time, I was able to step away from the kitchen and was bedding down the stall.  We were able to get Lil and her calf in the barn and shoo Bullwinkle back out, so all went well.  The calf enjoyed his truck ride so much I decided to name him Ranger (after the truck).  He's strong and healthy, and since the weather has warmed back up (our high yesterday was a balmy 75!) he and his mama are back out in the pasture with the rest of the herd, and both are doing fantastic.

We also had a litter of kittens born here lately, which has been the heartbreaking part.   The mother cat has successfully raised kittens this spring, but this time, she seemed to just give up on the whole mothering job.  She seemed to do a bit better when I wasn't around (her motherly hormones seem to make her want to cuddle up to me instead of the babies for some reason), so I'd lock her in the house with them anytime I was running errands or working outside.  Still, after two of the four died, I realized I needed to step in and care for the kittens if they were to have any chance at making it.  At that point, there was a black and white one who was very small and runty-looking and a grey tiger one who seemed a bit better off.  I decided to start feeding them and warmed some milk and found a large syringe without a needle to use, since I don't have any baby bottles small enough for kittens.  But the grey one was nowhere to be found.  I couldn't believe the mother cared enough to move it, but it was gone.  I searched outside, and listened for a crying, cold baby kitty to no avail.   I locked her in overnight with her lone remaining kitten, which she ignored all night. Incredibly, in the morning, as I worked to get ready to open the farm stand for the day, I found the grey kitten on the front steps.  It had somehow survived, alone, outside, on a night where our temperatures went down to 22 degrees. Unsurprisingly, it was cold and not doing well at all, but I got some warm milk into it and put it in the kitty bed next to the woodstove.  It's been a frustrating weekend, as I've been feeding them every few hours, but watching the little black and white one fade away.  It really never took to eating from me, and its mother ignores them completely now.  I did the best I could, but it didn't make it.  The grey kitty has a great appetite and bites at the syringe when I feed it, so I'm hoping that it continues to thrive.  It's eating regularly and well, and naps contentedly without crying after a meal.  I know there is never a shortage of cats anywhere, and I wasn't looking for kittens, but since they are here, I felt it is my duty to care for them as best as I can.  Taking care of orphan critters is part of being a farmer, and even though our livelihood doesn't depend on kittens like it does lambs or calves, I'll do the best I can for this little one. So if you see me and I look a bit tired, it's probably from these every-4-hour feedings, which really don't make for a good night's sleep!


New Seasonings

Lately I've been making some new seasonings. I started an herb garden when I came to the farm, and I really enjoy cooking with things I've grown. Fresh herbs are, of course, the most flavorful, and you just can't beat the flavor of something that was cut and then brought immediately into the kitchen. But every night this time of year brings the chance of the first frost (we've had lows of 34 already!) and so I like to plan on different ways to ensure I have delicious herbs all through the winter. I use the dehydrator a lot, and then place the dried herbs into glass jars. Another great way is to simply freeze herbs; many retain more of their flavor that way, although the texture is lost.

I have what some might call a “cookbook problem”. I collect them. I have subscriptions to multiple cooking magazines and never throw any out. I justify this by telling myself that I probably use them more than most people. I cook, from scratch, pretty much daily. I send out recipes in my monthly farm newsletter. I love reading about or adapting recipes to make the best use of whatever is in season. When folks ask me where I get the ideas for all the things I process and offer for sale at the stand, saying “I buy a LOT of cookbooks” really is no lie. One great idea I found recently was for basil salt. It's pretty simple and makes great use of the basil that is so bountiful now, and is a great way to keep that flavor around beyond the first frost. It involves chopping up the basil in a food processor, adding salt and blending it together, then drying it briefly in the oven and chopping it again. The recipe recommended sprinkling it on fresh tomatoes, but I'm thinking up lots of other great ideas, too...for instance, I'm planning on making homemade pizza soon just so I can try adding it to the crust! And since it worked so well with basil, and I'm overrun with sage right now, I made some sage salt too. It's already a winner in my book as a rub for meats! So that has been a fun success recently, and I've made enough to have some for sale at the stand as well.

Another project I wanted to try this year was making my own paprika. Did you know that paprika is simply a type of pepper, which is then dried & ground? It's great for adding color, but most of the store-bought stuff doesn't give a dish much flavor, in my opinion. So, in the winter when I poured over seed catalogs and planned this year's garden, I was intrigued by the thought of growing a few paprika plants. Like the rest of my pepper seeds, I started them out in the sprout house in mid-February, nurtured the seedlings and eventually planted them out in the garden in late May. It took until mid-September to get some red, ripe peppers from the plants. I picked them, cut them up, and put them in the dehydrator. They were good and dry today, so I tossed the pepper bits into the processor and began to pulse them until the small chunks of peppers became a rusty red powder in the inside of the glass. I carefully poured the resulting powder into some small herb jars I have, and was plesently surprised at the yield. I'm excited to do more, and if I end up with enough, I may sell some, but first I want to stock my own pantry. Just for fun, I compared my newly-ground seasoning to the container of store-bought paprika in my kitchen. My freshly ground paprika has an aroma of peppery spice, with a smidge of heat, and is fresh and colorful. In comparison, the other stuff smells like dust and is more brown than red. There's no debate about the winner of this taste test, and I'm anxious to feature it in a dish, maybe even tonight.

It took about eight months to go from pretty seed package to useable spice, but I've learned to savor the rewards of being patient. There is little opportunity for instant gratification on a farm. Time, patience and loving care are the main ingredients in pretty much all I cook (or sell), from the veggies to the meats to canned goods and, as you can see, even the seasonings. Still, I've yet to find anything that tastes better.


I Love Old Stuff

Readers of this blog and farm visitors may have guessed this by now, but Dan and I love old stuff. Honestly, when I look at a list of events for a “living history” festival, usually the only activity I haven't tried my hand at is spinning wool (although I would love a spinning's on the buy-it-someday list!) I guess it's because we truly live history every day here at the kind of comes with the territory when you choose to work horses. But in addition to that, we just love being as self-sufficient as possible, and that frequently means doing things the old-fashioned way, whether it means making gate latches in the blacksmith shop or preserving food the way our grandmothers would have.

Many times, the best tools are the old ones. So, not surprisingly, we would much rather shop at an auction or flea market than the mall or Wal-Mart. Besides the utility, the old stuff has character. They are things that were made to last, made with pride by real American craftsmen (and women!), not disposable junk from some sweatshop overseas. Preserving this stuff, along with the knowledge of how to use it, is an incredible honor. A few weeks ago, we spent the day at a rather large area flea market. Dan was looking for specific items for the blacksmith shop, like vices and hammers. I had some cash in my pocket just for whatever we might come across. I was excited to find some glass beads that looked like they had been taken off an old chandelier, as I have a stained glass project I'd like to try which calls for them. Then I came across a very reasonably priced trunk. For some reason, I have a weakness for old trunks, and picked this one up. I'd like to try my hand at restoring it over the winter, cleaning up the metal parts and replacing the dry-rotted leather straps and handles. Dan found some tools, and we had a fun day, but had seen most of what was being offered and were heading back to the car with our treasures.

As we were walking back, we walked by a booth that had lots of horse stuff- saddles, saddle pads, bridles. I need more of that like I need a hole in the head, as I already have eight saddles in the tack room, and only four horses in the barn! But I can't resist looking, and something caught my eye immediately. It was a large, English-type saddle, but with what looked like two horns at the front. It was obviously old and in need of repair work before it would ever be usable, but you could tell it was well made. I had never seen a saddle like this in person before. I asked Dan if he knew what it was, and after giving it some thought, he admitted he was stumped. I knew that what we were looking at was an antique ladies' sidesaddle, the kind women riders would use before it was OK for women to wear pants! I just had to ask what the woman wanted for it. She replied “Make me an offer.” I threw out a pretty low figure, not knowing if she put any value on this old saddle, obviously in unusable condition. “I've had far higher offers than that!” she replied. She went on to say that she knew the woman whom the saddle had been made for, that she had gotten it after the woman's death, and that it was over 100 years old. She went on to tell me what she thought she could get for it on eBay, which was far more than I had to spend on a whim.

But then she said how that, more than the money, she just wanted it to go to someone who would appreciate it, who would treasure it, and would care for it like the piece of history that it is. I replied that I understood, as we farm with horses and antique machinery, and that our team is a pair of girls that both were born right here on our farm. “Then you know” she said. “I farm with horses, too. So you obviously know what it means to give something a forever home. That's what I want for this saddle- a forever home with someone who will take care of it.” And then she let me have it for about a quarter of what she thought she could get for it on eBay.

I've never ridden sidesaddle, so part of me wanted to take it home and just sit on it, just for a minute, just to see what it felt like. But with the hole Sara's passing has left in the barn, it wasn't possible. Dixie and Dolly are just too tall, it would have touched the ground on Ponyboy, and I wasn't putting it on Montana, since he isn't broke to ride yet. Although he is a sweetheart and likely wouldn't have minded, I'm not ready to trust him with an irreplaceable antique just yet. Regardless, it is something I treasure. I hope to get it professionally restored someday and try it out. It has a stirrup on the left side only, the right leg is placed between the two horns in the front. The seat and the place between the horns was once upholstered.  It has billet straps underneath to accommodate an English-type girth. The only thing I'm a bit unsure of are the two straps, the one on the left being just behind the stirrup, and in the same spot on the other side even though there is no stirrup on that side. There are no holes in this strap, but I thought perhaps it held some sort of overgirth, to keep the flaps tight to the horse's body, keeping the woman's dress from getting under the flaps and getting full of sweat & horsehair. But if that were the case, I would expect to see wear marks where the strap would have attached. There are none. My next guess is that they might be for mounting. Getting on a sidesaddle has to be a bit more complicated, so perhaps the one on the left is like a handle for the lady mounting, and the one on the off side would be for a stable hand or riding partner to hold while she got up, so the saddle wouldn't slip off-center. Or maybe they're just decorative, I really don't know. Feel free to leave a comment here if you know more than I about this! 


Isn't it a beautiful piece of history?  I just love old stuff!


What does a Blacksmith do?


After posting about our newest building, a blacksmith shop, I was suprised at the number of comments made to me about the new horse building.  In fact, our new shop really doesn't have anything to do with the horses, and I realized it was my fault for not clearing up what I mean by "blacksmith", so I wanted to remedy that with this post.

 Although the word blacksmith may make folks think of the guy putting shoes on a horse, the actual name of that profession is farrier.  Years ago, it was common for farriers to make horseshoes out of hot metal to custom fit the horse, but today most farriers' vehicles are stocked with a variety of sizes of premade horseshoes.  Very few do custom work with hot metal.

The term blacksmith, however, is used to describe a person who works with metal.  The traditional way to do this craft is to heat a piece of metal in a coal fire and then shape it using an anvil and a variety of hammers, tongs and other tools.   Years ago, many farmers were amateur smiths, and would make lots of different items for the like rakes and shovels, blades including knives and axes, hardware like hinges and door pulls, plus fire pokers, pot racks, hooks for hanging things and more.  Most blacksmiths made many of their own tools, and were able to use their craft to repair  or recreate parts for the machinery around the farm.  Those with more skill or interest would refine their craft, sometimes generating extra income for the farm with their metal work.  When you think of wrought iron, the twists and scrolls are good examples of what a skilled blacksmith can do with a piece of raw metal.

I find it absolutely fascinating to watch Dan working at this ancient craft.  To watch as a straight piece of square metal is twisted and worked into a fancy fire poker or other item amazes me every time.  There is real skill involved, much of it learned simply through practice.  You must be able to tell how hot the metal is simply by the color it turns in the fire...too cold and it won't shape properly, too hot and it will melt and be ruined.  Different tools create different shapes and textures.  The forge can be used to harden metal, or to weld as well.  It truly is an art, and one that truly fits our farm, with our desire to preserve old skills that increase our self-sufficiency.   I'm also really excited about my own workspace there. I've already moved my jewelry making supplies there, and the internet tracking code says my stained glass supplies should arrive today.  While I'm anxious to get started with that, between butchering a pig today, picking up a coffee order, and setting up the stand for tomorrow, not to mention running the stand and attending a wedding tomorrow, I'll have to wait a few days at least.  But as the days grow cooler and the garden wraps up for the year, I think we'll be spending plenty of time in our new workspace!


(Almost) An Old-Fashioned Barn Raising

Dan has had a few rare days off of work lately, as his brother Matt (and the other half of the construction company) is out of town visiting his folks. With some time to spend here on the farm, Dan has put some thought into what he'd like to accomplish this week. We decided to get to work on a project we'd been discussing for a couple months now, namely building a new workshop for Dan's blacksmithing. The oldest building on the farm was once a blacksmith shop, but due to the condition of the chimney and the age of the building (late 1800's), we'd rather err on the side of not burning it down. Dan has been working in a small shed, but the 8' x 10' space isn't big enough to accommodate much more than the forge & anvil. So, we decided to build a new workshop big enough for the forge & smithing tools, and also other metalworking tools such as welders, grinders, chop saws, etc. This way, all the tools will be in the same place and a metal project can be worked start to finish in the same place. He was also generous enough to promise me a section of workbench, because I'd like to try my hand at doing some stained glass projects during the off-season. You know, because I need another hobby.

Dan came up with the blueprints himself, and the new shop is 16' x 20'. We began setting a few posts over the weekend, and building in earnest this week. And an amazing thing happened. Some of our friends happened to have a few days off at the same time, and came to see the building go up. One had 20 + years of construction experience and is semi-retired, so it was easy to hand him a tape measure and a saw. Other friends were eager to pick up the cordless nail gun and get the boards secured. We had extra riders over to the Amish sawmill to pick up more rough cut lumber. Enough guys were happily building away that my main job has been picking up scraps of lumber so no one trips, and making sure there are enough refreshments in the crock pot and the cooler.  As much as I feel guilty not making salsa or pickles or dilly beans (and letting the produce go to the livestock or the compost bin), I think about what I'll remember 5, 10 or 20 years from now. Canning is my full-time summer job, but I don't think I'll ever have the opportunity to have a hand in building a blacksmith shop here on the farm, one we hope will outlast us.

 And even though all the men helping are old enough to be Dan's father, no one questions how he is going about with the project. They just ask what needs to be done next, and then grab a ladder or more nails or whatever is called for.  At the same time, he isn't afraid to bounce an idea off of someone on the best way to do something, either. While it's not the enormous project of raising a barn in a day, it surely has the same spirit of community, of helping a neighbor because you know that he would do the same for you. And in an age where almost everything is done by hired experts, or bought already assembled, I also think that there is a need to be a part of the doing of a project like this. To see the raw boards and steel roofing go from piles on the ground to a finished building, to create. It's the same kind of spirit that surely was present 150 or so years ago when the first shop was built, and an amazing thing to be a part of now.


Irreplaceable (Sara's Story)

When I was 12, I wanted a horse more than anything.  By a twist of fate, a kind 4-H leader gave me the opportunity to ride one, at no cost, for an entire summer.  If I liked her, I could adopt her from a rescue society, or return her and she'd have a better chance of being adopted, having had being ridden more often.  My parents tentatively agreed, but warned me not to get too attached, as we had no room to keep a horse, and no money in the family budget for boarding one.

Her name was Sara.  Coincidentally, my own middle name, but she came to me with that name.  I figured it was just meant to be.  She was not registered, but she had a fancy, though not official pedigree.  Her forefathers were government cavalry horses, Morgans who were renown for their endurance, loyalty to their riders, and hardiness.  The first time I got on her, she threw me on my head.  She was 6 and had been ridden only a few months before I, a complete novice got on her back.  She was bad.  (I later learned she'd already been returned to the humane society once!)  She was stubborn.  She liked trail rides, but hated practicing in the ring.  On practice days, she'd try and run away with me.  I wasn't strong enough to stop her, so I had to turn her in tight circles until she stopped.  But I was stubborn and determined to ride.  She threw me, I'd just get back on.  Sara respected that.  At the end of summer, she threw me and I hurt my hand.  My parents were wavering on keeping her, so I didn't mention the fact that I fractured my hand until I was about 18 or so (really- no medical treatment either).   But I got to keep the pony!


Sara and I, early summer 1992.  The first picture I have of me riding her. 

By the end of that summer, we were already incredibly close.  I loved my pony with all my heart, and she loved me so much that she even seemed jealous at times.  If I patted or said hello to one of the other horses in the barn before her, she would pin her ears and turn so her tail was against the stall door, making it extremely obvious that she wasn't “speaking” to me.  But she was quick to forgive...all it took was walking in the stall and giving her neck a hug, or giving her a treat.

We logged literally thousands of miles on trail rides.  Plenty of times with friends, lots of just her and I out in the wilderness, too.  We showed in the 4-H shows, competing at the District level, and placing in classes full of professionally trained horses with fancy pedigrees. It gave me great pride to do well against the riders who spent their summers at one show or another competing.  Mostly, Sara and I spent our time in the woods, but when it was time to shine in the ring, we did well there, too.   While I took riding lessons, no one ever got on her back but I.  I spent so much time on her back, I could tell what she was going to do before she did it- I was that in tune with her. She was in tune with me as well, and smart too...she quickly learned that the games in our fun shows ended with running across the arena and stopping at the gate.  If I had to get off for a game like bobbing apples, I could jump on her, laying with my stomach across the saddle, clinging to her mane, and she'd run back at full speed and stop where she was supposed to, whether I had any control of the reins or not.   I think she understood it was a race, and she wanted to win, too.

She was gentle, too. My younger sisters (one was actually born after I met Sara!) would often come with me to the barn.  While I did chores for other horses, I always knew my sister was safe, because  I would boost  her up on Sara's back and hand her a brush.  Sara would stand calmly and soak up the attention.  I would lock the stall door and go about carrying water and hay.  Never once did Sara let me down.  She always took care of the kids, starting when they were preschool-aged, never startling even if they yelled while they were astride. 

Of course though, as the years went by, I rode less, was too old for 4-H, got busy with high school activities and friends, and eventually went away to college.  My family took care of her, and on my sporadic returns home, I cared for her as well.  We would camp out on the property by her pasture, and I can remember many nights where she'd walk over and stand in the glow of the campfire.  We'd pet her and feed her marshmallows and anything else we had to snack on.  She LOVED people food; pizza and Doritos and cookies.  


After college, I returned here to Tionesta to help care for my dying father.  After he passed, I stayed for my sisters and my horse too, because I had to find her a new place to live after his piece of land was sold.  Some kind farm boys, Matt and Dan, helped me get her moved to a new home, moving a chest freezer we used for feed storage and setting up the electric fence for the new pasture.  

You could say Dan and my first date was a trail ride, with me riding Sara, of course.  I felt like moving her to the farm was a huge commitment and step forward in our relationship when the time came.  Dan loved Sara too, and worked with her in harness.  He loved how she had spunk, even in her 20's, and would really dig in to pull her weight.  We bought a sleigh; my dream of a Christmas Eve tradition of romantic sleigh rides lasted exactly one year- the year she took off, kicked the shafts apart, and pulled me through the front boards.  Still bad, after all these years.  But she was good too- Dan would ride Dolly, and I Sara, and we would trail ride.  We took the horses camping out in the woods, carrying food & tents in our saddlebags and falling asleep to the sounds of the forest and our contented steeds.  The last few years, we haven't ridden much, and she lived in semi-retirement, other than helping me to herd sheep, a job she figured out and liked.

A month before she passed, she was the picture of health- glossy coat, graceful movement, just a touch of grey. In the last couple weeks, she had started to lose a little weight.  I made a mental note to get someone out to look at her teeth.  Then she just didn't seem herself.  Standing alone, not moving around a whole lot.  The weather had turned suddenly from hot, humid days to cooler, rainy ones, so I chalked it up to arthritis acting up.  Then, Sunday morning, she was off by herself, away from the barn and very stiff when she moved.  I checked on her, and she wouldn't eat a cookie for the first time in her life.  By the time I got in touch with a vet, she was laying down in her stall.  When the vet arrived, she was colicky (also for the first time in her life) and in obvious pain.  The vet gave her a painkiller.  Her eyes brightened and my fighter of a girl tried to get on her feet again.  She didn't quite make it.  At first I thought she was struggling to get up again, her hooves clattering on the stall floor, but it was a seizure.  I knew these were going to be her last moments with me.  I dropped to the floor, my arms around her neck, soothing her with voice and touch.  The vet lost the heartbeat, and told us so, but I could still feel her faint pulse in her neck.  I held on as she took two last, ragged breaths. The vet offered her condolences and left the barn.  Dan was in the doorway, and at that moment Sara's pulse came to a halt. I think she knew I was there, and that she needed me to be there for her.  Maybe she'd come to a darkened path, and needed me to guide her like I had so many times on the trails.  To let her know it was all right to leave and take the road that we can't see down until our own time comes.  And through it all, she held on until the barn was still, and just us.  As incredibly painful as it was to have her die in my arms, it is also an incredible comfort.  I was there for her, we took her pain away, and she wasn't alone.

I walked the pasture until I found a spot that seemed right to lay her to rest.  You can see the house and barn, but it's back far enough to have the peaceful and solemn feeling that so many old cemeteries do. Dan and I dug the hole by hand.  As we were digging, my back was to the house and most of the farm.  “Look at the sun coming down,” he said to me.  I turned, and there were holes in the clouds, and broad rays of sunshine sparkled down as though heaven itself were looking out over our farm.  Maybe it was.

Sara was a huge part of my life.  That horse knows every secret thought I've had in the past 20 years.  Many were the times I stood with my arms around her neck, pouring out my heart about first crushes, the bumps along the way to growing up, and all the things that were too painful or embarrassing to tell your high school best friend or your mother. I feel like I literally grew up upon her back.  I sobbed in her mane when my high school sweetheart went overseas and when my father died.  My husband asked me to marry him while I was sitting on her back.  I think she knew that was a special moment too, because she stood perfectly still instead of pawing and walking off as she normally did.  I have wedding pictures that include her.  Part of my heart has always remained 12 years old, convinced that ponies are magical creatures who love unconditionally and live forever.  

The first may be true, but unfortunately, the second part isn't.  I would say that she was a once-in-a-lifetime animal, but I don't think she was.  I think she was a once-in-many-lifetimes animal.  We shared a bond deeper than I can explain.  There will always be horses in my life, I hope, but there will never be another Sara.  Sweet, gentle, spunky, mischievous, charismatic, loyal, healthy, strong and completely irreplacable.  She was a magnificent creature with a personality bigger than her physical presence.  She charmed nearly everyone, even folks who were usually afraid of horses.  I was blessed with a little over 20 years with her. She lived a good long life, just 5 days shy of her 27th birthday.  It's still hard to believe she won't be there when I flick the barn lights on.  But perhaps a part of her spirit is still here with me, racing gracefully across the fields, just for the sheer glory of it.

 Sara and I chasing sheep, taken last year.  The last picture of me riding her.

Goodbye, Dear Friend.  Our trail together was a long one.  Whatever life brings me, you will not be forgotten, and when my time comes, I have faith that you'll be waiting on the other side to greet me.


Maternal Instinct

We've had a second baby boom of sorts here at the farm lately. It's the time of year where we're happy to let the birds sit on eggs and hatch out their own broods. By this time of year, the incubator is silent, unless I'm hatching out a few quail or peafowl. We collect the turkey eggs all spring & early summer for two reasons- #1 if you take the eggs, the hens will lay more and #2 not all hens will sit the full 28 days necessary to hatch out the chicks (21 days for chickens, but the same two rules apply).

It's actually pretty unusual to have birds that hatch their own young. Mothering instinct has been bred out of virtually all livestock breeds these days. While it sounds unbelievable that animals don't know how to raise their own young, it's true, because the demands of modern agriculture often are at odds with nature's instinct. A broody hen will peck at you and draw blood to defend her clutch if she's ready to hatch a brood. This is a royal pain if you're a farmer making a living selling eggs. Likewise, if you're selling milk, you'll be taking the calf away from mama and bottle feeding it while milking the cow and selling the milk. You don't want the cow lowering her head and charging you to keep you away from her calf.  It's much easier if she doesn't mind that it is gone.  Both situations actively encourage breeding that protective mothering instinct out of the animals.

Fortunately, because heritage breeds of livestock have been largely left alone by modern agriculture, they retain that instinct. When my mom came to visit, she came in from the backyard and told me she'd found our “secret chicken”. It was one of our Golden Phoenix hens, tucked away in a patch of iris leaves, sitting on her nest. We've had these hens hatch chicks before, so we let her go to see what would happen. Last week, the chicks did hatch. Turns out she was sitting on a full dozen eggs, and of those, she successfully hatched out 11 chicks! That would be a great hatch rate even in the digitally controlled incubator. Of course, that is only the first half of the mothering equation. Next, mama bird has to protect her little chicken nuggets from cats and other hungry critters, show them how to forage, and protect them from the elements. If mama chicken still had 8 right now, I'd say it was a huge success. But, incredibly, she still has ALL 11, well over a week later! The chicks are hardier than the ones we have in the brooder pen, too...we've seen them soaking wet after a thunderstorm, which could be fatal, but they run around like nothing's wrong, with no heat lamp to huddle under. Chicks in the brooder are kept warm and given unlimited fresh food & water, but these little buggers out there are hardier, smarter, and I even think they grow more quickly. What a difference a parent makes!

It's magic to watch the hen at work, too. She makes sure to go slowly enough that the kids can keep up, and clucks softly to let them know where she is at all times. She'll fluff up her body and extend her wings just enough that the chicks can hide from the weather under her. It's simply amazing to watch 11 tiny birds disappear like that...mama doesn't seem big enough to protect them all, but she does somehow. And she is fierce about protecting her young. As the bringer of food, she doesn't mind me so much, but she keeps a watchful eye on everything else. Yesterday, I was doing chores, and the cows came out of the barn to see if they could get some delicious chicken food. Mama hen and her brood were in the same part of the barnyard. One of the yearling cows, Ling Ling, must have walked through the area where the chicks were, because the next thing I saw was mama hen attacking the cow much like a rooster would do. In this chicken vs. cow fight, there was a crystal-clear winner. Ling Ling ran for the barn while the hen stood her ground and collected her young. I laughed pretty hard!

But our Phoenix isn't the only one with a brood these days. Dan had found a Bourbon Red turkey hen had made a nest behind the shop amongst the machinery. I went to look for her after putting the horses in the barn Monday morning, but found only a few feathers and broken shells. I looked for the hen, but she was no where to be found. But as I was doing evening chores, I saw a lone turkey in that general area, near the creek. The grass is kind of high along the bank, but as I watched, I counted four little poults, foraging for bugs with mom. We're hoping she has as much maternal instinct as the Phoenix hen!

 Our Golden Phoenix hen, with 2-day-old chicks.


Kitties & Compassion

For those of you who follow the blog & Facebook page, you probably know Puff had gone missing. As much as I'd like to say he came home safe & sound, that is not the case.  Life on a farm seldom imitates those happily-ever-after Disney-type tales.  A neighbor found some Puff-colored hair in the woods, as though there was a fight. There are plenty of things with sharp teeth in the woods, and unfortunately, they enjoy dining on pets & poultry. While we found no blood or body, he had never been missing before, and despite the tales folks have shared with me about cats showing up long after hope was lost, I've accepted the fact that he isn't coming back.  Puff had a personality much larger than his size, and I'll miss the fluffball dearly, as I'm sure many of our farm stand friends will as well. I just count myself blessed to have had 11 great years with him.

It also never ceases to amaze me how animals can show love, compassion, or whatever you want to call it, to their humans. Maxwell & Itty Bit (other farm kitties) followed me faithfully through field, forest, and along the road while I searched for Puff. I'm sure they knew he wasn't coming back before I did.

Maxwell is only a year old, and he has always idolized Puff- cuddling with him, following him around, and just generally looking at him like he was thinking that he wanted to be exactly like Puff when he grew up. Max has been my constant companion, the first week I couldn't even go to the bathroom without him! He's taken to sleeping in all the spots Puff did, including on my bed, something he's never done before. And at least, unlike his hero, Max stays off the pillows! Itty Bit has been close by as well. (She's sitting in the computer chair with me as I type right now.) Even Stumpy, a kitten born this spring, has been extra sociable, and managed to weasel her way into the house enough that I've upgraded her status from porch kitty to house cat.  And if there is any balm for a sad heart, I think warm cuddles and the antics of baby animals are right up there.  Stumpy has been tearing about the house all morning at lightning speed. It impresses me greatly, because she lost a hind foot at birth, but doesn't let it stop her from running, jumping, climbing into my houseplants, or just generally being a kitten. 

The only thing that remains to be seen is if any will step into Puff's pawprints as self-appointed farm stand mascot.  And I know that wherever Puff is, a part of him will always be here at the farm with us.  I mean that quite literally...I'm sure I'll still be sweeping up cream-colored cat hair for years to come...


Please Help! Puff is Missing!

Hello farm friends. Today I'm blogging, hoping for a little help. Those of you who have visited the farm stand have probably met Puff. He's a big, fluffy tan cat who absolutely loves people. He considers it his job to greet everyone who stops by, and is great about letting anyone pet him- young, old, special needs, it doesn't matter to Puff. Anyone can give him a pat or carry him around.

But Puff is missing.

Around the farm, cats come and go. Sometimes it's harder that others, but Puff is one that's a pet, a forever friend. Puff just turned 11 on the 4th of July, and I have known him literally before he was born; I can remember carrying around his pregnant mother and feeling the kittens move before she gave birth. Unfortunately, she was hit & killed on the road when the kittens were just 3 weeks old. I took them and raised them, midnight feedings and all. They all made it; two would find new homes. Puff's sister lived with us too, until she met the same fate as her mother, just on a different road. Puff was my sister Laurel's cat, and she spoiled him rotten while I was in college. I moved home after college to help care for my terminally ill father, and Puff was there. In fact, he spent the last day or so of my Dad's life on my Dad's bed, comforting him. If he stood to jump down, my Dad would place his hand on Puff, and he would stay, so unlike usual cat behavior. I think he knew, somehow, that those were Dad's last hours. After that, I took Puff because no one else in the family had room for him, at least not away from the highway, and Puff has always loved to be outside. I took him into my little trailer before I had even met Dan. Puff put up with my house bunny, not hurting him even when the rabbit would mistake Puff for a female of his own species. (So funny!) When I came to the farm, so did Puff. He adapted well to all the critters and the freedom to roam. We had no idea how social he was until we opened the farm stand and Puff appointed himself mascot & head greeter.

Sure, like any animal he got on my nerves. I spent the morning of my wedding cleaning an infected wound on his shoulder because he got into a fight. I've lost sleep many nights because he was sure the best place to sleep was on my pillow, purring with his tail in my face. When thrown off the bed, he comes back like a furry yo-yo. When he wants in or out, he scratches walls or doors until he gets his way. He does what he wants, when he wants, how he wants. I think he has trained me far more than I ever will him.

Puff comes & goes so much in the summer that I can't remember exactly when I last saw him. Definitely Thursday, maybe Friday morning, but I just can't remember. I didn't see him Friday night, and he missed “work” yesterday. All the kitties were MIA, but my Mom was visiting with her dog. That was scary to the other kitties, but Puff lived with Pepper the dog for years. Puff used to wrestle with our other dog Penny, so I didn't think that was why I didn't see him. I've checked & rechecked every room and building on the farm, no small task. No Puff either. We found the other cats hiding the day away in the cornfield, but no Puff. I've walked the road and checked in the weeds, no sign of his body, no blood on the road, nor any sign of a struggle that might indicate he met a bad end with a coyote. I've called and called, but he doesn't answer.  I just keep expecting to walk into a room and see him curled up napping on a bed or a chair or the carpet in a room he's not allowed to be.  It breaks my heart a little each time I turn a corner and he's not there.  Mom said she dreamed of him last night;  he was just sitting on the porch, waiting to be left in, looking at us all like we were silly for wondering where he was and when he'd be back.

It's so hard not knowing. He is 11 years old, perhaps he was sick, knew his time was up, and went off to die without telling us. But he appeared to be in fine health as always. Perhaps he followed someone, maybe a nearby camper, back to their place. He hates cars and yowls like crazy; I have a hard time believing he was catnapped and taken away, but who knows. If he was, I hope they bring him back, or at the very least give him the love that I did. I've put flyers up around the neighborhood, alerted neighbors, posted a sign on the farm stand with his picture, offering a reward.  I posted to both the farm's Facebook page as well as my own personal one.  Now I'm asking you, my blog readers, for help, too.  I hope he comes back, one way or another, but my heart is breaking because I don't think I'll ever see him again. I worry he's hurt somewhere. I'd want to know, to be able to bury his body, if he is dead. But most of all, I'd just love to hear him purring in my ear again. I love this cat. And as much as Dan isn't a cat person, he is upset, too, but is the one trying to reassure me and tell me not to think the worst.

If you see ANY sign of Puff, please, please let us know. Email at , call anytime at 814-755-3911  or just stop by the farm.  A reward is being offered!

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