Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Glass & Beads

The other day, I was joking with Dan that he should feel free to buy me jewelry or flowers, since Valentine's Day is coming up.  He replied that he is permanently off the hook as far as buying jewelry goes, since I now make my own.  And he's absolutely right.  I would rather he get me jewelry making supplies, so I can wear something I made myself, and I'd rather get flower bulbs or seeds over cut blossoms any day.

I got into jewelry making some time ago as a way to use the beautiful feathers produced by our peacocks.  I found it fun and enjoyable, and have since expanded into beaded things as well.  It's a great way to pass dreary winter days, and I set up an online store to feature these items (and as a source of off-season income).  

I was grateful Dan gave me some space in our new blacksmith shop building so I could set up another crafty hobby, stained glass.  The only downside is that it's an unheated outbuilding, so I can't do quite as much of it on cold winter days as I might like.  But it's been another fun hobby, and I'm excited about the things I'm able to create.  I've always loved art projects (I even got a minor in Studio Arts in college) and I'm very blessed to be able to spend my time having fun like this!

 

 I really enjoy making small stained glass jewelry boxes, like this one!

 

Over Christmas, I got a book that showed how to combine glass art and jewelry making, which I hadn't thought of before.   The book used clip art, photos & vintage-looking ephemera.  I didn't have any of that handy, but one thing a farmer has in spades is seed catalogs.  I came up with the idea to use photos of herbs, flowers & veggies sandwiched between scraps of stained glass.  These have turned out to be so cool!  For me, the hardest part is not keeping them all!  My favorite right now is a necklace I made that features chives in bloom, and I have another with a lovely photo of a pink rose.  But I've also made creations with flowers, Swiss Chard, hot peppers and more...I think they would be such cool gifts for gardeners or folks who love local food!  

 

Scrap stained glass & old seed catalog photos...in this case, lettuce!  Isn't it pretty? 

 As I was tearing up old seed catalogs, I found one in particular that had  some beautiful full page reprints of covers from years ago.  I liked how the jewelry turned out, so I thought about what I could do with these full or half pages.  While sandwiching them between sheets of glass would be cool, I don't have a big assortment of stained glass both big enough & translucent enough.  But...what I do have lots of are old farmhouse windows.  So, in a fun recycling project, I've been carefully removing panes of glass from their wooden frames.  Then comes the hardest part- cleaning them up!  I have been leaving any streaks of old paint though, I think it really adds some vintage charm to the panels.  Then I take the picture I like and mount it on some scrapbooking paper, sometimes using fancy scissors to make a decorative edge.  Then I solder the panes together and add hardware to attach a chain or ribbon and suddenly, I have something beautiful made almost entirely out of what most people would throw out.    

 

I'm really enjoying letting my creativity shine during some of winter's gloomy days.   Making beautiful things really helps me to beat those winter blues, and I can do it while basking in the woodstove's heat, unlike a lot of other farm projects!

 If you like the looks of these, please check out the other creations I have at  www.etsy.com/shop/pleasantvalleyfarmpa/  I ship nationwide, so you just might find the perfect, handmade something to treat yourself or a loved one!

 
 

The Cat Who Came Back

As promised, this time I'm sharing the story of Puff & Little Puff. Hopefully, it's one you'll enjoy, but you may end up thinking I'm a nut. Either way, here it is...

12 years ago, I had yet to meet Dan. I kept my horse Sara on a piece of property my father owned, and we had kitties there. I can remember holding a pregnant Shadow and feeling the unborn kittens moving around. She would have four of them, on the Fourth of July, 2001. Unfortunately, Shadow was hit & killed on the highway when the kittens were only 3 weeks old. I was home from college for the summer; I found Shadow and buried her, then brought the kittens home to care for. My younger sisters loved having kittens in the house, but although fun to play with, none of the girls wanted to feed the kitties at midnight or 3 AM. That was my job. All four survived, and the fluffy tan one would be known as Puff. My sisters used to dress him up in doll clothes and push him around in a doll carriage. He learned that resistance was futile, and for the rest of his life, he would allow just about anyone to pet or pick him up.

He was a special (and spoiled) pet of my sister Laurel, but when our father died, I took custody of Puff, as Mom moved too close to a main road for comfort and I was living on my own nearby and rented a place with a nice backyard and woods for him to prowl. Shortly after, I met Dan and would take Puff to the farm when I moved there. He loved the farm. He would follow me around and supervise whatever was going on; building the greenhouse, weeding the garden, whatever. He also appointed himself farm stand mascot and would greet customers. Many kids who may not have had pets of their own were delighted to pet him, and Puff patiently soaked up the attention.

This past summer, he disappeared. I looked for him, calling and listening. I put up “Lost Cat” posters and talked to the neighbors. My neighbor Heidi gave me the answer I was afraid of...she had found a bunch of Puff-colored hair and a claw in the woods, as though there had been a fight of some kind. It was apparent that Puff has lost, to something with teeth. We never found his body.


….................................................................................................................................................................

In October, an acquaintance asked me if I would take in a couple of cats, as barn cats. Her son had found them in the woods, but since they had 3 large dogs, they couldn't keep the cats, who were currently locked in the garage. Although usually our response is that we have plenty of cats around already, this time I said yes, I would take them. They were about 12 weeks old, and there were 2, that was all I knew. The next day she arrived with a bag of cat food and the kitties. “They're Halloween kitties, one is black and one is orange,” she said as she opened the door to the dog crate in the back of the vehicle. One was black with white paws and chest, and the other...was the spitting image of Puff. Same markings, same hair length. The only difference was his (yes, also a boy!) eyes- the new kitty has copper-colored eyes, while Puff's had been yellow with a green ring around the pupil. I was dumbfounded at the coincidence, but took them down to the barn and fed them there, hoping to train them that the barn was their home, and not the house. When Dan came home, he told me he gave it 12 hours before they came into the house. We walked down to the shop, and saw the kitties had found their way outside. They were sitting on the rocks between the barn and the shop. Although I had told Dan that one looked like Puff, I think it startled him, too, when he saw for himself. “I've missed that cat.” he said to me...and Dan is by no means a cat person. When he came back up to the house later, the little Puff-colored one followed him right into the house as though he owned the place (Dan was way off...it only took 3 hours!). Dan started calling him Puff immediately. I protested, that it wasn't fair either to Puff's memory or to the new cat. I tried to call him LP, for Little Puff, but the only thing that seemed to stick was Puff. Again.

Now I am aware that I probably showered more affection on this cat, since he looked so much like my furry little buddy, and that can have an effect on the way he would behave towards me. But I swear this cat loved me right from the start, and wanted to be petted and be near all the time. I've never met a cat that enjoys being picked up and held so much. I tried writing it off, because really, the idea that the cat could be reincarnated and find me again was just too much. It's just a crazy coincidence that it is a friendly little cat who looks like the one I lost. But then again...

He seemed to learn his name was Puff in no time at all. From the time he arrived, he would come to the farm stand and supervise, even letting a small child pick him up the very first market day. One of my regular customers was shocked at the resemblance. Little Puff also picked out the exact same places to nap. While the computer chair and the back of the couch are kitty hot spots that all cats seem to gravitate towards, there are others that were really Puff's alone, and Little Puff would eerily be found in the same spots. For instance, in one of the spare bedrooms upstairs, Puff loved to sleep between the pillows on the turned-down sheet. I think it was so he could get more cat hair on things, but he was always there. One day, I went into the room putting things away, and there was Little Puff. It didn't even register, I was so used to seeing a cat that color (and that color alone) in that spot. Then I remembered that it's not the same cat!

When my Mom came for Thanksgiving, she walked in the door, and before she even took her coat off, she said "Oh my goodness! It's Puff!” I reminded her that I told her about the cat that looked like him, and she replied that it didn't just look like Puff, it was Puff. Little Puff also seemed oddly at ease with Pepper, my mother's dog, with whom Puff lived for years. Strange. Talking to my neighbor Heidi about it, she told me that among those who believe in reincarnation, it's very common to believe the same dog will find you again, and considering how close I was to Puff, it didn't seem like much of a stretch to think the same could be true of a cat. But, I protested, given the age of the kittens, they would have been born at pretty much the exact time Puff disappeared. Heidi's thoughts were that since he left so unexpectedly, and he knew I would be worried, maybe he made it a point to come right back. Talking about him at Christmas with my family, my sister Laurel told me to drop the “Little” and just call him Puff, because I should accept that he came back. And then, when I came home after my family get together, Dan said he had slept very poorly because the cats kept him up. Puff had always had the most horribly annoying trick to get me to open the door and let him in at night. He would get on the couch on the front porch and claw at the sheet of plastic we used to weatherproof the bedroom window. It makes a terribly annoying noise, so you have to get up out of bed to let him in. None of the other cats ever picked up on that trick, even though I'm sure they had watched Puff use it to his advantage many times. While I was gone that night, Little Puff got up on the porch couch and began clawing the plastic until Dan got out of bed and let him in. The odds of that being coincidence are just too much to fathom.

So, this spring, when we reopen, I'm confident I will have a fluffy farm stand mascot once again. Stop by and see for yourself, but by now there is enough evidence that I'm positive that the cat came back.

Little Puff and his brother, 8-Track.

 

**After writing this yesterday, I was reading a book when (Little) Puff jumped up beside me.  When he looked up, I noticed an unmistakable ring of green around the pupils of his eyes that simply wasn't there when he came to me.  Spooky, isn't it? ** 

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Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013

It's hard to believe we're over a week into 2013 already! Looking back, 2012 was a year of great successes, but also great sorrow. Putting up the greenhouse was a major achievement, and I had far more success in starting seed than ever before. Despite the craziness in weather, the garden produced bountiful amounts of delicious produce, including tomatoes from June into October. We grew some awesome new flavors in the garden; winners included Pineapple Tomatillos, Fingerling Potatoes and Jimmy Nardello's Italian Frying Peppers. It was a more successful year for melons than I've seen before. Plenty of babies were born (sheep, rabbits, calves, chicks, quail, turkeys, kittens), including the first calf to be bred here at the farm from our bull. Yet again, I was able to be home on the farm full time, a major achievement in itself. I created new favorites in the canning kitchen, making Pineapple-Jalapeno Jam, Rhubarb Marmalade, and Bread & Butter Pickles. Dan and I (with some help from our friends) put up a new building, creating a blacksmith shop which also included some space where I could set up a stained glass studio. Dan has improved his smithing skills and has also learned to make some fantastic knives and other blades, while I taught myself both jewelry making and stained glass this past year. Off the farm, I shared what we do at Pittsburgh's Farm to Table conference and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy's national conference in North Carolina. Closer to home, I talked about the importance of healthy, local food to a United Way group of families and at a luncheon for diabetes awareness, and also at a meeting of our local Lion's Club. I got to learn all about roasting coffee thanks to Matt Shay at Happy Mug Coffee.  I was interviewed and featured in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article for the Farm to Table conference (complete with a picture of me and our team!) and my blog was even features in an issue of edible Allegheny magazine! Whew! A LOT of great things!

But there was heartache too. In July, my cat Puff, a companion of 11 years and self-appointed farm stand mascot, was lost. All that was found was some fur in the woods, as though he lost a fight with something large and with teeth. Six weeks later, my beloved Morgan mare Sara, my best friend for 20 years, passed away in my arms. On a farm with lots of animals, there will always be losses, and life does go on for the rest, but these were the two creatures that were part of my life before I met Dan and became a farmeress, and losing both so quickly was not easy. But as life moves on, other special creatures arrive. I hope to take more time blogging in the near future and tell you all about Little Puff the cat and Montana the horse, both whom arrived on the farm last year but haven't made it into my writings yet. In the garden, sweet corn season was disappointingly short, and the salsify proved to be tricky as well, and by the end of the year there were more weeds than I like to admit (and something I vow to do better at each new year!). I also wish I'd have put up more corn and peppers in the freezer and saved seed from a few more plants. But, I need to remember that there will always be things that don't quite measure up to the standard of perfection in my head.  After all, finding happiness in life involves celebrating the successes and moving forward, not dwelling on what could have been done better.

2013 so far has brought lots of snow, meaning we had much work to do in keeping the snow off of the greenhouse. Letting snow build up on the plastic will actually lead to the metal supports inside bending and can bring about the collapse of the entire building, so it's one of those things that HAVE to be done, even if it means setting the alarm clock for the middle of the night, just to check. But we're already looking forward to growing again. I spent yesterday inventorying seeds so I have an accurate picture of what we'll need to order. Dan says it's too early to be looking at seed catalogs, but it feels like time to me.  With the success of the sprout house last year, I'm eager to try new and exotic flavors that are only possible when you start your own plants, with special attention to tomatoes, peppers and melons. I'm always excited to try new herbs, and am kicking around the idea of starting some flowers before too long, with hopes of having them blooming by Mother's Day. I'm excited to be incorporating stained glass into my jewelry making, especially the new things I've been making by recycling old seed catalogs. I think the pendants made with pictures of flowers, herbs, and vegetables are really fun! My online store continues to grow, featuring lots of both jewelry and canned goods, which is a great help this time of year. (Check it out here!) Although it's cold and snowy, lambing season is little more than a month away, and soon the incubator will be humming and hatching. It's also time to round up some of my free-ranging yard bunnies so we can offer Easter bunnies as well. I've got two speeches lined up for March, one for an event put on by a group of Master Gardeners, the other at this year's Farm to Table (on heirloom seeds and canning, respectively), so I'll need to prepare for those soon, too.

I'm confident that 2013 will be full of farm babies, sprouts, delicious produce and tasty local flavor. I know there will be great successes, but that they will also be tempered by things that don't go as planned, but that is the nature of farming, and truly, of life in general. I'm excited to pursue all the wonderful things I so enjoy doing here- caring for the animals, gardening and growing, canning and cooking, and making beautiful things like jewelry and stained glass. Maybe this will be the year I learn to sew more than just curtains, really play the guitar, get back into yoga, write a book (or two!), get back into oil painting, or start a new hobby- I'd like to try woodworking, leather crafting, or making soaps, lotions, scents, and candles. As always, there are a stack of books I want to find time to read. Maybe I'll get around to training Ponyboy to do something useful or painting the room we've worked on turning into a library.  While I know not all of these will happen (this year, anyway), there is no harm in dreaming big.

This year, as every year, my most sincere wish is to dream and then do, to create and to love. I wish that and a very happy 2013 to all of our farm stand friends, and to all of you who take time out of your busy lives to read my ramblings. May the coming year be joyous and productive for you all.

 
 
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