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October 22, 2012

Happy Birthday dear friend, you know who you are. You are a woman of strength and grace, a woman whom I have long admired, since I first met you as a young girl, when I was fresh to New York City, applying for my first job there in an after-school program in Harlem. Your life, your choices, your ability to juggle so much and still examine the world around you with crisp, clean eyes continues to inspire me. The world you have inhabited, near and far, lives in you at all times, beautifully so. Your efforts at career, womanhood, motherhood and sisterhood give me hope. I pray that this year be rolling hills of intermittent adventure and rest, with moments of critical contemplation and ludicrous laughter in between. I pray that the woman you were in your young twenties and the woman you are in your young thirties inform the women you will continually be, with the same energy, spunk, criticality, care and gentleness, and that your children will grow to know the beauty and complexity and depth and accomplishment and humor of their mother. Thank you for being my friend. xoxo

 

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Marraines,Titas and their Pea Parties

June 28, 2012

Recently, my friend Karina and her girls, ages 2 and 4 (plus some…), came to spend a week with us on the farm. Friend is probably not accurate—surely, you have friends like this, where you have given such a deep part of your life to them, lived it with them, been broken to little shards of yourself with them and enjoyed their witness of you being sewn and knit back together. And surely there has to be another word for these people in our lives, a word that hurdles the world of blood relative and soul relative. Those who become your family elect, who are never invited because they simply come, because they are. We have a friendship like that, a group of us women who have been friends for more than 10 years now, who have born witness to each other’s loves, the cuts and scars of our past, the brilliant, indistinguishable shining of the road before us, that we marched on down together. The “normal” paths of life have put us on different roads, in different cities and even countries. But we were never normal anyway. And we continue to live as if we live on the same road, just a little further down. Well, now that most all of us have children, we are witnessing the next layer in this fabric of friendship: our little ones. We become their elders, their aunties … that word takes on a very special tone that goes far beyond its familial inference. When each of us say it, “this is your auntie Karina, your auntie Harrigan, your auntie Carly, your auntie Katie your auntie your auntie your auntie your auntie…she lives in Hawaii and England and Ohio and Brooklyn and Virginia and California and Harlem and and and….. when each of us says that precious word, we realize that what we offer to our little ones is a village, a life-network that consists of the woven fabrics of young women who grew up together, who shed the blood of their dreams and desires and decisions together. Arguably, at times this has been a blessing and a curse to those around us, to our spouses and significant others, to our new boyfriends and old ones. When you get one, you get many. (Jason was already prepared for this, I would argue, since when he got me, he also inherited Jewells, as how can sisters who shared a twin bed and a life and shoes and a dream and a loss not be knit into one soul? And this, he accepted, generously, lovingly, excitedly even for a sister he never had. However, I’m not sure how prepared he was to receive so many other women in his life! I must say that he has not only embraced it, but I would say that he loves these women as fondly as I do. And of course, now, he is Uncle Jason.).

How we have grown, when our friendships are now measured in the lives of our children, in their first crying breath, in the tears we all shed over their conceptions and the losses of the ones along the way; measured in their ideas, their questions, their first words, their hilarious antics… Even for those of us who do not yet have children, we join in this joy and wonder at its impact on us. We are Aunties. Maybe we should invent a new word. Or use one from another culture. Maybe we should borrow from our Filipino friends and say Tita? Or maybe a broader “godmother” term is better…shall we borrow from the French and say Marraine?

Regardless of what we shall say, we shall say that it is good to have a village to turn to in life, with children or without, in marriage or not. Friendship is immeasurable, so full of breath that when your oxygen is thin, another always has some to share. Thank God for creating us designed for such relationship.

While Karina and her girls Kaela and Lina were here, I was overwhelmed with just how much they made me smile. One of my favorite moments in particular was when the three of us had an impromptu “Pea Party” while mamma was upstairs packing. What, you ask, is a “Pea Party?” Well, a party on a blanket under the open skies where you shuck fresh peas, of course! The name comes compliments of Kaela. That little one will always surprise you with her inquiring mind. And it was during this pea party,… excuse me, Pea Party  (it was quite regal and should always be capitalized)…it was during this Pea Party that I relished in the girls’ relationship with one another and the world. We had spent a week together, eating, playing, feeding chickens, collecting eggs, walking with Wile, visiting Uncle Jason on his big combine in the field, visiting gardens and lavender fields and the river, drawing, making Uncle Jason play dough cupcakes and stacking them in the cupboard, reading, collecting stones, thrifting (of course! Their auntie has much to teach them…), and enjoying the open spaces. After a week of these things, we were exhausted. So we pulled out a sheet, spread it in the grass (mostly to cover any chicken pooh…although they are lovely creatures which add a kind of sentiment to your yard that is unlike that of any other, one must never only romanticize them. They do pooh. A lot.)

We then pulled over buckets of fresh peas from Janet’s garden. Kaela, of course, meticulously had her game plan. Shuck each one carefully and pop it into the clean, turquoise bowl, and put the shell in the bucket for the chickens. There was precision, focus, articulated movements of popping open the pod and lovingly ejecting the peas into the bowl. Lina on the other hand, had her own plan, her own ideas about enjoying the perfect Pea Party. Her idea was more along the lines of eat as many peas as possible even before they come out of the pod. Even if you didn’t shuck them yourself. No, drink them. Drink them right up (you will see this impossibility illustrated below. Nothing is impossible to a child). As the breeze blew over us, as I smelled the sweetness of their skin and as I gazed quietly at the clouds above, I relished in their utter joy of shucking peas together. They too are like their Mama and Aunties. They too love a life lived in community. And they do it so well, as it has been modeled to them.

The Pea Party also included a couple of off-the-cuff songs written, produced and performed by Kaela, and some beautifully exhausted sighs from Lina as she would realize she had eaten more than there were shucked in front of her. These sounds were accompanied by a chorus of clucking chickens, the occasional cow call in the field, and Wile’s intermittent groans of contentedness as he lovingly rolled in the grass next to his newest pack members. A Pea Party. I shall have them more often.

Magellan the Bird

June 23, 2012

There are many good reasons why one might not post on a blog. In fact, there are an endless cadre of possible things you could be doing other than posting on (or reading) a blog (in addition to the normal gammet of things like work, commuting, cleaning, etc.). Like playing with children. Reading with them. Laughing at their hilariously dead-on observations about the world around them. Celebrating their ceaselessly inquiring minds. Or you could be hunting eggs in hidden nests across the farm. I know I do. Or lazily spending an afternoon at a coffee shop with friends in New York City. Or sitting under the summer stars with friends grilling burgers. Or running from thrift store to flea market to Walmart with your Scandanavian friend who is in town (because, you know, Walmart is a cultural occasion for those of us not from America…it’s like a great museum of oddities and stupidities…how I love it through Nina’s eyes). These are all great reasons, all of which I have heartily parktaken of over the past month. (I’m sure you have your own for not writing on your blog or not reading all the blogs you love so…)

BUT…

In the face of non-blog posting and non-blog reading, I have ONE thing to share with you, so desperately that I will skip over the other thirteen posts I have post-poned! Magellan. Magellan, our great traveling bird. New chicks did arrive the Monday after Easter, and my how they’ve grown (doubling our flock!). Well, the hatchery that they were sent from has a little box on the order form that say “Check here if you would like your one free exotic chick.” So we of course checked “Yes, please!” On the invoice you receive for your little peeping babies in a box, it also reads “One free exotic bird.” No name. No gender. Just two adjectives: free and exotic.

Magellan is her name, this unknown creature that she is! And she promptly procured this name by one day being discovered by Jason all the way at the bottom of a field all by her lonesome where he was cutting thistle. Jason noticed Wile excitedly circling something in the grass. He walked over to inquire, and there was our “free, exotic” bird, feathers in her face, just staring at Wile. Jason continued cutting thistle till dark, and Wile lovingly watched over Magellan until Jason came and picked her up and carried her home to her flock. And from then on, Jason called her Magellan, as we have never had a bird travel that far alone in the field. And quite a traveler she is! Usually in all the wrong places because she just plain can’t see with that plumage of a hat on her head! Jason has taken a special liking to this little exotic one (who wouldn’t?), and here she is for your viewing pleasure. Magellan and her Farmer.

The Serious Bird Addiction of Wile Doolittle

May 25, 2012

So, basically, we have swung the pendulum all the way from unattached, spur-of-the-moment New Yorkers in our youth to the Dr. Doolittle Family. And we don’t even have any children. DANG! What’s wrong with us! I was the sain sibling among the three of us who didn’t take home every stray cat (do you know how many “stray” barn cats you can find in one barn?), or every limping chicken that doesn’t make it onto the chicken truck to be your neighbor’s dinner (yes, Jewells did have pet chickens that she “rescued” from the chicken house catchers and their eminent demise, only for them to leave us little poop traps every day as we raced down the hill to the bus). I didn’t insist on every beta fish that someone else left in their apartment when they moved (yes, Jewells did cart a beta fish in a 7-11 cup across the country from Wyoming to Virginia that my neighbors left behind when they moved…). But now, I’m the dang Doolittle family! How? When? Oh why? Sometimes I think I prefer unattached, artistic New Yorker, leaving the attached animal-nut identity to my sister. But I can just let that dillusion go right now. I mean, I’ve started taking the cows for a walk! When I look out my window and see layers of animals who all interact in hilarious ways, I’m reminded just who we are. Llamas talk to a cat who gets chased by cows who follow a dog who loves to lay with chickens. And to add more variety, throw a few wild ones into the equation!

The thing is, even our dog has animal addictions! Wile, it seems, believes he is the bird police.

Two weeks ago, we came home one evening to find a little scruff of a baby bird sitting on one of the cement steps that leads to the house. Just sitting. “Can he fly?” I asked? No, Jason confirmed, he had been their earlier. Clearly had fallen pretty far out of his nest in the cedar trees. I wince at my own next question, at the unparalleled stupidity of it, and of the foreknowledge that both of us will turn a blind eye to its ridiculousness. “It’s going to drop to the high 30s tonight. Should we leave him outside?” I ask Jason, silencing the tiny, intelligent portion of my brain that already knows the lesson that there are too many barn cats in too many barns to ever feed or domesticate or neuter or love them all. Without hesitation, suppressing his own farm-raised intelligence that faces natural death in animals on a regular basis he says, “No, bring him in. Put him in Wile’s kennel.” Well, what do you think Wile did that night? He spent his whole night curled up right outside that kennel, his nose mere inches from the little bird. Aww, we thought, how cute! But we soon realized that just as much as Wile wanted proximity to his new friend, he also wanted to enforce Beacon’s proximity away from him. Wile’s eyes would follow Beacon’s every poised, elegant move around the mud room, and when necessary, with a sharp twist of his head or a high-pitched groan, Wile would say, “back off, cat. You may rule this roost, but I guard the bird. Got it?”

Ok, what is it with weirdos personifying their animals? I’m telling you, I used to think that too! Now I’ve become one of them!

So seriously, what did Wile do for the next week while the baby bird hung out in our front yard? You guessed it! Laid with him. Licked him. Guarded him. Barked at the chickens for getting too close, and checked on him every morning first thing. Damn Doolittle Dog. Thinks he’s the bird police!

The bird crying out for food every time Wile passes (notice Wile’s smile); Wile and the bird catching some sleep and some rays…

Jason trying to feed the bird a worm, to no avail. He will open his mouth to no one but Wile (and we suspect his mamma, in the night, when we are not looking).

Jason giving the little blackbird flying lessons

Well, potentially to our insane dog’s dismay, the unnamed blackbird did eventually find her wings and pursue her life in the sky. Who knows what crazy bird or animal will pop up next on this Doolittle farm. I’m Dr. Doolittle, alright! So glad I got that degree after all… 🙂

Hay Season Begins, and Jason reflects (and so do I…)

May 19, 2012

Hay field after the hay has been cut, tetted, and raked. It’s ready to be baled.

Jason was rinsing his dish the other night after dinner (at nearly 9:30…) and he turned to me and said something beautiful:

 

You know, it’s going to get really busy on the farm soon, with late evenings of making hay and early, early mornings again (he knows I’m not stellar in the early morn hours, so sometimes, just sometimes he slips out of bed without waking me…apparently, when his alarm when off at 5:50 this morning, I rolled over and dozily delivered the news: I’m going to stay in bed another hour, and then I’ll come find you in the field…to which, he tells me, he laughed, because he hadn’t actually planned on my coming into the field that morning; in my defense, I was up much later than him…)

 

No, that was not the beautiful thing. Forgive my veering off the storied path…he continued:

 

But you know what? I’m looking forward to it. I’m actually really excited. It feels so good to be out there on a tractor making hay. I just love it.

 

Why do you love it? I press him further to articulate what I can feel oozing out of his pores and his mind and his heart.

 

Well, because. Because I loved emptying out that barn full of hay to the cows all winter, only now to fill it back up again. Riding on the tractor making hay reminds me that when winter comes, I’ll have it to feed again. It’s kind of full circle. Farming is to be a part of the circle.

 

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Of course it’s full circle! Sure, we all know this. The farmer plants the corn and barley in the fall or the spring to harvest in the summer or fall to feed their cows in the deep of the winter. The farmer lets the grass grow tall in the spring in order to cut it down in the summer and store it away in the fall to eat in the winter, to do it all over again. Cycle after cycle after cycle. But there is a difference between knowing this beautiful fact, and experiencing it coursing through your veins. I saw it coursing through Jason’s veins that night, slow, simmering, fulfilling, brimming over into his eyes and his steadied words.

 

We all come in and out of these cycles of life. But they are ours to experience, to live into. And even if they are an axiom said a thousand, a hundred thousand times, they are still fresh when we experience them again. Life comes in cycles. Hay cycles. Birth cycles. Death cycles. Relationship cycles. Identity cycles. Rain cycles. We bob up and down on the sea of our seasons, forgetting that the next wave crests again, and as we are lifted up to see ourselves afresh, we are again stupefied by the beauty of it all.

 

Hay season begins. What my spirit grumbled a bit about last year, with the endless hours that Jason never came home, the aching bones he had, the little time I saw him when I got home from work, this year my spirit embraces. Maybe I am living into the cycle of the farm, bit by bit. Maybe, things are coming full circle, and having to feed the hay in the winter with my own hands makes me long for it to be baled and stacked and stored away, so that we might continue the circle.  And maybe, just maybe, it will help me to be behind the wheel of the tractor some myself…

 

The field on the hill has been raked and spent a day drying in the sun, changing it’s color. It is now ready to be baled. Wile is a faithful tractor companion, for hours on end.

Grass that goes to seed right before it becomes hay. It has a light purplish hue to it.

 

Jason coming around the turn mowing a field (while Wile and I take a rest from riding and peek around the nearby woods…)

 

Jason stopping to refill his tractor with fuel after hours of early morning mowing

Wile looking out over the work of his (master’s) hands…(or machine. or planning. or perseverance. or early rising. or….you get the point!)

 

Pure Vanity in a Jar (and why you should have it too…)

May 17, 2012

It has happened. That first of the year. Depending on where you live and how you live, this could be any possibility of firsts. Ours, here, today…is the first strawberry jam. I knew when Janet’s name came up on my cell phone that it might, it just might have to do with strawberries in her backyard. And I knew, I just knew she just might want someone to share the promise of summer with. After picking our first bit of strawberries that are just starting to turn an inviting shade of rogue on the tender vine, I did what any other self-respecting person might do in that instance…made one tiny little batch of summer! One itsy bitsy little pint of strawberry jam. This may be pure vanity to those who wait till berries have all come and gone and then delve into their freezers to spend a whole day making 50 pints of jam…but when you sit down with your own beautiful little jar, all the vanity in the world is not enough to stop you from being utterly smug at yourself for figuring out how to bottle summer before it is even here. Magic. 

Speaking of magic, it truly is culinary magic how easy many jams are to make. Jam (and jelly) comes together because of something called pectin. Well, the magic of it is that often berries have enough natural pectin not to have to add any extra to get them to gel. What this means is that anybody, at anytime can whip themselves up a batch of beautiful vanity in a jar. Simply have on hand some fresh strawberries, a quarter of a lemon, and some sugar (preferably raw).

{ A Personal Batch of Strawberry Jam }

(aka…Pure Vanity in a Jar)

_____________________________________

6 (or so) cups of fresh strawberries (appx 2 pints)

1 quater wedge of lemon

1-2 cups of sugar

(that’s really it!)

Rinse berries. Hull them and either leave whole (my preference), or cut in half, or slice.

Pour into a nonmetallic bowl, and mix gently with 1-2 cups of sugar and lemon juice from wedge.

♥Let sit to macerate on the counter for 1-2 hours.

Put berries, which will now have released a lot of their juices, in a pot on the stove over medium-low heat.

Bring to a slow, simmering boil for 20-25 minutes, being careful not to burn the berries.

Put a small plate in the freezer. When the plate is cold, put a small teaspoon of your jam on the plate and set back in the freezer. You’re testing for gelling. Wait 1-2 minutes, and remove your test plate. Push the jam with your finger a little bit. If it stands up and, well, is gelled, you’ve done it! If it’s still a bit runny, cook for another 5 minutes or so and test again.

Pour your liquid gold into a pretty little jar that fits its contents (or at least close enough–you can lick up extras or leave space in your jar) and keep in the fridge. No need to seal it! You’ll be eating it soon!

Now here’s the really important part. Get a really good piece of bread. Toast it. Slather it with butter (don’t go easy here, you’ll only do this for the first taste of jam). Slather your dripping piece of buttered toast with your fresh, warm jam. Sit down with someone you love, a..n…d…Enjoy. Sit long enough in silence to be completely satisfied, completely filled, completely overwhelmed by every smoldering taste bud. Enjoy some more.

Now here’s the really difficult part. Try not to eat it all in one sitting (or one day!) and try not to use butter next time…that was only for a special occasion.

xoxo,

Harrigan

Shake Shack Memories & New Cattle Memoirs

May 11, 2012

Jason’s birthday burgers from Shake Shack, Madison Square Park, NYC 2007 (no…these are not all his! Ok, maybe quite a few of them…)

If you have not had the pleasure of joining the Annual Shake Shack Celebration in the past four years, let me just tell you what you’re missing out on. Long lines. Did I say long? That’s unbearably inadequate. When you step into Madison Square park on a Sunny Saturday Afternoon in May (capitalized in all their glory as the BIGGEST all-time no-no’s of days to venture out into Manhattan’s public parks, as not only do you fight the downpour of tourists, but you also encounter a deposit of 7 of the 8 million inhabitants of NYC in a corporate effort to soothe asunder the apartment-ridden spring fever that has overcome us all…). So, where were we? When you step into Madison Square Park on a SSAM (not to be confused with the Korean style bbq, bo ssäm–remember the important acronym, people!)…when you do, it will look like the line could wind its way up the steps of the empire state building, and…back down again. Your constitution is shaking as you ask yourself, “What am I here for? A burger? A fried portabella? A shake? Is it really worth this wait?” You muster up the courage to proclaim, “this is my city, I won’t be deterred, I will get a burger and sit and enjoy it in the park on a SSAM! (even if I get it in an hour and a half).” And so goes the story of the New Yorker who braves the better common sense of the incoherent, irrational waiting-in-line for a simple burger.

But THAT is what makes it so good. Shake Shack had arguably mastered the simple burger a few years back (now, it’s debatable since they’ve bitten into corporate greed and become a chain–the biggest no-no in the theory of simple food quality. Even bigger than the rule of SSAM!). Their burgers consist of a thin, perfectly fried sirloin burger from hormone-free beef, crisp green lettuce that stands up to the juice of their tomato, and of course, the special sauce, all on a fresh potato bread bun. Simple. delicious. Never worth an hour and a half’s wait, but always, in the end, worth the irrational gesture.

We’ve had the great pleasure of the undertaking for the last four years with a huge group of friends, which throws another beautiful wrench into a SSAM–try getting 30 chairs in an outdoor public park where there are only about 50 available. Did I forget to mention that New Yorkers are a people of strong constitution, including when it comes to seating in public parks? …And somehow, each year, we have prevailed. So this year, Jason, instead of being able to do so on your big 3-0, we will recount the beautiful ridiculousness of it all, from the vantage-point of the farm, quite an entirely different place with a similar requirement for a strong constitution.

On another topic in beef…last weekend more than 30 of our young heifers (nearing a year old) were moved from their winter barn outfit down the road at Spring Hollow Farm (the main Bowman Farm) to our back yard (the Rudy Farm)! We now have pastures filled with beautiful heifer cows! (In case you’re wondering or don’t remember, a heifer is a female cow that has yet to give birth. After her inaugural first birth she will truly take on the name cow, or as they are known in our truck as we ride through the fields, “hey mammas“). The girls that are out on pasture now at our place are all calves born right here on the farm last spring, every one of which Jason was present to meet within a few hours of her birth and to write down all of her relevant birth data. (That’s why I call him the Bowman Bovine Genealogical-Historian. He likes that title.)

As of yesterday, they were graced with the company of their own personal bull that the farm just purchased last week. His name is Hero (a given name, not by us!). He is purebred Angus, coming to us from Mystic Hill Farms, and will have a nice little harem of his own to “look after” here at the Rudy Farm! He’s a young bull, so his life on our farm will be as fresh and new as our girls’. What a peaceful thing to walk out your door in the morning and see the grass blowing in the breeze over black spots that move slowly across the field. Wile died and went to heaven. (kidding of course! But sometimes, when I keep calling, and he’s sitting at the fence watching his cows tuning me out, I begin to wonder…)

New heifers at the Rudy Farm (aka, our backyard)

Out with the girls

Purdy Girl, our cleft palette girl, giving a kiss!

The girls and their bull at sunset