Friday, February 13, 2015

Winter on the Farm

I thought I would write this blog post to give you an idea of what we're dealing with in New England this winter.  Ironically, it was the winter that almost wasn't.  Christmas was in the fifties, and no snow until mid-January.  Then wham!  Here in Connecticut's northeast corner, we've been hammered with huge amounts of snow, at least once a week.  

Now I'm somewhat of a winter person.  I love to cross-country ski--an activity that I can do right from my backyard, or drive five minutes to a local park where they groom trails.  It's the kind of skiing that requires real snow.  There are no snow machines for cross-country trails, just the natural stuff that falls from the sky.  There have been years when it's been hard to find much snow around here for skiing, and it's an incredible form of exercise.  You don't have to wear very heavy clothing, because the physical activity keeps you warm.  It's just you on your skis in the cathedral of the snowy woods.  

And let's look at the advantages of snow when it comes to horsekeeping.  The horses stay amazingly clean from rolling in the snow, and having no access to mud or dirt.  Manure piles that stick fast to bare frozen ground are easy to scoop off a layer of snow.  Hooves are sparkling clean and healthy.  If you can get to a trail to ride, there is nothing as exhilarating as a gallop in the snow.

The downside?  It's pretty hard to push a wheelbarrow around my paddock.  I'm pretty meticulous  when it comes to keeping the paddock clean, and I try to pick up all the manure piles every day.  In the winter, when it's dark in the morning and dark at night, it's a challenge.  Many a night I am out searching for piles in the moonlight.  And this year, I have invented the poop-sled--an old plastic toboggan that has been repurposed for hauling manure through the snow.
Here is a shot of the paddock, with the poop sled in the foreground.  You can see the paths the horses have made--leaving islands of virgin snow covering most of the paddock.  My version of the Virgin Islands.

Of course I needed a place to dump all the manure from the poop sled, so an area had to be shoveled for a temporary manure pile.  Hubby will move it all in the spring when everything thaws.

Getting to the water trough is always a challenge in the winter.  Our plow guy shoves all the snow from the driveway into a huge pile in the path of where the hose has to run from the hydrant to the trough.  Which usually means excavating a tunnel through the plow pile.  I can also get to the trough from the horses' side of the fence, but that does me no good with the hose. 

There's a gate under there somewhere.  Not going to be opening it anytime soon.

Belle is taking it all in stride, up to her knees in the white stuff.
 And I've taken advantage of snow days, hunkering down in the studio.  One afternoon yielded this quick little oil study of the scene from my studio window.
Winter Landscape Study, 5 x 7 oil on board, $100.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

A New Year

"Mother Love"
oil on paper
11 x 14 matted

It’s been a busy fall here at Underhill Hollow, despite the lack of blog posts.   It’s been a year of juggling, of making ends meet, of just trying to keep up.  The business of art has never been a full-time thing for me.   Despite steady sales, loyal clients and collectors, several galleries, I need to supplement my art business with another job, and since my other job is managing an image collection at a pretty great art institution, where I am surrounded by other creative people, brilliant art and design students, and some pretty fabulous co-workers, that’s not a bad thing.  My day job often inspires my painting, and, let’s face reality here—provides me with health benefits.  I have twenty-five years invested in my job, and that’s a rare thing these days.   When my son was born, I was able to work part-time, and the work-life balance was perfect.  I sacrificed half my benefits, and a good-sized chunk of pay to have more time to raise my son, and find creative time for myself. 

Now the boy is in high school, and when I was given the opportunity to go back to full-time, I seized it—somewhat reluctantly, but although money doesn’t make the world go around, it does pay for a good education for our son, and hay for the horses.   So I count my blessing every day—for the job I have, for the people I work with, for the relative comfort that provides.

When I went back to full-time work, I realized I was going to struggle to find studio time.  I realized something was going to have to give.  I scaled back on doing weekend art shows, and decided to focus on my gallery work and commission work.  I still spend a couple of evenings a week in the studio, and chunks of time on the weekends.  I crave rainy weekend days, when I don’t want to be outside, so I can be really productive in front of the easel.  I use Sunday afternoons—football time in our household, to escape the t.v. and hole up in my “woman-cave”. 

I can track my productivity by how many new paintings are added to the inventory each year.  2014 was a record year…although the numbers are a bit deceiving—many new works were small drawings and watercolors as opposed to new large oil paintings.  I still did two major weekend art shows, completed some commissions, designed a new poster, and gave private art lessons to a very talented fourteen-year old.   Painting is like breathing to me-- no matter what life throws at me, I will keep at it.

Since it’s the time of year to take stock of things, I’ve been making lists in my head of all the things I am grateful for, the things that are most important to me, and I would say eighty percent of the things on that very long list are people.  My family, my friends, my co-workers, my farrier, my vets, the farmers that bring the hay every year and stack it in the barn for me.  So what else is on the list that does not fall into the category of human beings?  My animals of course!  Our good health.  And my skills at painting, the land our house sits on, the productivity of the garden.  The wild birds that come to our pond, even the public buses that save me gas money every day.

So, what doesn’t make the list?  Things.  Of course I am thankful for a roof over my head and a car that gets me back and forth, and the clothing that fills my closets, but they are just things.  The house has been around since 1825, and it’s covered in ugly aluminum siding, which used to bother me, but not so much anymore.  The septic system is failing, and there is a gaping hole in the mudroom where the apartment stairs were taken out and rebuilt differently, but even that’s okay.  My car has 150,000 miles on it, and is full of scrapes and dents and dog hair, but it gets me around.  I’m not going to be that person who worries about the appearance of my things.  Of course I love it when I can make things pretty, and yes—we’re going to be working on rebuilding the mudroom.  A new rug or piece of art, or a nice jacket make me as happy as the next person.  My horses are shaggy and whiskery, but they are happy and well-fed and live a life outdoors as horses are supposed to do, where they can roll around in the mud. 

I think most of my friends have pretty similar priorities in life.  They are kind, forgiving, generous, and considerate.  They’re the kind of people who would leave a note when they accidentally put a ding in my car, even though no one was looking.  And they’re the kind of people to whom I would say, ‘thanks, but don’t worry about it.  It’s just a tiny ding.’   So many people you encounter in life will disappoint you.  But remember to hold close all the ones who don’t.