Dear Friends and Family –
2005 started out on a subdued note and for some reason the somber strain continued throughout the year. There were the usual ups and downs, and business-wise I was more successful than I ever imagined I’d be, but on the whole, I think, 2005 was not the best of years. Tsunamis, war, hurricanes, earthquakes, illness and death remind me how fragile our good fortune can be.
Like most people, my Januarys are filled with good intentions. This year, I vowed I would lose weight and get back in shape. Of course Costco very cleverly preys upon people’s new years resolutions and they had a great price on a well-designed home gym system. So, I took the plunge and had some young Costco guys help me load it into my truck. Once home I called my neighbor and co-worker Howie Swaim to come over and help me unload things. Howie’s my age and has his own home gym. So, of course, I wasn’t about to be out-machoed by Howie and to prove it I picked up a whole box of weights myself. Now most people confronted with a 150 lb box of weight plates would be smart enough to open the box and take the plates out 25 lbs at a time. Not me! I done bust a gut! (literally – I pinched a nerve in my spinal column and tore an abdominal muscle). Needless to the say the home gym sat in boxes in my garage for several months. I was going to show you ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of my fab physique, but I guess those will have to wait until next year’s letter. I went to the doctor who told me that the only way for my back and stomach to heal was for me to “take it easy and not lift anything over 10 lbs for the next several months.” “Okaaay, ” I said, “and just who’s going to lift all those 50 lb feed sacks for me or toss those 60 lb hay bales to feed my sheep for the next few months?” The good doctor didn’t have any answer for that. A week later, despite being in pain, I still was able to speak once more on internet marketing of farm products at the Future Harvest Conference in Hagerstown, MD and enjoyed meeting lots of farmers from up and down the East Coast.
February was a surprisingly busy month in my real estate business. Lots of new listings and a fair amount of sales. Toward the end of the month I was a bit nervous about taking time off for lambing season, but this year’s lambing had me more nervous than usual. As I know that each of you memorizes my annual missives with a passion, you’ll remember from last year my description of artificial insemination of 30 of my ewes with semen from the top rams in the UK. One of the best things about AI is that you know pretty much to the day, if not the hour, when the lambs will be born. One of the worst things about AI is that all the ewes go in to labor all at once! It was pretty dicey there for a while when several ewes were giving birth at once and some were in need of assistance and some lambs were confused as to who exactly was their mother. 52 lambs were born within three days. Eventually everyone was sorted, penned, and happy, but it was basically four days without sleep. In the end, however, it was a terrific lambing season and I’m hugely pleased with the way the lambs have turned out. February 28th brought a nice major snow storm, so I convened an historic first meeting of the South Poes Sledding Society (SPSS). Neighbors gathered on my hammock hill for an afternoon of sledding, hot chocolate, and a big bonfire. Everyone enjoyed it so much that we agreed that in the future the SPSS should meet as often as weather permits.
February Photos – Click on Photo to Enlarge
March brought the usual flurry of springtime farm activity. Lambs, chicks, goslings, etc were popping out all over. One day I was so busy organizing critters, cleaning the orchard, etc, that I arrived at the office very late in the day to take care of a huge pile of work. I came in unshowered and unshaven and boots caked with farm muck to find my sneaky colleagues Howie and Amy had organized a surprise birthday party for me. Lots of friends from the Griffin Tavern, colleagues from Middleburg, and folks from around town. Needless to say, the pile of papers on my desk had to wait until the next day.
I often get told by a lot of people that I need to sloowww down! I usually get exasperated with that kind of advice, because: a) life is way too short already; and b) there’s way too much to do! But it does seem that every time I have 20 bazillion appointments, deadlines, e-mails, and voicemail messages waiting for me, something on my farm stages an ‘intervention’ to get me to focus on what makes me happiest – farm life. Unfortunately, these little pranks always come at the worst possible moment. A case in point happened in late March. I had a hard time sleeping one night because I had several difficult appointments ahead of me early the next morning. When I finally slept I had weird dreams of angry cows bellowing at me to sloowww down! Waking up the next morning, I stumbled into the shower to start my marathon day. Wide awake and all lathered up, I could still hear the cows bellowing their warning. “Odd,” I thought, “the dream’s over, so why am I still hearing cows?” One look out the window answered that one – nine big black angus cows were standing right outside my bedroom window. They had broken out of my neighbor’s pasture and were out on a spree. Cursing my luck, I made a mad dash to corral them before they tore up my lawn and driveway any further. Sheer luck got them in my sheep corral. Then another mad dash to make my appointments with dubious clients…..”umm, you’re not going to believe this, but the reason I’m late is that this herd of cows were wrecking my barbeque this morning, and….” When I got home that afternoon I called my neighbor, Emmanuel Pullen, to ask what he wanted me to do with his cows. He said they were due to be sold the very next day and asked if I could just keep them in my corral until then and he would be by with a trailer to take them away the next morning. The next morning, however, as I was running to keep another appointment, I noticed a huge tear in my corral fencing and no cows anywhere. I quickly called Emmanuel, and we got several other neighbors together and formed a round-up crew in trucks, ATVs, and on foot. We spent the better part of the day finding nine boisterous Angus cows scattered about for miles over several farms. While frustrating for all of us, as we all had ‘better’ things to do with our time, it was, in the end, great fun and a true neighborhood event. I think even the cows enjoyed it.
At my annual physical exam my doctor always tells me that I’m getting older, but “in fine shape.” This year I complained of abdominal pain still residual from my January weightlifting debacle. The doctor said, “no wonder, you’ve got yourself a hernia!” and scheduled me for an appointment with a surgeon in April.
March Photos – Click on Photo to Enlarge
April rolled around and I had my appointment with the surgeon to schedule a hernia operation. “Now,” I’m thinking, “how in the hell am I going to be laid-up for even a few days with all the farm chores that need to be done, and no one else to do them?” The surgeon pokes around at me for a few minutes and says, “Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that you don’t have a hernia. The bad news is that you probably have something else.” So, he schedules me for a CAT scan. At this point I’m thinking all kinds of dire thoughts. And guess what? It turns out to be nothing more than just torn abdominal muscle that wasn’t healing very quickly because I kept on tossing bales of hay, etc. while I was supposed to be taking it easy. So, the moral of the story is to do what your doctor tells you to initially, because otherwise it will cost you big bucks.
Also in April I had my usual tailgate picnic at the Old Dominion Hounds Point-to-Point races. My business partner Howie & I joined forces on this, so this year was more about eating, drinking, and wearing Patricia Burns’s feathered hat than watching the horses, but we did some of that too.
April Photos – Click on Photo to Enlarge
May brought some sad news when my dad was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. He was operated on almost immediately and did very well, but it was upsetting nevertheless. Later in May I took short weekend trip to Chicago and Milwaukee to attend a mini-family reunion at my cousin John’s.
After a long cool Spring, summer arrived with a vengeance in June. Heat and rain made it difficult to keep up with mowing. I was lucky enough to take a few days off to visit my Dad in Tryon, NC for Father’s day. My sister Jennifer was visiting from Germany as well so I was able to see my niece Helene and nephew Stuart. Dad was doing well, despite colon surgery and chemotherapy, and it was good to spend time with my parents.
June Photos – Click on Photo to Enlarge
In July my brother Eric and sister-in-law Beth visited with their kids Drake, Riley, and Annika. They spent a few days on the farm where Eric and the kids caught some huge fish in my pond.
July Photos (click on photo to enlarge)
In August I was still having a hard time keeping up with farm work (mowing, making hay, and rotating sheep from pasture to pasture) while juggling non-stop real estate demands. My Dad started his second round of chemotherapy in good shape. On the 10th of August “Gracie” a donkey who’s been “visiting” my farm (i.e., I think I may have inherited her from an owner who’s never come to get her) gave birth to a sweet little foal. Between the farm work and real estate work it’s always hard to get away and have a break. The most I ever seem to manage is a quick weekend family visit or farm-related meeting. I haven’t had a ‘real’ vacation in years. So when my friend Christian Skov suggested I join him on quick jaunt to Munich, I jumped at the chance. Christian is a supervisor at United Airlines and an all-around terrific guy. He occasionally has to take an overseas flight and observe the flight attendants in action (tough job, I know, but someone’s got to do it). Anyway, one of the perks of the job is that he can take along a companion too. So how could I say no to a 38 hour mini-vacation to one of my favorite cities in the world? We left on the night of August 17th and I think half the fun of the trip was sitting in United’s business class reading, drinking, watching movies, enjoying a quiet meal, etc. with no phone calls, no e-mails, and no psychotic farm animals to bother me! Heaven! Munich wasn’t so bad either. We got in town the morning of the 18th, had a quick nap, and lunch at the Hundskugel a 15th century tavern. Did a bit of shopping at Dallmayr’s and window shopping all around town. Watched the naked Germans sunning themselves in the Englischer Garten, sat and drank huge liter biers at my favorite biergarten at the Seehaus. and then took in Schwabing and dinner near the Sendlinger Tor. Smooth flight home and no crises waiting for me on my return – now that’s a vacation!
August Photos – click on photo to enlarge
September is always a frenetic month. Everybody and his sisters and his cousins and his aunts want to look at country properties once summer’s heat dissipates. The nicer weather also signals a hectic pace of farm work and social obligations that, in comparison, made August seem like the lazy summer month it’s supposed to be. The month started promisingly enough with beautiful weather. The first event of the season was the “Taste of Rappahannock” an annual fundraiser for the Headwaters Foundation in which the local high school culinary class puts on a community feast. Each year I donate a lamb to the cause. This year, I reached into the chest freezer to organize my ground lamb donation and was bowled over by the smell of rotting meat. Somehow the freezer had gotten unplugged. Hundreds of dollars worth of lamb, venison, and DiGiorno’s frozen pizza was congealed in putrefying mess! It took several weeks to clean up, and in the end I had to buy a new freezer (as well as pay for (horrors) Australian lamb to use at the event). The next big event was the first (of many, I hope) Krebser Fund fund-raising dinner at the Inn at Little Washington. The event was a lot of work, but we raised $100,000 and it was a smashing success. The Thornton Hill Hounds Point-to-Point took place under sunny skies in a stunning setting and was great fun. The last weekend in September was a mad dash up to the Finger Lakes in New York for the annual Clun Forest Sheep breeders’ annual meeting. This is an event I refuse to miss as I really enjoy catching up with my fellow shepherds. Mary Gloster was a phenomenal hostess at her Rocky Top farm. A quick side trip to Ithaca and Cornell University left me singularly unimpressed, however. Dashing back home I was just in time to start the hormone treatments for my ewes undergoing AI, make one last cutting of hay, and say good-bye to neighbors and good friends (almost family) Diane Ortner and Steve Burton, who have perplexingly decided to forsake Touchstone Farm for their own spot of paradise in Holt, Missouri. I miss them terribly, but I am getting to enjoy having Charlene James and Jim Duguid as my new neighbors.
September Photos – click on photo to enlarge
October was pretty spectacular weather-wise and the farm started to look as neat and tidy as it’s supposed to once I finally got caught up with mowing and weeding. Dr. Martin Dally visited to artificially inseminate 17 of my ewes. I hope it goes as well this year as it did last year, though it seems I overdosed five ewes during their hormone treatment, so I hope I don’t have them delivering ‘litters” of lambs in March!
Autumn continued its mellow course into November. On Saturday, November 5th, beautiful weather made my first attempt at a Guy Fawkes Day Bonfire go well enough that it may become an annual event (there are certainly enough Brits around here to keep it going). Also in November, after two previous failures, Callie the cat finally had kittens. Despite high demand for kittens, I had yet to produce a litter of my hybrid cats this year. This time was almost as unsuccessful as the previous two (January and July), but a timely c-section allowed us to save two kittens out of seven. They are now bouncy, healthy little monsters and already have been promised to new owners. I hope to have more success with these cats in 2006.
I spent Thanksgiving with my parents in Tryon, NC where my Dad is doing remarkably well on his second round of chemotherapy. We went down the road to the opening meet of the Tryon Hounds to see my friends Trip & Alan and then home to a big thanksgiving dinner. The next day we set up a bonfire and my brother Geoff led us and a gathering of my parents’ friends and neighbors in an off-key medley of campfire songs. On my return home I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of my friend and neighbor Emmanuel Pullen. Emmanuel and I would often visit over the fenceline and I would delight in his tales of local farming history. I’ll miss him greatly.
November Photos – Click on Photo to Enlarge
This year December seemed to be one month-long non-stop Christmas party with a surprising number of real estate deals squeezed in between. The season started out with the Town of Washington’s first Christmas Parade. It was something right out of Bedford Falls, and I hope it’s the start of an annual tradition. On the 5th I was interviewed by a writer from the Wall Street Journal for an article on people who can’t seem to sloowww down! The writer had gotten my name from the folks at the Epicurious Cow (or E-Cow for those of us who are in a hurry) as someone who phones in his lunch order and eats it while he’s careening down the highway. I don’t know when the article will appear, but I sure had fun chatting with her when I realized I wasn’t the only person in the world who had experienced chicken burritos exploding in my lap as I’m rushing to a crucial meeting. Speaking of food – every year it seems that Christmas parties get more and more elaborate with more amazing food. I gained 5 lbs in three weeks. Honestly!
December Photos – click on photo to enlarge
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day was spent with my brother Geoff and sister-in-law Sandy at their house in Atlantic Beach, FL. It was good to see my nephews and niece, as my sister Jennifer and brother-in-law Gunter were also there from Germany. It’s always a great feeling seeing your family sitting around in a lazy food-filled stupor as the kids shriek with delight each time they emerge out of mountains of wrapping paper with a new gift.
Christmas Photos – click on photo to enlarge
So that’s been my year. Hope yours has been a rewarding and happy one as well. I look forward to a peaceful and prosperous 2006 and wish you all health, happiness, and time to enjoy life.