December 23, 2001
Dear Friends and Family –
I hope this letter finds you all happy and healthy. Despite the events of last September, we’ve had a good but busy year. I’m looking forward to a quieter and more peaceful 2002.
The year started off with a huge change. In January, Touchstone Farm expanded from 25 acres to 70 acres. Our land grab consisted of forests, overgrown fields, two barns, a dilapidated farmhouse, and a 2 acre pond that Steve insists on calling a “lake.” The new acreage is incredibly beautiful and fits in nicely with our sheep flock expansion plans, but there are still plenty of sleepless nights worrying about how to take care of it all – not to mention how I’ll ever afford it.
Late winter and early spring brought the usual flurry of activity as I geared up for lambing. This season was a great success. Our ewes seemed determined to make it easy on us this time. Almost no one needed assistance, and they all very thoughtfully arranged their deliveries this time during sunny daylight hours, instead of the 2 a.m. snowstorm births of years past. By the end of the season 34 lambs had joined the flock. The target for 2001 is 50 of the wee beasties.
In addition to lambs, and baby chicks, this year brought another Spring arrival – Steve’s mother. She came for a visit last year, and liked it so much that she pulled up the stakes in Kansas City, bought property adjoining the farm, and has built a cozy cottage in the woods. Although she’s been here less than a year, she’s already a hit on the local social scene. Here’s a shot of her at the local disco, with Rappahannock County heartthrob Butch Zindel.
Slowly but surely, our gardens are making progress. By May, our considerable investment of energy in our Bog Garden began to pay spectacular dividends. The herb garden is growing in, as are the vines on the orchard pergola – making it a great place to eat outside on hot summer nights.
Much of our summer was spent cajoling excavators to tear up our forests and fields to put in a new road. Since we’re such gluttons for punishment, we decided to create a new vista and cut through the forest to see the pond beyond. Like most of the world, we spent September 11th in horrified disbelief in front of the television. Later in the day, when farm chores forced us outside there was an eerie quietness to the stunningly beautiful day. Not a single plane in the sky. Suddenly there was a loud jet noise in the distance. We both froze and craned our necks to look at the sky. Slowly, over the tops of the trees we saw Air Force One accompanied by fighter jets, making its way back to Washington.
Despite the mess and disruption of construction this year, we were lucky to have plenty of visitors stay with us: my brother and sister-in-law Eric & Beth; Steve’s niece Jennifer; Steve’s brother Mike; the Goeckmann family from Germany; Fred & Edward from Sydney, Australia; Chris & Shawn from Botswana; and Juergen from Germany. During his school breaks this year, we’ve been lucky to have Hans-Christian Ebke, an exchange student at St. Anne’s School, visit us at the farm. His parents are old friends of mine from my university days in Germany.
Things should be a lot calmer (and cleaner) around the farm in 2002 – so book your stay right away.
It was great having so many visitors this past year, especially since our only escapes from the farm were three sheep-related trips to Michigan in September. The first two were to Michigan State University, where our six top ewes were “romanced” with test tubes of “samples” collected from two to English rams. These samples were collected two years before the outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth disease in Britain. All sheep imports from Britain are now banned, so we were lucky to get the last six breedings. If all goes well, by the end of January we should have nice crop of lambs from these rams.
Our third trip to Michigan was to attend the North American Clun Forest Sheep association annual meeting. We traded a ram lamb with a top breeder from Minnesota, and bought five ewe lambs as well. As you can well imagine it was great fun spending a weekend discussing the finer points of various sheep, and outlining sheep breeding and lamb marketing strategies – Well, okay, perhaps you can’t imagine how fun this was – but it was….for me anyway.
Not more than 30 minutes out the door on the first day of hunting season this November, master hunter David O’Keefe took the first buck off Touchstone Farm. David’s been teaching us hunting skills, and we’re hoping that we’ll have a freezer full of venison before the season is over. We’re both pretty hopeless with the rifle, and not too sure about “field dressing” (i.e., gutting the deer), but since we’re inundated with the critters, we hope we’ll get one or two before the season is over. If not, David’s wife Parrie cooks a mean venison stew, so maybe we’ll be invited over for dinner. Ever the glutton for punishment, in December Steve decided he wasn’t busy enough, and signed on to teach algebra and geometry at our local high school. While Rappahannock High School is a far cry from his last teaching gigs and Johns Hopkins and University of Chicago, he’s found that high school students provide their own challenges.
So that’s been my year – busy, but rewarding.
Happy Holidays to you all,