Thursday, April 20, 2017

Upcoming Creative Retreats at Leyden Glen Farm with Kristin Nicholas


Last week, I announced my 2017 Creative Retreats to my newsletter readers.  It wasn't the most opportune time to do it - 6:30 p.m. the day before the Easter holiday began but it is what I could do. This year I hemmed and hawed about classes to run and thought about not running them at all. In the end all of end alls though, I decided to do them again. Fact of the matter is I like meeting people who are interested in what I do and it is lots of fun to share my knowledge. I suppose that is why teachers are teachers. 

(Not a Newsletter reader? Sign up on the top right hand side of my blog.)

To keep myself excited about teaching, I mixed things up and added some new classes. Hop on over to my website here where you can see what I am teaching. There are all kinds of subjects - fabric printing, embroidery, ceramic tile design, knitting, and lampshade painting. 


Also, I am trying something new this year. In the past I have only had two day classes. Although I know students get more out of being here for two days, I realize that not everyone has the time or finances to spend overnights away from home. 

After the initial registration period, I will be opening the weekends to One Day Students. This will happen Monday May 1st. Add that to your calendar if you have always wanted to come to the farm for a Creative Retreat but couldn't quite swing the full weekend. 

See this page about Where to Stay, Where to Eat, and What Else to Do. Hope to see some of you here at Leyden Glen Farm this upcoming season. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Life + New Pots + Vanessa Bell Exhibit + Book

March and the beginning of April have been very difficult weatherwise for the sheep and the humans. We seem to be over it hopefully -- yesterday it was 80 degrees. Farm chores continue everyday. The lambs are growing and soon the grass will be too. The sheep and lambs are still in the winter barns. Food needs to be brought to them at least twice a day. In a month or so when the grass and vegetation has grown they will move out onto pastures near and far. But first the portable electric fencing will need to be set up. 

I've been trying to get my creative mojo going again although it doesn't seem like I have much time to spare. The past couple of years, I have been taking a once a week in the evening pottery class with Lucy Fagella. I have really enjoyed it and it is a night out away from home and family which I haven't done much of in 18 years. Lucy is an incredible potter and I learn something every evening. She studied at Alfred and has been making her living as a potter since 2004. You can check out her work here. She has a nice Instagram feed too. 

Last term I worked on vase shapes. This term I have been working on bowls. I've had some bisqued porcelain pots waiting to be decorated so that Lucy can fire them for me. Bisque is a first firing and it is the one which makes the pots somewhat hard and unbreakable. After bisquing, they can be transported home for me to decorate with my flower designs. I got it together last week to decorate them with underglazes my underglazes. Here they are. 



I tried something a little different with this large bowl. Instead of all painting the entire design with a brush, I applied some of the underglazes with some foam brushes. I can't wait to see how it fires but it will be a while for that. 



Often when I am in a creative rut, I turn to looking at my art books to see if something will inspire me. I'm a big fan of the Bloomsbury artists and this new title about Vanessa Bell - called Vanessa Bell - was just published to coordinate with a show at the Duhlwich Gallery in London. Wish I could get to it but not a chance. The show is on until June 4, 2017.


Here are some of my favorite pages from the book. 













This book is nice because not only are there photos of her paintings but there are also a lot of personal photos taken by Vanessa of her family and some from when she was a young woman. There are also several long essays about the different periods in Vanessa's life and how it affected her art. 

Here is a video by the Duhlwich Gallery about one of Vanessa's abstract pieces. 



I had a vase to paint and was inspired to use a bit of Vanessa's motifs. She often painted ceramics that her son Quentin made as you can see in the photo below. Here is my unfired vase with the photo which inspired me. It will look much different when fired - the colors will come out much brighter and it will have a slightly glossy finish. 


What do you do to get out of a creative slump? Would love to hear. 

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Living the Country Life Feature + Thoughts


We have a feature in a magazine I had never heard of called Living the Country Life. It is published by Meredith (think Better Homes and Gardens). A while back, I heard from an editor who wanted me to fact check an article they wrote about my work. She said they were re-using photos from a Rikki Snyder shoot that Country Home did here. (Meredith owns Country Home too and they hired Rikki for the shoot and they own all the photos - Rikki has no right to them anymore and I never had any right to them because I was the homeowner.) I was glad that there would be more photos being used because Rikki gave them 100 and they only used a few in the original feature. 

I was quite thrilled with the opening spread - a photo with my oil paintings of animals on the porch wall and the stairwell wall with a kitten. 


When you agree to have your home photographed, you never really know where it will lead. Publishers are trying to get more and more out of a photo shoot they pay for as a frugality measure to stay in business. I get that because print publishing is not what it once was. Everyone is just struggling to stay in the game.

It also seems that there are more and more "new" magazine titles coming out that are newstand only. Sometimes they are called bookazines and they are very targeted to a small segment of readers. These publications are usually more expensive than the mainstream magazines - at least $10 and sometimes $15 and $20. When I get the chance to go to Barnes and Noble, which isn't often, I am always floored by the number of titles that I have never heard of. Most of them have little or no advertising - hence the higher cost. 

I am grateful for any publicity I get because I only have so far of a reach on-line. Usually I hope something good will come out of a magazine feature and I might sell something but usually nothing happens except that I will get a few more newsletter subscribers or Facebook followers. So for all of you who think that people who get featured in magazines are making the big bucks - think again. For me, it is mostly an ego stroke. And my publishers like it because they might sell a few books.

Lately I have kind of resolved my thoughts of world domination, possible licensing agreements, and professional success. I guess I am getting older (that is an understatement) and am happy with the number of people who come to my blog and read (thank YOU), might come to a class here at the farm or perhaps might buy something. It really is all about showing up and making or writing things. I'm never going to get rich off this but I appreciate the small amount of success I have from time to time.

I thank you all for coming here and reading my thoughts. As I breezed through the pages of this Living the Country Life magazine, I got a kick out of the other features. One was of a family who raised sheep hosting a "sheep shearing party." Beautiful photos of gorgeous grandchildren, perfectly set tables, neighbors visiting. 


OMG - how hilarious that was for me to think about. When we shear our sheep, it is days full of long, dirty hours of hard physical work. There is nothing romantic about it and we all end up looking like we are covered in dirt. We stink to high heavens and if by mistake you lick your fingers, they taste like lanolin and poop. How funny to see a shearing day portrayed in a magazine with people looking beautiful. I guess it is a Martha Stewart moment when you have lots of help and money to pay people to do things for you. 


My take on this magazine is that they are trying to sell the "country life" as some kind of bucolic lifestyle where everything is perfect, people are beautiful and animals never get sick and die. Of course that is their take. That is the country dream of so many urban and suburban dwellers. It's a story that has been told for decades. Remember Green Acres? Or from the 1940's The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald (thank you Therese) which later became a film with Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert. The later spin-off was the Ma and Pa Kettle series of movies.  

My take of the "country life" after living here for almost twenty years is that it is so different than what is pictured in the glossies. Many things are harder and most things are more expensive - although I think the internet has changed a bit of that (that is if you live where there is high speed connection - for many rural dwellers that is not available.) It takes much longer to get places (with no traffic jams) and most things that suburban and city dwellers take for granted are totally inconvenient. I'm not complaining - I'm just stating a fact. Every time I go to visit and stay with my sister close to Boston or my Mom in the burbs of NJ, I realize this. 

I really don't want to live anywhere else and I can't imagine my life any different. Which is a nice feeling. As long as I plan, trip-chain, and realize that I really don't need most of the stuff that most people think are necessary, things are fine. We subsist on less and so what if your clothes are 15 years old as long as I can still squeeze into them. 

That's my thoughts for the day. If you are interested in reading another blog about living on less, I am enjoying Rhonda's blog Down To Earth - she is from down under. Hope you all are well. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Tea Towel Feature! + Etsy Shop Update

In 2015 and 2016, I made some cotton/linen tea towels for my December Open House. They featured fabric designs of my very own. An Editor - Marykate Despres - from Edible Pioneer Valley Magazine came to the Open House. Through that contact, I am thrilled to share my first Tea Towel feature in a print magazine!


What a lovely photo. I love the colors and how my print design sets off the colors of the green asparagus. Our valley is often called Asparagus Valley because of the large amount of asparagus grown here. During the "season" we eat fresh asparagus every single night. You would think we would get tired of it but none of us do. I can't wait for this year.


Do you know the Edible Communities Magazines? They cover culinary happenings and local food in over 90 areas throughout the USA. We here are lucky to have one for our very own valley - Edible Pioneer Valley. Check out their website here. Lots of very nice recipes. 


Thanks so much Editor Marykate and Publisher Mary for using my work as a backdrop. I am truly honored to be featured in your lovely magazine. 

I have a few Tea Towels available in my Etsy shop here. They make lovely gifts. 

Oh - also if you think the shipping cost is crazy when ordering multiple items, know that I make refunds to your Paypal account if the difference on actual postage cost is more than $2.00. There is no easy way to handle the shipping because my pottery varies in weight and size and you all live in different mailing zones. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

More Cute Lamb Pics


It's not that I haven't thought about blogging during lambing season. There just hasn't been time to post photos. I have a backlog of cute lamb photos so today I will share some of them. 

I hear from many people who like to paint and draw from the lamb photos so it is important for me to keep supplying the artists with new material to continue to inspire! Once in a while, someone will send me a photo of their work and I really enjoy seeing it. 










I love that the lamb's faces look so different depending on the breed. Their body shapes are also different. This is all a result of breeding. We used four different rams last breeding season (two Dorsets, a Texel, and a Polypay) so all the lambs resemble partly their mamas and partly the rams. These lambs are different ages too. They change so quickly in looks - from bodies on spindly little legs to larger more muscular frames. It is pretty amazing how fast they grow. 

The snow from the blizzard last week is melting fast although it is only going to be 8 degrees tonight so everything will stay frozen. 

I totally forgot that Monday was the first day of Spring so here is a late message to wish you all a Happy Spring! 

Monday, March 20, 2017

So Cute

Hope these photos of this sweet little lamb put a smile on your face and an upbeat start to your week. 






Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Before the Blizzard



Yes, I wrote blizzard. Her name was Stella and she landed here on March 14, 2107. Just when we thought we were on our way to spring, the biggest storm of the year arrives. I do not have pictures of Stella yet. I will try to take some of the aftermath of her but I've been too busy shoveling out. 

The day before Stella, I managed to get my camera out after chores at the barns and took some photos. The lamb above was born to a yearling. I guess her name should be Stella. 

We have lost count of the number of lambs there are but it is in excess of 200. Lots of chaos and not a lot of time or energy to blog. Here is a photo of the inside of the greenhouse barn. Those feeders on the left have to be filled twice a day to feed the mamas. It really is my least favorite part of chores - peeling the hay off the giant bales and carrying it down the alley to fill the feeders. 




Here are some really sweet photos of some of the lambs playing on the giant manure pile. They think it is a mountain and constantly climb, run and jump on it. Great fun. 




I'm waiting for my manuscript to come back from the copy editor the end of this week. I will review it and answer questions and then send it back. I think I will only see my book one more time before it goes to print. 

Our kitchen looks a little like the Peaceable Kingdom. It has weak lambs sleeping on wool, cats waiting for the snow to melt and Sadie recovering after being hit by a car. (She is mending nicely.) I really can't wait for spring to arrive so they can all go outside and I can establish some kind of order - although truthfully there is no "order" here at our farm. 

I'm sorry that posting has been slim on the blog. I just haven't felt the blogging mojo - perhaps it is the winter that never ends. I think it is a lot of things - including all the negativity that is dragging me (and you?) down on-line these days. I'm in a bit of a funk, not feeling a bit creative and just trying to get through it. This often happens to me at the completion of a big project - I have to find my footing again and move in a different direction. I'm thinking about classes to offer this coming season and if I don't get that organized, they won't happen. I may do a survey for you all to help me out with information on what you would like to see me teach.

Thanks so much for stopping by.  Hope you all are well. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Mud Season is Coming


We are expecting a warm-up this week and all this snow is going to turn into mud. This is my least favorite time at the barns - mud season. The other night I woke up after a nightmare of getting my boots stuck in the mud and not being able to move. It is actually a real situation that could happen. Here's hoping all the snow drains fast. Last year mud season was very short. We'll see this year. 

Mud season also brings sugaring season. There is a lot of activity in our hills surrounding us - maple farmers tapping trees and beginning to boil sap into maple syrup.


If you follow this blog through the year, you know that we practice rotational grazing with our sheep. Because the sheep are often put out onto pastures that haven't been grazed or mown in years, there are often burdocks and all kinds of brambles that get stuck in the wool. Hence, our sheep's wool really isn't good for much. 


We do use it for alternative uses though - like filling voids in the barn where cold air might get in. Or as the lambs have discovered - as a warm bed to sleep on. 


Hope you all are having a good week. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

More Lambing



Over the past couple weeks, we had two huge snowstorms. We got 10 to 12" during each storm. Snow makes everything - especially farming - difficult. Especially during lambing season. We don't live where our barns are - they are five miles from the farmhouse, down a long dirt farm road. We drive back and forth a lot. At least there is water and electricity at the barns now so we can use heat lamps to warm up chilled lambs, heat milk replacer in a microwave and actually see what is going on at night in the barns. 

The Farmer is pretty happy with his lambing percentages this year. He has had a lot of twins - more than usual and even several sets of triplets. Triplets are good and bad - more lambs but the ewes only have two teats and often do not have enough milk to support three lambs. There is usually one triplet that doesn't fight hard enough for the milk and so needs to be bottle fed. 

He has been trying to figure out why so many triplets this year.  He will never actually know why and we shall see if it continues next year. So far, he has 4 theories. 
1. The rams were put in one month later than normal. From his research, he has learned that ewes often shed only one egg on their first estrus cycle and more often will shed multiple eggs the second estrus cycle.
2. The grass was higher in nutrition because of the weather.
3. Last year, he had smaller groups of sheep in the different pastures. Perhaps they weren't fighting as hard for the best grass.
4. We have been changing up the ram breeds and their progeny in now in production. The rams we are using are Polypay and Dorsets and both breeds often have multiple lambs. (Our previous breeds have been Romney, Border Leister, Cheviot, and other cross-breds.)



Back to the snow. During the snowstorms, the ewes pretty much stay put in one place. Lots of them rest in the two barns but some choose to be outside. They huddle in one spot, get covered with snow and when the storm is over, stand up, shake it all off and move slowly towards the hay feeders. The ewes with lambs usually stay in the barns with their babies. 



The dicey thing about storms is that if a ewe decides to have a lamb outside instead of inside the warm barn, it is almost a death sentence to the little lamb. So far this year, only 2 ewes have done this - both had twins and both lost one twin to the cold. The rest of the ewes who lambed during storms or extreme cold had the sense to lamb inside. 



When a ewe lambs outside, The Farmer brings her in with her baby or babies. A good mama will follow her babies so it is just a slow walk with the mama just behind the lamb. Sometimes a mama will get confused and not recognize which baby is hers. Then we will take it slow -- putting the lamb down every couple feet so that the mama continues to follow. 



That is the report from here.