Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Ridiculously Happy Visit

I'd been wanting to go to this wonderland since I'd learned about its existence last summer. 

Ryan took this one and, in fact, most of the pictures on this post. He's a more skilled photographer than I, plus I was so caught up cuddling with the animals, I had trouble noticing anything else.

Farm Sanctuary has three official locations: Watkins Glen, New York (where we went); Orland, California (where we almost went last year but ran out of time); and Los Angeles, California.  It has three missions: rescue, education, and advocacy. You can learn more about their wonderful work on their website.

We went up midweek last week. My husband Ryan is a musician, so his summer weekends are basically spoken for by one of his three bands, my favorite of which -- Field Trip -- often plays his original tunes. (You can hear a sampling here!) So we've been doing a few mid-week minitrips throughout the summer.

Located in upstate New York, about half an hour from Ithaca, the farm is in the midst of such gorgeous landscape, you almost feel like you're driving in one of those calendars with the pictures that look too majestic to be real.

Our first night there, we stayed at one of their three B&B cabins, which I'll talk more about on the next post. (But they were adorable.) After enjoying a light breakfast the next morning, we went on a tour of the farm with our guide, Ben, a most enthusiastic and friendly fellow. We first met in the "People Barn," where we watched a quick film about Farm Sanctuary. Note the wall of signed photos of famous pretty people who had visited. (My favorite was Ellen DeGeneres's. Everyone else had something deep and meaningful written on theirs, and Ellen's handwritten message read simply. "I'm Ellen.")

The People Barn

Ben walking us through the cow pasture.

First we visited the cow barn. The cows were wonderful and incredibly docile and sweet, despite their initially intimidating size. I'm embarrassed to say I forgot the names and even genders of the animals, but not their lovely natures.

This sweetie kept laying her head on my lap. I just fell in love with her.

Who could harm this baby?

One thing that really stood out to me was how clean everything was on the whole farm. Every barn got completely cleaned with new straw every morning. And there were enormous industrial fans in the upper portion of each barn, circulating the air so that each building was wonderfully comfortable, despite the heat outside. In the evening and throughout the night, the whole farm was humming with fans in a very comforting white-noise way.

Next were the goats. They had just been put out to pasture to have their barn cleaned, so we got to spend a lot of quality time with them outside. They were endlessly affectionate! I started snuggling this sweetheart below, who loved having his neck scratched.

A little more to the right...

That's the stuff. Right there.

The mutual admiration society

 And then another came for his share.

And then I realized I had someone literally leaning into my back. They all wanted love. Immediately.

Is it me, or does it look like I'm officiating a wedding?

Then I thought it would be good to remember my neglected spouse, who'd been snapping photos the whole time.

I can speak from experience that Ryan is a GREAT headscratcher. This goat hit the motherlode.

Goats these days are routinely kept both for their meat and for their milk to make cheese. (Obviously these goats were not subject to such treatment.) Like dairy calves, the babies are taken away from their mothers so as to keep the milk for humans. Some of the girls are raised to become "milkers" themselves, but many of the babies (particularly the males) are sold for meat. I can't imagine doing this anymore than I could imagine selling puppies to be slaughtered. And if you hang out with goats like this, you realize how delightful they are. Here is a baby goat named Fern at Woodstock Sanctuary that was rescued from becoming food: (very sweet video)

Here is some information from Woodstock Sanctuary on the farming of goats today.  And on this link, you'll discover individual stories of both goats and sheep who came to Farm Sanctuary. Unfortunately, we didn't get to visit with the sheep on this tour. Next time!

The pigs were busy sleeping off the heat of the day. Again, their area was spotlessly clean, with wonderful-smelling fresh hay for them to snuggle into. Most of them still carried dried mud on them, which keeps their bodies cool and prevents sunburn. Pretty smart! They LOVED getting good scratches, particularly on the belly.

You'll notice how large some of them are. This is because they've been genetically designed to put on weight FAST so that they can be killed when they are only six months young. When they are allowed to live out their lives, they -- like so many other factory-farmed victims -- get to very unnatural weights that cause a variety of health problems. Here is more information from Farm Sanctuary on how pigs fare.

This sweet one woke up and seemed to be appreciating a good scratch.
Then she let out a happy snort. Making a pig happy is most satisfying!

Sweetie fast asleep.

This was right before she rolled over so I could pay proper attention to her belly. It was a very dog-like gesture!

This mama started lifting her front legs up to give me better scratching access.

The turkeys were mesmerizing with all their trilled vocalizations. They can be very curious and affectionate and some of them love cuddling on one's lap. Turkeys are also bred to be unnaturally big with abnormally large breasts. As a result, they are too big to mate with each other. The males can crush the females to death with the effort.  All the turkeys are bred to be white to make their flesh  lighter and thus more pleasing to consumers. Here is more information from Farm Sanctuary on how turkeys are raised in factory farms.

Here are where the girls were kept. The males and females have to be kept separate.

And here is the one male I saw. He was adorable and very into getting attention. When we crouched down next to him to hang out, he stared right into our eyes.

As you'll notice here, turkeys typically have their toes cut off when they are babies. (It is also standard for the industry to burn off the top of their beaks with a hot blade.) No anesthesia is used, despite the amount of nerve endings present. As a result of their malformed feet, they can't walk correctly -- which is hard enough with their abnormal size -- and their toes often get large and infected at the ends. The wonderful folks here do rounds each morning, checking their toes and other previously mutilated parts for trouble.
Chickens. I love chickens. They're so fascinating to watch. Chickens are said to have it worse than any of the factory farmed animals. Here is a post I did on the egg industry and here is some information from Farm Sanctuary. In the United States alone, 287 chickens are killed every second. (This figure is from the USDA.) And perhaps more shocking is that they are bred to grow so fast, that they are typically six to seven weeks young when they are slaughtered. Those animals that we see in the supermarkets, in other words, are still chicks.

Here are some heartwarming stories about some of the chickens at Farm Sanctuary! :)

Is there anything cuter than a chicken's butt? So cute.

Interestingly, I spotted a garter snake in this little area with the chickens. I asked if they bothered the chickens, and learned that the chickens would often surround the offending snake and make their feelings known.

Garter snake. I think.
There were many more lovely animals we met and adored. I could spend weeks at this wonderful place.

Visiting Farm Sanctuary and taking a tour is such an uplifting experience. It gives you a glimpse of what the world could be. And perhaps more important, it puts an individual face to the unfathomable numbers of animals that we kill each year. Almost every animal here was part of the factory farm system, and you see how each animal is so unique. If you've had a number of companion animals throughout your life, you know this to be true. Each of them was different, just as every human animal is different.

If you visit, you won't be beaten over the head with the cruelties these animals faced. Instead it's just a very peaceful yet exciting experience where you can connect with animals individually. After you've scratched a pig's tummy and had her snort with pleasure, bacon loses all allure. When a cow who lost all her babies puts her head in your lap, you start to question if eating cheese is really worth the cost of what she's had to endure. And again, our tour guide never admonished us at any time, saying, "Maybe now you'll think twice about eating eggs, folks!" Rather, he led us through, explaining where the animals had come from, what they liked, how they behaved, etc.  If you eat animal meat, eggs, or dairy, you'll feel very welcomed here and not judged in any way.

Oh! AND I got to meet one of my heroes, quite by surprise! Susie Coston, a powerhouse in the animal sanctuary world and Farm Sanctuary's National Shelter Director, happened to pass by us during our tour. I punched poor Ryan's arm and whispered excitedly, "Do you know who that was??" We saw her later in the cow barn and I went up, completely sappy-eyed, and professed my great admiration for her. Being the sweetheart she is, she gave me a big old bear hug, and Ryan quickly jumped in and asked if she'd mind a picture together. She quickly agreed, laughing, and then confessed that she didn't photograph well. Which I told her was perfect as I always look like a complete dork in pictures.

I. Love. This. Woman. You just meet some people and want them to be your best friend. She was one of those people. Just genuine, energetic, and happy. Who cares about all the Hollywood stars when you've got Susie Coston in the world? I think People magazine should start covering magastars like Susie, who make a positive difference in the world, rather than Tom Cruise, who likes jumping on couches.

It's hard not to look like a dork when you're standing next to your hero.

More to come in the next two posts. I'm dying to show you the cabin we stayed in, a beautiful memorial at Farm Sanctuary, the other Bed and Breakfast we stayed at, our fine dining at a rather well-known restaurant in Ithaca, a pretty gorge, and my sweetie's literal moment in the spotlight.

Before I close, I wanted to let you know that I'm doing the Walk for Farm Animals in Boston on September 8 to raise money for Farm Sanctuary so that they can continue to do this incredible work. There are walks all over the United States and Canada, if you'd like to participate in this as well and raise funds. If your city isn't listed, you can do the Sleep In for Farm Animals.

I'm trying to raise $1,000, and as of this writing have received $325 in online donations with another $50 coming by check. If you'd like to contribute -- and a couple of readers already have! Thank you! -- please go to my page. Any amount -- $1, $5, $1000 -- would be make a huge difference. Thank you!

I'd love to hear back from any of you who have had experience at an animal sanctuary or who are planning on going! (You can comment on other things too, of course!)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


 A quick watercolor painting I did a couple years back. I took this with my camera, which is why it's sort of off-kilter.  Scanning would probably do a better job. But one step at a time, right?

This is more of an interlude than a post. I have a few updates, all of which are fun, but none of which had enough wheat-meat to warrant a separate post.


The first is that SSW is now listed on VeganBlogs. This gives the site much more coverage online.

The purpose of starting this blog over a year ago was to help family and friends better understand why I suddenly eschewed all animal products, what that looked like, what the health and environmental benefits were, and what animal agriculture business looked like to individual animals. I think too that often when one makes an overnight change like that, it can look a little cultish (and cultish ain't my bag). But the truth is, I just don't want to hurt animals. It's as simple as that. And the animal agriculture industries hurt them, no matter how many pretty humane/cage-free/organic/grass-fed labels you slap on the neatly packaged meat/eggs/dairy. 

Along the way, though, I found that readership was increasing to people I had not met (yet) and that as my circle widened, I was learning from them and joining a community of enthusiastic and creative people.

Since joining veganblogs, I've seen hits on SSW increase substantially, which is exciting! If you want to help out, you can go to this link and hit the "Boost" button. There's also a link on the right side of this page. The more boosts SSW gets, the greater its visibility online. You can even boost once every twenty-four hours, should your little heart desire to do so! But simpler would be to just press "boost" after you've read a new post. And if you're up for it, any comments you can add in that link's comment section would be immensely helpful. Thank you in advance!


I've recently become a contributing writer to Vegbooks, which describes itself as "a resource for parents and teachers who want to support the vegan and vegetarian kids in their lives." To learn more about how Vegbooks started, read here. This site is a great place to learn about new (and old) books and movies for kids. (I first heard about it from the lovely gals from the Our Hen House podcast.) Here is my first post on the Lorax. I'm currently working on my second which should come out soon. I'm excited to be writing for such a fantastic website!

Vida Vegan Con (Say it three times fast.)

"See? I told you she joined a cult. I just knew it."

It does sound funny, doesn't it? Almost like a Star Trek convention or something. (Nothing against Star Trek, of course.)

In fact, it's a three-day conference of vegan bloggers in Portland, Oregon in May 2013, and yours truly will be there! (I'm bummed I can't stay longer, as my brother and his gorgeous family live in Bend, but I'm going to be taking red eyes to and from the conference so that I don't miss work. Being a teacher doesn't allow you to take long trips outside of our scheduled breaks. I'm not complaining, mind you -- that's just how it is.) I cannot express how excited I am to be meeting so many cool bloggers in person and to be attending workshops run by the superstars I've come to admire so much.

Legality, paintings, and photographs

As I mentioned before, this blog was started as an easy way to share with friends and family. I didn't anticipate it going anywhere beyond the borders of those I knew. But I did want to entertain, because good writing should do that. I'd often copy cool photos or videos I found online onto the site, never thinking about copyrights or such, since I wasn't making a dime off of it. I recently came to the realization -- particularly since the readership increased -- that I needed to be more mindful of what I was putting on here in order to be respectful to the owners of said photos and videos. To be frank, I feel like a schmuck for not having given it more thought before. (insert chagrined face) Thus, I've gone back and taken off a lot of images, and I'm starting to work on the videos. So you might notice some changes to past posts.

What you will see added shortly are sketches and watercolor paintings I've done to flesh out posts and add some personal zest.  I'm looking forward to it! In the past, I put a great deal of effort into each piece I've done.  It will be refreshing to do more whimsical drawings and paintings. (see above painting to get a glimpse.)

As well, I'm learning how to use our camera so I can include more photographs with posts.

One Lovely Award

Recently, SSW was awarded the One Lovely Blog Award from the equally lovely Epicurean Vegan, so I'll soon be doing a post on that to pass on the love to the many blogs I frequent and admire.

Oh, praise be, she's almost finished this endless drone of babble

And finally, I'm starting to think about creating an actual independent SSW website. I've barely scratched the surface, so any advice from more experienced bloggers would be very welcome!

That's the news for today. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Hot town, summer in the suburb! (back of my neck gettin' dirty and "pretty")

Sergio, braving the carpeted cat bed.
Kaci prefers the the cool flat expanse of the coffee table.
It's warm out there, folks. At least it is in Massachusetts.

The cats aren't too crazy about the heat and spend their days trying to stay as comfortable as possible, experimenting with various surfaces and laying on their backs in front of the fan when it's on.

My garden, on the other hand, is completely loving this weather. The heat has been especially kind to the tomatoes.

Last year, you may remember, I paid homage to my vegetable garden. This year, I continue to be wonderstruck by the simple daily changes in this rectangle of goodness, and I couldn't hold back from sharing how things are shaping up thus far.

Here is our first-ever crop in a small raspberry patch I've been tending to for almost two years. I was starting to give up on it when it just exploded in red sweetness this year! The fruits seem to ripen hourly.

Last year, I moved our mint to a section by the house because it was valiantly attempting to take over the garden.


Believe it or not, this is chocolate mint. It tastes like an Andes Candies.

Here's sage (a perennial, I discovered!) that I transplanted along with the two types of mint. 

 I planted a variety of tomatoes this year, all of which shouldn't take too long to ripen. (The cherries have already started!) I used to order beautiful heirloom seedlings in the mail, but they needed a longer summer than we typically get here. So now I shoot for tomatoes that have a shorter growing season.

Just yesterday, I pruned all the tomato plants, as they were getting out of control. I don't know a whole lot about pruning, so I just basically go by instinct. I was told a few years back that if you don't prune them, all their growing energy mainly goes into the leaves and stems rather than into the fruit itself.
Speckled Romans

Either Speckled Romans or Romas...

Either Speckled Romans or Romas...

Romas ... Already have one close to ripe!

Sungold. Impossibly sweet! If you ever want to start a small garden, this is a great variety that will give you instant results. I love the way they grow like grapes!

These had a fancy name, but I can't recall it. I call them Little Reds. 

There's a great product in garden stores that helps keep your tomatoes growing in the cages. It looks like a spool of thick green ribbon, but it's velcro. You just cut off a bit and then velcro the stem to the cage so that the plant doesn't sprawl across the ground. You can reuse these year after year. I kept losing them, though. Just this morning, it occurred to me that I could keep them on the fence when I was done using them, and have them ready for next year.

The last of the sugar snap peas. We have been eating these like they're going out of style. Just trim the strings off, put them in a steamer basket, and let them steam for just a minute or two. Then, if you're feeling fancy, put them in a bowl with a tiny bit of toasted sesame oil and salt. 

As the peas start to leave us, the string beans are emerging. How cute is that thing? It's like a string bean ultrasound.

Cabbage. Does it get any more artistic? I mean, look at the way that thing grows! Gorgeous! Thanks to my sister-in-law Ida for gifting me with four cabbage plants -- something I had never tried growing before. (That's why it's good to have gardening buddies. They expand your horizons.)

Kale alert! If you want to start your own garden or a small container garden, kale is one of the easiest things to grow. And it LOVES the cold, so you'll be harvesting it well into the fall. I tried three kinds this year.

I should mention here that when we first dug up the garden and put the fence around, we put chicken wire about a foot and a half under the ground. It was a pain, truly, but well worth it since we now have a family of groundhogs who eyes our garden hopefully. One of them (when it was still small enough) squeaked through the space where the gate opens and had a fun time inside. In fact, both s/he and a baby bunny got in at the same time  -- who are friends, I swear. They're always hanging out together -- and demolished our lettuce and some of the peas. They didn't touch the curly kale or lacinato kale, but made sweet love to the purple kale. Who knew?

Curly kale! One of two patches of it we have, because you can never have enough of this stuff. (The Thai Basil to the left, is not as hardy as it's been in the past. Usually it becomes a monstrous shrub. The leaves are delicious with green curry.)

"Nom, nom, nom," said the hungry groundhog.

Lacinato Kale, also called Dinosaur Kale due (I believe) to its ressemblance to dinosaur skin. (We are overrun with dinosaurs in Framingham, so I KNOW.)

Some of the red-speckled lettuce that survived groundhogpalooza.     

Swiss Chard. Some of the prettiest stuff on the planet. I want to do a painting of Swiss Chard.

Believe it or not, this is a Brussel Sprout plant. I got four tiny plants ($1 each!) back in April as a fun experiment. They're doing great so far!

These are Chioggia Beets. When you slice them, they have a gorgeous red and white striped bullseye throughout. I love how the tops peek out of the ground. It's so cute, I can't stand it. 

Next is the massive, prehistoric rhubarb, which originally came from my grandparents' house. I gave away half of the root to my brother- and sister-in-law this spring, and the thing has STILL spread. This is, by far, Kaci's favorite part of the garden.

And you may have noticed our new hummingbird feeder, given to us by Peg, my mother-in-law. Below is a better view. We have a feeder closer to the house as well. Hummingbird feeders are such great and cheap entertainment. Often the hummingbirds will come when I'm in the garden, reading, writing, or weeding. You'll hear what sounds like an extra large bee, and when you look up you see a tiny, green, glistening little hummingbird, politely dipping into the red plastic flower and then taking off into the sky about a minute later when it is done. (The attached red ribbon helps attract the birds to the feeder. They love red.) To make your own solution, just heat some sugar in water until the sugar is dissolved. Sugar - water; 1:4. So 1/4 cup sugar, for example, and 1 cup water. Just replace it every few days.

And a garden isn't a garden without basil. Mmmm...

We have quite a few pepper plants, both hot and sweet. I forget the names of most of them, but here they are regardless. :)

Green pepper, I think.

Pepperoncini! I got these for Ryan, who goes nuts for them pickled. As to who is going to pickle them, stay tuned...

Ryan's not an eggplant guy, but I always plant a lot of it anyway. They are so gorgeous. Look at this little one, just poking its head out!

And you have to have cucumbers. I just got one kind of plant, and found a cucumber over a foot long this morning! I forgot to take a picture of it, but it's so indecent looking that it's just as well. Here is a less sizable one on the vine.

I planted tons and tons of nasturtium all around the perimeter of the garden. The groundhogs LOVE nasturtium,  and wiped them out from two sides of the garden. We put in a (mild) electric fence which has discouraged them from ravaging all the remaining prettiness. Groundhogs tend to stick very close by their burrows, as they lack speed for getting back quickly. (As Ryan so aptly put it, it's like watching an undulating small carpet run across your lawn.) Thus, they ignored the other two sides because they were too far away for comfort.

Both the flowers and leaves of the nasturtium are edible. They have a light peppery taste to them, reminiscent of radishes, lending themselves beautifully as an accent to a fresh salad.

I have beautiful marigolds planted throughout the garden, as they are a natural pest deterrant.

And here is the overall view of this most happy of places .

Groundhog/Rabbit view. (I just planted some new lettuce and arugula in the bare patch in the foreground.)

So that's the garden so far. Stay tuned for later posts when more things ripen!

P.S. SSW is now on veganblogs.org. If you could click on this link and then click on the "boost" button, it would help substantially in getting more visibility to this blog. I'm told you can go one once a day and boost it. And if you're up for sharing any thoughts, it would be great to get some comments (hopefully favorable!) added below it. The more boosts and comments, the better the visibility online. Thank you!