Mo Bloggin'

A little o' this, a little o' that

{Summa summa summa time*}

Two of 20 or 30 mature Big Leaf Maples; these are in the sheep pasture.

Two of 30 or so mature big leaf maples on the property; these are in the sheep pasture.

So those trees I was grumbling about back in April? Yeah, I’m full of gratitude for them right now. In a spring and summer of weird weather in North America, the Pacific Northwest has been unusually hot and dry since early May. We normally have a pretty soggy spring, with June usually being gray, if not wet, and June Gloom, or Juneuary being common descriptors for the wet, and often cold, weather. This year, though, summer arrived a full month early and has been setting records all the way. We’ve been roasting since June, and I’m enjoying the heck out of it. And, yes, the shade from the trees has been welcome. My roast chicken fetish has suffered a bit (hard to muster the resolve to fire up the oven to 400 degrees for 90 minutes—the house is like a little hot box from about 4 p.m. on), but I’m still chowing on the watermelons.

Sheep at dusk.

Sheep at dusk.

The beasts are doing well in the heat, what with plenty of shade to hang out in. And even if I didn’t have too much shade (per my lament for grass growing back in April), the property is dried up and the grass has turned brown due to lack of moisture. I’ve been watering some, but it’s a battle lost long ago (the paradox being that within two weeks of no rain, the ground is dried up and rock hard) and I mostly do it to help cool the place in the evenings. I have to be careful with the watering so I don’t run the well tank dry. I accidentally do this a few times every year and it freaks me out every time. The first time I did it, the first summer I was here, I thought the well had run dry (or the pump had broken down) and was cobbling together a plan before I called the well repair guy to come take a look (it was late on a Sunday night). I turned off the faucet to the sprinkler I had going (mostly to cool things off rather than water the dead grass) and within 15 minutes the water was running in the house again. Lesson learned. I’ve done it a few times since, and it’s always a 3-second panic before I remember. Now I set a timer for watering; I time the watering AND the recharging period, so I’m not overtaxing the system.

Bees drinking from the pond. It's perfect for them; with all the slop and vege growing in it, they can drink safe from drowning.

Bees drinking from the pond. It’s perfect for them; with all the slop and vege growing in it, they can drink safe from drowning.

I keep the little slop pond filled; it’s the main source of water for my bees, and of course the dogs’ constant slopping in there to cool off. Pal will lie down and roll to his side to get good and wet, then go roll in ecstasy in the pile of hog fuel. Nice. I also keep a little kiddie pool scrubbed and filled for the dogs (basically a giant water bowl for them, 031the chickens, and the sheep—you’d think it was the only water around for miles, given its popularity as a trough). I stepped in when it was clean and full recently and yelped with the cold. It was obvious that this water was fresh from the subterranean Snoqualmie Valley.

A recent day trip took me to the San Juan Islands.  This is Mount Baker seen from the ferry on the way home.

A recent day trip took me to the San Juan Islands. This is Mount Baker seen from the ferry on the way home, and had me feeling blessed to live in such a paradise.

Not much is getting done in the way of chores – too hot for housework is one of my favorite excuses – but thankfully, being in a maritime climate, it does cool down at night. I open the doors and windows, and employ a fan, and by midnight or so, the house has cooled nicely. I’m leaving the back door open all night (with a baby gate to keep the dogs in—otherwise they would be out barking at snipes all night long), and do the same with the chicken coop, so the hens have a chance to cool down. But for the most part all the critters are doing well. The sheep stay in the shade, and drink plenty of water, and the chickens take dust baths in the hot sun and go through gallons of water. The dogs and cats lay around all day, for the most part. The Setter boys being a skootch more active than Daisy, who just lounges in one of her many dirt pits. Pal runs after birds, and Farley insists I throw his ball for him, though he paces himself with regards to returning it for another toss.

Eloise complaining about her captivity from my office (behind glass paneled door).

Eloise complaining about her captivity from my office (behind glass paneled door).

The only problem, honestly, has been the cats. The two youngsters, and especially Madeline, are quite the hunters, and keeping them inside once I open the doors to cool the house requires locking them in my office. For the entire night. That’s not really that big of a deal (Eloise would argue otherwise, and has shredded paperwork I’ve left on my desk), but it does require some management. Now that the birds are no longer singing (sniff – I miss my Swainson’s seranades in the evenings), and the nesting season winding up, I’ve relented and let them outside. Madeline is impossible to get back inside, as her feral nature takes over once she crosses the threshold. She stays out all night, and sometimes for a full 24 or 36 hours. I find dead mice scattered around in the morning (the chickens love these) and a dead bat recently, too. This saddened me even as it gave me the willies. It was a tiny little thing, no bigger than the tip of my thumb, with tiny needles for teeth. And this afternoon I found a dead towhee in the front yard, which upset me nearly to tears, and I cursed myself for not locking Madeleine up permanently. When it rains at night she’ll come in readily, but in that case it will be another month. I will hopefully get her inside tonight (we’re coming up on 36 hours out now) and am locking her up in a dog crate if I have to.

Happy hive.

Happy hive.

The bees are happy, and I’m pleased with the front-of-hive activity I’m seeing. I opened it up for an inspection a few weekends ago and was pleased to see plenty of brood in the few frames I looked at. The bees were very docile—unusually so—and I kept it very brief. As soon as I saw the brood, I pretty much stopped. I’m always so paranoid about squishing the queen by accident, and it was hot, so I just plopped on another hive box so they could build up, and will wait for a cooler day to do a more thorough inspection. I want to do a split – start a new hive by moving some frames of brood into a new hive, but am squeamish about it. I don’t trust that they’ll figure out how to make a queen, so will probably buy a queen to put in there. If I do it. I’ll have to feed all winter too, with it being so late in the season (and the drought taking its toll on flowering plants of all kinds). We shall see.

*Summertime

Gratuitous cuteness: Daisy relaxing in one of her more elaborate dirt pits.  Happy dog.

Gratuitous cuteness: Daisy relaxing in one of her more elaborate dirt pits, dug into the hillside. Happy dog. Heart her!

Waiting for Friday

Mungo's Monday morning bed head.

Mungo’s Monday morning bed head.

Another week has begun and the cycle starts anew. Waiting for the weekend. Those two days always have so much promise on Friday, no matter what the weather, plans or lack thereof. If you work for a living in the 9-5 world, wishing your life away becomes part of your routine, your being. Because that’s what we do when we look so forward to two days off that the rest of the week becomes little more than something to get through so you can have those two days. And you cram so much life into those two days! The Friday-eve list of things I want to do—everything from housework/chores and household projects, errands and needed shopping, to side trips, socializing, and entertainment—is usually more stuff than I could do in a week, never mind two measly days.

The cherry tree is going crazy this year!

The cherry tree is going crazy this year!

It’s always been a struggle for me, this bizarre mad rush we all do, clogging the roads to get to a building where we (usually) sit all day in cubeland, in front of a computer, or in meetings to discuss and plan what we’ll do on said computer, then rush back to the sanctuary of home at the end of the day. A twice daily migration, if you will. How did hunting and gathering devolve into this? But for a reason I’ve not been able to bust out of yet, I find this awful pattern, doing work for another in exchange for a paycheck, and being accountable to that other, easier than being accountable to myself. When I have the time off, instead of working toward my own success, I tend to waste a lot of time. I’m really good at telling myself this story – that I’m a Supreme Waster of Time, that the time I spend at R&R is necessary (it is, yes, but not to the detriment of my own success), that my dreams require hard work and financial freedom following those dreams is unattainable without a bankroll to start. It’s insidious.

Daisy hard at work to make me smile.

Daisy hard at work to make me smile.

I come home on weekdays wiped out emotionally and physically. After an arduous (I’m being a wee bit dramatic, sure) commute to work, 7 long hours of word processing work, and a frustrating, sometimes tear-inducing commute home (tears of frustration at everything I’m doing, including being (i.e., allowing myself to be) stuck in rush hour traffic with people who can’t seem to find their gas pedals), I’m instantly buoyed the moment I open the door to the house. The greeting, the warmth, the joy that surrounds my arrival lifts me up and centers me. The grim frown and slow, tired steps are replaced by a beaming smile and lightened heart, the weariness infused with the infectious ebullience of the dogs and cats, sheep and chickens. Sure, most of them are only glad to see me in an associative way – I let them out of their pen and/or feed them (sheep and chickens), but it’s still meaningful. I represent something positive to them, and they are happy to see me. I can’t say the same about the job I go to all day, leaving them—it’s like tearing off a Band-aid every time I leave them for work—to pay for the roof over our heads, the land we live on, the food I feed them, and it’s coming to some sort of a head for me. While I’m grateful for my job, it’s also leaving me with little more satisfaction other than the paycheck every two weeks. And that’s not really enough anymore.

It's been a very warm spring this year. Farley cools off after a round of fetch.

It’s been a very warm spring this year. Farley cools off after a round of fetch (squinty-eyed because I asked him to stay for a minute while I took the photo).

I know my recent health concerns have brought this to a point, as the days’ stresses and unhappiness compound to continue to affect my health adversely, and the overall structure has me struggling with all the existential questions in life. Recent losses by friends’ (mother, sister, beloved aunt) and my own (friend and mentor) add to the ticking clock of “are you just going to talk about it and wish, or are you going to actually do it?” I pulled in the driveway one evening, glum and spent with the day’s travails (woe is me, First World problems to be sure), and picked up the mail before opening the gate to drive in. And found a check for an article I wrote two months ago and sent to the editor. Last I heard, the magazine was maybe not going to be published, but I never heard anything more, and frankly, didn’t expect to. The editor I was working with left her position to be a full time mother while her children are young, and I hadn’t heard from a replacement editor (though wrote to the contact name she had given me in her farewell email – no response). It was one of those days where I felt emotionally bleak, wondering what the heck I was doing and how I could break the bonds and do what I wanted while also being financially safe, with an abundant income to live on.

Part I – on the cover!

Part II.  Check out that sweet byline!

Part II. Check out that sweet byline!

As I opened the envelope, realizing what it was, I knew, as I always have, that this was my answer. Writing the article took less than 6 hours of work, without a crappy commute on either end of it. It paid the equivalent of more than 1½ times what I make (hourly) at the office job – in a position/with a company I’ve been in for 10 years now, and not including a commute (yes, this is a BIG issue for me). Why, then, do I continue to struggle with the reality of it? Sure, I’d have to pay for my own health care and retirement (probably all of that extra 1/2, comparatively speaking), and taxes but no commute, no money spent on parking and fuel (wait – there’s my health care money right there), no coming home at 6 p.m. to face an hour or two of chores – in the winter this is in the dark, and usually in the rain and mud. The chores (caring for my livestock, pets, home and property) that don’t feel like chores on the weekends, when I’m not leaving for 8 or 9 hours to go somewhere else all day, leaving everything I love best in the world. So tell me again, Maureen, why you can’t do this? What kind of monster is hiding under your bed, whispering “can’t” and “not for you” all night long as you toss and turn in your sleep, trying to find the harmony of this current set up when there really is none. The possibilities are endless, as is your talent (word processing, writing, editing), and the faucet of abundance is just waiting for you to get over yourself and turn on the tap.

Gratuitous cuteness: Five inches of healthy banana slug crossing the lawn one evening - I love these guys!

Gratuitous cuteness: Five inches of healthy banana slug crossing the lawn one evening – I love these guys!

This and that {in which your intrepid blogger rambles a bit}

Golden evening

Golden evening

I have been enjoying down time lately. I manage to get the minimum done, but mostly it’s rest and restore as much as possible. Today was textbook in that regard so my to do list has only the shallowest of dents in it. I pretty much add more to it than I remove. I’m okay with that. I managed to fritter away three whole days over Memorial Day weekend, and really, three days is nothing when it comes to the time needed for renewing/refreshing.  I’m still dealing with the health stuff, and trying to concentrate on research, make a plan, take steps, but the rest is needed and the down time very much so. A time to disconnect and just float, mentally. And to reconnect, too.

The property is in full jungle mode now, and though I hate to say it, we could use some rain. It’s been overcast a lot, but nothing in the way of precipitation. It’s not been too chilly, as sometimes happens with the clouds, but warm enough to putter around outside without just a vest, and if I’m puttering with my pole pruner, the vest is too warm. I’ve been having a good time with my pruner, and feel like maybe someday I’ll be ready for a real chainsaw. I like cutting down all the weedy overgrowth in the trees, opening up the sky a bit. The need for a chipper is still acute, but I can live with the piles of brush for now. And the need for a few trees to come down (anything bigger than 6 inches in diameter is a bit too large for my pruner) is also acute. It would make all the difference here. The county restriction is no more than 5000 board feet a year without a permit (meaning, if you want to do some serious clear cutting, you need to get a permit from the county to do so). I’m good with that, as 5000 board feet is enough to give me an idea of what I want to do. I’ve targeted some trees to start, and will hopefully get them down this year. Then, after getting a feel for the property after this initial thinning, I’ll know better where/what to do next year. That’s the plan, anyway.

The farmstead.

The farmstead.

I’m enjoying time reconnecting with the property, though. I sometimes get frustrated with everything – the trees, the chores, the lack of grass/pasture, the chores, and the road noise.  But when I take the time to sit with it, I realize I love this little place, and that the flaws aren’t really flaws (well, the road noise sometimes is frustrating) but character. I know the sheep like it here, and much better than they would a flat expanse of pasture, and the hillside keeps them fit.  To see them moving around the property, a beautiful little collection of gray, brown, black, and buff sheep colors, or watching them graze the pasture, their sheepy pleasure and contentment is a balm to the soul. The hens dust bathing under the cedars, or scratching for bugs in the fallow garden, is perennially entertaining, and satisfying to know they’re doing what they were born to do while they provide me with eggs. Or to watch Pal running the perimeter; or Farley trotting down the hill from a foray to the back somewhere; or Daisy slumbering in the middle of the driveway – it makes me happy.  I didn’t really purchase this place with any of them in mind or for them; it was for me, and what I needed, but their enjoyment of it makes it whole.  It’s integral to all of us, and the joy I receive at their enjoyment of the property, their happiness, fills me up.

I awoke at dawn on to the cacophony of birdsong that defines spring. It was like a concert, and wonderful in that it wasn’t underscored, or drowned out, is often the case, by the Indy 500 soundtrack that is so prevalent here. I know I’m sensitive to noise, and that the road noise here isn’t as bad as some, but it’s annoying nonetheless. Oddly, though, this weekend hasn’t been too bad. No packs of motorcycles to speak of, and the morning chorus of diesel pickup trucks grinding by the house has been minimal. Weekday mornings it starts up around 4:30, reaching a crescendo around 6:30 or so. My thought is always – where these people all going so early, and what hellish time to they wake up to do so (and they must go to bed before the sun sets…so weird)? It’s so odd to me, these uber-morning people, who are on a schedule almost the opposite of mine. It even makes me a little angry, which is weird, I know. But why do they insist on getting up so early; before the sun, and going to bed before the sun. What is the point? Right now the sun is rising shortly after 5 a.m., and sets just before 9 p.m.

Installation.

Installation.


I should go out and do an inspection of my beehive, but just did so last week, so will wait.  I don’t like bugging them too much, but I’m on pins and needles with it right now.  I installed a package on April 29, and on the first inspection, 10 days after installing, I saw only a small amount of brood, and the presence of some queen cells.  WTH?  This means the queen that came with my package was weak enough that the hive saw the need to replace her immediately. I didn’t look at her closely when I installed the package, but assume she was alive in her little cage. I inspected again, two weeks later (one week ago) and found NO brood whatsoever.  I didn’t see a queen, but the bees were fairly active and bringing in honey. They were also a little peeved at my opening up the hive and I got two stings right through my leather gloves (!!). I like that they were angry, because that means they feel there’s something to protect.  No brood, but hopefully a baby queen ready to start laying. I looked at a chart for queen development and if the queen larvae I saw on May 10 was 4 – 8 days old, she wouldn’t start laying until about now anyway.  Fingers crossed she got out and found a DCA, mated and returned safely.

Community dust bath.

Community dust bath.

I’m reading a book now called Morning Light, by Barbara Drake. It’s a nice little rambling memoir of life in the Oregon countryside. The subtitle is “Wildflowers, Night Skies, and Other Ordinary Joys of Oregon Country Life,” and is a series of essays on the various topics. She lives in an area near to where I was looking back in ’08 and ’09 (and am still interested in), and provides some insight into things I would (or may) have to deal with, including water issues (wells, etc.). And the oaks. I’ve only read a small portion of the book so far, but am enjoying it and her insights. She’s someone I could enjoy a cup of coffee with, and a like mind. And makes me realize how much I really have here.  There is so much to savor in the little moments.

It’s dusk now as I write this, and I’m enjoying the evening birdsong. The Swainson’s thrush and Robins, and the grosbeak and little twitterers. There’s a Swainson’s thrush singing his flute song deep in the maples behind the house, and another doing his “whiit” over in the trees by the sheep shed. I love listening to them close out the day. The sun has set, and the sky is going from a deep blue to purple-gray, with pale peach brush strokes fading out.

Gratuitous cuteness: Daisy after she took a dust bath too.

Gratuitous cuteness: Daisy after she took a dust bath too.

Woman cannot live on chicken and watermelon alone {or can she?}

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I'm not kidding.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’m not even kidding.

I’ve been calling it my roast chicken fetish, and I’ve roasted and eaten a LOT of birds in the past six weeks. For a while there, over the winter, I wasn’t eating much of anything because nothing sounded good.  Lack of appetite was just one of the grab bag of auxiliary symptoms I had, the primary one being not being able to breathe.  The weight loss was okay; I’ve worked harder to lose less, but sometimes I’d get hungry and would go to the grocery only to come home with things (comfort food) that didn’t taste nearly as good as they sounded. Root beer floats worked for a bit, but after a while I was down to cereal and milk, and even then didn’t finish the bowl (unheard of for me). If one of my animals went off their food to the same degree I’d be in a minor panic but for myself it was just “huh.”

Hanging out on a sunny spring day with my best guy.

Hanging out on a sunny spring day with my best guy.

About a week before my bronchoscopy I was at the grocery and got some roast chicken at the deli counter. It was actually pretty good and satisfying. The day of my bronchoscopy I had some lemonade and watermelon at Whole Foods.  That was good too. The day after my bronchoscopy I was in pretty rough shape, with deep, um, productive coughing, with said production laced with fresh blood (normal after the biopsy procedure, but still disconcerting). I sounded like a 3-pack-a-day smoker, and felt like I’d been pummeled, weak and tired. There was nothing to eat in the house – I’d stopped buying food because most of it would go bad – and I was hungry. Lemonade and watermelon sounded good. So did protein and fat. I got dressed and made myself presentable (barely), and went to the nearby grocery for a rotisserie chicken. And some watermelon. And some lemonade.

Yum.

Yum.

That was six weeks ago and I’ve eaten a LOT of chicken in the meantime. Instead of buying the hot, rotisserie birds at the grocery, I started roasting my own. I fill the cavity with chopped garlic cloves and a couple teaspoons of Celtic sea salt, rub the skin with butter or olive oil, sprinkle another couple teaspoons of salt, plus some thyme and paprika, and pop it into a hot oven (400 degrees) for an hour or so.  When it comes out I’m salivating and barely able to wait for it to cool. I’ve found that wings are my favorite part. They have just the right combo of skin/fat/meat. Because the skin and the fat? Well, the embarrassing truth of it is that’s the part I think I crave the most. I’ve learned that the skin is best when hot and crispy from the oven, so I eat most of it then. It’s kind of gross when I think about it too much. Prior to this, I don’t think I’d purchased chicken in a year or more, other than a breast or two (bone-in) to make soup stock. But now? I’ve eaten a good sized flock, with no end in sight. We’re getting the first watermelons up out of Mexico now, so they’re a little easier to find (I was buying the plastic packs of cut up watermelon and trying to rationalize the price by the fact that I wasn’t eating much else). And copious numbers of Cuties have been eaten (and I’m not a citrus person in general). I’m sad that it’s the end of Cutie season. Gallons of lemonade have been guzzled; I buy Santa Cruz organic lemon juice, add a little water and a squirt or two of stevia and bam!  {this sounded so good now I just made a glass of it}

Today's prescription: a day of PTO/work from home, where this was the view from the office.  Hashtag healing.

Today’s prescription: a day of PTO/work from home, where this was the view from the office. Hashtag healing.

This all has been weird and wild and I figure just part of the healing process. I’m glad to be eating normally (well, not normally, but normal quantities) and while I hesitate to talk about my sarcoidosis from a woowoo standpoint – I don’t want to give it more power or “become” my diagnosis—I also know I have to acknowledge it and not tra-la-la it away. I’m all about magical thinking, but denial does no one any good. I know this whole sequence of events and diagnosis (and the more I read, the more I realize it didn’t just appear out of the blue; it required the exact sequence of events to occur) has to be addressed. This is something I have to look in the eye and understand before I can bid adieu. Scram. Get lost. You’re not welcome here. I’m feeling better physically than I was a mere two months ago (but not as good as I was feeling one month ago, dammit) and being able to walk and breathe at the same time has been an eye opener to how ill I was for a while there. Somehow as you go through it you just cope and don’t really examine it too much.

For now I’m still under the influence of prednisone, a steroid of course, that, while it’s helped me to achieve that walking and breathing thing that’s not to be taken lightly, kind of messes with me otherwise, and I’m not liking it much. Scatterbrained, irritable, and a general feeling of discontent. Other things like appetite changes and sleeping changes are less noticeable. I get really hungry when I get hungry, and I feel like I’m not sleeping as well – this one is hard to describe – but mostly doable. The feeling of overall frustration or dissatisfaction, tinged with a dollop of hopelessness is making for a sour stew, though, and I’m having a hard time getting beyond it. I can distract myself out of it, a good thing I guess, but the concentration needed to turn it around is in short supply. Concentration on anything is absent, it seems. A TV program, a book, a task, it’s hard to stay with anything for very long. I find this supremely frustrating, because I need to work on getting rid of the sarcoidosis once and for all, and not just rely on the palliative effects if the prednisone. So far the benefits have outweighed the side effects, though I don’t anticipate this will be for much longer. I need to heal, and find my bootstraps to do so.

The clean up crew after some heavy duty pruning with my pole pruner.

The clean up crew after some heavy duty pruning with my pole pruner.

I also know part of all of this discontent is the annual spring/summer thing I go through, where I see all the things that need to be done, or that I want to do, and wonder when I’m ever going to make the leap to what I really want to be doing. Right now giving my property a haircut is first and foremost. In the five years I’ve been here, the trees have continued to grow, and grow well. They would happily take over the property if left to their own devices. Take it back, I guess, since it’s obvious they once ruled supreme. Someone carved out some space for sky years ago, and left enough trees in place that the sky is once again receding under the canopy. It’s almost claustrophobic at this time of year, when the jungle-growth is rampant. I’ve been letting the sheep out regularly and they’ve managed to gobble up almost all of the normal undergrowth like a herd of wooly locusts. The grass around the house looks like a putting green and still the pasture languishes. I purchased a pole pruner – cordless, because I don’t do gas engines – which is basically a baby chainsaw on a stick. After taking a chainsaw introduction class a couple of years ago I realized very quickly I wouldn’t be buying a chainsaw (too dangerous for me). This is a way to have the tool but safer to use (it would be really hard to chop your hand or leg off by accident) and I’ve been having fun trimming and pruning. The only problem now being I really, really need a chipper.

Gratuitous cuteness: A cluster of baby orb weavers, newly hatched. So adorable!

Gratuitous cuteness: A cluster of baby orb weaver spiders (garden spiders), newly hatched. So adorable!

Coveting sunshine and grass growing

Spring is here and the girls are laying like crazy.

Spring is here and the girls are laying like crazy.

I love spring. It’s probably my favorite season, if I had to pick a favorite. But it also causes a lot of unsettlement with me. Every year I get scattered and even a little stressed with the growing list of things I want to do with the warmer weather and longer days. Most of the list is the same from year to year; the annual chores that come with the changing of the seasons. Things like yard clean up after the winter (picking up sticks is front and center), planting and grooming the various beds around the house, reconfiguring planting areas and moving things, evening out the terrain grown lumpy and pocked with mole activity and dog digging, and of course weeding, planting, and more weeding. As I look around this year I feel as overwhelmed as I always do, and maybe a little more.

The first salmonberry blooms of the year.After my past winter of not-good health, I’m working consciously on not overdoing it this spring and continue the healing process to get back to full health, and I know that this spring overwhelm is not good for healing and full recovery. I know I have to take it easier than I have in past years. So I’ve decided to take the full-on veggie garden off the docket this year. I love growing my own food, but it creates a ton of ongoing work for me, and there’s always the spring stress to try and get the beds prepped and ready, and the seeds planted, in a timely manner. Every year I feel at least a month behind, and often lose out on harvests because I’ve planted too late for something (say, my squash patch) to grow and ripen in time; a lot of work for nothing. I may put in a few small things that grow without much trouble or pests (green beans and zucchini, maybe some winter squash), but probably nothing in the way of greens. The kale is usually covered in cabbage worms and slugs, and the lettuce is a slug nursery. Even the root crops attract lots of slugs (and cutworms). A year off will be good for the garden, too, and give the chooks a chance to really clean it up. I’ll work on knocking back the nettle invasion instead.

Reseeded the high traffic area where the sheep like to hang out. The seed has sprouted but some more time, and sunshine, is needed.

Reseeded the high traffic area where the sheep like to hang out. The seed has sprouted but some more time, and sunshine, is needed.

In growing here, I’ve found I have a few challenges. Every site has its challenges, but the shade factor is a bigger one here than I anticipated. The property faces the west, with the pasture hillside canted to the north, and I am ringed with giant trees – cedar, fir and maple on the south border, massive cottonwoods with cedars and maples to the west, and dozens more massive cottonwoods to the east (north too, but that’s not a factor for sunlight).  Sunrise takes a while to come over the hill AND over the cottonwoods, and sunsets are peekaboo at best. And only May, June, and July have decent sun, when it’s mostly overhead. The rest of the year it struggles to get through the canopy to what I want to grow most: grass. Lots and lots of lush green grass as fodder for my flock.

Growing slowly. The sheep can't wait.

Growing slowly. The sheep can hardly wait.

I’ve been keeping the sheep off the pasture, though they collect at the gate when I let them out of their winter pen, hoping to get in. I’m trying to let it grow, but due to the lack of decent sun, it’s slow going. I drive to and fro on errands and work commute, and look out over sunny, healthily growing pastures with envy. An acquaintance with sheep and a fantastic blog is regularly posting photos of her sheep lambing in green pastures, the grass already growing lush and green. Me, all I’m growing are some fabulous patches of healthy chartreuse green moss. It seems like it’s thicker than ever this year, which would make sense – five years of tree growth creates that much more shade. Of course soil amendments would help too. The sheep distribute manure liberally, and I need to apply a ton of lime, too.  No, really, I mean a full ton is probably the amount I should spread. I need to do a soil test first, before I pour hundreds of dollars in soil amendments onto the property, but a part of me feels like it’s just a money pit and I’ll get no benefit.

I need more grass to grow more of this. Nutmeg's first fleece.

I need more grass to grow more of this. Nutmeg’s first fleece.

So I basically have a problem I can’t solve (the desire to move to a new home with literal greener pastures) and am once again eyeing the trees. I want to take down at least half a dozen to open up the canopy and get some sunshine to the grass.  It’s mostly maples and maybe a fir or cedar or two, and can’t figure out how to go about getting this done. Hiring a tree guy would be the easiest, if I had a few thousand dollars. I called a couple numbers I had for potential wood cutters (people who cut firewood for a living) I thought could be interested (free firewood! – u cut u haul!)) but no dice. I had a guy interested a couple of years ago, referred by a friend, and even traded him a riding lawn mower I had, in advance, for helping me out (he cuts firewood for others, so the trees would be valuable to him too). He came and got the mower right away and I basically never heard from him again. I called him a couple of times and got “I’ll call you back” type of replies. I didn’t need or use the mower, and though it ran it did need a little work, so I suppose it’s no real loss to me other than the trade/barter value I lost. I hope he’s gotten good use out of it.

This property has a long history of growing big trees.

This property has a long history of growing big trees.

I’m still scheming, and may run an ad locally to see if anyone is interested in my timber. I know I can’t remove more than 5,000 board feet per year without a permit, but getting that much out of here would be huge. The forest will take back the land, and it’s working on that.  What I’m looking for is a bit of a haircut vs. a clear cut, just to keep things in balance.

Gratuitous cuteness: Farley waiting for me to throw the ball for him. We just had our 9 year anniversary together - he's probably about 11 years old now and as handsome as ever.

Gratuitous cuteness: Farley waiting for me to throw the ball for him. We just had our 9 year anniversary together – he’s probably about 11 years old now and as handsome as ever.

And the winner is… {part 3 of 2}

Taking flightThis horse race call has been going through my head for the past week.  I hear Chic Anderson calling it.  “And they’re off! Asthma breaks with an early lead, with Flonase in the saddle. Then it’s Hypersensitivity Pneumoitis, with Farmer’s Lung aboard. Two lengths behind is Interstitial Pneumonia and trailing way behind are the longshots in the field, Sjogren’s Syndrome and Lupus. As they round the first turn Asthma has fallen to the back of the pack and pulled up. He is not a contender. In the backstretch now, Hyerpsensitivity Pneumonitis is pulling ahead; Farmer’s Lung letting him have his head.  And from out of nowhere here comes Autoimmune Disease with Sarcoidosis on board! He’s running like a freight train! As they come around the final turn, it’s Autoimmune and Sarcoidosis nosing ahead! Farmer’s Lung is giving Sarcoidosis a run for his money! Down the stretch they come!”

It doesn’t look like it will be a photo finish, but I’ll find out in two days who wins the race, according to the medical community, when I get see my pulmonologist to get the results from my bronchoscopy last week.

For weeks, now months, I’ve been dealing with this “lung thing.” And aside from the debilitating effects on my daily routine, and outright crappy days with pleurisy, fever, zero appetite, and skull-cracking headaches, it’s been mostly invisible to others. I’m good with that. And while I pride myself with not making this my story from the get-go (public blog posting aside – ha! – my co-workers and others mostly were unaware until after my bronchoscopy last week, where I had to take a couple days off and came back to work with a deep, hacking cough from the biopsy and lavage procedures), I also sought medical help within 3 weeks of my first symptoms and didn’t wait around for it to get better on its own. I have an overall aversion to doctors and the need for medical care, but I knew there was something more serious going on and waiting was not prudent. A lot of farmer’s lung sufferers believe it’s just a bad cold they’ll get over, and delay treatment (which can then cause permanent scarring to the lungs), but when you can’t catch your breath it gets acute quickly, so I didn’t screw around.

My good eater girl: Daisy's getting so positively chubby that I feel like I should get a curly tail for her.

My good eater girl: Daisy’s getting so positively chubby that I feel like I should get a curly tail for her.

As someone who lives with animals, I totally get and agree with the typical animal response to illness or pain: don’t let anyone know and don’t call attention to yourself (I know, the blogging publicly aside is ironic here) you’ll be targeted/more vulnerable. Of course with the prey animals (birds, sheep) this mindset is more acute, but even my carnivores are stoic in the face of these weaknesses. It’s not very helpful to me as their caretaker to not have an obvious sign to go with, and can make for some “back from the brink” saves when they don’t let you know until they’re so ill they’re no longer able to hide it. So it takes observance, and a daily familiarity with their habits and behaviors, to know if something’s not quite right. A little testiness with others, or a quieter than usual demeanor, or the holy grail for the dogs: off their feed (red alert!) and the sheep: separating themselves from the herd (don’t panic yet, but hovering rightthere).

Lorna and her babies; these two lambs were probably the only reason she pulled through after a very difficult assisted birth.

Lorna and her babies; these two lambs were probably the only reason she pulled through after a very difficult assisted birth.

For me, I’ve found I’ve had all of these symptoms: less patience, less social and more isolation from others, off my feed (sure I have reserves, but for a Finn–we’re good eaters–to go off their feed is major stuff!). Less patience with the prima donna project managers at the office; the ones who think you’re sitting at your desk drying your nails, just waiting for them to unload their project with the impossible deadline on your desk. No, actually, I have six other project deliverables I’m working on, thanks though. This is always great when it’s followed by some version of adult business-civil temper tantrum. Drop everything and make my Most Important Project your priority. Yay. Normally I can shrug these off, and even laugh at them. Lately I’ve found myself snapping at them and their ridiculous expectations. Oops.

Yeah, you maybe should back off.

Yeah, you maybe should back off.

But it’s winding down to the diagnosis now; and the autoimmune factor is coming to the forefront, which is okay. Sarcoidosis is something I can work with, and have good hope that with some mitigation I’ll be as good as new by the end of the summer. I also believe, though I doubt I could get anyone in the medical community to agree, that this wasn’t just a long-time-coming diagnosis, but a progression of several of the horses in this race, including the starting gun: the tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis vaccine I got two weeks before my symptoms started. I’m still kicking myself for agreeing to that (my cat had accidentally (not aggression-related) scratched my ear open to the cartilage). My last booster was less than 10 years ago, but the doctor felt this was a risk (and was my cat vaccinated? – what do feline vaccines have to do with a scratch?).

And because I do believe that Farmer's Lung is still a concern, I purchased this attractive accessory for feeding the sheep and chickens.  It's hugely helpful and protects my lungs from dust and mold. Yaasss.

And because I do believe that Farmer’s Lung is still a concern, I purchased this attractive accessory for feeding the sheep and chickens. It’s hugely helpful and protects my lungs from dust and mold. Yaasss.

With this depression of my immune system, a the constant puff of fine hay dust and mold spores while feeding the sheep had just the opening they needed, and Farmer’s Lung strolled in the door and settled in for a stay. Then, as I gasped through January and February, feeding and caring for the beasts as I struggled to get a breath, my body working hard to keep up with the demands of my daily chores, the autoimmune factor opened up (I already have one autoimmune disease – Hashimoto’s thyroiditis – and they say once you have one…) and Sarcoidosis came in the door I left open in my negligence. I know this is probably irrational hooey and makes no sense scientifically to anyone with a medical degree, but a weakened immune system is huge. It’s like putting out the welcome mat for all kinds of detritus. Being basically healthy and from good sturdy stock, my only fault being not getting enough sleep (and the incredible restorative powers therein), I’ve learned a valuable lesson to take me through the next half.

Love this dog to bits!

Love this dog to bits!

Farmer’s Lung and the power of good health {part 2}

Let me just start off by saying I am so sick of being sick. It’s miserable, and as debilitating emotionally as it is physically.

In one of the many instances of "the show must go on" category on the farm, today was shearing day, with the Iron Man, Eifion Morgan, who comes all the way from Wales every year for shearing season.

In one of the many instances of “the show must go on” category on the farm, today was shearing day, with Eifion Morgan, the man with the iron back, who comes all the way from Wales every year for shearing season.

And with that, I guess it’s obvious I’m not getting better.  I’ve had good days here and there—even two in a row last week (and the hope glows white hot at those times), but overall, I’d say I’m the same, maybe even a bit worse. And not sure what to do next.

Because here’s what I’ve found: The medical system just wants to swallow you whole and poop you out as a dried, dead turd. The machine of organized medicine, and all its players, seems to have no interest in you as a human being and is far too eager to push you into the “invalid” category.  And all that power you don’t even know that you hold when you’re healthy and well…poof! You are now just a patient (a word I’m not finding fits very well in either of it’s two meanings).  I’m sure my pulmonologist is brilliant and accomplished, but all I am to her and her staff is a pair of lungs, I think. There seems to be no sense of urgency and, with no pat answers (sorry!), no interest in really looking into anything beyond recommending more tests. While I realize the tests (all invasive at this point) do help to rule things out, I also think that to a large degree we’re chasing snipes. And I also realize that she, and all doctors, are busy and have an incredibly demanding job, with everyone they see being another needy patient. While I’m looking for a medical partner to finding my way back to full health, I find I’m running into the shock-to-my-sensibilities of just being the next invalid they’re seeing.  Invalid has two meanings: “sickly”and “not valid.” It’s kind of scary how quickly you’re moved into the second meaning when they really want to send you home with a pill and call it good.

Nutmeg and her sister after their first shearing.  The lambs (almost yearlings now) were all bleating for an hour or more afterwards, not recognizing their mamas or each other after shearing.

Nutmeg and her sister after their first shearing. The lambs (almost yearlings now) were all bleating for an hour or more afterwards, not recognizing their mamas or each other after shearing.

And here’s a bit of brilliance from my champion bestie, Laurie (the woman is a rock star, in too many ways to count):

“The problem is that one really needs to be one’s own advocate with medical professionals, and that’s hard to do when you’re not feeling well, and feeling on and off discouraged/depressed. Sometimes, in my jaded opinion, they count on that. I saw on PBS the other night a Frontline by the guy who wrote On Mortality [Atul Gawande – I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed several of his books], and he talked about the fact that doctors have a hard time dealing with people they can’t help. Someone who doesn’t fit into the pigeonholes they have in their brains is just a pain in the ass, because they get all their self-identification and professional satisfaction from those they can help. Understandable, but something that makes being one of those they’re not able to diagnose and “fix” pretty damned hard.”

Ah. Exactly.

The CT scan showed a number of things; the “ground glass” visual being the most marked for this non-medical professional.  The radiologist’s report went over all the things seen, and what they could be an indication of – many $40 words there.  It was obvious that this person had none of my history (symptoms) so s/he ran down the road with all the scary ones.  Well, they’re all scary, honestly, but the one that fits best, physical symptom-wise, is the hypersensitivity pneumonitis (aka Farmer’s Lung), of which nothing more was said beyond the single mention here.

Diffuse interstitial ground-glass disease pattern throughout both lungs, from apex to base, with patchy geographic areas of sparing and scattered bleb (cyst)-like lesions.

Diffuse ground-glass interstitial disease pattern is nonspecific. Major differential considerations, excluding CHF and diffuse pneumonia/pneumonitis, are lymphocytic interstitial pneumonia, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, lymphangiomomyomatosis,and Langerhans histiocytosis.

Lymphangiomyomatosis is less likely, since instead of multiple small cystic lesions, there are areas of less extensively involved ground-glass interstitial disease.

Mildly enlarged hilar and mediastinal lymph nodes which favors lymphocytic interstitial pneumonia (LIP). Sjogren’s syndrome is a much less likely diagnosis, mentioned for sake of completeness.

The lungs are clear of confluent lobar consolidation. Negative for pleural effusion or pneumothorax. Heart size within normal limits. Negative for pericardial effusion. Negative for thoracic aortic aneurysm or dissection.”

It’s good to know that the heart looks normal, because these days, she’s the only muscle getting a workout.  With the slightest exertion I’m gasping for breath, my heart pounding like I’ve run a marathon.  The rest of my muscles remain starved for oxygen, so I have to stop frequently to give everything a chance to catch up.  And that’s on a good day when I feel okay.

Now my work begins: 14 beautiful fleeces to skirt and ready for selling and/or processing.

Now my work begins: 14 beautiful fleeces to skirt and ready for selling and/or processing.

From here, as mentioned in my previous post, the doctor wanted to do a bronchoscopy with a lavage to collect cells, and some snipping at the lung tissue and lymph nodes for biopsy.  I’m not keen on that snipping stuff, though it may come to it yet.  I suggested a conservative approach and we did allergy testing.  And I’m not allergic to anything but bentgrass (what is that?), and that only mildly, and even more mildly, cottonwood (never had any problems with cottonwood).  All the heavy hitters – molds, bird proteins, cat and dog dander, pollens – nuthin’  That’s good, of course (and no surprise to me), but no answer for this Farmer’s lung I’ve diagnosed (hypersensitivity pneumonitis).

I have a follow up appointment next week, where the staff will again tell me to use the Flonase (prescribed by my GP, way back in December – looking for one of those pat answers) that doesn’t work, and to avoid cottonwoods (the farm is surrounded by no less than 50), and ask me the same questions they’ve asked me in the past. I guess no one’s writing anything down, because every time I come in, it’s like we have to start from scratch.

After suiting up and going into battle with the veterinary industry for my dogs (Cutter–over and over they tried to kill him–Farley, Hannah (tried to kill her too),  andWil (well, actually they did kill him, sniff), most especially; and all of them with the constant vaccines, heartworm “medication,” flea treatments, etc.), it’s time to do so for myself.  I’m keeping a diary of symptoms – my acute symptoms usually happen on the weekends (most often when I’m lying down – there’s something there…) though the recent days of mild, clear weather do seem to help. I’ve had the heating ducts cleaned to eliminate the crud blowing in the air in the house and now need to have someone come in and do the attic (vacuum out the old, gross blown-in insulation and all the rodent droppings it contains) and the crawlspace needs…something. The mold that’s integral to Farmer’s Lung disease is an exposure related issue, and I need to eliminate exposures, because “the stakes are high” is an understatement.

Gratuitous cuteness.  After shearing I was wiped out so came inside and made some soup and toast.  Daisy got to lick the can clean, and when we curled up on the sofa for a nap, she kept the can with her, like a drunk and his beer can.  Heart her!

Gratuitous cuteness. After shearing I was wiped out so came inside and made some soup and toast. Daisy got to lick the can clean, and when we curled up on the sofa for a nap, she kept the can with her, like a drunk and his beer can. Heart her!

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Farmer’s Lung and the power of good health {part 1 of 2}

Got home from work in time to see this the other day - days are growing longer! Weee!

Got home from work in time to see this the other day – days are growing longer! Weee!

I’ve always been a person blessed with good health. Other than the usual occasional cold or flu, or the rare intestinal disturbance (food poisoning), I’ve been relatively trouble-free for my whole life (aside from some chronic ear infection stuff as a toddler). I’m a both feet on the ground, steady as she goes type. I mainly go for hiking and walking, and plenty of work around the farmstead—lifting, pushing, carrying heavy objects, raking, digging, hoeing, and the infrequent wrestle with a recalcitrant sheep. I’ve had my share of bumps and bruises, muscle aches and strains, and then there’s the old ski injury that crops up (bad sprain of my right ankle in my mid-teens), and knee joints that gripe a bit. And all the stuff that comes with time and, perhaps, not enough regular activity and maintenance of muscles. Like a lot of people, I tend to be a weekend warrior type, especially during the winter when daylight hours are scarce and the weather is unwelcoming. And a few stiff muscles after a busy weekend is usually my only payment. I’ve always been thankful for my sturdy stock genetics, feeling lucky more than once at how tough and trouble free my body has been. No allergies, no gut issues or skin issues, just all around good health, for lo these many years. And of course, even as I’m thankful, I’ve also taken my good health for granted, not nurturing my body as I should. While I eat well (whole, real foods, mostly organic, low carb and not a lot of junk or sugar), I tend towards overeating and also sleep deprivation (by choice and probably my biggest abuse). I’ve not worked at keeping consciously toned as I travel my middle years and the rebound after a weekend of overuse isn’t as quick.

So I find myself with not one but two health issues right now that have been turning my crank for the past few months, and really realizing, like for real, just how good I’ve had it all these years. One is less concerning, especially as this other has reared its head, and while it seemed debilitating when I first noticed it back in September or so—a sharp pain in my left forearm when I rotated my hand/wrist to the inside (diagnosed as tennis elbow when I finally went to the doctor two months later)—it’s now finally healing as a perverse side effect of the other, more threatening issue.

Came to work one day and found this as I unloaded my backpack.  Farley's handiwork, and a reminder of where I'd rather be (at home tossing this endlessly for him).  He so sly.

Came to work one day and found this as I unloaded my backpack. Farley’s handiwork, and a reminder of where I’d rather be (at home tossing this endlessly for him). He so sly.

The doctor prescribed a special brace for my arm, a prescription of naproxen and a muscle relaxer, and a recommendation for PT. The naproxen made me dizzy and the brace and PT are helpful, but really, what my arm needs is rest. No feeding sheep, no hauling hay, no toting a 3-gallon chicken waterer up the hill to the coop, or a bucket of feed out there. No raking or yard work, no cleaning of the sheep pen. In short, no farm work, and of course this is impossible. Or so I thought.

In late November I had a few days off around Thanksgiving. I was home and enjoying time with the dogs, and each day would take one of them out for a long walk to the river and back. The river was in flood stage mode, so it was fun to go see each day’s development. On the second or third day, I walked part way there and ran into a brick wall of just zero stamina. I’d never felt this feeling before, so of course I kept going. I had Daisy with me, and she can pull pretty good, so once we got up the steepest hill it got a little easier. Still, it was a weird feeling, like all of a sudden I just couldn’t go another step. That evening I felt a little under the weather; maybe this was a touch of flu?  No congestion or coughing, no sore throat or any other typical flu symptoms, but the low/no energy was strange. I realized I wasn’t able to get a deep breath, and felt some heart palpitations, but attributed this to my thyroid condition (I get these symptoms frequently on the medication to treat hypothyroidism). Over the next few days and weeks I became more aware of symptoms: loss of stamina, inability to get my breath, chilled at night where I could not get warm, then, when I finally did warm up after huddling under a blanket for a couple of hours, it was like I’d stepped into a furnace, and I roasted for the next several hours. My skin would become ultra-sensitive during these cold/hot sessions, like when you have the flu and just the touch of your clothes is irritating. My appetite was down, and even when I was hungry, nothing sounded good to eat (VERY unusual for this chow hound) and I had intermittent, mild to not so mild, headaches . Finally, frustrated (and, honestly, a little scared), I went to the doctor with my grab bag of symptoms. It had been going on for three weeks by this point. I left the doctor’s office with another prescription—this time for an inhaler (bronchodilator). “So am I asthmatic now?” I asked, incredulous, and got the verbal equivalent of a shrug. WTF?

Daisy's handiwork.  Stole it off the coffee table, where I'd left it the night before.  You'd think she was a puppy or something.  Heart her!

Daisy’s handiwork. Stole it off the coffee table, where I’d left it the night before. You’d think she was a puppy or something. Heart her!

The inhaler didn’t help (and the icky, jittery side effects made it something I avoid anyway), and the symptoms continued. A week or so later I went back, even more frustrated. The mildest exertion would have me gasping like a landed trout, and feeding the sheep was like I’d run a marathon. All my chores slowed down to glacial speed, just so I could breathe. Even so, I’d often have to stop to catch my breath, trying to get enough air when it felt like only half my lungs were working and my windpipe burned like I’d just run a quarter mile in subfreezing temperatures. Actually, I need to change that last sentence to present tense, because little has changed. Going back to the doctor had little effect – chest x-rays, labwork, ultrasound, all is completely normal. A week’s worth of azithromycin did nothing. So then it was off to the pulmonary specialist. I went in for a breath test first, and nearly flunked, with the tester-gal threatening me with having to come back if I didn’t get a decent result by 4:30, and she was “booked solid next week.” Of course the passive aggressive attitude from her did little to improve my results (breathing into a little tube, sometimes with no oxygen available because they shut the valve off on purpose), but in the end (9 times through the test) it seemed we got enough results the doctor would be able to work with.

The actual visit with the pulmonologist was a bit of a bust from my perspective. A few questions where she didn’t seem to listen to my answers. “What else.” She prompted, and again “What else” as I struggled to remember the weird grab bag of symptoms that went with not being able to breathe for the past two months (none of which were typical with regard to lung health – no congestion, no mucous, no coughing, no sneezing, no runny nose or eyes – nothing). She kept asking me about any unusual rashes or swelling (ankles or legs or joint), trying to zero in on something, but I had nothing to give her there, there were none. Time for a CT scan.

The sheep, waiting out a rain squall.  You can see the seasonal stream in the background.  Lots of  sky water this year and the hillside is drenched.

The sheep, waiting out a rain squall under the cedars. You can see the seasonal stream in the background. Lots of sky water this year and the hillside is drenched.

Of course as this went on, I talked to a few friends and whined more than I’d like to say. The difficulty breathing progressed to levels that got a little scary at times (since I’m here by myself), with the basic chores reducing me to near-gasping, and even feeling out of breath while lying in bed at night. My friend Laurie, though many states away, has been my staunch support, researching like a fiend (she’s a stupendous researcher). My brother recommended a dehumidifier. I didn’t really get that (thinking, it’s not a typical upper respiratory infection) but took it into consideration. I searched symptoms over and over, with a focus on zoonotic disease. With the dogs, cats, sheep, chickens, and their various and sundry diseases, I’ve never felt threatened by something transferring from them to me since most diseases and parasites are pretty host specific. Well, that viewpoint has changed somewhat, though I’m still not worried that much. For a while though, everything I came up with made me wonder how I’d survived living with and caring for them as long as I have. But still, nothing fit the weird collection of symptoms I had. Every 5 -7 days I was laid low with it, barely able to function some weekends. One day while conversing with my friend Karen she repeated (as she had weeks ago, as my brother suggested, and as Laurie had mentioned early on as well), it really sounds like mold allergies (she has horses, so knows her moldy hay). When I hear the word allergies I think sneezing, coughing, runny nose and eyes, etc. Nothing like this has happened, so when these friends and family had mentioned mold allergies I kind of went “yeah, yeah…” But out of desperation and what the hell, I plugged in mold allergies into the search engine…and almost immediately came up with the “ding, ding, ding” of jackpot.  Huh?  And huh.  Because for mold allergies, we’re into a whole other ball game. And this is kinda serious stuff. Shit.

Dust mask after a week with the dusty hay; before I started wearing this (like for two months with this hay) all this was going right into my lungs.  It's insidious.  And, in some cases, essentially deadly.

Dust mask after a week with the dusty hay; before I started wearing this (like for two months with this hay) all this was going right into my lungs. It’s insidious. And, in some cases, essentially deadly.

I now have a dehumidifier.  And while I’ve been careful to wear a dust mask while feeding the sheep, I only started doing this two or three weeks after the initial onset of symptoms. Like anyone who feeds hay to livestock, I’ve broken open my share of moldy bales, often with a puff of weird smelling dust to the face; some where it’s just a small section, others where the bale turns out to be mostly compost. And the dusty hay!  The two tons of hay I had delivered in October was probably some of the dustiest hay I’d had in a while. Nearly every bale had at least one 5-gallon bucket of chaff and green powder to be swept off the floor. And there was some mold too. I fed the last of that batch by early January, but by then the damage was done.

Right now all signs point to hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and more specifically in my case, Farmer’s Lung. A pretty serious diagnosis, and one I’m still researching. My CT scan was done (Laurie is researching the results there – lots of $40 words on the radiologist’s report, and my god can this woman research! I am blessed!) and after reviewing the results with me the pulmonologist wants to…wait for it…do more testing!  Specifically, a broncoscopy with lavage (this actually sounds good) and biopsy of lung tissue and two lymph nodes (this does not). I’m loathe to have them start cutting on me, and since these tests will likely only rule out some of those $40-word potential diagnoses and not supply a diagnosis themselves, I asked if we could start conservatively with some blood tests to check for mold and bird allergies (in addition to a coop full of chickens I also have a couple of budgies in a large cage the house, with me and the 7 carnivores).  It helped that I was having the best day I’d had, symptom-wise, in probably a month or more on the day that I saw her. Not coincidentally, we were experiencing our third day of sunshine/no rain after what seemed like weeks of rain.

I’m so ready to be back to 100% health, and look forward to taking even better care of myself, to stay strong and healthy as I head towards the second half of my fifth decade. I’m still working on how I’ll do this (there is no cure for Farmer’s Lung, and no treatment other than removing the offending matter; and if you don’t, it’s curtains), but trust me, I will figure it out.

Next post: CT test results and allergy testing and the great, gaping maw of the U.S. medical system.  And let me just say, I now understand why Dr. House’s patients always arrived to his care half-dead.

This post's gratuitous cuteness photo: Because Pal doesn't play with toys or balls, and because he doesn't chew up household items, we just get to see him, not his handiwork.  My good little birddog.

This post’s gratuitous cuteness photo:
Because Pal doesn’t play with toys or balls, and because he doesn’t chew up household items, we just get to see him, not his handiwork. My good little birddog.

Making every day count

A dear friend sent me this card several years ago; it’s becoming more and more true as time goes on. I have it pinned to my wall at work.

It seems to be a phenomenon as you get older: the acceleration of time. When you are 9 years old and are granted an extra hour past your bedtime, it’s as if you got a week.  After school is out in June, the summer off stretches like the Serengeti in its endless horizons.  Now, decades later, an hour goes by in five minutes, and three months would barely be enough time to get caught up on sleep, and maybe one project out of the five on your Big List.  The time warp that comes with having too many things to do in not enough time is real, and also a product of our increased responsibilities and the age we live in, where demands come from all directions, and we end up staring at a 3”x 4” device in our hand to escape it all (which of course, only makes the loss of time more acute).  The key, it seems, is staying present.

This weekend went by much too quickly, as they tend to do. I spent all day Saturday at the Cattleman’s Winterschool and Country Living Expo, a regional event for those of us farm-minded. What seems like hundreds of classes are offered, everything from “Introduction to Turkeys” and “Repairing Small Engines” to “Beginning Pork: Raising Pastured Pigs,” “Sheep Necropsy,” and “Chainsaws for Women,” and you get to pick 5 (one hour each, plus lunch). I’ve been to this several times, though it’s been a couple years since I’ve gone.  The last time I went it turned out to be a frustrating waste of time; the event has grown exponentially, and the growing pains being that some classes offered really aren’t suitable for a one hour session, others where the volunteer instructor doesn’t really know how to stay on track with time.  Two years ago 3 out of 5 classes were a complete waste of time (one had a substitute instructor that didn’t have any agenda; another was barely into the first page of the multi-page handout at 45 minutes in…).  I was so aggravated at the waste of time and money that I swore I wouldn’t go back.  I skipped last year, and heard about several very good classes that I missed.  So I decided to try again this year.  I was a little smarter about my choices.  Instead of just choosing topics that interested me, of which there are many, I also quantified it by asking myself “can this topic be adequately covered in one hour?”  There are several two session classes, more this year than ever, so there is the realization that not every topic can be covered in 60 minutes.  This year I only had one class that didn’t work.  Instead of toughing it out and getting frustrated, I left and changed to another class I was also interested in (this was over the lunch periods, so was doable), which I was much happier about.  Even so, the second class was a bit of a hash as the dual instructors, who were both extremely knowledgeable on their topic, didn’t have any kind of linear agenda, and were also blown off course quickly by the myriad questions.  So many questions in fact that it ended up almost as if there were two classes being taught side by side.  They came back together in the end, and the information was such that I didn’t expect much (i.e., I knew this would only be a ‘dip your toe in’ sort of class, not any real learning), and felt satisfied at the end.

Temple Grandin at Cattlemen's Winterschool and Country Living Expo - a great talk!

Temple Grandin at Cattlemen’s Winterschool and Country Living Expo – a great talk!

One of this year’s highlights was the two-session talk by Temple Grandin, well known in the animal community for her groundbreaking information on humane handling (especially livestock, but all species, including dogs).  She was humorous and passionate, and though most of the information I already knew from reading her books, it was delightful to see her in person. The last two classes of the day were the best, and mostly because of the instructor, who not only knew his stuff, but was a natural instructor.  He had excellent information that was clearly presented, and with a relaxed, easy manner (even with humor! Always a plus); and even with lots of questions he was able to stay on track.  It seemed he crammed much more into his one hour than any of the other instructors were able to.  It was a good lesson even beyond the information being presented.  All in all it was a good day, if long.  I was able to hook up with people I knew—the plus of doing this for several years now is that I’m meeting and getting to know more and more in the sheep community.  One gal there this weekend was a name I’d heard over and over and over (and who actually lives quite close to me), and when I saw her I went and introduced myself.  It was nice to finally say hello, put a face to the name, and make one more connection in the ever widening community of shepherds.

Sunday morning with the gang.

Sunday morning with the gang.

I was, by some miracle, able to make it home in time to get to the feed store (only 10 minutes to spare!) thus saving a trip out today. So, after a lazy morning catching up on some sleep and book reading, I went outside and did some garage cleaning/unloaded the hay and straw I bought last night, cleaned and freshened the bedding in the sheep shed, and cleaned and filled feeders and waterers for the sheep and chickens, and added some enrichment treats to all as well.

Some spent hay and straw with cracked corn thrown in, fun to scratch for goodies.

Some spent hay and straw with cracked corn thrown in, fun to scratch for goodies.

As the weekend winds up (I still have about two hours of work I brought home from the office that I need to get to), it feels productive and full, and like maybe it didn’t go by as quickly as some others, where I didn’t get as much done.  A good weekend, with just the right balance of stuff and nothing, and a good reminder to make it count.

Love to wake up to this view.

Love to wake up to this view.

Building and fixing, part 2 {in which I amaze myself}

Measure twice, cut again.

Measure twice, cut again.

My accomplishments from the past year started with my mailbox. It was knocked down one night about a year ago by someone who backed into it (from what I could tell by the tire tracks down the driveway). It threw me for a tailspin—oh dear, what to do, what to do—and after looking for someone (a man) to help me (wanted to hire someone) I realized I would have to do it myself. And I did! A 3-foot-deep post hole, quick-crete, and a bag or two of gravel plus a little phone coaching from a male friend and the new one is WAY better than the one that got knocked down. What a rush! I put reflectors on the side of the post, to hopefully make it more visible. So far so good.

View from the post hole.

View from the post hole.

This summer I decided to get serious about building a hay feeder for the sheep. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post or six, the ongoing issue of wasted hay and ruined fleeces has created this ongoing Grail-like quest for The Perfect Sheep Feeder.  One that also fits my small farm, set up, and doesn’t set me back a half-a-month’s pay.  As a sheep friend says, “if there was one, someone would surely have thought of it long before us.” But I was getting desperate. After first Googling images for sheep feeders, I was led to a blog that had something that looked promising.  I went to Home Depot, excited to get started, and left in tears of frustration, again, at the lack of/or useless help there (it’s like I’m wearing Precious when I’m in there) and I almost gave up. Then, mulling over my options, in a flash of genius I decided to go to a local lumber store chain, Dunn Lumber. And after my experience there, I am now a fan of Dunn Lumber. For. Life. Not only did the staff there know what they were doing, they were actually willing and able to help me, taking my crudely sketched plans and dimensions and helping me refine measurements and quantity needed.  AND, to top it off, they cut all the lumber into the exact sizes needed.  This is HUGE for me, since cutting with the circular saw—especially plywood sheets—is a bit of a challenge.

The frame.  And Farley's soggy tennis ball.

The frame. And Farley’s soggy tennis ball.

The help.

The help.

It’s not the prettiest feeder in the world (built without a t-square…now I get why you need one), but it works.  I was so jazzed with my accomplishment that I went back a week later and got more wood plus wheels (and instructions and parts for installing them) for a portable version to use in the pasture.  Dunn Lumber ROCKS!  I purchased a t-square for this one, though you can’t really tell.  I was winging it, flush with my success, and didn’t really have a good plan drawn up.  The lambs’ propensity to hop inside the feeder (where it doubled as a toilet when they felt the need) caused most of the “hash” effects, as I added more slats, somewhat haphazardly, to keep them out.  Oh well.  It works, and the sheep aren’t complaining.

Barely installed and a huge hit from the start.

Barely installed and a huge hit from the start.

After my triumphs with the hay feeders (I built two functioning hay feeders – ME!), I finally tackled the downspout in the sheep shed.  The fellow I hired 4 years ago never finished it, and I’ve been puzzling out how to do it for most of that time.  I needed to attach to the French drain, and then figure out the over, around and down angle to the part that goes from the gutter to the down drain, and on top of it all, make it all both sheep proof and sheep safe.  Wa-Laa!  [sp]  Again, it’s not perfect, but it fills all the requirements and it works!

Form follows function...right?  It ain't pretty but it works.

Form follows function…right? It ain’t pretty but it works.

This November my Krups espresso maker blew a gasket.  I didn’t realize at the time that was literally the truth of it, and just figured that after 8 or 9 years it had just reached the end of the line.  I did some research and bought a new espresso maker – different make and model – and was underwhelmed with the results.  It sat next to the mothballed Krups (I wasn’t sure how/where to toss the Krups, looking for a small appliance recycler). The replacement was all jazzy and shiny-new, cute and round, but mostly it was plastic cheapness and took two forevers to make a single mocha. I didn’t want to spend a lot, since I only make, at most, two mochas a week, but still, I debated what to do with it—return or just live with it.

Shredded.

Shredded.

I tipped the old Krups over one Saturday, desperately thinking (after the Chinese fire drill of making a mocha on the new model) that maybe it just needed a good cleaning or something.  And I found the rubber gasket, nearly shredded with deterioration after hundreds and hundreds of espresso shots over the past 8 years or so.  I found a replacement gasket online for $2.50 (with postage almost twice that); I got it a week later and was in business.  I returned the new, replacement model, and saved myself $80 in the process (ultimately $180, since the replacement model Krups runs nearly $200).  Yay me!

Insert Aerosmith soundtrack.  Do do do dih, do do dih doo.... Back in the Saddle agaiiin.

Insert Aerosmith soundtrack. Do do do do, do do do dooo…. Back in the Saddle agaiiin.

Also in November I had to change a flat tire on my car for the first time in my life.  It doesn’t sound like much maybe, but it was another of those “wow, really I got this” moments (with the owners manual instructions and a little pep-talk coaching from friends via Facebook).  It was in my own driveway, so even though it was dark out, I was able to do it safely and then head to the gas station for air, then to the tire store the next morning for a patch.  I did it all by myself instead of calling for roadside assistance and was quite proud of myself.  It was a huge sense of accomplishment for me, as this kind of thing has always been firmly in the “man job” territory.

Not quite Aerosmith or Rocky - yet!  I got this.

Not quite Aerosmith or Rocky – yet! I got this.

Lastly, I fixed my refrigerator.  Sort of.*  It’s been having this issue of ice forming in the bottom of the freezer compartment, and when there’s too much water, the shallow depression overflows and leaks out the door onto the floor (causing some warping to the wood floor there).  I Googled the issue, wondering what the heck it could be on a not-even-five-year-old refrigerator.  I found an appliance website with some great tutorial videos that explained what was happening.  [And may I just say what a great time to be alive this is, with this kind of information literally at your fingertips?] I purchased the part I thought I needed (mail order again, but less than $30 compared to a minimum 5x that amount for a repairman, and that’s not including lost income from the time away from work waiting) and dithered about getting to it.  One thing or another intervened, but I finally had time to pull the freezer all apart, melt the ice on the coils behind the metal sheeting in back, and then go around to the back to replace the valve underneath where the water normally should drain out.  The p-trap part I bought was actually exactly what was already installed (without even looking I had just figured my fridge was exactly like the one in the YouTube video), so I just made sure the line was clear and put everything back together.  I’m not sure why the drain hole froze shut, but have a feeling it may have been during a power outage, where just enough melted before the power came back on and then froze in place.  It doesn’t really make sense, but I’ll keep an eye on it.  Now that I know I can do it.  It wasn’t a piece of cake, but it was easy.

*Fridge update.  The drain hole froze up again within two weeks of my thaw/repair so it was back to Google.  I think I found the solution and I have a plan.  And if it works, I’ll need to write a letter to the Whirlpool refrigerator engineers (Fail!).

Gratuitous cuteness. My Daisy-woo.

Gratuitous cuteness. My Daisy-woo.

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