Mo Bloggin'

A little o' this, a little o' that

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 cause then 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.

Building and fixing and musing on the puzzle of inequality, in 2 parts

New post

New post

So I began this post about two weeks ago, with an idea of what I wanted to say and within two paragraphs is was off the rails into a bit of a screed.  I followed the words as the keyboard was hot, realizing it wasn’t a piece I’d probably post on this blog but still enjoying the fire.  I saved the original and modified some of it for use here, because the core reason for writing it is still the same.  Off we go…

It’s always puzzled me how women could be considered second class citizens in most of the modern world.  Indeed, since the time of the cave man women have been #2 in most all societies.  Sure, we were also treated with respect, chivalry, even reverence if one happened to be a monarch, even as we were beaten and treated as possessions.  But how was it that we became #2?  I mean we, who can produce Another. Human. Being. are considered “less than” our male counterparts.  Not as smart, not as strong, not as worthy.  WTF?

Building

Building

One hopes this is changing, ever so slowly, but frankly, once humans learned that “it takes two to tango” (i.e., insemination to make a baby), it’s been a downward spiral for women, once revered for that baby-making magic, with the tides only turning—somewhat—in “first world” societies.  For eons, women, with VERY few exceptions, have not been equal in the views of religions, governments, and society in general.  This inequality is especially acute to those of us who farm, and who know, without hesitation, that it’s the female of the species—cow, ewe, hen, doe, sow, mare—that is the most valuable animal on the farm.  Sure, a bull or a buck or a stallion, a ram or rooster, may be the flashiest, or most sought after initially, but if you don’t have the cow or the ewe or the doe or the sow or the hen or the mare—hopefully of quality—you are dead in the water.  The female stock are what the farmer keeps, and what the farmer breeds for.  A bull calf, cockerel, buckling or a ram lamb? – an overwhelming majority are destined for the barbecue grill.  Oh, and my hive full of honeybees?  All females at this time of year, without exception.  The drones have one purpose and at summers end are no longer needed.  Oh.

Tire punctured by rock

Tire punctured by rock

So why does this all come up, here and now?  Because I, your not-so-humble FEMALE blog host, has been doing some building.  And fixing.  And having minor revelations—heck, major revelations—as I produce something I’ve needed, or fix something for a fraction of the cost it would take to replace it.  And with every one of these projects, I get it.  I get why men, lord bless them, are so, ahem, cocksure.  Why, in my society (North America) at least, they seem to be born with an inherent confidence that it’s taken me the better part of half a century to even consider for myself.

Fixing

Fixing

Going it solo for the past two decades (by choice, thank you), I’ve come around to the realization that not everything can be hired out.  Sometimes it’s a matter of finances and other times, most times, a matter of “can you really do this to the quality I expect for the price that I’m paying?”  I have to admit, I have been spoiled.  Growing up with three brothers, each with “man” talents of varying degrees (one a fantastic musician/photographer, one a naturalist/grower, one a builder/artist and musician) then being married (or at least partnered with) for over a decade to a builder/artistic pragmatist of uncommonly brilliant common sense, one sees that there are strengths (and, by design?, weaknesses) to how the male brain works.  And of course the same thing can be said of female brains.  Our strengths and weaknesses happen to complement those reptilian male brains (just quoting science here, guys, not making any judgments), though it seems to be less valued, and perhaps that’s also a product of reptilian thinking.  How we’ve let it get this far is beyond me.  If I’d had children of my own perhaps I would understand better and this would all be moot, for the accomplishment of birthing and raising a compassionate, considerate human being to a productive member of society is an experience not on my resume, having realized early on that motherhood wasn’t for me (nurturing, yes; just not humans).

Building and fixing both

Building and fixing both

But with every home or farm project I complete, I understand a little more that “man thing.”  Because it is a complete RUSH to build something from nothing, with only an idea in your head to start.  Or fix something that seemed unfixable without help (by a man, of course).  Sure, I’m probably late to the party—plenty of chicks have always been fixer upper types.  I haven’t been, and actually have little skill in the “crafts” department too, generally considered a woman’s realm (sewing or knitting or quilting or scrapbooking type stuff).  And while I’m sure plenty of men have self-doubt and are unsure of themselves at times, they also seem to have an innate boldness and sureness that seems to be lost in young women, with few exceptions, once they hit puberty.  Whether this is nature or nurture (societal/cultural) is beyond the scope of this post, though with the boldness and sassiness of little girls, one has to assume that in the majority it’s the latter.  A few more shop classes are in order, I think.  It’s what the boys are doing when they’re going over the rocks of puberty and I think there’s something to it.  Cause I’m telling ya, gals, with a little practice, this stuff is easy, and the satisfaction is enough to have you pumping your fists and running up the “Rocky Steps” of the Philadelphia Art Museum.  Gonna fly now!

Part two will follow shortly, to explain the projects pictured here, and why each one of them gave me more confidence than the next. In the meantime here’s some gratuitous cuteness.

Haystack Farley

Haystack Farley

Cold weather + frozen mud = happy days!

Frosty fleece

Frosty fleece

It’s been bitterly cold for several days now and I have to say, I’m good with it.  It’s getting up around 35 F by late afternoon, and dipping down to low 20s at night.  For us that’s really cold, especially considering this is the second such freeze in the past month.  But I was good with that one too.

Full to the brim. The mighty Snoqualmie at flood stage 2-ish.

It rained nearly all of last week, coming down in buckets most notably on Friday, where I woke up to the sound of steady, fairly hard rain at dawn, and it came down like that for another eight hours.  And, after a wet Tuesday and Wednesday, which had the river up and brimming and low-lying areas of roadway overtopped with water (resulting in road closures for the Wednesday afternoon commute – you can bet I was singing a song of thankfulness for taking that day off!), Friday was almost worse than all that.  By steady rain I mean solid drops, without slowing down.  Not a heavy downpour/deluge, but not a gentle, old fashioned Pacific Northwest drizzle, either.  I’d planned on taking Daisy for a walk that day, possibly with her cart, but as the morning wore on and drifted into afternoon, the rain wasn’t slowing down.

Squirrel on point.

Shhh, Pal’s hunting. There’s a squirrel. just. over. there. (The mark of a true hunter: stillness.)

I’d had Pal out on Wednesday in the wet but not actively raining afternoon, and Farley out on Thursday, wetter, but still not pouring (though the river was down a bit), but with Friday’s nonstop drops it was looking less and less likely for me and Daisy.  I still hadn’t gone out to check on the sheep and chickens, though views out the window told me they were fine, and I knew the food supply should be adequate for each (loaded up the feeders the night before, as I usually do).  Still, we were all getting a little stir crazy.  The dogs had been out a couple times for potty runs, spending enough time running around that they came in soaked—each trip in was a two-towel rubdown when they came inside, complete with a floor wipe up (Farley especially likes to cover as much ground as possible with those wet paws, slopping wet as he walkwalkwalks back and forth all over the place).

Farley found something as the water recedes.

Farley found something as the water recedes.

 

Ark-worthy.

Ark-worthy.

It suddenly cooled down late on Friday and I wasn’t surprised to see some snowflakes coming down with the rain.  I was surprised, however, to wake up to active snowfall the next morning.  It snowed until about 9:00; wet slop, but a couple inches of snow nonetheless.  Daisy ran outside in excitement, the boys right behind her.  More towels.  And then it got cold.  The clouds swept away (with enough wind to cause power outages locally, though thankfully I got away with a DVR busting diiiiiip dip dip, but not even enough to “reset” all the LED clocks – whew!) and the sun shone and it got cold fast.  The ground was frozen by Saturday night and as I drove home from a family gathering that night, I was like an old granny on the last few miles of highway (I’d seen it glistening wet in the sun on the way out and was concerned about black ice).  I pulled in the driveway, disturbing the sheep in a group at the top of the drive (I’d left them out that day).  They leave sheep-sized clear spots in the frosty, snowy ground, where their warmth dissolves the freezing.

 

Cherry Valley becomes Cherry Lake.

Cherry Valley becomes Cherry Lake.

Sunday was just as cold, and clear and beautiful as could be.  Finally it was time for Daisy’s walk.  We went down to the river, as I’d done with the boys, after first walking through town to drop off a library book, and we had a great time.  It was the perfect way to end a week off work.  We came home and while Daisy threw herself down the frozen hillside on her back (she loves to slide down the hill when the ground is frozen) I fed the sheep in the blue twilight, luring them back into their pen with a scoop of grain in the feeder, made sure the chooks had enough food, and we headed inside with the boys to snuggle on the sofa and watch a movie, not a single towel needed to wipe down muddy paws or sop up wet fur.  It was cold and dry and clean and wonderful.

Daisy found the water receding even more.

Daisy found the water receding even more.

Relaunching the blog

129I think this is the longest I’ve gone without posting, but the handwriting has obviously been on the wall (note to self: look up where that saying came from!) for, oh, the past year, with long gaps between my posts, and not even catching up with everything then (cause how could you?).  As another blogger said, I write a blog post every day, it just doesn’t always make it out of my head. I have good intentions, then time takes over (not enough of it) or just a lack of drive when it comes to actually sitting down and putting fingers to keyboard. I’ve even thought about getting one of those voice recognition software programs, where you just speak and it types for you. I still may, someday, but in the little bit of “don’t forget this moment/observation” recordings I’ve done on my smart phone, well, I’m not seeing the speaking of writing as something that’s going to work well (and I have some cringe-worthy recordings to prove it), but that’s a post for another day.

My purpose here today is to relaunch the blog with new focus and direction, up to and including the possibility of a second blog to hone in on…something.  When I started this blog, lo those many years ago (almost 6 years now), I was kind of using it as a way to record my journey from selling one home after living there two decades to finding my new place.  The search for the new place, or The Hunt, as my category states, was the goal, with various riffs along the way about the dogs and my life in general. After I found the new place, I of course blogged about it and all the things I was doing, from fencing to home improvements, along with the addition of the sheep, the bees, the garden, and everything else I’ve been doing here. Soon the care and feeding of everything I’m doing here at the farm became too much to keep up with, with regards to regular blogging.  Or I got lazy about it. Or both.

But I find myself now looking for community.  I love it here, even as I yearn for more—the embarrassing truth—and am looking for ways to connect with others with the same values and dreams, as well as pursuing those dreams myself.  At the top of the list of course, is the somewhat nebulous desire to work from home (I’ve written of this before; the desire is real, the nebulous part is not having any idea if/how I can do this), and to somehow make a living without having to leave for eight or ten hours, with a crappy, planet-killing commute to and from those eight hours elsewhere.  (Thankfully the job I’m commuting to is one I like, with coworkers and an employer I like, so it’s not torturous by any means (just the commute).  So I strive for those connections with others, especially those others that are following their passion and living the dream in a way more in line with my own vision of this for myself.

She makes it very hard to leave every day.

She makes it very hard to leave every day.

I can talk myself out of anything—one of the things I’m really, really good at.  Let’s call it my Virgo moon, always carping and critiquing and seeing what doesn’t work.  Why this could triumph over my Scorpio sun and ascendant is beyond me (well, it’s obviously deeper than three signs in my natal astrological chart) but here I sit, second guessing my abilities, and even my deserve level.  I have so much, have accomplished so much in this pursuit of my little farm, who am I to want more? Why is this not enough?  Am I just greedy?  Why can’t I make this soggy, shady, northwest facing hillside work for me?  And just what do I want?  More land (greedy), better exposure and location (ingrate), more outbuildings and easier access to all the systems to adequately care for it.  For example, currently my compost dump for dumping the soiled bedding and manure from the sheep shed consists of traversing the hillside, across and down, in a slippery, wobbly crossing of 50 yards with a loaded wheelbarrow, dumping said barrow (without losing it over the edge), then wrestling it back up the hill to the shed to be refilled.  Right now six fillings/traverses is about my limit before it starts to get dangerous due to fatigue.  A fall or clonked knee or shin or bashed ankle are usually all I get, but they add up over time, and I sit here typing with a tendonitis issue in my forearm that I’ve been nursing for several months now.  It limits nearly everything I do, and though I’ve curtailed activity and babied it (and completely avoided needed fall chores), it still aches.  I have an appointment for physical therapy next week and am hoping to get back on track soon.

Okay, so this post has taken a completely different direction than the one I intended when I started it (a week ago).  A week ago I was high with the inspiration provided by having gone to a couple of local events where I put myself in the company of those doing what they love—small businesses and blog writers growing a business, people working with wool—the product I grow—and the community around that.  The cynic has since come out, and I see that all of them have partners—usually a husband—who also contributes to the bottom line by providing an income separate from these small businesses.  Meaning, if they failed, they wouldn’t be destitute and out on the street.  Hard decisions would have to be made, no question, but in the meantime they have the luxury of building their business without it as the only income to pay the mortgage or feed the family.

050

Minnie’s twins, Mungo and Trixie – trust me, they’re even more adorable in person.


So what can I do to follow my own passions, to find more contentment in what I’m doing rather than this blasted, near-constant yearning for something more, something closer to “it.”  I have many ideas, and the plan is to get them out of my head and get some action around them.  A lot of the ideas around growing things, be it wool, medicinal herbs, birds of the poultry variety, or green matter (veggies, native plants) may not work here.  I was at an event on Thursday that gave me ideas, ideas that require more work (meaning I need to get my arm better).  I want to increase my beeyard, and plan a medicinal herb and native plant garden (already have a buyer for one of the natives that grows here…if I can part with it), and get some structure—planning and organization–around the sheep products – raw fleeces and wool.  And, lastly, some action around my writing.  Because according to that astrological chart, that’s my Golden Ticket.143

It’s a jungle out there

Solstice sky.

Solstice sky.

And it’s a recurring theme for me, the shock and awe I have for this riot of growth. I know it isn’t unique—anywhere that experiences four distinct seasons, and especially long winters, is just as resurrected each spring.  Our daylight hours are running close to peak right now, with the sun rising at 5:11 a.m. and setting at 9:08 for nearly 16 hours of daylight, so it’s no wonder the plants are going wild.  We’re closing in on solstice, so gaining less than a minute more each day until the 21st, when it will begin going in the wrong direction again (shorter days). [I started this draft two weeks ago.] And the riotous growth will begin to taper so maybe I can get ahead of it some. Ha!

These long, long days are wonderful…and wreak havoc on my schedule.  I find it hard to come inside much before 10 p.m. The house is a mess, the garden is half planted (the other half is covered-carpeted really-with volunteers (a.k.a. weeds)), and the green keeps getting greener.  The driveway needs bushwhacking from the road to the gate (it looks like an abandoned property).

Coming home on a recent rainy afternoon.

Coming home on a recent rainy afternoon.

The sheep are doing a decent job of keeping the grass around the house from growing a foot high, and are also sampling some landscape plantings along the way.  They’ve decimated the comfrey and the valerian, and the wisteria (that

Lawn mowing.

Lawn mowing.

last is just fine – the vine is in a poor location and I hacked it back to a stump earlier this year), and have so far left the garden alone, though I saw Minnie nosing the fence the other day (it’s a light netting that can be easily pushed down).  They were nibbling on the hops vine earlier in the year, but now that there’s so much else to eat, they seem to be less interested.  Even so, I have to get the weed whacker out to take down the grass seed heads and the Canada thistle patch – no matter how much I kill off every year it comes back stronger every year.  The bull thistle is nearly as bad, but doesn’t seem to have the same traveling root system (not a typical rhizome, but not just a taproot either), so a well-placed shovel or hoe action a few times a year seems to keep it minimized around the property.

Another recurring theme for me is this constant feeling of not having enough time to do everything, even with these deliciously long days (sleep being one of many things that’s compromised because of it).  I have so much I want to do, so many interests, and so many of things I am already doing.  Just keeping up with the full time job would be plenty, and then I add the second job of maintaining (or trying to) a small farm with livestock, pets, garden (growing my own food) and general upkeep on acreage. Add in an obsession like Nosework, or carting, or the desire to work with Daisy in herding. Her instincts are fabulous and she is SO good, and can be really helpful at times, but when she doesn’t know exactly what I want, and when I’m not sure how to tell her what I want/how to work with her, it can

A recent cart trip to a local park.  On the Snoqualmie River.

A recent cart trip to a local park. On the Snoqualmie River.

become chaotic quickly.  I still want to do Nosework with Farley, since he has such an affinity for it, but have taken a break for a few months (file it under the “something’s gotta give” heading).  Daisy’s work with the sheep is ongoing by necessity and her keen interest. I also get her out with her cart as time allows. Pal seems to be missing from the equation – he’s not bad at Nosework, but his forte is hunting for real.  He never stops hunting, and the only time he stops when he’s outside is when he’s on point (usually a songbird in a tree) or stalking varmints.  I watched him in the pasture the other day, holding a 3-legged point on something in the grass, slowly, slowly, putting the fourth paw down as he crept forward in ultra slow motion stalk. He’s really amazing to watch, though it’s like living with a 47 pound cat at times.  I know he gets shrews nearly as regularly as the cats, and just tonight I found a dead mole in the sheep pen.  I have no idea when he got in there to get that.  Last night when I was wrapping up for the night, filling the hay nets before it got full dark, and Farley and Daisy were still busy with their outside tasks (Farley waiting for me to throw the ball again, Daisy rounding up the chickens), I noticed Pal on the porch, lying on the doormat.  I smiled, thinking he was finally growing up and slowing down a bit (he’ll be 5 years old in October).  By the time I got done with the tasks it was pretty dark, and as I walked up to the porch he got up, happy to see the three of us coming to go inside.  I noticed a rather large object in his mouth.  He’s not much into toys, so I knew it wasn’t one of Farley’s many stuffies scattered around the yard.  A bone dug up?  Or a…rat?  (large rat!)

Pal, my canine cat.

Pal, my canine cat.

Was it a squirrel?  No tail.  What the…?  I was amazed and dismayed to find it was a small (half grown) rabbit.  Quite dead of course, and he was all happy, ready to go inside with his prize.  No. Way.  I was amazed partly because in 4.5 years here I’ve seen a rabbit only once on this property.  I have no idea where he got it (what part of the property).  It was of course adorable, as a juvenile, though I didn’t turn the porch light on to get a good look.  I tossed it into the grass and he jumped down the steps to get it – I heard a bony crunch as he grabbed it and I thought he was going to eat it (a good thing!) but he left it and came inside. Sigh. It was gone this morning, which means that most likely Farley took it off to bury it on one of their late night potty trips.  Farley’s my buryer, in an arcane save-it-for-later mentality.  Fortunately none of the bodies he’s buried have been dug up for later dining (to my knowledge), but there have been plenty of bones (I generally confine him to the house when I feed them raw bones, as he will take every one I give him and bury it, if given the opportunity.  And usually moving it several times before he’s finally satisfied it’s safe from marauders (his housemates).  An hour, a day, or a month later, one of them will bring a blackened gross thing up to the house and it takes me a moment to figure out what it is.

Eloise, a.k.a. Pudge (or sometimes 'weesa).

Eloise, a.k.a. Pudge (or sometimes ‘weesa).

This evening the one of the hens grabbed an odd looking object from the front lawn (lawn being optional, since Daisy has made a large ugly scrape of dirt in front). The chickens regularly glean the mice and shrew leavings from the cats (and the common ancestry of birds and reptiles becomes acutely apparent at these times, as the hen generally chokes down the whole thing, like a snake), but this looked different.  I’d noticed Daisy sniffing something this morning, but when I toed it, I thought it was a clump of manure.  I chased after the hen, realizing from the angles sticking out of her mouth, that what she had looked like a…gulp, bat.  By the time I got to her she had the thing half swallowed, but I grabbed it by the—yup, it was a bat – wing and pulled it out.  Ugh!  I love bats, and was truly bummed that one was killed.  It was tiny—like a small shrew with wings—and had obviously been dead for a couple of days.  Of course I get all heebie jeebie about rabies but when I thought about it, and remembered having observed not only super low flying by bats (only a few feet off the ground at times) and also wild leaps up by the cats to get them, I can only assume it was bad luck for the bat.  I’ve seen them do the same thing with dragonflies – another critter I love and have rescued dragonflies from the cats (and not gotten there in time for others).  Life with carnivores can be hard to take sometimes.

My cute little Pal.

My cute little Pal.

Merry month of May

Here there be faeries. May abundance in the woods out back.

Or, as Edwin Way Teale puts it:

“The world’s favorite season is the spring.
All things seem possible in May.”

While Mr. Teal was obviously referring to the Northern Hemisphere in this sentiment, he’ll get no argument from me.  May is the bomb, to use a dated slang phrase. I adore May, more with each passing year, it seems. It catches me by surprise in a way, even though I look forward to it, anticipating its lush explosion of growth, where the world comes alive beyond all expectations. I think I write about it every year, in my awe: the many shades of green (who knew there were so many?), the green jungle of understory growth, the explosive greening of the trees, the grass growing so quickly, the weeds! I love it all, though I have to admit I also, always, feel a little bit like the White Rabbit of Alice in Wonderland, late, late, late and in a bit of a dither about it as I work to get the garden prepped and planted with my future food. Last year I didn’t get things planted until late June and it showed, with some plants not having a chance to fully mature, others that didn’t produce much since there was little time between maturity and frost. I’m determined to get things done before the end of May this year (less than two weeks away – gulp!).  I have the first third planted, the second third just needs some hoeing and smoothing with a rake and should be ready for planting.  The last third is in pretty rough shape, with weeds (plants I didn’t select, that is) taking over aggressively. But at least it’s all fenced now, so the sheep and chickens are staying out, and the cats too, for the most part. The cats seem to think it’s a giant litter box and recently dug around in my just-starting-to-sprout green beans, making a mess, squared. More watering needed (keeping the soil soggy and less appealing keeps them in the dryer duff under the cedar trees).

So the month is zooming by, as the season tends to when I have much to do. Sunset is at 8:45 now (in my latitude), still a month before solstice, which means I don’t usually get in the house until 9:30 every evening, which puts a bit of a crimp on housework.  (heehee)  The garden and outdoor tasks, and, if I’m being frank, the soaking up, the stop-and-smell-the-roses delight of it all, absorbs much of my time.

The lambs are growing fast. I banded (castrated) most of the ram lambs a couple of days ago (I did Cinnamon’s boy a week or so prior, since he’s 10 days older than the rest). I wasn’t going to do Minnie’s ram, nor Lorna’s, since they’re both small yet, but they had the goods and I was able to grab ‘em. (they can be a bit like watermelon seeds – ram lambs are born with huge scrotum, but the testes take a little while to grow to where you can grab them adequately for banding).  Banding is the easiest for me, but it does leave the lambs uncomfortable for a half day. When I checked on them the next morning they were fine, but you still worry.

Lorna and her babies.

Lorna and her babies.

Lorna’s doing okay, considering her condition. As I alluded in my last post, she’s had a tough time of it. What I thought was a bad carry when she was pregnant (her mother also had triplets, and looked like a pack horse, with the bulge evenly distributed compared to Lorna’s uncomfortable bowling ball on her left look) turned out to be a ruptured pubic tendon—basically the ligament that holds everything in place on either side and Lorna’s left side somehow became torn. My description to the vet and other sheep people didn’t ring any bells, and I wish I’d have sent a photo to the vet – it’s immediately obvious to anyone who’s seen it, like a vet. If I’d known how serious it was going in, I wouldn’t have been so ignorant when it came to pulling her babies. There was basically no way they were going to come out without help.

At any rate, Lorna and I managed to get all the babies out—she was trying so hard, and I know was in some pain as I groped around inside her (as gently as I could, but so ignorantly, too), trying to turn the first guy (all I felt was his back when I first went in – majorly bad presentation) I had to pinch his skin to pull him around, and hope I got the right end pulled around. I got the legs forward, then wasn’t sure if both of the legs belonged to the same lamb. Then his head was nowhere to be found (tucked down between his legs). When he finally got out I didn’t think he’d be alive, but he shook his little head and I immediately started toweling him off.  I put him in front of Lorna and she was interested, licking him so aggressively that I actually pulled him away (she was biting at him with every lick).  With Lamb #2, only one leg was back, so it was a little easier.  I could feel her little mouth moving on my finger, so I knew she was alive. I got her out and went back in to find a third lamb in there, with the water bag in front of him. I waited for Lorna, thinking she could do this on her own (again, ignorance of her condition, as well as learning that once you’re in there you should pull all the lambs). The water bag appeared but she wasn’t making much progress.  I went in again to find his head there, but both front legs back. I was getting tired by then, and I know Lorna was too. I managed to get him out, though without finesse and it wasn’t easy on Lorna. He wasn’t responding when he got out; I rubbed aggressively and even tried swinging him, but nothing. It was too late—I’d waited too long.  While I don’t think she could have handled three babies in her condition, it was still disappointing that I’d failed her. In retrospect, it’s amazing that she survived at all. Not only with the ruptured tendon, but this traumatic birth. I think her devotion to her babies—she adores them and is so attentive to them, always knows where they are and calls to them if she doesn’t—is what pulled her through.

Mother and daughter, each carrying triplets.

Mother and daughter, each carrying triplets.

I looked back at photos and saw she was normal as recently as three weeks prior to lambing. This condition is uncommon, especially in young healthy, first time mothers (tends to happen when a ewe is older and has had many lambs – worn out, so to speak).  It’s not genetic/hereditary, according to my research, so that left me with trauma, and the likelihood that one of the other sheep rammed her. I had my suspicions – the Black Welsh Mountain wethers have been jerks for a long time now.  They bully the smaller Shetlands away from the feeders, hogging the food, and the two horned guys get quite aggressive about it when the mood strikes.  My guess is that Bo or Curly rammed Lorna at the hay feeder and caused this injury. I could be completely off base, and it could all be just bad luck or poor nutrition (not enough supplemental grain for calcium, etc.) but for this probability and a myriad of other reasons, I was done with them. I could list all the reasons, and bore you to tears, but suffice it to say, they just didn’t fit my situation any more. I will list one, and that is they ate, and wasted, hay at prodigious rates.  And yes, by now you’re seeing the past tense on my verbs.

The BWM boys

The BWM boys

My brand new freezer, just a little chest freezer, now chock full.

They’d dodged the bullet for four years (remember, it was “you or the freezer” that got them to my property back in 2010).  A “should be sainted” fellow shepherd friend came over (the same friend who owns Colin the ram, in fact), with her incredibly focused Border collie, Shay, to help me with getting them loaded and off to the butcher.  I picked them up today – 86 pounds of ground, and 8 or 10 bags of bones (some with huge rinds of fat attached) that the dogs will enjoy in the coming month or two.  I always told them, Farley especially (they’d rammed him aggressively, and unprovoked, more than once, and he remains very careful to avoid the sheep when they’re out, though he’s a little less nervous around the Shetlands, who don’t attack for fun), that they’d have the last laugh.  Daisy, of course, had no problem with their propensity to ram, and played them like a matador with his bull.  But they’d gotten their licks into her, too, when they got the chance.  It feels only a little weird to be feeding them to the dogs now.  I sort of miss Bo, the biggest jerk, and the biggest, boldest personality.  But not enough to regret my decision.  Sheep are born expecting to be your next meal (it can be exasperating at times, this ingrained distrust of humans); the three of them were way past pull date in that regard (two of them were 6 years old, one was 5 years old). And, I hate to say it, but it’s reduced the herd stress and me-stress by huge amounts – hay waste has gone to near-zero, and the ewes and lambs are enjoying the freedom of the entire pen, as well as getting out every day for 3- 6 hours – first to mow my lawn and prune back the encroaching forest – then onto the pasture until dark, when I move them back to the shed for the night.  A good routine for me, and they seem to be digging it too. All is well.

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