Mo Bloggin'

A little o' this, a little o' that

That’s a wrap

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The little homestead. MacFinn Farm.

Here we are again, at the end of another trip around the sun, the holiday season winding up, the days growing longer (even if we can’t tell yet). The year ended with mixed reviews for me. Mostly it’s just another year, with highs and lows in equal measure (although I’m not keeping score there), but so much going on in my country politically is upsetting, with nearly every day bringing a new outrage from the nation’s capitol. It’s too much to take in some days, and my blog, as I’ve designed it (at least this one), isn’t a place for that discussion. I have faith our ship will right itself, but it’s going to require all hands on deck to do so.

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I cry nearly every time I think of him. He was truly exceptional. I am lucky to have had him even for just two months.

A personal loss hit me hard a couple weeks ago – I’m still too raw to write about it here, and may never, but a friend called it a tragedy, for that is what it felt like. Because I dislike (intensely) when people are cryptic about these things, for now I can only say, in a nutshell, that I lost my darling Braider—after only two months with me—to a sudden onset, acute autoimmune condition. More information, for now, is here. It has left me devastated, but I simply cannot end the year with this as the marker. So I am going to focus on some really good, even great things that happened in the past few months.

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I took three ewe lambs to their new home on Whidbey Island a couple of weeks ago. Minnie’s black ewe lamb, Trixie’s white ewe lamb, and Cinnamon’s girl, Ginger.

One thing, which maybe isn’t a big deal to others, but is kinda awesome for me, is I finally got my new kitchen faucet installed. New kitchen faucet, you say? Yes! For an embarrassingly long time (like, over a year) I’ve been dealing with a faucet that had almost no flow. Water trickled out in a leisurely way, with a gallon jug taking several minutes to fill. It was getting worse and worse. I checked the water hoses under the sink, but my water filter’s faucet had/has great pressure, and though tiny in comparison, filled at 4 times the rate of the main faucet. I looked at it from underneath, thinking I could take it apart and remove grit (the likely culprit) but when I looked, I could see there’d be no accessing anything there. So, I planned to replace it. I was looking forward to getting a single handle with a pull down sprayer. I shopped and shopped, but never pulled the trigger. Finally, last August, I settled on a design by Moen that also had good reviews. I bought it at the local box store so, if I had to, it would be easier it return. It sat in the box for weeks, then months. I was waiting until my water filter tanks needed replacing (a major operation and I figured it would be a good time to install the faucet).  In early November, at long last, the water filter needed replacing. I put it off, and put it off, intimidated by the faucet job. I watched YouTube videos on replacing kitchen faucets. I read the instruction manual. I procrastinated. I contemplated, a few dozen times, calling a plumber. Then, Thanksgiving week, while I had some extra days off, I did it. I pulled everything out from under the sink, got the water filter tanks moved out and grabbed a couple old rugs and some towels for support for my back. I got the wrenches and pliers and whatever else I could think of. Then, after almost chickening out, I started in. And three hours later (and only one run to the hardware store and one phone a friend (the two fellas I called weren’t around, so I had to soldier on without advice)), it was in!

And it looks FABULOUS, if I do say so myself. The water comes out at a normal flow, the pull down sprayer is awesome (I had eliminated the side sprayer that was here when I installed the water filter faucet back in 2011) and, who knew, the sink itself stays a million times cleaner than it did with the trickle faucet.  It’s nice to rinse a dishrag or kitchen sponge and have it really rinse clean, and the whole kitchen stays cleaner because of it.  I ROCK!

Another great thing is my job got cooler. A couple months ago I wrote about my deep unhappiness with things in that department, mostly due to my own yearning for something more, but also because of some “challenging dynamics.” The dynamics have changed, although the work load is still crazy at times, and best of all, my location has changed. My company moved to a new office (only a couple blocks away from the old one) and the new workplace is wonderful. It’s in a brand new building, and the office interior design is open and clean and bright. No more rat maze of gray, six-foot high cubicle walls. My desk, while still essentially a cubicle, is open and airy and is a corner office. Seriously, it’s one of the nicest locations in the entire office, IMO, and I’m still pinching myself, wondering what I did to deserve it (well, other than hard work and dedication). I have a stand desk, too – a real one. My old one was one of those desktop lift jobs, clunky and heavy and hard to get just right. This one moves up and down at the touch of a button. I find I stand a lot more now because it’s so ergonomically comfortable. The view of little ol’ downtown Bellevue is wonderful, with a peek-a-boo view of Lake Washington and the I-90 floating bridge. In our first or second week here a pair of bald eagles were wheeling around over a nearby building. The evening lights are really pretty, and I just realized as I wrote this that I look down (over) at the location where I bought my first car, many, many years ago, before Bellevue had a single high-rise. The Pontiac dealer was on the corner of NE 8th and 108th, and my bus went by it every day on the way home from my first job. I used to stare at the shiny new cars as we waited at the stoplight, and locked in on one of the models on the lot, and bought my little Sunbird – a hatchback, so I had a car for my first dog, Mikey, to ride in. Times change; priorities, not so much.

20171225_015008Last on the list here, we wound up the year with a fabulous white Christmas, the best one ever in all my years here (I’ve lived here most of my life, but spent some early years in New Jersey, where white Christmases were common). It snowed all Christmas Eve, and by the morning there were about 6 inches of white covering the world. It’s Puget Sound snow, so not light and fluffy, but we’d been cold and dry for the week prior to the snow (versus the typical rainy and wet), so it wasn’t the usual half-slush we get. I spent a quiet day at home with the dogs (recovering from a cold virus that was kicking my butt), alternately playing outside with them (Daisy LOVES the snow) and then coming inside to curl up with a hot mug of tea and watching Christmas movies while eating way too much Christmas chocolate. It was perfect.

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Daisy, looking fine with her herd of wee Shetlands.

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Giving thanks to doG

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An early snow (really early!) on November 5 turned everything into a winter wonderland even before the leaves changed color.  I love snow!

We’re winding up the Thanksgiving weekend here in the U.S., and I’m not looking forward to going back to the real world of commuting and working tomorrow, but alas, a winning lottery ticket is not yet mine. I took the entire week off (so have been off work for 9 days now – heaven) and the dogs have loved it as much as I have, sleeping in with me on the couple of days I did that, and enjoying the days hanging out with me (even when we’re stuck inside because of the torrential downpours), instead of waiting all day long for me to come home from work. I am lucky to have them. And, as I mentioned in my last post, we are up one now, with my “Failed Foster” status. It’s been many years since I fostered a dog, and I didn’t intend that this one would fail, but this is a clear reason why the word “fail” should not be loaded with such negativity (failing at things is often a sign of progress, but I digress.

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He is obsessed with shadows and reflections.

Formerly known as Raider, this dog is filling a hole I didn’t know existed. As I stood on the porch one rainy evening last week, toweling off FOUR dogs, and wiping 16 paws clean before we went in the house, I had such a deep feeling of…I’m not even sure what the word is…completion is the closest to it, but still not perfect. Somehow the circle is now closed.  As the four of them stood around me, waiting their turn, standing back or pushing at the closed door to get inside, the gap I didn’t know was there was filled, the puzzle piece found and placed in the vacant spot. It was a nearly audible click as I stood there, surrounded by 300 pounds of dogs, with these four hearts that surround mine and give meaning to my days.

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Raider came to me when I offered to foster him. My friend had placed him with “W” two years ago, from a rescue situation. Raider was shipped here from Chicago in 2015, having ended up homeless when his owner had passed away and the family didn’t want him. He was 4 years old when he came to the Northwest to live with W, a loving home with two adults and a companion dog who all adored him. Then W got sick.  W’s wife had had a bad fall and broken her leg badly, so was using a walker. When W got sick, then sicker, she knew that Raider had to be placed, as they were not able to continue caring for him. W did not want to consider the idea, and became very upset. My friend knew Raider would need a new home, but since the doctors said W “had a few more months,” we just waited. Unfortunately it was only a couple weeks when Mrs. W called. Sadly, W had passed away, and for the second time in his life, Raider was in need of a home due to a death in the family.

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I took him in, wondering why I said I would do this (softie for Rottweilers, and wanted to help my friend out) and hoping against hope that it would work until we could find him a home. With my three dogs, three cats, and flock of sheep, there was a lot to integrate. My friend brought a giant crate for him (Impact brand – I am now coveting more of these crates, as this one is only a borrow), a giant orthopedic bed (which my other three dogs say is really nice) and a stand-up feeding station, plus Raider. It turns out I had little to worry about.

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He’s not the cuddle bug that Daisy is (yet?), but who could resist this? 117 pounds of squishy-faced cuteness.

This dog…this dog is nearly perfect to me.  He reminds me of all that have gone before him (and oh, how I am mush for a boy Rottweiler – putty in their paws, really, but they never seem to take advantage of it to run the show, unlike a Rottweiler bitch, who will come in with her paws on her hips, virtual arms akimbo, and tell you how it’s going to be (in the nicest way possible, of course)). The boys just melt me. I tried to remain strong – the first week as my three adjusted, and then the second week, as Raider showed us more of himself. There were a few scuffles – once when I fed raw meaty bones on Raider’s second or third day here (facepalm to my own stupidity there!) and tensions were high, Farley took on Raider in the kitchen. WTF, Far – this dog is twice your size! Raider didn’t engage other than to protect himself, when he could easily have taken Farley down with one paw tied behind his back. Then another time Farley was playing with a stuffie – it took Far a week before he would finally offer me a toy (normally a multiple daily occurrence) with Raider here – and Raider thought “Weeee! I love stuffies too, let’s play tug!” Farley tore into him, and I had an instant dogfight at my feet. Again, Raider only protected himself, and the YIPE! I heard in the 5-second scuffle was from him.  As was the tuft of hair on the floor afterwards. He learned that Farley doesn’t play with other dogs, only me, and when he growls that goofy warble of a Setter growl (heart!), he isn’t kidding. Got it. But beyond Daisy pushing and pushing and pushing on Raider, always jealous of any attention I give him and always eager to show him who’s boss (when we ALL already know bitches get the job done), he integrated beyond my wildest expectations.

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Don’t let this soft face and swishing tail, or the spots, fool you – this guy is a tiger (I often call him my tiger, and he’s taken it to heart).

So it was easy to write this bio to find him a home. The rescue person from Chicago, involved in his 2015 placement, said she had a good home there for him and we could just ship him back. I put my foot down at this. While I appreciated her help/offer, I was already fierce in my protectiveness. When the Perfect Home showed up a few days later, it was easy to sing his praises to them. But as I pulled away from our “get acquainted” meeting, I realized that even if they were a better home than I was (only one other dog, and two of them, so Raider would get more one-on-one attention than he gets from me), I didn’t know if I could give him up. I had tried so hard to keep logic and emotion separated, sure that the emotion I felt was just feeling sorry for his sad story of losing two homes due to his owners dying. “But,” said Emotion, “if he is so damn perfect why aren’t you keeping him? He’s squishy-faced-cute {swoon!} on top of it.” Then Logic replied, “Um, try the houseful of dogs you already have, Mo? Bandwidth? Cost? Room? Seriously? WTH?”  When the Perfect Home called me a couple of days later to reluctantly pass on him (timing/logistics), I realized I could pull the ad. I was walking two feet off the ground after I hung up the phone. He was placed. He is mine.

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His first vet visit (for a broken toenail), about a month after I got him.  He’s woozy from sedation here, but the toe healed up beautifully.

I’ve rechristened him Braider, after going through a number of iterations rhyming with Raider. Normally I have no problem changing a rescue dog’s name–and even recommend it—but he responded so beautifully to it, and it was patently obvious he had been loved by both of his previous owners.  But I couldn’t live with such a “guy name” as Raider. As a writer, I know that words have power, and naming dogs these sorts of “aggressive” names doesn’t sit well with me. I tried Tater, Vader, Bader, Brader, and all sorts of variations before settling on Braider, which works for the meaning – he came in and braided us all together, bringing his gentleness and good manners and his beautiful Rottweiler heart.  I am his.

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Braider Finn.  Heart him.

Absolute Trust

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I said a fond farewell to a glorious summer. I will miss you – come back soon!

I adopted a dog recently. Another dog. It wasn’t intended—I have three already, and adding a fourth wasn’t something that I planned in any way. I am, however, a softie for a sad story and an outright pushover when it comes to Rottweilers and English Setters. This was a foster gone wrong, for I am, once again, a Foster Failure (well-known in the dog rescue world). But in the end it was so right that the only one surprised by it was me (all my friends knew long before I did, even though it took me less than two weeks to figure it out). So we are four now (seven again, if you count the cats, or eight, if you count moi).

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Seriously.  Who could resist this mug?

I’ll explain how this all came about in more detail in another post, for this post is about my first lesson from my new guy.  This dog, Raider is his original name, came to me after his owner, sadly, passed away. I’d offered to foster him when I heard about the situation, and we all thought it wouldn’t be for a few months.  Cancer, however, had another timeline.

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The beautiful fall clouds provide wonder as I sit in traffic in the last mile of my daily commute.

Raider had every reason to be freaked out and spooky – this wasn’t the first time he was in this situation and he had to be wondering, again, why his life was turned upside down. He’d just spent most of the day in a crate in my friend’s car, someone whom he really didn’t know, and came into my house with an underlying confidence that only a well-loved dog could have. And a dog with a stable temperament. He wasn’t 100 percent comfortable – some of his behaviors that first evening showed us his main coping mechanism, chasing shadows – but his worry about things didn’t turn into fear, and even in his worry, he coped. He’d essentially just landed on Mars and while you could see he was putting up a front (excessive sniffing, focusing on shadows on the floor and reflections on the ceiling) as he experienced this new landscape and companions, he coped. And coped well. He was (and is) polite and respectful, gentle and easy going, thoughtful and well-behaved. He dealt with it all beautifully, making it easy to fall for him.

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The sheep haven’t been getting out as much as they’d like – the new guy isn’t quite ready for that.

Me, I’ve been struggling a bit with life lately – deeply unhappy with certain aspects of it, even as I know how blessed and lucky I am. I seem to go through this struggle annually, or near to, and every single time I say “this year for sure” for making the changes I want to make with my source of income, with my home and farm, and with myself. It’s embarrassing how many times I’ve had this conversation; I’m ashamed to say it’s going on almost two decades now. And while I’ve made some huge leaps and progress in that time, here I am once again, unhappy with where I am and devolving bit by bit, by letting outside things influence me (I KNOW better), and becoming the worst version of myself. I don’t like that person, and have been trying to evolve away from that fearful, worried, stressful, and even snarly, victim-version of me that no one likes. To the one I know I am inside, the one who can rise up even with adversity, and rise above it. The one who, instead of reverting to old habits and coping mechanisms – chasing shadows, as it were – in adversity, is able to see to the truth and maintain the course.  This is who I strive to be. This is almost verbatim from a post I made almost two years ago, yet I didn’t follow through, things eased up, and I didn’t make the changes. Again.

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So I’m once again hitting the books. A book title came across my radar recently, mentioned by a coworker who’s having similar struggles. When I looked it up on the library website to place a hold, I found that there was more than one book (and author) with this title: “Pivot.” So I checked out both of them. The original one mentioned by my coworker is by Jenny Blake and has a rocket-fuel subtitle: “The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One.” I’m in! I’ve been listening to the recorded version in the car on my commute and it’s been instructing me, as I sit in traffic looking for a way to do things differently, on the nuts and bolts of how to do that. The other one, by Adam Markel, is a little quieter and no less powerful. Its subtitle reads “The Art and Science of Reinventing Your Career and Life.”  This one is probably more in tune with where I am right now – a little broken, a little ashamed at being in this spot again, and needing a light to guide my way. To get past the fear and coping mechanisms to that goal Me. Like Jenny Blake’s Pivot it has some insightful views into where I am now (indeed, why else would someone pick up these books?), but Adam Markel goes even further. He talks about the “first fifty pages” and how often we buy books of this type and never get beyond reading the first fifty pages. What, has he been in my house and seen the stack by my bedside? (And I think he’s being generous with fifty pages.) And to further the theory, he likens this to a person’s LIFE never getting beyond the first fifty pages, asking “What else are you ‘fifty-paging’ in your life?” It was like he threw down the gauntlet. I am challenged by this and am determined to get all the way though the book – you’re ON, Mr. Markel!

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While I dread the coming rain, fall is showing me why I shouldn’t despair.

Raider, now Braider, came in without knowing anything about what was coming (although I give him too little credit here – these sentient beings know much more than we can ever know), yet maintained his grace and absolute trust – in humans, in his situation, in his life. Sure, you can argue that he didn’t know any better, but I would argue, vehemently if not scientifically, that he does. And once again, I need to follow my dogs’ lead.

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Maybe not as gratuitously cute as I like to end my blogs, but they are simply awe-inspiring.  To think that a wee spider makes these cathedrals of air and gossamer silk…I don’t know if there’s a prettier way to trap and devour a meal.

Still no rain, still hot, and still wonderful

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These crazy maples.

The summer is slowly waning and I am trying to soak up every moment that I can. The days are already over 2 hours shorter than they were in June, but we still have plenty of sunshine and heat during the days. I am in awe of the beauty, day after day. I look at the baked-dry hard ground and wonder how it will ever become wet again, just as I wonder in January if it will ever, ever become dry again.  I need to plant a couple things, but the ground is so rock hard and dry, I’m waiting.

 

The beasts are enjoying the weather as well. The sheep maybe not as much, since forage has been scarce for weeks now. They’ve eaten everything they can reach that’s edible (to their palates), and without rain, nothing’s growing back yet. After my leaky pipe escapade last spring, I’m reluctant to tap the well any more than I need to, so haven’t been watering as much as I’ve done in the past. Regardless, the well can’t keep up with that kind of volume (irrigation-levels) anyway. The grass is mostly brown and dry so I’ve been feeding them hay for months now, as I usually do (we’re done with grazing by July, most years – a two-month season at best). I bought a couple of tons of hay a month ago. It was a good price, but there is a prodigious amount of waste as it’s sneakily stemmy stuff.  A third-cutting orchard grass, it’s green and fairly soft, unlike the spiky handle of first cutting (which is a waste of money, with this crew).  They like this stuff and eat it well enough, but there are wheelbarrows-worth of what is essentially straw to haul out of the pen each week, after they’ve eaten all the green. It’s really nice not to have to run to the feed store every weekend, and that’s a plus, but the savings ratio to the increased waste (and extra work) ratio – it’s a wash, really.  And at least the straw is light and easy to load up/haul.

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One of these is not like the others.  And she doesn’t eat hay, either.  The sheep loved the delivery of hay.

The lambs are growing at a good pace, with a couple of them nearly as big as an adult (or so it seems – there’s a lot of fluff with the lambswool coats they’re wearing). I’ve placed a couple of ads on FB groups I belong to, but though there’s some interest, no one’s that interested. Craigslist is the next step, and I’ve girded my loins and placed an ad there. My goal is to get the flock down to winter numbers (10 or 11) by November 1. I have a couple favorites out of the new lambs who are definitely staying, and wish I had room for just a couple more. I really like Meg’s white wether.  He’s a confident little guy (stands up to Daisy!), with curlicue horns and great conformation, plus what looks to be a very nice fleece. I am wavering on him still. Part of what makes me hesitate is his friendliness. I am ridiculously swayed by this anymore. I am sorely tired of freak-out sheep and am slowly weeding out those that are too spooky. I was going to sell Rudy, but the little guy has just grown on me. I hopehopehope his fleece will be nice, so my sentimentality will be rewarded. At this point his lamb fleece is soft but fairly open, so it’s hard to say.

Right now the termites are hatching, providing the annual feast for spiders, bats, and all manner of insectivores, including dragonflies – I’ve seen them nab a termite in midflight and it is so cool! Sadly, my chickens aren’t here to enjoy the bounty. I remember how they’d stay up late this time of year, long past their bedtime, as the new termites flew out from the rotted stump near the coop, hopping up to catch the hapless termites, new to flying and clumsy with their long wings. I miss the chooks, but it’s getting less and less sharp. Knowing it was necessary for my health didn’t make it any easier but so far it seems like it made a difference. A lot of people have asked me about my health, how the ol’ lungs are doing, etc. I feel good – better than I have in, well, years (since 2014, at any rate). The lung thing slammed into my life in November of that year. For the first time in two years I’ve been meeting my Fitbit goal nearly every day, and my weekly reports from Fitbit are no longer something I’d rather delete. And I do this without even trying—just everyday activity. On work days, most of my steps are between 5 pm and midnight, and it’s so great to be able to do things without thinking, and even if I get out of breath, it’s only a moment and I’m okay, where before I would have to stand huffing and puffing for a long time before I caught my breath. I wear my respirator mask any time I am working a lot with the hay. I have to say that I’ve occasionally been less strict with it (because, frankly, it’s a pain in the arse in the heat) but every time I do this I kick myself.

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Pal, looking like a Saluki mix.  The dog can run, and he does!  It’s hard to keep weight on him this time of year.  I wish I were half as fit as he is.

Another beautiful evening is winding down. It’s shortly after 8 p.m. as I write this and dark is coming on fast. The sun set at 7:43 tonight, and we’re down to a little over 13 hours of daylight now, compared with nearly 16 daylight hours in June. I need to put the sheep in their pen for the night, but am stretching out the quiet, the twilight magic, for as long as I can.

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Gratuitous cuteness: The old guy, Farley, with his new toy.  Heart this dog to bits!

Highs and lows…

 

20170602_165417It’s a fine July morning as I write this, in the glory of another Pacific Northwest summer. The house is cool from the overnight chill (temps drop 20 degrees or more at night) and I’m sitting in the morning sun, anticipating a hot day (maybe as high as 80s) but trying to warm up in the sun’s rays.  Glorious seems like an over the top word, but it really, really is.

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The Swainson’s thrushes are winding down for the season, sadly.  I’ve heard a few this morning, but nothing like the intensity of just a few weeks ago. I’ve written of my Swainson’s serenades before, and the two months of their song is never enough.  Though I knew they were around for a couple weeks at least, I didn’t hear my first song until May 27 or 28.  It reached a crescendo in early July, with the morning and evening punctuated by seeming near-constant competition between birds and their territories, and reaching a fervor that brings wonder and even worry.  These birds are small – about half the size of a robin, and fit in your hand easily (one flew into my window in May – I picked it up and moved it to a safe, quiet spot while it recovered from the momentary stun).  I am glad I have lots of berries and cherries here for them to feed on as they sing, and hopefully don’t lose any to what has to be exhaustion by the end of the season.  I hope to hear them for a few more evenings yet – they are magical at sunset – but I know it’s almost over.  As I write this I see a young robin, breast still baby-speckled with immature feathering but obviously on her own, dining on the red huckleberries on my old growth stump.  It’s so nice to see.

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Native red elderberry; a favorite of the Swainson’s, but also Robins, Western Tanagers, Cedar Waxwing and more.

I took a few days off around the July 4th holiday this year and it was wonderful.  It seemed to last longer than normal (total time away from work was 5 days) and I got a lot done in that time.  Shearing is almost done, I got the ram lambs banded (except one who turned out to be cryptorchid – the vet will be doing surgery to retrieve the undescended testicle in 3 weeks) and all of them vaccinated except Ginger, Cinnamon’s lamb who is just as skittish as her mama and learning well. Sigh.  I haven’t been able to catch her OR her mama, who is the holdout for shearing.  I’ve sheared all of them myself this year, with a blade (i.e., hand scissors versus electric clippers).  I started off pretty rough and am getting better, and even faster, but I’m not sure I’ll do this again next year.  For one, even though I’m getting better, I can’t do more than two sheep a day, and the mini-rodeo to catch the each one is creating some wiley sheep.  Thus, it’s gotten late in the year, and doing them in June or July is WAY too late – part of the reason the more recent ones look better is because of the “rise” – the old fleece has basically lifted away and I’m just snipping it away from the new wool’s growth.  For another it’s back-breaking, hot work.  And yet another reason, even though I’m going slow, I’ve made way too many slices (cuts) to their skin.  It was harder in the beginning with the wool tight to the skin, you think you’re scissoring a thick patch of wool when you’ve actually got a snippet of skin in there.  Nothing too dramatic (if I had electric shearers I’m sure I would have had some ‘call the vet’ moments – it happens so fast!), but makes me jumpy for the process.  Practice, I guess, but it’s still a lot of work.  We’ll see.

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Meg, after I finally caught her and sheared her.  She obviously felt better without all that wool. 

Now it’s time to start deciding who stays and who goes after lambing.  I’ve gotten about halfway through the list and still have some tough decisions to make, as I need to get the flock back to about 10 sheep before the winter months.  They’ve pretty much devoured most of the greenery in the pasture, and much of the property as well, and are going through hay at a good clip too – the lambs may only be 40 pounds each, but they are growing youngsters and they eat!

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TJ in the pasture. He is huge!

I have one less to place this week, because unfortunately I lost a lamb recently to an accident with my feeding set up.  It was a freak accident, but also preventable, as most accidents are.  I feed with slow-feeder hay nets inside my big hay feeder.  The lambs have been jumping inside the hay feeder to get at the hay nets and I’m just waiting until they are too big to get in (we’re getting close now!).  The mesh on the nets is 1 ½ – 2 inches, but one of the nets had a hole where a couple of the strands had broken or worn through.  And one of the ram lambs (the polled one) stuck his head in the hole… You can guess the rest.  He struggled to get out and it twisted the net and made it worse.  When I found him he was still warm.  The hardest part of the loss is the knowing if I gone out there to check on them a half hour—or even 15 minutes—earlier I could have saved him.  I’ve been using that net for almost 7 years and I think the hole has been there for at least 3 or 4 years.  Obviously I will fix it now, but it was a tough day, and though I’m getting over the guilt I will always feel responsible.  I shared the incident with folks on one of my sheep forums on Facebook and it helped immensely to do so.  Not only are people kind and sympathetic, but so many shared similar stories – even nearly identical stories – of freak losses, which was enormously helpful to hear.  Stories about something that had been in the farm environment for years and the one intrepid or inquisitive sheep (or other critter) found the danger in a seemingly benign object or setup – it happens.  I buried the 20170713_181911little guy out back, and covered him with his mother’s fleece (she’s the scurf queen on a good year and especially with the late shearing this year; the fleece was basically destined for the compost so I was very glad to have it for this use) before covering him with soil.  It helped a lot, and brought some closure to the incident.  The other, farmer-practical part of me realizes I really need to learn to butcher.  He was small, but I could have salvaged something for the dogs at least.  Farm life.

P.S.  I haven’t heard a Swainson’s thrush song since Saturday night.  I guess we’re done for the season. Sigh.

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Pebbles’ ewe lamb.  I am smitten with her.  A keeper, for sure.

 

 

What the hay?

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It may look gentle and green, but it’s a SCORCHER out there.

After a cool and very wet spring (that followed an especially wet and waterlogged winter), summer hit us this weekend with a blast of tropical heat. My phone’s weather app is schizophrenic – 99 one minute and 97 the next. Next time I looked it was 102, and then updated to 94. ?! Suffice it to say it’s hot out there. I feel especially bad for the half dozen sheep I haven’t sheared yet. I started one last weekend and she was just too fractious – for her safety and mine. I haven’t had time since and it was way too hot this morning to try, but they are all doing okay by staying quiet and in the shade most of the day. I move them to the pen at night and fill the hay feeder – they ate a LOT of hay last night in the cool of darkness. And about that hay…

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You can’t see the nice, if warm, breeze blowing.  They are keeping cool as they graze down to the nubbins. (My King Conservation District agent would admonish me for this.)

I’ve lamented here before about my many trees and shade (grateful for them right now, of course) and the shade being in opposition with my pasture grass growth. My pasture grass could use a lot of other help too (still need to do a soil test, but I’m 100% sure it could use a paycheck’s worth of liming), but I also have too many sheep grazing on it, especially given its overall weakness. Ideally I wouldn’t have more than 4 Shetlands on it in its current conditions of too much shade, lime deficiency, etc., for it to keep up and provide fodder for more than a month or so. My goal is to keep the flock number to 10 or below, and I’ve not always been completely successful at this. With the lambs this year, I’m currently at 22 (!!) sheep. While I love the sound of that – I would love to keep 22 sheep full time – and 12 of them only weigh 30- 40 pounds each right now, it’s just not feasible here. So even with 10 sheep, I feed hay roughly 10 or 11 months a year. They graze and browse a LOT during May through June, but hay is the primary food source once the May/June jungle growth stops at solstice.

So I buy the best hay I can find, on a weekly quest to find the greenest, leafiest second cutting orchard grass that I can. Every weekend two hay bales go into the back of my long-suffering old CRV. I’ve tried to buy a ton at a time and have it delivered, but that’s not worked out well. One year I bought a locally grown second cutting which looked great when I bought a couple sample bales, but when it was delivered, only about 10% was that nice. The rest was stemmy crap that the sheep wasted with abandon. That was $750 well spent – NOT. Another time I got some “nice” green stuff grown in eastern Oregon…that was loaded with mold and dust/dirt, and, frankly, was probably one of the triggers for my lung thing. So now I range out every weekend, finding a consistently good product at a feed store about 15 miles and a 30-minute drive away. Not the one 5 minutes away (generally a good product, but for a lot more money), or the one 20 minutes away (not consistently good). But any way you slice it, hay from eastern Washington is pretty much the gold standard here for quality/value. And it’s grown in an area with soils notably deficient in the trace mineral selenium. And that, I believe, is at the crux of the problems I had lambing this year.

Like all shepherds, I give my sheep free choice minerals (loose minerals are best for sheep, not a block to lick). This includes salt, of course, but also other trace minerals, including selenium but NOT including a lot of copper (some is important, but not at the rates of other livestock like goats and cattle, as too much copper is toxic to sheep). The sheep have a mineral feeder that is kept full at all times. About 18 months ago I needed more and purchased a bag of a well-known brand that I hadn’t used before. I poured it in the feeder and they nibbled at it. It’s red in color, and more than once I had a fright going out to check on the flock and had a sheep turn to look at me with “bloody” lips. They nibbled at it, but never seemed to nibble much. That’s all right, you don’t want them chowing down on it, but it wasn’t until I had these issues that I realized that that bag I purchased 18 months ago lasted much, much longer than it should have (and I still have some!). So they weren’t eating it as much as they should have, or needed to, and with their selenium-free hay, probably weren’t getting nearly enough of this important trace mineral. When I worked with the vet (and got the recommendation from other, more experienced Shetland shepherds) the first thing mentioned was that a selenium injection be given to my weak babies. And when I saw the dramatic results, it was a face palm moment. While it wasn’t outright White Muscle disease (at least not the acute symptoms) I believe the overall weakness I saw in several of the lambs, and even the birthing issues (C-Kerry’s weak, premature lambs, Pebbles’ very weak ewe lamb, and even the almost 4-hour delay between Duna’s twins’ birth, and her ultimate rejection of the second one), are likely due to this deficiency.

Once I figured this out, I purchased a new bag—and a different brand—of sheep mineral mix. Right away I knew it was a better product. It had the texture and odor I was used to, and, more important, the sheep love it. I cleaned out what was left of the red stuff from their feeder, and poured in about 3 or 4 cups of the new stuff. And had to replace the EMPTY feeder within a couple days!  They were on it like white on rice, as the saying goes. After that first week the consumption has decreased to a normal level, but they love it and are actually using it as it is intended. More telling, the lambs are in it (before they were at weaning stage), and the one I see most frequently in it is C-Kerry’s ewe lamb, who was so weak for her first week that I was afraid I would lose her. She loves it more than any of the other lambs, but the other ones I see most frequently eating it are also the ones I was most worried about as newborns. Go figure and Nature knows best. And, of course, lesson learned.

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Growing fast.  N-Kerry and her white ewe lamb, and C-Kerry’s black ram lamb being obnoxious.  (Need to get the boys all banded soon!)  And Rudy in the back.  He’s adorable.

As a Shetland shepherd, I know my sheep are thrifty, easy keepers. They are hardy and tough, and can survive and produce good wool without being coddled with daily grain or a fancy barn. My sturdy little flock is no exception, and survived even my ignorance in this vital nutrient. I had a lot of firsts with this lambing season – first premies, first time tube feeding, first full-on rejection (likely also due to the mineral deficiency) and first bottle baby. I knew they weren’t eating a lot of their minerals, but didn’t know that could be such an issue. I didn’t know any better. But now I do. They say shepherds never stop learning, and after 7 years of shepherding these amazing little woolies, I can say that’s definitely true. Thankfully, my resilient wee beasts survived my ignorance.

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Despite the heat, Trixie was all cuddles and snuggles today, all but climbing into my lap. We posed for a selfie.

Lambing Season 2017 – Part 2

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Perfect!  N-Kerry’s ewe lamb

So 3 ewes (out of 8) had lambed, with 4 babies on the ground so far. Next up was N-Kerry, who quietly presented me with a simply beautiful little white ewe. It was 2 days after Duna’s twins had arrived and I came out in the morning to find N-Kerry with the lamb up on her feet and obviously a couple hours old. N-Kerry is enamored of her baby, and has even settled down a bit (she is probably my wildest sheep, taking after her grandma, Cinnamon). She took to motherhood like she’s been waiting her whole life for it and it’s been wonderful to have an easy, attentive mother with a strong healthy baby.

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N-Kerry with her ewe lamb at about 4 weeks.

Later that day we had a storm roll in that all the weathermen were talking about – thunder and lightning and lots of rain expected. I began improvising shelter for the sheep. The shed was a maternity ward of 3 jugs (and 4 ewes and babies – Cinnamon and Nutmeg where sharing the big one with their singletons; Duna and her twins; C-Kerry and her premie twins) and now I needed a fourth for N-Kerry, plus some cover for the other sheep in the general pen. The storm came on like a freight train, with the rain pouring down in buckets while I was still nailing up tarps and plywood cover. I got everyone settled (two sets of clothing later) and went out later in the evening to check on the mamas and feed the premies. I looked over to see Trixie under my new corner shelter. Good girl for using the shelter…er…oh, sh**! She was in labor! It was 9 p.m. or so and the rain was still coming down in buckets. Water was running down the pen in sheets (it is on a slight incline – the corner where Trixie labored was in the lower end) – and the gutters were overflowing. I’d climbed up on a ladder during the afternoon rain to empty the leaves/blockage, only to have the French drain overwhelmed, and with the water flowing like a river, I realized Trixie’s thick straw bed wasn’t going to be thick enough.

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Amid thunder and lightning and torrents of rain, Trixie’s ewe lamb arrived.

At about 10 p.m. she produced a lovely little ewe lamb, and though I would normally prefer twins, on this night, and in this year, the singles are fine – I’ve got enough on my hands! I dug channels into the pen floor so the water would flow away from her and the lamb, and put up a temporary fence to keep her there and under cover, and (mainly) to keep the other sheep out. So at 11 p.m., with the light on in the shed and the pen’s spotlight on, I was out in the pouring rain digging and getting Trixie set up in her makeshift jug with her newborn lamb (hay, warm molasses water, more straw for bedding). Fortunately it was pretty warm, despite the monsoon drenching we were getting. Due to the crazy setup with the multiple jugs and my limited space, I had to be part monkey to move around in there, using the hay feeder to climb over the partitions and into the pen, over and over and over. I was exhausted by midnight, yet still had more to do. And still it rained.

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It wasn’t pretty, but it would do the trick for a day.

It was at this point that my water situation said, ‘hey, what about me?’ and crapped out.  With pouring rain outside, and I came in at one point to get some supplies and wash my hands and WTF, no water from the faucets.  I went outside to see if I’d left the yard hydrant on (I knew I didn’t but couldn’t think what was going on). I waited 10 or 15 minutes and had water again, and figured it was just something to do with the power in the lightning storm (though the house hadn’t lost power…grasping at straws). I still wonder at the timing on this.

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The next morning. A little muddy, but strong and healthy.

At about 3 a.m. I finally got things buttoned up enough so that I could go inside and sleep for a bit, admonishing the two remaining ewes, Pebbles and her daughter Minnie (who is Trixie’s mama), to wait until the weekend, when the weather was supposed to clear up a bit.  Thankfully, they did.

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Pebbles’ newborns.  Big brother watching as mama cleans up his new sister.

On Monday afternoon I came home from work to find Pebbles in labor. Pushing and struggling and half presented. I hadn’t even gone in the house yet (to change clothes, let the dogs out, etc.) and rolled up my sleeve and reached in as Pebbles labored to realize that there was one leg back. I pulled it forward gently and a fine ram lamb was born a few moments later. There was a little more fresh blood than I would have liked, but I watched Pebbles closely; thankfully it slowed and stopped. Within half an hour a ewe lamb was born. Pebbles took care of both of them expertly (this is her third lambing – twins every time) but the little ewe was definitely not as strong as she should have been.  I began tube feeding her as well. Her little ears were floppy and though she got up to nurse, I’m wasn’t sure how much she was getting. It was touch and go for a few days. I spoke with the vet and got some selenium to give her, and also tried to give her some vitamin B (injection). She just languished as her brother got strong and bouncy, and I worried. I made an appointment to bring her in, then spoke to the vet again in the meantime. She okayed another selenium injection and recommended the vitamin B injection, so I tried again. I don’t know how much got into the lamb, but the second selenium injection seemed to do the trick. She started to perk up and her little ears began to stick out straight, like they should. Both of these lambs are especially cute, with their mama’s big eyes and sweet expression. And both are very friendly. The little girl is a definite keeper (it looks like she’ll turn gray, too, just like Pebbles did).

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Minnie watching Pebbles with her new babies.  It won’t be long now.

The day Pebbles had her twins, Minnie was hanging around the activity with a decidedly funny look to her. So I wasn’t surprised when I came home from work the very next day to find her in labor. She was pushing hard with minimal results, and again, I reached in and found a leg back. I pulled it forward gently and in short order a nice little moorit ram lamb was born. Minnie didn’t get up and seemed a little distracted, so I pulled him forward so she could lick him, which she did readily. A few moments later, I realized why she was not fully engaged – a black ewe lamb slipped out of her so easily, and so quickly after the first that they must have been nose to bum in the birth canal.

And lambing season was officially over at MacFinn Farm, just two weeks after it started.

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Twins!  Born nearly simultaneously, and Minnie wasn’t sure who to lick first.

Lambs @ MacFinn Farm 2017!

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Cinnamon, now 8 years old, with her 2017 baby, a single, perfect moorit ewe lamb.  Ginger.

As you may know, I only breed my ewes every other year. And due to my lung thing and overall poor health because of it, I skipped last year too.  So it’s been three years since I had lambs. I could hardly wait. (But then again, more time would have been nice, given the month I just had!)

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Lamb daddy.  Sir Terry, a very handsome ram with great conformation, beautiful fleece, a lovely temperament, and great bloodlines. I was lucky to have him stay with us for 5 months.

Sir Terry, the handsome Shetland ram, came to visit in late November, leaping into the back of my Honda like a golden retriever when I went to pick him up.  The girls acted like brainless ninnies for the first half day – especially all those virgins, who’d never seen a ram before (5 of the 8 ewes I was breeding were maidens at 2 ½ years old), but they eventually settled down, and Terry became part of the flock for five months. (And when it came time to leave he did NOT jump into the back of my Honda – it was a bit of a wrestle to get him away from his girls and into the car.)  I saw some action in those first few days, and charted my due dates accordingly.  But it was a full week after that (and with a ewe I never saw consorting with the ram!) before I saw my first lamb. But true to form, Cinnamon was first to lamb again this year – a beautiful moorit ewe lamb, the image of her mother – and Minnie was last again, with twins that were born nearly simultaneously.  And a rollicking ride in between.  I ended up with 12 lambs again this year (the same as 2014 when I bred only five ewes, compared to this year’s eight ewes).  There were four singletons and four sets of twins, with a total of five ram lambs and seven ewe lambs – a nice ratio.  I got four white lambs, three moorits (brown), and five black (some with white) – a couple of these blacks will end up being gray or another light color.

Meg (Nutmeg), Cinnamon’s daughter, produced a fine white ram lamb a couple of days after her mother, the only one born in the rough (in the pasture, vs. in the pen) and he’s the image of his sire – gorgeous wool and a perfect little fluke tail, just what I am breeding for.

A few days after that, I came home from work one rainy afternoon to find two weak lambs in the general pen, and a very stressed out C-Kerry.  I got her into a separate jug (term for the small, individual pen for mothers with new lambs) and realized I had a problem.  The lambs were very weak – who knew what happened in the time from birth until I found them (guestimating 4-6 hours).  It had been raining, and although they were mostly dry from mama cleaning them up it was still chilly, and they may have been stepped on or worse (the other sheep can be quite aggressive with butting/ramming).  I got a heat lamp on them and quickly realized they needed to be fed – they were too weak to nurse!  C-Kerry was NOT happy about me grabbing her to milk out some colostrum, but I got about 2 ounces down each of them (they were too weak to suckle a bottle so I tube fed them).  The boy seemed a little stronger than the girl, but both were pathetic little things, with floppy ears and weak baas.  The next day I tried milking C-Kerry some more – I would get about a half ounce each time, before she got too fractious.  She was wonderful with the lambs once she settled down, and very attentive and watchful, but was very clear that she didn’t like to be milked by a human.  But they were so weak they couldn’t nurse much (at all?) on their own.  So I made up some milk replacer and kept tube feeding them.  Then I contacted my Shetland shepherds on my chat list for advice and got good instructions on what to do.

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Lambie intensive care.  They were best left with their mama, but so very weak.

On day 3 I called the vet and got them in to see her the next day.  Diagnosis?  They were premies!  It confirmed a suspicion I’d been having, but the vet estimated they were 7-10 days premature, and this was probably the main reason behind the weakness I was seeing.  The vet gave some vitamin D and selenium injections, and the wee ewe got some antibiotic for the pneumonia she seemed to be flirting with, and off we went, back to mama at home.  The boy responded to the injections almost immediately.  His floppy ears started to stick out like they are supposed to, and he definitely had more energy, with a few little lamb bounces that very evening.

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I think we’re going to make it.  They slept under the heat lamp for most of that first week.

The girl took a little longer, but by the weekend (they were born on a Monday), they were both going in the right direction.  I stopped feeding the boy about then, but still gave the girl a few feedings into the next week. C-Kerry has been a stellar mother to them – holding very still and even moving her leg out of the way when they got up to nurse.  They were smaller than the other lambs the same age, and the girl was very hocky – her rear legs meet at the hocks – but they slowly seem to be straightening as she gains strength and grows.  She lost part of her baby coat, and looked quite moth eaten for a while. I am chalking this up to the antibiotic injection she received as well as the overall stress she went through. But with Daisy’s recent diagnosis of ringworm, I watched the her closely (skin is clear, with new wool growing underneath the baby coat coming out).

But what about the 5 other ewes and their lambing, you ask?

The day after C-Kerry had her premies (so 3 ewes lambed, with 4 babies so far), Duna, my least favorite ewe (I’ve kept her for sentimental reasons (loved her mother)) decided to have a nice little white ewe.  I was home to see the birth, and moved Duna and the baby into a jug a short time after the lamb was on her feet. Duna was doing everything just as she should, but a little confused on why the lamb kept trying to go “back there.”

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Some dirt crumbles on her back, but Duna thought she was just perfect.

It was a nice-ish afternoon (we’ve had SUCH rain this year) and I was dinking around outside the pen (picking up sticks for the yard waste bin) when I looked over to see Duna pushing again.  They don’t push like that for afterbirth, but it had been nearly 4 hours since she had her ewe lamb.  Then the “afterbirth” raised up and shook its head.  OMG!  I went into the pen with her – after more than 3 ½ hours, she was already over the moon over the ewe lamb she’d had, but what was this?  She licked at him tentatively, but wasn’t hugely interested and went back to her ewe.  I wiped down the little guy with a towel – he seemed strong and vital, even with all that time between the births (normally twins come within 30 minutes of each other).

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Only minutes old and his mother and sister were ignoring him.

Duna was a little more interested after I cleaned him up some, and licked at him as she should.  But still, she wasn’t that attracted to him compared to her girl.  Then she decided he didn’t get to nurse.  Not a full-on rejection, but darn close.  I watched into the evening and realized I had to intervene. I haltered her and held her still to let him nurse – he latched on pretty well, but she was NOT happy.  So I tube fed him as well, to be sure he was getting something.  The next morning I wrestled her down before going to work so he could get some food.  But I ended up tube feeding him more than he got from her.  That evening, while on the phone with a fellow shepherd (Sir Terry’s owner, in fact), we brainstormed.  I thought about using an essential oil on him, but my friend said to use it on the ewe lamb instead.  It was aniseed oil, and sure enough, with the ewe lamb smelling funny, Duna let the little guy – a moorit – latch on and tank up.  I could see his little sides bulging by the time he was done.  Whew!  Crisis averted.  Or so I thought.  By the weekend it was obvious she wasn’t going to let him nurse.  He was resourceful, and tried some of the other ewes as he could, but again, intervention was needed.  So he – now called Rudy, or little fella – is my first bottle lamb.  I’ve been able to leave him with the flock, which is better for him, but was feeding him at least four times a day, more often as I could (with my work schedule, it’s hard).  He comes running when he sees me, and drinks his bottle like a champ (although I am now weaning him – he’s six weeks old already).  He’s smaller than some of the other lambs, but he’s growing, and is spunky and strong.  He’s going to be a tough one to let go…

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Rudy getting his evening bottle from my sister, who came out to experience MacFinn Farm lambdimonium over Memorial Day weekend.

To be continued…

Into each life…a little luck must fall

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After the wettest winter on record, we are finally starting to see some sunshine. It is very welcome.

So I guess I’ve had a month.  I know, I know, what about the LAST SIX months and my blogging drought?  It’s been an eventful six months, but really, the past six weeks are what I’m going to blog about today.

Everybody has stuff happen here and there.  It’s just been a while since I’ve had things stack up quite like this (outside of the ol’ lung thing of 2014 through 2016 – ha!).  I get that everyone has troubles, that stuff happens, but it’s been a long, long time, maybe never, that I had a Series of Unfortunate Events like I’ve had in the past six weeks.  In that time I’ve seen my car mechanic (twice), a well and pump technician, the veterinarian (twice, for three different animals), a plumber, an electrician, and an appliance repair person. All the while, my work load (the paying gig, that is) was going nuts,(busy with deadline after deadline). I also had numerous calls and texts to the well/pump fella, multiple calls to the two vets I’m working with, and, I won’t lie, a few tears here and there.  So, as of this week, I am hopeful, and trust completely, that this mensus horribilus is over!

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Lambie intensive care.

I thought the car problems were bad, starting at the end of April (engine suddenly losing acceleration – not power – as I was driving down the freeway – wee!, and again then on a back road, and then the check engine light coming on) but that was only $700 or so between diagnosis and fix (she’s still not 100%, but at least dependable again).  The well problem, cropping up about a week later, could have been easily 10 or 20 TIME$ that amount to fix.  But with the help of some awesome coaching by the well guy (who came out and inspected for an initial potential diagnosis) I narrowed it down to a serious leak in the pipe from the pump to the house. When I finally discovered it – directly under the bathtub, which resides on an alcove of sorts on the outside of my foundation: who knew? – I thought for sure I had a spring under the house! Enter the call to the plumber. But despite the stress of searching for the source of the problem, crawling under the house to dig up the pipe/s, and then waiting 4 1/2 days without water for the plumber’s schedule to open up, I got lucky. That was hard to keep in mind when I was going outside, ahem, with the dogs, or heating water for an old fashioned wash up in the tub (using bottled water). It was camping at home, and if it weren’t for the animals I would have skipped out and stayed with a friend.

And of course both of these pale in comparison to the animals being unwell, and especially the dogs, my other heart(s).  The lambing issues were unusual and, for me, new.  I’ll detail these in another post – it was a crazy two or three weeks!  Daisy cropped up with a weird fungal infection on her face and it took a little time to figure it out.  The cure was a gnarly antifungal drug the vet prescribed (and I reluctantly agreed to).  But before I could give her more than one dose, she presented with a weird abscess (best guess) in her face/upper jaw.  She was unable to open her mouth all the way, and the area around her left eye was swollen and she was squinting.  Another trip to the vet (we walked the two miles because the car wouldn’t start) and the cure for the abscess was a round of clindamycin.  It took four days before I could definitively say the medication was working, so I asked the vet for a second week of the drug, just to really kick it.  The great side effect benefit was that it cleared up the fungal infection too.  Yay!  No need for the antifungal I didn’t want to give her. How lucky is that?

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Fresh from the vet, after he scraped and took samples – top of her muzzle and on the side, next to her nose.

Along the way with this major stuff is the not so major stuff (concert ticket problems to resolve with Ticketmaster; the cat escaped out the door one rainy evening and killed a hummingbird at my feeder – I cried and cried and cried over that tiny body, whose death I caused;  a couple days later I accidentally stepped on a banana slug and killed it – I didn’t cry, but I felt so bad about that), and of course the good things too.  The concert tickets worked out and the show was FANTASTIC (U2 The Joshua Tree tour) – providing a much needed break (and, amazingly, that night was also a break in the near-constant rain we had before and after).  AND, because of where the lighting and sound tent was located on the floor, they moved us to new seating.  My $90 seats (which I was really pleased with) suddenly became $400 seats. WOW! Add to this the realizations about my own strengths, and then the truly blessed things – gifts you don’t even realize at first.  Like a well/pump guy who generously shared his time and knowledge with me (via text and phone), over two weeks, and never once getting tired of my latest “what dis?” ignorant question, pointing me in the right direction again and again and coaching me through the digging and discovery.  It’s “funny” because I originally called a different well guy (I was running out of water in the house and I didn’t know why) – one that I’d used before – and they were so backed up with work that they referred me to the one I ended up calling.  And, it turns out, truly a blessing in disguise – he was WAY more helpful than the original would have been.  I got really really lucky.  The electrician that I called was the same, coming out on a Friday evening on the start of a holiday weekend.  I was fully prepared to spend the three day weekend without water, but he came out and tested everything.  It turned out (as I discovered the next morning) that this was a false alarm on my part; there was no electrical or mechanical issue, but I was so ramped up with worry about what the well and tank were doing that I thought I was seeing something that wasn’t actually happening – embarrassing but true, and a $176 lesson.

But through all of this, I learned a lot about my little house, about how things work here, and about my own toughness and determination, about my ability to cope (sometimes not so well, frankly; other times, amazingly resilient) and what I can accomplish on my own.  No car? No problem – I’ll walk, or take the bus. No water? No problem, I’ll make do with bottled water and camping at home. Lambing problems? I can handle that with the help of a vet or two (and I have to say, large animal vets are the BEST), a knowledgeable sheep community, who, when I reached out to them, were willing to help me troubleshoot and recommended care for my unwell newborn lambs. Well or pipe problems? Call for expert help, and roll your sleeves up to help yourself along the way. The well guy – Dave is his name, of Ralph’s Pump and Well – told me that I likely saved myself $1,000 by doing all the diagnostic legwork and digging myself. I couldn’t have done it without him, and told him so (and owe him a beer), but it was worth the hard work to save that money and also to learn not only how things work around here, but what I can do, and a little more of what I’m made of.  Plus, it was good to have something to do besides wring my hands and wait for “rescue” by someone else.  Action is always good, just as stillness can be good (I needed the latter when my brain tried to spin worry out of control).

All is well now, my leaking pipe is fixed, my car is running, Daisy’s fungal infection cleared up (and without giving her the $80 worth of gnarly systemic medicine for 12 weeks – I really could have used that $80, but very, very happy I didn’t end up putting her on that drug), the three weak lambs all toughed it out, fighting to live as I fought to save them.  Sheep are such tough critters! And the washer is now “fixed” – no small feat, considering the juxtaposition of the hoses and lack of access thereto (the washer itself was fine, but with all the water problems, grit had filled the hoses to the machine) — so I can do a two-week backlog of laundry. Clean sheets and blankets galore!

And thank my lucky stars, remembering that upon us all little rain must fall.  This one brings back a few memories, too. Take a listen…ahhh.

But let’s talk LAMBS! See next post for lambdimonium! 20170427_182826

Happy New Year Musings

20161209_091400Happy New Year!  When I look at the calendar and see 2017 it seems so surreal.  It’s such a science-fictiony kind of date for those of us born near the middle of the last century.  But here we all are, still grunting along, with the proverbial two steps forward, one step back still in heavy rotation (one might agree that equation is backwards, in light of the year just past).  There were a lot of “good riddance” attitudes as 2016 faded into history, as there are at every New Year.  Each year deals its own challenges as time and life progresses, be it natural disaster, personal losses, or global events. This year it seemed as if there were more of the “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” type sentiments (as if the turn of a calendar page could transform anything), with several high profile celebrity deaths happening to bookend the year, and in the middle as well.  Our celebrity culture tells us that these celebrities’ deaths are “Breaking News” and social media lights up with mournful responses for each one.  Certainly these people do affect our lives with their talents, entertaining us and perhaps changing our outlooks or inspiring us such that our own trajectory is altered.  Of course even in this, our lives, and life courses, are self-generated, with any course change or goal achieved being of our own volition, or any lack thereof being also our own choice. When people are lamenting the loss of one celebrity or another I remember the Walt Whitman poem “Oh Me! Oh Life!” from his Leaves of Grass, which ends with the potent line:
“[Answer] That you are here—that life exists and identity, That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”  And of course the equally powerful natural follow up to that last, magnificent line: What will your verse be? (And yes, I know, I quote a dead celebrity [in a movie] with this line, but there you have it.)

20161205_094623In other powerful revelations, I maintain my long-held belief that the epitome of civilization, the absolute pinnacle of mankind’s achievements—and I’m not kidding when I say this—is: hot running water from a tap.  I am completely serious.  Go without electricity for a week and you’ll find you can cope. If you don’t have modern central heating, a woodstove does an excellent job (and helps with cooking too). There are several make-do substitutions for almost any of modern conveniences, but running water, specifically hot running water, simply cannot be matched.  I learned this many years ago, when a winter storm left me without power for 5 long days. At the time I did have a woodstove, so kept the house toasty-warm that way. And hot running water was maintained with a natural gas hot water heater. So a delicious hot shower by candlelight, with hair dried sitting on a footstool next to the woodstove, kept things civilized.

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Beautiful overnight frost on my windshield.

Here on my little farm though, I not only don’t have a woodstove (the place is so tiny I have no idea where to put it, and the most likely place would require eliminating half of my already paltry living room seating), I’m also on a well, with an electric water heater. So when the power goes out, I immediately begin water rationing, using water sparingly so I don’t run out the tank while I wait for the power to come back on. Or, in the case of this week, when we have long spells of freezing/below freezing weather, the wellhead and/or the pipes at the tank freeze up, and I’m again rationing water until the weather warms up. The temps dipped on Tuesday.  I saw this pattern was coming on Sunday and Monday, so did laundry, filled the sheep’s water trough, and washed my hair in anticipation of water rationing.  We did okay for a couple days, and still the freezing temperatures persisted.  Generally, if it doesn’t get above 32 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and also dips into the low 20s or below at night, the freezing of the water supply is at risk.  We had this all week, with temps in the mid and high teens at night, and barely climbing to 33 or 34 degrees during the day.  By Wednesday I could see the water pressure was waning, as the water coming out of the taps was beginning to slow.  This meant the tank was emptying and not refilling.  Thursday morning as I was readying for work, she gave up the ghost.  No water.  Dang.

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Sir Terry, the handsome ram who’s visiting for a few key months, and his harem.

I stopped at the store on the way home from work that night and bought 5 gallons of water (because of course I haven’t stockpiled water).  I used all but one gallon that night, as I boiled up a gallon to bring out to the sheep (poured into their frozen trough, it melted some of the ice and gave them some water until it froze over again), filled the dogs’ bowls (because of course those had gotten low, too), and used some for washing up.  On Friday I stopped and refilled those four 1-gallon containers.  Saturday I was still without water and bought another 3 gallons of water.  Though the temperature was slowly rising, it really needs to get to at least 35 degrees for 24 hours before things thaw enough.  This little hillside is a cold hillside, with negligible direct sun this time of year and both the wellhead and the tank being in perennially shaded areas.  On Sunday the temps were supposed to rise some more, but I was concerned it wouldn’t be enough to thaw things.  It had now been almost a week without a proper shower, and going outside with the dogs for potty was getting old (and a bit chilly!).

I went down to the well head – a little box at the bottom of the pasture.  I threw a rug, still warm from the clothes dryer, over the pump.  And realized I needed to do more.  So I cobbled together no less than 6 extension cords (that last 9-footer made it!) and put an electric heater in the box, on low, and left it for a 45 minutes or so while I fed the sheep and cleaned up the garage.  After nearly an hour it was nice and toasty in the box, but the tank up by the house wasn’t budging.  So I took the heater, with only one extension cord this time, and put it in the tiny shed that the tank lives in on the side of the house.  I kept checking on it, and moved it closer and closer to the piping.  Finally, an hour into it (two hours if you count the time at the wellhead), I began to get water out of the tap.  Hallelujah and happy dance.  Let there be water!

20170101_160637

Frosty woods out back. The kicker, to be filed in the “it’s always something” folder, is I absolutely LOVE this weather aside from the frozen water aspect.  It’s been mostly clear, so lots of blue sky and winter sun (yes!), and even when it’s mere 24 degrees out there, I find it comfortable (no wind to speak of, so wind chill isn’t a factor).  The ground is frozen solid, so no mud (HUGE), and it’s beautiful to look at the frost-laden landscape. What’s not to love?

I waited a reasonable amount of time to be sure the water was staying on, and then ran the dishwasher (packed full after a week), and a load of laundry (also full).  Then, when it looked like all systems were go there, I got into the shower for the first time since Monday.  Baby wipes and sponge bathing had kept me reasonably clean, but I hadn’t washed my hair since Monday, and it was wonderful.  I was able to wipe the counters clean with a damp cloth for the first time in days, and really clean things in the kitchen.  Sunday’s temps are rising a little but the ground is still frozen solid, so I’m glad I made the effort.

Hot running water.  Seriously.

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Gratuitous cuteness.  My little pack, all tuckered out after romping outside for a few hours.

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