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Archive for the category “Dogs and other critters”

Catching Up, Part 2: Pandemic Gifts

With all the rain and clouds, we get some spectacular sunsets.

We got past our record shattering hot June weather last year and the rest of the summer was mostly normal. I can’t remember any standout heat, and the forest fires east of the mountains and to the north and south of us didn’t affect us too much. There were some orange sun days, where the setting sun looks unearthly from the smoke haze, but not as bad as years past. This year we’re having a cold, wet spring – May and June have been setting records for rainfall and the rivers are up to the point of nearly flooding, which is super unusual this late in the year. But much more normal than last year’s heat, for sure, and much preferred. I could use some more sunshine though. I don’t think it’s going to warm up significantly, and it’s raining again this afternoon, but we will hopefully get some steady sun after tomorrow, July 4th, when summer usually starts around here.

I got my vaccinations last spring (2021) and felt better after that – I know they aren’t a fail safe against contracting COVID-19, but it does give me a measure of comfort. Virtually no side effects either (some tiredness and arm soreness after the first one). I got my booster (third shot) in January but am not feeling as urgent about a fourth shot. I’m not big on getting a lot of vaccinations – I don’t do annual flu shots, for instance – and while I believe in the principal of vaccines, I don’t just go for jabs willy nilly. Plus my exposure level is pretty minimal. But I will probably boost the COVID at some point, for sure.

It’s been a long couple of years with COVID 19, for sure. And for this introvert, not all of the changes and adjustments of “social distancing” were entirely negative.

Pally carrying on the tradition.

Working 100 percent from home for 2 years was really a long-held dream come true for me, and I consider this part of the pandemic to be a gift (and feel very fortunate to have a job where I could do this). I went into the office a few times over the 2-year period. There was a core team there of folks whose work couldn’t be done from home, and some extrovert types who preferred the office. Sitting at my desk masked all day on those days wasn’t ideal, but it was a way to show up and be counted/accounted for. But no commute was even better than I thought it would be – 2 hours of my life back every day (hundreds of hours not spent in traffic) was amazing. Less stress and no need to get up early to get dressed and prepped for the office, and hundreds of dollars saved for the gas and parking I no longer needed for going into the office were the financial bonuses I didn’t anticipate. And, even better, fewer people on the road means less fossil fuel being burned and tons less carbon into the atmosphere, and the planet benefits big time as well. Win-win-win.

The other gift was, of course, time with the dogs. It’s especially poignant with another devastating loss recently (can’t write about this yet as it’s too raw – my Instagram has the post @macfinnfarm). I am so glad to have had this extra time with my family, my family being my dogs. Spending time with them—even if they just sleep all day long while I work—has been beyond priceless to me.

Two things – the gifts I didn’t foresee – were my hair and my weight. First the hair. Like many, I began coloring my hair sometime in my late 40s. The gray was coming in strong and highlights at the salon were expensive and couldn’t keep up with it. I chose the at-home color route instead of letting it go gray, and for a time liked the results. After a while though, and especially when the roots showed I was more than 75 percent gray, it became tedious. I liked my long hair, and getting out the Miss Clairol every 4 weeks, then every 3 weeks (roots became noticeable after 2 weeks, and I was using that L’Oreal root spray – basically spray painting my part brown– to hide the white stripe of my parted hair) was getting to be more than tedious. I would try to do it on the weekend – half an hour of applying the color, then sitting with it for 25 minutes, then rinsing out…I just hated it and felt stuck.

I talked to my hairdresser about going gray several years ago, and it seemed the only way was to let it grow out. So I was effectively painted into a corner – letting it grow out was NOT going to be attractive (unless I cut my hair into a short pixie cut, which I didn’t want to do – fully gray and sporting an “old lady haircut” all at once was more than I could contemplate), and wouldn’t work in a professional office setting. The average person at my work is 25 or 30 years my junior, and the ageism I already felt would be notfun if I came to work with half grown roots, aside from the look not being professionally presentable.

Our office went to a work from home status in late March of 2020 (we were classified as an “essential business” but many other businesses like ours had been working from home for several weeks by then). At that time, we were all thinking we’d be back to normal by June. Haha – remember that? In mid-April I dutifully colored my roots, a little late, as was typical (later than usual because there was no one to see the inch of white of my part). It looked great when done, as it always did, but ugh, I just hated the doing of it. And of course the chemical aspect wasn’t something I liked either – the hair dye, even “Ammonia free!” products, just didn’t feel great to be putting on my scalp. As the weeks went on and return to office looked like it was going to be longer than anticipated, given how the virus was ravaging our country, I realized that I would have no better time to finally go gray like I’d been wanting to do for years. So I let it go. The first few months weren’t so bad; I could use a baseball cap in public and cover the worst of it. About 6 months in it started to get unavoidable with regard to the half-grown-out look. Not attractive at all, but I wasn’t going out that much – lock down was real and I was keen on avoiding a coronavirus infection. At almost a year in, I began to see what it was going to look like. And I liked it! I got a haircut to get rid of some of the old brown/dyed hair, so the contrast wasn’t so acute, and kept letting it grow. After about 18 months the transformation was nearly complete. I had a serious haircut/style then, and got rid of all but an inch or two of the brown. It was the shortest my hair had been in years, but I was officially gray! And I’m happy to say I LOVE it. I’ve had one more cut, and all the dyed brunette color is gone. My hair isn’t as white as I expected it would be, and the texture and thickness is different too (thinner/not as coarse, and seemingly less of it/not as thick), but I’m very happy with it. I especially love NOT having to spend 2 hours every 3 weeks processing it with chemicals on my head.

And my weight! Like many, I gained weight during the first year of covid – I was less active working from home, and didn’t have any kind of structured exercise routine. Walks with the dogs were so boring to me (Daisy didn’t like them so much, Farley was too old, and Pal was/is all bird dog on leash, and it’s not so enjoyable for me) and, for me, walking dogless is even worse. And my eating habits weren’t the best. I don’t eat a lot of junk food or processed food – I like to make real food – but in my intermittent fasting style of eating, I would eat a LOT at each meal. Like, a recipe that made three or four servings would be one meal. Good, fresh food, but too much of it. And a pint of premium ice cream on a Saturday night of Netflix wasn’t uncommon. The clothes were getting tighter and my self-esteem and shame about my weight was getting worse. After a year I finally decided it was time to do something. I just didn’t want to “diet” again – the idea of restricting or depriving myself just made me angry. But the other alternative, at that weight, was to buy new clothes in the next size up. Nope.

So I tried one of the popular online programs I kept hearing about, bought a scale, and figured if I hated the program after the two week free trial I could cancel it. Well, I did hate it. I was hangry and the program’s silly/immature banter and excessive use of acronyms and hashtags just irritated me. so. much. And I wasn’t losing much weight. But I was determined and I stuck with it. I found an online “support group” on social media – others in my age demographic also using this program – and that was really helpful. After about a month or so, the constant feeling of hunger was diminished, and I kept counting calories. After a month I was down about 5 pounds. So I kept at it. And kept at it. The eating light became second nature, and I began to feel better about myself as the weight continued to come off. I plateaued for about a month at about 6 months in (over the holidays) but kept at it. After about 9 months I was close enough to my goal to ditch the program (and the fee$) and kept at it. I’m down about 45 pounds now, and have maintained this for 6 months now. I even got down to 50 pounds gone at one point, but didn’t stay there too long. I’ve begun doing a LOT of walking too – with a new dog (more on him later) that made it more fun, and it’s been good for both of us, physically and mentally. It feels really good to have gotten rid of that bulk; something I don’t think I could have done with the daily grind of commute and office stress (poor eating habits and work-related stress is a factor for the weight to pile on in the first place). I’m down two sizes and need a belt to keep my jeans from falling off (old lady butt syndrome = my youthful glutes are gone, haha!) and tops that felt and looked like I was wearing sausage casings just a year ago are now slipping off my shoulders they’re so loose. Gray hair and slender and fit for my sixth decade – I’ll take it!

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Catching up, Part 1

I’ve done very little writing in the last year, and my goal to get back to blogging regularly in 2021 was not met, obvs. But I’m okay with it. In the past I’ve flogged myself, feeling I’ve somehow failed for not pursuing this more aggressively. I don’t do that any more. Well, not in this arena. Too much. I do think I can do better, and still have a lot of satisfaction and fulfillment when I write. I just haven’t been. Hmm. As usual, I’ve been busy, and as usual, have a couple posts that never made it off my laptop. I’m going to use them to catch up now. Because ya, I still have something to say.

Catching up, loss and grieving

Only 5 10 months gap this time. I’m doing good! {kidding} As usual I’ve started/not finished a couple blog posts in the meantime, and a few more never made it out of my head. Life’s been good, and busy. I’m winding up a week off work now – my annual Thanksgiving week break, taking advantage of the two days of holiday pay and adding only three days of vacation pay for a full 9 days in a row off – blissful, yet not too damaging to my paid time off (PTO) bank. Since I’m not actually vacationing or traveling, the ding to PTO seems more painful for these staycations, even though time off is delicious no matter what, and so very needed. But it takes so damn long to build up the PTO that I’m a little miserly about using too much of it. I try and keep my bank of PTO over 100 hours, but am not always successful in that. I’m going to do this again in a month, so I can ring in the New Year completely rested. (4/30/22 note: I did this, and I loved it, and am going to do it again every year.)

A lot of little things happen that I think about posting on, but I don’t always document well. Instagram tends to be my go-to, but even that has slacked off. COVID, farm doings, and the usual assortment of sundry events, some more impactful than others.

Another 8 months of COVID restrictions has passed but it is getting a little better as vaccinations have become more and more available.  But we’ll get to those little things in another post. Because life has changed here at MacFinn. And in my little world, the earth has tilted on its axis. 

And the elephant in the room (for me)… It happened. I’m down to two dogs. After 15 ½ years together, Farley has left the building.

We’d had our ups and downs in the past 18 months, to be sure. Some health issues and bad days where I questioned what I was doing, my own integrity as a dog owner. Yet he never seemed ready; he always rallied back. A bad day was always bookended by at least one or two good days, and we rarely had more than one questionable (is this it?) bad day a week. Hell, even at the end, I’m questioning – should I have waited? Maybe he would have rallied again… The insidiousness of magical thinking. But he was an old dog – at least 16, maybe close to 17 years old. And the decline was steady. Still, I got more than a year longer than I’d prayed for in the spring of 2020, when I’d asked for “just one more summer. Please.” with my boy. I got that, and a whole year more. An embarrassment of riches, this time with this incredible, life changing dog.

The memories, so many memories, all of them clear, if brief, as the day they were made, flooded me for that first day after, and I felt lost without him for a few days. Not only the daily rhythm of the day, where I revolved around his needs, doted on him, hand fed him (something I swore I would never do for a dog – but he was eager for food and just had a hard time eating because of his GOLPP). But it was more than that. He defined my life for so very long. FIFTEEN YEARS with him. He came at a time when I didn’t know I even needed him, and changed my whole outlook on dogs. All of them change you, all of them leave indelible marks, but some… some are game changers. He was a huge help in the grey cloud that hung over us (me, Dinah, and Cutter) because of Cutter’s worsening epilepsy.

He was full of so much spirit. My first Setter, he was as different from the serious Rottweilers I’d had for 20+ years as a dog could be, and certainly the spriteliness he brought to our lives broke up those dreary clouds, so heavy at times. He escaped the yard to run down the street with glee, his bird dog instincts driving him in following his bliss, and in the house he snuggled up like a cat. I fell so hard, there was no going back. I fell so hard I felt guilty, as if I was caught cheating on a lover, about my love for the Rottweilers. The road trips… he was so fun to travel with (although he was Cujo in the car, and big trucks set him off, which made me and the truckers laugh). He had such joy, and it was infectious. He lived life to the fullest: a walk became The Best Thing Ever, a hike was a grand adventure, and he was so fun to hike with. He had such character – his dislike of male strangers (up to and including biting them, to my horror), his love of his toys. Coming home with a new toy for him was like a kid on Christmas morning. He was SO fun to buy toys for, and I don’t know if I’ll ever have another dog who loves toys as much as Farley loved his. The siren song of the honking ones was something he couldn’t resist, and when he ripped out honk mechanism in one of them (or maybe that was Dinah – she was the toy destroyer) I used it as his emergency recall. He’d come to me at a dead run if he heard it. Even when his eyes got milky with age, and his sight diminished, his hearing poor to nonexistent, he still loved his toys. He got too frail to chase them very far, but still brought them to me to toss.

I know part of the reason I bought my farm was because of him. The house (property) in Sammamish suddenly became too small, too claustrophobic, the neighbors too clueless, and I had to get out. We ended up here, on our almost six acres, and before I got the fence up he was out on the road more than once, and up into the woods on the hill behind the house, running, running, running. He was poetry in motion. It’s weird being here without him – he permeated every inch of this property, every day I’ve been here for 11 years. Even the last months, and last weeks, last days, he still toddled around, and would come down the driveway with me, which gave me inordinate joy (that he wanted to), then back to the house via the sheep pasture. He was weak in the rear, and would sometimes lose traction and crumple on the hillside, but he was game until the end. He would go out in the mornings or evenings and do his business, walking around the house, into the brush behind the chicken coop, sniffing his way slowly along the route he’d done for years at breakneck speeds. He would bark at the bottom of the steps when he was ready to come in and I would dutifully come out and spot him (he knew he might fall, so he barked to let me know, and I was there to catch him and assist if he needed it). Now he is no more. Who am I without him? What am I to do without him? But life goes on, and a week becomes two weeks, and soon it will be a month (4/30/22 – 6 months now). I knew it would be hard, but I figured since he’d been declining that I was somewhat prepared (never ready). But had no idea how hard it would be. How much his presence had come to define me. How it soothed me. Saved me.

Each dog has a song; I’ve forgotten Hannah, Will, and Trinah’s songs off the top of my head (although collectively it was “Simply the Best”). Little Pal is the only one that hasn’t a song of his own, as I’m thinking of it (gotta work on that!), but Daisy’s is “My Girl.” Farley’s was “You are my sunshine” – I would sing it to him occasionally, which he dutifully put up with. I sang it to him that last day, though tears, and sang it to him as I drove home, his body so still and quiet in the back of my car. I sang it to him the next day, crying, as I drove him to the crematorium. The words are modified now, and when I sing it I cry, of course. My bright, bright shining boy, my game changer, my sprite, my joy in dog form, is gone, and so is the little old man who replaced him the past few years too. He’s racing along the cloudbanks now (thank you, Laurie, dearest of friends, for that perfect image), his spirits high and the joy palpable. Oh how I miss him so.

You made me happy, when skies were gray. You’ll never know dear, how much I loved you. I miss my sunshine every day. 

Unprecedented

It was holding at 97 until the sun hit.

June 27, 2021
Before I go much further (and I promise I won’t go on and on about it), I just want to tell you how much I am sick of hearing this word (the post title). For the past 18 months it’s all you hear, because, well, unprecedented was kind of the theme for the pandemic. I was surprised when it wasn’t the word of the year for 2020. But all that aside, there really aren’t adequate synonyms for unprecedented, so it’s really the only word for things that are so outside of the norm – way beyond extraordinary or exceptional – that they’re, well, unprecedented.  So here I am, using it for my blog post title, because we are having an unprecedented weekend of extreme hot weather. Temperature records held for decades are dropping like flies, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better (at least one more day to go, according to forecasts, and it will be the worst). Still, that old Linda Ronstadt song has been going through my head (for the chorus) – heat wave!

Western Washington historically gets maybe one or two days in the high 90s per year, during our short, two-month summers, and usually this heat isn’t until late July or early August. So this is, uh, unprecedented not only because of the extreme temps, but the earliness of it. And to think just 10 days ago we were dealing with pouring rain and 60 degree temps, more normal for us for sure. The biggest issue with this heat, though, is the fact that we’re not cooling off at night. We are lucky in this climate that even on our hottest days, it generally cools to the 60s or even 50s. But with this heat wave it’s not dipping below 70 at night, and that’s the biggest problem. Because there’s no way to cool the house down (central AC isn’t a thing here, because we so rarely need it). We’re managing, and drinking gallons of water, but I will be glad for Monday night, when it’s supposed to break.

Me and Farley, and the fuchsia basket I forgot to water, cooling off. Both Farley and the plant were noticeably revived by the soak.

Of all the critters here, the sheep seem to be handling it the best. I had contacted a shearer about 3 weeks ago and we were scheduled, fortuitously it turns out, for Wednesday (June 23) – one of the coolest days of the past 10. (A shoutout to Moonrise Shearing – Gina and crew did a fantastic job!) So they are all shorn and cute, and right now seem to be channeling their ancient desert ancestors, not their more recent Shetland Island predecessors. I have plenty of shade here (which I’ve lamented in past posts, but am grateful for now), but even with that, I just went out to check on them and Jackson is resting in the hot sun (head up, alert) like it’s only 60 degrees out. The rest are mostly in the shade, aside from the few out grazing.

Oh, and this is excellent for the turtles – it’s perfect turtle weather, and good for Haley especially. She’s been dealing with an upper respiratory infection recently, so I’m hoping this heat and sunshine will help (the soonest vet appointment I could get is July 5th!). Don’t mind Mary Shelley. I caught her doing her gymnastics the other day, or tryna to make a break for it, I’m not sure which. 😉

The manroot has made it almost all the way across the gate this year!

June 20, 2021
I started this post almost a month ago now, on a beautiful sunny morning much like the one I’m enjoying now, although we’ve had a hella lotta rain in between, with downpours where I’m sure more than one bird nest was lost – I hate when it comes down in buckets (cloudburst style) any time of year, but especially during nesting season. {Now, with this extreme heat, the risk is again great, especially for swallows nesting in eaves/roof areas.}

I’m in a funky place right now – a little stressed/depressed, and unfortunately my “go to” for this is always inertia rather than the action (any action, really) that would help me move through it. Work in progress there, for sure. A number of things are stressing me and my anxious second nature, but the main thing is of course, the dogs. Farley’s fading, and while he’s not ready to go, there is always a lot of stress around those last few months, especially if you’re lucky enough to have a dog reach Methuselah-age like him (16 at least!). Some days aren’t as good as others, and I tell myself that if he’s not better by the next day I’ll make the call. And he’s always better, and I’m always thankful, but there’s no question that there’s stress around this. He’s watching me now, giving his little high pitched woof-barks (so adorbs, trust me).  Attention barks – although I don’t always know what he wants. And I find that much of the time, neither does he. A treat? A pet? Go outside (we’re outside now).  He’s a little bit senile – at 16 you’re allowed that – and there’s a little bit of the “automaton” to many of the things he does: old habits, so deeply ingrained, that it seems he doesn’t even know why he’s doing them (mostly related to his wanderings around the yard). But he’s still mostly enjoying life. Like an old man of course, not like the sprite that came to me over 15 years ago – blasting a metaphorical hole into the dreariness that my life was at the time, mostly surrounding Cutter’s epilepsy (speaking of anxiety!). I took to him like glue, and he to me, and I remember feeling overwhelmed with how much I adored him, and more than a little guilty  – I love all my dogs deeply, and individually and for who they are, but there’s no denying that sometimes you love one “more than” another. He was so alive and vibrant and so full of spirited bird-dog exuberance that it was impossible not to fall trulymadlydeeply. {lump in throat, blinking rapidly} I’m grateful for every day.

June 1, 2021
One thing I have to say for the pandemic – I got really good at using a laptop keyboard! Working from home (and feeling so fortunate in that) for the past 15 months has given me a lot of insight and lessons. Most of it I already knew, or intuited (how much I would love it was a slam dunk), but the keyboard thing – a wee bonus. (Usually I get a regular keyboard to plug in.) Even the touch pad skills are better, although I still prefer a mouse, and am much more adept with a mouse.

We’re just coming off a 3-day weekend here (which I expanded on either side to a 5-day weekend – so. nice.) and the weather has been lovely – not a cloud in the sky today, and really warm. I’ve been slowly working on some gardening stuff, getting my herbs planted (medicinal and culinary). I decided to utilize the bed next to the porch, and had some reclaiming to do there. It was overgrown with grass, so I peeled out the sod, put a thin layer of sheep shed gleanings (soiled straw and “pellets”), then covered with some “compost” I purchased. Compost is in quotes because I bought a big bag of it and when I opened it looked like nothing more than finely ground wood chips. Oh well. It looks nice and thankfully most all of the herbs aren’t divas. I selected these herbs (medicinal) at a sale I attended with a friend last March, and I had a list of what I wanted (based on the list of items they had available) and wasn’t paying much attention to what these plants preferred with regard to full sun, shade, etc. With all the trees on the property, finding a truly sunny spot (like “full sun” all day long) is next to impossible. When I looked up details on each of the plants, it turned out all of them like…exactly what my little front garden bed can provide. Sun/part shade. Imagine that. So welcome elecampane, wood betony, licorice, and skullcap (so much skullcap!). I’m still working on a spot for the serviceberry, and I managed to overwater the bergamot corms and killed them, so will have to start again there.

Note, this little patch is one of Daisy’s favorite places to dig a day bed on warm days, so I’ll be watching it. And during the winter, in bad weather, she’s prone to taking a big steamy one in there, rather than venturing too far into the wet, yucky weather to do her business. I’m looking at cute garden fences to keep her out, and will have to watch the sheep when they’re out too, since they’re good at gobbling up anything I plant (there used to be a large patch of day lilies there, which evidently were very delicious).

**June 20th update – all of these things have happened. I came out one day to find the licorice plant lying in the heat, wilted and half-dead. Daisy had been out earlier in the day while I was at work inside and stealthily dug a nest. She dug up a few of the skullcap herbs too. Sigh. I replanted the licorice and watered heavily. The licorice perked back up, and we had some cool, wet weather after, so it is mostly recovered. The skullcap, like all members of the mint family, were like, thanks, mate – and the bent/broken stems just took it as an opportunity to spread.  A couple were completely broken off, lying wilted and dead, but I brought them inside and put them in a glass of water. They revived completely and are now covered with hairlike roots, ready to be planted.

A few days after the nest digging, I found a big ol’ Daisy log in there. Sigh again. It had been raining hard, and she doesn’t like to get wet, so a quick trip out the door for potty time is just that when it’s raining out.  And the sheep have tasted all of the new occupants, although they don’t seem interested in the betony, and the elecampane isn’t much of a draw either. They have, however, pulled out the stock plants several times. As a flowering annual I purchased, the stocks hadn’t had enough time to dig in any roots. I’ve replanted, but between being ripped up and dined on multiple times, I’m not expecting much more from them. Which is sad, because the scent is divine. I don’t grow a lot of froo-froo plants here – flowers must either be bee food and/or a good smeller, or part of a plant I’m growing for other reasons (e.g., my herbs) – but stock and phlox will always have a place. I was at the store recently and bought a nice healthy phlox plant, and since it was a two-fer deal, I also got a pot of carnations too, for the fragrance. I know they’re kind of an old lady scent, but I’ve always loved the spicy clove smell of carnations.

It’s cherry season here, and the cherry tree is again laden with fruit for the birds. The robins are fortified, and then there are the black headed grosbeak, cedar waxwings, and western tanagers it brings in. The red huckleberries, on the old growth stumps on either side of the cherry, are also a big draw, especially for the Swainson’s thrush. A northern flicker was in the cherry this morning filling up. Unfortunately a couple of gray squirrels have also been up in there. Rats with cuter outfits, these fat non-natives are destructive and wasteful, and scare off the birds as well. Daisy and Pal keep them treed up there when we’re outside.

Of condors and conservation, and life’s little conundrums

Sitting on the hill behind the house with my besties, writing.

The place where I buy hay for the sheep is a little mom & pop outfit in a rented pole barn the next town over. They’re based in eastern Washington, but truck over hay and other livestock needs (bedding chips, pellets, feed, etc.), as well as seasonal produce from eastern Washington farms at really good prices. Bonus: the hay they stock my sheep will actually eat. I can spend $5 more per bale at the local feed stores (which my wee gourmands think is nasty), but the Mitchells have a good product at a good price and I like giving them my business. One of the things Martha does is give you a “thought for the day”—a quote or saying, printed out on a little slip of paper—when you pay for your goods. This week it was the well-known quote from George Eliot: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” And it made me smile, because I have just been thinking about the path not taken…

Trixie can’t resist me – she always comes running to me if I sit in the sheep pasture.

It all started when I read an article recently about the woman who was instrumental in the team of wildlife officials, biologists, and government agencies that saved the California condor from the brink of extinction (and to be clear, we’re still not out of the woods – but there are 500 more condors now than the only-23-left-on-earth in 1987). The title of the piece alone had me thinking how lucky she was to not only be in the right place at the right time, but to have the wherewithal to follow her passion. I thought back to my youth and how ignorant and fearful I was about the opportunities in life.

Pal is the only one who will allow this, and Eloise takes advantage.

I was painfully shy as a teenager and our family was struggling. My mom, a single mother, was doing her best, but things were pretty tough. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I took on the anxiety that permeated things, as well as the belief that life was a struggle. Maybe not all the way to “Life’s a shit sandwich and every day you have to take a bite,” but certainly “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” You were destined for a life of hardship, working to make enough money to keep a roof over your head and gas in your car. It wasn’t quite as dreary as all that sounds, but I watched my mom struggle so hard, hard enough that she ended up with serious health issues and, being unable to work, moving 3,000 miles away to live with her sister’s family. (I’d planned to go too, but ended up finding another path.) I had a really tough time coming out of my hard shell of fear (maybe this is why I adore my little box turtles? I understand…?), with a crippling lack of confidence. I was scared of everything – the idea of getting a job after school about paralyzed me (when I could have earned money to help with the family bills – I still feel guilty about this). As I neared my senior year of high school, the idea of college may have been mentioned. I just didn’t know how. I would have had to get a scholarship, which means that I’d have to actually make an effort at school. I skated by easily with a 3.5 GPA, skipping classes when I could, and I can’t remember what my SAT scores were, but I was never motivated to do more. Inertia based on fear based on anxiety based on ignorance. Or something. A nice heady stew there.

Indian plum, or Oso [Oemleria cerasiformis] – always the first to bloom.

Once out of school I began work. First at a fast food restaurant (mercifully brief), then paying a recruiter to get an entry level job at an insurance company (seriously, I had to make payments to the job agency for months, with each paycheck – what kind of f**kery is that? A life’s a shit sandwich confirmation, that’s what! Haha!). And so it began. My family was carless at the time, so as soon as I could swing it, I got a co-signed loan to buy a car (which I couldn’t even drive at first – we didn’t have a car for me to take my driving test until I bought my own car at age 19). And we no longer had to take the bus everywhere (the grocery store being the most arduous). And incrementally, life got better – my older sister was a big part of this, helping with her paycheck too, with her and her roommate living in the same house as me and my mom and brother.

In the work force and out of the public school system I became less shy, and actually made real friends for the first time in what seemed like years. But I never really had a plan; I just worked to keep a roof over my head and gas in the fuel tank, and never knew or planned where I was going, ultimately. I don’t think I’m unique in that, but looking back I do wish I’d been more aware. Day to day was about all I did, all I’ve done, for most of my life (the past decade or so being the exception, kind of). Again, not unique, and nothing “wrong” with this, but I guess it’s not enough for me now. It’s not like I never had an existential thought either – the old “what are we here for?” was not an unknown thought to me. But although I pondered this, I was never able to put it into action.

Now, later in life, I look back and realize that although the idea of college was very distasteful (read: scary) to me at 17, it would have afforded me so much in the confidence department, where I really needed it. I didn’t know what I wanted to “be” or do either, so it was another reason to avoid college – the suggested business degree (barf) and more classrooms sounded about as much fun as giving myself a root canal. I loved animals, always – the one constant in my life – but I didn’t want to go to vet school (after 12 years of school I was done – again, not realizing college is nothing like grade school – and another 8 years of school just didn’t sound appealing).

Over the years I’ve taken CE classes in topics that interested me – creative writing, writing for income, drawing, painting, and the like – but never more than that. In my 40s I went back to school and got my editing certificate and I found I LOVED college and learning. I loved the atmosphere, and even the learning process. It was an eye-opener – like, maybe I had missed out… But the once or twice a week classes after work weren’t easy, either, while working a full time job. And by then I was divorced and needed a steady income – there was zero safety net (pretty much always).

It’s the little things.

It’s only in the last 5 years or so that I’ve thought about what I didn’t do with my life. A product of aging, sure, but now the idea of becoming, say, a biologist, appeals in a way it never did before. Lately it’s the dogs again, and learning more about behavior and training. But as much as I find this stuff fascinating, and important (trying to get a bead on a rescue dog’s impetus – usually fear – for behavior issues), I’m a lousy dog trainer. I have good dogs only because they are good souls at their core, not because I’m trained them that way.

A recent rescue transport – a good boy who needs a new home.

I guess all of this rambling is little more than a bit of wistfulness at not doing more with my life – I feel like I have nothing much to show for the time I’ve been here so far. I think that’s why Rottweiler rescue work has been so fulfilling – it has meaning, and is something outside of myself that feels like I’m making a difference. I’m not saving California condors from extinction, no, but a few throwaway dogs are living much better lives because of what I’m doing. And that’s something. I have a fair amount of knowledge about the natural world (birds, wildlife, local flora), and dogs and dog behaviors, but nothing I feel I could do anything with. I’ve accomplished a lot that I’m proud of, but nothing I feel makes that difference that saving a species makes. (Yes, I realize only a few people have lives like this, who can go down in history or are remembered by name…but still.) I guess I’ll just wrap up these musings with a quote from one of my life heroes – Jane Goodall, who makes me realize there’s time yet, if only I make use of it: “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” Don’t you just love her?

Me and Far just celebrated number 15 together! How lucky can a gal get? Love him to bits.

Oy! {hi!} Didja miss me?

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We had a gloriously dry October – the fall color was stunning.

And oy! for the other meaning {face palm}! Again I’ve let my blog slide. And again I can say “the longest gap ever.” It speaks volumes, I know. But really, it’s been busy. I’ve had a full summer, and have spent a lot of time wrestling with “stuff.” Time slips by quickly, and even though I’ve written a half dozen blog posts since June, I’m obviously not getting all the way to WordPress with them. No promises this time about getting back on schedule (I don’t want to embarrass myself again), but fingers are crossed, wood is being touched/knocked, and, well, here’s hoping.

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Foster dog Rio – I had to tether him for the first few days, until he got used to the sheep and property.  He stayed here two weeks until the absolute perfect home for him came along.

The biggest issue, and one of my favorite things over the past 4 months, has been Rottweiler rescue, but it also took over my life. Again. It is one of the more rewarding and fulfilling things I’ve done in a long while (reliving my 20s – ha!), and when I realized I was forsaking all other tasks (including the most important one of all—re-engineering my future income!), I realized–with the help and wise council of a dear friend, who is also an amazing life coach–that I had to let it go. Again. At least for now. There were some lovely dogs that came through, and a few homes I could only dream about (I’m talking about you, Max), but ultimately it came down to the same thing it came down to in 1995–too many Rottweilers and not enough qualified homes. A lot of the recent dogs have “issues” too, that will take a special home and hand to rehabilitate the dogs (resource guarding, anxiety, fears, and other behavioral challenges), making them very, very hard to place (if anyone is interested in them—and not many are—then they need to be very experienced dog people, preferably Rottweiler experience). I hope to take up rescue again in six months or so, once I get the biz launched and a steady income flowing in. By then I will have quit the life-draining day job (and attendant soul-sucking commute) and will not only have more time (fingers crossed) but be in a much better place emotionally.

IMG_20181102_184440_140I’m excited about the future plans, and (still) terrified at the same time. I know I can do this, but the overwhelm can be a little intense at times. I’ve been keeping busy with a couple of side jobs, including writing for Rover.com (see a couple of my articles here: https://www.rover.com/blog/is-my-dog-fighting-or-playing-how-to-tell-the-difference/ and https://www.rover.com/blog/dog-wheezing-when-to-worry/; I have my business cards, am still working on revisions to/refining my website, and working on updating my LinkedIn page as well. I am taking classes and trainings (online) and trying to get back on track with focusing on this (vs. the tug of Rottweiler rescue). There’s a lot going on as I ramp up for this, not the least of which are the “head games” with myself. When I stop and settle myself, I am confident, and know I’ll have success and prosperity in this new chapter in my life, where I leave everything I have known (with regards to earning income) behind, and strike out into the territory ahead. I want to say it’s unknown territory, but hundreds of thousands have done or are doing the same, so it’s not like there isn’t a path to follow. Still, with little effort I can terrify myself into inertia, hiding under the proverbial covers, or watching TV to zone out and escape my fears. I’m not very productive at times, yet that still small voice inside keeps me on track.

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Farley with Blackcap. So cute! The dogs routinely squeeze Blackcap off of the chair, but the Setter boys will usually share. Daisy just lays on top of her.

Meanwhile, my own beasts–canine, feline, and ovine, not to mention apinae (the bees)– keep me happy and comforted. The dogs are doing their daily heavy lifting, keeping me joyful and grounded. Just stepping over the threshold every evening, after a long day and commute, lifts my heart and my step. The cats are each paragons of supreme feline energy, and each affectionate in her own, inimitable way. And my little flock of sheep make me happy as well. (My #julyphotoproject, Faces of MacFinn Farm, on Instagram has photos of every single resident here.)

I recently had a farm tour here (a group of fiber enthusiasts touring Shetland sheep farms) and realized, again, how much I love keeping sheep, and my wee flock. Yes, I still need to whittle down the numbers, but I really like the flock size too. Selling 3 or 5 would help ease pressure on the pasture, reduce the hay bill, and result in lighter work with regard to clean up, but when they run around as a group (as they did for the tour – a fellow blogger on the tour described it as “performed like a drill team”) and provide me with their bucolic sheepy energy, chewing cud on the hillside on a sunny fall day, well, it doesn’t get much better than this.

And, exciting news, I found a new MacFinn resident back in October (after the #julyphotoproject). As I was feeding the sheep after work one evening, I saw this guy, right in the middle of the opening to the pasture. He was about 8 inches long, and I scooped him (or her) up and took photos, thinking this had to be some kind of escaped pet lizard, although given where I found him and my proximity to neighbors, and the relatively cold weather (for a reptile) I couldn’t figure out how to make sense of that scenario/premise. I brought him inside and put him under a light, offered mealworms, and he basically told me he wasn’t a tame creature (didn’t like the light, shunned the mealworms). I turned off the light and he calmed down, and by the time I did some google research, I realized he was probably a native. Specifically a Northern Alligator Lizard. Knock me over with a feather! I’ve been roaming the Cascade foothills pretty much my whole life and have never, ever seen one, or even knew that they existed. I released him the next morning (a foggy, cold morning – I felt bad putting a reptile outside in this weather, but…), letting him loose in the exact place I found him the night before. He scurried off into the sheep pasture (too close to cloven hooves for my comfort, but hey) and I was chuffed to know that I had this new-to-me, very cool resident here at MacFinn. I’ve seen amphibians (frogs and salamanders) and plenty of birds and mammals, but this is the first reptile. So Nature continues to provide awe and inspiration and wonder. That’s why I remain in love with her.

As I come up to my annual solar return tomorrow, I am even more appreciative of my friends and family, connections and relationships that, over time, have become deeper and more meaningful. Two “pre-func” events, a long luncheon with longtime, dear friends on Saturday and then dinner with other longtime, dear friends on Sunday, made my weekend a special one, realizing how lucky I am.

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Always late but worth the wait?

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The evenings stretch on for hours and it is glorious.

The days seem to fly by. Despite the fact that they’re 16 hours long right now (speaking of DAYlight hours, of course). I have been busy with life, trying to keep up with Jungle Season growth (not succeeding), shearing (also not succeeding – I passed the halfway mark, but still have 7 sheep to shear – all the wild ones are left), and regular chores. One thing I AM making progress on, however, is my Plan for the next chapter of work life. I have been reading and learning as much as I can, beginning the transition work. I updated my website again. I like it a ton better now (compared to them major overhaul/ update I did in…was it March?), but I still consider it a work in progress. I have been learning a lot about virtual assistance work and am doing worksheets and exercises to refine my specialty/s. I haven’t actively sought out clients on this yet, but that will be the next step. I am also taking a fabulous class for launching my writing a bigger way. It’s called “Pitch Like A Honey Badger” and is fabulous, and really forcing me out of my comfort zone. I have a long way to go yet (although the class is over in 2 or 3 more weeks), but have learned a ton already. I got behind on the lessons (this is an online class, BTW – something where I usually have a hard time with follow through) because I was busy working for a client. I was contracted to create their newsletter and because it was behind (before it came to me), there was a hustle to get it all done. I literally started receiving the info the first week in June and had it done in less than 3 weeks. It felt good, but between becoming familiar with the content and layout, making sure I had all the pieces, and placing them in the right order, all while working the day job, going to a sheep workshop, taking care of the critters and farm, well, it’s no wonder I’m a wee bit behind. It’s all good, and all of it feels really good, and I am excited (even in my moments of “I don’t know if I can do this and make enough to live on” panic) for the future. My hope is to launch my business/go solo by the end of September or October. Terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. That’s only 3 or 4 months away and I have a LOT to do in the meantime. It would be nice to have a nice fat cushion of a bank account to sit on while I ramped up, and really have time to focus on it, but doing the side hustle thing for a few more months will have to work. I can do this!

I have also been reading some astrology and numerology reports (oh yeah, I go there – I’ve been woowoo for years) that have reinforced to me that the time is now. My numerology report had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up (I’m a 22/4, having an 8 year), and the weekly astrology update I get (NorthPoint Journal) has been hitting it out of the park with regard to resonance for the past couple of months. Lots of Aha moments resounding and it’s helpful to know I’m on the right path. In fact, with Mars going retrograde until the end of August, I’m glad for the extra time to get my ducks in a row before I launch.

In other news, the critters are all well. No lambs this  year, so it’s been a lot more relaxed with the sheep. I need to reduce the flock by at least five, but beyond two that I know I want to get rid of, I’m having a hard time with deciding who should go or stay. I really like all of them, and the friendly ones are endearing as heck.  If I could find a home where I knew they’d be fiber pets, I could maaaaybe let the 3 boys go – Rudy, TJ and Shadow. I would like to breed again this fall, for 2019 lambs, but can’t really consider it until I reduce the head count a bit. The property ran out of fodder about 10 sheep ago (the flock numbers 17 right now) and I am resigned to feeding hay  year round instead of just 10 months a year. Ah well. It would be nice to have another pasture to rotate them to, but then I’d probably just have more of them. And on top of it, I have a garage full of fleeces I need to sell, with this year’s still needing to be skirted. Part of the reason behind my wish to work for myself is the time I hope to free up (1 ½ to 2 hours per day of commute time alone – almost 10 hours a week!) and not feel so overwhelmed after a long day of work and commute. There’s a mild depression going on too, with the day job just feeling…done. Despite my post in December citing the new offices and job “funk” easing up, some recent changes have me again very unhappy and feeling both undervalued and disregarded. But ultimately, it’s just the final cuff to the head from the Universe, trying to get my attention, and I’m heeding it now. Finally.

The dogs are well. Just celebrated my year 7 anniversary with Daisy, and Pal’s year 8 is coming up in about 6 weeks. Time really does fly. After Braider’s rescue last fall (even though I was a foster failure) I finally took the plunge on something I’ve been contemplating for close to 2 years now, and applied to once again become the Rottweiler breed rep for Seattle Purebred Dog Rescue. I know it seems crazy, with everything else going on, but it also seems so right. I was involved with SPDR at the very beginning – I went to their very first organizational meeting in 1987, and was their first newsletter editor, back in the days of paste-up (I named the newsletter “SPDR Speaks” – and I’m still proud of that one), and became their Rottweiler breed rep from about 1988 through 1995. It was hellish, because the breed’s popularity was exploding then and, coupled with some horrid, high-profile attacks with human deaths, no one wanted to adopt them. I think the last year I was rep I had 500 incoming dogs and nowhere to place them. It took two decades to recover from that – ha! (Not really kidding, though – the burnout was bad.) But I’m hopeful that we won’t have the same kind of numbers plus, the biggie, is now we have the internet and especially social media, which wasn’t even a dream back then. Email sure (although not everyone was connected back then), but it was a lonely, hard job to do. Fingers crossed it goes smoothly and I can make a difference. I helped to place an English Setter recently, and that felt really good (social media rocks it here), so I’m hoping I can be just as helpful with Rottweilers. Let me know if you want to be a foster home for a Rottweiler!

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Misty May morning.

 

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.

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!

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.

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