Mo Bloggin'

A little o' this, a little o' that

Archive for the category “Dogs and other critters”

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.

20161216_085843

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.

20161225_163526

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.

img_20161210_193810

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

Letting go

img958I made scrambled eggs for breakfast this morning. A mundane, everyday occurrence. Except when it’s not. You see, I (finally) gave up all my chickens a couple of weeks ago, at the direction of my doctor. After dragging my feet on it for six months, I placed an ad on Craigslist and they were gone in less than 24 hours. It was a good time to do it, just as we head into the winter months. They weren’t laying much (I was getting 1 egg a day from 18 hens) and the winter months are hard on them – they don’t enjoy the 6 months of rain any more than I do. Caring for any livestock during the winter months is more work (thawing frozen waterers when it freezes, replenishing straw regularly to help combat the ever-present mud, etc.), so getting rid of them now was a little easier, in theory.

I got an incredible response to the “Free Chickens” ad–over a dozen people, with half of them in the first three hours after I posted, and more coming in until I pulled the ad about 10 hours later. I had no idea old hens would be such a hot item. I replied to the first person that responded and said he wanted them all. He was close, only one town away, and was able to come after church on Sunday.

I went out mid-morning to shoo the girls into the coop, where they would be easier to catch. I donned my respirator mask, tucked my hair under my cap, and got to work. I moved them to the old chicken tractor I bought when I first moved here and needed a place for the hens I’d moved in with. It went quickly and easier than I expected. Then the tears came. I stuffed them back – I didn’t want to be a mess when the guy got here. But I had to go inside for a while.

20161106_095639

Loaded up and waiting.  Trying not to cry.

The fellow got here and got out of his van with three young boys, stair-step in height from age 6-ish to age 12-ish, each armed with a fishing net. We didn’t need the nets, but it was cute that they were ready for chicken catching. We loaded the hens up–there were 15 of them going—into the assortment of boxes the fellow brought and before I knew it, it was done.  I sent them off with 14 free hens,* plus my 25# feeder, the rest of a bag of feed I had, and three waterers. And it was over. After 34 years—most of my life—with anywhere from 6 to 26 chickens in my backyard, I was now chicken-less.

img_20161114_152253

So quiet and sad.

So now it’s just the adjustment to life without chickens. I know it sounds ridiculous in many ways, but it’s a huge change for me. They weren’t pets per se, but I loved having them in my life. Their simple pleasures in a good sunbath, a juicy worm, scratching in the garden, and dusting in the dry duff under the cedar trees were my pleasures, too. They are entertaining to watch, and their busy little lives were always an enjoyable way to wind down after a hectic day at work and a lousy commute. Plus, eggs. Delicious, free-range eggs on organic feed. These purchased eggs have a funny taste in comparison, and even though they’re pastured, organic eggs (at $6 a dozen) they’re not as rich or egg-licious as mine were. 20161120_123149I wake up in the morning and look out the bathroom window to the empty coop and run, so silent in the morning gloom, when it should be filled with the waking flock, clucking and pecking and preening. I come home expecting to see them come running to the fence, eager to be let out (I kept them penned when I wasn’t home, to keep them safe from predators). While raking leaves I am struck by the silence of not being surrounded by a happy flock scratching around in the leaf litter and filling up on all the goodies they find. A favorite activity was to dismantle a pile of leaves I’d raked up; they were quick and industrious, and could take down a pile in short order (like, while I briefly went to get a bin for the leaves). I feed the sheep after work and think about checking on the hens for a half beat before I remember they’re no longer out there. The coop is deathly quiet now.  It’s even noticeable at night, when they’d normally be quiet anyway, roosting for the night; my coop full of contented hens is no longer there and it’s almost ghostly.

It’s ridiculous how many tears I’ve cried, not realizing until they were gone how they infiltrated my life so completely. I knew I would miss them, but I didn’t know that virtually everything I did outside would be permeated with their loss, even as it was filled with their presences before. I don’t know why I didn’t expect this; perhaps because I never imagined this scenario. Even now, looking out my office window as I type, the vacant run is still and the emptiness is wrenching. I used to look out at them as I worked here, a moment’s respite from my labors at the computer, reflecting or looking for a word, thought, or sentence in my mind as I watched them being all chickeny, happy in their little chicken lives, providing me with entertainment and solace, de-stressing me with their calming, bucolic presence. Plus, eggs.

I’ve tried to rationalize it every which way, knowing that I had to do this for my health, that it’s for the best, that it will save me money at the feed store, that it be easier to have fewer animals to care for (whatever), but nothing is breaking the desolate void of not having them. Except my heart.

j0178717.jpg

*I’d withheld three hens for a woman on a local FB group I belong to, who’d expressed interest in them; they went to their new home on Tuesday morning, plus one who’d escaped on Sunday.

Fall maintenance and repairs

20161106_152405

Autumn sky

It’s been busy month here at MacFinn Farm with some preparations for winter. First on the agenda was the garage/sheep shed roof replacement. When I got the sheep in 2010 I had a local fellow build the sheep shed, which was just a carport-sized extension off the garage roof with a confinement pen. It wasn’t perfect (among other things, the gutter always dripped – right onto the sheep eating at the feeder just inside the shed), but it worked. About 18 months ago I noticed some serious water damage to the edges of the plywood, and then, last winter, big dark spots of moldy rot in the middle. It wasn’t actively leaking, but it definitely needed repairing. I called a couple of roofers and got some quotes, both more than I expected or could afford because both recommended reroofing the entire garage (a 20-year comp at the end of its life span), and due to the condition neither would reroof just the shed portion and guarantee their work. Okay.

I picked the one with the better quote (or so I thought) and we got started. When I had the fellow out for the estimate, I’d asked specifically how long it would take. “One day.” He said confidently to my “Really?”  I thought this was a little ambitious, but hey, they did this for a living, and even if it took two days, I was on board. So the scheduled day came up. I’d planned a couple days off work so I could be home for the dogs. Though the garage is detached, and across the driveway, it’s still upsetting for them to have people on the property. The first day the “big noise” came: a trailer for dumping the old roofing material, and a pile of roofing material, three vehicles and three guys. Then everyone left except one fellow, who stripped the small side of the roof, put down some tar paper and left around lunchtime. The next day I was assured they would start earlier and get it done. The one fellow arrived a little after 10:00 (so one hour later than the previous day), stripped the old roofing off the shed side, put down tar paper and left around noon.

20161011_182558

Nice tar paper job, as the typhoon approached. 

I think I am cursed when it comes to roofing jobs. At this point the job was put on hold, as we had warnings of a storm of epic proportions bearing down on us – a real “batten down the hatches” storm, remnants of a typhoon that made its way across the Pacific and hitting our coastline. The weather reports were full of dire predictions. Great. I had a tarpaper garage roof and a major storm coming. We had some rain (goodly amounts at times) and some wind but nothing like the predictions, which, frankly, had a lot of us shaking in our boots. I found myself getting a little panicky at work, as I thought, and worried, about the coming storm. Thankfully most of the storm petered out and/or bypassed my area and we were spared “The Worst Storm Since The 1962 Thanksgiving Day Storm!”  Whew!

The following Monday I was assured the job would be finished that day. It wasn’t. The next day for sure. I came home to find the inside of my garage had gotten rained on. They were replacing some damaged portions of the plywood – a good thing – but evidently it was during a heavy rain. I got towels out and mopped up the floor as best I could, and cleaning and drying off items that had gotten covered with debris and rainwater. Sigh. Finally, a little over a week after they started, it was done. I am happy to say that despite the timing aggravation, they did a good job. The statement came a week later and I about choked. It was nearly double what I expected. I quickly got out the estimate and looked at it. And realized I misread it. “Option A,” about $1,100 more than just the single estimate, was in addition to the original quote (for doing just half the roof). I read it as a combination of the two–the original quoted amount plus the extra work, inclusive. It was misleading as written, but it was also right there in black and white. Time for a short-term loan. But its secure, looks good, and the gutter no longer drips all over the sheep as they eat.

20161103_171105

Soggy tree moss.  October turned out to be the wettest October on record, and the third or fourth wettest month ever (or something like that). All my whinging about rain felt less whiny after I learned this.

Later that week I had a plumber come out to fix my yard hydrant, which had been leaking for nearly a year. I was afraid it would break entirely and I’d have an emergency (would have to shut the water supply down, which means I’d have no water in the house). And I was afraid to tackle it myself. I dug the hole around the hydrant to about where it joins the pipe underground but didn’t know what to do beyond that. YouTube videos are helpful, but I didn’t feel confident. I saw a guy on Angie’s List that had lots of good reviews, contacted him and set it up for 2:00 p.m. I stayed home from work that day – I’ve had too many sweaty drives home trying to make it to meet a service worker, and figured I’d work from home as much as I could. So 2:00 came and went. Nothing. I finally called the guy at ~2:40 p.m. “Hello?” Did I call the right number? “Is this ____the plumber?” I asked. “Oh, I should have called.” He said, after I identified myself. “It’s going to be more like 4:00.”  At 4:20 he called and said it would be another half hour. Shortly after 5:00 he got here. Thankfully it was an easy job (and I had done most of the digging) and he was able to get it done before darkness descended on us at 6:00. So that’s done, and only cost me $135 more than it would if I’d done it myself (not counting the time lost off work).

Then, about 10 days ago I got in my car to go to work and got to the driveway gate (something didn’t feel right as I went down the drive) to find this.

img_20161101_103331

Poor Keh-li MissBeadle!  I’m a bad car-mom!

I decided I would be working from home that day. I put the spare on and that afternoon I drove to the tire store. New tires have been on my list for the past 4 months, and I really was for sure going to get it handled the coming weekend – Keh-li MissBeadle just got tired of waiting on me. I went to Costco – in my tire research of the past couple months they seemed to have the best deal. I missed the $70 off coupon by a week (they had a new one in place, but for a tire that wasn’t as good as what I wanted) but it was still a good price. It was a weekday, so I figured it wouldn’t be like a Saturday crazy-time. I was wrong. I re-upped my Costco membership, which I’d let lapse a couple years prior. The tire department talked to me about the tires, I made the purchase and learned it would be 3 hours before they were done. It was closer to 4 hours by the time I got out of there. I shopped for the first two hours, then waited inside, then waited outside. I think they gave my older car to the slow guy, who, as I watched, seemed to have no sense of urgency as he dawdled through the job.

20161101_171847

Keh-li waiting for her new shoon, about 3 hours in.  She looks so vulnerable like this.

Finally they were done. A fellow pulled up to where I was waiting and said “Here’re your new tires.” I looked at them. “Really?”  It was dusk by then and hard to see them well, but they looked like they’d already been up and down my driveway a dozen times or more. “That’s the film on them from the factory.” Or something. I think it was the Silverback Syndrome again, and the fact that Keh-li MissBeadle is obviously a farm car of a certain age – so why would I care that the tires looked all scuffed and smudged (and used)?  Ah well. She drives like a champ now with her new tires – they really feel a LOT better than the old tires, and we can zip around again like we like to.

20161012_023624

Gratuitous cuteness.  Daisy and Farley sharing a pillow.  Daisy is a Rottweiler b—- who doesn’t like “stinkyfarley” much – she resents the fact that he holds the spot she thinks she should have (I have him on a pedestal) and for her to share like this is huge! 

Autumn excitement

20161018_084137I can’t believe it’s almost the end of October already. The falling leaves and bare branches, cold temperatures and fall rains all seem premature somehow. Every year I am virtually dragged into fall kicking and screaming, not ready to give up summer. But alas, it is here.  The autumn months are beautiful, no question, with the leaves turning and all the fall harvests and ripenings, but after just a few weeks of rain I’m already dreading the three or four months of rain yet to come. I need to make peace with this.

Earlier this month we had a visitor to the farm. I’d run out on Saturday to do my usual weekend errands. I came back home and pulled up the driveway to the gate. I saw one of the sheep run across my field of vision as I got out of the car to open the gate. They normally get excited when I come home and run up to the upper pasture gate as I drive up the hill. But intuition told me something was up and I immediately worried about loose dogs (not my own, which were inside the house). 20161005_172937

I opened the gate and walked over toward the pasture quickly. The sheep were all bunched together, moving, except for that black one up by the…  OMG. That’s not a sheep! A black bear had come to visit! I clapped my hands loudly and walked toward the bear (in the pasture with the sheep, but not really after the sheep, as far as I could tell). “Go on, bear!” I hollered at it. He moved down the hill away from me, toward the NE corner of the pasture, then sat down to chew on his foot (maybe he stepped on a thistle?). He knew I was there, but wasn’t nearly as concerned about my presence as I would have liked.  He went over the pasture fence and headed up the hill toward the chicken coop – and the beehive. I got in the car and drove up the hill quickly. The car driving up scared him a little, and he moved to the edge of the yard to where the grass meets the woods. I got out and walked towards him, clapping my hands again, and telling him to go on (the dogs heard me from inside the house and started barking). He looked at me for a long moment then moved off into the woods, loping to the fence and off the property. Then I went inside and let the dogs out to reinforce the message.

20161001_164536

Sorry for the blurry exposure – I was a wee bit excited.  The sheep in the foreground (Minnie, I think) is looking at me to fix this situation.

It was pretty exciting to see a bear like that. I’ve had them come through before (though it’s been a few years) and generally at this same time of year August/September, but in those other instances I just heard them (moving through the brush) or, my first year here, seeing the aftermath (tipped over the empty garbage bin, got into my bird feeder, got into my chicken feed – I no longer feed the birds and keep the chicken feed locked in the garage). This was the real deal, and in broad daylight on a Saturday afternoon. Wow!

20161002_145316

A few feathers is all that was left of a good sized rooster.  A stealthy bobcat strike. 

The next day I was out working in the yard and the chickens were out. When I went to check on their feed and water later in the afternoon I saw we were down by one. The rooster obviously got got – a few feathers and a little blood and evidently the work of a bobcat. I found a feather or two by the back fence line, but it was clean and quiet, just like a cat. Dang.

On Monday night I was sitting in my living room, up late and working on an editing job, and heard the chickens squawking. I heard a thump and went to look out the window at the coop. I didn’t see anything in the porch light, but figured maybe it was the bobcat again so I let the dogs out. The barking excitement told me they were doing their job. After a bit Farley and Daisy came in at my call. Pal didn’t. He sometimes will stay out running around for 30 minutes, but considering the activity recently, I started to worry. I called him and got nothing. So I got a flashlight and went out, Daisy and Farley happy to come out for more 2 a.m. fun. I saw a white streak run by in the dark but when I called him he didn’t come, which is unusual for Pal, as he has a pretty good recall. At least he was okay.  The chickens seemed to be fine – a little shaken up and a couple off the roosts, and I shut the coop door and propped it with the fence post (it doesn’t close all the way).  Meanwhile Daisy had taken up barking maniacally at the foot of a maple tree near coop, like a coonhound with a treed coon. I went over and shined the flashlight up the trunk, but I already knew what I’d find, judging by the noise. The bear was back. He looked down on us from a rather flimsy looking branch about 30 feet up, clacking his teeth and bawling every once in a while (the best way to describe the noise – not a growl and not a roar, more like a moaned complaint). I had to physically haul Daisy off to the house. Farley came with us, and Pal now, too. I watched/listened from the bathroom window and after about 20 minutes I could hear branches cracking as the bear lowered himself to the ground and ran off over the fence. I felt bad for the bruin, as he was obviously scared, but hoped that the hazing by the dogs would convince him to move on and that human dwellings weren’t good places to hang out.

There were a couple of hens loose in the morning, so I herded them back into the coop. A quick head count told me we were down one.  I don’t think it was the bear, but more likely the bobcat, come to take advantage of the birds being loose. I left for work. And that afternoon I pulled up the driveway see this.

He was back. He was about 15 yards away and stood watching me. I got out of the car and took few steps in his direction, clapping my hands loudly. (Cue chorus of barking from inside the house.) He thought about it for a few seconds, then turned and left. I kept clapping and yelling. Then, when I was sure he was over the fence, I let the hounds out.  Wee!  So much fun!

20161004_174157

Muddy paw marks on top of the gate.  Smelly fly trap to the upper right, and a tipped over water trough just on the other side of the fence. 

Then I went around the property to see what he’d been up to. I’d left the sheep in their pen that day, and from what I can tell, he was maybe IN the pen with them. Or maybe just climbing the gate (I could see muddy paws had been up on the top of the 5 foot gate) and also the other side of the pen. As near as I could tell he was after the smelly fly trap still hanging out there (smells like a dead thing rotting) from the summer. He’d bitten at it but didn’t take it all the way down. The sheep seemed fine – weren’t even breathing hard by the time I got home. And of course there’s this.

20161004_171940

Nice.  But there was no honey in this hive, and no stinging bees either. 

It’s the dead hive, with the live hive full of (angry) bees…and honey, right next to it, still intact. I wondered if I maybe interrupted him when I pulled up. Other than that it was just the fence that was taking a beating with all these visits.

I decided to stay home the next day to keep an eye on the place. I was able to work remotely from home, and keep watch while I did so. The bear came back around noon, from what I could tell by the chickens and sheep behavior, but I don’t think he came on the property then. (I let the dogs out to reinforce things.) Then, about 2:30 he was back.  I saw the chickens go quiet and bunch up again. I got up to look out the front window to see the sheep in the pasture all looking intently towards the north/east property line. I went out (without the dogs at first) and clapped my hands.  I heard him move off, and went to let the dogs out again.  So. Much. Excitement. And I fixed the crunched fence sections for the fourth time.

Again, I hoped this hazing (especially the two tries without any reward) would make him decide to move on. He didn’t seem to want apples. And thankfully he didn’t seem to want the chickens or sheep. I think he was young and inexperienced at being on his own, but hopefully heading towards the foothills and a safe place to den for the winter. We haven’t seen him since that day, three weeks ago now, and I hope he’s safe.

20161020_201044-2

Gratuitous cuteness: Pal on his 7th birthday last Friday.  He was worried that this unusual attention (me trying to get a nice photo of him on his birthday) might mean something like a nail trim or a bath. Love this little guy!  (Excuse the fugly tape on the chair – it’s a lost cause, but I try to deter the cats from shredding it more by putting double-sided tape on it.)

 

 

Hypersensitivity pneumonitis – lung thing part 3

20160914_085247

Some mornings it’s just hard to leave for work.  Looking at the NE corner of the property.

So a quick (I promise) recap.  This all started in November 2014 and has been a roller coaster ride of symptoms and medical care ever since.  After my initial diagnosis (now revised) and treatment, I was feeling good by September of 2015.  In late November 2015 some of the symptoms returned (shortness of breath, primarily).  I managed this until late February of 2016 with ibuprofen, until I needed more help.  I saw the specialist in March and began a regimen of prednisone.  A lot of it to start, then tapered down after 10 days, then tapered again after 30 days.  But still a high dose.  I’ve been on this dose since April and have been feeling good, with breathing back to normal and heart rate also returning to normal (since my lungs are working, my heart doesn’t have to hit overdrive to pump more blood in an effort to oxygenize).

20160911_160804

Groot the kiwi vine trying to swallow the front porch.

Allergy testing last year showed I have no allergies – no surprise there – but the specialist, in drilling in on the hypersensitivity pneumonitis rediagnosis, performed antigen testing (IgG vs. IgE), which showed I was reacting to bird feces and proteins, as well as a couple of molds, so my particular brand of hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) points to Bird Fanciers Lung (there are dozens of versions).  I was told I needed to remove chickens from my environment, as well as my two parakeets (cage birds), and clean the house thoroughly.  The molds are likely ones I’ve run into with the hay I feed the sheep.  Antigen reactions are essentially allergies, but manifest differently (in my case there was absolutely no coughing, runny nose or sneezing typical of allergies).

20160909_190753

The days are getting decidedly shorter.  After getting home from work in the evenings I barely have time to do the evening chores before darkness falls.  So sad. 😦

I saw the doctor again in late May, when I repeated my tests and did well (breath tests as well as a walking test to see how well oxygenated my blood stayed with exercise).  The doctor was pleased with my progress, and very happy to hear I had rehomed the parakeets, but because I still had the chickens, and she was concerned I needed more time on the medication, we stayed at the same dose of prednisone.  I told her I would hire help to get the chicken coop thoroughly cleaned out and let the flock “attrition out” – the birds are aging and not worth anything, so not easy to rehome (there are 21 of them right now).  I lost one over the summer, but of course they seem to be feeling spry, even if they’re not laying much on the expensive organic feed I give them.

My next appointment with her was September 1st.  In that 5 month period (April to September) I have gained weight.  A lot of weight.  This, of course, is a common side effect of the prednisone – one of many – and this time around it seems to be the main one for me.  I have an appetite like a lumberjack.  I’m not hungry all the time, but when I get hungry it’s hungry-bear hungry, and it takes a lot to be sated.  Like, half a large pizza. Or an embarrassingly large portion of a whole roast chicken.  I tell myself I’m going to moderate my eating, but when I get hungry and the food is in front of me, well, I don’t have much restraint.  I don’t quite check out mentally, but the thought of moderation is dismissed entirely.  Leftovers are a thing of the past.  I’ve been bursting out of all my clothes, and have had to buy new things—in a size I’ve never worn in my life—so I have something to wear that isn’t embarrassingly tight, not to mention uncomfortable.  I’ve resigned myself to this weight gain for now, knowing the prednisone is necessary for my lungs, but there are moments of shame and self-consciousness at how I look.  Now any breathing problems I have are from inactivity, and trying to increase my exercise has been difficult: I’m assuming it’s because of the extra weight, but my ankle (old injury) has been giving me trouble for the past couple of months, so even a walk with the dogs has been off the docket.  I can’t tell you how frustrating this is, because even with all my whinging I am still grateful for my mostly good health. And on the positive side, we have reduced my prednisone by half in the past two weeks.  Yes!  With the appetite becoming more manageable it’s time for a weight loss diet!  Wee!

img_20160916_210904

I took down a small maple over the weekend.  The sheep love the leaves and tender bark.

I’ve been slowly coming around to the idea of giving up the chickens.  I haven’t hired anyone to help with cleaning yet, mostly due to financial reasons (keeping up with medical bills, frankly).  So the dry, dusty summer, with the hens happily fluffing their feathers in numerous dusty bowls they create under the cedar trees, then the dogs walking through that, or lying in it, then coming to curl up in bed with me…well, I’ve got my head in the sand on the whole issue.  I let the hens free roam, but probably shouldn’t. In thinking about giving them up, I think about why I keep them; indeed, why I’ve been keeping them for most of my life (since 1982). I want to produce as much of my own food as possible, and have a little more control over this aspect of my life.  But I also know part of the reason I keep them is for the bucolic calm they exude, and coming home after a stressful day at work to watch my little farm at work is soothing to me. And although chicken TV has slowly been supplanted by sheep TV and honeybee TV, I still like having them, and the eggs they give me. With the sheep and the bees it’s a little easier to lie in the grass next to them (the chicken run is too grubby-gross to lie in or even next to).  They are enormously entertaining though, and, as with all my animals, knowing they are happy and enjoying a good chicken life is deeply satisfying, even fulfilling, to me.

After the visit with the pulmonary specialist earlier this month, and discussing the situation in more detail with her, I realize I have to do this.  I’m still very reluctant, and if I think about it too much I get a little teary.  I am simultaneously frustrated by the whole situation.  I have kept chickens for 35 years now, and had the parakeets for the past 15 years.  Why all of a sudden am I having problems?  There is no answer to this, of course, and it’s not unheard of or even uncommon, as a situation.  I guess what goes hand-in-hand with this is frustration is the worry: what if I get rid of the chickens and still have problems? What then? I don’t want this to be a slow elimination of everything I love most in life. I can’t get any traction with my vaccine theory, but I do think this is a factor in the initiation of this whole issue.  While I’m not “anti-vax” I am anti over-vaccination, and the bundling of vaccines.  A tetanus shot I received in early November 2014 came bundled with two unnecessary (to me at the time) vaccines: pertussis and diphtheria.  Within 3 weeks the symptoms of HP began – probably sooner, I just didn’t realize it – and by the end of November I was one very sick puppy.

20160909_190719

The leaves are turning color and beginning to fall.  It seems too soon. I’m not ready.

I still think this is a “perfect storm” situation. And I know it’s done, and there’s no going back (“that ship has sailed, Mo”), but part of me wants to know.  Because maybe, eventually, and maybe it will take moving off this farm to a new location, I will be able to not worry about this anymore.  I believe the combination of the moldy hay I was running into at the time (purchased a ton of hay that year – the guy who delivered it said it came out of Oregon; it was some of the dirtiest/dustiest hay I’ve ever encountered) and the hit to my immune system from these unnecessary vaccines (the tetanus wasn’t really needed either – for the situation nor was I due, but with the animals/farm I know it’s a good one to keep up to date so I consented when I should have refused), added to a little normal life stress and a strenuous (and thoroughly enjoyed) day hike 8 days later, well, it all added up to a baseball bat to my immune system that I’m still recovering from.  I will never, ever (ever!) again allow myself to be vaccinated with three immunizations in one injection.  I will continue to refuse the annual flu vaccine (never had it, never will) even though my pulmonologist recommended it at my recent visit.  No, that’s not one I’ll do, I told her, emphasizing “I am NEVER sick.”  She looked at me with just enough of a pause that I burst out laughing.  She laughed a bit too.  And said she would nevertheless continue to recommend it to me, given my diagnosis.  But really, I don’t get colds – my last cold was in 2012 – and aside from this issue, I’m healthy and strong.  And once I get this thing figured out, I intend to sty that way.img1041Gratuitous cuteness: Eloise, a.k.a. El, ‘weesa, or Pudge.  The only one of the three cats that will regularly brave sleeping in bed with me and the three dogs.  Heart her to bits.

No birdz allowed – lung stuff part deux

20160826_194337

Another glorious Pacific Northwest summer is winding to an end. They are always too short.

Continued from previous post:
So I left the specialist’s office that day in March with a couple prescriptions – one for oxygen at home, and one for steroids (prednisone) – both of which I’d used a year earlier, and both of which I didn’t want to do, although they help immensely. I knew the oxygen use would be short-lived, as once the prednisone kicked in and inflammation was neutralized, I no longer needed it. While its benefit is huge in that 10 – 14 day time frame, I just didn’t want to deal with it (both the admittance that I needed it nor the growling, hissing activity of the oxygen concentrator, not to mention the medical rental of the machine, although this experience/company was MUCH better than last year’s). And, after all was said and done, I spent over $630 on the rental (insurance only covers so much)  for the 10 days of use, because the doctor wouldn’t okay its return until she saw me again…in May. I would have done better to purchase one of my own at that cost!

A few weeks after my visit we got the antigen tests back. And while most everything was in range (they test for a variety of typically encountered organisms) there were a couple of molds that were moderately out of range (high) and two others that I just didn’t expect: pigeon droppings, and pigeon feathers and proteins. Which, of course, means all avian. (I’d tested negative for bird allergies last year.) The doctor knew I had chickens (we’d discussed them with the sheep) and she flatly said I had to get rid of them. I was dismayed, not really understanding if they were outside why I had to get rid of them. I live on acreage. There are birds EVERYwhere. And geez, I’ve been keeping chickens pretty much my whole life (a continuous flock since 1981). But what she didn’t know, and I of course then shared with her, is that I also had a couple of parakeets in the house. And these two, I realized, I would definitely have to place. Dang.

20160326_154223

Of course these results, combined with the review/reassessment of my prior tests and procedures/pathology (done elsewhere) by the UW pathologists, confirmed the rediagnosis from sarcoidosis to hypersensitivity pneumonitis. The doctor was very clear that I had to get the birds out, and once they were out, a deep cleaning of the house (wall washing, floors, furniture, etc.) that I was NOT, under any circumstances (even with my fancy respirator mask) to do myself.  Okay, but… “Have some friends come over to do this for you.”  Um, no. I would hire someone before I asked my friends to do a deep clean on my house.

The first thing I did was take the parakeets, Hugh and Cate, to the vet. I was going to give them away, probably via a Craigslist ad, but wanted to be sure they were healthy before I did so.  Hugh was dealing with some kind of mite or lice infestation – not horrible, but his feathers had looked a little rough for the past 8 months or so (I’d treated with mite control, using the vet’s recommended protocol, to no discernable improvement). Cate looked fine, so maybe there was something else going on with Hugh?  Sure enough, lab work showed he had some elevated kidney values, moving towards gout (who knew?). And here is where my angels helped me out. As the vet relayed the information about Hugh’s bloodwork and recommended treatment (and expense – I’d already spent over $200 for their checkup and lab tests) – fluids once a day for a week, retest blood work and re-evaluate treatment – I was simultaneously trying to digest the information and figure out what to do. She knew of my health situation, as I’d explained it to her/the clinic when I brought Hugh and Cate in for the exam, and then she very kindly and graciously offered me a solution. If I wanted to, I could sign Hugh over to the clinic, releasing ownership and entrusting his care and eventual adoption placement to them. I hesitated, thinking of Hugh – while he wasn’t a bird I’d handled regularly I still felt affection for him and of course responsible for his well-being. I’d had him for 8 years and he was a cheerful, beautiful little guy. But I knew the treatment he needed was outside my ability at that point, and I didn’t want to place him with the hope that whoever adopted him would do the right thing with his care (nor was it fair to place a sick bird with anyone). What was best for him was to sign him over to a place where he could get the care he needed. I brought him in a week or so later. The vet, Dr. Carter, gave me a hug as I signed the papers and said goodbye. I mostly held it together until I got in the car to leave, and then had to dig around in my glove box for a tissue to wipe the tears away so I could see to drive home.

For Cate, now alone, an equally miraculous solution occurred. She and Hugh weren’t bonded, and in separating them she actually seemed happier. They never fought, but they never seemed to hit it off (I’d had her about 3 or 4 years). The weekend after I placed Hugh with the vet, I went to a local spring fair with a friend who also raises Shetland sheep. It was a great chance for her and I to catch up on the drive down, and go see the sheep and fleeces, and booths from sheep farmers and wool vendors, plus chat with other sheep people we both knew. She asked about my health update as we drove back home that day, and I gave her the whole long story of the new doctor and findings all the way to the need to place the parakeets. As I yakked away, she began texting a coworker whose son was an animal lover and had recently said he wanted a parakeet. I didn’t even notice she was texting until she told me about this possible home being available. The coworker texted back that they had already gotten a parakeet, but said they would think about taking Cate too.  From the description, it sounded like a wonderful home, and I sent photos of Cate along with a description of her personality. It turns out the boy, aged 10 or 12, had wanted an all yellow parakeet, and was thrilled to see Cate was exactly what he was looking for. “It’s kismet,” he told his mother, who contacted my friend to let her know they’d take Cate. The boy renamed her Mango, which I just love.

20160826_194733

The badly placed kiwi vine (here when I moved in) once again trying to take over the front porch. I’ve lopped off nearly as much as you see here. I need to transplant him. I call him Groot.

So my house was parakeet-less for the first time in 10 years or more, and it was eerily quiet. But I knew it was for the best and it seemed miraculous that both birds were placed almost effortlessly into situations that were perfect for them. I cleaned up the area they’d been in, vacuuming well and wiping down the wall and windowsill where I’d kept the cage, and of course moving the cage out to the garage (and hosing it down outside first). Next on the agenda was testing my environment for toxins in the form of molds and bacteria.

20160805_173754

The plum tree was laden with its ping pong ball plums this year, the branches groaning under the weight.  The dogs and the sheep have been enjoying them.

I contacted one of the companies on the list the clinic had sent me. The fellow there, Payam Fallah, was a wealth of information, and we discussed my antigen test results and the animals I have here. Like my doctor, he too was a dog lover, which felt good.  Both of them not only understood the dog connection, they both confirmed that dogs/cats rarely are an issue in these cases. Payam also has a tortoise (I’d shared that my menagerie includes a box turtle), and we had a good discussion about our mutual love of animals. Again, this was reassuring – I didn’t want my animals to be automatic targets for removal because of an overall dislike of animals by the professionals I was dealing with.  He sent me sterile swabs/kits for me to take samples in my house. He told me that taking swabs in my detached garage – where I store the sheep’s hay (and the mold inherent therein, which I believe to be one of the major factors in the original manifestation of this health issue) – is pointless, as there are so many molds in the environment/outdoors. Okay…

20160806_164211

My sheep maintenance in my fancy new “deck chair” (sheep restraining tool) wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped.  The Shetlands are squirmy, and Trixie, above, probably the worst of the lot.

So I took four samples: one in the bathroom, one in the bedroom, one in my office, and one in the main room of living room/kitchen/“dining” (my house is tiny; this last area, at roughly 500 square feet, encompasses half of it).  A week later he emailed me the results.  Which basically said my little house was fine.  The highest mold readings were in the bathroom (duh), but a) the mold count wasn’t astronomical and b) the molds were not the ones that showed up on my antigen tests. The bedroom, where I was most concerned (for the crawlspace underneath), had a big fat doughnut for results. Which was good. Despite the fact that I sleep in a pile with the dogs (and a brave feline or two) every night, and the crawlspace was an unknown quantity (can’t access), absolutely nothing showed on the swab I took from a wall sconce above my pillow. Thankyoujesus.

I still want to do a swab in the garage, and maybe I still will (have one left, and spreading out the cost is a good thing too – out of pocket, it’s $40 each swab to see if anything grows). But the house is fine.

Now to figure out the chickens…

Memorial Day musings

20160520_201846

A beautiful blush-pink foxglove came up next to the deck this year.

We just observed Memorial Day here in the U.S., the day where we honor our deceased military. It’s a sad day, though most of us look at it, at least initially, as a day off work. It’s a much needed three day weekend for me, as I imagine it is for most of us doing the 9-5 thing, where we have an extra day to sleep in, relax, visit with friends and family, maybe a barbecue, and the start of summer and camping season. Only it’s not just that. The municipal decor (flags and bunting decorating our towns) and television programming reminds us why we have this day off. It makes me sad, as it does most, I guess. We are a warring nation, and have been in one conflict or another for nearly all of our 240 years. Some justified, maybe, but others not so much (including our latest, still going after 15 years – thanks W).

20160521_161525

I came home from work one day to see this – a great blue heron perched on the tippy top of a snag by the dairy across the street.  He must have been hanging out with the eagles.

It’s been rainy for the past week or two, and the cool, misty cloudiness has been welcome. But on yesterday the sun was back and the day burst forth. My damp little hillside is slow to wake up, situated as we are, but there was no denying the return of the sunshine. Everything green is rejoicing in it, and the birds and the bees exuberant with it. I’ve been listening to the local Swainson’s thrush, only just returned this past month. There’s one who’s staked out the lower woods, down by the driveway (his song is the first thing I hear when I get home from work each evening and get out of the car to open the gate, and it’s magical), and another at the top of this same patch of woods.  Their song goes back and forth almost all day, a lovely challenge and warning to one another: “This is mine; you stay on yours.”  Why can’t humans do this instead of the awful way we challenge one another, with arms and physical violence?

20160524_192332

The woods behind the house, where the Swainson’s thrush sing.  And, the night before I took this photo, a chorus of coyotes as well. 

Of course with the sunshine comes the humans, and the road activity increased markedly compared to the cloudy, wet Saturday and Sunday. During those rainy days I could hear the birdsong so much better, where on Sunday it was just snippets through the lulls in grinding engines and acceleration. If I could change one thing about this place, I think that road noise would be it…(location, location, location) or maybe I’d change the exposure to something more southeasterly – it’s a toss-up.  I took a walk in the woods on the other side of the fence, where the now-trickle of Rasmussen Creek flows. I actually saw a Swainson’s thrush – even when they come close, they’re masters of hiding behind a leaf or a branch – and I must have surprised him/her by being where I was.  S/he flew off to watch me from behind cover, disappearing again. I walked slowly, stopping frequently, and saw a song sparrow in a dapple of sunlight, fluffing and shaking off, grooming his feathers after a recent dip in the creek flow. I found a couple of discarded robin’s egg shells, the mother bird taking the impossibly blue casing (one wonders why the eggs are blue – wouldn’t a brown speckled version be better camouflaged against predators?) and discarding it safely far away from the nest after a successful hatching.

IMG_20160531_114528

A weather phenomenon over my house in an otherwise cloudless sky.  This HUGE circle or ring is evidently called a solar halo (though it was not encircling the sun) and was so large I couldn’t get a photo of all of it.  It looked like it was encircling my property from above, and was very cool, but also a wee bit eerie.  (Under the Dome, anyone?)

Then it was back to the gate, to Daisy’s obvious relief (“There you are!”), where Farley had been barking at bicyclists all day (he catches glimpses of them through the brush between the fence and the road), and up the driveway.  The sheep were in the pasture, content to stay there grazing in the sunshine and chewing cud in the shade. I heard the song of the dark eyed junco, chickadee, and towhee, the chip of hummingbirds as they zipper past, and the other robin family visiting the red huckleberry, and the towhee and Swainson’s in the red elderberry that twines through it.  The rustling and thrashing in the salmonberry bushes shows me a Swainson’s or a robin picking the barely ripe berries, and I revel in their enjoyment.

20160506_204040

Pal’s handiwork.  He’s the sweetest of my three dogs but he doesn’t mess around when it comes to varmints.  Evidently this one was delicious.

The cherry tree is moving towards ripening, though I have a gray squirrel who is decimating the unripe cherries. This frustrates both me and the dogs, though for different reasons. Pal actually managed to get two juvenile squirrels earlier this month – something I’ve not seen him do before, and I was at once squeamish and pleased. He was quite proud of himself (this is a dog who hunts all the time – mostly just stalking behavior – but has never played with toys of any kind, so when he prances up happily with a toy in his mouth it’s a bit of a shock), and I was ultimately glad to have them dispatched (Eastern gray squirrels are not native, crowd out our native Douglas squirrels, and eat songbird eggs and nestlings). I may try live-trapping the one who is prematurely raiding the cherry tree (which means my June visits of canopy birds I never get to see otherwise, drawn in by the cherry bounty, will be curtailed or eliminated altogether), but can’t figure out where I’d release him/her when I catch him. Having live-trapped/relocated in my previous home, I know how aggressive they are (kind of scary when in the cage), but I also saw a resurgence of Douglas squirrels at that property, with ongoing trapping and relocating.

IMG_20160531_190210

Gordy’s fleece; some really nice wool here, but also some not so nice as well (mostly due to my late shearing this year).

I spent some time skirting the fleeces from shearing earlier this month and there are only a few more to go.  It’s deliciously relaxing, and I listen to podcasts from Woolful.com as I skirt and evaluate.  And also throw the ball for Farley.  Daisy snoozes nearby in a pit she’s dug for herself in the cool earth, her nose adorably brown from her digging and nosing things into that just right shape. Pal runs by once in a while, always checking something out. I’ve been keeping the cats inside until dark, as it’s prime nesting season now, so they snooze the day away in sunbeams on my bed. Life is good.

20160521_195324

Gratuitous cuteness: The old guy (Farley) and his wonderful, adorable nose.

Rain and reflections

20160514_114038

Watching the rain fall.

It’s been raining all day today and it’s wonderful. I can’t even believe I am saying that, but it’s funny how weather excesses or extremes, especially out of season excesses, can make you long for the opposite, and even make you anxious.

20160514_113958

Wet bee yard; the package bees (left hive) are still out flying – I love how gnarly they are!

For us here in the PNW, rain in November is relentless and pummels the house and the property. It’s often a little frightening at times for this Chicken Little, as the water sluices down the hillside, the ground turns to muck, and the river in the valley nearby overflows its banks (making the commute home from work worrisome).  As I listened to the music of the rain on the roof this morning I was reflecting at how in November, December, or January, I actually get a little scared when it rains this hard and steadily for hours. It’s not sweet music then, but an ominous wintertime soundtrack.  Today it was calming and comforting.

20160502_173617

Gorgeous blue sky on the last mile of my evening commute home.

If you’ve followed my blog for long, you know that I adore the sun and blue sky.  I realize more and more that I want to see more sky, more openness.  I love the trees, but it gets so claustrophobic sometimes, and especially at this time of year (I’ve spoken of this before), when the jungle-like growth begins to feel like it’s closing in.  And all winter long the constant rain and dark, cloudy skies, combined with the short daylight hours, feels oppressive and beyond dismal, day after day. The weather almost becomes the enemy, something to be fought and/or feared.

20160514_114107

Soggy with rain, the pool refilling with rainwater after last week’s heat.

Now we’ve had a spring unlike any I can remember, with drought-like conditions and record-breaking heat (90+ degrees in April – where the hell am I, anyway?).  This after a previous year of record-breaking weather patterns (2015’s dry spring and summer and record-breaking summer temps, followed by the wettest winter on record) and again I get anxious.  What does this mean for me, my animals, my bees, my planet? So you can see why the rain and cool temps—typical weather for a northwest May (and something to grumble about in a normal year)—was soothing today.

20160514_114118

Rain all day long, yet I’m totally okay with it.

The rain slowed later in the day and I let the sheep out to graze.  I assured them the rain was a good thing for the grass and browse they love, but still they wanted out. Noisy C-Kerry led the chorus of:  “We don’t care if we get wet, we’re sheep!  Just let us out!” The trees and under story are heavy with the rain, and branches are low to the ground with the weight of water. There was even a downed maple branch over the lower fence.  They are enjoying the heck out of it all, pruning and munching on the delicious green growth they love.

20160507_181757

Shearing day last week; one of these is not like the others.

I watch them and am reminded how much I love them. Well, maybe not so much when they’re gobbling up my hops vines, comfrey, or horseradish plants, or the beautiful woodland ferns and other plants (my wonderful Devil’s club!) out back, or peeling the bark off my fruit trees. I’ve learned to monitor them better, but still like to let them out to keep the grass mowed around the house, stretch the feed bill, and ease the pressure on their pasture.  And I reflected on them and my relationship to them—to all my animals—and not only what they mean to me, but what do I mean to them? How do they see me? (A few of the flock must see me with a scythe and hooded robe, judging by how they react to me every. single. time. they see me. Maybe there are hallucinogens in the hay I feed?)

20160501_194406

Eloise at the top of the corner post in the chicken run.

I am reflecting on all of this after reading a blog post by a fellow blogger, also a woman, also a farmer (though she, lucky girl, is able to do it full time).  Like many bloggers (can you believe I’ve been blogging for over 7 years now?) I like to follow other bloggers, especially those who are doing things similar to me: solo homesteaders like Belle Manor Farms and Morris Brook Farm, sheep raisers like Canfield Farm, just a few miles away, beekeepers, nature lovers and wildlife advocates. I’ve been following Celi and her Kitchens Garden blog for at least 4 years now, maybe longer, and I find it a delightful day-to-day account of what she’s doing. Sometimes the animals take center stage, sometimes the hard work of farming, sometimes the garden harvest and cooking of same, and sometimes we go on vacation with her (there are over 5,000 people who follow her blog – !!) – all this with great photos of her farm (by “Camera House” – even her camera has a name and entity – I love this woman!), her animals (spring babies!) and scenery on her travels.  She posts every single day, for which I am very envious, and she has copious numbers of commenters (the Fellowship), which she calls the Lounge of Commenters.  Isn’t that delightful?

20160419_201328

Salal blossoms.

At any rate, Celi had a wonderful post the other day.  Sometimes she just riffs on a thought and it can be profound, with observations as keen and insightful as any philosopher’s, as this one was. It was called A Chair of My Own.

20160505_170215

A recent bee convention over some old honeycomb I had. I got several species of bumblebee, as well as the honey bees and even a yellowjacket or two.

Many of the comments added to the conversation and further enlightenment, as they often do.  And I reflected on my own situation, with my own self-imposed cage(s), and then on to my own animals and their habits. How DO the sheep see me? Little Trixie and her brother Mungo seem to love me, with Mungo especially coming at a run and staying with me for as long as I’ll scratch his chin, even when the rest of the flock has run off to the ecstasy of release to fresh grass.  It warms my heart that the two of them, and their mother sometimes, would rather be with me than with the other sheep. Is it intentional? Do they know that this will keep them from the freezer permanently? Those feral ones who behave as if I’m coming with a noose when I’m just bringing them dinner…well, they are creating their own reality, as I will be reviewing this year’s shearing and making some decisions based on their fleeces (my freezer is almost empty and I’m beginning to really enjoy mutton).  And just that has me reeling with recognition.  I struggle with my own choices in life (mostly related to job/income) and how my perception of things colors my reality: the fear/s that keep me where I am, instead of where I want to go, who I want to be and what I want to accomplish before this gig is up.

20160502_193221

The bird dogs covering the driveway action: squirrels at one end, cars and motorcycles at the other, and croaking (teasing) ravens overhead.

And what do the dogs think of me, and our life here?  Or of the dog park of their life on the farm, but confining in its own way as well.  I think they know the oasis they provide for me (I tell them, and thank them, often), and hopefully know how profoundly grateful I am to them for keeping me afloat emotionally, mentally, and every other way there is.  I cannot repay them for all they give me, which is why I am so “lenient” on them with regards to making them behave. I sing to them as I make them dinner, or when I come home to their unbridled joy at seeing me (and me them!).  I make up the songs as I go, usually sung to an old, well-known tune, and I know it makes them happy when I sing (because they know I sing when I’m happy).  I also know they love it when I laugh, and I see how hard they work to keep me happy and laughing.  I joke that they have me very well trained (when I buy 10 boxes of biscuits at a time the clerks always ask me about it; we go through at least 3 (1-pound) boxes a week here).  But who am I to these creatures that mean so much to me?  Is it as profound to them as it is to me? I think of each of them and how they came to me, the obstacles they overcame to reach me, or for me to find them.  Is it just me, or is this as profound for everyone here?  I think of finding my first sheep, the serendipity around all of it…though I think it’s more than just chance, or coincidence.  Do they think that too?  How about you, and the animals in your life?

20160419_210323

Gratuitous cuteness: the old guy, traipsing into the house with his swamp legs after a dip in the swampy little pond-ette on a hot spring evening.

Spring Harvesting {or, An Ode to Stinging Nettle}

IMG_20160330_190050

Future cherries.

We’re enjoying a sunny spring weekend here in the PNW, and the wild harvests are beginning to add up.  Of course the Queen of Spring is the stinging nettle (I was going to say King of Spring for the alliteration, but nettle just isn’t masculine in energy), especially on this soggy little hillside.  Nettle season is winding down now, as the plants grow large and head towards flowering, and though I normally pick and enjoy some of it every spring, I’ve gone a little crazy with the harvest this year.  I feel like Forrest and Bubba in the movie Forrest Gump (and really, was there ever such an unlikely and delightful movie ever made? Sweet, sad, poignant, funny, preposterous and believable all at once.) listing all the things one could make with shrimp, but instead I’m using stinging nettles:  Nettle soufflé, nettle soup, nettle scrambled with eggs (think Florentine), nettle omelet, nettle pesto, nettles in tomato sauce, nettle stir fry, dried nettle, nettle tea…  I don’t think you can barbecue nettle, though I could be wrong.

I’m getting a little sick of it–it is some GREEN-ass food—but feel like I’ve done a bit to get my spring tonic, even if I didn’t make a dent in the nettle population here.  I’ve harvested bags and bags of it – a grocery sack packed full in 10 minutes is no exaggeration.  It’s not an easy harvest, other than the speed and abundance, because handling all the way to getting it in the pot must be done with care (rubber dish gloves are the best – impervious and long enough to go up past your wrists), and even then you get jabbed (usually through my jeans as I step too closely to the patch I’m harvesting). This property is prime stinging nettle habitat, even if the rest of us struggle with the damp (mud) and shade.  And this year I feel like maybe nettle is what I need for my health, to combat the dreary wet so pervasive here, and definitely helpful for my lung issues, too.

Harvesting nettle isn’t new, of course, but it still surprises when you do a little reading on it.  Another name for it is “Indian Spinach” (it’s very spinach-like in flavor and texture when cooked), though it’s not clear if this was a traditional use by Northwest tribes or something introduced by Europeans.  Euell Gibbons, the well known outdoorsman and wild foods enthusiast of the 1960s, calls this “one of the finest and most nutritious vegetables in the whole plant kingdom, a far better vegetable than many of those … [laboriously raised in a farmer’s kitchen garden].”

On Easter Sunday I enjoyed several homegrown meals, and thought I would make some nettle soup to go with my first-ever leg of lamb – I had several in the freezer from last summer’s harvest and needed to use them up.  I pulled out a cookbook of my mother’s that I thought would be a good prospect for traditional leg of lamb: an Irish cookbook, because the Irish raise a lot of sheep, called “Feasting Galore, Recipes and Food Lore from Ireland,” by Maura Laverty.  I looked in the index first and found precisely nothing under Lamb.  There was one recipe listed for mutton (a pie), but as I glanced though, the word Nettle caught my eye.  Who knew?  There were two recipes, including one for a nettle soup that was very different from the ones I was finding online.  Ms. Laverty describes “Not so long ago, if you strayed along a country road in springtime, you would find women gathering nettles, their hands and arms protected by black woolen stockings.” And mirroring what Euell Gibbons said, “For many a long year nettles were to the Irish what spinach is to other peoples. And many of us still feel that young tender nettles more than equal the best of spinach. ‘One feed of nettles in the spring will keep you healthy for the year’ is a belief which persists in country parts where the blood purifying qualities of nettles are still appreciated.” I looked in the front of the book to look up the publishing date (©1952 – so that “not so long ago” above, was more than 60 years past now) and found this:

20160327_201501

I knew this was here, of course, but “forgot” it too – a sweet, poignant reminder. The fact that she signed her name in it the year I was born is probably the reason I got it versus any of my siblings.

It was odd to see my name and birth year – my mother was also M. Finn for a time, but she and my father divorced when I was 6 or 7, so I didn’t know her as this for most of my life. Then remembering when she sent the book to me, with the inscription, when I first had my own household.  My Irish Maureen – she always saw her brood of five as Irishmen, and indeed, we carry 50% of that heritage along with the names.  But when I look in the mirror now all I see is the Polish/Hungarian heritage, as I look more like her every year.  Nowhere near as beautiful as she was, even in my prime, but the sweet “Little Marian” appellation by my great aunt that somewhat irritated me when I was in my 20s (not only did I not see the resemblance, this brat didn’t want to look like her mother back then), makes so much more sense now.  And now I see it and cherish it, as it’s all I have left of her, other than photos, keepsakes and cookbooks.

So I made the nettle soup to go with the lamb.  It wasn’t technically lamb – I (purposely) didn’t know which sheep I was dining on, the younger of the two taken to the abattoir that day was over about 14 months old, the older was 3 years old.  Growing up, my mother served lamb occasionally, and it was one of the few foods I didn’t like, even as an avowed carnivore from a young age. The best thing about lamb was the mint jelly served with it. But I’ve been pleased with the mildness of the Shetlands’ meat, and decided to take the plunge. I found some recipes for prepping the leg (though they all described leg of lamb as 7-8 pounds – what kind of monster lamb has a leg that’s 7 or 8 pounds?!).  My wee Shetland leg weighed in at 1 pound 12 ounces!  Laughable, but plenty for me.  I rubbed it with salt and pepper and rosemary, made small slits and inserted the slices of a couple of garlic gloves, and tucked it in the oven.  It took longer to roast than the cookbook said – partly because I like my meat more than just “rare.”  I am pleased to report it was delicious!  It went great with the yummy nettle soup I’d made, and provided a homegrown bounty that was both nutritious and delicious.

In the fall maybe I’ll tackle harvesting it for fiber, because yes, it has been traditionally used as a fiber, similar to linen.  Aaand maybe not.

IMG_20160329_192101

Gratuitous cuteness: Daisy watching me succumb to her charms. She throws herself down, knowing I’m hopeless to resist her. Heart this dog!

They say stress will kill you

I started this post over three months ago, and have been tinkering with it ever since, trying to find a single theme or focus and a way to wrap it up tidily. Instead it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. So I think it’s just going to be another multi-part post. Because I’ve got a blog and I’ve got something to say. Let’s get started.

IMG_20160116_162432

The promise of spring on a chilly midwinter day. Don’t worry, I’m on my way, she whispers. 

They say stress will kill you, given enough time and enough stress. I’ve always considered myself to be a low anxiety, low key type of person, not easily ruffled, and nowhere near the stereotypical Type A personality one associates with chronic stress. And all of that is still mostly true, but I’m finding the stress is there, and yeah, it’s not the healthiest condition. I’ve been feeling lately like I’m turning into my mother, who was also a low key person, but as she aged, became someone whose anxiety could derail her. It was upsetting to hear during a phone conversation (she lived across the country from me), and not be able to help, or to see (during a visit) and become frustrated at her immediate redlining of anxiety and/or anger over seemingly minor things. Now I wonder if that these kinds of things aren’t totally under one’s control, and the aging process is a right bitch you have to get a handle on and ride to the end. But wait…

20160102_161952

Several days of frost build up during a recent cold snap.

So I’ve been having a few epiphanies about stress and its role in my life. Until the past year, hell, until the past few months, I would have told you that I have little to no stress, am not the stressy sort, and other than a frustration or two during my day (say, a particularly crappy commute), I have no lasting stressors in my life and am not an anxious or tension-filled person. I am learning, via several avenues recently—epiphanies and research both—that I’ve been wrong for a long time. Maybe my whole life. Yes, I’m good at stuffing things, and keeping a calm demeanor. I am okay at letting some things roll off my back (or like to think I am). But still waters run deep, as they say. For many years (most of my life?) I’ve felt this could be my motto. I tend to run calm, stuffing stuffing stuffing, with the occasional acid-tongued blurt or outburst (which I regret nearly every time), until suddenly I don’t. Not healthy on any level.

20160110_144717

I spy with my little eye.  Best destressor ever.  I adore this dog . {just throw it}

The constant undercurrent of anxiety has been detrimental to my health, as I found out last year. And a December visit to the pulmonologist and my breathing tests are all running at the same less than stellar numbers as they were a year ago, some even a little worse. The test is stressful for me, so I wonder if that alone affects how well I do, but the visits to the doctor are stressful as well. After the last visit, where we discussed my test results and the recommendations for treatment, I realized that this doctor has zero interest in my well being. It was obvious before—I’ve joked that she only sees me as a pair of lungs, and not even very interesting lungs—but for some reason you keep on expecting something. Or hoping for something. As she told me about the gnarly drugs used to treat sarcoidosis, and my options therein, I broke down a little. I bowed my head to collect myself, and when I rose it to speak, voice quavering a bit, the doctor’s face was a blank wall. There wasn’t an ounce of compassion or caring there, just a clinical detachment and, as a result of this blank wall, the gift of my Aha moment – if your doctor doesn’t care about you, then stop going to see him or her. (Note: I didn’t expect anything special over my being upset, just an acknowledgement that it was affecting me.)

IMG_20160114_192549

Zombie sheep, waiting for me to feed them one evening after work. Will my eyes glow like this if I go on the sarcoidosis drug?

I took the 15 page printout she gave me about the medications she discussed home with me to read over. I’ve tried to read it all objectively, since I am not really interested in going on a chemotherapy drug (though at much lower doses than for cancer patients) that requires regular blood testing to make sure my liver isn’t being damaged by it, nor having every vaccine known given or boosted (because my immune system will be shut down by the drug). And because I’m not feeling at all confident in this doctor’s interest in my health (and will not continue with her regardless) and can’t imagine being on such a hardcore treatment under her supervision, I’ve kind of gone off the rails. Just so it’s clear, I believe the doctor’s knowledge, experience, and treatment protocol are solid, but I just can’t continue with a doctor who has repeatedly shown me she doesn’t care about me. Sorry. I know I sound like a big baby, but there are statistics to back up my feelings (more on this later). There really isn’t any gentle treatment for sarcoidosis, and most treatments involve steroids or chemotherapy drugs or anti-malarial drugs. And running in the background is the “ it often goes away by itself” noted on nearly every website search I’ve done (and indeed, was told this by my doctor early in the diagnosis process). What to do, what to do.

And lo, the path appeared. I happened upon a book whose title has been on a stickynote sitting on my nightstand for months (close to a year?). Something else I was reading at some point brought this title to my attention and it sounded interesting so I wrote it down. Finally, while doing some cleaning I saw it again, sticking out from under my alarm clock, and sat down on the bed and ordered up an ebook version from the library. Within the first 10 pages I realized I found something special, and maybe even the key to getting on track with real healing, not just treating to abate symptoms.

stack-of-books

Pretty much.

And this book led to another book. And then another couple of books came across my radar, and another, and suddenly I’m awash in research, none of it about sarcoidosis specifically, but about healing in general and healing myself in particular. And when I say healing myself, I’m not just talking about the sarc. I’m going down the rabbit hole to figure this stuff out once and for all. Because I can’t spend the rest of my life in a slow decline, feeling bad about myself, becoming smaller instead of better, and worst of all, never becoming who I’m meant to become. Never doing what I’m meant to do as I stay “safe” and afraid. This shit is real, and I’m diving in. Hang on! Because: IMG_20160103_183753

 

Post Navigation

valbjerke's Blog

Real Life Random Ramblings

psychologistmimi

Food, Road Trips & Notes from the Non-Profit Underground

Citizens for Duvall

A grass roots group that gives a voice to its citizens outside of city council meetings.

Pet Zoo Kibbutz Shiller

Adventures of a pet zoo keeper

camino times two

walking together from Le Puy to Finesterre

Trish the Dish

Keeping Our Family's Bellies FULL... One Dish at a Time

KURT★BRINDLEY

WRITER★EDITER★PRODUCER★CONSULTANT

Hen Corner

A little bit of country life in West London...

morrisbrookfarm

Going back...a return to rural life

Relaena's Travels

Eternal Journeys of a Curious Mind

The Global Warmers

8 dogs, 2 elderly adults and an aging RV

Fiber Trek ™

A TV show Connecting Community, Craft, Fiber and Farms

Brookfield Farm Bees & Honey Blog

musings on bees, life, & nature near Mt. Baker Washington

An American Editor

Commentary on Books, eBooks, and Editorial Matters

The Task at Hand

A Writer's On-Going Search for Just the Right Words

ella gordon

textile maker

Jenny Bruso

An Unlikely Hiker Blog

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

Squash Practice

A Growing Concern

Food, Farming and Faith in Snohomish County

Icelandic Fiber Farming in Cascadia

Carol Lea Benjamin on Dogs

Understanding dogs and the many roles they play in our lives

Mo Bloggin'

A little o' this, a little o' that

Living Your Sacred Livelihood

Weaving the Wisdom in Nature with Possibility Practices

Chris Morgan's Wildnotes

A BLOG of pictures and thoughts from the field

Denise Fenzi

a professional dog trainer specializing in relationship-building in competitive dog sport teams

thekitchensgarden

farming, gardens, cows, goats, chickens, food, organic, sustainable, photography,

Black Sheep Creamery

Artisan Sheep Cheese, Wool and Lambs

Woolyadventures's Blog

Just another WordPress.com site

flippity felts

Needle felt designs and tutorials by Gabby Dexter

Single Life, With Puppy

Suddenly single at 55; what to do but get a puppy?

Eat, Play, Love

making memories through food, wine and travel

Pam Grout

#1 New York Times best-selling author

Karen Maezen Miller's Cheerio Road

paradise in plain sight

CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD

She turns coffee into books so she can afford to buy more coffee. And more books.

Lorelle on WordPress

Helping you learn more and do more with WordPress

Adventures in Natural Beekeeping

Bees, Hives, Swarms, and Everything under the Sun

CARROT QUINN

dispatches from the wild

The KiltLander's Blog

JP's Outlander Recaps and other perspectives from the Dirk Side

Great Scot!

Cultural Musings of An Outlandish Nature

Fringe Association

Knitting ideas, inspiration and free patterns, plus crochet, weaving, and more

The Outlander Podcast™

Chatting about All Things Outlander

The Year of Living Englishly

Coming Home to Cows, Cryptic Crosswords, and a Cambridge Don . . . and back in Boston