Mo Bloggin'

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Archive for the category “Farming”

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.

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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.

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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.

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*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.

Rain and reflections

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?)

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

Giving thanks

IMG_20151108_163736Again with the blog-break! Oy! Seriously, there’s always a reason (excuse?), and though I’ve written several posts that haven’t made it here yet, whether due to time or health or time or mood or time, my hope is to get more regular in the coming new year. I was working on a post recently that, while important, was bringing me down a bit. That one is regarding an an issue I still need to come to terms with, and will likely continue working on the draft for a future post, but I found that it was clogging the works and not serving me well with regard to getting something out.

So instead I’m turning my thoughts to things that make me happy. On top of the winter solstice holidays (Yule, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Eid al-Fitr, St.Lucia Day, or whatever your celebration) going on, we in the U.S. recently celebrated our Thanksgiving holiday, held the fourth Thursday in November. It’s one of my favorite holidays, though it’s slowly being swallowed by the juggernaut of an ever expanding Christmas season, and aside from the myth we were fed as schoolchildren about the origins of the holiday, I choose to celebrate it in the exact interpretation of its name, giving thanks. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, and of the winter solstice (the return of the light – hallelujah, indeed!) and the coming turn to a new calendar year, here are just a few of the things I give thanks for daily:

Look out, 2016!

Hello, Fall

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Leaves covering the sidewalk on a recent walk with Daisy.

I seem to have taken my annual blogging hiatus. A full three months this time. In past years it was due to a busy time with garden harvesting but no such excuse this time, since I didn’t grow a garden. We had a super hot and dry summer, so it would have been a great year to grow a veggie garden (aside from the near constant watering it would have required). The divas like tomatoes (which I won’t even plant anymore) or heat-loving melons would have been happy this year. We still had our nighttime temperature drop, due to the maritime influences of Puget Sound, which made me happy. Not only for the fact that it helped to cool down the house every night, but also for easing the unsettling effect caused by the unusual, extended heat and near-daily temperature records being broken. It was like baseball stats by August: the most days over XX degrees, most consecutive days over XX degrees, highest temp ever on XX date, least rainfall ever for XX time period, etcetera, etcetera. The local weather guru doesn’t/won’t blame global warming or climate change, even though we had all these records falling like autumn leaves. It was some blob of high pressure out on the Pacific Ocean that was causing this unusually long pattern of heat, and the meteorologists were all calling it The Blob. I wonder why that blob formed and why it stayed so long. Wouldn’t that be climate change? Hmm.

The last, luscious days of an incredible summer.

The last, luscious days of an incredible summer.

Suffice it to say I enjoyed the heck out of the summer heat. It was delicious and warm day after day, and weekends were wonderful, languid days enjoying the sunshine. I didn’t get much done (it was too hot! Ha!), including any blog posts, but relaxing and enjoying it was plenty. Now that fall is here, and even though it’s been mild so far (not too chilly, not too much rain yet) I’m already missing the sun and the heat. The past weekend was overcast but not too cool. My personal barometer is if the bees are out and flying, then it’s not too chilly.

A few of my favorite things on a mild fall morning. The bees, Pal (watching the pasture for any wandering pheasant), and the sheep grazing among (and on) the fallen leaves.

A few of my favorite things on a mild fall morning. The bees, Pal (watching the pasture for any wandering pheasant), and the sheep grazing among (and on) the fallen leaves.

So I worked outside some, filling the yard waste bin but not having the energy to work in the sheep shed like I should have. I am nearly done with the clean out of the shed and pen. Only another 10 wheelbarrow loads of mucky hay on the pen-side of the feeder (exposed to rain and weather), but the shed itself is done. That was a HUGE job, as I’d leaned heavily (too heavily) on the deep litter method through last winter during my bout of poor health. It was nearly 14 inches deep in some areas, and though the sheep were never standing in muck because I kept adding thick layers of straw bedding, it compacted to a thick, hard block of anaerobic manure/straw. It was like cutting peat to get through it, though I imagine peat is softer (but I could be wrong).

One of many. And believe me, it's much heavier than it looks.

One of many. And believe me, it’s much heavier than it looks.

 

Hard labor, but the results are great!

Hard labor, but the results are great!

I’ve been keeping the sheep on the pasture until I could finish it, but put them in the pen when the weather report sounds like we’ll get a fair amount of rain in the next 12 hours. They’re fine in the rain, but there’s no shelter in the pasture now that the leaves are mostly off the maples, and I feel bad for them. Plus I’m seeing what seems to be some sort of wool rot on Mungo, probably due to rain (though we haven’t had that much). It’s a bummer because he has one of the nicest fleeces out there, but right now the stuff along his back is gone (I pulled it off by the handful). The rest of the fleece seems okay, and his skin is fine (no sores) but we’ll see.

Gratuitous cuteness: My saucy little Pebbles, a favorite in the flock.

Gratuitous cuteness: My saucy little Pebbles, a favorite in the flock.

Coveting sunshine and grass growing

Spring is here and the girls are laying like crazy.

Spring is here and the girls are laying like crazy.

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

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

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

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

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

Growing slowly. The sheep can't wait.

Growing slowly. The sheep can hardly wait.

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

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

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

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

This property has a long history of growing big trees.

This property has a long history of growing big trees.

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

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

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

And the winner is… {part 3 of 2}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, you maybe should back off.

Yeah, you maybe should back off.

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

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

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

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

Love this dog to bits!

Love this dog to bits!

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

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

In one of the many instances of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah. Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making every day count

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday morning with the gang.

Sunday morning with the gang.

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

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

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

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

Love to wake up to this view.

Love to wake up to this view.

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

New post

New post

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

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

Building

Building

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

Tire punctured by rock

Tire punctured by rock

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

Fixing

Fixing

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

Building and fixing both

Building and fixing both

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

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

Haystack Farley

Haystack Farley

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