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Archive for the category “weather”

Happy New Year Musings

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

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

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Beautiful overnight frost on my windshield.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hot running water.  Seriously.

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

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The dawn chorus and my annual amnesia

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Summer Solstice Eve

It’s happening again, and I’m fully aware of it. I work harder each day to remember the whole year, the mud, the rain, the unease, the borderline despair that I feel during our long, wet Pacific NW winters. Those dark and dreary days, with the paltry 8.5 hours of “daylight” between sunrise and sunset times (we never see the sun, so I take it on faith that it’s out there) marked by sludgy grey clouds that even when they’re not leaking oppress and depress. The lights are on in the house all day long, the dogs come in wet and muddy on most days, and feeding the livestock in the rainy dark after work the chickens look miserable and the sheep look bored and as full of discontent as I feel.

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These are the skies I long for in December.

But I knew it would happen. It always does. After 7 months of rainy, dismal weather, and epic amounts of mud we’ve come into our season of splendor. We’re just moving out of jungle season (also magnificent) and now it’s settling into the rhythms of 16 hours of daylight (squeeee!) versus its opposite in December, and all the wonder and abundance of a fecund spring. Never mind that today (it’s the last few hours of summer solstice as I write this) is pretty much the saddest day of the year. Sure, it’s the longest day of the year, but it’s also the turning point where the days start to roll back, getting shorter and we begin losing daylight by increments, heading back to that dismal darkness. But for now we will dance in the sun and revel in the song and forget about that long, stressful winter. Instead, I will spend my days here soaking up all the goodness, settling into my wonderful little hillside on a sunny day like a broody hen settling onto a clutch of eggs, content to just sit and watch and listen to the glory of creation as it unfolds in panoramic vision—the bees being probably the most joyous visual expression of what I feel—and all of it to a exaltation of surround-sound. For it is Songbird Season, and I love songbirds.

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The package hive has been going like gangbusters, and filled their deep so I added a super so they have more room. 

Even now, with the windows only opened a crack I hear them.  Though today was warm, it’s been chilly for the past couple weeks—a normal, gloomy and damp PNW June—but I keep the windows open just so I can hear the birds. The calls, the chirps, and the songs.  Oh, the songs. The thrushes have all the others beat as far as melody and pleasing (to the human ear) song, though the Black-headed grosbeak and Song sparrow aren’t too shabby.  I think the Swainson’s thrushes and the robins (also a thrush) just can’t be beat though, for not only are their flute-like songs beautiful, they are positively incessant throughout the day (and they seem to be the most abundant). None of the other birds save the Dark-eyed juncos (a raspy tweee, not too melodious but not unpleasant) do much more than a few songs throughout the day.  Or maybe they’re just drowned out by the thrush songs.

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Red huckleberries – the robins, Swainson’s thrushes, and Western tanagers love these, and I’ve got lots of them to share.

The dawn chorus starts at about 3:30 a.m., just as the sky begins to lighten, with the twittering of the swallows, already out flying after several hours grounded.  The Swainson’s and robins chime in next, along with the grosbeak, Western tanagers, chickadees, song sparrows, towhees, and dark-eyed juncos. Other birds I hear throughout the day but don’t seem to sing much: the hummingbirds (a sharp chip-chip), Steller’s jays (wik-wik-wik-wik-wik!), crows and ravens (rawk), and the woodpeckers—hairy, downy, pileated, sapsuckers and flickers—plus the occasional raptor – osprey, red tailed hawks, and eagles (the vultures are pretty silent), or duck from the valley.

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When I come home from work the birdsong is like a balm, soothing jangled nerves after a long day at work and a gnarly commute. I change clothes quickly and head outside with the dogs, finding myself drawn to the woods, where the high canopy feels like a cathedral, and the songs are more soothing than any choir. It feels similar to the siren song of the old seafaring legends – where you are helpless to resist (though without the dire consequences, thankfully!). I am entranced, mesmerized, rapt, and spellbound, lured ever deeper into the woods to stand beneath the trees by some unseen singer, a bit of bone and blood and feathers, weighing barely more than a couple of medium-sized strawberries. The robins, one of the largest of all the songbird species that habit this patch of woodland, tips the scales at just under 3 ounces, the Swainson’s thrush a whopping 1.5 ounces, yet the woods are filled with their giant song. The robins have a huge repertoire, and there are some similarities to the Swainson’s song, but the Swainson’s, that furtive bit of greenish brown feathers, is the one that I wait for all year, their upward-spiraling flute song stretching an aural web as far as the ear can hear – close and crisp, and distant and haunting, overlapping, echoing and answering, a treasure of acoustic jewels for the lucky listener.

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Sunset on the solstice. 9:09 p.m.

In the long evenings I sit on my deck writing, and reveling at being surrounded by all I love, by place. The sheep are grazing the property, moving around in a cohesive flock; the chickens wander around, scratching and pecking, gobbling up fresh greens and all the insects they can catch; the dogs, dirty but blissfully free of mud, snooze like bearskin rugs around me, stretched out at my feet, farm-dog grubby and content. And all of it to the soundtrack of birdsong. The little male junco, in the tree near the deck, tweeeeing. The dapper Spotted towhee in the thick undergrowth, singing his buzzy trill. The robins with their myriad songs and calls high in the maples, and above it all the little prince, the salmonberry bird, my Swainson’s thrush in his deceptively drab olive-brown feathering, always hidden, and always singing, singing, singing.  I am captivated.

 

Memorial Day musings

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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).

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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.

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.

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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…

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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.

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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

 

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.

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.

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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