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Archive for the category “weather”

Catching Up, Part 2: Pandemic Gifts

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

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

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

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

Pally carrying on the tradition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unprecedented

It was holding at 97 until the sun hit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a wrap

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The little homestead. MacFinn Farm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Daisy, looking fine with her herd of wee Shetlands.

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.

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.)

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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.

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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.

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