Friday, February 29, 2008

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Cursed? Or Just Cursing? Quirky Thoughts About Finding Hope During Times of Trial

The way my life has been going lately, it's easy to see how people in ancient times could believe in things like curses and evil spirits tormenting them and causing their bad luck.

What do I mean by that?

Well, let's put it this way: There are many, many things in my daily life that work perfectly, day after day, and never give a moment's problem. The 13-year-old television still works. The toaster oven always toasts. The microwave, despite being 12 years old, always microwaves. So it's not as if EVERYTHING in the world breaks down all the time.

But what is the most important focus of my life right now? My farm. And what are the most important, absolutely crucial tools I need to use on a daily basis to keep this place running and try to earn enough money to not go bankrupt? (1) A digital camera, (2) a pickup truck, (3) a cell phone, (4)a computer, (5) a home phone and internet connection, and (6) email.

EVERY SINGLE ONE of these items that I own is currently broken, malfunctioning, or has done so in the past few months. It's enough to make me tear out my hair!

(1) I already complained about my digital camera yesterday, so I won't go into that again.

(2) My pickup truck has a mysterious ailment that we've tried to have repaired a dozen times, but nothing ever works in the long run. So now it sits, unable to start, leaving us unable to haul hay or building supplies for farm improvements. When we get a little more cash on hand, we'll try again to have it repaired, but I've lost confidence that anything will ever truly fix the problem.

(3) My cell phone has been almost worthless for 6 months now. That one is partly my fault. I accidentally dropped it in the horse water trough, and then forgot it in my jeans pocket and ran it through the washing machine. Of course it died! We spent $130 to buy a new one. A week later, I was out training a horse, it started to rain, and before I could get back to the house, the brand new cell phone in my pocket again got wet and again died. Only the power button and the speed dial buttons still work, so I can't receive calls or check messages, and the only calls I can make are to people who were already programmed into my speed dial (Ken and my sister). We haven't been able to afford another $130 for a new phone, much less one of the more expensive waterproof ones that I clearly need! So we're waiting another couple of months until our phone plan qualifies me to get a new phone for the cheaper "sign up" rates.

(4) My computer died a few months ago. My husband fixed it, but it broke again shortly thereafter. After weeks of it being out of service, Ken finally got it fixed again. By that time, I'd gotten all my work transferred to Ken's computer, which I'm still using, while Ken uses his laptop in the living room. Someday I'm going to have to do the complicated task of organizing all my files and transferring them all BACK to my computer, but my office is FREEZING in the winter, so for now I'm using Ken's office for as long as he lets me, even though it's inconvenient.

(5) Our home phone and internet connection has been okay lately, but several months ago, it got broken three times in a row. Why? Because out of the whole 26 acre farm that the sheep could be roaming around on, one of them decided that the very best place to stand every day was in the 3 feet of space right up next to the house near where the phone and DSL wires attach. Although these wires are stapled to the side of the building with very little slack, three times, the sheep managed to insert his horns under the wires and rip them down. Try explaining that to the phone company repair person! We've since put up a barrier to keep the sheep away from the spot, and Ken has figured out how to fix the wires himself if it becomes necessary again.

(6) Lately, I've been having sporadic, but serious, email problems. Everything looks fine on my end, but as time goes on, I find out from more and more people that some of my messages are never getting through to them. Many are getting shunted to the people's spam folders (even though I am on that person's "accepted" list), and many are just never showing up at all in ANY folder.

So I send long, detailed answers to people inquiring about horses for sale, only to find out a week later that they never received them. I have people inquiring about fleeces and other sheep products that complain I never answered their emails, when in fact I had never received any messages from them.

It's very frustrating and makes me really paranoid. If I answer a horse buyer inquiry and they don't respond, have they changed their mind and decided they're no longer interested? Or did they never get my answer? Or did they send me a reply that I never got? The wondering is driving me nuts!!!

So anyway, back to what I was saying about ancient cultures believing in curses and evil spirits:

Clearly, we all have hardships in our lives. And for some reason, those hardships and difficulties always seem to hit the aspects of our lives that are the most important to us, the things we focus the majority of our attention on.

To an ancient mind, uneducated by modern scientific thought, and unsullied by modern cynicism, would that not suggest some kind of malevolent intelligence, seeking the most effective way to cause harm?

And, in some roundabout way, might that not actually be a comforting thing to believe?

What I mean is, if all these difficulties are simply "The Way Things Are," then our only choice is to accept that life is hard and bad things happen when you can least afford trouble. There is no hope for relief from the troubles because that's just "The Way Things Are." It's depressing!

On the other hand, if instead you believe that malevolent pixies have infested your home and are tormenting you on purpose, then at least you have the entertainment of wondering what invisible pixies might look like, what their motivations might be, and how you might appease them.

In Ireland, farm wives used to leave out saucers of milk, honey, or whiskey on their doorsteps to feed the Fairy Folk, to keep on their good side and avoid being cursed or having mischievous tricks played on them.

Regardless of whether the pixies are real, just by wondering about them, you've engaged your imagination and had a brief respite from the drudgery of trying to overcome your latest batch of problems! Not only that, you can also indulge in the hope that if only you find the right way to appease the mischievous sprites, life could be easy and good again.

And that's the crux of the matter: When times are at their very hardest, sometimes the ONLY thing that you need to help you survive is the hope that things will eventually get better.

Here's another example:

A couple of weeks ago, when I was feeling very stricken and depressed about parting with my favorite horse, my sister sent me some homeopathic medicine intended to help cure grief and emotional upset. She said it had helped her, and she should know, since she's had plenty of cause for grief and upset in her life.

My husband, on the other hand, thinks that homeopathic medicine is a load of hooey. At the levels of dilution they claim, he says, there are not enough molecules in the bottle for even ONE molecule of the original medicine to still be in there. So how can it possibly work?

Me, I tend to stay open to both sides of the debate, and be willing to experiment to find what works for me, regardless of WHY or HOW it works. So I decided to try the homeopathic pills.

The directions said to take 4 tiny pills, 4 times a day until I felt better. My symptoms might intensify for a few days before they improved. I could take the pills for up to two weeks, if necessary.

Sure enough, for two days after I started taking the pills, I felt so sad that I would start crying at a moment's notice. I lost my appetite. I didn't want to do anything but lie down and sleep. But after another two days, I felt better. I was able to get on with my life.

Was it the pills? In a way, I think it was. But maybe not in the way you might think.

You see, regardless of what is IN those pills, they have another potent effect: They distract your mind briefly from your pain, and they give you hope that things will get better. Like I said before, sometimes that's all you need.

Four times a day, when I took those pills, my mind was able to stop dwelling on my sorrow long enough to think, "I wonder if these will work?" By the very act of wondering, my mind was admitting to the possibility that I would soon feel better. Which generates hope. Which, in itself, makes you feel better!

The directions warned that the feelings might intensify before improving. Letting my mind absorb that information gave me permission to mourn as much as I needed to, right away, rather than trying to hold it in. How better to heal from grief than to actually go through the mourning process?

Did the actual ingredients of the pills have any effect on my mood? I don't know. Do I feel better now than I did before I started taking them? Absolutely.

I'm a firm believer that there are many layers to how we interact with the world, both seen and unseen. Sometimes when things get really hard, if we're going to make it through, we have to find whatever methods we can that allow us tap into that undercurrent of hope that runs beneath it all.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I Hate My Camera!

When people look at my sheep website, horse website, and this farm blog, they often admire the photos and ask me what kind of camera I use.

So I'll tell you: I use a Canon Powershot G3. And I HATE it! The majority of nice photographs I get are IN SPITE OF the darn thing, not thanks to it.

The response time when you push the button to take a photo is just laughable. I have missed thousands of great shots because of this. It literally takes 3-4 seconds, sometimes before the stupid thing will actually take the shot. Which means that by the time it takes the photo, that beautiful horse I'm trying to photograph prancing towards me is already passed and gone to the other end of the field, and the only image I've captured is her distant rear end as she gallops away. It's so frustrating!

The other thing I hate about this camera is its complete inability to deal with anything other than super high light conditions. Even a moderately overcast day will cause all the photographs to come out blurry, even the still shots!

That's what happened to me today. I went out and took a whole bunch of photos of the horses playing in the field. Despite the slow camera response time, I managed to luck into catching quite a few really nice action shots. But today is overcast, so when I came back inside, fully 90% of the photos were completely blurry.

GRRRRR! What a waste of time and effort. I had also taken several shots of the sheep standing still in the yard, and more than half of them were blurry too. They were just standing there---it's not as if they were fast-moving targets. And it's not that dark out, just a high, bright overcast cloud cover. It's ridiculous that the camera can't focus properly in these conditions.

I'm not a technically advanced photographer. My needs are pretty basic: I don't want to mess around with special camera settings, I just want to be able to "point and shoot" and be able to trust the camera to get a decent basic shot. To me, the whole point of having an "Automatic" setting on the camera is that it is supposed to automatically adjust to the current conditions and still take a decent photo.

The vast majority of my farm income is derived from business that comes in over the internet. Which means that good photos are crucial to my business. I've managed to make do with this camera, because it's what we've had, but I would never buy one again.

When we bought this camera several years ago, we didn't really know what specific qualities we were looking for. But someday, when I can afford to buy a new one, I'm going to have a much more exacting list of what I need.

Monday, February 25, 2008

And Then There Were Eight

We have one fewer horse today. Callisto left for her new home today.

She had only ever been on a trailer once before, coming to Virginia from Canada as a weanling 2.5 years ago. So we didn't know for sure how she would load. I was pretty confident, because I know how incredibly mellow she is. But you never know for sure until you try.

I led her to the trailer and she looked inside. I had a bucket of grain in my hand to coax her. She put one foot in, and it made a big stomping echoing sound on the trailer floor, so she took her foot back out.

I talked to her and showed her the grain again, and let her think about it. I never even tugged on the lead rope at all. She thought it over for a couple of minutes, and then one foot at a time, stomped up into the trailer, just as sweet as could be.

Once she was closed in to the little box stall area in the front of the trailer, she munched hay and looked around while we talked with her new owner for a few minutes more. She knew something was happening, but she was more interested than upset.

Pretty soon, they pulled down the driveway and she was gone. They even phoned when they arrived home to let us know they had gotten there safely and all was well.

Another one of my favorites, gone off to a nice new home without me.

I'll miss you, Callisto!

Saturday, February 23, 2008


The new sheep's two-week quarantine was over today, so we decided to mix them in with the other sheep. Meaning: Separating the new ewes from the new rams, letting the new ewes out into the yard with the other ewes, and then bringing our old rams back into the paddock where the new rams were.

Icelandic sheep are not docile, meek animals. And the new sheep have not yet learned to come when I call. So it was something of an ordeal to get all the sheep sorted to where they were supposed to go. But we finally managed it.

The new ewes greeted the old ewes briefly, then took off in a very deliberate circumnavigation of the yard, to see where the borders were. Pausing only to gaze eagerly out through the fences at the vistas of our sloping pastures, they worked their way around the whole yard, examining everything. Only when they'd familiarized themselves with every nook and cranny did they come back and start really interacting with the other sheep.

By that time the sun was starting to set, and it sloped in across the yard, gilding every sheep with a halo of light.

Meanwhile, in the ram paddock, the rams were contesting to decide who was the biggest, toughest, manliest ram of all.

There's no question that Preston is the biggest. Before I got him, my friend Monica at Small Meadow Farm told me that she had seen him before, and he was the biggest Icelandic sheep she had ever seen. Then, when he arrived, I could tell that he was big. Now, seeing him at last, side-by-side with my other rams, I agree that he is HUGE.

He instantly fell in love with Taj, and chased him all over the paddock, trying to mount him (and crushing Taj to the ground beneath his weight at least once). The other young rams Preston butted out of his way like tumbling bowling pins, as he passed by pursuing Taj.

Taj is a normal-sized one-winter ram. He'll still grow quite a bit in the next year or two, but he's not a particularly small sheep. See how huge Preston is next to him?

Nicholai decided he'd had enough of this strange giant barging onto his turf and pushing around all of his young friends. He decided to make it his mission to let Preston know who was King of the Flock, right here, right now.

There was a lot of pushing and shoving. Mainly Preston was trying to ignore Nicholai and keep pursuing Taj. But after Nicholai repeatedly butted him in the rear, Preston finally had to stop and pay attention.

Preston might far outweigh Nicholai, but Nicholai has the advantage of being armed with a heavy crown of horns and a calm confidence that he is indeed King. Plus Preston was already out of breath from chasing Taj all over the place.

Before long, Preston had been shown the error of his ways, and acknowledged Nicholai as boss. A few minutes later, peace returned to the paddock, and all the boys fell to eating hay together as if they had known each other all their lives.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Buyers (and Not-So-Much Buyers)

It's official: Callisto is sold. I just got the deposit for her this afternoon, and she will be going to her new home on Monday. Now I'll never be the one to ride her over those 4 1/2 foot jumps when she's old enough.

When I was a teenager, there was nothing in the world I wanted so much as a horse that could take me over the really big jumps! Now I guess I'll have to wait for Grace to grow up and see if she has the talent.

On the bright side, I think Callisto is going to a nice home that is very well suited for her. She's going to be less than 3 hours away from here, and her new owner has said that I'm invited to come and visit her any time I like. Isn't that sweet?

So, with the money from her, we'll be able to:

1. Pay our $800 propane bill so that the propane company will come fill our tank again before we run out of heat.

2. Pay our stallion Senter's annual $800 insurance bill so that if he gets sick or hurt we won't lose out on all the $14,000 we invested to buy him.

3. Buy 2 1/2 weeks' worth of hay.

That doesn't seem like much to get for such a magnificent horse, but at least it's something, and I'm grateful for it! I think Callisto is going to fit in perfectly at her new home.

On the other side of the selling process:

Most of you know that I have my beautiful tobiano Oldenburg/Spotted Draft cross filly Libby for sale. She's got it all: conformation, color, refinement, temperament, brains. She's absolutely spectacular.

Because I'm doing such a major herd reduction, I'm only asking $3,000 for her, which barely covers what it cost to feed her mother while she was pregnant with her.

A few months ago, I had a buyer asking about the filly. We exchanged emails for weeks as she asked about all the details about her. She decided that Libby was "the one." I arranged a very flexible payment plan, we discussed what shots she'd like Libby to have before she was shipped, even what color halter she'd prefer. We worked out every detail. The buyer said, "I'm putting the check in the mail today." AND DISAPPEARED OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH FOREVER!

Time went on, and now I've been exchanging emails with another person who was interested in Libby. I've spent the past month answering email questions from her. She even called me on the phone (from Canada!) to ask a huge list of detailed questions. She started looking into finding a shipper and getting the documents needed to import the filly across the border.

Then, this afternoon, for the first time, she made me her official offer:

Would I take $600 for Libby?

$600????? For this flawless yearling filly with bloodlines that include Spectrum, Rainbow, Peron, and Lungau? You make me spend a MONTH answering your questions, knowing all along you're planning to offer me a paltry 20% of my asking price??? You'd pay more than that to ship the horse there, but the horse herself isn't worth as much? I don't think so!

What on earth are people thinking?

I mean, okay, fine. I'm doing a drastic herd reduction, and my ads all say that my asking prices are negotiable. "Negotiable" means I might be willing to take $500 off the price, if you pay immediately, pick the horse up promptly, and I don't already have 3 other people inquiring about the horse that day.

It does not mean that as a reward for the pleasure of answering countless questions spread out over the course of weeks, I'd be delighted to give away a flawless horse with Olympic medalist bloodlines for what isn't much more than slaughter prices!

I understand that horse buyers have budgets. If someone started right out asking me just how flexible my prices were, and did I have anything that might be in the "Under $1,000" price range, I would not have been insulted. I wouldn't have offered that person Libby, but I wouldn't have been insulted.

And if after asking many questions over the course of weeks, a buyer had come out and offered me at least 50%-75% of my asking price, I would not have been insulted either. Depending on how many inquiries I'd received on that horse, I would probably have at least considered the offer.

But this---Sheesh!

My emotions about it are kind of mixed between 50% insulted and 50% amused at how ridiculous the whole situation is.

On to the next buyer!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Selling Like Hotcakes

I think I'm making progress on the horse sales at last!

Selebrity, Callisto, and Torchsong are almost definitely sold---we're just ironing out the final details and waiting for payment. Maggie and Libby each have more than one person who seems seriously interested in them, so it seems like they will probably sell before too long. If all those go through, that's nearly $15,000 worth of sales, AND it's about $1,000 per month less in feed bills!

You have no idea how much of a relief that would be! We could pay our bills on time, buy all the hay we need for a while, repay some loans from family members, get our pickup truck fixed, fill the propane tank that heats the house, and maybe even think of making a few of the farm improvements we want to make, like reseeding the pastures and building sheep shelters. We could even build a chicken house and get that flock of chickens we've been wanting.

That does still leave Penny, Callista, and Andromeda to sell, but with all the other sale horses gone, that would take much of the pressure off. I could spend time working with Penny, and I could start Andromeda and Callista under saddle to increase their value. And heck, at that point I'd probably have a little extra cash so I could pay to advertise them, instead of having to count on the free ads.

It would be so wonderful if all the horse sales were complete before lambing season starts, so I could just be done with them and move on. Lambing season takes up a lot of my time and effort, but at least it's a happy, hopeful time. I'm looking forward to giving it my full attention.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I've been thinking about Imbolc, which is the ancient Celtic festival celebrating the fertility of the sheep flock and the very earliest signs of returning spring.

Wikipedia says:

In Irish, Imbolc (pronounced im'olk) from the Old Irish, meaning "in the belly" (imbolg), referring to the pregnancy of ewes, and is also a Celtic term for spring. Another name is Oimelc, meaning "ewe's milk".
How cool is it, for a shepherd, that there is a specific holiday in honor of sheep? It's celebrated on February 2nd---nearly 3 weeks ago now---but I've been so stressed and swamped this year, I sort of let the day slide by without much notice.

It wasn't until today that I remembered I had neglected to do my annual Imbolc ritual: The year's first Groping of the Ewes.

Each November, I put the rams and ewes into the breeding pens and hope they do their jobs properly. Then I wait, full of hope and faith, for the lambs to come. Imbolc---the festival of "ewe's milk"---is when the ewes' udders begin to fill up in preparation for lambing. It is the time of year when I can first get confirmation that my faith has been justified.

When the ewes are busy eating, and too distracted by food to pay me much mind, I walk along behind the row of them and feel between their legs to see if their udders are starting to develop: a sure sign that lambs are on the way in another couple of months!

It's such a simple thing, but after I've been so down and out all winter long, you have no idea how uplifting it is to get that small sign of hope and renewal for the farm: ewe after ewe, each with a small udder starting to form, each getting ready to give back to the farm, in the form of lambs, my year's payment for all the work, love, and money I've invested in the flock for the other 11 months of the year.

We're a partnership, the sheep and I. Going down the row of pregnant ewes, I am filled with gratitude for all they give back to the farm.

Imbolc can also be seen as a metaphor for the other aspects of my life right now. Just as Imbolc is a holiday celebrating the return of spring during a time that is still deep in winter, our farm is still deep in hard times, but with a glimmer of hope beginning to shine through.

On the one hand, we are still broke and worried about money, but on the other hand, I got 4 new inquiries about horses for sale today, and now have 4 "almost definite" sales plus a few other "possible" ones. If we can just get these horse sales completed, everything will be fine. We'll still be in debt, but without the horrendous hay bills, we'll be able to manage it.

What will that be like? We've been struggling so long, I can barely remember what it was like to be able to pay every bill as soon as it came in and still occasionally have something left over to put into savings or to spend on something fun.

After two days of not feeling well, my health seems to be looking up, too. Maybe it was the vitamins I took before bed the last two nights, but I feel almost better today. I'm going to take another batch of vitamins tonight and, after another good night's sleep, I hope to be back to normal by tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Coming Down With Something

All yesterday I wasn't feeling well. I rested all day, took some vitamins, and got a good night's sleep. This morning I felt a lot better, so I thought I'd shaken it off. But this evening I started feeling ill again.

I'm not sure what I have, or where I might have caught it, since I haven't been anywhere to be exposed to any germs. I'm unreasonably tired, and a little woozy. The gland in the right side of my throat is sore, and it's going into my ear now as well. My skin is starting to feel that hypersensitive feeling you get right before you get a fever, but I'm not feverish.

Ugh! As if I don't have enough to do, without being sick too. I try to always be careful to rest and recover as soon as I start showing symptoms, because if I don't, I'm very prone to having every cold or flu turn into a 3-week session of bronchitis. Let's hope that doesn't happen!

We got a small load of hay yesterday. Prices have gone up again, to $7.50 per small square bale. Our supplier says it'll go up to $8 soon, and may go up to $10 before this year's first cutting comes in.

On the bright side, I got birthday cards from family today, with money inside. Every little bit helps, so I'm very grateful.

There have also been a few new horse inquiries. So I hope a few of those turn into sales soon.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Our Old Country Store

In response to Kris's comment yesterday, saying she'd like to see photos of our store: Here you go! :-)

The only photos I have of it are from the day we came to look at the farm to see if we wanted to buy it, so a lot of things have changed on the property since then. But the store is still pretty much the same.

I'm not sure when the store was built, but I do know it was built by Charles Agee who, as far as I can tell from the records I have, bought the farm sometime around 1890. From the shape of the store, I guess that it was built in several stages: small first, then expanded several times as business grew.

The building also served as the local post office for the area known as Alcoma. I've been told by neighbors who have lived in this area all their lives that the store sold shoes, cloth, tools, seeds, and all manner of other things---a true old fashioned country store.

After Charles Agee died, his unmarried daughters continued to run the store. Miss Nora Agee continued to live here and run the store for the rest of her very long life. Every now and then, neighbors will still refer to this as "Miss Nora's place," which I think is sweet.

After Miss Nora died, the farm changed hands a couple more times. We bought it from an elderly gentleman who had been using the store as an antique shop. When he moved out, he left a lot of junk behind in the store. Unfortunately nothing really nice or valuable, though!

Here's the store as seen from the road. The tree has been cleared out from in front of it now, and---because the sheep are often loose in the yard, mowing our lawn for us---we now have a gate across our driveway, which runs right up past the right edge of the store.

Here's the store as seen from the house. All that green field you can see between the house and the store is now fenced horse pasture. That would be the area we're going to eventually reseed and add sheep paddocks to.

A few pictures of the interior of the store, complete with the junk the former owner left behind.

As you can see, the place will need a lot of fixing up. It'll need rewiring, repainting inside and out, floor repair, windows replaced, heat and air conditioning added, etc., etc. There is a little room in the back that is the perfect size and location to turn into a bathroom, but the store currently has no plumbing or septic system, so that would be another big expense.

Clearly, if we ever do decide to open the store again, we would have to plan for the long term and make the improvements gradually as we can afford them. Maybe it'll be my "retirement" job! Not that I ever plan to retire from farming until I'm too infirm to get around any more. But it's nice to have options.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Few Rays of Hope

We are still dead broke, but there are a few hopeful signs on the horizon now.

I have two horse sales that are in the "almost definite" stage, plus another couple of potential deals still in the inquiry-and-negotiation stage. Anything that reduces the number of horses we have to feed and also brings in some much-needed cash is cause for celebration at this point.

Ken and I are so VERY tired of being desperate all the time!

But, with those rays of hope encouraging us that this whole horrible situation may be resolved eventually, we were actually able to start looking around the farm and begin making tentative plans for how we will readjust the farm to our new situation.

Surprisingly, the farm itself feels more amenable to the new course of action. The old antique barn, which is completely inadequate for the number of horses we have had---and not particularly useful for sheep, either---is quite beautifully suited for the greatly reduced number of horses we hope to have in a few weeks or months.

And the old run-down former country store that is on the property---it's spacious, and we kept wanting to find a way to convert it into a horse stable. But its layout and dimensions made it totally unsuitable for horses. However, now that we look at it a different way, it would be incredibly easy to convert it for sheep!

Not that the sheep need to be inside much, but it has plenty of room where they could go in during ice storms and such, and plenty of room for me to set up as many lambing pens as I'm ever likely to need.

In looking at these buildings differently, we also began to look at the adjoining pastures differently. Currently, the horses are in the front pasture, next to the store. While this is convenient for feeding them (we keep our hay supply in one part of the store), it's also unsightly, because whenever it rains, the pasture gets muddy from the horses' hooves tearing it up, and that's the first thing anybody sees when they come to our farm. Yuck!

But if we have only a couple of horses, we can switch them to the paddock near the barn, which attaches to the back pasture. Nobody sees that pasture, so if the horses muddy it up during the rain, it's not going to make the whole farm look bad.

The sheep, on the other hand, don't destroy the ground they stay on. So, someday when we have money again, we're going to disc up and reseed the front pasture, divide part of it up into additional sheep breeding paddocks (we'll need more breeding groups now that we have added polled sheep to the flock), and then the nice neat green sheep pasture will be the first thing people see when they come in the driveway.

In time, we'll add a permanent run-in shed to each breeding paddock, instead of the cheap-but-unsightly tarp shelters we now have. I think it will be very convenient and will look very nice.

I'm so tired of having our resources stretched so thin we can't do right by the farm, as far as maintenance and improvements. This could be such a beautiful place, it was just so incredibly far run down when we bought it, we started out with a huge handicap, and have been playing catch-up ever since.

Here's an interesting thought I had about using the store to shelter the sheep. It has WAY more space than the sheep will ever need. Which means I'll be able to store my fleeces for sale in there too, instead of having them take up huge amounts of space in the house.

That got me thinking what else I could use all that extra space for. If my wool is going to be down there, why not my spinning wheel and loom as well? It could become my fiber studio. And if it's going to be my fiber studio... there's not much of a step to go from that to having it be a store again, where I could sell stuff I produce. Plus I know a lot of other creative people who might like an outlet to sell their stuff too.

The place would need lots of renovation to fix it up, but it IS already set up as a store, with shelves everywhere, large counters with tons of storage behind them, and even a nook where the cash register would go.

And don't you think it might be a fun gimmick for the people to be able to come to the store and buy, I don't know, a handwoven blanket or something, and be able to see the sheep the blanket's wool came from, right there in another part of the same building?

The sheep wouldn't spend much time inside, so it wouldn't be too hard to keep the sheep part of the building clean and presentable.

I don't know, maybe it's a silly idea. But I know *I* would enjoy shopping at a store like that, so maybe other people would too.

What do you think?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yes, that's right. I admit it: It's my birthday today.

We don't have any money for presents or special activities, but my husband is cooking me a lovely breakfast right now, and the weather has given me the gift of a beautiful warm, sunny day, so that's not too shabby.

As far as happy goes, I'll take what I can get!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Who Do You Love?

In honor of Valentine's day, I invite you all to take a moment to tell the world who YOU love!

For me, without a doubt, that would be my wonderful husband Ken.

He laughs at my jokes, sticks with me through the hard times, and loves the REAL me, prickles and all. I can't imagine anybody being more suited for me than him. After all these years, he's still the best thing that ever happened to me.

Here we are on our wedding day back in May 1995, exactly one year after our first date. We got married barefoot in a meadow, with flowers in our hair.

I love you sweetie! Thanks for 14 wonderful years!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


A light, freezing rain has been falling all day.

Although I opened all the pasture gates so the horses could choose to go take shelter down in the cedar thicket or come around to the barn and go inside the run-in bay, instead they are standing outside: cold, wet, and miserable.

Without their boss-mare Char here to lead them to shelter, the rest of the horses apparently can't get organized enough to figure out what to do. Maggie, the oldest, knows that something should be done, but waits for someone else to decide what that something is.

Callisto tries to lead the babies to the cedar thicket, but they all get distracted halfway there, and stand around dripping in the pasture instead.

Finally, about 2 minutes before we went out to give them an early feeding, Maggie figured out that she could lead Callista around to the paddock where the run-in bay is. Unfortunately, from that paddock, she could SEE that we were putting hay in the hay feeder, but she didn't remember how to go back around the other way to actually GET to the feeder.

The babies all came galloping when I whistled, but Maggie and Callista had to be led around the back way until they remembered how to go around to where the feeder was.

Once the hay feeder is empty, we'll see if any of them remember how to come back around to shelter again!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Straw + Camel's Back = ???

Don't get me wrong: I'm really glad I traded the mares Char and Scylla for the new group of sheep. I think it was a true example of the best of bartering: two people offering the best of what they had in exchange for something they wanted or needed more.

And I know that Char and Scylla are going to have a great life in their new home. David has already sent me several batches of pictures, showing them happily exploring and eating hay in their new pasture. They are going to be well loved and taken care of, so I have no regrets about letting them go there.

But even though it was a good choice that needed to be made, all the same, parting with Char took something out of me. It left a hole. It changed the way I feel about our horse operation.

Even though I've cut down our herd from 15 horses to 9 in the past month---no mean feat in the current horse market---we're still floundering in our financial crisis. No matter what I do, it's never enough to keep up with the hay bills and vet bills and so on. So Ken and I have been discussing our farm's future.

We're both so tired of the stress and worry. And after parting with Char, I just don't have the heart to continue struggling to keep the whole horse enterprise together, so we've decided to sell all the horses except for Senter and the two Art Deco fillies.

That means Torchsong, Callista, and Callisto will go on the sales list now, as well as Maggie, Andromeda, Penny, and Libby. They are wonderful horses, and I love them all, but I just don't have the heart for it anymore. I never wanted the horse operation to overwhelm the rest of the farm. I wanted to have a more balanced mix of livestock. And I definitely want a more sustainable lifestyle.

I'm tired of being on the brink of crisis all the time. I'm tired of watching my husband killing himself worrying over money. I'm tired of watching every penny I make siphoned away to pay for hay and still not be enough.

If the horses are not giving us any joy, then what's the point of all the struggle? Time to get the farm back on track. Maybe once we've thinned the herd down to just the two Art Deco fillies (and Senter, when he comes back from training), we'll be able to recapture some of the enthusiasm, on a smaller scale.

Meanwhile, I have seven more horses to sell. I wish it were over already, so we could just get on with our lives!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Five Things About Me

A few days ago, my friend Monica at Small Meadow Farm tagged me to respond to the "Five Things About Me" challenge, where I write 5 things about myself and then tag 5 other bloggers to do the same about themselves.

It took me a few days to get around to it, but I've tried to come up with some unusual and interesting bits of Nancy-trivia. Here goes:

1. My nose is a little bit crooked because my horse ran into me and broke it when I was a teenager. Lesson learned: Never let a horse get between you and something it's afraid of, because when he bolts, you'll be directly in his path and his head is a lot harder than yours!

2. I'm a direct descendant of both Mary Towne Estey who was one of the women executed during the Salem Witch Trials, and of Henry Herrick, Jr. who served as a juror at the trials.

3. I used to be an art model. Among other things, in my 20s, I modeled for Ed Materson's life-size sculpture, Legend of the Silkie. On a slightly related topic: Several years ago, I was the first person ever body-painted by the extremely talented artist (and my good friend) Scott Fray, who now holds the Guiness record for the most bodies painted.

4. I once did a Native American vision quest: 4 days and 5 nights of silence and fasting (only water to drink... no food) alone on a mountainside in the Sierra Nevadas. It was very peaceful and very profound. Deer, eagles, and even a bear visited me during my quest.

5. Famous horror writer Stephen King used to spend a lot of time in and around my home town of Waterford, ME. My brother went to college with him. One of my first jobs as a teenager was working at a stable where his daughter's horses were boarded. And although King always distorts the real-world geography in his books, to fit his fictional towns in where no real towns are, I may actually know where the "real" Castle Rock is.

In his book, "Bag of Bones," King writes that you follow Route 2 from Newport to Bethel and Route 5 from Bethel to Waterford. "Then you take Route 68, the old County Road, across Castle View..."

Now, there's no Route 68 in Waterford, but the "old County Road" is a dirt road---overgrown until it was little more than a trail---that ran through the woods directly behind my house. I used to play there all the time. Up the small mountain a ways, just a short walk up from the old County Road, there is a small set of stone cliffs in the middle of the woods where no one ever goes. I used to climb up there to daydream, and pretend that it was my castle.

Perhaps Stephen King also discovered the cliff, found it conducive to sitting and thinking up story ideas, and decided to name his town after the place. Or perhaps it's just an interesting coincidence. Either way, I find it fun to imagine that I grew up playing on the REAL Castle Rock!

But enough about me. Now I have to tag 5 other bloggers to tell us 5 things about themselves:

My dear friend Vanessa, in hopes that it will inspire her to write more in her blog. She's a wonderful writer, and I want to read more of what she has to say!

My friend River, whom I've known for several years but whom I'm now getting to know on an entirely new level by reading his blog.

My friend Nataraj, dancer, photographer, and all-around awesome guy. His blog is primarily photography oriented, so maybe he'll choose 5 PHOTOS that reveal 5 aspects of himself!

Fellow Virginia farmers, Carol and Andrew at Loafkeeper Farm

Another fellow Icelandic sheep breeder, Elaine at Frelsi Farm.

Hmm... What do you think? Shall I notify them that they've been tagged, or just wait and see if they discover it for themselves? :-)

Fire and Wind

The wind roared through here all day yesterday. It shook the house, shredded a couple of the sheep shelters, blew everything that wasn't nailed down across the yard. It was like being at the bottom of a floodwater river---only with air instead of water: just that constant feeling of fierce current pulling at you.

Due to the low humidity, warm temperatures, and ferocious winds, the weather report had warned of a high risk of fires. As it turned out, they were right! There were several fires in the area, including one large one on the hillside that I can see from my office window.

Smoke poured out of it in huge billows all afternoon and evening, but it seems to have quieted down by this morning. I don't envy the firefighters who had to do battle with it in those fierce winds!

The gossip down at the local corner store is that it may have happened from the wind blowing down some power lines and starting the fire that way, but we don't know for sure.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Meet the New Sheep

To distract myself from being sad about Char and Scylla being gone, I asked Ken to help me do a photo session with the new sheep today. He held a bucket of grain to get their attention while I took the pictures.

So, without further ado: Meet our brand new flock of POLLED Icelandics---now we have both horned and polled varieties!

Bylgja, Nina, and Halsa: "Do we hear a grain bucket rattling?"

"We do hear a grain bucket rattling!"

Bylgja and Halsa:

Twin sisters, Inga and Ida:

Halsa and Petra:

Our new polled ram, Preston. He was the National Champion Icelandic Ram at Rhinebeck, NY in 2005, which is particularly meaningful because that's the year the experts came over from Iceland to do the judging:

Preston is enormous! You can see in this photo how big he is compared to Inga, who is a good-sized two-year-old ewe:

Here he is again in the background, with Mona in front:

Here's Ida again:
Our other new polled ram, Freyr:

Nina trying to make friends with our cat Lugh (who is playing hard to get):

Petra and Ida whispering secrets, with Preston in the background:

Aren't they beautiful?

Going, Going, Gone

I woke up before dawn this morning, knowing that Char and Scylla would be leaving first thing. I was a little worried, because the trailer, which was spacious enough for the 9 sheep, was very small to fit two pregnant draft mares.

When the time came, Char loaded up just fine, but then I turned around and saw that she filled up so much of the trailer, I couldn't imagine how we were going to fit Scylla in there too. After a bit of coaxing, I got Char to move over to one side, instead of standing right in the middle of everything, and that made just enough room for Scylla.

For several minutes, Scylla wasn't sure she wanted to get into a crowded space with her more dominant sister, but with a little coaxing, she climbed in. Once they were both in and tied, and the trailer door closed, they realized they were going somewhere and started shifting around nervously. But after a few soothing words, they settled down.

In the mare pasture, Maggie kept whinnying loudly. She's the boss mare now, because she's much older than all the youngsters, and she doesn't quite know what to make of her promotion.

As Char and Scylla drove away, I managed not to cry---but only just. It's going to be a long, tiring, cramped ride for them all the way to northern Wisconsin. And I won't be able to help worrying about them until I hear that they have arrived safely.

Friday, February 8, 2008

New Sheep Are Here!

The trading-horses-for-sheep deal is halfway done.

The new sheep have arrived, but Char and Scylla haven't left yet. They'll be leaving very early tomorrow morning, and will have a 2+ day trip to Wisconsin. Poor girls, they're going to be tired and cramped by the time they get there. That's a long time to stand in a trailer.

The new sheep were very happy to get out of the trailer and explore their new paddock. They'll be staying in a quarantine paddock for a few weeks, then they'll be able to mingle with the others. In another couple of months, they'll be having lambs with the rest of the flock.

The newcomers are VERY nice. Beautiful, cute personalities, and excellent meat conformation on them too. I'm very pleased with them.

David took some time this afternoon to groom Char and Scylla and get acquainted with them. It was good to let them meet him while they are still in their familiar environment, so he can see their normal, mellow personalities. Once they get to their new home, they're probably going to be rather wound up for a while, until they adjust. But at least they will already have gotten to know David a little bit.

I think the mares are going to have a lot of fun at their new home, once they're used to it. They'll be able to go on long trail rides through the woods, and see fresh scenery instead of just standing around in our pastures all the time. They'll enjoy that, I think.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


Not that I'm complaining, mind you, but that really wasn't much of a storm last night.

After all the extravagant claims on the weather web sites, all we ended up getting was a short period of gusty wind, and a quick downpour. The sheep shelters are all still in one piece this morning, and now the sun is out in a clear blue sky.

Much better than the damaging wind, rain, hail, and thunderstorms they were predicting!

I'm reminded of the years when Ken and I lived in Illinois, when we would make fun of the TV weather casters because they were always trying to make their weather reports sound more urgent than they really were.

My favorite was a day one November when the manic-sounding weather man was raving about how today was going to be the "COLDEST DAY IN SIX MONTHS!!!!"

Ummm.... yeah. A day in November is going to be the coldest day since May? Shocking!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Storm Is Coming

Well, apparently I was so sad about Char leaving that I got the date wrong. No, not the date that David is arriving---I actually lost track of what day of the week it was yesterday. My only excuse is that my insomnia is back, so I am somewhat sleep deprived. Either that, or I'm simply becoming a flaky airhead in my old (middle?) age. :-)

So anyway, I have another day before Char and Scylla leave, maybe more than one, if the weather delays David on the road. There's a storm coming this way that is supposed to give us damaging wind, heavy rain, and thunder tonight. Our temperatures are unseasonably warm here (mid 70s!), but further west and north, the storm has been dropping snow and ice.

Ken and I fed the horses early, to get it done before the storm hits. Then we spend some time reinforcing some of the sheep's tarp shelters so they (hopefully) don't tear themselves to shreds in the wind. The big, wooden-framed tarp shelter Ken built for the ewe pen was catching the wind and trying to lift itself up and flip over, even though it's firmly attached to the fence, so we actually roped the uphill edge of it down with extra pieces of baling twine tied to cinder blocks and to the fence.

Things you can never have too much of on a farm: baling twine, duct tape, tarps, cinder blocks, hoses, buckets, and fence panels.

And, of course, a good supply of quality hay!

Ugly Shoes Save the Day

I'm not a shoe person.

Unlike "normal" women, I care nothing for shoe fashions. I'd go barefoot all the time if I could. In my mind, the best qualities a shoe can have are to be so comfortable and inconspicuous that I never have to think about them. (For the record, I feel the same way about cars: I want only a vehicle that will carry me and my stuff to my destination with zero fuss, so I don't have to think about the car at all.)

Because of this indifferent attitude toward shoes, most of my footwear is either simple black or simple white, because those colors go with everything.

But uncharacteristically, this past summer, while shopping for sheep feed at Tractor Supply, on a whim I bought a pair of bright lime green rubber clogs.

They are really, REALLY ugly shoes. They are lumpy in shape. They are garishly colored. And for weeks after I bought them, they made obnoxious farting sounds every time I took a step.

You'd think these loud, bright, rude shoes would be exactly the kind of thing I would hate, but instead I LOVE them, and wear them every day, even during the winter!

Because they are clogs, they are easy to slip on and off. I can pop my feet in them quickly to run outside to do a chore, and kick them off just as easily when I come back inside. They are lightweight, soft, and flexible, so my feet don't feel confined. Because they are rubber, they are waterproof, so as long as I don't step in any deep puddles, I can walk through muddy horse paddocks or accidentally splash myself with the hose while filling water troughs, without my feet getting wet.

And best of all, because the shoes are so incredibly ugly, I don't care what happens to them. They can get grungy and manure-stained. The cats can sharpen their claws on them. Whatever. It doesn't matter, because they are already as ugly as they can be.

They are the ultimate shoe for me!

Yesterday, they also saved me from what could have been a very painful injury. I was walking across the sheep paddock, tending the sheep, when all of a sudden my shoe felt funny. I looked down and saw that there was a large twig stuck to the sole. I tried to brush it off, but the twig wouldn't budge. Then I realized it was a locust twig.

Our driveway, next to the sheep paddock, is lined with large honey locust trees. The sheep love to eat the seed pods that fall from these trees all fall and winter. But the trees have huge thorns. If you've never seen them, you have no idea what I mean by huge.

Think of what you would consider a large thorn. Double the size of that. Got it? That's the size of the small thorns that stick out of the sides of the big thorns on these trees. Yes, that's right. Honey locust thorns have thorns of their own. The longest ones are longer than my hand! Here's an example of what they look like.

Anyway, whenever it's really windy here, the trees tend to drop a few small twigs and branches. I had stepped on one, and one of the thorns drove itself diagonally into the thick rubber sole of the clog. When I pulled it out, the thorn was nearly 2 inches long. OUCH! That sure could have hurt.

I know, I know, if I'd been wearing something with harder soles, the thorn would have been deflected and wouldn't have poked into the shoe at all. But my feet hate the constrictive feeling of hard soles. So I'm just happy that my ugly clogs saved the day (and my feet).

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Heartbreak Ahead

I've been crying all morning.

I just can't put it off and avoid thinking about it any longer. Today I have to gather up all the paperwork for Char and Scylla and write up a sales contract for the Trading-Horses-For-Sheep deal.

Char and Scylla's new owner, David, is already on the road, driving here from Wisconsin with a trailer full of sheep. He'll arrive sometime tomorrow, drop off the sheep, and the next morning he'll leave for home, taking Char and Scylla with him. After that, it's very likely I will never see my Char-char again.

This is a really good trade for both of us. David is getting a couple of gorgeous, high-quality horses, and I'm getting a group of gorgeous, high-quality sheep. The only trouble is, I LOVE those horses, and he LOVES those sheep, so even though we know it's a great trade, we're both going to be really sad about it at the same time that we're excited.

This whole time I've been working out the details of the trade, I've been able to concentrate on the facts: Adding the new sheep to my flock is an excellent business decision. Value-for-value, if I count the lambs that the bred ewes will have in a few months, I'm getting more in "sheep" currency than I could sell the mares for in cash right now. The sheep will eat less hay than the horses, so we'll save money there. And I know that David will give the mares a fantastic home where they can be very happy.

I know all those facts. I've been clinging to them for weeks. I've been able to go about my life, do the chores, spend time petting and talking to Char and Scylla, and I've been pretty much okay.

But today, every time I so much as look out the window and see one of them, I start crying. It's a beautiful day out, warm and sunny. It would be an ideal day to go out and spend one last day playing with Char before I have to say goodbye. But I can't bear it. I can't stand to spend time cementing that bond we have, only to have to break it forever tomorrow.

(Sheesh, now I'm crying again, just writing about it. Part of me feels stupid for getting this worked up about a horse---I'm a grown woman, for Pete's sake. I made an excellent business deal that will help our farm. So shut up and stop crying about it, already!)

It would make it easier, I think, if parting with Char and Scylla was the magic sacrifice that would instantly cure all of our endless worries about money. But that's not the case. On Friday morning, they'll leave here, and on Friday afternoon, we're still going to be wondering how to pay our electricity bill and how to stretch the last of Ken's paycheck until the next one arrives.

That's not NEW, of course, we've been in that situation for months now. It just makes it harder to think that parting with Char and Scylla makes no difference in our situation at all. It makes it feel like they were never here or that my sacrifice doesn't matter.

I know that's not really true. Parting with Char and Scylla will help our finances in several ways. It's just that those ways are more gradual: saving money through decreased hay usage (using 1 fewer bale per day at $7 a bale saves us more than $2500 in a year) and earning more money through increased sheep sales later this summer (the lambs those new sheep produce in the spring should sell for about $6500 by fall).

But those are not quick fixes that my heart can latch onto. The heart is all about the NOW. No matter what the mind knows, the heart is never content to trade sorrow today for some distant future reward, because today is all the heart knows.

The only way the heart can find solace is to turn to some greater love. For me it is this: Even more than I love my beautiful Char-char, I love my farm and I love my husband. Our financial situation has been very hard on both of them, and this sacrifice will help ease the burden.

And that is how I am able to do this with a willing (although sorrowful) heart.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Ice Storm

On Friday (Feb. 1), we had an ice storm. In our current, impoverished circumstances, that's one of the things I dread hearing outside, because we don't have proper shelter for all the horses.

The young horses in the back pasture have a run in bay to the barn that they can go into, to get out of the rain.

The mares in the front pasture used to have a big run-in shed---one of those large, curved tarp sheds on a metal framework. But the destructive power of a bunch of large horses, plus the ferocious winds we get on our hilltop ripped the thing to tatters in the course of a year.

This summer, when it became a hazard, we tore it down, planning to build a real wood run-in shed before winter. We paid our neighbor come with his backhoe and level out the spot where we were going to put it.

Then the drought hit, hay prices went up, and horse sales plummeted. The money we had planned to use to build the shelter had to go instead to just barely manage to feed the horses. So now, whenever it's cold and rainy, I run out and open the gate to release the mares into the big pasture, so they can go find shelter among the thick cedar trees.

If the weather is just cold, or just wet, the big horses aren't bothered by it. But on Friday it was pouring rain and about 34 degrees (F). They are big, hefty girls, so they were not chilled or shivering, but they certainly weren't very happy with the situation.

We fed them early and extra, so their bellies were full to help them produce body heat, then they ran around a bit to get warm, and then they went and stood under the cedar thicket.

My one comfort was that I had seen that the weather was supposed to be getting warmer and warmer, so I knew they wouldn't be cold for much longer. Now today, it's nearly 70 degrees!

I'm looking forward to getting our herd down to the 5 fillies we plan to keep, because then they can all easily share the run-in bay that is attached to our barn, and I won't have to worry about the weather so much. Maybe someday we'll be able to afford to put up that shelter in the front pasture too.

At the moment, I just have to concentrate on selling the last few horses we have for sale. We're feeling the financial pinch again. I really need to earn some extra money in the next couple of weeks to buy more hay, since Ken's paycheck is stretched to the limit already.

Time to start listing a few more things on EBay, and to finally get around to advertising my fleeces for sale, and anything else I can think of to keep us going until the last few horses sell.

If I can just keep us going until summer, our sheep sales should generate enough money to buy our winter's hay and get us through another year.

Of course, the other thing I dread about the wind and rain and ice storms that come through here is that the house's roof leaks in my upstairs office. The winds are so fierce, they've torn off a lot of the shingles (which, of course, were installed as cheaply as possible by the house's former owners).

We had someone come out and price how much it would cost to redo the roof with new, high-quality architectural shingles, and were given a quote of $27,000! That is so ridiculously beyond any price we can even remotely foresee being able to afford, we had to just laugh, because otherwise we might cry!

I know there are other options for fixing the roof that are less expensive, and we will have to look into them when we can. But at the moment, we're concentrating on trying to raise enough to just pay the electric bill and buy hay to feed the horses, so the roof will have to wait.