Learning Peace of Mind

I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid…John 14:27

I’ve neglected my Al-Anon daily reader for awhile now…and it shows. Tonight I picked up “Courage to Change” and read today’s message. As always, it was exactly what I needed.

Today’s reading talks about how we often deny the gifts we have by wishing that things were different. Or by refusing to “accept something over which” we are “powerless” (Courage to Change, p. 129). No matter how many years I have spent in therapy, or whether or not I am currently exposed to active alcoholism, it always amazes me how quickly I can fall back on the learned behavior that I grew up with. There is a constant maintenance that never really goes away. If I ignore it, get lazy, whatever you wish to call it, that learned behavior creeps back in and takes over again. Maybe not as strongly, because there is a healing that came with the past maintenance, but it can certainly wreak some havoc…sort of like the weeds in my garden. If I don’t get out there each day and pull a few of them, they’re liable to take over.

And, really, with Mom now living on the homestead with me, it is more important than ever that I keep up that maintenance.

No, Mom seldom, if ever, drinks alcohol. She was married to an alcoholic for 40+ years. Granted, he went dry the last five years of his life. Quit cold turkey. But never attended an AA meeting or sought any professional help; he didn’t think he needed it. Mom learned a lot of coping behaviors in those 40+ years. And, living together, I find myself confronting some of them in myself, too.

I’ve been in a bit of a funk for some time now. A lot of stress, mostly financial, but there is also some stress in simply learning how to live again with Mom. I’ve gone from being 50 years old to being treated like I’m 15. I know it is a Mom “thing” but it grates against the nerves at times. I also find I’m a bit territorial. When Mom moved in she offered to take over kitchen detail. On the one hand, I appreciate the offer, her willingness to help. On the other hand, I really miss my relaxing Sunday afternoons, cooking and baking for the whole week, freezing portions for later in the month, canning, preserving, and also making herbal tinctures and salves and such. I enjoyed planning out my meals before I did a grocery shopping and saving the money that such planning brought about. The simple solution would be to simply sit down with Mom and talk about it. But here is where the learned behavior comes in.

Mom will sit and listen to whatever I have to say. She will nod and agree with me, tell me to go ahead and start cooking, etc; defensively assure me that she’s not stopping me. A half hour later, she will be in the kitchen again. I’ve even gone so far as to half-jokingly tell her I was kicking her out of the kitchen, or firing her from KP duty (after the umpteenth meal of scrambled eggs, rubbery and tasteless on the inside, super-crispy-can-barely-cut-them-with-a-fork on the outside). It doesn’t matter. She’s learned to ignore such requests. Because my stepfather made requests and then changed his mind again as it suited him, which is typical of an alcoholic. Who could possibly keep up? She learned to agree with whatever he said to his face…even as she went about her own business later. She was very careful to agree while he was talking. Any opposition and, like many alcoholics, he would start yelling and screaming at her. He could also be violent. So she agreed. We all did. Because it was better than dealing with the temper tantrums.

As you can guess, we don’t communicate well. I learned to stuff everything. Actually, Mom did, too. We mutter under our breath instead…and then pretend we said something entirely different if, what we muttered, carries farther than we thought it would. A passive-aggressive approach because, living with an alcoholic, you really can’t voice your opinions, your feelings, express your wants or needs. Again, it’s the temper tantrums.

In Al-Anon, “The Serenity Prayer” is often recited:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will. That I may be reasonally happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.”

I cannot change what our past has been. But, by ignoring the myriad tools that I have been given, through both therapy and Al-Anon, I allow that past to taint the present and the future. I’ve even allowed it to affect my homestead.

Another learned behavior from living with active alcoholism is a skewered perception of what one can and cannot accomplish in an hour, a day, a week, etc. The alcoholic will ask for the impossible and then berate you when you fail. I remember when I was learning to play guitar, my stepfather used to make comments that everyone else he ever knew who played would always have the guitar in their hands. They practiced 6, 7, 8 hours a day…or more. He would then insinuate that maybe I didn’t really want to play, or that I didn’t really have any talent. Though I worked 30+ hours a week, and still managed to practice for 2-3 hours each night after work, in his eyes it wasn’t enough.

Today, no matter how much I do accomplish, it’s still never enough. I am a single woman working this land alone. I know exactly where I want to be but, because I’m not there yet, I often feel ashamed. Because it’s not a fully-working farm yet. Because, like healing from the effects of alcoholism–even someone else’s, homesteading is a journey. And, like healing, there is always room for improvement. I deny myself the gift of that journey.

And, by holding onto these learned behaviors, I also deny myself the gift of my mother, whom I am still blessed to have here on this earth. 40+ years of learned behavior will never likely ever be “unlearned”; this is where I learn to accept the things I cannot change. The only thing I can change is…myself. My own behavior. So I think “Courage to Change” is going to become a daily reader again…along with some regular meetings whenever I can either find a meeting within walking distance…or find the transportation to drive to the nearest one.

“While I am responsible for changing what I can, I have to let go of the rest if I want peace of mind. Just for today I will love myself enough to give up a struggle over something that is out of my hands.” (Courage to Change)

May God bless you & keep you!

Al-Anon Family Groups (1992). “Courage to Change”. Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Virginia Beach, VA.

The Birth of an Animal Rights Activist

My parents didn’t spay or neuter. They believed that every animal should have at least one litter. Only we never seemed to stop at just one.

As a little girl, having a constant stream of young kittens and puppies to play with alternated between the thrill and delight that any child experiences when presented with a new kitten or puppy, and the underlying sorrow that I would have to say, “Goodbye” to them in the not-so-distant future. My mother always assured me that we would find homes for them. We seldom did. And, of course, we couldn’t keep any of them; we couldn’t afford to feed that many. And how do you choose just one? Besides, if we kept only one, it wouldn’t be fair to the others, they assured me. And, as I was constantly told, as the kitten or puppy matured, the mother would start to fight with them and I wouldn’t want that.

Every six to eight weeks my stepfather would place the kittens and/or puppies into a box and we would take another trip to the local shelter or pound. I always accompanied him, unwilling to relinquish those last few moments I would have with my new friends. I hid my tears the best I could. And whispered to each of them how much I loved them and how sorry I was; as a child, I was powerless to change their lot in life. And I knew it. I also lied to each of them, telling them they would find homes. Because that’s what I was told. And I wanted to believe.

Of course, once we arrived, those beliefs were shattered–both for me and for my young friends. Walking through rooms full of cages that were full of unwanted and unloved animals was overwhelming. The frantic yipping and meowing as each animal begged to be released, to find that forever home, was a heart-wrenching chorus…especially since we weren’t there to adopt, but to add to their numbers. How on earth do you find homes for so many animals when we couldn’t even find homes for 5 or 6? In every shelter there was also a row of cages labeled Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. I guess you could call it “death row” because, even as a child, I understood enough that the animals in these cages (or pens) had only until that next Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday to find a home. Afterwards, they were gassed. This was the 1970’s; no-kill shelters, if any existed then, were unheard of. And so we left them there and drove home again.

Our pets free-ranged the neighborhood. We lost quite a number to the streets and highways as motorists, unable to brake quickly enough, struck them down. Daisy, Ginger, Misty would be in heat again; it didn’t take long for other dogs or cats to find them and impregnate them. And the whole cycle would start all over again. I lied to Ginger and Misty, too. I told them we would find homes for these puppies or kitties…

And, as I type this, I realize that at some point we did start choosing at least one from a litter. Ginger was Daisy’s daughter. While Daisy had only 6 puppies (yes, only!), Ginger had 12, 13, sometimes more. Some of them might have been still-born but the numbers were astronomical for a relatively small dog. We also kept Ginger’s son, Barney. Barney came down with heartworms. He died slowly, painfully, gasping his last on my parents’ bed. We didn’t do vets either. And while Misty wouldn’t venture outside but did have Muzi in the beginning; he gave her a litter of four kittens before he was run over by a motorist. We kept three of the kittens; a friend took the other in a rare instance of finding someone a forever home. However, one of those kittens was a male–Toby. All of Misty’s litters afterwards were by her son, a too-close breeding.

Bubbles, whose only litter-mate had been stillborn, spent her first year with us. She couldn’t “me-ow”; she made a little tsk-ing sound each morning as she jumped onto my dresser and waited for me to awaken. Though they were all grown, mother and child did get along just fine; another myth debunked. Bubbles also never went into a heat or, if she did, Toby had no interest in his sister/daughter. Only a year with me but she carved a place so deep into my heart that I was devastated when, after a year of cuddling this beloved pet, my stepfather gave her to the dog warden along with Misty and Toby’s latest offspring. I cried an ocean of tears but there was no getting her back. My stepfather screamed and hollered at me to stop; I’m still getting choked up now.

When we moved across country a year later, the dog warden came again to pick up Misty and Toby to take them to the shelter. He was a neighbor of ours. When I asked him, with all of my teenage heart hanging on my sleeve, if they would find new homes, he didn’t lie to me. He said they would try. By then, Misty was an older cat. While I hope she did find some caring person to give her a new home, I also can’t help wondering how much time she spent in a cage, feeling alone and abandoned, before she, too, found her way into a cage labeled “Monday”; ditto for Toby. Daisy and Ginger both found their way onto Interstate 70. Daisy in a blind panic from Fourth of July fireworks; Ginger, just because. It was a year before this move. In that year, we had acquired Baby, a little beagle. At least in her, I know she went to a good home. A neighbor of ours, knowing we were moving, offered to take her in. She and her husband were unable to have children. Their home was filled with cages of birds, hamsters, guinea pigs, etc. They also had cats but no dogs yet. It was not a hoarding situation; these animals were the beloved children they never had. While my heart broke to say “goodbye” to Baby, as we pulled away from the curb that one last time, my heart knows she was at least loved throughout the end of her days. I vowed then and there that, when I was finally out of the house and on my own, no matter what, if I ever had to move, I would make that extra effort to find lodgings that would allow me to keep my pets. The heartache was just too great. And the looks of confusion and fear on each pet’s face haunt me still. Over the years, the myriad rescues I have taken in have all been either super anxious to win my affection, fearing being abandoned again, or else, incredibly shy and quite a work to win over; I suspect, if Bubbles, Misty, Toby & Co. did find homes, they were tough to win over, too.

We got Tiger when we finally rented our new house in Rhode Island. Tiger disappeared only a few months after we got him. Then we got Garfield and, later, Samantha. Samantha’s first litter all died before they were weaned. By this time, I was in my early-20’s but still living at home. I had graduated high school before we left St. Louis and was now working a part-time job, while also taking a correspondence class in Journalism and Short Story Writing, taking guitar and voice lessons, and fronting metal bands. Samantha had a bit of a nasty attitude; few could pet her, let alone handle her. I was an exception but that trust didn’t come along until after she’d had her second litter. There were complications. Three of the kittens were still attached to the umbilical chord, which had somehow gotten wrapped around her front paw. My stepfather noticed the problem but assumed she would get them off on her own and left her alone. By the time I came home from work at noontime, Samantha’s paw was three times its normal size due to her circulation being cut off. When I came in the door, she jumped out of the box she’d been laying in and chirped at me. Amazingly, she let me look at her paw but the chord was so deeply embedded into her skin, there was no way for me to cut it. I picked her up, placed her back in the box and closed the flaps (we didn’t have a pet carrier because our pets rarely, if ever, visited the vet), then headed for the door.

My stepfather tried to stop me. He yelled and threatened. He wasn’t paying for any vet. I was working; I had money saved in the bank. I would pay for it. As if it was an even worse threat, he told me if I was going to pay all that money foolishly, then when I finally moved out, I was taking Samantha with me. I told him I planned to anyway and stormed out the door.

We drove to East Greenwich Animal Hospital where the prognosis was not good. She had one kitten in the box who was not attached to the chord and seemed fine, but the other three were so tightly wrapped with her, that the vet could give me only two options: either I take the paw (i.e. amputate) or he euthanizes the kittens because he could not cut them away otherwise. While it broke my heart to lose such young lives, I opted to spare Samantha’s paw; he wasn’t even sure she would regain full use of it but, thankfully, she did. And he managed to save one of the kittens still attached. Like the previous litter, the two that survived this initial catastrophe, died before they were weaned. Not wanting to ever go through such a thing again, I had Samantha spayed. Again, my stepfather threatened that I was to take her with me when I moved out; he thought the money spent to spay/neuter was a waste.

When I moved out in 1990, Samantha came with me. She had belonged to my Aunt Sandy’s father-in-law before we took her in; she was at least a year old then. I had her another 15 years. She died of renal failure just before I bought the property that is now The Herbal Hare Homestead. Prior to her passing, my then-father-in-law was amazed at the lengths I was willing to go to to spare her life. He walked in one night while I was hooking up the IV to administer her daily sub-cutaneous fluids. Though he thought it was silly, he also thought I’d make a good vet.

I beg to differ. I think the constant exposure to neglectful and abusive pet owners, the continued exposure to unwanted and abandoned pets, would turn me into a fanatic. And fanaticism doesn’t help anyone. I also don’t think my poor heart could take the pain of it. Though I know, and have had to make such decisions, to terminate a life that is beyond any human capacity to help, I think I’d be an empty shell from it over time. Instead, I’d rather mitigate as much suffering as I can by caring for the orphans that come my way and making The Herbal Hare Homestead a haven and a rescue for those in need. And, where possible, to lend my time and financial resources to help others who can provide that veterinary care better than I can. Over the years, I have added herbal remedies to my care; rabbits, especially, do not always respond well to more orthodox medicines. Thankfully, my vet’s sister is also an herbalist and he’s well-versed in the myriad herbs and their uses and, rather than condemn, as many would, applauds my use of them. Over the years, we’ve worked together…rather than against each other. (Would that more doctors, nurses and vets open their minds and hearts to such practices; herbs and modern medicine, when understood, often compliment each other…and alleviate more suffering by doing so)

May God bless you & keep you!

Meet the Animals – Last, but not least…the cats!

Hey, every well-run homestead should have a cat. That’s just my honest opinion but they do keep the rodent population down…and that’s a good service. They’re also warm, affectionate and amusing companions. Home simply wouldn’t be “home” without at least a couple of felines running around. And the perfect R&R time is a rainy day with a good book in hand, a cup of tea to sip on and at least one cuddly feline purring away in my lap. I’m in my own little, private, heaven-on-earth. So, without further ado, here they are:

This guy is technically my mother’s cat. Rosco traveled across country from Missouri with Max and Mom in September of 2014. He rode all the way on the dashboard, watching the traffic, hills, mountains, rivers and lakes rolling by. He has a bit of an interesting history with Mom. She saw him in the local Pet Smart and fell in love with him, but my stepfather said, “no!” and, for the time, that was that. Now there have been many posts where I have dissed my stepfather but, in this case, he wasn’t denying her the cat to be cruel. A few years’ prior, Mom had had some problems with hoarding. I won’t go into all of the details but he was trying to prevent such a thing from happening again. Later, he finally relented only because Rosco was already neutered and not likely to get the ball rolling again. However, when they went back to Pet Smart, Rosco had already been adopted. Ironically, the person who adopted him lived in the same apartment complex. Mom saw him in the window a few days’ later. He then went to another family in that same complex and they abused him terribly–so much so, that when Mom finally got him by threatening to call the police if this family did not turn him over to her care. He was skin and bones; the woman had not been feeding him and, when Mom first brought him home, he had to eat very small meals every couple of hours because, otherwise, his stomach rebelled and he tossed it back up. He had to have his jaw re-wired; the boyfriend of his current owner had kicked him in the jaw and broken it. His first few months with Mom were a seemingly endless round of vet visits. Despite all of this, he is a lovable and friendly guy…doesn’t quite like sharing his attention with other felines but he’s not hostile to anyone either; just a little anti-social with the other cats. As you can see from his photo, he’s not starving now (chuckle).

The hefty tuxedo on the left is Paz; that beautiful white boy with the double paws is Alice Cooper. We lost Alice suddenly last November; he simply didn’t wake up from his nap. I found him curled up in his kitty bed when I got home from work (heart defect) (RIP my beloved friend). Paz, however, is still hale and hearty. He is 17 years’ young and the last of the litter that included Ariel (also lost last November to a mammary tumor), and Woody (lost in August 2012). He and his litter mates were found behind a log by my beloved Tessa (black lab/Belgian shepherd mix). My former father-in-law had had a tenant who’d left behind his female cat when he moved out. He fed her but she seldom went indoors, living outside her whole life. As a result, she was extremely wild and shy; my then-husband and I tried to capture her but she eluded us. She had one more litter of kittens; my father-in-law and brother-in-law each took in two but, again, the mother continued to avoid capture. Sadly, shortly after her second litter was born, my father-in-law saw her get hit on Route 14. Unlike his poor mother, Paz has been pampered and babied his entire 17 years…and will continue to be for however many more I am blessed with.

This is Priscilla. She is Alice’s Mama. One warm August evening, as I was sitting in the rabbit room letting the bunnies out of their cages to play and stretch their legs a bit, suddenly, Alys started thumping her back leg like ain’t nobody’s business. The other rabbits followed suit. Even with all the banging and slapping of hind legs from 10 frightened rabbits (this is a warning signal that they give to each other in the wild when a predator is near), I was still able to hear human footsteps running away from the opened window. I looked out but it was dark; I couldn’t see anyone. However, about 20 minutes later I heard a very cautious, “Me-ow!” (Oh-no!) Again, it was too dark to see anything outside but next morning, this adorable little face greeted me by the back door…an adorable little face and an enormously round belly. (Double oh-no!) Priscilla came right up to me. And, knowing there was no mistake that she’d been dumped off on this farm, I started feeding her. She would allow us to pet her but not pick her up to take her in…as Mom discovered two days’ later when she picked her up and got bit. I had to take Mom to the ER where she was given both a tetanus and the first in the series of rabies’ shots. That evening, Mom tried again and managed to get Priscilla into the bathroom for quarantine until we could get her to the vet. Later, Mom went to stay with her sister for a few days; I got bit the next morning when I reached over Priscilla to get her food bowl. So, back to the ER. Because she was quarantined in our house, I did not need the rabies’ vaccine. But I was given the tetanus…and found out I am extremely allergic to it. Two days’ later, I was back in the ER, sporting a temperature of 105 degrees. They fed me Motrin intravenously. I was there over four hours. They finally released me but, the next day, I spiked again to 106 degrees and started convulsing. It was 97 degrees outside; I was huddled under every spare quilt in the house, unable to get warm. But I survived it. And, over time, Priscilla has learned to trust us…and has proved to be quite affectionate now that her new home is assured. She also gave birth to a total of five kittens. One was stillborn. In this picture, they are only a few days’ old. One of these four, a gray and white tuxedo, died within the first week; Alice after 15 months. Ozzy (Osbourne) and Emmylou (Harris) are still with us though.

This is Ozzy. Ozzy has learned his mother’s gift for biting. He can be extremely lovable but, when he’s had enough, he will turn around and nip. He also likes to climb. On his first visit to the vet for his shots, he amused everyone so much that one of the technicians took a picture of him and put it on their website. It was a shot of him sitting on top of my head–literally. He, Priscilla and Emmylou are probably my best mousers; if they know one is about, they won’t leave the room where they’ve sensed it…even to eat. However, Ozzy likes me all to himself. The minute Emmylou tries to horn in on the attention, he hisses at her and leaves.

And, of course, this is Emmylou. She was a shy one until this past January when a nasty upper-respiratory infection went through most of these felines. Emmylou had it the worst of all; Mom & I feared for her life. But she pulled through. And, since this most recent trip to the vet hospital, she’s been a little cuddle bug, sleeping on my “lap” each night. I guess she knows she’s loved. And, while Ozzy and Priscilla are good mousers, Emmy takes the prize. She is absolutely relentless whenever a mouse is in residence. Now, if we could just convince her that its bloody remains are not exactly the sort of present her humans want to receive, we’d be all set.

This handsome guy is Kirby, a beautiful Maine coon cat who arrived here in the spring of 2014. I don’t know if he was dumped off like Priscilla, or if he simply chose this house as his home. But I heard Paz, Ariel, Trooper (lost in Jan. 2016) and Pearl hissing and spitting at something/someone in the kitchen so I went to investigate. The windows were open and Ariel had just jumped out of one of them. At the bottom right corner was this little face peeking in. I initially thought he simply a neighbor’s cat who had wandered over. As the days turned into weeks, these nightly visits continued, and I started to notice he was losing a bit of weight, I started taking bowls of food out to him. At first he was incredibly shy and wouldn’t come anywhere near me. But, over time, I could at least sit nearby and talk to him while he ate. As I have an interstate running through my front yard, and knowing it would only be a matter of time before he decided to test it, I started leaving the bowls in the attached workshop. It has its own door and I could leave it open a bit to allow him to go inside. It was also approaching fall and I was worried about him over the coming winter; it had taken me the whole late-spring and all of summer to even get this far. At first he was distrusting of the workshop but, eventually, hunger won out and he started venturing inside the doorway. Each day, I put the bowl a little deeper into the workshop. And, finally, I was able to watch one morning while he went in to eat and sneak around the outside to shut him in. He was NOT happy about it. He hissed at me when I brought in a cat pan for him (I wasn’t even sure he’d know how to use it) and hid behind some of my spare bee supers. I called the vet. This one wasn’t going to go in for testing and shots easily. It would be another month before I could get him into a carry-on cage for transport; the vet hospital kept an open appointment for him. As I did with the workshop, I had to leave his food just inside the door of the cage and then a little farther in until he got comfortable with going all the way into the cage with me also standing nearby. As I had done with the workshop, I eventually shut him inside and called the vet, letting them know we were on our way for that open appointment. By the time I got him to the vet, he had ripped open his toes on the cage door, trying to escape. He howled and hissed and I was beginning to think maybe I was going to have to turn him loose again after we got him neutered and his shots–if we could get them done. The vet and technicians pulled on these long gloves that went all the way to their shoulders. I opened the cage and he shot out of it like a cannonball, hit the wall over the sink and slid down it, leaving bloody runnels everywhere. The vet was able to throw a towel over him in the sink and sedate him. He got his shots and immediately into surgery. I brought him home later and he spent a few days in the bathroom, recuperating, and also starting to allow me to actually pet him and scratch him under the chin. Now, he is the most lovable and affectionate cat of all. He does not like to be picked up but he will sit in my lap forever if I let him. We have daily “Kirby time” where he just cuddles and purrs contentedly. He also came down with the upper-respiratory infection last January; the difference in his behavior for this trip to the vet was like night and day. He was a perfect little lamb. He also played surrogate Papa to Priscilla’s kittens when they arrived. The picture below is him with Ozzy and Alice.

Priscilla’s kittens were weaned and she finally went in to be spayed. About a week later, just before Halloween, Whitney showed up.

Again, another trip to the vet for shots and testing, etc; she was unlike either Priscilla or Kirby, going along quite easily and charming everyone. She came back home and, after a few days of letting the other cats “meet” her through the bars of a large dog crate, I let her out. She immediately ran upstairs. I followed her closely, trying not to spook her but also not sure where she was going because she seemed to be on a mission of some sort. And she was. She ran right into my bedroom and jumped on the bed where Priscilla was sleeping. Priscilla jumped up and, if they could have shrieked and spoken, I swear they would’ve been saying, “Oh, I haven’t seen you in, like, forever!” They ran right up to each other and started licking each other’s faces like they were bosom buddies. The vet estimated Priscilla to be about 2 years’ of age when we brought her in that first time; Whitney to be about a year. Whitney’s size and shape is nearly identical to Priscilla’s and Mom & I have been wondering ever since if Whitney isn’t an offspring from a previous litter for Priscilla. While I heard the running footsteps away from the window when Priscilla arrived, Whitney was simply there one day. Do their previous owners live nearby and, after seeing that I took in Priscilla & Co., decide to dump Whitney off, too? Or did Whitney somehow follow her scent? Is that even possible? Or had Whitney been left at the same time as Priscilla but wandered off into the woods or to a neighbor’s house for awhile? We’ll probably never know but I’ve never seen two cats take to each other that quickly before. I am convinced that they were already acquainted long before.

Last of my felines is Pearl. And definitely not least. Pearl, and her sister, Megan, were on display at the vet hospital. I fell in love with both of them but, as I already had 4 cats at home at the time, I took a deep breath and steeled myself to say, “No!” A few weeks’ later, I went back for another routine visit with another pet and they were still on display. The shelter sponsoring them was hoping to place them together. Again, I steeled myself to say, “No!” There was a third visit. I almost caved this time. Instead, I left but I told myself that if they were still there the next time I went in, I would inquire about adopting them. About a week later, I had a rabbit die unexpectedly. I brought her in to be examined, to try to determine the cause of death; I feared it might be something contagious. It turns out it wasn’t; Isabella had a weak heart. But Megan and Pearl were still there. I took them home. Megan died in June of 2013 to cancer but Pearl has been my little shadow for 10 years; she is 13 years’ old. Sweet, gentle but also timid, she used to get bullied by Trooper and Paz; Paz still gives her some static on occasion but Kirby adores her. Priscilla, Ozzy, Emmylou and Whitney adore her. Rosco tolerates her, like he does everyone else, but at least he doesn’t bully her. She also helps me with my yoga routine each morning, stretching out on the floor beside me and twisting and turning as I also go through some similar poses.

Here she is again with Priscilla (back of chair) and Emmylou (right).

May God bless you & keep you!

Meet the Animals – Odds and Ends

Cockatiels aren’t your typical homestead bird but Smoky Bones has been the ambassador here since he first came home with me in 2006…before this was even remotely a homestead. He had belonged to my friend, Jo-Ann’s Uncle Mike. Uncle Mike, Smoky and a small dog had all been living with relatives on their farm in Voluntown, CT. Ironically, it was a goat farm. But they were selling out and moving to a new state. And Uncle Mike was being sent to an assisted living complex (or maybe even a nursing home; it’s been awhile). I remember the dog’s place with the family was assured but the wife found Smoky to be a challenge so he needed a home. It broke Uncle Mike’s heart. He was only willing to relinquish his pet after constant reassurances from Jo-Ann that he would be well-loved and cared for. It breaks my heart to think of it even now; I could write a whole other blog post about our society’s treatment of their elders but, for now, I’ll stay on subject.

I’m still stymied on what the challenge was…

Smoky had roommates when he first came here, a trio of budgerigars named Nigel, Jamaica and Skye. I set his cage next to theirs for company and, while I wasn’t confident enough to put them together in an aviary setting, that was a future plan. Until I underestimated the effects of having fluttering, chirping birds in a house full of felines. My Megan Magee was still with me then; birds were her absolute delight. I came home one afternoon from work to find both cages on the floor. Smoky was fine. A bit shaken but otherwise hale and hearty. The parakeets were flying pell-mell around the house…except for Jamaica, who greeted me on the living room floor, surrounded by felines, left wing bleeding. He was my first concern, for obvious reasons. I grabbed a nearby clothes’ basket and threw it over him then shooed the cats out of the living room until I could get him to calm down enough to let me handle him. Good luck! I remember, despite the bloody wing, he flew back into the rabbit room (where their cages were also housed) and, eventually, into his cage. I managed to clean his wing with saline; it proved to be only a flesh wound. Nigel and Skye seemed unscathed, physically, but the following morning Skye let out a squawk and tumbled to the floor of her cage; the next morning, Nigel, did the same. (Or maybe it was the other way around…again, it’s been awhile.) Though they would never become actual roommates, Jamaica and Smoky were good company for each other for many years’ after. Sadly, I lost Jamaica in 2012.

Far from being a “challenge,” Smoky has proven to be quite the character. Shortly after I brought him home, I was sitting at the table, reading a book, while Smoky whistled away in his cage. Eventually, his whistling drew my attention. I realized I recognized the tune. That was the opening to the old “Andy Griffith Show” and, later, was that “The Odd Couple” theme? I went to work the next day and asked Jo-Ann if Uncle Mike watched a lot of TV Land. She admitted that, yes, he did. Well, Smoky had picked up the theme songs to many of his favorite shows. Uncle Mike also had a police scanner. Out of the blue, Smoky will suddenly squawk, “Rescue! Rescue!” complete with a bit of re-created static as the scanner pops “on” and “off”. And you’ll never doubt his name. His invariable greeting is, “Hello, Smoky!”

Dogs are a usual part of any homestead. I hope to one day raise border collies for herding future sheep, and also agility. Mom brought Max with her from Missouri in September 2014. He’s a blue heeler. Traditionally, this is a herding breed but Max has never been sheep or goat “broke” so putting him out with Felicity and Co. would be a disaster (if a dog has not been raised with sheep, instead of herding, he’ll run them down and potentially kill them; they have to be “broke”. This does not mean anything brutal or unkind to the dog but a gentle training to teach them how to appropriately interact with them.). He knows he’s supposed to do something with these goats but he doesn’t know what that something is. And, for Felicity’s part, she doesn’t seem to be dog “broke” either (again, simply being raised around dogs and being taught to understand that the dog does not mean her harm but is there for her protection; because she’s never been taught otherwise, she sees Max as a threat…and he is because he’s also never been taught). When Max first came here, Mom and I took he and Bear (who was still with me then) out on leashes. I wanted them to at least get acquainted with each other so there wouldn’t be some mad charge at the back door someday. Amazingly, Felicity didn’t seem to have any problem with Bear. Maybe his size was a deterrent (St. Bernard) but Max lunged and then Felicity charged. That ended that exercise. We are very careful to keep Max and Felicity separate. However, Max is an intelligent boy. And, while it may be a little late in his life to get him into herding–especially with a recalcitrant lead doe fighting him every step of the way–now that warmer weather is coming in, I would like to start some basic training with him and then, maybe, get him into agility. Herding breeds have a lot of energy so it would be good for him to have a means to use some of it up each day. He learns fast. Over the wintertime, we started chorus classes…I taught Max to howl. And he sounds for all the world like the wolf he’s often mistaken for in public.

May God bless you & keep you!

Meet the Animals – The Goats!

A little over two years’ ago, I brought home a trio of Nigerian Dwarf goats. They were “free to good home” but, before any fellow goat farmers cringe, Felicity, at least, is a registered doe…and I have the papers to prove it. Domino and Chester are both quite large for the breed and, because of this, they were both wethered so that they do not pass along too-big babies to future generations. They are here simply as pets and companions to Felicity. She has been bred at least once. Her previous owners did not keep the single male. But I do have plans to breed her again. Fresh goat’s milk, cheese, yogurt and even soap would be a nice addition to this homestead.

For now though, I am simply enjoying them, learning all of the myriad ins and outs of their care and getting to know their unique personalities.

I am remembering when I first brought all of them home, I was ecstatic! Anyone who has known me for longer than five minutes knows how much I love goats and how long I waited to get them. However, at the dealership, this love and longing wasn’t as widely known yet; I hadn’t been there that long. But, I had to share this elation with somebody…besides Mom, of course. So I chose Sean, our then-service manager. Sean and his wife frequently rescue and adopt older dogs from the local shelter. And I commend and applaud them for their kindness, their generosity, their beautiful hearts because of it. Sean’s an animal lover; he’ll get this. So, with a huge smile on my face I announced that today one of my biggest dreams just came true. Somehow, though, I don’t think Sean was expecting my acquisition of three goats to be the answer to his question about what that dream-come-true was. His blank stare that so clearly read: “how do I respond to this?” was priceless. But my goats are a dream-come-true.

So, without further ado, meet Chester…

He obviously likes his kibble…and his carrots. He was that round when I got him. Though he wasn’t quite as camera-happy as Tank the Silkie Rooster, he really is a sweet boy and every morning after feeding we have to cuddle for a few minutes. He will saunter over to me and start rubbing the stubs where his horns should be against my skirt. I’m guessing it’s an itchy spot so I oblige by giving him a good scratch. Eventually he will raise his head and blow goatie “kisses” at me.

Felicity is the true boss of the barnyard. I know I said last week that Sargent Feathers was…and, in many ways, he is. But even he defers to Felicity. She is very protective of “her” flock. Last summer we had a skunk find it’s way under a low spot by the back gate and there was no holding her back. She charged. And, yes, it sprayed. But, amazingly, she managed to avoid most of it…even if the barnyard smelled pretty rank for awhile afterwards.

Felicity is also the most empathetic–if one can attach such an emotion to a goat…and I do. When I lost my Bear two years’ ago, the following morning I trudged out to the goat barn as usual but she must’ve sensed that I was “down” and a bit out of it. She has what I call the upside-down Madonna grin. Madonna has always had that bit of a gap between her two front teeth. Felicity has it, too, but in the lower jaw and there’s just a slight hint of an overbite. Nothing too detrimental to keep her from eating but, when she’s curious, she juts that jaw forward a bit, turning her head from side to side and sniffing intently. That morning, I got the full upside-down Madonna grin. As I sat down on the bench for a moment, Felicity came forward and then, as sweet as can be, gave me the gentlest little head-butt and rested her forehead against mine. I remember blubbering over the sweetness of it, though I’m guessing that wasn’t Felicity’s intent.

Domino took a little longer to warm up to us. He’s lovable, too, but a bit shier than the other two. His coat is like spun silk though. Where Felicity and Chester are a bit wiry to the touch, I could run my fingers through Domino’s coat all day and never get tired of it. He’s a bit of a dandy about it. He loves being brushed. And I don’t mind obliging him.

And, yes, that’s a lot of hay on the floor of the goat barn. They scatter it everywhere. And, because New England winters are so brutal, I leave it there until spring. Many farmers do this as it provides protection against cold floors and the slow decomposition of hay, wood shavings and, of course, their waste, actually helps warm the barn. There is no odor. The top layer is dry. And come spring, I clean it all out and toss it into the compost bin where it will dress the garden in the fall. Then we start all over again.

…although next winter will see them in different quarters as this old shed-turned-barn is being semi-retired; the attached garage and former workshop will become the new barn. Our current barn has wooden floors. It’s not so bad on the goat side. But, in the separate “room” that houses the chickens and ducks, the ducks’ perpetual play in the waterers is rotting it out. I put my foot partially through it recently so it’s time to relocate them and, as time and funds permit, cut out the wooden floor and replace it with cement.

There’s always a new project with this journey called a homestead.

May God bless you & keep you!

Meet the Quackers!

We’re talking about ducks, of course.

When I first decided to just make a go of homesteading exactly where I am, chickens and ducks were one of my first investments. I wanted fresh eggs. I wanted an eco-friendly way of reducing bugs and slugs and such in the garden. Ducks are supposedly great for eating slugs and also those great, horned, tomato worms. I’m not sure how accurate this is. My ducks are more interested in kamakazi waddles down the driveway and, if I didn’t turn into a human border collie in a hurry and herd them back into the garden, they’d waddle right out into Interstate 6. So the ducks now reside solely in the backyard. And, while they could probably fly straight over the chain link fence, fresh food, a warm barn to sleep in each night, and a giant kiddie pool to swim in are reasons enough to stay grounded.

Of course, I sometimes think I should’ve followed some friendly advice when I first got them and returned the two drakes to Agway once their sex was confirmed. But my heart got in the way. Being put in someone’s stew pot simply because they’re male just didn’t seem fair. I love Duncan and Dweezil but, since Dweezil’s mate, Delilah, suffered a coronary three years’ ago from nearly being devoured by a fox, and despite having Dixie still with them, they won’t leave my chickens alone. And they are quite brutal about it. They seem to single out one or two hens at a time and what horny little beasts they are! I’ve had conflicting information about the whole duck/chicken thing. I had one person tell me that ducks (forgive the delicate discussion here…) are better “endowed” than roosters and can actually do harm to the hens. However, their vet says they cannot truly “mate” unless they are in water and none of my hens are bathing beauties. But we could give them both an “A” for effort…and call their parents in for a conference for being such bullies about it (chuckle). Right now, my Prudence is one of their main interests. However, as one of the oldest gals, she’s pretty sharp. And her buddy, Chester, has no objections whatsoever if she decides to flutter up onto his back to escape their attentions (Chester is a goat…). There are plans this year to build a separate enclosure for the ducks that won’t separate them entirely from the chickens, as they’ve all been one big flock for the past 7 years, but keep the ducks from harassing the hens. I’m thinking perhaps something along the lines of one of those chicken tractors you see at many feed stores but modified to accommodate the ducks.

And, before anyone asks, I tried to introduce more ducks a couple of summers ago. A friend of mine had a male and a female that she was trying to place and asked if I would be willing to take them. I said, ‘Sure’ and she brought them over. While we both expected some pecking order activities, Duncan and Dweezil soon had her two Quackers so cowed they wouldn’t leave the back corner of the henhouse–and hers were twice the size of mine. They also wouldn’t eat. So I had to call my friend and ask her to come get them. Maybe if I set up a brooder with ducklings and slowly introduced them, they might adjust better. But, I’m afraid to chance it in case I have a bigger problem on my hands. So, for now, it is just the three of them. Though they can be a pain you-know-where with this inability to stick with their own kind (haha), their synchronized quacking as they waddle single file across the barnyard from one pursuit to another is the sweetest music. And, I have to admit, I haven’t seen a single slug in my barnyard since they arrived.

May God bless you & keep you!

These are the two drakes. Duncan’s back is to the camera. Unfortunately, the Quackers, as they are collectively called, were even more concerned about the cellphone coming out than the chickens. Dweezil is the one to the right and more in the foreground.

I had a tough time getting Dixie’s picture. This dark-capped boy is Duncan. And he was being very protective of his mate as she had built herself a little nest in back of an old rabbit hutch in the goat barn. You can just make her out to the left and a little below Duncan’s chest. As for the nest, it has long since been abandoned. Duncan, Dweezil and Dixie are Khaki Campbells and they have a reputation for being rather neglectful mothers. Dixie will lay a few eggs, set them for about a week and then abandon them. I’ve had a few hens take over but it usually doesn’t last…

Meet the Animals – The Girls

Though this post comes a few days’ later than planned, no homestead would be complete without the constant chatter and song of a flock of chickens. I apologize ahead of time; some of them did not want to cooperate by posing or even giving me a “heads-up” (literally) but, hopefully, in time, they will grow more accustomed to their celebrity status and start giving a few cameos. Without further ado, meet my cackling flock of ladies:

This is Flame. Though she refused to turn around and only presented her back to the camera, she truly is a lovely lady. Flame is an Americauna chicken. Americaunas’ eggs have either blue or green-colored shells. They are often referred to as Easter Egg chickens. I don’t know if the blue/green coloring is natural or something that came from genetic modification to produce these colors (I mean, how labor-intensive is it to dye Easter eggs???). Flame is one of the older ladies on the farm. She is 6 years old this year and, while her egg production is not as prolific as some of the younger girls, she still manages to provide a few spots of color in each carton of eggs.

Sylvie, another Americauna was equally uncooperative about the camera. Sylvie is one of the younger gals. She is 2 years’ old.

Rae, another 2 year old Americauna, was even more uncooperative and, the only shot of her I was able to get was this one (below) of her running away. Ho-hum…

Group shots work well! The Americauna in the center of the picture is Sunset. She is another 6 year old and, like Flame, retiring from her job of egg production, giving only the occasional spot of color here and there. It’s all good. Culling is only done on this farm if there’s a threat from one animal towards the others. The lovely red lady in the bottom right corner is Connie, short for North Conway. Connie is a New Hampshire Red and the only one left in my flock that is a NH Red. The others, Manny (Manchester) and Winnie (Winnipisaukee (sp?)) were lost last year; all three were named for towns in the State of New Hampshire.

These two ladies are Kiel and Basa, my two Polish hens. They are nearly identical. When they are right next to each other, Kiel is a slightly lighter gray color with a few black polka dots on her back.

Goldie is featured in both of these…as the one that got away and, with one of the Plymouth Barred Rocks, with her tail up to the camera…sorry! Goldie did the chicken run thing every time I drew near; I will keep trying. Goldie is a 2 year-old Buff Orpington.

Prudence, a 6 year-old Plymouth Barred Rock

Faith, a 2 year-old Plymouth Barred Rock

A group shot of Hope, another 2 year-old Plymouth Barred Rock; Crow (left) and Raven, two Black Australorps.

Phantom, another Black Australorp–all three Australorps are 2 years’ of age.

And last, but not least–and it must be a Silkie thing because Miss Taffy had absolutely no qualms about being photographed at all.

Next up? Ducks!

May God bless you & keep you!