Monday, July 25, 2016

grateful moments

If you know me at all, you know well by now that I write. I write when I'm silly, when I'm sad, when I'm blown away by gratitude. Often I write just to figure out exactly how I'm feeling and to say what my heart needs to hear and see. The past few weeks I've really been stretched as most of us are during the summer season. My mom had surgery a few weeks back, I haven't been able to care for her and her duties as much as I'd have liked to, medical stuff for our youngest kid has popped up on a weekly basis since the beginning of the summer that has required multiple trips each week to the big cities, on a little anniversary weekend rare getaway the hubby and I shared - my debit card was stolen..and used a lot, one of my Pyrs went missing for a few days, one of my favorite young ewes was struck and killed by lightning as she took shelter under a large mimosa tree while a fierce summer storm came quickly blowing in and all while an older matriarch ewe died from heat exhaustion.
The hot rains have brought weeds as tall as the backs of the flock, grasses as thick as carpet, mud, flies and hoof sores too, as well as failed soaps and spoiled grains, just to name a few. The norm has been a hectic weight. I'm a shepherd and shepherds are thinkers and so during all of this I have surely written a book of thoughts. While being the ever optimist even I get well over weighted with the details. So much we all have that we fiercely love and care about and are loyal to, how sweet then are the days when you can make sense of it all. While I set schedules, doctor appointments, mended critters and said goodbye to some, threw out cloopy soap and molded grain, laid awake with worry for my missing guardian and if the debit card issues were ever going to get resolved, for the health of my parents and my children, I surely was setting myself up for some really grateful moments. I hadn't enjoyed any quiet time watching the sunrise for quite a few days, I hadn't stroked the mud clumped fur of a precious pawed member of my pack without noticing the mud, I sweated in the humid heat of the day without acknowledging the swift breeze or the clouds that shielded the rays. How quickly we forget when we are overwhelmed. If you're overwhelmed today, you too are setting yourself up for some really grateful moments. Take those moments and hold onto them with both hands my friends, if we can look with our hearts to see them, the grateful moments are everywhere. The value of just one of those moments is bigger than a dozen of my worries. 

Recently I jotted the above thoughts down on our farm's facebook page. I admit to sharing my heart very freely - even when it's not popular and even when it often takes a rather large dose of courage to do it. My heart visibly is worn on my sleeve. After receiving so much feedback from facebook friends, I thought I'd share the post here as well. Life's journey isn't always peaches and cream, for any of us. The journey is truly what we make of it.  

Friday, April 15, 2016

the child I prayed for

A smidge of a write about the newest kid on the farm that now refers to me as Madre.

On a September day last year, I heard from our youngest daughter that a friend of hers at school needed somewhere to stay for the weekend. I had spotted this kid around town quite a bit the past week or two. Not fully understanding the reasoning why but I was so drawn to him. A small fourteen year old, usually wearing extra baggy sweatpants and an oversized sweatshirt with the hood up. Occasionally when I passed two big brown eyes would look out from the hood draped over his face and amongst a mop of thick sandy brown hair. These were the only images I was familiar with. Although he had been in our daughter's band class for years, I never remember meeting or seeing him there. I knew his first name only and with that, I began to pray for him. Little could I ever have imagined then, where the road ahead would lead.

On that very same chilly Friday September eve, he came with a small backpack and never left.

What transpired over the days and weeks to come, we pieced together a bit at a time. His birth mom and second legal guardian were residing in different states and neither able to care for him any longer. And so essentially we learned this child was being faced with entering into the foster care system. He remained fiercely loyal to his family even though we had no idea what had really happened. We obtained a lawyer for hourly legal advice, we were completely at a loss of what we were to do and how. We had no legal rights, I could not take him to the doctor when he got sick in November. I couldn't sign school papers for him to participate in activities or to pick him up early if he wasn't feeling well. Sometime between November and the middle of December, the state began a custody case in regards to this boy who had now been in our home for over two full months. After the Christmas festivities, I received my first call from social services. My heart in my throat, unsure of his future, unsure of anything at all. I made my way through the conversation with a shaky voice and tear soaked cheeks. Knowing his life was about to change forever and it could very well be a life without me in it. The court would make all those decisions for him. And me.

Our first court appearance was set for a day in the last week of January. I had met the previous week with the social worker for the first time, she went over every single detail. Realizations of his family and past were made clear to me. It was a world so far from my reality. A lifetime of baggage he was carrying and many things immediately began to make some sense while also leaving me feeling more mixed up, all at the same time. While I never looked at this boy and thought, I sure wish I could save him. I have however wished many times I could've saved him from the past. Somehow if I could wave a magic wand and undo all that had been done and said, maybe then he could still get to be just a kid, for a little while longer. The same day I met with the social worker, she drove me to the courthouse and I petitioned for custody. Completely unfamiliar with this process, she walked me through it step by step. We were given a court date and the following week would be one of the longest of my life. We had never been foster parents, we had never went through all the legalities of what that entailed nor were we cleared for foster care. We were not family or close family friends and we had no other connection to this child. To the court, it appeared as if we were complete strangers and seeking custody. It was a long shot and I was fully aware walking into the courtroom that morning that I may very well have to pack up this boy's bags that afternoon.

A cold January day but the sun was shining rays of hope. My mom rode with me, we arrived extra early. We climbed the stairs together to the second floor of the courthouse and sat quietly for our turn. It is then that I met the attorney that would present the case to the judge, he caught me up on the legal lingo and also prepared me for the worse. I vividly recall telling him, I trust the judge's decision and I will always be here for this boy regardless of the outcome. Soon the court door opened and I was called inside. I sat across from the attorney at a table by myself and in front of the judge. The case was presented and in minutes, emotions were flooding up in relief from my heart and then were written all over my face. Legal temporary custody was ours. I would go through two more court hearings in the months to follow, both of these times with this boy by my side before full custody was awarded.

Incredible the journey of life is. With its twists and turns. Endless hills and some crazy low valleys. Although I never saw another teenager in our near family future, I feel now it's as if our family was not complete until he came in it. Whether born from my body or not, he is my child. The one I prayed for and didn't even know why. While he didn't come with much, I have been unpacking his bags since he arrived. The kind of bags not many can see. Unpacking takes time and the bags are pretty big and heavy. Together we will carry them, put them away when needed, dig them back out, sort and resort and even throw much away. Together. It's a pretty cool thing really. While I have sat back and not said much at times, I have been roaring a bit more these days. Roaring for the child I prayed for. I will cheer for him, stand behind and beside him and always I will be his Madre.
The child I prayed for.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

my dog life

From as far back as I can remember, I remember being told I had a gift with animals. My parents have dozens of stories of me with critters of all types. From woolly worms to chickens to horses and an entire lifetime of dogs. In particular dogs have always suited me well. And I've always had at least 1 that was my closest friend at every age throughout my life. From early adolescent through teen years, I can still vividly remember all the dogs at every gathering we attended as a family, every friend's home I visited and even dogs I passed daily on the bus route home from school. I can remember their names if I knew them, always the breed and even the way they smelled. It wasn't until I was in my mid to late twenties that I really began to understand what was meant by gift. And that the way I recognized dogs wasn't, well the norm. Everything about dogs, I could connect with instantly.
my oldest brother, sister and me on the right at age 2
In my late twenties I decided to open up a little at home dog salon. I had 3 young kids at the time, the 2 oldest were in school full time and the youngest was just toddling into it. So I felt I had some extra time to spare and really more then anything, I just wanted to spend time getting to know more dogs. Also at this time I began breeding Lhasa Apso's. I filled much of my time researching the breed standards, breeders, shows, the shelters, grooming, health and personality. They were little dogs with a big spirit, shaggy mop like faces with big, round, bold eyes and a bark that took instant control of their surroundings. A lion dog. So I acquired 3 Lhasa's that I thought rounded out much of what I felt the breed was known for. 2 females and 1 male. I wanted to experience the entire life cycle of this breed - from puppy to teen to maturity to breeding to pregnancy to whelping to nursing to raising - all of it. This venture snowballed.
One of my Lhasa's - Libby in 2007
Libby's first litter
 Many of the pups I raised who were purchased by new families, I ended up grooming in that little ole at home dog salon for years and years. I became so accustomed to grooming the Lhasa that it became a form of art. I began having folks come from hours away for me to groom their Lhasa's. Lhasa the lion dog with a lion heart is often a scary thing on a grooming table and so I ended up with more untamed lion dogs on the table then I knew what to do with. The little at home salon turned into more than a full time job. Within just months of opening in a rural area, I was having to turn folks away simply because I had no extra time to groom them. Now my grooming skills at this time, weren't at all up to par. That so called gift was in other areas. And that gift I was told so often I had, I was still trying to understand. With so many little lion hearted dogs on the table, I soon learned that I could manipulate their energy and soothe their spunky little spirits by using my own energy. Transforming mine to match and communicate with theirs. Many dogs that had been sedated for their previous lifetime of grooming were now able to be handled without sedation. I could lower the energy around me which would instantly calm a frantic or terrified little dog.  I then used the same energy in touching them - first just some simple strokes which would morph into the groom.
With so many grooms each day, the skill didn't take long to master.
Grooming 2008

Being able to handle the dogs is without a doubt, the most vital thing a groomer must possess and learn. The clipping and scissoring will come but first, it just has to be all about the dogs.
I never ever spoke of this connection I had, not with anyone. But I practiced it daily.
Grooming 2015

Grooming 2016 - My little sister Bailey at 6 months

When we bought the farm in 2009, I decided to try the same energy identifying techniques with the other farm critters. The following winter when we bought our first little flock of sheep, I knew that was going to be a challenge. Their energy is so much different. But still it's energy and I just had to tune myself into it. The dogs however all have the same energy, some it's tucked behind other needs but it can be drawn out. It's there, just waiting to be discovered.
The very year we bought the farm, we acquired 2 livestock guardian dogs. And just like the grooming and the Lhasa venture, little could I have imagined what this new adventure would entail.
These livestock guardians were Great Pyrenees. At the time, I knew nothing about them and so I then began my intense research. Just like the Lhasa, I wanted to know everything about the Pyr. In just reading their history, I connected with them passionately. I absorbed everything I read - the good and the bad. And I took it all to the field and I watched these guardians day in and day out. Their energy was so different. Even different between just the 2 of them. It fascinated me and I was determined more then ever to truly connect with these dogs. They did all the things dogs do, they barked, they marked their territory, they came when you called, they liked belly and ears rubbed. But I wanted so much more. I wanted to know how they thought and why and what they truly liked to eat and why and what kind of people and animals they liked and why. I wanted to know everything! And so my deep connection with the Pyr breed evolved.

Reina 2016

Pyr pups 2014

Pyr guardian gang - 2014
I truly believe we humans have all been put on this earth as caretakers. Caretakers of the animals, the dirt, the trees, the water, the air, the people. All of it, it is all our responsibility. Some of us may feel more connected to one or the other and I think that's exactly how it should be. I have learned so much about myself through dogs, I have learned so much about others, through dogs. And I have gained so much wisdom through nurturing a gift that I believe all of us retain in one way or the other. If it's not with dogs, it's with other animals, the land or humans but I believe we all have it to nurture. For me it was so very spiritual too, which is no accident. So closely related our energies are, it's a beautiful thing to connect with something or someone without speaking a word.
Reina 2012
My journey with dogs is by far over, they teach me something every single day and remind me often how much more I am in need of learning. They show me to slow down, to close my eyes and to see with my heart. That's the purest beauty, the kind that reaches you so intimately without touching you at all.
Reina & son Flynn 2015

Sunday, January 24, 2016

love and lambs

This morn I awoke to baby lamb cries coming from the main room of our house. Pulling back the cozy warm covers took lots and lots of must-do strength. The kind that comes from deep within. Stepping my bare feet to the cool floor I made my way to the cries that called in desperation for their mama. Their mama being me. Mixing their milk, warming it and then swaddling each of them individually in my arms as they drank a concoction they've been so desperately waiting for. After each bottle is quickly downed, I gently cup my left hand around their now full bellies and with my right I give a few rhythmical taps to their side. With little effort, a cough and a big burp bubbles right on out. One at a time I set them back on the farmhouse floor after their morning frantic feast. And then it begins. Running a muck is something a lamb just can't seem to not do. And so it goes. First in circles, then from one end of the room to the other. It's tag, it's leaping, it's back kicks and side kicks. Happiness abounds.

Still in my pj's, teeth still unbrushed, hair still uncombed, no coffee yet brewing, sunlight still beneath the earth and sleep still calling my name. I sit patiently while the lambs. Their overnight bedding needs to be changed before they can be returned to their napping areas. So in the washer, it all goes. The floor is given a good scrubbing while my hair, ears and pj's all get nibbled on by curious pink lips and budding teeth, I have a constant woolly, hoofed audience. Fresh bedding is put down and lamb bottoms and faces are all spot cleaned. Which then induces another full fledged run a mucking. How anyone else in the house can sleep through a stampede of hooves drumming in the next room is beyond me. That must be a skill I have yet to master.

It's clear I may not raise my lambs like some shepherds. And that's okay. It's clear I treat the lambs like the babies they are to me. And that's okay. It's clear I sacrifice much not just during lambing season but much of the rest of the year too, for the farm's sake and especially for my lambs. And that too is okay.

As I walk the farm and shepherd walk, I face many things on a daily basis that aren't talked about. And likely aren't noticed by outsiders. In no way could I survive if I wasn't able to choose to be okay. I must be okay with hand raising each of the lambs and also okay with processing them if and when that time arises. I must be okay with it all. Each life experiences and knows love here, from the beginning to the end. I refuse to give up my time with my lambs because it is simply too hard when it comes to time for them to move on. I nurture, I nurse, I caress and I love. This to me is indeed the life of a shepherd. And a farmer. Putting many needs before our own. Even though the end is known, it changes nothing. We love regardless.

My hands chapped, callused and worn. My hair a stringy, smelly mess. My milk and poo stained attire leaves much to be desired. But where there is love, it somehow is all okay.

Monday, December 28, 2015

looking back at 2015

With a pot of soap on the kitchen stove, newborn lambs and their mom to check in on and kiddos on holiday vacation from school to herd around the farm..and here I sit down to write. After all, if I kept waiting for a better, less busy time to blog..I would likely never write again!

Our fall and winter season has been the busiest on the farm, since..I can't remember when. We switched things up this past year and had 2 separate lambings - 1 in February and 1 in June. The goal was to keep the milk on the farm flowing longer while also keeping up the yield too! But with 2 lambings, I burnt out. And quick.
shaving udders

bottle lambs in the house

tube feeding weak lambs

 I ended up bottle feeding lambs for a better part of the year and also had trouble with fly strike in our summer lamb crop, something we never face with our winter born lambs. The newly freshened summer ewes also experienced more lactation issues in the hot weather then in the cold..they then ate less and produced less. On the plus side, we sheared twice. We called in our first professional shearer who took over the 2nd shearing, while the hubby and I did the first shearing early in the year. Fleeces were thick this year and we had lots of yarn and roving that yielded from their fleeces. This was the first ever year that we sheared 2 separate times. These dairy girls sure can kick it out! Overall I'm proud of them. As their shepherd and as the profit and loss manager - they're prolific producers in several ways and I'm proud.
pro shearer - man was he FAST

charcoal and ecru yarn from my woollies

youngest daughter Holly helping package roving and wool dryer balls
 From their milk, we had raw sheep milk and cheese shares. Thousands of pounds of milk yielded plenty of raw milk cheese for shareholders.
Spanish Queso



We also attended a couple different farmer's market while sealing in a booth space mid summer at The Farmer's Market at St Stephen's on Grove Ave in Richmond. Besides the other producers who attend this market with us - feeling next to family, it has proved to all around be a wonderful market for my milk soaps and fiber. We can be found there year around - the 2nd, 4th and 5th Saturdays of every month. I never expected my milk soaps to take off the way they have, I sure am thankful. At the end of every year I total up the quantity of bars from the year and this has been my biggest year to date, with thousands of handcrafted sheep milk bars heading off the farm and into homes world wide. The family pitches in when and where they can but for the most part, I'm a one woman show. And that's alright by me.
Fiber at the Farmer's Market

Milk Soaps - Farmer's Market

Felted milk soaps
 I took in several rescue Pyrs again this year - last year I also took in several and those were all successfully adopted out. This years Pyrs are all still here and working. It's a daily thing. Full of ups and downs. But we're hanging in there and the guardians are hanging in with us. I've always felt a big responsibility for dogs in particular. And with that constant thought in mind, at times it does feel like a Great Pyrenees farm around here too. I no more lightly take on a Pyr and think, I will get them trained and adopted out in no time. I somewhat remember the days when I used to think a bit that way. Boy have I learned! The rehabilitation, bonding and retraining is a mountainous amount of work. I used to wonder why those that take on this role are so few and far between..I no longer wonder. It's a calling however and I heed it as best I'm able.
2 new Pyrs on their way to Cedar Springs Farm & Dairy

new Pyrs on the farm
 December through February is usually my down time. Time to dig out the spinning wheel, write and catch up on other duties that have been put on the back burner through the busy February through November season. Usually is something I say a lot around here..
soft neck garlic from my 2015 garden

This winter is proving to not at all be like the last. With record amounts of rain and warm weather, it still feels like fall here. I have actually had trouble getting my winter garden in - the garlic, sugarcane and onion harvest will be late, late, late next year. One thing that farming has for sure taught me, you can make all the plans you want but until you seal the deal, they're just ideas. You gotta just go with it and see where it takes ya and not stress about it all in the meantime. It can zap your joy if you let it. Speaking of joy, on Christmas day twin lambs were born to a first time mom - right out in the big field near the wood's edge behind the farmhouse. It sure was a sweet sight..and surprise. I knew she was coming along and her due date was approaching soon, there is another ewe too that got bred when a ram plowed through a fence earlier this summer. But I wasn't expecting these lambs in December. So in a sense we have had 3 separate lambings this year. No wonder I'm tired!

December lamb


We also sold the most meat lambs we've had on the farm yet, this year. And they also brought in the highest prices we've experienced yet as well. Our late spring and early summer live weight for lambs is hard to beat and even surpasses our restaurant and market by the pound sales. That I never imagined happening. We had a good lamb crop this year and that sure helps makes things feel like they're working. When we have a bad week or a bad month, it helps a bunch to go back and look at the progress. The big picture is a grand one.

It takes all kinds of farmers to make this world go around. Things change yearly and sometimes monthly on this little sheep farm..but it gets done. It's a way of life that teaches me continuously how to adapt and how life isn't at all about staying the same. It's not the destination at all, it's that beautiful ole journey along the way.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

an afternoon on the farm

We recently had the honor of having a photo shoot on the farm. The photographer, Ariel Skelley did an incredibly beautiful job of capturing our life with pictures. The hubby and our three not so little kiddos anymore, joined me in the shoot. What memories were forever made that day. Here's a bit of the story it tells~

Monday, September 14, 2015

Daya girl - Part 2

For those of you who have been following Daya's progress or are just interested in rehabilitation or maybe you just love dogs. Here is her newest update and a bit of my heart put into words.

Taking in dogs isn't really that complicated. It takes patience, the major kind and it's tough sometimes - I know I've said it many times before and I know I will continue to say it many more times. It challenges me, sometimes on a daily basis but not because it's complicated. And this is not a popularity thing. I know it is so hard for these dog owners to be on their last resort by contacting me and then even taking the next step and handing these dogs over. And even harder to read my assessments - that first post is always the toughest to read for everyone. And I know this, not just because of the feedback I receive because I sure do get that. But that's still not it, I know it because I know what it is like to fail. Giving up a dog that you paid money for, loved and tried hard to make it work and then giving it up, feels like failure. Perhaps it even is failure, that's not my call and not what I'm here to do. But the response from most of the families that call on me for assessments or help of any kind with their dogs, is almost always a defensive one. I get it and I honestly understand. I am not a master at this and make no claims, I have learned through my lifetime and still am learning. I came about to learn what I have, through my own mistakes. There is always a price attached to a lesson, we pay one way or the other. So I get it. The dogs however are incredibly eager to please and the most forgiving of any animal I've known yet. Perhaps this is why I feel such a close bond with dogs. They get us and don't hold it against us. They inspire me to be a better human. These posts are in no way about the past owners or the past of anything and I try my best to make that clear. It's possibly hard to read or hear for many and that's ok. I am not doing this for popularity or for recognition, I am not looking for approval nor do I need it. I am simply here for these dogs and will continue to speak here for them. As it is my only desire in doing so, for their hearts be heard. 
Sisters - Wren J & Daya girl

When the dogs first come here, they're usually confined to a small paddock where their behavior can be assessed. Most often the parameters of that paddock are challenged. They dig, try to climb. Sometimes they bite, they're angry especially if they've been roaming free and now can not. They're angry over everything and acting out is expected. Dogs are routine animals and change is usually hard for them. So to be confined somewhat here, teaches them and me so much. It's necessary for them to also realize again that they're dogs. Most often they've lost themselves somewhere along their life and they don't know who they are or what they wanna do or be anymore. All who have come here, have had no jobs. They've just existed. They've had families at one time or another. All have experienced love and loss. They may have bounced around and had many families or they may have just had one. Many have been backyard ornaments or they've been a neighborhood nuisance and have even wound up in kill shelters. But it is not a bad thing at all for them to find out who they are. It is what we all want and need in life - it is no different for a dog. I call them my pawed or fur friends, I have all sorts of names I refer to them as. But still they are without a doubt, dogs. And it is in no way demeaning for them to discover who they are and to be referred to as dogs. Dogs here are treated like every other living soul and it is a great thing to be a dog. I nurture independence and pride in the dogs. For them to find who they are in the process and for them to be confident in that. A confident, well loved and appreciated dog that knows who they are, is an adaptable, teachable and loyal companion. Not just to humans but to other animals too. It's getting back down to the basics and really discovering who the dogs are, as a human and dog team.

Daya has been here about 2 months now and has quickly gained nearly 20 pounds. An excellent quality diet is needed for her activity level and good food very much makes her happy! We are learning together who she is. She has bonded tightly with me and recognizes me as a sister. This is a goal for all the guardians that come here. Great Pyrenees have a distinct disposition, all breeds are so different. But Pyrs, I have found need to be their own masters. They need to be nurtured and guided into discovering who they are. It takes immeasurable patience and time. This is true livestock guardian training and it often takes a year or even more often years, for them to be confident in that. Daya is coming around to knowing this rather quickly. Daya is unusual. She is active but has a calm, confident spirit. She is learning to be adaptable and learning to love other animals. She was quickly won over by humans but other animals has really stretched her. She has taken a liking to the sheep and this tells me much. Not everybody gets sheep but Daya does, as do I. Relating to Daya as to how she relates to the sheep flock, and the girl quickly blossoms. Forcing Daya to do anything or using trickery, treats or any type of verbal or physical correction will not work with Daya. She needs a heart connection and she needs to visually see you interacting with the livestock and other animals, as she would. This needs to be demonstrated and related to her in her own language. Her spirit is a beautiful thing to watch. The way she carries herself, her watchful eyes and her attentive mind. She doesn't miss a thing around here. Daya is one of the exceptions, she will be one of the fiercest and most attentive guardians who has ever worked here. I have not yet decided if Daya will remain here on our farm with us or if she will eventually be adopted out to guard another flock for a farm in need. She is however learning that her home lies within her so whether she stays here or moves on, she will never forget who she is. 
Daya girl
A beautiful journey it is, to love a dog ~