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.