Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The annual Halloween graveyard cake

Every year my daughter and I make a graveyard cake for Halloween. This year we did a layer cake instead of a sheet cake and it was fun decorating a different “shape.” It’s a homemade carrot cake with cream cheese frosting underneath all the candy. I usually take the junky stuff off (namely, Peeps) and just eat the cake!

Here it is, and happy Halloween!

Monday, October 30, 2017

A family get-away to Roan Mountain

Husband, daughter, my mom, and I went on a quick weekend get-away to a lovely cabin on Roan Mountain. Our farmsitter came and stayed the weekend with the menagerie. A few minutes after she walked in the door she was on the sofa with cats and Corgis snuggling in.

The fall color was beautiful and we had one rainy day with clouds rolling in and out over the mountain tops like surf, then a morning of snowflakes and then sunshine.

It was fun to take a little trip together and just as fun to get back home again.

I have some projects to finish this week and will get to them starting on Wednesday!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

This and that

The week suddenly gained momentum - my mom arrived for a visit and to celebrate her 84th birthday with us. Busy schedules but good times!

The back area is ready for fencing and hollies.

Even with help I still need 48-hour days.

Loose dog on the lane today, coyote at the back line yesterday.

100 bales of hay in the barn, with 40 more coming in November.

Everyone but me has gone to bed, including cats and Corgis.

It’s kind of nice being up alone.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

My little barn is shaping up nicely!

It’s clean as a whistle!

Needs those hay nets filled, and the woman looks a little tired, but that red-haired pony girl is on her painted pony ready to go.

Even in the little barn, though, we have the same problem: even when the cat is not away, the mice still play.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

One of those days

I had a slow start this morning. It was gray and wet and I had a hard time getting rolling. I finally got motivated enough to get off the sofa and do some chores. I had to laugh when I walked into the laundry room and saw this:

I guess we’re all having that kind of a day. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

November Hill farm journal, 40

I’m home after a wonderful writing retreat weekend in Hertford, NC. It was lovely to drive in through the November Hill gates and see the rich warm color after I applied dark tung oil last week. I got the insides of both gates done and the outside of one gate, so when I drove up it was clear to see the difference between bare treated wood and newly tung-oiled wood.

I’ve also done the insides of the gate posts and that wood looks terrific too. I’ll take photos when it stops raining.

Yes, it is raining. I made a big pronouncement yesterday that today was the “get back into the arena with Keil Bay” day and woke up to rain. We need the rain so badly I can’t complain and I’m sure Keil is okay to start tomorrow, but I was looking forward to getting him tacked up and riding in the autumn landscape.

The pollinator garden plants are doing well so far. About half of them are either already dormant or going that direction but the asters have blooms and one of the coneflowers bloomed. The beautyberry is on its second set of berries - the birds loved them!

We bought two pawpaw trees - native to NC and produce fruit that is said to be like a cross between banana and mango. They do not last long once picked and don’t travel well, so aren’t often seen in commercial markets, but they’ve gotten a lot of attention in our county as good trees to have and good fruit to harvest, eat, and even bake with. I’m looking forward to trying them out.

Our clearing project is nearly done thanks to our wonderful farm helper. On Thursday when I left for Hertford he had completely cleared the front pasture of manure, fallen branches and twigs, and he even cut the remaining trunk of the red oak that Salina and company killed by girdling its bark years back and made a pile of firewood. We are so lucky to have him.

The rain should dry out tomorrow and I should be able to finish the first tung oil coat on the gates and posts by Thursday. I’ll give it a week or so and then apply a second coat. After another week or so for that to cure, I’ll get straight dark tung oil (no citrus solvent mix) and finish with a good coat of that. I think that should do it for the winter, though the way to tell is to apply it until it stops soaking in. I’ll gauge that when I get to the third coat and if needed, will do a fourth.

It’s also nearly time to start searching for some 6-foot American holly trees. I need them for the side property line and for the back property line. Once the fencing is done we will plant the hollies. I’m very very excited about getting these two things done. It’s going to make living with energetic dogs easier and also living beside neighbors I really don’t want to have daily visual contact with. And of course, we will FINALLY be rid of dogs coming through the fence on that side.

Although I wanted to ride today, I have to stop and note here that this is about a perfect fall day for me. The beginnings of color, a cool breeze, gray sky, intermittent rain, and leaves falling. I love the ambiance of this kind of day. Right now cats are napping, Corgis too, and the horses and pony and donkeys are in the barn relaxing. I’m puttering inside with the doors open and it’s just perfect.

In a side note, as I almost always do, I checked real estate in Hertford during my visit and found 327 acres bounded 3/4 of the way around by the Perquimans River with bottomlands, uplands, producing hay fields, and abundant wildlife, all for $249,900. I am so tempted - an inner banks getaway spot!

I have stopped myself from researching cabin styles and open barn layouts, etc. I’ve been back to the website twice and won’t let myself dive into that rabbit hole today! My hands are full here on this much much smaller parcel of land.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Last night on the river

At least for this visit! Lovely drinks as the sun set, much work done, and still going, and a near-perfect place for writing. So glad we found this haven and met here for writerly fellowship and sharing the flow from different floors/rooms/spaces.

Tonight’s perfect view:

Dreaming of flying

I take it as a fine sign when on writing retreat I dream of flying. I went outside in my dream wearing pajamas and two long scarves, in search of a character from a previous novel who had come to visit. I couldn’t find him but in the process of looking discovered that I could fly. Off I went, using the scarves as sails, or wings, and then one scarf got caught up in the wind and I let go. I could still fly, and practiced with the remaining scarf, learning to steer with my feet and the direction of my shoulders, learning that even intent was often enough to take me exactly where I wanted to go.

Although I no longer needed the scarves, I wanted the one I had let go of back and I swooped down and grabbed it, as agile and accurate as a diving bird.

Today I’m writing a new chapter that will be the final POV chapter for a flawed but beloved character. I think I have to fly to write it, and swoop down when needed to grasp that piece of purple wool that is perhaps the core of who he is.

The Perquimans River is a shimmering companion to this work. Last night I carried the umbrella to the dock and swept the fallen evergreen needles away and cleaned up a spilled greasy candle mess that defies my imagination as to what it actually is. Then we took drinks to the dock and told stories that should all be essays and watched the sun set.

Today birds are flying along the river calling and I’ve managed to have two coffees and overnight oats and take a shower and get dressed and visit with dear women writers. Now it’s time to sit down and take on this chapter.

And with that, the huge outdoor siren/fire alarm for this little town has gone off. What an entrance to this chapter with this character.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The view out my window for the next three nights...

I'm in a lovely cottage on the banks of the Perquimans River. This was sunset tonight. Here working on a new section near the end of my novel, hoping this is the final piece that puts this whole puzzle together.

I am completely smitten with this place. There's a dock and 4 kayaks and a rowboat, plus bikes and a front porch and a back porch and many nooks to sit and write. And read, and ponder.

Deep work happens here!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Stand-off: calico versus blue merle (and a November Hill weather bulletin)

Last night Baloo had his chewie and dearly wanted to curl up in his big dog bed with it and relax. I had watched a few moments before as the resident calico staked it out and then climbed in. Pixie is the most petite of our cats and she is also the fiercest when she needs to be. Baloo came to this house full of felines as a puppy and he learned quickly who the bosses are around here.

He's very much full of confidence and perhaps a little more than he needs right now but even he wasn't willing to try to shove Pixie out of her very large nest.

This is as close as he got:

Pixie was initially upright and in defensive mode but once she insured he respected her boundary she rolled over, exposed her belly, and rubbed it in his face that he had been effectively kicked out of his own bed!

And, a November Hill weather alert: it is 8:55 a.m. and 32 degrees outside! What the heck!

Yesterday was so lovely I opened the arena gate and let the pony in. He showed off his walk, trot, and canter in both directions at liberty, looks fabulous, and was a joy to play with.

A few minutes later I let Keil Bay in and oh, my. He was a galloping, bucking wild man! After a few entire arena gallops he settled down and did some of his lovely trotting and then came and insisted on his peppermint. 

The donkeys and Cody did some walking and trotting too but although they definitely wanted to come into the arena, they were not that into me telling them what to do. I deferred. What I really wanted was to see them all move and check for any issues. And to enjoy the day, which we did. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dreams that are in an unknown "language"

I'm not sure what else to call them. Over the course of my life I have had a series of dreams that are vivid and clear inside the dream world but upon awakening I realize there are no words in English or any other language to express them.

This morning I woke up from one of these dreams, trying to recount it, but unable to. Not because I couldn't remember it - in fact, the dream was still very vivid in my mind - but because when I tried to put words to the dream there were none.

Even the feeling of the dream didn't fit any words we use for feelings.

All that came to my mind was the feeling - not nameable - and some unknown to me characters, a sort of alphabet or math symbols or something. A visual representation in my wide awake mind of what I might write if I were to write down the dream. But again, completely not known to me in terms of what the "writing" means.

It is odd but I have become used to it. I always wonder where these dreams come from and how they happen inside my brain.

Have you had a dream like this? What do you make of it?

Monday, October 16, 2017

Rain in the morning, sunshine as the sun goes down

We got .4 inch today and I had to laugh as the horses and pony came out and stood in the rain. The donkeys waited until the sun emerged this afternoon and came out to play.

It's very nice and cool, with a breeze, and I think all of us on November Hill are breathing sighs of relief to feel the cooler air.

As the leaves fall I'm thinking about the hollies that will be planted along the fence line to our right and to the rear. I'm so excited about having some visual privacy, especially to the right. No more dogs encroaching from that side, a more aesthetically-pleasing view.

Feeling a little sad - the for sale sign on the front of the hundred acre wood came down today and I guess that means the developers' deal went through. I am now pondering if we can buy two building lots directly behind us - it won't be quite the same but it would be something. Will see how things progress.

Meanwhile, six-foot fencing is going up at the rear of the farm and that, with the hollies to come, should give me peace of mind.

Right now it's as quiet as a church outside. Except for Baloo who just started barking!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A harrowing day

In the arena. I alternated harrowing with raking up and removing leaves, pine straw, manure, and many acorns. In hindsight I should have done this yesterday - we had several days of rain but two days of sunshine since then so there was a little dust on top. Not too much, though, and with the leaves it was far easier getting them up when they were dry again.

Right now is the time of year when the arena is just going to have leaves in it on any given day. I removed most of them today because they were "raked" up by the harrow but generally I don't stress it once I get most of the acorns up - a good windy day and they will be gone!

I love the big oaks at H and F but it does make for some extra work in the fall.

Plus I sort of like the sound of Keil Bay's hooves as we trot through the leafy corners, so that is my goal - to hear that sound soon.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Eastern red cedar. And ponies.

We have these popping up all over the farm, with only 3 that I'm remembering at the moment grown into full size. Why is that? This is what a NC forestry site says about Eastern red cedar:
EASTERN RED CEDAR (Juniperus virginiana) – Eastern red cedar, also known as red juniper, grows throughout the eastern half of the United States. It is the most widely distributed conifer of tree size in the eastern United States. In North Carolina, it is found everywhere except the high mountains. It is a small to medium sized tree 40 to 50 feet in height and 1 to 2 feet in diameter. The crown is dense and narrowly pyramid-shaped, or in some cases, columnar. When “open-grown”, the crown extends nearly to the ground. Eastern red cedar is found in a variety of soil conditions, however, it seems to thrive on barren soils where few other trees are found. It grows best on light loamy soils of limestone origin. Because of the moth-repellant properties of its oils, eastern red cedar heartwood is used for closet linings, wardrobes, and chests. Shavings are used for kennel bedding. It is in great demand for posts, poles and rustic work. Red cedar is also grown for Christmas trees, ornamentals and for use in windbreaks. Red cedar’s berry-like, fleshy cones are purplish-blue when ripe and are eaten by animals and birds. The dense crown provides shelter for birds during rough weather. Strips of its fibrous bark may be peeled off by squirrels, mice and birds to line their dens and nests.
The thing they left out is that painted ponies, at least the one who lives here, likes to let the volunteers grow to, oh, about 2.5 feet tall and then he breaks the trunk off at the exact right height to provide himself with a belly scratching post. I guess the cedar feels good on his tummy and maybe it has some insect repellent properties beyond the moth. 
There was a cute one along the path from barnyard to woodland gate that was looking decidedly Christmas tree-like but, alas, it is now chopped off and being used as a scratching post.

Friday, October 13, 2017

he knows exactly what I mean

Yesterday in the barn aisle Keil Bay and I were standing and enjoying the cold breeze that blew through, finally some relief from the hot muggy air we've had for the past week.

That's for us, I told him. We have a cool spell, then another few days in the 80s, and THEN, it's cooling way down and maybe this time that's it. We're going to ride, Big Bay. It's you and me in the arena getting back in shape.

He turned and looked at me and then went into the deepest, most perfect downward dog, horse version, that I've ever seen, and when he finished he extended one hind leg out behind him in a perfect stretch.


And point taken! I need to work on some yoga stretches too so I'll be as ready as he is when the saddle goes on.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

What happened when I stopped trying to do Everything

A few months ago my husband and I decided to hire someone to come once every other week to help us get the fenceline on two sides of the farm clear for the fencing that will be done in November. Through a serendipitous referral we found the exact right person to do this job, and quickly realized that a number of my projects could be expedited with his help. He started coming one day a week and then two days a week.

What happened next?

The nightmare of honeysuckle, wild muscadine, and trumpet vine living under our front porch was dug out and cleared out of the beds around the porch.

The beds were cleared and prepped for planting.

The farm was weedeated on a regular basis.

The mowing was done.

The fenceline, a total thicket of poison ivy and other invasive things, was cleared.

The pastures were cleared of fallen sticks and weed patches.

The very back wooded area is about 2/3 clear now, with stacks of firewood and kindling waiting for the woodstove if it ever gets cold this year.

A month ago we decided to have someone come help me with cleaning inside the house once every other week.

Every room but the master bath has now been deep cleaned and kept that way.

For years I've said I can do three things in a day. Barn, house, family. Ride, family, house. Pasture, family, house. Family, writing, house. The bottom line is that family, which includes the 11 animals we currently live with, is always going to be one of three. That is as it should be. But what it meant was I never got to everything, because there are really 5 things that matter to me: family, write, ride, house, barn/pasture/farm. So I was forever juggling it all, making bits of progress, then losing it again as other things piled up.

Now what happens is a couple of amazing people do one of the things while I do the others, and at least some of the time, I see projects getting done much more quickly than they otherwise would.

I'm an introvert at heart so some of the time I go through a half hour of stress about having someone here, but once that passes I appreciate the help and am grateful that at this point in our lives we can afford to make the choice to put some resources toward getting it.

Yesterday while the downstairs was being managed by someone other than me, I sat in my garret and reduced three piles of paperwork to nothing, checked about 6 things off my to do list, and prepared the sleeping set-up to accommodate having the attic AC/heat unit inspected and two rooms painted. It's amazing what I can get done when the pressure of trying to do it all is removed.

The message beneath all this is not about hiring people to help, although that is part of it. At its core, the message is about me allowing for the fact that I can let go of my own desire to Get Everything Done. It's something I have worked on for years but hiring people to help has not only helped get some needed work done, it's shifted my mobile, to use an analogy I often use with clients. When we change something, just one thing, it shifts everything else around. So often we think we have to make huge changes to see a difference in our lives, our relationships, our selves. But many times just making one change results in a whole new way of being. Like a mobile hanging in a room. If you touch just one part, the whole things shifts.

And that is what I've done.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Rain mandala

Finally, some rain on November Hill. I put in a rain gauge in the flat upper bed and measured .6 inches on Saturday, .5 inches on Sunday, a trace on Monday, and more yesterday that I need to check.

We need even more but it's nice to have some each day instead of a deluge all at once.

I noticed a batch of huge rusty-colored mushrooms in the back this morning. I'm sure some things are popping up with the ground staying damp for so many days now with not much sunshine.

The birdbath created an interesting mandala when I emptied it yesterday so I took a photo. May we all get the water we need to sustain our needs. I'm thinking too of California and the wildfires and hoping the winds die down, rain falls, and the fires are soon under control. It's been an intense late summer and early fall with hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Horses and humans, meeting in the middle

Last night in the barn I was cleaning feed tubs and waiting for husband to bring out the dinner buckets. Keil Bay thought I was getting ready to feed, so he joined me at the feed room door, but when I just stood there, rubbing his neck, he nudged me, a big (some would say rude) nudge with his muzzle.

I stepped back to catch my balance, made a little shriek sound, and the Big Bay's eyes went wide and a sliver of white showed. He raised his head. I collected myself. Then, just as suddenly, I relaxed and breathed out in a sigh. He lowered his head and made a soft snort.

Keil Bay and I know one another well enough that this kind of communication happens all the time. He got overly excited about dinner, I misread his appearance at the doorway, I offered affection, he wanted food, he expressed himself, I reacted, he reacted. Then we both breathed and relaxed and grounded ourselves together. I think if you simmer the essence of horse and human communication down to its most basic, this is what you have.

I kept thinking about it, though it's not a new idea to me, nor to most people who spend time with horses and spend more time pondering how this relationship works.

Horses are large compared to humans and their instincts tend toward flight in moments of fear, boldness in times of play, and what to a horse is a simple nudge asking for movement, can be a rough shove to a smaller human. A shriek quite normal in volume as a reaction of surprise by a female human is incredibly loud to a horse.

This could have gone another way if Keil didn't know me and I didn't know Keil. Years of living together have taught us a few things.

Horses bolt and flee when things get scary, sometimes they rear and spin. Humans grip on tight and fold forward into a modified fetal position. Humans usually tense up, horses do too but their tension is released by their motion, if allowed.

Put the human who grips on tight and folds forward into a ball of hard muscle on a horse trying to get away from something scary and you have a recipe for disaster.

For humans to coexist peacefully with horses we have to engage in a mutual training down of our natural instincts. We teach the horse not to bolt, not to run away, to keep his hooves on the ground, to spin only when we ask him to. We teach ourselves to sit up straight, to resist the urge to grip on tight with hands and legs, to let our seats go deep instead of forward, to relax our bodies into the horses' forward motion. It's almost never an equal endeavor.

A young horse with less training usually needs a more experienced human and vice versa. Personalities play a role, and for the human, a basic philosophy about how we treat "others" plays a role as well.

I think the best horse people meet their horses in the middle. They listen to the horses to learn how to give at the right moments, in ways that are safe for both, in consistent patterns of behavior that build trust.

The image I have is of a human and a horse walking into an open space, an arena, or a field, and both working in unison to control instincts and join forces. A well-known Rumi poem came to mind, but I'd never considered it in the context of humans and horses. I think it fits pretty well.

Out Beyond Ideas
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.  I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense

Monday, October 09, 2017

Corgi tales

Baloo is getting so big now, and although he looks like an adult he is still very much a puppy and seems to be going through a teething phase right now as he has been going through the yak milk chews faster and has also had a few chewing mishaps.

In a 3-day period he chewed up my checkbook that cat knocked to the floor, chewed up a paperback novel that fell off the sofa arm (my fault for leaving it there), and in an odd accident, while chewing on the handle to the bottom drawer of a chest of drawers I have in our dining room, learned how to open the drawer.

The first day he just chewed the handle and I sprayed it with a no-chew concoction. That night he opened the drawer and removed everything in it and spread it all over the living room floor. The drawer contains a huge number of intricately braided ropes and lanyards and other things made by my son when he was younger. Some of the patterns of braiding and the knots are works of art, and some are connected to carved wooden handles he also made. I put it all back, used the air can as a firm NO, and hoped that was the end of it.

The second night he opened the drawer and took it all out again. I heard him and sprayed the air can again and put all the stuff back again.

Today, the third day, before leaving the house for awhile, I piled all his chewies and toys and bones in a big pile in the middle of the dining/living rooms and resprayed the concoction on the drawer handle.

When I got home he had opened the drawer yet again, removed all the ropes and handles, and spread them out almost like he was admiring them. They weren't torn up, or chewed, simply spread out all across the floor.

I have removed them all from the drawer now and figure I'll just leave it empty for awhile, but I can't even express how funny it was to see him figure this out and proceed to take all these treasures out three days in a row and lay them out like he had, indeed, discovered his very own treasure.

The expression on Bear's face - I had nothing to do with this - was also priceless!

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Breakfast at the Small Cafe

It was hard to choose today. I ended up getting the dark rye with eggs and salmon. Delicious! I haven't tried the mushroom toast yet - that's on my list for next week unless another special catches my eye, which often happens. Too many good options, not enough Saturday or Sunday mornings!

Saturday, October 07, 2017

November Hill farm journal, 39

We are waiting and hoping for rain today. It's extremely dry right now, and while that seems to be agreeing with horse and donkey hooves, the pastures need a good deep drink.

Leaves are falling, acorns are falling (and being browsed by busy squirrels, deer, and horses), and the sky is the autumn blue I love best.

The pollinator garden is totally planted as of yesterday. I'll write more about that later.

Right now the sun has broken through the clouds, birds are singing and tweeting through the open front door, Corgis are chomping down on their Himalayan yak milk dog chews, and the cats are sleeping in various spots. It's a nice day.

A couple of sad things:

Baloo's basic obedience class and Bear's Canine Good Citizen class were both canceled due to not having enough people/dogs signed up. I'm sorry we won't be going; Bear loved his basic obedience class last year and also his Canine Good Citizen class. We were unable to take the final test to get his certificate due to my schedule, so I had hoped going through that class again would be a good review and we'd take the test at the end. Baloo is doing well with basics - still tweaking his "down" and working on the "stay" but he is smart and will work hard to earn his treats.

The sadder thing is about the kittens. We learned that to be truly safe bringing in feral kittens to our home with other cats we would need to have the kittens tested and retested for FeLV and FIV. Until the second test results were done (in a few months) we would have to keep the kittens separated from our other four cats. Unfortunately we don't have a way to do this for the length of time we'd need to and so we've decided to let the kittens go to another home. I'm not sure what we would do if they ended up testing positive. It's generally recommended that positive-testing cats not be housed with those who are negative for these two diseases.

Sending out good thoughts to New Orleans area as Hurricane Nate moves in.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Fall break, grandma is here, kittens are coming!

Daughter's fall break is officially underway, my mom is here until Monday, and the kittens are coming Sunday afternoon after being spayed and neutered today.

Life is good.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Choose what you focus on, shape your world view

"We tend to place a lot of emphasis on our circumstances, assuming that what happens to us (or fails to happen) determines how we feel. From this perspective, the small-scale details of how you spend your day aren’t that important, because what matters are the large-scale outcomes, such as whether or not you get a promotion or move to that nicer apartment. According to Gallagher, decades of research contradict this understanding. Our brains instead construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to. If you focus on a cancer diagnosis, you and your life become unhappy and dark, but if you focus instead on an evening martini, you and your life become more pleasant—even though the circumstances in both scenarios are the same. As Gallagher summarizes: “Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.”" from "Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World" by Cal Newport

Monday, October 02, 2017

Bear sightings all around us!

I've been getting reports of bear sightings within a few miles of us last week and last night, so now am wondering if some of the middle of the night barking sessions might be something more than a stray cat or coyote!

Last night's sighting revealed 4 strands of electric fencing surrounding a chicken coop and yard ripped out and bear scat full of corn left behind.

Thinking we need the Maremmas NOW!

Thinking maybe we need to cool it with the composting in the back yard for awhile.