Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Happy holidays from November Hill

It’s being a wonderful holiday for us here. I hope everyone is enjoying time with people you love, good food and drink, and lots of (healthy, safe, happy) antics with animal family. If you will, share your favorite holiday moment thus far. There are more than one for me, but I really loved waking up Christmas morning and having eggs benedict prepared by son while enjoying the wait with my husband, daughter, and daughter-in-law while all the cats, Corgis, and equines surrounded us inside and out. It was sweet and perfect. 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

the astrophysicist and his star

This was the wonderful thing I have been waiting to share. My son and daughter-in-law were married after Thanksgiving and we were there for a perfect weekend. They created an intimate, gorgeous ceremony in a historic inn that provided a lovely ambiance and also gave us the chance to spend time with the parents of the bride. 

We’re so happy for this couple and so proud of them for being the young people they are. I’m looking forward to spending the upcoming holidays with both of them! 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

November Hill farm journal, 66

I’ve been very busy and overwhelmed with the sickness of our cat family the past few weeks, and I still want to write the happy post I’ve got in my pocket, but I decided to update the sad news first.

Mystic is home and recuperating, and Pippin is home and recuperating, but sweet Osage was not able to recover from her battle with Panleukopenia. She was 12.5 years old and although alert until the end, she just couldn’t make it. The vet school hospital staff gave her excellent supportive care, including five blood transfusions, but it simply wasn’t enough to stem the blood loss she was having in her GI tract. She passed away this week, in the arms of her human family, and is now home and buried in our back yard.

It’s been agonizing and we are heartbroken. Pixie remains healthy, and the kittens, Violet and Isobel, are healthy now too. We’re still having to give many medications and Mystic is not yet back to his normal routine in terms of being able to go outside, but we will get there. 

Osage, aka Muffine Eloise, was one of the original three kittens who came to live with us here 12 years ago. She came with her littermate siblings Keats and Dickens, and the three of them were pure joy as they grew and learned how to be indoor/outdoor cats. They all loved the horses and the barn, loved being inside with us, loved the front porch and their freedom. More recently Osage has loved her sunny chair on the front porch, and she has kept us laughing at her insistence on being the center of attention during many movie and TV episode watching. She was sweet and engaging her entire life, a cat who loved having her tummy rubbed, who loved being combed and fussed over, loved butterflies, and would play like a kitten up to the week before she died. I miss her so much. 

In other news, Baloo Corgi was neutered last week, a scheduled event we decided not to postpone. He came home wearing a plastic cone and with instructions not to “play, jump, or run” for 10 days. I knew that was going to be difficult, but by the next morning Bear Corgi had broken Baloo out of the gated bedroom, Baloo busted through the dog door with the cone still on his neck, and while I drove into town hoping to buy a donut collar, daughter texted that he and Bear had gotten the cone off and things were much calmer without it. No licking, less activity. So we went with it. I stopped trying to keep him absolutely still and without the collar and pain meds he resumed his normal behavior. He is now a week out from the surgery and doing very well. I’m considering taking him outside the back yard today for the first time in a week. I’m sure there will be an explosion of activity when I open the gate and invite him to come out. 

We had six inches of snow over the weekend and a few nights of low 20s which has kept it around until yesterday. We are nowhere near dry outside and now the forecast says rain Friday/Saturday/Sunday of this weekend, so I’m dreading the mud. I would like a nice dry month with maybe just enough rain spread out to keep the plant life happy. Santa, are you listening?

Most of the leaves are gone from the trees now and I’ve managed to keep enough of them mulched so the winter grass can maintain itself. My farm helper has done a valiant job keeping all our waterways clear so the water can flow without clogging up at the fencelines. 

There was one day last week when all three cats were sick, we were monitoring the ones who weren’t very closely, and I was on the phone with the vet at the ICU while texting Keil Bay’s vet because it seemed he was having a mild choke episode. She encouraged me to give him time to clear it, and I was watching him, still texting her, talking to the feline vet, and I walked over to Rafer Johnson to give him an ear rub with my free hand. When I touched his ear my hand came away covered in blood, and his ear was totally bloody. Thankfully daughter was home that day and she came out and helped wash the blood away so we could see what was going on. We initially worried it was a bite of some kind, but a series of clues suggested he had gotten the ear hung up in the hard plastic stall grids I have (still!) stacked by the barn. A rabies booster was discussed and the vet, helpfully already texting me, said she felt antibiotic ointment was all he needed. I think that was the day I realized we just have to let go and deal with things as they come. I felt like the domino had tipped. Days like that are when I just have to stop trying to retain control and admit I operate most days pretending I have it when really I do not. It’s a humbling realization for someone who is most comfortable managing things tightly.

Now, I’m focusing on doing all the things that need to be done while enjoying the moments as best I can. There are so many lovely moments! It is at this moment still and very quiet here on November Hill, and after the past few weeks that itself is the best thing ever. 

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Update on our Mystical kit-meow

Mystic was in septic shock when we got home from our son’s wedding last Monday. He went directly to the NCSU emergency vet hospital and was admitted into the ICU, where he has spent every day since. He’s had a number of tests run and a lot of supportive care via IV. What is going on with him remains a bit of a mystery, but clearly his system was assaulted by something.

I won’t go into all the daily details we’ve heard for the past 5 days. Lots of small gains and then some setbacks and concerns. We were at the point of considering a bone marrow test yesterday but decided that the general anesthesia that requires would be too big a strain on his already weak self. We opted to go with treating him with Prednisone, which would be the treatment for a number of things that fit his symptom picture.

He hasn’t eaten for at least the past 6 days but this morning, after last night’s 7 p.m. dose of Prednisone, he woke up and ate two bites of food from his vet student’s hand. When my husband got there and held him in his lap, Mystic ate a handful of dry food and another handful of wet food! Everything in his lab work is much better today, and we are thrilled to see some progress and hope it continues so he can come home and continue the recuperation here.

For those who don’t know, Mystic is 10 years old. He contracted cytauxzoonosis from a tick that had been on a bobcat several years ago and was in the ICU at that time. Cytaux is a very fast-acting disease that is fatal for close to 70% of cats. He beat it. A few years later he had an episode of congestive heart failure and was in the ICU and on a respirator for a period of time. He made a full and complete recovery from that as well! Mystic at home is a finicky cat who doesn’t like people other than us very much, but in the hospital we learned he is a total ham and ends up being the darling of the ICU when he’s there. His caregivers have always been devoted and caring and we appreciate all they’ve done for him.

This is a favorite photo of Mystic. He’s a very special cat and we hope he’s home with us soon!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Finding a farmsitter, 101

We previously had an amazing farmsitter who stayed on our farm, with our animals, about 20 hours a day. Her fee was surprisingly reasonable. She told me when we first hired her to “write me a book” cataloging all the routines I wanted her to follow with the animals, which I did. She followed it. She sent me texts numerous times each day of the horses, pony, donkeys, cats, and Corgis. She took selfies of herself with our animals piled on top of her, snuggling up just the way they do with us. We were grateful to have her. Sadly for us and especially our animals, she is now in a serious romantic relationship and wants to have a more normal life - not spending nights and days taking care of other people’s animals. We’re happy for her - she deserves it!

When it came time to find a new farmsitter I asked our former farmsitter, our vets, the pet supply store locally, our feed store, friends, and several farm owners who they could recommend. Sadly, finding someone who would stay overnight was almost impossible, but two people I trusted gave me one name and that’s who we hired. I spoke with her at length on the phone and then spent nearly 3 hours with her here on the farm reviewing our routines. She seemed competent, the animals seemed to like her, and although I was stressed about all of us leaving for a weekend (I always do), I thought things would be okay.

The short version of what happened: we came home to a cat in septic shock who had to be taken to the vet school emergency hospital and remains today in the ICU. Bits of evidence that many items in my extensive instructions had not been done, including my PSSM horse not getting even one dose of his necessary supplement. No evidence I could find that she actually stayed overnight. Animals that in general seemed wary and stressed. Mailbox stuffed with mail, packages in the delivery box not brought in. My farm instructions were missing. This document contained much sensitive information about the security of our farm and home, as well as names and photos of animals.

The text messages that followed as I tried to sort out what happened revealed someone who changed her story many times about whether our cat ate, didn’t eat, allowed her to pet him, or not, where the farm instructions actually were, why she had taken them off the property. Once someone changes the story when they know the stakes are now high, my trust and belief in anything they say is gone.

It wasn’t her fault our cat got a serious infection. But it was her fault that in spite of my telling her the cats needed to be monitored very closely, she did not monitor him the way we had discussed, nor did she let me know when he didn’t eat or take his medication. We found dried up food in the fridge that he hadn’t eaten. Had she told me this I would have had a family member come and take him directly to the vet. He would have received treatment sooner and likely avoided being in the hospital.

In one of the last texts she said “It seems like somehow you are upset with me.”

Um, yes, I am.

When you look for a farmsitter, I suggest you seek recommendations and check them out, then ask these questions:

Are you willing to follow extremely detailed instructions to the letter?

Are you willing to text me photos of each animal several times a day with detailed updates about how the animal is doing?

Are you willing to take the time during your stay (or daily visit) to sit and be with cats and dogs individually so you can see that they are truly okay?

Are you willing to transport a sick animal to our vet if needed?

I thought I covered all these things with her, and I thought she understood. In the end we paid a lot of money for very low-level care, and we’re now spending a huge amount of money taking care of a cat who shouldn’t have been allowed to get as sick as he was.

Right now I’m not sure I will ever feel comfortable hiring a farmsitter again, but if I do, the interview and the communication about expectations is going to be equal to a top-secret security clearance interview. Which in itself may mean I never find someone to stay here and take care of the animals. I’m writing this as a warning, I guess. Be diligent and don’t assume good recommendations mean good care. I’m sure I’ll never be listed as a recommendation for this farmsitter, and no one will hear the story of the nightmare that happened.

I’m getting the yucky part out of the way - I’ll share the wonderful part of our weekend in another post.

Update on 5/3/21:
Adding because it looks like this post is suddenly getting a lot of hits and I want the entire saga revealed. We ended up with THREE cats in the vet school ICU. One of our cats died there. All of this could very likely have had a very different outcome if the farmsitter had done her job. I have checked and she continues to do this work, now has a website, and I hope that no other animals have died thanks to her negligence. Do your research when hiring someone. Have someone check on whoever you do hire. Use cameras. Do whatever you need to in order to monitor what is being done while you’re away. I wish I had done all of the above. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Autumn, and slowing down

I was thinking yesterday as I raced toward my massage therapy appointment that it would be nice if we were able to momentarily stop time when we’re running late so we could slow down and get there safely. Then I wondered how stopping time would affect everyone else, and the quandary became complicated enough I abandoned it. We seem to be bound by time, and more specifically the clock, and our own expectations, and the expectations we think our culture has for us.

This morning I woke up to a list of things to do that applied pressure to me the moment I glanced at my closed daybook. The list includes a few things that do in fact need to be done, but much of it is my own effort to do it all, and before Thanksgiving day. Those items could be lost or crossed through and nothing would happen. No one would even notice. I would probably not remember the items myself after a few days’ time. Yet they have the power to make me feel mild panic, like there are Things That Must Be Done and I am the only one who can do them.

The truth is we have the power to stop time. Not the clock. Not for the entire world. But we can, if we choose to do it, take a moment, or a few minutes, or even a little break in our day, to catch up to ourselves, center ourselves, and rejoin the forward movement of the world when we’re ready.

When I travel to the NC mountains I am always comforted by the pull-offs, places along the way where you can literally pull your car off the road and sit for awhile, usually to view a gorgeous vista, or a mountain stream running over rock. Often these pull-offs have short trails you can walk, into the forest, to waterfalls or overlooks. These little roads less traveled beg to be taken.

I wish we had these everywhere, marked for ease of finding them, but again, the truth is they ARE everywhere. We simply have to stop and take them.

Autumn is a perfect metaphor for slowing down. The dormant stage of many plants and trees, a brilliant show of color so breathtaking it forces us to stop and look. This week, as holiday plans and travel and expectations might run high, make a point to pause. Take the long way to where you’re going. Let that extra entree you’ve decided you need to make go. Don’t fret the mess you think you need to clean up before friends and family come over. Go take a walk instead. Stop before every brilliant tree, stand in every scattering of fallen leaves. Watch how the sun angles down now that the leaves are gone. Stop your cooking to go watch the sunset.

If there’s an item on your list that desperately needs doing, do it and let the others go. The world will keep turning, we’ll all continue living and breathing. Play with the kittens. Take the dog for a long, leisurely walk. Ride your horse without doing the chores first. Look at the land around you and sink your feet where you stand. Stay there longer than you ever have and let every detail of nature come to your attention.

Happy Thanksgiving from November Hill.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

November Hill farm journal, 65

First, we have a new family member joining us in February. His name is Ciro and he’s my daughter’s dog. He’s learning a lot of things between now and then, and we get to visit him every week. Here he’s showing off his sit. 

 The gardens are beginning to fade a bit. This is the very last horsemint bloom with a carpenter bee taking full advantage. I cut the horsemint back recently as it was getting damp and powdery mildew was trying to set in, and beneath the huge mound was this late bloomer.

I was away for a week writing at my beloved Porches, where color was a bit ahead of ours on November Hill. It was a fabulous five days and I got a lot of work done. 

Back home in Poplar Folly, the newly-titled Prince of Poplar shows off his throne.

Keil Bay’s ACTH came back at 68.5, so the vet has prescribed Prascend and since we’re at the end of the seasonal rise and his number is not sky-high, I’ve consulted with my homeopathic vet and will be using a protocol of two remedies between now and January. We’ll redo the test, see where his level is, and proceed from there. I have the Prascend ready if we need to do a slow tapering on of that medication. The good news is, it’s early PPID if at all, so hopefully he won’t ever experience a negative symptom beyond the mild skin infections he had this summer.

The asters are going completely nuts and a few days ago I spotted the first honey bees I’ve seen this year. The asters were covered in honey bees! Check out her pollen basket!

Meanwhile, inside, Pixie proves once and for all that girls LOVE science.

And the Prince of Poplar keeps his eye on the kingdom from his front window perch. I rely on him to let me know if I need to check anything out.

Overall, it’s a beautiful time here. The dogwoods are peaking in color and the oaks are starting to change now. The leaves are falling and temps are dropping and projects are slowly moving forward. Right now I’m still finishing up what’s already on my plate. Not planning anything new for the rest of this year. This Monday the barn is getting a thorough cleaning inside and we’ll be making a few small repairs to get it ready for the winter months. I have a couple of already-in-progress projects that we’ll finish up and enjoy. The main project is to enjoy November and this amazing herd!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Friday, October 12, 2018

November Hill farm journal, 64 (senior horse care, more plants, and hurricane Michael)

It’s been a busy week here. It began with us finally getting to a little work on the cottage in town. After the laundry room and kitchen tile was installed we hit a very busy spell and finishing things up got on the back burner. Tuesday we painted the laundry room a lovely coral color (official paint name was peach preserves!) and had headboard paneling installed on the lower three feet or so of the wall. That is being painted white and then the plain board trim will be installed at the top and bottom of the paneling for a nice cottage effect - but mainly because it will be easy to keep clean without all the bevels in more modern trimwork. I think it’s going to look very nice. Door jambs are also being put in, and next will be some curtains and a stacked washer/dryer. This will also serve as the entrance and waiting area for my office, so I’ll be putting in a chair and table with lamp and some wall decor too. The cottage was power-washed and it was good to see it so clean. Of course my mind was racing forward with the next project - new shutters.

Keil Bay had his senior check-up this week. I had been a little stressed by the vet’s note that during exam when he had the choke episode she detected a mild heart murmur. He’s 29, so that’s not unusual, but of course I worried. During his exam this week the heart murmur was not detected at all, so she said it was probably just something to do with the choke and his heart has great rhythm and all is well. His body condition is perfect, his eyes are almost totally clear of any age-related changes. One small area in his left eye has the very beginnings of change, but she says that is totally normal and she doesn’t think it’s affecting his vision at all. She updated his rabies and Coggins and pulled blood to do a basic check on levels and also for Cushings and insulin resistance, mostly as a precaution. She says he is great and I should go ahead and start riding him again as the weather cools - and if he has any issues with light work we can discuss adding something to help with stiffness, etc. if that presents itself. I’m so happy he’s doing so well.

Good genes, good nutrition, barefoot hoof care, thoughtful riding, and the ability to move 24/7 are the secret to his senior health, I think. He’s been on human grade, therapeutic levels of evidence-based joint supplements since he was 15 years old, gets most of his calories from forage, and has been ridden with care, meaning long, slow warm-ups and attention to his cues under saddle. At 29 he’s sound at the walk/trot/canter but I’m extremely attentive to how he feels.

The day before Hurricane Michael roared into Florida and then up through North Carolina, I took a drive out to Mellow Marsh Farm, a local, native plant nursery, and picked up two redbuds, a persimmon, three inkberry hollies, a small flat of big bluestem, and two Virginia Sweetspires. All these will go in Poplar Folly. The redbuds and persimmon will replace the huge tulip poplars that were taken down. They’re much smaller trees and should never present any issue to power lines. The inkberries will fill in a gap on the outside of my very back fencing. The Virginia Sweetspires are lovely pollinator-friendly shrubs which will create some texture back there and feed the bees. The big bluestem is a thick, tall native grass that I’m putting in an area outside our fencing that feels very bare after they removed the huge red oak outside our back gate. Hopefully it will thrive and get big - it turns a lovely red in the fall and winter so will be a nice splash of color back there. All of these plantings are pollinator friendly - my bee hives are going back there now that the huge trees are gone and there’s a sunny corner that will have the hill behind it as a windbreak and good drainage. I’ll put a small fence to enclose that corner to keep the dogs away from the hives, and I’ll be setting the hives up soon to overwinter and get ready for the bees in the spring.

Yesterday the hurricane moved through. We had three inches of rain, winds gusting at 50 mph, and lost power for 12 hours, but no trees came down, our fences are intact, and we are all safe and sound this morning. The sun came up over Crow Forest (which was clearcut five years ago but is now grown back enough I can call it a forest again, albeit a young one!), I made coffee with good beans and oat milk, and it’s good to see the sunshine painting the trees out my windows.

Sending warm thoughts to all displaced by this monster hurricane. I truly hope we’re done for this season.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Confirmed! We have Southern Crownbeard volunteering in Poplar Folly

Plant Details

Verbesina occidentalis

Southern Crownbeard

Scientific Name:

Verbesina occidentalis

Common Name:

Southern Crownbeard

Plant Family

Asteraceae (Aster Family)


NC Native



Bloom Color(s):


Size in Feet:



Sun - part sun

Soil Moisture:


Bloom Time:

Aug - Oct

Bloom Area:

Statewide (Mountains, Piedmont, Coast)

Habitat Description:

Forests, woodlands, pastures, and roadsides, especially abundant in alluvial areas or upslope over mafic or calcareous rocks. Common throughout NC.

State Rank:

No NC Rank Listed (*)

Global Rank:

No Global Rank listed (*)

State Status:

No NC Status Listed (*)

Federal Status:

No U.S. Status Listed (*)


Sometimes confused with Common WingStem (Verbesina alternifolia) - Wingstem has alternate leaves as indicated by the name "alternifolia." Southern Crownbeard has opposite leaves.

This plant has special value to bumblebees and honeybees. 

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Poplar Folly, a few photos

I’ve been pulling out the invasive Japanese stilt-grass for the past month or so and look what happens when you clear it to make room for natives to thrive:

This is one pile of the poplar logs that were taken down by the power company. They are awaiting processing by a portable sawmill so we can use the wood to renovate the feed room. 

The teeth of a poplar:

This flowering plant has come up around the edges of several of the brush piles. I’m not sure what it is yet, but it’s very pretty.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

November Hill farm journal, 63

Last Sunday I went to the barn and realized quickly that something wasn’t quite right with Keil Bay, so I called the vet and as I had feared, he was having a choke episode. I’ve been through one sedated tubing through the nose to clear the blockage with our sweet old mare Salina years back. Hers was in the middle of the night and seems surreal in my memory at this point.

Keil is 29 and I’ve only ever had to call the vet a few times for him. Twice for corneal scratches, once when he embedded a small twig under the skin on his neck, and once for a very small cut on a hind leg. I was very stressed. Initially he presented with a cough but between the time I called the vet and she arrived 40 minutes later he had become agitated, was coughing much more frequently, and clearly wanted me to Do Something Now.

My daughter noted when she got home and came to join me at the barn that the blockage was visible on the exterior of his neck. She gently massaged him until the vet arrived and that helped him settle down.

The tubing was nightmarish. The first attempt was difficult and his nose started bleeding copious amounts of blood. I went from almost in tears to my “emergency in progress, go into robotic calm mode” status and between me, by daughter, the vet, and sedation, got the block cleared. In the midst of it, with all of us covered in blood, Keil turned and gave me the stink eye. I think that’s when I realized he was going to be just fine.

He’s on two weeks of SMZs and is doing fine. The first 24 hours after the choke he got many soupy meal tubs and no hay, but was allowed to graze with his herd. He has since moved on to regular tubs with an extra meal mid-day and his regular hay (but we’re wetting it down). All is well, and he’s got a regular check up in another week so the vet can go over him generally and just make sure everything is okay.

Otherwise, we had half an inch of rain this week, nicely supplementing my hand-watering of the beds, and now we’re back to sunny and cooler weather, which is wonderful. I harrowed the arena today, did some work in the back field, and got up a lot of acorns. It’s time to spread lime pellets and overseed in the next couple of weeks.

Life has been busy and a little stressful, partly due to Keil’s choke and partly due to the goings-on in DC. What a week.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Autumnal equinox in the pollinator garden

Lots of interesting things are happening today in the pollinator garden. The asters are soon to burst out, and Joe Pye weed and Eastern horsemint are looking beautiful in a whole new way. There’s also a large non-native pollinator doing some work in the garden!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

November Hill farm journal, 62

The sunshine is back, things are drying out, and yesterday my farm helper spent an entire day clearing fallen branches, mostly small, nothing requiring chainsawing, and created a new brush pile with what he got up.

Some days I want the brush piles gone. We have a number of them in different areas of the farm from all the work he’s done over the past year. The early ones are nearly gone, and I notice month to month the height of the piles gets lower as the bottom mulches down. In the long run the soil will benefit, in the short run we are providing habitat for birds and bunnies and probably mice and snakes.

Now, as I type this, the red-shouldered hawks are calling outside. Our nights are cooler now and the mornings feel like fall. Today marks the day when the horses were given hay in the pasture and will wait until mid-morning to come in for breakfast and fans. Gradually we’ll change them over to day-time turn-out, and for most of the fall and winter season, nearly 24-hour turn-out. That’s the time of year to finally get to some barn chores I want to wrap up before cold arrives. (It’s almost impossible to imagine cold, but I trust my experience that it will indeed come!)

I met with our local sawmill guy right before Hurricane Florence blew in. He says we have plenty of poplar for the feed/tack room walls, and that poplar will take paint well - stain not so well - and that it has a nice grain if I want to simply use tung oil on it.

We have some red oak as well, not quite enough for the floor, but if we end up deciding to take down another red oak on the property we could easily put in a nice wide plank oak floor in the room. He looked at all our remaining red oaks, at least 2 of which are suffering from a root disease that he said is besieging red oaks in this area. One is beyond use in terms of wood - it just needs to be taken down and mulched. A second one needs to come down soon if we are to get any wood from it. I’ve learned we have a down-the-road neighbor who runs a tree service and I’m on his call list after the emergency work due to the hurricane is done.

Now the hard part is how to get the big tree trunk sections from inside Poplar Folly to the flat grassy area behind it without a tractor. My farm helper has an idea. So the plan is to have the sawmill guy return to mark the wood that can definitely be milled, get it in place for his portable sawmill, have him cut it, put it on our truck, and bring it around via the main road to our barnyard where we will sticker stack it and put some kind of tin roof over it so it can dry and await the renovation of the tack/feed room.

I’m excited and will be happy to get the wood processed so we can finally spruce up Poplar Folly. It’s a mess right now with all the wood lined up and the brush piles and the ground so bare after all the work that has been done over the past year. I’ve been pulling Japanese stilt grass and carefully leaving the native ferns and other things. When the leaves fall this year we’ll have the start of a good forest topsoil again. I’ve spread stall waste down the path in advance of leaves falling in hopes to get the grassy path we used to have back again. That helped the erosion when it rains and also made such a nice path to walk and ride the mower down. It’s a process.

The botanical garden annual sale is coming up so I plan to really focus on my native pollinators for the shaded bed and will fill in a few gaps in the sunny beds. My American beautyberry is thriving but not forming the beautiful fuchsia berries it’s named for, and it’s possible it’s just not getting enough sun where it is, so I’m going to find a sunny spot and move it this fall. The plant sale is amazing and so much fun - I’m really looking forward to it.

I’m pleased to report that all the trenching my farm helper did and the gravel we had put in did the trick. No more waterway ending in a waterfall through my sunny pollinator beds! By working with the natural lay of the land and giving the water a nice path to follow it’s all going where it would end up anyway but circumventing a few areas we don’t want it to be along the way.

The horses are good, cats and Corgis good, and we’re all enjoying this cool September morning as the sun climbs and throws sunny arrows of light across the farm.

Life is good. I send good thoughts to all those for who it is still a big mess due to wind, rain, and flood waters. We’ve had a huge amount of flooding in our area, with roads closed and detours all over the place. Our coast has in many areas been ravaged. If you will, take a moment and send some positive thought their way. And donate for relief if you can. It takes years to recover from this kind of natural disaster.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Checking in as Hurricane Florence whirls through

We’re fine here, with about 5 inches of rain total since last Monday, and wind that has gusted, blown steady, and currently died down quite a bit. We lost power for about 22 hours but had water set aside for us and for animals and for flushing toilets. Food and hay stocked in as well, and my grandma’s oil lamps with extra oil and wicks from Lehman’s were very useful last night when night fell.

Many areas of NC are flooding and have sustained huge damage, and I hope everyone comes through with the least possible upheaval.

If you’re in the path, please check in and update in the comments!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Prepping For Hurricane Florence, with a little help from some friends

Yes, this is really how it looked at the barn this afternoon. Who would believe a hurricane is on its way?

Stay safe, everyone in the path.

PSA for those living with donkeys - a couple of great resources

First, this book which I reviewed recently on Goodreads:

The Clinical Companion of the Donkey

And from this book, a link to purchase a donkey weight tape, since the equine ones are not accurate on small ponies and donkeys:

Donkey Weight Tape

I’ve estimated Rafer and Redford’s weight for years and now I can get a lot more accurate about it. The book is a must-have if you live with donkey companions.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

November Hill farm journal, 61

Fall is quickly approaching, though not so much fall temperatures yet. Leaves are beginning to fall, the sound of acorns on the horse trailer and the metal barn roof and even just the back deck sound loud enough to startle a person.

I was on a writing retreat for the past week and of course the day after I left home Duke Energy called to say they were coming to resume the tree cutting on the back of our property. Husband was thankfully able to work from home to monitor things. The crew they sent was respectful, efficient, and didn’t make a bit of mess. The tulip poplars are now in logs waiting for the local sawmill guy to come process them into wood we can use to finish the walls and floor of our tack/feed room.

The corner where most of the trees were is now open and sunny in the mornings. I’m thinking that might be a good place to close off for bee hives, but will see how it looks once the logs are all removed.

They’ll be going down the long sides of the power cut soon, and that will be its own ordeal to endure, but at least the white prehistoric monster machines won’t be coming anywhere near our back fence.

Although a little stressed about the work being done here on November Hill, I had a lovely week of writing with two old and dear writer friends in a very lovely Airbnb home in Southern Pines. I got a tremendous amount of work done and it was such a needed getaway. I came home Friday, stopped in to check on animals, and then headed to my second Native Plant Studies certificate course at the botanical garden. This one is Taxonomy and it’s going to be fun.

Keil Bay had some kind of nasty bug bite while I was away that necessitated the sending and perusing of photographs and discussing the clinical details of things like tissue and pus. The vet was called and photos sent to him and he felt we could manage it, which has turned out to be true. The bite was swollen hard and did a fair amount of draining and is now resolving. I spent several hours in the barn yesterday and today grooming and paying a lot of attention to the Big Bay and his herdmates. In the midst of this something got into my muck boot, beneath pants leg AND sock, and bit ME. It’s made a nasty itchy red area on my leg. I’m not sure what kind of insects are doing these bites, but it’s been a particularly yucky summer in that regard.

There are a lot of chores still to do out there but I was drenched and came in for a shower!

I’ve been filling in a couple of new native pollinator plants a week from the botanical gardens, one of the perks of going to classes there. This week they had two very nice shade plants and tomorrow morning I’ll be starting a whole new native pollinator bed, on the side of our driveway, and this one will be shade plants. I’m excited to get that going, and there are still many plants in my original two beds that are fall-blooming so the show isn’t over yet!

Cats and Corgis are happy and I think as ready as I am for the shift to cooler temperatures.

Projects that pushed their way to the top of my list:
- the trees, sawmill, and tack/feed room work
- broken hinges on dryer door
- broken fan in master bath

I’m just taking it one day at a time. :)

Thursday, August 30, 2018

And... on Corgis and little donkeys

The Corgis are going out on the full farm on a near-daily basis, with rainy/muddy days the only times I hold back letting them romp. They are doing a super job with recall, with me, wait, and this way commands, and Baloo has now mastered stay!

We’ve had close encounters with donkeys, pony, and the two big guys, with no issues.

But the real test has, I think, been passed.

In the mornings, this time of year, the herd comes into the barn for breakfast and stays in with hay and fans through the heat of the day. Usually the donkeys lie down in their stall after breakfast, and their door opens to our back yard gate, where the Corgis charge out like torpedos when I give the command.

For several weeks the donkeys always jumped up as the dogs burst out, with good reason, though the dogs never offered to go through the fence or even glance at them.

I think it says something that for the past full week the donkeys stay down and just glance as the Corgis pass by.

I’m so happy we’re to this point with my plan to gradually mix it up with canines and equines.

And on a how cute is this note, this morning Baloo, upon hearing the command quiet, lowered his woof to a tiny little dog whisper woof woof woof.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Monarda punctata, aka Eastern horse-mint and spotted bee balm

This is the plant I most fell in love with last spring when I took a pollinator plant workshop, the one I ran for at NC Botanical Garden’s plant sale last fall, and the one that has taken my breath away this summer as it has grown, bloomed, and thrived in my pollinator beds.

Recently I had to describe a flower botanically in my botany class and this is the flower I chose. In a nutshell, it’s so beautiful!

Friday, August 17, 2018

November Hill farm journal, 60

Rain, rain, a little more rain, and today help is coming in the form of a big load of mulch to top off the area behind the backyard fence, create a new “berm” along the new river route that seems to be forming every time it rains lately, replace the washed-away mulch in the new “river bed,” and finally get the inkberry hollies in back mulched. This along with some trenching should get us back to the usual water flow patterns.

Every time I see a dump truck for sale I think “I need that” - wouldn’t it be nice to be able to go get loads of mulch and stone whenever I need them?

I spent some time earlier this week propping up pollinator plants that have gotten so tall they are now tipping over. Next year I will follow the advice I was given to pinch the tall-growing ones back early in the season so they get bushier and not so beanstalk-y.

It’s been a nice few days at the barn, just following the routine of mucking, feeding, grooming, hanging out with the herd. Yesterday Keil Bay and I got a rare treat. Our massage therapist came and set up her traveling table and hot stones in the living room. Ninety minutes of bliss and then we shifted to the barn aisle for Keil Bay’s hour. He immediately went into his bodywork endorphin zone and yawned, licked, chewed, googled his eyeballs, and turned about 50 times to thank H for being such a good massage therapist!

I came inside happy and relaxed.

Sometimes good things come to an abrupt end. When I went back to feed dinner and turn out, Rafer was mildly lame on his right hind for no apparent reason. Hoof looks great, he just got trimmed Tuesday, no heat, no evidence of anything. Fetlock maybe a tiny bit puffy but he was using his leg and did put weight on that hoof so I turned him out hoping that the normal routine would be the best medicine. He’s about the same this morning. I’m keeping them all out until mid-morning so some cleaning can be done in the barn, and if he seems any worse when I bring them in I’ll call the vet.

(Really hoping this is not the “A” word)

After checking Rafer last night, Keil Bay coughed about five times and I went into a panic thinking he was choking. Nothing coming out of nostrils, nothing alarming. Sometimes a cough is just... a cough. But as I was assessing that, a huge horsefly landed on my back and I came inside with four big bites.

A little witch hazel and all was well again.

I’m hoping the work today prevents a big mess tomorrow when, you guessed it, more rain is predicted!

In the big picture, I slept really well, feel good this morning, and am grateful for my time on the table yesterday. All are healthy and happy with one sweet little exception, and we’ll get him back to normal soon. I’m focusing on the acorns falling, muscadines turning, and a few less biting insects than has been true, big horsefly notwithstanding. :)

Thursday, August 09, 2018

November Hill farm journal, 59

We’ve had 5+ inches of rain since August 1st and about that much the last two weeks in July, so it is a jungle here. The arena desperately needs harrowing, I’ve been too busy to do it, and now the pollinator beds need some work replacing mulch which has been displaced by all the water flowing.

On the plus side, I haven’t had to hand water anything in a month!

We’ve had a break from high heat until this week. Several days nearing the mid-90s have necessitated hosing the horses again. Yesterday evening I went out to the barn to find Keil Bay sweating and his nostrils were flaring a tiny bit. A good hosing and scraping cooled him down, and I got him set up in his double stall with hay and fresh water while the daily thunderstorm blew in.

A few signs of hope (ie autumn approaching): acorns starting to fall, horses shedding summer coat, muscadines still green but large enough to be visible.

Last weekend I had my first botany class and really enjoyed it. I brought home two new asters for the pollinator garden and three new books to read. I just realized I haven’t done my homework yet! The week has flown by, one of the busiest weeks of the summer. Tonight my son and his significant other arrive for a visit and we’ll be gathering with my family to send off a nephew to a brand new job in Denver. The young ones are growing up.

The pony is in daily work still, with a marked change in his weight and muscling. The (not that huge) fat pads at his shoulders are gone and his withers is now much more prominent. His muscling has developed again and he has that sleek barrel curve that indicates fitness. I need to get a photo of him and wish we had thought to do a before photo as well. The important thing is he is looking good and seems to be feeling good too. He loves the work and I suspect especially the attention from his girl.

Keil looks older to me this week. I won’t put him back into work until September but as fall nears I hope to get him into an easy work schedule and to get Cody back into work as well. I miss riding. My body misses riding! I’m back in massage therapy after a long summer without it, and have a chiro appointment next week.

In other news, which I don’t think I’ve shared here, we purchased back in April a small cottage in town for my mother-in-law. Honeysuckle Cottage is a cute home on a very large lot, and it has huge potential to be something really special. We’re renovating it bit by bit, starting with a few necessary updates/repairs, and then on to things that will make it beautiful. As if I need another list of things to do! But thankfully it’s being a good home already and will only get better as we go. The first improvement was repairing some soft sub-flooring in the laundry room and installing beautiful tile in the laundry room and kitchen. Now we’re working on furnace/AC repair. Seems it’s the summer for that here AND there.

The next project here on November Hill is not a fun one but has to be done. The drainage ditch that runs from the top of our lane on our strip of property needs to be cleared. With all this rain, much of it coming very quickly, we’ve had some road damage. Nothing too bad but it will help to clear the ditch, and that’s on the docket for next week.

A friend posted a photo of her barn aisle recently on Facebook, and that got me thinking about our own barn aisle. Anyone have thoughts about using pavers in sand instead of mortar? Hers looks so good and so elegantly classic, I am tempted to do it here. Once the horses can stay out some during the days without being savaged by biting insects, we can move on with some barn maintenance.

I’m resisting the urge here to list the next things on my list. Right now I just want to focus on this cooler morning, the sun shining, and the hummingbird outside the front porch. And these two keeping me company.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Notes on miniature donkey nutrition

Over the past few years I have had Rafer and Redford on the same balanced diet I feed the horses. They get a very small amount of Ontario Dehy Timothy Balance Cubes (these are totally balanced nutritionally and can be used as a complete feed if necessary) and I balance our hay to insure that copper and zinc are in correct proportion to iron. The diet has been really good for the horses, and the donkeys too look super healthy.

To this I have a custom formulated mix that adds in other things horses are known to need. My seniors get special supplements, as does the PSSM Quarter Horse.

All get loose salt, freshly ground flax, and vitamin E gelcaps added to their feed tubs.

Earlier this year I read a post on an equine nutrition group I’ve been part of since 2008. Someone’s very overweight miniature donkey had blood work done and they found that many of the levels of vitamins and minerals were too high. This donkey had been on a similarly balanced diet as my two.

The donkey’s human took him off all supplements with the intention of starting from a clean slate with blood work to guide her. The donkey lost weight and blood levels returned to normal.

This got me and a few other folks thinking. We know donkeys are extremely thrifty animals. They browse on more than just grass and hay, and sometimes it feels like they don’t need to be fed at all. Maybe we are overdoing it with them, treating them like horses, providing much more than what they really need.

So I put Rafer and Redford on a clean slate diet. Just their bit of soaked cubes AM and PM, and much less hay than what they were getting. We have decent pasture this time of year and they have 24/7 access to it. I decided to see what happened if they were in charge of foraging for almost all of their food.

Remarkably, Rafer (the heavier of the two, with some fat pads evident) lost weight quickly. He trimmed down to a very lovely shape. Redford is very muscular and not as prone to gaining weight as is Rafer, and he too trimmed down, just not as much. I felt awful that I’d been over-supplementing them. They just didn’t need it!

Meanwhile, midsummer, the outsides of their front legs got itchy and formed scabs. At first Redford, then Rafer, and we treated them daily for several weeks getting things under control. Then it occurred to me that the fresh ground flax, salt, and vitamin E were all things that might help the skin thing, so we put them back on those items, carefully measuring the small amount of flax they get each day. Legs cleared right up and we’re back on track.

I thought I was doing the very best for them, only to realize I was doing far too much. Lesson learned. I think it’s worthwhile to revisit what we’re doing diet-wise at least once a year. A friend in the nutrition group takes her horses off all supplements for a month each year in the fall and then carefully monitors to see which horse needs what before carefully adding only what they need back in to their diets. I think this is a good practice!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The busiest place on November Hill: native pollinator garden!

Loving the pollinator garden! All the activity is exactly why I planted it. Here’s a shot from yesterday. There were so many critters flying around me, each finding their favorite native plants to visit.

I’m also excited to report that I’ve enrolled in the NC Botanical Garden’s Native Plant Studies certificate program. I’ll be taking 9 core courses plus a slew of electives over the next couple of years to complete the requirements, and at that point work with an advisor on a capstone project that I’ll implement and present with poster to receive my certificate. 

Watch for updates and more photos as I start this new journey on November Hill. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

November Hill farm journal, 58

I took this photo several weeks ago while waiting for Duke Energy tree crews to arrive and begin the cutting of the trees we negotiated allowing them to take down at the back of our property. What I was aiming to focus in on was the woodpecker who appears as the black thing mid-photo. I had mistakenly done the alarm call for birds thinking it would send them away, but as daughter reminded me later it BRINGS them, so I was suddenly surrounded by birds including two of these huge and gorgeous woodpeckers.

What I now see in the photo is the huge X. In runic tradition, X is Gebo, and generally represents a gift. It’s interesting that I didn’t see this that day as I looked up, but it is so prominent now.

The first day of cutting proceeded. The local Duke supervisor was there and the crews, employees of Burford Tree Services, were contracted by Duke to do the job. There was a bucket truck crew and a tree crew. With the known to us by now Duke supervisor on site I felt things were well in hand, and I told him I’d leave them to do their work. The first day went pretty well. The crews arrived much later than expected and they closed up shop by 4 p.m. so not that much actually got done. (I later learned they supposedly work 4 10-hour days but this is not what we experienced that week)

On the second day around 11 a.m. (they showed up for work around 9:30) I heard yelling, not work-related but like someone was having a party on the back of our farm. The single chainsaw was revving repeatedly, and when I got down to the back to see what was going on, I found huge branches  laying on the fence, the f-word being hurled in all directions, one guy in our tree while four stood on the ground doing nothing. Across the way in two bucket trucks were another five or so workers doing nothing.

I asked where the supervisor was and no one spoke. All the yelling and cursing stopped and even when I repeatedly asked who was in charge, silence. I told the tree crew to get the branches off the fence. No response. At that point I got louder and more commanding and finally one guy got the branches off the fence and another guy, who identified himself as the foreman, walked over. He was surly and unhelpful. I wanted to know why they were making so much noise, why they were not working, and why they thought bellowing the f-word so loud I could hear hear it on my back porch was professional, appropriate work behavior.

Again, no response from the foreman. I called the Duke supervisor who told me his truck was being repaired which was why he wasn’t on site. I told him what was going on and he said he was on the way. I was so upset I called my husband, who came home from work and supervised the back of the farm for the rest of the day, along with the area and regional supervisors from Duke, who later told me there were too many men on the job site with not enough work to do.

We also found trash dumped all over the place by the crews. Duke employees cleaned it up.

On Thursday the supervisor told me the tree crew had been sent home and told if they wanted to come back the following Monday, they would need to come prepared to behave like professionals. The bucket crew worked about a 7-hour day that Thursday, getting most of the trees outside our property line (but adjacent to a section of our fencing) down.

They have never come back. We’ve had rain and I’m not sure if that has made it impossible for them to work but none of what they had planned to do is complete. On one hand, it’s a relief not to have them here, but on another, it’s just dragging this out. We have timber that needs to be stacked and dried for the sawmill guy.

I’m not sure what the gift in all this is, but at the end of the third and final work day that week, the Duke supervisors asked if I could leave the back gate open because there was a very young fawn inside our back fence. With all the chaos back there I’m not sure why or how the fawn ended up there, but at least it was safe! We checked on it after dark and it was still there, so we left the gate open and made a hay trail leading out hoping its mother would come back for it. In the morning it was gone.

Since that week we’ve had peace and quiet and a lot of rain on November Hill. Yesterday we had such a deluge I was out at the barn with shovel and rake shifting water flow by trenching the rain away from the barn. We’re in the midst of doing some work back there anyway to redo some old French drains and put in grids in the barn and shelters, but this was stop-gap work to keep things from flooding near the barn.

The rain is a gift for sure but sometimes when it rains, it pours!

The herd is happy to have a break from the high heat. Yesterday, as the storm blew in, Keil left his double stall and stood in the doorway of the barn, looking out, watching the rain fall. It was peaceful in the barn and one of my favorite places to be when the weather gets a little crazy. For the horses the barn is shelter from the storm and the heat and the biting insects. For me, it’s a different kind of shelter, one that empties my mind of all that’s crazy in the world.

I suppose that is the big gift, right there.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Handsome Donkey Turns 11

Rafer Johnson is celebrating his 11th birthday today - and in honor of this handsome young man’s special day the entire of November Hill is putting on a show.

Butterflies are soaring, the charm of goldfinches are swooping as one, a pair of male Cardinals are having a mock battle. The second clutch of bluebirds have fledged, thanks to .65 inches of rain a couple of days ago everything is green and growing again.

Looking out the back window I see the tips of Rafer’s ears as he stands in the doorway of the stall he first slept in when he came to live with us. That first night he spent with Cody, teddy bear QH gelding who tends to be very laid back and easy to get along with.

The second night and for the next 7 or so years, Rafer stayed with Salina, his goddess mare, and then young Redford Donkey joined them. That trio were inseparable until Salina passed away at the age of 30.

Since then Rafer has bonded deeply with Apache Moon, our painted pony, and the new trio, Apache, Rafer, and Redford, are a united front and they share the stall on the near to the house side of the barn, their “porch” shelter outside it, and the grass paddock. Of course they all turn out with the big boys but it’s a sweet sight to see Rafer’s ears out the window the way I have for these 11 years.

Rafer remains the same loving, delightful donkey he has always been. On one hand it seems he just arrived yesterday. And on the other it seems he has been with us forever.

Happy happy birthday, sweet Rafer! Enjoy this midsummer day.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Garage area update!

The sun went behind a cloud just as I was taking the photo, and it’s slightly blurry on top of that, but here’s the nearly final result of the garage area update:

The grassy area up near the garage doors will be filled in with gravel. I’m leaving a strip of grass on either side from the retaining walls back. Note the new light fixture, the latest from Barn Light Electric! It matches the door hardware perfectly. As is the front porch fixture, this is wonderful quality and I am so happy with it.

The arbor above the garage doors is the next phase. I’m not sure if that will go up this fall or early next spring. I am reconsidering growing the existing rose over the arbor and thinking of taking the roses out of these beds and rehoming them to a more naturalized area along the fence going up the lane where they can trail along the fence and not require so much pruning to keep them tidy. If we do that, I will likely plant the native coral honeysuckle on either side of the garage doors and see if they grow enough to eventually meet over the garage entry door.

For now, I’m focusing on getting the gravel finished and adding some compost and another layer of mulch to these pollinator beds.

As I’m looking the photo right now as I type, I just imagined a November Hill plaque there by the entry door. We’ll see.

I’m happy to have things shaping up!