Friday, May 26, 2023

Stay At Home Writing Retreat

 I’ve had a great week of writing and digging in a little to a pandemic embroidery purchasing spree project. The hours in the garret doing creative work are great to balance out the psychotherapy work I do there (which is also creative, honestly), and last evening it was very cool, the wind was blowing, and there were many moments when it sounded like ocean surf outside. 

We all need this kind of time and I encourage people to take it, whether it is a week, a day, an afternoon, or even 15 minutes. Self care and creative time are things we need to flourish.

At the beginning of my week I pulled out printed copies of my TV/film projects - turns out I have 10, which is exciting. Of the 10, and nearing the end of my week,  I have 4 3/4 completed scripts and two pitch decks mostly done. While I’ve been focusing on writing for the screen this week I also noted that I have 6 novel mss that I have not done anything with in terms of getting them out into the world. I’ve been focusing a lot on short work the past few years and I’m not switching from one to the other, but I think it’s good to take inventory of my longer form material and bring one project at a time forward to get it fully finished and out the door. 

The projects:

The needle book project, perfect to practice different stitches and manageable enough to make good progress. Since the photo I have embellished the flowers quite a bit and will soon work on stems before continuing with the “book” structure. Please do not ask me how many kits I have stashed! 

When I go into something, I tend to go all the way, and without ever having done a single stitch, I purchased this magnifying lighted lamp thing that was “highly recommended.” And I can add my endorsement. It swivels to whatever position I need while I’m sitting comfortably in my chair and it takes the aging near-sighted woman to perfect vision land again. 

It’s nice to be learning a new thing and I’m really happy to have found the time this week to jump in the embroidery/stitching pool. If in doubt, there are wonderful YouTube videos on how to do the stitches. 

Today I’m spending time with my grandson and again tomorrow morning - tonight and tomorrow afternoon and on through Sunday I’ll be back to retreat time. Monday is back to client work and a very full schedule. For which I’ll be fresh and rejuvenated. 

Monday, May 22, 2023

November Hill farm journal, 183

 A few more photos from the farm this week. With everything blooming and growing, I can hardly keep up!

The volunteer elderberries, a wonderful native, have gone mad this year. This one has taken root in the compost behind the fallen tree that helps with run off after big rainfalls. I haven’t done a thing to this beauty. 

This one is in the middle of the upper pasture and the photo doesn’t capture how big it actually is. It looms above my head and you could easily climb inside and have room for several people to sit and talk. The birds love these shrubs.

This one has grown around the stump to an old oak that Salina became obsessed with - she chewed its bark and encouraged the rest of the herd to join her. They girdled it and it died. Since then we have wrapped the trees they have shown interest in chewing but I love that the elderberry chose this place to grow.

This is what I call the bluebird bed, due to the bluebird box that enjoys its proximity. I planted it here mostly because this corner is where an underground drain pipe comes out and the bed helps absorb the run off above ground on this slope. It’s a cheerful bed and I have some ideas about using the stone from the walkway to make it a little more visually interesting. 

The butterfly weed is looking really good this spring. I’m very happy to see it and am patiently waiting for the Monarchs to come. 

Many milkweed plants have popped up this year and this one is positioned by another patch of butterfly weed. I love these colors together - they’ll be even more striking when in full bloom. 

The first aster of the year blooms!

I love the purpling of the wild Columbine leaves, and find the layers of pale green to purple to tan so comforting to look at. I could see a sweater with these colors. If I ever manage my knitting goal, I will make one! 

The gardens are full of color combinations that make me want to take some courses in botanical illustration. 

This week I’m doing a stay at home writing retreat and spent many happy hours yesterday in my garret working on screenplay projects. What a joy to have that work punctuated by walks out to the horses, donkeys, pony, bees, and gardens. 

Saturday, May 20, 2023

November Hill farm journal, 182

 I’ve taken a week off that started Thursday (my weekend is Thursday-Sunday) and runs until next Monday, so really 10 days total. So far I have just relaxed into the usual November Hill routine and we had a quiet, rainy day yesterday that was good for the earth and also good in its muted light because the weather shift triggered migraine symptoms. I will say that migraine on a quiet, rainy day with horses is better than a lot of other kinds of days in general, so I am not complaining. 

I have had a chance the past few days to get out and take a look at the farm. 

Some work needed to be done on this pollinator bed and since taking the photo, I cut back the goldenrod in the lower bed so the downy wood mint is more prominent, and my farm helper has removed the butterfly bush in the upper left bed. This is the last non-native that is in this bed and it definitely looks empty in that corner without it. Okay, I do have a cherry tree in the bed that isn’t native, but I’m excluding fruit trees I’ve planted! We have left the roots intact until I figure out what to plant there. Next I need to remove a lot of the goldenrod in the upper bed - possibly all of them - as this species is aggressive and best suited to its own larger space where the spread is a good thing. The plant itself is wonderful fall forage for pollinators and gorgeous too, so my removal of it from this small space isn’t a judgement on the plant but a correction of my own planting error. 

This is a view of the other side of the driveway. I’m pretty happy with this bed overall, and with the strip on the other side of the walkway I worked on last year. Everything seems happy and the only big things to do are transplant the non-native daffodils to an area I’m allowing them to be, on either side of the barnyard gate. They are cheerful in spring and frame that gateway so nicely. 

I love all the plants in these two beds, but I will say that if you want to plant one thing for a big pollinator draw, the button bush, which in this bed looks like a small tree, is amazing. It has grown quickly and easily and when it blooms, it will be a magnet for bees and butterflies and moths and all kinds of pollinator insects. 

Moving to Poplar Folly, I am mightily impressed this year with the elderberries we planted in live stake form a couple of years ago. This group is in shade during spring/summer/fall and while they are not blooming as well as those that volunteered in the full sun of the front pasture, they are doing well and also doing a terrific job of slowing and absorbing rainwater run off on this back slope. The benefit of live stakes is their very inexpensive cost (so you can get a lot of them for almost nothing) and because planting them in that form in the fall of the year means they will put all their energy into root systems, which gives you immediate assistance in controlling run off and erosion. 

Over the fence looking at Arcadia, the apiary area, I became enchanted with the patterns the un-mown grass made after all the rain. It’s hard to see with all the green, but in the foreground is one of the inkberry hollies I planted several years back. They have done very well and are getting tall enough to offer some screening back there, as well as being great pollinator plants and also wildlife and bird forage with their inky black berries.

More of the grassy swirl and one of my bee hives that I’d cleaned out after its colony died out last winter. My plan was to put this hive box on top of Artemis colony as a super, but it was quickly moved into by a swarm and we’ll see if they can build up enough before next winter to make it through.

Yesterday I was leaning in to see this interesting “coiled stem” when I realized it was not a plant stem but a very elegant and lovely snake. Such a beautiful coloring and obviously well camouflaged.

A longer view of the apiary area. This year we have had an influx of volunteer buckeyes in Poplar Folly and Arcadia. I will leave some of them and remove some, as there are too many in close quarters. 

Back to the front with a long view of the walkway. I am going to remove the stones and use them to create some interesting groupings in several beds, and see if I can find rectangular gray stone to make a more uniform and safe walkway that is less work to maintain. 

It’s hard to see here but I have put in woodland phlox and foamflower into an empty spot on the right. The tiny woodland phlox plants I put in last year didn’t make it so this time I got larger, hardier plants and am hoping they’ll thrive.

There’s so much milkweed and butterfly weed coming in this year! I’m hoping we get a bumper crop of monarchs. 

The two possum haws I planted several years ago have really grown into lovely shrubs along the barnyard fence. 

They too are good native pollinators and the flowers are quite lovely. As the summer shifts to fall, the leaves will turn a brilliant red, so these have many season interest value. 

It’s been a treat to have time to be among the plantings here on November Hill, and in some ways sad, because we are starting to look for a new farm closer to the university where my daughter will start her PhD work in the fall, with our goal being to find a larger farm, reduce her commute time, and avoid the development that is beginning to gain momentum on this side of the county where we live. We aren’t in a big rush, and have time to look for just the right place, but every day when I notice a certain plant thriving or the goldfinches flying, or any of the many joys this farm brings me, I feel sad. 

Change is hard, and we will have a fair amount coming up with this plan to move, but there will be new adventures to be had. November Hill has been a joy and a labor of love, and we’ll leave it much better than we found it, though it was lovely from the very first day we set foot here. 

Thankfully we will not be listing it while we’re here, so I’ll continue enjoying it and tending it and improving it until the day we hand over the keys and the stewardship responsibilities to the next people who I trust will find it every bit as amazing as we do. 

Friday, May 12, 2023

Moving On

 Yesterday went well for the Big Handsome Bay so last night I decided to let him turn out with his herd for the first time since last Sunday. We did not put any hay out but let them all graze, as he’s been getting grazing time all week and doing well with it. 

He was happy this morning but also hungry, and dear husband said he took a lead rope off its hook from instead his stall and tossed it into the barn aisle while waiting for his morning tub. 

When I went out to feed breakfast tubs to him and to everyone else, he took his halter off its hook and spun it around and around in the air building momentum and then let it fly. I’ve seen him do this before but it’s been awhile! I tried to get some video footage of him but he decided once was enough, I guess. 

I’m not sure the video has loaded properly, but I gave it a shot!

Trying to move on but also still monitoring his intake and output, and of course stressing any time frame without manure, which is not altogether reasonable. 

He’s happy for now and we’ll see how things go. 

Monday, May 08, 2023

Need Jingles For Keil Bay

Hopefully a final update: 

This morning Keil Bay had dropped four good manure piles in the arena where he spent the night, with his herd wrapped around him in the paddock and back pasture. He is in good spirits and has had very good heart rate and gut sounds while eating and drinking and pooping and peeing. The signs of a healthy, functioning system. 

We’re continuing his simple, small, very wet meals through this evening, and will gradually dial back the soupiness level toward what we normally feed him, which is wet but not soupy. I’m putting just one hanging water bucket with plain water in his stall today so I can insure he is back to drinking normally from that, and we’ll continue monitoring heart rate and gut sounds and gum color. He’s also getting short grazing sessions, but no hay yet. 

I’m not sure what caused this - the vet thinks something caused him to stop drinking water - could be as simple as a change in weather, a tooth that hurt, some small thing - so now the impaction has cleared, we just need to do some detective work to make sure he is taking in water the way he normally does moving forward. 


24 hours after the previous update below, the Big Bay has dropped many piles of manure since last night’s first pile. We have monitored him like hawks all day, and celebrated every new pile. By mid-day today, he was whinnying for food, and by the late afternoon banging on his stall door. Around 6 p.m. he had been drinking water and dropped a huge manure pile and the vet approved the reintroduction of small soupy meals of timothy balance cubes soaked to the point of being soupy mush. He’ll spend another night in the arena but tonight he’ll have a tub of soup with him. Small and frequent wet meals for another 24 hours. Unless he knocks the barn down first. So grateful for his coming through this. 


 UPDATE: It’s 10:48 p.m. and when I went out to check on the Big Bay, I found a single horse apple in the middle of the arena. Then kept looking found a small pile of 12 more! Wet and shiny. Possibly TMI for the average person but my horse folk will get it and rejoice. :))) He needs to do this three more times, but it’s the best news of the day! Before I came in earlier this evening I walked over to the A marker behind which Salina is buried and I talked to her and asked her to watch out for Keil Bay tonight. It wouldn’t surprise me if she did her boss mare thing from beyond and got things moving for him. 


This morning he wasn’t interested in food at all and seemed off - thankfully our vet was able to come almost immediately. He has an impaction colic - no manure today yet and he’s not drinking. Vet has administered nasogastric fluids around noon today and again around 7 p.m. He’s had pain med injection x2 and honestly doesn’t seem to be in pain. Still very interested in peppermints (I made peppermint water, Aqua Aid water, plain water, water with ice cubes, and water from hose, water in different buckets, water in troughs. He’ll lick my hands and lap up some but what we need now is manure to drop and him to start drinking so he doesn’t have to be tubed. Yes, he can smell the peppermint I have in my pocket and has been rooting for it. 

For tonight vet has approved him being in the arena with his herd in the paddock and pasture adjacent so they can be close but we can tell if he drops any manure through the night. Dear husband is on his way home with a stethoscope so we can monitor heart rate, which vet says is a very good way to monitor how things are going for him, along with checking color of his gums.  

His massage therapist has given me some techniques to try and when I do it he yawns repeatedly, closes his eyes, and then goes and lifts his tail - so far nothing has come out but he’s trying! I’m also using a homeopathic remedy that might help. 

His heart rate is good and not increasing and he has just a few gut sounds on one side only (good that there are any at all but we want more!). 

He is interested in food which vet feels is a good sign. But we just do not know how things will go tonight and tomorrow. At his age (34) we won’t be sending him to the vet school. Thankfully our vet lives 15 minutes from us and he is amazing, so Keil Bay is in good hands through this. I hope for the very best outcome for him, but we do know he’s had a long and very good life, and while it will break my heart if this doesn’t resolve, he has been and will remain The King. Best horse ever in my life, dream horse, heart horse, and a joy to all of us. 

Send some jingles his way and I’ll update when I can. 

This is him a few minutes ago:

Friday, May 05, 2023

Good time to repost this: What Happened When I Stopped Trying To Do Everything

 Oldie but goodie post from 2017. We had to take a break for 9 months this year from our farm and house help, but recently restarted it for a day every other week. We’ve had two days now of the same amazing people coming in and helping. We pay a very good wage, what they more than deserve, and we get relief from some of the things we find it hard to get done. Win/win. I’m so grateful. I bolded the paragraph that I need to clearly remember! 

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.

Monday, May 01, 2023

November Hill farm journal, 181

 The first day of May! Which means our busy April has come and gone, with many birthdays celebrated, including Apache Moon, Keil Bay, dear husband, and dear daughter, whose cake has become a tradition for all of us:

We’re so proud of her graduating this week and moving on to her PhD program in the fall. She earned the honor of Outstanding Senior in the School of Sciences and these two birthday lemurs showed up to commend her. 

In other news, the herd had hoof trims on Saturday and the trimmer said she thought Keil Bay was the most stable she’s seen him, so I’m very happy that was noticeable to her. Overall he’s doing well and the biggest challenge to the herd these days is our see-sawing weather. Rain, heat, chilly, you name it. 

This week we had two very big rains and our garage flooded - not totally but it’s been awhile since we had this happen, so it was not a great surprise. Drying things out with fans and have reached out to see if we can have some waterproofing done. 

Am continuing to work in the garden beds and enjoying all the blooming things. I added a couple of new native species to my front bed - foam flower and woodland phlox - and will update my native plant series soon. 

Spending time at the desk Mondays - Wednesdays with a plan to soon get to spending some time there Thursdays with writing work. I enjoy my space and the work I do and I also love the joyful things I have arranged there to give me little breaks and good energy:

I found this pony figure at a craft fair several years ago and the name of the studio? Fat Pony Studios. I could not resist. 

It’s time, in my personal opinion, for a calm and easy month of puttering and working and enjoying the season. May you have that too, in whatever form makes you happy. 

Monday, April 24, 2023

An oldie but a goodie post that was getting some traction last night/on horses and intention/empathy


lest you think horses lack intention and empathy

This morning Salina had an appointment with her massage therapist. Salina is 28 years old with one eye, arthritic knees, and I have said many times that she has become the heartbeat of November Hill. There is nothing that happens on this plot of land that escapes her attention. She is my partner. While I am inside, not always alert to the goings-on in the pastures that surround our house, my most trusted way of checking the "temperature" of the herd is to look out the window and find Salina. During the summer in the daytime she is often in the barn with hay and fans, and she seems to know when I look out that I need to see her face. She almost always puts her head out her window at just the moment I glance out needing to know what's going on. I know when things are okay from the way she holds her head and ears.

 At night she will come to my bedroom window and whinny if she needs the help of the humans in the family. There is no mistaking the tone in her call. It means COME NOW. 

This morning everyone had breakfast tubs and I had allowed Keil Bay to come to Salina and the donkeys' side of the barn thinking that while Salina got her massage I would groom Keil Bay and get him ready for a ride. I had all kinds of thoughts flowing about what we might do in the ride. I even thought I might take him into the back field and jump a few baby jumps.

But I never got to that point. At the appointed massage hour, Keil Bay went into Salina's stall and planted himself in front of her, head emerging into the barn aisle, clearly waiting for something.

When H. arrived, Keil was ready. Keil Bay loves body work. He loves chiropractic adjustment, loves massage, and basically just loves attention of all kinds. He's the only horse I've ever seen who greets the vet with the same enthusiasm with which he greets almost everyone. He is a horse that will come and wait at his stall door or at the gate if he has an injury. Keil is a horse, but he trusts his people to take care of him. Today it was obvious he was asking for a massage.

Even when I got him out of Salina's stall, thinking he would walk on out of the barn, he stopped, and as if to accentuate the point, Salina came out behind him and lined up - LINED UP - behind him, along with both donkeys. If we had been doing structural family therapy I would have noticed that they were physically, literally, putting him FIRST IN LINE. It was not my most observant moment. 

I am embarrassed to say that I did not listen. I stood and to my credit I apologized to him that it was not his turn. With a tighter budget not every horse here is getting regular massages right now, and I have Salina on a monthly schedule mostly because of her age and her infirmities. In my mind she has earned that monthly massage and the relief it brings her.

So I told Keil Bay he would get a turn as soon as I could manage it, and I headed him to the front field gate, which I had left open, and which he had ignored, because as much as he wanted the grass, he wanted that massage more. I quite literally shoved him through the gate, with both my hands on his hind end, and being the good sport he is, he went.

I walked back to the barn aisle expecting Salina to be ready for her massage. It always takes her a minute to relax and give up her role as boss mare, but she generally does it and then goes into endorphin bliss as H. works her muscles from head to tail and back up to her head again. I have seen Salina almost fall to the ground due to the extreme relaxation she experiences from this work. The benefits she gets from it are concrete and measurable.

Today she would not have any part of it. She tossed her head, snapped her lips at me, and tried to walk out of the barn. I fussed at her in English and in German. I tried cajoling her. We walked her to the edge of the barn aisle so she could see out. We tied her. She was absolutely furious and let us know in the most emphatic gesturing I've ever seen her do that she was NOT getting a massage.

Finally, in frustration, I unhooked the lead line and said "What are you trying to say?" She walked out of the barn with as bold and fluid a stride as I've seen her take in months. She headed straight down the grass paddock and began looking down the hill.

I turned to H. and said I would just go get Keil Bay. By this time, he'd gone down the hill to the front field and Cody had come up near the gate. So I said, well, maybe Cody is the one who needs it today. I opened the gate and went to get Cody and he walked up to me and then RAN past me to Salina who was pacing back and forth still looking down the hill.

I went and got Keil Bay. As soon as he was in the barn aisle and H. put her hands on him she said "He really does need this." As she worked, it became clear to both of us that in fact Keil REALLY needed the work. He had many tight muscles and some sore spots. As soon as he was in the barn Salina completely settled down and began to graze. Her agitation simply disappeared. About halfway through the work, she came up and looked in, as if she were making sure he was getting what he needed. I herded her back out, and closed the barn doors so we wouldn't end up with a crowd of equine spectators. She came around to the end stall and stood mirroring what Keil Bay did. He rubbed his eye on my shoulder, she rubbed hers on the stall wall. He shook his head, she shook hers.

And throughout his massage he would turn to look at H. with soft eyes and big yawns and licking and chewing.

Nothing these horses and donkeys do surprises me any more. They are advanced beings as far as I'm concerned, and they share more with me than I ever knew to expect when they came into our lives. What surprises me every single time is how absolutely dumb I can be when it comes to listening to them. As much as I watch and note and look for, as devoted as I am to trying to see what it is they have to say to me, I still miss the most obvious statements. I do my human thing and they try their best to say what they need to say ten different ways until they hit on one that clicks for me.

And when I finally get it, when I actually listen and act on what it is they're trying to tell me, they are ALWAYS right. But never are they smug or anything but grateful that I listened.

I've written this before but I feel the need to write it again. If you think equines don't have feelings, don't feel emotion, don't have the brain matter to form thoughts and plans and intentions, that's fine. All I can say is you are missing out on a relationship that is pure and honest and has more to teach than I can put into words.

The only thing you have to do is open your heart and your mind and listen.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

November Hill farm journal, 180

 Have I already lost control of spring farm and garden chores? It feels like it at the moment but I’m going to think of it as riding the waves of all the things growing and thriving and be content with every single thing I manage to do to help, manage, and monitor.

I’m getting better at picking a few things to work on each day and leaning in to the reality that this is what life is, not catching up, not checking off every to do list item, but paying attention and taking joy and tackling a few things that need doing as one part of a day’s journey.

Working with clients again has reminded me in a very big way of our need to listen to and often shift our own interior monologues, which is generally called self talk. I’ve done this work before with great success, but it is an ongoing process. My brain is wired to track things, and I can get into the motion of trying to keep up with doing all the things or into the space of being so overwhelmed by all the things I feel stuck doing none of them. 

Changing my brain to doing a few each day has been a good way to work with both places.

A good example - someone in my native plant group said in response to my query about the overwhelming number of Japanese honeysuckle coming up on the farm this spring: just pull some every day and that will eventually take care of it. What a relief that was to my racing brain!

So, everything is growing madly, horses are shedding, Keil Bay has been sticking a hind leg out which worries me but it comes and goes since the EPM and right now he’s doing it but is otherwise fine, we found a tick in the house this week, all the vehicles are nearing inspection time at once, and so on and so on. 

Meanwhile we are celebrating birthdays: husband’s, daughter’s, Keil Bay’s and Apache Moon’s. Daughter’s graduation is nearing. April is almost always a very full and busy month, and paired with all of nature bursting at the seams outside, it just feels fast and wild and … yes … out of control. Maybe that is how it’s supposed to feel. Maybe we need to be in that space sometimes to fully appreciate being alive.

Interestingly, this past week two things that had been off the schedule for awhile came back. We’ve been on a tighter budget the past 10 months and took a break from having farm and housekeeping help as well as massage therapy. On Monday I finally got back to the massage table and on Tuesday our farm and housekeeping helpers returned. Doing without definitely brought the feelings of gratefulness and appreciation front and center. It was so good bringing these two things back to the schedule. 

This week also brought a beloved first to the schedule for me: my grandson is coming over to spend time with me each week and this week we did gardening together. Oh, what a joy to slow down and see the tasks through a two-year old’s eyes. The satisfaction of using a real tool that works well. The joy of the water coming through the hose. The simple joy of filling a syringe with water and spraying it at grandma, aka “ga.” The closing of a big gate that takes two hands to push. The digging in to the mulch pile. The wonder of sawing an old stump and seeing ants emerge with tiny white eggs. 

It was the perfect way to end this very full week. 

Monday, April 10, 2023

November Hill farm journal, 179

 This photo says everything about my time out on the farm these days:

A beloved native plant waking up for spring while in the background an invasive non-native does the same. For some reason we are besieged with Japanese honeysuckle this year and I am pulling some every time I go outside, trying to make a dent in its growth. 

It’s not the only non-native thing growing, but some, like the purple dead nettle, come and go, and don’t seem so insidious. 

We just came through a 3-day rain and cold event here, and it feels like yesterday when the sunshine returned the trees leafed out en masse, overnight. We’re feeling the privacy that spring, summer, and fall offers us on this little farm on its hill. 

Every time I go outside, I spend some time cutting back old growth in the beds, pulling non-natives, and looking at what is coming up. The golden Alexanders and wild columbine are the stars right now in the front beds, and the curly heads I planted last summer are precious with their bell-shaped flowers. The downy wood mint plants are HUGE but not yet flowering. It’s exciting to see things coming up and I really have to finish up the cutting out of old stems so I can enjoy the new spring plants even more.

I took a walk along the woods’ edge strip yesterday and was thrilled to find a young willow oak growingin exactly the right place for it, as well as a winged elm also in a good spot. There are many shagbark hickories too. I’m going to protect these young trees as the next generation in the strip. I’m very excited they are there. 

This month I’m doing Jeannine Ouellette’s 30-day writing exercise, in which she provides a prompt each morning that involves being aware, noticing, and increasing awareness of what’s around us, and then using a writing constraint to springboard from awareness to writing. Look for her on Substack if this appeals. She’s an amazing writing teacher and a kindred spirit. Jeannine was one of the moms in the email list group that started when I had my firstborn, and it’s amazing to me that after all these years my writing life has synced up with her teaching writing life in a very beautiful way.

I’m also doing small bits of work on the TV series pilot and feeling like all movement is progress these days. 

In the house, I’ve been tackling tiny areas of deep cleaning, specifically looking for the “hot spots” and taking the generally small amounts of time it takes to clean them up. I’ve done behind toilets, behind one pedestal sink, the kitchen sink window, the cat flap window, and the guest room, which has now become husband’s home office. That was a bigger project, donating the double bed and moving a twin bed from daughter’s studio into the guest room/office, moving exercise bike into her studio, etc. The cats have officially been closed out of the office (as they are from the studio and my garret) and in a wave of guilt I set up the loft with all their perches and puzzles and toys and added a new three-story cat condo with rooftop deck. Only Isobel has taken up residence in the lower condo, but eventually they’ll discover its fun. 

I also got into a flurry of painting the stairway spindlesand. Made some good progress this rainy weekend. Still a ways to go but I’m up to the landing now! 

Saturday, March 25, 2023

November Hill farm journal, 178

 Busy days on the farm right now, with some photos to share today. 

In Poplar Folly this pale purple deadnettle found itself a nice spot to root into, the base of one of the tulip poplars that was cut years back. It’s so pretty with the pattern of the wood. 

In other news, we are in the early stages of building a guest house where our daughter will live, and the design will be based on this, with some changes. 

A shot this past week of Keil Bay and Cody, the very best of friends, sharing hay as they often do. 

The first of this spring’s chipping sparrow nests, this one sporting many pony tail hairs for the lighter look. 

Hegemone hive bearding on the 84-degree day this week, making me very nervous that they might also be thinking of swarming (which honey bees do as their way of reproducing - casting a swarm means the queen leaves with half the population, the other half remain behind and raise a new queen). I want them to halve but I’d like to keep the half.

Here, a day later, with temps up to 84 again, after we added a deep hive box with half drawn comb frames and half empty frames, Hegemone bees are very busy working in their new space. They didn’t need to beard to cool the hive thanks to the additional space inside. A runaway split is done by adding a deep hive box on top of a booming springtime colony, who will then move up and expand their nest. Once that is done, you move that deep hive box to another hive stand and whichever box does NOT have a queen will then raise a new one. The hive has now reproduced but the beekeeper gets to keep all the bees. Since we lost two colonies over the winter, we’d love to replace them with the genetics of this extremely healthy and prolific colony. 

I’m enjoying this busy season and as usual juggling a lot of projects. Happy spring equinox a few days late!

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Rehabbing the EPM Horse, 3 years later


A recent photo of the Big Handsome Bay, still the peppermint king, still happy and engaged with his herd and his people. 

I noticed the posts I wrote about Keil Bay’s rehab after he contracted EPM at age 31 are getting viewed lately, so here’s an update three years later, as he nears age 34. 

Keil is for the most part back to his pre-EPM self. He is generally the first to walk all the way down the front pasture hill in the mornings, he is still very eager for his meals and whinnies for them, he will walk/trot/canter/gallop up the hill and in the arena on occasion, and some days, like New Year’s Day of this year, he defies his age completely. On the first day of 2023 he put on a dressage exhibition in the arena with his best pal Cody. I saw this out the window and watched; honestly I couldn’t tell he was a day over his 15-year old self, nor did I see a single misstep as he walked, trotted with suspension and extension, did shoulder in, cantered, and passaged. He looked amazing. 

Every now and then I’ll notice a hind leg sticking out a bit, but that comes and goes and his chiropractic vet thinks it’s as likely to be related to age/arthritic changes as it is to any residual from EPM. 

I have continued him on colostrum + mushroom extracts and he is on every other day Equioxx at the moment. This January I decided to stop the monthly acupuncture and Legend injections to see if he declined in any way, and I have not seen that. He remains on a number of joint supplements and this winter I replaced the GMO-free Naturals pellets I supplemented his tubs with for the Triple Crown Senior Gold. The Naturals pellets had most of the ingredients used in a complete senior diet mix I used to feed Salina, including beet pulp, but they changed the ingredients last fall and removed the beet pulp. The Senior Gold has it, and it also has molasses, which I’ve avoided generally but decided in what will be Keil’s final years that unless I see issues, I’ll give him the feed with the molasses. He had dropped a little weight this winter and I don’t want him skinny, so this did the trick. He adores this feed. Note: this is served in a few scoops added to his larger meal of wet Ontario Dehy Timothy Balance cubes twice a day, and he gets 2-3 scoops of the Senior Gold by itself (wet) at lunchtime, so overall he’s not getting a large amount of this. It has leveled his weight out though, and he does love his meals. He continues to eat timothy-orchard hay and he grazes with great pleasure when we have good grass in the pastures. 

I do feel the EPM aged him; prior to contracting it he was still sound under saddle at all gaits. I haven’t tested this since the EPM as it felt risky and with his actual age being 30+ I figure he deserves retirement. Though there are days when he comes to me and it’s clear he’s thinking about a ride. He will join me in the arena ground work on occasion and it’s clear he enjoys that. His silvery gray mane and tail hair was minimal pre-EPM but definitely increased through that year. There’s no way to know what age-related changes were coming anyway, though, so I can’t say what was EPM and what was the passage of time for his body. 

I remain unnaturally obsessed with his stance, his movement, and his demeanor, and any tiny thing sets off my alarm bells and anxiety. I have noticed a shift this year in my own demeanor, which is a slightly calmer and deeper feeling of peace: that he has lived a good and long life thus far, that he is happy in his daily routine, that he is incredibly healthy and active for his age, and that when his time comes it will be hard but it will also be … what is the word … a normal part of life, not unexpected. Though it still does feel to me and to my family that Keil Bay will somehow live forever. He’s got so much character and presence it’s difficult to imagine him not being here. 

When the EPM was at its worst I feared that was the end for him, but there were always clues that he wasn’t ready to go and that the arc of improvement pointed to recovery. I fretted that he would be impaired even if he lived, and the quality of his life would be less. That has not been the case, but it’s true that I did everything I could find that had any chance at helping him recover and rehab, and I’m sure that approach made a difference. 

Friday, March 10, 2023

November Hill farm journal, 177

 I went out yesterday afternoon with the express notion to photograph some of the blooming things this week here on November Hill. I got exactly two photographs before I succumbed to the lure of gardening tasks and abandoned my plan to take photos!

Both these came from a brief check in with the potager. These are blackberries, which seem to me to be blooming quite early in their season, and with some cold nights returning this week, they may freeze. Nonetheless, here they are, so very delicate and beautiful.

The coral honeysuckle is also blooming and I’m less worried about it. This is a very hardy native and should be fine with whatever the weather brings. 

I went into the potager thinking I would do a quick watering of the beds I’d sown seeds in on Sunday, and did that. I planted a number of early spring vegetable seeds as well as a potato mound. We’ll see how it goes! I got caught up in filling the bird bath, poking around in some other areas of the space, and looking at the space as a whole to see what I might do with the native persimmon tree that has sprung up in the middle of my central pollinator plot. I considered letting it grow there but it’s going to block the sun for both these plants I’ve photographed, so I need to move it. We have a number of persimmon trees on the farm, on the path to Poplar Folly and in Poplar Folly, and since they’ll likely attract wildlife, Poplar Folly is the best area for them. I may move it to the strip that goes along our gravel lane, behind our fencing. We’ll see. This was a task best done in the fall but I did not do it!

I also used my little electric weedeater to take out some nonnative and slightly toxic flowering plants that have come up near the barn. I can’t remember the name of them at this moment, but they popped up a couple of springs ago and were pretty and seemed innocent enough, but turned out to be not native and not great for little hands to get into, so I went on a search and took them down to the ground before they could flower. While doing that I was careful to leave the dandelions. 

When I put the weedeater away I found two packets of native flower seeds I’d bought last spring but never planted, one being lemon bergamot and the other Mexican sunhat coneflowers. I planted and watered these yesterday in a couple of empty spots along the walkway to our front door, which led me to sweep the  flagstone walkway and recall my plan to take up all the flagstone and use as a landscaping feature in several of the beds. This flagstone is in many sizes that have never been perfectly flat, which makes them trip-worthy. I’d much prefer large rectangular stone there and the way to push that project is to remove what’s there, repurpose it, and then have the eyesore of no stone at all to get me focused on replacing what I removed. It would be a good time to do it going into spring/summer. 

Along the front pollinator beds I *meant* to photograph the golden alexander that’s coming starting to bloom, and the columbine that are already blooming. It’s the first spring I get the effect of having moving volunteer columbine across the walkway for a double impact of early flowers, and it’s quite lovely! I’ve been clearing winter foliage in small work sessions over the past week and a half or so, and the beds are looking tidier already, though I’m not completely done. The holly bushes along the walkway were literally buzzing with bee activity yesterday. They’re flowering and are quite attractive to both honey and native bees. 

Most of the plants in the front beds are coming in now, and once I get the winter stems and stalks trimmed back I’ll work on removing unwanted weeds, anything not native, and a few volunteer invasive shrubs that have sprung up since last year. One big decision I have to face is whether or not I will finally remove the giant butterfly bush in the larger bed. It’s the last remaining of the many that were here when we bought the house, and while it’s a great attractor of insects, it offers blooms but no food for caterpillars that desperately need it as they transform into butterflies. I have a short list of things to replace it with, including clethra, another button bush, New Jersey tea, and arrowwood viburnum. I’m just not sure what I want there, and the plan was to remove and replace at the same time in the fall, but it bloomed late and I couldn’t bring myself to remove it when it was full of insect life. Now’s the time if I’m going to do this in 2023. 

Our redbud are blooming fully now, and the dogwoods are just starting. I have two of the three oakleaf hydrangeas I planted now coming back after their winter dormancy, and the shade bed as a whole could use protection from the deer. It’s going to be an eyesore to do that, which is why I haven’t yet, but for the plants I put in to get truly established they will need time to grow without being eaten down. 

Another area that I need to consider protecting is my bird haven space. The deer are coming into that corner and eating back some of the plantings. Ideally that corner would have privacy panels installed on the exterior fencing that not only prevent deer jumping in but offer a private corner from the traffic on our lane, and I just haven’t figured it out yet. Ideally something rustic and naturalized enough that once the bushes I’ve planted get up to full size I won’t need anymore. If I use fallen branches to make this, it could naturally deteriorate and maybe the timing would work out. 

For now, keeping up with the removal of winter foliage as new growth comes in will be my primary task in all the garden areas. 

Another big plan we are considering in the near future: finally building the small cottage I’ve had in mind for most of the years we’ve lived here. I envisioned it for some of that time as a writing retreat for me, then as a guest house, and now it’s morphed into a small home for our daughter. There are a couple of  good spots for this structure, and we have an amazing and personable contractor who could do it well, so I’m pondering designs and need to get estimates on cost. The dilemma is how to do something like this quickly but with minimal disruption to the horses and our lives. 

Today we have some rain and it’s a gray day overall, so a good time to do some researching. 

Sunday, March 05, 2023

REPOSTED: An Appeal For Humane and Connected Horsemanship

 I was looking at stats for the blog this weekend and noticed a number of posts in this general topic are being read a lot over the past week, especially this one. I’m so glad! And it’s been awhile since I wrote this but it still expresses my thoughts on the subject so I’m reposting to boost it a bit. 

All these years later my horses and pony and donkeys want to be with me. When I go out they come and gather and hang out. When I’m in the potager they come see what I’m doing. If I leave the gate open they come in. They cooperate when I ask them to do things. They are generally amazing companions who have relationships with one another and with me. 

These behaviors aren’t the result of my training them - they are the result of my respecting them, being with them without expectations, and showing them care and consideration. I’ve never had any aspiration to be a horse trainer. But the wisest of the horse trainers I’ve known used to say that what we do when we’re with our horses is training them. I have basic boundaries, not that different from the boundaries I have with other humans. They’re pretty amazing communicators and it’s my job to listen when they have something to say. 

an appeal for humane and connected horsemanship

Seventeen years ago I was given a book by William Sears, M.D., called The Baby Book, in which Dr. Sears talked about his theory of parenting, referred to as attachment parenting.

Dr. Sears' theory of attachment parenting (often called AP), calls for developing a secure bond with our children, the goal being a secure, connected child who grows into an empathic, connected adult.

Attachment Parenting International offers the following guiding principles, which facilitate strong, nurturing connections between children and their parents:
  1. preparing for pregnancy, birth, and parenting
  2. feeding with love and respect
  3. responding with sensitivity
  4. using nurturing touch
  5. ensuring safe sleep, physically and emotionally
  6. providing consistent and loving care
  7. practicing positive discipline
  8. striving for balance in personal and family life

With only a few tweaks of language, all of the above could easily be set forth as guiding principles for living humanely and in connection with horses (and donkeys, and all equines).

Last week it was Pat Parelli and Catwalk. 

This week I have read an article about a miniature donkey strapped into a harness against her will and parasailed up and down a beach in the name of "publicity." The donkey was terrified, landed quite roughly, and apparently was in such distress while in the air, left many children crying in upset confusion. And yet, after a public outcry when the owner was finally located and the donkey examined by a veterinarian, there will apparently be no charges of abuse or cruelty because the donkey sustained no physical injuries.

In the smaller circle of equine community, I have read a post on a forum about the need to keep working our horses, despite the heat, because of the need to maintain a training schedule. Heat indexes where I live have ranged from 112-119 degrees for the past week. It's easy enough to see that extreme heat affects horses more quickly and more seriously than it does the average, healthy human. They have hair covering their entire bodies. Their digestive tracts rely on regular intake of forage and water to remain functional. When we ride them, they are not only working, but carrying our weight. 

I received an email informing me of things to do to haul horses safely in heat, in advance of Pony Club National Championships coming up next weekend in Virginia. Nationals are held in Kentucky and Virginia on alternate years, always in late July/early August. Why schedule something that involves hauling horses and ponies from all over the US during the hottest time of year?

I read a Facebook entry referring to a pony as a "butthead" because he didn't want to go into the ring for a show class, tried to leave, and bucked. Has the pony been checked for physical pain? Bit fit, saddle fit, muscle soreness, feet checked, chiropractic issues? The pony's behavior is indicative of something being wrong, either physically or emotionally. How else can he express it? My guess is that if he didn't want to go into the ring to jump, and that was paid attention to, he wouldn't have then needed to buck to get his point across. And yet no one listened. He was a "butthead."

Is there no end to the narcissism, self-centeredness, and downright ignorance of human beings? I can't think of any reason save an emergency trip to the vet school that would call for loading any horse or donkey into a trailer at this time of year, in this heat, with the expectation that the horse/donkey stand in a strange stall, hot, stressed, and yet ready and willing to perform strenuous work in a competitive setting.

I can't imagine having hauled any of my horses to any event this week and being remotely capable of disparaging them because they resisted being ridden.

And I could no more strap Rafer Johnson or Redford in a harness and drag them through the air for the sake of making a little money than I could one of my human children.

What in the world are we thinking when we expect animals to serve as vehicles for our bank accounts, our egos, and our apparently desperate need for external validation?

Alice Miller wrote a number of books about parents who expect these things of their children. She describes in great psychological detail what this does to children, and how the effects ripple into adulthood.  It's time someone wrote a similar treatise on people and their horses. There is no ribbon on earth, no amount of money, and no genuine self-gratification worth the cost of treating animals like objects, with no feelings, no rights, and little effort on our parts toward creating, nurturing, and maintaining a deeper relationship.

When we ignore the deeper, unspoken needs of the equines we ride and use for our own purposes, there is a cost. Not dollars and cents, although certainly we may end up with broken down horses and big vet bills at some point down the road. The cost I refer to is a psychic, soul-deep cost that I'm not sure we even know the consequences of incurring. It's a cost to humanity and to growth as human beings.

 I know this sounds serious. I believe it to be true.

I'm not opposed to competitive horse sport, but the reward of competition should be based in the maturing of the rider's increasingly connected relationship with the horse, and in the making of sound, safe decisions based on the needs of the horse, who can't leave a voicemail saying "oh, by the way, I really don't feel like carrying you over jumps in 90+ degree heat - how about we do it another time?"

As much as our children rely on us to intuit and meet their needs when they're too young to do it for themselves, our horses and our donkeys (and our cats and dogs and birds and all the other wonderful animals we surround ourselves with) need us to be their biggest, most thoughtful advocates and partners.

And I can say with certainty borne of experience, when we say NO to "smack him harder," when we say NO to "that noseband needs to be TIGHT," when we say IT'S TOO HOT TO HAUL, WE WON'T BE THERE when we get the email asking about the upcoming horse show, and when we say "I'll do what it takes to find out why you bucked in that last class" - what we get in return is something far more valuable than a training schedule checked off, a thumbs up from an unenlightened trainer, a few new clients for our company, or a fistful of cheap show ribbons.

We get connection. We get devotion. We get to participate in the magical relationship that is the amazing and most genuine gift horses and donkeys offer humans.

And more than that, I think we elevate ourselves as humans. We raise the bar for our own species. Instead of expecting more of them, how about we expect more of ourselves?

Friday, February 24, 2023

November Hill farm journal, 176

 Our local weather forecaster says we’re having an early spring this year, and with an 81 degree day yesterday it certainly feels like we’ve fast forwarded all the way to early summer. 

The row of daffodils along the entrance to our big barnyard has been spectacular this year, and I hope to move the remaining bulbs from the front pollinator bed to the fence line on the other side of the barnyard gate to make a matched set in this area for next spring. 

I’m seeing maples flowering and the redbuds are getting close to bloom as well. The tulip poplars can’t be too far behind, and that is when the honey bees, already very busy, will go into high gear. I have 3 out of 5 colonies coming out of winter this year, and I need to clean out the two hives that didn’t make it so I’ll have space for splits. My most prolific colony, Hegemone, is likely to grow so quickly coming into springI will be able populate both my empty hives, and their genetics is definitely worth expanding. 

It also feels like time to do some cutting and stacking of old growth in the pollinator beds, and I know from past years that if I put it off too long the new growth will win the race and I’ll have to go in oh so carefully with my clippers. 

Horses and pony and donkeys are all good, and came in with fans yesterday afternoon because 81 degrees with still wintry coats on is just too much! They’re all shedding and have been, but not fast enough to be ready for that temperature. 

Our stream of birthdays that cluster in February, March, and April has begun, and this year we also have something else to celebrate: my daughter has been accepted into her top choice PhD program! We’re all so happy for her, and I am overjoyed that as it turns out, her top choice is also a local choice, so in at least some ways, life will roll on with my loved ones close by. 

Spring! I am very ready for it, and excited for all the things that will be coming up - in the gardens, and in our lives. 

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Happy Birthday, Redford!!

 15 years old today! Seen here a week or so ago grazing hay next to Cody. I hadn’t noticed until this minute as I uploaded the photo, but the configuration of the herd is in itself meaningful. Keil is the oldest equine and definitely its center. Little Man and Rafer Johnson are best buddies and are not usually far apart. Redford loves being with Cody and Keil, and here he’s right between them. 

Redford was always very close by Salina when she was alive, and while he gets on with all the equines, and has been amazing through Keil’s bout with EPM, he is also the one equine who most frequently separates himself from the herd to keep me company when I’m doing chores or just out and about near the barn. He keeps an eye out on things happening around us, which reminds me a lot of Salina. I can always glance out our windows and if Redford is alert to a direction, there’s sure to be something going on. 

He’s the youngest member of our herd, close in age to Rafer. I expect he and Rafer will be with us for many more years and I’m grateful for their longevity and for their sweetness, curiosity, and for the joy they have brought and continue to bring to our lives. 

Happy birthday, Redford! You’re a star for sure. 

Saturday, February 18, 2023

New published flash fiction and a couple of essays out

 When They Were Gone is a spooky little flash fiction piece up now on On The Run Lit.

My flash nonfiction essay is available for pre-order in River Feet Anthology #3, along with many other beautiful pieces all centered around the landscape and wildlife:

Another nonfiction essay, Everything Is Connected, is available now from Minerva Rising’s 10th Anniversary Anthology, issue 22, called Then And Now: - and there are many beautiful pieces to read in addition to mine.

As always, it’s a joy and an honor to have my work out in the world. 

Monday, February 13, 2023

November Hill farm journal, 175

 Lots going on right now, but this is what caught my eye this week. The daffodils are starting to bloom! I am a firm believer in native plantings but these daffodils were here when we moved in and I have let them stay in this section because they add a cheerful note during this time when the farm looks its messiest. Gradually I’ve moved the bulbs from the front pollinator bed up here, and one aggravated day I tossed some over the fence into the adjacent forest. As some of you might recall, those managed to live and now offer me a bit of color in late winter as I work at my desk in the garret. 

We had just about dried out from the last soaking rains but on Saturday evening the herd was out grazing their hay as long as possible before the 24 hours plus of more rain started. We shifted from 70s to 40s and on went their rain sheets and all their hay was served in the barn during the re-soaking of the farm. This morning it’s wet ground but blue skies and sunshine, so we begin the drying out process yet again! 

It’s hard to look at this winter pasture and imagine it will be as green as - well - as green as grass in another month or so. 

In other news, my daughter has been accepted to the PhD program she most wanted to get into, and she will be working in a research group she truly wanted to join. I’m so proud of her. And have I said that we are expecting our second grandchild in August? I feel very rich in love right now. Many blessings. 

Last week, a large gang of elk ascended the path to the bald and there was a young calf with them. It’s a mystery, as elk calves in our area are generally born in late May/early June, so this one is special and early, and I am so very grateful we got to see them. 

By the next time I post, maybe I will have planted the potager! That’s on my list. :)