Farm Life, Petunia the Pitbull

Recent Happenings

It’s been a few weeks so I should update you on the goings on in my world. First, let’s start with a little Tuna love, shall we…

Tuna Luv
Top left moving clockwise: * Tuna is enjoying the new hat Ling Ling knitted me. She actually slept with it on because she was cold and it was keeping her ears warm. * She’s diligently waiting by the stove for me to finish cooking her pancakes. * This is what I wake up to in the morning: just some tail, maybe a bit of muzzle and feet. * I made her model a new shirt. It all looks better on her.

Petunia is the best companion I could ever ask for. This winter has been rough on both of us but her especially. Walks have been few and far between due to her rather hairless nature and the freezing temps. I have a few coats for her but they don’t cover her extremities and her naked undercarriage is completely exposed. (I blame grandma Ling Ling for not knitting her that sweater I’ve been requesting.) She’s been a good sport about being cooped up though. She’s a pooper and a trooper!

I’m trying to figure out where I left off with this blog without looking back…because that would be cheating. The last time we met I was interviewing for the Programs Manager job at the animal sanctuary. Well, after two uncomfortable interviews, I was informed that I didn’t get the job. To say that I felt heartbroken, defeated, vulnerable and frustrated over the rejection was an understatement. Luckily, I had planned for such a letdown and as soon as I was informed of my fate, within minutes I had accepted the field biology position in Yellowstone. It will be double the hours, more pay and a lot more physically rigorous but the financial cushion will provide me with choices and opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I can take the money and buy a camper or start a store or who knows. Plus, it will give me two months of exciting fodder for this here blog. So you, my loyal reader, can rest assured knowing that there will be more embarrassing field stories to come.

I miss the farm terribly but my supervisor assured me that I was welcome to visit whenever I wanted. I have yet to take her up on the offer though. Strangely enough, of all the amazing animals I was lucky enough to work with, I miss one particular horse the most. They are one of the few creatures I’m completely terrified of but yes, when I close my eyes and think of that place, Beyond’s soulful eyes are what I see first. Please take a tour in April and send all my animal friends some love from me. I’ve been enjoying Erin’s Barn Briefs as they have kept me up to date on all the goings on with the animals. I would highly advise reading this blog post from her because it talks about how Hannah the sheep has been coping since Lambert’s death and also the recent restructuring of the endearingly menacing Goon Squad. Sounds like exciting times.

Latest thoughts and projects
Clockwise from top left: * A delicious bottle of wine made by my bud Justin paired with some locally handmade chocolates to celebrate the end of the interview process. It’s taken me 37 years to finally decide that I actually like chocolate. Strange, I know. * A mixed media piece that I completed using natural objects and a photograph I’ve taken. This prototype is perhaps the shape of things to come for me. * All this downsizing has got me tiny house dreaming. Maybe there is a camper in my future after all. * Just a portion of the stuff I’m getting rid of. My entire kitchen table is overflowing onto the floor with garage sale items. I can’t wait till it’s all gone because it’s driving me nuts; Messing with my feng shooie.

For the first entire week after leaving the farm all I did was sleep. I’ve never been so exhausted in my life. And I’ve been eating…lots. I think I’ve gained all the weight back that I lost which is a bummer but winter pudge is not completely unwelcome. I’ll lose it all once I can get back outside anyway. The weeks following have been all about making soap (which will be addressed in my next post), finding someone to take over my lease, packing up my things, getting rid of most of my possessions, and watching Battlestar Galactica.

Trying to find someone to rent my apartment has been another eye opener for me. These are dreadfully, dark and desperate times. I’ve had folks contact me that want to squeeze their entire family into my studio apartment because that’s all they can afford; mothers living in battered women’s shelters; a woman who has a kid very sick with lead poisoning from a previous living situation; many with bad credit; one with bad credit because her husband took away her kids and she had to use credit cards to pay for a failed custody attempt; most are on public assistance; many are disabled in one way or another; one works for IBM and is terrified of being laid off like many of his former coworkers; the reality goes on and on. These are tough times my friends. Be lucky for what you have because there are people just scraping by with much less.

Today, I’m enjoying my last dregs of downtime. Tomorrow I rent a cargo van and attempt to shoehorn all my belongings into it. Then it’s off to Cortland to unpack it all. Moving completely sucks but as it stands right now, most of my furniture and probably more than half of my belongings are going either to the Salvation Army or being sold in a few upcoming garage sales. I get high off of getting rid of stuff. Each item that leaves my possession is like a tiny burden being lifted. I’ve always felt this way. Most people enjoy accumulating but I’m the exact opposite. I entered the world loathing clutter. I remember as a young child cleaning out the drawers of the dinning room hutch for enjoyment. (These cleaning sprees led me to throw away important documents such as the title for the family car. Oops!) Shopping is right up there on my list of loathings. Most of my possessions are things that were given to me instead of intentionally purchased. Someday, I hope to just own the clothes on my back and walk the world.

These are bittersweet times for me but I remain optimistic. I love this area and my nearby friends but I know that moving away means moving forward. I’ve enjoyed many years of good times in the Hudson Valley but I’m also haunted by dark times and soured friendships. There’s nothing I’d like more than to put that all behind me. So much of me wants to hold on but I’ve just got to let it all go. It’s for the best.

Enough of this serious stuff. Here’s some selfie shame:

selfie shame
Clockwise starting at top left: This was a photo that I was going to send to my mother to prove that I didn’t dress like a “hay seed” for the interview. I looked very nice but was completely unable to convey that in a selfie. * I kept trying to photograph the new hat my mother knitted for me but couldn’t figure out where the camera lense was located on my tablet so I cracked up. I still don’t know where the lense is. I’m convinced it’s invisible. * Saying goodbye to the mustaches on my bathroom mirrors. Wilford Brimley stache, I’ll miss you the most. * A decent photo of Ling Ling’s newest creation. It actually fits my head which is a minor miracle. (Still can’t find that lense so I have no idea where to look.)

Farm Life

Peacefully at rest

cowsSaturday was my last day of work and let me tell you, the weather gods were shining on me, FINALLY! It was the first nice day outside that I’d ever experienced working on the farm. Oh the irony! The last few days before that were cold and rainy. One day it was so bad that my clothes were completely soaked. To add insult to injury, after a long day of shoveling in wet gloves, I painfully discovered that I had rubbed all of the skin off my palms and was now left with a combo of abrasions and blisters. Let me tell you, the shower that night was one of the most painful I’ve ever experienced. Soap of any kind, plus warm water and blistered hands = ouchy! Try not to scream and scare the neighbors kind of ouchy.

turkeyTo put that in perspective though, I went to work on Thursday and my supervisor was so relieved/happy to see me, which always feels nice. I guess she’d forgotten when my last day was and to be honest, after each day, I don’t think anyone expects me to return the next morning. However, I’m a tough cookie and I was determined to stay until the bitter end of my two weeks, come rain or come shine. That morning, the roof of my co-worker’s (Russ & Jenn) barn had literally collapsed under the weight of the accumulating snow and ice. They run a successful horse boarding facility that houses 20+ horses, chickens, pigs, etc…(and soon a zebra!) in Saugerties. With the help of friends, farm volunteers and another CAS staff member, they were able to get all the horses and chickens out alive. No creature was harmed, luckily. So, that left me, my supervisor and the new guy to run the farm, which explains her relief when she saw me. Needless to say, we got the job done with style and our hearts went out to Russ and Jenn.

The sick thing about that entire situation was that the insurance company told them not to touch a single thing before the adjuster came to see it. Okay, that’s fine…understandable. Except the adjuster wouldn’t be there for another week! WTF!? Part of the barn was still useable at that point, it was just the 2nd story hay loft that caved in. With some snow clearing, tarps and quick repairs the ground floor could be relatively stable and usable, yet with the forecast calling for freezing rain the next few days and them not being allowed to touch anything, I’m sure the barn suffered far more damage than necessary. It makes me angry to ponder and reminds me of Katrina all over again. soapy stachesThese last few days of being a free agent have been restful. That’s basically all I’ve been doing is sleeping. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I’ve also caught up on laundry, house cleaning, bill paying, food shopping, made an order of soapy staches, and started the next round of cold processed soap making. Yes! My first batch didn’t come out as I had planned but oh well. It’s still really nice stuff: 100% carrot juice; organic coconut milk; olive, organic coconut, castor, rice bran and avocado oils; plus titanium dioxide and activated charcoal to add a decorative element. The decorative element was a complete fail because the soap seized up on me before I could swirl the colors. I’m still soaping at too high of a temperature darn it! Like I keep saying, soap making is both an art and a science. And just when you think you’ve got the science figured out and can move on to the art, you find the entire process completely kicks your ass and you have to go back to the start (that actually rhymed quite nicely and reminds me of the Coldplay song, The Scientist). Thus, most of the bars I ended up rebatching last night with sweet orange & basil essential oils and it ended up a translucent green akin to baby poo. I had wanted to make a sweet orange soap anyways and I would’ve had to rebatch it because that’s the best way to make citrus essential oils last in cold process soap. (For some reason, citrus doesn’t have the staying power that other oils do in CP soap.) So now I have some vibrant, carrot-colored, unscented bars for the folks with sensitive skin and some nice smelling, baby-poo-green bars for those who’d like to expand their sensory experience. Either way, they’re both great soaps, they’re just not sexy to look at. Oh well. I’ll get ’em next time tiger!

cold processed soapTomorrow is my big interview for the Programs Manager position at the farm. I’m crossing my fingers and toes. I really hope I get the job but if I don’t, I have a backup plan that I’m equally satisfied with. It’s the first time I can think of that I’ve crafted such a fantastic win-win scenario.

I’ve made my peace with life and the job situation and after this I’m washing my soapy lil hands of it all. This past year I’ve come to the realization that I’m a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. I’ve applied for jobs that I’m perfect for yet people don’t even have the courtesy to acknowledge that they’ve received my resume. I’ve applied for jobs that I’m both overqualified and underqualified for and have only heard the sounds of chirping crickets back. This never-ending job search has diverted my attention away from the things I want to do in life. The things I set out to do when I moved here a few years ago. Instead of being offended or wondering what is wrong with me, I have to realize that many of my brilliant friends–far more wonderful and intelligent than I–are in the same boat. In fact, I’m one of the lucky ones because I’ve managed to expand the range of things I can do far beyond just what I went to school for, such as making soap. My friend Cathy forwarded me this email from a scientist with a PhD who is wondering if he’s the alone in this. Here’s what he had to say:

Last night the PBS NewsHour profiled several Ph.D. instructors who were working as adjunct faculty, receiving no benefits and surviving on teaching whatever isolated courses they could scrounge.  One young Ph.D. graduate, a single mother who genuinely loved her field, was surviving on food stamps and assistance from her family.

I would like to know if there are people here on ECOLOG who are enduring similar circumstances–who followed their dreams, put in the grueling hard work as graduate students, and are now genuinely struggling to survive in their field, or simply survive at all.  I would like to know who here on ECOLOG has been caught up in the corporate-model conversion to adjunct teaching which has become increasingly common throughout the U.S., and whether any of you feel you can continue in your chosen disciplines.

I am interested in neither condemnation nor plastic platitudes from the comfortably established, the self-satisfied and the lordly-wise.  If you feel entitled to lecture from your keyboard on how and where these people went wrong, then don’t.  I’m not looking for that, and they aren’t either.

But if you are like the young Ph.D.s profiled in the news segment–or even someone not so young, and caught up in the same circumstances–please contact me off-list, because I’d really like to hear from you.

This is the grim reality people. Never in a million years would I tell someone to go to college unless they were absolutely guaranteed a good job once they graduated. Nevertheless, I’ve made my peace with the fact that I may have to give up my beloved apartment and leave Connelly. It may or may not be in the cards and right now it’s out of my hands for the most part. If I don’t get the job, I have Yellowstone waiting for me. Andrew is coming back and we are promised double the hours and several backpacking trips! That should make for some damn fine blogging! It’s a win-win.

herford cowPeace out, peeps!

Farm Life

A Productive Wait

horses
Yup, horses can lie down and not be sick. I’m not sure where that rumor originated from.
turkeys
Our wild/domestic turkeys enjoying the poo pile.
swimming ducks
Pip and Pepita enjoying some swimming pool time. They enthusiastically jump right in as soon as it’s freshened up.
horses
Two of the farm’s many beautiful horses. I’m so glad I got this opportunity to work with horses and become more comfortable around them. They terrified me before this.

Yesterday, I finished my last full week of work as the Assistant Animal Caregiver at the sanctuary. The first few days had me second guessing myself but after the third day I couldn’t sleep at night because the body aches were so bad. Once again, thank you Aleve. I know for certain that I’m making the best possible decision for myself, although I’ll miss the staff and animals terribly. I had my second interview for the Programs Manager position set for today but it was rescheduled for next Thursday due to 6+ inches of snow in the forecast. Will it ever end? This winter has been absolutely staggering. Between below freezing temps and being buried in snow, I can just about say that I am–stick a fork in me–D.O.N.E. I’m exhausted in every way. It would do me good to once again state how much I enjoy Connelly and how humbling it is to be here in the midst of all this snow-covered chaos. Last night, some angel came and plowed everyone’s driveway, just for the heck of it. This place is getting to me. I’m beginning to think that generosity like that isn’t in short supply after all. Darn it, is this place making me a better person!? I must…maintain…my…cynicism…

So while I wait until my future figures itself out, I’ll be making soap. Yesterday, my oils arrived after being lost in the vortex for nearly a month. I’ve been studying up on how to make my soaps more eye-catching while keeping them as natural as possible and I’m chomping at the bit to put what I’ve learned into practice. Ugh, so many great ideas to execute. It really is an art and a science. I almost wish I’d bought more silicone molds so I can make a trillion varieties at once, but I’ll have to once again practice patience.

Some musings of interest:

♥ It’s a go for The Treehouse! Hip-hop, hooray, ho! I’m so ecstatically overjoyed for Kathy. They’re moving in March so I’ve got to start making goodies to fill that place up!

♥ A long-lost friend from high school sought my input on opening up a natural grocery store & cafe in the Ocean City, MD area–not too far from where my brother lives. As fate would have it, she wanted to open up something exactly like what I’d always envisioned a Sweet Pea’s Groceries brick and mortar store to be. So I encouraged the heck out of her plan AND I’m thrilled to report that she just signed a lease for a storefront right on the main drag in OC! I’m so proud of you Shenandoah! I can’t wait to see it!

♥ This is just a little inner musing that I thought I’d share in the hopes of getting your insight. I love blogs, etsy stores and instagram posts that feature items made from ethically sourced animal parts such as bones, feathers, skulls, pelts, etc… I just love all of that stuff and I collect anything like that on my hiking adventures. However, as time goes by I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with it but for reasons I couldn’t quite elucidate. Last night, as I was salivating over such creations, I began reading the comments on such blogs and posts and I couldn’t help but get the feeling that people are treating this as a trend. Would most of these people purchasing a necklace made from a coyote bone even know what a coyote was? Would they be able to identify one in a line-up of animals? When they buy those earrings made of bison teeth, do they know anything about the history of bison? What about the necklace made from turtle toes. Do they realize that we’re losing them? Do they even really care? I think such creations provide teachable moments and can potentially inspire a deep appreciation of our natural world, however, I’m worried that most people just see them as trendy trinkets. Something to ponder…

Farm Life

Dark and Stormy

A snow stormy Connelly
The lovely but harrowing view from my window this morning.

Well, it’s been one heck of Valentine’s Day! I hope you’re spending yours someplace where you’re warm, well-fed and surrounded by loved ones. The weather these past two days has been, to put it mildly, challenging. I think the snow accumulation totalled somewhere around 20 inches and we have another 2 to 4 inches coming tomorrow.  My “fun” (that word is comprised of, dipped in and drizzled with sarcasm at this point) began yesterday. I was working outside at the farm all day and, of course, the snow completely pounded us from the moment we arrived. It began as large, luscious flakes that quickly turned into a horizontal, wind-whipped whiteout. To make matters worse, it was my new co-worker’s second day on the job (and I thought I started at a bad time)! He could have completely run for the hills but instead he and I totally rocked it. Together, we worked with summertime efficiency and accomplished more than my supervisor had ever thought possible in a snowstorm. We all triumphantly left work knowing that we showed the day who was boss.

road conditions
My view as I waited, with my neighbor behind me, for the plow to finish clearing our road.

I managed to successfully white-knuckle it home thanks to my new snow tires and when I arrived just outside of Connelly, my neighbor pulled me over to say that they hadn’t plowed any of the roads…at all. It was 4 pm and nothing had been touched. Ahh… Connelly, the little hamlet that Kingston forgot including the town plows. As luck would have it, the plow was right behind me so my wait was minimal. Once my neighbor and I gunned our cars up the hill, I had, in the matter of minutes, aggressively carved out a spot for my car to safely ride out the rest of the storm. I was still so pumped from the day that I even paid it forward by shoveling out the neighbors car in the driveway. Then I settled in for a relaxing night with Tuna and WordPress (I know, it’s romantic.). By the time I was ready for bed I could hear the freezing rain pounding on my windows and I knew I was in for an early morning of excessive, agonizing digging.

snow buried car
My car is in here somewhere.

I woke up at 5 am to check the situation and come up with a game plan. The roads were completely covered, as well as my car, and even the evidence of my neighborly deed was buried by 10 inches of snow. In the end, I begrudgingly decided that my fate was in the hands of the town plow and that I was going to have to practice patience. I was a tad bit concerned that there might be a repeat performance of yesterday’s single 4 pm showing but as luck would have it, the plow came at 7:15 am to clear the roads AND encase my car in a sturdy, rock-hard snow bank. Thanks mister, you shouldn’t have!

I called my supervisor to tell her that I was running extremely late and that I’d get there sometime before next year and she was just so glad to hear that I was coming into work in some way, shape or form. She’d already experienced her own snowy snafus which included driving her truck into a ditch. Luckily, with the help of four manly strangers who agreed to stand on her rear bumper, she was able to get out.

Back in Connelly, the whole block banned together to dig one another out with shovels and snow blowers and with their help I was on my way to work by 9 am. I left feeling just like the Grinch whose heart grew several times its size because of all the good deeds being witnessed. On my way to work, through all the slides and sludge, I drove by a little person and a very tall man walking along the busy street together. They were all bundled up, seemingly happy, and I couldn’t help but think of how I love this world sometimes. I love that mother nature has made each of us unique. We have little people, we have extremely tall people, we have all shapes and sizes and that’s really freakin’ fantastic! Life would be so boring if we all looked alike. Mother nature is a genius!

petunia the pitbull in the snow
Petunia was traumatized by how deep the snow was. She ran out, peed, and refused to venture back out after that.

I arrived at work to find a snowy shit-show. I hadn’t even made it halfway down the driveway before I saw a volunteer–who drove all the way from NYC in the storm (we have the best volunteers!)–had gotten her rental car stuck. All of the animal houses were buried and needed to be dug out before we could even go in to feed or water them. So needless to say, the shoveling was never-ending. I got the farm truck stuck seemingly a million times and had to use my patented rock back and forth technique. The snow was over Pep and Pepita’s fence (a sassy yet adorable duck couple) so they literally waddled right out of their enclosure and onto the frozen pond to join a flock of wild ducks. Since we’re buds, all I had to do was call for them at the end of the day and they came right to me, thankfully. The list of near disasters was fairly endless but it all turned out great because we pulled it together…AND there was cake involved which is always a good motivator.

a snowy animal sanctuary
A volunteer demonstrating the depth of the snow. The homestead looking all inviting. A glorious view of the farm featuring billowy blue skies and Kerrie’s arm.

On the way home I stopped for dinner at an Italian restaurant I frequent (the owner calls me Roll In The Hay because I always come in covered in hay) and they gave me flowers for Valentine’s Day. I was so darn touched. I’d forgotten what day it was. When I arrived home I opened up a package from Ling Ling and in it I found an infinity scarf that she had knitted me (or Petunia), a glorious pair of thermal footie pajamas that I will never take off, tons of chocolate and several gossip magazines which I absolutely loathe–but like train wrecks, I can’t look away from them once they’re in front of me.

petunia the pitbull
Petunia enjoying my flowers, footie pajamas and scarf. She tried to eat my flower though…ungrateful tramp!

This morning, as we dug out the animal enclosures, I asked the NYC volunteer how they were handling the storm down in the big apple. She mentioned witnessing a slap fight between two cranky women who had enough of bumping into one another on the subway. All people kept saying was that it was too early for a fight and all the volunteer kept thinking was that it isn’t about the time of day, it’s about the inappropriateness of fighting with a complete stranger over personal space on a crowded subway car. I couldn’t help but see the contrast between her experience and the one I just had in Connelly where we all helped one another. We’re only about an hour apart but the difference is night and day. All in all, for having to work in such a terrible storm, it’s left me with a tremendous feeling of satisfaction, hope and more than anything I feel grateful.

Farm Life

Quitting with class

Catskill Animal SanctuaryWell, I’m looking for an eloquent way to say this but the only thing that really sums it all up is to say that this week really shit the bed. I’m not particularly impressed by my potty mouth but that expression is spot on. I can’t say that it was a terrible week, but it was by no means the stuff of dreams either. Let’s just call it a turning point for me. My first day back to work from my relaxing weekend consisted of getting up at 5 am to shovel my car out from the blizzard the day before. Some would say that I should have taken more initiative by shoveling out the night before work but I’ve learned the hard way that when you park on the street, you have to shovel right before you’re planning to drive anywhere. If you wait too long, the plow will just nonchalantly bury your car and completely undo your many hours of grueling work. So my physical agony began at 5 am and continued on for the rest of the day. I just transitioned from shoveling snow to animal poo. (I assure you, my life is mega glamorous!)

By the time I got to work, I couldn’t keep up the pace and my co-workers finally got the memo that I’ve been slowly writing from the very beginning: I’m not physically built to do this level of work. I am not of the “anything a guy can do, I can do better” mentality. Let me rephrase all of this for the ladies out there who may feel their feminine wiles being ruffled. I am physically able to do hard, physical labor but I can’t perform the same tasks in the same amount of time as a large man who has been doing farm work all his life and unfortunately that is exactly what my job requires. This is a man’s world and an extremely tough, strong, body-builder-type woman’s world too. Despite my best efforts, I’m apparently neither.

With all that being said, I decided honesty was the best policy. The last thing I want is to be unemployed again but I don’t want to be an unwanted, burden to my employer either. For the last few days, I could tell that everyone was uncomfortable around me. They avoided me, wouldn’t look me in the eyes, etc… They’re all so nice that they didn’t deserve this. So I decided to defuse the situation. The first moment I had my supervisor alone I came right out and said “Soooo, I’ve come to the conclusion that I really suck at my job.” She literally stopped, bent over and let out a sigh of relief and laugh at the same time. It was a classic moment. She became absolutely giddy after I said that. Literally, the dark cloud looming over her head for the past few days instantly turned to sunshine. Her reply was “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.” She said that her and the rest of the staff loved me so much that they didn’t want to see me go so they’ve been cooking up ways to make me stay. They even came up with a whole “Jaime Boot Camp” idea where they would have me shadow everyone for a few weeks so I could learn all their tips and tricks to being fast. I was extremely moved by the trouble they were secretly going to because the last few people they had in this position they had no problem asking to leave. I officially gave her my two weeks notice and I told her that I wanted to stay but maybe I could find a different position that would be more suitable. She proceeded to rattle off all of the open positions and told me to go for it and that she’d back me up. She was so happy and so was I. It was surreal.

The rest of the week went a lot smoother after that and my supervisors and co-workers were a lot more at ease. They were sad but at least the pressure was off of them to make someone fit that just wasn’t fitting. With all that being said, the wheels are turning and people are coming up with ideas and ways to make it so I can stay in some capacity. Today, I’m interviewing for their Programs Manager position, which I’m well qualified for and I’d be great at. Wish me luck!

I guess the moral of this story is that it pays to speak up. If something’s not working, just be honest and say so. Don’t just stop showing up. Don’t just give up or check out. I may be out on my ass after this, but at least I can say that I left with their respect and friendship. I’m leaving on the best of terms and if something comes up that they think I’d be good at, I know they’ll contact me. I’m proud that I was able to approach such a tough situation with humor and honesty instead of continuing to do a sub par job and getting fired because of it.

Now, let’s enjoy some farm photos while we still have the chance:

farm photos, pig, feral cat
Going clockwise starting at the top left: Alex and I covering Roscoe the pig with straw. He loves it!; A majestic shot of the sanctuary.; More of Roscoe flinging the straw around and building his nest.; Zombie the feral cat. He gets into the worst fights and comes at the end of the day completely mangled. Last week I thought he was a goner because he couldn’t even use his back legs. However, he’s back in action now.

Farm Life, Making Crafty Magic

My cat-like reflexes vs. the sheep from hell.

socks and flip flops
It’s high fashion here all the way.

Greetings from the snowy depths of Connelly, New York! These back-to-back winter storms picked the perfect time to pummel us: my two days off! That suits me just fine since there’s nothing I hate more than driving in bad weather. I did however get the most awesome tires put on my car a few days ago–they cut through snow like a hot knife through butter–but still I’d rather be warm indoors instead of cold and wet working outside. Sadly, work is coming too soon. Weekends are just an awful tease sometimes.

Before I forget, I have an update on the fox that was found slumbering in the barn. A rehabber took it and instead of rabies (people seemingly jump to that conclusion about every sick/injured wild animal) it had a severe case of mange, which was treatable. I’m so relieved there was a happy ending because there was some mention of having the police come out to shoot it. Craziness!

Work was work. I wish I could tell you that my body has grown accustomed to it but that’s not the case at all. I’m still sore: from my fingers to my toes. I have a kick-ass shin splint that makes it so I have to hobble along. I naturally waddle as it is so adding a hobble to my waddle probably looks very special, to say the least. Still, it’s gotten a little easier. My feed runs are going smoother and I’m getting faster which pleases everyone. I’m becoming more comfortable working around horses but that’s probably because I’m now terrified of roosters AND sheep. Good gracious my whole world is turning upside down!

cows, goats and gators
Clockwise starting at the top left: The calves tasting the gator.; Caleb the cow enjoying his hay. I think we’re related because he has the Hazard chin.; The calves just chillin’ out.; Playing got your nose with Mr. Tumnus.

On Monday they sent me in to clean Briggs & Stratton’s stall. These are two of the most fearsome, loathsome sheep you’ll ever want to meet. They are cute on the outside but pure evil on the inside. I always want to think animals and people have good intentions but that’s soooo not the case with these two. They warned me right from my very first day to just stay the heck away from them because they don’t like people. I guess they enjoy luring visitors by looking really cute and friendly and as soon as you reach in to pet them they ram your fingers and hands into the metal gate. Knowing this, I was not thrilled to go in with them. However, they armed me with a large water cooler jug and told me to hit them on the head if they came near me. I thought that was pretty cool, in a sick way. I mean, how often do you get permission to actually hit something on the head by your employer? Never! So I looked at it as a potential stress-reliever/challenge.

Well, my optimism didn’t last long. Ten minutes went by of them leaving me alone and then Stratton cornered me in their stall, head butted the water jug right out of my hand sending it flying into the yard, and all I could do was dodge his full-force ramming. I was terrified. I grabbed him by both of his horns, spun him around and kicked his butt out the door. I was hoping this would deter him but instead this made him even angrier and more persistent. Meanwhile, Briggs was sneaking up behind me in the hopes of ramming me from behind. They were working together with the goal being to pummel me to death. I did what I could to artfully dodge them while I made my way to the gator to radio for backup. While Alex was coming I waited in the gator–which has no doors and the windshield was completely covered in snow–I had no idea where they were as they each circled around me like hungry sharks. Every few seconds one would appear and charge into the gator to ram me and I’d have to quickly jump to the other seat and jump back because the other one would immediately do the same from the other side.

When Alex finally got there all he did was yell at me to do something or I would never get out of there. I had no idea what to do. Eventually, they walked over to him standing at the fence-line with the intentions of luring him into a hand pounding. This gave me a window of opportunity to drive the gator out. Then Alex demonstrated how he deterred them which consisted of seriously pounding on them with the water jug. I guess I just wasn’t aggressive enough, even in the face of being hurt. I truly believe that beating up on anything, especially an animal, is wrong (which it is) so I felt bad for having to hit a sheep–even if my attempts didn’t even phase him. (Please note that sheep–because they ram one another–have extremely thick skulls, so no amount of smacking with a water jug will ever result in seriously harming one.) Still, it just felt like I was perpetuating some sort of vicious cycle.

I’m sure my work would not appreciate me telling you all this but there’s an important lesson here. Animals aren’t stupid. When they start their lives being abused, they learn that humans aren’t to be trusted and they act accordingly. Briggs & Stratton were rescued from a canned hunt operation so there’s a good chance they were mistreated. With that being said, the Catskill Animal Sanctuary is truly a sanctuary for all animals and I admire them for accepting those two demon-seeds for who they are and just letting them live out their days in peace.  Just because they’re not lovable doesn’t mean they’re not deserving.

Now that you know all that, I encourage you to watch this video of Briggs & Stratton and laugh along with me. I like their captions and their cut-aways. As soon as you see the footage cut away, the person behind the camera was probably mauled!

petunia the pitbull, fantasy book, natural art
Clockwise from top left: Petunia sleeping in.; Some of my shells and feathers getting ready to transform into art.; Tome of the Undergates…great read! I can’t suggest it enough!; Some of my photos transfered to canvas, sorting my shell collection and figuring out how I’m going to mix these medias.

Aside from that unpleasantness, all is very well. I’m even managing to get some artsy fartsy work done here on the home front. I have tons of shells, horseshoe crab tails, crab shells, invasive water chestnuts, acorns, nuts and feathers lying around that really need to be put to good use so I’m incorporating them into art pieces. I’ll keep you posted on what I come up with.

water chestnut art piece

Farm Life

I found me a new boyfriend.

cow in loveAll it took was one smooch on his big fleshy nose and Dozer the cow was all mine. For the rest of the day he followed me for as far as his fence could take him. A couple of times he looked so pathetic that I ran over to him and planted a few more kisses on his nose, which he loved. I asked Alex if it was like him to follow everyone from place to place and to stare at you from across the farm, apparently it’s not his norm. Usually he just hangs out next to his hay hut all day. Needless to say, I must have made an impression.

There was a sick fox found at work today. It literally snuck into the barn when we were all at lunch, found a clean stall with a fresh bed of hay and curled up in it. My co-workers found it snoozing. By the time I saw it, they had it in a cage and were calling around to see if they could find a wildlife rehabber to take it. It definitely was sprayed by a skunk, that was pretty obvious, but the rest is just speculation. Everyone jumps to rabies but there could be a whole suite of potential ailments, some curable. All I know is that I felt really bad for the poor thing. It just looked so tired. It wasn’t aggressive or defensive. It just seemed worn out and terrified. All it wanted to do was curl up somewhere warm and be left alone. I can’t blame any creature for wanting that. By the end of the day, an animal control officer came and got it. I’m not sure what the plan was and I didn’t dare inquire for fear my heart may be broken.

handmade scarves
Handmade neck warmers for sale. $10 each + shipping.

And now for something completely different…I promised my mother (Ling Ling) that I’d take photos of the neck warmers/cowls she made and try to sell them in my Etsy shop. There’s nothing in the world that makes her happier than when someone buys one of her creations so I figured I’d make up for being such a bad kid by doing her a solid–just this once. If you read my blog you’ll know that I find photos of myself cringe-worthy but since it’s a challenge to sell a scarves without a pics of someone wearing them, I decided to try my hand at modeling. Well, my good intentions went awry. First of all, I could only show one side of my face because the other side is still healing from the rooster attack. (I’m not good with Photoshop so I had to make do with old school au naturale.) Secondly, I uploaded the photos to Facebook and was instantly reminded of the eclectic group of friends I’ve gathered throughout the years. The comments started out positive but I felt the self-deprecating need to just explain that they could be better had my face not been injured. My friends rarely restrain themselves so what started out as an attempt to sell Ling’s creations turned into a comment session on me being cock slapped in the face. A friend counted eight comments with the word “cock” in them. Oh mother, I meant well. I really did. I love my friends. I really do.

Farm Life

Thank goodness for days off!

ABM_1390915113Today is the equivalent of my Saturday. There’s soooo much I should be doing: getting new tires, going to the grocery store, etc…but yuck! I’d easily hire someone to do these things for me, especially in this cold. I also need to take photos of me modelling Ling Ling’s scarves and post them on my Etsy site. However, I’m not sure people will buy scarves from someone with a rooster-beaten face. Such an odd problem to have… I’m not down with Photoshop so I may just have to wait until I heal or experiment with angles.

Yesterday was much better than previous days. I awoke with a shred of optimism about my job. My body was feeling better aside from some sort of sprained ankle-ish deal and I seemed to be running like a well oiled machine. Most of the time I feel like I’m aimlessly bumbling around the farm but yesterday was silky smooth. It was a good way to end my work week. Hannah was out of sorts at the end of the day though. She slept with the Goon Squad the night before but apparently that didn’t go so well because she refused to do it again. (I can’t say I blame her–those creatures are nuts!) Instead, after a lot of obvious confusion, she decided to sleep alone in the stall she shared with Lambert. It was sad to see her in such a state. I’d hoped that a sheep would forget after a few days but in my heart of hearts I knew better. They are, after all, sentient creatures just like us, despite what some may find it more convenient to believe.ABM_1390914169On a lighter note, the Goon Squad was up to their usual antics and even added some new ones to their repertoire. They’ve discovered the outside door that leads to the kitchen. They usually beg for attention at the inside half-door but I caught them trying to literally open–with their mouths and feet–the outside kitchen door. I thought you needed thumbs to turns nobs but these little buggers are smart and it’s only a matter of time before they master the art of opening doors sans thumbs. When that day comes, watch out because no one and no thing will ever be safe again!

Yesterday, more staff heard about my co-worker being taken off tour duty and they were equally upset. I guess, he’s notorious for being the best tour guide the farm has ever had. This is just another great example of an organization shooting themselves in the foot. It’s extremely disappointing but not surprising. And let me just ask the world, why do office workers get paid so much more than folks who perform manual labor? I don’t understand. And I’m not even talking about one dollar more per hour; I’m talking about many dollars more. The caregiving staff works outside in the worst weather conditions, there are no days off, there are no holidays off, we are constantly being put in harm’s way and without us there would be no animal sanctuary in the first place YET the office staff–who can take sick days and holidays off, who work inside all day, and are never at risk of injury–get paid a whole lot more. It’s like this at every job I’ve had in fact, not just this one. And I don’t think the differentiation is based on education level because my supervisor and I both have veterinary degrees. It just seems more than a little convoluted to me. I’m not saying that their jobs aren’t equally important. Heck no! Not at all! Nor am I suggesting they receive a cut in pay. I’m just pointing out a glaring discrepancy and asking for wage equality. Any thoughts on this?

ABM_1390913675Last night I didn’t get a chance to write because I actually went out and did something I never do…I was social! Gasp! I met up with my friends Cassie & Lauren at New World Home Cooking in Woodstock to hear my buddy Jude Roberts play in the Celtic Sessions. Jude and I are such a great combo. Whenever we’re together we get laughing so hard that peeing is almost inevitable. I need more of that in my life. I’ll happily invest in some adult diapers if it means seeing Jude more often. The music, Bananas Foster and delicious beer didn’t hurt either. Plus, I met a new friend. What more could one ask for on a Monday night? Nothing.

Farm Life

A questionable horizon

goat with chickens
This is my buddy Stencil, the ringleader of the mischievous Goon Squad. He might be my favorite animal on the farm. He’s my constant companion throughout the day. These broiler chickens are also wonderful to have around. Seeing them run when they hear food hit their dish might be the best thing ever.

This is going to be a short and sweet post because I need to jump into bed, watch Sherlock and give my body a much-needed rest. I’m not going to lie, I’m struggling. My job should be getting easier but it’s only becoming more painful. My body is just not tolerating the work and yet the rest of me absolutely loves it. Ahh…the irony of it all. Usually I have the exact opposite problem. A big part of my job is being able to lift heavy bails of hay, jumping in and out of truck beds, shoveling wet bedding and wrestling large animals for health checks. To make matters worse, they just received a load of hay bails that are so heavy that it took two of us to load them onto the truck this morning. They’re each about 75 pounds and they make me want to wet my pants every time I lift one. And don’t think for a second that I’m alone in this sentiment. My big, strong, male co-workers all agree: they’re pants-wetting heavy, no doubt about it.

It looks like I may face a tough decision ahead. I love this job, it’s everything I’ve wanted, but I’m in such physical pain that it keeps me up at night. Even my trusty Aleve isn’t cutting it. Morning yoga and hot packs at night are helping so that’s a start. And my friend Carrie gave me this homemade coconut and peppermint oil concoction that I’ve been using as a muscle rub. It feels amazing and has helped to aleviate the some of the soreness. Whatever she puts in that stuff is pure magic.

I guess overall, I’m just having a hard time accepting the fact that I might not be living in a “normal” 37-year-old’s body. Perhaps years of grueling field work and improperly healed injuries are catching up with me. My co-workers and supervisors are so understanding (which makes it all that more crappy if I decide to leave). They keep telling me that this kind of work is not for everyone and only I can say for sure if it’s too much.  However, I’m not willing to throw in the towel just yet. I’ve still got some fight left in me and maybe I’m just experiencing some prolonged growing pains. At least that’s what I’ll tell myself… until the muscle rub wears off and my body snaps in half.

Farm Life

Veganism, not elitism.

Rudy and Helen the cows.
Here’s Rudy and Helen waiting in the cold for me to bring them some delicious hay. Helen is blind but that doesn’t stop her one bit. She eats like it’s going out of style. Her favorite pastime is sneaking up behind me and tossing me like a rodeo clown when I’m cleaning her stall.

Wow, it was a cold, miserable day outside today. Working in a snow storm slows everything down immensely. You basically have to concentrate on just getting the basics done and that’s it. As soon as I had broken and removed all of the ice from the water troughs and small animal dishes, it just froze up again. Russ broke the record a few days ago at having to go around and break all the ice five times in one day. That’s literally non-stop breaking and filling up water troughs for 400+ animals. This is extremely hard work, to say the very least.

All that aside, I’ve got a bee in my bonnet today. One of my co-workers happened to mention that he is no longer going to be doing farm tours because over the years there have been complaints from vegan visitors and also vegan donors. Logic suggests that since it’s a farm animal sanctuary that promotes veganism, tour guides should obviously live a vegan lifestyle. It makes superficial sense…if we’re labeling people and putting the entirety of who they are into one purdy little container.

I should mention that my co-worker has been a dedicated employee for eight years and is by far the best tour guide the farm has. Emily and I enjoyed our tour when we first found the place and he made such a good enough impression on me that I remembered him from almost two years ago. He knows all the animals by name, they know him, he knows how each animal came to be at the farm, he’s outgoing, he’s got a booming voice and he’s great with people. More than anything, he enjoys being a tour guide and he’s proud to be an ambassador for the farm. When people ask him about his eating habits on tours, he does the right thing by telling the truth: he doesn’t eat meat but he eats the eggs from the farm and he has a weakness for cheese. Same as me. Apparently, that’s not good enough for some people though. However, let me tell you that he has dedicated his whole life to helping animals and on a day like today, he’s there putting in long hours, freezing his butt off providing the animals with the best care possible. I doubt I could say the same for any of those people.

Veganism is rooted in compassion and not judgement but some vegans make the mistake of being compassionate towards animals while refusing to extend the same courtesy to people. It’s this kind of person that feels like it’s okay to base job worthiness on someone’s eating habits. Perhaps they feel more enlightened than most but to me, enlightenment is compassion towards oneself and to all other beings and acceptance of oneself and all others. Enlightenment is not something that can ever be reached but it something we should strive to brush up against.

I guess the bottom line is that I’d prefer taking a tour from someone striving to become vegan than someone who is and thinks they’re better than me because of it. Plus, the main goal of the sanctuary is not to cater to vegans but to teach non-vegans how to make healthier, more compassionate lifestyle choices. Wouldn’t it be better to have a tour guide who is working in that direction themselves? Someone more relatable? And let me tell you, if anyone ever made the mistake of looking down at me for being a vegetarian, I’d ask them where they buy their clothes? More than likely, that person is wearing something made in a foreign country by slave labor and added toxic chemicals and pollutants to our environment. Where’s their compassion or enlightenment now? My guess is that it only extends so far. Booyah!

I should note that I, of course, do not feel this way about most vegans. I’m friends with a great many of them and love them dearly. I was a vegan for several years and wish I could get back to that point. That darn cheese is a hard habit to break though. If only they could make a delicious substitute. And the farm is not to blame for removing my co-worker from tours. They’ve been pressured by donors for years and since they’re funded entirely through donations, I don’t think they had much of a choice, sadly. Even my co-worker understands that. So I don’t want this rant to reflect poorly on the farm because they’re all so awesome. It’s just a few squeaky wheels that have to ruin it all.

eggs
Look at the delicious goodness in my fridge. Clutch the pearls! What would people say?!