Saturday, May 30, 2020

The eyes have it...

Yesterday I met a man who introduced himself as "Joe." In a matter of minutes he had me smiling as he tried to poke a very sharp needle into my hand. But wait, that's not really the beginning of the story. Let me go back a little.

Two years ago I was diagnosed with glaucoma. This eye disease is caused when the delicate mechanisms in the eye that drain excess ocular fluid malfunction. It is hereditary, my father had it, and his grandmother lost an eye to it. At first I responded beautifully to simply putting a drop of medicine in each eye at night, but soon that was not enough.(Interesting side note. Most medications have terrible potential side effects. The eye drops I've been taking have a side effect, too. They make ones eye lashes grow long and luxurious. Bonus!)  By the time I was diagnosed, I'd already lost about 50% of the vision in my left eye, and if the doctor couldn't find a medication that would help, my vision would deteriorate even more. I've been seeing my eye doctor on a very, very, regular basis for the past 24 months. He's a good guy, and not hard to look at, but really, it was too much.

After a while I developed an allergy to two of the medications that were working, causing my eye to swell and itch like fury. My good doctor finally decided to pack me off to a specialist in Portland, and I went in March, in the early days of the Covid-19 crisis. The specialist agreed I needed surgery, the sooner the better, but said they were probably suspending surgeries due to Covid. He went on to explain that there were two available techniques; a Trabeulectomy, where a tiny trap door is cut into the sclera to relieve pressure, or a new procedure, called Xen, where a wee stent is placed in the eye. Since I know more than one person who has had poor results with the Trabuelectomy, I was pretty excited by his glowing description of the newer surgery. I mean, not that any surgery is exciting, but this one seemed promising. After he got me all on board to sign up for having holes poked in my eyes, he looked at my file and said, "Oh, I'm sorry, your insurance wont cover the Xen." I was terribly disappointed. "We will call you when we can operate," he said, and sauntered out of the room.

Last week I received a call from his office, "We are doing some of the more urgent cases this month and would like to schedule you," nice Nicki said. "And I have good news, in the months since we've seen you, your insurance will now cover the preferred procedure." I was delighted. We set a date for my worst, (left) eye to be operated on. 

Things got a little complicated after that. Because Rachel and I had to close our business for a month when the governor mandated a shut down, we have been working many 6 day weeks, and most of those include 10 + hour days. We have just been beginning to get caught up with our regular customers, but our dance card is very full. The surgery was planned for Friday, 5/29, so we had to re-arrange an entire day of customers. We opted to work on the Memorial Day holiday, and moved all the folks up to Monday. Then on Tuesday I got another call from Nicki at the eye care center. "I hate to tell you this, but the insurance won't cover the Xen surgery unless you have a failed Trabulectomy first." I am not the sort of woman who cries often, but I burst into frustrated tears. I called the insurance company and after being transferred about 10 times finally talked to a woman who suggested that my doctor call their doctor for a "peer to peer," review. Nicki called me back the next day. "We have a whole team working on this for you," she said. "The doctor has called the company, our insurance specialist has called. We are all pulling for you, but we may have to postpone the date." Insert more frustration here. I wasn't holding out a lot of hope that the bureaucracy of a big insurance company was going to help out the little guy. In this case, me. I asked if I should assume that Friday was off, thinking we'd plan to groom that day after all, working through some of our long wait list. "Not yet," she said. Wednesday she called back, "Ready for some good news? We have it under control. Sort of. We think.But we are doing your surgery Friday." Miracles happen.

Friday morning I was wide awake at 4:00 AM. I baked a double batch of cookies to take to the staff at the office, and Rachel was here bright and early to escort me on the two hour trip to Portland. Once there I was whisked inside, and taken immediately to surgery. That's when I met a fabulously nice, nurturing nurse who put me at ease and got me ready for the next step, which was meeting Joe. Turns out he is the anesthesiologist. He tried to start an IV in my left hand. I know from experience that the veins there are not terribly cooperative, but he gave it a good effort, muttering as he failed a few times. I suggested he try the larger veins inside my elbow, and he did, with quick success. Next he explained what I could expect as events progressed. I was to be taken to the operating room where a team would be assembled. They would cover me with a heated blanket, and have a "time out" where they all gathered to go over who I was, and what the procedure would be. Then Joe was going to give me a sedative and after that he was GOING TO STICK A NEEDLE IN MY EYE. Now, like many people I am a little squeamish about eyes. They are soft and squishy and vulnerable and ... important. I'm also not a big fan of needles, truth be told. So the news of what he had planned should have horrified me, but not the way Joe told it. He made it sound like a jolly idea. I was all on board. This was gonna be great.

Things went along as described, warm blanket, skilled team, and Joe. As soon as I was relaxed and saw the glint of large needle coming my way, I had to quip, "So, Joe... " everyone froze. "I hope your are better at this than you were starting that IV." The room dissolved in laughter. Joe rose to the occasion. I never felt a thing. 15 minutes later I was walked to recovery.

This morning we were back in Portland to have my eye checked. The doctor said my cookies were delicious. My eye pressure, which had been in the dangerous 20's, is a low 6. He said everything looks great and he will call surgery a success. I did a little happy dance right in his office. I'm sure it was a sight to behold.

A celebration was in order. We went out to a favorite spot for baskets of excellent fried clams and sat right on the water on a perfect spring day to enjoy them. 

My instructions are to "eat, drink and watch TV" for the next 30 days.I may not bend over, I may not engage in strenuous activity, I may not lift anything heavier than 5-10 pounds. 9 pound Flirt will be appalled.

 I have to wear a guard or glasses over my eye 24/7 for 30 days, and my right eye will get Joe and his needle treatment in two weeks. Poor Chris and Rachel will have to work extra hard taking care of work and animals, and I feel very bad about that, and so thankful for their unwavering support and kindness. Mostly I feel excited and blessed to have had the opportunity to keep my precious vision. The eyes have it!

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sweet sisters and spring activities...

My sister Diane, known as Dicy, would have celebrated her birthday May 13th if she were still trodding this good earth. Some of her ashes are mingled under the crab apple tree in my front yard. Every year during her birthday time this garden is a riot of tulips and daffodils. Sometimes the apple tree blooms at the same time, and it's quite a sight.  This year I have a statue of a cherub on a dolphin that once belonged to Dicy, and now rides joyously over the blooms.

On her birthday this year, while we were busily working, a van pulled up in the driveway and a woman hopped out and delivered some beautiful bouquets. 

One for Rachel and one for me, from sister Donna, in celebration of all our recent spring birthdays and in honor of the much-missed Dicy. My eyes leaked a little. 

Sister Deb recently experimented making a souffle. She said that despite the reputation of being tricky to make, it wasn't, but it was delicious. Since I have a steady supply of fresh eggs from my flock of hens, she thought it would be good for me to learn to make them, too. Friday my sweet mail delivery lady trotted up my path with a box. 

A souffle pan of my own!  The gauntlet has been thrown, I must now learn to make eggy, puffy, cheesy delishiouness. I can hardly wait. My sisters are generous, thoughtful and fun.

Meanwhile, as spring progresses it is marked in annual farm functions. We moved the broiler chicks from their cozy hut in the garage to a chicken tractor outside. Chicken tractors are portable housing that can be moved every day or two, giving the birds fresh ground. Ours is made out of two 16' long fence panels, fastened at the top to create a long tent-like structure. A tarp is zip tied on to provide shelter and shade, and one person can drag it around fairly easily. The very first night we moved the little things out was heralded with gusty winds and a downpour of rain, but with their heat lamp going and plenty of food and water they were fine. It is fun to watch them waddling around in the grass, sprawling out to soak up the sun, taking dust baths in the garden. At night we herd them back to the tractor to keep them safe. Bravo has become quite helpful at encouraging the fat things to "go to bed," at night. 

He loves helping round them up, and is most pleased with himself when the last chick is safely tucked in. 

Our generous neighbors allow us to use some of their land to graze the donkeys and goats on in the warm months. We have been working on getting the electric fence up and tight for the year. We hope to finish this job today. Wonderful Marion stopped by to help us last week. We wanted to enclose a little of the scrubby bushes in the fence, because the animals will do a great job clearing up brush, and it will provide them with some needed shade. A few old trees had fallen and were leaning perilously near our fence. With chainsaw in hand she made quick work of the dead wood and cleared a path for new fence to go up. I pretended to help, but really it was all her. 

The goats will think they are in heaven with shrubby to nibble on. I can hardly wait to show them the bounty that awaits. 

Gardening goddess Brenda spent a few hours here working in my flower beds. When I weed a garden it looks nice for a week or so, but then the weeds come right back. When Brenda works her magic, the weeds dare not reappear for months, or even entire seasons. She has a tendency to bring plants from her garden when she comes, and tucks them in here and there. These little dwarf Iris are some of the first things to bloom here in the spring, and were gifts from her. She leaves beauty in her wake, and I am so grateful. 

Although we had frost on the grass this morning, spring is blooming all around us, and it is good. 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Window glass...

I am more fortunate than many, because when I look out my windows I am surrounded by beauty. And animals. During these weeks of "stay at home," I suspect many people have spent more time than usual looking at the world through window glass.

When I opened my home grooming studio, one of the first things I did was put a multiple hook bird feeding station close by, so I could see it while I worked. The birds found it within hours, and it is popular throughout the year.  This past Saturday was mostly sunny and clear, and the birds really put on a show for us. I got my long lens out for my camera, and before the day was done took well over 100 pictures, mostly of birds.

There were the common birds we see all year, like this charming Tufted Titmouse.

 And the cheery, ever-present Chickadees were abundant.

I was entranced watching the Bluebirds build their nest.

The female (above) seemed to do most of the choosing and carrying of nesting material, then busily arranging it once inside.I could see flurries of movement as she tugged material though the door and fixed it to her liking. Bluebirds make their nests of grasses, pine needles and plant matter, then line them with feathers or fine grass.

 The male did a lot of hunting for bugs. At one point he spent several minutes smacking the squirming life out of a fat caterpillar, then flew to his bride, who was resting in a nearby tree,  and fed it to her.

 He also stood guard on top of the nest box, quarreling with any bird that got too close or showed too much interest in their home.

An unusual visitor here this time of year was a pretty White Crowned Sparrow.

A flash of orange caught my eye. A female Baltimore Oriel swooped to the feeder. Moments later her mate joined her, but was camera shy. We put orange halves out and they were drawn to them. I wish they would stay around, but they never seem to.

Later in the day a small flock of Bohemian Waxwings drifted in, and gobbled up the dried fruit hanging from the crab apple tree. They startled when I opened the door to take their picture, and didn't come back. 

At one point I looked out to see these decidedly not air-born creatures, all resting at once. 

Sarah and Abraham often touch when they nap together. They are sweetly bonded to each other.

Each day I am grateful to look through the glass of any room and see trees, meadows, and life both wild and not.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Donkey teeth and bird nests...

Once a year the large animal veterinarian comes out and checks all my animals. They get the necessary vaccines, and a physical. This year we arranged for her to "float" the donkeys teeth, too. Because equine teeth grow throughout their lifetime, they need to be filed once a year or so. As they grow, they can wear unevenly and sharp points can form, irritating their cheeks and/or tongue.  Last fall Abraham had a broken tooth which required a visit from the equine dental $pecialist. We all agreed that my regular vet would check him and take care of all of the donkeys teeth while she was here this spring. Today was the day.

One at a time, each donkey received a mild sedative. Then this huge, metal speculum was placed in their mouths to open their jaws. A sturdy stand gave them a place to rest their sleepy heads. The cloth over their eyes cushioned the strap over their forehead. The vet has a special, motorized tool that she uses to file the sharp bits and uneven teeth. Unfortunately she found several more broken teeth in Abraham's mouth, and a few wiggly incisors. She thinks he is a good bit older than his previous owner thought he was, probably in his mid 20's. He may need some extractions in the fall, we will watch him carefully and see how he is eating.  Sarah had one back molar that was much too tall, throwing off her bite. Sharp points on her teeth had caused painful looking ulcers on her cheeks. She will feel much better in a few days.  Jezebel had a broken tooth, as well, but it does not seem to be bothering her.

Abraham and Sarah were perfect angels throughout the process. Jezebel was far more feisty, requiring special handling, extra sedation, and a sense of humor as even sedated she literally growled as the exam progressed. 

Released from care but still sedated, the poor donkeys stumbled around, looking like they had a big night on the town and way too many bottles of beer. 

Here are Abraham and Saran, heads hanging, standing in the doorway to the donkey dorm while Jezebel was having her turn They stood there the entire time, swaying unsteadily, occasionally resting their soft noses on the ground, their exhaled breath blowing shavings around in small puffs. 

Once done with the donkeys, the vet and her assistant gave each of the goats their annual shots, and Iggy, the only boy kid, was relieved of his testicles. 

 He had general anesthesia, and local, as well. A shot of antibiotics, and one of pain reducer. When it was all over he sat groggily in the vets lap for a while, then suddenly hopped off and ran out the door to rejoin the herd. He shows no sign of knowing anything is wrong, is eating and playing just like always. 

The day is sunny and clear, but quite chilly with a brisk wind. I saw our first hummingbird here yesterday. I can only assume he was happy to find a feeder full of nectar, as there are precious few flowers blooming this cool spring. 

There is a lovely pair of bluebirds investigating the house near my studio windows. The male is a particularly vibrant blue, and quite flirtatious. While his beloved is in the nest box, or perched on top of it, he sits in adjoining birch and sings to her. Then he will dramatically lift first one wing, and then the next,up in the air. He fans his tail, too, as if to say, "Have you seen this angle? How about how blue I look when I do this?!"  I can only assume she finds him handsome, I know I certainly do. 

Meanwhile, an earnest looking young couple of tree swallows are investigating the real estate of bird  houses in the back yard. 

Less enjoyable are the messy, noisy starlings which have made multiple nests up under the eves, placed so that when they come and go they can conveniently splatter bird poo on my clean windows. I far prefer the bluebirds and swallows. 

Spring marches forward, one unseasonably chilly day at a time. It is marked on my calendar by slowly unfolding leaves on the trees, annual veterinary visits, and romancing birds. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Back to work...

 The dogs were as happy to get back to work as we were. Bravo and Opal have a deep love, and I know they missed each other. They play and romp, and then have long, intense session of kissing and cuddling.
It was lovely to work in the freshened studio. The new floor and crisp, white paint make everything seem light and bright. I bought new pink towels to replace the old blue ones, and the sweetest mat for in front of the tub. The advertisement promised it would feel "like standing on 1,000 gummy bears." To our delight the pink of the towels perfectly matches the new mat.

We had the ceiling painted light blue. I've always wanted a porch with a blue ceiling, and now I have it. I brought a pile of paint chips home and my artist neighbor kindly came over and helped me tape them to the ceiling and decide which color was best. It makes me smile every time I look up.

We worked 50 hours last week, trying to catch up. Our customers were patient, kind and generous. One brought us flowers, another home made cupcakes. Someone brought a bottle of champagne, another a big pot of culinary herbs.We are all getting used to having us pick the pets up from the car, instead of inviting people in to sit and visit. I wear a black mask and have begun to quip, "This is a stick up, give me your dog (or cat) and no body gets hurt!" It lightens the mood a bit. We pop the pets right in the tub, and spends lots of time washing our hands, as well.
One customer asked if she could possibly brush the donkeys while we groomed her dog. I marched her right outside, and put a brush in her hand. She spent an hour out in the sun, with the goats and donkeys crowding around her, each eager for attention and the feel of the firm brush pulling out their itchy, shedding, coats. It was a bit of a trick to get her to stop and come gather her dog when his grooming was done!

Meanwhile, around the farmlette spring is finally showing its colors.

But yesterday we woke to snow. It seemed a bit surreal to see the budding trees and blooming flowers, all covered in snow.  All day it came down, accompanied by icy gusts of wind.It felt wintry enough that we lit a fire in the stove. Chris made chili and biscuits for supper, the icy day begged for hearty fare.  Very little white stuff accumulated, however, and today is mercifully bright and clear.

While pottering about the yard one day last week I investigated the vegetable garden to begin plotting what work needs to be done. The rhubarb is up, and I stooped to see a few nubs of asparagus nudging up through the cold soil. Something caught my eye, a flash of white under an overturned kayak. A brief investigation showed a hen had left the safety of the fenced yard to build a leaf and feather lined nest under the ruddy boat.

She is brooding 15 eggs, sitting in a trance-like state all day and night, only leaving the nest once or twice a day to eat, drink and defecate. Although she and her nest are charming, they are not altogether safe. So I hatched a plan. I put a crate in the garage, and made a cozy nest inside a dish pan, lining it with shavings and straw. As dusk gathered, I asked Chris to help me. The idea was that he would raise the kayak up, and I would gently lift the broody hen. Then he was to carefully place the eggs in the pan. Next he would carry the pan and eggs, I would carry the bird, and we would settle them into the safety of the crate. I'd put food and water in there for the expectant mama, and she could stay there, safe from any passing fox, until her chicks hatched. 

My plot was going along smoothly. I had the hen in my hands, and was watching as Chris counted the eggs. Suddenly the bird came out of her broody trance, pecked me hard and with an outraged squawk escaped my grasp. There was no catching her, though we tried. So we carefully placed the eggs back where we found them, tipped the kayak back over her nest, and called it a night. She pecked around a bit, then ducked below the lip of the kayak and fluffed her feathers around the pile of eggs. I set up a little prayer of safety for her, and we called it quits.  Perhaps we will try again tonight. 

Meanwhile, the "supper" chicks are growing at the same alarming pace they always do. Soon we will be able to move them outside so they can scratch in the dirt, eat grass and bugs and get down to the business of being chickens. 

I'm off to clean out all the animal houses and enjoy this lovely, (though cool) spring day. Tomorrow, it's back to work again, and I am glad. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Spring snow...

An enormous brush pile has been growing for the past two years in the pasture. Two dead pine trees that were cut last summer were stacked there, along with a few Christmas trees the goats and donkeys had been nibbling on all winter. Then we had a apple tree taken down, (it was dying,) so all of its smaller limbs and branches were mounded up. The pile was 6 or so feet tall, and I was tired of looking at it. I wanted it gone before some sweet migrating song bird built a nest there. Sunday evening was chilly and rain or snow was in the forecast. Good weather to burn brush. Rachel and Evans came over to help.Evans is a pro at playing with fire.

 Chris grilled some chicken and Rachel cooked up a family favorite dish of pasta with vegetables. We dined outside, in warm coats, watching the flames. They shot up into the evening sky 20 feet or more to start, then settled down to piles of screamingly hot embers with a nice manageable flame. Evans jostled logs into position to help things burn more efficiently. We pulled chairs up around the glow, our fronts hot from the fire, our backs cold from the chill evening air. We toasted marshmallows and feasted on sweet, sticky, s'mores. Opal the pug raced around the pasture in the gathering gloom, stretching her city dog legs, visiting goats, sniffing lustily all the farm scents. She ran and played and finally, after a few hours, tried to dig a little hole under a chair and curled up, exhausted and shivery. We brought her inside.

Around 11 PM, long after Chris and I had claimed our favorite couch positions, the "kids," put the fire out. A cold rain had started about an hour before and wind was whipping up. All night it screamed around the eves. The brush pile was reduced to just a few of the larger logs, now blackened and diminished.

All day  Monday a cold rain came down, and gusts of wind tossed the trees. My neighbor was going to walk down to get some eggs, but chose to drive instead. The goats and donkeys stayed in their clean shed most of the day. Mid afternoon I went outside to check on all the animals. I started with the 40 new baby chicks in the garage. When I opened the door it was too quiet. Usually they are making sweet, soft, peeping sounds. When I looked in their heat lamp was out, and they were in a miserable pile. The bulb had burned out, and though I thought I had a replacement, I was mistaken. I rushed to the hardware store and came back as quickly as I could. Baby birds have trouble regulating their body temperature, and I had no idea how long they had been cold. I screwed the bulb in with trembling hands, and they quickly moved under its red glow. After just a few moments they began to chirp happily, and scurry about to eat and drink. I was relieved. Apparently there was no lasting harm done, because they are all fine today.

When I woke this morning and looked outside I was dismayed to see a layer of white covering the greening grass.
I am yearning for spring, for budding trees and flowers and grass growing so fast you can almost see it. I want to plant things in the garden and smell the incomparable scent of warming earth. Instead I am home fretting over the Covid lockdown, watching the snow fall and pulling my warm gloves out of storage. It's disheartening.

Focusing on good things helps, of course.  The new floor in the studio is lovely, and dreamy to mop. The old wood floor required vigorous scrubbing and still never looked clean. A quick stroll with a damp mop and this floor is perfect. I've taken care to only put back the things we really need or love, and the place looks fresh and tidy.

I splurged and bought a huge stack of new towels for the pets. Petal pink, looking soft and cuddly in the old wicker basket.

While we had the tub disconnected and out of the room, I painted behind it. That wall takes a beating with dogs shaking shampoo and shedding hair all over it. Some elbow grease and fresh paint made a big difference.

I don't expect to see a soul today until Chris comes home at supper time. He had to go to Yarmouth and Portland, but will work from home the rest of the week. Still, I have showered, fixed my hair and put on makeup. I'm going to tackle a project or two and work on an article.I have tidied the house and planned supper, now I will try to enjoy the quiet time, hush the worry that crowds my mind, and create a bit.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Masks and distance and more...

 I had to zip out to buy a quart of paint for a project on Friday. On my way home I saw this masked shrubbery and laughed out loud. I had to pull over and snap a picture of it. It's wonderful when people share their sense of humor with the passing world. 

The local store has this sign on the door. Mainer humor delights me. 

Talk radio was playing while I drove, the man was postulating that he believes there will be food shortages in the coming months. Normally I order broiler chicks every spring and raise them to put in the freezer. Because so many people are home and not at work now, lots of people are buying chicks, and the company I normally order mine from is sold out. I was regretting that I had not put my order in a few weeks ago. No sooner did I arrive at home when Marion pulled up and dashed to the door. "Tractor Supply has broiler chicks, but not many. You should get over there and grab some."  I didn't have anything set up to house chicks, and I didn't want to leave home because I had a contractor here working on a project. So I called Rachel. She and her husband had hoped I would raise some birds for their freezer this year, too, so she agreed to drive to the store and get the chicks. This left me time to rig up housing for them. I went out to the pasture and pushed, pulled, dragged, hauled and muckled a heavy, awkward, calf hutch across the paddock, out one gate, through another gate, up over the lawn, through a third gate, and into the garage. Then I found our heat lamp, feeder and chick water container. I got the feeder and water container cleaned and arranged the heat lamp so it was safely affixed. Then I put a thick layer of pine shavings down and waited.  After a while Rachel appeared with a peeping box. 

40 downy chicks were snuggled in the box, and we tucked them into their new home and sat watching a while as they explored, ate, drank and settled into an adorable pile under the warm, rosy glow of the light. New little faces at FairWinds. 

The contractor I mentioned was here laying a new floor in the grooming studio. The old floor was original wood and I hated to cover it up. When we first turned the porch into a grooming studio we painted the floor. It was badly weathered and had dark water stains that couldn't be repaired. The paint looked nice, but had to be redone every year or so, and that was a project. It was also nearly impossible to sanitize, and if a nervous dog urinated, the liquid would vanish into the cracks of the floor. So I made the decision to put industrial grade linoleum down. It was early when he arrived, "I'm Guy," he said, and went right to work. First he laid a sub-floor of plywood. Then he used thick paper and made a template of the space. He rolled that up and took it back to the shop. After an hour or so he was back, with one, long, perfect sheet of flooring. 

This is what the floor looked like before.

 Here is Guy, on the newly installed sub-floor. Before he left to go back to the shop I asked him if he thought they  might have an remnants there. Our ducks live in a calf hutch in the hen yard. There is no floor, it sets right on dirt, and that makes it tricky to clean. It occurred to me that if I had a piece of flooring under it removing soiled shavings would be much easier. I explained what I wanted to him and he nodded, thinking.

When he came back he was all smiles. He had a perfectly sized piece of linoleum for my ducks. "Look at the pattern," he said, proudly. "It looks like rocks, they will feel right at home. There was another piece but it had black speckles on it and I thought that might drive them crazy, thinking it was bugs to eat." It's hard to know who was more pleased, me because I'd scored a nice duck floor, or him for choosing such an appropriate pattern.

I puttered around doing things, nervously waiting until I got to see the floor. Choosing it was tricky... looking at tiny samples and trying to imagine what the pattern will look like covering an entire room was a real challenge.  Finally the time came, and I was delighted to see how light, bright and clean the whole place looked.

The dogs checked it out and seemed to approve. Now I need to get everything back in and nicely arranged. I'm itching to redecorate a little while I'm at it. Perhaps the end results will show up in my next post.