Monday, January 31, 2011

When I Don't Post

When I don't post here at Brays of Our Lives, you can assume one of two things:

A) I'm out in the woods being Intrepid and Mighty, with FarmWife astride. This was the case this morning, and tomorrow I'll give you all sorts of cheerful anecdotes about our daring adventures.

B) I'm standing in my paddock being Lonesome and Forlorn, with FarmWife at work. This was the case yesterday and again this afternoon, and tomorrow I'll cheerfully eat some of the hay which she pays for, in part, through her efforts.

Never fear, my dear friends—whether I post or whether I don't, you're always in my noble and capacious heart.

Ears to you,
Fenway Bartholomule

Sunday, January 30, 2011

How to Live

1. Find the thing you love to do. Do it.
2. Know what skills or traits you're proud of. Grow them.
3. Surround yourself with people that inspire you.
4. Make others happy.
5. Smile.
6. Sing.
7. Notice beauty.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how we live—we gas-pumping, plastic-wrapping, internet-surfing, walmart-going people. I've been wondering if we're on the brink of something big—some cataclysmic ecological or social crisis that will tear our oil-driven subsistence from our hands. I've also been thinking, though, that it hardly matters whether we are or are not. In terms of personal integrity, it doesn't matter if the end is next year or next millennium. For those of us who've noticed (or those of us who believe) that we are driving ourselves to eventual or imminent calamity, there's an answer: live differently. 

A total, cold-turkey severence from the status quo is one thing, and there have been times I've thought of it: join a commune. Build an earthship. Make my shoes. Today, I don't think that's my answer. We have a mortgage. We work to pay the bills. We drive 20 miles to get our goat bred. We wash our clothes in an electric machine and cook our breakfast over a propane flame. I'm not ready to kiss those conveniences goodbye, but there are changes I could make every day. I could tackle harvesting produce with the same enthusiasm I show for grocery shopping, and I could make, barter, and salvage a great deal more than I do. 

I will can soup tomorrow, and I will bake the next day. It will save me a trip to Costco, and take me one step closer to my personal truth. I'd like to be proud of the way I live. I'd like to create more beauty than I destroy. I'd like to live honestly. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Evil tires, evil vegetables.

I changed my mind yesterday. Instead of carrying FarmWife and Clover up the mountain, I told FarmWife that I wanted to do her a very special favor—I wanted to show her that I could pull the tire about my pasture with poise, confidence, and cucumber-coolness.

She harnessed me, affixed my homemade singletree, and hitched the tire up behind. I walked. I trotted. It was glorious! I cantered a little. (Whoops!). Then I composed myself, and decided that I had not died, and all was well. I walked some more, and trotted, and was generally composed and agreeable.

FarmWife unhitched the tire, unharnessed yours truly, and offered me a celery bite. I was so startled by its unpalatable taste that I spooked, whacking my head on FarmWife's knee. PUBLIC SAFETY NOTICE: CELERY CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH. Luckily, it was not a hard whack, and it was not FarmWife's touchy knee. We're unscathed, and we've made friends again. The reunion involved a carrot—undeniably the best member of the vegetable family.

All in all, my day was not bad. The upshot? We now have a great deal more confidence in my future as a primo, #1 driving mule, and a great conviction that celery will not work as a mule reward.



Thursday, January 27, 2011

Your heart

This is your heart:
Emu egg photo from

This is your heart on a mule:
Emu photo from

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A B question

Queen Elizabeth II

Speaking of my housemule, B, there is this mystery:

Our neighbor, the Chicken Lady, announced today that she is in the market for a queen and four pounds of B's. I'll bet my B weighs about five pounds right now and, unlike some of us, she can't stand to lose much weight.

My first question: how on earth is a real queen going to fit in in Wickersham? We have no drum horses, no limousines, and certainly no castles!

My next question: where is the Chicken Lady going to find an even smaller minimule? Assuming that by B's she means several (that is, plural—more than one) they can't top two pounds each. That's pretty darned tiny.

My third question: Why "B"? Can't you pick a new name? I can think of 25 other letters that would do nicely, and that's without even deviating from American English.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Yo ho ho and a bothered bun

B, the minimule, regrets to inform the public that she is the humiliated heir to a "too small for the chihuahua" pirate sweater. She rocks the Jolly Rodger with disgruntled resignation. The fit is perfect, the style sassy, and the cut flattering. The overall effect is humorous, the colors dashing, and the yarn luxurious. The bun, however, is pissed.

'sok. She can take it off until the next photo shoot.



Sunday, January 23, 2011

An honor and a privilege—the Stylish Blogger award

Photo courtesy Juniper Burro of

I am honored recently by being recognized as a Stylish Blogger by Sheaffer the donkey. I could not be more tickled, for not only does this grant me the acknowledgement I so obviously deserve but it also awards me the privilege of nominating my own hoofful of favorite bloggers!

Sheaffer, thank you for this esteemed nomination. In accordance with the contest rules, which state that I must share seven things about myself that my readers may not know, I offer a twist: three and a half things about me, and (for her devotion to typesetting and transcribing obligations) three and a half things about FarmWife. They are as follows:

1) I grind my teeth when I am waiting for a meal. FarmWife has asked me to pinky swear that I shall not develop ulcers, to which I respond that I have no pinkies.

2) I can be sent on down the trail with a "walk on" and can wait, up ahead, with a "whoa" and a "stand." This is helpful during such activities as trail clearing or passing through complex tree falls.

3) I toe out considerably. I am still, however, perfect.

3.5) I am half as tidy now as I used to be, as I have decided to move my manure pile inside the shed during inclement weather. I still keep it organized and off to one side.

4) FarmWife has an irrational love of graph paper. I, on the other hand, can't touch the stuff without getting it dirty.

5) FarmWife once met Cass Ole, the horse who played the Black in Francis Ford Coppola's production of The Black Stallion.

6) FarmWife hates colas (e.g., coke or pepsi). When she drinks them, she feels as though her throat might close up. I, on the other hand, never turn down anything sweet.

6.5) Half of FarmWife's free time, at least, is spent in admiration of me, Fenway Bartholomule.

Now, I'm graced with the opportunity to pass this esteemed award on to additional bloggers of my choosing. I must begin with Bif, of He's a happy chappy and a robust boy, like myself. He always has something clever to say, and much of what he says is about his hearty appetite. I like that about him.

Secondly, I recommend to you the inspired musings of sweet Juniper, a beautiful burro from the wild blue yonder. While she's a bit behind on her posting, she never wastes a word. She's pretty, too, though I wouldn't want to let my darling Katie Scarlett hear me say so! Check Junie out at

Next, I bestow the Stylish Blogger award upon Upupaepops of While the blog never mentions equines, per se, it does cover the wild and wonderful beauty of the Pacific Northwest—something that equines are great at reaching, seeing, and tasting. If you ever wondered why we love this wet, green corner of the world, Upupaepops can tell you.

Speaking of wet, no one forecasts the weather like Cliff Mass! is the go-to place for the whats and whys of Northwest weather, and while it has nothing at all to do with mules it has everything to do with what to expect during a Washington muleback ride!

If you want something silly, irreverent, and random, nothing beats Careful—you might wet your pants. I hereby bestow the Stylish Blogger award upon Allie, who draws worried dogs better than anybody.

Also in the humor vein, is some pretty silly stuff. It's run by a stylish blogger with a penchant for goat humor, and I approve. After all, if you can't laugh at a goat, what can you laugh at?

For notes from the farm, can't be beat. Intelligent, entertaining, and packed with insight, beauty, and sweetness—kind of like a mule, now that I think about it.

Finally, for the crafty set we recommend Don't let her scare you—no one that creative could be real! She's probably an android, but a mulishly accomplished one.

Ears to you, Sheaffer, for the honor of this award. May your days be hayful and your spirit brayful.

Your stylish friend,
Fenway Bartholomule

Friday, January 21, 2011

I am the only animal blogger in the family.

Photo: Paisley, who models better than he writes.
To those who have asked whether B, Harriet*, Clover, Paisley, Townes, Desmond, B.G., Missy, Jasper Jules, or the chickens will be starting their own blogs, the answer (respectfully) is no. At least not, says FarmWife, until they learn to type.

If this spawns any worries about the permanence of MY blogging endeavors, shed them. I am yours forever.

Finally, please note that FarmWife does post her own thoughts, albeit intermittently, at Most of them are about me, Fenway Bartholomule.


*You may remember Harriet's abortive attempt at blogging last year. She turned out not to be nearly as clever as me, but by appropriating her blog for my poetry I facilitated her respectable resignation. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Arts and crafts

FarmWife wouldn't let me use the play-doh (she was afraid I'd eat it, I suppose, or get it hairy) but I did convince her to make you this lovely little donkey.

Thanks, FarmWife!


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Bold and the Brayful: fantasy versus reality

The Bold and the Brayful—a column by Fenway Bartholomule

reprinted from the Brayer, the magazine of the American Donkey & Mule Society

Fantasy versus Reality

When my FarmWife bought me, I was a Pasture Mule. Like Reining Mules, Working Cow Mules, Dressage Mules, Driving Mules, and Jumping Mules, Pasture Mules do good, challenging, and important work. In my case, my key responsibilities were eating the grass, swishing the flies, and keeping an organized manure pile.

FarmWife bought me—or, rather, accepted the gift of me, because I was bestowed upon her as a present—with the idea that I would make a fine dressage mule, and that she would like to learn to drive me, and that perhaps we might do a bit of trail riding. She imagined our dressage as one-tempi's and canter pirouettes, lovely lengthenings, a symphony of travers hither and renvers thither . . . or is it renvers thither and travers thither? In any case, I set her straight the first time she tried to perform a 22-meter irregular ovaloid upon me. "Training level, test 1 does NOT call for 'poky trot, rising—ears back.'," I told her. "Our dressage needs work." Now, if we can trot in a straight line for twenty strides we're very happy—and we remember, both of us, that the term "dressage" simply means "training." We're training, all right. We're just not training for the hard stuff yet.

FarmWife imagines driving—she imagines driving me boldly through the water obstacle at a combined driving event, watching my plunging haunches as I brilliantly surge through the churning vortex. She has started me in harness for this very purpose, and I have learned to pull a travois of PVC pipes and, with apprehension, a rubber automobile tire. I have asked her to revise her expectations—I promise to pull her safely at the walk and trot, in a controlled setting, with a safe vehicle. There shall be no "surging" involved, and there shall certainly be no "surging" through a "churning vortex." Just so we're clear. At this stage, the mule's mantra"PROTECT LIFE AND LIMB"—must be our single biggest priority. Never forget.

FarmWife, though born and raised an English rider, would like to try reining. She wants, more precisely, to try bareback and bridleless reining, because she saw Stacy Westfall and Wizard's Baby Doll do it. Stacy Westfall performs a bareback reining pattern with grace, poise, harmony, and a velcro butt. "FarmWife," I said, "please practice. When you can canter bareback without yelling, 'oh no, oh no, oh no, I wish you had a mane!,' we can talk." Somehow, I don't see us wowing the crowds at Bishop with a copycat routine any time soon, but we can safely make one circuit of the pasture without tack and without injury. It's a start.

FarmWife imagined trail riding, too, and it turns out that's something we're good at. FarmWife wanted to meander down the shaded lanes of these beautiful foothills, and I wanted to plunge up the rocky hillsides of these rugged foothills, and we've been able to do some of each. I've discovered that ruffed grouse aren't as deadly as they first appear, and FarmWife has discovered that she has a better velcro butt than she thought when it comes to riding the occasional grouse-induced spook. We've both discovered that a trail ride is the perfect antidote to every stressor, every irritation, and every small disappointment. Every trail ride leaves us happy.

Of course, we have all our lives ahead of us. There's still time for everything, and surely what's important will get done. In the meantime, no ride is wasted—every mile makes us better.

Ears to you,
Fenway Bartholomule

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Breeding Question

We bred our doe today. Good news! As a dairy goat, B.G. has an obligation to the family beyond baaing beautifully and entertaining us with her doglike adoration of human company. If luck and fertility is with us, she will kid in five months. She will feed her kids (we abstain from the bottle, choosing instead to honor motherhood and the natural bond) and us.

The question, whenever one breeds an animal, should be whether and how the offspring will be guaranteed a good home. Being a vegetarian, I cannot morally embrace the "male offspring as a byproduct" mentality of commercial dairymen. I can neither accept that older and nonproductive animals should be culled, and for that reason we have young Jasper Jules and his physically imperfect mother here as lifelong pets.

When it comes to placing goats in pet homes, it can be done. I think that with advanced planning, a small-scale dairy breeder like myself can produce enjoyable goats of both genders that are easy to place.

In our family, goat kids are raised by their dams. Like a foal or a puppy, they are handled lovingly and often by their human keepers. They learn to trust, to lead, to tie, and to allow handling of hooves, udders, and faces. Neutered male goats can be strengthened mentally and physically by going hiking, taking car-trips into town, and learning to carry an empty dogpack as an adolescent. They can be prepared for a possible future as a companion to an equine (in our herd, this is accomplished by the presence of Fenway Bartholomule), as a harness goat, or as a pack animal.

We believe that neutering and disbudding (horn removal) should be done under aneasthesia and with pain medications. This means a couple hundred bucks into each year's litter, and with a set of baby boys one would not necessarily see a return on that investment. In the grand scheme, though, I feel it's worth the money. Well bred female kids (we've had six, out of seven total) are valuable enough to offset this occasional loss, but that's not the crux of the matter. When it comes down to it, I want to drink guiltlessly. Healthy, wholesome milk, produced by a happy, vibrant animal, is the only milk I can stomach.

January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968

On April 9th, 1968, the body of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. was pulled in a rustic farm cart through the streets of Atlanta by two humble brown mules. His funeral procession included a trailing throng of tens of thousands.

The images are startling. There is no pomp, there are no uniforms, and there are certainly no ostrich-plumed friesians and glass-walled hearses. There is nothing haughty, nothing gaudy, and nothing unreachable here. Martin Luther went to the grave as he lived—among the people. Speaking, even after his death, of equality. Speaking to the poor, the laboring, and the oppressed. Speaking of the strength of common humanity, and of the work still to be done.

May all our brays be with him.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Up at Dawn

FarmWife and Weanling Human were up at dawn with a clever scheme to squeeze in a trailride before the rest of the family rose. Luckily for them, "up at dawn" means up by 8ish in a northwest January! I breakfasted at 7 and and was out on the trail by 8:30, by which time the larval humans and FarmHusband were awake to see us off. The pouring rain was enough of a deterrent that they were happy to let us slip away unaccompanied.

Clover, FW, WH and I rode up yonder mountain, the former riding in FW's coat until we'd passed Eagle Village. Once away from the birds of prey, she was set free. It turns out that she is a good trail dog—ranging ahead, but not out of sight, and stopping for a quick visual check at every bend. Staying on the trail. Avoiding hooves. Listening.

FarmWife and Weanling took turns riding me (thank goodness they know better than to clamber up double! I'm small!) whilst the other walked, and there was pleasant conversation all around.

By the last leg of the ride, we were all wet. All but Clover, that is—covered in polar fleece, she'd managed to avoid the worst of it. In the spirit of camaraderie, however, she plunged boldly into the Samish Headwaters for a quick swim. She paddled in brisk, merry circles, whilst a frantic FarmWife contemplated leaping in after her. FarmWife was not so much concerned about Clover's swimming ability as she was about the weight of her coat! Luckily, mini-me managed to stay afloat (and well), climbing out sodden and heavy. FW removed said article, and found that, wet, it just about outweighs its wearer.

FarmWife resolves to take Clover swimming soon, as the dog shows an aptitude for it. Next time, we'll leave the clothing at home.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ode to a Tractor Guy

This poem is dedicated to Mr. S, our friendly neighborhood tractor guy. He cleaned out a very deep goat litter bed today, and accomplished in half a morning what FarmWife could have done in many, many, horrible hours of backbreaking labor. We are grateful.

Ode to a Tractor Guy

You rumbled up the driveway on your trusty green John Deere;
We brayed to you—we brayed, and thanked our stars that you were here.
You moved a layer of bedding that was filthy, and was deep—
Your words were kind, your tractor strong, your fee not one bit steep! 
FarmWife and I, we noticed that there was a yucky odor,
And yet, without complaint, you dug right in with your green loader! 
You pulled a post that had been set as firmly as a stone,
You moved, like feathers, heavy muck that must have weighed a ton. 
Your wheels, they churned. Your engine purred. You glided back and forth,
And while we watched you moved the straw that had been such a scourge. 
You made a tidy compost heap some distance from our shed,
And left a clean, expansive space where goats may make their beds.
You scraped the floor, now sandy smooth, and left it fresh and clean.
Oh tractor guy, oh tractor guy—we thank you brayfully! 

Friday, January 14, 2011

For Alan, who wondered about my name

When my FarmWife met me, I was Buck. Buck from the Buckeye state. Now, for those who wonder how she justifies changing a fellow's perfectly fine name just because he's joining a new family, please note that FarmHusband changed his new woman's name from Marnie "FarmWife" Jackson to Marnie "FarmWife" Jones when he got her!

So FarmWife, who has always preferred haughtier names for her animals, changed me to Fenway when she met me. It was an insidious attempt to ingratiate me to FarmHusband, a Red Sox fan—you may know that the Sox play at Fenway Park. Anyway, FarmWife's friend Carey Yaruss (of facebook fame herself) said she had always wanted a mule named Bartholomule, and it seemed the perfect noble appendage to my new, sporty moniker. Carey granted permission for its use in light of the fact that she lives in a N.Y.C. walk-up and will not likely add her own mule to the mix without a major geographic change.

In late 2009, there was a move afoot to change me to Fenway Winter Bartholomule Jackson Jones, but it didn't stick. "Winter" was too androgynous for my taste, and Jackson Jones is so vastly less poetic than Bartholomule as a surname.

And so, here I am: Fenway Bartholomule (nĂ© Buck). You can call me FenBar, Fennikins, Bart, Barty, Fenmule Bartholoway, or even Fenway, King of the Interwebz. 

A final note . . . the family tree above, which first appeared on Brays Of Our Lives in January of 2010 as a hypothetical lineage, is completely fabricated. Mine is not a family name, but it is a good one.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chihuahua Love

Before there was Clover, there was Duke. The Duke of Wickersham, to be exact—a handsome fawn chihuahua from the other side of the tracks. He's a dapper lad of nearly three, neutered (as all the best gentlemen are), and polite in all company. It was no surprise, then, that FarmWife labeled him Second Best Chihuahua Ever and invited him and his family to join us for a doggy playdate at Bent Barrow Farm.

Duke came bearing gifts—a lovely little satin-lined peacoat for his pretty lady! He even went so far as to include a romantic little note (though the elegant script gives me some suspicion that he was aided by the opposably-thumbed). I hope he won't mind if I lay his love bare for all the world by quoting him here:

"My dearest Duchess of Wickersham,

Please accept this humble gift as a token of my courtship. I hereby welcome you to the noble court of Wickersham, and wish to express my delight that you have so graced us with your presence.

Eternally yours,

The Duke."

Ears to love, and to dogs in clothes, and, most especially, to you.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Anyone take their little dog riding?

Dog helmet and photo by Zoomer Gear

FarmWife lets Clover join her on muleback these days. Doesn't bother me, and Clover seems to feel secure and restful tucked hands-free into FarmWife's coat (or custom-made apron, as it were). She wears polarfleece, since she's not exercising and might be the chilliest of the three of us.

FarmWife thought of getting her a little helmet (after all, she herself would NEVER ride without one!) but then she thought it might be more cumbersome than helpful. Your thoughts?

FarmWife feels safe taking Clover on me, though she wouldn't do it on a less predictable mount. Such a small dog mustn't fall any distance, but no one ever falls from me. I am dependable.

Ears to you (and puppy ears, too),

Fenway B.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Deep $#!%

Happiness is having a nice neighbor with a John Deere tractor—especially around shed-cleaning time!

Deep litter bedding. For those unfamiliar with the term, it refers to the animal bedding system wherein you throw clean straw on top of the old (after removing the most obviously soiled material). All's well and good until the floor—and under it the composted layers that were the floor before that, and the floor before that—rises uncomfortably high. My goat shed roof is about 14 inches closer to the straw bed now than it was last autumn, and that means it's time for the very big job of digging back down to the gravel.

This job had me quaking in my boots until Mr. S. from down the road stopped in. A simple, quick job, he said. Good tractor access, he said. Maybe he'll tackle it, weather permitting, on Thursday.

Next question—anyone want a half a ton of well-composted straw and manure? I haven't the foggiest idea where to have him put it, as our compost pile is inaccessible and full up. Out of the shed, though—that's the key. As for how to proceed, I'm not sure I'll do deep litter again. A little, thorough job twice a week? Might be a better approach for us, the tractorless.


Does this sheet make my butt look big?

Saturday, the snow fell. Sunday, it was just right for a frosty ride: not too heavy, not too slick. Crunchy, but not so much as to be hard on the hooves. Icy, but not so much as to be slippery. FarmWife and I got a good hour in, and the footing was nice. We picked our way carefully on the paved road, walked boldly on the gravel roads, and trotted in places where tree cover lessened the depth.

Monday, vehicle traffic had compressed the snow into icy sheets. We passed on riding and instead I was invited on a hand-walk to the salmon pond. The larval humans requested a ride, but FarmWife and FarmHusband denied them out of consideration for everyone's safety. I focused on the safe placement of my feet, and we arrived without mishap.

I have a few general observations to share on the matter of snow and hoofies:

1. Easyboot Epics are great in the snow. Good traction. No balling.

2. Vaseline really works. If you are dealing with snow balls forming in bare hooves, slather the soles with vaseline before venturing out. Repeat several times weekly or as needed.

3. Nothing as pretty as a fresh, clean hoof. A ride in the snow is one way to scrub 'em! My back feet (bare during my ride) looked as fresh as a baby's bottom by the time we got home (though, to tell you the truth, I'm not so sure what's fresh about THAT. Babies poop all the time!).

Until next time, may your weather be mild and your footing secure.

Ears to you,
Fenway Bartholomule

Monday, January 10, 2011

Eagle infestation

"What do you say, Ralph—you
wanna take the left ear?"
"Sure, Wilma—you take the right!
Beat's having salmon again."

We seem to have a bit of a bald eagle infestation in Wickersham right now. FarmWife and I counted 47 on our ride yesterday . . . in the first ten minutes, after which time we got tired of keeping track! They are EVERYWHERE! I know, I know—majestic splendor, freedom's pride, yada yada yada. Frankly, I find them unnerving, the way they stare disapprovingly down from every prominence. Not only is FarmWife's little dog the eagle equivalent of a Hungry Man dinner, but my beautiful auricles would make delicious ear-kababs. Winged predators give me the heebie-jeebies, and I spent the first half of yesterday's outing spooking at them.

Have you ever heard a pair of eagles chit-chat? Of course there's the keening cry that we're all so familiar with, but it turns out that they chirp, too! Sort of a "twitter, twitter, chirpity cheep cheep," if you will. Like a cockatiel, but louder. FarmWife finds it amazing and beautiful when they go about twittering in our ears, but I disapprove. It's noisy, and it's frightening.

FarmWife says that a healthy predator population is indicative of a thriving ecosystem. I say that birds are meant to eat seeds and fruits, and that any bird who relishes mule meat is unwelcome in Wickersham.

How about you? Any eagles in your village? Any opinions on the matter, or suggestions as to how to keep them from frightening me with their silent swooping and noisy chatter? I need a shoulder to lean on, 'cause these darned birds are making me crazy.

Your beleaguered friend,
Fenway Bartholomule

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Eight things that have been on my mind

Small Dog, Big Forest.

1) The humans ventured to Baker Lake without me yesterday, and the chihuahua turns out to be the family's best hiker. Who'd have thunk? Gets me off the hook for doing serious day hikes—FarmWife does well to travel with a more nimble animal companion wherever narrow bridges, crumbling trails, and bouldery stream crossings are involved.

2) Jasper Jules has been bullying his mother and sister, and is therefore going to be relegated to the brushy front corner of the property. It needs fencing and tidying up first, and FarmWife had best get cracking if she wants it safe and habitable before the spring surge of vegetative growth. If she misses this deadline, I promise to help her by eating everything within my reach.

As an aside, Jasper will be sleeping in my trailer once he makes the big move. I hope I get a hearty thank you!

3) FarmWife has been irritable with everyone but me lately. She blogged about this over at Puddle Run today. She is sorry about having let that blog fall by the wayside.

4) Did I mention that the chihuahua is a really good little dog? Makes me reconsider my opinion that carnivorous pets are less mentally apt than their herbivorous brethren. When it comes to pleasing FarmWife, we hoofbeasts have always had an edge over her bests of claw and feather, but this one's giving me a run for my money in the "learns quickly and is pleasant" categories.

5) I've been switched from delicious Eastern Washington orchard grass hay ($13 bales, 100# each) to delicious Western Washington grass hay (still very nice, $10 bales, 70# each). FarmWife feels a little ripped off when it comes to the price, but she thinks the new hay is better for my metabolism. (Probably better for Mother Earth, too, seeing as how it wasn't trucked over the mountain passes).

6) I'm going to have a tack sale soon. Featured products: size 0 Easyboot Gloves, lightly used; brown leather breeching, Fenway sized; pony harness, cheap leather, newish but not high quality. There will be additional odds and ends. We are going to try to raise some portion of the money needed to fence in Jasper Jules. Photos to follow!

7) FarmWife needs to hire the neighbor guy and his John Deere tractor to clean out the deep litter bedding in my goats' shed. If you didn't know, "deep litter" means you just throw fresh, clean straw on top of the old after removing the most obviously soiled material. After a year or so of this business, you have one seriously huge job on your hands. This, unfortunately, is where FarmWife finds herself now.

8) As always, I love and appreciate you. Ears!


State of Mind

It's been hard to blog about happiness—since Christmas, I've been an irritable bitch.

I've been stewing over things that don't need stewing over . . . wishing I had arena footing when I hardly have room for an arena, wishing I had a barn when the animals are perfectly content in their shed. I've been resenting my children (my children, who are wonderful girls and who've granted me the right to be a stay-at-home, part-time-self-employed farm wife of liesure!) and wishing, wishing, wishing. Wishing for forty acres in the scorching California desert. 60 acres in the frigid Montana wilderness. 200 acres in the chigger-infested wasteland of rural Arkansas.

All I really want is right here, and all I really need is a muleback ride.

It's amazing to me how irritable, discontent, and restless I can get for lack of a muleback ride. I've been riding once since Thanksgiving, the unfortunate result of a combination of short daylight, hectic schedules, inclement weather, and inadequate free time. The twice a week groove that I enjoyed during the spring, summer, and early autumn seems to have been lost, and the four rides per week that I had dreamed of have failed to materialize.

The good news? I know what ails me, and it won't take much to get my mojo back. I have a sound mule, a caring husband, a beautiful playground of rugged trails before me. I don't need a geographic cure, a therapist, or a lobotomy. I need a little tweak of the schedule, that's all. I need to ride, and ride regularly. Not daily, not hourly . . . just a couple of times per week. It shouldn't be that hard.

Happiness is not far out of reach.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Work defined

Pop Quiz! Anyone recognize this character? Hint in text below . . .

Today we are going to work. So says FarmWife. I interpret this to mean that I will have an immaculate shed, a graded paddock, a raked yard, and laundered blankets.

FarmWife interprets it to mean that I am going to trot until my breathing is elevated (60 to 90 seconds?) and I am going to pull my tire around the "arena" in both directions.

Considering that my shed, paddock, and yard are very little and that my "arena"—such as it is—is rather small, too, I think there should be plenty of time in the afternoon for a picnic or a Star Trek marathon.


Thursday, January 6, 2011


Photo from

FW is planning some vacation time this summer (and no, I'm not going to tell you when—this IS the internet!). She will need a Farm Sitter. It is not a hard job.

All you need to be able to do is fill my hay net twice daily, give the goats two flakes of hay in four piles twice daily (making sure that Jasper gets led by his collar up onto the goat loft, where he will stay until he finishes pile 1 of 4), muck out the mule shed once daily, add bedding to the goat shed twice weekly, check troughs once daily, check chicken water and dog water once daily, change bunny water twice daily, clean the coop and the cat litter once weekly, gather eggs once daily, feed the bunnies pellets twice daily, feed the bunnies hay once daily, feed the chickens once daily, scatter oyster shells once weekly, feed the bunnies vegetables once daily, exercise Harriet and B in the kitchen once daily each (but separately) and for at least an hour, let Clover pee every hour, muck out the mule paddock once or twice weekly depending on weather (more often if wet), let Paisley pee every six hours, let the cats in and out whenever they'd like (but not after 10 pm, when you must find them and bring them in for the night), feed the cats twice daily, check the location of my salt block daily and roll it into the shed if it's been moved outside, stand in the yard for ten minutes morning and evening with Clover until she poops, give me daily ear rubs, pick my feet daily, rub Missy's back daily, feed the dogs twice daily (having Clover eat in her crate, and letting her straight out into the yard ten minutes later), close me in my small paddock overnight and half the day if the weather's wet, opening my gate for at least four hours out of every 24, give Missy two cups of alfalfa pellets in the chicken yard every afternoon, change the bunny litter boxes every other day, change the bunny cages weekly, and keep an eye out for anything abnormal. This can include Jasper peeing slowly (call vet and FW), Paisley having a seizure (call FW and monitor closely for at least 24 hours), birds of prey circling overhead (keep Clover leashed), or me being less than perfectly content (remedy with lots of attention and low-calorie snacks).

Water living room plants weekly. Water dining room plants every other week. Water upstairs plants a couple of times a year if they didn't already die.

There! Not so hard.

Fen Bar

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Paddock Paradise?

Photo: Does this look like a sedentary mule to you?

FarmWife likes this idea of a Paddock Paradise—a long track, describing a circular or irregular shape around one's property, dotted with hay, diverse footing, water, and interesting natural features to enrich the lives and the exercise habits of turned-out equines. The idea, I suppose, is that wild equines would move almost constantly through a texturally diverse geographic area—foraging, moving, foraging, moving. In a traditional paddock, stationary dining is the name of the game, and we're fatter because of it.

FarmWife believes that a Paddock Paradise would be impractical at Bent Barrow Farm, at least without a much larger gravel budget than she currently has. Because of our high rainfall and heavy clay soil, it is a constant battle to stay ahead of the mud in Wickersham. We have a decent solution now—a 3/4 acre pasture that is mostly mud-free and a small (50 ft. squarish) sacrifice paddock with gravel footing. I am restricted to this smaller area on only the wettest of days, and FarmWife sees a noticable change in my behavior at such times. I grind my teeth. I glare. I bray insistently at any sign of a potential human liberator.

When FW built this sacrifice paddock, she imagined it would be used for days at a time in the winter. Now that she knows how it makes me feel, she uses it for 12 or 18 hours—then, no matter WHAT the weather, she lets me out for some wandering. She would rather have a field full of mud than a mule full of ulcers.

If FarmWife had a couple dozen tons of gravel and an afternoon with a tractor, she'd redesign things. She'd make a well-graveled track around the perimeter of my pasture, so that lockdown wouldn't have to mean a restriction of my activity. She'd dot the track with attractions: a cozy shed here, a water trough there, a sand wallow down yonder. She'd hang small-mesh haynets from trees in all corners, encouraging me to take my meals on the go in the fashion of a wild equine.

In the meantime, FarmWife likes looking at the google images results for "Paddock Paradise." There are some interesting ideas, and she's sure she'll employ some of them in her future livestock containment endeavors. Here at Bent Barrow Farm, I take my confinement in a little square—but briefly. Freedom is fun.

Ears to you,
Fen Bar

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Photo: Claire de Lune, formerly of Bent Barrow Farm,
and young Jasper Jules frolicking on a different winter day.

The goats made an admirable show of ingenuity today: they broke out, shoving the gate aside as FarmWife wrestled with her barrow full of frozen droppings. They had freedom. They had liberty. They had adventure.

They traded it all in for a frozen goat turd.

Here's how it happened. FarmWife, knowing from experience that the goats would only be caught with a bribe, looked around. No grain. No hay. No gravel, even, to rattle in a tin. What she did have, and in abundance, were nice solid little poopsicles! Scooping a few into an empty bucket, she rattled away.

Missy, Empress of All the Light Touches, succumbed first. This is good, because Missy is the one most likely to make real mischief when at large.

Jasper Jules, Garden Tool, succumbed second. You'd think he would have learned from watching his mother that no good could come from sticking ones head into that bucket, but he hadn't. It is a good thing HE was caught, as he is the one most likely to do something oafish like trip on the raised beds or knock over a muck fork when at large.

B.G. was the last to investigate the poopsicles, and the first to try to taste them. FW stopped her in time, and rewarded them all with a bite of apple at her next opportunity. It wouldn't have been too bad if B.G. had stayed loose—she loves jailbreaks so much that she might have just trotted in circles through the orchard and garden for hours, head high, in her best Proud Arabian Stallion routine. She would not have thought to make for the lane and true freedom.

I, Fenway Bartholomule, watched the whole undertaking from a respectful distance. I would not have escaped, and if I had I would not have gone for the rattle of frozen goat droppings. I am better than that.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Mental exercises for the physically unfit

I say "ppphhhhllllbbbttttttt" to exercise.

FarmWife may have failed in her duty when it comes to caloric monitoring, but one thing I can say for her is that she knows how to exercise a fatty—gently, and with care. She knows that it should take me a month or more to get fit, and that we can have a nice gallop in February or March. She isn't going to rush me back into this business of surmounting precipitous slopes and plunging down rocky trails, for she would rather have a sound chub than a damaged one.

FarmWife and I had a lovely ride yesterday, and part of what made it so nice is that she thought of all sorts of fun mental games we could play. I'm not talkin' about 20 questions or the animal guessing game–instead, she identified my weak areas and found physically comfortable ways for me to work on them.

Most undersaddle problems, in my opinion and in FarmWife's, have one or more of three root causes: incorrect riding, incorrect training, or incorrect conditioning. One of my biggest problems is a lack of lateral responsiveness (that is, I only respond to directional rein signals when I feel like it, and I will not move laterally off the leg if it kills me). FarmWife can neck rein me or turn me down the trail with a feather touch  if it's the trail I want to go down, but if it isn't I become as wobbly as a fish and as stiff as a board—all at the same time! If I really want to ignore a direct rein, I will brace my neck, twist my jaw, and flop my tongue out under my snaffle. FarmWife knows that it takes two to pull, but her throwing the reins back to me is no solution to this problem.

Yesterday, FW simplified the matter. 1) What does Fenway brace against? The bit. She removed my bit, and put me in a well-fitted bosal. 2) What does Fenway need to do in response to a direct rein? Turn. She decided to teach me that a low opening rein (towards her knee, if you will) means Turn, and Turn Now. She pulled firmly enough to elicit an immediate response, and reinforced this behavior by giving me back my head the moment my nose came 'round to her knee. Within ten tries, I was turning more consistently and with better balance than I've ever done. 3) What does her lower leg behind the girth mean? Step away. She followed this opening rein aid with her lower leg behind the girth once she was getting a consistent response, and I learned to step under with my inside hind leg (that is, taking a big step away from her leg).

Here's the thing about these exercises—FW doesn't know if this stuff is "correct" in terms of what a trainer might have her work on, but FarmWife knows what she needs from me in order to have fun. She needs my head to follow her rein, and my body to follow my head. She needs a fast response to a light aid, much like the good "whoa" that comes so naturally. She needs me to know that her leg is to be respected, and that it can mean "go sideways" as well as "go forward." Yesterday, I'd say I came a good deal closer to meeting those needs. By the time we got back from our one hour walk, I was steering like a champ and listening to FarmWife more than ever.

Yours in perpetual learning,
After the ride—do I look any slimmer?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Longing alternative

FarmWife went sledding at Mt. Baker with her human family today. She saw a man skijoring with his huskies, and it stirred her heart.

I could do that. I have a harness (different kind, but surely workable!), I have enthusiasm, I have tenacity and a tolerance for cold weather! FarmWife says, "now, Fenny, we haven't time for a new hobby." I say, "now, FarmWife, galloping through the drifts beats grinding round the track."  If she wants me to burn calories, I'd say slogging through a frozen wasteland would do it!

Here, for the curious, are skijorers in action. (Note that these movies were selected quickly and are not neccessarily the best representations of the sport—FW is rushing me tonight!)

Canine version:

Equine version:

Your fleshy friend,