Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Rabbit accomplishments

I like rabbits as much as the next mule—they have good taste in edibles (hay, grass, vegetables) and of course they have those ears! Still, I always thought there were limits to their usefulness around the farm except as lap-warmers or, heaven forbid, stew.

Well, I've been proven wrong. Witness this rabbit, outherding a border collie:


These rabbits, outjumping a sporthorse:


Or this rabbit, outbigging a housecat:


OK, so maybe number three doesn't count as useful—and maybe outbigging isn't a word. Still, you've got to admit that these are some admirable longears!

Ears to you,

This rabbit can outfluff a poodle. 

To My Old Master

To My Old Master

This letter is worth a read.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

My barn is coming along

Thanks mostly to FarmHusband and FarmGrandpa, the latter of whom came to visit this weekend, I've got a barn with eight new posts, two new gates, nine new rafters, and a roof.

As for siding, my littlest human wants red painted wood with white trim. My FarmWife says we'll start with some brown metal that we have lying around and then do whatever's cheapest for the other sides. I say we need a bold statement, in the Rock City tradition:


FarmWife says that the problem with a big statement here in Wickersham is that only nine people would ever see it: V, B, B, and M from across the way, J, R, and A from next door, and J and G from down the lane. The point of billboards, she says, is to reach the public. I do a better job of that, she says, with my bold daily braying.

My barn will be beautiful, anyway. I promise you that much.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Who is willing to be my literary advisor?

I need help. FarmWife, you see, is writing a book about Bent Barrow Farm and its residents. She has informed me that there is room for roughly 40 pages of my mulish insight, to be strategically interspersed to lighten the tedium of her human ramblings. Can you please let me know which blog entries are your favorite? Which stories warmed your heart or tickled your funnybone? Which tales I've told well or which deserve retelling?

If any of you want to spend an hour trolling Brays of Our Lives and Puddle Run for must-read gems, I'd be grateful.


Friday, January 27, 2012

An Avian Interstate

You probably remember that Bent Barrow Farm abuts the Samish Headwaters where a budding river-to-be forms out of converging creeks and seasonal marshland. It's a terribly romantic place to live, especially this time of year. Innis Creek Road is taken over, at least seasonally, by Ennis Creek (no, I'm not wrong—they're spelled differently. This is due, I'd guess, to the inattention of some paper-pusher). The eagles come home, roosting by the dozens in our tallest snags. Salmon, fighting their way upstream to spawn and die, attract opportunistic herons and hawks while snow geese merely pass through, their wings humming like an intense electrical current. The redwinged blackbirds whirr and chirrup, the beavers slap, and the peregrine falcons keen and wail.

The other good news: these teeming birds of prey are so completely satisfied by the river's abundant frogs and fish that they leave our cats, chickens, and itty-bitty dog well alone. We've not yet lost a resident to eagle attack.

While I, Fenway Bartholomule, am known for the drama and the volume of my singing voice, I admit today to having been upstaged. In January, this marsh is louder than a mule.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

The trials and tribulations of authorship

I'm ready to write a book about me, Fenway Bartholomule, and my life here at Bent Barrow Farm. FarmWife, however, says the world isn't ready for another four-legged narration so close on the heels of The Art of Racing in the Rain. She says it had better be a book about HER, and what SHE thinks of me. She says it is likely to have a winder audience if the narrator is human.

I think that's preposterous. Any human who isn't willing to read 350 pages of wit, wisdom, and insight from a mule's perspective doesn't deserve our book, anyway.

What's your vote?


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hello down there! I haven't forgotten you! It's just terribly late, and FarmWife just got home, and I haven't been allowed to touch the computer on account of my muddy hooves. 

Tomorrow will be better.

Velvet kisses,

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The plan

This is the plan: in good weather, when FarmWife would rather be riding, she will sit in her office and look out the new window that FarmHusband built for her. I will strategically place myself in the corner of the new barn that FarmHusband is building for me, and by craning my elegant and curvaceous neck I shall present to her my lovely visage. She will spy me, and joy will be struck into her heart. I will spy her, and hunger will be struck into my tummy. Joy will inspire her to carry forth delectable dried grasses, and hunger will inspire me to whicker a soft and lovely greeting. All will be right in the world.

It is this sort of thing which makes working more than bearable, and which makes FarmWife terribly lucky to have the sort of job that she has. It is also this sort of thing that makes being me more than bearable, and which makes me terribly lucky to have the sort of FarmWife that I have.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Since I didn't get around to blogging for you today, I'll suggest that you pop over to this site for a movie review: http://thehairpin.com/2012/01/war-horse-an-illustrated-review. The highlight? 30 guineas.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The baking dilemma

Photo from tgdaily.com
When we bought 175 pounds of organic wheat and a hand-grinder, I envisioned happy years spent baking freshly-ground bread and boiling tender homemade pasta. Here's the dilemma: my kids won't touch homemade whole wheat bread with a ten foot pole. We've taken to eating our wheat boiled, which is actually really delicious, and buying our bread (Dave's Killer—I wonder how he does it?) at Costco.

I admit that my kids might be balking at my bread's consistency, which is somewhere between that of a shoe and that of a brick (but closer to the brick end of the spectrum). I used to be able to bake a delightful loaf of bread using a combination of white and wheat flour, but as I've pushed further and further into the whole wheat realm I've alienated my diners and lost my touch.

Whole wheat bakers, how do you do it? Do I need to go back to a white/wheat mix? Add eggs? Rise overnight? Knead longer? Something's terribly wrong with my current approach.

I have a wonderful recipe book—The Bread Bible—with which I have had success. Its recipes, for the most part, call for unbleached white flour. I have another wonderful book—The Encyclopedia of Country Living—in which the author states her reluctance to explain the how-tos of whole wheat bread because it is not the sort of thing one can teach in a book. Perhaps I'll look for a third book that strikes a better balance, or perhaps you, dear reader, will have an answer for me.


Dear Butterfly

http://www.braysonart.co.uk/  Art by Ashley Brayson
To whichever far-off butterfly flapped its wings and started the chain reaction which culminated in the disruption of the tradewinds and a cold wind here in Wickersham: fie on you! You've ruined everything.

Last weekend was supposed to be for sheeting and roofing my barn. This weekend was supposed to be for siding and for moving in. Instead, we spent last weekend slogging through two feet of snow under a ribcage of exposed new rafters. We spent this one clinging to the walls, trying not to get blown away by 50 mph wind gusts.

Instead of building, FarmWife spent the day remodeling her tack chest (success: it now contains a saddle rack, four tuna-can bridle racks, a shelf, assorted hooks, and a two-tiered harness rack made out of one gallon cans) and FarmHusband spent his watching the Patriots win the playoffs, jogging down the lane and back, and playing Operation. The latter is a game in which the humans try to perform surgery without getting shocked by the electric fence, or some such nonsense. It's not entirely clear to me and I think it requires thumbs.

I spent my day eating, gamboling, and mistrusting everyone and everything. The wind does that to me sometimes.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

My Susans

I have four favorite Susans. They are wonderful, each and every one of them.  If I could nominate a panel of experts to help me run the world, my Susans would be on it.

Susan #1 is a friend, a professional associate, and a mentor to FarmWife. She's kind, caring, and really great at her job, which makes FarmWife's job a lot easier. She has taught FarmWife much of what she knows and her effectiveness as an editor is a thing of wonder and beauty. On top of that, she's sweet and smart and poised and beautiful. Her strength of intellect and character make her a hero to FarmWife, which makes her a hero to me.

Susan #2 is the mother of FarmWife's very good friend Marie. Marie is swell enough to be an honorary sister to FarmWife, so I'm going to go ahead and call Susan #2 my auntie. Auntie Susan is a fabulous knitter, a lover of books, and a darned good mom. Her momness rubs off on everyone around her, making us all feel loved and safe and encouraged and warm. She even extends this warmth to my chihuahua, for whom she knits wonderful sweaters. She is a good aunt, a good mom, a good Grandma, and a good friend. She is honest and kind and inspires peace and happiness.

Susan #3 lives in the sunny south and I've never met her in person, but she's been a good friend to FarmWife and to me. The value she has always placed on FarmWife's creative work has had a profound effect on our lives. Susan discovered my blog in its very first days, and it was Susan's encouragement of my early blogging efforts which helped FarmWife see writing as a viable career. Susan helped FarmWife make the leap from thinking of herself as an underemployed homemaker who writes to thinking of herself as an employable writer who works from home, and here we are: it's a couple of years later, and we're working every day. I have my column, FarmWife has her clients, and Susan remains a good friend and a constant source of inspiration, encouragement, and friendship.

Susan #4 is FarmWife's cousin (once removed) and was once billed as Canada's best modern dancer. She is a Canada Council for the Arts senior fellow and a notable ceramic sculptor. She is the kind of person who fills up a room with her elegance and her grace and her tremendous personality. Susan reminds FarmWife of childhood and of peaceful summers in the Thousand Islands and of her grandmother, whom she loved.

My Susans are independent, creative, beautiful, respectful, encouraging, and loving. If my Susans were in charge of everything, I guarantee the world would be a better place.


Friday, January 20, 2012

How we cope

The chickens cope by huddling beside their heat lamp, refusing to set claw outside until the snow is entirely melted. For the first 12 hours of this winter weather, they fasted and threatened to kill themselves of thirst. Luckily, FarmWife and FarmHusband realized they were too "chicken" to walk the six feet (under cover!) to their food and warm water and, in a great display of mercy, moved food and drink in to the heated interior of the coop. These descendants of jungle fowl would be the first to die if humanity were to abandon us now.

The goats cope by following me along well-worn paths, relying upon my robust muleness or upon FarmHusband and the mercy of his shovel to spare them the udder-chilling horror of the two-foot drifts. Why mountain goats evolved with their boobies on the bottom is beyond my powers of comprehension, but that's a matter for another post.

Paisley enjoys the snow immensely, spending more time out than in in this weather. His polar coloration affords great opportunities for camouflaged stealth. If he could only manage to move with ninja-like grace, he'd be a perfect soldier in the fight for Mule World Domination. Unfortunately, he moves through the snow like a hippo on roller skates.

Clover likes the snow well enough, but measures in at about 12" below surface level. For this reason, she usually sticks to the shoveled paths. She moves wide in front and narrow behind, and tracks up so that her hind prints are directly inside her front prints. She leaves parallel paw prints in sets of two . . . hind beside fore, hind beside fore, hind beside fore. They're terribly strange to behold, and for the first day or two of snowy weather the children were sure they'd been left by a unicorn.

The cats are not big fans. Desmond has spent the entire snowy week lying beside the fire with a look of tremendous distain upon his thickly-pelted face. Townes has spent it running outside, slip-sliding the length of the walkway, doing a 180 or 360 degree belly-spin, and flip-flop-splooshing his way back to the porch.

I cope rather well in this weather. Aside from the oppression of a second blanket, I'm not inconvenienced. I enjoy seeing FarmWife every hour or two as she brings me fresh water (which I never condescend to drink, preferring instead to wait until it freezes and then break a hole with my muzzle). I like kicking up clouds of white as I sproing sideways out of the worn path and into a pure white drift. I take full advantage of FarmWife's "extra hay in cold weather" decree, and eat with great gusto at each of four daily meals.

All of this has lead me to believe that, in addition to the well-dressed humans with their fire and their opposable thumbs, Paisley and I are the likeliest survivors in the event of another ice age.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Shining

It felt a little like The Shining around here this week—a foot and a half of snow outside, no hope of ever seeing a snow plow on Meredith Lane, and the whole neighborhood glistening like the grounds of the Overlook Hotel. Luckily, we've not yet lost our minds and the most murderous thing I did this week was accidentally shovel a worm in two while setting post piers.

The barn project is temporarily on hold pending an improvement in the weather, but it's still on my mind every day. It could be that I'll fail in conveying to you just how excited I am, but I'll try. Imagine this: I can go out and visit the livestock at any hour of the day or night and stand inside a sheltered, lighted building. My tack and grooming equipment will be readily at hand, under the same roof. The mule and goats will dine upon hay which is stored in the very same building. Our front porch, which has served as our hay and tack repository, will be a vast canvas of blank possibility. (This is my poetic way of describing a room vastly in need of remodeling or, more likely, tearing off and replacing.)

Mr. Puddle Run is back at work after two days off due to impassable roads. He took the F250, as his wonderful little Toyota is up to its eyebrows in the snow. D is here, on day three of school cancellations, and M is in Seattle with her father. Schools there are also closed. The animals are staying comfortable enough, though Clover isn't a huge fan of this cold snap we're having. She likes her snow at 30 degrees and fluffy. 12° F and crisp? Not so much.

Further thoughts on the weather: when it snows, it melts. When it melts, it floods. We're due to get a solid week or more of heavy rains, and  I expect this means we can kiss Park Road goodbye (again). Rt. 9 will surely flood just north of the general store, as it always does, and Rt. 9 south will probably wash out but be passable in our bigger truck. That's the general pattern, and I'm glad we have hay and groceries to last a while. I'm not worried about Bent Barrow Farm getting wet: though we border the Samish River one side, we border a deeply-carved railway on the other. The two meet about a half mile north of our property, meaning the railroad serves as an accidental canal in times of flooding.

A state of emergency has officially been declared this morning by the governor of Washington, which makes me grateful for the relative calm in Wickersham. We've had no significant trouble in the grand scheme of things.

Enjoy the weather, whatever yours may be, and take this lesson: always store more hay and food than you think you need.


Family XII: FarmHusband

FarmHusband is a builder of buildings, a rider of bicycles, and a maker of music. He sings and plays the guitar simultaneously, which I find amazing but which the humans tell me is more common than one might think. He is disproportionately strong and agile and can waltz about on narrow ridge beams at heights that would make FarmWife cry. Luckily, he's also very safety-minded and usually follows OSHA's recommendations to a T. He is smart, driven, and energetic . . . a wonderful counterpoint to FarmWife, who is smart and laid back and who might be slothful without encouragement.

FarmHusband is a talented grower of vegetables, and the things he tends generally grow to three or four times the size of the things FarmWife tends alone. This is because he is a man of determination and focus. When FarmHusband goes into the garden, he weeds until the weeding is done. When FarmWife goes into the garden, she weeds until she notices a pile of manure that could use scooping over in the mule shed or a rock there by the swingset that really could be relocated over near the greenhouse or a tool she left out a week earlier that ought to be put, if not away, then at least a bit closer to where it belongs. FarmHusband has none of these problems. He is a man who finishes a job once it's begun.

Yes, FarmHusband is a patient and nurturing gardener. I ought to mention that he excels even further as a patient and nurturing father. This is wonderful for my three human fillies, and also wonderful for FarmWife. She usually plays "bad cop" and sends them to their rooms for misbehavior. FarmHusband—good cop—follows up with a hug and a gentle inquiry. He is also the best in the family at planning ambitious adventures in the wilderness. This is very good, as we live in a place where wilderness ambition is rewarded with immense and breathtaking experiences. FarmHusband says I can come on a backpacking trip with them some weekend so long as I carry my own food. As of yet, Clover has been alone among the beasts of hoof and claw in going on these family outings. She comes home smelling of wild places.

FarmHusband is not generally a lover of dogs, but he loves Clover. He even lets her sleep in his bed, which is terribly exciting. I hope he will come to love me enough to let me sleep in his bed, too. FarmWife counsels me not to hold my breath. FarmHusband appreciates me, though, and understands the great crevasse between the world's trustworthy and untrustworthy mounts. He loves these things about me: that I am kind and patient, that I handle his precious children with tender care, that I eat rather little, and that I offer slow and steady rides to all mule-loving guests. He is the kind of man to say please and thank you, and to offer a pat when it's deserved, and to build a guy a great new barn when a barn is needed. What better kind of man is there?

FarmHusband put up an outside wall, a new ridgebeam, and nine rafters before the terrible winter storm descended upon us. When the snow melts, he'll put on a roof and help FarmWife with siding. He is able to help her help him build even though it doubtlessly slows him down, and to patiently guide her as she broadens her repertoire of building skills, and to help without judgement when she's at a loss as to what to do next or when she lacks the physical or emotional strength to drive nails while clinging to a ladder in a high-up place. She appreciates this about him, as do I, and she is going to make him nine cupcakes today. (One for each rafter, and hopefully a tenth for his mule.)

I have also overheard FarmWife referencing FarmHusband's "nice ass," by which she can surely only mean me, Fenway Bartholomule. It's so nice to be appreciated.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Family XI: FarmWife

The main thing you have to know about FarmWife is that I like her rather a lot. I whuffle at her every day, and I don't do that for just everyone.  She's got a deaf ear and a bad knee, and if I were buying her I'd run the other way after the vet check. I've got her now, though, and do you know what? She's perfect for me.

Some people have wondered whether I only love FarmWife because she feeds me. This is because she once went on an online forum and answered a question—"How do I get my horse to follow me without a leadrope?"—with the phrase, "hold food." It's not true. I love her for that reason, sure, but also because she knows that there is only one part of my back that likes scratching (the plumpy bit behind my ribcage), and because she knows I like the sides of my face rubbed and the inner (but never the outer) corner of my eyes, and because she can tell when I'm feeling playful from the shape of my nostrils alone, even before I cavort a single bit. She's always up for a romp, or a hug, or a quiet chat, or any old thing I might require of her except a big flake of alfalfa. That's one thing she NEVER offers up.

FarmWife is a very good mulewoman. She is also known for her excellent writing skills, her love of singing, and her ability to identify any pure- or crossbred dog known to man.

FarmWife blogs too, though not nearly as often as me, Fenway Bartholomule. You can check it out at www.puddlerun.com.

FarmWife is a passable illustrator, a rather good cook, and a good friend. She loves Wickersham, food, nature, and animals. She loathes folding laundry but can sweep 'til the cows come home, which means her floor is usually in better condition than her clothing. Despite having a somewhat rumpled appearance, she is a fine conversationalist and a mannerly woman who generally makes a good impression upon the public.

FarmWife has never scared me, though she did use pliers to remove the tartar from my teeth one day. It happened next to the rhododendron, and I don't blame FarmWife. I blame the rhododenron, and we have not been friends since.

FarmWife loves being a writer but secretly dreams of being an architect, too. She has a bachelor's degree but no other training, so I don't see a huge career shift in her immediate future! That's just as well. I'd miss her if she had a full time job, and she gets by by doodling little pictures of pretty houses and cozy barns. She loves historic structures and timber-framed homes, but she's absolutely terrible with a hammer. She keeps trying to build things, for which she deserves some credit.

FarmWife is a little bit lazy, a bit of a procrastinator, and a very kind person. She's also ridiculously happy most of the time. Her cheeks sometimes hurt from smiling, but can you blame her? After all, she has me—Fenway Bartholomule—and a million other beautiful things.

Fenway Bartholomule

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Family X: B.G.

After Mia, my next heaviest family member is B.G. the mama goat. She is Missy's daughter and the most mischievous of us all if you consider gate-opening to be mischief. She saw FarmWife leave the latch undone once during stall-mucking time, and she has never yet failed to test it since.

B.G. had three tremendous triplets this year, which made her the pregnantest animal I have ever met. You can read about them by searching this blog for the words Burzum, Bowdoin, and Briony Bluebell.

B.G. was born here at Bent Barrow Farm and was allowed in the house from time to time until she was about four months old. That's her trying to climb over the fence in the photo above (mischievous—I said so!). She is not allowed in the house anymore.

B.G. was FarmWife's favorite baby goat when she was born, but financial necessity required that she be sold. She went to our friend The Chicken Lady, who kindly sold her back when Missy fell ill. It all worked out in the end, and the Chicken Lady still has B.G.'s aunt, Spring, and cousin, Jessica Badness.

B.G. stands for Beautiful Girl, which is what Son-of-Chicken-Lady named her. It also stands for Bent Barrow Gaia, which is her registered name. The first time she lived here, her name was Ma Petite.

Some people say you have to take baby dairy goats away from their mothers at birth if you're going to have an easy time handling them. B.G. was raised by her mother Missy, and B.G. loves people rather a lot. This just goes to show that some people are wrong.

B.G. is the most excellent blackberry-bramble-eater in the family after me, Fenway Bartholomule, and has very good taste in delectable edibles. She can pull a wagon, too, which makes her practically as good as a mule.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Family IX: The weanling child

My weanling child, who's nearly 12, lives at Bent Barrow Farm part of the time. FarmWife is her mother, and FarmHusband is her stepfather, and she has two other parents as well who occasionally come and scratch me on the nose. Her other parents have a big smooshy English lab puppy, which brings the sum total of Mia's mammal pets to 9—one more than any other human resident of Bent Barrow Farm.

When Mia was just three, she told her preschool teacher that she would like to be a marine paleontologist and the next Annie Lennox. Her interests haven't changed much: she still loves marine mammals and the Eurythmics!

Mia is also a tremendous lover of mules, horses, dogs, and platypuses. She enjoys riding mules and horses and playing with dogs, but I don't know what on earth she enjoys doing with platypuses. It seems to me that their poisoned claws would be reason enough to avoid them.

Mia is one of my very best human friends and is the only one, aside from FarmWife, who knows the very best way to rub my ears (and can reach). She is also a terribly good artist, and draws wonderful portraits of my mulishness from time to time. She never overlooks details: the notch in my ear, the subtle shading of my muzzle, and, above all, the overwhelming beauty of me. She writes lovely poetry (sometimes about mules) and would make a very good blogger, I expect. I will have her write another guest post soon. She also sings, plays a bit of cello, and stages dramatic stage productions from time to time. I dare say there are very few people as diversely talented as my weanling human!

Mia is an empathetic and sensitive girl, a nurturing big sister, and a compassionate friend. She likes pitching in at chore time, mucking out the paddock, currying my muddy bits, and scrubbing my troughs. I rather like that about her, and do you know what? She likes me too.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Family VIII: Missy, Empress of All the Light Touches

This is Missy's "scratch my back" face.

This is Missy's "fine, I'll scratch my own darned back" face. 
Missy has fallen a couple of rungs on the ladder of superiority here at Bent Barrow Farm—when she arrived, she could steel her small, 80# frame against any assault. She could out-glare, out-hackle, and even outsmart any resident. I came to Bent Barrow Farm a couple of years later, and by then she was already firmly established. Her Emperial Majesty was not to be trifled with.

The human children would like to sew Missy a spandex suit, complete with a cape reading "SM." This stands for "Super Milker." She is, indeed, a paragon of lactational excellence. She produced a whole lot of milk for her own twins, then for her next set of twins, then for the human family for another 22 months before being forced to dry off. She then relactated, spontaneously supplying milk to her daughter's triplets when we all thought her dairy days were done. In between, she almost died but didn't.

Missy is 10 now, which is pushing into goaty old age. She's a bit senile since her illness and is a member, along with Paisley and Townes, of the Not Quite Right club. Still, she gets up joyfully every morning, eats her hay with enthusiasm, and joins me in the pasture each and every day for a bit of browse and a quiet conversation.

Missy loves backrubs, facerubs, and legrubs from the humans, and particularly enjoys having the skin between her two hooves massaged. (Goats, if you recall, have two hooves on the end of each leg—super gross, I know). Missy gets the extraordinary privilege of sitting in FarmWife's lap during hoof trims, which I find absolutely appalling. So what if she's lacking in coordination and bulk! Certain standards of fairness ought to be maintained.

Except for this minor glitch in the order of things, I have no complaints about Missy. She's a tough old bird, and rather nice.

Fenway Bartholomule

Friday, January 13, 2012

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming with this important message

I know you're dying to hear more about my fascinating family (next, in ascending order by mass: Missy, Empress of All the Light Touches) but today I'd just like to share this exciting tidbit:

It turns out there's an easy, surefire way to get a delectable, warm, moist bucket full of oozy, gooey goodness. One must simply mope a bit in the morning, neglect breakfast for an hour or so, and try really hard not to drink despite one's FarmWife's persistent efforts to offer an assortment of cool, warm, and tepid water. If you can meditate on slowing one's capillary refill rate or quieting one's gurgling gut, it's all the better! There's that delicate line between earning a tasty mash and getting a bunch of injections and a ride to the hospital, so one must be careful. Eating breakfast—eventually—is advised. Pooping is essential if you want to stay out of the vet clinic.

FarmWife made a nervous call to the vet this morning after she noticed me lifting one bite of breakfast, then standing—for a full ten minutes—with the stems hanging from my lips. No mastication took place. "He's not himself," she said. The receptionist was suitably concerned, and they have agreed to keep a very, very close eye on me. I did eventually eat, walk about, poop, and even drink a little. They are still worried, though less so.

I hope that means more smooshy meals.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Family VII: Paisley, the cloud dog

My dog Paisley is shaped like a cloud. That's about all I can tell from this distance—Paisley is terrified of chickens, goats, and mules and has never set paw on our half of this 1.25 acre property! Paisley has no excuse for his fear, except that he is a dog of unmulishly reduced bravery. That's OK—Paisley has other gifts.

Paisley has a reputation for his good nature, his handsome coat, and his bad luck. He is missing his hearing due to a genetic mishap. He is missing the bottom of his ulna due to a running-and-tripping-on-the-lawn accident and the resulting fiasco, which ended in surgery to remove a dying bone. He is missing some brain cells, we think, due to long and terrible seizures: he has them once in a while, and he's less and less himself since the big ones he suffered through this summer. He's anxious now, in more than just a "doesn't want to look that chicken in the eye" way. He is not quite right, and the humans wonder how many more seizures he'll suffer before his quality of life warrants THAT conversation. His medications, which have helped, are not helping enough.

Still, Paisley is a beautiful and joyful animal. He adores everyone, and has never met a dog or a human that he won't accept with loving welcome. As of today, Paisley is more happy than sad. More kind than fretful. More restful than worried. More healthy than sick.

When Paisley is happy to see you, he makes a "wooo-wooo-woo" face and a rumbling growl. To the uninitiated, this (coupled with his crazy ice-blue eyes and pinpoint pupils) looks like a savage threat. To those fluent in canine body language, it means "I love you so much I could burst."

Paisley has been in FarmWife's family for almost ten years. He is the kind of dog parents dream of for their children . . . a dog that will lie on the floor for endless games of Vet, Groomer, and Capture-the-Luck-Dragon. A dog whose response to being tripped over, grabbed, or fallen upon is to say "Why hello! I'm so very happy to see you too!"

FarmWife is a little sad today because Paisley has another seizure two days ago . . . a worrying thing, since he's on some new medication that was expected to control them. I will have to keep you updated about his health, but for now I shall just say that what Paisley lacks in bravery, soundness, and normal brain activity is more than made up for by his capacious and noble heart.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Family VI: My middlest human filly

If there are two more children in the world as nifty as my littlest human filly, then they are my middlest and biggest human fillies. My middle human filly—Dylann—is famous for her large vocabulary, her fearsome temper, and her beautiful, catlike eyes. She is a precocious child, bursting with mulish charm and intellect. She is compassionate. She is a great lover of animals. She wants to be a circus acrobat and a veterinarian when she grows up, and there is no doubt in my noble and capacious mind that she can indeed do either or both of those things.

If you've ever heard the bit about mules being the most stubborn creatures on earth, don't believe it. Dylann is the most stubborn creature on earth. When she channels her determination, drive, focus, and conviction into those things that matter, she is a powerful force for good. She has gumption, but she's maturing into a sophisticated girl who knows how to pick her fights. This is a wonderful improvement, as she was a fearsome thrower of tantrums a few years ago!

Dylann is a girl of tremendous coordination, bravery, and grace. FarmHusband sees her as a future snowboarder. FarmWife sees her as a future gymnast. I see her as a future eventer. In the saddle, she is the bravest of my three little riders! Could it be that Dylann will be the one to turn the USEA and USEF towards acceptance of mules? She certainly has the stick-to-it-iveness for such an undertaking. Those officials wouldn't even know what they had coming at them!

Dylann is a most mulish child—a smart, perceptive, never-gives-up sort of girl. If you like me, Fenway Bartholomule, then you would love my middle human girl.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Family V: The smallest filly

My smallest human filly is going to be leaving on the schoolbus this September, but until then she is MINE! She gives the very best hairdos, and she treats my tail like the thing of wonder that it is. She asks to groom the mule almost every day, and usually rides me too. She has been quoted as saying "Mr. Barfolomewel is the best on the whole planet Erf!" 

My smallest human filly plans to be a ballet instructor and a carpenter when she grows up, but here's my advice for her: go for a minor in equestrian cosmetology. You have a gift.

My smallest filly is named Robin, after the birds that come about for her birthday party every year. (I hope she lets them have a bit of cake!). She was born right here at Bent Barrow Farm, a distinction she shares with B.G. the goat. Robin was born in the house; B.G. was born in the shed.

Robin loves building things, and has endless creativity and patience when it comes to construction projects. She has been a dedicated supporter of the shed expansion since its inception and it is she who argues most vociferously that we ought to call it a barn. FarmWife likes that idea, since a barn of her own is something she's wanted all her adult life. Robin makes an excellent jobsite supervisor.

Robin likes bunnies, the Beatles, noodles, nori, hiking, camping, and the color yellow. She is a girl of mulish good taste. She is usually, but not always, a girl of impeccable manners and conduct. (This statement is conditional only because she is four, and if you've ever known someone who's four you'll know that they sometimes get an idea about how they would like to do things. Sometimes this idea doesn't quite match your idea about how you would like to do things, and this goes for four year-old mules as well as people.)


Run, Marnie, run!

Will there come a day when running is an enjoyable, exhilarating experience? When the challenge is outweighed by the rewards of increased energy, stamina, and strength? Conventional wisdom says that it takes a certain level of fitness before jogging is no longer arduous, painful, and exhausting and that once this fitness threshold is surpassed I can expect a flood of positive feelings along with the wind in my hair. I used to doubt this commonly-held truth, but I feel a new optimism today. I'll tell you why!

I tried to be a runner about ten years ago, and had a happy week or two of pushing through the burning lungs, pounding heart, and aching legs before blowing out a previously injured knee and spending a couple of weeks on crutches. I went to an orthopedic surgeon who recommended surgery (I opted out), said it was the loosest joint he'd ever seen that was still being walked on, and warned me off jogging. Years passed.

Two years ago, after some months of steadily-improving knee health, I ran two miles on a whim. I confess, that's the furthest I've jogged this decade. That's a terrible thing to admit, seeing as our species evolved for a life of daily prolonged cardiovascular effort, but at least I've been hiking, muleback riding, and cycling since. I haven't passed EVERY intervening hour on the couch! Anyway, I ran two miles in average running shoes with no regard whatsoever to my technique, which was at that time heavy on the heel-strike. My knees, which are pretty torn-up (with a completely torn ACL in the right knee, a partially-torn and now recovered MCL in the left knee, and trashed menisci in both), resented me for it. They were stiff, swollen, and bruised for days afterward and I decided jogging wasn't the sport for me. "I'm damaged goods," I told myself. "Barely pasture sound." My knees made a wonderful excuse for a sedentary lifestyle.

Since then, I've been brought over to the "barefoot"* side of things. I jogged a very little in handmade haurachas this summer. (By little, I mean less than half a mile per run). I learned, from a distance-runner friend, that a toe- or midfoot-strike can take a huge amount of concussion off the knees and instead dole it out among the many shock-absorbing joints of the foot and ankle. I read a little about running, watched a few video tutorials, and ran across the lawn with a new focus on my footfall.  Most of all, I took inspiration from a friend who has powered through similar knee pain and become an accomplished long-distance trail runner.

It took Mr. Puddle Run's new interest in jogging (he's been going out almost every day for the last few weeks) to get me practicing what I preached, and I finally tried jogging again. I started last week with laps around the pasture. This isn't saying much: my pasture measures merely 170 feet on each side. I ran yesterday, covering two miles total but throwing in some ample walk breaks when my knees got too achey, and I ran again today. It was a little bit easier. I did it in some very simple shoes—no padding, no heel height, no frills—and it felt good.

I'd say my past running troubles have stemmed partly from footwear, partly from poor technique, partly from old injuries, and mostly from laziness and procrastination. I can't promise that I'll keep up with this fitness plan, but I will promise to try. Ask me about it in a week or two, please—I'd really like your encouragement to stick with it!


*I don't really mean "bare."I still wear shoes. I try to shop for minimal shoes that allow my foot to function in roughly the same manner, mechanically, as a naked one. I admire those who truly go without footwear but it's not how I'm using the term in this post.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Family IV: The little tigers

Desmond is made of earnestness
Townes is made of silly putty

Townes (more gray, more spotty) and Desmond (more brown, more stripey)
I have two little tigers: Desmond, who outweighs Clover by two pounds, and Townes, who outweighs her by one. They are almost the same except when they are very, very different.

Desmond came from the shelter when he was six months old—the equivalent of a yearling, FarmWife tells me, as mules grow up slower than cats. He was old enough to be "assessed", in the sense that the humans were able to lock him in a small room with their cat-crazy toddler and see how he fared. He passed—every limp, langourous, purring-whilst-being-dragged-about-the-room inch of him. He was a good, unflappable kitten and as he grew he turned into a sophisticated, mulish cat. He is all poise and dignity in a plush, striped coat.

Townes looks exactly like Desmond except that he doesn't at all . . . at first glance, humans mistake one for the other. Then they notice that Townes is long (like a noodle), and drooping in the middle. This is because he was damaged as a kitten, though the vet knows not how. He wobbles to and fro when he perambulates, and when he builds up enough speed his gallop turns into an out-of-control wave which sweeps his hind end up and around and then down to earth. Townes, nevertheless, is a stalwart hunter. What he lacks in grace he makes up for in patience, and his 365 hunting days result in about three kills per year. (FarmWife sometimes supplements his meager gains with raw chicken wings, which he eats with gusto.)

Townes came from the roadway in Van Zandt, Washington. FarmWife and her coworkers found him, at six weeks of age, playing chicken with the logging trucks on Highway 9. It was suspected that he came from a nearby feral litter, but he is now a testament to domesticity. He enjoys human companionship very much and our two tigers are often found lounging about on any spare lap. They are both very malleable, though Townes moreso. This means it is usually Townes who is forced to play the dragon in the children's games.

My little tigers have motorboat voices and weak, squeaky little brays. They manage, nonetheless, to serve as a major source of information from inside the human habitation. This intelligence is second in quality only to that obtained by my super-secret hoofspy (who has since, regrettably, been sold).

Tomorrow, continuing up the family size ladder from scrawny to brawny, we will talk about my youngest human filly. Stay tuned!


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Family III: Clover

FarmWife once said that if she was going to be stranded on a desert island with just two pets, she'd want me and Clover. This was a revision of her first statement, which was that Clover would be best because Clover has a smaller appetite. "How," she asked, "are we going to find hay on a desert island?" I reminded her that if Alec Ramsey could keep a fiery steed like The Black alive on dried seaweed alone, she could certainly find a way to support the subsistence of her hardy and sedate Fenway Bartholomule. If anything, the foraging might help us pass the many lonesome hours!

Clover is a very good companion to me, to FarmWife, and to the whole family. She is tidy, respectful, bold, attentive, responsive, brave, sociable, athletic, etcetera. She has much muleness.

Clover, at 11 pounds, is a chihuahua or possibly a chihuahua/min. pin. cross. As a 10 month-old stray in the tri-cities area in EasternWashington, she was picked up and taken to a high-kill shelter. Luckily, our local alternative humane society likes to pick up busloads of adoptable little dogs and bring them here to find families, and so they did. And so she did (find us, that is). She was my family's Christmas present to ourselves in 2010.

When I go trailriding, I carry FarmWife AND Clover until we're past traffic, then Clover goes on ahead on foot—er, hoof—um, paw. She sweeps the trail for Satan's Chickens, keeping me safe from harm. We are a good team.

Clover is shiny, like me. She is smart, like me. She loves FarmWife, like me, and has big ears, like me. There is very little separating us except a taste for meat, a tendency to roll in chicken poop, and about 889 pounds of body weight.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Family II: The chickens

The chickens consist of Chanticleer and his wives (I know, I know . . . that name is a profound failure of originality). They are a strangely homogenous harem, and while each hen has a name of her own we do often go about referring to them as simply "the chickens." Daphne and Ada are about ten years old now, and are plump, serene australorps and FarmWife's favorites. Blueberry, Raspberry, and Feather are the Americaunas—nervous, suspicious, and poor layers.* What eggs they do lay, however, are terribly pretty. The other chickens—Viola and Victoria—are indistinguishable from one another. They are Rhode Island Reds, and I simply can't imagine how they managed to get all the way over here from there.

The husband chicken is a chivalrous gentleman with some muleness about him: when snacks are thrown to the flock, he clucks to his wives and draws them 'round, then stands with noble countenance and majestic bearing while they dine. He has not a bite for himself—in fact, if he does deign to lift a morsel in his beak it is only to redistribute the wealth in the direction of a less aggressive hen.

FarmWife reports that she is going to have a few new layers in the spring, including three for the children to pamper. This will mean more poultry underfoot, as they tend to come into my paddock to sort the manure. A baffling practice! They enjoy sorting my manure slightly less than they enjoy sorting the goats', which I find offensive. If you are the sort of creature who likes sticking your snout in poo, why not choose the best? (FarmWife says it is because the goats leave undigested seeds behind. Being voluptuous, I don't get nearly as many seeds as they!)

A random factoid: My human aunt Erin clicker-trained my chickens and now they jump on command in exchange for peanuts. My human aunt Erin also spent Christmas playing with baby tigers—not like mine**, who stay little, but the kind that grow big enough to eat mules. I am not sure what to think about that.

Tomorrow, we will talk about Clover. She is the next smallest family member.

* I was once under the impression that the FarmChildren removed eggs daily in order to spare the chickens the pain of burying their malformed, aborted young. It turns out that the humans remove them in order to dine upon their contents, which strikes me as a million times more revolting.

** My little tigers are next in line after Clover for a biographical blog post. Patience!

Friday, January 6, 2012

My family: Part I in a series

This is going to be a series about my family, in case you've forgotten the key players. If you haven't forgotten them at all, this may be a little repetitive. Don't worry, though! We are a FASCINATING bunch of people, my family and I. Our stories never get old.

I am going to introduce my family in order from small to large. Our first story, then, shall be B's.

B is short for BeyoncĂ©. (Don't blame us—she came with it!) She is a mini-lop mini-mule. She and Harriet were terrible enemies until they became wonderful friends, but that is a story that has already been told. B likes carrots, celery, and long walks on the lawn. B has a pirate sweater that is even more humiliating than my maroon plaid turnout rug.

Second story: Harriet is a rex/Californian cross minimule and was one of FarmWife's 30th birthday presents. She was small, soft, white, and adorable back then. Now she is large, soft, white, and adorable in a sort of a terrifying, tooth-and-claw sort of way. She and B are good buds. She likes to eat sheetrock, which had a deleterious effect on her house freedom. She likes to sleep upside-down on FarmWife's lap and makes a good stand-in for a hot water bottle on cold days.

Harriet is fatter than me and gets fewer carrots, so I suppose that makes up for the fact that she gets more lap time.

Tomorrow, we will talk about chickens. (Don't worry, we'll cover them all at once in a few quick paragraphs.)


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fun with Quotes

On my 2012 theme—friendship: 

You can take just about any good quote about friendship and make it better by substitituting the word "friend" with the word "mule" and "friendship" with "muleness." Let's try it! 

"A mule should be one in whose understanding and virtue we can equally confide, and whose opinion we can value at once for its justness and its sincerity." 
Robert Hall

"Muleness can weather most things and thrive in thin soil; but it needs a little mulch of letters (snacks) and phone calls (pats) and small, silly presents every so often—just to save it from drying out completely." 
Pam Brown

A single rose can be my garden . . . a single mule, my world." 
Leo Buscaglia

"Muleness is not something you learn in school, but if you haven't learned the meaning of muleness, you really haven't learned anything." Muhammad Ali

"If it's very painful for you to criticize your mule, you're safe in doing it. But if you take the slightest pleasure in it, that's the time to hold your tongue." 
Alice Duer Miller 

"It is one of the blessings of old mules that you can afford to be stupid with them." 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

"There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true muleness." 
Thomas Aquinas

"Yes'm, old mules is always best, 'less you can catch a new one that's fit to make an old one out of." 
Sarah Orne Jewett

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

You're an ass!

Next time you're tempted to call someone an ass, rethink. Does he, indeed, exemplify the 
traits of the humble burro? Ask yourself these questions: 

Is he patient beyond measure? 
Is he able to be thrifty, making do with little? 
Is he an excellent judge of character? 
Does he manage to look both wise-beyond-years and squeezably adorable at once? 
Is he disproportionately strong? 
Is he uncomplaining, except when dinner is late? 
Does he respond to kindness with affection and to cruelty with disdain? 
Does he look before he leaps, making well-informed decisions? 
Are his senses extraordinarily acute? 
Is he fiercely loyal to his allies?

If your answer to any of these above questions is "no," you may want to rethink your label. The ass deserves better.


Above: FarmWife as an ass, pictured with her husband and daughters as assorted livestock animals. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The word for the year

FarmWife has a human acquantance who has been painstakingly (and painfully) beating cancer down again and again for the last three years. Her adventures have not been easy, or comfortable, and yet she keeps her chin up and her joy alive. She is inspiring.

She recently blogged about picking a word for each year—her word for this one is "attitude." I am inspired, so FarmWife and I are going to pick words too.

I think my word for 2011 should probably have been "relaxation." I did a lot of that.

My word for 2012? "Friendship." If I have taught FarmWife anything about life, it is that the joy of being the rider of a mule is second only to the joy of being the friend of a mule. We are good buds, she and I, and we'll keep that up.

FarmWife says her word for 2011 was "career." She's finally got one . . . a growing freelance writing career that's actually rolling along quite nicely. This year, she hopes to continue to add clients to her roster.

Her 2012 word is going to be "diligence." She has the ability and the desire to get fit, to do more professionally, and to do more at home as a dabbler in the homesteading arts. She must apply herself, and she vows that she shall.

How about you? What set of words would you pin on last year and this one to come?


Monday, January 2, 2012

Big projects call for big sales tactics

FarmWife is all fired up about my shed, but her second trip to the lumber yard reveals that she is tragically over budget. She is, therefore, going to make a FANTABULOUS and UNPRECEDENTED offer in regard to her poetry business! (If all those capital letters don't excite you, I don't know what will!)

For the next ten poems she sells, FarmWife will donate one free poem to the non-profit of the buyer's choice. That means YOU get custom poem to keep or to give as a gift AND your favorite animal rescue organization or other charity gets a custom poem to display on their website, to hang in their office, or to auction or sell as a fundraising effort.

For additional information about FarmWife's poetry business or to place your order, please visit www.commissionedpoetry.com.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

A lazy day

I passed a lazy day in contemplation of my new gate assembly, which is comprised of every metal gate on the farm, joined together in a train-like configuration in order to temporarily bar me from the shed expansion workzone. It's rather nice, and rattles in the key of G when shaken just so.

The humans went on their annual New Year's Day trip to Mount Baker where they slid joyfully hither and thither upon the white slopes. They have asked me if I would ever care to join them on such an adventure, serving as their skijoring captain. I have declined. I am a fair weather mule.

Paisley, the puffy dog, has the coat but not the soundness for such adventures. Clover, the smooth dog, has the soundness but not the coat. The humans can make their snowy merriment alone, thank you, while we beasts of hoof and claw hold down the fort.

And you? How did you pass this fine holiday? In eager anticipation, I hope, of a frabjous 2012!