Thursday, January 31, 2013

An update on the life of Miss Arrietty G. Teaspoon

FarmWife is faced with a dilemma. I have become so slender as to require concentrated feeds (oats, timothy pellets, and equine senior), if you can believe it! FarmWife and the vet are working on figuring out why, but in the meantime my wee companion Miss Arrietty is standing beside me in absolutely NO need of concentrates—that is, she still tends towards plump.

FarmWife's solution to this dilemma has been to give her a token handful of timothy pellets to lift her spirits and to take her out on the lawn for a bit of longeing a couple of times a week. Arrietty is borrowing a harness from the equally petite Anna Mule of Vermont, and if you could imagine the cuteness of my little friend spring-sproinging around in it you would probably swoon. It is not hard to go from this to a mental picture of Arrietty pulling a darling little meadowbrook. She is but five years old, sturdy and sound, cooperative and bold: it is not a far-fetched dream.

When FarmWife put Arrietty away in the fall after a couple of trial longeing lessons, they were both very confused. "Why am I at the end of this rope," Miss Teaspoon asked, "and why are you waggling that whip at me?"

"Why aren't you yielding in the fashion of a horse," FarmWife asked, "and why don't you see that I am waggling this whip at you?"

They both ended the lesson calm, content, and at a loss as to how to proceed without either a roundpen or an assistant to play the lead-the-mule-in-circles role. The funny thing is that Arrietty spent the winter thinking on the subject, and this week has twice demonstrated a good mastery of the longeing concept. She can walk, trot, whoa, and reverse on the longeline with reasonable accuracy. She is a bright little mule!

FarmWife was concerned that the absence of Arrietty would make me pace, bray, carry on, and re-injure my still tender forehoof. She needn't have worried: I know the difference between having my girlfriend borrowed for a bit of longeing on the lawn and having my girlfriend borrowed for something more desperate and long-term like a walk to the schoolbus stop. I am a bright little mule, too.

In an unrelated but also happy bit of news, Miss Arrietty G. Teaspoon was the winner of Kira's "Kira's Kause" Facebook photo contest! We are delighted, and glad to see Kira getting the attention she deserves as she saves up for two ACL surgeries. Thanks to all who voted to help Arrietty win!


Friday, January 25, 2013

Mules: the pros and cons

Mules, the pros:

  1. We have feet like rocks (present lameness notwithstanding)
  2. We have disproportionate strength and endurance
  3. We have glossy coats
  4. We keep tidy stalls
  5. We innately tend towards the preservation of life and limb, meaning we're unlikely to kill ourselves and you
  6. We are excellent judges of character
  7. We eat relatively little to stay relatively fat
  8. We have sonorous voices (see below)

Mules, the cons:

  1. We have sonorous voices, which may cause some neighbor issues unless you live in a village of music lovers
  2. We are addictive (see below)

Mules, the pros, continued:
  9.  We are addictive. The more, the better!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Feelin' groovy

Well, one good thing has come out of all of this lameness business: FarmWife, in my eyes, has gotten her muleness back.

Before I wound up three-legged lame a week ago, this was the routine: 8:30 am, hay thrown. 9 am, grain dumped in my bucket. Troughs checked. Four pm, hay thrown. Stall mucked out. Friendly overtures made by FarmWife and refused by me. Ear rubs for Arrietty only. Eight pm, hay thrown.

Since I wound up three-legged lame a week ago, this has been the routine: 8:30 am, hay thrown. Concern expressed. 9 am, grain dumped in my bucket. Troughs checked. 9:10 am, halter applied. 9:10 to 9:30, feet picked, soaked, poulticed, etcetera. 9:30 am, shed mucked out. Four pm, shed mucked out again. Shavings topped up. Hay thrown. Feet looked at again. Friendly overtures made by FarmWife and accepted by me. Ear rubs all around. Eight pm, hay thrown. More concern expressed.

FarmWife has always loved me, you know, since before I was even hers. The thing is, she's been job hunting (taxing) and working a lot (taxing) and feeling like we mules needed more time and money from her than she could provide (taxing). Now, we need from her just exactly what she CAN provide: a half an hour a day, a little bit of attention, and lots of love. Also the occasional vet visit, with which some of you have so kindly assisted. (Poetry buyers: your first drafts are already in the works!)

Since the vet was here a week ago, I've improved considerably (I'm now back to 95% sound, though I never did have an abscess blow out) AND my relationship with FarmWife is sunnier than it has been for a while. When she stopped riding me two years ago because of my hocks, she thought I'd lap up retirement like a thirsty dog. Actually, I have been missing my time with her.

It turns out that time together is good for any relationship, even if one of the parties has to spend that time with his feet in buckets.


Monday, January 21, 2013


White dog, black dog, brown cat, grey cat, brown mule, tan mule, white bun, grey bun, yellow bird, blond girls, brunette you: FarmWife, you are dreaming if you think you are going to find an outfit that hides the hair.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Core beliefs

I believe that non-human animals are sentient, emotional, inherently worthwhile, and just plain fascinating.  As an extension, I also believe in veganism, compassionate animal husbandry (in other words, keeping pets as part of the family), and protection of wildlife and wild places.

I believe that a greater regard for the environment—a humanity-wide re-prioritization of planetary health over economic growth—is the key for the future of human life on earth. There's a great quote going around the internet these days, excerpted from David Suzuki's 2009 Right Livelihood Award acceptance speech, to this effect:

"There are some things in the world we can`t change - gravity, entropy, the speed of light, the first and second Laws of Thermodynamics, and our biological nature that requires clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy and biodiversity for our health and well being. Protecting the biosphere should be our highest priority or else we sicken and die.

Other things, like capitalism, free enterprise, the economy, currency, the market, are not forces of nature, we invented them. They are not immutable and we can change them. It makes no sense to elevate economics above the biosphere."

I believe that I, as a citizen of a developed nation, use more than my share, throw away more than my share, eat more than my share, and pollute more than my share. Shrinking my consumption patterns to a state-wide, county-wide, or community-wide network may be the way to lessen this problem, and I believe that local economies of progressive, interconnected citizens are the way forward. We need to become a nation dotted with thriving 21st century villages, complete with village craftsmen. I don't think that genetically modified seed and western cash crops are going to fix famine. I do think that slowing climate change, preserving heritage farming, reducing topsoil loss, taxing dirty industries, and empowering people on an individual scale (think micro-loans) is going to help.

I believe that children are precious, innocent, and worthwhile, and that they should be nurtured from day one. I would love to see what a generation of home-birthed, co-slept, breastfed, curious, bright young people could accomplish!

I don't think I have the solution to all that ails the world, and I don't think that nature or man will ever achieve perfect peace and harmony, but I do think that I am personally empowered to live better every day. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Like a coarse, pine-scented cloud

FarmWife recently bedded our shed in pine shavings for the first time in a long while on the assumption that it would be more cushiony than bare earth on my poor recuperating feet. This was what ensued, in the words of my beloved Miss Teaspoon: 

Hi! I'm Arrietty G. Teaspoon. I love cameras, snacks, and people of all shapes and sizes. I also like shavings. Who knew? 
This is me, two minutes after discovering that FarmWife had given us a bed of pulverized trees to stand upon. 

This bed of pulverized trees is fluffy, like a coarse, pine-scented cloud, and good to scrub one's head and neck in. 

As you can see, I rolled with such gusto in this pine-scented cloud that I wore bare spots. FarmWife added an entire extra bale of the stuff as a result of my aggressive product testing. 
My good friend Fenny has not yet tried rolling on the cloud, but as you can see from this photo he did try relieving himself in it before it was even fully spread. (Upon his example, I tried the same. Very satisfying! No splash!)

An old list

I recently happened upon a list that I must have made in my junior year of college—a year when I was a pet owner, a single parent, a florist, a tutor, and a budding writer. I have always been a maker of lists, and love their power to simplify, solidify, and prioritize goals from the grand to the mundane. (A secret about me and mundane lists: when noting my daily to-dos, I have been known to write down the already finished tasks—feed mules, soak beans—just so that I can start the day with some items crossed off.)

The list that I happened upon listed my life priorities, at that time, and I think it probably stemmed from some feeling of uncertainty as to my post-college direction. It contained bullet points like "Animal Welfare," "Ecology/Conservation," "Natural Parenting," and "Social Justice." It looks like it could have had me going in for a career as a dog trainer, a park ranger, a midwife, a wetlands biologist, or a public defender. There was not a single interest on that 2001 list that isn't still with me today in one form or another, though none of those careers ultimately called me.

Writing is a wonderful pursuit for a person of wide but consistent interests. I am very comfortable in my own skin, and so have no qualms with sharing my inner life with you, my reader. I have no doubt that what I believe is right, good, true, and worthy of a couple hundred pages of elucidation via the written word. It's just a matter of time before I get those words on the page.


Sunday, January 13, 2013


I am abiding, thank you for asking: not much has changed, and I am still reluctant to bear weight on the left foreleg, but FarmWife is soaking and poulticing away like a crazy woman and I think it's having some beneficial effect. At least, I bore weight on the left hoof long enough for her to clean out the right, the effort of which would have made me crumple the day before! It's progress.

On another note, I want to clear something up. There has formed a mistaken impression here at Bent Barrow Farm that our White Andalusian hen does not lay. She does, and today the proof was revealed in a shower of old eggs.

FarmWife, as she often does, climbed up the hay tower today. FarmWife, as she often does, grasped a bale above her (without looking at its top). FarmWife, as she often does, gave it a tug and sent it tumbling to the floor beneath. FarmWife, as she never has before in her life, was pummelled by whites and yolks and shells and some bouncing, hardy ovals which made it all the way to the barn floor without breaking. Two dozen, at least, if not three—enough to make a decadent wedding cake, I should say, if they were not of such questionable freshness!

It was all sorts of hilarity, I tell you, and went some way towards lightening everyone's mood in the barn this morning. FarmWife thought she had freshened herself up thereafter, but she just reported having found yolk in her hair while at work. FarmWife, you are not helping the cause of promoting equestrians as hygienic workmates! (Were you raised in a barn?)


Friday, January 11, 2013

Diagnosis: probably an abscess.

Well, the diagnosis before the vet came was "probably an abscess but let's get the vet out to be sure." The diagnosis after the vet came is "probably an abscess, and although we can't find it let's not spend any more money until we give it a chance to blow out." I am made comfortable, all done up with bute, an iodine soak, a mineral poultice, and an EasyBoot. The vet removed my shoe and cleaned out my white line, which had grown diseased. Her prescription? Pea gravel in my stall, more aggressive trimming (to remove all dead sole and frog material), and no more shoes. This barefoot-to-shod experiment cannot be entirely blamed, as my white line was weak and subject to gravel intrusion even before I got shoes put on, but it certainly hasn't helped! Tuesday, Mr. Farrier comes out to remove my other shoe and trim me thoroughly all 'round (if I'm strong enough to bear weight on the bad hoof). If I am not improved by soaking, poulticing, and a good trim, then we'll think about a nerve block to isolate the pain to my hoof and a set of x-rays to rule out a fracture.

Luckily, I got a jar of Therapeutic Mineral Treatment as a birthday present from Simple Relief. This will make an excellent companion to the vet's prescription poultice material! I will be enjoying daily foot spas, drawing poultices, and such—the real luxury treatment, minus the eye cucumbers (I'd rather eat them).

I wonder if I can order a hot stone massage?


Thursday, January 10, 2013

These good news/bad news days just don't stop!

This is yet another good news/bad news day: the good news is that we have welcomed Kevin, a 5 year-old male pied cockatiel, to our family. Kevin is the only bird who gets to live in the house (the chickens and ducks have too-big poops, FarmWife explained) and he's also the only bird that will whistle a pretty little tune right back at you when you whistle at him. He is not going to fill the Pickle-sized hole in our little person's heart, but he is going to create a cockatiel-sized hole right next to it.

The bad news is that I turned up 3-legged lame this afternoon! I can't even set my right front hoof on the ground, which has FarmWife pulling her hair out at various ideas ranging from a broken bone to a hoof abscess. We are hoping very much for the latter rather than the former, and we are having a vet out first thing tomorrow to help us narrow it down. Wish me luck, affordable health care, and a comfortable recuperation with lots of sweet treats and Disney movies.

Arrietty has been very excited by all the worry. "Whee!," she says, each time FarmWife comes back into the paddock. "You're here to see me AGAIN??" She is all sorts of cuteness, with her squeaky nickers and warm furry lips, and makes a very good nursemaid when FarmWife can't be present.

Stay tuned for what I hope will be a clear, simple, and treatable diagnosis in the morning!


Friday, January 4, 2013

Rest in Peace, Pickle

You've probably heard me boast about young D's very special duck, Pickle. He was a real gentleman among ducks, and sometimes used to spend the first hour after breakfast rearranging his ladyships' nest, carrying each stalk of hay back up the ramp down which it had slipped and placing it into the duck house where it belonged. He came when called, heeled on command, and treated D with the affection due to her. She deserves the credit: she spent hours with him every day in his early months, and he was as tame as could be. He was also loved by his two wives, Junebug and Princess Dewdrop, and they have been quacking dejectedly and looking everywhere for him since he went away.

Earlier this week, Pickle disappeared out of our fenced (but uncovered) daytime poultry yard. We suspect fowl play, pun intended: that is, we suspect that he was stolen by a bird of prey.

Hawks have to eat too, I suppose, though I wish they'd eat tofurkey! Poor D is grief-stricken, and the human parents are sad and a bit guilty about the whole thing. Of all the birds in the yard, Pickle was the most adored. While we wouldn't wish his fate on any of our feathered friends, it's a particularly tragic twist that it was he to disappear.

Rest in Peace, Pickle. You won't be forgotten.


More gratitude: the small things
Of course, I'm grateful for my husband, my daughters, my friends, my animals, my community, our farmers, our teachers, and all our believers in a better future. I'm also grateful for some small things, though, and sometimes it's these small things that put a smile on my face in the middle of a humdrum day.

I'm grateful for the invention of Daiya, which is a better-than-cheese cheese substitute made mostly from tapioca. Unbelievable, right? Tapioca is gross, Daiya is NOT. It is truly fantastic and I think I would think so even if I weren't vegan. I'm also grateful for kimchi and saurkraut, and to our forefathers who decided to try letting vegetables sit in a pot and molder. Strange idea, great results!

I'm grateful for musicians. Every time I hear good live music, whether it's at my friend Katrina's house or at the Stringband Jamboree or out with Mr. Puddle Run on one of our rare date nights, I feel a renewed sense of gratitude for the great music-makers in our world and the abundance of good ones right here in the Northwest. In this iPod era it's too easy to forget the thrill of seeing a good local band. I'll add that to my to-do list: eat local, buy local, LISTEN local!

I'm grateful for graph paper. I love it! I got some in my Christmas stocking this year. It's terribly useful for making lists (one of my favorite activities), doodling dream houses and fantasy barns, making little Zentangles of the sort fancied by my dear mother-in-law, and generally keeping things square and plumb.

I'm grateful for my husband's hard work chopping and stacking wood and splitting kindling all summer. It's so nice to have a warm fire this January! This is NOT a small thing: it's a huge thing, and I owe him a huge thank you. He's a hard worker and I love that about him.

I could go on—and soon, I will—but I'm also grateful for my kitchen full of food. I hear it calling me now. . . . "Come cook! come cook!"


Tuesday, January 1, 2013


FarmWife is doing this "gratitude" thing over at Puddle Run, saying thanks for some of the good things in her life (in lieu of resolving to do something unpleasant, like jog). I figured I'd better keep up with the Joneses, so I'm going to blog about my gratitude, too! On this new day of a bright new year, I'm grateful for my wonderful friends. You're so smart, considerate, kind, loving, and nonjudgemental. I really appreciated the great advice and kind encouragement that you all gave me after my glum post the other day, and I'm going to take it to heart and work on spending special time with FarmWife every day. You guys are the best.

I'm also grateful for those of you who do good work to save mules and donkeys who have no home, no loving humans with whom to cultivate strong relationships. New Hampshire-based Save Your Ass Longear Rescue ( is one group for whom I have immense respect, so much so that I wrote them this New Years poem last night:

A chilly night, a snowy field, 
A barnyard silver-lit.
There, gathered, stand some longeared friends,
Some weary and some fit. 
A sentiment passed through the ranks
Needs not be said in words:
It's gratitude, a sense of peace,
Of hope yet undeterred. 
"We're here, we're safe," they seem to say.
"No hunger and no pain.
We've found ourselves a resting place
Where fear shan't strike again.
We've been brought in by shelt'ring arms
to share a humble wealth—
There's hay, dry space, and helpful friends
Restoring us to health.
Good night, old year. Ho, dawn anew! 
In peace, we welcome thee. 
Our asses saved, we mules and donks
Can greet you merrily. 
If here we stay or out we go
to forge a future bright,
One thing is sure: 
With Save Your Ass, 
our lives have come out right."


This New Years, I am not going to resolve to start jogging. I've tried it before, every January first for a string of years, and the upshot has always been that I hate jogging and that my knees do, to. This year, I resolve NOT to start jogging, but to keep doing the other healthy things I enjoy: hiking with my family, riding my mule (yes, I want to do more of that), lifting weights, and generally enjoying life. I also resolve to be grateful for the many good things in this life.

I probably should have done a gratitude series in November to coincide with Thanksgiving, but I didn't. My friend Garyn inspired me at that time with her list of gratitudes, though—it went on all month, and seemed like a wonderful exercise.

I'll start with some gratitude for my knees: thank you, knees, for doing everything I want you to do except jog. Jogging sucks anyway, so thank you for giving me an out from that unpleasant exercise. When the  doctor told me you would never hold up without ACL replacement surgery after the Galloping Irish Wolfhound incident, I decided not to believe him. Now, you're healthier than ever and 100% pain free under normal use. Good job.

Thank you, sun, for visiting Wickersham today! 

Frost princess

It is hard to capture the full extent of Arrietty's frosty-maned, icy-eared winter wonderfulness with a cheap cameraphone, but a mule can try. She wears winter so well, I almost wonder if she is its Princess.