Friday, May 14, 2010

Sometimes cleavage is a very useful thing....

Sometimes cleavage is a very useful thing. I don’t mean just when you can use it to get a man to move heavy objects for you or hand you that item you can’t quite reach off the top shelf in the grocery store. Or to get out of a speeding ticket (so I hear… this has never worked for me). Cleavage is also a handy place to carry things. I once smuggled a sprig of lavender out of Cawdor Castle’s gardens in my cleavage. I’ve carried my cell phone, cash money, and, yes, even baby animals in there!

A few years ago one of my sister’s cats brought her a live and unharmed baby squirrel. We thought raising it would be a good experience for my nieces. For some reason, however, I ended up having to squirrel sit every time Sister had to go somewhere. My cats and dogs were enormously interested in the smell of this small aquarium Sister had set up as little Skippy’s house and I was afraid they might form a raiding party the minute my back was turned. Sister had told me to put him someplace warm, since baby squirrels were unable to regulate their own body heat and required warmth from their mom. Figuring I’d take care of both issues with one grand idea, I took Skippy out of his cage and slipped him down inside my bra! He nestled quite happily in there and none of the dogs or cats had any idea where he was. When he’d get a little too warm this tiny nose would pop out, or sometimes his whole head, but he was always quite happy to hang out in there.

After a few days we became concerned that the cats may have gotten the mama squirrel and there was a nest of orphaned babies up in that tree. You could kind of tell where little Skippy had come from by the feline audience hanging out at the base of the tree, just waiting for someone to toss them something new to play with! So we called our Tree Guy, Randall, who was just the nicest man you’d ever want to meet. He had helped us clear out the mess from the tornado and he agreed to come out and climb the tree and look in the nest for us. It was, thankfully, empty. When Randall got his feet on solid ground again, he was shaking his head.

“I can’t believe I came out here and climbed all the way up there just to look for a nest of baby tree rats!” he said good-naturedly.

Mom and Sister and I had been standing below, watching, and Randall didn’t know it but I’d had Skippy in my shirt the whole time. I have about 20 men’s cotton v-necked t-shirts that I wear around the farm. It’s sort of my farm uniform. I walked up to Randall and pulled the neck of my t-shirt down and leaned over, showing him dear little Skippy, contentedly peeking out from between my breasts.

“But Randall,” I said. “He’s just so cute!”

The poor guy turned bright red. He didn’t charge us for the visit.

So last night I was a little late getting to the barn, but nothing that a bit of hurry-up wouldn’t fix. I was efficiently going about my evening chores, standing outside at the water spigot to fill up Old Meg’s bucket. (Meg is my eldest ewe and she prefers hose water to sink water, thank you very much!) I had her bucket about halfway full when some movement caught the corner of my eye and it suddenly became One of Those Evenings. From the tree line next to the barn comes this little bird. Y’all know the song “You Can Fly” from Peter Pan, right? Everyone sing along with the baby bird now…

“I can fly! I can fly! I can fly! I can fly! I can….” WHAM! Barn.

The little dude flew right into the side of the big red barn and I’ll be damned if George Earnest didn’t just happen to be there to pounce on him the minute he hit the ground! The bird is screaming at whoever will listen, I’m screaming at George, George is looking for an escape route… and so I turned the hose on him! Well, he decided the bird wasn’t worth getting soaked over, promptly dropped it, and I jumped in and scooped it up.

So I find myself standing there with a wet cat glaring at me, a baby bird in one hand, and a running hose in the other. I just sort of shook my head and thought yep, this is my life. I shut the hose off, walked into the barn (George hot on my heels, just in case I dropped something), baby bird in hand, called my mom and said, “Well, you’re not gonna believe this shit!”

Now I’m really running late getting everything ready for the sheep to come in for the night. I have no idea where this little Tufted Titmouse baby came from, no idea if he’s hurt, or what the heck I’m supposed to do with him! And it’s getting dark and I don’t really have time to figure it out. I knew he was scared because I could feel his little heart just hammering in my hand, but I checked him over and didn’t see any blood on him and his wings appeared to be ok. I was pretty sure hitting the barn had rung his little bell, though. So I did the only thing I could think of— I tucked him in my bra and went about my chores. When Mom and Dad got to the barn I was dishing up feed and Mom asked me what I’d done with the baby bird.

I said, “Look, mom! I have a Tufted Titmouse between my titties!”

That pretty much had us giggling on and off for the next hour. I took him to the house and put him in a box out on the screen porch where he’d be safe from the kitties and decided I’d figure out what to do with him in the morning.

Well, this morning he was flying all over the porch, trying to get out! I was so relieved that neither the barn nor the cat had hurt him. I took him down to the barn with me and walked up into the tree line where he’d come from, deciding that if I put him on a safe branch he’d eventually figure out where home was. Well, that idea lasted about as long as it took to get him settled on the branch. He just looked so tiny and frightened, I couldn't stand it!

I said, “Aw, crap, dude! What am I going to do with you?”

As visions of raising this baby bird to maturity in my bra ran through my head, I scooped him off the branch and walked along with him in my hand, I suppoe hoping I'd just happen to run across a flock of Tufted Titmice. When I ran out of trees I decided to cross a bit of open pasture and check out the woods. I was getting really disheartened when he suddenly heard a familiar voice. That little head popped up and he started chirping his little guts out! And then I could hear Mama Bird talking back to him! He started wiggling and wanting to fly away, but I kept a firm hold on him, wanting to get closer to wherever his mom was before I let him loose. I finally found her in the trees just at the edge of the woods, and boy was she pissed!

I opened my hand and the baby flew off, making his way very well up into a tree. And then he flew to another tree in the absolute wrong direction! I just about pulled my hair out in frustration, but his mom came and found him. She swooped down and bitched at him some more and then flew back to her original tree. I could just hear it: “Oh my God! Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick, do you hear me? Sick! You are in big trouble, young man! Staying out all night and coming home smelling of human! Just you wait until you father gets home!” The little baby flew over to her (“But Ma!!!!”) and the last I saw of them they were sitting together on the same tree branch. I cannot believe that with all the trees and all the acres we have on this farm he and I managed to find one little Tufted Titmouse Mama!!

Let’s just hope the little guy has learned his lesson and stays away from the barn!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Vodka is the Devil

Disclaimer: I do have permission to tell this story from all the drunks involved … mostly, I think, because they don’t remember it!

Before I start in on the complete disaster that was my friend Marie’s birthday party Saturday night, let me tell you that considering how we met, nothing that happens when we’re together should surprise me. I met Marie in probably freshman year of high school when I accidently went out with her boyfriend. How does that happen, you might ask? (And she did!) Well, I knew this boy from the school bus. He lived down the street from me and we used to talk on the ride home every day. One evening he calls me and asks if I want to go to the movies with him and some friends from the neighborhood. Now, I didn’t have any interest in this boy as possible boyfriend material, but it sounded a lot more interesting than staying home. Someone’s dad drove us to the mall, we saw the movie, came home, end of story.

Until I got to homeroom Monday morning and this girl comes up to me and says, “Marie is pissed and she’s gonna kick your ass.”

I said, “Who the hell is Marie and why would she want to kick my ass?”

She said, “Because you went out with her boyfriend Saturday night.”

I said, “I did what?”

This jerk had conveniently forgotten to mention the fact that he had a girlfriend. So I went and talked to Marie and we squared things up. And then we hunted this boy down and clouded up and rained all over his parade! It was a bonding moment because I don’t even remember his name but Marie and I have been friends ever since. And so I can say with all the love of twenty-plus years of friendship behind us…. the bitch can’t hold her liquor!

I tell her this (in between the 900 times she drunkenly tells me she loves me) every time she goes out on the town. Marie has three children and on the rare occasions she gets a kitchen pass to go out, she really goes all out! The dear girl doesn’t understand the concept of pacing herself. I knew this, of course, when I bought the birthday card that I brought to the party she was having at a local bar (which shall remain nameless) this past Saturday night. It had a picture of yard flamingos on the front of it and the picture was taken from such an angle that you’d have to be lying down, looking up at them. The card said:

If this is the first thing you see the morning after your birthday celebration, you may want to ask yourself these important questions: Am I naked? Is this my front yard? Who are these people and why are their necks so long?

I had no idea when I bought it how apt that would become! I showed up to the bar about10:30 since evening farm chores always make me late getting out. I knew Marie was already there with our friend Misty and Tanya, who I hadn’t previously met. I had Marie’s card and a bouquet of lollipops, but I couldn’t find Marie or Misty anywhere. Finally Misty wanders into the bar, beer in hand, and tells me that she thinks Marie is outside. So off I go and finally find her out front, already looking a bit bedraggled and green.

“Jenna,” she says, all drunk and slurry. “I’m in trouble.”

“Why are you in trouble, Marie?”

“I think I’m gonna be sick. Go get Misty for me.”

Ok, so back I go into the bar and return moments later with Misty in tow. I should have known Misty had had a couple too many herself when the following conversation went something like this:

Marie: “Misty, I’m gonna throw up.”

Misty: “No, you won’t. Come back inside and dance and you’ll feel better.”

(Seriously? That’s your plan?)

Me: “I really don’t think that’s a good idea. If she has to throw up we don’t want her puking in the bar, do we?”

Misty: “Jenna, I can’t handle throwing up.”

Me: “Well neither can I! Marie, if I walk you up the hill so you can throw up in the privacy of the bushes, will you be ok then?”

Marie: “Yeah.”

So Misty goes back into the bar and Marie and I head off across the parking lot. In an effort to safeguard Marie’s vanity, I figured the bushes were a better place for this business than the bathroom or, from the looks of her, right in front of the door to the bar. I walked her across this little access road to a nice concrete drainage ditch and told her to have at it.

Now, I’m a farm girl and I have a really high ick factor. I’ve been elbow deep in nasty stuff that would make you gag just to hear me tell it-- and then gone directly home and eaten dinner! But there are three things I cannot handle: childbirth, either human or animal; human poop (boy was I ever glad when the nieces were out of diapers!); and human vomit.

I gag just walking into a public restroom, so you know I was pleased to hear Marie say, “Jenna, don’t leave me.”

“I’m not going to leave you,” I promised, “but I can’t watch you throw up or I’m going to be throwing up too. So I’m just going to be right over there and I’ll come get you when you’re done. Are you going to be ok?”


Well, ok then.

Turning around, I’d taken about two steps when I heard WHAM! I spun around to see Marie sort of rolling down the concrete drainage ditch! I ran over, stopped the rolling, and got her into a sitting position. She’s crying and I’m pushing her hair out of her face and then I see it… blood just pouring out of her mouth!

“Oh my god!” I yelled. “Do you still have your teeth?” And then, “Honey, spit out the blood. No, not on your jeans, on the pavement. Do you still have your teeth??”

When I’d established that she’d cut her lip but still had her teeth, I told her to stay put and I ran back down the hill to the bar. I still had her damned card and lollipops in my hand so I left them with the cop at the door and told him what had happened. There was a city police officer there talking to him and apparently he went out to check on her because by the time I’d run to the bathroom and gotten paper towels, run into the bar and gotten Misty, and we got back outside the ambulance was pulling up. I will say one thing for Marie, she knows how to cause a scene! We had two cop cars, one ambulance, three paramedics, me, Misty, Tanya and at least one member of the house band standing there watching her cry and bleed. The paramedics got her cleaned up and put an ice pack on her mouth and that’s when things just got silly.

Misty says, “Damn it, Jenna, I left her with you. You were supposed to take care of her.”

“Hell, I just got here!” I said. “I didn’t know she was that drunk. What have you been feeding her?”

“She’s had the same thing I had. And I had two beers on top of her!”

“Two beers on top of her? Really?” I said. “Misty, I didn’t know you two were like that!”

And, of course, some male in the group commented on how he would have liked to have seen that.

That got me one hell of a smack on the arm from Misty. And then Marie started hurling. Tanya, bless her heart, sat behind her and held her hair. Misty and I, good friends that we are, had to walk down the hill a ways until she was done. We decided we needed to tie her hair back with something but, go figure, neither the cop nor the paramedics had a scrunchie. I went back into the bar and managed to come up with a rubber band. Pulling her hair back and wrapping the rubber band around it, I said, “Boy, she’s gonna be pissed in the morning when she sees her face and then can’t get this rubber band out of her hair.”

Now, apparently there’s paperwork to be filled out when the ambulance has to come for you, so while I was bending Marie’s glasses back into something that resembled what they’d looked like before she took a nosedive into concrete, the paramedics started asking the pertinent questions like what’s her address? Hell, I didn’t know.

So Misty crouches down and yells at Marie, “Marie, what’s your address?”

We got her address and all the important stuff down and then the paramedic decided to get funny and asked her blood type.

Misty yells into Marie’s face, “What’s your blood type?” And then looks up at us and says quite earnestly, “I think it’s vodka and Monster.”

That, of course, sent us all into giggles.

Now, at this point the cop tells us we’re going to have to get her out of the street because if they get another call they can’t leave us all on the side of the road. I pointed out that it was hardly a “road” since there were only a few houses up there and I doubted anyone was going to come barreling down it in the middle of the night and hit us, but he insisted. The birthday party had a designated driver coming to pick them up at close, but no one other than me had a vehicle there. We’d called someone to come get Marie and take her back to the house, but in the meantime we had to put her somewhere.

I said she was definitely not getting in my truck because she was alternately semi-conscious, wanting to lay down and go to sleep, or throwing her guts up and there was no way I was cleaning barf out of my truck. We decided that maybe we could lay her down in the bed of the truck, though I wasn’t sure how the hell we were going to get her up in there. I pulled the truck up to where she was, though, and two of the paramedics and Tanya’s brother lifted her up onto the tailgate. Then we sort of rolled her and… smushed her… into the bed of the truck (I remember saying at one point, “Jesus, it’s like a dead freakin’ deer in the back of my truck!”) and put the tailgate up so she didn’t fall out. The paramedics got her a pillow and a blanket out of the ambulance and we covered her up. And then we all suddenly found ourselves with nothing to do but lean up against the bed of my truck and watch her sleep it off.

At which point Misty and I told her, “Happy birthday, Marie! We love you!”

And then we took pictures because we’re good friends and we knew she’d want something other than a busted lip to remember her birthday by!

That's the cop with the flashlight. I'm standing next to him in the dark tank top. The green wristband is Misty. The clipboard is one of the paramedics. Marie, of course, is the dead deer under the blanket!

She was out like a light until her ride showed up, and then there was more hurling. I think the girl threw up things she ate in high school! Misty and I once again found ourselves standing on the other side of the truck, taking deep breaths and gagging and telling each other we were horrible friends.

Misty said, “You realize if we’re ever drunk enough to throw up, no one’s going to help us!”

Tanya, I still don’t really know you, but if I am ever that drunk I hope you’re there! You were a rock, girl!

So Sunday morning I get up from the barn to find a voicemail on my phone from Misty that went something like this: “Hey Jenna. Marie is ok. We were wondering if you’d call us back and tell us what happened.”

Well, girls… that’s what happened!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Those" Days...

Yesterday was One Of Those Days. You know those days when about halfway through you just want to go back to bed and start over in the morning? That was my yesterday. I was an absolute menace! Other than everything I touched breaking, from my curling iron to the golf cart to my stapler, I almost broke my Beagle! It wasn’t funny… well, ok it was kind of funny… and my mom and I (after the fact) got entirely too big a laugh out of it for me not to share.

Mr. Beagle on the golf cart this past winter.
(Yes, I know his sweatshirt is pink and he's a boy. Hey, it was the only one I had! Besides, dogs are red-green color blind so I figure he thought it was a handsome shade of gray!)

It was one of those partly cloudy days with just enough of a chance of rain that I had to watch the radar all day to make sure Mr. Beagle wasn’t going to get rained on while outside on his trolley, but not enough of a chance of rain that he needed to stay in his stall all day. About noon it started to cloud up and I could hear thunder off to the north. With a check of the radar I decided that perhaps I should bring him inside for a bit because it looked likely that we’d get a quick drenching. It was getting progressively darker and starting to sprinkle as I pulled the golf cart up to his trolley, snapped his leash on, loaded up one Beagle, his bed, his binkie (because it was a bit chilly),his food bowl, and Spike the barn cat. Mr. B and Spike were standing on the floor of the golf cart (they usually ride on the seat but that was taken up with all Beagle’s various paraphernalia) and I hit the gas. And all of a sudden…….

<-----------zzzzziiiiiiipppppp went the Beagle off the left side of the golf cart

Spikey panicked bailed off the right side ------------->

And I slammed on the brakes.

So I find myself sitting there, looking around, thoroughly confused as to why Beagle went sailing past my legs and did a bit of a thumpity-thump along the side of the golf cart, was now standing there sort of plastered up against it, and why his retractable leash was practically imbedded in my thigh. And then it occurred to me. Aw shit! In my haste to get him into the barn before the rain, I forgot to unhook him from his trolley tether when I snapped his leash on! Poor little B! He wasn’t hurt at all (I, however, have a lovely purple bruise across the top of my right thigh that hurts like hell) but he darned sure wasn’t real interested in getting back on the golf cart! Spike looked at me in that way that cat do, as if I belonged on one of those Sarah McLachlan commercials for abused animals, and high-tailed it to the barn under his own power! I did manage to get Mr. B and the Old Folks into the barn before the downpour started, but it was a close thing.

And to top it all off, after The Incident Beagle’s retractable leash would no longer expand or contract. So I had the bright idea of opening it up and fixing it. Just in case you should ever have a similar idea, don’t bother. After finally getting all the little tiny screws loose the whole thing exploded like one of those gag cans of snakes and there is no getting it back together again!

But on the bright side, I haven’t broken anything or pissed any of my animals off yet today… so hurray for me!

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Little More About Skunks and Kitties

I'm glad everyone got such a kick out of my skunk story. My mom was highly amused that I managed to tell it without using the F word, as it probably would have been more accurate if you liberally sprinkled that through the dialogue. What can I say? We're tough farm girls. No, really, we are!

Tonight at the barn I chased a bumble bee around the lounge and trapped him in a cup and set him free outside. Mom looked at me and snorted and said, "And you were going to kill a skunk. With a shovel."

I said, "Yeah, well, the bee hadn't pissed me off yet!" And then, "You know I wasn't really going to whack that skunk with a shovel, right?"

She laughed and said, "Oh, yeah. I know."

Yes, Mom knows me well.

The truly amazing thing about the whole skunk event was that my sister and brother-in-law live right up the hill from the barn and somehow managed to sleep through the whole fiasco-- shouting, screaming, beagling, and all. This was fortunate for Pepe because my sister would have blown him away in about 2 seconds and gone right back to bed. Notice I said my sister, not my brother-in-law! The poor men in this family sometimes lament the fact that the women run the show around here but, as I often point out to my dad, it's all his fault. My mom likes to tell the story that in the first year of their marriage the car broke down and she didn't know what to do. She called the airline and they patched her through to the tower, who patched her through to the cockpit of my dad's plane as he was sitting on the tarmac, waiting to taxi down the runway. Apparently you don't call an airline pilot in the plane unless someone is in the hospital or dead because he said, "Are you kidding?! I thought it was an emergency! Deal with it!" So, yep, his job managed to create a bunch of women who can deal with it. Most of the time, anyway. Hell, I once had a boyfriend give me a machete for Valentine's Day and that pleased me more than the jewelry, if that tells you anything. But that still doesn't mean I want to shoot and kill a little critter, even a skunk, so I guess it all worked out ok in the end. I could have done without the loss of sleep, however!

Thankfully, though, we don't get that many skunks here. Dad killed a rabid one when I was in high school. When I was in college we had a mama skunk that lived down in a burrow under a tree not far from the barn, but she rarely made a nuisance of herself. One year when the nieces were little we were all gathered together one evening to celebrate Mother's Day and my mom looked outside and saw this mama skunk taking her kittens out for a walk. She had them all in a line and they were walking up the fence line toward the back pasture. Mom, sister and I of course hurried the girls out onto the back porch to see the babies. The next thing I know my dad is standing next to me with the rifle to his shoulder, sighting in on the skunks with the scope. I leaned over and whispered, "You're not really going to shoot that mama skunk in front of her babies and your grandchildren on Mother's Day, are you?"

He looked a bit surprised, looked down at these two little blonde girls with their big brown eyes and said, "Ah, no, I was just trying to get a better look at them."

I said, "Perhaps the binoculars would be a bit less traumatic?"

I think it was the next year we discovered that mama skunk had wandered onto the neighbor's property and earned herself a trip to heaven and we had a whole litter of orphaned baby skunks on our hands. They'd apparently gotten hungry because they’d come out of the den and were wandering around under their tree, I suppose looking for food. Mom made a few phone calls to see what to do about it and was erroneously told by someone who should have known better that baby skunks don't spray. So I drag my boyfriend-at-the-time down with a cat carrier to rescue this litter of four babies. He as a good redneck boy and absolutely pitched a fit about that!

"I know they're cute now," he said, "But they're just going to grow up to be skunks!"

"Well, we don't kill baby things around here," I told him as I was scooping up little black and white balls of fluff and shoving them in the cat carrier.

"Well, I'm not riding in the car with a bunch of skunks," he informed me.

"Then it's a good thing it's a pretty day. Enjoy your walk back to the house," I said.

He did get back in my little Mustang with me and the babies, but he wasn't real happy about it. Now, we were very confident that baby skunks didn't spray because we had it from a “reliable” source, so we put them out on the screen porch off my mother's bedroom since that was the only place where the cats couldn't get to them and mess with them. For two days we fed them and played with them-- my nieces were all over those kittens, practically loving the fur right off of them-- and they never once sprayed. Mom found a wildlife rehabilitator who agreed to take them and raise them. This nice lady worked at a vet's office about an hour away and so my dad, dressed up in his pilot's uniform, took them with him on his way to the airport (an hour in the car with four baby skunks, mind you) and dropped them off to her. She called later that night to tell my mom that she hadn't had them there for long when they sprayed all over everything and the vet sent her home with them! Oh my goodness, if they'd sprayed on my dad on his way to the airport for a trip (or on the porch outside their bedroom, or all over my nieces…)! We'd have NEVER heard the end of that!

That was probably a good 10 years ago, though, so I suppose we were due for another skunk invasion. I'm just immensely grateful that Pepe seems to have gone very far away because I haven't smelled even a whiff of him/her again!

Oh, and just for fun....

Here's a picture I found of my sister's cat, Georgie's friend Ozzy. You can understand the dear boy's confusion when he saw the skunk:

(and, yes, he was named after Ozzy Osbourne-- because that's just how sister rolls!)

And a couple pictures of dear, goofy George showing off his belly dots:

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Little Catching Up & A Very Long Story About A Very Stinky Visitor

Long time, no post! It’s been one thing after another for the past few weeks and I’m still trying to get caught up. Shearing went well.

Annie Pepper being shorn, Spring Shearing 2010

It was a bit colder than I would have liked and rained on Sunday (with hail at times… eek!). Temperatures were up near 80 by the following weekend, though, so the sheep were very glad they got their coats off when they did! They’ve been very happy, naked little things now that spring has finally sprung. We even had a few days of summer last week with temps in the upper 80s, but it’s finally cooled off to more reasonable spring weather. I posted a lot of pictures of shearing weekend in my Farm & Animals album on Facebook, so if you missed them (or aren’t a friend yet) please go over there and check them out!

Jenna with Cookie, Spring Shearing 2010


The Tuesday after shearing we had a terrible loss for our farm. One of our big, woolly boys passed away in his sleep. JellyBean (aka Bean or Mr. Bean) was very much a treasured member of our family. For some reason these big wethers just seem to have an abundance of personality and Bean was no exception. I still miss his freckly little nose begging for carrot treats as the sheep come in every night. He always used to get in line several times, trying to scam me out of more than his fair share of carrots. And if I ignored him I’d soon get gently whacked with a hoof on the back of my leg, just in case I hadn’t realized he was still there! He was a wonderful boy and I know he’s enjoying greener pastures with all his friends who have gone before him.



Even on the saddest days, though, you know one of these critters is going to make you laugh. My Dad and I were on the golf cart, headed to the barn shortly after having buried Mr. Bean when I looked into the pasture where the ram lives and saw something strange. It took me a minute to realize what I was looking at and it felt vastly inappropriate on so many levels to laugh, but laugh I did! Here’s our big, manly ram Jeremiah standing there with a blue 5 gallon bucket on his head! I’d left a couple buckets out in the lower pasture for him and our stud llama and alpaca boys to drink out of. They have a creek down there but they seem to prefer a bucket. I’d not refilled them in a few days and apparently that morning Jeremiah had gone down and tried to get a drink out of whatever water was left in this bucket and the handle had fallen over his head! All you could see were his eyes over the rim! I had visions of us having to chase Jeremiah and his bucket all over the pasture but, surprisingly enough, he stood very still and let Dad take it off his head! The worst part was that when Dad tipped the bucket up to pull it past his nose, those few inches of water in the bottom fell out all over Jeremiah’s head. He looked so embarrassed like, “Oh, God, I hope the ewes didn’t see that!”



Well, Spring Break has come and gone since I last posted. My dad took my two nieces out west to explore Arizona and the Grand Canyon for the week. This was the second trip for eldest niece, but the first time the youngest had gone. Dad says eldest niece turned into quite a mother hen on the trip, telling him at the Grand Canyon that he should “remember, Bepaw, when you walk down you have to walk back up again,” and spent a lot of time admonishing her younger sister to stay away from the edge of the canyon! This is, of course, the same canyon she was cavorting along the edge of a couple years ago. When I reminded her of this I was informed that (at the ripe old age of 14) she’s older and wiser now!

So with Dad gone, that left his share of the barn chores to Mom and me. That wasn’t so bad. I figured there were parts of me that could certainly use the exercise of pushing that wheelbarrow. What sucked was the skunk that came visiting the night after he left. Oh, friends, let me tell you about Pepe!

Now, the women in my family have had to learn to be strong and independent because my dad was an airline pilot and nothing ever broke or got sick when Dad was home. So we’re quite adept at knowing how to suck it up and deal with anything. Mom and I did not, however, deal well with the skunk. Maybe we were just really tired or maybe we’re just too tender-hearted, but this is how it went:

I go down to the barn in the middle of the night every night to make sure Roo can get up and move around and isn’t lying in the same spot for 12 hours. He has arthritis which has made one leg a bit crooked and he doesn’t get up so well by himself anymore. So at 2AM I roll out of bed and let the Jacks out to potty. They immediately dash out, barking their fool heads off, and the next thing I know it smells like a skunk has walked in and sprayed my entire living room! I managed to get the dogs back inside and thankfully they hadn’t been sprayed, but that skunk smell was just gag-worthy and it was everywhere. Being a lovely spring night the windows were all open (naturally) and I thought about closing them and turning the air on, but I figured that wasn’t going to do anything but trap the smell inside and recycle it through the house. Instead I gathered up box fans and put them in the windows to blow the skunk smell outside. So it’s now 2:30AM and my cell phone rings. This is never a good thing.

It’s my mom, who says to me in a very sleepy voice, “Do you smell the skunk?” (As if anyone could miss that stench!) And then, “Your Beagle is beagling.”

Mr. Beagle

Obviously in the time it’s taken me to deal with his visit to the house, Pepe has moved on to the barn so I hop on my trusty golf cart and ride down there. No skunk in sight, which pleased me immensely. I couldn’t smell the skunk in the barn, but by then my head was so filled with Pepe’s rank perfume that I wasn’t not sure if he’d been there or not. I was really kind of hoping that Mr. Beagle was carrying on because he had to go do his business but since he never howls like that at night I should have known better. I put his harness and leash on and the minute he got into the alley of the barn he started snuffling with that wonderful nose of his. And then he strikes up a howl as if he were a hound from hell instead of one small, portly Beagle. Sheep scatter. All thoughts of going potty fly right out his little Beagle brain and I cannot get him to shut up. I fully expected my phone to start ringing again with a cranky sister on the other end. Finally, I managed to drag Mr. B into the lounge where he quieted down long enough for me to pull up the pictures from the barn cam and see what in hell was going on down there before I got there. Sure enough, I had pictures of Pepe coming into the barn… and less than a minute later (insert Beagle barking) Pepe quickly exiting the barn! I made the appropriate “good Beagle” comments and put him back in his stall, quieted the sheep and got Roo up, and went back to the house.

By now it’s after 3:30AM and I’m wide awake, waiting for the skunk perfume to dissipate from my room so I can get back to sleep. Good luck with that! I had just drifted off around 5AM when that freakin’ phone rang again!

“Your Beagle is beagling again,” Mom says, “and I think the skunk is in the barn.”

So this time we both went down together and, sure enough, right there outside the barn was the skunk! And he had definitely sprayed this time. I left Mom flashing the flashlight at him and went in and got Mr. B.

“Let’s get the skunk,” I said, and he was more than happy to oblige.

I figured that Pepe would be scared of my vociferous hellhound and take off for the hills. Boy, was I wrong! Mom had chased him around the side of the shed and he was headed for the woods by the time Beagle and I got out there. He’s beagling, I’m hollering, Mom’s shining the flashlight… and I’ll be damned if that little beast didn’t turn right around and come straight for us!

Mom and I start high-tailing it for the barn. I’m dragging the Beagle behind me yelling, “Run, Mr. B, run!” What followed was an hour and a half of trying to keep one very determined little skunk out of our barn! I think now that Pepe was either a juvenile who had no clue what he was doing, or a female looking for a nice place to have her babies. Whatever the case, he wanted in that barn. Both Beagle and his stall reeked of skunk but I had to put him back in there because I couldn’t deal with Pepe and him at the same time. I did have the bright idea of putting up bales of wheat straw in front of the big barn doors to keep Pepe out. Of course, that started a whole debate between Mom and I about whether or not skunks can hop. I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to climb over the bale, but Mom was sure he would.

“They have claws, you know,” she said.

“For digging,” I replied. “You don’t see skunks in trees.”

I don’t know whether skunks can hop or not, but this one did not try to climb over the bales. He did once manage to weasel between them, causing a mad panic to move the bales and shoo him back out. I put them much tighter the next time, let me tell you! So here we are, watching this skunk go back and forth in front of the bales, trying to get inside. Occasionally he’d go around to the side of the barn and then come back again. And during this whole fiasco Mom and I are sporadically having a conversation (in between several way-too-girly screams and lots of blue words) that went something like this:

Me: “I’m gonna shoot that little bastard!”

Mom: “You can’t shoot him here. He’s going to stink up the whole barn.”

Me: “Have you smelled the barn? I think he sprayed my Beagle. He needs killin’!”

Mom: “Do you really want to have to clean up and bury skunk parts?”

Me: “Well, no, I don’t want to have to shoot anything at all, but are we just going to stay down here all night playing skunk pong?”

Mom: “I think he’s gone.”

Me: “Nope, here he comes again. Dude! Seriously! Don’t go away mad, just go away!”

Mom: “If your dad was here he’d shoot him.”

Me: “Do you want me to shoot him?”

Mom: “It’s gonna stink.”

Me: “Maybe I could just whack him with a shovel?”

Mom: “Well, that’s just going to piss him off.”

Me: “Not if I whack him hard enough.”

Mom: “Could you do that?”

Me: “No, probably not. I’d wuss out at the last second. Aw, hell, this is ridiculous. We’re way tougher farm girls than this! We should be able to handle one skunk!”

This went on for about an hour, during which time Pepe was all over the place. The barn cats kept a respectful distance but seemed to think the whole thing was great fun. Except for George Earnest, the kitten, who apparently thought that the skunk might be kin to my sister’s tuxedo cat, Ozzy. As if I didn’t have enough to deal with, dear George sprints up to the skunk and very earnestly (because he’s just a sweet, earnest sort of kitty) says, “Hey, are you my friend Ozzy?”

George Earnest

I, of course, didn’t even think about it before dashing up to the cat and the skunk, snatching Georgie up, and tossing his little orange butt back in the barn. I’m lucky we didn’t both get sprayed. Meanwhile, Mr. Beagle is rolling around in his stall, trying to get the skunk smell out of his nose. I still don’t know how the skunk managed to get him. He has one little hole in the corner of his stall where the walls don’t quite join to the sloping floor. It’s big enough that he can stick his nose out (and nothing else) and I think Pepe got him there. Whatever happened, I was washing a Beagle the next day and, bless his heart, his stall still has a faint skunky odor to it.

Eventually Pepe wandered around the side of the barn and Mom and I found ourselves leaning out over the wheat straw bales with our flashlights, afraid to hope that he’d given up and gone away. I was just about to whisper “I think he’s gone” when mom yelled, “Holy shit he’s in the barn!”

The little monster had figured out we weren’t going to let him in the front doors, so he’d gone around back and come in through the gate to the sheep’s paddock. My sheep, let me assure you, were not amused. So here’s Pepe, wandering around in the big stall with several of my braver sheep preparing to stomp him into little smelly bits. I grabbed my pitchfork, yelled at Mom to open a path through the wheat straw bales and went in to do battle.

First I coaxed and cajoled, trying very nicely to shoo him out of there… and then the wee fiend backed up and sprayed at me! Now, I have endless patience with animals and a very long fuse on my temper, but I had reached the end of my tether at that point.

“Oh, hell no, you did NOT just spray me!” I roared and it was on. I was like Alice in Wonderland playing croquet, only with a skunk instead of a hedgehog. By the time I’d whacked his little black & white ass out of the big stall, down the alley, and through the front doors of the barn, I was livid. And we were all gagging from the smell. I can’t believe Pepe had any skunk juice left at that point.

I looked at Mom and said, “That’s it! I’m going to get the gun. Pepe is toast!”

Wouldn’t you know it, though, by the time I got back to the barn Pepe had decided that whatever he wanted in there was too damned much trouble and had taken off across the pasture. I’m glad now that I didn’t have to kill him, but at the moment I dearly wanted to shoot something! Apparently Mom and I made an impression, though, because he hasn’t been back. Nearly two weeks later, however, there are parts of my barn (and Beagle) where you can still catch a faint whiff of Eau de Skunk, so Pepe made an impression of his own.

And in case you were wondering, it was 6:45AM when I crawled back into bed. This is why I always say that John Denver was full of it when he sang “Life on the farm is kinda laid back.” My ass. LOL…

Monday, March 22, 2010

'Twas the Week Before Shearing And All Through The Barn....

... Fleeces Ready To Be Shorn and Spun Into Yarn....

Hello Friends!

Well, I finally started a blog. I've been sitting here looking at it for days now, sort of like one of those presents you receive and think, "Wow, that's nice. What am I supposed to do with it?" Since I tend to post updates on Facebook that ramble on far longer than a status update should, I guess I'll use blogging to tell those stories. For starters, spring shearing is this weekend! 

We have Corriedale, Cotswold, and Corriedale/Cotswold cross sheep. We shear twice a year, on the last weekend of March and the last weekend of September. In the fall, only the Cotswolds are shorn because they're the only ones who can grow their wool back fast enough to have a decent winter coat. Everyone gets shorn in the spring, though. I'm a bit nervous about this spring shearing because the weather has been so unusually cold this winter. In the last three days alone we've had weather ranging from sunny and 70 to cloudy and snow flurries. The 15 day forecast looks great, but I still worry about all my little woolly babies getting naked and then a cold snap coming. I don't think they're worried about that at all, though. They are more than ready to get those itchy winter coats off! For my first blog post I thought I'd tell you about shearing day so that when I post about it on Facebook you'll know what I'm talking about.

On Saturday Randy, our shearer, will arrive around 9AM. We'll have a system of gates set up in the big stall to allow us to separate the sheep into small groups for the shearing. First in line, though, are the Old English Babydoll sheep, who live in their own stall. These guys are very tiny compared to my Big Folks (think knee-high as opposed to hip-high) so they get their own quarters with a lower feed trough and waterer. Then come my Old Folks, those elderly ewes and wethers who have arthritis and don't get around so well anymore. They also have their own stall-- the Retirement Villa-- where they can eat their hay and grain without having to push and shove with the Big Folks and they can sleep all stretched out without worrying about 40 other sheep walking around, stepping on them. Once they're done, Randy moves on to the Big Folks. He'll shear half the flock the first day and the other half on Sunday. So how do you shear a sheep?

Andrew "Roo" being shorn, spring 2009

We lay out a big plywood board in the alley of the barn to keep the wool clean and to give Randy a level surface to move the sheep around on. Bringing them out one at a time, Randy will lay them back on their butts, turn on his big electric clippers, and start on their tummies, working his way around the sheep from one side to the other. We love Randy because he is so very gentle and sweet with them! Putting them upside down like this makes them a bit catatonic and they will (usually) lay quietly and let him shear. We throw away the wool from their legs, tummies, the tops of their heads, and their faces because it isn't great wool for spinning. What you're going for is the wool from their sides and back.

Annie Pepper before & after shearing, spring 2009

Once they're naked, I take the raw fleece (this is very neat because it usually comes off in one large piece and it's still warm from their body) and pile it on a sheet, tag it with the name of the sheep it came from, and hand it off to my sister. Mom sweeps up the little scrap bits and pieces so the plywood board is clean again and we start on another sheep.

Magic's fleece, spring 2009.

Once sister has the fleece, she weighs it and then skirts it. Skirting is when you strip off all the yucky wool that might be left (say, from around their butts or anything from their tummies that might have gotten mixed in by accident) so that all you're left with is the wool that will be sent off for processing. She weighs this again and writes down the weight of the fleece and which sheep it came from. Then the fleece, tagged with the weight and sheep's name, is sealed in a plastic bag. After shearing all those little bags go off to a fiber mill where they're individually washed, carded, and made into roving. They send them back to us with the original tags that say what sheep they're from. It's very cool to be able to spin the wool into yarn and knit or weave that into something and be able to say, "Oh, this is Annie Pepper" or "This is Gracie Willow."

Spring Shearing 2006 & 2009

The best part of shearing day, though, is that the sheep feel sooooo much better once all their wool comes off. And they're incredibly funny just after they're shorn. They spend about a day having to "get to know" each other again because none of them smell the same now that their wool is gone. And some of them don't seem to realize that, yes, they too were shorn! A freshly shorn one will go out to the pasture and the others will say, "Holy crap! What happened to you? Hahaha.... You look so funny!" Often there's some head-butting involved at this point. The worst part of shearing (other than just the work involved in it) is that a good part of their little personalities is in their wool. I know all my sheep by name and I can look out across the pasture and often tell who is who simply by their wool and their shape. Once their wool is gone that's very hard to do that until they start fluffing up again. Sometimes even up close it's hard to tell one from the other when the wool on their faces is all gone. And, of course, dear old Meg looks forward to getting at least some of her coat back because, as one of our two senior ladies, without her wool her butt looks a bit like an old lady whose nylons are sagging!

I hope you've enjoyed this post. Feel free to make comments and ask questions. I'd like for this blog to be a running conversation, not just me talking to myself!

I hope you have a good day!
Jenna Maclaine