Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Further Out. Higher Up.

I live in a rural area with a high population of livestock.  It's not uncommon to park next to a truck and horse trailer when one goes grocery shopping.  It seems like every fifth car one passes on the road is a truck pulling some type of livestock trailer.  Following a tractor, especially in the summer, is a common occurrence.

One can ride their horse through town.  You can even pick up your latte on horseback, via the drive-thru window at Starbucks.

My drive to "town" hosts dairy, horse and alpaca farms.  Acres of lush green fields are filled with livestock, vegetables, flowers and acres of hay during the summer months.  Pumpkin and Christmas tree farms stand open in the fall and winter.

During the harsher winters, hundreds of Elk come off of the nearby hills that start the formation of Mount Rainier.  They peacefully graze next to livestock.  I never get tired of the drive, there's always something to see.

But recently I've noticed a change.  Some of these beautiful fields no longer host livestock or vegetation.  They now sport construction of a home. 

Yes, one single home, sitting all alone on acres of pasture. 

I took this picture yesterday on my cell phone.  It was a cold and dark day but if you look to the right you can see the light colored wood of what will soon be a majestic house.  My phone couldn't capture the rest of the acreage to the left or right of the house, but there was a lot of it:
Last year it was one field, this year there are four fields with houses being built on them.  They look strange, sitting out there by themselves.

It breaks my heart to see these fields replaced by one single house.  If there is any consolation, at least it's not multiple houses.  But where there is one house, some day there will be more.

Word at the feed store and via the media is that the dairy's, hit hard by the economy, are taking "buyouts", selling off their cattle, equipment and property.  Word is they can't afford to stay and are "getting out".  Others are reducing their stock and property to try to "save the farm".

The economy has hit us all hard but when I see these empty fields hosting one single house, I have to wonder.  Where in the world do you expect to get your fresh milk and vegetables if you give up the land to building sites? 

If the farmers can't afford to feed themselves, who is going to feed you?!! 

One thing is for sure.  Once these fields are gone, they will never return.  And that is not only a shame but a real concern.

My little brother had a saying, "Further Out.  Higher Up". 

Right On, Little Brother!
SNOHOMISH, Wash. -- It took decades and four generations of hard work for the Bartelheimers to build their dairy farm.

But nearly all the fruits of their labor ended up on the auction block on Tuesday. And in a flash, parts of the farm disappeared.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Color Green

The color green never looked so wonderful! 

The snow is melting and we are no longer homebound due to compact snow and icy roads.

Heading up to ride Poco in a little bit.  I haven't seen him for five days - since the bad weather hit.  But it's been comforting to know he's been well taken care of (one of the reasons I board him where I do).

Oh the joy of getting back out and around again!  But oh the greater joy of getting back up on my horse!!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

2010 - A Day to Give Thanks

Well here it is Thanksgiving once again.

I still feel the same about Thanksgiving.  This Holiday doesn't get its due.  It's a day to give Thanks for all the things you have and all the good things that have happened to you in the last year.

This is it!  The ONE DAY that you get to forget all those bad things and focus on the positive!  So how come we don't advertise it that way?

Here are my Top 10 things to give Thanks to in 2010, starting with Number 10:

Number 10:  The Green Bucket.  No power = no water at our house.  My family used to laugh at me when I headed out to grab the Green Bucket during wind storms.  After our last 3-day power outage, they are now believers!  I'm Thankful for The Green Bucket.

Number 9:   Cabin Creek in the summer.  There is no place better to spend your time with family and friends.  I'm Thankful for a cool creek to swim in and good friends to sit with on hot summer days.

Number 8:  Our camping trip this last September.  It was as wonderful as I'd hoped it would be.  A great way to celebrate our 25th year anniversary!  I'm Thankful for the Perfect Camping Spot.

Number 7:  The Back Forte in Enumclaw, Washington, where I board my horse.  The stalls are huge, the turnouts are daily and the people are friendly.  I'm Thankful to be able to board my horse at such a great place.

Number 6:   My Trainer, Rachel.  She has given me the confidence to ride and the passion to reach higher.  She's not only my Trainer, she's my friend.  I'm Thankful for her friendship, guidance and direction.

Number 5:  My Best Riding Buddy, Haley.  Think of a friend who always puts a smile on your face when you think of them - that's my friend, Haley.  I'm Thankful to count her as my Pal.

Number 4:  My retirement in 2010.  I don't take lightly that I was able to retire during these economic times.  I'm Thankful to have my freedom.

Number 3:  My Husband and our dog, Hank.  The three of us have had such good times this last year together.  I'm Thankful for their companionship and company.
Number 2:  I am so Thankful for having had an opportunity to own a horse like Champ!  He pushed my envelope and took me places I never thought I'd be able to go.  He made me the rider I always wanted to be.

Number 1:  Poco.  He is one of the most dependable, kind-hearted horses I've ever encountered.  I am Thankful to call him mine.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Snow Storm - 48 Hours Later

It's been 48 hours since my last Post.  Just like the wind storm last week that robbed us of power for three days, this week's predicted snow storm was under-rated by the weather people.  I finished my last Post on Monday around 1:30PM and by 3PM we had white out conditions.

I tried one last time to convince the Belgians to PLEASE come into their stalls.  I stood outside their loafing shed and called them.  I shook buckets of grain.  No luck. 

The wind was blowing towards me.  I figured they couldn't hear me at the back of the big pasture.  I pleaded to them, "Please don't make me come out to get you!"  No response.  So out I walked to the very back of the pasture where I'd last seem them facing me with their backs to the storm.

This meant I was walking directly into the storm and if it wasn't for the fence line next to my left side, I wouldn't have had any idea of where I was heading.   Finally through the gray shadows, I came upon our younger horse, Gus.  I startled him but he walked up to me snorting and wild eyed.  I was covered in snow and I can only imagine what he thought.  Perhaps a snowman about to attack him!

I greeted him, yelling as loud as I could but trying to make my voice sound calm.  The big shadow headed towards me.  My face was so cold, I turned and started walking back where I'd come from, hoping he'd follow me.  Turning to my left side, I could see his huge dark shadow beside me.  I headed back with the fence line now on my right side for navigation and Gus next to me on my left. 

I could hear him snorting as he walked with me and I could tell he was really spooked and unsure of all of this.  Gus is a big boy, weighing in at well over 2,000 lbs.  I surely didn't want him to spook and run into me.  I held the lead rope in my left hand ready to swing it and try to protect myself if he came into me.  I focused on not falling in the uneven ground and talking to him the whole way back to the barn.

Gus came with me into the paddock and I showed him the grain in the loafing shed that opens into the paddock.  It's well protected from the wind and before I headed out, I'd put 4 flakes of hay into each of the 3 feeders.  Who would want to leave a place like that on a day like this?

I then made my way back to the gate, hoping Sunny, our elderly Belgian had followed.  I was relieved to see his snowy figure lumber past me.  I closed the gate.  At least they'd be closer to us and we'd be able to keep an eye on them.  I was covered in dry white snow; you would never have known my jacket was red.

By the time I left the barn both the horses were finished with their grain.  Where were they?  Back outside, with their backs against the wind and snow!  I gave up.

In the house I started the woodstove and dinner.  After last week, I worried about the power staying on.  I turned on the TV so see the Seattle freeways below us jammed with cars and hear the urgency in the news reporter's voices.  With my husband and daughter still on their way home it stressed me out so much that I turned it off and turned on some music.  Ahhhh, much better!

My family arrived home safely with incredible stories to tell.  Dinner was waiting.  The winds raged outside with snow blowing up and swirling around instead of gently falling down, the wood stove put out heat and the power stayed on!  We watched the news all night long, feeling badly for the people in the City who were stuck in their cars (some all night long) on the freeways.

Yesterday brought us a silent wonderland of snow and last night when I headed off to bed it was 4 degrees.  But the furnace kept going and our house has proved to be tight and snug.  That being said, I'm not looking forward to our next power bill!

I've decided to keep the Belgians in the paddock until this all passes.  I took a few pictures today:

Here is my lovely hanging "winter" basket.  It was said it would endure "frost" but I guess 4 degrees was too much for it.  :(  It hangs limply in the basket, the flowers all turned dark and limp.

Here's Sunny, our elderly Belgian, out in the paddock, happy as can be.
Picture of our back yard taken ten days ago.

Picture of the same, taken today.

As I close this Post, I hear that warmer weather is on its way -  sweet, sweet rain is coming!  Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I haven't even had a chance to do my Post on it yet!  This weather has been in the front of all of us and I'm glad to see it behind us so I can get back up to the barn to ride Poco and prepare for the Holidays.

After the last week, it's not a long stretch to know what I'm grateful for this year.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Seven Days Later, Raising the Bar

Seven days ago I was filling up my Green Bucket as the wind roared around our house.  I thought losing power last week was a challenging experience while I played Pioneer Women.

But today raises the bar.  Seven days after heavy rains and strong winds, I took this picture with my phone as I looked out my living room window this morning while I drank my coffee:

Yes, that is snow outside the window.  It started yesterday morning and we've had it off and on since then.  It's beautiful but hampers my daily routine of heading up to the barn to ride.  Our road to the highway is in the shade and always one long strip of ice.  Eight foot ditches line both sides.  Many a car has met up with those ditches in snowy weather and I'm not about to be added to the list.

I'm watching the forecast.  Temperatures are dropping as another arctic blast comes our way.  This storm is forecasted to bring strong winds later this afternoon with the wind chill pulling us into single digit temperatures.  As I write this I see the tress starting to sway outside my office, here in the barn.

Losing power in wind and rain was one thing but losing power in these types of temperatures can cause havoc with pipes and just staying warm.  Yesterday my husband and I patched the vents along the bottom of our house with cardboard, as we do every year when the weather gets cold.  Kind of tucks our house in for cold weather.

The Belgians refuse to come in.  They have these deep, greasy, hairy coats and seem to enjoy this weather so I will leave them to their spacious loafing shed which is out of the wind, with lots of water and hay.

My husband went to work this morning.  He works in the same town our daughter attends college.  She has moved up her Thanksgiving trip home and will ride out with him tonight.  I can't wait to have our daughter home with us!

My husband, now a firm believer in the Green Bucket, has called and asked me to fill up FOUR Green Buckets just in case we lose our power tonight.  Quite a change from his declining my offer last week!  :)

I've done my Pioneer Women work, hauling baskets of dry wood into the house and garage.  I was going to wait for the wind to pick up further before I start the fire but I can now hear the barn door starting to bang and see the Fir trees being tossed around by the wind. 

Well, this was a nice little reprieve but it's time to start the woodstove and get ready for the next phase of weather.  :)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Green Bucket

(To me), this green bucket is one of the most important things we have in our garage.

This bucket has been the subject of many jokes and sideways glances from my family for the last three years. 

Mention the Green Bucket to my husband or our daughter and you will be met with their stories about me and my bucket.  It's one of the things they love to tease me about. 

That was...until Monday night. 

In my last Post, "Turning the Page to Winter", I wrote "I love rough weather, the thrill of what Mother Nature tries to throw at us and how creative we can get with throwing it back."  Guess Mom Nature was listening and decided to test me.

Monday was a day of gusty winds.  I'd been up at the barn most of the day.  Poco's eyes have taken a turn for the worse, as Moon Blindness does with it's here today/gone tomorrow symptoms.  I'd spent the day medicating him and overall, pampering him as he wasn't feeling well. 

As I medicated Poco I could hear the wind banging against the metal doors of the barn.  The rain sprayed on the roof.  I tucked Poco in and got home before dark to feed the Belgians.  I emptied and filled up their large water trough.  The intensity of the wind was exciting and as I left the barn I swung my arms out wide and let it blow me around.

In the house I turned on the news while I fixed dinner.  The weather guy was saying he was "upgrading" his forecast for even stronger winds that evening.  But it was the look on his face that got my attention.  It was a distracted, concerned look.

We get our water from a well.  It takes power for the well to run.  No power, No water.

Time for the Green Bucket!  As I brought it in and past my husband he laughed at me saying, "Oh Oh!  She's getting the Green Bucket!"

My husband uses our daughter's bathroom.  I asked him if he'd like me to fill up a bucket for him?  I got the usual sidelong glance and that little smile.  He laughed and told me that was ok, he was sure he wouldn't need a bucket.

Ha!  Around 9PM I truly thought our roof was going to blow off, the wind was roaring.  A few minutes later our house went dark.  Being it was 9PM we decided to go to bed and hope for the best.

But yesterday morning we were still without power.  I spent yesterday playing "Pioneer Women" as I hauled basket after basket of wood into the house for the wood stove.  I set up candles in strategic places and got all the animals fed and bedded down before dark.

Generators?  Yup, we have a small one which my husband set up to run our fridge/freezer before he left for work.  Too small to run the well.

We also have a huge monster piece of metal generator.  It currently sits in our garage under outdoor furniture cushions.  We've talked about putting in an electrical panel for this generator.  It CAN run the well, it CAN run the lights.  But we've procastinated about putting in the panel (guess what we'll soon be doing)?

As always, the Green Bucket did it's job.  No fuss, no bother, sitting there when I needed it.

Last night as we used our flashlights to eat take-out dinner, my husband turned to me and said he'd never make fun of the Green Bucket again. 

This morning at 4AM our lights came back on.  But it's been another crazy, windy day and as I've written this I've hoped I could get finished before we lost our power.

My husband has called from work.  He urged me to not empty the Green Bucket and to keep it filled in case we lose power again.

He also made a request. 

Could I please fill up a bucket for him?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Turning the Page to Winter

It's almost time to move our horses back to their winter pasture.  I'm holding off until Thanksgiving Weekend.  None of us, neither the horses nor us, want to admit that winter is almost here.   

The summer pasture is starting to look worn from the months the horses have been on it.  Gus's Size 8 Belgian feet have taken their toll.

All of our horses have always loved the summer pasture.  They enjoy watching what is taking place in the fields that surround our house from the Buffalo below to the horses next door.

We love the summer pasture too.  It surrounds the front and side of our house.  It's always fun to look out the windows and see what the horses are up to.

The horses don't like leaving the summer pasture.  When we initially move them they spend the first few days standing at the fence, gazing out towards where they'd just left.  They seem as sad as we are that the long, warm days of spring, summer and fall are over.

Weather for this winter is predicted to be one of the worst since the 1950's.  I love rough weather, the thrill of what Mother Nature tries to throw at us and how creative we can get with throwing it back.

The winter pasture, which is elevated a bit higher than the others and with good drainage, is ready.  The hay is in the barn and the stalls stand ready with dry shavings should we need to move the Belgians inside. 

It's time to turn the page from Autumn to Winter.  I do so slowly, savoring the wonderful warmth of fall and all the good times I had riding or working outside in our yard.  At the barn we called them "The Blessed Days" and surely they were.  We will need to remember them during the next four months when riding means numb feet and hands.  But we'll ride anyway and soon it will be time to turn the page to another spring and look forward once again to warmer days.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Searching for a Heart of Gold

I want to live.
I want to give. 
I've been a miner for a Heart of Gold. 
You keep me searching for a Heart of Gold. 

I'm starting to think about a horse to replace Champ, who I lost last June and Neil Young's song, "Heart of Gold" keeps popping into my head each time I kick the initial thoughts around.

What does a Heart of Gold mean to me?  It means a well behaved, well trained horse who gives me the same ride every time I climb on, no matter if it's been a day or a week since my last ride. 

A horse that has a dependable personality with a low spook level.  As a 50+ rider, I have no interest in not knowing what I'll get when I climb on.  These days I don't care for dealing with a spirited horse or getting dumped. 

Yet I seek a horse that will push my envelope a little bit.  A horse who will give me a sense of accomplishment.  I've missed that feeling since I lost Champ.  How I used to raise my right arm high in the air in a moment of pure joy when I'd accomplished a good sidepass, haunch turn or lope.  Or the feeling of being high in the clouds of happiness when I walked Champ back to his stall because "I'd done it" (whatever it was).

I miss the fun of showing a horse that knew his job in the show ring, with so much bling that no matter how awful you rode, your horse made you look/feel good.  The smiles and nods from those on the sidelines of the arena meant more to me then all the ribbons in the world.

I want a horse that is versatile.  Who can go from showing on Saturday to a trail ride on Sunday; who I can take sorting cows on Wednesday and ride in a Dressage lesson on Thursday.

While I ponder all of this, I ride Poco and love him to death.  He is exactly what I purchased him for - a horse for my novice friends to ride.  Even with his sight restrictions, I'm finding he is ok in the indoor or outdoor arena as long as we walk it first and he has a chance to check it out.  Our rides are pleasant and uneventful to the point where I've actually found myself getting bored. 

It's time to start thinking about replacing Champ, so I start my search for a Heart of Gold.