I’m finally over my back injury, thankfully. Spring is here almost and the yearly push to do is starting. In years past I’ve taken on more than I should. It’s easy to learn boundaries and saying “no” to other people’s demands. But that’s not so easy to say to yourself sometimes.
For several years I’ve started a garden during lambing and shearing season. I’m also usually out selling early produce, eggs, jam, honey, and other items this time of year at the farmer’s market. It’s busy. But last year I drove my health into the ground. I had an accident that led to internal injuries and an infected organ. I kept pushing. Lambi was ill, and I was up checking on her all hours of the night. I put in a garden, pushed through the early farmer’s market season, pushed myself training my ox, milking, managing and working cattle, etc. By June I was exhausted. I’m not a girl of twenty five, or even thirty five anymore, but I was determined to meet my short term goals.
It’s so easy to do that in life. We jump into something full force and don’t pace ourselves for the long haul. We use gusto instead of technique and consistency. Too often we are the hare and not the tortoise. This year, I’m the tortoise. Shearing, wool, teaching, and writing are my focus. Why? because long term that’s what brings me joy. Long term, that joy and passion bring my success. This year I’m saying “NO” to my little short term goals that don’t align with my long term goals. It’s not easy. I enjoy many of my short term endeavors. But ultimately, they don’t create the life I am intentionally creating.
I challenge you to look at the long term effects of your short term goals. Are you being the hare? Are you wearing yourself out mentally, physically, or emotionally following a path that cares for the moment and not for your life? It’s tough to admit sometimes that what we give our energy to isn’t working. But in the end, having the energy to care for our lives is the kindest thing we can do for ourselves, and for those we love.
There’s an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where a character, Data, does everything “right”, with the best intentions, and still fails. While he’s moping in his quarters, questioning himself, his job performance, and goals, his captain, Picard, comes to speak to him. Picard tells Data that even when we do our best with the most noble intention, take every precaution, we sometimes fail. The key is leave our hesitation and self doubt behind. I love that scene.
So often we become emotionally entangled in what we perceive as our failures. We become focused on results. We cease to first exam our intention. We become wrapped up in self doubt and we hesitate to live our highest ideals. We become stagnant, putrid in our own self rejection.
By examing intention before planning or acting we expand our definition of success, and the human experience. If our intention is kindness, mercy, justice, the betterment of society, and wellbeing towards ourselves and others then we are less apt to judge ourselves as failures. We become more mindful of our plans and actions. We measure success not in a promotion or high paying job, but in lives transformed, a kind word, a smile. We measure our success in leaving self doubt and hesitation behind. In short, when we live by pure intention first, our plans may not happen how we desire, but we succeed in living a full and meaningful life.
My family has a wonderful tradition of easing into the morning. We get up, lounge in our house clothes, drink coffee, plan the day, pray, meditate, read, and linger in the stillness. Of course, this necessitates early rising, but it’s well worth it. Four a.m. is a wonderful time.
We also have a tradition of the mid day nap. Now, I’m not big on the napping part, but I am becoming a fan of the restful part as I slowly begin to age. We also wind down and relax before sleep. We chat, read, meditate, or in my case journal and listen to music while reflecting on the day.
You’re probably thinking we don’t get much done. Quite the opposite is true. Or that farm life must be exhausting and boring. It can be tough occasionally, but not really harsh. And farm life is never boring. No, my family has self care built into its fabric. This self care carries over into other areas.
It’s so easy to over extend ourselves into exhaustion, frustration, and self harm. We become tired, short tempered, and we slowly begin to compromise ourselves. This leads to compromises in how we interact with others, our work, and ultimately our life goals and dreams.
These past few weeks have been tough weeks. The freezes meant hauling water by hand, gallon after gallon to the animals. Now that it’s warm we are hauling tons of manure to the garden one wheelbarrow load at a time. My tablet’s power port broke. I have been staving off the flu going around and my body needed extra rest. I could have pushed myself into heroic self sacrifice mode, fixed the tablet, stayed up late writing and filming. But I chose a different path.
You see, I can’t live a life of kindness and integrity while denying myself kindness through self care, nor can I practice self care while ignoring my core responsibilities. Our culture seems bent on two conflicting modes at one time.
One is a never ending drive to produce. Our cell phones are constantly attached, we respond to emails and messages at every hour of the night and day, we work late, need overtime, and just can’t seem to turn off work and enjoy our relationships and time.
The other mode is play mode. We become so wrapped up in pleasure and rest that we end up just as burnt out emotionally as when we over extend ourselves. We sleep in, lounge to the point of ignoring responsibility, and act without consciousness towards others. To me, this also is self harm.
The challenge is to become mindful of work and play. To be within the moment while still practicing compassionate awareness of ourselves and others. To care for ourselves, to play, and to be productive with balance. It’s a choice, a habit of cultivating self directed kindness each day before we head into the world.
I love to listen to stories, especially family stories. One of my favorite is of my Papa as a boy in the late nineteen tens getting into the driver’s seat of his father’s Model T and replying when asked what he was doing, “I’m cryin’ to crive this car.” I can just imagine Papa, a determined tow headed little Welsh boy in turn of the century clothing and a tiny newsboy hat and full confidence he was capable of driving that car.
But what are the other stories we tell? Especially those stories we tell ourselves, and where do they come from? My grandfather told himself the same story he his Papa told him: “You are capable man. You are an honest man. You are a good man.” The story my grandmother heard the first ten years of her life was similar. “You are loved. You are safe. You are good. You deserve good things.” But during the depression both of their young lives where torn unsounder.
My Papa had to leave home at fourteen. His Papa could no longer feed him and the passel of young children at home. My Mimi’s Mama died, and her father turned to alcohol to cope. He sent her to Grandma Anderson, the woman raised by her pirate grandfather. Papa was sent off with his story intact. He eventually joined the Navy, saw the world, and came out of the service at nineteen just as World War Two began. Mimi on the other hand had her story altered with long lasting effects.
Mimi’s story became “you’re no better than that drifter father of yours, you’ll never be anything, you don’t work hard enough, there’s nothing to cry about, be harder, if you’re raped it’s your fault”. Quite a different story than the one she heard for the first ten years. The conflict in the story she told herself haunted her throughout life.
But we are not the stories we tell. We are the authors of the stories we tell. YOU ARE THE AUTHOR OF YOUR LIFE. Being the author doesn’t negate the pain of loss, the parents you are born to, or even your physical apparatus for exploring this world. What it does is change you.
I’m a big into journaling. You might want to get into it, too. But, even if you’re not, do yourself a favor. Get a notebook, a pen, and write out the story you tell yourself about you, your family, your life, your mistakes, and your successes. Be honest, the kind of honest that twists your guts and lays bare your darkest thoughts. Then imagine reading that to your five year old self. Would you call that five year old child worthless, undeserving, bad, shameful? Then write the heart story you’d rather that precious child hear. That heart story is your story. Read it to yourself. Let it seep into you. Believe it. Live it.
My grandmother never had the chance to write out her story, to be her own author. I sometimes wonder what it would have been. But I did have the chance to write my story, and it has made all the difference in my heart’s life.
What are the stories you tell? Are they true? Or have you bought a lie at the cost of your heart, the collapse of your soul, the shrinkage of your emotions? It’s the stories we tell that make our lives full and good. Tell your story well.
Join me next week for a little talk on how to chase out those negative thoughts that keep buzzing around your ears.
Welcome to our first installment of Friday’s Flock. If you’re here for weekly stories about the animals you’ll love the first segment each week, and if you’re squeemish you might want to skip the second segment. If you’re into the animal care and vet information you’ll find that in the second segment. This week’s topic is drenching.
This past February I lost my first pet lamb. I was inconsolable. This sheep was a bit mad, got into all sorts of trouble, and had no fear of water. She was more dog like than sheep like, and we adored each other. Whatever I was doing, Lambi was in the middle of it. She loved looking under the hood of my truck as much as she loved taking a ride with the windows down. She could flat out run, and even when she was pregnant we’d have races, and I’d loose every time. If I clapped my hands and chanted “Lambi dance” she’d stomp her foot, Bob her head and start bucking in place. She’d even get into the creek with us. I loved my Lambi.
Lambi’s last lamb, Broccoli, now lives with us as a pet. He’s not quite as crazy as his mother, but he is so much like her in some ways. The hair sheep genetics came out in him and his fleece is nothing but short fuzz that even I think might be unworkable. But he’s Lambi’s boy, and holds a very special place in my heart.
Tuesday evening I was looking over the flock and giving out chin scratches when Broccoli came over for his nightly affection. He’s like his Grandfather Charlemagne Bolivar that way, gentle and sweet. However, he doesn’t like his chin scratched. He likes his entire neck and chest scratched. I petted him for a while and then turned my attention to Black Iris who was patiently waiting for his hug. Broccoli had a Lambi moment, stomped his foot and bucked his head. I laughed and returned my attention back to Iris. Then Broccoli did something he’s never done before but his mother did routinely: he made a sweet bleat and put his muzzle to my face. I started crying and hugged him.
As sweet of story as that is, what happened next really touched me. From across the pen Orion came over, and laid his head over on me and bleated in conversational manner. I’ve watched Orion settle difference in the flock and escort a lost lamb to its momma many times. Whenever one of the sheep seems upset it’s always Orion who sees to them. However, he’s not one for human contact. I pulled Orion into a little group hug with Broccoli. We stayed there for a moment, and then Lilac decided she was next for her nightly attention. Orion, our brute, is also our comforter. I feel privileged to be considered part of his flock. When I visited the next day and every day since, he has wanted a chin scratch.
Drenching is the most common way to administer dewormer to sheep. Around here we only deworm when necessary. I prefer the FAMACHA system coupled with fecal testing. The FAMACHA SYSTEM involves pull the eye lids down and checking the mucus membranes every two to four weeks. This is something you really need to learn from your vet, because if done incorrectly it can hurt your sheep. However, it is the cheapest way to keep an eye on the more distructive worm population in your flock. We have the vet check samples twice a year in late spring and late fall. No worms, no drenching. Pretty simple system.
I’m fortunate that most of the flock are primitive breeds or crosses. They tend to have a higher resistance to worms and diseases overall. We usually drench once a year in late fall or early winter.
Worms can kill a flock, especially pregnant ewes and lambs. They cause anemia. Wire worms, round worms, and hook worms are typically the most distructive. For what ever reason tapes dont bother the sheep too much, but I do worm for tapes as well since we have cats and dogs on the property. Oh, yeah, and humans.
Drenching really isn’t difficult when you have a willing participant. However, an unwilling sheep can be difficult. Please remember that sheep have teeth, and those teeth can cause cuts deep enough to require stitches. Some people use a drenching gun. They are handy, but with only twelve fairly tame sheep I still opt for a syringe. Also, carefully read the medication instructions and figure out the math before catching the first ewe.
The first step is to corral the sheep. Do not try this in the open pasture. The second step is to put the bottle of dewormer and the syringes in your pocket. Third is to catch the sheep. This step gets more difficult as the drenching goes, and if you’re looking for a great high intensity workout, this may be just your thing.
Now that you’ve caught your sheep, straddle her. Skirts are actually helpful in this case. They keep the sheep from backing out from between your legs. Otherwise, welcome to the real thigh master workout. While holding the sheep firmly between your knees pull up the correct amount of dewormer into the syringe and then put the bottle back into your pocket. Here’s the dangerous part, well, outside of catching them or getting kicked. Carefully slide your thumb between the front teeth and the molars while holding the lower jaw firmly. Your sheep will grudgingly open her mouth just enough to get the syringe in while shaking her head. Now, push down the plunger without letting her spit everything out or letting go of the syringe. Finally, let go of the sheep, and repeat as needed.
To set up your own drenching schedule, make sure you consult a good farm vet who is knowledgeable about sheep and the parasite load in your area. There are organic methods for parasite treatment, and breeding parasite resistance into a flock works better than treating over the long term. However, if you are not interested in breeding, internal parasite treatment is key to sound flock management.
Next week the flock is slated for their biyearly checkup and dagging to prevent over winter fly strike. Until then,
We all remember hearing these statements as children, and some of us may even still hear them as adults. So, we split the last piece of cake, or we allow someone to step in line ahead of our loaded cart at the grocery. That’s being nice, showing kindness. But there’s a dark side that no one addresses. A side I watch showing up in people under thirty five over and over again. I call it the mask of kindness.
Someone wearing the mask of kindness puts on a smile, holds their head up high, and helps the proverbial senior across the street. But inside that kind act is done out of guilt, shame, self loathing, and fear of rejection. Or someone offers to help on the spur of the moment because it’s “the right thing”, but escapes as quickly as possible, then emotionally batters themselves for “being too nice” while chastising themselves for “being a jerk”. I watched it happen not too long ago.
This mask of kindness addresses everyone’s emotional needs except the wearer’s. Sometimes the wearers are easy to spot. She’s the mom staying up til midnight cleaning up after a spouse and two teenage kids while muttering how much she does, how little she’s respected, how she’s so tired she might as well lay down and die.
Sometimes the wearers are harder to spot. She’s the beautiful, talented, single woman who has it all together. She volunteers, teaches Sunday School, organizes blood drives, and feels that she’ll never measure up. She tells herself she’s a complete fraud, that if people really knew her no one would even speak to her. But when pressed, she can’t tell you anything other than she’s wearing a mask.
He’s the guy that drives everyone home, is taken advantage of by people but doesn’t complain, or feels guilty when everyone around him isn’t happy. He blames himself for that unhappiness, even though he has nothing to do with the problem. He’s the guy that says “I don’t know what love means”.
Sounds like real head cases right? Not really. You see, the mask of kindness is the cruelest thing we can put on our souls. It robs of our dreams, our joy, our confidence and a sense of self. It manifests as people pleasing, self deprecation, anxiety, and playing the martyr. But, it’s not the end of the world, just a bad habit of putting yourself on the back burner and never really seasoning the flavor of your heart.
How do we change? How do we drop the mask, get beyond fear, and start living as our authentic self? By showing Loving Kindness to ourselves so we can show it others in an authentic way. That’s what we’ll be exploring each Monday.