Paddock Paradise Phase 1 Grand Opening

Our hard work has paid off once again! We had the paddock paradise/horse path grand opening and they love it! The path takes them from the back paddock, behind our sand ring, through the trees, out along the edge of the front pasture with a connecting path up to their front paddock. So far it’s been a big hit especially with Cricket and his sidekick, Sable. (Or is it Sable and her sidekick, Cricket? :) )

K and I are very pleased with how it’s been working so far. They’re definitely getting more exercise and it’s far more interesting/mentally stimulating than being stuck in a paddock all day. Phase 2 will involve adding in obstacles and different terrain, but for now just having it fenced and seeing them moving about is perfect!

Building a Guinea Bunker

We started making plans for the guinea bunker when I first brought our birds home this  spring because we knew they needed something more substantial for the winter than the rabbit-cage-turned-coop that they’ve been living in.

Construction started early August on their permanent home and I’m happy to announce that we’re finally finished! With lumber that we bartered with the neighbor for, left over gravel/sand from the sand ring, plus some extras like insulation, wire and hardware it finally all came together. Initially we were going to put the coop up on 2ft stilts but when the weight of it crushed the stilts (oops! We made it a bit too sturdy apparently! haha Kev figures the coop weighs about 1000lbs) we came up with a plan B. It now sits on concrete blocks and the run is much lower but it’s workable.

Some construction details for the curious: The flooring in the coop is cheap lino we got at the hardware store, and then I put about 2 inches of sand down on top of it for easy cleanup with a kitty-litter scoop. I’m also using poop bins below their perches that I can dump out periodically. For the run, I ran 1/2″ wire mesh along the ground before we put down the gravel and sand for drainage so it should stay dry and predators shouldn’t be able to get in. I used the same 1/2″ wire mesh for the walls of the run as well. Being built into our hillside it is also protected from wind which can be a big concern here when we get hurricanes and other bad storms. They should be quite comfy in their new digs! :)

Our First Year on the Farm

K and I have passed a big milestone: We have spent our first full year at our farm. It’s hard to believe how much work we’ve done setting things up, and keeping things running!

With a never-ending projects list, we don’t have enough daylight hours to get the things done that we want but that’s just farm life! We’ll get up and do some more tomorrow!

What we’ve accomplished this year:

  • Bought the property, sold our homes, moved us both to the farm. K moved from his place on the other side of Halifax, and I trekked out from Alberta complete with a caravan of pets and horses.
  • Started work on the outbuildings. Put in 3 new buildings. (Shop, hay shed and garage) with all the chaos that comes with a major building project including several concrete trucks stuck in the yard, and one that nearly took out the barn!
  • K finally got his workshop that he’s been wanting forever and has it all set up now.
  • Took down the old sketchy fences and replaced them with safer stuff. (So much fencing!)
  • Dug trenches for water lines to the barn and for automatic waterers for the horses. (The moats all around the house had me thinking that a black knight was gonna show up at any minute!)
  • Put in a gravel pad for the horses so they wouldn’t sink in the mud.
  • Installed a solar panel set up for shop power (K’s pet project and it turned out great!)
  • Painted the kitchen (Thanks Mom!) and hung new curtains, and a few other home improvements.
  • Cleaned out the basement disaster (it was full of all the boxes from our move to the point where we couldn’t turn around down there let alone use the space for anything), and put together our home gym which I have very good intentions of using one day!
  • Dug flower beds and a big veggie garden (which we also fenced in), and grew some veggies!
  • Made a bird coop for the guineas, and oh yah, we got guineas! haha A new-and-improved guinea shack is in the works to be done before the snow flies.
  • Cleaned up debris from the pastures, did a lot of weed mowing! Reseeded the pasture with better grass (without huge success but we learned some things and have a better idea of what to do next year.)
  • We doctored a lot of horse wounds! Learned some more vet skills! (Thanks Cricket… ;) )
  • Hay, hay and more hay! Put up 1200 or so bales last fall which got us through the winter, and we just put up 600 bales in July! There are still 700 more that we need to get in the next couple weeks. (Who needs the gym!?)
  • Survived a long, cold, wet winter!
  • Brought in more loads of gravel than we can count for driveway improvement and other projects.
  • Installed a gate at the end of the driveway.
  • Got our slow-feeder put together and it’s been working great! Not so much wasted hay!
  • Put rubber mats down in the stalls in the barn. We still need to line the stalls with the puckboard we bought that’s been sitting in a stack for most of the year. It’s on the list!
  • Made some new friends! We’ve met a few neighbors which makes it feel more like home, and I’m especially fond of the donkey (Blossom) next door. Trying to sneak her home somehow J But in the meantime I’ve been helping her owner handle her and get her feet trimmed on a regular basis.
  • Adopted a couple adorable barn cats and one grumpy house cat!
  • Paddock cleaning and manure management never ends.
  • Installed our webcams so we can see the whole property from our phones. Brilliant! Makes it so much easier to check on the horses when they’re in the barn!
  • Had the old grass ring converted to our beautiful new sand arena and all the drainage projects that went with it! As a result of the arena install we now have a pond, and another section of our property partially cleared. We’ve just started fencing in our path for the horses that will connect the front and back paddocks. Oh goody, more fencing!
  • Moved a few trees and replanted them around the yard.
  • Cleared our horse paths that go through the brush and put up our “no trespassing/no hunting” signs.
  • Created more driveway space and put down a ton of gravel.
  • K made a frame for the flat deck so we can haul more hay on a load.
  • K’s been busy the last month-or-so collecting, splitting and stacking firewood.
  • Installed a new hot water tank, and heat pumps.
  • Installed a fan in the barn.
  • Replaced the outside lights on the house, installed yard lights so now we’re visible from space!
  • And probably a ton of other things that I’m forgetting to mention!

All of this while K works full time, I did a term of university, started a part-time job and battled health problems! To say we’ve been busy is an understatement but it is all coming together; We love our home and our crazy life! :)

West and Back

I know I’ve been pretty behind on my blogging since the grass turned green this spring :) I’m making another attempt to catch up!

I have just returned from a trip home to Alberta. I had a great visit, spent some time riding in a clinic, and getting to see my best doc regarding my eye situation (more on that later!) while poor K tried to hold the fort down. Once again, I owe him big time!!!

The highlight of the trip for me was getting the chance to ride with Martin Black. I had been looking forward to his clinic since I signed up in January (and actually, even a year before that because I was supposed to ride in it last summer but then due to the move insanity I wasn’t able to) and it was finally here! It was a fantastic 4 days of horsemanship and cow work. I learned so much and have a ton of stuff to work on now. (oh goody! homework! :) ) I borrowed my Mom’s mare, Mercedes, and she did really well for me. This was her first clinic and really only her second time off the farm, and to say she handled it well is an understatement. She was a little superstar! Mercedes is a full-blood wild horse. Her story is that her dam was rounded up by Sundre, AB and Mercedes was born in captivity the following spring. My Mom adopted her from the Wild Horses of Alberta Society when Mercedes was a yearling and has done most of her training. She came to us untouched and she is now a 5 year old and as you can see in the pics below, she’s beautiful, talented, well-trained and very useable. It was a cool experience for me to ride her in public like this and be able to promote the wild horses with such a shining example of their train-ability and gentle nature. We had quite a few people stop us to ask what breed she is, and comment on what a nice mare she is and I couldn’t agree more!

My Mom and I also got to put our new skills to good use moving some cattle around at my parents’ farm. Every summer my folks “borrow” some cattle to help eat down the grass since they have more pasture than they can use for the horses and it’s a great opportunity to teach the horses about riding around and moving cattle. I always like riding with my Mom :) And this time we had a photographer!

The rest of my trip I spent catching up with my friends, visiting with my family and I did manage to get some time in a real tack store! Cowgirl heaven! haha Alberta has the best tack stores!

I did see my neuro ophthalmologist about my eye problems (orbital myositis) and it was such a relief! He’s such an amazing doc and a decent human being! That’s a rare combo! He has agreed to take over my care and we discussed what I’ve been going through this past year. He has a plan for some more testing he’d like me to have done, as well as a consult with another specialist that I had seen once before etc. He’s going to make all the arrangements and then I’ll be flying back to Alberta in about a month to get the tests done and we will go from there. After being very frustrated with the care (or lack-of) here in Nova Scotia, it’s such a weight off my shoulders to know that I have someone working with me again and who is trying to get to the bottom of it all. He is concerned about my eye muscles in general and pointed out on the MRI images from this past March that all of my muscles look swollen and “ratty” and that my lacrimal glands are swollen too. So it’s more involved than just the one muscle that had the mass in it. He also was able to determine that the double vision I’m still experiencing isn’t related to the biopsy (so if there was any damage from the biopsy itself, it’s not causing the double vision at least), and that the muscle responsible for my double vision isn’t the same one that had the mass in it this spring which is odd. So there will be more tests, but at least there’s a plan! I’m feeling hopeful that things will start improving soon and we can get this under control before my vision suffers any more damage.


A new normal

I wanted to write a bit more regarding living with chronic illness and the challenges involved with that. I’m one of those people who “don’t look sick” and since starting a new job this summer, and dealing with a couple health issues at once, it’s been a tough balancing act to sort out. I hope that by sharing my thoughts and my experiences that maybe someone else out there will feel less alone, and you’ll find what I have to say useful in some way.

If you’ve followed my blog for awhile you’ll know that I was officially diagnosed with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis this past spring after a couple years of suspicion that I had this disease. I also have recurrent orbital myositis, and ehlers-danlos syndrome. I like to refer to my health as a hat-trick of crap! It’s a real struggle to deal with 3 chronic conditions. Now that my eye condition (orbital myositis) is more-or-less under control from a flare-up this past spring, my attention is back on my joint issues and the MS which for some reason has kicked it up a notch. For the last few months I’ve been experiencing numbness, tingling and heaviness of my feet and legs along with dizziness/lightheadedness, fatigue and cognitive problems. I’d like to spend a few minutes talking about it.

It is starting to dawn on me that this is my new normal and that my new normal sucks! MS is a pain in the ass. I hate feeling disorientated by both the dizziness and the cognitive problems. I’ve started a new job and I’m finding it challenging because of the cognitive stuff. This is something I wasn’t really expecting because the job is very similar to what I’ve done in the past and I thought it would be a smooth transition. It has been in some ways, but it’s frustrating me in some others. I have a hard time with word-finding. For those who don’t have MS what I mean by cog-fog is that my thoughts aren’t clear; I have a difficult time finding the words I need to communicate with people, I forget conversations which leads me to repeating myself over and over, I don’t remember where I put things, I can’t remember what I did a few weeks ago, etc etc if it is memory related it’s a problem! and the word-finding issue makes me sound like an idiot and then I get embarrassed. It’s extremely frustrating. Probably the most frustrating thing I’ve dealt with so far. I used to have an excellent memory, and I’m rather wordy… hence why I like blogging. I like to write and read and think! It’s making me nuts that my lesion-riddled brain is having a hard time connecting the dots between what I want to say and what actually comes out of my mouth… and then that I immediately forget what I’ve already said and start repeating it. Not cool.

The physical symptoms of my legs feeling like they weight 30lbs more each than they actually do, stumbling around a bit, and being dizzy is odd enough, but the cognitive stuff is way more annoying.

With work it’s hard to know whether to tell my manager what’s going on or to keep it to myself. I don’t want to disclose that I have health issues because in my experience that is a slippery slope. I don’t look sick so people think I’m making it up, or being lazy. I look healthy and people expect me to be able to work full-time like other healthy young-ish people can. I’ve already been put in a situation where my employer expects me to work full-time hours (technically my position is as a casual employee but they have lots of shifts to fill. I’m not obligated to work anything I don’t want to which is part of why I took the job as a casual, but they’re also not obligated to give me any shifts so it might be a feast-famine situation) and I’ve had to say several times that I only can work 3-4 days a week but they still keep pushing me for more. I haven’t elaborated as to why I won’t work full-time other than vaguely insinuating that I have farm work to do (partially true!) But my coworkers seem to have the opinion that I’m either a) well-to-do financially and don’t have to work which makes a couple of them jealous or b) lazy or c) they don’t know what to think of a seemingly healthy 30-something who doesn’t want to work full-time and give me puzzled looks whenever it comes up. I’m not sure whether I should speak privately to my manager and tell her what the deal is, or if that’s a bad idea, but the fact is that working full-time isn’t working for me. I have to look after my health first or I won’t be working at all. How to accomplish a 3-day work week is something I’m still sorting out.

The other issue I have asides from my symptoms is that I need time for doctors appointments. I see a lot of doctors as I’m sure you can imagine. I have a GP, rheumatologist, neurologist, ophthalmologist etc. and I need to see them on a pretty regular basis not to mention all the other tests that I get sent for here-and-there. Getting time off work is a problem so working 3-4 days a week leaves me with some weekdays that I can schedule appointments. I recently met an older lady who hadn’t seen a doctor in 30 years and it hit me that my life is very medically-involved. I can’t imagine waking up every day feeling alright, going to work full-time, having energy for family/friends/hobbies, and just living without disease. That’s so totally foreign to me. I will admit that I get a ping of jealousy when I think about how most people are just going about their lives feeling good. If you’re one of those people, enjoy that!!! Appreciate it! I wake up every day and take an inventory of what hurts, what’s numb, how dizzy I feel, how tired I am, what I have to do that day and how to pace myself to get it all done, and that’s all before I get out of bed. Then the rest of the day is spent trying to live as normally as possible battling weird symptoms, pain, and juggling doctors appointments.

I try to keep a positive attitude and stay friendly to everyone I meet. I like to make jokes and try to get people to crack a smile while I’m at work. I work in healthcare and I know how frustrating and stressful it is for patients, so I make it a point to chat with them as I work and put people at ease and I think it helps. Sometimes I share a bit about my own experiences and people seem to respond to that. Some folks seem to feel better knowing that the person behind the desk can relate to them personally and their situation, and some don’t but that’s alright too. I’ve learned over time and practice to judge the type of person I’m interacting with and behave appropriately. I find dealing with the patients rewarding and probably the best part of my job.

Right now I’m facing a difficult decision to which there really isn’t any right answer. I don’t hate my job… I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it. If I can get the hours sorted out a bit better then it works for what I need right now. However, I’m supposed to be starting university again and I’m struggling over whether I should continue to pursue more education or not. This has been weighing on me for months. I’ve been going around in circles trying to decide. The cost of getting my degree versus not getting a degree and continuing to work while I can is what’s got me confused. I finally found a program that I’m interested in (Therapeutic Recreation) and that would be a good fit for me as a career. I like university, and I’d get to meet other students and make friends (this is a big thing since I’m pretty isolated after moving across the country and not knowing anyone here besides K.) I’m pretty confident I would find work after completing my degree, and that I’d enjoy the work. The problem is that my MS has been kicking my butt this summer and making me really question whether the stress of classes/exams etc would be too much, whether the cost of getting the degree is worth it (this is huge!), or maybe I should give it up and just keep working while I can. No one knows what course my MS might take. I may be functional, working, and feeling good for years and years, or I might wake up tomorrow and be disabled by it. Oh to have a crystal ball! (I wonder if they sell those on Amazon…) and trying to make major life decisions with so many unknowns has me all tied up, completely unable to decide. On paper (many pros-and-cons sheets later…) I would expect to break even on my degree about 10-12 years down the road (after paying off student loans, and making up for the lost wages/savings etc that it will take for me to get my education) versus if I keep working my so-so job and don’t go to school. It would all work out to be about the same financially until that 10 year point. Then if I have a degree and am still working I would start seeing a profit. But that’s a big “IF” because statistically, relapsing-remitting MS will change into secondary progressive MS (a more seriously disabling form) in about 50% of cases within 10 years. So I have a 50% shot of either being more-or-less the way I am now, or facing disability within 10 years that would likely prevent me from working. I’m sure by now you can see the problem of whether or not I continue my education. I’m going to be on disease-modifying medication to hopefully slow the progression, but there’s no guarantee that it’ll work, or for how long I’ll be employable.

Then there’s the issue of stress. Stress makes MS worse. It causes more relapses and flareups of symptoms. University is stressful. I won’t have time or energy to do anything except focus on my studies which is challenging. If I don’t go back to school I can work my 3 day week (I hope!), then spend down time doing my farm stuff, riding a bit, pursuing other interests and my bucket list! But I won’t get to have that rewarding career or the experience of going to university which I’ve wanted for awhile.

So around-and-around I go… I’d like to get off this ride now! There is no “right” answer and it may just come down to tossing a coin.



A weekend away

K and I had a wonderful, well-earned weekend away from the farm. Leaving our zoo in the capable hands of our good friend, we headed off to explore more of Nova Scotia! Our destination was Brier Island but we took our time to enjoy the drive, stopping in at Annapolis Royal for lunch and some sightseeing at Fort Anne where we checked out a really old cemetary (the oldest grave we saw was from the early 1800s) and just generally enjoying the scenic route all the way down the coast. 2 ferries later we arrived on Brier Island and spent the night at a wonderful B&B; Brier Wood Farm aka Hooking By The Sea. As we were enjoying our delicious breakfast, our host (Victoria) came running to tell us that her mama alpaca had just given birth so of course I grabbed the camera and took some brand-new-baby photos. Such a neat experience! I really like alpacas and it was so sweet to see her first steps and first nursing! We also got to make friends with the rabbits, chickens, sheep and a miniature horse who call the farm home. (K says I’m not allowed to plan vacations anymore because I booked us in at another farm… I still don’t see the problem! I had a lovely time and came home with more yarn! haha… We both also got to experience what chickens are like vs crazy Guineas and have agreed that chickens really seem quite mild and friendly after owning the hooligan trouble-makers that chase our vehicles and worship the tractor God!)

Then we were off to do some whale watching which was the highlight of the trip! We saw probably about 10 or so humpback whales. Mostly they were “logging” (sleeping!) but when they did wake up, we got a bit of a show. One of them got curious enough to lift it’s head right up in front of me. I’ve been whale watching several times before but I never get tired of seeing them!

The funniest part of the weekend is when I almost came home with a rabbit. I still feel kinda bad about not scooping him up, but was assured that he is doing just fine where he is! Obviously he had been someone’s pet and been dumped out on the side of the road. I made K stop so I could see if it was alright, and when the bunny didn’t run off, but rather came to see if I had treats I didn’t know what to do! I phoned the owner of the B&B and she got quite a giggle out of me! Vicky: “Is it a two-toned rabbit?” me: “yes, yes it is…”  hehe… It was probably for the best that I didn’t just scoop him up because our drive home on Sunday night was way too long to have had a stowaway. Traffic was closed on the highway due to an accident at one point and our total drive time turned into about 9 hours. It’s not officially a roadtrip until you’re fighting over a map and running out of fuel with nothing but skittles and chips left for sustenance! :)

We were both pretty exhausted when we finally reached home but it was a wonderful weekend to remember!