Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Final Battle; Jasmine's Passing...

Loss is a strange thing. It lays in wait under the surface, ready to bubble up in tears at the odd thought or memory swirling in your mind. Birth and death are integral parts of farming, we hope to grow the former at a sustainable rate and we fight against the latter with all our might. Some deaths hit harder than others. Even when you know time is short, that you have done all you can do, and death is inevitable, there are feelings of guilt and failure and the cruel accusations you torment yourself with~ "What if I had been better, stronger, more knowledgeable, faster..." and on and on.

Katlin, Kristen, and Caitlin riding Jasmine.
Jasmine came into our lives when Caitlin was a young girl through her best friend, Katlin. Caitlin and Katlin were inseparable. We used to joke with our friends that the "Caitlins" lived together; sometimes at our house, sometimes at theirs. More often at theirs. They had horses. Katlin's family bought a trio of horses~ Rebel, Lady, and Jasmine when our girls were about 9 years old. It was love at first sight. Those girls were fearless with their equine companions. They rode western, side saddle, and bare back. They rode solo and tandem. They stood on their horses' backs and learned "tricks" as they grew more used to one another. They swam with their horses in the summer months at Levenseller Pond. They were pulled on small sleds in the winter months. Our girls were fearless and they learned their horses well.

Meg bare-back.
When "the Caitlins" turned 14, it came to pass that the horses must be sold. Both girls were heartbroken, but life happens and hard decisions have to be made. Our Caitlin cried for days. It broke my heart to see her pain. I asked my ex-husband what we should do. His response was true, "Life is full of heart-ache. It is a hard lesson to learn."

Barn Beginnings
I called Sean (then, my fiance) to talk about the situation. Sean listened quietly. He said, "Sonja, if Caitlin will get a job to pay for Jasmine, I will help her build a barn for her here. It will be hard work, but if she wants Jasmine and is willing to work to get her, I think we should help her do that." And, that is exactly what happened. Caitlin got her first job and bought herself her horse. Jasmine was boarded in Stockton Springs for a while. Just before our wedding, Sean, our friend Chris, Caitlin, and I built our first stable at Sean's house and Jasmine came to live with Caitlin, Kristen, Meaghan and I. (Sean vacated his home and stayed with his grandmother for the months between when my rental lease expired and our wedding day so that we girls could move in and get settled.) Jasmine helped build a bond between Caitlin and her new step-father as they worked together on stable and fencing. She made the move easier for our younger girls, too- something new to look forward to.

Spa treatment. She rolled immediately after this.
Jasmine was around 18 years old when Caitlin met her. Over the next 14 years, Jasmine changed all of our lives. We were spoiled having Jasmine as our first horse. Jasmine was an "easy keeper". She was healthy and strong up until her final couple of years of life. But, then with age, she declined rapidly. First, she developed cataracts, which made her vision poor. She lost her teeth, so she had to be fed special "Hydration Hay". We switched her to "Senior grain". We tried beet pulp when she began having difficulty keeping weight on. She developed arthritis in her knees, which required Phenylbutazone for pain management and ice on her knee joints and hocks several times each day. She was diagnosed with Cushing's Disease and started treatment for that with Pergolide powder mixed into her morning grain. These treatments helped control her symptoms and manage any pain, but they were not a cure. We knew our time was growing shorter.

Jasmine loved the first snow of the season.
At the beginning of the spring, our veterinarian came out to see Jasmine because winter had been especially hard and Jasmine had lost a lot of weight. With summer coming, I wanted to see if we could give our girl more time, at least one more summer and fall. With constant attention, Jasmine regained about 100 pounds over the summer. Some days she only needed one pain pill to control her arthritis. But, with the cooling temperatures, Jasmine began limping more and more. Her pain medicines were increased accordingly. Though they made it so she could walk without struggling while on the medicines, in the mornings before they were given to her, she was declining.

About two weeks ago, Jasmine started dropping weight again quickly. It seemed almost overnight that her hips began to hollow and ribs show. I increased her feed, but Jasmine refused to eat the hydration hay, preferring greens from the back pasture or grain. In typical horse-fashion, once her grain bucket was empty, she went searching for goat grain or chicken corn, breaking into feeders if left anywhere in her reach! So naughty! In response to her weight loss, I increased her grain a bit, hoping to give her enough to get some weight back on her, but not so much to cause colic or other upset.

The splayed hind legs and the loss of weight
were hard to see.
It was time for our family to talk about Jasmine and her deteriorating condition. Man! I did not want to have this talk! Caitlin saw the same things I saw. Though it hurt, she agreed that it was time to have Dr. Tanja out to look her over again. Sean was more optimistic than we. He knew that she was starting to struggle, but based on (1) her healthy appetite, (2) her bright eyed greeting of us, (3) her interest in things happening around her, Sean hoped something could be done to get her through another winter. I understood his desire. I shared it with all my heart. If there was a treatment or a change we could make that would give her more time, I was all for that. The thing is, Sean left for work in the morning before Jasmine stirred and by the time he returned home, Jasmine was medicated so that she didn't seem to be struggling. He missed the morning routine of her limping to her grain bucket and the hours I spent icing her knees and spraying them with icy water. Some days I had to treat her every 90 minutes. Some days she needed 3-4 pills to get her through.

None of us was ready to say goodbye, but Jasmine was tired. We had to think of her first. Last September I was home alone when Jasmine had a seizure. Jasmine laid down, her eyes rolled back in her head. She snorted hard breaths through her nose. Her neck arched and her feet dug unto the ground. I thought she was dying. Kneeling beside her, I called Caitlin at work. "Jasmine is down, Cait. If you want to say goodbye, you need to come now. It's OK. Don't speed. I am here. She isn't alone and she isn't acting like she is in pain. I won't leave her." I assured her through my tears. Then, I called Sean and asked him to come home, too. I sat next to Jasmine petting her head, speaking softly to her for about 5 minutes. All of a sudden, she lifted her head and sat up. She gave herself a mighty shake and rose on her feet again. Jasmine sniffed the air and dipped her head into her grain bucket and resumed eating. What the what?!?!?!? When Sean and Caitlin arrived, Jasmine behaved completely normally. We never figured out what happened, but it was this vision that remained in my mind.

Our veterinarian, Dr. Tanja Ebel, is fantastic. I have never met one better. She comes when we need her, but she is not exclusively ours. Sometimes she is 2 hours away on another case. Sometimes she is in surgery. With Jasmine declining so rapidly, my biggest fear was what would happen if Jasmine went down again in the winter. Even coming as soon as Dr. Tanja could, Jasmine would be waiting 45 minutes to an hour for relief at a minimum. With winter coming, she could founder in the cold, unable to get warm or keep warm in the snow or icy rain, struggling and in pain. I had seen a glimpse of that last fall. I couldn't let her go through that.

Though warmer and sheltered, it would be just as bad for Jasmine to pass away inside her stall. Though roomy, we couldn't bury her there and moving her after was not an option. These are real thoughts. Real problems. If she passed in the winter, how would we care for her burial? Some folks hire people to take away and dispose of their horse's body. Others hire people to use machinery and drag their horse's body to a prepared grave. I am not judging anyone else's choices, but I was physically ill at the thought of either option. So, too, was repugnant the thoughts of digging a place next to wherever she fell and tipping her into her grave. Or, walking her into her grave and putting her to sleep there. No. Not for our girl. The most important things for me was that her passing be quick, painless, and without fear. The next important thing for me was that her body be cared for with respect and dignity.

I talked with Sean about the options and my fears. I thought that maybe, instead of digging a grave, our friend and spiritual brother, Keith, could dig a large incline, deeper on one side, but shallow enough that Jasmine would not be scared of it. And, large enough across that we could stand with her. I selected a place where she often left droppings, so it was an area of her field that she was used to, but not near the road so we would have privacy. The space was next to the area we roped off and planted our apple saplings last spring. As morbid as this seems, Caitlin and I practiced walking Jasmine down the incline over the next few days. We didn't want her to be afraid of it. We fed her special treats and brushed her there, so she would associate it with good things. We didn't make her stand there, she could leave as she wanted. On Wednesday, Keith prepared her place.

Sean suggested that we build a cairn over her grave as a way to honor her. I thought this was a good idea for a couple reasons. First, with a more shallow grave, I didn't want the chance of an animal disturbing her. Second, it was a way to remember her. Once the base is made, you bring a rock to add to it each time you visit as a remembrance. Third, as exhausted emotionally as we all are, physical work helps one to sleep. Lastly, building a cairn was a way that we could all mourn together. Sean contacted a neighbor, Earle Anderson, to bring us the stone we needed.

The girls spent Thursday with Jasmine. They took turns brushing her, medicating her, snapping pictures, crying, laughing, and feeding her treats. They confided final thoughts and secrets. They thanked her for sharing her life with us.

On Friday, Caitlin and I lined Jasmine's grave with a thick padding of hay and brought the first wagon of stone to it. We spent more time with Jasmine. Each of us had something we wanted to do once more that was important to us. The girls wanted to take lots of pictures in beautiful dresses and street clothes. Some to share with you. Some for just our family. Caitlin, Sean and I split part of a package of Oreos with Jasmine, a favorite treat that was not often allowed. Sean and I shared a few private moments in the barn with Jasmine. I wanted her to know how much I appreciated her help in teaching our girls and building their characters. And, how much I would miss her.

Over the summer, Jasmine had begun to trust me. She would let me massage her forelock and temples until she drifted to sleep under my hand. A few minutes would pass and she would wake up, shake herself out of her relaxed state and walk off to graze. In the past week, that changed. Jasmine relaxed under my hand massaging her head, but when she feel asleep, she'd lose her balance and start to slowly lean towards the ground before catching herself. Horses lay down and they roll from time to time. Jasmine liked to do both, especially after a good bath and brushing. She hadn't done either in about a week. Dr. Tanja saw her do this off-balance, near falling during her examination. "Has she been rolling or laying down at all?" She asked. When I replied no, she explained, "She's too tired. She knows if she lays down, she won't be able to get back up." Dr. Tanja examined the front hoof that started to soften this week, and confirmed my fear, "She's beginning to founder. If it were Spring, I might be tempted to try to treat her for it, but with the cold weather coming... and the arthritis... and the Cushing's..." We agreed, it was time. Jasmine nearly went down in her stall twice more while we gathered halter and lead and a bucket of grain for her.

We want to keep her last minutes private. But, what I can share is that Jasmine was not afraid. She felt the needle, but immediately returned to eating her grain. And, then, she swayed and went down and was gone within a minute or two. It was fast and peaceful.

Dr. Tanja gathered her things quickly and tearfully walked back to her truck, both to allow us privacy in our grief and because this is the worst part of her job, too. Our family cannot express how much we appreciate her helping us through this. She listened to our needs and concerns and helped make this worst day, as bearable as she possibly could. Sean dealt with the paperwork before returning to grieve with us. When we were ready, our family covered Jasmine with a blanket and more hay and the girls placed roses in with her. Then, together, with shovels and with the tractor, we interred Jasmine to the ground.

Jasmine's care was so much a part of our schedule, little, random thoughts set me off again. It's 10 o'clock, I need to see if Jasmine needs ice on her knees and more medicine. Doing dishes, I catch myself looking for her familiar presence in the back yard. Working at my studio desk, I look up to see if she is at the gate wanting to go back to her pasture. As Caitlin drives down the hill, her eyes search for Jasmine in the field. Buying grain at Tractor Supply this weekend, I lost it when I realized I didn't need horse grain or hydration hay. Well-intentioned ones ask how we are and the tears begin again. There is a giant, gaping hole in all of our hearts.

When I think of Jasmine, I stop what I am doing and bring more rocks.
The physical labor helps... a little.
I don't know how to end this post, but I have run out of things to write. As I mentioned in Jasmine's tribute post, this entry is not to sadden you or make you cry. Before I had to figure out how to lay a large animal to rest, I hadn't truly thought through how we would do that. I am sharing our choice as one way that it can be handled. It has been almost two weeks since we lost Jasmine. Not a day passes that she is not on my mind still. I am getting better about working and doing the things that are necessary to help Sean with running this homestead. But, I still get physically ill every time I eat anything. That is how my body handles stress and loss. I can't keep food in myself and I don't sleep well. With time, that will get better. Meanwhile, I try to eat on a schedule despite not having an appetite. And, I go to bed at the normal time, even if all I do is lay there with my eye closed and pray. And, I write. For myself to work these feelings out and for you. For those of you who follow this journey with us.

Thank you for sharing it with us tonight.
~Sean & Sonja and our daughters, Caitlin, Kristen, and Meaghan

Friday, October 20, 2017

Jasmine's Passing

We laid Jasmine to rest next to our young apple orchard, in view of the stream that marks the boundary of her field. Our hearts are in a million pieces and right now, I don't know when or how we will begin piecing them back together. But this post is not about loss.

It is about thankfulness. Deep, honest thankfulness.

We had three days to prepare for what today would bring. Three days to say what we wanted to say. Three days to capture pictures and memories. To feed treats and brush mane and tail. To whisper the feelings in our hearts. To hold each other and shed mutual tears. In some ways the waiting was torture but in the most important ways, it was an irreplaceable blessing and I am so very thankful to have had them.

I owe a large debt of gratitude to Jasmine for helping to mold these daughters of ours into the awesome young people they are. Jasmine taught our daughters lessons in life that have become embedded into who they are. She taught them to be adventurous- to swim over their heads, to ride bare back, to love whole-souled. She taught Caitlin that if you want something badly enough, with hard work, you can achieve it. (Caitlin got her first job at 14 to buy Jasmine.) She taught the girls a work ethic. (Chores and feeding happen whether or not you feel up to it.) Caitlin grew up and got married. Meaghan inherited the care of Jasmine. Another life touched. More lessons learned. Jasmine has been Caitlin's best friend, Kristen's companion, and Meaghan's diary. And in the end, she taught them that unselfish love sometimes means letting go, even when you want to hold on.

Jasmine's presence in our lives was a gift. She helped to ease the girls into a new home and life with Sean. Caitlin worked side by side with Sean to build Jasmine's first stable here on the homestead, a 12x16, single stall affair with a small tack room. They fenced her pasture together, forging a stronger bond as they worked together. To keep Jasmine company, we welcomed our first goats to our homestead- two bucks; Asher and Jedi, gifts for Kristen and Meaghan (because I was afraid of horses and did not think buying another one would be a good idea for us.) How that horse and her companion goats changed our lives for the better! Ten years in the making, but our homestead has grown to nearly 40 goats; our barn has grown to a two-story, 20' x 30' structure with six stalls. We make feta and herbed chevre and goat's milk soaps. I teach classes to others who want to make soaps. Our Lally Broch Farm products are available in 19 shops across the United States. Jasmine changed our lives. Completely. She helped make us homesteaders.

She taught me to overcome my fear of horses. I learned how to feed her and brush her. In the end, I could clean out her hooves all by myself. I learned to rub down her knees and ease her arthritis pain. I learned how to massage her forehead to help her relax and sleep under my hand. Jasmine and I learned to trust one another. I was never one of those "horse-girls" growing up, but in my 40's, I very much became one. I fell in love with Jasmine for her strength and power and beauty and dignity.

This has been one of the hardest days for our family to live through. But, it was one full of love, too. And, I am thankful for that. I am thankful for the faith we share and the God who comforts us with his care. I am grateful for the kindness shown by our spiritual family. One brother prepared a place for Jasmine to be laid to rest with his tractor; countless prayers have been offered on our behalf. I am thankful for the many comments of support and kind words from folks we only know through our Lally Broch Farm Facebook page. I am thankful for our neighbor who delivered field stone so we could build Jasmine's cairn. I am thankful for our amazing veterinarian, Dr. Tanja Ebel, (Apple Creek Equine Medicine) who helped us lay Jasmine to rest, quickly and painlessly. I am thankful for Sean. Though grieving himself, he was our rock today.

There will be another post that shares how we spent our last days and the considerations of laying her to rest. We will share that aspect not to sadden you, but to help those of you who will face these same decisions. You may decide to honor your companion differently and that will be okay. But, our preparations may help bring you comfort if ever you have to face this day.

We are exhausted, physically, mentally, and emotionally. We are going to be closed until Monday to care for one another.

Thank you, friends, for sharing our journey.
~ Sean & Sonja

Saturday, October 7, 2017


Ornamental Bittersweet wrapped around a dead tree branch.
The Bittersweet reached
almost all the way to the
top of this evergreen.
One of the things I look forward to each year is foraging for and collecting bittersweet. The pretty yellow berries pop open to reveal a small bright crimson interior. I love that they last that way for many months. Their colors perfectly reflect the best autumn has to offer. They just make me happy.

I make garlands by twining the willing tendrils around themselves and drape them over shelves and cabinet tops. I fill mason jars with sprigs to create tall center-pieces for my kitchen table. I make cheerful wreaths for our door.

In our first foray of the year, Sean and Kristen came with me to my favorite spot to collect our bounty. Sean was a great help in untangling its mass from the pine tree it was strangling. After we got to spend a few minutes visiting with Kristen's grandmother, Nancy.

On Thursday, I brought three wreaths with me to the Bucksport Bay Farmer's Market and they were well-received. I think I will bring more with me this week. :) That meant another trip to collect additional vines and berries. This time Meaghan and Kristen went with us. The girls helped me while Sean worked with Nancy to tame some unruly greens in her yard. We selected a spot where the bittersweet grew closer to the ground, thinking it would be easier to reach, but our selected patch was guarded by other long vines clustered with red berries and wicked thorns determined to leave us bloody for our efforts. I am calling us successful, since once more the back of the car came home full to bursting with lovely bittersweet, but all three of us girls are sporting punctures- especially me.

If you are interested in a wreath for your home, I would be delighted to create a special one just for you. They are all different and measure approximately 16-20" across. The cost is $20 plus shipping. Or, if you are local and want to select your own, you can find a selection at The Not So Empty Nest in Bangor. (I'll add other shops as I know wreaths will be available in them.)

Do you have ornamental Bittersweet growing near you? Do you ever collect it?

While we were out and about, I captured some images of Autumn from our neck of the woods. I hope you enjoy them...

Leaves turning colors



One of my favorite views. 

Sprigs make lovely center-pieces in a mason jar. 

What a difference a couple days can make. The trees are all beginning to change color.

Thanks for visiting with us. Hope you come again soon! ~Sean & Sonja ♥

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Autumn Greenhouse

Before the frost, our eggplants were healthy and thriving. 
Greenhouse end wall all buttoned up.
Last night, as forecast, for the second time in three days our night time temperatures dropped to 28*-30*. Though the temperature rebounded today and is anticipated to stay unseasonable warm through the rest of the week, some of our outside garden felt the brunt of the frost and withered. Our tomatoes took a big hit~ even some of the ones living inside the greenhouse.

Sean and I used ducts tape to enclose the plastic around the ends of the greenhouse walls, but cold seeped through and touched the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. It appears that the damage is contained to just the tippity tops of the plants. Seeing the damage, Sean modified our plans and installed cardboard along the inside of the greenhouse ends, taped plastic along the outside and stacked bales of mulch hay across both end walls. He also set up a heater inside the greenhouse. Sean's modifications worked beautifully. There was no further damage to the delicate plants inside the greenhouse. Today I cut back the dead limbs and harvested what I could so as to not lose the nearly ripe fruit for the season. The design is not pretty or permanent, but it will get us through until he can build proper panels for the open bits.
Outside tomato plants are mostly gone. The fruits can be salvaged for marinara and salsa.
Peppers survived.
Inside the greenhouse.
I am hopeful that the plants may recover. If they don't we still have plans to replant cold tolerant veggies inside the greenhouse. I got a book about greenhouse design at the Library to help us understand how to use our newly built greenhouse to its best advantage. We have never had a successful winter garden. We may fail this year, but we are not going to let that prevent our trying. Thankfully, the stinging nettles, oregano, mints, lavender, thyme, onions, leeks, and other hardy veggies made it through. With the warm snap, we may have time yet to harvest edibles for a few more weeks.

Images from around the homestead today...

Mister, you are NOT allowed in the potager! 

Aquila is a beautiful Red Breasted Bronze tom. 

Becca and Phoebe

Our "Clean up Crew" made short work of anything green on these branches.
Miss Meaghan helped me with feeding Jsasmine this afternoon

This is what Pastured, Free Range looks like.
We don't eat our animals, so I can also add "Happy" to the list.

Benjamin *really* wants some romantic times with the does. He spent a while calling to them and blowing raspberries in their direction. Not this year, lad.

Turtle play time was supervised by Kristen today. Master Chief Donatella gets supervised outdoor time each day.
Thanks for visiting with us today, Friends. We are happy you're here.

~Sean and Sonja ♥