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we have just finished up the first two weeks of school here. it’s been absolutely the best first two weeks of school, ever.

perhaps it’s because i was focused a lot on the all-day 8th/9th grade class that i’m tutoring and got those first two classes down before sending my own kids to the same all-day co-op (but for their levels) this coming week.

perhaps it’s because we started every school day at the kitchen table together, and then broke out into individual subjects? i think starting at the table together makes the day feel like it has a beginning.  when you have a beginning, you feel as though you have an end to strive for.

or perhaps it was because summer finally kicked in these past 14 days, and we have spent more time in the pool these past two weeks than we have all summer (or so it seemed!). it was lovely to head outside in the hot sun after our studies were through in the afternoon and lazily bob around in the pool, or get a lot of exercise swimming and jumping, and wait for dinner.

perhaps it was because i’m back to planning our evening meals, and we’ve been able to eat well before rushing off to soccer practice and auditions (which both started this week). i always feel so much better when i’m feeding my family good stuff instead of relying on mcdonald’s to fill them up after soccer practice, or before a rehearsal. planning it out makes it so much easier.  even though our eating of dinners has become a bit more complicated since my celiac diagnosis.

and on that note…perhaps its because i’ve given up all grains and i’m finally feeling as though i’m not walking around with rocks in my stomach.  and because cookbooks like danielle walker’s Against All Grain and Meals Made Simple have really helped me be able to manage our meals so i’m not cooking two different dinners for all of us. and…grain-free sandwich bread! and an amazing chocolate protein-packed shake for my busy wednesday’s? and grain-free pizza crust!!!!

~~~~

our family curriculum is fully entrenched in Classical Conversations.  Even though I’m tutoring the 8th/9th grade level class on wednesdays, our three boys are able to partake in their own classes on wednesdays, when we meet together.  they start this week, and then i know our other school days together will be busier, but i’ve planned this fall so that we’re not rushing off to afternoon lessons or practices every day.  we have one day of gym class but the rest of the days are truly home.

in the spirit of education, here is a fun link with even more fun photos.  i’m alarmed that parents had to send their children on 4 mile-long walks to school (and home!) each day, but that explains the shorter class day, perhaps. in some ways, we do the one-room school house here and our co-op is modeled after the one-room school house.

here is another post that a friend of mine wrote comparing their experience to schooling in australia.  i find it fascinating how active the australians are in their school day compared to the american school system. and apparently the activity is a year-long thing.

IMG_3574so with that, we bid adieu to another wonderful summer and look forward to the lovely fall weather approaching.  i’m hoping fall stays around for a while this year and keeps winter at bay.  an early spring and hotter summer next year would be awfully good as well.

This post has been in my drafts folder since June 10th, his actual birthday.  We had a big celebration – with friends, minecraft party, and presents. He introduced us to the world of the Leopard Gecko. We now have two, and we will soon have three (all three boys wanted one for their birthdays this year!).

Happy Birthday, Adam Henry!

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24
Jul

Lyme is the Enemy

   Posted by: liz    in family, hobnob theatre co.

today i spent more time in doctors’ offices, pharmacies, and my car than one who has a full-time job.  from 7:00-3:30, i drove from a medical lab to the dentist office to a pedatrician office to two different pharmacies, and finally landed at home at 3:35 pm.

the medical lab was for me, where i “donated” four vials of blood for more of the same-old testing that i’ll probably undergo for a few more months. the dentist office was a “date” for my husband and i to get some routine dental cleanings while my mom stayed with the boys.

IMG_3717 the pediatrician was for sawyer. after we noticed this on him last night (photo). it was tiny, but we noticed because we’ve been there before. that is a bulls-eye rash, and you can see that it’s about an inch in diameter. an INCH. that’s not very large. and Lyme bulls-eye rashes aren’t raised or itchy, so if you get one on your inner thigh, or your back, you may never notice you have one. we live in western pennsylvania, one of the most densely-populated Lyme-disease areas in America. so we know to look for these. after the second day of sawyer complaining about a stiff neck and a headache, we started looking for the rash.

he is the third in our family of five to contract Lyme disease since we moved here (from Pittsburgh) 8 years ago. and all three of those of us who have Lyme (Kenny, Adam, and now Sawyer) have had different symptoms.  Kenny and Adam had high fevers for three-four days (along with typical flu-like body aches). Kenny and Sawyer had bulls-eye rashes. Sawyer did not have flu-like symptoms. Adam had a red rash at the tick bite, as did Kenny. Sawyer only shows bulls-eye rashes. Adam and Kenny did  not have head aches.  Sawyer is on day 3 of a head ache (and he’s not a headache-type kid).

Lyme is one of those diseases that presents itself differently in all of its patients.  It also presents itself as a lot of other diseases: MS and Fibro among the most similar in symptoms, if the Lyme is left untreated. Fortunately we know what to look for. We also know to check for ticks. I admit there are days we don’t check. And every Lyme case in our house has been when we never knew there was a tick bite. We have pulled ticks off  us a lot: but symptoms have never followed when we pulled a tick off.  We only get symptoms when we haven’t found a tick in weeks.  This makes sense: when a tick removes itself from its host, it regurgitates a substance that contains the Lyme bacteria into the bloodstream of its host. When the host (human) removes the tick, it (usually) doesn’t regurgitate the bacteria-substance.  So pulling a tick off of you is much better than never finding one in the first place.

Scary.

So…always, always check. Every night. Several times a day. whatever it takes. And be happy when you find if you do have Lyme in the early stages. Antibiotics are the only thing I trust to kick the bacteria out of your system, and fight the symptoms Lyme can bring. We can live in fear, or live in knowledge to fight the disease. I choose the latter. We live outside during the summer. I love the outdoors when its warm (I wish ticks loved snow!  you’d never find us outside nearly as much during our winters!), and I’m not going to keep us inside for fear of Lyme. We fight it as much as we can. And if it wins by getting into us, we fight it with medicine.

Since I’ve been getting routine bloodwork done, I have them test me for Lyme. So far, I’ve not contracted it. But it only seems a matter of time, based on where we live. Still, I’m thankful for the age in which we live. We can fight these things instead of live in fear.

22
Jul

its not just about reading labels

   Posted by: liz    in celiac, food

after going public with my celiac diagnosis (it took me two months to admit it outloud), i heard over and over: “at least there are lots of alternatives for you. it’s so easy to be gluten-free these days!”  i’ll get into this more in a minute, but i assure you this:

~ there is NO alternative for a guinness.

~ there is also no way to replace the deliciousness of Twizzlers (they contain wheat flour).

~ and forget about coming near to replacing a prantl’s burnt almond torte. no matter how delicious GF cake is, it’s NOT a prantl’s burnt almond torte!

there are thousands of gluten-free (GF) options lining grocery store shelves these days, and i admit to enjoying several of them, especially the first few weeks after my diagnosis (i was starving and craving everything, so i found replacements in the gluten-free aisles).  a vast majority of them are not healthy. they are full of high-carbohydrate, blood-sugar-rising ingredients, it’s no wonder that i gained weight after going gluten-free!

that is the number one reason to just stay away from GF processed food. but a bigger reason to stay away from all processed food is the hidden gluten. here is a partial (partial!) list of gluten-containing ingredients that don’t say “gluten” that celiacs must avoid:

  • artificial color
  • baking powder
  • caramel color/flavoring
  • citric acid (can be fermented from wheat, corn, molasses or beets)
  • coloring
  • dextrins
  • diglycerides
  • emulsifiers
  • enzymes
  • fat replacers
  • flavorings
  • food starch
  • glucose syrup
  • glycerides
  • maltodextrin
  • malt syrup
  • modified food starch
  • natural juice
  • red dye #3
  • soy sauce
  • stabilizers
  • starch
  • wheat starch

for those who CHOOSE to go gluten-free, this list is a non-issue. but the trace amounts of gluten found in these buried ingredients still harm the villi in a celiac’s small intestine. so we have to be vigilant in understanding all the ingredients on a food label.

for now, i’ve chosen to just eat real food, and not mess with processed foods.  it makes shopping a whole lot easier to just hang out in the perimeter of the grocery store (did you ever notice that if you shop the perimeter of your store, you hit all the fresh/refrigerated items so you don’t ever have to go into those pesky boxed-food shelves [unless you have to find a jar of olives or salad dressing or mayonnaise or baking items]?).

there are days that it’s very boring.  very, very boring eating the same old, safe food.  i have to keep reminding myself that my food can only now be my fuel. my medicine. i will learn to enjoy eating again, but i have to get through the initial healing process first, and then i have to learn to enjoy this new, life-long diet i’ve been given to enjoy.

for those that have asked, i don’t quite feel better yet. it’s been nine weeks, and i’m still having a lot of symptoms. i read that this is normal, that it can take up to a year (!!!) for GI symptoms to go away.  my patience is wearing thin. i am hoping i feel better soon.

 

IMG_3547Last Wednesday was a very busy day. Actually all of last week was busy. Rowan Tucker Smith, the boy who made boy Kenny and I parents, turned 11.

He decided that he really wanted a Leopard Gecko just like Adam’s…so we found ourselves with a new little guy in the aquarium a few days before his birthday.  We ended up having to take that gecko back because it didn’t eat. Even after force-feeding it (hearkening back to the days when we were force-nursing newborn lambs!), it was not interested in eating. Or sleeping. So we returned it for a healthier guy this weekend. He’s just as cute, and a much better eater.

We’ve been really enjoying the World Cup over the past month. For several weeks we were able to follow the American Team, and weren’t disappointed, even when they finally lost. Rowan loves to research the teams, watching highlights of past games, and replaying important games. He claims it helps him learn how to play better. (can’t argue with that!) Since we’ve been watching the games at my parents’ house (since they have ESPN), my parents decided to give Rowan a replica of the World Cup soccer ball. He’s been loving it (and has even taken it to the local high school field a few times).IMG_3493

This summer is at the half-way mark today. It’s already been a much better summer than last year (weather-wise, mostly). We’ve had some great, lazy summer days spent entirely on our back deck, in the pool, with friends. The weather has been wonderful (almost perfect!). We are producing a new Shakespeare show with hobnob this summer – A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We’re thrilled that another talented theatre person has stepped up to the directing role. I hope more and more talent steps into the directing role in future plays as well. Then, I guess, we’ve known we made it. (ha ha).

 

8
Jul

…for the rest of my life

   Posted by: liz    in celiac, food

When I turned 30 (11 years ago!), Kenny surprised me with a weekend away at Deep Creek Lake with friends. When we arrived, he had a huge spaghetti dinner for me that night knowing that was my favorite meal.

When I was in college, I frequently scarfed down a bowl (or two!) of cereal from the cafeteria FOR DINNER on my way to play rehearsal.

To this day, pancakes are my favorite thing to eat on a lazy weekend morning.

I share this with you because I am a typical American diet-eater. I love my carbohydrates. It’s a good thing I love vegetables, meats, dairy, and fruits as well, or I’d go hungry.

Since October of last year, I’ve been getting blood work done, and seeing different doctors trying to figure out just what is going on with my 40-some-year-old digestive system. Last month, I received a call from my gastroenterologist that told me my latest blood work came back strongly suggesting that I have Celiac disease. Then, finally, after getting a biopsy done on my small intestine this spring, my Celiac disease diagnosis was confirmed. On May 18th. I’m not allergic to gluten. My body just cannot tolerate it. My immune system sees it as a dangerous substance, so it fights it when it reaches my small intestine. I got the Jets and the Sharks battling it out in my midriff.

Finding out that you have Celiac disease, after spending a lifetime loving on the one food that your body physically rejects, it’s just plain shitty. But, let’s keep this post family-friendly and happy! Here are some fun facts on Celiacs Disease:

  • “The precise cause of celiac disease isn’t known.” – mayoclinic.org (encouraging, isn’t it?)
  • John F. Kennedy suffered from celiac disease, but never was diagnosed with it since it was still a fairly unknown disease for adult diagnoses when he was alive.
  • “The term coeliac derived from the Greek κοιλιακός (koiliakós, “abdominal”), and was introduced in the 19th century in a translation of what is generally regarded as an ancient Greek description of the disease by Aretaeus of Cappadocia.” – answers.yahoo.com

GFThere is no cure for Celiac. Eating gluten-free is my medicine.  It’s the only way to avoid the unsavory symptoms it causes, and to keep from further internal damage.

Yesterday, I spent the morning in Pittsburgh’s Celiac Center. I met with three doctors: a gastroenterologist, a nutrition specialist, and a holistic psychologist. I met a few other patients who had been “gluten-free” for years or months longer than me. There was a time to meet with some volunteers from a “celiac meet-up” group and one thing they said really stood out to me. I was telling them how my husband and I love to check out new restaurants, and we love traveling to Pittsburgh to eat Thai, Indian, and in other new restaurants. She looked at me and said, “I generally don’t eat out anymore unless I know there is a gluten-free area in their kitchen. Otherwise, I’m very bitchy to the servers, demanding that my food is safe.”

I understand. Even the smallest particle of gluten can make some Celiacs sick. I even read in one article about “cross-contamination of gluten in Celiac patients” that if your restaurant salad comes with croutons (after asking for a salad without croutons), you need to ask for a completely new salad since the crumbs will make you sick. I’m fine with my gluten-free area in my own kitchen, but I’m not ready to be that somebody in a restaurant. I’m also not ready to give up eating out in new restaurants with my husband.

My gastroenterologist looked at me and said, “I’m sorry you have to jump on the gluten-free bandwagon, but you have no choice.” I asked him if I caused myself to become a Celiac patient. He assured me that it was nothing that I ate or didn’t eat that caused it: it is genetic, even though I was the first person in my family to be diagnosed with it.

Kenny has been so incredibly supportive. He’s picked up gluten free crackers and bread for me, stopped in at Gluuteny in Squirrel Hill (ironically across from what used to be Gullifty’s, where I indulged in many gluten-laden desserts in high school!) with treats for me to eat during our boys’ birthday parties, and found the most delicious hard cider for me to try (Angry Orchard…MILES better than Woodchuck). I admit this diagnosis was slightly reassuring (it’s not cancer!), but it’s also lonely. Now I understand why they had me meet with a holistic psychologist at the Celiac Center. Support is really important at this beginning stage.

Holiday family dinners are going to be tough. Summer BBQs are hard. Telling someone who has invited you over for dinner that you are gluten-free might bring some eye-rolling (since it’s super trendy to be “GF” right now: here’s a tip…don’t go gluten free to lose weight. Do it because it makes you sick). And road trips are harder now to plan for.

I keep telling people that I’m fine, this is an okay thing, really! At least I don’t have to be on medication, or have chemo. But deep down, it’s one of the harder things I’ve had to deal with. This is for the rest of my life. And since I plan on living at least another 41 years, that’s a long road ahead.

I’d love to meet other Celiacs. Please give me a shout-out if you are too!

2
Jun

vacation, summer, and back-to-life-ness

   Posted by: liz    in Uncategorized

IMG_2967we recently returned from a too-short, but refreshing trip to visit friends in Savannah, GA, where the sun never seems to stop shining, chameleons roam freely in backyards, and the hauntingly beautiful spanish moss hangs in thick canopies providing never-ending shade.

the weather here at home is still turning, slowly, from spring to summer. it’s a gradual transition, so to drive 12.5 hours south and be in full-on summer weather was a bit of a shock to the system. it’s been spring/summer in GA since february, and their vegetable and flower gardens are already producing delicious and beautiful fruit.

this weekend at home, we had summer-like weather in the high 70s/low 80s and lots and lots of sunshine, so it felt like it was time to get our yard ready for outdoor living. we got some flowers and plants, vegetables and seeds, borrowed a tiller from our neighbor, and dug up some lovely dark brown dirt in several areas (adam insists on his very own garden, so a new patch was made just for him and his sunflowers and cantaloupe seeds).  we pulled weeds, mowed the grass, watered the garden, and cleaned up the deck. we enjoyed dinner with friends on our deck, played with other friends in their yard for an afternoon, and fell hard into bed each night.

the winter feels like a long, easy, drawn-out sleep. but summer is full of activity and harder, shorter sleep cycles. the sun is already up at 5:30, and so are we, with the birds and their morning song. i love the feel of dirt under my nails (kept really short in the summer because of all that dirt!), and a cold shower (or dip in the pool) every night, crisp sheets on the bed, and the changing sights and sounds of evening: the song of spring cheepers give way to a conversation between frogs, fireflies darting about in june, and then a symphony of crickets at night in july.

summer is short up here in the northern section of the country. its the friend who visits with gifts for everyone, and then steals away one night and isn’t seen again for 8 months. the older i get, the slower it seems to arrive in the spring. the older i get, the more i feel the need to live where it is nearly always summer. those winter months are harsh on the bones, harsh on the soul.

but summer…the warmth on my shoulders…it’s the best gift of the year.

7
May

lambing season: it’s a wrap!

   Posted by: liz    in family, farm, Uncategorized

10292142_10152394699142970_2074714224835446309_n …at least we hope so!  we have one more ewe, but we do not think she is pregnant. or if she is, she is a month away from lambing because she is showing no visible signs of carrying. it is possible that we could have a late may/early june baby from her, but we are hoping that lambing season is done. this season has been a doozy!

our last set of twins was born without our assistance (what we were hoping for!), but it also happened at the crack of dawn, just before we arrived at the barn to check on our last pregnant ewe (daisy). in fact, she delivered outside of the barn, under the “porch” (probably because the barn was too crowded with other sheep).

IMG_2828kenny and i walked towards the barn after we noticed that daisy was on the porch with two white lambs. as we walked nearer, we noticed she was head-butting one of the lambs and not allowing it to get near her.  there was a larger lamb already cleaned off and sitting up, alert but daisy wasn’t cleaning off the smaller one and was in fact showing signs of rejecting it. this is yet another lambing experience we had not encountered, so we set off into learning/experiment mode. the first few hours of a lamb’s life are crucial in getting it to bond and eat. when the mama isn’t allowing the lamb near her milk source, you have to get creative.

rosie was still in the lambing pen with ramburger. so we let them out and they headed out to pasture. we picked up daisy’s lambs and carried them into the pen hoping daisy would follow. she wasn’t as eager to be near her lambs as the other mamas we had, so we had to coax her in with the one lamb she was seemingly accepting.  she finally made it back into the pen with her lambs and again was head-butting the smaller lamb (they are called “bummer” lambs). we kept them in the pen, and headed to do some research on tricks to get a mama to accept her lamb (which usually doesn’t work), or ways to get the bummer attached to another mama (which is actually harder to accomplish).

IMG_2887we read a few things we could try so we headed back to the barn and tried the following:

  • rub the bummer with the afterbirth (yep, it’s gross) so the ewe will start licking/bonding/cleaning it off again. didn’t work.
  • rub the bummer with mollasses (which sheep LOVE) so the ewe will start licking/bonding/cleaning it off again. didn’t work.
  • spray both the rear-ends of the twin lambs with air freshener. yeah, we laughed at that one, but since nothing else was working, we tried it. it WORKED!  as soon as we took the lambs away from mama, freshened their rear ends with some Glade Fresh Scent, and brought them back to mama, she allowed both of them to try to latch on and eat.  the idea is that the Glade Fresh Scent confuses the smell of the lambs and mama doesn’t know the difference between the accepted lamb and the bummer, so she just lets them both nurse. when the lamb nurses, the mama encourages it by pushing it closer to the milk source with her nose to their tail.

we were encouraged that the bummer was being allowed to nurse and it wasn’t being head-butted anymore. it wasn’t snuggling with mama, but it was eating and walking and this step was really important. throughout the day, we had friends over and we were able to check on them continually, snuggle the bummer lamb (allowing it some warmth) and finally by the end of the day saw that the twins began to snuggle together (while mama hung out on the opposite side of the pen).  i just don’t think this ewe has the mothering instinct. she’s just not a “good” mother, like the other ewes have been to their lambs.

~~~~~~~

IMG_2631to recap, we have had seven (7) lambs born over two (2) weeks to four (4) of our ewes. we’ve more than doubled our sheep population!  two (2) of the lambs are rams, so they will stay with us until late fall. we might even send some of the older ewes to the butcher as well since they’re getting up there in years, and won’t be able to produce lambs or wool anymore. our sheep are happy and comfortable, but they still need to earn their keep! otherwise, we’d run out of grass if we keep all of the lambs!

  • Iris (five years) delivered Lily and Chops (ewe and ram)
  • Violet (five years) delivered Marigold and Holly (ewe and ewe)
  • Rosie (three years) delivered Ramburger (ram)
  • Daisy (five years) delivered Sweet Pea and Buttercup (ewe and ewe)

Iris’ twins were the easiest delivery and she accepted both. Violet’s delivery was complicated, but she accepted both. Rosie’s birth was complicated, but she’s also accepted her lamb. We aren’t sure if Daisy’s birth was complicated or not, but she showed signs at first of rejecting a lamb. She isn’t very motherly to either of her lambs, but they’re nursing and growing.

 

IMG_2878It would be best if these ewe lambs would deliver next year, instead of waiting a few years for them to start lambing. But I don’t know if I have it in me to have another stress-filled few weeks of waiting for a ewe to go into labor, stressful births, or rejected babies. I say this now, but I also said once that there was no way I’d ever reach into a sheep and pull out a lamb. There was just no way I could do it without fainting or gagging. And both Kenny and I had to do just that this year. It’s surprising what takes over you, what fears you just ignore when you realize there are no other alternatives.

“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” 

And really, seeing those adorable lambs in the pasture, never leaving their mamas’ sides, bounding and chasing each other….it’s really the sweetest thing a small farm can witness. These spring mornings when the sunlight is urging itself through the fog after a night of rain, white buds of fruit trees and lambs rolling about in the pasture, and the birds filling in the background noise…you can’t get any better than those spring mornings!

 

 

 

4
May

fifth lamb born

   Posted by: liz    in farm

i was able to catch Jesus Christ Superstar (the show Kenny’s been working on with Butler’s Musical Theatre Guild) last night with my mom. before i get to what this post is about, i have to shout out to all the actors and musicians of this very difficult musical.

i think JCS is one of the most moving musical depictions of the passion story. the match-up of Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics) is just perfect. i just don’t think any church pageant does the story justice like JCS does. it’s always been one of the most perfect musicals (with the exception of the later addition of the song “Can We Start Again Please” which is just awkward).  our little town’s Musical Theatre Guild production was full of talented acting, singing, and dancing. there were some moments that could have been done better, but overall, the performance was excellent.

kenny and i returned home at 10:30 and since one of our ewes had been hanging out alone most of the day (a sign that either a sheep is ill or beginning labor.  sheep like to be together, and when they remove themselves from the herd, you know there’s something up), he decided to check on her (rosie) before we headed for bed. within five minutes, he texted me from the barn telling me that she was, in fact, in labor.

my dad, who had stayed with the boys while mom and i attended the show, was in the barn with him. i changed and headed down with my phone as the only source of light except the sky full of stars. we all had our phones and small flashlights since there isn’t electricity in the barn. all the other sheep were out grazing. she was contracting every three minutes and we could see the start of a hoof with each contraction. it wasn’t making much progress coming out. at one point kenny thought it might be an upside-down hoof (which means an upside-down lamb). after feeling around on the hoof with my hand, we decided that it wasn’t upside-down. which was great!  but we were still concerned that there wasn’t any progress of the lamb coming out.

it was 11:30 at this point. rosie (mama) was tired and beginning to punk out on us. her contractions had all but stopped, so we decided to intervene. kenny started by trying to pry out the hoof  and get her to contract again. she began to push once he started to pull on the hoof, and finally he found the nose. once again, the tongue was hanging out of the side of the mouth. there was still no sign of the second hoof (you really want to see two hooves and THEN then nose resting nicely on the hooves, as though it is napping peacefully), so he kept pulling on what he could.

rosie pushed and contracted as he pulled. nothing was budging. he had to reach in farther to find the second hoof. after a few minutes he found it and pulled it out. once you have two hooves, it’s much easier to pull. again, we weren’t sure if we were pulling out a living or dead lamb. the remaining pushing/pulling was hard! that poor ewe was not happy and was yelling at us with each push. the lamb wasn’t moving its tongue or chin or hooves until it was out. then we noticed movement.

at this point, kenny grabbed the lamb by the hind legs and swung it through the air. we knew that this would help clear the lungs of any liquid it might have inhaled. after a few swings, he put the lamb in front of rosie to begin cleaning. she didn’t want to do anything but lay there (she was exhausted and in pain, i’m sure!). after a few seconds, she began her cleaning of the lamb and that lamb was holding its head up, and trying to move. within minutes it was standing and within 15 minutes, it was already walking and trying to nurse.

kenny and i left the barn at 12:45 after witnessing that the lamb had found his milk. another ram: lanky and long! we think his “name” is ramburger.

sheep births don’t have to take this long, and really shouldn’t take any effort on the part of the farmer/caretaker. the past two births have needed much assistance from us. our first two years of lambing really spoiled us: three lambs born without us needing to do anything but watch in amazement. this year is taking its toll on us!

but if those stinkin’ lambs aren’t the cutest things. this morning, after the boys woke up and learned about another new lamb in the barn, we all walked down together and watched the other four lambs bound and jump through the pasture, find their mamas, nurse for a second, and then find a spot to curl up together and rest.

 

2
May

violet and her twins

   Posted by: liz    in farm

IMG_2794it’s bound to happen: birthing difficulties on a farm. i try to tell myself that with the few “pet” sheep we have, the probability of lambing difficulties is lower than on big, commercial farms. but nature takes over, and sometimes there are difficult births.

it is no secret that violet is my favorite ewe. if adam was a girl, his name was going to be violet. obviously, he was a boy, so our first two sheep that we “adopted” were named Daisy and Violet (also because of Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins that one of our favorite musicals, Side Show, is based on).  violet’s breed, Romney, is bred for long, thick wool. she is mammoth when covered in wool, and looks like a bear. (you can see her with our other wool sheep (border leicester) in this post, where i show off a scarf i made with their wool.)

her labor began around 8:30 yesterday morning. rowan noticed first as he checked the barn because she wasn’t out grazing with the rest of the sheep. violet was set on giving birth in the donkey pen, so i spent most of the first hour of her labor (making sure it was progressing) attaching chicken wire to the walls on the donkey pen so that the new lamb(s) couldn’t escape. i also had to build a makeshift door so that the nosy donkey and other sheep would leave violet alone while she labored.

it was around 2:30 when i realized we had to intervene. normally you have about an hour or maybe two hours from the delivery of the water sac until the birth of the lamb, but she had never delivered a water sac, and we were seeing a hoof and a nose during her contractions.

and then, she stopped contracting altogether.

so i got in the pen with her and grabbed as much of the hoof as i could and started pulling (down), which i hoped would encourage her to push again. it did, but this lamb was stuck.  a hoof/leg was stuck in the birthing canal.

i then noticed that the lamb’s tongue was hanging out of the side of her mouth. my stomach lurched. i knew for sure i was helping her deliver a dead baby. but it needed to come out or else we’d have a dead mama as well. i was able to get the jaw and the hoof to come out farther and she kept pushing. all of a sudden i noticed that the lamb was trying to breathe and moving it’s tongue! (i later learned that the tongue was swollen from being trapped in the birth canal too long.) i worked hard to find the other hoof and miraculously it appeared the more the head slid out. i pulled both the legs and the lamb fell out limply onto the straw.

mama violet began her cleaning of the lamb immediately, but i could tell this lamb was not healthy. it didn’t move, it didn’t try to breath anymore, and its tongue was still hanging out of the side of its mouth. it was alive, but i was certain it wouldn’t stay alive very long.

i tried to get some collostrum out of mama to put on the lamb’s mouth and it was at this point i noticed a sac of red on the floor behind mama. it was another lamb, delivered completely in the sac!  i broke the sac and picked up the new (very healthy) lamb and gave it to mama to clean. this lamb was half the size of the first, but already bleating and feisty as ever. it was up and walking within minutes, nursing within the hour.

IMG_2791during the intense moments, i was on the phone with two farm vets (who were unable to come out to help) and with kenny, who was in a meeting at work down in pittsburgh. kenny called two farmer friends, and one of them sent his brother over to help us out. he arrived just after the second lamb was delivered. he tried to get the first lamb to breathe, clearing out it’s mouth, and tapping on its lungs. he said it’s just a wait and see: the lamb could pass away within the hour, or all of a sudden perk up.

the boys were in the barn at this point (since the labor was over 7 hours, they got bored after the first two, so they hung out in the house for a lot of it). i had to warn them that one of the lambs might not be doing well, and that made sawyer begin his prayerful vigil. within 15 minutes of the farmer leaving, the first lamb lifted its head and bleated. it then tried to stand or move, but didn’t. it was breathing normally, eyes were open and it was yelling for its mama!  i couldn’t believe what we were witnessing!

kenny arrived home just in time to leave again to get a bottle and some formula since the lamb couldn’t stand to nurse. we weren’t sure if the legs were broken, or the circulation was cut off to them, but it could not stand at all. it was also shivering something fierce. so we wrapped it in a towel and brought it to the house and put it under a heat lamp to get its body temperature up. it wouldn’t suck, and still it couldn’t stand.

i had to leave for an acting class that i  teach, and during that hour and a half, kenny got about an ounce of mama’s milk (not formula) down the lamb’s throat. it still wouldn’t nurse or suck on its own. but that ounce gave the lamb enough strength to attempt standing on its front legs. we knew then they weren’t broken!

i returned home just as kenny left for dress rehearsal of the show he’s working on now. my mom was lamb-sitting on the back porch when i arrived home. we decided it was probably best to try to get the lamb back to its mama now that it wasn’t shivering and was attempting to stand.  sure enough, as soon as we got the lamb into the pen with its mama, she was on that lamb so fast, licking it and encouraging it to nurse. it still couldn’t suck on its own, so i was getting milk from mama and pouring it down the lamb’s throat. after i would do that, it would try to get up again, and within 15 minutes it was standing in the pen, and attempting to walk.

mama wasn’t rejecting her. that was so encouraging! a friend of mine, a farmer’s wife, said: “it’s so hard being a farm mama!  one thing i’ve learned is that if the mama rejects her baby, there is less of a chance of survival. if she doesn’t reject her baby, then there’s a good chance it will survive!”

dad was helping me in the barn at this point, and he and i decided it was best that the lamb stay in the pen with her twin and mama for the night. our original plan was to try to feed it under the heat lamp in our back porch for the first night. but just watching it gain strength from being with its mama and twin, we knew it was the right choice.

i was relieved this morning to hear when kenny checked on them at dawn, the lambs were snuggled up together, and then both got up and walked, and nursed.

i am still cautious, but amazed that this lamb has gotten this far!  i thought that it was dead – twice!  once while it was being born, and then that it wouldn’t survive after being born. and now, it’s nearly as strong as the second lamb!

we’re pretty certain that they are both female. it’s hard to tell with the smaller one. we’re still deciding on names, but i think we’re set on Marigold (for our miracle!) and Holly (Mari and Holly).