Caring for the Pollinators

We have put a lot of care (and money) into creating a haven for the birds, bees, and butterflies out at our farm. We have several acres of native grasses and flowers and last year planted a swath out along the highway that curves around the northern border of the farm. The highway crew mistakenly mowed it flat in the fall. This year, though, we have put up signs to discourage mowing and spraying if the crew did not “get the memo.”

20170708_090935I think the vibrant bloom is enough to deter anyone thinking they should destroy it by now. In June, it sparkled with red poppies as well, although I don’t believe they are native. I just like seeing some red.

I know from experience that the mix of flowers will change, depending on the weather, the month, and the maturity of the root system. This may be the best year for the Brown-eyed Susan so we need to really appreciate them in the moment.

We think there is an invasive plant trying to get a foothold in the mix. It has a tall stalk, (in some cases 6 feet tall), and looks like it will develop a flower at the top. My husband thinks it is an invasive species called “mares tail” and we have started the exhaustive task of methodically pulling them out by the roots. I’m hoping we are not pulling up something we paid to have planted, but if our little garden is contributing to a problem for the farmers, we have to do our part to stop it.

20170708_091545Do any of you horticulturists out there know this plant? It will take us a week of 2-hour sessions to eradicate it so if it is a case of mistaken identity, I’d like to know sooner rather than later.


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Chicks’ First Day

I guess I was a little cavalier about the baby chicks. I thought I’d given them a nice, safe brood box and we left to go to dinner with friends. When I went out to check them this evening, two had squeezed out under the box and were loose in the chicken run. One had the downy feathers scraped off her leg. I scooped them up and put them back into the box but one more was missing.

I looked everywhere. I heard a faint peeping and tried in vain to train my ears for the direction. I was about to give up and call it a loss. Suddenly I noticed a little yellow fluff pinned behind the feeding tray in the brood box. Poor little chicky had gotten herself stuck and she, too, had scraped her feathers off her leg and it was dragging. Who would have thought they could get into so much trouble so fast?

I Googled how warm do chicks need to be, as the weather report said it may get down to 58 tonight. It says the first month they need 95-100 degrees! I quickly set up my red heating lamp and they crowded underneath it.

I feel like such a horrible mother. I think I’ll have to go back to the farm store tomorrow for a couple more chicks, as the injured ones probably won’t make it. We’ve made adjustments to the brood box so they should no longer be able to get out, and I put more effort into teaching them how to get at the water dish. You’re supposed to stick their beaks into it so they’ll get the idea but I don’t think they had caught on yet.

I guess we’ll see over the next week how many survive their early days on our farm. I’d never lost a chick before so I was way too complacent.

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Baby Chicks

20170707_145504It is so hard to resist adding baby chicks to the flock. We’ve told ourselves, “No.” on so many trips to the farm store, but I finally decided we’ll need a new generation to make up for our increasingly elderly original hens.

Today my husband built me a nice chick box to put out in the run and we brought home a half dozen babies. Two each of: Buff Orpingtons (yellow), Silver Lakenvelders (multi-color), and Barred Rocks (black).

I got pictures from a poultry vender called Stromberg’s to show what they’ll look like when they grow up.  The Lakenvelders lay white eggs, so I’ll be able to identify who laid those. The others lay brown eggs like most of the others I already have.

I think it works out well to get your chicks in mid-summer when it’s warm enough out to avoid having to put them under a heat lamp. I have one in case the weather turns, but I think they’ll be fine. We put a roof over half the box for shelter from the weather and they have fresh air and sunshine shining down in the other half.

The older girls and the rooster are all quite curious. When I carried out the box of cheeping chicks, the adults all froze, cocked their heads, and set their beady little eyes on me.  As they age, I’ll engineer a way for the chicks to run in and out of their pen but still duck into it through fencing if the hens get mean and chase them.

Over the next week, I’ll watch for those wing feathers to begin popping out and see if a comb becomes more prominent on any of them. That’s how I noticed that Cooper was turning into a rooster, although it is not what real chicken experts use to figure out the sex. Then I’ll come up with names. I may have only three names if I can’t tell them apart, one shared by each pair of “birds of a feather.”

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Ha – Caught Ya!


We bought a game camera and I set it up in the seemingly cat-free barn yesterday. After a series of embarrassing color snapshots of my own legs walking around the barn doing chores, I ran into the nighttime shots that captured Emerald patrolling after midnight.

There were many shots of blurry cat movements back and forth, looking for mice. She has not captured any of her prey (that I know of ) for a while, but I’m pleased to know she’s on the job.


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Barn Cat – Reprise

20170630_114637I think I finally have this cat thing figured out. Emmie is living in the barn, for sure, but she does go out to roam sometimes. She left me a dead mouse in the middle of the barn floor. She has taken to hiding under the big mower that the tractor pulls because it is just her height to slide under and watch what’s going on. If she wants to communicate, she will do a faint, “Meow”, but most of the time she wants nothing to do with me.

The other day, the dog was frantically scratching at a hole under the back stairs of the house. I thought it was a chipmunk he’d cornered but then the animal seemed to start fighting back. I put Fionn into the house and listened till I heard a faint sound so I sat down and “Meow-ed” back. After a while, Emmie peeked out and decided she’d come out and allow me to pet her. I carried her back to the barn and closed her in for the rest of the day, but I had to make a decision – should we leave the garage door ajar or try to keep her locked in?

The final verdict is that we’ll keep the door up a few inches, too low for the chickens to sneek in and poop all over the floor but high enough for a little cat to scoot under. I think she’s mad at me for picking her up so I’m going to give her all the space she wants. I’ll talk to her when I’m in the barn but will have no expectations of returned affection.

So, that is the end of the cat story. We’ll see if things change over time but for now I think we’ve reached stability.

One last thing, I like to have a photo to go along with a blog entry and this cat situation has made it really difficult. I put off writing, hoping to get anything to illustrate the story. Enough of this. Here are pictures of my much friendlier pets. Fionn and Beezy in an unusually cozy mood, and Cooper the rooster who always loves me.

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The Hidden Cat

barn catEmmie, the new barn cat, is still in hiding. For a little while, she’d occasionally “Meow” and if someone sat on the concrete floor and waited patiently, she’d come out for a little head-scratch. I’m stubborn and don’t like having to beg for an audience. I think she senses that because she doesn’t come out for me.

I can’t figure out where she is living, either. I see no shining eyes in the dark recesses under the shelves anymore. For a few days, there was no food being eaten or movement in the litter box. I’d just about decided she had left for a better family, but I left the garage door up a few inches at night just in case. Yesterday I found some food eaten and dents in the litter. Today, a little more of each.

How am I going to know if my tenant is home, much less if she is doing her job on the mouse population? For all I know, the cat eating our food is not even Emmie. I guess I am a bit impatient and am not adapting to the cat world so well. I still crave positive feedback from my pets. I wonder if I should get her a companion? I am at a loss, here.

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Cat Person

I’ve had dogs all my life. They catch my eye wherever I see them out in the world, and my husband always knows where my attention will go when we’re out on the street. It’s a little inside joke between us because I am so predictable. I think I am more attuned to dogs than to people, sometimes.

At home, my own dogs are closely connected to my awareness and I can sense what they are feeling and what they want me to know about their needs. It’s just natural, and its often a two-way street.

Cats, on the other hand, are foreigners. I don’t “get” an animal who doesn’t care much about my attention unless it is to accomplish their own aims. Some of my best friends are cat lovers and the fact that they can appreciate an animal that doesn’t adore them back seems to point out my own flawed character.

Perhaps I am going to change that, starting today. As I suspected, now that there is animal feed stored in the barn, we have developed quite a mouse population. My husband cleaned the barn last week and was grossed out by mouse nests, droppings, and live creatures scattering every time he went to clean out a new drawer or shelf. Time for a working barn cat.

20170616_164023Meet Emerald, the new hire. I picked her out of the lineup at the local shelter. I wanted a mouser who did not have a great need for human interaction, and they suggested she might fit the bill. Her huge green eyes suggested the name to me.

“Emmie” came home in a cardboard cat box and I closed up the barn before setting her free. I planned to play with her for a while and get some nice pictures for the blog, but she immediately shot under the shelves and hid so I may never see her again. Good thing I took one photo before leaving the shelter.

My aim is to make Emmie the queen of the barn to patrol all night and sleep during the day. That means she needs to learn that this is her new home. I set up a nice food/water station and a cat climbing tower so she could hop up and look out the window. I bought her a cat litter box but eventually I’d like to open the barn overhead door just a crack so she can go do her business outside.


That’s once she feels like the barn is her home, so I plan to keep her closed up inside for a few days.

For now, here is my view of Emerald. Don’t see her? Neither do I but I know she is somewhere in the dark spidery recesses under the bottom shelf. Maybe one day she’ll trust me enough to come out and visit when I enter the barn.

Will I ever relate to cats?

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A Moment With the Pond Folk

20170601_131856I had a nice hour or two out at our farm pond, fishing for bluegills. I love sitting quietly, listening the the birds and frogs and watching that bobber for the faint wiggle that means a fish is considering the bait on my hook. I caught a good number of fish, although I liberated each one and tossed it back to try and outsmart me again another day. Two of them were the biggest I’ve ever caught. These would be the ones who have survived four winters since they moved to the farm and are fat and happy in their underwater paradise. Here’s a blurry photo I took while balancing the fish on my tackle box and holding my phone with two fingers while touching the button with a third. It’s a miracle I snapped a shot at all before he flipped off the bench.

BullfrogI heard a noise and glanced down at my feet. There was a shiny green bullfrog sitting in the water right next to me. He sat perfectly still in spite of my conversation with him and my attempt at a photo shoot. It seems he had me square in his sights, boldly unafraid of my reach. It was not until I shifted my weight that he did a quick backflip and disappeared with a flashing plop into the pond.

For me, it is a real luxury to break free from chores and spend an hour at the pond, just me and the fishies. Time stands still and my mind can wander wherever it wants. I often find myself thinking of my father and how his most blissful escape was to go out to the lake in his rowboat to fish for bluegills in the evening. I feel like he’s out there with me when I am at my little pond.

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Barnyard Breakfast

20170602_082124My favorite time of day is the morning meet-and-greet out at the barn. I feel like a major celebrity. On the walk out, the first thing I hear is the crowing and clucking of the chickens sounding the fanfare that, “Mommy’s coming!” They crane their feathery necks to see around the corner as the gravel crunches under my approaching feet.

When the barn garage door goes up, the goats jump off their lounging perches and begin “Baaa-ing” at the place where I always appear with their big scoop of pellets. I open the door into the chicken run and there they all are, clustered in front and looking up expectantly. I say, “Good morning, Girls!” (Internally, I tell myself I need to change up the script.)  I open their run so they can spread out into the barnyard and they head right to their favorite spots for the morning bug hunt.

The goats crowd me as I step into their yard to pat their chins and push them out of my way to head for their shelter. They bounce around my legs, wagging their tails and feigning innocence as they bump me with the sides of their horns on the way to the food trough. I have to use those horns as levers to hold them out of the way so I can dump the pellets. Their greatest triumph is if they can bump the scooper so it spills all over the floor.

Next, I head back to the barn and get a scoop of cracked corn to scatter into the chicken run. I am training them to come running when I say the traditional, “Here chick-chick-chick!” They like the corn, but out of the corners of their beady little eyes they are watching for the bag of dried meal worms for dessert. This is like Christmas every day.

20170602_082047As I close up the barn doors to leave them all to it for the day, I notice that the massive bag of peanuts we bought for goat treats has been chewed open by the barn mice and is leaking onto the floor. One more task to tackle, later. The chickens are delighted to find this cache of extra treats.

Last, I pick up the morning eggs, snap off a handful of fresh asparagus, and head back to the house for my own breakfast. On a sunny spring morning, I feel a warm glow of satisfaction with my farm.  Who knew that I would become a farmer at this point in my life? What an unexpected pleasure.

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How to Feed Goats

I am a trial-and-error farmer who reads up on the wisdom of the internet and takes my best guess on which advice to heed. When we prepared to adopt our two angora goat last fall, we set aside a nice fenced pasture and worried that it might not be enough to keep them fed.  It is turning out that just the opposite is true.

Last fall, I made a point of leaving all the scrubby grasses and weeds because I had read that goats love the interesting stuff. They showed little interest in going out into their field unless I went out with them. So finally, we mowed it all down and planted a pasture mix in the hope that this spring they’d glory in all that fresh fodder.

Now it is spring and the field has grown lush and tall, but the goats don’t like to walk through it and instead spend all day lying around on the bare spots. I quit giving them hay to encourage them to eat their pasture, but even that wasn’t working.

20170531_193735Today, we surrendered and mowed their field down. Suddenly it is much more interesting to them. They especially like the criss-crossed tractor tire tracks that are just like a matrix of goat paths.

So, what’s the moral of this story? I guess that trial-and-error is not such a bad method to learn a new skill as long as you keep trying things.  If my goats could speak English they could explain to me what they had in mind, but since they don’t I have to be observant and pick up on all their little signals.

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Sunny Spring Day on the Farm

20170515_122042We had such a nice day this week with warm weather and sunshine. The animals were all feeling frisky and friendly to “the staff.” Cooper, my rooster, kept following me around and clucking for my attention wherever I was doing my chores. I’m not sure what he wanted because he doesn’t really relish being petted but he did not want to be ignored.

The goats were bouncing around and wrestling each other by the horns. You can tell when they are happy because they crack their heads together and twist those horns to see who can push the other one out of the way. I love my goats.20170518_134744

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Ready For an Orchard?

20170508_134506Last week, we added the next big thing to the farm. We ordered fruit trees to begin our little orchard – 4 apples, 2 peaches, and a cherry tree, all dwarfs. These are from a local orchard, as we are lucky enough to live in the midst of the Michigan fruit belt. They were “bare root” seedlings, so no pots to lug home, and they just nestled into the soil in our designated orchard row. Now their only job is to make themselves at home.

I carefully read the directions on how to prune them on their first day. It was painful to chop off so much, but they insisted the trees would do better if they were topped off at 36 inches and all branches cut to half their length. Ouch. My husband feared that I’d murdered them.

However, a week later, little leaf buds are popping out and I think everything is going to be alright. I am being diligent about giving them lots of water, and we made little dams around the base to hold in a gallon or so at a time until it seeps down to the roots. Those darn chickens get really excited about fresh mud and come running behind me to peck and scratch and look for worms. Each time I go to water again, the dams have been broken down and scattered.

It will be four or five years before we will actually see fruit off these trees, but I am pleased to have taken the first step to adding this new component to Bluestem Pond Farm.




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Spring Colors

20170505_131154I’m really appreciating the spring renewal around here. This was a bumper crop year for the fluorescent yellow “Wintercress” that we last saw in such glory back in 2010. Since then, we added the maple trees, the chickens and goats, the vineyard, and the pond, not to mention the house. So, this place has really progressed.



We’ve got color from the flowering trees as well, and it is fleeting so you have to stop and drink it in before it fades to green.

Still to come is our dogwood and the big pink blossoms forming on our little horse chestnut tree. I love looking forward to each new display taking its turn.



Service berry bushes

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Carding Ely’s Mohair

This business of processing all that hair that was sheared off my goats has proven to be very time-consuming. I decided to work on Ely’s black/gray hair first, and still haven’t gotten all the locks teased apart. I like to do it when I can sit outside in the sunshine and we have had a lot of rain.20170507_173058

However, my fancy new drum carding machine arrived this week and I jumped ahead to see how it will work. It is really a clever invention. The fiber feeds into a small cylinder with teeth that pulls it under and then brushes up against a big cylinder with fine teeth that collect the fibers all laid out in the same direction and combed out beautifully.

As you turn the crank and feed the mohair into the hopper, it begins to accumulate on the small drum because the big one is too full to grab any more. Then, you use a tool to pull the hair loose from the drum and roll it carefully up into a cloud-soft “batt” of combed fibers.

I have done about a third of Ely’s hair and the batts have already filled a big cardboard carton. I have no idea how  much yarn this will make but it is sure to keep me spinning for the whole winter.

Now that I’m realizing how much of this silvery gray fiber I’ll have, I am beginning to think about whether I could dye it to have a bit of variety in my yarn. I haven’t figured out yet at what point I would do the dying – in the batt or after I’ve spun the yarn. On top of that, how will dying work on a dark color to start with? So much still to figure out, and I haven’t even begun with Eddy’s white hair!

20170422_094211 (1)

Say hi to Ely

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Mohair Harvest

So, a few days after the goats were sheared, I am deep into the mohair processing. A combination of the boys having grown and a much more thorough shearing generated easily twice as much fleece as I was able to harvest last year.  I am more experienced as well, and am working through it with a lot more confidence this time.

20170415_094815I have already cleaned it all, a five- or six-step process, and air dried it in the sunshine and overnight in a warm room. Last night, I began pulling the locks apart and teasing out the bits of embedded hay and pine shavings. It was rather comical because there was so much static electricity that I’d collect a handful of loose hair and vegetable matter and try to drop it on the ground but it would stick to my fingers even as I shook it and transferred it from hand to hand.  The most effective solution was to wipe it onto my jeans where it stuck to me like a fuzzy halo. I am less than a quarter of the way through it after a couple hours of work.

Before I can spin the mohair, it must be “carded”.  I accomplished this using two pin-style dog brushes and I learned through trial and error that taking time for this step made spinning so much easier. My husband watched me spend hours and hours manually picking through the piles last fall and vowed that he would buy me a carding machine the next time. This is a bit of an extravagance, but it is now on order and I think I will sing his praises for being so kind to me, by the time I  am done.

20170411_085125I have taken my beginning knitter lessons now, and have really been enjoying it. I am using up the last of my store of hand-spun yarn so that I can start fresh this fall. I took a break from this to knit a little outfit for my tiny granddaughter, Eleanor, who was born on Sunday. (Whoopee!) Is this cute, or what? I bought washable yarn since it will surely need laundering every hour it is worn. My mohair creations won’t be as forgiving so I don’t think I’ll make children’s clothes with it.

I have found that I really like knitting. I have trouble putting it down once I get started because I want to see what the next row will look like. We’re going on a short trip into Chicago today and I will take my latest project on the train with me to keep my hands busy. It’s nice to have a portable project.

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First Professional Shearing

So much new here, where do I start? Last week, we took Eddy and Ely to an alpaca farm to share the services of a professional shearer. They are now so skinny and small!

Here are somIMG_3312.Angora Goate pictures from that day.IMG_3324.Angora Goat

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20170316_125346We purchased a big bag of garlic at Costco last month. It was way too much but you can’t buy a little of anything at that place. So, I tucked the bag away in the pantry and have been pulling out one bulb at a time.

So, look at this charming spring garlic plant. I’ve never seen such a thing! It is kind of pretty but not very useful for cooking.

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The Pond Awakens

20170316_154408(Enough of sadness, lets get back to wonder.)

Our farm pond has been sleeping through the long winter. The fish and frogs have gone down deep to sleep through the cold season, and the only movement is from the dried cattails rustling quietly in the rippling surface.

Pairs of geese have begun to arrive every day or so, checking out the environs for a good place to settle in and raise their babies. We chase them off and watch their indignant honking retreat as they look for someplace they won’t  be disturbed.

Funny, but the first sign of life in the pond is algae and plant life under the surface of the water. I’d have thought that it was too cold, but perhaps the reappearance of the sun is just enough to encourage growth.  I found a virtual forest of seaweed blooming on the pond floor the other day. Closer to the shore, long strings of slimy algae are beginning to form and reach out in hairy tails that wave in the currents.

A few more warm days and we’ll be hearing that welcome drone of the frogs calling to each other. Then we’ll see tadpoles in wiggling clumps along the shore and telltale beds where the bluegills lay their eggs. I love the spring renewal.

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Farm Disaster Month

20170308_130132We’ve had more excitement than I’d like this month. The big March winds last week flipped the goat shed over onto its roof. Nobody was hurt, thankfully, but we had to do some crazy maneuvering with the jeep to pull it back over. A few minutes later it flipped right over again. This motivated us  to move it further behind the barn and stake it down on two corners so hopefully we’ve eliminated that problem for the future.


Old Silver

I’ve been sadly watching one of the old hens gradually decline. I’m assuming this was just a natural function of old age because nobody else was affected. Silver was moving slower all the time and finally spent her days sitting alone in quiet corners with her head tucked between her shoulders. My heart ached for her but I did not want to figure out how to hasten the process so I just checked on her every day, expecting one day to find her still and expired.

Here is where the sadder part of the story comes in. Yesterday I let the dogs out for an hour of fresh air after being cooped up all morning while we were away at church. I thought I heard a faint beeping behind the music I was listening to. I finally roused myself to check on it and I  discovered that Fionn had exceeded the perimeter of his wireless fence and was a good hundred feet beyond it, somewhere.

I bundled up and hurried outside to find him and went first to the goats to make sure he wasn’t bothering them. I opened the door to peek into the chicken coop and there he was, cornered and guilty, standing over a bloody chicken! I chased him home and locked him up in his crate after screaming at him furiously.

I returned to the chickens and found Silver dead and Goldy mortally injured. The rest of the chickens were huddled in fear out in the goat shed. There were feathers everywhere. I put Goldy out of her misery and buried them both out in the field.

This is really hard for me. As horrified as I was, I can’t really blame Fionn for following his instincts when he discovered he could somehow reach those chickens. I was sure that if I kept the batteries fresh in the radio collars I wouldn’t have to worry about the dogs getting out to the barn. I don’t know what went wrong, and we aren’t sure how he got past the electric fence as well. If the dog could do it, so could coyotes or foxes.

My idyllic farm life has suddenly been disrupted by the realities of danger and risk, and it is really upsetting.







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The Time Between

20170303_134221This is that dull time between seasons, when the winter has become boring and routine and the spring’s repeated teasing and retreating is already getting old. My animals are feeling the same way, I think. The goats are impatient for whatever new excitement spring holds. Most of the time they curl their front legs under them and sleep in the yard. When I go to visit with a handful of peanuts, they show off for me, playing king of the mountain on their spools.

The chickens fan out into the field every morning looking for fresh new morsels but by late afternoon the old girls are already huddled on the roost in the coop ready to call it a day.  20170303_133949I have found that these old hens have adopted the goat shed as their daytime roost, where they can bask in the sun when it actually shines, coming through the hole the goats chewed in the tarp that was supposed to block the wind and rain. The young whipper-snappers wander freely around the barnyard but the old ones no longer share their curiosity.

I am occupying my own time trying to learn some new tricks. I took knitting lessons to find ways to use my thousand yards of mohair yarn from the goats. I’ve already made two hats and am now working on a scarf pattern I found in a spinning manual. My fingers are sore from pressing against the needle tips for hours.

What I have found is that my natural tendency to want to finish things is working against me. I find it really hard to put the knitting down until it is done and it has kept me up late at night or through long afternoons listening to the TV. Killing time usually makes me feel guilty but this time waster is creating actual tangible products so I have mixed feelings.

A fun development here in my part of the world is that there is a new yarn shop in town that is building up clientele by offering classes and an open knitting night for people to gather in the back of the store and chat while they work their magic. I went for the first time last week and really enjoyed the company of six or seven friendly women. I was flattered that the owner posted a photo of my first creation on her facebook page. I still don’t “do” facebook, but I discovered you can still see commercial pages without an id.

20170302_101235So, last, here is a parting shot of my dog, Fionny, watching longingly out the window for something to bark at.

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