Thursday, July 29, 2021

Starlight Lane Farm: Doubled

I expect this will be the last blog update for some time, and I'm going to make it count! 

Starlight Lane Farm has doubled in size. 

This spring, Dave and I made a last-minute decision to purchase an additional three lots. Real estate in our area has been absolutely INSANE since the pandemic. This area has never seen a boom quite like this. It's alarming and exciting and I will be interested to see how things pan out in the coming years. We certainly do not have the infrastructure to support a population boom, but I'm crossing my fingers that we'll get better internet at a minimum because these city people hate the lack of connection and love to raise hell about it... I digress. 

At any rate, the decision to purchase these lots changed a lot of things for the horses and myself. The biggest of which is that they no longer need to be dry lotted the majority of the time with carefully scheduled pasture rotations. Now, they get to return to a lifestyle of 24/7 turnout. They've got around 6½ acres of pasture to enjoy whenever they want now, and I have a one acre pasture now dedicated as riding space. 

Prepping the land and getting the fence built in for the new property went smoother than the first go around due to my simply knowing more, but the process was every bit as delayed and hiccupy as it was in 2019. Big plus of this go-round is that I did learn to independently operate quite a bit of equipment! Three different tractors, a mower, a brush hog, and a hydraulic post driver. I could have learned a skid steer + auger but opted out of that one because I'd had enough by that point!

Due to our closing date getting pushed 4-5 weeks later than we originally planned, my car accident, and Dave's ER visit, the majority of fence building ended up happening the weekend of July 4 and the following week. 

I could wax and wane poetically about the whole thing, but I think I'll opt to use photos to tell the story - per my usual.

Brush hogging the new acreage.
This was the most stress relieving day. The tractor was waiting on me when I got back from the hospital with Dave. I pretty much came home, changed clothes, and went straight out to hog. It was everything I needed and more after such a stressful 3 days.
It was an incredibly hot day. I had all the sun protection on, plus my cooling towel that helped me survive the OD 100. 
After a few hours, Dave came out with a pitcher of ice water for me and told me he'd take a turn while I cooled off and hydrated.
He helped me get the single shrub out of the pasture. Bye bye autumn olive!
After removing the autumn olive, I got back on the tractor for another hour. Dave came out to relieve me once more and finished the job while I took a quick shower and then sat on the porch sipping a beverage watching while he finished. It was SO RELAXING. And so well deserved after the number of days that preceded it. 
The ponies even came over to keep me company while I sipped on my drink and watched Dave finish prepping the new pasture. Pretty much everything you see in the distance is their new pasture. The house (barely visible in top left) is along one property line and the pasture otherwise follows the tree line. 
Ta da! All mowed and prepped and ready for line posts to be installed. (You can see the corner posts and braces already installed if you look closely.)
Tractor sitting and beer sipping after a long day. I can't wait to have my own tractor one day. 

Originally, the plan was to drive the posts with a hydraulic post driver on the back of a tractor. 
Kate came over and we tried our best to get after it. But the driver was sticking and so persnickety. We couldn't get it to drive a post more than about 8 inches. I know without a doubt there were no rocks bigger than a baseball so it wasn't an issue with the ground. (The topsoil up here is disgustingly beautiful. Hot damn.)
Well. Then Kate and I noticed this. Uh. Yeah. There's the problem! And there's no way what we did (the very little we did) caused this. SIGH. And so the decision was made that I would hand dig holes. Not ideal, but possible. There were only 24 line posts to install, so it wasn't too terrifying a prospect. 

I ended up digging six by myself this evening and then my back and body demanded a break. Austen, Mark, and Jenny were due to arrive the next day for the weekend and it was decided that we'd tackle it as a team. If I could dig six 22" deep holes on my own in 2 hours, we could probably make great progress as a small team. 
 The first step to digging posts is to enjoy a proper dog pile. My brother demonstrates.
The second step is to have your brother help your farmer friend butcher some animals and then coax him into bringing his auger and skid steer back up to my mountain top to auger line posts and expedite the day's process. (But not with that auger. That's for trees. We'd use a smaller one.)
Will ready to check the hole depth on the first hole of the day.
And so, with our small army of dogs and people, we set out to get the posts in the ground. We even took my 6 back out (ugh, that was a little painful to watch my hard work be exchanged for machinery lol) and redid them with the auger. 

I walked the perimeter of the pasture with the skid steer following, marked where I wanted the holes to be for each post, and then moved on. The team of dogs and people came behind and plumbed each post, refilled the hole, and tamped it. 
So many humans for this job. It was a riot. We had fillers and tampers and plumb-keepers and beer holders. 
Dave offering white claw as Austen keeps the post plumb while others tamp.
In all, there ended up being 13 people and 10 dogs on site. We had a crew of 7 doing the posts and a crew of 6 spectating and heckling. It truly takes a village sometimes!
I am so beyond grateful for this community. 
Looking out to the far corner of the pasture. 
Where we all ended up standing around after tamping the final post! Also worth noting how bundled up most folks are. On the 4th of July weekend it was quite chilly here. We had nights in the 40s and days in the upper 60s, low 70s. It was everything a Canaan Valley summer day should be and I loved it.
Once the weekend was over and guests had returned home, I spent several very early mornings (pre-sunrise and a little bit after sunrise) and evenings around sunset/dusk running lines for the fence. (This is sunrise.)
Fortunately, one fenceline (of three) is pre-existing and just needed a line of hot wire run across the top to discourage the horses (and my neighbors) from doing silly things. 
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It was a beautiful way to start and end my days. (This is sunset.)

Once I opened the pasture up (of which I did take video but my horses are very unexciting about things like this and merely walked in, cantered four or five strides, then dropped their heads and got to grazing), I closed off the pasture closest to the house to become a permanent riding area. It's hard to see in this image, but I measured out a small dressage court and marked it. 
I eventually plan to setup my jump standards out here, but first opted to set trot and canter poles. Best to build back slowly to our jumping habits!
I also left a sizeable bridle path around the pasture for riding. I'm really pleased with this decision.

Additionally, you can see along this line how crappy the vegetation is. It was really thick golden rod through here and will take some time and seeding to bring it back as grass. With a little patience and work though, it'll be looking great in no time!
Another rising sun over the new pasture as seen from my upstairs loft window. Where the previous fenceline appears to be is now absent of wire so the horses can pass through as they choose. The posts remain so that I can opt to temp fence/tape it off if need in future and because they'd be more work than I care to exert to remove.
A mowed dressage court ripe and ready for riding!
And one more shot of the mowed dressage court at sunset last week. 

When I purchased my two lots and built the barn in 2019, having this additional acreage wasn't on my radar. In fact, I never foresaw it even being an option. I'm honestly still a bit shocked by how everything has worked out. This mountain top is my personal paradise. The horses are so happy, I'm so happy, and my hermit of a husband is so happy to be able to keep people and homes from blocking the views he loves so much. It seems like quite the fortunate stroke of serendipity to be where we are. My gratitude for this farm knows no bounds - and likely never will. I send my thanks to the Universe multiple times a day for this piece of paradise.

As I mentioned at the start of my June Highlights reel, I'm going to (likely) be taking a break from this blog. Temporarily, permanently, I don't know. Once again, if you'd like to follow along a little more real-time with my adventures, please follow me on Instagram @estout18

Monday, July 26, 2021

June Highlights Reel (the abbreviated version)

Despite my hopes and best efforts, keeping the blog up to date with current happenings has proven very difficult this summer. I have omitted several sections from this post because they just seem silly in light of so much that has been going on; additionally, I simply don't have the time, bandwidth, or interest to sort through my copious photos to choose ones to include for this month. 

I have one more huge update about the farm to share in a future post, but beyond that, I will likely be absent from this space in the future. I am not committing to "ending" the blog at this point, but with so much going on of late (and my dedication to not over-commit myself anymore, thus allowing myself space and time to relax), I do not anticipate that I will update much in the future. If you enjoy my adventures and scenery, I encourage you to follow along with my Instagram @estout18 for more "regular" updates. Cheers, y'all.

A Total Loss

As alluded to in my introductory text for my [very] late May highlights reel, life at the end of May was a bit turbulent for me. It took 32 years, but I finally hit a deer with a vehicle. And not only did I hit a deer, but I destroyed said deer. It jumped off a bank into the road directly in front of my car in a section of road we don't often see them (there are much more popular crossing points on either side of where the accident occurred). I had no time to react at all. I was going 50-55 mph. The road is posted at 55. One second I was driving, and in the next I slammed into the deer's broadside. With an explosion of simultaneous sound, I struck the doe and all of my airbags deployed. I immediately pulled over to the side of the road and flung myself out of the vehicle to stumble to the side of the road where I sat in a tripod position trying to come to grips with the sudden onset of events. Ultimately, I would drive my vehicle home (3 miles away) and go into shock for 90 minutes. It was a bad night. 

Fortunately for me, Subaru makes a very safe vehicle. Unfortunately for me, in making vehicles safe, they also make them more expendable. Hitting the deer totaled my sweet little car. 


I'd just like to pause and take this moment to ask each of you: Did you know there were shin-height air bags? Because I sure didn't. And 95% of the folks who I've talked to since my accident did not know this either. It makes sense and I totally support having them, but I'm just impressed with how few people seem aware that they exist - myself included!

Were it not for the shin bags, I would have been completely unscathed from the incident. The steering wheel airbag didn't even touch me. My touching it only occurred as I batted it away from me so I could see the road and pull over. I didn't even register the shin airbag until I'd gotten home. And I didn't register that the airbag had caused trauma to my lower legs until later that evening. And even then, I was only aware of the significant swelling to my right leg. In fact, the swelling was so significant that I wondered if I had broken the leg and was only moving okay on it due to shock and adrenaline. In all my years as a first responder (over a decade) I've never seen a shin swell like mine did that evening without their also being a fracture. 


After all was said and done, I was grateful to be okay without a need to go to the hospital. I loathe car shopping, but am fortunate to have close friends who enjoy it. So while I still hated the process, it wasn't as bad as it could have been and by the third weekend of June I brought another new-to-me Subaru home. Same model, three years younger than my last. 

I am so happy to put this in the rearview mirror and move forward. It was exceptionally stressful for me, and while I'm grateful to have grown from the experience, I'm ready to enjoy some [hopefully] easier days for awhile.

Further Tack Room Upgrades

Fed up with the spacing of my saddles (which I chose based on the availability/distance of studs), I decided I needed to come up with a new solution. No matter how burly my dry wall anchors were, they failed. Patching my wall is something I'm capable of, but not a chore I enjoy doing so often. Meh.
So all of the saddles came off the wall and were stacked on the couch while I came up with a solution.

Yes, that is a plush unicorn head in the window. Yes, I have plans for it. One day...
Austen recommended doing some sort of wood wall where the saddles were. This way the boards could be drilled into the studs and then the saddle racks could go anywhere on the boards and have support! I loved it and knew I had lots of scrap wood to make the project happen for pennies on the dollar. In fact, Dave even found some more 100+ year old spruce boards for me to use (the darkest boards) and some really old cedar from a project he did years back.
The mismatched scrap wood pairs beautifully with the rest of the barn. 
One day I'll get black pipe insulators in place of the blue pool noodles, but for now, this setup works beautifully! I love being able to have my racks spaced more comfortably for the saddles. 
It's a small change with big benefits. 
Overall I'm really happy with this space and how it has fallen together. I'd like to add a few more minor storage/organization things, but beyond that - I think we're close to "complete" finally.
I also adopted a mini fridge from a friend who was getting rid of it. I LOVE having it for my meds and for water and alcohol. Barn beers are an important part of barn chores, after all!

Lyme and Meningitis 

(If you like odd medical stories, this is for you - keep reading! If not, skip this section.) 

During the final 10 days of June, Dave came down with a sickness. Its initial onset presented as strong body aches that would evolve into a fever hours later. The fever and body aches continued for three straight days where Dave could hardly leave the couch. No other symptoms except he occasionally complained of his head hurting. The fever went from over 101°F to somewhere in the low 99°F range by Friday evening and he was able to rally and spend some time with friends. He was now complaining of a headache/migraine, but was otherwise "okay".  Until 4am Sunday when he woke me up in the worst pain of his life. 

We immediately headed north to Oakland, Maryland where we went into the ER. They found several incidental findings not related to his pain on an abdominal CT scan, nothing to report from two head/neck CT scans, and elevated liver enzymes in his bloodwork. They delivered toradol, morphine, and Ativan to his system while we were there, but nothing resolved his pain in the slightest. We were discharged with two scripts to fill for musculoskeletal pain "causing the headaches" and headed home. 

Once home, we each napped for about 3 hours (we were each operating on less than 3 hours of sleep to this point). Upon waking, I checked on Dave and he was no better. Worse even. His body was on fire. He was barely lucid. I'd been texting with 6 medical professional friends since 5:30am and was aware that this was No Good. Meningitis was looking very likely. So I packed bags for us very quickly and we headed to the nearest higher care facility in Morgantown, two hours north. 

My medical knowledge and savvy coupled with my vast network of medical professional friends and family helped us to get through the intake process at the Emergency Department quite quickly. Knowing buzz words to trigger triage of stuff like this is very beneficial. From the time we arrived until we were in a private room in the ED was less than 30 minutes. Through this entire process, Dave could barely talk. He was in so much pain that I became the mouthpiece with the medical team. They ran another gamut of tests and a suite of bloodwork and found that his C-Reactive Protein test was very elevated (in the 200s). From here, the team started taking things much more seriously. They administered a gamut of pain drugs once more, but nothing helped. At 8:30pm, Dave consented to a lumbar puncture and I left the hospital to spend the night with a friend. 

By the next morning, Dave was feeling much better - to the great relief of myself, friends, and family. They'd ruled out bacterial meningitis and were confident with a diagnosis of some kind of viral meningitis that wasn't caused by a herpes virus. Lyme was still on the table. As to the drugs responsible for helping him, we still didn't know. They administered 14 the night before in an attempt to get him comfortable.

I spent all of Monday at the hospital with Dave hanging out waiting on updates as the medical team received test results. Dave felt great all day and the team felt it was very safe to discharge him that evening (though they were also happy to keep him if he felt he wanted to stay). Right before discharge, some additional bloodwork was returned that noted the presence of IgG and IgM antibodies for Lyme in his blood indicating an active Lyme infection. While the team didn't draw an immediate conclusion that evening (still awaiting further test results), it is entirely possibly that his meningitis was catalyzed by Lyme. And so, they scripted him doxycycline with his discharge. 

As of this writing, we are home and Dave is holding stable, but is still a little uncomfortable. We're hanging low and hoping for steady improvement in coming days. 

Update: I wrote the above immediately following the incident. Since that time, Dave's western blot test results have been returned and were negative. Thus, doctors told him he did not have Lyme and did not need to take doxy. He spent about 2½ weeks building back up to his normal routine and - other than putting his back out this past weekend - has been great and has returned to life as usual. What a scare though! We're really grateful to have it in the rearview mirror.