Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

There You Are.

Posted on | November 6, 2017 | 2 Comments

I was writing about my summer vacation and I had to download some more photos.  It took a couple days because in order to “download some more photos” I had to track down Pretty (whose schedule is fuller than a rock star), get the pics off her camera and onto to a little card, shove the little card into the laptop a hundred different ways until the computer finally recognized that the card was there, then hunt through the computer files to find where it placed the photos off the little card (Pictures?  Downloads?  Imported?  The Third Dimension?).  When I finally sat down to write some posts about the rest of the vacation photos, I had nothing to say.

She was gone.

I have no idea where other people get their inspiration. Personally, I have a writer inside my head that notices everything.  She makes snarky comments about people’s behavior at the grocery store or oohs and aahhs over puppies at the park or snorts with laughter when overhearing the conversation of the preteens in the backseat of the car.  She almost always has something to say about everything.  And all I generally do is ponder over her comments, edit them for suitability of public viewing (It’s a lot of editing.  A lot.), and put them down on paper.  Even when I am writing a story and not a blog post, it’s usually just a matter of fleshing out an idea or series of thoughts that she tossed out into my mind.  Leaving me to connect the pieces or fill in the blanks.

But she was completely silent.   Nothing.

While I believe in committing some time and an entire pot of coffee to a craft, I don’t believe in trying to force creativity.  Any other time that I’ve had nothing to write, I just went about my business until there was something there.  As a matter of fact, I don’t think I can write without hikes in the woods and afternoons cleaning the chicken coop and street festivals and garden chores and mandatory school meetings and all the detritus of life that catches her attention.  Plots and commentaries pretty much build themselves around the activities of my daily life.

But this time, no matter what was going on, she had nothing to say.  It’s not that I was depressed or bored or overwhelmed by crisis or staring blankly off into space in front of the computer.  My Writer was just on hiatus.  Which wasn’t really that traumatic.  Mostly because I have a million voices in my head.  I am basically Legion.  In a good way.  Probably.  Maybe.  Eh.

There’s the Gardener who is noticing the perennials that need to be divided and the butterfly bush that reseeded itself at the top of the driveway and should be transplanted.  The Farmer who berates me for not starting a fall garden, sends me out to brush the clumps out of the Great Pyrs’ fur, and is desperately trying to find out where the Welsummer is hiding her eggs.  The Housecleaner avoiding the moldy windows in the upstairs bedroom.  The Landscaper avoiding the leaves piling up in the yard and hoping the gutter guards that I traded a goat for last year actually do the job.  (After all, the goat did his job and there are goat kids to show for it.)  The Scheduler managing sports games and concerts and orthodontist appointments and and college financial aid deadlines and family trips and, holy crap, are the holidays coming?  The Parent tracking grades and filling out field trip forms and making healthy lunches and dropping off and picking up and dropping off and picking up and dropping off and picking up and dropping off and picking up and dropping off and picking up and you get the idea.  The Employee showing up bright and early and getting the job done and still managing to drive administration batsh*t crazy while she’s there.  The Friend at book club and on the morning hike and on a 2 hour phone call and meeting for brunch.  The Health Nut at the gym forcing herself to spend 15 more minutes in the magical belief that those 15 minutes will erase that cinnamon bun for breakfast.

All of those people gabbing away in my head.  Every.  Day.

I was recently visiting a friend in the mountains and I went on a hike while she was at a work meeting.  She called me while I was in the woods to let me know she’d have some downtime for lunch if I wanted to meet up. I told her I was only 1/2 way through my 7 mile hike and it was too late to turn back now.  She said that was great and she just wanted to make sure I wasn’t lonely.  Lonely. We laughed and laughed and laughed at that.  Never mind I spent the first 3 miles calling my husband to schedule after school pick up and drop offs, texting the plumber about fixing a toilet at the rental, talking to my parents about covering the kids for the rest of the weekend activities, and checking with the counselor at the community college about spring semester classes.  Lonely?  There are way too many things to do and too many people jostling for attention in my head for me to be lonely.  I’m pretty sure that when I am at meditation retreats or mindfulness sessions the other participants can hear the people in my head humming quietly to themselves or drumming their fingers impatiently or rocking themselves frantically in a corner while I’m “returning back to the breath.”

It was at the urging of the Gardener that I headed to the garden to save the seed heads from the zinnias and cleome for next year.  While I wandered the rows I noticed the garden had entered what I consider its “FarmPunk” stage.  At the end of fall the landscape of the garden always reminds me of the odd combination of form and function in steampunk art and design.  The metal and iron supports are visible beneath a dead and decaying world while new life still bursts forth, building atop all that has been lost.  It’s anachronistic and futuristic all at the same time.  What was and what is still becoming.  Life is racing ahead as if unaware or uncaring of the inevitable end brought by the approaching frost.

And it was while I was there, admiring the bird nest revealed among the roses and the chainlink,….

….when she arrived.   No excuses.  No explanations.  Just suddenly there, noticing the abandoned green beans among the flourishing marigolds.

Perhaps awakened by the gourds hanging off their desiccated vines, awaiting transformation into something new and useful.

Considering the baby cukes, newly grown from the cucumbers left abandoned at the end of spring, clambering over the remnants of the cherry tomatoes.

Not that all the tomatoes had given up yet….

Maybe she was intrigued by the prickly coneflower heads surrounded by rosehips.  A postcard of fall.

Or the prickly pear spreading into the gaura, nothing left of its airy blossoms but a pink tinge.

She took in the morning glory hoisting itself up any exposed inch of trellis or rebar.

Although it was the nasturtium that seemed to thrive the most in this forgotten world.  The nasturtium covering the evidence of summer’s bounty with its own peppery vigor.

I stuck the seedheads of zinnia and cleome in my pockets and pulled up a handful of nasturtium as I headed back up the driveway.  I grow nasturtium on the deck for Harvey the Angora bunny.  But that nasturtium had faded away with the last of summer’s heat.  I didn’t know why it was doing so well in the garden but I knew Harvey would enjoy the fresh, green treat.

And it was while I was there, watching him nibble away that I felt the Writer pick up her pencil.  Such a simple gift—a handful of greens from the garden.  Such a simple joy—listening to him crunch in contentment.

Now that’s adorable, she said.  That’s something to write about.

I closed the door and left him to his nasturtium.  I figured I had some writing to do.

Before I made it inside, the Farmer piped up,

“I smell bunny pee.  And there’s a lot of droppings under that cage.  Gonna clean that any time soon?”

Like I said.  I am Legion.

But I’m back.

Old West.

Posted on | August 11, 2017 | 7 Comments

There are a lot of national parks out west.  But the boys can only see so much majestic scenery before they become underwhelmed by it and ask to stay in the car.  And Pretty is a big city freak, wanting busy sidewalks and traffic and coffee shops.  And The Other Half wanted to visit small towns where people wear cowboy hats and drive old trucks.   Basically, I had to cover everything that everybody wanted on this trip.  Including me.

So we rolled up on our stay for the night, the historic San Jose House, in Tombstone, Arizona with a couple frozen Tombstone pizzas in the back of the car.  Because what I wanted was to eat a Tombstone in Tombstone.  Except the San Jose house, Tombstone’s first boarding house built in 1879, did not have an oven in it.  Or even a stove top.  Or microwave.  Historic housing is not my favorite housing.

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Left Behind.

Posted on | July 28, 2017 | No Comments

There is something fascinating about places that stand the test of time.  Remnants of earth’s ancient past, testaments to humankind’s presence.  From the silly to the sacred, the Southwest is filled with these places.

We were up bright and early to get back to Carlsbad Caverns and tour the cave.  We passed a herd of Barbary sheep that were already looking for shade.  These sheep are not actually sheep (or goats) and they are not native, only appearing in the late 1940’s and 1950’s.  Most researchers believe they were originally escapees from the McKnight private game ranch in New Mexico that imported the breed from their native North Africa.  And such began the parks’ struggle to restore the decimated native Bighorn sheep (actually sheep) population and remove the Barbary sheep.  The Barbary sheep are winning.  Talk about humans leaving their mark.

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Southsides.

Posted on | July 24, 2017 | No Comments

I noticed it first in Atlanta.  I mean there was hint of it, but I blamed it on the city.  The crowds, the exhaust, the towering skyscrapers.

However, when we were standing in Biloxi, facing the Gulf of Mexico, there was no denying it.

I stood there with my sweat-soaked shirt already stuck to my body at 9am and wondered,

“Where’s the ocean breeze?”

Because there wasn’t one.  Not even enough breeze to stir a single hair on your head.

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Compromise.

Posted on | July 13, 2017 | 2 Comments

A lot of compromises went into this family vacation.  I’ve already mentioned that we were trying Airbnb in the hopes of having more space for the kids than in the average hotel room.  It was costing me some extra money, but it was costing Pretty a whole lot of aggravation.  Since I don’t have a smartphone (and she does) we were using hers to manage the Airbnb app—-messaging hosts for check in information and questions about fridges, pools, washer/dryer, etc.  For the record, I also made her use her Smartphone to search for and play podcasts for me while I was driving.  That’s what Pretty gets for being responsible enough to earn her own money and pay for her own Smartphone and service.  It’s a good lesson to learn:  The more responsible you are, the more responsibilities other people will dump on you.  (Hey, just trying to prepare her for marriage and motherhood.)  But Airbnb wasn’t the only compromise.

I also folded on the no-electronics-in-the-car rule.  I used to insist on audiobooks for the kids during car rides.  Then we tried family discussions using the Book of Questions.  That was….interesting.  But this year I gave in and borrowed a hot spot from the library and let the kids connect their devices to their hearts’ content.  The question “Are we there yet?” was quickly replaced by “Did we lose the wi-fi?”  Because there are places in the wild, wild west where there is no service, but there were actually hours and hours of silence when the kids were completely absorbed in whatever it is that they do online.  And it was lovely.  So now I promise to be a little less judgy about the people handing their toddler a Smartphone in a restaurant.  Although I am really more jealous than judgy.  Because we had to carry coloring books and crayons and help our toddlers with color-by-number or play hangman or tic-tac-toe (and let them win) while waiting for our food.  Why do modern parents get to enjoy adult conversation over dinner with just a little bit of beeping in the background?  So.  Unfair.

There was another compromise, too.

You see, I am a morning person.  Not by choice, of course.  Before I had kids and a farm and a job in EMS I liked to sleep in as much as the next person.  I was normal.  It’s just that I had to get up to feed babies at 4am and sometimes they didn’t want to go back to bed.  I had to get kids up for school at 5:30am and after they got on the bus at 6:10am their siblings were already waking up for the day.  I had roosters crowing at the crack of dawn and goats waiting to be milked soon after.  I now have a job that requires me to be at work by 5:45am and a brain that requires enough time for at least one cup of coffee before I get there.

After more than 15 years of forced early mornings, my internal clock realized that “normal” was over for me.  Done.  Kaput.  And now it considers sleeping in to be getting up at 7:30am.  Which, I know, is weird for some people.  People like the rest of my family.  So when we are on vacation, I am up and about while everyone else is hoping I will go back to bed or drop dead, whichever makes me shut up and turn off the light faster.  Meanwhile I am wondering if we really drove 1,000+ miles across the country so everyone could lay in bed, waiting for it to get to 100 degrees outside (you know, perfect hiking temperatures) before they wake up.  Needless to say these differing philosophies caused some problems last year.

So I tried to give myself some morning activities in places that we visited.  Things I could do to kill time until the lazy sleepy people got up.  Last vacation I spent a lot of early mornings visiting laundromats to do laundry while everyone else slept.  This year I found some better morning choices.  And now that Pretty is older (and a morning coffee drinker) she did a lot of them with me.  In Atlanta we got up and headed to the Martin Luther King, Jr National Historic Site, which was just a couple miles from where we were staying downtown.

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First Stop.

Posted on | July 10, 2017 | No Comments

The trick to traveling across country with 6 people in a minivan is getting out of the van every 3-4 hours.  In an attempt to meet this goal, we stopped at some pretty random places.  We also stopped at some great places that we should have visited a long time ago.  Our very first stop on this trip was just over the line in South Carolina at Kings Mountain National Military Park.  The battle of Kings Mountain is famous as a turning point in the Revolutionary War—the British lost a lot of Loyalist (American colonists who supported the British crown) support and the southern Patriots (American colonists rebelling against British control) were greatly buoyed by the win.

The part of the battle that resonated loudly with the Southerners in my minvan was, of course, the tale of the Overmountain Men.  As British commanders General Lord Charles Cornwallis and Major Patrick Ferguson marched north and inward from a victory in Charleston, their Loyalist troops were beleaguered by small guerrilla warfare attacks from North Carolina militia groups under Colonel Isaac Shelby and Colonel Charles McDowell.  Frustrated by these attacks, Ferguson apparently threatened to “march this army over the mountains, hang your leaders, and lay waste your country with fire and sword.”  The land “over the mountains” was part of the Carolinas at the time, although it would become Tennessee after the Revolutionary War.  Regardless of the name, the area was populated with rugged folk who were surviving without the benefit of city comforts like colonists on the coast.  They had been alternately battling and negotiating with the Indian tribes over land while openly flouting the British Treaty of Lochaber which banned English settlement in parts of the region.

Now I realize that Ferguson didn’t have the benefit of watching Patrick Swayze in Next of Kin.  But I have to wonder if British military commanders ran around England kicking ant hills or knocking hornets’ nests out of trees with sticks.  Because threatening the land and lives of a bunch of backwoods country folk is begging for a swarm of angry rednecks to come storming out of the trees and over the hills with every ounce of fire power that they can carry.  Which is exactly what happened.  Ferguson’s threat gathered men from current day Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina, with an estimated 1400 men heading to battle.  Ferguson and his Loyalists ended up stranded on the the top of Kings Mountain, surrounded by Patriot forces—the patriots primarily being frontiersmen well-used to the territory and very experienced with long guns.  Ferguson died there on the hill, along with many of his men, and the loss at Kings Mountain led Cornwallis to abandon his plans to invade North Carolina. Read more

Welcome Home.

Posted on | July 3, 2017 | 1 Comment

We left friends and family in charge of the place while we were gone.  I roped a friend’s teenager into house-sitting and barn chores, assigned my dad the duty of watering the tomatoes, and tricked another friend into garden care.

The teenager did an exceptional job, especially considering that when I offered him the job I told him that there were automatic waterers in the barn.  Then Bruno the Great Pyr chewed up all the hoses so that when the teen actually arrived, he had to haul water by bucket every morning.  I mentioned it to the teen in a text as we were leaving town.  That seemed like the only reasonable way to handle that situation.

My dad was left with watering duty because he grew up on a farm.  So I knew he understood watering the tomatoes at the base of the plants to avoid splashing the leaves with dirt and spreading blight or fungus on the leaves.  Apparently he did an awesome job of carefully watering the tomato plants on the first week.  Which triggered an immediate deluge of rain that started as soon as he finished watering and lasted the rest of our time away.  Really.  One day we got over 5 inches of rain.  Since Mother Nature was handling the watering, he and my mom were then left with dead dog duty.  Because parenting never ends, people.  You just go from taking your kids to their extracurricular activities to having to bury their dead pets while they’re on vacation.  They don’t put that in What To Expect When You’re Expecting do they?

I also managed to talk a friend into covering the mowing and pest control in the garden.  Last year I lost most of my crops to squash bugs while we were on vacation.  Anything left behind was finished off by an infestation of Japanese beetles that erupted because the grass was so high and brushy.  My friend lives in a townhome and remarks regularly about how she enjoys not having the maintenance of a yard anymore.  So I figured she was the perfect person to recruit for the job.  I assured her that all she had to do was mow once a week.  Plus pick all the vining plants off the ground and wrap them around their trellises before mowing.  And prune the tomato branches to keep them out of the paths before mowing.  And tie the pepper plants to their cages in order to mow around them, too.  You know, just mowing.  Since all she had to do was mow I also asked her to spray some organic pyrethrin on the zucchini plants while she was there.  And on the squash, of course.  Probably the gourds, too.  Maybe the eggplants and green beans for flea beetles.  On the potatoes for potato beetles.  You know, just here and there…and there…and oh yeah, there, too. Read more

Train hopping.

Posted on | July 2, 2017 | 1 Comment

Train hopping is a dangerous thing.  Getting the speed and the grip just right is tricky.  You don’t always get to choose who you’re traveling with and even the familiar faces can do odd things as the walls close in and the miles pass.  You have no idea where you’re going.  Not really.  Just a guess and a hope that you end up where you need to be.

But that’s what I’ve been doing.

Oh, at first I was was in my home territory–on and off at work, the grocery store, soccer games, the library, gardening, the dump,…you know the deal.  Except I had my eyes on the curve.  Trying to see what was ahead and trying to gather everything I needed.  I was mapping the route.  Filling my boxcar with first aid supplies and water bottles and my Stress Relief aromatherapy diffuser.  Trying to judge the distance of the jump.

Then I made the switch, with my family attached, and with all my bags, which is not recommended when hopping trains.  But if you’re not a 20-something hippie without any cares or responsibilities, then you tend to travel heavy.  And do not discard that diffuser to save weight.  Do Not.  Trust me on this.

It was a hell of a train ride.  3 weeks into the unknown.  On and off in strange places.  Meeting fellow travelers.  Seeing wonderful and bizarre things.

Not for the faint of heart, people.  Not for the faint of heart.  I hear there are deadly gangs riding the rails.  I don’t think they have anything on the risks of trying to force 4 kids out of bed in the morning before the free breakfast at the hotel ends.  Never mind making the 2 teeny-tiny bath towels in the bathroom last through showers for 6 people.  Ask yourself:  What would you do to your fellow travelers to get the last remaining dry towel?  (You can’t ask the front desk for more towels because you are only paying the rate for 2 guests.)  Never mind.  Don’t answer that. Read more

Do you hear what I hear?

Posted on | March 3, 2017 | 2 Comments

It was time to burn the gourd vines and the honeysuckle off the 8′ tall chain link fence surrounding the garden.  Since that side of the garden faces the neighboring property I let the wildness grow and flourish from spring through summer and even late into winter.  But it has to come down eventually or it starts to pull at the fencing.  So I pulled down the last of the gourds hiding in the brush, careful to leave their stems and a bit of vine intact.  Then I moved them to the other side of the garden and hung them on the fence facing the driveway.  Leaving them there to stay dry and and out of the soil until I was ready to scrub them and use them for crafts.  I was surprised at how many I found lurking in the overgrowth.  And I was also pleasantly surprised at how appealing they looked on the fence.  Kind of natural and funky and arty, silhouetted against the winter trees and blue skies.

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A Little Life.

Posted on | February 22, 2017 | 2 Comments

Last night a patient asked me where I lived and when I answered, she looked at me quizzically.  She repeated the name of my town to her husband and he also looked at me blankly.  I live about 17 miles from them.  In the same county.  Granted they live in the larger, neighboring town—a town with a population of about 60,000 people including the many university students living in a dorm or off-campus apartment.  But, really, 17 miles isn’t that far away.  I had to chuckle to myself.  Because it wasn’t the first time I’ve gotten that blank stare.

I usually volunteer at my friend’s fiber farm each spring during the county’s annual farm tour.  People get out of their cars with backpacks and water bottles, stretch their arms and legs, and ooh and aah at the fields and farm animals.

“It’s so beautiful out here!”  they say.

“I just can’t believe this scenery!”  they say.

“Look at the sheep!”  they say.  (While pointing at the Angora goats.)

Then they sign in at the farm table and I see that they live in the city just outside of the neighboring town.  The city with about 245,000 people.  And about 20 miles away.

It makes me laugh.

I wouldn’t even dream of mentioning the name of my town when I am in the state capital (a whopping 40 miles away) and expect any recognition.

Oh, I realize I live in small town.  I live a little life.

And today was such a great day in my little life in my small town—I got home late from work so The Other Half had to pack the kids’ lunches.

Image result for nelson muntz ha ha

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