Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

When A Friday Stroll Becomes A Monday Workout.

Posted on | May 22, 2015 | 1 Comment

The garden needed to be mowed and weeded.  The tomatoes needed to be pruned and staked.  The peas needed to be harvested.  But after heavy thunderstorms yesterday, everything needed to dry out.  So I leashed up the dogs to enjoy a stroll with morning temperatures in the 60’s.

“Isn’t a beautiful day?”  I asked the dogs as we cruised, windows down, to the mountain trail.

“So nice and cool!”  I exclaimed to them as we meandered through the deserted first loop of the trail, rolling Piedmont forest and gentle slopes.

We passed a lone fisherman at the pond.  He smiled and touched his cap.

“Sure is a shame everyone else’s gotta work, huh?”  he smirked.

“I know, right,” I grinned.

The dogs and I rounded the corner and headed up the backside of the mountain.  That’s when it happened.

Right on the steep part of the trail.

Imagine chopped off railroad ties set straight into the mountainside for stairs.

Narrow, rocky, switchbacks running through mountain laurel in attempt to break up the gradient.

Right there at the beginning of the real work, the main exertion, the part that becomes “exercise”, we stumbled into the back of a group of students and their teachers on a hike.

Oh no.  Don’t do it, I thought as the last teacher in line turned around at the sound of approaching footsteps.

Please don’t do it. He smiled and began to speak.

“Oh!  Good morning,” he said and began to turn back around.

Whew! I started to pass at a casual pace.

That was a close one, I thought as we moved in front of him on the trail.

And that’s when he did it.

“Kids!” he called out.  “Someone comin’ through.  Let them pass!”

Obediently, the straggling line of children stopped and looked back.  From the base of the mountain I saw them stretched out before me, up the stairs, and vanishing into the trees.  As one, they stepped off the path.  And waited.

Son of a …..

But there was nothing else to do.  An entire classroom of kids was waiting patiently for me to begin my ascent.  To pass them so they could continue their hike.  As I took a few hesitant steps, I searched my brain desperately for a plausible reason to turn around.  Zilch.  I put my foot on the first railroad tie and heaved myself up, hoping for a little extra forward tug, a helpful bit of momentum, from the dogs at the end of their leashes.  Nope.  I tried to move toward the edge of the trail, finding the slope in the leaf debris is a littler easier to navigate then the jolting upright of the stairs.  But that’s where the kids were standing, off to the side.  Watching.  Waiting.

There was nothing to do but start hustling my old fat self up the stairs, in full view of a mountainside of vigorous energetic youth.

Oh, for Pete’s sake, I thought as I passed the first group, feeling my thigh muscles wake up in alarm.

I’ve already walked the first part of this trail, I wanted to point out as the second group watched me pass with their young, healthy, skinny, and pitying eyes.

Oh bless you! I thought when a girl in the third group asked if she could pet the dogs.  I stopped and nodded gratefully.  Because talking would have involved an embarrassing amount of panting.  I loved that little girl.  So brave to want to pet a pair of 100 pound German shepherds, teeth glinting in their open smiles.  So polite to ask before reaching out to touch them.  So sweet to scratch gently behind their ears.

We had rested for only a few blissful seconds, maybe 8, certainly no more than 10, although it was hard to count over the sound of my heartbeat whooshing in my ears, when one of the boys patted Luna on the head definitively.

“Nice meeting you, dog.  Have a good walk.”  The boy stepped back and, taking his cue, the other kids did, too.  Giving us room to resume our uphill trek.

I hated that little boy.  Ugh, boys.  Why are boys like that?  Why??!!!

We moved on and the group of children thinned as we finished the stairs and started on the switchbacks.

Thank goodness, I thought.  Just a few more to pass.

But the first children in the line had gotten bored while awaiting our approach.  They had expanded along the path, kicking rocks and pulling on low-hanging branches.  Some of them even inched slowly forward along the trail, like a perpetual vanishing point.

Image result for emoji, sweatyStop! my brain cried.   On behalf of all that you value, every Xbox and PlayStation, for snapchat and Spotify, and all the emojii in the world, children, stop so I can freaking pass already!!!

And then, finally, we were clear.  Just a few 100 feet from the mountain overlook and we overtook the last child.  The dogs turned toward the bench where we usually sit and pause to enjoy the view.

“No way,”  I urged them.  “Keep moving.”  I could hear the kids resuming their walk behind us.

All I could think of was that when the trail emerged from the overlook, it was all downhill.  The only thing keeping us on point now was the fact that the kids were laughing and cutting up as they advanced, stopping to investigate bugs on the ground and buds on the trees. There was no way we could stay ahead of vigorous energetic youth on the downhill side if they caught up to us.  I’d have to jog to keep in front of them. Or run?  I couldn’t really remember what running felt like.  But my vague recollection of my lungs being on fire while simultaneously being stabbed in the side by an invisible poker spurred me on.

“Go, go, go,”  I told the dogs and we kept up a steady pace until we hit the gravel downhill path.  And then we hoofed it quickly the rest of the way down, instead of putting on the brakes to prevent shin splints.  No time for a cool down, people.  Not with vigorous energetic youth breathing down my neck.

When we finally entered the parking areas, I spotted the school activity bus parked in the shade.  I let the dogs into the car and flopped down in my seat.

“Jeez,” I huffed in exhaustion to the dogs.  “CrossFit ain’t gonna nothin’ on the Carolina Friends School.”

When we got home, I resigned myself to stretching my calves and thighs since I’d had more of a workout than a walk.  And I still had mowing and weeding ahead of me for the day.

“Stay off me while I’m down, ” I informed Luna and Orion.  “Don’t be slobbering all over me while I’m on the floor stretching.”

I didn’t really need to worry.  The dogs were done with their chores for the day.

I know Jesus promised us heaven as our eternal reward.  But can there really be a better reward than to return as the family dog?  I mean, really?

Work Zone.

Posted on | May 14, 2015 | No Comments

The honeymoon stage in the garden was short-lived this year.  Usually the cool weather keeps the spring crops enjoyably free of bug bites.  But the slugs appeared in the lettuce and radish as soon the plants began to flourish.  And, since I planted late this year, the summer crops were already under attack.  I put my greenhouse transplants into the ground the first week of May.  So far weeding and watering were my only concerns.  But this week I dragged my arsenal of supplies out of the shed and started the real work of the season.

I noticed ants in 2 of the garden beds when I first put in the watermelons and the tomatoes.  The red ants announced themselves to my ankles immediately upon my turning the soil with the trowel.  Their tunnels were obvious and, not surprisingly, located close to the empty tires I use for sunflowers and zinnias.  The black ants appeared as singletons as I planted, no signs of frantic retreat, attack, or egg carrying.  I hoped cultivating the soil was enough to cause the red ants to relocate and that the paucity of the black ants meant they weren’t firmly established.  Hah!  The watermelon plants were nibbled to bits by black ants in the first week and caging the tomatoes was only accomplished in spurts between slapping red ants off my feet and calves.

So that end of the garden got a nice dusting of DE.  Will these melons survive after being eaten from vigorous transplants into just a few leaves with a withered stem?

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The Mathematics of Pigs.

Posted on | May 11, 2015 | 3 Comments

Some things defy the general rules of mathematics.  Two plus two doesn’t always equal four.  Takes pigs, for example.  Pigs are evidence that some things are not linear but, instead, add up exponentially.  When we had one pig, Papa Noel, he was just one more animal added to the barn yard.  He hung out with the other animals, inside the same fencing, and shared the automatic waterer.  He made one wallow, we bought one hog feeder and picked up one extra bag of grain while we were buying the rest of our farm feed, and we went about our business.  We were as happy as he was.

The following year we got two pigs, Penny and Pushy.  It quickly became clear that two pigs were too many to run around loose in the barnyard.  They outgrew the kidding barn where we kept Papa as a piglet within just a couple weeks and needed to go to the garden to turn over the grass and root out the wild blackberry while we set up some other fencing.  I used to scoop Papa up under one arm and carry him from place to place as a piglet.  Which I couldn’t do with two pigs.  I also used the feed bucket to tempt Papa in the direction I wanted him to go so I figured I’d do that to move Penny and Pushy.  Which was when I discovered that two pigs were more than twice the work of one.  Just because one pig is following the feed bucket doesn’t mean the other one isn’t dashing around the woods, rooting under fallen logs and scarfing up acorns.  In addition, it’s impossible to keep one pig corralled while simultaneously chasing down the other one.  Moving two pigs out of the barn yard, down the driveway, and into the garden wasn’t a smooth operation.  That’s all I care to remember about that.

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Posted on | May 4, 2015 | 4 Comments

I am a full time mother first.  I know this because if I should wake up in the middle of the night, I immediately lay there quietly, listening intently, trying to figure out if it was a sound from a child’s room that woke me up.  Is there a kid in the bathroom, is he throwing up and, most important, did he make it to the toilet before he threw up? Is that a kid crying or just laughing with his brother long after he should be asleep?  Is that the hall light someone left on or the glow of a laptop screen and is she working on homework or still up texting?  Once I have determined it is just one of the dogs roaming around (it’s always those dogs!), I think to myself, “Is it a school day?”  And then my mind spirals off wondering what to pack for lunches, if anyone has an orthodontist appointment, is there a sports game (requiring a clean uniform) or just a practice, and can I get away with pancakes for dinner (breakfast-for-dinner is everyone’s favorite) or do I need to plan something with vegetables.  This is what mothers wonder about in the middle of the night.

Being a wife, a daughter, the maid, and having a “real” job can only be pondered once I’ve determined whether everybody can ride the bus home or someone needs to be picked up after school from chorus, where I put the field trip permission slip that a kid asked me to sign and return, and whether each kid has shoes that fit.  With the soles still intact, not peeling away from the uppers. Read more


Posted on | April 15, 2015 | 1 Comment

Occasionally, taking care of the farm is like walking hand in hand with a friend.  The connection is strong and comfortable and its overwhelming power is inexplicable.

Despite my worries over the late start of the greenhouse, the seedlings are flourishing.  They won’t all be ready to go in the garden by the last frost date in our area, which is today (which is also the tax date in case you need to stop reading this and go to the post office to postmark something).  But even the smallest ones should be big enough to put out the first week of May.  Which is fine since the smallest ones are the tomatoes, peppers, and herbs and they prefer warmer May temperatures anyway.  A couple weeks of temperatures in the 70’s-80 during the day and 60’s at night gave the seeds a jump start and even allowed me to just leave the greenhouse door open most of the time.  So the annoying task of opening the door or vents during warm daytime hours and closing them for chilly nights was limited to just a few days.  Apparently, a late start was exactly what was called for this year.

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Wait for it. Wait for it….

Posted on | March 18, 2015 | No Comments

I can’t wait any longer.  I really can’t.  Even though the 15 day forecast (Hah! Like they can predict the weather 15 days in advance!) is still calling for nights in the 30’s.  Even worse, a lot of the days are predicted to be cloudy or overcast.  Which means the passive solar heat in my greenhouse will be more passive and less heat.  But it’s the end of March!  End of March!  The summer transplants need 6 weeks of growing before they are set out in the garden.  Around here I can usually plant tomato, pepper, cucumber, eggplant, and squash seeds in the greenhouse in mid-February and put my plants in the garden at the end of March with a floating row cover to protect against a light frost.  But it’s already end of March!!  Did I mention end of March?!

None of the preferred lunar calendar planting days in March match up with planting weather.  The Farmers Almanac calls for continued cool and rain throughout March.  I should wait for April.  I cannot wait for April.  I cannot.

I tried to satisfy my planting urges by pruning the collards and the brussels sprouts.  I should pull up the brussels sprouts because the remaining sprouts have gotten moldy or leafy and conventional wisdom says the plants won’t regrow fresh sprouts if trimmed back to the main stem.  However, many of the plants became top heavy, leaned onto their sides, and wherever the sprouts touched the ground, they grew roots, and appear to be growing new plants.  Who am I to mess with a plant trying to defy conventional wisdom?

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Rock Bottom.

Posted on | February 28, 2015 | 2 Comments

Well, the massive forced housecleaning killed a day.  And put an end to the sibling bickering for 8 hours.  Because nothing unites children like a common enemy: Mom.  Which was fine.  Since I ended up with clean windows and sills, sparkling bathrooms, fresh sheets on every bed in the house, and every last picture frame and knick knack dusted.  I’m not saying that I didn’t have to send them back 3 4 8 a few times to do the job right.  Or that I didn’t have to go behind them and touch up some of it.  But once the chores were finished, there was blessed quiet for the rest of the day.  Amen.

Then the snow arrived and sibling rivalry was left behind in the excitement, alliances were again forged in the creative process, friendships rekindled over the snow fire pit.  But with the power out, the wet laundry piled up, slushy mud spread across the floors, dirty dishes filled the sink, and electronic appliances lost their charge.  The generator roared into life and The Other Half alternated between yelling at us for opening the fridge door (letting the cold out) and yelling at us for opening the front door without immediately closing it behind us (letting the cold in).  I made lots of loud heavy sighs as wet boots traipsed through the family room and loud angry tsk tsk’s whenever I found a melted pile of muddy water upstairs in the den or on the staircase.

Roads were snowy, then cleared, then icy, then cleared, then snow was forecast again.  And school was delayed.  Then canceled.  Then make-up days were scheduled.  Then canceled.

Oh mah gawd. Read more


Posted on | February 27, 2015 | 3 Comments

I love the big barn.  Unlike most barns, it originally housed up to 300 ducks at a time.  So it was built with a wooden frame and only enclosed with hardware cloth.  Ducks are messy and smelly and the best way to keep their living conditions sanitary is to allow lots of sunlight and fresh air.

Ducklings returning to the barn, wet and dirty from a swim in the pond

Even then it’s a challenge.

Ducks "gargle" with their food in their water trough. Enough said.

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According To Plan.

Posted on | February 21, 2015 | 3 Comments

The Great Backyard Bird Count was a bust.  Sure, the blue jay arrived to hit up the the peanuts.

But most of the little birds were absent because a mockingbird arrived, too.  And that mockingbird spent all his time guarding the feeders, swooping on any bird that attempted to get to the seed.

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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Posted on | February 5, 2015 | 3 Comments

Well, I’m not really sure.

Oh, the usual suspects are here.  Cardinals, sparrows,  juncos, titmouse (Titmouses? Titmice?  Why are tits even involved in this bird’s name?), finches, chickadees, wrens, and mourning doves.

We have several types of woodpeckers that visit our area.  We see a giant pileated woodpecker in the woods but never eating birdseed or suet.

Adult male

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