Monday, June 28, 2010

Snake Out of the Grass

Another day, another adventure on the IBTC Farm. Today’s lesson, boys and girls, is about rattlesnakes.

I received a call from day care today that Becca had a fever, so I left work early to pick her up and bring her home. I had her rest for the afternoon, and when it was cool enough outside to put the goats into their barn (it gets rather stuffy in there), I started cutting the fresh fruit and veggies for mama goat Salsa, while Becca volunteered to get the grain started. She headed out the back door, and a few minutes later I heard her scream.

Now, Becca shrieks at almost anything that surprises or displeases her outside. A spider, a lizard that surprises her, stumbling on a stone. She’s asked me before, with indignation because I didn’t come running, “Didn’t you hear me SCREAM?” I’ve told her, yes, but she does it all the time, and it’s never anything serious.

This time I knew it was serious. This was not an eek because she was surprised, but a full body scream of fear, so I dropped what I was doing and headed for the door, just in time to meet her, grain scoops in hand, panting and scared. “I saw a rattlesnake!”

It took time to figure out where and what happened, but finally, after she calmed down enough to remember, she could tell me exactly. She was rounding the corner of the patio paralleling the deck, getting ready to step up onto a small platform and ramp that run between our house and the studio apartment next door. She was angry at me because she really didn’t feel good and didn’t want to help with chores, so she was moving at a clip, luckily looking at the ground. She still came up on the coiled snake on the platform faster than either of them wanted. She screamed, it rattled, and then it slid off the platform to the right and underneath, and she ran up the steps to the left.

The first thing I want is a gun. I know that I don’t want to go after any future rattlesnakes that I might see with the plan of bonking it on the head with a shovel and then chopping its head off, because WHAT-IF-I-MISS?? So the first thing I do after getting as much info as I can from Becca is call my dad to find out what kind of gun to get. Luckily, he’s good about talking me through things and down from such over-the-top ideas. I don’t really need a gun at this point, and right now it would be more hazard than help. We run through the things I already know to do, and when he and Mom mention boots I realize that we cannot be doing chores in flip-flops or clogs during the summertime anymore. It’s HOT here today, though it was cooling nicely at the time, but we don our boots. I’m sure that we looked quite the pair, in shorts, tank tops and cowboy boots. Daisy Duke, we’re not, but it got the job done.

Next call was to my landlady. Her husband surprised me by answering the phone, as he’s not often here and I didn’t know he was expected today. It cracked me up when he told me that Bette is the snake killer and turned the call over to her right away. She is a sweet, lovely, petite retired school teacher. She explained to me that she uses a heavy metal rod to throw onto the snake to hold it down, which allows her to clobber it with a shovel and take its head off. She’s done this more than once, and I like the approach that buys more time and distance using the pole. She says she’ll bring it down here, and I should call her if I hear any rattling.

We completed chores cautiously, which took about twice as long, and I don’t think either of us are going to use that ramp for the rest of the summer. As Dad reminded me, snakes are part of living in the country. True, but they are not allowed around the house. I hope this one took off and none of them show up at the house again.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Adventures on the Ranch

I started this blog as a means to share some of the, shall we say, unique happenings that occur on our little ranch/farm. Most of the time, our lives are pretty routine, or as routine as they can be in this setting. I get up, prod my daughter, Becca, to get out of bed, do chores, prod her some more, we run through the morning routine, to work/school/day care, home again, chores, dinner, and whatever. With the exception of the type of things we do, most of it is much like the everyday lives of most Americans.

Then there are those days, like the one I had yesterday, where everything was unique and even somewhat bizarre from start to finish. I "bookended" this day with two "Sorry, but I have bad news" calls to my landlady, and in the evening she filled me in on the rest of the unusual aspects of her day.

As usual, I prodded and poked and annoyed Becca to get her to start moving and let her dog out to do his morning duty. (She begged for him and promised she would be responsible for his care - some days it's a real chore for ME to force her to live up to that promise, but I stand strong!) I got the goat feed and water sorted for the day, fed the chickens and let them out of the coop, brought half of the goats to their pen, then sat down to start milking Imbri. I look up and ... what is that? The studio apartment next to my home, which is used by my landlords for storage, has two huge sliding glass doors across one side, and one of the four panes is completely shattered. I give my landlady a call and describe the problem to her, noting that it doesn't look like anyone tried to break in, because nothing is disturbed. She wonders if the shearer might have backed into it the day before, or if the Hispanic gentleman she hired to do weed whacking might have sent a rock into it. It wasn't broken the night before, so we both conclude that it probably was the rock, but it didn't shatter until the night cool down brought enough of a temperature change to make it fall apart.

I go about the rest of my day and then head for home. Our house is about a mile from the road, and at the second gate, near my place, we suddenly see about a dozen vultures, flying about, landing on fence posts, and looking very intent. Oh, no. Another sheep died?

I pull up to the gate where I have a better view and cell signal, and call to let my landlady know. Luckily, I am not breaking any bad news to her this time, as she already knew about it. She thought I was calling about the OTHER broken window at my place!

Apparently, she gave her weed trimming helper instructions to work up at her place until she got back from errands, but when she got back, he was down at my house, having already cleared where he wasn't supposed to, and she discovers that another pane of the sliding doors on her studio has been completely shattered. Senor Weed Whacker shrugged his shoulders and denied any responsibility.

By this part of her story, we have driven up to the house and are starting to get out of the truck while I'm still on the phone. Becca exclaims in distress, and I come around the corner to see that, yes, he cleared weeds behind my house, but he also cleared all the chamomile and turned the entire area into a dust bowl. Because Becca is making noise in the background, I let my landlady know this, but haven't told her yet that I discovered later he put a hole in a hose and knocked a hole into the side of my blueberry bush pot. (Deep sigh) He also moved my watering system for the carnations and Tabasco plants, so I needed to find the hooks that had been flung everywhere and get it set up again. Luckily, it appears there is no hole in it.

The good news is, that I didn't come home to an even worse nasty surprise. Senor finds rattlesnakes while he is weed whacking, and apparently he seems to like these discoveries, as he kills them and takes them home. When he was working near one of the goat pens yesterday, he apparently found and killed one, skinned it, and hung it from the tree. He almost forgot to take it with him, and I am sooooo grateful to my landlady for reminding him. That definitely would have freaked us out, to come rolling into the driveway and see a skinned rattlesnake hanging by its rattles from the tree!

We settled in to a routine evening, and Becca finds two turkey feathers, that she thinks will look good in her hair. She is right.

With the full moon approaching, the coyotes are more active. We stepped outside for a while before bedtime to listen to them. I think I hear young ones yipping and trying to howl. Luckily, we both sleep deeply and the house seems to be insulated well, because we rarely hear them while in bed, unless the windows are open.

When I stopped by to drop off a check to my landlady this morning, the poor thing came out looking worried, "Is there anything wrong?" No, thank goodness, not this morning, but who knows what adventures will happen at the IBTC Farm today?

Friday, June 18, 2010

"The House That Built Me"

Do we not all have places of the heart? Homes, or vacation spots, a special tree outside our house, a lake, river, quiet place - the place we used to go, or sometimes still do, for recharging, healing, relief, release. For many, it's a home. For others, it's a place in nature. Wherever or whatever it is, the smells are stronger there, the air clearer, the ground softer, it is a magical, spiritual retreat.

"I know they say you can't go home again
I just had to come back one last time."

For me, there are two places that hold those powerful, primal, body memories. I've been blessed to be able to visit them again. Both of those places come to mind when I hear this song, The House That Built Me, sung by Miranda Lambert, and written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin. I cried the first time I heard the song, gut-wrenching, from the heart, weeping. As I continued to hear it on the radio and learn the words, I started to sing along - but choked literally as I started to cry again. The song is as powerful as the places that all of us look for home.

One of my two favorite home places is the house my dad and his mother grew up in, in Brazil, Indiana. There is magic there - history that flows through my veins and is in my bones as surely as the genetic history my grandmother and dad passed on to me.

It broke my heart when my grandparents made the decision to sell the old homestead. I wish that I could have found a way to buy it myself, to keep it in our family. It just wasn't practical, or really even possible. The good thing is, that I've been there often enough that it lives in my memory. If I close my eyes, I can still almost smell the smells, feel the air, sense the thunderstorms coming in the distance, see the sunrise, hear the echoes of the stories told to me about the house, its history, who lived there, where they came from, what they did, what my dad did there...

"Ma'am, I know you don't know me from Adam
But these hand prints on the front steps are mine."

Dad and his brothers helped Grandpa dig the basement in that old house. I don't know if there are hand prints there anywhere; no one ever pointed them out, if there are. I haven't had the chance to spend as much time at my mom's parents' home, but I remember whenever we visited, that I had the same call home.

"Up those stairs in that little back bedroom
Is where I did my homework and I learned to play guitar"

The other place that really resonates with me is our old home in Colorado, where I did learn to play guitar, and piano, as well. A white ranch house perched on top of a hill, about 30 miles south of Denver, in a subdivision called Whispering Pines in Franktown. The town had fewer than 1,000 residents in 2002, and I know it had grown tremendously after we left in the mid-70's. Four acres of brush, trees, room to run and play, garden, pony, horse, dogs and cats, it was a child's paradise, especially a child that loved to be in the country as much as I did. I gave my parents fits often by taking off early in the morning, before anyone was up, to ride my pony on the dirt roads of our "neighborhood." I don't think I've known such freedom and love of life at home as I did in Franktown.

As I left childhood, I coincidentally left that treasured place at the same time. Years later, I remember driving out there with friends and my brother, Tim, to take a look at the old place. It was much the same, and yet different. I seem to remember the new owners being gracious enough to let us take a look inside.

"If I could just come in, I swear I'll leave
Won't take nothing but a memory
From the house that built me."

There are broken places that form inside of us later, that sometimes we think can be healed by reuniting with those special places. And I think some of them do heal by those pilgrimages. I remember feeling like I came home that visit; and again in 1990 when I drove by again (not bothering the owners this time). There is a healing and re-energy that comes, and even though we don't want to leave, somehow it's okay to do so.

"I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing
Out here it's like I'm someone else
I thought that maybe I could find myself"

I think we can find, rediscover, ourselves. It helps sometimes to being able to touch and feel those sacred places, to help us along that journey, but it's not always necessary. They are like shortcuts, a cosmic secret passageway to our authentic selves.

Today I can look back in my mind, breathe, remember the smell and feel of those places, and remember all the good that was present there, and in me. Home is a metaphor for what we're seeking - it's the home inside of us that these places help us find our way back to. A secret passageway to the spiritual house that built us - and is still within us. May we all find it easier to come back home, without the need for that physical crutch. But bless the crutches that help us find our way again, until we can do it on our own.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Loss, Love, Growth, Healing, Strength

You know, sometimes your heart just aches for people. It’s so hard to know that loved ones are grieving thousands of miles away, and not be able to be there to hold their hand and listen, to cradle them in your arms and rock them as they weep. Whenever I have had to deal with a loss, I remember that loving, true listening.

I don’t want to relive my own experiences; that was my time, my place, my loss, and so long ago. If they ask me to let them know what helped me through it, to survive and be strong, I will be happy to share. However, we’re all so different, and what worked for me may be irrelevant. Our experiences are all unique. My goal is to love, love, love, love, love them, and listen, listen to them testify to me, to God, to the world, about what their loved one meant to, means to, them. Honor and witness their experience, and hold them up.

You know who you are, beloved loved ones who need support, kindness, understanding, love, and ears. I wish I could do so much more. But one thing I can do is be still, to listen, to honor your beloved, and to bear witness to all that they are to you, so that their lessons, their love, can be spread even further to bless the rest of the world, too.

We may temporarily lose our loved ones’ presence here on Earth, but gain Angels above. I know he will watch over you and cheer you and help guide you through. You are strong. Lean on and love each other. I love you.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Country Living Ain't for Sissies (Unless You're a Ridiculously Wealthy Sissy)

"Country living ain't for sissies." This was the thought that crossed my mind as I panted and sweated, cleaning the barn last night. It's a chore that can't be avoided without suffering even more discomfort and aggravation later on, not to mention the guilt at the potential discomfort of the animals that would have to use it. My critters come first.

There are a lot of things that need to be done / dealt with on our little farm/ranch that are not for sissies or the faint of heart. Cleaning the barn is only one. Using pitchfork, rake and broom to remove three loads of soiled alfalfa and wood shavings, with the accompanying stink after a couple of really hot days, is no picnic. You take a moment now and then to walk to the water spigot to wash your face and take a swig of fresh cold water, and breathe. The satisfaction when the job is complete, the cozy nest restored for these little ones that rely on me, is so worth it. The compost that the debris will create, also worthwhile.

As if the barn cleaning last night weren't enough, it was then time to unload the grain and seed purchased at the feed store. Lugging 40 to 50 pound bags of food and dumping it into bins is not for sissies, either. Yet, it's amazing how much we can do if we just decide to do it. Sometimes it's baby steps that get us there, other times, it's much easier than we had expected. Being satisfied with what *can* be done makes finally reaching that goal even better. No sense in stressing over acres of weeds and tall grass that need to be taken down. Spend 20-30 minutes a day, and watch it disappear. Savor the patches when they are cleared, and look forward to and plan the next day's spot.

I had to laugh as I was working on that barn, and gave a silent prayer of thanks for Shippey, for Wales, for team leaders, for rangers, for an awesome team of friends to work, play, sing, laugh, and learn with. The reason I was laughing is that I thought, "Well, good thing I had that training at Ty-Nant on how to shovel sheep shit. It's not all that different from goat."

I learned a lot more than how to shovel ancient sheep dung from an old barn on that 1978 tour, and the tours and work projects that preceded and followed it. I learned that I am capable of anything I wish to do. It may look hard, it may be hard, but when you dig right in and figure out how to do it, there's no greater satisfaction. I also learned not to be afraid to try new things. This is why I'm not afraid at all to learn as I go on how to care for goats, chickens, growing a garden, raising goat kids, milking, making soap, cheese, butter, cajeta, ice cream, and more. Research, look it up, try it out, dive right in.

Most good things on a farm don't come easy or quickly. There's no instant gratification in sowing seed, breeding a goat, or incubating an egg. That's perhaps why the results are so sweet. It's a result of something that *we* did, in conjunction with the earth, sky, rain, and Spirit's creatures. Teamwork with a capital T.

At the end of the evening last night, I kicked back on the deck in my favorite chair, and enjoyed a bowl of freshly made ice cream from our sweet goat's milk. I took in the view of my growing garden, enjoying the views and sunset, the smell of the first rose to bloom this season, anticipating the gardenia's sweet fragrance as it wakes up after a wet winter. As it got darker, the stars started to sprinkle the pitch-black sky, brighter out here than in the city, and I breathed a sigh of gratitude. I'm getting healthier out here, with the hard work and good food. Life in the country is good.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Creativity Within Boundaries

When I posted my first entry on this blog, a friend commented on my statement that I am creative within boundaries. This is something that I had concluded about 10 to 15 years ago, when observing my preferences, habits, patterns, and comfort levels overall. I hadn’t given it much thought since then, but my friend’s comment caused me to ponder it more.

At the time, I had assumed these patterns were simply the result of who I was, that perhaps my preferences had been hard-wired genetically at birth and I was following my natural instincts. That may still be the case, but there is some room to consider that some of the “wiggle room” in my confined modes of expression might have been restricted further and become a means of being “safe” in the world.

As a child, I do remember coloring between the lines. Although I am sure as I was learning how to handle a pencil or crayon there was some coloring outside the lines, my memories are of being careful to express myself between the artist’s vision. I don’t recall drawing on lined paper, though I’m sure I must have at some time or another. I remember in 7th grade learning how a friend drew dogs and using those characters over and over again. I seem to recall them being in the borders of pages, however - not over the lines. It irritates me now when my daughter uses her school notebook paper for drawing, but I don’t say anything except that she really should organize her school work so that she can find papers to turn in easily, without having to flip through pages and pages of drawings. She is creative and gifted in drawing and painting, like my mom, and I don’t want her to lose that.

High school was a creative time for me. I was immersed in, and consumed by music. I was surrounded by creative people, who were writing songs and performing and improvising and harmonizing. I remember being free then. I dabbled in song writing myself. I think now that those creative years were probably the result of being surrounded by amazing people, and experiencing the deep, present, and sometimes overwhelming emotions of teenage years that must, somehow, some way, be expressed. My expression was in music and poetry.

I think those boundaries were still there, though probably still flexible. I had taken piano lessons since age 11 and knew how to read music, so I primarily relied on that to express myself. While playing in bands, I was more free, but the sheet music was there 90% of the time, at least to begin with. I remember an ongoing discussion I had with one of my musician friends I admired the most. He was (and is) a brilliant musician, self-taught, creative, and all the things that I wanted to be. We disagreed on who was the better pianist. I said he, because he could listen to something and duplicate it, or create magic out of thin air. He said I was, because I could read music, while he could not. (I still think that I am right.) One day he was playing pieces of “Ocean Breeze” by ear, which caused me to buy a book of Pablo Cruise music that contained the song. I still have that worn book, covers falling off, and 30 years later, I still bring it out now and then in my lifelong quest to some day perfect that piece. (I am so excited to be able to see Pablo Cruise live for the first time on the 26th!)

What happened after high school? Did I continue the music, the free expression of emotion, the large and close circle of friends that were my extended family? No, I lost them, and all of that, for a long time. Remember when I said that I followed the rules, did what others expected me to, even, sometimes, what was dictated to me? Yeah, that’s where it really became a deeper part of who I am. I married a person that seemed to admire my expressive and musical nature, who seemed to like and enjoy my friends, but that changed not long after the wedding rings went on. I learned that conforming in that relationship was the only way to survive it. My friends were suddenly no longer welcome. He was jealous of my music, of our talents. I played piano when I was alone, or when he asked me to perform at family functions. I shut down in many ways, and my world became very small. It was a gilded cage, but a cage nonetheless. I was 18 when we married, and as I matured and started to express more of my authentic self, well that wasn’t acceptable, and the relationship became much more restrictive and the consequences greater. I could either chose to stop trying to loosen the restrictions, or use all of my effort to break free. Primarily because of my two daughters, I chose the latter. That battle continued for longer than the two years it took to finalize the divorce, but at least I had control over most of my life, though still not complete freedom to care 100% for the two people that I loved the most.

It seems after the divorce that, while I was more free in my ability to express myself and my emotions, I was still restricted. I had been working as a legal secretary before my marriage, and continued that after the divorce. Through my years of work experience, and on-the-job training by some of the best and most brilliant family law attorneys in the county, I was able to be “grandfathered” in as a paralegal. What is a paralegal all about? Bottom line, when it comes down to it, being creative within boundaries. Taking your client’s experiences, wishes, wants, and needs, and creatively and persuasively expressing them on ruled and numbered paper, within rules and with deadlines, to a judge. Each story was different, and I told the truth creatively - within boundaries, both literal and figurative.

In 1990, I discovered western dance. While in a music store, I met a guitar player who suggested I check out his band who was playing at a local nightclub. While at the club, I watched the dancers, and was coaxed onto the floor for a waltz with the dance teacher. I didn’t think I could do it, but once I tried - I was flying. I took lessons, I danced every week, and even successfully competed for a time. I loved the pure joy and freedom found in physically expressing the music. But do you see the pattern here? Western dance, whether two-step, waltz, or line dancing, has rules, patterns and form. You spin, you weave, you fly, but you keep the same fundamental steps. My friend Tammy and I love to line dance together - we add spins into the movements, we do the unexpected, and often throw off the other dancers who are completely “coloring between the lines.” Yet that framework is still there, isn’t it?

I could go on and on - recipes that I follow, rather than create new dishes; jewelry that I make using patterns that I can be creative within. I hate stringing beads - it’s too open-ended for me. I love chain maille.

Much of what I learned about how to restrict my creative experiences was taught in a negative environment. Some might say that I should release those boundaries and learn how to fly free again. I think I’ll wait a while on that. My boundaries create a sense of security and safety. I am still too vulnerable deep down inside to trust that my freest expression will not bring pain. So, I’m content to color between the lines, create within the patterns. It’s still beautiful, I still express myself and bring joy into my life, and often into the lives of others. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Caring For Your Middle Schooler

How did our teens come to be throw-away children? In other words, as the Western world turned to dual-income families, single parent families, and everyone scrambled to provide professional child care for the youngest of children, how did our teens get left behind? Does anyone seriously think that a 13-year-old should be home alone? For how long? A half day? All summer long?

I know many parents who cannot afford child care for even their "tweens." I know of far too many 11- and 12-year-olds walking home from school alone. The invisible "latch-key children" that no one wants to look at, no one wants to address. Heck, even the IRS cuts off the deduction for child care expenses at age 13, unless your child is handicapped.

A serious search over my lunch hour today showed that the bulk of summer programs are designed for children 12 and under, for adults, and for seniors. Most are scheduled during the work day, which would be fine if they were a full day program, but a class/activity from 9:00 to noon Monday through Friday leaves the parent wondering what the heck their child is going to do the rest of the day, and how he/she will get there. Are there really that many stay-at-home parents, able to handle these "recreational schedules"? Or parents that are wealthy enough to be able to drop the equivalent of a rent payment for a month's worth of summer camp?

I asked my boss today what she did when her daughter hit middle school, and on-site after school care was no longer available. She looked slightly uncomfortable when she told me that her middle-schooler spent most of her time at the office. Summertime camps were scheduled, as well as an end-of-summer vacation for the family. I assume it was similar during high school.

Sure, my older daughters went home after school when they hit middle school. However, they were two kids together, not solo, and able to walk 1 block safely home. They had grandparents who were able to pick them up one or two afternoons a week to spend time with them, and trusted stay-at-home neighbors close by. What do I do with my solo kid that won't break the bank or put her at risk? There are options to be explored, but it is seriously a part time job to do so.

What do we, as parents, need to do in order to open up opportunities for our teens to be safe and loved when they're out of school? Especially those parents who *must* work to put food on the table and a roof over their heads?

You know, there has to be a better way.

Monday, June 7, 2010

When I Grow Up I Want To Be...

I don't remember all of the things that I wanted to be when I was growing up. I am sure that there were the traditional and typical ideas of nurse, airline stewardess, teacher, etc., the things that little girls expected to have available to them while growing up in the 60's. I think in my teens I finally settled on "secretary," much to the disappointment of my Engineer father. I know that he really wanted us - any of us - to go to college, to have the American Dream. Why we took such different paths, I don't know. That's probably the topic of another blog post.

One thing I am realizing is that most of my life I simply and without question accepted where I was, what was expected of me, by society, by my family, by my friends ... and I accepted that my life decisions would be guided by, if not dictated by, others. I like to color, but I color between the lines. I like to be creative, but creative within boundaries.

For some reason, it took me to my 40's, single and deeply scarred, to pick up the pieces and realize that ... I can really do what I want, the unexpected, things that bring me joy, peace and satisfaction. It started with baby steps, and continues that way. How did I figure out that I didn't *have* to live within the confines of a city, surrounded by close neighbors that shared their party noise, arguments, and exhaust fumes, along with recipes and cups of sugar or a borrowed egg? I stumbled upon a dream starter home, and well, the dream just grew from there.

I'm on the verge of something new, and maybe bigger than me or what I can handle, but I feel it in the air. I can reach a quivering hand out to grab it, if I dare. On this vast property with my close-enough but far-enough-away landlady/neighbor, there is room to grow. I thought at first it was room to grow my youngest daughter, goat kids, chickens, and a garden. Maybe, just maybe, it's me, too?