Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The 5 Food Groups of Summer

This weekend we hosted a hastily thrown together, and very mini, housewarming party.  Actually, the house had already been warmed by most of the guests so it was more of a "Hey, come over again" type of get together.  Also, the idea of a "party" threw me into such a tailspin of stress, frustration, and anxiety (House not finished!), that I'm not exactly sure why I agreed to it.  Or I wasn't sure why I agreed until I brought home a variety of foods for the party and spread them out on the counters.  It was at that moment I realized, at least in these parts, food falls into two distinct categories and that one category was about to be happily consumed: summer food and everything else.

After looking it up on the USDA website I was horrified to find such a blatant omission of this category on the food pyramid.  In fact, as you probably already know, summer food has its own food pyramid!  You weren't aware of this?  Thank goodness you're reading.  Armed with the following facts, your summer will instantly improve.  Let's dissect the summer food group pyramid, shall we?

Top of Pyramid
This is a no-brainer and I feel silly even having to write it but in case you've forgotten: Peaches
Peaches can be implemented into the summer diet as infrequently as once daily in order to fulfill dietary requirements during the months of May-August.  Since they are incredibly portable, there's no excuse not to fit one (or 4) in between regular meals.  It's recommended that you stash a few in your purse, computer bag,  and on your nightstand a few times weekly.

2nd Tier:
Bi-colored Corn (Duh.  You know all this already!).  Bi-colored corn is an essential vehicle for a variety of nutritional supplements throughout the long, tiring months of summer such as: butter, salt, cajeta, lime, cayenne, or queso*.  Eaten naked it satisfies the majority of dietary requirements necessary to subsist in ludicrous temperatures.  Used as a vehicle for the dietary supplements previously listed, it serves as a drug that will release bliss-like endorphins.  *Please see pyramid base.

3rd Tier:
The third tier is dual purpose in both its nutritional benefits and use as a substitute for liquid consumption: Watermelon
Placed in the middle of the pyramid, watermelon acts as a sugar stimulant to keep weary, heat-stressed minds alert.  It can also be sucked on as a liquid replacement when the thought of another iced tea makes you want to gag (If that's even possible).

4th Tier:
As we near the foundation of the pyramid you'll notice the food group has become more liquid than solid.  As you know, intense heat causes all movement to become incredibly difficult if not impossible.  The less chewing required, the better: Tomatoes
The most effective tomato consumption method is debatable and since I try to be non-controversial, I'll stay out of that argument.  While it's true that fresh, summer tomatoes can be used as a pasta sauce, in gazpacho, as a salsa, roasted, pickled, etc.- it's also true that they are at their nutritional peak fresh from the vine, unwashed, and wiped 2 or 3 times against your shorts.  It is essential to incorporate fresh tomatoes into all meals, and preferably snacks, throughout the course of the difficult summer months.

Pyramid Base:
Oh, I feel so silly even writing this.  We all grew up learning about the foundational component of the summer food pyramid!  But, in the incredibly off chance someone forgot (all together now!): Queso 
As you know, while the earth spins nearer the sun than any other time of the year, you must strictly adhere to your body's daily queso intake requirements.  Since queso is primarily liquid, it can be consumed raw or ingested through placement on any other member of the summer food pyramid.

I really recommend you print this list and tape it to one of your kitchen cabinets or stick it onto the front of your refrigerator.  If you've been feeling puny lately it's most likely due to an improper summer diet.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

And Then Something Amazing Happened

It's true that, at one time, we had a cat named Simon.  Simon made an indelible mark on our lives for non-extraordinary reasons, namely - he peed on everything.  For this reason, and also because I find cats to be persnickety in general, he did not make it onto my Top 5 Favorite Pets list.  Don't worry, don't worry.  Not making "the list" doesn't deprive an animal of anything actually.  It just means they don't have to withstand my constant attention which I'm guessing can get annoying, actually.  Especially if you're a finicky feline constantly obsessed with choosing an inanimate object to bestow with urine.  I paint a pretty picture of this cat, don't I?  Right.  So it's for these reasons that I was generally silent about what happened to Simon when we officially moved him out to the land almost four months ago.  Since he was a very happy outdoor cat, we knew the move would be particularly troublesome.  He would be unhappy kept inside, as you're supposed to do in a move, and he'd be overwhelmed by the new surroundings.  We compromised by keeping him inside for just one week instead of the 2-3 weeks many people recommended.  And even that amount of time was barely manageable.  For the duration of that miserable week he sulked and paced and yowled at the edge of every window.  He pawed at the glass doors and howled from under the couch.  Kitty cat wanted outside badly enough that one morning, around 5am, I went to the back door where he was standing and mewing loudly and just - opened it.  He ran onto the porch, his tail swishing crazily from side to side as if he imagined an entire forest of easy-to-catch squirrels just beyond the concrete for the taking.  I grabbed his litter box and food and placed them next to the door hoping the scent of both would remind him where home was.  Then I turned on the porch light.  And I went inside.

We haven't seen him since.

The details of my actions are probably going to be viewed as hasty and irresponsible, but I assure you that the cat was feeling much more strain during his week of imprisonment inside than he ever felt as a cat on the loose in the woods.  At least that's what I told myself repeatedly with guilt during the weeks after his disappearance.  As the weeks stretched into months, we stopped wondering if he'd ever return and were certain he'd probably met his fate (in the mouth of a coyote) on that first morning in the woods.

Four months later: Friday night I stood at the edge of the goat pen when the dogs raced by barking at something in the dark.  Normally, I ignore this behavior.  Let's be honest - my dogs bark at and "chase" leaves blowing across the driveway.  I've learned their actions rarely justify the drama.  On this night, however, my sister had stopped by and said, "No, they were actually chasing something sort of low to the ground?" which caused me to run to the edge of the woods with the flashlight where I saw two eyes peer back at me, blink a couple of times and disappear.  I shouted for Jer, saying there was something in the woods we should track down (we're always wary of coyote.  You never know).  At the precise moment Jer ran out onto the porch, I saw a white streak literally jump from the edge of the woods and stand paralyzed for a moment before my dogs chased it back into the trees.

Jer turned to me, mouth hanging open, "Um.  Was that SIMON?"  And just as he said the name we heard the distinct, low yowling sound of our old Siamese cat from somewhere out in the woods.  I ran into the trees, called his name and finally, huddled next to a rotting stump, was our runaway cat.  We brought him to the house and fed him well - shocked at his excellent condition despite being incredibly skinny.  Since Friday he has returned for dinner two times, and I expect it will continue in this fashion until he starts to stick around for breakfast and then for a snooze on a porch chair.  I've been wrong before, but I have a feeling.  It's obvious that Simon had a wild oat to sew and also that we seriously underestimated his survival skills.  And not to over-dramatize the situation, but it did restore my belief in second chances and keeping the faith and all that.  It also restored my belief that every single item on our porch will soon be covered in Simon pee.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bad Reputation

Tonight I officially can say that every bit of the old house is empty of those items I want to bring out to the country.  How did this happen so quickly - you might be asking?  After all, it was a mere five months ago that we began the process of moving!  Our speed and efficiency with such endeavors boggles the mind, this is true.  Try to keep up.

So, what's obvious, is that it took us about five months to move out of the house.  There are several reasons for this, some justified and some?  Not so much.  Regardless, five months is a long and ridiculous amount of time to stretch this process.  It felt rather monumental to shove "the last of it" into the back of the car and step onto the back porch, surveying the freshly mowed lawn.  For the first time - ever - I felt a tad weepy about the whole deal.  We've lived in this house for a long time.  It was into that backyard where our first chickens literally came home to roost.  That backyard is where we entertained friends, trained the dogs, dug our first garden.  On that very porch we spent countless hours scheming under the stars about how to get out to the land.  Luckily the weepiness was fleeting and quickly replaced by a distinctly smug sense of - how to put this?  Sympathy.  There, I said it.  I honestly had a moment looking at the houses clustered around ours and thought, "Goodbye all of you poor souls, stuck in this cul-de-sac in the city!  I hope you can find happiness here.  I'm off to my dream life in the country!"  (Of course I understand that many, many, many people find lots of happiness and contentment in the beautiful neighborhoods throughout this great city and that it's probably me who's the weirdo for needing to leave all that).

I walked my smug, smiling face back out to the car, surveyed the neighborhood once more and drove into the sunset back towards my "dream life in the country."  'How lucky am I - right?' is what I thought all the way home.  This thought carried me out east, filled my head as I bounced down the deteriorating driveway, was singing in my ears as I came inside and sat down with a nice cold beverage.  In fact, I was wrapped so comfortably within my smug thoughts that it took a while to recognize that the sounds from outside were my two great pyrenees pups barking furiously.  Up until this evening, the littlest puppy - Betty - has never made a peep.  She yips at Bruce occasionally but is otherwise completely silent and contemplative (or something).  It was the moment I realized that both dogs were barking that I knew something must be horribly wrong.

I ran outside onto the dark porch and saw the unmistakable form of my cows at the edge of our porch on the wrong side of the fence, their white horns glowing against the backdrop of a moonless night.  Matilda bellowed in that distinctive way which means she has a wild hair and that nothing and no one should try to separate her from what she wants.  At that moment what she wanted seemed to be a good long gallop and kick around (and around and around) the house - weaving in between the tractor and car, knocking over freshly purchased goat hay.  I called Jer, who was about two miles down the road, and frantically described the situation.  He listened carefully, then said, "I have a plan."  I grabbed a flashlight and a stick (knowing full well that a stick = toothpick against Matilda's wild hair) then paced the porch.  By the time Jer's headlights were visible, it was clear that the donkeys had trickled out from wherever the fence was broken.  Now the front yard was chaos.  The cows took turns eating and then tearing at the new goat hay with their horns.  The donkeys were scattered about the front yard.  And the goats were "baaaaaiiing" and spinning in their yard, the puppies barking and jumping behind them.  Jer tore down the driveway, stopping long enough to open a big pasture gate, pulled up to the house and shouted at me to jump in -grab some feed he'd tossed in the bed - and lure the cows.

Oh.  Is that all?

Optimism has historically been the best policy in such a situation so I followed his instructions.  Once I was perched precariously in the bed of the truck (on top of a pile of trash he'd just hauled from the old house), I tentatively shook the bucket at the badly behaved cows, "Heeere cows!" shake, shake, "Here, stupid, idiot, cows!!" shake shake.  Matilda finally looked up - wild eyed and curious -  hay sticking out of her mouth, clinging to her horns.  Suddenly it clicked that whatever the human was holding was possibly more delicious than what she'd just destroyed, and she bounded over with Seamus on her heels.  Once I had them both at the edge of the bed I shouted "go go go!" to Jer who started to rumble down the road and turn into the pasture - the cows jogging and screaming behind us.  Once the cows were deep into the pasture, I tossed the feed cubes onto the ground and shouted "go go go!" which sent Jer speeding back through the gate.  I can only imagine the scene: A lady standing awkwardly atop a pile of brush and trash bags, plastic bucket dangling from her right hand, left hand wrapped around the metal supports above the bed, debris flying, all the while shouting "go go go!" nonsensically when, actually, not much was happening anymore.

What ensued at this point was individual donkey wrangling - a feat not to be downplayed and one that should be considered as a rodeo event.  Like my heifer Matilda, the donkeys also have bad reputations.  Donkeys in general are known for being stubborn, and mine have proven this stereotype repeatedly.  The cows were easy.  The donkeys were, really, asses.

Approximately one hour after the debacle began, it ended abruptly with the successful pushing of Boo (king of asses) through the pasture gate.  It's two hours since these events unfolded.  About three hours since I was last at the house in Austin where I stood smugly on the back porch and looked sympathetically upon my neighbors' houses for whom I felt such pity.  I suddenly forget where that sense of smug superiority came from.  But what I do know is that it sure goes away quick when, at 10pm, you find yourself chasing cattle off the porch, sweet-talking donkeys, and removing dirt from between your toes.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Opening the Bourbon One-handed

As is typical in new construction, the countryside, and Texas - we've got scorpions and lots of them.  Since the weather's warmed, they've started pouring out from beneath baseboards at night and scuttling out from under cabinets.  They scurry across the floor ready to attack, with tails hanging forward over their bodies, swinging every which way.  Although I understand the very real possibility I will step on one in the middle of the night during a trip to the bathroom, I don't waste much time feeling terrorized.  Since I'd never been stung, I assumed it was equivalent to a bee sting, and the little critters themselves don't scare me - much.

Maybe that's why I've been pretty thoughtless about the places I reach into with an un-gloved hand.  Like, for example, the covered outdoor faucet near the chicken coop.  You know, the kind of dark and damp space that attracts scorpions.  Maybe that's why I felt it was perfectly acceptable to remove the cover of the faucet compartment and, without looking, reach my hand down to the faucet, wrapping my fingers firmly around it.

As soon as my fingers touched the underneath of the faucet, the tip of my middle finger was pierced by something- the pain of which immediately throbbed and pulsed through my hand, up my arm.  I could feel it in my neck.  A quick look down affirmed the culprit, as a small flash of brown with pincers ran across the dirt.  Without thinking I resorted to my go-to, fall-back response to shock and pain.  I screamed a scream of 1,000 screams.  Remember the scene from the last Harry Potter movie when Voldemort's disembodied voice calls out through the Great Hall?  Remember that little girl in the corner who screamed, and screamed, and screamed?  Yea, that was me, last night.  When the screaming ended I looked around to find 40 some-odd animals completely startled and at full attention.  The cows stood, mid-cud-chew on the fence line, ears forward and eyes round in horror.  All six donkeys lined up behind them with mouths hanging open.  Only Boo could muster a puny hee-haw, like a question, "Mom - what the hell?"  My dogs came bounding from the porch and jumped and whined around my legs.  The 20 chicks sprinted into the coop and peeked out from beneath their ladder.

After gathering my remaining wits, I stumbled into the house and was repeatedly surprised at the strength of the toxin that felt like it was thundering in my arm with each heart beat.  If you need assurance you're alive, let a scorpion sting your hand.  You'll feel it.  I called Jer who laughed and said I had officially crossed over into becoming a legit country dweller (I kinda thought that already happened when I bought the cows, the land and, you know, started to dwell in the country).  He told me to keep it iced, take a deep breath, get over it.  So I did all that (Minus the "getting over it."  That's not my style).  On my way back outside, hand wrapped in ice, I spotted my beloved bottle of Maker's Mark on the counter.  In cowboy movies, don't people always take a swig of whiskey before having their legs lopped off or bullets removed?  I felt this justified a shot of bourbon and was sure it would dull the pain.  Verdict: The hand throbbed all night, and the bourbon just made me sleepy.  The best remedy for the pain of a scorpion sting is to not get stung.  Simple stuff.  It goes without saying that I will be shod in gloves and boots now, for the duration.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Dancing Goat

Years ago I read the beautiful books, Goat Song by Brad Kessler and The Year of the Goat by Margaret Hathaway.  They're the stories of journeys into goat herding and eventual cheese making.  I read these books at the beginning of all this, and it solidified some plans for me.  We had just gotten the land and were mulling it over, generally.  I was unsure of most things to do with the future, but I knew something for sure - there would be goats.

It seems silly to the outsider, this poetic and romantic obsession with these creatures.  Our tough-as-nails neighbors are legitimate cowboys and cowgirls.  They fill their pastures with Angus cattle and trail horses.  They spit on the ground, eat bbq for breakfast, and hunt hog like it's a trip to the grocery store.  To them, goat keeping is awfully peculiar.  But I know there's a whole group of the rest of us out there that feel some ancient pull towards these animals.  After all, since the beginning, people kept goats.  They were easy to move, hardy in most weather, and provided lean meat and incredible milk.  Now that I've got my own micro herd growing, literally, under my roof - I understand there are other reasons why people have connected with this beast for so many centuries.  Goats are inquisitive and affectionate beyond anything I've witnessed in other animals.  Sure, I'm guilty of anthropomorphism like most animal lovers, but with goats, it's different.  They are uniquely human in their relationships and actions.  Baby goats in distress sound like actual babies crying.  It's no accident they're called "kids."

Yesterday I met Kimberly at a local, organic feed mill - Coyote Creek Farm.  This is a mill that produces feed for all sorts of animals and will even create a custom mix with a minimum order amount.  Knowing that I wanted to feed my animals the same organic custom mix as she does, Kimberly's started tacking my orders onto her own, and we meet at the mill to grab our bags of feed.  The road to Coyote Creek is open and winding.  It bends past old crooked farm houses and between corn fields.  On my drive, I thought about the lengths we go to when animals matter this much - Kimberly driving over two hours every three weeks for this good, clean livestock food, and me paying a little extra and coordinating with someone else just to pick up bags of grain.  I guess we both do it as much for ourselves as for the animals.  If you're eating animal byproducts it matters (very, very much) what they eat.  But it's also a gesture of purpose.  Driving to a feed mill connects me directly with a local food source and with the animals I chose to bring here.  I am purposeful with the food I choose to feed them, and ultimately, with the food they'll give me.  I've been much more deliberate in my decisions with the goats than any of the other stock, but that's already changing.  This summer, if all goes according to plan (Plan: come hell or high water - there will be a barn), we will add a dairy cow and calf to the family who will also be given this premium, organic feed.  The hens and teenage chicks have already also been switched over to the local grain.  These animals - the goats in particular - provide so much more than just food.  We end each day on the front porch watching the various creature communities interact, play, fight, spin, jump and dance.  In the end, they give this property purpose, as much as we do.    

Good, Clean Fun

Tonight it's 60 degrees.  I'm wearing a cotton sweater.  It's May 15th, and it's Texas.  Something is either horribly wrong or is so, so right with the world.  The last time we had this type of mild, spring-like weather was, well, was obviously before I came to be.  I've never witnessed 60 degree temperatures in May.  With the cooler weather has come rain - some cool and drizzly and some heavy and violent.  And with the rain has come mud.  Rivers of the stuff oozing in little paths across the driveway, pooling at the edge of the porches, alongside the car tires, squishing out from in between hooves and paws.  I've found bits of it caked together with dead leaves and fur in trails down my hallway.  Pieces of it crumble out from behind my ear.  After a trip into the goat yard, I came in to find a muddy hoof print on the outside of my underwear (I'm just being honest.  And no, I can't explain it).   

Mud here means three extra steps for every task and chore, when normally there is one.  There are pairs of shoes parked around the porch, in the back of cars, and outside of gates.  Each pair is worn at different intervals for a particular chore and each pair is shed before participating in civilized activities like entering vehicles or structures.  For example, a trip to work means changing to porch shoes for the walk to the car, changing porch shoes to car/work shoes to avoid getting mud in the car, changing car/work shoes for gate shoes in order to exit car and open gate, changing to car/work shoes again for the drive through the gate, then gate shoes again to close the gate and then - finally - car/work shoes for the blessed exit from the property.  Please understand we're not that anal about cleanliness.  If you know me up close and personal, then you can vouch for this truth.  In fact, I rarely abide by the whole gate shoe to car shoe change unless the mud has reached critical levels of, you know, muddiness.  That's about where we are now.  Fully saturated.  

I spend literally hours in the goat yard each day which means I've made a thoughtful and careful decision not to give a crap about the mud.  Because, you see, one cannot both herd goats in the rain and also remain clean.  It's a scientific impossibility.  Actually, the truth is, one cannot both live on land with animals and also remain clean - in any weather.  Which makes it ridiculous that I actually scrubbed floors and wiped baseboards this weekend, knowing that rain was coming, and knowing that all would be encrusted in dirt again, a mere day or two after the cleaning.  
But in this world you feign order and cleanliness, realize it will all go to hell and disorder momentarily, then pour a glass of wine and watch things unravel.  Right now I'm stretched out on the couch with a muddy paw print on the top of each foot.  Having five dogs, it's unclear who's the culprit, and does it make a difference anyway?

The paw print, the bruises, the pains in our back, the mud I just cleaned from my glasses, they're the badges we wear that show where we come from.  If you're out in the world and spot a person with a hoof print on their bottom, chewed down fingernails, and cuts along their arms - don't pity them.  Chances are good they're wearing their own badges as proudly as we do.   

Sunday, May 13, 2012

There to Here

Today we hosted my family for a mother's day brunch complete with my sister's hand made (and hand-hunted) feral hog breakfast sausage, savory and sweet crepes, and assorted adult beverages.  Each savory crepe was topped with a bright fried egg, most from my own hens. 

Flowers and herbs grown right outside the front door were centerpieces, and a walk to the garden ended the afternoon. 

Someone mentioned the luck we have here- a sentiment I will never deny.  A lot of what we have and where we are has to do with luck.  But there's a little more to it than that.

The garden alone is the best representation of what this was before we grabbed our pitchforks and dug in, almost four years ago.  Somewhere at the bottom of a box filled with notebooks, house plans, and cheese-making books is a folded up paper with our scribbled plans for the placement of gardens, goat pens, and a house.  We've both got weaker backs (but stronger arms) for all the sweat put into this place.  Jeremy spent the better part of Year 1 removing mesquite thorns from tractor tires. 

There's a garden now in the spot where mesquite and cactus seemed impenetrable, where I broke down and cried more than a few times about our stupidity for sinking savings into what seemed like a hopeless pit of dry dirt, old glass, and rattlesnakes. 

Now, there's a house standing on the very hill we were told was ridiculous to build upon. 

Luck's a good theory to hope for and believe in, but it doesn't clear mesquite, and it doesn't calm those fears that wake you in the wee hours of a dark morning.  For better or worse, stubborn determination got us this far - the beginning of a resurrection of land that lay dormant for the better part of a century.  I hold clusters of new tomatoes in my palm and dig my hand deep into the dirt beneath them.  It's dirt Jeremy put there himself, dug out of piles of composted manure and hay.  We don't know what's next for this sprout of a homestead but, like most things, it'll take more than luck to get there. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I'll Take Another Coffee - thanks.

I'm not going to pretend that what we're doing out here is grueling, 24 hour/day work.  So far.  So far it's just been the type of work that involves blood, sweat, and tears.  There've been lots of tears already.  I've found that the three best remedies to combat the "oh HOLY CRAP what have I gotten myself into" realizations that wash over me at least twice daily are the following - in any order:

1) Hot coffee
2) Iced coffee
3) Wine

In fact, since we moved here our wine intake has increased approximately 271%.  This might make some of you concerned but, I assure you, we generally just drink red wine and are therefore strengthening our hearts.  As for the coffee, well, I used to be a one cup per day drinker.  One nice steaming cup in the morning was enough to smack my eyes open long enough to get ready for a tough day of sitting at a computer, in traffic to the office, or through a boring work meeting.  I've found that this amount doesn't stretch quite so far anymore.  In any given day there's no telling what extra labor will be required of us.  Will we be tossing bales of hay from the back of the truck?  Extricating a hoof from a fence?  Scrubbing concrete floors covered in excrement?!  The unexpected work is never-ending and always exciting!  But regardless of what it ends up being each day - it requires more caffeine.  Or wine.  I think you get the point.

Friday afternoon was such a day.  This was the beginning of what would be my first weekend at the land without Jer.  I had a few qualms about undertaking the new animal chores alone, not to mention the reality that I was a woman alone in the woods (save for my 5 dogs and 6 donkeys - all of whom are excellent burglar alarms).  The day before Jer left, Willy Boots suffered from something people in the goat world delicately call "scours" which actually means wicked diarrhea.  It's something you take seriously, generally, as these animals can dehydrate and die quickly if left untreated.  Since he was not lethargic and very hungry Thursday night, I didn't intervene.  By the time I returned from work Friday afternoon, he was frighteningly sick.  In such a situation, Jer will usually help me remove the animal from the larger group that always clamors for my attention and fights to get out of their yard.  In this case, being alone, I literally elbowed the animals and fought my way out clutching the sick little Boots.  After determining he had fever, I managed to give him one shot of antibiotics (I inadvertently got some too - oops.  And ow.) and forced some electrolytes down his throat.  For the first time in 20 minutes I finally stood upright and surveyed the situation.  The animal was standing crumpled before me next to 5 or 6 dirtied paper towels I'd used to clean his bottom.  They surrounded the hastily ripped open syringe bag, lying next to my little medical kit, in total disarray at this point as I'd rummaged through it for this and that.  A long smear of goat poo was up one arm.  I was still in my work clothes.  It was 95 degrees.  I was sweating horribly and assumed I would lose my first goat in this most pathetic fashion.  So I did the first thing that made sense which was to gulp back a sob that was creeping up my throat - and call Kimberly at Star Creek Country.

Kimberly has become my goat and cow guru, aside from just being an all around great friend.  Because of her, I have completely reconsidered how I will care for my dairy animals, and also because of her, I have complete confidence in myself.  Usually.  In this case, I needed a pep talk and advice.  I think she's getting used to my frantic calls and emails, and this was no different.  She calmly explained what should be done, what should be looked for and how to proceed with the situation.  Having managed my emotions this long, I hung up the phone and did the only other thing that felt natural: called my mom.  And lost my sh*t.

Mom:  Hey - what's up?
Me: So, um, nothing really.  It's just
Mom: That what?
Me:  Well...(voice starting to quaver)'s Willy...he's..(sniff)....he's really sick (small sob)...aaandMOM(sob sob)Jer'snothereandidunnowhattodoandican'tdothisanymoreand...and...
Mom: I don't understand you.
Me: Iprobablyhaveagoatdisease!!(high pitched wailing now).  I GAVE MYSELF A SHOT!!!!  MMMAAMMAAAAAA!!!

There's a good chance I didn't actually scream "mama" - but there's a chance I did.  I was a complete and total, hot mess.  In typical, full throttle, mom-fashion - she was here in under an hour.  Luckily by that time the few electrolytes he'd swallowed and the shot had taken effect, and Willy was slowly recovering.  Slowly.

This was a situation that required the wine remedy, which we both used late into the evening as a way to self-medicate.  It worked.  I survived the weekend, Willy survived having me as his owner, and Mom (and Kimberly) endured another episode of "Jenna is a Part of my Life."

Willy Boots: Recovered
There is really no moral to this story except that, taking on farm life is like a long, slow motion wave to carefree living.  Buh-bye!  You've got to arm yourself with the basics like iodine and antibiotics.  Stock the pantry with coffee grounds and liquor.  Make sure you're surrounded by really supportive friends and a very forgiving family.  If you've got that, then you're all set.  And you'll be just fine.    
Yes, they're worth it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Name It

The light fixture planned for our hallway didn't fit.  Since I've mostly used old pieces, I've had to mix and match things, order from ebay, and cross my fingers that they'll work.  It was a no dice situation on the hallway light, so in a moment of desperation I grabbed a few pieces that have been rolling around my trunk for months.

What on earth did we hang from the ceiling there?! 

Even though that thing served as an industrial mixer in its former life, it's throwing off light in the hallway just fine.  It'll do, in a pinch.

Here's the Thing

There's a very real chance that I'm not cut out for this.  I've suspected it all along (secretly) but as we kept getting sucked deeper and deeper into the romance of country living and animal husbandry I realized - oh crap it's too late.  If I'm being honest then I'll admit that I felt a sick thud at the bottom of my stomach the minute we signed the loan papers to build the house.  Although that was probably just some sort of premonition of the building misery to come, it was more likely due to the fact that I know I'm a phony and realized pretty soon I'd be found out.

If you know me at all, then you know I talk a big game.  That is to say, the appearance of confidence is about the most important thing for me to present to the world (and to receive).  When I was 10 years old, my mom said, "Shake my hand, Jenna."  So I did.  She then said, "Try it again, but do it like you mean it."  I'm sure more profound moments have passed between us, but I will never forget that lesson.  That handshake's your first and best introduction - do it like you mean it.  I try to approach all my endeavors that way; full throttle and all-in.  That's all nice and ambitious if you can prove your confidence.  As it turns out, the least important thing for me is follow-through.  And here's the thing: it's an important characteristic when it comes to kick-starting this joint.

It is an understatement to say that the past few weeks have "tested" me.  We've had a nasty bout of illness and poaching sweep through our little place.  The big hens have (hopefully) recovered from a respiratory ailment that caused bubbles to spring forth from their eyes, ooze to drip from their mouths, and a poo the color of vermillion.  Stop!  Picture it!  You got that in your head?  Couple that with the coyote killings and couple THAT with the rogue dog who dined on my two favorite baby chickens Saturday morning (he came back for seconds after I chased him off. WTF?!).  If you live in the country, it's important for you to know that, while they'll run away, dogs just aren't that convinced you're scary if you run behind them waving your arms about your head, tripping over rocks, shouting obscenities, and throwing sticks.  An effective dog deterrent, this is not. 

Chicks or "wild dog lunch"

But it's the beloved little goats that have caused the most anguish, disgust, and self-doubt.  In the last week, I learned to neuter a goat and dodge projectile, missile-like goat feces - the combination of which caused my back to finally flip me the bird and depart from this earthly life.  Since then, I've been hobbling around without the use of my lower back, cleaning goat bottoms and the sides of goats and puppies who received direct hits from the projectiles. I've had to pay particular attention to our sad little Willy Boots who's feeling poorly since I put a band above his scrotum (It was less fun to perform than it sounds - promise!).   Yesterday, while finally enjoying a glass of wine in the front pasture after a day full of pain meds and animal care, Boo snuck up behind me and grabbed a hunk of skin from my arm.  I am proud to share that I handled it with the usual grace and elegance for which I am known - tossed my wine at him while kicking him with my left foot, then fell over in pain and the realization that you can't kick a donkey without the use of your lower back.
Projectile producer

Projectile casualty

Projectile casualty

Willy asks, "Why me?"

While I was on all fours in the pasture, hands in a pile of manure, it hit me: I'm not supposed to be here!!  That is why things have turned so suddenly sour!  I am supposed to be sitting in a condo in downtown Austin, drinking a martini on my balcony, stroking my house plant named Kitty.  I'm supposed to be getting my hair did, my nails trimmed, things waxed, with the condo service cleaning my toilets and emptying my trash cans.  In this life, I eat sushi 5 nights a week and drink power shakes after my morning ride on the elliptical machine.  My life is supposed to be tidy, sterile, and urban.  I'm sure of it.  Maybe this was a terrific mistake, wonderful in the stories it's given me, but just a scientific experiment.  Thanks for the memories, No Name Farm/Ranch, but it's time to go back to the "real" world and write my paper about the effect of the country on the psyche of a city girl.  See ya.

But maybe not.  I had a doctor's appointment this morning.  I dragged myself downtown, aching in my back, in my legs, in all of my bruises, and in some tiny little corners of my heart.  It's been a rough week.  The doctor asked about my bruises and cuts and, without hesitation, I puffed up and said, "They're from my baby goats, my flock of chickens, my pompous donkey, my aggressive heifer, the weeds in my garden, the jagged pieces of my fencing.  They're from my life."  She sucked in her breath, pen poised above my chart, wavering in the air for a second before quickly saying, "Alrighty then!  Let's just say 'injuries due to farming,' ok?"  I said ok.  Because it actually sounded pretty great to me.  Besides, the reality is that I hate martinis, and chances are good I'd kill Kitty the houseplant.

Meet Pedro

I have been horribly delinquent in formally introducing the latest addition to the farm/ranch.  Please meet Pedro, the new herd sire for our group of ragged donkeys.  Pedro stands yay high (picture me with my hand about mid-thigh) and is the smallest donkey we've got.  So far, he's been a quiet, easy little keeper.  As far as I can tell, Pedro thinks everything around here is just ok.  He can take or leave anything that's offered to him and is a bit of a loner.  A little mysterious, perhaps?  Or just devoid of personality?  We wait with baited breath to find out.