Monday, December 29, 2008

Best Christmas Ever

So much to be thankful for this year. Mostly for the reduction of expectations before Christmas. With the economy in shambles, it made our family glad to have a home, a job and each other. The kids reduced their "gimme" lists to one important item, so when I was able to expand their gifts a little, it felt like a LOT instead of a letdown. We spent the day quietly, just the four of us. I cooked a turkey, the kids helped with the mashed potatoes and green bean casserole. We pigged out at lunch, then played with toys or crashed with a book for a quick nap.
The leadup to Christmas was less stressful. We were able to do Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes and the kids' school participated in a Police Department Santa Connection for needy kids in the area. We had a ball shopping at the Dollar store and Walmart for the kids assigned to each of their classes. Allen kept piping up from the backseat: "Christmas is really about giving instead of getting, right Mom?!" We also helped serve lunch at the soup kitchen where I volunteer. The kids were blown away by the numbers of people in need this Christmas. (It was the usual end of the month packed house, lots of moms and kids as well.) I managed to push aside all activities for a Saturday to bake cookies and Emily and I ran a plate to the Police station and volunteer fire station in Waxhaw to thank them for being on duty over the holidays.
The kids' classes also went to see the Nutcracker ballet and I got to go along as chaperone. It really helped put me in the Christmas spirit. Temperatures have been so mild, it just doesn't seem time yet.
On Christmas Eve, we were invited to go ice skating at an open-air rink downtown with some close friends from Emily's class. We skated around until I got exhausted, then met Brian for a quiet dinner at a restaurant.
Brian was able to take the weekend off, so we headed off to fulfill Allen's only Christmas activity wish: "I REALLY want to go skiing!" There is a small slope about two hours away, so we got a house-sitter and hotel reservations and off we went. It was not the nicest snow we've ever skiied on, but we all improved tremendously. The temperatures have been too mild for them to make any fresh snow, so it really got a bit icy/slushy on the second day. Emily took lessons and went from barely able to stay up to traversing a challenging slope independently, leading her Mom in graceful S turns. "Look, Mom, this is how you stop if you get going too fast!" She and Julie are officially the same skill skiier now, so in future will take lessons together. Allen just took off and never looked back. He was on the challenging slope to start and progressed up through two levels of difficulty by the end of the two days. Brian had his work cut out for him as he followed Allen down the slopes. Allen was extremely patient, waiting at the bottom for whoever he was with to get down the mountain. There was just no way for me to keep up with him.
The second day we got a strong lesson in not letting a situation get you down. We awoke to a steady rain in our hotel room and fog so thick you couldn't see the adjacent road. We had paid for the day's lift tickets in advance and had our rental equipment stowed in a locker at the lodge. But it looked doomed. At the parking lot of the slope, you could barely see the other row of cars through the fog. But at least up there it wasn't raining. Brian went in to see if we could at least get a raincheck and if they were running the lifts. Allen listened carefully to the plan, then plaintively said,"I don't care if I can't see, I just want to ski the radical slope again!" So in we trudged to let Dad know how Allen felt. Brian was skeptical but kind enough to indulge his son's wish and it turned out to be an awesome day. True, the slopes were icy and slushy. But the rain down in town kept the lines at the lifts short and the fog lifted by noon so you could actually see where you were going. Never got sunshine, but had a great time. We all skiied to the limits of our physical endurance. There was such a lesson on not giving up and not letting a situation ruin your day.
Got back to find the goose had pulled a huge chunk of hair out of Chloe's back. Oh well. None of the animals died, so all in all a successful family vacation.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


The evening was progressing smoothly after a hectic day of errands. We had an hour and a half to get ready for piano recital. The kids were making themselves dinner, and I was working on making a batch of pumpkin cookies we were supposed to bring for after the recital. The kids were in their recital finery and we had half an hour to go as I slid the last sheet of cookies in the oven. The previous two sheets were cooling on the counter. I ran into the office to print out directions to where the recital was located. I came back and stopped, confused. Where were the cookies? Only crumbs remained. Oh, Emily must have put them on a plate to take to recital. Boy, she sure left a lot of crumbs. Well, Where is the plate? Nope. No plate. I look at my feet, and there is Roger. He looks up at me and burps. Oh NOOOO! BAD! BAD DOG!!! THOSE WERE MY COOKIES! Good thing I still had one sheet of cookies left. This time, I made sure to put them where he absolutely couldn't get at them.

P.S. If your Fifi suddenly turns up her nose at her dogfood, you might try pumpkin. My dogs, especially Roger, have gone nuts over the pumpkins I was processing. As I discarded the roasted peels, the dogs got into the chicken bucket and dragged them off to devour as quickly as a pig ear. Even got into a few squabbles over the skins. Then, when I left some of the roasted pumpkin seeds on the counter, Roger ate THEM. (And drug the Ziploc bag full of raw pumpkin seeds outside to devour at his leisure.) So, if your dog won't eat, roast up some pumpkin and watch the fun.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Frost on the Pumpkins

Well, winter has officially arrived and it is COLD tonite. (About 25) I have succumbed to affection (INSANITY!) and have installed a heater in the chicken house-- Just to help the little ones stay warm and to encourage the older ones to resume egg laying! Really! I know what I tell everyone about their ability to handle cold, but they just look so Miserable all fluffed out on their perches. Just until they get their feathers fully grown, then I PROMISE I'll turn the heater off. (My husband helped in my resolve by sneaking in and turning off the heater for me last week.)

I have been busily processing pumpkins this week. I was at the grocery store and they had pumpkins out front for 50 Cents. Most of the other stores didn't have any after Halloween and these were LOVELY. Saw a woman and her two daughters pushing three carts full of pumpkins into the store. She said that the grocery in the neighboring town had pumpkins for a penny each, but the manager said they weren't selling fast enough and so he threw them all away. She hadn't gotten there in time to buy all that she wanted. I was just on my way home from serving lunch at the homeless shelter and was horrified by this story of waste. If only there was some way for unwanted produce to get to people who could use it- even farmers can feed slightly spoiled produce to their chickens and pigs! I asked her what on earth she was going to do with all those pumpkins and she said she was going to somehow get them home and then she knew people who wanted them. I paid $8 each for my first Halloween pumpkins, so I grabbed four for my cart. After a while of shopping inside, the lovely cashier informed me that my pumpkins were a penny apiece. I almost ran out and got some more! I am now eternally grateful I didn't. I processed those pumpkins into 27 pint jars of puree. Everyone I know will be offered pumpkin for their Thanksgiving feast. It truly is an amazing fruit(?) full of energy and vitamins and so perfect for cool Fall days. Well, must go back to knitting booties for the bunny....Just kidding!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

There's No People like Chicken People

Got a phone call the other day from a dear elderly lady to whom I sold three chickens in the spring. "I was hoping I could buy some more chickens from you- my hens have stopped laying and I sure miss the eggs." (She must not have many chicken friends except me, for this is the forlorn story of every chicken keeper come winter all over the land.) Visiting my friend's farm in Virginia we combed her fields looking for a hiding spot. "Surely they can't just have stopped laying completely!" Sent 7 kids into the barn to search high and low there. Yielded a dozen eggs. Talking with strangers at a 4H Horse Composition Class- "Yes, we just put up lights to get the required amount of daylight. But my husband expects me to go turn them on and off at the right times and it's driving me crazy. Still no improvement in the egg numbers." At the farmer's market in Waxhaw: "My grandpa's hens haven't been laying for months now." And in my own chicken house: a lonely brown egg, the only production for a flock of over 60 hens. Roast chicken, anyone?! Just kidding....My family would kill me. Although with a feed bill of about 100/ month, I WOULD like to see some eggs. I put up lights middle of last week and installed the timer today, so I WON'T have to go turn them on and off.

So back to my dear friend..... I inquired, ever so politely, "Do you have any lights on in their house? They need at least 14 hours of daylight to produce eggs." She replied, "No, I don't. Wouldn't that keep them awake at night? I am fond of my birds and would hate to disturb them." I assured her that only a low watt bulb is necessary and that most chickens are not kept awake by light. I also told her she could use a timer to turn the light on and off to only the hours necessary to make up the 14 hours needed. She said, "Oh, well that would be easy because I already have a heater on a timer out in the chicken house." A HEATER! I thought. Keep in mind it has only been 40-50's at night here and these are adult birds that she has. I cannot imagine her electric bill. I then reassured her that with their feathers, the birds did NOT need a heater as they had each other to huddle next to for warmth. "Oh, that would be save me SO much money!" I was struck by how chickens bring out the caretaker in us all tonight as I looked at my puffed out ladies on their roosts and wondered if maybe I need to put in a heater myself. Hee Hee.
I DID sell her three new pullets (young hens) this morning and was able to reassure them as I stuffed them into the dog crate, "Relax, honey - you're going to someone who is going to treat you very well and love you more than I ever could." Somehow, they didn't seem reassured but continued scolding and squawking as fiercely as ever. Oh well. My friend will have them won over in no time. That's just how chicken people are.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

At the bottom of the pile.

Woke up the other morning at the bottom of a pile. Can honestly say it is one of my favorite things. Two children, two dogs and three cats were in the bed with me snuggled as close as they could get. One other dog snoozed on the floor beside the bed. Brian says I'm the pied piper. Lucky me. Sometimes I think God sends me all this love because I get so preoccupied with routine and forget how much He loves me. So many sins stem from forgetting who we are in Christ and the insecurity of feeling unloved. God is awesome! May you notice him singing to you in the birds in the trees, a gentle crisp fall breeze caressing your cheek. Watch him painting the trees for your enjoyment.
I truly stand in awe of his creation. Somehow it assures me that even if everything is scary and unsure, that He is ABLE to handle caring for me.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

There's a sheep in my car!

Gack! said Roger, the mastiff. There's a sheep in my car! Mom, can I PLEASE ride up front with YOU?! No, said mom and Allen. You may NOT. Oh MOM, it's so SCARY!!. It has horns!!. AAAAChoo! says the sheep. And promptly returns to munching her hay.
To picture this, take your average minivan. Fold down the back seat, assemble large mastiff wire crate. Fill with hay. Load 80+ pound Jacob ewe into crate. Remove one passenger seat. Place dog bed on floor. Place daughter and son in car and request that large mastiff (Roger) take his bed as usual on floor for 3+ hour drive to Virginia.
The ewe still has her winter wool, so she looks enormous. Roger did NOT approve.
However, the drive was uneventful after we convinced him that he could NOT ride in my lap. The sheep delighted the kids by sneezing every so often and by going potty in her crate. EEEEWWWW! said Allen.
Once we got to my friend's farm in Virginia, the sheep was unloaded without much fuss and Roger got to bark at ALL the big animals there. (Cows, goats, sheep, etc.) The sheep settled in nicely and made friends with her new flock. She even showed signs of going into heat and flirting with her new beau, Boaz, another Jacob sheep. Jacob sheep are from Biblical times and are sturdy spotted sheep that either have two or four horns. (Remember Laban dividing the flock with Jacob and Jacob choosing the spotted ones.) They are prized for their beautiful wool, and Ophelia(the ewe) has wool that looks creamy lavender in the early morning light. Beautiful.
We had SUCH a lovely visit. Got to help herd one of the cows to the neighbors to be bred over the next month. Got to explain to Emily (again!) what exactly was trying to be accomplished. Got to explain that, yes, that IS what happens with people to make babies. And Yes, that is how Mom and Dad got you. No way to get around the truth on a farm.
I have never worked so hard in my life as when the ten of us (two adults, three teens and five children) tried to convince the cow to meander to the neighbor's pasture. We all formed a line and had sticks to enlarge our reach, but she broke the line three times. Once, she charged across the creek and right up the side of the thickly forested ridge. By the time we had all charged up the hill and headed her off, she realized that now the pasture was clear all the way back to the barn and off she boogied! Boy, we were running through knee high grass and stickers for the better part of an hour. Finally contained her to a fenceline and gently moved her along it to the desired goal. I was so impressed at those farm kids and how quickly they anticipated the cow's (Priscilla) movements and how to react. I almost collapsed as she sauntered into the neighbor's pasture and I realized now I had to walk all the way back. Emily, of course, being a city girl, also felt that way and promptly declared that there was no way she could walk, that she had stickers in her shoes and that I needed to carry her. I declined.
Some how, we made it back.
The next day, we picked the very last of that season's apples. The UPick was abandoned with a coffee can for you to leave your money in. We got the best Red Delicious apples I have ever eaten. We were able to use the picking tool at the orchard and there were just a few apples on each tree. Managed to get 2 bushels. There had been a fierce wind the day prior and we were blessed to find a LOT of perfect apples already on the ground. I hope to make apple butter and pie filling this week sometime.
The day after, I made butter. Did you know you can make butter with just heavy cream and a blender? I didn't. Ginger's cow, Cocoa, makes about 5 gallons of milk a day and the percentage of cream is impressive. Cocoa gets to hang around the yard, pasture or house and is one HAPPY cow and her milk shows it. I think I must have made about 6 lbs of butter that day. Couldn't stand up by evening. Roasted a pumpkin and canned it. Roasted the best batch of pumpkin seeds I've ever made. (Olive oil, and LOTS of it!) Gorged myself on goat cheese, fresh bread, pumpkin seeds and fresh mozzerella. (Ginger was busily whipping up fresh cheeses for a winery and I got to be her taste tester!) Her daughter helped make a pumpkin pie and an apple pie for dinner. Delicious!
We prayed over dinner that God would bless those who don't get such variety and who mainly eat rice at each meal. I was reminded of how many people get to eat meat once a year on a big festival and was thankful for the bounty of our land.
Got to chase the pigs briefly the next day (the dogs helped). Kept the fire stoked as snowflakes swirled in the air. What Bliss!!!
Took my precious friend to a movie for her birthday. "The Secret Life of Bees" Bawled my eyes out. Loved it. Catharsis is good for the soul. Went out for late appetizers and pigged out yet again on delicious food. (I highly recommend the Olive Garden Appetizer assortment!) Got home and crawled in bed with my snuggle bunny, Emily, who was keeping the bed warm for me. Bliss just doesn't cover friendship, hard work, good food, God's blessings and the beauty of the Roanoke countryside in fall.
Halloween was one of the best ever. We went to a friend's home for chili and costume preparation, then to a TINY quaint town for a short parade and being set loose for door to door frolicking. We made out like bandits and were done before everyone was exhausted and began bickering and sniping. Then back to home for a cheery hour of bartering among the kids before bedtime. "My store is still open! I have two Jolly Ranchers up for grabs!" The kids got enough to have fun sorting but not so much they will be visiting the dentist prematurely.
Now it is back to home and back to school. May God keep my eyes open to the wonders around me here.

George and Martha

Turkeys are the delight of my life. (After my children and husband, of course!) I have named our pair George and Martha (initially after the cartoon hippo pair, but now more after our first president and his wife- they are both so regal.) You simply haven't lived until you have seen a tom turkey strut his stuff. First of all, picture him, tail fully raised, all body feathers puffed out and wings stretched low until they almost drag the ground behind him. Then, picture a fan dancer and the way she moves. Step, step, pause. Flip the tail the other direction. Step, step, pause. Flip. Step, step, pause. GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE. (Just in case you didn't notice the show) Step, Step, pause. FLIP.
You get the idea. As soon as I get a sunny day, I'll try hard to shoot some video I can post. He is just too much fun for words. He is now our resident guardian, and gobbles at any new sight on the property. The goose, Pilgrim is still vocal at strangers and the guineas are as rambunctious as ever, but George is top dog. (turkey) Pilgrim has actually calmed quite a bit since his arrival. I think it helps having another species that is a large male bird to "help" him guard the turf. He doesn't really have to compete with him, but he knows George won't tolerate any nonsense from predators. The guineas are just noisy in the evenings as they return from eating bugs in the woods to roost over the chicken house. There are about 12 now and with rumors of the coyote being wounded by my neighbor, I have high hopes of them making it through until spring. Even with the racket, they keep the ticks and ants away and for that I am eternally grateful. George sleeps on top of the chicken house with his lady tucked safely away inside. I absolutely love being gobbled at as I start my day.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Turkeys and Bunnies and Froggies Oh MY!

I think I am trying out to be the caretaker at a zoo.
We have added two Royal Palm Heritage turkeys, an Angora Rabbit and an African Green tree frog to our collection. Not to mention the 40 some baby hens growing up in the workshop. I am just utterly in love with God's creation. I giggle each morning as the tom turkey gobbles to greet me. It is such a sublimely silly sound. I am enraptured that softness can be so soft as I cuddle the bunny on the couch. And I can't get enough of watching how fast the frog can catch and eat his crickets. Holding him is amazing due to how delicate his little toes are and yet how strong.

I am still processing the lessons from the trip to Ethiopia. An absolute must read is the book There is no me without you by Melissa Fay Greene. It chronicles the story of an Ethiopian woman who began taking in AIDS orphans when everyone else told her not to and that she was crazy. It was one of the most inspiring books I have ever read and tells the story of the AIDS crisis in Africa better than any other source I've been able to find.
God also has been good enough to provide me with a Bible study at church entitled God of Justice and Compassion. There are about 100 ladies in 5 small groups studying God's response to poverty and suffering. We have all been feeling God moving in our hearts to do more than we have in the past to meet the needs of those God loves: the poor, the widow and the orphans.
I have started reading Kay Warren's book Dangerous Surrender as another way to figure out what I've been feeling since this summer and where I'm supposed to go from here. It's like standing on an abyss with a glider strapped to my back. Can't wait to see what the ride will be like even though it feels a bit scary. I'm looking for opportunities to serve locally like I did overseas.
I've applied to go back to Ethiopia with my church in February. I would be able to meet my World Vision children as well as help with some construction at the camp at Langano. I am praying that God's perfect design will be evident as the team is selected and the finances of those going will be worked out.

The roosters are still amazing me. There are about four roosters without any hens of their own and as the hens from this spring mature, they have been industriously courting them by digging up bugs, finding grain and following them all over the yard. Over the past month, there has been a selection process and now only two roosters have been left without a batch of hens to look after. And one of them has favorably attracted the attention of the female turkey. Not that she follows him around, just that she comes when he calls her to a piece of food, and she doesn't drive him away from the pile of scratch like she does the other chickens. It is comical to see this little white banty rooster clucking for this gigantic turkey hen. She is mainly devoted to hanging out with the tom turkey, but I guess is finding friendship where it is offered to her.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


Due to various and sundry computer problems, I am just returning to the internet. It is quite handily coinciding with the startup of school, so everything seems to be returning to normal around home.
The summer was everything I hoped it would be-long lazy days spent by the pool. Lots of sleepovers with friends and a chance to visit with both sides of the family tree.
Obviously, the complete highlight was my trip to Ethiopia. When asked how it was, my stock answer was "Amazing!" Alternating with "Awesome" and "Unforgetable". Mainly because people usually don't have time for the long version. Africa is the stuff of big adjectives, but for me that's not what the big deal was. I weep because I won't experience the people of Ethiopia for a long while, maybe never again. The culture is extremely relationship oriented and being a part of a close-knit camp setting just intensified that effect for me. I happened to injure my knee one of the first days of camp playing Duck Duck Goose with some kids (Yea, I know- I'm not 14 anymore!) and my bunkmate in the cabin asked me morning and night how I was feeling. She also made sure that if I needed anything from my bags to hand it up to me so I wouldn't have to climb down from my bunk to get it- because it hurt!
To really understand this, picture a 15 year old girl with the looks of a supermodel and the personality of Amy Grant offering to look after this middle aged white foreigner just because she wants to. Our drivers, our co-counselors at camp, the cooks; everyone I met went above and beyond to take notice of how each other was doing. When I provided PeptoBismol to an Ethiopian counselor who was having a rough stomach bug, she and all the other girls called blessings down from God for my compassion. I was flummoxed- I was just handing out the quick remedy, not even hardly remembering to ask later if she was better. But she was blessed by what I offered and made sure to speak blessings to me in return. I'm not sure I've ever been blessed by a group before like that. It was great. We've certainly all been cursed verbally and physically here in the states by angry people- take that feeling and just flip it completely around.
My greatest grief is that I will not get to see the kids in my soccer team again. I have a picture on the wall by my bed of us as a group so I can remember to pray for them. There was one girl who completely stole my heart. She was sent by accident with her friend to a boys camp and I think God just wanted to tender my heart and shatter my reserves. She was so quiet but as I showed that she was under my care and that I wanted to know her better, she just blossomed. We explored the delights of swimming in an inflatable tube together-she wasn't at all sure about the idea of going in the lake at first, but I took her hand and off we went. Seeing the radiance of her happy childlike glee was the most awesome thing I've ever experienced. Of course, the rest of the boys were romping and splashing and playing too, just they weren't as nervous at the start. Three days into camp, my whole troop of 5 had figured out that I was thrilled to keep track of their water bottles while they played their soccer matches, that if they got hurt I was the person to come to and that I would hug them whenever I got a chance. We ate together, played together and they taught me what they could of their language. I have never seen bonds as strong as those I developed as a cross cultural soccer mom. I suspect that even though the physical affection at home is strong, leisure time for parents to observe their children playing and cheer them on is probably sparce. I was honored to be given the privilege to meet and love these children. Most people visiting Ethiopia see the poverty, the grandeur of the scenery and miss out on the chance to build relationship with Ethiopians. Which is a tragedy.
It makes me wonder if I'll ever be able to casually visit places again in my life. I'll just want to settle down, hold some babies, macrame some bracelets with some teens and just listen to the stories of how the leaders have come to this place in their walk with Christ.
It was those moments that completely undid me. The stories of miracles in answer to prayer. The warmth of an orphaned AIDS toddler tucked under my chin. The tiniest little baby I've ever held( under 4 pounds) sucking down a bottle for me and then filling his shorts like all good little babes should. The unbelievable human spirit in the face of national famine and destitution. I never heard a baby cry the whole 12 days I was there, and we were around a lot of them. It took returning to civilization where children are spoiled, mismanaged and ignored to hear the wails of unhappiness surrounding me. Personally, this has been an extreme challenge as I balance the misery of those who have everything with the relationships of those who have nearly nothing.
My poor kids. "Well halfway around the world they don't have ANY toys/cereal bars/happy meals/new sneakers etc.!!" I've tried to limit my lament at their ungratefulness to once a week, but I find myself lamenting MY ungratefulness at least hourly. May that never change. It is good and fitting to thank God for what He has given me and to also consider that I probably don't need everything in this life that I lust after.
I shall try to post pictures at some point- they will be mostly of the people- the beautiful Ethiopian people. Their eyes speak volumes to me even now. I hope they will bless you as well.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Had the best weekend with the kids. Rode on Saturday, and took Allen to buy some Bakugan at Target. They are always sold out, but a kid at school let us in on the secret of Saturday morning shopping. We showed up before horse riding and were able to find what we wanted. Of course, since Allen didn't have enough allowance money, it meant he was going to be in for some labor at home later for Mom. I told him it would involve sweeping the front sidewalk and helping me clean out the shavings in the chicken house. He agreed.
On the way home, we stopped by the farmer's market in town. Got some lovely potatoes, beets, onions, tomatoes, cantaloupe, peaches and plums. Amazing the variety that is in season this time of year. I have been reading a book lately called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle which chronicles a year in the life of a Virginia family as they only eat what they can produce or purchase locally, in an effort to decrease the amount of petroleum involved in bringing them their food. It has been inspirational. I certainly am not up for that particular challenge, but it has made me crave the wonderful things the local farmers produce and make me want to support them so that farming in this area is profitable. Cooked up a huge pot of beets just for me for lunch. So sweet and yummy.
Made potatoe salad for Brian.
Got ready to go outside to work, when the rain started and ended up doing laundry instead.
Brian and I went to a farewell dinner for the headmaster at the school our kids go to. The food was great, but the funnest part was the Scottish dancing afterwards. They had four dancers arrive and the dancers cajoled us(all the guests) into participating in a program of at least 10 Scottish dances. Brian and I ended up dancing in about 4 of them and it was the most fun I've had in a long time. We didn't get all the steps right, but it felt so good to be moving after such a big meal.
Today the sun shone bright, so the kids and I headed outside to work. While Allen swept the front walk, Emily and I tackled the weeds in the garden. I offered to pay for each bucket of weeds she pulled and she went right to work. The plants in the garden have been getting adequate rain and we were able to harvest our first zucchini and a small bundle of beets. We were able to weed half the garden before Allen was done with the sidewalk. Got busy shoveling out the chicken house. Not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Made a lovely mulch pile and filled the compost bin. Gave the birds fresh shavings and straw. Emily filled their waterers. Then she and I went back to weeding and got the worst of it done in the entire garden. She is becoming such a hard worker as long as I'm there to keep her company. (Which helps me work harder as well.) Then we ordered pizza and jumped in the pool to cool off. What a lovely lovely day. 9 days of school left. Can't wait for summer when most days can be like this one.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Wild West, part 2

A week later, when Allen was away at camp, Emily and I had the most special time that made me feel my motherhood intensely. She probably thought I was nuts getting all sentimental on her. We went and got our nails done together. At a kids spa. Little tiny flowers painted on my big toe. All I could think of was when I was pregnant with Allen, how I got my nails done weekly and how I hoped that eventually I would have a girl so that we would be able to sit through the hour together and both come out feeling beautiful. Never could have imagined having such a sunny little girl who just giggles her way through life and doesn't mind being with me. And she is GIFTED in the art of selecting polish color for me. She grabbed a color and I thought, "YUCK!" but when they put it on, it was exactly what I had been in the mood for, summery and bright and looking so good on me. All the presents in the world can't replace relationship. I feel so lucky to be her mom, and I told her so. She replies, "You're the best mom in the world!" I wish I could carve that in bronze against the future, and reply" Sweetie, I just try to do the best I can."
She grins and crushes me in a hug.
Soon I was to find out that Best Mom In The World would also involve a 12 Gauge shotgun. Don't know if I've mentioned our pal the coyote, but he has been visiting frequently at the run-through to pick up some chicken nuggets. One time he was charging our pool area (chasing Chloe, who had been barking at him) and ended up in a scrap with both Chloe and Roger. Roger has a bum knee (Mastiffs are prone to injury when they charge around at high speed) and he ended up getting pretty scratched up (bit?) before he and Chloe were done driving the coyote away. After determining that Roger was o.k. , my beloved husband went out and bought ME a shotgun. Yes, ME. I know. So far I am the only one who has spotted this creature in our household. My friend standing next to me on the deck saw it, but Brian has never seen it, nor the neighbor who comes faithfully to hunt for it after it visits. So after a demonstration of ammunition choices and loading procedure and the safety locking device, I was entrusted with a gun.
Still haven't got the coyote. It's been two weeks. I did see him again today, and I can tell you the next time my guineas start screaming and running, I AM READY to get that gun pronto and come to help. I had at least 1 minute's warning today, if I just would have moved faster I would have got him.
Did get a chance to shoot a possum. Poor thing. Caught it in a humane trap, and it was spinning its head incessantly in circles instead of crouching down and just hissing at me. Probably rabid. Absolutely hated doing it, but at least I once again proved I had the stomach to do what had to be done. I've turned loose too many possums not to know a sick one when I see it.
The gun wasn't as bad as I thought it would be- at least not with birdshot. My neighbor has offered to set up some targets and some clay pigeons once the weather settles down and I am definately going to take him up on it.
So, you can see why I feel like I'm on a personal frontier of sorts. What on earth am I going to just suck it up and learn to do next?!
Oh, by the way- did I mention that I'm going to Ethiopia in July with my church on missions?
Yep, really. Pray for me. God has the most amazing way of preparing you for what's ahead and with what's been going on 'round here the last few months, I've no idea what's in store in Africa.
Nite nite for now...

Living in the Wild Wild West

I Believe I am turning into a frontierswoman of sorts. I don't recognize myself and my hobbies anymore.
It all started on Mother's Day, when my son gave me the gift of being more than I wanted to be as a Mom. (Only your child can ask you to do something you'd hate to do and end up with you doing it cheerfully so they won't see what a wussie you are.)
I had a headache after church that day and the family was letting me rest. I absolutely couldn't sleep, so I decided to visit the neighbor's pond and take the kids fishing. They'd been wanting to for a week or two and if I didn't take them, who would? Besides, they were trying to be so quiet for me and I knew the peace of the pond and a hook in the water would really help my head.
Turned out, it was a great day to fish. Minutes away from a mighty storm, overcast and the fish biting on liver like they hadn't eaten in a month. Allen pulled in four or five little brem, I must have caught three or four and midway through it all, I pulled in a huge catfish, just shy of two feet long. Absolutely couldn't believe it. Lovely fish. Sent the kids running to the neighbors to see if they wanted the fish for dinner. Nope, not today. Neighbors came down to admire the catch. I put it on a chain in the water. The kids were blown away. Kept pulling it up just to look at it. Allen turns to me and says, "Can we have it for dinner?" I say, "No, honey, I really don't want to have to carry it home- it's pretty heavy." He fishes for a while. Sits thinking, in that way he has. Says: " If I catch another brem, we'd have enough for a good dinner." " I know, honey, but I really don't want to have to haul these fish home and I'm not sure brem is good to eat." (Not to mention that I really didn't enjoy the last time I cleaned a fish, 15+ years ago) Neighbor mentions that brem taste a lot like perch, and they're big enough to keep over about 6 inches. Allen looks hopeful and casts in the spot they've been hitting hard. I feel a bite and pull in a nice brem, at least 6.5 inches long. I put it on the chain so the kids can keep enjoying this rare day. Allen says"I can't wait for this summer- Nana told me she's going to take me fishing and she'll cook up anything I catch when I visit them." (Nana did NOT mention that Papa Ted gets the fun part of finding the good fishing spot AND cutting up the lovely filets afterwards.) I think, you know- I once cut up a lovely rainbow trout just to impress my new hubbie and it was the loveliest thing I've ever eaten. My little boy just wants to try fresh fish. Everyone in these parts loves catfish fried up fresh. I am going to do my best.
About then, Brian shows up to help carry the fish home and I place a frantic call to Dad. "Is there any special trick to fileting a catfish?' "Nope- just a sharp knife." So I get my knife nice and sharp, pull out some pliers to hang onto it with and go to town.
Did I mention that my plan for killing the fish was to place them on ice for an hour or so? My husband had volunteered to club them on the head for me, but that seemed so brutal. Well, the sweet sleep on the ice worked very well for the brem. Being such a little thing, it took some delicacy to get the filets off without any skin or bones attached. But I finished proud that I had some scraps big enough for us all to taste. AND with very little blood spilled as I mainly stayed out of the organ cavity.
At which point Allen says"Look, Mommy, the catfish is breathing!" "Nonsense, honey, he's been in the ice for hours." OH WAIT! The blasted thing is gasping at me!!!!! Into workshop for sledgehammer for hubbie's original plan. One gentle thump onto catfish noggin and presto! Relaxo! Let the knifework begin. Thirty minutes later, two huge filets are ready for the fry pan. I send Brian to the grill with some steaks in case the culinary adventure disappoints. I roll the catfish in a cornmeal mixture and fry them up in a hot iron pan. Amazing how they shrink as they cook, but still plenty for the four of us. I serve them with tartar or ketchup or lemon as options for the kids. Emily chows down. Amazing. Eats her whole plate and declares herself full. Allen eats all of his brem (Quite tasty, I concur), but only manages a few bites of the catfish before he says he doesn't like it and would rather have some steak. I only get one bite of the catfish before I decide I don't like it and move on to the steak. If there is a next time, I will use a beer batter and will deep fat fry it.
So, the day ended with an unexpected new self-label: Fish preparer. And I actually did a good enough job that it didn't gross me out.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Nothing cuter than a baby chick.

Another miraculous day. We had 17 chicks hatch successfully at a friends' home and one late chick hatched yesterday. It was utterly limp and both Brian and I were certain it wouldn't make it. This morning it had finally gained its feet and by this afternoon was staggering around in the incubator. This evening, I decided to risk putting it with the others in the brooder. The others accepted it without pecking too much and by the time Brian got home, it was so fluffy and vibrant that he couldn't even tell which one it was. Hooray! Here you can see him nestled next to the food jar- he's the orange/brown one in a sea of dark grey chicks.

I candled the goose eggs, and they are actually developing, so in a month or so we have a chance at some goslings. Cross your fingers and say a prayer!
An update on the mother goose- She did not perish as was earlier thought. Our neighbor Norman saw her at a nearby church munching grass and tried to round her up. She hissed at him, eluded his grasp and took to flight after running down the hill. He said she flew almost 2 miles before setting down. So I'm sure she's doing just fine.

We had a marvelous weekend camping with the cub scouts at a neighboring farm. Allen participated in the fishing derby and walked away with the prize for the biggest fish! Everyone took the competition so seriously with special rigs, magic hormone baits and worm-theiving. Allen ran out of worms (due to aforementioned theiving) and so moved on to leftover breakfast pancakes as bait. They only lasted moments in the water, but were yummy enough to draw the fish, so it got the best results. He caught a 7 1/2 inch and a 7 3/4 inch brem, the biggest and the second biggest fish in the competition. He also was promoted to Webelo rank, very exciting for him.

Emily caught a little brem, but her biggest acheivement was learning how to cast into the middle of the lake unassisted. She is scheduled to participate in a horse show on Sunday, her first show- pictures to follow!

Monday, April 21, 2008


Our car has a pass-through into the trunk -- a small, door-like opening from the trunk into the passenger compartment, designed to allow one to carry long items, such as skis or long-handled utensils.

The other day, as usual, we dropped our children off at school. The school was not yet open when we pulled up. Whilst we were waiting, our oldest, a boy, asked if he could crawl through the pass-through to retrieve an item from his school bag. I granted permission, not thinking he could fit through the small space. Well, he could. And did.

After a few moments, his small, plaintive voice wafted in from the trunk. He was unable to fit back through the crawl-through, and wondered if we might rescue him.

As I got out of the car, the front door of the school, right in front of which we were parked, opened, and a teacher came out to welcome the students. She greeted her first student as his dad opened the trunk of the family car and the child came bounding out.

The authorities have not contacted us about this incident...

Spring Sorrow

Well, I am learning that with loving animals comes a certainty of grief. Keeps me on my toes. We were able to get a lovely new goose for Pilgrim, named her Gracie. 3 days later, our dogs caught her outside the fence and attacked her. She escaped to the refuge of our neighbors' pond only to disappear beneath the surface while the kids were watching. We still have no idea how a enormous waterfowl could drown, nor what has happened to her body. It has drawn our small neighborhood of farmers together as we all banded together to find her the first time and now, to try to figure out what happened to her. Submerged rope? Snapping turtle? We'll probably never know.
Then, in the afternoon on Sunday a coyote showed up out of the blue and snatched a chicken from my yard. I was outside raking and screamed at him to no avail. He ran off just long enough to deposit his catch and was back for another one. I charged him screaming my head off and waving my arms and he just looked at me as if calculating if he could nab another meal before he ran off. Needless to say, I called my neighbors with shotguns for backup before I relaxed a little. It was completely unnerving- He was only 15 feet away and the size of a German Shepherd and I've never been that close to an uncaged wild animal in my life. So far we haven't found him.
The baby chick and keet are growing well and we expect a hatch next weekend from our chicken eggs. The guineas have laid another nest in the woods- we'll see how long they survive out there. I'll probably incubate the goose's eggs next and only help the guineas if the nest is destroyed. The neighbor has been allowing a friend to hunt racoons on his property with good results so the chances are fair the nest will make it.
All of this ensures that life is never dull and that my kids are developing a bit of a fatalistic view of how life and death work.
One funny moment: I put in my garden and some flowers out front and our little dog, Toby got quite muddy. I watched TV until fairly late and when it was time to go to bed, just couldn't face crawling in without getting a shower first. With how dirty Toby was, I decided to wash him up while I was in there. He got all cleaned up and when released zoomed off through the house. Each time he gets a shower, it's like this mega high for him and he has to burn off energy for at least 20 minutes chasing our other dogs. Well, it's nearly midnight at this point, so I nab him and plop him on the bed hoping to settle him down. He starts digging at the covers and spinning around in an attempt to go to sleep- only its like he's in Fast forward mode. It was the funniest thing watching him spin like a dervish for 15 minutes before he finally collapsed to rest.
Life is good.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mary and kittens

The Best Weekend

Do you ever get the feeling that God is totally looking out for you? Well, this weekend turned out to be one of those times. It started out bad- the Cub Scouts were slated to hold their annual Camporee and somehow both Brian and I had forgotten to sign up. Despite many phone calls and emails, it was not going to happen for us. I was so disappointed and mad at myself for forgetting.
Then, Friday morning my friend Ginger calls and says, "Would this weekend be O.K. for Phillip to bring the girls down for a visit?" Knowing that we were basically stuck with nothing to do but assemble a swingset we had ordered, I said,we would LOVE it!
That evening as he was driving down, our area had what could only be described as a Monsoon. We were under tornado watch, with reported sightings within 20 miles and must have gotten 1-2 inches of rain. We've been in a drought so long that it was an answer to prayer.
I couldn't help but praise God that I had not spent all day preparing for a weekend of camping and most of the afternoon setting up a campsite only to have that deluge arrive on my head. I've never been so glad to miss a scouting function.
Earlier in the day, another answer to prayer came through. We have a Pilgrim gander. He came to us from a family who was having problems with his aggression. [Sure! Send him to me--I actually LOVE aggressive 40 lb. birds!] He had lost his mate, and the family thought he was being aggressive competing with their other gander over the other gander's goose. HeeHee. Sorry, that whole sentence just makes me want to laugh. Anyways, "Pilgrim" as we now call him, has been incredibly lonely. He does like hanging out with all our other birds and gets along with them well. But, he follows me around like a lovestruck teenager/ puppy dog and when I am not out in the yard, he hangs out near my car and moons over his reflection. Even Brian said, "Julie, we have got to get that boy a goose." Well, despite much looking online I was unable to find anyone who would sell me a single goose. It appears these geese are a rare breed, valued for their quiet and gentle temperment, and people only sell them in pairs. I spoke to the Livestock Conservancy and they gave me the name of a person in NC that had raised Pilgrim geese previously. I was actually able to contact her and she had an extra goose and was willing to sell her to me. She is only 2-3 hours away and is also a chicken and guinea hen lover and a nice lady.
So hopefully, next Saturday, Pilgrim will finally find a new love.
Saturday dawned overcast and cool. I loaded the girls up and off we headed to Emily's riding lesson. Emily was thrilled to have her friends accompanying her. It honestly stopped drizzling just long enough for her to have a nice ride while we watched and didn't start again until I was finished with my lesson. I even learned how to do the posting trot!! Oh, the undescribable pain for the next three days-- but I digress. Basically, as we pulled out, it proceeded to pour for the rest of the day. I had a house full of happy kids playing inside with each other due to God's mercy and provision.
Phillip was even able to get an appt. with my chiropractor, so his back will finally be better.
Sunday we thoroughly enjoyed taking the kids to church, and the sun finally appeared. We decided to attempt to assemble the swingset after lunch. With all three of us working hard, we just finished at sundown. I Knew I shouldn't have trusted the label when it promised "4-6 hours assembly time"! And there was no way under heaven that we could have accomplished it without a third person's help. The fact that Phillip in a previous life assembled play structures for Home Depot just was icing on the cake.
Monday saw my friends heading back with a carrier full of guinea hens and one lovely rooster. My kids were devastated but had made full plans to keep in touch on Webkins world (don't ask!) through the chat room/Clubhouse there.
Last night, one of the chicken eggs hatched. I stared in wonder for at least an hour. I don't know why I'm such a softie for these little wobbly creatures, but they just fill me with awe that They were inside an EGG just a moment ago.
Tonight, "Cheepie" is at least twice the size, all fluff and racket. It is figuring out how to eat and drink. It seems lonely. I keep checking the incubator for signs of life from the other eggs the guinea was sitting on, but so far no luck. I guess it was a miracle that even this one made it. Only half of her nest was fertile and she was distressed to be away from her flock. She was so glad to be let loose..........maybe she wasn't sitting on them as much as she needed to.
The kittens continue to grow upstairs as well. They are starting to venture out of their closet and three of them were sidling up to me, climbing over my foot and allowing me to pet them this afternoon. I hope they will all learn to trust humans and will always have humans they can trust.
Another weekend approaches. I doubt it can match the last one, but I know God will show me his hand of love and mercy if I keep my eyes peeled for it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Spring has arrived!

This is definately my favorite time of year. The guinea hens have laid a nest and one of them is diligently sitting on the eggs. Each day I anxiously check to see if there is any progress. Our kittens, born two weeks ago are an endless fascination. I have to be careful when I go upstairs to check on them to not lose track of time. They are starting to move around so much, crawling over each other and mock battling with their paws. Their mom, Mary, is taking such good care of them, their little bellies resemble tennis balls- they are so fat.
In Charlotte, the trees are in full bloom. I've never lived in a city that celebrates the blooming tree so much- they are everywhere- white, pink, yellow blossoms flying through the air and down the streets. Right now the yard is the only place I want to be.