Friday, September 30, 2011

#104 - Farming Thoughts Less Foggy

Learning about farming is something we've been dedicated to doing this past year. Of course, I had always wanted chickens, then for years I began to feel the building drive to also own goats one day. But, I certainly didn't know one thing about chickens as of this past March, and today I know even less than nothing about goats.

Basically, I want goats so that I can mostly make goat products such as soaps, cheeses, lotions, etc., because the butterfat content on certain breeds are very high, the glycerin content is high, so this is the reason certain goat milk lotions feel so scrumptious to the skin. Since I go through gallons of lotion every year, it might actually be cost effective for me to learn to make my own body lotions from goat milk. And my daughters are hooked on a nearby farmer's home-made goat lotions, so it will definitely be something my family would enjoy. And soaps, oh yeah buddy...I'd love to be able to make soaps.

The farm portion of a goat class Deputy Dave and I took
this year in Houston. The 2nd portion of the class was a
field trip to this farmers two acre goat farm...I believe she had
around 30 goats and lots of chickens.
However, I'm beginning to realize that it might be great to ALSO have a few cattle. Initially, I'd been resistant to owning cattle because, frankly, I'm terrified of cattle. And yes, I am a Texan. Cattle are everywhere, even in downtown Houston on empty lots surrounded by business buildings because the cattle give the land an almighty agriculture tax exemption. I now realize that if we had our own milking cow, I'd know exactly where our milk came from and how long it had actually been sitting on a shelf before it goes on top of my Lucky Charms.

I got to milk this little beauty. My first time to ever milk
a farm animal and I must say that I felt very comfortable with the process.
Even though I was initially looking for the other two "missing" teats.
My oldest daughter is drinking unpasteurized milk from a reputable area farmer. Yes, this worries me...I can't help it. Unpasteurized dairy products can carry such danger, but she swears that her tummy issues are better since she's been drinking unpasteurized milk. I don't know enough about the subject to understand the value of unpasteurized milk, but I can't take a chance with drinking unpasteurized with my health condition. I'm glad Heather enjoys her milk. When she lived at home, she went through a gallon of milk by herself every three days, so she might need to get a cow one day for herself.

Anyway, Heather and her fiance go to this farm and they get their milk from the farmer's customer refrigerator and there is a jar full of money left sitting out for you to add your payment for the milk you are taking ---- all of it is based on the old-fashioned concept of "on your honor."

My daughter says that sometimes there is clearly about $200. in the jar and she thinks it is amazing that people are so honest in the country and that the owners have such faith in their local customers to allow them to fully trusting. I call that kind of honor system an example of pure country goodness.

The Houston area goat farmers new room to satisfy her
goat dairy inspections.
Again, since we have health concerns in our family, I don't believe we'll take any chances with drinking unpasteurized milk. Since I've been studying Farming 101 this past year, I've learned that there are several methods of pasteurizing, but one of the best and easiest methods I've learned about it to simply freeze the milk. Once the milk freezes, it kills any microbes and it doesn't affect the quality or taste of the milk once it is defrosted for drinking. Plus, it's easier to do than makes messes with pots and pans along with the time it takes to heat the milk...freezing also does not chance scalding the milk.

Our local farmer gal showing us a few products to help
with raising goats. However, we want to go for our organic
certification, so a lot of these products we will not be able to use.
Since my husband has raised cattle, he's more comfortable with the idea of them, but I will be gladly volunteer to milk the cow in order to enjoy the fresh ingredients we use so heavily in our cooking...milk, cheese, buttermilk, butter and such. We are a big dairy family.

As for goats, we will likely start with a few of them so that we can enlist their help in keeping the land clear. This forested area is difficult to keep clear of underbrush because of the terrain. Some areas are extremely difficult to get lawn equipment into, especially because we need a couple of bridges on the land. We have steep embankments, hills, creeks, thick forested areas, a ditch and impassable blackberry vines that have grown for who-knows-how-long without interruption. This will make having goats worthwhile. Once we get some proper fencing in place, goats will probably be one of the best investments into livestock that we can make right away. However, I am very nervous about being able to keep them fenced in and safe from predators.

As we go about our business on the land, it will be so very nice to be able to travel around on the acreage and to take a few goats with us for tying up in a zone for chowing down. I've seen several goats that are trained enough to be walked on a leash, like a dog, kind of strange, but it looks workable. I wonder how difficult this will be to accomplish????

Maybe we could work with our goats so that we could lead them by leash to the exact spot we want without too much herding difficulties. But, I'm positive that Howdy will be in full herding mode, no matter what.

So, I can imagine that each animal we raise will be suitable for a specific purpose. I'm also sure that each animal will make a gradual appearance on our little farm so that we have time to adequately prepare for each one that joins us.

I'm also sure that we will have no idea about what we are doing, until we are doing it.

Deputy Dave has also raised humongous swine, so I guess we'll raise more of these once we're on our land. Personally, I don't know how much space they require, but it seems as if they don't take much.
One thing is for sure...our family loves pork. Us Texans keep a side container of pork fat for cooking. Many foods are made more flavorful with a tad bit of pork fat added. We didn't need Emeril to clue us in to this fact. Texas understands the power of pork fat. But, I can't imagine what it must be like to eat farm-raised pork.

Of course, we'll have our chickens. We'll be raising enough chickens to also process for us to have fresh chicken on hand at all times. I dread processing chickens, but the determination in me to raise farm-fresh chicken meat is stronger than my fear. Besides, I can already smell Deputy Dave's home-made chicken and sausage gumbo...made with fresh ingredients from the farm.

We won't have to raise a ton of animals, just a few different varieties so that we can have a diverse food supply and so that we can be as self-sufficient as possible. It feels great to own enough land to raise farm animals and to have ample room to grow a good, large crop of veggies for our tummies to be happy. And, we will certainly be canning all kinds of veggies for year-round consumption. So, that's another entire area of learning that we must embrace.

A never ending job on the land...fallen branches everywhere
that need to be gathered and burned.
I must say that I am thoroughly looking forward to living on our land so that I during blackberry season I can pick berries every day and gather enough to can preserves for cobblers and jams to eat year round.

Years ago, we planted a couple of peach trees, a plum and a lemon tree on our land...they appeared to be dead for a couple of years, then, one day, we found the lower portions of the trees to have off-shoots growing nice and strong. Now, I don't know what this will mean for the trees health and production, but we left them there. Hopefully, we'll eventually enjoy their fruit...if they survived the drought. Of course, over this next year, we will be planting many more fruit trees throughout the land.

Our little young, so sweet, so free from the burden
of laying eggs. Ouch!
Years and years ago, my husband also had planted a pecan tree on our land in the memory of his grandmother and this tree seems to be growing nicely, but slowly. Maybe we'll have pecans one day from this tree. I can imagine making sugared pecans, pecan pie and having a bowl of fresh pecans lying out ready to be cracked and savored.

Howdy introducing himself to the foliage.
All of these possibilities are open to us at our acreage. Here in the city, the possibilities for any kind of farming activities are severely limited, for good reason, the city is the land of conveniences and purchases so you don't have to farm.

Living on a farm means that my master bathroom garden tub won't
need to be a chick incubator any longer.
Here in the suburbs with our city amenities, square footage is a commodity and it is limited. People choose to live in the suburbs because they don't necessarily want any extra space to maintain. They want a little space to call their own, small enough to easily keep under control and manicured. For many people living in an organized neighborhood, an association helps keep things in order, but I am thoroughly sick and tired of this arrangement. It was our choice to buy this house with the knowledge that association fees are applicable, but those same fees would go a long way on our land toward maintenance or bonus items such as a new chain saw!

So, the animal list for the acreage would be as follows:

1. Dogs...hopefully we'll still have Howdy around and he'll be ready for a girlfriend and a bit of breeding. The world definitely needs more Howdys and Howdyettes.
2. Chickens...I'm not sure how long our backyard chickens will be around, but maybe they'll be able to enjoy the bug goodness of our acreage and not be eaten by a hawk. We'll be glad to raise chicks and to continue savoring fresh eggs and to start processing our own chickens.
3. Goats...I think I prefer the Nubian breed (spelling?) because of their naturally high butterfat content production.
4. Swine...oink, oink salty goodness and big snout piggy business will be delightful for rooting out challenging blackberry vines.
5. Cattle...not many, only 2-3 for ongoing calving and milking and more farm fresh meat.
6. Crops...more land equals more crops which equals more food in the kitchen WITHOUT a grocery store bar code attached.

My mental list is growing. But, we'll start off nice and easy, building our little farm one step at a time. And, a little bit of stumbling is to be expected.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

#103 - Tighten It Up Thursday Update - Deciding to Take it Off!

Deputy Dave and I married when I was only 18 years old. Actually, I had just turned 18 when we eloped with him in his Air Force uniform and me in my favorite dress from Sakowitz. I had not even been 18 years old for a full month yet.

However, we'd grown up together and we were childhood sweethearts. You hear people saying, "He was my high-school sweetheart," and I laugh while remembering my blonde haired, blue-eyed, long-legged dreamy boy and he first struck my eye when I was only 11 years old. He was a cutie!

Our first set of wedding bands were purchased on a military base at the BX in the San Antonio, Texas area. They were simple gold bands with a bit of engraved pattern. My fingers were tiny, but I was 18 and without any meat on my bones. In fact, I weighed approximately 98 pounds when we got married. I rarely was able to bust the 100  pound mark on the scale. My body had always been petite and no matter how much I ate, I could not gain weight. My problem was trying to keep enough weight on me so that I would not become weak.

On David's end, he too was built like a lean wire. He had height on his side...I was five foot two inches tall and he was nearly six foot 2 inches tall. There was quite a difference between our heights and it didn't matter. Deputy Dave had lived with tall women his entire life, so he loves a tall woman, but he did not want to marry a tall woman. And I wanted to marry a tall lean man. I'd been surrounded by beefy, stout, muscular men while growing up and I wanted the opposite of my genetics as well. We both got what we wanted in each other.

Through the years, our bodies changed. Often Deputy Dave and I would stand side by side in the mirror and give our best pose, then we'd let it all hang out and give the saggy, poofed out pose...we'd be in hysterics. Deputy Dave would sing along to his old-timey favorite country singer Randy Travis, "I'm gonna love you forever..." and then he'd get to the part, "...time can play tricks on a body, make a young girl's brown hair turn gray..." and we'd sing along, in love, and with amusement at knowing that we were singing about a chorus that would come on some distant day...a day far, far in the future, so far away were those gray hairs that it was difficult to imagine.

I guess since Deputy Dave is a few years older than me, I imagined the gray hair line in the song to represent HIM with gray hair, not me.

But, now we're here in the gray hair days. My hair is definitely turning gray. No, my hair is actually growing white streaks while his hair is thinning. When he is on vacation from the Sheriff's Department, he gets to let his moustache and beard grow out a bit and we've both been amused lately to find that it grows out mostly in white whiskers.

And for other aging highlights...Both of us no longer have a waist-line. We lost our waist-lines years ago, me over children and surgeries and him after enjoying too many full beer-gut-moments until the day they became miserable instead of enjoyable. Over the past twenty-five plus years of marriage, we've both lost height, but I got an inch back after my cervical spine was completely reconstructed, then fused. BAM! I was one inch taller again!

Today, we're definitely not as agile, strong or able to face physical exertion with the never-ending endurance we once enjoyed. And I must say, I often gave Deputy Dave a run for his money. This mama could run circles around nearly everyone I knew. My stamina, energy and non-stop go-go-go personality was hard to keep up with. But, these days, my stamina is unreliable. One day, I might feel as if I could climb a mountain, then the next day I find it difficult to lift the remote control for the television.

Such is the life of a person who is growing older each year. And, that is reason to celebrate. I cherish growing older.

However, lately, I've been bothered by something that has not bothered me for about a weight. Deputy Dave convinced me that it didn't bother him either cause he likes for there to be junk in the trunk instead of it being empty. Well, my trunk has plenty of junk in it. In fact, it's time for me to do some unloading so my trunk can scale down to carry only the best of junk.

I will keep some of these in my trunk...home-made
chocolate wrapped strawberries. My specialty. 

To be honest, I've been rather distracted with staying alive too often over the past few years than to obsess about my weight. Really, it's such a trivial thing that I learned to quit letting it rule my life. For the past decade, I've had one life-threatening battle after another to keep me busy. Watching the scales became a luxury I could not imagine having. I learned to live without worrying about those scales. And, even during my battles, the freedom from the scales has helped me to live in peace from weighty concerns.

On the other hand, I see people who count the calories in the ketchup and I'm oh-so-grateful that I quit letting such shallow obsessions infiltrate my daily thoughts. I know people who monitor their every bite and who feel as if their entire day is ruined by one piece of pie. How ridiculous! If this is you, STOP! If you are going to eat the pie, live without regrets! Conversely, if you have conquered the pie that calls to you, then bravo. To each their own.

As for me, I've enjoyed my extra 25 pounds. They've been good to me. I enjoy going out to a restaurant with my husband, and we make inappropriate noises when we eat things like a rich lobster bisque. Food is fun in my house. That will never change.

I've got a great man because when we are out shopping and my husband sees a skinny woman with a bad attitude, he leans over to me and whispers, "That gal really needs a juicy fat hamburger to lighten her mood."

And, he's probably right. but my line of thinking goes toward emergency intervention, "Give that woman a twinkee!"

In the pictures below, my oldest daughter, Heather, will teach a skinny girl how to find a bit of carefree happiness...not regularly, but on special's risky behavior, so beware:

Go to a party and find the best looking
cupcake on the table. Be ready to fight for it.
This might be a valid reason to hit the gym regularly.

Then, don't worry about proper etiquette, attack that cupcake
and savor every crumb.

If you pass by a man who can't appreciate your taste for
finer pastries and chocolate, then give him this "good-bye" grin.

Okay...back on topic...I've decided to change my way of thinking, just a tad. My body would benefit from losing a bit of this extra weight. I no longer need the extra cushioning to protect me from my uncanny ability to lose weight rapidly...Addison's Disease, my beautiful rare disease, can cause rapid weight wasting, so years ago, once I saw how I could easily lose 18 pounds in one week, I became leery and began to WORK at putting on pounds. Actually, Deputy Dave began the serious task of trying to do all he could to keep me from getting another medical record noting "anorexic" because of the disease (involuntary anorexia---I'm not choosing to be sick, it's this disease and how it affects metabolism).

After all our hard work to help me gain weight, we found success. The weight "cushion" the doctor told me to put on is now padded by an extra cushion. It's getting pretty fluffy around here.

Nowadays, I feel more in control. So, I can safely lose weight and be just as happy as I am now, but in a smaller size. I haven't had any wild fluctuations with my weight in a long time, things have stabilized, so I feel very comfortable that I can drop some cushion and still have plenty cushion left to protect me during rough times.

Instead of letting myself get caught up in the regular woman's obsession with the bathroom scales, I've decided to make some subtle changes in my daily life and to give careful observation to see whether or not my changes result in weight loss. Just so you know, I'm not looking for rapid weight loss, I'm taking the slow boat to China on this one.

What started all of this thinking about losing weight?

Well, recently I found a red blouse that had once been meaningful to me about a decade ago, and I tried it on last week and it fit, but very tightly. I mean TIGHT. Then, I began to look in my closet at all of the clothes I love and that are classics, but I cannot wear them because I'm about ten pounds too button-popping big to fit into the clothes comfortably. Another reason for me losing a bit of weight is that I'm too cheap to go out and buy these same articles of clothing that I saw at Macy's last week, but in a different color and in the next size. My dress style is classic button-down and that style never changes. I literally saw the same dress last week that I have hanging in my closet right now from a purchase made ten years ago. Since I don't buy fad-style clothing, I guess this works for me.

Good thing is, I can still fit into these dresses, but that doesn't mean I can walk in them, or sit in them, or breathe in them. But, I want to WEAR them again. And, I mean, I want to wear them NICELY. Not just the red blouse, but the other things that signal to me..."You really need to lose a few pounds woman."

So, I am going to tell you my plan for losing a few pounds. You may wonder...Is it a plan that includes going on a new-hype-diet that follows the latest book on the charts? Nope. Does my plan include joining a gym so that I can share the sweat soaked machinery of the last muscle-bound goon who wears HIS clothes three sizes too small? Nope. Is it a simple plan, such as starvation? Heck no...You DO remember that I am a Texas gal...Right?

Well, my plan is simple and fun. I plan on drinking more water, eating more veggies and playing more often. Yes, play. I am going to incorporate some hard-hitting playing into my weekly life. At least 3-4 times per week, I will play until I am sweating. And if I hit the sweat stage and am having a lot of fun, I won't stop.

Or, as my great-grandmother Pearl would say, "I will play until I glisten." She didn't think too fondly of women who "sweat." La-tee-da. So, I will GLISTEN.

One method of play I intend to employ is video-gaming. There is a PS3 video gaming system sitting upstairs in my gameroom gathering dust. We use the system to watch movies. The kids in the family play for hours on it. We even purchased the 3D camera and joysticks that are motion-detected so that your body becomes part of the interactive gaming process.

 And, I have a ZUMBA PS3 game for the Move system that has a belt you wear and you put the gaming remote in a special pocket on this belt which makes your body part of the game.

Back up a bit, What is ZUMBA you ask? Well, as far as my unsuspecting, half-witted knowledge can reveal, it is a bit of exercise that combines spicy salsa kinds of dancing and jiggling movements to prove that a forty year old woman should not jiggle. At least not in public.

That's me on the cover of the box. Really.
I was glistening.

The belt, with the remote, makes the ZUMBA game more challenging because the 3D camera watching over you is able to recognize your body's moves by the calibrated remote control tucked into the belt. Shake your booty, yes, it's part of the game, and you get points based on your ability to MOVE. I guess. I shall soon see how this works as I put the jiggle to the test.

I hope I don't break the remote and I hope the belt fits.

Since I am competitive in nature, this is the most fun way for me to get my body moving in extra ways that are fun and to help me shed some pounds. Next, I'll add the dancing game to my PS3 so I can bounce around upstairs and boogie the pounds away.

I'm going to be keeping track of my weight loss and will keep you informed. For sure, I intend to have lots of physical fun while playing games like a big kid. I think that's often what is missing from our lives as big grown-ups, we forget how to have fun. We think we can't figure out how to work a gaming remote control. Well, I want to make a point at learning, remembering and enjoying.

One of the games we like to play that makes Deputy Dave and I sweat buckets --- oh yes --- he sweats buckets and I glisten like the ocean beneath a moonlit night --- is the game where we get to be Gladiators and our remote controls are swords. Each time we slice at each other, the controller vibrates and lights up and I viciously try to take out his knees as he is intently focused on slicing my head in two. It's great.

Okay, back to my weight loss plan. I think I'll write about this plan for every Thursday's post. I could call it - Tighten It Up Thursday...compliments of Stefie's creative thinking process...I tell you...that girl should go into marketing!

For the record, I'm starting at 135 pounds. HAHA. Could you hear me all the way to your place with that super loud giggle?

For the real record, the real record is top secret. I'll simply start with the amount of weight I'd like to lose, let's say 25 pounds. I'll give a count-down to 25. When I lose five pounds, I'll let you know that I have 20 more pounds to go to reach my 25 pound loss. If I gain 3 pounds, I'll let you know that I'm nearly back at square one. Yes, I'm sure that'll happen.

So, today, I'm at my 25 pound starting goal for weight loss. Truthfully, 25 pounds will put me a such a low weight that I'd be thrilled, I could lose more, but it's my starting goal.

On a serious note, I'm getting older...I'm a whopping 43 years old and I know that any extra weight being carried around will be more and more difficult for my aging joints and muscles. Therefore, I want it off now. I've enjoyed the bliss for the past few years as I've been focused on more serious things, such as surviving cardiac-thoracic surgeries, a broken neck and the removal of a huge abdominal mass that caused major complications, but those are the little things in life that had me distracted. Now, the weight is again in focus and I want it gone. Adios to my soft side.

I'll be posting pictures of my efforts. It won't be easy. I have days when I am very weak. Some days I cannot barely move because the hardware in my spine is surrounded by swollen tissue and I could scream at every move, but on the days I can shake my booty, I'll be shaking it.

And, Deputy Dave might lose a few pounds from all the extra laughing he's going to get a chance to do. He'll be on the laughing weight-loss plan.

Actually, last night, we played another serious gaming session on the PS3 upstairs. It was a racing game. Unfortunately, Deputy Dave was the one who probably ended up shedding five pounds because he was obsessed with learning the race track, with coming in as one of the top five in the race instead of #15. And, each session found him comparing the time around the track with the last timed session...he HAD to beat the last time and make it into the top five in order to move forward in the game. Several times, he came in 6th, but never in 5th place. His blood pressure was up, his heart was racing, his palms were sweating and he wanted to be NUMBER ON ON THE RACE TRACK!

Then, it was time to go to bed. Well, there is a drawback to being "old" and that is self-inflicted regimented bed-time. Some things just can't change once you learn to appreciate the importance of schedules, and bed-time is one of those things that can't be messed with.

Sadly, last night was not the night for Deputy Dave to make the top five in the racing game. I'm sure he went to bed thinking about how to jump the ramps more efficiently and he probably dreamed about pushing the others off the track so his ranking would increase, but I have a feeling that tonight is his night to be a winner. However, he's always a winner in my book. And, I think I'd better incorporate a bit of side exercise as the rule for when Deputy Dave is playing his game, then I will be using our PS3 time wisely.

We have several games for me to play that will get me into cardiac mode and to the point of burning fat. I will glisten, glow and resemble a shrinky-dink over the coming months.

Ready? Set? GO!!!

Monday, September 26, 2011

#102 - Come Sit for a Spell

Living out in the country will provide so many joys. Sitting outside will no longer involve staring at a fence that is 10 feet away or having no choice but to see the neighbors' houses directly in our view, in the country, sitting outside will mean you can kick back, relax and watch the tree limbs blow in the wind.

As far as sitting goes...we do know that we will be spending a great deal of time outside on our land. It's addictive. You don't want to be inside when you are surrounded by the beauty of a natural landscape. We will have a wrap around porch or at least a front and back porch, one of which will be screened-in for night-time enjoyment.

This means we will be needing outdoor seating unlike ever before. These days, we stack the plastic chairs and those come in handy. They get dirty, we hose them down. If they get too scuffed up, we can spray a coat of specialized plastic paint spray on them to freshen them up. But, in the country, the views are to be enjoyed in better seating.

Deputy Dave is thinking about trying out his construction skills in a different make a few chairs and table sets. After all, when we have gatherings, we do not have small numbered gatherings. Our home is open to friends, family, neighbors and to THEIR friends, family and neighbors. My mother taught us to have a welcoming attitude with home and my husband is ex-military and he always maintained deep compassion for those who were single, lonely military members on special days. In addition to opening our home to those around us, we've helped to raise quite a few kids who were Wards of The State of Texas, so we know what it means to open our home to others. Before we could think too hard about doing it, we just did it.

So, as usual, even though our kids are grown which means Deputy Dave and I are often alone, we still have regular gatherings. Therefore, we must have ample seating always on hand. Moving out to the country will change this arrangement for us. Instead of being mindful of having ample indoor seating, we'll need to make sure there is plenty of comfortable all-weather seating outside year round, so everyone can sit out of doors and enjoy the forest as the ceiling fans on the porch and the huge industrial fan at the end of the porch blow cool air. Comfort with a great atmosphere and beautiful views are a few of our main goals to go along with the outdoor seating. Plus, we want the furniture to be unique. So, I think Deputy Dave will probably create a customized brand for us and every time he builds something, he can brand it. Heck, even when building our country home with the wood harvested from our land, he can brand the wood.

Here in Texas, branding is a big thing. And not just for your livestock.

But, we will have one of the table/chair sets designed with our names, "Mee-Mee" and "Pappy" so it will be clear as to whose seats those two belong to. Yes, we're preparing for the grandchildren...I think we're in the decade of grandchildren and we will be ready!

On our outing to the local hardware store, we came across these metal benches. I especially loved the bench with the "WELCOME" sign scrolled across the back section. Yes, I think I will have to add one of these to my seating collection.

And we might have to put out a couple of these on the front or side porch for our dogs and for visiting dogs. Pretty cool. I could see Howdy and Lyla, each with their own dog house. They love to find places to crawl under or a corner to cuddle in and snooze, so I'd imagine a dog house like this would be a slice of Heaven to their doggie psyche.

I guess Deputy Dave better get to work figuring out how to build these things. At the store, they were pricey. We'll buy the "WELCOME" bench since it is metal, but anything that is constructed out of wood is a challenge for Deputy Dave to not only replicate, but to somehow improve the design as he builds a similar piece.

So, it will seem that the outdoor portion of our country home will likely be the most enjoyable. Maybe you can come sit for a spell and occasionally listen to the roar of a logging truck passing by in the distance. Mostly, you'd hear the songs of a hundred birds, the croaking of frogs in the evening, the echoing drills of a wood-pecker busy with his tree nearby, the wind rustling the forest around us, and my chickens clucking...I think it will be unique sounds, so different from the sounds I now hear at my city house, so different from being surrounded by mostly artificial sounds of refineries, heavy traffic, the kicking on and off of everyone's air conditioning units, the continual sounds of someone doing their lawn, and the lack of huge trees to really feel the wind's power can sometimes drag you down. On those days, I focus on the Heavens with the passing clouds always taking the shape of something surprising, the blue skies have no boundaries...the eye is not intruded upon, but can keep seeing and seeing and seeing.

It's kind of nice to have your own space. I love our space here in the city because it has its own advantages and bonuses, but if I compare it to our acreage in the country there is no contest, the land in the country wins every time.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

#101 - Can I Convince Him?

Deputy Dave and I are hoping to make a trip to our land next weekend. So, that means that this weekend we will be checking on the Cub Cadet, making sure our accommodations (the tent) is without injury and our air mattress holds air. I'll make my check-list that always comes in as an essential part of our journey, that check-list saves our butts every time. Did you bring the can-opener? Check!

Preparing our menu for cooking out in the open on our acreage is one of my favorite things to do. It seems that camp food is always the best food around. Of course, Deputy Dave is the main cook around here and that's because he's really good at it. But, I keep trying.

So, my contemplations this morning start you think I could convince Deputy Dave to just leave me on the land next weekend? I could spring it on him at the last minute, before packing up to leave. I mean, this would be a great idea. I'd be able to get a jump-start on things at the property while he returns to our luxurious house in the Greater Houston area. It would make sense for me to be out there on our acreage every day so that I could be mowing, trimming, picking up never-ending sticks and breathing in the fresh country air.

Do you think I could convince him to let me stay?

There's a little convenience store about one mile from our land, so I'd be perfectly fine. If I needed anything, I'd put on my walking shoes, hit the Farm to Market Road in front of our property and walk down the road lined on each side with densely forested wilderness to get a Snicker's bar and to see an actual person.

Maybe if I picked a big fight with him, just before it was time to pack up and leave the property, maybe THEN he'd really consider leaving me on our raw acreage for a few days. Hmmmm. Maybe not.

For the record, in over 25 years of marriage, Deputy Dave has never left me stranded anywhere. We've never had a bad scene of him dumping me on the side of the road as you see in the movies. He's too protective. So, that means I don't get to enjoy a bit of soap opera drama.

Still, I feel as if I could do it! I could stay on the land for a while by myself! Maybe I'd be like a contestant on "Survivor" and end up living off the land like some wild woman. Three weeks later, Deputy Dave would come back to the land o find me wild haired and with twigs sticking out of it, I'd have a few ticks here and there along with dirt smudges all over my face instead of make-up, and I'd be dressed in a hickish deer hide outfit that I fashioned after wrestling to kill a buck with my pocket knife. Honey, would you like some deer jerky?

Well, maybe things wouldn't go THAT far, but as long as my tent held up, I could do it!

Then again, I sit here this morning and consider the wild landscape of our acreage. I squarely realize that our land is surrounded by nothing but more wild land, and I face the fact that it adjoins The Big Thicket Preserve...which means LOTS of wild animals are trucking their way through our land to get to our creek for a drink of cool, refreshing water.

Going further into my daydreams of being left behind, I picture night falling as I sit in my tent alone reading my book. My concentration on page number 76 would be interrupted with a sharp snap of a stick breaking nearby, then I'd hear the slow cracking of leaves as the sounds grew closer and closer to the tent. My heart would be beating so fast and furiously that it would be making little jumping motions so it could escape, I would be able to feel it hopping upward to make an exit out my throat. But, I'd be frozen. At that moment, my flashlight batteries would flicker and I'd be plunged into total darkness as the sounds outside came to a halt. It's a stand-off. Who will make the next move?

Yes, I might end up being huddled in the dark, knowing Big Foot was lurking around the tent, sniffing at the smell of my delectable Cheetos dust covered fingers. Everyone knows Big Foot lives in The Big Thicket. He's there...wanting my Cheetos.

As night closes in on me, darkness will swallow me whole because it does get DARK in the country, very dark, not "city" dark with glowing electricity blocking out the darkness, the country embraces pure darkness. Suddenly, night would seem like an eternity as Big Foot is lurking in circles around the tent, and I would want to be back home again, in the yucky city. So, I reluctantly realize in my long circular fashion that it would not be such fun out there in the wilderness, in a tent, without Deputy Dave by my side.

Therefore, I don't think I'll pick a fight with him on our next visit to the land. In fact, I'll make sure the truck keys are hidden in a special place so that I can be sure that I get loaded up first, just in case.

Even with thinking about all of the dark, scary the light of day, I feel as if I could live out there right now and rough it and tough it out. I love being on our land so thoroughly that there's hardly anything that could keep me away. I've encountered big and small critters, snakes, bugs of all kinds, horrible weather and night sounds you don't really want to hear. But, I still love it. However, I realize that I love it WITH Deputy Dave.

One day, I'll have proper shelter on our land with a little country house. It will be our every day, regular home and it will be okay for me to be there on my own. I'll have my dogs, my comfy bed, my kitchen, my bathroom...oh yes...a real bathroom, and a few guns....all will be well. It will be our home. And then, I'll even be able to enjoy moments in the dark by myself, but hopefully, that won't ever be necessary.

Deputy Dave will never be able to leave me alone. It's not his character to leave me alone. I'd love to say it's because of some exotic reasoning, such as...he's immortal. Yes, that's the ticket. The immortal angle will work for me. After all, isn't that the new vogue ideal of romantic love? I'll never be alone in the dark because I married a Vampire and his every desire in this life is to simply watch me while I sleep and drool. He's easily entertained like that.

Snort, Snort...I am laughing at the vision of my "vampire" in the dark wearing his CPAP machine while our sound machine blares with electronic rainfall pitter-patters.

Okay, I'm back. For now.

Friday, September 23, 2011

#100 - A Milestone! BIG ACTIONS!

Since beginning my Farm Life Lessons blog, I've learned SO MUCH about farm life. This is my 100th blog that I've written and these past few months have been a joy. As for lessons learned, mainly, my lessons have been about chickens.

After years and years of us wanting chickens so that we could enjoy fresh eggs, we finally broke down and bought chicks. To be honest, the chicks entered our lives at a difficult time in our marriage...our daughters were now both adults and we were trying to find our way in the world as STILL young people with grown children. That's a weird freaky zone for those who are still raising their children. Once they graduate from high school and enter college, things change.

Never did we imagine that getting a few chicks could be so therapeutic. Really, they were. I've learned in my Farm Life Lessons journey that living a more simplistic life can give you the chance to be nurturing and to be nurtured. That's what life is really about anyway. It's not about what you can all gets old, out of date, boring and unimportant, but things involving nurturing feeds your spirit and brings value to life.

So, as simple as little chicks may seem, they have brought more meaning and more depth to my daily world.

There were people I loved who told me that chickens were horrible and that I'd be miserable with them. These people only had negative things to say about having chickens. But, I was not to be deterred. Oh, those chickens will be smelly and disgusting! But, I didn't listen.

Fortunately, Deputy Dave realized that it was time for us to buy some chicks, no matter where we lived, we didn't need to wait to move to our acreage, we wanted to do it NOW. So, we did.

We bought our chicks, raised them in our master bathroom until they were large enough to finish growing up while protected by the confines of the chicken tractor and chicken coop that Deputy Dave built. So, into the backyard they moved and there in the backyard they still happily live.

It's a decision I'll never regret.

Having chickens teaches you about the cycle of life, but in a different way. We have raised our two daughters, they are beautiful people, but being parents taught us how rough it can be when you are just trying to make it day by day. Having chickens is certainly not the same as having children, but I do feel as if my nurturing and care of these creatures is rewarding because I get to be entertained by chicken antics and the fresh eggs we constantly get to enjoy cannot be rivaled. It is worth every moment of hardship to raise chickens.

We've seen their intelligence at work; we've seen nature's innate workings in action; we've seen that we will have heartaches, joys, losses, fears and brave moments with our chickens and each day brings new lessons.

Above all, I'm slowly gaining a deeper understanding of the farmers from our past, the ones who didn't have pesticides at their disposal, the farmers who knew how to care for the land with what the earth had to offer. I feel a sense of gratitude and amazement each time I gather an egg from the coop, to imagine what it must've been like to be a farmer and to know that your eggs were a staple of your versatile and delicious with a slab of home-grown ham or a few strips of bacon. Each egg I hold in my hand is precious to me. I am thankful to my chickens for laying eggs and for helping to feed my family a very healthy food. It's a joy to know the direct source from which my eggs come and this makes the eggs all the more delectable and enjoyable.

Heather playing in our backyard with Tux, her Australian Shepherd.
Since we are living in the city limits and suburbia only gives us a small amount of space to cultivate, I am thoroughly anticipating the day we get to live on our land so we can have the chance to also raise our own swine, to have a milk cow and to plant a MAC-DADDY GARDEN! And don't even get me started about fruit trees!

Again, I am surrounded by naysayers, "Oh, you don't want to raise pigs, they are not worth it, they are a mess and destructive and a waste of your time." And I hear, "You will be surrounded by wild animals and that won't be fun."

Well, I've found that the naysayers are speaking for themselves. As for me and Deputy Dave, we seem to be built for the farming kind of life...the things that other people despise seem to be exactly the parts of life we enjoy most.

The problem we now confront is the issue of WHEN to put the house up for sale. WHEN do we make the big leap? WHEN?

We are so close to making the leap, but we don't want the timing to be off. We still have one daughter finishing her degree...she's close...she's a huge part of our life and we offer her our support by being here for her while she is focusing on her studies. Stefie is a great student, a beautiful person and lovely to be around. So, we're not in a rush to leave or to rush her out into the big world.

Stefie in her senior year as an Officer on the dance team.
For both of our daughters, we preferred that they take advantage of having supportive parents so that they could have every chance available to get a firm grip on what they want to pursue in life. It's great when the kids are wise enough to take advantage of this opportunity, as they should. Not every child has this kind of support. But, the more that they let us help them now will mean the less we will need to help in the future with their financial stability. So, helping my daughters right now in their young adulthood is also a gift to Deputy Dave and myself...for OUR future. The longer they let us assist them in giving them a leg-up for them to reach their dreams will mean that they are more likely to grasp those dreams sooner than without our help.

Here's another little one we'll be glad to support with love and guidance
as she finds her way into the future.
I learned at an early age that you can be surrounded by people who talk big about supporting your dreams and who talk big about doing what it takes to help you reach your dreams, but often, it's your parents who were the ones who actually took the big ACTIONS to follow the big talk that lit the path to reaching your dreams. Big talk doesn't work. Big talk is empty. Big talk is someone stringing you along while they do exactly what THEY want to do as you don't get to pursue your own dreams. Big talk is something each of us must learn to recognize or we will be swindled by smooth words as we spiral downhill, going no where fast. Big talk with opposing actions will cause you to drift further and further from the things you had once aspired to become, to enjoy, to sacrifice to enjoy...big talk can surely create big letdowns in life.

Big talk doesn't last. Big actions do.

This is where parents can attempt to protect their children...parents differentiate between big talk and big action. And, as long as my youngest is still around, we are prepared to take big action, even if that means staying in this house in the city a bit longer so that she can finish her degree and be surrounded by those who love her and who want her to live a life of fulfilled dreams. For Stefie, that actually means finishing her degree, being able to work with children, and mostly, she dreams of being a mom. Stefie is a Texas gal, through and through. She loves Houston and will probably be a teacher one day. But, she dreams of being a mom, and I love this about her. I think that is the highest aspiration any woman can have...being a mom is the most important job I ever had.

My girls are young ones here...having such fun!
So, Deputy Dave and I took big actions to make sure our daughters received their education, earned their degrees and are able to be self-sufficient. Us taking big actions to make sure these steps fell into place so that our girls would get a jump-start in their lives is kind of like us nurturing those chickens and getting's all a big circle and the good support you offer comes back to reward you. I love that part of life.

Give a little now, get a lot in return later. Farm Life Lessons seem to mirror this ideal, and it is great that our own path toward moving to our acreage is blooming and becoming brighter before our eyes as we get to savor the final countdown with our youngest daughter as she finishes her degree. Times are changing, our lives are evolving and I do think we will love raising farm animals more than most people in our lives can imagine. All their big talk and negativity won't slow us down, our big actions toward fulfilling our own mid-life dreams are already in motion and it is a wonderful time in our lives.

We welcome more big action and scary changes! Wahoo!

Let's Go!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

#99 - Stray Cat Attacks Chickens

Halloween hasn't arrived yet, but our neighborhood has a spooky black cat that roams around and it causes everyone trouble. Several neighbors have new cars and the cat will be laying across the hood of their $40,000. vehicle with its claws protracted in a long stretch as it lazily gets up to move along.

The neighbors who put out their trash in a plastic bag have found this cat ripping the bag to get to the goods, leaving a mess strewn all over their yard that they must clean up. Being a little devil, the black cat literally walks against our house to pass by low level windows directly in front of the dogs who are inside the house, but barking in a frenzy to get at the cat.

If our dogs start barking furiously, we know the black cat is nearby. Lately, we've been calling this cat's bluff by letting the dogs race outside the front door to chase it off our property boundary. It's a bit amusing to find the cat, who mistakenly thought it safe outside while it tormented the dogs as they were stuck inside, discover two big snarling dogs to suddenly be on its heels. Fair is fair. You come for a visit, you will get an introduction. Since the dogs know that the front yard is THEIR front yard, it is great to let the dogs do their thing. Howdy and Lyla will whip out the front door, head around the corner in a flash and that sly feline becomes a screeching scaredy-cat as it races away. Our dogs are content to stop at the yard boundary, as long as the cat is not in their yard, they are happy. The cat can be across the street pacing and our dogs will not care, they do not want to give chase, but the minute it steps a fuzzy paw in our yard...the peace treaty is off.

Since this cat is a destructive booger in our neighborhood, it is understandable that it is on several neighbor's "hit" list. One of our neighbors has even set out a trap to try to catch this cat and to probably take it to the neighborhood animal shelter, but he has not been successful.

So far, we have been very fortunate that our free-ranging chickens in the backyard have not been confronted this cat. I knew it would only be a matter of time before the cat discovered the chickens and became tempted by their juicy bird goodness. That matter time expired this past Monday evening.

Deputy Dave, Stefie and myself were all upstairs watching "Two and a Half Men" which was debuting this season without the colorful Charlie Sheen and we had the surround sound cranked; we were laughing and having a great time. It was about 7:20 pm when, suddenly, I faintly heard a chicken make an odd screeching sound. It could barely be heard over the show we were watching and being upstairs put us at a farther hearing distance, but I guess my Mama-Ears are forever in tune to those I watch over. Deputy Dave sat in the recliner near the window and I said, "Do you hear that?"

Both he and Stefie looked at me as if I were nuts. But, since he'd been alerted, he listened for it, then heard it too. I grew alarmed and said, "The chickens don't ever make noises at this time of day, something is wrong, that's a weird chicken sound I've never heard."

As far as chicken sounds go...speaking of those Mama-Ears, I have chicken sounds down to the greeting clucks, then, there are the warning clucks they give the Yorkie that she'd better watch her back because they are holding a chicken-grudge, and I am well aware of the distinct loud clucking you can't miss as they lay an egg, and lastly, I recognize their squabble clucking during tense pecking order moments, however, this new sound was more of a long, continuous high-pitched screeching.

Deputy Dave leaned over to look out the window at the darkening sky; he glanced down into the backyard from this window in our game-room upstairs, then he raised the remote and put the show on pause, jumped from his seat and yelled at Howdy, "Come on boy, there's a cat in the backyard."

They raced down the stairs.

Stefie and I gave each other the wide-eyed Oh-My-Gosh look and we rushed to the window to look out as Deputy Dave quickly made his way to the backdoor with Howdy. It was eerie for Stefie and I to look down and see a motionless black cat sitting on the grass, within two feet of the chicken coop, in our backyard. Miss Speckles had flown to the top of the chicken coop tractor portion and was screeching along with a couple other chickens. The cat was scrunched up, as if it was preparing to pounce and it looked evil. It's eyes were nearly glowing while focused on my sweet Miss Speckles.

Stefie and I were on the loveseat positioned against the game-room windows, our knees were on the cushions and we were leaning against the back of the loveseat so that we could look out the window and suddenly the loveseat tumped, but we put our hands up in a flash to keep ourselves from doing a head-bang into window. We looked at each other and cracked wouldn't be so great for us to make a crash landing through the windows from the second story into the backyard. Then, we realized how eager and nervous we had been because we were too far away to help.

I knew I wouldn't be able to get there as fast as Deputy Dave and I couldn't tear myself away from the window because I wanted to see what was happening. Besides, I don't run. The last time I ran was this past weekend in the Denny's parking lot as I spied a $10 bill lying on the ground. Deputy Dave laughed as I raced toward the lonely money needing a friend and he said, "Geesh, I haven't seen you run like that in YEARS!"

Anyway, it was sweet revenge to hear the backdoor open and to see Howdy fly into the yard straight for the predatory cat. The cat saw Howdy appearing out of nowhere and it scampered up the back fence, scaling it without looking back, but Howdy was on its tail, literally. As the cat went up the fence, it thought it was safe, but Howdy had gained so much speed and he is so strong and is so athletic that he nearly climbed the fence himself.

Howdy jumping to get the rope from Henry who is 6 foot 5 inches tall.

My oldest daughter, who is nearly six foot tall is
playing and Howdy is nearly taking off her hand to get the rope.

Howdy's strength is sometimes shocking.
I would not under-estimate an Australian Shepherd.

After Howdy nearly climbed the fence and nearly caught the cat, it decided it better leave the immediate area because Howdy was determined to protect his chickens.

Howdy watching over his chickens.

As we watched the scene below us, Deputy Dave bent down and picked up a handful of white feathers. My heart went into my throat. Miss Speckles was standing on the top of the chicken tractor, but she might be really injured. I could not believe that the cat had indeed attacked Miss Speckles and obviously had been able to pull out some feathers. Thankfully, the furry devil didn't get a good enough grip. I don't know how Miss Speckles got away. But, I had a feeling that this cat would not give up, not until it was introduced to Howdy.

Cats can be great pets. Once we move to our land, I'm sure we'll have some cats in the barnyard. My sister has the best cat in the world, Mr Kitty. We actually found Mr. Kitty on our acreage nearly ten years ago when he was a tiny kitten in the cold wilderness needing to be rescued. Out of nowhere, the cat ran up to us during our hike. Behind me, I could hear the brush crunching and could tell something was running our direction, and I totally freaked out. We'd had just purchased this land so I was still very nervous when on it, and as I heard the sounds of a creature running our direction I was picturing a cougar or a wild boar headed toward us. My daughters needed to be protected, but all I had was a stick. However, I was ready to do battle as this tiny, young kitten emerged from the dry underbrush to snuggle against our legs.

All that freaking out --- over a kitten. But, I learned that little things can surely sound huge as they traipse through dry underbrush.

She was desperate to be rescued. But, we didn't know that she was a HE until my sister took the cat to the first vet appointment. At that time, the embarrassed family quit calling the cat Miss. Kitty and instead began to call it Mr. Kitty. If you've read some of my previous blogs, you will understand that when it comes to animals, my family seems to suffer from "sexual illiteracy" (the condition dubbed by my oldest daughter, Heather).

Since my youngest, Stefie, has a severe allergy to cats, we have not been able to add one of these creatures to our animal kingdom. But, I'm always amazed at these cats who are allowed to roam the neighborhood at all times of the day and night. If Mr. Kitty escapes from the house, my sister is in a panic and she's ready to launch an organized search party.

So, it's probably not a huge surprise for my treasured readers to imagine my mindset after this episode with my chicken being attacked. After watching that cat intrude into my backyard and attack my chickens, I enjoyed a moment of warped amusement at the thought of my dog being able to roam over to that cat's house. Of course, I imagined Howdy roaming as if he'd suddenly acquired miraculous cat traits. I wondered how that roaming cat owner would feel if Howdy was able to scale fences and to follow that bundle of black trouble back to its own house? Hmmm, that would be a fascinating scenario. Beyond that, can you imagine a cross between a Hound-dog and a feline? Imagine the possibilities...

I wonder how it would feel if these laissez faire cat owners didn't know that Howdy, in his own blackness with big teeth and a powerful jaw, was crouched behind their shrubs...lurking and waiting for their cat to saunter outdoors unaware of his predatory state of mind? I wonder how they would feel as they watched my huge dog pounce upon their unsuspecting cat, in their fenced-in backyard? I wonder how they'd feel if my Australian Shepherd was digging in their gardens or marking all corners of their house or patrolling in a slow, slithering fashion against their windows, taunting their cat while it tried to rest indoors?

Better yet, I'd love to have him sit outside the bedroom window of this roaming cat owner's house at 2:00 am so he can start a howling marathon for the next hour. Yes, Howdy can put on the Howl better than a coyote.

Since my daydream will never be a reality, I must let Howdy be the shepherding dog that he is created to be and that means to let him loose on that cat whenever it creeps into my backyard. What happens is what happens. The cat is intruding while in predatory mode and my dog has every right to protect his backyard and his flock under his charge. If he gets a hold of that cat, I'll feel sorry for it, briefly, but I believe the chickens will be Howdy's cheering squad.

Anyway, as Stefie and I stared down into the yard while Deputy Dave held those feathers belonging to Miss Speckles, I had shivers go down my spine. Later, after the chickens were put up into their safe coop for the night, I said, "That cat will be back; it looked too determined and too predatory minded; it will come back and keep coming back."

The following next morning, in the light of day, I took pictures of
Miss Speckles feathers from the attack the previous night.
There were feathers everywhere, but this must have been where
she was initially attacked because most of the feathers were in this spot.
I felt kind of sick inside. What if Howdy didn't go outside in time? He is outdoors frequently, but he does not live in the backyard, he lives inside. However, he is quiet content to sit outside on the back patio for a few hours with the chickens surrounding him. His chickens are his babies.

So, after I mentioned that this cat WILL be back, we all looked at each other and agreed that Howdy should be outdoors more often so that he could do his business protecting the chickens. Still, that night, even though the chickens were safe in their coop, I had a hard time sleeping and when I did sleep, I dreamed that Deputy Dave and I were walking our land at night with rifles in hand because danger was near. I could not distinguish the kind of danger, but we kept moving through the forest with our guns and remained vigilant. It was nightmarish. I'm sure the bad dreams were prompted by the chicken attack.

And the cat did make a return. With very little sleep, I was slightly BEYOND ticked off when at 6:45 am, that cat was making another appearance in the backyard. It was perched upon the top of the back fence-line and glaring at the chickens. Quietly, I stood at the backdoor and gave Howdy a specific order that alerts him to trouble; he tensed up...his muscles were flexed and his focus sharp with his stance in a starting gate mode with his nose pointed in the crack of the door so that when I opened the door he CHARGED outside full speed. Howdy knows when there is business to do and he gets to it. That dog hits 0 to 60 in record time. He amazes me.

Again, he nearly caught the distracted cat and nearly grabbed it with his teeth. I think the cat was beginning to understand that the chickens have a guard dog on duty. But, I'd wager that it will make more attempts to kill a chicken, or five.

Another pleasant surprise on the night of the cat's first attack upon Miss Speckles, we were so happy to see the little Yorkie take Howdy's lead in protecting the chickens. She has been closely following Howdy's herding activities, such as circling the coop every morning in fierce rounds while barking warning sounds and laying down to watch the chickens eat their feed. She takes a cue from watching Howdy and does the same exact thing. It is hysterical. I didn't think she'd be able to be around our chickens without attacking them after her first weekend here because she'd had a shocking chasing episode with the chickens and ended up catching one in their butt by her teeth, but she ended up gagging and choking on a mouthful of feathers along with hearing hard reprimands from all of us, including Howdy. But, she's come a long way at a rapid pace.

Daily, she now goes outside with the chickens and no longer needs to be supervised. It's been about a month now and she's been converted to a chicken lover instead of a hater. It's a beautiful thing. Sniff, sniff.

Me and Belle, the Chicken-Loving Yorkie.
Still, the night that Deputy Dave let Howdy outside to chase the trespassing cat was especially great because Belle the Yorkie stayed on Howdy's heels, as if she were a Rottweiler and ready to do battle with her buddy til the bitter end. She picked up on his sense that something was wrong. Howdy also could hear the chicken's distress call as he and Deputy Dave were running downstairs, and I guess the animal world has their way of understanding that danger is present once they hear such sounds. But, it was a delight to see tiny Belle charging behind Howdy. There's no doubt that she had his back.

So, cat drama has arrived. Farm Life Lessons will surely involve more predatory animals once we move to our land full-time. I guess we're getting a few "soft" lessons right now in the suburbs. I know the black cat with his sinister plans to shred my chickens will be back. That cat could take out our flock with ease. Then again, Howdy could take out that cat with one bite.

The animal world is not full of pink tutus and sweetness, it's full of chasing the other in a fierce battle to be top dog. And in this backyard, top dog is Howdy. He's doing his job of protecting our home and our extended family.

So far, when allowed, he's done an excellent job. Oh yes, Belle is pretty nifty herself. And below you'll find a video of Howdy and Belle playing tug of war with a rope that is symbolizing the very nasty cat that is attacking my chickens.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

#98 - I Want to be a Country Life Graduate

First of all, we got WONDERFUL rains yesterday and last night! Our ground is so thirsty. The drought in Texas has been devastating. This past week on the news it was reported how Houston has lost beautiful trees centuries old that are dying left and right because of the drought. These trees are irreplaceable...for generations. Foundations are cracking, livestock are dying, lakes are drying up and there is so much deadwood everywhere that it is staggering. And our water bills...don't even ask. Therefore, this burst of drenching rain is surely just what the weather-doctor ordered for many ailing plants to make it off the critical list.

So, yesterday, as we were running around to take care of a few tasks before the storms hit, I was staring at the storm drains whizzing by as we drove down the road, I was deep in thought about many details we will be forced to confront because we will be building a home in a rural will be taking place deep on our land, in a forest setting. Since a downpour was headed our way, I paid a bit more attention to the storm drains in our neighborhood here in the city...knowing these will not be included with our country property.

In the country, we do have culverts with ditches along the main road and these seem to work better than man-made drainage systems.

The first entrance to our acreage.
When you purchase a home in a developed neighborhood, you get to enjoy the freedom from having to think about every little detail that you must consider when building in the country. In the country, there is not a construction crew that enjoys connecting into city services for water, sewer, phone, cable, gas, and an engineering team has already taken care of stabilizing the soil, grading it and prepping it for foundation pours. Also, you have city police nearby to make sure the construction supplies and equipment won't be as likely to disappear in the middle of the night.

In the city, there are other things that are a given...nice roads to your paved driveway, fire hydrants located nearby, there is usually adequate street lighting and your fenced-in backyard provides a semblance of privacy.

A semblance.

Here in the city, we have a two-story with "beautiful" views...into our neighbor's backyards. We can't escape the view of neighbor's yards when gazing out a window unless we keep our eyes pasted to the sky. I like to look down at my chicken coop. Our yard may not be the prettiest yard, but we have the herbs and seasonal veggies (when not fighting a drought) and we now have daily fresh eggs.

Oh look...the single woman who lives behind our house just installed a hot-tub. Wow...won't that be cozy and sweet with a huge lack of privacy as she and her multiple boyfriends are surrounded by several two-story homes with bird's-eye views. She's a very nice lady, but she thoroughly enjoys her singlehood. Personally, it makes me hope that they continue with the construction and put up a hot-tub house. Plus, I sure am glad we're not raising teenage boys. City living can truly provide an education that you aren't necessarily ready to receive as you happen to see things you wished to have never seen.

The garden has been tilled and new seeds have been
sown and are sprouting for our Fall crops.
Of course, the bell pepper plants remain and a couple
of tomato plants are trying to rejuvenate.
I'm one of these people who protects my isn't a trash receptacle. As I always told my children, PROTECT your mind...use your good judgement as a first-line of defense and filter. Once disturbing images are there, you cannot hit "delete" and rid yourself of those mental flashbacks, they are permanent. How did I learn this? Well, in one weekend with friends, as a young adult, in New Orleans, I definitely joined the ranks of "I could've lived a good long life without seeing this kind of crap."

Another city problem...if we could only get the electric company to come out and do a proper job to raise the power box in the corner of our yard. It's been sinking for years. We've notified them repeatedly. One day, two men showed up and did a very poor job of trying to raise it while making comments about how these units EXPLODE because of being unlevel. Well then, level it, don't leave an explosion hazard in my backyard, please.

In the country, you don't have the same kind of problems as you do in the city. In the country you also won't have the expenses that come with those neighborhood association "perks." I'll water the trees at the entrance to my property myself, thank you very much.

The neighborhood we live in is full of city amenities. We are surrounded by parks, pools...even a wave pool a couple of miles down the road, the bay is within five minutes from our driveway and the metropolitan area is within a 25 minute drive into downtown. Everything is at our fingertips. But, we can't even find an empty picnic table at the park on weekends and the boat launch is covered in trash. Cities can have nice things to offer, but the population density can practically destroy it, especially if the population it attracts is not exactly mindful of trashing the place.

Considering everything that we need to be ready to confront, we realize that preparing to move to our land is not an easy task. Since our land has rolling hills, bluffs, creeks and plenty of wooded forested land, there are many construction challenges and concerns to address.

A major concern is to stabilize the main private road that runs through our property. We've had it leveled, had stabilizing material added, yet it still gets wet spots that can make you nearly run off the road or get fully stuck. So, first, we need to make sure our private road on the land is an all-weather, all-season road capable of handling the load of traffic with heavier equipment and daily use. If you live in the country, you already know that this is a tall order.

Our current road that is difficult to maintain, especially
since we're not living there full-time yet.
One big step that we'll finally be able to take by the end of October will be our appointment to meet officials with the Farm Service Agency and the Texas Forestry Department. Everyone will meet on our property. This coordinated effort will give us valuable details and educate us as to the resources available concerning our land. Supposedly, they will help draft a topographical map of our land, which will be a goldmine in helping us better understand the rolling, changing elevations in graphic detail. They will help us determine where to drill a well and how to best work around the spring fed creeks on our land.

This past year, we've had to continually postpone this appointment, mostly because of the severe drought. These services had had to make themselves completely available for last minute emergencies.

But, since we are getting some rain in The Big Thicket, we should be able to hold our meetings within the next few weeks. During our meeting, we will probably have soil samples taken from our land and these will be examined by Texas A&M so we can make the best choice for our cabin site.

These days, our preference is retro-camping style. Tent living
is pretty fun for the weekends. In good weather.
Since our land is surrounded by natural springs, there are certain areas where we sometimes have problems with water bubbling to the surface. We're not sure if this is due to the spring beneath the ground or due to a septic tank in the same area that is there for our RV. It will be interesting to find out where this excessive water is coming from.

Thankfully, the soil on our land is of the rich, loam variety from the years of raw acreage being allowed to naturally compost. But, this also means that our soil is very soft. There are layers of thick composted top soil. For construction to take place, I'd imagine that we'd need to dig down to reach the mineral layer of soil so that our structure will be solidly in place. Truly, I am eager to find out how our soil breaks down in the samples that will be taken for examination.

But, as we drove through our neighborhood in the city yesterday, I was snapping a few shots and feeling nostalgic about our plans to move. I glanced at all of the streets lined with huge houses nearly built on top of one another, smiled at the kids playing in their yards, then we turned onto our street.

As my husband angled the truck to back into our driveway, I looked around at all of the vehicles parked on every curb surrounding us and I remembered the reason for wanting to move. My niece can't even play in the front yard like I would do when growing up because the parking congestion on our street is horrendous after 3pm on weekdays and even worse on weekends.

Living in a city/suburb neighborhood was, at one time, awesome because the kids could play with each other; they could ride their bikes, skateboard and BE KIDS. In our current neighborhood, there is no possible way I'd let one of my kids ride a bike. I love going for a bike ride, but this neighborhood has two kinds of driveways...either a short-stumpy driveway or long single driveway...not adequate to hold parked vehicles for large families occupying these homes, so the cars of the teenagers and of visitors all end up in the street. Then, the RV's, boats and a jet ski in the driveways and pulled alongside the front curbs of houses take up much needed space. Then, you get the jerk who parks directly in front of your mailbox and prevents you from getting mail delivered. Yeah!

Neighborhood freedoms are dwindling. Front porches are pretty much gone. These days, we have front stoops. If you have plenty of space around your house to run and play, if you have room around your home that enables you to savor privacy and to be free from the neighbor's truck bumper blocking your ability to back out of your own driveway, then you are fortunate!

My moment of nostalgia quickly dissolved once we were parked in our driveway and I got to take a good look around at everyone crammed into their little yards, I again realized with strong feelings that this kind of life is no longer my heart's desire. I CRAVE the freedom that being on our land brings. Our house in the city is great for someone who loves living close to others and who enjoys all the crowded amenities that a city can offer, but our land beckons me to dare to enjoy a different way of life.

When on our land, we are blessed to be able to sit back and take in the scenery. We won't need a park because we'll have acres of front yard to enjoy. I won't have to leave my house to seek out a day in nature because my home will be tucked INSIDE the heart of nature. If we want to go fishing, we will only need to take a short walk to the back of our property to our private lake. And, our land in the country is situated in a County Seat, so there is still plenty to do city-wise, like eat, Deputy Dave and I love eating all kinds of food.

We city people dining at one of our favorite establishments.

What should we order?

Yes, I do eat leftovers on a regular basis.
Perhaps I am discontent with this Greater-Metropolitan type of life because I've already raised my kids. Then again, I often question the choice we made to raise our kids in the city. Truthfully, I wanted to consistently expose them to different cultures and the diversity of city living appealed to me greatly. I suppose it had its purpose in our lives, for a time. However, my focus has shifted...well, over the past decade it has indeed been shifting toward country living. It's not been an over-night shift. My entire life we've owned property in the country, but the past decade has found us making plans to get moved to the country full-time.

Since we're within approximately one year of leaving the city, we are finding ourselves experiencing the "senior itch" such as senior high-school and senior college students experience because they are in that last year with burn-out, but they are eager and nervous about beginning a new life. The "senior itch" comes with knowing the big change is coming; some days are sad, but most are full of elation.

With certainty, our land in the country has far more potential to meet our exact needs and desires at this time in our lives, more than any little plat of land in a development with cookie-cutter houses could offer. I've been glad to live in a cookie-cutter house for many years, I've been so thankful for my beautiful home, but I am ready to take the plunge and say "Adios" to the my city life so that I can again sit and enjoy front porch living.

Having a "senior itch" isn't always fun, but it will soon come to an end. Deputy Dave and I are working on our escape. It'll be awesome to finally graduate to country living full-time.