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Monthly Archives: August 2007

Barn Show and Tell

“You’re pretty excited about this barn, aren’t you?” one of the workers, Josh, said to me today.

I guess I couldn’t be more obvious. Lord knows, I’m down there several times a day, trying but not suceeding at staying out of the way of the construction. I watch the progress, giddy with delight as the structure takes form. Yes, I love my barn. I’ve wanted a barn since the day we bought this land and acquired horses. I waited patiently as other things took precedence, sloshing through mud, my tack stacked haphazardly in a storage building 500 feet away – getting banged up and dirty from transport. I’ve fed the animals in rain, sleet, wind and in the dark. But not anymore. Now, I will have a place for everything, the convenience of a controlled environment and  peace of mind because my beloved creatures will have a safe dry place to keep them out of inclement weather.  And it will keep ME out of inclement weather too. Yippee!


The upstairs of my barn is a huge loft which will store my beekeeping supplies and additional hives and supers. I can keep extra cages and incubators here, and it will be a warm, safe place to house newly hatched chicks or peacocks.  I can start all manner of projects up in that spacious work area. And it’s mine, all mine. Yippee!


The right side of my barn is a hay storage area. Now, we will be able to purchase our winter’s hay early and keep it fresh, and I won’t have to stress because there is no hay to buy anywhere, or the few bails we tucked under a tarp went bad. Yes, my animals will eat properly this winter. Yippee!
The big front door (not yet built) will be on a slider, so I can have it fully opened to let the breeze in. (In the winter, I can slide the door open only as far as I want to keep the insides warm. The back door of equal size is on traditional hinges so I can keep them closed, or swing them open to drive a tractor through or to let in light and air. More yippee’s!

The left side of my barn has been partitioned off as a small corral so if I want to keep the stalls open, the horses can stroll outside for fresh air. When the dutch doors are closed, (so the horse stays inside and has a window, or this can be closed to keep in warmth) these covered areas can be used as two separate open stalls, so donkey and the llamas can be housed there (also to keep out of horrible weather). The inside boards are removable (my idea) so this can be converted into one larger open corral. In June, I can use this area as a temporary pen for the new llama, so I can watch her give birth. Hate to think she’ll go hide among the trees in the pasture, drop that baby and leave it.  I’m hoping that confined to a smaller area, she may accept her baby and feed it (fingers crossed). Anyway, I’ll be able to control that situation one way or another, so we won’t have to go chasing a newborn if we have to bottle feed it. Yippee!


Inside, the two stalls are 12X12, which is roomy and nice for a horse – even a pregnant one. Another yippee! If I was to admit to one impractical indulgence, it was that I talked Mark into approving a small concrete patio in front of the outside door to the feed room. This is because I want to put a nice bench here to sit on while waiting for horses to eat and for guests to rest after a ride.  I just think it will be pretty as an entrance. The feed room can also be entered from inside the barn for convenience and so you feed the stalled horses and stay inside. But on those days when you want to feed everyone outside, and don’t want to open the main doors, the feed room is assessable. The tack room is conveniently located inside so you can saddle a horse with a minimum of effort. Both rooms feature a nice work bench, a peg board for hanging tools etc.. and even a fridge so cold drinks (and carrots) are always at the ready. 


You might think I’m a traditional red barn sort of girl. I thought of going that route. Even did some historic reading so I fully understood the significance of barn colors and how and why they were painted red long ago. But in the end, I decided I liked barns best natural gray and weathered (and this also means avoiding having to re-paint every couple of years), so we plan to let this one turn in time, then we will put a sealer on it. I want a barn that looks timeless and blends in with the surroundings.  

But that doesn’t mean I don’t want a pretty barn. This weekend I am going to the flea market to buy some big black wooden cutouts of horses rearing (had my eye on them for some time) to be erected high on the front on each side of the upper door. Mark is giving me a wagon wheel (he’s been collecting them for furniture making) to put up there in the peak and we will attach the power beam light to the center of it. I am now scouting all manner of horseshoe hooks and other theme paraphernalia to decorate the space. I’m buying a flag that has a llama on it. Yes, I am all for practicality, but I am a big queer-bo theme lover too.  I have every intention of placing pretty benches and planting flowers around the front.  I will have a loud boom box for music (so I can dance around the barn when no one but the horses are looking). I figure this is my home away from home. Might as well make it inviting.

There is still a lot to do. We have to pour concrete in the tack room, feed room, under the stairs and on the porch. We have to finish off the inside stairs and the big front door. I have to rake out a million little rocks, because they built the dang barn on my temporary gravel road and didn’t first bull doze them out. Oops. I need to put bedding in the stalls and mulch in the corral. We need to get the electric company to put a line to the barn, then call an electrician to put in lights and electrical plugs so I can see when the days grow short (which is coming up.) And I need water! Once we get electric, Mark and Ronnie are going to dig a big pit in the creek and put in a pump so I can get fresh creak water on tap. Sounds complicated, but they insist it will work.

Like everything in our life, it is a work in progress.  But I couldn’t be more delighted. This is the very best playhouse the little girl inside me has ever had!  
I’m truly grateful!

And best of all, the next time I see a sad, stray cat that needs a home, I’ll have a dry, soft hayloft to offer. Every barn needs a barn cat to keep the mice away. But I’m not going looking for a cat. I will wait until a desperate cat finds me. If it was meant to be . . . .

 
  

Rodeo

I went to the rodeo last weekend. Don’t laugh. I adore the rodeo and go every year. Denver and Diane have never been, so this year I invited them to come. Everyone needs to experience a rodeo at least once. Mark went to an arts auction fundraiser and didn’t make it back in time to join us. Honestly, I don’t think he worked that hard to get home at the designated time. He likes the rodeo, but there are other events he enjoys equally as much, and I didn’t mind him skipping it this year. He was having fun with a friend and I think that’s important. Besides which, it gave me free reign to ogle the cowboys.


I am always impressed with the rodeo participants. I marvel that there are people in the world who are willing to get on a wild beast to prove their manhood and show off their unique skill of handling livestock. It is like watching history and a slice of timeless country culture all at once. The competitors share a supportive camaraderie. They maintain a sense of humor and respect for each other as they vie for purses and titles. 


You find die hard advocates involved in every human interest – dance, beekeeping, horseback riding, winemaking, raising angoras, gardening, woodturning, basket making, collecting, – you name it. It always intrigues me that every endeavor you can think of seems to have a sub culture of people who take it to the next level. If there is any kind of definable interest, their will always be a group of people obsessively involved. There are competitions to validate talent, seminars to explore the latest research or techniques, and organizations to keep the people with the shared interest in communication. You can pick the most obscure thing, and before you know it, you discover there are tons of people totally in to it.


The rodeo (participants, not the audience) is another sub-culture – a world of horse lovers, trainers and ranch hands, taking their particular interest to a new level. It’s an event  designed so cowboys and cowgirls can vie for the highest standing in competency tests for roping, steer handling, bronco riding, barrel racing etc…. They win prize money and recognition. It’s also nice for the ego and I suppose it’s a way to gain income to support their fondest pleasure – spending every waking moment working with horses. 


The rodeo is a bit like a circus, only instead of sequins, the performers are covered in dust. If you sit up close, you dodge flinging mud rather than confetti thrown from a clown’s bucket. Gorgeous beasts parade around, muscular and wild. The cowboy’s mounts are impressively trained, quality horses – it’s obvious these boys love their equestrian best friends.  The display of fine animals alone, working in harmony with man, is breathtaking.

We found a seat in the first row of the stands, balancing some “chicken on a stick” (barbeque) and some fried chips. First, there was the parade of horses and the introduction of those competing. Next, we sang the national anthem and watched a big, fully-loaded Ford truck drive around the ring – at half time, three names would be chosen to toss a boot into a bucket from 20 feet away. Dunk the boot and you drive home the truck. I’ve never seen anyone win.


Then the riding events took place.


When the first gate opened, a wild horse came charging out, bucking and rearing as the young cowboy hung on with one hand, the other flailing in the wind, barreling past us and slamming into the gate where we sat. Diane and Denver both squealed and almost dropped their chicken on a stick.


“Holly shit!” Denver said. “That looks so dangerous. This is like . . . REAL.”

“What did you think? The rodeo is not like wrestling, where they stage pretend matches and growl and posture for entertainment. Animals react by instinct. The gifted cowboy is ready for whatever is dished out. But aren’t the animals magnificent?”

“Magnificently? More like wild! Someone is going to be killed.”


“Not likely. The boys get hurt sometimes, but they consider a few broken bones a badge of honor.” I pointed to the ambulance at the ready at the back of the horse paddocks. “These boys are good at what they do – they travel the rodeo circuit months at a time, and make a living this way. The clown cowboys are there to distract the animals and help when dangerous situations occur. It is a controlled environment, even though the animals seem out of control.”


Denver and Dianne were instantly enthralled, enough that they even ignored the cotton candy man. Neva had the presence of mind to stop him, however, which is good because I love cotton candy almost as much as I love the rodeo.  Denver was amazed that when the cowboys were thrown, they simply picked themselves up, brushed off their jeans and limped to their friends with a shrug.


She said, “They look so young . . .  and so cute. They look like they’re only 18 – 24. Just about my age.”


“Anyone much older can’t handle the physical challenges. And I think a mature person just grows smart enough not to engage in something that may end up giving them a concussion and three broken ribs. Most of the bronco riders are young. Some of the ropers are adult men. Early 30’s. ” I said, imagining my daughter toying with the idea of becoming a rodeo groupie now, thanks to my invitation.


Denver perked up in her seat. Ha! She thought she was coming to the rodeo to see the animals, but now that she realized this was a prime opportunity to watch young he-men strutting around and spitting, she recognized how important it was to pay attention.

“Ah, that one fell hard. He needs someone to kiss it to make it better,” she said with a grin. “But I wouldn’t want one of these fellows as a boyfriend. You don’t want a boyfriend that can get broken at work.”

“No, that would be inconvenient.”


Dianne kept wincing as if she could feel each participant’s pain; also as if she was sure a horse would bash through the fence and ride right over us at any moment. She kept asking what they were doing and trying to accomplish. I explained the best I could. I still don’t know how they determine points. But I do know the basic goals of team roping, bronco busting, barrel racing, and things like wrestling a young steer down to the ground in less than 10 seconds. I shared my skimpy knowledge between shouts and exclamations of delight as I watched the feats of skill in the ring.


Every few moments an animal would ride by us, snorting and sweating, kicking mud our way. We could catch the face of the young man riding by, grim determination matching his struggle to keep astride. We could feel the breeze and heat from the animal, hear its hoofs hit the dirt, and see the wild look in its eye. Few things in the world feel this real anymore. I love the raw, upstaged element of a rodeo. It is so unlike theater performances or movies or other amusements. I love the earthy wildness of it all. The rodeo is passion, nature and masculinity all rolled up in an entertaining package.


There’s comedy to keep the night moving too. While the techies change out animals, the announcer introduces silly events, just for the fun of it.  They call all the kids under 8 into the ring and let a calf out with a ribbon tied to its tail. A hundred little giggling kids chase the calf, trying to snag the ribbon to get a prize. Next, they do this with the kids 8-12, and you can bet Neva was at the head of the line. Alas, the calf darted a different direction and someone else got lucky.


I’m shocked that in this day and age they’ll let a bunch of pedestrians into a ring littered with horse dung and a live, scared animal, without first making everyone sign some kind of legal release. Kids slip in the mud, get run over by the excited calf, and get shoved into the fence. They crawl back through the fence dirty and smiling.  But no one cares or runs to their little darlings to fawn over their boo boos, cussing the organization. This must be the last place on earth where kids can be kids and parents don’t threaten to sue.


As they set up the stalls with the next animal and a rider gets into position, the audience listens to jokes and watches the antics of a cowboy clown, who works to keep our attention on the center of the ring and off the angry banging in the paddock. To the side are games for kids, like rock climbing or bungee jumping and all manner of food – corn dogs, fried pickles, popcorn, barbeque and snow cones. You can wander over to see the young steers awaiting the next event, where they will be chased, roped and hog tied. They look lazy and bored, but you know in an hour they will be bleating and running full force, giving the cowboy a run for his money. 


The thing is, you simply can’t get bored at a rodeo. It is loud and stimulating. People shout, stomp and clap to get the animals worked up. Music fills the air, sweaty heroes are on display, junk food, good attitudes and smiling people abound. It isn’t sophisticated, but it is full of life. I just love it.


This year they sponsored a recreational event where local business owners could send a team of three into the ring for a special challenge. Each team was given a shirt, pair of pants and a hat, and they had to catch a young steer, bring it to the ground and dress it. The team that accomplished this first would win a prize. It was funny, because half of them couldn’t even catch the calf, and the ones that did had an awful hard time getting it to the ground, then figuring out how to dress it. All these mature adults were slipping around in the mud, shouting at each other and the cows. Meanwhile, a half dozen calves are darting to and fro as if they didn’t want to get anywhere near these inexperienced clods. Those that had the cow down were dodging its hooves and arguing about how to put a shirt on the dang thing. We had to laugh at the failed attempts of these three stooges groups, each trying vainly to tackle a baby cow and work as a team.


I was like, “LET’S DO THIS NEXT YEAR! We’ll have the coffee shop so we can be the Bean Tree Team. This gives me an excuse to buy a young cow! I’ll tell Mark we NEED a baby cow. . . . we have to practice dressing it.  . . for the sake of the biz, ya know. Yessiree, we could win this competition next year and that will put us on the map.”


“I’d like to see you catch one of those cows, Mom. Besides which, who would wrestle it to the ground? Not like you can talk Dad into doing that! (Denver had a point. It’s pinning the cow to the ground, grabbing it by the horns as it darts by full speed and twisting it to make it fall and roll that obviously takes a great deal of muscle and daring.)


“I’ll find someone with more ranching experience to join our team, just to do the cow tackling part. You can put the pants and shirt on it. I’ll stand by and place the cowboy hat on its head and collect the prize.” I said.


Denver crossed her arms. “You get to do the hat? Why can’t I get the hat?”


“I’m the boss. And I’ll be the one to remember to bring the hat.”


She laughed, knowing I was kidding, but from the look in her eye it was clear she wouldn’t put it past me to sign us up someday. Yes, this subject is not closed.  But then, my family knows you simply can’t take yourself too seriously if you want life to be fun.  Frankly, I’m not afraid to try anything once, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s mandatory to drag your kid into un-chartered waters because it gives you ammunition to tease them for the rest of their life. Priceless stuff, ya know. Anyway, we couldn’t look any more foolish than those mud-plastered, grinning, work buddies we were watching in the ring, if we tried.
 
It was a nice night. If you haven’t seen a rodeo, make it a point to go. Study the cow dressing – then, give me pointers if you can. Better yet, if you beg, I might even let you join my team. But I get to do the hat.
Yee haw.

The Late Early

I am deeply, morbidly depressed. Melancholy beyond description.


Early died.  Herein, I guess I have to refer to him as “the late Early”.
 
Yesterday, when I went to let him out of the cage to roam freely around the barnyard, he seemed oddly quiet. He remained laying in his nest. I stroked him and picked him up for a bit of tender fawning, wondered why he was being so calm. Then I placed him back down, and watched him settle back into his comfortable position by the food bowl. Humm…. Odd.


Mark and I took his mother out to lunch, and the subject of peacocks came up. I gushed about my affinity for this bird and how he has touched my heart more than all the other animals I’ve been working with. I have no qualms about my favoritism.  Early is representative of many things. He is the first creature I hatched on my own in an incubator. The only surviving egg out of two big batches of peacock eggs, which makes him seem more precious and rare. Unlike the chickens, he is stoic and delicate – exotic as he gracefully struts about in his regal way. His tail is filling out and getting long. He looks otherworldly out there in the midst of everyday chickens. Early seems a tangible symbol that even though I’ve embraced this world of mud and outdoor living, I’ve kept an element of elegance in the package. I simply adored this bird, both because of his personality and the meaning I attach to his existence. 
 

But when we came home from lunch, he was dead, lying peacefully by his bowl. Clearly, he’d been sick and that was why he’d been so quiet that morning. I was grateful he hadn’t died because a dog attacked or he had been eaten by a opossum or fox. I don’t know if I could’ve handled that. Nevertheless, when a pet dies because it’s sick, I wonder if I could have prevented it. Did I feed him too much or the wrong combination of nutrients? Was the water I provided tainted? Was the cage unclean? I go above and beyond to create a clean environment for my animals, so it is unlikely I could have done anything more to keep him healthy.

Nevertheless, I feel so badly when I lose them. I was at least grateful he died peacefully, nestled in the place he considered home. Even though the pen was open and he could have crawled away to a quiet dark place, he felt secure there in that familiar place.


We inspected the bird, just to assure ourselves that there was no foul (fowl?) play, and speculated on what happened.


Mark said, “Maybe it’s the heat.”


The fact is, it’s been over 100 degrees outside for about two weeks now, and the animals have been suffering. I shaved my angoras, worried about them getting heat stroke, and I’ve been stress out about the llamas because they are dearly in need of a sheering (the man to do the job right t is out of town for one more week). But the fact is, Early has total freedom during the day and usually spends his time in the barn or under the workmen’s truck in the shade. Besides which, peacocks are tropical by nature. You have more problems keeping them healthy in the winter than the summer.


We decided he was probably just sick.


The peacock eggs in my incubator were due to hatch several days ago, but it looks like they were unsuccessful.  Bummer. If they hatched, I could imagine Early’s little soul winging it over to an egg – then it would be like he was staying with me. But no. I am a peacock-less girl now. The elegance in my world was fleeting. 


Mark said, “Don’t be sad. I’ll buy you some healthy, grown peacocks. No more guessing or dissapointment that way.”

“I don’t want adult peacocks,” I said, (This felt not unlike someone like telling a little kid you will buy them a puppy moments after they discover their dog has been hit by a car. Beloved pets are not so easily replaced when you have formed a relationship with them). “Adult peacocks are aloof because they don’t imprint on you.”


“I’ll get you young birds.”

“How do you expect to do that?”

“I’ll find them,” he said.

i don’t think he can, but I felt the sentiment was sweet.

Later that night, we heard the dogs suddenly barking like crazy. Mark gets up out of bed, gets his riffle and stomps out into the night.


I knew what he was doing. He thought that if something was coming to eat my ducks again, this time he was going to blow it away.


I said, “Don’t accidentally shoot Cheese or Crackers! Or the dogs!”

“Don’t worry.”


Now, I’ve never seen my husband shoot a gun, and I’m not convinced it’s as easy as he says, even though the gun he bought was chosen because it has a powerful aiming scope, and when he tried it, he hit the target every time. He says its user friendly. Nevertheless, the idea of my ballerina boy wielding a gun is too weird to accept. This is beyond the scope of my husband definition. I mean, the guy is multifaceted, true, but blowing little animal’s brains out doesn’t seem to fit his image.  I waited, wrestling with a sick feeling as I listened for the sound of that gun going off. I had pictures rolling around in my head of my husband hopping back into the bedroom because he’d shot off a toe or something.


I imagined he was thinking, “After the peacock, I’ll be damned if anything is going to pick off any more of my wife’s birds. Lord knows, it will send her into the brinks of despair – then who will do the laundry?” 

So, I took his willingness to get up out of bed to go hunt the poultry enemy as an act of love, even though it did feel like I was in an episode of the twilight zone.


It was a false call, thankfully. In the morning, the ducks were well. Out by the barn, something had eaten one of my guineas however. I haven’t mentioned it, but the five babies wandered away and became wildlife dinner days after we got them, but my adult guineas have been loyal, recognizing home and sticking close. Alas, now I am down to two game birds. If they are male and female, (I’ll check it out) I’m going to cage them together so they can have some babies. If not, I’ll wait until spring to try game hens again.


Mark said, “when the barn is finished, we will get the electricity installed and we can put motion sensors and lights out there. That will make a big difference and you won’t have to worry so much about predators.”

I’m sure he is right. But that doesn’t negate the fact that I’m having a bad poultry week now.
 

I am really upset about the peacock. It feels not unlike when a beloved dog dies – I miss him dreadfully. I even cried thinking about him, about his cute little peeping the day he hatched and how he reacted in such an excited, attached way whenever I came near the cage.  I know it is silly, but I formed an attachment to that dang bird – which I’m careful not to do with the farm animals (For practical reasons. After all, they are not like the domesticated pets in the house. Horses are the exception of course. And donkey. And the llamas. Oh, why not admit it; I grow attached to them all.)


I will miss the late Early. I’m not giving up on peacocks, but I will take my time finding new birds to give that touch of elegance to my existence. I will wait until the barn is finished and we have a perfect peacock pen built. And then I will look at young birds and see if they take to me. When I see one with that special look in his eye, I’ll think “bingo.” And I’ll probably name him just that.  


 

Cheers

My kids love that I make alcoholic beverages now.

My twenty one year old, with way too enthusiasm over her newfound freedom to drink, says, “You have GOT to teach me how you make this stuff. If my MOM can do it, so can I.”

My underage son, says, “You have GOT to let me drink this stuff. Can’t be bad for me if my MOM makes it.”

But, it’s the little one who seems to truly marvel at the process. Every time a friend comes to the house, she takes them into the pantry to show off her mother’s big 6 gallon jugs of fermenting wine, then opens the cupboard to show off the jars of aging cordials. She likes to point out how the airlocks bubble, proving something interesting is happening inside, then goes on, professor-like, to explain how sugar and yeast make alcohol.

Her friends say, “Gee, that’s a lot of wine. Your mom must drink ALL THE TIME.”

Mark lifts an eyebrow and says, “With her help, you won’t get a reputation for being a great cook. You’ll be the new town drunk.”

“She doesn’t drink it. She MAKES IT.” Neva points out, with logic that, strangely enough, makes sense to her friends. “Besides which, she can’t drink it ’till later. Next year she’ll drink it all.”

Gee, thanks. It’s better for my reputation to have my drunkenness on temporary hold.


I seem to have a big bucket of something brewing by the door of the kitchen all the time now. Every time I pass that way, I pause to stir it a bit. This is tomato wine in the first stages – it is not as gross as the picture makes it look. When I am done clarifying it, it will look like a zinfindal and taste not unlike it too.


After a week or so, when the major fermenting is well on the way and I no longer need a wide air release to handle the gurgling, foaming liquid, I’ll transfer it to a carboy where it will continue to ferment for a month or so with a bacteria killing agent. Here’s my blackberry, strawberry and Pino Noir doing just that.


I feel empty myself when the primary fermenter is empty, so I start thinking “Hummm…… What’s next?” and I browse the recipe books to consider what is in season and appealing to my taste buds. Meanwhile, I re-rack the wine again to get rid of sediment that will make it bitter, readying it to wait a few months before finding a home in 30 traditional wine bottles. Because the wine is always dry at this point, I sweeten it (or not)  I am actually ready to bottle my first batch now. I bought a nifty floor model corker and collected bottles – even got a fancy bottle tree to hold the bottles bacteria free once they are sterilized. I bought a fancy computer program for making labels and picked a few styles of labels that seemed a good representation for the wines I am making. Yep, I’m ready to begin my Hendry Home Winery collection, only …..   I forgot to order corks. Duh. It’s always something, ya know. Anyway, when my rush order corks arrive in a few days, I’ll be ready to go. 


I am also having fun with cordials. I am focused on fruit cordials now, because I want to make everything in season (none of that cordial flavoring liquid for me – I like the old fashion real fruit and seasoning left to ooze flavors for a few weeks myself.) I’ve made Strawberry, Cherry, Peach, Prunelle (Plums), Blackberry, Pineapple, and Hypocras (a strawberry based cordial with orange rind made with a wine base).




I am making a mint cordial today. (Grasshoppers, here I come!) I am ready to move on to nuts, coco and coffee cordials too. Seems like fall-ish flavors to me. (Oh, and for your information, there are no recipes for pumpkin cordials – drat.) Some of these concoctions will be used as an after dinner parfait, some will be combined later with other ingredients to be turned into cream based cordials for gifts or holiday celebrations. Some will probably just be used to give a flavorful kick to my cooking, and some will be poured over homemade ice-cream as an adult dessert when friends come to dinner. I don’t know if I really have a use for them all. It’s the making, not the consuming, that I enjoy most. And displaying, of course. Half the fun is the bright, colorful array of pretty bottles filled with something yummy.

With all these flavorful, pretty liquids brewing, I had to consider what I wanted to put them in. I wanted my cordials to be as pretty bottled as they are in the jars, with the deep colors sparkling and advertising their rich flavor, so I went on E-bay and began collecting antique bottles. Some are cut in interesting, historic design. Some are colored, some clear. They went for only a few dollars, but with shipping, I had to watch what I bought. The bottles ended up 5 – 7 dollars a piece, which can add up and negate the thrill of making the brew for almost nothing.  Then, with bottles on the brain, I went to the flea market, and low and behold, I noticed old bottles everywhere. When you aren’t looking, you don’t notice something like dusty old bottles. But I did now. Suddenly, I was in old bottle heaven. I picked up the very same kind of bottles I was buying on E-bay, only this time I got them for only 50 cents or a buck! Heck, if I was smart, I’d buy them all and sell them on e-bay. That is probably what the other people are doing, and there is always a ding-bat like me willing to buy them. 


I now have a healthy collection of antique bottles. I don’t plan to stop making cordials until every one is filled. I always fill the little ones with left over cordial, so Denver has a little collection of her own. Denver is young enough that she still thinks drinking means snapping the top off a beer can – she doesn’t really understand the concept of cordials, so for her, it is all about the bottle. For me, the ex-bartender, a cordial means a world of designer drink possibilities.


My next problem is obviously going to be “where the heck will I put this stuff to age?”  Not like we have a wine cellar. We do have a small room in the basement with the water tank in it that I’ve used for hatching eggs. Since I now have a barn for my animal interests, I’m thinking of cleaning the room out good and setting up storage shelves. Bottles of wine must be stored on their sides, and since I will have about 120 of them in the next two months, a simple wine rack won’t suffice.  I’ll need Mark to help me design something. He will sigh when I ask. (Always a project to put him out, ya know.) But in this confined room, if my corks start exploding (beginner’s luck – it means the wine started refermenting in the bottle), nothing important will be ruined. And I’m extra careful, so hopefully, my wine will not start attacking anyone.

Anyway, today I am mulling over a name for my wine so I can begin making labels. I’m thinking the brand can be called HENDRY HOUSE (private reserve). Sounds lovely. Better sounding (though probably not as appropriate) as “Ginny’s  Rot Gut.” 

A rose by any name is still a rose, and while I doubt a pretty name will make my wine any more drinkable, the power of suggestion is something to consider. I am convinced friends will be more delighted to recieve a bottle of something that at least LOOKS fancy and professional.

Speaking of which, I haven’t made rose pedal wine yet…… and since my tomato wine is about ready to rack – that means an empty bucket. Can’t have that! Do you think Mark will notice if he comes home tomorrow and his 10 prize rose bushes in the front of the house are picked empty? I’ll blame it on the deer. That seems to be my best overall excuse for most of what goes wrong around here.

Cheers!



P.S.  A few updates:

* Something ate 3 of my five ducks. I’m left with the white one and one Appleate (the pretty spotted one which now has a green head.  Pissed me off good. I also have one brown duck.  I bought another batch of duck eggs just so this winter my ducks will have a flock – safety in numbers don’t ya know. These will be my first barn raised critters.

* Yesterday, my peacock eggs were due to hatch. I stare at them twenty times a day. Nothing! I’ve got a bad feeling about this potential hatching. Drat. I might have to change Early’s name to “Only”.

*Barn is coming along nicely. I’m so excited. Here is the picture at this point. Actually, this is a few days old. They’ve finished the roof and are now on the doors. My farrier made fun of me because it is such a nice barn. He said, “I suppose it does have air conditioning…. where you putting the couch?” These good ole boys sure like making fun of me. Ha, well, I give as good as I get.

Last but not least, Mark just took a week long broom making class at the Campbell Folk School. At first I thought “Brooms?” but when I saw his work, I understood the appeal. He puts an artistic twist into everything he touches, and his work is, as always, magnificent. The teacher told him he should sell them – they are of a quality you see in art galleries – his brooms certainly surpass what most students do at the start. No surprise to those of us who know him.

Handmade brooms go for 80-600 dollars, and Mark’s are on the upscale end. These one of a kind brooms are particularly lovely as wedding gifts and home warming gifts (real estate agents give them to people buying expensive, fancy cabins) because the history of the broom and the symbolism is very interesting. Mark will include brooms in our artwork in the new shop and he is doing research to include a descriptive folklore explaination of the meaning of each broom. Here are a few of his creations – the first is on a naturally shed deer antler-  the other handles he gathered in the woods and finished from odd bits of stick and limb.\





He made more, but these are the ones I have pictures of. He gave me the big one above left for sweeping the kitchen floor. Like I’m gonna use it to sweep! Get real. I happen to know how difficult these are to make and how special such a broom is. He is particularly good with devising interesting handles, don’t you think? But then, he is good with wood. He has been trying to come up with a name for his hand turned bowls, brooms and baskets. He was toying with “Dancingwood”, which I thought was appropriate, but I think he is leaning towards “Woodweaver”. Soon he will settle on some artesian title or another, and he’ll build a website on this division of craftsman products that will be featured in our gallery. I’ll keep you posted.

*Last, but not least, yesterday, our offer on a plot of land directly across from the Blue Ridge Scenic Train station, was accepted. We will close shortly – as soon as the FLEX is finally closed (keeps getting postponed). We are now beginning the process of planning and preparing to build the afore mentioned business. Gosh, it is exciting to break new ground and venture places you’ve never been. Scary, but exciting. I loved our many years in dance, but I don’t miss it. Especially in light of society changes and some of the people now involved in the business  – I keep hearing disgusting news about one former employee particularily, but that is another issue and not one I wish to address. Ick’s me out and makes me ashamed of her.) I’ll share our exciting gallery vision eventually, but that is subject for a blog all its own. It’s a BIG idea – different in the best of ways.

Now – I must go attend my bees. I’m overdue.

Gardening this year

Last week, I spent three hours picking little yellow, hairy bugs off of bean plants. Organic gardening – It’s a romantic ideal, but in reality, it’s yucky.


I couldn’t even get my little nature loving daughter to help.

She took one look and said, “This is gross. Besides which, I hate beans. You’re on your own with this one, Mom.”

This from a girl that, in most cases, likes bugs. Don’t ya hate it when your loved ones abandon you in a time of need? For all that I tried to explain how noble and important organic gardening is, she wouldn’t be swayed. So much for my Tom Sawyer talent.


Nevertheless, I am all about living true to what I believe, so I was willing to spend an afternoon all alone picking little yellow hairy bugs off of holey, half eaten leaves, because it means I can feed my family fresh green beans, sans chemicals or preservatives, only hours after they have been picked.


Our garden is almost finished producing for this year, other than the tomatoes. Gardening is sad in a way, because you tend the plants and without even knowing it, you form a relationship with them. Then, suddenly, they shrivel and die, almost before you have time to say your good-byes. It seems anticlimactic for something that has served you so well and brought you nourishment and joy.  There is always next year, I guess, and new plant-friendships to be made. Besides which, to be honest, when it comes to the work, I am not sorry to see an end to this project. Living in tune with the seasons makes every month feel new and different. I love that. so, I am ready for some cold weather so I will come indoors and do more writing for awhile. I didn’t get that degree for nothing, even though I’ve enjoyed a break from writing work.


It was a dismal year for gardening – partially because we missed much of the term when most of the pivotal planting and preparation for a garden has to be done, and partially because of the bad weather. We were working with some serous obstacles. We had to be in Florida four times during April and May (planting season.) I bought strawberry plants twice, and both times they died in the garage while we were unexpectedly called down to Flex for last ditch efforts to iron out the mess. We bought seeds and all kinds of herbs that didn’t make it into the ground due to an impromptu trip too. Frustrating. Then there is the fact that Georgia had a late frost, followed by a drought, so everyone agrees it’s been a bad year for gardeners. That, at least, alleviates my feeling totally incompetent as a beginner veggie planter.


Some of our efforts fell flat for no explainable reason. We planted cantaloupes and the plants flourished and flowered, the bees had a feast, but nary a melon grew. Humm…. Don’t know why. We planted corn, and it’s coming up now, but it is sort of skinny compared to our friend’s corn and has a few worms. I’ll pick bugs, but I draw the line at worms. I’ll do some organic corn gardening research on that one for next season.  All our carrots and beets went kaput too. We think the dogs dug them up before the seeds took root because we kept seeing seeds scattered on top of the soil. We’d stick them back under, but the next day, they’d be lying on the dirt again. Damn dogs.


But our squash plants proved to be overachievers! It got to a point where Kent no longer said, “What are we having for dinner, Mom?” and instead said, “What will we be having with out zucchini tonight, Mom?” I put zucchini in bread, cookies, and brownies. I sautéed it, stuffed it, and fried it. It made it into soups and blanched and froze a dozen bags of it.


Our lettuce did well – still going strong. I often walk down to the garden with a big bowl and scissors and cut lettuce for our evening salad. I mix the fresh dark green leaves with walnuts and feta cheese and it’s heavenly.
We also had a huge bean windfall. They just kept coming. Fresh green and yellow beans by the bucketful had to be harvested every third day or so. I was up several nights till 11:00 blanching and freezing beans so we will have our own garden fresh beans on the Thanksgiving table (and many other nights besides). I even tried pickling some beans – not that anyone here will like pickled beans, but I was in pickling mode and couldn’t snap out of it. We have dozens of jars of pickles now in a variety of styles – traditional dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, sweet garlic dill pickles, and lemon dill pickles (I figure, any food that gets my husband to pucker up is worth making.) We will have a taste test in a month or so to determine which recipes we like. It is not so much about the pickles as about the process, you know. And besides which, I’ve never had a pickle fest. Plenty of pumpkin fests. This will be different. Gotta try everything once

Then, there is our ….. um…… globe thing.

Here it is a week ago – it is plenty bigger now:



We thought it was a pumpkin, but it doesn’t’ seem to be turning orange. So we decided it was a watermelon, but it isn’t turning green. Humm… It doesn’t look like a gourd. It looks like a honeydew melon, but we didn’t plant those. You see, Mark decided to fill the burn pit after I burned down the forest (for obvious reasons) and when he was done, he just tossed some seeds for pumpkins, watermelons and gourds on the dirt. We didn’t expect anything to take really, but a vine did pop up out of the dry dirt, despite the drought and the fact that our hose doesn’t reach that far. It flowered. The bees visited and made such a racket you could hear them echoing inside those big flowers ten feet away. But only one globe thingy came from it. And it keeps getting bigger and bigger. We stand at the edge of that dirt pit and stare- speculating. I guess we should bring it in and cut it open, but I can’t bear to see our globe come to an end. And secretly, I’m still hoping it will turn orange and be our Halloween pumpkin.

We have learned the subtleties of Georgia planting this season, and learned about the deficiencies in our land. It is hard to be a gardening star when you don’t know your soil. So we will plow the garden under in a few weeks, and then, we plan to lime the shit out of it. Speaking of shit…… I will be moving my chicken manure and other goodies from the pasture out there too. We are expanding the size of the garden, plotting out an herb garden and other perennial areas. We have big plans for turning our half hearted attempts at growing things this year into a glorious banquet next season. Next year’s success begins now. I hope we will be plowing an area and treating it for a future vineyard too. I’m still hot for that one even though it takes a few years to get going.

While gardening is a lot of work, it is soulful, fulfilling work that feels good in every way. I have strong feelings about eating locally now, thanks to much of what I’ve been reading about health and our environment. I love the challenge of using all that free food from just beyond our backdoor. It forces me to try new recipes and learn new things in the kitchen. Mostly, I love being outside. I love sticking my hands in the dirt, and listening to the birds. I love how the guineas will wander over and eat a few bugs (anything to alleviate my task is good) I marvel at how things grow and what they look like in their natural form (which is NOT covered in cellophane at the grocery store, oddly enough). I get a kick out of walking just outside my door with an empty bowl and returning moments later with it overflowing with the makings of dinner.  I even love the look of the garden. It is alive and ever-changing. Most people place a scarecrow in the midst. My neighbor hangs a dead crow from a stick (don’t ask). In our case, we set our knight in rusty armour (formerally from our Sarasota Orchid garden) out there to watch over the garden like a gallant man of honor. He seems sort of out of place, and yet he suits the enviroment perfectly and adds character. Kind of like us – former dancers plopped down in Georgia living a hybred country/artistic life .  

Anyway, when our garden stopped producing enough to keep me busy, I went out to the farmers market and BOUGHT home grown tomatoes – boxes of them – to play with. I’m not about to let the season end without having my fill of kitchen exploits.

This is what I brought home this weekend (to go with the 12 tomatoes from our garden) 


I made a big vat of tomato wine – which sounds horrible, but actually they say it makes a fine blush that is indistinguishable from grape blushes.

Then, I made homemade spaghetti sauce. It took me an hour just to blanch and peel this many tomatoes. Then I spent an hour squeezing those slimy suckers to get the juice out to assure a thick sauce (the juice went into the wine). Mark woke up a few hours later (I get up early for these kinds of projects – he sleeps in) He took one look at the tomato-splattered kitchen and his tomato-splattered wife, and the heaping pot of squished tomatoes, and said, “That looks like a lot of work. I sure hope it is good sauce.”

“It BETTER be. I’m making this for YOU,” I said. (Mark is always talking about how much better food is fresh from the garden and that is one of the reasons I am so enthusiastic about the “grow it and cook it” concept.


I thought when we began this idea of growing food (we talked about it the day we decided to buy 50 acres) that,(gardening genius he is) he would be out there helping to weed, pick bugs and harvest this stuff while I was on kitchen duty. I wanted to pick a bit, but thought my part would be in cooking, canning and serving the food. But it has been more of a one woman show this year. Except for the initial tilling and once time of tilling between the rows (and one day I MADE him pick beans with me) he hasn’t bothered with the garden. He has a habit of staring at the plants and saying things like, “Somebody will have to pick those bugs off by hand,” or “Somebody needs to put some food under those plants if we expect them to produce well- it’s in the garage, by the way.”

He hasn’t figured out that he qualifies as somebody yet. So far, I’ve been the family somebody. Next year, I hope somebody turns into everybody.

Where was I? Oh yeah . . tomatoes. For hours I cooked down the tomatoes with garden fresh peppers, basil, oregano, parsley, garlic etc… added red wine and red wine vinegar, salt, and other goodies. In the end I had 6 huge containers of sauce to freeze for later. I thought I should have had at least 60, but the dang things cook down so much. Anyway, I still have tomatoes from our garden to make another batch – and this pot we will eat fresh. This wholesome, organic, eating local thing is good for you, but it does take a commitment. Not that I’m complaining. It’s fun. But it is work too. Nevertheless, at meals, it’s all worthwhile. I figure a bit of pasta, some homemade sourdough bread (my other new favorite thing to make now that I have a sourdough starter gurgling in the kitchen) and some garden lettuce made into a salad and I’m the next best thing on food TV –  the Little Home on the Prairie chef.

I guess it is just another way to feel grounded and connected. In a world where life has become a blur of malls and fast food and consumerism, it is nice to slow down and do something that requires peaceful effort in quiet, breezy, solitude. Eating this way, you feel cleansed – cleansed by the healthy food, and the fact that you know where it came from and what it represents. It assures everyone sits together to break bread and share fun dinner conversation too. All in all, I’m willing to tackle the little yellow bugs for that.
 
    

Horse Sense

Last night, I made the big decision – well, actually I had already made it, but I made the decision “official”.
I bought my new horse.

Now, don’t get judgmental on first sight, because she’s been in a huge pasture for several years, ungroomed and left to run wild. We are going to play EXTREME HORSE MAKEOVER here. A bath, a couple of hours working on her Rasterferarian dreadlocks and she’ll be beautiful beyond compare. She is a saddlebred (breed) pinto, five years old. I don’t know her “given name” because I’ve yet to check her registration papers. I can call her what I want, but I’m hoping she comes with a name I like.

Mark said, “Name her cow. She looks like one.” (Always the sentimental animal guy.)

I said, “Take that back. She’s beautiful,” (although, now that he mentioned it, she really DOES look like a cow, doesn’t she. But I’ll never admit it to him). “I think she is the one.”
He said, “Lord knows, you’ve done your research. It’s your horse. If she’s the one, and it will make you happy, make the deal.”
It’s true – I’ve been looking at horses, talking to people, riding horses as I shop, checking the internet, reading – doing all I can to determine just what I want. I looked at Missouri Fox Trotters and Tennessee Walkers and Arabians and Thoroughbreds.  A saddlebred horse is hearty, sure footed and has a good lineage. This is it.
So, I forgave him the cow comment, even though now I can’t get the name “Moo” out of my head.


She has light blue eyes – very unusual for a horse, although it does happen in pintos.




I saw her sister, who had one blue eye and one brown eye. That was unusual. Her sister just had a baby. Here it is:


I show you this as an example of the baby we will most likely be bringing into the world next June. You see, my new horse was put with a fully blood Pinto stud three weeks ago so she is probably pregnant. I thought Mark would be unhappy about this, however, they sold the last baby for 2,100 and made me a standing offer for the new colt. They said they will make a deal now to buy it back for 1,000 when it is 4 months old and weaned.  Hummm…. that is nice because it makes me feel more comfortable with the horse’s price – but I think I’ll wait before making any deals. I want to see what we are selling first. And who knows what I’ll want to do with a new quality baby in a ten months.
I get to have a new baby. No, I’m gonna get TWO new babies, because we don’t want to forget my pregnant llama – also due in June. How fun is that gonna be! I’ll be running a four legged nursery!

Of course, there are no guarantees the horse is pregnant. It’s possible the mating didn’t take. That happens on occasion. And sometimes, a mare can lose a colt early on. But considering the breeder knows his stuff, the odds are high that she is pregnant. I am getting not only my horses papers, but a copy of the father’s papers too so I can be prepared to register this new colt if/when it is born. 

 Either way, I will be happy with this horse. It was love at first sight.


In a field of dozens of horses, she came directly to me. She’s a “people horse”, very interested in humans and personable. Love that. I tried to give her a peppermint, but she wouldn’t take it. She’s never seen one before and didn’t know what it was. Ha – I’m gonna rock her world. I commented that I felt badly taking her from this green wonderland and her life of leisure with the herd, yet the horse trainers reminded me that a horse like this wants to be ridden and likes the care and interaction of a loving owner. Well, if that will make her happy, she’ll be in bliss, for sure. 

She will need some serious training, of course. She had 90 days of training and rode well when she was two and with her first owner, but this particular horse seller bought her for breeding.  They kept pointing me to the other horses hoping I’d want one of them instead, but I was continually pulled to this one.
They said, “If you want a pinto, how about this beautiful brown one? He is only two and pretty as all get out.” 
The horse was awfully pretty, but I kept saying, “What about HER?”
Eventually, they realized I had made my choice and was not to be easily distracted. I can be persuasive when I see something I really want. And I just had a feeling about this particular horse. Kent and Neva agreed. She seemed to like us, and obviously, I liked her.

The horse trainer , Sean, will give her 60 days of intense training, so she will be neck reigned and will have all the basic skills – like going backwards, halting and staying put as you mount or dismount, easy transition between gates, etc.. She will lift her feet for you, load in a trailer, and even step aside when you open a gate.  She will be perfect for my uses of trail and pleasure riding and she is of a quality that if I ever decided to show her in Western Pleasure, she can win. (Notice I’m not saying I can win – only her. I don’t kid myself about my horse skills.) I’m not leaning towards competitive riding, but it is nice to know I have that option just in case. After all, I’m planning on this being the last horse I’ll be buying for some time. 

I’ve made a deal for Sean to do the training on our land, in our pen and on our fields and trails. This way I’ll be caring for the horse and we will get to know each other. Most importantly, I can watch and LEARN. I am very interested in the horse training process. I’ve taken a horse training clinic at a big equestrian center near our home, and I want to take more, but it can be pretty costly. Now, I’ll have a 60 day home clinic study course for free. Ye-haw. I can go to their clinics for refinement and to train ME. (I need it more than the horses.) Sean said that during the last 30 days, a great deal of the training will involve me. For the best success, he will work with the horse and I, together as a team. I can’t wait.  

Then, as if an afterthought, I asked Sean if he’s ever tried to train a donkey.
He snorted and said, “Why would I? ……” Then seeing my disappointed face he said, “Oh Hell, why do you ask?”

“I want to teach my donkey to pull a cart so I can take people around the land in a little two seater. Then, I can ride donkey in dinky parades and such. (Big marketing aspirations from the future coffee shop owner) Sean winced as if even the idea of messing with a lowly donkey was painful.

“I love my donkey.” I pointed out. ‘He’s my FAVORITE.”

“I might be able to help you with that…. if you make me.” he said, good-natured. Just goes to show, that  one endeavor often leads you to another, and you never can tell what that might be.

Anyway, today we close on our FLEX building, so in about a week, when finances are in order, I’ll be greeting my new horse – just a week or so before the new barn will be ready to receive her. Gee, it feels like at long last my equestrian pursuits are getting really organized. Lucky me.

As I returned from looking at this horse, Sean and his wife Amanda (who I really like) were talking to a man who was looking for a horse for his kids. He wanted something gentle and smallish, and the trainer looked at me and said, “Actually, I believe this woman here might have just the horse you are looking for. We are talking about a trade, so if she is seri
ous about the horse she is looking at, we might want to look at the one she has at home.” Sure enough, they came to our land to inspect and ride Dixie, and I think she found her new home too.

The man looked nice enough. I said, “I will have to do a background check, ya know. Approved homes only.”
I was kidding, but only kinda.

The man assured me that if he bought her, Dixie would be going to a fine home with a nice pasture and a sweet kids. I will believe that, because it makes this transition bearable for me. For all that she is a simple country horse (too small, without refined training, plus she has no papers or heritage) I do love her. But I love her like a pet that you stroke and adore, not like a trusted mount you want to spend hour after hour exploring the wilderness with – a horse you can count on to keep you safe and securely seated. I do need a better quality horse if I want riding freedom and greater possibilities. 

We live a short ride from a national forest with miles of horse trails. I plan to go on day long horse trail rides. I want to pack a lunch and take off, sometimes alone, and sometimes with a friend. It can’t be Mark, because we’ve discovered he can’t ride with his bad hips, but I can take Neva as she gets older, or other friends. Both of our horses will be solid, well behaved, good natured horses now, perfect for long trips. Anyone can ride them. My kids can saddle up with friends and enjoy an afternoon riding. As I get more and more plugged into the horse culture, I hope to meet friends that would also like to join me in riding adventures on their own horses. Fun.

Anyway, when my new horse arrives and she is all cleaned up and looking spit and polished, I’ll post another picture. You will be impressed. And I’ll share some pictures of her in training. I won’t be the only one learning about horses for the next 60 days, ya know, because like a good blogger, I’ll take you along for the ride. 

 

The good book (well, one of them)


I am always amazed at how much people like me (born with advantages, like education and exposure to society’s progress) take for granted when I compare my understanding of the world with someone like Kathy’s. For example, this week, I bought her a dictionary; a Webster’s Youth dictionary, because I didn’t want her wrestling with anything too intimidating. As a non-reader, Kathy didn’t know what a dictionary was. 


We spent the lesson looking up and reading the meanings of words. This exercise challenged her basic spelling skills, organizational skills, and her reading comprehension. I’d give her a word like “tundra” or “allocate” (which she didn’t know) and she would have to find it in the dictionary. This isn’t easy for a person still struggling with the alphabet, who can’t spell well. She has a particularly hard time with spelling because she doesn’t annunciate words correctly, due to her southern, back country upbringing. When she takes a stab at sounding out a word, she is often way off, mixing up “t’s” with “d’s” and confusing other basic sounds. Frustrating problem to tackle.   


I needed to help her find many of the words as we began. After we found them, we would discuss the plural (plurals are something we are learning now – and let me tell you, the rules about adding an “s”, verses an “es”, verses dropping a “y” to add an “ies” are a bitch.) We then would laboriously read the definition – which often included additional words she didn’t know, leading us to the next word challenge.


I wanted her to understand she could refer to a dictionary when she came cross words she was uncertain of and that it would help her spell correctly. We haven’t learned phonetics, so sounding words out by the phonetic spelling is not an option. There is just so much to cover, and I’ve no time to include that sort of academic skill to the list. It just isn’t something that has practical application for an adult, other then learning how to pronounce a random word that is in most cases, uncommon (thus your need to look it up). Besides which, phonetics is confusing. She has a hard enough time remembering the sounds of letters without all the pesky little marks that establish differences in annunciation. We still stumble on the difference between “d” and “b” and “w” and “y”. She remembers one day, then it slips from her mind the next.

Spending a day exploring the dictionary wasn’t as much a drag as it sounds – it was actually kind of fun, like a game. Years of trying to make dance education entertaining taught me to camouflage learning in interesting game-like exercises. I try to introduce what could be droll repetition in ways that are more fun. We actually have a good time in our lessons.

Anyway, we spent an entire lesson on the dictionary. It was harder than introducing her to basic cooking or the newspaper. Dictionaries are BIG, (and very wordy, if I say so myself.)


When Mark and I (unfortunately) inherited FLEX back, there were all kinds of computers in the offices – about four times what we formerly used to run the school. Now, a dance school is not a high tech business, and it sure doesn’t need the glut of technology we found when we were packing the place up– especially when the school’s basic bills are not being paid – but that is another story – don’t get me started. The thing is, since we now had them, wanted or not, we shuffled our computers around at home to make sure everyone was outfitted well to keep up on today’s technology, and then began thinking about the extras. I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to do something for someone else, so, we are giving a computer to Kathy next week. See – good things come out of even the worse scenarios.


Kathy is so excited. She wants the computer for her son to do school work, and she thinks she will be able to learn to work it enough to use it for research and to play games herself. She wants to find out what “this internet thing that people sometimes talk about,” is.

Egad – what if she discovers e-bay?  Her husband will never forgive me!


Introducing a new-reader to the computer isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s sort of like teaching someone from outer space, because the individual has no prior knowledge to refer to when explaining things.  Kathy has no clue what a computer does or how it works. She doesn’t know you need programs to make it work. She doesn’t know the feel of a mouse or how to move a cursor, or how to type or save a file. She doesn’t understand what “windows” or “disks” are. She hasn’t even had a bank account, so she doesn’t know how to work a credit card/debit machine in a grocery store. She is a total technology virgin. How often do you meet one of those?

The fact is, a person does need basic computer knowledge to operate in our world today. You can’t even go to the library to check out a book without being able to use a computer. The card catalogue is on line. You take your driver’s test on a computer now, and use it at government offices to make your appointment, etc. Schools put their information on-line for parents now too, and e-mail is a common source of communication. I think a person is at a terrible disadvantage without a computer as a resource. Kathy understanding computers will be a valuable real life application skill. I also think it will be fun for her, so it will promote more home practice.


This morning, I went on E-bay and purchased her the Jump Start and Reader Rabbit programs for levels K-3rd grade. They were only a few dollars each. Great resource.  She likes doing worksheets and such now, even when they are designed for kids, so I have a feeling that she will get excited by Jump Start. And since these programs are designed to help young children learn both computer skills and lessons in reading and writing, I know the games are user friendly for a novice.


We had an extra computer desk and I gave it to Kathy today. She said she will spend the weekend cleaning her bedroom and making a place for the new computer. Mark is clearing it out and re-booting it for her.

Kathy even made an arrangement to get the internet in her home – amazing for someone with limited funds. But then, I’ve read articles about people in third world countries with community internet stations for the village children enabling them to link to the world. I guess the internet isn’t a luxury anymore –it’s a way of life.


So, that is the big Kathy news. She has learned to read enough that she is ready to go on-line. I’m gonna show her the world, one click at a time. Wow.


The downside? I guess it is only a matter of time until I’ll have to watch how I talk about my teaching experiences, because she’ll discover this blog and then she’ll be reading my twist on our endeavors. Not that I’ve ever said anything unkind (or so, I hope) yet, I admit I feel a certain liberty talking openly about her, knowing she isn’t a part of this world. Ah well – that’s the price of progress, I guess. At lease it will be years until she’ll be a fluent enough reader to wade through my prolific meanderings, so for a while, I can continue my literacy reports.


One thing is certain, if you want to learn what you don’t know, start teaching someone what you do know. Teaching is the most efficient way to learn. And the intimate connection made between a student and teacher who share a positive synergy is precious.


You know you are doing the job right when, rather than feeling as if you are enlightening someone, you feel enlightened yourself.