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Monthly Archives: April 2008

Try to keep up.

It’s all about forks. In a split second, life can change. It’s a matter of shifting your shoulders a few degrees and choosing to walk the alternate root when you come to a decision– which isn’t so hard considering both directions happen to begin at the very origin where you are currently standing. All it takes is one step aimed towards a slightly different angle.

A single step is no big deal, except that it leads to a second step, then the next and the next, and before you know it you’ve put a great deal of distance between where you started and where you’re going to end up. Fact is, no mater how slight the degree of change is, an angle does not provide a parallel course. Walking a new path drives the gap between two courses wider as time goes on.  So, when it comes to forks, it is wise to take care in making your choice.

It is with this in mind that Mark and I decided to reconsider which road we will take next.

Yesterday was one of those “harsh” days.
It began when I went to feed the horses. Got stung twice by a wasp. It hurt. Needless to say, these were only the beginning stings I had to look forward to this day.

I’d decided it was time to let my poultry run free again so the day before, I opened the pen. The marauding dogs haven’t been around and I need those guineas to be out and about eating fly larva to control the fly population currently festering and getting ready to break out. It’s nice to have my chickens roaming again, roosting on the hitching post and scooting and scratching about the pasture and woods. But sure enough, my male peacock was nowhere to be found. I guess he flew the coup – literally. The female was complacent and obviously she’s gripped the concept of “home”. Unfortunately, I’ll no longer have that wonderful spectacle of Prism’s fanned tail to brighten my days. Damn peacock. He may be out in the woods somewhere- Mark swears he’s heard him, but I’m not counting on the bird coming home. My peacock egg was due to hatch this week but it’s just sitting in the incubator like a pet rock. Apparently the ol’ boy didn’t do his job in the procreation department despite all his strutting and acting like a big shot. Needless to say, I’m Peacock pissy this week.

When I finished tending the animals, I went to retrieve the mail. Mistake. I got a letter from one of the agents that requested my book – the agent I was coveting most. She declined representing me, saying “This is not a commentary on your writing, but on the market. I only take on what I can sell and yours is not a story I feel confident I can move.”
I took the news well. I told Mark I was quitting writing forever because I suck so bad.
He sighed and said, “Sure you are.”
“I mean it.”

That conversation was interrupted by a call from our builder, Ronnie. Someone had cut the lines set for our coffee shop footers the day before. That meant several hours of work had to be redone. We guessed it was the barbeque man. Ah well. We called the police and they promised to watch the site carefully.  The strings were reset, but cut again while the workers were out. So that is how it’s going to be . . .

Another call. Our house was being appraised for a refinance. The number came in just shy of what we needed to qualify for the spectacular rate Mark locked in. Damn. We offered to put in the cash to make up the difference, for it was really not that much, but don’t ya know they wouldn’t give us an extension to work this out. They preferred to decline the refinance (not surprising because the rates have gone way up since we locked in the agreement.) It wasn’t that important, because we are putting the house up for sale this week anyway – we just thought the refinance was a wise thing to do in case it took awhile to unload.  Meanwhile, the appraiser apologized and told us the house was worth much more than the figure he could assign, but he was having trouble establishing this because there are no comparables within the last twelve months in this area. There just aren’t many log houses as unique or grand as this one here in Nowhere, GA.  Now, if he was allowed to use comparables from 13 months ago, he could appraise the house for 30 % more, because several artistic log homes on Blue Ridge Lake sold last year for a fair price. The fact that we live in such a small place and the market has been so slow is complicating things. Buzz. Sting. 

We got a call from the bank. Despite a verbal OK, theye reconsidered our coffee shop project and now did not want to back it. They’re worried bout the future of the specialty coffee industry because they have an article about how Starbucks is closing locations and restructuring their stores – all information we already knew – the article is in our files. Hell, we’ve done over 6 months of intensive research on the field, flown to Portland for professional training, hired a consultant, talked to roasters and vendors and well, you get it. Not like we didn’t study marketing trends first. They said they would back the project if we would just move the shop to Blue Ridge, where the train begins rather than the destination location. There is a great deal of thriving commerce in the bigger town which they view as “safer”. They just don’t trust our little town of McCaysville will evolve to support our ambitious plans. The fact that we already own the lot in the smaller town doesn’t seem to be a consideration. 

For all that this is aggravating, their reservations are fair. We’ve been aware of the risk from the beginning – being the big fish in a really small pond makes it hard to find enough food to keep you swimming strong. We have another bank willing to back us so we can still proceed. The problem now was, our confidence had been shaken. We believe in listening to others with experience and paying heed to outside opinions. This doesn’t mean we always follow the advice we are given, but we sure contemplate it and pit it against our own judgement in a fair debate. 

Mark said, “We better revaluate our concept and look at the numbers again.” 

The fact is, people open businesses and lose their life savings all the time. Usually this kind of thing occurs because they are overconfident, underfinanced, or didn’t do enough careful planning to be ready for whatever trials are definitely going to come their way. (Murphy’s law).  So, we sat down and crunched numbers (again) and talked about risk (again) and came to the conclusion that we’ve learned enough that we could definitely make this business work. But this brought the conversation back around to what it will take from us to get the required results. The fact is, if we wanted our lives to be consumed by work and stress, we would have kept the thriving and successful business we had. We loved our work. We just couldn’t withstand the personal costs indefinitely. And now we must ask ourselves if what we are planning is going to thrust us right back into the fray – like finally escaping an abusive spouse only to marry someone who hits just as hard and often (only it hurts worse because this time you’re married to someone you don’t love as much).

Which brings us back to the million dollar question – what kind of life do we want? We have to remember why we left our old world behind, define what makes us happy and be brave enough to go after it. We had a vision for the kind of life we couldlhave when we left dance. I wanted to have time in my life for reflection and discovery. I wanted to celebrate family and nature. And I wanted to write. (Even though today I quit because I suck so bad.)

Mark wanted to build houses and do woodworking and perhaps do a bit of speculating with land. He wanted to dabble in real estate and not have his life consumed with the foolish drama that was always prevalent in the dance school business. He wanted to be creative without compromise – which means he should take care before making his art his living.

What the heck does coffee have to do with any of that? Actually, it started out with us wanting an art gallery to display Mark’s work. Then we started doing research and decided we needed a more consumable product to support the business overhead, so we added a little coffee bar. I thought I’d do some cooking because I love feeding people. Then we started researching the food service department of the business and decided to get training. We hired consultants so we had a better understanding of the nuisances of this specialty business, and the next thing you know we were defining our concept and creating logos for what had somehow become a full scale restaurant, bakery, espresso bar and art gallery. The next thing you know, we are talking about franchising and opening future locations and  . . . well, you get the picture. We were fueled with confidence that our personalities, small business experience and creative gifts would help us excel in this new business.
But the fact that we can do something doesn’t mean we should.

I have a theory about what is driving us. Selling a successful business and making a good deal of money is a dream come true in theory, but in reality, it puts you at a disadvantaged in regards to being free to follow your heart. You have the funds to do all kinds of things you always dreamed of doing, but suddenly you are the steward of this huge nest egg which represents a once in a lifetime shot at opportunity and future security. You want to be worthy of this egg, to respect it and not take it for granted. Afterall, you can’t forget the sacrifice and misery it took to get it. The idea that you may piddle it away or waste this profound gift by not making practical decisions (which translates to fiscally prosperous decisions) is a constant concern. Meanwhile, people are mad at you for leaving all the success you had behind, constantly predicting how sorry you will be when the money is gone because you can’t replace the empire you so frivolously threw away. You wonder if they’re right and start having dreams of being 85 and struggling to pay bills and not being able to afford a hearing aid, looking at yourself in the mirror and thinking, “I could have retired prosperous and secure, traveled the world and had a drawer full of hearing aids if only I hadn’t been so selfish and sold my dance school 40 years ago for peace of mind.”
Regret is a sad thing, so you fear it. And that means you can’t really celebrate your good fortune because you’re consumed with what you’re not doing with it, rather than appreciating what you are doing. The idea that you dare relax for the first time in your life and make indulgent choices for the soul seems fiscally frivolous and kind of stupid. You become too guilty to enjoy a life that isn’t about building equity and accumulating wealth because our society conditions us to think a certain way.

I think we have this weird idea buried deep within that because we sold an empire, we better damn well build another one so that in twenty years we’ll be in the same financial position we would have been had we stayed in dance. But that is stupid. Because our luck could have turned at any time with dance (we were getting too old to keep up physically and frankly, we sensed a shift in the business environment and social attitudes of our area, which would no doubt have changed the dynamics of our business. We were “on top” and the law of diminishing returns pointed to a period of struggle on the horizon and frankly, we were not up to weathering another FLEX decline on our watch. So the fact is, there’s no telling how we would have ended up if we stayed in dance forever – we might even have ended up with far less than we have now had we played the hand –and we might just as well have had regret for “what might have been” had we hung in there unhappy and sacrificing saniety because it was “safe” and practical for our future.
We left for good reason and we need to remember it. And we must drown out the voices of doubt (others and our own) that question whether or not we can be happy with a life that ceases to be some kind of monopoly game – calculating our future payoff for the misery we are willing to endure in the present.

So, having endured enough stings for one day – we pushed our business plan aside, looked at each other quietly and waited to see which one of us had the guts to voice what they were thinking first

“What would you say if I said, let’s skip this entire coffee shop thing. It won’t make us happy. ”
“I would second that motion.”
Court adjourned.
(It doesn’t matter who said what in this kind of conversation, because clearly we were experiencing a vulcan mind meld.)

After months of planning, traveling to get training, and investing in research etc…. we have halted the project. Our investment thus far will be written off to “life education.” Needless to say, the barbeque man will think cutting a few strings worked to drive Hitler away. Ah well, he lost his bushes so we are even.

I would be lying if I didn’t say we were disappointed with our decision on some levels. We were fueled with the promise of the project and now have to reboot our brain to focus elsewhere. It was raining out and we were depressed because we are again “ungrounded” and living in limbo does not suit us at all, so we went to bed and watched six episodes of the John Adams series that we had on tape. (We know how to handle a disappointment –crawl under the covers, watch a historical movie and wallow in your feelings of uncertainty.) Then, inspired by John Adam’s passion, we got up and took a hike on the opposite side of our land to choose a new house site. We decided to stop hemming and hawing and list our house with nine or twelve acres now to rid ourselves of living with a stressful mortgage ASAP. Between this house and the two FLEX buildings we carried long after FLEX was caput, we’ve had enough of living to pay the rent.  We decided to build a new house right away – this time a nice,, practical farm house. Mark called the builder to redirect his efforts from the coffee shop to a new home, and they staked out the house and got the permit that very afternoon.

Mark and I made a pact. This time, we are going to stick with the original plan – to forge a semi-self sufficient life of semi-simplicity. Things did not plan out as expected regarding our business sale, so we have to make changes and that is a dissapointment,  but we will still have 35 acres, a barn and a workshop fully outfitted with tools. We can afford a lovely house built to suit our lifestyle nestled in the woods (no pond, but hey, I’ll have trees and damn if I won’t get a hammock this time around) and a life set up without much overhead, so we are lucky, lucky, lucky. We certainly can continue to follow our heart and fill our lives with the things that count this way.

Our builder said, “I couldn’t understand why you wanted to bury yourself in a coffee shop anyway. Let’s build some houses together – starting with yours. “
And that is what they plan to do. Mark is going to complete the orders he has now for furniture and perhaps take on a few more – but since he doesn’t have to crank out a store full of merchandise or support the family by his art, he can follow the wave of inspiration and have some fun. He’s going to start up his real estate career with Century 21 tomorrow, something he’s always wanted to do – they’ve given him an office. And he and Ronnie are going to build houses together.
 “I will support us by piecing together a career,” Mark announced. “You can stay home and write – which is what you were supposed to do when we sold FLEX. That will pan out in time, no denying. ”

I’ve always been a major contributor when it comes to supporting the family, so this is a lovely gift of confidence and freedom, but a bit surreal.
“I can’t be some slacker expecting you to take on the brunt of supporting us,” I said.
Mark lifted one eyebrow. “I’ve done my share of working for you. FLEX was your thing and I was along for the ride – slave labor. This time, I’m ready to take the wheel. Given a chance to do what I want,  I might surprise you with what I’m capable of.”
Of course, nothing he does would surprise me at all.  
Mark added, “And if you really feel guilty, you can come into the workshop and give me a hand once in a while.”
Hopefully, that won’t be literal. Does the man know I’ve never held a power tool in my life? Perhaps he means me to sweep.

It will be a curious experiment.

So, I am going to send my book out again, to the agent who requested it with an exclusive. . . (Even though I’ve quit writing because I suck so bad.)    And I’m going to dig in and finish my “moving to the country” memoir to see if that is the kind of story an agent can move in this market –(even though I quit and I suck so bad.) I’m going to figure out how to do a bit of teaching (writing) because I long to immerse myself in my new art and I desperately need the interaction with others. I also plan to offer my services to the neighboring dance schools for a few classes. I have a studio in this house so I can dance all I want, but I’ve discovered that for me, dance is something meant to be shared. I miss the wonderful camaraderie and synergy that happens when I’m in a room working with young people with a passion for dance. I don’t ever want teaching dance to be my living again, but I do want dance to be a part of my world. (Funny thing is, Mark said the same thing – he wants to do a bit of choreography and coaching on the side just to feed the soul – but he never wants to be a slave to the art – or dance parents- again.) Guess our feelings are an example of holding onto something with an open hand. A bird is more likely to stay if free to fly away at will.

I’m also going to cook for my family, and get back to running, and enjoy my kids and contemplate the universe while shoveling horse shit and weeding my garden. I’m going keep working with Kathy (who is doing so well) and perhaps take on another literacy student someday, make wine and mess with bees and have interests for the sake of the simple joys attached – all things I would have had to put aside if I were diving into a new business. And who are we kidding? If contributing more will be in the best interest of my family, I will. 
The best part of shifting direction at this fork in the road is the fact that we can beam ourselves back to the beginning at any time. Because we still own that lot and we have the variance and the permit and a rather marvelous business plan and we even have a bank in the wings who will work with us. Opening the new business can just simmer in a pot – we can proceed in a year if we feel we need to, or even in five years. Till then, we will sit tight and see what goes on with our economy, our proposed industry, and our town. We will live without the pressure of a high risk, all consuming venture for the first time in our life. Gee, that will be unchartered waters.

Anyway, that is the plan today. A dip on the rollercoaster of life that makes your stomach lurch, but doesn’t unseat you or make you want to scream. It’s a step.



And so it begins . . .

Yesterday, we broke ground to finally start building our new business. It has taken a great deal of time to get things in order, permits and finances etc…

This is not the first time we’ve broken ground to begin a new enterprise.  Last time, we were building the grand Lakewood Ranch dance studio. We posed for the local news with our employees and the area business association was so delighted they hosted a fancy buffet in our honor. Pictures were in the paper. It was big news.

This time, we didn’t even plan to attend the ground breaking on the morning our builder started the preliminary work to lay the foundation for the future Bean Tree. My parents had had just left town after a short visit and last week was our school’s spring break and we’d gone to Nashville for a few days with the kids, thus setting us back on work related chores. We had a day chalk full of errands to run. But ten minutes after work was supposed to have  begun, we got a call from our builder that “The neighbors are caterwauling’. Better get down here.”

Mark sighed and said, “And so it begins.”

We drive down. The bull dozer is parked center stage. In front of our little lot was the mayor, the police chief, a representative from the business association, and a few interested spectators (because an argument between neighbors is about as interesting as a fire in these here parts.)

Apparently, the fellow who rents the little building next door for a barbeque joint had taken exception to our moving the bushes and two trees that separated our neighboring  lots. He claimed he was renting the bushes (which lie on the property line) as well as the building, so we better not dare touch them. The trees and bushes are mostly on our property (as well as a corner of his building, but we let that go) and we had secured permission to remove them months ago, so we were taken off guard by his reaction. Unfortunately for him, there was no question that we had to remove these obstructions – our lot is small and the only way to fit our building on it is to build to the property line, which requires some room to work on the outskirts too. We made sure to get a variance from the mayor and an agreement with the adjacent property owner before agreeing to purchase the land. Nevertheless, we do want to have good report with our neighbors so we chose to be sensitive to his distress. We explained that the owner of the property he is renting gave us permission to remove the bushes and trees before we even bought the lot and we showed him our permit and the variance.

Barbeque man said that he didn’t care if Hitler bought the lot, he wouldn’t stand for anyone touching a leaf of a plant near his business. (I couldn’t help but note the negative connotations of his chosen metaphor. Sigh.) 

At the sheriff’s suggestion, we called the county appraiser and when he heard the mayor was involved, he came down himself (very impressive, because he is a very busy man who usually sends assistants for these kinds of things). Turns out our property was two inches wider than supposed, which made our case even stronger.

The barbeque man was going ballistic, saying that if we build a business next to his, it’ll ruin him. He doesn’t like the kind of coffee that costs 1.50 a cup, or people who drink it. The mayor pointed out how good it will be for the town to have an upscale business like the one we’re designing. He and many others have been waiting for someone to take the risk and be the first to invest in the area, because then they believe others will follow suit. The town is full of tourists, thanks to the train, but no one is taking the initiative to service them with better quality stores– which is turning out to be a detriment to the future of the town. But barbeque man said he liked the town the way it is and he thinks we should just forget our project and leave the lot empty. Yeah, sure buddy.

We spent three hours trying to appease the man. Mark offered to replant some landscaping on his lot (just to be nice, not because he has to). But the barbeque man remained steamed. The police chief took me aside and said, “These old country boys hate change. He’s just squaller’in because he’s bored. He hated the people on the other side when they moved in too, but two months later, they’re getting along fine. Forget the old fart and do what you have to do.”

In the end, Mark said, “What can I do to make this a better situation, because we’ve invested in this lot and now we must build here to the specifications of the permit, and that means the bushes must be removed. But I’m willing to work with you.”

“There ain’t nothing you can do to make me happy but to go away,” the barbeque man says.

Mark says, “Well, in that case, we are finished here. If you don’t like what we’re doing, we can go to court to settle the dispute – and let me tell you, after what I’ve been through the past few years over my former business; this won’t be a drop in the bucket.” And he motioned for the man in the back hoe to begin and sure enough, bush number one ripped from the earth like picking a flower.

I guess the moment Mark stopped trying to apologize and being nice, the man decided to let it go. He didn’t really want a fight, just wanted to make some noise. He said “Nevermind.” Then goes to sit on his porch to watch the work in progress. 

The street was now filled with interested spectators as if watching bulldozer move dirt was the best entertainment in town – and on some days around here, I suppose it is. In ten minutes the bushes are removed and frankly, this increases the visibility of the man’s barbeque place, which is so tucked in the back away from the street that even after 9 months of living here I still had to have Mark point it out.

Mark was kind enough to write a document promising to do some landscaping and to leave the neighbor’s property visually appealing, just to reinforce his good intentions.

Everyone thought he was being more than fair, so they wandered off content. A few hours later, Mark asked it he could borrow Barbeque man’s broom to clean it some dirt on the sidewalk. The man refused, so Mark walked across the street to the grocery store to purchase one so he could sweep the neighbors walkway. (I suppose I should write “dentistry fees” into our business plan because it looks like Mark will be grinding his teeth a great deal in the coming months . . . and so it begins . . .)

When Mark got into the car, I praised him for handling things so diplomatically and with such steady calm.  He looked tired.  Sometimes I wonder if the emotional scars left by FLEX will ever heal. Life goes on, but man, do we all carry baggage around from it.
I said, “Everything worked out easily enough, if you think about it.”
He said, “I just feel raw inside when things like this happen. It kills me. I wonder if this going to be like owning FLEX where everyone always seems to hate you because you run the place. You can’t win, no matter how hard you try to do the right thing.”

I pointed out that back then, people hit below the belt, attacking us in ways that were very, very personal. You couldn’t help but be hurt when you’d knock yourself out to create a great dance experience and people got mad over things you never suspected would be a problem and they attacked your character for it. Like them blowing up because their child was not given a role they wanted and accusing you of favoritism, or going ballistic because we had to reprimand students for behavior problems that disrupted the learning process. They’d say things like “You’re unfit to be around children!” which always stung. They’d say, “I know you are punishing my kid by having her stand on the back line because we asked for more rhinestones on our costumes last week. You just love humilitaing kids. You get a kick out of it. ” Or some other nonsense.  The allegations were always so off the mark it would be funny if it wasn’t so disheartening.

Add to that all those constant digs which revealed everyone’s resentment towards us for being successful, as if we were “taking advantage” of children rather than being modestly rewarded for hard work and talent. There was this attitude that we should devote ourselves to dance out of a love for the art and a commitment to children – that we were not deserving of a good enough livelihood to raise our own children well or to secure our future retirement. The constant snide comments about our personal finances and disgruntled fury about any progress the business made wore our soul flat over time – especially since we made less than almost everyone attending our school  – whatever we had was invested back into the studio to make it a nicer place for all. Eventually, we just decided it isn’t worth it anymore. Living a life now without all that madness I realize we probably lasted longer than most people could have under those conditions.

This is different, I assured him. Now, we are fighting about bushes. There is no reason to take that personally. No one is going to scream that we are unfit to be around a cup of coffee – and few people will think we should work 60 hours a week and not get paid decently because we’re supposed to do it out of a love for the brew. And if they do, hell, we’ll sell this business too.

Mark sighed and said, “I suppose you’re right. Still, I wish I could just go about doing my thing to the best of my ability and not have to deal with insane people causing a stink because they don’t understand what it takes to keep a business stable and secure.”
Ha. Would be nice.
But we know that every business in America comes with its share of yucky crap. It is just a matter of making sure the crap you have to handle is crap you can stand to live with.
So, when you look at it that way, fighting about bushes is really no biggie.

The good news is, the construction has begun and we are on our way back into the world of small business ownership – for good or for bad.   
We are inviting a slew of headaches into our lives again – a constant need to be creative and diligent – to work as hard as it takes to do a job well. We do not want to be slaves to our work this time around, but we do know our personalities well enough to expect we’ll soon be feeling fairly passionate about our product, service and employees. And we have so many ideas to incorporate in the other areas of the store, like art gallery creations and event planning and a literary center and/or newsletter. Like it or not, that means a great deal of work ahead. Ah well – it makes you feel alive to be building something you believe in and can be proud of.

About two weeks ago, we went to Atlanta to this huge Dessert Expo for people in bakery related businesses. We enrolled Kent and Denver in a professional barista training program and they learned all about latte art, the origin of coffee etc… We thought this would be helpful in case they end up working for us (and they both hope to), but even if they don’t, barista skills will help them get a job in any major city – it’s a great college job. If nothing else, it helps our mature offspring understand what we are doing now and allows them to be a part of it which is important to our family. They loved learning about coffee from a serious angle. Kent came out, put his arm around me and said, “Let’s get this Bean Tree built already. I’m ready to be a barista champion and I need a place to start inventing great, original drinks! This is cool. I love it!”  He’d never had a cup of coffee before the class. Now he is ordering cappuccino’s everywhere to judge the quality of the barista and learning about coffee roasters. Ha.

While our kids took eight hours of coffee class, Mark and I spoke to vendors. I was fascinated with all the bakery products, pre-made pastry shells and fancy containers for displays and serving. I especially like the logo imprinted chocolate disks you can order to stick in a fancy pastry to make it a signature dessert.  Mark was researching point of sale equipment and security systems. When we all got together for lunch, we took the kids for a stroll through the vendors to sample the weird and fun things we had discovered, like glittered chocolates that taste great but look like balls of sequins (man, where were they when we had a dance school!)– or the hot, spicy chocolates that leave your mouth on fire, or rum cakes that pack a punch, and all kinds of other unusual products. We sampled a dozen flavors of gelato and argued if getting a machine to make it from scratch was worth the expense. It’s one of those “on hold” ideas.

Through it all, we marveled at the subculture of coffee and how crazy and obsessive people can be when they are “into” a vocation.  Every interest seems to have a glut of specialized products that you never knew existed before you get seriously involved. I’ve been shocked to discover dance isn’t so unique a business after all – it’s just one more subculture in a world of special interests, and they all require intense involvement and creativity if you wish to excel in the profession. If anything, I’ve learned that every business is specialized and requires serious research to understand it’s uniqueness.

After we couldn’t stand to sample one more sweet nugget, we ate lunch. Needed some “real” food – in this case, a hot dog. (grin)

Denver said, “We’ve been to hundreds of conventions before, but never anything like this. No one is demanding your attention or complaining or crying and there aren’t kids running around everywhere, disrupting conversations or needing to be told to settle down or parents coming at you with fire in their eyes. Everything is mellow and so novel and . . . well, it’s fascinating.  I love being here as a family, discovering new things and getting excited about your new enterprise   – thanks for inviting us.”

I felt both good and bad about her comment. Good because I like how this new business can be pursued in a way that is non-intrusive of our personal lives – it’s nice to be in a profession that doesn’t hinge on ego stroking or trying to meet wild expectations that inevitably lead to disappointment for those involved. But bad because it reminded me of how difficult our former life was for our children.  For all that dance is exciting and fun for customers; it meant constant sacrifice for our family. Even though our kids had fun when they were in the role of “customer” as dance participants – it still meant they were orphans at every dance event – which meant an underlying level of disappointment for them regardless of how other parents tried to step in to assure they made it on stage prepared. Everyone else had their own parents at their side – but they had us too, because we were always FLEX directors and choreographers first and Denver, Kent and Neva’s parents second. My kids never had anyone. No way around it because staying on top of the endless needs of others required 110% of our attention.

The point is, our choice to make a life change was very good for them, and I’m reminded of that all the time by things they say and do.

Anyway, it seems the past few years of prep for “something else” are all coming together now and we are going to thread all our newly acquired skills with the old to create a new life quilt.  The hub of our work related interests, the Bean Tree, has finally begun taking root, which was all we needed to put this discombobulated life puzzle together.

In addition to my literary pursuits and our studying the business of coffee and art, and Mark taking woodworking classes and all that, a few other coals have been simmering on the fire that I might as well mention since they are interrelated to our work world.

This week Mark got his real estate license and he has signed with the biggest broker in town. They said, “You don’t have to bother with putting in many hours at the office, because that coffee shop stuck in the heart of touristville of yours is going to be a gold mine. Put a few pamphlets out, make it your home base and you’re good to go.” He has always wanted to be involved in real estate, and he has such an eye for the potential of land and buildings, I’m thrilled he finally followed through and got a license. He will take that ball and run with it – who knows where.  Already he has his mother’s house (and ours) to sell – and our builder plans to use him for future listings too. And tapping into the local real estate world means we can market the Bean Tree as a place for business meetings in this subculture too- so that is good in it’s own way as well.

Mark has also received several orders for custom made cabinets for a builder and he’s busy with that too. It is obvious he will be inundated with wood work projects for as much time as he wants to devote to it. He is busy making all the tables for the Bean Tree from scratch and they are striking, (as all his artwork is) He’s designed a building for the Bean Tree that will be an impressive example of his artistic building design, so we expect the Bean Tree will be the best advertisement imaginable for his other new company, as a build/design team for luxury log cabin homes. So, as you can see, we are already tossing multiple balls in the air for our new juggling act. (We sold FLEX to simplify our life? Ha. What happened? Oh I know, we brought ourselves with us.)

I really need to clone my husband a few times so he can do all he wants to do. And that might even mean I could see him for some personal time too. But that is just a fantasy at this conjuncture in our life. Sigh.

The moral of the story is – Life goes on. What are you waiting for? Stop this attitude that you have to “get a life” because the fact is, you are currently living the only life you have – whether it be good, bad, filled with joy, or boring as sin. Your world is the one you created by every decision along the way. But there are still decisions to make and therefore, endless possibilities.
Live fully.

Happy birthday to me

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie roll pop?
The same as the years it takes to train a husband to buy a good gift for his wife.

While I never believed I’d get to the center of this dilemma (because I get impatient and take a bite out of the candy first) I can finally say that it takes 20 years of marriage to train a man to buy the perfect gift. And that is only because I happened to marry a man who was easy to train. To the rest of you ladies, I say, good luck.

Today is my birthday. My husband bought me a mule. Not the kind that eats and poops. The kind you drive around a farm to get a job done. I’ve been begging for one for two years.

He traded in our two four wheelers to purchase it – something we discussed and felt was a good idea because we are convinced someone will eventually get killed on those ATV’s. Our kids are pretty responsible, but every time we have guests visiting, the friends go wild and end up crashing or rolling the vehicle. It has been an endless investment in repairs – not to mention the panic attached each time I hear the four wheelers roar down the driveway. My brother’s son had a close call last time he was here, and that was “it” for me. The problem is, I use the four wheelers every single day. I toot around to pick blackberries all June, then cuss because balancing the bowl on the front grate is precarious at best. I zip down to the barn tying a bag of my kitchen scraps to the handlebars, but this gets messy and I end up with jeans damp from leaking spaghetti. I try to balance hay bales or a bee super on the back, but it rarely works on our hills and I roll along slowly, frustrated because some things are simply too heavy for me to carry a long distance but my car gets destroyed lugging stuff around through our fields. Worst of all, there is NO place for a cup of coffee on a four wheeler. That sucks. But I make do. Mark bought me a little cart to put on the back for hauling manure and that has been a help, but still – it was clanky and made backing up hard and well… it was no mule.

Neva loves sitting behind me on the four wheeler and together we roar around our 50 acres on summer mornings (her still in her jammies) just to check on the animals or the garden or to snag some blueberries for our cereal. And of course, I’m a safe and wimpy driver, so there is no danger here. I do love the feeling of her little arms wrapped around my waist and the way she buries her face in my back when the air has a chill.  So the idea of getting rid of the four wheelers just because others misused them was frustrating. But we hated to play the heavy and say “no” to the kids using them for pleasure rides- seeing two fun four wheelers sitting in the driveway with a “disallowed” reputation was torture to Kent and his friends. Made us feel like stick in the muds when we said “no”, but irresponsible when we said “yes”. And as I said, I use them every single day weather permitting, so we so recognize how useful they are in a lifestyle like ours.

So, for a long time now, I’ve talked about a mule. A mule is a four wheeler that is built like a golf cart, tank style. It has the power of a four wheeler, but instead of straddling it like a motorcycle it has two seats for comfortable riding (good for Mark’s arthritis or when my aging parents visit and I want to sport them around to see what we’ve been up to on the land). It has two cup holders, so I can zip around with a cup of coffee. Most importantly, it has a small loading bin in the back for holding whatever it is I want to cart around – 80 pound bee hives filled with heavy honey, a bale of hay, bowls of berries, plants – you name it. I can drive out to the pasture and fill that puppy with manure for fun (no cracks) or fill it with chicken droppings to pour over the garden too. I can use it to haul pumpkins home from a garden if I am lucky enough to grow pumpkins this year. It even has a nifty lift to help you empty whatever you load, like an itty bitty dump truck. Whenever I’m browsing horse magazines, I see ads with pretty, well-dressed, non-sweaty women driving perfectly clean mules with a leisurely smile and I think – that could be me! Of course, I’d have mud all over my t-shirt and a spilled cup of coffee on the floor of my mule, but I can dream, can’t I? 

(Neva took these pictures. I am not going downhill… at least not literally…ahem)
People around here often purchase mules for hunting. These vehicles can go anywhere in the woods and the truck bed is apparently good for hauling out a slain deer. For me, it is simply a perfect work vehicle, and I’m not just being over-indulgent. I really spend a lot of time outside doing nasty work and could use something to help me get these jobs done. Now, I have it. Happy Birthday to Me!

This is the second perfect gift my husband has given me lately. On Valentine ’s Day, after ten years of asking, he bought me a one-man (one woman) kayak that only weighs 35 pounds. I can lift that puppy myself! Every summer when tourist season begins here, cars go by always with TWO of these easy to handle kayaks on the roof, and I grumble jealously and pine for a boat of my own. We have a monster of a two-man kayak, but it is very heavy and I can’t handle it alonel – if you can’t budge a thing, you are unlikely to take it out for a quick paddle.

It is not that these light weight kayaks are very expensive as recreational toys go, but there was always something else to buy and Mark didn’t think I’d really use it considering our lives have always been so busy.  But I really wanted one and so I asked for it every year. When he gave me the  boat at Valentines Day – a brilliant red one like a heart – I was shocked. I kind of gave up the idea of ever owning one, and if I did, I expected I’d be buying it myself and having to make up excuses and justifications for my actions.

He said, “I know you want two (no one wants to kayak alone), but let’s start with one. There are other holidays to come and you can get another one eventually if you really use this one.” It was a true sign of love to me.

Now, I don’t want to give anyone the impression Mark has ever bought me thoughtless gifts. He has never been an idiot giving his wife a vacuum cleaner or a toaster for Christmas. He would buy me beautiful pieces of jewelry or some other feminine, lovely thing that was lasting and meaningful – I think he was proud to finally (after years of our being scraping by) in a position to buy me something real that you don’t need to look at with a microscope. I happen to be a woman who dresses nice, and I have a certain style that would suggest I’m meant to own jewelry. The problem is, these are gifts traditional women would love, so he assumed they were a proper and thoughtful things for a man to give a woman, but I’m not a traditional woman and jewlery never impressed me much– so while I treasured these things because my husband gave them to me, and I wear them all the time, I have to admit they didn’t twist my pickle or have me ecstatic when I unwrapped them. I do appreciate them, but they just weren’t “me.” He bought me an oil painting once. That was a very romantic and dear gift and I treasure it still. More “me”. But for some reason – that kayak meant so much more than any pricy, classy gift I’ve ever been given before. It felt as if he was saying, “After 20 years, I finally know you. I understand you are complex and somewhat weird, but that’s OK. You look like one kind of woman, but inside, you are another, and I’m willing to accept and support that .”

You see, giving someone a kayak as a gift isn’t just giving them a boat. Because it is a gift that implies more – that boat has to be used, and Mark (who does not happen to be sporty in that way) knows I’ll want to drag him out on the river. So this is a gift of tolerance as well.

Anyway – I couldn’t be happier with a Porsche than I am with this damn mule. I wouldn’t be more thrilled with a ten day cruise on a fancy yacht than I was with my bright red, liftable kayak.

Today is my birthday. My husband left at 5 am to take a cram course in real estate because he recently finished his 9 week course and he takes his state exam this week. I encouraged him to go. It is just a day, after all. He missed my birthday last year too – he was in Florida handling the FLEX mess.  I figure I’ll save next year for something really special.

It’s raining out, so I think I’ll take the kids to Atlanta to the museum of natural history (my idea of great fun- not theirs necessarily,  but hey, it’s MY day.) We will all meet up with Mark later for dinner and perhaps a movie.

I am 49 today. Nothing very remarkable about it. 50 will be something to celebrate but 49 is just another birthday. I don’t feel old and adding another year to my life roster doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve accomplished enough to keep from getting depressed. One good thing is getting older makes me less of a liar. I always round up, so I’ve been telling people I’m 50 for about two years now. Mark says he doesn’t want me to turn 50 because I’ll then start telling people I’m 60. He’s exaggerating of course. I’ll tell them I’m 55. (I round up in 5 year  increments.) Just seems easier to toss out a nice round number.

Time to start the day. I’m going to go wild and eat pancakes till I bust! Yipee!

Training the trainer

My two horses are very dear to me. Both need work.

Peppy is a light gray quarter horse (looks white with a hint of shadow on his butt. His tail is supposed to be white, but it’s become permanently stained from the red Georgia clay). He came to me well trained and wonderfully mannered. He is now pushy and lazy. My fault. I seem to have a problem remembering a 1000 pound horse is NOT a 60 pound dog. You could say I treat the horses like the chickens – I enjoy watching them and puttering with them, but I settle for minimum maintenance, always thinking I’ll do fill in the blank tomorrow.  I tend to love on ‘em and give ‘em treats even when undeserved (sort of like my husband) feeling as if they demand a good chunk of time even without the extra effort. I feed them day in and day out, have them shoed and wormed like clockwork, and groom them  when I’m inspired to do so or they become so dirty I’m embarrassed to call them mine. They go months without being ridden or worked and when I do take them out, I let them have their way too often. They are overfed and underworked, as horses go. So, their attitude is not unlike that slight edge of nastiness and spoiled sense of entitlement that teenagers get when they are being raised by over indulgent parents. Doesn’t mean they are bad kids, only that they have forgotten who the boss is.

Joy is my drop dead beautiful saddle bred pinto. Her striking coloring, muscular body and brilliant blue eyes make people stop in their tracks just to admire her equestrian splendor. I discovered her in a herd on a breeding farm. She’d been there for six years, mingling with other forgotten horses, getting lazy and fat. I happened to be there to look at another horse, but when I saw her I became immediately smitten. No other horse would do. Since Joy’s been with me, she’s lost weight, gained muscle, and turned into the beauty I knew was hidden underneath all that slack muscle lumped on top of an over-grazed figure. I feel she is far happier living here where daily action keeps her alert and a pair of warm hands are quick to rub her nose, than she ever could have been abandoned in a field  – even if the grass was greener and more a-plenty there.   

Her lack of training is due to the simple fact that no one has bothered to teach her manners. She happens to be very people-oriented and sweet beyond measure. She wants to be with humans all the time and has a sincere curiosity about the world. She stands at the fence watching Mark on the tractor digging out the creek, or me planting bulbs or feeding the rabbits, fascinated and friendly. She’s extremely smart, can open the gate herself and has a willingness to please. As such, when she does get a small dose of training, she responds very well. This is the sign of a potentially great horse.

I was promised some intense training when I bought her, but it didn’t materialize (lots of excuses). I was quoted a price that included 60 days of daily training, begining on the ground in the ring, as most good training does. Joy would be neck reigned, would stand still, would be bomb proof, side-step at the gate . . . etc… etc…. What I got was a horse that was simply saddle broke and “ridable”, accomplished in a few sessions of power play with a grumbling cowboy wrestling with her from the saddle wearing spurs.  As such, I paid way too much for her, because training is imperative to establishing a horse’s worth. Untrained horses, even pretty ones, are considered useless, except to a meat factory, and sadly, that is where many of them end up.

I didn’t do enough research to really understand the breed. I did do some reading, but somehow I missed that all saddlebreds are high strung and best suited for advanced riders and/or people seeking energetic show horses. I was looking for a calm, bomb proof trail horse that I could put Neva or other beginning riders on. One of the factors that keep me from riding daily is that I must go alone. I’ve been able to handle whatever horses we’ve owned, but when I spend the entire time worrying about whoever is riding with me losing control from my ill mannered, underworked horses, riding becomes more a stress than carefree joy. As such, most of the riding I’ve done has been day long affairs with friends who have their own horses – that’s fun, but not the ideal I had when I set out to keep two horses.

No matter how much training Joy gets, she’ll never be a calm, easygoing horse. Again – my fault. I knew darn well what I needed, but bought what I wanted instead- I succumbed to an instinctual connection I felt for the animal. Then, I trusted someone I barely knew to train the horse to be something other than what she obviously was. I wanted to believe they would and could turn her into the horse of my dreams. Everyone knows that when it comes to horses, what you see is what you get – and even so, you take your chances, praying the seller hasn’t found a way to camouflage more serious flaws. It was a very foolish and delusional hope to think that this wild beauty was going to magically turn into a well behaved, highly trained horse in a few months. What ya gonna do? I chalk it up to another one of those Hendry learning experiences of which we’ve had so many since moving to the country. Learning to “live simply” has actually been very complex. This transition has been a minefield of hard lessons and expensive mistakes while we struggle to carve a life of self sufficiency and harmony with nature.  The rat race was something we longed to escape, but it was at least chartered territory.

Even if Joy isn’t the perfect horse for anyone and everyone, she is certainly loved. She makes an impressive and challenging mount for me, and she is my horse, after all, so there is no reason tshe has to be user friendly for the masses. I have Peppy for whomever might want to be my riding companion.

Meanwhile, people say, “Put that Pinto in some shows and she’ll blow the competition out of the water – then she’ll be worth 20 times what you paid.” That is all well and good, but it’s sort of like saying, “Take that little child with no dance training yet good flexibility and throw her on Broadway and she’ll be a star…” The point is, the long hard road between here and there is not only grueling and takes time, energy and investment – it also requires teachers who know what they’re doing. In dance, I do. In horses, I don’t.

I can pay someone to train her, but honestly, it becomes so cost prohibitive that it takes the fun out of owning a horse for me. Horses are not my life passion. They’re simply a recreational joy and once the sacrifices demanded of a hobby outweigh the pleasure you get in return, the pleasure ceases to be pleasurable. I can’t stand situations where you find yourself doing a cost analysis to determine if the investment of your recreational dollars is measuring up. I just want to relax and enjoy those things in life that you can’t put a price on – leisure time being one.

I adore my horses. I love how they neigh and come running whenever they see my car. I love how they rub their noses against my jacket and act jealous of each other when I give either one a bit of attention. I especially love watching them come charging across the pasture when I call. Joy looks like a refined racehorse with her head held high, her chiseled body most striking when in motion. With her long legs and powerful build, she is always a good 50 paces in front of the others. Peppy follows behind, determined to catch up because he’s established his authority as leader in this herd even if he is of common stock. He’s my main man, and he knows it. Dumpy donkey trots in the rear as if to say, “Hey guys, wait for me. . .” (He’s wins the prize for cuteness.)

The weather has turned lovely as spring peeks around the corner. Flowers are in bloom, the sun is high, and a cool breeze makes being outside uplifting. I have a terrific barn now, a 50 foot ring for training, and two well bred horses that sincerely want to please me, despite their innocently adapted ill manners. It’s time to dig in and do something with these resources or sell the farm – literally.

Life has taught me that if you want a job done right, you have to roll up your sleeves and do it yourself. So, pondering my dilemma, I got it into my head to train the horses on my own. Only one small flaw in this plan. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I’m an average rider with minimum training, no real horse experience to speak of, and  limited time to invest. Humm…. The odds are stacked against my success. All I have going for me is the fact that I don’t fear animals bigger than me. Of course, this doesn’t deter me in any way. I figure whatever doesn’t kill me is good for building character – and while I might be a big fat failure at the project, I’ll at least learn something in the process. And there’s always the chance I’ll succeed.  Then, I could breed Joy, train her offspring and sell her to some thrilled person like me who lusts for a horse that is both beautiful AND well trained. It would pay for the upkeep of my own horses for a year. I could then enjoy a high end hobby with a balanced budget. How cool would that be?

So, I started purchasing Clinton Anderson horse training DVD’s on e-bay. This man  happens to be a brilliant young cowboy from the outback with a lovely accent and an even lovelier way with horses. He is firm but kind, has a logic to his system and has become world famous due to his well organized training system and the positive results people get when implementing his advice (and he’s famous thanks to some great marketing too, I’m guessing). These tapes aren’t cheap, but they’re much less of an investment than hiring a trainer or enrolling in horse clinics. Best of all, they give me the foundation required for ongoing success. Just as Peppy began a well trained horse and lost it, an understanding of ongoing training practices is important. If the owner doesn’t follow through and reinforce what is learned, horses soon slip back into bad habits – like kids (or husbands). Consistency is key. Logic dictates it’s just as important (maybe MORE important) to train me as it is to train the horse.

I walk on my treadmill about an hour a day, so I’ve taken to watching my new training tapes during this time. I plod along, huffing and puffing, staring at the TV and thinking it all looks rather easy. Of course, I’m sure in real life it won’t be nearly as smooth going. Clinton only needs to stare into a horse’s eyes and they’re ready to roll over for him. Joy and Peppy will no doubt paw the ground, whinny and give me the evil eye once I attempt the same. But at the same time, horse training looks like something I’d be a natural at. Training horses is sort of like a dance. You stand in the center of the ring doing a series of arm gestures and clicking your tongue, flailing a whip at the horse’s hindquarters to make them run a certain direction. Meanwhile, you circle the pen at the horse’s flank putting in some miles yourself – good workout, and since I’ve become a failure at running in Georgia (and I’m now a treadmill sissy) this may be a nice substitute. Every once in a while, at just the right moment, you must trot backward to cut the horse off at the shoulder without breaking eye contact. This forces the animal to turn into you rather than into the fence and change direction – turning their hindquarters to you is an unacceptable sign of disrespect. There is a grace required and a level of coordination on the part of the trainer. I watched a student lesson and the girl looked very clumsy and uncomfortable, getting tangled in her own whip and tiring out quickly. I may have problems, but that won’t be one. When it comes to spatial awareness and moving on my feet, I’m well versed. I even choreographed a dance with a whip once. I happen to have experience lashing and moving with rhythm and style.  How many adults can claim that?

I’ve watched the series on training on the ground twice already and feel confident I’m ready to do the exercises. I then moved on to Riding with Confidence level 1 ( a four DVD set) and feel this is all within my range as well. It is a simple set of riding exercises anyone who is familiar with a horse can do. I have level 2 and 3 of the riding series to study later, after I successfully get the horses through the paces of level one. I have ordered a DVD series for dressage (which is the exercises and training skills needed for showing horses –something Joy was born to do so I might as well see if it’s possible for the two of us), and a few short subject DVD’s – like training horses with lunging techniques, teaching them to tie calmly, etc. Amazing, the resources available to people now a days thanks to computers and DVD’s etc…

I’m sure I’ll be average at best at training horses, but it will be fun to see what I’m capable of. I might even get my son to video me in the ring bossing those horses around to post on the blog one of these days. Showing off might be a good incentive for me to keep at it. Wouldn’t want to lose face as a cow-girl in training with friends who still insist I lost my mind and went of the deep end when I left dance and moved to the hills.

So, today, I plan to begin the horse training process. I’m committing an hour a day to working with them – five days a week. I assume weather and life will get in the way of anything more. It would be better to give each horse an hour each, but who am I kidding? Failure begins when you set up a plan you’re unlikely to follow.  Better to keep a new project within a time frame you can handle, in my opinion. You can always add more time or effort when you’re on a roll, but first set a minimum you positively can handle so you don’t shrug your shoulders and give up too soon because the follow through is “too much”. At least, that’s the theory I’m leaning on. And honestly, finding an extra 5 hours in my week is going to be tough as is.
I have a few hours to myself today before I get swallowed by family and work commitments. The weather is beautiful. I plan to begin by visiting my bees and checking out how they fared the winter. I must set up two more hives so all is ready when my shipment of 6 pounds of bees and two queens arrives at the end of the month. Then, I will spend an hour in the ring cutting away the roots and sticks that are sticking up out of the dirt in my ring. I already did this a few months ago, but the freshly leveled area settled over the winter and it needs a bit more maintenance to make ready for the work to come. I’ll return to the house in about two hours, tired and wanting a nap, but I’ll put in my treadmill time regardless and watch another tape for inspiration. Tomorrow is my birthday, but the next day I’ll begin the actual training with Peppy and hope this whole thing is as simple as it looks.

Ya never know what you are capable of until you try – and having a few well trained horses is only one of the benefits I’ll get from hanging on, one more time, to the belief that anything’s possible

Angoras galore!

Today, my fancy English Angora rabbit, Latte, had a litter. She made a nest in her box out of hay and pulled handfuls of soft angora fur from her body to make ready, so I knew her time was near. In the mornings when I go out to the barn to feed the rabbits, chickens, peacocks, etc… etc… I peer into the box, hoping to see something special. Today I thought I saw the wind rustling the soft angora fuzz a bit, so I stared and stared. Sure enough I saw the straw move, then the fur shifted. There had to be babies in that mass! Ye-haw!

I was certain there weren’t any babies there last night, so these kittens must be only hours old. I figured I better not bother the nest because it was a bit cool so early in the morning and newborn bunnies are fragile. But it was KILLING me not to know how many babies Latte had. I tended the animals, pausing to stare at her nest over and over again. I was rather proud of my restraint until I found my hand reaching into that cage. Shoot me. I couldn’t stand it.

“Forgive me,” I said to Latte as I moved a big clump of angora fur aside to make a head count. Five baby rabbits! Three look as if they’ll be snow white like the father and two may end up a mixture of white and pale tan like Mom. With their eyes sealed shut and no ears as yet, they look like little moles. (Same size too.)

I bred Latte the same night I bred my other female angora, Mocha. That rabbit happens to be a dusty brown with a dark brown mask and extremely striking. I bred her with my grey male hoping this would produce a line of dark colored rabbits. Mocha has also pushed hay into her nesting box but she only pulled a pinch or two of hair from her body. She is either behind schedule biologically, or a nest-making-slacker. There were no babies in that cage. Darn. I went to check her later in the afternoon. Nothing. She was lying there as calm as can be, staring at me as if to say, “What do you want? Go away.” Perhaps she is younger than Latte and so the pregnancy didn’t take. The gestation period for rabbits is pretty reliable. Then again, she may just need a day or two to finish the cycle.  It’s a bit like waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I happened to have watched her get ravished over and over, so I’d be shocked if she wasn’t pregnant. Besides which, she did sort of make a nest so she must be hormonal. I will watch for the next few days to see if another litter surfaces. If not, I could breed her again, but I doubt I will. I really don’t need so many angora bunnies (although pedigreed rabbits such as these sell for 50-75 dollars, so I could sell extras if I ended with more rabbits than I wanted to deal with – after I hired a detective to check out the potential buyers to assure they would provide a Ginny-approved home, of course.) I simply wanted to breed both females as an experiment. I wanted to see what my color combination matchmaking would produce. And I planned to keep the prettiest bunnies for myself and give the others to some friends who have expressed an interest in angoras. I’m selfish when it comes to coveting the prettiest pets.

I adore baby bunnies. In a few weeks they’ll venture out of the nest and hop around the cage like playful, shy kittens. I can’t wait for Neva to get home to let her know we have a fistful of new rabbits for her to name. Christening the new animals is a job she takes very seriously.

Doing the animal thing is fun, but most importantly, it keeps us very connected. It’s always nice to have another excuse to walk down to the barn hand in hand, enthusiastic and happy, to marvel at nature’s most innocent gifts. Some women shop at the mall with their daughters. Neva and I spend our bonding time mucking stalls, grooming animals and discussing the remarkable things we learn together about the animal world. We marvel as we watch the peacock spread his tail, look curiously at the different eggs we collect, debate whether or not the pregnant llama is actually showing, give our opinion about what the donkey is trying to say when he brays at us as we walk down the path, and I say “let’s look at the bees” and she shakes her head and says, “No way.” I guess her love for nature has limits.

Reading this blog, you’d think my life was all about animals, but truthfully, they’re a small part of my world, though I must admit, livestock does become newsworthy this time of year. Tomorrow I’ll be opening my beehive after a long winter. – gotta prove interesting.  I could write about other areas of my life. With three active kids, a husband going in a dozen directions, a fledgling writing career, daily activities like working out, cooking, reading, etc…  a new business in the works, dance refusing to let us go (I don’t talk much the opportunities that continue to present themselves in our old careers) and a load of life passage issues tugging at our hearts and minds, elements of my life are juggled like too many balls circling over a clown’s head. I certainly could find other subjects to reflect upon, but really, baby bunnies seem the most pertinent in the moment. 

Life can be a shady place, but it feels lighter when you focus on the soft, sweet things that touch your days. I am just grateful that despite the drudgery and the stressful elements we grapple with daily, I’m a gal with rabbits forcing me to pause for a moment and smile.

Addendum to this blog: Neva and I just took a walk to the barn and she crawled into the cage to have a look-see. She insists there are at least 6 babies, and possibly 7. One is definitely tan and another is actually black. I saw them too. Just goes to show, you can’t trust first impressions.  

Chick remorse

Internet shopping is dangerous. Especially when your eleven year old daughter is sitting by you, expressing little gasps of delight every time you add a different baby chick to your spring hatchery order. Neva has been pining for a few silkies, so I had to order some of those when I sat down to order the twelve leghorns I wanted as replacement egg layers for those picked off by the dogs. She’s always wanted some frizzles too, so I thought I might as well get a few of those, and don’t ya know, she would be in heaven if we could get some fancy cochins. Oh yea, and I don’t have any green egg layers anymore so I should probably throw in a few araucanas. And what are those cool things? Sultans? Gotta get a few of those… well, you can see how it happens.

Well, before you knew it, I had ordered 68 baby chickens. And I had buyer’s remorse.
68 chicks fit neatly in one reasonably sized box. Chicks are about the size of a power puff, after all, so when they arrive, it doesn’t look like all that big a deal. But unfortunately, they grow. And they grow fast. You can’t put young chickens in with older chickens or the older chickens will bully them to death. I wasn’t thinking about where I would house 68 chickens in training at the time. I was simply thinking that dogs be damned, I’d get enough chickens to assure I’d not run out of eggs again.

5 chicks were crushed during the mailing cycle, as is often the case. They huddle together for warmth and weaker birds often end up underneath the pile. Once you remove the perky, chirping chicks, you find a baby chick pancake on the floor of the box. Sad. Three more of the smaller chicks (silkies) were crushed after they reached me. Again, this isn’t abnormal. I didn’t step on them or drop a dictionary on their head or anything. It’s just that a few tend to meet an untimely end because they are very fragile and they have a habit of piling up for warmth – even when you have them in a cage with an inferred light set to the correct temperature so they don’t need eachother for warmth . The birds crush each other in their fight to sleep as a collective bunch. This sort of thing happens in nature too, even when they are living under their mom, the big red hen.

So, I now have 60 baby chicks peeping away in my office in two cages by my desk. In a week, they’ll be hearty enough to move into the garage. Two weeks later, they will move to the barn. Then, lord knows, I have no clue what I’m going to do with them. I have lots of cages and runs, but until these young’ins are two months old and/or the cold weather is totally over, I can’t put them outside without a heat lamp and I don’t have electricity anywhere near my chicken runs. I wouldn’t even consider asking Mark to whip up a few huge cages, considering his overworked schedule. Besides which, I may need to save that favor for when my baby bunnies arrive.

I’ve been mulling this dilemma over. Now that I’ve used all my winter hay, I’m thinking I can stretch and staple some chicken wire around the polls of my barn under hang where I normally store hay and put a big doghouse or two out there with heat lamps in it – the barn does have electricity. This could serve as a big makeshift pen until these birds are big enough to join the others in another month or two. Then, it will be time to order more hay, I can remove the chicken wire and the area will be free for it’s true purpose yet again. Creative solutions to animal dilemmas are part of the country bumpkin world I’ve so embraced. I happy to say, I’m a natural. It’s a plan, man.

My office is hot, thanks to the two cages set to 95 degrees right beside me. I keep the door closed because my cat keeps looking at the chicks like they are M&M’s and I promised Mark I wouldn’t keep animals in the house if he built me a barn. I’m pushing my luck by breaking the deal – even if it is only for a short, temporary situation.

The way these birds peep incessantly is really cute for about an hour. Then it about as appealing as kids whining “are we there yet” when on a road trip. I’m not about to keep Mark up at night due to chick disturbance. So I’m going to have to suffer a bit to do any writing this week typing with fingers slippery from sweat. Gasp. Gasp. And I must watch my peacock egg carefuly. The warmer room cranked up the temperature in my incubator. Uh oh.

The tulips we planted out front have come up. Every time we’ve gone outside, Kent and I have looked at each other and exchanged a sheepish smile. We’ve been waiting to see if we’re going to get in trouble. Mark is very particular about gardening design, and on the day we planted bulbs, Kent and I were in charge of categorizing the tulips into color piles and putting the correct bulbs in the holes as Mark dug them. But we started fooling around and making jokes and Kent pushed the piles around like the ball under the cup game, and before you knew it, we really were confused and arguing about what color was in what pile. So we guessed.

Sure as shoot, all the tulips that came up on the left side of the porch are pink and red tones, and all the tulips on the right are yellow and white. It’s very out of balance as gardening goes. Dang-it. We got reprimanded or course, and told we are gardening slacker losers to have interfeared with the masterful tulip extravaganza. I suppose we’ll have to dig them up and shift them around after they stop blooming to correct the problem. Nothing we don’t deserve.   I say we should just buy more bulbs and thrust the opposite color into the ground along with what’s there now. Then we’ll just have more tulips of both colors on both sides. It may not be as striking as the color bock system but it’s another plan, man.

I have used up my new self-imposed blog time allottment. New rule. Must go. But I’ll leave you with a thought for the day.

Even the smallerst ideas can take root and change your world – it’s a wonderful time of year to begin new projects and to follow aspirations. The smallest ideas are sometimes the dearest. Nurture them.