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Monthly Archives: May 2008


Yesterday, I was in a reading lesson with my student of two plus years. We were working in a children’s primer and I suggested we read a story about Helen Keller. I asked Kathy if she knew who that person was and she shook her head and said she never heard of her. Always makes me pause when we come across things like this – so much of what I consider common knowledge isn’t the case for the disadvantaged.  Reminds me never to assume anything and be grateful for my education and upbringing.

I suggested we read the text and find out who Helen Keller is together.

Kathy reads the first two lines. It went something like:
When Helen Keller was a child she got sick and as result became deaf and dumb. This cut her off from the world.

Kathy stopped reading and said, “That’s just like me and not being able to read. I was cut off from the world too. I don’t know if you knew that, Ginny, but it’s like being deaf and dumb when you can’t read.”

Of course, I’ve always known that –I’ve just been waiting for Kathy to realize it.
“And now?” I said.

“Now everything is different. You know the teacher sent me a note home from school the other day, and I could actually read it. For the first time ever I actually know what is going on at school. I’m not cut off from the world anymore. It’s amazing.”

“Amazing,” I parroted.

I keep thinking about that conversation. Amazing.


Bee Basics

“Take me to your leader,” I  want to say when I step out in my bee suit.
I feel compelled to move in slow motion, like Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.

But for all that it looks dramatic, a bee suit is really nothing more than a stiff jumpsuit made of canvas. The gloves and headpiece are all you truly need to work with bees, and even then, you end up taking the gloves off because the thick leather fingers make it hard to get a hold of the closely spaced honey files in the hive.

I’ve been working with my bees for a year now and I’ve yet to be stung. They get plenty mad, mostly because I am clumsy and slow when working in the hive, due to my lack of experience. The bees swarm around me and make a racket, but they haven’t successfully stung me. A few have tried, but I’m a weenie who suits up before doing anything serious with the bees, so they can’t get to me. Occasionally, I sneak a peek or walk over to feed them wearing shorts, but I don’t open the hive without being prepared for attack. I suppose, the more familiar you get with your bees, the less likely you are to bother with the suit – then you are bound to get the occasional sting.

I received the 6 pounds of bees I ordered in January this week. There happened to be another double order at the post office awaiting pickup . I thought it remarkable that someone else had placed the exact same order from the exact same company. There are hundreds of bee supply companies to choose from and people usually order one swarm, not two. Apparently I have a neighbor who is toying with bees at the same speed I am. Wish I would run into them one day.

When I drove to the Post office to pick the package up, the post master, Vicki, said, “I thought you’d come in a truck. Few people pick up bees in the car.”

“Oh?” Of course, I didn’t know that. This is my first bee package after all. I sort of shrugged like I was brave and cool and loaded the box in the back of my van wondering if I would regret it.

Driving home, several loose bees swooped around my head. I wasn’t bothered by them. Ever since I began working with the insects, I’ve felt calm around them. I trust nature and feel very in tune with my animals, no matter how small. Mark says they are my surrogate students, and I think he’s right. I lay in bed worrying about their health and happiness in the same way I used to loose sleep pondering my student’s successes and failures. I get frustrated with my animals but because I care, it passes quickly. Yes – I see the similarities.

Anyway, I got the bee package home and set up my two new hives. I had planned to set the new bees in a different area, but as I was situating the concrete blocks to hold the hives, I noticed my guineas hanging about. Guineas will eat bees and they can clean out an entire hive in two days. Obviously I had to rethink my plan, so I ended up putting the new bees with my established hive out near my blue berry bush . I’ll move them all in the fall (which is a big ordeal, because you have to move the hives 5 miles away and keep them away for a month before returning to your land even if all you want to do is move them a foot from their original position. If you don’t, you’ll have a bucket of dead bees on the ground where your hive once stood.)

Mark would prefer my bees not be situated at the entrance of our land, because no one will mow around the hives and we have this nice cared for lawn area except in the corner where the hives are nestled in overgrowth. It looks as if the forest is trying to swallow the boxes whole. If he would teach me to use a weedwacker, I’d go take care of the area myself. Gee wiz, bees are only quarter inch insects with feet sweetened by honey. Why is everyone so worried about them? They are far too busy gathering pollen to want to mess with humans.

I was slightly frustrated getting my bee package into the hive, because I couldn’t figure out how to open it.

I first had to jam on it with a hammer to separate the two packages. Then, I pried open the top of one and there was a can wedged in the opening. I wasn’t expecting that. I pulled on a tag thinking that was going to lift the can, but it simply pulled away and I heard a thunk in the cage. Oops. Turns out this was connected to the queen’s cage and now she was laying at the bottom of 40K bees. I had to lift her out without squishing her soldiers, which I couldn’t do with my clumbsy gloves – so I ended up taking off my gloves and picking up the cage with my bare hand. This had about a hundred bees crawling on my skin in a second. A gentle blow and a shake the bees fell back to the hive, but dozens were flying about my head. Now, I had no way to secure my queen’s cage in the hive. Dammit. Meanwhile, the buzzing of thousands of bees growing ever more agitated grew deafening. I wedged the queen cage between two frames and hoped it wouldn’t fall to the floor again.

When I got the can wedged out of the opening, which turned out to be bee food. Of course, I had no can opener to actually take advantage of this. I shook 3 pounds of bees on top of the hive. I had sprayed them with sugar water, so they wouldn’t just fly away. They fell from their cage like rice pouring from a package and huddled on top, then crawled in after their queen.

I’m afraid I squished quite a few as I put the lid on – again, lack of experience. For all that learning new things is gratifying, it always comes with some degree of frustration, because being a novice makes you feel like a bumbling idiot. I feel that a lot in my life now.

The second package went smoother. I knew what to expect now. I didn’t pull on the tab, so this queen’s cage came out intact and could be hung center as it should be. I shook the bees up good to make them dizzy and plopped them onto the hive. I waited longer for them to crawl inside so I wouldn’t squish them unnecessarily. By now, I was feeling very comfortable working with the hive and I swear they could sense my calm. They were not nearly as buzzing mad as the first group.

The next day, I went to check to be sure my bees were inside the hives. Occasionally, a new swarm will simply fly away. But when the queen is secured in a cage, the bees will stay to care for her through the cage’s screen. The bees are supposed to eat the candy plug that holds her inside and free her within a day. When I checked, both my queens were still captive. So, I took a screwdriver and popped the cork so she could crawl out into the hive. In one night, the bees had made a good start of building honeycomb, so I’m convinced they plan to stay. Neva stood a few feet away to watch. I held several frames up to show her the new comb and how it was swarming with bees . She was fascinated. I’m guessing she’ll be needing a bee suit soon. I know that look in her eye – curiosity will override her fear before you know it – especially the more she sees me working with the bees without incident.

I paid an extra dollar to have my queens marked. They are painted with a little red dot. This allows me to locate my leaders easily whenever I open the hive. A queen is a bigger insect and not too hard to spot, but when you have 80K bees crawling around and eyes as old as mine, it is nice to have a cheat sheet dot. I carried the cage over to Neva so she could see the queen before releasing her. She reached out as if she wanted to touch it,  then drew back. Yes, it is only a matter of time before my curious little nature lover joins me.  

It will be a year before these new hives will be established enough to provide honey to harvest. The bees will work hard, but their efforts this season will be towards building new comb and storing food for the winter. In the fall, I’ll make my first awkward attempt at taking the honey from my established hive. I should harvest about 10 pounds – more than enough for this family. This will be my practice year – next season, when the three hives are all in full swing, hopefully I’ll be better at honey harvesting – for I’ll be seasoned as well.
Here is my little bee apairy – not so impressive, but it’s exciting to me. Each hive will grow taller as the season progresses and I add supers (the boxes that hold the frames) for the hive to expand.

Keeping bees doesn’t take much time and it’s a really unique experience. When I discover things like this (like making wine) I always wonder why I didn’t do it in Florida. I could have made the time and it may would have given me the diversion from dance I so desperately craved. Of course, it never occurred to me to diversify my life then. Would have been good for me, though. Might have stalled my cracking up.

I guess, everything has its time. You have to trust in that. . . or else go crazy. 



Neva thinks

The other day, my youngest daughter asked for the address to my blog. I assumed she wanted to start reading my thoughts, but it turns out she just wanted to study my “style” a bit – especially how I began Heartofginny.

An hour later, she came upstairs to repremanded me about  not telling her a batch of our baby bunnies died. I was confused a moment because all our baby bunnies are alive and well.
Then I said, “Are you talking about those rabbits that died two years ago? You couldn’t have read that much of my blog. That happened a thousand pages ago!”
She rolled her eyes and said, “I wanted to see how you started . . . Now, I see should have been reading all along.” She gave me that “How could you,” look.
Humm… I’m guessing I’ll need to censor any delicate daughter commentary from now on. 

The reason Neva was interested in heartofginny is, she’s decided to start a blog of her own.
She’s a natural.

I’ve always known she was a better writer than I. At eleven, she spends more time reading and writing than I seem able to stay focused for. She is a marvelous poet. I have drawers full of her stories and poems and they have a beautiful literary quality, along with a dash of riveting drama. Last year she won the school award for most advanced reader. This year she toped the charts again and is getting a trophy for “master reader” . It stands as tall as she is – I guess the size is supposed to symbolize her intellect or something. 

Sometimes, she’ll be sitting in a lawn chair or in the back seat of my car and she’ll say, “Have a pen?”
I keep dozens of pens in my purse, as well as pads of paper everywhere because it seems I am always handing them over to her. I’ll ask her why she wants it.
She’ll shrug and say, “I have an idea for a poem. I wanted to write it down before I forget.”

Me? I am never that organized. If I have any inkling of brilliance hidden inside, you can bet every touch of it has eeked away during those moments when I didn’t have a pen and didn’t botter to ask for one.   
The other day she asked me if I had an empty notebook. I am forever giving her notepads and notebooks to house all her creative outpourings. As I handed her yet another notebook from my office, I asked what this one was for.
“I’ve been thinking about writing lyrics. I have songs in my head,” she said. “I want to keep them together.”
Later she sang her first original song for me. It was like her poetry, only with a melody. Fun. 

I guess it’s only natural Neva would feel compelled to start a blog for writing practice.

I’m thrilled. I’m her biggest fan. Besides, I wish everyone I loved had a blog so I had a puny dab of insight into what was rolling around in their heart and mind at any given time. I know a blog is a swiss cheese version of what’s going on in a person’s world. The fact is, no matter how badly you may want to be truthful and real, all writing is censored and slanted somewhat due to self-consciousness, a respect for others, a desire to protect yourself or avoid problems – something- but even so, a blog still offers an intimate glimpse of how the world impacts a person – it reveals the kind of things that touch them, or gives them pause, or makes them smile. A window into someone else’s mind, even if it’s made of frosted glass, is better than a wall.  

So, with Neva’s permission, I’m letting everyone know I’m not the only Hendry in the blogsphere.

Check it out. (And she already figured out how to put a link to my blog on her page. Gee, even I can’t figure out how to do that and I’ve b een at this for two years now.) 
I guess some apples really don’t fall far from the tree . . .

50 Acres, Ba Humbug

Yesterday, I had a silent temper tantrum. I stomped into the house and plopped on the living room chair and sighed dramatically.

Mark has been very hard at work setting up his new vocation as a full time real estate agent with Century 21 in the Mountains.  He is working on the computer about ten hours a day and we don’t see much of each other. Meanwhile, it’s spring and there are a million things to do now or forever hold your peace. Such as, if I don’t take advantage of the spring rains and spread grass seed now, I will have to endure another year debilitating mud around the barn. Frankly, I can’t bear the thought.  If I don’t do any planting now, I miss the boat and we go an entire year without any fresh produce. I know homegrown produce isn’t really a high propriety, yet it feels important to me because what the heck is the point of owning and struggling to pay for 50 acres if you don’t use it to provide a more wholesome, natural lifestyle? Every year I put off working to fix my pastures, they grow more overcome with weeds, more useless to the animals and more unattractive. Last year we paid for several tons of lime so the time is ripe.  I’m frantically spreading weed killer, grass seed, fertilizer, lime, trying to fix the situation even though I have no clue what I’m doing. I’ve even kept the horses out of one side, which is difficult because they now have nothing to eat and I can’t buy any hay for a few more weeks – an entirely different problem.
I’m knocking myself out trying my best to handle this raw, undeveloped land to make it work for us, but my lack of experience makes me more than slightly inefficient. Sometimes it feels like I am just wasting money, energy and hope. And it gets frustrating.

For example, Mark is unavailable to help me clear and turn over an area of ground with the tractor. If the house is going up for sale, Mark doesn’t think we should have a big garden in the area where we planted last year– new owners might not want the responsibility. We have tons of space on the opposite side of the 50 acres, but there is no water to be had over there as of yet, so nothing will grow. I found an area near the barn that could work for a garden, (though my chickens might cause mayhem with it) but I would need Mark to remove a few stumps and help me till the red clay soil, and for all that he would love to help, he just doesn’t have time this month. Next month will be too late because timing is very important when it comes to growing seasonal produce. That makes me a gal with a huge amount of land and no place  to put a dinky garden. Ain’t that just like life. 

But I can be resourceful when I want something. So, I decided to do container gardening by the barn this year. I planted a lovely bunch of herbs in half barrels, thinking that since they are perennials, I could move the containers to a new house or garden next season. The plants that are only good for one season I planted in big plastic tubs we had from moving. I’ll simply toss them into the compost at the end of the summer, and I can save the soil for a garden next year. I was quite proud of my efforts, but  I made the mistake of showing off to Mark.

He gently said, “Um. . . I hate to mention this, but herbs need bad soil. You must mix that nice black soil with sand and make it grainy for drainage. Herbs in that rich, feed-based soil won’t do well.”
He looked at my furrowed brow and said, “Of course, I might be wrong. You can just wait and see how they do. And the tomatoes do look good.”
Of course, we both know he is going to be right and the herbs won’t thrive .
It seems everything I do, I have to re-do. It is part of the learning process, and although I do love learning, sometimes it is a big, fat drag.
Meanwhile, I am watching huge weeds grow in the pasture. They are monsters and I can’t kill them with a little sprinkle of weed killer. I haven’t learned to run the tractor, so I can’t mow them down. I know they will reseed and create a bigger problem later. We don’t have a lawn mower, or I could mow myself. I just have to watch them grow strong and spread with the lovely spring rains and there is nothing I can do about it. I can mention it to Mark, but then he feels I’m nagging and mowing a pasture is simply way down on his priority list (though keeping his wife happy does help move it up a notch on the chores-I –don’t want-to-do list)

Anyway, all these things are making me testy this month. I guess my bad attitude was powerful enough that my silence wafted up the stairs to Mark’s office and he could feel my discontent.  He stopped what he was doing and asked if I was OK.

“No.” I answered. “I’m finished. I’m done with living on 50 acres. Done with animals. Done with little creatures dying on me. Done with mud and wrestling with tools. I’m done with killing myself to do a job and it all being for nothing because I’ve done it wrong. I’m done.”
“What happened?”
“My four wheeler is stuck in the middle of the pasture, and nothing I do will get it out. I was out there trying to spread seed to fix that mud hole, but I just sank as if I was getting sucked into hell by the devil. The spreader wasn’t working anyway, of course, so I was stuck doing all the spreading by hand. Why is it nothing works around here?
For your information, fifty acres is too much for one practically 50 year old woman to handle alone. I feel inadequate because I don’t have the muscle, the wherewithal, or the strength to keep up on all this by myself. It would be different if I could operate the tractor, but I can’t. You never taught me.
My horses have to be let out everyday because there is no hay to be bought, but they almost broke the chicken coup because they thought it would be fun to eat the scratch – which isn’t good for them, by the way. They knocked over the trash and stomped through my new grape vines. They are a nuisance when released. You’d think if they were so hungry, they’d eat the long lush grass in the field so we wouldn’t have to cut it, but no, they keep eating the new grass by the barn. Dumb beasts – don’t they know I’m trying to make that area nice for them?
For the record, I had to go to seven stores to find those stupid shipping peanuts you told me to put in the bottom of my container gardens and ended up having to grovel to buy a couple of bags from a company that uses them for mailing their own products. And now, you tell me I have to change out the soil? You know what a mess that will make if dump out the contents with those peanuts at the bottom? Am I supposed to pick every one of those stupid dirty peanuts out of the soil, then mix the sand, then return it all? Gee, that sounds like fun. ”

(As I said, I was having a tantrum and while I know Mark is doing what he is supposed to be doing and he is working diligently to provide a living for the family, I’m still feeling as if he had this bright idea of buying a huge chunk of land then lost interest and plunked it in my lap. When he found this land he talked about gardens and homegrown eggs and living close to the land, but from the beginning it has felt as if I was the only one interested and all he does is make gentle criticisms like a big fat know-it-all when he should be out there teaching me this stuff since he is the garden guy and the tool guy and the guy that was inspired by friends who did these country things back in Massachusetts in the first place. You see, tantrums have a way of exaggerating truth in a person’s mind and making you feel all self righteous and indignant and abused. I was on a roll.)
“We can sell this place and move if you like,” Mark said.
“Not on your life, Buster. I’m also done with living unsettled and in transition. I’m not going to work this hard and take off before I see the result of my efforts. We are going to make this work.”

Mark offered to change his clothes, get on the tractor and pull my mule out of the mud. But we had to do it now, because he was supposed to go into the office and he would have to quickly change back into decent clothes and get going. He apologized for not being more available to help me. Told me we could talk about this whole country thing and if it is right for us.

Now, even in my most ornery state, I’m not so selfish that I don’t see reason. And deep down I am very appreciative and impressed with my husband’s hard work and his commitment to supporting the family. Not like he is having fun. The last thing he deserves is a complaining wife. And honestly, I love having a chunk of land. It is my choice to have animals and a garden and to put efforts into developing the land to be more agriculturally sound. There was no way I was going to have him stop his work to go muck in the mud to appease me just because I am spoiled and in a bad temper. I told him that we could get the mule out another time, and that I wanted him to take care of his own priority list. Really, he needed to ignore me. I was just having a bad day and I would get over it.  Nothing I was up to was really important in the big scheme anyway. I took a shower and read something, and that helped.

A few hours later, I was walking to the barn to feed the horses when Kent drove home
from his band practice. He paused the car and said, “Wassup, Mom-o. Why are you walking?”
I explained that the mule was stuck in the pasture and I was having a bad day.
He said, “I’ll get it out for you.”
“You can’t. No one can. I’ve tried everything. Dad will get it out tomorrow. Or the next day. He’s busy.”   
“I’ll get it out for you..”
“You can’t.”
“Watch me.”
I knew he wouldn’t be able to free the mule, because the dang thing was two feet sunk, thanks to my tantrum. I just sat in my seat cussing and gunning the tires for about ten minutes when I got mad. I have a very intelligent way of handling my frustration, you see.

I pointed out that he was wearing decent shoes and that it was a god awful mess out in the pasture, which was why I was out there trying to plant grass seed in the first place. Just so happens I destroyed yet another pair of good running shoes just this morning.

He said, “It doesn’t matter. I don’t own a decent pair of shoes at the moment.”

“Well, if you can get my mule out, I’ll buy you TWO pairs of shoes, ” I said.

I should have known, that was the ticket to assure my son would wedge that mule out of the deepest hole or die trying.

We trekked down together, and while we were walking I saw something huddled in the grass.
I was shocked. She wasn’t dead after all. I went to check on her, and it seems she had a bum foot. Something must have tried to get her, thus the pile of feathers I found,  but she was resilient and got away. She has been laying low to heal. I can’t tell you how delighted was. And in one swift moment, I no longer felt sorry for myself or hated my life, or was filled with negativity. Peacocks have a way of dragging joy out of the deepest regions of your gut.

I was no longer alone in my misery. My peacock had risen from the dead, and  my son was around to cajole my spirits and add muscle to my pitiful efforts.

I climbed into the driver’s seat of the mule to show him just how stuck the machine was. Kent offered to push. I gunned it. He shouted. I turned around. There was my son looking like a negative of himself. He was covered in mud from head to toe, big chunky wads of goo that the wheels had churned up and tossed at him like a machine gun was dripping from his arms, shirt, jeans and forehead.
He tilted his head and a fist size wad of mud spilled out of his ear. “Thanks.”

I laughed so hard I almost fell out of the mule. Thus began our determined quest. We wedged sticks under the wheels. Next, we tried huge slabs of cardboard. We tried rocking it, pulling, pushing, etc.. Nothing could get that sucker out. I gave up and told mud boy I’d buy him the shoes for trying anyway and I went to finish spreading the grass seed by hand. Kent kept messing with the four wheeler, unwilling to accept our failure. About ten minutes later I heard a warrior’s yell, and sure enough, he was driving towards me. He had wadded up the cardboard and wedged it under the wheels and somehow driven out. I don’t think he was fueled by gas nearly as much as he was fueled by determination.

I love that about teens. They have a way of tackling the impossible simply because they don’t know what they can’t do.

We drove to the barn and hosed off about ten gallons of mud from both the four wheeler and Kent. He admired my container gardens, helped me put Palate into the chicken house to convalesce and we checked out the work we did last week together. Kent helped me plant six grape vines in a mini-vineyard (complete with stakes and wires to support them) on Mother’s day, and he bought me one of those funny resin gnomes (we named him Pino as in Pino Grigio) to watch over the plants. He is mighty proud of his contribution to Mom’s winemaking. It takes three years for wine vines to produce healthy fruit, so we made a date now for him to come home from college for the first bottle of Kent’s Pino Protected wine.

So, I got over my temper tantrum and went to the house to make a nice dinner for Mark to come home to. I decided to keep plugging away to fix the mud even if my attitude isn’t always rosy as I go about the task. I’m going to fix those pastures and start a pasture maintenance program to assure my horses have food when hay is scarce. I’m going to grow tomatoes and peppers and squash and cucumber and herbs in my containers and have a bumper crop and force feed my family all summer  with more produce than I might have grown in a traditional garden. Even if it kills me.

It’s been one of those icky months, but a few highlights include :
We found a home for the puppy.   
My peacock is alive!
I found a way to grow produce even if I can’t have a traditional garden this year.
I called and met with a local dance studio owner – I’m consulting with a studio owner in Singapore and plan to visit there in Sept. and I’m working on a dance studio management book – all subjects that deserve a different sort of blog. But they are interesting.
So, if I look past the mud and my agricultural failures, life isn’t so bad.

And even the agricultural pursuits are an adventure if I’ve a mind to keep a good attitude. 
The post master called this morning to kindly say, “You have a package of bees here. A few bees are on the outside of this hive. Um…. Can you come get them soon?”
It is raining, so that makes it a bad day for transporting bees to their new habitat, but what ya gonna do?  I must go pick up my package, scramble to set up my two new hives and figure out how to move the insects from the shipping crate into the hive (Last time, I hired someone to bring me bees, and he set up my hive and did the transfer for me – this time I’m on my own). It will be another challenge – but at least no mud is involved in this particular pursuit.

Last but not least, I’m going to a reading in Atlanta tonight (an official date with my recently absentee husband) to the history center to listen to an author discuss his historical novel. Just so happens this author is also my most favorite actor of all time. Gene Hackman! I’m so excited. Mark is accompanying me, not because he is all that interested in the book or the history center, but because he has to babysit me so I don’t embarrass myself as the out of control enamored groupie I have the potential to be in such a case.
Gee, I hope when I go to have my all time heartthrob sign my book, he doesn’t notice the dirt under my fingernails or a hitchhiking bee doesn’t climb out of my pant leg to sting him. At a fancy literary event in Atlanta, that would take some explaining.

bad day/ good day/ Mother’s day

Happy Mother’s Day to the mother’s out there.
Denver and Kent are working today and Mark is in Florida on a business trip. So that leaves me and Neva to celebrate.  That’s fine. We always have loads of fun together.
My only regret is that I am forfeiting my one day of year when I can force the family to do my bidding. I usually pick a canoe trip, much to everyone’s misery but mine. They lucked out this year, but that doesn’t mean I won’t make a play for a Mother’s Day Canoe trip rain check later.

Today has to be a better day than yesterday, because yesterday was the worst.
I cried.

When I went down to feed my animals, I found one of my  big metal cages had been tossed several feet, than rolled over many times until the door finally opened. My lovely (highest pedigreed) bunny had been killed. She was literally skinned, so only her pelt remained – just a face and ears and body, like the carefully cleaned raccoon pelts you see in stores. Whatever did this was hungry. The tarp that I had covering the cage had been torn to shreds. I don’t mean it was ripped, I mean it looked like fringe.

No dog can do this. This had to be a bear. Spring is the time bears come out, hungry and sniffing for trouble. Damn bears.

I noticed that my second big cage had been shoved around too. A big, heavy wood piece I put on the ceiling for enhanced shelter had been tossed about 4 feet and this tarp was shredded too. The cage had not been knocked from its stand (probably because it weighs over 100 pounds) but it was askew. Had the bear been successful, he would have gotten my other female and all her babies too.

This made me upset, but it’s not why I cried.

I was cleaning up the mess, picking up my beloved bunny’s caucus and whispering a “sorry,” when suddenly I wondered, “Hey, where is Palate?” My peacock tends to hang around whenever I’m at the barn. She is curious about me and we are buds. I had a sick feeling so I took a walk to find her. I found a pile of feathers instead.

THAT is when I cried.  If someone had driven up to the barn at that moment with a U hall and said, “Hey, want me to cart away every animal you have and relieve you of this burden for good?” I would have jumped at the chance.

I don’t ever say never, but right now, I feel I’m done with peacocks for good. And I’m leaning towards letting my bunnies go too. Except that this week I received all the fiber from my llamas and bunnies that I sent to the carding mill 5 months ago, and it came back all soft and magnificent, like miles of fluffy cotton streams. It is ready to spin, and I will soon have gobs of yarn made of my dear pet’s fur- so this week, I’m thinking my animals are glorious and fun. Weakens my good judgment, ya know.

In case you were wondering, this is what carded wool looks like. The black wool – remarkably soft – is a combination of my llama , some black sheep wool and angora, the white is a sheep fleece with my angora blended in for softness. The tan happens to be camel and alpaca, with a bit of rabbit thrown in because I wanted to make the blend meaningful. I bought the raw wool for the animals I don’t own on the internet. Just had to try it for experimental sake. The gray is pure angora. Luxurious!

Mark is out of town for a few days, which makes the current animal threat even more frustrating. Without him here to help me devise a solution, my rabbits are sitting ducks. That bear can just return and devour my other bunnies tonight unless I do something about it.

I’m embarrassed to say I’m not exactly skilled at working with tools. The best I can say is that I used to walk around Home Depot looking for inspiration, fueled by a need to be creative for a dance. I bought stuff like PVC pipe and a saw and made 3 D boxes for a dance in a variety of sizes. Lots of cussing and blisters, but hey, it was all in the name of art. I have never been very experienced with hardware, but I could figure things out when I needed to.

So, if I could figure it out for dance, I certainly can figure it out for rabbits.   

I went to home depot and bought some big shelf brackets and wire. I bought wood screws too. I already had bought myself my very own power screwdriver/drill about two weeks ago. It was on sale for 19.99.  I thought it was time to begin my own barn collection of tools. Mark has about a dozen expensive drills, but I’m not allowed to touch his tools. And we have a drill at the house for quick projects, but it is meant to stay in its place.

Mark sort of sniffed when he saw I’d bought my own drill and commented that I should just use the house drill when I needed one. To buy another drill was wasteful.  But I know I’d get yelled at for not putting it back or using it in the wrong way or something and I don’t want to feel he’s doing me a favor by allowing me to use the family drill. Besides which, then I have to count on it being charged, and I rather be responsible for that kind of thing myself. Furthermore, I don’t want to have to traipse to the house to collect tools when I’m down at the barn and need to do a quick mend. As you can see, I’ve built up a strong case for wanting my own (cheap) tools, so when I saw the modestly priced drill, I snagged it.

 I love that drill. I’ve put up my very own pegboard in the barn to hang tools in the feed room. I’ve made holes in the feed buckets and the salt block holder so they won’t fill with water when it rains – been wanting to do that for three years now. I drilled holes in the big plastic tubs I’m using for a container garden this year (I’m on a mission to perfect the tomato crop).  I hung some additional hooks for my rakes and put up a couple of clocks. My new motto is “To drill is a thrill”. I always plug it in so it is charged and ready.

Having done my home depot shopping, I stopped by the feed store and purchased two big metal rabbit cages to mount on the chicken house. I have my buck mounted this way, and he has always been safe and secure. Mark helped me with that project, but we never got around to doing it for the other rabbits, even though that was the plan when I had the chicken house built and insisted it have a little roof for the rabbits.

OK, so now, I have to do this project myself or risk losing my rabbits. I’m a girl on a mission.

It takes me 5 hours. No shit. I spent about 1 ½ hour putting the cage together and three hours screwing in the brackets (I didn’t measure so I put the top brackets too high, of course.) Then, there were obstacles, like the fact that it took me 25 minutes to figure out how to change the direction of the screwdriver to take a screw out rather than drill it in. I had to reposition a bracket. Alas, figuring out my cell phone isn’t the only thing technical challenge to a gal like me who spent far too much time dancing and far too little time living for the last 50 years.
Once I had the cages wired onto the brackets, I wired them to the roof beams for extra support. In the end, I had a very secure cage for my mother bunny right next to my boy. I got an extra bonus –  my rabbits won’t be lonely now. They immediately slept nose to nose, content. I stood there watching, wondering how tall this bear might be and if he has long arms. Damn bear.

I still had five baby bunnies in the other cage. Denver showed up and helped me repeat the process again on the other side of the chicken house – no roof here but I figure I can cover the cages for now and talk Mark into building me a roof later. Doing all this the second time was easier (slightly smaller cage). I put the two babies we are keeping in this new set up, wishing I’d bought one more cage. I stopped at two because I didn’t want to go crazy buying cages until I was sure I could mount them successfully. Today, the store is closed, but tomorrow I’ll purchase another cage and put it in the remaining space on the chicken house outter wall. I left the other three babies in the original cage, but this time I put cement blocks on the heavy wood top to help keep it secure. The rabbits are simply getting too big to keep together – which stretches my safe cage options.

When I finished, I called a friend who has mentioned he’d love an angora and urged him to pick a bunny or two up ASAP. I’m determined to move these animals now.

Rabbits were not my only project of the day. While driving to home depot I spotted an animal in the middle of the road. At first, I thought it was a skunk, but when I got close, I saw it was a tiny puppy. He was lost and it looked as if he was bound to get hit, so I stopped the car in the road. When I got out, I saw he was dirty, starving and scared. OK, he’s a stray. He tried to get away from me and almost got clipped by a car coming the other direction. Obviously, I couldn’t leave him there or he’d bite it. So I pulled to the side and tried to capture him. He was only about 5 weeks old. If he’d been dumped by someone, he would not be so fearful of people. I figured he was one of those wild puppies that are born in the woods from a stray– a sadly common occurrence around here. I didn’t not see any more of the litter or a mother anywhere. So, I tried to coax the wild dog to me with a calm voice, but he was desperately scared, and so very, very small. He started to scramble up the bank by the road, but it was too steep and he slipped back down, so I reached out and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck. He then tried to bite me and he was scratching and making a racket.

There I was, holding a wild baby dog, but I had to get back in the car and drive. I’m alone; there is no box in the car – what’s a girl to do? I put the dog in the back seat and he climbed under the seat and whimpered.

Neva had spent the night with Dianne, so I picked her up. As you can guess, she was delighted. We drove to the vets to have the puppy checked, but the office was closed. So I brought the dog home and we gave it a bath. He was filled with fleas and ticks and he was so scared that every time I held him now, he lay limp in our arms like he was dead or in a coma. We fed him and he polished the entire bowl of dog food and the entire bowl of water in about three minutes. OK, now we are sure he was a stray, because he was starving on top of all else.

Every time we held him in our arms and stroked him, he immediately fell asleep. He is just so little he needs his rest like all babies. He is not exactly a well adjusted puppy, but I’m feeling very glad we rescued him. I keep having to remind Neva that we probably won’t keep this dog, but we can be happy that we found him and are giving him a second chance. Frankly, this young a dog probably wouldn’t have survived for much longer outside and if he did, he’d grow up to be a wild stray. They don’t live a very good life, and they are often caught and put down or shot by farmers.

The dog spent the day eating and sleeping and slowly, he warmed up to us. He hung with us at the barn as I struggled with the rabbit cages and he seemed more comfortable there – I guess the “outside” is more familiar.

I tend to believe in fate somewhat – that the world sends you what you need when you need it. Not that I’m superstitious, but I think we each have an energy that connects us to the earth, and we can draw things to us when we need or want them most. All day, I looked at that little dog wondering “why today?”

When I’ve shared my grief over the bear and dog attacks down at the barn with friends who share my agricultural interests (and have far more experience), they respond that I should get a “barn dog”, which is an outdoor dog you train to live in your barn. They claim the dog will eat and sleep there and be happy because he has lots of freedom, yet he also has protection from the elements. The fact that the dog isn’t sleeping at the foot of your bed doesn’t mean he isn’t loved. You give him the ongoing care and companionship a dog loves (because you are down at the barn everyday), and you train him as you train any pet, but he sleeps at the barn. When the dog considers the barn home, he will protect the area at night. My son’s dog, Teddy, was born in a barn and though, in a place like Sarasota, the idea of an outside dog is scandalous, here I’ve learned some big breeds prefer the outdoors to the house. In Teddy’s case, despite the dog’s outdoor preference, Kent has trained him to come in at night because he wanted to sleep with his dog – Poor Teddy is always restless and wanting back out at 2Am – even in the dead of winter. He has me convinced that some dogs really can be happy outside. This is not the case with our other big breed – a lazy old plot hound that would sleep in a comfy bed 24-7 if we allowed it. She refuses to stay out when she knows it’s time for bed.

Anyway, this little puppy is helpless and bitty now, but he looks to be part husky. He has the coloring of the area huskies and the blue eyes and the very dense fur. This means, he would make a great outdoor dog, because he will be a good size and he won’t get cold in winter. He is young enough now to train anyway we choose. So, while I don’t really want another dog, I can’t help but wonder if this dog showing up on the very day my rabbits and peacock were Hor de oeuvres is not the universe’s way of sending me what I need to keep my barnyard safe.

I will think about it. In the end, the real question is, can we – a family of serious animal softies – keep a dog in the barn when winter comes and it is cold and wet outside – because three big dogs is simply too much for one house and I don’t want to set us up for an inner struggle and feelings of guilt when the weather turns. If we keep this dog, it HAS to be an outdoor dog.

So maybe we will find him a good home – but even that wouldn’t guarantee he’ll live the cushy life of an indoor dog. Up here, many people keep their dogs outside and it’s considered perfectly normal.

I just feel that no matter how you look at it, we have saved a little dog from a sad end. He is young enough that we can probably find him a home, or we will assume he was sent to us for a reason and give him a home with us. It is good dog karma no matter how you slice it.

Even if he is only with us temporarily, he needs a name. I called him Newman – because everyone knows Paul Newman has the most beautiful blue eyes ever, and this dog’s baby blues are a close match.  

I first suggested we just call him Blue – but Neva felt that name suggested he was sad and thought it might jinx him. Once we associated those feelings to our little lost dog, “Blue” just sounded wrong.

Another day – another slight shift in our world. If you pay attention, you start noticing how change happens, day in and day out – it’s the subtle things that add up, the small decisions – to stop the car or not to stop – to do a task or put it off  . . . These are the things that make your world what it is. 


Show and tell

Yesterday, I made the family steak and eggs for dinner. I served them with hash browns, warm biscuits and homemade jam. I know this sounds like breakfast food, but I thought it would be nice for a change and I wanted to use some of the all natural ham steaks we had in the freezer (which are nothing like the smoked ham steaks you get in the supermarket).I also have to get rid of some of my jam, because it will soon be the season to make more.

It seems, when school is in session, we are never all together for breakfast anyway and I miss serving the big home-style breakfast (my favorite meal of the day) so I thought, “Why not?” Besides which, I had an alternate agenda.

As. everyone was digging in, I asked, “How do you like the eggs?”

“Great!” Mark said, shoveling in forkfuls.

“Glad you think so. You’re eating peacock eggs, by the way.”

Kent and Neva thought this was cool. Mark’s face screwed up into a pinched ball and he said, “I just lost my appetite.” He put his fork down, and don’t ya know he wouldn’t take another bite.

I was, as always, respectful of his sensitivity about what food he is served by his experimental wife, so I said, “You nincompoop! Don’t be such a big baby. It isn’t any different from chicken eggs. Only bigger. I mixed it with guinea eggs anyway (which are very small) so that evens out the proportions in a way. Take another bite or I’ll tell everyone you’re a big sissy.”

He pointed out that I gave him too much, and he was finished anyway.
The way I see it, this makes me duty bound to mention it on the blog. The world should know I married a man who’s a big peacock egg weenie.

I’ll admit, it was hard for me to eat the egg, but not because I feared it. I just had a lump in my throat because it felt like such a waste to eat something that, had circumstances been different, would have been rushed to my incubator with excitement.

I was serving this egg because my beautiful boy, Prism, ran off (damn peacock), so I know for a fact the egg isn’t fertilized. I was buying peacock eggs for about twelve dollars a pop only a year ago. I’m not about to just throw them away. I found another peacock egg today. For all I know, they’ll start coming fast and furious so I’m gonna have to work on my husband’s egg-sensitivity so he’ll be more receptive.
Not like I’m feeding him emu eggs . . . yet.

I thought I might do a bit of spring-time show and tell today.

My bunnies are five weeks old and ready to go. I gave two babies to my neighbor’s good friend who came by to have a look-see. She is an older woman living alone who happens to be a spinner. She was raising an old sheep, but it had died that afternoon and she was feeling low about it. She was thinking she might try angora now but she wasn’t making any decision. I got the impression she lives frugally, so I told her I’d make her a deal she couldn’t refuse. Her eyes perked up. “What would that be/’

I gave her two of the bunnies in the name of spinner sisterhood and neighborly good-will. She was thrilled.

I gave one another to Kathy, who had mentioned her son would adore a new bunny. I figure, since I see her every week, I’ll be around to answer questions. Angoras need more care than a regular bunny.  This rabbit came with a water bottle, a bag of feed and I even through in one of my fiber brushes so they can keep it groomed.  Our reading lesson was pitifully unproductive today, but we had fun playing with the bunny as it changed hands.

I’m keeping the white baby.
Sad to say, a dog or coyote happened to tear open my white male’s cage open on two ends last week. The cage was dragged several feet. I imagine my poor bunny was terrorized. There is no sign of his being killed, but I don’t hold up much hope for his having escaped. I’ve always known that cage was unsafe and I had intentions to build something new. Just goes to show you should never put off until tomorrow what you should have done today to be responsible. Anyway, I’ll keep the white baby as a replacement rabbit in respect to its father. I’ve also promised Neva she could keep one, and she picked a half tan/half gray that she named Nero. 

I’m going to put the three extras (all fawn colored) in the paper and hope someone comes forward wanting angora fiber. A part of me is ready to let them all go – I’m really feeling the need to downsize the animals I’m responsible for, but now that the weather is beautiful, I’m not feeling very disciplined. Remind me of this next winter when I’m cussing under my breath over all the time I must spend out in the sleet and stinging cold changing out frozen water bottles and such.     

My chickens have been out and about, roaming the barn area. My peacock likes to follow me around like a puppy. She is cute. Sometimes, I pause just to stare at my birds. They will perch on a fence or nestle in the flowers and you could swear they are posing just to make my like feel like a hallmark card. It is inspirational (in a simple way).


 Those of you who have been reading this blog for some time may remember I hatched seven ducks in an incubator last spring. During their adolescent phase, they started getting picked off by coyotes. I ended up with two surviving ducks, one solid white and the other an Appellate, which looks like a mallard. Love my ducks! 
Realizing that a duck’s survival skills increase dramatically when they are full fledged adults, I bought two grown Muscovy’s from the flea market. Within a week, one had been eaten. The other joined my duck duo and they became a threesome.

I bought two more Muscovy at the Flea Market. Don’t ya know, one member of this mating pair was eaten too. Then, for some unexplainable reason, my duck threesome just didn’t like the survivor and they kept running it off. I assumed it was a case of one male not wanting to share his babes. Clicks can be so mean.

My lonely duck kept to himself. We called him Romer because he often went exploring by himself. One day, Romer disappeared. I didn’t see any signs of duck carnage about the lake, so I figured he might have just decided to move on to someplace with friendlier duck residents. But two days later, I saw him at the barn.

This delighted me because one of my biggest disappointments about selling this house is the fact that the pond goes with it. I worry that the new owners won’t feed my ducks, or worse, they will want them removed because occasionally, they poop on the dock. Mark insists that whoever wants this house will love nature, so the ducks will be a selling point, not a detriment. They will be fine.

Anyway, the idea that Romer might occasionally visit me at the barn made me very happy. I would see him swimming in the creek at the base of the chicken coop and sleeping in the hay shelter by my young chick cage and I figured he was looking for some new bird friends. He made good friends with my peacock (also the odd woman out), and they often sleep in the sun a few feet away from each other.

Meanwhile, my duck click started wondering what Romer was up too and they started flying down occasionally to swim in the creek and watch me go about my chores too. Spring has my animals doing all kinds of unusual things. I’ll be coming home from the store and see the ducks walking out in the middle of the pasture as if they were a cow, or just walking down the road far from the pond where they formerly never left. I almost expect them to stick out a thumb as I drive by to bum a ride home.

Then,  about ten days ago I was leading my horse into her stall and I heard a hiss. I thought there might be a possum in the corner, but when I looked, it was Romer. He (excuse me – SHE) had made a nest in the shavings and she had no intention of letting me and a 1000 pound horse anywhere near it. I lead the horse back outside and explained to her that she had lost her stall for about 29 days. Then, I returned and made Romer move so I could see what was under her. She is sitting on about 15 eggs nestled in a pile of down. I guess all her hanging out at the barn was her way of checking out a good place for her brood. And she must have been laying eggs all along because it takes time for a bird to get ready to sit. The weather has been so nice, I just haven’t been using the barn stalls, so they must have seemed like a nice, vacant duck hotel to her.   


I know nature will take care of things without me, but once I discovered her, I couldn’t resist sticking my curious nose into her business. So, I began taking Romer food and filling a water bowl for her everyday. She hisses and gets all bent out of shape every time I come near– the ingrate. Doesn’t stop me. I lean over the stall wall and say good morning and talk to her everyday. She eyes me like I’m a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

I can’t help but wonder if any of her eggs will hatch. After all, she has been ostracized by the other ducks, so how can these eggs be fertilized? Then again, I’m no duck babysitter, and who knows what goes on when I’m not looking. I’m going to hope for the best. I do know that if Romer has ducklings, they will be a mixed heritage, and any babies created between a Muscovy and domestic duck will be sterile (like a mule – you can only get one by mating a donkey and a horse, but they can never procreate themselves). I guess that will control the duck population in the long term. (Are you as impressed as I am that I know these kinds of barnyard animal facts? Amazing, all I’ve learned in the last few years.) 

My other Muscovy, a pretty cocoa brown duck, has now disappeared as well. I am pretty certain she is sitting out in the woods somewhere. I’m so curious I can’t stand it, so today I’m planning to hike around and see if I can find her.  Just yesterday, while walking the pasture to seek out a missing halter I saw seven guinea eggs. No one sitting on them yet – drat. My hands are itching to pick them up and thrust them in the incubator – haven’t done the guinea egg thing yet.

I sure hope that next month I’ll be seeing some cute baby ducklings out on our pond. Of course, then I’ll worry about them being picked off by hawks or being the main course at a coyote’s duck fest – but this is the first year our ducks have had an actual pond for safety (before they lived in the creek) so I’m counting on that helping matters.

Let’s see – does that complete my show and tell? Almost. I guess I should mention that my chickens are all doing nicely. I have about 60 baby chicks running in two pens. I finally couldn’t stand the mess and the work of changing the litter in the small cages, so I moved them to the big pen. But they were still so small, they could just squeeze out thought he wire sides. Little pint sized chickens were running everywhere. Neva and I propped boards and a tarp and anything we could find along the edges of the pen trying to contain them. I unrolled a bunch of smaller chicken wire along one side, but when it ran out, that was that. I didn’t want to put too much energy or investment into the problem, because I know the chickens will grow to be too big to escape within two weeks. I spent the entire afternoon devising brooders in the pen – I erected a dog house and our dog crate inside, ran a long extension chord from the barn and set up lights inside for warmth. I was cussing and complaining the entire time because it was awkward and I couldn’t get the temperature right. I just wasn’t in the mood for all that work for a bunch of chickens. 

I rue the day I went crazy and ordered so many on the internet, but what ya gonna do? I was in the shopping zone and mesmerized by the wealth of unusual choices. We have some pretty strange looking chicks.

I am going to start giving chickens away next week. I don’t have room for all of them in my chicken house, and I’ll be darned if I want to build a new one. I also can’t see my using 75 eggs a day – especially without the coffee shop. Ah well – you learn by your mistakes.  Kathy said she’d love a few spring chickens. Our friend Ronnie will take some – and he knows all sorts of country folk who would appreciate some freebie chickens. I will let Neva pick out the chickens she feels we don’t need to get our poultry situation manageable – but it won’t be easy. I want to keep the thirteen leghorns, because they are the best layers but all the others are rare breeds and it’s fascinating to see them change as they turn into striking adults. Sometimes our curosity overrides our good judgement when it comes to animal adventures.   

My bee hive is getting taller as my bees multiply and become established. I’m going to attempt to extract honey this season. Yikes. That will be novel. I am expecting a shipment of two three pound bee packages (with queens) this week. I am going to set up two additional hives. If I’m going to do the work, might as well have enough bees to make it worth the time and trouble.

The horse training is going well – but that deserves a blog of its own. I’n not nearly as bad at it as I expected.

There is a lot going on in our world. Real stuff. Mark has a new job – the kids are into all kinds of things – my writing is humming along – we are building a new house…. but honesly, I haven’t been in the mood to write about anything “real” lately, so I opted for the animal show and tell.  Consider it a placemark just to remind everyone I’m still here. It’s spring – a few months ago I was ready to get rid of every animal I owned. I was sick of the work and trouble of this farm existence. Now, it’s spring . . . Nature can be seductive when it has a mind to.


And she bounces back . . .


I opened my e-mail today to receive another agent rejection. This was from a simple query letter from someone who already stated they were not taking on clients, so I didn’t take it personally. 


But I also received a letter from an agent who currently has the first 100 pages (requested from the initial query) so we are in stage two of our correspondence. Having read the beginning, she wants the rest of the book now and wants to know if I have it under consideration with any other agents. Timing is everything. The fact is, no agent wants to devote time and energy to a manuscript that may be promised elsewhere before they make a final decision. Luckily, I can still give this agent exclusive consideration, which is interesting because today I was going to crack and send the full manuscript out to another full book request I received. Regardless of my impatient nature, I’ve tried to be respectful of an agent’s time (having been a small business owner makes you very understanding of business practices and the need to respect a firm’s resources. It’s like working as a waiter – you find yourself over-tipping the rest of your life.) Anyway, I’ve been taking it slow when it comes to sending out the manuscript, though it about kills me to do so.


 Anyway, I will begin this morning printing a copy of my book and I’ll drop it off at the post office on my way to my tutoring session with my reading student, the package smothered with good luck kisses, of course.


Just goes to show that diligence is a part of the game. None of this means I’m anywhere near selling this book – but it is a step in the right direction. More importantly, this fills my day with hope and promise and makes me more determined to hang in there. In fact, it makes me want to hunker down and write a few hundred pages of my next novel before lunch. Inspired is a nice place to be.  


Yesterday was Kathy’s birthday. I have to write her card, prepare her gift, and warm up the voice. La, la, la, la . . .


Happy Birthday to you! 

Happy Birthday to you!

I’m so proud to give you a card! 

And be able to watch you read it through! 


She is my constant reminder that it takes time, persistence  and a good attitude to accomplish the truly meaningful things in life.