17. The Dalai Llama

Country living should come with a handbook. Not for the useful or practical things but for stupid things like- Chickens sunbathe on their sides so don’t freak out and think you have a Jonestown incident the first time you witness it.

“An Idiots Guide to Things that Every Country Person Knows Innately but City People Are Clueless About” could have been useful in our encounter with llamas. Starting with our first, Buckbeak… or as our extremely creative neighbors called him, Brownie.

I will address the idiocy of Buckbeak/ Brownie momentarily. First, allow me to digress, these imaginative  neighbors live in this house:

It has inspired me to want to write a blog entitled:  “Crap in People’s Yards”. I am toying with the idea, after all, I have this picture to post with it:

So, after seeing the picture of where Buckbeak used to live, I assume you are grateful that you don’t live there as well. One would think a llama would feel similarly. Such is not the case.

My belief is that all farm animals should serve double duty; besides being just a pet (with the exception of Lola who is worthless). For instance, the goats make manure that is wonderful for our gardens and they clear out the thorny weeds that I despise. A llama has a communal spot for defecating. That would mean that collection of manure for our compost would be considerably easier. On top of that they are excellent goat protectors. Several months earlier a foster dog, of ours, managed to escape and maul one of our goats. Protection from dogs and coyotes seemed extremely  logical and necessary.

I quickly found an ad selling a llama. The fact the owner lived in the same town as us was a major plus; when we learned that they actually lived less than a mile from our house it seemed most fortuitous.

Until a month later when Buckbeak jumped the fence and went back home. Of course, we only learned of his decision of geographical modification after hours of frantic searching and my wreaking the car in the effort to find him. Apparently, it is not that our house isn’t conducive to llama contentment but the previous owner failed to mention that she still had his girlfriend at her property.  If we had a copy of, “An Idiots Guide to Things that Every Country Person Knows Innately but City People Are Clueless About”, perhaps there could have been a quick quip about llama relocation and it would have saved my car a huge dent.

Not to be dissuaded, we found another person selling llamas in a different town. These particular people earn their living by buying large quantities of livestock and exotics, at auction, and then piecing them out. When we approached their property we saw 50 female llamas, some with babies. From those we chose Dalai. We were told, at the time,  that she was 6 months old.  In our eyes, this was ideal. She was young enough to bring up with the goats and therefore, would make the best goat protector.

(I would like to forewarn you that the story I am about to tell you does not have a happy ending. Do not get attached to any of the characters involved…)

After much reading, we learned that a llama responds best to goats when their human interaction is minimized. That, and the fact that she hated us, made our decision to leave her wild easy. The routine of ours was extremely predictable. Month after month I would let her out in the morning and then go out at night and herd her back up in to the enclosure with the goats. Day in, day out, I would walk out to her and chase her back in to the enclosure. Rain or shine, I would walk all the way in the field, begging her to please move so that I could get on with my life.

Until one day that changed.  This time when I approached  her she was lying down. “Stupid llama”, I muttered, “Come on, it’s time to go up”. To this, she leaped up and started walking. Yet, something was different. She hesitated, she resisted, she turned to look at me, almost defiantly. Not to be intimidated by a llama I stepped forward to push her on. She jolted forward and I then spotted an oozy liquid coming from her back end. “Oh, you are in heat, are you, Dalai?” and onward we walked. Again she hesitated and stopped. Frustrated, I called her a few choice words when suddenly, something happened. As I was staring at the oozy liquid coming out of her, from beneath her tail a head poked out.

I am a planner. Life is like a chess game,  you simply must have a plan for every single one of your pieces if you intend to succeed. I do not subscribe to the belief that you can fly through life by the seat of your pants, letting things sweep you in any direction it would like. I did not authorize the pregnancy of this llama. I had not planned and obsessed over the pregnancy. Therefore, I felt that denial should be a viable option and so I stood there, mouth agape, trying to comprehend what was happening.

Finally words found me and I yelled out, “Nick, the llama is having a baby!” Now, I would have expected confusion on his part. Our immaculate conception should need to be weighed and compartmentalized by he as well. However, Nick, my level headed husband, yanked out his phone, without hesitation, and called the vet as he ran out to where I stood, mouth still ajar.

Mind you, Dalai is not a pet. She is a 300lb bodyguard for our goats, nothing more. So as Nick scooted behind her to evaluate the life presenting itself, Dalai paced back and forth irritated by our presence.

“Do you see the feet,” the vet questioned. No, the feet were not visible. Just a nose that peeked out occasionally and then would  disappear.

“The feet have to come out first,” she instructed. Nick followed the llama to and fro as she continued to pace. Watching carefully as the baby would emerge and then vanish again.

“If you don’t see the feet, you are going to have to reach inside her and pull them out.”

From my vantage point, I could then hear Nick try and reason with the doctor. “You understand this llama doesn’t like me, right? Corner her? Okay…. and do what?” Had we only had a copy of an “An Idiots Guide to Things that Every Country Person Knows Innately but City People Are Clueless About”, we could have turned to the chapter titled: Reaching Your Hands Into a Llama’s Vagina, and we would have been fine.

I was becoming giddy with the anticipation of watching Nick capture Dalai and confine her well enough for her to allow him to “examine” her, however, about the time the vet officially launched in to a speech condemning us for breeding a llama and never socializing it, Dalai lay down and the baby popped out.

Hugs, kisses, high fives, and tears of joy followed.

By the next morning we could see that something was wrong with the baby. He was standing on his front ankles, like a gorilla stands on it’s knuckles and he wasn’t nursing.

We drove the baby to the doctor immediately. All of the problems he was suffering from were symptomatic of being born prematurely. We shot him full of vitamins and medicines to help with his legs, and received bags of goat colostrum to supplement his nutrition (until Dalai’s milk came in). Sadly, after less than a week of life, the baby died.

All of the family was saddened by this experience. Something completely unplanned for and honestly, unwelcome, had felt like a blessing. Then in the blink of an eye it was taken from us all.

We dealt with all of that, and ironically, Dalai is the worst goat protector ever. She is the Ferdinand the Bull  of goat protecting, completely undermining my “double duty” policy and necessitating the acquisition of a new, better goat protector. Enter-Clarence Worley III. (I am not responsible for the name. I was not allowed to contribute to the name. I do not like the name).

Clarence is a sweet, older donkey that “kicks butt and asks questions later”. We picked up Clarence from the SPCA. Out here, they auction off livestock. When the animal isn’t purchased they are just given away. He had sat at the shelter for months without anyone showing the slightest bit of interest in him. Their loss.

The last few years have offered many learning opportunities. I can’t tell you how many times it would have been nice to whip out a handy copy of “An Idiots Guide to…” in an effort to save ourselves (and the animals) from our inexperience. Perhaps, if nothing else my blog serves the purpose of letting others know they are not alone in being a clueless city person amongst a group of knowledgeable country folk. If you are out there… it isn’t as easy as it looked on Green Acres… there is a learning curve…. but we will get there.


16. Things that I miss

It is starting to feel like Spring outside. (What that means in Texas is: mornings start off in the 30’s but by mid afternoon it is up to almost 85 degrees.) The sunshine, birds, and greenery has put me in a much more dapper  mood and I am now officially out of my “I hate the country” funk.

However, as I drove home the other night, wishing for a bowl of baba ganoush and some pita. I decided I was going to make a list of things that I miss about the city. (It needs to be said, that whenever I start to feel nostalgic about the amenities of the city, my husband reels me in with a, “How often did you go there?” His practicality, in this one instance, is annoying. The understanding that. just having the option available could be considered enough to make me content, is lost on him.)

1. Culturally diverse foods
Even on my most lax days, I wouldn’t consider Panda Express to be Chinese food and at half an hour away, that would be my closest option. I miss Indian, Mediterranean, and Asian foods. Whitewright has two restaurants and a Dairy Queen. One is Mexican and the other is Bar-B-Que. (It’s a stereotype of Texas cuisine for a reason.)  The other day, while in a crowd of people, I overheard a woman say, ” I saw a great recipe for chocolate cake with “gah-no-key” icing”. No one corrected her. How could they? Who out here would even know the difference between gnocchi and ganache? 

2. Pizza Delivery
Technically, this is two fold. I also miss Papa John’s and their disgustingly artery clogging garlic butter gelatinous goo. While in the city, I never actually ate Papa John’s but somehow, because my options are limited to Domino’s and Pizza Hut. (since I don’t actually own one of those nifty pizza cozies to keep my pizza warm if I were to travel further to purchase said pizza) my desire for Papa John’s has intensified.

3. NPR
Oh, the wonderful city days of zooming around listening to Diane Rehm, Fresh Air, and This American Life are over. To listen to NPR now, I must make a concerted effort to tune in to 88.9 if I drive  southeast,  90.1 if I drive south, and  99.3 if I drive northwest. It is a constant balancing act and it is driving me insane. Especially since one of these stations plays the program with a 5 minute delay from the other two. When you incorporate an Ira Glass pause in to the equation, that 5 minute delay can feel like an eternity.

4. Museums/ cultural events
I don’t need to elaborate on what we gave up when it comes to museums and cultural events. You can well imagine the plethora of art, plays, ballets, operas, symphonies, all available at leisure. It can be best summed up by one picture:

This is the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth. The building appears to rest on an 18 inch deep reflecting pool. It was designed by the famous Japanese architect, Tadao Ando, and is one of my most favorite buildings in Fort Worth.

In contrast, my husband took the children to see this, extremely popular, event in Whitewright:

Click here for video.

Obviously, I declined to go.

Oh, but all is not lost. If ever I start to mourn my cultural loss of Shakespeare in the Park, I can rejoice in the knowledge that every year Whitewright offers an Annual Fiddlefest. Lest I forget their Rose Tour.

If I care to step out of my town for the day, there is a dandy of a new museum that has just opened in Sherman. It is called Harber Wildlife Museum. Before I elaborate further, here is a picture:

It was constructed in an old restaurant. As I have come to find out, Mr. Harber is quite the world hunter. All 150 animals in this “museum” were killed by him. Here is a quote given by Mrs. Harber concerning their philanthropic work.

“There’s nothing like it when you arrive (in Africa) and see your first species. All of a sudden you’re in the middle of National Geographic,” said Dorothy Harber. “It’s all about culture. It makes you appreciate in your heart what you have.”

The newspaper goes on to explain:

“The couple, who donate the meat from all their kills to area villagers, recalled stories of women walking 50 miles for a portion, and in a culture where breastfeeding is the only option for babies, that means carrying the little ones along.”

Unfortunately, as I understand it, to do a safari in Africa, donating the meat is mandatory... watching breastfeeding women walk 50 miles for food is optional. YEA, HARBERS!!!

Which, clearly brings me to #5-

5. Democrats
Obviously I am a Democrat. I am a vegetarian who is appalled by hunting. While, I confess, this is Texas so finding a Democrat is difficult to begin with, try moving to the edge of nowhere and finding one here. 99% – 99.9% of people out here carry guns. Since it is believed that all Democrats want to abolish the 2nd amendment, you couldn’t convince one of these people to go blue if you left them naked in Antarctica for a month.

6. My dentist

First this (and yes, those are my molars poking out):

My old dentist never made me wear this horrible tooth trap. I don’t care if my NEW dentist says it is the law, it makes me feel like the long lost sister of  Chatterbox.

I stole away to the bathroom in order to take that picture. When I got back to the room, the dentist asked me if I took a picture of myself. I felt it was an odd question to ask since I can’t visualize that many people wanting to revisit this experience but I nodded honestly and was met with a 5 minute lecture on how photographing a dental procedure was illegal. So there I was, confined to this horrible, latex, tooth trap, dollar store sunglasses, unable to verbally retaliate, and left feeling very much like a scolded third grader. Personally, I just don’t think that he wants anyone to possess photographic evidence of the torture he is inflicting on his clients. How do you like this, doctor, now the whole world can witness your perversion?!

6. High speed internet.
Nick and I waited almost two years before we forfeited our dream of getting high speed internet at our home. Verizon says not only is it not available but they have no plans to make it available either. Depressed, we contacted HughesNet.  Here is what their website says,

“With HughesNet® as your high-speed satellite Internet service, your super-fast, always-on, satellite Internet access is ready when you are – no dialing in, no waiting, and no tied-up phone lines. You can download files in seconds, check email instantly, and surf faster than you ever imagined.”

Awesome, huh? Let me say, that you could invent a time traveling device, go back and conduct an interview with Abraham Lincoln, then write a book about your experience, in faster time than it would take me to download the Gettysburg Address in PDF format.

That is not entirely true, but as you are staring at a blank screen for 10 minutes before finally giving up and turning everything off…. it feels true. I hate HughesNet and thus I hate Verizon.

9.  Recycling
Honestly, this is just self explanatory. Aside from driving all of our recyclables to my in-laws, our choices are nil. I wonder if global warming is even taught in schools out here. 

And all that the Lorax left here in this mess
was a small pile of rocks, with the one word…

10. Variety
This category covers a wide spectrum of things (including those listed above). I miss the variety of people that the city offers, I miss the variety of services the city offers, I miss the variety of places that I can buy things from and all of that within a 10 mile radius of your home. Unless you have lived in the city, you simply can not understand what convenience is. My husband would point out that all of those options contain vast crowds of people and many miles of traffic. This is something we don’t have to deal with out here. There are no lines when you do your Christmas shopping. It is almost worth it to drive the 100+ miles to shop at the Target or BestBuy, in Sherman, for Black Friday, really. Walmart may be another story though.

Of course, the trade-off’s are innumerable. When we first moved in to the house, I made the mistake of standing in a pile of fire ants. Faster than Clark Kent could change in to Superman, I had my pants ripped off and was dancing around like a lunatic. We took our two year old son to a park in Dallas, last fall, when he saw the beautifully constructed pond. He had thrown his shoes off and was working on getting his pants down before we could catch him and explain that he couldn’t be naked here, like at home. Outdoor nudity, a plus to country living.

Our children attend a small school where the principle greets every child by name each morning. Small school, a plus to country living. On the flip side, the other day when we were at a bookstore in the city, my daughter commented on a little girl wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat by saying, indignantly, “She is dressed like a cowboy and she doesn’t even live in the country!” The fact that she felt that this little girl was impeding on her, personal, lifestyle may end up being a problem.

When all else fails to put my yearning for the city in perspective, I can look at the sunset’s reflection on my pond and know that we made the right choice. (It also helps that I know it is all just a waiting game, and I have already told Nick when the kid’s are grown we are moving back to the city. He has laid down some terms and conditions but has reluctantly agreed.)


15. Man’s Best Friend and Our Worst Enemy

First let me say, I took all three of these pictures on my way to work last Wednesday. These three pictures, pretty much, sum up my view of country life, right this minute.



For the past week, I have been dedicating moments of thought to the understanding of what makes city people different from country people. I have been desperately trying to do this without a smidgen of egotism or elitism, which has been difficult to the point of impossible. Two things prompted this quest for enlightenment, 1. my Cheerios blog and 2. a crazy woman with a dog. As I sat, last week, in the midst of blind, unshakable, anger- I decided to stop pretending that I was still in Kansas (metaphorically). For the past two years, with the understanding that I was in a land very different from wince I came, I had decided to keep my mouth shut and my opinions to myself. I have spoken of weather, I have spoken of children, I have not spoken of politics or of religion… both being seen as a hot topic given my general location. However, what couldn’t remain hidden was my husband’s or my actions.

As I have mentioned before, we run an extremely small dog rescue group. I, personally, have been fostering dogs for the past 18 years. Our move in to the country did not alter our desire to help animals that were in need. Most of the dogs that we take in come from individuals who contact us, or dogs on the euthanasia list at the Fort Worth Animal Control, and most recently, the Bonham Animal Shelter. With that said, we do, on occasion, find a dog near us and have taken in those as well.

A few months ago a male German Shepherd mutt got on to our property. We contacted all of our neighbors, in a half mile radius, to see if anyone owned this dog and then after three weeks, of not hearing anything, we spent a couple of hundred dollars neutering him, heartworm testing him, vaccinating him and then put him online for adoption. After a month a sign went up for the missing dog and after a long talk, we decided (even though we were financially and emotionally invested) to give them their dog back.  For this we didn’t get as much as a thank you; “ofcourse” they were angry, “ofcourse” they planned to breed their dog. That same day, as my husband was driving the children to school, he noticed cars swerving on the highway in front of him. Another German Shepherd (this time a pretty one) was standing in the road. He, again, contacted everyone in a half mile radius to find out if it was their dog and then took the dog to our home to wait and see if anyone came forward for him.

That night, a woman came to our house distraught and hysterical. She demanded her dog back. To which, we gladly and promptly went and got him. As she continued to droll on about her dog being worth $500, how he was always getting out, and how she was missing her black lab as well, it became apparent that she was accusing us of stealing her dogs. Now, in my Cheerios blog, I mentioned that country people lack pretense. In this woman’s case, that is completely true as well, self righteous but without pretense. No matter how many times she stated that her dog would tear through her fencing; she still managed to blame us for stealing dogs. A wiser, or even more pretentious person would have excluded the dogs constant departure, out of her yard, from her story. That was simply not true with her and after many attempts to reason with her, her derangement won out and my husband, with forehead in hand, was left on the driveway, her screams of, “If he gets out again, I’ll be back and I won’t be alone” echoed through the crisp evening air.

At this point I would like to discuss the rules, regulations and/ or laws concerning picking up animals in Fannin County. As confusing and complex as the woman and law enforcement agents would like these to be I can explain them in one, extremely, quick sentence: There are none. While there are laws to mandate your cattle, horses, or other livestock being on the road there is nothing to regulate household pets.

Last week a warden from Texas Parks and Wildlife came to our house. He greeted me with a good ol’ boy country smile that had probably won the affections of many a female in his youth. This charm was lost on me once he started speaking though. “Hello, ma’am. I was wondering if you had seen a husky or a lab around here. You see, I had heard two dogs have made their way back to their owners lately, cause of y’all, and there are a couple of kid’s at home without a dry eye.”  I hate being condescended to and as clear as glass, to me, was the fact that a “Lil’ lady” or a “Darlin'” was about to roll off of his tongue. As I fear most females do, however, I stammered and just spit out openly hostile answers to his ridiculously invasive questions. “How many dogs do you have? What do you do with these dogs, rehabilitate them or something? Can I look in your back yard? If I find any dogs on the road do you want me to just bring them here?” With that last question, his gaze intensified and I wanted to scream out, “I don’t know if this nonchalant laissez faire attitude works on others out here but I am not from out here!!!” Yes, I am more than aware that my ego became just as large as his at that moment. To my defense though, he started it.

Twice the Fannin County sheriff’s office called us to see if we had this woman’s dogs. Albeit, they weren’t really questioning us as much making us aware of her accusations. To them, it seemed more than apparent that we would be the worst dog thieves, on record, if we actually did go door to door and told people we had her animals. And why would we have chosen to give her back just one of her dogs when questioned by her?  When pressed on the issue of taking in stray dogs one of the officers responded that, “the right thing to do would be to hold on to the dog for a month or so and see if the owner shows up.” The (as in the only one) Bonham Animal Control officer said that there are no leash laws in Fanin County and therefore there are no laws regulating what to do with a dog that you find on the highway.

My husband, does not suffer from my inability to think and be angry at the same time and he used this to his advantage in a phone call back to my new friend from Parks and Wildlife. Nick quickly got to the crux of the situation  1. Is it against the law to pick up a dog on the freeway? (The officer stammered and talked about if it was right to do. To which my husband responded that his loyalty was not to a human that was incapable of keeping their dog off the road time and time again. His loyalty was to the dog.) 2. If you admit that it is not against the law, regardless of your feelings about the morality involved, I should not see you on my property again or else we will view it as harassment.

I am not sure the difference this conversation really made. Their mentality towards dogs was clearly different than ours. To the woman who owned the German Shepherd, the $500 that she felt the dog was worth, was all important. To this man, he possessed hunting dogs and felt that if they were hit by a car they deserved it for standing on the road. He also believed that his extremely expensive dog GPS collar was going to protect them from theft. Pointing out, at that moment, that a thief need only remove the collar, might have made us look a little more like professional dognappers.

Thus leads me to my conundrum about city people versus country people and my week of pondering their differences. Ego would lead me to believe that city people are just more intelligent, as if smog contributes to your intelligence quotient. My few moments under the tree of wisdom has led me to this, though- human interaction is how knowledge is disseminated. It is as simple as that. The people from a small town have little interaction with the diversity of people and circumstances that a city person has. With that, comes a more close minded, narrow outlook. They adhere to their social norms, many as they were set by generations before. Their lack of pretense has nothing to do with a humble nature, in this society there is nothing to be ashamed of in those particular situations. Pretense is clearly visible in issues concerning wealth or religion.

Dick Cheney stepped across party lines to support marriage equality because he has a gay daughter. How can a child learn to protect our world’s wildlife without first seeing the majestic tiger in a zoo? Perhaps crazy dog woman needs to be partnered, for a week, with a group of animal rights activists. They can recite the number of animals euthanized in the US, annually. They can preach about why spaying and neutering is important. Lastly, they could explain the hazards of letting her dog roam free.  The point is, unless you have experienced the opposite of what you reject inherently, a transition in your thinking can not be made. I suggest that all of Fannin County attend some diversity training.

The woman with the German Shepherd found out that we had her dog from the mailman. Unbeknownst, to me all this time, in small towns, if you want to know something- ask the mailman. He is a method of information transportation. Mull that over. Your magazines, your boxes wrapped in brown paper, bills, medical information…. all under analysis and dissection for your neighbors fodder. I fear, that even though I have been speaking weather and children all this time, the lack of hunting literature and Rick Perry endorsements, making it’s way to my mailbox, is speaking volumes on it’s own.

14. Cheerios

I don’t often listen to other people’s conversations. I believe this is because the monologue going on in my head is too loud for me to hear anything else. The other day though, I was at a church rummage sale and couldn’t help but overhear these two women speaking. The first woman said that she had heard that in order to grow you need to be open to new experiences.  The second woman responded,  “Yea, like when me and Harold went to that Christmas party. If we wouldn’t have gone we would have never met that Jewish couple.”

People are different out here. There is no judgment associated with that it is just an observation. I think, perhaps, life is so much simpler that people lack the necessity for pretense.

One day Nick and I were having a conversation with one of Whitewright’s police officers. He was an attractive man probably in his late 20’s. We spent a bit of time discussing dogs and children; rattling off cute experiences concerning each. His daughter was similar in age to Linus and already potty trained. The lack of necessity for diapers now thrilled him. Of course, Linus isn’t trained yet and I don’t think he will feel the need to be so until he understands it is hampering his ability to live a happier more productive life. Nick quickly told the officer how simple potty training Caden was and how different an experience it has been with Linus. “With Caden, I just threw a handful of cheerios in to the toilet and asked him to pee on them,” Nick told the officer. Caden laughed in the background at a cute story about himself as a baby. The officer responded with a smile and said, “My dad did the same thing for me”. He then paused and continued, “Except he used cigarette butts.”

A clear lack of pretense. In the city, dads will use cigarette butts too, they would just tell everyone they were cheerios.

13. The Reverend Early James

Now, he goes by the name of Reverend Early James, but back in the day we knew him as Jimmy.

I met Jimmy about 8 months ago. It was a beautiful spring day. (The weather was the absolute perfect temperature where you could go naked and not be too cold or wear a jacket and not be too hot. I love those days.) I spied Jimmy’s estate sale sign from the road and pulled in his gate. Large trees shadowed the majority of his 6 acres. His house was nestled at the very back of the property and so I made the trek down his long driveway, carefully avoiding the numerous ditches and mud pits. The sandy red soil spitting an orangish hue all over my vehicle.

As I opened my door, I immediately saw Jimmy walking briskly up to me. He stood just over six feet tall. He was clad in jeans and a t-shirt. His slim build and rough exterior hinted at a life spent working hard and outdoors. As he walked his shaggy, salt and pepper hair bounced freely. The conversation went as follows:

Me: Hello.
Jimmy: What do you want? Why are you here?
Me: You are having an estate sale.
Jimmy: What? I can’t hear you. I am not wearing my hearing aid.
Me: Estate Sale?

It was at that point I took the time to survey my surroundings and assess the situation. Directly in front of me lay an extremely old mobile home. A single wide from back in the day when single wide was the only option. Even from my position outside I could see the warped and leaning walls. To the front and right of that was a one car garage.

Directly to my right was a structure that looked as if it had been added on to in layers. Perhaps every five years or so the owner felt it was time to expand and so they built another box on to the already existing boxes. What immediately caught my eye was a sign on the arbor that read, “Universal Life Church and Chapel. Hours: 9am-?”. It was currently 10 in the morning.


Once Jimmy understood I was at his property for a reason, albeit not a reason he was interested in, he was excited and offered to show me around his property. He had many types of flora and fauna that he wanted, very much, to go in to detail to me about and he immediately offered for me to ride with him in his van down to his self made pond.

While many people are not old enough to actually remember reading about Ted Bundy and his method for murder. You should at least be old enough to remember Silence of the Lambs and know that there was absolutely no way, in hell, that I was going to get in to his van. 

There is no rhyme or reason to anything on Jimmy’s property. In an effort to be polite, I did a 30 minute tour of his gardens (largely in part because with out his hearing aid in he could not hear my multiple attempts to segue in to a departure). Just like his home, trees are planted haphazardly here and there. You might find 2 tomato plants growing in a corner and another 20 feet away. A walnut tree is planted a yard away from a pear tree with no thought given to the mature height of either. And his favorite plant of all… the muskodine grape is everywhere. He ties the vines to anything that stays still along enough for him to wrap strings around it.

The tour ended in his greenhouse, which isn’t so much a greenhouse as it is a room with a green roof.

Bear with me. By now you may be asking yourself why I have bothered to show you all of these boring pictures of this man’s property. The answer is this: yesterday I saw him dressed in robes like Moses and hanging up these signs on his fence.


(What this article fails to tell you is…. the Reverend Early James is not completely sane.)

We all have visions of grandeur, however, I don’t put up signs on the gate, at my house, saying “Whitewright Zoo” or “Wildlife Preserve”. With that said, I do find it mildly amusing that if survival training had been offered at the original Garden of Eden then Adam and Eve could have built their own compass, did a little team building, escape and evasion and made their way back, once they were banished.

My encounter with Jimmy did not end that day. While I was on his property he offered me a donkey that he had pinned up. After some thought, a conference with my husband, and a brief drive back with trailer in tow, we were ready to load the donkey.

Our greetings exchange went very similarly to my preliminary one.

Nick and I: Hello.
Jimmy: Why are you here? What do you want?
Nick and I: We are suppose to get the donkey
Jimmy: What? I can’t hear you. I am not wearing my hearing aid.
Nick and I: Donkey?

Once Jimmy understood we were on his property for a reason, albeit not a reason he was interested in, he was excited and offered to show us around his home. Sitting in a corner, in the dark (save the light from the small television) was Jimmy’s nurse/ girlfriend/ friend/ supplier/ ??? , Janet. For imagery sake, I must tell you, that Janet is a five foot tall, black woman, who chews tobacco and spits continuously. She doesn’t say much but what she does say she says with authority. As we walked in to the room, Janet looked up from her book, spat in to a container, nodded, and then went back to reading/ staring at her book.

At this point we walked in to Jimmy’s office, all the while, attempting to explain about how we needed to get home, so if we could…. just… get…. the…. donkey…..


A picture of Elvis mocked us from above the desk, while Jimmy pulled his guitar out of the corner and began explaining his belief that he would one day be the Commander In Chief of the United States of America. According to him, organic living was the only chance our country had at survival. To emphasize that thought, he pulled out a cigarette, inhaled, and strummed his guitar. He went on to tell us that he had written a song about it and once everyone heard it they would elect him as the next president. The title of this mind controlling melody was “World Wide Garden Web”. Carefully, we positioned ourselves so that all entrances in to the room were visible as he played.

(I wish that I could now tell you the words to that song, but my memory has chosen to block it. I have a habit of over thinking things and there is a very probable chance that I got stuck on the impracticable nature of a bunch of garden loving zombies voting him in as President and never really digested the rest of the lyrics.)

With that, we were led to THE VAN, our protests fell on (literally) deaf ears and so we climbed inside so we could take a tour of the cornucopia of greenery. Jimmy as driver, Janet in the passenger seat, and Nick and I on our knees in the cargo area, ready to be jostled this way and that. Quite honestly, Jimmy’s place is not so vast that a car ride is necessary. However, for the sake of the donkey, we pressed on. Jimmy put the van in reverse, pulled back, and hit the car directly behind  him. There was nothing within 30 feet of the van but this car and somehow he managed to hit it.  (You could tell that he desperately wanted to blame someone for this action by the way he contorted his face and began to speak but when he looked at Janet accusingly she just spat in to her container.)

Once the tour was over, we could, at last, get to the matter of loading the donkey in to our trailer. Jimmy dismissed us with a “just lasso him. It will be easy” and we set off. After 30 minutes of Nick’s astonishing Lone Ranger type skills- through the thicket of weeds and trees. The donkey was no closer to getting in to the trailer than before. With trepidation we went to get Jimmy, who after several attempts of us “speaking up” finally comprehended that we couldn’t catch the beast. Once again, he assured us how easy it would be to load him and with that he walked over to the donkey and bravely jumped on his back.

The actions of Jimmy and the results they garnered are listed below:

1. Ride donkey… bruises, dirty, no donkey in trailer.
2. Put donkey in a headlock… no donkey in trailer.
3. Pull donkey by it’s head, while Nick pushes from behind…. no donkey in trailer.
4. Put trash bag over donkeys head…. no donkey in trailer.
5. Send Nick on the ridiculous assignment to find grass for the donkey in an effort to lure him like a fish to a worm… Janet spits and says, forcefully, “This is enough”. Jimmy has a cigarette and says,  “This isn’t easy.” No donkey in trailer.

I could say that Nick and I drove home empty handed but that wouldn’t be completely true. Nick had a bright red rash that covered his entire torso; adding to his frustration about the whole fiasco. Honestly, though, while it took many months for either of us to find the events with the donkey amusing, it was difficult to be too angry. Both Jimmy and Janet are extremely nice people and his enthusiasm about gardening is very endearing.

**** I would like to take this opportunity to thank Coldwell Banker for the exterior and interior photographs of the house. Jimmy’s house has now been taken off the market (to become a theme park), but at the time, you could have had his posh estate for the low price of $400,000. Before you puzzle over the expense of living in Denison. This is a house, within the area, that is priced equivalently.

12. Your Stuff?

The most commonly asked question I get, when I am at work is, “Where do you get your stuff?” It is always said in exactly that manner. “Where do you get your stuff?” Not “Where do you find this furniture?”, “How do you come across these items?”, “What methods do you employ in order to encounter all of these various objects?”. No. There is not a smidgen of diversity to the question. At least twice a day, I have someone ask, “Where do you get your stuff?”.

At first I went through great effort to explain the means by which I find the things for the store. However, after the 108th time of being asked this the response has now become, “Here and there”. It isn’t because I am being secretive about the lengths I go through to find some of this “stuff” but rather, it is too diverse to elaborate on daily.

I went to a storage auction once. The people who do these things are a rare breed. To bid and not really know what you are bidding on is a concept that eludes me. I watched a storage unit, with several bags that looked very strikingly similar to garbage and a taxidermy baby alligator, go for $200.  That was my first and last storage auction. It was nothing like Auction Wars or any of the other “reality” auction programs. In those shows, you are led to believe that everyone needs a secret place to stash away rare coin collections or special, one of a kind,  items that are in perfect, never been used condition. Then, you have to suspend disbelief that these same people manage to forget about moving their treasures. Instead, I buy some of my “stuff” from a guy that buys storage units.

I go to a farm auction once a month called “Whitlock’s”. Every stereotype of country/farm people comes into play at this auction. Groups of large men, no shirts, overalls, work boots, spitting everywhere…  their wives are in the background bidding on trinkets, ceramic chicken collections, baskets of old Avon bottles, “The Joy of Cooking” from 1972. Children run amok everywhere. No one worries about the child molesters in the bathroom or the pedophiles stealing off with one of them. Last auction I watched a little boy, about 7 years old,  bounce from dangerous farm implement to dangerous farm implement with nigh a parent in sight. He weighed  approximately 100lbs and wore a large cowboy hat, plaid long sleeve shirt, and cowboy boots. He was like a pudgy cowboy cherub, whose wings could not support his weight. The image became all the more surreal when, as we were leaving, I looked to see him pull his pants down to his ankles and start peeing. His large bottom shining white in the moonlight, almost like a marble fountain.

There are two auctioneers at this large auction. One sells off the little items to the women on the inside of the barn. On the outside another auctioneer calls out for bids on all of the various country clutter. Cattle fencing (which I have learned is different from goat fencing and pig fencing), tractors, livestock, rusty this or that. We are always hard pressed to find items for the store here. Usually the items, we do acquire, are in need of a lot of work. That is where Nick’s part in the business comes into play. He has turned into quite the carpenter. It is not rare for me to buy something and bring it to him, with the instructions- “I want to cut it down to this size, add this to it, just tighten this and then make it straighter”, or, my favorite, “I plan to use it for this-can’t you just do that for me?” Somehow he understands my vague terminology. It is a partnership that works…. my vision, his attention to detail.

Estate sales are hugely depressing, in my opinion, since mainly, they are held in the event of someone’s death. The remainder of a person’s entire material life lay’s there, waiting for people to arrive at 10am precisely and buy it off bit by bit. If that isn’t enough to make you want to pick up the phone and call a loved one, let me say this-  (cue the soft music) When all is said and done, every item that you spent so much time dusting and admiring will be gone and all that is left of you are the memories that you left behind, not the “stuff”. Your 250 piece refrigerator magnet collection will be sold off for a quarter each…. That collection of books, all alphabetized, cataloged, and your name carefully placed on the front page, will all thrown in to a pile for “$2 for hardbacks and fifty cents for paperbacks”.  Even your favorite zodiac coffee mug, with the clever quip about Capricorns gets reduced 50% off on Sunday. Depressing, depressing, depressing. Of course, you could just be like me and guilt your children in to holding on to everything. After all, why wouldn’t they want my collection of antique baby doll heads? Seriously.

I have a myriad of ways in which these things come in to my possession. Auctions, garage sales, estate sales, resale shops, individuals, side of the road, barns, scrap yards, flea markets, consignments AND here is the most interesting thing I have come to learn: In the city, you would NEVER go up to someone and offer to buy something off their front porch…. in the country, everything is fair game. We recently acquired a greenhouse in just this manner. One day, while I was out driving, I saw an old greenhouse peeking out through the weeds and trees. Nick had been wanting a greenhouse to bolster his ranks in farmerdom. He found the owner and quickly negotiated a price. It was a commercial greenhouse and regardless of his belief that one day he will grow all of the food our family consumes, he was practical and only built half of the structure. A few months later a man came on to our property and saw the remainder of the materials and asked to purchase it.  See, everything is fair game.

Honestly, I am flattered when people want to know where I get the merchandise for my store. It could mean that they appreciate the uniqueness of the items sold or it could mean that they like the various pieces and wish they could find things like this on their own.  Perhaps jealousy comes in to play, and it is more of a sense of entitlement that haunts them. Then again, .it could be considerably more benign than that and arrogance could just be getting the best of me. Chance are, they just want to sell me something and are questioning if they qualify.

To see my store on Facebook click here



11. “Et Cetera is Born”

Our move to Whitewright was made possible by our family’s penny pinching habits. No cable, only basic cell phone service, second hand everything and two fairly well paying jobs allowed us to save up enough money that we felt comfortable moving to a location before finding employment there.

In the city my husband owned a lawn care company and he had a long list of customers that he routinely took care of. In an ideal world we would have moved closer to the metroplex in order to keep that already established business. However, we felt we could do the next best thing…. relocate the business to wherever we moved. We learned quickly that there were a few hitches in that giddy up though. 1. There is no code enforcement in small towns and therefore there is no motivation to keep your yard up. 2. Barb wire and other farm instruments can cause havoc on lawn equipment and 3. Everything a mower can do can be done quicker and easier with a tractor…. which we do not own. After 6 months of valiant effort, my husband called his three regular paying customers and told them that he was retiring from the business.

In the interim, I grew restless. Country life was eating at me. I missed civilization. I missed choices. I missed people. I loved my family and all of my pets but I was tired of looking out and only seeing them day in and day out. So one day, Nick and I decided to drive to the small town of Denison. There I fell in love. While Denison, Tx. has approximately half the population that Sherman, Tx. does, it is by far cuter. We strolled the historic downtown area and were amazed by all of the art galleries and studio lofts. There were fabulous antique stores with wonderful prices and just a fun sense of ambiance and history rolled together. I was smitten.

The next week, I found myself looking at a real estate guide for Grayson County. (I sometimes love to look at the booklets and dream of having a little more money, a little more land, and a warmer house.) What I noticed as I perused this issue, though, were not the grander single family homes but, instead, the commercial buildings for sale in downtown Denison. Specifically, a building called The Tucker that was listed for $20,000 and contained almost 8,000 square feet. I called a realtor and made an appointment immediately. Until then, I hadn’t ever thought I could own so much history at such a low price.The Tucker Building ended up being more of a diamond in the rough than I could afford though. However, with two elegant and leaking skylights, original flooring, a crumbling stone wall, outdated electric and plumbing, I was hooked. I searched out another building to buy and elevate my title to real estate tycoon.

So with the backing of my mother and my family we bought a building in Denison. Everything seemed to scream out profit. We were buying when the prices of property were extremely low. It sat across from the Rialto Theater and several other prominent businesses. It had a business already located downstairs with an income of $700 a month. That would take care of mortgage and taxes, plus some. Then with a loft upstairs we could rent it out and make enough to supplement our income. Win. Win. Win. Except, immediately after signing the paperwork the business owner downstairs became gravely ill and needed to close up shop. After that, the Rialto Theatre was foreclosed on. Then another across from me was foreclosed on, and a month later, the building directly beside me was foreclosed on. I brought death to downtown Denison.

What immediately became apparent was that I could NOT have another empty building in downtown Denison. The space would NEVER rent with so many other properties on the market and a lack of foot traffic on the street. So, with the blessing of the previous owners I took over their business…. an art gallery.

I can not sugar coat this…. in 2010 art does not sell. 

Nick hit the pavement…. or rather, the computer, to find a job. What seems like it should have been so obvious to us wasn’t… small town businesses only hire family and friends. Well, of course they do. I would too. However, this meant that Nick’s employer would have to be a minimum of half an hour away. (There was definitely a moment or two in this transition that I seriously questioned our wisdom in moving out of the city.)

To make a long process sound short, Nick was hired in the Bakery department of Walmart.

My husband, is not a typical ego driven person. He worked there and he worked hard and he never thought down on the experience. A job is a job. He is nothing like my friend, Lindsay, or I. She took a job at McDonalds, in a small town in Wyoming, calling it a “socioeconomic experiment”. I worked at the restaurant in the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and compared myself to Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting. “Will” and I were both geniuses who worked menial jobs in buildings that were congruent with our talents. Nick, though, worked at Walmart because they paid him.

He came home daily rattling off his experiences with the corporation which is Walmart and the slaves which are their employees and their customers. Now, my husband is great beyond measure. I could easily tie up every love song, in the world, with a big pink bow and place them in my heart just for him. With that said, he is not without fault. 90% of the time he chooses forgiveness but 10% of the time frustration or anger gets the better of him… and Nick does not do passive aggressive. He does retaliation. What is amazing, is that somehow the gods shine down on this, lining up the stars, and clearing the way in order to make events line up so it is possible. My favorite story of his stint at Walmart was this: A night manager made his job difficult. Everyday, Nick would go to him for a pricing gun. Everyday the manager would say, “Give me a minute. I will get back to you.” I would hear the same story, constantly, the only element to change being Nick’s response to it. One day the manager responded, “Give me a minute and I will get back to you.” Nick decided to sit down on the floor and just wait, people passing him as he silently protested. Another time, he heard, “Give me a minute. I will get back to you.” and Nick decided to interrupt a conversation between he and another manager saying, “can we not talk and walk at the same time?” Then one day the gods shined down, the stars lined up, and the way was cleared for events to line up…. This manager was in a store room moving things around with a forklift. It was a small room and before he knew it he had boxed himself in with all of the crates he had been moving. At that moment, Nick walked in. The manager asked, “Could you please get a pallet jack and help me get out of here? I am trapped.” What was Nick’s response? “Give me a minute. I will get back to you” and he left him.

Wednesday- Saturday I would drive in to Denison and sit at my desk, staring at the vacant buildings around me and wishing for customers that never set foot through my door. One day, after visiting a Lowes Home Improvement store it dawned on me. To flourish, Lowes diversified. They sold pet supplies. They sold childrens outdoor toys. They sold books. On my drive in to work, daily, I saw small business that served multiple functions in order to stay afloat.


At that moment I decided to add furniture to the store. It was a leap to get from fine art to second hand furniture but, honestly, there was little choice. Thus, Et Cetera was created…

After Christmas, Walmart tries to recoup the extra money that it paid it’s employees for the holiday work. In doing so, the majority of people have their hours cut in half. At that moment, Nick and I decided to “burn the ships”  in reference to the historic conquest of Cortez.  He quit his job and we set off to do whatever it would take to make this business a success. It is advice I would give anyone. Try. You won’t drown, you won’t die.

We incorporated furniture in with the art in May (8 months ago). Sales have been great. It is an interesting blend of retro pieces, shabby painted furniture, and of course, fine art. If you are ever in Denison, Tx, stop in. I can point out all of the new businesses that have sprung up around me and the great deals still available on buildings here.  If nothing else, we can gripe about Walmart together.  🙂  Either way, I guarantee that you will be just as smitten with the history and ambiance as I was.