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

 

 

9. The Vet

This last week has been stressful. Last Saturday, around 10:30pm, as I went out to the car, I heard one of the goats screaming. I ran immediately to their enclosure, yelling frantically, in an effort to frighten away the coyote I was certain had gotten in to the pen. It was pitch black, so although I could make out a goat flailing on the ground, I could make out little else. I ran to get a flashlight and came back out to see our goat, Judas, laying on the ground convulsing. His limbs shot out in front of him, his neck twisted back, rigidly, and the pupils of his eyes rapidly moved up and down like the wings of a hummingbird. My mind raced. Poisonous weeds? Kick to the head? Snake bite? Seizure? Parasite? Illness? What? I immediately called our vet whose cell phone number is programmed in to my phone.

 

Relocating can be difficult. When we moved we gave up a wonderful pediatrician, an excellent dentist, a trustworthy mechanic, and a fabulous vet. I knew that selecting replacements would be a matter of trial and error.

Top of my list was finding a vet. Our Dane, Mars, had developed a limp and as any large dog owner can testify- this is a major concern. In the city though, because I had done so much rescue work, I had the opportunity to work with at least 30 vets and choose my vet from the best of those. While driving Mars back to our regular vet was an option, it was not something I really wanted to do. Thus the interview process began. We made appointments at the offices of two reputable veterinarians in the most major city near us.

The first vet we spoke to was immediately eliminated when he said that Danes are not prone to hip dysplasia. The second was omitted just by gut instinct when we weren’t allowed to actually speak to the vet, themselves, and had to relay any questions through the staff. Finally, out of desperation (since those two vets came at the recommendation of the largest local rescue group in the area and again at the recommendation of the local animal shelter) we chose a small town vet, down the road from here.

The country doesn’t have more characters in it than the city, but, my eyes are definitely more open to them now than they were before. Our vet is one of those characters. On our first visit with her she met us in the waiting room. She talked about our various issues, and understood all of our concerns. She did this, the entire time with a 4 year old on her hip, picking his nose. Her long hair hung to her tailbone and swung back and forth with each of his nasal clearing attempts. I had to laugh at the image of any of the pretentious city vets, that I had worked with, in the same situation.

We see our vet several times a month for various reasons. Once, when we asked her if she would look at our turkey that suffered from a limp, she suggested slaughtering it instead. My husband’s informative speech about our not killing animals and being vegetarians fell on deaf ears. Her stance was drastically more practical: if the animal suffers, kill it, eat it.

Her practicality doesn’t end at turkeys. While treating our elderly dog for cancer we asked if this treatment would help. To which she responded, “I always tell everyone the same thing. I do all I can and the rest is in God’s hands”. For some reason this rationale always reminds me of the death of Margret Mitchell, author of “Gone With The Wind”. She was hit by a car in the 40’s and died. The driver of the car was drunk at the time. At first there was a general outrage over her death but later sympathy gravitated to the driver since… it was obviously Miss Mitchell’s time to die. In both cases, everyone is exonerated of responsibility.

I left a message with the vet, that Saturday night, which was promptly returned. She apologized for having the flu and not being able to come over personally. She recommended a ton of various medications for the symptoms that the goat was suffering and said she would have her husband meet us over at the office to give us everything. She admitted to having no idea what was wrong with him but felt that giving large doses of penicillin, vitamin E, vitamin D, and Vitamin B, could not hurt. This recommendation was followed by a quick, “It is in God’s hands”. 
 
A few days ago, my husband called to give the doctor an update on Judas. (He seems to be doing better. for the first 24 hours he remained on his side. A goat has to be upright to digest food so we were desperately trying to wedge his body up even though he continuously fought to lay back down. After 48 hours he had regained control of his back legs and would attempt to stand, only to shove his face in to the dirt. After 72 hours he was able to stand, while leaning against the side of his stall. Now after a week he is back out with the herd, staggering behind them as if drunk but at least he is walking). When he finally got in touch with her she was clueless as to what he was talking about. Her assistant was heard in the background informing her about the sick goat, to which she responded, “That was you? I was really sick.” What city vet would have given out all of those medications without knowing who they dispensed them to? Who of you, out there, has your vet’s cell phone number? This isn’t exclusive to us, either, she has her personal number on the office answering machine. On top of that, I pay half what I would at a big city vet. Practicality has it’s benefits. I am just thankful that she never suggested that we eat him. 

8. Lola

When I was 20, I got MY first dog. She was an adorable Husky mix. At 8 weeks of age she could sit, lay down, beg, and speak, on command. When I went to the vet for the first time, I reeled about the fabulous tricks my brilliant puppy knew. The vet told me, “The best pet is a dumb pet.” That was almost 20 years ago. I have since had many years of dog ownership and almost as many years  fostering dogs. I now, fully understand the wisdom that the vet dispensed to me. With that knowledge, it still surprises me, that I would want to get a pig.

A pig is ranked among the top 5 most intelligent animals on the planet and are the smartest of all domesticated animals. Here are two websites, if you are interested in learning more:

http://chris-mclaughlin.suite101.com/the-intelligent-pig-a84448
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/10/science/10angier.html

We moved in to this house in September of 2009. By that March, I was feeling fairly segregated from the epicenter of life, the city. During a speech of support, from a friend that had also decided to make the transition from city life to country life, I was told that I would like living rurally once I had farm animals to care for. It didn’t take much convincing before my husband agreed that a pig would make a great pet. When a hand painted sign, popped up down the street, a few weeks later saying “Feed Pigs- $35” we were intrigued. What could a feed pig be? Was that a specific breed? Of course, like most things in the country, it was meant to be taken literally.

A pig farm smells atrociously and the pig farm man did not seem to be amused with the city people and their inexperienced questions. The sole purpose of these animals was for consumption. You MAY decide to use one or two for breeding but even those will outgrow their usefulness and be consumed. Either way, they are destined to small enclosures to ensure that they fatten up well and with little human interaction. It is a sad life for an intelligent creature.

And so Lola came in to our life. And as any city loving, pig owner would do… she was immediately bathed… EVERY DAY for a week to remove the pig farm stench from her. For the record, a pig that has never been handled before makes a high pitched wail similar to Linda Blair in the Exorcist. Her entire life, thus far, had been spent, only seeing humans on occasion for food. Now, she was forced to endure kisses and hugs and constant petting. Suffice it to say, we kept a collar and leash on her to make it more convenient when we wanted to force our adoration.

Much to my in-laws irritation, Lola was kept inside with our dogs and learned to use the dog door. At first we tried to love her in to bonding with us but what seemed to work much faster (and far easier than hugging a squirming pig) was food. Once Lola understood that we were the bearers of a quick snack she was entranced. She would follow me anywhere and I would reward her with lemon drops, cheerios, and popcorn, to do so. I am certain that the day the postman drove up to deliver the mail,  and I greeted him with a pig, and 5 chickens in tow, he passed a judgment or two. However, ducking behind a tree at that point was not an option and I knew I had to embrace my Doc Hollywood existence. (P.S. This pig used in the movie is only a few months old).

I am not sure, as a city dweller, that I had ever seen a full grown pig before moving out in to the country. They are not small animals, by any stretch of the imagination. At this time, Lola weighs close to 600 lbs and stands taller at the shoulders than my Great Dane. Suffice it to say that she has been graciously relocated from my home in to her own yard complete with a custom made house, to fit her extraordinary girth. Because of her gigantic size she has broken the pinky toe on my right foot, not once but twice. Also, as I mentioned previously, she was the cause of my husband’s three stitches to his forehead. Not amusing to me was the day that I walked out to pet Lola and she decided to flop over towards me for a belly rub, knocking me off balance, and landing her on top of my leg. I was pinned for 15 minutes before I could finally make her miserable enough to move. With all of that said,  the absolute worse thing about a pig though, is their intelligence.

Nothing is safe from a pig and a pig can be very destructive. Every gate at my home is guarded like a fortress. The only thing missing, truly, is the flaming catapult. After her first siege all gates had to be made out of steel to prevent her from bending them. After her second siege, all gates had to have a bar in front of them to prevent her from pushing them forward. Lastly, after her third siege, all gates are strapped to prevent them from moving at all. I don’t know what to do when she finally learns that she can easily bulldoze the fencing… but I don’t want to jinx myself by giving it too much thought.

One night we had an intruder in our hen house. The creature, more than likely a raccoon, burrowed under the fence in to the property and then wedged a hole, the size of a softball, in to the chicken coop. From there it grabbed, and carried off our rabbit, Foofer Doo. In the process, from shock I suspect, a chicken and a turkey both died.

We bury every animal that dies as our house. It is respectful, I feel, although a huge pain. The morning we discovered the deaths of the turkey and chicken was a maddening one. We were in a rush get the children ready and head out of the house for the entire day. There was simply no time to bury the poor creatures. Nick, in his infinite wisdom, placed them both in a plastic trash bag and left them on the drive way for us to handle when we got home.

The day was a long one, we pulled down our long drive way around 10 that night. I was tired, my husband was tired, my children were asleep in the back seat. As we approached the house, the headlights illuminated the driveway. Nothing was clearly visible, but it was apparent that the area was littered with something. Out of the corner, Lola popped her head up and grunted her greetings. She had broken through the gate and made her way over to the poor deceased chicken and turkey. What was all over the driveway were pieces and parts of their remains. (Let me interject here- I am not certain which is worse, having to clean up feet and heads and internal organs during the day time when you can visibly make out every part of the animal you are picking up OR carrying around a flashlight, illuminating, like a spotlight on an actors performance, each piece.) That night stuck with us for many months, if for no other reason than 100’s of chicken and turkey feathers clung to the fencing along the property as a daily reminder.

I tell Lola constantly that no other pig has it better than she does. She doesn’t recognize this. I informed her that all of her siblings were sold for slaughter and the pig farm down the road was forced to close thus her mother and father were slaughtered as well. I would be hard pressed to believe that she isn’t the last of her bloodline. She doesn’t care though. She has 5 acres to run at her whim. She has goats to chase and a donkey to torment. She has fresh mud to lay in and she has people to clean up the havoc that she causes. Yesterday, darling Lola, broke out again (the children undid the strap on the fence). Our neighbor called asking if we were missing our pig. With haste my husband darted down the driveway and across the road. He was told that Lola had headed towards a neighbor who is far more gun friendly than I believe necessary. At that information, Nick let out his usual pig call, “LOLAAAAAAAA”. From across the field he could hear her grunting affectionately and running. Maybe, deep down inside, she does understand how well she has it.

7. Jogging

Lately I have been feeling very nostalgic. My youngest child recently turned two. I reminisce  about the trips to the park with my daughter when she was the same age. If the city is good for something, other than lap-band surgeries, it is bike trails! I miss putting my daughter in the jogging stroller and running (walking) along the Trinity River. I miss the little dogs with their elderly owners struggling to keep up, the bikes passing on the left, the overly fit people, passing me and then re-passing me an hour later… their sole purpose to make lesser fit people realize their inadequacies.

I would always start my walk at Foster Park and then walk to the River from there. It is a nice walk through shady, densely covered areas and through extremely nice neighborhoods. And we had our favorite little stopping points- Always, as we came around the bend, we would look for the fox that inhabited the park. At the tiny waterfall, I would let her out of her stroller to throw rocks in to the water. One of the houses in the neighborhood had topiary monkeys hanging from their trees. This was her favorite stopping point. On the way back, we would revisit everything again and then we would spend an hour at the playground. I feel sad thinking about it because this isn’t a memory that Linus, the baby, will ever be able to share.

Of course I know this is silly. As he was climbing up and down the dry creek bed, that runs through our property, and then hurried off to chase the goats, I knew my feelings of nostalgia were misplaced. Obviously, his childhood is not going to be lessened by the fact that he didn’t see a bunch of silly monkeys in the trees, but I am a momma and it all just resonates with the understanding that they won’t stay little forever.

I believe, on average, people in the country weigh more than people in the city. Perhaps it is the love affair that they seem to have with mayonnaise, perhaps they are too busy to walk for recreation, or perhaps they just don’t have ANY trails to walk on. For the first year and a half I waited, patiently for the town to build a bike trail that went in front of my property on to some scenic route but around the same time Verizon was telling me that, “no, high speed internet was not going to come to my home any time soon”, I also realized that I was not going to get a bike trail. With that, I decided that I would start walking the road in front of my house.

I live on a fairly busy street, meaning that every 20 minutes or so, a car will drive past… at 70mph. Unlike 3/4 of the streets near me, mine is paved. This is a major plus when it comes to heavy rain or having to drive to the doctor after an ice storm. I decided to grab one of my dogs and set off on my journey. 1/2 a mile into the walk  I had this unsettling feeling I was being stalked. Let me first explain, that this is pretty much my view continuously:

 

 

With that said, I found myself  turning around, again and again, to make sure I wasn’t being followed. Behind my back, I could feel the breath of someone about to lunge. I could see them, in my mind’s eye, creeping up to me, with long fingers outstretched, to grab me and drag me to….. NOWHERE, because there is NOTHING out here. The more that I felt this recurring presence, the more I recognized how my brain had been trained from walking the city trails. As a woman, there is a constant awareness, that you must have, whenever you are in a somewhat secluded situation. My stalker, was nothing more than a figment of my well trained sense of cognizance.

The other day, I tried to explain to a friend, the fear of safety on a country walk versus safety on a city walk, but, before I could even get to my anxiety of someone hiding behind trees, I was interrupted by her exclamation of, “Oh, I bet! There are plenty of coyotes and bobcats out there.” Damn, I hadn’t even thought of that.

6. Banks

I live in Whitewright, Texas. Population under 2000. With as much intensity as I dislike Bonham, I like Whitewright. It’s downtown stretches a block. The majority of those buildings are one story tall. It has a very sweet little movie theater that plays 1 movie a week. For a small Texas town it also has a more liberal feel. The mayor is black and I have never heard a negative word said about the homosexual couples that inhabit it. On top of that, I have even met a couple of big city transplants. That isn’t even counting my mother, who followed us up here and has tried to make herself out to be a local. She took a volunteer job at the Meals on Wheels and spends many a day at the center playing canasta “with the girls”. Months passed with her saying, “I fine, how you?” to me before I finally asked her what on earth she was talking about. I came to find out this was her form of country vernacular. My mother, who is half Japanese and half white, thoroughly believed that everyone she said this to thought her to be from the area. My husband, who has a thick drawl (for a city boy), was actually asked if he was from California by one of the hardware store girls. Had he just said, “how you” to her, obviously, she would have known better.

A lot of things are nice about living in a small town: no waits at the restaurant, no automated messages at the water department,  the children get to wear their Halloween costumes to school and everyone knows you. For instance, my husband goes to our bank, in town, once a week. When he pulls up he is greeted with, “Hi, Nick”. From there, he can just tell them he would like some money. There is no signing anything in triplicate or giving samples of blood. They hand him his money, and 3 dum-dum lollipops, one for each child that they know is stashed in the vehicle. I went in to my previous bank, once a week, for seven years. Rarely, I could see the faintest hint of recognition cross their face. In Whitewright, you feel like a rock star.

The Whitewright bank does not have an ATM. One time when I was in Sherman I decided to run by one at the bank branch there. I pulled my car in to the drive through and ran my card. It instructed me to enter my PIN number but there were no numbers on the screen to push. I was perplexed. I jabbed my finger at the display. I ran my thumb across. I canceled the transaction and ran my card again. All to no avail. I tried everything short of jumping out of the vehicle and kicking the machine. Just as I was about to go in to the lobby and tell the stupid bank that their stupid machine was broken- I saw the keypad. I was expected to punch the numbers in manually on an antiquated, metal, pad. Dallas probably has laser facial recognition by now. I wouldn’t know because I am still stuck with the Atari 2600 of bank instruments.

Here is an interesting tidbit of knowledge that I recently discovered about Whitewright and completely on subject, given the title…. (you have to take what you can get in a town this small)

“Whitewright was the home of US Lieutenant Joe Tom Meador, who after World War II looted several major pieces of art from a cave near QuedlinburgSaxony-AnhaltGermany. On April 19, 1945, American troops occupied Quedlinburg. Various treasures of art were secured in a cave near the castle Altenburg. Meador was responsible for the security of the cave. Meador, a soldier with good knowledge of art, recognized the importance of the treasures (among them being Gospel of Samuel and the Crystals of Constantinople). He sent the treasures to Whitewright via army mail, and the art was placed in a safe at the First National Bank of Whitewright. Meador died in 1980, and his heirs tried to sell ten pieces of Beutekunst (looted art) on the international art market. After a long search and judicial processes, the art was returned to Germany in 1992 and was investigated because of damages to the pieces. At first those stolen artifacts were exhibited in Munich and Berlin but were finally returned to Quedlinburg in 1993. However, two of the pieces stolen by Meador are still in the United States at an unknown location.”

If my description of Whitewright has intrigued you enough to want to move here…

5. Chickens

We decided to move out in to the country for a myriad of reasons.

1. Schools: We thought it would be nicer for the children to go to a smaller school. Especially when they got to middle school and kids tend to be hateful to one another. The sad thing is we left at exactly the same time that the city’s public schools were finally adding vegetarian options to their daily lunch menu. It may seem like a little thing, but I felt badly not being there to support it. Just picture the contrast between that and the fact that their new school has children in it whose parents actually slaughter their own food.

2. We run a dog rescue group. The city only allows you to have three dogs at any one time. Currently, I have 14. I doubt any of my previous neighbors would have condoned this.

3. Chickens. My husband, at the time, was a vegan. He very much felt that if he could raise his own chickens humanely it would be okay to consume the eggs. When he looked in to having chickens, in the city, there were too many restrictions to make that possible. Besides, I doubt any of my previous neighbors would have condoned this.

The children, Quinn and Caden, love their new school. Caden loves it mostly, I feel confident, because they have a large television set up in the cafeteria. This televisionshows a steady stream of Scooby Doo. This television blares non-stop through lunch. I think, my husband and I, are the only parents who hate this television. But, after all, we are from the city- where there would be a parental uprising over, not just the fact that educational programs are NOT being shown, but that there is this television in the first place.

Movies are also shown regularly in the place of recess, if the weather is a little bad. In the city, the teacher chooses the movie based on what has been deemed acceptable by the school board  or they simply play games. Here, the children bring movies. Quinn decided to take a 1966 Disney movie called “The Ugly Dachshund”, (If you hadn’t seen it, it is a cute little comedy about Great Dane that thinks he is a doxie.) 5 minutes in to the movie the teacher turned it off and said it wasn’t appropriate. Why? Because the two ADULTS in the movie were celebrating his birthday by drinking a glass of wine. I, being me, was incensed and wanted to drive up to the school and tell that teacher how ludicrous it was that a movie, in which a married couple is depicted sleeping in two separate beds, could ever be called inappropriate. However, my passive aggressive side got the better of me, so silently I fumed.

Our house, at the time of purchase, had a dilapidated chicken coop. I was excited to get it back up and running. Nick, my husband, took much pride in his first, real carpentry job. I didn’t think that the chickens would care if every rafter of their run was spaced perfectly and level. Nick did care though. With the placement of every board I was forced to endure the ritual of walking over to see that the bubble in the level was precisely in the middle. Our chicken palace, is sturdy and strong and above all else… it is straight.

After it’s reconstruction we set forth to find chickens, knowing nothing about chickens. A man, in a neighboring town, was selling some called Red Sex Links. Excitedly, we decided to make the drive. (Let it be said here, that in the country, if you pass the location you are attempting to get to, there is a good chance that it will take you several miles before you really realize it.) We didn’t make it to his house until dark. At that time, we decided that 5 hens and 1 rooster would make a fabulous flock. After all, every country home needs the crow of a rooster to get it started in the morning and 5 eggs a day would be more than enough to feed our family. We brought our chickens home and the first few flew out in a tizzy. Two remained, in the back of the crate, not moving. Nick pronounced them dead and in disbelief we stood staring in to the crate wondering how we could have killed two birds by simply transporting them. He reached his hand in to remove the poor creatures from their plastic tomb, when suddenly they sprang back to life and flew at his face in an attempt to escape. Unbeknownst to us at the time, chickens are heavy sleepers and as soon as the sun goes down so do they.

Chickens, I think, need the largest learning curve of all farm animals. The next morning, after getting them, I stood staring at their creepy, scaly feet, uncertain as to how to care for them. Yes, you can read magazine after magazine, and book after book on the subject but actually looking at a living one versus a picture is quite different. Besides, I had found all the magazines quite depressing from an animal lovers stand point. 1. They always addressed killing and eating them and 2. Chickens can catch a ton of gross diseases.  So, I will admit that I could have gone in to this venture a little bit more knowledgeable. Had I actually read more, I may have also known that winter is the worst time for egg production with chickens. So as Nick was warming up the pan for all of the eggs sandwiches he was planning to eat…. the chickens were only laying 1 egg a week.

We have lost many birds over the past year and a half. It took us a bit to learn about injecting the chickens with antibiotics, or proper worming and who the hell would have known that some chickens would sit on an egg until they were dead from dehydration or starvation?! The chicken farmers at the local market are a wealth of information. Decked in overalls and missing teeth you give the most limited description of what your animal is suffering from and they can quickly spit out a home remedy to fix it. One of our chickens legs was breaking out in bumps, they told us to soak it in vegetable oil and it would clear up. In two days, our little chicken was better. I know they think we are funny. They speak down to us in a way that lets me know that in the same way city people characterize country folks as dumb, they think the same of city people.

Before moving out here, I thought chickens only came in white and red. Those are factory birds and for all I knew the selection was limited to that. I was shocked to see the variety that there is. Our flock has now grown to 30 (give or take). Some of the birds are quite impressive. I don’t stare at them with uncertainty any longer. I love watching them and could sit among them for hours, not moving. The hierarchy among them is fascinating and their days are spent pleasantly clucking and pecking at the dirt. I find it very relaxing watching any living creature that is so content just being.

 

 

 

 

4. Winter

This is our house, as of today:

It is over 100 years old and has never been insulated. It has wonderful, old, wavy glass, single pane windows. It has 12 foot ceilings and original wooden floors. What this means is… in the winter it is freezing. In the country, there are no buildings to block the wind. The northern wind blows freely over the fields and through the grasses until it reaches the cracks and crevices of my home. To which, with no obstacles to keep it from coming in, it is allowed to roam unabated in to every living area within. Anyone who has ever come in to contact with me, knows because of my incessant complaining, that I hate cold weather. The first winter, my home, was my personal purgatory.

The men that we had purchased this place from had used it as a weekend house. Their sweet little country get away. Looking back though, it is quite possible that there is a distinct reason that they chose to sell the house after only owning it for a year… and that reason, my assumption would be, was WINTER.

One day, while on the couch of purgatory, I took notice that the furnace had not shut off in a considerable amount of time. Up until then I had ignored the fact that I could not only see my breath, the baby’s breath, but also the dog’s breath. With a multitude of blankets draped around me I waddled up to the thermostat to gaze in shocked amazement at the reading of 56 degrees. I am conservative in my temperature selection but not THAT conservative. The furnace stood little chance of warming this house up if it was a constant 10+ degrees cooler than what it was set at. My husband and I spent the next 48 hours in insulation mode. We took apart door jams to stuff it in. We bought 10 cans of that yellow foamy stuff and squirted it everywhere. We covered the windows with heavy fabric. We put down thick covering on the floor, under the stairs. Our conversation was limited to, “I feel air coming in here”, “where”, “right here”, “got it”. We caulked and covered every spot.

That winter we spent (without an iota of exaggeration) $2900 in utility bills towards heating.

This last year we did something about this:

We had two open living areas that we sectioned off. Thought being that I can hold up in the smallest living area with a space heater placed strategically between my legs. Hence, I would never be cold again. It was better… but purgatory was not one to release me from it’s icy grasp so easily.

Last year, my oldest son brought the flu home from school. In his usual fashion, he hardly fell victim to it while I was down for weeks. I was certain that death would claim me at any instant and whining that cetainty to anyone within ear shot. Everyone in the family became ill. However, everyone else seemed to recover within 24 hours. Not me. Texas rarely has snow or severe ice. During my infestation of the flu virus… Texas had both. One night, as I lay on the floor of my bedroom, incapable of making it all the way from the bathroom back to the bed, I realized that if I didn’t see a doctor I actually, really, would die. OF COURSE, on the day that I finally succumbed to the idea of getting medical help, the roads were completely frozen. Having dealt with the small town doctor previously, I was dead set on driving the 40 minutes to a “real” doctor. (My definition of a real doctor is simply a doctor that is willing to give painkillers.Which, for whatever reason, our town’s doctor is not).

Long story short: You can’t drive 70mph on ice. So what normally is a 40 minute drive became an hour and a half drive. I crawled in to the office wearing my pajamas and a coat and lay down in the waiting room. After an examination, blood tests, and x-rays, it was determined that I had pneumonia. He gave me injections, syrups, and best of all… painkillers.

Not much later, another ice storm hit Texas.My husband, who is wonderful beyond measure, is a thunder stealer. (Side note: One time when I was having to undergo a minor surgery he decided to fast in solidarity with me. As the nurse struggled to insert the IV in me, with lack of sustenance in his stomach, he fainted. As if in a ridiculous sitcom, every nurse fell to the floor to help him. I was left laying on the table, alone.) So it is little surprise that as I was still recovering from pneumonia he falls and splits his head open.  As he was letting out our pig, Lola, he rounded the corner and bumped in to her. He slipped on the ice and slammed his head on the concrete. We made the dangerous drive to the town doctor. He received 3 stitches and… no painkillers.

As the air outside starts to take on a chill, I can feel fear starting to set in. I don’t know what winter may hold for me this year but I feel certain that I won’t be able to escape purgatory any time soon.