I Don’t Need a Man. And I’m lying.

Inevitably the dog poo hits the fan when my husband leaves the farm for any longer than a few hours. And leaves me in charge. I’m best behind the keys of a computer – it’s my wheelhouse. But I can sub in for Farm Boy any old day. And after all, it’s only for 4 days. I’m a wildly independent woman. Strong and intelligent and capable.

I’m on day two. And it’s not pretty.

Yesterday morning the pregnant goat, Luna, got loose. Turned over lawn chairs, opened the large container with chicken scratch and proceeded to down half the bin. Brad had a makeshift patch in the fence, and Luna got down on her knees and crawled out. To goats, chicken scratch is like catnip. It must be. Because I know it would have taken a lot for me to crawl on all fours when I was pregnant. I tried to mend the fence with dental floss, my go-to fix it all, but as soon as I walked away, down on her knees she went and shimmied under the fence. Thank God for neighbor Bob who fixed the fence, or she would have been wandering the streets like the hussy she is.

A Luna

Last night I went down to collect eggs, give the chickens some treats, and feed the goats their second feeding of the day. I walked the quarter mile down the drive to the pens and goat barn, swinging my colorful egg basket I got at the swap meet from some lovely gentlemen weavers from Ghana.

For some reason, our lovely, happy, laid back rooster, Black Bart, took a turn towards bi-polar land. When he saw me his neck feathers stuck out a foot and he launched himself at my basket. And this rooster has developed those razor sharp spurs on the backs of his legs.

I have to admit that roosters scare the shit out of me. They have those rooster eyes. They look at you and size you up and decide, nah, she’s no threat, I’m going to mess with her big time. And they don’t do it to your face. There’s no frontal attack, it’s always right out of eyesight that all of a sudden ten pounds of feather and muscle launches itself at you, and all you can hope is that you can outrun an angry rooster. Which I can’t. I can’t outrun anything. Most ants run faster than I do.

I had no option but to pull up my bloomers and get the job done. I hurled the basket, which the rooster then followed (screw the lovely colorful Ghana basket, he can have it!) ran down to the goat barn, shut the door, and started getting the hay ready for the goats. I first threw the chicken scratch out for the chickens, thinking they’d all be oblivious to me as they dug into their dandy treats.

Black Bart, usually obsessed with chicken scratch, decided that I was a much more fun target. He ran under the electric fence, around the barn and into the goat pens. The pens I had to get into to put the hay into the feeder. He crowed at me and belligerently stood by the feeder, and whenever I’d go close, the feathers would go up.

I had to sidle up to the feeder and shove the hay into the feeder sideways, keeping my eye always on the rooster. Because of this, I didn’t hold the door shut, and out goes the pregnant goat, straight to the chicken scratch bin.

If you’ve ever tried to move a goat somewhere where they don’t want to go, you’ll know. It’s not something I would wish on anyone. It’s not like a dog, or a cat, or even a horse or cow. You have to physically shove them, and they dig in their little hooves and duck their heads and it’s more like a bad wrestling match but with much more drama.

I had to also put the hay over the girls pen into the boys pen and feeder. I don’t normally go into the boys pen because, well, boys will be boys and I’ve learned that it’s not safe to turn your back on boys. I learned that a long time ago, but having bucks sort of cemented it in my mind. So while the rooster is launching himself at me, and I’m screaming and tossing hay everywhere, and trying to hide behind the goats (yeah, it really was that pitiful) all three of the goats decide to make their great escape.

Hauling one goat around is one thing. Trying to corral three is another. One goes in, you grab the other, and the one that’s in goes back out. I couldn’t latch the door because if I let go of one to unlatch the door, she’d take off in the other direction. And, again, they’re not like dogs. You can’t shame them. Goats are shame-less. You can tell them no, you can pinch their little ears, they flip their heads, leap and kick up their heels and do exactly what they want to do.

goat jumping

While I’m dragging about 3 goats, the 2 bucks are standing on their hind legs, hooves on the pen gate, watching in rapt attention. Hell, that was much better than the hay I gave them. I could see them thinking – wow, where’s the popcorn?

So this morning I vowed to change things up. Get a handle on it. I boiled up a dozen eggs. Crunched them up, and DROVE down to the chickens and goats. Tossed the eggs on the ground – chickens loved it. Fed the grain to the goats, goats loved it. All’s right in the world. It is no longer tilted on it’s axis. I can do this.

I did bring my weapon of mass destruction just in case …

IMAG2329Yes, I know, it’s a small broom. But when properly applied, with a general sweeping circular motion about my body, I can ward off nasty roosters and maintain my sanity.

So tonight I went down. I had it covered. Brought my broom, DROVE down (quicker escape and that way I dont’ have to run, in my ugg boots, a quarter mile up my driveway), opened the barn door, got the chicken scratch the tossed it out. Chickens AND roosters seemed quite happy. Laid the broom inside the barn, and started on the hay.

Got the hay in both hands, started shoving it in the feeder. I close the pen door, but can’t latch it. It requires 2 hands (lift the door, slide the latch over) and both were full of hay. And yes, once again, Luna nudges the door open and heads for the chicken scratch pail.

I did figure out how Brad does it – 6’4″. That’s how he does it. He can simultaneously shove hay into the feeder while holding the door shut with 6’4″ leg. I’m 5’5″ on a very good day. I’d have to detach my leg to get it to reach. Not only that, if I actually had to stand on one leg and shove hay down into a feeder I’d probably end up on the ground. Permanently.

So I shoved the hay, went to grab Luna only to find that she not only opened the corn bin, but was INSIDE it. Head and front legs. I couldn’t get her out. I couldn’t reach her head it was so far into the corn bits. So I had to tug on her long neck, which just caused her to produce a kind of gross barfing sound.

I finally hauled her out of the bin, shoved her into the pen, locked it, grabbed more feed for the boys pen, unlocked the pen, put the hay down, locked it again, and shoved the feed into the boys feeder. DONE.

I turned to unlock the pen door leading to the barn, ready to shove eggs in my pocket and make my way to the car when I see him. Staring me down, inside the barn.

black-australorp-rooster

I’m stuck in the pen. The broom I left outside the pen. I had enough to navigate with the hay, without having to add a broom to the mix. For all that is holy, will someone please get rid of this spawn of Satan?

Not sure whether to just surrender, sit on a hay bale and cry, or act like an adult. While the former was preferable, I am logical enough to realize that I don’t want to spend the next two days inside the goat pen. So I grabbed a wad of hay and threw it at the rooster. He ran out, squawking, I ran out the barn door to my car (with my broom) left the eggs in the egg nest and drove home.

My neck and low back hurts from hauling (and lifting) a pregnant goat. I have hay in my bra. I have two days left. Two days and four feeds. And I’m not quite sure I’ll make it.

Permaculture … on steroids

When my daughter’s fiancé visited us several years back, he made the proclamation … “what you have here, is permaculture.” Being city girl turned reluctant farmgirl,  I had to Google it to see what exactly it was. Wasn’t sure if he was praising our efforts, or swearing at us.

Turns out, yes, we are a family of permaculturists.  When I take on things, I tend to do it with a passion. Brad, disagrees. He says it’s not passion, it’s a freakish obsession to go overboard. With everything. We started with 10 chickens and now have 80. Two goats became six. Although, in my defense, two pigs became freezer fodder, so there is that. And we added six ducks, but that was the neighbor’s fault. Entirely. She bought the ducklings for us.

So it stands to reason that after Jomar  introduced me to a new concept that I would embrace it wholeheartedly. And really, we are quite magnificent when it comes to creating as little, if not zero, excess waste as humanly possible.

Walk with me, if you will, as I take you through our moderately messy, incredibly efficient, immorally time consuming and slightly perfect piece of recycling nirvana.

A bit of a warning. As I said, I get passionate about things. It started with mild composting. But I tend to have a charming neurosis (small, tiny, miniscule, not-getting-in-the-way-of everyday-living neurosis) that drives me to excel at things and be “one of the best.” Except sports. Not happening. Never. I mean, I am the best “walk and talk for 3 miles every couple of days” person I know. But that’s it.

So … the tour begins in my kitchen which is the heart, and start, of the permaculture process. Under my sink is a big stainless steel bowl which is used for collecting bits and pieces – anything from the sink drain catcher thing, anything that hens or goats or roosters shouldn’t eat. We don’t have a garbage disposal, so anything caught in the strainer goes into the bowl. Once that’s filled, it goes down to the compost pile and becomes rich earth. Coffee grounds, on the other hand, are collected by Brad and, together with newspaper, gets fed to his worms. I don’t go there. Ever. It’s not even in the same country as my wheelhouse.

I also have 2 Tupperware bins that sit on my counter. One is for the meat birds, the other for the active laying hens. Different things go into different bins. For the layers, they get pretty much anything with the exception of onions and garlic. As you can see, they like it. They like everything.

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The second Tupperware is for the meat birds. I’m more picky about that. They don’t get things like cabbage, Brussel sprouts or any strong flavored veggies. They get more mildly flavored treats – apple bits, carrot tops, bread crumbs, leftover oatmeal, mild flavored veggies. We sell both eggs and the meat birds, so we are careful about what might end up flavoring both. Well, I’m careful, Brad not so much. Which is why I’m in charge. And why our meat birds rock.

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If the eggs we collect happen to be cracked, that gets cooked up for the dogs. Egg shells get collected in a bowl and when I have enough, I toss them in the oven to toast them a bit, crumble them and put them in the hens food. It’s a good source of calcium and helps strengthen their egg shells.

Meat, fish, etc  gets divied up between the dogs and chickens. Yes, oddly enough, chickens eat meat. Chickens are not vegetarians. Getting eggs in the store from chickens who are “only fed vegetarian” is stupid. Chickens scratch in the ground for worms and slugs and eat insects. So don’t waste your money. Goats, however, are strictly vegetarian. Go figure.

And now we come to bones. Brad and I went to a naturopath, who prescribed we both drink bone broth. And she explained that it was what Vietnamese Pho was based on. Not able to find any bone broth in our local stores, I did what I do – I researched. Now I’m a bone broth pro. bone-brothThe best bone broth is found at my house. Seriously.  My freezer holds several gallon ziplock freezer bags. In these bags are leftover vegetables – the ends of the onions, the skins, the tops of celery, the stems of cilantro. Anything I don’t use or feed the chickens, I put in there. The other bag holds bones. With the exception of fish bones, every single bone in every single piece of meat I cook is in this bag. When you come for dinner at my house, you won’t be given a chicken thigh or leg to munch on. I’ll be cutting the meat off the bone for you, just like your mamma used to do.

When the bag is full enough, I toss all the bones and veggies in my crock pot. I cook it for at least 2 days, with some bay leaves, kosher salt, some whole spices (whatever I have on hand – peppercorns, fennel seeds, whatever herbs are in the garden or in the freezer). The bones turn very soft during this time, and turns the water into a flavorful broth that I bottle and freeze and use for a soup base, for cooking rice, for flavoring sauces. I always have the shelves in my stand-alone freezer full of bone broth. AND – after the bones are all cooked down and mushy, those go into the compost pile as well.

By the way, the reason I wrote out the bone broth recipe is, for some ungodly reason, Brad seems to think I could be the next Pioneer Woman. He insists I write down everything I cook (mostly because I can’t remember what I did so that I could recreate the meal again). Then he thinks my blog can turn into a blog not only about composting or permaculture, but about recipes, someone will “discover me”, we’ll be rich and not have to worry about our retirement. HAHAHAHA.No.

We collect slugs in the garden and bring them down to the duck pond. Veggie leftovers from the plantation get tossed into the goat’s pen. The big sunflowers feed the wild jays, swallows, yellow finches. And, if you want a goat to follow you till the ends of the earth, you carry a handful in your pocket and dole them out. You’ll have a friend for life.sassy

Some things are not good for animals – like potato skins. You’d think I’d just toss them, but I’m no longer a “tosser.” I cook the potato peelings for the chickens. I cook up raw chicken skins for the dogs. .

The kitchen is obviously the most interesting and vital part of the composting/recycling process. Brad does the other stuff. Leaf mulching and chopping  and burning and spreading ashes. It’s not as cool as a slimy bowl of gummy veggies under my sink, or delicately sautéed potato peels. So I won’t go into graphic detail. But I do invite you up to our farm and dare you to find one scrap that isn’t used for some purpose. Even the goat and chicken poop is meticulously collected. Nothing like a steaming pile of … well, you get the idea.

It’s a circle of life, my friends, a beautiful little circle of life.

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And Now for Something Completely Different … And not so funny

I am dedicated to not turning my blogs into something political. I mean, how political can chicken wrangling and goat poop be? However, sometimes things in my monkey mind toss and turn and I know that if I don’t put it down, and get it out, like an earwig it will eat its way through my brain. So forgive me for taking a turn down a dark avenue, but it’s important, I believe, to share my first-person story.

At 22, I was eager to make my way into the world. Fresh faced, full of promise, excited about the world outside the safe walls of Cal Poly University. Actually, I had no plans, no clue, but a heck of a lot of dreams.

A friend recently started a job working as a buyer in a popular retail fashion clothing chain. And she reported that the in-house advertising agency was looking for a copywriter. I interviewed and was immediately hired. Wet behind the ears, scared to death, I hid in the bathroom several times a day because I was sure if the boss found me, he’d fire me on the spot for incompetence.

It never happened. In fact, I was promoted, led the copy department for a decade, won “Employee of the Year” and became the best copy chief the company ever had, according to corporate officials. When I accepted the position, my father asked what they were going to pay me. I said “I don’t know. But what does it matter? They are paying me to write!” I couldn’t believe that life could be so amazingly wonderful.

And it was. Life was good. I had a job writing. Writing! In a department that was wildly creative and quirky, in a position that was fast paced and unpredictable. I loved every minute of it.

But in every bright light lurks some dark corners. While this wasn’t quite the “Mad Men” era of advertising, it was still the early to mid 70s. The rules of the day were there were no rules. It was still a male-dominated business world, and we had barely passed Roe vs Wade, Title IX, barely heard Helen Reddy sing what became the female national anthem. Equal pay for equal work was more of a theory and sexual harassment was neither a coined phrase nor a legal term.

And I was sexually harassed.

To those who say “it’s just words” or “boy talk,” I say, it’s not. For every comment about how the air conditioning made my “assets perky,” for every poke with a pencil as I walked by, for every man who spoke to my chest instead of my face, or called out “hey little woman, whatcha wearing today?” I felt a little less sure, a little less lighthearted, a little less exuberant each day, and just … a little less.

I was not the only one. In an office with a dearth of women, the few of us were singled out. If we didn’t laugh and go along, we were “on the rag.” If we did, we were fair game in what was clearly a one-sided game.  These are not “just words.” These are attitudes. Attitudes that make us feel we matter less. We are worth less. That if you want to “play with the boys” you have to accept that “boys will be boys.”

One company employee also starred in the TV commercials, making him somewhat of an instant “star.” He was smart, funny, goofy and the fans loved him. He was a jokester in the office and left everyone laughing at his antics. Some of those antics were not always appreciated. Rob continually cornered women, and seemed to focus on me especially. Each time I was opening a file cabinet, walking down a hall, or standing in a closed space, Rob would make a production out of “squeezing” by me, saying “Oh, Excuse Me” loudly as he rubbed up against me sliding by. To uproarious laughter by the male crowd.

During a department Christmas party at the boss’ house, Rob caught me putting my coat in the spare bedroom. He grabbed my shoulders, told me I looked beautiful, and promptly kissed me, pushing me down on the coat-laden bed and laying on top of me. I didn’t yell, we were fully clothed and so I was not scared, just embarrassed and horribly uncomfortable. I felt stupid and helpless. I bit his lip, left the room, told my best friend and we spent the rest of the party close together, watching each other’s backs.

I endured daily jokes, catcalls and leers for a decade. I loved the work, I loved the field, and it was some of the best times of my life, but it was also a time when my self esteem was slowly whittled down. I started feeling angry, not really knowing why. My writing was still exemplary, but my heart just wasn’t there. I kept at it because it was the first time in my life I was supporting myself and on my own, and the work was fulfilling and exciting for a young woman just starting her career. And, as I said, it was not a time that “harassment” was even a concept, let alone a term. So I had no compass leading me to understand that this was not the norm.

Years later I met up with my best friend from work, Cathy. In our conversations, I experienced what is referred to as the “Ah ha” moment. I blurted out “Cathy, you know what? We were sexually harassed!” She looked down, looked up and said, “Susan, you’re right. I never thought of it, but that’s exactly what happened to us.”

I’ve made my career with words. And those who say “they’re just words” are not truly understanding the power of language. For every time someone calls someone fat, or ugly, or stupid; for each time someone remarks on a person’s clothing, or shoes, or car or home; for each time a person demeans because of  race or looks or profession or sexual preference – all those who fall in the “different” category who don’t fit into the norm – just toss it off as “just words.”

Better yet … remember back when someone made fun of YOU, by using “just words.” And suck it up. Get on with it and pull up your big boy pants. Sticks and stones … and words can never harm you.

OR – take a moment to think. And not react. Think about how vehemently you feel when someone doesn’t stand for the pledge of allegiance. After all, they’re only words. Think about how you so adamantly defend your second amendment rights. After all, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s only words. Think about how you want a “Bible Loving Presidential candidate”. Why? It’s all only words.

Then, tell me again why words don’t matter.

 

 

Not Feeling the Rooster Love…

If you know me, you know I love my chickens. It’s like potato chips. I can’t stop getting chickens. When I walk into the farm store and see those fluffy little bodies, I know that I NEED at least 6 or 8 more.

In spring we purchased what was called a “straight run.” We did this because they were so darned cute, and so darned cheap. Straight run meant that you get what you get. You may get hens, you may get roosters, but there’s no guarantee as they aren’t sexed beforehand.

Out of the 20 or 30 chickens we got, 3 were roosters. And what magnificent roosters they turned out to be. Lovely, regal glistening black boys with almost iridescent plumage. I walked down every day with my basket of goodies, my egg apron, and chatted with Rooster Cogburn, Black Bart, and Brett Maverick. We communed. And I loved them.

black-australorp-rooster

Two weeks ago I bounced my way down to the coop to say hi to the brood. Called the boys by name, and with over 30 hens, don’t have the energy or creativity to give them their own personal monikers, so just normally shout “Girls, I have some treats for you!” All of a sudden, something bashed into the back of my shoe. I turned around and just saw chicken eyes. Nobody said anything, nobody did anything and I figured that because I was in the middle of the mosh pit, someone inadvertently stumbled into me. Hard.

A few days passed and I was down at the goat pens bending over trying to fill up water buckets and out of the corner of my eye, a mass of black feathers came hurling at me, slamming into my right knee with claws out. What the hell? What did I ever do? I wasn’t even looking at him. I was just bending over turning on a water faucet.

I pulled out my chicken books, took to the internet, researching why my precious baby would turn on me like that. One site said that roosters may not like your shoes. So I changed my shoes. Still wary, I made my morning stroll to collect eggs. Black Bart gave me the “rooster eye” but I spoke sweetly to him, promised to throw out some corn scratch and passed by with no incidence. The operative words being “passed by.” As soon as my back was turned, I glanced over my shoulder to see Bart with his neck feathers  on high alert, and with wings flapping, as he started running after me.

I have to say, I just don’t run. It’s just not a good look for me. And I’m not the most graceful  or coordinated athlete.But run I did, like a screaming banshee up the driveway (the long, uphill through gravel 1/4 mile driveway) stumbling and looking over my shoulder, yelling for my husband to rescue me from the beak of death.

My husband, being ever so supportive, said ‘why don’t you just kick him out of the way? That’s what I do.”

Seriously?  A whirling dervish of midnight black feathers, crowing beak and talons drawn comes flying at the back of me and I’m supposed to #1 actually see him coming from behind and #2 try to spin around and kick him? When I had to pay soccer in junior high PE I missed kicking the ball. Every. Single. Time. What makes him think I could actually hit a moving target that can also fly? Aside from the obvious, I’m not big on using my body to ward off anything. I mean, I can’t even kill a bug by stepping on it. I have to physically remove my shoe and hit at with the shoe not attached to my foot. I get grossed out swatting at a fly with my hand. Yeah, I’m a girly girl. And not apologizing one bit for it.

“That’s it” Brad proclaimed. “I can’t have you scared to go down to the chicken pasture. I have too much to do already. The rooster is going to be butchered tomorrow.”

Oh no. Nonononono. I would work something out. I searched the house for an appropriate anti-rooster defensive weapon and spied a small chimney broom. Perfect! I would simply circle the area around me, front and back, with the broom to create a sort of rooster safety zone. After all, I’m an intelligent, college-educated person. I can come up with a solution. Putting a chicken in the pot is akin to hitting control-alt-delete on the computer. It’s the last resort. And I’m too savvy for that.

Roosters are not stupid creatures. The broom worked somewhat, but I would have to swat at him constantly, always walking in circles because he’d flank me, and I was afraid to stand still. If I did, he’d charge. So I had to hop around, spinning the broom in one hand while I simultaneously opened up the nest boxes and held the lids open with my head while collecting the eggs with my other hand. All the while swooshing the broom and screaming.

After two weeks, I decided, OK, this is NOT working and I’m NOT going back down there. I’m over it. Done. Not only that, but he was also being aggressive with my sweet little hens. The most popular of which bore a huge bald spot on her head. I guess no means no, except if you’re a rooster. So … RIP Black Bart …

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It was bittersweet. It was nice knowing you, but you just had to go.

Yesterday I gleefully walked to the mailbox, passing the chickens strolling the property. They always run up to greet me, and cheerfully I asked how their day was going. They were all smiling their little chicken smiles, Rooster Cogburn and Brett Maverick joining along. I passed the crowd, down the end of the drive, and heard a scrambling of feet which sounded more like a charging herd. Turned to look and saw the dust flying and … the neck feathers of a rooster up in attack mode, charging after me.

Holy shit! We convicted the wrong criminal!  I felt SO guilty. I’m a pacifist! What did we do?

It’s been 4 days and I’m dealing with it. Especially since Brad turned him into some mean (pun intended) tamales. I guess I can live with myself. Pass the napkins, please.

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I do not “Heart” Composting

I remember, quite clearly, a day in my 20s. I was driving, windows down, my 20-year-old thick long hair whipping around my head, sitting next to Karen, my best friend in the world as we headed down the 101 – from Hollywood to Malibu on another getaway weekend. We had the radio cranked up to the Golden Oldies, feeling that we would never be anything but the glorious, sparkly, glowing creatures we were at that exact moment.

We swore out loud that we would never, ever settle. I remember saying,”I don’t care what happens, I will always live in the city. I’d rather have a one-room flat in the city, then a mansion in the suburbs.”

Then I married Brad. I’m not going to say that our views were diametrically opposite. I wasn’t Hillary, he wasn’t Donald. But – while I was happily driving on the freeways of life, Brad was looking to take that country road home.

Brad wanted to buy a house. As in, you own it yourself. And all I could say was “Not even on a good day. If you buy a house, and the toilet breaks, you have to fix it yourself!”

You see, to me that is the worst of all possibilities. Your stove breaks? No problem. The baseboards in the bathroom are rotting? No problem. So many ants in the kitchen that they start walking away with the cutlery? Again, no problem. All of which, by the way, have happened in rentals in which I’ve dwelled. But having your toilet break down? That’s a big no, good buddy. And without the ability to march into the manager’s office and demand an immediate fix? Big problem. Not happening.

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Would never happen in a rental!

 

It happened. We bought a house – but it was in the city-proper. And, amazingly enough, the toilet remained intact for the 10 or so years we lived there. But with home ownership came a set of rules. Because, after all, it was ours. And we had to maintain it. No more “I think I’ll move because the windows are dirty and I don’t wash windows.” No more “oh, well, the bird ate the curtains, I guess I won’t get my security deposit back.” I was now tasked with crossing over into adulthood. A step that I was ill prepared to take. But one that Brad relished with gusto. And an enthusiasm I just couldn’t muster.

One day Brad walked in and ceremoniously placed an empty Maxwell House coffee container on the kitchen counter. “What’s that?” I asked. Suspicious, as always. “This is for the compost.” Uh-huh. Well, I knew what compost was, just didn’t really think it applied to me. I have a green thumb when it comes to houseplants, but I have my Miracle-gro. Works great, thanks anyway. I didn’t really care for a coffee can sitting on my fine, imitation wood Formica countertop.

But I gave it the old “one for the gipper.” Unfortunately, Brad’s idea of composting and mine were, in this case, diametrically opposite.

I watched the Food Network. I appreciated that chefs kept a nice big bowl next to them wh

rotten vegs

Compost. Need I say more?

ere their unused food scraps went. So that was okay. As long as it went away. Immediately. Brad’s idea was to ignore the coffee can as it stood on the counter, days on end, until it became a quivering mass of indecipherable glob that, once you opened the lid, induced the immediate gag reflex.

 

Truth be told, I didn’t compost. I said I did, but I didn’t. Brad would say “where’s the compost” and I would cheerfully reply “we don’t waste anymore. I use EVERYTHING for soup!” When in fact, as soon as he left the house, I shoved everything down the garbage disposal.

Since that time we’ve moved on. We created “Foggy Mountain Farm” – aka the Reluctant Farm – and composting has taken a new meaning, because we have a septic system and because of this, there is no handy garbage disposal. So EVERYTHING that isn’t edible becomes compost. And that compost is now a combination of what will decay and provide us with essential nutrients for our garden, and stuff that our totally free-ranged, pasture-raised chickens will inevitably peck through and consume with great relish.

Because I am who I am, a writer/journalist, I research. So I know things. And what I know is that chickens, unlike what Brad wants to believe, will not just “peck through what they want and leave the rest.” I know that avocados, are bad for chickens. I know that garlic, and onions, and Brussel sprouts can make their eggs taste odd. I know you can’t put egg shells in the compost without either cleaning each one out carefully, or popping them in the oven to dry. Because that, my friends, will cause chickens to cannibalize their eggs. Once they taste yolk it’s all over.

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Bad chicken! Bad!

Brad is many things. A former engineer-chiropractor-now farm boy, but never, ever a researcher. Or one who checks things first. Unfortunately that means  he also doesn’t believe me when I tell him – “DON”T put that in the compost. It will make the chickens eggs taste funny then nobody will buy the eggs from us, and we’ll both have to go and get jobs working for someone else. And we both know we are too odd for that. Nobody else can tolerate us for any length of time.” It’s true. We have about a 2 hour use-by time stamp. And people start staring longingly at the door, planning their escape dialog.

Basically, Brad ignores me. He just dumps everything into the compost bowl under the sink, saying “For God sakes, Susan, the chickens will be FINE.” So, like a sleeper agent who’s been activated,  I have to dig through the compost when he’s not looking, to pull out the onion skins, the raw broccoli stems, the tops of the chives, and pick through the rotted salad for specks of cauliflower. Then hide it all under paper towels in the trash so he can’t say I’m being “ridiculous.”

So when I say I don’t love composting, it’s kind of an understatement. I hate it. I hate the smell. I hate the slimy feel. I hate having it sit there, overflowing, growing moss and mold underneath, until I finally have to grab it and put it on the side steps so Brad will either A. step right into it in his socks or B. finally decide it’s time to pick it up, put it in the back of his tractor, and drive it away from my kitchen.

I was the girl who wore cute shoes. Who danced with handsome men at midnight. Who’s greatest skill, aside from writing, was knowing how to find the best restaurants, and innately knew how to order the best thing on the menu. I was That Girl. And now I’m Compost Girl. Picking through trash and sniffing bits of tomato to be sure there’s no speck of avocado clinging to the skins.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen …

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goat Tales…

I’m not afraid of a lot of things. Speaking in public. Stinging things. Something stuck in my clothing. The Angel of Death. Liver. That’s about it. In the past, however, I had an abject fear of goats. Not a good look for a farmgirl, reluctant or not.

It started in second grade. My parents took me to some sort of amusement park that had a petting zoo.I was dressed the way my mother always dressed me – in shiny, squeaky patent leather shoes, anklets with lace on top, the obligatory plaid cotton dress with puffed sleeves and a little white apron thing that buttoned onto the dress. I tried to Google the whole look so I could share it in vivid, Kodak color, but it is so atrocious that Google doesn’t even archive it. And Google archives everything. Including how Venice Beach celebrated the Mardi Gras in the 1930s…mardi-gras-1

Scary. But not as scary as goats to a second grader.

Armed with goat chow, I was unceremoniously shoved into the petting zoo pen, to “play with” the goats. At that time there weren’t many other children in the pen and I seemed to be the one with the biggest cup of chow, because soon my 7 year old self was engulfed in goat faces and hungry goat mouths that probably hadn’t eaten for a few days so that the zoo keeper could entertain the masses and laugh behind children’s backs.

They not only devoured the chow in 10 seconds, chow that I was so diligently trying to hold over my head, they also started to eat the apron right off my body.

Flash forward to college. I was 20 years old and invited by my roommate for a weekend away from the dorm food and the rigors of university life. Lisa’s family lived in a private community and had acreage. Her father didn’t cotton to the job of mowing all that lawn, so he purchased … you got it … nature’s best lawnmower – a goat. Lisa invited me into the pen, and I joined her with trepidation. But, hey, I was a college girl, I would do anything at least once. Kinda. Unless it involved speaking in public, stinging things, stuff crawling around in my clothes, or liver.

As soon as I stepped through the gate and walked to the middle of what seemed to be a 10 acre yard, the goat took chase, jumping on his hind legs, head askew, eyes looking wild and feverous, in an attempt to butt us with his horns. I practically vomited on the spot.

So when my husband said that it’s time to add goats to the reluctant farm, I felt my knees buckle. This was, perhaps, my Waterloo. End of the road. Karma bitting me on my Kardashian. I felt kinda like I did as a Catholic schoolgirl when it was suggested that purgatory may not exist. I was banking on the fact that, while I didn’t think I’d maim or murder someone in my lifetime, I was also sure that I had already passed the “lily white” stage at age 8 and my only hope is that I could set awhile in purgatory. Where all the souls on earth would pray for me to eventually “fly up” to a more desired locale.

But I pulled up my big girl yoga pants and went with Brad to a goat farm. Where we bought a doe and a buck (please don’t call them “nanny” or “billy.” That is so not PC anymore. And yes, I was schooled by goat people). And because goats are social creatures and do not like to be alone, we bought 2 wether companions – one for the buck and one for the doe. A wether is basically a male without his, well, parts intact. One of the “companions” had just recently been “wethered” and he hadn’t quite “weathered” it well. Goat people do this sensitive job by basically wrapping what looks like a very tight rubber band around a male goat’s papayas. But until they fall off (which they eventually will, Brad promised) they have enough of their manliness left to still feel a bit of the mojo.

I was horrified when the two males started doing a savage dance straight out of National Geographic. Rising up and leaping into the air, connecting horn stubs as they jabbed each other on the head, and coming out all bloody and wild eyed. I was sickened. “And this is why we shouldn’t have goats” I yelled at Brad as I stared at the spectacle in horror. It was violent. And it was vile. I would have run away but I was frozen to the spot.

Eventually, as these things go when you are reluctant as I tend to be, I cam to realize that goats have their purpose. They are great at trimming the pasture grass. They have the best personalities – when they aren’t trying to kill each other. And, yeah, I kinda like them. A whole lot.

Now I like them even more. Now that we added two more. Two more that became part of the family 6 days ago. The result of when our doe and buck made hay 150 days ago.

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And now I have 2 kids. A boy and a girl. Two little stuffed toys I can pick up, hold in my lap, kiss on the little nose and totally love them up. I want more. I want a whole passel full of goats!

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I want to buy little pajamas for them, dress them up for the holidays, take them with me on my morning walk. I want them in the house. I want to live my life, forever, with goats.

 

goatwalk

I want us to breed more and more goats. To have these little lovies roaming around my pasture so I can run down and see their little faces and hear their little goat voices calling to me. And because we can’t very well breed our baby doe to her brother (Ick) or to her father (double ick) because we don’t want crazy eyed babies, I’ve begged Brad to bring me back to the goat farm, so we can get some more “breeding stock.” Because, people, I LOVE GOATS…

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Bugger Off!

I have  issues – insects are but one in long list. I’m intelligent, so I know that they have their place in this world (although with cockroaches, not so much), but I always wish and hope that coexisting doesn’t involve inviting the outside in. Nature Girl, I’m not.

My bug issues go way back  – to when, in second grade, a bee was flying about and I covered my face with my hands so that I wouldn’t get stung, and the bee was actually IN my hand.

Or when a friend told me that a praying mantis would show its “butterfly wings” if you nudged it with your foot. I did, but ended up with a praying mantis attached to my big toe like the jaws of life.

praying mantis

When I lived in the bush, in Fiji for 14 years, I struggled with coconut beetles …

ccnut beetles

Big hairy spiders…
Wolf-spider

Bugs that blinked and glowed in the dark, and clung to the mosquito netting around your bed…
beetle

Walking sticks that were the size of your head
strange-bug

And anything flying or crawling that would appear only in a nightmare. So it was with glee that I noted I survived almost 2 years in Washington state without nary a mosquito bite and no bugs that entered my house. Yes, there is an elk heard, big coyotes that look like wolves, and a resident porcupine, but nothing that I can’t handle. Until now.

My house has 3 Amityville Horror windows in it.

Amityville House

amityville

My house

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Not exact, but close. The top window is our bedroom. In that window, high up, I happened to notice a few spots. I went downstairs to get my glasses – because without them I can see about 6 feet and even that is sketchy. Found out I had some lady bugs (about 3) walking about my window. In my classification of bugs, lady bugs are almost welcome. I do not like bugs, but if I had to choose a bug that invaded my space, a lady bug would definitely be on the top of the list.

So I carried the three to my bedroom patio and wished them well.

A week later and I counted 10 ladybugs. But they were at the top of the window, much too high for me to reach. I didn’t worry, but told Brad to check it out. Not too high for him, but he seemed pretty nonplussed about the whole matter. I remained curious, but unconcerned as I cleared my mind and attempted not to make the Amityville/Susanville connection. But, try as I could to have temporary amnesia, I couldn’t help but remembering when we first moved in. The second upstrairs bedroom (with the OTHER Amityville window) kept collecting flies.  All dead. I’d sweep them up, and two days later, another batch would be laying there.

My sister gave me sage, told me to burn it in the room to get rid of whatever spirits tended to hover. I did, muttered a few “begone with thee” words, felt extra ridiculous,  and that seemed to be the end of the matter. Well, that and, of course, I keep that bedroom door close and never go in. That works best of all.

Now the ladybugs seemed to be moving about more noticeably, and one started its way down the cord to the blinds. On the high window – OK. Moving down to my actually living area – not cool.

Brad said “don’t worry, I’ll vacuum them up in the morning” so I let it go.

And it went … the “morning” turned into a week. At the end of which, I found one in the tub and – Holy Mother of God – on my pillow. So I said what I always say to Brad, the code that tells him he can’t wait for tomorrow because it’s that one last nerve that sends me from zero to lunatic in 60 seconds … “this is NOT working for me.”

He vacuumed. The 10 or so I thought I counted, were more like 40. Ten were visible. The rest were crawling around the high sills. But Brad got them all and proclaimed the room “Clean.”

This was Friday. It is now Monday. I just walked up to the bedroom and … like the Poltergeists – THEY’RE BAACK. I could see 20 – not just on the windows, but crawling on the walls, across the floor, on the window seat and pillows, and I found them crawling INSIDE my bathrobe.

I’m afraid. This is our farm. Our new “forever home” and it’s being invaded. By seemingly innocuous creatures – or so you’d think. Most people thing ladybugs are … cute …
baby_ladybug

But, en masse, they become sinister invaders, almost alien-like in their stealthy movements, occasional flappy wings, clustering like a virus in an undulating mass waiting to erupt …

ladybugs

It’s like a Stephen King novel. Like a 50s horror movie. Like a page out of Edgar Allan Poe.

But I can do this. Wild Reluctant Farm Woman in the Wilderness can handle anything. I’ve braved fish getting stuck in my swimsuit, barracudas leaping out of the water to nab a piece of cracker out of my hand, cyclones that ripped palm trees out of the ground and flung them miles away. I can handle anything.

Except – if birds start slamming into the windows, beds start rising off the ground, or Brad speaks in a scary monster voice, I’m packing my bags and moving to the city. But … I might have to take a chicken or two with me …