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.

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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

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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 …

 

 

 

 

 

 

Give the Man a Tractor!

As I’ve said previously, my vision of our home on 16 acres that we purchased last year did not necessarily coincide with what my husband had in mind. I thought, Ok, maybe a 20×20 foot garden would be nice He had different ideas. So, I went with the flow.

And the flow kept flowing. Downhill. Into a big stinking pile.

After a couple of months creating an area that was less garden and more sprawling plantation, Brad says to me “I need a tractor.”

“You need a tractor for some tomatoes and green peppers? Why?”

“Because it will make things so much easier on me and my back.”

I know Brad works hard out there and when he plays the “back” card, I generally acquiesce. I know his back is not always in the best of shape, and if I make too much of a fuss, and it goes totally out, I’d never live with myself. So I made peace with myself that I’ll live with a guy who rides a tractor. And gleefully Brad set forth finding a tractor that would work for him, with a price that would allow us to actually keep the home and property for which the tractor was needed.

Luckily (maybe?) he had a buddy who had the perfect tractor. A buddy like Brad who “needed a tractor” because he was going to move to the South Pacific and wanted to use it on his property. He never moved, and so the tractor stayed in a shipping container, at his California home, for 5 years. Brad got a killer deal, and a payment plan.

All we had to do was pick it up. And for that, we’d need to buy a truck in which to haul it. Because renting a  U-Haul for the job would cost almost a much as the tractor itself. And so it started…

Bait and Switch.

Because we didn’t have the funds for both purchases, we opted for the barter system. We had property we didn’t want in Utah. A Utah man wanted it, and had a truck. The perfect truck.

We did the switch, Brad flew to Salt Lake City, met with a mechanic who gave the truck his gold seal, and the “good Christian man” who traded pink slip for property deed.

20 minutes out of Utah, into bum-flock Idaho, the truck broke down. It had to be hauled to the nearest town (a loose translation) where the mechanic deemed it dead as a doornail. Dead as carrion. Dead as our checking account because it needed a whole new engine.

“But now, really Susan, we have a whole new truck. So it’s not entirely a bad thing.”

Bait and Switch.

Hauling the tractor back from California to Western Washington, Brad basked in the praise he got in every corner outpost we stopped. Someone along the way would inevitably stop and say “wow, that’s a mighty nice tractor you got there. I remember riding one of those in oh 4.” Around the tractor trailer they’d circle, talking the merits of Kabota over John Deere … “you know, Kabota makes their own engines and parts, John Deere doesn’t.” As I’m furiously snapping photos on my phone and sending SOS emails to my friends on Facebook. Get me out of this hell I’ve landed.

I have to admit, as tractors go, this one was pretty. It’s a damn good looking man on a damn good looking tractor…

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So, when we get the tractor unloaded at the house, and Brad’s ready to suit up for his inaugural ride, I ask him, “hey Farm Boy! You gonna plow some fields?” And he says to me “I don’t have a plow.”

Hello?

“What do you mean you don’t have a plow? We’re going to be paying monthly on this beast until the end of times, and it doesn’t plow the fields? What does it do?”

“Well, we got a lawnmower attachment, and a shredder chipper that we didn’t even pay for – it was included in the price.”

Which is a big yippee except that we already had a riding lawnmower that came with the house, AND we had a shredded/chipper that Brad bought from my Dad.

“But these are bigger more powerful. I will be able to cut to cut the lawn so much faster.”

Because, of course, he has those all important corporate meetings to attend. With Neighbor Bob, Neighbor Les, and Neighbor Matt. So they can sit around, drink beer, and talk about tractors.

Bait and Switch

Last week Brad said that we “needed to” rent a rototiller. “But we have a rototiller” I said. “Yes, but it’s not big enough and strong enough for this soil.”

“But what about the tractor?”

“It didn’t come with a rototiller.”

Bait and Switch.

What exactly did we “need” the tractor for? “To move dirt.”

Ahhh. Moving shit. I get it. If you have a pile of shit in one place, are bored and need to move the pile of shit around to another place, you can sit on a tractor and be one of the guys. Makes perfect sense.

So far the tractor has moved chicken shit to the compost pile. It’s moved pig shit to the compost pile. And it’s moved goat shit to the compost pile. AND it’s moved the compost pile to several different locations. It doesn’t plow, it doesn’t dig post holes, it doesn’t till or scrape or do anything but allow movement of shit from one location to the other.

Because of this shit movement, I see my husband only when the sun is down. Because shit moving must be either A. fascinating or B. terribly important and time consuming. Coupled with the grass mowing and the leaf shredding, it’s a full time job. My husband went from gentleman farmer to shit mover.

And the other day he came home from the farm store with black suspenders.

I’m getting scared.

Name that Farm!

It’s about that time. Test garden is in full swing, I have 90 eggs in my fridge and that doesn’t count the 15 or so that I will be getting in today’s coop. We just got ourselves two piglets, are in the market for a couple of goats, and later next spring, a cow or two.

So, I’d say the farm is damn near a real “farm.”

It had come to Brad’s attention that we now have to trot our little selves down to the government offices and make ourselves official. But the question is, what do we call ourselves.

Plans for next year include building cabins/bungalows (only 3 to keep it manageable) and opening it up as a B&B Farm Stay. Keeping that in mind, I thought we should keep Reluctant Farm.It’s cute, it’s quirky it speaks to who we are.

Brad says no. Says Reluctant means we’re not totally in it all the way. “Who wants to visit a farm where the people really aren’t into it?” he said.

Well, I would. I would find a kindred spirit. We’d drink wine and laugh about the pig crap and goat crap and chicken crap and drink more wine and ignore it.

But – that’s me. He’s more staid. And thinks that “Sustainable Earth Farm” reflects more of our values. But truly, I have no values. You bring me chocolate, tell me you like me,  you’ll be my new best friend. And if you brought me a really good bottle of Pinot Noir, or even a cheap cab, we’ll be friends for life.

In an effort to be fair, I said I’d open it up to the public. So – public – please cast your votes. there are two choices, but to be honest, we would love suggestions. And in the “write in” section, please do NOT put Donald Trump…

Keep in Mind – Chickens, Eggs, Goats, Pigs, Cows, Bed and Breakfast, One Reluctant Farmgirl and a Gung Ho Farmer …

Reluctant Farm
Sustainable Earth Farm
Anything Else but the above two
Your suggestion please

AND – as a special prize, we’ll send you something if you come up with a winning name that we like better than ours. I don’t know what it will be, maybe a jar of jam or salsa (it’s totally good) but I feel compelled to give away something if someone is truly creative. Because I’m not. Creative. In any way, shape or form.

Much Ado About Poo

Everyone is excited about fair season here in Washington. Seems every other week there’s a county fair, state fair, city fair. But the best event of all is … wait for it … the upcoming Fall Fecal Fest. No shit. No, I am not shitting you. It’s a festival of poo.

It’s obviously a big deal because you can’t just go and purchase the doodoo, you have to put your name into a lottery. THEN you have the chance to purchase an alarming amount of zoo doo – ranging from hippo, giraffe, zebra or if you want mass quantities, elephant feces. If you want a big old pail – 4 gallons – you can only get it during the holidays, and it’s aptly named “Holidoo.” I’m rushing to the site right now to put my name on the waiting list.

New this year is worm doo. It’s more pricey than Holidoo – which goes for $20 for the 4 gallons. Worm doo is $10 a pint. You must be able to pan for gold in worm poop. All that excitement over excrement makes this former city girl’s head spin.

I am learning but I still cringe when Brad wants to take our truck and trailer over to the cow farm to get ripe manure. I think, dear God, the neighbors will shoot us if we cover our 16 acres in a steaming mass of … well, you get the picture. But no. They cheer him on. I keep trying to tell them “do NOT encourage him” but they think it’s a grand old idea and even encourage him to go to the sheep farm down the street, because sheep really make superior fertilizer.

I’m all over having a productive garden. I haven’t had to buy vegetables in a month. And I think that’s grand. I think Brad should make use of all the poo our chickens produce. And chickens do poo. Lots of it. But it’s all mixed in with straw and doesn’t smell. I’ve driven past the sheep farm. Sheep poo smells to high heaven. I just can’t get past that gag factor.

But poo has become a major topic of discussion around these parts. I am truly trying to assimilate, but there are some things I just can’t make myself do. I can’t call our creek a crick, and I can’t carry on long conversations about things that should remain unmentionable.

When we first “set aspell” with our neighbors after we moved here (it’s a year  since we moved to Washington country and started Reluctant Farm) our neighbor said “oh, I’ll have to make you some worm tea.
wormteaNo. Really, thanks but no. I mean, it’s nice of you, but please no. I really, really love tea. I mean tea is, well, my cup of tea.

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Please please please don’t ruin it for me…

A week later we were gifted with a worm bin, from which to extract worm tea. I haven’t participated in the extraction process, as I truly feel my strengths lie elsewhere. Anywhere else. But Brad adores his worm bin, faithfully feeds it coffee grounds every day, and uses the worm tea for the garden.

So my visions of sitting on my veranda, sipping my elegant Lady Grey tea, looking out at the sunrise and rolling green hills on our property has taken a back seat to the harsh reality of sitting on the porch, breathing through my mouth because my whole front yard will smell like sheep shit.

Because Christmas comes but once a year, I have a scathingly brilliant idea for Brad’s gift this year. Because I love my husband like crazy. And yes, it’s bigger than a bread box …

holidoo

 

I’m SUCH a Nerd!

Wandering around the coop, my husband said to me … “it’s about time these damn chickens start laying some eggs and earn their keep. Otherwise, they are going to find their way onto the barbecue grill!”

I thought this was quite insensitive. I mean, what was HE doing at 4 months old? Blowing spit bubbles and pooping himself. “Well you know they are probably nervous and stressed. They see you stomping around threatening to turn them into tomorrow’s special, and it makes them anxious. And besides, my chickens are my entertainment. I pick them up and pet them and watch as they clap their little wings when I feed them pasta salad.”

It’s true. When he told me that all 20 chickens would probably not produce eggs all the time, and some would have to become stew or chicken stock, I understood. “This is a farm – it’s not a chicken retirement home.” I know the circle of life. I like Elton John and all, but he MUST also understand that there were one or two chickens that would live with us until their last feather dropped. And those were the two chickens who would automatically lay down by my feet waiting to be pet, picked up and loved. Who would climb on my back when I bent over.

Brad agreed – and went to get the tags so we could sort out which ones would live out their entire lives with us here at Reluctant Farm.

But a funny thing happened between that discussion and the day when we went to get the leg tags. I walked into the chicken run, and the chickens dropped at my feet. Not just my two little black and white barred rocks, but some whites, some Rhode Island Reds, and two more barred rocks. It was like they were all overcome with the vapors. And that’s when I realized … Chickens KNOW. They are spiritually, emotionally and soulfully connected to Mother Earth. Chickens know things we will never be able to grasp. And that’s when I said realized – we WILL become the first ever chook retirement home.

After this assurance to my girls, a few weeks later we did our normal routine of checking in the nest boxes. Starting at one end, counting – nope, nope, nope, nope … then all of a sudden – the skies opened and a golden egg appeared – not from a goose, but from my favorite barred rock chicken!

I swear, you would have thought Ed McMahon himself rose from the grave and knocked on my front porch with the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes check for $1 million dollars. In fact, if he was on my doorstep I would have run him over looking for my camera to take a picture of our very first egg.

I think I took more pictures of that first egg than I took when my first baby was born. I had to get it from different angles …

Cupped in my hand to make it look bigger …

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In my Indian woven basket as an art piece …

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Nestled in a kitchen towel for effect …

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We were so excited we immediately scrambled it up for breakfast and shared one tiny egg between us.

When we’d run down every day to the coop to see if we have any other little gems waiting for us, there would be anywhere from 3-5 eggs daily. It’s the miracle of life!

The chickens were obviously not as moved about the whole experience as I am. Most of the time they seem a bit irritated that I keep raising the lids on the next boxes. They look at me and I’m sure they’re thinking … “hey, do you mind? I’m doing my business here? Can’t a hen get herself some privacy?”

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I kinda felt like I had caught someone in a compromising position in an outhouse. I’d say “oh, sorry” and back away.

So I skipped to my lou yesterday, with my egg basket, only to find SEVEN eggs. Seven. It was a new record! But now I have this …

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Yep, 20 eggs. And this is AFTER I gave a dozen to the neighbor. And BEFORE I go down to the coop this morning.

Now every morning Brad asks me “do you want me to make some eggs for breakfast?” And after omelets, scrambled eggs and three quiches, I’m a big egged-out.

I’m thinking of making a couple of angel food cakes. Maybe some soufflés. Lemon curd? Or maybe I’ll just leave a dozen on various doorstep and run away. Like a farm girl version of Kris Kringle.

With the eggs, the copious amount of swiss chard, tomatoes and cucumbers that are sitting on my kitchen counter, awaiting culinary creativity I just can’t seem to muster, I think I will, perhaps, drive to the city, see a movie, preferably a double feature, eat Baby Ruth and popcorn. Then when I come back it may all be a hazy memory.

Or a recurring nightmare, like the one where I can never find my house, or am sitting in my 8th grade classroom naked. Either way, there is no escaping Reluctant Farm.

You smell …

I love my hairstylist. I drive 40 minutes just to get my hair trimmed by Michele. She is young, vibrant, gorgeous – a tiny trim thing with bright green eyes and glorious blonde hair falling in waves down her back. The kind of person that would stop a man in his tracks, just to look at her. I would stop to look at her. And I don’t swing that way.

I mean, my mother used to say that I was “boy crazy from the womb.” And really, what kind of thing is “boy crazy?” That I turned into a raving lunatic and ripped my hair out by the roots when a person of the opposite sex entered the house? Followed them, drooling, from room to room?

I do know that as young as 5, there were two men I was in love with. One was my Swiss grandfather. Because he was quirky. He cussed and hid cigarettes in his left hand shirt pocket so my grandmother wouldn’t find them.

The other man I fell deeply in love with, at age 5, was Ricky Ricardo. No shit. I dreamed of Ricky Ricardo when I wasn’t dreaming of Mighty Mouse. That may also explain some of the bad boyfriend choices I made in my 20s. But that’s a whole different blog, one I would be ill advised to write with small children present.

Last month Michele was trimming my unruly mop, smiled sweetly and said “you have your own well, don’t you?” Wow – aside from being everything I would ever want to be,  she’s also a mystic. “Yes, I have my own well. How could you have known that?”

“Well, Susan, I can smell you.”

“OMG” I squealed.” I smell?”

Michele tried to backtrack and said “oh, really, I’m sure nobody else notices. I just notice every time I wash your hair. It smells like iron. But it’s really not that bad. Just, well, a really strong iron smell.”

I’m doomed. I don’t have much going for me. I have 2 bad ankles that consistently twist during inopportune times. Like when I walked into the Amphitheater in Hollywood during a Beach Boys Revival concert, hands full of drinks, and fell down the first flight of stairs, in a packed house.

Or when I was running with the dog, twisted my ankle, tripped, tried to get my feet back under me by running, but couldn’t do it in time before I slammed my head into the steel posts holding up our backyard gazebo.

Or when I went for a walk with my husband at our Fijian resort, stepped on a tiny coconut, fell on the gravel, hurt my knee and fainted when my husband tried to get me up. It took years before I could convince him that I wasn’t prone to fits, I didn’t have a life altering illness or any kind of communicable disease that had reached my frontal cortex.

I don’t have any kind of noticeable skill. I’m not clever or crafty. And I can’t fall back on my looks, because I’d be falling a long, long way. I have intelligence and a personality, which some may find attractive but sarcasm and smarts from a girl who trips in her own kitchen and smacks her face into the front of the refrigerator doesn’t quite cut it.

What I have are good hair (if cut right), good skin and strong teeth and bones.

And now I find that my hairstylist probably cringes and backs away in revulsion at the rusty nail smell I seem to ooze from every pore.

I smell. I don’t smell like a garden of earthly delights. Of  cucumber lime body wash. Or of  lemon basil body spray. Or even of the pina colada shampoo I used that morning. I smell like something that’s been putrefying for a year – since I started cleaning myself with the age old detritus that was lying in wait, in my well. The flotsam and jetsam that was streaming down upon my innocent self every single day for an entire year.

I smell.

And it’s not one of those “oh, she lives on a farm and has chickens” kind of forgivable smell. It’s one of those smells that you can’t quite put your finger on. Iron. Is it a metallic iron smell? Do I smell like a bloody piece of calves liver? Or like the undead?

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These are things I think I need to know. I asked my friend Bridget, and she only told me “you need to get a whole house filter Susan. You can’t get iron out of your body without a blood transfusion!”

BLOOD TRANSFUSION?

You mean I can’t just go to the beauty supply store and get a stronger scented lotion and shampoo? I have to actually pay to have someone clean out my blood?

I told Brad that we IMMEDIATELY need to get a whole house filter before my fingertips started falling off. And since I actually make a living by writing stuff, we’d both be broke, retire, and sit on the side of the freeway with signs saying “will sing for a salami sandwich.”

His advice? “You need to get another hair stylist.”

I’m so screwed.

Put that candle someplace else!

Yes, I had another birthday.

Because I live a lot of the time in my head, I tend to have random thoughts that make perfect sense to me, but sound like gibberish to some less enlightened individuals who don’t share my superior intellect.

But I was thinking, you know, birthdays are really kind of a strange ritual. I mean, someone says “oh, it’s your birthday today! Happy Birthday.” And you are congratulated for what? For being born 35 years ago on the same day. So, Ok, it’s not 35 years, but we’re dealing with hypotheticals here.

But the point is, we are being lauded for a process that we had absolutely nothing to do with. When in actuality, it should be our mothers who are congratulated for their part in our birth process. I mean, really, did any of us “ask to be born?” No. And by the way, I never, ever said those words to my parents. Friends did – when they’d get in trouble, they’d yell “Well, I never asked to be born.” I never said it because I was afraid my parents would then say “OK, we can fix that.” I wasn’t the most charming child. I had my reasons.

I don’t care for a lot of pomp and circumstance. The whole candle blowing, singing, having a restaurant stop in mid air and wish you a happy day? No thanks. I hate it. I don’t know how to respond. “Thank you, I did it all by myself”?

This is something that I thought was strange for a long time. I’ve looked at my birthday photos, and most of the time I either look bossy (because everyone MUST do things the right way – which is obviously my way) or slightly peeved.

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Yes, I’m at the head of the table, and I am annoyed. First I’m wearing a stupid hat, and even at 5 I hated hats. Second, because there are an overabundance of boys at the table, and third, it means that I have to share MY cake. Even then I thought birthday parties were odd.

This year, I wanted it on the lowdown. My husband has known me since 7th grade. We’ve been married for 28 years. So he KNOWS me. But he also thinks he can “fix” me.

For my birthday, I wanted nothing more than to be swept out of the house, and to a “nice corner table for two” at a restaurant where the napkins were cloth, the plates were not paper, the wine came out of a bottle with a cork, the food artfully presented and appealing to all the senses, and there would be cake. Discreetly dropped off at my table.

Because, while I hate the pomp and circumstance, I love me some cake. Not a cake lit up like the Forth of July, with Crisco frosting. The kind that coats the top of your mouth for the next millennium with sprinkles that chip your molars and cake that dries your mouth until you yell “MORE WINE PLEASE”.

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But maybe a classic dark chocolate cake with a delicate mousse filling drizzled with raspberry coulis. Yeah, I’d eat that all day.

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And if you threw in a coupon for a massage, I would be every so grateful …

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But this is a birthday for City Susan. City Susan is no longer. She may live, forever, in my heart, but this year was my first birthday as the Reluctant Farm Girl. And the Reluctant Farm Girl has boots in the garage that have hay and chicken poop on the bottoms, shirts stained with blueberries, and a diamond ring that sits in a safe, not on her finger.

“I have a confession to make” said Brad, 2 days before my birthday. “I invited the neighbors over for a barbecue on your birthday.”

A barbecue.

There are 5 reasons I like barbecue:

1. It’s cooked outside so there are no pots for me to clean

2. It’s cooked outside so in the summer it doesn’t heat up the house

3. It’s cooked by someone else because I can’t barbecue

4. Most fish tastes better grilled, and I love fish

5. I can’t think of another damn reason I like barbecue because, in reality, I’m not a fan of the “Q.” Because it mainly consists of hamburgers and hot dogs, or maybe a charred piece of chicken. Not really elevated cuisine, especially on one’s birthday.

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While I wasn’t over the moon about my husband’s birthday plans for him, I remained mute. Mainly because, this year in January, I totally forgot his birthday. I mean, zip. In my defense, we were in Texas, getting ready to do a big promotion to a large travel agency, and I didn’t sleep well in the hotel the night before, and was extremely nervous about said presentation. So I wasn’t going to make a big deal out of having to eat burnt food for my birthday. In my backyard. With paper plates. And plastic cups. And a cooler full of Bud Light, which I don’t drink.  Or having to vacuum the house and clean the kitchen before the neighbors came.

And, by the way, several years before Brad completely forgot my birthday. So while it doesn’t excuse my lack of manners, it does even the score, don’t you think?

So my birthday came, I put on make up and a colorful summer dress, all the while thinking that I SO deserved better. I deserved a pedicure and a night on the town. In a town that had Michelin rated restaurants. Or at least Zagat rated.

The “cue” was smoking, Brad was cooking, and the neighbors showed up. Bearing cards saying that I was the best neighbor ever, bearing gifts from the country – a “nectar plant” to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, pounds of salmon from their recent trip to Alaska, fresh frozen halibut, a pot of homemade beans, and wide as a country mile smiles.

And, yeah. I liked it. I want to kick myself, but I liked it. I liked the beans, the bush, the fish, and the sense of community. I liked knowing that my neighbors care. I like actually knowing my neighbors. And, in the long run, that’s what life is all about. Being with people who make you feel loved and who make you glad you live where you live, and who accept you, chicken poop on your shoes and all.

I got an ice cream cake. With an oreo crust. And I ate it for breakfast. Because it was my birthday. And because I could.

And next year … I want that damn massage!

So … This is Gardening …

This morning I woke up early, and excited. Today was a big day on Reluctant Farm. It was planting day! I was going to become one with Mother Earth! I was up, straw hat in hand, bag packed with ice water bottles and a bag of freshly made bran muffins.

I was going to walk through Fields of Gold, a Goddess in Green, dropping seeds at precise increments into the rich brown soil. Oh, up and down the rows I would walk, my graceful hands in a choreographed swoop, feeding the fertile ground.

I knew exactly what it would be like. I had the picture.

Pacific Islander woman in flowing green dress outdoors

Anxious and awaiting instruction from Brad, who had already finished a row of planting while I organized the muffins, fixed my hair and donned my hat at a jaunty angle, I waved excitedly and said “Let the Sowing Begin!”

Brad pointed me towards 14 tomato plants. That was my job. To sort the tomatoes into whichever way I wanted to plant them, dig holes for each, unpot the plants, loosen the roots, plant and pat.

” Um, OK. But after this do I get to sow some seeds?” I asked. Because I wanted him to take a picture of me walking the fields, looking serene. I needed to update my Facebook profile photo.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Just do the tomatoes and then we’ll figure out what we need to do next.”

So I sorted the tomatoes. Which was kinda fun. I sorted the San Marzanos together, as they are the pride of Italy, the tomatoes that would become the base of my near legendary marinara, and would also cook down into some truly amazing homemade tomato paste.

I placed the two yellow and green zebra tomatoes front and center, as they would produce unique, colorful fruits that would stand out in the midst of the deep red Marzanos.

Then I bent over, and started digging.

When I pictured planting, I didn’t take into account the digging and the bending. In New York, I think we may have had one wilting philodendron in our 3rd floor walk up, and a straggly geranium on our fire escape. Gardening wasn’t top priority in the Bronx. When we moved out west, our family had 3 peach trees. Our form of planting was walking outside, picking a peach, eating it and throwing away the pit. So I didn’t really have a clear picture of planting a garden. And certainly not one of the proportions that Brad intended.

First of all, I’m not the most physical person. I didn’t play softball or soccer or four-square. I did nothing at all with sporting equipment. I went to an all girls Catholic school. For PE we did ballet. And I was on the swim team. That was it for my athletic achievements. As an adult, I have a recumbent stationary bike and an elliptical. Both MUST sit in front of the TV. Otherwise I’m constantly looking at my watch and saying “Oh My God it’s only been 7 minutes?”

So bending down forever is not something I pictured. It sucked.

“Brad – this sucks. This hurts my back really, really bad, and now my knee is hurting. This can’t be what people do all day, because it’s impossible to bend over all day long and not seriously injure yourself.”

Surely there is an easier, better way? Then I spied the big white plastic bucket. A seat! I turned the bucket upside down, grabbed a bran muffin, and started planting my second tomato plant.

Then my butt bones started hurting. Obviously I needed a cushioned seat! I went to contemplate the situation, and eat another bran muffin. That’s when I looked down at my hands…

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I felt myself getting weak, and my eyes rolling in the back of my head. I never considered myself a girly girl, but I never made a mud pie in my entire childhood. I never wanted a Suzy Homemaker Oven, but I had also never been in a physical altercation either. However, I could give a tongue-lashing so severe it would make your brain bleed. I’m tough, but in different ways.

I got on the riding lawn mower – the only piece of farm equipment I’m allowed to use after flipping two cars – and headed to the house. I scrubbed my fingers and brought back pillows, my rubber kitchen gloves and more bran muffins.

The digging was vastly improved with gloves, and the seat was infinitely more comfortable. So I finished my third tomato plant. And moved on to the fourth. And my thighs started cramping. “OMG Brad, my thighs hurt!”

“Susan, all I’m hearing is complaining. You are doing more complaining than planting.”

“I’m not complaining. I’m providing dialog! You can’t possibly think we are going to bend over all day and not way a word to each other. I’m your story. And if I die and they want to make a movie of my life, you’re going to need to help the screen writer with the dialog. And anyway, the bucket is too damn big and I’m not used to sitting with my thighs spread so wide apart.”

I head him mutter “that’s for sure” but chose to ignore him and continue with the friggen tomatoes.

“Brad – why do we have 14 tomato plants? How many tomatoes can we really eat? 14 plants? There’s only two people here. How much pizza and spaghetti can we actually consume? And you know what else? People who say they love gardening are LYING. This is not serene. I feel like I’m toiling in a rice paddy for God sakes. This is painful and not fun. I feel sick.”

Then it hit me. I had TEN tomato plants left. And it happened. I lost it. This doesn’t happen much. Last time it happened was decades ago with my first husband. He bought us a tandem bike and said, “let’s go riding!” I climbed on the back seat, and he wheeled us on a “little bike ride” – which amounted to over 50 miles. My knee swelled up to Elephant Man proportions, and I cried the whole way back. I could feel myself sliding into the same desperation.

It’s what happens when I feel like I’m losing control and being forced to do something I hate, that I just DO NOT want to do. My options were to quit, go to the house and watch a bad Lifetime Movie. And hear Brad call me a lightweight and tell me I need to work out to strengthen my core. Something I have yet to find and quite frankly, am not looking. Or stick it out and cry. I chose the latter.

I cried, I planted 14 tomato plants, and have decided to make my epic marinara, can it, and gift it for Christmas. I feel contented, and dare I say it? Happy.

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So I may look more like this …

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Than this …

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And I still hate gardening, but I got a free dinner afterwards. And if you are on my Christmas list, wait until you see MY garden of earthly delights!

Note to self … do NOT bring bran muffins to eat when you are working in a field that’s a quarter of a mile away from the house. Not a good idea. At. All.

 

From there to here …

I was born in the Bronx. Our family moved around and by the time I was 11, I had lived in 10 different places all over the US.  I was like that commercial – I’ll never live in the suburbs, I’ll always live in an apartment, I never want to be far from a metropolis. But halfway through the nevers, I met my husband Brad and 10 years later found myself in a pole house, on a hill, overlooking the South Pacific, on an island in Fiji.

For about 14 years it sounded like a good idea. Then we decided we were over it, and would move back to a more traditional life in the US. We still own a resort on an outer island in Fiji, but our jobs marketing and taking reservations can be done anywhere where we have access to the internet. So the search was on for our perfect American home.

Originally we lived in Southern California for 10 years before our move to Fiji, and we knew that this was no longer our cup of tea (or kava, to be Fijian about it.). So we traveled about and had a list. We knew we wanted to be westerly (although I’ve long had a penchant for Portland, Maine and I could still see myself in a gorgeous apartment in Manhattan), so we took the “list” – Colorado, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Washington – and did what we do – we researched and compared notes.

Montana was immediately out for me. Too, I don’t know, just too. Too much mountain mannish. Idaho was out for Brad. I don’t know why, but it didn’t call to him. We loved Oregon, our son lives in Seattle, and I was really crazy about Colorado. But after talking to our accountant, who advised us that Washington state was our best option, we flew up there, with the intent of finding our version of the next best thing.

Initially wanting to buy a bed and breakfast, we joined our realtor, John, for 10 days of homes – homes that were bed and breakfasts, homes that could be bed and breakfasts, and after a few days of that, just homes.

I NEEDED to be close to Seattle. I NEEDED city life. Brad needed acreage to plant a garden.

So, after 9 months, I still wonder, how did this happen? I am living on a 16 acre farm. With 20 chickens! and fenced pastures where Brad wants to put cows and a pig (A PIG!) and some goats,  and acres of blueberry bushes and fruit trees. Me …whose criteria for a move was always “where’s the nearest Nordstroms.” Where chickens come wrapped nicely, 6 thighs per package. And where nature and the wild was always something to be respected, and appreciated, but not to be someplace that I actually lived. Camping? Nice – now let’s go back to the hotel.

But you know … I kinda like it. I’m getting there. And think that by writing it out (the former journalist that I am) it will actually bring me closer to … well, what? The great outdoors? Maybe. Sanity? Maybe. Chicken poop? Definitely.