Friday, December 25, 2009

A True Christmas Tale Teaser

Merry Christmas! We are enjoying a leisurely Christmas Day at Grandma & Grandpa Fraley's house, but I wanted to let you know we have a true, blue middle-of-the-night Christmas mystery story to share.

Right now, though, we're embarking on a Christmas Coma, so I'll share the story next time we meet here. For now, I'll need to decide what to imbibe in/on? Can't think of the right word...the coma has already commenced. Below is the list of choices of food we prepared for Christmas. Mind you there are only 10 people in the house, and 4 of them are under the age of 13:
  • 2 hams
  • 1 turkey
  • 1 pot of green chili
  • Couple dozen tamales
  • Sausage Queso dip
  • Meat & cheese platter (with about 8 cheese varieties)
  • 7-layer dip
  • Dessert dip (oh, mama...)
  • Li'l smokies (no, thank you)
  • Chips & salsa
  • Chips & dip
  • Crackers, crackers, crackers, tortillas, sour cream....
  • Ham roll ups
  • Dr. Byrd Cake (amazing moist banana bread w/ pineapple)
  • Lemon pound cake
  • Fudge
  • Nut balls (Mexican Wedding Cakes)
  • Dipped pretzels
  • Beles (Butter, sugar and raspberry preserves - 64 lbs of these 3 ingredients per cookie)
  • Pecan sandie-like cookies
  • Banana pudding (baked Nilla Wafer variety w/ perfect merengue)
  • Peppermint divinity
  • Pecan divinity
  • Turtles
  • Relish tray (hey, don't ever say we're not health conscious)
  • Cookie Press Cookies (almond spritzers)
  • Toffee
  • Spinach artichoke dip
  • Guacamole (when the avocados ripen later today)
  • 15 cases of soda (I kid you not)

Mom was concerned last night there might not be enough food and was going to make baked beans. We injected her with a strong sedative and laid her out on the couch for a few hours. She understood.

Anyone else going on the HCG Diet at New Years?

Ok, Christmas mystery post next....after the coma.

Merry Christmas from the farm,

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

When Worlds Collide

Ever since the moment happened in my bathroom a few days ago I've gone back and forth, waffled, flip-flopped (and once again noted I was MADE for politics) about whether to share.

So I can get on with my life and hold to my value of keeping it real, I'm just going to tell you. That's all there is to it.

I was standing in my closet-sized bathroom after my shower and picked up my black, lacy pretty underthing that provides blessed support and works very well under heavy sweaters or delicate-fabric blouses. You know, those blouses I would wear in my former life? Where I wasn't dodging turkey poo to get in my front door?

I was standing there preparing to put on said contraption when I took a look at it and sighed. And then proceeded to turn it upside down to shake, then pound a little, then pick the hay out of it.

Hey, old world, welcome to my new one.

Love from the farm,

Monday, December 14, 2009

Old Timey Playing Christmastime

The kids and I spent yesterday afternoon and evening decorating the house for Christmas. Adam informed me that he wanted to go all out with decorations this year because this will be his last Christmas with us before he heads off on a mission for two years; then college after that; then inevitably that Christmas with the girlfriend's family, nervously trying to make a good impression; then married and "this year, we're having Christmas at the in-laws"....
Well, ok, he only mentioned this would be the last Christmas before his mission - it's I who went the rest of the way down that treacherous road to Christmases future.


His description of how over the top he expected us to go went something along the lines of, "I want it to look like someone vomited Christmas all over the house." (I wish I could remember his exact words, because that paraphrase is really gross.)

I believe we achieved his desire. We have lights strung inside the house, the entertainment center leads one to question whether we have created a shrine to television, we have an "eclectic" array of styles and colors co-mingling (clashing) in our small living spaces, and tea lights everywhere. We even have a corner still filled with pumpkins that need to be baked and pureed - but don't worry, we have lighted garland that will Christmas those gourds right up. Adam strung a couple strands of big colored lights about 8 feet up one of the 6, 30+-foot poplars in front of the house. Somehow, it works.

Mike came home from work and loved it. We saved the Christmas tree for when he arrived so he could be part of it all.

(There has only been one fire so far - it was a small one, and Macy caught it quickly. We have a few burned silk roses, but thankfully, the Christus the candle was warming did not suffer smoke damage.)

The house feels like Christmas, Adam's satisfied, and last night, we finished the Christmas story in Luke, Chapter 2, and it was good. Not sure what we'll be reading for the remaining 11 days of Christmas, but we have many scriptures from which to choose. Like the health care reform bills floating around the Hill these days, we're not lacking in pages.

All this to say, I love when it looks, feels and smells like Christmas. And, I love when it sounds like Christmas, too. Which brings me to the below link. But, first, a long-winded explanation:

I'm a sucker for radio shows and radio programs. I love listening to Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" and "What Do You Know?" when I'm in the car at the right time on the weekend. I absolutely love it when I stumble across an "old timey" radio program, which is why I was happy today when I was sent to the link below. The NPR broadcast isn't technically "old timey," but the narrator's voice sure makes it feel like it.

Here's some of the appeal for me:

  • I love radio shows (noted above)
  • The narrator says "us youngin's" just the way I remember my Aunt Sue saying it when she'd talk about the life she and my Dad's other 10 siblings lived on the old farm in Kentucky, with their parents
  • While some people don't take to the soft, drawling nature of voices like this gentleman's, I get all warm inside because it reminds me of the voices and warm spirits of all of my Dad's brothers, sisters and cousins that I loved to listen to while I was growing up. My memories are of no one ever talking about unhappy things or speaking ill of one another. Stories and conversations were always accompanied by good-natured chuckling and a fair amount of ribbing- no one was loud or crass or cynical. I somehow knew all these people had enjoyed growing up together. Now, my memories are framed, you understand, in holiday visits or family reunions - when feelings are a little softer and reminiscing is steeped in sentiment - but even as a child I knew these were good and kind people. I could hear it in their voices.
  • I love that the kids in the story play those silly, ruleless, made-up games and assign them names as if they're real games that everyone has always played, like "Christmastime," "Christmas Gift," and "Go Up to the Kitchen Door and Smell."
  • That the little boy notices his parents have an unspoken communication, just like I always sensed when I'd see that certain look pass between my Mom and Dad; and that Mike and I have developed over the years. I'm grateful for that level of knowing someone - and of him knowing me, too. And, I'm so grateful that my parents have had that unspoken magic my whole life, and that they are ever more tightly bound to one another as the years continue to roll by.
  • I love that for 10 minutes (it's a long one, make sure you have time to snuggle down and listen before you click the link), I just got lost in the gentle lilting and meaningful pauses as a humble and humbling story was told.

Now, click the link, turn up your volume, cross your ankles, interlace your fingers behind your head and stare off into space.

Playing Christmastime on the farm,


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pondering the Future

Each of my kids contemplates the future occasionally - what they want to be when they grow up...where they might go on their missions. Tanner is my only one, however, who actively ponders (out loud, anyway) who he might marry and what she'll be like. This is a frequent conversation with Tanner. He's always been a romantic at heart.

Just two days ago, we were driving along the freeway in Phoenix when he earnestly said, "I WISH I knew who I was going to marry and what my kids will look like."

I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye and saw him gazing out the window. This was the 2nd time he'd made this exact same statement in the past few days.

Then he said, "Do you think I'll get married, Mom? I mean, do you think I'll live long enough?"

I started to get this big stitch in my stomach, but suddenly I had the glimmer of an inspired thought, so I answered with a question of my own, "What do you mean? You're worried something might happen to you, or that, like, the world will end before you get a chance to get married?"

In a matter-of-fact (actually, slightly "Duh!") tone he responded, "You know, that the world might come to an end first."

Sometimes, Tanner is simply a 12-year-old boy.

By the way, Lyn? Thanks for taking Tan to see '2012' last week. Yeah, right back at ya, babe. For the record, I'll be taking Ellie to see 'Cujo' and 'Alien' for her 4th birthday. Sweet dreams.

Love from the farm,

Back At Home

Just an addendum...Tan and I are home. All is well. The pills are back in their pouch and, hopefully, will stay there a good long time. Tanner's protein spilling abated and within a time frame that avoided additional kidney damage. I'm thankful, thankful for things righting themselves and moving on with no new scars.

Love from the farm,

Monday, December 7, 2009

Betrayal In My Pocket

As the kids were loading up the car yesterday so they could stay at Grandma's while Tan and I went to the Valley, I snuck over to the corner in the kitchen where we keep the medicine. I pulled out a zip-locked bag that contains all of our old prescription meds and rifled through them until I found Tanner's leftover bottles of Prednisone and higher dosage blood pressure meds. I slipped the bottles into the pocket of my lime green windbreaker and headed out to the car.

On the trip down here, each time I bumped my pocket against something or reached my hand into the pocket, I winced. Hoping Tanner doesn't ask what's in my pocket, or what that rattling sound was - not that he actually would ask; what 12-yr-old pays attention to such little noises coming from their Mom and gathers up enough curiosity to ask?

I have them with me because Tanner has been spilling protein from his kidneys at a rate that signals damage or gradual failure. He's been all over the board the past month, spilling copious amounts some days then trace amounts the next. When we contacted his doctor on Friday with news of near-record high rates of spilling, and the fact that his blood pressure was up again and some of his old symptoms that tipped us to his disease initially had returned, the response was firm: watch him for any signs of swelling - if he begins to swell, give him 30 mg of Prednisone twice a day; if he vomits or gets the slightest fever, get him down here to the emergency department of Phoenix Children's Hospital. If you don't have to come over the weekend, we'll see you Monday morning.

See, swelling in kidney patients means their kidneys are shutting down - in Tanner's case, it would most likely be because the filters in his kidneys have become inflamed, his body's immune response would be too intense, then something happens to the filtering capability and blood and protein escape into the urine instead of staying within Tan's cells and vascular system, where they belong.

Once again, I marvel at the new level of vigilance we keep these days. Used to be, a call from the doctor's nurse would be along the lines of, "If his fever doesn't go away in 2-3 days, call us back," or "just fluids for the first day, then gradually add back in solids over the next few days." Now, we're being told to watch for signs of organ failure. On another evening, several months ago, when Tanner's blood pressure and white blood count were too low, his doctor called me and told me to watch for bleeding from his nose and mouth. I calmly responded, "Ok. And if that doesn't happen, we're good to go?" I actually chuckled when I hung up. The answer had been yes, as long as he doesn't begin hemorrhaging, he should be fine. Well, ok then.

I realized my actions felt furtive yesterday - sneaking the Prednisone into my pocket, being nervous I'd get "caught" with them. I recognized that hyper-aware sensation as the familiar paranoia of youth brought on by good, old fashioned guilt.

I feel guilty carrying these meds around because I know how much Tanner dreads them. He was miserable on this drug that caused his face to swell so much that he was unrecognizable to even close family and cousins. He had painful and damaging side effects that limited him to only walking - no climbing stairs, no running, no P.E. But, this counfounded medication did the job we needed it to up until he took his last dose mid-April, and I'm certain we'll be employing its magical qualities to fight the battle for his kidneys very soon. In spite of its excessive side effects, this wonder drug rescues his kidneys, returns them to their best functioning state, then it rides off into the sunset. It's kind of like being stuck in a warehouse with a bunch of pipe-wielding thugs - as much as you hate to bring them in with their over-the-top dramatic moves and their ridiculously overdeveloped pecs, sometimes you can only count on Jean Claude Van Damme or Chuck Norris to vanquish the attackers.

I know exactly how it will go this morning in the doctor's office: Tanner will calmly take the news from his doctor, nodding and looking her in the eye, striving to betray nothing of his dread. And then, he'll look at me and the beseeching and pleading not to make him do it will burn straight through me.

And, while he's old enough to understand that this medicine is important for him, there will be a part of him that doesn't understand why I, his mother, who is supposed to keep him from unpleasant things, is making him take it.

It may seem like a melodramatic thing - if he needs the medicine, just give him the medicine, and away with the histrionics. But it's one of those details inherent to this relatively new world Tanner lives in that just nags at you like a festering sliver. It's small, but it causes all manner of discomfort and irritation. And, the Mom in me just wishes that if the kid has to have this ailment, that the treatments could at least be painless and lacking in side-effects. Instead, I have to be complicit in all that he endures.

If by some miracle, his doctor doesn't decide to put him back on the meds in spite of his recent instability, then I'll just slip the vials back into that zip-lock bag when we get home and he'll never have to know of that secret betrayal.

If it turns out like I expect, and we have to twist the cap off those darn pills once again, I hope he'll understand that this one element of his ordeal, just like every single other aspect of his condition, I would take on and bear for him if only I could. How I wish we were allowed to stand in for our kids, even if just to take it all away for a little while.

Love from the city,

Saturday, December 5, 2009

It's Christmastime

"Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful."
-Norman Vincent Peale

Tonight, Tanner will have his tongue stuck to a flag pole, and be drug all through the town. Macy will be incessantly going up and down a slide, and Karlie will be in a basket of bunnies.

Tonight is the annual Christmas Light Parade in our little town and the kids will be on the police department's float, which, you've probably guessed, is re-enacting a rather popular Christmas movie. The wassail* is warming on the stove. The girls are still basking in the glow of the success of their annual "Girls-Only" Christmas Party from this morning. And, we're having our Christmas Eve baby's 4th birthday party this afternoon, so her celebration isn't lost in the holiday glitter. Finally, Gertie the Goat awoke with a sheen of frost on her back a few days ago.

All of these clues make it official: the Christmas season has taken hold of us, and the warmth of the music and merriment of the season will keep the winter cold at bay.

We hope there's lots of hot cocoa and fudge in your stars for the coming days this Christmastime.

Love from the farm,

(*I learned this week that traditional wassail includes ale and wine. So, I'm not sure what we've been drinking all these years, but I can tell you it's yummy and we're going to keep calling it wassail in our family. All you purists can call it "Mormon Wassail," if you can't bring yourself to sully the good name of the original holiday drink.)

(P.S. I'm not sure the music and merriment of the season will actually keep Gertie warm. We're exploring other options so we can avoid the frosty fur. That's just sad.)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

21st Century: Whassup?!? 17th Century: Wassail?!?

It's Wassail Season!

Every year, I mark the beginning of wassail season on Halloween with the first hot cup at my Aunt Hazel's house in Woodruff. We take our bags of candy and decorated children to Aunt Hazel and Uncle Sam's house, dump off the candy to be handed out to trick-or-treaters, take a big group picture of the 25+ costumed family kids, grab a cup of steaming wassail from the pot on the stove and begin the walk around the tiny town, filling pillow cases with treats.

Even when we lived in the Valley, we would pack up the kids to go to Woodruff for Halloween if it fell on a weekend. It's an unofficial Potts family reunion. My Uncle Cliff brings his grand kids from Payson, my Cousin John brings his kids from Thatcher. And the first and last stop is always Aunt Hazel's, or, "The House of Woodruff" as Tanner called it when he was a tot.

There are certain things you can count on with Halloween in Woodruff: GiGi Gardner's soft, homemade gingerbread cookies are a favorite; the popcorn balls you always get at the house across the river; the truly scary haunted house that Peggy and Benny Goodman (who are in their 60s) rig every year, that had my fearless husband giggling in embarrassed fear last year (sorry, honey, everyone's fair game) alongside the usually fearless husband of one of my friends. I'm fairly certain they grabbed hands for a moment to pull each other past the masked, chainsaw wielding girl, but I won't swear to it. And, of course, we count on the wassail at Aunt Hazel's.

I called Aunt Hazel to get her recipe this week, and like all of us Potts women who cook but don't really use recipes, she gave me ingredients and rough ratios, then told me to just taste it and adjust till it was right. With Mom as my tester yesterday, I made my own first pot of the season for the 30 Primary children we hosted an activity for at the church.

Here's what we ended up throwing in the pot, to make enough for a crowd:

1 gallon of apple juice
1/2 gallon apple cider (you can do all cider or all juice, if you prefer)
1 gallon orange juice
5 large cinnamon sticks
10-15 allspice berries
15 whole cloves
2 c brown sugar*
2 T ground cinnamon**

Heat on high until steaming, stirring occasionally. Reduce to medium and simmer for at least 2 hours. Taste after the 1st hour to see if you need to adjust anything. Then, leave it on low for as long as you're serving it.

*I could have done without the sugar, but I like it tart. Do what feels right for you and yours. Yesterday we were serving this alongside popcorn, so it felt right to make it sweet for the youngsters.

*I only added ground cinnamon because my whole cinnamon sticks didn't have much scent; if yours are really aromatic, don't add the ground cinnamon. I added this after it had simmered for an hour and still didn't have the right amount of body. Freshness/strength of spices is a big deal for this - I bought my cinnamon sticks the day before I used them, but I'd wager they sat around in a warehouse for awhile before they hit our Safeway shelves. If your spices have a burst of aroma when you open the lids, you should be just fine. If not, you might want to toss the whole spices into a non-oiled frying pan and toss them around a little over high heat to begin to release some of their potency before putting them in the pot of juice. I've never tried it, but it seems like it would be a good idea. Or you could bump them around a little bit in a mortar and pestle if you have one.

This morning, I warmed up the leftover wassail for the girls and me, then went off to take a bath. After getting out of the bath I realized I'd left the wassail on high and rescued it just before it evaporated. Which led me to think of my next favorite winter holidays tradition: Homemade Potpourri or as we call it around here "The Stuff That Makes Your House Smell Like Christmas."

Whenever guests are coming over during the holidays, or I feel festive, or there's an odor in the kitchen that needs masking, I just throw the following together in a small pot:

Cinnamon stick or two
Whole cloves
Whole all spice
One orange, quartered
One apple, quartered

Bring it to a boil, then turn to low. I just keep adding water throughout the day. If you accidentally boil away the water, no biggie - just add a few fresh spices, more water and keep it going. Get up the next morning, add more water, and carry on. Refresh the spices after a day or two. If you have a wood stove, you could probably keep this simmering on top of it.

If you don't have whole spices, the powdered stuff works just fine. You can leave out the fruits altogether, if you want to. No allspice? No big deal. You get the picture.

Ok, now just go stand over the steaming pots on your stove, close your eyes and smile insipidly. Until you feel someone staring at you, then give the pots a good stir and look busy.

Love from the sweet-smelling farmhouse,

(P.S. Please don't stop by to smell; the house is a wreck. Go make your own.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

So Thankful

Tonight I'm thankful for...

  • small town celebrations that include my kiddos singing Thanksgiving and Christmas carols for the gathered crowds and handing out hot chocolate and candy canes
  • running into aunts and cousins and grandmas, childhood friends and new ones
  • the Capitol Christmas Tree coming from Arizona for the 1st time, and my children having the sense they took an active part in something historic as they joined in the festivities
  • the all too infrequent joy of running into someone you simply didn't expect to see - in this case, an old colleague from the Forest Service traveling with the traveling tree
  • the chance to rattle off the highlights of the last 11 years since we'd seen each other, and realizing anew that so many good and important things have happened in our lives
  • the crisp fall air requiring us to bundle up, stand a little closer to one another for warmth, and hug each other and briskly rub each other's arms a little more often
  • the cacophony of elementary school choirs, passing trains, honking motorists and chattering townsfolk, all forcing us to lean in a little closer to hear what each other is saying
  • teachers who give so much of themselves, and in so doing, bring music to life in the hearts of our children
  • an 11-yr-old daughter who insists on side pig tails, bopping around unselfconsciously and joyously in the top row of the choir, not caring one whit that no one around her is dancing
  • a 9-yr-old daughter who braves her fears about being clumsy on her crutches, and gets up in front of the crowd anyway
  • the realization that even if the 12-yr-old son hasn't been at school for two days, he still deserves to be part of this festive night, and being rewarded by seeing color in his cheeks as he finds his way to friends and falls right back in step with them
  • an 18-yr-old son who commits to the commitments he makes, and enjoys responsibility and accountability in all his endeavors
  • a husband who forgoes sleep and rest after long hours of work so he can be at as many kid events as possible, and who genuinely laments missing any of their activities; there's nowhere he'd rather be than with us
  • a mother who delights in her grandchildren and their accomplishments, just as she did with her own children
  • a dad who lights up every time his grand kids come bounding into the house
  • an aunt who treats her great nephews and nieces with as much love as she would her own grandchildren - and who showers them with movie nights, handmade gifts they cherish, and love
  • a sister who knows
  • a drafty old house, where our little girls are bundled in the living room for warmth, until their windows can be replaced in their bedroom
  • the 4 or 5 months of piano lessons when I was 10, which allows me to lull those snuggling girls off to dreamland in the dimly lit room quietly playing just the melodies of precious hymns like this and this
  • feeling a calm spirit envelop the night and sensing the activities of the day draining from my daughters' little bodies as their breathing deepens and I somehow feel them sinking into sleep.

For these things, and so many more, I am thankful.

Is Your Light Hiding Under a Bushel?

Sitting in a room full of adults one day, I heard something like this, "How many of you in here are great artists?" Everyone looked around awkwardly. No hands were raised. "How many of you are singers?" A tentative hand or two. Again, sheepish looks.

"Look what happens to us as adults," the teacher said. "We forget our gifts; we become embarrassed."

He continued, "If I were in a class of 25 1st graders and I asked if any of them were artists, I guarantee you, most of the hands would have shot up at once; then the remaining kids would have looked around, and bolstered by their classmates' confidence, sent their hands up, as well. If I asked if they were singers, the same thing. Those 6-yr-olds would be bouncing in their seats, hands waving, starting to yell out their favorite tunes and breaking into song.

Somewhere along the line, as we get older, we become afraid and stop believing in our gifts."

I thought of that last night when I read a note from a woman fighting, and appearing to overcome, a cancer that many people don't overcome. She is feeling survivor guilt, wondering why she "deserves" to be healed when so many people "better" than her, who have lived more virtuous lives or made fewer mistakes, don't recover. When precious children afflicted with the same disease aren't making it, but somehow, she is. She said it kind of feels like we all felt after 9/11, wondering why our fellow Americans back East bore the brunt of the horrors, while we suffered and ached, but far removed from the grit and the smoke.

On a lesser scale, how many of us sometimes wonder how we can possibly deserve the blessings we've received or the gifts we've been given, when there are so many "more deserving" who seem to have so little? How many of us think we have a gift, even once used that gift with joy and confidence, but have become afraid or disbelieve we really do have a talent? And who would care anyway if we just set it aside?

This cancer survivor referenced the following quote by Robert Louis Stevenson, and I just wonder if there are a few among us who might find something in it that rings true.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Shine away, friends. You're beautiful.

Love from the farm,

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tales of Pottsville: Is There Life Out There?

Ever the news junkie, I spend far too much time keeping up with current events. Which is how I stumbled across this important news item this week: it was reported in the honest-to-goodness free press that the Catholic church is looking to the heavens for signs of alien life. I breezed through the article and caught references to considering whether there's life in other parts of the universe, scientific studies and the like.

Oh, if only Grandma Potts were here to join in the conversation. See, Grandma firmly believed in life on other planets. She was wide open to discussions of green aliens and space ships. The Bible references other sheep that Jesus visited after he was resurrected; she didn't particularly care what the sheep looked like or where they lived. Grandma was unfailingly accepting in that way.

Grandma and Grandpa Potts (not sure he'd appreciate my bringing his name into it) diligently bought The Enquirer during the kinder, gentler days of the publication before celebrity exposes, when the magazine features were about 3-headed cows in Wisconsin, Elvis sightings, babies that could burp the alphabet at birth and, of course, alien sightings. Oh, and don't forget Nostradamus doomsday stories. Those Nostradamus predictions were pretty much weekly discussions. I could never read them - they scared the bejingles out of me.

When I say Grandma believed in aliens, I don't mean she only read about their adventures. Oh, no. She occasionally sought contact with them. And that was where the fun began.

See, Pottsville consisted of three homes: my Grandma and Grandpa Potts at the top, Aunt Barbara and the cousins in the middle, and our home at the bottom. (The landscape was actually pretty level; I'm not sure where I got the top and bottom perceptions, but kids are like that.) At the height of Grandma's alien adventures, Aunt Barbara hadn't even moved up on the hill yet, so it was just our two homes on 40 acres, surrounded by lots of high desert in all directions. We were 3 miles outside of town (town being an oversized title for a little pioneer settlement called Woodruff) and off the back road to Snowflake, which was 20+ miles to the southeast. Essentially, it was just us way out there in the desert. And, once the sun went down and we were all tucked into our homes after dark with our Coleman lanterns and battery operated radios (yeah, we'll delve into that more deeply at a later date), there wasn't all that much to do.

Which is why UFO hunting with Grandma was so stinkin' fun. See, Grandma would see something off in the distance - it could be unusual red lights on the horizon or flashing lights in the broad, black star-spangled sky - and that was all it took.

Into Grandpa's old green and white truck or the front seat of Mom and Dad's Oldsmobile we'd jump, and off we'd go, bumping across the dirt roads at night, chasing those lights. Mom wasn't entirely on board with Grandma's convictions that aliens were just a stone's throw away, but she did love to drive and the dark nights could be long, so she was game to join in. We'd drive for what seemed like hours, keyed up with anticipation, adrenaline pumping, desperately scanning the horizon to re-sight the suspicious lights if a mesa temporarily took them out of view. Mom would dodge the jackrabbits that were shocked to find us out in the wilds during their part of the night, and Grandma would keep a running commentary about just what she thought we might find at the end of our dash across the desert. See, Grandma wasn't intense and freaky about her conviction - just the opposite - she would light up and laugh heartily, eyes twinkling as she shared her wild ideas and findings. Grandma was a poet and a storyteller - she could keep the conversation moving along.

You'll be shocked to learn that we never quite caught up with the red lights or the flashes in the sky. I don't know how they evaded us, since Mom was quite the accomplished cross-country driver in her younger days. Somehow, even when we ultimately had to give up the chase and head home, the disappointment wasn't that great. Having the windows down, my sister Lynda and I would stick our faces out to feel the warm evening breezes, Grandma would point out the constellations - the Seven Sisters being my favorite to find - and there was that sense of getting away with something because everything was slightly off kilter: it was way past bedtime, glimpses of flashing eyes told us the desert night creatures were out with us, and the adults were acting so carefree.

I don't know if Grandma held her fascination with aliens right up until she left us. I can say she wasn't the only one around here who was open to the idea - it was just down the road about 30 - 40 miles or so that local Travis Walton of "Fire in the Sky" fame was said to have been abducted by aliens. Who knows. What I do know is Grandma's story weaving was captivating and the adventures were always colorful and big. Life in Pottsville was all a 9-yr-old could ever ask for. What a time we had.

Who knows what the Catholic church will find as they're looking heavenward. I can tell you, if nothing else, the quest for life out there could sure help while away a dark summer night.

Love from the farm,

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An Addendum

After Karlie and Adam ventured to the barnyard this morning to feed the two remaining chickens and discovered a red hen in the horses' trough, I realized I had erred on the tally sheet and given the coyotes credit for a few too many kills. Please see the revised score board below:

Coyotes: 57
Smiling Dog: 3
Horse Trough: 3
Walkers: 2 (still alive)

Most of the post holes have been dug and posts are in for the new and improved, more secure chicken yard. I guess the two remaining hens will go in the freezer (they're the non-producing girls we spoke of previously) and we'll start again in the spring.

So sad to have our chicken joy thwarted. While the newcomers hadn't grown on me yet, our "veteran" chickens - the ones who lived to a ripe ol' age of almost one - sure had.

Deep sigh.

Love from the farm,

(P.S. Then again, we might just find ourselves warming baby chicks by the fireplace this winter. I'm not sure I can go a whole winter without chickens, or wait 10 months for farm fresh eggs. Without the chickens, and after the turkeys do their holiday duty, we'll be down to one goat and one duck, 2 dogs, 5 cats and 2 horses in yonder fields. Not quite farm status. Hmmmm....I think it's likely we'll be ordering some peeps in the near future.We'll keep you posted on any new deliveries.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Good Old Fashioned Book Burning

"Hey, Macy, run down and let the chickens out of the coop, will ya? In fact, go ahead and leave the chicken yard door open so they can wander around a little bit before we close them up for the night," I said at 5 this evening.

My thinking? The girls NEVER get out of the chicken yard these days. Some of the books talk about chicken farmers who choose to let their chickens out of the yard for a few hours late in the day - they get their ranging in, then trot themselves in to their roosts for the night. Our hens have always been good about returning to the roost. I miss our free-ranging days, so I'm happy to give the hens a few hours' freedom.

It's "a few hours" later. Mike and Macy just went down to lock the girls in for the night.

There are only two hens remaining.

The coyotes? They've just begun their victory howls in the surrounding fields.

I'm going to burn those darn books.

If anyone's keeping count, the tally for the 2008/2009 season is as follows:

Coyotes: 60 Smiling Dog: 3 Walkers: 2

....And then there were 2.

It's a cruel, cruel world on the farm.

Love and loathing from the farm,

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Bellows

You ever notice how practically every single John Wayne movie - heck, I think even the war pictures - seemed to feature big herds of cattle, mooing and bellowing away? And how every single cattle scene sounded EXACTLY the same? I'm of the mind that it's because the exact same audio was used for all of those films. Now, don't quote me on this, but I'm fairly certain that Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall snuggled up to the very same audio track in their camp scenes in 'Lonesome Dove.' (Ok, they didn't snuggle up together; I'm not playing that fast and loose with the cinematic references.) If you have spent the past couple of decades wondering who the distinctive talent was that provided the voiceover for all those classic Western scenes, I can tell you the answer.

It was the cows across the way, right here in the high desert of northeastern Arizona, at this very moment across from Morning Dove Farm.* It's true. I'd recognize that canned bellowing and complaining anywhere. (*We still don't have a name. We'll just keep throwing ideas out there till one sticks.)

This is our second fall and nearly our third winter on the farm, and each year it takes me by surprise when the creatures that typically serenely dot the landscape at a fair distance across the way suddenly show up in the neighborhood and become this bawling, mooing mass of cows and calves. I don't know what on earth is going on during these noisy days and nights a few days each year, but we've made our guesses: these cows are seriously, desperately looking for love and are enamored of a rare breed of bovine menfolk that are all blind, requiring incessant, undulating, unrelenting cries from these hefty, sultry ladies to find their way to paradise; mamas and babies are being viciously separated, and the mamas are squalling and inconsolable, looking for their poor lost lambs (I know they're not called lambs; it's a metaphor, or an analogy or something); some poor newcomer is over there, blindfolded, enduring the annual, minimum 72-hour Marco Polo Marathon hazing tradition, broadcast each year on RFD-TV, which will not end until the bandanna-wearing heifer retrieves the golden corn cob from the tallest salt cedar shrub, or some such nonsense.

I don't know what is going on, and haven't had the gumption to ask my neighbors who are riding their horses importantly among all the racket, looking to all the world like they ought to be undertaking their cowboy ways out on the wide range, with wisps of smoke from the morning's campfire in the background, rather than alongside a black top road, just a hop, skip and a jump from Interstate 40 and Old Route 66, and within view of their own pick up trucks and SUVs.

Regardless of what's prompting the ladies to carry on, I love it. I absolutely love to hear their raucous complaints, up close to the road or straining from further back in the pasture. It reminds me of my college days when once in awhile I got to roam the rangelands of southern Arizona horseback during calving season or just before winter when cattle needed to be moved to winter pasture. I was positively useless during those adventures, except for cooking a hot meal at the end of a cold day a time or two, but there was just something about knowing the 5 or 6 of us humans and our horses, along with however many head of cattle lazily lumbering along, were the only souls for a few hundred square miles or so. (Well, the only souls that weren't slithering along the ground or scampering atop rocks and under bushes, anyway.) Those were wonderful times, watching the cowboys expertly rounding up strays; seeing those precious baby calves peeking out from behind their moms' rumps; having no earthly clue how ridiculous it was that I insisted on wearing my tennis shoes on round up to prevent my pretty cowboy boots from being scratched or scuffed on the trail....Oh, to be 18 and clueless again.

While I suppose there are some people along our country lane who might be sleeping a little lighter these days with all the bellowing and bawling going on, frankly, I'm wishing it weren't so chilly so I could open the windows and let the carrying on invade my sleep; then, I could go back 22 years and 90 lbs or so, before gray hair and stretch marks, to some wonderful nights out with the cattle; the stars in a wide black sky; smelling the creosote, my all-time favorite outdoor fragrance; and exploring the southwestern desert winding in and out of rugged mountain passes. Those were some amazing times.

Love from the farm but dreaming of the open range,

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Singularly Country

There are a few things that are singularly country - they happen only because you live in the country. Here are just a few examples from this week:

  • Your husband's co-worker calls to see if he can have his truck towed to your property, because he hit a cow on his way back to town from work.
  • You stand in your driveway* swapping stories of door-crashing animals with the co-worker's girlfriend, and she can one-up your story about the previous day's turkey/duck/goat poop fest with the story of the time her horse climbed the porch and walked on into the house. She wins. (*Is it technically a driveway if it's 1/8 - 1/4 mile long? At what point does it become a lane? I'd prefer to call it a lane. Probably isn't quite long enough. Shoot.)
  • On Tuesday, you drop your 9-yr-old daughter's best friend off at the bottom of her driveway after choral group lessons. She clambers over the cattle guard (she's not very tall) and climbs onto the 4-wheeler she has stashed behind an old truck, then rides on up to her house. (I bet we could call her driveway a lane - it's at least 1/4 mile long.)
  • After her Thursday choral group practice, your nine-year-old daughter is off to calf roping lessons. She may or may not be wearing her scuffed red cowboy boots. Country girls like high heels, too.
These are just a few examples of sure signs that you live in the country. There are many other such examples, but I hate to stir up all that covetousness and longing in the hearts of my city dweller friends. Especially with stories of playful old horses, snow glistening in the garden, and old gray barns looming in the background. I'll keep those enviable moments to myself.

Love from the farm,

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Open Front Door

Coming home to an open front door can elicit a variety of emotions. In the city, coming home to a gaping doorway might bring the following to mind: Have every one of our valuables been stolen? Was this a gang hazing ritual or an even more sinister breach? Is someone still in there, lurking in a darkened closet? If I call the police, I'm telling them the place was viciously ransacked; I'm not copping to the fact that it looks like this. Always.

Coming home to an open front door in the country fosters a whole different set of responses: How long have those doors been open? Am I the idiot who left them open? Dang it, I am. Is there a chance on this Great Green Earth that the animals didn't notice?

To the kids I was ferrying home from school, scouts, Grandma's and Grandpa's, I said, "Do you see something standing there in the doorway?" It was dusk. I wanted to believe the black shape about 2.5-feet up from the floor was simply a shadow. Then the shadow moved, and the kids started chiming in, "Yep, that's a turkey." "Oh, there's another turkey." "Is that the duck? Yeah, do you see her behind the tom?" "Where's the 3rd turkey?" Oh, don't worry she was there, too.


I weakly asked, "I don't suppose Gertie is in there with them?" No sooner had I uttered that last syllable then her little white horns popped up behind the black turkey backs. "Yep, there's Gertie," stated Captain Obvious (I'm not sure which kid it was, but their declaration was an unwelcome addition to the conversation.)

I kid you not, each one of those animals was craning its neck to see who had just pulled up; Gertie the Goat in the back, standing on tippy-toes to see over the tops of the turkeys heads. The duck finally had enough of the crowding, vista-blocking poultry and squeezed out between the turkeys to get a better view. It seems at the very same moment they all realized they were busted and slunk out of the house in a cluster, just as Mia came bounding up behind them from somewhere deep in the bowels of the house, ready to gaily greet us. It didn't occur to her that bringing up the rear behind a bunch of gate crashers is the walk of shame for a guard dog worth its salt.

By my calculations, those dang doors had been open since I got the call from the school nurse at 2:47p to come pick up a sick kid until our arrival home at 5:25p. Roughly 2.5 hours they could have been in there. I wasn't ready to face it. I resolved to stay in the car and just text Mike all about it.

The kids went in to inspect the damage and Tanner came out to report the results. "It's bad in there. You probably don't want to go in," he said as he dropped into the passenger seat, shut the door and fiddled with the heater vent. So, I didn't. It was warm in the car. I was disinclined to move.

Tanner and I sat there a good five minutes before I silently turned off the car, turned to look at him and said we'd better go in. Tanner was seriously surprised. He said, "Aren't you going to have us clean it up? Really, you're going in there? Mom, I don't know if you realize how bad it is."

Oh, I was so tempted. There're 4 strong yahoos around here that I'd labored to carry a total of 40 months (we may address the 9-month pregnancy fallacy at a later date) and who were responsible for my stomach looking like a cantaloupe rind - they owe me; I'm fighting the crud; it's been a long day - I can let them clean it up. But, then that stinking sense of fair play raised its perky little obnoxious head. I'm the one who didn't check that the security door was shut when I know darn good and well that our dogs Mia and Sadie can't resist their 'Starsky & Hutch' kick-in-the-front-door routine. It was my fault. It was my mess to clean up.

In case you were wondering, 3 turkeys, a duck and one goat can produce a colossal amount of poo in 2.5 hours. Eleven piles of bird poo and 2 smatterings of goat berries, to be exact. Of course, to make it all extra special, the goat will do one pile of bidness on the living room rug. I spent 45 minutes taking care of the 11 piles of poo and one goat deposit. Then, Macy and I rolled up the living room rug and took it outside. I have my limits and there was just one pile of poo too many.

I truly love our life in the country. I do. But, it just isn't right to have the farm critters greet you at the door. From inside the house. It's just not right. I have no profound or clever manner of wrapping this one up. It's simply not right.

Tepid affection from the farm,

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Of Pharmacies, Bum Holes and Ornery Folks

Swine flu has hit the folks, so I've spent some time checking on them throughout the week, taking a trip or two to the doctor, grabbing a few groceries, and making about 64 trips to the pharmacy. The little errands and checking in I've gladly done and I'm so grateful we're close by so I could do it. I'm glad for any chance to do something for the folks because, oh my goodness, I couldn't begin to repay them for the amazing support and help and fun they've been all my life. Stories of all they've done for me and my family are fodder for a 3-hanky post complete with theme music and sweeping vistas. But that's for another time. Suffice it to say, errands I can do. Am glad to do. With love in my heart.

The only thing I'm sick of is the pharmacy. Not because I've made a bunch of trips for Mom and Dad, but because I've filled prescriptions for 5 people this week; some have had multiple prescriptions on different days, so there was no chance for efficiency. Since Mom and Dad weren't the only ones with medical adventures this week, I've filled prescriptions for Mom, Tanner, Macy, Karlie, Macy again, Tanner again, Mom again and Dad. I'm tired of the pharmacy window, in spite of the sweet people who work at our Safeway pharmacy.

There was one bright spot in my pharmacy adventures this week, or so I thought. See, Dad's name is Willie, but he goes by Bill. I love opportunities to interact officially for him because I get to use his real name. Dad's a Kentucky boy, and it's not unusual for Kentucky boys to be named Willie. It's just not a name you hear much west of the Mississippi, and you get to say it even less. So, while I have grown weary of the pharmacy this week, it was fun to go pick up his prescription and have the chance to say, "I'm here to get Willie's prescription." But then the pharmacist helper lady says, "Do you mean Bill?" and inside I'm like, "Dang. One less chance to call him Willie. Thought for sure they'd call him Willie here."

After picking up the prescription, I stopped by the folks' home with a Diet Coke for Mom and a cup of coffee for Dad, and the prescription.

"You going anywhere else?" Dad asked.

"No. Just home," I answered, "Why? Do you need something?"

"No. It's just that you have a hole in the butt of your pants and I wasn't going to tell you about it until you got back with the coffee, but if you were going anywhere else, I figured I'd better let you know."

Yep, that's my Dad. Gotta love him. Even sick to the point of not being up for blow drying his hair, he can still get me.

"Oh, what's that, Dad? I'm sorry, was I standing on your oxygen line? Oh, am I off it now? How about now? Oh, sorry, am I on it again? Darn - is that what just yanked out of the machine over there? Oh, shucks, should I not have accidentally ground the hose into pieces with my heel? Oh, sorry."

Teach him to let me walk around with a hole in my bum.

Love from the farm,

(P.S. I suppose I should confess that I actually ended up running a few more errands in public yesterday, but at least I knew about the small hole, and somehow that made a difference. It was the ruthless letting me out among the common folk with a hole and not telling me immediately that was the issue, in case anyone's confused here.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Don't Lizards Hibernate?

At the end of my last note, didn't I mention I was going to go do chores or go sit on the couch and snuggle with the kids? Well, apparently I'm a big fat liar. I did neither of those things. I remained sitting here, checking personal email, checking work email, rummaging through a few favorite blogs.

As I sat here, I heard rustling among the boxes and papers on the floor under and near my desk. I thought to look, and then decided, no; I'd rather assume the rustling is being caused by a sneaky barn kitty who zipped into the house when Tanner brought in wood. Sure, that's it. It's just a fluffy, pretty kitty. No matter that I don't see anything out of the corner of my eye and those kitties aren't wee anymore. They look like full-size cats; if it were one of them I should be glimpsing a bit of fur, at the least. Still, a girl can pretend.

Yep, she can pretend - right up to the moment that the fattest stinkin' lizard she's ever seen waddles past with its silly stunted tail. Wanders right past the couch so she can't pretend it's not right there, with its clickety-clack little fingernails that I'm sure I'd be hearing hit the wood floor if the wood floor weren't littered with paper.

Did I mention it was kind of nice having the kiddos home today? I just called them right in here to take care of the foul creature. Ok, lizards are fine outside; inside, I'm just ticked that they're in my territory. I'm also ticked that our house is made of swiss cheese, allowing the fat lizards to find their way in. So, Tanner donned socks on his hands (since his doctors specifically said no holding reptiles while immunesuppressed) and devised his strategy for capturing the salmonella-laden little home invader.

He directed Macy to assume a position in front of the lizard, causing it to freeze in its tracks. Macy whispered that she was in position and that she was distracting the lizard. I looked up to see this meant she was staring it straight in the eyes and waving her fingers in a mesmerizing little motion, keeping its attention diverted so the fat little guy (who obviously isn't very quick or he wouldn't have a nub of a tail) wouldn't notice Tanner sneaking up behind him. (Dude, lay off the quail eggs, that's all I'm sayin'.)

In a flash, Tanner grabbed the sluggish lizard - it didn't know what hit him. It hung its head in shame, no doubt relieved its lizard buddies didn't witness its utter lack of defensive tactics. Then, after examining it closely but not directly touching it, Tanner deposited the chubby little fella outside.

You know, I'm assuming none of his lizard pals witnessed his embarrassing capture. What if his head drooped because his buddies did see his pathetic lack of instinct? What if the jeering, hateful little turds are lurking, waiting to resume the paper rustling? What if any second they're going to clamber over cardboard and begin rattling tax receipts?

I think it's time to go have quality time in the living room with the kids. They need their mother.

Then I seriously have to clean this room.

Love and gingerly steps from the farm,

Cozy Day on the Farm

So, we're hunkered down on our first chilly-all-day day on the farm this fall, and I thought I'd give you a completely mundane overview of the happenings at We Don't Know What We Are, But I Can Tell You What We Are Not, And That's Harmony Farms:

  • Last night we had our first fire of the season. It was a controlled burn. In the fireplace. (Sorry, it's fall, which is prescribed fire season in the Forest Service and sometimes I hearken back to those days with some longing....Not necessarily the burning part, just the overall working with people who were dedicated stewards of the land part. Me, I just wrote stories about them and talked to reporters. The guys and gals in the field building trails, mending fences, protecting archaeological sites - those were the real heroes.)
  • Anyway.
  • The return of fires is lovely and it's so cozy this morning to be wearing Adam's sweats, someone else's socks, and to have my feet tucked under me on the couch with the fireplace warming the room. Yum.
  • The duck's eye is back. Anyone want to explain that one? Here's my stab at it. I think those mean ol' turkeys pecked at it so much it receded a little bit, the surrounding tissue swelled and closed up, making it appear the eyeball was gone. Poor little duck. She's twitchy and nervous and both eyes are now showing signs of peckage. She's even more skittish at the moment, but we're hoping to coax her into the hen house this evening, with fingers crossed that the girls will be nicer to her. And, we've been putting some antibiotics in her water in the hope of tackling any infection that might be trying to take hold in and around her poor wounded eyes. Poor sweet neurotic duck. She is still nameless, but no longer one-eyed, so it's doubtless her name will be anything clever. We're accepting suggestions.
  • Tanner and Macy are home, keeping me company. Tanner is on a great protein producing quest (that's euphemistic speak for spilling copious amounts of protein, which we don't like to see but doesn't mean immediate danger to his kidneys, just requires vigilance and an effort to stem the spillage), so we're keeping an eye on him. He's happy as a clam and feeling pretty good, so he doesn't mind hanging out. We're measuring protein and hoping it'll resolve on its own rather than having to add back in those stinkin' steroids that are just so dang invasive and fraught with side effects. (I'm saying words like "fraught" - blech.) Macy isn't doing so hot with this season's approach to asthma control so we're enjoying her sweet if coughing presence while we mix her meds up a bit to see if we can't get her back in the strong oxygen readings category. It'll be well in hand soon, I'm sure. In the mean time, I've taken to calling the schools early in the morning so I catch the answering machine to tell them which Walker child is blowing school off for the day. This practice offers the same kind of relief you get when you get the boss' voicemail when you call in sick - I don't know why I instinctively dread those calls so much. The kiddos have legitimate, doctor documented health issues. Why am I such a pleaser? Good grief.
  • I washed my car last week. Then, I drove it to Mike's work earlier this week so I could cover the clean surface with a nice, thick layer of salt-laden dirt. Then, I looked out the window 2 days ago and saw Gertie the Goat licking the dirt off the car and the wheel well. While this is an inexpensive if time-intensive alternative to the car wash, I think it also is a cue that Gertie's lacking a little something in her diet. We stopped by the Feed & Seed yesterday to pick up her own little Gertie-sized mineral block. She licked it exactly four times, then wandered back over to the car and resumed her hub cap licking. She's all about the chores, that girl. Gotta love her.
  • While at the Feed & Seed I mentioned our non-producing freeloader hens and the wise feed store owner, Karen, who I adore, said it's time to throw 'em in the stew pot. I did not prompt her on that statement, and she's the least homicidal person I know, so I'm feeling a little more like my farming instincts are starting to develop, rather than that I have become a cold-hearted maniacal killer. Thanks, Karen. You unknowingly helped me through a terrible identity crisis with your suggestion of a bubbly pot of chicken and dumplings. Now, I have to learn how to kill and clean a chicken. My resume just keeps growing and growing.

Well, that's about all for now. I'm going to go warm my tootsies by the fire that Tanner's presently stoking. Then I'm going to go do chores. Or, snuggle on the couch with my cheerful wheezy, leaking children and then do chores. We'll see how it all unfolds. We've got time.

Love from the farm,

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Nameless One-Eyed Duck


Why, oh, why would something peck the eye out of a perfectly nice duck? Has there ever in the history of the world been a one-eyed duck? Why do sweet children have to get out of the car after school and say,"What's wrong with the duck? Wha...whe...where is her EYE? What happened to her EYE? Did they peck it OUT? They DID! They PECKED OUT HER EYE!!"

"They" presumably being the turkeys, who peck at anything that's shiny. And who, as I've already mentioned, don't seem to give a hoot about the duck, but she longs for their company and follows them everywhere.

"Why is she still hanging around them if they hurt her?" "Why would they peck out her eye when she's nice to them?" "Why is she still with them?"

This little string of questions brought all those domestic abuse stories to the fore in my mind and I wondered if this was one of those moments where I could use the story of the turkey and the duck as a parable to explain those terrible patterns that emerge in an abusive relationship. Then I decided no. Nope. Not gonna do it. There's probably a time and a place for those discussions that will come sooner than I want in their sweet, innocent lives. But this is not the time or place. Ain't gonna happen.

The questions that immediately followed were, "WHEN are we going to kill those stupid turkeys?" "I HATE them." "They're awful. We need to kill them NOW." Great. Now we're back to murder being the answer to everything.

Heavy questions. Heavy emotions. How did I address these important questions?

I came right in here and committed it all to writing so we won't lose this important moment, that's what I did. And I'm going to hide in here until they're past the horror of it and I can dodge this situation.

Except of course, I won't. I'll go back out there. Dang it.

But first, here looms the biggest question of all for this poor wobbling duck who won't let us approach her so we can't offer her any form of aid for what has to be a dreadfully painful injury prone to major infection: Since she has never had a name, would it be really tasteless and insensitive if we went with any of the obvious choices that a biker gang or pirate crew might come up with?

Oh, I feel a little urpy even joking about it. Poor little duck. It's just wrong. Is it just us, or are all farm animal experiences so ruthless and cruel? We will never be able to call this place Harmony Farms. Ever.

The duck isn't the only thing needing an appropriate name around here.

Love and horror from the farm,


Friday, October 16, 2009

Among the English

Ok, I promised recently that I would tell how I spent my time working through a migraine last week, but frankly, I was still in the midst of a migraine hangover when I made the promise, and I regret the promise. I was going to blow it off, but if you can't trust that I will keep my word, then what are we doing here anyhow?

The reason I was going to blow off the story of working through my migraine is because it wasn't really all that interesting. Just embarrassing. And, let's face it, I've given you enough embarrassing to last a life time.

But here goes.

If you'll recall, I was in the Valley last Monday for Tanner's doctor visit and the funeral of my friend's mom. Well, my migraine began to take hold during the funeral. I spoke to friends after the services were over, then had a few hours before the celebration of life at the family home that evening.

As I broke away from everyone, I knew I'd better act fast if I was going to head off a doozy of a headache. Also, I hadn't eaten yet that day. These two things provided a blessed convergence and required a wonderful thing of me: a trip to AJ's Fine Foods - my favorite gourmet market, which I have missed oh so much since my sojourn to the northland where my only grocery choices are Safeway (which is a lovely store for which I am grateful) or Circle K.

You should know that Adam and I love fancy and unusual foodstuffs, so we feel like we're on the mother ship when we browse through AJ's. (Well, actually, I've always felt Williams-Sonoma is the mother ship, so I suppose AJ's is the shuttle to the mother ship, if I have to perpetuate this silly little analogy.) When we lived in the Valley and had time together, we were delighted when we'd get to wander through AJ's and pick up quirky little nuggets to try. Only the two of us can truly understand Adam's joy when one of the gifts I gave him for some occasion or another was a bottle of fancy pearl onions. Actually, maybe Adam's the only one who truly understands his joy - I just can't get excited about tiny onions from a jar.


I went to AJ's last Monday and headed straight to the pharmacy, where I was able to find Excedrin Migraine, and then I walked with anticipation toward the salad bar. Oh, how I've missed AJ's salads. I piled on spinach, arugula, mixed greens, beets, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, artichoke hearts, cubed ham, goat cheese, marinated mushrooms, and peas - drizzling only scant dressing so as not to dim the flavors of all those colorful, crisp and yummy ingredients. I took my frosty beverage and overpriced salad outside to sit on the patio on a beautiful fall day, popped the Excedrin and settled in to savor the experience.

I registered a guy sitting at the table behind me as I munched away, listened to the birds chirping and enjoyed the familiar Scottsdale neighborhood as I waited for the pills to take effect. I stifled a laugh when an obviously "procedured" woman tottered past on her ridiculously high heels, chattering into her phone and I kid you not that I heard her saying, ", really, Tabby and Stephanie have both had it done and they say there are absolutely no side effects, so I was thinking we absolutely should have it. It's supposed to be a perfectly safe procedure. Do you want to do it with me?" It was like a bad line from a bad movie scene set on Rodeo Drive. And, in defense of all of my friends in and around Scottsdale, it was the first time I'd seen and heard such a stereotypical Scottsdale vignette in all my years in the Valley.

As I sat there enjoying my salad, I heard the chair scrape behind me and the guy who'd been sitting there threw away his trash, trotted over to his car then turned to me and said, "I LOVE this weather. I wait all year for days EXACTLY like this. Days like today are the only reason I bought this car," he said before he grinned and jumped into his silver convertible. (Yes, it was a Mercedes but I wasn't going to say it because I'm really not pulling the Scottsdale affluenza card. No, the intent of this post is to illuminate my own sad evolution...or is it devolution??)

So, happy convertible guy pulls away, I resume munching on my salad and think how much I, too, love this weather in the Valley, how nice it is to visit and enjoy this familiar favorite lunch, and hear the birds. And see the birds. Like this little bird hopping around my table and walking up and down the sidewalk. Squawking. Poor little bird - is he alone? He sure seems small compared to the ravens/crows I'm used to seeing in the Valley. Most of the crows/ravens (I knew the difference at some point but I can't remember) are much bigger. And, I don't believe I've heard that call before. Is that a distress call? Is this a baby crow/raven? Is it lost? Are you ok, little guy? Where are your friends? Did you lose your way? Are you ok?

"Hey, lit........."

Noooooooooooooo! Shhhhhhh! You can't talk out loud to the bird! You're in Scottsdale! You're among the English! You can't talk out loud. People will think you're crazy. Am I crazy? Am I a crazy bird lady? It never occurred to me to talk out loud to birds when I lived in the Valley. Why do I feel comfortable talking out loud to the chickens at home -- in fact why do all the books say I should talk out loud to the chickens at home?

Why do I feel ashamed and decidedly country when I talk out loud to the bird in Scottsdale? Have I completely lost my ability to move among civilized folk after only 2 years on our nearly 3 acres in a rural county?

No, no, I'm fine.

Why, just today, I had a pedicure and put on heels and restrictive undergarments. I'm wearing lipstick, I'm sipping from a clear plastic beverage container and my earrings are shiny and new. I have been able to use multiple syllable words and there are no screened cartoon characters on my shirt, and I'm eating arugula, for pity's sake. I'm fine. I'm just fine.

As long as I don't talk to the birds, out loud, I'm fine.

So, I tapped my heels and consulted my Blackberry as if I were a professional gal taking a late lunch. That's it, I'll just resume my role as Normal Woman Enjoying Lunch Al Fresco.

Surprisingly, my migraine didn't abate much during all of that intensive internal dialogue.

And that's how I spent my afternoon in the city.

The end.

Love from the farm where I can talk out loud,

The Lone Egg & An Evolving Philosophy

One brown egg.

A single, solitary brown egg.

That's all I found in the hen house when I fed the hen this morning. Oh, did I say hen? I meant hens - all 7 of them.

Yes, 7.

Why, Teri, if you have 7 hens, did you find only 1 egg, you ask? Why? Because we have some opportunistic slackers who are drunk on the heavenly mash and sweet scratch we generously ply them with every day, but are refusing to give anything in return. They haven't given for some time. These new gals that we welcomed to our farm a month or so ago are not putting out.

In short, they're takers, they're not givers; and for that, I'm seriously thinking it's freezer time. You know why? Because for the first time in months, I had to buy eggs at the store this week. Why am I buying eggs when I have 7 perfectly healthy hens wandering around the chicken yard, for whom I buy feed twice a month?

And may I say, it's a very nice, clean fresh chicken yard at that. Because on Monday, did I spend the day primping and preening so Mike and I could enjoy a nice, intimate celebration of our 13th anniversary? Oh, no. Not me. I donned a dust mask, and for the first time in months laced up what were once very expensive running shoes and along with my intrepid mother-in-law, cleaned out the chicken coop and chicken yard, raking and scraping up months of hay, food scraps and chicken poo. We spent a couple of hard hours cleaning that coop and yard, then scattered fresh Bermuda grass all over the coop floor, filled the nests with nice soft grass, and spread yet more Bermuda out in the chicken yard. The girls were very excited by the fresh grass and scratched merrily in the new green litter.

We had one hen, though, who was very distressed during the process, continuing to check the nests to see what was happening, wandering from one end of the coop to the other, checking the nests again. As women who have felt a certain urgent need to deliver an uncomfortable burden ourselves a collective 9 times in the past, it finally occurred to us that perhaps the little red hen's distress wasn't so much upset at her changing habitat as it might have been an urgent need to give birth to an egg. And soon. We hurriedly put hay in one of the nests and she gratefully settled right in to complete her daily labor. Poor old girl. Nothing like arriving at the emergency room to have your baby only to find there's not so much as a wheelchair ready to give you rest. As fellow birthers, we should have cottoned on earlier.

She doesn't realize it, but the little red hen's distress may have very well saved her life. Because now we know who is providing us that one lone egg; we know who is returning our hospitality with labor of her own. We know who will be spared when the inevitable axe falls, should the other girls not start producing real soon.

I'm not sure when I became such a cold-hearted "put up or die" kind of person. Never before did I require that everyone show a direct return on my investment if they were to live. Never before did I respond to slights and discourtesies and just plain ungrateful behavior with threats of death. It's this odd new approach to life and death that has crept into my makeup that I'm pondering these days, trying to determine if I need to quash this new philosophy, or if it's a necessary step in my evolution from city girl to farm woman. It's a slightly disturbing turn of events, and I'm not sure where I'm going to come out on this.

I do believe my "serve me or you die" attitude may be leaking out a bit, oozing from the seams; I'm afraid my grim reaper watchfulness may be starting to make the people around me nervous. Could that be why Mike's mom, my beloved mother-in-law, works from dawn till dusk when she visits, never sitting during the day, hardly resting long enough to eat a quick meal before returning to some unpleasant task? Perhaps I should tell her that the yummy vittles and clean towels we proffer during her visits don't require labor in return; that my tit-for-tat requirements extend only to the farm critters.

On the other hand, my refrigerator and kitchen counters have never sparkled so much as they do following my mother-in-law's visit this week. Could be that mercenary glint in my eye has its merits....

More to ponder as I walk among the chickens.

Without an axe.

For now.

Love from the farm,

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I Come Bearing Gifts

This week, Tanner and I went to Phoenix for his clinic appointment at Phoenix Children's Hospital. After his appointment, I dropped him off at his cousins' for 24 hours of fun with the girls, who are on fall break. After leaving him, I went to the funeral for my friend's mom, and spent some time with her and her family. Precious time.

The appointment went well (for those interested in receiving notifications on Tanner's progress, shoot me an email and I'll send you the website registration information). As happens sometimes when I've been anticipating an event with a little bit of stress, I promptly sprouted a migraine as soon as it was apparent all was well. You'll hear more about what happened while I was waiting for the migraine to pass in my next post. I'm mentioning it now, because I'm falling victim to a weird compulsion to share every detail related to the trip. I may go back and delete this whole part before this post is through. You never know. It's all fluid until I hit "Publish Post".


After I slept off the migraine on Tuesday morning, Mike's sister and I took the kiddos out for a late lunch, then Tanner and I took our leave to head home. But first we stopped at Cabela's to browse. You should know that Tanner's sisters think it's patently unfair that he gets to have all this fun on his Phoenix Children's trips. Those who keep up with his medical reports have heard a little about this consternation. It's not a big, noisy deal but it's there, simmering under the surface. And, as time goes on and it's apparent Tan's doing pretty well, the grumbling gets a little louder, because let's face it, he's spending a few hours with doctors and then is just having a good time. Restaurants, Cabela's, movies, Bass Pro Shop, cousin time, whatever.

So, after nearly a year of these monthly/bi-monthly sojourns, it dawned on me that maybe I should take a little something home to the other kids from these trips. Maybe I should make it a habit to just bring them a little something. And so I picked up a few things.

Here's what I shared with my loving family members, waiting at the homestead for our return from the Valley:

  • a pair of wool socks for Mike for the coming winter
  • a small pocket knife for Adam
  • chunks of fudge wrapped in parchment paper and made with real cream and butter for Adam, Macy and Karlie
  • sour candy drops for the girls, that actually came out of a barrel.

Umm, does this gift list sound familiar to anyone? Anyone? After pulling the last gift out of the bag, it hit me. I really am stuck in an endless episode of "Little House on the Prairie."

Only I'm not "Half-Pint," as my sister (affectionately?) calls me. Oh no, it couldn't be that simple. I'm bringing rustic little gifts back to the family after leaving them behind for a trip to the big city. Let's face it.

I'm Pa.

I'm not sure what to do with that.

Love from the farm,


Friday, October 2, 2009

For the Love of a Duck

For the past few days and nights, we've had major coyote activity on the farm. Mike walked out to find a coyote not 20 feet from the front door in broad daylight, so he ran towards the wild dog, waving and yelling. Oh, I wish I'd been here to see it.

At night, we can hear packs of them yipping and yowling. Our dogs, Sadie and Mia, have spent the nights running the property, chasing away the wily predators that have us surrounded. We hear Mia and Sadie barks coming from every angle, round and round the house, down by the barn, up by the road. They work hard protecting our critters. They don't stop. It isn't until around 3:30 or 4 a.m. that the battle wanes, and then it starts again around 5:30a.m. Those dogs work hard for us; they're vigilant protectors. They collapse, weary and wasted when daylight comes.

I want to kill them.

Oh, we've been so tired. No one's sleeping well. The incessant, important barking has us up all night. It isn't fair to direct ire at the canines who live to serve, but when you're sleep deprived, you lose rationality.

At the crux of the issue has been the duck. The duck has always been skittish. She takes off when you come near her, squawks as if she's been violated in some way when you turn your attention toward her, constantly averts her eyes then casts furtive glances our way. It's hard to herd a reluctant duck, so she's been staying out at night. So she won't be lonely, we've occasionally let Gertie the Goat stay out with her; hence the need for guard dog duty.

Bless my little lion tamer's heart, somehow Tanner has begun exerting a calming influence over the duck in recent days. I don't know why, but night before last, she let Tanner stand nearby as she followed the turkeys into their pen. Last night, I decided to take advantage of this change in dynamics on the farm. I had Tanner pen up the duck with the turkeys and the girls pen up Gertie, and the dogs stayed in the house.

Mike and I were relishing the thought of a night without barking or bloody carnage. I was snuggled deep in slumber under my down comforter.

Until 11:30 p.m. when the black kitten came scrambling THROUGH THE SWAMP COOLER into our bedroom and jumped up on the bed, frantically rubbing against me.

Because she had been sprayed by a skunk.

I'm going to go get a soda or two to see if it will help clear the grit from my eyes.

Love from the farm,

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Raw Silk

Last night, my heart broke when I read a text that had come in a few hours earlier from a dear friend, letting me know her mother had passed away in Tucson where she had been fighting, and I mean fighting, cancer. I gasped that immediate, tear-invoking "Oh, no!" that we all do when we've just found out that in spite of our earnest prayers, someone we care about - or someone loved fiercely by someone we care about - didn't get to be one of the 20%'ers after all; rather, they had to join the ranks of the 80% who fought valiantly and with spirit, but whose bodies were just too tired after relentless battle.

I had just had the chance to sit down with this friend last week, for the first time in probably 9 months, and we had talked about her mom and my Tan. We were able to laugh, roll our eyes and make what others would probably have thought of as horrifically shocking statements and jokes; unless, of course, those eavesdroppers had dealt with a loved one's critical illness completely standing their lives on end and rearranging every facet of what they had once thought of as "normal." We laughed one minute, railed the next and fought tears a time or two before we laughed again. And, I was so impressed by the strength, courage and perspective I heard coming from this amazing woman.

Today, I was waiting to pick up lunch for Mike, Tanner the Boy On House Arrest, and me, and I was wondering what I could send my friend to let her know I'm thinking of her. My mind settled on a raw silk handkerchief. I could envision giving her this soft, dove grey handkerchief that she could use to dab her eyes during the funeral and feel close to her mom. And I thought that it was ironic that it would have been at an elegant little boutique like the one her mom had once owned in Scottsdale where I could have found the perfect hankie.

Her mom owned a shop called "Valerianne's," and it proffered the finest, most luxuriant linens. There were other beautiful things there, but the linens were what defined the experience. They were exquisite, sometimes fragile in their beauty and of only the finest materials. There was no question they were of highest quality. From the few times I met her, it struck me as entirely appropriate that my friend's mother would spend her time among such beautiful things. She was a beautiful woman. She was one of those rare beauties who are timeless; I would say she reeked of refinement, but there is no way the word "reek" should have been used in a sentence describing her. She simply was refined and gracious. I know from anecdotes my friend would share of family get togethers that she wasn't a shrinking violet, but I'm sure even in repose or at play, or even in a quarrel, she didn't quite shake that indefinable quality that she had.

I thought of raw silk today because in our conversation the other night my friend remarked that here was this woman who had always taken such good care of herself, liked things just so and took great care in her appearance, yet she had long since lost her carefully styled hair, had ports and tubes attached, and wasn't even fully aware of the marring scars from recent surgery. But, this friend told me, "In some ways she isn't the same person right now, but she's still my mom. She's still beautiful."

Silk can certainly be treated to smooth out the wrinkles and imperfections, allowing it to shine and exude its highest levels of refinement. But when it's raw, it has texture and there is beauty in its very being, and in the way the light catches its slightly uneven facets. While finished silk is uniform and smooth, the raw silk reveals nuances and shades in its unvarnished state that cause you to examine it a little more closely and appreciate its complexities.

My friend's mother's name is Gloria. She was beautiful - both when she was able to present herself exactly as she wanted to, and as her life and her appearance became more complex and raw. There was a certain fragility to her beauty that might have obscured her hidden strength from those who didn't know her well; but to those who fought alongside her all these many months, it was the innate beauty of her raw strength that left them in awe.

I don't know if I'll find that raw silk hankie in time for the funeral. But I'm not sure I'll see one again without thinking of my dear friend and her beloved mom.

Love from the farm,

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Around the Farm

Time for a quick farm and garden report:

First, let me say, just when you think you cannot possibly love your husband any more, he goes and power washes the turkey and duck poo off the front porch and sidewalk and you learn you can love even more. Then he tries to force you to use the kids' bathroom in the morning so he can get first shower and that passion falls back a notch. Ebb and flow, that's what love is all about.


Yesterday, our neighbor mentioned he'd be covering his tomato plants because we are supposed to have a couple frosty nights before it warms up again. So, my friend in farming Emily, me and a few of our yahoos picked all the ripe and ripening tomatoes, covered the most robust plants with the best looking remaining fruit, then picked all the green tomatoes from the uncovered plants. We, again, have a boatload of tomatoes to process. This morning, I went to pull the sheets off the plants because we have 50 mph winds forecasted for the entire day. Since I don't want to come home to the embarrassing spectacle of linens wrapped up in the overhead powerlines again, I figured we better grab the sheets now. Good call - the winds are already high. If Gertie the Goat were wearing her Hannah Montana wig, she'd be a platinum blond windsock in the side yard right now. Already, there are ripples on the duck's wading pool.

All the uncovered tomato plants were crackly and brittle this morning; the covered plants were lush as ever. Thanks, Neighbor Bill, for the heads up on the freeze. Just to be safe, we'll pick the rest of the tomatoes tonight, layer all the greenies in newspaper and let them ripen over the next few months. (I sound like I know what I'm doing, don't I? I've been in PR for nearly 20 years, I can make anyone sound smart.)

With this last picking, the garden has pretty much given up the ghost. We could pamper and protect the beans for a little longer, but seriously, I'm tired of the garden. There, I said it. I'm pooped. I need to recharge over the winter, start browsing seed catalogs in January by the fire, and get excited again. Right now, I'm done. Plus, I'd really like to get a pedicure because I'm sick of snagging the sheets with my rough heels, but I can't justify it if I'm going to keep mucking around in the garden. (In addition to the garden excuse, I've been putting off the pedicure because the top of my foot is still tender and alarmingly crunchy after being stomped by the horses - yes, both of them, same spot - a few weeks back and I'm not sure Redgie would appreciate me reflexively bopping her on the side of the head when she went to massage the smushed foot. Better to wait.)

Oh, we do have our fall lettuce and spinach still growing. Emily got the first pick, we'll take the next, and see if there's anything after that.

We do need to get our garlic planted - time's running out. I'll have to pull deep on the well of resolve to get my hiney out there for that project. But, I love garlic, use a ton of it, and have sorely wished we had it from the garden, so I suppose I'll have to go plant it. Crap.

The animals are doing ok, but we have a big "front of house" operation going on. Literally. The turkeys, duck and goat are all up front, in plain sight for all to encounter. We've become THAT family. My poor mother. She never wished this for me. But, now that the poo is off the porch, I feel a little less concerned about how it looks. I figure, as long as I accessorize, wear make up and avoid screened t-shirts with Tweety Bird or Sponge Bob on them, I can pull this off.

The turkeys walk around all puffed up in "full feather," which is just totally cool. They're really mean to Sadie the dog, though, and I'm sure they'll be fouling the walk again in no time, which feeds my temptation to go ahead and just get them tucked into the freezer in advance of Thanksgiving. The only thing is, I'm really worried how the duck will take it. Yes, I said "duck"; where once we had three, now we have one. And she stands at the turkey pen every morning, staring in through the netting, waiting for them to be released. They don't give a rat's patootie about her, but she can't function without them. I think it's time to move her down to the chicken coop and acquaint her with those girls, so she isn't left forlorn when the turkeys take the trip to the Great Grub Farm in the Sky. I actually cried a little when the boy duck disappeared and she was left to swim alone. I have GOT to get over crying over the critters. Seriously, it gets worse the longer we're at this farming thing.

By the way, I don't feel like much of a farmer these days - the garden's done for the season, the pigs have been butchered, the horses are hanging at the neighbors, and we're just left with the poultry and Gertie the Goat. While I'm happy for the simpler days we'll enjoy this winter, I know I'll be ready for all the spring babies to show up, making us feel like a going operation again. If we had a milk cow, I KNOW I'd feel like a farmer again. Plus, I could quit buying all that hopped up milk, butter and cheese at the store. But, for now, I'm glad to not have to worry about twice a day milkings and making anything more from scratch. Just for now.

Speaking of making things from scratch, with a bunch of little jars of peach jam on the counters, more frozen whole peaches to process, and the apples that will be arriving late October, I'm well on my way to having lots of yummy preserves put up for the year. We'll be thawing the pork we just butchered and canning a bunch of that in the coming weeks, as well. I figure by early November, we'll finally be done with preserving the harvest.

Don't think we're getting lazy around here, though. There are new windows to put in, firewood to be cut and gathered, the garden to till under, the property to clean up and trim back for the winter, the corral and sagging stalls to tear down, the chicken yard to expand, the coop to clean out...ugh, I'm feeling a little nauseous, so I'm going to stop right there.

I think I'm going to go crawl into the tub until the wind stops blowing. Which isn't forecasted to happen until tomorrow. Perfect. And I am NOT going to wonder why Mia the psycho dog is getting fat. I'm not. I'm not going to give it a single thought.

Love from the farm,

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tales of Pottsville: sac⋅ro⋅sanct [sak-roh-sangkt]



extremely sacred or inviolable: a sacrosanct chamber in the temple.
not to be entered or trespassed upon
above or beyond criticism, change, or interference: a manuscript deemed sacrosanct.

Use word in a sentence:

Paul Harvey broadcasts were sacrosanct in my grandparents' home.

It's true. Those twice-a-day radio shows were "extremely sacred" and "above or beyond criticism" and "not to be...trespassed upon."

It was after we moved to Arizona from Ohio, the July I turned 9 years old, that I first heard of Paul Harvey and his signature "rest of the stories." Every morning and afternoon, like clockwork, the teaser for the Paul Harvey show would come on the battery-operated radio in my Grandma and Grandpa Potts' home up on the hill in "Pottsville" where we lived. And, no matter what we were in the middle of, all activity would stop - or at least we'd better do whatever we were doing real quietly - and Grandpa would go sit in his big black leather-like armchair and listen to every story, every endorsement, every cliff-hanging moment of Paul Harvey's program that was piped through the airwaves on 1270 AM KDJI.

I was just getting to know Grandma and Grandpa Potts that first summer. They were still somewhat a mystery to me. We'd visited them over the years, of course, but I'd never spent any real time with them that I could remember and their way of life was a whole new world for me. Coming from a typical Midwestern, middle-class home with big leaf trees, redbirds, slugs, lawns you didn't water, Lake Erie just down the road, and electricity at the flip of a switch, I was fascinated by the mesas, plateaus and broad horizons surrounding Grandpa's home up on the hill, 3 miles away from the nearest town, which itself was actually a little hamlet of maybe 200 people.

It's not just where Grandma & Grandpa lived that was new and fascinating, it was how. They lived in a little trailer nestled among outbuildings, 3 gardens, a small orchard, and a nicely built little guest house that was inlaid with chunks of petrified wood my Grandpa had gathered from the surrounding desert. There was a wood cook stove in the kitchen next to a more familiar electric stove; a wood stove for heat in the front room, a diesel generator for electricity (that would later be supplemented by a windmill), and a wringer washing machine and clothesline outside. There was canning lard and making lye soap. There was Grandpa cussing over the lawn mower he counted on to groom the postage-stamp lawn out front. And there were Grandpa's roses.

Grandma was easy to get to know that first summer - she simply loved us, was full of smiles and stories, and cheerfully put us to work, never doubting we'd do the tasks she assigned. It didn't occur to us not to. Grandma was a soft place to land, squishy hugs, soft pats on the back and a comfort for homesick little girls waiting for our parents to pack up our Ohio life and join us in the Wild West.

Grandpa, though, he was a study in contradictions. I remember hanging back a little, peeking around corners and trying to figure out Grandpa. When I say that he would cuss over the lawnmower, I mean he would cuss. He used words I'd never heard before. Often. And, while you would think that if someone is calling someone else a "sonsabi*****gba***rd", it would mean they really didn't like that person, I learned that with Grandpa you had to consider the tone. Was he laughing when he called the guy that? Oh, then he liked him; he actually meant, "Oh, that little character!". Was he scowling and spitting a little bit when he said it? Then odds are, Grandpa really was calling the guy's parentage into question. I was fascinated and a little frightened by Grandpa. But, it was Grandpa's roses and Paul Harvey that hinted that there was more to this somewhat crotchety old man who I grew to adore, cherish and miss as the years went by.

More about the roses later and what they helped me understand about Grandpa. Let's stick with Paul Harvey for now.

So, Paul Harvey comes on the radio and Grandpa sits down. If Grandma didn't have us quietly working on something in the kitchen, we'd scramble up on the orange and brown plaid, rough "davenport" situated under the window. We'd listen to Paul Harvey's distinctive staccato cadence and ultra-enunciation, and his stories reminded me of the stories I'd read in the Reader's Digest, also a new discovery since coming to Grandma's house. Paul's stories were always unapologetically moralistic; either extolling the virtuous or heroic acts of a no-name, average Joe, or unraveling little-known stories of famous individuals. I was fascinated by his storytelling, waited impatiently over commercial breaks for the rest of the story, and, as most kids would, dreaded what seemed like endless endorsements. And, while I was looking around the room while listening to Paul's stories, I'd sneak glances at Grandpa in his big black chair.

It was during Paul Harvey time that I'd see him sitting still, listening intently, rather than my more typical images of this man who seemed to always be in motion, affording me only glimpses of the back of his old cap, plaid shirt and suspenders as he toiled away over the pump, the generator or some building repair. With Paul Harvey, he'd be so focused on the radio I could watch his every expression without him noticing my scrutiny. It was the sparkle in his eye at some merry story that let me see his sense of humor soften what I thought were hard edges; it was when he would throw his head back, reveal great big slightly yellowed teeth, crinkle his eyes and laugh a curiously silent laugh that was nonetheless full of mirth and unabashed enjoyment that I would feel a tingly contentment creep into my stomach, warming me towards this wiry old guy with the stern visage. And, sometimes, he would drift off for a short snooze near the end of the afternoon show, revealing the toll all that hard work that he never complained of doing was taking on an aging man with emphysema and diabetes.

Like clockwork, Paul Harvey would come on the radio - his twice daily show was part of the rhythm of my childhood and those precious years on the hill with Grandma and Grandpa. I loved listening to Paul Harvey not only because of his stories, but because of the time his shows gave me to swing my legs back and forth on the davenport, take a break from chores, and steal lots of glances at my Grandpa as he listened intently and laughed often.

As I grew older, I began to understand the nuances of Grandpa's personality and figured out he wasn't just the gruff old guy I first thought. I loved my Grandpa Potts, with his shock of black-streaked grey and white hair, that always looked slightly overgrown and kind of pokey-outy, like that of a 10-year-old boy's crew cut three days before summer vacation is over and he has to get his back-to-school buzzcut. I figured out Grandpa's quick sense of humor and the depth of his affection for the people in his life, and I knew he loved and adored me. Those realizations took some time, though, and that first summer when my life changed so radically and I needed to know I was in a safe place with kind people, I'm grateful that Paul Harvey revealed glimpses of my Grandpa's warm and laughing characteristics, and helped my anxious, fearful 9-year-old tummy calm down with every silent laugh and merry twinkle.

Love from the farm,