You’ve got to be kidding

Pregnancy checks are daily.

Bulging womb? Check. Puffy hind-quarters? Check. Softening ligaments? Check. Any day now, the kid/s will arrive. I’m more than ready.

I’ve found myself nesting even though it’s not me that’s giving birth. A few weekends ago, I cleaned out the stalls in the barn. Then I took on the tack room, reorganizing and cleaning it out. The cat watched me impassively, as if contemplating my sanity at whacking down cobwebs and stacking paint. So did my husband.

But, as if the impending arrival of baby goats (baby goats!) wasn’t exciting enough, I was contacted this week by a young woman wanting to know if I’d like to buy a doeling she has for sale. I had been in touch with her mom the year before at a county fair, when I saw a beautiful young Nigerian Dwarf doe she had raised. The mom promised to pass my name along to her daughter in case she had more goat kids become available. Weeks slipped into months and the whirlwind of a wedding, a busy spring at work and the rigors of second and fourth grade eclipsed all else. But my email pinged yesterday. She has a white Nigerian Dwarf doeling, just 6 weeks old. Camanche Hills Charlotte. Would I like her after she shows her at the fair. As if I needed any cajoling, there was a photo of her, bright blue eyes alert and interested, black spotting dotting her white frame and tiny pink nose.

I spent a fair chunk of the evening trying my best to talk her up to my husband. A veteran to livestock ranching, he brought up the pragmatic points that my heart didn’t want to hear but my brain told me to listen to. Retrofitting a space for her. Separating the herd. The fact that we will have babies on the ground in a matter of days. Babies that I’ve been (impatiently) waiting for this spring and summer. I spent the remainder of the evening trying to talk myself out of it. But on the drive to work, my mind drifted back to her face, and the thought of my daughter’s desire to get involved in 4H and showing goats. This one is registered, and her offspring could be too.

My first goats were Nigerian Dwarfs. Twin doelings that came home in diapers and cardboard boxes, sitting on the laps of my newly-minted farm kids. I was so inexperienced the rancher taught me how to trim their hooves, and schooled me on diversifying their feed. Something about the little stature and sweet, spunky dispositions of that breed stayed with me, long after Scout and Boo were killed by a predator.

Everything happens for a reason. What’s one more baby to fold into this happy life? Retrofitting can be done. Some building can happen. The herd needs to be divided as it is. Like Alan Jackson sang, “Might as well share/Might as well smile/Life goes on for a little bitty while.”

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A thing of wonder

There are relationships that are so admirable, you can only watch in wonder as the two people love one another. My parents; grandparents; a handful of close friends. A few months ago, I started reading Julia Child’s “My Life in France.” I can hear her rusty singsong voice in my head as I take in her words, as if she’s narrating the prose only for me, sitting across from me in my little homespun living room. When she writes about her Paul, it rings of a love so true it’s tangible; the comfort of it folds you into its embrace. If only we were all so lucky as to find our Paul.

The “how it began” is simple and true. My parents were visiting, and on a drive with the kids, my mom spotted a 1974 Chevy C20 for sale at the end of a winding country driveway, on the same road that I had come to call home. She mentioned it in passing to my dad and I that night as we worked on our latest project and cleaning the barn. The next day en route to the hardware store for the third time, we purposefully headed the opposite direction, toward the old truck. I called and he answered. “I’ll be right down,” the friendly voice said.

A few hours later and the truck came home with me to the ranch. Then down came the man we had been calling Jim (though turns out not his name) and his mom, who owned the truck. She told me of its original owner, Uncle George, who would take the truck camping with his beloved wife Helen. Aunt Helen had a lucky rock that had, as legend has it, helped bolster her winnings at the casinos a few times. Somewhere in Uncle George the truck was Aunt Helen’s rock. We talked for about an hour about livestock and goats. He tipped his white hat to me and set off to drop his mom back at her home.

In the months that followed, I used Uncle George for darn near everything. Trips to the dump, runs to the feed store, a quiet drive in the country with my dog. I’ve bought lumber and built projects thanks to Uncle George’s industriousness and mobility. My children played in the bed while he’s parked under the big shade tree that abuts the front pasture. Life couldn’t get much better.

Over those months, I went on a handful of dates with seemingly decent men. Some were worse than others. After a while, I put it all aside, focusing instead on my children, work and animals. I started training Stella to walk beside me holding her collar; rode horses; felt free.

He showed up unannounced one day in my driveway. I was getting ready to go to a concert with friends, and had just finished a long day of farm chores and had jumped in the shower. I was in a towel when I answered the door; he was standing over by a quad, the white cowboy hat catching my eye. “HI! Five minutes, give me five minutes!” I darted back inside, threw on some clothes and ran outside. He was there with an offer of fence posts and railroad ties, free to a good home, complete with an offer to dig holes using heavy equipment that’d be on hand in a few month’s time. I mentioned it to my mother the next day. “He said to tell you hello,” I relayed.

Days later, I texted him a question about watering systems. “I’ll come take a look. Are you around tomorrow?” Of course, Fourth of July. An invitation to join my children and I and our close friends was extended. He accepted gladly. His white hat gleamed in the Independence Day heat, but the conversation flowed as if already an old friend.

I had been mowing the next day when he came by on a tractor to deliver help in the form of fencing materials. Giant fence panels and ties to stake down rusted, rolling fencelines. To me, they gleamed like diamonds. He sledgehammered stakes into the ground beside me, not batting an eye at my ensemble of camo shorts, tank top, old hat and work boots, complete with white socks showing. But on his way out, he slowed his rig down and grinned. “That’s a good look you know. You wear it well!”

A few days passed and I texted him to thank him for his help and generosity. Country folk help one another out, but this was beyond the call of duty. I offered to take him to dinner in an attempt to at least show gratitude for the materials he gave without pause. Somewhere, that dinner turned into a day of dining and horse races, laughter and fun. Somehow, that day turned into weeks. But there is something about the way he wears his heart on his plaid-shirted sleeve, his relentless knowledge of livestock and the country that’s in his blood, and the way his cheeks catch his dimples as he grins that gives me pause and makes me smile with each passing day. Jimmy Durante’s “Make Someone Happy” streams relentlessly through my head.

This man I called by the wrong name for days. My neighbor and friend. Somehow, some way, I just may have stumbled across something of wonder.

It’s not you, it’s me

Sometimes, I think God hands you something to care for in an effort to help you realize how to care for yourself.

Rosie is a dark red Chihuahua, about six pounds and some change. At around 8 years old, she’s developed a set of soulful eyes and a dainty gait. But her reactions at times bely a troubled past. She will indiscriminately bare her teeth if you try to pet her. She’ll turn on her back to reveal her belly, but then will nip at your fingers, as if second-guessing her willingness to be vulnerable.

I’ve been rehabilitating her for weeks now. Patiently working with her to gain her trust and let her know that no one in our home will harm her. She behavior has improved dramatically, and for the past two nights, has slept in my bed. The other day I caught myself reacting the same way Rosie would to what was a run-of-the-mill question. I snipped and retreated. And then it hit me: this dog and I share far too much in common.

For months now, I’ve been flying through my life to avoid the hurt that was caused when I suffered what feels like the worst betrayal. I busied myself with children, animals, work and more work, in an effort to avoid a date on a calendar and a broken promise. I didn’t allow myself to stop to think about the fact that I had handed over my broken heart to someone who swore to protect it, only to find out their intention was only to take advantage of it.

I didn’t publicly announce that I called off the wedding and asked him to never to contact me again. Perhaps I should have. But I felt ashamed, despite the fact that I had nothing to be ashamed about. It felt like a failure. I had rings that would never be worn; a dress that still hangs, brand new, in my best friend’s closet. I have interviewed the former prime minister of Israel, yet I couldn’t force myself to face my feelings. I stuffed the hurt down deep, and when anyone would try to get near it to help, I’d bare my teeth.

When the calendar clicked over to June this week, the rain came pouring down. I cried on the drive to and from work. I tried distracting myself with social media, only to see people’s anniversary postings and feel the sense of dread grow larger. Where once photos of babies would make me smile, jealousy bloomed.

Last night, I tucked Rosie into bed with me and began reading “The Power of Now,” a book that seeks to help readers discover enlightenment and live a pain-free life. Being a pragmatist, it sounded like a pocketful of crazy at first, but having finally acknowledged the pain, I decided to let this serve as an opportunity to grow through it and from it.

I know I want to live in the present, not in a pain-filled past rife with what ifs/if onlys/could be/should be/would be. I want to enjoy the precious moments with my children. I want to be with them when we are together, not distracted by my mind or what can feel like 1,000 voices infiltrating from all sides.

So this month, where once a promise would have been made, I made another kind of promise. To myself. I made a promise to truly live. IMG_0113

Grumpy cat

Having been recently thrust into the dating scene again because of an unwillingness to sacrifice my morals and ignore the voice in my head telling me to run for my life (read: he was a deceitful jerk), I find myself happening upon some interesting observations. Listen up gents (and ladies for that matter), you might learn something (or at least be amused for the next few minutes).

  1. Text messaging is the devil. If you’re in the baby steps of dating, do not text that person repeatedly throughout the day. Because:
  • Do I care what you’re having for dinner? No.
  • Do you need you to know what I’m up to every moment of the day (chances are I’m either working my butt off or building something or have my arms full of animals or their poop)? No.
  • Do I want to talk to you on the way to work? No. I want to listen to news radio and music and sing at the top of my lungs and NOT get a ticket.
  • Do I want to say goodnight to you? No. I want to say goodnight to my kids. I want to spend my time tucking them in and giving the 10th hug in a row and helping them pick out which stuffed animal to sleep with. Don’t disturb that.
  1. Don’t post pictures of your children on dating websites. Sure it’s nice to show people that you’re good with children and how cute your pony-tailed daughter is. But it’s friggin dangerous! Haven’t you ever seen “To Catch a Predator?” Take the advice of this criminologist/journalist/mother. DON’T.
  2. Contrary to popular thought, women don’t need a long-winded version of you telling us that you’re not attracted to us. Leave that part out. Just say you don’t want to go out again. Period. We’ll understand the subtext.
  3. Don’t stalk people online. Definitely do NOT Facebook friend someone you haven’t met in real life yet. It’s creepy. Plus it makes #3 that much more difficult. See also: #2.
  4. Don’t call us “girls.” We are women. We haven’t been girls since the day we turned 18, according to A) All woman everywhere B)AP Style and C) Gloria Steinem. How’d you like it if we called you a “boy”? You wouldn’t.
  5. Don’t be afraid to be your own person. Embrace it.grumpy cat2

There’s a (dead) rooster in the trunk

It’s true. There really IS a dead rooster in the trunk of my car. It’s how he came to the ranch. In a twisted way, it seems kind of fitting that it’s how he’ll leave.

I could bury him if it weren’t for the inky black darkness and the sound of coyotes howling from just beyond my back acreage. No, digging a grave deep enough to thwart animal exhumations doesn’t seem wise at the moment.

We found him in the chicken coop, at the end of a frantic hustle to get home and get the goats barned. I had gotten a text message as I was driving home, complete with a picture of the coyote, his stance majestic as he looked pointedly at the goat pasture. I could just make out the silhouette of their goat boat in the distance, and a shadow of my herd huddled in a corner.

I was so intent on ensuring their safety and moving Jaxie into their pasture that I failed to notice Skippy standing sentinel in the bottom of the coop. Not until my son and I were upon him, closing up the chickens, that I noticed something was amiss. He let us pet him, and I took him in my arms as he drew his last breaths. With a pitiful gasp, he was gone. His eyes clouded over, and my 8-year-old put his hand on my shoulder. “Mom, I don’t think he’s breathing anymore.”

I wasn’t sure what to do. What is the proper form when livestock/pet dies and your children are standing right there? We tucked him in a shoe box, tears streaming down my daughter’s face. She had named him. Looked after him. Hugged him.

“Mama, can we take care of him like we did Gregory?” she asked, referencing the rooster before Skippy took up residence here. He too had died rather unexpectedly. I found him dead on the floor near the hen boxes. I didn’t quite know what to do when he passed and so I bagged him up, said a prayer and placed him in the garbage. That was the part they didn’t see, as blessedly, they were with their dad at the time. All they knew was that I took care of it.

But in that situation, trash day was the next day, and coyotes weren’t prowling the property looking for supper. So now there’s a dead rooster in a Ralph Lauren shoe box in my trunk. Something tells me Ralph would be a little disturbed by the thought of a rooster where the pair of red flats used to be.

Yet it’s not where my mind drifts. My thoughts are with the  picture my daughter drew before bed. A pencil drawing of her rooster, “I love you Skippy” scrawled in her wobbly handwriting above his head.

How do you find a bandaid for such a tender heart?

The tale of the goat and the outlier

Being an outlier isn’t easy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For me, it is ubiquitous in all facets of my life, from the art on my skin and my parenting style to my house and ranch.

Last week, I faced what all ranchers dread: sick livestock. Willie Nelson, my 10-month-old LaMancha goat, had contracted urinary calculi — stones trapped in his belly, causing a blockage and sending his nitrogen levels through the roof. We found him lying in the pasture, unable to walk and jaw slackened with his tongue hanging out. He was so dehydrated he couldn’t bleat. His body was limp in my arms as I carried him to the barn, my two children trailing close behind.

“Mama is he going to be ok?” Elle asked.
“Shh don’t ask that!” Lex whispered.
“I’m not sure guys. All I know is he’s sick and we’re going to do what we can to help him,” I said. My mind pushed down emotion as my brain tried to recall flashes of ailments, tests and remedies I’ve read over the past year.

We ran to the house, the kids’ feet carrying them faster than my own. Two minutes later, we were back in the barn, a syringe of antitoxin and a thermometer in my hand. I gave him the shot, then readied the quarantine stall for Willie. He had come to live at the ranch as a baby, one of the four bucks I adopted in an effort to save from slaughter. One of our Highway Men. The little white goat who steals your heart before you realize it’s skipped a beat.

Twenty minutes later, he had perked up enough to stand. We put him in the infirmary stall with some grass hay and watched as he happily plucked the best bits from the pile. Elle took my hand as we walked inside. She squeezed my fingers gently. That night, Willie was at the forefront of nighttime prayers.

The next two days flew by in flurry of insomnia, injections and unknowns. By Friday morning, he wouldn’t stand again.

Some may have chosen to give up; put him out of his suffering.
But I made a commitment to this animal – to all my animals – to raise them with love and gentleness. To try. To fight. To succeed.

I dropped the kids off at school and made a bed of blankets in the back of my car. Willie didn’t make a sound on the eight minute drive to the equine vet, where a few months before, he and his brothers had been wethered. A few hours, many tests and a procedure later, and we knew his diagnosis and for the most part, his prognosis. He would get better, but it’s now up to us to adjust his feed and care in an effort to help lessen the other stones and prevent more from occurring.

I add ammonium chloride to his grain ration; serve hay for dinner. This weekend, I will cook a special homeopathic ‘soup’ to give him in four doses.

He was always an affectionate little goat, but now, when we are together, he pushes his face against my leg. Thank you for not giving up.

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Rolling down the highway

The highway was dark and windy through the hills. So remote that for about an hour in each direction, there was no cell phone reception. I was off the grid. It felt unnerving and yet addictive and liberating all once. Like taking a downhill slope without poles.

On the way there, my children chattered eagerly in the backseat, naming the four-week-old baby goats we were in route to pick up. Our herd of eight was about to expand by three more – two does and one buck. Triplets born May 28 to Truman and Cheryl, experienced goat farmers who been through the kidding season all their lives and wanted to enjoy retirement and the serenity that elder does bring to a farm. They were selling the bottle babies for a song, and even lowered the nominal price when I said I would take the boy. “Do you know anyone who might want to take on a buckling? I can wether him for ya,” Truman said when I called. “You mean there’s a third?” I asked incredulously, shocked that their sale didn’t just list them as a trio that needed a home. “I’ll take him. I can’t split them up.” They were named 10 minutes into the two-and-a-half hour car ride. Klaus, Violet and Sunny, named for the main characters in the Lemony Snicket novels. They are Nubian goats, the same breed and names as the pair we had lost months before to untimely death. 

Darkness settled in as we pulled away from Truman and Cheryl’s humble farm, where I was peppered with questions about my goat-rearing abilities. What kind of bottles would I use (Caprine nipples atop long-neck beer bottles – raised eyebrow), do I know how to trim hooves (yes – audible sigh of relief), will I vaccinate (yes, I do it myself – nod of approval). I tucked the three babies, already calling for their mother – enter pangs of guilt – into the dog crate retrofitted with cardboard and alfalfa that was tucked tightly in the back of my SUV. Truman and Cheryl looked concerned. “I’ll show you my ranch,” I said as I ushered my son and daughter into their booster seats, feeling as if the goat herders might change their mind should I linger a moment longer. I tapped on my camera and up popped the lock screen photo of my son hugging our newest La Mancha baby, Merle Haggard, and kissing him atop his fuzzy brown head. Cheryl looked pleased. 

We laughed as the baby goats entertained us for a few minutes with a chorus of “Mehs,” like a trifecta of Yiddish misfits bemoaning mushy matzah. About 20 minutes into the drive, my children fell into a deep sleep and the babies finally tucked their legs under them and huddled close, drifting off as the miles passed by. Patsy Cline crooned softly on the radio, crackling every once in a while like vinyl due to my streaming the album through an unused radio frequency. It was the only function my phone had at the moment. Calm set in. That is, until a turn jostled the babies. One stood and mewed softly. A minute later, the car was filled with an unholy stench. I yelped to no one in particular, convinced that my nostrils, and my car, would never be the same. There was still 65 miles left in the journey. 

The smell dissipated after about 30 minutes. The last stretch of our trek, my mind shifted to what my life has become: adventure, farm-edition. Life, death, laughter, sadness, joy, pain, work, rest. But most importantly love. Love for two people I do it all for – my children. Love for animals that might not know it otherwise. And love for myself. For the strength I’ve found and the fearlessness with which I now live my life. And what a life it is.