A writer's tale of living and working in the country.

Month: May 2010

Coup d’├ętat

“The dogs are fighting!” Grant screams as he slams the back door.
Snarls and growls fade as the door separates us.
“Why did Jessie attack Missy?” I ask.
“No momma, Missy attacked Jessie this time.”
Ever since Missy came to live with us, Jessie has been alpha dog. She expects to be petted first, eat first, and be put into the truck first when we go to the farm. And Missy lets her. Well at least Missy used to let her.
I walk out into the back yard and Jessie runs up to greet me but as I stretch out my hand to pet her, growling rumbles from beside me. I look down and Missy is firmly planted beside me warning Jessie to back away.  
And she does.
So I reach down and pet Missy first, then she walks away so I can pet Jessie. As I try to grasp what has changed in the pecking order, realization dawns… Jessie has been overthrown.
Jessie has always been top dog but when we go to the farm she is bested by Ranger, the next-door neighbors’ large golden retriever. They were never any battles, he just claimed it. And the rest of the dogs fell in line.
Missy is an incredibly smart dog, and she adores Ranger. It is strange, but you can tell that she adores him.  I think that girl realized that Jessie’s power was up for grabs after she saw Ranger decide it was his. And at home, Missy has decided it’s hers. Missy will now draw blood if Jessie tries to get to me before she has had her time.
I’m ashamed to say it, but Jessie deserves everything she gets. She bullied Missy for months, and Missy finally realized she’s bigger. It’s like watching your kids fight and when the timid one finally lands a punch, you know you should do something adult-like and punish them, but secretly you’re thrilled that they stood up for themselves.
The first floor was framed today. It will be finished tomorrow. Two more weeks and the entire outside will be finished. Crazy…I never thought we would get to this point, and now it’s going so fast. I know it will slow down again when the interior finishing begins, but that will still be so exciting with the daily changing of the details.


“I’m gonna head over to start the fire.”
Andy’s words jerked me out of my morning fog and started a rush of images sprinting through my head. Trees catching fire… our newly framed basement on fire… then the headlines, Man sets fire to Wise county.
Andy has been clearing brush like a haunted man. Everywhere he looks, he sees weeds and vines choking his beautiful land. I fear the only reprieve for the brush will be when he has to complete the wiring for the house. The mass clearing has led to gargantuan piles of dead wood and leaves cluttering the landscape. How do you rid yourself of dead brush in the country?
You burn it.
Uh oh.
When I arrived at the farm, the fire was burning nicely. My concern grew as the wind picked up speed, but Andy assured me that it was much less than the maximum limit of 20 mph as deemed by the fire marshal.
Then he added a small dried-up juniper tree to the ash pile. It looked like a Christmas tree engulfed by a flame thrower.  Panic flooded my throat as I choked out, “Andy help….”
After 9 hours of standing over a small dump-truck-sized fire with a water hose, I can now tell you exactly how each kind of tree will react to the inferno. I know exactly how much water to spray onto the branches, and for how long, to keep the flames from jumping out to touch the living trees nearby. I know how long to hold the branches to the fire before the needles or leaves catch and how quickly to move back before they take me with them.
I am happy to report, the brush is gone and the farm still stands. We knew the ashes had cooled when Missy (our dog) stopped jumping like a frog in a hot skillet every time she pounced on the soggy remains. She can’t stand to let a good water stream go to waste.
The foundation is finished, as is the basement framing. The builder says the entire first floor will be framed by the end of the week. Our playroom has become another storage unit as the remaining appliances are ready for pick-up. Only three to four months left. I can make it….I can make it….

Labor Pains

Building a house is a lot like having a baby. A positive pregnancy test is like the backhoe taking it’s first scoopful of earth. All you can think is, this is really happening! Then the morning sickness sets in and, like the slow process of building a foundation, you think, what have I done?!
As your uncomfortability grows, so does your attachment. There are days where you question your sanity and other days where you know without a doubt you are doing the right thing. Like labor, there are days that you want to see and experience every transition. Then there are days that you want to wrap yourself around someone’s leg and beg them to knock you out cold.
Yesterday was like feeling the baby kick for the first time. Surprising, awesome, and emotional.
We spent Sunday at the farm cleaning, clearing, and drive-by fly spraying. The foundation looked the same as it had for two weeks. The concrete walls of the basement were in place and the side wings had not been started. The concrete contractors had been busy weather-proofing and back-filling, both very important, but not very exciting.
Andy had been away from his beloved land for 24 hours and decided he needed to look in on her, like checking on a sleeping baby. Except, our baby had grown in those 24 hours and we didn’t know it.
Andy drives down the winding road to our house and glances out the window to see this:

Shock! We had no idea they started framing. At least it was a good shock… not like the bad shock of the hired clearing incident. The news of the surprise spread through the family like fire claiming a dry field. The excited screams could be heard outside of our house as the boys exalted.
Changes will be more frequent and exhilarating now. All I can think of this morning, is thank God the first trimester is over.Although the joy is slightly marred by the same feelings I had in my second trimester of my pregnancies… the fear of the pain before the finale, the fear that my baby might turn out to be a three-headed alien, the fear that I won’t be strong enough to endure. Then Andy’s words during my labor ring in my ears….
Millions of women have done this before, this in no way makes you special (he thought he was being funny).
Yes, he did actually say that when I was in hard labor with Grant. And yes we are still married.

The Funny Farm Guide to Raising a Smart Alec

Is it wrong that I want to strangle a 9-year-old? 
I mean, I know it’s normal to want to strangle my 9-year-old, but what about someone else’s 9-year-old?
Stupid, annoying, rude…bully!
Grant has had enormous trouble with bullies this year at school. He started out with one, who then proceeded to multiply his efforts by recruiting other low-self-esteem boys to do his dirty work. 
Fortunately Grant is very confident of his brilliance and the contribution his birth has made to society. How could he not be with a father like Andy?
Unfortunately, he was born with the crippling problem of not being able to recognize sarcasm. I know what you’re thinking…are you sure the hospital didn’t switch him at birth? It seems impossible that Andy and I could produce an offspring that lacks the innate ability to toss out unexpected zingers. 
It used to be sweet….until it gave the bullies more ammunition. So now I find myself teaching Grant how to be a smart alec.
It’s much more difficult than expected. Apparently sarcasm must be accompanied by brilliant timing, or you end up looking like an idiot. And laughing during your delivery is unacceptable.
Grant laughs during the delivery.
For example, I instructed him to repeat the following line after being made fun of…
“Um, wow, you have a gigantic booger hanging out of your nose.”
I demonstrated the appropriate facial expression and the quick retreat.
Grant attempted the line, then fell on the floor laughing. Did I mention Grant laughs like George W. Bush?  
Not helping. 
How does all the bully training they do at school do any good at all when the bully in question is the counselor’s son? The teachers have been no help. I actually got a note last week saying that Grant got in trouble because the bully refused to trade papers with him.
How is it my son’s fault if a child refuses to trade papers with him?
Game on!
Remember how I refuse to reign Sam in for his constant evangelical statements? Wait until I unleash a well-trained sarcasm sniper! And when the principal asks if I am going to do anything about it, I will reply…
“Um, you might want to check the mirror…”

Potty Mouth

The words flew out of my mouth at light speed as the semi truck pushed me off the road and into the grass. After I regained control of my truck, quiet giggling drifted from the back seat.  My heart sank as I realized what I had just done. My brain scrambled to remember the exact words that I had let escape. I had trouble breathing when I realized that I had used at least 4 curse words in front of the three little boys sitting white-knuckled in the back seat.
My eyes flew to Ian in the rear view mirror. Thank you Jesus. He was still wearing his headphones and watching the movie. His favorite game right now is “copy”, and he is a master. He can not only copy everything you say, he uses your precise tone and mannerisms.
Grant, the most mature person in the family, turned to Sam and said, “Do not repeat those words.”
Oh the humiliation.
Grant continued, “Well, you can say them if you’re dying, or if someone is trying to kill you like that truck was trying to kill momma.”
Sam turns to me and says, “Momma can I say them if someone is trying to kill me?” 
Think fast. “Yes honey.”
The headphones returned to their ears and their eyes returned to the movie screen.
Then my cell phone rang.
My smiling husband’s picture popped on the view screen.
I might as well tell him now, Sam will rat me out soon enough anyway.
“Hey hon, I’m sorry but I just cussed in front of the kids.”
He replies, “Which word?”
“Um…most of them.”
Silence ensued.
I could imagine the look on his face, it was probably the same look on my Mother-in-Law’s face the time we got trapped on an overpass during an ice storm. I had blasted the windshield with foul language that day too.
Andy was very gracious…chuckling while asking me not to take them to any adult clubs or drug hangouts on the way home.
The concrete walls of the basement were poured at the farm today. The concrete walls and piers for the two side wings start immediately. We could be ready to frame next week. I won’t hold my breathe, but things are moving at a good pace and the weather has been beautiful!

Coloring Outside the Lines

There it is again…the look.
Just one of many faces that have paused with incredulity before answering, “That sounds interesting.”
It bothered me at first, the look, but now I silently chuckle and count how long it takes people to regain their composure. It’s the same look that Sam’s teacher gave him when he announced to the class that Jesus didn’t raise his goldfish from the dead even though he laid hands on it.
The look slips through people’s polite facades. It happens so quickly that their brains comprehend your words before their mouths do.
“We sold our house and we’re moving to the country.”
Their comprehension of your insanity flashes across their eyes before they say, “Wow that’s different, what made you decide to do that?”
“It’s something we always felt that we were supposed to do.”
Their eyes widen in disbelief and I can see that the words “poor girl” are swimming in their mind.
The reaction almost always comes from women. It seems harder for women to accept that I am not normal. Andy usually gets blamed for my lack of girly-girl mannerisms. But the truth is, I just don’t fit any mould.
I do wear nail polish on occasion, but it’s always some neon shade due to my three boys picking it out.  I prefer the gun range to a pedicure, and I think Satan invented pantyhose. I only wear make-up because it contains sunscreen. I prefer wildflowers to roses, and sci-fi to romantic comedies.
And I just traded a “perfect” life in the ‘burbs for a life of cows, gardens, and a Wal-mart as the only source of shopping.

The cows. The topic of our cows is now my favorite source of the look.
“You actually bought cows?”
“Yep, oh, and they’re pregnant.”
“When are they due?”
“In July.”
“Well, that’s something, good luck with that.” 
Good luck with that.
Polite speak for you’re insane and I give it 6 months.

The Cow Whisperer

How hard can it be to spray a cow?
Honestly, things have been going better than I ever imagined with the cows. Yesterday, they even came up to the gate to greet me and practically ate out of my hand. I have been in the pasture with them a dozen times and they are always gentle and curious.
And covered in flies.
They looked pretty annoyed by the flies. I mean, they don’t really make facial expressions, but they were stomping a lot. In my vast experience of five days, the stomping thing was new. I know I would be annoyed if I was covered in flies, so my keen discernment told me they were annoyed, combined with the stomping thing.
So I spent some time this morning trying to figure out how to handle cow fly control.
One method involves using bags filled with dust mounted on posts near their stock tank. No posts means no dust bags. Next.
Another method, and the longest lasting, is ear tags laced with insecticide. Um, no way I can shoot a tag through their ears. Next.
The last method I see is the spray form. Brilliant! No problem!
So the boys and I head on over to Tractor Supply where they now greet me by name. I head to the animal health section and pick up a big ‘ol bottle of cattle fly spray. I purchase a pump sprayer for the application and head back to the farm, very proud of my resourcefulness.
Andy decides the time is right for some cow watering. He grabs the filled sprayer, and I grab the bread bag. Andy walks confidently toward the cows armed and ready. I stare at him remembering that when I met him he was afraid of puppies. And now he is staring down a 1300 pound cow.
Just as we get close, Jenny sees the bread bag and quickens her pace towards us expecting a snack.
Then all heck breaks loose.
The two dogs, who have been perfectly fine around the cows all day, suddenly decide that the cows are way too close to Andy and I. Barking and snarling erupts around us, and the dogs begin pushing the cows back. The cows take off running to the back of the pasture. The dogs stop barking and look up at us with triumphant faces expecting praise for their good deed.
Cows can run faster than I thought.
Andy and I decide that we will go get the truck and he will ride in the bed with the sprayer. We all pile in the pick-up and head down pasture. We pull up beside Jenny first and she is happy to eat the bread while being only mildly concerned with being sprayed.
We move on to Clara who has been watching us just out of spray distance. For the next fifteen minutes, we chase Clara with the truck, engaging in drive-by fly control.
Humbly I must admit that I am no cow whisperer. The parting words of the farmer-man who dropped off the cows now ring in my ears.
“People always say cows are stupid, but in my experience they only say that right after a cow has out-smarted them.”