Amanda Hopper Writes

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

Month: August 2010

Sweet Beginnings

“Cock-a-doodle-do?” wondered Ian aloud.
The sudden question pulled me from my perfect restful moment. We were parked under a giant Oak tree with the windows down and a cherished cool breeze blowing through the car. My seat was reclined, and Ian was climbing around the truck during our long wait for the bus delivering Grant and Sam.
“It’s a wooster!” Ian shouted.
“A what?” I asked, still not completely engaged in the conversation.
Er-erer-ererrrrrr!
A rooster!” I shouted.
I couldn’t help laughing as Ian looked frantically out the window for the very vocal chicken. We had already spotted a horse, two rams, and a squirrel in our 45 minutes of seclusion.
“He’s running!” Ian squealed.
I looked to the area of the yard where his little finger was pointing and saw a rooster bolting around like his feet were on fire. Ian’s face scrunched up and he raised one eyebrow, his face betraying his thoughts…what is wrong with that thing?
This week has been a confirming week. The kind of week that softens the jagged edges of a hard summer. The heat has been brutal, the work has been exhausting, and the stress has been overwhelming. But this week brought new beginnings and sweet rewards for a job well endured.
The boys started their new school, and they love it. Apparently kids in the country compare how many head of cattle they have or how many acres they live on as opposed to city kids who compete over how many hand-held devices they own that require chargers.
And our boys’ short hair is finally in style….
A blessed 25 degree drop in temperature allows us to appreciate the farm again. Beautiful sunsets remind us of why it was all necessary. The cows are safely secured in our back pasture, and watching the calves frolic in the tall grass is a welcome sight. We finally have some time to dote on them since the painters are busy inside the house.
A new kitten from next door has enchanted Sam and Ian. She adopted Ian after he freed her from our attic where she was apparently trapped for a day. She shows up as soon as our truck does, and the boys spend the rest of the evening following her around. She purrs, she cuddles, and she can scare the fully grown male cat from next door. I have nicknamed her “Diva”. 
Andy is again wishing that he could just camp at the farm until the house is finished. He broke in the new tow-behind tiller and reminds me strongly of Tim-the-tool-man-Taylor when he is seated upon his newest throne.
My favorite quote this week? While driving away from the farm at sunset, Grant murmured from beside me, “It smells like the beach out here…I love the country.”
House update:
The trim work is finished. The painters should be finished by Saturday. The tiling starts next week. We have heard rumors that the front porch is going to be installed soon, along with the front brick staircases, sidewalk, and driveway. The propane tank is coming soon, as well as the septic system. We are about to pay our last rental payment, and we are only four weeks from move-in! 

Cabinets are primed.

“Diva”

Brickwall

I am a recovering control freak. Granted, my road to recovery was not voluntary, it was sort of an intervention by my husband. I am now allowed to be around calendars and planners, it’s rare that Andy has to pry the labeler from my white-knuckled fingers.
I have seasons where I don’t find it very difficult to control my need for control. This particular season of my life is more like the scene from “What about Bob”. I want to scream at the top of my lungs, “I’m doin the work, I’m baby steppin!”.
Building a house is bad idea for control freaks. Baaaad idea. Things are always either moving too fast or too slow. Never at the correct speed that I would move them, were I in charge. And then there’s always everyday-life, having the audacity to not submit change requests to the schedule 24 hours in advance…
On the days that my cell phone is inundated with brain melting calls and I find my self unconsciously hyperventilating, I take the time to physically unclench my fists and pray for peace. The one thing that will bring my careful composure to ruins in an instant? The fact that my cows are not in my pasture.
I know it’s a pride issue.  I cannot stand that my well laid plans have been thwarted by my future dinner.
So driving in to the farm tonight, and spotting all four russet beauties in my field made me giddy. Then God sent the rain. Not a welcome drizzle to cool the breeze, but a torrential downpour and lighting strikes so close they left your arm hairs sizzling. Don’t tell me it was a coincidence that heaven broke open right when we could have patched the open fence and trapped the cows. God knows me. I have given Him control of my life and sometimes it comes back to bite me in the…well you know the saying. I know He’s right. I need to let go. So while scowling at the clouds and feeling Him chuckle at my stubbornness, I gave up.
I cannot control the weather, the cows, the delivery of wood, the painting of the walls, or my husband. I’m tired of playing tug-o-war with God…. I’m just gonna end up tired and covered in mud…again.
Surprises are… great. I’m learning to love them. Pulling up to see the brick-work on the house taking shape, the cows in the pasture, my crazy husband and his beautiful spontaneity, a random hug from one of the boys, or a rainbow stretching over the house as I drive home for the night. Surprises are good…the schedule shows I have time for one Friday at 11am….

Brick pillars at back of house.

Andy’s office moulding.

Door mouldings.

Cattle Ranchin is Making Me a Horse Lover

That has to be the title of a country music song. Surely other ill-fated city folk have delved into the crazy notion that they can become cattle ranchers. I am learning to hate cows. So stupid!
And yet apparently smarter than me.
Funny that our pastor spoke on humility Sunday. He taught that the only way to become like Jesus is to live a life of humility.
Jesus must have had cows.
I really wish there was some other way for God to serve me up my dish of humble pie that did not involve chasing cattle around like a five-year-old chasing an ice cream truck. We have spent two evenings trying to reclaim our herd. The mommas are happy to come over to their home pasture and eat. The calves are causing the problem. They will not set hooves on our property, even if their food sources are happily grazing there. This isn’t normal right? Aren’t the babies supposed to stay with their mommas at all times?
Figures my stubborn cows would birth stubborn calves. Calves that look more and more like bulls than heifers. I have been becoming more certain everyday that them is boy parts. I know it seems strange that we haven’t been able to tell up to this date. But imagine trying to check the parts on a dog as they run past you at warp speed. I never knew calves were so fast. They are impossible to catch.
Without a horse that is.
That brings me to the title of this blog. Most country residents that I talk to once had cows. Now they have horses. When I share my stories, they wince like I have initiated a horrific war memory. I take comfort in this. Maybe I am not the worst cattle rancher of all time. Maybe it’s the cows fault. That explanation sure makes me feel like less of a looser. But some little voice inside keeps reminding me that if either of my Grandfathers, or if Andy’s Grandfather were around we would be surrounded by wisdom and experience, not staring down momma cows in thigh-high grass at sunset.The books claim that cows are easy to herd, just stay in their flight zone and if you keep moving forward so will they. So several of us follow the century-old cow-herding procedure and then inevitably comes the “crazy Ivan”. If you have seen the movie “Hunt for the Red October” you will quickly sympathize with me, if you have not seen the movie, go rent it right now and watch it tonight. We have a 50/50 shot of guessing which way the cows will turn in their flight path…and we always guess wrong. 
So I am off to engage in the old adage, “it’s easier to catch flies with honey”. I am in search of “sweet feed” as the locals call it, a.k.a. cow honey. I am hopeful that this endeavor results in my normally gentle cows gracefully following me into our pasture, and not the image of the bear chasing the honey pot that keeps flashing in my mind.
House Update:
We are less than six weeks away from moving into our new home. This causes elation and stress, depending on the hour of the day. The cabinets are in, the wood floors are laid. The trim is about 2 days from completion. Then comes painting, AC, and tile work.

Kitchen

 Master Bedroom

The Mothertoad

I crack myself up….can’t stop laughing at the title of this blog. It could be the dehydration…or the fire ant venom. Does fire ant venom cause an intoxication effect? After living in Texas for 13 years, I have had my share of bites from the devil creatures, but I actually felt these monsters bite me today. The kind of fiery sting that makes you drop whatever you are holding and look for the cause of the pain. Then follows the shock that something so small could be the source of such a disruption, and then the strange giddiness as you crush the little bugger into oblivion. 
Anyway, back to the title. Ian and Sam were sent into the crawl space under the house this morning to perform trash removal. The boys demand to be paid in ice cream. What they don’t know is that ice cream is way cheaper than allowance, but we make the disgruntled face for show and they feel as if they have beaten the system. Sam sort of works, Ian mostly engages in frog-hunting. He carries a box with him to stow his trophies for the day, and releases them when we leave for the night.
I positioned myself outside the front porch to catch their tosses, reminding them to shout “gardy-loo” to warn me that something was coming. They have no idea what the phrase means, it is just an inside joke for Andy and I…hey, laughter makes the work go faster. Someday Sam will discover the meaning of his warning and will proceed to wear it out in the span of an afternoon. Then Andy and I will have to rack our brains to come up with some other form of fun at our children’s expense. Don’t judge…what is the point to parenthood if not to make fun while they remain naive? You know they will do it to us when we are old and senile.
I was waiting for the next round of tosses and listening to Ian growl in protest that the frogs were way too fast today. How was he supposed to catch them at this speed? I shouted down the hill that God gave frogs four legs to challenge his skill. I heard Ian fall…and complete silence from the cave. I was about to become concerned until I heard Ian groan, “Oh noooooo!”
“You smooshed it.” Sam commented.
“I killed him!” Ian wailed.
“Just push the dirt over him” Sam instructed.
Ian whined a little longer, but the grieving was short-lived when two more alive frogs hopped by. I could hear the box being dragged behind little legs and he was off again.
Boys.

Shrinkage

“I swear I am getting shorter!” I demand.
“No way.” Andy’s reply. However, I catch him sizing me up out of the corner of his eye.
Months of hauling wood beams the size of my truck, and hours spent bending over sweeping sawdust have left my spine feeling compacted. Nothing hurts, I just feel like I need to spend some time on one of those medieval racks. 
Maybe not.
If the rack went badly it could result in an ER visit and we are done with those. The kids have been informed that there are no more ER visits this year, it’s duck tape and superglue from here on out. Grant and Sam have healed from their porch mishaps. Ian has a new lip scar, and the burns on his hand are now peeling…disturbing but apparently healthy. Oh, I guess I forgot to blog about the first degree burns Ian sustained from a “curiosity killed the cat” incident. That about sums up my summer, first degree burns are the least of my worries.
We’ve moved on to auto trauma this week.
We were all driving to the farm, listening to Miranda Lambert’s newest CD and BOOM! All of a sudden we were lopsided and the groaning of metal on asphalt drowned out the music. Andy willfully convinced the truck to move to the side of the road…in a contruction zone… at the top of a hill. We all jump out to find the front passenger tire obliterated. We prayed a thank you for keeping us safe and Andy set to work putting on the spare tire.  I was truly grateful Andy was there, normally I make that drive by myself with the kids. A blown tire with yours truly behind the wheel would have resulted in a nuclear meltdown since that area does not get cell service.
I was beginning to loose faith in Blue Betty, I had just gotten her a new battery two days before. She seems to have decided that now is a great time for a make-over. Doesn’t she know we’re building a house?! Four new tires are not part of the plan! Andy’s car has also decided that it can take no more… honestly has that 250,000 miles meant nothing?!  Luckily all it will take to fix it is money. This is where I half-heartedly laugh through scowling eyes.
Is that frustration leaking out through my humorously sarcastic words? You betcha. Don’t get me wrong, I still feel blessed. The right side of my brain logically knows slow and steady wins the race. However, the left side is throwing a tantrum because she can’t find a short-cut in the marathon.
House Update:
The drywall is done, the texture has been sprayed on the walls. The cabinets are being built, and the woodwork trim begins Monday. We still have no idea where our porch wood is, but we got fantastic news this week. We are completely on budget! The builder said that we are an “oddity”, most people are already at least 1% over budget by now. Andy performed a touchdown dance at being called an oddity. Remember how Andy and my dad vie to hold the title of cheapskate? Score one for Andy… he holds the crown a little while longer.

Family Room

Future Kitchen



Master Bedroom


Fried Chicken Friends

Andy and I got married on the same day he graduated from college. Our parents packed our U-haul while we were on our honeymoon. A week after our wedding, we moved to Texas so Andy could start his new job. It was a wonderful time in our marriage…and a terrifying time. We were completely alone, twenty-years-old, and half a country away from our families.
Aunt Merle and Uncle Ed own a farm in Oklahoma and they provided a safe place to fall. They were married during WW II and can still finish each other’s sentences. We spent almost every other weekend there our first year. They were the ones who showed us that making it on your own isn’t really life. To achieve true life, you must share it. They would tell us stories about their friends, about how they were all so poor that they would each bring parts of a meal to share. About how this group of families experienced every season of life together, supporting each other however they could. Fried chicken friends.  No matter how messy things get, they’re still your favorite.
They have always provided the kind of home that makes your soul sigh in happiness when you walk through the door. Where food, conversation, and dominoes are the only currency needed to achieve true happiness.
In this age of cell phones, pagers, voicemail, texting, and e-mail, we hear every voice but the ones that matter.
Andy and I want our home to be a safe place. The home that soothes the weary hearted and reminds you to gaze at the stars. We have been blessed with great friends, people who will be there no matter the time or trouble. Families who, although they may not know why we’re running, cheer us on to the finish line.
Several weeks ago, some of those friends came in the sweltering heat to see the farm. We had a cookout with the truck bed serving as the buffet line. They came armed with bibles and the biggest sharpie pens I have ever laid eyes on. They prayed over the foundation of our home, the bones. They wrote verses on the door frames and the bare floors. The words of God are everywhere, just beneath the surface.
Others will come and their laughter will christen our walls. And we will find true life and real joy behind the screen door that will announce their arrival. Fried chicken can’t be made in a microwave, it must be given attention and care to be the best, and it takes time. Time must be wrestled away from the world that devours it, and given a place at the table. A table so surrounded by friends, so scratched by domino wars, and so worn that it’s a perfect testament to a fried chicken life.