Tuesday, November 25, 2008

November in Pennsylvania

Isn't he pretty? I had to take some photos of houses for work yesterday and my route took me past the cemetery in Washington. I happen to really like cemeteries, and this particular one gave me the inspiration for my middle child Agnes' name when I was expecting. I browsed all the oldest headstones looking for names. Is that weird?
Anyway, it's very peaceful and park like, and historical in there, plus the deer live in relative luxury and safety. So fellas like this guy here are pretty unconcerned when you stop your car and start taking photos. Pretty neat.

It rained all day yesterday so we brought the horses into the barn for the night. We've been using the tie stalls, meaning they are in stalls just big enough to stand tied with a manger in front of them full of hay & fresh water. They're out of practice since last winter and a little antsy, but I was afraid to leave them out since they were wet & I expected the temperature to drop a good bit over night. They need to get back in the routine anyway, because colder, icier days are ahead.

I brushed them and tried to rub them dry with some burlap sacks as best I could. I untangled their dreadlocks and got the burdocks out of their manes. Normally these simple things are as good a tonic as any for a crabby mood, but this one's persistent and I could probably stand another dose. Maybe it was because they were too wet to hug on and I didn't get the full benefits. I did go hug and kiss on the coondog and that helped too, but the funk remains.

We had a corral built for the two biggest steers to confine them for their last month or so. It let them run into the barn for cover, gave them exclusive access to their own water trough, their own round bale of hay, and grain twice a day. Sounds great, right? No getting chased by the horses. More food. But I watched them in their new accomodations and they just weren't themselves. Mark was monitoring their water intake and he said CalfLac hadn't come in to drink, as far as he could tell. Buddy seemed depressed being away from the horses and calves-his horses and calves. So Mark decided to turn them back out with everyone else. I wish I'd been there to see it, because apparently they ran around in circles from pure joy for a good five minutes.
Indoors the farmhouse makeover is nearly through phase one. I still have some touchup painting to do and the window treatments aren't due to arrive until mid-December, but we have some real improvement. Once again, thank you, Jill. The other bonus about that: there was like a 35% markdown on coondogs this week, no coupon necessary.

Lily asks me every day if she can stay home from school. I feel her pain and tell her we only have one more day to go til Thanksgiving vacation. She's not really buying it. Mark made his delicious unfamous crab cakes for supper tonight and she pulled an 'I don't like it' so I told her to put ketchup on it (or catsup, as my dear grandma used to call it.) So she'd take a bite, run around the room, and return to her seat. Normally, I'm not cool with stuff like that, but I have a strange singular memory of doing the exact same thing with popcorn while my parents watched Dallas on the TV in the basement. Take a bite, run like mad. Take a bite, run like mad. And they didn't yell at me as I recall, so. It's only fair?

My brother stopped by after work and we polished off a bottle of wine he made me buy for Thanksgiving over at my Dad's on Thursday. What? I watched Sam as my brother poured glasses and I knew it was absolutely killing him so I gave him about 3/8 of an inch in a juice glass. He was on cloud nine to be included. He probably had 3/4 of an inch total when all was said and done and believed himself to be somewhat tipsy. Ah, to be 11 1/2. NO THANKS!

His sisters thoroughly disapproved.

So we've been working on the house, as I've said repeatedly, and a bulk of it was painting. I chose the kitchen color, under duress, and hastily chose "Honey Gold" in honor of our fledgeling apiary. I was looking for a yellow. Was in the yellow tones, with about 2 minutes until we had to leave the store to get to a birthday party. So I'm embarassed to admit, I picked the shade because of it's name. At first, I hated it, but it's grown on me. But for the next 2 colors- dining room/area and living room- I couldn't take the pressure, gave Mark some vague directions, and turned him loose. He chose 'Cassiopeia' for the dining area and 'Raspberry Jam' for the living room. This is the guy who wears the same uniform of blue jeans and one of our screen printed farmers market t-shirts with our name on it every day. He drives a truck so busted we're all afraid to take it on the road. I could go on. But the point is, he picked a really nice shade of light blue for the dining and a beautiful rich brick for the living room. He's just full of surprises I guess. He picked out the flooring too. Nothing fancy-our house doesn't warrant it-but it's nice.

We got the first draft of the kids' Christmas lists. There are lots of hamsters and wigs and Lego's on the lists. I'm sure those are pretty typical Christmas List things, just like 'Don't forget to wash the glue out of your hair' is a typical evening time phrase. These things don't phase me as much as the fact that the girls are finally sleeping in their own beds instead of in a pile on their brother's floor. Is it wrong that I let them sleep like hobos for the past 7 or 8 months?
I have done no shopping thus far apart from 2 gift certificates for my grandmother. And that was only because I went to the grocery store and they were right there. So I'm really sucking on that front and that probably accounts for at least part of my moodiness.
It's gonna be OK though, thanks to the Christmas Hot Toddy Fairy and Amazon. The fairy's come early this year and I get free shipping with my Prime membership. It has it's privileges, the membership does.
Scatterbrained and tired,

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Caught In The Act

Dude is so predictable.

I was getting in my car to go to work this morning and I saw Mark down at Jill's box feeding her. He was calling the cows down for breakfast: "Here ya goooo! Come on!" And the hills were alive with the sound of music and hungry animals.
He didn't know I was watching him yet, and he bent over the dog, gathered her up at his feet, and kissed her on the face.

I love that guy.

I love catching my family in the act of being themselves. I love when the girls are upstairs in their room singing. I've called my Mom numerous times and held the phone outside their door so she could listen, too.

I love when Sam's got all his Star Wars Legos out in battle formation strategizing his next move.

I love when Mark's concentrating on something and his face pulls up into this ridiculous squinty grimace.

I love making this list! More to come.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cause and Effect

My husband's recent manic foray back into the world of racoon hunting and coon dogs has been a bit of a roller coaster ride.

First there was the nostalgic emotional high my dear husband was on. Then my descent into madness, through the bone jarring loop de loop of marital negotiations, and now finally the track seems to be smoothing out.

I've made peace with the possibility of having 'Jill' become a part of the family. She's quiet for the most part, and she does what she's supposed to do. But more importantly, she gave me a huge amount of marital currency without my husband even buying her.

You see, the price tag on Jill is $700. Add that to the huge amount of emotional grief this process has put me through, and that equals enough Husband Guilt to give me new flooring in 5 rooms, 2 new ceilings, baseboards, and 3 rooms newly painted. That's huge. That's something I couldn't accomplish in 5 plus years of 'asking.'

So, Jill, you deserve to live here. You can poop in my yard all you want.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Current Pet Roll Call

In no particular order:
1. Helen- Bunny-soft calico cat, talkative, licks a lot which is sometimes gross
2. YoYo- Black & White tuxedo cat, de-clawed by his previous owner, drools when he's happy, called Oreo by his first family
3. Baby Coco- Maine Coone-ish, black & white cat born on the farm, has many extra toes, pretty and soft
4. Peanut- Baby Coco's full sister, tortoise tabby with one orange tabby buttock, extra long tail, talkative, totally normal feet
5. Penny- 7 year old yellow Dudley Labrador Retriever, her mind is a terrible thing to waste but she does it anyway, LOVES swimming
6. Copper- not quite 1 year old son of Penny, also yellow Dudley, his most common gait is hopping around like Tigger
7. Admiral Pondwalker-Sorrel gelding Appaloosa horse with only 3 or 4 tiny spots ,if you can find them, my husband's horse, but mainly ridden by my friend Annette, likes to test new riders, fun to gallop, I love him
8.Nikki-Bay Appaloosa/Arab mare, she might have a spot if you look hard, my baby, nice trot, bucks when we canter, totally love her
9. Buddy- Best Steer Ever, Sorrel Short Horn?, bottle raised in the front yard, still plays like a calf even though he's got to weigh half a ton, will eat most anything
10. CalfLac- Buddy's Step Brother, red and white Short Horn Steer, also bottle raised here, he's never been as friendly as the other steers but he's alright
11. The Heifers- 2 black Angus feeder calves, I like to look at them, but we're not quite family yet, I'd love for them to grow up and have babies here
12. The Baldies-2 white faced, black Angus, brother and sister, they're relatively new, easy going
13. The Hogs-They're all feeder pigs right now as opposed to breeding stock, so nobody has a name. They're still fun to visit with, give 'em scratches behind the ear or kitchen scraps as a treat. I think they are all currently Spots: black and white spotted
14. The Chickens- Running about in their coop, they give us fresh eggs (well, not while they're running) & the rooster gives us ambiance, crowing pretty much whenever he wants. I believe they're Cornish-Rock crosses, but could be Rhode Island Reds, and there are a couple of Silkies-a gift from a chicken farmer friend for the kids. I haven't got anybody to raise a clutch out of this flock.
15. The Pond Fish- Husband tells me a hatchery dumped a buttload of fingerlings in there towards the end of Summer, along with snails, clams, and I don't know what else. Supposed to be Catfish & Bass & some kind of Panfish, I think
16. The Goldfish-In our 50 gallon aquarium are 3 goldfish who've lived here as long as we have. Our neighbor across the street had fish that had a bunch of babies and she gave us a few. She had them in a baby pool in her cellar.
17. The Fatheads-Sam caught a couple minnows out of the creek & keeps them in an aquarium in his room.

Seriously, I was starting to think this wouldn't end...
Oh, ya
18. maybe- Jill, the Treeing Walker Coonhound- her trial period is coming to an end, and a decision must be made. Unfortunate timing of the full moon meant that Husband hasn't been able to hunt her for a couple days. She is really a super sweet dog, smart, seems to have gobs of potential, has treed coon all by herself since she's been here. I, of course, can't vote 'yes' on her, but we'll see what happens.

So that was fun. And a nice little time capsule to have, since this list is forever changing. We'll see how it looks in six months or so.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Slow Money Bleed

We started a small home improvement project last weekend. That's a snake skin in the middle of the first picture. It was one of several found in the ceiling. One of dozens (with and without live snakes in them) we've found since moving in. The snakes moved out a couple years ago because we are way too noisy, but I am grateful for the snakes. If it hadn't been for the snakes I'm positive I would have had to clean buckets of mouse turds out of all the kitchen drawers when we moved in.
Fact of the matter is, the house was literally on the verge of being condemned right before we bought it. Dr. L, the guy in charge of condemning stuff in our township, told us so. The house and every building on the property was waist deep in junk. And the house itself was really gross.
By some miracle of hysterical blindness, I did not trouble my memory with the images of the blue toilet with no lid or the bright red extra shaggy shag carpet in the bedroom or the turquoise everything or the smell. Leave it to me and the husband to spend 95 % of our time out in the woods behind the house, oblivious to the hideousness we were trying to borrow money to buy. We fell in love with the woods and everything else was just gravy. Chunky, congealed, mystery meat gravy. But it was our gravy. OK, that's a little too close for comfort, so I'm going to move on.
The victory of winning our prize was tempered by the massive amounts of filthy hard work it was going to take to fix and clean everything. And we're still in the midst of it. Hence, our recent little project. We're replacing the disgusting busted ceiling & goonie busted flooring in the laundry mud foyer. It's the laundry room with the most used door in the house. So it's like my entry door. And mud. Because no one but me sees the logic in leaving your dirt outside.
It's a small step in my journey to an unembarrassing house, and I'm super excited that I might have new drywall up when I get home from work.
The only drawback to starting this project is that it's started that familiar trickle of money leaking from our house. First it's insulation, then it's drywall, then screws, oh, and now we need to build another corral for the steers & a creep feeder for the feeder calves, and so on. Then this pipe needs replaced and we might as well go ahead with working on the kitchen, hey, lets build a great big pond with fish and a fountain, and what about the yucky bathroom and before you know it we've got one hell of a flow of cash rushing out our doors.
We've done it every year though, and we've made definite progress. For example: No snakes in the house.
And we love our place. Be it ever so goonie, there's no place like home.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Honey, It's Cold Outside

But hunting season is only a couple weeks away. Rifle season for deer, that is. I find myself peering into every patch of woods and open field on my way to and from work looking for them.

I'm looking forward to an early morning hike up the hill behind the house to my tree stand. Hopefully there will be snow on the ground. I'll walk up through the pasture field and crawl under the fence because it's the straightest quietest way to my stand.I probably won't take coffee so I won't have to pee, but I might take an apple for lunch. Or an orange. A winter or two ago I took an orange with me and the smell as I peeled it out there in the woods in the frigid air was spectacular.

Season before last I was treated to a red fox running back and forth across the hill in front of me. It even came within 10 feet or so of my stand. I could still see it's prints in the snow when I came down later. Really cool. And of course I get to see turkeys and squirrels and rabbits and chipmunks and owls. They all keep me company and help me pass the time as I wait for deer.

And when I do see deer-I couldn't be more thrilled if I saw a unicorn walking through the woods! It's just exhilarating. They are so silent! Grey Ghosts. And beautiful and graceful. I really love to watch them. I've had them lie down right below my tree stand. Just cop a squat right beneath me.

I guess it might be hard to understand how I could then actually shoot one, but it's not that I take joy in shooting them. I do take pride in a good shot. Won't take it if I'm not very certain I can take my time and get a good shot. And it's food in our freezer. We generally butcher all our meat ourselves, deer included. So I'm feeding the family, and as far as red meat goes, it's a good red meat. Plus it's something my husband, and eventually the kids, and I can do together.

I was especially proud of myself last year for field dressing & dragging all by myself for the first time. Prior to that my husband or my dad was always there to take control and do most of the work, but last year I was flying solo.

It was a doe. She was right behind my tree stand but I was able to get a really steady shot on her. She ran, but I watched closely which direction she went, and went tracking her about half an hour later. You don't want to go chasing after them right away. You want them to lie down and peacefully go to sleep.

It was raining and miserable, and tracking was kind of hard. My husband had shown me on different occasions how to look for their foot prints, and I was doing OK, but my stroke of luck was another hunter in a nearby tree stand who'd seen where she fell. He pointed her out to me. I signalled 'Here?' and he'd point again, and I'd signal 'Here?' and he became agitated and I became more embarrassed, but eventually found her below a fallen tree.

So Yippee! I have an audience for my first solo deer gutting. It's raining, my giant Roseanne Roseannadanna hair is frizzed out beneath my blaze orange hat and lucky neon green scarf. Every time I lean my gun against the tree it falls over. I dropped the knife half dozen times. I'm trying to manhandle a deer that likely weighs more than me and has legs sticking out in every inconvenient direction. And it's sticky and stinky.

That part accomplished, I sling my gun over my back and get to dragging. Naturally the first part of the drag is uphill through thorn bushes and over fallen trees. I'm still highly aware of my audience of one and trying to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible, so I just go for it. Just dig my heels in and go for it. And fall really hard on my ass when I fall backwards over a tree. But it's cool. I'm fine. Keep on truckin'. And long story short, made it back down the hill I'd humped up over that morning. And no, it wasn't really much easier dragging downhill.

But the other thing I was remembering this afternoon as I was looking forward to First Day (of Hunting Season) was how cold I get.

I am not well constructed for the cold to begin with. What body fat I have is arranged in unattractive clumps on my ass and thighs;the rest of me is a jumble of ribs and elbows. So after I've worked up a good sweat in my fifteen layers of clothes from my hike to the tree stand I begin my rounds of seismic shivering. I've tried lots of things to prevent or minimize it, but it's pretty much become part of the whole experience now. And I realized also that having two little silicon packets in my chest only makes it worse. Kind of like when the power goes out and there's no heat in your water bed. (I don't actually have a water bed, but I did when I was a teen. It was rad. Totally 90's rad) So I have two little unheated water beds just sucking the heat out of me.

When this occurred to me, and it occurred to me that I might journal this in the blog, I considered whether it was something I'd really want to broadcast, but the fact of the matter is, pretty much everyone that knows me already knows about my boobs and it's old news. My kids know about it. My family knows about it. (And teases me relentlessly) I live in a really small town, and most everyone in it knows about it. And if there was anyone left after that, my husband told them about it. His rationale was that he didn't want anyone to have to wonder. Or something like that.

Hey, three nursed babies were not kind to my body. What can I say?

So, it's not a big deal anymore and a very real matter of consideration in my hunting preparations.

I'm pretty sure I'm not going to find any articles about it in the Field & Stream magazine.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

And her name is Jill.

It really gets me how these raccoon hunting hillbillies give their dogs such lovely names, like Jill and Lily and Ruby and Lucy and Belle and Queenie. And to clarify, I use the term 'hillbilly' with affection.

When I got home from work, there in the backyard was my youngest daughter, Lily, fawning over a 6 month old Treeing Walker Coon Hound. The dog was rolling over onto its back, and Lily was petting her and talking to her. Then Lily would get on her bike and the dog would wrap her chain around the bike and knock it over, tail wagging wildly. Lily has always been frisky puppy-like, so no offense was taken. It was a cute match. In fact it took all my strength to not go down there and fuss over 'Jill' myself. I am still stubbornly trying to project my disapproval in the face of everyone else's excitement.

To be fair, she was perfectly quiet all night. And she's only at our house on trial for 2 weeks. So I'm actually having trouble remembering what it is I'm supposed to be opposed to here. This is why my husband and I usually get along pretty well: I am supremely forgetful.

So moving on past the dog drama. Do you ever get those moments of bliss where you kind of freeze and think 'Don't move, or you'll scare it away!' Like when you see a deer in the woods or a butterfly on a flower. You are so overwhelmed with a humble gratitude & joy and near disbelief at the miraculous bunch of grace that is your life, that it nearly knocks you over.

Mark had taken the dog out in the woods (naturally) and the kids and I were in the kitchen. It was chilly and dark outside, but warm & shiny inside. They received their report cards yesterday and they all had straight A's. Sam even got 102% in Social Studies. So everyone was sort of basking in that glow & I made them tacos for supper, so I was their favorite mom ever. Agnes was reading Lily's library book out loud to her with Sam pitching in on any words Aggie wasn't sure of. I started mixing up a batch of oatmeal cookies & the kitchen smelled like vanilla and cinnamon. There were books and magic markers and drawings of rainbows & cats all over the kitchen table and what could be more wonderful? My three children reading & talking & getting along. All at the same time!

And I knew it wouldn't last, so I simply savored it. Just tried to stay quiet and small, making slow movements so I wouldn't frighten it away.

But bedtime eventually rolled around and I was forced to break the spell myself. Aggie bailed on the cleanup effort and Lily nagged her about it. Sam did his usual indignant bit, and Daddy came home and just generally got in the way. There was just enough oatmeal cookie-scented magic lingering in the air to get everyone to bed before the clock struck 9. Then we all turned into pumpkins. The End.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Bubbling Cauldron

Mark came home from Coondog City around 11 last night. It's not a real place. It's Mark's name for Jerry's house up near Pymatuning where all these blessed dogs come from. Ordinarily I find his special names for things endearing. Right now I'm too busy being a bubbling cauldron of WTF to be won over because I'm fairly certain there's a coondog in my barn.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Reunited & It Feels So Good or Daddy Wants A Coondog

I am newly reunited with my old friend Elliptical Machine. We were on a break since maybe March and it was awkward at first, but things seem to be on the mend. I've put myself into a self-imposed boot camp. Granted it's a really easy 'workout' , but I have been getting up at 5:30am to do it. That is significant because sleep is definitely my drug of choice. Or is it horses? That's a tough one.

So what would finally motivate me to get my butt back up on that machine at an ungodly and dark hour of the morning every day? Other than pinchy pants?

Because it's therapy. Daddy wants a Coondog.

My husband introduced me to raccoon hunting, or 'coon hunting, a few years ago. The best way to do it is with at least one good coondog. More if you've got them. The purpose of the hunt is to get raccoons, skin them of their hide, stretch & scrape the hide, & then sell it for a bazillion dollars. Or like $12 or $15 depending on the market & size of your furs. Actually, the purpose is mostly just for fun. I believe the season runs all year, but the furs are only taken in winter when they're nice and full. After dark, you take your dogs out in the middle of the freezing cold woods & you let 'em loose. They have dragged you from the truck to the woods actually because they are completely insane when it comes to raccoons. Those 5 brains cells in their head are devoted entirely to chasing & howling at raccoons.

So you've turned them loose and they're now running about looking for the scent. When they find it, they start to bark. It's a tortured kind of howling bark, but it gets worse, yes it does.

Now you're hanging out, looking at the stars, interpreting your dogs bark. And yes, you know which dog is yours barking. Very important to know whose dog found the 'coon first if you're out with others. Then a 'strike'! We've got a 'coon in a tree and that dog is barking it's ever-loving freight train of a head off. Like someone is trying to kill the bastard. Like nothing ever wanted anything so bad as that dog wants that 'coon out of that tree.

This is where you play Marco Polo in the woods with your dog. Once you hear the unmistakable sound of your dog on a tree, you go looking for him. Now he could be anywhere, and I mean anywhere. Sometimes the raccoon slips tree: jumps from tree top to tree top & boogies on out of there before the dog realizes. Sometimes your dog is digging a hole in the ground. Sometimes he's across a swamp or in an impossible tangle of bramble bushes. Sometimes he's in a culvert pipe. Doesn't matter though. Because you are never going to get that damned dog back unless you go get him. He will bark at that tree for all eternity until you either shoot the 'coon down to him, or you drag his ass back to the truck.

The most challenging dog retrieval I was ever present for involved Coon Popper who had tunneled into a hillside at an old strip mine. She was in there with the 'coon & they were fighting & making all sorts of dramatic noise. My husband had to dig her out with a shovel. That took a while.

I actually like going with him. It's beautiful out there at night & fun to run in the woods in the dark. So what's the problem?

It's our recent history with Coondogs. These are not house pets. These are working dogs that live outside in a dog box, chained up to keep them from running away from home after 'coons. And did I mention that they bark. Without ceasing, they will bark. We have tried every imaginable way to curtail barking at the box. Popper eventually figured it out & would stop her bawling if you yelled 'POPPER!' out the window. But all the other blasted dogs my husband brought home had to be straight from hell sent to drive me mad. Those SOB's couldn't be stopped, and I couldn't hack it. I don't know what was worse: having to listen to it, or worrying about our few country neighbors cussing us in their homes. I still cringe even now remembering it. I felt a prisoner in my own home. And by that point, even my husband was hating the barking. When that last dog died it was one of my happiest times on this farm. It was like a curse had been lifted. No lie.

And now my husband wants to call this evil down upon us once again. He can't be reasoned with. He is sick with Coondog Fever.

So I hang out with Elliptical Machine & we listen to music. I'm just afraid the music won't be loud enough when the time comes.