Riding with a Rat

They come with the territory. Anytime there’s feed for horses or cattle or even dogs, they’re going to arrive to see what they can salvage from the smorgasbord. You may have the cleanest barn in the neighborhood, which we do, thanks to my OCD husband who blows out the barn aisle at every opportunity.

For the first time last evening, we saw a little unwanted guest. I, of course, am using that particular adjective loosely. Anything larger than a chipmunk should be charged rent. I heard my husband yelling, “Did you see him? Did you see him? You almost stepped on him!” That was a tidbit that I didn’t need to hear.

It turns out the interloper ran from the front of the barn all the way to the other end and disappeared. The little bugger. I never got an eyeball on him.

“Was it a mouse or a rat?” I’m not sure why that really makes any difference but it does. We horse people are a weird lot. Mice….hmm. They’re cute. Rats! It’s like the elephant in the closet.

“It was about this big.” He held his hands apart about 6″…. yep that’s a rat.

“Well he’s gone now and honestly, all the food is in a metal container. I wouldn’t worry.”

We headed up to the house without a second thought.

The next morning, my husband decided to mow the front lawn before noon. I don’t know about you, but I love the sound of a mower. It brings back childhood memories; the smell of fresh-cut grass, the distance hum of the mower and the memory of my father whipping around on his riding mower with his favorite farmer’s cap perched on his head. My husband is the same. He loves his zero turn, taking great pride in making sure the lines are even and level. Wanting to complete the lawn before the sun got too hot, he was in a particular jaunty mood, turning corners on a dime, zipping right along. Not only was my husband enjoying the ride, so was the rat.

Of course, the stowaway wasn’t discovered until my husband stopped to blow off the debris that collects in the filter. While he’s at it, he blows everything off. That’s when he discovered “Harold” literally flying off the mower when he got caught in the crosshairs. Then the real fun began.

In an effort to hide from both from my husband’s blower and further airborne torment, “Harold” darted into, of all things, our garage which was only open for the guy working on our base boards. In hot pursuit, my husband followed, cornered him and revved up his blower again. Once more, “Harold” was sent airborne, flying in a perfect five foot arch before landing outside the garage. His little legs working overtime, he scrambled toward the screened portch in the back of the house, my husband unsuccessfully trying to send him airborne into our neighbor’s pasture.

I heard a frantic thumping on the door.

“Get Charlie! CHARLIE! Come here Charlie! Rat! Get ’em boy!”

Charlie is our jackshitz…part Jack Russell, part Shitzu. Now you would think any dog with Jack Russell blood would take off like a lawn dart after such a prize catch but after leaping out the door in excitement, all Charlie could do was look up at my husband as if to say, “Yea, so? What am I supposed to do about him?”

“Harold”- unable to climb up the screen eventually took off toward the back yard and tried to disappear into the brush, with my husband, blower revved up to the highest rpm level, right on his tail, no pun intended. I would like to be able to say there is photographic documentation of this. An airborne rat is not something you see everyday. Unfortunately, as with most delightful escapades, it’s a visual one can only imagine.

Ah, life on a farm. It’s never boring.

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Three Little Wrens

Spring and early summer means birds nesting, hidden eggs in some hideaway, the loud chirping of mother birds and the eventual shallow squeaking of the babies when they respond. This is especially true in barns. I mean, what bird could possibly resist? Shafts of golden straw and hay, strands of long hair from horse rubbing their manes on fences all woven together with Spanish Moss from nearby Oak trees.

We were lucky to have two separate nests this summer…of course, when the mother flew up from seemingly nowhere, it caused our hearts to jump. Fortunately, she situated her second nest in a less conspicuous stall and we were able to monitor the babies from a safe distance.

One morning, while emptying the water buckets to refill while the horses were in the paddocks, we were alarmed to discover what I previously thought to be a “road apple” turned out to be drowned wren. Could it be the mother? We crept into the unoccupied stall to check out the now fledgling babies. Immediately three gaping mouths reached upward to receive food, obviously hungry.

Damn!

As animal lovers, we were worried without their mother they wouldn’t last much longer. Immediately, we googled “what to feed fledglings”. Isn’t Google wonderful? I never realized I’d done it wrong all those years ago. Under definite no-no list was bread and water. Surprisingly, soaked dog kibble (very soft) or crushed meal worms. I opted for the soaked kibble and a small syringe, all the while reminding myself their stomachs were half the size of a pea.

Frankly, we didn’t think they would last throughout the night but we tucked them in, made sure their nest remained intact and placed a small wool towel around the base.

The next morning we were greeted with three gaping mouths and high pitched squeaks. Hallelujah…we hadn’t killed them.

About two days later, we heard what was definitely a mature wren chirping quite loudly. Who knew suchIMG_3898 a small bird could emit a sound 10x its size? We continued to feed them but since we were now being scolded, we let the male bird take over…or what we thought was the dad.

Doing night check the following evening, we noticed the wee three amigos perched together on the stall door. We had watched the activity from the previous day. Obviously IMG_3901the parent had encouraged his entourage to spread their wings. It had only taken 24 hours for them to leave the comfort of the only home they had known up until then and begin their journey into the great beyond. Fortunately, we were able to photograph them before they disappeared entirely.

We are happy to report, the next morning they hopped from hay bale to hay bale before flying to the window and taking that final leap into the unknown. I’d like to think we played a small part in their success if only with a few meals.

 

Repurposed, Reloved, Recycle

I admit it. I’m a sucker for an old, worn wonderful piece of furniture. If it looks sturdy enough and it strikes my fancy, chances are better than average it will wind up in the back of my Jetta Sportwagen for the quick trip back to our garage for a revamp. (On a side note, it’s amazing how much one can fit in the back of that VW. They’ve come a long way from the Beetle)  Long ago I gave up trying to sneak any new found treasure into the garage without being discovered. My DH instinctively knew. I don’t know how. He would be standing near the door, arms crossed with a hint of the “stinkeye”. You know the look. One eyebrow raised, lips pursed, wanting to ask why I was delving into another project but knowing it might not be safe to do so – conveying this thought through body language. However this time I felt there was a valid reason. I’ve dabbled in writing most of my  life. While I love it, I’m not prolific nor do I write on a regular basis. I admire those who can crank out amazing articles or poems with such ease but I’m more of a percolator. Plots, scenes and story lines play out and rework themselves usually while I’m doing other mundane things.

looking scratched and nauseatingly red

Worn, scratched but definitely worth it.

Then when it gently falls into place, I try my best to let it flow.

So here I was, walking through one of my favorite unique stores in Orlando, Adjectives Unhinged, when tucked almost from sight, I spied the perfect platform from which I could “let it flow”. Sounds slightly familiar. Well, it was almost perfect. If you could see beyond the red velvet cake mahogany stain, it had the bones and style of something beautiful with three wide drawers neatly placed on either side.  It screamed “Take me home! Make me over! ” How could I resist?

Trying to be environmentally correct, I began using

At work

A little elbow grease…

a low VOC water based remover but this stain wasn’t melting off like icing. I had to bring out the big guns. After some diligent scraping, the remover revealed the rich grain long hidden by the mahogany stain. Unfortunately, the desktop still retained too much red for my taste so I selected a gel stain from  General Finishes called Java. After applying it, I could understand why.

leg detail

Show a little leg!

I’m sure the most of the DIY’ers out there have heard of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. Adjectives Unhinged carries all her colors and although I hadn’t tried the product before, I was drawn to Duck Egg Blue.

Duck Egg Blue isn’t really blue but a soft mixture of grey and blue. It really complemented the darker wood of the desk top. Chalk Paint is an interesting product which I don’t think I would use for every project but in this particular case, the results far exceeded what I could have ever hoped for. Her dark wax added depth to the lower portion and it was easy to manipulate. If I added a little too much dark wax, the clear wax buffed away the mistake. Pretty nifty.  For those of you who have used Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, what are your favorite colors?

juis suis fine

J’ai fini!

This will occupy a spot in front of a large picture window overlooking a green pasture. Beyond the fence line is a field regularly occupied with cows and their calves. I can almost feel the juices percolating. Time to finish editing that mystery thriller since I no longer have any excuses to procrastinate.

Oh, I would be very remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my loyal crew who stuck with me throughout the process.  They may not give advice but they sure made the journey worthwhile. Besides,  Oscar (the overly relaxed soul on the left) now has a place to sleep  other than draping himself over my keyboard. Charlie can sleep safely underneath.

The Critics

The “Crew”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghostly Memories of Thanksgiving Past

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A writing prompt group I belong to threw out a suggestion about the aromas we remember from previous Thanksgivings. Perhaps it was from the fumes of paint stripper as I worked on a new writing desk that made me grab onto the subject and take time to ponder my response. After doing so, other memories from decades past bubbled to the surface and a face came into focus of one I hadn’t really thought of for a long, long time…perhaps too long.

As l remember, her salt and pepper hair was always pulled back in tightly pinned bun. After all, she lived on a farm and wearing one’s hair down just wasn’t done. It wasn’t practical and if my grandmother was anything, she was definitely practical. Every black and white Polaroid showed a taciturn woman, a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles perched on a less than feminine  nose, wearing a plain, cotton house dress typical of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s that ended mid-calf and covered a thick pair of stockings rolled to just below her knees. The only words to describe the shoes she always wore are black, blocky and durable. I believe they were called “Cuban” shoes but definitely capable of trudging through the muck typical of a working farm. To complete the ensemble, Grandmother always wore a top to bottom apron, a virtual necessity of that era, which covered a range of duties from holding freshly laid eggs to protecting her frock from flour during bread making. Most importantly, the apron covered her ample bosom.

Legend has it, my grandmother’s ample girth and bosum hid untold treasures which was later confirmed by my older sister many years later. As the story goes, there lived a woman on the outskirts of town who, to put it delicately, serviced interested gentlemen in the county. Perhaps she was beginning to feel the time had come to pack up and move along but whatever the reason, she came to the decision to sell her forty acre parcel. My grandmother was a shrewd business woman who knew a good investment when she saw one. They decided to meet and while their two attorneys were hashing out details in the parlor, my grandmother and the woman came to a mutual and satisfactory conclusion, sealing the deal with a handshake in the kitchen over a glass of buttermilk. Then my grandmother reached into her bosum and pulled out the agreed upon sum of cash. I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m sure her bosum was safer than the bank.

Truth is my grandmother had been widowed far too early in her marriage: a difficult and frightening situation in a town of about 150. By all accounts she remained stoic and faced the adversity the only way she knew how; with determination, pragmatism and a no-nonsense view of the world. That particular era seemed to be in short supply of warm and fuzzy emotions so I’m sure it couldn’t have been all roses for my father yet he possessed a delightful prankish sense of humor.  Looking closely once again at an old photograph of her, I swear I could finally see a little mischievousness in her eyes too. Perhaps there was more to this woman I always remembered as flinty and slightly distant.

As I continued sanding and stripping, a particular memory slowly came inching back. A visit to my Grandmother’s farm was the closest thing to bliss in my youth. There were pigs and dairy cows along with a stern warning to stay clear of both. She had three devoted Chows, two of which never left her side while the third, a teddy bear with a thick black coat joined me on my adventures. An abundance of bullfrogs and crawdads filled the creek that sliced through the pasture. She always seemed to have a new litter of barn kittens darting out and about the barn sheds. When the mood struck, I would leap on my pony with two lead ropes attached to the halter and ride into town for a cream soda at Pearl’s mercantile. I usually ended up tossing feed to the chickens and the two turkeys in the backyard. On this visit, however, the turkeys were conspicuously absent.

My mother called me in to wash up and a mixture of heavenly aromas hit me as I walked up the back stairs. It wasn’t until I saw my grandmother stand up in front of the cookstove that I mentioned the missing turkeys. Wiping her hands in her apron she didn’t immediately respond but did manage to block the opening. My mother shot my father a guarded look which I didn’t catch but before he could spill the beans about the truth of our guest of honor, my grandmother spoke up, explaining turkeys often wandered off for days at a time. “I’m sure they’ll return by the time you come for your next visit.” I must have taken her explanation at face value for nothing more was said.  She gave my shoulder a little squeeze before shooing me off into the living room to play Chinese Checkers.

Sitting down for Thanksgiving supper at a table covered with a vast array of the most delicious looking vegetables about twenty minutes later, a plate with a slab of ham was placed in front of me. In fact, everyone was served ham. If anyone had thought to question the menu, she must have silenced them with a warning gaze over my head. Maybe she didn’t approach every situation with knife edged bluntness. Perhaps time, age and life had taught her a little levity and holding on to childhood innocence a bit longer to be more important. As the memory came inching back, I’m certain of it.

I look at those old family photographs differently, especially those of my grandmother.  Yep. There was much more to that lady than she let on.

Hope everyone’s memories from holidays past bring a slow smile to your lips. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parenthood = Roller Coaster

From the moment they are placed in your arms, you are overwhelmed with this immense sense of responsibility. They capture your heart when you hear the first flutter of a heartbeat and the love continues to grow. And although you would never in a million years volunteer for the “Rip Ride Rockit” at Universal Studios, you have unwittingly signed up for a lifetime front row seat to the roller coaster that is parenthood.

From the moment they take their first step, you would do anything to shield them from hurt. You know they are going to stub a toe, fall off their bicycle or skin their knee and your heart aches. That’s just the beginning. Next there is the first trip to the Principal’s office, being omitted from a birthday party or worse, not being picked for the sport’s team and you haven’t even left the single digit age bracket yet.

After this stage, we watch as they move to new schools, filled with the angst of making new friends and the navigating the social pecking order. You witness the first crush and the first breakup. During this time, you heart sinks right along with their own, although by now your support is mostly silent…after all, they are teenagers and “they do know everything.” Are we done yet? Not even close.

We feel their pain wishing with every ounce of our being we could take away the sting, knowing full well these are milestones they must experience just as we did. Knowing this fact does not make it any easier. The challenges are bigger, the stakes are higher and a simple kiss can’t make the booboos go away.

Today, I unknowingly took my reserved front row seat on that exhaustive roller coaster. My son loves tennis. I’m not quite sure he understands the sacrifices required to become as good as he wants; only time will tell, but he has stepped up his game in the past few weeks. The next stage will involve competition…at least two tournaments per month, plus setting time aside to practice serving and using the ball machine for consistency. It is during tournament play where the rubber meets the road. Previous matches have not always resulted in a win which is a difficult concept difficult to grasp. This morning yielded the same result—a complete, unequivocal defeat. Needless to say, our young son exited the match disappointed with his performance, feeling completely talentless, stating he should quit but wanting a reason to continue. Unfortunately during times such as these, a parent’s words of encouragement just don’t seem enough. I gave him the same pep talk and pointed out things he might have done differently when I realized he’d crumbled into an emotional heap in the car seat beside me. Truth be told, these teenagers, for all their bravado, are still children.

We sat in the parking lot of Publix and for the first time, I kept my mouth shut; a first for me, unfortunately. I just let him vent, cry, and pour out his frustration. When he was done, we didn’t talk about it and just went to lunch. As luck would have it, next to our table sat a woman with her two sons. The oldest, probably 8, was having a full blown meltdown, albeit quietly while his younger brother, about 5, looked on. After things had calmed down a bit, the mother stood up to get the food and the napkins. It was during this time the younger brother said something to his older brother. Although we were watching, neither of us could make out the words, however, it became clear within seconds whatever it was displeased the older brother immensely. He gave his brother a deathly glare that could only be described as the most incredible “unibrow stinkeye” we had ever seen, again and again. We broke up laughing.

I don’t exactly know what happened to my son during those hours between matches. What I do know is when he walked out on the court later that afternoon, he was different. He carried his head high, walked with purpose and carried a positivWait for ite attitude ready to listen to the little voices of his coaches he carries in his head. Without fanfare or hullabaloo my son had grown up on his own…he had turned the lemons from the morning into afternoon lemonade. Every time he looked at me during the match, he gave me a confident nod. Gone were the outbursts of exasperation and the barely audible swear words. When he walked off the court after losing 6-2, 6-4, he proudly told me, “I think that’s the best I’ve ever played.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Memories of a 12 yr Old

At the dining room table,

her blonde pigtails askew

sat a young girl of twelve

eyeing her mother’s beef stew.

Slumping deep in her chair,

she felt weak at the knees

knowing deep in the bowl

lurked loads of gross peas.

The rule of the house

which the girl thought unfair

before being excused

she had to eat a fair share.

Chewing small stalks of broccoli

was like eating tiny green trees

while the bland taste of cauliflower

could be improved with cheese.

Onions were fine

on hot dogs and such

while tomatoes on salads

she didn’t mind so much.

Left raw and uncooked

carrots weren’t really that bad.

She shared them with Pinhead

the black pony she had.

But peas for some reason

left her sick and uneasy

their mushy consistency

always made her feel queasy.

But several weeks earlier

she’d had a brilliant thought

a way to escape

without getting caught.

When her mom wasn’t looking

while at the table she sat

she’d pack peas in her cheeks

like a little pack rat

With her plate fairly clean

wiping her mouth with a dab

with a smile and wave

she’d scuttle out like a crab.

To the patch of green grass

she would quickly hightail it,

ridding her mouthful of peas

with a well practiced spit.

So, knowing her plan

she dug into her stew

leaving the disgusting old peas

until she was almost through.

So it came as shock when

       her mom sat down to speak

as she sat with those veggies

       stuffed inside her cheeks.

With a smile and a nod

her mom started to say,

“You’ll never guess where I

picked those peas today”

“As I watered the lawn

on this side of our home,

I saw blooms of pea pods

near the old garden gnome.”

“They were ripe and ready

nearly dripping with pods

so I picked them for dinner

although I must say it’s odd.”

“You see, I never bought seeds

Nor planted a garden

In that spot or near there

of that I’m quite certain.”

Her mother looked gently

into the little girl’s eyes.

“So how those plants got there

I can only surmise.”

Feeling cornered and caught

the girl lost all bravado.

unable to leave

she could only swallow.

With a hack and a grimace

leaving her mother amused,

“Take your plate to the sink.

Now you may be excused”

The moral’s annoying

but it has to be said.

parents really do have eyes

in the back of their head.

Unexpected Priceless Moments

Today we celebrated my son’s birthday with a trip to Universal Studios, albeit a month late. He brought one of his best  friends and they settled in the back seat as I acted as chauffeur. Turning fifteen means very shortly they will be vying for the keys of any available vehicle but so far, they have shown little interest in getting their driving peruniversalstudiosmits. This suits me just fine not only because I worry about the risks of teenage driving, a very real danger, but because the ensuing backseat conversations and banter has throughout the years provided the most incredible entertainment ever.  I don’t know what subjects girls discuss, but as far as boys go, you can be sure there will be ample mention of flatulence, gross jokes, innuendos about their friend’s sexual apparatus and great deal of ribbing and trash talk. Best of all, there might as well be a glass wall between the front seat and the back seat for I seem to be invisible for the most part. There are no filters on these conversations….everything is just thrown out there.

Going to the park was mild by their standards…excitement about the day, knowing they could fulfill their junk food desires without restraint and best of all, making it a challenge to keep everything down as they tackled the assortment of rides and roller coasters. One stop they were determined to put on the agenda was the Harry Potter Candy Shoppe where they each nabbed a small bag of what jelly beansI thought were plain old Jelly Beans. My mistake. These jelly beans were actually Harry Potter Bertie Borrs Jelly Beans with flavors like earwax, bacon, spinach, grass and rotten egg to name a few. I wouldn’t have believed it until I tried a few and the mixture of spinach, pepper and sardine exploded in my mouth causing an immediate gag reflex. Blech!!!

On the way home, however, the exchange started to become really interesting. To entertain themselves, they created a new game: “Pop the Unidentifiable Jelly Bean” The only goal seemed to be who could last the longest before spitting out the offensive Jelly Bean. To protect the guilty I have labeled the boys simply by S and C. They each picked out a jelly bean, ate it and then waited expectantly. I didn’t have long to wait.

S: (laughing hysterically) “C! Dude, your face was classic! What was the flavor?”

C: (trying to maintain coolness) “Tastes like soap! Seriously gross man! It didn’t smell like soap.” (major spit reflex)

They pop another one and wait for the other to call uncle.

C: “Tastes like s***! Had to be spinach or broccoli!”

S: (His face crinkling) “Eeeeww. This tastes like pepper…like hot and nasty.”

C: “I heard they make one called booger!”

S: “Yea, they do. When we were up in Virginia and my friend Nathan got some. They also make “dog poop”, “vomit, and “dirt”.

C: “No way!”

S: “Uh huh. We tried them all. I’m pretty sure I puked, though.”  (To myself, I’m thinking; you knowingly ate candy that tastes like dog poop and vomit?????) Then they moved onto the jelly worms.

C: “Smell this one. This one smells good, kind of like limes.”

S: (Takes an enormous sniff) “Yea, that does smell good.”

C: “Dude. Your nose touched it.”

S: (chuckling) “Yea, it did.”

C: “You can have it……”

S; “Thanks.”

As we covered the miles, the conversation began to sink to mild insults regarding the others personal anatomy although I seriously don’t know how the topic veered so far away from the disgusting sugar treats. At some point, C makes the following declaration.

C: “S…..you’re just jealous of my wealth….you know…”

S: “Huh? I have no idea what you’re saying, C!!!”

C: “You know…down there.”

At this point, S goes in for the jugular, giggling hysterically.

S: “C!!! I have never heard that term before. Well endowed, yea but wealthy? Dude!” At this point, they involve me. “Mrs. C, have you ever heard anyone refer to their schlong with the word wealth?”

I said the first thing that came to mind.  “Okay, who wants Dairy Queen?”

No doubt about it. I’m going to miss these times when they’re over. Priceless.