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.

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.

 

The True Definition of Perfection

In response to  DAILY PROMPT   https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/perfection/ 

They sat together as they had for years, tucked away in their booth, out of the way from the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. Close enough to watch the fascinating dance of waiters carrying well balanced food trays weaving between tables covered with white linen cloths.

Slowly, he reached across to grasp her hand in a loving gesture of perfect harmony. He felt the softness of her skin and rubbed his thumb over the familiar simple gold wedding ring. A perfect moment where the din of the banging cutlery and china faded into silence. It was their anniversary and here, they could have their own miniature celebration before joining friends later that evening.

For those sitting nearby, their display of perfect affection drew slow smiles of appreciation and yet those witnesses probably didn’t comprehend the thoughts behind the value of perfection.

Perfection to him didn’t mean flawless or a fashion magazine’s interpretation of ideal beauty. No. As he caressed her hand, he could feel the soft skin dotted with well earned age spots and permanent creases. Cerulean blue eyes met his gaze…ones that had seen much edged with radiating crow’s feet signifying decades of laughter and joy. Lines from the corners of her eyes showed where life’s tragic events created a path for tears. Together, they had survived life’s struggles, family tragedy and experienced the most joyous moments life has to offer. When he looked at her, he saw imperfect perfection. The silver hair, the glasses, the soft lines of living and the knowledge that together they had weathered the good and the bad. In sadness, they had discovered  strength. In happiness, they had experienced inner peace. In frustration, they had learned the importance of patience. Ultimately, their imperfect life was perfect.

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.

There is a Time to Pause

Although several weeks have passed since I’ve found time to write, something happened today that gave me pause. Nothing serious although there was a definite toss of the dice. No blood spilled, no sprained ankles, no broken bones, no rush to a hospital which has been the end result of many of our escapades. I’ve often thought back to our medical adventures with a mixture of anxiety, followed by a pinch of humor after returning home. All of us have encountered accidents in our lives and they tend to shape our demguardianangeleanor to a certain extent. You either develop a slightly warped sense of humor or resolve to remain in a cocoon as much as you can. Of course, mishaps often occur more readily when working on a farm.

When we first moved to Florida, our farm, a dilapidated, unkempt pile of broken fence boards, debris, exposed nails and an assortment of heretofore undisturbed wasps nests, called for us to remain steadfast in our dedication to clean up the property.  Fortunately we were at the age where we still felt undaunted, fearless, capable of anything and, to be honest, a little stupid. At the delicate age of nine, my son heard his first bonafide expletive when I stepped on a nail protruding from one of those broken fence boards. It didn’t help matters to discover the board, lying in overgrown grass, covered a close knit nest of wasps. I regretfully confess, the swear word began with a capital F but in my defense, the situation called for a dramatic punch. My son, having had the bejeebies scared out of him hightailed it to the house which was fortunate since the sole wasp gunning for us only had eyes for my backside. First trip to Urgent Care.

Fast forward a few weeks when hubby and I tackled the overgrown vines choking the many oak trees dotting the paddocks. Hacking, pulling, yanking and severing the huge thick stalks threatening to choke the life out of the oaks.  We  worked all day while our son attended school, celebrating our victory with hot dogs on the grill later that evening. It wasn’t until the next morning when my husband and I awoke to our son asking us, “What’s wrong with your faces?” that we realized the vines we’d so enthusiastically attacked were, in fact, mature poison ivy vines. Second trip to Urgent Care. The doctor took a little more interest in us this time around. You could actually see the wheels turning as her curiosity grew.

They say third time is a charm. I would like to know who “they” are, Although, I can happily admit we stayed out of the Urgent Care for a whole three weeks, much more work remained to be completed. One Saturday, I decided to clean up the remaining fence posts while my husband made a quick trip to the local recycling center. The wasps had moved on, their nests eliminated, the piles of boards in overgrown grass had been burned and the grass bush-hogged. Two weeks earlier we had purchased a tractor with a front bucket. Placing the fence posts in the bucket required minimal effort. My son, a sucker for farm equipment had happily volunteered to raise and lower the bucket. We had even taught him to drive forward in turtle mode. Since he was on a need to know basis, we hadn’t taught him how to alter the speed so the tractor simply crawled when he applied pressure to the accelerator and stopped when he took his foot off. Things were going splendidly until the fourth load when my son noticed the lever for cruise control. Damn! Instead of putting his foot on the accelerator, he turned on cruise control. I knew immediately something wasn’t right when I told him to stop the tractor and he couldn’t, noticing the look of sheer panic on his face. He simply didn’t know how! The tractor continued to creep forward excruciatingly slow and began pushing me against the paddock fence. For some stupid reason in an effort to stop the tractor, I placed both hands on the blade of the front bucket and pushed back. Yea, like that was going to work. At the last moment, my son turned off the tractor and we were off to Urgent Care for a dislocated thumb.

We laugh about these escapades now and, thank heavens, my son has no horrific recollection of them. We changed doctors, understandably and have since mastered the complexities of farm equipment. Or at least, I thought we had. Today was a stark reminder of how quickly accidents can and do happen, even when one is capable, experienced and knowledgeable. The little patch of acreage where we hope to rebuild has some majestic oak trees and water oaks but years of neglect have left them covered with vines, underbrush and scrub growth. This time we hired a professional to help but old habits die hard. When my husband took off to pick up our son, I continued cutting here, pulling there. Picking up the chainsaw, I decided to begin where my husband left off. Now I’ve handled a chainsaw many a time. Although it’s not something one brings up in polite conversation handling a chainsaw often comes with working around a farm.  We were just finishing up a swath of small trees and as I slowly lowered the chainsaw, I felt a tug on my jeans. Sure enough, the teeth had grabbed the fabric above my knee and chewed open a hole about three inches. Thank heavens my jeans were baggy. Thank heavens I had taken my hands off all the buttons. Thank heavens the chainsaw wasn’t as sharp as it should have been. All this brings me to the above title.  My mother always told me, “Can’t never did a thing!” and I’ve tried to live by her motto. I love being able to tackle the hard tasks and jumping in without fear. However, I don’t think she was referring to chainsaws. Furthermore, at some point in our lives, one should really consider the possibility that although we CAN do something, the wiser option might be to choose not to and not feel regret for making the wiser decision.

I do know this….when I die, I’m fairly certain the guardian angel who was assigned to watch over me during my lifetime is going to walk right up to me and smack me upside the head.

TheTrue Meaning of Love

Today was my birthday and I say that not to announce some sort of milestone but as a small tribute to my husband. As is our regular habit, hubby always prods and nudges me several times before the day.

“What would you like?”

“Is there something special I can get you?”

“Come on, honey. Give some sort of hint.”

My answer has always been the same over the years, oddly enough. Feeling blessed, I have always responded with the phrase. “Seriously, honey, I don’t need anything.”

Of course he never listens. The day before, like a man on a mission, he disappears for several hours. Upon his return, he usually places his special prize somewhere in safe hidey hole to wait for the next morning. When we first married, he would surprise me a pair of earrings or a necklace. All of these baubles were exciting to receive but considering our work involved manual labor, they weren’t something I could wear on an everyday basis. As time passed, his gifts took on a sensible vein.The first practical gift my hubby proudly presented was a brightly wrapped box definitely larger than a piece of jewelry. As I carefully peeled back the paper and lifted off the top, I discovered a salad shooter. A SALAD SHOOTER!!! He looked at me, waiting for my grateful reaction………he waited a long time, I’m sorry to say. I promptly filled the thing with carrots and took careful aim….

When we moved to Florida, dear hubby presented me with a brightly colored, huge umbrella for one birthday. After all, he reasoned, it rains quite a bit during the summer and now I wouldn’t get wet when it came time to feed the horses. After awhile, I waited in earnest to see what “practical” gift he would present next.

This year, when he asked what I wanted, I threw out a simple suggestion. “Honey, just get me some flowers. That would be perfect.”

During my first cup of coffee, hubby proudly placed a medium sized bag on the island along with two birthday cards. The cards were hilarious, as usual. Then I turned my attention to the bag. We’ve reached the age where wrapping is optional. So as I withdrew the box, I discovered this year’s gift was an “ultimate” blow dryer. I’m not sure if I have enough hair on my head to warrant such a powerful styling dryer. Nevertheless, his birthday presents always make me smile. We have had some good laughs over the years, let me tell you.

Here’s the thing though. Long ago, after I got over my snit at receiving a salad shooter, an umbrella, a gift certificate to have my car detailed, a crock pot, a blender and any other item I mistakenly regarded as ridiculous, I grew up. They say wisdom comes with age and hopefully I have achieved some measure of it. My husband’s gifts were his way of showing he knew me…..I mean he really watched over me. I love having salads; so he gave me a salad shooter. The horses had to be fed, rain or shine, thus an umbrella. I hate washing my car, hence a gift certificate. My favorite way to prepare a meal with our busy schedule is utilizing a crock pot, therefore, why not purchase a new one. When smoothies became my preferred breakfast choice, a top of the line blender would come in handy. All of these simple gifts were an extension of his consideration. As I looked at him, proudly presenting my latest birthday gift, I realized how incredibly lucky I am to be married to someone who looks beyond the glitz, the bling, the baubles and genuinely observes what’s really important. And that was the best birthday present of all.