Posted in Raised by a village

Somewhere Along the Way

At some point, two years ago, I became known as the “crazy chicken lady”. Last year,  when we added goats to the menagerie,  I gained the title of “Crazy Goat Lady”, and set about naming our herd after celebrities.  Friends and coworkers helped name a few. I’ve studied breeding schedules, feeding schedules, goat health, nutrition, and I’ve helped deliver a few new kids. 

Breeding season is in full swing. In my mind, I’m calculating the number of bales of hay required to feed them through the winter, watching for signs of illness and Jim is planning catch pen systems for herd checks and vaccinations.   We’re considering retail sale of packaged meats (processed at an inspected facility) and visioning business strategies to make the farm profitable.  

It’s common for me to sit in an operations meeting during the day at the office transforming notes and processes into requirements for developers, then hours later, I’m standing in a barn wearing overalls and shoveling manure or chasing a wayward goat by moonlight. On weekends, I’ve stood in pulpits and in front of groups of women listening to ideas for mission projects or facilitating small group discussions.  At home, I have Gantt charts on the kitchen whiteboard for farm and house projects. 

More than once, people have asked, “how do you do it?” And my response is often a shrug and a joke that I don’t sleep much.   Honestly, I don’t know the answer.  I take phone calls by blue-tooth / hands-free while commuting and send emails at times when others are sleeping. Yesterday, I realized that my blog hadn’t been updated in months, actually, since the week before mom had surgery then went into hospice. Funny how illness, death and grief will rearrange schedules and priorities. Life gets in the way. Years ago, I started blogging when we were primary caregivers for my late mother-in-law during during her end stages of life.  Blogging provided an outlet and opened doors for me to join a virtual community of caregivers. 

More recently, when I became the farmer-professional-extraordinaire, I had bandwidth and space for sharing about the funny things that happen on the farm and how “city-folk” find my antics amusing. When Mom had surgery a few months ago,  I didn’t have the bandwidth to share with others outside of my inner circle the daily routine of home-work-hospice/hospital-farm-volunteer-commute. Some days, it was all I could do to feed the dog and cat, make coffee,  shower, commute somewhere (hospice,  work, church, home), and repeat. 

Coordinating  mom’s care and being there for daddy became my number one priority.  My husband,  my dad, my brothers, my inner circle, my tribe (those close family and friends) … they are what mattered.  They’re still what matters. They’re my world. When someone told me that I needed to remember that other-people-somewhere-unrelated cared about mom and they thought she should get “this or that”, I simply responded,  “I know they are interested. They don’t get a vote. My role is to make sure that she gets the best care, and I will do that to the best of my ability until my last breath.”  

I struggled to sift through grief, anger, doubt, and fear, just as others demanded to know why I didn’t pay attention to them. I recognized that I needed to stay connected, but I sought resources to help me deal with the day-to-day crap. There’s a great book by Megan Devine called “It’s OK that You’re Not OK“. I highly recommend it for anyone in the wake of death or for the caregiver sitting in hospice awaiting the last hours, days and weeks. 

In the midst of it all, I posted random pictures on social media,  listened to the news, went to work, and somewhere in there, I kept the clothes washed and gas in the car. Thank goodness for Jim… he washed dishes and made lots of meals. 

I’m still that crazy chicken/goat lady. Life on the farm still happens, and I’m still amusing city-folk with normal things like having a goat-naming contest for the newest second-hand goats that Jim brokered. At some point in the next few weeks, I’ll finish year-end reports and maybe start sewing tote bags from chicken feed sacks again. 

Working on a puzzle at Hospice.

As the goats turn….

We replaced a floor that had been held together by old carpet and the Grace of God.
An elephant to remind me of my tribe.
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Posted in Raised by a village

A Pile of Rocks and Harvey

“What do you want for our 15th anniversary?” Jim asked in July. 

“Rocks.” I replied while shoveling stalls.

“Like in a necklace?” He asked with a puzzled expression. 

“Rocks for the driveway. Gravel…stone…just not crusher run or rip rap.” 

“That’s what I want too!” Jim replied.

Thus began the search for our anniversary gift to each other. We made multiple phone calls, internet searches and I even had a  conversation with a guy who told me, “you’re my kind of woman for wanting gravel.” Finally, we found Kerns Trucking in Kings Mountain who scheduled the delivery. 

I remember that as a child playing in the sandbox, I drove my miniature metal Tonka truck over to my Barbie doll’s dirt house and dumped a load of grass, twigs and sand.  Flashing to reality, on the delivery day, the driver deftly backed toward the house, tilted the dump truck bed and poured a stream of gravel as he slowly exited.

Now, I’m preparing to manually distribute that small remaining pile of 17 tons of gravel to fill a few water washed pot holes. As I shovel the wheelbarrow full, I think of the devastation left this week in Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the potential devastation to come with Hurricane Irma. Filling a few washed-out places in the driveway is nothing compared to families in the great state of Texas who are ripping out sheetrock, throwing away furniture, photos and mourning the loss of pets, livestock and people. I see the images of piles of ruined possessions on lawns and remember that pile of ruined stuff as a child when my family home was engulfed in flames. Loss of possessions by fire and flood devastate us. But the comraderie, the outpouring of support, of rescuing animals, infants, and livestock, of feeding and providing shelter to strangers…these are the examples of hope, love, courage and endurance. 

I’ve posted on Facebook several reputable charities through which to donate. From UMCORRed CrossHouston SPCA and food banks, there are multiple reputable organizations through which you can donate supplies, diapers, formula, food and money. There are ways to volunteer to help clean-up and begin rebuilding.  It is a matter of you taking the initiative to help.

Posted in Off the Farm, Raised by a village

Interplanet Janet and Jim at the Eclipse 2017

We helped chase the great frog away from eating the sun.  At least that’s how I understood the Cherokee legend of the eclipse.  

In May, we heard the first news reminder about the “Great Americian Eclipse 2017“. The last total solar eclipse was in February 1979. There was an annular eclipse in 1984. I remember teachers telling us, “the next great eclipse will be in the year 2017!” We all gasped at how  old we would be. 

With the childhood memory of not being allowed to go outside because of a fear of burning our retinas,  I bought eclipse glasses. Jim and I discussed the event and we studied the path. At the realization that the path of totality would be near St Louis,  Jim said, “Let’s go visit Jessie.” I jumped at the opportunity. My appreciation of being married to someone who embraces my nerdiness blossomed. 

We called my sister-in-law to exclaim,  “you’re just north of the path of totality of the eclipse! If we book our plane tickets,  can we come and visit?”  Jessie replied, “of course you can visit, there’s a what? Is this a joke?” 

We assured her that our quest to see the eclipse in totality was no joke. I booked the flights that night, requested a day off from work and my inner geek bubbled to the surface. I embraced my inner nerdy, little girl, excited to see the event we’ve anticipated for 38 years. The memory of Ray Bradbury’s short story, “All Summer in a Day” came to memory, and I cast away doubts of missing the spectacular event. 

I became practically giddy with anticipation of visiting family and such a momentous event. As others made plans to go to various points in South Carolina, we prepared to fly 600 miles to Saint Louis, Missouri. 

It was a weekend of silliness and catching-up. 

I wore my eclipse glasses to grill tilapia, and made references to songs like “Total Eclipse of the Heart“, “Here Comes the Sun“, And “Staring at the Sun

Carbondale, Illinois was our first choice, because Carbondale is the point where the eclipse will also be in 2024. Alas, travel to that location, combined with the throngs of people anticipated in that apex spurred us to St. Clair, Missouri.  

We arrived to find a town normally populated with 4,700 people overflowing with nearly 10,000 people. As we entered the town, undecided where to stop,  I said, “let me see if there’s a Methodist church nearby.” Sure enough, United Methodist Church of St. Clair was there on the right, complete with a tree in the back field. The perfect spot.  

We spread out our blankets under the tree, and decided to explore town before the eclipse started. 

Local t-shirt shops sold out of mugs and shirts. We spoke with a local screen printer who had shirts on the press and could not get merchandise out fast enough to meet demand. We met other Methodists from Texas, Chicago,  Indiana and Arkansas. We all had similar ideas: we didn’t know where exactly we would go, but figured that we would find sisters and brothers from the connectional table near the flame and cross.  

We chatted with strangers of all different faith walks, and we enjoyed a picnic lunch under the tree.  Folks played frisbee, talked about the educational experience, and one group used a mirror, binoculars and white board to project the eclipse in low-tech. It was brilliant. 

We laughed, and I danced in the shadows of the crescent-shaped leaves. At one point, my sister-in-law just shook her head when I ran bare-footed on the old basketball court singing, “St Clair is alive with the solar eclipse” to the tune of “The Sound of Music”.  

Then, the magic happened, after 38 years, we saw totality. For 2 minutes and 40 seconds, we saw the corona, solar flares and divine beauty. Photos on my phone could not capture the splendor of the moment. I decided that I wanted to bask in the moment, to see the stars, listen to the cicadas, and laugh at the street lights that glowed at 1:18 pm. The world went dark, and the area grew quiet. We all cheered. There was cheering among strangers! Not at a sporting event, but at the beauty and wonder of the universe. We cheered at the amazing gift of clear skies and low humidity. Suddenly, it was light again. The temperature rose, the cicadas stopped, and people began dispersing. We walked through town again, and mde our way into traffic. It snarled on the interstate, and we used google maps to find alternate routes to avoid accident. We made it to the airport in plenty of time. 

At the airport, we met others who flew in the previous day and went to various places like Festus, DeSoto and Herculeneum. 

I thanked my sister-in-law profusely for the hospitality. I thanked Lisa for dog-sitting Scooby, we thanked Cynthia, Erma Deen and my brother for taking care of the animals at home.  We thanked our bosses for the time off from work. It’s a group effort to fly 600 miles for a 2 minute event. 

I’ll be sending a donation to St Clair UMC tomorrow to thank them for their hospitality. 

We thanked the pilot and attendants for their efforts to get us home safely. The airport at Charlotte was a madhouse.

It was worth it. In fact, we’ve already started planning for the 2024 eclipse. 

Posted in Raised by a village

What about Uncle Ollie?

My aunt Anne asked, “So, since you’re here, do you want to take Uncle Ollie’s portrait with you?”  

Turning, I replied, “You’ve got uncle Ollie? Where?” 

“He’s been hanging in my spare bedroom for the last 7 or 8 years. He’s creepy.”  

“I wondered where he had been hanging out. Sure, I’ll take him home with me.” 

A few moments later, Aunt Anne brought a large ornate, guilded frame, approximately 20″ x 24″ from 1909 with Uncle Ollie’s cherub face. Painted with soft clouds in the background and exquisite details, his blue eyes seem to follow you. It takes a moment for someone to ask, “wait, is he dead in that photo?” 

Why yes, yes he is. 

Uncle Ollie, my maternal grandfather’s older brother lived for 3 years, 3 months and 29 days from 1906 to 1909. He died of scarlet fever; his post-mortem infant portrait hung around much longer to become something of family lore. In the late 19th century and early 20th century (think Victorian Era), photos were expensive to produce as digital would not arrive in the scene for another century. Childhood and infant deaths were common during that time. People did not own cameras like we do today in the form of mobile phones. Often, families only gathered at deaths, thus the photos memorializing a child would be post-mortem.

Visiting my grandparents’ house as a child, I remember seeing the Uncle Ollie (his portrait) hanging in the living room. Granddaddy said that he liked having him nearby (even though granddaddy was born 5 years after Uncle Ollie died). When granddaddy died in 1980, Uncle Ollie’s portrait came home with my mother and hung in our basement until 2011 when he went to my Uncle Jeff. Now, the portrait’s with me. 

That afternoon, I loaded Uncle Ollie face-up in the trunk of my car. My logic was that he lived long before the horse-less carriage, and interstate traffic would probably frighten him. 

On my way home, I stopped and stood in the cemetery looking at my grandparents’ grave markers.  Alone, behind the church, I asked, “Alright, where’s Uncle Ollie buried?” There came no response. 

Birds chirped and cars passed on the highway. I spoke again to the ground, “Okay, now what am I supposed to do with Uncle Ollie?” 

Yet again, no answers came from any of my deceased maternal relatives. I could imagine them saying something like, “We don’t have a use for his portrait anymore. He’s your problem now.” 

I searched the markers for Uncle Ollie’s name. None found, I sighed and drove the 75 miles home, Uncle Ollie still in the trunk. Jim and I agreed not to bring Uncle Ollie in the house. For now, he’s on a shelf in the storage shed, Jim officially creeped-out. 

Jim asked, “Where is he buried?” 

I said, “Grandaddy was quiet when I asked.” 

Jim asked, “Did you expect him to answer?” 

I said, “Of course not. I was hoping for a sky-written note by an aerial pilot.” 

I tried Google; there’s a site for just about anything. Thanks to findagrave.com,  I found Uncle Ollie buried 3 miles from my grandparents and great-grandparents at Jersey Baptist church. Somewhere between 1909 and 1934, my family became Methodists, and everyone else is buried at Cotton Grove. I guess the reason for the switch will remain a mystery. 

On a more recent trip back to Lexington my brother Kelly and I stopped at the Jersey Baptist Church cemetery.  

It became a game of “Where’s Ollie” as we searched for Uncle Ollie’s grave. I asked Kelly if we should split up and search. He replied, “not unless it gets dark.” In his competitive spirit, he silently said to himself, “I don’t want her to find it. I want to find it first.”

We walked to a section that I thought was too new, and turned right. Kelly methodically searched each headstone and said that he heard a voice say, “turn around” and asked, “who’s talking to me?” As I started back through the section dating from the late 1700s and early 1800s, Kelly spotted the small worn marker that I missed, and he circled around a second time. Third row from the trees, near the edge of a cornfield, he found the headstone of Ollie Lee Hedrick, oldest son of my great-grandparents. There it was, much smaller than I imagined, near two other infant markers. We began to feel a great sense of loss and peace at the same time. An almost delighted energy filled the area, and we said to no one in particular, “He’s not been forgotten.” 

Recently, we found a family photograph from Christmas before my first birthday. There, in the background behind me laughing and wriggling in my mother’s arms, hung Uncle Ollie’s portrait.  He’s been with me my whole life, waiting for us to play a game of hide and seek in the graveyard. 

*****Photo of Uncle Ollie’s portrait below******

Posted in Raised by a village

Scooby to the Vet

I had not planned to be sitting in the vet’s office first thing Monday morning. My schedule included a conference call,  process documentation, commuting and normal farm stuff in the afternoon. It was the 2nd night of a restless fluffy white dog who yelped in pain when being picked up, and a lack of appetite that drove me to change plans. I couldn’t call to inquire about an opening because of laryngitis; one more thing not on my calendar. 

Having lost our 14 year old cairn terrier last year to kidney failure, my mind raced with every imaginable what-if scenario for Scooby. We’re uncertain of his age because he appeared on our doorstep 7 years ago matted, tired and wearing a wire collar.  Yes, a collar made of wire. We think that he may have been a backyard breeder dog, or he lived with someone who had no appreciation for this bundle of fur. At his first checkup,  the vet estimated Scooby to be around 6 years old. So, his official record has him at 13 years old.

I’m thankful for every time that this little fluffball is there to greet me at the door. He is just as happy to see me after 8 hours as he is after 8 minutes. Scooby exemplifies unconditional love. He doesn’t care what you say to him, he just wants to be close to us humans. During thunderstorms,  he prefers to lay on my chest or on top of Jim’s head. He barks at strangers, birds, deer, coyotes, possums, and things that go bump in the night. He doesn’t love us because of how good we are to him, he loves us because it’s his nature.

A dog’s love is the visualization of how God loves us as well. And it’s the fear of the loss of that outward love that can bring us to tears. There’s scientific evidence that petting a dog can raise serotonin levels and thus improve mood in humans.  It’s a symbiotic relationship. 

If it was just the dog, then maybe I wouldn’t have been crying enroute to the vet’s office. But how often is it that just one thing goes awry in our daily plans? This was that unplanned, unexpected thing of uncertainty that made me leak tears like a crack in a vase. It was the proverbial straw on the camel’s back. My sister-in-law reminded me that when we turn things over to God, we know that He has things on His schedule, not ours, but that sometimes, she prays to let this next thing be easy. 

The vet worked us in to her first appointment and examined my now seemingly improved furball. 

Two x-rays later revealed air pockets in his caecum  (the first part of the large intestine that looks like a reverse comma) which is very painful. Along with arthritis and muscle atrophy from an old dislocation accident, Scooby has early signs of hip dysplasia. So he gets gas-ex and aspirin. In other words, he’s getting old and gassy. Just like the rest of us.

To the vets and technicians who take care of our animals at Crossroads Animal Hospital and Henry River Mobile Veterinary Services,  thank you. 

Posted in Raised by a village

No Blood No Bandaid

Within 12 hours, I managed to get fire-ant pesticide in my mouth, sliced open my pinky-finger with the cat food can, and was bitten by a baby black widow spider twice on the leg. Compared with that, I didn’t mind spending 90 minutes in Friday afternoon commuter traffic. 

Thursday after work, I bottle-fed new baby goat John Lithgow. This newest kid was born on Tuesday to Queen Lillian, twin sister of Mary Poppins and daughter of Julie Andrews.  Not yet a year old, Lilly is a teen-mom and a little unsure of the whole mothering role. From day one, Julie Andrews displayed her head-goat status and confused John Lithgow by pushing Lilly away from her own newborn.  Either she was protecting her baby-with-a-baby, was trying to show her the ropes of motherhood, or she was missing her latest weaned twins. Julie Andrews became helicopter-granny-goat and possibly was holding a grudge since I weaned her twins (Bert and Ernie), relegating them to the bachelor pad pasture with Steve and Sam.

Since John Lithgow was a bit confused on who would provide nourishment, Jim fed supplemental bottles of colostrum and milk replacer. I fed additional bottles each evening after work and at 6 a.m. before heading to the office. Normal stuff and John Lithgow drank 4 oz of milk from the bottle with gusto. Then, he tried to nurse from both Julie Andrews and Queen Lillian. 

After bottle-baby feeding, I walked the yard with a bag of fire-ant killer. Sprinkling insecticide on the never-ending mounds of red torture insects, I silently hoped this bag would be the one that killed the queen.  Just then, I bent over as I shook the bag and caught about a teaspoon of the flakes in my mouth.   Bleh! I spat and rinsed my mouth with water for what seemed an eternity. “Jim, in case I fall on the ground, I just inhaled a mouthful of fire-ant killer.” I told Jim.  He asked the obligatory  “What did you do that for?” And I resumed my ant-hill search and destroy mission.

Poison control did not have to be called and at 5:45 am Friday, I opened a plastic can of cat food and cut the top of my pinky. It started bleeding and required direct pressure and a bandaid. Getting dressed, I donned my jeans and immediately felt stinging pain below my left knee. I pulled off the pants, turned them inside out and found a tiny black spider. Two welts rose, and pain shot through my leg. I squished the spider, picked it up with tape and labeled a Ziploc baggie “spider that bit me.” Quickly, I researched spider bite and since my tetanus shot is only 3 years old, I decided to take Tylenol, and applied an icepack to my leg while I drove to work. 

Aside from a bit of nausea, a few cramps and a mild headache, the swelling spots on my leg went away by mid afternoon for the most part. John Lithgow took another bottle of milk and I watched the sunset over the cornfield. 

See, it’s not all goat yoga… sometimes it’s just weird stuff that happens. We keep striving in the craziness that seems to be normal. I can’t fix all of the nuttiness. I certainly can’t please everyone, but for now, my spidey-senses tell me that I’ll be okay. 

Posted in Raised by a village

Back to our regularly scheduled program

“Tell me about your exercise routine” my doctor said a few months ago.

I said, “I do farm-fit. It’s like cross fit, but it involves wrangling goats, hauling 5 gallon buckets of water, and 50 pound bags of chicken feed.  It’s a great mix of cardio and strength training.” 

She laughed and asked, “So are you walking regularly too?” 

“Sure, I walk to the barn, to the mailbox, and I do tai-chi and goat yoga.” 

This is where she paused.   I don’t think that there’s a spot on the healthcare intake form in the system for “livestock lifting” or “murdering chickens”. 

Just ask my niece and nephew who visited from California last week, and they’ll tell you that a nap is required after mucking stalls, planting corn and catching goats for hoof trimming. A cousin asked me if they were here on vacation or in need of a place to do community service.  

I loved having them here. They are funny, bright and growing into wonderful young adults. They ate whatever we put in front of them, including the tofu mushroom spaghetti with Jim’s homemade pasta. 

We went ziplining, hiking, visited family they’d never met, sang along to the radio and laughed at jokes that only we thought were funny. 

When I dropped them at the airport departures this morning at 6 a.m., I saw a soldier hugging his little girl goodbye as he headed prepared to travel back to a base or his next duty station. Cars jostled for a spot next to the curb to quickly let their passengers out to run for the security line. Amid the noise, I tightly hugged my niece and nephew one last time, fighting back the tears, and I caught a security guard watching me hug these two precious 6-foot tall people that looked like me. I waved goodbye, wished them safe travels, with the words “I love you” lost among the whistles from the guards, the roar of the bus engines, and the smell of exhaust fumes.  I realized that this is just another day at the office for the security guard. Like an announcement “we now return to our regularly scheduled program.” With that, I merged into traffic to join the other drivers, knowing that more often than not, our greatest blessings are people we call family. 

 I drove to the office to find myself the first one in my department and a day’s work ahead. By 9 a.m. I was punchy, and my 4 a.m. coffee was gone. One Dr. Pepper and a honey bun kept me going until lunch. 

Late in the afternoon, I arrived home to take a quick break before heading to the barn to give Bert, Ernie and Steve their CDT shots, and to check the latest challenge of #vittlesvault verses racoon; the raccoons managed to get the lid off again and only ate a handful of cat chow. 

Jim and I took some grain to Bert and Ernie since they are now living in the bachelor pasture with Steve and Sam, separated by two electric fences from the nanny goats. At four months old, Ernie is quite amorous, and we don’t need another round of babies this fall.  

In the pasture, I knelt to pet Bert and he climbed on my back. So, this is normal for me: something new and silly with my goats.  Jim laughed as I demonstrated balancing a goat in two yoga poses. Earlier, when I said that I do goat yoga, I meant that I stand in the pasture and do yoga while the goats and donkeys stare at me. This is a whole new expirament with a little goat who back in February was floppy, unwanted by his mother, had to be tube-fed 4 times per day, and slept in a laundry basket.

Tips:

1. Remember,  before starting any new exercise program, consult your doctor…she may not have a box to check “goat yoga with a real goat”. 

2. Stretch and be sure that you are comfortable balancing your 20 pound goat.

3. Wear comfortable attire, preferably barn boots and clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. I have one pair of leggings that I wear to give shots.  So of you would like to see me do goat-yoga wearing your products, let me know!

Note, goats do not take cash for chiropractic, reiki or massage therapies. But the farmer does!

Pretty good for only 4 hours of sleep.