Ode to the Firefly

One of the great pleasures of summer comes in a tiny, fiery package. Behold, the firefly. 

At the end of a long, hot, sticky day down on the farm recently, Farmer Brown and I kicked back with a glass of wine and sat down to The Night Show outside. At first, it was hard to tell what we were looking at. There, dotting the thick, inky air on the hillside below us were dozens, at first, then slowly, hundreds, then thousands of fireflies punctuating the darkness.

Sparkling, like shiny confetti…. reflections of the stars above…. stars themselves on Earth. It was as if I had just hit my head really hard, like in the cartoons. 

It reminded me of a time, some twenty-five years ago, when my husband and I were on a sailing trip in the Caribbean with his college buddy and had dropped anchor in a calm bay for the night. All of the sudden, tiny, glowing beings appeared in the water around us: glow worms emitting bioluminescence.  It is a natural phenomenon in which microscopic worms literally glow in the water and it took my breath away. These farm fireflies were like that: profuse and magical.

From our farm deck, the firefly display was impressive enough, but riding the four-wheeler down to the bottom of the hill, we were immersed in them, swimming in them, the inky black darkness around us forming a perfect canvas for their light show.

I was overwhelmed with gratitude. What an amazing, simple pleasure. As I reveled in their nighttime glow, I wrote a mental thank you note.

Thank you, fireflies, for being an added bonus of summertime. Thank you for giving children one more game – catching fireflies – at the end of long summer evenings when moms and dads are exhausted and need to sit and sip something cold and look on, remembering their own firefly hunts. Thank you for letting me catch you, put you in a jar and stare at you for hours, fogging up the glass with my grubby breath and boogery nose.  Sorry about squishing you, stepping on you and smearing your iridescence to make a glowing, gorgeous streak on the sidewalk as a kid. I did that only a few times because I couldn’t live with the guilt  of destroying something so beautiful and harmless.

Thank you for being one of the coolest insects ever. To my knowledge, you don’t bite, you delight. Why are you here? Are you just a whimsical gift from God? Did He think, “You know what? Fireflies … why not?” You don’t sting, you don’t buzz. Do you even pollinate?

Thank you for being the much cooler cousin to the beetle and, by the way, thank you for not eating my garden. Picking lettuce in our farm garden the other day, I discovered where you sleep during the day: under the wet lettuce leaves. But you didn’t eat the lettuce. What do you eat? Do you simply survive on the joy of children? Do you only need handclaps and laughter as your food, like Tinkerbelle?

Thank you for being so understated. You’re not much to look at by day, wearing your simple black suit with a smart orange strip down the middle. Very low key. Your big reveal comes when the sun goes down. 

I’ve read that your butt lights are all about attracting mates. That’s downright charming, romantic. Does a glass of rosé come with that candlelight? If I was an insect, I would be so envious that I hadn’t evolved to have luminescence. Well done, you. I hear that you speed up or slow down your blinking pattern: steady glow, flashing blinking, depending on whom you are seducing. Sexy stuff, Firefly. And with a life span of two months, you have no time to waste. Carpe candeo – seize the glow! I think that is my new motto. At least for summertime.

Thank you for choosing Ohio and the Midwest as one of the relatively few places in the country you hang out. You love humidity and we’ve got plenty of that in the summer. The coasts have the oceans, the west has the mountains, we have you. Thank you for summering on our farm. We are so glad to have you.

I guess I took you for granted in my youth, Firefly. You were always there in my dad’s backyard, dotting the thick air back by the pine trees and the railroad tracks. I would catch you, cup you gently in my chubby fist and slowly open my hand up, like a clamshell. There you would be, burning brightly inside my hand cave. Then, up you would rise, silently, effortlessly, lighting on my fingertip as if to check me out as I inspected you. And then, you were off, beaming up into the night sky. I would crane my head back and watch you rise as the enormous oak and elm tree branches would frame you and your shiny friends. 

Bye bye, Firefly! Thanks for the visit! Thanks for the memories! Carpe candeo!

Photo by Mindstyle/iStock / Getty Images  For other amazing photos of fireflies/lightening bugs, check out this website!  http://www.fireflyexperience.org/photos/

Photo by Mindstyle/iStock / Getty Images

For other amazing photos of fireflies/lightening bugs, check out this website! http://www.fireflyexperience.org/photos/

Game Rooms

“I’m setting up the basement of the farmhouse as a game room,” I said. “Great idea!” my husband replied. “That’s going to be so cool.”

Hmm. I never thought of him as being all that enthusiastic about board games. But I proceeded to bring all the games down to the basement: Scrabble, Bananagrams, Boggle, Uno, Chutes and Ladders (God help me), playing cards and even a ping-pong table. “It will be nice to have rainy day group activities for folks who come down to visit,” I thought.  

Shortly after that, my family and I traveled to the Montreal Jazz Festival in Canada. My husband and I had attended the festival a few times before and wanted to share it with our girls. It is a nonstop musical celebration with incredible musicians from all over the world. And Montreal is an amazing city; it feels like you’re in Europe, without the jet lag. We were all very excited to explore the city when my husband went rogue, as is his wont. “I’ve booked a date with Musky Mike. I’m going musky fishing,” he declared. “Anyone want to join me?”

Silence. We had come all this way to one of the great cities of North America, full of beautiful architecture, great food and of course, world renown music at the jazz festival … No, no one was interested in hanging out with Musky Mike on a cold river when we could be drinking café au lait or wine in the city. Duh.

The girls and I dawdled around Montreal, touring churches, galleries, and local restaurants. When we met up with The Musky Hunter later that day, he was ebullient. “You should see this fish! We were in about 3 feet of water and Musky Mike told me just what to do. It took me about a half hour to get him in, but I landed a huge musky.” And he did. The fish weighed about 35 pounds and stretched about 52 inches. The Musky Hunter could not stop looking at the photo of his epic catch, showing it to friends and strangers alike. This went on literally for years. Still does, actually. Sometimes, even today, I will find him gazing lovingly at the image on his phone.

“I’m going to have a replica made and hang it in the game room at the farm,” he gushed. 

“Well … we’ll see,” I cautioned. 

“But that’s what a game room is for … for showing off your kills. This musky is just the beginning.”

It dawned on me that for the past year we were each talking about different “game.” Me, Parcheesi; him, dead animals.

You see, The Musky Hunter has long had game room envy. Our farm neighbors, Johnny and June Cash have an epic game room, or more appropriately, a trophy room. Some might call it a room of death. Johnny is an avid, accomplished hunter and has traveled all over the world hunting bear, antelope, gnus, wildebeest, crocodiles and of course, good old Ohio deer. And each of these kills has a place in his game room. It’s quite fascinating, really. He has complete reverence for each of his conquests and thrilling stories of how he got them. June is much more quiet about it all, almost apologetic about the still life display of once animated subjects. “I should be named Wife of the Year, honestly,” she says as she gently picks dust fuzzies from the bear. 

So, we now have a very realistic Musky hanging in our game room, all by itself over by the pool towels. I’m hoping he doesn’t get company any time soon, but The Musky Hunter is threatening to hang a big deer head down there when he lands one. Now, I’ve got nothing against hunters, really. Our farm is located in gun country. I get it that hunting animals is a tradition that has been passed down through generations. Johnny Cash has schooled me plenty on how hunting is actually good for animals: it controls the animal population (which, hello, is much needed here with Ohio deer.) And in African villages, it offers jobs and local income for guides, permits, vehicles, etc. as well as literally feeding the locals. It also discourages poaching, which is a completely heinous, immoral act. I get it, I really do.

But I sincerely don’t want to be met with an animal head hanging on my wall. I was afraid of my parents’ painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, for goodness sake. As a child, Jesus’ eyes followed me all over the room. I can only imagine how Mr. Bambi will freak me out. “You spineless, heartless wench. How could you?” he would whisper under his breath to me.

But I know I’m going to lose this fight. The Musky Hunter will eventually be The Deer Slayer one of these days. He says he’s waiting for “the big one” with a giant rack.

Sigh … maybe I can hang my pool towels on its antlers?

A man and his musky

A man and his musky

I Thought We Were Getting a Gerbil?

My daughter, Fauna and I were taking in the warm air down on the farm whilst brewing in the hot tub the other day and we noticed a very busy bluebird couple setting up house in a birdhouse nearby. It was mesmerizing. Mr. Bluebird was warily eyeballing us from a tree branch nearby as he dove in and out. Granted, we were hard to see, what with our camo bathing suits. Eventually, he decided we were harmless, swooped in with a beak full of something, and lighted just outside of the doorway of the birdhouse. After giving a one last side eye glance, he popped inside, staying in there for just a moment and then popped back out. Pretty soon, Mrs. Bluebird did the same. We were rapt in attention. In and out and they went, dutifully caring for a house full of hungry beaks. When we strained to listen, we could just barely hear the baby bluebirds’ tiny little peep-peeps as they hungrily devoured their meal.

“This is the way to have pet birds,” I thought. “Outside. Just like those barn cats.” My mind went back to the pet birds I’ve had over the years. As I have mentioned before, pets never lasted long in my house growing up. But there was a time around the mid-70’s when my parents were all about canaries. It seems my dad had always wanted to own a canary. Perhaps he owned one as a child? I can’t remember. At any rate, we owned two different canaries: Bing (as in Bing Crosby, the crooner), and a little later, Twitty (as in Conway Twitty, the country music star). They were lovely: small and yellow with beautiful songs. I’m not sure how those birds survived in a hectic house full people in and out at all hours. One of the canaries did meet a tragic end while I was out of town with my parents. Twitty mysteriously kicked the seed bucket while under the care of my older brothers. The details are murky, but it involves a microwave. 

Fast forward to when I myself was a young parent with three eager, animal-loving children. It was decided that, ok, we will get a gerbil (God help me. Aren’t gerbils just a hair away from being mice?). My husband, an animal lover himself, took the girls to the pet store to pick out a gerbil. Next thing I know, Dr. Doolittle and his posse are walking in the door with a very large cage and a feathered friend, a cockatiel. She was very beautiful, I must say. All yellow and white with bright red circles on her cheeks, like hastily applied rouge. 

“A bird?! What happened to the gerbil?!” I exclaimed as they excitedly paraded our new pet and his accouterment into my kitchen. “Oh, we just thought this bird was so pretty,” Dr. Doolittle replied. “And look, she jumps right onto my finger.” The girls named our new pet bird Polly. (Original, I know.)

So there I was with three little girls and a brand new pet bird. All was well and good for the first, I don’t know, three years. The girls would watch TV or play house with the bird. Our youngest, Meriwether, loved setting up Polly Pocket play villages in the basement where Polly the bird would rampage through the town, nibbling on the dolls and charmingly poop all over Main Street. Dr. Doolittle, a world-class whistler, taught Polly how to sing the theme song from the Andy Griffith Show. It really was delightful. They were quite a team, like Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. They entertained adults and children alike at dinner parties. But Polly never really took a shine to me. “That Andy Griffith number is wearing a little thin,” I thought. “She needs new material.” So I tried to teach her Whistle While You Work, from Snow White. It seemed like a perfect ditty for her. Nothing. Day after day, month after month, I would whistle to her, but that damned bird just stared at me in defiance. “Come on, you filthy animal, sing the bloody tune,” I would growl at her. Still, nothing.

Then, about five years into our relationship, Polly took an evil turn. We got a very large, 100 lb. Doberman pinscher and that bird tortured the dog. She would sneak over to the dog’s cage and light on top of it, pooping on top of the dog as if to say, “Don’t forget who’s in charge, pal.” She would wander over to the dog’s hubcap-sized water bowl and take a bath in it. The indignity of it made our Doberman beyond neurotic. And then there was the screeching. We had old, funky kitchen drawers that would kind of stick and screech when we would open and close them and Polly began to imitate that annoying sound. “Really? You’ll imitate that obnoxious sound and not cough up a ‘Whistle While You Work?’ That’s f-ed up,” I would whisper to her. “You are a mean-spirited little bugger.” 

It continued like that for another couple of years. Polly would scream and make the most annoying racket all day until our youngest daughter, Meriwether, walked into the room, at which point Polly would break into that damned Andy Griffith song, trilling away with unbounded joy. It was confounding. And torturous. What the hell was the matter with that damned bird? 

We had to take Polly to the vet every month or so to keep her wings clipped, else she fly all over the house, which was almost as annoying as her screeching. To make matters worse, Polly was afraid of heights, so if she would fly up to the top shelf of a bookcase, for instance, she would panic and, screech to the rafters until one of us retrieved her. At her monthly wing-trimming appointment, I asked the vet about Polly’s incessant screeching and fixation on my youngest daughter. “Oh, that’s typical in adolescent male birds,” he exclaimed. “He’s probably attached to your daughter and thinks she is a bird, like him. He’s flirting.” 

“Um … wait,” I replied. “Polly is a dude?” 

“Yep, and he’s got a crush on your daughter.”

“Ewe ...”

To get away from the racket, and to make room for the Holy Spirit between the bird and my daughter, I began to put “Pauli” (renamed for his newly discovered gender) outside in his cage. On one such occasion, we forgot about the bird and mistakenly left him outside overnight. A raccoon tried to break into his cage and knocked it off the patio table, damaging Pauli’s cage door so that it never really closed tightly thereafter. 

Then, one day, I came zooming home after running errands in time to get the kids off the bus. As I jumped out of my car I noticed that familiar, grating, screeching sound. But it was coming from … where? Just then, my daughter, Fauna was walking home from the bus stop. She heard it too. We both followed the sound into the backyard where we found Pauli on top of his cage, screeching to high heaven. “Oh crap,” I thought. “This is not going to end well.” The two of us slowly tiptoed towards the bird, trying to coax him onto my finger. Then, as if to say, “screw you, lady!” off he flew into the bushes nearby. Fauna and I closed in on him and were just about to grab him when up, up, up he flew, first to the top of the bush, then, to the top of a 200-foot high monster oak tree. “Oh, for God’s sake. You stupid @#$%ing bird,” I muttered aloud. There he was, at the top of the tallest tree in town, afraid of heights and unable to figure out how to fly down to us like a, you know, bird. 

Fauna was panicked. I was pissed. Then, home came Pauli’s lover, Meriwether, who was completely bereft, inconsolable. We each tried to talk him down, but it was no use. That stupid, infuriating bird stayed at the top of that tree and then another tree two doors down for three full days. It was especially heinous, torturing my daughters with his proximity, but with us having no earthly way to retrieve him. I was out of my mind. “Oh for God’s sake, you stupid idiot! You need to either die or fly. This is ridiculous. We cannot do this for one minute longer.” 

And so he flew. Finally. We told the girls he flew to Florida, but honestly, I hope he flew to the jaws of Hell, that crazy little bastard. Meriwether mourned his loss for months and that just ate me up. But, I’m not going to lie, I didn’t miss him. Still don’t. We had him for nine years. Nine years of my life. It was about eight years too many. But, I got off easy. Those buggers live to be twenty five years old.

So, no more birds as pets for me, thank you. Three’s a charm. I’ll stick to admiring them in the wild, where birds don’t imitate obnoxious sounds, aren’t afraid of heights and don’t put the moves on my daughter.

Bye, bye birdie ...

Bye, bye birdie ...

Water Signs

According to soothsayers, my astrological chart is “loaded with water.” I am a Cancer, which is a water sign and I’m married to an Aquarius, “the water bearer.” I’ve been told I will always be around water, surrounded by it. So it makes perfect sense that our farm is situated right on top of a huge, underground aquifer. Turns out this part of Ohio is loaded with water in the form of rivers, streams, lakes and aquifers. I grew up near Lake Erie, still live close to it now and love looking out over the water or just seeing it every day as I drive by (Those who have never seen a Great Lake have no idea how impressive they are). But I never thought I would have a home on top of a hidden lake.

Being surrounded by water comes in handy because I’m pretty sure my husband is a merman. It first occurred to me way back when we went to Australia on our honeymoon. One of our stops was an island on The Great Barrier Reef. He couldn’t wait to get into the ocean there and once he was in, I couldn’t get him out. I was journaling under a palm tree, watching him loll about like a baby seal until he emerged, breathlessly telling me that he saw more variety of fish snorkeling in chest deep water than he had in all his scuba dives combined. He begged me to join him in scuba diving on The Great Barrier Reef the next day. Giddy with newlywed loyalty, I forced myself to do it. I took the resort course the next day, which pretty much taught me how not to kill myself and, the cardinal rule of diving, “stick with your buddy.” 

The next thing I knew, we were sixty feet deep in the clear, azure waters of the Reef for two dives. I honestly don’t remember much about the first dive; it is a blurry memory of me concentrating on staying alive, checking the water for the Great White Sharks, holding my regulator tight against my mouth and my mask even tighter against my face, lest either of them gets knocked off by a rogue fish. (I had learned in my resort course how to retrieve them but had quickly decided they were staying put, thank you very much). On the way to our second dive, I sucked in the surface air and thanked God I was still alive. The first mate tied up the boat to a buoy, we all ate lunch and prepared ourselves for the next dive at a famous site called The Cod Hole.

The boat began to rise and fall with the ocean swells and I slowly turned more and more green, eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to talk myself out of heaving my guts over the side of the boat. Just then, Merman called out, “Hey captain! It looks like we’ve got company.” Everyone froze and followed his gaze over the water. There, about fifty yards from the boat, jutting out of the water, were two enormous dorsal fins … sharks. “Well, that’s just perfect,” I thought to myself. The first mate, a crazy, redheaded Aussie, jumped into a zodiac dingy and raced over to the dorsal fins. Everyone on the boat stood in tense silence as the Aussie kicked at the sharks. “What in the hell is he doing?” I thought. “I am going to watch this lunatic get eaten alive.” But inside I was relieved. “Well, we’re clearly going in to shore,” I said. “Nothing ruins a tourist dive more than the first mate being turned into chum.”

The Aussie returned to the boat, however, and declared, “They’re just a couple of tiger sharks, about four meters each, chomping on some whale blubber that’s stuck to the reef.” (I did some quick math … “Holy mackerel, that’s thirteen feet!”) As I started to take my gear off and open a beer, he shouted, “But, they’re not frenzyin’ … we’re going in!”

“What the?! Excuse me?” My knees went out from under me and I’m pretty sure I shat myself.

Merman immediately suited up, went to the back of the boat and caught my tearful stare. “Babe … you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to …” And then, splash! He was in. All the other divers tiptoed over to the side of the boat to see if the sharks would eat my newlywed husband. As he slowly descended beneath his bubbles, one by one, the divers on board joined him in the water until I was the last one standing, blubbering alone on the deck, struggling with a mix of seasickness and fear. “Oh screw it,” I finally said to myself. “I think I’d rather be eaten by a tiger shark than feel this lousy for one more minute.” So, in I went. 

All alone in the middle of the water column, I fought back my fear, nausea, and panic and slowly descended the sixty feet to meet my group. I could see them below, surrounded by enormous grouper or as the Aussie’s call them, Potato Cod (hence the name, Cod Hole). “I’ll just land on that large rock below and survey the scene from there,” I thought. Except that the large rock turned out to be a very large grouper who was not at all pleased with my tickling his backside with my flippers. I careened away from him, crashing into a stack of exquisite staghorn coral, sending it into smithereens. I caught the eye of the dive master through a veil of bubbles; he just shook his head at me in disgust. 

The dive proceeded through veritable canyons of vibrant coral and a variety of amazingly beautiful fish. It really was awesome. Occasionally I would lose Merman and scream at him through my regulator into the ocean, “Stick with your buddy, x@%*!!” only to discover he was floating above me the whole time, blissfully at home in his natural state.

I spent the entire next day on a lounge chair drinking mimosas with a Japanese woman named Mayumi while Merman went on more dives without me. A year later, I got my scuba diving certification. I figured if we were going to be doing more scuba diving in our marriage, I needed to know what the hell I was doing. And indeed, we have had many wonderful (and a few terrifying) dives since.

So, all these years later, here we are with a farm on top of a lake. We do have a swimming pool, too. And, just to make sure Merman is okay, we made it a saltwater pool. Sharks not included.

I'm pretty sure my husband is a merman.

I'm pretty sure my husband is a merman.

Wild Turkeys

We are officially at the beginning of turkey hunting season and my husband, The Turkey Slayer was super excited. He’d never been turkey hunting and our farm neighbor, Johnny Cash was stoked to show him the ropes. Turkey Slayer was eager because, besides the new challenge of shooting a wild turkey, he would get to wear as much camo as he wanted. It seems that, unlike deer, who are a bit dim and don’t really take notice of hunters in their bright orange gear, wild turkeys are pretty wily, have great eyesight and are hard to fool. So, turkey hunters get all dressed up like Viet Cong and stalk down the enemy: Tom Turkey.

Wild turkeys used to be an interesting novelty. When our daughters were little, Turkey Slayer would take the girls on hikes in the woods or in the country. On one of those hikes, they all came across a flock of wild turkeys. “Girls look, those are wild turkeys,” he whispered to them. Our youngest, Meriwether, was about three years old and was fascinated by these strange, dark, prehistoric looking creatures. On the car ride home later, she took a swig from her sippy cup and whispered, “Dad … those turkeys were wild!” as if to say they were crazy, off the hook, unhinged.

In the years since I’ve been noticing turkeys all over the suburbs: walking past strip malls, hanging out in backyards, outside the doctor’s office. Much like suburban deer, wild turkeys are very incongruous in civilization and frankly, they’re a bit surly. Out in the country, they nibble their way across cornfields and woodlands. They stick close to the ground. They have wings but don’t use them much, kind of like tonsils or apendix. They do jump/fly up into trees to roost at night and over fences when need be, but mostly they just grouse around, hunting and pecking for food on the ground.

I was invited to go along on the turkey hunt this week but sadly could not make it. Besides, I’ve got no beef with turkeys. The closest I’ve come to one is, like most of America, on Thanksgiving Day. I’ll never forget my first turkey roasting experience. I was a young mother, about to host roughly 50 family members for Thanksgiving Dinner. The fact that I’d never roasted a turkey didn’t dissuade me. How hard could it be, right?

That day, I was up early, had already set the tables and was ready to tackle the bird. I washed him in the kitchen sink, like a chubby, slippery newborn baby, and then dried him thoroughly. My sister-in-law down the street was doing the same thing for her family and we kept calling each other for reassurance on what the hell we were doing.

“Ok, I’ve washed him and dried him. Now … where are the damned giblets?” I asked her. 

“I don’t know. I’ve been looking for them too,” she said.

“Wait … I think I found them,” I cried. “They’re in the cavity. Just reach in and grab them.”

“Ewe ... Ok, got ‘em,” she said with victory in her voice. 

“Wait … I thought there were more. This is just his neck,” I said, confused. “I guess maybe they just throw that other stuff away.”

“Yeah, that’s probably right. They’re gross anyways,” she said. “Gotta go.”

We each proceeded merrily along, basting, rubbing, stuffing and roasting our respective birds. All of the sudden, about two hours into the process, there was a commotion in my mudroom hallway.

“Stop!” someone screamed. I turned around to see my sister-in-law and her sister, falling down, laughing hysterically. “We found them!”

“What the …?”

“The giblets! They’re in the butt!” they screamed.

I gingerly opened the oven, pulled the big tom out and checked my turkey. Sure enough, there they were, giblets steaming in a paper bag shoved up his arse. I quickly extracted them and threw them in with the neck parts I had simmering on the stove and then returned my turkey to the oven.

“Good Lord,” I thought. “What a humiliation for Mr. Turkey.” This was a bird that Benjamin Franklin lobbied to make our national bird, so impressed was he by the turkey’s intelligence and stature (take that, Bald Eagle). Now, the poor species have been domesticated and humiliated with his kibbles and bits shoved up his downside. Quite a fall from grace, I would say.

But he is tasty.

The Turkey Slayer sadly returned from his hunt empty-handed. “I got close to a couple of hens. We kept calling back and forth to a tom, but … nothing …” he sighed, plopping down on the couch. “Turns out the darned guy was toying with us all along, strutting around in a field of horses the whole time. Bastard …”

“Too bad, sweetie,” I said, rubbing his head. “But, you’re a mild-mannered guy. I don't think you stood a chance against them. You know … those turkeys are wild.”

He could have been our national bird, but he was too wild.

He could have been our national bird, but he was too wild.

Man Camp

Occasionally, my husband, Captain Fun, will have a “Men’s Retreat” on the farm. It’s a bit of a misnomer; there is no praying, meditating or yoga there. It’s an unbridled weekend of all-guy fun. After one such weekend, a good friend had an epiphany as he was packing up his things to go. He was exhilarated and exhausted from a couple of days of nonstop guy stuff and was sad to go back to his real life. “You know,” he said running fingers over his balding pate, “You could make money off men my age. Women with retired husbands would pay you to get their men out of the way.”We all chuckled, but it got me thinking … 

He could be on to something … from what I hear, the first few weeks of a man’s retirement are great. He’s relaxed, reading a lot of newspapers, watching a lot of golf, maybe even playing a lot of golf. But then, he may get antsy. If his wife is still working, it might work out just fine because there is still room there for the Holy Spirit. But if she, too, is retired … yikes. That’s a lot of time together. And that, right there, would be our market. I can just see the advertising campaign. 

Ladies, is your retired husband driving you crazy? Does he have way too much time on his hands these days? Are you starting to hate the sound of him slurping his coffee in the morning? Are you mumbling to yourself, “For better or worse, but never for lunch?” 

 Never fear, there’s hope. Send your guy to Man Camp.

 Yes, Man Camp is just the thing to get your man out of your face and onto the farm. At Man Camp your guy can keep busy doing all sorts of man things like:

·     Mucking stalls: nothing brings out the man in your man like the sweet smell of fresh horseshit! 

·     Shooting guns: let your man really feel manly by shooting firearms. You know he wants to at least try.

·     Farting in public: your man will feel validated and virile when he is surrounded by other men, farting into the wind or the sofa, with no judgment. Hell, he’ll probably be complimented!

·     Drinking: no worries, once your man is on the farm, he’s locked in. There’s no driving anywhere. And his stories are way funnier when he’s well lubricated and surrounded by other men who are drinking, thinking that they are The Most Interesting Man Alive.

·     Splitting logs: that’s not code for anything untoward … he will literally be cutting, splitting and stacking dead wood for hours. What could be more fun?

·     Smoking cigars, cigarettes and whatever: We know you hate the noxious smell of cigars. But at Man Camp, your guy can puff, puff, puff away his stress and have bad cigar breath all weekend. With all the farting and horse shit, who can smell it anyway?!

·     Grow a beard: Recent genetic tests confirm that Captain Fun has very strong Neanderthal bloodlines. If your fella can’t grow a beard of his own, he can sit back with a brewski and watch the Captain’s beard grow!

You say your man is not into that kind of thing? That he’s a well-shaven metrosexual? An inside guy? Farm that! Even more reason to send him to Man Camp! No woman should be with a guy who uses more beauty products than she does.

Of course Captain Fun would be in charge, but the Head Camp Counselor for Man Camp would be my brother-in-law, Big Boy. Big Boy (also known as Captain Excess for his penchant for going overboard on, well, everything) has been retired for about ten years now and our acquisition of the farm came at just the right time. He was starting to get so squirrely in early retirement that he took to driving to Florida a couple of times of year as if he was running out to get milk or something. “I’ll be right back, I’ve just got to run down to Lauderdale for a few things. Don’t hold supper!” My sister was getting exasperated. But then came the farm and Big Boy found his mojo. Now, he runs down to the farm at least once a week. There is barely time in the day there to complete all the man things he has to do. The Sherriff loves it because he has a willing helper for all sorts of farm jobs, so it’s win/win.  Big Boy is the Lance Armstrong of the log splitter, a Winner at weed whacking and the straight up Shit at shit shovelling. 

Besides running MAN CAMP, Big Boy could run a special CAMP GRANDPA focusing on how to be The Best Grandpa Ever. Big Boy is never happier than when surrounded by a gaggle of young people. Standing about 6’ 5”, he towers over his tribe of grandchildren, grandnieces/nephews and a few strays like a huge male Mother Goose (or would that be Grandpa Gander?). With his booming voice and huge frame, it’s amazing that kids gravitate to him, but he’s so disarming with his joy and ability to connect with them, they all eventually give in and have a ball. When he has a crew with him on the farm, he’ll toss a bunch into the four-wheeler, and zip down the gravel road, sending up a cloud of dust and laughter behind him. Or, he’ll turn the temperature down in the hot tub and throw them all in there, like a big bowl of kid soup. 

I’m telling you, there’s an untapped revenue stream here. Picture the movie, City Slickers meets Blazing Saddles with a little bit of Bad News Bears on the side. 

I really think I’m on to something here.

Welcome to Man Camp!

Welcome to Man Camp!

The Birthing Season

The watchers pace back and forth. They sleep restlessly in a cushy recliner, one eye open, watching the pregnant mothers, waiting for something to happen. The mothers groan and ache; their bellies are swollen, overfull. Days come and go with nothing happening but watching, waiting. Is this a maternity ward? Well, sort of.

Springtime is the birthing season on our farm and the barns are pretty much maternity wards for horses. Pregnant mares populate each stall. Emotions are high: expectation, nervousness, relief. It’s an exciting, beautiful time … but it’s a lot of work for the Sheriff, Wonder Woman and their staff. Starting in January, the babies come, one by one, slowly at first. Then, the pace picks up and by March and April, they’re coming so fast, The Sheriff can barely keep up. One, two, sometimes five foals a week. And they nearly always come in the still of night, just to make it more interesting.

I was walking through the barn the other day, past about six stalls with overripe pregnant mares, each impatiently waiting for nature to take its course. They paced back and forth, aching under the weight of their load. I stopped to chat with one gal who was past due. We could tell she could go any minute, her teets had already started dripping milk, but still, nothing was happening. “Oh, I’ve been there, honey. I know …” I whispered to her. She shuffled up to me, putting her nose against the iron grate that separated us. I bent my head towards her, she did the same, and we both stood there, foreheads touching, our breath sending little clouds into the icy night air. “You’re almost done, sweetheart. Hang in there,” I told her.

My mind went back twenty something years. Two of my children were born in the spring and they were both overdue. I remember that feeling well. I know that mare’s pelvis was feeling like an egg, slowly cracking open. I know her ankles were swollen, her legs buckling, her mind a little crazed. Perhaps, like me, she was craving gallons of ice cold orange juice? This mare is a veteran, though, so she knew what she was in for ... but that doesn’t take away the discomfort, the anxiousness.

My husband, The Stallion, and I have been blessed to have witnessed several births over the past few years of owning this farm. We get the call that one of the mares is giving birth and jump in the four wheeler to race a mile down the gravel road, skidding to a stop at the barn and jumping out. Many times, we have just missed the actual birth. (I wish my own labor and deliveries had gone so quickly). But every so often, we get there just in time to see the magic. The mare is lying down, her water is already broken and a little pair of hooves is jutting out of her. The Sheriff will rub her belly to encourage and calm her. Then he will grab the baby’s hooves and gently coax him out.

If all goes well, and it usually does, the foal is born quickly, sliding out all slippery and confused, and the mare is soon licking him clean. The little guy is about as big as our Doberman, though with legs almost as long as his mother’s, but spindly, nowhere near as beefy and strong. He will lay there for about a half hour, wet and shivering, getting used to breathing air, enjoying the tongue bath from his mom. Soon, he’s testing out his legs. It’s like that scene in the movie Bambi when he’s wibbly wobbling all over the ice. The newborn foal is unsure, struggling, falling, getting back up again. But, in about an hour and a half, that little guy is up, nursing his mama for the first time. It’s amazing, beautiful. It never gets old.

The mares on our farm are broodmares, so they go through this process many, many times in their lives. My hat is off to them; I only gave birth three times. Compared to my sainted mother, who gave birth nine times, I am a complete minor leaguer, an amateur, and Mom wasn’t shy about reminding me of that. “All single births, no twins,” she often would say, implying that with twins, you got two babies for the labor of one, like it was cheating or something.

I remember when I was pregnant, giving birth and nursing … I felt a connection to all mammals on the planet, from dogs to elephants to horses. Oftentimes, yes, I felt like a bosomy cow. “We are all the same,” I thought. “We conceive, gestate, give birth and nurse our young.” I remember my oldest sister, The Sage One, saying that pregnancy and childbirth is the “great equalizer.” No matter your zip code, race, or creed, we women all go through the same thing. From cave women thousands of years ago to movie stars today. How profound is that?

Two of my three babies came in the early spring. Both of my parents passed in the early spring. The good Lord gave hope to us all by rising from the dead in early spring. While Ohio springs are not easy -- I remember plenty of snowy Easters growing up -- springtime is a poetic reminder of the cycle of life: death, birth, renewal, resurrection, hope. Each year, just when we cannot take one more day of slushy, snowy, gray days, the earth miraculously, inevitably reawakens. Ferns yawn out from the ground, as if stretching their arms after a long winter’s nap. Trees explode in slow motion, opening up their leaves in celebration of the longer days. Slowly, slowly, the earth and we come back to life, become reenergized, alive.

And on farms, countrysides and woods the world over, babies are born. Is there anything more hopeful than a newborn baby, be it human or equine, in springtime?

Happy Easter!


News Flash: I'm Irish

“Oh, wow. It looks just like Ireland,” many visitors say.

Well, kind of … just drop some stone walls and a lot of wooly sheep in there and yes, our farm does look a lot like the rolling, green hills of Ireland, which is appropriate because --- news flash --- we’re kind of Irish.

My husband, The Big Leprechaun, and I gave our family the gift of “23 & Me” genetic testing kits for Christmas this past December and we just recently received our scores. The results are in: we’re really, really Irish. Shocker. Flora is 91.6%; Fauna is 90.8%; Meriwether is 96.8%. My husband is a mere 85%. I am the proud Irish Queen at 98.1%.

I’m actually a little surprised my results aren’t 100%+ Irish. I mean, I’ve always known my people were Irish. Like so many in Greater Cleveland, both my parents were born from Irish immigrants from County Mayo. So immersed in my Irish-ness was I as a youth that, when filling out biographical information on standardized tests in grade school, I was confused, looking over the options: Caucasian, Black, Asian, Native American. I raised my hand and asked the teacher, “Um, I’m none of these things. I’m Irish.”

“You’re Caucasian, honey. You’re white.”

“Hmm. Go figure,” I muttered to myself, baffled, though I was sure she was mistaken.

While I took my Irish-ness for granted, when I was young I had this internal vision of myself as being something dark and exotic … Polynesian or Puerto Rican. I adored the musical, West Side Story (still do) and thought of myself as that famous Shark girl, Anita or at the very least, Maria. But when I was in that play in college, they quickly cast me as a Jet girl. (“You’re Caucasian, honey. You’re white.”)

Growing up, I thought everyone used words like “amadán,” (moron) “nabicantch” (I have NO idea how to spell this, but it means, “quiet now, someone’s coming”) “pogue mahone” (kiss my ass), “eejit” (idiot) and a particularly lyrical word for a woman’s nether regions that my maternal grandmother reportedly used, which I will refrain from using here, just in case it offends. I seriously didn’t even know any of those phrases was Irish until I read them in the novel, Trinity (by that great Irishman, Leon Uris, who is Jewish) in my late 20’s. When it was published in 1975, Trinity was all-but-required reading for Irish Americans.

When I moved into adulthood, I was not especially looking for an Irish American lad. I consider myself a citizen of the world, after all. I speak Spanish, I love to travel and enjoy meeting people and learning about different cultures. But then I met this guy with the map of Ireland all over his face and what my father referred to as “poet’s eyes,” and I fell. My husband and his clan identify as Irish American, but I have to say, I’ve always been a little snobby about that. I mean, they’ve got German roots, English roots, Texas roots, whatever that means (my brother-in-law tells everyone he’s half Irish, half Texan). But when The Big Leprechaun got his genetic results back, I was impressed; 85% Irish is pretty respectable.

Now, just to be clear, my family was never one of those families with what I call TIP, “tacky Irish paraphernalia” all over the house. Sure, we took off school every year to go to the St. Patricks’ Day parade downtown, sit at my aunt’s kitchen table and share family stories all day. Yep, my clan does gather for about thirty years now every St. Patrick’s Day to drink beer together with our cousins at a large Irish hooley at St. Colman’s, the downtown parish where our parents grew up. (Yep, I use the word “clan” a lot). At that annual event, we listen to Irish music and watch Irish Step Dancing, occasionally taking a crack at it ourselves (pathetic). Yeah, I gather a group of sisters, nieces and a few cousins in my kitchen every year to make dozens of loaves of Irish Soda Bread to sell at the annual hooley.

Yep, I ended up throwing some of my own kids into step dancing classes, though I never studied it myself. Ok, I’ve got some Irish stuff … Belleek china, some Waterford crystal, some crosses of St. Brigid, the obligatory Irish knit sweaters, a couple of CDs of The Chieftains. Yes, my parents did bring a group of twenty kids, cousins and aunts to Ireland back in the 70’s (though I don’t remember a lot from that trip, so doped out on Dramamine was I). I, as well as many of my siblings and cousins, have made the pilgrimage back to the old sod and, sure, it was grand.

Yes, I say, “sure, it was grand” with an Irish brogue.

Yes, as I write, I have a big fat green shamrock on my front door.

Oh, and two of my brothers own a brewery.

Ok. We’re pretty over-the-top Irish.

When we acquired our farm property and built a new barn for the horses there, The Big Leprechaun insisted that we put shamrocks on it. It thought it was kind of hokey, but I have to admit, I do like it now. And it turns out that the wife of The Sherriff, a beautiful blond-haired, blue-eyed lass, is Irish herself; her father was born in Ireland. So the shamrocks fit in well.

All this got me thinking. Our farm is a horse-breeding farm. Genetics play a very important role there. The Sherriff and his staff pay a lot of attention to bloodlines. So, at least on our farm, at 98.1% Irish, I guess I’m darned near a thoroughbred. And I’m plenty proud of it.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Shamrocks on our barn are hokey, but ... sure, they're grand.

Shamrocks on our barn are hokey, but ... sure, they're grand.

Blue Bird, Red Bird

I saw my first bluebird of the season the other day on our farm. Not a blue jay, which is kind of a tyrant in the bird kingdom, a bluebird. Blue jays are pretty enough but have an ugly squawk and an even uglier disposition. But bluebirds are another story. They, too, are beautiful, but in that wholesome, girl-next-door kind of way, busily living their best lives, swooping over open fields, popping from one fence post to the next, singing their quizzical, melodious songs. When a bluebird takes flight and the sun catches its wings, its iridescent blue color is dazzling. One can’t help but gasp aloud with joy, “Oh! It’s a bluebird!”

Seeing a bluebird at the end of February is a good omen that spring is nigh. That, and all of the sudden, I am hearing the cardinals sing again, from the tippity tops of the barren trees. Cardinals always remind me of my parents, especially when I see them in the late winter and early spring because that’s when each of my folks went to heaven, 13 years apart. My dad loved nature and after he died, it seemed we were always seeing cardinals at just the right times. It’s as if his angel was a cardinal and would make surprise visits to give us encouragement or just say hello (though I’m not sure Big Jack would ascribe to this pantheistic viewpoint). Once, when we were having a heavy family meeting after my dad died, my mom, siblings and I were all over at the homestead, huddled in Mom’s back room, deep in weepy, emotional discussion. All of the sudden, there was a pecking at the window on the large, sliding glass doors looking out onto my dad’s backyard. We stopped talking and looked up to see a fat, red cardinal, hovering in the air like a hummingbird, frantically tapping at the window. “Let me in! I have something important to say!” It was the darndest thing.

But none of the bird/angel visits was more dramatic than when my mother was in the long, painful process of dying. It was a cold, blustery late winter day. An old family priest friend stopped in to give Mom her last rights. The group of us huddled around her, tearfully getting ready to say good-bye, praying The Hail Mary and Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” The psalm doesn’t mention a cardinal, but in this case, it should have.

Mom’s bed was directly in front of a window on the second floor of the facility where she was staying. All of the sudden, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye and instinctively looked out the window. There, just above Mom’s head was a bright red cardinal on a tree branch, looking right into the window. A calm came over the dimly lit room. I felt the presence of God and of my dad, beckoning my poor, suffering mother, “It’s ok, Marge, let’s go.” Just as I was focusing on that beautiful, bright red male cardinal, in swooped a female cardinal, who lighted right next to him on the branch. I signaled to my siblings what was happening right outside the window and we all continued praying, holding hands and laugh/crying at our little avian miracle. The cardinal couple stayed there until we were finished with our prayer and then silently flew away. Our priest friend was amused but didn’t seem too surprised. I got the impression he’d been witness to all sorts of quirky visitations and miracles.

Since Mom left to join Dad, I now see both male and female cardinals at opportune times: when I’m in despair or troubled especially. I had a health scare a few years back and was praying in the car as I drove. All of the sudden, there they were, cardinals swooping on the road in front of my car, just letting me know Mom and Dad are near, God hears you, all will be well.

I’ve discovered that I am not alone, that the cardinal is widely known as a sign from loved ones who have passed on, a symbol of God’s love, an angel visiting. The backyard of our home is often filled with cardinals, nesting in our arborvitae, singing one of their distinctive, piercing melodies from the treetops. That song is so optimistic, so beautiful and self-assured. And it is said that cardinals mate for life, which makes their sightings all the sweeter.

I will keep looking for bluebirds on our farm and will delight in their rare, precious beauty. But I will never get tired of seeing cardinals anywhere, any time. How could I? When the going gets tough, as it inevitably does, I look for my cardinals.

Hi Mom and Dad!

Hi Mom and Dad!

Bad Ass Barn Cat

When I was little, The Most Beautiful Girl in Third Grade, Barbara Vanderbilt, had a cat that had kittens and for some reason, she bestowed one to me. I humbly accepted this honor, secretly hoping that some of Barbara’s blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty would miraculously transfer to me through her kitten. I remember Barbara as a tiny third-grade version of Brigitte Bardot. I was a chubby, slightly stinky, perpetually stuffy-nosed kid with dirty ankles and what my mother lovingly referred to as “dishwater blond” hair. I went up against Barbara for the coveted part of Dolly in our class’ rendition of Hello Dolly at Monsignor Weygand’s Jubilee Celebration, but whom was I kidding? I couldn’t hold a candle to Barbara’s star power. Barbara nailed it with effortless aplomb.

Anyway, I accepted Barbara’s kitten and brought it home, much to my mother’s surprise. The kitten was orange, the color of Ritz crackers, so I named her Crackers. I loved her so much, but neither my mom nor I knew a damn thing about kittens and how to raise them. My mother was way too busy with a houseful of teenage boys (and their friends) 24/7 to read up on the care and keeping of kittens. Needless to say, the house was a little too hectic for poor Crackers. A few days into her stay with us, Crackers went missing and no one could find her. I was bereft until one of my brothers opened the refrigerator and there was Crackers, hanging from the egg rack on the door. She was alive, but pretty chilly.

Crackers ran away the next day. I can’t blame her. She figured she’d take her chances out in the wild. It couldn’t be more dangerous than our chaotic house.

When we acquired our farm, I was delighted to find that it came complete with two cats – and they were orange, just like Crackers. But these pussies are not for grabbing. These cats are working cats, cold-hearted killers. It is their job to keep mice and other varmints out of the barns, and these felines are fierce. Hell, they’ve been at it for over thirty years. They are named Tom and Jerry, though I’m still not sure which is which. One, let’ say it’s Jerry, we call The Pet Cemetery Cat because he looks like he’s back from the dead. He has survived several brushes with death, including being run over by a tractor. He walks, or rather, lumbers in a sideways fashion, kind of like John Wayne and seems to be mumbling to himself, “Don't say it's a fine morning or I'll shoot ya.” Jerry is always friendly, coming out of nowhere to greet whomever enters the barn, rubbing up against our legs. But make no mistake; he’s a killing machine. As the Sheriff says, “no mouse, rat, chipmunk or small rabbit is safe under his watchful gaze.” His one ear is mangled; he has many lumpy tumorous protrusions on his belly. But he’s been showing up for work every day for the past thirty plus years, ready to kick some ass and take no prisoners.

Our dog, I’ll call him Rex to protect his identity, has a healthy respect for Jerry. They pretty much agree to disagree. Rex darts into the barn; Jerry moves into the shadows or the corners of an empty stall. Rex tiptoes up to him, and Jerry stares him down, “Bring it on you filthy mongrel.” Rex creeps closer; the cat lets out a hiss and my 80-pound Doberman takes off the other way, “Sorry! I thought you were someone else!” Rex gets his revenge eventually, though, as he runs over to Jerry’s food bowl and snarfs the entire thing in seconds flat, cautiously watching Jerry with a side-eye as he does so. Jerry just rolls his eyes and lumbers away, “Whatever, dude. I prefer mice anyway.”

Aside from the canine vs. feline drama, I have to say, this is the way to own cats: outside the house. My husband, Doctor Doolittle, loves all animals but draws the line at cats because he is deathly allergic to them. Though I do have fond memories of my oh-so-brief chapter of kitten ownership, I would never bring a cat into my home. I really like and admire those barn cats. But I’m thinking, as for house cats, … honestly, they’re kind of assholes, aren’t they? They’re so blasé, so above it all. Dogs are all, “I love you! You’re the greatest!” and cats are just kind of “Yeah, yeah …” House cats seem to resent their owner’s very existence. I hear horror stories of how cats will go out of their way just to mess with their owners. And they’re pretty vindictive, aren’t they? I mean, cats will get revenge by peeing on their owners’ stuff. That’s messed up, I’m sorry.  Talk about passive aggressive. A pet is supposed to enrich one’s life, not demean and bully them.

So, though we have cats on our farm, I wouldn’t say we are cat owners. We just share space with them. We’re kind of like roommates with different schedules, passing each other in the barn, giving a head nod to each other, “Hey, ‘wassup.” Rex enjoys their food and they enjoy their jobs. We all agree to disagree and it’s better that way.

Don't grab this pussy.

Don't grab this pussy.

Captain's Fun Wild Ride

He dashes through the woods on a four-wheeler, his passengers being tossed to and fro like rag dolls. He conquers the hilly terrain like a seasoned pro, expertly maneuvering his vehicle as it fishtails in the slippery mud. He whips up hills and down dales at lightning speeds, stopping only to survey his acreage, his deer stands and of course, his magnificent home on the hill. He is Captain Fun. And this is his Wild Ride.

My husband, Captain Fun is a busy bee when we’re on our farm property. There’s walking the dog, toting the garbage to the bin, staring at the horses, trees, and hillsides, the stroking of the beard. And, when we have guests, there’s the task of taking them on The Ride. And it’s epic.

“Hey, who wants to go for a little ride?” he asks. Everyone jumps up enthusiastically, anxious to get a look at our beautiful surroundings. Our guests enter the four-wheeler, a very capable little tank of a four-wheel drive, open-air vehicle, naively expecting a quick little tour of the property. It begins innocently enough … “there’s the horses, most of them are pregnant … there’s the neighbor’s property and their cows … there’s more cows, more horses.” Then it gets interesting. Like a flash, Captain Fun switches the vehicle into 4-wheel drive and we dart up into the woods.

He loves this part because our guests never see it coming. Up, up, up we climb, into the woods. In the winter, it’s a white wonderland of sparkly, ice-covered branches. The sun beams down through the barren canopy turning the woods into a magical scene from the movie, Frozen. In the middle of the summer, the undergrowth and brush are thick as a rainforest. Birds are squawking, winging out of our way.  Squirrels, deer, foxes and such run for cover. Captain Fun navigates up the path, vines, brambles, and branches whipping the legs and arms of those sitting on the outside edges of the vehicle. There are screams from the back seat. “Whoa! What the …?”  It’s like a more thrilling version of a ride in Frontier Town at Cedar Point, without the hokey animated cowboys and Indians. “Argh!” they laugh/scream. “Is this safe?”

We come across a rocky stream. Will Captain Fun be daunted? Hell no. He charges headlong through the stream, water splattering us all, that amazing vehicle grinding through the muck. Sometimes we slow down, our Captain easing us over a bolder or a fallen tree. And just when you think, “Damn, I shouldn’t have worn slippers for this ride. It looks like we’re hoofing it through the mud back to the house,” he expertly pulls us all through the hazard like a seasoned African safari guide.

For a hot second, we emerge from the woods out into a field of corn, or soybeans or timothy (that’s a kind of grass that’s especially nutritious for farm animals. Who knew?). The Captain will take the Kubota out into the field, crunching down the edges of whatever is growing there under our wheels as we whiz into the woods again, careening down slippery slopes, our guests shrieking in the back seat, “Oh my gaawwwd!” which only makes The Captain press down the pedal harder. We will stop for a moment as The Captain will hop out of the vehicle and check on his “critter cam,” a motion-activated camera he and his buddy set up in the woods to keep an eye out for … I’m not exactly sure what. Then he hops back behind the wheel and we’re off again.

Finally, finally, we are spit out onto the level ground of the gravel driveway and head back to the house. “Hahahahah!” we hear from the back seat. “Holy crap! What was that?!” There’s relief in their voices, as if they just went through the looking glass to some Other World and are glad to be back in Civilization. But they love it, after it’s over.

Captain Fun loves it, too. Sure he’s energized by their screams of terror and delight, but he also just loves showing off his farm and the beauty it holds. He loves sharing stories of all that he’s learned, of how this farm seemed to just drop down from heaven into his lap. OK, and he loves showing off his four-wheeler skills.

After Captain Fun’s Wild Ride, we usually end up in front of the fireplace in the winter, out on the deck in the summer, reliving the ride, laughing hysterically at each other’s reactions to the unexpected brushes with death (not really, but it felt like it at the time). The Captain will pop the “critter cam” drive into his laptop and we’ll all gather around to see what secrets it holds. “Yep, there’s a squirrel … there’s another. Oh, wait, there’s a deer  … there’s another.” It’s riveting stuff.

“Oh, look! What’s that blurry image caught whizzing by?” It’s none other than Captain Fun himself, caught on his own critter cam, on another ride with other unsuspecting guests, gripping the edges of their seats with looks of terror in their eyes.

We pick thorns and pricklers out of each other’s hair and clothes, sometimes put bandages on some bloody scratches on legs or forearms. And then, we toast the farm, toast life and, much to his delight, we turn and toast Captain Fun. Salud!

Keep your arms and legs inside the car and have a great day on Captain Fun's Wild Ride!

Keep your arms and legs inside the car and have a great day on Captain Fun's Wild Ride!

My Camo Life

“Oh, it’s happening …” she said smugly. “I knew it would. It starts slowly, you don’t even know it. Then, little by little, it takes over your life.” She chuckled knowingly as she sipped her wine and gazed into the fireplace.

My farm neighbor, June Carter Cash, has been where I am now. She was a city girl, fell in love with a man from the country and eventually found herself on a farm, adapting to her new lifestyle. She had forewarned me all those years ago, and I didn’t listen. But she was right. Like a fog, like a thief in the night, camouflage print has officially insinuated itself into my house, my wardrobe, my life.

It started as a joke. Shortly after we purchased our farm, we stopped at that mid-Ohio institution, Grandpa’s Cheese Barn and Sweeties Barn off I-71 in Ashland for some ice cream. On the way there, we passed a sign in front of the outdoor outfitting retailer, Fin Feather and Fur that announced, “They’re here! Camo bathing suits are in!” My daughters and I all chuckled. “Is that a thing?” I said. “Who would want a camo bathing suit? Are they hunting from their pools or something?” I ate my ice cream, secure in the knowledge that I would never buy such a thing. Ridiculous!

Over the ensuing five years, however, camouflage began seeping into my life. It began with funny gifts. My daughter bought my husband a camo robe. A friend gave him a camo baseball hat with a built-in flashlight in the bill. But then, my husband became Captain Camo. He bought himself camo hunting gear: a coat, a hat, gloves, a turtleneck. June Carter Cash gave him camo Crocs. Pretty soon, my man was disappearing before my very eyes.

But that was all him, his thing, his camo compulsion. I started mocking him by purchasing silly camo things.  “Hahahah,” I thought, “I’ll buy the girls camo bathing suits. What a riot!

But then, I bought myself a camo bathing suit. “It’s cute,” I said to myself. “And green looks good with my eyes.” Then, it took over like an insidious invader and before I knew what was happening, there it was, plain as day, the evidence: a camouflage dog bed, a camouflage throw on the couch, camo grilling utensils, camo slippers, camo sunglasses … it was everywhere at our farmhouse. But the last straw came when I was recently dashing out the door to a yoga class at home and Captain Camo yelled out to me, “Hey, I like your camouflage leggings!”

What was he talking about? “These leggings are multi-colored, printed leggings from none other than Lululemon, buddy. They’re not … oh. My. God. They are. They are camouflage yoga pants.”

What is happening to me? Why am I buying into this?

What compels people to decorate their bodies, their homes, their pets with camouflage? What are we hiding from? I’m not a hunter; I’m not a soldier. What am I doing with all this camouflage? I don’t rightly know. I can’t explain it.

The only break I see in this camo fever is my husband’s growing compulsion to wear flannel, or should I say a flannel. For the past four years, my husband, Elmer Fudd, has been wearing the same blue and black flannel shirt every day. The. Same. One. It’s been like his wooby, his security blanket. He used to only wear it on the farm, but he grew so fond of it that he started wearing it everywhere. It got so bad that one of his colleagues at work approached him about it. “Dude, what’s with the blue flannel shirt?

So, for Christmas recently, I decided to buy him more flannel shirts. He needed them and I needed to tip the scales away from all that camouflage. While I’ve never been a huge fan of flannel, I have to say, I’m happy with his new wardrobe. It’s a comforting reprieve from all that camouflage and at least I can see him coming now.

I wonder if they make flannel bathing suits?

Now you see me, now you don't.

Now you see me, now you don't.

Why Farm Living is The Life for Me ... Sometimes

Last week marked five years since we acquired the farm property (my husband, The Land Baron, doesn’t like to say we “bought the farm” because it sounds like someone died, like “kicked the bucket.”) That snowy January day, my oldest friend in the world and I packed up my minivan full of stuff for our new digs, even as I was still grappling with the realization that my man’s farm fantasy had become a reality.

In the ensuing five years, we’ve come a long way from Eva Gabor (“Darling I love you, but give me Park Avenue”) and Buddy Albert (“Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside”). Well, sometimes anyway. How did I come to this transformation? I’ve come to appreciate things that make “farm livin’ the life for me.” Well, sometimes.

Farm living is a feast for the senses: sounds, sights and of course, smells. I’ve come to really love the sounds on our farm. No farm scene would be complete without that iconic sound of a rooster crowing early in the morning. You don’t hear that much in the ‘burbs, but out in the country it’s almost cliché. It feels like we’re on a the set for the musical, Oklahoma; “Ok, cue the rooster, and … action!” I often feel like Shirley Jones as Laurey. When I hear that rooster crow, I want to break into the song The Surrey With the Fringe on Top, “Chicks, and ducks and geese better scurry, when I take you out in a surrey …”

There’s nothing like hearing the distant lowing of a cow in the neighboring land on a still summer morning. I remember one time, my husband and I awoke laughing because the mooing outside was unusually loud. “That mooing is so loud, it sounds like it’s right outside. The wind must have shifted or something.” Nope. It was a herd of wayward calves that broke loose and were actually right outside our window, swarming around our house like baffled bees. The poor things were bumping into each other, mooing, crying out in confusion. “Hey! Where are we?! What the heck?” The Sheriff swiftly appeared and wrangled them back home. I’m sure it wasn’t as funny to him.

One of my favorite sounds comes in early spring. Before you would think that anything is coming alive, there’s the pronounced singing of peepers, or tree frogs. I’m not sure I had ever heard of them before, but peepers are definitely a thing out in the country.Their song, so bright and hopeful, sounds like something out of the bayou and is a harbinger of warmer days ahead.

And then there are the crickets. Nothing says late summer like the hum of crickets and cicadas in the night air. Listening to that staccato rhythm in the darkness will forever remind me of hot sticky nights on my family’s yearly summer vacations … of falling asleep to the crickets’ songs, my hot, sunburned face against the cool pillowcase.

The visuals of the last five years have been a treasure. One thing that sold me on the farm life early on is sunrise. I was never a “morning person,” but seeing the sunrise over the hills to the east – what we’ve since learned are the foothills to the Appalachian Mountain chain – is so beautiful it’s almost holy. Yellow and white streaks, breaking through the fog that forms in the valley every night, form silhouettes of the horses. It’s enough to get this lazy girl out of bed early.

In the evenings, far away from the light pollution of the cities, we’ve become enthusiastic stargazers. Though I have no idea what I’m looking at, I am still thrilled and awed by it all, especially shooting stars. They never get old. When I crane my head back and take in the night sky, I am transported to being a kid, lying on the grass, looking up at the stars and trying to figure out my place in the universe. “What will I be when I grow up? Do I matter? What does it all mean?” Still kind of doing that, actually. I’ve always been a sucker for fireflies, which are profuse out there, like little galaxies of stars but closer to Earth. Sure, we get fireflies in the ‘burbs, but a large expanse of land filled with tiny specks of darting, yellow lightening bugs is a pretty special gift.

Sights, sounds and oh, the smells of a working farm. Yep, there’s a lot of horse poop on our farm and, yep, it smells like it. It’s pungent. But honestly, I’ve come to appreciate that scent. It is natural, after all. Mind you, I’m not wearing any of this eau de manure behind my ears to the next cocktail party, but I do kind of like that aroma. In the barn, mixed with hay and straw, it takes on a slightly sweet note. It reminds me of horseback riding as a kid and the time when an old, tired horse was simply not having me on her back and tried to rub me off by scraping my chubby legs against the side of the barn. I guess she didn’t like my unique scent: HoHo’s and Cheetos mixed with a faint bouquet of urine from bedwetting. I guess I don’t blame her.

So, I’m five years into this farm adventure and I’m still straddling two different worlds. I’m here and I’m there. I’m Eva, I’m Eddie. I’m a little bit country, a little bit rock n’ roll. I’m a little bit Hollywood musical, as I hum the title song to Oklahoma on the porch, taking it all in:  “Evr’y night my honey lamb and I, sit alone and talk and watch a hawk makin’ lazy circles in the sky.” Cue the music … 

Oh, what a beautiful morning!

Oh, what a beautiful morning!

Away in a Manger

At this time of year, I can’t help but think of Mary and Joseph as I walk through the barns on our farm. I’ve come to know that stables/mangers are pretty stinky places, albeit warmish. The earthy smells of hay, straw and fresh poop combine to make quite a pungent bouquet.  I think of Mary, a very young woman with an unplanned pregnancy, waddling around, swollen with child, teetering on the back of a donkey, looking for a room for the night. I think of myself at that stage of pregnancy, and remember at that point I was so done. I could barely sit on the couch, let alone a donkey. Surely Mary and Joseph were fighting over directions because obviously they got into Bethlehem late and all the rooms were taken. It must have been tense. I can only imagine the look on Mary’s face when Joseph told her, “Yeah, so … they’re out of rooms. But guess what?” I think I would have taken Joe’s head off. I mean, really?

“If we had just asked for directions, I’d be in a warm bed right now, pal.”

I’ve always had an affinity for my girl, the Blessed Virgin Mary or BVM. After all, she is my namesake. My mom and dad were big fans, too. My dad carried a copy of The Memorare a devotional prayer to Mary, in his wallet. My mom, like any good Catholic mother, had several statues and paintings of the BVM all over her house. Each May, my mom and I would make a May Altar to Mary. I would go outside and pick daffodils, crab apple branches, hyacinth, and tulips and deck out what was normally a bar in our dining room, turning it into a beautiful, fragrant altar to Mary. Each day after school I would check on it, cleaning up the fallen petals from the crabapple branches and sprucing it up for my gal.

Perhaps because there were only four TV stations in the sixties, every Christmas Eve growing up, my family would reenact the nativity with a Christmas Pageant. Instead of a barn, our nativity scene took place in front of the fireplace in the family room. After I debuted as a restless Baby Jesus, I went on to own the role of Mary for several years until grandchildren came along and stole my part. With nine children, it was easy for my parents to populate the cast for their annual pageant: three wise men, Mary and Joseph, two shepherds, two angels. My mom was always the innkeeper, peeping through the shuttered doors with curlers in her hair, shaking her head to mime those infamous words, “No room at the inn.” My dad was the narrator and cameraman with his Super 8 camera and its white-hot lamp beaming down on the action like an interrogator’s flashlight.

The home movies of those pageants are priceless. The shepherds were bedecked with dishrags from the kitchen on their heads with a little mashed potato smear still on them, secured around the head with tube socks or the belt to someone’s robe. The angels rocked some white bed sheets, taken right off the bed, with tree garland on their heads for halos. The kings were rakishly handsome in my mother’s bathrobes with beards made from dusters turned upside down and tucked under their chins. It was always a surprise to see what the kings’ gifts for the babe would be. Sometimes it was a goofy photo, other times it was dinner leftovers. My personal favorite was the time my brother opened a soup pot to reveal not gold, frankincense or myrrh, but my mother’s orthopedic shoes for Baby Jesus. My poor father just kept filming, surely thinking to himself, “And this is why I go to mass every day. To pray for these slobs.”

I was always very serious during the pageant, representing for my pal Mary. I dutifully stayed in character as the Blessed Mother, kneeling patiently, sweating in front of the hot fireplace. I doted on my baby doll and tried to ignore my older siblings’ sacrilegious behavior. Eventually, it all went to hell when we gathered for a curtain call in front of the camera, my brothers striking muscle poses, my sisters doing Miss America waves. Then someone would fart and we’d all collapse into a pileup.

In spite of us all being in varying degrees of devotion to the church, the Christmas pageant tradition has continued through the nine of us siblings and through thirty grandchildren. This year, most of the twenty-seven great-grandchildren will put on the performance, with five babies vying for the coveted role of Baby Jesus. (We may need to have co-Jesuses … or is it “Jesi?”) The costumes have gotten a bit more sophisticated, but not much. Old bridesmaids dresses, lace table clothes and some of my mother’s fancy lingerie from the ‘50’s are all in the costume box (talk about sacrilege).

I’m sure my parents are looking down from heaven with amusement and hopefully pride at what they started all those years ago. Somewhere amidst the bed sheets, the tinsel halos, and the farting, something made an impression. The message got through to stop for a moment and think of what happened over 2,000 years ago in a barn in a small town in the Middle East: no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head. Each December, I walk through our barns, inhale that dank, animal scent, remember BVM, and say, “It all started with you, sister. Thanks. While I’m nowhere near worthy, I’m honored to share your name.” 

The third generation continues the tradition ...

The third generation continues the tradition ...

The Great Weaning

There comes a time in everyone’s life when one needs to leave the comforting bosom of her mother and venture out on her own. On our farm in mid-Ohio, that time comes every October on Weaning Day. I had heard about the weaning process for years, and I was intrigued to witness it firsthand. About a month ago, I got my chance.

I was out walking my dog, the crisp autumn air and bright blue skies keeping us both moving at a brisk pace, when I noticed a commotion at “The Run In Barn.” The Run In Barn is a barn where yearling horses, those who have been weaned from their mothers a few months before they start turning one, are kept in a barn that opens up onto a field where they can freely run in and out of the barn.

On this day, unbeknownst to me, The Weaning was taking place and The Sheriff and Wonder Woman were very busy and intense, corralling mother/baby pairs of horses into the barn, paying attention to every move the horses made, lest they be taken by surprise and kicked into next week.

When weaning day begins, the poor foals don’t know what they are in for. They start the day as usual, grazing with their buddies, nursing and nuzzling with their moms. The Sheriff and Wonder Woman then take about three or four mares and foals at a time from the field into the barn nearby and then into a large horse trailer. This part is pretty uneventful because wherever the mare goes, the foal, like a clingy toddler, will follow. The trailer then makes the short trip down the hill to the Run In Barn and, upon arriving, the mare is gently led down a ramp and into the barn, Wonder Woman shushing and petting her all the while. The oblivious babe follows close behind, her nose touching the swishing tale of her mom, per usual.

When they enter the barn, however, the drama begins. The mom is led one way and the babe is led another. Mom starts whinnying and snorting, babe wheels around, bewildered by what is happening, looking for mom.

“Mom? Mom? Where are you going? Mom? Mom!”

The foal is corralled with equally confused youngsters. One by one, about twenty pairs of mom and babes are led through the same process and soon the Run In Barn is filled with panicked, confused foals that are now, officially, “weanlings.” It's a bit reminiscent of "the reaping" from The Hunger Games, but no one will be forced to fight to the death here.

When I came across this site, it was comical, but also pitiful. The weanlings were literally running in circles, bumping into each other, snorting and neighing, trying to figure out what just happened. In the distance, I could hear the retreating sounds of the mares in the horse trailer going back up the hill, whinnying, crying out, as if to say “It’s alright, baby. You’re going to be fine. Mommy loves you.” The Sheriff turned up the ever-playing radio in the barn to muffle the sounds of the neighing moms and to distract the babes and help them settle in.

Inevitably the babes do settle in and figure it out. The fillies and colts are separated by gender like two single sex Catholic high schools. In about three days, they are forming new bonds with their peers, figuring out who the leaders are and following them. They pace back and forth like they’re at a high school mixer, fillies and colts staring at each other, fillies retreating to a circle to whisper secrets. There’s literally a chastity fence down the middle to separate them and make room for the Holy Spirit, I guess.

When I approached the fence of the filly side a few days after the weaning, the small herd turned in unison to look at me, swishing their tails as if to say, “Oh. My. Gawd. Look. At. Her. Hair.” The alpha, I’ll call her Brittney, sauntered over to check me out and her clique followed. They kind of gave me the up-down until Brittney turned dismissively, surely muttering “What. Ever.” It struck me that, in just those few days, they were no longer babies, but teens trying to navigate life on their own.

It all felt very familiar and reminded me of so many milestones in my own life where my daughters and I went through the painful process of letting go. I keep thinking back to when I put my oldest daughter on that first kindergarten bus all those years ago with her freshly scrubbed face and name tag dangling around her neck. I blew her kisses through the bus window with a lump in my throat, a baby on my hip and a toddler holding my hand. I think of that first high school drop off, sending her off to the Darwinian playground of adolescence. And, God help me, that gut wrenching first college drop off when I snot cried all the way home through four states. I thought my heart was breaking then, like a limb had been ripped off my body. I went through each of those phases three times, and it never got easier. My trail of tears after the college and graduate school drop offs has gone through about eight different states.

The Sheriff assures me that the mares get along just fine after the weaning. Like seasoned Irish mothers, they are already pregnant and actually seem to enjoy the downtime before the birthing season starts again in January. I eventually was fine, too, after weaning my kids off to college. And they eventually found their legs and are figuring it out.

Now it is Christmastime and I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my wayward foals. (Miraculously, I have one in town, for now). Soon, our house will fill up with daughters, laughter, stories, dirty laundry, dirty dishes, the inevitable and futile political arguments, Netflix marathons and cuddles by the fire. And then, our time together is over and they’re off again.

Driving them to the airport in January, I will have a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. It still hurts to say goodbye. Every time. We’ll kiss and hug goodbye and I’ll jump in my car, turn up the radio to distract my thoughts and whisper to them, or myself, “It’s alright, baby. You’re going to be fine. Mommy loves you.”

"Brittney, what the hell just happened?"

"Brittney, what the hell just happened?"

Our First Farm Thanksgiving

It was all set to be a picture perfect holiday in our new farmhouse … until I sent my daughters on a drug run from the dinner table.

Let me back up.

Our gorgeous farm table was beautifully set with crisp, white plates, darling mason jar water glasses, and colorful leaves from the surrounding woods dotting the table. Dim lights and candlelight, a tasty locally raised turkey roasting in the spanking new oven. Wow. My husband was right. This was The Greatest Decision in Our Marriage: being sometimey farmers.

Until … “Hmmm. That’s odd. Why can I feel my heart beating in my jaw?”  One of my molars had been giving me problems for months, but all of the sudden something felt different.

Filled with fresh air and holiday zeal, I had started Thanksgiving Day with a hike and yoga with my daughters. I thought that keeping busy would take my mind off the dull, thumping pain in my mouth.

“No worries,” I thought. “Just focus on the Thanksgiving Day Parade and The National Dog Show and keep peeling potatoes.”

Hours later, my in-laws arrived and were appropriately wowed by the beautiful tablescape and kitchen aromas. Cue the music, light the candles, carve the turkey, mash the potatoes, let’s do this First Farm Thanksgiving!

We all sat down and began The Thanksgiving Feed.

“What the? Why am I having labor pains in my mouth?”

From the first bite of turkey, it began. Blinding, thumping, unspeakable pain jolted through my jaw and head and I let out a string of ugly expletives in front of my mother-in-law that would make Niki Minaj blush. The poor thing leaned into my father-in-law, asking, “Do we need to call an exorcist?”

I took to the bed. Ice packs, moaning, more nasty toads jumping out of my mouth. (https://fairytalez.com/fairies-diamonds-and-toads/) I popped Advil and Tylenol like Halloween candy. Nothing was touching this pain. I mean, I have gone through labor three times with large headed children. This pain was way, way beyond that. Like, really.

I sent an SOS to my dentist, pleading, begging for help. For drugs, quite frankly. But, unfortunately, we were in Small Town Ohio on a holiday and there were no pharmacies open in a two-hour radius. None. Anywhere. I fell into a sad, pathetic lump, when a miracle happened. Not only did my dentist call me back, I can’t even believe what he did. He and my daughters orchestrated a holiday drug drop for me. Saint Dentist left his family’s Thanksgiving table to bring me an emergency supply of prescription painkillers. They were to meet him half way at a truck stop off the highway. As my daughters scurried out the door, I pushed a pumpkin pie and a bottle of wine into their hands to give him as thanks. I don’t know what the etiquette on that kind of thing, but it was all I could think of in my blinding pain.

My daughters were Thanksgiving drug mules.

It worked. Percocet, sweet Percocet. Just enough to shush the pain.

I finally fell into a misty, drug induced sleep, the sounds of dishes and the hushed, shocked mumblings of my in-laws ringing in my ears. The toads were back safely inside my mouth.  Thank you, Jesus. I spent the rest of the weekend in a drug haze as we hosted about 100 family members the next day with hayrides, leftovers and a big roaring fire in the fireplace.

While it wasn’t the Thanksgiving for which I had planned for the previous seven months, there were many blessings at that table. First of all, of course, we were sitting in a beautiful house that was finished just in the nick of time, thanks to my husband, The Foreman, cracking the whip on me, and I on the Amish builders. (https://marymargaretconway-sullivan.squarespace.com/config/). And then there was the meal itself. I can’t vouch for how it tasted, as I was incapacitated by pain, but it looked and smelled amazing. My people were tucked in safely around me.  And there was the miracle of Saint Dentist, the expediency of Fauna and Meriwether, and the blessing of modern pharmaceuticals. And we had established a new tradition: The Farm Thanksgiving.

This Thanksgiving, though, we are at our real home. When it comes to holiday gatherings and family, my mother used to say, “it’s not about the food.” (And that’s not just because she was an Irish cook). It’s not about the place, either. My in-laws find the short trip to the farm a bit daunting, so we’re just staying put because Thanksgiving is about being together, sharing stories, laughing, hugging, and celebrating life and each other. And every Thanksgiving since that dramatic one on our farm, as I dive into my second helping of pumpkin pie, I also celebrate the gift of oral health.


Please pass the Percocet ...

Please pass the Percocet ...

Burn Baby Burn

There’s a ritual out in the country that fascinates me. Several times a year, farmers will round up their stuff and stack it together in a huge pile. Boxes, pallets, broken furniture and miscellaneous other stuff accumulate in remote corners of these wide, open spaces. Then, when the wind and the humidity is just right, they will set it on fire and just burn it away.  It reminds me of when we used to burn leaf piles in the fall when I was little. While the scent was warm and earthy, someone along the line discovered it was actually bad for the air quality and it was made illegal.

But out in the country, I guess it’s still legal. And that signature scent brings back all sorts of memories (though I do worry about the air quality issue). Watching a huge pile burning recently, I resisted the urge to get marshmallows and chocolate for s’mores and just gazed at the rising flames and smoke, wafting into the fading light of the early evening. It got me thinking … wouldn’t it be great if I could put all my metaphorical life garbage in a pile, burn it and just go on, unencumbered, lighter?

The first thing I would put on the burn pile is Regret: the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s. I would have done things differently as a young mom, knowing what I know now. I could have been a wildly successful as a freelance writer if I had put myself out there more and sooner. I should have been more brave and ballsy and insisted on majoring in theatre, despite my father’s protestations. Blah, blah, blah. As one of my favorite yoga teachers has taught me, a better mantra is “I am here now in this.” How about just being here now and move forward? Regret, you are ashes.

The next thing I would throw on that pile is Worry. Are my kids ok? Is our country ok? Is my beloved family tribe ok? (I have a huge extended family, so there’s always someone to worry about.) But I’ve learned that worry doesn’t help anyone and can actually do harm to me by interrupting my sleep, making me run down and giving me worry lines (horrors!). A better idea is to hand it over. Let go, let God. My father used to get angry when we would worry. “Where is your faith?!” he would ask. When I was going through some especially hard times when my kids were young and my mother was ailing, I would feel overwhelmed, hopeless, drowning in worry … until I remembered my father’s advice and handed it over and “burned it.” I sent my fears and worries up to God to handle, at least for a few minutes. Whenever I was wise enough and faith filled enough to do that, miracles would happen. Special people would come into my life and turn the tide of worry. It was remarkable, really. So Worry, I burn you.

That old standby, Resentment would have to go on that pile, too. Like everyone else, I’ve been hurt. In setting a torch to resentment, I release bitterness and hurt and, in the rising smoke I feel forgiveness and freedom. Resentment is a heavy burden to carry around. Ok, I pick it up again every now and then, maybe just to remember how heavy it feels. But that sucker belongs on the burn pile. It’s just too heavy. And life is too short to carry that crap around. Burn that mutha down.

Just to keep the fire burning, I’d throw a big log of Self-loathing on there. I hate myself for hating myself sometimes. The other day, I was excitedly getting ready for a fancy gala to honor my beloved Aunt In-Law when, much to my horror and surprise, I discovered that 4 of the 5 dresses I tried on were just a little too tight. One by one, I peeled them off my fleshy body as my disgust and self-loathing started to rise. Then, I started hating on myself for hating myself. “What the hell is wrong with me?” I thought. “I’m bigger than this!” (About a size bigger. Ouch.) For the love of God, I am too damned menopausal, hot and tired to care about sizes and all that crap. Self-loathing, I am pouring kerosene on you to make sure you go up in smoke.

And so, while large burn piles are no longer legal in the city or suburbs, I invite all who read this to have a little metaphorical burn pile. Now that it’s chilly, we can all put little pieces of paper with our life garbage written on it and burn them in our fireplaces or backyard fire pits. With Thanksgiving coming, it’s the perfect time to clear out the BS and make room for gratitude. And, it’s a great time of year for s’mores.

Burn piles can come in handy for getting rid of all sorts of garbage.

Burn piles can come in handy for getting rid of all sorts of garbage.

Just in Time for Halloween

Just in time for Halloween, I just found out an interesting little story about our farm. It seems that we have not one, but two pre-Civil War burial grounds on the property. Reportedly there are 24 plots there, circa 1824. A descendent of the buried contacted us asking permission to find one of the cemeteries in order to locate the head stones. When I first heard this, I initially thought, “Sure, what harm would it do? What could happen?”

And then I remembered EVERY SCARY MOVIE EVER and thought, “Oh, hell no.” I’ve seen the movie Poltergeist (through the fingers over my eyes). Bad things happen when you mess with graveyards. I am a huge scardy cat. I barely tolerate a ghost story. I generally don’t do scary movies. I don’t do movies with devils, gore, children being terrorized and don’t even get me started on slasher movies, which 9 times out of 10 feature a scantily clad young woman being brutalized. Nope. And what is with this fascination with zombies? Zombies are the new vampires, I guess. I don’t get it.

Several years ago, we went on a wonderful trip to Ireland. The Irish know their ghosts. Tales abound over there about “the banshee.” One can just feel ghosts are everywhere. We were traveling with my brother and his family, plus a niece and had the good fortune to stay in the famous Ashford Castle in County Mayo for one night. After dinner our waiter asked if we would like a ghost tour of the castle. As I shook my head no, the rest of the table all chimed in, “yes!” Not wanting to be alone in my room in a haunted castle, I agreed to go.

Our charming waiter took us up back stairways and hidden rooms. At one point, he notified us that the hallway we were entering was colder than the rest of the house and this indicated that there was paranormal activity there. The group of us huddled together like a well-dressed scrum as the waiter showed us secret doors and creepy portraits, including one of a young girl, all dressed in white, who died young. He said she still walks the halls at night. “You will know her by a white wisp in the air,” he said. We continued on the tour and I snapped photos of this and that, staying in the middle of the scrum, lest a banshee reach out and grab me.

That night, of course I did not sleep at all. I listened to the sounds of the 800 year-old building, hoping my husband’s snoring would scare away any ghostly little girls. I had to pee, but dared not attempt the journey to the bathroom alone. When my husband got up to use the loo around 2 a.m., I leaped out of bed to join him, sticking to his back like a shadow, scaring him in the process. I made him wait for me before he went back to bed. No telling what dangers may lurk on the long walk from the toilet to the bed.

Morning finally came and the eleven of us were bleary eyed as we shuffled onto our little bus. (It seems no one else slept either). As I took my perch in the front of the bus, I opened my phone and started scanning photos of the day before. When I came to the photos of the ghost tour the night before, my heart skipped a beat. It seems that when I snapped a pic of the chilly “paranormal” hallway, I may have captured that ghostly little girl in the form of a “white wisp in the air.” I passed the photo around to see if everyone else saw the same thing I saw. One by one, everyone stared at the photo in a chilly silence, remembering the ghost tales of the night before. "Holy crap ... what the ...?" someone mumbled. I knew it was not just me. The little girl ghost harmed no one, but I think she was there, hovering over our scrum. It still gives me the creeps to think about it.

A couple of the nieces that were on that Ireland trip were overnight on our farm the day we received the letter about the hidden cemeteries. It unnerved them so much that they were both up all night, fretting about bumping into a wayward ghost on their way to the bathroom (What can I say? We have small bladders in my family). In the morning we all agreed that we should just let the cemeteries sit undisturbed. Why tempt the spirits?

I think about those 24 people when I walk the property now. I do believe in spirits, ghosts, etc. I believe that some spirits get stuck between this world and the next. But I don’t want to bump into one on our farm, in my house or anywhere else. And I certainly don’t want to piss any of them off by moving their resting places around.

Sleep well, you pre-Civil War folks. Stay where you are, please. Right. There.

Hope you like what we’ve done with the place.


"You will know her by a white wisp in the air ..."

"You will know her by a white wisp in the air ..."

How We Got Our Cement Pond

Shortly after my husband, Eddie Albert, and I procured our farm, we were coming back from a hot hike around the property and I said, “Wow, wouldn’t a pool be great out here?” Eddie chuckled and dismissed me out of hand. It was just a thought. My mother, Marge, and I had a dream of getting a pool when I was little, but my dad was not having it. I rinsed my face in cold water at the kitchen sink, trying to get my apple cheeks to cool down.

A little while later Eddie and his buddy, who had a gorgeous garden of his own, took a weekend to plan and plant our first garden. It was a sight to behold: organized rows labeled with “lettuce,” “eggplant,” “beans,” etc. But, as I’ve written before, untended gardens are prone to weeds and while we were away from the farm for a couple of weeks, our beautifully planted garden became overrun with weeds and was barely recognizable.

“We’re going to have to get up early to weed that garden tomorrow,” I warned. “Before the heat of the day.” “Yeah, sure,” Eddie Albert replied. Morning came and again I declared, “We’d better get going out there while the ground is still soft and get those weeds out.” “Ok,” he replied, turning a page of the Wall Street Journal.

“I know your game, Tom Sawyer,” I thought. “You’re waiting for me to do it myself and then you will waltz in at the end and tell me what a good job I’ve done. Not this time, pal. I am not weeding that whole garden alone.” And so, I waited. And waited.

Finally, he stirred and sure enough, there we were in the heat of the midday sun, bent over picking weeks. And, just as I had warned, they weren’t coming out. The tops of the weeds would pop off, leaving the roots in place: plink, plink, plink. Under the blazing sun, one by one, the blasted weeds held fast to the earth. Plink, plink … Eddie became more and more frustrated.

Finally, he stood up, arms akimbo looking like an irritated Jolly Green Giant. As the heat seared us both, he wiped his brow and surveyed the situation. “Screw this,” he declared. “Let’s put a pool here.” He threw down his garden gloves and walked away.

And that’s how we came to have a pool at our farm.

It took a few years, but this past summer it finally happened. We have a pool and it is awesome, I must say. I can feel my mother’s approval. She loved the water, even though she didn’t learn to swim until she was in her 50s. She and I would go to my cousin’s above ground pool in the summer where she and her sister, donning those goofy floral bathing caps, would stand in the middle of the pool, just smoothing the water with their fingertips in a circle around them. They chatted about their respective families, their brood of children, and who knows what else. I was busy bobbing up and down nearby, like a seal pup near its mother.

When Marge finally did learn to swim, she had a classic swimming move: the sidestroke. I’ve never seen anyone else do it, but it was the perfect way for a gal to get from one end of the pool to the other without getting her face wet or ruining her coiffed hair. It looked like a move of Esther Williams, the swimming movie star of the 40s whom my mother was said to resemble in her youth. Marge would keep her head above water the whole time and reach one arm forward, then the other, but never turn her body. All she needed was musical accompaniment and maybe some legs kicks it would have been water ballet.

Marge would love this farm pool because she also loved horses. In this pool, she would be able sidestroke over to the edge and watch as mares and foals graze and stroll in the grassy fields below. I can just hear her saying in awe, “Aren’t they beautiful animals?”

One of the last minute additions to the pool project was an outdoor shower. I floated that idea early on and got it shot down … but guess who is wild about the outdoor shower now? Eddie will tell anyone who will listen about how he loves that shower. Can't blame him. There’s something about showering in the out of doors. It’s so refreshing and liberating. And it feels slightly naughty (“I’m naked. Outside!”). Between the pool and the shower, it’s a freaking farm fantasy.

Eddie Albert’s high noon decision a few years back to get a pool at the farm was a good one (as well as the audible call on the shower). And we still do have that garden as well. After working in the garden or going on a hot walk, there’s nothing better than taking a Nestea plunge in that cement pond. But I know that deep down, Eddie’s decision on the pool was all about making this place a gathering spot for family and friends as well as sweetening the pie for The Princesses: Flora, Fauna and Meriwether. It’s all about making this farm more desirable for them as they travel far and wide in their respective lives. Something to keep them coming home, maybe someday with families of their own. I’m not in a hurry for that stage in life, but when it comes, I look forward to teaching the next generation “the smooth,” and the sidestroke, courtesy of Marge/Esther Williams.