Wo ‘Man’s best friend

I love being a dog mom and I can’t imagine my life being complete without a big dog or two.  I have cared for dogs only in adulthood beginning with a 4 ½ year old chocolate lab we named Sophie that we acquired in the late 90s.  Sophie was apparently a breeding dog as everyone loves those rare chocolates and seemingly had never been walked on a leash nor lived outside of a cage environment.  She was tattooed on her udder 4A26.  I will never forget that! 

Sophie needed to be taught how to do everything except be a loving and sweet dog.  I enjoyed Soph so much that when the same neighbor who told me about her said, there are more dogs that need rescued, let’s go, I did.

These labs were in a situation as I remember it where their owner suffered from depression, had stopped taking her medicine and the dogs were in peril.  There had been a lot of them apparently.

I went to the house that the dogs had been moved to and there was this smaller two year old black lab tied up in the house barking her head off.  My lack of dog owning experience made me not have any concerns about a dog tied up INSIDE the house.  I liked her size as a dog that I could probably handle so with zero questions to the current caregiver, much to her assured relief, I loaded up this dog and took her home.  I named her Carly.  She was 60 pounds and took to Sophie right away and she also loved me and my husband but anyone else, eh…. not so much.  OK, so I now had one dog who loved everyone and another one who scared anyone coming close to me, the house or anything that was the family unit.  Now, I was beginning to understand why she was tied up in the house.

This girl was not particularly friendly but boy was she smart.  I started teaching her words and her ability to comprehend language was really remarkable to me.  I LOVED my Carlycue.  She and I definitely had a strong bond.  She was my constant companion and had the funniest sleep rituals which started on a particular side of the couch.  If we had a guest who was sitting there when sleepytime came, Carly would stare them down till they moved.  No other spot would do. When she was ready to go to bed for real, she would pick up this giant purple stuffed alligator toy and take it upstairs to bed with her.  She was just a dear to me.

I feel very bad when I think of one thing.  Carly incessantly licked her paws.  The vet said she was anxious, which I am sure was true and gave me a spray to treat her paws.  What we didn’t know then and I’m ashamed to admit it now, Carly most likely had an allergy to the lamb and rice that we fed her.  Today we know that people and animals may be allergic or sensitive to grains and I beat myself up about the fact that she would have had a better quality of life if I fed her a grain free or even a raw diet.   

We had Carly till she was 9.  She did mellow a bit with time and so much so that in her last year of life, neighborhood kids who were home schooled walked both dogs while we worked away from the house.

Carly developed a tumor in her colon so for the last nine months of her life she took stool softeners and still had a hard time passing poop.  She would look at me with those amazingly emotional brown eyes and I knew that she KNEW, something was really wrong.  During the night she woke up and tried to poop every two hours which was really hard on me with the constant interrupted sleep but as a committed dog owner, I was willing to do whatever to keep her as comfortable as possible.

When we knew it was time to put her down,  we cried and cried and as I write this, I have to stop and give in to the cry at the memory of all this.  It was HORRIBLE to have to put a dog down who in every other way had so much life in her yet.  She was far too young.   In the song Mr. Bojangles, it goes His dog up and died He up and died. After twenty years he still grieves.  Sigh.

Since Sophie had been malnourished in those early years, she had gum disease which resulted in multiple teeth extractions.  She was also covered in lipomas but none of the ones we ever tested had issues.  The vet had said she would die of organ failure eventually but didn’t need teeth and was in good enough shape. So, we spoiled her and rubbed her belly and got her really soft beds to ease aching old joints.

Sophie lived till a ripe old age of 16.  We took her to PNC Park on her last birthday May 20th 2008.  They have Pups in the Park events which are awesome.  She had a BLAST. 

In the end, she was a very lumpy, bumpy and smelly-mouth girl, but she had a GREAT life and I wasn’t as heartbroken about her when she passed.  EVERYONE loved Sophie and remembered her name.  Carly was an afterthought as a common black lab and few remembered her name.  Of course her lack of putting herself out there to anyone probably had a lot to do with that!.  She was just misunderstood!  😊

I had two cats when I first got married who were already older so with Carly’s passing, things started going downhill fast.  Every time I walked into the vet’s office, they handed me a box of Kleenex. Over 24 months, we lost them all and were parents no more.  It was weird.  It was too quiet and part of me was gone too not having any fur beings to care for. 

After both dogs were gone, I remember dreaming about them being alive and in the dreams I would look at people and ask them, ”DO YOU SEE THEM TOO?”   It took me a long time to recover from the losses of those dogs.  I don’t know if it is because I don’t have children, but I really REALLY connect with my dogs and I missed them so.

Many years later in my new life, I wanted Mitch and I to have a dog.  Friends of mine had posted on Facebook about a litter of labs recently born in my hometown of Ambridge and I thought how full circle that would be, so we took a look. 

We brought a cat collar and I told Mitch to pick one.  The little puppies were exactly what puppies are.  They were brown, blacks and yellow bits of fur, small, soft, noisy.  They were scampering and rolling around, piddling and mouthing each other.  Only black ones were left at this time which was fine.  We watched them in awe. 

We met momma and daddy and now with many years of dog owning experience under my belt, I saw dad was HUGE and was mildly worried at the size these dogs would become. 

Mitch had owned labs in the past and assured me we could handle it so he chose one and placed the cat collar around his neck.  A BOY.  I had never been a momma to a boy dog.

It was going to be a few weeks till the puppies were weaned and allowed to come home so we set about getting things ready.  We needed a name.  I went through about 100 suggestions then said BANDIT and Mitch said YES.

Bandit puppy and his littermates were born on Leap year so will have his 2nd official birthday on Feb 29th 2020 but he is 8 years old.  He has one gray hair on his whole body, several lipomas now and as Carly was before him, he is SMART.  He likes to be with me ALL THE TIME and first thing in the morning, when I am peeing, he likes to get his morning briefing to see what the day has in store for us.  I swear to you, he understands it all. 

This is Bandit Puppy!!!

Bandit is with me with every chore.  He helps me feed the chickens and let them out in the morning, he is with me in the gardens, the greenhouse, helps me cook dinner and cleans up any spills unless it is of a vegetable nature.  Those would rot before he would eat them but he loves anything meat, cheese, egg, bread, and PIZZA related.

At night, he closes up the chickens with me too and loves to see the eggs.  He and Bubba, his brother who we rescued from up near our cabin, get eggs on pretty much every meal.   

Bubba and how we acquired him is worthy of his own blog which is coming soon but suffice it to say, the addition of Bubba to our family has been a blessing for all.  Even the cats have warmed up to him and we can ALL lay on a bed or couch together. There is definitely love between cats and dogs which is a first for me.  The only time Sophie, Carly, Katerina and Hercules would tolerate each other was when momma lit the wood fire at 5:00 pm and laid out THE BLANKET.  For some unknown reason, everyone was lulled into a trance in front of the fire and during that time, all trespasses were forgiven.  When I look back at those early days of being a dog momma, I think of those winter nights and the love we all shared staring at the dancing flames and am content. 

All I needed was a Rock and a few Rolaids

If you are of a certain age, you will remember the television commercial in the 70s,  How do you spell relief? R-O-L-A-I-D-S. 

Well, thank goodness for heartburn because antacids are basically chalk and just what I needed to keep me occupied whenever the adults were doing something outside that I wouldn’t find exactly scintillating. 

I remember going to the horse races with my uncle and aunt when they were first married in the mid 70s, and as an only child, I found ways to entertain myself.

There was an outdoor area near the Meadows track that was just a simple fenced in area that you could watch the races from.  I think now that perhaps you weren’t allowed inside with a child but I’m not sure.

I remember asking for Rolaids or Tums which all the adults that I knew seemed to carry around.  I would draw a hopscotch board on the ground, find a rock and play.  A good rock could also be used to draw on concrete.  Of course, gravel surfaces were a bust and harder to make work but a kid with a good imagination can find a game or entertainment pretty much anywhere and with anything. 

There was another game I used to play with a ball.  It was called 7 Up and is a simple game any person can play.  All you need is a ball and a wall.  I would spend ENDLESS hours doing this. 

I used to read a lot too.  I mean A LOT.  During the school year and all throughout summer I read books and there used to be this MS Read-a-thon where you would read books and get people to pay you per book.  I remember all the neighbors I pestered about this were alarmed at how many books I did read.  I mean, honestly, I had nothing else to do and I LOVED to read. 

Do you remember reading and re-reading the books that you loved?   I would often finish a book and immediately start reading it again.  I wonder now if there was something wrong with me.  I must have read Heidi 1000 times, seriously.

I would take as many books out of the library as I could carry and read them all, return them and get more.  My library card was a PRIZED possession.  I love to talk with my husband about his favorite childhood books and reading.  We are 8 years apart but really in the same generation pretty much and I was and am still very glad that he has a love of books too.  Reading more and more advanced books is how I got such a good vocabulary, spelling and grammar skills.  I love reading so much!!!!! 

While these days,  I mostly read books and magazines on health, cooking, gardening and raising animals, I intend to get a few novels and biographies and do a little non-work fun reading this winter.  I am dreaming of digging in to those books, with a mug of warm tea in hand and a soft blanket plus a kitty and puppy or two all snuggled up. The Howard Stern book about his best interviews is waiting by my bedside.

I wonder if the last several generations of kids use their minds to entertain them.  I worry there is too much screen time for everyone.  I mean, I get gas at the BP and as soon as you turn on the pump you get some guy giving you headlines and telling me a bunch of crap on a screen built right in the gas pump.  Can’t we have even a minute of no digital media???

Hand held video games were just in their infancy when I was a kid.  I had a football game that I would hide with at night under the covers and play play play trying to keep the bells from letting mother know I wasn’t sleeping.  I did enjoy that game immensely.  Then of course there was Ms. Pac Man.  I indeed spent lots of quarters on that game.  I am as guilty as all the other kids of that time trying to master the games in the arcade.  I could make a quarter last a long time though. 

As a kid, I did have a Sony Walkman and I would listen to the few cassettes I had over and over and over and never tire of them.    I remember listening to AM radio late at night in my bed too.  There was this guy named Doug Hoerth and I just loved his show.  I was a weird kid I’m pretty sure.   I didn’t have much but didn’t need much and I don’t ever remember being bored. 

There was no cable TV in my house.    When MTV came to be I do remember wanting to see music videos and looking for baby sitting work that I could do so I could watch Friday Night Videos.  I have vivid memories of watching David Bowie in this banana yellow suit with his hair all floppy just rocking my world.  Those were good times and again by myself.  The kids were soundly asleep! 

My childhood in the 70s and 80s was a simpler time I guess.  We didn’t have internet or email, cell phones or I-pads.  There were only a few networks on television so we all watched the same shows pretty much and you had to actually go to the theater to see a movie.  It was an occasion to go to a show, the theater, an amusement park…. It was a BIG DEAL and I looked forward to and appreciated those fun moments. 

Today, life is full of those moments constantly for kids.  There is no waiting for things.  The kids of today experience so much more than we ever did as kids.  Is it good?  I don’t know.  I liked having things to look forward to growing up to be ABLE to do.  There was an absolute separation of children and adult activities where today, there doesn’t seem to be.

I’m going to write another blog about all that.  Today, it’s just a rainy monsoon type of Halloween and I was thinking of my childhood games.  Oh and yes, we trick or treated in whatever kind of weather we were experiencing.  There was no rescheduling due to rains, even hard rains……. What is the world coming to???? 

The Song Remains The Same

That by far is not my favorite Led Zeppelin song, but I had been thinking about the title for this blog and that sounded perfect to me. 

I am a music lover.  I mean I REALLY like music.  Most of these blogs have had some reference to music which is no accident. I walk around all day with music in my head.  

Years back there was a movie starring Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan and Nic asked a little dying girl what her favorite thing on earth was and she said “Pajamas with the feet.”  Well, mine is music.

While I usually stay in the 70s and 80s in my listening, my gym classes and friends with kids have introduced me to some really awesome modern tunes.  The joy of satellite radio can really keep me in my favorite tune zones with no commercial interruption but that has kept me from hearing what the kids are listening to, so once in a while I pop on over to the pop stations and give a listen.  I am definitely a fan of Bruno Mars, Christina Aguilera and some others. I would say though, that modern music is NOT what it used to be.  Yes, I am perfectly aware I sounds like a curmudgeon but I truly feel classic rock n roll stands the test of time.  To me, there is just so much really GOOD music in that era that it would fulfill me a lifetime and is seriously timeless.  I plan to be 85 years old still jamming to Heart, Cream, Traffic, Jethro Tull, Pat Benetar, The Eagles, The Beatles and hundreds of other groups.

When I was very young, there was always a radio on wherever we were.  Radios back in the early 70s were small and portable with a rolling dial.   I remember 13Q in Pittsburgh before FM radio came to be popular and really loved singing along with the catchy tunes that I heard.  I laugh today when I think of the song Afternoon Delight by the Starland Vocal Band which was a hit song in the mid 70s.  I LOVED the harmonies of that song and basically would sing it at the top of my lungs not having any idea nor caring what the song was actually about.  And though I love harmony, I usually sing lead!  😊

I remember as a child going to see Sonny and Cher impersonators.  We watched their variety show religiously and I loved singing about being a vamp, another thing I could not define but caught the innuendo and loved it even as a kid.  I loved Chastity Bono, who is my same age, having matching dresses and jumpsuits as her mom Cher. Boy did I want to be Cher belting it out and being really sexy!!!I was definitely trying to grow up as fast as possible.  The kid music was never my style.  I wanted to be Sandy in Grease or even Marie Osmond.  When I watched the Donny and Marie Show, I had a microphone that I made from two plastic spoons put facing together and wrapped in aluminum foil.  That handy microphone was with me all the time.   You never know when you would be asked to do an impromptu concert. I was READY!

As a young kid, I remember the hours and hours that I spent spinning the vinyl records, reading the inserts and really pondering the covers. Those were the days, man. I think today’s kids have really missed out on a tremendously awesome experience.

I wanted to sing for as long as I remember and I have gotten the chance to sing in multiple choruses, my temples, on stage with a band and have been singing karaoke for more than 20 years.  It is still a great thrill to sing and as I write this I am planning our latest private gig.  Oh the fun I have creating and then whittling down my song list.

Mitch and I have gone to a LOT of concerts in the past 10 years and before that I have been seeing my favorite musical acts live on stage since 1982.  That concert was The Police and to this day, they are still my favorite band.  Sting, the front man and musical genius of that band is my one CHEAT if I ever get the chance.  You all know what I am talking about.  I LOVE STING and except for a few minor songs, love his entire catalog of music.  I have seen Sting by himself, with special guests like Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel and Shaggy and the whole Police band more than any other group.  I have travelled across the country to see and hear him and am seriously considering a stay at his Tuscan Villa where he keeps BEES.  You can actually rent his whole place anytime except for the month of August when he and Trudy are there.  You can bet I am planning for my 60th birthday……  we can save up for the next 8 ½ years for that one and ask friends to join in and share those 10 bedrooms and make it affordable, well more affordable.  What a bucket list item that would be!!!! 

So, since we are 51 and almost 60, Mitch and I have been seeing some of our favorite bands who are all celebrating 40 to 50 YEARS of being together.  That also means, they are aging and some have passed. 

We saw Gregg Allman a few years ago and I knew something was seriously wrong with him. Apparently he had cancer and did in fact pass away not long after. Same situation for Steely Dan with half of the core band being Walter Becker passing, Tom Petty, Prince.. the list goes on and on.

We recently saw the genius behind ELO, Jeff Lynne and he barely moved nor did he sing his own songs. He had a HUGE orchestra with him and I was disappointed to know his band director had to introduce the players as Jeff admitted, he just couldn’t. I am definitely worried about him. He didn’t have much energy at all but played guitar and kept giving us the thumbs up sign. Things have changed.

The last time we saw all the Eagles together about 5 years ago when Glenn Frye was still alive, we were amazed that is was such a docile show.

Phil Collins did a Still Ain’t Dead Yet tour though that we saw and he also barely moved. His 18 year old son is playing the drums for him. He did pound a bit on a handheld drum but he has become pretty feeble. He has had back surgery and was definitely in pain. Having back trouble myself I watched him carefully and sighed.

The music sounds the same, but the background and some main players are changing as these amazing rock starts are dying off. It is the cycle of life I guess.

Reuse, Recycle, reclaim, repurpose.

I grew up poor, like government cheese and free lunches kind of poor.  When you grow up with next to nothing, you really learn the value of everything you do have and also learn how to make the most of what is around you.  So basically, I’ve been reusing items and conserving in general WAY before it became hip.

My life is all about thrift store shopping.  Many people are put off by used clothing but I am not.  I even get bathing suits and some bras there. Don’t freak out!!!!  I bring everything home and wash it immediately, air out coats and check them carefully, and take things to the dry cleaner when needed, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with thrift store finds.  In fact, just this morning I watched a segment on the Today show about how thrifting and reselling is the NEW THING. (Oh really?) Now, it can all be done online, but to me, the thrill of the hunt in person in the store is GREAT fun!

Every place I visit, I find great thrift stores.  Even in the Napa Valley amongst all the expensive real estate and fine wine, there are little used boutiques filled with awesome finds for a few bucks.  I LOVE thrifting!  I have my favorite places and take 15 or 30 minutes when in the area to do a sweep of housewares, clothing, linens and more.

It is always surprising to see what people send off to Goodwill and the Red, White & Blue on Route 65.  THAT store is actually a for-profit store which I GUARANTEE is making MILLIONS of dollars each year CASH.  The massive parking lot is ALWAYS full and they move their inventory constantly.  They have quite an impressive organization but only a SMALL percentage of the proceeds benefits the veterans.   

I have actually found beeswax blocks, antique honey drippers, amazing designer clothing, winter camo and thousands of other items that I use and use and use!  One of my favorite items of all time is a pot I specifically use for lollipop making. It is the perfect size for confections.

Some people who I have tried to convince about thrifting have told me that I am lucky that I am a small person and can fit into a lot of different sizes, so there is much more variety for me. I’m sure that is true.  I can wear small, medium and large sizes if I want something roomy.  I am grateful for that. I love picking up new gym clothes. Gray gray gray is my favorite color and there is never a shortage of cool t-shirts, sports bras, thin hoodies and stretchy pants for my workouts in shades of gray. The ladies in my gym comment on this and that and I always say, GOODWILL……

My husband is 6 foot 3 and has a 34 inch inseam so I am always on the lookout for 34/34 pants and I have managed to find a few good pairs over the years.  He is always impressed when I bring something home for us both that is in excellent shape, fits well and looks cool!  😊

Until last year, his company always had a massive Christmas party for probably 1000 people.  EVERY fancy dress I own is from the thrift store.  I never pay anymore than $9.99 for something like that, sequins or not.  Both of my wedding dresses (yes, I have been married twice) were used and vintage.  I am not interested in looking like anyone else but ME.  If I like something and it fits, I buy it.  I actually prefer not to be in fashion with whatever the malls are selling.  The vintage clothing lasts way longer than modern clothes anyway and my staple supply of “Little Black Dresses” and the like, including handbags most definitely are used and have been hanging in my closet for 10 years or more.

You really just have to go often to see what is new and find the treasures that fit YOU and you WILL.  Trust me… just give it a try. I usually keep a list of things I would like to find so when I get there, I can review and start the hunt.  This marionette was such an unusual find that I just had to buy it.  It is just SO charming to me and what a conversation piece! The fact two women actually stole him and Dr. Frued from my cart while I was in the changing room, makes it even a more entertaining story. I was definitely the victor in that encounter!

I have decorated every home I have ever had with finds in the thrift store or from the side of the road.  People throw out the most amazing things.  Call me a garbage picker and that is no insult to me.  If I showed you the things in my home and cabin that I have pulled off the side of the road you would be amazed.  My dad doesn’t have many skills but he is an amazing furniture refinisher.  He can remove 10 coats of paint from a cool table, and make it perfect for me.  EVERY PIECE of furniture in both our house and cabin has some touch of his. 

Besides the thrift store shopping, reclaiming water from rain to water my greenhouse and the chickens, repurposing an old straw hat to grow plants in and scrapping metal are all part of my life.  I even save the water that comes from the dehumidifier for plants and animal use. I have a really hard time wasting.  Perhaps it is a little OCD, but that is ok.  As grateful as I am to have more resources now as an adult, I will never be far removed from that girl that HAD to get a job at 16 to help out at home. I learned how to work hard early and that has never left me.

I record CBS Sunday morning to watch when I have time and this summer they did a feature on Brandi Carlile, a popular country and folk artist.  She talked about growing up poor and despite her success, she said something that struck me.  She said,  “I don’t know how to be anything but poor.” She was talking about how she lives on this compound that she created with her wife, her band (her guitar player is married to her sister) and they live close to the land.  She did splurge on a backhoe and operates it herself.  I just loved that. 

It feels REAL to me to be a conserver of seeds, grower of food, mother of animals, maker of natural medicinal remedies and picker up of litter!  I try every day to be my authentic self and look for opportunities to reuse, recycle, repurpose and reclaim. I guarantee you when I walk the dogs today, I will inevitably see beer cans strewn about and laying on the sides of the road. I will pick those up and add them to my stash of cans and other aluminum that I will haul to the scrapyard. There is shopping there too. They always have an unusual collection of metal items. Last week I picked up horse shoes to set up a game here at the farm. $2 for 6! Fun fun FUN!

You CAN teach an old dog new tricks

Look out world, my almost 77 year old father has discovered the INTERNET.  I tried to interest him some time ago and maybe it wasn’t the right time or maybe I didn’t have enough patience to teach him.

Recently, I suggested he look into getting some lessons from a local library and this time he was all over it.  He got a library card and is so proud of that.  He goes monthly for lessons but since he is allowed to go as often as he likes, he goes for private instruction from a lady named Lois who has taught him about GOOGLE.  Apparently, each time he goes, he can sign on for an hour or maybe two.  Now he looks at OBITUARIES.  Sadly, this is an important place to look when you reach a certain age.  Heck, at 51. I have more than a handful of people that I graduated with who are gone. 

Dad likes to tell me about all the former teachers he had and friends from Ambridge and the US Navy who have passed away.  I keep telling him everybody dies dad so live each day, learn new things and keep your mind and body active. 

For the past 5 years or so that we reconnected in life (long story) he has made A LOT of improvements. He has cut out most processed foods and eats in a much more healthier manner.  He had kidney issues and we cut out exceedingly high and high oxalate foods and now his kidneys give him no issue.  He joined the Y and takes group exercise swim classes, joined the VFW for some comradeship and even had a girlfriend for a bit.  Things are definitely looking up for my dad. He lives in a little apartment across from our old house on Neville Island where I moved him.  There, he keeps tabs on the 3 single ladies who also live in his building.  They have formed a nice friendship and he is the designated driver of Rose to places she is afraid to drive and also takes her back and forth when her car is getting work done.  One of the ladies does his laundry for him.  He buys the soap and dryer sheets.  I can tell he is happy there which is good. 

To give him something more cheerful to explore and investigate than the obits, I showed him You Tube and I thought his head was going to explode when we found all The Ventures concert footage that is on there.  He discovered the Ventures in Japan when he was serving in the US Navy during The Vietnam War.  Dad LOVES surf sounds and loves to regale us with stories about his intense drumming in the old days and all things NAVY.  He still has rhythm that is for sure.  If you ever see him just mention WIPE OUT and he will smile a million dollar grin.

I asked him if he ever watched Laugh In and we checked out a few clips on YouTube.  I showed him how to do searches to find out literally anything he wondered about, ANYTHING. 

Then I wrote down my website address and he is to go to the library and see if he can find it and this blog.  We talked about how this new skill is going to open up his whole world and allow him to get an email account, BUY things online and really let his imagination go wild.  The internet is truly amazing.    

We looked at recipes and  talked about Facebook and how he can apply for his own rebates now for the Seresto collars he puts on his dog, Holly.    It will be fun to see him get excited about finding his favorite movies and TV shows from his childhood and seeing what else interests him.    Not that I want him sitting any more than he already does, but at least he will be hopefully learning something while he sits.  He promises to get up and walk around every 30 minutes or so. 

I will next mention online dating.  My dad is still very much interested in the fairer sex and perhaps he will venture into the world of OurTime.com.  You never know!!!!!

We are going to buy him a laptop for his birthday next month and he is to get internet installed with his cable.  I think he is really going to enjoy life a lot more now that he can join the conversation going on around him.  We take for granted that we have unlimited knowledge literally in our hands.  I wish I wasn’t so dependent on my phone and all that it can do for me, but it IS IMPORTANT stuff, not just Instagram and FB that I look at all throughout the day and I probably couldn’t survive without it.

Welcome to the internet dad.  I hope it brings you great joy and a GIRLFRIEND.  You never know……

Sing it with me—I don’t like Spiders and snakes……..

My last blog about getting the first chickens had me thinking to the early days of learning how to take care of them and living in a really country environment.  Change is inevitable, growth is optional and I experienced a lot of changes with living WAY OUT HERE and I had to learn to grow to accept creatures of all varieties sharing my space.

I am not particularly a tough girl.  I mean, I am known to scream if I see a large spider or a snake.  I go deep into the woods to pick blackberries and years back my friend’s dad, Vic, who had a cool homestead said to me as I set out one day with my berry picking gear behind his property, “There is a snake here.  You may see him.” He was right.  On one of my treks to those berry bushes, I ran into that snake.  He was doing his thing and I was doing mine.  I was surprised as he was, I screamed, he raised his head to check me out and slithered away.  No biggie.  I had before and since ran across some snakes while hiking my dogs and picking berries. It happens!   Seeing a snake sunning himself on a log that you HAVE TO CROSS to continue on the trail is a bit scary and having dogs with me who could bark at and agitate the snake is always a little scary, but nothing has ever happened in 25 years of hiking dogs in the wild!  I am grateful. 

Early on at the farm as I was clearing more straw from the chicken house I uncovered a REALLY BIG black snake all coiled up sleeping in the straw.  I froze and my heart went CRAZY.  I backed up and exited immediately and reported to my husband. 

The next day he was sleeping in one of the laying boxes.  I was thinking he was stealing and eating the eggs.  I had heard that could be the case, but it didn’t seem like it.  He was just sleeping there amongst a few eggs.   So I gently closed the laying box and as the chickens will do when I am in their neighborhood, they all came out clucking.  As I gave them some chickie treats, I asked the girls if the snake was bothering them.  They said, “No, mom.  He just lives here too.”  So, I did nothing. 

Then a few days later, I was heading in to the “bee room” where I keep the bee and chicken supplies and all my holiday décor and probably 1000 canning jars.  This room is connected to the hen house and has the door access to the laying boxes.  It is a REALLY cool feature and I always enjoy lifting the lids and seeing where the girls are laying, door #1,2 3 or 4.  Well, as soon as I entered the area I got QUITE a surprise.  I saw what I believed was a TWELVE FOOT LONG BLACK SNAKE literally hanging all around the boxes and across the medicine cabinet.  The former owner had some things in there and I didn’t see any reason to remove it so it stands today and houses a knife and box cutter, dust masks that I use for cleaning the poop up and whatnot.  Anyway, I definitely screamed at the site of that and went RUNNING back to the house.  I told my husband and being an Eagle Scout and not afraid of anything, he went right out to take a look.  He came back a few minutes later and reported it wasn’t a twelve foot snake but TWO 6 foot black snakes MATING.  Oh my goodness!    He said let them finish their business and soon they would be gone.  He was right and soon after all sorts of baby snakes were hanging out around the henhouse. 

Since then though, I have rarely seen the snake family.  I think they have moved on.  I am too much working out there that it must disturb them.   I have unfortunately mowed over a few babies and always feel terrible about that. 

As I dig into the ground to plant herbs and flowers, thin out out bulbs and clear some land for planting, I find tons and tons of worms and the chickens know when momma gets her digging implements out, follow closely.  They can devour those worms like nobody’s business and as long as I have work gloves on, I happily pick those squirmy things up and toss them to the girls.  They actually eat so many bugs and worms (and an occasional mouse) that in summer, they don’t eat much regular chicken food.  They find their own protein sources.   It is so interesting.

We have pretty much eliminated the wasps and hornets that were living in the pole barn and attacking me and most of the animals like groundhogs and skunks stay FAR AWAY as Bandit and Bubba will tussle with them.  The raccoons continue to come at night and we continually set traps.  They like the chicken food too and we have lost chickens to them as well so we have to do what we have to do to keep the flock safe. 

We caught a possum last week and let her go of course.  She just marched on off towards the pond. 

The neighbor farm had a nice gaggle of grey geese who now reside on our pond and as summer is soon coming to a close, we expect the Canadian Geese convention to come soon. 

In late fall at dusk from all different directions for about a week, THOUSANDS of them converge on our 2 acre pond and make quite a racket.  They seem to have a set annual meeting and then head their way south.  It is quite extraordinary and we look forward to it every fall.  I wonder how the grey geese will enjoy all these trespassers this year? 

So, in addition to what I mentioned above, there are our bees of course, the bunnies who eat my strawberries and hop around the property and we hear coyotes at night but we have never actually seen any. The cats do a fair amount of hunting of small game and birds but mostly they just watch all this wildlife.  It is a paradise out here of nature.  I am eternally grateful to live amongst the animals and hope to have more fun tales to relay as the years go by. In the hopes to learn more about insects, I am currently reading this book. Fascinating!

How I became a chicken mama!

Within a week of us buying our farm,  I was visiting our cabin up north and came to notice that a neighbor who had moved suddenly had left her chickens.  I saw them wondering on the road.  This was at the end of winter when it was snowing and cold.  I went over to inspect and saw there were 6 chickens running all over the place and pecking for food.

I called my friend Erica, and she said I had to take those chickens and gave me some ideas on what I needed to do immediately.  Erica was already a few years into her chicken mama status.

I ran to Tractor Supply Company, bought a heat lamp, a flock block for feeding and set about saving these chickens.  I put a sign out in case any other interested parties would want to take them that these chickens were spoken for and would be moved ASAP.  I called a neighbor friend up there to see if she would mind the girls over the next few days while I asked the man we were buying the farm from if I could come in a bit early and set up the house for them and possibly take them there BEFORE we owned the house.  He said YES!!! 

Obviously there had not been chickens here in a while but all the elements they needed were there. The hen house at the farm consisted of a room in a pole barn filled literally to the ceiling with clean straw bales, roosting poles, some old heat lamps, feeders and a flat metal thing that I learned was to keep water from freezing so they could always have water to drink.  There was a garbage can filled with pine flakes that I knew was bedding, a container of oyster shells which I had no idea what to do with, 4 laying boxes and a chicken run that was connected to the house.  The run was in OK shape but would definitely need repairs at some point.    Regardless, it was workable!

Over the next few days, Jen came twice a day to feed and water the girls and visit with the, They liked their new heat lamp she reported. 

So, how was I going to move these chickens? I figured I could move them in a dog cage but the one I had was small and I had given it to my dad. The universe sometimes listens to prayers and I literally found one left out for trash that was all folded up but seemed whole.  I loaded that into my JEEP, got some cardboard from a dumpster and we had an old tarp. Then I headed to the farm and removed about 15 bales of straw and put those under cover.   I contacted the electric supplier and got the service turned on in my name. I attached the heat lamps up high for them to roost under, filled waterers, plugged in the little stand that keeps water from freezing, filled the laying boxes with fresh bedding, filled the food bowls and then set off for the cabin.   We were all set!

I wasn’t sure how I was going to capture them all.  I had handled some of these girls in the past but this was a different story.  They were nervous but again the universe was listening and in the span of maybe 30 minutes, I loaded each hen into the cardboard bottom dog cage, threw their flock block of feed in there, shut the gate, covered them with the tarp so they couldn’t see what was going on and set out for the farm 2 ½ hours away.  I turned off the radio and listened…. They were silent. 

When I got to the farm I hauled out the dog cage and removed the tarp. They started clucking at me.  As I gazed at my girls I loved them so much and knew they needed names.  Female rock stars it would be. 

There was one giant white chicken that was a cross breed.  She was a roaster who also laid eggs and ordinarily, if you have a roaster, she is only meant to get to be a few months old and then eaten.  This girl had been around a while so I am sure she was tough inside and OUT.    I dragged the cage inside the chicken run and opened it.  They all ran out and immediately started doing what I now know is a dust bath.   They had been in mud and muck before and were so happy to have real dirt to clean themselves off in. They were talking and running about.  It was a real celebration!!!  They seemed to KNOW, they were going to be ok and had a new home!!!! 

The original 6 Rockstar hens

After their baths, they explored the whole place, checked out the food, water and made themselves at home.  I was just so in awe of the whole experience.  I was now a chicken mama!!!  I named each one.

Free ranging outside their run!

Our Big White was named Mama Cass.  She was definitely large and in charge of this little girl group. 

The twins were Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, the black one was Grace Slick, a blonde one was Cheryl Crow and the last one was Pat Benatar.  I vowed to these girls that if they laid me eggs, I would never eat them and just let them live out their days here at OUR FARM.   The first eggs I found in their appropriate boxes I literally jumped up and down in celebration.  You would have thought I laid those eggs personally!!! 

Those first days of new motherhood were heady.  We closed on the farm, started to see the incredible amount of work that needed done inside and outside and in all truth I was a little (a LOT) overwhelmed but I was really excited for what we were embarking on together.  We would soon move the two beehives from the cabin to here and with cats, dogs, bees and chickens, we really had something. 

Where Have All The Bathtubs Gone?

I was born in the sign of water, and it’s there that I feel my best.  That is a song lyric from the hit song Cool Change, by the 1970’s group The Little River Band. 

Yes, I am a Pisces (water sign) and I do LOVE to take baths.  I like the water HOT.  I like to soak, to POACH myself and water logged toes do not bother me a bit.   Occasionally, I will light a candle and take a cocktail in there, but usually it is just me and reading material.

I love bathtubs and have literally bought a house because there was a giant bathtub and wood burning fireplace there, two essential things for me! 

Every place I visit, you can bet I have checked out the tub or at least set my bottom down in there and tried it out for size imagining what it might be like to have a bath.   If I am visiting you, I probably have brought or picked up some nice smelling salts to add to the bath  or rooted around for some in your bathroom.  Bathing is a relaxation ritual for me and getting clean is just a byproduct of the whole bath experience. 

I like to read in the tub.  Every magazine and book that I have read is wrinkled and bent up from being water logged and that is fine.  If I have loaned you a book or magazine, chances are it has received water at some point. 

I use Magnesium rich salts in EVERY bath that I take.  Magnesium is a mineral you can bet you are depleted of in your body.   I have to take 3 Magnesium supplements a day (400mg) each time or I get muscle spasms all over and endure brain fog and other odd things. So many systems in the body need magnesium to function properly.    I take lots of calcium and other supplements too. 

The magnesium baths are so good for your muscles.  I buy coarse salt 25 pounds at a time and sometimes make gifts of bath salts with oils that I infuse and drop other essential oils too which add a whole other sensory experience to THE BATH!!!!!   THE BATH is a sacred thing for me and I think everyone would benefit from a nice, long hot bath once in a while.  Leaning back in the tub, swallowed up by mineral rich, great smelling water is just HEAVEN!  I don’t even need music.  The drip drip droplets of water is enough sound. Four senses are super stimulated during THE BATH!!!!

Maybe someday I will get to float in The Dead Sea which is located in the Jordan Rift Valley, bordered by Israel to the East and Jordan to the West. Its hyper-salty waters and mineral-rich mud are known for many health benefits, and many tourists and locals alike visit the hotels and spas on its beaches for mud treatments and salt baths.  You can learn more about this magical water here. 

One of the joys of travelling for me has always been to check out the depth and size of the bathtub in my room but alarmingly, hardly any hotels have bathtubs anymore.  Heck, even houses are doing away with bathtubs in favor of showers with multi heads, benches to sit on and room for an entire village in there.  Where have all the bathtubs gone?  I guess they are being broken up and sent to landfills in great numbers and this makes me so sad.  I have actually had to PAY MORE for a room in a hotel that actually has a bathtub.  REALLY?  What a bummer.

Perhaps the bathtub is going the way of other “obsolete” items like typewriters and rotary telephones though I can tell you, recently I NEEDED a rotary telephone.  Neighbors had a tree fall on their garage and took their phone out.  These little sisters have ONLY their land line as means for communication.  They neither have cell phones nor internet and don’t drive so if they have no phone service, they are kind of STUCK.  I was trying to help them get their phone service restored and needed to test the phone line that had been “repaired”.  They had two electric charged cordless phones which you can NOT plug into the outside phone jack to test but as little ladies can do, they pulled an old 70s Princess phone from a closet and we were able to be certain the phone service had indeed NOT been fixed. 

Seeing that old Slimline Princess phone brought back A LOT of memories.  It made me want to be 15 again, and take that super long cord all the way into the bathtub and chat away!  Those were the days!!

Does anyone know of any retro hotels with both of things for me?  😊  Now THAT would be THE BATH to write home about! 

Ten pounds from perfect and other lies I tell myself

I am a woman.  I think as a woman for whatever reason, be it advertising or social media pressures or whatever, we set ridiculous standards for ourselves.  We all want to be perfect and this is simply not obtainable.  We are HUMANS.  Perhaps men feel the same pressures,  but I’m going to talk about my personal experience here and I’m betting women reading this, will agree with me.  We are all nuts!  We put too much pressure on ourselves to be young, thin, great spouses, parents, caregivers, employees, (fill in the blank)  and to look like a supermodel while doing all those things.  We rarely or never think we are good enough.  ☹

For women, we definitely focus on our weight and the whole body image thing.  For most of my adult life I weighed 119 pounds.  I got really sick my first year in college and at the peak of that illness weighed 99 pounds.  I felt like crap but was elated at that number on the scale.  WHAT AN IDIOT.  Of course once I got over the mono, I resumed my normal teenage eating which consisted of free cheeseburgers and fries (perk from my job) and soon regained the weight and went on my merry way.  I can say that I felt pretty good about myself at that nubile age and didn’t do much comparing of myself to others.  I was pretty healthy in mind and body in my teenage to post college years.  Looking back on that girl, I am grateful for the years I felt that I looked ok! I was SATISFIED and didn’t self-hate myself when I ordered dessert.

Then in my early and then again in my late 30s,  I experienced REAL debilitating anxiety and simply could not eat or function much at all and I got down to 110 from my “normal” 119.  I was too anxious to be excited about that number but remember afterwards when I felt like me again, I longed for that number.  AGAIN what an IDIOT.  Focusing on weight as a number and not good mental and physical health is a societal problem that will never stop I guess. 

In my late 30s, I was living in this “adult dormitory” luxury loft apartment complex in the Strip District of Pittsburgh.  That move started a really unhealthy part of my adult life.  Being in an environment of total over consumption of food, alcohol and witnessing some really interesting lifestyles, I was in a bad place personally.  First off, I gained weight which had NEVER happened,  I remember attending one of the many parties (nightly someone had one) and weighing myself in this lady’s bathroom on her scale and seeing 131.4.  I was devastated.  I HATED myself.  I left the party, went home and said I needed to STOP all this consumption.   So I DID.  Back to the gym for me, I cut down the wine consumption,  stopped eating bread and butter at every meal and put my mind into it.  I did lose the weight, people NOTICED and commented so up went my self-esteem and I felt a bit better about my body image. 

Even when I was a perfectly acceptable weight for a 5 foot 2 inch woman, I admit now that I wasn’t REALLY happy with myself.  I would say to myself, you are ok but you are 10 pounds from perfect.  Don’t you want to be perfect?  FIX IT.    

At 51, looking back at pictures of myself from my 20s, 30s, 40s, I think at ALL OF THOSE AGES AND WEIGHTS, I was amazing. I certainly was more youthful than I am today.   

I wish I could have really loved myself more when I was young and mostly line-free.  If I can espouse advice to the young girls of the world, I would say appreciate who and where you are every step of the way because sadly I have learned that today is probably the best looking and youthful as I will ever be….  A new line or crease appears magically all the time and the pounds are harder to keep control over.   We women need to start appreciating ourselves TODAY, tomorrow and the next day.  I work on this.  I really do.  Usually I fail but I am trying!!!

When I discovered the Ketogenic diet one year ago in May 2018, I thought well this is revolutionary.  Though, apparently, this diet has been around since the 1930s and designed for diabetics, it truly is a way to train your body to burn fat for fuel instead of living on sugar.  I will write a future blog about this diet but suffice it to say that with eating keto I was able to get under my old perfect weight and really feel most of the time that I look pretty good.  Again, I am mostly satisfied with my weight and the doctor is happy with the bloodwork.  With a year pretty much straight keto, my cholesterol is fine, triglycerides and everything, sugar is good so I will keto on and continue to exercise, take supplements, eat natural, real food and still occasionally treat myself to a forbidden item.  I am not lying to myself when I say, life is short, eat the piece of cake and ENJOY IT but no one needs cake every day or ice cream or a candy bar or whatever. 

So, let’s now take our focus to wrinkles   In my 30s, I had a doctor and I liked him and I thought he had my best interests in mind.  That was until he started practicing BOTOX and during a visit for some issue, told me “for $500 I could fix your whole face.”  That is a DIRECT quote.  I had never even thought about my face but then I started really looking.  I examined the forehead lines, the smile crinkles, the neck wrinkles, the lines around my lips.  Maybe he was right….  I WAS aging…..  maybe I should get some injections.  I consulted friends and realized several of my friends of the same age and some older had already been doing a little this or that for YEARS.  Really?  Hmmm…..  so I started lying to myself about how spending $500 on BOTOX could help me feel better, look younger and still turn heads. 

I tried it once.  I was indeed wrinkle free on my forehead for about 5 months but the wrinkles go somewhere so my eyes were droopy and I hated that way worse than the forehead wrinkles.  When it wore off and the wrinkles returned I decided I can just wear hats.  I am a hat girl and wear them well.

The lip wrinkles and smile lines, well, it is what it is.  I have earned those lines!  I will own them.

So, I am going to try and stop telling myself ridiculous lies about how changing this, adding that or losing 5 pounds is really going to change my life and make me happier.  Happiness starts on the inside!  I am TRYING to live that kind of authentic life.  I have my struggles for sure, but can say, when an 18 year old beautiful and REALLY skinny girl told me in January while on Key West waiting to rent a moped that she wished she had arms like mine I told her I AM A FARMER!  Hauling 50 pound bags of chicken feed really gets you strong!  And I smiled the rest of the vacation about that…..  I may have wrinkles but my arms are KILLER! 

Natural cures are EVERYWHERE!

During the summer when I was about 8 or 9 years old in the mid 70s, I was picking blackberries way out in a rural part of Southwestern PA, about an hour from where I live today.  I happened to step upon a bed of yellowjackets and they attacked me.   In a panic I was swatting and jumping up and down on their abode which irritated them more and they stung the heck out of me.  I had about 30 stings that day and had I been allergic then, I probably would have died.  We were pretty far out in the country, miles away from any hospital. 

A phone call to a neighboring doctor brought this advice…  Find 3 different kinds of leaves (not poison ivy of course) and rub each sting with each leaf to make sure the stingers are out.  Then make a paste with baking soda and water to relieve the pending itch and apply.  I lived. 

That was my first memorable experience with “natural” cures and my 51 years have been full of many different cures and treatments for the everyday issues we humans face. 

I

still pick blackberries but these days I am covered head to toe with hat with a net, long sleeves, brush pants and boots.  Blackberries and black raspberries are ripe deep in the summer so it is HOT but it is way safer being totally covered when I go picking.  The “jaggers” (Western PA term)  are really bad on blackberry bushes and less severe on the raspberries and there is poison ivy everywhere not to mention the mosquitoes who devour me (type o blood). Picking berries is hard and messy work (hands coated in berries an bleeding from scratches) and don’t forget the occasional snake,  but getting all those free HEALTHY berries is worth it to me!

I am VERY allergic to poison ivy but that didn’t happen till I was in my late 20s.  I have read your body changes and you can become allergic and vice versa as we age. That seems true for me!

You may not know this, but pretty much right next to poison ivy (and ALL OVER wooded areas) grows something called Jewelweed also known as “Touch me nots”.  You have seen these yellow and orange flowered “weeds” with little pods on them late in summer and when you touch the pods, they open and spread out seeds… natures way of keeping the species growing.  Well, jewelweed is a natural antidote for poison ivy.  You can use the leaves to rub the urishriol oil after poison ivy exposure or easily make a tincture, soap or even a salve.  I do this EVERY YEAR!  It WORKS really REALLY well and if you buy EXPENSIVE poison ivy remedy products I GUARANTEE you they have this wild weed in there.  Nature can heal you in many cases, that is a FACT.  

Another healing plant that grows outside your door is Hawthorn shown here which provides a remedy for hypertension not to mention has seen many people through lean winters.  Their berries and leaves are completely edible.

Dandelions are edible and the leaves make for a nice salad ingredient.  Medicinally, dandelion is used for loss of appetite, upset stomach, intestinal gas, gallstones, joint pain, muscle aches, eczema, and bruises.  They support natural detoxification. Of course, if you spray your yard with chemicals, you would NOT want to ingest anything that you find growing there. 

I have become allergic to bees which can be troublesome considering I am a beekeeper.  Many people get less allergic over time and number of stings but that was not my experience. As I didn’t want to give up the bees, I saw an allergist and now get bee venom therapy which has really helped.  I regularly get injections with all kinds of venom from honeybees, yellow jackets, wasps and mixed vespids and my system is getting better at handling the incidental stings.  I find this SO interesting.   The docs are using real bee venom to cure my allergy.  BRILLIANT.   They are doing the same things with children who are allergic to peanuts and other allergens.  Minute doses over time increasing the amounts is helping the children’s bodies accept what it rejected before!!! 

A good friend of mine from high school lives in Southern Florida where they have many different flora and fauna than we do back north.  Where I am dealing with mosquitoes, snakes, spiders and such her family deals with jellyfish,  crocodiles, fire ants and SCORPIONS.  Her son got stung by a scorpion and his knee swelled up to gigantic proportions.  As a great mom, she did all the normal things and made sure he had a tetanus shot.  The next day in school, the nurse asked her if she could apply meat tenderizer to the young man’s knee, the kind with papaya extract in it.  She added a little water to a scant handful of tenderizer and put the paste on the sting. It worked IMMEDIATELY to relieve him!  So, keep some on hand for bee stings, scorpions and fire ants.  I guess I could have used that too years ago with those yellow jackets!!!

I have one more healing thing for you today and this one is truly a favorite of mine.  As someone who cooks pretty much every day, I often get burned.  I read about lavender oil and how it is used in burn wards all over the world.  I have vials of this for an atomizer that I use and the bath salts, candles and lip balms that I make.  I set one tiny bottle next to my oils and vinegars and use it on the spot as soon as I get a burn and IT WORKS.  It also smells amazing! So, there you go!!!  Try it yourself!

You can Google natural healing plants, buy books and read them and look for instructional how-to videos on making your own natural healing products, on YouTube.  That is how I got started with my little natural pharmacy work. 

So, go get a book on the buffet you can find in your own backyard and do some research on nature’s FREE treatments.  It is truly amazing!!!   Contact me if you want some good book recommendations and tell me all about what you have discovered.