11/4/09

Ah the Memories

I tend to spend a large part of my time reminiscing about events in my life. Thanksgiving happens to be one of the holidays that floods my mind with never ending memories. It is without a doubt my favorite holiday mainly because it has always been a time when both family and friends come together to enjoy at least one day of unselfish sharing and giving both of spirit and nourishment.

Our entire juvenile lives, my siblings and I spent Thanksgiving day watching football with Dad and/or assisting Mom (getting in her way) with dinner. I learned at an early age how to make the most difficult dish of the mean - mashed potatoes - and have spent years perfecting my most delicious recipe that includes real cream, maybe a bit of sour cream or mayo and other "secret" ingredients that even my own mother has lost track of. I progressed from mashed potato duty though I never gave up the duty of "official potato masher" into deviled egg duty. Those too are some of my now family favorites.

I can still feel the heat in the kitchen combined with the aromas of turkey, sage dressing and broth. I can feel the steam as, once again, I checked the potatoes boiling to make sure they were not too soft yet. I can hear my mother telling me how profoundly great I was at such a duty -one of her many ploys to maintain full participation. Sometimes when I feel the steam coming from a pot of potatoes I hear my father and brothers cheering and jeering in the living room as their favorite team plays out one of their games.

My freshman year of college marked a change in our festivities to some extent. My sister in law was pregnant with my first niece and they came to stay with us during the holiday. So, we had an extra guest and my brother had to behave a little more during the football game. She sat in the kitchen and visited with us as we talked about the day and worked on all the recipes. I got the potatoes and the deviled eggs ready and then, we discovered that Mom had once again forgotten to turn on the oven. The turkey sat there, still half frozen...waiting for something to be done to finish the meal. Not to be outdone, Mom made my very favorite meal - spaghetti - and we rescheduled "Thanksgiving" for the next day. All's well that ends well.

I have always been a person to bring home strays and Thanksgiving was the greatest day for "stray gathering" ever. Once I got into college and met people from other countries, states and towns, I managed to always collect a good carload of strays for Thanksgiving day. I never noticed our old country home was not some nice dining parlor, I just drug them all in and we always had a great day. Once, I believe most of the Canadian contingent of our college hockey team joined us for the meal. That was fun as none of those guys had ever had a southern Thanksgiving before. Not to mention, my Dad was very vocal during the football game and they had a blast just ...being Canadians...and making noise right along with him. I think by the end of the day he had become bonded with a couple of the guys. My little sister had become quite attracted to them as well. Yeah, I had my fella, but he wasn't one of them...they were just friends who had nowhere else to go. I wouldn't dare let them not have Thanksgiving - it is a treasured day!

These days, I cook at home for my own family. Still...the tradition continues. My turkey is always too big for my family, my ham is too much and I make too many potatoes for us to ever indulge in. So, we end up with a bunch of strays or with plates in a box to carry to people who are working at the local stores, our police dispatchers or just about anyone else we can think of. The dogs and cats get quite a feast as well.

I usually end Thanksgiving with putting up and lighting the Christmas tree. That was a joyful thing for us when we were younger. Christmas is glorious with the lights, the gifts and the month long celebration of our Savior's birth. But Thanksgiving - that's when people can just love one another - and eat like there's not tomorrow.

Yeah...Thanksgiving is one of the greatest holidays ever invented. I wonder if those pilgrims and those Indians ever realized just what a great tradition they had started.

10/28/09

Hazel Jean's Victory!

Someone needs to write this. Attorneys won't touch it. Local authorities won't touch it. Everyone does what they have done for the last 20 or so years - looks away -hopes that they are not labeled as instigators and tattle tales and pretends nothing bad has ever happened to Hazel Jean.

I moved here over 7 years ago. It wasn't long until I was visited by my neighbor and Hazel Jean. He is/was a big man - powerful, loud, well connected to certain elements, intimidating - yet very friendly. She was sitting in the back of his pick up truck, with his dogs, looking down, mumbling, wearing multiple layers of clothing. It was cold then. I have come to learn that she wore those multiple layers all year round.

Hazel Jean can outcurse and out fuss even the best. She learned it from him. I am told that it's been over 20 years that she was his....captive. Her sense of self worth was slowly beaten out of her and never reaffirmed by anyone who witnessed the tragedy of her existence. I can add myself to that list. When I asked him WHY he told her continually he would beat her, he simply said "that's the only way to keep that n....straight! Everyone knows that! If it weren't for me she would be wild in the woods somewhere!" If it wasn't him outlining to her the future she faced if she rebelled it was another member of his family.

Hazel Jean had her own home - a shed next to his house. She had her own bathing facilities - a 5 gallon bucket. On weekends, she was treated with a bowl of scraps he brought home from church social events. After she washed and hung out his clothes, she was allowed to hang her on along the barbed wire fence at the edge of the property - lucky her! He outlined himself and many of his friends outlined him and still do as "her angel of mercy". Without him, she would end up in some institution/cage instead of the luxury accomodations she had. Many who didn't look the other way as I did advocated his abuse of her as "necessary" to keep her quality of life to the outstanding level it was.

I did ask over the last many years how this happened. How was she lucky to live as a dog, next to the dogs, treated possibly worse than livestock on the farm? How was it that she was always working - sun up to sunset - on the farm - in the garden - in the fields? Why didn't anyone speak out? She was by all legal definitions disabled yet she worked harder than any human I know. I was told people DID speak out but Hazel would always want to be returned to him. I have a friend who filed a report - no one responded. There are sums of complaints and reports. In 1993, there was an investigation and the conditions were found "deplorable" yet she remained. Her fear of "captivity" overwhelmed her fear of the abuses (mental, physical, sexual) she experienced on a daily basis. I suppose she was so indoctrinated to the beatings - sometimes with a whip - and the verbal abuse that she thought that was normal. This modern day slave seemed to embrace her situation. Her mental capacity - diminished before she matured into an adult - left her incapable of realizing that alternatives could possibly be better. His ability to make sure she felt "lucky" to have him was profoundly powerful. After all, according to him - she was like family- you know - like a dog or cat would be.

It's been 7 years. This spring someone noticed - someone with more political pull than him - someone with the ability to stand up for right and say wrong is wrong - someone who contacted other someones. Hazel Jean was removed from captivity by authorities. Her disability funds were redirected from his bank account into an account where her care would be foremost.

First, she went to the hospital to get a real bath, real care, and to sleep in a warm bed. Over the last many months, she's been found accomodations in an extended care facility. She has her own room, her own things, she's fed, she can bath in a real tub. She can sleep in a warm bed. Yet, she still requests to "go home" to her "house" - the shed within which she submitted herself every evening after dark -no heat, no water, no light. His son told her it would be destroyed were she not to return. It was the only thing that was "hers" she ever knew as far as anyone can understand. After a short visit, however, she begins to ellaborate on the abuse. It's the kind of stuff you would have expected a 100 or so years ago.

Then she begins to smile and to talk almost like a normal person. She looks you in the eye, she doesn't mumble. She doesn't bow her head. It would seem that beating her is not required to keep her submissive and under control after all. She's actually funny - witty. I am so undeserving of her notice. I am ashamed I feel so much relief now that she is safe given the fact that I did nothing to secure that for her.

I once told this man not to bring her to my house. That's it! That's the extent to which I went to try to help her. Looking back, that's really pathetic. However, it was enough for him to assume I turned him in and to be harrassed for the last six months by him. My sweet Jo Jo (one of the puppies that I raised from the day it was born) has been poisoned. Many bad things have happened. Am I innocent - absolutely not! I didn't make a stand, I simply pretended to look the other way -just like everyone else. But, all these things that have happened to me remind me of how awfully she must have suffered in the direct power he had over her. I have a husband who defends me. I have a legal system that tries to slow him down. She had nothing. She is a small black woman in a big white man's world. If he can hurt me in the manner by which he has, I imagine how he could have hurt others in the past given his "status" in this small little corner of the world. It sort of helps me reconcile to the facts of the matter.

Even now, no one really wants to hear her story. "She's safe now - be grateful for that" they say. I am grateful because I was not a big enough person to see to it she was safe but someone finally was.

But I wonder. Is putting her in good care and locking her away from him justice? He's free. She's sheltered and protected. But has justice been served to her? Apparently around here people believe it has.

If anyone heard half the stories I have heard regarding what she has endured, they would not feel that way though. She IS caged in order to be protected. That just seems really backwards to me. Yet, even now, no one finds her situation worthy of further notice. They just keep on doing what they have always done - looking the other way.

So today, I am frustrated with the system, with myself and with the guilt I feel. I am sad to know that the majority of her life was spent imprisoned in her mind and in her real world. I am sad to know that our system let her down horrifically. It's a blessing that she is where she is now. Her new caregivers are loving, kind and generous. But I keep asking myself how can it be better for her? No one wants to represent a person who has difficulty speaking out for themselves. No one wants to investigate why the system let her down. I guess it's a lot of work with little reward. So, for now, I pray for her and I do thank God that He has freed her from the hell within which she was living. At least now she smiles.

10/9/09

I'm not one for politics but...

I just read this morning that the Pilgrim's Pride Chicken Plant in Athens, Georgia was closing. This is just a few weeks after the Pilgrim's Pride plant in Athens, Alabama closed.

My Great Aunt Effie (pronounced AAANT Effie) lived across the street from the Pilgrim's Pride Plant in Alabama. On good days, a chicken or two would get away and run across the street. She would sneak out and chase it into her garage, closing the door and subsequently calling the rest of the family to inform us of fresh chicken and dumplings for supper. Try as I might, I have never and will never duplicate the cooking skills of Aunt Effie! That's partly because I don't use substances like "lard" and partly because she was just a very gifted cook! When she got fresh chicken and shared it, we fought for the scraps!

That plant has been operating for at least 50 or more years. What people don't realize is that it won't just be the factory workers who are out of work and suffering. The chicken industry is driven by the individual processors. The farmers who were supplying those chickens will now be shut down - many of them are financed to the hilt to maintain current techologies within their operations.

The truck drivers will be losing their jobs. The feed processors will be suffering as well - some of them possibly completely ceasing operations. That's the backwards trickle down of the shut downs. Now for the forwards flow - the grocers, the retail establishments, the restaurants, the local governments who no longer have those tax dollars.

Basically, shutting down what appears to be an old, worn out operation is going to have dismal consequences all the way around.

I don't know where we are going with our world right now. I suppose poultry can be purchased from cheaper sources overseas? But, is it as carefully guarded by health officials? When I worked in the catfish industry and the Vietnamese Catfish began to destroy the American industry with their cheap product, it was quickly discovered that the product was not well watched and the very reason for the "cheapness" of the product was the complete lack of government oversite.

This leaves me with so many questions - do we ask our government to back off their oversite? Do we ask them to insite that the same oversite is maintained on the foreign product brought in more cheaply? Is our public simply eating that much less poultry as a result of the broken economy? Why does poultry cost so much anyways - when I was growing up only the poor ate chicken everyday.

It's a given that I try to keep life simple - I raise my own chickens, gather my own eggs, garden most of my own veggies but not everyone has the time or energy to do that and too many people think it's really hard when it's not. I just don't know how simple you can ask people to get before our entire system breaks down to nothing.

10/2/09

It's Friday!

Life is full of tribulations. Whether they are the result of some accident, some person or some situation, they tend to overwhelm and complicate our lives. This morning, I was pleasantly reminded that everything in life is trivial. As I walked out the front door to feed, there was the most beautiful sky I can ever remember. The distant horizon, where the sun had not yet appeared, was fuscia. There was a thin layer of clouds overhead. They had little whipsy aspects - like cake icing when you dab your spoon into it. Each whisp was reflecting shades of pink, purple, red, even some grays. It was just breathtaking.

I am left reminded that today will be a blessing regardless of how the rest of it works out. I woke up. I am breathing. I am here. It's a good Friday indeed.

9/29/09

Life seems to be passing by so quickly these days. I remember when I was a child I wanted to be older. First, I thought starting school like my brothers would be too cool. And then it happened.

Then, I thought Junior High would solve all my awkward problems. And then it happened. So much for that. But there was still High School and my brothers seemed to thrive in high school. They were not 80 pound weaklings overshadowed by two genuises. Just the same, high school wasn't THAT bad - just typical teenagers. I began to find my footing in life at that point.

College flew by for me. I became socially happy and learned that people liked me for who I am. I could be a simple country girl (and I WAS simple) and people enjoyed me..they laughed anyways.

There are many many stories in between then and now - successes, failures and just days that seemed strange or overwhelming. And here I am!

I am now bordering the big 4 7....yep F O R T Y S E V E N. The funny thing is, I am pretty happy with that. My face has fallen a bit, there are wrinkles, my hair has little glittery stripes in it and I crackle when I get up in the mornings. But this age suits me pretty well!

WHY am I reflecting on it this day? I don't know...I think it's because of this....

I have always been a very cold natured individual. Having been primarily underweight, the least breeze could cut through me like a knife - it still can but I have discovered that I now have the best defense afforded mankind - hotflashes. Oh yes America! Hotflashes can rule when you are climatologically dificient.

It can now be 30 below outside and nature will turn the key...my face begins to feel hot, I get all clammy and I wonder if simply stripping my clothes would maybe not be so disgusting as my daughter says it is! 30 below is a welcome relief. Where I used to run to the a/c controller and turn it up a few degrees, I now run and turn it down and stand over the vent as it begins to cool. I can wake in the middle of the night and run outside to see what the dogs are barking at - even if they are not barking - and not feel the sting of the cool evening on my skin...It's simply relief...until the dogs start barking at me!

The great thing about my hormonal clock is it is turning with the season. Winter will soon be here to welcome my sudden burning flashes and I can embrace her by wearing my shorts and flip flops well into December.

Ahhhh- old age - it's delightful!

Dusting off the Old Blog

Time to dust this off! Just a sec...it's really dusty.....O.K.

In the last few months, since this last blog I will summarize if I can.

I found a baby deer a month ago hung in a fence. We named him Buckey and took him to the local zoo/preserve. He is now their featured attraction. We are quite pleased because he has been a gateway for my daughter's internship.

My husband finally gave in to my daughter's continual pleas and allowed her to have a snake for her birthday. She is now the proud owner of a "Spider Ball Python". They are supposed morphs of some kind. She is thrilled. Of course, not to go home empty handed, I am now the proud owner of a bearded dragon and he's a really cool creature.

It's fall finally- yaaay - I am ready for cool weather.

6/26/09

Our Kings

I was reading my morning devotional this morning and realized there was a deep message. The devotional is covering the kings of the old testament, the good ones and the bad ones and it said "you are only as good as your leader". Then I began reflecting on everything I have been taught about the Bible.

We started out in the Garden of Eden with God watching over Adam and Eve. They sinned, got caste them out and so it began. Of course, even then, we blamed someone else - satan (serpent) for the sin. God made us flawed therefore, we sin. He sent His Son, therefore we are forgiven but I digress.

Generations went on who sought God and His direction directly. They experienced His wrath directly and they worshipped him directly. Then, they began to say "if we only had a King ...someone to lead us/blame we would be such better people". Oh boy...God said "sure, I'll give you a king...we'll start with this guy" and he gave them Saul. And, just as God had expected, power corrupted and Saul became a fallen leader - almost taking everyone with him.

God said "hey, wait...I am going to find you an even more pure king" and he gave them David. After much drama and resistance from Saul, David became King. David sinned as well but he repented - demonstrating to his people the right way to handle things - he lead them but he lead them through direct consultation with God's prophets and teachers. Therefore, all in all, God was still the leader - the one they went to for direction, correction and help.

Generations passed, kings became corrupt, a few cleaned up their acts but God finally let that entire nation take a fall. He simply had to let them learn the hard way...THEN, he sent His Son - to not clean up the mess but to give us a chance at redemption despite the mess.

Fast forward to now. We still want a king - a leader - someone to follow - someone to blame. But, we have failed to insist that the leader we are given the free will to choose seek God's consult, guidance and direction. We have failed to hold ourselves and our leaders accountable to God - to His original rules and principles - to the basic concepts that God left in His Word. We have even taken it further saying "oh God is old, washed up, we can write our own rules - it's more fun that way". And then we wonder why our country, our world - is falling apart.

We have leaders and now we blame them entirely. It may be their fault but it could be our fault for not taking it to the next level and asking them to ask God how to fix things. We don't take it to God enough in prayer about our problems and for our leaders. We simply do not realize the power God holds over our world and His ability to perform miracles and to heal us. We are not seeking salvation but instant gratification.

Boy was God right! If we had just been happy all those eons ago with asking him directly. If we had just realized that He is God and could have handled each and every one of us without a middle man.

4/10/09

Non-Profits

I have worked in and around the non-profit world for a long time. My experience handling donor dollars and investing them has proven to challenge my confidence in the intentions and usefulness of donations.

When a donor gives, I wonder how many of them give after researching the use and intent of their money. Do they look at the mission statement of an organization? The overhead rate? The accomplishments? The yearly commitments? Or does the donor simply find a place to drop a $1.00 and walk away feeling good about that donation?

I have recently had to ask myself this question because I see things that disturb me. Let's say organization A has a particular mission statement. They are specfic in their intentions yet they have volunteers who are so enthusiastic about assisting. There is a catch to the volunteerism however. The volunteer wants to assist and make the mission more "personal" - more about what the volunteer sees personally fulfilling and beneficial. Organization A says "O.k....as long as the dollars go into MY bucket - go ahead." And what follows is a diversion from the original premise of the non-profit - a diversion of funds, concntration and efforts from the original premise. The volunteer is excited, they keep on working their own personal plan for this non-profit. Meanwhile funds from donors are diverted - in the midst of the excitement - from other non-profits more specifically designed to accomplish the mission of the volunteer but less willing to allow the volunteer to have a commanding role in the program. The money becomes confused, dilluted and lost in the attempt to accomplish objectives not clearly part of the program of Organization A - thus the needy suffer - the needy programs suffer and waste results.

It happens all the time. We want to feel good about giving but we don't want to work at stewardship of our donations. The Non-profits themselves are driven by goals and monetary initiatives. They get lost in the definition of what the intentions of donors are as well as the intentions for which they originally set up the organization. They end up competing with other non-profits for donor dollars and volunteer participation. They fail... They fail the donors, the intended recipients and their own mission. They simply fail.

People Watching

According to my family, I am a very annoying individual. You see...I am a certifiable "people watcher". I have written about this previously but felt compelled to write once again in an effort to defend my ever so annoying (to my family) behavior.

Yesterday, my daughter had an outpatient procedure at one of the hospitals in Montgomery, AL. We got there at 7:30 and the day proceeded from that point. What we thought would be a pre-op check-in, an intermission break for shopping and then the eventual real "check in" became a hurried adventure of procedures, blood work and then....stand still feeling - waiting! This gave me an awesome opportunity to have my own adventures however.

First, the pre-op. They take you to a room with a television where other pre-op victims are also awaiting the dreaded weighing, blood pressure check and needle pricks along with the unending personal questions regarding your personal preferences in life, religion and well...just about anything the nurses can think of. Fortunately for my daughter, they were sensitive to her young age and limited the questions to frustrating stuff like "what college are you going to?" and "what do you want to be after high school?" and "Do you have a boyfriend?". Her answers were pretty routine - "I don't know" and "I want to be a herpologist" (That one always goes over really well - a gal who likes reptiles) and "why do I have to have just one!" It's a wonderful thing though - these questions -because then the nurses will usually open up about their own lives, their children and their preferences if you simply say something like "well, what about you!" And of course, I did!

Two nurses have blessings for children - the other has demons! One of the nurses is ten years older than me even though I was certain she and I were the same age (ugh). One of the nurses survived cancer and is doing great. And one of them wears hearing aids even though you can't see them and loves to talk about make-up (my daughter liked her best).

Then, I got to go with my daughter to the "holding room". It is pretty much like a large cattle pen full of beds with patients ready to either go to sleep or get up and walk out. You get to watch the nurses scurry around the 3 to 1 ratio of patients to themselves and you get to hear them complain about how the doctors and computers are a real pain to keep up with. Then, if you are lucky, you get to hear the various family stories being told by other people waiting. You even get to establish a type of comradre with the other families and patients since you are pretty much all in there fighting to be put into the operating assembly line first. One lady had become confused with her pre-op instructions and quit taking her diabetes medications. Her blood sugar, of course, had become dangerously high and she was being admitted for that issue prior to her surgery. She was a jewel! Everyone was trying to get to see her because she was most appreciative and thoughtful with her comments. Two doctors offered to call her son and advise him that she was being admitted so she would not worry about him not knowing. No one was there with her so we all decided to be there with her - including the nurses and doctors.

Soon enough, they came and got my daughter and gave her the happy stuff, then the sleepy stuff, let me kiss her and shooed me off to the waiting room - oh boy oh boy oh boy - a room full of people with stories and situations to watch! I could go on about the little snippets of life I observed, the children playing, the sisters and brothers talking to one another and waiting for the phone call telling them that their beloved was safe and just about ready to be visited, but I think you can already understand the angst my family feels regarding my passion for people.

Perhaps I am nosey but I prefer to say I simply LOVE to see life unfolding. I love knowing there are other situations, other goals, and other successes. I love seeing and hearing how other children function and grow in our society and I love that no matter what the common thread of hope and love keeps us all on the same level whether we realize it or not.

In all honesty, I cling to the simplicity I have created in my own life. But I love seeing how others have managed to overcome and embrace complexity successfully. It restores my faith and it keeps me humble.

I highly recommend people watching. Sometimes it can actually result in friendship when you take it up another level.

4/8/09

Cotton Candy

A friend of ours has a cotton candy machine. She takes it to various town events and fairs and makes some good money making and selling the stuff. Fortunately for me, she is a friend.

I remember cotton candy from the County Fair where I grew up. It was this amazing delightful stuff. They would stick this little cardboard stick down in this machine and wrap it around the stick until it tumbled over your knuckles while you carried it around. You couldn't actually EAT it becuase it melted wonderfully the moment you put it in your mouth. Your friends and family would grab chunks of it and push it in their mouths and you would laugh at one another while you enjoyed the sensation.

I had no idea that they now have various flavors of cotton candy. There is green apple, bubblegum and pina colada to mention a few. My friend asked me which flavor I preferred and I immediately responded with "I prefer cotton candy flavored cotton candy!"

Nothing else brings back wonderful memories of County and State Fairs, boardwalk adventures and near death experiences in haunted houses and silly rides than cotton candy flavored cotton candy! One year my banana bread won second place at the Lincoln County Fair in Tennessee! I still make some pretty tasty banana bread (my mom says the secret is green bananas - so I still use them!) One year my sister and I rode "The Bullet" and the guy forgot to put the pin in the door. We spent the entire ride terrified of falling out. I do not believe I have ever gotten on one again even though he demonstrated to us afterwards various other safety features which we could not physically see.

It was at the Tennessee State Fair that I got the most enjoyable experience of embarrassing my best friend when I brought my own food which was vienna sausages and generic soda. I preferred to spend my money or rides and....cotton candy!

Three years ago, our daughter talked us into allowing her to get a pet rat. I believe I have written about our Gizmo. He has easily transitioned into a member of the family and we get loads of entertainment watching him and observing his intellectual ability to think through things. Six months ago, we bought him a buddy and named him Forrest. Forrest is wilder having been "rescued" from a large colony of rats destined to be snake food.

Two evenings ago, we introduced them to ....cotton candy! Our friend sent a couple of bags of leftovers home from her weekend venture. Now...Gizmo and Forrest are both skilled beggers. Gizmo will stand on his little shelf in his cage with his tiny humanesque hands out waiting for us to deposit some treasure. Forrest on the other hand will stick his nose and upper teeth through the wire assuming it's best to bite for the treats since the humans then withdraw quickly.

After our daughter left the room (she will now allow sweets to be given to rats as they are slightly obese), I decided to introduce them to the delightful sugar concoction. I deposited a piece in Gizmo's paws and he immediately headed for the lower deck to hide it. Then, I held out a piece for Forrest. He bit it - and it dissolved leaving the remainder in my hand. He bit it again...it again dissolved. He then made a pretty skillful imitation of King Kong, grabbing the bars and shaking them! He tried again to bite it just as Gizmo returned to stick his little hands out and grab another wad and disappear.

It took Forrest a few tries to realize he had to use his hands. When he finally figured that out, he grabbed a handful, pulled it through the wires and promptly put it in his mouth to carry to HIS hiding spot. And....it was gone. He seemed to enjoy the flavoring but became so frustrated with the chemistry of the stuff, he sat in a corner and sulked the rest of the evening while Gizmo enjoyed his hidden stash.

Now I have new memories of cotton candy - of two little rats - vermin to most - and their discovery that this new substance was a tasty challenge.

I love cotton candy!

4/7/09

Lock the Doors!

This morning was exceptionally cold for April! We had minor frosting in some areas and major chills!

I go out every morning before daylight to feed the dependents. This morning was no exception. However, the days are getting longer and daylight was peaking over the horizon as I unlocked the shed to get to the feed. "Unlocked" you ask? Yes, unlocked.

My precious Oops and her one-eyed companion Minnie have learned the techniques for turning doorknobs. Having torn down a section of fence a few weeks back, they have had free run of the yard lately. We are either too lazy or too tired on the weekends to repair the fence and they are keeping the lawn in "golf course" appearance currently. However, their expertise at opening all closed pathways is beginning to wear thin.

I first noticed the doorknob to my fairly new storage shed dented. I wondered at the time- "did Bigfoot find my farm?" It appeared he grabbed it with his massive hands and squeezed it too tightly. A few days later, I saw profound teeth marks in the knob and in the front door knob.

"Hmmm" I wondered. "Bigfoot has some really big teeth or he needs to trim his fingernails".

A few days later, I heard a commotion in the yard - a battle cry from my little Spin who is now my big Spin - and subsequent stomping and snorting noises. As I got out the front door, I ran into Minnie who is somewhat surprised that I nearly ran under her and I saw Oops and Lucy with their heads in the shed buried deeply into the feed bags. That's it! Darn Bigfoot - now letting the horses get into the shed!

Then I realized, I could get famous for this. I could take a picture of Bigfoot - massive hands crushing the doorknobs as he's opening the shed for the tiny -compared to him - horses! I waited....what I discovered was so astonishing that I forgot to snap the shots. Minnie had managed to get the doorknob shaped perfectly to her molars and was turning her head to pull the door open! Darn Minnie - she's blind in one eye yet she sees the most opportunity for destruction and calamity of any horse I have ever known.

So now - I lock the feed shed and EVERY MORNING AND EVENING go out -keys in hand, unlock it, and distribute the feed. I have seen them spying at the keychain in my hand....I have even seen Minnie eyeing the cell phone with her one evil eye. She has probably already learned to dial 411 as I have a few mysterious calls on my bill - in hopes of finding a locksmith capable of coming to the house to duplicate that key. So far, the door has stayed shut. Since they hit the tool shed this weekend - Dave has decided it's time to fix the fence. It's amazing how men can move so quickly to fix something when it's their toys in harm's way.

The house has been "hit" a few times as well but fortunately, they are afraid of the wood flooring and failed to venture in too far before caught. They do however, let all the cats in to run around and destroy things and watch as we try to chase them back out. Now, all doors are locked at all times - it's like living in a prison designed to keep the horses out of your house - evil creatures they can be. Thieves have nothing on them.

Back to this morning.

This morning was an awesome morning. The chill woke me up quickly. The horses were playful and the air was crisp and clean. I don't honestly want a repeat but understand I am in for one just the same tomorrow - then we get our warm spring days back.

4/6/09

Horse Trivia

On my way down the driveway one Friday morning, as I noticed the somewhat angry horses glaring at me through the fence, I wondered "do they even know it is Friday? Do they even care?"

Of course, the answer to that is "NO - they only care that you locked them back up and that they can't destroy your roses!" But it did make me think how simple their lives really are in the dynamics of the world.

In the mornings, all they have to do is line up along the fence, and someone throws grain to them. After they eat, they go get a drink and head out to the back pasture to graze, graze, graze. In the evenings, all they have to do is line up again and there comes the feed! Not a bad life if you ask me.

Sure..on weekends, that morning grain comes a little late, but it ALWAYS comes...guaranteed...even when they aren't really that hungry. Occasionally, someone might come along, throw a saddle on their backs and ride them around in a few circles, but that doesn't last long when all they want to do is run back to the barn, rear up on their hindquarters or scratch the pants off the rider on the barbed wire (not that any of MY horses would pull these stunts). Then, that means EXTRA grain when it is all over. Just not such a bad life.

Here are a few trivia facts I have learned from some supposed experts that I found rather fascinating.

1. A horse SEES things as seven times bigger than they really are. Yes, someone actually did a study and somehow determined by the shape of their eyes or brain or something that they believe everything else is bigger than them. This explains their failure to stomp us into the ground since they REALLY are much bigger and stronger than us. However, those eyes can spot bare feet a mile away and they can oh so innocently manage to stand on bare toes.

2. If a horse sees something out of its left eye, it will only register on one side of the brain. You have to actually turn its head so that it sees it out of the right eye as well or it will be just as startled when it passes to the other side - again someone did a study - I am just repeating what I was taught.

3. Horses have a blind spot on the back of their right eye - thus you always mount on the left side. This is supposed to keep the horse from spooking when you get in the saddle - in my experience, I have never had a horse "spook" while getting into the saddle. I have had one take off running, had one roll over on me, even had one turn around and bite my leg, but never spook - I don't think they have done a study yet that analyzes what must be done to avoid these other situations short of giving up the sport.

4. Just like people, horses are either "right" or "left" dominant. Yes, they are right legged or left legged. With Walking Horses, this is an important fact. One must study the horses lead patterns to determine which leg needs the most weight training to maintain an even walking gait.

Now for a few things I learned the hard way.

1. If a horse is running towards a fence and doesn't appear to be stopping while you are on its back - it is likely going to either jump or make a sudden stop - your options are to a) jump from the horse before getting to the fence b) try to strangle the horse with the bit, c) hang on and ride the jump or d) hang on and fly over the head of the horse straight into the barbed wire.

2. Never...never throw your empty beverage container over the horses head into the weeds on a trail ride - it DOES tend the spook the horses and you will most likely end up next to the container.

3. If you get a new bridle, it is best to take the tag off before it blows into the horses ear while running the barrels!

4. If you have a stallion and you have mares, don't put them in a field next to a busy four lane highway - ever!

5. Ostriches and horses don't mix - if someone tries to talk you into "boarding" their ostriches just until they find a new home for them, don't do it...horses are VERY afraid of ostriches.

6. No fence in the world will contain a horse when an Ostrich is chasing it.

7. It is best not to put a horse into crossties and spray it with a hose if it has never been exposed to spray washing before. This will more than likely result in complete destruction of your crossties, a good cussin' from your husband, and a REALLY mad horse!

8. If you raise a horse on a bottle, the best plan is NOT to let it into the house just because it's small and cute. When it grows up and weighs 2000 pounds, it will still think it should be allowed in the house.

9. It's really not a good plan to raise a horse like a child...you nor the horse ever realize it isn't a child and it pretty much gets its way the rest of its life. The same applies to dogs, cats, raccoons, opposums and other creatures!

10. If you have a tendency to love all creatures great and small - stay away from them...they will never leave once they show up...but I digress.

All in all horses are wonderful creatures and companions. But those lessons can be quite profound once experienced.



9. A 2000 pound horse can tear down a storm door, crush a couch and wreck a kitchen in less than 10 seconds.

. Never Yell or throw something at a 2000 pound horse that has just broken down your storm door. It will more than likely NOT be able to turn back around in a hurry without heavily damaging your property.

4/3/09

Here Kitty, Kitty!

My baby sister was born a beautiful child. Unlike the rest of the family, she had thick blonde hair down to her shoulders the day she was born and it just got prettier and she just go cuter from there.

I can still remember pulling her out of her crib and playing with her. I was seven when she was born. She was this little live baby doll that I got to play with all I wanted. She was three when we moved to the farm so she didn't have a lot of say in the matter, but she adjusted quite well.

She loved all the animals and developed a true love for her precious little kitty cats. As long as she had a kitty to tote around, she was a happy little girl. She was about four when we entered into the great cattle farming venture.

Daddy decided that we were going to raise, buy and sell cattle in magnanimous proportions and get amazingly wealthy as a result! This required us to find a piece of property large enough to support a magnanimous proportion of cattle which Daddy promptly found a few miles from the house.

The second part of this great plan was to make sure all the fences were up and the cattle would be secure. Daddy decided one day after work to take the entire family since this was a family venture, to the "cattle ranch" to do the final fence walk. It was close to dusk, but he and big brother could still examine the fences to see if they were adequate - note...after the great pig venture, you would think Daddy and brother would have figured out that they were personally not qualified to determine fence adequacy.

Daddy was afraid of horses so we didn't own any and four wheelers were not invented yet, so we did it the two footed way...walking each side front to back. We did the walking sort of as a group. Mother's duty was to make sure the three girls didn't get lost and Daddy's duty was to make sure he and brother had everything set up for the impending cattle delivery.

It was going great...all the fences were intact and it was almost dark and time to go home. That's when baby sister was heard..."here kitty, kitty, kitty! Come here...I want to take them home!" First, we looked at each other - what would a cute kitty cat be doing in the middle of this field?

Then, oh so slowly, we turned and looked at baby sister just as she was almost upon and almost picking up not one, but four baby skunks! Out of the corner of my eye I saw Momma skunk only briefly as my brother ran over me - him being the first to realize the doom we were destined to experience.

Imagine four of the scrawniest kids you will ever see, a 38 year old woman and a 40 year old man making the hundred yard dash...no 150 for Daddy who had to turn back around halfway to the truck and go back to grab baby sister...in less than 4 seconds. We were in the truck, in the back of the truck and hauling it out of that field before Momma skunk even knew we were there! We didn't speak much about the skunk encounter - knowing Daddy would erupt into an irate lecture on the perils of farm life and wildlife, but we ALL spent a great deal of time with the encyclopedia and wild animal pictures demonstrating to baby sister what the differences are in cats and skunks.

Since that time, she has become a veterinarian...I am guessing that in veterinarian school, they taught her how to tell the difference in baby kitties and baby skunks!

4/1/09

Braces in the Wall

My brothers and I were all gangly, thin and somewhat scrawny kids. Daddy - he helped us make up for that by teaching us to be quick, good shots on the basketball court and willing to take a blow or two to keep up with the rest of the team. Unfortunately, even with those skills, I was still the scrawniest participant on the team and didn’t really get to stay on the basketball court that long.

My brother on the other hand took to the basketball court like a duck takes to water. He would study the moves of the Harlem Globetrotters and other great athletes and then hit our little homemade basketball court out by the barn. He would practice for hours, sometimes allowing me to guard or play horse with him and sometimes even allowing me to get a shot in. I think everyone who reads my stories already knows I thought my brother was the greatest person in the world.

When we moved to the farm, we had to change schools. We went from a rather large, multi-classroom “city” school to a small school that had no more than 200 students grades K-8. It was like a storybook schoolhouse with the biggest part of it being the gym and basketball court. Basketball was a big sport in that area so brother and I set out to make our mark. Again, brother did quite well. The larger and stronger farm boys quickly learned to respect his skill and his stamina. He didn’t mind taking a fall or two either if it meant scoring for the team. So, he spent most of the games on the court, usually came home with a black eye from bumping into an elbow or someone else’s forehead and spent a good deal of time in the emergency room getting x-rays for his bad knees and ankles.

At one particular ball game, we were playing a team of some really good and fast ball players. They were ALL big farm boys so we should have been intimidated but brother didn’t scare much. By we, I mean brother’s team of which I profoundly felt a part of! He had scored quite a few goals with his superman style lay-ups and his teamwork with the other players. They were playing like an orchestra with each player being the instrument that complimented each other player on the team. For some reason, this other team singled my brother out and decided to double team him. I assume they thought this would slow down the rest of them – picking on the small guy and making the rest of them frustrated. What they didn’t know is that brother of mine could take a fall and be a hero. He would much prefer that than having his team mates have to take up for him.

Brother really didn’t take into account the closeness of the gym wall to the boundary line under the goal. So, as they were going for the final lay-up, the ball was handed to brother. Brother expertly jumped as if to be making a lay-up and tossed the ball to another player accomplishing the fake off with amazing precision. The score was made and the two players tagging my brother managed to knock him completely into the wall!

The room fell silent. He was out cold but still standing on that wall. It was sort of strange seeing him standing there, arms limp beside him, still standing on the tops of his toes. By now the referees had designated the fouls and decided to get brother to go for the free-throw shots – we knew that wasn’t a challenge.

But, he was still there, suspended on that wall. Mom was so used to the injuries and visits to the emergency room, she just pretty much sat next to me calmly waiting for the coach or someone to tell her to go and get the station wagon to the front door of the school. Still…brother was there on that wall. By now, I had decided he was dead, referees were stirring around, our team was getting ready to beat up the other team for killing him…but he began to move.

Mom still calmly waiting in the stands next to me finally asked someone to let her know what was going on – “Do I need to get the car and have the doctor meet us at the emergency room”.

Coach came over to us and answered her question – “no ma’am, but you need to get his orthodontist because his braces are stuck in the wall!”. Not only did big brother knock a hole in the wall with his head, but his face was stuck in that hole because his braces wouldn't release the boards!

The crowd was calming and coach had a screwdriver literally prying brother out of the wall. Of course, no one yet knew short of family and a few team mates that brother was stuck in that position. When they finally got him loose, everyone was on their feet clapping, team mates were high fiving each other and referees were calling for a break in the action to determine who was going to make the free throw shots.

Brother made those shots and since it was close to the end of the game, Mother got the station wagon and we headed to the orthodontist who agreed to wait for us to get there. They must have spent hours removing those braces and the splinters that were stuck in them from brother’s teeth. Story is he still has teeth because of those braces. I don’t think he remembers a lot of that game, but everyone else in Lincoln County will never forget. Unfortunately the school burned down which destroyed the famous hole a few years later.

It doesn’t happen to everyone, but when your scrawny, quick and tough – I suppose you have to be willing to eat a wall or two to prove you can hang with the big guys!

3/31/09

Love my Neighbor.

Sometimes life in a small town or NEAR a small town as is my case is consumed by the frailties that come along with living far away from people yet close enough that some want to know what you are all about. I am a staunch advocate of "love they neighbor as thyself" and I put forth a lot of effort in trying to get to know and love my neighbors. However, we all live separate lives and we all have definitions of what is good and what is bad in life. I have had an astounding lesson in neighborly love over the last two months. I have learned more about the very definition and the falacy of believing that love - pure and simply given - is reward enough.

We have a neighbor who is an older man. In the 70s he was convicted of "bootlegging". He can yarn a tale of his days of old and engage even the least interested listener. He spends an enormous amount of time describing how he has rebuilt his life from the mistakes of that era. He is endearing. He raised his son by himself after returning from prison and he DID rebuild his life.

Meanwhile, Haley sits in the back of his truck while he is dining or sharing these stories in your home. It was not until today that revelation of "love they neighbor" really hit home with me. It was not until today that I realized that sometimes loving a neighbor means risking a friend or is that person a friend at all. Sometimes we fail to identify the proper neighbor to love.

Haley is a black woman. She's severely mentally disabled, handicapped or whatever the key term is for it these days. She has served and lived on the farm of my neighbor as long as I have lived here and for the last 20 or more years according to the local citizens. He gave her her own "shed" behind his house. He gave her own set of coveralls and replaced them each Christmas along with layers of old clothing that go under them. He gave her freedom according to him.

Her freedom consisted of riding in the back of his truck no matter what the weather - with his dogs, working on his farm as much as she was physically and mentally able and doing whatever household chores were available. Her demeaner was one of bitterness explained away by him and his son - my neighbors - as just her only method of communication. As did most everyone else in the area, my family "looked the other way" choosing to believe he was a good samaritan - taking in someone that only an institution would house otherwise and giving her a bit of personal freedom. She seemed content in the back of that truck. She seemed completely unwilling to reach out and talk to others. She seldom smiled and I seldom took the time to try to investigate who she was further. I was content in my knowledge that he was her protector, her savior and her advocate.

Two months ago, my world changed dramatically. In this small town, people talk I am told. I am a relative newcomer to this particular town. This neighbor came to see me in my office to discuss a hay deal but left with a very ominous threat. "I know what you did-we are enemies and you know what that means!" I was horrified. What had I done? Who had I gossiped to when I work so hard to mind my own business and hurt no one?

It took me three days to find out that Department of Human Resources had visited his house and removed Haley from his "possession". His "power of attorney" signed by her family was challenged, his ability to draw funds - yes funds- disability funds, food stamps, and other sources of income based on her disabled status - was ended. His ability to accept responsibility for his actions and his deceit was non-existent. Instead, he chose to seek out those who may have "turned him in" and the newer members of the community were the first on the list. I was on that list!

He resorted to "booglegger" tactics - one of my dogs was poisoned, I was threatened by his only two friends at the local Piggly Wiggly, they have stalked back and forth in front of my house. But...I am a country girl! I am not some city slicker who has never dealt with deviant backwood characters and tactics. So, I did what any country girl would do. I cried to my man!

My man - in turn - called this neighbor and advised him that if he ever bothered me again, he would "kick his ass". As any true coward would do - the same type of coward who would figure out a way to legally enslave a person for 20 years or more - a man who would seek to attack a female instead of accepting blame - called the Sheriff's department and filed a harrassing communication complaint against my husband. So much for handling things man to man - man to woman or simply by the standards of human communications!

That was nearly two months ago! Life has moved on. This neighbor is still suffering the consequences of his abuse and the truths are slowly coming to the surface. People in small towns do talk and evenutally the innocent are cleansed and the guilty are seen for who they are. If justice doens't work through our somewhat diminished legal system, justice works through the human conscience and through community standards as time progresses.

And...as with any trial or tribulation, the lessons are there that God intends for us to glean from them if we will simply be still and know...that He is God and that His will is always served!

You see....for the six years that I have lived here and proudly proclaimed that I follow the entire "love they neighbor" concept to the hilt, I have failed to properly love the right neighbor. I looked the other way, just like everyone else. I assumed that the stories of the beatings, the sexual and mental abuse were simply stories because I loved my neighbor and I was a good neighbor. I watched while they drove back and forth in front of my house house - Haley always in the back with the dogs - in the rain, sleet, heat - and I said to myself "how lucky for her to have someone to take her in! - I love my neighbor!" I never SAW the bad stuff, therefore, I chose to believe it did not exist. Unfortunately, there seems to be an investigation - under now sealed council - that has apparently found otherwise and Ms. Haley is now in a safe and secure environment. This means a substantial financial loss for the neighbor I chose to love who now hates me and assumes I am the turncoat who "turned him in". It means a loss of labor and income. It means that the truth may eventually escape the sealed council and he may one day be seen for the evil and hatred he has spread on this person's life.

I am not a turncoat or a tattle tale and I am ashamed at this point of that fact. For six more years of her life, Ms. Haley suffered. I was loving the wrong neighbor. Actually, I love that neighbor still and I pray for his salvation and that of his son who adores him. I know there is great good in him - I have seen it many times. But, I am guilty of being unable to love others as well - equally and without judgment. I am guilty of letting fear of judgment paralyze my ability to say "this is wrong". I am guilty of assuming there was no alternative for this woman than the private enslavement she endured. Sometimes I trust too much and the wrong people.

Looking back on the last two months I am asking myself would I have done anything differently and I can not honestly say I would have ever had the courage to make a stand and say it was wrong what this person endured. Even after the lessons I have learned I let fear and what people might think rule my actions. I suppose God still has a pretty big job ahead of Him. Once he absolves the issues with my pride, perhaps He can begin to teach me how to really love my neighbor - the right neighbor.