All posts by idontdotrix

A visit to Polyface Farm

Originally published on my first blog on May 13, 2011, moved here for posterity ūüôā
This one should be subtitled- “Food Inc. and other Crock-u-metaries”
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In this economy.

Boy, I hate that phrase.  I hate the reality of it even more.

In this economy, we have to make sacrifices, budget our money as carefully as possible, cut back.  We’ve set specific limits for all of our family’s needs, and this includes a strict limit of $450 a month for groceries and related household goods such as cleaning products and personal care items for three people.  I’m a pretty talented cook and can make that work, and still provide nutritious meals for my family.

One hears many things though, about food quality and food safety. The internet abounds with articles, blogs, and videos from animal rights groups, farm advocates and self-proclaimed experts. It’s enough to make your head spin.  So what’s a concerned mom on a limited budget to do?

The same thing she tells her twelve year old daughter every day- ‚ÄúDo your homework!‚ÄĚ

Over the course of the past three years, I’ve been immersed in a self-guided course in American agriculture. I’ve learned a lot.  I’ve gotten my hands dirty and kept my eyes and my ears open.  So when the opportunity to visit Polyface Farm near Staunton, Virginia presented itself, I couldn’t wait to go.

On a cheerless rainy spring morning I drove two hours to meet with a diverse group of agricultural tourists, including a dairy owner, a rancher, and multiple PhD’s.   I wanted to learn for myself what the fuss was all about in regards to this location and its production methods.

Pulling into the driveway at Polyface, I was reminded of many of the farms I saw growing up in rural northeast Ohio.   The countryside in this area of Virginia is exceptionally beautiful, and the cloudy day didn’t diminish my appreciation for the landscape.  We were greeted by a young lady who informed us that chickens were being processed at that moment and we were welcome to  watch.

Let me preface this next part with a few facts about me; I grew up in a hunting family and have butchered my fair share of wild game. I’ve been to Ohio Amish and California Asian markets where you could buy fish or poultry live and dress it yourself at home. I’ve been to commercial slaughterhouses. I’m confident I can observe everything from multiple perspectives objectively.

The processing area was an open air affair with just a roof built off a steel building.¬† A flatbed truck sat with stacked plastic cages containing about a dozen birds each. I was immediately struck by the condition of the birds themselves as well as a pile of dead birds near the crate. They were rather dirty, had obvious wounds and a good deal of feather loss. An employee or intern was taking birds from the crates, inserting them head first into a spinning device with twelve inverted metal cones, each with an opening at the bottom for the chicken‚Äôs head. After inserting a bird or two at a time, he worked deftly to cut the throats, spun the structure and repeated, allowing the chickens to bleed out into a catch basin at the bottom. Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface, jokingly referred to the contraption as ‚ÄúThe Wheel of Fortune‚ÄĚ.¬† The birds were not subjected to electronic or atmospheric control stunning or otherwise rendered unconscious by any means, and thrashed in the cones, sending a spray of blood into the wind blowing through the area.¬† After being allowed to bleed out for a bit and without checking to see if the birds were still conscious, the worker grabbed them by the feet and threw them into a scalding tub, with paddles that churned through the water to loosen the feathers. Next the birds moved to a spinning tub which removed the feathers and in at least one case, chucked a bird out into our group.¬† More workers were waiting on the line of steel tables, over which small hoses maintained a steady stream of water. The source of this water was never identified, but based on the farm‚Äôs remote location it was not city sourced. I should add I did not at any time see any treatment or filtration systems for any of the water on the farm.¬† Feet were removed and tossed into five gallon buckets at the workers‚Äô feet, as well as livers, both of which were items for sale in the Polyface store. Two dogs lounged nearby and I watched as two very happy farm cats gorged on chicken parts; some thrown to them and others they pilfered from the buckets and bins. As chickens were completed, they were tossed into either a large plastic water filled bin or a set of steel water filled bins. A request to explain the sorting was politely answered that one was for employee meals and the others for saleable birds.¬† I‚Äôm not sure where the run off from the processing area went though I did note a small pond adjacent to the set up.

Mr Salatin stated that they process about 20,000 birds this way every year, a number not based on expected sales but rather on a limit set by the government on how many can be produced for sale before a USDA inspector is required. Based on comments made throughout the visit, it seemed the production number was restricted based solely on Mr Salatin’s objections to having an inspector on site. Having seen the processing first hand, I can understand why.

We next climbed into a farm truck and made the trek up the hill to see more of the farm’s methods up close and personal.  Along the way, Mr Salatin explained the farm consists of 550 family owned acres, and an additional leased 1100 acres of pasture. We followed a single lane track up to a pasture where a small herd of beef cattle were grazing.  A pasture area adjacent to them, separated by a hot wire, was home to rows of portable chicken enclosures ten feet wide by twelve feet long by about two feet high. Each contained approximately 75 birds. These were in two rows of eight pens each, in three separate sets that I could see on the hillside. The grass beneath us was sparse and liberally coated with large black watery streaks of manure. Mr Salatin explained that he places the chicken pens, for raising meat birds, in pastures recently vacated by the cattle.  The birds, he said, graze on the grass left behind and peck for insects.  They are also given a supply of water and feed bins, with a mixture I couldn’t begin to identify. The pens, we were told, were moved daily to give the birds access to clean space.  Mr Salatin gave us a demonstration of how this was accomplished by grabbing a wire handle on the pen (there are two on each, on opposite sides) and dragging the pen several feet downhill.  The birds were required to keep up with the dragged pen, and I noticed some being caught in the support structure and between each other as it was moved.  The rear of the pen, in contact with the ground, also dragged a good portion of fresh chicken droppings along with it.  The birds exhibited the same characteristics as those I had just seen in the processing area in regards to dirt, feather loss and wounds. I decided at this point, for sure, that a broiler would not be on my shopping list at the end of the day.

The cattle themselves were an odd mix. When I inquired to breeds, Mr Salatin said that he doesn‚Äôt bother with them, but instead picks his beef animals based on phenotype. He stated a clear aversion for anything in the color black, saying it was just a personal preference. ¬†He also admitted that they are not bred on the farm,but sourced from “wherever I can buy them”. ¬†This included “commercial” farms. ¬† The cattle I saw seemed healthy and content in their field, occasionally coming closer to our group to see the tourists. The source of the watery black manure was the cattle and I was informed later this could be due to the grass only diet and recent wet weather conditions. We learned a small group had just been sent for processing at a local slaughterhouse. We were not given a name or location and when I asked how many pounds of beef are produced annually on the farm using their methods, I couldn‚Äôt get a straight answer. I was told that the cut rate (percentage of meat produced from the animal vs waste) was between 54 to 59%.¬†¬† Did any of the waste go to any other use, I wondered?¬† No. Hides, I was told, are not processed due to poor sale price, especially for small slaughterhouses, and nothing else was used; all waste was simply sent to a rendering plant. I did find that about 900 animals are harvested there every year.¬† I saw only a few dozen the entire day. ¬†Where were the other 800 +?

Back into the truck and up the incline we went.¬† We came near enough to see but did not directly come in contact with a large flock of egg producing hens, allowed to roam over an open field, with portable nesting housing. These large buildings are actually constructed on trailer beds, which can be easily attached to any ball hitch and moved nearly anywhere on the farm.¬† The birds looked fit and all appeared to be breeds laying brown shell eggs. A member of our groups asked about the chicken‚Äôs exposure to Avian Influenza, since Virginia can boast thousands of migratory bird species. ¬†The answer shocked me. Mr Salatin claims that domestic chickens are conferred immunity to Avian Influenza by eating a few blades of grass per day. ¬†I‚Äôm not aware of any studies that would confirm this claim and I‚Äôm still searching for documentation.¬† We weren‚Äôt told how often the eggs were collected or how often the mobile structures were cleaned. Too many red flags for me. ¬†I crossed eggs off my potential purchase list.¬† As with any pastured birds, Salatin said he experiences some loss to predation, mostly by raccoons.¬†Anatolian Shepherd ‚ÄúMichael‚ÄĚ is on the job to keep those numbers as low as possible.

Further up the hill we went, to what Salatin promised would be ‚Äúsomething beautiful‚ÄĚ.¬†¬†He was right; the view couldn‚Äôt be beat. In a shady high field lounged a group of hogs of various breeds and ages.¬† Mr. Salatin does not farrow his own hogs, citing concern for potential worker injuries from ‚Äúsow anger‚ÄĚ and buys them from any nearby producers he can.¬† The hogs are moved from field to field, staying only long enough for a central feeding station to go from full to empty.¬† The mixture inside is created for him by a local mill and he proudly boasts that it contains no GMO grains. The hogs, he stated, are finished on acorns.¬† The animals I saw were inquisitive of our group, active, and appeared to be acting like, well, pigs.¬† They were busily rooting up stumps, nibbling on grass and resting in sunny spots.¬† They seemed leaner than hogs I have previously viewed though overall my impression was of healthy animals.¬†¬† Hogs, like the cattle, are processed at an outside facility when they reach an appropriate weight.¬† Predation in these high fields hasn‚Äôt been much of a problem, and Mr Salatin welcomes experienced hunters to his property to help prevent losses.¬† We spent the greatest amount of time on the farm with the hogs, and the animals were calm and comfortable with our presence.

We did travel just a bit further up the hill to see one of the collection ponds used to provide water, by gravity, through several areas of the farm.  According to Mr Salatin, there are three such ponds on the hillside.

Back on level ground we were shown a barn where meat rabbits are kept.  This set up intrigued me, since the rabbits were in elevated wire cages and laying hens were permitted to roam the deep litter mix below.  The rabbits were all heavy with thick coats.  Many does had multiple kits that also appeared well fed and healthy.  I noted feather loss and wounds on hens in this area as well as pieces of what recently used to be hens scattered amongst the bedding.  There were eggs in several nesting boxes that were of good size and even color. I didn’t see any on the floors, and again, didn’t know how frequently they were collected.  Mr Salatin stated that all the meat rabbits were tightly line bred from the same small colony started by his son years before. He said they suffered very high losses in their first few years. As a long time hobby breeder of conformation and working dogs, I would counter that the rabbits were actually heavily inbred. In either case, they looked like rabbits I wouldn’t mind putting on my plate. Unfortunately, there were none to be had at the farm store. Maybe next time.

A short visit to see the chick hatchlings, chickens and turkeys together in one large, warm barn, and our tour was done. All seemed content and adorable. Yes, I admit my food can be cute.

We ended with hearty handshakes and mutual appreciation talks in the farm store, where we were directed to a smiling young lady who offered to help us find anything we needed.  Based on our tour and my observations, I was most interested in rabbits, pork and beef, in that order. I had no desire to attempt broiler chickens or shell eggs, seeing as I was not personally comfortable with them from a safety standpoint, and that the breeds were no different from what I could find at my local market.

Sticker shock assaulted me at the freezer section.  Each individually wrapped item was clearly listed for product and weight, but not price.   That could be found by consulting a list posted on the doors. While Mr Salatin had previously claimed his products average about twice the amount for the same cuts in cost, I found his estimate to be woefully inaccurate.   Eggs, for example, average $1.50 per dozen for extra large white eggs at my local store. At Polyface, 12 large brown eggs were $4.00.  I buy sale priced cuts of beef at my grocery and ask them to grind it fresh for me, a free service, resulting in an average price of $2.00 per pound.  At Polyface, ground beef is $5.50 a pound.  Boneless skinless chicken breasts typically cost me about $2.00 per pound. At Polyface, they cost an astonishing $13.00 per pound. Whole broilers? My cost about a $1.00 per lb, theirs $3.25 (cut is $4.30, while I usually spend less than $1.50). Chicken legs and thighs? About $0.49 to $0.75 per pound for me, $4.50 a pound at Polyface.

Mr Salatin defends his pricing and his methods passionately, and I have no doubt he is a devout believer that what he is doing is right. For his property, for his purposes, and his production goals, I have to agree he uses his resources well. As a consumer, I wonder just how many people can be fed from those 1650 acres, two thirds of which isn’t even his own, and the answer seems frighteningly small in comparison to alternative operations. Salatin says he is not an elitist, and challenges anyone who claims not be able to afford his foods to give up other things in their lives. That if he were to visit their homes, he’d better not see a big screen tv, a gas hogging SUV, a flier on the family’s upcoming Disneyland vacation or coffee in the pantry.  To some extent I can concur. But I think it’s only fair to understand that some folks have so called luxury items from a previously way of life they may not be able to afford anymore, need larger cars for employment purposes and save money by making sacrifices in some areas of their lives in order to give their children a happier experience.  He won’t find a home theater system, Navigator truck or a vacation any further than the local park’s fishing pier at my home- though trust me, he really doesn’t want to see me without my coffee. We’re struggling right now with everyday expenses and trying to put enough by for emergencies.

I bought two items that day. A 2lb London broil and a 2lb bone in pork roast, both marked at $7.00 per pound. This is well above the average I would pay for these cuts at my local shops, and I expect to do a taste comparison between them when I get the chance to buy identical cuts in similar sizes at the grocery store. But I can’t do that yet. I’m too busy trying to balance in the nearly $30.00 spent on these two cuts alone, an amount equal to two entire days’ worth of all food and household products for my family.

Do I expect them to be good? Only a taste test will tell, but I can be sure that no matter how good the taste, I can’t consider the expense worthwhile when I can use my talents as an educated consumer to choose tender, tasteful cuts at chain grocers and employ my not insignificant kitchen skills to using each cut as best I can to maximize flavor and stretch the servings.  I just can’t afford to buy into the notion that a production method assertively touted as the ecological and morally superior choice is better in any way for my family. I can’t accept all this talk of model sustainability when introduced to free labor in the form of interns and apprentices, $50 DVDs and other kitschy merchandise, and recent publications by the owner asking for donations to keep his operation running. This doesn’t meet my definition of realistic production methodology.

But that’s just my opinion. I appreciate the opportunity I have to choose healthy foods from modern agricultural sources and respect the choices of those who believe, as Mr Salatin does, that his methods are appropriate for their families.

Oh faux goodness sake!

Originally published May 26, 2011 on my former blog- moved here for posterity! ¬†ūüôā
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Choices.  I’m all for them.  As long as a person is making an educated decision, whether I agree with them or not, I’ll support them. The USDA recently conducted a sting operation against an Amish farmer for daring to sell raw milk to people who not only knew what they were buying, but went to great lengths to acquire the product. The folks did their research and made a choice based on what they thought was best for their families. And none of them tried to make me buy any.

I am an unrepentant  carnivore.  I am chronically anemic and can’t maintain iron or B levels without adjusting my diet. Supplements just don’t absorb well for me so I work in foods rich in these nutrients.  The upside is that my lipid levels never move an inch, no matter how many cheeseburgers and steaks I eat.  Not so for some friends, who have made the choice to be vegetarians or vegans, for health concerns and, in some cases, to appease their conscience. And that’s ok with me. You won’t catch me sneaking bacon into the dishes I prepare for them or lying about the ingredients in a casserole to get them to eat it.

What I’ll never understand though is the lengths some folks will go to try to get others to follow their own dietary plans. You’ll never see a meat eater trying to push a slice of chicken on a vegetarian, yet the majority of the public, who are not vegetarian, are constantly assaulted with inaccurate information and fear based advertising about our food choices from the radical minority.

These VegAn’gelicals, as I like to call them, have elevated  a vegan lifestyle to a religious fervor and rabidly proselytize in an attempt to push their morally superior choices on everyone else. And if they can’t get you to convert, they take your choices away from you.

So it is with the radical animal rights group the Humane Society of the United States. You’d think from the heart breaking commercials showing abused and neglected shelter pets that their enormous annual haul of $100 million a year (and assets of nearly another $100 million) would be going to help those shelter pets, right? Wrong.  Less than 1% of that huge tax free windfall goes to the thousands of real humane societies nationwide (they don’t own or operate a single one anywhere); they spend much of it on legislating away your right to eat what you want.

An organization that spends the majority of its funds on eliminating animal agriculture shouldn’t be given a place at the table to create laws that affect this industry and the food we eat. Yet they are, claiming to be only interested in better welfare for farm animals and not on abolition. Their actions, however, speak louder than their words- animal products of any kind are not permitted at their offices or events. And recipes posted on their website and in their magazine are completely devoid of all animal products. You won’t find a single egg, a solitary tablespoon of butter, a splash of milk or any animal based proteins (aka meat) anywhere in their publications, all in the false presumption that all animal products are the result of mistreatment and abuse.

In the past few years I have met many producers, from the humblest mom and pop roadside stand to the largest commercial facilities.  Though they were varied in their approaches and beliefs, all shared on common theme- all were deeply concerned about the welfare of their animals, and were confident their methods worked. It stands to reason, after all, that healthy animals that are well treated are more productive. I can’t and won’t argue that fact, or the methods employed by each producer.  If I don’t like the way one does business, I just won’t buy the product. End of story.

To aggressively advocate that all animal products should be removed from everyone’s diet, and to do so on the platform that all animal based foods are the result of mistreatment, is ridiculous. To discover these deceptions are being perpetrated using tax free donations is appalling.

Browsing through the collection of recipes on ¬† ¬† http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/eating/recipes/recipes.html¬† ¬†I come across some real whoppers.¬† ‚ÄúCheese sauce‚ÄĚ, says one. Oh, I like cheese!¬† It goes with nearly everything, and the simplest sauce recipe is a basic roux of butter and flour, plus hot milk and whatever shredded cheese you happen to have on hand. I‚Äôve started a lot of low cost, tasty meals this way. So imagine reading this ingredient list:

1 cup of water

1/4 cup roasted red peppers

1/4 cup raw almonds

1/4 cup lemon juice

3 tablespoons tahini

3 tablespoons whole wheat flour

2 tablespoons corn starch (or arrowroot)

Salt

Garlic powder

Seriously?  Who in the world, other than maybe the combined $40 million in annual salaries HSUS employee roster keeps items like roasted red peppers, raw almonds, whole wheat or arrowroot flour and tahini in their pantry on a daily basis?   Why fake it in the first place? Why put so much time, effort and money- this isn’t an inexpensive sauce- to recreate a food you have a moral objection to eating?

Why go to such extreme lengths to pass off a substitute, when there’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating the original item you’ve worked so hard simulate?

The assumption or as I see it, excuse, is that you, gentle reader, don’t have brains enough to determine where your food comes from, and on the off chance that your food is the product of a rare individual case of animal mistreatment, you should simply avoid those foods forever.  It’s really not the point at all. The purpose is to convert you to their lifestyle, regardless of high costs and unsustainable claims it is healthier for everyone. It’s just not true, and repeating a lie isn’t going to make it reality.

I don’t eat like you and you don’t eat like me. I think you’ve got the right to feel comfortable with wherever your foods, whatever they are, are sourced from.  You should have the choice.

And national groups should be transparent about their real reasons for the influence they exert on those choices.

Otherwise, they are just as fake as the faux foods they are pushing.

What came first- the chicken or the egg?

Originally published in my first blog site Sept 27, 2011. Moving the posts here for posterity! ūüôā
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Oh, definitely the chicken. Or in this case, chickens, plural. And a custom constructed coop. And feeders. And waterers. And a plethora of medicated v non medicated chick feed, ingredient lists, do’s and don’t, lists of acceptable greenery and scraps, predator control, warming lights, and, and, and AND!

And….a lot of patience.

There’s a big trend lately for backyard chickens. Reasoning ranges from having access to a fresher product you can control to being emotionally opposed to commercial egg production facilities.¬† To be able to fully research the issue, I needed to not only observe high volume farms and small volume hobby owners, but to get in the game and raise a few for myself.

Having no prior experience with our fine feathered friends, I went to the undisputed source of knowledge on all things- the internet. I quickly became confused by conflicting information and concerned about sites which loudly proclaimed the benefits of producing your own eggs but were short on facts as to problems and risks.

Before I’d even read as much as I think I should have, and relying heavily on the limited amount of experience my husband had with chickens growing up, it was off to Tractor Supply Company’s “Chick Days” to procure our new livestock.¬† First things first; there’s a state law in effect requiring purchasers to acquire a minimum number of chicks at a time. I understood the rationale behind this- to keep casual “oh aren’t they adorable!” impulse purchases where they belong. The candy aisle. We looked through the different varieties offered, compared needs and projected production, and settled on six little red hens. Except they weren’t red. Not yet, anyway. And they weren’t hens.¬† I learned they wouldn’t be called that until they lived to a year of age. We also purchased 2 White Pekin and 4 Khaki Campbell ducklings of indeterminate sex, since I’ve always preferred duck eggs for baking.¬† I figured that we probably didn’t need that many for ourselves, but considered mortality rates and the fact we weren’t sure whether we had male or female ducks on our hands.

Before we could take our very vocal birds home, we needed to make some additional purchases.  Medicated feed was strongly recommended for the chicks for their first few weeks of life, though we we warned just as adamantly to avoid allowing the ducklings to consume the same food. We took our time in that row, talking to poultry owners who came in for feed about their preferences and practices.  Eventually we settled on what we needed and headed home to begin our new adventure.

We hadn’t built a coop yet, and used a large wire dog crate with fresh pine shavings for bedding set up inside our mini barn.¬†¬† A light fixture with an exposed bulb secured near the crate provided warmth for the chicks and allowed them space to move away from the heat if they need to do so.¬† Keeping them cool wasn’t a worry, since a storm blew in the next day bringing unseasonable low temperatures, wind and rain.¬† The structure was dry but not very warm, so we used a small heating pad under the crate to keep the little fuzzballs comfortable.

My husband is your average weekend do-it-yourselfer.¬† He reviewed some plans online, read a few books, then chucked it all and created a coop of his own design. Pencil never touched paper. Six trips to Lowe’s and three days later, the coop was completed, and what a sight it was! Four feet wide, eight feet long, with an attached¬† multi-story sleeping and nesting area. A slanted roof that went from 6 feet in height at the top of the housing unit to the four foot height of the remaining of the living space finished the structure. Solid pressure treated lumber, a securely latching door, and even laminate flooring in the house. Nothing but the best for his new friends! We were confident they would be warm, dry, and safe in the new coop. The ducks, we decided, needed more space for water play and were moved into an empty, roofed¬†10′ x 10′ kennel run. A large rubber basin provided a swim space for the ducklings, who didn’t seem to get along at all with the chicks. After observing just how messy the ducks could be, I didn’t blame the chickens for a moment.

In all the excitement present in articles about backyard chickens you don’t read much about the ugly realities. Like what to do with used bedding, accumulated manure or the attraction your new birds present to predators.¬† Thankfully, we live in a rural area and had space to compost the wheat straw we used for litter, containing the droppings and leftover bits of whatever scraps we’d allowed them to feast upon (melon, of any kind, was a big favorite!). I even posted it as available on Craigslist a few times, and happily watched someone¬†interested in nitrogen rich natural fertilizer cart it off for their gardens.¬† What would an urban owner do in the same situation, I wondered? It’s a serious consideration for anyone in a small bedroom community, especially if there are any restrictions on animal waste. As for predators, we found our dogs, though¬†highly interested in the new additions themselves,¬† were very effective in deterring coyotes, foxes, raccoons and others from coming too close.¬† The strength of the structure made a difference too, and kept the local raptors busy reducing the mole, mouse and snake populations instead of¬†the chicks.¬† There was plenty of interest, but happily, no successful predation of our birds.

Another thing you don’t read much about; when to actually expect your eggs. Our chicks feathered out, gained weight, and grew up. We watched and waited for any “egg-tivity”.¬† We read up on when to expect our daily ration of homegrown protein. We eagerly checked the nesting area, brought treats, made sure they had plenty of supervised time to graze in the yard for bugs and sweet grasses.¬† They certainly looked big and healthy enough to lay an egg!

I was worried that our impending move to a new home would bother the chickens. They seemed content where they were and with life in general. Yet move we must and we packed them up into crates for relocation.

Our new home came with an old, large building used as a coop for years but in some disrepair.¬† We left our custom coop behind for the next family, and set to work putting the building to rights.¬† Their new digs consist of an approximately 10′ x 20′ wood building with a tin roof, concrete floor,¬†elevated natural wood perches, milk crate nesting boxes and an upgrade to larger metal hanging feeders and watering cans. At first, due to the increased space, we placed the now humongous ducks inside with the chickens.¬† It didn’t take long to determine this would be a strictly segregated neighborhood; the chickens didn’t like the ducks and the ducks took every opportunity possible to harass the chickens. The ducks received an outdoor pen attached to the new (old!) coop and constructed of old lumber recycled from other buildings on the property. We were steadily going “green”.

Ah, such peaceful mornings!  We now wake to the sound of the chickens making soft, contented noises and the ducks sounding suspiciously as if they are laughing at some joke only they understand. And one fine morning a few weeks after our move, we found it! The first egg! Has anything ever been as exciting as realizing your efforts, your work, your determiniation, has paid off in the form of one slightly oval caramel colored bit of satisfaction?

We had a home produced egg! And it only took nearly 6 months of time.

Six. Months.

Our crowning moment was tempered by the remembrance of the time invested, the purchase price of the birds, their feed from growing chick to productive chicken, materials for building and then repairing coops, containers for food and water, dozens of hours of research and untold hours of sanitizing equipment, raking litter, hauling away manure and caring for the animals.

A few weeks later, we’re at full production. Once one decided to get to work, the rest followed suit quickly. And they are hard at work.¬† We’re averaging an egg a day from each little red hen, um, pullet. They still enjoy the treats we supply them with,¬† leap onto perches and spread their wings to be scratched and stroked, and are, quite simply, beautiful birds. The eggs are much larger now, and we frequently see double yolks, with strong shells and uniform color.

One advantage is that now that we have so many eggs a week (we never lost a single chick) we’re supplying my husband’s co workers’ carnivorous habits.¬† It pays for the feed our chickens consume, so other than the work involved, our own eggs are now, essentially, free.¬† By the time we allow for labor, buying commercially produced eggs would be a more financially practical solution. But the birds are here now, and we have no intention of disposing of them now that we’ve got our answer to the age old question.

The ducks however…

Our Pekins turned out to both be males, and two of the Khaki Campbells, who started life like little loud kiwi fruits indistinguishable from the females, also were males. Were being the operative word.  We had no interest in raising successive generations of poultry, and consigned the males to the freezer. The remaining two females have yet to produce a single egg and may yet be destined for the same fate.

Bring food or be food.¬† It’s a harsh reality of life here at our home. And I’m glad I can share this experience with my daughter, who understands exactly where the food on her plate comes from.

Author Note- April 25, 2016- The ducks got int he game soon after this post was originally published and the eggs are absolutely delicious. ¬†With the larger property and plenty of room to free range, we were able to successfully integrate our flock and everyone gets along. ¬†We had a couple of ¬†pilgrim geese for a while, and they were social agitators- they found lodging elsewhere as a child’s 4H project. ¬† We’ve added Jersey Giants to the chicken flock, and different Pekin, Khaki Campbell and even Swedish Blue ducks to the crew, occasionally sorting out drakes and excess hens at intervals and processing for freezer camp.

whoopsadaisy

My husband, a car chief for a race team, has been known to utter an oft used expression from his industry when he sees something bad about to happen: “This is all gonna end in a lot of fiberglass and tears“. The resulting damage is usually explained by another phrase: “He ran out of track and talent at the same time“.

I never thought those words would apply to me and certainly not in such a mundane happenstance.

It was a gorgeous spring day on our acreage. For weeks my daughter and I had been taking advantage of the mild late winter weather to cut back overgrowth that was weighing down fences, raking out dead branches and clearing larger areas for actual leisure use.  The pile in the center of the far back yard near the edge of the back 40 was getting rather big.   We finally had a day with little to no wind perfect for burning.  The ashes were going to be spread into our garden area to help nurture the soil.  That was the plan. And for a while, it was a good one.

Cue Murphy. You know, Murphy, the guy who says anything that can go wrong, will.  He made a spectacular appearance.

Here I am on this lovely warm Saturday, half a dozen projects around the house and yard in motion and chatting on the phone with my Bestie on the Westie (Constance lives in California). ¬†I’m raking burning bits of branches, leaves and other debris back towards the central burn area which has become considerably smaller since it started. Fire works like that, who knew? ¬†That’s when I feel a sharp, burning pain in my left foot. Yep, the left. ¬†Damn that hurts! I jerk my foot up, mutter an expletive or two and and desperately trying to figure out what in the world just went through my shoe into my foot (a nail was my first guess) ¬†when I roll the right foot under me in what must have looked to any observer- thankfully there were none- like some warped version of Swan Lake. I heard the SNAP before I felt myself collapse. Right into the smoldering edges of the burn pile. ¬†I’d screamed when it happened, and dropped my phone. I pulled myself, and luckily the phone, backwards out of the ashes into the grass, tears streaming down my face. This really, REALLY hurt. ¬†And I have a high threshold.

Connie was alarmed asking what happened. ¬†Between gasps of breath through the pain I told her I thought I’d just broken my ankle. ¬†I called out to the house for help but they couldn’t hear me. Thank goodness I had pulled out the phone. ¬†Connie made the calls and texts to my husband to locate me out back. By the time he made it out to me I’d discovered it was a piece of locust tree branch, with two inch thorns, that had pierced my left foot. I removed it and attempted to put my right ankle into a position it could tolerate.

Not. A. Good. Idea.  But still it had to be done. As did the removal of the shoe. From the rate of the swelling it was either that or have it cut off later.

Richard, bless this man, quickly realized I couldn’t bear any weight in any way and that it was too far to carry me home. He retrieved the smaller yard tractor and an attached cart, lined carefully with a moving blanket to try to give me some comfort. ¬†After several ¬†agonizing tries he was able to get me seated in the cart, and as he drove to the house I took a good critical look at the sum of all circumstances involved and gave him new directions. Emergency room. Now.

I hate seeing a doctor for anything. The fact I was willing to go without any argument or coercion of any kind on his part elicited an immediate response. Once there, and whisked back quickly to a large exam room, he came to the realization it was bad with a capital B when I didn’t refuse painkillers. That high tolerance I have for pain is mirrored by a low tolerance for drugs, especially anything narcotic. I get very….interesting…on even low doses. ¬†I may be conscious but I have no recollection of events. ¬†I avoid it whenever possible and have a great relationship with things like Tylenol and Aleve. ¬†They work and there’s no pesky what day is it? after-effects.

Unfortunately for me while the pharmacy was debating what I could tolerate without going for a three day trip to La La Land, ¬†Dr. Brisk Bedsidemanner, MD, was confirming his initial diagnosis (and the immediate affirmation of every nurse I’d seen so far) of a broken ankle. It needed splinting, he said, and he got right down to business with the help of a nearby nurse who he instructed to cup my heel and pull my toes to straighten the break while he applied an OrthoGlass splint and wrappings. ¬†The problem? This was BEFORE the nice young lady with the syringes came back. ¬† “Oh you started without me!” she exclaimed watching me grip the sheets with clenched fists while buckets of tears poured down my face. ¬†To her credit, Nurse Lenda Hand got about as pale as me just assisting and kept muttering soft placating tones in my ear meant to get me through it. ¬†I’ll take that drink now please, and make it a double.

Yet here still, never once taking a hand away from a comforting touch, was my Marine. ¬†Richard stayed for the entire process. ¬†He didn’t leave my side at all except for being shoo’ed away for the mobile xray. Then BOOM, ¬†the moment they finished, rear end planted firmly in the seat alongside me, making sure I didn’t go through any of it alone. ¬†This man is my rock in more ways than I can enumerate.

Most of the rest of the er visit is kind of fuzzy around the edges. The small dose of dilaudid and phenergan I’d received had me feeling pretty pleasant by then. ¬†What wasn’t ok was when it wore off, and being a weekend evening by the time I was discharged, no pharmacies were open. Amazingly, Walmart’s was the next day, which just happened to be on Easter Sunday. Say what you will about the big box megastore evil corporation, I would have gladly kissed their entire board of directors for that precious half pill I took as soon as my husband returned.

It takes a really special kind of graceful to trip over your own two feet in your own backyard and wind up in this hot mess. ¬†I ended up with a slightly different diagnosis on the specifics of the break during my follow up appointment with an orthopedic surgeon, who seemed almost disappointed he couldn’t slice ‘n’ dice with his expensive tinkertoys and put things back together again. ¬†He advised about 8 weeks in cast, with a check up in two to be sure it was healing properly and didn’t need “intervention” (that’s a fancy specialist’s word for “break it all over again and start fresh”), and if all went to plan, a ‘boot’ after that for a few weeks. ¬†Seems his take on it was that it was worse than originally thought, but not bad enough for surgery. ¬†So the good news was, no new scars, the bad news was a longer healing time than I had originally been counseled. ¬†Sheesh for all this I could have at least had a good backstory! ¬†Nope, just pathetic, clutzy me.

Ever broken an ankle? No? DON’T. I can’t begin to tell you just how much it tops my list of Things That Suck. ¬†I can’t do much of anything. ¬†And I’m always doing something. My friends tell me just reading about my day to day life wears them out. Now scooting up my stairs for bed every night on my buttski is enough to tire me. ¬† ¬†My daughter has been a huge help and of course, my husband has taken on a lot more. ¬†I foresee a few weeks of laundry constantly being a load or two behind, tons of spaghetti dinners made by my teenager and my woodwork not having that warm gleam that only weekly lemon oil and elbow grease can bring out. ¬†I’ll get over it. If I keep telling myself that, sooner or later I’ll believe it.

It did end up in tears and fiberglass, just like Richard says. ¬†And an important lesson from the universe to SLOW DOWN and stop trying to do everything. I’m not superwoman and I got a very painful reminder of that fact. ¬† Still, I have to do something so I’ve begun a genealogy project. ¬†It’s going well and I’m learning a great deal about where I really come from (hint, its not Krypton). ¬† But me being, well, ME, I’m also plotting ways to get my garden planted without tasking it out to the rest of the family or friends. ¬†I’ll think of a way. Hopefully the universe doesn’t break the other one on me for trying!

 

 

 

 

When I Am Old And Gray

In the animal world, responsible breeding and hands-on rescue activities are not mutually exclusive. ¬†I, like many other purebred enthusiasts, dedicate time, effort, energy and money to helping dogs in need that I didn’t produce. Blood, sweat and tears go into it all with almost equal seriousness.

Almost.

The exception to the rule is senior dogs. I have a special, soft place in my heart for them. I’ve taken in pregnant females, newborn litters, dogs with physical and mental impairments, and given my heart to all of them. Nursed them back to health, worked them through behavioral problems, made the hardest call of all for those beyond assistance and made sure that they didn’t pass alone. There were times when that was the only thing I could do for some. ¬† But nothing strikes me so deeply as the abandonment of a dog who has done nothing worse than become old.

When we bring a dog into our lives, we have voluntarily entered into a social contract with this animal. We provide daily care necessary to a comfortable life, and they provide companionship, guard hearth and home, and a variety of other tasks.  They serve a need for us; we are thereby are obligated to furnish food, shelter, veterinary care when they become ill.

When a person breaks that contract, it is the most vile betrayal possible.  A dog who has devoted a lifetime to sleeping near doorways to protect the dreaming occupants, who has played endless games of fetch with the family children, who has tirelessly herded livestock and defended flocks against predators, is suddenly, inexplicably, deserted.  There can be no higher act of unfaithfulness.

These dogs have earned a warm, cozy place to enjoy their retirement. They have performed their obligations- how can any owner refuse to perform their end of the deal? Sadly, this does occur. And when it does, in my own breed and many others, dedicated volunteers network together to bring these dogs to a place of peace and rest, a small repayment for all that they have done for the people in their lives who could not keep their promises.

My family has taken in these sweet seniors through the Akita SOS program. ¬†Some have been with us just a few short weeks. We are happy that we could make their last days as pleasant as possible. Others have stayed months, and our current “permanent foster”, dear Betsy, will be with us two years this March.¬†My current senior is going through harder days now. ¬†She hasn’t given me the “thousand yard stare” yet, hasn’t let me know that she needs help to pass peacefully with the assistance of our trusted veterinary partner. ¬†I can see that day looming on the horizon, however for now, she is content to curl on a wide pillow in a warm place, and let me come to her to stroke her face.¬†When she decides to travel to the Bridge, it will be in comfort, and in loving arms. ¬†She’ll share a place of honor with the other dogs I have loved, laid to rest with them as a cherished member of our clan, and not ¬†a useless cast off. ¬†Never a cast off. I can’t control what others shamelessly do, but I can take an active part in making it right. ¬†And once our hearts have a chance to heal a while, my husband and daughter and I will welcome another into our home for as long as they choose to be with us.betsy 2

Please- look at the dog beside you. ¬†Understand that there will come a day when the ears cannot hear you call, when the eyes cannot see your face so clearly, when age related conditions cause them to rise more slowly when they come to greet you. ¬†Though every step may cause them hardship, they still only want to be by your side. Do not deny them their due. They have done their part. Don’t let them down. I will always have place in my heart and home for an old gray muzzle, but I shouldn’t have to. That’s your job. You signed the contract. Honor it. ¬†One day you too will be old; who will care for you then?

 

Confessions of a Crazy Cat Lady

If you ask me how it happened, I’d tell you I didn’t know. ¬†If you asked Richard, he’d say in a lightly mocking tone “It’s just a piece of turkey and she looks so huuuunnnggggrrrrryyyyyy”. If you asked Bri she’d chime in with “you’re a sucker for animals!”.

I’ve always been a dog person. People say I speak dog. ¬†Fluent in canis familiaris. Dogs are drawn to me, me to them and I’m able to work with some no one else can. ¬†Its just been that way forever, And while I didn’t dislike cats, I didn’t go out of my way to seek them out either.

Until Pandora. So named because I just had to open that box, didn’t I?

It was our first year in Virginia and we lived in a rural area near Richmond. ¬†Richard’s parents live out on the eastern shore and we’d gone to visit for Thanksgiving. In typical mom fashion, we were sent home with ziplock containers full of roasted yams and mashed potatoes and green bean casserole. And turkey. You can’t forget the turkey. ¬†It began snowing in Virginia Beach, and by the time we passed Norfolk it was looking like a real storm. ¬†And hour later into the drive back there was already two inches on the ground and more coming down hard.

When we finally got home, at least 8 inches blanketed the ground. ¬†Our home, set back into the tree line, often saw woodland visitors make up close and personal appearances. ¬† Raccoons who always seemed to know when I was frying chicken were frequent fliers on our long wide porch. Deer grazed in the yard. And feral cats stopped by to see what was for lunch. ¬†Two in particular were around most- a glossy black tom we referred to as “Leroy” (Bri was big into Disney’s “Leroy & Stitch” at the time) ¬† and a stunning tortoise shell calico. ¬†Trudging through the snow to our door we could tell they’d all been around that evening. The calico still was.

Curled on our porch out of the worst of the weather she seemed like she was waiting. ¬† We made multiple trips to get everything into the house and she was ¬†there, watching, blinking, in what my buddy Max would call “standard meatloaf position” for warmth. ¬†We kept looking out and she was still there. ¬†We determined she looked hungry but since we didn’t own a cat, we had no cat food.

We had turkey though. ¬† ¬†And so I ventured out to the porch, moist meaty offering in hand, and made a new friend. ¬† The walked to the door after being fed and gently pawed it. We allowed her inside. She walked calmly around, settled in for a nap for a bit on the couch, walked about some more meeting the dogs then quietly padded back to the door, giving a soft “mew”, until we let her out again.

This became routine and she was christened Pandora. It would have stayed this way too until we realized she was getting rather round about the middle. ¬†We had assumed the notched ear was a sign she’d been through the local TNR program- a program we participated in, too. ¬†We were wrong. When it become apparent that this friendly feral was going to soon be an unwed mother, we gave her a space in the kitchen to stay warm and safe from predators. ¬†She delivered five adorable balls of cuteness in late February, though she chose a dim corner or Bri’s room under her desk to do it. ¬† We kept cat and kits indoors for a while for their protection, then Richard built a kitty enclosure outdoors where nothing could get to them. ¬†Our sweet Brooklyn loved them and never missed an opportunity to swipe a baby or two to snuggle and love on until momma cat threw a real live hissy fit demanding their return. Eventually, the kits- all girls- were spayed and mom too, with all ears properly clipped under sedation to mark them as altered. ¬†Much friendlier now, and used to daily human interaction, we found homes for momma (happily enjoying the good life with my mother and father in law on the shore!) and three of the kits. ¬† Penny and Whiskers (aka Whiskey) stayed on. ¬†We tried without success to ever trap Leroy for a snip, but we kept another generation of girls from producing more cats than the local colony could handle. ¬†On the day we relocated to the New River Valley, Leroy glared at us from the driveway, long thick tail sweeping from side to side, eyes narrowing in his scarred face. He never liked us much but enjoyed the food. ¬†This reinforced my belief that cats were not the greatest. But Richard and Bri were in love with the two kittens in their laps. What could I do?whiskey romeo

Skipping ahead a bit, Bri comes homes in tears one afternoon from school. Seems her teacher had found a stray cat, quite friendly, declawed, and couldn’t keep her. She’d taken her to the vet for a check up and shots but since her apartment didn’t permit pets, the cat couldn’t stay and had to be gone by the end of the week. She ever so thoughtfully turned to her impressionable group of middle schoolers and asked them to ask their parents if they could have a cat. ¬† Miss Manipulative, the teacher, had spoken of a sad, tragic place called The Pound, where animals go in and never come out. ¬† This instigated a long, serious talk with my daughter about the responsibilities of pet ownership, and in the end, my little girl’s sense of compassion won the day and Katniss came to stay with us too. ¬† Penny and Whiskey were unimpressed. ¬†I had the first twinges of concern that I was leaning towards becoming a CCL.

A visit to the vet with a sick puppy brought Salem into our lives. As I sat there and listened to this idiotic wretch go on and on about all the reasons she just couldn’t keep her cat after ten years- TEN YEARS- of ownership and he had to go RIGHT NOW and she couldn’t even wait another day for a shelter to open…and being a volunteer with my Akita breed’s Save Our Seniors and knowing first hand the dismal rates of adoption for old pets- I stepped up and said four words in a chilling tone meant to brook no disobedience. Give. Me. The. Cat. ¬† Long story short (I’ll share his tale on another blog), Salem become cat #4. ¬†I said we were done. I lied.

A kennel club meeting one evening in the park and…yeah you know where this is going. Soft ,warm, ¬†no ¬†more than 6 weeks old kitten tucked into my jacket and headed home. The others left with her found homes with my fellow club members. We must all suffer from the same form of Suckeritis. ¬†Echo joined our crew and with a grand total of five, I resigned myself to the title. I’d become a cat lady. ¬†Adding crazy to the front is an honorific earned once you get past four; and just kind of comes with the territory.

As I type, Salem ¬†has crawled across the furniture and deposited himself on the narrow space between my waist and thighs not already occupied by my HP laptop. ¬† He’s purring like mad- he’s a real talker- and either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that I’m trying to accomplish something here. I suspect the latter.

Life had become a series of picking things up that the cats toss off shelves and dressers, crockpots full of fish or rabbit to cook down into easy to digest meals for the senior, morning removal of a living hat on my pillow and playing guessing games as to which is responsible when I hear a crash in the other room. It’s also full of the contented sounds of a happy feline who knows he is safe and sound in my arms, laughing along to the mid evening marathon, loads of “awwwww” moments when the dogs and cats join in social grooming sessions, and realizing the thing that used to be up a tree or down a hole in my yard now lying motionless on my porch was a treasured gift from an independent creature who wanted me to know they like having me in their life, too.

 

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, RANGE DAY!

I love range days! ¬†What’s that you ask? You must be new here….
Range day is when we pack up the guns and let freedom ring in a safe and sane environment. It’s where we get to try out something new, something cool, something unusual, or just hone our skills in marksmanship for personal defense and sustenance hunting.

Did I mention I LOVE RANGE DAYS????

I’m lucky to have enough property with a more than sufficient backstop to shoot anything from a bb gun to a cannon (and yes- I have friends with a cannon!). ¬†There isn’t much that a little pew-pew therapy can’t fix and sometimes getting out and plinking with just a little .22LR is incredibly therapeutic.

Group days are best. It’s like an FFL dealer sprinkled fairy dust all over the benches, magically conjuring every item capable of hurling a brass encased projectile downrange at upwards of 3500 fps. ¬†You collect an assortment of your best 2A supporting friends and they all bring a few guns and a couple boxes of ammunition. ¬†This gives you an opportunity to try-before-you-buy, and to gain proficiency with weapons you don’t already own. In a defensive situation, its possible you may not have the gun of your choice at hand; its helpful to have a basic working knowledge and level of comfort with as many as you can.

I grew up in a hunting household, populated primarily by shotguns and rifles. ¬†That’s my comfort zone, and there isn’t much more that I enjoy than picking up the biggest baddest long tall Sally in my ownership and turning skeet clays (which make a highly visible target at several hundred yards placed on the backstop) into a fine orange mist. ¬†Dad always stressed perfection; there was no purpose in shooting poorly and wounding an animal. If you were going to hunt and put food on the table, do it as expertly as possible.

Having the chance to learn the individual characteristics of a slew of new pistols and revolvers in a single afternoon is a delight.  But when someone breaks out an item that immediately causes a syndrome I call Range Whiplash, everything changes.

Public outdoor ranges are a series of small tables, often with a fixed or swivel seat built in called “benches”. ¬† They are each several feet apart to give shooters space to comfortably move and eject spent cartridges without hitting the guy next to you (usually). ¬†Even at public ranges, most shooters are quite friendly and open with one another, forging new networks of People With Guns to maintain contact with. You get popular fast when you bring something unusual. ¬†When you haul out the larger calibers that make a very satisfying BOOM or flip the happy switch and light up a Little Betty Bad@$$ on full automatic fire, every head on the line immediately turns in your direction.

Such was the case one fine afternoon shooting with a known group of friends. I was told one of the crew had, after a nearly year long process, finally obtained his HK51, a weapon in a restricted class of firearms that- contrary to anti gun ownership spokefolks’ claims- is not something you can jog down to the Quickie Mart to purchase with a large slurpee. There’s a fairly long and expensive process to go through to get one. ¬†He was like a kid on Christmas.

It’s chambered in .308. , for those of you unfamiliar with ammunition, that’s each round about the size of the average index finger. ¬†It’s also belt fed, meaning the ammo is connected like paperdolls, one to another, and routed through a ‘bullet box’ attached to the gun.

He takes it out, sets it up, opens with a test shot. Boom!   Repeats a few times. Boom! Boom! Boom!  He flips the selector to three round burst.  BoomBoomBoom!  Repeats a few times. He has now acquired the interest of the closest shooters to us. He smiles, dials it to full auto and pulls the trigger.

BoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoom!

And just like a herd of prairie dogs, SWOOSH went the line of heads in our general direction, and seconds later we’d amassed a crowd that simply wanted to be in the presence of the awesome sound of Freedom.

He handed it off to a few of our group. ¬†Then, with a grin, asked if I’d like to try it out. ¬† I swear I heard the angels singing.

Despite watching him first run through the actions of this weapon himself and observing two other shooters having their turn, I still asked for, and received, a walk through on the specifics of firing and tips on how to hold it correctly; you need to lean into the butt stock (these are typically fired from stationary stands) to keep the force of the fire from pushing the barrel up.  It takes some effort.

………..did I mention I FREAKING LOVE RANGE DAYS????……………..

It was amazing.

 

I’ve had some pretty fun days on my own acreage too. Friends who have never fired a gun before often come here for a little first timer assistance in a non judgmental place. They can get the basics down and get to first base with someone they trust. ¬†The Romeo range has some very simple rules same as all ranges; ear and eye protection will be used, guns will be pointed down range at all times, no one past the firing line when the range is ‘hot’, and enjoy your time here. I laughed for an hour after one guest carefully set up some items his ex wife had forgotten to take when she decided she could do better (she was wrong, he’s a peach!). She’d been packing and hiding things away, shipping them off on a piece by piece basis to deceive him, and these two boxes were overlooked. He got to try an AR style rifle that day, and proudly proclaimed after clearing his targets, “Dishes are DONE man!” ¬†Much less expensive than months of counseling. ¬†Once in a while we are even joined by the local LEOs. ¬†There isn’t a lot that beats seeing a smile spread on the face of a friend who’s never done this before finding their way past the mystery of Big Scary Guns and learning the ropes.


What does? Watching my daughter listen with rapt attention as Richard explains how to shoulder a rifle, how to line up her sights, and talking her through pulling the trigger to take the shot.  She beat him that day, too. Kid is a natural.

Looking for someone to shoot with? Let me know…always nice to make new range friends. ¬†Just show me yours and I’ll show you mine! ūüėČ

 

 

 

 

The Right Man For The Job

My husband, Spousal Unit 2.0, is one hell of an upgrade. ¬†Richard is a quietly driven person with some strong values and an outstanding work ethic. ¬†He is also very nearly painfully modest and is going to blush seven shades of magenta knowing he’s my writing subject today.

richard at wedding
the guy worth waiting for

Get over it babe.

I was a few years out of The Great and Terrible Marriage. ¬†Every couple has their problems. ¬† You iron them out when you can. ¬†But when the wrinkle in question is discovering your spouse has very successfully hidden a serious mental illness from the public for a very long time- and when you make this discovery in the middle of a psychotic break where YOU are the Enemy and must be destroyed by any means possible, there isn’t ¬†much you can do. I tried. ¬†I grew up Catholic and the guilt instilled from a very young age is a powerful force; you made a vow, you keep it, no matter what. Even when your partner doesn’t want help. Even when he stops taking his medications. Even when he has repetitive crises and does some extremely frightening things. ¬†And so many people tell you, “Leave. Just go” but how can they possibly understand? You have a child together. You made a commitment for better or worse. You should make this better.

You can’t. And when The Big Snap comes and you almost lose your life during it, as scary as striking out on your own and accepting the stigma from friends and family who tell you its your duty to stay can be, it has to be done.

I spent a considerable amount of time moving frequently to avoid him. ¬†Jumping at bumps in the night. ¬†It took me a lot of effort to realize I deserved to be safe. And happy. ¬†Don’t ask me to explain why that’s a difficult concept to understand. ¬† I’m still not sure I get the hows and whys myself.

Fast forward to making myself available again. ¬† One of the hardest things about getting “back out there” was allowing anyone to get close, emotionally or physically. ¬†I would get scared. I’d bolt. ¬†I fell back on that lame excuse “it’s not you it’s me….” It was easier than saying I couldn’t handle someone leaning in to kiss me without being scared to death of suffocating.

Richard was different right from the start. ¬†I felt a level of comfort around him I hadn’t in more years than I wanted to count. ¬† First dates were public events. Out in the open, where I felt safer. ¬†And though most guys are pushing for intimacy sooner than I knew I’d be ready, he took 45 minutes to even kiss me goodnight. ¬†For once, it wasn’t scary.

When I finally let him come to my home for dinner (we had plans to go out but decided to stay in) he fell asleep against me watching a movie. I didn’t have the heart to wake him. I laid there all night, just watching him breathe with an arm wrapped around me. I had to eventually get him up so he could travel the hour plus home and get ready for work. ¬†He was a little embarrassed and texted me later in the day to apologize. Like I said- different from minute one.

We continued seeing one another, and the relationship blossomed at a rate that sometimes I wasn’t sure I could handle. ¬†It was time to introduce him to my daughter. When you’re a parent, the dating issue is much larger than just you. ¬† Richard took everything in stride. ¬† ¬†As he said once in a discussion on the dating scene, “I only date single moms- the married ones are too complicated”. ¬†Yeah, ten thousand comedians outta work and I get this one ūüôā …..

Bri wasn’t sure what to think at first. ¬†An expected reaction. Richard brought Keisha, his senior mixed breed dog (we called her a Sibaskan Huskamute if anyone asked). ¬†That helped break the ice between them; Bri loves all animals. He talked to her like a real person. He was patient with some of the challenges a child like her presented. ¬†Eventually it was clear to us both that this was going to be permanent and Bri accepted this- but until the day we married, she wouldn’t call him Dad. ¬†Since then, she’s never called him anything else.

He didn’t have to take on the title. And yet he did, with all the accompanying duties and responsibilities that followed. ¬†He put her up in front of him on the bike to show her what it was like. He carefully chose which magnets to use on the fridge to display her art. He held a funeral- complete with grave digging services and a eulogy – for a stuffed animal. You read that right. Bri is very rule bound and set in schedules, order and routines. ¬†Every stuffed animal she had not only had a name, but a backstory. And one day, shortly after the not unexpected but still heavily mourned loss of Keisha, she walked into the room, quietly crying, and announced a terrible thing had happened- Gloria was dead. Gloria, a stuffed hippopotamus, apparently contracted a fast acting and fatal disease and was lost before Mom could perform any stuffie saving first aid.

Richard didn’t crack a smile. He didn’t wave her off. He didn’t say this was stupid. ¬†He hugged her and when she expressed a desire to bury her friend, he retrieved a shovel and got to work. ¬†Complete with a solemn prayer for her journey to wherever she was going.

After that he continued to do the day to day things that the job required. He helped with homework. He kissed skinned knees. ¬†He taught her to ride a bike and took her for trips around the neighborhood. They carved pumpkins at Halloween and made salt dough ornaments at Christmas and conspired together on my birthday to get me a gift in secret. ¬†They sneak out for fast food when I’m not around and make sure to get rid of the cardboard ice cream containers before I get home to hide the evidence. Now that she is a teenager and she and I have our inevitable head butting sessions with one another, he’s the referee and translates mom-speak to teen brain. ¬† ¬†I’m fairly certain it requires the use of a Rosetta Stone.


Any guy can be a friend. A lover. Even a husband. But it takes an incredible man to pick up the mantle of “Daddy” and all it entails. ¬†This is not a position for the weak of spirit or faint of heart, and woe betide the first youngster to show up on our doorstep to ask her out. That’s HIS little girl. ¬† Their bond wasn’t forged in blood but in something deeper. ¬†They chose one another.

He didn’t need to take the job but I am thankful and blessed, every day, that he did and that his qualifications were beyond compare.

The Most Fun You Can Have With Your Clothes On

So here I was-  single mom, self employed, with more weeks on the road than home, a load of four footed beasties about that acted like cranky toddlers in fur coats more often than not, and after spending a couple of years post divorce learning how to allow myself to be happy, I began dating again. And looking to broaden my horizons on life in general.

Getting back into the crazy, upside down world of The Dating Scene (bahm duhm dahhhhh!) is a story bigger than these pages. ¬†The condensed version reads that I had a lot of first and even second or third dates stretching out my wings a little, remembering what it was like to be free. ¬†I was looking for new experiences as much as new faces and gave more attention to those who were offering exciting new things to try. ¬†Film noir. ¬†Vintage cars. Wine collecting and rare Scotch tastings. ¬†Skiing. ¬†Art exhibitions. This was a fine opportunity to meet interesting new people and try things I didn’t know much about before.

Like motorcycles.

my scuffed leather  knight
I’ll take scuffed leathers over ¬† ¬†shining armor any day

I briefly dated ¬†someone really into them. Riding, racing, and track days. ¬†While that association didn’t last very long, my enthusiasm for the sport did. I began making new relationships in the sport bike community, joining forums, going to meets, reading everything I could get my hands on so that once I was ready to throw a leg over, I would truly be prepared. ¬†It also eventually led me to the Guy Worth Waiting For. ¬† You’ll read about him in another post (lots of them).

Buying my first bike was one part elation, one part trepidation, and a whole lot of OHMYGAWDWHATAMIDOING? ¬†Most “newbs” start on the training wheels of all sport bikes, the Ninja “two fiddy”. ¬† The problem I had with this was my height; these aren’t ideal bikes for a six foot tall beginner. ¬†I don’t dance for a reason- I’m not the most graceful creature out there. The extreme forward position of most modern sport bikes wasn’t something I was ready for right off the bat.¬†I eventually settled on a solid, mechanically sound if a little rough around the fairings Suzuki Katana 600. The more upright position helped me transition from 4 to 2 wheels much faster.

A few parking lot practice sessions and increasingly longer short rides about town later, I found myself answering posts for “anyone up for a Berryessa run?” ¬†and “group ride to Preston Castle, who’s in?”. ¬† Invariably these rides included stops to see scenic vistas, historic places, and more coffee shops than you can imagine. ¬†They also included laughter, hugs, tips and tricks and incredible bonds forged over miles of pavement.

preston castle ride
Preston Castle ride with SCR- yes we saw ghosts!

I finally took the plunge and signed up for my first track day. ¬†Track days are events where the host company rents an entire race track for the day or weekend. breaks riders into groups based on their proficiency, and provides classroom and on track instruction on how to be a better rider. “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast” is a phrase often heard at track days. It isn’t about opening the throttle as wide as you for as long as you can, its about perfecting your techniques and having a blast doing it.

That short lived dating scenario mentioned before? Something he said stuck with me; he was speaking of track days and called it “the most fun you can have with your clothes on”. ¬†He never spoke truer words to me.

From my first session, I couldn’t wait for more. ¬†Everyone is their own worst critic and I was no exception, constantly worried that I wasn’t doing enough right out there. My instructors were there for me every step of the way, assuring me that everyone starts somewhere, swooping in and tapping their tail to tell me to follow them to find the right line, giving me encouragement to go ahead and move a little faster, ¬†to get my ass off the seat more and let physics work for me not against me. ¬†One of the best compliments I received was when one instructor was riding on her own at a much faster pace and made a very close pass in a very tight turn. ¬†After the session, she came to our set up in the paddock, gave me a hug and apologized for “stuffing” me into a corner. ¬†“I came up on you realized what I was doing and said OH S&%$, and then I realized, oh, its Danni, it’s ok!”. ¬† ¬†She went to explain that by her observations of my riding that I didn’t choke under pressure or seize up in a situation, I just stuck to my line and stayed focused. I was thrilled at this praise! A month later at another day on a different track, my instructor worked with me on several laps and as the session was nearing a close, pulled into the pits, jumped off her bike and gave me a huge hug telling me “That was AWESOME! You’ve come so far!”


I couldn’t have been happier if I’d won the lottery.

You not only wear all your clothes to have this incredible of a time, you wear extra. Specific safety gear is required- one piece leathers or two piece that zip together, a full helmet with a set safety rating, gloves, proper boots, spine protector…. ¬†Of course, you end up getting more and better gear the more you ride; my street boots and my track boots were two completely different things!

You get some odd looks when people say “What do you do for fun?” and you answer “Well first, I put on a full leather suit….” But it’s worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can we talk?

You’re the guy or girl who says there’s no reason for anyone but a cop to have a gun. ¬†You want to ban firearms, or at least make them so difficult for anyone to lawfully obtain as to be impossible, because you say “something has to be done”.¬†You’re upset because certain establishments allow firearms to be carried on the premises in accordance with existing laws. You claim this is somehow inherently unsafe, even though the persons doing so are acting in a law abiding manner and have harmed no one. The mere presence of a weapon somehow makes the situation “dangerous”. ¬†You can’t stand me, and you don’t even know me.

I’m the shopper with the full cart of groceries who smiled and offered to let you jump the line with three items so you could get home to your family faster. I’m the PTA member you called to pick your kids up at school when you got stuck in traffic. I’m the neighbor who brought a couple extra dozen cupcakes to the bake sale at your church. I’m the spectator you high-fived at the soccer game when your youngest scored his first goal. ¬†I’m the lady who held a door open for you when your hands were full of packages. I’m the fellow mother who complimented your infant’s beautiful eyes. I sat down next to you on the bus. I shared an elevator with you this morning. I shopped at your yard sale. I wave when I see you on the same jogging path. ¬†I bought candy bars from your kids when they went door to door for a school fund raiser even though my hips sure didn’t need the calories.

I’m not alone. Across America, every day, there are hundreds of thousands of people just like me. Your neighbors. You see us every day and never blinked an eye. ¬†And every single time you saw me- saw us- I was carrying a firearm. ¬†You walk right past us every day and don’t even know it.

I don’t carry a firearm to feel tough or be mean. I’m not “compensating for something” and find the suggestion distasteful. ¬†I personally hope that I never, ever have to use it on another human being. But the truth is that I value my life and the life of my family, and the lives of my friends (people like YOU) more than the life of the person who seeks to take mine away from me. Please don’t try to tell me that the chances of being in a dangerous situation are so slim as to be nonexistent; I have been in a life-or-death situation and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I personally know that when the police leave you with nothing more than a piece¬†of paper it isn’t going to stop the guy determined to kill you from coming back. ¬† I personally know that when he is in the house, breaking in the door you are hiding behind while the dispatcher assures you that help is coming that the Good Guys With A Gun are too far away. In my own case, if it hadn’t been for the heroic actions of a very brave dog, they would have been there just in time to string up crime tape and write me up as another domestic violence homicide. I was lucky. ¬†Sadly, so many others are not. I am a survivor, and they are statistics.

mom and bri beach
a mother’s first duty is to love and protect her child

I practice for accuracy and comfort of movement. I researched models of weapons and spent time with several to learn what I¬†would¬†feel best having by my side every day. I don’t leave home without it. I got educated and informed and responsible for my own safety, because I know from experience that I cannot rely on someone else to save me.

You have the right to disarm yourself if it makes you feel better but I cannot and will not allow you to do the same to me. Knee jerk reactions to senseless tragedies executed by people with no regard for the value of human life, whether by their mental status or other factors, do nothing to protect me. Or you. There is no background check for evil, and you can’t save your flock from hungry wolves by firing the sheepdogs and posting “no biting!” signs.

Celebrities and politicians vehemently calling for ever more restrictive regulations have the resources to hire professional bodyguards,-often armed- for their personal safety. ¬†They haven’t dismissed them before making their tear filled pleas. They didn’t swap their guns for slingshots and whistles. ¬†Why should I or my family or others in my station in life be considered expendable for their cause? Why should we not have the same protection available, especially when we are wiling to learn and provide it for ourselves?

Individuals need to remain in charge of their own safety, to receive appropriate training in the use and handling of firearms and to confidently assert their birthright to self defense in the best means possible. We need to teach our children that these rights are ours, and that they comes with responsibilities. We need to instill in them empathy, compassion, and courtesy to others so that we can confront and defeat the underlying causes of the wrongs that plague our society.

range targets
If you’d like some range time, let me know, I’ll be happy to help you, or to put you in touch with a qualified instructor who can.