Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hot Tub Summits

   One of the indispensable luxuries we afford ourselves in life is pretty regular time in the hot tub.  At our old house in the City we had one but tended to slip in at night, under cover of darkness, happy not to be seen and also not to be seeing much.  Now, the view is so pretty and our habits are so different that we prefer to soak early in the morning.  Sometimes so early the sun finds us already warm and relaxed at her ascent.

   We crawl out of bed, groaning but hopefully smiling, trading kisses with tightly sealed (unbrushed) mouths.  I flip down the sheets and toss away the bed pillows, letting the bed rest and air out before it gets made again later in the morning. 

   Our short walk down the upstairs west side hallway offers a view of the pond.  Or puddle, depending on the severity of drought conditions at the time.  This is great way to gauge the morning's weather.  Choppy water means wind; glassy water means a calm day.  The presence of egrets or blue herons means, well, just that the birds are hungry and the fish are at the surface, I suppose.  This is all extremely cryptic and requires a trained eye to interpret.

   Once in a while we see a deer sipping at the edge of the water, but this happens more often in the evenings.

   Assuming our still sleepy legs carry us safely down the stairs, we greet Pacino together.  Then Handsome heads outside to open up the hot tub while I pour, sweeten, and make perfectly creamy two mugs of coffee.  Drinking a hot, filling beverage while soaking in an equally hot body of water is sublime.  It liquefies your bones.

   The walk from the kitchen door to the hot tub is about thirty-eight paces.  And if the chickens have been released by now, it is a journey fraught with ankle pecking and hungry clucks and flutters.  Sometimes I drizzle a little coffee over chunks of bread for them, but usually I focus on reaching my handsome guy, knowing the chickens can get my attention the rest of the day.

   We immerse ourselves in not only hot, bromine-scented froth but also affection and loose thinking.  This is weird time of day for someone like me who dreams heavily.  That gray, blurry time that must be spent diving phantoms from reality, night from day.  Working on this mental task while watching the sun spread herself over the fence line is wonderful. 
   Handsome sits across from me, gradually waking up himself.  He doesn't dream and so doesn't need this sifting time, but he does think.  He thinks as hard as he works, which is too hard. 

   Steam tendrils rise and fall with the breeze, dragonflies zoom past, and roosters crow at horses.  The buffalo issues a few of his deep, rib-rattling snorts.  We look around the farm and can see every paddock, almost every animal from this vantage.  We take an informal roll call and start discussing the day before us. 

   Five days out of seven Handsome is soon off to the office, of course, and sometimes he feels like telling me what he's facing there; other times we focus more on the farm and all the many lists here, both short term and long term.  He asks me, "What's on your plate today, Sally?"  Sally is not my name, so I regard this as permission to answer in any wacky fashion I see fit.  "Painting elephants" is a fave response.  But since I am still in that gray dreamy time, the feasibility of finding elephants that need a good touch up cannot help but present itself to my Brainstorm Help Desk.  The idea always gets shot down.

   The comfortable looseness we enjoy at this summit of sorts allows us to touch on a dozen or more topics in a relatively short stay.  We are still deeply connected to each other as in bed, eliminating the need for much of the perfunctory conversation that litters the rest of life.  We can hit the headlines in our hearts and extract from each other genuine reactions and unedited, undiluted meanings.  Funny that it takes water to be undiluted.

   We tend to stay longer than we can afford to, eventually finding it more difficult to drag each other out of the water than it is to drag ourselves out of bed.  But once we're towelled off the day has begun!  Our thoughts are crystallized, and our bodies are up to the tasks we have chosen.  I love the gift of starting my day with this man, with our ritual, with love. 

   The summit serves us well.
  
  

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Couch Surfers (installment tres)

See the beginning of our couchsurfing story here.
And part deux here.

   Note:  For the sake of anonymity we shall for now dub our couchsurfers Romeo and Juliet. 
At least until I get an all clear smoke signal to reveal their real names, faces,
and social security numbers to the world. 
 
********************
   You would think we were awaiting two people who were sure to change our lives forever.  (Maybe we were...)  Handsome and I are accustomed to house guests, of course, as well as meeting new people and travelling ourselves, but this was a whole new ball game.  A strange melange of the three experiences.  Anticipation was thick in the downstairs of our house.

   I tried to be cool and calm, like him, but the harder I tried this the squeakier my voice sounded and the more I walked around stiffly on my tip toes.  Ridiculous behavior for a woman my age.  Which is 25.

   Everything was as in order as it could be and the head lights now shone still, directly in our front window.  A passenger door was opening.  Together we stepped out onto the front sidewalk to welcome our guests, and I knew immediately we were gonna like them!  They hummed with that good vibe, even from eight feet away.

   We all four traded introductions and warm, brisk handshakes.  I think I may have, without warning, attack-hugged them.  It happens.  My policy is hug first, ask questions and make apologies later.  Luckily, Romeo and Juliet both laughed at this and followed us inside the house with big smiles on their travel-weary faces.

   I love big, genuine smiles. On anyone.  This is one of my favorite things in the world, and that night I was gifted with two right off the bat.  All remaining traces of anxiety dissolved in that moment. 

   We gave them a super brief tour of the downstairs rooms, assuming that after hours of driving they would need the water closet.  Pacino, our macaw, was overwhelmed by the late night appearance of new faces and immediately flooded the room with jungle calls, big, juicy greetings like HELLOOOOO, and exaggerated full body bouncing.  Inwardly I quizzed myself, "You did warn them about this, right?  Surely you told these good people that they would be sharing the downstairs with a noisy, messy, feathered toddler?"

   "Oh this must be Pacino!"  said Juliet.
    Whew.

   Handsome smoothly up shifted unto Host gear, one of the sexiest roles he plays in my opinion.  Yes, I can throw a little shin dig on my own, but it is never as fun as when we do it together.  Hosting, that is.  Ahem.
   Then, in the few minutes it took the three of them to unload suitcases and sort of settle in, I finished detailing the spread of food and drink.  Every light downstairs was on; Cajun music was playing in the background (light and bubbly, festive tunes, uncommon enough to probably not have negative connotations for anyone); and Pacino had more or less composed himself. 
   If Romeo and Juliet had big, genuine smiles a moment ago, their expressions changed to enthusiastic at the mention of food.  We all found seats at the dining room table.  Romeo decided to forgo the use of a fork , placing me in a small, cozy corner of heaven...

   Ladies and gentlemen who cook for friends or family, is there anything as gratifying as watching people consume and really enjoy your food?  Even if it is just from abject starvation, as may have been the case this evening, you know you are meeting a need in that moment, and it is such a good feeling. 
   We all four lingered at the table for well over an hour, refilling plates and glasses, nibbling on dessert, plunging into a sudden acquaintance.  At some point we migrated toward the couches and struck up a spontaneous dance off with Pacino. 

   Can you even imagine how happy this bird was? 

   Although it was a weeknight and we'd been busy all day, my energy surged around 10:30 p.m.  I felt like I could stay up all night talking with this young couple, soaking up our differences and similarities, celebrating that no murders were on the agenda.  I learned volumes about them.  Their origins and current lives, their travels, their plans, the books they read and the movies they watch.  Two fascinating human beings whose paths we may never have otherwise crossed.  We traded plenty of stuff about ourselves, too.  I mentally added a few good sounding titles to my reading list per Juliet's suggestion.

   It was probably close to midnight when the yawns and crackly spine twists became frequent enough to agree it was bedtime.  I showed Juliet a few provisions in their bath room, prepped the coffee maker for an early morning wake up, and attack-hugged everyone once more.  Even Handsome, ignoring the fact that we were about to retire to our bed as a pair. 

  No foot rubs to boast.  But on the bright side, also no knives.  We survived to enjoy a great night's sleep and then our first couchsurfing breakfast...

To be continued...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Couch Surfers (part deux)

Also see the beginning of this story.

   Where we left off I was in a small shopping frenzy, counting down the quarter hours till our out of state guests might arrive.  I had Hostess Butterflies, something that doesn't happened very often these days.  I needed a shower.  Handsome was feverishly wrapping up his day at the office, due home soon. 

Allow me to say right here how fun it is
to share an adventure like this with my best friend! 
xoxoxo 

   What kind of people would they be?  Would they be able to tolerate my food?  Could we find anything to talk about, or would the next fourteen hours be filled with awkward silences bound by polite smiling and bath towel fetching?  If they are murderers, what would their chosen method of killing be? 

   "Pleeeeaaaase not knives.  Please let them be foot-rub serial killers.  And please let them wait till after dinner, cause I am famished."  These were some of my thoughts.  But I wasn't really worried because Handsome was home now.  And he is well versed in the art of Wife Protection.


   I arrived back at the farm with plenty of time to lob my chain store purchases into approximately their correct places, double check our clean sheets supply, and cook dinner.  Which, by the way, did not turn out to be anything classically Oklahoman.  I opted to follow Ina Garten's advice and serve guests simple comfort food that I am confident preparing.  So we had PBJ's and tortilla chips.  Not really, but it crossed my mind.

   I also rinsed off in the shower and doused myself with too much perfume, thinking that would either boost my conversation confidence or choke everyone into necessary silence.

   Our Couch Surfers had some travel delays but nothing problematic. They ended up arriving a couple of hours later than expected.  No biggie.  The extended wait had the wonderful effect of calming my nerves rather than amping me up further. 
   Around 8:30 that evening we spied headlights at the front gate.  I had just a bit ago put trays of food in the oven to rewarm.  So now I brought them out, turned on some cool music, and peed one last time. 

   Do you pee a little extra when you're nervous or excited?  

 

Good Girl Sangria

   Inspired by the images on this post and then by the recipe linked up on this one, last week I used a one dollar garage sale find and a recipe altered for non drinkers to serve my pretend sister some fake sangria.  Convoluted enough yet?

   Unfortunately, there are no decent photos of the finished product to prove that this happened,  but she and I know the truth.  And since I am not a food blogger, that is all that really matters... 

*UPDATE: Adding a slightly blurry photo from a book club event!*


  
   So, in case you're interested, here is the basic formula...

Good Girl Sangria

   Use a gallon sized glass container if you have one, and make sure it fits inside your fridge.  And make sure you have non linty towels to clean up the sticky mess you will find in your fridge if it turns out that your dispenser leaks.  Like mine.

   Also, mix this several hours in advance, even the night before if you can.  We discovered it tastes even better on day two, perhaps needing only fresh bubbly stuff poured in for volume.  The fruitiness  gained in concentration, so I doubt you'd have to worry about diluting the flavor.

3 Tablespoons sugar
Happy splash of Fresca (enough to swish around and dissolve the sugar)
1 orange, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
2 peaches, pitted and cut into wedges
3 plums, pitted and cut into wedges
2 cinnamon sticks (confession:  mine were left over from the holidays and MIGHT have even been decorative ones, not sure how much flavor they actually added)
1 bottle of a good, tangy fruit juice, NOT fruit juice cocktail.  Choose a 100% juice, no sugar added.  This punch will be plenty sweet enough already.  I think I bought cranberry-pomegranate.
Remainder of 2-liter bottle of Fresca.

   Stir it all together, seal it up so no fridge secrets distort the flavor, and enjoy it in a few hours.  Even the kiddos liked it, and it was guiltless, being almost free of refined sugar and LOADED with fresh vitamins.  The next day I had short, handsome guests who were happy to eat some of the marinated fruit!

   Most importantly, it looked good.  Floating fruit, delicate sunset pastels, whispers of carbonation...  Looks are most important in life, right?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Rural Auction Etiquette

   A little like a garage sale, a little like Mexico shopping villages, and yet nothing at all like these things, an auction out in the country is an exercise in both restraint and certainty.

   Restraint  & certainty are not among my strong suits. 

   Sometimes Handsome & I find auctions of just general household stuff...  Other times animal auctions, other times auctions or estate sales of tools, equipment, & farm implements.  Recently we've ventured into events which are dedicated to caged poultry and nothing else.  Each is special in its own way.

   In case you should ever find yourself invited to such a soiree, please pocket the following short list of tips.  These are trade secrets I rather wish someone had shared with me ahead of time.

  • Dress the part.  This is a good time to be a follower and a blender-inner.  Your hairstyle is also important, though for a more functional reason.  Before you leave home consider securing your tangly, untamed hair, at least well enough that you do not need to constantly flip it around.  Ponytail adjustments, in some circles, are taken as bids.  A good option is a baseball cap and sunglasses.  Your hair will stay put better and your eyelessness will help to conceal your expressions.

  • While the bidding is going on, avoid carrying on conversations that are prone to be overly affirmative. 
Imagine yourself and your spouse at an auction.
You are a good, active listener
who is wrapped up in a nice, juicy talk with your beloved. 
Imagine your agree with your spouse a lot during this talk
and so bob your head up and down, maybe even
blinking dramatically here and there, for effect.
But imagine you also don't want to miss any developments at the microphone,
where a nice looking Angus is being auctioned.
Or instead of cattle it could be a chipped
but beautiful piece of Frankoma pottery. 
You have maintained both eye contact with the auctioneer
and ear contact with hubby.
What just happened is you kept the conversation afloat 
but you also gave the appearance of a stealthy bid. 

Only very merciful auction houses will let this slide more than once.
And needless to say the misunderstanding brings
your fascinating conversation to a grinding halt. 

Fewer marital events kill the "open up to me, honey" mood
more quickly than the purchase of an unwanted steer.

  • I have learned the hard way to not bad mouth items for auction whilst circulating through the crowd, no matter how funny you think you are.  Chances are, at these intimate affairs, the sellers are nearby and they have feelings.  Trash and treasure, baby.  Trash and treasure.
  • Don't take your camera.  Do.  Not.  It's true that rural auctions are GREAT photo opportunities, among the world's best really, but they are just not the place for clicking away.  Talk about sticking out like a sore thumb...  And once you're pegged as an outsider, the sharks will circle.  They know how to run up your bids without hardly trying.  They work in a maniacal, silent network that I am just beginning to understand.  Outsider?  Bad.  Outsider with a CAMERA?  Tourist.  You'll go home with treasures, but expensive ones.
  • Beyond just not showing your emotions, also try to resist emotions in general.  Getting attached too quickly or too strongly to any auction item is dangerous.  It can cause you to pay too much or to chase after lesser items if you lose the good stuff.  Even if you are admiring cute little baby ducks that are so dang cute oh my lord they want to come with me pleeeeaaase can we bid on them... take a deep breath and walk away without fawning.  Another auction will be here before you know it.  Chill baby, baby, chill...
  • Pay attention to the posted buyer's premium.  This is the rate YOU pay to the auction house, on top of the price you win while bidding.  Not all auctions have this, but the larger companies probably do and this can add up quickly while you shop.
  • Oh, speaking of money adding up, a biggie:  "Four times the money!"  Exciting.  This means you pay, big shocker, four times the price you bid.  This happens when a set of something is up for bid, for example four tires, but the auctioneer often slips it in kind of casually.  I guess the sharks know when to expect this, but you might imagine the chaos it triggers for a wide eyed, bobble headed, camera wielding tourist.  This also comes in the form of two times the money, three, seven, etc.  Bidder beware.
  
   My hope is for everyone to give rural auctioning a chance.  It is a fantastic way to form and build unusual collections, and it is cheap, interesting entertainment.
   Best of luck in the restraint and certainty departments, though.  The buzz of a crackling microphone and the perfume of dust and mildew are enough to set this tourist off into unbridled purchasing.  May the force be stronger with you.

Funny Reasons to Break Up With Someone

   Just for kicks, a list.  Because in fun conversations lately I have made an accidental collection of stories about why people end romantic relationships.  I use the word romantic pretty generically here, most notably because at least three of the reasons below were offered by junior high students.  I kid you not.  Stop preaching to me about how I too had junior high romances; that was different.  These kids are babies!  I was practically an adult back then.  Right, Mom?  Mom?


  • He smelled too much like soap.
  • She was selfish.  (This one was funny to me because of the ages of the kids involved.  Aren't all kids selfish?)
  • I woke up bored, and I'm pretty sure he has nothing to talk about either.  So I proactively called and broke up so I could get on with my day.
  • I was tired of getting in trouble with my parents over him.  Not worth it.  (Wow, how often does THAT actually happen?)
  • He came to see me at work and it really hurt my feelings.  (Really?)
  • She expected me to let her cows graze on my pasture, no questions asked.
  • She was, like, soooo immature.  And Facebook is nooo place for immaturity.
  • She was a liberal.
  • She was pretty and a Pom girl but I couldn't stand her personality.
  • He couldn't give up meat.
  • I finally got to ride in her Dad's exotic sports car, which is the only reason I liked her in the first place.    (Obviously this poor girl gave the milk away for free.)

   People are funny.  My gorgeous and charming cousin (Hi Jen!) summed it up perfectly:  "If it's not there, it's not there."  Yes, at some point the reason doesn't really matter. 
   Conversely, if it is there, the reasons may still be elusive to the point of making the people in love seem a bit wacky.  There is no accounting for either taste or love.

   What are some reasons you've ended a relationship? 
What crazy Seinfeld-esque stories are you willing to share?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

T.G.I.F.!!!!


What are you doing this weekend?

   If you live in Oklahoma, you are probably making your plans around the weather.  We're expecting more heat, sunshine, and wind.  And heat.

   By my count, we're about a third of the way through Summer 2011 and so far have been having a BLAST...  but there is so much more to come!  I am still researching ways to make the season slow down.  To make life slow down. 

   More farm visitors, more swimming, more fun with friends.  More movie nights and book club dinners, more travels (including our tenth anniversary trip), more time with nieces and nephews. 

   More steak.

   A couple of weeks ago this guy drives up to our gate in a white freezer truck peddling steak.  At first I shooed him away because I was home alone and way too tired from my long day to handle a shotgun.  But I told him to come back when my husband is around. 

   DUH.  In case you're unsure, this is NEVER what you say.  Never in a million years.  But I did and I am still alive to tell you not to do it, so whew.

   Since he was a legitimate business person who just wanted to sell some meat, he did not murder me and in fact politely returned a bit later when Handsome could field the offer. 
   Steaks are kind of Handsome's department.  He's just good at it.  If the guy was peddling vegetables, coffee, herbs, or toile fabric, that's all me baby.

   Anyway, since that afternoon our freezer has been pridefully full of rib eyes, filets, sirloin, and incredibly buttery chopped steak patties that are way too delicious to be called burgers.  They do not even need buns. 

   I wonder why we've been having so many guests.  Huh.

   This weekend, in addition to soaking up some Oklahoma heat and laughing hard with some of my very favorite people, I hope we indulge in a steak or two.  I'll cover the veggies.
  

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Value and Surprise of a Good Daily Routine

   Being W-2 deficient, my work days can vary greatly.  I am my own boss and my own employee, sort of, and this is a situation filled with landmines. 
   Some days are magically inspired, free from foggy thoughts and energized beyond the norm.  These are the days when new projects get started, old projects get finished, a few hundred extra calories are incinerated on the elliptical machine, and we spontaneously invite loads of company for dinner.  Oh, and these are also the days when I start a blog.

   Not all days can be this good.

   On those days that lack in this mental sharpness and physical power, I believe a good solid routine is exactly the ticket for carrying our home from chaotic and depressive to quietly functioning with very little conscious effort or creative thinking on my part.

   Here's my Monday through Friday run down, stripped down.  Prepare to be underwhelmed:

  • Release the chickens & turkey.  Count guineas.  
  • Feed and water cats and kittens.  Curse yourself for not getting cats fixed sooner.
  • Cook breakfast & pack lunches then rotate clean/dirty dishes in the kitchen and tidy up in there.
  • Air out the beds and doll them up all smooth and pretty, making mental notes to nap later if possible.
  • Empty Pacino's messy tray and replenish his food and water.
  • Start a laundry rodeo.
  • Grain horses and buffalo. 
  • Distribute hay to everyone and rotate grazing. 
  • Turn on pool pump, making note of "peak time" electricity rates.
  • Feed and water pups.  Scruff  and smooch their wrinkly faces.
  • Quick-clean bathrooms and take out trash then walk to gate to check mail.  Avoid making eye contact with weeds growing there.  Avoid mentally landscaping this barren part of the farm for the nine-hundred fifty-seventh time.
  • Decide whether today is a sparkling clean floors day or a tiptoeing through seeds day and act accordingly.
  • How's that laundry rodeo going?  Any ironing to do?
  • Check on veggie gardens, weeding and watering just a little bit.  Curse yourself for not planting more stuff by now.
  • Make sure we have a plan for dinner and are supplied.  Shop and start food prep if necessary.
  • Slather on some SPF and take a cheap paperback to the pool for siesta.
  • Shower before Handsome gets home.
  • Cook, eat, clean up.
  • Cuddle, cuddle, romance, talk...
  • Prep coffee for tomorrow morning.
  • Take Nabisco treats to animals and lock up chicken coop.  
  • Yawn... 
   So, when I am not inspired enough to strategize my abundant free time (which is not really free but is negotiable), when I am not able to make full use of every half hour, layering and maximizing my tasks like some kind of a Time-and-Energy-Management Mutant Genius, like Handsome, this three or four-hour routine is enough to get things more or less done and keep things running more or less smoothly around here.  More or less.

   Most days might allow me or you to fly under the radar, but we all know that is a terrible way to live long term.  I want greater than seventeen pieces of flair, thank you very much.

   The surprise benefit of pushing through the occasional fog is that along the way I gain energy while I expend it and one completed task after another lends me inspiration.  I think most people would agree that if you buckle down long enough, just doing one simple, productive thing after another, you will soon be cruising at a better pace and altitude.

   A note, just don't over think anything until you reach that cruising altitude.  Try not to worsen your mental cloudiness with added questions and pressure; let common, necessary productivity clear things up a bit first.

   Then you may discover not just a decent "baseline" physical environment but also a renewed outlook and brilliant ideas for the rest of your day!

  Whatever you do, don't wallow in exhaustion, boredom, or confusion.  Resist hiding in the shadow of the Big Picture and instead just do the next good thing in front of you and be content.  Then take a deep, happy, cleansing breath and be excellent.

"Shun idleness.
It is a rust that attaches itself
to the most brilliant metals."
~Voltaire

Monday, June 20, 2011

Easy Like Saturday Morning

   Last week was tough.  It was happy and insanely productive but truly laborious from early Monday till late Friday.  I am not complaining or trying to get pity here; My husband has a talent for riding the tsunamis of life as though he actually thrives on it, like work and challenges are paradoxically the fuel he needs to meet those challenges.  But this comes at the expense of total depletion by the end of the swell.  So this past weekend was much needed.  We enjoyed Friday night together then agreed to sleep late the one day of the week we can both do that.

   Despite our hope to sleep late and quite irregardless* of the fact that we crashed long past midnight in the darkest, quietest room in the house (not our bedroom), our Saturday morning started as early as any work day. 

   That is just how things go sometimes.

   We both laid there and tried to keep our eyes weighted down and our bodies still, as if trying to fool ourselves back to sleep, but dawn had already found us out and the day was beginning. 
   Birdsong was still fresh and soft, not yet important sounding; coffee was brewing faithfully in the kitchen; and pulsing orange sunlight had silently elbowed its way between the living room curtains.  It was an earlier wake up call than we had craved for our Saturday, but it was a gentle and beautiful one. 
  
   After a few minutes of kissing and stretching and laughing about our mutual inability to sleep very late, Handsome and I rolled out of our cozy Green Room nest.  Pacino (our macaw) greeted us with sweet nothings and feathery cuddles.  Soon I was armed with two mugs of perfect hot coffee and a bag of stale hot dog buns.  The latter was for the chickens, not my husband.  He eats slightly better than that most days.

   I found Handsome on the east sidewalk untethering our comfiest patio chairs.  (We keep them bungee-corded to a metal garden table because of the ridiculous wind here.)  He welcomed me to sit with him, and I gave him his coffee. 

   Our twenty one chickens, six guineas, and one Tom turkey (named Clark-Grievous) discovered our appearance and had us surrounded in a flash.  We are catnip to our poultry children, just to let you know.  And this Saturday morning the Catnip Poultry Parents had stale hot dog buns to share. 

   So we luxuriated in the special Oklahoma morning, breezy but not windy and warm but not hot.  It felt brimming with possibility and pleasure.  We sipped coffee, feeding the skittish and hilarious birds, watching and listening to the farm wake up. 

   By the time the sun was fully visible through the trees in the east field, we had emptied both our hot dog bun baggie and the coffee pot.  The horses were whinnying about why in the world THEY didn't get a pre-breakfast treat.   

   And I was grateful to have not slept late, happy not to have missed this.

*hi Margi!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Except That I Don't Like Oysters

   Life has been opening up to us lately in an almost magical way.  At a time when circumstances might look to an outsider (or a well meaning insider even) like we should be mourning, suffering, and constantly weeping over broken things, something unseen lifts us into bliss over and over again. 
   It is easy now to imagine that we will one day look back on these years with lots of joy and thankfulness and not so much sorrow.  In fact, the blessings in life are overtaking the troubles at an alarming rate.  I was not able to say that sincerely six months ago.  I was faking it till I was making it. 


King Julian

Much the way I suspect this guy does.

   Happily, despair is now deep in the past.

   The larger my appetite for living grows, the faster time slips away from me.  Is that a sign of growing older?  Or one of growing happier? 
   Weekly, Handsome and I see joy and reward added to our plate far beyond what we deserve.  Scarcely a day finishes without one of us looking over at the other with a smile, shaking our head about "how cool that is" or "what an answer."  This is a wonderful condition to be living, but I have to admit that sometimes it gives me tremors. 

   My weakness whispers to my heart that it cannot last.  That my hope is unfounded, our pleasures fleeting, my happiness a vain imagining.  Puke!  What poison!

   Refusing to succumb to this slippery slope, I actively scrape up every memory of prayers answered and dreams fulfilled out of the blue, focusing my eyes and heart on the abundant beauty surrounding us.

   I fix my schedule around repetitive domestic tasks, animal care taking, and working on every constructive thing I can think of.  Then I indulge in hobbies I might not always have time for. 

   I take Siestas.

   Handsome works himself to the point of dangerous exhaustion, both at home and at his office.  And together we treasure, among others, the gifts of romance, faith, family, and friendship in our life. 

   By the way, we hold close to us 
some of the world's greatest,
most interesting, most loving,
most FUN people ever invented. 
Or reinvented,
if you are Valerie Bertinelli,
who always looks amazing.
Period.
We are so madly in love
with our friends and family,
it is nauseating.

   Thusly  I dive back into another day.  And before I know it the day is really too short to do it all, to enjoy it all.  Life isn't giving me quite enough time to share again everything I have been given.  I find myself trying to just keep up with the beauty and wonder of the world at my fingertips, and no spell ever breaks; life just continues.   And I love it.

   So whatever you are facing, keep facing it.  Don't let any fear, circumstances, mistakes, or difficulty shake you off course.  However dark your storm, remember that especially in Oklahoma the weather can change with no warning.  And you are resilient and blessed beyond your widlest dreams.

xoxo
  

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How to Justify a Siesta

   I will soon be adopting the Spanish custom of taking a siesta.  Don't judge me.  Lots of highly productive and fulfilled people throughout history have long spent the middle hours of the day at rest. 

   Charlemagne, anyone?  Don Quixote?

   Many solid reasons support this practice.  More than just a happy throwback to Kindergarten napping, taking a siesta is good for your digestion and maybe even your heart health; it helps prevent heat exhaustion and overexposure to the dangerous sun; it can clear your mind before a busy evening; and it might even reduce your electricity bill.  Yep.

   We'll get back to that last one in just a sec.

   The custom of making the midday meal heavier than the late night meal is globally and historically a lot more widespread than the alternative, and unnamed experts and fancy pantses agree it's healthiest.  And as big meals tend to make a person sleepy (in Bengal they call it rice-sleep), resting afterward is just perfectly reasonable.
  
   Especially where the climate is hot and the day's burdens are agricultural, resting after a substantial lunch is also a safety measure.  We certainly meet that criteria.  Oklahoma summers are HOT man.  Like, regularly in excess of 100 degrees, humid, and windy.  So steamy it feels like you are standing in front of a wet blowing furnace.  That kind of hot.

   Why more people in our modern North American culture do not observe siesta is a mystery to me.  Doing so is neither laziness nor apathy; it is rather a wise and well timed conservation of health and energy.  I for one am going to start this as soon as possible, which is today.

   And here's how I will go about justifying it:

   The electricity billing at our little farm has recently seen a major update.  We now pay different rates per kilowatt hour according to the time of day, corresponding to the demand being placed on the grid at that time.  The point of this new program is to encourage efficiency and spread the load across the clock, because electricity cannot really be stored.  It has to be produced pretty much right when it is used.  
  My husband can explain all of this brilliantly, but for now suffice it to say that the same power consumption at 10 in the morning is considerably less expensive than, say, 6 in the evening when everybody is home and busy cooking, cooling off, and watching Swamp People. 
   To be a little more specific, we arrange our farm days with the understanding that "peak time" is from 2 pm till 7 pm.  During these hours we avoid heavily electrified chores and activities.   And our house is total electric, so that kind of includes everything you might do indoors.

   And truly working outdoors during the hottest part of the day, in Oklahoma, is asking for heatstroke. 

   Finally, few people know this, but late afternoon is when taste buds are most receptive to both fruit and yogurt smoothies and sweet iced tea.  Scientifically, this is also the time of day when your eyes are best suited for consuming new release literature.  You cannot fight biology. 

   Catching my drift?  Siesta.  Grab a book and a cold drink, find your hammock, and shut down a few expensive appliances.


   I can think of a few other perfect solutions for the 2pm till 7 pm chapter of my weekdays, and they all fit nicely under this enticing Latin umbrella.

     So for at least the next eight or nine weeks, in the latter afternoon hours, my batteries shall recharge whilst the rest of you Westerners slave away in either the extreme heat or the extremely expensive air conditioning.  My evenings shall be freshly approached, my metabolism shall find reprieve from heavy nighttime meals, my reading lists shall gradually dwindle, and Handsome will be happy to have saved some electriciy dollars.  Dollars which will then be spent on more fruit and yogurt smoothies for the afternoons.

   If all of these compelling arguments have failed to sway you to siesta along with me, still please suspend judgment.  I won't be able to hear your Industrial Revolution comments anyway.  Because I will be away, resting.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Feast of All Saints (book review)

   Trying to review a book so broad in scope and rich in flavor as Anne Rice's Feast of All Saints is mildly paralyzing.  I could tell you how much I liked it.  (It was thoroughly enjoyable.)  I could describe to you the tone.  (It was written elegantly and with luscious detail in a way that challenges a person's command of both history and the English language.)  Or I could try to summarize the plot.  (But Rice weaves together so many stories here, I am hesitant to single out just one.)
  
   This is a wonderful piece of historical fiction set in 19th century Louisiana, primarily in New Orleans.  The characters form a crazy quilt of race, class, wealth, personality, religion, status, ambition, and relationships. 
   The reader is taken on a tour of the lives of white plantation owners, Creole families, black slaves and rebels from Jamaica, educated Les Gens De Couleur, and much more.  We get to immerse ourselves for a while in the dilemmas of living at a time when slavery was falling out of favor in much of the country but was still a viable (if not vital) cultural element in the deep south. 

   What a gut wrenching display of humanity Rice builds by simply telling the stories of young men and women coming of age at this crux in history.

   Please consider reading this book, and please consider doing so in tandem with any good piece of biography you can find about Abraham Lincoln.  The fictional illustrations of the end of slavery are fascinating.  Thinking through the application of historical facts to the every day lives and long term fates of real people, this is what really solidifies our impressions of events that took place not very long ago.

   And if the seriousness of such a read does nothing for you, then rest assured that The Feast of All Saints is a captivating, sexy, action-filled, emotional, politically charged novel worthy of every beach bag and airplane carry on!

Enjoy.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Interview With the World's Coolest Hen

      Introducing Red, my very favorite chicken.  She is an Ameraucana hen who generously provides us with big, heavy, sage green eggs.  She is feisty and hilarious.  She has serious eyes and gorgeous feathers.  She is addicted to love, Robert Palmer style. 


Here is Red boasting one of her many chicks. 
She is an exemplary mother, at least when she's not eating her babies.

   And no, smarty pants,
not all chickens
are morning persons. 
But she is.

   In the spirit of gleaning from our elders all the life experience they have to offer, as well as celebrating the nifty collection of personalities here on the farm, following is an interview with the old girl.  At more than nine years old, she is no spring chicken after all, and I think we could benefit from her sharing.

Q:  There's no one quite like you in the barn yard.  What do you believe is an important character trait in being the Alpha Hen?
A:  "Girth.  It helps you push the others around and makes sure you get a place in the food line.  Also attitude.  Look at every day as though it is filled with possibilities.  And mosquitoes, which are delicious."

Q:  Rumor has it you are almost incapable of laying eggs anywhere but in one particular nest inside the chicken house.  Other hens are far less discriminating, especially now that you all are free range.  Why are you so particular about where you lay your big green eggs?
A:  "Those years of nimbly pimbly childbirth are far behind me now.  I have discovered a certain Zen in laying eggs in the same place at the same time every day.  You should try it."

The four largest eggs are Red's.


Q:  We understand you receive loads of kitchen scraps.  What human menu produces the best coop treats?
A:  "Apple shortbread tart."

Q:  You look just fantastic, if you don't mind me saying so.  How do you stay in such great shape? 
A: "Lots of cardio, first and foremost.  If I am not sleeping or egging, I am running.  And squats.  Try eating only off of the ground and see what that does for your posterior.  Also, never underestimate the glossing up power of a good dust bath." 

Q:  Do you have a favorite color or a favorite song?
A:  "The chicken dance, obviously.  Favorite color?  Hmm, green."

Q:  What dreams do you have for your flock in the future?
A:  "An egg in every crate.  And no chickens in any pots."

Q:  Besides your fellow poultry and the outbound kittens, about eleven other animals live on this farm.  Care to comment on any of your neighbors?  This is strictly off the record, of course.
A.  "Chanta is very kind and shares his food and never steps on me.  The dogs are very, very poorly mannered.  Clark-Grievous is quite the looker..."


Chanta, the gentle giant


Q:   You seem to be quite the heart breaker around here.  Any romantic advice for the younger hens?
A:  "Watch your back."

   Ahem, yes.  Red knows a thing or two about love.  She is very popular with the roosters.  Very popular.  Very.  Her milkshake brings all the boys to the yard. 

   We conducted our scheduled interview in the vegetable garden where heat-tortured lettuce heads gave Red something to groom as we chatted.  She was accessible and friendly as always, opening up to me the wells of her decade-deep wisdom.  I am happy to have had this time with her, the world's coolest hen, happy to learn what makes her tick.
   Meanwhile, Red's easily distracted companions could be found beneath the tornado-damaged pine tree in the hilly middle field, rearranging dry brown needles and hunting bugs.  The noises of their urgent mission was the backdrop for our interview, and it slowly eroded Red's attention span.

   It was a matter of time before she would leave.  I knew our moments were fast dwindling.  So I risked one more question.

Q:  "Unconfirmed sources report that you were seen eating a thickened egg yolk and maybe a partially formed chick the other day.  What is UP with that?!" 
A: 

   Red must have found it impossible to abide this line of questioning.  Her nervous energy rose like the mercury of that summer day, and all of a sudden my favorite chicken sprang up in a small, panicky cloud of feathers.  Zipping off down the hill, headed forward lean and fast while before she had been sitting plump and fluffy, Red left me alone with my wonderings in the vegetable garden. 

   My hottest concerns about motherhood & cannibalism remain unresolved.

   And Red, fighting against the sandy hourglass, continues to rule the roost.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Gift of Home

   To call me ruined by this beautiful place we call home would be fair.  There's plenty of work to do, always, and nothing is ever really perfect by crazy-people standards; but I cannot imagine a more satisfying way to spend every day than to wake up here, work here, play here, and rest here. 

   The pleasures, challenges, and rewards of this crazy little farm march in gentle succession from dawn till dusk and at every moment in between, day after day and season after season.  I never dread coming home; in fact, I get homesick too easily now.  Home is now both my foundation and my escape, and I feel so blessed to be able to say that at such a relatively young age.

   Time passes too quickly within these gates, no matter how hard we try to manage our days and hours wisely. 
 
   One of the most beautiful truths we have discovered is that other people feel the specialness too.  Maybe not with the intensity we do, because visitors are usually only here for a few hours at a time, but we constantly collect warm, emotional reviews from friends and family of all ages about how good they feel here.
   One of our very beautiful, special-to-our-hearts nieces "K" once remarked that she feels happy here, that there is peace.  This only confirms for us that our country home was a gift from God.  I am not sure we have ever expressed to her our gratitude for that gift.  Thank you Sweet Girl.

   All of our prayers are not yet answered.  We wait and hope, ache, for all the beds to be filled here more often and for the dinner table to be crowded with happy faces on regular nights, without big parties. 
   That pain gets frequently eased with great mercy from the Lord.  But it is deep and pulsing and is always present. 

   And as so often happens, living with unsolvable pain makes us keenly aware of the abundant blessings we enjoy!  We have the gifts of knowing how to appreciate the things that are going well and of daily living so many miracles. 

   We simmer in love that comes in many shapes and languages.  We are surrounded by strong, compassionate people, both friends and family.  We get to care for a variety of creatures who mirror our spirit sometimes more than I would like to admit.  And we are constantly learning lessons we didn't know were so vital. 
   The bottom line is that life here is good.  I am not bragging, just celebrating.  From the bottom of my heart.
  

Cyclical Creativity

   Over the years I have noticed both swells and droughts in my feelings of creativity or maybe in my productive creativity.  Writer's Block is very real, and of course people from all crafts and disciplines have times of head-scratching and eye-rubbing because the seed of an idea refuses to germinate. 
   This could apply to office issues, home decorating, parenting, vacation planning, studying, anything at all that requires creative thinking or problem solving.  Universal but not terrible.

   One weird and slightly personal observation I've made of my own patterns has helped a bunch and might help you too.  Err, at least the ladies.
  Recognizing at what stage of my, ahem, lunar cycle I am tells me whether I have at that moment a propensity for wild idea storms, hard physical labor, painfully tedious attention to detail, praising and encouraging others, or just collecting energy from outside of myself. 
   I call this last time the Desperately Dry Sponge days.  It's when I troll tastemaker blogs the most, re-read Charlotte Bronte, and flip through crinkly old marked up issues of my fave print magazines.

  Seems like every part of the month lends itself to something special and, when capitalized upon, can be uniquely fruitful.  Every stage of creating, by the way, is rich in blessing or benefit too!  All are necessary for the full artistic experience, and it may take more than one complete trek through the menu to complete a really good project.

   Maybe this explains in part why some bloggers may let a week or two pass without posting and then suddenly explode with  a long list of brilliantly written essays!  Or why after weeks of stagnant time in front of blank canvases, a painter can't sleep for days because she is churning out her soul in color. 
   This brings with it a particular obstacle worth noticing, because how sad for the person who FINALLY feels the onslaught of motility in her craft but is bound by the structure of life to be at a paying job, care for others, etc, etc.

   Wait, shall we only go with the flow?  Remain tethered to the reggae vibe of our feelings?  I kind of don't think so.  Part of adopting a discipline, of course, is the discipline part.  Working through regardless of the easy energy you feel.  So there's a certain responsibility of any artist to try and produce with some amount of consistency, even if the end product is at times weak. 

   It will get better.  And who says you have to share the weak stuff with anyone?

   Pay attention to the added benefits here, too.  Check out what kind of emotional or psychological payoff you enjoy after managing to exact revenge on those thoughts like, "NOT TODAY ALREADY!"
   And by all means, when the monsoon hits, embrace it as much as you can.  Ride the waves of expression as much and as skillfully as you personally can do at that time, knowing that its time is possibly limited.

   How do you manage the swells and droughts in your creative life?  What practical methods do you have in place for those dry days?  And how do you rearrange your life for the lush days of outpouring?    
   The process of how people push through from frustration to completion is fascinating to me.  Crossing my fingers that you all share.  xoxo 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

State of Fear (book review)

   First, let's agree that this book has all the elements that make for a good read.  Great characters, plot, complexity, tension, and a reasonable conclusion, plus a readable and entertaining style throughout.  I mean, the flavor served up by Michael Crichton is not nearly so sensual as Anne Rice nor so fantastical as Dean Koontz or Aimee Bender, but it is enjoyable in its own right.

  

   Okay, so no big surprise that the creator of Jurassic Park and the television series E.R. knows how to hold an audience...  But I had no idea what a thought provoking experience this paperback diversion would become. 
   And after digesting it for a while, I thought I was extremely clever to poke around the Internet looking for science to either reinforce or dispute what I had just read, only to find a full blown cult following already in place.

   I am always late to the best parties.  Unless I am throwing the party, but even then I am usually not early.  My hair is usually still wet from showering way too close to arrival time for guests, and the kitchen is in definitely in a general state of disarray.  A state of fear, if you will.

   Back to the book review. 

   This novel is basically about the inner workings and global wrappings of media, environmental concerns, big corporate money and government, and the straight up violence that comes with the whole circus. 

   If you have ever wondered about which media sources to trust and which to take with a big chunky grain of salt, read this book.  But I warn you, it will not act as a warm and cozy security blanket for your already troubled mind; you might slip into paranoia.

   If you have ever smirked at the extremes to which environmental activists take their many causes, read this book.  The same goes for people who are not sure why we should believe in something just because a popular celebrity says so.

   If you believe firmly in global warming and are a devoted recycler or carpooler, read this book.  I am not saying you will be be swayed one bit; you should just read this book.

   If you are either a member of or an attorney for Sierra Club or a similar group, well, you might not ought to read this book.  It could get you fired or at least placed on a list.  Then again, maybe it's required reading...

   If your morbid self has ever been curious about cannibalism, read at least part of this book, okay?  You can't even imagine.

   If you are an intelligent science student who has more than a lay person's foundational knowledge on these topics, read this book and then please contact me.  We have a lot of things to discuss.  Thanks.
  

Car Show Culture

   I entered this marriage with a perspective that cars were nothing more than modes of transportation.  Learning through Handsome, then, the scope of artistic expression and passion and also the varying skills required in his car world, was eye opening. 

   Suffice it to say that his mechanical and electronic skills far exceed my own and most likely always will.  But my passion for this brave world is beginning to give his a run for its money. 

   Wait, does Passion have money? 
And if so, where does Passion get it? 
I don't think Passion needs money,
but Passion sure can cost you money. 
I digress...

   We attended our second car show of this season over the weekend.  In Oklahoma we are already deep in the throes of an extreme summer, and we had a really wonderful time!




These Camaros' lucky parking arrangement
had me craving a Dreamsicle. 
Bad.  Like, real bad.

"Would you like a white SS with orange racing stripes,
or an orange SS with white racing stripes, ma'am?"





   At any given car show you are likely to see every imaginable shade of red.  Every shade of most colors, actually, but red does seem to dominate.  Car owners, body men, and painters swim in color and pattern just like any other visual artist does.  Some people work hard at staying factory-original; other people take license to be very imaginative with their interior and exterior schemes.  The results are always interesting and often cause for friendly debate. 



   This photograph reminds me of a central theme that makes me kind of emotional.  Patriotism is pervasive, though inarticulate, at these gatherings.  In ten years I have never once heard mention of politics at these events, but there is lots of cultural exchange and fabric-of-life kind of talk.  And so much of it fortifies my opinion of living in this country!

   In sharing with each other your vehicles and your stories, you are helping to build a spontaneous oral history.  You are cross-pollinating the widely flung tales of people, families, and businesses through the decades, over the miles of these United States.

   And by the way, oral histories are arguably the most valuable bits of record we could possess.  More on that another time...

   If you listen closely, you can absorb who was president when this car was popular and why that matters; what industries were strongest then; how music impacted people that year; why someone chose that car and how he paid for it, whether a romance was important then, etc, etc.  Fascinating stuff! 

   People are interesting, and they are very willing to share their stories, especially when those stories can be illustrated by a big, beautiful, well loved machine.    I have seen men and women of all ages bond happily and anonymously this way, and that is just cool.

  

Some vehicles strike the marrow in my bones. 
This perfectly intense black Chevy truck
was one such creature this past weekend. 
I feel like Darth Vader would drive it.


   Speaking of a shared culture, only a few cars at the shows we frequent ever boast this kind of frenzy-causing ability.  This particular car is said to be titled in Georgia AND the owner had installed the right horn in his General Lee! 

   He was happy to oblige the crowd all day long.  Even across the expansive parking lot, Hazzard's twelve-syllable anthem is absolutely laughter inducing!  Suddenly every one's a southerner.
  
   If you are too young to have any stories to tell about actual social reform in the 1960s, then you are just exactly the right age to feel like you...

A.)  were blood related to the Duke family.
B.)  at one time were in love with a member of the Duke family. 
C.)  wanted to have your car worked on by Cooter.  Or...
D.)  were sympathetic to poor old Roscoe P. Coltrane and his misadventure sidekick, Flash.



"Geyoog, geyoog, geyoog!"





This is a veritable tuxedo on wheels. 
Even sitting still she looks fast, smooth, and classy.
She kinda took my breath away. 
I just love than rear wheel skirt, so ladylike...


Can you tell from this photo that the bed of this truck is textured? 

   It has been sprayed with bed liner material mixed with the same paint as the body.  What's special about this find is that Handsome's Dad is who started doing this way back in the early 1980s.  He was a pioneer, and people who show cars still know him by name.  He owned a body shop where were sown the seeds of automotive passion as well as a very respectable work ethic in his young son, my future Love.



   Saturday's car show was excellent.  We saw friends, soaked up the sights, and celebrated some common appreciation for a pretty special art form.  Like always, though, at the end of the day we were ready to pack up and drive home.  We had memories to file away, a car cleaning bag to replace to the shop shelves, and a mild case of dehydration to nurse.

   The last thing we do before leaving is attend the awards ceremony.  Should our entry number be called (it often is), Handsome assigns me the task and the honor of accepting our trophy. 

   I dig it baby.  This is my moment.

   I mentally pretend to have not only invented cars but also to have personally designed whichever one we brought that day.  I imagine having hand painted the car with a brush built from a wild boar's whiskers. 


(Victoria Jackson with Paul Simon? 
Classic SNL?  Look it up, it's super funny.)
  

   As I sashay up to the microphone, flapping my pointy elbows like a rooster (this is part of the act) I notice a sour, humid odor that proves I have been at a car show all day in 95-degree heat. 

   And without warning my Car Guru fantasy shifts to thoughts of slipping into and drinking in deep gulps of the swimming pool waiting for us at home...
   Cars smell good.  Boys who work on cars smell good.  Girls who attend seven-hour car shows in summertime?  Not so much.



Monday, June 6, 2011

Tiptoeing Through Seeds

   Few normal, everyday events have the power to thrust me into a foul mood more than walking barefoot on a dirty floor.  Especially a hardwood floor encrusted with parrot fodder.  Especially when it happens fifteen feet away from the parrot's perch. 

   I also hate sweeping and mopping, though.  These rank super low on my list of Pleasurable Domestic Duties.  What an unfortunate combination of personality traits, eh? 

   Introducing our bird, our only inside animal, Bobby Pacino....


"Wannabite?"

   You can just call him Pacino.  Or Peekaboo.  He recently turned six years old and is a really good and loving boy through and through.  But he is messy.  I mean, he is like a toddler crossed with Animal from the Muppet Show in the middle of a tornado.  That kind of messy.

   And while cleaning up after Pacino is not difficult per se, it is a tedious job that needs to be done frequently.  Which translates to, "It gets put off a lot." 

   Like any job that gets put off, this can be problematic.  Maybe I can get away with not sweeping for an afternoon.  If I scoot his perch a little bit away from our walking path, maybe the floors can even wait until tomorrow. 
   But that causes terrible things to accumulate beneath the loveseat.  And eventually we are all padding around the living room, shaking empty sunflower seeds from our bare feet.  Or cursing the dried red peppers in the adjoining room's carpet. 

   My last act of defiance against cleaning floors is tiptoeing through the now thickened blanket of seeds, elusive white under feathers, and cracker crumbs that radiates out from Pacino's throne.  By day two of procrastinating, I lend to my trek across the lower level of our home the same energy you might give to navigating a minefield.  This causes my tension to mount rapidly.

   Almost as soon as I realize we have reached this extreme yet again, I go find the broom & mop.  Ten minutes later the hardwood is restored to safety and smoothness.  We are walking upright again, no longer wasting time, energy, and peacefulness on avoiding this very natural part of life.

   What are you actively avoiding today?  Don't be like me and spend more of yourself on avoiding a job than you would spend just getting it done already.  Bite the bullet!  Do yourself a favor and fast forward into completion while you are still smiling...


  
  "The fastest way through a problem is solving it."
~Author Unknown

Thanks for your indirect motivation, Pacino!
xoxoxo
~Momma

pinnable

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