Farm Life · Lessons & Thoughts From the Farm

The Sun, the Soil, and Springtime

This week, I noticed the tiniest little leaves of my mint plant poking their heads through the soil, the pastures brightening up with dotted patches of green, and the hint of warm air on southern breezes tickling my skin.  I absolutely love this time of year when new growth comes complete with vibrant colors, textures, and smells.  (Okay, it might also come with Flonase, Zirtec, and Claritin, but it’s oh so worth it.)

And it’s not just us humans who are soaking up the season.  Around the farm, the horses and donkeys are a little more playful, as they romp around in the hunt for all things green.  The cows are mooing and playing around the water troughs. The cats are seriously bird watching.  And the dogs, well they are napping, as always, but they love it best when they can nap on the porch with the sun warming their bellies.

It’s also the season for one of my favorite sounds of all time – the creaking of the screen door springs as the he pups push it open with their noses, and the fast recoil and slapping sound as it bangs against the door frame.  There is nothing better than fresh breezes flowing through that door, airing out the house from winter and inviting us to find a moment to soak it in, and maybe even play a little.  Do a jig around the kitchen floor.  Sip the perfect cup of tea.  Hum a tune.  

My Farmtastic Life - Our beloved old fashioned, creaky springs, doorframe slapping wooden screen door. Read about our door in the The Sun, the Soil, and Springtime at
Our beloved, old fashioned, creaky springs, doorframe slapping wooden screen door. Another one of Cowboy’s magnificent creations!

While I’ve always loved springtime, I don’t remember appreciating it quite so much when we lived in the big city suburbs.  Oh sure, it was time to head to the nearest home improvement big box store to load up on bright and showy annuals to tuck into the landscaping.  And yes, we maybe lingered outside a bit here and there.  But we weren’t connected to the seasons like we are on the farm.

With spring comes the much needed rains that turn the grasses green and allow the farmers to grow the hay we’ll buy later in the summer to feed our equine crew.  Wildflowers will pop up all over the farm in a kaleidoscope of colors and the bees will buzz from plant to plant to work their magic.  

I’ll try my hand, yet again, at a few raised garden beds and learn new things, like that mint I planted last year, oh my stars, it’s now everywhere.  (Experienced gardeners feel free to chuckle about this one.  When I asked one gardening friend of mine if it would come back, he just looked at me with amusement and said, “Oh my god, yes.  You won’t be able to get rid of it.”)

And while Cowboy and I still operate in the real world with day jobs, trips to giant grocery stores, the occasional fast food meal, this farm life has connected us to the soil and to the land in unexpected ways.  It has made us stop and think about what you put in the ground, what you take out of it, and how you care for it.  That the soil is in all of us, it connects us.  That this life with all of its bumps and bruises, seasons of lack and seasons of abundance, is truly a gift.

So as you go about soaking up the sunshine and the breezes and reveling in the deep down soulful joy as the earth literally springs to life, take a moment to breathe it all in. To find your connections – to your neighbors, to your garden, to critters.  And maybe just maybe, find a patch of grass to stand in, feet bare, toes wiggling.


Critter Stories · Farm Life · Farmtastic Stories

10 Critters, the Bible, and a Bra

Cowboy and I live at the edge of tornado alley, and after a particularly close call in 2014, decided a storm shelter would be a good idea.  Of course, we pray that we will never actually need it, but it’s a comfort to have that steel box bolted deep into the foundation.  (Yes, we have an above ground job – I’m not looking to crawl into one those tomb like things people put in their garage floors.  No thank you!)

Which leads me to one of the first nights of the new year.  We’ve been waffling between hot and cold weather, as if mother nature is in the middle of a hot flash, a hottie, her own personal summer, or whatever granny calls it.  This also means severe weather is always a possibility.

We’d been watching the weather that day, which had been glorious, but knew storms were coming in from the west.  As the evening progressed, warnings started coming about potential straight line winds – up to 70 miles per hour.  We did our usual battening down of the hatches, which these days means making sure the pool side lounge chairs don’t become kites, and horse gates are latched open so the equines can move around at will.  (Goodness knows I’d love to have a storm shelter big enough for our horses, but honestly I’m not sure I’d want to be locked in there with them as a storm blew over.  That might be a storm all on its own.)

Well, at 3 a.m., the time of all good storms, I woke up with my heart pounding as I heard a giant bang. Thunder! The wind chimes were blowing furiously, and I looked out the window just in time to see of one of our rocking chairs go flying off the porch. (Dang it, we clearly needed to do more battening.)  I heard the sounds of small hail starting to pelt our metal roof.  Hemming and hawing for all of about two minutes,  I decided it was time to put ourselves in the shelter.  (You do remember, we have 4 dogs and 6 cats, and you can bet your bottom dollar, if we’re going in the shelter they are, too!)

Let me paint you a picture.  It’s  3 a.m., I’m clad in pink heart pajamas, and we are about to start an indoor rodeo roundup.  First up – cats! I bound up the stairs to grab Nightmare, where I know his favorite hiding spot is.  Into the first cat kennel.  Door locked. Next! Moving on to the big boy, Rhinoceros.  Oh man, I haven’t had him in a kennel for a little while; that took some shoving.  (Note to self, he might need to graduate to the big boy kennel.) Then it was time for Shadow and her crew of boys.  As Cowboy says, thank goodness God gave cats tails for handles.  One, two, three, four – all shoved into one giant kennel. Now they normally lay together all day, but like most children, force them to play nice and there is hissing, swatting, and growling.

Finally, it’s time to add the pooches.  On Dixie, on Goober, on Maybelle, and Max –  yes it feels like you are calling Santa’s reindeer there are so flipping many of them.  Herding them all into the shelter with the promise of treats, the last one entered just in time for us to shut the door and lock our little family in place. (Oh gosh, this is also when I remember that Nightmare likes to hide presents in the storm shelter. Please Lord, let there be not one little half eaten mouse in here with us.)

My Farmtastic Life - Dogs and cats in storm shelter
All tucked into the storm shelter – there were 3 cat kennels stacked on top of each other – effectively creating a tower of cat. We were standing up against the wall – wouldn’t want to crowd the critters. (And yes, Goober is in there, too. See the tip of his tail on the bottom right.)

And then you hear it. The panting, the whining, the banging of tails, as you realize you are in a 12-by-4-foot  steel box with 10 critters!  Are we sure this was really a great idea? Dogs are sniffing cats, cats are doing that dreadful cry they do when you drive them to the vet, and everyone is just confused.  Of course Max, the golden retriever, just lays down and takes a nap in the middle of it all, because seriously, in case you missed, it is 3 a.m.

But then I looked around at all of those noses, paws, and ears, and I was grateful.  We were all safe in our box.  And I was praying the horses would use all of their God-given instincts to stay safe.

Adjusting to the dim light, I smiled at what else I saw.  Before bed, I had the presence of mind to put our Bible in the shelter, because nothing comforts better than that. Oh, but I did mention a bra in the title, right?  Why, pray tell, am I talking about unmentionables?

All of us good southerners know that we are dreadfully misrepresented on the news when there is a natural disaster.  For whatever reason, the news can spot a shirtless, toothless, shoeless fella a mile away.  Well, this southern farmgirl was not going to have it. If, heaven forbid, we lost it all, I was at least going to emerge from the shelter dressed in something other than jammies.  So yes, before we went to bed, when forecasters were warning of storms, and winds, and danger, I was busy tossing the necessities into the shelter, which any lady will tell you, definitely includes a bra.  Which also guarantees, we would not be on the news.  Amen-glory-hallelujah for that!

After 10 minutes of howling winds, the edge of the front moved on and we were left with simple rain and no real damage. Thank you, Lord!  But I realized something in that box.  When it comes right down to grabbing the things you absolutely must have in this life, the list is preciously small.  (And yes, there is always room for a bra.)


Farm Life · Farmtastic Stories

When You Wish Upon a Frog

Farm Photo - Digging of the pool
I just had to climb in at my first chance.

I’ve wanted a swimming pool since I was a little girl. Growing up, it was always my favorite summer activity.  I remember fondly the summer my mom took me to a huge pool club and I would spend hours upon hours dreaming in the pool.  My raft became a dolphin and I an amazing dolphin trainer.  Or sometimes I’d press my feet together and try to swim like a mermaid.  I felt graceful in the pool – something I rarely feel on dry land.

So last fall when I confided my dream to Cowboy of getting a pool, he found a way to make it happen. (Yes, I just love that man.)  I watched from the front porch for 12 weeks while machines and craftsmen dug, rocked, and tiled the pool.  Finally finished, I donned my bathing suit and watched eagerly as it began to fill with water (just a measly 27 hours).

And then the splashing began.  We had my niece down from the big city (Chicago) to splish and splash.  We bought pool toys, floated, and for the first time in my life, someone even told me I looked tan this summer.  That’s because every chance I got, I was by the pool – swimming, reading, and enjoying the view of the horses.  Blessed, simply blessed.

And then the ecosystem started.  First, we had one or two frogs. Kind of cute.  They were especially fond of the rock fountains.  Then there were a dozen.  Each night as Cowboy and I went to take a dip, we’d count frogs.  I’m not sure when it happened, but all of a sudden we were up to over 40 frogs, then 50, then 60.  Until one day, we counted nearly 100 frogs!

I googled to see how to make them move on, but no luck. Any solution would hurt or kill them, so not an option.  And ultimately, it turns out they are great bug control.  Let me be clear, we have no pond or other nearby water source, so how these crazy Kermits found us, I’m not quite sure.  (Other than, obviously the animal kingdom has a network equivalent to Facebook, and I think we must be posted, shared, liked, and loved all over it.)

Back to our ecosystem … so one lovely evening during a warm swim, I was doing my nightly frog count, and a little face poked out of the rocks at me that I had not seen before.  It took my brain a moment to register this creature, which was a mere 10 inches or so from my face.

My first thought was, “Oh, how cute.  Wait, it doesn’t look like a frog.  It has a tongue sticking out at me.”  My second thought was “S-N-A-K-E!”  Quickly followed by a panicked, “Out of the pool. Out of the pool. Out of the pool!”

Holy hades where did he come from?  Well, you guessed it, we were serving up a lovely buffet of a snake’s favorite dish – Kermit a la poolside.  He was more scared of me that I was of him, although I’m not sure that is entirely possible or true.  And over the next week we had two of his associates show up as well.  Fun science fact I somehow missed in biology, ALL snakes swim. (Once again, thank you Google.  And yes, you heard me.  A-L-L.)

Well Cowboy and my dad came to the rescue, and the snakes met their fate.  Sorry fellas, swimming with snakes is not on my list of things to do.  The Kermits are croaking and singing nightly, and we have purchased a snake grabber on Amazon. (Who knew … Amazon really does have everything.)

So yes, I’ve got my dream pool and we are loving every minute.  But let me say, I am thanking my lucky stars for beautiful clear water that you can see what you are getting into, literally.  Last night, as Cowboy and I stood on the porch, we listened as a giant hoot howl sounded very close.  We hadn’t heard that before.  So with my handy dandy phone I looked up their food source – furry creatures and (yep, you guessed it) frogs.  Ribbit!

Farm Critter Pic - Frogs in the Pool
A sampling of our friendly frogs.

P.S. – I never liked swimming in lakes, but with my new all-snakes-swim revelation, I’m sticking to clear water from now on. No exceptions.

Farm Life · Farmtastic Stories

Just Say No to Snakes

We love 99.9% of things about country living.  In fact, neither Cowboy nor I  want to trade in the work, peace, or beauty of the country to go back to the ‘burbs.  However, if there is one thing that can make me shriek and consider condo living, it is the S word.  That’s right, S-N-A-K-E. Those squirmy, sneaky, legless slitherers are NOT my friends.

We’ve been pretty blessed at the farm.  We’ve found just two snakes in five years, and one we only found after we ran over it with the tractor.  Bonus! But with this year’s spring rains they seem to have discovered the farm, and we found three on the porch in 36 hours.  Let me correct that, I found three.

Snake number one slithered onto the porch just as I was about to let the pups out.  Unfortunately, Cowboy wasn’t home at the time and couldn’t get here immediately. (Of course!) Panic mode fully in place, because I was not going to go toe-to-toe or rather toe-to-slither with a snake, I picked up the phone and called my dad.   Dads fix everything, right?

My good natured dad  listened, as I screeched, “Dad, there is a snake on the porch.  Come now.  Right now.”

In his slow drawl, he said, “Awe, you’ve got a snake, huh?”

My anxiety building, I squeaked, “Stop. Talking. Just. Come. Right.  Now.”

We hung up and I stayed glued to the window making sure I knew exactly where that snake was.  I couldn’t risk a get-away, or I may never step foot on the porch again.  Five minutes later, my mom  called me back.

“Your dad is on the way. He’s got his BB gun and shovel.  You cracked him up. He’s grinning from ear to ear,” she said. “He should be there in a few minutes.”

Not so happy to be comic relief, I breathed a sigh of relief as the calvary was on its way. I grabbed my pink rubber boots and stood at the ready.  What an utter goofball I looked like.  You’d think I was going to do battle with the garden rather than snakes.  Whatever works, right? And then I saw Dad round the driveway, that lovely Dodge truck was a white horse.

My Farmtastic Life - Just Say No to Snakes
Dad saved the day, and by day I mean my sanity. Sorry Mr. Snake. You are not welcome on the porch!

Dad saved the day, and was an excellent shot.  Dad did feel bad, as he said it was a “good” snake, i.e. not poisonous.  However, while my brain knows this, my nervous system does not.  In fact, that night I dreamed about being chased by snakes.  Let’s just say, I’m not a fan.

Snake number two and three came when Cowboy was around.  (Lucky, Cowboy!) Snake number two still came with an assist from Dad, as he was stuck up in the porch roof rafters, and unfortunately ate a nest of baby black birds.  Sad about the birds, and this also came with a new realization that I had to look not only down but up for snakes.  Holy cats, are you kidding me?

Snake number three showed up on our side porch wrapping itself around a door handle.  For the love of pete I hope this stops.  By snake number three, Cowboy has this routine down, sadly. Routine starts with a call of, “Cowboy! Snake! Now!” To which I hear him laughing and boots come stomping.  Shovels collected.  Snake in sight.  Snake dead.

The big lesson? Screened in porch just moved up the priority list of projects.  Hardware store here we come!


P.S. – Yes, snakes were harmed in the making of this blog.  We’re sorry.  They simply FREAK us, i.e. me, out.  I know it’s not the right thing to do, but I’d like to keep breathing at a normal pace. All were a minimum of four feet. This farmgirl is just over five feet. You do the math.

P.P.S. – Ironically, snake number three came in the middle of writing this blog.  Guess he needed to make an appearance.

P.P.P.S. – I refuse to categorize this as a critter story.  Critters require legs. So you’ll find this under farm life.  Just saying.


Farm Life · Farmtastic Stories

A Love Letter to Northern Farmgirls (and Boys)

Farm Photo - Snow covered porch
Not quite primetime for porch sitting, but so pretty before it’s covered in paw prints.

Texans are tough, and boy are we a proud bunch, but I have to give it up to my Northern farmgirls (and boys). How do you do it all winter long through snow and ice and wind?

As predicted, February pulled old man winter from its bag of tricks this week and sent us plunging to below freezing temperatures. (Yes, from all Texans we are deeply sorry for all of our tweets, Facebook posts, and other musings about how it is 70 degrees this winter and we are sitting on the porch while you are bundled from head to toe.)

Before I was a farmgirl, the cold was just an irritant, but thanks to the modern invention of central heat and air, totally doable. However, while heat is a requirement on the farm, it’s not enough to just sit inside and drink hot chocolate. Those critters need fed.

One of my hearty Midwest friends asked me, “Do you even have clothes for this?” Kind of. Layers of flannel pajamas, jeans, hoodies, coats, scarves, and gloves are all piled on until we wobble out to the great white winter to do chores. Hey, we weeble, we wobble, but we sure hope we don’t fall down. (You kids from the ‘70s and ‘80s know what I mean, and if not, here’s a refresher.) I’m sure we are a site.

Horse Photo - Ranger in the snow
Ranger was stirring up trouble today. He loves the cold and chasing his fellow buds. (But look at that mane!! If you look closely, you can even see his mustang brand.)

Even more exciting, our critters become like toddlers in the snow. They love it. We’ve got horses chasing each other through the pasture, and dogs (a.k.a Maybelle) running crazy laps around the yard. It’s all fun and games for 15 minutes at a time, because this farm mamma starts to shiver after that. Pathetic, I know.

On top of it, if you are a Northerner and you watch any of our local TV channels you will probably truly find yourself rolling on the floor laughing (or crying, it’s that silly). We’ve got reporters bundled like the Michelin Man out on freeways and parking lots scrapping up a half an inch of ice and labeling it delightful things like “icemageddon.” Seriously, people?

If you must know the truth, even us locals cringe a little when we watch the media spectacle, especially when the national news comes on and we see folks in Boston. Holy cats – that is some serious snow and winter. And with that realization, we will say thank you for our little touch of winter. Our two days where we are homebound and schools are closed. The knowledge that we’ll be above freezing before the week’s end, and likely by next week we’ll be back out on the porch.

So to my Northern farmgirls (and boys), my hats off to you. I see you digging out, resilient and determined to push forward. You are feeding, watering, and mucking your herds with valor. Making it work for good no matter what. I’ve seen horse rescues and folks going out of their way to make sure all critters great and small are taken care of. You guys are tough! From our farmtastic life to yours, we raise a glass of sweet tea and say you go, girl (and guy). You are amazing. We pray your spring flowers will be there soon, and you too can sit a spell on your porches.

P.S. – Just one request. You might be sending this letter back to me in August when it’s sweltering.  We are Texan tough when it comes to summertime.

Farm Life · Farmtastic Stories

Tiny Barn, Grateful Heart

Have any of y’all heard of the tiny house movement?  The basic concept is that we have too much stuff, and that it’s time to simplify.  Reasons for going tiny are many including: financial, freeing up maintenance and effort of home ownership to travel or pursue other passions, focusing on experiences vs. things, and the list goes on.  I think the official square footage to be called tiny is 500 square feet, and as we say in the South, that is teeniny!

When Cowboy and I moved to the farm, while we upsized on land (and maintenance work, just ask any farmgirl), we downsized our living space to less than 1,000 square feet.  I remember family and friends were concerned what that would be like for us, having come from a 2,100 square foot 3-bedroom-two-bathroom ranch.  And let’s be honest, they were worried about how I would do because as long as Cowboy has a workshop, he’s all set.

I have to admit when we saw the concrete slab poured for our barn and I saw < 1,000 square feet carved out for our living space, my immediate thoughts went to, “Oh no!  What have I agreed to?”  But then I thought,  “It’s okay.  This is just temporary.  We’ll build a house in a couple of years at most.”

So I went about sorting our home into giveaways, keeps for later, and keeps for now.  We gave away A LOT.  We kept quite a bit in boxes marked “house” in hopes they would be part of our future home once we moved out of the barn.  The process was freeing as we got down to our favorite things, which were all going into the barn, and they were the things that had the most meaning to us.

Well here we are four years later, and we absolutely love living in our smaller space.  We’ve had to add on a guest room, because as I’ve said in the past the country will attract your city friends like flies to honey, upping our space to just under 1,400 square feet. But we had to find a spot to put folks because the sofa, chairs, and floors were filling up.

Anyway, this summer, we decided it was time to go through those “house” boxes, because if we hadn’t used them in four years we likely didn’t need them.  Of course, we found some treasures, and we found some others that fell into the what-were-we-thinking category.

Who knows, we might build a house someday or stay in the barn until we are old and gray and rocking away on the porch.  (I’m working on plans to screen in the porch, so that would be just cozy perfect.)  So while I’m not a member of the tiny house movement – because let’s face it, I am not a joiner,  as friends have pointed out in the past – I do like the idea of simplifying.  (Oh, and as Cowboy says we can’t have an official tiny house because where would we put all the fur-kids?  True, very true!)

So I vote we not get hung up on rules about square feet or reality TV show definitions of a movement, but we just look inside and find those moments of joy and gratefulness.  It never hurts to take an inventory of the external and internal, as we all have growing and learning to do.  And being grateful for each little thing is a great way to start.

Farm Photo - Inspirational sign, "Happiness Comes From a Grateful Heart"
One of the many signs I’ve filled up our living space with. I love inspirational sayings for little pick-me-ups.



Farm Life · Farmtastic Stories

It’s a Close-the-Gate Kind of Day

Life at the farm keeps Cowboy and me on our toes.  It seems between farm life and the critters, we are busy bees.  There is always food (dog, cat, and horse, oh my) to be bought, stalls to be scooped, and fences to be mended.  Well, you get the idea.  It’s a busy place, and the project list is never ending.  I tell folks all the time that while we love country life, it takes more time and money than we ever anticipated.

That said, there is nothing better than sitting on the porch looking out at the hills and horses, a breeze in the air with a wind chime serenade, and a glass of citrus iced tea in hand. The truth is, the farm is our favorite place on earth.   We feel so grateful and blessed to live this crazy farmtastic life, which is why our favorite days are what we call close-the-gate days.

Close-the-gate is our way of saying no one comes in, no one goes out, and we get to enjoy the farm with our critters all to ourselves.  While we love visitors, we absolutely cherish a little peace and quiet.

On these days, Cowboy is likely to be cooking up something lucscious on the grill, cats and dogs will be sprawled out napping, and I’ll have a batch of tea going on the stove while I flip through my stack of books for that perfect mystery fix.  Sometimes we’ll give the horses much needed baths,  laughing and getting ourselves soaked in the process.  Or sometimes we’ll  take the pups on a walk around the farm, stopping to inspect wildflowers while they inspect jack rabbit trails.

Farm Photo - Gate with sunflowers
Close-the-gate, enjoy the day, smell the flowers.

In short, we simply enjoy the day and each other.  We live for and prep for close-the-gate days.  We know when it’s coming and make sure our biggest chores are done, the fridge and pantry are stocked with fresh ingredients, and the critters are all set for some munching of their own.  It’s a day to count your blessings, and here at the farm we use all of our fingers, toes, paws, and hooves to count them up one by one.

So whether you live on a farm, in the city, or the suburbs, we highly recommend a close-the-gate day to refresh the spirit.  As we enter the hottest days of the year, take some time to soak it all in, and let us know how you enjoy your close-the-gate day.

Be blessed!