City Girl In The Country – With Snakes

When Beagle was bitten by a snake at six years old while playing in the yard with his sister, the two came running to the house at full speed.  At first it was hard to decipher what had happened as the hysteria was so great.  In fact, Principessa – who was only emotionally scathed – was screaming louder than her brother.  “The snake was hanging from his finger!!!”  she screached.

Sure enough, there were two puncture holes – undeniable proof of a snake bite.

Now, when a city girl’s child gets bitten by a snake, even if that city girl has been trained in First Aid, there is sure to be some panic.  But I kept my wits about me and called a number of authoritative resources to alleviate any concern that Beagle would perish from the incident.

“What kind of snake was it?” they all asked me, AS IF I WOULD KNOW.  “That’s why I called you, the expert, to magically tell me that the unidentified snake, which you and I didn’t see, was NOT poisonous.”

Country-Boy husband determined that it was most likely a harmless garter snake.  He was so cavalier about it that one almost wouldn’t detect his immense snake phobia.

In the years that followed, there were numerous snake sitings including one that took up residence in the foundation of our house.  By this point, Beagle had proven himself to be quite a nature boy.  So I enlisted him to try to catch it – in order to conquer his snake PTSD of course.  Good of me, right?

Meanwhile, I was becoming more seasoned in country life as I took to educating myself on local wildlife.  Which basically means that I was figuring out my own hierarchy of ‘Things In Nature That Can Harm Me.’  Strangely, I find myself rather enamored of squamates, most of whom can swallow prey much larger than their heads.  In stark contrast, I am exceedingly sour about ticks whose main purpose it seems is to convey bacterial disease.

When this tiny baby was discovered

dead, but beautifully intact, I decided to keep it as an ornament on my desk, much to the horror of my family.  But the real prize came when Husband called me to the yard where he discovered its mama while mowing the lawn.

Lest you think me completely devoid of my city-senses, I will clarify that I don’t handle live snakes with my hands.  But I will get close enough for a photo op.  Husband, on the other hand, wouldn’t approach closer than (literally) a ten foot swimming pool pole, which he used to scoop it up.

This particular snake with its rattling tail stunned me into a morning of research to verify that it wasn’t a poisonous variety but rather a Milk Snake, common to these parts.

When I proudly played show and tell with photos of my yard-mate, my co-worker jumped back 20 feet and began to unwind. She was shaking and stuttering and had to remove her striped cardigan which somehow reminded her of a snake.

I was aghast at her extreme reaction, but truthfully, I was also entertained and maybe a bit smug.  How far I’ve come after 12 years in the country.  These days I’m more apt to consider the city pests like rats and traffic to be more intolerable than slithering, slimy creatures of the country.

In fact, I’ve developed an actual kinship with nature.  I feel sorry for the creatures that become trapped in my house – the fly desperately seeking exit at the screen door, the drama-filled bird maming itself while trying to crash through the window…  And I’d rather have a bat in my house (which I have, several times) because they’re so smart about getting themselves free through the smallest of spaces.

Friends wanted to know what I did with the snake.  They were horrified to hear that Husband and I placed it on the other side of the fence to avoid injury from the lawn mower.  Many offered advice to eliminate it.  But this city girl-turned-coutnry wouldn’t think of harming creatures in the their natural habitat.  If however, I ever find a snake in my bed, well, that will be a different blog altogether.

City Girl In The Country – With a Snowblower

Snow BlowingIn the Country Life Olympics, snow blowing is not my strongest event.  It’s on par with my leaf blowing skills.  I blame the fact that we didn’t need yard machines in the city on our postage-stamp size lot.  But give me a rake or a shovel and watch out!

A more suspicious wife might wonder if dear Husband purposely scheduled his business travel to warmer climates in response to our local forecast of ANOTHER blizzard.  (Fun fact: New England has had 78 inches of snow in one month.)

Perhaps when Husband left an extra gas tank in the garage, he was feeling remorseful that the snow blower ran out of fuel in the middle of the driveway during the previous storm, leaving his wife and daughters stranded.

It was said gas tank that brought me to tears.  Prepping for my third round of driveway-clearing in 10-degree temperatures, I found my fingers incapable of fine motor tasks.  The pain and frustration were so great that I fell to my knees and wept.  It was a messy scene of snot and swearing for a while before I pulled myself together and solved the problem by destroying the gas cap with a key.  My mother’s voice rang in my mind, “If you cry, you cry alone.”  Harsh but helpful advice that has spared me any delusion over the years that crying solves problems.

I set out with a renewed resolve to show the 300-pound snow blower who’s boss.  Several times I pinned myself against the house and car because I forgot to shift out of reverse.  But I’m happy to report that I completed the job with all body parts intact, if not sore.

I returned to the house looking like a pathetic version of Ice Man.  Frolicking daughters stopped dead in their tracks when they saw me.  Peach, bless her sweet soul, wordlessly started a cup of tea.  Teen daughter, also somewhat speechless except for a sympathetic ‘Oh!’ grabbed a  tissue to wipe the mascara running down my face.

This swell weather pattern we’re having doesn’t want to give up.  Neither do I.  Now that I’ve conquered the beast, I am determined to elevate my snow removal game.  ‘Atta girl’ Husband would say….as he drove out of the snow-cleared driveway to the airport.

City Girl in the Country – With A New Puppy

When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to have a dog.  My parents had a variety of practical reasons, but none, in my young opinion, was convincing enough to justify an outright denial of this most basic childhood desire.

They did try to appease my strong proclivity for pets with a menagerie of city-friendly rodents, birds, and fish, including some very cool homing pigeons and a brief stint with a live turkey that was walked on a leash.  But my dog-desire never waned.

Before the ink dried on the P&S of my first home, I contacted a breeder who would fulfill my long-awaited dream of owning a dog.  The rest is history, as they say.  I haven’t been dog-less since.

Enter my newest friend, Ivy.

Ivy

Regular readers will recall that convincing Husband to step back into dog ownership after the loss of a previous one takes work.  He is understandably nervous about the responsibility and commitment involved – especially for a puppy.  But with four relentless voices in the house and a coup by some fellow dog-loving friends, Husband caved to the cutest Christmas present ever!

We arrived at the shelter as the doors opened, hoping for first dibs.  We narrowly succeeded.  As we stooped to greet our would-be pup, another interested party arrived and scooped her up, claiming “This is the one.”  Principessa jumped up from her seat on the floor with a sound that can only be described as a primal growl.  Her posture was so aggressive, her demeanor so intimidating, that for a moment, even I was afraid of her.  After several agonizing seconds of this stare-down, the woman conceded and set the pup down at a safe distance from my 17-year old daughter-turned-werewolf.

It was love at first sight…and bite.  Ivy is a nippy little thing at 10 weeks old.  She’s receiving an obscene amount of love, attention and training at the hands of five adoring fans.

We are, perhaps, a bit too alarmist in light of the sudden and tragic loss of our previous dog.  When husband spotted a tick on Ivy’s fur and mistakenly said ‘flea,’ the scene erupted like a ‘code 2319’ in Monsters Inc. when George had to be decontaminated because he had a sock stuck to his back.

Then we had the ‘bloody toenail’ that turned out to be a piece of candy cane.  And the undue panic over a pile of dog vomit.  What can I say?  We love her and want to protect her.  Any mother will attest to the very real and imagined dangers that lurk in the shadows of her mind, waiting to pounce on her baby when she lets her guard down.

This is exactly what happened when two neighboring Labradors broke loose and crossed the street.  In a split second, Ivy was scooped into the mouth of the bigger one and tossed into the air.  It was a frantic scene of paws and leashes, arms and legs, trying to separate the dogs.  Despite the worrisome howling and shaking, Ivy recovered without any wounds.  It will take her humans a bit longer to heal.

For better or for worse, Ivy is ours, and we couldn’t be happier.   Already, in one short week, she has wiggled her way into our hearts and filled our home with joy.  As dogs do, she gives far more than she takes, proving once again that the journey of life is sweeter when traveled with a dog.

picstitch

City Girl In The Country: Lost – My Messy Beautiful

Lost. My Messy BeautifulHusband says I can get lost in my own backyard. He exaggerates. The fact that I couldn’t find my way home from Peach’s dance class when we first moved to the country and had to call him to send up a flare, is not ample evidence. To a city girl, everything looks the same in the woods.

Fortunately, I’m not afraid to ask for directions. Like the time at the hardware store when the kindly gentleman employee, noticing my bewilderment, asked if he could help me. “Yes,” I gratefully replied. “I’m looking for caulk.”  The stunned, red-faced man led me silently to aisle 5.

Life is a maze – one in which I am frequently befuddled. And scared. Sometimes it seems that there is no difference between the middle-aged me and the eight year old me who cried her way through an amusement park after getting stuck in the glass maze. Or the teenage me on the first day of Sophomore year in a new school who burst into tears from the stress of being the new kid in a paralyzing scene of adolescent frenzy.

Perhaps this explains why a girl who failed Geography is addicted to maps and has a pet name for her GPS. And why my favorite job in college was Orientation Guide – leading packs of overwhelmed families through the labyrinth of an urban University Campus. Guiding is the antithesis of being lost.

When I see a panicked child in a store or a dog wandering the streets, I cannot rest until it is reunited with its family. Helping the lost is akin to reaching out the hand that knows what it’s like to tremble with fear and grasping another to steady it.

One day, I found a boy at the beach who was clearly too young to be alone. I detained the happy little chap until his mother arrived on the scene, frantic. Scooping him up, she admonished him for wandering off. His precious rebuttal to her fear was, “I not lost, Momma. I right here.” Clever lad. He knew that wherever he went, there he was. Why waste time worrying about where you’re supposed to be when the place you’re at is so magnificent?

I’m sure it’s magical for some people, like Husband, to explore the unknown and find his own way. Say, for example, in Disney World. But for those of us in need of a plan, there are at least three books that one might read on how to negotiate this particular adventure with efficiency. If these two very different people attempt to vacation together, they might argue a lot and vow never to vacation together again. Not that this happened to me. Just sayin’.

In the Adventure Park of Life, if given the choice, I opt for the guided tour. And I know I’m not alone. When I Google ‘How to deal with anger,’ I don’t even have to finish typing the sentence before several of the most frequently requested answers pop up. People want to KNOW. They don’t want to struggle.

That being said, I’ve learned to appreciate uncertainty and to find the humor in feeling lost.   Because the truth is, I’ve never not been found. When I was lost in sorrow, love found me. When I was lost in chaos, clarity found me.

Life, it turns out, is not the terrifying place I imagined. Writing about it reminds me of this. When I find myself confused about life’s challenges, writing sheds light on the internal compass, which is a heck of a lot more interesting to follow than a real compass. It takes me to places I never knew existed. And then, of course, I want to lead others to these places. So I share my thoughts with you and hope that the little match I’ve lit will light your way too.

Henry David Thoreau said, “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” He is smarter than Husband who tells me, “You’re hopeless without a map.” But Husband is cuter and has a tremendous sense of direction. When we married, my first choice for our wedding song was Follow Me Follow You by Genesis. Husband said it was too hard to dance to. But I think the real issue was his disagreement with the ‘I will follow you’ part. He was understandably nervous, given my track record.

My lost-ness is a well-honed skill. I rather excel at it. It’s not much to brag about, but I’m sort of attached to it.

 

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

 

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City Girl In The (Cold) Country

wood-stoveWe’ve had the coldest and snowiest winter in recent memory which brings the threat of higher heating bills and the motivation to implement supplementary measures.  Visions of thousand dollar bills flying out the door every time we opened it scared husband and I into some long overdue changes.

Thus, we set about on our mission to cold-proof ourselves and our home; each of us trying to out-do the other in heat-saving measures.  To start, every family member, minus the dog, was gifted with a set of wool socks, a fluffy blanket, and a thick sweatshirt.  In lieu of warm clothing, the dog – who has his own natural fur coat – did benefit from an upgrade in sleeping quarters.  At the request of my son, he happily surrendered his place on the cozy wool rug for a previously restricted spot on the foot of my son’s bed.  A “two-for-one”, son declared.   “The dog is warmer and so are my feet!”  Who am I to argue?

A family trip to the hardware store was productive and satisfying.  We discovered sweeps for the doors, plastic to cover windows, and caulking to fill cracks around both.  We filled up our cart with abandon, convinced that spending a little now saves a lot later.  Not a flinch could be detected as the total of our purchases soared through triple digits.   Chalk it up for the heat miser.

Our self-satisfaction seemed to grow with every step.  But the real peak was reached when we fired up the wood-burning stove, and hauled in some wood from trees that were felled in our own backyard.  “Free heat!” husband exclaimed.  We were positively giddy about our dominance over Old Man Winter.

Day and night, husband can be found holding vigil at the woodstove.  He’s got it down to a science: position of the flue vent, configuration of wood, placement of fans for heat circulation.  So many details, but oh, so much heat.  Like a spoiled cat, I curl up in front of the stove, basking in the 74 degree temperature; a luxury never afforded by traditional heating.

And then it happened.  Husband left for 3 of the coldest days this season.  And I was left to tend the fire.  It was time for this cat to get off the rug and learn a thing or two.  My crash course was brief, but adequate I thought.  How hard could it be?  Humans have been tending fires for millions of years.  If un-evolved cave people could do it, surely a seasoned city girl-turned-country could too!

Within just a few hours of husband’s departure, my lofty assumptions crumbled.    Facing a rapidly dwindling heat source, and equally diminished confidence, I knelt before the wood stove, praying to the god of fire to save me from disaster.  Then I cried aloud, as if the stove had a life of its own, “I raked the coals; I gave you wood; I even smiled at you!  What more do you need?”   And why is my house filling with smoke instead of heat?  Somebody help me.  I need heat!”

Suddenly, through  smoke-induced tears, I saw a light.  Not the light of a fire, but the light of awareness.  I DO have heat.  Without hesitation, I rose from my knees and walked  defiantly  across the room to the thermostat.  Pushing guilt aside, I raised my finger and pressed the button.  Hearing the familiar click of the furnace as it turned on brought a smile to my face.  I leaned in a little closer, and whispered, “I love you.”

I might have relished that moment longer, had I not spotted my children staring at me, wide-eyed and incredulous.  Realizing that excuses would not suffice, I gave one simple instruction that would be repeated many times in the next few days, “Don’t tell Dad I turned on the heat.”

City Girl In The Country – With Ticks!

deer_tick_1I’ve come a long way since my first experience with a tick.  There’s no more screaming or thrashing or hyperventilating.  But as I discovered today, I still can’t claim dominion over my faculties when the little buggers are stuck on ME.

I thought I was handling myself well when, while showering at the gym, I found three ticks inhabiting a sensitive region of my body.  Devoid of tweezers, and unwilling to wait the several hours until I returned home, I threw myself together and headed for the drugstore.  Friend happened to call in the process and commented that I was handling myself surprisingly well.  She couldn’t see how fast I was driving.  Anxiety was building.  But I patted myself on the back anyway.  Not bad for a city girl, I thought.

Perhaps the cosmetics cashier wondered what kind of diva runs through CVS on an emergency tweezer purchase, ripping through the packaging on her way to the car.  But she could not have been as perplexed as the woman who watched me peel out of one parking spot near the entrance of the store to a different spot at the far end.  You know, the spots where the employees park and LEAVE THEIR CARS for the day.

Frantic to remove the invading ticks, I dropped my pants and began plucking.  When all three were tossed out the window, I performed another thorough scan of the nether regions of my body to make sure I hadn’t missed any.  Breathing a sigh of relief, I glanced up at the car beside me and saw a man, cup of coffee in hand, jaw dropped and eyes wide.  I froze briefly, matching the surprise on his face.

Contemplating my next move while putting myself back together, I smiled sheepishly and considered introducing myself.  He had just seen me half-naked after all.  Instead, I opted for a casual shoulder shrug and a wave.  Whatever.  I had ticks!

Off I drove to meet husband so we could exchange cars.  Still not convinced that I was tick-free, I asked husband to check my backside.  He refused, siting our location as too public.  Newly desensitized to potential onlookers, I insisted and threw myself prostrate into the back seat of the car with my shirt up.

Alarmed at my lack of decorum, husband tried appeasing me with a perfunctory exam lasting all of one second.  “You’re fine.” He declared.  “I’ll do a check when we get home.”

Are you kidding?  A tick could be infusing me with Lyme Disease by then!  Despite my begging, husband stood firm, which left me thinking….Had this happened in young adulthood, husband would not have hesitated when his wife threw herself in the backseat asking for a bodily examination.  Just sayin’.

A few hours after parting ways, husband phoned in a bit of a huff to report that he had picked up a friend of mine – a hitchhiker.  Excuse me?  A little fellow, he explained.  Tiny, black, crawling up my arm.  Husband detailed a rather frantic encounter with a tick as he tried to remove it while driving on the highway.

Oh, I see.  So you, country boy, had to remove a tick immediately, without even stopping the car, for fear of its consequences.  But when your wife has ticks embedded in her, you tell her to calm down.

Husband reverted to an accusatory defense strategy – something about sabotage and planting ticks in the car.  I admitted to dropping one of the ticks on its way out the window, but let’s not lose sight of the real issue.  Country Boy is a fraud.  Chalk one up for City Girl.

City Girl in the Country – With Chickens

On the current episode of City Girl in the Country, the Dunhams are raising chickens. For real.

Our story begins months ago when teen daughter got word that Grandpa was looking to pass on the circa 1985 incubator that I, Mother, used in high school to hatch chickens for a science fair project. Thus began Principessa’s campaign to revive the experience.

She was very clever in her approach, presenting her self-initiated research in an inflatedly responsible manner. Failing to be convinced of the wisdom of this project earned me a less enjoyable round of begging. When that, too, failed, Principessa enlisted Grandpa’s help. “After all,” he argued, “I let you do it. Why would you rob your daughter of the experience?”

Principessa echoed with “Mom, I only have two more years. Then I’m GONE.” (To college, that is.) Principessa’s new go-to source of ammunition is her impending departure from our household. She knows this pulls on her parents’ heartstrings and bends our sympathies in her favor.

The next week, I found myself clearing a space in my home office for this:

incubator metal

Home to the miracle of life.

To deny my excitement about the process would be a lie. I adore a birth story. So much so, that I became a doula after I was done birthing my own babies so I could still be part of the process. But I drew the line at hatching. We would NOT be keeping chickens.

As incubation days ticked by, Principessa and I became increasingly attached to….eggs. Which, as it turned out, are what all seven were – just eggs with potential. In poultry world they’re called ‘quitters.’ I mean, really, how insensitive! We were crushed.

With hatching fever running rampant, we decided to purchase an updated incubator and a new clutch of eggs. When we candled them at day 13 of 21 and saw definite signs of life in 6 out of 7, Principessa screamed so loudly that husband came running, thinking an egg had exploded. Instead, he found Principessa and me hugging, crying, and rejoicing for our little chicks. Husband admonished us for scaring him, shook his head and walked away grumbling about our insanity.

It was around this time that I caved in my resolve to put the chicks up for adoption. I postulated that raising chickens was much less of a commitment than other pets we’ve entertained. And besides, we love fresh eggs.

We hadn’t calculated that the chicks would hatch on Mother’s Day. So we were ecstatic when we found this:

chick 1

You can imagine how the rest of the day progressed. Principessa and I kept our noses pressed against the incubator for hours, content to watch and wait and listen to the happy sound of peeping. When husband insisted that we tear ourselves away to the kitchen for a family dinner that he had cooked, we reluctantly agreed in hopes that there would be progress in the other eggs upon our return. Not fifteen minutes later, Beagle left the table to retrieve a ringing phone and announced that another egg had hatched. Husband was duly remorseful.

I am happy to report that we witnessed three of the six eggs hatch and are now the proud caretakers of these:

chicks new

Now all we need is a hen house, which husband offered to build.  He did not promise the Taj Mahal but he did promise Fort Knox.  There are numerous predators surrounding our house, waiting for chicken dinner.  Husband is handy, yes, but not  a professional builder.  So I borrowed a book from the library:  “Building Chicken Coops for Dummies” which I asked husband to pick up on his way home.  He refused on the premise that it would be like telling a man to ask for directions.  Not happening.  So I retrieved the book myself with the intention of reading it TO him.  Won’t that be fun?

I do hope chicken-keeping will go better than vegetable growing.  We are learning as we go, but are confident that we’ve made a good choice.  Stay tuned.  And move over, Farmer Brown.  City Girl is taking the country by storm!

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