A Better Way

We took a field trip with a caravan of friends to visit the wonderful A Better Way Farm and Goat Dairy in Waynesboro, Virginia. Ever since we moved to a house with a paddock and barn in the backyard, my daughter has been pleading for a baby goat. As my friend said, a visit to a goat farm truly was “a better way” to indulge her.

The goat farm is a one woman operation. Just a few years ago, Kathy was working at home as a computer programmer. She said she never dreamed she would end up being a goat farmer when she bought her house and land ten years ago. It all started when her youngest daughter asked for some chicks. (At this my friend and I eyed each other. The story sounded ominously familiar). “Chicks,” she said, “are a ‘gateway drug’ for other farm animals.” Soon all she wanted to do was be outside playing with the animals. She quit her job and started building her goat herd. Now all her children have grown and left home, and she runs the farm all by herself. Even though she has 70+ goats she milks by hand, chickens, a newly planted orchard, and bees, she says she’s having so much fun it doesn’t feel like a job at all! On the weekends she gives tours of her farm and from time to time gives workshops on things like goatkeeping, beekeeping, and soap making.

It was a delight to see someone so in her element. She knows each of her goats by name. “Hi, Magpie!” she says as she gives a black and white goat an affectionate head scratch. “My babies!” she cries to triplets, furiously wagging their little tails and clamoring for her attention:

We inquired about one goat who looked rather largish around the middle.

“Is she about to give birth?” my friend asked.

“Oh, that’s my very first goat. She’s not pregnant; she just never regained her figure after having her babies. She forgives you.”

I could definitely relate.

The tour concluded with a taste of creamy, sweet goat’s milk, which one of the visitors described as tasting like “melted ice cream.” We bought some chèvre, feta, and soap – all made from goats’ milk.

And though it was incredibly difficult to resist, we did not buy a baby goat.

Now the girl wants ducklings.

Farmette

As I write this, my parents are on a plane heading back to Seoul. They are moving back to the high rise apartment they left – (we had thought for good) – about six years ago. I wonder how my dad will get on without the garden he was so happy to come home to in Arlington. Will he dream about the row of pine tree saplings he planted when they first arrived…the ones which my mother would scornfully refer to as his “sticks,” when she’d see him from the window tenderly fussing over them? Will he regret not seeing the peonies, peach and cherry trees bloom in his own yard this spring?

For many years, my dad tried to put his farm boy roots behind him. He ferociously, voraciously pursued degree after degree. Even today, at the age of 80, after acquiring a couple masters degrees, a doctorate, and a J.D., he still seriously weighs the possibility of going back to school again. But no matter how many degrees he accumulates, no matter how many scholarly tomes he writes, he will always be a man of the earth. The proof is in the combination arboretum, botanical garden, and vegetable plot he manages to cram into every tiny suburban yard he’s ever had at his disposal. The proof is in the quail eggs and incubator he ordered from an ad he found in a Field and Stream magazine. (If they had hatched – Lord knows where we would have kept them)! The proof is in his book shelves, in which Goats and Goatkeeping can be found among volumes on philosophy, theology, and law.

 

Goats and GoatkeepingSometimes genes express themselves in the weirdest ways…

I’ve always been an animal lover, but my husband is an animal-barely-tolerator. Every now and then I indulge myself in a little harmless entertainment…I freak him out by suggesting that I’m going to bring home another puppy, or by getting all misty-eyed as I rhapsodize about a long-cherished fantasy. I describe to him my dream of having an animal farmette, populated only with cute animals: a sheep or two, some goats, a few fluffy little bunnies, some ducks, a bunch of dogs, and maybe a miniature pony. He listens to me in silence, with growing waves of alarm clouding his face as I wax on about my little menagerie.

“What is it with you and animal husbandry?” he will finally ask in utter bewilderment.

One day I was looking out of my office window, which overlooks the Amphitheater at the University of Virginia. Pens were being set up with miniature llamas, sheep, cows, goats, bunnies, horses, and chickens. It turns out that the University Programs Council periodically brings in a petting zoo for the students’ pleasure. I was at once elated, and filled with burning, insane jealousy of whoever stole my dream:

We’ve moved to a new house with a two stall barn, a paddock, run-in shed, and chicken coop. They all stand empty.

IMG_7899

So far, I’ve parried and dodged the many earnest entreaties for livestock that my children have thrown my way. (Of course, they know better than to importune their father). I’m trying to stay strong, but every now and then I sense myself weakening…

Every day on our way home, we pass two different herds of goats. I can hear my daughter coo and sigh with delight in the backseat whenever she catches sight of them.

“I wish we could have a baby goat,” she says in a voice filled with yearning.

I usually pretend I can’t hear her, but one day a couple weeks ago, I allowed myself to actually consider the idea.

“Do some research,” I told her, shocking myself as I heard the words came out of my own mouth, “If it’s really easy to keep a goat, maybe we could think about it.”

When we pulled into our driveway, she couldn’t get out of the car fast enough. She ran into the house and hit the interwebs. She was at it until it was time for her to go to bed.

She came to find me in the living room to report her findings…

“The only complicated thing is that they have to have some kind of mineral supplement that we, well you would have to buy…And you have to have a really good fence to keep them in, and to keep predators out. And even though they’re supposed to eat anything, it turns out that some plants like azaleas and cherry trees are actually poisonous to goats…”

“Hmmm,” I said, “I’m going to do a little research of my own and we can discuss it in the morning.”

I poked around on the internet myself and discovered a bunch of things my daughter hadn’t mentioned…The fact that they would require specialized veterinary care: the semi-annual filing down of hoofs, vaccinations, and deworming; the fact that they must have companionship; and the fact that they are master escape artists. It was all rather overwhelming.

The next morning I gave my unsuspecting husband a pat and said without any further explanation, “You don’t know how lucky you are.”

This time.

 

Weekend Snapshots 31

Saturday

If you look down at your feet and it looks like this:

…you know it’s time for the Frostbite Soccer Tournament!

My daughter’s soccer team wasn’t participating in the two-day Tournament, but she and her friend were guest players for another team.

Later that evening it was time for my son’s piano recital:

I sang with him on his second piece – Georgia on My Mind.

Sunday

We discovered that our pups were in our local weekly paper!

My industrious dogs never take a break from their labors…Here they are demonstrating their foot warming skills:

Back to business! Round 2 of the Frostbite Tournament…

A second place finish for the gold team…

Aaaaaand that’s a wrap!

Puppy Love

This is Chloe (black and white) and her brother Tallis (white and cream).

I have a confession to make…

These dogs do not make my heart go pitter-patter.

That is not to say that they have not inspired some intense emotions in me. For example, I am insanely jealous of them every morning when I head out to work and they are busily engaged in their usual activity:

I’ll admit that it used to amuse me to dress them up occasionally:

And to take photos of them, dripping like wet dishrags in the arms of my children:

Objectively, I can see that they’re really cute dogs:

But don’t let those cute faces fool you. They are the worst kind of troublemakers. Every time I dare to hope that they’re finally coming around, I am proven wrong. Whenever I forget myself and make the mistake of praising the dogs or expressing any kind of affection towards them, my son has to warn me:

“STOP!!! What are you doing?! Every time you say anything nice about them, they do something really terrible!”

It’s true. Well past puppyhood, they are still not 100% housebroken. They pee on the rugs. They’ve peed on my new-ish couch, which necessitated the purchase of even newer, super expensive pee-free cushions. They’ve chewed up woodwork. They’ve eaten poop. They’ve eaten rocks…yes, rocks.

One of my sisters described the dogs as devoid of any personality. Another sister used the word “blobby” to capture their essence.

I’m going to be painfully honest here. The three of us never really clicked…until this weekend.

I gained a whole new appreciation for them over the Thanksgiving holiday. They were exceedingly tolerant of all my nieces and nephews, who expressed their love for them vigorously and relentlessly.

They even earned their keep by “working” at a “Puppies and Pumpkins” event for international students who were staying in Charlottesville over the Thanksgiving break:

Their blobbiness magically transformed into an asset!

In appreciation, I rained lavish sweet nothings upon their furry little heads. I fed them bits of ham. I gave them massages. Chloe wriggled with pleasure. She gazed up into my eyes with adoration…and promptly showered the floor with a gallon of pee.

More about my two miscreants in these posts:

Cute, but Rotten Pt. 1

Cute, but Rotten Pt. 2

My Genius Dogs

Dogs in America

Our House

When I was a little girl we took a long car ride from our house in Pennsylvania to Georgia, where my dad’s friend had a farm. Visiting that farm was like entering a foreign land populated by mythical beasts I had only ever read about in books. There were horses that stood impossibly tall and imposing. There were dozens and dozens of pigs that squealed and ran in a comical panic whenever we approached their pen. Indoors, I found a giant, fluffy orange cat lounging on a bed.

The only animals I had ever known to that point were dogs; the cat was as exotic to me as the horses and pigs. I knelt down and stared straight into his green eyes. I began to stroke him from his head to the tip of his tail. With our eyes locked, I felt that we were communing with each other on a spiritual level. I could tell he was appreciating my ministrations, because he was slowly wagging his tail, just like our dogs would do when showered with such loving attention. Suddenly, the cat leapt onto my face and raked downward with his claws.

Tears mingled with the blood trickling down my face as I ran to find my mother. In a very Korean way, she urgently whispered to me to stop crying and to say nothing of my encounter with the cat. Our hosts would be embarrassed by what their pet had done, she explained, and it would be rude to upset them. She dried my eyes and washed away the blood, but there was nothing she could do to hide the long red tracks made by the cat’s claws.

Instead of expressing the slightest regret or embarrassment, when our hostess noticed my face she cackled with mirth and drawled, “I see you met Tiger.”

I’ve been wary of cats ever since, though what this episode really should have taught me is to be wary of people – a far scarier species.

This is all to say that I never considered that I would ever share space with a cat.

This is Scooter. He’s a feral cat that the family who sold us our house had been taking care of when they lived here. Before they moved out of the state a couple years ago, they trapped and relocated Scooter to their friend’s farm many miles away. The cleaning lady, who was keeping up the house while it was on the market, noticed the cat hanging out on the back porch and alerted Scooter’s former owners that he had somehow managed to make the long pilgrimage back home.

For the week we’ve been in our new house, Scooter has been sitting on the back deck or in the back yard. Whenever our eyes meet through the glass doors, he yowls at me with a grumpy, pissed off expression on his scrawny little face.

“Don’t feed him, or he’ll never leave,” advised my friends.

Promise me you won’t feed that cat!” commanded my mother, aka She Who Must Be Obeyed, over the phone.

“We should call the SPCA to trap him and take him to the shelter,” suggested my son.

We’ve been negotiating all sorts of things via our realtors:  the replacement of pipes, the cutting of keys, electrical repairs…A couple days ago I got another message relayed to us by the sellers’ realtor. The former owners were begging us to keep Scooter as a barn cat.

Here’s the thing…My husband and I reported to each other that we both felt our mood lift the moment we first pulled into the driveway of what is now our new house. It’s an old yellow farmhouse originally built in 1920 to serve as the rectory for the Reverend Howell C. Lewis and his wife Bessie, who served the Presbyterian church just around the corner. There’s an ineffable sense of serenity here. To us, it felt like home. Scooter thought so too. He knew and loved the place long before I ever did.

I just bought my very first bag of cat food. I’m sure it won’t be my last. Scooter and I both chose to make this house our home, and I guess that means we’ve chosen each other. But Scooter is such an undignified name for a cat who suffered and wandered in the wilderness to find his way back to his own hallowed grounds, don’t you think? Meet Parson Scooter, resident cat.

Being a jerk to my husband

What happens when a dog-lover marries a dog-tolerator? This:

On the way home from Tennessee last week we stopped for lunch and spotted a little pen set up on the grass with a litter of Jack Russell Terrier pups for sale. Obviously, we had to go over to admire the puppies. We were just going to look at the puppies, and maybe just pet them a little. But then I picked up this sweet little girl with two perfectly round spots on her back, and I fell madly in love. How could I not? She rolled over onto her back and fell asleep in my arms as I petted her soft little belly. I really, really wanted to take her home, and I’m pretty sure she really, really wanted to come home with me. I knew my dog-tolerating husband would be less than thrilled if I came home with a third dog, (to the say the very least). I imagined the shock and horror on his face as I walked in the door with my new puppy. Could I do this to the man I love, my husband of eighteen years, the father of my three children? I sent him a text:

Nah. But I could just mess with him a little.

Signs of Spring

Friday morning the sun was shining and the snow was melting fast…We went from this:

To this, in just a couple of days:

On Sunday I spent a pleasant afternoon with the sun on my back as I strolled around the yard on my very first hunt for spring for the very first time this year…

It’s become a daily ritual that I look forward to around this time of the year…

…when the monochrome landscape suddenly transforms into a technicolor scene of riotous shape and gaudy color with new surprises springing up from the muddy earth every single day.

Every year it seems to me that I am witnessing an impossible miracle.

I was most excited about spotting this little friend, the greatest miracle of all:

I always consider the first sighting of the fish in our backyard pond as the true harbinger of spring. It always fills me with an unreasonable amount of joy!