Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, The last of life, for which the first was made: Our times are in His hand Who saith "A whole I planned, Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!" - From "Rabbi Ben Ezra" by Robert Browning

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ready... Aim... Would You?

9mm Smith & Wesson Semi-Automatic
"Concentration or the lack of it is what separates good shooters from mediocre shooters. Even if you know the fundamentals, it takes a lot of concentration to make yourself think about them for every shot. Shooting a handgun well does not take a great deal of strength, but it does take a great deal of concentration - it's simple, but not necessarily easy. You must block out external distractions and think about each and every shot before and, as you fire it, not afterwards." - Fundamentals of Handgun Shooting (Walton Co. publication)

John and I spent Saturday morning at the Walton County Sheriff's Office thoroughly enjoying a "Personal Self Defense and Handgun Safety" class. Captain Bobby Tribble led the class, and was a genuine wealth of information, and completely entertaining! Turns out he has taught in a Police Academy, and he was chosen to train a group of 72 citizens (out of 1000) from Haiti, who had come to the States to be trained as Haiti's first police force! How cool is that?
Captain Bobby Tribble, Walton Co. Sheriff"s Dept.

We spent the majority of the class going over the various situations in which we might need to use a gun to protect ourselves,and/or someone else, and the Georgia laws that address those situations.

We learned that we are "justified in threatening or using force against another when" we have a reasonable belief that "such threat or force is necessary to defend ... against such other's imminent use of unlawful force" and "justified in using force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if [we reasonably believe] that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury ... or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."  (O.C.G.A. 16-31-21)

In other words, we can use a gun to protect ourselves and others who might be with us. We can shoot anyone we think is threatening our lives. We cannot shoot anyone whose intent appears to be burglary or simple theft. We cannot shoot anyone who is causing damage to any part of our property, our pets, or our livestock. Pets and livestock are considered property. If, however, when confronted, a burglar, or those causing damage turn with an intent to do us bodily harm, then we can shoot them.
Class members, 15 yard range

There is a whole lot more, but these are the basic considerations when deciding to pull a gun on someone who is threatening our life or property here in Georgia.

One of the most interesting things we learned in this class is that in Walton County, GA, we can own as many guns as we want as long as we have a permit, and concealed weapons (on person or in vehicle) are encouraged.

We spent the final hour of the class out on the firing range. John and I didn't have our own guns, so we had to wait our turn to use one provided by the Sheriff's Department. Although we have a couple of rifles, we do not own any handguns at this time. I wanted to wait until after the class to choose and buy my own gun. I wanted to be clear about what kind of gun would be best for me. That's a good thing, because out on the firing range there were several elderly ladies who learned that the guns they had brought with them were too powerful for them. They had too much recoil for these ladies to handle.
John practicing with a semi-automatic

During discussions in class, I decided that I prefer a semi-automatic to a revolver. A small revolver, like a Saturday Night Special, has less recoil than a standard revolver; but a semi-automatic has even less recoil than the Special, and it's lighter weight. It doesn't require as much trigger pull strength either. A semi-automatic holds more bullets than a revolver, and being easier to reload, you can have a large number of rounds quickly and easily at hand. I also learned that the majority of law enforcement officers in America carry a 9mm semi-automatic. In Walton County, they use a Smith & Wesson. Captain Tribble offered that he thought the Smith & Wesson is a better made gun. In the three years our Sheriff's deputies have been using it, they haven't experienced the first misfire, jam, or breakage. You can't beat that!

Out on the range, I fired a semi-automatic, and it confirmed that this is the gun I want. I'm not only thinking about self-defense, I'm thinking toward the possibility of civil unrest brought on by an economic collapse or natural catastrophe, in which home defense might become a primary concern. (It could happen.) If our government were to break down, and/or the economy were to collapse, chaos would see the development of smaller pockets of society, and the possibility of roaming gangs with violent intent. (It could happen.) In such a situation, bartering might replace a monetary system. Because a 9mm semi-automatic is a very popular gun, and plentiful at this time, parts and ammo would be easier to find and barter for than most other guns and ammo.
#9: John's target. #10: My target

When I fired the first shot, I hit my target dead center. Not bad for someone who hasn't fired a gun since she was five years old. I've held plenty, I just haven't fired them. Oh, and I was only standing 15 yards from the target!

With that first shot I felt the power of the weapon in my hand, and I instantly, in that split second, thought about that target being a human being, and all the implications that pulling that trigger would mean if it were a human being I was firing at. Isn't that something we all ask ourselves, even if we've never held a gun? Can I do it? Can I kill someone?

My dad taught me how to fire a rifle when I was five years old. That was my one and only lesson, and I've never forgotten it. Dad was career Army. He served in three major wars. My brother served three years in the Army. He and my dad were in Vietnam at the same time. (It nearly drove my mother insane). My husband, John, was in the Navy for 10 years during the Cold War, and "rumor has it" a lot more happened during that war than the government wants us to know.
My target. Not bad shooting!

My point is that I have lived my whole life aware of guns, their power, and their usage. I've even been hunting a few times, although we didn't find any game, I was glad I didn't kill anything. I didn't have the heart to kill an innocent animal for sport; and I didn't need it for food. However, I have also known that if I had to, I would kill an animal to feed my family, and if I ever determine that it is the only choice I have, I will kill any human being I determine is threatening "bodily injury or death" to myself, someone I love, or someone I recognize is in immediate danger of life and health. I sincerely do pray that I never have to make that choice, but I have to make myself ready to make that choice, and if the day ever does come, believe me, I know what choice I will make.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Sweet Dreams, Lulu

John, and Jesse James Carroll walking the burial site
We buried Lulu early this morning, not long after sun-up.
Jesse begins digging the hole that will be Lulu's grave
When you bury a beloved family pet in the back yard, perhaps you have a simple ceremony, wrapping the pet in a favorite blanket, and leaving a favorite toy with him in a small grave you've dug yourself. You whisper your good-byes amid tears of love and sorrow, and perhaps you leave a small marker, or plant a flowering bush as a reminder. I've done it many times myself.

Hard, dense clay soil. Difficult even for the bobcat
On a farm, however, when you're burying an animal much larger than a family pet, especially in hot weather, you need a bigger area and a deeper hole, something larger than a shovel to dig with, and speed, in order to get ahead of the decay.

Yesterday, John was able to find a man who agreed to bring his bobcat over and bury Lulu for us. Jesse James Carroll, quite a character we found out, came over yesterday afternoon and looked over the area where he would dig the hole. He is a very nice man, and he quoted us a very reasonable price for the job. He was also quite sympathetic to our loss. That was a nice bonus for us, we thought.

The last scoop being removed
From start to finish, the whole process took about 45 minutes. The "hole" was not really a hole, but a scooped out area deep on one end and shallow on the other. When it was ready, John dragged the container (an old water trough) with Lulu in it, down into the hole and, very unceremoniously, dumped Lulu into the deep end.

Although I took lots of pictures of the entire process, including pictures of Lulu in her grave, I have chosen not to post many of them here, desiring to be sensitive to readers who might find such pictures too difficult to view. However, I did include one picture that shows Lulu already partially covered with soil. I thought it was important to the goals of this blog to show the full reality of farm life, and how we must deal with some things in a very pragmatic way, even when they affect us emotionally.

I said my good-byes to Lulu yesterday, but spoke another quiet good-bye this morning as the first scoop of dirt fell over her. John too, I found out later, said his good-byes during the burial process. Neither of us cried. It's difficult to muster tears when there's a stranger digging a huge hole in your back yard with giant machinery. We were both too busy watching the bobcat jerk back and forth and around to think about how we were feeling about losing Lulu. It was rather nerve-wracking, actually, and we were both relieved when it was over.

John and I had to leave rather quickly after Lulu was buried this morning. We had been scheduled for more than a month to attend a gun safety class at the Sheriff's Department, and we were already going to be late. So we had no time for a ceremony for Lulu's passing. We're okay with that. It doesn't mean we loved Lulu any less than we did the other pets we've lost and cried over, and buried with ceremony. It just means that even on a farm the business of life keeps us moving forward, preventing us from standing still in any one moment for too long.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Lulu In Our Hearts

Lulu died today.

Of all the aging animals on our farm that I daily expect to find dead, Lulu wasn't one of them.

In her younger days: Lulu in 2007
It was very unexpected. She was getting older, and she couldn't get around as well as she used to. She'd been experiencing some constipation this last week, but that was all, we thought. We certainly didn't think she was going to die from constipation. John called the veterinarian two days ago for advice, but they weren't a lot of help over the phone. I don't think we'll ever know what killed Lulu, but I do know we will miss her very, very much.
Lulu taking a cool dip on a hot summer day

I was outside this morning, and although I didn't look in on her, I did hear her give her usual morning grunt as I passed by and said good morning to her; but my dad went outside at Noon to give Lulu a banana (she loves bananas), and she was gone. Even though I heard Lulu grunt this morning, I think she died in her sleep. I don't think she was in any pain, just some discomfort, maybe, and that's a good thing, isn't it?
2009, at her heaviest, just after a Spring mud bath

Taking a walk across the yard
John adopted Lulu during his second marriage. It was the wife who wanted the cute little pot bellied piglet that had to be "formally" adopted; but it was John who fed her and took care of her as she grew, played with her, fell in love with her, and kept her when the wife left.

It's John who told me the story about Charlie, the chocolate lab puppy chasing the piglet around the house, and the piglet chasing Charlie; and John who calls Lulu "the best little foot warmer ever!" It's John who would scratch Lulu's belly and talk love to her, feed her chocolates as treats, and complain like all heck when Lulu waddled too slowly down the patio in front of him blocking his way.

Looking for a sunny spot on a winter day
The first time I met Lulu, she bit me. Well, she tried. Or maybe she was just trying to let me know that she was there, the primary "female" in John's life for several years before I showed up. She came up quietly behind me and nipped at my calf. I knew at that moment, when I jumped in surprise, that Lulu was sizing me up, and letting me know that she was no push over.

My family raised pigs when I was young. We raised them to resell or butcher, but invariably there would be a standout that we turned into a pet, if only for a little while. So, when I came to 5~Acre Farm, it was easy to accept Lulu as one of the "motley crew" of four-legged, independent personality creatures that John and I had gathered around us; one more grunting, begging yard-baby greeting me whenever I stepped out the back door.

Bedding down under the ramp at the back door
Lulu was easy to love. She trotted around the yard with the dogs, ate their food and hers, and loved a good scratch behind the ears. I could always count on her to relieve me of kitchen scraps, especially before we got the chickens. I'd often run out the back door with a special treat just for her. She'd grunt and complain in a high pitched squeal if I had to wake her, but it would drop to a low grunt as she sniffed the treat and gobbled it down in a "Gimme! Gimme!" style.
Winter sunbathing

I have many wonderful memories of Lulu... Lulu sunbathing, Lulu in the shade, Lulu in the kiddy pool, Lulu eating chocolate! But I have two favorite memories of Lulu. The first is from the fall of 2004, when we had a huge crop of grapes come in. It was the first year I started canning, and I began with the grapes. I did a batch of grape jam, several jars, and was planning on many more when I got a call from a family member who was having an emergency. I left two 5-gallon buckets of grapes untouched, and was gone for a week. When I returned, John had not done anything with the grapes. They were still sitting next to the fridge, filled with fruit flies! I took both buckets outside and decided to dump a good bit of them in Lulu's dish. Of course, Lulu dug right in, and really enjoyed those grapes. Later on, she was acting funny, waddling around, singing, and harassing the dogs. It took me a while to realize she was drunk! The grapes had fermented! The next morning she was pretty quiet and still. My guess, a nasty hangover!

Lulu, in better days, strolling through the yard
My second favorite memory of Lulu is also from the fall of 2004, Thanksgiving day. This one isn't a visual memory, it's more a memory experience. Before I share it with you though, I have to explain that in those days Lulu's favorite resting spot was right at the back door. Her large bulk filled the small space at the top of the ramp, always making it difficult to come and go through the back door. In the summertime, she stayed there because she could feel the cool air blowing out from under the door; and in the wintertime, it must have been the leaking heat that kept her there. In any event, Lulu, sprawled out at the back door, though frequently annoying, more often made for a good laugh when friends and family visited, being required to "just step over the pig" because the pig wasn't about to move!

Well, on that Thanksgiving day, the house was full of family visiting for the weekend, and I was in the kitchen juggling cooking responsibilities with several different conversations and a host of questions about where "this" or "that" was. My niece, 19 at the time, loved visiting, and loved all the animals. She'd gone outside to give out treats, I think, but I wasn't really aware of her activities until I heard Lulu at the back door, grunting and squealing, loud enough that it took my attention away from everyone else standing around me. The back door was open, and I hollered out to my niece to "just step over the pig" and come on in. Lulu was still squealing in a high pitch, and even higher than that came the high pitched squeal of my niece, "I can't get in!" Forever, this memory will remind me of the little brother in A Christmas Story, who, heavily bundled against the cold, falls down in the snow and squeals, "I can't get up!" My niece sounded just like that!

So memories of Lulu are all we have now.

Today John wrapped a strap around Lulu's back legs and drug her out of her bed under the back porch. It was John who managed to get her into a protected place away from flies and sniffing dogs until she can be buried; John who got on the phone and found someone with a backhoe who could come over tomorrow and dig a hole in our little pet cemetery, and John who cleared the cemetery of brush and small trees to make room for Lulu's place. Today, it was John who insisted on doing all these things by himself, because it was John (who has loved Lulu all these years), who yelled and screamed at himself for being so busy this week that he didn't see how serious Lulu's situation really was.

Death is something everyone has to deal with sooner or later. Perhaps losing a cherished pet when we are young is a good way to introduce us to the inevitable loss of a person we love. Some of us, while we are still young, are suddenly confronted with the death of someone close. Many of us are much older the first time we lose someone. In either case, it is an agonizingly raw experience that turns us inside out and shakes us to the core of our beliefs. Death changes us. It changes our whole perspective on life. It changes us because it steals our innocence, and it introduces us to our own mortality.

When someone we love dies, it really helps to know God, to have a relationship with Christ, faith. It gives us the assurance of something else on the other side, something better than we can imagine, better than we've known here. Faith gives us the hope of life continuing, maybe in another form, but continuing. It gives us the hope of reunion, not only with our God, but with all those who have gone before us, those we remember, and those we never met who are waiting patiently to meet us. Faith in God comforts us when nothing else can, and it is unfortunate that only those who have faith (even just a little bit) can understand why this is true. 

John and I have both experienced the loss of people close to us, and here at 5~Acre Farm, we have dealt with the loss of several pets. In the eight years since I came to the farm we've lost four of the six dogs I brought with me, and Popeye, my mom's Boston Terrier (I took care of him in his last year). I hospiced each of them as they grew old and sick, and I held each one in my arms, crying and telling them how much I loved them as the Veterinarian administered the final sleep. Besides the dogs, we've also lost June cat, Stars and Stripes (ferrets), Einstein the Polish rooster, the girls (three old hens), and various hens and roosters (to illness and predators).

On a farm, the lessons of life and death are inescapable. If you're paying attention, those lessons, along with the lesson of sowing and reaping, the lesson of time and seasons, and, yes, the lesson of "the circle of life" can teach you about much more than farming. These lessons can teach us about ourselves, about others, and about this world we are passing through.

I hope, wherever you are ~ on a farm, in the suburbs, in an apartment in the city ~ that you have the chance to do more than make it from one day to the next, in this maddening competition to just survive. I hope that you have the chance to observe and pay attention to the life lessons around you that, though universal, are uniquely constructed for you. I pray that when death imposes himself upon you through the loss of someone you love, that you will have the strength to survive the impact, and the faith to know that there is yet more to come beyond this life we now know.

Lulu's temporary resting place

Thursday, April 26, 2012

It's A Hard Life!

Toby, chillin' by the rose bush in the front yard
You know up there at the top of this blog where it says, "Where age, infirmity, and financial hardship meet faith, hope, and a simple dream to be self-sustaining on a small Georgia farm"? Well, I've talked a few times about age and infirmity. Today it's all about the "financial hardship" part.

Samantha's favorite thing to do, checking out the chickens
We had a plan last fall, a good plan ... renew our equity loan in January (which we had previously paid off) and use the money to push us further into the "simple dream" part. A big leap forward, instead of the tiny steps we've been taking. The plan for the money included a new roof, a new  HVAC system, fencing, cows and pigs (for the freezer), and a small heard of meat goats for income. Then our little farm would start paying for itself, freeing up our limited income to repay the loan quickly. That was the plan.

Old, faithful Charlie, always nearby, watching
In January, when we went to renew the loan, they determined that our home value had dropped significantly in this economy. (Thank you, Mr. President.) They renewed the loan for less than half of what it had been. There is so little money available, we can't afford the roof and the HVAC system. It means we also can't afford the fencing for our five acres, which means we aren't going to get cows, pigs, or goats this year.

But there's more.

Beautiful Maggie, the mama of the group, so patien
In February, the transmission in our 5-year old van went out. That cost us $2400, which we had to take out of the equity loan.
Patty, snoozing between adventures

In March, while Dad and I were on our trip to North Carolina, I noticed the transmission slipping in my car. The same thing happened when we went to North Carolina 1.5 years ago. It cost us more than $2000 to fix it then. Today, the mechanic called and it's going to be $2200 to fix my car. The mechanic who "fixed" it before, didn't update it (don't know what that is exactly), but it meant the transmission had to be broken down completely this time to figure out what was wrong. Next time (please God, no next time) it will only need to be hooked up to a diagnostic machine to determine what's wrong with it.
My Dad, 85, and still here with us. Thank you, God!

Today, while mulling over all our financial problems, and wondering if we're ever going to have the farm of my (simple) dreams, I started a load of laundry, only to find that the washing machine has stopped working.

Our budget is tighter than a violin string right now. There is no spare cash. Dad is helping us out a bit, but he's not the fountain of financial relief. And he's trying to help someone else, who needs more help than we do.

I didn't ever think that I would be 55 years old and still struggling this hard. I thought, after a lifetime of working hard and doing my best, that I'd reach a stage in my life where I'd be able to live more leisurely, that I'd be comfortable financially, and that I would not be stressed about money. I guess the laugh is on me.
John, in a rare, not working moment

When I was younger, I faced many financial struggles trying to live as an underpaid single woman in a two-income society. I would bemoan my circumstances to my mother, looking for advice and sympathy, and, frankly, a handout. My mother was faithful to rescue me from many of those struggles. She'd ask me how much I needed, and she'd write me a check. In the "memo" space at the bottom she would always write, "I love you."

But Mother always gave me one more thing with the money, and it has stayed with me far longer than the money ever did. With every handout my mother would say, "It's a hard life!" She almost always laughed lightly when she said it, and smiled wryly at me, like she knew something I didn't.

My mother said, "It's a hard life!" so often, I'm inclined to say it was her mantra. I often said it with her, laughing, trying to make light of the circumstances which precipitated my need, her gift, and the statement. But I didn't get it, not then, not like she did.

I get it now Mom. I really get it, and I'm laughing, lightly, and smiling, wryly. "It's a hard life!"

Love you, Mom! Miss you more than I can say!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Texas Rain is Big, and My Garden is Getting Started

Stan's TX rain garden. Look close, you'll see a few veggies.
One of my Facebook friends, Stan, lives in Texas, not too far from the Gulf, and he's really been groaning about the fact that he hasn't finished planting his garden yet.
A narrow island of plants surviving the flood at Stan's

I think Stan has had a great excuse. It's been raining in his neck of the woods. Not just a sprinkling. Not just a downpour now and then. The rain has been coming down like a monsoon! Practically non-stop for weeks! I think he mentioned getting 5 inches in one hour the other day, and 30 inches overnight.

I don't think Stan is the only one sick of all the rain. Recently he posted that the crayfish are so fed up of the rain, they've been crawling up on his deck to get out of the flood. And evidently, the Ark is nowhere in sight!
A break in the rain reveals Stan's soggy garden area

Well, as gardens go, I don't have an excuse as good as Stan's! Normally, I'd have started my container garden in late February, and my main summer crops would be in-ground by late March or early April. But I still haven't planted anything... not even the 30 lettuce plants I bought last month!
Our van, loaded down with veggies and blueberry bushes
I haven't felt like getting on my hands and knees in the dirt this year, and I have only two excuses to explain myself.

First, it seems like my time hasn't been my own for quite a while. I don't get up each day and decide how I'm going to use my time. I get up each day, check the calendar, and race to keep up with everything that's already been decided. There are various doctor visits for John and Dad, dental visits for John and me, Landlord duties, and a plethora of other responsibilities concerning family and the farm, all necessary and important, and I don't begrudge a single one of them! But I have no me time.

By that I mean I have no leisure time. As full as my life is, I have a bit of a hole in my life where pleasant, leisurely personal activities should be thriving. I'd love to have some free time to paint again, or make homemade creams and lotions, go to yard sales and flea markets, or finally make that quilt that I've been wanting to make for years out of Barry's old Hawaiian shirts. I did make the time to go to some thrift stores recently, but the whole time I felt rushed to get back home and get back to work!

Secondly, I haven't felt like planting a garden this year. I'm usually sitting down, finally, when John comes in and mentions the garden; and sitting down, tired, I can't muster the interest in deciding if and when we need to start a garden. My age and health are a big part of this problem, but after some thought, I've decided that I must have some unacknowledged resentment over the combination of my health and my lack of me time. Maybe too, my attitude has been some form of passive aggressive behavior, and realizing this, finally, it became necessary for me to take steps to snap out of it!
Plenty of veggies to plant now

Having a garden isn't a choice here, it's a necessity. We can't afford to skip it this year just because I don't feel like it. Even though there is a significant cash outlay to purchase transplants, in the long run, growing our own vegetables, then freezing and canning them, frees up our finances for other necessities; and, just as important, we know the foods we are growing and eating are healthy and chemical free. There is no chance that our grapes will be harboring pesticides in their skins, and no chance that our tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants will make us sick because of these same pesticides, or mishandling between field and store.

So I knew when I woke up this morning that today was the day I would take the leap. I drove John to the dentist this morning to get a new crown on one of his teeth. Afterwards, I suggested we go to the Garden Center at Home Depot, just across the parking lot.  We started with tomatoes, lots of tomatoes, then squash and zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, sweet peppers, hot peppers and cantaloup. Then I threw our budget to the wind and we picked up four blueberry bushes, a couple of years old and already fruiting. Last year, the twig in a tube of dirt didn't pan out for us.

We stuffed our van full and drove home in a light rain (nothing like Stan has been experiencing in Texas). We put everything out on tables to catch the rain, and I was delighted with the variety of plants and their beauty. I felt myself stirring with the anticipation of choosing beds and planting ... yes, being on my hands and knees in the dirt.

I've taken the leap! The veggie plants are here. The garden is waiting. The clock is ticking until they're in the ground.

So I'm all in for the garden this year! How about you?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Time To Go To The Fair

 While I was in North Carolina, the Walton County Fair came to town! John couldn't wait for me to come home so he could take me to the fair, and I haven't been to a fair in more years than I can remember, so I thought this was a great idea. Saturday was beautiful! Sunny but not hot, with a cool breeze. It was perfect Fair weather.

There was all the standard Fair food: Hamburgers, hot dogs, corn dogs, cotton candy, candied apples, and that all time favorite, funnel cake! Lemonade, sodas, and Sno Cones! I had a sno cone, and John ate the funnel cake!

There were great rides that John and I are both too big and too old to ride!There was The Whip, The Octopus, Tea Cups, The Moon Ride, the Kiddie Train, and a whole bunch I can't remember the names of! Oh, and there were Bumper Cars! I always loved bumper cars. They're my favorite!

And games! There was the standard Fish Toss and win a goldfish. Remember that one? There was Duck Race, John played "Shark Attack" (catch 3 sharks and win a prize) and won me a little brown bear! Then we played a water target game and I won a stuffed dog! I was really happy that we won a couple of things. I was very happy that they weren't super-huge. As I told John, I wouldn't know what to do with a six-foot banana or a life-sized Spiderman!

Overall, we had a great time! I wish we'd had some children with us. That always makes a fair more fun! But there were lots of children there, and we had a good time watching them have a great time!