On Learning Truths

early garden

This year’s going to be the fourth summer my husband and I do a big vegetable garden together. Right now, we have only the peas, carrots, potatoes, and onions in the ground, but in Maine, this is to be expected. It was pretty chilly until last week. Sometimes, I forget that growing up in Texas we were wearing shorts by May.

I’ve seen friends from other parts of the country post pictures on social media of food they’ve already grown in their gardens, and I feel confused at first because we just started planting. It’s almost surreal for me to see a fully-grown vegetable in May.

But I digress…

This post is supposed to be about my green thumb I thought I had.

The story goes like this.

Every year, even our first year of vegetable gardening, though we had some failures for sure, my husband I have had some pretty good successes growing food. We always have a good harvest, at least to me, and last year, we grew so much food that we were really able to see a cost savings on our grocery bills from late summer until early winter. That’s pretty good, right?

I post pictures to Facebook of our beautiful garden starting in early summer. The peas are ready to eat; the bean bushes look big and lush; the carrot and potato plants look big and healthy. I’m always so proud of this garden.

I do help my husband a lot. He definitely does the lion’s share of the work–tills by hand, gets the soil ready, fertilizes, waters, hoes weeds. Wait, why do I think I help a lot?

Well, I do plant, pull weeds, pick bugs off one at a time for hours on end, and help harvest. But as I write this down, I am realizing a deeper lesson I learned this week. I think my husband really is making all this good food happen. I thought I was helping more.

He has always had a green thumb and this love of plants that I didn’t understand until we had a garden. He’s got some real skill at making plants grow healthy and strong, and I envy it. I’ve always been horrible at plants. I’ve killed everything from roses to sunflowers to a wide variety of houseplants. I don’t think I’ve ever grown more than a weed successfully, and if I had tried to grow said weed, I probably would have killed said weed.

But, then, there was this beautiful garden. I thought I was helping to grow it. I thought my husband had somehow lifted the “curse” I had with plants. I thought I was becoming a good gardener, too.

early garden

This is a picture of one of our first gardens when it was first getting going. It’s so lovely. And, in case you’re wondering, that’s a gnome guarding the peas. It totally works!
However, I recently learned some truths about my newly-found “green thumb.” I started some seedlings this year in the house—without my husband’s help in any way—and I found out that maybe I still have a long way to go in terms of gardening.

So, I’m guessing you can imagine that things didn’t go so well.

We always do well in our garden starting most of our plants from seed, but I wanted to try to get a few starters going this season of things we sometimes buy as plants from the local nursery–peppers, tomatoes, and such. Unfortunately, pretty much everything I started died!

I planted like 25 broccoli starters and about 20 tomato starters. Not a single one of them made it. I also planted several kinds of peppers, about 30 plants total. I have 6 plants that made it.

I’m not sure what happened. Mostly, between part-time work, homeschooling, and feeding both people and creatures three times a day, I would somehow forget to water the little plants every day. It would seem like I just watered them, and then, sadly, some would die. Apparently, I had not just watered them. <sigh>

But my greatest mistake came when I put the plants out in the sunlight to grow stronger during the day; on the fourth day, I forgot to bring the plants in at night. I lost every tomato plant that night! I woke up at like 4:00 in the morning that chilly, fateful night, realized what I had done, and went back to sleep with sadness and disappointment in my heart.

pepper plant
This is one of my 6 survivors. I have no idea what kind of pepper plant it is, and I don’t even care. I’m just so glad it’s still alive!

So, yeah, now I have 6 plants left, and I’m hanging onto them for dear life!

Ironically, this year, my husband is putting up a fence around our property, and, when I say he’s putting up a fence, I mean he’s digging hundreds of holes through rocky earth with a shovel and putting up a fence the old-fashioned way. It’s pretty epic!

So I’m working to get the garden planted while he puts up the fence. After my little experience with the starters, this is making me really nervous. But, so far, so good. I have battled the black flies and mosquitoes, tilled that garden with a shovel (one slow row at a time), and we have a few things in the ground. The peas look great. Nothing else has had time to grow, but it’s still early.

I’m optimistic, but it’s a cautious optimism. I’ve learned a hard lesson of late.

baby duck in pool
This baby duck loved the new pool, and I loved watching those babies play! I need to do a whole blog on those duckies. They are way more interesting that I imagined they would be.

We still have the kale, red beans, green beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and corn to plant, but, this afternoon, we took a break from the tilling and the sowing and the fence making and had a late lunch at Jimmie’s, bought a kiddie pool for the baby ducks, and watched them have a blast in the pool. I think my husband and I are both a bit worn out this week, as living the simple life can be a lot of hard word, so taking the afternoon off seemed to be the best medicine.

This weekend, however, is Memorial Day weekend, which is always the weekend we finish planting our garden. After discovering some truths about my gardening skills, I hope you’ll wish me luck. I’m going to need it!

I’ll keep you posted…

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On Chicken Shaming

You may have seen the images of the chicken shaming that have been going around social media in the past few weeks, and I hope they made you smile as much as they made me smile. The one about the chicken who ate the mouse whole really made me giggle. I haven’t seen my girls do anything like that, but I have seen them take down some pretty large and pretty gross things, mainly fat grubs.

The images got me to thinking about my own girls’ behavior and how hilarious our chickens are. They make me laugh all the time, though they can also be a real pain sometimes, and those chicken shaming images made me want to share with the world how wonderful, awful, funny, and wild our chickie girls are.

Now, let me tell you, shaming your chickens is not as easy as it seems. I don’t know about other people’s chickens, but my girls are pretty tame. Yet the first time I tried to hang a sign on one’s neck, I felt like the worst chicken mama in the world! My poor sweet girl was so scared and seemed convinced the sign was going to be the death of her. Needless to say, this broke my heart and made me realize that I was going to have to find an easier way to shame my chickens and share their cuteness with the world.

I could only manage a few, as word spread quickly amongst the girls that mama was up to no good, so I could only put the signs I made near the “guilty” chickens in question. It worked pretty well overall, but I have many more stories to tell, like how the chickens have completely dug up our yard or how they moan and groan and squawk and cry to the high heavens until they are let out to free range each day.

But I’ve captured some of what it’s like to live with chickens, I think. I love these stinkers!

chicken with small egg

I don’t even know how this happens, but, a couple of times, one of the girls will lay a mini egg. It’s adorable but not worth much. There’s no yolk–at least there wasn’t a yolk in the first one we found. But, of course, I’m fine with a tiny egg every now and then. It’s just too funny that this happens.

This next one is Guineveve, and she’s one of our newer babies. She’s an ISA Brown, and we found out that this breed originated in France. Unlike our 17 Rhode Island Reds, each of the ISA Browns looks a little differently than the next one, so we’ve been able to name these girls.

Guinevieve is the most beautiful to me, but she’s also the most aloof. She lets us pet her, but she doesn’t come running to us like the other girls. And, most worrisome, she doesn’t seem to like hanging out with her sisters very much. She even roosts by herself at night.

Well, this week, we thought we’d lost her, our first loss. If you read my original post on counting chickens, you know how much I worry about losing one of our girls. Guinevieve seemed to be our first casualty this week.

It was time to put the little girls up for the night, and my husband said he could only find 7 of 8 baby girls. The girls are sleeping in the garage right now, so I was sure our chicken was somewhere in there. But, when I went outside and looked at the baby girls, I realized the missing girl was Guineveve! Considering her loner behavior, I thought maybe she was really gone.

Hiding Chicken

I thought surely she had flown out of the open garage door and had been chased into the woods by one of the bigger chickens, only to be eaten by a fox, hawk, bobcat, or some monstrous, chicken-eating creature in our woods. It was getting late, and we looked for an hour with flashlights, calling for her. I was crying, and my husband seemed to feel so badly. I was trying so hard to tell myself that I had to deal with this kind of thing, that this kind of thing has happened to our neighbors times 10, times 20! I had to be tough.

I kept going back and looking in the garage, just to be safe, but still, just 7 of 8 little girls. But, then, after a little more hunting, my husband said, “I wonder if she’s still in the garage somehow,” and it dawned on me–I had not looked up really high. I just assumed she could not get up to the rafters in our garage.

Guess what! That’s where she was! When I opened the garage door, looked up, and saw her little white tail feathers, I was happy, relieved, and bemused that this little stinker had caused such a commotion. So we still have Guinevieve, but she’s getting shamed this week!

chickens with sign about squirrels

And, though I love our chickie girls more than I can say, I have to admit that the girls can often be stinkers–even a little mean. I have to stay on them and “be the rooster” sometimes, but, when they can, some of them will be little bullies. This spring, several of them have taken to bullying the poor little squirrels in order to take the seeds from the squirrels we feed. Or, perhaps, they do it out of spite because I see how enviously the chickens look at the squirrels when the squirrels are running free in the mornings while the chickens are still waiting to get out of their pen. I’m pretty sure those squirrels are getting the evil chicken eye.

So, this week, my mean girls get shamed as well!

Finally, after spending this morning “chicken shaming” and scaring some of my girls half to death with my little signs, my husband said that I should be shamed myself. I think he’s right. Our little chickie girls are sweet and beautiful and, sometimes, downright ornery, but I never want to make them feel badly. So my final sign is for me.

author shamed

And, since I wasn’t able to tell all of my girls’ ornery stories via pictures, I’ll just have to tell more stories in the weeks to come. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from raising chickens, it’s that those girls are always up to something and always completely entertaining!

On My Favorite Things About Living in Maine

If you’ve never been to rural, wooded Maine during black fly season, you can’t understand just how bad it is. When I first moved to Maine and people told me about “black flies,” I was like, “All flies are black.” But these are flies of a different sort.

They are small. They are mean. And they are legion.

Right now, as we work in our yard, garden, or take care of the animals, we are followed by a cloud of biting black flies. They go up your nose, down your throat, in your eyes, and I have to comb my hair several times a day to rid my long hair of the pesky little carcasses.

It’s been a tough week in the insect department here in Maine.

But my husband says that this is just what keeps the cost of real estate down in what, otherwise, has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. So this week, to keep my Zen and remember why I love Maine so much, I am devoting my post to some of the things I love about living in Maine. Keep in mind, I am from “away,” which I will have to explain to some of my readers in another post at a later date.

1. Mainers dress for practical purposes.

I’ve never been one for wearing fancy clothing. In fact, there’s evidence of an epic battle my poor mother endured throughout my childhood in a picture of my first day of school when I was five years old. She put me in a pretty dress. It was itchy. I hated it. I let her know about it.

All of my life, I have preferred comfort over style, which was not the most popular approach to fashion when I lived in the Dallas area. And, since I’ve been working from home the last few years, my focus on comfort has become even more pronounced. I wear my pajamas and house slippers just as long as I can every day. In fact, I used to walk my oldest son to the bus stop on our road in my robe.

My sweet neighbor knitted me some mittens to match my robe for the chilly mornings at the bus stop. Yes, Maine is awesome like that.

But this is always how I know for sure I found my people. I sometimes have to travel for work and make presentations at conferences. It’s then that I become very much aware of my struggling fashion sense. I see suits, heels, manicured nails, and perfect lipstick at the conferences, in the restaurants, at the airports. I am out of sorts for sure.

But, when I am headed home and get on my last connecting flight to Bangor, I see LL Bean boots and bags, jeans and sweaters, and all kinds of reasonable-to-me clothing, I am thankful to be with my people again.

Bean Boots
These are my Bean Boots, and I love them. They are pretty hard to come by, as they are really popular. Apparently, Mainer style has spread to the rest of the country, but my son worked at the LL Bean call center last Christmas and helped me get on the list! These practical and comfortable boots are symbolic of Maine comfort to me.

2. Your neighbors will truly help you in times of need.

I’ve never seen anything like the neighborhood support I have seen in Maine. I think we might be particularly fortunate in the neighbor department, but I have heard others say the same things about how kind and helpful their neighbors here are.

I first realized this when, shortly after we moved here, I had to have surgery. On the second day after my surgery, our next-door neighbor arrived with enough stew for two dinners and a large batch of homemade rolls. It was touching and so kind and so needed.

But that was when we had first moved in and didn’t know many of our neighbors yet (we are a family of introverts). Last summer, my husband was injured in a chemical burn incident involving some super-caustic concrete. For real, it takes two of us to run this house and care for the boys and our animals. Having my husband injured so badly was both scary because I was worried about him and exhausting because it meant I had to run the house alone, but we would soon get help.

It wasn’t long before our dinners were arriving at the door, neighbors were pulling the weeds in our vegetable garden, and one neighbor helped my husband finish the critical chicken pen. It was like a little rally of support, and it touched my heart.

Still, these are just a couple of many stories of kindness and support we get from our neighbors. Even growing up in rural Texas in the 1980s, I didn’t see anything like this, and Texas is a really friendly place.

Writing about this kindness in Maine totally makes the black flies more tolerable.

I was recently having a conversation with a family member who was telling me that people just don’t care about each other enough anymore. I told him I had seen evidence to the contrary in Maine. I think he might want to move here.

3. The ocean.

There’s not too much I need to say about this one. We live about 40 minutes from the coast, and we can visit any time of year. The ocean speaks to me, as I know it must to so many others. We have a lot of ocean in Maine. The ocean is good for my soul and always a treat. I grew up in the middle of Texas and saw the ocean only a few times in my young life. Yeah, I’m thankful to live near the ocean.

Schoodic Point
This is Schoodic Point overlooking the Atlantic in Acadia National Park. It is breath taking!

4. Even though the winters are long and can be tough, they are beautiful.

My former department chair told me that you just have to find the beauty in the winter. It’s true, but it’s not hard for me. I do like the cold anyway. Every time I visit my home state of Texas in the summer, I am convinced I will die walking between the house and the car and the car and the house. So the cold is fine with me.

But the winters here are long, and, sometimes, especially in February, the negative temperatures feel brutal to this southern girl.

Yet the beauty of these long, brutal winters gets me through it. The snow on the pine trees. The ice on the rocks. The serenity of freshly-fallen snow. These experiences are amazing and wonderful to me. Maine is a beautiful place in the late summer and early fall, the most beautiful place on Earth, I am convinced. But the winters are spectacular to me as well, and even though they are long and tough, there’s something really empowering about coming through one.

Just don’t forget to take your Vitamin D.

yard in Maine in winter
This is a picture of winter in our front yard. Love!

5. Halloween.

Just wait until Halloween. I can’t wait to blog about Halloween in Maine. For now, I’ll just say this: Halloween is my favorite holiday, and Mainers “do it up” right!

When I first moved to Maine, I lived in Bangor, and I couldn’t believe the decorations, the costumes, and even the fortune teller at one person’s house. Now, even though we live in the country, I am impressed with the way Halloween is handled. The treats are big, meaningful, and full of love. Even though our oldest son is 19, some of our neighbors still make up treats to send home for him with our youngest, who is way into trick-or-treating.

I love Halloween in Maine. It’s like the Halloween I imagined from my childhood, and I am thankful to live here.

Just writing about all of these lovely things about living in Maine is helping me get my Maine Zen back. Of course, it helps that I am inside writing. My poor husband is outside working in the garden getting eaten alive I’m sure. But we’ll get through this, and, as soon as this is posted, I will go outside to help my husband. I will not be defeated by those flies!

Even though I’m from “away” and can never be a real Mainer, I’ve learned to be tougher from living in Maine. I’m still a little wimpy though, so I’ll probably be complaining about the black flies all the way to Father’s Day. I’ll try to keep it to a minimum though.

On Making Friends

I’m an introvert in a pretty extreme way, and the older I get, the worse it seems to get. I mean, I can function when I have to, and for nearly twenty years, I stood in front of a classroom as a teacher. But it’s hard.

And, as an introvert, I always find it interesting that I both love people and feel drained by being around people. From my perspective, it’s definitely a myth that introverts don’t want to be around people. I’m so interested in people and love to hear their stories, but I get so nervous on the inside when I am around people that I end up being worn out from trying to pretend like I’m “normal.”

Interestingly, there are some people who can, somehow, actually add to my energy levels when I am around them—people who are warm, safe, and highly interesting to me. I wonder if they know who they are, if they know how wonderful they are to me. And, since I am not drained from being around them, I always wonder if I am draining them.

Anyway, since human-to-human friendships have been difficult for me, I have always been a good friend to animals. I remember loving animals a little more than the average kid when I was younger, but I was mainly just a dog person. As I have grown older, I have found great joy in just hanging out with animals and a greater variety of animals. It started with our first cat we adopted.

I’m allergic to cats, so I have never been around them too much, though I have always had a great admiration of them and always wanted one. When we moved to Maine and I learned that Maine Coon Cats are a little easier on people with allergies, I knew this was my solution to my conundrum. Then, I found out how much Maine Coon Cats cost, and I realized I had not really found my solution.

So, we just decided to find a cat that had some Maine Coon “leanings” and hope for the best. I was willing to take allergy meds if necessary. I really wanted a kitty.

One day, pretty much out of the blue, my husband said, “Let’s go see what they have at the Humane Society in the way of cats.” I was surprised but ready—and nervous. I didn’t know how to be around cats at all. My general impression of them was that they were more aloof than dogs and could be grumpy and less forgiving. That, plus my allergies, made me a little nervous, but I didn’t want to admit this to my husband. I had been considering a kitty for a long time. I thought this might be my chance.

When we arrived at the Humane Society in Bangor, Maine that day in February, they had one cat available for adoption. One cat! The rest were not ready for homes yet. I was like, “Well, let’s see this kitty!”

In the cage sat a beautiful but skinny kitty who definitely had some Maine Coon leanings, at least I thought—big feet, tufts on her ears and feet, and she was super soft. I decided to give her a test: I would give her a pet, and if she responded well, I figured she passed the test. I reached in to pet her, and she leaned in so hard to my petting that she fell off of the ledge she had been on. This was my cat! Love with gusto, even if it hurts sometimes!

Sophie the Cat
This is Sophie, who taught me that I’m an animal person–not just a dog person.

In the days after we brought her home, my allergies flared horribly, so I had to go on allergy meds. And, sadly, our beautiful kitty I named Sophie seemed terrified in our house. She hid in the basement a lot. But we hung in there, and we found that Sophie and I have one key thing in common—we love, love, love soft fuzzy things.

Enter my robe. Since it was February, I was wearing my robe around every morning and every evening. It’s a thick, soft, fleecy robe, and I soon realized that Sophie loved it. She would stay in my lap when I had on the robe. And, soon, she was kneading on my tummy and purring. It was a process, but Sophie and I fell in love with each other.

In the last year, I have also learned how to be friends with my chickens. I like to hang out with them and watch them do what they do. They are always busy and have so much personality. Now, I don’t want to give a false impression: We have 17 chickens, plus 8 baby chickens. Not all of them are sweet little birds. Some really are. Some are pretty ornery.

There’s one girl, the smallest of our original 17, who escapes the run, even when it’s not time for free range, runs around like mad, won’t let me pick her up in my arms like many of the others, and generally just drives me crazy. One time, I yelled at her that she was going to the chicken stew first, but then I felt really badly and decided this would not be true.

If you have been following my posts, you know that I hang out with animals a lot, maybe too much. I have found that even just watching the squirrels and birds at the feeders brings me great satisfaction. I’m convinced I have made friends with one of the red squirels in our yard. I still love people, but animals are way easier for me to hang out with. There’s no judgment, real or imaginary. At least I don’t think so.

And, hopefully, my kitties and my chickens are good with being my friends as well. Of course, I don’t know what’s going to happen when my chicky girls quit laying eggs. I’m not sure how I’m going to separate friendship from farming. I have been reading about it and trying to prepare myself. I think I can do it when it’s time, but I’m not sure.

baby ducks
This week we welcomed 6 baby ducks–Indian Runner ducks–to help eat the bugs in our vegetable garden and, apparently, provide hours of entertainment. They are so fun!

For now, I have some really good friends to help me get through the days, to help me feel happiness and joy. In fact, this week, we added 6 animal friends—baby Indian Runner ducks, and they are hilarious. Already, I can’t wait to write stories about them! And, in the meantime, I think we should all take a lesson from Sophie–love with gusto!