Country Living Series

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Spring walks

One of the advantages of having an active dog is he's relentless when it comes to taking afternoon walks (meaning, he makes sure we get our exercise). In fact, we joke that we'd better take Mr. Darcy out before he explodes.

Our usual walk is a two-mile circuit (one mile there and back) along the dirt road leading to our house. At this time of year, early spring, the vista is constantly changing. Come along on one of our afternoon perambulations.

The meadowlarks are returning. For some reason I have a dickens of a time photographing these melodious birds. They're cagey and don't let you get too close, which is why I had to zoom in and then crop these photos ... but wow can they belt out music.

In March, large flocks of geese are not unusual. These guys are heading for the lake.

Here some fog is just burning off, showing a glimpse of the hillside across the canyon.

By contrast, here are some sheets of rain around the butte. Despite the ominous setting, we didn't get wet since the rain skirted around us.

More rain across the canyon.

Now here's an interesting thing. See this vista?

Or this one?

In both photos, note the glimpse of flat green field in the middle distance. Those fields are early growth of winter wheat, just emerging after the snow. What's not obvious is those fields are loaded with deer.

It wasn't always easy to focus on the deer through the tangle of tree branches.

Here's some ice overlaid by mud from an earlier water flow. The mud is insulating the ice against a fast melt-off.

Being a golden retriever, Mr. Darcy is forever toting sticks along the road.

Maybe it's a guy thing, but it seems the bigger the stick, the better. I can't tell you the number of times he's tried to drag small trees along for the ride.

A pair of mourning doves.

Five cows, five calves. I am forever taking a mental count to make sure no one's missing.

So that's a walk in early spring. Thanks for coming along!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Raising boys to be husbands

Here's my WND column for this weekend, originally titled "Raising boys to be husbands" but re-christened "Nine qualities your future son-in-law must have." I certainly don't mind that the editors retitled it -- especially since they put it on the front-page slider.

For those unable to access the WND website, here's the text of the column:

Raising Boys to be Husbands

Several years ago I read an article entitled “How to Raise the Men We'd Want to Marry.” The article describes how a woman raised her son to be a sensitive, nurturing soul who wasn’t afraid to show emotions. Clearly this woman did a fine job raising her boy – particularly as she apparently did so singlehandedly, since the boy’s father is not mentioned anywhere in the article.

Does this mean I’d want this woman’s son to marry one of my daughters? Probably not. I found the article to be just a touch bit heavy on new-age claptrap, emphasizing the feelings and emotions of boys at the expense of what woman might actually want in a future husband and as the father of her children. Feeeelings are fine, but too often they don’t translate into husband material.

Please don’t misunderstand; I am not suggesting we don’t permit boys to express feelings and emotions (and I’m certain many critics will conclude I’m saying just that). But at what point does a boy’s rough-and-tumble nature supersede his mother’s preference for feeeelings? What does his dad have to say about it?

A boy needs lots of emotional nurturing from his mother when he’s young. But as he grows up, he naturally gravitates away from his mother’s cuddles and embraces toward the more manly example set by other men. He’s less interested in “talking about his feelings” than he is engaging in farting contests with his friends.

So anyway, this whole line of thought started me thinking about how I would want a boy to be raised if he was going to marry one of my daughters. What qualities do I admire in a man? Here’s a partial list, in no particular order (friends will recognize my husband in this list):

Humor. My husband is funny. Hilariously funny. There are times he has me in stitches as he imitates accents or tells a story with added melodrama or otherwise finds the more amusing side of life. Humor can get you through the darkest and most uncertain of times.

Morals. Men should have high moral standards. These standards will translate into proper fatherly authority and guidance for his children.

Warriors. Men should be warriors. I don't mean all men should be soldiers or police officers; I mean a man should be ready, able, and willing to defend his family under whatever circumstances arise. The defense could be as low-key as words (telling his mother to stop picking on his wife) or as dire as shooting an intruder who is threatening his family.

A work ethic. A man, my husband tells me, should be able to provide for his family. His opinion is not that women shouldn’t work outside the home – quite the contrary – but that women shouldn’t have to work because the man is too lazy to get off his duff and find a job, any job, to make ends meet. A man takes pride in doing whatever lowly job is necessary to provide income for his family.

Gentleness. A man should be strong enough to be gentle, and I don’t mean “gentle” in the feminine sense. I mean, a man should know how to convince others through his words and honorable actions, not through sheer strength or violence (unless the situation calls for it, of course). He should know how to discipline his children, not beat them. He should know how to disagree with his wife in a respectful way, not with fury or (God forbid) with force. A man should be strong enough to admit when he’s wrong, and strong enough to be gracious when others admit they're wrong.

Faith. A man should have faith. A man should be strong enough to know he is weak and flawed, and where to turn to remedy that. A man with faith guides his family toward God.

Practical knowledge. A man should have practical knowledge – just like a woman should have practical knowledge. My husband can turn his hand to any number of tasks that need doing – he can wire a house, replace leaky plumbing, build sheds and barns, cut firewood with a chainsaw, and other manly activities.

The Head. A man should be the Head of the household. A lot of modern women take exception to that term, somehow seeing it as demeaning or insulting. By contrast, I see it as comforting and loving. I am the Heart of this household, and as everyone knows, a body is no good without a heart, just as a body is no good without a head. We need both, and the fact that I view my husband as my Head in no way diminishes my importance as his Heart. But someone has to have the final say in a house for peace and order to prevail, and God in His infinite wisdom ordained that job to go to the man.

Smart women pick men who truly understand what being “the Head” means. Remember the Laura Ingalls Wilder books? Laura admired the way her parents worked together. I once saw it written that Caroline went wherever Charles took her, but Charles would only go where Caroline let him. In other words, being the Head of a household doesn’t mean being a nasty dictator. In means taking wise counsel from others, primarily one’s Heart, to discern the best path for a family to take. An important task for a woman in choosing a husband is to pick a man who truly understands what it means to take his place as Head of the household.

Respect. A man should respect his wife – but that’s easier said than done unless a wife respects her husband. A woman should never emasculate her man by nagging or complaining about him to her friends. (It drives me nuts to hear women trash-talk their husbands.)

The article referenced at top was written by a feminist, for feminists. She raised her son to support feminist ideals. So while the qualities of “empathy” and “being good listeners” and “expressing feelings” listed in the article (all feminine attributes, I might add) might be a plus, do women want girly-men as husbands?

Feminists might. I’m just glad my husband isn’t one of them. I’d far rather have a funny guy who can fix a sink than a sensitive guy who weeps at chick flicks. I’m just weird that way.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Update on our daughters

A reader asked recently how our daughters are doing. Here’s a quick update.

Older Daughter continues with her job as a live-in nanny in New Jersey, but she’s getting mighty tired of the endless suburbs surrounding her. Coming home for Christmas made her realize how much she missed the wide-open spaces and the ability to go walking and be surrounded by nature rather than houses and pavement and cars.

So – she plans to move west within a year or so, this time heading toward Western Washington (Seattle area). She’s now an experienced nanny. Besides nearly three years’ experience on the job, she’s been volunteering at a women’s shelter caring for babies and toddlers (she needed experience with that age group), and this facility liked her so well they offered her a paid position. (She declined, but boy was she flattered!) Coupled with her credentials as a Certified Professional Nanny from the English Nanny and Governess School in Ohio, she will be in hot demand in the Seattle area.

She's grateful to the family she's working for, who have been very generous with her. Older Daughter has been diligently saving her money since eventually she wants to purchase some rural property. So many young people her age are mired in student loan debts after attending college; but she's soaring, free and unfettered, with a healthy bank account, excellent in-demand credentials, and endless opportunities in a place like Seattle.

Some may wonder if moving to Seattle means she’ll be exchanging one urban prison for another, but the Emerald City is a lot closer to wild spaces than New Jersey. An hour’s drive puts you into the mountains. There are also endless hiking groups in the area, which means she can get out on weekends and hit the trails.

Selfishly, we’ll be very, very glad to have our oldest closer to us. She’ll be a five-hour drive away, rather than a five-hour flight away, and conceivably could even come home on weekends. (Or we could go visit her.) Wouldn’t that be something!

Younger Daughter, as you recall, is now a sailor in the Navy, training in Advanced Electronics/Computer Field (AECF) in Great Lakes, Illinois. She just – as in, last week – finished ATT (Advanced Technical Training) School. Just as boot camp is a “filter” to weed out those unable to hack military life, Younger Daughter described the 10-week ATT school as a “filter” to weed out those unable to hack AECF. She tied for second place in class, so she’s clearly able to hack the coursework.

This week she started “A” School, with more advanced training. My understanding is this will continue until about October, at which point “A” School will be over and we might be able to expect her home for a fast visit. By then she’ll know where her duty station will be – perhaps Virginia, perhaps San Diego, perhaps somewhere else – and she will travel to that location to attend “C” School, the specialized training she’ll need on the job. Then she’s bound for a ship.

So far she loves the military life – absolutely stinkin’ loves it. She enjoys the discipline, she enjoys the camaraderie, she enjoys the challenges, she enjoys meeting people from all over the country and from all stations in life. She’s working hard, saving her money, and looks forward to when she can get on board a ship and put her training to work.

So there you go. That’s the latest on our girls.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Brat Pack is complete

We only had one cow -- technically a heifer -- left to give birth to her calf. This was Pixie, Polly's adult calf.

She's been fooling me, this little lady. I've tucked her into the pen (which I'm coming to think of as the Birthing Chamber) a couple times, sure she was close to calving, but morning would come and no calf.

But yesterday her udder was very turgid, and she had a string of mucous hanging from her backside. No escaping it this time.

We'd been letting the animals down into the woods during the day, but they've still been hanging in the driveway in the evening. Yesterday evening came and Pixie was nowhere to be seen, so I walked down into the woods and found her in a thicket of leafless bushes. It's very normal for cows to go off by themselves to give birth, but Pixie is a first-time mother and there are coyotes around. I wanted her on firm ground with the rest of the cows nearby. She docilely let me herd her back into the driveway.

The weather has been very warm (it hit 60F today!) and the nights cool but not bitter, so it didn't bother me wherever Pixie choose to have her calf, as long as it was in the driveway area with the rest of the herd around. She settled right down for the night. I checked her just before I went to bed, and there were no signs of labor yet.

But this morning, I was not surprised to walk outside and see five, not four, calves. Pixie is now a mama.

Here's the new baby, a little girl we named Peggy (so the descendants go: Polly ==> Pixie ==> Peggy), wobbling right over another calf.

Here's Pixie, looking a little shell-shocked at her new role in life. Sometimes it takes new mamas a little while to get the hang of things.

But she was attentive enough. I think it helps to have other, more experienced cows around.

Then I fed all the animals breakfast under the awning, and Pixie was torn between wanting food and wanting to stay with her baby.


Or breakfast?

Breakfast won. Hey, a gal has to keep her strength up.

So here we have the makings of a fine Brat Pack: Five little calves, born within a few weeks of each other. Can't you just see the mischief they'll be getting into?

In the meantime, Pixie showed signs of being a good mama.

For a little while, that is. Through a series of unfortunate events (namely, spring), one cow (Sparky) jumped a fence into another pasture, and eventually everyone ended up there for the day -- five cows, four calves.

Naughty Pixie had shucked off her responsibilities and left her baby in the driveway while she took advantage of the pasture (those calves aren't hers, by the way). Like a newborn fawn, it's often the habit of newborn calves to just hunker down and stay still when their mothers are away, so Peggy stayed in the driveway.

As evening drew near, Peggy needed her mama, so I scooped her up and put her in the barn pen, then put fresh food and water in the barn pen as well. Then we did our universal cattle call ("Bossy bossy bossy bossy bossy!!!") and got the herd near the gate. It was at this point Pixie remembered she had a calf, so we got her into the barn with her baby.

I was pleased to see Peggy nursing strongly. Once a calf nurses, its chances of survival are superb.

I'm afraid Pixie is in for a boring spell since we're going to keep her confined with Peggy. We have a day of rain moving in, and I want the newborn protected.

So that's the completion of our Brat Pack. In a few weeks these guys will be wreaking havoc. Such is spring.

Spring has sprung

Well, it looks like the sun has set on another winter.

Suddenly the temps are well above freezing during the day, and the snow is melting rapidly. Bodies of water are losing their grip of ice.

Everywhere we go, we hear the chatter of running water.

Sometimes it's more than chatter. Across the canyon, I heard the distant thundering of an ephemeral creek.

Yesterday afternoon, I just missed taking a photo of our neighbors riding horses along the road. Both these fine people have faced frightening health challenges in the last year, and to see them enjoying the simple pleasure of a horseback ride on an early spring afternoon was a welcome sight indeed. I captured evidence of their horses' passing.

Suddenly we're dripping with birds: red-winged blackbirds, robins, kildeer, meadowlarks, and of course swans flying over us toward the lake.

Everything is white and brown, blue and green as the snow recedes.

With this increased pulse of life, of course, we now find ourselves looking for any excuse to get outside. Taking Mr. Darcy for walks is one of those excuses of which he highly approves.

We dehorned little Anna, who was understandably not amused by the duct-tape helmet. We kept both mama and baby in the barn during this time.

Later, when we could finally clip off the duct tape, Polly and Anna stepped back out into the welcoming sunshine.

Meanwhile the rest of the cows and calves lounged in the warmth.

I decided to investigate the garden, much of which is still under snow. Here's the blueberry bed:

Some of the strawberry tires, with the garlic boat in the background:

I walked into the orchard and was distressed to see our young Gala apple tree on its side.

It must have just happened -- new buds were still looking healthy -- and probably occurred during a windy blast a couple of days before.

At least its roots were still (mostly) in the soil. I straightened the tree and re-staked it from four directions. I don't know if it will survive, so we'll see.

The rest of the orchard looked to be in roaring good health, so that's a relief.

I'm getting the itch to plant something, but it's too early even to start seeds in the house (since we couldn't transplant until late May or early June), so I'll try to be patient. But with spring in the air, it's hard going.