country life

The Curse of the Not-So-Green Thumb (Don’t give up!)

Everyone says that I look like my dad. Pale and freckly skin, dirty-blonde hair with a bit of a red tint, blue eyes. I like to think that I inherited his patience, but truth is, well, It’s more wishful thinking most days. I have my mom’s nose, her competitive spirit, and her love of the outdoors. I wish I could say that I got her ability to spell, but unfortunately in that I take after my dad (thank goodness for spell check!). Of all the traits I inherited from my parents, much to my dismay a green thumb was not one of them.


My dad is a master gardener. Nothing in this world could beat his brilliant red tomatoes and spicy peppers. He can grow green beans like nobody’s business and pickle cucumbers with the best of ’em. Not a summer went by as a kid that we didn’t sit on the back porch eating a tomato straight from the yard, nor a fall without a gigantic pumpkin we picked out ourselves and carved. He knows his gardening stuff.

When I grew up, I was sure that I had green running through my veins. I was my father’s daughter after all, right? One year for Valentines Day my husband gave me a beautiful African Violet. He claimed it was so much better than any cut flower because it would stay alive forever. Sadly, it lasted just a few months before I murdered it. Brutally. And it was totally on accident. My husband never let me live that down. “I see how it is. Just like that poor African Violet I gave you with all my love.”

Before moving to the country we had a year of semi-success. I thought just maybe I was shaking my curse and rising to become the gardener I knew I was meant to be. 10 pumpkins, a handful of peas, several tomatoes, and probably a half dozen zucchini. Not to mention enough strawberries to keep my kids munching on them every time we played outside (thanks to a wasp nest that kept all living, breathing, strawberry-loving animal away). Looking back, that year was most likely the result of beginner’s luck.


When we moved to the country, I had high hopes we would have the greenest, most lush garden in the whole county. We’d take the blue ribbon home for zucchini, potatoes, tomatoes, peas, green beans, AND rhubarb. We’d be the envy of the town. We had a nice little sunny spot, some dirt, and seeds. I might as well have written to Better Homes and Gardens right then and there. I was certain of our success. Summer came, little seedlings began to sprout. Then slowly we watched them shrivel and shrink. Not a single flower, not a teensy, tiny fruit. Even with all of my amazing gardening skills I inherited from my father or my fancy watering can could I make that garden grow. It was a painful time of truth. My thumb was not green and I had nothing to show.

Feeling defeated but not totally run down, I decided to give it one more year. I so desperately wanted to be a gardener, it almost hurt. We amended the soil, my husband built garden boxes to keep wildlife out, and I faithfully watered. The plants began to grow. Not huge, but they grew! Flowers came, and fruit appeared. Not much, but they were there!


Built by my dad. I wish I would have listened when he tried to teach me about gardening AND woodworking as a kid!

Built by my dad. I wish I would have listened when he tried to teach me about gardening AND woodworking as a kid!


Tonight we picked our first tomato. Red, delicious, and probably only one of a handful that we’ll get this year. After fighting off mice, rats, raccoons, bunnies, deer, and Howard (that dumb dog!), and continuously trying to turn our mountain clay soil into something productive, our garden this summer is most definitely not something to brag about. When comparing it to my parents’ garden, it’s plum pathetic. But that tomato gives me hope. I might not have been born with a green thumb, but by golly, I’m going to turn it green if it drives me (and/or my husband) insane. Next year maybe we’ll pick a dozen tomatoes, a box full of potatoes, and enough strawberries to bake a pie. And someday maybe, just maybe, we’ll open a vegetable stand. Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Someday (as my oh-so supportive husband rolls his eyes).


Dear boys, some things might not come easy like you think they should. Some days you might want nothing more than to sit down and give up.

“What’s wrong with this block tower?? It won’t stay UP!”

“This bike-riding business is just not for me!”

“Do you really need to know how to read to get by in life?”

“Girls have cooties! I can’t even talk to them. Why on earth would I want to take one to the prom?” (ok. so that’s a problem I might secretly not mind if you have for a little while!)

“That college diploma. I just don’t think I can do it.”

But keep trying. Keep hoping. It may not be easy, you may not be the best. You may never be the best, and that’s ok. But if you try, slowly, slowly, you’ll have success. It might come in surprising ways, but it will come. That little green tomato will grow, and when you pick it, You will taste the most delicious fruit you’ve ever had.


Categories: country life, Life Lessons | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Murder in the Hen House (a lesson on leaving the safety of our values)

If it weren’t for the fact that he had two rather large bird legs dangling from his jaws, the mysterious disappearance of our three baby chicks might have remained a mystery. That, and the sheepish, guilty puppy eyes he gave me when I confronted him. Our three newly hatched baby chicks had been murdered in cold blood. The culprit: all evidence pointed to the one and only Howard, our 95 pound, one-year-old English Shephard.


Let me take you back about a year. The story begins with seven adorable, fuzzy chicks. As we drove home from the local ranch store with seven Rhode Island Reds the boys chattered away at what they should name all of them. The coop was decked out with incandescent light, hay, feeder and all. A puppy, seven chickens… yessiree, we were well on our way to a real rootin’ tootin’ miniature farm fit for none other than Old MacDonald himself.

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It was amazing how fast those darling little chicks grew up. Within a few short weeks and a couple distinct cock-a-doodle-doos we were sure Henrietta and Birdita were in fact Henry and Bert. Two roosters. And they were not about to compete for those Hens. Sadly, we found our two roosters could not peacefully coexist, and Henry landed himself, well, you can take a look for yourself…


Bert was now the king of the roost, and he let all who came near know. Living where many predictors would gladly have a chicken dinner, we decided it was wise to keep mean old Bert around. And even better, with a rooster, we could hatch our own eggs! A year after bringing our first chickens home we decided to give it a try.


13 eggs, 21 days, and a steady 99.5 degrees later, we found ourselves awestruck at seven adorable chicks. Watching their little heads pop out of the shells was amazing and so exciting! After giving four of our chicks to Great Grandpa E, we kept the remaining three and had just begun to integrate them into our little flock when disaster struck.

I had just walked into our kitchen to make dinner and happened to glance outside as Howard rounded the corner with two rather large bird feet dangling from his K9 teeth, slobber dripping from his lips. I knew right away this wasn’t just any bird, and this wasn’t just any accident. I slipped on my shoes and raced around the house as Howard dropped the limp body into a hole. His two-syllable name typically used in an exasperated tone (“How-ard! You dumb dog! Why did you have to go and swallow M’s sock??” Or “How-ard! Did you really have to find that dead, stinky, rotted squirl and drag it to our porch during our barbecue??”) Was now being screamed in a hysterical, maniac sort of way. A string of kindergarten-worthy explicatives flew from my mouth. “How-ard! Oh, you rotten, lousy, stinky, heartless, Turkey-dog jerk! You ate them!” I was furious. He’d brutally murdered our three helpless chicks.

As I played Sherlock Holmes around the coop I pieced together the tragedy. The coop had one tiny, obscure spot that had a bit larger gap than the rest of the fence. The chicks had apparently weaselled their way through the fence and served themselves to our eager dog. Sad? YES. A tragedy? Certainly. Completely Howard’s fault? Debatable. If only the chicks had known that the fence was their safety! They hadn’t realized that just beyond what they may have viewed as their prison waited snakes, coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, skunks, rats, and… Howard. All eager to devour them.

My boys are still young. The moral dilemmas they face every day typically involve cookie jars, brother’s new toys from the dentist, and whether or not to repeat the potty talk they hear from friends at school. Every day I try to help them build fences, protect them from the dangers outside. But what happens when they are older? When the world, for good or for bad, can be found right at their fingertips? When the words and stories they hear in the boys’ locker room and even in the hall at school are far worse than the mean names their mother shouts at the dog? When friends go to parties, make unwise decisions, and the pressure to do likewise is so strong? If my children can learn anything from their mother, I hope it’s this: Dare to stand alone. When the world seems to be outside the fence, when the grass appears greener, I hope that they can have the bravery and moral strength to keep their fence strong. To not give in to the temptation to wander out. To not view their standards, their boundaries as a cage. Being a teenager can be rough. I know because I’ve been there. We all have. We all know what it’s like to desperately want to be cool, accepted, and have fun. But if it comes at the expense of our freedom, our immediate or latter happiness, our health, or (heaven forbid) our lives, then it’s not worth wandering beyond the fence. What I hope my boys can learn is that by staying inside the fence, by keeping to their standards and values, they will be far more free, more happy, and more able to do what they like than if they don’t.

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Three baby chicks decided to wander beyond the boundaries. Maybe it was the green grass. Maybe it was curiosity of the unknown. Maybe it was just plain old stupidity. Regardless the reason, it cost them their lives. If only…what sad words. Peep, Mo, and Winger, we will miss you. We’re sorry we didn’t protect you better. And my sons, I hope you can learn from the sad story of our wandering chicks and remember to stand alone when others explore beyond the fence.


Categories: country life, Life Lessons, Motherhood | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

That Sweet Smell of Septic Stench

I’ll be honest. Being a septic tank specialist was never an occupation I had aspirations of becoming growing up. In fact, it takes every ounce of energy to will myself to clean the bathrooms once a week. After the past few days, however, my kids have me pretty well convinced that doing such things would be the grandest of adventures.

We have now lived in the country for one year. ONE YEAR! Coming up on our year mark we decided it might be good to evaluate how everything was functioning, the septic tank being one of them. Upon opening the hatch it was clear that something wasn’t right. We gave the septic tank guy a call, and he came in his great big truck the very next morning. Our boys were watching out the window as he backed up the driveway. “Oh man, Mom! You HAVE to seeee this!!! That truck is HUGE! And Mom, it’s in our DRIVEWAY!” Even N couldn’t hide his enthusiasm. If simply seeing the truck parked 10 feet away wasn’t cool enough, my husband even let them go out and watch Mr. Septic Tank Man open the hatch and *ahem* suck up the contents (I’m embarrassed to even write that!). The boys were on top of the world. Life really doesn’t get much better than that from a 3 foot perspective, does it? The septic guy was great. Told them all about his job, joked around with them, told them how the tank worked, even let them play with his dog he brought along. By the time he’d finished they were totally ready to hand him their resumes,  jump on the truck and join his crew.

To our dismay, we found out that something was indeed wrong, and probably had been for several years (why in the world did we trust the previous owners when they said they’d take care of whatever needed to be done with the septic system?? And why did they do nothing to keep the property up for all those years?? Ugh, it still gets me all worked up thinking about it). We were talking an excavator, tearing apart our entire front yard, possibly loosing trees. Not to mention boku bucks to get it all done. We were not thrilled. The more we discussed the situation, the more bleak things looked. After a few minutes of silence, my husband broke in. “Oh jeez. I’ll do it. I’ll dig the 8 feet down, I’ll get in there. We don’t have to get an excavator, destroy our lawn, sell our souls to pay the Plummer. I’ll just do it myself.”

And he did. The next night he went to town, shovel in hand. He, R, and M worked long after the sun had gone down until they reached the tank. Getting the boys to bed that night was a chore (it ALWAYS is! Read here: Bedtime Battle). I heard the entire day summed up in two five-year-old breaths and a three-year-old trying to interject his two cents. “…And then, Mom, we hit a rock! It was huuuuge. But Dad did this with is shovel (imagine some crazy manuver), and it broke. And the dirt pile is so high. And guess what? You can’t even see us when we’re inside the hole. Could you see us, Mom? And tomorrow we’re gonna open the hatch. It will be AWESOME! It could be stinky, but that’s ok. We can just plug our noses. Will you plug your nose, too Mom?…” Disneyland wouldn’t hold a candle to the pure joy these boys were getting out of our nightmare project.



The next night Grandpa came. They worked for hours trying to pry open the darn cement hatch. As I made dinner, I had little feet pitter-pattering in and out the door to give me the play-by-play. Then just before I called them in for bed, I heard cheering from the front lawn. “They got it, Mom! They smashed it open! …Boy is it stinky!” Honestly, I think the smell was half the excitement for those wacky boys. With a ton of hard work, a little septic specialist assistance, and the help of my father-in-law, my handy husband fixed the septic tank for a fraction of the cost and way less mess. What a stinky, disgusting relief!

The saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” took on a whole new meaning for me this week (or maybe it should go “one dad’s stinky septic tank failure is another boy’s muddy castle of bliss and excitement”).While my husband and I were cursing our lousy situation with our broken septic tank, our boys couldn’t get enough. Every pile of dirt added to their ecstasy. It was the highlight of the month, maybe even possibly the year. All my husband and I could see was a gaping, muddy, smelly hole and a cement slab that wouldn’t budge. Not to mention lots and lots of dollar signs going to one lucky plumber.

Kids have a way of seeing sunlight in the dark moments. I hope my boys don’t loose that enthusiasm for life. I hope they can find joy in every day and maintain that sweet innocence. Childhood is far too short to take anything for granted, even a smelly, gross hole. I hope we can all see life occasionally through the eyes of a child and experience the wonder and awe in our every-day (sometimes infuriating) situations. Let’s all try to be more childlike. Let’s try to see the fun in the mundane, the good in the awful, the sweet in the bitter. I know I could use some more of that rosy perspective in my life. Whether we be 2 or 102, I truly hope we can all find joy in the journey.


Categories: country life, House projects, Life Lessons | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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