One Fowl Move…

Since becoming a mother to Americauna chickens in April, I have often questioned the wisdom of my little foray into keeping livestock.  To this day I have no idea what 4-H stands for, and I remember (not that long ago) scoffing at the absurd notion of keeping chickens, undoubtedly while primping the knot on my Hermes scarf.

What I thought would be just a quaint little experiment turned into a great deal of work and a roller coaster of emotions that I never would have imagined could be inspired by a flock of silly birds. From raising our teeny chicks under a heat lamp in a gerry-rigged, predator proof horse trough, to braving the drive to the crazy chicken coop man, and building a chicken run, My Beloved and I were exhausted.  On more than a few occasions I caught him giving me “the look,” but lucky for me, My Beloved can be a patient man.

As the weeks and months passed, I found myself becoming attached to these smelly, skittish, puffy cheeked, little mess makers.  I took pride in watching my girls grow into lovely young ladies.  In time I noticed however that one of the girls was getting much bigger than the others and that strangely, her feathers were much more colorful.

Some of the flock free-ranging outside the run

Some of the flock free-ranging outside the run

I passed these facts off as merely a breed variation.  Then, one morning the chick we called “Mama Hen,” started crowing.  I immediately Googled “crowing hens,” and discovered that some dominant hens crow.  Whew! Thank heaven for the infallible oracle of the internet, I thought.  So what if Mama Hen was a little butch?  Who am I to judge?  Unconvinced, My Beloved made a valiant attempt to wrench me from my cocoon of denial with an eye-rolling, “Babe, Mama Hen is a dude.”  For weeks I refused to believe it.  How could this happen?  Fearing that I would end up giving this chicken a gender complex, I realized I had to get a grip.  My Mama Hen was a rooster.  To honor My Beloved Marine and to celebrate Mama Hen’s masculinity, Mama Hen was re-Christened, “Chesty Pullet.”

The dapper and handsome Chesty Pullet

The dapper and handsome Chesty Pullet

Then tragedy struck our chicken run.  A neighbor’s dog who often wandered onto our property and whom we once lovingly referred to as “The Husky Girl,” brutally betrayed us. One morning, I walked out to the run and saw The Husky Girl hiding underneath the tractor which was parked a few yards from the run.  I thought nothing of it until I got closer. I saw the corpse of one mangled hen, headless and mercilessly yanked partially through the fence.  When I entered the run I saw that it wasn’t just a single hen that had been murdered, there were 3 other victims.  4 HEADLESS CHICKENS.  I was immediately overcome with frightening melange of horror and rage.  Tunnel vision led me to the compound of our negligent neighbors.  As I stood in their driveway, an impressively shrieked chain of expletives flew from my lips.  The woman that came to the door wasted no time in getting her Jeffrey Dahmer dog off our property.  Leaving a trail of F-Bombs, I made my way home and got to the task of disposing of the bodies.  We retooled our run and made it the Chicken Fort Knox it is today.

Tonight, all of our hard work and moments of despair were rewarded.  Our girls got to work weeks earlier than expected! When My Beloved went out to check on them, he found 5 gorgeous blue-green eggs and presented me with the tangible rewards of our labor.

Holy First 5 Eggman!

Holy First 5 Eggman!

Tres beau oeuf!

Tres beau oeuf!

Gorgeous, rich, golden yolks

Gorgeous, rich, golden yolks

Was it worth the work, expense, and heart wrenching lessons to have our own Ranch Fresh organic eggs? Hell yeah.

Omelette cooked in clarified butter...magnifique!

Omelette cooked in clarified butter…magnifique!

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A Year Later…A Ranch Retrospective

It’s been just over a year since I packed up my bags, my dogs, the convenience of city life, and followed my heart to The Ranch.  It has taken me a while to digest all that has happened, all I have learned, and all that is on the horizon.  In a sense, the most telling thing about my Ranch experience is that I am still here. But, for me, as I sit here and savor the memories of the past year, with a healing patch of poison oak on the inside of my left bicep, it’s no surprise.

I’m not going to sugar coat it for artistic convenience, I knew when I set foot on this property that I was in for a huge helping of “WTF.” Not only had I moved to a Ranch, with a long history of inspiring outlaw-Redneck behavior and giving sanctuary to those ill equipped to deal with the “confines” of city life, but I was moving into a house that was still (and to a degree remains) an active construction zone.   Not fully appreciating the stresses of those two circumstances combined, on more than a few occasions I fantasized about making my escape back to civilization, or just plain sobbed.

Our Redneck Chimney

Our Redneck Chimney…don’t worry, it’s been fixed…

But, as I have said from the beginning, when I came to The Ranch I was following my heart.  I don’t mean that in the Cheez-Whiz, Nicholas Sparks sense.  I mean actually listening to my heart.  For most of my adult life, I had made almost all of my choices based on a cold calculation of fact based logic and reason (at least what I thought was logic and reason.) I prided myself on being someone who was not prone to flights of fancy.  I routinely subordinated, or flat out ignored what my heart was often screaming to me.  In some ways that robotic, emotionless existence worked out.  It got me through law school and helped me build a successful career in a field where virtually any show of emotion or vulnerability is seen as a sign of incompetence or worst of all, weakness.   The problem is, the most horrid mistakes I have ever made were the direct and brutal consequence of not listening to the emphatic pleas of my heart.

Clearly, logic and reason didn’t factor into the equation when it came to deciding to leave the comfort and convenience of city life.  I refused to ignore my heart shouting at me to be with My Beloved, and reminding me there could be more depth to my life than the thankless 13 months in grueling back to back trials, from which I had just emerged.  My heart craved something grounded and real.  Trust me, The Ranch is real.

Amongst other things, my world now includes a chicken coop for our 10 Ameraucana chicks and an organic garden.  I have even shoveled horse manure! A year ago one would have been better off wagering that I would do something insane, like vote for a Democrat, or wear acrylic nails, before I would get anywhere near horse poop.  Getting my hands dirty and being free to reach beyond the life I had known has made my heart sing.

Tending to our organic garden...more boxes to come!

Tending to our organic garden…more boxes to come!

I love my chickies!

I love my chickies!

Fear not, I have not been completely body snatched by the local 4-H, nor have I left my inner city girl stranded on some dirt road.  The evidence of her survival can be seen most strikingly in the absence of taxidermied animal carcasses in our house, not to mention in my victory at The Battle of the Bidet.  Hands down, I would still chose an afternoon in a city cafe over a ride on a 4-wheeler into the wilderness of The Ranch, but I am grateful that I have been able to experience the two.

My experience has shown me that there is no irreconcilable contradiction in being a Francophile City Girl that lives on a ranch. I love the things I’ve learned–hair raising critters and all.  It’s my truth.  It’s a reflection of what’s in my heart.  My life is richer for it.  Thank goodness there is room enough on The Ranch and in my heart for both.

Winning the Battle of the Bidet

While some deservedly wax rhapsodic about their honorable service in battle on foreign shores, my battleground was much closer to home.  My master bathroom to be exact.  The day I stood my ground against 2 relentless, nay-saying Rednecks, will go down as my proverbial day of infamy, “B-Day” if you will.

From the first time my eyes made contact with one, on my first trip to Europe, it was clear to me, that these simple, porcelain, wonders of personal hygiene weren’t just officious European fluff.  They are an undeniably tangible sign of decency, progress, and just plain good manners.  With one test drive, I was hooked.  I swore that one day I would have one.

I Love Lucy

I Love Lucy (Photo credit: elena-lu)

Fast forward past many homes and many moves to The Ranch. My Beloved gutted our Craftsman style home, built in the 1920s, giving us a perfectly clean slate.  The word “bidet” passed my lips on more than one occasion, when the subject of our master bedroom design came up.  At first, he acted as if he didn’t hear me.  When it was clear that his selective hearing routine wasn’t going to work, he resorted to Ricky Ricardo-esque “Now Luuuuucy,” style withering looks.

Try as he might, My Beloved could not run from the B word for long.  Just over a month ago, our contractor, his dearest friend and fellow country boy, started work on the plumbing for the upstairs.  Up to that point, I had pretty much stayed out of the construction conversations.  But, as I saw “M.T.” working upstairs, I had to ask, “what about the bidet?” From the look on his face, I could tell that My Beloved had kept my demands for a bidet, a dirty secret.  “A what?” He then shot an incredulous look over at My Beloved.  Was this heretofore impenetrable bastion of  American roughneck masculinity going the way of the European pointy-shoed wimp? Rather sheepishly, My Beloved began to explain that there would need to be plumbing for both a toilet and a bidet in our water closet.  M.T. shot me a look, then looked back at My Beloved.  We may as well have been asking him to install an altar for human sacrifice.

The profound misunderstanding that these two men had of my continental daydreams, manifested in the single waterline coming out of the dry wall for the bidet.  That single waterline was for cold water.  Only cold water to a bidet? Did they need to be reminded of the intended function of this fixture?   For these two devoted outdoorsmen, indoor plumbing is a luxury, but seriously? Was this pay back for my fancy-pants bidet nonsense?  When I pointed out the hot water oversight, it was met with grumbles, groans, and fervent calls to abandon my pompous plumbing plan altogether. Not a chance.

With a hot waterline begrudgingly added to the mix, next stop?  The Special Order desk at the home improvement store.  My Beloved let me do all the talking–it was obviously painful for him to utter the word “bidet” to another masculine, grown man.  The old, salty dog of a salesman took delight in my request, and promptly asked, “you aren’t from around here, are you?”  He went on to confess that he had only sold one other bidet in his decades long career.  He sold it to a local woman a year and a half ago who came in wanting ” one of those European foot washer things.”

Now, I can happily say that one of the ultimate symbols of European sensibilities has finally taken it’s rightful place in my home.

My glorious bidet!

My glorious bidet!

Should there be any doubts, rest assured that no Rednecks were harmed during it’s installation.  In fact, both My Beloved and M.T.  are still wearing their Dickies and Wranglers, and it appears that both completed the job with their masculinity in tact.

Bottom line? A little Paris in one’s poison oak never hurt anyone. In the Battle of the Bidet, I’d like to think that My Beloved and I both won.  At the very least, it was a clean fight.

The Road to “Ranch Hard”

It has been 6 months since I first set foot on The Ranch as a permanent resident.  Although enthusiastically motivated by love, I could not ignore the hand wringing of my inner City Girl.  How was this going to work?  I have lived all of my life in cities.  I was accustomed to a comfortable cocoon of concrete.  Had I gone mad in swapping the relative comforts of city living for dirt roads and a 15 minute trek to the nearest “decent” grocery store?   Maybe a little, but the transformation that has occurred during my tenure on The Ranch perhaps says as much about me, as it does about the power of The Ranch.  The transition has not been easy, and it is by no means complete.  At times it has been down right painful. I have found though that picking up new skills, letting go of some of my neurosis, and broadening my appreciation of the absurd go a long way in helping to soften the blow.

The Ranch is a wild place.  Like Sparta, it is not for the weak.  When I came to The Ranch, the depth of my survival skills were, shall we say, limited.  It is safe to say that I could lead a search and destroy mission through the opening hours of the First Call Sale at Neiman Marcus, with the steely eyed discipline of a Recon Marine, but that was about it. I had purposely remained relatively ignorant about anything even remotely related to being “handy,” save a desperate, practically at gun point, late night lesson in sheet rock repair, facilitated by my one of my best friends who is an unapologetic slum lord.  In any event, suffice it to say, that I hadn’t the slightest clue where my fuse box was, much less how to use it if things suddenly went dark.  If there was a major disaster, such as a broken water line, a large spider, or heaven forbid, if my internet went out,  I figured I would just call my Dad. I learned quickly that such nonsense doesn’t fly on The Ranch.  As a long time resident of The Ranch, “Uncle E” would say, I would have to get “Ranch Hard.”

During these 6 months, I have made huge strides in the “Ranch Hard,” department.  I now know exactly where the circuit breaker box is in the house, and I have used it on more than a few occasions.  But survival skills on The Ranch call for more than just being savvy in the midst of ongoing construction and general chaos…it literally means knowing how to survive.  By all reasonable calculations, help IS NOT nearby, and even if it happened to be, it would take the authorities a while to get onto the property and sort out the exact location of the crisis. (Anyone who as read my piece titled “Ranch Ingenuity: The Wisdom of Looking Away,” will know that chances are “the crisis” would be found in the Bermuda Triangle of: heavy machinery, power tools, and my Beloved.)   One has to be able to think quickly on The Ranch, or risk being overrun.

Even the seemingly simple act of going to the grocery store presents unique challenges.  There are no more quick jaunts to Whole Foods.  My geographical location, not only requires me to drive almost an hour to get to the nearest organic-food-snob holy land, but it forces me to do something I never had to do before–plan ahead.  Trust me, I could more readily find a pound of “the devil’s lettuce,” than I could find a terrine of pate’ de canard, in these parts. In a pinch, yes, I can drag my butt to some grim alternatives such as the GMO den commonly referred to as Safeway, or a poser Whole Foods flanked by soap averse hippies, but frankly, at times, I’d rather get a tooth pulled.

In my previous life, I was able to keep things like dirt and dust at a comfortable distance. I was obsessive about cleanliness.  There is no place for such idle foolishness on the Ranch.  Why?  It would be too exhausting. There is a thin veil of the most aggravating, powdery, dirt on almost everything. EVERYTHING.  It’s the kind of dust that would make Steinbeck shudder.  My once immaculate car, now looks like I am a frequent flier at the county tractor pull.  The shine on my once glorious shoes has been replaced with a filmy, tan haze.  No matter what I do short of wearing a protective smock at all times, there will be large smudges of dirt or a filthy paw print on me guaranteed.  These days, I consider it a minor victory if I make it through the day without a co-worker asking me if I just had a nasty fall in the parking lot, or if I had been attacked by something.

My Chucks, Gucci loafers, and Cole Haan wedges nestled between My Beloved’s hunting rifle and straw hat…if you look closely enough you will see the dust…

The Ranch has gotten to me on a few occasions during these 6 months.  Whether it was my stockpile of extraordinary wines that was “cooked” due to inadequate storage conditions, the achingly slow internet connection I have since being “off the grid” equals “air card,” or the lumbering chaos of living in a house while it is under construction, I have had my share of meltdowns.  My Beloved, the patient, generous soul he is, knows when and how to talk me off the ledge.  He assures me that the proverbial dust will settle.

Thanks to the Ranch, I am, for the most part, now able to kill spiders on my own. I now know the difference between a tractor, bulldozer, excavator, and auger.  I can even navigate my way around the Tractor Supply Company. Never fear, my inner City Girl is alive and well.  Yes, I am a long way from Paris, but now I am home.

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