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  • Long long ago, when the thought of being a real Farm Woman was just a twinkle in my eye, we would visit my aunt and uncle’s farm in Michigan’s upper peninsula. Uncle Al always had plenty of advice and rules, the most important of which was not to eat the apples from the sour apple tree which grew next to the farm house. “You will get a bellyache for sure!” he warned us every visit. My cousin and I were not always known to be listeners or even rule followers, so we always climbed high up into the branches and ate as many of those apples as we dared.  They were not even that good, but the thought of going against the rules seemed to sweeten them up a bit. Sure enough, by early evening, we would be holding our bellies and head to bed early, only to be giggling later with flashlights under the covers well into the night. We loved the times with our family at the big farmhouse table, passing around good food and listening to three different conversations going on at the same time. Fast forward a few years…well, more than a few years. Funny, or maybe not so funny, we are now the older generation. The earlier generations are sadly missed, and yet there are new faces around the table that we couldn’t imagine being without. The branches of the family continue to grow, just as the branches of that apple tree of long ago. The farm has been sold, so we now gather around a different family table, passing plates of delicious food. There are still three different conversations going on at once, so things don’t change much. Dear Uncle Al is 96 and in a nursing home, the last of the generation. He is not able to join us any more, and for that, we are sad, so  we visited him with all the latest news.  He sits quietly with his eyes closed, biding his time, and not saying much except to wonder why I didn’t bring my dad with me, forgetting that he has been gone for many years. He listened as Caroline, his great-granddaughter and I  played  the piano and to the sweet old woman who sang along to the songs even though she couldn’t remember the words. She didn’t care, and neither did we. I did get a small glimmer of the old days when I spoke to him of farm days, apple trees, and bellyaches. Remembering, he opened his eyes, laughed, and said “The years sure go by, don’t they?” Yes, Uncle. Yes, they do.

I don’t know why I am so anxious for spring to get here. It hasn’t been a particularly bad winter, nor do I want to wish my life away, but I am more than ready. The first pair of swans flew over the creek yesterday, and the mere sight of them gave me spring fever. The days have been warm enough to keep the door to the chicken coop open most of the time. By that, I mean the door to the fenced-in run, because the wild animals and birds are especially hungry this time of year and would like nothing better than a nice plump chicken for dinner. The snow in the south-facing run is starting to melt, especially where the sun hits, and the girls are glad to have a little dirt and mud to scratch in. If you read “The Farm Woman’s Guide to Raising Chickens Even When Your Husband Doesn’t Want Them”,  it explains that “fresh clean water is essential to the good health of your flock.” I read it. I live it. I haul fresh water daily, even adding a few drops of organic apple cider vinegar to ward off disease. Today, with the melting snow in the run, they were drinking out of a mud puddle mixed with old straw and probably  doo-doo.  They hadn’t touched their water. The path to the coop is getting wet, too, and probably in a week or two, I will have to start wearing rubber boots. As spring continues springing, the snow will melt before the frost is out of the ground, causing standing water and mud everywhere. Along my route home, I often see people park at the end of their driveways and walk in, wearing their own rubber boots and carrying their shoes. The last thing they want is to be stuck in the mud in the middle of the driveway. Although it is not a pretty time of the year, I love it because it means the long winter is finally over. When I was a kid, back in the olden days, they would give us a few days off from school and call it “Mud Vacation”. Country roads were not as well maintained way back when, and nobody wanted the school busses to get stuck. My friends and I, who lived in town with paved roads and sidewalks,  wore green rubber boots all spring, and would spend our mud vacations playing marbles in the slush and the puddles, our fingers freezing in the cold water. We eagerly awaited and reported the first green shoots of spring and watched for pussy willows to burst into fuzzy little catkins.  I don’t think there was a mom in the entire town who didn’t have a bouquet of pussy willows on her table each spring. Even at my age, I still watch for them, checking out the bush that grows right next to the coop every single day with the same excitement as when I was ten.  I also look for the cowslips, also known as marsh marigolds, which grow in the wetlands, their cheery yellow flowers telling us that spring is finally here, even though they are sometimes surrounded by snow. And speaking of snow, we can always expect a snowstorm or two well into March or even April, but this time, we know it won’t last. What I’m looking forward to the most this year is Daylight Savings Time. For some reason, I have awakened each morning at four bells, ever since the last time change. HE says it is because I fall asleep at eight. I say it is because you can’t teach an old Farm Woman new tricks. 

My husband, not usually known to be a social butterfly, has always said that he is happy when we are getting company because he knows the house will be clean. Very funny. Now, before you get your knickers in a knot about equality and such, HE and I have a deal: He does the outside chores (not including the chicken coop) and I do the inside. This works out quite well and I am usually pleased with the system except for two exceptions:  1) If it is not a freezing cold/icy/snowy winter, I draw the short straw, at least according to my logic,  and  2) I hate to clean. Oh, I like a clean house, and I do clean it, but there are usually about a dozen things that I would rather be doing. On my day off this week, I stayed in my pajamas, which consist of faded yoga pants and an even more faded oversized T-shirt. Too much information, I know, but it is all part of the story. It was 10:30 in he morning, and so far I had managed to unload the clothes from the dryer, catch up on email and Facebook and watch an old Doris Day movie that I had recorded. I was halfheartedly sweeping the kitchen floor when the dog started barking and I saw an unfamiliar pickup truck in the driveway. Eek. I quickly ran to the mirror and ran a comb through my hair. I knew I wouldn’t have time to change, but luckily I had already brushed my teeth. I swept the week’s mail and papers into a pile and got everything out of sight. Whew! The unfolded laundry was scooped off the couch and tossed on my unmade bed behind a tightly closed door. Looking outside, I could see that the visitor was a neighbor who owns the property behind ours, and he was walking his dog out by the woodpile. I ran to the bathroom, wiped everything down, and hung fresh towels, just in case. Rushing over to look out the window, I noticed that the truck was no longer there. He probably thought that nobody was home. Well, the house was clean, anyhow. In a backhanded, kinda sorta  way.  Today, HE decided that the hardwood floors looked a little dull. I don’t get my bustle in a bristle over this one, either. He’ll do it, and I’ll be thankful for it. After all, I am busy cooking, writing and watching an old Hitchcock movie. I will have to say, though, if you want to come over for a visit, now would be a good time, because the house is nice and clean. 

“Although I cannot lay an egg, I am a very good judge of omelets.” ~ George Bernard Shaw  

You have often heard me whine about the lack of cooperation from my chickens when it comes to their egg production. This little farm is certainly not a big egg producing corporation, and even calling it a farm is a stretch of the imagination. I’ve suffered lean days and lean weeks in the egg department around here.  Don’t let the word get out, but I have even been known to buy eggs at the grocery store, always hiding them beneath the jumbo-sized package of toilet paper or the bread. My reputation as a Farm Woman is at stake, after all. The number of eggs a chicken lays depends on circumstances such as the age and breed of the hen, food and water, and time of year. Around here, it gets dark very early in the wintertime, and with the lack of light, there are fewer eggs. Some folks have lights in their coops to keep the egg production up, but I give the girls a break and turn on the lights only to prevent me from tripping over a chicken and falling. I have to do that because HE, who insists that he is not getting hard of hearing, keeps the volume on the TV so loud that he would never hear me screaming that I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. I will say that after an hour or two and if it were during a commercial break, he might start to wonder where I was. When the thermometer starts dipping toward 10 degrees above zero, I set the timer for the heat lamps to come on. These days, that is most of the time, so they are off and on throughout the day and night. This creates the perfect storm: My mostly young flock, well-fed and content in their coop with lots of water (I use a heated dog dish so it will not freeze), and plenty of light,  are giving me as many as a dozen eggs a day. Unfortunately, my homeowner’s insurance frowns upon me selling the eggs. The IRS thinks that bartering or trading the eggs is the same as selling and wants it documented.  Since I have always been a rule-follower,  I won’t admit to either of those, but I am happy to report that my friends and family are pleased with the gifts they receive. We eat a lot of eggs, too. Scrambled, omelets, fried, boiled, shirred, and devilled. If a recipe calls for two eggs, I add four. I might even attempt an angel food cake since I have never used my pan and was going to move it to the “donate” box. Yes, I know this windfall will stop before long. In the meantime, I need to make some egg salad while the sun…or the heat lamp…shines. 

Parents were put on this earth to embarrass their children, and I know I did my share. My darling daughter will be 32 this month, and hasn’t rolled her eyes at me for a long while. That will come again in time, perhaps as I get older and lose that “filter” that makes one think before opening one’s mouth, or perhaps it will be today. Teenagers don’t have much sense of humor when it comes to their parents. She didn’t appreciate it when I would snatch the phone off the hook if the time was even one minute after 10 p.m. to tell her friends that she wasn’t allowed phone calls after 10 p.m. She appreciated it even less when I wore rubber hillbilly teeth to pick her up from middle school and gave a big smile and a wave to everyone in the parent pick-up area. She refused to get in the car one morning when I was wearing my sweat pants and slippers to drive her to school.  Sheesh, you would think we were going to visit the queen or something! She hasn’t heard the story about the cake, which happened exactly 32 years ago this week. I was near the end of my pregnancy when my coworkers invited me to a surprise bachelorette party for one of our friends.  I lived just down the street from a wonderful little neighborhood bakery which was known for delicious cakes as well as the best cheese danish this side of New York City and sausage biscuits that could bring tears of joy to a pregnant woman’s eyes. I was in there a lot. They made special order cakes, too, for bachelorette parties. They baked and decoated them fresh to order, and stored them in the back room until they were picked up, because they were….er…let’s just say they were anatomically correct. We all signed up for a dish to bring, and since I lived the closest to the bakery, I told everyone about the special cake and said it would be my treat for the bride-to-be’s party.  They tried to tell me it would be too much trouble for someone in my delicate condition, but I insisted. I made arrangements with the bakery to pick it up the morning of the party, never thinking that the doughnut and sausage biscuit crowd would be lined up that time of the day. There were a lot of smiles that morning and probably talk around the office water coolers about a hugely pregnant woman who picked up a large cake box with a peek-a-boo window showing what was inside. I mistakenly thought it would come wrapped in plain brown paper. I barely made it out of the door with the large belly, that cake box and a bag of assorted goodies for my breakfast. After all, I was eating for two.  Even more embarrasing was when I got to the “bachelorette party”only to find out that it was actually a surprise baby shower for me. The table looked lovely with pink and blue streamers and that cake in all his glory. There are pictures, but you’ll never see them. She wasn’t actually around to see it, but when my daughter reads this story, she might laugh, she might roll her eyes, or she just might tell you that this is not half as bad as the time I made her boyfriend drive me for miles (so I could make sure he was a safe driver) before I let her get into a car with him. Believe me, I made sure the brakes and seat belts were in working order, too. 

We got home yesterday after spending a fun few days with friends in Las Vegas. Besides some good memories, the only thing I came home with was a nasty cold. I really was certain that I would come home with something, but was hoping that it would be a million dollars rather than this. Airports, airplanes, and any casino in Las Vegas are like giant Petri dishes of germs from all corners of the world. This cold is so bad that it is most certainly a man-cold. I am self diagnosing, but I have been a nurse for 35 years, so I have a good instinct about these things.  My friends describe man-colds as something that their husbands get, with stuffy heads, coughing, whining, and body aches and pains worse than anyone has ever had before.  They want to be served hot soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, chips, and perhaps a cold beer to ease their discomfort. My man is not someone who complains when he gets sick. In fact, HE can be quite the opposite. He almost died about 15 years ago after getting food poisoning from eating bad oysters and although burning up with fever, kept saying, “No, I’m fine,” and asked for nothing but saltine crackers and red Kool-aid for two days. When he finally dragged himself to the urgent care center, they told him it was lucky that he came in when he did. Last summer, while I was dogsitting in the next town over,  I got a call from HIM requesting some “really strong flu medicine”.  Again, he gave his usual “I’ll be fine” speech while burning up with fever. Even though he refused to have his temperature taken, I knew it was high by my superpower instinct and my hand on his forehead. I made a clinic appointment, he cancelled it. I remembered a tick bite a couple of weeks before, and he was certain it wasn’t that. He ate the super-duper cold/flu medicine like candy, and I threatened him with the side effects such as liver failure,  kidney failure and/or death. Defeated, and too sick to argue any more, he finally went in, only to find out he indeed  had one of those nasty tick-borne diseases, and a round of antibiotics did the trick. I didn’t say, “I told you so!”, but I sure was thinking it.  So, here I am, sick with this man-cold, huddled in bed  under a quilt and the electric mattress pad is on the warmest setting. There’s no cool hand on my fevered brow.  Nobody has offered any hot soup or cool drinks, but when I got up to get a drink of water, HE did offer me a leftover hot dog. *sigh* I’ll be fine. Really, I will. 

Several years ago, when our daughter was a teenager, HE surprised us both after a Sunday morning family brunch by stopping at a local big box store for a shopping excursion. I am using the words “shop” and  “excursion” rather loosely here. We were surprised because he  1) Hates to shop. 2) Hates big box stores. 3) Really, really hates to shop. Our quiet,  soft-spoken husband and father suddenly turned into a drill sergeant. “YOU!” He said sternly, pointing to me. “We need toilet paper and bread!” (I am admittedly exaggerating a teeny bit here, but it makes for a better story.) Pointing to our daughter, he said “You go get dog food and garbage bags, and I need to get some new tennis shoes and a belt.” Looking at his watch, he said, “Meet me back here in 10 minutes.” Both of us, not the follow-my-orders-and-obey type of women, were too surprised to do anything but scurry down our respective aisles. We were back in the car, start to finish, in 15 minutes flat, and HE was quite pleased with himself. Never mind that we could have found $100 worth of other things with our usual method of wandering up and down the aisles looking at everything. Now THAT is shopping. I did go back the next day to get everything else we needed. I can think of another shopping trip HE made around that time. My daughter and I have always agreed that he is really difficult to buy a Christmas gift for because he never tells us what he wants and/or needs. Ever.  He always says “I will like whatever you give me.”  Do you see what I mean? Difficult. We often put our heads together are quite jealous when one of us comes up with the first good idea. That particular shopping trip was done somewhere around the first of December. Prime Christmas shopping time. He came home with several bags of clothing that day. “I bought myself a few things like pants, shirts, socks, and even a new wallet. It made me remember how much I HATE shopping!” Sigh. I don’t even remember what we got him that year. This year  was different. HE actually told us that he would like to visit his sister in Florida and would like to have a plane ticket. Done! While he was gone, I cleaned out cupboards and cabinets. When all the dust settled, I decided that there needs to be a lot less shopping done around here because we have too much stuff.  HE certainly won’t argue with that.