The Quiet of the Old Year.

It is New Years Eve, and the house is quiet. I have just finished reading Thomas the Tank Engine’s Journey Beyond Sodor to 5 year old Manchild, and tucked him gently into bed.  I poked my head into Girlchild’s room, she was reading. With a low grade fever and flushed cheeks, she still sucked her thumb for comfort. I kissed her forehead and prayed  with her, leaving her to continue to read a book about Christmas, and sing along pitifully with the printed songs. That’s my girl.

I am neither attending nor hosting anything tonight, and it feels delicious. It is eight o’clock, and I am reclining by the fire in a brown leather chair while my husband is off to celebrate the New Year with friends at Game Night. It’s a perfect New Years Eve, and all is well with my soul.

Except for the fact that Girlchild and I have both had colds all week. My daughter has perfected getting legit sick the day before school vacations begin, and initiates her own mini vacation the day before the rest of the school system. The kicker is that Girlchild and I both have our first ever allergist appointments in two days, and we plan to get the prick test to see what we’re allergic to. As anyone who has done this before knows, you can not have any anti-histamines for 5 days prior to your appointment. As every pharmacist knows, anti-histamines are one of the main ingredients in cold medication.  This was poor planning on everyone’s part. Even my teeth feel congested.

But I promise you one thing, this will not be one of those “End of Year in Review” pieces. I hate reading those things. I don’t really care much about what has happened this year. I know it already. I was there. I took pictures and ordered albums of the memories I want to keep,  and have already dismissed the one’s I don’t. It’s what’s coming next that I am always looking forward to.

In Schenanigansland, what comes next is Bunnypalooza! No joke. I have my first batch of 11 day old meat bunnies resting comfortably in their nest, while Betsy, my second doe is growing closer to breeding age all the time. I’m aiming for a total of 8 liters between the 2 does this year, and about 120lbs of meat in the freezer. We run out of sockets for electric water bottles if we have any extra rabbits over the winter. Betsy took the last spot.

We love Betsy! She sat in the basement with us yesterday and watched the 3rd Star Wars movie in the trilogy. Don’t ask me what it’s called, I was asleep. But our bunnies are beloved pets, and it’s just their off spring that are considered livestock to us (and therefore never named). This first batch will spend the last 2 months off our property, in pairs, at the homes of 6 different families with kids who want to pretend to own a bunny. Works great for me. You feed it, I’ll eat it, and repeat. Sounds harsh, but they are a fat-free, locally grown, earth friendly source of white meat that I can provide for my children’s dinner. Sometimes being responsible is a bit harsh.

But that’s not what I’m excited about. I’m excited about my new rabbit grow out pen DIY project I just ordered off Amazon. You see, I realized the other day while scrubbing my kitchen floor, that I care more about how I set up my next rabbit pen, than when or if I ever repaint my kitchen. Let alone what color. After much scouring of the internet, I eagerly found the perfect way to combine the free standing wooden bunny house I’m not using, and the green mental shed we barely need. It just called for a few office supplies.

I’d seen these hand made pens around at 4-H events, but never quite mustered up the nerve to ask if Staples provided their rabbit cage. It just felt awkward. But take a look at these photos below. At $16 for a four shelf kit, I’m completely sold! I ordered 3 kits.

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OK, granted, that last one was for an embarrassed cat, but you get the picture. I’m super excited to see what designs I can fit into my almost empty shed to give the most bunny space and predator protection for $45. It’s like Duplos for adults.

Anything to save time and money is always welcome on this Rabbit Ranch. See, last month I bought a red hen. I plopped her in my yard, separating her from the other girls by a small collapsible fence to prevent fights, and went to dinner. All chickens go to sleep the minute it gets dark, so my plan was to plop her on the roost in the coop upon returning home, and all the chickens would wake up happy together in the morning. Except, when I got home, that girl was GONE. Not one red hen on my property.

We searched high and low. Our yard, our neighbors yards, the shrubs, nothing. I have never, ever,  had a chicken vaporize that that one did. There’s $15 I’ll never get back. So, feeling sheepish,  I found another woman selling hens, and bought two from her (she won’t sell them in singles to avoid have one new hen get pecked to death when placed with a flock). They were $20 each, which is the average rate for a hen who is just about to start laying eggs, especially if they are a pretty bird. The lavender one was beautiful (she laid blue eggs), and the red one just promised to lay a bunch. I don’t care what color they were, I just wanted quantity.

Two nights ago when I was making my evening rounds in the yard, I found the red one  outside the coop at the base of the ramp, trying to sleep. That’s not okay. I scooped her up and realized something was wrong. She was floppy. She kept gyrating her head and trying to lay the top of her head on her back in a sideways motion. Kinda like she was stargazing.

It’s called wry neck, and it’s a symptom of multiple diseases I couldn’t cure, and possibly a vitamin deficiency I could cure. So I went with that diagnosis, and started dosing her with liquid vitamins. Prying her upside down beak open and eye dropping a stinky, very stain-able, vitamin solution in to a sad chicken is nobody’s idea of fun. Especially not for the chicken. But dosing her with the Trader Joe’s horse sized magnesium pills was even worse. Even snapping it in half left a rather large, pea sized tablet I had to be sure to insert on top of the tongue, not under, as I learned that hard way while Lil Red fought me, and I might have had to shake her a tiny bit to let gravity do it’s thing. This is why chickens do not have a gag reflex.

Lil Red either felt much better come morning as she scratched along the yard with the others, or she’d spent the whole night downloading acting lessons. That hen looked nearly perfect to me. I praised God, and carried on.

Next day, Lil Red was absent during role call, and I had to fish her out of one of the nest boxes. That was unusual. Once again, she couldn’t walk, didn’t have much head control, and wasn’t eating or drinking. I had a bit more time to spend with her (I get push back for spending family time fussing over chickens, since sadly, I am not an actual farmer), so I took Lil Red into the house with me, set her up a tiny apartment in the corner of the foyer with an old towel, feed pellets, corn, water, and her own applesauce cup. I kept the lights dim to keep her calm, dosed her with more vitamins, and left her to rest.

Lil Red wasn’t eating much. She didn’t try to walk or drink. This was not good. However, by mid-day, one of the children had breezed through and left the lights on in the foyer. That gave Lil Red the signal that a new day had started once again. Suddenly she was interested in eating, drinking, and hitting the sauce pretty hard. Turns out, I’d made a rookie mistake. Chickens roost when it’s dark. So there was no way I was going to convince a sick chicken to eat in the dark. Once I turned on the “daylight”, we were back in business. Rookie mistake. *forehead palm*

Now my fire has died down, my children are asleep, and Lila the Mama bunny has hidden all 6 of her children under her food bowl to keep grabby hands at bay. I love the stillness, and hope the midnight fireworks (and possible happy gun shots?) don’t wake my babies. I don’t want to enter 2018 sleep deprived. I’d rather enter it snug in my bed, with a fleece loving cat pinning down my knee caps, and a good book tossed sleepily on to the floor. If you need a recommendation for one, may I suggest Blue Cottage Life, by Beth Schmidt? I hear she’s a new up and coming young author! 🙂

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           HAPPY NEW YEARS, FRIENDS!

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Where Do You Hide YOUR Dirty Pots?

It’s been a long time since I’ve hidden dirty dishes in the garage. At least 15 years. Last time I did it I was 23 years old, living in Colorado, and still doing dishes once a week. I stuck a HUGE dirty roasting pan from cooking a turkey in the garage in Dec, carcass and all. I found it in May, complete with maggots. Twenty-three is a prime age for adulting all wrong. Never under estimate the power of your frontal lobe (which matures when you are 24).

But today warranted a little self-induced grace on my part, and I was darn sure gonna give it to me. See, it all started with a batch of free roosters on Craigslist (most of my stories that don’t include the kids begin on Craigslist). A guy in the next county over needed someone to take his 4 (freakishly LOUD) roosters, for free, and didn’t care if you ate ’em. Well, in my ever snowballing quest to be a cowgirl-homesteading-agriculturewarrior- provider, I stepped forward and volunteered. This is free dinner for a week, almost.

So off I went last night, following a man recovering from a broken foot, over to his chicken coop in the dark to try to snag these wild-as-banchees roosters while they slept. It was in a neighborhood, and I felt plenty safe. The roosters, however, did not. One managed to fight it’s way out of my over-confidant hands, and leave the chicken corral. This plan malfunction caused me and Busted Foot to go scampering around in the dark, or wet grass, in the rain, while the remaining three prisoners screamed from my dog carrier. We never did find him.

I tucked my prisoners into my garage and made sure their cage was covered with a cloth to ensure total darkness, and NO CROWING before morning! It didn’t matter. A poorly timed rooster alarm went off at 4:30am this morning, requiring a MUCH earlier than intended session of dispatching roosters for freezer camp. If you crow, you gotta go! I was NOT a happy camper. It was pure darkness outside, and we’ll just not talk about the cold. But I live in the suburbs, and can’t afford unhappy neighbors.

By the time I finished up the last bird, did the morning chores for the hens and rabbits, and stored the fresh meat, the kids were getting up. I made pancakes like a champion, gave full attention to each happy child, and prided myself on all I’d accomplished before 7:30am. Almost like a real farmer. Almost. My extended dairy raising family members do this every day, and I can not even fathom it.

After the family left, I had 2 hours to shower, make my house presentable, set the table for lunch, and find my 4-H paperwork for a fellow 4-H mom who was coming over to brainstorm. See, there was a turning over of volunteers, and 4-H Mom (let’s call her 4HM) and I were asked to co-ordinate planning the meetings all year. Apart, we were frightened, but we knew if we joined forces it was totally do-able, and probably fun. I really liked this other mom, we’d just never spent any time together.

Post shower, laundry (Did I fail to put that on my list above? That should be on every list I ever make, forever), and a phone call, it was closing in on 10am. I still had to clean up the evidence of chicken culling in the backyard, clean up the evidence of child feeding in the kitchen, and pick up train tracks through out the living room. Did I mention the pile of dishes  towering over in the sink, some feathered, some not? Gross. Yep, I know it.

I scurried, but alas, I HAD to wash the dirt trail running through the kitchen off my tile floor. It was simply in bad taste. Though it did fit with my Urban Farmhouse theme quite nicely.  This task required me to allow for drying time. Which, of course, I didn’t. Which, naturally,  meant I did the rest of my chores in wet socks. Who wouldn’t?

The dish washer was clean, it was the children’s chore. The children were in school. Drat! I would have to do it. But there were still Pillsbury biscuits to bake, to go with the soup Captain Schenanigans crock-potted for us over night. I popped the biscuits into the oven, set the table, and hid half the dirty dishes in the garage. There was just no way to get the clean dishes out (even if I did take the kids out of school, which I should have in hindsight), put them away, and re-fill the dishwasher before 4HM arrived. Now, I know 4HM has seen her share of dirty dishes, I’m sure she even had a few, but she’d never been here before and it looked like every dish we ever used in our entire ten year marriage was piled up past the window sill, threatened to take over our meeting. Butchering dishes are never pretty. So, drastic measures were warranted, just to get us to “normal house dirty”.

So I hustled like a champion, placed my hot biscuits on a cake pedestal to class ’em up (or because in reality I just never have a chance to use this wedding gift), and lit a candle to distract 4HM away from the filth pile, and towards the other side of the room. I dimmed the lights over the stove, turned them up over the table, and shredded cheese. Now I had to wipe down the stove again. Shredded cheese is a much beloved enemy, that way.

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Now I have a sibling, who shall remain nameless, who is going the childfree route in life, and has often commented to me about the state of my home, and perhaps why don’t I just do a better job keeping it up. I’m gonna let him live, because I love Jesus.

My 11am meeting wrapped up at 2:24pm, when 4HM had to reluctantly leave and pick up her 4H-er. We had the time of our lives. We laughed and chattered, and confessed (I told her about the dishes in the garage) like old friends. We didn’t accomplish a lick of work until the last hour she was there. And while I knew she could have seen my messy real life, I felt happier sitting in a clean(ish) room, laughing with a new friend.

I told 4HM that next time, I wouldn’t clean. It was just her first visit that she would be considered a guest, and that when I visit her house next, there would be no need for cleaning. We’re past that now. Messes are inevitable, and mine are always worse than yours (unless you are on an episode of hoarders, then you win).

Go blessed.

Beth

 

 

The Things We Do For Love

First, let me start by saying we adopted a new girl bunny today. I stinkin’ LOVE HER!!! She is a year old, came free from a woman in DC, and her name is Annie. She’ll be a breeding mama for our meat program, and she’s gorgeous. Best part is, she’s FOURTEEN POUNDS!! Poor Annie was stuck in a cage and over fed for too long. She took up half her cage with her bulk. She was tricky to lift, and believing that her parents are Dutch and Harlequin rabbits, she should be about 8-9lbs! Annie is right now outside in 1/5 of our yard with tons of space to “run around”. Poor Annie can’t run. But she can hop about 3-4 times in a row. That’s about it. She’s going to get a lot of recess time, all day, everyday, till she builds her muscles up and looses some bulk. She’s a girl after my own heart.

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The other thing that has me all happy about today is that not only did I get a new doe, but my kids are spending a few hours visiting Grandma and Grandpa, so my husband and I can get a few chores scratched off our “To Do” list. Like finish insulating the attic. Woot! Woot!

While deep in my heart I do not trust ladders, I watched Captain Schenanigans fearlessly climb up the ladder in our connected garage and disappear into an access hole in the attic. Taking a deep breath, I slowly, cautiously, joined him. Kneeling on the beams to avoid falling through the ceiling, I carefully crawled over to where he was unrolling the fiberglass insulation. We were having a hard time loving the previous owners, at that moment. They had left rolls of insulation, in the wrong size, just laying around beside a half-done job. I could have kicked them.

But then my cat walked by. Yes. My cat. He had joined us in the attic. “Jax? How did you get up here? ” I questioned him.

“He climbed the ladder” Captain grunted while face deep in insulation under a respirator. I was just tickled pink that my smart cat knew how to climb a ladder, AND wanted to be with us that much! I snapped a picture of the yellow tabby free ranging the attic, and sent it to the grandparents to show the kids. I knew they’d be just as fascinated as I was.

Looking around the attic, I could see light coming in from the edges, and was surprised to learn that several places under the eaves only have a little screen between the inside of the attic and the outside of the house. Not much protection there from creepy crawlies, if you ask me.

So we continue, I mostly run errands on the ground level now, Captain finds problems without quick solutions, and Jax circles the hole around the ladder a few times looking sad. We forget about the cat and focus on the task at hand (well, Captain Schenanigans does, I’m too busy texting every 4-H volunteer I know, surveying them for thoughts on Annie’s breed. That’s how I came to determine her parentage in the first paragraph). We forget about the cat. Until we heard the meowing.

Turns out, I wasn’t the only one to see the light. Jax had managed to wedge his furry little ferret shaped body down into the mesh and was peering out into the yard, crying. Due to the slope of the roof, and the shingle nails sticking out through the whole attic roof, he was unable to get himself back out. While I found this hilarious and incredible, my husband found one more thing to make him dislike this day. Poor Captain.

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So I got the can of cat food, cracked it open, and tried to lure the cat to the ladder. No dice, he really was stuck. Next, I stood outside under the eaves, and held the cat food can up towards the roof and was ordered to keep the cat in one place. Done. His little yellow face pressed against the mesh separating him from the backyard was pitiful and loud. He wanted OUT!

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Captain was frustrated, not even knowing how to get to where the cat was, until he spotted a duct to the outside at the far end of the house. Using the cat food as bait, and my happy-kitty-voice, I lured Jax to the far side of the house as Captain Schenanigans stood on a ladder, unscrewed the brackets holing the duct in place, widened the mesh, and fit his bear paw inside to grab the stranded kitty. Being the agreeable, eager to please  cat that he is, Jax braced his feet, resisted Captain with all his might, and popped out of his break away collar. Crying the whole time because he was stuck!

Now Captain was annoyed! I suggested that if Jax refused our physical help, how about a more passive approach. Lay a board across the ladder and give him something to land on, after he works himself through the hole in the mesh. “Hand me that picnic table” I was told for the first time ever in my life. So I did.

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Standing on the ladder, holding up the picnic table, placing the cat food on the table Captain provided the perfect kitty escape route. Jax (peering through the hole in the picture above)  jumped out of the hole in the house, on to the table, knocked the cat food off the table (hitting the house and spraying the siding and Captain), before launching himself into the backyard. Complaining the whole time. He wasn’t happy that half his cat food was gone when I handed him the can either. But I didn’t force him to lick the rest off my house siding. That just would have been rude.

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So now we’re back to a regular Saturday afternoon, sans trapped kitty (thus avoiding a new smell to the attic). I am back to folding laundry ,and Captain has run to Home Depot to get the correct stuff we need. Whatever that may be. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I married well. Because if I lived alone and got my cat trapped in my rafters/eaves, who would I call? It’s not Animal Control’s problem. It’s not a 911 emergency. It’s not even a Fire Dept situation. But it’s the the stuff I rely on the ever resourceful Captain Schenanigans to handle while I snap picture for my blog and laugh my fiberglass covered butt off! What a trooper 🙂

 

UPDATE

Apparently Amazon is speedy fast! Blue Cottage Life, by Beth Schmidt,  is available NOW on Amazon.com. Happy hunting! 🙂 7699_10156485358145461_320586130272994127_n Cortez, Colorado, where I used to live as a nurse on the Navajo Reservation (in New Mexico)

YOU TOLD ME TO DO IT!!!

Greetings my faithful followers! After lots of encouragement from you all, I have FINALLY published my first novel Blue Cottage Life online at Amazon.com for Kindles.

WOOT!!!!!!! I’m so freakin excited!!! I also have plans to release an audio version (since I just happen to sleep 10ft away from a recording studio) as soon as possible, thanks to a request from one of my dyslexic friends. I would be my pleasure!!

So check it out, the book will be available online by 11/6/17. Just in time for holiday gift giving! Thank you all for your love and support, I promise to have another book done within the next 12 months (I already started, it’s called Almost An East Coast Cowgirl).

XOXOXOX Beth Schmidt, RN, BSN, Published Author

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We’re in the Bunnies Now, Boy!

Guess what? I am now officially a Maryland Department of Agriculture volunteer flock tester. Yep, that means I am qualified to swab poultry throats like a bad strep test, and draw blood under their feathered wings like nurse Nurse Ratched. All for the sake of the National Poultry Improvement Plan, annnnnd so that my kids get to take their hens to the fair next time I forget to arrange a tester within the qualified time period (and none are to be found).

This also means that I have a new friend who speaks my language, the Field Tester (let’s call her FT) who taught our classroom course, then came to my home to walk me through the wet lab. This woman is my idol. I want to be her when I grow up. FT shoots deer on her own 30 acres of private heaven, using a black powder rifle no less, butchers them herself, and does the same with bulls from her own HERD OF LONGHORNS. What?!?!?! She’s drives a sweet pick-up truck, raises her own meat rabbits, and is my first draft pick when the Zombie Apocalypse hits.  I call dibs on having her on my team! I might have told her that.

That being said, when FT looked around my backyard barnyard, she was surprised to see that our bunnies are merely lawn ornaments and 4-H accessories. They could be more, she hints to me, you could raise your own dinner. Now she’s hitting at my weakness. I have always wanted to raise something I can eat here in the suburbs, and eggs don’t count. I want something that reproduces and replenishes itself on its own. Once that hen has spun out all her eggs, you have to get a new one. It’s not the same thing. And don’t even suggest the garden again, it’s taken us 4 years to learn that sadly, nothing will EVER grow in this shady, tree root filled yard of ours. Plus, the bugs and squirrels are hired by the local CSA’s to keep them in business. Plants are a dead end. But bunnies, I am intrigued at the thought of raising meat rabbits, especially since she told me they can be used in anything you would put chicken in. Interesting…

Now 2 weeks ago, someone had put 6 Serama chickens on Craigslist for free. They are the tiniest breed of chickens, never weighing over a pound or growing bigger than a football. The woman who gave them to me was raising 17 of them indoors because she wasn’t zoned for chickens where she lived. I had to chuckle. Anyway, I was curious about how much fun tiny birds could be, so I set up a cage for them in the mini-barn, and convinced Captain Schenanigans it was just a phase I was going through. Like tight rolled jeans or motherhood.

Due to space constraints, I took 4 of the 6 birds over to a friend of mine, who has a business taking unwanted birds. I told her they were free, but she insisted on paying me $15 anyway. So now I have made $15 off 4 free birds, and I still have 2 at home to play with.

About a week later, these birds with “big personalities” have failed to impress me, and I don’t have time to bond in the 5 minute increments they allow me between pooping on my shirt. I’d had it. I called my friend who runs an animal education program and has all the mobile animals you can think of, and asked if she’d like to add 2 miniature chickens to her dog and pony show. She would. They would be perfect for taking in to classrooms and nursing homes. On a whim, I ask her if she has any rabbits she doesn’t want (she breeds sometimes), and she does. She has a doe and a buck to swap me for my 2 tiny hens. Now I have 2 rabbits, and $15, from my 6 free birds. Kinda feels like I should have started with a paper clip.

Since we already have 2 intact (non-neutered) bucks here already, the plan was to cook the free boy, and if the whole family agrees that they like the taste of rabbit, we’d keep the girl and breed her when she’s old enough. The family was on board, especially Girlchild, who happened to love rabbit stew.

Saturday the kids are off to a birthday party with my hubby and I have 30 minutes to skin a rabbit, handle the meat ,and clean up the pelt to be frozen (Captain Schenanigan is looking forward to tanning the pelt and making mittens), and I’ve never dispatched anything with fur. Turns out, it was not that much different than chickens, and smelled much better. I rocked it. Captain later watched me via the security camera on our house. Kinda morbid if you ask me, but I’m sure I looked hot wielding a BB gun rifle.

Girlchild encouraged the whole family to heartily enjoy the rabbit stew on Sunday, she was already gunning to keep that sweet little doe Manchild had since named Lila. It was a go. Even Captain Schenanigans agreed that we should begin raising meat rabbits for our freezer. My farmer’s heart rejoiced. I finally had a way to provide for my family using our animals and my skills.

But now we needed an extra hutch. Captain offered to build one this week-end out of pallets from work. Sounded good to me, until I got the e-mail from a 4-H mom offering a free rabbit hutch they no longer needed. We snatched that sucker up like the last chocolate chip at a Keeblers Elf convention. Now we have a hutch, a doe, a plan for supplementing the 1/2 a pig and 1/4 side of beef in our freezer, and $15 extra in my pocket. All from 6 free Seramas on Craigslist. I am one happy lassie.

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Meet Lila the new doe. 

For those of you who are used to silly stories of my kids and humor from our life, here is a recent tidbit.

This Saturday morning Girlchild came into the kitchen in hysterics. “Manchild put my Barbie hat up his hiney!” she sobbed. Surely this could not be true. Even he is not that gross. Captain Schenanigans followed her in, confirming it was true, sorta. Turns out that when I ordered Manchild to pick-up his room, he opted to use his ever resourceful butt cheeks to do the job, to the point that his father had to turn away from him to keep from laughing. This would all have been much funnier, had the Barbie hat in question not been crocheted by my dead grandmother. It was not to be thrown out, as Captain Schenanigans had instructed, and was kinda special. Just like Manchild. Long story short, I had to wash the literal “booty hat”, and let the drier do it’s e-coli killing mission. My grandmother surely never had suspected the places this hat would go, and I had never anticipated the usefulness of the back-end of my 5yr old son. Drama.

Blue Cottage Life

Blue Cottage Life

Chapter one.

The air was changing Clare tugged her zipper to the tip of her teal Patagonia fleece, knowing it was too light to offer any more protection. In a few weeks it would be retired to the back of her closet, abandoned til spring to wait out the snow. But for now, she stood at the edge of the canyon and looked. A cold wind whipped and howled around her face, netting her eyes and cheeks with strands of long dark hair. The sun threatened to disappear before she could get home, but she had no fear. This was her canyon. This fed her soul. She knew her way back in the dark.

Jogging back down the ridge, keeping her breath even and pacing her steps, Clare made sure to watch her footing. This was no place to twist an ankle, no one would be passing by to help. As she neared the bottom, the last of the sun had just disappeared over her shoulder behind the mountain ridge. It cast a hazy purple shadow over the small, sleepy town, and the streetlights were just starting to flicker on. All dozen of them. She walked the rest of the way, reaching the road and cooling down as always by the time she reach her place.

The small blue cottage was hardly something to write home about, faded by the high desert sun and thoroughly absent of all modern updates. But to Clare it would suffice. It was just enough to meet what little needs she had.

The lights were off, telling her that Holly had not yet made it home and would probably be out for the evening. Much more the socialite than Clare, her roommate seemed to find plenty of activities to occupy herself in the tiny Colorado town. Most of which weren’t advertised in the brochures.

Dinner would be simple, as usual. She stretched out her legs, showered off the sweat, and yanked her faithful George Foreman grill out of it’s resting place under the sink. She and George. They had dined together on countless occasions, and tonight would be no different. Salmon, light and pink. She placed the fish steak on the grill, careful to watch it for just enough time, then covered it with lemon juice and cracked pepper. Healthy. Respectable. Far from gourmet. Clare didn’t like to cook, but she liked going hungry even less, so she made do. For the rest of her supper she would rinse and shred lettuce, chop a cucumber to top it, and drizzle it with her favorite poppy seed dressing. Dressing so good it seemed to be apologizing for the salad it had to cover.

The cooling house temperature was enough to encourage Clare to grab a book and snuggle down in bed early. Warming up beneath the thick, lumpy, familiar quilts she’d brought when she moved here from Iowa, Clare was comforted by her grandmother’s handiwork. Not quite time to turn on the heat in the house, but getting close. Perhaps next week. Clare always waited as long as possible in the fall.

A relentantless ring pierced the darkness and woke Clare out of a dreamless sleep.
“Mmmhuh?’
“Clare. Clarie! It’s me, your favorite roomie!” Holly droned into the phone. “Clarie, I need a favor. Me and my friend were just up here having some fun and I lost my keys in the dark. Can you come up here ‘en get us?”
Bleary-eyed, Clare squinted at the clock. Three-thirty on the morning, and Holly was drunk.
“Where are you?” Clare questioned flatly.
“We’re just up at Boggy Draw… not far. A couple miles past the alpacas, and you’ll see the bug.” Holly assured. “Can you hurry, Clarie? It’s cold up here, and I don’t have a coat!” She was whining now. Like a mosquito humming around her face while she drove, nothing made Clare crazier than drunk whiny women. Especially when they they live with you.

“I’m coming. But this is the last time, Holly I mean it! ” Clare replied with unmasked irritation. Who doesn’t bring a jacket when heading up the mountain? Colorado is cold at night, every night, all year. Period. What was she thinking? But Clare knew. Having grown up all her life in small town Sheffield, Iowa, Holly was dying to be a city girl. To wear the skimpy clothes, parade the flesh, and follow the fashion trends. The only problem was that Holly never actually made it to anyplace with an urban pulse. Hardly paved Dolores, Colorado was not the place for slinky skirts, tube tops, and stiletto heels. It wasn’t all that different from Sheffield. Dolores boasted less than three official clothing stores, and they mostly contained hemp infused hiking apparel or generic tourist garb. If so inclined, one could hoof it over to Cortez, 15 minutes away and 1,000 feet lower in elevation, but the results would be about the same. The most notable advantage being the new Super Wal-Mart.

Fifteen minutes later, Holly’s tasseled leather jacket on the passenger seat beside her, Clare was cruising through the dark. Half staring into the woods for her inane roommate, half looking ahead for deer or elk in the middle of the road, Clare reminded herself it was rutting season. She wondered who Holly’s “friend” could be this time. In a town with no stoplights or chain restaurants, Holly certainly managed to meet plenty of new people. Mostly a result of being a beer maid at the Mountain Bar, one of two very different drinking establishments in Dolores. The other, the Dolores River Brew Pub, was far more “outdoorsy family” oriented, and drew the liberal academic sorts with kids. No doubt Clare’s latest pick-up was another granola-breathed drifter, just hiking through. There was a chance he was a cycler, or one of the extreme sports type, blowing through town to bike a few trails, or having just climbed the red rocks of Moab. Either way, he’ll be gone tomorrow, and that was the way Clare preferred it.

“Took you long enough!” Holly’s voice echoed through the dark, haunting, woods as Clare stopped the SUV in the middle of the dirt road. She hated the dark, and didn’t get out. Holly snatched the passenger door open and scrambled in laughing as she sat on the jacket Clare brought her, ignoring it completely. A man Clare had never seen before, with a backpack full of what sounded like empty wine bottles and a blanket bunched up under his arm, shamelessly climbed into the back of the Rav-4.

“This is Erik -with a K!” Holly explained with a quick thumb jerk towards the back seat “He’s a road biker from Salt Lake. I brought him up here to show him our stars.”
“They don’t have stars in Utah?” Clare muttered under her breath.
“Great to meetcha”, Erik launched in. “Thanks for coming to get us. Holly must have dropped her keys while we were collecting wood. We tried to make a fire, but it didn’t work so well. Then we couldn’t find them in the dark. Anyway, I can’t believe she even has cell phone reception up here, isn’t that crazy?!”
“Alltell!” Holly chirped, proud of her service provider.
“Amazing. You know there’s a fire ban…”, Clare trailed off but nobody was listening. She turned her silver Rav-4 around and headed back down the mountain. Holly would have to hitch a ride back tomorrow with one of her many followers to retrieve her pink Volkswagen Bug.
“It’s a good thing you came when you did” Holly slurred with enthusiasm, “We heard coyotes, and they were coming this way!” Yep, Clare thought, and I hear they prefer inebriated blondes.

Flicking her eyes to size Erik up in the rear view, Clare recognized the lanky, wiry build, typical of cyclists. Erik fit the profile of the stubble faced, tight-shorted, men who rode through town on their way to find that ultimate trail. Or in training for the famous Leadville race. “So, Erik with a K” Clare began, “where are we dropping you off?” “Oh,” Erik stumbled, clearly thinking he would be riding home with Holly, “Um, I’m staying with my friend at the KOA”. Niiiice, Clare thought to herself, who considered KOA’s the K-mart of the camping experience, and hung a left at the Dolores Hwy.

After discarding Erik, Clare headed home. The moon was high in the inky night sky, and reflected brightly off the Dolores River, which was snaking silently along the road. There were too many trees in the way for Clare to see it, but she knew the scene was there, and the night felt familiar. Clare just passed the closed Koenig hardware, pulled over to the right, and parked in front of the ramshackle blue cottage tucked under the rock face. She roused a now passed-out Holly from the passenger seat, looped her muscular arm around Holly’s slender waist, and drug her wobbly carcass in the house. Holly had always been the lighter of the two. Clare had the stronger, more muscular build, and Holly the curvier, wispy, hour glass figure that society worshiped. Clare never competed with Holly, but preferred to focus her efforts elsewhere. Who has the time? There were better things in life to strive for.

Neither of them spoke, the routine was familiar. Clare shuffled Holly back to the smaller of the two rooms in the tiny cottage. She unbuckled the straps of Holly’s black platform wedges, yanked them off and rolled her under the covers. Heading back to bed she’d be lucky to get another hour of sleep before work. Clare dreaded these nights. The calls in the dark, the fishing for and retrieving of her intoxicated roommate, the responsible big sister routine. But somewhere in her heart, deep inside, Clare felt sorry for Holly. Floundering about inside, searching fruitlessly for direction and happiness in every dead end decision she made. Being two years older, Clare felt the need to look out for Holly. They were closer friends when they were younger, even if they had been drifting apart lately. People change, and not all friendships are meant to last forever. “Should at least get paid for being her nurse,” Clare mumbled as she sank into bed.

Sunday morning dawned gray and dreary. A light rain was misting the windows, blurring the houses outside. Clare took no extra precautions to be quiet while getting dressed. Partly to punish Holly for yet another night of poorly timed favors, but mostly because she knew Holly would never hear her. The girl could sleep through a bomb going off, and seldom arose before noon on these “mornings after”.

Clare dressed quickly in a calf-length khaki skirt, green cable knit sweater, and calf height brown leather boots. She stopped at the Dolores Food Market for her traditional Sunday morning breakfast, a fresh baked chocolate bran muffin with a Blue Sky Cola (her one vice), then got back on the road.

Clare pulled into the divot laden gravel parking lot half-way through the first song, sliding in next to Charli just as the music swelled. Charli shot a smirk Clare’s way, then shifted her gaze back to the words on the screen. The building surrounding them was a simple quonset hut, looking like half of a soup can from the road and the inside of a casket from indoors. But no one paid it much mind, too much life going on inside to worry about appearances. Proof that community blooms where it’s fostered, regardless of the setting.

“Late night?” Charli asked on their walk to the parking lot after the service. “Not by choice,” Clare retorted. “Where was Holly this time?” Charli questioned unsurprised.
“Boggy Draw. Escorting one of Utah’s finest to a spectacular view of the stars. Thank the Lord she lost her keys, or I’m sure she would have driven them both over the edge of the mountain.”
“That’s a little scary. Did you get around to ever mentioning her drinking to her?”
“You mean you don’t hear the screaming from your place?”
“Well, at least she pays her rent on time.”
“Yeah, until she wrecks her Bug and ends up in jail.” Clare stated wryly.”Where to for lunch?”
“Dolores Cafe?” Charli suggested.
“Works for me”.