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”.

Failure to Communicate

The thing about eBay,  is that you can spent hours on there looking at incredibly cheap items you never knew you needed.  And whatever you pick, will probably run you about eighty cents, American currency. So when I stumbled upon a toilet seat handle, for less than a buck, I knew it would be the answer to Girlchild’s complaints.

See, recently there was a re-distribution of bodies to bedrooms in our household, and as the chips fell, Captain Schenanigans and I are no longer sharing a bathroom with the children, they are essentially on their own. Which translates into a very responsible 7yr old girl sharing a toilet with a often reckless 5 yr old boy who will do ANYTHING to avoid touching things that may force him to wash his hands afterwards. With Mama no longer in the mix, this leaves Girlchild having to put the toilet seat down way more than before, and her complaints have not fallen on deaf ears.

Enter the toilet seat handle. Price: $0.81 each.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Sanitary-Toilet-Seat-Cover-Lifter-Toilet-Bowl-Seat-Cover-Lift-Handle-White-/192243691919?hash=item2cc29df18f:g:5DEAAOSw2iNZY1hN

 

Granted, by the time this little slice of heaven arrived off it’s slow boat from China, I had already forgotten I’d ordered it. But none the less I was delighted to see it in the mail. I had told Captain Schenanigans about them, and laid the package out neatly to be installed correctly by my Beloved. Bear in mind, the ENTIRE package was written in Chinese, not a speck of English on it, and Captain likes things done correctly. It’s basically plastic with an adhesive backing, but you never know, these things might get complicated

So after about 2 weeks of moving the package to various locations around the kitchen, it became clear to me that this was not a priority to my husband (in his defence, he was building a pretty stellar tree house in that time), so I was going to have to do this install job solo. Girlchild came around and curiously investigated the package upon it’s arrival, but somehow the miracle of this device was never communicated to Manchild. Both kids were sleeping when I installed it at 10pm, and I figured they’d come pummel me with questions when they found it in the morning.

At 3:50am this morning, a small but mighty little boy came thumping into our bedroom. “Mom! Dad! There was something stuck to the toilet when I got up to go potty. I tried and tried, and I finally got it off, but then it fell into the potty. So I reached in with my hand and pulled it out, but now I don’t know what to do with it?” Manchild explained as he hold out his dripping wet hand and uncurls his little fingers from around the never-been-used lid lifter.

As if Synchronized Parenting were a sport, Captain Schenanigans and I both respond in unison “Wash your hands!” Manchild questions where to put the handle, and at this hour of the morning I suggest the trash. Captain began to offer that he could re-attach it but I will happily pay eighty-one cents to avoid this conversation at 4am, so I put the kibosh on that suggestion and rolled over.

The situation ended with one happily washed and snuggled Kindergartener sandwiched in our bed, and me laying awake for an HOUR, unable to fall back asleep while pondering if this was funny enough to post on social media (after talking with a fellow nurse this morning at work, turns out, it was).

So that is how an eight-one cent plastic object from China, that I ordered on August 3rd, and installed at 10pm last night, lasted a whopping 6 hours before being totally decimated by a finally potty trained boy-  who had not been properly briefed on it’s purpose. I never saw that one coming. Guess some little boys are territorial.

Welp, the good thing is that he was totally onboard with the plans for the tree house every step of the way. Well briefed and informed, it looks like that’s going to get to stay standing. Permission granted.

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Educate ‘Em Already!

I am so STINKING HAPPY about the start of school next week words can not even convey my feelings! This past week of parenthood/summer dwindle has been awful!! The kids are picking and gouging at each other every other minute, I’m screaming like a crazy woman and it’s been cool enough that all the windows and doors are open to let some of the pleasant outside inside. ‘Cause the Lord knows we need some pleasant in here!!!

Granted, I suspect half the reason this past week has involved everyone being cranky is that we all (I’m betting Captain Schenanigans fails his test tomorrow) have been diagnosed with strep throat, sans the symptoms. Weird, right? Manchild had a 24hr fever that went away, and 3 times in the next week he woke up complaining of belly pain in the middle of the night. It went away with Peptobismol. But finally I hauled him into the kid vet to get an answer, and it was strep throat. No sore throat at all.

Girlchild is always crying wolf for her ailments, but I knew she had been having seasonal allergy symptoms all week. So I called back to the pediatricians office and asked them just to run a strep test on her, it was 6:15pm. God bless them, they agreed! I had her father run her right from riding lessons to the kid vet again, and sure enough, she was positive.

Now I KNOW I have shared every inch of my food, drink, and air space with these two little petri dishes. I feel fine, but the odds are not in my favor. Though I have had a little more stomach acid than usual, that could just be too much caffeine. SO I drug the kids with me to my doctor, always a fun carnival of juvenile wrangling, and got my throat swabbed. Positive. Unlike the rest of my day.

My conclusion is that we wrung all the fun out of summer, and there’s just nothing left. Our most recent journey took us to the Grange Fair in  Centre Hall, PA. It’s a family tradition to attend, and watch extending farming family members show their animals. I LOVED it as a kid, and mine feel the same way. The extra icing on the cake was that on our way up to PA a man delivering wrapped mini doughnuts to a gas station gave each of my kids a free package of their choosing. Yes, a man fiddling in the back of a minivan called my children over and offered them free sweets and I thought it was a brilliant idea. Don’t judge me.

Turns out the man places and extra order of doughnuts each week just to give away. “To let kids know there are still good people in the world” he told us. Made their day! Then we got to the fair, and were allowed in for free with our Maryland 4-H Members card. Not an approved discount, just the kind heart of an old man working the gate. Smiles.

The day after the fair we toodled around Millheim, PA. Our favorite town in the world. The Manchild begs for me to put the windows down when the Amish buggies go by, and Girlchild can not get over the huge flock of less-than-wild ducks that hang out in an alley off the town square. Yes, Girlchild is in love with a bunch of alley ducks, and wants nothing more than to feed them goodies. Let alone that she can not stand when her mama asks her to feed our own flock of 6 chickens and 2 ducks. Old news. She’s a bit of a traitor, not gonna lie.

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So I also got the fun challenge of attempting to wiggle our minivan out of a parking spot where the spot next to me holds a live  horse and wagon. It’s a little, lot, different than parallel parking in the city.

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Our next fun endeavor was supposed to be camping this Labor Day week-end in western MD. We go every Memorial Day week-end and Labor Day week-end, or at least we did. I had the pet sitter lined up, it’s been on the calendar for a year, we get the same camp spot in the same campgrounds each time- same group of friends, too. ‘Cept this year. We hadn’t heard much chatter about it in our friend circles, and one by one it turns out each family had decided not to go this fall. One by one, dropping like flies. I was hot! We camped without friends for our kids Memorial Day week-end when people were afraid of pending thunderstorms, and it was MISERABLE having to entertain your own kids on your vacation. What? Who wants that? So upon hearing that we were the only ones still going, we called to cancel the trip. I ignored our grocery list of camp chow, didn’t go grocery shopping, and was happy not to have to pack the entire basement in the back of our van.

So, Michelle at the Maryland State Parks Reservation Line could not be sweeter. Especially when she told me that we never had a reservation in the first place! I vaguely remember being on the fence about camping again after the last trip, just needing a break, guess I never made the reservation online. Guess I am now praising Jesus above that I did not just shove all we need for 3 nights in the woods in the back of our car, drive 3 hours on Labor Day week-end, just to tell the family that we had no place to stay. DANG, that was a near miss!

Low and behold, here we are the week before school starts and this is the first year BOTH my spawn are getting on that blessed yellow bus 5 days a week to leave me home ALONE 2 whole days a week (I’m a part-time RN). I’ve waited for this moment my whole life. I kid you not, we are all more than ready. These kids need someone to challenge them, this mama needs to be child free for the first time in 7 years, and this house needs a cleaning schedule. Praise God for letting us all get strep this week. It would be a shame to waste those precious mere 180 days of educational bliss. That’s my tax dollars hard at work, you know. And I am happy to pay em! Go ahead and teach my baby to read…

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The Times They Are A Changing

Exciting things have been happening here at the Schenanigans Homestead! For starters, 7yr old Girlchild invited me to “go jogging” with her, completely out of the blue, on Sunday afternoon. I was surprised, but since I am not in shape, I am into promoting healthy lifestyles in my kids. So of course I said yes! She tried to to get me into a tank top and bike pants like her, but even I have my limits.

We warmed up, set off down the block, and kept a fairly evenly matched pace. Girlchild was a lot more springy than I, sort of like a crack addicted gazelle cheering on an elephant on roller skates, but we looped the block (walking on occasion by mutual agreement) and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I thanked her for inviting me, and requested we do it again soon. And I really meant it!

Monday morning Girlchild woke up sick. We took it easy.

Today, after I picked up the kids, cooked dinner, served the family, combated the complaining, and settled into my evening on the deck, Girlchild invited me jogging once again. Right after dinner. Captain Schenanigans brewed me a cup of coffee, Girlchild tried again to get me into a tank top (they just aren’t long enough for leggings, trust me), and I donned my shoes. Off we went, same hilly loop, but the opposite direction for extra spice.

Then a funny thing happened. Manchild talked Captain Schenanigans into taking him on a bike ride, each man on his own cycle (when you bike with a 5yr old, sometimes it’s just easier to remain on foot), riding through the neighborhood on their own exercise regime. Girlchild and I crossed paths with them during our cool down walk, and informed them of her plans for us. First we walk. Then stretch. Next we take turns lifting the 5lb hand weights I kept in the living room for decoration.  Then we finish up by eating fruits and vegetables. The perfect plan by my 4ft Coach. I added hydration to our plan, but we stuck to the rest. Ending with carrots and hummus. I am amazed that a 7yr old girl can start a chain reaction that ends with the whole family getting exercise. Not too shabby.

The next piece of exciting new is that I have a plan for getting PUBLISHED!!! Not sure I ever shared this with you, but 8 years ago I wrote a novel. It’s a fiction piece, loosely based on my life during the 2 years I lived in Cortez, CO, working as a nurse on the Navajo Reservation. I finished the book, titled it Blue Cottage Life, and then had a baby.

Since my kids are priority over writing novels, I was not a publishing agent’s dream. I had no contacts, no reason to believe I could get anyone’s attention in order to publish my book, and no time to write another. So I shelved it (figuratively, anyway), until life slowed down.

However, in that 8 year time period, unbeknownst to me, online books, kindles, e-books, and Amazon all ramped up in popularity. Publishing in that capacity had gotten easier, and this week I came across a an online link explaining how to publish your novel online and sell it for a couple bucks a pop. Apparently when you factor in binding costs and a whole bunch of other stuff that happens when you publish a hard copy of a book, the amount one makes from an e-book isn’t that far off from a real one. Who knew? Either way, I’m just excited to have a shot at getting published in any form. Along with a reason to write a second book… one day.

Lastly, we have a new chicken in the backyard. Her name is Sunset, Sunny for short (they all have nicknames). I had to cull Girlchild’s beloved Lavender who had been limping around the yard with a double foot infection for a week. I had tried to treat this chronic infection multiple times in the past year, but she just couldn’t kick it. Then it got bad enough to make her limp. It was time to send Lavender to see Jesus; and to tell Girlchild she died peacefully in her sleep. In God’s typical perfect timing, that night an old friend randomly texted and asked me if I’d like to buy a new chicken- he had too many. Now, with in the same moment that Girlchild learned her hen was dead, she learned that she was on her way to pick out a new bird in 30 minutes. It was an almost painless transition. Almost.

I walked back into my bedroom after the hard moment of telling Girlchild the sad news, and found her curled up in a little ball, silently weeping. Manchild was curled up behind her, arms around her body, holding her as her little girl tears rolled down her face. It was a beautiful moment. Man they can be sweet sometimes.

Anyway, so tonight I am all hopped up on endorphins and coffee, and my AMAZING husband shows me an artfully altered picture from our past. It has the words Blue Cottage Life across the top, and my name on the bottom. It’s the mock-up of the cover to my NEW BOOK! So dear readers, if you love me at all, or even kinda like me a little for helping you fall asleep at night, pray that I make it to published author status! It’s on my bucket list, and I do love to write. Then I can tell all the people who tell me “You should write a book”, that I already did!

Nothing a Little Tractor Can’t Fix

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Bark/cough, thump. Bark/cough, thump. Bark/cough, thump. Whining cold, wet, sleepy boy thumping down the stairs and crawling over me waaaaay too early before the sun was scheduled to arise. Manchild had a croup cough (plus had wet his bed), and my desire to keep him calm so he could breathe was strongly influenced by the fact I had no interest in steaming up the bathroom at this hour of the day to open up his airways. Who gets croup in August anyway? As a nurse, naturally, my kid does. He settles down, dozes til we get up, then sits through a steamy shower. Much better. For now.

Thus began the trickle down effect of modifications and cancellations that must occur each time a child wakes up ill. Yes, we could still meet the 4-H volunteers at the State Fair Grounds to help them pack up chicken crates for this week-end’s fair at the Baltimore County Ag Center, but instead of helping, Manchild would now be lounging on a portable cot while playing the Dots game on my tablet.

No, we could no longer keep our play date with some dearly missed friends, and Girlchild was beside herself with Feelings (not to mention suggestions) about how to rectify this situation. We were all fighting post-nasal drip, and the plan now was to lay low and keep it to ourselves. Easier said than done.

Starting with an unscheduled trip to the local second hand store to donate extra furniture leftover from this week-end’s game of Schenanigan’s bedroom roulette. Then off to the Fairground where I stayed out of the sight of the Schenaninganlets for 19 minutes too long during my 20 minutes with the volunteer, and returned (10 yards around a corner) to 2 crying children with mottled red faces. Cue the Mama Guilt.

We press on to deliver a 4-H Membership Card to a friend and help his mama with fair registration, then meet FunAuntJessie for lunch. It really was fun.

By now everyone is drooping and Manchild is hacking, so we return home to re-dose on antihistamines and regroup. Realistically, drug the kids and let them watch Netflix. During this a woman came to buy a wooden table we no longer needed after changing bedrooms, and I sold it for $10. Not much, but considering I lifted it from a curb in our neighborhood last year and invested no work into it, that’s a deal to me! The money went into the Skateland fund in which the kids are saving up (via me selling my possessions on Craigslist- go figure that one) for an afternoon of family skating with lots of friends invited. The Schenanignalets love to watch the money in the pot grow (or in this case, our gravy boat).

Now for the sticky part of the day. SOooooo, it turns out that the sophomore slump of Fair Exhibiting is real. While I had managed to meet all the deadlines, clear my animals health,  and show up with extensive paperwork in had at both fairs we entered last year, that was due to a LOT more hand holding than I gave myself credit for. This year was different, by a lot!

For starters, Girlchild nearly missed showing her artwork in the Baltimore County 4-H Fair last month because the deadline was over 5 weeks  before the date of the Fair. I assumed I misread the information, surely no one was ready to make decisions on entries that early in the game, right? Oh, so, so, wrong. I ended up calling and e-mailing anyone I could to bend the rules so my little Clover (too young to be a real 4-H Member, so they are called Clovers) could enter her dearly made 6 art projects in the Fair. Then proceeding to cry in my cubicle at work over my own lack of organization. She was going to miss entering the 4-H Fair and it was all my fault.

Thankfully, the 4-H Board had mercy on me and allowed this ONE TIME late entry, along with a stern letter arriving later in the week, informing me that this shall never happen again. I got it. Scared straight. You betcha!

Except that I didn’t have it ALL. Today is Wednesday, the only fair Girlchild and Manchild are both able to enter their animals in is this week-end, and guess who forgot to get their chicken’s blood tested for a disease that no bird in Maryland has had in 20 years? This mom. In my defense, last year an e-mail went out in the required 10 day span before the Fair instructing us to bring our birds to a designated place for testing at a certain time (the results were only good for 10 days). This year, there was no e-mail, it was every man (or mama) for themselves, and I had forgotten about the whole darn thing.

By now  I am downloading the very short list of approved Baltimore County bird testers from the Maryland Dept of Agriculture Website, and leaving pitiful voicemail messages on stranger’s phones. No one calls back, and only 1 woman answers her phone. She has no testing materials, and lives 2 hours away. I would have driven it! That day, packed up both sniffling children and hauled 6 hens on the 4 hour round trip mission. But it wasn’t an option. Only cancelling my plans for over half our Fair entries was an option, and it stunk.

So I found the kids with my head hung low, broke the bad news to them that none of the chickens could go, and apologized like a champion. Girlchild could care less, she had 2 rabbits going already. Manchild was devastated. His bunnies are a little more, um, resistant, to his personal contact, so I had planned to leave them home and load him up with poultry that can be shown without touching them. No chance of anyone making a break for their freedom since they are shown in cages.  But now a tearful Manchild informs me that so long as he can take 1 rabbit, he’ll be okay with missing the birds.

Back to the phone. I contact the volunteer I helped this morning and threw myself on his good graces. I know the admissions forms are no longer available on the internet. I know the entries are closed. But I messed up, and could we puh-lease just add one more little bunny to the list? He was gracious, allowed the change, and informed me that while Manchild may win ribbons, it was too late for him to win the $1 premuims that each child entering would be awarded for their animal. That was fine, I’ll pay him a dollar myself and he’ll never care who it came from, just THANK YOU for letting me enter this doe!

Then I e-mail the MD Dept of Agriculture and requested registration information on becoming a flock tester ASAP. We will NOT have this problem next year, I’m going to do it myself!

Sushi for dinner (no, I didn’t make it, who has that kind of time?) and say bye to Daddy (who was headed to worship team practice at church), then the kids and I head north to nearly the PA line. We are meeting a farmer who advertised having a steer going to slaughter on Craigslist and 1/2 to 1/4 of a cow for sale. I’ve already got a local pork farmer who I buy half a hog from yearly, so this process isn’t foreign to me, but I need to lay eyes on his land, his animals, and him before I make any promises. You gotta be sure he’s not just some guy living in a condo, wearing skinny jeans and Ugg boots, and scamming people for money online. Farmers never wear hipster clothes, tip off number one!

The farmer meets me at the bottom of the lane, and directs us over to a couple of Jersey (dairy cow) steers (bulls that are castrated)that he has been raising on 7 acres of pasture. For 3 animals, they have it made in the shade with all those lush green plants and grass. We chit-chat a while, check out the market ready steer and his 2 new calves, then decided to head on up to the house to review the paperwork.

As I head to my van, Manchild looks at me, looks to the farmer, and declares he wants to ride on the tractor to the house. Our farmer doesn’t hesitate a beat before agreeing to this manly request, settling Manchild on his lap and proceeding to lead us up the lane. Halfway there he puts his arms out to the sides, indicating that Manchild is now DRIVING the tractor, and doing a darn fine job of it!

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Girlchild and I are now left to follow this stranger, who tenderly has my son, up this long gravel lane to the house. I allow Girlchild to sit in the passenger seat instead of her booster- it was the least I could do.

We go through paperwork, settle on a plan, and then I am handed a plastic bag full of 3lbs of frozed ground beef and 2 very large steaks. A parting gift, vacuum sealed by the local butcher, intended to seal the deal. It works. Between the beautiful scenery of winding through green country at dusk, a farmer grandpa letting my 5 year old son drive his tractor, and enough red meat to feed us for a week (for free!), our day has settled to a gentle ending.

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As the kids lay re-dosed in their own rooms now, I am now surprised at how easily we all (mostly me) adjusted to the loss of plans to show our beloved yard birds. I am grateful for the kindness of strangers, and I am happy to have learned that my kids are now old enough to wash my van windows at the local gas station during our pit stop on the way home. They were TERRIBLE at it, never once using the squeegee part, but I didn’t care. Just watching them try was entertainment enough. A sweet ending to an all-over-the-map kind of a day, with not enough coffee in the world to make it feel right. But God fixed it up quite nicely in the end. Bonus tidbit, my   ‘Save A Farm, Eat Local” car decal should be arriving in the mail tomorrow! Woot-WOOT!

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