Growing Pains

When King Ranch and I decided to make the move to this property a year ago, one of the things I couldn’t wait to get going was a garden. I so desired the opportunity to build a homestead – to live off the land.

It’s taken us a whole year, but we’ve finally done it – planted a garden.

I’ve never done this before. I watched my mom and dad grow a small garden on the side of the house where we grew up in northwest Houston. I don’t remember much about it except for my mom in a big hat, my dad with a wheelbarrow, and a few fruit bats that started hanging upside down outside my window at night, peeping as I fell asleep.

My lack of experience has me a little apprehensive about this process. It’s so new and fragile. Although, thinking about it, this time last year, I was saying the same thing about owning a ranch – wondering how on Earth I could do this. Then I said the same thing about becoming a donkey parent – what was I thinking? Months before that, I said the same thing about becoming a human parent, too. I was responsible for raising a human baby?

I suppose all things are new and fragile until you’re used to them:

 – Parenthood, for example – I remember crying my eyes out one day (okay, more like every afternoon there for a while) because I was so afraid that Little Foot wasn’t getting enough to eat. And, seriously, I just knew he was going to die if I wasn’t there to pick him up the second he started to cry.

 – Lifestyle – city life to ranch life? The closest grocery store was how far away? And how often do we need our well serviced?

 – Relationships – I think they all go through a ‘polite’ stage where, you know, it’s all ‘yeah, I’m down for whatever because I’m so laid back and just want you to be happy’  and ‘Oh, it’s fine that you left dirty dishes in the sink for three days because you’re just so freaking beautiful that I don’t care.’

 – Pet ownership – donkeys and chickens?

 – Home ownership – a mortgage?

 – Even new jobs – right now, King Ranch is delicately stacking up the blocks of his days at his new job with the utmost detail because it’s all so…new and fragile.

DELICATE: Handle with care.

Nevertheless, it’s now in the ground: tomatoes, peppers (bell, poblano, and jalapeno), an eggplant, several types of lettuce, onions, snap peas, cucumbers, two types of grapes, and raspberries. Planted in pots on our back porch are herbs (mint, cilantro, basil, and dill) along with an over-sized pot filled with potatoes.

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I’ve been out every day to check on it – the new garden. The baby plants. I’ll admit, I’ve talked to them a bit. “This is your home, little lettuce. We’re gonna take good care of you.”

Gardening

 

—-

Last night, a severe storm pushed through the area. Springtime in north Texas, we’ve learned, is dramatic. Funnel clouds reach down from the sky like bodybuilders reach down for kettlebells in front of one another – glamour muscles flexed, veins popping – it’s intimidating albeit, impressive – but also kind of annoying because unless you’re into that kind of thing, you’re ready to move onto more peaceful scenery – like the repetition of an expert rower or the gazelle-like strides of an intermediate to advanced runner on a treadmill.

Massive gusts of wind that travel, I think, down the southern end of the Rockies and tumble, gaining speed across the Texas plains, don’t just push over pots, but tear major artery branches out of trees and toss them over houses – usually into expensive things like cars or brick mailboxes.

There are sometimes the lovely, Earthy, peaceful lightning storms that resemble the cover of a mediation album, but then there are the flashy lightning storms – sequined, spinning ball gowns underneath sparkling chandeliers at a rich kid’s high school prom – the music heavy with bass.

Last night was a perfect, kettlebell, branch tossing, expensive, fluffy dress, kind of storm.

As the thunder rumbled the foundation of our house and my phone screamed with tornado warnings, I mentally noted my list of major concerns.

  1. Little Foot and King Ranch – both in the living room with me, ready to take shelter in the hallway at any moment.
  2. Thing One – under my feet. See #1.
  3. Bunny and Tyrion – still trying to convince King Ranch to let them inside when weather like this begins. For now, I peeked, they’re in their shed, seemingly okay. They’d probably prefer the space outside instead of the walls of our guestroom, anyway.
  4. The chickens: Big Mama Red, Youpullit, Andre, Psycho Brown, Resurrected Zombie, White Rooster, and Last of the Mohicans (aka Rockstar Rooster) – All will be in the coop except for Resurrected Zombie and Rockstar. RZ is a mystery to us. She only seldom shows up on the property. She doesn’t lay eggs (at least not in the coop) and when she is around, she’s a safe distance from the others. I don’t know if she’s been shunned or is shy herself. Rockstar is a rooster that sleeps in the pile of firewood on our back patio. He’s also responsible for waking us up before dawn. Anyway, with the exception of RZ, I can assume our chickens and roosters are all safely sheltered as they are night after night.
  5. The garden. THE GARDEN. Absolutely NOTHING is sheltering those plants.

I laid there and worried about it – the tomato plants, especially, because they’re, so far, the tallest and I think, most likely at risk of dying in harsh winds. Remember, I’m a novice at this – these are just my own conclusions.

I could barely sleep all night thinking of my garden. Every time I heard the chimes clang nervously on the back patio, I cringed at the thought of stems snapping, leaves detaching, and hail pelting these eager plants.

Between the mini blinds, blue lights flashed like paparazzi.

—-

It’s morning and King Ranch has left for work and Little Foot is awake and ready to run everywhere. I pull on some pants and open the curtains in the livingroom. To my surprise, it’s a brilliantly sunny day – richly green grass and saturated trees are tangled with bouncing squirrels, fleeting robins, and disappearing dew.

It’s also quite chilly – for March in Texas, that is. About 40 degrees.

Bundled up, Little Foot and I head outside to check on numbers 3 – 5 on the worry list. Bunny and Tee bray loudly when they hear the gate clang and trot over to us with alert ears. With the exception of a little extra mud around their hooves, they look just fine. Mornings after storms like this, I get the feeling that the donkeys come running up to me to tell me all about the storm last night. They’re extra clingy and by now, you should know I love that.

All the chickens and roosters are accounted for, except for Resurrected Zombie – but that’s not unusual – and they’re extra-energetic and excited with the bugs they’re finding in new mud puddles.

The garden looks just fine. Soaked, but fine. I do feel, however, that I should put stakes by the tomato plants in preparation for the next storm so I don’t worry so much that they could tumble over. So I do. I stake them.

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I fluff the leaves a bit and call Little Foot over so I can show him what I did. I don’t think he understands my words yet, but he certainly seems interested in things like wood, string, tools, and most especially, dirt. 

This is, undoubtedly, the first of many storms this season. This is also, I’m sure, the first of many gardens. I imagine one’s first garden is much like one’s first pancake – kind of a flop. Probably still edible, but the subsequent servings are far superior. You have to learn the timing, the texture, the temperature, and most importantly, the patience, to perfect pancakes. And gardens. And parenthood. And homeownership. And pet ownership. And relationships. And life. And, well, yourself. It all takes time and practice and inevitable mistakes along the way.

Little Foot is not only alive, but healthy. As are the donkeys. As is my relationship. There have been many times I thought that I’d ruin each of those because of my ignorance and/or inexperience and/or stupidity and/or a million other reasons why mistakes happen. But I just kept going. I still keep going. One day at a time.

Be patient. Be cautious and smart. But be patient. You’ll figure it out. Stake that shit and keep going.

Now go watch your garden grow; your story unfold.

 

Full Circle

It’s 4:30 in the afternoon and Little Foot has just gone down for his afternoon nap. For the past 45 minutes or so, he’s become increasingly fussy – throwing toys and arching his back – a key indicator that he’s tired. Nap time is a bigger fight than it used to be – he pulls out all the stops trying to stay awake. A favorite of his is the “Little Foot leg flail” whereby he vigorously kicks his long legs in any and every direction as quickly as he can. The closer he gets to sleep, the more violent these kicks become.

Despite the battle, he is now sleeping soundly in his crib and I’ve lounged back on the couch in the living room. I love this couch. It belonged to my grandparents and always reminds me of being at their bayhouse. It’s a white couch with over-sized pillows that are easily removed to open up to just about a twin-size bed. For guests, it’s the best kind of couch. For me, it’s a reminder of the bay.

As children, we would go the bay house and play for hours. My grandparents lived in a small, water-side community just before the causeway that bridged the border of Texas to Galveston island. It smelled of salt-water and was never perfectly quiet – although the constant noise was therapeutic: seagulls, waves, the occasional distant boat motor.

Both of my grandparents who owned that house have since passed away – my grandmother years before my grandfather. Still, I think of them often and feel lucky to have little reminders in my house of my time with them: this couch, a gray, ceramic dog in our living room with one ear missing that my grandmother used to call Max, a toothbrush holder in the shape of a white elephant with a yellow bird on its trunk, and a diamond mirror framed in pink and brown sea shells, to name a few. These trinkets remind me of the salty-smell of their house. They remind me how many late nights my cousins and I would compare headstands and cartwheels on the floor in their living room. They remind me that for some reason, my whole family – folks, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins – would spend hours standing in a circle with beverages and snacks to catch up before ever taking a seat on this couch – that was unless their was an important football game on television.

This couch is more than a reminder though – it’s a goal. It’s what I want for my family.

Little Foot was a huge surprise to King Ranch and I. A few months before I found out I was pregnant, I was actually told by my doctor that I would probably not be able to have kids – and even if I did, somehow, get pregnant, that my body would have a difficult time hanging on to a pregnancy. So when I found out I was pregnant and months later, went into pre-term labor with Little Foot when I was only 28-weeks along, I was terrified that this was the end for him. I was so fearful that even though I hadn’t given much thought to being a mom before, that now this was the end for the potential of parenthood. 

Here we are though, two years later and Little Foot is alive and well. We’re a family – King Ranch, Little Foot and I. I don’t know that another kid will happen or will even be possible in my future – but at least with the three of us, I want what my grandparents had: an oasis. A family gathering spot that years later, still exists in all of our bones. I guarantee that all of my aunts and uncles and cousins distinctly remember the smell of that house. I know for a fact that they all remember what the carpet in the living room felt like beneath their bare feet and what Joan, the mother goose of the canal, sounded like at 7 in the morning.

I know it’s early on – but I hope our ranch in this someday. I hope that it becomes a sanctuary of unique and heartwarming smells and sounds that can’t be found anywhere else – at least not like this. I hope that one day, our grand kids are fighting over who gets what belongings of ours so that they can think of us when they get older.

Outside, a hear the engine of a large truck drive down our road and I turn to see the back end of a passing white pick-up truck. Bits of gravel kick up behind the truck as it drives off and a trail of dust lingers for just a moment before vaporizing into the brightness of the blue sky. In the yard, our chickens are pecking around and scratching for bugs.

At my feet, Thing One is almost asleep – one ear is still standing up and every few seconds, turns like a satellite towards any sound. I pat his head and lay back on the couch.

King Ranch will probably be calling me in an hour or so to say he’s on his way home from work. With his new job, his commute is much longer than before – about an hour one-way. It makes for far shorter evenings for us – we’re trying to adjust our dinner time and bedtime routine for Little Foot to maximize our time together – but it’s a process, I suppose. I’m so grateful that he’s found a job and one he’s so far, seeming to enjoy.

It’s an odd thing, though – him starting a new job now. It was this time literally one year ago that King Ranch interviewed for and accepted his job up here in the first place. It was precisely a year ago that we made the decision to move up here and it was almost exactly a year ago that we toured this ranch and met Bunny for the first time.

How little we knew.

A year ago, everything was so new. North Texas. Living on a ranch. Fresh eggs in the morning. Donkey ownership. Being a stay-at-home mom. I was so scared. I was so insecure. I was so anxious that I would fail.

I relax my shoulders a bit more and close my eyes. Chickens chatter outside. Thing One is breathing heavily.

I relax even more – letting go of the muscles that lie beneath my shoulder blades. I let go of the muscles along my spine. With a deep breath, I let my legs, ankles, and feet melt into the softness of this iconic, white couch.

And then I remember that it was just about a year ago that I was doing this exact same thing – relaxing every single part of me – when I realized that our dogs were attacking the chickens outside. (that post can be found here.)

I remember that I had to leave Little Foot screaming in his crib so I could go out and save the chickens. I remember doubting myself as a mom, as a homeowner, and as a ranch owner. I remember wondering why on Earth King Ranch and I thought we could pull this off.

I remembered that on that day, I found that the ranch breeds forgiveness. That despite being attacked, the chickens were okay. That despite being left in his crib for a few minutes, Little Foot was okay. Even the dogs after getting in serious trouble were okay.

In time, I’ve learned that even the donkeys forgive – they’re furious when we try and trim their hooves, but they always forgive and come back around.  I’ve learned that King Ranch is forgiving when I have an anxiety attack over what looks like to him, nothing.

Most importantly, in the past year, I’ve learned to forgive myself. I’ve not handled everything in my life perfectly, but then again, who has? I haven’t always made the right choices or handled things maturely – but so what? I can honestly say that I’ve always done my best. MY best – not someone else’s best. Mine.

That’s what it’s all about, I think – doing your best, being kind, being honest, and extending forgiveness (to others and yourself) along the way.

I think my grandparents to whom this couch used to belong understood that and I think that’s why our whole family was and still continues to be so close. They did their best, were honest, were kind, and were always forgiving. So even though that bay house has been sold and is out of all of our lives physically, their example and their impact still lives on.

That’s what I want for us, for our family. I want kindness and gentleness. I want forgiveness. I want unconditional love. I don’t think anyone should settle for anything less.

I have no idea what the next year of our lives could possibly have in store for us and I guess I’m okay with that. In one year, we’ve learned to run a ranch, care for donkeys and chickens, plant a garden, build a fence, raise an infant, survive without an income, be supportive, and to love without end. Imagine what the next year has waiting.

How little we know.

Outside, Bunny brays. I haven’t been out to see the donkeys today, so I get up to grab a few carrots out of the refrigerator. I slip on my boots by the back door and step outside – the smell of livestock and barbecue spice beneath the chattering birds in the pecan tree and the slamming shut of the screen door behind me. These are our waves. Our seagulls. Our sounds.

I open the gate that leads out to the pasture, Bunny and Tee trotting up to greet me. Their eyes are wide and ears are perked.

This ranch life. We’re doing it. 

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