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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Beginning a Garden

Wearing a bright green sweatshirt that’s sporting a brown t-rex, Little Foot is stumbling around through dried, crinkled leaves while waving a short, dry stick in the air and giggling uncontrollably. Just in front of him is Thing One who seems only mildly okay with being chased in circles through the yard. I’m watching this adorable scene over my left shoulder while holding a chunk of  brand new, chicken-wire fence steady with my hands, as King Ranch is looping circular nails through its wiring to secure this new fence to tall, forest-green posts buried deep in the ground.

“Can you hold it steady?” King Ranch asks under an irritated sigh.

“Oh,” I say, turning back to the fence, realizing that I’ve let it sway. “Sorry.” I peek one more time at Little Foot running around and then focus on my hands.

We’re fixing to get our garden started – an impressive, 24’x 100’ lot that has been carved out of the paddock closest to our backyard. Big plans are in store for this plot – tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, zucchini, squash and an array of herbs. Fruit trees are also being considered – pear and peach, perhaps.

Just on the other side of this project are the donkeys seemingly confused by the rising barrier. Bunny stays in line with me, only the wiring of the fence separating us. Every few seconds she turns her big brown eyes back to me and blinks heavily as if she’s searching for understanding.

Tyrion the mini donkey is pacing back and forth along the erecting fence, stomping his back, right hoof every few steps. He’s not happy. Change, I think, is something in which donkeys are not fond.

“It’s okay, little girl,” I whisper to Bunny while leaning over the fence to see my reflection in her eye. She lowers her head.

“Honey,” King Ranch huffs.

I glance back down to my hands and realize I’ve pushed the fence towards the donkeys.

“Sorry,” I say while shifting it back in line.

King Ranch is wearing a cream-colored cowboy hat that’s covering his face, so I can’t tell if he’s actually frustrated, concentrating, tired, or a mixture of all of those. A dolphin-croak behind me and I turn to see Little Foot a few paces away picking up a small, broken pecan. He opens his mouth and raises the pecan.

“No!” I shout, releasing the fence and scrambling towards Little Foot. Before I can reach him, he throws the pecan and runs away from me. This spooks Bunny who trots away with her ears straight up. I hear King Ranch exhale heavily and drop something metallic on the ground.

We’ve been out here for a while now  trying to get this fence up. King Ranch was out here well before Little Foot and I and although it’s still technically winter, the sun has beat down on him long enough to make this the most frustrating project in the world.

“Sorry,” I say, turning to King Ranch. “I didn’t want him to choke.”

“No, I know,” he says. “It’s fine.” He stands up and cracks his dusty knuckles.

Tyrion walks past King Ranch and around the fence that isn’t yet nailed into the final post and slowly saunters towards Little Foot who is using a stick to push dried leaves around on the ground. He lays his ears back and noses Little Foot’s shoulder gently. Little Foot turns for a second to acknowledge Tyrion before focusing back on his crispy, lifeless leaves.

“Any news?” I ask, rolling up the sleeves of my shirt while walking towards King Ranch who’s staring at the last post not connected to anything yet.

He pulls his phone out of the front pocket of his dusty jeans and holds it up to his face. He presses some buttons on the screen with his thumb and focuses for a moment. “Nope,” he says without emotion.

I wrap my arm around his back and lean my head against his shoulder.

King Ranch is possibly very close to landing a job not too far from here. He’s had a couple seemingly successful interviews with this particular company and several encouraging followups from the assigned recruiter. Now, we’ve just been waiting.

I don’t think that either of us want to give our hopes up about this potential job, but at the same time, we want to pour good vibes into the possibility. It’s exhausting to go through application after application and interview after interview without success. I, myself, have been interviewing with various full-time jobs around the area but unfortunately, have not been extended an offer that would cover the cost of child-care for Little Foot.

King Ranch runs his fingers up and down my spine twice before walking back towards the house in a tired shuffle. He leaves long, sliding boot-prints in the dirt.

Little Foot is hitting Tyrion in the nose with a stick.

“No, no, no,” I say, putting my hand in front of Tee’s nose. “Sweet donkey, see?” I gently pat Tyrion’s snout. “Sweet donkey.”

Little Foot grins and throws the stick down. I squat down next to him and pick up a different stick.

“Stick,” I say, holding it in front of his studying, blue eyes. “It’s a stick.”

Little Foot grabs the stick from me and pokes a few tired, tan leaves beneath him. A warm exhale behind me and I turn, bumping my nose into Bunny’s snout. She snorts and actually shoots a bit of donkey snot onto my cheek.

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I think she might have a cold or allergies or something. She’s been a little snotty-nosed and crusty-eyed the past few days. Wiping the snot from my face with the inside of my arm, I giggle to myself. Warm donkey snot. Why does that seem cute? I’m astonished with how little bodily fluids affect me these days. When you have a toddler and live on a farm, you get covered in stuff. All kinds of stuff.

Bunny noses my hair (likely getting snot in it) and then rests her jaw on my right shoulder. I’ve read before that this is a sign of affection for donkeys. I lean my weight into her as she leans hers into mine. With his ears back and his eyes half-open, Tyrion is standing close to Little Foot who is now drawing lines in the dirt with his index finger. The breeze picks up a few leaves and sends a faint smell of sawdust, as well as a few feathery specs of white, past us.

King Ranch walks back into the yard carrying a Miller Lite in one hand and a red solo cup in the other. I stand up, patting Bunny on the snout who starts to back away.

“Whatcha got there?” I ask, extending my hand.

“Hydration,” King Ranch says, handing me the red cup with a small, sideways grin.

I laugh.

As he’s swallowing a gulp, King Ranch says, “Let’s get this last part done, then we can go in.” He points his beer to the end of the fence. I nod and place my cup on top of a blue barrel that’s been sitting in the yard since we moved here.

Little Foot is still drawing shapes in the dirt and every so often, grabbing handfuls of loose sand and tossing it in the air with a smile.

I return to my spot on the fence as King Ranch squats down with a box of nails.

“Thanks for helping me,” he says.

“Of course,” I say.

——

The next day the fence is complete, gate and all. It’s a perfect fence ready to have the growth of a garden within it. Our options seem endless. There’s so much space for so many fruits and vegetables. We’re ready to till which brings us even closer to being ready to plant.

The next day, King Ranch gets a confirmation from this company – he’s been offered the job and all pre-employment processes have been confirmed and completed.

He built that fence. He got that job. He did all that.

Now, as we move into spring, we get to see what grows. And we are so excited.

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Little Wooden Bed

Not entirely sure what time during the night or early morning it must be, I’m watching the tree’s branches gently waving their shadows through the slits of the shutters on the second floor of my parents Houston home. King Ranch and I have made a trip down here for the weekend with Little Foot and Thing One for a quick visit.

Half an hour or so ago, Little Foot woke up in a screaming fury. His teeth are at that terrible toddler torture stage that makes it impossible for him to completely escape the pain. Poor guy.

Now, I’m curled up in the very same bed that belonged to me as a young child while holding Little Foot in a little spoon position. My mom has set up this toddler bed in the guest room for him to sleep in while we’re here because frankly, he’s outgrown everything else. I am surprised to find that I still fit in this bed. I’m not stretched out by any means, but I fit nonetheless.  

It’s a wooden bed with wooden railings along the sides and a built-in shelf that serves as a headboard. I’m very vaguely remembering that I had a stuffed beagle and several plastic dinosaurs set up on this shelf once upon a time. I’m also remembering that I had a Minnie Mouse comforter.

The very first dream I can remember having occurred when I was about 4 years old and sleeping in this very bed:

I was woken up by a terrible growl. I pushed the pink comforter down from my face with my feet and clutched the wooden railing of my bed. As I peered over the edge of the bed, suddenly, my view switched to omniscient, allowing me to watch myself from someone else’s point of view.

Nailed to the outside of my bed by his hands, was a growling and snarling monster with long, tangled, bright, orange hair. He had two horns that poked up crookedly from his head and bright yellow, angry (but also kind of googly and scared) eyes. From my outside point of view, I watched myself, wide-eyed, peeking over the edge of that wooden bed and becoming so frightened that I when I tried to shout, nothing came out.

Suddenly, a police car with flashing lights and screaming sirens came crashing through the wall by my bed. The wind blew my hair and the monster’s orange hair in the exact same way: chaotically. I fell back and reached for my stuffed beagle.

I smile and laugh a little. I remember that dream as if it happened last week when really, it’s been nearly three decades.

Three decades.

Three decades later and I’m holding my son in this very same bed beneath a blue blanket while my own mom, who nearly three decades ago comforted me in the middle of that orange monster night, is sleeping in her own bed downstairs. At least I hope she’s sleeping. The room we’re staying in right now is above theirs so I’m worried that Little Foot’s painful crying and my footsteps have woken her up. They probably have.

Little Foot grunts and with his eyes still closed, he reaches a hand back in search of mine. I place my index finger in his palm. He clutches it with his small fingers, pulls my hand against his chest and relaxes back into sleep. His curly hair is beneath my nose and smells like a mixture of citrus and spaghetti.

What must Little Foot be dreaming about?

It’s difficult to put into words how it feels to curl up in a bed with your child that your mom used to curl up in with you. This particular bed is one that I had while I was still so young – it’s what I had before I even started grade school. At that time, the world was what my parents taught me and what I started to explore for myself.

I’m wondering what my mom thought about on those nights that she stayed up with my brothers and I. I’m wondering if she can still remember what our hair smelled like beneath her nose. I’m wondering if she can remember any dreams that she had as a child and what it felt like for her mother to hold her. I’m wishing that she could hear my thoughts and come up the stairs so that all three of us could curl up together.

King Ranch and I have been through so much over the past year. This trip back to Houston is one that I think I needed because sometimes, when I’m scared, hurting, uncertain or just exhausted, all I want is to go home and be with my mom.

I think that there was a time when I was ashamed to admit that. As if I felt like I needed to be an adult. Face my problems. Become independent. Handle it myself.

Don’t get me wrong, those are all good and necessary things – to grow up. But I guess what I’m laying here thinking about is that it’s great to be successful, independent, and able to problem solve on your own while also being okay to, every once and awhile, feel the need to curl up with your mom because you just need to feel safe and secure.

Little Foot, I’m imagining, will never be too old to come home. I’ll never stop wondering if he’s sleeping well. I’ll never stop wondering what he dreams about. I’ll never stop being curious about what he must be feeling. I’ll certainly never forget what this Little Foot in a little spoon feels like in this little, wooden bed – his little breath rising and falling – while the shadows gently sway across the ceiling.

If I know my mom, which I feel like I do pretty well, I’m fairly certain that she’s lying awake in her bed downstairs debating on whether or not she should come up here to see if we need help with Little Foot. But in the end, I know she won’t come up here because we’re indeed adults and she knows that we need to be capable of solving rough nights with a teething toddler on our own.

So I’m just laying here smiling. I’m smiling because my kid is asleep again feeling safe in my arms. I’m smiling because I’ll be drifting off soon enough, feeling safe with my mom and dad in their bed down stairs. My mom, I hope, is smiling down there because of the irony that is her daughter awake with a restless, teething baby while probably imagining how insane it is that her own child has a child. And somewhere out in the universe, I imagine that my mom’s mom is pretty tickled that her daughter, her daughter’s daughter, and her daughter’s daughter’s son are all beneath the same roof.

I watch the swaying tree branch shadows on the ceiling. My mom is probably seeing something very similar on her ceiling. One day, Little Foot will remember the same on his ceiling. The wind will always blow the branches.

Some things, no matter how much time goes by, never change.

 

 

Do You Believe in Magic?

It’s approaching 1 in the morning and I still can’t sleep. This pillow is all wrong. I sleep with it every night but for some reason right now, it feels foreign – like I’m back in college sleeping on someone’s futon and they’ve tossed me a couch cushion in lieu of a proper pillow.

Little Foot woke up an hour ago. Luckily I managed to get him back to sleep pretty quickly. He’s been doing this thing lately, where if I just hold one of his hands in mine for 10 or so minutes, he falls back asleep. It’s adorable. He holds my hand to fall asleep. It’s a habit I should probably be concerned with breaking soon but…I love it.

King Ranch is sleeping, but is tossing and turning more than usual. I’m worried that it’s me keeping him awake, so I slide out of bed and wrap up in my robe.

In the living room, we’ve left a lamp on near the front door with a low-watt bulb that makes everything amber. It’s so quiet and in this dim light, so cozy. I bundle into a throw blanket and plop down on the couch. The cushions are cool from being empty for several hours.

I relax my shoulders and my face.

Has that clock on the wall always ticked so loudly?

I bury my head under the blanket.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

I can’t take it anymore, so I throw the blanket on the floor and walk into the kitchen while adjusting my robe a little tighter around my waist.

Not entirely sure what I’m looking for, I open the fridge. Leftover stir fry in a red-topped Tupperware. A bag of oranges. A half-eaten container of Little Foot’s sweet potato baby food. Many, many condiments.

Carrots.

I take four carrots out of the bag and head into the utility room. Still barefoot, I pull on my mud boots and slip on King Ranch’s green jacket that is hanging by the backdoor. Back in the living room, I hear the jingling of Thing One’s collar as I open our back door. Every door creaks in this house.

“You coming?” I ask, holding the screen door open. Thing One scrambles outside as I softly close the door behind me.

It’s chilly outside, but only because of the wind. We’ve had a bit of a warm front here at the end of January, which isn’t uncommon for Texas winters. The chimes on our patio are ringing hauntingly as they clang their low-belly song.

Above me is a blanket of stars. From horizon to horizon there are twinkling stars of every shape and color. Interesting that you can only see the sparkling of stars when it’s otherwise completely dark. Magic.

I unlatch the lock on the gate that leads into the pasture while making a clicking sound with the back of my tongue and scanning the pasture for movement as best I can without wearing my glasses. I’m still not entirely sure where the donkeys sleep or if they even have a designated spot.

By the back-house, I notice a slow moving shadow and then the yellow reflection of one giant eye. There she is.

“Come here, little girl,” I whisper loudly. I hear a snort and can finally see Bunny’s shape emerge from the shadows. Not far behind her is Tyrion.

The donkeys slowly saunter up to me, their eyes wide with curiosity. I pull the carrots out of King Ranch’s jacket pocket and snap them in all in half. Alternating between Bunny and Tee based on the loudness of their crunching, I give them a piece of carrot at a time. The nose each other to try and get in the way of one another.

“It’s all gone,” I say. Bunny and Tee continue to sniff my hands. I’m wishing I’d brought out more carrots.

Tee snorts and moves past me a bit to graze on a patch of grass. Bunny stays with me and leans all of her weight into my side.

Squatting down, I put a hand on either side of her jaw and scratch.

I’d do anything to keep her healthy and safe. Bunny and Tee. I don’t need anything in return. I don’t want anything in return. I just want to spend time with them. Take care of them. I’m briefly angry at Bunny’s previous owner for leaving her behind without any of her companions, but then I’m immediately grateful that she gets to be a part of our family now. Darkness turned light, I suppose.

I think of this family: King Ranch and Little Foot sleeping inside. These donkeys. Thing One sniffing around the yard. Even our flock of chickens – I just want them all to be healthy and happy. I just want them all to sleep at night knowing that not only will the sun come up tomorrow, but when it does, it will be on a day that will in one way or another, be filled with wonder.

After all, we are floating in space on a blue and green planet, circling a massive ball of fire and gas. The air we breathe is thanks to the trees that grow. The Earth we walk on is thanks to the gravity that keeps us grounded. Seems like magic.

I’m still squatting down in front of Bunny who is resting her head on my shoulder. I start humming something. She begins to sway, and I with her. Tyrion wanders back over and rests his head in my lap.

The warmth from their heavy exhales is enough to cancel out the chilly breeze. It’s almost too warm. Their heads are heavy on me, but I don’t care. I love it. All of it.

I just want them to feel safe.

After a while, I realize I’ve lost feeling in my feet from crouching down, so I slowly stand up, a hand on each donkey. They keep leaning their weight into me. I decide to stay outside for just a little while longer.

The breeze is cool on my face. The stars, a twinkling symphony. The chimes are distantly ringing.

Magic.

Back inside, King Ranch and Little Foot are still sleeping. I sit in the chair in Little Foot’s room for a while listening to him breathe. I’m remembering what it felt like when I was pregnant with him and I couldn’t sleep. He’d wiggle and flail and I’d sit up and chat with him in the dim middle-of-the-night light. I wondered what he’d be like. Now, there he is – breathing the same air as us.

I never really go back to sleep on this night – and I’m not upset about it.

It’s two days later and I’ve just finished teaching a yoga class in town. I’ve been at this particular studio long enough to expect a host of usual suspects in my classes on normal days…

…I’ve actually been stuck at this sentence for a while now trying to find a way to describe how it feels to teach a yoga class.

At the risk of sounding ambiguous, it’s other-worldly. I find so much joy in being able to provide a space where people can just be. From my own experiences, I know the weight of the world can seem so heavy sometimes. We all experience that in our own ways. We all have more responsibilities than should ever be humanly possible. We all have scars. We are all held to standards and expectations set by sources other than ourselves. It’s why we’re anxious and self conscious and critical of every little thing about ourselves – because the world has made us that way.

So for an hour at a time at the studio, I do everything I can to slow down life for just a bit. I want so badly for my students to be able to see their beauty and their worth. And then I want them to be able to carry that around with them. I want them to look at themselves and be proud. I want them to feel loved.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that to teach yoga is an honor. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to try and connect with people when they’re at their most vulnerable. Physically and mentally, yoga is quite outside the norm by today’s standards. So it’s truly an honor to facilitate that hopeful process.

As I’m leaving the studio, fully ready to return to my normal life, I am, out of nowhere, reminded of this quote by Roald Dahl:

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

Then it hits me – Love is magic.

If you don’t believe in magic, you’ll never find it. If you don’t believe in love, you’ll never find it.

Love is what I have for these members at the studio. It’s what I’m trying to pour out of myself as I lead these yoga classes where I don’t care if they can touch their toes or not. I just want them to feel loved. Love is these members putting trust in me to let their walls down. Love is them, in some cases for the first time, being purely themselves – and being proud of that. Love is what they’re sending back to me and why I’ve been having a hard time describing the experience.

Love is what brought Little Foot into existence. Love is what keeps King Ranch and I together. Love is Thing One trying to protect us from what he perceives as threats to our family. Love is Bunny and Tee swaying with me in the middle of the night – and me wanting them to never, ever be abandoned again.

Love must be those feelings of protective mom and wife I get when it comes to Little Foot and King Ranch and truly having no boundaries or lines for what I would do to keep them safe and healthy. I’ve talked about it before – how I’d fight the masses and infiltrate the mob. Hell hath no fury like a loving wife and mother.

As I’m leaving this studio today, I am feeling loved. I am feeling so magically loved.

King Ranch. Little Foot. Thing One. Bunny. Tyrion. All of the staff and members of this studio. I am feeling so utterly and unconditionally loved.

Love. It’s magic. Open your glittering eyes and look for it. It’s out there – in its purest form, it’s out there.

 

The Weight of Gray

It’s as gray as gray can be outside. The sky hangs heavy in gray. The temperature is hovering around a somewhat breezy, freezing gray. The trees are a bare and skeletal gray. All this grayness has left King Ranch, Little Foot, and I all a bit gloomy-gray ourselves.

We bundle up Little Foot into his navy blue, bear sweater and dinosaur mittens while slipping on our own jackets so we can go wander around outside in the gray outdoors. I grab a couple of apples to share with the donkeys.

Little Foot wanders straight out to the pecans that cover the ground beneath the pecan tree. He likes to pick them up and throw them down one-by-one. King Ranch follows closely behind him, sticks and shells cracking beneath his boots.

Bunny and Tee saunter up to me nosing for the apples I have in my jacket pockets. I hold them out and they each take two to three bites before both apples are gone in loud crunching. They continue to nose at my pockets looking for more. 

Little Foot is suddenly tugging at the back of my jeans and I turn around to see him holding a small stick up towards me.

“Is that for me?” I ask, holding my hand down.

He grins a toothy grin, pushing the stick a little higher.

“Oh thank you,” I say.

I take the stick and he purses his lips. Holding his hand back up, I give the stick back to him. He quickly grabs it, studies it for a moment, and then holds it back up to me.

“Thank you,” I say, taking the stick from him again.

He makes a sound that’s somewhere between a grunt and a laugh while tucking his lips into his mouth. He reaches up. I give him the stick.

This goes on a few more times. Each time, he smiles a little wider. Each time, I say “thank you.” I think he’s learning to share.

His normally blue eyes are slate gray in reflection of the sky. Everytime he looks up at me to either retrieve or relieve the stick, a silver gray flashes at me in pure, playful curiosity. Those eyes are seeing so much these days – not just lights, shapes, and colors anymore. They’re starting to comprehend so much. Words. Feelings.

How amazing this is to witness – the maturing of a creature. The other day, King Ranch asked Little Foot to “grab that ball.” In a stack of several other toys, Little Foot grabbed the only ball. It’s astonishing how quickly toddlers turn into their own people.

Little Foot takes the stick one last time before hustling over to King Ranch who is still beneath the pecan tree. Moving as quickly as his boots will carry him, Little Foot holds the stick out to the right while saying “Dadada.” As he approaches him, King Ranch scoops up Little Foot and embraces him.

“That’s right,” King Ranch chuckles, “I’m dada.”

Little Foot giggles.

I watch them from several yards away – Little Foot in King Ranch’s arms – as they walk together around the pecan tree chattering about something that I can’t quite hear. King Ranch and Little Foot’s ears stick out from the sides of their heads in exactly the same way.

Bunny pushes her snout against my arm and I turn around to both of the donkeys still standing with me. I squat down between them. Bunny lays her heavy head on top of mine and Tee lays his in my lap. They’re being extra snuggly today. Maybe it’s because of the apples. But maybe, like Little Foot, they’re comprehending much more than I could imagine. Maybe they’re picking up on the ongoing stress we’re experiencing. Either way, I appreciate this.

I appreciate it all so much: King Ranch bonding with Little Foot. Little Foot sharing the stick with me. The donkeys being so affectionate.

This place is not lacking love. Not in the slightest.

I have a hand on each of the donkey’s jaws when I notice King Ranch standing in front of us. He’s smiling at me. I smile back and stand up. Little Foot is once again sorting through pecans. King Ranch puts his arm around my shoulders and I lean into him.

I’ve had happiness on my mind for days – what it means to me, when it’s appropriate, and how it changes our perception of circumstances or even life itself. Although I’m still mulling over my ideas, what I DO know is that when I’m with my family, I am happy. The grace and pure, genuine nature of all of them – King Ranch, Little Foot, and the donkeys –  grounds me. Humbles me. Makes me happy.

I am so very grateful for my family…so very happy and blessed to call them my family. All of them: human, fur, and feather.

It is so gray today. Strikingly and hauntingly gray. Beautifully and peacefully gray. Lovingly gray.

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Happiness and all of Her Friends

“Happiness is a choice.”

I’ve seen this quote frequently on social media and the internet in many different forms. Most of them are images which include a picture of a woman standing in lush forestry holding a bouquet of flowers in her hands while the breeze perfectly volumizes her hair. Others are intricate scripted letters on top of Instagram-filtered sea shores or sunset backdrops. It’s as if ‘happiness’ equals peace. ‘Happiness’ makes one beautiful. ‘Happiness’ is what’s right or the best choice.

Since moving up here to the ranch, I’ve had the privilege of being able to slow down. I don’t find myself sitting in hours-long traffic jams. At night, I hear crickets instead of highways. The sky is an explosion of stars and cosmos and for literally hours, we can stare intently into its greatness.

This slowdown has allowed me to take a deeper look at myself. I’ve more clearly started to understand my own anxiety, that I’m a people pleaser, and that I at least try to be an encourager. All along, I’ve repeated the phrase over and over in my head, “Just be happy. Just be happy.” I’ve been drawing strength from this. Confidence. I feel like if “I’m just happy” than I’m doing something right.

Now, I disagree with that idea.

‘Happiness’ is a wonderfully enjoyable emotion that as living creatures, we all experience and share. It is what happens when you hear a joke that strikes your sense of humor. It’s what your dog is feeling when they wag their tail as you pull into the driveway. ‘Happiness’ is what I feel while having an awesome casserole that King Ranch whipped up from the most hodge-podge pantry ingredients like pastas and cheeses and breadcrumbs and feeling full from its nourishment.

‘Happiness’ is Bunny and Tee braying uncontrollably when they hear us coming out into the pasture because they know we probably have treats or at least ear rubs coming their way. I am ‘happy’ when I finish giving them carrots and they proceed to nuzzle me and/or follow me around the yard. ‘Happiness’ is Little Foot realizing that he’s learned how to tell us that the cow says “moo”, and proceeding to repeat it over and over with an increasingly large grin on his face. ‘Happiness’ causes tears in our eyes as King Ranch and I realize just how much Little Foot is comprehending these days.

What happiness isn’t is a choice. I cannot ‘choose’ to be ‘happy’ about our savings account quickly dwindling yet somehow still being too much to qualify our family for financial assistance with health insurance. I cannot ‘choose’ to be ‘happy’ when I read articles about donkeys being illegally sold for meat in Nigeria by the thousands and knowing that right now, there is literally NOTHING I can do to help. I cannot ‘choose’ to be ‘happy’ when mass shootings are reported on the news. What do you tell the families of those killed or injured? “Just CHOOSE to be HAPPY?” I cannot ‘choose’ to be ‘happy’ when a stray dog bolts onto our property, grabs our largest egg-laying hen by the neck, and takes off down the street. I am, however, ‘happy’ that King Ranch ran after them, retrieved the chicken like a knight in shining armor, and then spent days nursing her back to health.

Happiness is nothing more than an emotion. It’s on the same level as sadness, anger, and fear. They’re equals. Happiness, I think, just feels better than the others.

Happiness won’t soothe your hands that are white-knuckled and cramping over the steering wheel when you’re driving in 25 degree weather, shivering in pain, because the heater’s busted, but you can’t risk spending the money to fix it. Happiness won’t make it easier to have to shovel up an already rotting, dead, floppy rooster from your backyard; nor will happiness take away the guilt you’re experiencing while wondering if there was more you could have done to save him.

Indeed, happiness is a blessing. Happiness should be treasured. Happiness should be celebrated. But happiness shouldn’t be degraded and simplified into being a ‘choice’ – no more than anger, sadness, or fear should be ignored, bottled up, or thought of as a personal sign of weakness.

Why don’t we illustrate these other emotions or put them on beautiful internet memes to encourage people to embrace as well? Why are there no pretty women in pictures captioned ‘Get angry’ or ‘I would be sad, too’ or ‘Dear God there’s a spider as big as my hand in the bathtub’?

I am angry that our country’s healthcare system is so broken that it is costing us tons of money that we don’t have just to get our child treated for his illness. I am worried about how we will continue to pay our bills if one of us doesn’t find a job soon. I am sad that I cannot afford a plane ticket to go visit my brother in Colorado whose wife is about to deliver my newest niece. I cannot simply ‘choose to be happy’ about these things. And why would I want to? Why should I? Would that make me stronger? Or better?

Instead, I will celebrate happiness when happiness is justified. I will embrace anger when the need arises. I will proceed cautiously with fear when things are uncertain. I will allow sadness when tragedy occurs.

I will accept all emotions that I am armed with equally because they are a part of me. We are equipped with them for a reason. For confidence. Empathy. Awareness. Protection. Connection to one another.

I will no longer ‘choose to be happy.’ I will ‘choose to be honest.’ And if I’m being honest, right now I am happy that King Ranch is playing firetrucks on the floor with Little Foot while I’m sipping some really good breakfast blend coffee. I am sad that Little Foot’s ears hurt and I can’t make the pain go away more quickly. I am angry about the across-the-world donkey slaughter because who could, in their right mind, harm such lovely creatures? I am worried about our finances and what the coming months will continue to look like.

I am confident in and grateful for all of my emotions and the roles they play in my life. I don’t feel guilty about my fears or angers. I am thankful that I’ve got the tools I need to properly and productively deal with difficult situations.

I am okay with all of that. I am not weak for being a buffet of feelings. Nor does that make me pitiful. Right now, it makes me, me.

At the end of the day, I guess I’m over this idea that we all should “just be happy” and that if we’re not, that it’s some sort of a personal weakness. It’s not. It’s a blessing. It’s a blessing to be beautifully complex. It’s you. It’s us. It’s alive.

Be happy. But also get angry. Respect fear. Allow sadness. Appreciate all of your layers. They’re all lovely. Happily, angrily, fearfully, sadly LOVELY.

Today, I “choose to be me.” Flustered, giddy, exhausted, unsure, grateful, curious ME. And I’m putting this image out there to encourage change. 🙂

happiness text branded.jpg

 

Pieces of Peace

I’ve trapped Bunny and Tyrion into a small paddock near the garage by luring them with carrots. My intent is to try and get their harnesses on them so that we can restrain them and trim their hooves. I hate that I have had to resort to manipulation, but if we don’t trim their hooves, the overgrowth becomes injurious to them.

What’s odd to me is how opposed to the harness both Bunny and Tee are – Bunny more so than Tee. I don’t have enough experience with livestock, however, to know if this is something in which all equine have an objection, strong or otherwise.

At the sight and/or sound of their harnesses, the donkeys scatter away which is why I’ve had to lead them here into this small fenced in area that has a large tree in the center of it. The ground is covered in dried up leaves and packed-tight clay.

I start with Bunny. I pull her harness out of my coat and she immediately dashes towards the gate which is closed and locked. Her ears are pointed straight up and her eyes are scanning the fence for an escape route.

“It’s okay, girl,” I repeat over and over to her in as calm of a voice as I can.

She trots to the gate, then to a corner, then to another corner. Tee is standing by the tree, clearly anxious, with his ears straight up and eyes wide. I’m avoiding positioning myself behind her because one swift buck and I’m a goner.

I hold out another carrot and she stops and stares at me. She’s not looking at the carrot – she’s looking at me.

“It’s okay, girl,” I say and take a step towards her.

At this moment, I recall something that the probably 20-something year old, blonde, and surprisingly gruff farrier told me last time she was here. I remember her deep-southern twang saying: :

“You gotta watch their eyes to see their next move.”

Bunny’s eyes are fixated on mine, still, so I take one more step towards her – leaves crunching under my boot. Her brown eyes dart left, so I side step, but she pushes me out of the way and runs catty-corner across the paddock.

“Come on, girl,” I say walking back towards her, holding a carrot out. Tee snorts, shakes his head, and trots past me to join Bunny in the corner.

“Come on, Bunny,” I beg, “It’s alright.”

She lowers her head and looks right at me once more. I squat down and plead with her, “Come on, Bunny, it’s okay girl. It’s okay.”

I’m letting the harness dangle towards the ground in my left hand, the buckles clanging like tiny cymbals, while holding out the carrot with my right. I glance at the carrot which is shaking – partially because my hands are always quite shaky, but also because I think I’m nervous.

Then I remember something else the farrier said:

“Donkeys are highly intelligent. They know if they can take advantage of you. They know your weaknesses.”

I shove the carrot back into my pocket and stand up straight.

Bunny’s eyes dart right, so I side step right. Her eyes dart left and she takes a step, so I hop left. She snorts and backs away from me as far into the corner as she can.

“Bunny,” I say with more authority, “Bunny, it’s okay.”

Tee trots to the corner directly across from where Bunny and I are scanning each others eyes.

Bunny snorts and jolts to the left. I side step in front of her. “No Bunny,” I say and raise my hands up to her face level.

She dashes to the right. “No, Bunny,” I say and block her path.

She lowers her head and snorts. I don’t know what this means. I’m suddenly aware that my heart is throbbing in my chest – with their large ears, the donkeys must be able to hear it pumping frantically.

“Bunny,” I say, taking a step towards her.

She throws her head up and I wrap my arms around the top of her neck, pulling the harness over her snout. She shakes her head from side to side, and me along with her, so I use my left arm to pull her head down against my left thigh. She tries to pull away, so I squeeze harder. “It’s okay,” I say, gritting my teeth and fumbling with the buckle behind her ears – my hands shaking. “It’s okay.”

She raises her head a bit to where the side of her face is pressed into my chest. I’m trying desperately to push the the strap through the buckle but my hands are shaking too much to aim properly.

She snorts and stomps her front hoof. I pull her in tighter to my chest and grip the harness as tightly as I can.

Suddenly, she relaxes. Her head is against my chest and I feel the muscles in her neck relax. She’s stopped fighting.

“Atta girl,” I say, releasing the grip on my arm slightly and a large exhale at the same time.

I push the strap through the buckle and secure it. As I remove my arm, she slowly raises her head and lays her ears back.

I reach into my pocket and pull a carrot out. She looks at me for a moment – right at me.

“Good girl,” I say, “good girl.”

She takes the carrot from me and I step back.

This reminds me of the times I’ve had to take Little Foot to the pediatrician to get his vaccinations. When I have to hold his arms down while the nurse shoves a needle into him, I always watch his face instead of the nurse’s hands. He usually smiles at me until he feels the prick and then as if the world is crumbling around him, his face turns red and tears well up in his eyes. He searches me for answers and comfort and all I can keep doing is holding him down while telling him that it’s okay.

Little Foot can’t understand why I’d hold him down on a cold table under bright lights so that some mean ole’ nurse can stab him with something. I want so badly for him to know that it’s for his own good.

Just like the donkeys can’t understand why I’d strap something over their heads and proceed to poke and prod at their hooves. I wish I could explain to them that it’s for their own good.

It makes me wonder what it is about my life that I lay awake at night obsessing and sometimes crying over when really, it’s something happening that could be for my own good.

For example, King Ranch still hasn’t found a new job – neither have I – and we’ve both been endlessly searching. Why are we still in this situation? Why hasn’t something worked out?

I imagine what Bunny must have been thinking when I blocked her in the corner of the paddock. Or what Little Foot must be thinking when I’m looking down at him on the pediatrician’s table.

Although I don’t know if I can subscribe to the idea that King Ranch and I are in this jobless situation “for a reason,” maybe we can make one. Maybe we can pretend that this is a good thing. Better yet, we can turn it into a good thing.

We have had a lot of time together over the past two and a half months – even if much of that time has been scanning the internet for jobs. We can still look over at each other and laugh when Little Foot makes a silly sound or laughs at his toys. We can have a cup of coffee together every morning. We can bounce ideas off of each other. We can just be together more right now.

It’s weird to think that we probably (and hopefully) won’t be in this situation again for a very long time. And in a weird way, it will almost be sad when one of us finally lands something because then our days together will once again be limited to the weekends. Although much like Little Foot and Bunny, the time apart will, at that point, be for our own good because we’ll be on our way to back on our feet again.

Sometimes the harder it is to understand, the more you have to just let go. Maybe that’s what Bunny did when she pressed her head into my chest – maybe, just maybe, she felt the beat of my heart and the warmth from my hands and knew that it would be okay.

I think of life sometimes as a Chinese finger trap – the more you tug and pull, the more tangled you become. If you just relax and breathe, then you understand how to set yourself free.

Peace doesn’t mean that it all makes sense or even feels good. Peace doesn’t equal happiness. Peace doesn’t prevent sadness. Instead, in peace there is strength. In peace there is hope – even if it’s in pieces. In peace, there is freedom.

The donkeys are out trotting around the yard now in their harnesses. I’ll be chasing them down again soon to remove the harnesses from their faces. For now, I’ll just watch them run free. They’ll be okay. They’ll be just fine.

donkey love

 

Two Drivers, Two Rivers, and Two Donkeys – A Donkumentary Vol. II

It’s nearing 3 o’clock in the morning and I’ve just taken over driving our 2007 Subaru after stopping for gas in some mid-Illinois town in which I don’t know the name. My eyes are slowly adjusting back to the dark highway after squinting underneath the fluorescent gas station lights – greenish spots float in the edges of my sight. King Ranch has adjusted the passenger seat to accommodate his height a bit better and Little Foot is sound asleep in his car seat.

We’ve been on the road for 7 hours making the drive back to our ranch in Texas from spending two weeks with King Ranch’s family in Michigan for Christmas and New Year’s. It’s a difficult goodbye when leaving his parent’s house because we know that we can’t just randomly have a weekend get together with them – scheduled time takes planning and money. We all smile and act like it’s okay, but really, I believe we all feel sad that we don’t live closer to each other.

I accelerate onto the highway in which there are absolutely no other vehicles while flipping on the car’s high beams. King Ranch taps a few times on his phone screen to resume our spot in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. We’ve been listening to this book on both the 20 hour drive up here and now so far, for 7 hours back. We’re at the point in the story where Bilquis is running frantically away from the Technical Boy. I start to imagine the scene before my eyes – long, toned legs atop slowly shredding feet scrambling along the asphalt – knowing that somewhere behind her is a speeding stretch limo.

Suddenly there are headlights – real ones – that speed up behind our Subaru. They swerve around us. Out of habit, I slam on the brakes although the speeding car is way out of reach by now. This jolts King Ranch awake from what I imagine is light sleep.

“You okay?” he half-way shouts, sitting up.

“Yeah,” I say. “I’m fine.”

He pats my leg and leans back again. I hear our dog, Thing One, sigh and adjust in the seat behind mine – his collar falling with a tiny tinkle. I turn off the high-beams.

I won’t give spoilers, but in a few minutes time, we learn what happens to Bilquis and it really does upset me. I just keep imagining it – it – her final destination. I turn the high-beams back on just as we’re passing a massive carcass of some sort off the the right – a wolf? Dog? I pass too quickly to get a good look, but it is brown and white and has pointy ears.

Driving at night always makes me morbid, especially when I’m not driving through a city but instead, a mix of woods and fields and sometimes hills. I don’t know why, but I often wonder how many dead bodies must be hidden in those vast acreages of land that seems mostly undeveloped.

We continue to travel for another hour or so before I shake King Ranch’s left thigh. He snaps awake.

“I’m getting tired,” I say.

“Do you want me to drive?” he asks, sitting up straight and rubbing his eyes.

“You’ve hardly slept either,” I say, gripping the steering wheel with both hands.

“I think I’d be alright,” he says.

“We should stop somewhere. Little Foot will be awake soon, anyway.”

King Ranch pulls the lever on the side of his seat which thrusts the back of it straight up. He rubs his eyes again and taps his phone a few times. The bright screen illuminates his unshaven face. He’s so tired – dark, brown circles hanging heavily beneath his eyes. I’m sure mine look similar only my eye bags always have a purplish tint.

“Where are we?” he asks.

“Somewhere in Illinois,” I say.

“I think we’d do better just to push through,” he says, turning off his phone and dropping it into the cup holder between us. “I really just want to get home.”

“Well,” I say, “I don’t think I can drive for too much longer and I don’t want to leave this all on you.” I sit up a little taller too. The yoga pants I’ve been wearing keep riding down in the back and it’s driving me absolutely bonkers.

“I think I’d be -” he suddenly stops. “Cairo?” he asks.

“Huh?” I say.

“Cairo, Illinois?” (I should note that he’s saying ‘Kay-roh’, not ‘Kai-roh.’)

“Yeah, I’ve been seeing signs for it. Why?”

“Because that’s where Shadow stays with Jackal and Ibis!”

I smile. “Yeah, I guess it is – I hadn’t made the connection.” Damn my inattention to detail.

“The river delta,” he says. “It’d be cool to stay there.”

He pulls up his phone again, clicks away, and says he’s found a hotel. After calling them and learning they have one room available, we re-route our navigation system to lead us to the Quality Inn that is both pet-friendly and offers complimentary breakfast. It will be 38 minutes until we arrive.

I’m thrilled. I want nothing more than to get out of this car, pull my freaking pants all the way up – or actually, just take them all the way off – and sprawl out somewhere in which my eyes need to not focus on a thing. Plus I really want to take out my contacts that are suctioned against my eye balls and put my glasses on instead.

King Ranch taps a few times on his phone screen and suddenly ‘American Gods’ is back in chapter 7 where Shadow meets Sam.

“This is when he’s travelling to Kay-roh,” King Ranch says.

We re-hear Shadow and Sam’s conversation in the diner as the signs leading to Cairo tell us we’re closer. Shadow correctly guesses that Sam ‘casts bronzes’ and I’m really not sure what that means. I assume it means she makes things out of bronze and I think that’s pretty cool. I wonder if I could do something like that and make it successful.

Both King Ranch and I are trying to figure out our lives as 2016 is getting going. I’ve worked in a big-time corporate setting where I got literally hundreds of emails a day. I’ve tended bar where I became quite talented in making both vodka and gin martinis.  I’ve taught yoga full time – for a while, 26 classes per week.

I enjoy teaching yoga. I enjoy tending bar. However, now that I’m a mom in a new place, the needed schedule for those careers just isn’t ideal. And if I’m being honest, I’ll be damned if I ever coop myself up into a dimly lit cubicle where I type away at a machine in which my significance is pushing paper somewhere in the middle of please and thanks.

I’m truly hopeful for this year. I’m hopeful that King Ranch and I find our footing. The cruelty of life stands no chance against a New Year’s wish. We’re only hours into what we’re still calling ‘our year.’ I’m truly hopeful.

“Take the next exit,” the GPS commands.

I steer off the highway onto an exit with a lonesome, orange street light. Turn left. Turn right. Turn right and our destination is on the left.

The lights of the overhang that I pull under must be bright enough to wake Little Foot because suddenly he’s making a sort of cry, sort of sneezing sound. King Ranch steps out of the car and heads toward the front door as I shift into park.

“It’s okay, honey,” I say to Little Foot while reaching my hand back to touch his curly hair.

He grunts and sneezes a few more times and Thing One sits up with an awkward stretch. I fling my head side to side and crack my neck.

King Ranch slowly jogs back to the Subaru and sinks down into the passenger seat.

“Apparently it’s flooded around here so the manager didn’t show up,” he says.

“Can we not stay?” I ask.

“No, we can. But they gave us a discount.”

“Why?”

“I dunno,” he shrugs and looks out the window. He points in the direction that I should drive. “I wonder if Neil Gaiman stayed here when he was writing his book?”

“You think so?” I ask, backing into a parking spot. Thing One stands up and shakes.

“It’s the only hotel that popped up on Google maps,” he says. “I bet he did stay here! We should look for clues.”

I love this about King Ranch. He gets so tickled by close encounters of his idols. For example, a month before I found out that I was pregnant, King Ranch and I went to a ‘Jeff Bridges and the Abiders’ concert at a small venue in Houston. Jeff Bridges, along with Bill Murray and Kevin Spacey, is King Ranch’s favorite actor. He quotes ‘The Big Lebowski’ almost religiously.

After the concert, King Ranch stood in line with his big, fancy camera out waiting to meet Jeff. He was appalled by all the drunk fans who crowded Jeff and clearly made him uncomfortable. But as the saying goes, nice guys finish last – by the time Jeff reached King Ranch, he was ready to call it a night. King Ranch managed to get a picture with him, but was sorely disappointed that all the pushy fans got more of his time.

We get out of the car and it is unbelievably cold. The icy breeze blasts us as we scramble up the outside stairs. I’m holding Little Foot bundled in a blanket and King Ranch is holding onto Thing One’s retractable leash. Thing One pees on every single post.

Inside, the halls reek of stale cigarette smoke. We find our room and King Ranch fumbles with the key before opening the door.

I place Little Foot down and he takes off running for the a/c unit. King Ranch hits the bathroom and I flop down, face-first, onto the King Sized bed. Little Foot’s foot steps click-clack over towards the side of the bed, so I roll up to see him smiling from ear to ear.

“Dut!” he says, raising his hands.

I flip over and make a silly face at him while glancing at the clock on the bed-side table: 4:54am.

King Ranch washes his hands and throws himself on the bed next to me.

“I seriously bet this is where Neil Gaiman stayed,” he says with a grin.

I smile and pick Little Foot up to plop him on the bed in between us. He’s chatting and drooling uncontrollably. Thing One rolls into a ball on the small, teal sofa next to the bed with a big sigh.

At some point, we all fall asleep because suddenly, Little Foot’s chatter wakes me up. I roll over to look at the clock. 6:33am.

“Ugggghhhh,” King Ranch groans. “Noooo”

“It’s 6:30,” I say. “Little Foot, go back to sleeeeep.”

“Dut!” he says and taps my nose with his fist. “Dut-un.”

I reach for Little Foot who begins to giggle. I know that he won’t go back to sleep now. He’s ready for this day.

After brushing our teeth, putting our pants back on, and having a quick continental breakfast in the front lobby, we pile back in the car – me driving again.

“Let’s go this way,” King Ranch says, pointing at a map pulled up on his phone. With his index finger, he traces a green path that goes right between the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. “It’ll bring us right to Cairo. Maybe we’ll see Jackal and Ibis!”

I smile, “sure.”

We pull out of the parking lot and indeed the area is flooded. Off to the right, brown water has crept up around several pine trees that I don’t believe are supposed to be under water. There are all kinds of plastic specs floating in lines. The road winds and we approach a short tunnel that unevenly spaced above it says, “CAIRO.” I remember Gaiman’s quote – “…he drove under a bridge and found himself in a small port town.”

“Okay, this is pretty cool,” I say.

King Ranch is sitting up straight and smiling.

We pass by ‘Historic Cairo’ and the government buildings that look like cookies. We pass a two-story brick building with dozens of different colored headstones in the parking lot.

“I bet that’s where Jackal and Ibis would live,” King Ranch says and scrambles to snap a photo with his phone.

What we don’t pass is a whole lot of activity. This town seems mostly abandoned. Disheveled buildings are barely held together and most windows are in some way, broken. It’s sad. Interestingly sad.

We find ourselves pulling up outside of the ‘Fort Defiance State Park’ which sits right at the meeting of these two massive rivers. As told by the Quality Inn attendant, indeed this area is flooded as well. More and more trees are sitting in flowing, brown water that don’t look as if they’re supposed to be submerged.

Two impressive bridges lead out of the park on either side – one crossing the Ohio and one crossing the Mississippi. They’re phenomenal, intricate bridges that I imagine were built around the same time as the Golden Gate bridge – but really, I have no idea. Architecture is not something in which I have any sort of familiarity.

The one that leads over the Ohio river is blocked off with dirt and road signs saying, ‘Road Closed’ so we drive over the other. It is quite grand. I’ve never seen a river so massive – so powerful. It looked more like a lake. Glitter bounced off the surface everywhere – a million diamonds.

As we exited the bridge, we passed a sign welcoming us to Missouri. Our GPS tells us we’re only 9 and a half hours away from home.

We continue to listen to ‘American Gods’ only we’re back in chapter 8 so we can hear Shadow’s story from Cairo. It’s pretty darn close to what I had originally imagined.

It’s now 9:30 at night, and we’re on the final road before out county road. My high-beams are on again and Little Foot is impatiently chattering. King Ranch and I have what I believe is a bit of cabin fever and are talking to each other in silly accents – mostly a combination of pretty poor British and Scottish accents. We’re also cursing like sailors because we know that very soon, Little Foot will be repeating us and so we want to get it all out of our system now. We’re saying all the really bad curse words very slowly and heavily articulated on the wrong syllables. Plus, cursing in a British accent is way more fun.

We pull up outside of the house and King Ranch hops out to pull open our rusty gate. Thing One is standing on the back seat whimpering because he smells home. Little Foot is in an all-on scream now.

I pull into the circular driveway and smile as I shift the car into its final park. Home.

King Ranch closes the gate with a squeal as I pull Little Foot from his car seat. Thing One darts across the yard to pee on absolutely everything.

It’s dark and cold out and I look up to see more stars than ever before. It smells like someone must have been barbecuing earlier – smoky and spicy.

Swinging our arms in front of us to clear potential spider webs, we walk out towards the pasture to see Bunny and Tee who are sauntering up to the fence.

“My GOD,” King Ranch says, “They’re HUGE!”

I laugh out loud. “Oh my God,” I say.

Bunny and Tee are enormous. They’re almost as wide as they are tall. Two massive potatoes with sticks as legs.

“Have they just stood in one spot for two weeks eating hay?” King Ranch says.

I reach over the fence with my free hand and pat Bunny’s head, “I guess so.”

I open the gate to the pasture and both donkeys shuffle into the backyard – their girth unbelievably impressive. Tee, as suspected, goes straight for Little Foot. Little Foot croaks like a dolphin.

Bunny leans all her weight into me as I pet every inch of her face. We nuzzle for some time. I’ve missed the donkeys so much. I’ve missed home so much.

I always expect things to be different when I come home from a trip, no matter the length. So far, it looks like the only thing that has changed are the donkey’s measurements. It’s adorable. A bit concerning, but mostly adorable.

Bunny lays her head on top of mine and I begin to well up. What a lovely greeting.

“Welcome home,” King Ranch says, softly smiling at me.

A tear streams down my face. “Welcome home,” I say.

 

Ends and Beginnings

Dear Readers,

As is quite common at the end of the year, I find myself replaying all kinds of memories as I reflect on the past 12 months. I am imagining what life felt like a short year ago, what I’ve learned, what’s changed, and what could possibly be happening one year from today.

I think of last New Year’s Eve when Little Foot was a little week old. King Ranch and I were little week old parents with hardly a clue of what we were doing. My mother-in-law was in town as a week old grandmother learning for the first time what it’s like to hold your kid’s kid and how there wasn’t ever a love she’d felt like it. These week-old roles were all so new to each of us and the only way we navigated through it all was on the efficient resource of love and support. King Ranch must have hugged me more that week than he had in the years before. I must have kissed Little Foot a thousand times. King Ranch’s mom cried more than I’d ever seen. Tears and touch spoke louder than any words ever could.

I think of my best friend, the Unicorn. The smile that spread across her face the first time she met Little Foot was one I’d never seen. She’s always had a lovely Crest-worthy smile, but it was more pronounced and effortless as I placed Little Foot in her arms. She didn’t know what to say – much like the morning that Little Foot was born and I stumbled over some sounds, the Unicorn just over and over gasped. Her eyes glazed over and she hugged him up close to her chin. She finally muttered, “Who are you?” and looked up at me as she winked.

I think of the phone call I got from King Ranch saying that he’d just completed his interview with a company north of Fort Worth and that he’d been offered the job. There was excitement and pride in his voice that I’d been waiting to hear for a long time. The offer was nothing but promising. I was at my parent’s house with Little Foot at the time. When I got off the phone and told my mom, you could see the perfectly equal parts of her reaction: joy and sadness. She was a yin and yang of joy for our new opportunity but sadness that we’d no longer be on the other side of town. Admittedly, I felt the same way. I remember my mom and me hugging each other tight – tighter than we had in a very long time. I remember that her hair smelled like coconut. Words didn’t do much that day – tears and touch did the talking for us.

I think of meeting Bunny for the first time – learning that the seller of the property was planning on leaving her behind and wondering how on Earth someone could just walk away from such a beautiful creature. I squatted down and looked into her deep brown eyes and I knew that even though I’d only known her for minutes, I could not say goodbye to her. She looked right back into me – her eyes a welcoming million miles. The seller told us that she was usually shy but with me, she leaned all her weight into my side as I patted her fuzzy and surprisingly large head. I never told King Ranch this, but before we left that day, I whispered in Bunny’s ear this: “We’re coming back for you, honey. This is still your home.” Knowing she couldn’t understand my words, I know for a fact that she saw my tears and felt my touch. As King Ranch and I drove away, Bunny brayed loudly. I knew I’d hear that sound again very soon.

I think of the first yoga class I taught at the new studio near Fort Worth. It’s a small studio with an intimately connected group of women. I was an outsider, nervous,  and unsure of the expectations of the members. I couldn’t tell you what I taught in class – I only remember making a point to rub the shoulders and back of every single participant in class at some point. I wanted them to know that I would be there for them. I didn’t have the words. How do you tell someone you’ve just met that they have nothing to be self-conscious or insecure about when they’re with you? They didn’t know me or where I came from. So I touched them all and did my best to pour my warmth and appreciation for them down through my fingertips. They don’t know this, but I cried the whole way home that day in gratitude because I believed that I’d found my first local friends – and that made North Texas a little more like home.

I think of the first time Little Foot said, “mama” and meant it. I was in the kitchen sauteing peppers and onions for vegetarian tacos while Little Foot was rolling around in his baby walker. Over the sizzling, I thought I heard a tiny voice say, “mama” but I couldn’t be sure so I placed the wooden spoon on the counter, crouched down to his eye level, and pointed to myself.

“Who am I?” I asked.

Little Foot smiled and flailed his arms.

“Who am I?” I asked again.

Flail.

“I’m mama,” I said. “Mama.”

Smile.

I started to stand up when suddenly, “Mamama.”

“Mama?” I asked, pointing back at myself.

“Mamama.” Smile. Flail.

“Mama,” I muttered, picking him up from his baby walker and hugging him tight. His curls became damp under my tears. The onions and peppers ended up being overly cooked that night, but Little Foot and I must have said ‘Mama’ back and forth 500 times.

I think of the day King Ranch called me and told me he’d suddenly been laid off from his job. I remember him saying that he was collecting his things and would be home in an hour. I remember wanting to jump through the phone and embrace him because I couldn’t wait that long to wrap my arms around him and beg him to believe that everything was going to be just fine. After we ended our short phone conversation, I opened the front gate to our driveway and waited for him on the front porch. Little Foot was on my right hip and I held a 16oz can of cold Miller Light in the other popped and ready for King Ranch. As he pulled into our circular driveway, I hurried over to the driver’s side, placed the beer on the edge of the truck bed, and wrapped my free arm around his slightly-damp-with-sweat waist. The three of us stood there for a few moments underneath the pecan trees in a three-way hug. Everything was going to be okay. It would. It will.

I think of what I might be saying next year and realize there’s no way I could possibly know. This time last year, we didn’t know King Ranch’s new job. We didn’t know Bunny or Tyrion. We didn’t know what Little Foot’s voice sounded like. We didn’t know what unemployment felt like. We didn’t have chickens or a compost. We didn’t tag-team all night to take care of a restless baby. I didn’t know that King Ranch could make up a song about anything to sing to Little Foot. We just didn’t know.

In the end, it’s the now that really matters. It’s me laying in bed typing away at this blog that I truly hope people enjoy reading while King Ranch and Little Foot are napping next to me. Their eyes look exactly the same when they sleep. It’s knowing that Bunny and Tee are out in the yard paling around – realizing that this time last year even they didn’t know each other.

It’s the rise and fall of each breath. It’s the warmth underneath this blanket. The blessing that is life one minute at a time. The letting go of worrying so much. The letting go of ‘what ifs’ and ‘shoulda/woulda/coulda.’ It’s staring into your loved ones eyes not caring about the mistakes they’ve made and knowing that they don’t care about yours.

What’s different than this time last year? Absolutely everything. Every single thing.

What have I learned? In a nutshell – I’ve learned to love more deeply than I thought possible. I’ve learned to be more present. To appreciate the simple beauties in life like a baby breathing, a tighter hug, and a slightly different smile. I’ve learned that a few breaths from time to time, especially when things are hectic, can make a huge difference. I’ve learned that even in the wake of chaos, life is so overwhelmingly fabulous. Our mere existence with one another is such a wonderful opportunity that I just don’t want to take for granted.

What will we be doing this time next year? Only time will tell. And I guess I shouldn’t bother myself with wondering – it’s not like I could predict in any certainty.

I do know that there will be love – for King Ranch, Little Foot, Bunny, and Tyrion. There will be love. The rest, I hand up to time.

This entry will end the ole’ Ranch Life’s Donkumentary Volume I. 2016 will bring Volume II and God knows what that could possibly entail. I hope you’ll all tag along with us.

I wish you all a Happy New Year. Stay safe. Stay present. Stay strong.

Love,

Jess