Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Memorable falls

I learned to ride as a small child, taught by my grandfather, saddle seat in one of the families American Saddlebred horses. The farm on which I learned to ride was about two hours south of where we lived, so I didn't actually have my own horse on which to take lessons as a kid. I lobbied for a horse to keep in the 'burbs of Cleveland where I grew up, but my parents both nixed that, saying "There are horses you can ride down at the farm, why should we buy you one here?" So I took lessons to the point until it was necessary to have a horse of ones own, and then stopped.

But many weekends of my youth I went to the farm and went trail riding, bombing through the woods with friends and siblings. We never thought about danger, we wore the invincibility of youth and had no fear. I would ride the tallest, rankest horse and never think twice. One of my cousins, who lived in a town near the farm, was lucky enough to ride with my grandfather almost every weekend, which she did not enjoy, while I would have happily committed crimes galore to have such a chance. The grass is always greener I guess.

Dixie and me, circa 1984
In my youth I had several glorious falls from my favorite horse, one Dixie. He was a persnickety horse, if he didn't like you, he dumped you. You had to have a gentle hand on his mouth, and a good seat to ride him. But once you made him your friend, he would teach you to fly!

One of my memorable falls was down along the creek, where R. and I were riding as teens. The trails were often overgrown, and I didn't notice as we galloped along that some of the overgrowth was thick vines. One got between my leg and the horse (we sometimes rode with saddles, sometimes bareback.) The horse was going fast and furious, and the vine was thick and sturdy. I was dragged off Dixie's backside and plopped onto the ground. The bruise that developed along my thigh was large and glorious to behold, purple and green. But I still had no fear.

Another legendary fall happened the time I had taken my church youth group to the farm for the weekend. D. wanted to ride, so I thought it would be a good idea to have him up behind me on Dixie and take a quick turn around the arena. Dixie thought this was a very bad idea, and with the slightest of effort bucked us both off. D. landed on the ground and lost his breath, I was tossed into the fence, and surely must have had a concussion, although I wasn't aware of it at the time. But still I had no fear.

Many years passed, and I was married and living in Duluth. J and C and A took riding lessons with our friends the Ns, and we had several horses by then that we boarded there, along with our goats and chickens. One day we went for a trail ride in the snowy woods (glorious!) and I rode Buddy bareback that day. Now Buddy is an older horse who has done many things; Western Pleasure, Dressage, a bit of Hunter Jumper work. He knows it all and then some. But he is not over-fond of crossing water, far preferring just to jump creeks he comes upon. That day we were about to cross a creek, and I said to Buddy, "Don't jump, don't jump!" But here's the thing about horses, they don't get the concept of "no" and "don't", so the term has null value to them. If you want them to not do something, you have to tell them to do the opposite.

So, of course, Buddy jumped the creek, and upon landing I did a glorious somersault into a snow-covered bush. It was hysterical, and I sat and laughed and laughed, as did everyone else. Since that time I've made a point of being sure to use positive terms when asking for things, had I said "Walk through the creek Buddy" I would have been much better off.

J with Mac on the Ns farm
One of the things that the Ns insisted on for their borders was helmets. Which turned out to be a very good thing. J was riding his horse in an arena there one day, when another riders horse got agitated. J's horse Mac is a large and meaningful horse, and very protective of J, so when the other horse lost his mind, Mac made some sudden maneuvers to move J out of the danger zone. Unfortunately, when he did so, J was ejected and went flying.

Now, the Ns take very good care of their farm, and keep the arena shipshape. But naturally, J managed to find the one rock in the place on which to land on his head. His helmet cracked right along the front, but saved his skull, as it was designed to do. Before that time I was a rather surly wearer of helmets, although insisting the kids wear them (I considered myself too good a rider to need one, don'tcha know.) But since then, I've always worn one, and anyone who rides here on our farm will too (well, at least any kids.) I've still got that cracked helmet in a box in the basement, and I pull it out from time to time just to tell the story of how it saved my husband from catastrophic brain damage, as it surely did. It's really simple folks, if you're riding, you should wear a helmet, I don't care how good a rider you are. Just do it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Growing Things

I think of myself as a farmwife. But I am not the biggest success at growing things. I am a huge success with critters of all sorts: horse, goats, chickens, geese, and I know I'd rock at raising swine if J. would let me, but he won't. Plants though, well, I have mixed success with those.

When we moved into our house in '03, the previous owners had created a huge, gorgeous flower garden in front. I mean, HUGE. Now, not being a green thumb kind of girl, and being really busy that year dealing with making pens for the livestock and doing fences and getting the kids settled into new schools, I let the garden go.

I would rather clean a chicken coop than weed a garden. That's just who I am. Over the years, the flower garden has deteriorated. I have killed some of the plants. I have removed others. I have, some years, just let the weeds take over (which makes me annoyed, as I hate the way it looks, but I reach a point where doing anything at all to it seems overwhelming.)

Several years ago I paid a guy to come and redo the whole garden. When he was done it looked great. Cleaned up, weeded, new mulch applied. Looked lovely until fall, when the usual fall high winds blew all the mulch into the east pasture.

Next summer we were back to weeds. ((sigh))

This year I am going to throw in the towel and plant ground cover. I just have too much else going on to deal with it, and it's not my thing (even though I will admit to love playing with my virtual flower garden on my iPhone.) So if you ever come to our house to visit, just avert your eyes from the front flower garden, at least until the ground cover has taken hold and done its thing, ok?

In the meantime, here are some pics from my various Rose of Sharon bushes (my mom used to call these Mallow Trees, but whatever you call them, the blooms are lovely.) I've also uploaded these to my Facebook page, which you can see (and "like") here: https://www.facebook.com/FarmwifesDiary

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Musings on Mothers

"Dixies" from my daughters
for Mother's Day
Today being Mother's Day, I am, naturally, thinking of my Mom, who passed away suddenly in 2007. As well, the day brings thoughts of what it means to be a mom, as I am to my two daughters.

Some people have sublime relationships with their mothers. Others have mothers who are a nightmare. I think the majority of us have relationships that are somewhere in the middle between the two extremes.

My mother and I were very different. I was (am) the quintessential tomboy, and my mom was very much a girlie-girl. She loved flowers and pretty clothes and everything feminine. I, on the other hand, was the kid who brought home every stray dog in the neighborhood, who filled the fountain in the back yard with tadpoles, who was, when I wasn't reading, a pretty athletic kid - sandlot baseball with the neighborhood boys, riding my bike for hours on end, or bombing through the woods on horseback with my friend Rachel.

Mom and I loved each other, no question there. I adored her, and my aunt tells me she called me her "treasure." But I think who I was baffled her sometimes. I flatly refused to "come out" at the local debutant ball. I didn't like shopping (which was as food and drink to her), I could have cared less about shoes (we often joked my mom was the Imelda Marcos of Ohio.) I know when we moved to Kentucky to have our own farm, she was altogether bemused at the idea of her 40-something daughter leaving a comfortable suburban life to go be "a farmer."

But for all our differences, we shared many common interests. We both love to collect things. One of my earliest memories was trailing along behind Mom at the beach as she searched for good shells and frosted glass. She had an eye for the treasure among the trash (at the beach as well as antique stores), and could pick out something fabulous even after other people had been through the area before her. From her I learned to train my eye in pattern recognition (or from her I gained the skill, not sure which.) Even now, as she did, I can walk down the beach behind other collectors and still find treasures others have passed by.

Orchids from my husband
for Mother's Day.
I get my artistic bent from my mother as well. She majored in Art History in college, and although she never made a working career of it, she was the consummate artistic scholar. She had enough information in her head to write probably ten books; on silver, porcelain and pottery, jewelry, ephemera, early American furniture, American and English painters and illustrators, authors and books (particularly children's books), vintage linens and early American quilts, the list goes on. When she died, aside from mourning her (as of course we did!) I also mourned the incredible store of knowledge that was lost. I wish she had taped some of the lectures she gave for the various societies she was a part of. I wish she'd written at least one book, so I could hold it in my hand and know it was a small part of her depth and breadth of expertise. Alas, all we have to go on is the things she left behind, not the least of which are definitive collections in several areas.

My mother also had a very green thumb (unlike me.) Her house was always filled with plants and flowers, a plethora of Christmas cactus, orchids, and always cut flowers from her garden. She had a collection of tiny antique bottles she kept on the kitchen window, into which she'd stick the blossom of the day, even if it were just a wildflower from the woods outside. Many years before her death, I purchased a number of such little bottles, which sit on my kitchen windowsill now, and into which I put tiny flowers too.

One of the plants left
from all those years ago.
When I was about twelve, my mother and I planted a bunch of cactus and succulent seeds together. My bedroom in the old house had a huge window that filled the eastern wall, with a lovely wide sill, and mom wanted to take advantage of the light. Plus, cactus were about my speed, not being the most attentive waterer. Of all those plants, several still exist. A couple are still at Dad's house, and one lives here. It's terribly overgrown and needs to be repotted, but it has several "daughters" that I am going to send off with my own girls when they get places of their own, to continue the thread binding us all together, mother, daughters, grandmother.

This past summer my younger daughter mowed a path through the south pasture to a clearing on a rise which we waggishly call "the helicopter pad" (not that we have one, but if we did, it would be the perfect place to land it.) I like to walk out there with the dogs to get their ya-yas out at least once a day. Some days, as we walk through the grass, I will see a perfect little daisy poking up out of the newly mowed area. When I was very little, I called daisies "Dixies", which amused my mother no end. So when I see such a one, I know it's my mom looking down and smiling, and sending me a Dixie to say hello.

Happy Mother's Day Mom. We miss you so...