Friday, December 31, 2010

No promises

I don't do New Year’s resolutions. I am, admittedly, undisciplined and unruly. I hate structure (unless I'm being paid), I hate feeling as if I have to do something. Recently an acquaintance suggested to me that I follow a plan for running. I've been running for nearly 20 years and I've found that whether I am training for a race or not, schedules just don't work for me. I much prefer to follow my own biorhythm and the natural flow of life: run when I feel like running, eat when I feel like eating, sleep, well. . . you get the idea which sounds all new-agey but really, it is just me being lazy and not wanting to push myself to do something when I don’t really want to do it. This attitude has definitely worked for me but it also was the cause of my dad spanking me the only time ever. Seems he just didn’t like me telling him at the ripe old age of 11 that I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t feel like doing. He quickly showed me that that was faulty thinking. I came around though - having kids, having a job, and certainly having farm animals has necessitated conformity to the rest of the world. But still, just the thought that I must do something ensures that I just won't feel like.

I like to live my life in the moment - well, as much as working a nine-to-five will allow . . . Years ago, I pitched my watch. I hated living my life in 15 minute segments and even when running, I could feel when I was fresh, when I should slow down, go faster, quit....and I don't need an instrument to keep tabs on me. At any point of the year, I may make changes. Last year I decided to drink less coffee - which I love – but I’d reached a point in life when I was having some trouble sleeping. After several weeks with a much-reduced caffeine load, I was back to sleeping like a baby. At certain times of the year, I may feel the need to make other changes. But saying on day one of the New Year - without any real reason other than the fact it is the New Year---that I will no longer do this, eat that, say this - is just ludicrous for me. For other people it may work just fine but not for me. I admire those people who are able to commit and muddle through even though their heart is not really in it. And I’m not a total slacker…..I did manage to complete a graduate program which included doing some things I wasn’t really in to. But for me, my New Year’s resolution is that I have no New Year’s resolution.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Let the Training Begin.......

What I hope the snow level is on race weekend . . .
What the ground will probably look like on race weekend. . .

Despite my dislike for schedules and training grids..... this morning I began (seriously) training for the Two Below Duo at the Warren County Winterfest on January 23rd and 24th. My main goal is not to embarrass my brother (who is a much better shooter, much faster biker, and much faster runner). Yet he knew what he was getting when he asked me to participate. I think he knew that I was the only person crazy enough to agree to be his partner. I’m spending New Year’s Eve with my brother and his family and it is sure to be full of fun activities (for Rob) such as changing the tires on my bike, giving me a crash course in compass/map reading, and a quick, snowy bike ride New Year’s morning.

What I will look like on race weekend!

I’m counting on my brother to be every bit as supportive at the end of the race as I know he will be at the beginning of the race (when he still believes there is hope for me). I’m not nervous about the running or about the clay-pigeon shooting – mainly because when it comes to shotguns, I am either right on target or totally off. I’m a bit nervous about the orienteering part because I have a bad habit of losing/forgetting my glasses and there is no way on this earth that I will be able to read the map without magnification. But I know that my brother will not lose me. Right? Rob?

I am very nervous about biking in the snow/ice/whatever is on the ground up in northern PA. The thought of crashing my bike is so unappealing. True, my hands will be frozen to the handles but still, falling is going to be painful. And then there is being around all of those competitors who, I am sure, are taking this way more seriously than I. I’m in it for the fun. I’m in it to see how much I can do in the snow and still make it to work the next day. I’m in it to see if I’m really as tough as I think I am.

I’m doing this to make up for the fact that I ditched my sister-in-law in a similar race (that was held in much nicer weather) and I need to save face. And Rob better not let me get lost, shot, biked over. . . . because I’ll tell our dad.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas at the Browns

A Hallmark family we are not. I believe that part of my struggle with the holiday season is that, like many other people, I have unrealistic expectations. Expectations so far from the realm of reality that if they were someone else’s, I would laugh.

Months prior to Christmas – even though history has proved differently time and time again—I anticipate experiencing the calmness and peacefulness that this holiday deserves. A quiet celebration of the birth of Christ, respectful and traditional ushering out the short, dark nights, the burning of candles and so many other things. In the heat of summer, I dream about wintery evenings spent in front of the woodstove, reading or working on a quilt by the light of the Christmas tree. Of the children quietly playing a board game or working on a project or something. My fantasy includes my dogs—all 5 of them—languishing under the coffee table, lying on my feet keeping them warm, cuddled up on my lap. I can actually feel the warmth of a mug of peppermint or chamomile tea in my hand, enjoyed with homemade shortbread cookies.

That is so not what is happening.

For instance, I have two nights left to finish quilts and 2 pillows—quilted by hand, no less (part of the sitting by the woodstove fantasy). My family has literally eaten ALL of the cookies as soon as they were baked. Not kidding about this. All I have left in the freezer are these rotten pumpkin cookies that even the dogs won’t touch. Last night I fought with my 13 year old daughter about whether or not the eggs that were collected from the chickens were still good (they were). From that, the fight progressed to the point where I remember this morning that we aren’t speaking although I can’t remember why. And my sweet 13 year old daughter told me to ‘chill’. I thank God everyday that my parents allowed me to live through my teenage years.

I did however, sit in front of the woodstove – after I woke up at 2:30 a.m. in the bitter cold—realizing that the fire had gone out. I sat in front of the woodstove blowing on the embers to get the logs to light. Not quite what I had imagined—all the while, the dogs were jockeying around trying to steal the ‘warm spot’ under the blankets that I had left. Man’s best friend?? I think not. The Christmas tree did look beautiful and its sparkling lights shone merrily upon the bits of aluminum foil that one of the dogs had ripped apart and strewn across the living room.

At this point, Christmas seems like more of an endurance race than a celebration, which is a shame. I do know (again, based on experience) that in some crazy way, everything will come together and we will have a wonderful time with plenty of laughs, a few tears remembering those family members who are spending the holiday with Jesus, and more than enough food. We will remember to be thankful for everything that we have and on Christmas evening, I will be reflecting on a day well spent with family and friends in celebration of the birth of our King.

Monday, December 20, 2010

It's really Christmas now

The Mighty River
Happiness written all over their faces
Last Sunday after church, we set out on a journey for the perfect Christmas tree.                        

The girls were quite excited and we were well-armed with a handsaw, heavy boots, leather gloves, and the courage to forge the mighty river to down our Christmas tree.
Mammoth evergreen!
 It took hours upon hours of hard work to topple the mammoth evergreen! 

It took the strength of a hundred men (or at least one girl) to drag the tree back home.  
 And all the while, dodging the wild animals that inhabited the forest!
Wild ducks

Wild yellow labrador retriever

 I must admit, the end result is quite beautiful.  The harrowing journey out into the wilderness and the risks to our well-being in our search for the perfect tree was well worth it. 

It feels like Christmas now.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

So proud!

Our family's 10th Penn State degree!

Penn State has one (at least!) more proud alum as of today!  Ryan is the first of my five children who will earn their Penn State degree.  He earned his degree in English.  As icing on his blue and white cake, he has a job!  In his field!  Ryan is an amazing writer who has been, and will continue, to share his satiric sense of verse with his readers.  Watching my first son walk across the stage today in the same ceremony that his grandfathers and grandmother, his uncles and I had participated over the past 50 some years, was one of the proudest moments of my life.  Over the years, I've marveled at the fact that my parents had attended classes in the same buildings as I have, had walked past Old Main, past the Obelisk, ate at the College Diner and the Corner Room.  There is something really basic  to hear my dad talk about how he remembers freezing in Sparks Building during the winter knowing exactly what he meant because I had classes there too - freezing in the winter, melting in the summer.  And so has my son.  My mom, who was a physical education major, would tell me stories about the rifle club in White Building and how the sound would ricochet and knowing what she means because I took a pistol class in the same room.  The entire family - over the course of 50 years - has been lost in Willard Building. 
The memories are awesome and I am so lucky because I get to experience Penn State everyday.  But today waiting at Gate B for my baby, I shed more than a few tears.  Tears because the time has flown by, tears because of his accomplishments, and the proud tears of knowing that Penn State is yet another way we are connected as a family.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Humans, Books, and Trees

Cookie Dough and Bella


All of my life I’ve related much better to animals, books, and trees than to humans. I never really got humans: all the words needed to communicate and how those words were strung together in a manner that encouraged interaction. I never really got that.

Dolly Llama

One Old Goat Farm is the culmination of a dream I’ve had seemingly forever. It is my gift to myself that is satisfying beyond my wildest imagination and frustrating beyond belief. Satisfying in that each morning, I go out to feed my animals and they are always the same. These huge bodies that could crush me in an instant if they wanted, trust me to hug them, pet them and give them treats. For the past several weeks, they have been forced to endure my singing in preparation for the Christmas concert that was last Sunday. And they didn’t complain a bit.

Snowball kicking up his heels

But it’s not only the animals providing me with a calmness and peacefulness that I need to start my day, it is all of my trees. Red maple, white oak, cottonwood, and poplar trees given to me by my dad that bring me back to what is real in my life. I have several years old maple trees that have been a great pleasure to watch grow into tree-nagers. And every time I see them, I think of my dad.

My books—and I have hundreds that are especially precious to me—are the biggest factor in my maintaining good mental health . I have books that I return to again and again and there is always something new that I find. Some people may find it odd to read books over (and I do read plenty of new books), but I can be sure that when I read a certain book, I will be transported back to another more enjoyable time. One book that I read every year about this time is Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg. The number one reason that this book is so special to me is that it was given to me by my son Ryan (who will no doubt be a famous writer some day). Another reason is that when I pick it up, I’m usually at a point in the Christmas season when I am overwhelmed, used up, and really failing to see the beauty of the season. This book takes me right back to the place where life is calm, rivers runs strong, villages really do raise children and redbirds grow on trees. A book is traveling abroad for the not-so-wealthy.

I have it all here at One Old Goat farm: a healthy family, a son who is a brand new college graduate, happy animals, trees that will be here overseeing the land long after I'm gone, and books to transport me when my legs no longer are able. What human could possibly ask for more?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Memories of warmer days

It is true. I complain about the heat.  It's because I love to run but running in the oppressive heat really plays havoc on my motivation.  I absolutely love to run in the frigid weather - the snowier or rainier, the better.  But I'm not running right now.  I'm freezing.  The wood stove just can't put out the heat strong enough to keep me toasty.  Even my dogs are curled up into tight little balls trying to syphon heat from each other. 
If I walk upstairs in our house, I can see my breath.  It is cold. So cold that my eyeballs freeze, my ski mask is stuck to my nose, and so cold that Sebastian doesn't even whine when I set off on a run without him.  That is cold. Real cold. 
Part of Old Town San Diego

Hermit Island

My favorite place at Grange Fair

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Solitary Run

The trail offgrounds at Penn State

I thought today that I would be the first out for a run.  Apparently I wasn't.  On several locations along the path, it was clear that a deer or two had passed through.
Other little critters had been out and about.  Some just passing through, others out looking for food,

 The Penn State cows just hanging out watching me in that quiet way that they have,

 Apparently I missed a dance.  Or something.  But it was quite calm, the air was crisp and I didn't mind sharing my morning.  Not one little bit.

Some brightness against the white.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

It is a different world

I grew up here. And forgot about the snow. Visiting my parents this weekend was a step deep into winter. Which the kids enjoyed. While others languished in the warmth of home.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hot chicks

Seriously. Is there anything as beautiful as a chicken? Or a rooster? There is just something about watching these mini dinosaurs lumber across the yard. My daughters hate them. They say the roosters chase them. I say the roosters are only following them.

Good luck hunters!

Today is the first day of deer hunting season. I won't be hunting - I hate the taste of venison. It is right up there (in my book) with turkey, squirrel, and rabbit. I've never been a huge meat eater - it is my mom's fault (love you mom, but I have to blame you for this)! She tried regularly to slip unconventional meat into different dishes when I was growing up - she was a key factor in my vegetarianism for many years. Even now, I can sense venison in a dish a mile away! I was more of a potatoes and peas kind of kid and I still am, I guess.

I come from a long line of hunters and it looks as if I've given birth to couple of hunters, too. My husband hunts for deer (he doesn't like turkey) during archery and rifle season. My brother's wives cook up any little critter that they shoot. And everyone in my family just loves these meals! I really, really wish that I could stomach handling game - but I gag and retch whenever I see or touch anything other than a clean roast or ground meat. And I know that actually game is much, much cleaner, much healthier meat and definitely more economical than any commercially raised beef. But still....

I do hope that we have venison in the freezer for the year. I would love the money saved by not purchasing meat at the market. So bring on the bucks, or the does - fill up the freezer! I just don't like touching it, cooking it, or eating it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My Dear John letter to Walmart

Dear Wal-Mart,

As a rule, I do not visit you. Your store is too big, too loud, too crowded, too overwhelming for me. The other night I was in a rush and out of desperation, I stopped in to buy a few needed items. From the moment I walked through your automatic doors (which are backward, I might add), my senses were assaulted in more ways than I can possibly name.

My first stop was in produce to grab a bag of celery. It turned out to be a relatively harmless experience and I made it through that maneuver unscathed. Next stop was butter, strategically placed at the very back of the store. After dodging and darting between other shoppers who appeared equally as dazed as I, I grabbed my needed box of butter. Navigation to the front of the store was a bit trickier. With displays, carts, and stands of cookies, chips, seasonal candies – all set right at eye level, stationed tactically in the middle of your very narrow aisles, it was impossible to make it from point A to point B. I’m sure this is a carefully thought-out plan because in my trip from point A to point F down to point Q and then finally to Point B, I passed a multitude of colorful displays of all sorts of things I don’t need (and can’t imagine who possibly could!).

On my way back to the register area – so that I could check my own order—I could barely function with the horrific brain-dulling garbage playing from every possible point. In the health and beauty aid section, at the end of each aisle, was some type of video advertisement giving instruction on everything from the best allergy medicine to use and how to use it to the benefits of Viagra (I swear!). I felt as if I were trapped inside a pinball game.

Aside from the anti-Wal-Mart rumor mill, I have my own reasons for our break-up. You offer just too many choices for my small mind. After working all day listening to other people's problems, I want simplicity. I want to be able to just walk into a store and pick up milk. Period. Just milk. I don't want to have to choose from 4 different producers. I just want to get it and go.

Wal-Mart, your designers are very savvy-that is true. But I have the same amount of hours in my day as everyone else and I choose not to spend those precious minutes standing in front of a shelf full of 97 different variety of black beans and trying to decide which can I want when I could be outside with my kids or my animals breathing in our country air all the while being perfectly happy. Wal-Mart – you will always be there silently smothering to death every small hardware store, every mom and pop general grocery, all to provide us humans an endless selection of things that we could very well do without. I am sure that you are the perfect store for many people but you are just not for me.

We are over now, Wal-Mart. You will not be seeing me again.

But if you start selling time, let me know. I may come back.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A favor to return

This time last year we had already had a month full of snow. Yesterday it was nearly 60. I am thankful for this. I have had an extra few weeks to work on Dolly Llama’s shelter, to pick up the trash blown around by the wind, to stack wood (or make the kids do it), to spend time outdoors doing nothing in particular.

After yesterday’s foul mood brought on by an unpleasant dream, it feels good to be back in high spirits again. I am determined to avoid the anxiety I normally feel this time of year. For years, I’ve agonized over Christmas. I love Christmas but absolutely, positively hate the materialism and greed that marks this holiday. I can’t stand the commercials and advertisements promoting more, more, and more crap that we don’t even need. Pretty selfish, I think, when there are so many people who can’t even afford the basics. I hate the pressure that I’ve placed on myself to buy the perfect gift – did I spend enough? are they nice enough? are they enough??? These gifts for loved ones who really don’t need any thing!

This year I have put some thought into giving – I still want to give but I want it to be in honor of the gifts that were given to the newborn babe in the manger, Jesus Christ. I want to give from my heart – not meaningless garbage that will be forgotten the next day, but I want to give something to enjoy and to savor.

Of course for my younger kids and my grandson, there will be a couple of toys and some fun stuff. The nice thing about being poor (a matter of perspective), is that the bar is set low. No one really expects much from me. But for my older two kids and my parents, I want to give them some memories. Kind of like the running necklace that my son gave me years ago that I wear every day. And when I don’t run, I feel as if I’ve failed him. Or the painting of the tree with the most striking autumn colors that my daughter made me and that I look at every day and think of what a great artist she has become. I want to do that for them.

I want to give something that while maybe it can’t be wrapped or put under a tree and maybe it won’t evoke a ‘Wow’ when given, it will make them feel loved and treasured days, months or even years from now. Something that no matter what, they will know that they have been loved.
What can it be? There is not a lot that I do well. I bake, I run, that’s about it. I’ll think of something. It is important that I do. This fall we’ve been given the gift of a little more autumn. I want to return the favor to those I love.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lost Dreams

It never ceases to amaze me how my life is guided by my dreams. A bad dream can totally influence my mood and if I allow it, completely determine the course of my day.

If I want to reverse the negative feelings from a bad dream, it is important that I try and remember as much of my dream as possible. Otherwise there is this feeling of something forgotten hovering over me all day. For instance, I woke this morning in a foul mood. Usually the calm of working out early and then the peacefulness of feeding and watering the animals helps me reconstruct my dream and totally change my outlook on the day. But for some reason, I ignored my alarm this morning and slept much longer than I should have which resulted in a rush to wake the kids and take care of the animals. This never is a good thing – for anyone. The second chance for peace and calm to reflect on my dreams on my drive to work was thwarted by a call from my daughter. I always love talking to my daughter in the mornings before work-it makes my day! And I love hearing about my grandson but I was just starting to bring back pieces of last night’s dream. I was only able to vaguely recollect a short dark haired man showing me his bald spot?! It may have been the hot chocolate and marshmallow I drank before bed – I’ve found that anything but tea in the evenings can really affect my dream themes! Tea – chamomile, generally encourages really good, gentle dreams while hot chocolate or warm milk not only bothers my stomach, but brings on weird, bad dreams that leave me antsy and angry the next day.

I’m still in a blue funk and am hoping that a good long run will help me figure this out so that I can feel back in a positive tune with life. Thanksgiving week and with the start of the greedy holiday season just days away, I want to be in as positive a mood as possible. I may just have to chalk up this day as a generally crappy, be-by-myself day and then be sure to only drink my chamomile tea tonight.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bullies suck

There’s not a whole lot of things in this world as heartbreaking as seeing your child as the target of a bully. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. The humiliation of walking down the hall and having classmates bark at me is fresh in my mind. But it doesn’t hurt anywhere near to knowing that my son is experiencing those same feelings of shame. It is one thing being teased, told that you are ugly or skinny or that your nose is crooked or that your ears stick out, but knowing that everyone else in the school – or on the bus—knows that you are being bullied and that there is nothing you can do about it is even a worse shame.

I’m pretty much a pacifist. But like any parent when it comes to my kids, I can be fierce and unrelenting. Fortunately for me, the school seems to be intolerant of bullying either on schoolgrounds or on the bus. I will most definitely maximize my use of the school resources.

To purposefully be the cause of another human’s misery is being a horror of a human. What a shame. A person can overcome the teasing but the bully? Do they ever change? Are these the people who flip us off when we are driving? Or worse yet, are yesterday's schoolyard bullies the people we read about killing someone in a bout of road rage?

I know my son will overcome this bullying - his family, church, and friends have his back. But what about the bully? I think he needs our prayers most of all.

I don't understand it. Why can't we all just be nice to one another? Why can't we just have peace?

Friday, November 12, 2010

A different world

I'm not much of a traveler. Typically when my trips for work are planned well in advance - usually at a time that a 'vacation' seems really nice. Typically once I reach my destination, I am ready to come home.

Not so true this time......more than wishing that I were home, I wish that I had brought my family with me to San Diego. I didn't get to see much but I had some amazing runs along the boardwalk and dipped my toes in the 'warmer than the Atlantic' Pacific Ocean.

I know that the kids would have really enjoyed this visit. They love the ocean and the beach and the temperature was just right. In addition, we would have been able to see the cruise ship being brought in.

Next summer our vacation plans include a drive to Yellowstone National Park, Mt Rushmore and Spearfish, South Dakota. Maybe the following fall we'll take our trip to San Diego.

But still, it will be so good to be home.

A torrid love affair

 I've written about the ducks quite a bit. It's a little like Peyton Place around here I think. A couple of months ago, the male d...