Annie, Git Yer Gun!

Overnight I got invaded. Not me personally, but my home. Not in the house; this assault happened outside. Not the usual home invaders, but the four-legged woodland kind.

The pleasant feeling I was having while sipping a cup of the Starbuck’s Guatemalan blend has been replaced with a knot in my stomach. I, normally a friend to all animals, am about to declare war on deer.

Yesterday my mother-in-law arrived for a three night visit, and we walked through the backyard paying special attention to my raised veggie and herb garden. We talked about the different varieties of tomatoes and bell peppers. I was happy that the plants were looking full and leafy, tomatoes starting to appear. She spotted the first cucumbers on the vines and the tiny marigolds. Incidentally, I had strategically planted marigolds around each tomato plant because I’d heard that they serve as a natural deer repellent. Apparently, that deterrent works when they actually look like flowers, not like a sprig a chef would adorn a plate with in a fru-fru restaurant.

I had just sat down to write on this lovely late spring morning out on my deck and was enjoying the cool temperature, when my husband delivered the news to me. I slipped into my flip flops and walked down the stairs to the garden in the lower level of the back yard. I felt like I was entering a crime scene. Evidence all around. No need to call in investigators. The large cages that my guys built last year saved the tomato plants from total devastation, but the shorter ones only acted as directional signs for intruders. It couldn’t have been more plain if it had been in neon letters flashing, “Salad Bar Here.”

The rascals ate almost every leaf off the cucumber vines but left the cucumbers. Plants need their leaves to grab energy from the sun. Now instead of the action happening to grow the fruit bigger, any energy left in the roots will have to be used to make new leaves.

The variety of bell peppers? They could pass for asparagus now.

My mind is saying, “I need a dog.” But you have a dog, you argue. “No, I have a pet. I’m talking about a mean, little yipping dog that wouldn’t allow friend nor foe near the property.” Oh, for heaven’s sake, stop that nonsense. Maybe I’ll look into some of those animal repellent products or some wire to fence in the perimeter of my raised bed.

I’ve always said this golden retriever of mine resembled a deer. I think this may have been an inside job. He let his distant cousins know where the goods were.

Got Milk? Divorce’s Effect on Community

Divorce. I haven’t experienced it personally, having just celebrated 25 years of marriage to my high school sweetheart, and my parents stayed married until the death of one of them. Same story with my parents-in-law.

Divorce doesn’t affect just one’s immediate family but has a trickle down effect that touches the entire community. Let me give you a recent example. It’s a bit of a journey, but stick with me; we’ll get back to divorce in the end.

A few nights ago my 15-year-old son insisted that his father and I watch a documentary called Food Inc., then went to the refrigerator and told me that afterwards we’d think even closer about what we bought than we already do. “You probably won’t buy this brand of yogurt any more,” he said, holding the Activia in his hand. “You’ll probably want to go to the farmer’s market more.”

He sent the NetFlix link in an email message to me and left us alone. What could have inspired this teenager to watch this, I wondered. I’ll watch it, I told him, but warned him that knowing who the writers and producers of documentaries are often is more important than the actual content. “It could be some total left-wing moon bat shoving their agenda down your throat with the bad meat.” I’ve become cynical these days not taking things at face value but searching for the behind-the-scenes intended message. I guess that happens with experience.

We’re a family with pretty healthy eating habits already, so it wasn’t like starting from scratch here. For over five years I’ve been buying whole grains in 5-pound buckets and milling my own wheat to bake fresh bread, five loaves at a time. We flake our own groats into oatmeal. Yes, really. People can do that. Oatmeal doesn’t have to come in a round box with an old white man’s picture on the cover. I’ve grown a few veggies in a small garden through the years, and we cut out pork from our diet over a year ago. I confess that occasionally ham or sausage finds it way onto our plates though. Our pantry is filled with protein bars and supplements. Bottom line: we are not a “just add water and stir” family.

Yesterday while my son and I were out driving, an image from the documentary came to mind of the cows, and we were close to the local dairy, which I’d been told was the last working dairy farm in the region. We could swing by there and pick up some farm fresh milk—I guess the documentary affected me after all. Yes, we’d buy extra and make homemade ice cream for Memorial Day. Though we used to drive over to the dairy routinely, I’d more recently succumbed to buying the store brand on sale in addition to the soy milk we use daily.

We pulled up to the little brick house that operates as the dairy’s office and store with cases of fresh milk, cream, butter, along with jams, preserves, and even a selection of jewelry and decorative home accessories. On the opposite side of the road is the farm, where the cows stay as well as the milk processing plant.

“Are they open?” I asked, not seeing an illuminated sign that is common in store fronts. We parked and walked up the rickety stairs to the front porch and saw on the door a paper sign that read, “Yes, we’re open, just saving electricity.” I realized then that the lights inside the store were off.

We were greeted by a young woman whom I recognized from previous visits. She was now a mother, holding her five-month-old baby boy. The baby turned to look at me and smiled with his whole body—a gummy grin that spoke volumes.

“This is Clay,” she said. “He’s named after his great-grandfather Clayton.” Clayton and Estelle’s, the name of the market, I recalled. We chatted a few minutes about how precious he was, and then I told her we were there to get some milk.

“We don’t have any milk.”

“What?” We were standing in a dairy store. That’s like saying the ocean is out of water.

“Coolers are broken.”

I looked into the room where the milk is normally stored and saw that the refrigerated coolers were empty and dark. Off, like the lights.

“We should have some next week, right, honey?” she hollered to her husband out of sight in another room in the house. He confirmed.

“Oh dear. What are the cows doing? Sitting over there crossed legged?” I jested.

“We’re not milking the cows any more.”

What? I could barely believe my ears. I’ve never been a farmer, but I know a little about things like this. You can’t just stop milking the cows. What in the world was going on?

“We’re bringing the milk in from a dairy down in Moultrie,” she told me.

Oh, this news was worse than I thought. Why bother? To sell to their local commercial clients? To keep this little market open? Then all the news spilled out like sour milk left in a pail.

“Last year the farm was foreclosed,” she told me. The owners (her in-laws) are getting a divorce.” Then she added some detail about leasing, contracts, and so on. Frankly, I was still stuck on the “We’re not milking the cows anymore” coupled with the “divorce” word. That was it. Another sign of the economy’s effects on a long-standing local family business.

I looked at that baby, still smiling from ear to ear, and felt sad for him. If things continue in this fashion, he may never get to know the legacy to which he was born. A farm? So close to the city? With suburban sprawl’s hand covering much of the geography, a place like this dairy was a pearl in an oyster shell. Just outside of the metropolitan Atlanta area, this section of yesteryear had been salvaged, had stood the test of time, and now it was on its way to becoming a ghost town—a memory for school kids to tell about when they used to go to that farm on field trips or to the corn maze during the fall.

I’ve wound myself back to the divorce word now. It’s not my place to know which came first, the divorce or the financial situation that may have lead to it—since financial problems are at the top of the list of causes for the big D. Regardless of what the cause and whom to blame, the reality is that along with their family the community will suffer as a result. So much for our attempt at some fresh organic milk.

“We hope to start back milking the cows again,” the young mother said. I could feel a keen sense of her longing to keep the family business that she had married into afloat. I really hope they do.  My son and I walked out the door. No need to turn off the lights or the open sign. They were already dark.

I learned some things today.

I’ve learned some things today.

I learned by glancing at my iPhone that the qwerty keyboard is named for the first six letters on the top row. All this time I thought it was some techno-acronym for some programming language. That wouldn’t make sense, since this arrangement of letters was on the old manual typewriter I learned to type on back in the late 70s.

I learned that my dog really can chase away deer from our yard, so having him outside is a good thing. At least for our garden. We miss having him inside with us since he’s been relocated to the garage for the spring/summer. Too many golden retriever hairs does not a happy homemaker make. We’ll see him back indoors in the autumn. Until then, he can keep Bambi and friends out of my hosta, tomatoes, and roses.

I learned that it would be considered weird to serve cornbread with corn beef and cabbage. Corn bread, corn beef. Seemed logical enough.

I also learned what corned beef meant. Apparently corning was the name given to the process of curing the beef with the salty brine. I grew up believing that these specially packaged roasts were the product of cows who ate only corn. Yes, really. Just typing that makes me feel really gullible.

Well, if the shoe fits. I guess admitting it is the first step to recovery.

I learned that a rock ‘n roll singer can be totally cute and totally talented and totally sober. I learned that it is possible to be a musician in a rock band and have guardrails in place so strong that define who you are and who you want to be that regardless of the environment you’re put into with your band, you can bypass all the junk that would lead to a “world of hurt” and still be ultra cool. Not just cool, but respected. I learned that from someone who lived it and is a walking testament to keeping it between the lines and loving our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Did I mention totally cute? And you ought to see his wife and sons!  For that conversation I am thankful and hopeful for my own son.

I learned that the writing workshop I attended a couple weeks ago is part of what is holding me back, so I’m going to toss that information into the mental processor and ask, “Will it blend?”  Maybe, maybe not, but it will not define, and it will not conquer.

That’s only a tad of what I’ve learned today, and the day isn’t over yet. I can’t wait to go learn some more. I especially can’t wait to eat that corned beef and cornbread.