In Focus #5-Tiny Winter

Winds are blowing winter back. Their howling around the house are foretelling it’s coming. So are the fluffy clouds briskly floating by, while swaying trees seem to be waving good-bye to the extra-mild weather we have been having here in the Valley.

For the most part of last week, doors and windows have been open to let the mid-60^ temperatures fill the house. Since early this morning though, a tiny crack in the front door would allow the gusty wind to rudely force the door open and gain entry.

Spreading mulch over the flower beds will be a futile job these next few days. Which means some moments to head outside with the camera. This is one reason this PFO (Primary Farm Operator) likes winter so well. It is time to look at the tiny side of life through the zoom lens of the camera. Winter is especially nice because it is still, and mostly quiet in every way. All of life and nature is taking a bit of rest.

It’s a great excuse to look ‘scruffy’ and not get in trouble for it. Gardens are covered with chopped leaves and dead plant debris. Fields and yards are a dull brown. The animals are furry and way dusty with dried patches of mud all over their bodies. No sleek, shiny coats in the wintertime.

Snow drapes a beautiful blanket over it all. Ice brings crystals. Every season has its’ own beauties to be sure. But somehow the mystery of winter calls this PFO outside all the more. Perhaps because it is fun to be “all wrapped up” out in the cold elements working to stay warm. Whatever the reason, outside it is with the camera tucked warmly under the arm wrapped in a heavy coat. It is the tiny things that grab attention. Please enjoy the following ‘tiny winter’ photos. Add your own in the comments if you like. They would be a pleasure to look at.

White Pine

Redbud
Hemlock

Hen and chick plant
An icy home (bird nest)
Flower cage in garden
Nap-time
Black-capped Chickadee
Cedar
Tiny pieces of ice falling from the wind blowing the trees.

Tina

Tina is the last one.

She is the only girl, and the last child of Snoot and Shirley’s. Clyde, Ot, Bubba and Tanner were thrilled when they had their sisters’ dolls they could shoot, hang and give a general hard time to. It was quite an effort civilizing those boys. After all these years Shirley would say she and Tina did a right fine job of it. .

It would get Shirley all riled up though to hear folks telling her how she just had to keep on a tryin’ for a baby girl till she got one. Oh that would get to her. She’d tell them to mind their own business then they wouldn’t be minding hers. Did they have any idea the economic cost of having a girl after all those boys? There was not one pink thing in that household. In fact, what Shirley really wanted to tell them cannot be printed here, dear reader.

It isn’t like she had anything against girls. It truly was a matter of economics. Snoot made a fine income, still money was tight and had to be carefully managed. How was this little girl to look like all those adorable little girls Shirley knew? All she had was a batch of dirty, worn out boy cloths and toys. She used to say that when those boys were done with something it was only fit for the dump, certainly not for give-away or passing down.

Then Shirley’s own momma came to mind. Her momma never did have a ton of cloths in her closet. What she did have though was real pretty, and classic in style. She would tell Shirley that one nice, pretty dress went a lot longer and farther than a bunch of cheap ones. That must’ve been so, ‘cuz Shirley’s momma always looked pretty and very stylish.

After all that thinking Shirley realized the importance of liking oneself better than what is hanging in the closet. Most especially for girls. It seems girls have a harder time with this than boys. Anyways, boys have their own set of worries. Girls are the topic today. Shirley’s momma had a real good opinion of herself. That kind of opinion that helps one along throughout their life. Does that make sense, dear reader? Her momma was confident in herself and her abilities. She was what country people call ‘gamey’. This means she was always wanting to try new things, and was not scared one bit of failing. She just knew she would not fail. In her young days it was not fitting for girls to play baseball, wear jeans, get all suntanned from hours outside, play with dogs, or ride horses like a wild little Indian. It seemed she knew her worth was who she was, not what she wore. Do you think it might do girls a lot of good to start looking at their own selves in a similar sort of light?

All that thinking lead Shirley to the idea that she would teach Tina the same notions about herself that her momma had. She stopped fretting about how her baby girl was going to look and hauled her outside instead of the clothing stores. They spent time walking in the woods, through the tall grasses in fields, and got wet looking for fish in lakes and ponds. They visited farms where, surrounded by sheep, lambs, cattle and calves, Tina learned not to be afraid. She learned how to “read” the animals, and how to handle herself safely around them. She has always been around horses, longer than she can remember.

Four older brothers have a big way of helping teach a little sister also. They took her everywhere with them. They taught her how to fish, shoot guns, ride a motorcycle , work on cars, and how to gut a deer. About the only thing Shirley had to intervene in on was caring for her dolls. Those rotten boys would carry them by their feet! Golly, is there any hope for civilizing boys? This is how you carry your baby dolls, Tina, real sweet and gentle like, Shirley would show her. Do you have any idea, dear reader, how hard it is to teach a little girl proper ways with four older brothers?

Those brothers were such good teachers. They made her strong, brave, and ‘gamey’. Shirley used to tell folks, “Having one man is going to be easy for Tina when she grows up and marries. Shoot, she has managed four of them all her life!” It makes her laugh too when she remembers how those sons just knew how awfully spoiled Tina would get being the only girl. They gave her her first cell phone, and her first pink shotgun!

As for all those cloths Shirley worried herself over, it came to naught. Time and tide came and went. Tina grew up in spite of not having loads of pink frillies in her closet. She grew up well too. She can do all those things her brothers taught her, and more. She is an accomplished pianist, and vocalist. She knows and loves The Lord. She is a fine young woman.

Shirley did do just as her momma too. Every season of the year she went to a nice dress shop in town and purchase one real pretty dress for Tina. It cost more in the beginning, but paid out big in the end. The styles were classic, the colors rich. She may not have a lot, but what she has is good.

It seems Shirley did alright following her mommas’ advice. For one, she had less laundry. Best though was, she had more time. Time to spend with her boys and her one wonderful little girl. That alone makes Shirley…

Tickled Pink.

Sugar Plums in Virginia?

“While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.” So reads a happy line from the famous poem by Clement Clarke Moore, The Night Before Christmas. Written in 1822 for his children. Published anonymously in 1823 in the Troy Sentinel. It was thought to have been given to the paper by a family friend.

It has been illustrated many times over the years. During the 1860’s it received its’ best known illustrations. Done by Thomas Nast for the Harpers Weekly. Nast, a political cartoonist best known for his Republican elephant and Democratic donkey, dressed Santa in the recognizable red fur trimmed in white and black belt today.

Diospyros virginiana is our sugar plum here in Virginia and thankfully is on our farm. Best known as the Persimmon tree. It is also called American persimmon, possum apples, or sugar plum to name a few. Wildlife enjoy them every fall, and so do our horses. So do we! We have had them on every farm here in the Appalachian Highlands.

Diospros virginiana, aka Persimmon, possum apples, or sugar plum.

Old timers used to tell us they were not good for eating until after the first hard frost. And if one wants a good laugh at the expense of another, give them an unripe persimmon to eat. They are so bitter, and makes one pucker! Truth is after a spell of good cool nights and days, they can be eaten. Just be sure to know the difference between the ripe and unripe. The ripe is soft to touch, and has a pretty deeper color then unripe one. In above photo, the ripe fruit is in the center of the frame. Do you see the difference in colors? They grow deeper in that pretty orange-like color as they ripen even more. In the photo below the beginning-to-ripe persimmon displays both yellow and reddish colors. And like most ripe fruit, they are plucked easily from their branches.

These are only beginning to get ripe.
They look like little Christmas ball hanging on the trees all late fall and winter.

Many folks do not know they even have these sweet trees on their property. The native ones do not get very large. It is rather like a treasure hunt finding them. In springtime they have the most lovely little white blossoms. The petals curl back on the flower. But for sure your horses know where they are. They will quickly clean up the fallen ones as will all the wildlife. They are a sweet treat.

Image result for photo of persimmon flowers
Internet photo

Ours grow on the western boundary line of our farm behind the barn. This area is not fenced so none of our animals can get to the trees, though the wildlife can. I pick them up and give them as treats to the horses in the evening. So far I have not found any in the woods.

If they see me going out behind the barn, they know something good is coming.
I try to be sneaky about it. They do not get them everyday.
The pretty orange-red color of ripe persimmons.

If the horses could get to them they would eat up every single one. Much of the fruit clings to the trees. A steady wind will bring them down though.

They are sure enjoying their treats!
See how rather little they are? The pine tree is much larger.
Yummy little sugar plums. Enjoyed by man and beast.

On your next walk about outside, look and see if you can find this sweet treat tree. You will have found a friend!

An interesting fact—A friend told me years ago Persimmon wood is the preferred wood for golf club heads.

Dot

Dot is an artist. Photography is her medium.

She was also the very first Daughter-in-law for Snoot and Shirley. When she and Clyde (their oldest boy) first met she was active in theatre. She was just the cutest little thing dancing and singing around on that big ‘ole stage. She enjoyed the theatre all during her teenage years, and into her twenties. Snoot and Shirley saw her perform the leading role in Guys and Dolls. They couldn’t stop smiling.

All that was a few years back. Dot and Clyde have been married now for fifteen years. Wow! Shirley says time flies when folks are having fun. Dot has sure brought a lot of fun into the family during all the time they have been hitched. And even before getting hitched.

Shirley tells the funniest stories about those boys of hers and how they would take full advantage of the “Helping Others” chart that used to be taped on their kitchen wall. Shirley worked hard trying to get those rowdy, wild boys to think of others on occasion. So, as they did nice things for others, they would list them on the chart. Once the chart was full Shirley and Snoot treated those ‘good’ boys to pizza. Right or wrong, it seemed like a good way to get those boys thinking of others. Their sister, Tina, did not need near as much bribery.

It worked for a good while. That is until Dot came along. Then they just downright took advantage of it. Shirley says those smarty boys would write things like:

~Washed car windows on Dot’s car.

~Helped Dot carry in a box .

~Took Dot on a bike ride.

~Talked to Dot ’til Clyde got home.

~Dot, Dot, Dot, the whole list had her name on it.

The sun didn’t rise on Shirley just yesterday, dear reader. She was onto those fellas. She put a stop to those shenanigans in short order. They had to do real things for folks besides just Dot. They got by with it once and got their pizza. Shirley says, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

Dot and Clyde are the oldest child in each of the big families they grew up in. Like a good herding dog, they know how to get themselves in order, and how to corral the rest as well. Shirley used to tell Clyde he was a ‘good dog’ because he was so thoughtful about keeping an eye on everyone and everything. She has noticed Dot is a ‘good dog’ too! This is a term of endearment, dear reader, kindly take no offense.

Because all these boys have the same last name, Shirley calls each family by the first name of her boy. Such as; the Clydes include his whole family; the Ot’s, his whole family, and the Tanners are his. Does that make sense? Well, the Clydes live the farthest away from Snoot and Shirley. They see them the least. The best part though is those two adorable children visit and stay a good bit with Snoot and Shirley. And even better? Shirley says the parents do not come!

She has good reason for that too. Before their first grandbaby was ever born, Shirley told all her boys and girl that when she became a granny, she was going to be a ‘Yes’ granny. She said she had spent twenty years saying ‘No!”, and now she intended to spent the next twenty with her grandbabies saying nothing but ‘YES!’. That is why it is far more fun when the parents are not around, as there is no contention with all those yeses! Not to worry, Shirley keeps it all within reason. They do not get too spoiled.

Anyway, back to Dot. It is a wonderful thing that she lets those babies stay with Snoot and Shirley. It is just such fun for them all. They laugh, play outside, ride bikes, walk dogs, play in the pond, shoot the bb gun and simply enjoy each others company. Mostly they all get tired, hungry, and have to use the bathroom at the same time too. This makes for easy planning.

Dot is in demand with those fine photography skills of hers. She travels a good bit. She has been in many fine magazines on account of her artistic ability. She has even taught classes. This keeps her right busy in addition to being a momma. Clyde runs his own business. So when life gets a little tight for them those grandbabies get lots fresh air and fresh thoughts with Snoot and Shirley.

Being the oldest in a family must be a tough job Shirley thinks often to herself. She would not know as she was the youngest in her childhood home. Ask her older siblings though and they would say she was spoiled rotten and did not ever have to do one thing. Shirley would not agree, of course, but she does recognize the heavier responsibilities that are often laid upon the oldest child in a family. She knows she did with Clyde, and her dear Dot has mentioned on occasion the load she carried with all her younger siblings.

Seems to Shirley in many ways they have already been parents of sorts. They have a fine family with one boy and one girl, and it is wonderful. Not everyone is meant to have a passel of kids. There is no need for apologies either. If we were all the exact same way, why, one of us wouldn’t be needed.

Socrates got it right way back in 400 BC when he said “Know Thyself.” Shirley believes a thoughtful person spends time figuring out just who they are, and how they are to conduct their own lives. She has heard it described as living in their ‘zone.’ That sounds a little hippie to her, but it is ok. After all, she is a product of the 60’s. She also believes Dot (and Clyde) have a good notion of just who they are. They are thriving. So are those two delightful grandbabies. The only worry Shirley has is that she does not look fat when her talented DIL

Dot takes a beautiful family photo.

In Focus #4–The Nativity

We have a small Fontanini Nativity set that is put out every Christmas. Are you familiar with these beautifully made Italian nativity, figures and town scenes? They have been in production for one hundred years. We purchased ours at a local Christmas shop well over a decade ago.

Handcrafted and painted in the most lovely of colors. Colors that remind me of those used by Michelangelo. Warm, soft, gentle colors. Colors and feelings that speak of The center figure of all their work, Jesus. But the final selling point for me was the fact they were (and still are) made of polymer. I wanted Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus figures to be safe in the hands of our little children. It seemed easier for us to convey the love of Christ to our children when they could touch the figures, hold them in their hands, and pretend they were right there in the stable with them. Even re-arrange them, if they chose to.

Jesus is the reason for Christmas. Everything else is secondary. So here is a question for you, dear reader, to ponder. What are you going to do with Jesus? For the claims He alone has made to, for, and about Himself and mankind? Accept or reject? These questions demand an answer from each one of us alone because of the prophesies full-filled and claims He made.

As you think on these questions of Jesus, I hope you enjoy this photographic journey through the Nativity and the most important Birth in the history of all humanity.

Merry Christmas.

These loving beholders are not Fontanini.
…and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

Glory!

Hazel

Hazel is happy.

She has the best laugh. Shirley (her MIL–mother-in-law) spends untold hours thinking of ways to make Hazel laugh. She likes to hear it that much.

She not only has a great laugh, she has a great accent. You see, dear reader, she was not born here in America. She and her family were from a far away place. Her daddy slipped she and the rest of his precious family out of their country in the dead of night for the religious freedoms this great country had to offer. Hazel was knee-high to a grasshopper when they arrived here. She was a tender young teenager. She could not speak one word of English.

Shirley says Hazel is also brave. Brave in many ways. For one, she has a never-give-up spirit. Shirley and Snoot are as proud as peacocks of their second DIL. She married Ot (Shirley’s second boy) ten years ago. Hazel, her two capable brothers, her momma, daddy and friends did all the work for her wedding. Flowers, food, decorations, music, make-up, lights, candles and hair. Snoot helped too. He peeled 20 pounds of potatoes for mashed potatoes! Way to go Snoot. It was a beautiful wedding. One interesting thing Shirley noticed that she had never seen before was that most of the guests Hazel invited wore outfits that matched the colors she had picked out for her wedding. The colors were dark green and orange. It was a beautiful sight. Hazels momma looked gorgeous.

When Hazel was new here to this country, she decided she wanted to work at the local bridal shop in the town where she and her family lived. Remember, she could speak no English. She only knew how to say, “I want a job.” Well, that was all she said to the owner of that lovely shop over and over and over again. That woman could not take anymore of that pretty, annoying, persistent teenager week after long week. Hazel was hired. And that was the grand beginning for her. She learned English in no time flat. It did not take that owner long to realize the quality of gal she had in Hazel. She flourished working at that pretty shop.

She also has a great sense of humor. One funny thing she and Shirley have fun talking about it when she and Ot (Shirley’s boy) started taking a shine to one another. Hazel was still right young. Too young for Shirley’s liking to be sure. This caused a bit of upset between the three of them. And to Shirley’s great delight, Hazel left. Ot was too young too. Shirley believes mothers have an insight into the maturation of their boys. Ot was not there yet, and goodness gracious neither was that ‘little girl!’ Then a surprising thing happened. Two years later, when Hazel was twenty years old, she came back! It was then Shirley says Ot and Hazel were meant for each other. God’s design. Hazel has a lot of fun telling Shirley how much she did not like her in the beginning. She laughs a lot harder about it than Shirley does. Bless her heart.

Not too long after that they were married. It was a beautiful wedding. We already said that. It was at Ot’s granny’s farm. Hard to believe that was over ten terrific years ago. Time sure has a way of going by, don’t it?

One of the most interesting, and special things about Hazel is her love of this country, America. It has been said, “You don’t know what you got ’till its gone.” You see, dear reader, Hazel and her family never had it. But what exactly is “It?” Freedom. Freedom of religion, freedom to pursue one’s own interests, freedom to live where one wants, build as one wants, work where one wants, and speak as one wants, marry whom one wants, to name a few. Space. Have you, dear reader, ever thought about space? Your personal space? To move about as you please, visit wherever you please, stay as long as you please? Do these things ever come into your mind?

Shirley and Snoot like to be reminded of how good they, and their family have it here in America. They know that sometimes it is easy to forget all the gifts and blessings of this free country. That is why everyone in the world wants to come here, they remind themselves. Hazel always reminds them. She remembers what it was like to not have these precious freedoms.

Another feather in her cap is this; she is a Naturalized Citizen of these wonderful United States of America. She worked very hard to study and pass the test. She is a fine example to all of us that have desired to be a legal American. It is a gift and honor. Not to be taken lightly. Just ask Hazel how much effort it took on her part to earn this citizenship. Her entire family is proud like crazy of her.

She speaks beautiful English now. Though she still has a lovely accent in her pronunciations of some words. And to Shirley’s great delight she can get a big ‘ole laugh out of her for some of the weird ways the American language goes. Why wouldn’t it after all? America is a beautiful land of many peoples and cultures. This has been her timeless beauty since her beginning. It is something every American, regardless of when they earned their citizenship, should be proud of. We have all worked hard for it. To be an American is an honor and gift. Whether we just earned our citizenship, or have been here for generations matters little. What truly matters is that we have a clear understanding of the gift and responsibility of being an American. We stand for our country. We defend our country. We love our country. After all, no matter when we came—it is our country.

Shirley just knows this is one reason why Hazel is so happy. Because she remembers. She knows. It has made her strong, resilient, fun. Best of all, it has made

Hazel happy.

A Christmas Open House

We Virginians love Open House events. Simply ask any realtor. When they have an Open House event for a home on the market, they get lots of folks just wanting to see the house, how it is decorated and laid-out. It is fun.

Christmas Open House events are even more fun. Full of festive decorations, joy and anticipation of Christmas. I am a docent at Abram’s Delight Museum in Winchester, Virginia. The first week-end of every December we have our Christmas Open House. Full of beautiful greens, wrapped packages, dried flowers, real candles, bows, ribbons, and Christmas bulbs. The live Christmas music dancing on the air is the clincher that makes it all complete. There is no admission fee to see and experience all this loveliness either. Just come, enjoy, and get some new decorating ideas for Christmas.

Our local garden clubs decorate the house. How they get it more beautiful from one year to the next seems magical. Each room is decorated by a different club. There is a unique difference that is fun to study from room to room. We do put ourselves into our creations don’t we?

Because I am a docent, I am not able to be as poky as I would like in looking at each room and taking photographs. Next year I shall get there even earlier so as to capture more of this festive, joyful event. I hope you enjoy the few photos I did happen to get.

Simply beautiful
Detail of door entry. Those gorgeous dried hydrangeas were spray painted with red paint. Aren’t they lovely?
Our cheerful greeter in the Reception Room.
This cotton wreath with the happy, red-checkered bow is charming.
Our guests were thrilled that we had real candles!
Beautifully wrapped gifts full of anticipation.

Merry Christmas to you, one and all…

Because Wanda said So

Wanda lives near her in-laws.

Snoot, Wanda’s father-in-law, does not give it a second thought. He thinks he is the easiest person in the world to get along with. Is there a greater father-in-law than he? Not in Snoot’s mind.

Now Shirley, Wanda’s mother-in-law ain’t quite so confident. She’s been know to say that being a MIL (mother-in-law for short) can be like walking on thin ice sometimes—-really thin ice.

Before being too hard on Shirley, dear reader, know that she don’t mean too much bad about it, per se. What she is trying to get at is that the ‘letting go’ thing mothers have to do when their sons marry can be trying at times. Really though, it is more like a ‘keep your mouth shut’ sort of thing. This is an ongoing practice for Shirley. She has often said, “I can’t get that gate shut on my mouth fast enough!”

Makes sense if you would think about it a bit. After-all, Shirley has been a momma telling her boys stuff longer than she has been a MIL. Now she has to learn to be quiet so her daughter-in-laws (DIL) can tell their husbands what to do. It is all a little amusing in Shirley’s mind. Woman have always told men what to do since the beginning of time. So now she can sit back and enjoy the change in power. Though sometimes, she admits, it is hard to let go.

The biggest worry for Shirley is the hope that her DIL’s would like her. All the MIL jokes used to be funny to her before she became one. Odd how things change isn’t it? It is wise not tell any around her, she tends to get a bit testy.

Shirley’s own MIL just recently passed away. It was a fine 42-year-long relationship. They did not do too much together, but the general feeling was friendly and easy. There were times she got a bit too pushy with Shirley and said more than she probably should have. But the sum is more important than the parts, and Shirley knew her own day was coming to walk in those slippery shoes.

And now, she is in those shoes. Man! These roles in life can sure get the best of her. So many of them: daughter, sister, friend, co-worker, wife, teacher, neighbor, aunt, grandmother, and now mother-in-law. If Shirley only had Snoot’s opinion of herself. “Well”, she reasons to herself, “There are no Father-in-law jokes to fret him”. “Are women just more difficult to get along with then men?” Shirley wonders. She recalls the comment a fellow once made about not understanding women and how we spat and such at one another. He said, “When my brothers and I got mad at each other, we’d beat each other up, then we’d be friends again”. Hmmm.

Wanda, Tanner, and their cute, little boys live close to Shirley and Snoot as previously mentioned. And this is what causes the angst. You see, Shirley wants to be a good MIL. So she must believe the lovely thank you notes Wanda sends to her about the fun they have had visiting and enjoying supper together. She has to believe it—

Because Wanda said so.

Shirley has also learned that being a good MIL takes time and practice. She knows the important role all three of her beautiful DIL’s play in forming a family unit. Dot is her very first lovely DIL, and Hazel is her second. These three, wonderful gals have worked together beautifully to create a greater family unit with everyone. It has taken time, effort, and sometimes tears, but it is beautiful.

Shirley would be remiss if she did not mention, Tina, the only daughter. That was an entirely new path too, i.e. being a sister-in-law. Tina was the only girl in the household. She had to learn to step aside also, and make room for these fine gals. “Tina,” Shirley would tell her, “it seems like life is a constant shift and wiggle, most especially when folks are involved.”

“For instance,” she continued, “if the dog was buggin’ you, you could just throw him outside for awhile. But we cannot do that with these new gals that have now become part of our family.” Tina is smart, she gets it, and she’s getting better and better.

Time is a good thing for folks. So is age. So is having children. So is taxes, thinks Shirley. After all what would Snoot have to complain about if it wasn’t for taxes? But the best thing of all is a growing family. Hard as it is to shift around to settle into another comfortable place. When the heart is in it, everyone knows. Love can be felt. Shirley always said one of the best things her good MIL taught her boy Snoot was to always think of the other person and their feelings. She did a good job of it too. Snoot has grown his own family up into an ever-larger loving group of folks.

Fact is all of these folks have worked to build their family unit. It is important to each and every one of them. When they all get together they have a fine time laughing, joking, cooking and eating together. They may not agree on everything, but they let those differences go. They focus on the fact they are family, and there is joy and pride in that. It has taken time to get to this place. Shirley thinks it was worth every bit of work, hardship and effort. She is quite sure everyone would agree with her, because she can see it, and hear it in their voices. She can also see it in their faces. They have each made it their job to build their family unit.

Shirley would say it has been worth the growing pains. She is sure everyone else would agree. She bets $10 (she is a betting sort of gal at times when she knows she will win), that her three, best-any-momma-would-ever-want DIL’s would surely say so too…

Because Wanda says so…

And for certain Dot, Hazel, and Tina would agree.

Does your horse Bark?

What a silly question. Or is it? How do you see your horse?

We get a kick out of asking our students funny questions like this during their riding lessons. It makes them wonder just what in the world we are getting at. Which is exactly why we ask. We want them to turn their horse brains on the moment they step into the barn.

After the rounds of laughter, they are asked to describe the differences between dogs and horses. Have you ever thought about the differences between these two animals that so many of us enjoy over our lifetimes?

Have you ever thought about the differences between dogs and horses?

If they stumble (we do not let them sweat it out too long), they are asked this question, “Are horses prey animals? Or are dogs? Who hunts whom? What is the difference between a ‘herd’ animal and a ‘pack’ animal?” “Which one does the horse belong to?”

Are horses herd animals or pack animals? What is the difference?

By now our poor students are wondering why they even asked their parents for horseback riding lessons. Hey! They just wanted to ride off into the sunrise. That ain’t going to happen at this barn.

From the get-go we want them to have a clear understanding that horses are not like their pet dogs. Not in the least, and they must not put them in the same category. This is mostly for safeties sake, but it is also a building block for becoming one good horseman.

Safety first, beauty second. This has been the motto of our small horseback riding school since our beginning. We are small. Only two horses, and four miniatures make up our stable. Lessons are private. They begin on High Hope, our pretty buckskin mare. Once the students hands and seat are improved and controlled, they move on to Duke, our Tennessee Walking horse. This exciting move is made only when satisfactory progress has been made in the riders’ seat, balance and hands. Primarily hands, because good hands produce a good seat.

Riding bareback develops a better seat. Riding in halters develops a better horseman.

Though small in equine numbers, our lessons are big is scope. Students learn quickly that actual riding comprises a small part of weekly lessons. Groundwork, horse care and horse knowledge carry a lot of weight and precede the skill of riding. We believe that good groundwork produces good riding.

The first fact students hear from this barn is, “A horse can kill you if they want. They can kill you if they don’t want.” The best student is the one who innately knows this truth. For they understand the ultimate lack of power they have over the horse. Either through fear or wisdom of the horse, this knowledge will serve them well.

“What are your goals in wanting to learn to ride?” The answer to this question helps decide if our school is the right fit for them. Our focus is basic horsemanship knowledge and good soft hands. Knowing how to “put your horse brain on.” We believe that if it is not done “on the ground”, it will not be able to be done on the back of the horse. In other words, our students must know how to move a horse while working around them on the ground before they will ever be able to move them from sitting in the saddle. They have to learn how to ‘read’ a horse. These are developed from groundwork and good observation. They will soon learn that all horses are not the same. They may not like a horse for some reason, and that is okay. Did you know horses do not like all people either? Some prefer men over women and visa versa. We teach them how to care for the horses, i.e. how to tie them safely, groom them, look for ailments and injuries, pick their hooves, how to tack them up, and so forth. It sounds like a lot, but it’s a learning curve. We try hard to make it fun, informative and tasty. There is a jar full of candy for hungry horse wranglers in the tack room. Help yourself.

I always have fun telling my students that at this barn, I am the groomsmen, tack man, barn man, hay man, go-fetch-the-horses man, and main mucking man. These students catch on quickly, as they know they will be learning all that too.

Does this mean our students do not ride? Certainly not! We ride english, western, bareback, with a bridle or without. In the round pen, out in the fields, in the woods, on roads, and through streams. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

At this barn, we do everything except shoe the horses!

Basic health care is another part of training. Horses are expensive, but expenses can be controlled. We do not need pink buckets, halters, or lead lines. They cost more money! Less is more, and we learn how to take good care what we have.

Our Fall Riding Recital. What is this? It is a unique ‘show’ we put on every fall for parents, and guests. Students demonstrate the skills they have learned during the year. Each student has a particular skill they have learned well. It is a time to show-off their skills to their parents, friends, and guests. Oh! And there are refreshments for all afterwards, time to talk with students, and meet the horses. It is a fun, unique opportunity for all. Enjoy these photos of recitals past and present.

So if you are interested in having a fun time learning about horses, and becoming a good horseman, swatting flies, sweating, getting stepped on, having a velvety muzzle to pet, and a fun ride, come out and meet us. You may want to give it a try.

Never could keep that helmet straight on Emma (second photo) . The above photo is out of focus, but it shows how the students ‘sacked out’ the horses so as not to be afraid of strange things.
Shoot us an email if you would like to visit the farm: mitzybricker@gmail.com
The natives tend to get a little restless, but they will be nice. All of them!

Wanda

Wanda (not her real name) is one good cook. Just ask Tanner (not his real name either), he will be the first to say so. Bubba (another alias name) would be the second one to agree with that opinion. They are not alone, I agree as well.

Wanda is one good cook.

Tanner is Wanda’s husband. Bubba is the fortunate single brother-in-law that gets invited to supper with them often. So she gets to hear from two men just how great her cooking is. They are good at telling her so too.

Cooking is an art and science. There is also a sense of wonder and surprise to it as well. Sort of like the wonder one feels when watching a soft snow quietly, and gently falling through the air to the ground. It has a way of making one feel content. The smells of cooking throughout the house has that same sort of feeling. The feeling of comfort and contentment. I recall, as a child living in the suburbs, how smells of a supper cooking somewhere wafted on the air while playing outside. We all hoped we were getting that good meal when called in for supper.

So whatever happened to cooking at home?

I cannot help but first wonder whatever happened to “home”? I have read that ‘sayings’ should not be used in writing. But why not? They say so much, i.e. “Home is where the heart is”. Well, where is our heart? Are we afraid of the answers our hearts may whisper to us? Have we even given our heart a chance to answer? Sometimes that takes a while.

I am not talking about feelings. Feelings can be most misleading. I have found that my feelings many times are negative: ‘I don’t feel like getting started on this day’; ‘I feel ugly’; ‘I don’t feel like being nice today’; I don’t feel up to visiting anyone; ‘I don’t feel like cooking’; ‘I feel fat’….on and on those feelings ramble through my thoughts. Do you have similar feelings? I have more than I would like to admit.

I am now a senior citizen. Wow! I thought getting old would take longer! Anyway, when I was young, cooking was not high on the list of fun, interesting things to do. Except for bread baking. That was an early kitchen joy for me. Baking bread was truly magical back then and still is. All the same, I did notice how well my momma cooked. She made it seem easy, getting everything together at the same time, and having it taste so good. Funny thing though, she did not like cooking, and as soon as we girls got old enough, it became our job. Fair enough, we took our turns and learned.

Wanda is young. She has two little robust boys in her happy home. Wanda knows the power she holds by being a good cook. She knows the affect cooking has upon her house. Did you know that homes sell better when there is the smell of home-baked cookies in the air? How about that? Apparently home feels more homey with the smells of food in the air.

I was like Wanda when I was young. Most especially after children started arriving. It became important to eat well, and stay well (it was not easy managing five children and one doctors appointment). I also noticed how important my cooking was to the family unit. Once a week we had a big meal with my in-laws. There was not one person who did not look forward to that meal. To this day the smell of fresh green beans cooking on the stove, and home-made rolls takes me back into my sweet mother-in-laws happy, steamy, busy kitchen. It was the heart of her home. It is the heart of mine as well, and of Wanda’s.

With fast food, and quick dinners available at our fingertips, and working mothers outside the home, cooking has fallen out of favor. But it is not impossible nor over complicated to prepare a meal for your family. In many ways it is a mind game. What do I mean by that? The most difficult part of cooking (for me at least) is the planning. It must be done every single day, unless you think smarter! Bulk recipes. For example, lasagne, chili, beef stews, spaghetti, soups of all sorts, pot roasts, macaroni & cheese. These recipes afford leftovers. Not only that, they are simple and easy to make.

I have been made fun of by my more culinary minded cooks for the simplicity of my food. Wanda has been teased as well, but she is strong and knows her mission. I am proud of Wanda. I am proud of any woman, or man that goes against the grain of current popular thought and follows their heart.

Cooking for one’s family is not for every one. It takes time, effort and planning. Men do a lot of cooking when they get home from work these days. They tell me it is calming, therapeutic, and they like to make people happy. How great is that? Would you like to try? I promise one of the sweetest sounds you will hear is this: “Man! It smells GOOD in here! I could smell it as soon as I got out of the car!”

I actually heard those very words last week while cooking just onions in the iron skillet at my twinsters house. Music to my ears. Oh! Did I mention that cooking is musical too?

Wanda knows all this and it has made her life rich and full. This joy is found in cooking for yourself and your loved ones. Would you like to try? Is your heart urging you? Start small. There is power in little. Pick one day, plan a simple one pot meal, have fun. Light a candle! It is fun cooking with a candle burning. Be sure to serve your meal with candles on the table as well. It is lovely and adds to the joy of it all.

Just ask Wanda, Tanner or Bubba. They will tell you.

A big pot of chili makes for several yummy meals.