Friday, July 10, 2015

Men, Marriage and Managing 27 Homes

David recently lost 70 pounds.  In five months.  I pretty much want to kill him.  (I have lost 27...but to be fair, I refuse to give up wine!)

Part of his success has been via a LOT of walking with Red.  Those who have been following our shenanigans know all about the story of Red, but in the event you do not, he's an Australian Cattle Dog, a red heeler.  We found him, then we lost custody, then we regained custody, and then we lost custody, and now he's ours officially.  He's extraordinarily high energy and so David has been taking him for long walks in the late evenings.  When he's at the farm, I always ask him how it was, and he always responds, "Well, it's over."  When the blackberries started to come on, he was encouraged that he could 'graze' but noted that the berries were smaller this year.

As summer plowed on, his walks have kept getting longer, and two evenings ago  I asked him how far he was going.  "Same place," he answered.  "Oh," I said.  "It's just taking you so much longer.  Is Red running off?"

"No...I'm just grazing for longer periods.  The blackberries are awesome!"

I only bring this up because today we had a huge supply run to Atlanta planned.  It is rare we get a day out together and I know David was excited that I said I would go with him.  We left the mountain in the pickup, with Maxie and Red along as ever.  We stopped at Dream Catcher to make some lamp shade and window blind measurements and as we were leaving, David's eyes lit up and he asked, "Hey, you want to pick some blackberries?"  One lone bush with a few scraggly berries occupied the landscaping by the cabin and I looked at it skeptically.  "No, not there!  Look over here!"  He disappeared between the Leyland Cypress lining the east side of the property and I followed him to a massive blackberry patch.  "Look at them all!  And these are much bigger than ours at the farm!"

I laughed and teased him about being so excited over blackberries.  "Well," he said, "You can only get them for a little while each year."

In that moment I marveled at how "present" my non-yoga/meditation/new age husband was and stopped to savor the occasion to watch him, giddy as a child, reaching and stretching to get the best berries, blue/purple stains all over his hands and not a care in the world.  We carry a tremendous burden with our business and seeing him this relaxed was a rare treat.  We grazed for 15-20 minutes, and as we were walking back to the truck he pulled the branches of the trees aside to clear a path for me and gave "the bottom of my bottom" a little pinch as I walked by; a tiny intimacy between a husband and a wife, almost as out of character for him as being ebullient over blackberries.  When you've been with someone for sixteen years, you cherish the little things, like their happiness and a bit of frisky behavior on a warm summer morning...just enough to say, "I see you.  I still notice you."  A small thing that meant the world to me.

Apparently everyone else had made plans to shop at Costco today and we did our usual divide and conquer routine:  David made the first run with paper towels and toilet tissue while I stocked up on miscellaneous smaller items, and then he returned with the large cart for bath linens, mats, etc.

Microwave for Whispering Winds? Check.  New TV for the bedroom at American Idyll?  Check.  Towels, hand towels, wash cloths?  Check.  Wait - they have THE bath mat I've been looking for???  Load up every single white one they have - stat!

David mentioned possibly replacing the TV at the mountain house as the one there was circa 2006, huge, bulky and small screened.  As he lives there 3 nights a week, I was totally okay with it.   As we were in that department, he sheepishly asked if I thought it would be okay to get a TV for the mountain.  This is a man who denies me nothing, and asks for nothing.  I told him to get whatever TV he wanted.  We settled on a 48" Vizio and he is happily setting it up as I type.  I swear he almost skipped to the check out line.  Fun to watch....  I'm impressed that he used Pledge and dusted before putting it down!  Now if I could just get him to dust the rest of the house....

We hit up our favorite restaurant for Asian food, the absolutely fabulous "Ably Asian" in Jasper, on the way home.  Whether you want the finest in Chinese, Thai or Japanese, including amazing sushi, all in an elegant atmosphere with terrific service, this is the place to go.

While you're in that neck of the woods, check out one of my favorite antique malls of all time, Mountainside Antiques, which is just up (towards us) the road from Ably Asian.  As our truck was already full to the gills, we didn't stop at Mountainside because I don't seem to be able to leave there empty handed and we, quite literally, had no room for anything else.

Our last stop was to check out a new cabin for our program.  It would be our first off of My Mountain, but the location is great, the view is killer, the prospective owners are regular guests and I think we're ready to branch out.  It's still under construction, but it will be a smaller 3/3 (think on the size scale of Misty Pines or Whispering Winds) with lovely amenities.  The views are all the way to Brasstown Bald when it's not hazy, which, unfortunately, it was today.  Still, this is pretty spectacular...

Back at the farm, a bit of work watering and harvesting in the garden, a check on the mares and Birdette and feeding the dogs wrapped things up.  Four of the dogs got dog food.  Two got Campbells Chicken Soup, because, apparently, I need to buy dog food.  Duly noted.

Namaste, friends.  Have a lovely evening.

Thursday, July 9, 2015


The Independence Day holiday has just passed, and technically we're only 3 weeks into summer, but that milestone (the 4th of July) always seems to mark the "halfway point" in the summer season.  I suppose it is because schools start so much earlier than they used to.

I'm sitting on the back porch, watching the sun set behind the mares as they graze in pasture now rich and green from the 15 inches of rain we had last week.  A doe ventures into the field from the creek, and 5 dogs are immediately screaming across the grass, making it clear that it is unwelcome as long as they are on duty.  The other evening I returned home to find 3 doe and twin fawn grazing amid the horses, everyone getting along just fine.  I watched until they wandered off, amazed at the manner in which the mothers communicated with their young through only ear twitches and subtle movements.

It's been a trying week; holiday weekends always are but also because a dear friend was critically injured in an accident and air lifted to Erlanger.  Monday and Tuesday become one long blur.  She is amazingly strong, and while still in intensive care, and with a massively long road ahead of her, we feel more confident that the imminent danger has passed.  Life on the farm is not the same without her daily interaction in our lives, and the dogs are out of sorts as well, as "howling with Janie" is a near daily ritual.  In the pain and tragedy of the experience was a stark reminder of the tenuous thread which binds us all, and how rapidly it can unravel.  We will continue to do whatever we can to support our friend, but that will become more important as she begins the arduous process of physical rehabilitation and transitioning back to her home just down the road from us.

The garden is coming along beautifully, with everything doing well except the peppers, and a second sowing of my favorite veggies have just been put in.  Sunflowers and zinnia provide pops of festive color, and early evening "porch sitting", listening to the snorts of the mares, watching the bees pollinate and enjoying the songs of our many feathered residents is the highlight of the day.  Our farm is now a certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation!

Lightening bugs are blinking their mating signals as I watch the last bits of daylight fade.  Venus and Jupiter are up in the western sky, hanging just above the large black walnut tree to my left.  Hounds litter the deck around me, tree frogs serenade down by the creek, and aside from the stench of the chicken litter that my neighbor has spread on his field, it's a pretty darn perfect, 75 degree summer night!

I've intended to put up some of my favorite waterfall hikes/scenic drives, and I will.  I think what I've learned from all that has happened with my friend is that you do what you can with regard to the non-major stuff, and aside from love, friends, and
relationships, it's all pretty non-major stuff.  There will always be work to do; we may not always have the people we love to visit with.  The next time someone pops by just to chat and you're "too busy", I hope you'll pause and take the time.  When you're rushing about stressed with all that "must be done", just find a bit of nature and sit for a moment.  The stores here sell a sign that I love:  "Never get so busy making a living that you forget to have a life."  Excellent advice.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

In the garden.... and its troubles are forgotten.  There is no stress, no pain, no suffering.  There is only the smell of earth and mulch, the hum of bees, the joy of dirt and harvest.  The horses come 'round when I'm there, curious as to what has attracted my attention to their 'neglect.'  And by neglect, they mean that they haven't had delivery of fresh watermelon rind yet and that is wholly unacceptable.

I've grown flowers for as long as I can remember; they are easy.  Vegetables...this is new.  I am not the only one who cares to eat them, and they are fussy.  I am grateful for the pack-o-nine hounds that keep the deer at bay, limiting their forays into the pasture to the region just beyond the riparian zone by the creek.  An abundance of marigolds - literally one planted between every vegetable plant, has kept the insects to a minimum.

The herbs...oh...the smell.  It's not enough for me to snip them for meals.  I need to break a bit each morning and inhale their scent.

We're starting the second planting of french beans, cilantro, and dill.  The tomatoes are coming on nicely but not yet ready.  I have a recipe saved from Garden & Gun magazine (how great is that title? It's one of my favorites and as Southern as it gets...) for fried green tomatoes that I am dying to try.

My friend Deborah of MacCarthy farms (check out her page on Facebook; her gardens are almost as beautiful as she is - inside and out - and her knowledge base is insane) gave me plant starts of Ronde de Nice squash (the round one in the back of the photo), zucchini, a variety of basils, tomatoes, melons, cukes.  Essentially the only thing I managed on my own was asparagus, dill, some basil, sage, and a second round of tomato starts after learning the hard way what NOT to do...).  I purchased peppers and they floundered.  I transplanted them to containers after reading that they like rich well-drained soil, and am waiting to see....

Anyway!  The harvest has begun.  David sliced zucchini julienne style tonight, and pan-seared in Irish butter with minced fresh garlic and red pepper.  Served with grilled steaks and sautéed mushrooms, it was divine.

I'll pack the cukes with some imitation crab meat and a splash of teriyaki sauce for lunch tomorrow, and it will be a treat as I have a big cabin turning around.  It will be my first 'turn-around' clean since I've taken over some of the housekeeping duties.  We'll see how that goes..but lunch will be good!

I miss riding, spare time, swimming in the pond after walking the dogs, yoga class....but I am grateful for fledgling birds, Birdette and Fiona, the hounds, chances to love on Faith Elizabeth and how much she loves watermelon.

You don't get a guarantee at birth; there is no 'sure thing.'  There's just life.  Surrendering to that is the first step to peace.  I'm still searching...


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Simple Contemplation

The air is cool in the morning.  We may be in the mountains, but it's still the South, and afternoons are a bear.   I carry Abbie out to use the bathroom (she's doing extremely well and doesn't need to be carried, it's simply part of her diva personality), and turn the hose on the garden.  Watching it grow has been magical and I picked my first squash and zucchini yesterday.

Grab a cup of iced coffee, head to the back porch, fill the bird feeders, check on Birdette and Fiona, and settle in to "observe."  This morning, Hank is lying by the top of the deck stairs, Maxie is sitting by the grill and Abbie is wandering between the two.  Chance has taken up his post on the front porch, ready to ward off anyone who dare approach, with his deep bark.

And I just sit, and watch. I watch Doc, the roan stallion in the next pasture quietly grazing, and the seemingly infinite variety of birds that flit back and forth from the great black walnut trees to grab a seed then retreat to enjoy it in private.  I am in awe of the work ethic of the bluebirds and tree swallows, skimming the pasture for breakfast for their babies, tucked safely in the nesting boxes, with relentless determination.  There's no Plan B for them, nor would they consider complaining.  They do what is necessary; they don't expect anyone to do it for them.  I admire them.

I smile at the charge of the mares across the creek into their "club room," the series of tunnels and open spaces they've carved out of the heavy woods on the other side: a shady and cool retreat where they'll spend a good bit of the day.  Grace is definitely not Kachina's middle name as she moves with the delicacy of a lumberjack through the narrow passageway.

This has become my morning ritual.  Observing, coffee, light yoga to stretch out my body, meditation to quiet my mind.  I bring my date book and my journal to make notes on thoughts that I know I will forget, for some of the best ideas come during this time.  I do not speak; not even to the dogs.  Silence is a key part of observation.  It is impossible to listen with your mouth going.

The chipping sparrow has a fledgling and she's teaching it where the food is.  I've been watching her teach it all manner of things this week, either from the hammock where I do my evening observation or here, in the mornings.  The baby's call is distinct and 'cluttered': too many notes.  It will become more succinct as it ages.  Only one baby is odd, but there are many predators for young birds.

Something visited close to the house last night, for Ellie the Walker Hound has her nose practically embedded in the earth under the tree just to my left, totally focused on the scent, and oddly silent.  Ah - there it is.  She has found the trail and is off through the pasture toward the creek, baying in a way that most definitely is not conducive to quiet reflection, but she makes me smile.

The fog is burning off as the sun crests the mountain behind me.  The golden hour light is gone.  It has been a challenging few weeks, and I have many questions.  The answers are here, for all of us.  We just have to be still and listen.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Waning days of Spring...

We're in the last two weeks of spring, and the nights are still cool and free of humidity, while the days grow steadily warmer.  Last night's thunderstorms provided much needed steady rain for the garden.

For reasons unknown to this newbie veggie gardener, two of my tomato plants have taken a turn for the worse, but the remainder grow on, with small green fruit on the vine.  It's so exciting to watch things grow as a result of your tender ministrations.  We now have little cukes, zucchini and squash, and flowers on the bean plants.  The herbs are doing very well.

I've been doing double duty as co-owner/President/chief of all things "back of house" and "cabin cleaner" for 10 days now.  I won't say it's easy doing two jobs, but it's rewarding.  I so enjoy leaving a cabin, looking back, smelling the smell of Pine-Sol on freshly mopped floors and...well..."clean," and knowing I've done a good job for the guest coming in.  It's tangible.  It makes what we do real to me. After all, we don't produce, make, or create anything...we sell space.  I understand that it is far more than that - there are memories, memorials, weddings, proposals, family time, etc., but to have something that I can look back on that is immediate and the direct result of my actions?  It feels good.

Tonight, after a long day for David on the mountain and a semi-long day for me at the farm, we eked out a bit of time to transplant 4 hostas and a hydrangea.  Sunday I transplanted 30 tomato seedlings that were ready to go into the ground, except I had no ground to put them into!  Don from Buds and Butterflies to the rescue!  He lent me 5 gallon pots enough to grow all my babies to adulthood.  Don used to be at Nelson's Ace Hardware Garden Center in Blairsville, but is now on his own and his operation is fabulous.  They have so many wonderful native plants, and they continue growing and stocking all summer long, which many nurseries do not.  I highly recommend them.

Abbie Rose has chewed off the bottom of cast #4, which I've repaired, twice now, with duct tape.  She has some swelling in her paw and is going in on Thursday when I take Hank, Loser, Max and Bobbers in for their annual exams.  Two hands, five dogs.  No worries.  I've got this.

Our farm is now a Certified Wildlife Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation, which basically means we get a cool sign to put out front, and are committed to conservation of habitat for a variety of animals.   We already do this, including maintaining a riparian zone between the pasture and the creek, and we have all of the wildlife areas already on the property that they suggest except a cave!  (And to be honest, we don't know that we don't have that since we haven't fully explored the property, but it's pretty doubtful!)  Seriously, though, the sheer number of bird species that inhabit the land here, in addition to fox, deer, turkey, bear, coyotes, rabbits, and many, many others made it a logical and easy decision.  Did I mention the cool sign? ;)

Tomorrow will be a long day, but I'm not dwelling on that.  I'm listening to the horses snorting outside my bedroom window, enjoying the cool breeze, the songs of the tree frogs, crickets and toads and the company of my family.  I'm in the moment, which is how it should be....

What do you stand for?

I've always been a person of strong convictions.  I don't need people to agree with me; I respect everyone's right to believe what they want, and my right to walk away from people whose beliefs or actions are too offensive/negative/frustrating to have in my life.

When we purchased this business, I wasn't on social media.  Let's be honest; I was in my first year of grad school when VAX systems gave us email, and in my third year when we got access to the Internet.  I remember the first computer that had a CD player and seeing a movie on a computer screen; it blew my mind.   As someone born on the cusp of the Gen X crowd, I am not part of the generation raised with a cell phone in my hand.

Social media has certainly had a positive impact in how we manage our business, and it's made life easier in some respects.  I don't intend for this post to be a debate on its merits.  I do recall being warned about having to carefully curate what is posted because of the potential effect on "the business."

I've about had enough of that, to be honest.  It goes hand-in-hand with the self-esteem movement, kindergarten graduation ceremonies, never allowing kids to fail, and all of the political correctness crap that has crushed the backbones of so many.

What do you stand for?  Think about it.  Then move the emphasis:  What do you stand for?

In one way, it asks what you are about: your morals, integrity, important issues.  Or, it can mean "what will you tolerate?  How much will you "stand"/tolerate/suffer?

Either way, I believe it is important to know what a person, and a business, stands for, and what they will tolerate.  The two are, by nature, linked.

I stand for honesty, integrity, kindness as much as possible, life-long learning, anti-ignorance, education, self-awareness, personal accountability and hard work.  My business mirrors that.

I won't stand for politeness for its own sake, animal abuse, coddling, hiding my beliefs to get a sale, or the notion that the customer is always right, because they aren't.

I've had people chew me out on social media and say "I won't do business with you ever again."  Inwardly, I sigh and send up a silent "thank you" to the universe.  And I'm ashamed that I haven't had the backbone to just type that.  "Thank you.  Thank you for taking your business elsewhere."  It's an odd thing for a small business owner to say, but as a wise accountant/cabin owner once told me, "when you are spending so much energy on one person, who you will likely never please, then you are wasting energy that could be spent on the type of clients you actually want."

David gets it.  He's not on social media at all, but he's been chewed out on the phone after a guest has been called to the mat about damaging a home, and he just lets them rant and when they realize they are still going to be personally accountable for their actions, they scream "We are NEVER staying with you again."  David just politely says, "Thank you very much.  I really appreciate that."

Maybe it takes getting to a certain age before you stop caring about whether everyone else approves of your standards.  Maybe it takes a certain amount of experience in life.  Either way, the knowledge of who you are, what matters in your life, what you'd be willing to die for, and what is just fluff not worth a moment's thought is freeing.  The detritus falls away and you are able to focus on living your life authentically.  If someone doesn't want to do business with you because your political beliefs are different from theirs?  Fine!  If someone gets offended because you speak the truth?  Fine!  Focus on doing your job well, treating people as they deserve to be treated (think about the wording of that for a moment), and you'll be 100% okay.  More than that, you'll have the peace that comes with knowing you're not a fraud.

What DO you stand for?  What ARE you standing for that you shouldn't be?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Abbie Rose had to spend a second night at the vet's, but came home today.  This is her FOURTH cast, and Dr. Arnall has exposed her foot again - very important to get her bearing some weight on the bones, which should stimulate blood flow, callous formation and healing.  While she did not get the Auburn themed "tattoo" that Dr. Balyou put on the pink cast, Dr. Arnall did scour the vet wrap to find Tennessee orange, which we appreciate.  :)

I got to visit with her yesterday and get an update and she was over the moon when she was brought into the exam room today.  Dr. A was laughing at the change in her demeanor; he'd go in to visit and pet her and she'd be all "meh", but in the room with me, she was bouncing off the walls.  They fell for her sympathy eyes and didn't put the "inflatable collar of shame" on her last night and she chewed on her cast, but nothing that couldn't be repaired.

The best news of all?  If we can keep the cast on for a minimum of 2 more weeks (4 ideally), then we should be home free and good to go.  I am deeply grateful for "gut feelings" and the decision *not* to amputate.  It just didn't feel right.

Before it became too hot today, I transplanted 18 peppers to pots.  They were turning yellow and dropping their leaves and after consulting my gardening mentor, Deborah McCarthy of McCarthy Farms, and doing some research, and finding no evidence of pests, I'm going with a soil/temperature issue.  Using high quality potting soil mixed with a few handfuls of Perlite, placing them in the warmest spot in the garden, watering without hitting the leaves, and spreading them out so any potential pests do not hit the whole crop, I am hopeful that we'll actually see fruit from these babies!  I have one that has a small pepper on it, but if I can't get them to perk up, it's not looking good.  I may have to resort to making a black screen to go over them to get them hotter.  They are, after all, tropical and it has been cool at night.  What I lack in experience I make up for in tenacity, research and determination.  Now, to find a place to put the 30 new tomato plants....

The rest of the garden is coming along beautifully.  It is where I start and end each day.  Working in the earth, tending to the plants, the mares grazing placidly in the background, centers and calms me.

From a business perspective, it was one of the longest weeks of my life.  I cleaned 3 small, 1 medium and 1 huge cabin this week.  I earned a good wage doing so, but more important, I was proud of the product I produced.  Yes, the back of house operations suffered because we are unable to find more cleaning contractors who have 'pride of place'.  There are no demeaning jobs.  I, certainly, am not too good to do anything, including extracting one of the largest, nastiest hairballs I've ever seen from a bathroom drain.  The only demeaning thing, to my mind, is not giving whatever you do your all.  I could happily clean cabins all day long and be wholly satisfied, because this week, I knew the guests at those cabins were going to get the best possible experience.  I didn't have to worry, check behind, etc.  And so, until we find someone who is in it for more than payday, Donna, Shawn and I will have to keep things running and I will squeeze the remainder of my duties in the cracks.

With the adjustment to this new schedule, it's not surprising that today I just deflated.  Last night I was still riding the adrenaline "have to get this done" high and managed to weed whack the yard and garden, mow the yard, paddocks and interior fence lines of the yard/pasture interface.  Janie and Joe stopped by and met Birdette and Fiona (yes, new bird finally told me her name....) and oohed and ahhed over the aviary, water garden and vegetable/flower gardens.  It was great to see them.

I spent time loving on Kachina and Faith Elizabeth, and had hopes of riding today, but, as mentioned, the balloon just popped.  David came over after dealing with mountain emergencies and I slept while he watched TV.  We're quite the exciting couple.  ;)

Tomorrow is a new day, with many departures, laundry to be started, cabins to be checked/secured, and the cycle begins anew.

I miss yoga.  However, as I sat on the hammock sideways the other evening, watching the tree swallows relentlessly working to feed their young, never stopping even though they must be exhausted, nature reminded me that being an adult means you do what needs to be done when it needs to be done, regardless of the personal sacrifice.  If those parents stop, their babies die.  My business is my baby.   The show must go on...