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...  

Friday, June 5, 2015

Walker hound Ellie woke me to go outside at 6:00 a.m. and Otis dutifully followed.  He considers it his duty to make sure his sisters have "back up" should they get into any scraps with neighboring dogs.  I heard her take off after who knows what, her characteristic bellow echoing throughout the valley.

I dozed intermittently until I heard Sheila's ATV come down her long driveway on her morning ritual to go feed the neighbor's cats.  Why she is feeding those cats is a topic for a whole different story.  Though the morning fog, I saw big ole Otis waiting at the end of her driveway.  He knows the drill, and our Otis is nothing if not food motivated.  For a long while he would follow her down, and then eat the cat food.

Well, Sheila is a farm girl from North Dakota and not easily deterred.  One morning I was woken by the sound of Otis crying on the front porch.  There are two heavy tables on either side of the door, and Sheila had secured a thick leash and clipped Otis's collar to it.  He was so pathetic I had to laugh.  I brought him in and Sheila and I had a chuckle about it later.

A few weeks later I heard Ellie insistently barking to be let in after having let her out only a short while earlier.  Opening the door, I was greeted by TWO bound hounds, one to each table, neither happy about it.

Now, lying in bed, gathering my thoughts for the day and listening to the bird songs, I smiled as I watched big ole Otis clop down the street after Sheila, heard her stop in my driveway, tie up Otis and continue on her way.  As it was about time to get my day moving anyway, I rescued him promptly, his face lighting up when he saw me and he danced beside me as we went to get coffee.

I don't take these simple pleasures for granted, for they are the things that make a life: quiet, small, joyful moments easily missed if we fail to pay attention.  The kindness of a neighbor in dealing with my wayward dogs, the loyalty of a canine friend, and good coffee on a Blue Ridge mountain morning.  

Have an Above the Rest day.....

Thursday, June 4, 2015

For those who've been following the saga of Abbie Rose and her broken radius and ulna, she is back in the hospital tonight for a "rest" from the cast, and a new cast application tomorrow.  She managed to get out and had a good romp in the woods, which caused the cast to slip down; the vet wants her foot exposed so she'll bear some weight during the healing process.   The fourth time's a charm, right?

Life on the mountain has been a bit stressful this week as I've had to take on cabin cleaning duties. Unfortunately the labor force in Blue Ridge is very limited in terms of motivated, diligent workers, especially in the cabin cleaning business.   Our standards are high, it's true, but clean is clean and anything less is...well...not doing the job!  Personally, I love cleaning cabins.  It gives me great pride to prepare a home knowing that the guests will be satisfied and that every detail has been attended to.  Unfortunately, I have a full-time job already!  A huge shout out to Shawn, in particular, and Donna for their hard work this week. Shawn did the equivalent of a 'cleaning marathon' and we're uber grateful for/to him.

We're growing our first garden at Above the Rest - East (the 'farm' - and the office from which I primarily work.)  It is GORGEOUS.  We have 7 varieties of tomatoes, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, melons, peppers (hot, green bell, chocolate bell, sweet banana, red bell), two varieties of dill, sage, chives, scallions, asparagus, several varieties of basil, four varities of blueberries and two varieties of French beans!  We'll be selling farm-fresh tomatoes at the main office when they are ready!  A huge thank you to MacCarthy Farms for providing many of the plants.  It took me a while to get the hang of growing from seed, but my tomato restarts are doing just great! It is deeply satisfying to start and end every day in the garden.  Oh, and we have many varieties of sunflowers and zinnias as well!

The horses are doing great, although they've not gotten much attention this week.  I fear Faith Elizabeth is mad at me, as every time I call her name she walks the other direction.  I believe an offering of peppermints is in order tonight, mostly because I miss her and I need some equine love.

Many of you have figured out that I've shut down my personal Facebook page; it was too much in the way of time spent that is best spent otherwise, and the stream of cruelty to animal pics and other horrid posts just took its toll.  This job is hard enough without that coming into my life.  Feel free to interact with me here!  I'll endeavor to post at least once a day.

For now, there is paperwork calling, and an early to bed night as I have one more large home to clean tomorrow in addition to catching up on my *real* job.  :)

Wishing everyone well...