Color Your World

mixed_crayonsI recently had a group of second graders out for a visit and we used crayons as part of our medium for our art project. As I prepared for the class and distributed the crayons the intoxication of the wax took me back in time.

I am an addict. I confess. I love crayons. I’ve loved crayons since I was a young child. Christmas morning, 1974, it wasn’t the Barbie Dream House or the baby doll that pooped that got my heart racing. It was the box of 64 Crayola crayons with the built-in sharpener. Do you remember? Oh, it had so many colors to pick; magenta, sky blue, blue-green, and even gold, and silver! Ah, be still my heart…crayons. And I tend to be a bit of a crayon snob; I like Crayola brand. Did you know they sold their first box of crayons in 1903 for a nickel?

I recall getting the box of crayons with a coloring book or two. I would lie on the floor on my stomach in front of the gas heater and color page after page. I liked to color all the way to the edge of the page and create little designs.

Coloring books are nice; they offer a starting place. However, it is a great exercise to have plain paper and just draw from the brain. In younger children it promotes exercise in the fingers and helps develop muscles used for writing and pre-literacy. In older children it jump starts creativity by having them visualize what they are drawing or by telling a story in picture form.

Ok, more confessions. When my children were young and we would go to restaurants if they had crayons on the table I always took them to have in my purse (for the kids, of course!) Well, maybe that’s not true. I’ve been known to be sitting at the courthouse awaiting jury duty coloring scraps of paper and gum wrappers from my purse. The truth is, coloring can be therapeutic. Exploring textures and value is working creative muscles and allowing logic to relax.

Here’s a fun exercise: In an adult setting or office meeting, put out a box of crayons. Watch the process as people choose their crayon. There’s emotional decision making that goes on. Why? Because colors make us “feel”. Color is attached to adjectives such as warm, cool, cozy, peaceful and powerful. There is a whole psychology to color and psychology is above my pay-grade to discuss. So, I’ll just say I am thankful I had the opportunity to experience crayons as a child and I’m even more thankful to still play with crayons as an adult. If you are feeling stressed, buy a box of crayons and keep them in your desk. You might be surprised. Keep calm and color on!64crayons

Good Clean Fun

One of the things I love about living on our farm is our neighboring farm. They are a sweet home-school family who truly enjoys and embraces rural living. This week I was honored to spend part of the day with them while they made wonderful goat’s milk soaps. I was given some of the soaps months ago and they were so beautiful I wanted to use them as bathroom décor’. When she asked me if I ever used them, I had to confess they were just too pretty! She made me try them and wow, was I smitten. The rich, creamy lather was wonderful! I had a bar with lavender essential oils and the added benefit of aromatherapy was heavenly!

princessFF_soapsAt our farm, we use the alpaca fleece to felt soaps. After personal experience with the homemade soap, I began to do some research and decided we would start using goat’s milk soaps in our felted soaps. Goat’s milk soap contains a lot of fats, proteins and other hormones that naturally benefit the skin. It has a pH level close to human skin and naturally moisturizes it. Goat’s milk soap benefits people with acne-prone skin because the proteins in the milk kill acne-causing bacteria and it is said that with regular use it may relieve symptoms of eczema and psoriasis. Did I mention that is soothing and healing to sunburn skin? Yes, it may be the perfect soap and when coupled with the alpaca fiber, you have a built in loofah!

If you prefer a plain soap, Franklin Farms has that, too. She (of course,) grows her own loofah, which is put into the form when the soap is poured. The day I was there they had just made more of the wonderful Lavender Bliss, Oats, Milk and Honey and some invigorating Orange Valencia. Lucky me, I got a bar of each one! We will have to wait a few weeks as the soap cures, but in the meantime, it provides a wonderful scent in my bathroom.

I am so blessed to have a neighbor that is passionate about creating wonderful, natural soap recipes. If you need some nice gifts or a treat for yourself, let me know; she does sell to the public.FF_soap2

Buzz Kill

On our farm our tractor is a very important piece of equipment. We mow, we move stuff, and we build fences. It has a lot of attachments so the list goes on as to what can be done with it. Ironically, when we were discussing getting the tractor, I said I thought it was just too big. With eyebrows raised my brother commented, “I didn’t think a tractor could ever be too big.” And…he was right. It’s been a great addition to the farm.

Recently, my hubby headed out to move some hay with the tractor or “Orange is the new Audi aka OITNA,” as we like to call it. As he climbed on the seat and switched the ignition he noticed something fly out from the underside of the starter. “Hmmmm,” he thought. And before he could manage another thought he saw two yellow jackets fly back under the key plate. Being the resourceful guy he is he got my very nice swiveling, magnifying make-up mirror and placed it on the floor of the tractor. When he tilted it ever so slightly so he could see under the key plate he gasped. There it was. A thriving, buzzing, live and in person working yellow jacket nest. Not good!

For some people it’s snakes, or spiders; for others it’s sharks or alligators. Regardless of what it is, everyone has a fear. For hubby it’s bees, wasps or yellow jackets; things that buzz with stingers.

He motioned for me to leave my chickens and come see what he had found. wa_buzzkillAs soon as I peered into the mirror I knew we had a problem. My fear is on the list above, but it’s not yellow jackets, so my mind was racing as to how I could fix this problem and he could go about his business on OITNA.

He had headed back into the house and I assumed this was a project for another day. I went back to feeding my chickens. A few minutes later I headed in the door, I was a little startled by what I saw. Keep in mind it’s the middle of July in Texas. It’s hot. And lately it has been hotter than hot. Hubby was standing before me layered in three shirts, the top one being a long sleeve flannel shirt, jeans, leather gloves and some type of lawn netting over his head. It was the stuff you lay on the grown to keep the weeds from growing; very opaque screen that you could barely see through.

“Oh my,” I said. “I see you have found an answer to our friends.yellowjacket

“Yes, “ he said, “And I just need you to hold the fly swatter while I spray the nest.”

No probletrophy_nestm. We are a team and I’m always in to try and help my partner, no matter how ridiculous we look.

With a couple of squirts of some high-powered buzz-kill spray yellow jackets were flying out left and right. We swatted anything that had any life left and within ten minutes the battle had been won. Walter was victorious. He took a long screwdriver and dug his trophy nest out. It dripped with insecticide as it hit the ground. He faced his fear and he won.

As some of you read this you are chuckling, and in all honesty we are often comical on the farm. Truthfully, we do all have fears and it takes courage to face those fears, even if they aren’t fears to others. The tragedy comes when we allow our fears to paralyze us and we can’t move forward. I am proud of my hubby’s inventive bee-suit and his courage to face his fear. Now, if I can only figure out how to face my fear of being attacked by an alligator!

Sweet Annie

baby_annie

She was the first cria we owned. I am not sure if it was just her nature or if it was because we invested so much time into getting to know alpacas though her that she had such a sweet disposition. We were drawn to her bay black color and her two white spots on her ankles. As she grew, she developed a grey spot in the back of her topknot. The spots reminded us of spurs on her ankles so we named her Texas Trails Annie Get Your Gun. We probably should have named her Sweet Annie because she gave kisses to everyone. I often say alpacas saved my life; they are wonderful therapy for me. Annie is the real reason I feel the way I do about alpacas.

Annie promoted the thought of having The Blissful Barn. I wanted to share a piece of her with anyone who needed a smile. She visited children and the elderly and she created lots of smiles. She was the welcoming committee to our farm visitors.

The Texas heat is brutal in July; I try to water bellies daily and check all the fans. Today I found Annie dead in front of a fan. We had just mingled in the pasture last night with the alpacas and Walter got Annie kisses as he wandered by her. She was fine so this is a mystery to us.

Loss is never easy and no matter how much my mind knows these animals are livestock, my heart feels connected to them. We buried her at sunset; the sky filled with shades of pink, orange and lavender. I laid some Black-Eyed Susans at her side and we said a quiet prayer. I know when I look at our herd there will always be a void. RIP Annie Get Your Gun…. you will be missed.

The Rule

We have a rule on the farm: if you are contributing to the well being of the farm you get to stay. Things like wasps, ants, mice and venomous snakes are not welcome. Things like barn cats, that eat the mice and garden spiders that eat the wasps and chickens that eat the ants are welcomed. It’s a pretty simple plan and it works for us.

We came up with this rule last year when a very beautiful, but large garden spider made a web in the barn above the halters. We watched her grow and talked about how inconvenient her web was because we couldn’t get to the halters, but she was eating flies and wasps. I told her it would be best to move her web. Lo and behold I came in one day and she had moved her web…between the two arms of the chair that I sit in daily. “Charlene,” I explained, “This isn’t the best place to relocate. I think you are going to have to move again.”

I told my son about the incident and said she was going to get evicted if she didn’t move to a better location. He agreed. A few days later, I noticed she had moved and I said to my son, “That’s incredible. I think she really understands me. She has moved again.”

“Who? That spider? I evicted it,” he said calmly.

“What! What exactly do you mean ‘evicted her’?” I asked.

“I killed it.” And just like that, he went on scooping poop; thus, the implementation of The Rule.

So fast-forward to this summer and we have another beautiful garden spider that has built a web in a much better location just outside our screened in porch. For weeks we have watched her grow and catch insects. She’s really been a blessing because her web connected to the tomato plants and I know she has helped serve as a natural insecticide.

Here’s the problem. Today I noticed she had moved much higher on the screen. In fact her web is right next to the roof line where the barn swallows have a nest. Next to her new web is a rather large golden sack, which I am fairly certain is full of eggs. I like her, but I am not sure I want her to have babies on my screened in porch. As I did a little research, I learned that she will have three to four of these little golden silk nest sacks over the next seven to ten days and each will contain 800-1200 eggs.

Tonight we are going to have a council meeting of the farm to vote on The Rule and decide if this is in the well being of the farm. If the votes come in for her to stay, I have veto power.

In life we need rules; we also need to know when to break the rules.IMG_0126

A Mother’s Journey

At TBB, our mission is to educate the public, offer programming for children and adults and create therapeutic sensory experiences. One population that benefits greatly from our programs is those with an autistic spectrum disorder. Autism occurs in one out of every 68 births; in the United States more than 3.5 million individuals live with an autism spectrum disorder. For every autistic child, there is a parent with questions. We appreciate the contribution of Kathy D’Amico with her very real accounts of what this means to a parent and her journey. She is an educator, parent, child advocate and member of the Board for The Blissful Barn.

In the Beginning

There was a time, in the early days, when we had people coming to our home 3-4 days per week for Lucca’s therapy. Some might say,     “Oh that’s great! You didn’t have to go anywhere!”

Well, that’s true, but it brings a whole different kind of stress to the household.

You see, in the early days it was all about judgment.

Teachers, therapists, friends, family, old ladies in the grocery store- I don’t know if they really were judging us, but it felt like it. And believe me, in those days we were judging ourselves too. What is it they say about perception and reality?

So when therapists are in your home and you’re worried about this jukathy_luccadgment, your thoughts may go something like this:

Is my house clean enough? Ugh!

Do they think we’re good parents?

Do I have enough patience?

Should we be doing more?

Oh! The early days of caring about those things!

I look back on that time, and I know I was growing as a person, as a teacher, and most importantly as a mom, but I didn’t know it then.

I only know it now when I no longer feel the judgment. That’s not to say that we don’t still question ourselves. We absolutely do! We hope and pray constantly that we are doing the right things for Lucca, for his big brother Luigi, and for our family. It’s just that now we no longer care about what the others think. Oh, I still wonder sometimes, way back in the dark corners of my mind, what those therapists thought of us. But now I know that what matters most is Lucca’s progress and doing what’s best for our family. It’s a freeing kind of feeling. Autism did that for me. And for that, I am forever grateful.

Poultry Peace

I like fresh eggs. They are one of my fondest childhood memories. My grandmother had Barred Rocks, which are black and white chickens that lay brown eggs. They are large eggs very rich in flavor. So, one of the things I have been looking forward to on the farm is having chickens. We missed “chicken season” last year; yes, there is a chicken season. The hatcheries send baby chicks to the local feed stores starting in about February and run through around the end of April. If you don’t get your chicks then, you have probably missed out on “chicken season”. This year I was very deliberate about checking with the hatcheries and the feed stores on the delivery and the breed of chicks that would be available. I researched what types of chickens I wanted and what breeds play nice with other breeds. I made a list of traits I wanted in a chicken: types of eggs, disposition, color and heritage, heat tolerance, etc. When I had narrowed my list down to the breeds I wanted, I cross-checked it with the breeds that would be available and that is how I came to have three Ameraucanas, two Barred Rocks, two Rhode Island Reds and two Cuckoo Marans.

In addition to being in “chicken season” you also have to get to the feed store before they sell out. The hatchery mails the baby chicks to the feed store and the feed store puts them out. Within a few hours several hundred chicks have been sold, especially the heavy layer breeds like Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds. Another important thing to know is whether you are getting sexed chicks or straight run. Sexed chicks are generally sold as pullets, or females that should grow up to be hens. Straight run would include both males and females. That was a particularly important note for me because my hubby very adamantly said no roosters! His stipulation was fine with me because you do not have to have a rooster to have eggs unless you want them to be fertilized so you can have baby chicks. I didn’t particularly want baby chicks beyond my original ones, so we were in good shape. I went to the feed store and brought home my new poultry pullets and set them up in their homemade brooder. A brooder is essentially a temperature-controlled box to keep them warm until they have feathers.

Oh, they were so cute! Who can resist a little fuzzy fur ball with a little tiny “cheep, cheep” sound? I looked at their coloring and their heritage and named them after relatives I don’t see frequently. It was a tribute to my family so the ones who lived far away could be “around the farm” with me. One of the Ameraucanas looked blonde, one looked light brown and one had very striking dark stripes. I named them Laura, Anna and Tammy. The Barred Rocks and the Rhode Island Reds heritage was in the northeast and I have some very special family members in that area so they were named DeeDee, Tina, Neecy and Linda. Finally, my Cuckoo Marans reminded me fondly of two Aunts who make me laugh: Gloria and Dean. So, my little flock was formed. The only thing that remained was to feed and nurture my pullets until they grew into laying hens.

Every week they grew a little more; molting occurred, feathers grew in, and they were looking more like chickens instead of chicks. They moved from their brooder into a nice mobile coop complete with nesting boxes. Each time my husband would look into the coop he would say, “Are you sure they are all hens? No roosters, right?”

“Why, of course they are all hens. Why would you think otherwise?” I replied defensively.

“Well, I’m just saying, if one of them is crowing—-he’s going….into a pot with dumplings,” he replied. “No roosters!”

I looked at my hens and analyzed them against pictures on the Internet. I talked to experienced farmers and had others look at my flock. There was a general consensus that one of the chickens didn’t particularly look or act like the others. Although I had some concerns, I remained convicted to having nine hens.

More weeks went by and more feathers grew in. They all looked beautiful, particularly Tammy. She was stunning. Her colors where bold and her wattle and comb were bright red. She had long, flowing feathers around her neck and she strutted when she walked. Could Tammy really be a rooster? Nah…she’s just a beautiful hen, I told myself and anyone that doubted me. I even talked with Tammy and explained she had to be a hen.

Last week I stepped outside to do my farm rounds. I was checking my shoes before putting them on because that’s what you do in the country. I froze dead in my tracks.

“Er-Er-IRR-ER!” came from the chicken coop. “ERT-ER-IRR!”

“Oh, no,” I thought. “She’s trying to crow. “

I turned and looked into the coop. Tammy was sitting on a roost, chest stuck out and beak wide open singing a morning wake up song.

I called my husband and said, “Honey, you won’t believe this, but I’ve read about it on the Internet–We have a hen that can crow!”

Needless to say Tammy is a rooster. A beautiful picture perfect crowing rooster and I have a problem. My problem is that some times what is said to be true is not true. Sometimes what we want to believe is not real. No matter how much I’ve tried to make Tammy a hen, he is a roo. He has to be true to what he is and I have two choices: I can accept it or I can ignore reality. Honestly, I try to live in reality, so I have eight lovely hens and a rooster.

Juliet expressed it best in William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”,

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet.”

In my case, that which we call a rooster by any other name would still crow. Part of maturity of any kind is learning acceptance in spite of disappointment. Peace is learning to turn that disappointment into a positive and moving forward. As for Tammy, he will be re-homed and I will look forward to fresh eggs from my eight lovely hens very soon. Life on the farm continues.Tammy_062015

The Nest

For weeks I’ve been watching some Barn Swallows. They determined the best nesting spot was on some outdoor lights at the corner of my screened in porch. While I didn’t particularly think it was the best spot and my husband was less than impressed, we relented and let them build. We watched each day as the pair carefully built the nest, lining it with some wonderful alpaca fleece, no doubt. Then we waited each day as they took turns guarding eggs. Finally, we saw little beaks poking out and knew the eggs had hatched. The Barn Swallow parents worked so hard day after day bringing bugs and yummy treats to their new family. One would fly away and tag the other. Then it would return to feed the newbies. Soon we began to see four little heads poke up over the mud nest. This past week was especially active as the elder Swallows tried to entice the younger ones to take a step and spread their wings. One baby would step out a few inches to the gutter drain and sit and cheep very loudly. I imagined all the bird conversation that was going on in the nest.

“Come on, you can do it,’’ tweeted Mama Bird.

“You’ve got strong wings; just start flapping them so you can soar,” cheeped Daddy Bird.

“I can’t do it; it’s too high. I’ll fall,” cried the babies.

Mama and Daddy were relentless at flying just close enough to encourage and maybe even motivate with some tasty bugs, but not going back into the nest. This went on for several days. But today was the day. When I sat down with my coffee and looked up at my averial entertainment, they were gone. All four babies had left the nest. It was completely quiet. No cheeps, no tweets. It’s funny how you can feel happiness and sadness at the same time.

As I read my Facebook feed and see all the photos of friends posting that their little ones are graduating from Pre-K, Kindergarten, Elementary, Junior High, and High School, it reminds me of the Swallows. I reflect back to this time last year as we were getting our youngest graduated from high school and our oldest was finishing Navy Boot Camp. We work so hard to prepare them to spread their wings and when they do it’s funny how you can feel proud and happy and sad….all at the same time. How thrilling that they go on the journey of life! May all of your children soar; may they fly high and may you revel in the accomplishment of this phase of parenthood.barnswallow

Purposeful Fences

alpacasatSkymacFences- At our farm, we are always building fences. We need to keep the animals in and the predators out. We need to keep the boys separate from the girls; and sometimes the moms separate from the weanlings. The fences serve a purpose. Fences are an interesting thing; they are put up to either keep something in or to keep something out. Fences have played an integral part in our history; feuds have broken out over a misplaced fence. Even today, you get a survey if you are going to place a fence between your property and someone’s land. Personally, I’ve always liked wide-open spaces, but there is certainly a time and place for a fence.

As an educator I’ve been trained to look for particular things in a student’s work and when I notice a lot of fences, it sends up a flag that something may be going on internally: are they trying to keep something in or out, or do they simply want a fence in their drawing? When viewing artwork scattered with fences ask the student about the picture: “Tell me about your fence; Why did you put it here? What is its purpose? What is it made of and who built it?” These are some ways to phrase questions that may uncover situations that the child hasn’t been able to verbalize. If the child says, “It’s to keep the horse in,” that is probably all it is, but if it is to “keep the bad guys out” use that as a springboard to open dialog with the student. Art can be a wonderful therapeutic tool. Really look at your child’s work without opinion or judgment and appreciate their expression of thoughts and feelings.

Think about your own metaphorical fences. What or who are you keeping out? Sometimes they are necessary; they protect us from unhealthy relationships. Sometimes they are not and they prevent us from having a full relationship. Examine your fence and survey its purpose.

What Webs We Weave

websJune 13, 2014 The pastures were full of freshly spun webs this morning. I tried my best not to disturb them as I observed tiny drops of dew dancing along the many strands. Each edge of the web clung almost magically to the tall, green, dew-covered blades of grass. It’s hard not to look at and appreciate the efforts and orchestration a spider goes to when building her web; every strand has a purpose for connecting to another strand for a greater good. It is much like the web God weaves with our relationships and interactions. I believe every encounter has a greater purpose and lays a foundation for the labyrinth of life. We can choose to embrace those relationships and see what beautiful web is built for the greater purpose; or we can ignore them. As I see it, I am merely a tool here to help reinforce something much bigger than me. I trust each person I meet is part of that plan.

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