Wednesday, May 23, 2012

When Animals Attack

Ranch life tends to get over romanticized: cowboys on good horses, driving a herd of gentle cattle through a field of crayola-green grass, while playing guitars or carrying puppies.  Even difficult jobs seem heroic: Yeah, I had to break the ice before I swam the river in my underwear, but I had to get to that baby calf before the pack of grizzly bears found the little booger.  Usually, though, it's hard, dirty work and sometimes you just get kicked in the nuts.  Figuratively and literally.

Last week we had a few heifers in the corral for preg checking (That's another one of those non-romantic ranch jobs.  You try to look Marlboro Man cool with your hand up a cow's butt.  It's impossible).  My job was to bring the cows from the back pen and into the chute.  One girl was feeling especially spritely and decided that a flying Jet Li kick would be fun.  Her hoof caught me right in the ... yeah, there.  I hit the dirt, then thought, "That didn't hurt that ba .... aaaaaah."  I spent the rest of the day with a very specific type of stomach ache, wondering if Lyle Alzado would ever drop back down to join his friends Jim Plunkett and Howie Long.

Protecting Grady from wild chickens
Lately, our kids have been drawing the short straw on loving animal relationships, also.  Grady has a new nemesis, and her name is chicken.  Our chickens are free-range in the sense that they roam our lawn by day, pecking bugs and laying eggs where we cannot find them, then return to their coop at night.  The kids tend to just play around them, dodging them and their poop as they play in the yard.  But the girls have grown very accustomed to humans and are a little too comfortable around us, like house guests who clip their toe nails on your couch.  It's become a problem at meal time when we eat outside.  The hens quickly learned that the little one spills the most food and now Grady cannot sit at his kid table and eat in peace.  The chickens roll up on him like gangbangers who have spotted a lost tourist in their hood.  They think his toes are dropped kidney beans and peck at his feet.  His cries of terror earn him a seat at the adult table, which was probably part of his plan all along, now that I think about it.

Bring on the kittens!
Dylan has no problems with our hens.  When they swarm, she goes on the offensive and starts carrying them off.  But with our cats it's a different story.  Still, her abusive relationship with our five orange tabbies continues.  They hiss, snarl, claw, and bite her, but she loves them soooooo much, and they have to love her back, don't they?  It's sad to watch, really.  She'll pick one up, hold it and squeeze it and is as happy as she'll ever be.  The cat begins his warning growl but Dylan ignores it.  "It's going to scratch you.  You know that, right?" I'll say.  She says nothing, but the look she gives tells me, This time, it'll be different.  He loves me.  I shrug, walk away, and wait for the inevitable tears.

Regina, somehow, has stayed on the good side of our livestock and pets.  The rest of us need to get some pointers from her.  Dylan will keep covering her scratches in Hello Kitty bandaids, and Grady now eats his meals like a gunslinger - his back against a wall so that no one (or no chicken) can sneak up behind him.  And the next time I have to swim a river and fight off savage beasts to save a newborn calf, I'm going to make sure the little sucker doesn't try to kick me.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Celiac Prince and the Busy Princess

We're not 100% sure that Grady has wheat-allergies, but we know this: after a blowout in Trader Joe's that was so bad the terror alert color was raised to orange, we knew we had to tinker with his diet.  The kind and intelligent people of the internet told us to try a gluten-free diet (they also showed us some wacky cat videos; bless those internet folks) and ... it's worked.  Grady is a happier, healthier, and better smelling kid.  He's even turned into a daredevil (remember, this is the most cautious boy in the world, so daredevil is a relative term).  But, he climbs on chairs, tables, and ladders.  He carries chickens around and is getting pretty good at parkour.

A gluten-free diet isn't especially difficult -- meat, fruit, veggies, repeat.  I'd like to say he doesn't get jealous when Dylan chows down on an Oreo and he's stuck with a rice cracker, but he's been a good sport about it.  I decided to make pancakes for him last week.  I went back to the internet people for advice and found a mixed bag when it came to gluten free recipes.  They either came from sites that had such complicated ingredients -- things I'd never heard of, or could only find in a chemist's lab -- or came from sites that were run by commune leaders who advised things like, "cleanse the placenta in bark-water and patchouli oil before you blend it into your oatmeal cookies, they'll have a better consistency!"  Needless to say, the pancakes were definitely on the crepe side of thickness, but, put enough berry syrup on it, and he'll eat anything.  And, if it keeps him happy and healthy, I'll let him climb over the furniture while I keep tinkering in the kitchen.

Dylan is now 5 and, to put it simply, busy.  Recently, we celebrated her pink-sparkle-princess-pony-tea party with classmates and friends.  I had no idea what to expect.  A yard full of sugared up princesses (and a couple of princes)?  I'd rather take my chances at free meth and MMA night at the local bar.  But, amazingly, the party went off without a hitch.  Now, Dylan spends her time making sure Grady doesn't touch her new toys, or trying to ride her bike.

Country kids have acres and acres they can roam, which is great, but they don't have the concrete or asphalt available for bike riding.  Ever try to ride training wheels in gravel?  You don't get very far.  So, Dylan is stuck doing tight figure-8s on our patio.  Grady sits on his bike, pretends to pedal, and yells at Dylan every time she passes (which is frequently, since the riding area is so small).

Last weekend, Dylan ditched the bike riding for a while and helped Regina and me as we did yard work.  My job was to transplant a lavender bush that had taken over most of a flower-bed.  I dug, hacked, and cussed at the plant until I pulled it free and relocated it to its new home like a bad bear that had been in too many campers' coolers.  I tossed in the last shovel full of dirt, and wiped the sweat from my forehead.  "You're an animal," Regina said.  I almost felt manly, but Dylan chimed in before I could bask in the compliment, "Yeah, a pig!"  I figured it was time to go inside and see what the internet could tell me about child raising.