Down on the Farm

I was ecstatic to learn that one of the lovely women I met through S.O.A.R. has a farm they are converting from cattle pastures to sustainably grown heirloom produce.  And, best of all, they are managing the farm as a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) venture.  It’s like outsourcing a garden to someone who knows what they’re doing.

I love this concept.  It makes me feel more connected to the source of my food and more involved, even if it’s only through my checkbook.

The most exciting part is that Wildwood Harvest (the farm) was open to all for a visit and a tour this weekend!

The farm is set in northern Georgia, about 20 minutes South of us.  The long driveway curves its way up a hill, lined by evergreens.  In the afternoon sun, the rolling hills look romantic enough that I forget the back breaking work, the endless mud, and the perpetual coating of dirt that comes with farming.

We get to see the newly planted fruit orchard, the bee boxes waiting for their hives, the mushroom logs inoculated and plugged, the freshly tilled field ready for planting, the newly restored 100-year-old barn that was crushed by a tree, and the amazing collection of chickens and one male turkey who I will forever think of as “Thanksgiving.”

It’s always a little difficult for those of us who don’t live with our food sources to meet what we’re going to eat.  It’s particularly difficult when it’s an amazingly beautiful bird that keeps flirting with everything that moves.  I’ve never seen such a gorgeous turkey.

Had I known, I would have brought my camera.  As it is, I pull out my iPhone and shoot as best I can.  I get a few shots of Thanksgiving and a lovely rooster I start calling Coq au Vin.  (I figure it’s best to associate these birds with food before I get attached.)

In the house, we get to peek at the unending array of seeds selected for this year’s crop.  There appears to be 1000 seed packs lined up on the table.  If variety was a concern, it’s certainly been alleviated!

We meet fascinating neighbors who are artists from New York and swap stories about trying to find good produce.  What are the odds of meeting artists from New York on a small family farm in Northern Georgia?

We are called to leave by the barking of Tisen.  He’s been banished to the car to avoid an ugly dog-chicken encounter.  He’s either bored or trying to establish dominance over the farm dogs who know better than to chase chickens.  It’s about time to head back to the mountain to see if the wind will die anyway, so we say our goodbyes and head on our way.

My photography lessons:  1) Take your camera.  2) Shooting birds on the move with an iPhone is tough; see 1.  3)  No matter how beautiful Coq au Vin is, the soft focus ruins the photo; see 1. 4)  Chase all farm animals into shade when in full sun.

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Feeding a Dog

Having recently brought Tisen into our home, we are going through the period of learning about each other.  We try to unravel the lessons that Tisen has been taught over the past 8 years and understand where we must be extra gentle, where we must be extra patient, and where we must be firm.

Since dogs cannot tell us their stories directly, we must hone our powers of observation to figure out what will work and what will not to gently shape this dog into the confident, trusting sweetheart he was born to be.

We start with food.

I mix his food with warm water and place the bowl on the floor.  Tisen cowers.  I take a piece of food from the bowl and hand it to him, telling him it’s OK in a “happy puppy voice.”  He tentatively takes the piece from my hand, stepping back quickly as if he’s afraid of what happens next.  I keep talking to him, telling him what a good boy he is.  I repeat the process until I lead him to the bowl where, at last, he sinks his teeth in and takes a mouth full.  I shift slightly and he is startled, cowering back from the bowl once more.

I continue telling him what a good dog he is and start over, leading him back to the bowl. I try not to move once he starts eating.  He pauses once and looks up at me; I reassure him again.  He finishes his food and I praise him.  I try not to imagine what his life must have been like that he’s afraid to approach a bowl of dog food.

As I keep increasing the ratio of his new food to his old food, I keep thinking it will be more enticing to him.  But it doesn’t make a difference.

I discover that he is just as skittish about his bone.  When I start pulling at smoked fat stuck to the bone, giving him something to bite on, he eventually gets interested and starts chomping on it for all he’s worth.  He can chew it just fine, he was just afraid to.

He seems to have a similar fear about his toys.  He won’t claim them the way most dogs will.  While it’s nice that he doesn’t claim my slippers, I’ve never had a dog who was afraid to play with a tennis ball.  Once again, I stop myself from wondering how full of terror his life must have been.

I am glad no one is home to catch me on video demonstrating how to chase a tennis ball.  For the record, I stop short of picking it up in my mouth.

Tonight, when I feed him, he comes over to his bowl with a wagging tail and digs right in.  It was the first time he’s eaten without being lured.  Funny how the sight of a dog with a wagging tail eating dog food can bring tears to your eyes.  I’ve just witnessed a miracle.

Grocery Therapy

Well, dear readers, in response to requests from some of my geographically distant friends who would like to read my blog but just don’t have time, I am going to see if I can keep my entries to under 500 words for a while (not counting this paragraph, of course :-)).  Here I go . . .

I wake up with such an ache in my neck I feel nauseous (or maybe it’s the realization it’s Monday that upsets my stomach?).  I walk around with the weight of my head in my hands, trying to prevent a major spasm.

Throughout the day, no matter how much I keep my head propped on my headrest, the pain increases as I work.  I take a break in the early afternoon to lay on the floor and try to get my muscles to relax.  Then, I try sitting on the couch, which makes every muscle go nuts all over again.

I remember seeing a sign in the window of a local yoga studio advertising some type of therapy I’ve never heard of before.  I go to their website.  It’s called Ortho-Bionomy.  It sounds pretty logical as an approach, so I call and make an appointment.  Unfortunately, I will not be able to get in until tomorrow.  Jann, the therapist, suggests ice and anti-inflammatories in the interim.  I’ve been trying to only take the anti-inflammatories at night so I’m not taking too much of them, but I decide I should take Jann’s advice.  I take aspirin and prop an ice pack on my neck while I work.

I make it to the end of the day, and even manage to get all my online Christmas shopping done before I have to get away from the computer.

It’s late and we have no food.  I walk to the grocery store alone since Pat is preoccupied.  I plan to only pick up enough for dinner, but I end up getting milk and soy milk and yogurt and coffee and . . . I have only 2 grocery bags with me, figuring I can balance the load for the walk home to avoid irritating my neck further.

I look at the full cart and worry I’m going to be in agonizing pain walking the block home.  However, the aspirin, ice, and the walk over here seemed to have helped quite a bit–my neck feels better than it felt all day.  I decide to risk it.

I pay for the groceries–can I just ask, why is GreenLife/Whole Foods so freaking expensive?  Aren’t they supposed to be sourcing directly from local farmers?  Shouldn’t that make their groceries less expensive?

In any case, I divide the groceries carefully, distributing the weight evenly between the two bags.  I carry one bag on each shoulder and then walk home.  Amazingly, the weight of the bags pulling my shoulders down actually feels really good.  As long as I don’t turn my head, it helps.

When I get home, I heat up the stuffed pasta shells I bought and feed me and Pat.  It’s hot and good.  My neck is feeling more functional than I would have thought possible just an hour earlier.  Maybe I shouldn’t complain about the prices at Whole Foods since buying groceries turned out to be physical therapy as well?

Thai Smile

Pat and I decide to try a new restaurant tonight–Thai Smile.  We passed it on the way back from the market last Sunday and made a note that we wanted to try it. After all, how can anyone resist going to a restaurant called “Thai Smile”?  In spite of the catchy name, it’s a miracle that we actually remembered it–we have a long history of spotting places we want to try and then forgetting all about them.

We head outside and debate whether we should take the Market St bridge or the Walnut St bridge because neither one of us can remember exactly which street it’s on.  We decide to take the Market St bridge because I’m convinced it’s East of Market and Pat is convinced it’s West of Market.  That way, we’ll be in the middle.

When we get across the river, Pat is sure we need to turn right and I am sure we need to turn left.  Fortunately, I have my iPhone.  Instead of wandering around lost, I google it.  How did anyone ever get anywhere before the advent of the smart phone?  As it turns out, we are both wrong.  The restaurant is dead ahead of us on Market St.  Go figure.

We head on down the road and find Thai Smile just one block away.  I’m not exactly sure what the name is supposed to convey–does going there mean you get to see what a Thai smile looks like?  Does a Thai smile look different then, say, a Chattanoogan smile?  As we walk in the door for the first time, I’m hoping it means the Thai food will make the patrons smile, because there isn’t a whole lot of smiling going on amongst the staff.

But, what they lack in friendliness, they make up for in efficiency.  We are seated, have received our drinks, and are placing our order so quickly that it makes me wonder if McDonald’s could learn a thing or two.  Fortunately, when the food comes out, it cannot be mistaken for McDonalds.  Not even McDonalds in Thailand.  I’ve ordered Pineapple Curry, a dish I’ve had only once and it was at a Thai restaurant in London.  I’ve ordered it with shrimp, which is always a little nerve wracking.  But the curry, well, it makes me smile.

I admit that the presentation on the Thai iced tea threw me when they first brought it out.  Oddly, they serve it with whipped cream on top.  I’m not quite ready for iced tea, even as sweet as Thai iced tea, to come with whipped cream on it.  Perhaps it’s important to come up with ways to increase the sugar content of what they serve to appeal to Southern taste buds?  I don’t know what made them think it was a good idea, but I decide the best approach is to separate the whipped cream from the tea and consume each separately.  This works for me and the tea is delicious.

Pat has the Shrimp Pad Thai and it makes him smile, too.  So, we are up two smiles and it’s probably the cheapest dinner we’ve had in Chattanooga (all right, partly because they don’t serve alcohol).  The only problem with the Pineapple Curry is that there’s so much of it, I can barely get through half the serving.  I ask for a box–the flavor is just too good to waste.  I carefully scrape the food into the box and spoon the curry sauce over it, trying to squeeze in every drop of goodness.

Full, warm, and not broke, we head on down the road.  We decide to walk back over the Walnut St bridge just because it’s a nice night and we could use the extra walk after having a big dinner.  As we enter the bridge, we see the bear man sitting off to one side.  The bear man can usually be spotted on the Walnut St bridge or its vicinity.  He is a large, black man who is most likely mentally ill.  He lives in many layers of clothing, including a fur hat with ear flaps and a big coat, that he wears at all times.  He was wearing the same stuff when it was 110 degrees out in August.  If the wind is right, we usually smell him before we see him.  He smells like a bear.  Or at least like bear scat.  His appearance is not far from a bear, either, between his size and his fur hat.

Perhaps because I have a Thai smile tonight, I feel like I should do something for this man who lives on the bridge.  He is one of the few homeless people that hangs out on the riverfront who never asks for money.  I turn to Pat and ask if I should give him my leftovers.  Pat thinks this might be an insult, to give someone leftovers who hasn’t asked for anything and may or may not feel like leftovers are something he wants to eat.  I feel uncertain, but given that the man appears quite well fed, decide it’s presumptuous to give him food and, to Pat’s point, leftovers could be insulting.  As we pass him, my box of leftovers suddenly feels large and heavy in my hands.

Moments later, we pass another homeless man, this one the polar opposite of the bear man–a skinny white guy in a plaid hunting jacket.  He asks Pat if he can help out with some cash for a meal.  Interestingly, when Pat and I are together, homeless men frequently ask Pat for money.  They never ask me.  Instinctively, I know they are more successful with men than women, but I can’t explain why that would be.  Pat tells him he doesn’t have any cash, but asks if the man would want my leftovers.  He says, “Sure!” enthusiastically.  I say, “It’s pineapple curry.” He responds with a Thai smile.  I hand over my leftovers regretting only that I don’t have a fork and napkins to go with it.

The weight of both the leftovers and my guilt now lifted, the scenery suddenly looks brighter.  I notice how brilliant the leaves look in the remaining light.  I look up and am amazed at how many stars are already visible in the evening light.  I smile at Pat and feel grateful for having such a kind man in my life.  For at least a few moments, all feels right with the world.  Now I know why it’s called Thai Smile.