The Land of Happy – My trip to Cuba

I have fallen in love with a country and its’ people. I am not a fan of cities (downtown Tampa intimidates me), Havana was beautiful but not where I would like to settle – if I was going to settle in Cuba. I still yet want to see the interior of the east side near Santa Clara and down SE to Trinidad, Cienfuegos and even Santiago de Cuba to find my favorite spot. Real estate prices are extremely affordable outside of Havana and even if Americans cannot own property there at this time, I hope the day will come that we can enjoy property ownership in this beautiful and happy country. I would be first in line! I am hearing of nice ocean front homes in the neighborhood of $8-25K on the southern coast.

Owning real estate in Cuba for an American would be an act of treason – trading with the enemy. There are a couple loopholes for a non Cuban citizen (but never an American) to own property from marrying a Cuban National (remember, if you divorce, the Cuban wins the property) to purchasing one of the condo properties that were built in the 80’s in Havana area and sold to the Europeans/South Americans and other investors/retirees to Cuba. These condos are very expensive by Cuban pricing (however comparable to Florida waterfront condo pricings) as they were marketed to the wealthy foreign investors. If you own property, you can obtain a year visa which is renewable for another year. I can only guess that after two years, you must leave the country for 30 days and then return on a new visa. Cuban citizens may purchase and sell property freely but you just don’t see much for sale. As an island of traditions and fierce loyalty, this also includes their residences to be passed through the family for generations. Many Cuban Americans are returning to the island as entrepreneurs, buying property and opening businesses in the name of their relatives on the island. Three of the biggest and most expensive restaurants near/in the beautiful Cohiba Hotel are owned by Cuban citizens but funded and managed by their Miami residing relatives.

While I have not seen the other interior region on the east side of the island, I could be perfectly happy living in Viñales. It is a small town – probably 15-20K in 5 mile radius population that is a simple life in the interior region on the west end of the island that is known as the agricultural center. You can see the Sierra Maestra Mountains on the northern coast as you travel west from Havana to Viñales. There you will find the highest point in Cuba – 6k+ feet. Just south of the mountains is the region called Pinar del Rio. It is a fertile valley that for centuries has been the working agricultural region. Known for it’s limestone mogotes (carved from centuries of rivers running in the valley) the beauty is intoxicating from the cattle driven carts to real cowboys on horseback and cornfields that go for miles. Many tobacco plantations as well as coffee is grown there, commercial bananas, pineapples and vegetables. They are also known for the Guayabita del Pinar – a rum/guava mixture that is a delicious sipping rum. You will find dirt streets of red clay dirt off the main drag but the homes are spotless clean (Havana was the same way in cleanliness without the dirt streets). I truly have no idea how they keep things so clean but you could eat off of most floors! This would suit me very well to live in the Pinar del Rio region and even a little farther north at the foot of the mountains. I could easily be a hermit living off the grid on a couple solar panels – which I saw in the middle of nowhere and was so surprised and traveling on horseback.

In my time there I learned many things including how it is common knowledge there were no missiles pointed at the US during the Cold War. Castro was afraid the US would blow him off the map and while the missiles were headed to Cuba from Russia, he turned them around and did not allow them to set up.  Wish I had known that as a kid during bomb drills where I was putting my head between my knees and hiding under the school desk in the ’60’s!  As if that would protect me from nuclear radiation.  While you are not supposed to ask the political questions, I couldn’t help myself. The story was the same from several people…during the reign of Batista who was a friend of the US (and sending big $$ to the US from the Mafia gambling in Havana thus solidifying that friendship – I did go to the Riviera Hotel and walk the same halls as Jimmy Hoffa and some of the big Mafia bosses that frequented the island before the Bay of Pigs) less than 20% of the people were literate. The ‘revolution’ may have been quite drastic when it came to ousting Batista (and everyone I spoke with verified his corruption and that of one of his predecessors, Miguel Gomez), it was not an island wide military event. It was contained to a few politicals and their supporters. Look up the Isla de la Juvendad’s history. This was the exile area for that overthrow (as well as a point of execution). Castro’s overthrow of Batista was to change the way Cuba was headed and thought the move to a Communist/Socialist government would better the people.

It has definitely morphed to Socialist government with “Social Security”, private ownership of real estate and free medical/dental care. As a casual observer listening to a consensus of opinions, it seems to have made a huge positive difference from the former conditions. Now over 80% of the population is literate and most speaking two and three languages. Schools teach several subjects in English to increase their fluency. All school age kids MUST take a third language – German is very popular and there were many German tourists (they can be tourist, US citizens have to have a reason for going). Rarely did I run into anyone that did not speak at least a conversational English. Many with a barely a hint of an accent. One guy who was translating at the tobacco plantation for the elderly tobacco farmer spoke absolute perfect English. When questioned where he learned it, he swore it was in the Cuban schools. I was sure he was American educated from his proper English. Who knows?

I had always read about Block Captains who were there to report anyone that spoke out against Castro and the offenders were hauled away in the middle of the night to meet their maker. I am sure that was a time when political subversives were dealt with very swiftly and harshly but from what the people say, they are not unhappy about the turnaround under the Castro government. Many of the Cuban born Americans are now returning and opening businesses. Some can never return due to their “crimes against the government”.  Cuba is a goldmine of opportunity for entrepreneurs. The Paladares for example were small family restaurants that started opening years ago as not much more than inviting paying guests to the home dining room. The Cuban women (and men) are incredible cooks! At first they could only have a couple tables, only immediate family working there and limited hours. Now that has relaxed to where they hire non-family workers to compliment their business and expanded their dining rooms for accommodation of larger crowds and now full blown restaurants under the Paladares (private ownership) theme. The standard of living is set to increase exponentially over the next few years and the change has started. Everywhere you turn, Havana is under renovation due to the influx of American dollars the last couple years but they have been a favorite place to vacation by the Europeans for a long time.

AirBNB is alive and well in Cuba and both of our accommodations were booked on line. While few have WiFi at home, it is available at communal locations. It is amazing how these homes that could be 100 years old had private baths for each bedroom. Way ahead of our standards even if you cannot flush anything down the toilet that doesn’t come from the body because of the incredible narrow pipes that service the Havana (and most city) sewer systems. The private homes that rent out rooms are called Casa Particulares. In order to be a licensed Casa Particulares, you must offer hot and cold shower and a private bath. The costs run from $25 a night to $75 for most and location will dictate your price, as well as amenities. You can also rent an Independent Apartment with kitchen and all the amenities for similar prices but you will be shortchanging yourself with mingling with the hosts.  Our Viñales room was a spotless clean room with two beds and a private bath.  Also a fridge in the room well stocked with beer, water and wine on the honor system.  It ran $24 per night including the AirBNB fees (and my traveling companion and I split that $24). The Havana room ($45 per night – again, two beds and a private bath/stocked fridge) was in a 4th story Penthouse that was frozen in the 1950’s. The 76 yr old lady running it (with her daughter and son-in-law who lived there also) had moved there when she was 9 and had lived there all her life. It was spacious, terraces all around and again, spotless! Located in Vedado – a bedroom community on the west side of Havana that is peppered with little restaurants every few blocks. Almost all accommodations offer at least breakfast for around $5-6 and the lobster dinner we had at our Casa Particular in Viñales was about $10 and scrumptious. There is no reason NOT to eat breakfast at this price and the ample meals served filled us until evening dinner.

In the last 20 or so years, the people are allowed to own their own homes – most never moved out of their homes even if they didn’t own them after the revolution but eventually acquired them.  And as far as the land being taken away, etc. it was generally  farms greater than 1000 acres which were taken by the government. Not sure I agree with it but it was part of their plan. Now large privately owned farms are being permitted again – and especially cattle farms which are being assisted by US cattle companies who are bringing in semen to improve the gene pool of a country that has much of their livestock inbred. I will be attempting to assist in the same with goats now that I am associated with El Olivo organic farm and dairy outside of Viñales.

Back to the Block Captains….the lady we stayed with in Havana was one of those Block Captains and I am sure she would not admit to reporting the political subversives, she said the purpose of the Block Captain job was to make sure the children went to school, were properly vaccinated and the seniors were cared for if they needed anything.  It was more of a Social Service position.  Education was a priority and now Cuba can boast of having some of the best doctors in the world.  While I don’t believe a highly educated doctor and a factory worker would be equal in pay scale, it isn’t as much of a spread as there is in the US.  The country has free medical care and the doctors are paid a modest salary.  Currently, Cuba is receiving petroleum in exchange for the loan of 30K doctors being sent to Venezuela. Private medical care is available (and mostly used by foreigners coming for the cancer protocols) but all medical care is considered good care. From what I was reading and learning, they have been curing cancer for 20 years at Cira Garcia Hospital in Havana – no big Pharma in Cuba wanting to rape the patients.  They also produce some of the best cancer drugs and only recently with the changes in 2014 are they setting up to start sending those to the US. They also have some of the best dental care in the world from private dentists and very inexpensive. It was suggested if I wanted to make use of that, bring my own novacaine and syringes as it is in short supply but the talent was there. I need an implant and those are very inexpensive (hundreds instead of thousands) as well and I will eventually have it done there on one of my subsequent trips.

If you recall in June, we were told the embargo would not be lifted until several things happened. I really am not a political type of person, don’t engage in debating over my favorite candidate but went more through the recent elections touting Alfred E. Newman of MAD Magazine fame as my pick! Just saying that so there is no Obama/Clinton/Trump debates here. One of the demands of our government was for Cuba to have elections. We are not hearing in our media but Raul is stepping down in October and free elections have been scheduled for October (for almost a year) when it will most likely go to a parliamentary form of government. That is well known in Cuba!

Our embargo is causing a terrible injustice to our world environment. One example is the toilet paper being shipped all the way from Vietnam! YES VIETNAM!!! That is a freakin’ long way to ship butt wipes!!! Cuba does not have the forest reserves to produce their own (a country about as big as Florida from end to end) nor would they have access to the machinery to start/fix/run a paper mill. Any ship that docks in Cuba may not touch US ports for at least 6 months so supplies are so limited. Many ships do not service Cuba due to this regulation. The only ship I witnessed entering the port in Havana was EUKOR which is headquartered in Seoul, Korea but from my google searching has Scandinavian ownership. While Cuba is known for having all the old cars, one big thing I noticed about those cars is that they are only a shell of the car and once the engine quits, they drop in a diesel. Rumors abound that all the molds for the cars were sent to Cuba but I see no evidence that they are producing new 1950’s knock offs of American cars. Pink, purple and aqua seem to be the favorite colors! There were many old Russian and French cars puttering along on the roads but ones I saw the most that were new on the roads was a Greely (Chinese made), Hyundais and Toyotas. The Greely was an attractive car that reminded me of Hyundai. I wish I had inquired more about costs of these cars. Gas stations were not as plentiful as here but it seemed that whereever I saw one, the line was no more than our large stations. One observation for my time there was I did not see the first airplane outside of those landing and taking off at Havana International. No vapor trails from jets, no small aircraft and no drones. My traveling companion mentioned later that the son of our Viñales host pointed out “avion” in the sky, I never personally saw any aircraft of any kind. It was understandable with the lack of repair parts. Who would want to ride in a plane that had been patched together like they patch together the cars?

Getting back to housing, I saw many wonderful old buildings in Havana that appeared to be what we would know as a duplex. Half would be well painted, kept up with even small lawns, and something any of us would be happy to call home. The other half would almost be in crumbles (see my cover pic last week looking down the hallway that divided the building). The host in Havana explained that many of those buildings that were deteriorating so drastically were people who did not have the money to keep them up and they did live in them but the government would move them out to public housing if it became a condemned structure. But also, the influx of US dollars to the Casa Particulars has made a huge difference in the quality of the structures with renovations being one of the thriving businesses in Cuba – and no, it is obvious OSHA is not part of their standards. Our Havana host converted her apartment for BNB use after she sold her car. An old Russian car, it continued to have many small problems that seemed to be more hindrance than help.

While wifi is not accessible in the normal home, tv is available and it isn’t unusual to see American movies being shown. Most access wifi through their cellphones, something that I saw many people carrying. I had to laugh when I saw our guide on the horseback ride, in his rain boots with spurs, talking on a cell phone while riding down the path. When we were inquiring about menus, restaurants, etc in Havana, the host’s daughter pulled the information up on her phone. But google isn’t an option, I am told. A unique service that started in the last couple years is the (for lack of a better word) Cuban “ebay” service. Not really Ebay, but a way to buy foreign products in an Ebay type environment. Our host was very proud of a vinyl storm door she had purchased from the site. No one quite knows how the products come in the country, but they are happy they arrived.

The trip was a bucket list item (yes, I have reached that age) but little did I know I would love the country so much. No matter how little the people had, they smiled and seemed happy with their life. The food was delicious and affordable. I never saw the first homeless person, nor one beggar – far cry from the career “will work for food, God bless” at our intersections. While in Havana there were taxi drivers and tour guides approaching us and offering their services but a polite “no thank you” was sufficient that they passed on with no harassment or grumbling and continued to their next potential fare. My female friend and I walked the Havana streets close to midnight – and dark back streets at that – and never felt threatened in any way. In Viñales there were no taxi drivers or those offering tours. I did see a couple offices in the central part of the village that specialized in those services. My advice to you is to go to Cuba. Go before it changes. Enjoy a nation of happy, content and very resourceful people. It should be a prerequisite to our teenagers to spend a couple summers just learning how to play kickball again, ride horses, tend to chores and learn the simple pleasures of life.

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Entering Decade #6

I am thankful to wake up this morning.  At least a third of those I graduated high school with didn’t do the same.

I am thankful for my head full of white hair as it shows I am experienced and wise – and a Mom!

I am thankful to have entered my 6th decade as to me it seems like my parents were so old when they were 60 but I don’t feel a day over 37…well maybe 38!

I am thankful for my very diverse group of friends and cherish every last little quirky thing we do.

I am thankful to have seen other places, other countries, other lifestyles and not living in a sheltered bubble!

I am thankful to have my husband of 25 years still trying to spoil me.

I am thankful to see my kids reach a point in their lives where they are standing on their own two feet (well most of the time) as I know I fostered independence.

So as I splurged on double the whipped cream in my coffee this morning and feasted on chocolate flan for breakfast, I entered a new decade of life and vow 60 will be my new 40!

Now, pass the Geritol, please.

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Eulogy for Coach Gray

IMG_20140915_083119_821I don’t think I have ever written an eulogy for a chicken before – I know I haven’t. But sometimes, there are those special two legged feathered critters with a beak on their face that crawl into your heart who deserve to be memorialized.

It all started about 4 years ago when I made a chicken trade for a couple Bantam Cochins which were supposed to be pullets (adolescent hens that were not quite of laying age yet). It was quite obvious at about 4 months, Blanche was not an appropriate name, nor was Grace. Grace became Coach Gray for his pretty fluffy gray coat of feathers and Blanche became Blackie. When they found their “doo” (cockle doodle doo) they let that secret out of the bag that they were not going to be producing eggs and used for reproduction. At the worst, I was anticipating that I might have a pair from the trade – one male and one female – so you can imagine the horror that I had two more roosters and no hen of the same breed! Almost a year ago we lost Blackie to an unknown illness and set Coach Gray free to roam the barnyard. He was one happy-go-lucky roo that greeted everyone with a cock of his head and a comical gait accented with his feathered feet. I swear that beak turned up on the corners giving him a silly smirk.

In the summer he started limping. Thinking it was just a bruise or cut that would heal, we were not too concerned. After a while a friend, knowledgeable in chickens took a look and determined he had bumble foot – where a cut or puncture on the bottom of his foot got infected and was causing the lameness. In mid-summer, we removed the infection and the necrotic tissue and put him on antibiotics and lots of TLC. “Uncle Phil”, our Chicken Whisperer, patiently gave him meds once a day and was Coach Gray’s “Mother Hen”, so to speak. Coach got better. He was back to the feathered fellow that toddled around the barnyard. The surgery was a success in removing the infection on the foot but we had other complications. The lower leg atrophied and was removed. So Coach Gray became the token one legged chicken of the farm. While living mostly in a cage for his protection, Phil would come each morning and make sure Coach got a couple hours of free ranging exercise.

A few weeks ago Coach Gray looked pretty lethargic. He began more sitting in the cage than fantasizing his daily freedom runs. His stump had become inflamed and he seemed not to want to hobble around and chase the ladies. He was watching the world go by instead of being a participant. Again, he was put on meds and received extra special care. He and Phil shared peanut butter and jelly sandwiches each morning but Coach had lost his gusto. The bravado was missing. The day had come and we both knew it was going to be Coach’s last day on the farm. Both Phil and I said our goodbyes. Phil left for the day and as the day passed, I constantly checked on our little buddy. His breathing was shallow and his eyes were at half-mast. I really don’t think he wanted to go, but had lost the energy to fight to stay. I would go check on him and call his name and his head would slowly rise. He was still with us, barely. At midnight I checked on him one last time and his eyes had lost the sparkle. I knew he would be gone by morning.

Rest peacefully Coach Gray. Your bright personality and silly walk will be sorely missed!IMG_20140515_093006_049

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Fugitive Roo Comes to the Farm

fugitiveroosterA few weeks ago I was contacted to take in a wayward backyard trespassing rooster from a certain  local Tampa Bay Community.  Just what I need, another mouth to feed that doesn’t produce anything but the morning alarm.  I put it off thinking he would find some good samaritan that would be kind (read that gullible) enough to feel the need for the daily wake up call. Apparently Bada Boom (name changed to protect the outlaw) decided to be a bit less than friendly with a neighborhood lady and was forced on the run a couple Sundays ago.  The cops were called, an APB was issued and Bada Boom had to be rushed to a safe house before he was hauled in for assault and battery before the local magistrate begging for something less than being Sunday Dinner.

The call of panic came in late that ill fated Sunday.  Boom’s partner in mischief, also with two feet but no beak, offered his services to be a volunteer at the farm on a regular basis.  I  reluctantly agreed (in a moment of weakness) that Bada Boom could join our farm.  What comes over me?  I had been assured by the escapee accomplice that Bada Boom and he would be eternally grateful.

Bada Boom was smuggled out of his garage abode and onto my farm under cover of blanket in a crate and arrived early Monday afternoon.  His outlaw compadre opened the cage and out popped one stunningly beautiful Polish Rooster.  His top crest stood high and his proudly shoved out that chest like a teenager that just developed boobs.  He blinked his eyes and looked around probably seeing more chickens that he ever imagined lived in the world.  Bada Boom’s had a place to roost in exchange for Mr P’s (name changed to protect his covert activities) time.

As they said their good byes and took many pictures, you would have never known his get away driver had scheduled to arrive at 7am to start his work for rent for his little buddy, less than 24 hours later.  As I turned and started to walk away, Bada Boom turned from joyful new farm guest to evil vindictive voodoo roo.  I really wonder if I want my face plastered in America’s Most Wanted as the felonious feathered roo springer when this bad hair day monster shows no thanks for his luxurious relocation to a world to which he now belongs.  We shall see.  Stay tuned…..

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Facebook Farmers and Armchair Quarterbacks

Three seconds left in the fourth quarter and the kicker is in place.  The excited announcer bellows  “he drops, he punts, and it is outside the goal posts”.  The opposing team starts their celebration and the home team sulks into the locker room.  My husband starts the normal routine of how stupid that coach was not running the ball, he should have never picked that kicker in the first draft, I hear the words idiot, stupid and incompetent before I tune him out.  I remind him the high six figure salary demonstrated that someone, other than my armchair quarterback with his Fantasy Football Team, had confidence in the coach’s abilities! 

We know it is the beer and peanuts talking when the husbands start the raving.  Their only experience is putting together plays for the yearly turkey bowl.  A comedy of errors when a couple dozen balding beer-bellied wannabe football stars take over the vacant lot at the end of the street, trash talking like they spend every day in the locker room and turned down offers for the major leagues in favor of the daily grind!  The day usually ends with a trip to the ER for at least one out-of-shape player that got a bit too zealous and stoked a finger, pulled the hamstring or the occasional broken wrist.  They are weekend warriors gathering stories to tell over the water cooler on Monday.  

Armchair Quarterbacks rival the Facebook Farmers.  They read all the books – Omnivore’s Dilemma, Animal Vegetable Miracle and renew their subscription every year to Mother Earth News. Throw in the three “f’s of Fresh, Farmageddon and Food Inc for good measure.  Few understand the huge difference between the small family farm and a factory farm.  From the feed to the care, the comparisons are slim.  Our goats live a luxurious retirement life once they have hit their geriatric years – which certainly is an epic fail in the efficient business category.  We avoid the use of chemicals and we care for our animals as if they were our children.  After 14 years, we have used antibiotics three times for our goats, all life threatening situations.   And most of all, we use our products and have the same goals they have – healthy food raised humanely.           

Like the Armchair Quarterback, the Facebook Farmer talks good farming, is a whiz in Farmville, but when were they last hands-on at a farm?  At one time we took on the occasional volunteer.  They invariably showed up in flip flops, the obligatory straw hay, sometimes a pair of overalls and looking like they were ready for a cover shoot for Hobby Farmer magazine.  Occasionally  a visitor shows up and sees my dirty t-shirt pulling double duty for gathering eggs and I get a look of disdain.  The buck in rut is slobbering over the fence in a hormonal frenzy and they want to know what is wrong with him?  Nothing at all, he is just being a man – a goat man!     

I always recommend to the Facebook Farmers.  Want to know how a farm is run? Get immersed – and not from reading books or watching movies or the latest farmers’ status updates.  Get chickens for your back yard.  Become a 6 month intern for your local farmer – and no, they don’t pay $10 an hour or give you free products – you work and the education you earn is one you can’t buy.  Urban farming involves business savvy, coupled with some tough love, add a huge dose of animal husbandry, a smattering of amateur geneticist and most of all, the day laborer.  The farmer can’t boast that same high salary of the football coach, nor the subsidies of the factory farmer, but they get paid in something better than money – a sense of accomplishment no Facebook Farmer will ever feel in Farmville!

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The Quail Chronicle

quailAt times, husbands get a bug up their butt for a new quest.  I should be grateful it wasn’t gallivanting around the nudie bars or climbing Mt. Everest (as if he was able) but he wanted (me) to raise quail, chukars and pheasants.  He pitched me that not only did they give eggs, but they were food bon vivant!  A southern city girl, I was raised in a family of pot roast and Chef Boyardee spaghetti, but over the years, the other half’s persuasions worked and I was game (no pun intended) to a more adventurous palate.  Little did I know the benefits, both emotionally and nutritionally to these little creatures.

We purchased the first 35 quail to start our flock (another blog for the subsequent chukars and pheasants).  Did you know that quail can’t be free ranged?  Neither did we.  We opened the box and the first five were off like NASA propelled rockets to the wild blue yonder.  “We are free, we are free” I distinctly heard them call as they soared over the fence.  We still find the occasional quail egg in the weeds behind the fence so those Houdini birds lived to breed and lay on in the wild, mocking their cousins in the pens.   With the remaining 30 quail we covered the pen and started our serious learning curve.  I had committed my cardinal sin – acquired animals without doing an intense study on the art of quail husbandry.

The nutritional benefits are awesome but I am sure husband was only dreaming about quail meat, not those little coturnine pearls.  About the size of a fat big thumb, quail eggs are packed with 3-4 times the nutrition of a regular chicken egg and low in cholesterol.  Compared to chicken eggs, the yolks are mammoth in relation to the white.  Regularly consumed raw on sushi as well as a common ingredient in Asian and western European cuisine, the eggs are light and delicate with no gamey aftertaste.  I use them like chicken eggs and love in a nest of shredded potatoes and onions.

Reading that the color pattern of the egg to a hen is like a finger print to a human, I separated a couple hens to verify the claim.  The beige and brown mottled pattern of each respective hen was identical day after day.  It doesn’t take much to entertain me!

A chirp with a twang on the end, the sweet song of the cotournix quail is tantalizing.  Quiet in the day but at their “laying” hours of the early evening, they become quite vocal, in a very soothing churtle.  We have come to expect the sweet serenade to accompany the dusk each day to signal egg gathering time.

Generally quail raising has been uneventful, with the exception of the day we found a huge rat snake that had obviously consumed two quail and was working on the third but was too large by that time to slither back through the cage wire after nabbing the bounty.  For even a condo dweller, a few quail in a cage on the balcony would render fresh eggs and no one would be the wiser that you are harboring miniature food producing livestock.

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So you want to be a farmer?

You devour every last tidbit of postings on Facebook from your local farmers.  You pick through their blogs for buzz words to store in your internal farm dictionary.  You learn how they pollinate the squash blossoms, what is trendy for livestock feed and you read every Joel Salatin book three times (from air conditioned comfort).  You watched the goats kid on the maternity cam and just wanted to jump in and help that last little one as she struggled to stand.  Did you realize the temperature in that barn was 30 degrees and the wind was blowing through the cracks with a chill that would freeze ear wax?

I get it all the time, “we want to retire and have a little farm”.  Do you really call that retirement?  Up when the roosters decide you should awaken, putting in an 18 hour work day and falling into bed to be awaken in the wee hours by the dogs fending off a predator in the barnyard.  You get really good at going back to sleep after an hour on coyote watch.  How about raking out the chicken pen in the mid summer rainy season with a smell that would gag a maggot?  There is something about the smell of chickens in the rainy season that you will never forget – not really one of those fond memories, either!  Rates right up there with the dead rat that you just can’t find, that is getting you back in the afterlife by forcing your olfactory senses into shutdown mode.

When hubby and I lost our jobs after 9/11, we thought turning our kids’ 4H project would be a really cool adventure.  After all who doesn’t like to pet goats and drink milk?  What part of cool did I miss April through October?  We were one of those disillusioned “we want a farm in our retirement” type of people. As hubby’s debilitating arthritis took it’s toll and I inherited the farm duties, it became very clear that even though we were finding proficiency, perhaps we should have been more realistic about the labor end of the lifestyle.  A hobby farm is a lot of work, but taking it to an occupational level changes the ball game completely.  And who can afford a hobby farm with the price of feed and property taxes?  I can sling hay with the best, birth triplet goat kids with the speed of a caprine midwife and necropsy a chicken on the picnic table but pay the price with aching muscles and callused hands to rival a steel worker.

After almost a decade of being the local farmer I can only hope to live to retirement one day – in about 10 years and I will be hitting 70.  I have dreams of a secluded beach in Panama, living in a thatched shack with no goats, no horses, no dogs, no cats, not even a parrot to mock me.  If I want an animal I will feed the seagulls!  They can fend for themselves if I decide to sleep in one day.  As I sit in my beach chair with my feet in the sand getting the suntan of my life, I want to order very fruity drinks (don’t skimp on the rum) with a festive umbrella adornment and write. I want to write those stories about all the adventures that have driven me to look forward to a retirement of doing nothing!

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