Whenever I check the weather, it says we are experiencing a ‘Wintry Mix’ – as if this kind of rain/sleet/snow/slush we are having is something you would select to bring to a cocktail party. I’m not complaining in the least, currently listening to my main man Miles Davis, the cats are playing with a piece of hay string, the dogs are dozing by the fire and I am nice and cozy in my pajamas. How many days in a row do you have to stay home before you are considered an official hermit? I volunteer as tribute.

Today was the usual morning routine of getting dressed for the wintry mix and heading out to feed. I left Zoom’s blanket on today, gave the chickens plenty of scratch and made sure everyone else had enough hay. It has been snowing these little, tiny wispy snowflakes. They just drift around, up and across the fields like dandelion puff. Covering everything, of course. But it’s beautiful.

I tried to make pancakes for Sadie this morning – I say try because what I actually created, instead of fluffy buttermilk pancakes, were sad, thin soggy brown ones that still had liquid batter in the middle. We choked them down and I gave the rest to the chickens and the ducks, who did not complain. There are people who can cook and say they can’t, then there’s me.

I’ve mastered leaning the foods I need to survive: Cereal, frozen pizza, PB&J, frozen corn dogs, Macaroni and Cheese, spaghetti, PB&J and corn bread. Maybe chicken nuggets if they are on sale. Before I moved here, I lived on lunchables, apples with peanut butter, and trail mix. Sadie is a seasoned veteran in the kitchen. Most of things she whips together she has already memorized, I’ve never seen her use measuring cups or bowls, she just knows. And it’s delicious. She doesn’t burn anything, or under-cook it for that matter.

Living here is a bit like an apprenticeship. Except that I have a lot to learn when it comes to cooking.

Anyway, today was mostly feeding the fire, hauling wood with the wheelbarrow, stacking it, then burning it. I got inventive and realized you can pull a wheelbarrow up the stairs if you go backwards, that saved some splinters. I’ve managed to keep it going all day, we are low on propane so the wood stove has kept the house warm. If I had a Greek Goddess apprenticeship, I’d pass with flying colors.

While I don’t feel the least bit stir-crazy, the cats definitely are. We have been keeping them in at night, you can hear them running up and down the hall chasing each other. They bat around broken pieces of bark by the stove, paper balls, and the hay string from my jacket pocket. They usually stay outside much more than they are in, I think its affecting them.

At some point earlier this afternoon I decided to go riding. I put on my long underwear, a sweater, snow pants, knee socks, my boots, my coat, a furry scarf and wore a tan hat and black waterproof gloves. I was a very puffy, and surprisingly warm, Floridian.

Tug came right over, he had ice in his tail, his whiskers, and on the long hairs behind his ankles. I took some time to cut them out, then we saddled up and hit the road. It was beautiful, very cold, but lovely. The little fluffy snowflakes drifted around, the whole landscape was white and the mountains looked like a fudge brownie covered in powdered sugar. We made it to the gate on the far side of the dead end road and turned back, Abbie in tow. I saw our neighbors out, their 3 kids were climbing the very big hill behind their house to sled down.

They waved and I turned to walk Tug across the lawn. On of the girls slid off of her container lid and he spooked, which didn’t bother me, but I think it scared them. I got off and walked the rest of the way. The kids came over to pet him, which made him more tense.

I politely excused us, all the hands in his face weren’t helping. I walked him to the end of their yard and got ready to get back on – I kept him on the grass though, if I was going down I wanted it to be a soft, snowy landing. Abbie ran up from around a big tree and he spooked again. I waved at the neighbors and told them to call the Ambulance if I didn’t make it. I sang “Grand Old Flag” because it popped in my head, and rubbed his neck.

My neighbors were watching from the porch, halfway expecting some kind of Rodeo show. I turned Tug in a few circles to get his mind on his feet, instead of whatever scary things were hiding under the snow, and swung up. I smiled and waved and Tug briskly walked down the road. He knew we were heading home, and home meant herd, and he was definitely over being out alone. I shortened my reins and he tucked his head, still walking quickly.

We made it back to the barn in record time. I swung off, realized I couldn’t feel my toes, and grained Tug before turning him back out to his herd. When I got inside, Abbie lapped up some water and trotted off down the hall. I stoked the fire up again and kicked off my boots under my desk. I stretched my legs out towards the stove as the cats came to say hello, holding their tails up in their classic greeting.

Sadie’s home now, and it’s passed my bedtime. For now I’ll just say there’s no place like home-even if that home is covered in cat hair and snow.


Slush Day

This morning I woke up and saw all the snow laying on the ground again, it was beautiful. The sun made an appearance. I went up to break ice for the chickens and everything sparkled and glittered like crystal. It was very quiet and still, the snow had stopped falling but it still covered the ground. Casey and I made our tracks up the hill and down, we grained the horses and I took Zoom’s blanket off.

It got up to the 40’s today, which turned all that beautiful white snow into slush. What a terrible word. It’s wet and cold and slippery and gross. The snow melted completely off the southern hills, the grass poked through the melting snow and wherever I stepped was muddy.

The snow melted off the barn, dripping off the edges of the roof and puddling on the ground. Sadie made pea salad and I took the scraps to the chickens, they still won’t leave the coop!

We have a routine now for going out, there’s an importance sequence to getting dressed to go out, I’m getting it down slowly but surely. First, I find my boots. If Casey has carried one off or hidden it under a chair, you need to be able to reach for it without wearing a thick coat and a hat. I put on socks, then snow pants, then my boots, then a sweater, followed by a thick jacket, whichever beanie isn’t wet, and gloves.

Gloves are a win/lose. You keep your fingers warm and dry, but then you sacrifice dexterity. There are 2-3 gates between me and whichever animal I need to get to, I usually pull my right glove off with my teeth and hold it in my mouth until the latch is undone and then re-done.

Side note: always close the gate behind you, and latch it. Always. A horse could get out, yes, but there is the chance you won’t go back the way you came. You might have to duck under the fence somewhere or the neighbor will drive by and offer you a ride to the store, you could be interrupted by a phone call or the dinner bell, or any number of things.

I’ve been very surprised at how warm I’ve been the past few days. Sadie stoked the fire up when we got back from the barn, its almost 80 degrees in the house now, it’s very nice.

I ventured out earlier this evening to go to the Dollar General. Since the snow had melted off the roads, I felt comfortable enough driving. Of course both of the dogs went too. I purchased 4 things:

  • Mayonnaise
  • Toilet Paper
  • Cat Food
  • Cat Litter

What you might call the essentials – I do, anyway. Considering it’s freezing outside now, Sadie and I don’t have the heart to keep the cats outside. Anyway, I was pushing my little yellow cart out to the van, with both dogs watching, and I got stuck in the slush. “How miserable” I thought to myself.

Now I realize this isn’t Alaska, it’s not even Wisconsin or Kansas. We only got 3-4 inches of snow, which mostly melted the next day. But have you ever tried to push a tiny shopping cart through slush? It was awful. I ditched the cart and carried everything to the van. I won’t be doing that again.

I made it safely home and Sadie made soup-beans, I fixed some corn bread and we made coleslaw (with my victory mayonnaise). It’s about ready and it smells wonderful. It’s passed dinnertime but considering the chickens, dogs and cats are in for the night, and fed, the horses have hay and slushy water, and Zoom is safely in the barn with his blanket back on, it’s kind of a victory. I’m ready to eat.

Tomorrow we are supposed to get sleet – which is an entirely new experience for me, but I think I already know that I might hate it. It’s supposed to rain all night, rain + super cold = miserable. If the power lines freeze then we might be in trouble, but so far we’re warm and cozy. We will be snowed in this weekend, but I’ve got a good book and plenty of fire wood, so far it’s fine with me.

Stay warm!




I woke up this morning to a WINTER WONDERLAND! All the snow cliches – how it’s beautiful, powdery, magical, glittering and silent – it’s all true! I’m from Florida you know so this is my first snow: not the first time I’ve seen it, but the first time I’ve lived in it. Sand? Sure, burning hot lava sand, sand full of sticker burrs, hard wet sand, sand with shells in it, I’m a pro. But snow? I know 0% about snow. Except that it’s amazing and I’m afraid after a few days I won’t be this excited.

Every time I look outside I think, my gosh, it’s snowing! I feel like a kid. The dogs love it, we made tracks all over the yard, then the snow covered them up. Casey and I played fetch with a chunk of ice from the water trough. The horses have ice in their manes and whiskers. Tug was bucking and kicking like a 2 year old. They all get each other excited then they trot around, snorting and tossing their heads, their tails high. It’s a snow day!

Sadie’s off work and I’ve been writing from home, it’s absolutely beautiful. We got several inches – it’s no Montana, but it’s lovely. Everything is covered in puffy, white snow that looks like frosting or powdered sugar. The mountains are just shapes beyond the clouds, it’s falling in big, beautiful flakes, slowly and quietly.

The roof of the barn is completely white, all the tree branches look like something out of a postcard, or a puzzle. Cardinals and Bluebirds pick up what grain the horses left, their bright feathers stand out in the snow.

It’s snowing, I’m wearing socks and we built a fire. Sadie made hot coco – it’s crazy! I feel like I’m in a movie. What other snowy adjectives are there? It definitely looks like a blanket, someone absolutely got that one right. It’s cold – for sure, it bites. And that’s why they call it frost bite. So many things are coming together, this is truly amazing.

We got some round hay bales from the neighbors, he dropped them off earlier in their shiny tractor. It’s nice, we won’t need to worry about the horses and donkeys running out in the middle of the night. At least for a few days.

Right now I’m cozy and snug, we just came in from checking everyone’s water. My hat and coat are hung by the fire, dripping on the floor like something out of a Campbells soup commercial. The chickens self-watering container broke so they have a bucket on the ground for now. Water expands when it freezes, just in case you didn’t know. The ducks are as happy as can be! They are both in the yard, enjoying it. The hens are huddled inside, they stand on one foot so the other one stays warm. I stayed nice and cozy in my snow boots and coveralls, and hat and scarf and gloves from Goodwill. Just my nose got chilly!

It about 20 degrees, it will continue to snow today, we will see about tomorrow and Friday. Sadie is making chicken and rice soup for dinner, yumm. I’m going to read and let the cats lounge around as they like to do. Maybe a little later Tug and I can ride down the rode and mess up all that beautiful white powder with some new tracks in the snow. Snow! Can you believe it?



My Fair Lady

Today is my Mom’s Birthday – we joke that she is only 35 with 20+ years of experience. I wish I could be with her today to celebrate her amazing life!

Charlene Bingham grew up the middle child in a family of 7. “We didn’t know we were poor, but we were happy!” She always says. Her dad, Charles Duvall Bingham, farmed tobacco and Black Angus Cattle. Her Mom, Jo-Ann, cooked and cleaned and raised their 5 children. Charlene still has the callouses on her hands from harvesting tobacco in the fall. A Cheerleader in High School, she was named Miss Sweetwater High because everyone loved her. She worked hard to put herself through college at UT, life-guarding at the Aquatic Center until graduation. Then she left her home, her family and everything she knew in Knoxville, Tennessee, and took a Greyhound Bus all the way to the tiny town of St. Augustine, Florida. Charlene began to work at the School for the Deaf and the Blind, teaching multi-handicapped students how to communicate through sign language.

In St. Augustine, she became a Christian and began attending a Bible Study, where she first saw my Dad, Jeff. He was walking down the stairs, carrying a Bible, and she thought to herself “Wow, a cute Christian.” Their Bible Study group planned to see Footloose in the theaters one evening, but her and Jeff were the only two who showed up. After the film, they went to Dunkin Donuts on King Street and talked.

“Jeff prayed if it was God’s will for us to date.” Charlene said. “No one had ever prayed that about me before.” They talked about having a family and how they felt called to home-school their children one day. Jeff was an Officer in the Navy stationed at Mayport in Jacksonville. During his deployments, they rang up a big phone bill and wrote hundreds of letters to each other. Dad told me he knew they would get married, he bought a ring and waited for the right time to propose. “I can’t explain it,” He’s told me before. “I just knew!”

The right time was apparently soon after he mowed a friends lawn. Charlene was upstairs in the nursery with Marg and their son, Jason. Dad came in with grass clippings on his legs, holding a small box with a lollipop taped on top. “YES!” My mom screamed, jumping up and down. Jeff smiled and waited, saying “Well, I haven’t asked you yet.”

That was March of 1984. That December, they were married in Knoxville, Tennessee, and celebrated with a red velvet cake. Whenever they would go out of town, I would keep their wedding photo album under my pillow so I could look at pictures when I missed them.

Jeff stayed in the Navy, he was deployed for 9 months in their first year of marriage. But if you’ve met Charlene, you know her winning smile and happy spirit wouldn’t let that keep her down. She flew to Europe to meet Jeff when the ship came to port. Together, they saw Germany, Amsterdam, and dozens of other places.

Charlene continued to teach Deaf Education, they settled in the two-story green house my Dad bought on San Jose. When my Dad was a Lieutenant Commander, he decided to leave the Navy so he could be a full-time Dad. He began working for a company that specialized in financial planning and In January of 1988, my oldest sister, Amber came along, followed by Becca, who was born in October of 1989. There’s a photo of my mom a few months pregnant with her, attacking a backyard cactus with a shovel. Charlene was born to be a Mom, there is no way she would let a plant hurt her babies.

On January 18th, 1991, Charles Duvall passed away in Knoxville, Tennessee. Charlene could not attend the funeral, because she was almost 8 months pregnant with me. I was born on March 7th, and given the name Caroline Duvall in memory of Charles.

My mom read me a letter she wrote on Christmas Day – if anyone thinks I’m the writer in the family, they haven’t read anything from her. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house:

“Though my heart was heavy after my dad went to heaven, it didn’t take long for that sorrow to be turned to joy when we laid eyes on you! Your playful attitude brought much joy to our home..And now, after Sadie has laid Jack to rest and James’ spirit is gone too – God continues to turn mourning into joy. That seems to be how God is using your gifts to point others to the real source of your gladness – a relationship with our eternal Savior whose birth we celebrate today. Thank you for using your gift of writing to write all over my heart. With words of love and happiness, you really are a Sweet Caroline.”

I will keep those words with me forever,. It was a very special Christmas.

Growing up in the little green two-story house, with a cactus stump in the backyard, was a whirlwind of sunny days. There are photos of us washing Dad’s car and reading Little House on the Prairie, and me with the neighbors dog – Garth. When my mom found out she was pregnant with my little brother, her and Dad decided it was time to move. The green house couldn’t hold us all. And one night, it is rumored that my older sister asked Mom for some orange coke, Mom slipped down the stairs granting her wish and broke her big toe. A one-story house was on the list, with a “big backyard” so we had room to play.

My Mom packed all of us girls in the car and met the realtor in a neighborhood called The Woods. My Dad, on his lunch break at work, looked up a few listings and drove down Atlantic Boulevard. They drove up the driveway at 2403 within minutes of each other. “Now remember,” my Dad would tell us, “This was before cellphones. We didn’t know we would both be there.”

The house was 1-story, 5 bedroom and 3 bathroom with a huge backyard. Like my Dad said, “When you know, you know.” There are photos of my parents signing for the house in the front room, me and my sisters are crawling all over the coffee table, excited to be a part of something we couldn’t quite understand the significance of.

We moved in, my little brother was born at the end of July, and we grew up on The Woods Drive East. There was a park, a huge pool, and miles of trails we could bike down. We played football and baseball in the backyard, and my mother began her career of interior design among all the construction paper, puzzles and library books.

Mom learned how to make homemade bread, she took us to the park and the library and taught us to shop at Publix. When Dad finally caved and let us have a cat, of course she had kittens. When a neighbor was giving away rabbits, we turned a corner of the backyard into a massive habitat. And of course they had baby rabbits. Then came horse camp and horses, Zoo Camp and Zoo animals, where I eventually volunteered. I learned to drive on the rode to the Zoo, Mom and I would sing “Skyyyyyy-diving and Rocky Mountain Climbiiiiing” and ate PB&J’s.

When I turned 16, she brought home a little fuzzball sheltie who we called Pup, who is still adorable and the center of our lives. She drove my to my first job at Ace Hardware, took me surfing, moved me in and out of two different Colleges and got me settled and staged in Savannah. She supported my decisions, and talked me out of making some bad ones, and encouraged me every step of the way.

There is no way I could sum up Charlene’s amazing life in one blog post, but I am so thankful she got on the Greyhound bus. As I got older, she was always, ALWAYS, in the passenger seat on our way to the farm. She is the one who told me “You either love the farm, or you hate it. And you don’t hate it.” Without her, I would not be sitting at an old wooden table with a dog at my feet, facing a window overlooking the mountains and the woolly horses. I would not be a writer, a farmer, or a Duvall.

Happy Birthday Mom, I hope today is truly special, and you know how loved you are!






No Gas, No Go

The past few weeks have flown by, as December and January tend to do. It’s getting colder – sure, you say. It’s winter. I mean cold in a, there’s snow flurries again, kind of way. I have to wear leggings and snow pants, a sweater and a jacket, don’t forget your gloves or hat kind of cold. We keep tobacco stakes near the water tubs and the duck bath to break ice every morning. The sun doesn’t clear the ridge until almost 9, until then it’s just cold. This morning I checked the weather, it said “11 Degrees. Feels like 5.” If it feels like 5, why is it 11?

With our ATV out of commission and the Explorer taking our neighbor to work, Sadie and I have to get creative with hauling hay and water. I drain all the hoses before night fall to keep them from freezing. We have had to fill gallon jugs to take to the chickens occasionally. The other morning, I backed her van down to the barn lot to fill with hay for Tug and Zoom. Well, it didn’t quite have enough gas in it. I mean I got it started, but as I backed down the driveway, what little fumes were left went to the back of the tank. Sadie held the gate open and I fought to turn it around to get the fumes floating the other way so it would start again. With no brakes or power steering, it was pretty hilarious. The windshield was completely covered in ice, I manually rolled the window down but the mirror was frozen too. I yelled for Sadie to get out of the way and half rolled, half slid down to where I could start it again.

I opened the door and Abbie hopped in, wanting to help. I stumbled out of the van and Sadie met me at the barn, we laughed and our breath rolled up into the flat grey sky. Frozen fingers make for slow going, but we got everyone fed and I put two bales in the back of the van. I had no problem starting it once it was pointed downhill, it was just a matter of backing it out of the lot, across the road and up the driveway to the shop. Abbie helped me. We filled the van with a few gallons from the cans in the shop, and I got Tug and Zoom plenty of hay to keep them warm.

The following evening, after filling the tank completely, I opened the gate for Sadie to back down to the barn. I slung two bales of in the back and slammed the trunk, walking back to the road with hay poking my neck and face. I held the gate open, waiting for Sadie to drive through so I could close it. She revved the engine, the tires spun in the mud and the van slid a few feet before stopping.

Sadie put it in reverse, backed a few feet down the hill, then tried again. Nothing. She cut the engine and I sighed, walking back to the van. She opened the trunk and we each grabbed a hay string on one of the bales. “Maybe we can get Wes to tow us,” she said. “Maybe.” I replied. “Let’s just wait until morning, once the mud freezes over, we should be able to drive out.” I nodded, wiping my nose with a gloved hand before lifting the bale off the ground.

We both knew we had to be at work in the morning. If it came down to it, I could drop her off on my way to the office. It’s a long walk across the road and up the driveway, we were both panting when we got there. Zoom nickered once he saw what we were half carrying, half dragging. I love that sound, it means ‘hey it’s good to see you, what did you bring me? I’m excited to eat it.’ It’s about as close as you can get to having your horse say thank you/i love you.

We cut the strings on the bale and swung the have over the fence, walking back to the house to the sounds of the two horses happily munching.

The next morning we both approach the van slowly, as if it was some kind of sleeping animal we weren’t sure about. Sadie solemnly handed me the keys, walking around to try and push the van out of the mud.

“Once you start, don’t stop!” She yelled over the sound of the engine. I put the van in reverse, said a quick prayer, and zoomed up the hill. Sure enough, the mud had frozen over, the wheels found traction on the frosty grass and I made it to the road. Sadie put her arms up, I could see her yelling but I have no idea what she said.

And that, boys and girls, is why you never drive a minivan down into a muddy barn lot.


Farmer In Disguise

Yesterday, I left work to get my oil changed and a tire patched. There’s a place in Farragut, we handle their media, that is quite nice. I took a Western Horseman magazine to read while I waited.

It didn’t strike me as funny until I found a chair on their patio; when I crossed my legs, I noticed mud on ankles from checking the chickens earlier that morning. I was wearing wedges, black dress pants, a fancy blouse my mom bought me, a scarf from Becca, and a London Fog coat I got for $6.50. The mud had been there all day, surely. And I hadn’t even noticed – I wonder if my coworkers had. I also speculated that it was probably not the first time it had happened, and it definitely wouldn’t be the last.

So I waited for my car, while playing dress up in one of the fancier towns of East Tennessee, reading about cattle ranchers in Wyoming and Oregon and Rodeo Queens in California. It’s funny that the ‘normal’ and ‘successful’ parts of my life put me in a certain character, and the muddy boots, out the back door with dogs in tow is the real me. It must be what Bruce Wayne feels like – except I have nice parents and no money, instead of nice money and no parents. Which is fine with me!

No one really bothered me while I read. After a little while, they brought my car around and I drove off, not quite into the sunset, but back to the farm where my muddy feet blend right in. I ran and hand through my hair, halfway wondering if there would be hay there.


Clever Girl

I have returned to the blogging world from a coma of Christmas Cookies, accidental naps, strings of lights and cedar tree splinters. I’m sure many of you are resurfacing from the most wonderful time of year to find your schedule somewhat wrecked and your bank account gasping. That’s where I am, anyway. And I loved every minute of it.

After my sister came to visit, we traveled to Florida to surprise my Dad and got to celebrate Christmas together. She then flew back to Montana, while my other sister and I made the drive back to the farm, getting in a wreck on the way there. Thankfully, the only thing hurt was her car! After a trip to Enterprise, we got into a Prius (I know right) and headed home.

I surprised her with her childhood horse, who we found living in Georgia, and we began a week of riding, pleasant weather, and lots of trips to the chicken coop.

The rest of my family joined us Christmas evening, it was wonderful to have them at the farm. My Dad asked why I hadn’t been writing, but everyone gets busy around the Holiday’s. Plus, I wanted to enjoy the food and my family, writing about all our adventures could happen later.

And it’s later. I’m back at Sipz, trying to prepare for tomorrow. I don’t have any specific Resolution’s, keeping the Farm going is enough of a commitment in itself.

But I do hope everyone had a wonderful Holiday! We sure did – I put my family to work as soon as they got here. We took a trip to the local dump, pressure washed the sidewalks, my Dad and brother chopped and split more wood than I would care to think about. Mom and my sister painted Sadie’s room and finished the hallway, which I began back in August.

Mom washed all the dishes twice and had the washer and dryer going non-stop. We cooked and cleaned and cooked again, it was wonderful having them around.

They headed home Thursday, and I got to see some good friends from Savannah and ring in the New Year over venison stew and Uno Attack! Friday my cousins came over, we brushes and fed horses, found enough wood for another bonfire and enjoyed more than 1 s’more.

Yesterday I was home alone for the first time since..well, I think ever. It was a cold day but the sun was out, I hayed the horses and let the Chickens out to peck. It was peaceful, restful after all the busy-ness. And here we are today, preparing to head back to deadlines and the real world.

If I had a resolution, I believe it would be to read well and write more. Hold me to it, my anonymous and not-so-anonymous readers, I am full of inspiration!