Thursday, June 9, 2011

Nothing Last Forever • Not Even Your Troubles

"If I ever had to live off of the farm, I'd die," Ben Byler said with a wide smile.  "It's the only life for me."  I admired his strength of heart and dedication, but as I stood in the dusty driveway sweating after only 5-minutes without air conditioning, I realized I couldn't relate in the slightest.  Something tells me he knew it, too.

It was my week to pick up milk for our co-op.  I wake up early on those Saturdays, excited to pack my car full of willing friends who share my enthusiasm for trips to Amish country.  I'm sure the Byler family is every bit as interested in us as we are in them when we arrive.  Even the horses give us a good once-over as we meander down the driveway to the milking barn.

Ben's family moved to Cadiz, Kentucky from Maryland 18 months ago.  The farm that they purchased has nutrient depleted soil from generations of commercial farming and run-down out buildings that have all required repairs in order to function properly.  In six short months, Ben and his countless children (I literally cannot count them all) raised three new barns and began organically infusing the soil with necessary nutrients.  Their outlook is as positive as west-bound pioneers; their faces gleaming with accomplishment that only comes from working the land.

With the recent wave of green living and responsible agriculture, the Byler family seems very trendy; hipsters of the Amish community, if you will.  Ben explained how their free-range chickens not only aerate the soil, but also fertilize it with their perfectly designed feet and the delicate (yet refreshingly simple) balance of the farm's ecological system.  "The animals do the work for you if you know when to move them in the pastures and you pay attention to the seasons.  It takes about five years to replenish the land when it's been over-worked like this."  Ben's wife Lydia nodded in agreement, completely accepting of their reality.

As we were talking, a horse drawn flat-bed wagon passed through the field, obedient children (again, countless) on their way to late-morning chores waved at us.

I think about the time-tested farming practices that the Amish have mastered (sans technology and search engines) and realize why they're successful stewards of the land:  Patience.  Honesty.  Fairness.  Ben doesn't call his style of farming "organic farming;" he just calls it farming.  Ben farms primarily for the benefit of his family; he's not greedy with what he takes from the land (they also eat venison exclusively from their property) and he doesn't rush the process.  

My TV Network Executive friend Tammi usually joins me on the 2 hour drive to Amish country.  After her third trip with me, Ben asked, "Do you drink the milk, too?"  Tammi explained that she travels too much for work to commit to a gallon of milk every week. Ben replied matter-of-fact, "So you need a different job then."

Everything should be as simple as that.  For now I'll glean what knowledge I can from the Byler's simple, rewarding life of patience, honesty and fairness.

love y'all!


Friday, March 18, 2011

Dog Park: The Story of Corbin & Claire

The Dog Park: a seemingly uncivilized place where, if it weren't for four-legged (though I have seen three-legged), barking, slobbery, unconditional love-filled creatures, most humans wouldn't set foot. Some are purebred, some mutts, others have an uncanny resemblance to their owners. I spend hours at the dog park every week with my Corbin Dallas (a gorgeous Australian Shepherd/Border Collie). The people are friendly and everyone expects to get jumped on, peed on (it happens - last week, actually) and occasionally caught in the cross-fire of a stampede (oftentimes fueled by Corbin's herding instinct - low to the ground, intense border collie "eye," thrilled with himself for getting 15 dogs to run for their lives...).

Corbin is picky with his playmates - if ever a dog had an opinion, it is him. There have been times when we leave the park because he deems no one a worthy playmate - he gets in play stance (bowing down, butt in the air) and begins barking profusely at me, telling me it's time to leave. And so we do.

It was last fall when we were about to leave the dog park (at Corbin's request) that we met Claire, a pretty Border Collie/Black Lab with a pleasant temperament and fast enough to keep Corbin interested in the chase. It was love at first flight. Claire took off running and Corbin gave chase. The pair would return to me and Lauren (Claire's mom) time and time again and Corbin would parade for Claire, rolling in the dirt, barking and whining for her to run again. She'd pounce on him with licks and take off like a bullet. I've really never seen anything like it.

Since then, Claire is the first thing Corbin looks for when we get to the dog park (sometimes he spots Lauren first and wiggles his whole body knowing that Claire isn't far away). Once they find each other, an immediate game of chase ensues - dust and polo sized grass clods flying everywhere.

Months prior to meeting Claire at the dog park, Corbin's regular Doggie Daycare (Camp Bow Wow Nashville) was closed for about a month for repairs after Nashville experienced horrific flooding. Frantic for a place to send him during the days that I am busy trying to rule the world/write hit songs, I found another daycare to accommodate his super-high energy and separation anxiety.

I dreaded taking him to a new place; much like the mother of a human child taking their kid to a new school mid-year (or so I imagine). But Corbin, being the dog he is and seemingly excited about having a new place to pee and me, having no other choice, got dropped off.

At the end of the day, I went to pick him up. He ran to the gate to greet me, jumping up in the air and barking. I asked the daycare owner how he had been for them. They told me he fit right in. He even met a dog that he seemed to bond with immediately and followed around all day (I imagined this dog "introducing" him to everyone - like the cool kid on campus). They gave me a picture of Corbin and his new friend standing on top of a doggy play-set and I put it in my notebook of sheet music - then I put the notebook in my trunk and closed it.

This morning (10 months after the photo was taken), I re-discovered the notebook with the picture of Corbin and his friend from the once-visited doggy daycare inside. I did a double take when I recognized the other dog in the picture this time. It was Claire. No doubt. Pink collar, white chest, speckled feet - the look of love on both of their faces.

I guess they've always loved each other. I don't know why, but it makes me tear-up; the provision of love and friendship even in my dog's life. It makes me consider the implications of the never ending love that the Lord has for us - to send what we need, just when we need it. A friend to show you the ropes, a love to heal the brokenness - a playmate when none other are worthy.

Today I'm thankful for the little provisions and so thankful for a God that teaches me things on my level and uses my dog to show them to me. He knows I speak animal.

Bunny Butler

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Crocus & Smilax

Thirty crocus, eighteen tulips and two bearded Iris (I know they should be planted in odds, but I ran out of dirt): that is what I planted in my tiny concrete garden this weekend. Only two days in and I'm already looking expectantly; hoping to catch at just the right moment, a bud bursting through the nutrient depleted soil with festive green shoots and an emergence of springtime joy. I guess I am proud. After all, I dug a hole and plopped them in.

But the Crocuses are what I am excited about the most... They are the smallest of the bulbs - not much bigger than my thumb nail; enchantingly simple and lovely. Their carefree petals and small stature is what implored me to rescue them from the bargain bin at The Home Depot. They aren't as elegant and tightly-bound as the tulips or as dramatic as the Iris'. They are very not put-together. Something I fear about myself, but admire in others.

According to legend, young Crocus was a shepherd boy with a fine and noble spirit. He fell deeply in love with the lovely nymph, Smilax. Being impressed with the depth of his devotion, the gods granted him immortality and turned him in to a flower. They also transformed Smilax into an evergreen, the yew, to ensure the two would be always together.

I love a good legend to back-up my natural inclination at anthropomorphizing (something the Greeks mastered as well). When I read this story, it all made sense. And why wouldn't it? Two lovers combined for all eternity, perfectly complimenting each others uniqueness, subtly calling me, a fellow romantic, to plant them in a garden where they can just 'be.' This must be what Edward Cullen feels like every time he saves Bella.

Apparently I'm not the only fanciful person to be captivated by the story of this simple little flower (which, thanks to my imagination, I will no longer see as a flower but instead as two lovers in an embrace - all over my garden). A poem by Frances E.W. Harper called The Crocuses poignantly captures the essence of the flower. It would be a shame not to share.

In the everlasting arms
Mid life’s dangers and alarms
Let calm trust your spirit fill;
Know He’s God, and then be still.”
Trustingly I raised my head
Hearing what the atom said;
Knowing man is greater far
Than the brightest sun or star.
They heard the South wind sighing
A murmur of the rain;
And they knew that Earth was longing
To see them all again.
While the snow-drops still were sleeping
Beneath the silent sod;
They felt their new life pulsing
Within the dark, cold clod.
Not a daffodil nor daisy
Had dared to raise its head;
Not a fairhaired dandelion
Peeped timid from its bed;
Though a tremor of the winter
Did shivering through them run;
Yet they lifted up their foreheads
To greet the vernal sun.
And the sunbeams gave them welcome.
As did the morning air
And scattered o’er their simple robes
Rich tints of beauty rare.
Soon a host of lovely flowers
From vales and woodland burst;
But in all that fair procession
The crocuses were first.
First to weave for Earth a chaplet
To crown her dear old head;
And to beautify the pathway
Where winter still did tread.
And their loved and white haired mother
Smiled sweetly ’neath the touch,
When she knew her faithful children
Were loving her so much.
I hope you each plant something lovely today - a flower, an idea, a ridiculous story.



Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Visceral Me vs. Rudimentary Self

I love my little modern luxuries like the next girl: my Clarisonic Skin Brush (which by the way will rock your face off), the Christian Louboutin online look-book, Botox that doesn't kill you, the freedom to stalk people you don't even know on social networking sites without judgment or ever getting caught... the list could go on for days. I also love being a grown-up: going to bed after midnight on a Tuesday, short skirts, downloading songs with explicit lyrics (no permission required), having licorice for supper, etc.

So there's that side of me that's shallow and materialistic and just generally relieved to have made it to twenty-seven without incident and glad that at the end of the day I can turn on the TV and drink a glass of wine, but then there's this side (the one that's blogging ridiculous titles like "Visceral Me vs. Rudimentary Self") that feels underwhelmed and disappointed that I'm somehow surviving on the meaningless - like eating Rice Cakes. Surviving on the things that mute my heart and soul. I start to feel like they are an enemy that intentionally muffles the still, small, voice that only speaks when you're listening and asks, "Do you know yourself?"

Blink... Blink...

I know what the visceral me wants and *thinks* she's capable of, but do I know the rudimentary me anymore? Ya know, the me that used to be certain of everything and doubtful of nothing? The undiluted kid version of myself; potent, raw and full-bodied.

If I could return to 1994 with a bottle and capture one-tenth of the determination and knowing I had (time travel info) as a feisty, unusual, unstoppable ten-year old sitting in the upstairs loft of our Wyoming abode, writing in a Lisa Frank notebook (in my neatest penmanship and with absoluteness) a list of all that I would accomplish in my grand life, my inner voice could have moved on to another question by now: "What are you waiting for?"

Any time I start these self-exams, the small, still, humble voice is able to speak a little louder. I feel the ten-year-old version of myself perk up and inhaling deeply say, "She's remembering -- she's coming back! She won't let anyone sway her or swindle her or defeat her or discourage her now. Nope."

I'm not saying I had it all figured out when I was 10 (turns out not all boys are icky and eventually sweet tarts would make me gag when I ate more than five), but I was dedicated to the task at hand... I had auto-pilot dedication to my rudimentary material - the cloth I was cut out of.

One thing I've always been is laid-back; more energy than a terrier, but easygoing. I still love all of the little pacifiers I listed above, but I don't want to allow them to mute the little voice. That little Carolina accented voice has some really good things to say -- and a Lisa Frank notebook that probably has the best ideas I've ever had.

Friday, December 3, 2010

My Dog Lives Better Than I Do

He is my best friend, bed warmer, constant shadow, co-pilot, secret keeper, momma's boy, comic relief, personal trainer and the face that makes me smile even when I don't think I have one in me. He is Corbin Dallas and he lives a better life than I do. But you know... without any jealousy I can admit that he truly deserves it.

Our relationship is one that has given a 1000x return on the investment (I give him kisses, treats, snuggles and rides in the car to the dog park and PetSmart in exchange for his unconditional love and admiration). To sweeten the deal, I've never once questioned the purity of our relationship either. It's simple: I love him. He loves me. I take care of him. He takes care of me. Couldn't be easier.

Calling him a "dog" seems underhanded - so does referring to myself as his "owner" (after all, at 2 am when he's taking up more of the bed than Jim and I combined, who owns who?).

Sure, I spoil him - but he spoils me too. In fact, he's got the love thing down so effortlessly that when other relationships fall short, even just a little bit, they seem all the more intolerable.

So thanks for letting me gush a little bit about my favorite -- and brag about how lucky I am to be obsessed over by such a grand soul.

Here's to my Corbin!


Friday, October 8, 2010

Farm Animal Sanctuary

I've always told my husband that one day, when we have land that I haven't already filled with dogs and horses, I'd like to rescue animals from slaughterhouses (his family raised beef cattle -- who says we aren't a match made in heaven?). I pictured it as a covert operation: belaying equipment attached to my black cat suit, suspended above the slaughterhouse floor from a roof hatch that I opened with a bobby-pin, reaching stealthily for the lever that would release helpless cows from their certain death... Fast forward the fantasy sequence to cows and sheep frolicking for the first time in the beautiful, rolling hills of Tennessee - thanking me silently with their gentle eyes. Ahh. It's one of my favorite ideas. Ever.

As if I didn't need any more encouragement (other than the encouragement I receive from the hubby, of course), Farm Sanctuary has gone and inspired me with their dedication to fair treatment and respect for life. With two locations (upstate New York and California), the organization exists to not only rescue the abused, but combat the abuses of factory farming and encourage a new awareness and understanding about "farm animals." Through the years, Farm Sanctuary has rescued thousands of animals (see the piglet named "Bob Harper" above) and educated millions of people about their plight.

Along the same lines, the video below is from a documentary called "Peaceable Kingdom - The Journey Home" that
explores the awakening conscience of several people who grew up in traditional farming culture and who have now come to question the basic premises of their inherited way of life. Definitely worth a watch and I'm looking forward to the release of the full-length documentary.

In other bovine news, Maybelline is great (and treated fairly). In the picture I posted last of her, you will see that she's eating a dried branch with brown leaves on it; which explains the odd after-taste in the milk we experienced for a couple of weeks. Anyway, our Amish farmer began supplementing their grass (since it's been so dry in our area) and the milk is back to it's sweet, creamy deliciousness.

Cheers to your health - and happiness!


Monday, August 16, 2010


Friends. Allow me to introduce you to Maybelline; the producer of the most delicious milk south of the Mason-Dixon line and a poster child for Latisse eyelash enhancer.

I ventured out to Amish country again this weekend (along with my co-op partners in crime Tammi & Jodi) for milk pick-up and a corn pickin' good time. We saw a rat the size of a cat cross the highway in record time, wild turkeys, tobacco drying in authentic tobacco barns, scriptures posted on ancient oak trees, gorgeous teams of draft horses hoeing corn and some of the most beautiful countryside in Kentucky.

The Amish are inspiring with their dedicated work ethic and resourcefulness. It's actually intimidating. I never know quite what to wear (how superficial does this make me sound?) on my trips to Amish country, so a costume change was voted necessary after Tammi & Jodi deemed my top (one I wear to church...) "whorish" for the Amish.

The picture to the left is of us carrying in the large cooler into the milk barn. The cows are milked in the morning before we arrive for pick-up and the milk is immediately put in a water-cooled refrigeration system. All of the cows looked very pleased with themselves when we pulled up (especially Maybelline because she is a Supermodel). Good job, girls!