Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Snakes in the Chicken Hilton!

Mr. Pat shows Michael the proper way to hold a snake
I missed it this morning, but there was quite a ruckus.  A snake was discovered in the Chicken Hilton when Lori and the team showed up. 

Said snake was, ironically, snuggled up right against the cannister of snake repellent.

It was a medium-size snake (although it grew impressively in the telling). 

Lori sent for Mr. Pat, not a friend to snakes, and he showed Michael how to hold it. 

When I heard about all the excitement I hurried to the coops to see what was going on.  Michael was so excited he could hardly speak.

Michael bravely holds the perp
 "I did it, Judy!  I held the snake and it was still ALIVE!" he finally blurted out.

We don't know if it was an egg snake or a chicken snake, and couldn't figure out how it got inside, as it did seem far too large to get through the few warped areas where the nesting box doors were warped. 

In any case, nobody was missing, and the snake had no tell-tale lumps.

Just another adventurous day at Down Home Ranch.

Witnesses to their lives

Kelly, age seven, with wild plums

Jerry told me last night that he'd talked with a grandmother who'd gotten in touch with the Ranch wanting to donate several hundred dollars from sales of the book she wrote about her young grandson.  Of course we were delighted, and want to see that book, too.

I woke up this morning thinking about this grandma, anxious to hear her story. 

I know I will hear echoes of our story it it. 

We know this feeling so well.  In the weeks after Kelly's birth, little songs began to came over me as I rocked her. 

One went like this:

No less a miracle is my child,
Bright flower from an autumn garden.
Reaching for the sky, never stopping to ask why,
No less a miracle is she.

And did I ever really feel
This child was somehow just not real?
A child of no tomorrows,
Whose song no one would sing?

When this child brought the world to me
And opened up eternity
On life's unending wonder,
Of joy's eternal spring.

No less a miracle is my child,
My little flower from an autumn garden.
Reaching for the sky, never stopping to ask why,
No less a miracle is she.

I know I will this recognize this grandma's book for what it is--a testimony to the love this baby boy awakened in her and in her family, something real and tangible that says to the world:  This boy matters.  This boy has a wondrous life to live, too.

And we who love him will be the witnesses of it. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Happy birthday to me from Mike

I suspect that when the kids go back to school in September each year, the folks go back to something else.  That must explain why there are so many May birthdays!

It's true in my family (eight out of 15 of us) and also on the Ranch.  Seems every other day we're celebrating either a staff or Rancher birthday these days.

So I was a little surprised yesterday, which was my birthday, when someone knocked on the door at 7:00 PM, just as we were finishing supper. 

I opened the door and there was Mike, all alone and grinning from ear to ear.

"Happy Birthday, Judy," he said, and then sang the "Happy Birthday" song to me.

"Thank you so much, Mike!" I exclaimed. 

"You are very welcome," he said, waggling a finger at me.  "See you later."

And I was one happy, newly-minted 69-year old.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Improv at the Ranch, wanted or not

Sterling tries to make Kyle laugh
I told Marci, who has bravely agreed to take on the 17th summer of Ranch Camp this year, that I wanted to start spending chorus time on coming up with games, songs and activities that we could try out to use during camp on the Ranchers--you know, see what works and doesn't work.

Well, I yesterday I had a particularly creative bunch of Ranchers to work with on this project, none of them willing to "color between the lines," so to speak.

Our first little game was "Poor Kitty."

Couldn't be simpler! Participants sit in a circle, and "Kitty" crawls from person to person looking pitiful. Kitty can meow, purr, hiss, and pretend to bare her claws at you or try any anything else she thinks might make you laugh.

Your job is to sit stone faced through it all and not laugh. If Kitty makes you laugh, you lose and you then become Poor Kitty.

Well, this was a short-lived game because the members of my gang can't sit straight faced through anything. The minute I (as Kitty) approached Sterling he broke into a huge grin and started laughing, almost falling off his chair.

"No, Sterling, you try not to laugh," I said, breaking out of my role for the moment. "You can't even smile or you lose."

Sterling tried to make a straight face but failed utterly so he now became Poor Kitty.

On all fours he approached Kelly, who looked away trying hard not to smile. Kitty meowed at Kelly, but she held fast for a second or so. Kitty got right in her face and hissed menacingly.

"Oh," she cooed, "what a cute little kitty you are." She then planted a big kiss on his face and started to laugh.

Enough of Poor Kitty! I moved on to "Doggie, doggie, find your bone!"

"Doggie" has to stand in front of everyone else while his bone is given to one of the participants. Then everybody calls out "Doggie, doggie, find your bone!"

Doggie then turns around and approaches the one he believes has his bone and barks. If Doggie is right, that person must give him the bone and now becomes the new doggie. If he is wrong everybody chants "Doggie, doggie, find your bone!" and he continues until he finds it.
Kyle retrieves his bone from Alaina

Kyle proved especially creative on this one. Doggie not only barked, he scratched fleas vigorously, shook hands, and relieved himself on imaginary fireplugs. When admonished not to do so he approached his girlfriend Alaina, licked her face vigorously and then barked.

Kyle retrieved his bone from Alaina

"Okay, okay, guys," I said. "Let's try something else!"

"No, I want to be the Doggie!" said Alaina. So the bone was hidden again and everybody chanted, "Doggie, doggie, find your bone!"

Alaina turned around, got down on all fours, and immediately succombed to hysterics. This set everyone else off and they all collapsed on the floor, howling with laughter, and reprising Kyle's clever ploy with the fire plug.

Method acting at the Ranch
Maybe next week. I'll be careful to make my selections a bit more thoughtfully.

Friday, May 6, 2011

New guys on the Ranch

Clyde, back row second from right, and Tom, front row right
I stopped by the Pavilion to check on "the new guys," who aren't new yet but are doing their trial week.

Trial week is a chance for prospective residents and the Ranch to find out if we're a match for each other.  Most have come to camp, and not a few have declined to move in once they learned that residency involves more time on work teams and not so much toasting s'mores over the campfire.

So Tommy, Jason, Clyde, and Nick are staying in Hickory Lodge, not exactly the same as a residence home (more like a bunkhouse), but close enough.

All four looked pleased as punch when I saw them, and our gang seemed happy, too. We've put them on work teams, and Jason was really going at the dining room floor with an industrial mop and bucket.  "Hi, Judy," he said.  "I'm working hard!"

I get the feeling Jason really wants to live here!

Later, in the barn, I overheard Rebekah, an old  hand, saying to Jason, "You want me show you how do this?"
Jason surveys the barn with satisfaction

"Sure!" Clyde said, and he couldn't have a better instructor.  But right then Lori drew every one aside to give a basic safety orientation on working around horses, all to the twangy background music of KVET's morning show.

Exciting times for Down Home Ranch, and perhaps a much longed-for beginning to a dream come true for four delightful men and their families, if, as I said, it turns out to be a match.

We'll continue to check each other out over the next week, and they'll get a much better picture of life at the Ranch.  I try to imagine what they're feeling now.  They seem happy and confident, but we are a swirl of unfamiliar faces, rules, and traditions.  I would be feeling a bit alone and tentative about the whole prospect at this point, I am sure.

Meanwhile, this weekend they're gearing up to go to the Farmers' Market in Elgin tomorrow morning, and then in the evening to Elgin's own Franco-American Vocal  Academy's production of Offenbach's School for Husbands.  (Who says we don't have culture out here in the boonies!?)

Sunday they'll head for home and think about their time here with the gang.  Maybe they'll decide not yet, or maybe not at all.

But somehow, if I were a betting woman...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Not-So-Lazy River

Central Texas' First Special Olympics Kayaking Team
Casey Dickerson is Down Home Ranch's Case Manager. 

Casey first came to the Ranch during Ranch Camp several years ago while a student at A and M, spent a while working weekends, and slid right into full-time employment after graduation.

Her 40-hour week consists of keeping track of the personal plans and training goals of the Ranchers, serving as their advocate,  maintaining voluminous files on each of them, and overseeing and ensuring their rights, well-being, and safety, all of which she manages to do effectively, efficiently, and with great good humor. 
Sterling, Kelly, Board President Genie Sorensen, and Kyle
Her other 40-hour week, though, is her true life's work, and the one she loves and performs with a devotion that astounds.  Husband (and fellow Aggie) Matt knew what he was getting into when he married her with the full Down Home Ranch community in attendance and providing the music for the wedding. 
Our team on the lake
Since Casey and Matt met on the A and M rowing team, Casey has expertise for a Special Olympics sport not many coaches can boast, so last summer she offered to take those Ranchers willing to try their hand at kayaking to Austin each Sunday for several weeks to practice on Town Lake.  Kyle, Sterling, and Kelly signed up.  They've been practicing for the past several weeks for their first kayaking regatta.

Sunday all their hard work paid off.  Despite stiff winds, each kayaker stayed in their lanes, correcting nimbly when the wind threatened to blow them off-course.  "They did great!" said Casey.  "Watching them go down their lanes, especially in that wind, and stay calm even when they got a little sideways and had to correct was very, very awesome!"
Casey gets a victory shower from a grateful crew
The Ranchers are justifiably proud of their accomplishment.  They are now the first Special Olympics kayaking team in Central Texas!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Oh, California!

Kelly, Alaina and I are back at the Ranch, tuckered out from the great California adventure.

Alaina and Kelly at entrance to Disneyland
We spent Wednesday at Disneyland, which is just a few miles from my cousin's lair in Laguna Woods.  Cousin Melanie served as tour guide and inside dopester for the day. 

Once there, we faced a typical dilemma: which park to go to, Disneyland or Adventureland?  The girls don't like wild rides, but they are very concious of being adults, and I was afraid they would disdain the fairy tale and princess cultures of the old park.

Our kind of ride
Not to worry!  The huge carousel was a hit, and they even stood in line for Dumbo, although they didn't use the joy stick for most of the ride.  I suspect Kelly, who hates heights, was the reason for that.  At one point, though, Alaina grabbed it and up we went.  Unfortunately I wasn't fast enough to catch the look on Kelly's face.

The day was warm, but not hot, and the crowd was small.  Waiting was minimal for the rides.  The main attraction, however, was Main Street--getting pictures taken with characters, eating ice cream, and shopping for the boy friends.

We had dinner reservations at the Catal Spanish restaurant, a "Disney-dining experience" I'd made reservations for the day before, so about 5:00 we availed ourselves of the restrooms in City Hall as we made ready to go eat.

Signing in the plaza
While inside we heard the sounds of a band playing.  Coming out we saw that a flag ceremony had begun in the Main Street Plaza.  Hey, if there's music, we party, so over we went.

A barbershop quartet was singing God Bless America.  Kelly and Alaina stood to the side and began signing the words, very intently and seriously.  The color guard approached and began taking down the flag and all were invited to join in singing the national anthem.

Eyes were equally on the proceedings and on the girls as they signed along, and not a few welled up with tears as true patriotism overrode the staginess of the event.  This was easily the high point of our delightful day at Disneyland.

Ensconced at Catal and the sole focus of the extensive wait staff, we relaxed with cool drinks and pondered the menu.  Pat, Melanie and I went for the paella, but the girls are not so adventurous, so the waiter deftly worked with them to identify a dish they'd enjoy.  I tried not to think about the fact that they'd had been as happy with a $10 hamburger as their $30 entrees.

Said paellas were outrageously good, worth every penny.

After dinner we strolled around listening to street musicians, and the girls were captivated by Drew Tretick, from whom we each bought an album.

Loved it and had to have it
Thursday was more laid back.  Cousins Sherri and Steve had us over to their place for pizza.  The girls lounged in the hot tub and pool as the sun went down.  We ate pizza and laughed over old times and  family adventures in the good old days.  (Melanie says I was her "Auntie Mame.")

Alaina relaxes in the pool
Friday morning we were out the door by 5:20 AM to catch our plane. I'd caught on by now to request pre-boarding so I could be sure to sit with the girls.  When the skies got rough a few hundred miles from Austin and we were rocking and rolling Kelly got scared.

Alaina leaned over toward her and stroked her arm.  "It's all right, Kelly," she said. "Jesus will take care of us."

Kelly replied, "Yes, he will and everything will be all right."

And I wasn't needed at all.

When we got back to the Ranch Kyle and Sterling were waiting.  Sterling came tearing up to Martha House on his bike to help carry luggage into the house.  He and Kelly shared a shy kiss and she gave him his present. 

"See you at the Pavilion!" he cried, and headed back up the road hooting and hollering like Tarzan.  Jerry and I laughed.  Kelly and Alaina got up to the Pavilion to rejoin their friends and things were back to normal at Down Home Ranch.