In April 2011, I published my top ten list of important rules for city slickers living in the country. It appeared on my first blog, Sunrise with Coffee, as well as in a magazine my husband sold it to.
It was not comprehensive by any means, and demonstrated I had yet to reach my learning capacity.
Today my inventory continues to grow, as each moment here on the Kansas prairie remains a not-always-welcome didactic opportunity. The following is an updated and condensed version with two added rules for posterity.
RULE #1 - GET CHICKENS
Not only will you have farm fresh eggs, chickens keep ticks away! No kidding! And better yet, chickens eat spiders! With chickens, you've just reduced your country-living anxiety by 50%! However, just like the pharmaceutical commercials on TV that issue those disclaimers at the end of them, warning of, oh, minuscule side effects, here's the disclaimer that you knew had to be forthcoming:
Chickens leave droppings.
And chicken droppings stick. They have a way of finding you , the bottoms of your shoes, the back of your clothing.
Because if your chickens are free-range, they will band together to make certain that the majority of what they offer is left on your front porch steps in the way of access to your front door and near your lounge chairs too.
RULE #2 - GET A DOG-HE'LL GO GREAT WITH YOUR HEADLESS CHICKENS
Actually, he'll keep your headless chickens to a minimum. I had been quite perplexed to find my chickens without their heads, wondering if I had a cult for neighbors or aliens for visitors, until country folk clued me in:
It was owls.
The cute ones, with big puffy eyes and fluffy heads like the ones you see in nature magazines and illustrated children's books. Skunks too, will eat the heads off chickens. Honestly, that theory sounds a little rough. I mean, how would a skunk possess the stamina or ability to wrench a head of?
Why would any consumer be interested in the head? Just the head? What a waste! That's like killing a cow to eat the head, leaving the filet mignon behind.
A big dog who barks will keep this under control, just make sure you have a "real dog", as my husband says, and not a pretend one who's cuddly and wants to stay indoors.
RULE #3 - GET A CAT-GET LOTS OF CATS-THAT WILL PUT UP WITH YOUR BARKING DOGS
Unless you don't mind sharing your living space with mice, get a cat. Or ten. Or fifty. But as with the barking dogs, get some tough ones. "Sparkles", who eats people food out of a crystal dish would be based and roasted alive by country rodents. You need an army of worldly, street-wise, beastly kitties that know how to deal with the situation properly.
You need cats with skills.
RULE #4 - ALWAYS CAULK ANY GAPS IN YOUR FRENCH DOORS SO MICE CAN'T GAIN ACCESS TO THE INSIDE OF YOUR HOME
RULE #5 - DON'T HAVE FRENCH DOORS IN THE COUNTRY
Have you ever seen the movie Mouse Trap? Enough said.
Except that mice really do cause grown women to shriek in terror and feel faint. Once country mice have gained access to your home, it's a living nightmare to get rid of them. You may opt to have the new owners of your house do it once you are living back in the city.
RULE #6 - NEVER, EVER, WEAR THE SAME CLOTHES TO THE BARN THAT YOU PLAN TO WEAR IN PUBLIC LATER-AND NEVER WEAR SOMETHING TO THE BARN THAT NEEDS DRY CLEANING
The animals will know it. And you will become a target.
And any unpleasantness will be designed to appear on your person only when you are back in the city and in public, because livestock is territorial. They will make sure a little bit of your farm accompanies you wherever you go.
When the clothes can't be accessed, the hood of your vehicle will be.
RULE #7 - OWN A GUN AND LEARN HOW TO SHOOT IT
Anyone who has ever had need to protect their livestock from predators with intent to harm knows this is true. Learning how to use a gun properly is important in the country because there's a lot of theft here. And the thieves are smart, cunning, and capable.
Rainbows and unicorns are no match for them. Guns are.
RULE # 8 - LEARN TO LOVE RUBBER BOOTS
Forget about wearing those darling things you bought at Macy's last season. They wouldn't last a breeze here. Forget about flip-flops too. It's hard to believe, but boots are not just for looks! Who knew they could be functional? Thick leather is fine but the rubber uni-sex mud boots you can pick up at your local farm store are the best. Life is so much sweeter when you walk through the ever-changing country soil with them on.
Note that after the first use, you will need to keep them outside in the garage.
RULE # 9 - BUY GAS IN TOWN WHEN YOU DON'T NEED TO
Gas in your tank burns up faster in the country when you're miles from the nearest gas station than it does in the city.
It's a fact.
Never allow your tank to get down to an eighth full. Okay, for men this may be a no-brainer. And for some women this may also come easily. But this woman had a little trouble with this concept. My husband will tell you a neurological defect prevents me from noticing and responding to the level reading on the gas tank. That's simply not true. I've always noticed the level of the gas in the tank.
I've just chosen not to respond to it in the past.
And there are logical reasons for this. It's just that those reasons are no longer as valid as they once were, for running out of gas in the middle of nowhere trumps everything.
RULE #10 - BUY ALL OF YOUR TIRES FROM THE SAME TIRE STORE
That way you'll maximize your purchase power when you return 57 times during the next year for free screw and nail removal. Gravel roads are notoriously tough on tires but great on friendships. You'll make great friends, as you will get to know the people who help you with your repeated tire issues intimately.
RULE #11 - PREPARE FOR CAT BREEDING MADNESS
I spent a year answering ads for barn cats before I finally got one to stay-long enough to give birth and run off, that is. But her kittens, used to the barking dogs, stayed, and they grew up and became so prolific, I couldn't stop them from reproductive lunacy. Thus, this farm became loaded with cats, hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats. It seemed that way anyway.
No matter how hard I tried to stem that tide, my effort was akin to swimming upstream against a series of waterfalls. Over the next several years I invested more time and energy than I care to admit to, attempting to coax those cats into cages for an hour's drive north into the city for spaying and neutering, but the majority were much too smart for me. And still the children squealed in delight to find kittens in the barn and under the hay and in old tires and boxes and bags, whining and crying and screeching and beseeching for the food they knew we had.
For a while, whenever I opened our front door, the porch looked like, well, this.
The good news is that I've not seen a mouse in years now. And that is worth something.
RULE #12 - DRINK COFFEE-DRINK LOTS AND LOTS OF COFFEE
I really don't need to explain myself here.
But I will add that one of our first goats was called Coffee, so when my husband came up with the name for Sunrise with Coffee, there was meaning to it beyond the obvious.
I wish I could say that title was as sweet as it sounded. Coffee the goat was the reason I have a completely different list of survival rules for goats. But Coffee is a story for another day.