The Lowly Farmer on the Hill

Jeannie Bruenning

Tonight I find myself the lowly farmer on the hill. I have the title because my youngest offspring loves to fill every crack and crevice of her life with things she can take care of. Couple this with her desire to travel and it is why – tonight, I find myself the lowly farmer on the hill.

My other-half (better-half is up for debate and incase you are wondering, I’m winning), he is laid up with the gout – oh god it’s the gout – and is currently not very useful. With wine in one hand and list in my head, I am well prepared for what is to come.

Rain is forecasted and the chick-lets need to be moved. Chick-lets are the newest arrivals that are now somewhere between cute little balls of fuzz and big fat hens. They currently live in a small caged area that won’t keep them dry, thus the relocation. One by one I grab the small feathered frenzy and gently carry them to new safety; transfer their water and food and secure the top to avoid any escape. There is so much to think about as the lowly farmer on the hill.

Now it’s time to feed the Girls. The hen house is a bit down the hill, there’s no rush tonight, so me and my half filled glass of wine enjoy the walk. Feathers, heads, beaks, and squawking greet me. I scoop and sprinkle food on the ground for them and they respond like a bunch of old ladies at the dessert end of a buffet. I leave their quaint dwelling, secure the door, and look over to see the goat and sheep, otherwise known as The Boys. 

Buddy and Shaun have been working diligently on clearing the hill. There is an entire side that we’ve yet to explore because of the underbrush. New areas are coming to light every week and these two are making it happen. I set my glass down and determine which of the hoses is designed to reach their water bucket. They watch me and make their way over as soon as the water fills. I turn to quench the thirst of the olive trees planted along the path. I’m pleased and surprised to see they are surviving.

We have a guest on the hill and I figure this lowly farmer should say hello. She too is a writer, so we sit and talk about writing, and being creative, and life and death, and growing older, and it is delightful. We make plans to do it again. We say goodbye, and my empty glass escorts this lowly farmer across the driveway, past the Fairy Hole, and back home. 

As I walk, the night lights have all illuminated. Their glow is a blanket of peace that hovers over us. It’s magical. It makes me wonder, how did I get so lucky to be the lowly farmer on the hill…

Aye Yai Yai Yai Yai | Prickly Pear

Somehow our littlest one has turned one. She’s a socialite and her first word was “HI”. It’s no wonder, because every room she enters has someone new greeting her saying, “Hi, Amelia!”

Since we moved into this multi-generational crazy world, I’ve found myself frequently saying, “Aye Yai Yai Yai Yai.” It’s fun to say and a bit of a pressure release. 

Once Amelia began adding to her vocabulary with words such as dada, didi, baba, mama, I thought it was time for her to learn my new favorite saying. 

“What does Neenee say?” I’d ask. Then I’d throw my hands in the air, toss my head back and say, “Aye Yai Yai Yai Yai.”

Amelia caught on quickly and “Aye Yai Yai Yai Yai” became part of her vocabulary.

The other day I glanced into the kitchen just in time to see her straddling the high chair and counter top. I froze for a moment and then jumped in and grabbed her. Mom had turn away for just a moment and when she turned back and we shared the same shocked and horrified look.

Mom took Amelia in her arms and hugged her. Amelia tolerated the hug for just a moment then pulled back, looked over at me, tossed her head back and exclaimed, “Aye Yai Yai Yai Yai!”

…at least she knows how to use it!!

School begins! | Prickly Pear

School has started and there’s a new normal at the hacienda. This time of year is crazy in any household with school age kids, combine three families, 5 kids attending three different schools and crazy can turn to chaos quickly.

This is the typical schedule through out the week:

  • 4:30am Megan heads to work two days a week and 10:00 the other two.
  • 6:40am Jeff leaves for work with Brian following shortly behind.
  • 7:00am is Raun’s departure – leaving Amelia on the days Megan is already at work.
  • 7:30am is the time for Sage to head to school which is 8 miles away, taking 30 minutes round trip. 
  • 8:15am Liam and Elin head to the bus stop and Austyn takes Emery to school, which is another 30 minute adventure. 
  • This all works except for Mondays when the elementary schools have a late start and 3 of the 4 students attending school have to adjust their schedule. 
  • 8:45am Austyn & Jeannie are at the studio to begin the day.
  • 1:00pm Sage is done with classes and typically has afternoon appointments. 
  • 2:00pm is Megan’s expected return when she starts at 4:30
  • 2:40pm Emery finishes her school day and twice a week has therapy. 
  • 3:21pm Liam and Elin need to be met at the bus stop.
  • 4:00pm Elin begins counting the minutes until Dad get homes.
  • 4:30pm Jeff makes his return.
  • 5:30pm Brian drives up the hill
  • 7:00pm is Megan’s return on her late days…

Then there are the unexpected phone calls: Elin has pink eye, Emery has a headache, My car won’t start…

Where is Amelia when all this crazy is happening? Hanging out with Nana or Neenee or mom or dad, or whomever has a free day.

Then there are the critters. Winston is old enough to take care of himself. Sadie and Charlie go from their crate, or hang out in the “puppy room”. We’ve added 5 chickens this weekend and I hope they have no intention of going to school

The Brady Bunch had Alice and the Jetsons had Rosie, we have a calendar hanging on the wall in the kitchen. It does its best to keep us organized, but it’s only as good as those tending to it. 

Each night we try to check in to make sure everyone who needs to be somewhere in the morning will be able to do so and that we aren’t leaving anyone under the age of 10 home alone. 

We laugh, shake our heads, and rub our foreheads. Some days we just stand and stare at the calendar trying to make sense of it. We say things like:

“There’s got to be a way to simplify this.” 

“Oh geezzz. There’s only one person home tomorrow morning – that won’t work!” 

“When will Amilea be ready for Kindergatern?” 

“Why isn’t Emery driving yet?” 

“Hey Liam! Can you build us our very own Rosie?”

“Where do you get an Alice – cause I think we need one!!” 

I Love Our Family | Prickly Pear

The car pulled up and as the doors begin to open letting its passengers out, I heard her say, “I love our family.”

I watched as this newly formed family exited the car. A new mom, a dad, and three blonde beauties ranging from ten month-old  to seventeen year-old with smiles that light up the darkest of moments. 

The mom of this crew is the newest adult member of our family. When she promised to love our eldest, she promised to take the good, the bad, and the baggage – and there’s a lot of baggage. It includes a difficult relationship with an ex, step-children and an inevitable custody case. She now finds herself the mom of a 10 month-old, the step-mom of a 9 and 17 year-old (with hopes of bringing the last one home). 

A year ago Jeff and I were asked if we’d consider having our 16 year-old step-grand-daughter live with us. Without hesitation the response was, “Yes, of course.” We had no idea what was to follow. Neither did we realize how our lives would change. 

We’ve learned about another way of life. One that includes police officers showing up at the house regularly. Probation officers stopping by to check up on how we are doing. Social Workers asking interesting questions that make you feel as if you’re on trial. There’s lawyers, magistrates, judges, District Attorneys, subpoenas, and evidence.

We’ve had moments of frustration, anger and outrage. When a CFI (Court Ordered Family Investigator) submitted her recent report to the Colorado Courts, we read statements about how our grandkids have been treated and how the system has failed them. Statements such as, “I have not seen a more appalling handling of children’s best interests than in this case.” “This is one of the worse accounts of abuse I’ve seen in forty years.” You’re not sure what to do with the emotions that erupt within you. You wait for someone to do something. Someone to step in and make it right. Someone to come to the rescue. When they don’t, you begin to walk down paths you’ve never walked before. 

Then, in the midsts of the muck, there are moments, like Uncle Brian saying, “We just have to keep loving.” An unexpected, “I love you Neenee.” A delighted cousin asking, “Does Elin get to live here now?” 

We were put under the microscope three weeks after moving into our multi- generational homestead, when this same court ordered Family Investigator spent three days watching us and asking deep and personal questions. In her 32 page court report that outlines abuse and neglect by a troubled mom, we found statements like, “Visiting the Bruenning’s was nothing but a heartwarming and inspiring example of family life in an extended family. There was a great deal of respect and understanding, open communication among them all… I have seen and evaluated many homes and families and many varieties over my years and have not seen one that appeared healthier and more functional than this one…”

I don’t believe such statements would have been made a year ago. We are closer because we’ve accepted to be on a journey, that at times isn’t pleasant, it isn’t easy, there is no escape and there are no rules. It’s time consuming, finance sucking and emotionally draining. We wonder at times if our Hacienda is really here to allow us to support each other as we welcome home these young lives who come in need of love and healing. 

Is it worth it? Some days I’d say I’m not sure. 

But then there are moments when I hear statements like, “I love our family!” And I watch three blond sisters and their mom and dad walk into the house that is now their home…and it all feels right.  

Plus 2 | Prickly Pear

beer loving puppies at prickly pear

“And now I know you’ve lost your mind!” my friend replied to my text.

But I had been looking for my Sadie dog for some time. Even the grandkids knew that Sadie was coming to our house. “Neenee, go get Sadie!” Liam would say. “I’m looking for her,” I’d reply. “She’s coming, she’s just not here yet.”

I had an image of what Sadie would look like. Big, fluffy, loving, happy, the Old English Sheepdog type. Sadie would be our next great dog. When friends asked Jeff about the new dog, he’d laugh and say, “We’re not getting a dog.”

On Thursday morning I opened craigslist as a distraction from dealing with life’s drama, (you know – when it feels like good never wins and the crazies are taking over the  universe!!!)  I clicked on community and found pets. I scrolled down the list and the words Lab Puppies Ready Now, caught my attention. I hadn’t considered another Lab but it was worth a peek.

The post said that 5 puppies were ready for their new homes. I opened the images of puppy #1, puppy #2 and the moment #3 opened I proclaimed, “Sadie, there you are! I’ve been waiting for you!” I stared at her. Those sweet sad eyes looking right through the camera and sucked me in. Her brown paws gently folded in front of her.  “I’ve found her, I found Sadie!”

Sadie the newest member at PricklyPear by author Jeannie Bruenning

I clicked on puppy #4 and then #5…

Charlie the newest addition to PricklyPear by author Jeannie Bruenning

How could I possibly leave #5 behind?!?

I began texting; are they still available? Is puppy #3 a girl or boy? When will they be ready? Are they a mix?  Is puppy #5 still available?

Yes they are available, #3’s a girl and #5’s a boy, they are ready now, both parents are black labs, I’ll send you their picture, do you want both, when would you like to get them…

Give me till 12:00, I need to get a few approvals…

A few approvals? Ha!! There are five other adults living in this house, two of them have an eight-month old and one of them is convinced he’s not getting a dog!!

The next two hours were filled with;

You’re crazy!

            I don’t really like puppies but you do what you want.

            Is this really a good time for puppies. (Is anytime a good time for puppies?)

At 12:07 I replied, I’ll take both!

Where would you like to meet?

I’m coming from Pismo and not sure if I can come until Sunday.

I’ll be happy to deliver them.

That would be great!

I’ll be there in 3 hrs, around 3:30…

She may have been right, I may have lost my mind!


Hello World!!

Meet Sadie and Charlie – the newest additions to our Prickly Pear Family!

Yes, Charlie loves beer…

beer loving puppies at prickly pear


Lucky or Unlucky? | Prickly Pear

We are so luck written by Jeannie Bruenning

I spent time imagining what this new living arrangement would be like, being in the same house that our youngest grand daughter would learn to walk in, she’ll go to her first day of kindergarten from this house and some day move out. I’ve tried to picture how having a space like this is going to make the holidays different. I’ve tried to calculate what Oktoberfest, Purim and Passover might look like?

It was never our intention to have regular family meals but in our first week of being here, Megan’s mom and grand-mother brought us two meals which were wonderful and allowed us to stop unpacking and gather around the table for dinner. Then we had a pizza night, a Megan’s Cooking!! night and Liams Surprise Dinner night and soon we were checking with each other about what we should do for dinner.

While the ten of us sit around the table enjoying the meal, the kids talk about their school day and the adults about what’s the next project. It didn’t take long to realize that this time of the day provides an abundance of unexpected fun. Amelia can now join in as she can sit in a high chair. She laughs at us and we laugh at her and when we forget that she is the center of the universe, she squeals and let’s us know we’re ignoring her. Emery comments on the spiciness of the food and Liam usually has made desert for us to enjoy later. 

Our kitchen/dinning room is almost a third of the size of the entire house. In fact, it’s almost the same size of the condo we owned in Chicago. It has 2 refrigerators, a new sparkling oven, a table that seats 12 and is becoming the hub. The place we gather to eat and drink and stay connected. 

The other night Austyn read a short story that Emery had written. The assignment was to write about a time when you felt lucky or unlucky. This is her story…

I feel lucky for living in this house.

We live on a hill and have more space to play and walk around.

It is beautiful.

We can see lots of things like hills, palm trees and lots of sky.

I am lucky.

That night we all realized just a little bit more how lucky we are.