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Noah Vail and Mary Farr

This is not your ordinary writing duo. Noah is a wise and witty horse who blogs, tweets and writes the occasional book with his business partner, Mary Farr. He calls her “Madam” and “The Management.” She’s the author of four books and frequently presents on topics that foster health, happiness and healing. Their funny and inspirational book, Never Say Neigh, won an honorable mention in the 2013 Paris Book Festival.

When to say no to a career in horticulture

Noah Vail and Mary FarrI never felt moved to garden.

A weekly CSA full of carrots makes a delicious gift, but last year when I was craving a fresh rhubarb crisp, our CSA farmer Clyde Gunderson delivered a bushel of kale. Incidentally green kale combined with blueberries and a shot of apple juice, makes another color — brown. Hence, the term Poo Smoothie made its way into our food lexicon. But, more to the point, why squander good money on fertilizer and compost when Andres and I toss it out of my room every day?

Madam, on the other hand, swoons when the spring seed catalogs arrive. Daffodils, mums, heirloom tomatoes — she sticks them in the ground the minute she can chisel a hole in the dirt. A case in point: last spring, she expanded her petite kitchen garden into an enterprise worthy of the University of Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum. Size, by the way, didn’t necessarily spell success. Just about the time she popped a fabulous looking head of cauliflower into boiling water, an entire worm family swam for cover. Thus ended the blanch-and-freeze operation. Yet, Madam is nothing if not persistent.

Armed with this information, I should not have been surprised when she texted me to ask if I would bring big Sven over to her place to help tidy up last year’s botanical behemoth. According to her, it was a job requiring horsepower from manly specimens like the two of us.

“We’ll need to pull your Comfy Sundowner trailer out of the shed for this little undertaking,” she added. “All the garden litter and leftover pumpkins will never fit in the Subaru Outback.”

“Um, how about bagging the stuff and leaving it on the curb for Aspen Waste Management,” I suggested. If memory serves, last year’s clean up produced a number of hidden surprises including slippery night crawlers and a petrified vole.

I tried to explain. “The idea of thawing rabbit poo and rotted hostas joyriding in my Comfy Sundowner just feels wrong,” I offered politely. “And sharing space with rodent carcasses doesn’t appeal to Sven either. He might be a big shire but he happens to be afraid of mice.”

It helped her case that she kept referring to Sven and me as manly specimens. So, with minimal coaxing and the promise of a Dairy Queen Moo Latte, we agreed to help. Sven loaded up our Bobcat Gator and a few pitchforks, and Madam drove us to her home for a morning of garden prep.

Once we filled the Comfy Sundowner, she announced, “Okay boys, jump in. We’re off to the St. Claire Avenue compost site to get rid of this stuff.”

We climbed in. Sven tied a dish towel over his nose cowboy style to protect against the Eau de Squirrel fragrance that wafted from within. Fortunately the ride took just minutes, though lots of other folks had the same idea. Fully loaded cars and trucks wound around the driveway and down the street. So, we caught a quick nap while we waited. Once Madam reached the front of the line, she pulled up to the nearest pile of organic matter and started pitching while Sven and I waited inside the trailer.

Folks must have been feeling jumpy with all that waiting because, soon enough, a fracas broke out somewhere in the next row over.

“What’s all that shouting?” whispered Sven.

I stretched my neck attempting to get a look out my window, just in time for a rotten tomato to smack the glass. I ducked, and Sven gasped. More shouts followed. “It’s coming from that red van,” I whispered back. “Can you see anything from your side?”

“All I can see is Madam pointing at a sign that says No Guns, Fighting, or Foul Language Allowed on these Premises. Violators will be Prosecuted!” Just about then, a muddy cantaloupe ricocheted off the trailer door, as Madam yanked it open and jumped in. Armed with a pitchfork and a plastic bag, she appeared to be ready for a firm discussion.

“Why don’t you just call 911 and let the authorities stop over for a word,” I suggested, to no avail. (No pun intended).

“You boys don’t move a whisker,” she commanded, disregarding my entreaty. “I’m tossing the rest of this stuff right out the back door, and we’ll be out of here in a flash. “

By now, the shouting had escalated to an unruly level, and I could see the site supervisor galloping across the parking area waving his fist. A woman in a pink tube top bellowed at her boyfriend Frank calling him a good for nothing lump. A guy named Billy threw a punch at a fellow driving a Ford Super Duty pickup. Just at that moment, a can of beer made it through the pickup driver’s open window. That was when the foul language struck a high note.

Meanwhile, Madam kept pushing garden remains out the trailer door. She then slammed and bolted the tailgate, jumped in her Dodge Ram, and drove for home like a volunteer firefighter on her way to a four- alarmer.

“What the heck was that about?” Sven squeaked as we bounced over a curb and up the hill. “I thought compost sites were friendly places where folks traded tips on grilling sweet corn.”

“Hmm… I suppose that sign should have been our first clue,” I reasoned out loud. “I’ll have to admit though, that woman in pink had quite an arm to pitch a full can of beer through a truck window.” Sven shuddered at the thought.

Noah“Yes, but do you think this will keep Madam from gardening this year?” he croaked, wincing at the prospect of getting beaned by a can of Summit Pale Ale.

“Not a chance,” I replied. Once she gets a big idea, she’s hard to deter.

— Noah Vail

Noah Vail and Mary Farr have collaborated on a book, Never Say Neigh: An Adventure in Fun, Funny and the Power of You. Noah, author, philosopher, humorist, gin rummy ace and all-around “good news sort of guy,” blogs hereNever Say Neigh won an honorable mention in the 2013 Paris Book Festival. Their newest book, When Your Plan A Bombs, is due out in June.

Are you disappearing?

Noah Vail and Mary FarrMadam stopped in today to talk about our winter foray up North on the Gunflint Trail. Since food preparation is always top of mind for this snowy event, I figured she wanted to discuss my recent Pillsbury Bake Off winner. But she surprised me by opening our coffee klatch with a strange revelation:

“I’m invisible,” she declared while pulling off her chopper’s mitts and flumping on my horsehair lounger.

“Then why can I see you nibbling on one of my freshly baked nickerdoodles?” I inquired. “And, by the way, you’re wearing Dickie coveralls and an earflap hat. That makes you pretty visible in a crowd, if you ask me.”

She sighed deeply and eyed me as if I had grown a moustache.

Then I remembered reading on Wikipedia that humans start to shrink when they hit a certain age. Come to think of it, Madam did mention that she’d lost an inch or two over the last few years, but she’s still 5’8,” which seems visible enough.

Anyhoo, our Gunflint Trail planning session would have to wait. Instead I delicately asked Madam, “What was your first clue that you had become imperceptible?”

She pondered that for a moment. “It all started when the COSTCO checkout clerk handed me my grocery receipt and said, ‘Thank you sir.’”

“Ah… do you think it had anything to do with that fetching earflap hat you’re wearing? Or, perhaps COSTCO clerks aren’t trained in how to assist mature females dressed in coveralls accessorized by spurs.”

After holding forth about how countless horsewomen shop with their spurs on, she asked what I meant by mature females. This took me a moment.

“Then there was the hostess at Amy Lou’s House of Pancakes,” she quipped. “This woman could clearly see that I was next in line, yet she tossed the guy behind me a radiant smile and hauled him off to a table next to a sunny window. Or, how about last week when I got an audit notification from the IRS addressed to Mister M. Farr, Esquire?”

“Well, I suppose one could call that better news for you than for Mr. Farr,” I added encouragingly. She was on a role.

“Last week Geno’s Tru Test Glass delivered my new shower door to the Delrose family next door,” she pressed on. And two of my clients forgot to pay me, probably because they forgot my name. Why, just last night, a friend and I went to see Fifty Shades of Grey, and the guy at the window sold me a children’s ticket.

Oh dear, all this talk of vanishing caused me to wonder and worry. Was this an aging problem or a wardrobe problem? In either case, I’m getting a bit long in the tooth and short on the wardrobe, so it’s high time that I get myself in front of a mirror to see that I haven’t disappeared, too.

— Noah Vail

Noah Vail and Mary Farr have collaborated on a book, Never Say Neigh: An Adventure in Fun, Funny and the Power of You. Noah, author, philosopher, humorist, gin rummy ace and all-around “good news sort of guy,” blogs hereNever Say Neigh won an honorable mention in the 2013 Paris Book Festival. Their newest book, When Your Plan A Bombs, is due out this spring.

The real meaning of deer hunting

Noah Vail and Mary FarrIt’s deer hunting season here in flyover country. That means every buck stalker in possession of a Cabela’s credit card has slipped into blaze orange wear and donned a camo headlamp. It’s a taxidermist’s dream and high season at the Buck Knuckle Saloon.

“So, what’s the meaning of this annual quest for a multi-pointed hat rack?” I asked Madam. She rolled her eyes, as she does when I ask a culturally insensitive question. Then she told me a hunting story that made perfect sense.

Madam’s father, a retired judge, and three of his Depression Era cronies hatched a plan to make one last trip to deer camp, for old time’s sake. So, on opening day, they loaded Alden Jacobson’s Dodge minivan with the required, cigars, toilet paper, playing cards, cribbage boards and a rolling cooler full of groceries. Alden planned the menu, and appointed retired police detective Walt Shwank to help cook. Old Ed Witzig was in charge of tending the fire and the mousetraps. The judge volunteered to manage artillery. The four friends then drove north to their favorite hideout, Camp Rum Dumb.

Upon their arrival, they unloaded the perishables and aimed for the woods. Only the judge and Alden carried guns, a blessing for the deer and other hunters. Armed with binoculars, Ed and Walt tottered down the fire lane munching egg salad sandwiches and regaling one another with Camp Rum Dumb tales. There was the time Ed fell out of his deer stand and landed on a drowsy bull snake. Or, in 1965 a skunk family moved in under the kitchen sink.

A couple of hours passed with no deer sightings. So, they turned back toward camp to set up housekeeping. Alden and Walt cooked up a meatloaf and mashed potatoes, while Ed and the Judge played a round of gin rummy. After dinner, a crackling fire in the fireplace and a drop of Jack Daniels topped off a perfect stroll down memory lane. At midnight they all retired to their sleeping bags.

Then, about an hour later, a clatter arose from the kitchen.

“What is it?” whispered Walt, groping for his glasses. “Who’s in here?” he demanded. No response.

The Judge clicked on his flashlight to have a look. “What’s going on out there?” he shouted. A startled weasel with a salad fork in its mouth glared back at him.

“Well, I’ll be,” croaked Ed. “He must have liked the meatloaf.”

Nobody moved a whisker, including the weasel. Finally, the deafening silence ended with an equally deafening KABOOM. It seemed that Walt had packed his old service revolver and chose this moment to shoot a hole in the ceiling. Maybe he thought the weasel would see the moon through the opening and find its way out.

No such luck. The weasel darted off the counter but not out the hole. Then came a chorus of, “Shoo, shoo! Get out!” as the weasel rounded the kitchen and rocketed through Alden’s duffle bag. Given the rumpus coming from Ed’s direction, it was clear that the weasel had made it into his sleeping bag with Ed. This was followed by proof that a 75 year-old man can run like Jessie Owens when faced with a fork-wielding weasel.

I was almost afraid to ask Madam what happened next, but I did.

“Well, Noah you’ll be glad to know that the weasel made it out alive from Camp Rum Dum,” she reported. “And, believe it or not, old Ed suffered nothing more than a chill due to his sprinting out the door barefoot in his skivvies.”

Me oh my, I was also glad to hear that Walt’s gun made it back in its holster with no further mishaps. And so, the four old friends had a fine time deer hunting without firing a shot — more or less. The weasel lived. Camp Rum Dumb suffered slightly, though small wildlife appreciated the new cabin entrance. Judging from this story, I concluded that the fun of the hunt had very little to do with bagging a buck.

— Noah Vail

Noah Vail and Mary Farr have collaborated on a book, Never Say Neigh: An Adventure in Fun, Funny and the Power of You. Noah, author, philosopher, humorist, gin rummy ace and all-around “good news sort of guy,” blogs hereNever Say Neigh won an honorable mention in the 2013 Paris Book Festival.

The catsitting dilemma

Mary Farr and NoahMadam rang this morning to report that she needed my advice. Truthfully, she probably just wanted to vent. It seemed that her First Born had embarked on an Alaskan tour a few days ago and left Madam in charge of two cats.

This might not sound like a tricky matter. However, Madam called to report that three days into the assignment, she had already locked herself out of the First Born’s house. No spare key stashed under the hostas. No friendly neighbor offering coffee and a box of burglary tools. It was just Madam and two domestic shorthairs staring at one another through the glass door. She paced up and down the front walk, while the cats batted at unsuspecting squirrels from behind a secured window.

Did I mention that the domestic shorthairs don’t particularly like one another? Actually, that’s an understatement. These two would rather share a litter box with a pit bull than nap together in the same house.

“So, do they have enough food and water?” I queried once Madam had shared the lockout details.

“Yes, yes, but they need their medicine,” she wailed. “I have strict orders to swipe their ears with a calming potion once daily. And that’s not all. The two need to be separated. The diminutive female hangs out in the bedroom with the door closed. The plump fellow lives under the dining room table, where he spends most of his time trying to figure out how to bust into the bedroom.”

“Why?” I inquired. If memory serves, these felines met two years ago. After a year of tearful veterinary calls, three animal behaviorist consultations, calming kitty cooking classes, and a Bose radio tuned to soothing music, one would think they could find their way to a truce.

“And, another thing,” fumed Madam, “pheromones. I can’t find the pheromone plug-in that goes in the wall outlet – that thingy that’s supposed to make Miss kitty feel more comfortable around the obese rabble-rouser.”

Oh dear, cat counseling is not exactly my forte. Then, just as Madam was about to dispatch her next kitty diatribe, a deafening shriek pierced the airways.

“ADT,” she reported evenly. “The cats have set off the house alarm. With any luck it will get somebody’s attention.”

No question, the alarm eliminated any need to call 911. My guess was it could be heard at the Wisconsin border.

“Now what,” I squeaked, holding the phone away from my ear. “Should I ask the Landlord to come help?”

“Naw, countered Madam. “Somebody will show up, and I’ll just let them break in.” It beats calling the First Born in Alaska, and State Farm will be happy to pay for the door just to avoid meeting these two cats. How about if you and I forget to mention this little caper to the rest of the family?”

“Good idea” I agreed. “Glad to have been of service.”

— Noah Vail

Noah Vail and Mary Farr have collaborated on a book, Never Say Neigh: An Adventure in Fun, Funny and the Power of You. Noah, author, philosopher, humorist, gin rummy ace and all-around “good news sort of guy,” blogs hereNever Say Neigh won an honorable mention in the 2013 Paris Book Festival.

Women + horses = epicurean delight

Mary Farr and NoahA few new guests have arrived at my home sweet home — all females. And this usually means their human partners are female, too. Woman and the horses that manage them — it is a curious tradition that governs most stables.

Fortunately for us, the female attraction to horses begins at an early age and often lasts a lifetime. This is good because according to CNN breaking news airing in our poker room, we need lots of clever women to untangle the world’s snags. Now, I don’t know a greenhouse gas from a hothouse geranium, but the women I hang out with can figure out how to make things run properly.

In my experience, they resolve their conflicts without the use of a lot of foul language or firearms. Well, maybe an off-color joke or an uncouth burp now and then, but mostly I hear females settling their disagreements with cordial, law-abiding methods.

What’s more, women know how to get along with tricky horses. Show me a cow horse that’s bored with cattle, and I’ll find you a woman who can change his mind. Or, let me introduce a reluctant dressage prospect to a savvy female. In no time, this problem student is crazy about full bridles and performing pirouettes. Maybe it’s their innate knack for diplomacy that enables women to change a Clydesdale with a stinky attitude into a winning cribbage player.

These horse partnerships also provide women a perfect antidote to a midlife crisis. For those who can’t afford to travel the world seeking their bliss, or studying Hindu Sanskrit, a tactful horse makes a perfect midlife companion. We make dandy travel buddies and fine dinner dates as well.

Let me also mention the curious connection between our girlish mates and good food. In short, they know their way around the kitchen. That’s not to say they belong in the kitchen. Oh no. They belong anywhere they choose to be, whether it’s the Old Country Buffet salad line or the Supreme Court. I just happen to know that Madam and her horse chums turn out fabulous food, including fabulous birthday cakes and horse treats that magically appear in my room.

So, all this leads me to a food chat we visit daily at our house: When do I get to sign up for “Cooking with Chef Cal?” Not classes that feature Brussels sprouts quiche or kumquat casserole. I want to learn how to serve up the good stuff — kid-tested, horse-friendly party food. You never know, this could even land me a new career as Emeril Lagasse’s sous chef.

Yes, I know these inspirations of mine require a little assistance from my assistant. But remember, we’re talking about a woman. Not only is she sterling on the keyboard, Madam knows a thing or two about operating the KitchenAid mixer and all those attachments that go with it. It sounds like a winning recipe to me!

— Noah Vail

Noah Vail and Mary Farr have collaborated on a book, Never Say Neigh: An Adventure in Fun, Funny and the Power of You. Noah, author, philosopher, humorist, gin rummy ace and all-around “good news sort of guy,” blogs hereNever Say Neigh won an honorable mention in the 2013 Paris Book Festival.

Writer’s block and other occupational hazards

Noah Vail and Mary FarrThis writing life has presented some pesky problems for a horse. Daily keyboard tasks have knocked the stuffing out of my leisure pursuits. All those memorable hours once filled with gin rummy tournaments have been replaced with search engine optimized tweeting drills. And here’s another sticky wicket: writer’s block.

Madam cautioned me about this the day I signed on to write a book with her. Since she tends to exaggerate, I just smiled warmly and ignored her cautioning words. Yet, my earlier disregard did not stop her from dropping in this morning to offer a few tips on writer’s block.

“Noah, all it takes is a simple thank-you note to your mother-in-law, or a term paper on downy woodpeckers to set it off,” she declared. “One minute you whip out a pen and prepare to dazzle your readers, and the next minute you hit the editorial cellar.”

That seemed a little harsh.

According to Madam, symptoms vary though always include avoidance tactics. The condition can come on abruptly, as an overpowering urge to get a tattoo, or silently, leaving its victim unable to write anything more than today’s date.

“So what does this writer’s block look like? I queried. “Does it cause hives, or grow like mildew on a budding novelist’s forehead?” I chuckled.

Madam ignored my mold analogy and pressed on.

“Writer’s block has caused me to feel overcome with a sudden yearning to schedule a colonoscopy,” she offered. “One time I found myself inexplicably enrolled in an auto mechanics class, just to avoid writing a press release. And there was the day last fall when I retired to the bedroom to make clothes for the cat,” she sighed. “Each of these occasions lead to a nap followed by supper and an itch to take a quick spin through the house with the Hoover upright.”

Good grief, this was starting to sound bad. It also sounded familiar. Just yesterday Gabe mentioned that I looked plump. I insisted that my stable blanket hugged me like a new pair of Spanx Shapewear because Madam shrank it in the dryer. At least I thought she shrank it in the dryer. On the other hand, I have been squandering countless hours in the kitchen tasting my Pillsbury Bake Off entries. And I can’t even count the number of Louis L’Amour gunslinger novels I’ve finished.

So I asked Madam, “Hypothetically what would you suggest for a handsome and talented author who might possibly be suffering from a tiny spate of writer’s block?”

“Well,” she offered with a faint smile. “That writer could begin to get his groove back by writing an apology note to his landlord for breaking open the horse treats and making a wholesale mess of the tack room.”

“Hmm… it’s certainly is worth a try,” I replied. “I’ll bet Gabe will find this very helpful.”

“Indeed,” said Madam.

—Noah Vail

Noah Vail and Mary Farr have collaborated on a book, Never Say Neigh: An Adventure in Fun, Funny and the Power of You. Noah, author, philosopher, humorist, gin rummy ace and all-around “good news sort of guy” blogs hereNever Say Neigh won an honorable mention in the 2013 Paris Book Festival.

Fashion…or maybe not

Noah and Mary FarrGabe and I were enjoying a friendly round of cribbage this morning when Madam pulled up a chair and sighed.

“It’s time for some resolutions,” she muttered.

“You’re late,” replied Gabe without looking up. He continued to deal me a new hand. “We celebrated the new year three months ago,” he added. “Besides that, we horses are kind of averse to a bunch of tedious rules that begin with no.

”Perhaps you should be conducting this conversation with Henri le Chat Noire,” I offered delicately. “Now there’s a cat who has parlayed tedium and ennui into a fine career.”

“No, no, that’s not it,” exclaimed Madam. “I’m talking about my wardrobe, and my weight,” she snorted. “And what about this hairdo that just spent a long winter under a Carhartt hat? Good grief, if we intend to go to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop next month, I’ll need a serious fashion tune-up,” she groaned.

She made a good point.

“And how would you like to begin your trend-setting makeover?” I asked this woman who still operates a 1975 Lady Kenmore washer and dryer.

“That’s why I’m here,” she retorted, “I need your advice.”

Gabe folded his cards and waited for something brilliant to spring from my lips.

“… Um, maybe we should add a cheery twist to this plan of yours,” I proposed.

She surveyed the filthy Muck Boots on her feet and shot me a disbelieving glance.

“Let’s plan that Happiness Project we’ve been talking about for months,” I offered. “It calls for resolutions of a more pleasant nature. So, for example, you could whip up a slimming kale smoothie, while I enter my 24 Karat Cake in the Pillsbury Bakeoff. We’ll call it a Spread the Joy resolution.”

Gabe rolled his eyes and began perusing his Wall Street Journal.

“Next, you might consider donating all those stylish sweat pants of yours, and I’ll dump my Rambo blanket that Patrick shredded,” I soldiered on. “That sounds like a Lighten Up resolution to me.“

She was beginning to catch my drift.

So there I stood on the threshold of April Fools’ Day, fielding Madam’s style worries. It’s true I’ve morphed from a first-class racehorse to a life coach for a woman of a certain age — traded glamor and speed for a role of attentive husband or hairdresser. Yet, as good as I’m getting at this tony tutoring business, even I will never convince Madam to take her spurs off before grocery shopping.

— Noah Vail

Noah Vail and Mary Farr have collaborated on a book, Never Say Neigh: An Adventure in Fun, Funny and the Power of You. Noah, author, philosopher, humorist, gin rummy ace and all-around “good news sort of guy” blogs hereNever Say Neigh won an honorable mention in the 2013 Paris Book Festival.

Reflections of Erma