Thursday, December 15, 2016

Auction Day

The thermometer read 5 degrees on the outside and 41 degrees this morning on the inside of the farmhouse. The coal stove had gone out sometime in the night. We were all most pleasingly warm under our thick quilts and comforters and unaware. "Drafty old houses are like swiss cheese with a door, at least in this weather", the man of the house muttered as he re-lit the stove, "Swiss cheese with a door." Outside the wind was so fierce that the red barn was barely visible from my kitchen window. We both shuddered at the task ahead, and not just from the cold. It was auction day. Before Joe left for work and after the baby was fed and settled, we headed out with Connor's help into the frigid cold to load the spring bucklings. I gave them a quick ration of green hay which still smelled reminiscently of summer. They munched aware unaware that it was their last meal on this farm. Their birthplace. It was surprisingly easier than we thought it would be to load them onto the truck, the cold and a full belly making them compliant and manageable. Not that they aren't usually. Goats are great like that. Friendly, personable. But they're also stubborn. We took them 3 at a time and made 2 trips. We're fortunate to live just 4 miles from the auction barn. The barn was clean and organized and the employees friendly and helpful. I lingered a minute as I said good-bye. They gazed at me uncaring as they chomped on more hay.

Bye boys.  

As we pulled back up the driveway, Joe said, "You're going to miss them a little aren't you? Watching them out there in the field, hearing them call for you each time they see you?" "Yeah" I said, "a little." And I knew we were talking about more than just me.

Tonight, I'll attend the auction with a friend. I'm not sure I wanted to go, but feel I should anyway. Especially if this is something we'll be doing more of in the future. Tonight is the Holiday Auction. The one attended by much of the ethnic community seeking out a lamb or goat for their holiday feasts. It supposedly brings the best prices for goat of all the auctions throughout the year. This and the Easter goat sale. We'll see. As for the money, Connor says he should get some for all the farm chores he does, I say I'd like to keep most for the expansion of the farm, Joe says we need it for bills. And that's that. I suspect we'll all get a cut.

Back at home it's now 12 degrees. Still -6 with the wind chill. We cover the chicken coop with a tarp and cinder blocks and wrestle the blasted wind for 10 minutes to keep it from blowing off. The coop's too drafty for days like this. I give them an extra scoop of feed, check on the goats in the barn and head indoors. I can't feel my fingers. My thighs are numb.
Joe leaves for work.

Inside, the temp's up to 56. The babies are in triple layers. There's a pot roast in the crockpot. The kitchen is still a mess from breakfast and a hurried evening last night. After feeding and changing the baby, I hand him to Ava and set the kitchen to rights. I decide the only way to warm up the kitchen properly is to bake. Ava and I decide a nice rustic brown bread to accompany the roast and maybe some gingerbread cookies would be a good choice. As the baby plays with some spatulas in his seat and with Lucas' help, we grind and measure wheat flour, and cornmeal for the bread. In the blender go raisins, water, olive oil, molasses. In the mixing bowl, water, honey and yeast are  proofing. They all get mixed together and kneaded. Brenna laughs as she powders the baby's nose with flour. The bowl of dough gets set on the back of the coal stove to rise. I'm looking forward to this bread. On days like these, a hearty homemade bread is especially savory.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

More, or Less

The anxiety gets to me sometimes. Yesterday it rattled my senses as I tried to focus on what needed to be done for the afternoon. Laundry, dinner, clean out the girls closet, Christmas shop, check Connor's essay. My hands actually shook as I hastily made chocolate chip cookies in an attempt to see progress completed on something. Baking's good for that. For seeing a project through and enjoying its end. I let Luc help. I had Gunnar in one arm and so I made them with a baby in one hand and a two year old's help. I made a mental note to check Craigslist for backpacks. He's about big enough now to be carried on my back. I'd get so much more done. Don't rush this phase. Don't rush this phase... He's asleep now, and already I miss the feel of him in my arms.

 The anxiety was in relation to the thoughts that plague me about this old farm. Every once in a while, and more lately, I wonder and hope and plan all that I want for this place. Yet the dreams I have for it might be too lofty. I think:

I don't want a hobby farm.  I want a working farm. That takes time, and money and both are short right now, and maybe they always will be. Even now, money so tight, always saying no to the kids for this or that, I feel guilt for not working a "real" job. I'm a registered nurse. I'm a registered nurse with 15 years of experience. I could get a good job. I could get a good job tomorrow, if I wanted. But I want to be here, raising my kids and working alongside my family farming this land. Is that selfish of me? I don't want to miss a thing, yet I don't want it to ruin us, this choice for me to be home, to try and take an old farm and breathe life into it. Joe works hard. He's started a handyman business he's building from the ground up. A business he's good at. With eight children, someone has to be home, behind the scenes, keeping things running and I'm glad it's me. We live in a poor farming community. "There's no money in farming" is evident all around.
The spring bucklings are going to auction in 2 and a half weeks. We'll see if it was worth it to raise them these 8 months. It wasn't hard if you don't count all the fence repair. Maybe the payoff will be encouraging. One can raise a lot of goats on 20 acres. Could we handle more goats and do it well? Or maybe it wont be profitable and we'll be back to square one. Sheep? Seems to be more of a demand for lamb. Maybe sheep and goats. We'd need better fencing, a herd dog... why can't I just be satisfied with a few silly animals? Do I really want a working farm?
And my soap business. I want it to be profitable. Time and labor, marketing, packaging, labeling, and supply purchases weighed it down before. How can it be done differently and competitively and still be worth all the time and effort financially? Others seem to do this successfully. Am I not committed enough?

I guess this is the plight of the entrepreneur- doubting and second guessing and guilt until one day, for a small minority, a breakthrough is made.

I just need to figure it out. And who needs money anyway? Is is really that important? Why can't I just relax and enjoy this life without the constant push?

Those were the thoughts that were blazing a red hot trail through my mind tangling themselves together and making me my hands shake.

Why can't I kick this? Hang it up. How long is too long to try and make a go of it? Honestly, a real effort hasn't even been made. I've had 2 babies in the three years we've lived here. Maybe next year will be the year we figure out what we want from this place. Maybe we don't want more than what we have now. Maybe what we really want is less. I need to figure this out.

I'm not sure I like this post. I'm not sure I can make you understand. The words aren't coming out quite right. Perhaps I won't publish it. But I want to be transparent. We may leave all this behind someday and I want to have this memory of why. Or we may be here forever, and I want to have this memory of how it was in the beginning, a first generation farmer.

Cookies done, Lucas gleefully covered in chocolate, I needed air. I took the kids out, cleaned the barn, and trimmed the goats' hooves with Christmas music a little too loud in the background. It felt good. I was reminded once again how much I like this work.  I checked under the goats' eyelids for signs of worminess. I was pleased that all seemed good. Nice and pink. Everyone appeared large and healthy and hearty. No worming needed this fall. Nice.

I cleaned out the barn. The pitchfork handle's loose again.

And why can't they make pitchforks that last? We can't afford a tractor, although we'll need one if  this farm gets any bigger. It's not cheap to buy pitchforks each year either. Little costs, all add up. So many of these little costs in farming...and life I guess.

I'm grateful we've reached a point where the goats cost us almost nothing to maintain. They have plenty of pasture and hay that we receive in exchange for renting another portion of our pasture out to a local farmer who cuts it. He takes some and we get some and it works well for both of us. They've been healthy (with the exception of one older doe we lost this Spring ) So the money we get for those bucklings will be all profit. Just in time for Christmas. That's something.

Work complete, I feel a renewed sense of energy. The anxiety is gone. My children are laughing at some silly play they're involved in. Lucas is talking to the goats. It does them good to be out here too.
I remember I'm a mother first, always first, and I dance with them in the barn to Emmanuel before we flip off the lights and head for the warmth of the house. It's just getting dark. Meatloaf's in the oven. The baby will need fed when I get inside.

I'm a fool for this life.

Or maybe just a fool.


Friday, November 18, 2016

The Garlic's in

The perfect way to pass a sunny 65 degree day in mid November is to plant garlic.

Except to be honest, I didn't really want to plant the garlic this morning. I was pretty comfortable on the inside of my house, and the baby had just fallen asleep. But the garlic was here on my kitchen counter beckoning for days, and I seem to have a compulsion for such things, so...

I took Ava and Brenna out with me, told them this could be our science for the day. It'll be fun! I said, as they reluctantly stabbed at the hard earth to loosen the soil, shoveled composted manure into a wheelbarrow, and raked it into the plot. Brenna got upset with Ava for taking her favorite pitchfork. She stomped off to pout and then just as quickly took up a cheery game with Lucas. I let them be. Ava didn't want to bury the bulbs into the soil. She had just painted her fingernails. I let her hand the garlic to me instead. I don't paint my fingernails anymore. I spoke about how deep to plant them, how far apart. That we'd cover the whole bed with straw in the end to protect them over winter. I explained that each little clove would undergo a miraculous transformation and emerge a large bulb full of it's own little cloves. I'm not sure she was truly listening, but she's too polite to tell me of her disinterest. The chickens, upon learning there was fresh turned soil around hastened to our little patch and started digging through, upsetting the bulbs I had just planted. I may have thrown a pitchfork at them. Perhaps they'll go back into the coop today.

When we were all done, Ava looked at the remaining bulbs in her hand and asked if we were just to throw them out. No silly, I replied. We'll eat those. Upon hearing this, she narrowed her eyes at me suspiciously- "
If we can just buy garlic to eat, why in the world do we have to plant it?" God bless her. She had a point. And this was the question I'd been wrestling with in my mind all morning as I spent that precious hour and a half baby nap time planting garlic. And I don't really know the answer. Because I'm still unsure of why this 21st century wanna-be farmer, wanna-be blogger goes through these motions that appear so meaningless to the modern world (and even myself sometimes). How easy (and cheap) is it to buy garlic at the store? Quite.

Still, the  feeling I get from doing it myself, and including my children, whether reluctantly or not, is the way I've chosen to live my life and spend my time for now. And it's good. It's not heroic, It's not life-changing, but it's good. Plus, I told her. Just wait until Spring. Those little green shoots are one of the first living things to appear in the garden, and what a thrilling feeling. We'll think back to this gorgeous November day after a cold and bitter winter and be thankful for the time we spent. Hands in the dirt, planting the garlic.

Monday, November 14, 2016


When he called, from his hotel room, from working out of town, I was in the recliner reading a book to Charlotte and nursing the baby. The book was Let Me Hold you Longer by Karen Kingsbury. One of those books that I usually can't get through without watery eyes at the least, or being reduced to a slobbering, sniffling mess, dependent on my mood and (if we're being honest) the particular time of the month. Tonight, thankfully, it was the latter.

He asked how the day had gone and I told him of moving the new bunny to one of the chicken pasture pens. That the boys had gotten it down from the hayloft for us, and how he seemed so much happier to be on grass and have room to explore and leap and nibble. It just seemed so much more natural than the smallish cage he was in. I meant to tell him that I tried to grab an old apple from the apple tree next to the pen to give him a treat, but that there were two dead bees inside and so I decided not to, and also I wondered if those bees were dead from the neighbor spraying his field because some residual spray inevitably makes its way to our backyard. It's impossible to avoid. I wondered if that was the case how many more bees had been killed. And then naturally I was reminded that it had been too long since I'd been down to check on the bees. They seemed good in August. I need to go soon.


I told him that I'd been so patient with Isaac and that Isaac had behaved himself rather well today (a trouble we're having), except that near bedtime he decided to call the baby a buttface and said it over and over and was punished for that and then laughed at me after being punished and so I told him it was time for bed and he said, "no" and so I got really mad then and perhaps was too severe. I told my husband that I was still feeling guilty for possibly overreacting even though we'd made up with cuddles and bedtime stories. But the level of his naughtiness lately combined with the titch of postpartum anxiety I still seem to be experiencing is a breeding ground for all sorts of episodes between the two of us lately. Gosh I love him. He's the neatest kid ever. But we're having a tough time of it. 

I told him that both the baby and Lucas had pooped three times today.

I told him that I'd let the chickens free range today because we were out of chicken food and I didn't get to the store and that buying $14 bags of chicken food each week was getting old for a bunch of chickens that haven't layed eggs since September. They were perfectly content to free range. I told him I'd prefer that anyway. He reminded me of all the poop they leave everyhwere. He prefers them neatly penned. I also told him that I'd changed the timer on the light in their coop to turn on from 2am -6am rather than the 7pm-11pm that it's set to now. I'd read somewhere that was better for egg production. Lord knows I've tried everything.

I told him that I'd finally gotten the three bags that have been sitting in the back of our van for a month to Salvation Army. That I went into town hoping that the apple trees I saw on clearance two days ago would still be there. I went with my credit card because times are a little tough, and $10 apple trees are worth it. They were all gone. Once again, life got in the way of planting apple trees. Spring, perhaps.

I told him that my mom was still sick (bronchitis) and that my Dad couldn't find his keys and would he please check his truck?

I told him that I'd put Whisper (our elderly-est) goat in one of the kidding pens for a couple days because I could tell she was in heat and didn't want her bred. Last year she had an accidental breeding and did not produce enough milk for her baby (due to being so old, I assume). I didn't watch it close enough and that beautiful little strawberry blonde doeling died, and I was so mad at myself for not catching that.  Whisper has given us many beautiful babies and oodles and oodles of milk in the 6 years we've had her. I've noticed lately that she's been hobbling a little. Walking slower. Lying down a little more. Not racing to the hay feeders like she used to. Last evening when I went out she was sitting in the pasture just looking up at the stars. She's 12. It's almost time. I hope she can enjoy one more Spring and Summer.

That's all of what I'd told him. And it was good to have that conversation because he's usually the talker in our relationship while I tend to be the listener who holds things in. And then we talked about his day which had nothing to do with children or animals or poop, but was still a good day. And we said I love you, and we said good bye.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Apple Tree

Ava, age 9, that first fall
It thrills me to look out my old kitchen window and see ducks feasting on wormy apples under an apple tree planted by someone else, sometime else. I long to know the story of the apple tree. It's trunk and limbs and branches are bent with years of the strong winds so prevalent on this hilltop farm. They reach for the sun which never reaches quite high enough long enough to sustain a growth of erect, correct posture for this tree. We wore dresses under our winter coats and danced around it two winters ago, my girls and I, at night, with the moon shining just enough to illuminate that old tree as if it were mystical. I can hear the crunch of our boots on the icy snow and see our breath and hear our laughter still. Wild. Free. I was a girl again for just a moment. The year we moved here, marked with much fear and doubt and backbreaking work, questioning and wondering, that year, this old apple tree brought up from somewhere deep within herself an abundance of perfect, large red green apples. Baskets full. Like a housewarming gift. It must've wore her out to do it, because we haven't had a harvest near as grand since. But that fall was marked with sauces and pies and crisps and cakes and children always with an apple in hand munching away. It was a gift. It started to feel like home. I don't worship trees. But I worship the God who made the apple trees and the animals and people who get to really experience them, lives wild and strong and productive and those also bent and weak and spent.

In front of the old apple tree, the evening before delivering our eight baby

The old apple tree. And that following spring on a dark and rainy day, I was heavy with child and smack dab and elbow deep in the middle of dinner preparations when I looked out and saw our 3 pigs under that tree eating what winter freeze and spring thaw and 6 children had left of those fall apples. I brushed the hair out of my face and sighed a very pregnant sigh and resigned myself to having to lure those porcinds back into the pen they broke out of, and right in the middle of dinner prep (which is a big deal when you're working to feed a small army). At that moment once again (for there had already been many, and many to follow) I was disgustedly overwhelmed and completely in love with this lifestyle I've chosen. No, what I mean to say is this lifestyle that had chosen me. In how many lives are there memories made of being 8 months pregnant and wrangling 900 lb of bacon back to where it belongs? I did. And while I'd like to say it went smoothly, I have a small rememberance of the slightest hint of terror I might have felt when, after retrieving a bucket of grain as a means to lure the pigs, and after the pigs realized just what said bucket in my hand held, they literally started galloping towards me at a rate alarming for a being of such heft. Realizing that standing there waiting for them to reach me might be a tad suicidal, I turned tail and ran (at not such an alarming speed, considering the heft of my state) towards their pen and when I got close and the pigs were about to overtake me, I flung the grain,  blue bucket flying through the air and all, into their pasture and to my relief they skirted around me (still galloping) and into the paddock and began to attack the grain covered ground with their mighty snouts, grunting feverishly although from the exercise or for the grain I cannot tell you.

This year the apples were mishapen, wormy, small. The ducks don't mind them. And unlike the pigs of that first year (for there haven't been any more), they are free to roam the farm picking up whatever might suit their fancy. I don't know what happened to my apple tree, but I mean to look into it. We'll prune her back good in an effort to conserve and strengthen what goodness might be left. Perhaps she'll grow strong again. Last year, her mate, the only other apple tree- small and weak and unproductive not 10 yards away, fell to a storm. All that remains of it is a stump that's been cut flush to the ground so as not to catch a lawnmower blade.
Anyway, I love to look out my old kitchen window at my apple tree. I love that after 3 short years of watching her blossom brilliant pink and fragrant in the spring, verdant and (inconsistently) fruitful through the summer and fall,  die off brittle and cold and brown to the winter chill, and magically come to life in the spring again, I love that she stirs such emotions in me as I look at her and remember. I'd love a small orchard full. Perhaps someday I will. 
I think Garrett said it best 4 years ago: