Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Sunrise on the farm...

I have been so bad this summer about getting here. I am on Instagram and over at the FB page but not here so much. I am crafting all these ideas in my head and then at the end of the day, I am just out of words. I have a book under contract and it will be out in the early in spring and I am working madly. It is a pretty cool project and as I get closer, I will a have more information about it. It is a real book from a real publisher and it is an insane amount of work but it is all good. So. I put a day of testing recipes and then putting more than two thousand words into my manuscript and then when I think about my languishing blog, I want to just sleep. Or if I can't sleep, stare into space and not form words with my brain. That works.

But, I also need some downtime and some of my more popular posts have been those brain dump posts where I subject you to all the noise in my brain. So for this month there will be more of those. After that, I will back to only editing and minimal writing. My kids will be so grateful. Dinner guests will be so grateful. The other day the six year old was crying for dinner. I had seven, SEVEN bowls out on the counter and I wanted everyone to taste every single one, take a sip of water, and then tell me what the thought BEFORE trying the next bowl. She just wanted to eat. I just wanted her to eat. We were not even connecting. Then our dinner guest arrived a few minutes early and  I was on him like white on rice. More tasting. Yes. I make people not eat so that they can eat. Everyone wants me to be done with this book. Yet, I still hear little choruses of, "I am hungry," all day long.
Seriously, kiddo. Go eat something out of one of those forty seven labeled bowls in the fridge. I bet one of them will be good on crackers and if not, tell me about it. In my book, I will make sure to suggest not putting it on a cracker. Do you think that they eat it? NO. They want spoonfuls of peanut butter and a movie. Dear God, please, eat the peanut butter. I am almost at my word count for the day. Give me ten more minutes. And then get me a beer. Actually, just get the beer now.
As for all the news, the calf died and my kids struggled with it. Such a bitter lesson. The neighbors have several calves and they are hosting the 4H group for archery practice. It will give the kids a chance to go see the calves and get their fill of them. They are nursing on their mothers so there will be no bottle feeding but they can see them and pet them. Putting them back in touch with life is very important. Death is real and hiding from it does not make it go away. The death of a calf that they were all so invested in will ultimately be a small death. It is the death of people that I want them to be prepared for, to be strong enough to handle. People die, both young and old. Our ability to cope with such things is tested over and over again and coming out on top is a critical skill. I want them to learn this lesson as gently as possible and this calf's short life was a beginning. There is death but there is also life on the farm and each teaches about the other.

The fair is coming and the kids are putting together all their projects. So. Many. Projects. This is because I have so many kids but still. Fair is a big deal and if we gonna show up, we gonna show out. Usually. I am so struggling because my manuscript is due at the end of the month and the fair is in the target zone. I am going to be a mad woman but since people usually stay out of the way when a mad woman crosses their path, this really might be for the best. I can do this. *deep breathing*

I am stretched pretty thin but it is not without consolations. Sunrise on the farm is gorgeous and I am up anyway. Cows and children both won't wait, I have to be up. The other day there was a thick fog outside and the sun was coming up through the trees on the edge of the east fields. It was so beautiful and I was right there for it. If nothing else there is sunrise. I can take my coffee on the porch and look at the sunset. Sunrises are never hungry. Sunrises never need word counts. Sunrises are breathtaking for the sake of being so. I think I am going to keep looking at the sunrise and not worrying about getting it all done. Each day is not just a to do list, each day is a sunrise and coffee on the porch by myself. That is enough for now.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Calfie is still here...

My youngest, Claudia, has named the sweet thing Calfie. If you did not read yesterday, we are babysitting a weak, struggling calf for neighbors (read about it HERE). Claudia loves to go out and look at him and rub her hands through his thick chocolate brown fur. He is not well, even if he made it through the night. Someone is out there every hour to see if we can get him to take some milk; all day yesterday and so far this morning, there are often children out there just keeping him company.

Maria and I just came back from the barn, we went out to feed him. I sat on the floor of the pen with his heavy, warm body in my lap and I could feel his heart beating and his lungs breathing, reminding me that he was still alive. I held up his head and Maria held the bottle while she stroked his fur, trying to keep him awake enough to eat. As he swallowed, I could feel the milk going down his throat which rested on my arm. Maria gave him a couple of breaks and let him rest before trying to get just a bit more milk in him. Veronica snapped some photos of us feeding him so I could share them with you. Then I snapped one of her. I had just placed him on this piece of cardboard that is cushioned with straw and hay. I was heading back to the house. She wanted to stay with him so that he would not be lonely. She doesn't want him to think nobody loves him when he is on a different farm than his mother.

He can't walk, he can only sometimes stand, and he is not coordinated. He is like a jerky little puppet controlled by a child. It is becoming more and more clear that the vet's opinion that he is neurologically impaired is right. More and more feedings behind us and more and more attempts to get him on his feet and we know that it is not a question of if but rather of question of when he will die. It is so hard to watch my children stroke him and keep him company, hoping and praying that he will snap to attention and start to walk around all while Ben and I believe that he cannot. Children love deeply and they hurt deeply, too.

In the end I am willing to risk the hurt to my children. Seeing them love this calf, care for him, stay up late and get up early for him, means that they are profoundly compassionate people. This is a dark world and the things that people do to each other, the lack of compassion, of any awareness that others exist appalls me. Seeing these children love with a love that hurts means that they are not that kind of person. It means that no matter what I read in the news, there is real hope in this world, because my children can and do care.

Raymond and Eli are moving the pasture fence this morning. There is an electric fence that is moved weekly to make sure that the cattle have fresh areas to graze but while they do this the dairy cow and beef steer have to be in the barn, in the pen this little thing is occupying. The plan is for them to move his cardboard and his rug out to the main area of the barn and to stay with him so that the pen is freed up for the bigger cattle. Sometimes he flops around and he could hurt himself out in the open area where there are tools. They younger boys rushed through the kitchen chores and milking dishes this morning so that they could be the ones to stay with him. Veronica stood guard while they worked. He might not have much more time but the time he has is precious to them.

It will hurt when he dies but it will only make me more proud of my children. Every tear will give me hope for the future. The world will be a better place for their loss. I will remember this then, that even when my heart breaks for my children, it will be a proud mother's heart.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Lessons on the farm...

There are many things you learn on a farm and some are more difficult than others. The most difficult ones are not necessarily the ones that are most obviously difficult. Learning how to manage a tractor, how to cut firewood, how to milk a cow; these are all things we expect to take time to understand and master. Losing an animal is not. We lost some chickens to a predator last summer and it was ugly with chicken carcasses spread over the farmyard and that was hard for the children. This year, the neighbors on the farm down the road have a calf that is struggling. It is uncoordinated and clumsy and not nursing well. We have been giving some milk from our dairy cow for them to bottle fed and at times it seemed like the little guy was pulling through.

Then it came time for the family camping trip that they had planned for a year and the calf was still struggling. A brother-in-law tending the animals with his son and tried to get the calf nursing again without little luck. They called the vet and he believes that the poor thing has a neurological problem. He just doesn't eat, just getting him to take a bottle is such an effort. They have day jobs like everybody else so they all decided to bring the little thing over here. The kids and I are home and can go feed him every ninety minutes. Many hands make light work and we have many hands.

He is so soft and so sweet with such big brown eyes. His mother spent a lot of time prodding him and nuzzling him, trying to get him to come around, but she is starting to give up on him. My children have proved pretty hearty. The go and shift him and move him around and rub and pet him. They are keeping him cool and comfortable and when the wind picked up, they covered him. They do better than every ninety minutes, they are out there every hour. He is being held and cuddled and fed and soothed and they are doing everything they can for a calf that is not even theirs. He is so beautiful and they are so dedicated to him and no one wants to see him die, even if it is likely at this point.

It is a painful reality that you can invest incredible amounts of time and affection in an animal and still lose him. They have worried about this calf since it was born, they have called to check on it, and have given over milk that they would drink just to keep it alive. His life means something to them and I know that if (maybe even when) he finally dies, it will be painful for them. It is a bitter lesson that the farm teaches. Knowing this full well does not keep them from taking turns and writing up a chore plan so that they each know who will be going out to feed him and when. They are committed to doing everything they can for this poor little animals that snores when he sleeps in their arms. Even the two year old goes out to rub his thick curly fur to try to keep him awake long enough to feed.

When he dropped off the calf, the farmer gave my children two important pieces of information, firstly that if he dies that it is not their fault. Secondly, try to not to get too attached, even though he knows it is a moot point. He, his wife, and his eight children have lived their whole lives on a farm raising beef steer. When we discussed the other calves this morning, he know what they mean to his children and what this calf will mean to ours. He knows this bitter lesson becomes easier but no less bitter over time. He has called twice today, after seeing us this morning. He is still thinking about this calf in our pen.

This is what animal rights activists don't understand. Farmers care deeply about their animals, so deeply that they get up in the middle of the night to check on them. They stay in the pens with them, staying with them, nurturing them through what ails them. I wish that they could see my children sitting in the dirty straw of the pen floor with a chocolate brown calf curled up in their laps. They stroke his fur and talk softly to him. There is something very real there, a dedication and compassion that they cannot understand. There is a lesson for them in all this, too.

This is stewardship. This is farming...and this is very, very hard.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Bringing in the hay...

This is the time of year when the dairy hay is harvested. Dairy hay is cut early in the year when it has more nutrition and it is what it takes to keep the dairy cow milking through the winter. We need to make sure that we have enough to carry us over until the grass is growing again, which means that we need to be able to get through a solid six to seven months of the year. Beef hay is cut later at the end of the summer and it is good for putting weight on the beef steer but it is simply not enough for the dairy cow. We are trying to feed them both over the course of the long winter ahead but there are certain economic realities that we understand.

Zeus, the beef steer, is important company for the dairy cow since we have no other cattle. We would like to get him through the winter and until we have another calf (we are planning on breeding Io this summer) but, economic realities being what they are, he might not make it. If we have to process him mid-winter to make sure that there is enough hay for Io, then we will do it. So far, we are on track, but we understand what winter means.

Since the farm has not really been used for forty years, the fields have a lot of trees and weeds and inedible plants in them. We do not have enough good hay to cut for the cattle so we have to buy hay and after two harsh winters, it is not as easy to come by. Come fall, we need to brushhog the fields to cut down all those weeds and all the seedlings and small trees. Then we will need to disc and till it before the snow comes. This means that in early spring, we can start planting better hay. The long terms goal is recapture more and more of the fields until there is enough hay to be self sufficient and get a small herd of a few cows through the winter.

As we learn this process of getting used to a dairy cow and a beef steer and being grass farmers, I am so deeply grateful to our children's 4H leader and her family. They live a couple miles down the road, I think almost five, but out here that is considered close. They have made this such a doable process, helping every step of the way. This is not an easy life to step into and many of the farms in our area have not been farmed in forty or fifty years. There are not many people who have done this recently enough to be give help and advice. We could not and would not have even started if it weren't for them.

It is traditional to feel thankful at the harvest. As we bring food for us or our animals into storage, it makes us aware of what we have. It is only natural to feel thankful. This hay is only the beginning. The apple harvest will begin in earnest towards the end of next month. Scores of acres of apples means a lot of apples so the big harvest is still to come but this little beginning, these 3,500 pounds of hay (will a similar amount to put up next week) means something. It means a lot and for that I am grateful, especially for John and Diane.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Who deserves to eat...

This is far from a perfect photograph, I know. Somehow I missed the focus and  the lighting is terrible but I still love it. I love it because I was in the house starting lunch for the kids when I saw the youngest six of my brood out there under the trees. They made a paper chain and were eating bananas while they sat on our picnic blanket. Jack is pouring water from an old wine bottle that he washed and turned into a decanter and the laundry is blowing in the breeze behind them. I was afraid of missing the moment, so I just grabbed my camera and ran outside and hoped to capture the scene the best that I could.

There is nothing so basic, so simple as eating. My children don't live a luxurious life, they don't have cell phones or expensive clothes or iPods. By most American standards my children live very simple lives but it is still a good life. For me the thing that stands out in contrast in this photo is that my children have enough to eat, and they should. Everyone should have enough to eat; no one should ever feel real hunger. For whatever reason not everyone thinks the same thing.

As bizarre as it is to use the internet to get in to arguments with complete strangers hundreds of miles away, I argued over Facebook this last week over food stamps and hunger. The question was whether or not it is just (and I do mean just, not legal) to ask food stamps recipients to prove that they are not using illegal drugs. I will come right out and say that I think it is absolutely unjust. This is not to say that I think that there are not social problems in this country, many of which stem from a state of dependency and in some cases an entitlement attitude. These are real burdens, real concerns, and finding solutions for them or at least ways of mitigating their effects is a high challenge. I have no idea what to do about that. I don't know what to do about abuse, regardless of how often or seldom it happens. I don't know what to do about people who cannot seem to get clean and sober so that they can care for their children. The list of things that I don't know is pretty long, and I find out more and more about how long it is as every day passes. In the end, those are not the questions I am trying to answer.

The only question I have is this: who deserves to eat? Only children who's parent pass a moral standard of some kind? Only people who are clean and pleasant? Only people who buy the food that you like? Because what it comes down to when anyone suggests that some people just don't deserve food is the question just who passes muster and gets your benevolent mercy? I believe in my heart of hearts that it doesn't matter if I like you, if you like me, if you are a moral person, if you are a criminal, or if you are going to eat the way that I think that you should, the only thing that really matters if you are hungry. If you are hungry, you deserve to eat.

Our food comes from somewhere and if no one were willing to work to grow the food, then there would be no food. I know this. I am not saying that we should all stop making the effort to feed our families and wait for others to do it, this would obviously be an injustice to our families. It would be an injustice because our families deserve to eat but by that same standard so do everyone else's. How can anyone look at another person and tell them that they do not deserve to eat? I cannot even imagine.

There are people I will never convince that others are just as deserving as they are and for that I am sorry. I can only hope that if they are ever in the situation when they need food that they find kinder persons to feed them.

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