Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Happy Birthday

Although my parents grew up on farms, I didn't come into farming until my 30's and then I dragged a city boy husband and kids into it with me. My middle girl has a birthday rapidly approaching and as I was standing in a different barn, in a different life, earlier today, I was thinking about her and animals, farming type stuff and her birthday.

I was thinking about when she and I were first hauling stuff out to the provinces. We were toodling along in a pickup that had seen (many) better days when she said, "what's that smell?" All I could smell was decaying leafy matter and late spring standing water so I said it was mold. Apparently she heard "moles". It took a year or two before she actually told me that she thought we had been smelling moles that day. Lord, I hope not.....I'd like to think that you can't smell moles at 50 mph. Skunks are bad enough.

A year into our new country adventure, we decided to get a couple of steers. A fine idea if you want to raise your own beef but not such a great plan if you have really shitty fencing. We had the latter, in spades. However, that was not the deterrent it would have been for a rational person so two steers arrived and left, and arrived and left. You get the picture.

However, when they first arrived, the soon-to-be birthday girl asked if we would have to take the cows for walks. That one was lost on me until I finally figured out she was thinking walks in terms of walking dogs. I got a helluva laugh out of that we embarrassed her in front of her friends for several years with that tidbit. Or I would have had that laugh had we had good fences, but since we didn't have anything close to good fences, our steers went for many walks. Mostly they went to the dairy farmer up the road who would then call the Sheriff's office who would then call me - at the crack of dawn - and point out that my steers were at the neighbor's again. We'd haul our butts out of bed, go on down to the neighbor's place and haul the cows home. On chains. Behind the dilapidated truck. Guess she wasn't so far off after all, huh?

We were the people with the cows on leashes. Seriously.....if you were from that part of the county at that time, you'd know exactly who we were. Just as now people know my husband and I as the moose people, back then in that place, I was the lady with the cows on leashes. It wasn't a conscious decision mind you. We put up electric fence which held for about a year until a neighbor got a cow of their own. A cow which really liked my steers. A cow which was decidedly bigger than my steers and a lot stronger than my electric fence. So much for the fence.

Being resourceful, we pounded metal fence posts into the pasture and tied those steers to them with halters and chains. The steers would eat around their respective posts and then we'd move them to a new location for more eating. We looked like we had crop circles. I'd love to have an aerial photo of the pasture that year. My girl got really good at putting in and taking out posts. She also got really good at bringing steers home when they broke the chains.

Once her post pounding and pulling skills were fine tuned, she and I got to spend a most memorable day fixing fence in probably the second worst place possible. The first worst being a swamp. We, of course, chose the hottest, muggiest day of the summer. 98 degrees, 95% humidity, not a cloud in the Sahara Desert type sky. A stretch of overgrown, brushy, swampy, not easily accessible stretch of 400 year old barbed wire that crossed a creek in two places. We cut brush, hacked weeds, sweated, tried not to pass out, tried not to shred ourselves on old and new barbed wire and did it all the old fashioned way. Definition: without any useful tools. Armed with a knuckle-knocking weed trimmer, a bolt cutter, a pair or two of pliers and her brute strength, we cleared, we pulled posts, we pounded posts, we trudged through water, we became a mosquito and gnat buffet and finally, we pulled enough barbed wire to keep the damned steer in for a few months. She did most of it. She didn't complain either.

And yet, the joys of small farming didn't end there. I'm of the burning off pasture set. It's good for the soil, it's good for the grass, it kills off noxious weeds after a couple of years and it makes things look more tidy. So given a chance, I burn off pastures. We had a couple of brush piles on that place. Old brush piles...although "pile" doesn't quite describe it. Let's call them brush mountains. Prussian men who came before us piled brush so high we'd have needed a pretty good sized ladder to see over them. Anyway, my father, one of said Prussian men, came out one weekend to help burn off pastures. He chose the weekend based on a forecasted lack of rain. He was right, it didn't rain. What the weather guy neglected to mention was that we were going to have 200 mph winds. Okay, so I'm exaggerating...but not by much.

So the weekend of my girl's 16th birthday, we hopped out to the pasture to burn off last year's uneaten grass and the brush mountains and, well, it burned. Man, did it burn. It burned FAST. Toward the illegally built structure next door. FAST. Armed with a leaf rake and a couple of stout branches, birthday girl and I ran to the neighbor's to try to keep her illegally built, piece of crap home from burning into the ground (where it belonged). We saved the trailer. Birthday girl got a soot covered face, singed hair and several large, painful and not so attractive blisters for her trouble. Happy Sweet 16.

Now it's 10 years later and her birthday is upon us again. I'm sure this one will be less stressful and will be enjoyed while in the company of fun people, doing fun things, instead of putting out a runaway field fire but some of my fondest memories of her, and her birthday, are events we shared that weren't fun if you look at them from the outside. They weren't really happy times but they were times when we were together and we tried to make fun out of a situation that otherwise wouldn't have been. We did what we needed to do. We did it together, and so while I was standing in the barn a while ago thinking about her and her birthday, I was thinking about the years we spent together, good and bad, how much I love her, respect her, am proud of her and the life she's built, and how much I hope this birthday, and all those that follow, will be happy memories for her to carry, regardless of how they're spent.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Freedom Tower - What Makes A Hero

Against my better judgement, I'm reading the news today. I don't watch the news because I don't believe it's necessary for anyone to explain to me what it means and, frankly, I find it really annoying when they attempt to do so. However, there was an AOL front page blurb about a woman who might possibly 130 years old so I clicked on that and found myself reading through today's posted news.

I came across an article about the Freedom Tower, or at least the architecture that was supposed to carry that name. Apparently, some guy wants to change the name back to One World Trade Center. People are pretty pissed off about that hence the need for an article.

I agree with the being pissed off. I think the proposed name reflects the horrific nature of an unthinkable, unprovoked, reprehensible attack within our borders and I think to build a structure on that infamous site without giving voice to the events that made construction necessary is yet one more way to lessen the public's outrage at the events that occurred. I believe a commemoration of some type is needed. I think people need to have a physical reminder that we can be attacked, that we can't continue to be complacent in a dangerous world, and that the attacks of September 11th profoundly changed the way we, as Americans, live and think about ourselves. I think it's important.

What I don't agree with is one phrase in this article and that is: "Where One and Two World Trade Center once stood, there will be a memorial with two voids to honor the heroes we lost." I'm sure this won't make me popular but the unfortunate people who died when the planes crashed into the towers weren't heroes. They were regular folks going about their regular business. They were chatting it up around water coolers. They were on the phone or in meetings conducting the day's business. They were running errands, delivering packages, surreptitiously playing solitaire or reading the online news, checking email or posting the occasional tweet on a newborn Twitter. They were going about their day. How does that make them heroes? If someone is run over by a bus driven by some crazed, terrorist lunatic does that person then gain hero status? For merely crossing the street to get the mail?

A plane crashed into a hotel in Indianapolis while I lived there. No, it wasn't flown by terrorists but it still killed people and that hotel just happened to be across the interstate from where I worked. Those people weren't touted as heroes. They were victims and they were mourned. That event wasn't as spectacular as Sept 11th, and justifiably not, but perhaps you can see a parallel, albeit fuzzy.

Do you know who the real heroes are? The fireman, police and civilians who risked their lives to get people out and to clean up afterward. The people who selflessly saw the mayhem, and without regard for personal safety, or expecting a government payout, walked into the dark clouds of life threatening dust and the treacherous debris and did what they could to help. Those are heroes. The people on Flight 93 who tried to take control back from terrorists - those people are truly heroes.

The soldiers who followed orders and went into unknown lands in an attempt to flush out the crazy people who attacked us are heroes....and they're still there. They are trying to bring stability to places worse the the deadliest slums to be found in this country. They make nothing for pay, leave their families for months or years at a time, exist in poor conditions under constant threat of death. Their families do not get millions of dollars when one of their loved ones dies. Agree with the policies or not, those men and women are heroes.

One of many dictionaries defines a hero as "A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life". I believe those I've named above earned that title.

I'm not minimizing the loss of those who were in the towers. I'm not spitting on their suffering or that of their families. I would never do so. What I am saying is, in our attempt to find closure, let's acknowledge the loss of the people in the towers that day. Let's acknowledge the loss of our sense of safety within our borders, but let's remember what a hero really is and not toss that term around loosely lest it lose all meaning and become yet another catch-phrase that used to mean something remarkable. That's all I'm saying.

Monday, March 23, 2009

My Husband Is A Mutant

It's been medically interesting around here lately. My husband has a bad back and periodically he makes it worse. This is the kind of thing that happens when you allow your children to jump rooves in Chicago. Ultimately something painful happens and if they don't want to get their asses chewed for doing the jumping, they don't tell you. Fast forward a few years and that little childhood incident becomes a chronic medical problem, hence my husband.

His mother told him not to do that; being the ornery child (and now adult) that he was, he did it anyway. He and his buddies had a fine old time jumping block upon block of row houses. Climb onto the roof of a garage, jump across the breezeway to the next one, then the next, then the next. Fine times until hubs fell through one. Oops. He hurt his hip pretty badly but of course he couldn't go home and tell his mom or he'd have a sore ass in addition to the sore hip. Fast forward to the Navy where for three years he was an aircraft specialist and jumped off of planes most of the day.

Years of construction work, up and down ladders, in attics, basements and crawl spaces, on his knees half the day at times, hubby's back ain't what it used to be, and his hip never was. Combining the two results in buying stock in chiropractic clinics. Hubby, being cheap in the medical care arena (yes, I know, don't even start the lecture, he won't listen), only goes to chiros who don't require x-rays because why pay for x-rays when you can have someone jump on your back without them. Cheaper and still effective. He had a really great chiro when he lived in The City (that's Chicago for those of you who don't speak the language) but "Dr. Evelyn" has retired due to her own joint problems brought on by years of jumping on people's backs.

Living in the provinces, finding a good health care practitioner can be, um, challenging to say the least. A few examples: swollen lymph nodes diagnosed as "muscle lumps", whatever the hell that is. Gall bladder disease declared to be a urinary tract infection even though the UTI test was negative and the patient informed intake, nurse and doctor that it was gall bladder disease. Ectopic pregnancy proclaimed psychosomatic hypochondria with patient referred to a therapist rather than a gynecologist. Ah, yes, it's an adventure if you get sick around here without a good referral to someone who isn't an idiot concerned only about his golf game.

So hubby couldn't get into his regular chiro who has irregular hours but seeing that he was bent in half and unable to walk without looking and sounding like Quasimodo, we asked around and found one with a decent reputation (among the few people we know). Sadly, he required x-rays. In taking x-rays, he found something interesting so when hubby came home he said, "You can divorce me now, I'm officially a freak of nature." Now I found that so anti-climatic that I didn't even break stride but he continued to tell me that the chiro had not only discovered one leg was 3/4" shorter than the other but that he has an extra vertebra. It's official: my husband is a mutant. I already knew this but was keeping it a secret to protect him from the comments of outsiders.

Oh...and he has a pinched sciatic nerve. I'm sure more on that topic will be forthcoming.

Friday Night in the Garage

"What're you looking for?"

"A wrench"

"Oh, I haven't seen a wrench but there's a screwdriver up there" (points to the inoperable Franklin stove)

He picks it up and shows the end which looks like a socket for small bolts.

"Ah, we call that a scrench", she says in a decidedly Pythonesque voice.


"Do you like that one better?"

"Better than what?"

"The other one, the fold up one"

"I can't reach that one. This one's fine with two cushions and one on the back and it has arms. I like chairs with arms. You probably didn't know that about me."

"Yes, I did know that but it's hard to screw in a chair with arms."

Doesn't have a deep meaning.....It's just Twitter only in real life.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


We had baby goats today. This makes me happy - and I needed a bit of happy. I've been waiting and waiting and so looking forward to having babies and was devastated when the first batch died before I even made it to the barn. This time I swore to whoever would listen that I wasn't going to let anything happen.

I've been in the barn for at least half the day for the past two weeks. I've spent all night out there when it looked like Anya, mama goat, was getting close. She wasn't....and it makes for a rather long night. My intermittently charming spouse has been very patient with my being outside all the time. He's awakened me in the middle of the night to go down and check. He's made me sandwiches to take and hot rags to carry just in case. He forced me to go to bed twice because I'd been up for over 24 hours and had planned to go back yet again "just to check on her". He's been remarkably and uncharacteristically patient about it. He knew how much it hurt to have the other babies die.

So last night I was in the barn until about 11.30. I was tired and I didn't want to spend the night dozing while kneeling with my head laying on the goat's side. It was chilly and I was exhausted. So I went to bed and asked him to wake me at 2. He woke me at 2.30 instead. And again at 3 because I really didn't want to get up and crawl back into my winter outside gear and slog through the 3" mud mixed with cow shit and walk in the rain down the hill to the barn. I just really didn't want to. I got up at 3.30, I put on the gear and slogged and put a ball cap over my knit hat and nothing was happening beyond some stretching and yawning - something they do for no known reason when they're getting close to kidding.

I came back up at 6 and went back to bed. For some reason, I lose track of time in the barn. I always think it's been about 20 minutes when it's actually been a couple of hours. I woke up late. Really late. Then I felt guilty because I woke up late and wasn't already in the barn checking on things. Everyone needed to be fed because I didn't want to feed them at 3 am in the cold rain. They wouldn't starve overnight.

I got to the barn around 2 this afternoon. There was a bit of stretching and begging for treats which I hadn't brung with me. And then....contractions started. So I hauled the other doe into a different section of the barn. She was being a pill and trying to push her way into the grain bin we converted into a kidding pen. She was chewing on my hair and licking my coat and getting on my nerves, slightly, in a goat kind of way.I watched the contractions. I timed them - 3 minutes apart. I waited. I texted my sister and faux-step-dau to tell them babies were finally coming. I called hubby on the walkie talkies we use when I'm in the barn or he's in one of the other buildings. It's quicker than using the phone. I watched a while longer and the contractions didn't come any closer together so I made a run to the house to get hot molasses water, wet towels, another cup of tea and the sandwich that hubby thrust on me. Back to the barn. more waiting, more watching, shared part of the sandwich with the goat.

About an hour later, her amniotic sac broke. Now things would get interesting. It took 15 minutes or so and the first baby started coming. That was some slow going. Push, push, push, squalling all the time. Then take a break. More pushing, more squalling, another break. When the front feet had been out for a while, I decided to help a bit so I held the feet firmly while she pushed and the little nose started to show. Finally she got the baby out. It took about an hour. Poor mama. I dried the baby off as best I could while she pushed the second one out. We cleaned their little faces, she and I and I made sure they knew where the food was. Not as easy as you might think but it's important to get colostrum in them as quickly as possible. Anya, mama, kept licking and licking to stimulate them and clean them off. They finally seemed to get annoyed with all this licking but what could they do? They're babies and what mama says goes.

Two bouncing baby bucklings (as far as I can tell at the moment). One looks just like mama only darker. The other gives credit to his papa with a white stripe on his side and his pushy personality - already. We're deciding on names. So far Arnie, Artie and Fredo are topping the list. Fredo's pretty much a gimme; it's a choice between the other two now.

I love babies.....I'm out of cigarettes and I'm going to bed

Monday, March 2, 2009


It's 19 degrees outside as March blows in. I'm tired. I'm tired of being cold, of living in the darkness of the outdated, man-made time change that accompanies winter. I'm tired of the cold wind that blows almost constantly across the valley, chapping my face, cutting through my mittens and whistling around my double paned windows. Ice and road salt, long johns, flannel lined jeans, hats, mittens, Carhartt's, thinsulate lined, knee high, rubber boots. I feel weighted down and after four months, it's exhausting and I'm tired.

But March has arrived and today I'm hopeful. It's still cold. There are still two or three patches of snow and ice on the north side of the house where, shaded by a large tree, the sun shines only two hours a day, but the dogs are rolling in the short, brown grass. The cows are in the pasture and the goats are bawling to be let out of the barn into the sunshine.

The chickens are cluck-clucking around the barn yard instead of huddling in the two car garage that serves as their house. The geese and ducks are looking for grass. Perhaps they see something that my human eye can't, but regardless, the geese are honking happily and no one is sitting huddled beyond a fat, yellow hen who doesn't want me to take her egg. And this morning there are starlings.

Most people dislike starlings but I am not one of those people. I have to smile as I look out my window at the flock of starlings poking at the ground in my yard. So many that they're difficult to count, if one was inclined to do so. So many that as the puppy runs excitedly toward them, they call out and fly up to fill the branches of the 100 year old tree that reaches into the blue sky outside my front door. The starlings, along with a handful of smaller birds, make their cheerful morning noises as they hop in and out of holes in the majestic tree, scouting for promising sites in which to build their nests and raise their babies.

In a few minutes, I will again weight myself down in my winter garb, put on my hat and mittens, and go out to feed the birds and milk the goats but today I will walk the yard looking for crocus poking their heads up out of the soil to brave the crispness of the air and tell me that, finally, spring is truly coming.

On the cusp of winter and spring, I finally feel hopeful. There are eggs in my bird house ready to be sat upon. There is new life waiting to be born in my barn. There is the sound of geese honking, chickens clucking and Muscovies quietly hissing. There are cows grazing on last year's grass, dogs barking in a way that sounds like laughing. And there are starlings.