Friday, December 12, 2014

Reflections from a 4H Leader

When I was asked a year ago if I would consider running a 4-H club, my first instinct was to run as fast as I could in the opposite direction.

There are a million reasons that I shouldn't be the person to take on a job like that. Like the fact that I'm a ridiculously busy homeschooling, farming mom with plenty of animal and kid responsibilities to take up every spare second of my time. Or the fact that we are relatively new to the 4-H world and I wouldn't have any idea what I was actually supposed to do. And then there's that part about how I really just don't enjoy being around kids very much.*

But I knew I was going to have to suck it up. As much as I wanted to be a dance mom, or a gymnastics mom, or even a karate mom for heaven's sake, that wasn't for me to decide. I've got one girl obsessed with raising poultry and another who is just smitten with horses. So 4-H Mom is my title. And I'm not one to do anything half way, so taking on the role of Organizational Leader just kind of made sense. And in every possible way, I'm so glad I accepted the offer.

The woman I run the club with – who I barely knew and was mildly afraid of until we were thrust into this job together – has become one of my dearest friends here in The Tiny Little Town. Working on 4-H projects with her has become time I really look forward to – something of a social outlet for my otherwise very anti-social life.

And the kids, the ones I wasn't sure I actually wanted to be around? They are amazing. I truly love my time spent with them. A few months of getting to know them, learning their personalities and quirks and strengths, seeing them grow and accomplish new things, watching as they make friends and form relationships that really benefit them – I couldn't ask for a greater gift! There is the added bonus that I know personally all of the kids my own girls are spending time with, and also the bonus of getting to know their parents. Apparently, 4-H isn't just an opportunity for kids to socialize – it's for parents, too.

This year, I volunteered to host the club Christmas party at our house. Twenty kids, all their parents, a dessert potluck, hot cocoa, a mug exchange, and an awards ceremony. Everything about it seemed a bit like insanity on my part, but what fun we had! Being around all those kids really energizes me. I've learned to relax a little when little boys hold an impromptu wrestling match in very not-kid-proof living room, or when a table full of youngun's are having hot cocoa in my kitchen without lids on their cups. Messes clean up. Memories last, though. I honestly enjoyed myself all the way through.

My girls hugged me and thanked me over and over for letting us have the party here and helped with every aspect of it so willingly, from cleaning the house and setting up beforehand, to vacuuming the millions of crumbs on the kitchen floor afterward.

In every way, I'm glad I took this on – not just the party, but all of it. 4-H doesn't just grow kids and animals, it grows grown-ups, too!
*It sounds terrible to say I don't enjoy being around kids very much, but it's true. I adore my own children very much, but other people's kids tend to stress me out.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Most Wonderful Time of Year

“Christmas” isn't just a holiday at our house. It's a season, one that lasts a month, and it stands for so much more than just the one day we celebrate the birth of the Christ child.

I love this time of year. The garden is put to bed and no work needs to be done. The produce is put up in the freezer and cellar, what canning I had to do this year – there wasn't much – is finished. The goats and cow have been dried up in preparation for next year's babies. Horse events are over, 4-H is down to just monthly meetings and a few extra activities instead of being a daily project. The house was deep cleaned and decluttered in the fall, leaving only basic housework to keep up with. In December we decrease the schoolwork load to only math and English, doing about three hours of school each day instead of the usual six.

This is the time of year for spending with family and friends, for crafting beautiful things as gifts, for ourselves, for our home. It's the time of year for baking and trying new recipes. There's time for playing games, singing Christmas carols, or reading aloud to one another by the fire. We pick up forgotten knitting projects, we play with play-dough and paint and just sit and chat. We have time to go for walks, to just sit and play with the animals. We have time to just relax, and it's very welcome.

It's been a hard couple of years up here on our little mountain. One mama trying to handle all that comes with homemaking and homeschooling, plus keeping a small farm running without much help at all, is bound to start falling apart sometime. But things are looking up. The Daddy moved home in September, and we've all settled into having a man in the house again. We've lost some very special people in our lives this year, but my heart is healing as I'm reminded how important The Little Things really are, and I'm focusing on being grateful for each memory and for creating new ones. Loneliness has been tempered by the making of new friends and getting involved in the wonderful community we live in. I'm looking to the holiday season with hope and joy this year, I'm not overwhelmed and discouraged.

It's going to be a good Christmas season.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Nanny Part Three: Grief, and Moving On

The first time I experienced grief, I was nineteen years old. My brother died. I was at odds with my parents and my whole family, and though I was there with them, there was a definite rift between us. I was hurting – so deeply and entirely – but I felt so very alone through it all. I thought surely it would've been easier if I'd had a better relationship with my parents and everyone else, that we could be grieving together, that I'd have someone to talk to about how I felt who would really understand.

But now, thirteen years later and another beloved family member gone, I'm realizing something important: grief is always something you do alone. I want so desperately to sit and cry with someone else, just let the hurt exist for awhile, and not be alone. But that's not how grieving works. When everyone is together, you pretend everything is okay. You make small talk. You tell jokes. You smile. You put away the hurt, push it deep down inside so that it doesn't show, and you act like nothing has changed. Sure, you can mention it - “Gosh, it was hard to sleep last night.” But you don't actually feel anything with anyone else around.

I'm fine all day. I've decided this is a good week to deep clean my house from top to bottom, while still managing a farm full of animals and trying to be an exceptional parent. Keeping dishes washed, laundry folded, and organizing storage closets has kept my mind from wandering too far. It's the nights that are impossible. I lay down to try to sleep, and the thoughts and feelings I've been suppressing all day come flooding through my brain that isn't ready to sleep yet. It's this swarm of thoughts – happy memories, concern for my mother, gratitude, the pain of watching her take her last breath, remembering the way she used to look before she got sick, regret from having not visited more than I should have, seeing the tears on the faces of every person she loved as she opened her eyes and didn't recognize any of us, wondering what she was thinking, what she was feeling, if she even could think or feel, wondering what my uncle is doing right now at this moment, wondering if my mom is thinking all these same things, realizing what things really matter in life, wishing I'd had just one more meaningful conversation with her, remembering her yard and gardens and beautiful flowers and seeing the girls explore them, every Halloween when we made a special trip to see her with the girls in costume, wondering if she ever did forgive me for putting my parents through hell as a teenager, being angry at my whole family for being the kind of people who just don't ever feel anything.

That's what reality is. The reality that one can only experience alone, after everyone else is home an asleep and dealing with their own reality.

Grief is a very lonely thing. And you're not allowed much of it – it shouldn't last long, and while it does last it should be hidden and kept private. My husband assures me that grief lasts about a week. That means I have two more days. I'm pretty sure this sleeplessness, these swirling thoughts, they're still going to be there two days from now. I'll just have to get even better at keeping them to myself, and hiding them and moving past them and pretending I'm just fine.

I'm fine. Just fine. I promise.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nanny Part Two: What Really Matters

As I stood there in the dimly light room next to the hospital bed, watching my beloved aunt take her last breaths with the help of an oxygen mask, thoughts were swirling through my head faster than I could keep track of them. But I noticed something: they all focused on her generosity, and on happy memories.

These are the things that matter. These are things people will remember us for.

Nanny gave so much of herself to everyone. She was always bringing cookies to someone's place of work. She was always giving gifts full of thought and meaning. She was known for making the best pies, and for having the prettiest house and garden of anyone in our family. She was known for always having time for anyone who wanted to visit and for truly caring for everyone around her, opening that beautiful home to anyone that showed up at her door, whether expected or not.

My home is filled with things that will always remind me of her. In every room, something beautiful hangs on the wall or sits on shelf that she gave me. Blankets she made are the ones we wrap around us on cold winter nights. The antique cookie jar on the counter. The earrings in my jewelry box she gave when when I was eleven years old. The plate that hangs on my kitchen wall, that previously had hung in her kitchen and made me smile every time I saw it. The framed picture of the girl having breakfast in bed with her dog and cat that is in my living room. The butter churn we use to make butter. The flower arrangement in the antique boots on my mantle. The antique Singer sewing machine that we still use from time to time. The cedar chest that houses our scrapbooks and photo albums. The wooden rocking motorcycle that both of my girls adored so much as toddlers. Truly, so much of my decor is actually her decor, passed on over the last several years. She loved beautiful things, and old things, and she passed that love onto me.

But it wasn't just things. It was her time, her thoughtfulness. When I was little and lived nearby, she always had time for me. She had time to do things and go places and to just let me be with her... and each little moment added up gave me a heap of memories to hold onto, memories that I will never lose.

Her generosity shaped who I am, and I will always be grateful for it. But more than that, I'm grateful that, in the end, she showed me what really matters in life. It's giving. Not of things, necessarily (though she always did that) but of yourself. She gave so much of herself to me. She loved bringing joy to other people and she lived her entire life doing it. We spend our time doing so much... but how much of our time is spent leaving others with happy memories of us? Of everything we do in our lives, it's what we leave other people with that really matters in the end.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Nanny - Part One

She was there for everything. Every great moment. Every awful moment. Everything in between. She was there the day I came home with my parents. She was there when my brother died. She was there when my first child was born. She was there through my divorce. She was there Every. Single. Time. Everyone called her Nanny, and it was me that named her. I couldn't say “auntie” when I was little – it came out “Nanny”. And it stuck. All her closest friends called her Nanny.

There are so many memories. So, so many great memories. I used to spend the night at her house. She had the best coloring books and the best crayons. In the bathroom there were always pretty smelling bath salts and bubble baths for me to use. I remember sitting there in her bathroom talking to her while she got ready for her day, putting her makeup on, watching her every move. She had a closet full of clothes – so many sequined and sparkly dresses and pretty shoes that I would try on. She and my mom looked so much alike – the two most beautiful women I'd ever seen. They used to go to Vegas together sometimes. I loved the pictures, they always seemed so fancy, dressed up for a night out on the town. Every year for my birthday she would take me shopping at Nordstroms, let me pick out the most trendy outfits for the next school year. The prettiest skirts and dresses, and I'd get to try them all on and model them for her. She made me feel like a princess. I remember when she took me to see Cats and Phantom of the Opera in L.A. I felt so grown up, being old enough to go on those trips with her. She used to have these big block parties where they would set up a volleyball net across the street. All the neighbors would come, and all of her friends and her kids' friends. We'd play til it was dark, lifting the net if someone needed to drive down the street. She was always the life of the party, so much fun and making sure everyone else had fun. On the fourth of July she'd put a ladder out in the street and we'd all set our fireworks on it to make them even more exciting. She always bought me books – Babysitter's Club books, by the boxed set. She had a waterbed in the room I always slept in, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. She would take me to the nail salon when she went sometimes and they would paint my nails to match my outfit. I remember planning the outfit for my fourth grade school pictures, this hideous dress with shoulder pads in hot pink and black, and she had my nails painted striped hot pink and black to match. I always felt so grown up, having my nails done while she had hers done. Hers were usually neon, and really long fake nails. Oh, she was so trendy and fashionable. I remember going shopping with her and my mom sometimes – there was this one special boutique they loved to shop at. I'd sit outside the dressing room and watch as they tried things on. Cherie's, maybe? I can still picture the place. And if we went to the mall, we'd always get a Mrs. Field's cookie or stop at See's Candy for a truffle of some kind. When the Carousel Mall opened, we'd always get to ride on the carousel. I remember staying up at night with her and Uncle, watching Seinfeld and laughing even though I wasn't sure why it was funny. I remember my first sip of Andre' – I must have been about 9 years old. It was fantastic. I'd had a sip of my dad's beer before, and I was sure Nanny had better taste in these grown-up drinks I wasn't allowed to have. I remember how she would laugh with Benny – not many people ever understood his sense of humor, but she always did. She never seemed uncomfortable around him, and she was one of the few. I remember when Adam and I would both stay the night, and she would rock him for what seemed like forever, singing Queenie. I still sing that song to my girls, and they sing it to their babydolls. She would take me out to Love's Steakhouse for dinner a lot of times, her and Uncle would have steak and I'd get a hamburger. Dinner out was pretty special back then and I loved those nights. I remember her dishes, cream colored with cows on them. And Christmas. This enormous tree, and she'd use tree-topper angels as her ornaments. Nothing she ever did was average - it was always bigger and better. The wrapping was always light pink, with dark mauve ribbon. It was beautiful, but I remember telling her I thought it was boring. She had a special desk in the upstairs hallway where she would always wrap the gifts. I loved watching her make the big poofy bows using miles of wide ribbon – she never just used the stick-on bows like everyone else. When I was really little I'd spend the night, and she'd take me to Burger King for breakfast and get me french toast sticks, buy me a paperdoll book, and let me sit behind the counter at the flower shop where she worked. I'd take the bits of flowers that they wouldn't use and make my own little bouquets. I learned about carnations and baby's breath and lilies and roses. Every time I walk into a flower shop the smell reminds me of those times. She made the corsage for my sixth grade graduation, when I finished private school and started public school. It was a really big moment in my life. She gave me the prettiest earrings and matching necklace to wear that night – pearl, with porcelain roses as accents. She bought me my first dangly earrings when I was nine, ones that went just below my earlobes and that I had to get special permission from my dad to wear. It was a set of about eight pairs, they were hearts, stars, and circles, attached to studs, in neon colors. Everything in her house was mauve and blue when I was little – the ultra-trendy “country decor” style. Wreaths and flowers and wall hangings and curtains and blinds and everything. Her whole house was always perfect – then and now. The decorations were 'just so'. I remember the creepy guy's heads over the doorway into the living room. Normal Rockwell mugs. She loved Normal Rockwell for awhile. Pigs for a long time, and then cows. I remember the rose garden outside, all these beautiful colors right off the back patio. And how she loved all her neighbors. She loved people so much, and people loved her, too. She was friends with everyone. She was so full of life. She had this huge personality, she engaged everyone around her. She was never uncomfortable with who she was.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Our new "full time" school schedule

Some ladies in a homeschool group I read have been posting about their daily school schedules. I love reading about other folks' days. Probably because I'm nosy. But anyway, I'm gonna jump in and participate. I've done this before, but with two kids that are old enough for "real school" (and one in middle school, eek!) things have changed some. Here's what our day looks like:

I wake up at 5:00. I drink coffee, check emails, etc. for half an hour. Then I get to work - shower and dress, start some laundry, clean somewhere or another. I get as much done indoors as I can while it's still dark out and the house is calm and quiet.

The kids get up at 6:30. They have their own set of morning chores - straighten rooms, make beds, get dressed and wash up, etc. Each kid has a chore that revolves each week, along with their regular ones to be done at this time. Breakfast goes on the table at 7:00. It takes my children an hour to eat their breakfast and rinse their plates, even with my perpetual nagging. At 7:30, I give up the nagging, and retreat to my bedroom for half an hour of Bible study, where I
askbeg God to grant me the patience to get through the day without yelling.

Outdoor chores start after that - milking, feeding and watering animals, pulling weeds in the garden, harvesting and cleaning veggies, cleaning pens, filling troughs, whatever needs to be done. The girls work til 9:00, and get an hour of free time to run and play. I work until 9:30, either outside or in the kitchen, then have another cup of coffee and remind myself that patience is a virtue.

10:00, school starts. We do math first - about an hour. Littlest One (2nd grade) does a page of seatwork while I do a lesson for The Oldest (6th grade.) Then The Oldest does her workbook pages while Littlest One gets a lesson with me and finishes her workbook. We're using aBeka for the youngest, Saxon for the oldest. Right now, they are both working really well. If either of them finishes early, they get to play a math-related computer game. I use that as bribery to actually get their work done, instead of dawdling and staring at the wall. Sadly, it's not a very effective bribery tool, and it doesn't work all that often.

After math is Language. Littlest One does her phonics workbook and activities while The Oldest gets a lesson. Then we switch - Littlest does her reading aloud and reading workbook while The Oldest does her written lesson. We are using Rod & Staff for the second grader, aBeka for the 6th grader. Littlest is loving R&S, and I am too. The Oldest is learning to diagram sentences in aBeka. She finds this as useless as I do. I try not to show it, because I'm sure it's good for her. At least, I think I'm sure. Anyway, a fair amount of, "Focus on your own work," and she gets it done by noon.

Lunch is prepared and served at noon. I have started setting the timer and giving them 20 minutes to eat, because quite frankly, I don't have time to wait another hour for them to eat a pb&j. While we eat, I read through my favorite verses on patience.

Forty minutes of indoor chores - folding laundry, cleaning the floor, vacuuming, etc. and then we pick back up in the school room at 1:00.

This is our favorite time of day. KONOS. Can't tell you the love affair I have with this curriculum. It's Bible, Character Study, Science, History, Art, Handicrafts, and so much more, all rolled into one gigantic book. Each day is different, but it usually involves some kind of fun hands-on activity that my kids don't want to be over. But when it is, we settle into the sitting room where they color and I read aloud - sometimes a biography, sometimes a "living book" that goes along with whatever we are studying. I try to wrap this up around 2:30.

From 2:30 to 3:00, we do whatever "revolving subject" I've decided to focus on at that moment. Typing, foreign language, music, artist study, educational computer games, free reading. It's different every week. If The Oldest has 4-H work to catch up on, she does it at this time. This is usually a self-guided time, so I work on cleaning but am always nearby for questions. Or reminding them that it's not play time, and threatening to separate them.

From 3:00 to 4:00, the kids get an hour of free time. If I'm feeling really energetic, I'll spend some time with them doing something fun. If I'm not, I say a prayer of gratitude for having gotten through the day, drink more coffee, and stare mindlessly at my computer for awhile. Or, on really bad days, I lock myself in my bedroom, call my best friend, and cry as I admit to her how badly I've failed. Thankfully, those days aren't too common.

From 4:00 to 6:00 we fix dinner, eat it, and clean up the kitchen. Unless I'm feeling lazy. Then I ignore the dishes altogether until the next morning. Around 6:00 we go back outside and work in the garden, tend the animals, play with the dogs, get the mail, ride the horses, or whatever else sounds good. The Daddy is home in the evenings now, so we're going to have to see how that plays into our evening routine.

During the summer, the kids are in bed by 8:30. The Oldest gets half an hour of reading/crafting time in her room before Lights Out at 9:00. During the winter, when we are indoors longer in the evening, I read to them, usually a few chapters from a book I deem worthwhile, and we call this Literature. Either way, I try to be asleep by 10:00.

We do school four days a week. Usually we need a day in The Big City for running errands - that day often changes from week to week. If we're lucky and don't have to go down there, we try to do a hike or something else fun, or just enjoy a free day of crafting and playing games and such, or catching up on cheese making.

Saturday we rest - we do a Bible study, we have some special activities that are only for Saturdays (like arranging and rearranging the porcelain doll cabinet, which can make my kids happy for hours at a time.) Again, The Daddy is home on weekends now, so this could change. And Sundays, if we get to stay home, we spend deep cleaning the house, organizing, and doing other general upkeep because there are mysterious mess-making elves that destroy things like linen closets and playrooms while we sleep every night.

So that's what our days look like. It's a far cry from what it looked like a couple of years ago, when the kids were younger. School takes most of each day. Some days are great, some days are rough, but I'm enjoying this new "full time" stage of homeschool with them, for the most part. I could do without the nagging, if we're being honest, but it seems like a fair trade for watching them grow up into the smart young ladies that they are!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Just A Day

The other day, I sent my husband a text message every four hours, letting him know what I'd done.  This probably sounds ridiculous, but I hate the fact that he comes home after ten days and it looks like I've done nothing at all except keep two kids and 50 animals alive. I needed for him to know that I don't actually sit around doing nothing - it just looks like I do.

Any worthwhile wife would be able to manage all that I do - and more- without getting overwhelmed. But I wasn't raised to be independent or capable, and mostly I just feel like there is more to do each day than there are hours to do it in. If I was better at managing my time, or if I wasn't so slow and lazy and weak and helpless, I'd be so much better at this. I'm getting better as years go by, but I'm still pretty much a failure.

Here's what I did on that "average" day:

4 am to 8 am: Worked out for 20 minutes (I'm getting so fat it's kind of disgusting), made zucchini bread and fruit salad, washed and dried a load of laundry, changed the cat litter, cleaned the laundry room, milked the cow and turned her out (turning her out involves wrangling a calf, which isn't always easy), milked the goats, strained the milk,fed the foundering horse, drained the side roll, added a wheel, moved it, weeded a garden bed, and washed the dishes, hooked up a hose and started watering the lawn. Oh - and parented.

8 am to 12 pm: Planted beets, folded and put away the laundry, taught math, English and reading, made German potato salad, cole slaw and pudding for dinner, tacos for lunch, cleaned up the kitchen and washed the dishes, moved the water... and parented.

12pm to 4 pm: Helped one kid finish a 4H record book, cleaned and organized the playroom, made a batch of brownies, made butter, moved the water, made 4H phone calls while folding more laundry, vacuumed a few rooms, ran for 20 minutes, and parented.

4pm to 8 pm: Taught a 4H crochet class, moved the water, moved the side roll, fed and separated all the animals, disposed of 4 dead baby rabbits, filled a horse trough, wrangled a calf, made dinner, weeded two garden beds and planted out the melon plants, listened to two Poultry speeches, washed dinner dishes, cleaned the kitchen... and parented.

From 8 pm to 10 pm I put the kids in bed, showered, finished cleaning up, graded school work, read a book for The Oldest, and then finally got to bed, only to start again in 6 hours.

It seems like a lot when I type it all out like that, but when I'm actually doing it, it seems like I ought to be moving faster, finding time to do so many more things. I just move too slowly, I think. Most women would be able to do that and still find time for the things I didn't have time to do - sew a nightgown, call a loved one, plant corn, shovel the corral, read a story to the kids.

I wish I could say I feel like I've accomplished enough for one day, but I'm constantly searching for just a couple more hours. I'm sure they're there... I just need to learn how to find them. Day by day, I learn to be a bit more capable, and a little less lazy. But it's not a fast process. The awful days are the ones when something happens that I can't control - a sick kid or animal, a failure in the irrigation system, or any number of other things that find a way of sneaking up on me. Some day I'll have it all together. Until then, I'll struggle along, wishing I was able to do so much more than I am right now.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Flower Garden Chatter: When She Grows Up

Littlest One is a Flower Gardener. I do not understand this. If I am going to spend my precious time tending a plant, it darn well better produce something for me to eat. She, however, places an exceptional amount of importance on Beautiful Things. Her flowers have names. She talks about them like they are people. She reports every few days who is blooming, who has buds, who looks a little sad this year. Growing Beautiful Things is her heart's desire when it comes to gardening. And so, I decided I have two options: I can ignore her, let her do what she does, and go work in my own ("important") veggie garden, or I can suck it up and work with her, weeding and pruning and planting perennials. I chose the latter.

So we were out working in the flower garden today, and she was chattering away. Gardening is the best time to listen to kids. They love to talk while they work. They will pour out every single thought that runs through their mind as they pull weeds. So I sat and listened - it might generally be mundane, but I'm glad she feels like she can just tell me what she's thinking. It'd be even better if we can keep that up for the next ten or twelve years, and I figure this is a good place to practice.

Today's topic of conversation: What Littlest One Wants To Be When She Grows Up. Apparently, she puts a lot of thought into this. I mean, a lot. And that bad part is, she doesn't believe me when I remind her that she can't be fifteen different things. If she's going to realize every dream she has for occupations, she's going to be in college until she's 80.

She wants to be a doctor, because she wants to help sick people get better. She wants to be a police officer, because she wants to make sure the bad guys get in trouble for doing bad things (which may or may not involve wrestling them to the ground, and/or carrying a gun, both of which she is not opposed to.) She wants to be a horse trainer and a professional barrel racer. She wants to be a teacher so she can teach kids how to like math. She wants to work at a daycare so she can take care of babies. She wants to be a professional ballerina. She wants to be a farmer and raise food and can it. And she wants to raise dairy goats and beef cattle. She wants to be a 4-H leader and she wants to feed homeless people. She wants to be a park ranger so she can help protect the plants and animals. She'd also like to work at McDonald's so she can have all the chicken nuggets she wants.

I was listening, amused, thinking at least my kid's pretty well rounded, with so many interests, even if her plans are more than a little far-fetched.

The Oldest was listening in as well. And when Littlest One finished listing the things she intends to do when she's grown up, The Oldest had one thing to say: "What you really want to be is just a mom. You can take care of babies, teach them math, get them in trouble when they are bad, dance with them and ride horses with them and you can farm and take care of animals. And you don't even have to go to college to be a mom. You can just start when you're 25."

Ahh, Oldest One. You wise, sweet, wonderful little girl.

For that brief moment, it almost seemed like she actually realizes all that I do, in this world where I feel like they don't see a thing that I accomplish.

Yes, being a mom fulfills every dream, if you just let it. It takes a little bit of thinking outside the box, more energy than any single person will ever actually have... but you get to do SO MUCH. And you get to do it while serving the family that you love. And even better, as those little ones grow up, they maybe even start appreciating it, just a little bit.

Monday, May 26, 2014

When Disaster Strikes in a Small Town

I'm not entirely sure all this is gonna make sense, or sound the way I mean for it to. But my mind has been running a million miles an hour all day, and I've gotta get it out somewhere. So here I am.

If you watch any kind of news at all, or have been online at all today, you probably heard about the massive mudslide that spread for miles in all directions, and has left three men missing in a remote Colorado town. That's here, folks, right here in our Tiny Little Town. My kids were sledding up there at a friends' house this winter. My husband and daughter traveled the same trail that those guys were on, just last fall. And then, between the huge amount of snowmelt and a big rainstorm, in the blink of an eye, a "cataclysmic" disaster occurred. An entire chunk of a mountain collapsed, and somewhere out there in all of it are three of our neighbors.

Neighbors. That's a small town thing, one I've had to get used to. See, up here, we're all neighbors. It doesn't matter if you're a down-the-road neighbor or an across-the-valley neighbor. We share this town. We're neighbors. There aren't strangers here, unless they are tourists or out-of-town hunters. When we go to town to run errands, seeing an unfamiliar face is an uncommon occurrence. We don't all know each other well - though many of us do - but you can't help but know the folks that share a town this small with you.

It's a strange thing. I lived in The Big City for almost fifteen years, and in that amount of time, I amassed a circle of folks I cared about that included about 20 people. I never saw anyone I knew when I went to the hardware store, and they sure didn't ask about my kids. But here... in only two and a half years, we know and care about so many people! These people, the ones here in this Tiny Little Town, they aren't just taking up space on a city block. They are the lifeblood of this community. Each and every one has a place here, a meaningful existence that makes this place what it is. You wave to every person you pass on the road. You chat about your families when you stand in line to buy a pack of gum. You know where each person lives, you know their parents and kids, and you really care about them. It's so hard to explain. It's intimidating and overwhelming, and it's positively beautiful. There aren't many places like this in the world anymore and if you haven't experienced it, it's hard to imagine.

So when things like this happen - when three men are missing in the outskirts of town - it affects every single person who lives here. You see it when you walk down the street - what is supposed to be a Memorial Day celebration turns into people just being together, praying and caring and hurting and worrying. But they do it together. Each person I know up here is so independent. But when all of those independent, capable people come together, something incredible happens.

And these country folk - one of which I myself am becoming - they are a different breed. There's no sitting around, wishing they could do something. No. They get the details, they sit in shock for five minutes and try to comprehend what has happened. And then they take action. Country folks don't sit around and wait for someone else to come take care of them. Life up here just doesn't allow that, and people that live this kind of life couldn't do that if they wanted to. They get to work, finding every way they can to help one another, to do something. They may not be able to go out and search for the missing, but there is plenty else to do, and you can bet it's going to be done.

Doors are opened, welcoming anyone that might need to evacuate. Our only restaurant opened, even when they should be closed, to feed the emergency workers. (Remember, there's virtually nowhere to get a meal up here.) Donations were sought and gathered from across the valley - water and gatorade, food of all kinds, shovels and gloves, enough to keep the emergency personnel fed for days.

It's not the first time I've seen this. It's just amazing, mind boggling, really, how much everyone in this community cares so deeply for one another. How they will drop everything they are doing to find a way to help, give everything they have if someone else has need for it. How they come together to create something so powerful that it can overcome anything - even a disaster like this. Everything might turn out okay. Or it might not. But either way, the families of those involved will be wrapped in a kind of love that only a small town can offer. They will be taken care of in every way they need.

This is why we moved here. It's not for the views. It's not for the wildlife. It's not for the solace and the quiet and the beauty of nature. That's all secondary. We came here so our girls could grow up knowing what a real community feels like, so they would be a part of it, so they would be just like all the people that have lived here for so long - caring, generous, capable, helpful... and part of something so much larger than themselves.


Please pray for our missing neighbors. Pray for our hurting community of incredible people. Pray for the rescue and emergency personnel. The people up here are capable of a lot, but there comes a point when we all need God to step in and take care of what we can't.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Spring Break

We recently took an inadvertent Spring Break. We usually hold off until May for that, but life happened. A whole slew of baby animals were born in the course of one week, and then I ended up with a nasty cold-turned-brochitis that lasted another week. Add to that a baby goat that needed help eating every three hours round the clock, the first starts for the veggie garden, and Spring Break seemed like a necessity.

So I didn't ask them to do any school work. No math, no English, no history or science. They had free reign to do as they pleased for two whole weeks.

So what did that look like? Surprisingly, it looked a lot like.... school. Not normal school. Not scheduled school. But educational nonetheless.

There was, of course, biology - watching laboring animals, discussing what happens internally when contractions happen, defining things like amniotic fluid and umbilical cord, seeing the water break, discussing instincts, helping babies nurse for the first time and milking the mamas to reduce the likelihood of mastitis, how mammary glands work, the parts of an udder and teat, and relation of all that to humans. I'm pretty sure enough biology happened that week that we could skip science for the rest of the summer... if not the whole year.

And also on the subject of biology, we had our puppy spayed. This prompted a discussion of surgeries in general, spaying in specific, and walks every two hours - which meant watching the clock and learning to read it.

For fun, The Oldest read a biography about Benjamin Franklin, and topped it off with Paddington, which was on our "to read" list. We also read several chapters of The Secret Garden, and Littlest One worked painstakingly through yet another horse book. So there was our reading, literature, and a bit of history and social studies (with both The Secret Garden and Paddington taking place in England.)

We spend at least three hours making fairy dolls out of clothespins (art and history - clothespin dolls are historical, ya know) and then The Oldest spent another several hours trying to fashion a boat that would hold clothespin dolls and not be top heavy or sink, and that would float straight (engineering and physics.)

Littlest One spent an inordinate amount of time calculating the number of animals we have, how many we would have after we sold or ate them, how much money she could make selling babies and selling eggs, estimating how many birds we will have when some are hatched. Her little brain works numbers constantly. They also played a few different games we have lying around that involve the memorization of math facts and calculated more than a few times how many days until Daddy would be home to help with everything. They paid constant attention both the indoor and outdoor temperatures, sorted eggs into dozens, and calculated gallons of milk from pints and quarts. Add to that the fact that The Oldest did at least a quarter of the cooking for two weeks, and I'd say we accomplished plenty of real-life math.

While I was sick, they did a fair amount of laundry and cleaning (home ec) and even caring for many of the animals (animal husbandry, responsibility, patience, diligence.) In general, their lives revolve around the development of character traits, and this was no different.

There were many, many hours spent wandering the hills, the pasture, the irrigation ditches, the pond, and the garden, just enjoying spring. Such small changes as sprouting tulips, singing meadowlarks, and gobbling turkeys were duly noted. I'm pretty sure that all counts as nature study.

When they did have free time indoors, they spent it playing games on National Geographic Kids. There was problem solving, math and science and history and learning about different cultures. They don't often get to play computer games, but considering we were on a break from school, that seemed pretty reasonable.

While I'm not sure I'd ever commit to 'unschooling' like so many do, I feel very confident in saying that my kids aren't any worse off for having had a longer-than-normal and unplanned break. When your kids grow up with play and learning and life so constantly integrated, they simply don't know how to divide them, and they tend to enjoy nearly all of it.

School doesn't have to happen sitting down!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Keepin' It Real

I usually do my best to keep every post on this blog positive. Because, honestly, so much great stuff happens in our lives that I can document, and I don't feel compelled to write about the not-so-great stuff. And also because this blog is primarily intended for posterity, and I don't want a big focus on all the rough parts.

But I'm also a big fan of keepin' it real. No one likes someone who pretends things are perfect all that time - after all, no one's life is perfect all the time. So, in the spirit of keepin' it real, I thought I'd write a little bit about what it's actually like, being a mom of two homeschooled daughters, on a forty acre farm in the middle of nowhere, with a husband who works away from home nearly all the time. Because that's my reality. Yes, good things happen. It's a beautiful life, because we make it that way. But being on my own all the time... well, it's not always pretty.

So, here's what it really looks like.

*I stay busy. And by busy, I mean really busy. I wake up at 5:30 am. I allow myself fifteen minutes for coffee and Facebook, and then I get to work. And I keep working, and schooling, and cooking and cleaning and working and parenting and cleaning and working until the kids are in bed at 8:30. And then I work a little more, or I spend some pitiful time alone, until I'm too exhausted to stay up anymore and I go to bed. Busy is my coping mechanism. If I'm busy, I don't have time to feel sorry for myself or miss my husband or think. So if you ever wonder how I "do it all", just know that I'm really just coping.

*There are a lot of tears. Tears because I don't know how to do something that needs to be done, that normally my husband would do but he's not here to do it. Tears because I feel inadequate to parent two girls on my own all the time, with no Daddy to help temper my maternal ways. Tears because I'm overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work that needs to be done, and that there isn't time for. Tears because my kids are doing something amazing that my husband is entirely missing out on. Tears because I hate going to bed alone all the time. Tears because I'm just damn lonely and need someone to talk to, and my someone is working on an oil field six hundred miles away.

*Going to bed is a weird thing. I sleep alone so much that, while I hate it, it's what I'm used to. And that moment that you realize that you're uncomfortable having to share your bed is a little depressing.

*My husband is working his life away, and the constant guilt that I feel eats at me every day. He works day in and day out so we can live on this amazing piece of property surrounded by this incredible life, and he doesn't even get to enjoy it. He comes home a couple days at a time, works the entire time, and never gets to just sit back and enjoy it. So when he's gone, in an attempt to temper the feelings of guilt, I work even harder, to somehow try to make up for the fact that he's doing so much and getting virtually nothing in return, just for our happiness.

*I'm a very traditional, Christian wife. I view my purpose as being a "help meet" to my husband. But when my husband is not actually here, my purpose disappears. I spend an awful lot of time telling myself that I don't need a man to take care of me, and I don't need a man to take care of. When one's fulfillment comes from meeting her husband's needs, but her husband isn't even there, one lacks fulfillment in a very deep sort of way.

*I spend an embarrassing amount of time fantasizing about selling all of the animals, selling off the farm, moving to the Even Bigger City, and living in an apartment with my kids, my dog, and most importantly, my husband. While I deeply and desperately love every animal we own, and I love milking and gardening and growing hay and being part of a small-town community and watching my kids raise 4H animals and compete in rodeos, I even more deeply and more desperately want to know what it's like to be married all the time again. And if that means living in a city, on a city lot or even in an apartment, a part of me would be willing to do it. A part of me would also die, but sometimes it seems like that would be worth it to actually experience a married relationship again.

So no. It's not all perfect. It's a beautiful life, but it's got an ugly side, too. The ecstasy of living in the most beautiful part of the country is tempered with pain of living it all alone, save for  55 animals and the two most amazing little girls on the planet. But even they don't take the place of The Love of My Life.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Little Things

I was perusing my own blog last night, from back in 2009, reading about our lives and our adventures (and mis-adventures) and comparing it to now. Sometimes I feel like I was such a better mom then... like somehow I'm failing a little more now than I did before.

But no... no, it's not failing. True, I've lost some exuberance. I'm also older, and tireder, and most importantly, my kids are growing up. I'm not a mom to toddlers anymore. My days, while still full of exciting things, aren't filled with silly phrases spoken by a twelve month or teaching a five year old how to plant peas. Life has changed. I have changed. It's not better or worse, it's just different. I'm now parenting an eleven year old and a six year old. Toddlerhood is a fond memory of days gone by, and I've had to adapt to this new phase of "bigger kid" parenting.

It's hard sometimes, raising these "bigger kids". There's more pressure now. Suddenly I don't just have to feed them and keep them alive - I have to turn them into responsible, upstanding citizens. And time, as it is wont to do, is flying by. So we don't get to spend as much time just playing and taking cute pictures and making fun crafts. Especially as homeschoolers. We have to do math, and English, and social studies and science. They need to learn to type, and cook, and take care of themselves. And all those things take time.

Sometimes... okay, often... at the end of the day, I feel like I've not done one noteworthy thing with my kids. Nothing to blog about. (Hence the extreme lack of blogging for the past couple of years.) But I think I'm just looking in the wrong places.

We're still exploring. We're still gardening, and even raising livestock now. We're reading and creating and learning and spending special time together. I'm just not as good at seeing "the little things" as I used to be. Some of it has just become normal, nothing special anymore. Some of it is plenty important, but doesn't seem as humorous or noteworthy as things like, "This is my sister. She bites babies."

But I've gotta start writing again. This time is just as special as years gone by, albeit different. But I love re-reading our stories, and I imagine my girls will love them some day, too. I don't want them to think life is less important now than when they were little.

Heaven forbid life ever just become "normal", that I lack the ability to see how special each day is. Because that's what makes life amazing. It's not the big things. It's the little things.

April 1 - Spring is here!

It's amazing how quickly things change, if you spend just a little bit of time watching, and a bit more time helping things along. So much has happened since last month - every walk outside brings our attention to something new.

In the garden, the garlic is now upwards of 4" tall and thriving. Snowstorms every few days that lay a thin blanket of snow and then melt by noon are keeping everything nice and moist. (This also means we are wading through ankle deep mud some mornings.) The chives are tall enough to be cut and used on baked potatoes, and the thyme and oregano are nearly there. We've tidied all the beds and added composted manure (plenty of that around!) and planted the peas and spinach and lettuce and mesclun greens. The lettuce and greens are just starting to sprout, though we're still waiting on the peas and spinach. It's a little hard up here, waiting so long for things to grow. When we lived in The Big City, we'd be close to harvesting spinach already, and peas would be happily climbing trellises.

In the flower gardens, tulips and daffodils are inches tall now, green life is sprouting from the dormant perennials, and the lilac is covered in buds. Littlest One and I spent a lot of time cleaning the gardens, trimming back old growth and getting ready for the new. I love listening to her talk and dream about flowery things - her little heart has a passion for the beauty that flowers bring. She's been filling her bird feeders again, and the house finches and goldfinches and chickadees and bluebirds show their gratitude every morning as they come for breakfast.

The birds are only some of the wildlife entertaining us each day - bluebirds fighting over nest boxes, birds hopping along porch railings, driving our cat absolutely bonkers, swallows just returning from wherever it is they go in the winter, swooping across the lawn and catching what bugs they can find. But there are also deer, finally back from their own wintering grounds, sneaking into the lawn through the open driveway gate and grazing on the green grass. The elk bed down in the pasture some nights, as many as a hundred at a time, so that when the sun comes up in the morning we are surprised to see them out there, just starting to wake up for the day and move down into the trees. Marmots scamper across the driveway when we come home, owls sing their eerie songs at night when we do barn checks, and coyotes howl, often a little too close for comfort. The noise and activity is constant, and yet peaceful.

There has been much new life brought forth this month in the barnyard. Mae, our milk cow, gave birth to her first calf, a little heifer named Clara Belle. The milking does each kidded, bringing five new little kid-goats into the family. All this new life also means lots of fresh milk, and we are having to get used to a new morning routine now. Between milking, feeding and watering, shoveling manure from one stall or another, caring for the old poultry and the new poultry (5 turkeys, 3 chickens), watering the garden, making and eating breakfast and some basic household chores, we average about 3 or 4 hours of work each morning before we even start school. Eventually, this will work into a (relatively) smooth routine, but right now it sure feels overwhelming!

The kids are reminding me a lot of everything else - growing and changing. The beautiful weather has them playing outdoors now, instead of stuck inside. They are constantly exploring the hill or the pasture, racing sticks in the irrigation ditch, working on their hayloft fort, playing with dinosaurs in the pond, riding bikes, cuddling chickens or baby goats... the list of things goes on and on. Between their imaginations and the never-ending supply of outdoor activities, they are like little butterflies, flitting from one thing to another. Some days I don't hear from them until they are hungry, or until I sneak up on them and take a few pictures of them engrossed in some imagining or another.

New life, new growth, surges of activity everywhere - our world is awake again!

Friday, March 28, 2014

New Kids on the Block... err, Farm.

Kidding is officially over! I'm a little sad that the birthing excitement is over for the year, but at the same time, I'm looking forward to sleeping again.

In order of appearance, here are this year's babies:

Out of Liberty -

Elsa, (standing on the right) a dainty but playful little girl. She keeps sneaking through the hole in the wall for the barn cats to get into the hay loft, and then getting stuck. She's quite the little explorer, and is always making her mama call for her.  Elsa will be staying here with us, as I promised The Oldest she could keep one of Liberty's babies if she had a girl.

Olaf is her brother, and would prefer to lay in someone's lap most of the day under the heat lamp. He's plenty strong and healthy... he's just a lover.

Out of Aurora -

This is Sven. We missed his birth by an hour or so, and Aurora, being a first time mom, didn't quite know what to do. As a result, she still isn't sure why poor Sven keeps following her around, and she isn't letting him nurse unless I make her stand for it. But Sven is one persistent little guy! He just won't give up. And despite his slightly rough start he is happy and playful and doesn't let it get him down. He has a pretty color that is nearly impossible to catch on film in a barn, but it's sort of white peppered with a chocolatey brown color.

Out of Justice -

This is Fiona. She's the quiet one of the two, mild mannered and a bit shy. She has a stripe around her middle that makes her look a little like an Oreo cookie. Her hair is a bit longer than the others and has some curl to it. I'm kind of hoping she doesn't outgrow it. (These girls are only a few hours old in these pictures, as they were just born this morning - hence the reason they look a little scraggly still.)

And this is Felicity, full of pep and playfulness even at only a few hours old. She was bouncing within half an hour of her birth, and has continued to do so, all morning. She's curious and friendly and is a very cheerful little girl. 

Now the fun begins - nothing is more entertaining that baby goats romping and playing with one another!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Baby Season: The Good and the Not-So-Good

It has been an emotionally exhausting couple of weeks. And physically exhausting, actually.

Baby season is the most exciting time of year at our house. We wait with intense anticipation of the arrival of baby critters and the overwhelming beauty of each birth is just incredible. There isn't any better experience.

But along with the perfect, sweet, cuddly little babies comes much stress.

For the past two weeks, I've been going out every four hours to check on the barn animals, making sure no one is in labor. And yes, that includes through the night. Add to that the fact that when I wake up at night, and it takes me at least an hour to go back to sleep, and you've got one very tired mama.

After Clara Belle was born, learning to milk a cow was added to my daily list of chores. And while Mae is an amazing, gentle little cow, milking is still not coming easily. It's physically exhausting, being constantly ready to jump out of the way of a kick while simultaneously holding a bucket with one hand, milking with the other, and standing in a tense squatting position the whole time. And I do it every morning and every night. 

While the vet was out today checking test results for Mae (so far, she's healthy) he noticed that Clara Belle has some blood in her stool. She's acting healthy and rambunctious, so he didn't feel it was necessary to treat her for anything yet, and just told me to watch her. Let me tell ya, watching a baby cow for signs of illness is a worrisome thing to do. Especially when you know it could potentially be very dangerous.

Then, yesterday, our little goat Aurora had her first kid... and we weren't here for it. We got home about an hour after he was born, I'm guessing, and she had already decided she had no use for him. He tries to nurse, she butts him away. She didn't clean him at all, and pretty much refuses to acknowledge that he even exists. This means I'm going out every two hours during the day to hold her still while he nurses, and every three hours at night. Yes, we could just bottle feed him, but I'd really like to get her to accept him and I'm not quite ready to give up yet.

While the farrier was out today, trimming the horse's hooves, he mentioned that Angel, Chloe's horse, is really starting to show her age. Her feet are growing uneven, which means she's not putting her weight flat on them. That, apparently, is a sign of arthritis. He said to watch her while Chloe is riding, and if she trips and stumbles very often, it's a sign that she needs to retire from running and only walk. He also reminded me that with a horse her age, we should always be on the lookout for another horse to replace her, as she could die any time. I know that's fact - she's an old girl, but hearing it, today, wasn't exactly what I needed. I love that horse dearly, and hate the thought of losing her.

And in between all of this, I'm still trying to homeschool two kids, start a garden's worth of plants indoors and out, and keep up with general housewife duties like laundry and dishes and cooking decent meals. (At this point, I'm failing. We've been eating boxed macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and oranges. The laundry is piling up, I finally washed two days' worth of dishes today, and my house looks like no one has cleaned it in two weeks... because, well, they haven't.)

So we have one more goat to birth, and then this craziness will be done. I've some faith that she'll do well, as she was a fantastic mother last year and birthed with no problems, but at this point, I'm a little nervous, wondering what else can go wrong. I do love this time of year, love getting to experience all these amazing things with my girls, but sometimes the stress gets to be a little much. And the lack of sleep certainly isn't helping.

So here's looking to next week - hopefully a week with no troubles, healthy animals, happy babies, and some full nights of sleep!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ah, Blessed Goat Hormones

Goats are funny little creatures. They are also - I have to admit - my favorite here on our little farmstead. I know so many folks who really despise goats, but honestly, I adore them. They are full of personality, love, and endless pranks to keep you on your toes.

Remember Liberty, the Crazy Goat? Perhaps the idea of me, running helter skelter over a small mountain chasing after a psychotic goat will jog your memory? Having to fetch her from the neighbor's house, half a mile down the road? Indeed, that was a rough time. Her being our first goat, I decided then and there I was NOT cut out to be a goat owner, that all goat owners were masochistic, and as it turns out, dairy isn't really all that important in a person's diet. At least, not ours.

Seriously. It was rough. She's never been a friendly goat. Even now - a year and a half later - she's not the friendliest. She'll let me pet her, but she isn't one to demand attention like the other two. She doesn't (ever) talk to me, she is skittish if you try to approach her. She's definitely not what I'd call "tame".

The strange thing, though, is that of our three milking does, she is my absolute favorite. Maybe because demanding isn't my favorite character trait? And she certainly has no intention of ever needing anything from me - ever.

It happened when she had her first kids, last year. She wasn't the greatest mom in the world, but we worked through that. But here's the surprising bit - it turns out that Crazy Goat is actually a natural milker. First time on the stanchion, and there she stood. Just stood! Silly goat won't let us touch her on a regular basis, but we can take all the milk from her udder that we please, and she won't complain in the slightest!

Fast forward to this year: she still doesn't really care to have me pet her. At all. Like, runs in circles around the stall to get away from me. Unless I have treats. Treats are really helpful. But yeah -she's still a wild little goat, and her use for humans is pretty minimal. Give her food, give her water, then go away.

But the moment those two, sweet little babies were out of her and nursing, she turns into this adorable, loving little goat. Twelve hours after birth, I put her on the stanchion. All she needs is to hear the milk room open and she is racing for it, on the stanchion, head locked in place and happily munching grain. And then - and I'm so not joking - she actually bent her knees out to give me better access to her udder! Seriously, Liberty the Crazy Goat was standing there, knees cocked out, so I could milk more comfortably.

This silly little goat is proof - it doesn't take a perfectly tame goat to make an incredible milker. She gave me a pint of colostrum*, and had plenty more, and didn't even so much as wiggle the whole time. And as soon as she was off the stanchion, she was content to have me go away and leave her be.

It was nice - relaxing and just milking a goat I know so well - especially after spending the last week attempting to milk a cow (which deserves it's own blog post, but I'm still waiting to see humor in it.) We both just settled in, did what we do, and were done.

So, ye with Wild Goats - don't sell yourself (or them) short. It just might be that they are exactly what you need them to be.

*Colostrum: the first milk, full of antibodies and absolutely imperative for kid goat survival. Turns out, some goats produce a lot extra. I steal what I think is reasonable and freeze it, in the event that I have another babe that might need it. I'm living in constant fear that one of our does is going to have triplets (she is wider than she is long) and having some extra colostrum on hand makes me feel a little better.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sweet Clara Belle

When we bought Mae, my milk cow, we were told she was due in September. And then September came and went, and it was clear she was nowhere near calving.

And then October passed... and November, and December. By January, I was convinced she would be pregnant for the rest of her life. Or that she wasn't pregnant at all, and all the signs were just some sort of cow phantom pregnancy. But then a couple of weeks ago, I noticed some bigger changes - her udder was fuller, her backside looked... well, like she might be getting closer to calving. (Which would make sense. Obviously she wasn't get further away.)

And then came the happy day, when Littlest One, came running inside saying, "Mom!! Mae's got a big string of mucus hanging out of her backside! It's all the way to her ankles!" (And it briefly registered in my brain that this wasn't a 'normal' thing for a six year old to say.)

Indeed, it turns out she was in the early stages of labor. Six hours later, she was in active labor, and the girls and I were lucky enough to witness it.  Nothing - absolutely nothing - is as amazing as witnessing a birth. It doesn't matter if it is animal or human or if you've been there for a dozen of them. Everything about it is miraculous, and perfect. Especially when nothing goes wrong. And thankfully, nothing did. In fact, it was really a pretty easy birth, only about 20 minutes from start to finish, two pushes and the babe was out. (Of course, it's easy for me to say it was easy. I wasn't the one pushing. This time.)

It was beautiful. As soon as the calf was out, Mae jumped up and started licking. And licking, and licking, and licking. And then when I got close, she licked my jeans for awhile. And oh, how I wish you could all hear her. She sweetest, softest little "moos" - just like a human mama would speak sweetly and gently to her babe, this mama cow talked to her calf. I didn't get all teary-eyed until I heard that sweet sound. It was instant, undeniable, absolutely pure and true love.

Fifteen minutes later, the little calf was up and standing. Err, well, wobbling. There was much wobbling going on. But it wasn't long before babe was nursing, and mama was calm and relaxed.

Having read - repeatedly - the tendency for sweet, gentle cows to turn into demon spawn once they calve, in an attempt to protect their calf from harm, I was a little leery of climbing into the stall with her to check things out. But some things must be done. And in this case, they must be done in relative darkness. First things first  - did we have a heifer or bull calf? Considering it was a black calf lying in the darkest corner of the barn with a protective mama  hovering, figuring that out wasn't all too easy. Or certain. I felt for boy parts, and couldn't feel any... so I went to bed hoping I was right and it was a girl. I checked again three times before I'd let myself believe it - it's a GIRL!!

Oh, how I wanted a girl. Yes, a boy would fill the freezer. But a girl means we can keep her. And breed her! And have more baby cows to love! Yes, for these past many months, I've been hoping beyond hope that Mae would have a girl, and she did. And - truth - I still feel every time I go out there, making sure the boy parts weren't just hiding for the past 24 hours.

Turns out Mae really isn't demon spawn. In fact, she doesn't seem to mind my being in the stall with her and Clara Belle. (Do you have any idea how long I've wanted a cow named Clara Belle?) I still won't put myself between mama and baby, and I won't put myself in a corner where she could kill me if she really felt like it, but she is pretty content with me being around. And little Clara Belle is so sweet and friendly and interested in me. And then she looks at me, with those big eyes and those loooong eyelashes, and my heart melts all over again.... yeah.

So I was up all night, between checking to make sure little Clara was still doing alright, and laying in bed feeling giddy because I officially have a milk cow - that is really in milk. Of course, that doesn't mean I can actually milk her yet, seeing as she's never been milked before. But that's a story for a different post.

For now, I'll just get another cup of coffee and head back out to the barn to watch our sweet little calf hop all around. And for now, I'll be the happiest farm-girl in the world.

I'm sharing this post over at Mama Kautz's Front Porch Friday Blog Hop!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

March 1 - Signs of Spring

March first.

The weather has been tricking us lately, making us think spring is closer than it likely really is. Spring doesn't come early in the mountains.

But with the past week being in the mid-fifties and higher, the snow has been melting so fast we can nearly watch it disappear. What was solid white just two weeks ago is now a brown-green lawn, grass matted flat against the earth from the weight of the months of snow. But even then, you can see little green blades standing tall, reaching toward the sun, trying to keep warm.

The garden is visible now - not entirely thawed, but almost. I hadn't walked through it since the first heavy snow in December. The soil is still soaked from the melted snow, but life can be seen if one looks close enough. The oregano and thyme and parsley are already green and growing, and little cilantro sprouts were tucked in beneath a thin layer of icy slush. The strawberry leaves are lifting themselves from the soil, and the tiniest leaf-buds speckle the apple trees we planted last year. It makes me glad to know they survived the winter. It was a cold one. A row of turnips I never got around to harvesting is still there - turnips now the size of softballs. I wonder if the cow would like one chopped up for a snack.

The animals all know spring is coming, too. The chickens have finally come out of their winter break from laying, and the egg basket on the kitchen counter is filling rapidly after being nearly empty the past several months. The cow and the goats' bellies are round as barrels, all expected to give birth sometime this month. We all daydream in anticipation of baby animals to play with and of fresh milk to drink again. Even the ducks seem to know spring is here, the drakes courting the hens with much enthusiasm. The puppy is permanently muddy up her elbows from all the exploring she has been doing lately, and the horses are happily wandering the hill again, looking for green bits here and there to munch on after having only hay all winter long.

The days are longer now - chores can be done during daylight hours at both morning and night, something I appreciate. I've never loved doing chores in the dark. There was a flock of sixteen robins scattered across the lawn this morning, hopping around looking for bugs in the grass. The dog is scolded each time he chases them away - he still can't understand why we appreciate him chasing away the magpies, but wish he'd leave the robins alone. Last week we saw a pair of bluebirds checking out one of the nesting boxes. Not too much longer, and we'll be able to hear the baby birds tucked deep inside, one of our favorite discoveries each spring.

It's been a long winter. Perhaps not really that long, but it's felt long. It's nice to know it's finally waning, to start dreaming of kid goats and pipping turkey poults and the coming rodeos and haying and harvesting of fresh vegetables....

Of course, it's easy to imagine all of those things, while forgetting just how much impending work must be done to get there.

But no matter. Work, in the spring, doesn't really feel like work!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

I Heart Homeschooling.

Homeschooling is amazing. It brings you these incredible days where you are sure you are a failure one minute, and the next minute you gaze in wonder at the intelligence of your children.

Our school day started out with math (which was surprisingly not painful, considering The Oldest is learning to find common denominators.) Then came English. The Oldest wrote me four synopses about things such as The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere and the parable of the Good Samaritan. Littlest One was doing the same thing she always does: phonics charts, reading from a beginning reader, and then copy work. In two years, she still does not remember that N-E-W spells "new". Nor did she remember the words "would", "oh", or "unto". It was a painful lesson. The kind that convinces you, as a homeshooling mother, that your child will still not be reading when she is entering high school. (Because homeschooling mothers are known for putting undo pressure on themselves, and then buckling under said pressure. It's what we do. We're really good at it.)

But then, life happens. Discussions happen. Over lunch, Galileo's experiment at the leaning tower of Pisa came up. I remember hearing about that in the 8th grade. My teacher telling us that, if we were allowed to climb up onto the roof and drop a bowling ball and a marble, that they would land at the same time. I never did believe him.

Well, we didn't have a bowling ball, but we had a huge bouncy ball and a marble. So we dropped them from the deck, two stories above the ground below, and Littlest One kept watch. Indeed, they did both land at the same time.

From there, I thought I'd be all awesome and explain gravity and terminal velocity. Except that at about that moment, Littlest One (who is SIX!) piped up. "Eventually, everything will go as fast as it can go, and it won't go any faster."

And there's terminal velocity, in six year old terms.

"The balls landed at the same time because they're the same shape. So they push the air away the same."


So what would happen if I dropped a feather and a hammer?

"They wouldn't be the same, 'cuz they're shaped different. The feather makes more friction."

Seriously? I had to look it up. She was right.

"What would happen if I dropped a feather and a hammer and I was standing on the moon?" (The school book told me to ask that. Never would've occurred to me otherwise.)

"They'd fall the same. 'Cuz there isn't any air on the moon, so there's no friction."

I had to look that up, too. How on earth did she learn that? Her sister read something about it in a National Geographic magazine and told her about it. I Googled the video of the Apollo 15 astronaut demonstrating it. They were fascinated.

Why am I doing the teaching here? Clearly, the ten year old is more capable. Granted, I can claim having taught them about friction. We had an awesome time with that one!

Later tonight, she explained the process of amputating a horse's leg due to infection from a dog bite, and then creating a prosthetic leg and teaching it how to walk again.

Um, seriously? Yeah, it was in a book her sister read to her, one Grammy gave her for Christmas. So they were playing "amputated horse leg" in the living room. Because that's what homeschoolers do for fun.

This morning at breakfast, we used the computer to take a virtual tour of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. (We just finished reading aloud the Newbery award winner From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler so it fit in nicely.) Using the mouse to move through the museum, The Oldest pipes up, "Look! There's a model of Brunellesci's dome!" Ehhh... huh? She looks at me like I might be stupid. "Brunellesci. The Renaissance. Remember?" Uh... yeah, no. But apparently I read something about that to her once. Glad to know it stuck.

Homeschool is incredible. Stressful, and difficult, but incredible. They spend so much time delving into subjects that interest them, and then sharing those subjects with one another, playing them and discussing them and pondering them. The teaching that I do hardly touches the amount of learning that they do, through each of those mediums.

So about that trouble with reading? I'm pretty sure it'll come. Some day there will be a book that details the discoveries of some great inventor or scientist, and she's going to be desperate to know what it says, and she's going to read it. The hardest part of homeschooling is letting go of the standards and goals you've got in your mind. Because you can set as many standards as your heart desires, but your kids aren't going to meet them the way you planned for them to. They'll get there in their time, taking their route, and achieving so much more along the way than you ever could have even imagined.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Where does your meat come from?

Remember this little guy?

Good golly, was he ever cute. Long floppy ears and the most playful personality I ever saw in a baby goat... granted, he was also the first baby goat I ever saw.

I won't ever forget that night. 7:45 on a frosty cold evening in late January, we knew Justice was getting ready to kid. By the time we went back out, there were two tiny baby goats on the ground. And this li'l guy, being the oldest, walked right up to us. I actually shed some tears that night - the awe of a perfect birth, the beauty of a mama goat instantly loving her babies, the smell of a newborn kid... it hit that emotional soft spot in me and made my eyes well up.

But reality does have to set in here up on our little farmstead. And reality dictates that we don't get to keep every cute little furry animal born in our barn.

Here's the thing with milk goats - if you want to milk them, they have to give birth. Every. Year. And they don't often just have one baby. We've got three milking does in the barn right now that are all due in about six weeks, and each one will very likely have two kids... which means six new baby goats to love... and feed.

When you're trying to live the way we are, sometimes not-so-fun decisions have to be made. Decisions that involve animals that are really cute and fun to have around, but don't serve any other real purpose. It was time for Phillip to serve his purpose as a wethered goat.

Come to find out, though, The Daddy and I are a little more sensitive than we might readily admit. And slaughtering the goat that we and our kids have loved for the past year just wasn't something we were looking forward to. So for fifty bucks, we let the local butcher take care of that job. As I type, Phillip is awaiting his fate in a pen behind the local gas station. (Because apparently in small towns, gas stations keep pens in the back for animals waiting to be slaughtered, and no one finds this odd.)

When we get him back, it will be in the form of hunks of meat, which I will then grind and make sausage. My hope is that once the soft, floppy ears and fuzzy winter coat are left behind, I'll be able to see it only as meat, and not as an animal that we once watched romp on the mountain (or jump into a freezing water trough.)

Will I still feel sad? I'm sure I will. But here's the thing: there's something so ultimately valuable about watching an animal grow up, feeding and caring for it every day of its life, and then eating it. There's nothing that can make you appreciate your food more than that. So yes, while I'm sad, and feeling pretty darn guilty, I'll be glad to know that he had a wonderful life full of fresh air and sunshine and ear scratches and animal crackers. I'd rather have that sustain me than meat from the grocery store that never had a face. I think every meat eater should have to experience these feelings a time or two in their life. If that were the case, we'd have a lot more folks who really appreciated the fact that an animal died for their sustenance. (Or, we'd have a lot more vegetarians.)

So today we'll keep ourselves busy, probably stay out of the barn for the most part, and try not to think about what had to happen. And we'll look forward to the birth of new animals this spring - a calf and many kid goats, along with a few batches of poultry. And we'll look forward to having sausage with our eggs for breakfast in the morning, and homemade pepperoni on our Friday night pizzas.

Nope, not the best day we've had our our little farmstead, but one that dutifully reminds us that this crazy life we're living isn't always going to be emotionally easy... and also one that puts life into very real perspective. I'll take the value of that lesson over 'easy' any day.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Trying New Things: Cross-country Skiing

There are some things that are just unacceptable. Like the fact that I've lived in Colorado for nineteen years, and had not been on skis until yesterday. (And no, I don't snowboard, either.) In fact, I can count the number of times I've been sledding on one hand. Honestly, my favorite thing to do when it is snowing is drink coffee and sit by the fire. I'm a sissy.

But alas, it was time. And so we decided to rent some skis and take the girls cross-country skiing. Fact of the matter is, I married a man who actually enjoys this sort of self-inflicted pain in frigid temperatures. And he wanted to share that, um, pleasure, with our daughters. And me.

To be fair, it wasn't as bad as I expected. And happily, I can still walk today which I thought was a nice bonus. And I wasn't actually cold the whole time, despite the fact that it was 25 degrees outside. Probably because cross-country skiing is an incredible amount of work, and using muscles I didn't know I had makes me sweat.

The best part was watching the girls though. Giving them new experiences is so much fun. And unlike me, they really, really love anything to do with snow.
The Oldest was a natural. She was ahead of the rest of us the whole time, going up ahead, then coming back to see where we were, then off she went again. She's apparently fearless, going down downhill slopes without a second thought, never afraid of falling. It was good fun watching her. I just hope she doesn't think this is something we'll do regularly now...

Littlest One wasn't quite as adept. The good news though, is that she thought falling down was all kinds of fun. Good, because that's mostly what she did. Over, and over again. But at least she didn't get upset.

Eventually we traded in her skis for snowshoes, mostly so The Daddy could actually ski instead of just holding her up by the back of her coat. Then The Daddy and The Oldest could go up ahead, while Littlest One stayed back on her snowshoes to make sure I was doing okay. She was concerned about how slow I was going, I think.
All in all, though, it was a good day. Life is about trying new things, which is something I'm really not good at, especially when it involves something I'm guaranteed not to be good at. Or when it involves snow. I want my girls to try new things fearlessly, and this is the kind of thing we have to do to give them that confidence.

Also, it made them sleep really well. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Farm Life's Hardest Lesson

If you read any "What I Wish I Would Have Known" articles written by modern homesteader types, one of the first items on their list is always going to be this:

You don't have to do it all at once.

Take it slow, they say. Give yourself grace, they say. Just a little bit at a time and don't overwhelm yourself.

I've read dozens of those articles. And I've always nodded in agreement, as though I've always known perfectly well that that one little bit of advice is absolutely correct.

Except that I didn't.

My best friend and I used to joke that whichever one of us ended up moving to a farm first was going to end up sitting in the middle of her pasture, crying the ugly cry, absolutely overwhelmed by what she had taken on and that the other friend was going to have to listen and comfort and try not to say "I told you so."

Turns out, I was the first one to move to a farm. And that prediction wasn't as far off as I'd like for you think it is. Except that it's snowy outside, so I was sobbing in my bedroom, while staring at my pasture. Which really isn't any better.

I haven't blogged regularly in almost a year. There's a reason for it though.

The past year has been seriously rough. My husband has been working out of town - sometimes out of state - for the past year. He's gone two weeks and then home for a week. That means that two thirds of the time, every responsibility of this property falls on my shoulders. In the past year I have raised a rather large garden, milked two goats and kept another 50 or so animals alive, homeschooled a first and fifth grader, kept a 4600 square foot house clean, raised 700 bales of hay on a 25 acre pasture using nothing but a shovel and some tarps. I've raised and butchered enough chickens to last a year, canned a year's worth of fruits and vegetables and dried or frozen what wasn't canned, cooked dinner every night,  run my kids around to their extra curricular activities, driven an hour each direction every time I needed groceries, hauled horses to 9 gymkhanas and rodeos, and hauled chickens to the county fair. And almost all of this with very little help from The Man of My Dreams, except for the weeks he was able to spend at home.

What I learned is that I really can do it all. I'm working from 5:30 in the morning until 9:30 at night, every single hour of the day, but I can get it all done. Until something goes wrong. As soon as the slightest little thing happens to upset my very rigid schedule, I lose it. I get so overwhelmed that I can't function and all I want to do is give up. Or cry.

The bad part of that, though, is that in this life, something happens to change your plans Every. Single. Day. Nothing ever goes the way you expect it to, or plan for it to. An animal gets sick. A kid misbehaves. A neighbor needs help. A fence needs fixed or a goat gets out or a deer dies in your front yard or your dog gets skunked or the well runs dry (again) and you have to spend an hour hauling water. The list of Things That Can Go Wrong is infinite. And each one of those things is guaranteed to happen when you least expect it. That is reality.

And with a schedule as packed as mine has been this year, and a brain so overwhelmed by constant mental to-do lists, there just isn't time to stop and enjoy all those little things that are supposed to bring me joy. I don't have time to watch my kids play with animals or build a fort or raise a puppy. I don't have time to relax with my husband and just sit and watch the sun go down. I've spent every waking moment just keeping up, keeping my head above water, that I've lost touch with every reason we moved up here in the first place. And that makes my heart hurt.

It's a lesson no one can just tell you and expect you to understand: You don't have to do it all at once.

You have to learn it, first hand. And it's painful. And it involves a lot of frustration and even more tears. But eventually, you take a step back, and you realize what you're doing to yourself, and you decide things have to change. Priorities have to be considered. You have to give yourself room to bend, and time to relax. You have to remember that there are so many years ahead of you to figure this all out and get it all done. And there will never be one single year when you actually accomplish everything you feel like you should. Living this life isn't something to mark off the to-do list. It's a process - a life long process - and it will never actually be finished.

And so, at a time when so many of my friends are moving out to the country and starting their homesteading lives, here is my advice:

You don't have to do it all at once.

Take it slow.

 Give yourself grace.

Just a little bit at a time.

Don't overwhelm yourself.

And when you are sobbing in the middle of your pasture, don't hesitate to give me a call. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Best Tooth-Losing Story Ever

I love the tooth-losing stage. I love the the gaps in the smiles, the lisp when they try to talk, the Tooth Fairy, the constant wiggling. And I love the awesome tooth-losing stories that inevitably come with this stage.

Every kid should have at least one really cool "How I Lost My Tooth" story, and Littlest One managed to create herself a pretty great one.

I haven't yet written about Princess (I haven't written about much lately, actually) but Princess is the puppy we got around Christmastime, especially for Littlest One. Every kid should have her own dog, we decided, to have grow up with and to have grand adventures with. And the grand adventures, apparently, even include the losing of teeth.

She was trying to leash train her pup, making her 'heel' around the living room and rewarding her with treats. When she ran out of treats in her pocket, she needed to get more out of the jar. Which requires two hands. So instead of just dropping the leash for a moment, she decided to put the leash between her teeth to hold her pup there while she got more treats.

And then the cat walked by.

Princess loves the cat, and the cat loves her. And Princess wanted to play. So she promptly took off after the cat. And she took the loose tooth with her.

I wasn't watching much of this ordeal, but when Littlest One came up to me with eyes big as saucers, she said, "Princess helped me lose a tooth!" It took a minute to figure out what happened. She looked like she couldn't decide whether to cry or laugh.. but eventually we all decided it was a great way to lose a tooth! That's a story she won't ever forget!