Category Archives: Farm

Along the Way

 

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I found child A’s 100% spelling test in the toilet and a very strange conversation ensued. Who did this?

No one.

Who knew about this?

Child B only knew a little.

Why did they do this?

They didn’t. Child B had balanced the test very carefully so that someone else would knock it in. Whoever did it should get in trouble, but they don’t know who that is. When Child B left the test was not in the toilet.

 

Girl Two is engaged in an “ing,” contest. The idea did not excite me. I envisioned my six year old chained to a chair wailing while I begged her to write down a fourth word ending in ing. Either I misjudged based on visions of a related child, an alien has invaded her body, or her teacher knew something I didn’t about ing words. Girl two has sat enthralled and almost dizzy with excitement writing ing words on three separate occasions. Her biggest worry when we left for skiing on the weekend was that she would miss on times to write more words.

I was invited for  Lego worlds expo by my youngest three. The designated explainer gave a long and detailed review of the intricate worlds. I thanked them and stood to leave. The kids laughed. That was just one person’s part, they said. I settled back in and tried to concentrate on all the plots and sub-plots. I stood again when the third explainer finished.

Thanks a lot for coming, said one.

She can’t go yet, said another. Remember about the test?

The Mom-is-tested-on-retention-of-Lego-villain-names did not seem like it could be fun but I was assured it was the best part. There were at least fifteen villains. There had been no advance warning so that I could sift out name information from discussions of battles, special powers, or castle fortifications. I failed the first time. They laughed if I called Banana, Asparagus, or Skeleton Dude, Donkey. They took turns giving me clues. I took the test a second time and passed. Somehow by the end it really was a lot of fun.

 

The Optimist is all legs and feet right now. He is happy at school but steps gingerly across the ice of his social world worried it will break with the weight of oddities thrust upon him by his parents. He punishes us with music played loudly on the piano. I stop him when I need to hear myself think, but there are worse ways to lose. My rattled brain remembers myself in another life doing the same thing. He’s on track to become a better musician than me. That makes me happy and keeps me from moving the piano to the garage.

Buster and Boys

I took the picture of Buster eating this year's Christmas tree two weeks ago. He has it down to a trunk with little six inch nubs now.

Buster eating this year’s Christmas tree two weeks ago. He has it down to a trunk with little six inch nubs now.

Boy one came in from the barn Friday night to ask for help. Buster had gotten into one of the stalls in the barn. When Boy one tried to shoo him out, Buster went the other direction and tried to jump the divider into the next stall.

I arrived to find Buster oddly tipped on his front legs, his back hooves not quite touching the ground and the weight of his back end held up by the two-by four running underneath him tight up against the his haunches. Slaps and pokes were useless. Boy one tried a screw driver to take down the rail. I tried to shove a bale of straw up to where Buster could put his back feet on it and finish the ill planned leap, but he just couldn’t do it.

We solved it with Boy talking to Buster while I sawed through the rail, wondering if he’d be able to walk properly after all that hanging around in the air while we tried to figure things out. The board finally gave way. Buster got his feet back and went to find his mother.

In my experience, boys find it important to share these kinds of things with their mother.

Boy two found me alone recently.

I licked the tractor again, he said.

It’s -20°C, I said.

I know, he said. I lost a taste bud and my tongue hurts. I don’t know why I do it, but sometimes I just have to.

 

He often serves on the altar at our church. After a service a few weeks ago he caught me.

I have this idea, he said. I think they should have the ALT OLYMPICS, like altar server, get it?

I pictured earnest children evaluated by adults with checklists for attention to detail, surprised at Boy two’s enthusiasm. Was he beginning to value the importance of being careful despite the tedious nature of details?

For the opening ceremonies, he said, everyone comes out in the robes from their church. Then for the competitions, everyone does the fifty yard dash but they have to hold candles while they run. For the hurdles, they have to jump over pews instead. I haven’t figured out all the events yet. Maybe they could throw an incense boat or something for shot put, I don’t know.

Obviously, we are headed for great things.

Boy one cannot begin his work until he has had a proper amount of time to talk about it. Saturday he was inspired (while reclining) towards a future business endeavor.

Listen to this, he said. In University, I’m going to get some other guys and we’ll start a company. Man Maids. We’ll clean for people, watch their kids, whatever. I bet we’ll have so much business. They’ll hire us because the name is cool and because we’ll look so muscular.

Indeed.

Junkyard Living

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I’ve never written about the property adjacent to ours. It fails the “simple, true, beautiful,” criteria and then some. There is a red house, but no one lives there. The owner keeps the six feet of driveway between the gate and the road plowed. Every so often he stops by with another load of garbage, puts it on his property and leaves. Microwaves, laundry baskets, plastic buckets, green tubs, garbage bags, and various other pieces of junk cover what was at some point, someone’s lawn and driveway. Stray cats go there and in the spring crocuses dare to peek around the edges, but it is as ugly as a lifetime of holding on to worthless things.

The fact that I have to pass it in order to arrive at my preferred walk past the cemetery and into the woods irritates me. I look straight ahead or imagine the red house as it might have been when it was a home. I push down the need to sigh and mutter to myself about townships and taxes and dump trucks. Returning from my walk yesterday I had my eye on a squirrel. Last year there was a really strange one that would run the fence six feet away from me, then leap from tree to tree. One day in particular he must have gone on fifty feet or so until if felt like we were walking together. I wondered if among his fellow squirrels he was viewed as uncannily bright or mentally ill. Yesterday’s squirrel stayed with me for a while and I found myself wondering if it was the same squirrel. I lost him just before I got to the garbage gateway. I could still hear him talking and strained to find him with my eyes.

Which is when I saw this.

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I’ve seen porcupines up in trees chewing leaves in the spring, but not in the winter until now. I’m not sure where I think they should be, but I took it as a gift and went to get my camera. By the time I got back, the closer one was almost to the ground. I stood there staring and he began his sloth like ascent up again.

I was quite taken with his tail.

I was quite taken with his tail.

 

But his face was even better.

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I took at least ten pictures which mostly look the same but I couldn’t help myself. I stood at garbage gate delighted –  with the wonder of porcupines and redemption and doing what you do without worrying about where you do it.

Imagine beauty, hunkered down in trees above a sea of refuse, mounds upon mounds of it . . .  yet there it was. Wild and free, sitting above me, ambling through the branches. Even in junkyards, life comes, rises above, and is.

 

Bad News, Good News and Revelation

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Bad news:

1. Goodwin Cedric the sheep husband has presumably served his purpose by now and will be departing next week. May his future pastures be finer and his head butting possibilities endless.

2. Despite the intentional naming after an Italian saint, our cat Filippa is now demon possessed. Our borrowed heirloom pine furniture pieces are now wrapped in tin foil to prevent further damage. The water repeatedly found on the laundry room floor turned out to be her handy work as well. She chewed a hole in the rubber seal on the front loading washer. Laundry is piling up while I send DIY you-tube videos to my husband’s e-mail and speak with parts suppliers who laugh that I must be looking at a site from the States when I say, “but it’s only a hundred dollars on Amazon.”  The Italian demon (TID) is currently gnawing her way through the electrical wires under my husband’s desk. The internet recommends purchasing covers for the wires as a safety precautions in case of electrocution but they have got to be kidding me. It would be a thousand times easier to weep with the children over a cat’s determined suicide than to defend why you re-homed their kitty. TID also eats voraciously and refuses to go outside when the weather is below freezing, which in Canada is every day from November to April.

Good news:

1. Anabelle is still pregnant. Three cheers for persistent reproduction attempts everywhere. I hope she works up the courage to tell her mammoth son to get lost and stop nursing soon.

2. Chickens are still laying despite the winter months. Some years they do, some years they don’t. This year we thank them that they are.

 

Revelation:

My husband needs a whistle and a rule book. Misbehaviour with the kids is not something he notices until he is so frustrated he wants to behead them.

He refereed a basketball tournament this week. I couldn’t help but notice that he was cheerful as can be enforcing rules all day long. Maybe, I pondered, it was because he wasn’t required to set up rules or decide penalties on the fly. The flashy orange whistle may also have played a part.

I am writing a rule book over the weekend. I am also buying him a very bright and respectable whistle. A striped shirt may bolster things further, so I’m considering that as well. Based on quality of performance at the tournament, I anticipate a great deal more free time after this.

Goodwin Cederic

 

Misty with Goodwin's wives

Misty with Goodwin’s wives

 

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Dreams

 

Sheep husbands are bought once a year and stay for a month. We buy them young so they look exactly like the ewes (I guess unless we cared to view them lying on the ground). Next year’s flock father didn’t look too impressive jumping off the pick-up truck he came in. I reminded myself that with three kids in the family on the smaller end of things, it would be best to keep quiet about the notion that a small ram was somehow less than. Silently, I grumbled that there’s a difference between what you look for in a person and a sheep.

I went outside last week to take some pictures of the winter. Misty looked good with the wind blowing her hair so I snapped that. The sheep always look good to me, but I stopped myself from twenty pictures that all look the same. After fences and clouds my battery died. Although I wasn’t searching for one, it was then that I found my mascot, Goodwin Cedric. (Having previously lived as a number, he deserved a good name.)

Goodwin Cedric (aka Sheep Husband 2015) was facing off with Buster, the steer. As usual, Buster looked bored. All sheep, but male sheep most especially, love butting heads. A good head butt alternately says, “hey,” “want to play?” and “die moron, I hate your guts.”

After Buster, Goodwin Cederic went at Anabelle. Misty is a crankier creature, but for sheer size and strength, cow, Anabelle is the Queen Mama.  Three or four times he came at her to smash her head. The approximate translation was along the lines of, “Hey, I might not hate you, but what if I did? Would you want to play?” Large cow largely ignored the little ram bouncing off her nose. Goodwin Cedric then started at Misty. That would have been extremely interesting to watch but at the last second he seemed to realize that taking on an emotionally unstable, easily threatened older woman with big hooves and no sense of humor might not be such a good idea. Goodwin Cedric was heading back to talk to Buster about the theory of head butting when I went in for some tea, happy and with new notions about facing obstacles.

The stuff of my dreams eludes my grasp. Stone-hearted giants hold the keys to unlock the doors, and the fight to hold high the standard and carry on can be hard. I think of giving up. Little voices in the dark spring up here and there like tiny lights along the path and so I don’t. It isn’t much, but it’s enough. Friday it was Goodwin Cedric. Goodwin, meaning God’s friend. Cedric, meaning valiant warrior. The picture’s in my head and not my camera, him determined, oblivious to his size, butting heads with creatures at least ten times his weight. I see him pawing the ground with his hoof, backing up to take another run at it. My spirit’s lifted, I prepare to go and do likewise.

People and Chickens

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Some people that I love are suffering. I find myself thinking about Huntington’s disease, dementia, and places where we become less than we were. Sometimes we are children growing in the wrong direction. Away from promise and potential into private worlds where possibilities shrink like the future, fall through our fingers like sand, and torn from us with insistent hands are scattered like chaff in the wind forever.

I like to watch chickens. In all their feather finery, they are a curious and going concern until they’re not. One day they run on three toed feet, an apple slice in their beak trying to dodge the flock of chickens in hot pursuit, one day they settle determined on a pile of eggs insisting that the other girls find somewhere else to lay, one day they dart past you out the door . . . and another day, they’re gone. Nothing but a pile of feathers waiting to be buried.

Chickens’ heads bob around at the end of their necks a lot like a person with muscle spasms. All of them do it and none of them care. If anything, they’re proud of it. Now and then it strikes me that chickens essentially invented break dancing (from the shoulders up). Yesterday I found myself stalled, watching chickens again. I’d dumped some scraps in the outside run to try and tempt them out into the fresh air and sunshine. A bold chicken and two flightier birds came curious about the scraps but not quite sure. In and out an inch, and in and out an inch, and in and out three inches then back to the end of the line. Chicken two gave a smaller try then ran to the end of the line and so on. Ten minutes I stood amused although they weren’t doing anything they don’t do every day. Nervous chickens (and they are all nervous) change their minds even more than nervous people.

I don’t know how watching them helped me. I remembered a sick chicken who no longer bobbed her head at all but still knew she was a chicken. The other chickens knew she was a chicken too.

I’m not sure what separates us from the chickens is as big a space as we’d like to think. Or maybe we do know. A microscopic hair’s breadth separates us, people from chickens, well people from sick people, and that’s what hurts. Watching people suffer who were us in another life, three or four seconds ago.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” wrote poet Dylan Thomas. But not everybody is handed the ability to rage toward nights gentle or otherwise. In a different poem, Thomas writes, “Though they go mad, they shall be sane, Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again; Though lovers be lost love shall not; And death shall have no dominion.”

Death shall have no dominion. I think the chickens know this.

How We Got to Where We Are

The Chef, by unknown Spanish master, 17th century.

The Chef, by unknown Spanish master. 17th century.

Occasionally it comes upon me with a great panic: the children are growing up. Sooner than I think they’ll be flying the coop, circling the barn, and cresting the clouds somewhere over the pond. With these thoughts the tears rise hard and fast.

Boy one’s shoes look like we could use them as canoes this summer. I feel already his eventual loss. In his most irritating moments, nostalgia morphs into longing for the clock to tick double time, but lately he isn’t irritating me enough. This put me in need of a list. A list of things I still need to teach him in the two and a half, tiny, little, puny, minuscule years before he graduates from high school.

It turned out tobe a long list, which was good. It gave me something else to worry about. I decided there was no time like the present to start working with the others on departure preparedness. Which is why I instituted weekly cooking nights for the months of January and February. Each child has a night to cook with me. Making it to the end of February earns me a gold star. Further commitment, for now, is not required.

As expected, cooking so regularly with sous-chefs has taken the smooth out of dinner preparations, but otherwise I like it. Boy one started with a chicken chili. He learned about peeling garlic cloves, while I assured him he was still in the game on that one since I didn’t know you could get garlic, without ordering it in butter on bread at a restaurant, until after I left home.

“I want to know how to make soup,” announced Boy two. “Can you make sure I learn how to make soup?” We boiled our bones the night before and went to work when he got home from school. Even the leftovers thrilled him. Girl one began with curried chicken (see a meat theme anyone?) and Girl two’s first go was a stir fry (pork!).

The kids have been in the kitchen a million times but their cooking nights feel different. Smelling spices together, cutting up vegetables, and discussing substitutions, I walk them through the secret passages of my castle. Girl two made buttermilk with the usual mix of vinegar and milk. Nothing special, but to her, the knowledge was an invitation to magic. Boy two cried the usual tears as he chopped an onion. It felt like super powers to hand him a piece of bread, tell him to hold it in his mouth, then watch his amazement as his eyes returned to normal.

Wrapped up in these simple things lies the heart and soul of our loving and being. Without food, we die. To prepare a meal well is to reverence life: not wasting what we have, blessing those who partake. To give someone food says I wish you to live. And with good food, I wish you to live well and long and happy.

Cold Snap

 

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Before Christmas, there was this. Then came the rain that washed all the snow away. (There followed wet and brown.)

 

 

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At last a bit of snow and ice, but some really cold temperatures to go with it. The mother hen in my head began to afflict me so I go out and check on the animals. Twice (it was in the -30’s with windchill) I went to put them inside but they were fine. Even with the animals inside for the night, I lost some sleep when the actual temperature was -33. The barn is far from air tight with four by six feet chunks of open mitigated by hanging feedbags only. I was too afraid to check the windchill while my mother hen head kept me up fretting .

 

 

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The girls like to have their picture taken (as do the eunuch sheep, but we call them girls too). The husband sheep is in there somewhere right now. He arrived December 13th. With about ten others, he will leave for sunnier pastures sometime in the next few weeks . . . at which point we will not eat chicken for two or three weeks out of gratitude for the fullness of our freezers.

 

 

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Buster is a rather sulky lad. He is especially irritated by all attempts to have his picture taken. This was his best attempt at a smile. Most attempts end in pictures of his backside.

 

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I have limited patience for this and my fingers outside the glove were beginning to harden.

 

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Misty will look at me for an apple, otherwise, not so much. At least the kids like her. If we lived in France, I’d vote for her making the final journey with the sheep in a few weeks. Alas.

 

Hope everyone is staying warm. The snap has lifted a bit and the house is toasty again. This weekend we hope to clear the pond and at long last inaugurate the skating season.

 

 

 

Grateful lists, surprises, and holy days.

Me Contemplating life post Christmas gift . . . or, "Aged Angel," by Odilon Redon

Me Contemplating possible post Christmas regrets from the gift I chose . . . also technically known as, “Aged Angel,” by Odilon Redon

 

I’m sitting around feeling grateful for odd tidbits. We’ve found styles I can manage for the girls’ hair, my husband gets up in the night to add wood to the fire, my son is learning to say I’m sorry properly, my daughter’s whole self lights up with joy when she sings, my other daughter dances glory hallelujah because life pleases her, my son worked after school for days and days to have all his own money to spend for Christmas this year . . . and I had a mother who trained me to write grateful lists year round.

In a first this year, I have a present from me to everybody.  Although my husband reads the blog, the fact that he is easily distracted will work in my favor. From now until Christmas, every time he gets a free minute on his computer, I’ll point to the mistletoe in the kitchen. That or ask him a question about football.

They all know I’m picking up a 4′ x 8′ board today to complete my present, but nobody can guess what it is. I got a ping pong set (net, paddles, balls) that hooks to any size table. My plan is to put felt on the bottom of the board and then paint the top. Wala enlarged ping pong table to sit on top of the kitchen table when we feel like it.

My secret is protected largely by my fanaticism about balls in the house. They are not allowed to be tossed, juggled, banged, bopped, thrown, kicked or dribbled. Boy one has probably put in a 1000 hours of work or so in his fourteen years paying for his ball infractions. He has lost balls to the heel of my foot or to a sleight of hand whereby they end up deep sixed in the garbage can. Possibly a few tennis balls have been cut in half. None of the family would dream something as outlandish as me voluntarily introducing balls into my kingdom.

Wish me well. If I can wrap strips of sheet around my mouth and duct tape my rear end to a chair, I think they’ll have a lot of fun. I imagine it will feel like something akin to finding out the drinking age is lower half an hour away, only they’ll be in their own kitchen living the wild life.

I offer prayers for each of you as Advent draws to a close.  Barring a sudden need to post, I’m taking time off from the blog until January 2nd (or 5th, I can’t decide). A merry and blessed Christmas and New Year’s to everyone. May you be richly blessed in the days ahead. Heading into Christmas, you are all most definitely on my grateful list.

Shocking weather forecast predicts droplets of water will be bringing Christmas cheer in lieu of snow. Say it ain't so.

Shocking weather forecast predicts droplets of water will be bringing Christmas cheer in lieu of snow.  Gulp.

Small Conversations

A Tranquil Winter Forest at Dusk, by Louis Apol

A Tranquil Winter Forest at Dusk, by Louis Apol

The snow brings its joy in tiny thrills. I love the wood stove.I love the whole world singing new. Trees stand gloriously enrobed. Even garbage sparkles along the path. Best of all are the footprints. In most seasons, whoever has gone before me does so in secret. Yet footprints are now one of the chief pleasures of my walks. Highways of creatures cross my own. I can’t be sure of who is whom, but yesterday I counted at least five separate creatures in abundance crossing at one place or another the snow I was walking.

I pray in fits and starts, on my walks and otherwise. Mostly, I am lousy at it. I manage a sentence or two or three, get distracted and start again only to find my mind wandering in yet another direction. I go for months with the discipline of regularity then slip softly off the wagon unable to get back on. It’s an off the wagon stretch with a string of failed attempts to climb aboard again right now.

The world seems such a serious place. Rome is always burning in one way or another, and it’s Advent after all. Hardly the time for cessation of communications. My shortcomings frustrate me at the same time I struggle to force myself out the door to the woods, where it’s infinitely easier to talk. Yesterday as I tromped through the snow, I had in mind it was a good time to send up some official supplications, but the usual distractions cut them short.

Inside, that bothers me. Out there, not so much; what I do or say doesn’t seem to matter. Especially in winter’s forests, there are little invisible hand-built bridges between the lowly here and grand there. With trees towering on all sides, it is difficult to feel alone. Some prayers I didn’t work to say yesterday.

“You make good feet,” I said. And later admiring yet another set of prints, “Really, they’re exquisite. Especially with feet, you are amazing.”

The sky did not rain angels. Birds did not softly circle my head, and there was nothing to cross off a list.

Perfection and expectation, O foolish impostors for grace, get thee hence. If I can get on my coat and my boots, the great conversation awaits.