Amateur Farm Hour: Family Picture Day

JNP_-62

I will never forget the first time I drove up the driveway and onto our farm yard. I was blown away that one place could possibly have everything we were looking for: small acreage, apple trees, gardens – and lo and behold – a barn.

The barn was an enormous presence stretching across the west end of the yard. It had a wide open center, easy for drive-in storage, and two flanking sides that housed random leftovers from it’s previous lives, including an old cook stove, fence posts, and a giant stack of lumber. It wasn’t in the best of repair, but that didn’t matter. It was a barn. I was smitten.

JNP_-77

JNP_-69

I grew up spending hours in a barn, holding kittens, swinging on a bag swing, and watching the snuffing pigs escaping the mid-afternoon heat. I hoped the same for my kids, but soon after we moved in, we realized the barn on our farm was a little too haphazard to safely let our daughter loose in. Sadly, we implemented a “no-play” rule in the barn, and used it mainly as storage for the family fishing boat.

JNP_-47JNP_-197

Unfortunately, the barn is really showing its age. The beams are bending and buckling, the roof is leaking, and this spring, we made the sad decision to take it down. How that’s going to happen is still up in the air (unfortunately there’s been another change in plans,) but nevertheless. Come summer, our landscape will look pretty different. As my oldest daughter says, “at least we’ll get to see sunsets now, right?” That’s right, baby girl. Keep me positive.

JNP_-212

JNP_-215JNP_-237

So last weekend, we welcomed the very talented Christine Henne of JoyNoelle Photography to the farm to commemorate our life around the barn. Folks, she’s amazing. She gave us some great ideas, and then just clicked away as we played. I don’t remember how many pictures she said she actually took (and then edited and returned to us with SUPERSPEED!) but if it’s anything like what it takes me to get a simple shot of one baby smiling per month, I’m pretty sure it was enough to crash the average computer. 😉

JNP_-149JNP_-165JNP_-183

I mean, it’s basically next to *impossible* to get six people, four of whom are age five and under, to look in the same direction and smile. But somehow she managed to document not just our faces, but our feelings.

JNP_-248JNP_-254JNP_-269

Friends, I can’t tell you how grateful we are to have these pictures as a reminder of the first few years here with the barn as the backdrop to our lives. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll be able to build something (on a much smaller scale!) to put in it’s place, but until then, bring on the sunsets.

JNP_-297

 

 

What I Want my Kids to Remember

IMG_20170404_092229_495Outside my office windows, I’m starting to hear a sound I haven’t heard in months. Birds of all sizes and songs are migrating back north, stopping by our hobby farm in the St. Croix river valley and nestling themselves into the dense green of the arborvitae and the budding branches of the maples. They trill and chatter, and somehow, my soul relaxes, reassured that spring is approaching.

It’s not particularly trendy to love spring. People are not making stylized memes or posts about sloppy shoes and brown grass and endless piles of damp, dirty-kneed laundry the way they do about fall and marshmallows and bonfires.

Maybe that’s because new life doesn’t start clean and dry and wrapped in buffalo plaid. New life is wet, dirty. Babies emerge from their mothers covered in a primordial mixture of blood and water. Seeds break out of their shells and push themselves through dirt and mud in order to find the sun.

Life requires mess.

This past week we had an incredible opportunity to welcome a film crew to our farmhouse for a project. However, in order to prep for filming, there was a lot of cleaning to be done. I mean A LOT. Thankfully I had help, and come go-time, the house was glowing (and basically unrecognizable in it’s oil-soaped, shining-floored glory).

It has now been precisely four days since that clean house, and aside from the layers of fingerprints which haven’t had enough time to accumulate on the windows and cupboards, you’d never guess how pristine it was in here just a few days ago.

There’s dirt all over the entry way rug, and apple cores that made their way to the counter, but not quite the garbage can. The fireplace room is littered with crayons and paper and My Little Ponies, and the ladybugs have reinstated their domain in the window sills.

And even though I want to cringe, I know all of this is inevitable with four small children, a few acres, and the abundance of nature around us.

What matters is where I choose to look.

The dirty floor, or the open window?

The dishes in the sink, or the tangle of sweet girls and coloring books spread across the kitchen floor?

Saturday night, I was about to put the baby to bed when I noticed the rest of the family sitting on the front steps, watching robins and chickadees hop and flutter across the yard.

I was bone-tired, ready to shove the rest of the dishes into the sink, and fall asleep to the whir of the mixers on the Great British Baking Show. (Griff is still not sleeping through the night, and wakes up anywhere from one to five times per night, depending on…well…who knows.)

I was a single track mind, my brain flashing like neon: bedtime, bedtime, bedtime.

I wanted to look at my pillow. My eyelids.

Suddenly, our eldest daughter shrieked and pointed to a giant shape swooping out of the pine stand across the road. It landed on a corner fence post and settled, statue-like, about a football field’s length away from us. I assumed it was a hawk, but as we watched, he turned his head and leveled us with the unmistakable gaze of a barred owl.

Jason quietly went into the house and came back with the binoculars, and we all took turns watching the owl. And I can’t explain it, other than to say that the whole event was a gift.

A gift I could have missed if I had been looking elsewhere, like the task at hand.

When I was little, my parents and brother and I used to go over to our grandparent’s farm in the twilight of  summer evenings. My grandpa would have the metal folding lawn chairs ready, the kind with orange, yellow and white woven patterns that would poke your legs where the plastic fabric frayed, all set up in a line facing the north grove.

And then we’d do something unthinkable by today’s standards. We’d all just sit quietly together. No phones, no devices save for my dad’s 35mm Pentax. I’d settle into my grandma’s lap, absentmindedly rubbing the soft, wrinkled skin of her hand, and watch a family of owls emerge from the trees and settle on the clothesline posts, hunting for mice.

Their low, silken hoots echoed from tree to tree as they talked in stereo around us. Darkness would slowly fall on the yard, imperceptible at first until we felt our skin cool and shudder. It was normal for night to arrive without our noticing.

Was it inconvenient for my parents to keep us up past summer twilight, which was probably a good two hours past our regular bedtime? I’m sure. Were my brother and I tired and whiny that night, complaining our way into bed? For certain. Could my mom have stayed behind and had the house to herself to clean, rest, relax on her own? Of course.

But none of those things were as important as making time to watch the owls together.

I don’t know what my little ones will remember from their childhood, but I have the feeling it won’t be how on time they were for bed, or whether or not I picked up the house every night.

Hopefully, they remember owls.

 

 

 

 

Amateur Farm Hour: Meet the Meat Birds!

Yesterday, I bought an extra-large dog kennel at a garage sale in Stillwater. I could tell the owner was ready to ask me a barrage of dog-lover questions, so I decided to head any awkwardness off at the pass. The conversation sounded a little like this:

Hey! Great day for a sale! Say, I’d like to buy your dog kennel.

No, I don’t have a dog. It’s for my meat chickens. 

Yes, I said MEAT chickens. I’m going to use it to transport them to the butcher.

No, they aren’t ever going to lay eggs.

No, I’m not going to butcher them myself. I’m 33 weeks pregnant.

Yes, we’re going to eat them.

Yes we named them.

Nugget.

Have a great day!

We’ve kept backyard egg layers for the last three years, and it’s been great. According to Hobby Farms, the eggs we get from our little flock contain less cholesterol, less saturated fat, increased vitamins A, E and D, more omega-3 fatty acids, and more beta carotene. As a bonus, we can also thank our ladies for entertaining our girls, keeping down the deer and wood tick population, and for, ahem  *fertilizing* our yard.IMG_20160513_185053750 (764x1280)

A few months back, sprawling in our chairs in front of the fire, Jason suggested we infuse the flock. Our egg laying chickens were coming into their later years of production, and wouldn’t it be nice to have the new birds already laying before the old birds quit? Oh, and by the way, what did I think about meat birds?

He went on to extol the virtues of home-grown birds: hormone-free, yard ranged, fed a good diet, killed humanely by a local butcher, and delivered direct to my freezer. And of course we’d get 25 of them. It should be worth our while, right? I tentatively agreed those were all true and good things, though I wasn’t sure where I was going to put the meat from that many birds in my already-full freezer.

Fast forward to this spring, when I got a call from the post office. Your live animal shipment is here and ready for pick up. I had a peek at them. They’re so cute! And noisy!

Small town living at its finest.

So we made a quick list, piled into the van, and picked up our new farm babies. As I leaned over the same counter I normally weigh ebay boxes on and bent back the cardboard, I couldn’t stop my own gigantic smile. They were indeed adorable, all yellow fluff and tiny beaks. I couldn’t wait to show the girls.IMG_20160426_160713635 (724x1280)

Predictably, Ellis loved them, Gabby said she loved them but immediately threw the one I gave her to hold on the floor, and Lucy regarded the chick I placed in her lap with a mixture of fear and glee and refused to touch it.

We made a quick stop at the feed store for another heat lamp, two bulbs, and a sack of feed I thought for sure would last almost a month, given that the chicks weighed less than a golf ball, and were roughly the same size. We were ready.

The next twenty-four hours were a circus. It was April in Minnesota, and temps were still dipping below 40 degrees at night. We opted to keep the chicks on the front porch in Rubbermaid storage totes lined with wood chips. Each tote had a doll-sized gravity waterer and a small dish of chick crumbles which resembled grape nuts.

We positioned the totes under the heat lamps and prayed the whole setup wouldn’t melt or spontaneously start on fire. There was also the issue of the girls.

After they got familiar with the chicks, there was no end to the requests to go in the entryway and see the babies. Rules, admonitions, and threats about not dropping, squeezing, or throwing them in the air were mostly ineffective.

Oh. There was also the time I almost killed every single one of them by putting them in the bathtub and cleaning off their bellies, which had gotten dirty from being in such tight quarters in the totes. Unfortunately, this also brought the chicks’ body temperature dangerously low and resulted in me on the bathroom floor with a towel, a blow dryer, and a lap full of pitifully noisy wet chicks that looked more alien than animal, but we don’t need to talk about that.IMG_20160520_102057918_HDR (896x1280)

Three weeks later, the meat chicks are more like awkward middle schoolers. They are growing so quickly that their feathers can’t keep up, which results in some weirdly patchy looking birds. They’ve also now gone through TWO fifty pound bags of feed. Apparently they are almost half grown at this point, which means my $10 dog kennel is going to come in handy in about a month.

Very soon, we’ll be letting them out into the fenced in chicken yard to scratch, peck, and eat weeds to their hearts content. The egg layers will lose their comfy quarters for a month, but Jason’s been hard at work building them a portable coop with egg boxes and nesting racks, so really, I think they’re getting the better end of the deal.IMG_20160510_195415244 (1280x765)

And us? Well… we’ll see. I’m keeping track of expenses because we want to make sure this venture is cost effective before we get any more ideas about doing it again, and in the meantime, I’m filling our five gallon chick waterer and gravity food bin every day like a BOSS.

Stay tuned. Or better yet, make dinner plans with us in July and ask for chicken to be on the menu.

***

PS! Recently, two very kind teachers at Taylors Falls unexpectedly gifted Jason and I with this sign. Dear Erin and Laura, we love your work and your generous hearts – thank you!

If you’re in the market, Wood Pallet Treasures creates some fantastic, customized stuff. Definitely check them out!

pallet

Amateur Farm Hour: How Not to Open a Coconut

A couple of weeks ago, I inadvertently sliced open the skin below my thumb knuckle with a butcher knife. For a brief moment there was a lightning sear of heat and redness, and then I came to my senses, pinched the wound, and closed my eyes.

Cardinal rule #34 of motherhood: Don’t. Pass. Out.

I leaned over the counter, still pinching my thumb. It had begun to throb in a low, dull pattern. I didn’t dare let go of the skin, but somehow, I needed to get…  to reach… to open…

The kitchen began to spin, a kaleidoscope of morning light and the silver gleam of the sink.

I sank, cross-legged, on the cool hardness of the black and white floor.

Don’t pass out. Don’t pass out. You’re the adult here. Lord help us, you’re the adult. 

***

adulting stickers

Thanks to PeanutParade over at Etsy, you can now buy stickers to celebrate you and your friends’ life accomplishments. 

I don’t know why I still get all twitchy about the fact that I’m an adult. I just celebrated another birthday, firmly establishing my place in the mid-thirties set. But somehow, I still want affirmation for doing the grownup things. Moving appliances when I wipe off the counter. Dusting. Sticking to only the items on my grocery list.

For the record, the mid-thirties rock. I mean it. Being a full-blown adult gives me the freedom of accepting, being, parenting, and living as I choose. I love watching my husband grow into new hobbies and skills, and my daughters outgrow their shoes. I love wearing my favorite, worn in clothes and not caring if they’re stylish anymore.

I love being firmly gripped by Grace, every day a brilliant rescue, another reason for gratitude to my Maker.

Still, there’s a part of me that has a hard time believing I’ve been left in charge. It’s like when you babysit for the first time. The grownups leave, the kids stare at you, and the unfamiliar oven and range top you’re supposed to make macaroni and cheese on looks like a nuclear weapon.

Now my own small tribe of pink and ponytails depends on me for almost everything, and some days, that’s the hardest part.

Being needed. 

Strangely enough, I don’t ever feel ready for that role… the one role I feel like I should, somehow, innately just get.  And yet somehow, motherhood is the role I love. The role I play, day after day, sometimes turning in Oscar-worthy performances, sometimes wanting to hide all day in my dressing room.

The scary part is, I’m not sure I’ll ever feel ready.

Adulting is like that. Just when you finally get accustomed to scrubbing the bathroom sink once a week like a BOSS, you have kids and realize the toothpaste crusted to the basin is something that needs daily attention.

Whine. Sigh. Get the towel. Realize it takes twelve seconds. File it away as a mental note the next time you want to complain. Move on.

Nothing really prepares you for adult life. Nothing except the moments when you simply suck it up and do the work. And nothing you can see, at least, in the dizzying minute when you have to gather, rally, wipe away the blood, and haul yourself back to standing.

***

It took me a second to stop the spins, sitting there on the kitchen floor, clutching a bloody hand and desperately needing a few band-aids.

Thankfully, help appeared in the form of my four and half year old, who was more than eager to climb on a chair and dig in the coveted medicine cabinet. She emerged a minute later with the first aid box, along with some professional airs about being a nurse.

“OK. Hold still. This might hurt, but just… for a second. There. All better.” She gave my double band-aided thumb a well-meaning pat, which made me suck air like an industrial shop vac and confirmed that I probably needed stitches.

coconutStitches which I got, thankfully, in the form of glue (God bless those in modern medicine who understand us needle phobes) a few hours later, along with a strong admonition from my husband about trying to cut into a coconut with a butcher’s knife, at-home science project or not.

The YouTube tutorial was wrong. You can’t open a coconut by pounding the exterior with the butt end of a butcher knife. Or the sharp end, either.

Adulting is hard. End of story.

But the next time my daughter plies me with requests for exotic fruit with a hairy but cement-like exterior, I’ll know enough to say no.

That’s something, right?