Thursday, December 16, 2010

I Know You

We had been anxiously awaiting the arrival of a friend's baby girl, who was due in just a few weeks. Tragically, and with no understanding of why, little Brenna's heart stopped beating last week. She was born an angel, 7 pounds, and beautiful.

What does a mother do when a baby who was almost here, who was already here in so many ways, who she already loved, slips away before she ever got to hold her in her arms? She cries and she tries to find sense in it, but there isn't sense in it. Her arms are simply unbearably heavy with the absence of her baby girl.

Those surrounding such a mother feel helpless to help in any way that will really matter.

This is for my friend, her sweet Brenna, her husband and their precious, precocious little boy.

I Know You
For Brenna

I know you.

You are the little girl I cradled next to my heart for months, and waited for for years.
You are the one I spoke to, shopped for, and held my breath for so I could better hear that strong little heart beat at every check up.

I know you.

You are the little girl I played Mommy to all those years ago, all those times I gently held my baby dolls in my arms and danced around my little bedroom.

I know you.

You are the little sister to a big brother who doesn't understand why you're not here after all.
You are the little girl that Daddy had already begun worrying about keeping away from boys who wouldn't possibly deserve you.
You are the little girl I was going to have tea parties with, whose hair I couldn't wait to curl, whose eyes I knew would dance.

I know you.

You are my sweet angel girl, who I ache to cradle once again. Who I held so briefly and never want to let go.

I know you.

Because I am your Mommy.

And I love you more than I can begin to say.

And I always will.

And, one day, I will see you again, and I will sweep you up in my arms, and I will know it's you.

And you will know me.

Because you are mine.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Making A List & Checking It Twice

It's all about lists this time of year - baking lists, the kids' Christmas wish lists, the lists of people still needing presents, the lists of far-flung destinations targeted during blitz krieg shopping trips, the lists of chores that taunt me from my purse. I'm juggling so many lists that I'm thinking in bullet points these days.

Here are a few of the bullet points I'm pondering tonight:
  • It was a nice day in Flagstaff today, with Adam and Karlie along. I love these mother-child moments that we share: experimenting with tapas at a Greek restaurant; Karlie seeking Adam's approval of a bright scarf to top her new cozy outfit; the kids exploring the cheese counter at New Frontiers health food store while I make a mad dash to Home Depot....Then of course, there was the quality mother-son time when we both went in to have suspicious growths biopsied at the dermatologist's office. Because nothing says bonding like scraping skin off matching abnormalities. Me and Adam, we like to share. And one thing we share is ridiculously fair skin that's prone to all manner of unruly behavior like sprouting curious new growths that keep our dermatologist in summer homes and sports cars. I understand my proclivity for skin cancer - I am of the suntan oil generation. "Bain de Soleil for the St. Tropez tan" my foot. Try "Bain de Soleil for the white girl who had unrealistic expectations of a what a little scented cooking oil could achieve with pigmentation that was only meant to emit a ruddy pink hue and smatterings of conjoined freckles that appeared to be an uneven tan if you squinched up your eyes till your vision blurred a bit." What did I get for all those hours-long adolescent sunning sessions? Never a satisfactory tan, I can tell you that. Certainly nothing anywhere near approaching the glistening bronze of the women slinking along the beaches of those 1980's era advertisements. No, I just ended up greasy and gritty, while unknowingly planting tiny little time bombs in my exposed skin that would bide their time for 20 years or so before erupting into lovely little squamous cell treats smack in the middle of my cheeks and who knows where else. Stupid '80's. Stupid suntan oil. Now, Adam's worn sunscreen since he was in the womb. In his youth, there were no 12-hour track meets, sitting on metal bleachers in 100-degree weather keeping team stats and refusing sunscreen because he was working on "the first good burn of the season." He has been slathered in SPF 50 all his years. Poor kid just happened to cull the most vulnerable genes possible from his English/German/Irish/white bread muddled pool, so he's getting to play "Watch That Mole!" about 3 decades earlier than you'd expect. He always has been an early achiever, that one. Sorry, kid, we may have gifted you with fantastic intellect, a sharp wit and a thick head of hair, but your dad and I wanted to make sure you didn't get too high on yourself so we threw in insufficient pigment and flat feet just to keep you humble. You'll thank us one day.
  • (NOTE: I have no clever segues planned to move us from one bullet point to the next. Bullet lists are not about smooth transitions from topic to topic, after all. They're rapid-fire, random, disconnected, capturing the fleeting thought before it...fleets? Oh, you'll see. Keep reading.)
  • There's nothing much cozier than a wood fire with dancing flames, glowing orange and red coals, and crackling logs in the fireplace. Really, it's true that wood fires are romantic, soothing, toasty, stupor-inducing delights. I love our fireplace-slash-wood stove insert. But a fireplace situated a 100 feet or so away from the bathroom doesn't warm your toilet seat, and that's the cold hard truth. I do cherish our drafty little farmhouse, but I have those moments when I'm approaching that cold, cold pot on a dark winter night, when I dare to wish the central heating fairies would grace us with a nice warm downdraft, if only in the hall bathroom. This old house is such a mish-mash of ill-constructed additions that I don't think there's a contiguous route for heating ducts to be tucked, so my dream of piped heat will probably lie dormant for many years to come. But, oh, those chilly cheeks do hold the icy burn for a good long time.
  • Those fat little pigs down by the barn aren't going to butcher themselves, I suppose. (See what I mean? Absolutely no way to smooth that transition. Cold bums to fat pigs - there's nothing I can do with that.) Time to plan the big event and clear out the freezer. I've never been a sausage girl, but I swear by all that is holy and slimming that there is a certain deliciousness to homegrown, homemade sausage that can only be understood once experienced first hand. It is a singular pleasure that I never knew I was missing.
  • Speaking of our pigs, it's so gratifying to know exactly what those creatures have consumed since we brought them to the farm when they were wee. There was a time when I was thinking of them as carnitas on the hoof because it seems all the scraps they were getting were from green chile, limes, onions and garlic. But then, the 6 Week Body Makeover entered our lives and we were consuming grocery carts full of fresh fruits and vegetables. Now, we haven't realized the promise of the Makeover yet, but I can tell you those pigs have been positively wallowing in peels, seeds, pulp, frondy tops and cores of all manner of healthy produce. Then, there are the days we run out of "hog grower," the plain-Jane grain mix we buy from the local Feed & Seed. On those days, I brew up huge kettles of lentils, grains, oats, beans and pastas for the pigs. These pigs have eaten good, clean, quality food all their days. They've been healthy their whole lives, have had loads of fresh air and room to frolic (and frolic, they do). They have gotten to enjoy a good life, with the occasional scratch on the back with an uprooted fence post, and we will be grateful for the hormone-free, flavorful meals that they'll soon provide. At 200 pounds and change each, they'll fill our freezer with roasts, ribs, bacon, the savory sausage. and hams, and leave plenty to share with family and neighbors. It feels good to know where our food comes from and that the animals we're eating lived humane, comfortable lives.
  • I'm not confident we'll be putting up a Christmas tree this year. The last one didn't come down until June, so I just haven't missed it enough yet, I guess. I miss fudge, though. And nutballs. Both of those will figure large in the upcoming Yuletide season. Of course, that will require the re-emergence of the aforementioned 6 Week Body Makeover program. With the pigs gone, we'll have plenty of scraps for the chickens and garden compost. Why, when you think about it, my gorging on Christmas goodies will actually be beneficial to our farm and mini poultry operation. It's like I'm doing a service to our family. It's a veritable Christmas miracle. It's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
  • We have a chicken who is laying green eggs. I am dying to deliver a basket of green eggs and a copy of that Dr. Seuss classic to every mother of young kids I know, along with the library and all of the town's elementary school teachers. I have artfully arranged the treasured eggs in cartons among our beautiful brown eggs and shared them with neighbors. I am just delighted every time the kids bring in those wonderfully weird eggs. I don't know why they capture my fancy, but they do. It's just one of those things.

Ok, I guess I better get back to those other lists.

Love from the farm,


Monday, November 29, 2010

Contemplating the Farm

It's a blustery day here, teasing us with the promise of snow but just plain cold, windy and dry in the meantime. It's a great day, though, for contemplating. Ok, contemplating makes me sound deep and insightful. It's possible what I'm really doing is enjoying a few random thoughts - maybe nothing more than synaptic misfires. Who knows. Who cares.

I prefer to think I'm deep and insightful, so here's what I declare that I'm contemplating:

  • ...that this must be Gertie the Goat's favorite time of the year because nearly all of the poplar leaves have dried up and drifted to the ground, where she can't get enough of them. She trots her portly little behind up the lane from the chicken yard and munches these little spade-shaped leaves carpeting the ground in front of the house like there's no tomorrow. She doesn't often exhibit gluttony, our Gert, but with these dried leaves she's positively uninhibited.
  • ...whether it's too late to get my garlic in the ground. For the past two years, I've meant to plant garlic in the fall and let it "overwinter", for harvest the following summer. I'd heard this is the best way to grow garlic in these parts and after tasting the most flavorful locally grown garlic I've ever known at a farmer's market this summer, I'm sold on growing my own. You know how a store-bought tomato tastes NOTHING like home-grown? Same goes with garlic. I'm sold. Now I just need to brave the cold and stick those little cloves' bums in the dirt before said dirt is too frozen to dig.
  • ...putting the garden to bed. True, I didn't have a garden this year, but I have a big garden bed with soil that's getting better every year. We brought home leaves and yard clippings from Mom and Dad's and we've gotten permission to haul horse poo from the neighbor's corral. I may hit our hay farming neighbor up for steer poo from his property, too - now that's magical stuff, right there. I'm determined to put the garden to bed for the winter covered with this organic concoction with visions of nice, wormy soil waiting for me to uncover in Spring. I better get on it if I hope to do so before the only blanket covering that precious earth is snow!
  • ...the sad state of my pantry shelves, forlorn with the absence of home-canned tomatoes. It was with great reluctance that I bought several cans of diced tomatoes at Safeway on Saturday. I hadn't bought canned tomatoes in two years because we've been enjoying the preserves of gardens past. While it was the right decision to forgo a garden last spring, I have pined for the harvest this year!
  • to design the right garden for next year, which starts with seed orders in January, and seed starts in February. We actually have seed left over from the garden-that-wasn't last year, so I have a head start there. I'm refreshed, renewed and excited to get started plotting the coming year's garden. I have visions of beans climbing teepees, exquisite fresh eggplant and monster pumpkins.
  • nice it is to still have the five hens and 2 roosters that we started the summer with, chiefly because Mike and the kids finished the long-needed, high-fenced chicken yard. Much as I wish we could let our chickens free range, we have lost dozens of chickens the past few years to coyotes and dogs and just can't let the carnage continue. I'm praying the coyotes don't outsmart the fence so that we can grow our little flock again next spring. In the meantime, it is wonderful to get eggs every day, and it was rewarding to watch the chickens cavorting in the grass that we seeded the chicken yard with, and hunkering down beneath the bushes we enclosed in the yard for them.
  • satisfying it was to pull out my wheat grinder last night to try my hand at homemade, whole wheat pizza crust, with Tanner grinding herbs in the mortar and pestle, and the kids ooing and ahhing over the beautiful pies before we stuck them in the oven. We're total food nerds around here - I'm not sure the visiting friend quite understood the level of rapture surrounding the pizza viewing. Of course, he went home with fresh peach jam, so if he knows what's good for him he'll keep the eye rolling to a minimum.
  • ...adding a few drops of peppermint oil to our homemade laundry soap, just to add that hint of winter flavor to our clothes. (Whole new thinking on "winterizing" your wardrobe. Go with me.)
  • ...the hope that this winter will bring many hours of inspiration and writing, with loads of

Love from the farm,

Sunday, July 11, 2010

This Thing Still On?

Admit it, you were a little concerned that someone had burned down the barn and turned all the critters loose, weren't you? That our little farm had vanished in some exhibition of high-desert, close to the mystical reservation ancient magic?

No, we're all still here. Actually, a few have left us and some more have joined. We're learning that's just the way of farm life. So the numbers and cast of characters have altered somewhat, but we're essentially all still here.

We've been maintaining on the farm: the hogs are growing, the chickens are laying, the horses are grazing, Gertie is grumbling, and Belle the Wiener Dog is working off her baby fat. (That would be the fat she gained from sneaking into the "baby" food we set out for the new kittens and puppies earlier in the spring.) Truth be told, though, the farm has taken a back seat to life this summer.

It was time.

It was time to focus on refining and simplifying. Growing healthier and stronger. It's been a time of establishing new patterns and turning inward and gaining perspective.

The garden we'd planned didn't get planted; but I know it will re-emerge next spring. And I'll be more ready for it than I was this year.

Though I know we'll continue to miss the harvest, for this season we traded it for other meaningful things: a summer full of friends and playing and pool time and sun. Of every family member working hard to raise money for a much-anticipated end-of-summer trip. For important time with important family members, and watching with joy as a kiddo who couldn't enjoy the last two summers blew the doors off this one. I'm storing every ear-to-ear grin and dimple flash in my memory - I cherish every one.

We haven't gotten to all of the spruce up projects I'd planned for the summer, but I know I can tackle those once the kids are back in school. And I'll be more ready to do it. Plus, I'll get to do a lot of that sprucing up with Mike, and there's not much I enjoy more than working side by side with that guy.

So, this summer hasn't been what I thought it would be, but good and important stuff has been happening and we will all be the better for it.

Most likely this space will rest dark and cool for awhile as we continue to wring every drop from this time we have left before school, and before Adam ventures out somewhere in the world for two years of volunteer missionary service for our church. We have lots of memory-making to complete before then.

I'll be back soon.

Still with lots of love from the farm,

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Spring is astonishing!

A rainy Sunday a week ago, I wrote a little something then accidentally sent it into the ether. I'm still trying to retrieve it and until I do, I'm going to leave you with this fabulous little poem that our youngest penned for her 4th grade writing assignment. I think it's lovely.

Love from the farm,


Spring is an awesome season!
By the sun fluffy clouds show expressions.
Gorgeous cherry trees are flourishing at the pond.
Sunflowers balancing near a fence are miraculous.
Above the flowers, peaceful butterflies are fluttering.
Brisk bees are zooming over my head.
Croaking on a lily pad, frogs are disguised and
in the grass wee crickets are tweeting.
Spring is astonishing!

by Karlie Walker, 9 years old, May 2010

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Grey Soaking Rain

It's been a long time with some important moments - most notably Adam's high school graduation. We'll catch up soon. In the mean time, here's one I wrote in early May that's been cooling its heels until I could get back. - T.

This morning after dropping kids off at church, I headed back home to the one kiddo still bundled up in bed. In the course of the 15-minute drive, the sprinkling rain turned to a steady drizzle and the slate grey skies promised this was going to be one of those long, steady rains that you can settle deep into and pull snug around you.

Enjoying the rainy drive on our country lane, I tuned the radio to a folk station and drove right on past the house for a little while, looking over the fields that had already started to green up with our faltering spring, but that after this rain, will surely now come into their full splendor. In this dry northeastern Arizona region we have to water our fields and gardens most days to coax them along. It's after a good, steady rain, though, that you see the difference between what irrigation and nature's own watering will do. The thirsty trees and meadows respond to nature's rain with a lush show of gratitude - the leaves are broader, the wildflowers stand taller, the pastures plump and swell, rushing the fence lines with waves of verdant grasses.

When we lived in the city, rain didn't affect our day-to-day living much. It was a rare and welcome respite from the monotonous sunny days and heat, but about the only thing it affected was our level of caution on the freeways, where we'd encounter oil-slickened lanes and drivers who may or may not know how to drive in the rain. Beyond simply enjoying it, rain didn't figure large in our lives.

I love that in this life, rain matters. Not in the way it matters to everyone - bringing needed moisture and replenishment. No, I mean that here, in this life we're living now, rain affects how we think about and do things.

Like last summer, when the farmers had cut the hay in the fields surrounding our place, then it rained before they could bale it. I fretted and worried over that hay, knowing that rain on cut hay is about the most dreaded circumstance. It can rain right up until hay is cut all it wants. But rain when hay is on the ground waiting to be baled is the worst of luck. I had watched the old farmers toil over their hoes for hours on end, clearing the way for each tuft of alfalfa to get a good soaking. As the rain fell on the freshly cut hay, I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach, worried the exhausting labor of those farmers would all be for naught, hoping the rain would stop and the sun would dry the piled hay in time, and feeling helpless to do anything that mattered. It's not a situation you can solve; you can only stand in the doorway and watch the rain fall.

Rain dictates our actions now. When we know the summer rains will likely hit around 3 each afternoon, we have to make sure we get our gardening done early in the day, because in the evening after it's rained, it isn't wise to tromp around in the fragile rows. Diseases and pests spread easily in a garden when wet soil is disturbed and tramped from row to row. The tenuous grasp of young root systems are easily torn away when rain-loosened soil is nudged.

It's good when, after a long week of weeding and planting or thinning, with work still left to be done, a pounding summer storm forces you out of the garden and provides a much needed break, reminding you that some things really can wait until tomorrow.

We have come to learn there are magical qualities in the warm, gentle falling rain that somehow better satisfies our fruiting vines than the cold, crisp water we bring up from the wells. While the roots draw on well water to strengthen the core, the rain gives the plants the chance to lift their leafy branches and feel the moisture directly on their skin.

Rain urges us outside when it's passed to renew our battle against encroaching weeds, promising the stubborn roots will yield more easily to our tugs against the softened earth.

It dictates when we clean the horses' corral, or don't. It causes me to wake slumbering children on dark summer nights, so they can sit at the window and watch the relentless flashing of a dramatic monsoon, lighting up the yard to nearly full daylight and shaking the old adobe walls with thunderous booms. It makes Mike's head shake in resignation when I beg him to jump in the truck with me to drive down to the bridge to see if the storms have the river churning in its bed with the increased flow.

Sometimes, that driving rain will keep the old farmers out of their fields and give their tired bones a chance to rest. Sometimes, the rain does the same for me.

These soaking rains drive the birds down from the skies to rest a while in the welcoming green fields around our house, so we get to look out our kitchen window to see flocks of these beautiful creatures just yards from our home.

I love these grey soaking rains, and the new patterns they've brought into our lives.

Love from the farm,

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dogs Are Neat-O...Among Other Things

Dogs are neat-o.

Dogs are loyal.

Dogs are always happy to see you.

Dogs give great hugs.

Dogs wag their tails.

Wagging tails make those looking at dogs happy.

Dogs are good sniffers.

Dogs sniff out dead things.

Dogs LOVE dead things.

Dogs roll around gleefully in dead things.

Dogs smell like decay and all manner of horrid aromas when they roll around in dead things.

Dead-thing-rolling dogs stay outside.

Well, at least one does. The other one has 3 fat pups who whine pitifully if their milk mama doesn't snuggle her chubby fanny down with them in their cave in the corner of the living room.

So, when the little critters start to fuss, we have to let mama dog, who heretofore has not been "kept" outside since she had her puppies, back in the house. With a fan blowing from the doorway.

Bad mama dog.

Dogs stink.

(Well, at least temporarily. We'd bathe them, but it's snowing. Again. Snow's beginning to stink in my book, too. If only for the fact that you can't wash the dogs when it's snowing and risk them catching a chill. We love the dogs, after all, even if they stink. To high heaven. Which they do. Review the above if you missed that little tidbit.)

Love from the farm,

Monday, April 26, 2010


Imagine my surprise to open my email inbox this morning and find a new submission from "...Love From the Farm." Did I write it in my sleep, I wondered?

Apparently, Blogger is a little glitchy and sent us all a Christmas in April message. I feel like I'm in syndication on the WB network. Too bad if we're playing random re-runs, that this or this didn't pop up in email boxes everywhere. The first is how I'm feeling about the upcoming summer with the kiddos home from school. The second one pretty much epitomizes life around here.

Anyway, not sure why we all got the Christmas message again. I'd say I'm going to follow up with Blogger, but, well, let's face it, I won't. If it happens again, though, I promise I'll check in with them.

Love from the farm,

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Slamming Screen Door

It's been on my mind for several days - maybe even a week. I have thought about it on several occasions and each time felt a little forlorn. Yesterday, I owned up to the fact that, as silly as it sounds, I've missed my slamming screen door.

After a long, cold winter and in the midst of this cool (sometimes snowy) spring, I haven't had the urge to spend a lot of time outside. Well, I've had the urge lots of times - I just haven't had the desire to go out when it's cold or windy, and it's been a lot of both. Since I haven't been spending time outside, I haven't been seeing much of my beloved old screen door.

See, for the regular day-to-day errands: kids to and from school, feeding the horses, grocery trips, doctor's visits, etc., I use the front door. It's during the late spring and summer when I'm off to the garden, out watering the grapes, carrying food scraps down to the chickens and pigs, or bumping the door open to lug a basket of wet laundry out to the clothesline that I use the screen door off the mud room. I haven't been engaged in any of those activities for some time, so I've been logging my comings and goings through the boring old front door.

Yesterday, I decided enough was enough. I went out the front door, around the corner of the house and walked up to the screen door, plucked it far away from the side of the house and let it slam. Three times I did it. I had just missed that clattering old sound, which was truthfully one of the things that made me fall in love with this place. This dilapidated, rundown, old, mish-mash place that has a spirit about it that we can't define, but makes it feel like home to Mike and me. It feels as if there was much of love and kindness in this house over the years, and the remnants of those gentle emotions are embedded in the adobe walls, the old kitchen cabinets, and in the crooked door frames and sloping floors. Talking to people who knew the couple who lived and died here confirms that was the case; I hear from one and all that these were good people, "salt of the earth" people who, without exception are spoken of with fondness every time we say, "We bought the old Heward place, do you know it? Right across from Drew Shumway's big red barn?" Never mind that the Hewards have been gone for some time, and sadly, Drew's gone now, too. People around here have been here all or most of their lives, and they remember.

So, yesterday, I let the screen door slam. Tanner walked up as I did it and asked what I was doing. Somewhat sheepishly, and without explanation, I said, "I just wanted to hear it slam." He smiled this warm, accepting little half smile then shook his head and said, "I love you, Mama," and went on his way.

After he left, I looked at the door a little disappointed. I noticed that it hadn't just snapped shut with a loud bang like I love, but instead took a little coaxing from me to get the clatter right. Its somewhat weak slam felt a little like a metaphor for me this spring. There are plenty of things that are needed and expected of me, but it's taking a little coaxing to get it all done. I want to roll up my sleeves and dig in with determination to tackle it all, but I've felt a little beleaguered and I'm not quite sure why.

I am quite sure, however, that Mike can do something to the hinges to get my old screen door to snap shut with that satisfying slam I love. In the mean time, I'm looking around for the right oil can or wrench to get my hinges working right, too. I'm sure both the door and I will be back in fine form in no time, ready for the myriad warm weather chores that take me out our slamming screen door.

Love from the farm,

Friday, April 2, 2010

Dog in Easter Spirit?

The headline I just saw on AOL read, "Dog In Easter Spirit With Costumes."

Really? I mean, really?!

There are some things that really shouldn't be trifled with. A jack-o-lantern on a dog? Sure. A hot dog bun costume for our wiener dog Belle? I suppose. If we're not worried about giving her nightmares (which I am, since she keeps finding her way into my bed at night.)

But, I'm not really too concerned with making it look as if my pooches are in the "Easter spirit" - much the same way I wouldn't dream of slapping a menorah on a headband and sliding it over Sadie the Dog's ears, so she can show her "Hanukkah Spirit." Or desecrate some symbol of Passover in the name of cute. I can't even bring myself to consider what capturing the true spirit of Easter would translate to in doggie fashion.

No, what I'd rather do is express that Easter is my favorite day of the year for thoroughly sacred and heart lifting reasons. Whether you're Christian or not, there's much to be appreciated about the symbolism of Easter: renewed life, the promise of being reunited with our loved ones who have left us - some far too soon. The idea that all will be restored to perfect form - no matter how broken or battered we are now.

I also cherish Christ's example of a love for our fellow man that leads to serving others, making sacrifices for those we love and for meaningful ideals that we graciously uphold no matter the cost. Whether you view Christ as a Messiah, a great prophet or simply a historic figure, there's no question his ministry encompassed all of these things.

I love Easter, and I love the spirit of Easter. And I'll cherish the symbolism and ponder the example of this Christ, who cherishes me, too. No costumes required.

Happy Easter from the farm,

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I Was SOOOOO Wrong

Remember day before yesterday? When I said Mia was exhibiting maternal instincts? Turns out I was horribly, horribly wrong.

Well, unless Mia's version of maternal instincts includes eating her young!

Turns out I gave Miss Mia far too much credit in my previous missive about her intentions when she was herding the little chick back to the chicken yard. I read the look on her face as concern for the chick's welfare. Single minded focus on her self-appointed stewardship over the fluffy little straggler. Apparently, what I was actually reading on her face was furtive calculation and desperate longing, mixed with the strain of exercising every ounce of self-control she could muster to not chomp that little cheeper between her steel-trap jaws right there and then. Somehow, I must have missed the drool.

Mia snagged and killed a chick yesterday morning.

I couldn't believe it. She came trotting up the lane from the coop with the chick in her mouth, and flopped down under her favorite eating tree. This, the dog who I have always felt was safe to have around the chickens. The one, who up until yesterday, was the only dog that could wander the chicken yard and coop with me, and the chickens never skittered away nervously. They were content to have her around.

I was devastated when Mike told me of the killing, and deeply disappointed in Mia. Has she really turned chicken killer? Or, is this a temporary brutality phase, brought on by the psychotic throes of pregnancy? Is she experiencing pregnancy cravings? Are warm chicks the canine equivalent of pickles and ice cream? Or, in my case, raving hot salsa and salty, warm chips?

Equally as disturbing as Mia's treacherous act is the fact that I'm left with that unsettling realization that my judgment of character is wildly out of sync with reality. I wonder what other creatures and people in my life have hideous secret twists that they're just waiting to spring on me.

Disillusioned and wary down on the farm,

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Observations From the Log

All the kiddos are in town this evening for various church, scout, and piano activities. Mike's at work. I have no trueborn kids to feed or care for at the moment. Finding myself at loose ends, I wandered down to the chicken yard for a bit.

Here's what I observed while sitting on a log outside the chicken pen:

  • Mia the Pregnant Dog spotted a little white cheeper who had managed to wander into the former hog pen that adjoins the chicken yard. Mia's tail stump went up, her ears raised a fraction, then she hesitantly scooched under the fence and approached the chick. I wasn't quite sure what she was up to. She began walking behind the chick, urging it forward and staying close on its heels until she had it safely back in the pen. There was only one moment of concern: when Mia was trying to wedge herself back under the fence to get to our side of the hog pen she looked at me with alarm when she got stuck. Apparently, she wasn't aware until that moment just how impressive her girth has become in this late stage of her pregnancy. Still, she perservered with getting the chick back to its flock. Nice to see her maternal instincts kicking in.
  • Rooster Boy rules the roost. As I sat there quietly and dusk began to settle around us, he stood up tall in the chicken yard and crowed a distinctive, well, crow. He was eyeballing Lone Hen, who had wandered over to the garden. His message was clear: "Hey, woman, get your feathered behind back over here. Night's falling." She gave him a look over her shoulder, made a little cluck in reply, scratched around for a moment or two more to show him she was her own woman, then sauntered back over to the pen at a leisurely pace. To his credit, Rooster Boy was not tapping his foot at the pen door awaiting her arrival. About 10 minutes later, as the sun sunk a bit lower, he went into the coop and hopped up on a perch. Again, he stretched himself as tall as he could and let out another crow. This time, all of the chicks - big and small - who were still milling around in the chicken yard, filed into the coop. Oh, there were a few unruly youngins who decided to take one more turn around the yard. They were acting casual and unperturbed, but they picked up the pace a little bit right there at the end and hopped up into the coop. Yep, Rooster Boy is the man.
  • Gertie is trying to make up after her petulant behavior of the other night. As I was sitting there on the stump, she sauntered over and nibbled at my pants leg. When I said hello, she butted me gently on the knee with her head. I nudged her back and we sat there for a few minutes butting and nudging, but she never broke contact with my knee. Then, for good measure, she nibbled my pants once more. We're friends again.
  • Now, here was the most curious thing of all that transpired down by the barn. I noticed Mia looking tense and on point, standing over next to the two new rolls of fencing we have waiting to encircle the new chicken yard. She looked like she was guarding it. Struck me as a little weird. Then, Gertie walked over and began rubbing her horns against the wire, hooking the edges with her horns and butting it. Mia went berserk, barking and raising her fur. I figured there must be some little rodent cowering under the wire that Mia was afraid Gertie planned to abscond with. I hollered at them to hush then turned my attention back to the chicken yard.Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of the cats acting odd. I glanced at him and saw he was stalking something. I looked to see what held his interest and the only thing I could see in his range of vision was...another roll of wire. Not the same kind of wire that Gertie and Mia were freaking out over. No, this was a whole different type of wire. So, here's what I surmise was going on: Sometime today, a vicious roll of wire attacked some innocent in the barnyard. Details were likely sketchy, but word must have gotten around that wire was involved and was to be feared. Could be that the farmyard authorities issued a warning on the heels of the frightening and unwarranted incident and now the critters are suspect of any wire they see - no matter whether the wire they're encountering is of the same variety, let alone, political persuasion as the offending attackers. What we have here is some profiling going on. I'm not saying the attack didn't happen and that there isn't reason to be nervous. But, I do feel a little sorry for the new fencing for getting such a chilly reception, and for that other old roll of fence that's been right here in our barnyard all this time, never hurt a soul, who the critters are now eyeing with suspicion. Let's hope the fear and alarm blows over soon, so everything will just settle down, down around the chicken yard.

Keeping the peace on the farm,


My Adam

Neither Adam nor I felt too hot last night. I sat there on the chair, he was sprawled on the couch. I turned to him and said, "Would you mind helping me get dinner ready? I'm just feeling lousy." He groaned, but I could tell he would help me out.

So, I got the rice cooking on the stove top; rubbed the fish with herbs; drizzled them with butter, and popped them in the oven; then stuck the spinach in the microwave. When everything was just about done, Adam hauled himself off the couch and went into the kitchen to rig up a double boiler and make the hollandaise sauce. It was the crowning touch of the meal; what took us from a savory fish dinner to scrumptious and WOW.

And, that's Adam in a nutshell. His distinctive touch in every situation elevates us from just the norm to something special.

It's in the way he digs in with his younger brother and sisters and makes them laugh as they're doing chores, while he laughs right along with them. The way he introduces them to what's cool right now - the music, the entertainer, the book, the song, and demands that they get right on board. And you can see them puff up a little because he's treating them as if they're on his level. He doesn't just entertain them, he engages them. He's 18; they're 9, 11 and 12. They probably have no idea what an unusually great big brother he is, because it's all they've ever known. They don't know what it's like to have the disinterested, aloof older brother who's outgrown them. No, Adam's the guy that dances like a freak in the kitchen when they're doing dishes; nothing aloof or sneeringly above it all about that.

There are the tender moments, too: when I've looked down the pew at church and seen Tanner, weak and pale, with bruised little eyes, leaning his head on Adam's shoulder during the sacrament service. The time when two different women sought me out separately to tell me they'd been driving down the road together and were moved when they saw Adam and Macy, walking down the road, holding hands and talking as they went along. "He seems like such a tender brother and a confident kid," one of them told me. He is.

This kid keeps me in my place - and the place he thinks I should be in is fun. I may think I'm just picking the little toads up from school, but find out that really the plan is to have a raucous jam fest in the car. He'll crank the radio and holler, "Come on, Mama, you gotta dance!" Next thing I know we're all shaking the car with our wild gyrations, bellowing the lyrics at the top of our lungs, with lots of extra "woop woops" and Prince shrieks thrown in at inappropriate places. When Mike's working nights and the little ones are in bed, it's Adam who says, "Ok, Mama, it is time to par-tay!" and throws in the Pink DVD or some goofy movie that he's currently obsessed with. (Oh, the obsessions wear on you, I can't lie. I was about to beat Julia Child with her own rubber chicken during the "Julie/Julia" phase, and don't get me started on "Baby Mama" - it's fine the first 3 times, but after that, when the kid's quoting it as we go along, I'm ready to throw the "Baby" out with the bathwater! A rift in our relationship that may never heal, I fear, was the moment he learned I tossed our 10-volume set of Friends because. much as I loved that silly show, it just wasn't appropriate for the little ones. That revelation dimmed the evening festivities for awhile, I'll tell you.)

Adam is content to hang out with us a lot. He has great friends who he spends time with here and there, but he likes us (and his Aunt Lynda, his Grandma & Grandpa Fraley and his Aunt Carol) and logs most of his time among us. Mike and I sometimes push him to go with friends more, but he assures us he's not worried. When he wants to hang with them, he does; when he wants to be with family, he is. He's not holed up in his room, walled off with a computer or PDA all the time. He mingles. He simply likes us and chooses to be around. We like him too.

Adam tries to teach me the current lingo and has no problem with reminding me just how old and white I am, when I butcher some current phrase that apparently is supposed to be spoken with an ethnic twist. He manages to put just the right spin on it; I falter. Terribly. He shakes his head and shushes me in public, with wild eyes beseeching me not to embarrass him, whenever I unwittingly misspeak a phrase that apparently a mother of 4 has no business uttering. If I never again see that kid shaking his head, chuckling, and saying, "You crazy kracker" in the same way I might gushingly say, "You cutie patootie" to a toddler, it won't be too soon.

Since he was little, Adam has adored and been adored by his Grandma & Grandpa Fraley. As the only grandchild for 6 years, he had lots of Vegas trips (during the family-friendly campaign), San Diego adventures, weeks at the grandparents' house while I was off on forest fires, bazillions of quarters for the arcades, and numberless bunches of carrots for the donkeys in Oatman. His Aunt Lynda took him off on adventures: sometimes, he had to follow clues or figure out riddles to learn what the adventures would be. (The relations understand it's all about the presentation. Grand adventures are usually announced through crafty clues wrapped in special packages.) His bond with these 3 folks gave him an underpining of strength and security that I think could be a universal example of why kids should be surrounded by multi-generations of family members.

Adam still loves the chance to grab one-on-one time with his grandparents when he can, especially since the advent of 3 siblings born within 3 years of each other blew his serene start in life right out of the water. Yet, there's not an ounce of resentment towards these interlopers. In fact, he breaks my heart with the level of concern and sometimes fear I see flashing in his eyes when Tanner shows signs of the illness plaguing his kidneys. He fervently urges ER visits and questions decisions to wait-and-watch when it's apparent Tan's having a rough time. He carries worry in his heart and it breaks mine, because I don't like to see him burdened by such intense care at such a young age. I have always prayed my children would develop compassion, believing that characteristic above all will keep them centered throughout their lives. I don't want his compassion to become a weight. But he loves his little brother and he can't fix him, so he's just watchful. Imagine what I felt when I learned that on an evening Mike and I had to rush Tanner out for medical care, Adam gathered the girls and knelt for a family prayer before a family member showed up to take them somewhere for the night. I know it's happened more than once. How about that kid.

It's hard to believe the wispy-haired little boy I brought home from the hospital when he was less than a day old is this 6-foot-2-inch galoot who will be graduating high school in 6 weeks. How is the shy kid that I had to pull out from under counters and podiums because he couldn't stand anyone to look at him the same guy who addresses audiences without fear, acts like a goof in broad daylight and strikes ridiculous poses in thoroughly public places? You just never know how they're going to turn out, I guess.

I'm excited for the adventures and experiences I know are awaiting him, but I have to tell you, I'm going to miss having him around. He brightens my life; he makes me laugh; he drives us crazy with his whatever-the-male-equivalent-of Ethel-Merman-singing-is. He loves us. And we love him.

I can't wait to see what comes next for Adam when he ventures off the farm. I'm going to miss that hollandaise sauce, though.

Love from the farm,

Monday, March 29, 2010

Tell Me Why

Yesterday, the young mother who oversees my girls in "Activity Days" called to see if Karlie and Macy could go with a group of girls and women to serve dinner at the Bread of Life mission in town. Loaded up with baggies full of chopped onions and tomatoes (their contribution to the meal they would be serving), the girls hopped into their leader's car at 5 o'clock, excited to be on their way.

Activity Days is a program for girls ages 8 to 11 in our church. On any given Activity Day, they might make gingerbread houses, Father's Day gifts, memorize scriptures or learn to sew or sing harmony. Last summer, they came home with sparkly, star-spangled, ribbon-festooned flip flops they'd made themselves just in time for the 4th of July.

Upon their return last night, the girls tumbled out of their leader's car, yelled thanks and gave me a quick "hi!" as they bounced into the house. I thanked their leader for taking them and asked how it went. She said, "It was amazing. The girls were amazing. They did so good. They always do." I was surprised that she seemed really touched and quiet, rather than just upbeat and matter-of-fact.

Curious about her demeanor, I went into the house and asked if the girls had a good time. This was only the second time they'd fed the homeless in our community and I wondered if they felt that warm surge of lightness that seems to always accompany serving others. I remember - and still experience - the hesitation and nervousness I have felt when going into a situation where I'd be serving others less fortunate, ill or downtrodden; yet every time, there's that warm glow that makes me so glad I did.

I didn't want to color the girls' response to me, so I didn't say any of that. I simply asked them how it went. They said they'd had a good time, that it felt good to feed the people who were there. Then, they surprised me by saying, "We sang 'Tell Me Why'."

"Tell Me Why" is a sweet little old song that's been around forever. I taught it to the girls while we were driving around lost one night in northeastern Arizona. I wasn't worried, I knew we'd eventually find our way back onto the right route home. We just had time to kill as we drove around in the dark, so we started singing songs. I hadn't thought of the song in years until that night, but it was fun to teach them the words and try our hand at harmonizing.

I was surprised when Karlie told me they sang a duet last night, because I was forever trying to get the girls to sing to us. Sometimes they're all for it, other times they claim shyness. I understand - I do the same thing. I knew something must have moved the girls to prompt them to share the song with these struggling families and lonely individuals who take refuge at the mission. I thought how beautiful it must have been for those being served to sit at dinner, hearing these two little girls sing in their clear, sweet voices the simple words:

Tell me why the stars do shine
Tell me why the ivy twines
Tell me why the sky's so blue,
And I will tell you just why I love you.

Because God made the stars to shine
Because God made the ivy twine
Because God made the sky so blue,
Because God made you, that's why I love you.

I asked how the people responded. Macy said, "They really liked it." Karlie, in the nose-wrinkled, quizzical little tone she has patented replied, "Sister Stanton cried." Her tone clearly conveyed she wasn't sure why.

I knew why.

Because there's something about a child's voice lifted in song that touches the spirit, especially a lonely or aching spirit. A child's voice is a balm. There is a purity in those breathy, high, sometimes faltering notes that somehow conveys a downy softness and innocence that we don't often feel as adults. And it affects us.

I was reminded of the times our babysitter Oma would take my sister and me along with her church group to the "old folks' homes" in Ohio when we were little, so we could sing to the "old people." I was a little frightened of the ancient, bent over people in wheel chairs, with rheumy unseeing eyes and impossibly wrinkled skin. Though I couldn't know the words to describe it at that time, I remember their fragility and seeming vulnerability being so unsettling for me. But my fear soon gave way to that puzzled wonder that Karlie conveyed as I witnessed the smiles and pure joy those old people expressed as we sang to them. Some closed their eyes as tears streamed down their faces and they tilted their heads towards us so they could hear more clearly. Some of the white-haired old ladies would clasp our hands as we stood near them and with beaming smiles tell us how beautiful we were. I remember feeling that warmth of knowing we'd made these people happy somehow, even though I didn't understand how we'd done it.

Recalling all of this, I asked the girls if they would sing the song again for my sister and me as we sat in the living room last night. They did, and as I listened I thought how their leaders' demeanor when she dropped them off made so much sense now. Of course she was touched by hearing these sweet girls sing to people who were hungry not only for warm food, but for a warming balm that would soothe their troubled spirits, if only for an evening. Of course she was moved by the pure innocence that they exude at this tender time in their lives. Who wouldn't be?

I love the wonder of little girls who sing simple, sweet songs.

Love from the farm,

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Gertie's Mad At Me. Again.

Well, I've done it again. Gertie the Goat is mad at me. Again. Even as I sit here typing this, she is outside muttering and cursing and butting her horns against the door occasionally for good measure.

Poor Gertie. She just doesn't understand.

It all started at 1 a.m. when I realized that with all of the kids at Grandma's house, no one had been here at dusk to put away the chickens. The 21 baby chicks were nestled snug in the coop, but the 17 teenagers, along with Lone Hen and Rooster Boy, had not yet been tucked in for the night.

I had a moment's hesitation, thinking I hadn't heard from the local coyote population in awhile and wondered whether it was safe to let the birds sleep in the gated pen tonight. It was probably less than a moment's hesitation, actually, as the glaring answer was, "No! Have you learned NOTHING?! You will NOT let the chickens sleep under the stars! What kind of sadistic farm woman are you? 'Just this once' will translate to nothing but piles of feathers in the morning, I guarandarntee it!"

Clearly, I could not leave the chickens out, no matter how unpleasant the prospect of putting on shoes and a coat to head out to the coop in the dead of night might be. Just to punctuate that thought properly, a lone coyote howl pierced the otherwise quiet night. So, up I got and put on flip flops and a coat, and called for our fierce new protector, Belle the Wiener Dog, to accompany me outside.

In the front yard, the other sentries - Mia and Sadie the Dogs and Gertie the Goat - sent a few warning barks and bleats in the direction of the coyote howl then raced to join me and Belle on our trip to the coop. Thankfully, there was a bit of moon glow cast on the farm so it wasn't pitch dark making our way down the lane. I didn't bother with a flashlight because I couldn't foresee being able to hold the flashlight and grab chickens at the same time.

The three big sentries went ahead of Belle and me, making sure the path to the coop was clear of danger. Gertie joined me in the pen as I felt around for the 17 teen chickens, lifted their sleepy, warm forms one by one and put them in the coop, and hunted down Rooster Boy and Lone Hen in the shed so they could be put to bed, as well. Vigilant in her defense of the chickens, Gertie reared up against Belle, who was uncouth enough to allow a fleeting expression to grace her tiny face long enough to convey that she was contemplating the idea of snagging a little chicken of her own. Gertie then poked her head into the coop to make sure the little cheepers who were already snoozing under the heat lamp were safe and sound. Satisfied that all were safely gathered in, she dutifully made her way to the pen gate, standing quietly until I finished latching the coop and let us both out of the chicken yard.

Gertie trotted alongside me and the three dogs as we walked back down the lane to the house to head in for the night. We were all simpatico, just farm hands finishing up a standard chore, enjoying a companionable silence as we approached the front door. Then suddenly, the mood shifted.

Gertie saw first Sadie, then Mia, make their way to the door, so she put her game face on and began rudely shoving her way past the dogs to the front of the line. She turned around, bum to the door, hooves planted, and stared resolutely at the lot of us. She cocked her head sideways and reared up on her hind legs, twisting her body just so and shoving her horns at the dogs. So intent was she on achieving the perfect attack form that she gave Mia and Sadie the split second they needed to slink past her into the house. Belle hung back behind me, little claws clicking on the pavement as she began scurrying in place, trying to build up momentum to bolt the second the opportunity presented itself. Just as I grabbed Gertie's collar to haul her back from the doorway before she cleared the threshold, Belle saw her opening and streaked past us so fast she was just a smudge of black motion, ruffling the coarse hairs just below Gertie's knees as she whizzed by.

Gertie was outraged. Here she had given equal attention to my safe passage to and from the coop with sly predators stalking the property. Of all the guard critters, she was the one who showed the most care towards our feathered friends. Yet, here she was again, shunned. Disallowed from joining her compadres in the house for one lousy night. Once again, she watched as those tongue-lolling canines trotted their pampered bottoms right into the warm house, while she suffered the indignity of being yanked by her collar and nudged out the door that would be slammed fast in her face.

Poor Gertie. It feels downright mean spirited to freely accept her devotion then kick her to the curb each night. But there are certain immutable laws of civilized society that simply don't allow for cloven-hoofed creatures to rest under the roofs of bipeds.

Apparently, however, there are not immutable laws keeping the shunned creatures from expressing their supreme displeasure at being treated so callously. So the headbanging and muttering will likely continue sporadically through the night. And I will endure the guilt of contributing to the division of the classes for yet another long, cold night.

Love from the farm,

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Bit O' the Bubbly

'Twas a blustery day today in northeastern Arizona. Just ask my pal Em, who witnessed the car door slamming shut on me as I shrieked like a little girl. I'm sure she was checking to see which appendage was stunted; all I can say is it's time to cut my hair.

Nothing like having a chunk of hair unceremoniously yanked nearly out of my scalp to send me reeling back to 1974 when all the teeth in my head were still babies, my hair was more than halfway down my back, the summer was hot and muggy, and the back window to the station wagon was down. Then it started to rain.

I closed my eyes and tilted my chin up to catch the refreshing cool offered by the rain drops, so I didn't see the window inching up, taking my hair right along with it. Dad wasn't quite as sympathetic as Em when I shrieked lo those many years ago. Remember the shag haircut? Yep, that was my style of choice after that little fiasco. I won't be going the shag route this time, but there's no question that a haircut is on the horizon.

The gale-force winds put the kibosh on our plans for the day, which included trips to the dump (imagine my sorrow at putting that chore off). So, instead, I enjoyed a nice little visit with Aunt Barbara who brought us our onions for the garden. We talked about our gardening and canning plans, admired the beauty and aroma of the pickling spices Mom and I recently ordered, and then I shared with her the laundry soap recipe that we've been using here on the farm for awhile now.

After errands in town and a few chores around here, I made myself a batch of the bubbly brew while I worked on supper this evening. (For those of you who do not have family hailing from the South, "supper" is the word that most of those living to the right of the Mississippi use for "dinner". "Dinner" in the South usually means the mid-day meal. Just a little down home Kentucky trivia for you.)

So, since I teased you once before about my laundry soap recipe, here it is for any intrepid soul who would like to undertake this quirky little task. All I can say is it's septic safe, it gets rid of all manner of farm grunge, and it lasts about 4 months with our family of 6. And, while I used to spend about $20 a box on my beloved Tide with bleach every couple of months, I spent about $7 on the ingredients for the homemade soap when I made my first batch, and that was 3 batches ago. And, I still have enough ingredients remaining for at least 2 more batches. Just a little thrifty and frugal tidbit for you.

Thanks to my sweet friend Tracy for sharing the recipe. And for being a perfectly normal, bra-wearing, makeup-donning person, so I don't feel as though I've gone too far down the backwoods babe route (or if I have, that at least I'm in good company.)

Laundry Soap
1 Bar of Zote soap
1 C Borax
1 C Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
5 Gallon bucket

Put 4 cups of water in a large pot and place on stove over medium-low heat. Grate Zote soap into pot. Heat until soap melts, stirring frequently. (This takes awhile - grab a book or plan to do some deep thinking.)

When the soap is nearly melted, fill the bucket about half full with piping hot tap water. Add melted soap to water and stir briskly (I use a whisk). Stir in Borax and washing soda. Fill bucket the rest of the way with hot water, give it another stir. Cover and let sit undisturbed overnight.

Resulting detergent will be a lumpy, watery gel. If desired, add a few drops of your favorite essential oil.

Use 1/4 c per load.


Friend Tracy said her sister fills an empty liquid detergent container (like an old Tide bottle) half full of the finished soap mixture, then fills the bottle the rest of the way with water, giving it a good stir with the whisk when mixing initially, and giving it a vigorous shake before using at laundry time. The sister lives on a horse ranch, so her family sports some impressive dirt, yet she maintains that she gets great results with the diluted mixture.

I haven't wanted to mess with funneling the soap into a smaller container so I just use it full-strength from the bucket and have no complaints.

The only drawback of making the soap is that now I don't have an excuse to avoid laundry any longer. With this wind whipping around, I certainly ought to save the energy on the dryer and hang my clothes outside too, if I wanted to be a super thrifty and earth-conscious human being. But, I'm not gonna this month. I'm going to use my dryer until the nighttime temps are consistently above freezing. Hey, I'm cleaning clothes at about a penny a load, if that. - I think I've earned the right to a little (temporarily) extravagant living with a dryer and a Bounce sheet.

Love from the farm,

Monday, March 1, 2010

Roosting With the Chicks

Saturday, my pal Em came by with her kiddo, Rob. They were looking for me so someone pointed down toward the barn. They found me, sitting in the chicken coop with the chicks.

Just sitting there. I'd been there for awhile, just watching the chicks in their new, roomier digs. See, the little cheepers had moved up from the brooding box in the mud room, to a wading pool surrounded by insulating foamboard, to their final home: the chicken coop.

I spent a couple hours cleaning the coop out Saturday, with some help from Mike: shoveled out the winter's worth of litter, scattered straw on the floor, put new hay in the nest boxes, dug out some bigger feeders and washed out another metal waterer and got the coop all fresh and ready for the 17 assorted little roosters and hens.

With help from Macy and her visiting, slightly flabbergasted friend, we transferred the chicks to the coop with two trips in the wheelbarrow, the girls on either side holding a board over the would-be jumpers, while we spirited them from their snug home behind the house to their new cozy home in the barnyard.

Mike broke away from the cleaning duties just before we transferred the chicks, and strung some electricity into the coop and hung their 250-watt brooding (heat) lamp. These little ones are growing bigger every day, but aren't old enough to contend with our below-freezing nights.

Once we got the chicks in, and the nosy dogs and Gertie out, the girls escaped to their fort building and I sat down on the little pot-bellied stove that's in the corner of the coop and watched the chicks settling in to their new home for awhile.

It was a surprisingly soothing time, watching the chicks explore the roomiest environment they'd ever been in, tentatively scratching around in the straw, bellying up to the biggest bowls of feed they've ever seen and getting their first glimpse of a metal poultry waterer. I sat quietly, hoping they'd just think of me as part of this new, safe home, and therefore, someone worth trusting. I talked to them quietly now and then, but mostly just sat there, watching them.

I silently promised that they'd get to grow old on the farm. By the time they're old enough to venture outside, they'll have a sturdy, safe, roomy chicken yard to explore where they will be safe from predators.

These are the warm, fuzzy musings that Em and Rob stumbled upon when they found me in the chicken coop.

Did you hear me?

This is truly, honestly what I was doing. Musing and relaxing with the chicks. Being soothed by poultry.


On the one hand, I love that I love this life. On the other hand, I worry my Mom may be right. That the chicken love is just plain weird. But there you have it. That's how it's going here on the little farm.

Love from the farm,

Monday, February 22, 2010

More Signs of Spring

When Karlie Q stumbled out of bed this morning, I took one look at her swollen, puffy, sad face and thought, "Wow, that sinus stuffiness or whatever it is looks painful!" and said, "Honey, just go back to bed."

While in my room a couple of hours later, which adjoins her bedroom, I heard soft crying accompanying the footsteps approaching the door of her room. "Mom, when I rub my nose it feels like it's stiff. It hurts really bad," she related through sleepy tears.

After determining it wasn't a stuffy nose on the inside that was hurting, Mike and I took a closer look. Right there on the tip of her nose was a red hole - a sure sign that the poor kid had been stung by something.

We've seen 3 wasps, 1 bee, 1 creeping spider and 1 fly in the last week. As further evidenced by the attack on Karlie's snout this morning, the critters are back, they're spoiling for a fight - which means spring is on its way. Who needs that wimpy Phil fella, who's afraid of his own shadow? We've got fresh-from-hibernation creepy crawlies as proof of the change of the season. Oh, how I'll miss the bug-free months of winter.

By the way, I'd have a little more conviction that spring is indeed on its way if it hadn't been snowing for the last 8 hours. Still, waspish wasps aren't to be trifled with.

Oh, and don't worry about Karlie - the swelling's gone down, her grandma bought her a slushie, and she's watching TV with dad. It's all good. (Of course, knowing now that she's a "sweller," we'll be keeping a close eye on her for future dramatic reactions to stings - could be she's developing a scary allergic reaction.)

Now, I better run home and put jackets on the chicks, so they don't catch a chill in all this snow. Then there's Gertie and her baleful eyes - better stash her somewhere warm, too.

Love from the farm,

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Goosing the Goat

Ever see a draft horse (think HUGE) goose a pygmy goat (think short, small and fat)?

Ever see a pygmy goat bolting across a corral, lips peeled back, eyes rolling, fur on end, bleating and huffing her way to freedom?

Ever see a Ford Explorer, an Oldsmobile Achieva, an 18-year-old boy and 40-year-old woman wielding a horse's lead rope participating in "Goats on Parade," to escort said goat home from the neighbor's?

Then you've obviously never gone with us to mend a fence. Join us next time. There's a lot more to it than baling wire and cedar sticks, I promise.

Love from the farm,

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Gearing Up For Spring

We continue to have fun on the farm, especially as animal antics keep us laughing (or blushing: good grief, it's been a love fest - cats, dogs, poultry... these critters are all about Valentine's Day, I tell you). But, as the days grow longer and we have more and more hours when we can go outside without a coat, winter is easing back to reveal spring just around the corner, and it's going to get busy.

In addition to the animal antics, there's lots of hard work to be had around here. Here's the realities of farm life - both what we're doing on a daily basis, as well as what's on the horizon:

Daily, we:
  • Feed and water: 17 chicks; 1 rooster; 1 hen; 3 cats; 2 horses; 3 dogs; 1 lonely goat; 6 people
  • Gather egg (come July, that will be amended to read "eggs")
  • Wash tomorrow clothes (I haven't mastered laundry yet)
  • Take care of the feeding, cleaning, brushing, gargling, dressing, medicating, transporting, hugging, kissing and homework assisting of 4 kiddos and 2 adults

Every other day, we:

  • Replace the straw in the chicks' brooder box
  • Clean up the poo in the horse corral (the other horse's owners clean the poo on alternating days)

This week we also:

  • Took a (most-likely pregnant) cat in to the vet to have an abscess treated. While Noodle was under sedation, Abbie the Vet also cleaned out her ears and treated for mites
  • Which resulted in the plan to bring the other two cats in to be treated for ear mites, since this is a condition they like to share with one another. We were supposed to drop off the cats at the vet this morning, but for once the usually clingy cats were nowhere to be found. Mike and I roamed the farm for awhile but had to get into town, so the mite extermination will have to wait
  • Made an appointment for Abbie the Vet to come out to sedate Buddy the Horse and take care of some man issues for him next week
  • Will check with the gardening folks in Woodruff to see if they've made their annual community onion order, which we're hoping to get in on this year. Those Woodruff farmers grow the biggest, sweetest onions you ever saw and I've been coveting them for a couple years now. Every so often, I call my Aunt Barbara and say, "Have you ordered the onions yet? Don't forget me." I actually went to bed last night and woke up today worrying I might have missed the onion order. I'll be calling right after finishing this little update.
  • Took a quick trip down to Phoenix in back for doctor appointments and whole food shopping.

These are the quiet, laid back days on the farm.

Here's what's starting this weekend and running into next week:

  • Meet the farrier at the horse barn, for the horses' regular hoof trimming. Gotta keep Buddy's nails trimmed so he stays in sturdy health.
  • Inventory the leftover seed from last year
  • Develop the garden plan for this year; map out new plots of land to be plowed and improved to allow for expansion of the garden
  • Complete the rehab of the new, used rototiller Mike brought home last week. Thanks, Uncle Rich!
  • Determine from which plants we'll want to save seed at the end of the harvest, and research heirloom varieties. (Seeds from hybrid plants will not sprout; you must save seeds from heirloom, or open-pollinated, plant varieties. Growing heirloom varieties allows you to help preserve old strains of seeds. I was moved to tears when my Uncle Rich stopped by to give me a quart jar 1/3 of the way filled with colorful, precious bean seeds from our old family farm in Kentucky. I can't wait to get this little piece of our family's heritage transplanted into our Arizona farm.)
  • Review countless seed catalogs and get new seeds ordered for this year
  • Check on the onion order again
  • Read up on how soon we need to start sprouting potatoes for this year's potato planting
  • Make seed-starter pots from newspaper
  • Plant seeds in the starter pots and begin growing seedlings in the house for eventual transplant into our garden
  • Find out the source of compost you can buy by the truckload somewhere in Snowflake
  • Move the chicks to a larger brooding box; they've outgrown the crib, but aren't quite ready for the coop. Think of this as their toddler bed stage.
  • Fix the neighbor's fence the horses leaned over to get to the munchies on the other side. Apparently, they too believe the grass is always greener over there.
  • Try our hands at making the "mother" for sourdough bread, per dear friend Emily's insistence

When warmer days are firmly upon us, here are the other things we'll be engaging in:

  • Tearing down the rickety old horse corral
  • Finishing the covered chicken run
  • Cleaning out the chicken coop and putting down fresh litter
  • Cleaning the hay off the barn floor at the neighbor's and bringing it over to the farm to use as litter in the chicken run. (Once Adam starts yard work for my Mom and Dad again this spring, we'll bring the clippings home to use as litter, as well. Since we can't let the chickens free range because of aggressive predators, we don't want them scratching around in a barren, depressing, dirty run. We'll refresh the litter in their run often with green clippings, giving them clean, new stuff to munch on and scratch around in. I can't wait until we can afford to properly predator-proof the exterior of our property, thereby allowing us to allow the chickens to roam free again. They're happier, fatter, their feathers are glossier, and they eat more natural, less commercially produced, foods when they free range. Their yolks are darker, too.)
  • Finding a source for new piglets
  • Building a new pig pen, with a dedicated water source
  • Plowing, plowing, plowing, plowing the garden area
  • Planting grass seed in dusty areas surrounding the house, to cut down on the flying dirt
  • Asking our hay farmer friend if we can again relieve him of some of the decaying steer poo on his property, to spread on the garden
  • Bolting the lifting tin strips back onto the barn roof and the back of the storage buildings at the front of the property
  • Renting a huge dumpster to haul all of the scrap metal, extra refrigerators, rolls of carpeting and various other leavings of the previous owners of this nearly 85-year-old homestead
  • Stocking up on straw for the straw bale fencing that Mike will be constructing around the house, marking the start of our property renovation. We just spent hours last week in a Barnes and Noble, poring over courtyard designs, outdoor cooking areas, lighting plans, landscaping - we're overflowing with ideas.
  • Laying the tile in the house
  • Replacing the rest of the windows in the house
  • Starting the kids' egg selling operation
  • Buying and raising additional chicks so the kids will have a decent-sized egg selling operation
  • Planning our Walker Family Summer Road Trip; our big 12-day adventure in July that will be our last hurrah before sending Adam off for two years to some as-yet-undisclosed location, somewhere in the world
  • Tearing out the pantry cupboards and replacing with open shelving
  • Inventorying all of the food stores we have and developing a rotation plan so nothing goes to waste
  • Improving the watering system for the garden
  • Establishing a composting system
  • Developing and planting an orchard area, or at least getting a few fruit trees in the ground
  • Making more laundry soap
  • Reclaiming my bread making prowess
  • Developing the 3/4-acre pasture that we have not yet put into production
  • Spending hours upon hours weeding, coaxing, and relishing the garden
  • ....and oh, so much more.

The lazy winter days are about to give way to some serious work around here. In fact, if you don't hear from me until October, you'll understand why.

Love from the farm,


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Running For It

We had a sojourn to Phoenix Children's Hospital this week for Kidney Check 2010. (Ok, it was just our regular clinic appointment, but it's fun to dress it up every once in awhile. Roll with me.)

While the Children's Hospital was the focus of our visit, it was NOT where all the action was. Nope, the action was a few blocks from there.

See, the boys and I had to stop at the bank before heading to the Chinese Cultural Center for lunch and shopping, and the closest branch in the neighborhood was right around the corner from the Veterans' Hospital.

Imagine our surprise while driving down 7th Street to suddenly see a strawberry-blond, long-haired scraggly bearded guy bolting across the road in front of us. Stockinged feet, 3 hospital wristbands, delighted grin, and all.

He was making a break for it.

I would have been a little ill at ease with the whole thing if it hadn't been for the way he fairly pranced across the road with a you-know-what-eating grin on his face. He was going for it, he was taking a risk, he was gonna be in big trouble, but he was enjoying it while it lasted.

"Uhhhh, do you think we should call someone, Mom?" Tanner asked as we watched him bop through traffic.

Normally, I would have said yes, but this just felt like it was going to be ok.

"No, I have a feeling they'll figure this one out on their own," I replied.

He didn't look furtive, he didn't look nervous. Judging by the pure glee on the guy's face, I suspect he just might have done this before.

Hey, he's a vet. He gave who knows what for our freedom somewhere along the way. I say, let him live a little.

With the let up in the recent rains, it was a beautiful day for a run.

Love from the farm,

Friday, February 5, 2010


This Christmas, among other things, the kids received "lessons" for gifts:
  • Adam: Piano lessons
  • Tanner: Hunting lessons (well, the Game & Fish Hunter Safety Course, along with the promise of an elk hunt with Uncle John and Dad)
  • Macy: Piano lessons
  • Karlie: Roping lessons (actually, she was already taking lessons; we gave her a bright pink rope, a roping dummy calf head and a straw bale to stick it in so she can practice at home)

If we had a 5th child, I predict we would have named her Sara and she would be about 6 years old, and we would have given her banjo lessons for Christmas.

Then, when the kittens that will likely be born in about 9 or 10 weeks come into the world, little gap-toothed Sara could have stood over their basket as they snuggled up next to their momma, and plucked that catchy little tune from "Deliverance."

Because, at some point, surely this perpetual practice of brother cats and sister cats making baby cats is going to start showing in the kittens. This whole barn cat - animal kingdom "love the one you're with" thing has me baffled. As far as we know, these will be 3rd generation "Deliverance" kittens, and so far, each generation has been as beautiful, fluffy and 4-limbed as the last.

We hope our luck holds with this new batch and that lots of people will come forward, looking for barn cats of their own to take home. And, that the disruptive, blatant, right-in-the-front-yard-for-all-the-world-to-see caterwauling of recent days will soon come to an end.

Love from the farm,


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Romancing the Hen

While Miss Ellie and I were doing the chores the other morning, she exclaimed, "Look, Aunt Teri! I found eggs!" I wondered how she would react when I explained to her that those weren't eggs in the nest box, but colossal chicken poos; then I looked up from filling the chicken waterer and saw to my surprise that there really were eggs in the nest box. Two beautiful big brown eggs.

It's been some time since we've had fresh eggs around these parts.

Why, I wondered, did we suddenly have eggs again? Why, when Lone Hen had not laid an egg since she planted her fluffy feathered bottom on our farm lo those many months ago, is she suddenly laying eggs? Could it be that the new man in her life has inspired her? Does Rooster Boy have Lone Hen's biological clock a tickin'?

It turns out that Lone Hen hasn't been holding out on me all these months. She's been holding out for love.

You go, girl. (And, Rooster Boy, whatever you're doing, you keep it up, fella!)

Love from the farm,

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Our Favorite Restaurant

Mike and I don't have a song, but we do have a favorite restaurant. It's Dara Thai in Flagstaff, Ariz. Dara Thai was the first foray into Thai food for both of us - there may be many other finer Thai food restaurants out there, but you'd be hard pressed to convince us of it.

Dara Thai is our favorite for the food, but also because Flagstaff is special to us - it's where we met and fell in love and got married - all within six months. In fact, I have this corny habit of driving down Milton Road with the kids in the car and sighing loudly as we pass the bar where we used to play pool and the restaurant where we had our first date, and saying, "Oh, I love Flagstaff. This is where your Dad and I fell in love," in this mooney, sentimental voice. And the kids roll their eyes when I get misty eyed. Good grief.

Ok, but those aren't the most important reasons why Dara Thai is our favorite restaurant.

Here's why:

When Macy Lee was just 7 days old, Mike and I bundled her little 6-lbs-and-change body up and took her along with us to dinner at Dara Thai. We ate our dinner - our first date after a very long 2 years of being pregnant (I'll explain that one later) - and Macy quietly and slowly moved her head from side to side, taking in the dim surroundings with her huge, deep blue eyes.

As we got up to leave, so did the party next to us. There was an older, conservative looking couple and a 20-something guy with blond Rastafarian hair and all natural, cotton crinkly shirt and pants. All 3 of them shared the same kind, crinkly eyes and warm smiles, so I figured at once that in spite of the different styles of dress, they were father, mother and son.

They all paused to look into the carrier at Macy as we walked by, and the son asked, "How old?" We said she was 7 days old. Not one week - just 7 days. I'll never forget the look of wonder that came into his eyes and the hush of his voice as he looked directly into Macy's eyes and quietly said, "Welcome to the world, Little One."

You know those reverent moments, when the very air is gauzy and you almost don't dare breathe because you don't want to break the spell? This was one. All 5 of us adults just stood there and looked down at that sweet little bundle, enthralled. Then we looked up at each other, smiled and nodded, and Mike and I headed toward the door, as the older man helped his wife into her coat.

It's the "tell me a story" that Macy asks us to tell her, over and over.

And, it's why Dara Thai is "our" restaurant. Go there sometime. It's not fancy, but it sure is special. At least it is to us.

Dara Thai
14 S. San Francisco Street
Flagstaff, AZ 86001
(928) 774-0047

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cheep Thrills

Around our little farm, you'd never know we're embarking on what's supposed to be Storm Week in northern Arizona. Oh, we've had warnings of winter storms for days now, with promise that all of the north land will be blanketed in winter white as the week progresses. (Except us - we may get some flurries but most of our action will be rain.)

On our farm, though, we're seeing signs of spring. And hearing signs, too. It's the "peep, peep, peep"ing coming from the pantry area that has us looking forward to green blades of grass and dying Easter eggs. See, our spring chicks came early this year, courtesy of my cousin and her husband, who incubated a batch of eggs over the past few weeks, resulting in 20 fluffy hatchlings making their way into the world in the midst of these chilly winter days. The cousins kept 3 and let us take home the other 17.

So, we have a deep wooden box of skittering black and yellow fluffy Peeps in our mud room, basking in the glow of the heat lamp and, blissfully, emitting very little odor. So far.

Lest you think we're simply raising the next batch of coyote bait, I should tell you that the plans for finishing the enclosed chicken run are underway, so we've even gone so far as to begin naming these little critters, with hope that they'll be living with us a good long time.

Our poultry joy isn't limited to the little cheepers, though. The day of the great turkey and rooster slaughter we brought a beautiful rooster home with us, who we've had stashed in the coop for a few weeks, keeping him safe from coyotes and stifling his urge to fly away.

Evening before last we decided we'd introduce him to our Lone Hen, who sleeps in the dog's pen and talks to us throughout the day as she wanders the yard. We herded Lone Hen down to the coop, put her inside, latched the door, then cupped our hands around our eyes to peer through the screen to see how they got along.

Umm, they got along just fine.

In fact, it took about 7 seconds after the door was shut and Lone Hen said a tentative hello for Rooster Boy to hop right on top of Lone Hen and show her why her mama made her.

And so the chicken love continues on the As-Yet-Unnamed Farm.

Love from the farm,

Monday, January 18, 2010

Today In History

This morning, I lifted my head from my pillow and looked out the window to see gloomy grey skies. "We better get down to the river and cut those cedar branches so we have hope of getting the fence fixed before the weather turns," I thought.

Excuse me. Who thinks statements like that, in this day and age?

Surely that statement should have been drawled circa 1904 by a dusty rancher warming his hands around a steaming cup of coffee, squinting a little as he gazed out over the plains through the kitchen window before looking back over his shoulder at the sleepy, strapping boy sitting at the kitchen table who was trying to smooth down his hair with his hands before his aproned mother carried the hot gravy over from the wood cook stove?

Just for fun, I checked my activities from this day two years ago, when I was still a busy PR consultant. Here's what I was juggling that day:
  • Helping a group of clients select a political consultant to help them with a home rule issue
  • Working with three reporters on stories related to a pet rescue event, redevelopment plans for a commercial property, and publicity for a walk/run benefiting kids with life-limiting illness
  • Coordinating with Game & Fish on a mule deer study
  • Discussing our agency's intern duties
  • Helping an editor find a masterplanned community to feature when a planned profile fell through for the newspaper at the last minute

I'd wager I didn't get rained on at work that day in history, nor was I likely wearing a denim shirt with quilted lining while ticking my way down my task list for the day. And while I thoroughly enjoyed my work, I'm also certain I didn't end the day proud of the twinges in my shoulders, back and hands that signalled I'd put a little muscle in to my day and earned every ache and pain.

Of course, I probably didn't come home with twigs in my hair that day, either. It's all a trade off.

Love from the farm,


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Simple Pleasures...Gone Too Far

Sunday afternoon, Mike and I bundled up the kids, threw the dogs in the back of the truck, then the kids crawled in after them, and we headed off to go "toolie hopping" - country speak for "exploring the countryside." After considering our various toolie locations, we settled on taking the back road to Woodruff.

We bumped along the dirt road for some time until we pulled off to explore a wash. Turns out, it was the same wash where Grandma and Grandpa Fraley had stashed a geocache for Tanner several years ago, and the kids were delighted when they found the cache and began rummaging through it to see what had been left in the box in the years since it had been stuck under a rock near the wash. Reading the enclosed journal, Adam learned one of his friends found the cache in 2007 with her dad. Her dad died in an accident last spring, so Adam was looking forward to the chance to remind her of what was probably their own fun family time not so long ago.

Off we all went down the wash, skating on little slabs of ice, exploring crevasses in the rock, wending our way to the Little Colorado River bed, finding shells on the rocks, following various animal tracks. Mike and I climbed up to the ridge above the wash and watched the kids goofing around, and commented that it was nice that our kids thoroughly enjoyed these simple little outings - no fancy destinations or big entry fees. Just knockin' around the high desert. I said it was nice that there wasn't some sullen kid with their earphones in, rolling their eyes because they were way above this nonsense. We're glad these kids enjoy the simple pleasures.

Flash to last night, while the kids were doing the dishes. Adam mentioned he'd found a carton of eggs in the fridge (this was noteworthy because we'd needed eggs over the weekend for a recipe but he didn't see them then.)

"Don't use those," I said. "I don't know how long they've been in there. I picked up fresh ones today."

His eyes lit up. "Hey, then can we throw the eggs at each other?" Something on my face must have revealed my revulsion at the thought.

Mistaking my expression for a concern over thrift and frugality and wasting the eggs he amended, "If we have the egg fight in the garden [where the eggs could be used for composting], then would it be ok?" All the kids joined in, pleading; a few were jumping up and down at the prospect.

"Oh, then ok," I replied out loud. As I turned to walk away, I silently added, "Ya big freaks."

Maybe we better plan a trip to the Valley for a zoo visit or ball game soon. I fear the kids are becoming just a little too easy to please. By the way, I haven't warned them yet about the pain potential in a raw egg fight. I'm deciding whether I should let it be one of life's little lessons. We'll see.

Love from the farm,

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Family Night

Monday night is family night, and this past Monday was amazing. Yes, we had our Family Home Evening, with scripture, song, prayer and snack. It was a great one, actually - for the 1st time, our family set goals for the New Year - and they were doozies: As a family, help Adam prepare for his mission this the entire Bible - Old and New Testaments...go on a family summer road trip...and others.

We had fun discussing what goals are, the difference between short- and long-term goals, how we'll stay on track to achieving our goals, and we all left with the assignment of determining at least one and, preferably, no more than 3 personal goals that we'll discuss at our next Family Home Evening. Very fun stuff.

It was also neat to begin reading in Genesis - the first time we've tackled the Bible since all the kiddos have been old enough to read. We've never read it all the way through, and we've never had such deep and insightful discussions and questions. "But, who was before God?" Oh, I remember losing sleep over that one. That's not to say we were able to answer all the questions; I'm just acknowledging the deep doctrine began to be plumbed. We even had that occasional terrible, irreverent but excruciatingly funny closing prayer when Mike asked Tanner to be sure to include a blessing on the snack as part of his prayer. Somehow, the words, "We are grateful for the cantaloupe. Please bless it," struck us all has hysterical and we all fell into a fit of giggles, and Tanner nearly gave up on finishing the prayer. It seems like Heavenly Father should understand we really were earnest, but it was just funny and we couldn't help laughing.

It was a really nice family night, but it wasn't just what happened during Family Home Evening that made it so. It was also what came before. When, for some reason, we all found ourselves lounging in Mike's and my bedroom, which was probably the original family's living room - a long room with our bed at one end and a fireplace at the other. The boys were on the futon in front of the fire, reading. Mike was on the love seat next to the bed looking at seed catalogs with Karlie and ribbing her mercilessly, as usual; with her getting a few well-placed jabs in, too, as usual. I was laying on my bed, curled around Macy who was using me as a back rest, as she worked on her homework.

I lay there quietly watching her write her vocabulary words, watching how she formed her letters, noting her quick, dashing motions that are quintessential Macy: she can't be bothered with neatness and precision when her mind is off and running to the next big idea. She seemed almost impatient when she had to stop her forward motion to go back and cross a "t" or dot a "j." Her body was so still, except for her flashing pencil and her intent eyes. I wondered at how she could be in this elegant repose that she unconsciously assumes, while so earnestly engaged in the task at hand. She's wonderful.

I was mesmerized by her writing and dotting and crossing, then was shaken from my reverie by Adam's chuckle over a book. I looked around and thought, "Here we all are." Naturally. Unconsciously. We could have each been in our own spaces, doing our own things; instead, we all were in one warmly lit room of the house, content to just be near one another.

I love the love we have for one another and the fact that given a choice, we choose each other.

I was given a blessing once that promised I would marvel at the joy that we would have in our children and be in awe of the love in our home.

I do marvel, and I am in awe. And I am so grateful.

Love from the farm,