17 December 2012

We're Moving.....

After lots of stewing and brewing on ideas and directions; I've decided to move the blog to permanent domain location and create a full-fledged website.
 
This website and entries will still be here.... and in time I may even bring some of the most popular posts over to the new blog.
 
We are still in our beginning phases so please hop over and visit us and let us know what you think of the new website; give us a "like"; a share; a tweet or a blog link or shout-out. 
 
It's all very exciting and is definitely a labor of love.

Come see us!
 

www.rodandstafffarm.org

28 November 2012

Gratitude

 

Tillie ~ My loving people sheep, who would prefer to sit in my lap than anywhere else.
“Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything Is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.” (Kay Warren)
Tillie as a new lamb choosing joy.... so much joy that the camera could barely keep her in focus and frame
 
One can't write about Thanksgiving without including the topic of joy.  Over the last year or so I've been thinking a lot about joy and what it means to be happy.
 
I have come to a point in my life where the majority of my dreams have been realized.  I'm living in my dream home, on my dream property, surrounded by family and raising and caring for delightful animals.  I have pretty much everything I could ever want, need or ask for and I'm glad to say that list has greatly shortened over the years.  I don't need want or ask for much these days. 
 
So why was I finding myself often overwhelmed and overcome by melancholia more than I should?
 
When I looked at our list of accomplishments over our two short years here and the manifestation of our vision I was awestruck.  We had done it.  We maintained a reasonable amount of success in doing it.  Each morning shined upon happy little faces in the barnyard.  Our home was finally starting to feel "settled."  Where was the joy?
 
I questioned myself.  Where is the gratitude?  Where is the sense of satisfaction?  Where is a feeling of rest or happiness?  What is the matter with me?
 
Being a christian, I prayed a lot.  I turned to the bible.  Turning to bible on the topic of joy can be overwhelmingly confusing at times.  You can read about Paul and Silas in prison singing and being joy filled after a sound beating and refusing to leave their cell even when the doors are flung open before them and think "How do I get THERE?"  How do I get a place where a rotten day and a sound beating by the rigors of daily life  or an unexpected turn make me content in all things; and joyful?
 
I'm not a stranger to counting my blessings each day or finding pleasure in the little things.  I count the moments carefully and savor them.  I have grown children; I've lost loved ones to death; I've learned.
 
But I found it hard to get through the longest days and some of the roughest days without eventually becoming  exhausted, somewhat down-trodden and even bitter and angry.  It's hard not to be influenced by the people and things around you.  Especially when you're mom and everyone seems to look to you for well, everything!
 
It wasn't "the work."  I feel like I have a pretty good handle on identifying what's wearing me down most days whether that be hormones or lack of a good night's sleep.  Because of what we do here, people are quick to suggest I work too hard and I am doing too much. (In contrast, it is believed by some that if I worked outside the home eight hours a day, commuted, and sent my kids to school I would somehow be more rested---- this a great fallacy; and I know so from hands-on experience.) On the contrary, once a rhythm is found, the work is easy and fairly reasonable.  Add that to a fairly consistent routine and other than crazy days, life flows.  
 
I realized the bottom line is I couldn't rely on anyone else to provide my sense of well being and joy.  It couldn't be hinged to anyone else's moods, desires or good (or bad) day.  I am often required to be everyone else's "rock" and in the times of need would frequently find myself rockless, due to whatever circumstances that might be happening at the moment.  Sadly, I am without older female relatives to turn to.  At age 33 I essentially became the family matriarch when my grandmother died.  My husband is a wonderful and caring guy; but time and circumstances and his own humanness make it at times impossible for him to be available.  It's a given for me that God is my rock; but for whatever reason; I was having a hard time feeling that stability; and definitely not much joy.
 
I read Kay Warren's book "Choose Joy; Because Happiness Isn't Enough," and it was very helpful in clarifying for me and defining the etherealness of joy in a way that I was unable to do on my own.  I highly recommend it. 
 
As she notes; joy is a choice and a process. 
 
It's not so much a thinking process as an acceptance process.  For one thing I needed to let go and let God.  There is so much less stress when one reads the definition above of joy and believes it.  Life suddenly doesn't seem so challenging.  For a super list-making, worrying, organizing, Martha-esque control freak like myself, what a relief!  I needed to keep reminding myself of this.  I need to read it over now and then.  Meditate on it.  Let it sink in and replace all the other notions floating around in there.
 
 I also needed to shed the world's view of hard and dirty work that had so permeated my psyche.  The views that housework is hard (it's NOT, for goodness sake dusting, laundry, and cleaning the toilet bowls is the least labor intensive things you'll do in a day, if it wasn't we'd all be so fit); that cooking and managing a home is a burden; that homeschooling is robbing me of my "me time," or that my children's existence in general is somehow robbing me of my "me time " or my sense of self.
 
   During a homeschool field trip yesterday on Native American Cultures; the elderly docent teaching the children said the most lovely of things that made me tear up a little.... she said "children are important in every culture, aren't they?  It's why we live and work and do all of the things we do; it's why we live our lives!"  What a different attitude we have about children in today's world.  She was from a generation when women still lived their lives to raise good children into the next generation of good adults; not squeeze having children into her already tight schedule, and bemoan how much time they were taking from her "life."
 
 There is also the mistaken belief that caring for the animals is such a time bandit and hard, dirty job it's a wonder I can still find time to bathe (on this note, I am not belittling the hard labor of farming, lugging bales, feed bags, building structures and shovelling poop, however, we don't have to do stall cleanings every single day (we also don't have cows and horses), or move bales every day, and lugging water buckets is better than going to the gym.  And lastly, if it was that bad, none of us would do it, because I can guarantee you, most of us aren't in it for the money.)  It's true, sometimes things don't get done, and that's okay.  As long as we prioritize water, food and cleanliness; the fact that the experimental feed corn is still in the garden is no big deal. 
 
Joy it seems; is not something to be found, but chosen, and pursued.  It seems to have caused a subtle enough shift that I can actually see it happening..... I don't feel as wound up or worried; which frees me to enjoy and focus on what is in the present.  When I still need to be organized and on schedule, it's okay.  I cooked an entire week for thanksgiving to serve 20 and made 8 gluten free pies and it was okay.  I was tired at the end of the day, but I slept well.  Life moved forward.  I got things done.  If things needed to change they would change.  Christmas is coming and I'm not in a hot, heavy hurry to have everything done by the 25th other than what is necessary and plan to enjoy a good 12 days of Christmas this year (see last years post here).  My mood has improved 100 fold.  I 've made a conscious choice to complain less and look on the bright side; or problem solve if necessary.  I physically feel better.
 
Add that to my list of things I am grateful for this year which is long enough to roll out the door... and on it are even the "hard" things, the bad days, the losses, the bumps in the road, all of it.  Those are things that if we are living life right; hone us and make us better people and I wouldn't trade those for anything.
 
Happy Thanksgiving.
 
 
 
 
 

23 September 2012

When the Frost is on the Pumpkin...


My dog Shep

In honor of Autumn, my most beloved season.... a classic poem and one of my personal favorites.

When the Frost is on the Punkin

By James Whitcomb Riley 1849–1916
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here—
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries—kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin’ sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below—the clover over-head!—
O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin’ ’s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too! ...
I don’t know how to tell it—but ef sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me
I’d want to ’commodate ’em—all the whole-indurin’ flock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

It began actually, in mid-August.  The peepers began talking about it first, and then the blue jays.  Finally the fledgling barnswallows piped in.... autumn was coming. 

There were a couple of more weeks of straining and stressful heat after the worst, driest summer I've seen in my lifetime.  And then...rain.  Not enough to make up for lost time, but enough.  The earth groaned to receive it; parched and desperate.  I believe you could hear the trees sighing.

Somehow, since March of this year, everyone has grown up!  There has been much activity on the farm; some joyful; some stressful; some as yet undone.

Aside from losing Max, the hardest thing to tackle was also losing Shep....still a loss but differently this time.  It has a semi-happy ending; happy for him, sad for me and my family.  I miss him terribly, but he is on his way to a new life.

Shep had always been a challenge, he was afraid of men, barely tolerant of children, and very fearful and anxious of well, nearly everything....except other animals.  We had his blood tested to rule out health issues, had his vision tested, hired a trainer.  We thought we were good with "accomodating" him when people were here (i.e. putting him in his quiet crate in another room, not letting strangers for visitors bother him...) and the rest of the time, he was my boon companion.  He still occasionally growled at my sons, but the children were taught to leave him be.  He loved Daisy, our 7lb cat...

A couple of weeks ago we got a new puppy, Abby an australian shepherd, from good parents who were very people friendly and well socialized.... we had learned with Shep who we got at 7 months old.

In a simple, honest accidental moment, my husband tripped over Abby's lead, accidentally stepped on Abby, Abby howled, and as my husband turned to help her; Shep bit him.  HARD.  A level 4 bite.  Not a good level.  He had to go to the hospital and get it flushed out and get antibiotics. 

  We had a hard decision to make.  What if it had been one of my sons, or someone else's child?

At first the news was dismal and I spent an entire 9 days weeping on and off; praying; feeling horrible.... wondering what was the right thing to do even though I knew we had no options.  We couldn't adopt him to just anyone.  What if he hurt someone else?  The trainer and vet were not terribly hopeful.  The breed rescue told me they didn't have room and that all their bite experienced homes were full.  I went on facebook, and a woman I know sent it out to her networks.

We got a ton of responses.  There were only about 3 that I would even consider.  One changed her mind (wisely and rightfully so) once she knew considered full story.... one was very qualified, but male....Shep doesn't warm up to men very quickly... and the third was a previously unknown opportunity from the rescue... would it work out?

The answer is; on the 9th day, one day before we had his euthanasia scheduled, God intervened.... and facilitated.... the woman who originally started the rescue, lives by herself and has acreage, who has worked with English Shepherds her entire life, agreed to take Shep.  He will be with other dogs, a skilled foster, and be free to be a dog.  Coincidentally (i.e. divinely); the right person was coming to the town next to mine, who could take him back to her.  He had an opportunity and he had transportation.  We didn't have to put him down.

A hard part was my son being so sad that we would never see him again.  The hardest part was having to put on a brave face as I worked to convince Shep that it was okay... to get him in the car, and be cheerful about it all, as though he was only going away for a short trip... when I knew I would never see him again.  My heart was torn in two.

After the prior week where I spent every spare moment in emotional torment while trying to hold my regular life together; and continue to research possibilities, I was exhausted, worn out, and a shell of my former self.  But I had to pull it together that one last time....and I did.... until I closed the door and turned away. 

I have total respect and gratefulness that I'm not dealing with a major human tragedy like one of my children or husband or myself suffering some traumatic illness or injury.  I'm grateful he didn't bite one of my kids or my friends kids.... or a perfect stranger. 

But it still hurts a lot darn it.

But rather than burden you, blog followers, with another sad and depressing dog post, I also have to include some positive things... like

THIS!  Little dog named Abby....

and a few photos of those little lambs now all grown up..... the new layer hens... and our other amazing happenings. 

Some of the new layers and one of the three roosters....

A golden wyandotte and a silkie...

The runner ducks

Zoey loves Max, our rental buck, however she is not supposed to get bred again... we'll see how long that lasts...

7 midget white turkeys, all processed, frozen and extra delicious....


Basil, running with his sons, Chico and Harpo...

The pilgrim geese...


Beatrix and Sheila....

For more photos and updates, visit us on the facebook page....look for the link to your right....!


16 June 2012

A Day in the Life....

My small boy and our Scarecrow.... he made the necklace

In a different vein from last months difficult and thoughtful post, I thought I'd share with you what a typical day is like for me.

Things change seasonally of course as appropriate, but for the most part, it goes like this:

Up between 5 and 5:30 a.m.... I try to get up before my alarm actually goes off, lest it accidentally wake others.  The early morning rise time is my personal choice.  It gives me a cup of coffee, two pieces of toast and a days worth of peace of mind if I can just have that quiet time up front.

I get up, make coffee, feed and water all the indoor animals, get dressed and catch up on email.  (I try not to spend too much time here). I start a load of laundry if I need to.   In the winter the first thing I do is stoke the fire (why? because it's COLD).  If the sun is up I'm out for chores which include feeding the goats and sheep their morning rations, checking waters and food levels for all the fowl.  Letting the turkeys, geese, ducks and chickens out into their respective spaces, giving everyone a look-see for any potential problems, and a head-count.  When I let the sheep out in the morning, it's "people-sheep" time.  Some sheep are "people-sheep"  they love people, and they love being scratched under the chin.  Tillie, Half-moon, Licorice, Harpo and now Chico crowd around me while I get down to their level and try to fairly dole out an even amount of scratches until tails wag.  Tillie will nearly come into my lap and I think would if no one else was around.  Tillie and I touch noses, and Licorice gives me sheep kisses.... it makes every other dirty, nasty job worthwhile.  I groom them a little and pick out pieces of hay that are sticking out.  They like this.  Sheila and Beatrix may never be fully converted to people sheep, but every day they get more and more curious as to what we are doing.  The goats get scratches too, but the sheep are delicate about their affection.... the goats have all my love, but will kill me to get my attention, tearing off my clothes in the process.   I collect any eggs I find.

I go in and if it's summer and dry I gather my laundry for the clothesline....this is high therapy, the earlier the better.  There isn't a psychologist around who can soothe the mind and soul better than hanging laundry as the sun rises in the country.  Sorry.  It's true.

Then it's in for coffee and toast.  I get the boys breakfast ready.  If it's cool enough and I need to, I bake.  Normally by this time my husband is up, the boys shortly to follow.  Then if the boys are up and fed (if I'm baking it's a "pre-breakfast", usually a little cereal and juice.)  Breakfast can be anything from cereal to scrambled eggs and toast, eggs in a nest, homemade oatmeal with brown sugar, cream and raisins or a muffin or quick-bread, fruit is served if I have it and it's in season.  Hot chocolate is always available in cold weather.

Next beds are made and boys clothes laid out.  Any chores I have to do that day are done as time allows.  I check to see if anything needs to be thawed for dinner and re-check my menu and calendar for the day.

If it's a school day (we school year-round with intermittent breaks) then after breakfast, clean-up and my household chores and prep-work, we start school.  I usually give the boys a short "play break" before we start to get some energy out.

Then we school until we're done with that day's lessons.  This varies every day.  Some things take longer than others. 

We break for lunch, eat snacks in the schoolroom and then with a resounding shout the boys are released.  Weather permitting they are outside, if not some regulated tv time or general playtime is allowed.

If school is not in session, I try to attack my household to-do's first thing in the morning.  By 3:00 p.m. dinner should be started depending on what it is.

Then there is dinner and chores after that.  Hubby, bless his heart helps with clean up and evening chores if he's able.

Of course everything changes when hubby is out of town, someone is sick, or there are appointments. 

In the "free" moments during the day I try to attack my craft projects or if it's summer, the garden.  I usually either garden early morning or late afternoon, it's just easier that way (and cooler).  I'm a second-rate gardener, so do not look for my award winning landscaping.

I have a standing list of to-do's on my calendar that if I can get to them, I do.  Some projects stay there many months.

In the evening it's the turn down of beds, baths for boys and family time.

And then bed, and I usually fall into it.  Sleep is not normally a problem for me.

So there you have it....  all the mysteries of our farm life revealed....


31 May 2012

Losing Max

Max

Yesterday, we lost our very good dog Max to our county road and a tractor trailer.  Obviously it's all very fresh in my mind, writing has always been cathartic.

I wish I had better news for May.  We lost one gosling to something, I think maybe pasty butt, but it was hard to tell.  I found him in the pasture.  George and Gracie were very upset.  We lost Groucho, Holly's ram lamb to uclerative posthitis (sheath rot) -- caused by an unknown reason, we think it was congenital-- because he wasn't castrated, eating a ton of grain, alfalfa hay or a long wool breed.  By the time his condition was apparent; it was too late to ease his suffering or save him.  Then we adopted a 20 year old gray parrot much to the entire family's joy and found she had a contagious avian disease and couldn't really be around children and our farm flock; so her previous owner took her back home again.

But the worst part was losing Max.  Max was my reliable dog.  The one who never needed a lead because he never left the presence of us or the children for more than a doggie distance and was instantly called back again.  His official job was guarding the children while they were playing; herding the children of friends; keeping the rooster and potential intruders from the boys while they played.   If I kept him in when they went out; he couldn't stand it.  He would run under the trampoline and bark while they jumped.  He run circles around them while they rode their bikes, scooters and toy vehicles in the driveway.  While he helped with chores he was never far away and monitored the chickens.  He ate way too much chicken poop.

Unlike Shep, Max always responded to commands.  He even put himself in the crate if he had an accident.  In the mornings he and I were the only ones up at 5:30 and we had our routine.  Shep slept in with my husband.  It was OUR time, because Shep really can't sit still while someone else is getting attention.  So I would let him out to do his duty; give him his clean water, putter around and then get my iced coffee and he would wait for his ice cube.  Both dogs come to attention at the icemaker....why I don't know, they just love them.  Then he would lay himself across the kitchen floor on his back and wait for his foot massage (i.e., me to rub him with my foot and pet his tummy) and tell him what a good boy he was.  And he was a very good boy.

I've lost all my relatives to death save my children, husband and a pair of aunts, uncles and a handful of cousins.  Mother, father, grandparents, my dearest and closest Aunt, I've buried all of them within the last 30 years.  I'm not unfamiliar with it.  We've had losses here on the farm too, they are inevitable despite sometimes herculean efforts.

But losing Max was hard on a lot of levels.  He was only 18 months old.  He was a gift to us from the breeder for our son who before we got the dogs was terrified of dogs.  He was the only survivor of his litter, the rest of whom had died due to carbon monoxide poisoning by being in the same room with a leaky furnace.  He was only upstairs with the family at the time because he was the runt and getting picked on too much.  Because he was small and we were also buying Shep, the breeder said "take him, as a gift to your son, everyone should have a canine friend growing up."

He was small; and couldn't control his bladder for more than three seconds until about 3 months ago.  My husband and daughter carried him around like a baby the first few months.  "You're going to spoil him," I would say. 

We fell in love with him, his one goofy floppy ear, the constant accidents, even the eating of chicken poop; he was still our Max.  He was Shep's good friend despite their doggie dominance issues.  Even the cat loved Max....he was her willing playmate and sparring partner.

He wasn't old enough or sick enough to leave us. 

I don't know why he crossed that road, he had only done it one other time and had such a close call we thought it had scared him good.  Either way he always stayed with the boys; they were his charge.  Maybe it's because my boys were too close to the road where they shouldn't be and it was too tempting.  I don't know. 

I do know I keep playing it back in my mind over and over again; hearing the sound I later realized was the squealing brakes of a big rig with a construction trailer on the back; the screaming of one of my sons, the fear of thinking it could be one of the children and then the yowling of a dog in shock and pain; running barefoot out the door only to see his little black body in the road at the end of the driveway and screaming the entire way; pulling him out of the road; hoping for less than a second that we might save him; and then seeing there was no way such a thing would be possible and comforting him into the next world; so very, very sorry, Max, so very, very sorry.  Oh Max.

In all things; ALL things, we are to give thanks to God.  I can't thank God for taking Max from us.

I can thank him that it wasn't one of my children; that no humans were injured or killed as the driver tried to stop and swerve, or as I pulled him from the road some unknowing driver didn't come over the blind crest before our house and hit me too.  I can thank him that it was over fast for Max, he didn't suffer more than minutes.  I can thank him that the driver was a kind and compassionate man; who felt awful about what had happened, cared enough to stop and help me get him onto the grass; and who apologized.  I let him know how grateful I was that he stopped; and how I understood he had done nothing wrong.  Max shouldn't have been there and you can't stop a big rig on a dime.  I can thank him that my daughter's boyfriend helped me dig the grave in our hard, rocky ground and that my daughter and her friend were here to help when my husband was out of town at such a difficult time.  That my boys although grieved and witnesses to the event are young and resilient; and that they take comfort in Max being with angels, with no cumbersome collar, running and playing in the great chicken poop filled pasture in the sky. 

As with the loss of our human loved ones, the tears are mostly selfish ones for ourselves and our losses; and what will never be.

I can thank God for having given us 18 wonderful, funny and joyful months with Max.

But I grieve.  And like with the loss of people, it's the little moments that hit you.  Last night it was only needing to fill one water dish; seeing the empty crate; doing chores and thinking I heard him coming up behind me; unconsciously listening for the sound of his jingling tags on his collar; Shep looking and wondering where his good friend is.

I grieve.