Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Whirlwind Tour

Bald EagleImage by stu_hall via Flickr
We made a whirlwind overnight trip to our cabin last night, and oh, it would have been so easy to stay there and hibernate in the snowy silence for awhile...

The purpose of the trip was to get our daughter to her orthodontist appointment.  We started her orthodontic program before we knew we would be moving to our current location, and decided to stay with that doctor after we moved, despite the inconvenience of making a 300-mile round-trip once a month. 

And inconvenient as it may be...  it does give us the excuse to spend some time at our beloved cabin, no matter for how short a stay.

Last night I did the evening chores here at home, and finished up just as my husband got home from work.  The girls and I were all packed and ready to go, and we were on the road soon thereafter.  Its about a 2-1/2 hour drive from our home to the cabin, and last night it was a dark and quiet drive as well, as it was late and we were all tired.  But when we pulled up to our little home-away-from-home at 11pm... oh, what a feeling.

The woods were silent, lit by a waxing gibbous moon, and the snow was deep; but inside the cabin it was bright, warm, full of memories and the scent of knotty pine... as always.  Walking through the door was like walking into a mother's embrace; she beckoned us in, and seemed to say, "Come in, sit down, relax, quiet your mind.  You are home, you are safe." 

As we arrived so late, and had to leave for a morning appointment, the stay was far too short.  We went to bed, got up, had a cup of coffee while admiring the snow-covered landscape, and left.  Reluctantly.

But as we drove away and over a nearby dam, I looked over and saw, of all things, a bald eagle sitting in a tree just below the gates... fishing.  It took my breath away to see such unexpected grandeur at 9am on a winter Wednesday.  It also told me that we needed to return, and soon, to fish... snowshoe... drink hot cocoa... and just be a family without any televisions or videos games or anywhere to be... for just a little while.
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Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Sacred Hour

It's been a long day... long month... long couple months... Yes, quite some time has passed since my last post. So long, in fact, that when I logged into my Blogger account, it said, "Hi there! It's good to see you again!  Looking for a topic?  Get inspired or just start writing!"

All those exclamation points nearly made me turn around and leave.  I'm not in an exclamation point sort of mood.  Because, as I said, it's been a long couple months.

On October 12th, my daughter Rebekka came home from school with a "scratchy throat" and the news that one third of her class was absent that day due to the flu.  An intuitive wave of foreboding passed through me, and I remember thinking, "Uh-oh, here we go...". And boy, did we ever.

October 12th was the last day Rebekka would attend school for five weeks.  That "scratchy throat" was the onset of the H1N1 flu virus.  The next day, she spiked a fever which would be her constant companion for weeks.  A few days after that, an opportunistic strep infection moved in, bringing with it a neck-to-ankles red rash and pneumonia.  Our previously profoundly healthy daughter was going downhill fast, yet when we made a trip to the emergency room that Friday she was sent home with the advice, "Its just the flu; give her Tylenol and fluids." By Saturday night she was struggling to breathe, and in severe pain... we brought her back and this time they admitted her.

Bekka spent three days in our local hospital, and while she received good care, her condition progressively worsened.  That third day she was rushed by ambulance to Meritcare Childrens Hospital, where she would be able to receive more specialized care. Her condition was very serious by the time she arrived; to be honest, I did not even realized just how close a call it truly was until later when one of the nurses who worked on her upon her admittal, confided in me just how hard she'd been praying for Bekka while hanging her I.V.'s.... I guess at that point I was too busy praying myself, and coaxing my daughter to keep breathing.

I thank God for candid nurses.  Once we got to Meritcare, it was determined that Rebekka had a large volume of fluid on her lungs and would need a chest tube installed to drain it.  I asked how serious a procedure it was, and if they thought I needed to call my husband to come to the hospital (he was at home with our five-year-old at the time).  The doctor downplayed the gravity of the situation, but once he left, the nurse looked me in the eye and said, "Call your husband.  He needs to be here." Wow. 

That night, they drained nearly two litres of fluid from my daughter's chest cavity.  The idea that the same amount of fluid as in a two litre bottle of soda was inside the chest cavity of an eleven-year-old, crushing her heart and lungs... well, the fact she was still able to breathe at all is a testament to her strength and the power of prayer. 

Bekka gradually improved after that; she spent about a week in ICU and another week in the regular pediatric unit. At one point that brave little girl had a nasal cannula, a central line, two I.V. lines and a Foley catheter... and yet, she never complained. 

We were hearing talk of a potential discharge date, when suddenly she became very ill again, and this time it was due to high levels of antibiotics in her system shutting down her kidneys. We got her through that, and finally, on November 4th, we brought her home.  The joy!

And the fatigue!  I have a whole new respect for people who endure a family member's long hospitalization.  Its been over a month since Bekka was discharged and I'm still catching up.  Granted, we've since had the stomach flu go through our family, and now I've got a cold/flu/laryngitis thing going on and have lost my voice, and it certainly would make things easier if we all could just remain disease-free for any length of time past, say, a week. 

But no matter how exhausted I am, every day contains a sacred hour which is all mine.  In the evening after the children are in bed, I still have yet to feed my bottle calves and put my horses in the barn for the night.  Some nights, I truly dread the process of mixing up the milk replacer, struggling into my insulated coveralls, boots and jacket, and trudging out to the barn for that last set of chores.  At that point all I really want is a good book, a chair next to the fire and a hot toddie. But duty calls and I bundle up to tuck all the critters in for the night.

And once I do, I'm so glad that I did.  The calves are dumb and stinky and dumb (yes, I know I used that word twice, and it was for good reason), but they are so grateful for that warm milk.  The horses line up at the gates, anxious to get into the snug barn and out of the -20F windchill.  They know the routine, and yet every night I am amazed with how sensitive they are, how responsive to the slightest body language or flick of the lead rope as we manuever in the darkness, through the various gates and doorways into the barn. 

Once everyone is settled in, I open a couple bales of the beautiful hay that I sweated, lugged, swore and bled to get put up in the barn last summer.  It is, to me, like manna from heaven but for my stock, which somehow seems even more precious.  And in that sacred hour, while I feed calves and put horses to bed and distribute green slices of summer bounty to all who reside in my barn, a profound and overwhelming sense of gratitude overtakes me.

For my family.

For my horses.

For the ability to feed and care for them all, and well.

For a snug barn, and a warm house.

For medical miracles and those who perform them and the insurance that pays for it all.

For friends and family who call and write and share your concern to such a degree that one can never truly thank them enough for their support.

For the burgeoning bellies of the mares, and the promise of a bright future.

For Nyquil.

For lights in the barn.... and a thousand other things. 

Really, I could go on, ad infinitum... but instead I'm going to take some Nyquil and go to bed.  With gratitude.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I Love My Mom

My mother is completely and totally wonderful.

Tonight, she sent a care package home with my husband, which nearly caused me to shed tears of joy:

A book on natural healing, with a sticky note on the cover which read, "Amy, Fever is in Chapter 10".

10 pounds of apples.

Half a dozen home-grown tomatoes.

15 pounds of absolutely beautiful russet potatoes.

Two big winter squash.

A Tupperware container filled with hamburger-macaroni hotdish.


(be still my heart...)

A freshly baked apple crisp.... STILL WARM.

I love my mom.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


My 11-year-old daughter has been bed-ridden with the flu for three full days now, and conscientious mother and citizen that I am, I've not left the farm in that time.  As the "Ask-A-Nurse" advised the other night that this thing will linger for five to seven days, I'm looking at a long stretch of seclusion... partly because I won't leave my daughter and partly because it would be irresponsible to encourage the spread of this nasty bug.

I like being at home.  Really, really like it.  Its where my family lives, where I keep my stuff, and its got lots of nice things like heat and hot water and pretty horses.  But even for me, the consummate home-body, forced seclusion eventually turns into a punishment of sorts. 

Cabin fever in October?  This could be a loooong winter.

It snowed all night last night, adding yet more moisture to our already saturated ground... and so outside its grey, snowy, muddy, cold, puddle-y.  Today while doing chores I looked up at the steely, cold sky and said, "Thank you, Jesus, that I no longer have to pile sugar beets or dig potatoes for a living... that I can do my chores quickly and go back into my nice warm house and not have to go anywhere or work in this freezing mud for twelve hours... and please bless those that do. Amen."

Gratitude.  Yes, its cold and muddy and grey outside and my daughter is sick... but we have a warm house and my daughter has a soft, clean bed with fresh sheets; we've got plenty of gatorade and Children's Motrin and Tylenol, a digital thermometer, and capable doctors a phone call away if needed.  I'm getting cagey, stuck at home... but am so grateful that I *can* stay at home with my daughter, without having to ask for time off from a job or entrust her care to anyone else. 

I am grateful for a five-year-old who is content to play games and cut and paste and draw to keep herself entertained, and a husband who is willing to shop for groceries and livestock feed and pick up a bucket of broasted chicken from the local pub when I have a hankerin' for it. 

I'm grateful for my mother who is sending home some hotdish and fresh Amish produce with him tonight, after he spent the day there repairing a part for the tractor.  Yes, I have a husband who uses his vacation time to lay in the cold mud, repairing farm equipment so he can feed my animals.

There are always two ways to look at a situation... with a cynical heart or a grateful one. 

I choose the latter.

Oh, and the best quote of the day comes from my worldly five-year-old, while she gleefully consumed the last of that heaven-sent broasted bird... 

"The chicken we eat comes from the chickens that are pets, except they're the wilder ones!"

Gotta love a grateful, carnivorous pragmatist.

With a Vengeance

We are now paying dearly for our short, beautiful summer.  Winter bullied Autumn into submission, gave her a swirly and stuffed her in a locker, it seems...

My eldest daughter lies up in her room, fighting the flu... 102F fever, sore throat, headache... for the second day now. On Monday she came home with the news that 1/3 of her class was out sick, and that she had a scratchy throat.  By noon the next day her symptoms were full-blown, and today, some schools in the area are closed due to half the students being absent, fighting the same bug. 

My calls to various "Ask-A-Nurse" hotlines resulted in a total of 45 minutes on hold, listening to elevator music, and the same advice: "Do not bring her in unless she is not drinking and needs IV fluids or is in respiratory distress; we are following CDC guidelines and will not administer Tamiflu unless she had an underlying medical condition.  There are 100's of kids out of school... we've stopped testing for H1N1 as 90+% of the tests came back positive... keep her home, keep her hydrated, give her OTC pain relievers and expect that everyone in the family will catch it and that it will last 5-7 days". 


Not that we would be going anywhere, as it is raining/snowing/sleeting outside, the tree on the front lawn is doubled over under the weight of the ice, and I shudder to think of what the roads must be like.  It seems that winter has, indeed, arrived with a vengeance.

And so, what was supposed to be a a few days of playing with the horses, dabbling with various home-improvement projects and enjoying a long, glorious autumn weekend, will instead be one of seclusion, hand-sanitizer and waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

Its scary to see my normally bright, sunshiny 11-year-old, so incredibly sick, and scary to know that her younger sister will most likely soon be sick, as well.  We do, however, find one thing about the situation truly endearing... her cat, Star, does not leave her side.  That big, black, one-girl cat lies on the bed, or on the sofa, right next to her 24/7. 

Star will get some cooked chicken and a big thanks from me, tonight.  For tonight, it doesn't matter that she cold-shoulders everyone in the house but "her" girl, or that I could spin wool and knit blankets for an army from the fine, black hair she leaves behind on everything from the commodes to the tv screen, or that she occasionally upchucks a nasty ball of it for me to step on, barefoot, in the middle of the night.  Tonight, she vigilantly watches over my beloved daughter, as do I... and I am grateful for the company on this cold, dark, stormy night.
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Friday, October 9, 2009


Autumn has arrived at Frostfire Farm. We had the first hard freeze of the season last night, and the first snowflakes this afternoon.

This past week has been, for me, all about nesting, as it's been predominantly cold, dark and raining outside. While for some, nesting means cleaning and organizing... in this house, it is (unfortunately) about cooking and baking. Why the primal need to feed my family to the point of acute carbohydrate overload, I've no idea. But after five dozen buns, a couple pans of brownies, six loaves of bread, a big batch of rice pudding and a pot of knoefla soup... I'd say the comfort food thing needs to slow up a bit or we risk a visit from the food police. In my defense... much of that is still on the freezer, and there was a batch of elk stew in there somewhere, too.  So we've consumed at least some protein and a few vegetables recently... but have otherwise been a dietician's worst nightmare. On the upside, I'm now actually craving salad...

As I've finally come to terms with the fact that I cannot live without the pleasure of creating yummy treats for my family to share and enjoy... in abundance... my only option is to make exercise as much a habit as brushing my teeth. The treadmill and Jillian Michaels are my new best friends.

I snapped the above photo this morning, while enjoying some otherwise elusive sunshine. It was brisk, bright and beautiful out, the colors so gorgeous that no snapshot can do them justice. This afternoon, however, a front came through and brought with it both sleet and snow (its snowing heavily, now), reminding me to batten down the hatches for another long Minnesota winter... and to buy a new pair of running shoes...

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Great Escape

This is our cabin.

Its where we go when we need to just... be.

This is our boat.

Its not big, not fancy.... but it works.

From it, we catch some of these:

And, some of these, too:

Walleye, perch, northern pike, bass.

(The kids, we don't need to catch... they just showed up a few years back and decided to stay.)

We built the cabin about seven years ago, and it was one of the best things we ever did
(besides deciding to let the kids stay).

We had a contractor put up the shell, but did the rest of the work ourselves.

My husband built the bar. We'll hide beneath it if ever there is a tornado.

As you can see, he's a better woodworker than I am a decorator... but its on my to-do list.

The problem is that I'd rather walk the trails around the lake...


eat s'more s'mores...

look at the flowers...

...and just... be.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Only in Minnesota

Common Snapping Turtle sitting on top of a bea...Image via Wikipedia

Last night we spent a few hours finishing the fence around the new cow pasture. It was a sun-kissed, golden late-summer evening, and even the deer flies were held at bay with a modest spritzing of bug repellent. Some girls prepare for a relaxing Sunday evening with their spouse by dabbing on Chanel and packing a picnic basket... but not me. I pour on the Avon Bug Guard Plus and toss my fencing supplies into a plastic pail.

Okay... so the tools vary... but the general idea does not. There is always a project to tackle, but this year it seems the focus has been specific to building fences meant to contain domestic animals and repel the wild variety.

So far... the fences have performed well in the former category... the latter, not so much. This spring, numerous pairs of Canadian geese saw fit to take up housekeeping in the horse pasture, and now upwards of thirty of the noisy feathered nuisances graze there, peacefully co-existing with the horses. At least, as peacefully as possible, for geese. They do get progressively more bold, and now come right up to the barn. Ironically enough, we live across the road from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service "Waterfowl Production Area", which the government spends quite a lot of time and tax money maintaining... but the geese don't go there. No geese there at all, not one. It seems they feel they are above living in government housing and instead prefer this side of the tracks.

The geese aren't alone, however. They've been joined by, of all things, snapping turtles. We saw a few earlier in the summer, when they would come up from the lake to lay their eggs. It seemed an interesting anomaly to see two of them in the same year. That is, until we were out fencing last night...

We were wading through the tall grass, chatting away, my husband carrying a huge spool of fencing wire and I, the bucket of insulators and tools. Suddenly, he emits a surprised "Whoa, hey, look at this... I stepped on a rock and it moved!" And there, hissing at his feet, was a huge, algae-covered, prehistoric-looking creature. We marveled at it for a bit (always have to do that, looking at a snapping turtle is akin to rubber-necking while passing the scene of an accident... the temptation is hard to resist), and then my spouse picked the two-foot behemoth up by its scaly tail and moved it out of the pasture... carefully avoiding the snapping end.

It was not five minutes later, at the opposite end of the pasture, when he stumbled across another, even larger snapper. I'm not sure if its an omen or what, but seeing two of these lake-dwellers crawling around high ground outside their normal breeding season really was pretty odd. We speculated that the second was Momma Snapper out hunting down her philandering mate... at least that's what we garnered from her cranky demeanor... moved Momma out of the pasture, as well (meanwhile cautioning her that we have, in fact, been known to consume snapping turtle)... and finished our work.

Now, finally, my cattle have a nice new pasture with belly-deep grass in which to graze and lounge under the oak trees. And, for once, the shoe is on the other foot (hoof?), as I cautioned them to watch where they step.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Good Dog

She was a placid little pup, when I found her waiting for me at the humane society shelter at seven weeks of age. I can still remember her sitting in that small steel cage, a black and tan cherub, with folded ears and and a take-me-home-and-I'll-love-you-forever look on her face. That was twelve years ago.

When I brought her home, I was pregnant with my first daughter. As my father-in-law is a big country music fan, he'd been teasing me that the baby should be named for his favorite artist. I had no desire whatsoever to name my precious baby after a celebrity of any sort, gorgeous or not.... and so to appease him (and as somewhat of a joke), the new pup was named Shania. In the photo, she is the dog on the right.

Shania was a farm dog, through and through. She was simultaneously the most compassionate yet tenacious dog I've ever known. When it came to my children, she was the perfect guardian. Patient, alert, and while she would enthusiastically eliminate any wild critter that dared venture into our yard, she never once so much curled a lip at any child, ever. The barn cats were her special buddies... she snuggled with them often (she was a "closet" snuggler... it was her not-so-secret passion), and took a particular liking to one tom cat in particular. She would groom him with her teeth, to the point his fur matted into a slimy mess, but he absolutely loved it and often sought her out for his spa treatment.

In her younger years, I never knew what sort of dead critter Shania might have waiting for me in the yard when I walked out for morning chores. Many muskrats, rabbits, raccoons, woodchucks, skunks, weasels... and once, even a mink... met their demise when they faced her. Our farm was her territory; our family, her pack; and she felt it her job to protect us. She did the job exceedingly well. The only creature that ever got the best of Shania (to her great discomfort and dismay), was a porcupine.

Shania was never a demanding, yappy, in-your-face dog, but always in the background, patiently waiting for a pat on the head or (joy of joys!) a belly rub. She was wary of visitors, and so would make a polite and obligatory showing as they first arrived, then fade into the background. When I was nearby, however, her eyes rarely left me. Shania was never formally trained, and yet would respond to the slightest verbal or hand gesture command from me. More than once, my mother-in-law commented as to how that dog always gazed at me with utter devotion. It was not human-like love, however, so much as it was the fact I was the "pack leader" and Shania looked to me for direction.

Yes, Shania looked to her humans for direction... just so long as that direction did not involve restraint. To confine her in any way was the ultimate punishment, and she would whine and claw at the door until she was released or found a way out. There was not a collar made that could be kept on her. She was independent, and yet she chose to submit to us. To confine her, it stole her spirit, and so we never restrained her. She never spent one day of her long life with us chained or kenneled. Few dogs are so fortunate. Shania seemed appreciative of the fact... and never abused her freedom, but always stayed within sight of the house unless accompanied by one of her family.

I can think of only one serious crime over the course of her lifetime... Shania was the instigator of the Great Easter Chicken Massacre. The summer prior to the Massacre, I purchased quite a few chicks, and cared for them through the long hard winter so as to have a lovely flock of layers come springtime. They were free-range hens, foraging for worms, weed seeds and bugs in addition to the mash I fed them. That Easter Sunday, we enjoyed dinner with my family a few hours away, and had a lovely day... that is, until we returned home to absolute carnage. Pulling into the yard that evening, we were met with one very guilty-looking dog.... and around twenty dead chickens, scattered hither and yon, the green grass of spring nearly obliterated by chicken feathers silently fluttering in the lilac-scented breeze.

Whatever sparked the whirlwind of squawking hens and provoked Shania's usually dormant hunting instinct that day, I'll never know. She never did anything like that ever again; the shame of her transgression seemed to haunt her for weeks afterward and one can only guess that she never wished to revisit that feeling again. What I do know for certain is that I now look back and smile at the thought of that normally polite, reserved, stoic dog, bounding through the feathered chaos of panicked poultry with unbridled joy in the moment.

Shania was our friend, companion and guardian for twelve years. Last year, however, we noticed she had lost her hearing (ever try to call a deaf dog off a raccoon? At night?). She spent most of this past winter lazing on front of the fireplace... and to her great delight, atop my cushioned ottoman. As winter gave way to spring, I noticed some weakness in her hindquarters in the mornings when I would put her outside... and also that she spent the bulk of her time napping in the sun, on the patio furniture.

In a weeks time, Shania went from romping in the new spring grass with my daughter, to the point where she was unable to walk... her physical deterioration was rapid and heart-breaking to watch. We made her days as comfortable as possible, spent a little extra time, gave her a few extra special treats... and then faced the unavoidable decision to end her suffering.

My husband and I brought Shania home before our children were born, and we were there with her at the end, hugging and petting her and thanking her for being such a loyal friend and guardian to our family. It was most profound when, at the moment Shania passed from this life to the next, a moment when most animals would struggle or paddle in the throes of death... Shania simply wagged her tail.

She had not been physically able to wag her tail for over a week.

It was one of those touching and miraculous moments in life which reinforces our faith and gives us a glimpse of what Heaven might be like. I told my husband that it was as if Shania were greeting someone she was overjoyed to see again... our long-dead dog Misty, maybe, or our beloved Grandpa Ding.

Together, we buried our old dog under a full spring moon, tears flowing down our faces. This all happened a few weeks ago, and yet I'm still so touched by the bittersweet beauty of that night. We were blessed to have such a good dog part of our family for so long, and so blessed to share the grief and beauty and mystery as she passed to the next life. I like to think she's now healthy, happy, pain-free... and waiting to welcome her family home with boundless joy, as she did countless times here on Earth.

Good dog.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mother of the Year

Chocolate (Bangor) BrowniesImage via Wikipedia

I will never earn an award for Mother of the Year, nor even of the month or day. I am way too impatient, often wrapped up in my own thoughts, and have been known to actually use the phrase "Suck it up, kid..." (though only in response to idle whining and never to serious injury or heartbreak). My routines are sometimes anything but, and I've been known to actually feed my children brownies and ice cream for supper... though at the time, that did get me nominated for the award by my adoring children. The selection committee didn't think much of my meal-planning skills, however, and immediately disqualified me.

But, after reading the news tonight... I no longer feel the need to seek the approval of the Mother of the Year Selection committee... nor anyone else but my own children, for that matter. It seems a mother in a neighboring town was arrested today for punching her seven-year-old daughter in the face because she did not eat fast enough. The child went to school with a bloody nose and when questioned, told her story. Social Services was called, and the mother arrested.

That news article made me sick, but it also made me think about my own parenting skills. It is so easy to judge others, particularly in a case such as this. Tonight, I turned the spotlight back on myself and think about what the world would believe about me if there were a hidden camera in my home. What if it were to record the moments I lose my cool and yell at my precious daughters, or forget about something they need for school, or fail to supervise them closely enough and the four-year-old cuts her hair off with my sewing scissors...?

As the world is full of harsh critics, they would most likely tear me apart in their blogs, and the evening news would have a hey-day with it, probably even come up with a catchy term like "Neglecto-Mom". My angst-ridden face would be captured on film by the paparazzi and emblazoned on the cover of Time magazine with the headline "How Could She???"...

And so, there are no video cameras allowed in my home, no broadcasting of my maternal failings to the masses. The only witnesses to my bad-mothering moments are my girls, and they are still solidly in my court. According to the four-year-old, I'm the "Best cooker in the whole wide world!" and the eleven-year-old contends that I'm the "coolest mom EVER".... at least when their smiling faces are ringed with brownie crumbs.

I intend to keep brownies on hand for the next fourteen years, at least.... and hug those precious, forgiving girls, every chance I get. Hopefully, when they grow up and read the news about mothers who harm their children, they will remember a mother who loved them totally, protected them fiercely, encouraged fun and spontaneity... and while sometimes cranky and/or scatter-brained, never, ever, hurt them.

I pray tonight for that little girl, and for her mother, as well. May God heal them both.
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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Making Memories

Yesterday was a big day for my youngest daughter. She was born with a rather large bump on the middle finger of her left hand; it was not growing or causing any problems, but her doctor thought it wise to have it removed and biopsied.

We were up early and on our way to the hospital early. Daddy was on the road and could not join us, so this was a real mother/daughter day. Admission to the hospital was surprisingly efficient, and soon we were in a private room, dressing her in a gown and surrounded by nurses. In a small-town hospital, they do not get many pediatric surgical patients (dealing more frequently with complaints of the elderly, gallbladders and such), and so my daughter was a bit of a celebrity. The staff doted on her and I could tell it was sort of a fun break in routine for them.

For once, I remembered to bring the camera, and made an effort to document the experience. Lately, making memories has become more important to me... maybe its an age thing, but I've also been looking back over the years and realized my memory is not all its cracked up to be. Its so easy to get caught up in the daily grind and forget to document all the interesting moments that make our life special and unique. Obviously, the events like births and baptisms, weddings and vacations get lots of attention, but they are the exceptions to everyday life. I want to capture the memories more from a mother's perspective... precious moments buried amongst the laundry and homework and chores that make up the bulk of our time together.

My daughter made it through the procedure just fine, and was bouncing off the walls, harassing her older sister within an hour of our return home.

Her sister, on the other hand... she was home sick yesterday and now today, as well. Typical cold/flu symptoms... sore throat, cough and sniffles, and she woke me up in the middle of the night complaining of an earache. As both my girls have pretty high tolerance for pain, if they complain about something hurting, I take it seriously. And so... I will watch them both closely today and be prepared to make yet another trip to the clinic.

In other news... our calves have been born and we were blessed with healthy mommas and babies, with no complications. This morning I turned them all outside, and took great pleasure in watching those calves bounce and frolic in the morning sunshine. The fencing on the second pasture will soon be up and it will be great fun to watch the babies explore their new world.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How Precious, Life

Yesterday I helped to bring a new life into the world. It was only a calf, thousands of which are born every day under similar circumstances. Some would consider it just part of the job, not much different than changing the oil in a vehicle or tilling the garden... but not me. No matter how many times I see a living creature take its first breath (or, conversely, fight for its last), I will never get over the feeling of what a miracle life is, be it human or otherwise.

As a woman who has given birth to my own babies, tending the cow as she was in labor and then focused on her new baby was instinctual. The look in her eye as she pushed... one of experience, yet tinged with pain and desperation, was familiar. The calf was a large one and did not come as easily as some, so I knelt next to the cow, tore the membrane away from the little black nose, grasped the legs and eased the baby into the world.

The metamorphosis which takes place in the next few moments never fails to bring tears to my eyes. To watch a wet, slimy creature slide into the world, so seemingly helpless and vulnerable, struggle to breathe, then rise, then nurse... and within hours, transform into a dry, furry, bright-eyed and hungry little animal with an attitude and a personality... it is nothing short of bearing witness to a miracle.

I've often wondered how anyone could witness birth and fail to believe in a Creator. Or death, for that matter. If we are but biological organisms, taking up space on the planet and with no purpose beyond reproducing, exchanging oxygen for carbon dioxide and food for fertilizer, there would be no need for emotion. No need for love or anger, fear or happiness; none of that would matter. We would not feel such joy at the creation of life and such profound sadness at its loss.

I believe in God the Creator and always have... but to be present as His Spirit breathes life into a creature, certainly reinforces that belief. I understand biology, but will never understand the miracle and mystery behind it. I will never understand why some creatures live, and others are conceived but never get to draw a breath. I don't need to understand; it's part of the mystery. Just because I do not understand it, however, does not mean I rejoice in life any less. On the contrary, the mystery of life and the loss of death, make life all the more precious.

Every breath, every moment, every creature... precious.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pullin' Truck

My husband rarely buys me flowers, and if I had to sell my jewelry to feed our family, we wouldn't be eating well for very long....

But after nearly twenty years of marriage, he knows me pretty well, and buys gifts that keep on giving. Not in the sappy Hallmark sense; rather, the gifts he surprises me with are the kind that serve me well as I do my job and make my life a whole lot easier.

Once, it was a heavy-duty stand mixer. I was overjoyed to the point of tears to receive it, and that machine has mixed hundreds of pounds of bread dough over the years. Last year, it was a much needed tractor that would help to put up hay & feed hay to the livestock and clear out snow.

A few weeks ago, when I was out of town for the night with our girls, his gift was to completely renovate our poorly-designed laundry room and replace the old machines that came with the house, with the newer, more efficient ones we had brought from our old home and had not yet installed. He stayed up all night to finish it, and even bought me new laundry baskets.

And today... today, it was a pullin' truck.

My old pickup's engine had given up its ghost, its tires are bald, and some jerk had found it necessary to smash out the rear window while it sat waiting for us to retrieve it from our old farm. Fixing it up just to the point it was usable would prove quite expensive, so we put off making a decision on it. I've since been finding it difficult to haul all the feed and bedding necessary for our animals with our Expedition, or wait until he was home and could help with his work pickup. And now, of course, we will more frequently be hauling cattle and horses to various places for various reasons.

So, he bought me a truck.

It's not a fancy truck, by any stretch... but I love the thing. We went to pick it up today, and while it is starting to rust a bit around the wheel wells, is missing some trim and needs a new front grille, to me it was a thing of beauty. She is an older diesel Ford F250 Lariat, red and silver, regular cab, five-speed 4x4 with lock-out hubs, a fifth-wheel hitch in the box, a heavy-duty bumper, trailer brakes, big ol' tires and an aftermarket turbocharger under the hood. Seriously, is sounded about like a Kenworth when I fired it up.

As I pulled out of the lot and into traffic, I gave thanks for all those dark nights chauffeuring my friend Tom around in the service truck during sugarbeet harvest, years ago... and all the miles driving grain truck in the years before that. I've not driven a five-speed or any truck like that in probably five years, and so was a little hesitant to jump right out into rush hour traffic....

But it all came right back. And as I drove out of town and began to see what she could do... WOW. It is not a Ferrari, and does not corner like its on rails. But its got snort. And guts. And rides far better than my husband's company pickup, a year-old Chevy .

I found myself eagerly anticipating each stop light and turn, because feeling the horsepower while I slapped through the gears was so much fun. Its low-geared and doesn't care to go much over 70, but sure doesn't take long to get there!

It even has an FM radio. Better pinch myself, either I'm dreaming or died and went to heaven!

Okay, so I like gifts that are practical and help me do my job. I don't need fancy, or shiny, or expensive. My favorite gifts are those which will put in as honest a day's work as I do.

The other girls can keep their flowers and jewelry. I'll take a truck with a turbo kit, any day.

Thanks, Honey!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Of Slander

"No soul of high estate can take pleasure in slander. It betrays a weakness." Blaise Pascal

It never fails to amaze me, the lengths some folks will go in order to slander and harm another, whether it be an individual or an institution. The greatest lies... and as a consequence, the greatest harm... seem to come from people who have an irrepressable need to blow out another's candle in an attempt to make theirs glow brighter. The problem is that in the process, they significantly dim their own.

One must always question, just what is the intent behind malicious words? So often, those who tear others down do so in a self-righteous, finger-pointing fashion. I've seen it so often that my first questions are, "What has this person got to hide? How might they benefit from harming this person (or entity) they so vehemently attack? Or are they simply so lacking in their own self-esteem and accomplishment that their only way to gain acknowledgement and self-satisfaction is to harm another?"

In regard to the horse world, there are even websites and blogs which attack individuals in a most vicious and vulgar manner. Breeders bad-mouth other breeders or even registries in their little phone and e-mail circles. Some intentionally attempt to harm others in every possible way... and I always consider such attempts to be a red herring. Rather than look at the horses and actions and website of those they attack, I look at what the attacker has produced and accomplished. Most often, its a very short investigation which raises significant questions as to the credibility of the attacker and the quality and legitimacy of their own stock and operation.

Frequently, however, and even more disturbing, are those who anonymously make these negative claims. If a critic cannot sign their name and stand by what they say, in front of God and man, it has no credibility whatsoever. A screen name or avatar is an assumed personalty and I consider them to be fiction, right along with whatever garbage they might spew.

The same could be said for any other corner of society. Trace a character assassination to its source, and there you will usually find a putrid, gangrenous root. Jealousy, most often... and usually accompanied by its pathetic friend, insecurity.

I truly feel sorry for those who get their kicks by tearing others down. Its pathetic, unseemly, and destroys their own credibility. For many years now, I've made a point to avoid association with such folks, but at times the spirit of negativity is so widespread it is difficult to escape entirely.

Slander, lies, untruths, malicious gossip... no matter the name given, the intent and the result are the same. It hurts innocent, often hard-working people, seriously and sometimes irrepairably. If you participate in it, your credibility and integrity and reputation are significantly diminished, both in my opinion and that of much of the community at large. There are still a few among us who see it for what it is...



I, for one, intend to be of the light... and shine that light into the darkness at every opportunity.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Oaks and Diamonds

"When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure." Peter Marshall

A friend once told me, "God is using this trial to strengthen you, just as iron is tempered into steel by fire and therefore made stronger". That was a lot of trials ago, and I guess one can say I've experienced my share of contrary winds, pressure, and tempering fire. No more than anyone else, nor any less, just different... and my share.

I would not trade any of it. Not for an easier life or a smaller butt or a brand-new King Ranch Edition Ford F-250 4x4 with saddle-leather seats. All of those contrary winds and pressures and fires gave me an education and perspective on life that is valuable and mine alone. As a result, I know without any doubt what matters to me, who I am, what I want out of life and the people with whom I prefer to share it.

We had a whopper winter storm here today and received well over a foot of snow, maybe eighteen inches. Of course that meant extra barn chores and tougher ones at that... hauling water to the livestock this morning meant carrying full five-gallon pails through snow drifts that were, in places, up to my hips. But much as I dread it... I still love the work. There is something very satisfying about truimphing over a storm like that. Everyone else can whine about how awful it is and the fact they can't go anywhere... but I'm in my element.

The enforced solitude of a storm day always makes me reflective, and always reinforces my ideas about what matters. Sometimes, well-meaning people attempt to tell me what matters, what my priorities should be, what should make me happy. But there is a difference between perception and reality. My heart has always known what makes me happy, and I've always instinctually sought it, even fought for it when necessary.

Oftentimes wise people will advise others to "Go with your gut". That is how I've lived my whole life. For better or for worse, when the chips are down and a choice needs to be made, I always go with my gut... with instinct, or discernment, or that inner voice... whatever it is. Doing so does not always make me politically correct, or popular, or wealthy. What it does do, is give me a life that is my own, and leaves me with few real regrets.

Monday, March 30, 2009


Tonight was one of those nights when I wanted to go out to the barn and do the evening chores about as much as I would want a hole in the head... which is to say, not very much at all.
After a full day with an early start, making and serving and cleaning up after supper, and with a winter storm bearing down, the last thing I really wanted to do was pull on my bibs and boots, hat and gloves, and trudge through the snow for yet more work.
But a transformation takes place during the few steps I take from the house to the barn. Hungry calves bawl and push each other around in an attempt to be the first to greet me. The horses whinny and the cows moo and everyone is happy to see me. Its controlled chaos and a chorus of hungry mouths to feed.
I start with the bucket calves, who would put any champion beer-guzzler to shame as they bury their noses in their warm milk, guzzling it down... its a wonder they don't drown. The bottle calves are next; they stand side-by-side, their little tails swishing in unison, big brown eyes half-closed as they savor the joy of feeding time.
Next, all the cattle get their grain, and they settle into Nirvana. At that point I never fail to remember when I was a little girl, watching my dad feed his cows and him telling me that to cows, corn tasted like chocolate pudding. That was in the days before "Snack Packs", and homemade chocolate pudding was about as wonderful a treat as we could imagine!
I bring the horses into the barn, one by one, taking the time to correct them if they attempt to get pushy. With my children around and handling them at times, I have little tolerance for a horse that thinks it can walk all over you. In the past, I would often let the horses into the barn as a group and sort them into their individual stalls, but have found the few moments it takes to catch and lead them in, individually, is worth the extra time. They benefit so much from that extra handling.
A few more moments of chaos ensues, while the horses wait impatiently for their rations. The Pintabians, true to their quiet nature, just nicker and look at me expectantly, while my daughters rangy Paint is more demanding, pawing the floor and shaking her head. Peace descends as I move down the row of stalls, doling out the grain... and I never fail to appreciate the quiet as they all happily dive into their grain.
Now, time for the heavier work, carrying water and hay to each animal... but somehow, it is not as daunting a task as I imagined before heading outdoors. By now I'm warmed up, into the job, and take pleasure in it. I sort through the hay to find the most soft and tender stems for the baby calves, who are just learning to eat it, and make sure the rest is free of dust and mold.
Soon, I realize all the necessary work is done, and yet I am dawdling, enjoying this time in my sanctuary. It is peaceful here, and I feel a great fulfillment and sense of accomplishment in a job well-done.
Here, too, I find hope... in the swelling bellies of the mamas, heavy with calf or foal... in the projects that need to be tackled when the weather warms up... in the saddles lining the tack room wall, in the anticipation of trail rides and shows to come. This is the time when I see the unborn babies kick, making their presence known; the time when I scratch the cows and play with the calves and tell the horses how breathtakingly beautiful they are, even wearing their winter grubbies (as if they didn't know!).
Yes, I am tired, and sore, and my soft warm bed will feel absolutely divine when I finally settle into its embrace. But that can wait just a few more minutes... I'm in my sanctuary.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"I Believe In the Future of Farming..."

"I believe in the future of farming..." Those were the first words of the FFA Creed when it was still the Future Farmers of America, and I wonder how many times I recited them in high school. There were countless moments over the ensuing years during which we farmed for a living (depending on it for our sole income), times when I was waist-deep in mud, trying to save a flooded potato crop, tired out of my mind during planting or harvest, or worried sick about finances and the future, that those words became a bit of a mantra.

We no longer depend on the land as our sole source of income and have not for many years now, yet we choose to farm on a small scale because it is what we love. We enjoy growing our own food and caring for the animals and living this lifestyle.

I often marvel at the fact that over the course of one or two generations, our country as a whole has become so far removed from the farm that many kids don't even know where meat or milk or bread comes from. Our lives are so sanitized and commercialized and conformist... and I, for one, rebel against it.

That would be one of the many reasons why we live in the country, raise animals and plant a garden. I want my daughters to understand the sanctity of life, whether it be equine, avian or human. I want them to be self-sufficient, confident, faithful and tenacious, all qualities required of those who plant seeds in the ground in the hopes of a harvest, or breed an animal with the expectation of improving upon both sire and dam. I want them to know thier roots in the land, to understand how hard their ancestors worked just to feed and clothe and shelter themselves.

It disturbs me somewhat that the wording of the FFA Creed has been changed from "I believe in the future of farming..." to "I believe in the future of agriculture...". Those words do not possess the same power or meaning. The farmer is the very root of the agriculture industry... without the farmer, there is no agriculture.

The ag industry is considered to be the largest in the world, and in its broadest definition, includes pretty much everyone in the food, fiber, biofuel, and chemical industries... even tourism is sometimes lumped into the group (there is a growing sector called "agri-tourism"; people actually pay money to experience the country life and work on a farm). But in any one of those sectors, if you trace the supply to its source, you find yourself back on the farm.

I've always been suspicious that the FFA creed was changed for two reasons... one, that it was an attempt to make it (and the FFA) more inclusive (how sad); and two, the term "farmer" was just not considered "cool". And it's too bad, really. Frankly, I consider those who bust their butts to feed and clothe and fuel the entire population of this planet, to be very cool indeed.

I believe in the future of farming.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Thought I might take a few moments to share a few of the recipes I've mentioned recently. The first is for "Dutch Babies". They are sort of an oatmeal/spice pancake that my mother would often make as I was growing up... I just loved them. My own daughters have recently been introduced to this recipe from my youth and now ask for them often! I usually double the recipe.

Dutch Baby Pancakes

(from the St. Mary's Church Centennial Cookbook, Copyright 2007)

1 c. flour

1/2 c. oatmeal

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 T. sugar

3/4 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ginger

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 egg

1 c. milk

3 T. oil

2 T. honey

Mix dry ingredients; set aside. Whisk together wet ingredients, add to dry ingredients and stir to combine. Fry on hot greased griddle until brown on both sides.

This next recipe is a new one to me; we tried it over the weekend and really enjoyed it! The chipotle chili pepper powder gives the pork a "smoky" taste, reminiscent of that from and old-fashioned pig roast! This recipe has some kick. I left out the poblano chili as there were none available and it turned out just fine.

Green Chile Pulled-Pork Burritos
(From the Pillsbury "Slow Cooker Come Home to Comfort" cookbook)

1 to 2 T. chipotle chili pepper powder

1 T. vegetable oil

1 t. salt

1 boneless pork loin roast, trimmed of fat

1 poblano chile

1 16 oz. jar green chile salsa

14-8 in. flour tortillas

guacamole, if desired

sour cream, if desired

1. Spray 4-5-quart slow-cooker with cooking spray. In small bowl, mix chili pepper powder, oil and salt. Rub mixture over pork; place in cooker. Sprinkle with poblano chile. Pour salsa over top.

2. Cover; cook on Low heat setting 8-10 hours.

3. Remove pork from cooker; place on cutting board.
Shred pork with two forks; return to cooker and mix well.

4.Using slotted spoon, spoon about 1/2 cup pork mixture onto each tortilla; top with about 1 T. each guacamole and sour cream. Fold tortilla around mixture and enjoy!

This last recipe is not for food at all, but for homemade laundry detergent! Just today I mixed up my second batch, and just love this stuff. I add a few drops lavender essential oil, just because I love the scent of lavender.

Laundry Soap

(adapted from Reader's Digest
"Homemade - How to Make Hundreds of Everyday Products You Would Otherwise Buy")

2 c. soap flakes

2 c. baking soda

1 c. washing soda

1 c. borax

1 clean ice cream pail with lid

1. To make the soap flakes, grate a bar of pure soap, such as Ivory, on a coarse kitchen grater.

2. Mix all ingredients together in ice cream pail, and store tightly sealed.

3. Use about 1/2 cup of the mixture instead of detergent for each load of laundry.

I've been using this homemade laundry detergent for a few weeks now and it seems to clean just as well as the store-bought stuff, even in our very hard water. One may wish to use bleach in addition, for whites... so far, I have not noticed the need to do so.


Today, we are digging out from quite a blizzard. Its started two days ago, and finally let up about 5am this morning. This is the second straight day my older daughter is home from school... and I cannot recall her enjoying two "snow days" in a row since she started kindergarten!

She braved the storm to help me tend to the horses in the barn; what a help she is! I can now send her out to bring the horses in from pasture or put them out, feed them their grain, etc., with very little in the way of supervision. It does not hurt that I am able to see everything right from the big bay window in the kitchen, and the barn is really only steps away.

I have been spending a lot of time in the kitchen, with the weather like its been. Friday night we had a fiesta! Fajitas, chips & salsa, and margaritas (for Mom & Dad). It was fun. I enjoy prepping and cooking with my family gathered around the kitchen island, visiting... and try to make a point of making Friday evenings special in that regard. We might make homemade pizza or subs, or in nicer weather, grill steaks outside... the whole idea is to sort of gather around and celebrate the family and the weekend.

Saturday I made Italian meatball subs for supper... wow, were they ever good. The meatballs and sauce simmered in the crock-pot and smelled so good all day. Sunday, it was a big breakfast of "Dutch Babies" (a cinnamon/oatmeal pancake that is my mother's recipe... *so* yummy!), eggs and homemade sausage. Tuesday I made a big double batch of oatmeal raisin cookies and we had Adobo Chili Pulled Pork Burritos for supper... and just now I finished cleaning up the dishes from our snow-day brunch; made-from-scratch buttermilk pancakes with side-pork from the hog we bought from an Amish farmer a few weeks back. And tonight it will be the last of some homemade beef stew from a huge batch I put together and froze months ago, along with some homemade buttermilk biscuits.

Not exactly your low-fat, low cholesterol, vegetarian diet... but interestingly enough, both my weight and bad (LDL) cholesterol have been going down and good (HDL) cholesterol going up! I do have a nice treadmill and try to use it every day. It does make a difference, as does the activity of working outside around the farm and in the garden.

Well, better get back to "digging out"... tomorrow it will be back to real-life again, and by the end of the weeks it looks to be warm enough to start melting some of the foot of snow we got over the past few days....

Monday, March 9, 2009

Fireproof Dreams

Dreams sure do die hard, don't they?

I am the sort of person, that when I am given a vision or a dream to do something, its never a little dream. Its always a big, huge, gigantic dream. When I find something to believe in, I embrace it. I eat, sleep and breathe it. The cliche' "blood, sweat and tears" is no stranger to me.

And when I find a group of people to believe in, multiply that embrace by a thousand. Its not very often I get close to people. I am a private person; just ask my husband. We have been married nearly twenty years and he still is trying to figure me out.

I believe that God gives us our passions and dreams, chosen specifically for our particular talents, personality and gifts. But He also tests us, and tempers us by fire just as iron is tempered into steel. Right now, I need to be patient, and wait on God, and wait on people, and wait on so much stuff...

For a long time now I have been fighting for a particular dream, and have been met with resistance, test after test, and profound heartbreak. I am at one of those crossroads where, as I told one good friend, it feels like a gangrenous leg... I don't want to be without a leg but am concerned it might have to be sacrificed to save the rest of my body.

And so... while I wait on God to give me the answer, I keep going back to a song from the movie "Fireproof"...

For the YouTube video:


While I'm Waiting
John Waller
I'm waiting
I'm waiting on You, Lord
And I am hopeful
I'm waiting on You, Lord
Though it is painful
But patiently, I will wait
I will move ahead, bold and confident
Taking every step in obedience
While I'm waiting I will serve You
While I'm waiting I will worship
While I'm waiting I will not faint
I'll be running the race
Even while I wait
I'm waiting
I'm waiting on You, Lord
And I am peaceful
I'm waiting on You, Lord
Though it's not easy
But faithfully, I will wait
Yes, I will wait
I will serve You while I'm waiting
I will worship while I'm waiting
I will serve You while I'm waiting
I will worship while I'm waiting
I will serve you while I'm waiting
I will worship while I'm waiting on You, Lord

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Purple Cow

We are buying a purple cow.

Actually, "Little Blue" as she is called, is a brindle "blue roan", meaning the black and white hairs on her coat are intermingled in such a way as to make her take on a bluish or purple tinge. I kid you not, this cow has a blue tongue like a Chow-Chow dog.

Yes, the Dagen family took a trek down the road yesterday to go see the cows we are purchasing to add to our little farm. We went to a dairy farm owned by one of my husband's seed dealers, and truly enjoyed the tour. It was fun to see the pretty baby calves, to have a look at the cows they will be delivering to us next week, and to enjoy a visit with some really nice, down-to-earth people.

This will surely be an adventure... its been twenty years since I last worked with cattle and so will need to refresh my memory on a few things. Both cows are to to calve April 15th, but just like any other mammal, can deliver anytime two weeks before to two weeks after that due date. The blue cow is a big, sort of rangy animal, while her companion is smaller, spotted, and... well... prettier. Maybe beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but I do believe a cow can be pretty.

And so, the girls and I spent some time in the barn today, working with the horses and cleaning it up a bit. We dewormed all the horses, and got a bit of a start with the spring cleaning. Call me crazy, but I take a lot of pride in having a clean and organized barn. It really got away from me this winter while I was laid up, and I will just not be content until it is back in order. It is a slow process as I must be so careful to avoid reinjuring my back, but a little work every day should have it back in shape soon.

It felt *so* good to get outdoors today; we are in a blizzard watch for Tuesday and wanted to get all the hay in place and the stock tanks filled in advance. It feels as if we are on the cusp of spring, and it feels hopeful. Everything is sort of dingy and grey at the moment, as it always is this time of year; in this country, however, once Mother Nature makes up her mind to turn up the heat, that will change in a hurry.

Last fall the girls and I planted flower bulbs....tulips, crocuses, daffodils... and it will be such a joy to see them bloom. I've got a corner of my barn picked out for a henhouse, the footings are already there. It used to be a feed room or something, but the previous owners tore it out, leaving only the footings. All I need to do is put up two walls and a door, and install a window, and we will have an 8 x 12 hen house, plenty of room for a little flock. My husband is adamantly opposed to raising meat birds, just hates the butchering... but we will see what Murray McMurray sends in the mail... ;-)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

My Baby

My baby, who is no longer a baby but a bright and vivacious four-year-old, is sick.

Oh, it is just a cold, I think... she is not feverish, as she would be with the flu... but she has an incredibly deep, rumbly, wet cough, and her nose is running like a faucet. Her normally quick, teasing grin is painfully red and chapped, her bright eyes now bleary. Its disturbing to me, as her mother, to see her suffer and know that about all I can do is push fluids and comfort her.

Around 2am, I awoke to the sound of her coughing, then listened as she padded down the hallway and crawled into bed with me. For my normally-independent little munchkin to seek comfort from me like that felt so wonderful. I hate to see my children sick, but love the opportunity to nurture them. Tonight after supper, she fell asleep in my lap as I cradled her and visited with her daddy. Other than the fact she feels so awful, it was a mother's Nirvana.

That little girl is growing so fast and will soon fit into my lap like her older sister does now... about as well as a baby giraffe. So I cherish these moments, attempting to file their memory away in a fireproof corner of my brain, to be savored when these little girls are grown and have families of their own.

I waited so long to have children, but not by choice... my husband and I married seven years before we were blessed with our first daughter, and it was another seven before we welcomed the second (and so yes, that does add up to nearly twenty years... did I also mention that I married young? LOL). That experience gave me great resolve to stay at home and care for them in person during their childhoods, something I will never regret. Even so, the time just flies by in the busy-ness of everyday life, and at times even I need to slow down to cherish and savor the moment. I guess this is yet another example of a blessing in disguise.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Saving Grace

Yesterday was a good day... I slept in a bit, enjoyed lunch out with my Mom, received a call from a young lady with whom I've done some business in the past and got caught up on the goings-on in her life (mentally counting the blessings in my own!), spent some time outdoors with the horses, and then we all went out for supper at the Cormorant Pub... they have some awesome ribs and chicken. Their Jack-and-cokes aren't too shabby, either... ;-)

And much to my delight, when it was time to settle in for the evening, there were no less than *three* new episodes of my favorite show, "Saving Grace", recorded on the Tivo! I am not much of a TV watcher, but do love that series. Grace, the main character, really appeals to me. She is gritty, genuine, in-your-face, smart... and such a no-holds-barred rebel. She makes no apologies for her drinking, smoking, cussing, bed-hopping ways... and while my children would never be allowed to watch... that series is one of my more guilty pleasures. Its so deep at times, focusing on Grace's struggles to come to terms with God after witnessing (and enduring) so much evil and pain in this world... both personally and professionally, as a cop. Of course, most everyone who knows me, knows how I enjoy thinking about those deep issues of love and forgiveness, sin and redemption. Its as if the writers crafted that show just for me. Gritty yet deep; thoughtful, yet without frills and elitist theology.

Of course, I absolutely love Earl, Grace's "last chance angel". How did Grace get to be so lucky as to have such a cool guardian angel? His deep drawl... his kind-heartedness mixed with a been-there-done-that sense of humor and whup-ass guardian angel powers and a really big pair of... wings... what's not to love? Oh, how great would it be to have an angel who talked back like that? One who would lie next to you and hold your hand at night when you stare at the ceiling, tears running out the corners of your eyes while you struggle with life's big questions? One who could shed some light on life's more intriguing mysteries?

Oh, I sure do believe in angels, and have even seen mine. She's pretty cool, and came to me with supernatural comfort and guidance during the most traumatic moment of my life. Maybe I'm further along in my walk with God than Grace's character is, and don't really need a "last chance" angel... but it sure would be cool if my angel would show herself more often, and have a beer with me once in awhile. I would certainly love to hear what she has to say!

In the meantime, however... it sure is fun to settle in and live vicariously through Grace.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Red Strokes

As my daughter and I were on our way to meet my mother for lunch today, I just happened to hear this old Garth Brooks song:

"The Red Strokes"

Moonlight on canvas, midnight and wine
Two shadows starting to softly combine
The picture they're painting
Is one of the heart
And to those who have seen it
It's a true work of art

Oh, the red strokes
Passions uncaged
Thundering moments of tenderness rage
Oh, the red strokes
Tempered and strong (Fearlessly drawn)
Burning the night like the dawn

Steam on the window, salt in a kiss
Two hearts have never pounded like this
Inspired by a vision
That they can't command
Erasing the borders
With each brush of a hand

Oh, the red strokes
Passions uncaged
Thundering moments of tenderness rage
Oh, the red strokes
Tempered and strong (Fearlessly drawn)
Burning the night like the dawn

Oh, the blues will be blue and the jealousies green
But when love picks its shade it demands to be seen

Oh, the red strokes
Passions uncaged
Thundering moments of tenderness rage
Oh, the red strokes
Tempered and strong (Fearlessly drawn)
Burning the night like the dawn

You know, people tend to make fun of country music as the "cry in your beer" genre... but I have always loved how this song captures passion. While listening to it, I thought of how it applies not only to romantic or passionate love, but all those things and events in our lives which are "the red strokes". For me, it would be things such as the births of my children (the pain, the blood, the fear, the overwhelming emotion, all culminating in precious new life), Pintabian horses, riding in a Jeep with my high school sweetheart along Maui's rugged coast with the top down and the radio cranked up, time spent with the SOS Brotherhood which sometimes allows me to bask in its aura, the feeling I get when the muses strike and the words flow effortlessly from my fingers ... all the wild and free and passionate moments of life which, if not for them, it would not be much of a life.

Today is my 37th birthday, and while maybe I've sown my share of wild oats over the course of this life... I pray to God that it is never without its red strokes. I pray that I never lose the passion that fuels me, or the adrenalized feeling of the wind in my hair as I ride over the plains, be the horse flesh-and-blood or on two wheels and adorned with chrome. May this life never be without its fiery and passionate moments. For me, to give up those incredible moments which take your breath away, would be to give up on life itself.


OK, so I've mentioned before how much I enjoy self-sufficiency... ironically enough, my husband, the original Farmer Boy, is not always completely on board with that idea. He grew up on a large, modern, Red River Valley potato and small grains operation with nary a farm animal in sight. Oh, he does like the thought of having a full freezer and pantry, but when it comes to putting up hay, cleaning the barn or butchering chickens... well, lets just say he is less than enthusiastic.

So imagine my surprise a few weeks back when he mentioned that one of his dealers has a couple bred dairy cows for sale, would we be interested? Me? I'm game to try about anything. These cows are Normandes (a dual-purpose French breed known for their high-fat, high-protein milk and excellent meat quality), bred to a Brown Swiss bull, due to freshen mid-April, and apparently very gentle. Having grown up with beef cows, I've pulled a few calves in my time, and the idea of having milk, cheese and beef so readily available is rather enticing. Our little farm grows grass like gangbusters, and we are long on hay this year...

So... what the heck. We'll give it spin. Like I told my husband, if it doesn't work out, we are not out much money and yet richer for the experience. We don't have to do it forever, but it sure would be fun to teach the girls more animal husbandry, and there is not much cuter than a baby calf. Yes, it will entail (even more) hard work and commitment... but there is little in life worth doing, which does not.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Getting Older

Well, it seems that my days of hoisting 100 lb. sacks of potatoes onto my shoulder and throwing around railroad ties in the barn, are over.

Back in early December, I was struck with debilitating back pain. Investigation of its cause and my options for treatment is an interesting, if not frustrating, process. To my great fortune, I found a wonderful chiropractor in addition to my regular M.D., and have been working regularly with them both.

In late January, an MRI was taken of my back; it shows five herniated disks which are pressing on the nerve roots where they exit the spinal cord, extensive arthritis in the joints, and compression of the spine. My doctor said that it is a combination of genetics and wear & tear, and suggested I work with my chiropractor to find some relief as he does not want me on pain medication forever. Um, neither do I. I told him that in some ways I consider this battered spine to be a badge of honor... that I have no desire to present a perfect corpse at my funeral, but would rather have a body that is used up, worn out, and a testament to the fact that this was one hell of a ride!

But... I do have a lot of work to do before I'm ready to give up the ghost, and need to make this body last. Sitting around all winter has not been good for either the state of my home nor that of my mind. My chiropractor is getting a bit frustrated, I think, with the fact that it seems to be two steps forward and three steps back... he suggested that maybe I should consult with a neurologist (knowing, of course, that I will keep going back to him as he does provide great relief from the pain; it just doesn't seem to last). So next week I will be looking into that, as well as trying some new ideas. One will be to schedule a massage to help with the arthritis, and also look into acupuncture. I've been investigating inversion tables, those contraptions with which you hang upside down to provide traction and stretch out the spine, as well as different exercises and nutritional supplements.

My thought is, use it or lose it. It would be so easy to give up and quit moving through the pain and adopt the mindset that I would always be crippled up.... but that is just not acceptable to me. My nephew Joe broke his back in a motorcycle accident about ten years ago, and was told he would never walk again. I will not relay his exact words to that doctor, but will say the kid is pure grit. He not only walked across the stage for his high school graduation, but is now a foreman for a pipline crew in Colorado and was recently married in an elegant ceremony on a cruise ship.

Its all about sucking it up and pushing through... about deciding whether to lay down and quit or stand up and fight. Its about deciding every morning when I wake up, who I am and what I want out of life and how hard I am willing to work for it. Frankly, I'm getting tired of missing out and sitting at home.

Time to suck it up and fight.

Friday, February 27, 2009


This morning dawned clear and cold... -17F, to be exact. Yesterday we received about five inches of new snow, and after that front blew through, the bottom dropped out. Last night the winds battered this farmhouse as though they were angry with it.

It all made spring's warm embrace seem a long way off, even though the calendar says otherwise. This winter has been a brutal one, enough to wear down even those such as myself who normally enjoy the change of seasons.

My means of survival during these endless days of snow and cold, is hope. It requires a dose of both hope and faith to look out over the frozen landscape and imagine it green and verdant; and to look out the window, over a deep blanket of snow, mentally planning the oasis of sustenance that will be our vegetable garden. There are so many projects waiting for the spring thaw... a chicken coop, fence mending and building, garden tilling and planting, barn cleaning and renovation. It takes the faith that this cold and dark winter will eventually release its grip, in order to imagine the mountains of snow gone, the lake free of ice, and the horses sleek and shiny (as opposed to furry and scuzzy!).

And so I use these long dark days for preparation and planning... plotting the garden and ordering seeds(which, with the economy as it is, will be large), planning new fences and stalls, ordering baby chicks, dreaming up landscaping projects.

Everything here hinges on springtime. It is the season when the farmers plant the seed my husband works all year to sell. It is the season the foals are born and we breed the mares for next year's foals. The harder I work in the spring, the more flowers and vegetables to enjoy in the months to come, the more meat in our freezer and eggs in the fridge next fall. And so right now, the preparation for that busy time is essential. Using the dark days of February and March to my advantage, and entering the spring season with a plan, makes for an entire year of prosperity, security and enjoyment for my family.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

To Win the Prize

*As published in "The Valley Equestrian" February 2009

William James said, “He who refuses to embrace a unique opportunity loses the prize as surely as if he had failed.”
Years ago, I was presented with one of those unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Call it what you will, be it fate, destiny, or luck; whatever it was, the day I discovered the Pintabian horse was the day my life found its direction.

As a girl, I was horse-crazy as they come, and knew that no matter what direction life might lead me, that life must include horses. Arabian horses, in particular. In addition to being horse-crazy, I was also an independent thinker, not prone to following a crowd or to accepting other people’s opinions as fact. Arabians graced my life from the age of twelve, and so I knew from personal experience that the stereotypes given them as “flighty”, “silly” or (my particular favorite) “obstinate” were way off the mark. The Arabian horses I knew were sensitive, intelligent, willing, and demonstrated great endurance.

So in 1994 when the opportunity arose to meet some Pintabian horses and visit with a foundation breeder, I jumped at the chance. That day is forever etched in my memory. The horses were breathtakingly beautiful and totally unique. What sold me, however, were their temperaments. One could not walk through their pastures or pens without being followed and pestered for attention. Those Pintabians were so regal in their bearing, yet humbly sought human companionship and seemed to truly enjoy it.

That day left me with a fire in my soul. I went home, and as with every question or venture I pursue, did my homework. Formed in 1992, the Pintabian Horse Registry was still in its infancy. At the time, there were but a handful of horses and even fewer breeders. The realization struck me that this was an opportunity second to none. Pintabian horses were, in essence, the Arabians I so loved, but with the added interest of showy tobiano markings. They are not a cross-breed, as so many first assume; rather, the Pintabian is one of the more pure breeds in existence. Derived from the Arabian, with only a single outcross at least seven generations back to acquire the tobiano gene, they are over 99% Arabian in blood and breed true to type.

Moreover, Pintabians are quintessentially American. They are the embodiment of a great and original idea, as well as an example of the creativity, dedication and tenacity required to pursue such an idea. Pintabians are unique, rare, and the result of many years of careful selective breeding. I wanted to be part of the action as this new breed grew and prospered. In other words, I embraced this unique opportunity.

What a privilege, education and adventure it has been! Pintabian horses have been part of my family’s life for fifteen years now, and in that time we have watched the breed grow by leaps and bounds. Pintabian horses are now spread across America from New York to California, Alaska to Texas; and also reside in such far-away lands as Australia, Africa, and a number of European countries as well as Canada and Mexico. They compete against other breeds in events ranging from cutting to endurance to dressage and perform phenomenally well. Pintabians are versatile athletes in addition to being intelligent and willing, and yet are also a gentle family horse second to none. In fact, the trainer currently working with one of my young mares called recently to tell me that she is one of the smartest he’s ever trained. His opinion? “If all horses were this easy to train, I’d be out of a job!” and better yet, “I could ride this horse all day!”

Never once have I regretted the decision to dedicate so much of myself to this breed; quite the contrary, in fact. Through life’s many triumphs and tragedies, through two relocations, the birth and raising of my children, Pintabian horses have been a constant in my life. I could not be more blessed or more grateful for what these horses give in return. Each day as I witness the poetry in motion they write by simply walking across their pasture, or their gentle patience with my young daughters as they learn to groom, feed, and ride, it is clear that by embracing the unique opportunity presented by the Pintabian horse, surely I’ve won the prize.