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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3b2jw1rjBc


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.