Monthly Archives: June 2013

Cow Emergency

I felt as though I had just fallen asleep when I awoke to the ringing phone. For those interested, the phone in our bedroom is not a rotary, but it is attached to the wall across the room. The distance seemed like miles as I glanced at the clock. 1:45 AM. This can’t be good. I pulled myself out of bed and picked up the phone.

“You have cows out, I think.” Said the unfamiliar, female voice on the other end.

My mind didn’t quite register what she said. I think that she understood, as she gave me a moment and then went on, “We just drove by your place, and saw the cows up the road. Do you guys pasture up there?”

“Yes, we do. Honey?” I called over to Xandy hoping that he’d awaken. He barely moved.

“I looked for your number on the internet. We live on a farm, too, so I know that you’d probably want to know.”

“Thanks so much.” I hung up and called to my husband again. This time I added, “the cows are out up the road” to the end of my pleading. He jumped out of bed and dressed within moments.

Let me pause here to explain a little of our grazing practices.  Right now we have cows in three different areas. Most are behind our house, some are across the street in our upper pasture, and five are up the road at the neighbors property. It is the latter that caused Friday evening’s troubles.

“Good luck.” I think I said to him as I crawled back in bed. “I’d come, but you know Kitt.” I have never been so thankful to have a toddler.

I awoke four hours later and reached over to find the other side of the bed empty. Worried, I went downstairs half-expecting to see my husband asleep on the couch, but instead found an empty house and dooryard.

He never came home.

I started to worry that maybe those docile critters were more vicious than I had previously thought.

I called him immediately from my cell.

“Where are you?”

“I slept in my truck. There’s no electricity down here.” That is an enormous problem, as the fence on that land is the flimsy single wire electric fence held up by small fiberglass poles. The only thing holding those cows in is electricity.

The house phone rang as I began to answer him.

“Honey, I have to go the phone is ringing.” 6 AM. Also not good. While I have learned that people have no problem dropping in at early hours, 7 AM is usually the earliest.

“Good Morning. You have cows out all over the place here this morning.”

Another female voice, this time that of a neighbor who lets us know when the cows are out up the road.

“I feel so bad for you guys. There’s one on the yellow line right now.” She said as she hung up. I called Xandy and let him know he needed to find them.  I began to feel helpless.

After another hour passed. I called Xandy again, this time to ask him if he needed me to call his father.

“He’s already here. I called him after I got off the phone with you.”

That also can’t be good. My father-in-law lives an hour away.

“Still no electricity?”

“Nope.”

I went to the freezer downstairs and took out a pound of bacon. It was going to be a long day.

Over eggs later, as his father went to buy extension cords, I learned of my husband’s plight the night before. It seems as though the electrical ground wire that powers the electric fence no longer works which allowed the cows to knock down the flimsy wires and leave the pasture.

“I didn’t have a flashlight, and I couldn’t get them to follow me. I came back to the barn and got some hay. It worked for a while.” He told himself he had two options: leave the cows and go back to bed or sleep there in his truck in case they got out again. He opted for option two. They later escaped, again, this time across the road to a nearby brook. He knew that he needed help when he saw that, and called in his father for reinforcements.

“I started to wonder if our cattle had become carnivores.” I told him.

His father returned with supplies and told his own past story of escaped critters.

“I had a couple of work horses that got out around 6 AM and the fog was thick,” he told me. “Cows, at least, are afraid of the road. Horses, are not because they are used to being on it. Those horses took off running up the middle of the road. THAT was scary.” The farmer’s example of a fish tale, I supposed.

Xandy came back in from feeding the critters in the barn and headed back out with his father to fix the electricity, which happened finally by 12:30 P.M. Xandy was asleep on the couch by 1:00 P.M. This time, I was able to let him sleep.

Until the next cow emergency, I thought. Which, thankfully, has yet to happen.

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June 30, 2013 · 10:35 am

Sorry, Colorado…You Got Nothing On Maine

This post may offend my Colorado readers, and for that I sincerely apologize. The guilt of holding the truth in has been eating at my soul. Not really, but I don’t like to talk behind backs, and I have been talking behind the back of my former state for years.

The produce in Colorado doesn’t taste as good as the produce in Maine.

There. I’ve said it.

During my time in Colorado, I spent over a decade visiting farmers market after farmers market only to find that the tomatoes grown in the Rocky Mountain soil don’t have the rich, tomatoey flavor of those grown in my home state. The cucumbers aren’t quite as juicy. Even the flowers (save the high-desert sage) do not emit as much fragrance. Perhaps it is my own bias. Perhaps it is because my present home in Maine has so much more water. Regardless, the only true “produce” that I heartily miss from Colorado is the roasted green peppers (I know — the best of those come from New Mexico, but at least Colorado has some! Do you know how hard it is to make a good green chili in the state of Maine for the love of all that is good and holy?!?!?)

This brings me to the produce that tastes better in Maine (in my not-so-humble opinion): STRAWBERRIES.

Mid-June in Maine brings U-Pick hours at strawberry farms all over the state. This year, I loaded Kitt up in the car at 6:30 A.M. and drove to a favorite farm: Stevenson’s Strawberries in Wayne, Maine. Kitt had never been to the fields before, and I have to say for 3 1/2 she showed amazing discipline. She didn’t eat a berry until she filled the small bucket that she carried into the field. Of course, after the bucket was topped off with “Kitt-sized berries” she sat in the middle of a row and became eerily silent as she shoved berry after berry into her face. I offered to weigh her on our way out, but was told there was no need.

Strawberry Farms are like crack dealers. They really are. Get ’em hooked young and they will be coming back for years!

After an hour of picking I ended up with 23 lbs of luscious berries.

For those wondering -- this is what 23 lbs of berries looks like. OK -- perhaps minus a pound from my munching on the way home.

For those wondering — this is what 23 lbs of berries looks like. OK — perhaps minus a pound from my own munching on the way home.

Many of you may be wondering, “What in the hell do you do with 23 lbs of freaking strawberries?!?” The answer is a lot.

I saved 3 quarts for fresh eating. Do I need to tell you why?

I froze 7 quart bags to be used in a blender later. HELLO strawberry margaritas and daiquiris. Oh, and smoothies for Kitt, of course. Frozen berries also make one helluva good strawberry shortcake mid-winter when the days are about an hour long. Thaw out frozen berries and welcome in summer sunshine.

I used 8 cups in a Fresh Strawberry pie, which I would show a picture of, but we consumed a great deal after dinner last night, and the pie is a bit of a mess.

Then comes the jam.

It’s true. I make jam. So unlike me, but I eat A LOT of jam, so I have found that the best way to keep myself in it without spending my entire paycheck is to make my own.

I prepared myself the night before with supplies:

I know, I know, how "farm-like" of me. Perhaps this place is getting to me.

I know, I know, how “farm-like” of me. Perhaps this place is getting to me.

I decided on two types of jam: strawberry and strawberry-rhubarb. I harvested the rhubarb for the latter from a small patch beside our former garden. Check out my “Gardening Attempts” page to see how that is going.

12 cups of strawberries, 2 cups of rhubarb, 12 1/2 cups of sugar, two pots, infinite episodes of “Bubble Guppies” for Kitt, and 10 minutes in a boiling water canner later, this is what I had:

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The two jars on the end are actually for the fridge. The jar on the right wouldn’t fit in the canner, so I decided just to eat it. I filled the bowl on the left with scrapings from the bottoms of the pot. Can’t let good jam go to waste!

Can’t wait for blueberry season. Sorry Colorado, Wild Maine Blueberries are even better than the strawberries. Don’t believe me? Come on out in late July, stay for a while, and see for yourself.

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June 27, 2013 · 5:40 am

Haying 101 with the Brown Family Swarm

Summer is officially here. I know this not because of yesterday’s Summer Solstice, nor the weeklong sun and heat, but because my house was invaded by its usual summer swarm: The Browns. The swarm descends the minute the first tractor hits the hay fields to mow and does not leave until the last bale is put up in the barn. This can take anywhere from six weeks to three months, depending on the weather.

The Queen of the swarm, my mother-in-law, often brings sweet delicacies with her that lure us into her hive. On the first day of arrival this year, she brought buttery Ranger Cookies made with oatmeal, Rice Krispies, and a cup of butter. It is true what they say about how to attract bees.

The Brown Family is a friendly swarm who land on this place not to decimate like locusts, but to help with the chore that takes as much help as possible: haying. There are three types of haying that we do here on LongMeadows Farm — square bales, round bales, and silage bales.

Mostly empty barn waiting to be filled. Hay from last year means that we don't have to bale as much.

Mostly empty barn waiting to be filled. Hay from last year means that we don’t have to bale as much.

We have yet to come into the 21st Century with the first type of haying: square baling. Most farms now have equipment that stacks the hay on a trailer, and a machine that also helps to unload in the barn. We have one of the Browns or a close facsimile standing on the back of a trailer, grabbing each bale as it exits the baler, and stacking each sometimes eight or nine high. When it is 90 degrees and humid, this is the most dreaded job (at least in my mind) or the best if you are looking to sweat off a few pounds. My sister-in-law warned me never to learn it, because once I did I would actually have to DO IT. I took her advice. I learned to drive the tractor instead. No hay scratches all over my body that way.

Until, that is, we unload.

As long as the hay doesn’t fall into the middle of the road causing  a haypocolypse with oncoming traffic, the trailer is pulled into the barn and unloaded by two, three, or sometimes four people — depending on where it needs to be stacked. The farthest reaches of the barn often call for someone to toss off the trailer to a middle person who then tosses it to a person standing high in the hay who then stacks it.

The barn holds 5500 bales, this year we are shooting for 4000. We have 350 done.

You can see why these may have a hard time crossing the road.

You can see why these may have a hard time crossing the road.

**SIDE NOTE: For those new to “haying” the most important thing to remember is NOT to stack wet bales of hay. These bales heat up and could combust bringing the entire barn down in flames. This is not a rural myth, it is true. I have stuck my hand in the middle of a bale that has heated up to uncomfortable levels and started to turn black from scorching. CRAZY, right?!?

The next two type of haying is the least labor intensive: round bales. After the hay has been mowed, tedded (flipped to dry), and raked (put into windrows for baling) it only takes one person (usually my husband) to drive around and bale the hay. While not physically exhausting, this can be time-consuming. We are aiming for 100 of these. At this time, our count is 0.

The last type is the most fun to watch at the end stages: silage bales. These are the “white marshmallow” bales that you may see on the side of the road during the summer. Silage is nutritionally-rich, fermented hay that smells God awful. In the winter, my husband sometimes spills just tiny bits of the stuff on him after opening a bale, and I have to immediately banish him to the outside to strip. Yes, winter. Yes, Maine. Yes, it smells that bad. Even the smallest amounts fills the space with the acrid smell of vomit. Cows love the stuff. It makes me wonder about them. It does.

Silage bales take the round bales one step further. One person spears a bale with a tractor, drives it to the wrapper, and the other wraps. Check out this video of how it works. My sister thinks this looks like a fun carnival ride. I have to agree. The silage bale count is 23. We want 70.

A few of the worker bees will be back today for more haying fun. I’ll let you know the count later.

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June 22, 2013 · 8:38 am

No, Honey, You Have to Stand Up When You Do That

I was raised in a household of women. I mention this only because men in many ways are a mystery to me, as I am sure women are for most men.

My lack of understanding came out yesterday when I was outside working on our raised beds, replanting some of the seed that the flooding rains washed away. Kitt looked at me and said, “Mommy, I have to pee.” Wondering when children stop telling their parents this, and then realizing that I still say the same thing to my coworkers, I nodded and told her to come back out when she was done.

She then began to pull down her pants in the middle of the backyard.

“What are you doing?!?” I screamed out at her, incredulous.

“Well, I want to pee in the grass.”

“Honey, there’s a perfectly good bathroom in the house. Please make use of it.”

“But I WANT TO PEE IN THE GRASS!”

“NO. INSIDE.”

She ran off towards the inside. A few minutes later she came jogging back towards me smiling.

“Did you go inside?”

“No. I went in the front.”

“Ugh, why did you do that? I told you to go inside.”

“Daddy taught me how.”

Of course he did. My first thought was of the DHS worker who was going to knock on my door because I obviously was not taking care of my 3 1/2-year-old daughter, my second was the memory of Xandy relating to me how he showed her how to pee in the barn.

“You know that she is not a boy right. She just can’t stand up and pee.” I had said to him at the time.

“She’s fine. She likes it!” He told me. I think I told him that no girl likes peeing all over herself because she is standing up straight, and he nodded and walked off like he usually does.

Now, a couple of years later, as I sat rocking on the front porch with my sister-in-law (whose idea it was for this post), I noticed that Kitt had pulled her pants down and was sitting in the grass on a hill in the front yard.

“What is she doing?” I asked my husband as he walked toward me.

“Peeing.”

“But she is sitting down in the grass!”

“Yeah well, she was having a tough time standing up so I told her to sit down.”

“HoNEY, that is NOT how girls pee outside. Seriously. She has to lean.”

He answered with a nod and a “It’s a work in progress.”

It sure is.

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June 20, 2013 · 6:59 am

Where I Have Been

I apologize for being missing for a bit, but I have been literally incommunicado — no electricity, no running water, no outside communication. Vacation officially started for me yesterday, and yet it really started Saturday when I made the four-hour trek to the North Maine Woods — Northeast Carry to be specific.

I was in heaven.

Kitt and I drove up to meet my cousins at our family camp at the tip of Moosehead Lake. Here are some of our fondest moments:

This sign has been up north as long as I can remember and signals our entry to Moosehead Lake.

This sign has been up north as long as I can remember and signals our entry to Moosehead Lake.

 

Our camp sign. WE MADE IT! Only 2 hours on the WORST dirt roads that you can imagine. That after a two hour drive to Greenville.

Our camp sign. WE MADE IT! Only 2 hours on the WORST dirt roads that you can imagine. That after a two-hour drive to Greenville.

 

The view from our camp window.

The view from our camp window. This is why I haven’t blogged. Good reason, right???

 

Kitt still hasn't taken off that damn fairy costume.

Kitt still hasn’t taken off that damn fairy costume.

 

Our view from a boat ride on the second day. I'd say "fishing trip," but I am not sure if you can call it that if we didn't even get one bite.

Our view from a boat ride on the second day. I’d say “fishing trip,” but I am not sure if you can call it that considering we didn’t even get one bite.

 

Kitt's favorite pastime at Moosehead is playing on the beach. Even in mid-June she swam twice. Brrrrr.

Kitt’s favorite pastime at Moosehead is playing on the beach. Even in mid-June she swam twice. Brrrrr.

 

One of our favorite activities at camp is making crafts. Kitt found the rocks and the claws for this mosaic on our beach.

One of our favorite activities at camp is making crafts. Kitt found the rocks and the claws for this mosaic on our beach. I hope that no flesh remains in those claws. The cats may love her mosaic, too!

 

I even read an entire book!  This was on my "don't have to analyze literary devices" stack for the summer. I also started The Hobbit because (don't tell anyone) I have never read it. I am on Chapter Three -- DON'T TELL ME HOW IT ENDS!!!

I even read an entire book. This was on my “don’t have to analyze literary devices” stack for the summer. I also started The Hobbit because (don’t tell anyone) I have never read it. I am on Chapter Three — DON’T TELL ME HOW IT ENDS!!!

 

Man, I love this place.

Man, I love this place.

 

Wildlife count -- one beaver, six moose, one deer, one rabbit, one hawk, two loons (a day), three baby ducks, a partridge (no pear tree -- seriously, a partridge with her babies), and a FEW black flies. We were all amazed at how few there were. I would have taken more pictures but I am honestly the WORST photographer that you can imagine.

Wildlife count — one beaver, six moose, one deer, one rabbit, one hawk, two loons (a day), three baby ducks, a partridge (no pear tree — seriously, a partridge with her babies), and a FEW black flies. We were all amazed at how few there were. I would have taken more pictures but I am honestly the WORST photographer that you can imagine.

 

And while we were up north, this is what Xandy and his father were doing. Ah, haying has begun. More on that later...now that we are back on the farm!

And while we were up north, this is what Xandy and his father were doing. Ah, haying has begun. More on that later…now that we are back on the farm!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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June 18, 2013 · 8:26 pm

Nostalgic Moments

Today is the last day of school, and as I do every year, I have become nostalgic. For the past week I have been putting my IPod on shuffle as I drive in to work thinking about my crazy life thus far.

“The Beaches of Cheyenne” by Garth Brooks brings me to the mountains of South-WesternColorado and the plains of Central Texas where I spent some time cowboying-up. Horses were the things to be fed back then, and I am not ashamed to say during that time I learned the two-step and saw Chris Ledoux in concert.

“Suspicious Minds” by Elvis brings me to Golden, Colorado with hot summer nights on the Buffalo Rose Patio, too much money spent on the jukebox, and a friend taken way too early.

“Estoy Aqui” by Shakira brings me to the beaches of Huatulco, Mexico where I and other Club Med co-workers snuck out of our village to the local night club to dance until dawn. Man those boys from Club Maeva across the bay were hot. Too bad I could only say “Tango hambre, quiero hombre” in Spanish. Wait a minute — that line could have worked!

“We are Family” by Sister Sledge splits my memory and brings me both to my days doing bar fundraisers working at the AIDS service organization in Florida and to my aunt’s living room when I  was a little girl. The first memory redefined to me the possibility of ALL families and the second just makes me smile.

The Indigo Girls, Melissa Etheridge, Kate Bush, and Sinead O’Connor bring me to my angsty high school days driving around Central Maine wondering if there was anything beyond. Those summers brought mini-golf and croquet — where more than one club and mallet were launched in frustration.

I wonder, as I see my daughter embrace her life here on the farm, what music will bring her back? Will she remember our after dinner dance parties in the kitchen, where we blast music that Xandy would absolutely hate while I TRIED to clean the kitchen as he fed things and did evening chores? The dance party brought us “Some Nights” by fun and “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson. Most recently, I taught her one of the Club Med Crazy Signs that we did to “I Like to Move It, Move It” — not the title, I know, but I can’t get that damn song out of my head. Maybe someday she will throw on “Little Lion Man” by Mumford and Sons and realize that the line really doesn’t say “I really MESSED it up this time” like I yell.

Perhaps she will remember Xandy throwing on some of his own albums during her bath time. While Bob Dylan is a frequent choice, we did spend a time listening to Prince. It’s TRUE — Purple Rain was on the record player for weeks! Nothing ceases to amaze me about my husband.

All that I know at this point is that I will have fond memories of my little family on the farm — and I won’t be able to get this image out of my head:

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For those of you who are wondering — The Angry Birds tattoo is NOT permanent.

So what music brings you back? I plan on listening to a few more songs this morning on my way to work to relive a few more memories and prepare for summer on the farm.

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June 14, 2013 · 5:41 am

I Can Do This

As I slept that first night, I tried not to think about In Cold Blood.  The bellowing from the bulls in the barn worked as a distraction from my thoughts of serial killers and farmhouses. I’d close my eyes, and the fears crept back, however. I’d hear a noise and instantly it became someone walking methodically up the stairs dragging a shotgun behind him. Perhaps Kitt was having some of the same fears as she spent the night on my bedroom floor. I fell asleep to her rhythmic breaths wondering what Day Two would bring.

DAY TWO: FRIDAY

I woke up before the alarm rang at 5. I have to admit that sometimes I am even up long before my farmer husband. Here’s another secret that I have learned living on the farm — in the summer, beef farmers don’t have to get up before the sun. Hell, Xandy sometimes sleeps in until 7 or 8 on the weekend if he has had a particularly difficult week. Beef critters on grass practically take care of themselves, practically. When people think of farmers getting “up before the sun” they are thinking about dairy farmers. I know local dairies whose farmers sometimes have to get up even earlier than usual to milk. They set their alarms for midnight. Every now and again Xandy threatens to buy milking cows, and I threaten to move to Denver.

The morning of day two,  I had to not only “feed things” — I also had to get both myself and my daughter ready for school. Luckily, the morning chores only consisted of feeding the bulls in the barn. I pushed my way around the 25 bales that I had dropped the evening before, and tossed about 3/4 of a bale in to the bulls with a pitchfork. Sam whined outside and I yelled something about him having to wait for dinner.

“Go eat some grass, Sam. You’re fine!” He “meaooooed” again.

I fed my “thing” in the kitchen shredded wheat and milk, jumped in the shower and thought, “I can do this.”

As I drove to school I wondered what would happen if the cows got out. I envisioned coming home to some sort of cow-pocalypse with traffic backed up for miles due to an angry herd in the middle of the road. I promptly forgot about it as I opened my classroom door. The cow-pocalypse would have to wait, I had my own angry critters to tend with.

By the time Kitt and I got home for the weekend, I felt like a critter feeding pro. I put a bucket out for Sam, fed the bulls , and the cats, and went in to give Kitt a bath.  The 25 bales were gone. I guess they were “green enough.” Around 7:30, mid-bath, I heard a large rumbling sound outside. I told Kitt not to drown, and went out to see the noise.

“Hey, Xandy told me to drop these guys off.”

“What guys?”

“Two piglets. You knew I was coming right?”

Um yeah, but I kind of hoped you had waited. 

He unloaded the pigs under the barn, made sure that I knew what I was doing with them (HA!), and left for the night.

Kitt donned her footie PJs and barn boots, and came out to feed our new pigs with me. “Mumma look. They are scared!” I’d be scared, too, if I knew that someday I’d be bacon. “They’re ok, hon. Let’s feed them”

I slept with two phones and my car keys near my bed. I read on Facebook that you can scare intruders away with the “panic” button on the key chain. I hoped I didn’t have to try it out.

DAY THREE: SATURDAY

Saturday brought day three of the heat-wave. Along with that heat came the determination that I had to get my own “to-do” list done. I wanted to prove to Xandy that I could do just as much as he could on the farm, and my plan was to get the backyard ready for summer. Xandy had already taken the tarp off the pool, so I was left with getting the pool cleaned, the garden planted, and the back yard mowed —  in that order, of course. I also promised Kitt a trip to the local indoor pool since ours was far from ready. The break would be both of our rewards for putting up with me trying to run this place.

I fed the pigs and the bulls, yelled at Sam again, and set off to work.

STEP ONE: Pool vacuum. Where the hell was the pool vacuum??? I knew that I had seen it somewhere. So I searched. For more than an hour I searched. I searched through the basement, through the garage, through the house, through the summer kitchen, even through the attic. I could not find the automatic pool vacuum or the long pole that I need to run the manual vacuum anywhere. Under the garage I found a longer pole that carried the snow scoop for the roof. Kitt and I found a set of screw drivers and worked to make a make-shift pole for the vacuum. 2 hours gone.

STEP TWO: Vacuum the pool. I turned the vacuum on only to find no pressure. After a couple of tries I decided that the newly put together pool pump must be clogged. I got the ratchet set and unscrewed the 20 or so bolts holding the pump together. Through the sheets of sweat flowing over my eyes, I was able to clean the fingers on the filter and put the entire thing back together, only to find that the reason there was no suction was due to a different screw that I hadn’t put back on right. Another hour gone.

My sister came over to bring an old weed trimmer so that I  could get some of the back yard done. It didn’t start. Another 30 minutes gone.

We put the vacuum on the makeshift pole, and started to vacuum. What a pain it is to vacuum with a pole that is only about 6 inches taller than the water.

“Mumma, I’m hungry.” Oh, yeah. I have a kid.

STEP THREE: Lunch for Kitt.

As I served her I realized that it was almost time to leave for the pool. 1:00 PM — where was the day?

STEP FOUR: Indoor pool for Kitt. Left the pool around 3.

STEP FIVE: Heck, we might as well get ice cream on the way home. Sure we can go to the one with rides.

TIME UPDATE: 4:00 PM — Really? Where had the day gone?

STEP SIX: Garden. And Kitt. Oh yeah, Kitt.

“Mumma, I’m really tired. Can I just watch some TV?” I noticed that her eyes were beginning to roll back in her head. Dinosaur Train it is. Wow, am I a bad mom.

Back to the garden. By this time, the weather had thankfully broken, and a nice breeze settled onto the backyard. I looked at our flats of seedlings and packets of seeds and wondered where for the love of all that was good and holy that I was going to fit them all. This year we had decided on a “transition” garden. This was for me mostly because I broke out into a full-bodied rash whenever I went out into our weed-infested 1/4 acre garden last year. Xandy made some comment about having to get out in the garden more than once a month to keep the weeds down. More on that in a later post. I’ll just say here that we are opting for raised beds this year.

By 7 pM I had the garden in and started to think about dinner. I went in to ask Kitt and found her snoring on the couch, out for the night.

Sea Dog Blueberry Ale it was.

I fed things, frustrated that I still hadn’t mowed the lawn. Tomorrow Xandy would be home. Tomorrow I would be able to not worry about sloshing through cow manure to turn water on for the bulls. Tomorrow Sam’s bellows would not have the same ring. Tomorrow I won’t have to work so hard. Tomorrow.

I fell asleep to the sound of the bulls bellowing in the barn. Tomorrow I would learn that I wasn’t feeding them quite enough. No wonder they wouldn’t shut up.

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Filed under Farm Follies

REST is a Four-Letter Word

Whenever I meet someone new and I tell him or her how I live on a farm, I am still amazed at how many people tell me, “Oh, I have ALWAYS wanted to live on a farm. It must be so nice.” I nod and smile and think, “They have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.” This may or may not be true, but at least it makes me feel better about the times that I get frustrated living here.

The thing is, living on a farm has never been a dream of mine. A place with a small garden and some land, sure, but a running cattle farm? Never. That is not to say that I am not grateful for the beauty and tradition of this place, quite the contrary. It is only to say that when I thought about where I would be at forty I never thought that I would be dodging chicken droppings in the garage and shooing barn cats off my kitchen counter. Just saying.

Farming, I have discovered, is something that many romanticize, but only a few are actually made for. This is because most of us are lazy. Offended? Think about it. If you are a farmer, and want to run a sustainable farm, REST is one of those four-letter words that you can’t repeat around your kids. After dinner, there is no settling down in front of the TV to catch up on the latest episode of C.S.I., there are fences to be walked, things to be fed, manure to be cleaned. To put it simply — there is WORK to be done — a four-letter word that is welcomed here on the farm.

I am a hybrid. A farmer’s wife who sometimes likes to lay in bed and watch Grey’s Anatomy. In my defense, teaching takes a lot out of me. Perhaps some day I will start a teaching blog that shows just how much work that we do and the emotional toll that it takes upon us, but this is not the time nor place. My goal here is to show what life on a little farm is actually like — with a little sass thrown in.

Long-time readers may remember that every year my husband and his family go on a camping trip up to the northern parts of Maine. While this is not the only time during the year that I am left to tend the farm, it is the only time when his father is also not around in case of emergencies. This makes me fully responsible for every cow, chicken, pig, cat, dog, and kid that lives here.

It is stressful.

This year Xandy planned his trip from Thursday to Sunday, a mere four days. Four days. I can do anything for four days, at  least that is what I told myself at the onset of this year’s camping time. Before the trip, Xandy leaves a list of names and numbers in case there is a “Cow Emergency.” The list includes neighbors who are willing to help if the herd runs into the road and the large-animal vet who is willing to come out if one of our cows goes into a particularly difficult labor. Someday I will describe what one of those particularly difficult labors looks like — as I have helped my husband by kneeling in the manure pit, pulling on baling twine tied around a half-birthed calf’s legs. But that is another story.

This story begins on:

Day One: Thursday

After Kitt and I visited the local farmer’s market so that Kitt could get her sugar-fix from the Amish bakers and I could get my carbohydrate fix from the Good Bread Guy, we came home to begin our solo time on the farm. I walked into the house only to be greeted by the ringing phones in the kitchen — yes two, see my post about my husband as an anachronism to catch up.

Xandy’s sister was heading up to the camping spot and wanted to know if the cows were ok.

“I just walked in the door. I have absolutely no idea how the cows are doing.”

“Well, dad and Xandy said that there are two cows that are ready to calve out, so they just wanted me to check in.”

“Two WHAT? They didn’t tell me there were two. I don’t know which ones are even still pregnant.”

She laughed, “I’m sorry, dude. I am just doing what I am told.”

I know that feeling.

“Let me get the cordless. I’ll go check.” I turned an episode of Dinosaur Train on for Kitt, threw my purple gum-rubber barn boots on (which I received from Xandy as a birthday present), and walked out back to find the cows.

The herd was miserable as we were in day two of a five-day heat-wave. All of them looked at me, panting, bleating, pleading — please make it cooler. Sam, the calf Kitt named after one of her classmates, pushed his way up toward me looking for food. His mother is gone (not actually — she is in our freezer — another long story), and Sam is now a “bucket-fed baby” meaning that he gets a bucket of milk-replacer every night. He looked at me and gave me a “mea0000.” I told him he would have to be patient.

Under the barn ALL of the cows looked to be nine-months pregnant and miserable, but none seemed more miserable than others, so I told my sister-in-law that they all seemed to be OK, and then I headed back into the house to get Kitt to actually feed things.

“I’ll help, Mom. I know what to do.” And she did — as most nights while I cooked dinner, she heads out with Xandy to “feed things.”

Luckily, most of the herd was out on grass, so there was no need to throw down a lot of hay like we have to in the winter. There were, however, two yearling bulls in the barn waiting to be snipped so that they could also be put out in pasture. Xandy assured me that he had put enough hay bales down on the barn floor to last me for the four days. When we walked into the barn, only one bale lay on the floor. One bale and a note:

“We took four bales of hay. We’ll be back tomorrow for 25 more — and we want the greenest stuff you’ve got. Signed Peter and Lisa” (*names changed to protect identity).

So they had taken the hay Xandy had left and wanted more. A lot more.

“Green stuff?!?” I mumbled at Kitt, “It is freaking MAY. How green can year-old hay be? I mean COME ON!”

I gave the remaining hay left on the floor and water to the bulls, and then looked to find “green hay” — at this point drenched in sweat from the 90+ and humid weather.

In the back left corner of the barn I found a wall from floor to roof high of tightly packed hay. I threw Kitt in the grain bin to “play” (or at least not get squashed by a wall of hay) and set myself to work.

I was wearing a tank top and skirt with my boots, and hadn’t brought any gloves into the barn with me — but that didn’t stop me. I wanted to get this done. I climbed the wall, trying to pull down as many bales as I could without causing the entire thing to collapse. I started to envision me, dead, under 50 bales of hay and Kitt stuck in the grain bin eating the grain and the mealy worm that she had found and had let writhe around on her boot to survive. “Mom look, A WORM!” She had squealed with delight when she found it. “That’s good, Kitt. A worm.”

I kept going.

After what seemed like an hour and enough hay chaff in my boots to feed the bulls the next day, I was done. I nodded proudly at the pile and left a note:

“Peter and Lisa, Xandy and Mark are out-of-town for the weekend. This is the greenest stuff I could find. If it is not good enough please check in with them on Sunday. Thanks! Sherry.”

I fed Sam and the barn cats, got my kid out of the grain bin, found some chicken eggs in another bale in the barn, and went into the house to make dinner.

The beer that I drank as I rocked on the front porch later that night never tasted so good. I have to admit.

Day one down. Tune in later for days two through four.

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June 8, 2013 · 9:20 am

Day #7: We’re From the Government

Ah, the final post of my week-long moratorium on making fun of my husband — I have thought long and hard about what I should write about. Should I talk about his massive potato head collection which at this point must number near 50? Alas, no, if I did that I would no doubt fall into Xandy ridicule. Should I talk about all of the cool mugs that he has brought back for me from his yearly family camping trip up north? (This year’s was especially cool — the front of the mug reads “Population Not Many: Kokadjo, Maine.”) No, I think I’ll save that discussion for a time when I can talk about it without an air of jealousy.

I think that this last day of praise will be instead about something new that my husband was able to bring to the farm: his grant-writing ability. Having trained in nonprofits, my husband became keenly aware of the amount of help that is available to farmers. With a little research he has been able to find grants to among other things rewire the barn, create a watering system in our upper pasture, build a road to that pasture, construct the bridge that is now being covered, and create the following augmentation to the farm:

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The Waste Management System — A.K.A. The Manure Pit. Not only were we able to have the manure storage system built, but the grant that my husband secured also helped us to put concrete all around the barn.

I would be remiss to mention that his initial foray into the grant-world of farmers has led him to his current position working for the federal government doing something that he loves — helping other farmers create more sustainable environmental practices on their own farms. If he has to work off the farm, this is the best job that I can imagine for him.

Thanks so much for joining me for the week. Come back in a few days where I’ll tell about my four days of running the farm. I am still exhausted!

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June 4, 2013 · 11:33 pm

Day #6: Farm Improvements Part Two

My husband has a Political Science degree from Northeastern (have I mentioned that?), and while in college he spent three months at an internship for a nonprofit in Belgium. While there, he spent time working on a variety of environmental issues — with the largest being climate change. Part of the discussion at the time was the changing climate in northern areas (like Maine). According to the research, we here in Maine would start to experience more temperate winters and rainier summers.

With those rainy summers in mind, Xandy later created a five-year plan for the farm which included a larger tractor, a round-baler (to augment the square-baling system that the farm already uses), and a round-bale wrapper. There are a few reasons for that plan, with one of the major being that with a wrapper, you can wrap wet hay to make silage. His plan has now been accomplished.

LongMeadows Farm, LLC is now the proud owner of the following pieces of equipment:

Purchase #1 -- the John Deere circa 1985. This is, by far, the newest tractor on the farm. (If you don't count my John Deere D140 lawn tractor!)

Purchase #1 — the John Deere circa 1985. This is, by far, the newest tractor on the farm. (If you don’t count my John Deere D140 lawn tractor!)

 

The round baler -- this thing is DEFINITELY much easier than throwing square bales. Although, you don't get quite as fit haying with this.

The round baler — this thing is DEFINITELY much easier than throwing square bales. Although, you don’t get quite as fit haying with this.

The wrapper -- My sister says this thing looks like a carnival ride when it is in action. I will have to upload video later this summer.

The wrapper — My sister says this thing looks like a carnival ride when it is in action. I will have to upload video later this summer.

Tune in tomorrow for my last installment of me being nice to my husband. (I hope that he doesn’t get too used to it!)

 

 

 

 

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June 3, 2013 · 9:40 pm