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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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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 #2: Yes, We are Building One of Those

This is the second of my week-long installments on why my husband rocks and has to do with something that he and my father-in-law have been working on this spring in our back pasture.

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Our Covered Bridge. Yup, just like we are in the 1840s.

Yes, That is exactly what you think it is — a freaking COVERED BRIDGE.

Last year the farm was able to put the bridge in as a cattle crossing. At the time, I remember my husband saying, “Ya know. It would really be fun to have a covered bridge on the property.”

This year — after hard work by he and his father — we are well on our way to having just that. To any of you construction-savvy folk out there, please realize that this has been built “farmer style.” When I asked Xandy just what that meant, he mentioned something about lack of braces and such (which I am sure are not necessary or anything).

Anyway, here are some more photos of the bridge:

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The view from the river side of the bridge.

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The view at the roof so far. The plan is to add a metal roof with funds from this fall’s beef sales.

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Looking out at the cows. I was worried that the building may freak them out, but no worries. They trotted right across!

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The approach to the bridge.

The Covered Bridge — reason #2 my husband my impresses me so much. Tomorrow — tune in for some of his winter projects.

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May 30, 2013 · 7:24 pm

Day One: Memorial Day, 2010

My grandfather I am told, my Pepere Pineau, always wanted to live on a farm. I thought how fitting then it would be to start my new undertaking — this blog, on Memorial Day. Let me be clear, my grandfather did not die in any battle. He died of a stroke, from what I understand, in the outhouse of our family camp at the tip of Moosehead Lake in Maine. Not a glorified way to die, but a fitting way for him. No, not so much the dying in the outhouse, (a fact which I think about every time I am sitting on the cold wooden seat) more the fact that he died up country at the camp he built with his sons — a place he spent many a year fishing, hunting, playing cribbage, and drinking coffee.

That is not to say that Pepere could not have died in battle. According to my aunt, my grandfather fought in the Battle of Anzio in WWII. A  battle almost as bloody at the battle on the beaches of Normandy. Pepere’s picture can be found on a plaque in downtown Portland, Maine on the Heroes Wall along with three of his sons who are all Vietnam Vets and who (thankfully) are all still alive. The war, however, still lives with them both emotionally and physically — epitomized through my Uncle Ray, who a few years before his own stroke found a chunk of shrapnel in his leg. He joked that he would never be able to go through a metal detector again. These stories, however, and are not the real reason that I decided to write this blog.

This past October I, along with my husband, moved to a small farm in Central Maine. In November I gave birth to my first child and have now begun to awaken from the fog of new parenthood. With my new awakening I decided to chronicle one full year on our farm. The farm life is nothing new to my husband, he grew up on a farm…actually, he grew up on this farm — it has been in his family since, I believe, the early 1920’s. I, in contrast, am not a farm girl, have never been a farm girl, and now find it astonishing that I plan to spend the rest of my days on this farm. 

Stick with me, though, it should be quite a trip.

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