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Thursday, March 5, 2015

"No, You May Not Play Video Games"

FarmBoy:  "Mom, can I play my DS on the ride home?"

Me:  "Nope."

FarmBoy:  "But Mooooooom, it's an HOUR!"

Me:  "Yup."

FarmBoy:  "What did I do wrong?"

Me:  "Honey, you didn't do anything wrong!  I know it seems like a punishment but video games aren't good for you.  After you play video games you are crabby and argumentative. You can't sit still, can't focus, and end up getting yourself into trouble."

FarmBoy:  "But MOM!"

Me:  "But what?"

FarmBoy: "... I like them."

Me:  "I know, Buddy. It would be easy to let you play them all the time but I have to do what's best for you, not what's easiest. Did you know that the guy who invented IPads didn't even let his kids use them?  That's because he wanted his kids to use their imaginations, to pay outside, to play with other kids, and he knew that the screen time made them think differently. I feel the same way."

FarmBoy:  "But MOOOOM! We're in the CAR!"

(Quick, Mama. Think! He's 10 and a champion arguer. You're going to have to do better or you'll still be having this conversation when you arrive home, in an hour.)

It's Wednesday and he's already had a long, busy week. It's Spring Break at school but My Guy and I still had to work so FarmBoy went to day camp at school. They've done field trips every day. Somehow they managed to make every field trip to somewhere with video games and laser tag. What about the zoo?  Museums, anyone? Nope, just a variety of arcade options with pizza lunch.  Now he's precariously perched at the top of an EMF generated cliff and I need to find him a way down without a crash.

So I gave him my phone.

This is the bail out many of us use with our kids but I don't have any games on my phone. I have a camera and we have an hour drive through the country at dusk.

"Start looking for interesting things. You may take 25 pictures on my phone of the most interesting things you see and we'll look at them together when we get home," I said.

Game On!  In just a few seconds his bad attitude was gone and we were chatting happily about the things we saw. We passed through familiar areas he refers to as Deer Central and Eagle Alley.  I took a few side roads so we'd have new scenery to explore and, as luck would have it, the almost full moon was already high in the afternoon sky.  I slowed down when there weren't any other cars in sight and rolled down windows in the sub-zero wind for opportunities at better shots. By the time we got home (which took 20 minutes longer than usual) the effects of electronics and EMF were long gone.  FarmBoy was calm and good natured and an absolute joy to be with for the rest of the evening. And he took some pretty cool shots. He's got his mama's eyes and his mama's eye.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Day After Friday the 13th: Valentine's Day 2015

“Oooooh! You live on a FARM!?!?  That must be Soooooo amazing. I bet you have a garden. Do you have a garden? Do you have animals?  Cows??? You have cows? I love cows! They are Soooo cute!…Oh wait! Do you eat them???”

I love to tell people about my life. (Obviously, here I am blogging about it.) I enjoy their reactions because I completely understand their enamoration with the idea of living on a farm. (Yeah, I just made up a word, go with it.) 

I understand because just over a year ago I would have said exactly the same thing. Living on a farm was a dream. I would drive out to my sister’s house, which is now just over 10 miles from my home, and look at the houses and wonder who “those people” were. Did they commute over an hour each way every day into the cities or were they all farmers, writers, and telecommuters? What would it be like to have not just a yard, but a garden? Not just a garden but gardens - with an S?!? Flower beds, vegetable garden, herb garden and room for more. “Be careful what you wish for,” he laughed when I said on our first date that I had always wanted a garden.

And the cows! Yes, the beautiful, hairy and horny herd of Scottish Highland cattle that rely on us for hay, water and the occasional alfalfa treat and scratch on the shoulder. How does one explain to someone who only knows of Holsteins and Herefords the gentle eyes, toupee-like  forelocks and unique personalities of these creatures? 

Sofie, with her sandy blonde hair and desire to roam free (she is out of the pasture so often we now call her our “yard cow” and just let her roam the yard until she is ready to go back in).

Rasta, our new bull with white hair falling over his eyes and dreadlocks that make me certain he would sound like a surfer version of Bob Marley if he could speak. 

Maxine, with her black hair highlighting the red, making her look like she’s wearing eye makeup. 

Lola, this year's first calf, born in the mud and left by his mama. He survived. We thought he was a she, named her Lola. Now we know she is a he but the name Lola has stuck. And it fits.

Fester, the tiny silver calf whose curls remind me of his daddy, Sylvester (rest his sweet soul) 

and his mama Fia, the stoic matriarch of the herd with her perfectly crooked horns. 

I cannot possibly begin to explain to you the magic of these creatures or how it feels to be in their presence. 

Almost everyone who drives by slows down to watch them and, to be honest, we stop on the road by the pasture every time we drive in and watch the cows too. So, if you are driving by our farm and want to stop, it’s OK. We get it. 

But if I may, let me give you a peek behind the curtain for a day. I don’t want to disillusion anyone. My life really is perfect, but you might find that you need to adjust your definition of perfect if you want to continue to idealize it.  

Today is Valentine’s Day, Saturday, February 14th, 2015. It started like many of yours, if you have kids. We slept in a bit, then exchanged cards and gifts during breakfast. My guy got my boy a survival knife, a TOTALLY sweet Valentine’s gift for a farm boy with an allergy to red dye (think about it).

 He gave me 2 bird feeders. 

The reasons this is the perfect gift for me could be a blog of its own. Watch for it another day but suffice it to say I was more than thrilled. 

I ordered my guy a print of his favorite photo out of the thousands I have taken, but it won’t be ready until tomorrow. 

This is the beginning of things going not quite exactly as planned… foreshadowing, if you will.

The rest of the day was going to be simple and ordinary. Fill water tanks, run hay and work on the house. Just another Saturday, really. It’s -1 with a -30 windchill so we both bundled up in layers of long johns and Carhart’s and headed out to do chores. My guy went out to warm up the tractor while I headed to the barn to feed the barn cats and fill water tanks. Yesterday when I checked the tanks one of them was frozen over so my guy went in to check and make sure the tank heater is working properly while I struggled to fit the hose with already frozen fingers. A long string of curses told me something wasn’t as it should be. The cows had shit in the tank. That’s the thing about cows. They aren’t terribly bright and they don’t care where they shit. Unlike some other animals they will shit where they sleep, in their food and in their water. So now we have to drain the tank, clean it and refill it… in -1 temps and -30 windchill. Of course the pump was frozen so we had to bring it in and thaw it. My guy successfully emptied the tank and cleaned it out (in -30 windchill) but when we started to refill it we realized it wasn’t sitting evenly. There must be a frozen chunk of cow shit under it. Of course we noticed this after it had too much water in it to deal with it easily. So, together, we pulled the tank into a precarious balance. While my guy held it steady I reached under and moved straw and frozen chunks of cow shit while a 900+ pound steer with 4 feet of horns stood a foot behind my right shoulder watching curiously. I wasn’t nervous at all. 


When we finally got the tank settled we both breathed a sigh of relief. Now, he could go run hay while I finished filling the tank. The boys, 2 steers and 2 calves marked for becoming steers who were isolated in the bull pen, were almost completely out of hay. 

Wait, did I mention the winds? Not only was the wind chill -30 but the winds had been about 30 mph for over 24 hours. Yesterday, I had been mesmerized watching the wind blow the snow, like rivers, along paths winding through the yard, down the driveway, and around the house. Less mesmerizing was the formation of drifts on the paths to the hay storage sites. It wasn’t long before the Kubota was stuck in 2 feet of snow. Saying we hooked a strap to the tractor and towed it out with the Cummins Turbo Diesel doesn’t account for the fact that we searched high and low through 3 sheds for about 20 minutes before locating the tow strap and I was the one driving the Kubota, sketchy even under the best conditions. 

I would have laughed with relief when I felt solid ground under the tires if I had thought for even a minute that would be the end of it it, but I knew this meant a bigger problem. My guy can’t get to the hay. The cows need the hay. He has to get to the hay. He can’t get to it around the back of the shed so he headed out to the field entrance to pick up one of the less desirable bails and is back much too soon, with no hay on the bail spears. The field is drifted with snow too.  The last option is the front entrance to the shed, which can only be approached head on. No big deal unless you know that without ballast on the back bail spear the weight of a bail on the front will tip your tractor over.  Honestly, I don’t know how he did it. I went in the barn because I knew the tank was going to overflow if I waited any longer. By the time I turned off the well and drained the hose he had a bail on the back and was picking one up from the front. I was just in time to open the gate for him so, at the very least, he didn’t need to get off the tractor to open it and run the risk of cows (Sofie) getting out while he drove through. 

By the end of this we were both cold and crabby. My eyelashes were thick with ice and every time I blinked my eyes threatened to freeze shut. While my guy spent the next 2 hours (in -30 wind chill) moving snow so he could get to the hay, I brought wood up from the shed, built a fire and tried to do what I could to make the cabin warm and cozy so at least he could come in to a warm hearth and hot soup when he was done. 

“When are you going to work on the house?” asked my boy. 

Not happening! Not today.

After lunch we took some time to decompress, to relax and absorb some of the warmth of the wood stove.  I’m not a napper so, while my guy took a well deserved snooze, I pulled some chili from the freezer and put it on the wood stove and started the beginnings of a new bread recipe. This one needed a few hours to rise so, while it was rising, I took the opportunity to teach my boy how to bake the best (recipe modified from Paula Deen) Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, Banana Bread and Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins. 

By the time the bread was baked it was almost 8 o’clock. We were hungry! Maybe the bread was that good or maybe we were that hungry but it was the best bread I’ve baked so far. (I'll post a recipe another day). While we ate and watched Nature on PBS I listened to the banter between my guy and my boy. 

“OK, Marcus Elwood”, said my boy.
“OK, Fancy Pants,” said my guy.

It’s their thing. 

It might not seem like much to you but I can’t possibly express how much it means to me that my guy and my boy have a thing. 

The moral of this LONG story…
Yes, my city girl turned farm life is idyllic. That is absolutely, without doubt, hesitation or question, the truth.

But maybe…probably… not in the ways that you would expect.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Gentle Reminder

The first time she came to me I thought she was there for Xander.

Baby boy singing and cooing to her as she carefully stepped closer and closer.

Later, much later, he told me she was there for me
not him.

"Mom, your totem is a Deer," said the Wolf Boy.

She comes as a gentle, graceful, and loving reminder
to be gentle, graceful, and loving.

Caught up in my thoughts,
windows down in defiance of the wind and clouds,
music loud.

At the stop sign she edged up to the car from the tall grasses in the ditch.

Young and exquisitely beautiful.

So small standing there too close to the road.
Looking at me,
not my car,
not the headlights.
She looked at me.

So still she could have been a lawn ornament.
But she wasn't.

As always, there at just the right time.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

It's going to be a good day

"Mom!" he whispered much too closely into my ear. I didn't need to look at the clock to know it was 0 dark thirty in the morning.

"Where do I put my dirty clothes?"

Oh great... an accident. He's almost 8. It's been ages since he's had an accident! At least he's big enough to take care of it himself now. He'll get changed and crawl into bed with me.

I drifted back to sleep...

You know that feeling you get when you're being watched? It woke me up. Before I opened my eyes I knew it was morning by the brightness shining through my eyelids. I also knew he was standing still & quiet, next to the bed, waiting for me to show any sign of waking.

"Mom!," he whispered, "Are you awake?"

"Um, not really. What's up?"

"Get up. I need to show you something."

Crap. This particular combination of words first thing in the morning is usually accompanied by some sort of mess needing immediate attention. So, I got up.

As I looked around I could see no mess. It was not just the lack of mess that was unusual, it was the lack of the usual mess. My bedroom floor was free of laundry and toys. His room was (gasp!) immaculate! The living room was clean.

"I did all the 'have to's' on our to-do list. Now we can just do the 'want to's' all day," he said with a proud grin.

I'm looking forward to a day of art projects, stories, games and snuggling on the couch!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Ceres, Get Out Of That Tree!

I've had pets for most of my life and I've loved them all, even the fish, but Ceres was different. She was more than a pet. She was a friend, a spirit guide, a soul mate. She saved my life. Twice.

She was already 14 when my son was born, old for a large breed mix of Rottweiler, Lab and Chow. She was gone before he was 2. Xander has heard many stories about Ceres including how she had slept by my side every day of her life until he was born. Then she started sleeping by his crib. When we moved his bedroom closet became her spot.

He has heard what a great dog she was, how much I loved her and he's seen the videos of himself as a baby giggling his first hysterical giggles at her. He has never heard about her climbing. I'm sure of this.

When she was younger and more spry, I lived in a house with a big tree in the back yard. There was a squirrel in the tree that loved to tease her until, one day she dug in her claws and ran up the tree like a cat. She stopped at large branches to gain her footing and snapped the smaller ones off with her teeth. Our landlord, who had an office on the second story of the house next door, looked out his office window and was eye to eye with her.

Once she realized she could do this she started looking for opportunities everywhere we went. If there was a climbable tree on any hiking trail she was up it. We often gathered a crowd. I often think of her when I see a good tree and imagine her exploring its branches.

Today, X and I went hiking. Suddenly he stopped. He put his little hands on his little hips and said sternly, "Ceres, get out of that tree!"

I stopped. "What?"

"Mom, Ceres is right there, in that tree! Really!"

I looked.
It was a perfect tree.

"I believe you, Buddy. I see her."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"It's Mom"

I just heard a great story from one of my amazing students and she gave me permission to share it. Sarah (not her real name) is a beautiful yogini with a wide open heart. Over the last few months her practice and the sangha of our small yoga community has served to help her deal with the loss of her mother.

On the 4th of July Sarah was riding her bike on a country road in Door Country, WI with her husband. She had been going to Door County often to settle her late mother's estate and prepare her house for sale. As she rode she was crying, missing her mom. She was remembering how her mom loved dressing up on holidays. She was imagining how her mom had dressed for past 4th of Julys, fully decked out in red, white and blue right down to the manicure. As she was remembering this and noting her own lack of patriotic colors she saw, lying in the middle of the road a red, white and blue lei. She stopped to pick it up. Her husband stopped with her.

While she was standing there crying on the side of the road with the lei in her hands, a monarch butterfly landed on her. Her father had a special fascination with monarchs so, since his death years before, they have been a symbol and reminder for her of her father. "Look!" she said. "My dad sent someone to give me a hug."

Here, she paused for a moment and told me, "I wouldn't even tell you this if my husband hadn't been there. I wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't seen it too."

Just at that moment, on that quiet country road, a car drove by. It had a personal license plate. It said...

It's Mom

True story.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Yoga Sequence: Back to Basics

Here is a sequence for students of all abilities. Beginners will learn the foundation poses on which their future practices will be built. Intermediate and Advanced students can find a place of comfort and ease where they can go deeper into familiar poses.

For beginners who are using this as a guide to home practice I have used common english translations for poses. There are many online resources if you are unfamiliar with a particular pose. I suggest typing the words "yoga pose" and the name of the pose into Google or another search engine if you need visual aid.

Teachers Notes: I used a standard outline to structure the class. This particular sequence does not have a specific energetic goal as most of my other classes do but the overall Prana movement in up from the base to higher chakras, then back down which should be overall balancing and appropriate for most students. Standing poses begin with open hips which gradually move to a closed hip position, then into twist. Using Kakasana (crow) as your inversion will concentrate movement into the 3rd chakra area which was initiated with twists. From there we move into back bending to stimulate up the 4th, 5th & 6th chakras, before moving back down through more 3rd chakra twists to grounding 1st & 2nd chakra poses. As always, I highly recommend that you do the sequence yourself and become comfortable with it before attempting to teach it.  
Read the following legal stuff before you go further:  
Not all exercise is suitable for everyone. This or any exercise program may result in injury. Consult with your doctor before use. Yoga instructors teaching this sequence to students should have comprehensive yoga training and liability insurance. To reduce the risk of injury, never force or strain yourself or your students during exercise. If you feel pain, stop and seek medical attention if necessary.
This sequence may not be appropriate during pregnancy. Any instructor teaching yoga to pregnant women should have specialized training in Prenatal Yoga and should provide appropriate modifications for contraindicated poses. Those with special health considerations should consult their medical practitioner before performing any exercise.
Yoga in the Valley/Tracy Johnson cannot guarantee that this yoga program is suitable and safe for every individual. Any liability, loss or damage in connection with the use of the following yoga sequence, including but not limited to any liability, loss or damage arising from the performance of the exercises demonstrated here is expressly disclaimed.

Back to Basics

Warm Up: (hold each pose 5-10 breaths)
Child’s Pose
Down Dog
Forward Fold
Sun Salutation:
Reach Up
Forward Fold
Flat Back
High Plank to Low Plank
Upward Dog
Downward Dog (hold)
Forward Fold
Flat Back
Forward Fold
Standing 1:
Warrior 2
Side Angle
Illuminated Warrior
Standing 2:
Warrior 1 
Standing 3:
Crescent Warrior
Crescent Warrior Twist
Standing 4:
Chair Twist
Pyramid with Flat Back
Revolved Triangle

Opt: Headstand
Child’s Pose

Locust Variations
Arms at sides reaching back
Bend elbows, palms down
Arms extended, lace fingers
Bow Pose
Bridge or Wheel
Lying on back knee to chest
Reclining Twist
Child’s Pose
Half Pigeon
Forward Folds:
Seated Twist
Head to knee/one leg forward fold
Bound Angle
Wide Angle Forward Fold (seated)
Forward Fold (seated)

*Please share your comments and feedback below...