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Monday, October 5, 2015

Broken Human Beings

I was grocery shopping the other day and witnessed a toddler throwing a tantrum.  Screaming and twisting in the seat of the cart, he threw his bottle on the floor. Mom calmly picked up the bottle and gave the boy a pacifier, which he threw back at her.  "Fine", she said as she put the bottle and the pacifier in her purse.  The boy turned, reaching for items from the shelves to throw and when mom moved the cart to the middle of the aisle, he reached into the cart behind him and grabbed a bag of chips.  As he was winding up to throw, she quickly unbuckled him and scooped him up out of the seat and into her arms.  Cradling his head against her chest, she rocked back and forth whispering, "What's wrong, My Little Man?  Why are you so upset?"

"Owie!" he cried.  By this time I was at the far end of the aisle so I did not see what she found or did but when she put him back in the cart a moment later he was babbling happily, asking for his bottle.

Later that same night I woke up to the sound of my dog chewing on his bed.  I told him "no" and I took it away.  He immediately began to search for something else to chew on.  He grabbed a pair of pants from the hamper.  I took those away as well.  When he started to gnaw on the corner of a cabinet I put him in his kennel with a few toys until morning.  This morning I will take him for a long run because I know that I cannot cure the anxiousness or boredom that is causing the destructive behavior by removing the objects he wants to chew.  For every object I remove he will find another.

I believe that most people, regardless of their religion, political views, or personal beliefs would see the reason behind the actions taken to resolve these two very different problems.  That is why I'm having a hard time understanding why so many people's attention, when faced with another instance of violence in the news, is focused on the weapon rather than the fact that a human being is compelled to not just end the lives of others, but to do so in a way that terrorizes all of us.  If a person has a desire to kill and they do not have access to a gun, there a many other ways to accomplish their goals that are just as accessible.  Home made bombs are quite simple to make and the ingredients can be purchased at any Walmart.  Driving a vehicle into a crowd would certainly cause massive damage.  Poisoning food?  Water?  Air?  These are just the simple, obvious choices.  Someone with a true desire to cause harm would, I'm sure, come up with more creative and media worthy ideas.  Timothy McVeigh did.  So did Andrew Kehoe, who executed one of the largest school related mass killings in US history.  And the two brothers who killed their family in their home just a few months ago. We didn't even hear about them on the news.  There are many more examples here under point #3.

I am a gun owner.  I am not a member of the NRA.  I am not opposed to background checks. I am completely in support of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill however, I do not believe that is an attainable goal. Rational thinking tells us that someone who intends to use a gun to break a law (homicide,  theft, assault, etc. ) will not be deterred by the fact that owning a gun is against the law.  Historically, gun laws have not reduced instances of gun violence.  During the years in which the D.C. handgun ban and trigger lock law was in effect, the Washington, D.C. murder rate averaged 73% higher than it was at the outset of the law, while the U.S. murder rate averaged 11% lower. In 1997, Britain passed a law requiring civilians to surrender almost all privately owned handguns to the police. The homicide rate in England and Wales has averaged 52% higher since the outset of the 1968 gun control law and 15% higher since the outset of the 1997 handgun ban.  In 1982, the city of Chicago instituted a ban on handguns. This ban barred civilians from possessing handguns except for those registered with the city government prior to enactment of the law. Since the outset of the Chicago handgun ban, the Chicago murder rate has averaged 17% lower than it was before the law took effect, while the U.S. murder rate has averaged 25% lower.  On October 1, 1987, Florida's right-to-carry law became effective.  Since the outset of the Florida right-to-carry law, the Florida murder rate has averaged 36% lower than it was before the law took effect, while the U.S. murder rate has averaged 15% lower.  Guns are not the problem.  Knives and bombs and poison are not the problem.  Broken human beings are the problem.

I've been thinking a lot about the hero, Chris Minz, in this most recent attack.  An army veteran, he rushed in from the classroom next door when he heard the attack instead of running away.  Unarmed, he tried to talk the gunman down and was shot several times.  I wonder how things might have turned out differently if Chris Minz had been carrying a gun that day.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Humanely Raised

This is the moment that I told myself I would be there for his death.

The 2 year old, 800 lb. steer moved closer to my son, curious about this small human in the pasture. I watched from a distance as the beast sniffed curiously at the small boy in front of him, moving cautiously. My breath stopped and my heart pounded as his nose met my sweet boy’s nose. Mark stood nearby watching closely for signs of aggression or danger. I trusted his relaxed body language and bit back my fear as D3 reached out to sniff my fragile, human, 8 year old son and the two made an incomprehensible connection.  This was a moment we would all remember, not just because of the photos I took but because of the purity of the moment, two innocent souls connecting on a primitive level. 

That was over a year ago. Since then we have had many of these intimate moments with the cattle; witnessing the birth of newborn calves, giving Trixie or Sofie a good scratch, earning the trust of a less social animal with alfalfa treats and patience, and herding the ones we call the Naughty Boys back into the pasture when they wander off into the yard or down the road.  We love these creatures. We bond with them. Even the males, who don’t get names because they will be “harvested” (I hate this word. It takes the life out of them and puts them in the same category as vegetables, but it is softer than “slaughtered”, “butchered”, or “killed”) at 3 years old for meat, have places in our hearts. 

“You eat them???”  I have heard this question and seen the accompanying look of recognition and horror countless times as friends, omnivorous and vegetarian alike, make the mental connection that these stunning animals are not pets, they are livestock and we breed and raise them for meat.  I can understand their feelings. Prior to meeting Mark I had never had a close, personal interaction with an animal that I would later consume.

I am a yogi but I am not a vegetarian. With multiple food allergies and sensitivities including a long list of vegetables, nuts, eggs, legumes, wheat, dairy, and fish my non-meat options are extremely limited.  The simple fact is that I am healthiest when I eat a diet based on animal protein and yes, I have tried. I have tried diets, detoxes, nutritional programs, fasting, gut healing probiotics, ayurvedic cleanses and more. 

Years ago I attended a Detox Weekend workshop with Seane Corn, who is a strong advocate of a vegatarian diet.  During the portion of the workshop where we discuss nutrition, someone in the group brought up the question of “free range and humanely raised” meat, which were relatively new concepts for the average consumer at that time. Seane questioned how anything about raising an animal for food could be called humane.  She talked about the energy of fear, muscle memory, and how the energy of the fear and trauma the animal experiences in it’s final moments at the slaughterhouse was stored in the muscles and iconsumed by us when we eat it. How could it possibly be healthy for us to eat that?  How could raising an animal with the intent of killing it be humane?  She challenged those in the group who believed that it was ethically OK to eat meat to be a part of the process.  “Go to the farm,” she said.  “Meet the animals.  Spend time with them.  Watch them taken from their homes and loaded onto trucks.  Watch them moved from trucks into a slaughterhouse where they can smell the blood and fear of the other animals. 


Do that.

Then see if you feel the same way.”

Her statements had impact on all of us. Maybe some stopped eating meat. Perhaps more of us reduced the amount of meat we consumed or paid more attention to the sources of our meat.  I would venture a guess that none of those 40 or so participants that day actually went to a slaughterhouse and watched the death of an animal but I do believe that each of us left there thinking differently about meat.

In the hundreds of hours I have spent in workshops and trainings with many amazing teachers, this is one lesson that has always stayed with me, and that is why I made the decision to be there for his death.  “You don’t have to do this,” Mark said. “It’s not an easy thing.”   I knew it wouldn’t be easy and honestly, I was more than a little terrified. I am a highly sensitive and emotional person. I had no idea how I would react. Would I cry? Would I ever be able to get the image out of my mind? Would I pass out? Would I become a vegetarian?  I didn’t know, but I knew I needed to do this. The most important thing the teachings and practice of yoga has brought me is to be mindful in everything I do. I try to be conscious, to look beyond the surface and see the bigger picture. I try to be honest, even when it is difficult.  Especially when it is difficult. to do this.

The butcher arrived at our farm in the afternoon.  Because of this, because we did not ship the live animal to a USDA approved facility for the killing, all of the meat from this animal will be packaged and stamped “Not for Sale”.  What we cannot use ourselves we will share with friends and family. This part is important to us and we do it this way whenever we can. Our cows are born at this farm. They live here and they die here. They never experience the fear of being taken away from their herd or of being put on a trailer. They never know the smell or feel of a slaughterhouse.  This is not the case for the animals whose meat will be sold.

Mike, the butcher, pulled up in his pickup with a hoist on the back. He stepped out and loaded his rifle, his 6 year old son staying in the truck playing games on his iPad.  He and Mark walked out to the pasture. I stayed near the barn, far enough away to be safe in the event something went awry but close enough that I could see D3s face, his eyes. I watched as he unconcernedly meandered towards Mark and the butcher. By coincidence, he was already off by himself so they didn’t have to lead him away from the herd. We spend a lot of time with our cows, making sure they are comfortable with us, so having people in the pasture was no cause for alarm. He was probably wondering if the guys had brought him any treats, as visitors often do, and moved closer. 

At about this point I realized I had moved myself into a state of emotional detachment.  As a defense against my own emotions I had separated myself from what I was watching, as if it was a movie.  I was cold and detached. I brought myself back into the moment, fully aware and present.  I was frightened because I knew what was coming. D3 was not. Before the sound of the shot even registered in my mind D3’s knees buckled and he was on the ground. One moment he was home, content, and the next moment his existence changed. I cannot explain this but he went from being a something with a soul that was evident when you looked in his eyes to being a body, in an instant, even quicker than an instant.

It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t pleasant. It is not something I will ever take lightly but after this experience I have decided that I will honor each of our animals by being there for this moment when I can. I respect them enough to be a part of this process.  I hope this is how I go when it is my time. I pray I go quickly and quietly, with no fear and with people who love me nearby. 

My purpose in sharing this experience is not to change anyone’s mind about eating meat, whether they are for or against it, or tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t do. We don’t all have the opportunity to participate in the process in this way and I don’t expect anyone reading this to seek it out. I am sure some who read this will  be horrified by what I have written.  Shock value is not my intent either. I simply wish to share this experience because we all need to make conscious choices guided by reality, experience and facts, not media or dogma. Where our food is concerned there is a huge gap between reality and our decision making.  New movements in urban gardening and local food sourcing have begun to connect us to the truth of one of the most important things we do in our lives, nourish our bodies.  I hope I have shared this experience in a way that is more than truthful. I hope that I have communicated this experience in a way that is honest.  Take it for what it is. Think about it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Roasted Chicken Salad with Radish Greens Dressing

Sunday afternoon I stood at the kitchen table with the days tasks laid out before me. I had been to the farmer's market the previous day and had a special delivery of fresh produce from Ken Keppers that morning.  All of that, in addition to the few things I could salvage from my own neglected garden amounted to an afternoon of prep work; a pile of grape leaves to can for wintertime stuffed grape leaves, rose petals and coriander seeds to dry, a huge bowl of strawberries freshly picked and still warm from the sun to nibble while I cook, a huge head of lettuce with leaves that just needed to be cleaned and put in the fridge for this weeks lunches - chicken wraps and salads, lovely red beets to be roasted and served with our pork chops at dinner tonight along with the beet greens sautéed with onions and bacon, a huge head of cabbage and some breakfast radishes.  I had a plan for everything except the cabbage and radishes. I considered trying my hand at fermenting the cabbage but I didn't have the crock or supplies and really wanted to get everything prepped that day so I decided on a simple cole slaw. That would be nice with the radishes sliced into it, but what about those radish greens?  Should I add them to the salad? to the slaw? or just feed them to the pigs?  I did a quick Google search and found a few recipes for radish green pesto. I thought I'd give that a try, with a few modifications of course.  Well...

Eliminating the nuts was one thing, since I'm allergic to nuts, but discovering I didn't have any parmesan cheese was pushing it for a pesto. Then I accidentally added a little too much liquid and the whole plan changed. Luckily I love to improvise. And I'm pretty good at it.  What I ended up with was a fantastic dressing for my cabbage. Tonight I served it tossed with some of the lettuce and topped with leftover roasted chicken and radish slices.  I'm thinking that it will end up in some sort of asian noodle dish with the remainder of the leftover chicken tomorrow and possibly sauteed with the leftover pork chop and served over rice later in the week. Let me know in the comments if you have other ideas for it.


Greens from 1 bunch of radishes - washed & stems removed
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
2-3 large cloves of garlic (or about 3 tbsp chopped)
salt to taste

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until it is liquified - add water  if needed until it is the desired consistency. It's that easy.

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!