Friday, April 18, 2014

Farming, farming, and more farming!

Spring arrived briefly, before making a hasty retreat.
I'm not sure if it's coming back, honestly.
But even so, the farm work pace has picked up dramatically.
There are seeds to be planted, most importantly.
And animals to be moved - but not too soon - outside.
Poop that was solid and frozen is now a mucky mess and needs cleaning up.
With the melting of snow we've discovered a feed bag here, a baler twine there, and numerous cracked cinderblocks in a stack we left outside last fall, revealed.
So there's cleanup to do.
There's decisions to be made about when to combine animals or separate them.
There are puppies to walk around as they enthusiastically follow underfoot.
The first batch of meat chicks arrived, so a brooder to establish, and chicks to introduce to their water dish.

But among all that - we got our loan approval for the creamery!
It was all anticlimactic in the end.
We'd applied awhile ago and we're feeling discouraged that the person handling our farm loan seemed to be putting us off.
It came out that she has to process loans as they come in and the type of loan we applied for is very hands-on.
The application that arrived right before ours did, on our farm-loan-person's desk happened to need a lot of hand holding.
So our loan waited. And waited. And then waited some more.
Finally, finally our farm-loan-person arranged to meet with us at our farm.
We answered the few questions she had in order to have her fully prepared when she presented our application to the deciding-committee at the end of that week.
"If we are denied, will they tell us why?" I asked, "So we can improve our application in the future?"
"I'm not sure," was her answer, "I've never had a loan denied. "The committee meets Friday and they will have an answer to me by noon on Monday."

To me, that was good enough. I assumed it was a done deal.
On Monday (one of the days Ren Man works off-farm), I didn't hear anything. Late in the day I thought to check Ren Man's email (the account he'd been using to correspond with our farm-loan-person).
Can you contact me some time after 1pm? said the email subject line, with no information in the body.

This was around 3pm so I called our farm-loan-person.
She explained that our loan was approved but she had some questions from the committee. I wasn't too sure of the answers so we arranged for her to come back to the farm the following afternoon.

When she arrived on Tuesday, we worked through her questions and signed the documents that needed signing.
And that was that.
We had the loan - but it didn't feel solid because our farm-loan-person still had to get answers back to the committee.

On Thursday evening, we went to Ren Man's parents' house for a birthday celebration. Ren Man's dad mentioned an auction that was happening Saturday - did we know about it?

An auction where a cheese-making-goat-dairy-farmer was retiring and selling his equipment.
Friday was a mad dash of requesting that a portion of the loan be overnighted to us.
While I was rushing to fedex the moment it opened on Saturday, Ren Man was driving 3 hours to the auction.
Only to have the bank say that a check of that sum would be held for a week before the funds would be available (this is apparently normal).

Thankfully the retiring farmer was happy to hold our check (and Ren Man's parents were willing to write checks for the max we were allowed to deposit and have access to immediately, knowing we could pay them back after the hold-period set by the bank). And even more happily: Ren Man scored an incubator (for aging certain cheeses), a chest freezer (so we'll convert our smaller chest freezer into a "can cooler"), and most most excitingly (!!!) a vat for cheese making!!

This is HUGE! The vat was the biggest equipment expense. So we're feeling on our way!!

Now the ground needs to thaw. The biggest project now is getting the renovations done on the "not garage" and the barn to get the creamery up and running.

In the meantime, blog posts might become more sparse ...

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Desperately seeking: High Speed Internet

I've been philosophical about our lack of high speed internet. We get this great view, this minimally trafficked road, and a reminder to slow down as we wait for a page to load or our bandwidth allowance to refresh.

But I'm over it.
I'm ready for high speed internet! We've got 4 grownups who depend on the internet (it's embarrassing in ways) for work, for play, for information gathering, for networking.
There is argument that internet - high speed internet - is like electricity of the 30's. It's a utility and needs to be available nationally - no matter how rural your dwelling.

Our town has a contract with Charter to be the sole cable provider. In exchange Charter promises to provide cable when a certain population density is met. That's the deal. Two issues: 1.) it's a fight to force Charter to hold up their end of the bargain. 2.) We will never have close enough neighbors to reach the population density.

There is funding for the rural North Country in NY ... but little to none for our county. There is more talk of broadband access in rural communities in our area here. But again, not actually here.

Living with so many internet-users as well as children that are growing older by the day and are homeschooled (do you know how many online resources there are for homeschoolers?!) in addition to running two businesses, and a grownup that telecommutes ... we're feeling frustrated.

I contacted Verizon to ask what it would take to get dsl to our address - or fios, I'm not picky! From my understanding DSL needs a repeater box every mile. There is a "shack" with "Verizon" written on the building about 4 miles away. How much will it cost to put in the next box? And then the one after that? I called Verizon on 3 different occasions and was told that they would get back to me within 48 hours. When I hadn't heard back within 72 hours or more, I would call again. Finally someone explained that dsl doesn't have repeater boxes (oh really?) and that it is impossible to get high speed internet to our house at this time. We could try using our cell phone as a 4G hotspot.

We've looked into that too. We don't get 4G in our area (never mind Verizon service at all!).

We currently use Hughes Net (satellite). It's slow, for sure. But useable (as long as you're not interested in streaming). The biggest issue is that there is a use cap. You are only allotted a certain amount of bandwidth per day. If you go over this cap, your speed drops dramatically while it refreshes OR you can pay $8 to refresh your bandwidth allotment immediately. We are already paying about 4x's the amount the typical high-speed internet user is paying - adding the cap to the frustration of slow internet and then charging more is outrageous.

There is an alternative, reportedly faster satellite option called "Exede" but it concerns us because the data cap is a monthly rate, not a daily rate. Given the frequent need for us to refresh our data (at least once a week), we're worried that we'll be overusing our monthly limit too frequently.

Suggestions? Is there an option we haven't thought of? Who should I be contacting (in a political office, maybe?) about implementing highspeed nationwide (and then what is that? DSL? Fiber? Cable? Something else?)?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Dear Child D. :: 3yrs old

Dear Child D .,
I was recently thinking of the night you arrived. You reached for me in the cool night air and said: "mommy!". I was surprised, but added you to the hip that wasn't carrying your baby sister. We soon learned that "mommy" was a fifth of your vocabulary.

And now 6 months later, and a tiger cake for your birthday and it's hard to believe you're that little girl! You've grown so much and your vocabulary is impressive, considering. You're telling everyone about your tiger cake, how you ate the nose of the tiger, and how Daddy tricked you when he traded plates while you were looking away.

You're not always clear in your talking and attempt to convey your needs/wants/ideas/opinions with just one word whenever possible. Sometimes you're frustrated and I'm frustrated because I will give you the world if that will help, but I don't know what you want. So you are frustrated and repeating the same noise, and I'm frustrated and offering a million different choices - all responded with a aggravated "no!". But every day there are new words your saying and more words strung together consistently.

You have one of the best giggles - you and Noah - I just can't resist laughing along with you. And I'm not laughing at what you're laughing about, I'm just laughing because your giggle is so infectious - but my laughing encourages your giggling ... and round and round and round we go.

And this is all about empathy. I'm not conscious of this in the day-to-day, but if there's one thing I want you to grasp, it's empathy. And the shared giggling, the taking turns, the expressing your needs is all building that. When you first came to us, you were reserved and somewhat numb seeming. You were self-sufficient in handling your emotions ... but I'm not sure you were actually feeling anything. The feeling part of your body was turned off, while you put your effort into surviving. This meant in the day-to-day that you did what you wanted when you wanted without grasping that whatever that was was not appropriate. At first these routines, limits, and explanations were confusing. Now you listen brave-faced to the gentlest of remonstration and then your little face squeezes into itself and you let out a moan saying: "hug!" and that's that. You get it - a hug, and the reminder that x, y, or z are not okay. This often comes from your fierce (and well earned) independence. It's hard to learn that eating happens at the table and food is put away when you're done when it hasn't ever been this way before. It's hard to learn that when it's bedtime, it's bedtime (although you've recently very very cutely started saying "in a minute" when we call you away from whatever you're doing). And putting a tissue in the fire is a grownup job. Making a meal is a grownup job. And every time someone goes for a car ride, doesn't mean you also are going for a car ride. It's hard to trust that sharing toys is better than grabbing what you want, using words is more productive than pushing and shoving, and a fork will result in a more pleasant meal - particularly when said meal includes something gooey or liquid-based.

It's been 6mos and while you're still about a year behind on almost every measure, it's hard for us to believe. You've come so so far. Your cheeks have filled out, your play has become more shared, your compassion more present.

You love going to see your Dad and Mom at visits once a week. You are very excited to play with the toys there and to see the person who supervises the visits. But lately you've also missed this Mommy while we're separated. Two hours can feel like a long time to be away from this family. But a whole week is a long time to be away from your original family. It's sad to know through all this - you are the person who is hurt the most - and you're a kid! You lose your original family and then you potentially lose your new family at some future date - or lose your original family somewhat more permanently in that the hope of returning to them full time is gone.

No matter who you are, where you go, or what you do, we'll always love you,


Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Let's talk about Neurofibromatosis, the condition Del was recently diagnosed with because I'm getting a lot of questions.

There are two different types: NF1 and NF2.
Del has NF1, so I'll talk about that.

NF1 is hereditary, but in 50% of the cases, the person is the first person in their gene pool with NF1 (as is the case with Del - before her, we had no family history of NF1). For those where it is hereditary, it's interesting to know that NF1 is the most common neurological disorders.
Indicators that you may have NF1 (must have two of the following):

* A genetic connection with NF1
* More than 5 cafe au lait spots (birth marks) (Del has about 30 of these)
* Optic nerve tumors
* thinning of bones and/or bowed legs
* freckling where the skin creases (Del has this)
* discolored bumps on the iris of the eye
* more than one bump, about the size of an apple seed, under the skin (Del has one so far)

NF1 means you get tumors (known as fibromas) that are non-cancerous and grow just under the skin, usually. Our pediatrician explained that they aren't a big concern but they take up space. So in theory the fibromas could impede on blood flow - to the heart, the brain. Many NF1 kids (about half) have learning difficulties. In a way, I'm thankful we didn't discover Del's diagnosis until after she'd learned to read. So the fibromas need to be monitored. We're not really sure how, but the geneticist wants to see us in two years. The biggest period of fibroma growth is during a surge in hormones - because all that growth hormone cocktail also feeds fibroma growth. So puberty and pregnancy are the times of rapid fibroma growth - the time when we'll be frequenting the geneticist more regularly.

We were referred to a geneticist who confirmed the pediatrician's suspicion that Del has NF1. She did not feel genetic testing was necessary at this point, her physical attributes were confirmation enough for her. She did refer us to a pediatric ophthalmologist as optic nerve tumors are a bit concern and can effect vision. The pediatric ophthalmologist was wonderful and says everything looks great for now. We'll see her again in a year. The eye piece is most concerning because it kind of sounds inevitable. The pediatric ophthalmologist wants to see Del annually.

Besides the skin and the eyes, the fibromas also effect the nerves. We haven't seen this in Del at all yet.

Our pediatrician wants Del to go to an NF1 specialist at some point. There's on in NYC at New York-Presbyterian, Children's in Boston, and the big one is apparently in Maryland at Johns Hopkins.

It's scary if you think about it, but we're assured by everyone but the pediatrician that it's all manageable and actually not that scary. So deep breaths.

Anyone have experience with NF1? Please leave your stories in the comments!
Or questions - leave those in the comments too. If I don't know the answer, I will find it!

Monday, April 7, 2014

I did my research :: Vaccines

I know I've talked about vaccines before, so I don't need to rehash that (but it's here, if you're interested).

So there's a debate going back and forth (and back and forth and back and forth) about vaccines. In the interest of a broad perspective, reading both sides is vital.

Here's my frustration: I hear the pro-vax side saying over and over - just do your research.
This makes my insides get all hot and angry with frustration at the underlying message that clearly non-vaxing families have not researched.
Who chooses not to vax?
The person who has done no research and is at the pediatricians office and the pediatrician is saying: "today your child is due for X, Y, Z vaccine" or the person who has researched extensively and has an informed conversation with the pediatrician?
Think about it.
Our children have now been seen at 3 different doctors offices. Not one (even our favorite MD) has ever been comfortable with no conversation about our choice. No doctor has ever said: "today your child is due for X, Y, Z vaccine .... Oh, you want to pass on vaccines right now? Okay."
Never ever ever.
And I wouldn't want that. I want to trust my doctor enough to value their insight into the choice around vaccines. I also want them to respect the fact that it is my choice, what medical care (or not) I or my children receive.

So if I see one more pro-vaccine article that says something along the lines of: "if these stupid anti-vax people would do their research..." I might just lose it.
If these pro-vaccine people had done their research they would know that you can find studies supporting whatever hypothesis you want. If you want to believe that vaccines are safe, you'll find studies to back that up. If you want to believe vaccines are harmful, you'll find studies to back that up.

As with any "Mommy War", you have every right to do your own research, heart-searching, etc and make your own decision for your own family. And I will respect you by assuming you've looked at all of your options and made an informed decision - even if it's the opposite of what we've decided for our family. I expect the same respect in return.

Disclaimer: yes, our children have been vaccinated on a limited and lengthened schedule.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Dear Del :: 6yrs old

Dear Del,
What a year! And at the end: you're SIX! You've learned to be a big sister to many different siblings some who are still here, some who have moved on - all with their own personalities that have effected the family dynamic - and arguably you the most. You're deeply influenced by the siblings that have been with us this year and more recently we see how deeply you're influencing your siblings. You mostly use your power for good. You smile at the baby's antics, or even the 5-year-old repeating something you've just said.

But you're not the only one who is being watched and copied. You can't wait to be a mom and you're sad your hair isn't curly (although I REALLY think it's coming - just wait for puberty). You started wearing pj tops and underwear to bed - just like Mommy. But sometimes you're freezing and we encourage you to wear pj bottoms ... you will, when I put them on too.

Back in April we had friends come over from France for a whole week. It was so much fun and you were particularly taken with the 16-year-old daughter, Hannah. You still ask regularly when we can go see them. You also started an infatuation with a nearby home dubbed: "the yellow house" by you and our then-foster daughter. You had big plans with her to move there when you were grownups - this plan involved shuffling around who drove what car and how all of your things would be moved and who would be able to visit and how The Yellow House was the perfect living option for you both because it was right next door to our house and you could move your things easily and you'd be so close to your parents.

We had camping trips galore this year. One in June, one in July, one in August ... there was one planned for September but I was all camped out. Camping is one of your very favorite things. You don't seem over excited about being outside but when you're outside, you glow. When you weren't camping over the summer, you were hunting for frogs in our pond. And before the frogs, you were stomping in mud puddles. You also love swimming lessons!

You love being homeschooled. I wasn't sure because you also loved preschool. But when we think of where you are academically with our minimal (no) effort, it seems you'd be spending a lot of time at school learning to be a student, a skill we don't value as a family as much as other skills in life. You're reading so much. It cracks us up because we're so surprised. You're reading to your younger sisters, you're reading chapter books to yourself, and you're reading facebook comments over my shoulder.

At your annual physical last fall, we were seeing a new doctor. She noticed all of your spots and asked if anyone had ever said anything about them. Well, back at a 4-month checkup our then-doctor asked if we had a family history of hearing loss or heart defects. No and no. And that was that. So this new doctor said that you have the markers for Neurofibromatosis. We panicked a little. But of course, you're still you, and this doesn't change that. We explained what this meant, as best we could. We went to a geneticist who confirmed the pediatrician's assessment and deemed blood work to confirm unnecessary at this point. We then went to a pediatric ophthalmologist (another trip an hour and a half away - but this time not covered by insurance, grr), to be sure there were no growths happening on your eyes. So far, so good. We'll go back in a year. So you've taken this all in stride. I will say: "Del has Neurofibromatosis, or is it maiosis?" and you'll say "neurofibromatosis, mom" - so you got it.

You never eat dinner - unless it's pasta or pizza or grilled cheese sandwiches. You're getting more adventurous with trying foods you don't think you'll like. You don't like most meat (and bacon only if it's "soft"), vegetables, or anything new. You do like ice cream and cake and french fries.

Ever since your very very first haircut, you've been asking to have hair like Noah's. We put you off because as much as we want to not care, we do. We don't really want you to have short hair. I know, I know, it's not fair. And there's no logical reason. So finally, finally, after 4-5years of this conversation during every haircut, now seemed like the time. You kept checking the mirror to see if it was short enough. And finally you said: "enough!" I was a little sad, but it's growing on me.

When we went to do your photoshoot, you were excited about going in the road. Our road is infrequently traveled, but we did see a car. You nervously stopped, squished right up against a snowbank, taller than you! But the road is long and straight and we had a while before the car would reach us, so we kept moving. As the car got closer we realized it was Nina. We stopped to call to her that we'd already gotten the mail and that we were doing a photoshoot (you were very excited). As she drove up the driveway and we turned away from the driveway to continue on our way you said: "Wait! We have to be careful of the car coming!" You moved close to the snowbank again, looking for the car. "It was Nina," I reminded you. "Oh yeah. HAHAHAHA! Wait! I have to go tell Nina!!" you said, radiant. That's when I knew (again) that you were all me. That extrovert is hard to manage some times!

We love you so much and love seeing you grow into your own person more and more. We can't wait to see what the next year brings!

Always loving you,

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


More than one friend who has contacted me about kin-fostering. This is when you have a family member who is in foster care and you seek custody.
So here's what I understand as far as kin fostering - please understand this is based on NOT kin-fostering and only fostering in one county in the entire country. So take all this as a starting off point, but not the end all be all.

Considerations regarding kin-fostering:
* If you find out that you have a family member in care, you may have first "dibs" on that child or children. Contact your local foster care unit (called DCYf, DSS, DHS, etc), introduce yourself, and ask to talk to someone about kin care. Put your name in the "hat" fast. The speed at which you express interest doesn't necessarily give you first "dibs" but it does speak highly of your interest and dedication to this child. This will weigh in your favor with the judge.

* The sooner you are able to have the relative-child in your home, the better - because this means fewer transitions for the child - a good thing. Scratch that, not fewer transitions, that's not what I mean, I guess. The longer a child is with a family, the harder it is to move on from that family (harder=more damaging).

* If there is any way you can raise a relative-child, do it. Having that biological connection for a child is preferable to not.

* You will likely encounter unrealistic expectations from family members regarding the child. You must be committed to following all court orders (often orders include no contact with original parents, educational requirements, medical interventions, etc). Think carefully how that would play out in your family dynamic and the players closer to the child (for example: in our case a relative petitioned for custody and was given so much flack from family that she withdrew her petition. I've heard this family's reaction is not uncommon).

* As with all foster placements, reunification is the first goal of fostering. This means, the county is working very hard to get as many supports and services in place in order to make it possible for the children to return to their original parents. The effectiveness of this varies greatly from case to case and no doubt, county to county. When we first started fostering the reunification rate was about 50% in our county. Now it's 40%. Reunification may or may not be more challenging when fostering a relative.

Considerations when not fostering a relative in fostercare
* Be in contact with the caseworker working with the child(ren), but know that it could take up to a month (or more?) for the caseworker to be assigned. In our experience the transition from Child Protective Services (CPS) to the foster care unit (caseworkers change during this transition) has not been even close to a month, more like a week. Once the foster care caseworker is assigned - this is the person you want to be talking to. Call this person regularly for updates.

* Make it known that you'd like continued contact with the child. Again, this connection to original family is so beneficial for the child(ren). You may have to petition the court for visits and/or contact depending on the level of involvement you're requesting and your previous connection with the family members who were central to the child(ren)s removal in the first place.

* Personally, I'm happy to be in contact with family (actually, thrilled!) who I hear are worried about the children we're fostering, as long as I feel confident that they are not going to harm the child(ren). This is a valid concern considering the reason that children are in foster care in the first place. However, the definition of "harm" is very subjective. And we're always weighing the benefit of our children having that familial connection and whatever "harm" they may be experiencing in the process. I have a list of several family members and their addresses - it's in a court paper documenting whether these family members have said they'd be interested in caring for the girls long term. When I heard that one of the couples on this list was really worried about the girls but would be hard pressed to take on additional children given their immediate family's needs and limits, I wrote them a really long letter with updates on all three girls. I don't know, but I hope this isn't out of the ordinary. I want to foster any connection I can safely encourage with our kids' original family.
All that to say: let the caseworker know that you'd be open to contact with the foster family if the foster family is willing. If they aren't - then let this be a mild red flag - say a pink flag ;) Just something to keep in mind in case there are other things concerning you about the child(ren)s placement.

All of this is be and complicated. It's not easy because people are involved. Children, no less. A piece of you out in the world with an unknown family.
Please add your advice on kin-fostering to the comments - whether you're a foster parent, foster child, or have family in foster care.

Do you have a relative in foster care and you're not sure how to proceed? Feel free to drop me a line!

Monday, March 31, 2014

It was a dark and stormy Friday

Ren Man was exhausted but at the time it just seemed moody. He was doing chores - all of them, except two afternoons a week when he was an hour away working 10-hour days. Then I did chores. Afternoon chores takes about half an hour - the most challenging part being squatting for 10minutes while hand milking one of the cows. Made more challenging when wearing a 20lb baby on your back and a cow enthusiastically licking my back. Other than that, it's fairly straightforward. Obviously preferable without the 20lb weight on my back, but doable. Three weeks before Ren Man also had started adjuncting one class two days a week. This meant many late nights prepping for class. One night in particular he slept maybe 4 hours before it was time to get up and do morning chores before rushing off to class before running home to do afternoon chores.

But this was a Friday. Nothing on the calendar except Child F.'s drop off and pickup and all the other usual day-to-day stuff. Ren Man was furiously making bread (a Friday-before-market-project).
Clearly grumpy.
"What is it?!" I finally asked exasperated.
"I'm very tired!" he said firmly, "And I don't like spending all this time with these kids I don't like!"
"For the last three weeks I've felt this way," he said more quietly.
"Is that maybe because your class started three weeks ago and you're tired?" I asked even more quietly, feeling hot and cold and teary.
"Maybe," he said gruffly and turned back to his bread.
I walked away, a baby on my hip, thankful that the other children hadn't heard our exchange.
I snuggled that baby and thought about her leaving. I thought about Child F. who overwhelms us at times with her constant chatter. I thought about Child D. who is obstinate to a fault and it's infuriating. I thought about: if we don't commit to these kids as long as they need us, I don't know if I can do this again. I thought about giving up a dream of a big family and about fostering and adopting.
And for the rest of the day I was also frustrated and had no patience for Child D.'s ridiculous contrariness, Child F.'s constant questions when she already knew the answers, Child E.'s clinginess.
I needed space.
And this was a snow day tacked on to the beginning of spring break (because when you're parenting 5 kids and one goes to school, 4 kids seems so easy).

I decided I needed a plan - and here it was - Operation: Keep Ren Man Rested. I told myself I would start doing all of the chores. It was a part of his busy life that I could do and he didn't need to. Up to this point I'd reasoned that I was the one getting up multiple times in the night to care for the younger two kids. But they'd both been sleeping better and I would do anything to keep them with us as long as needed.
But Ren Man is a priority to me and it isn't fair for kids to be raised by a father who doesn't like them.
I sought him out later, with no intention of telling him my plan.
"Do you really not like them?" I asked.
"I like the baby," he replied, "but the older two drive me crazy."
"So three days ago I took a picture of you hugging Child E. as you left for class," I said, "you didn't like her then?"
"No, not really," he said.
"It's not fair for kids to be raised by a dad who doesn't like them," I said. "Should I call to ask for them to be moved?" I asked, fearing his response.
"No," he said. "They could go home at some point and we shouldn't move them if they are just going to go home."
"But you're saying you don't want to adopt them," I said.
"I don't know," he responded. And I cringed inwardly.
I wasn't feeling so excited about them either that day, but to think of losing them to a random unknown (potentially "bad" family), I couldn't stomach that - but was that reason enough to keep them in a family that was not excited about having them?
"Do you think we shouldn't foster anymore?" I asked.
"I don't know," he responded. "I think if we didn't, we could do things like go to Europe with Del and Noah."
I didn't scoff in his face - because really? That's what we value? Trips to Europe? And when are we really going to be able to do that anyway?
Instead I said: "Yeah, and we wouldn't need a minivan."

It was actually a bright sunny day outside, that Friday.

The next morning I set my alarm and when it went off, I went around to Ren Man's side of the bed and turned his off quietly.
And that was a turning point.
I was committed 100% to these girls (you can tell, because I was giving up even more sleep). Ren Man more rested was also more committed to what was best for these girls.

Love doesn't come suddenly. It grows in fits and starts. It's a choice. And some days you don't have the energy to make the choice to love and so you ride on the investment of relationship you've made in the past. When a relationship is first starting, there's little reserve from your shared history. And when that relationship is fairly one-sided - one person caring intensely for another, the challenge to choose love over going through the motions can feel impossible. We're hard-wired to love and care for infants, making it easier to be patient with our baby. The struggle is more pronounced in our older children who we are fostering - children who are not only lacking the baby-cute, but also have experiences that have molded them in to little people that may act surprisingly, but their acts could be surprising just because there's so much of them we're still getting to know. It's all a process, and it's not always a pleasant process. The above story happened weeks ago, maybe even months. It's hard to believe we had this hard day - not that the day was hard - just that it lead to these conversations. Six months in to this placement and it's getting harder to imagine letting go, should that time come.
I don't do all of the chores now. I do chores Sunday, Monday, Tuesday mornings, and sometimes Wednesday mornings. Usually another afternoon or two are thrown in too. The farm work is more balanced. And we're coming in to spring weather (kind of), which helps. Farming is definitely more pleasant in the summer.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Farming Calamities

Calamity #1
Tuesday morning and I've just turned off the pump, the second cow being done with milking.
I can hear whining coming from somewhere in the barn. Like a cat? What is that? A puppy? It is a puppy. That's weird. I've never heard them whine in the morning. They are in a separate but connected barn. How am I hearing this? I start to hear Eden whine a bit too. That's really weird.
I leave the cow and walk towards the back of the barn and the whining gets louder.
I decide it's worth pausing on the milking routine to investigate why this puppy is sounding so desperate.
To make my trip more worthwhile (and honestly, to distract the pigs in the pigpen I have to go through), I grab the pigs food. There's three breeder pigs, so I get about 8lbs of food and go through the first door, putting me in the "Middle Barn" with the chickens that will start laying in another month or so. I can still hear the whining and now the pigs have started snorting, anticipating my arrival (or more accurately, the arrival of their grain).
I go through to the door leading to the "Horse Barn" (no, we don't have horses or even a horse), right into the pig pen. I can hear the puppy crying and it's definitely outside. I quickly move through the pigs (or as fast as you can move through pigs who are trying really hard to help you empty the bucket of grain), aiming for the pigs food bowl. The food dumped, and pigs distracted, I go to the exterior door in the pig pen. It's tied shut, and even if it wasn't, the ice and snow dammed up against it makes it immovable. But I can hear the puppy right there! I can't make the door budge and I'm feeling slightly desperate.
I turn to the pigs internal fence and jump it (well, climb not-so-graciously over it, trying not to kick the chicken that his roosting on it) and Eden follows me at a distance. I go through the pen adjoining the pig pen -where the calves and sheep live. Their exterior door is permanently open (thank you, ice and snow), and my plan is to jump an exterior fence (now rather low - thanks ice and snow) and get to the puppy that must have squeezed through the tiny opening in the pig pen to the outside. But how it got in to the pig pen is beyond me (the pen wall is solid and even though the gate is not, the slats of the gate are close together), never mind how it got past the pigs - they could have gobbled up the poor puppy! As I round the door to the outside, I stop up short. There he is:

I scoop him out of the cold snow and bring him back inside, much to his mother's relief. And he isn't the puppy I consider the most daring! That was a long way for a little guy to walk!
If it helps - here's my quick photoshop attempt at a barn outline (the two little red x's are where I first thought the puppy was - the big one is where he actually was):

Calamity #2
Because that wasn't exciting enough ... when my dad came back from an eye appointment later that morning, I met him at the car and asked him to go and plug in the tractor. This is something Ren Man asked me to do on Tuesday mornings when I'm done with chores, in a hope that the tractor will start when he needs it Tuesday afternoons. When I went to do that this morning, I realized the two prongs that attach to the battery were hanging loose, so what's the point of plugging it in? When I pointed this out to him, he said they would never be attached ahead of time.
"Well, how do you attach them?" I asked.
"The red one goes on the red part of the battery," he said in his condescending way (it happens, it drives me crazy).
"And where is the battery? And what part of the hood do I have to lift up? Is it even called a 'hood'?" I asked.
He might have rolled his eyes at this point - and he started to walk away.
"See? You have to show me," I said to his back.
"Maybe ask your dad when he gets back?" he suggested kindly.
So that's what I was doing.
I came back in to the house shivering shivering.
The phone rings.
It's my dad.
"Are the cows supposed to be out?" he asked.
"The beef cows?" I asked, concerned that the cows might actually be out, but not sure how.
"Yeah, the calves," he confirms, "they are in the hayloft having a feast."
I quickly run through options. Last time they got out of the pasture, we penned them in the barn for three weeks so we could beef up the fencing in the pasture - the change in season (ie mountains of snow) can lead to shorted out electric fencing among other things. But now the door to the pen the beef cows would use has been blocked with the chicken plucker and a pallet. And that would be a pain to move. And these guys are going to be moving!
"Let's try to get them back to the pasture and see where the fence is down," I decide.
"Okay," my dad says, "come quick, they are following me."
"NOAH!" I call out, hanging up the phone, "watch the younger two!"
"I'm having thinking time!" he calls back from the couch. That kid!
"I will, I will!" Del calls out.
I make for the mudroom and I'm throwing on snowpants and boots.
"Mom!" Del calls, opening the door, "I said 'I will!'", she says.
"I know, I heard you," I assure her.
And booted up, I throw on a hat and grab my coat, whipping my arms in to it as I make my way through the not-garage quickly. I can hear the dogs barking outside in excitement.
Outside I can see the beef cows following my dad enthusiastically.
"He should have asked me to bring the camera," I mutter under my breath, taking large strides to catch up with the last cow, but being careful not to get too close to spook them.
The cows follow my dad past the electric line that is down on the ground. I see the two bales of hay that were neatly stacked this morning outside of their paddock, now strewn across the walkway. I see. I didn't feed them this morning because I noticed they still had plenty from last night. Apparently they didn't agree and broke through the fence to get to it - and more!
The cows follow my dad all over as he leads them away from me, giving me time to repair the fence.
I realize that in their enthusiasm to break free, they've snapped two step-in-posts, the supports for the electric line. I grab the fence, assuming it's off because I haven't hooked it ... but somewhere lower down the pasture it must be attached because I get a shock.
"Run back to the barn," my dad says, "or hold the fence and I'll go get the posts," he offers.
I vote for that plan. I'm not sure where the extra posts are!
I hold the fence up in view of the cows to keep them back in their paddock, the electric line resting on a hook on a piece of post I have, maybe 6" long.
I see my dad off in the distance go in to the milk house.
Huh. Maybe there are hooks there! We have used it for storing gardening supplies.
But then I see my dad leaving empty handed. Ren Man cleared out the milk house a while ago, thinking we could use it to store blown in feed (but realized we couldn't because we noticed leaking after a rain - wet feed=ruined feed= money wasted). I see him head for the tool room (where we have some fencing supplies and the two non-momming dogs are fed), and then he leaves that room and heads for the hayloft.
Finally he's heading back to me! While he was in and out of various rooms of the barn, one of the cows jumped the back of another one, making the front one burst forward and through the fence I'm holding. It waits for my dad on the flat, about 30 feet from me.
As my dad comes back, it follows him and I lower the fence, hoping the cow crosses into the paddock instead of the other three crossing out.
It works!
My dad hands me a post, and we each wedge one in to the snow as far as we can. I make note that we'll have to check them regularly as they aren't pushed into the ground and will lose purchase as the snow melts. I throw the rest of the hay strewn across the path over the electric line and back to the house we go. Beef cows back where they need to be.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pooping Unicorns

Our life is ideal, it's true.
We live on this picturesque farm, we have five amazing children, we homeschool, we share a house with my parents, we take amazing pictures, we have hardwood floors, one of our children actually has a stuffed unicorn, and there's poop (not from the unicorn). What more could you want?!
Sometimes I feel like I have to do it all on my own. This is exactly what I wanted in life! So I need to clean up that poop with a big grin, I need to let the child throw the unicorn in my giggling face, I need to make sure the hardwood floors are always spotless, I need to take amazing pictures, I need to do my very best to make my parents' lives as easy as possible, I need to create beautiful nature based experiences for our children that compel them to be interested, I need to ensure that all children are happy and healthy and polite at all times -but especially in public, I need to make sure the farm remains beautiful and picturesque.
And I need to do it all! All by myself!
If I ask for help, I'm imposing my dream on others and showing that it's too hard.

Here's the thing: there's a pro and con to every decision.
And I actually don't poop unicorns.
Our farm is beautiful but it's also a ton of long days and broken window frames that need repairing. It's a loan we've been waiting for for 2 long years (although the application is supposed to be presented to the powers that be on Monday, according to our person at the farm-lending-agency!). It's early mornings and frozen water buckets. It's connecting with like-minded customers who become friends. It's putting yourself out there to be judged and "bought" or not. It's sweating more than you thought possible, and breathing warm breath in to cold hair wrapped around your face to keep warm - turning your hair to ice.

We have five children who we think are amazing - there's really nothing negative to say about them. I always wanted a big family. Always. But being one of four is way different than parenting those four (or more) and it's constant toys-all-over-the-place-despite-my-best-efforts. It's spilled milk and poop on the floor. It's multiple wake-ups from a deep warm sleep. It's realizing your throat hurts because you may have yelled too much at bedtime. It's worry - worry about the day to day and the long term.

I can't imagine NOT homeschooling. It means a close-knit community of family friends. It means days when the only grownups you see are those that live with you. It's worry that you aren't doing too much and worry that you're pushing too hard. It's day-in-and-day-out with kids you sometimes want to take some space from. It's freedom to take a trip in the middle of the week and to stay up late, not worrying about the kid you have to wake up "in time" tomorrow morning. It doesn't mean our life will always be our own, but for now it is. School routines and restrictions will meld into our lives over time - if nothing else because Child F. is in preschool now full time and will start K at the local public school next year.

Getting this farm with my parents made the most sense and we were very excited to start this with them. It means things moved and having to ask 3 grownups if they've seen what you're looking for. It means having someone who folds your last load of laundry. It means a full dinner table and not always having to cook that dinner. It means extra love and support in the day to day not only for yourself but also for your kids. It means an immediate sounding board. It means more dishes, mess, and food to cook.

Photography is such an incredible creative outlet and I'm so thankful for the opportunity to be included in people's lives - entrusted to capture never-to-be-repeated moments and also the everyday. It means keeping books and finding childcare. It means marketing and research. It means stunning images on our wall in our home. It means creating an irreplaceable gift for clients. It means knowing that you need to capture the important and the everyday because one day pictures is all you'll have of that memory - a memory that would disappear without those images to remind you of that moment - however huge or insignificant it was at that moment.

I love our wide planked hardwood floors. It was one of the things that drew me to this house. It means character. It means nothing to absorb every.little.crumb.and.speck.of.sand that gets tracked into the house. It means knowing what's on your floors. It means knowing what's on your floors. It means know muffling of the creaks and hard falls. It means knowing your floors are clean (when you clean them).

So this may be my dream life, but it's not perfect. Because it's life. And fortunately there's all these crazy people in my life who are all about supporting this dream as I support theirs. That's life too. The thoughtful person who offers to babysit - just because - and also the people who babysit when we need someone (usually to go take those awesome pictures ;) ). The friend who comments on how great the kids look. The brother who is a sounding board. The parent who encourages us when we're feeling discouraged. The kid who holds us in a tight hug. And we don't have to do it all on our own - and we aren't. And it doesn't have to be perfect. Thank goodness!
So for full disclosure: there's no unicorns (besides the stuffed one that actually drives me crazy because Child D. makes the horn on this thing crinkle as she's falling asleep when I just want Child D. to chill and stop moving!). But there's poop. Lots of it. From cows and dogs and pigs and sheep and birds and babies. And every once in a while there's a rainbow - literally, and lots of rainbows figuratively. But not too many! I don't want you to go and start assuming things about pooping unicorns again. We're not perfect. Just doing the best we can with what we've been given and we're conscious of our choices, always trying to step lightly and live fully.