Tuesday, November 15, 2011

loose change

Things didn't work out this fall like I had planned. Seems when talking about the farm they never do.

The turkeys didn't grow as well as planned. Growth was stunted by illness that went undetected.

The barn where the cattle stayed last year, may be sold, but he isnt' sure, and isn't sure if I'd be evicted if it was. Plus the power bill was more money than he thought and I'd have to spend double to triple what I did last winter to keep them there. So they can't stay.  I have to send them to my mom's farm. Which means the horse has to go too. Which means my heart will break and I'll cry when the trailer rattles out of my driveway and I hear his thumping hooves and feel his nervous panicked energy (he doesn't travel well). I know where he's going, I'll know he's coming back, but he doesn't. I'll miss him. I'll miss all of them.

The pastures will be empty...

It panics me a bit, you know. To not have everything work out just right. I plan and plan and plan some more. Then something completely different happens anyway. My rational mind knows it's not a big deal. That any way that it works out is the right way, but another part of me disagrees. It stresses and hurries to right it, when there is nothing to right. When it can't be. When all that is required is patience and trying again next year. I worry that the animals aren't happy, that their feet are too wet, that they're too much of a burden on my husband, that I should be able to take care of things all by myself. What if I can't? That I'm doing this farming thing wrong.

Then a 35 year old lady dies suddenly after finally conceiving a child, and a seven year old girl sees through the door to the next life and teases us with the answer to all our questions. The answers we realize we forgot we had when we were seven. But it's too late, so we sit grieving and mesmerized by our kids and all that we forgot we knew.

I sit at the office working and pretending to be working and trying to make a difference of some kind. Although I have no idea in what way that could be. I'm busy but I don't know with what. I'm on the road and away working. Running. Convincing myself that what I do is important. Others are at home baking cookies and making jelly and harvesting the gardens and raising their children. Because you only get one chance to raise your kids. I panic again and worry that I'm doing this family thing all wrong.

Some days feel like I'm picked up by my ankles and all the change is shook loose from my pockets. Before I can collect it, I look at it lying on the ground and wonder if any of it matters. The small things that I give such weight. When there are so many bigger things.

I want to go home and hug my kids and pat my horse and smell the earth and give my soul to my husband and show him I still cherish his. Leaving all the rest on the ground. Never picking it up again.

But I can't. None of us can.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Project 52

I've started on a new photographic project. Instead of doing the project 365 again, I've decided to try a project 52. So instead of a picture per day, I'll be picking my best shot of the week.

I am very glad I did the project 365 first because that forced me to learn how to see with my camera and create something even when it required effort. Which it did some days. The result was pictures that are some of my favorite pictures I've ever taken, that I wouldn't have if it were for the project, and pictures that are just awful. The project 52 is my way of trying to improve quality. I will have the entire week to get my best shot.  Already, I left my photo taking until the last 3 days of the week, which will have to change if I hope to meet my goal of reducing crap shots, but the learning curve in these projects is more of a habit forming curve than anything, I think.

The project 365 had prompts which I did not (or rarely) followed. This was part laziness, part not paying attention to what the prompt was and part shooting what I felt comfortable. It was hard enough to get a good picture per day let alone trying to find something specific. This time however, I am going to follow the prompts. I have all week to find something I like. Unless of course I keep leaving it until the weekend.

I am not in this alone. It's more fun with friends after all.  If you'd like to follow along and see all of the entries from the group visit here. I'll be adding mine to the group as well, but if you'd like to see my collection visit my Project 52 group.

Each week will be either a camera prompt or a subject prompt. This week (Sept 5 -11) was depth of field: deep.  Next week is dining out.  I guess that means I get to dine out. I like this project already!

Week 1:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Some things never change

You all know this guy, Hobbes.
We were hanging out on the deck this evening enjoying the cool air and sunset. Spending quality time together. He's getting up there you know. He's 12. He'll be 13 in May. He's starting to change in his old age. He's becoming more loving. 

Ah, who am I kidding? He may be getting old but he hasn't changed a bit. The only reason he was hanging out with me was because he was waiting for me to go inside and feed him. 

Then he noticed I was taking forever because I was taking his picture. So he did this.  Yes, this is the very next picture.

I have to hand it to him. He knows how to get what he wants.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bulls and cows.

Owen is in the field with me helping me or at least hanging out with me while I feed and water the cows and chickens.

He walks over to the cows to offer a pat. Smokey comes looking for a crab apple treat, but getting nothing, turns her attention back to the grass. The bull comes wandering his way so I ask him to step back on the other side of the electric fence. (The bull has never been or shown any signs of being mean, but he's still a bull, and you never trust a bull 100%. Plus I think the heifer was in heat.)

Me: Owen, why don't you come back to this side of the fence. The bull is coming over.

Owen, looking at our cow Royalty: Is that the bull?

Me: No, she's a cow. That's Royalty. (Pointing to the bull) That's the bull.

Owen: I thought they were both cows.

Me: Nope. Royalty is a cow and you can tell because she has an udder. See, where the milk comes from?

Owen: Yeah, but that one has one too. (Pointing to the bull again)

Me: No, that's not an udder, those are his testicles. They're different. Only boys have those. Even you.

I leave Owen to run this information over in his head.  I wonder if he's wondering if his "fellas" will grow as large as the bull's. I wonder if I'm going to have to answer more difficult questions. I wonder where his dad is. But Owen moves on to wonder about something else. What would I do without livestock to explain these things?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Swallowing ego and playing our part. Or not.

When people ask I tell them I grew up on a traditional family farm. There were roles for the women and roles for the men. I knew the roles existed. I knew the traditional expectation too. So did my mom.

My mom taught me two lessons though. The first, how to fulfill the role of the wife and mother. The second, that we don't always have to.

As a little girl I was taught that if the men are out working it is our job to make sure they have food to eat when they come in for lunch or supper. That our job is to make sure they have everything they need to do their job. Some people would likely view this as sexist, but what it truly was, was every member of the family finding a way to contribute to the end result. To getting the job done. If we aren't needed out in the barn/field/woods/workshop, then we can be of help in the house. I felt like it was unfair at times. Times when I wanted to work on the tractor instead of making sandwiches. Tractor work earns a lot more clout than making sandwiches does. I wanted to be the one who everyone pats on the back for a good work day put in. For earning my keep. Instead, I had to eat my ego and do what was needed of me. A lesson I hope my kids learn.

As much as my mother taught me lesson one, she was sure to show me that just because we are good at making sandwiches doesn't mean we can't run the tractor too. We can do both jobs. I liked this lesson best. A lesson that I'm sure my kids have learned. Not only can I keep a house, but I can also get a pat on the back for a good days work. As a kid, this pleased me to no end. I thought of us girls as the most useful can't-do-without tool in our family toolbox. My brothers noticed this too, and so they learned to cook to try to even the score. Growing up I always challenged "girl jobs" and "boy jobs". So often that my mother was called by the school. (I am sure she was most concerned and likely promised the principal that she would speak to me about my bold stand. At home she just smiled at me.)

I've never thought of myself or my mother as a feminist. I just never liked the term. I'm sure we fit the definition though. We just didn't care. I have experienced inequality. I was even flat out told I wouldn't be hired because I was a girl. But I learned to swallow my ego a long time ago.

I work in a male dominated industry. Farmers, men and even some women, still look at me and say that I can't, that I shouldn't and ask where my husband is. I just smile knowing something they don't and make the sandwiches, then go to work on the tractor. Thanks Mom, for two great lessons.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Earning luxury

When I was 7 or 8 I was helping my family build a new fence. I was too small to swing the sledge hammer or pull the barbed wire or to do any of the fun jobs like hammer the nails. My grand father, father and brother got those jobs. But I still wanted to be helpful so I got to carry the can of Green Pentox and the paint brush. My job was to paint the bottom of the fence posts that go in the ground so they wouldn't rot.

Preparing for fencing was an annual job and whether you wanted to help or not, you did or had to anyway. We all would head out to the wood lot and find the hackmatack trees (a.k.a. tamarack) and cut them down. The fun job (I use the word fun in that cruel way like piling 8 cord of split wood is fun or hauling 1000 square bales off a field in 30 degree weather is fun) was peeling them. The men (my oldest brother included) got the best jobs, again, and ran the chainsaws and hauled the branches out of the way. The rest of us, under my grand mother's instruction got to peel the logs. Except she had this nifty peeling tool to peel her logs nice and easy. There were only 2 of those tools so my mom got the other, leaving me and my other brother to use a hatchet and our fingers. If you think getting sap on your hand in one little spot sucks, don't ever, ever, ever peel hackmatack trees. My hands turned instantly black and sticky and my fingers hurt from the dirt and sap building up under my nails.  One thing I was sure of is that after all that I did not want those fence posts to rot, because I didn't want to have to get more.

The fence we were building was along side of an embankment that ended in a ditch. The bucket of Pentox was a big gallon paint can. For a little girl like I was, it was heavy. The ground wasn't exactly level. It was recently cleared and mounds and hollows were left from pulling the tree trunks. Weeds and shrubs were growing in with the new access to sunlight. I moved ahead of the men having the post painted and ready by the time they had the previous pounded into the ground. 

I was doing a great job and keeping up. I liked being helpful. I liked the feeling of pride and accomplishment that came with it. A sense of being of value to the family.  Right up until I slipped, and fell down the embankment, landing in the ditch with the entire can of green Pentox poured over my head. Pentox Green is green. It's a stain. It's designed to penetrate the wood. It penetrated me. Despite an hour in the tub with my mother scrubbing me raw, I was green. A bright orange red head with green skin. I looked like some kind of leprechaun. It lasted weeks before finally fading away.

Today, I use black spruce, untreated fence posts, that I buy, already peeled and sharpened. I can swing the sledge hammer if they rot. I gladly will.  It's a luxury I think I've earned.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I'm done!


I'm done!  I can't believe it, but I am finished my project 365!  Remember a year ago when I said I was starting. Yeah, that was forever ago.

A year ago I didn't know enough to know what I didn't know. I thought that the project would be a piece of cake until about day 11.  I was bored and uninspired and had no idea what to shoot.  I can see my progress through the year of pictures, but can't articulate quite what I learned or how that makes me feel. Mostly I feel proud.  I can't believe the task went from a struggle to a habit. Not only did my pictures improve but the days where I just took something to say I did were fewer and fewer. I can't tell you what I learned technically, but I'll offer you this:

A few things you should know before you start your own project 365:
  • A year is both very short and very long.
  • I suggest owning a dog or cat or both. If you don't, then get one - even if you have to rent it.
  • Having kids is crucial to success. If you don't have any, rent them too. You will need them.
  • Have a house with good light.
  • Have interesting things in your house that you can take interesting pictures of when it's 11:30 pm and haven't got your picture of the day yet. That, or do what I did and take pictures of boring things.
  • Plant a flower garden. This will supply you with material to photograph for a good 100 shots anyway.
  • Get a good camera bag because you will be carrying your camera everywhere you go for at least a year. I say at least, because even when you're done, you'll likely still carry it around out of habit.
  • Lenses make great gifts. Ask for one you don't have. New toys always give you new inspiration.
In my year I took 54 pictures of my kids, 20 pictures of my dog, 11 of my horse, 9 of my cat, 7 of chickens and 6 of my cows. If I didn't have these props I don't think I'd be able to complete the project.

In my year I learned a few things about myself too.
  • I don't like taking pictures of people. Especially in public.
  • I like shooting into the light.
  • My dog is very photogenic.
  • I am glad I live in the country because there is a lot of things to take pictures of.
  • I suck at prompts.
  • I can take pictures of kids.
  • I'm not a big fan of textures.
  • I need rain gear for my camera. Being stuck indoors for a week when it's wet and cold kills photographic mojo.
  • I am not very good a picking my picture of the day. Some of my favorite pictures now, I didn't choose at the time as my picture.
The best thing I learned this year was how to capture what I love, the way I see it, so you can see it too.

These are some of my favorites for the year.






















Saturday, July 23, 2011

Welcoming Yesterday

We had the trip planned since we sat down in June and looked at the short eight weeks of summer. The vacation would be short this year, just 2 1/2 days. We wouldn't be far, just 2 hours down the road. Doesn't seem like much of a vacation but we're lucky to have a beautiful national park near by. With cows and chickens it's hard to leave for any length of time because we need a babysitter. My friend was nice enough to do that for us, so we could go at all. She was worried though. Smokey was due to calve any day.  She is not a farmer. She is my friend with good sense and I trust her, but she is not a farmer. Maybe I was a bit worried too.  I prepared her the best I could, but you can explain 30 years of experience in a conversation or on a list.
Friend: How will I know if she calved?
Me: You probably won't unless you look for the calf. She'll be acting different. More alert.
Friend: Compared to what? I don't see her act normal.
Me: That's why you probably won't know unless you see the calf.
Friend: How do I know if the calf is ok?
Me: The mom will be ok. If she's upset something is wrong.
Friend: How will I know if the calf isn't ok?
Me: It will be dead.

No pressure.  There are a gazillion things that could go wrong that could cost the life of the calf and the cow. Realistically, Smokey should calve without any trouble at all. She's done it before, the bull wasn't big, so the calf shouldn't be....But still, that's why we would only be gone from Wednesday morning until Friday afternoon.  Even after our conversation my friend still agreed to babysit for me (she is an awesome friend) with a list of emergency phone numbers including those of my mom (my mom is good for all kinds of births).

The nature of herd animals and prey animals is to hide their young. Smokey hid hers well. So well that my friend had no idea she calved. Without seeing her calve with my own eyes, I can't say for sure when she did, but based on the hardness of the calf's hooves, the dryness of the umbilical cord and the calf's sturdiness on her feet, I say she calved Thursday, perhaps even late Wednesday.  While preparing to leave Wednesday morning I did a final round checking on our critters. Smokey looked to be in early labour.  It didnt' make sense to stay as she may not calve for days even if she was in early labour, but I was surprised to hear my friend say she hadn't calved. 

When we got home Friday afternoon I went straight out to the field. Shady was with me of course. Smokey was grazing and looked a bit thinner. Now Smokey does not like Shady, even when Shady isn't being a pest. Normally though, if Shady keeps her distance and runs through the grass looking for pheasants, Smokey ignores her.  This time Shady went into the woods and Smokey immediately followed. So I went in the woods and watched and waited. Smokey stared down the path under a fallen tree, so I walked that way. Smokey followed. Then Shady burst with excitement, wagging her whole body at something hidden in the tall grass that grows under the trees. That's when I knew for sure. Smokey started calling to her calf in that way momma cows do. A way I can't describe or mimic but is unmistakable and reserved only for talking to their babies. I nearly stepped on her to find her even though Shady had pointed her out. Hidden between trees and fallen branches, on a bed of tall grass, was a pretty little girl. She didn't say a word until I touched her. I got her to her feet, not knowing if she had nursed yet, hoping she had or I'd have my hands full. Once up it was clear she had. On practiced legs with plenty of energy she followed her momma out of the thicket.  If she hadn't nursed she wouldn't have had the energy to be able to stand. If a calf doesn't nurse in the first hour or less of life, they are in trouble. This little (I use the word relatively, as she's about 100 lbs) heifer though was perfectly fine.  The herd, including the horse, gathered protectively around the new addition and I took that as my cue to leave. 

This year is the Y year, so I think I'll name her Yesterday, as she was born yesterday, when I was away.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A bird in hand is worth two in the coop?

Despite the cold rainy weather, the chickens have been doing really well. I put them outside in the coop earlier than I did last year. They were younger but bigger. Last year they didn't eat grass or chase bugs or anything. They just sat there. This group is much better and eat a lot of grass and run around like they just discovered gold when they find a slug. (It's so funny to watch that I'll even pick up a slug just to see them run around.) But last year we were lucky. No predators gave us any trouble. I didn't knock on wood loud enough apparently. This year we weren't so lucky.

I like ravens. They are an interesting bird. Smart. I like the different vocalizations they have. The families they keep. But they took one of my chickens last weekend. 

Such an odd thing to have happen that the more I talked about it, the more I questioned what I believed happened. The chickens are kept in a portable coop so they can enjoy the benefits of being free range without running all over our property, pooping everywhere and getting eaten by numerous predators. Shady would probably kill every one just for fun if given the chance. She sees them as her play things and runs around the coop scaring them, just to see them scatter. She is a bird dog, I can't blame her, but I also won't give her the chance to actually kill one.

Last weekend we went to my parent's house for the night. When we got home I noticed 3 ravens fly up from beside the coop. This was odd. Not something I would normally see. So I went to check on the chicks. The chicks have all their feathers and weigh about a pound. They're a good handful.  When I counted I could only find 9 chickens. One missing. The ground around the coop was all scratched up. A three foot section was mainly focused on and I could see where they had dug under the wall of the coop.  The hole looked too small for anything to go under let alone a raven with a chick in it's maw, but there were only nine left. It obviously happened. By raven or not.

Everyone I've told this story to have been stunned. A raven taking a small chick, sure. A family of ravens digging under a coop to steal a chicken, unheard of. That's when I started to question what I saw. Maybe I was placing the blame on the last one seen at the scene of the crime. Maybe they didn't commit it. Maybe it was a mink or weasel. I would think another predator would dig a neat little hole and be in and out, killing every single chick. Not wasting time digging the length of the wall just to take one. I was sure of one thing though, whoever took the chick would be back. There were nine meals left.

I devised the only barrier I could around the coop by lying tall buckets on their side. It looks like the coop is on pontoons. If the culprit was a raven the chicks should be safe. (Ravens may be smart but I dare them to dig under buckets that could roll on them and under the coop.) If it was something else, they were doomed.  When I got home from work that evening I was sure my story was accurate. On the fence sat 3 perturbed ravens. In the coop, nine happy chicks. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Welcoming Royalty

It's June so of course a lot of things are going on right now. We made a million different plans in the aftermath of Toodles' death. We ended up following through with none of them, instead coming up with another altogether.

What the loss of Toodles cost us, other than the loss of her as an individual, was a producing cow and her calf. Her keep is earned through her calves. Our source of farm income. By losing her, we not only lost our investment in her, but her calf (which would have earned income next year) and all of her future calves as well.

At first I thought we'd keep Xanadu and buy a calf to replace her as meat this fall. This made sense as she has great genetics and good confirmation. I'm sure she'd produce excellent calves. The plan didn't make sense because I would then have two cows that were genetically related.  It also didn't make sense because Xanadu wouldn't calve until next spring and that calf wouldn't earn income until the year after that. That means keeping Xanadu would cost us 2 years of expenses with no income. Plus we'd have to buy an animal this year and next, to meet our meat orders. So it would cost us double. This plan was scrapped.

The plan we thought made most sense was to buy a cow who just calved this spring. More money up front, but it would cost us less in the long run. The hardest part was which cow, from who, for how much. As much as farming, beef farming, is a predominantly male industry, my mom has nice cattle and my mom's best friend Barb also has nice cattle. She has nice quiet cattle too that are accustomed to living in a small herd.  So three women farmers sat around on the phone and through emails and discussed who had what animals and what genetics and who would fit best in my herd that they no longer needed in their own. Fun. Better than talking about men or shopping for clothes.

Last week the decision was made and last night a cow and her calf were delivered from Barb's farm. Royalty is her name and Owen named her sweet little heifer calf Yummy. Royalty is 5 years old I believe and an older style cow with a long neck, blocky head and a long solid frame. A long neck on a cow is said to indicate a good milker and she is.  Royalty is friendly and used to being handled. I think she'll fit in really well here.  We have a bull on his way that will breed her and she'll produce another calf next year too. She'll put us right back on track. Smokey and Xanadu were excited to see another cow when she arrived. I know they've missed Toodles.  This morning, Royalty was still tentative in her new surroundings but grazing with the herd that has suddenly doubled.

When raising livestock, you are bound to have deadstock. That's how farming goes. But you just keep on keeping on. It's a happy ending or a happy beginning, depending on how you look at it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

25 things about me

I was going to try for 50, but couldn't think of that many.

  1. I first learned to ride a horse when I was 3
  2. When I was sixteen I flew to Toronto on my own to show cows.
  3. I'm not easily impressed.
  4. When I got married my dad finally told me I was no longer grounded. Yes, I was that bad.
  5. My dad is a pilot and I've been flying in small planes since I was a little girl.
  6. My first time on a commercial plane was when I was 15.
  7. I can't play volleyball. The only sport I've tried that I truly suck at.
  8. I learned how to drive a tractor when I was 12. My brothers were younger than that, but I had to wait until I could reach the pedals and was heavy enough to push in the clutch and brake.
  9. I drove from Las Vegas to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Best drive I've ever made. I want to go again and again.
  10. I've seen a ghost.
  11. For fun as kids, my brothers and I would climb to the top of spruce trees (30 - 40 ft) and jump from tree top to tree top.
  12. I don't like wearing gloves, it makes me feel blind.
  13. I have excellent long term memory. My first memory is when I was two years old.
  14. Sometimes eating chicken drumsticks grosses me out.
  15. I have two older brothers. One to get me into trouble, the other to get me out.
  16. As a kid I had an imaginary friend named Banjo.
  17. I can swim, but I can't do the front crawl.
  18. I started boxing to see how hard I could hit.
  19. I like to draw.
  20. I wish I hadn't quit ballet when I was 7.
  21. I don't like nail polish. It makes my fingers feel heavy.
  22. In junior high I played the trumpet in band.
  23. I used to win money playing pool.
  24. I don't like most seafood.
  25. I like heights.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Welcome to Farming

The first time I saw a cow butchered I was seven years old. I knew what happened to them when they left the farm, my parents never lied to me, but this time I wanted to see it. I can't explain why I wanted to see, I just did. It didn't upset me, it was just the way life worked. But I haven't forgot.

I haven't forgot any of them. The calf that was born dead.  The calf I found in the field after the vultures had found it. The yearling that broke her neck in the feeder. The heifer that broke her neck tied to the post. I remember them all.  In 30 years I've seen alot of death. 

Today we tied the the two cows and the calf to the back of the tractor and started the walk back to the pasture. We had made the same walk to the barn in January, when Smokey didn't want to walk.  Since the air smelled of fresh grass and the cows were itching to get out of the barn, I thought it would go more smoothly than last time.

Everything started out fine. Everything was going as planned. I had put halters on the cows weeks in advance, preparing them for the walk.  They were quiet as we started out, all walking perfectly. Then Toodles got scared and pulled tight. She was taking forced steps the whole way, but not dragging and falling like Smokey did in January, so we kept going.  This was nothing new, expected actually.

Then, with only 500 ft left to our walk Toodles fell. I went to her side to get her up. She wouldn't. We took off her halter and encouraged her by slapping her butt, but she wouldn't move. I don't know how someone knows when something is dying, but I can assure you that if you are ever in the situation, you will know.  I don't know why, but lying there in the road with her head in my hands, Toodles died. 

Toodles was due to calf any day.  Her calf was now dying too.  With two other animals, we had to keep going.  So Mart stayed with Toodles while I continued on to the field with the others. I love my husband dearly. Neither of us woke up this morning expecting him to have to cut open a dead cow in the road to do an emergency c-section. But he did. He tried. He did everything that could be done. But it was too late. The little heifer calf died with her mother. 

As shitty days go, this one ranks up there.  Toodles was a sweet, friendly cow. I won't soon forget her death but most of all the enjoyment I got from her.  I so wish this didn't happen but I don't know how I could have foreseen it, or prevented it.

With life comes death. Welcome to farming.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Here lies Chocolate

I knew a girl once who told me she didn't need a man. Implying the only reason I had a husband was because I did. She claimed to not need a man because she was quite capable of taking care of herself.

I never argued. I was always sad to know she just didn't get it. I don't need Martin to take care of me. I am quite capable. But sometimes it's nice to have someone to look after the things that are hard. Someone to share the weight.

Reiley's rabbit Chocolate, lovingly known as Bunny Bunny, died today. She's been sick since before Easter and has not recovered despite antibiotics and our best efforts. Tonight Martin did what had to be done and put Bunny Bunny down.

She is buried in the field under the spruce trees where the cows won't trample her. It is the first grave on our property but likely won't be the last. We wrapped her in a blanket so her fur wouldn't get dirty and marked her place with a stone. I'll go back tomorrow and carve her name.

In the field with my man-boys and boy-men I cried and didn't hide my face. It's ok to be strong, but it's ok to be soft too. Together we take turns being both.

Story of a horse

It occurred to me that I've never told the story of Bud. My lovable but frustrating horse that I often refer to as Dink. Really it's not fair to him. You don't have the full story. He is a dink sometimes none the less, but you need the full story for it to be fair I call him that.

Bud is a purebred registered Morgan. He was born with a fancy pedigree name that, to be honest, I don't even know. His papers are in the safe at my mom's house I think. I've just never cared enough to look at them. His familiar barn name was Bubba. I don't call him that either. I take offence when someone does. That life is long gone.

When I was two years old my family adopted my sister. She was 8. She was put in foster care when she and her siblings were removed from her mothers care, or lack there of. My mother (so the story is told) told her she could pick a new name for herself if she wanted to. A new life, a new name. She did. A beautiful new name.

Bud came from a similar situation. So, new life, new name. He is Bud, or Budward or Dumb Ass or sometimes even Dink.

As a stud colt he was shown all across the US and won awards that covered the walls of his breeder. He was something to look at. He still is. A champion. But as he got older he became violent and unpredictable. Only to be handled by the owner.  I met him at this time, when I was hired on to muck out stalls at his barn for the summer, but never allowed in his.  He was 2 and a nervous ball of power and energy.

He was only allowed out of his stall to be exercised under saddle.  After his lesson he was returned to his stall where he paced in a constant state of anxiety.  He became too much of a problem when he started to toss his head in the show ring. They would put up with him being difficult to handle, using the fact that he was a stallion as the excuse, but when he could no longer be shown, he became worthless to them. They had him gelded but that didn't help. They couldn't sell him as he would give them a bad name. It's at this time that we found him.  Three years had passed since I'd seen him last. He was now 5 and if we didn't want him he'd be shot. So my mother and I took him. That was 7 years ago.

When he first came home we could ride him anywhere. He'd go with the whites of his eyes showing and his chest covered in sweat. It was quickly evident just how damaged this horse was. So we stopped. Everything. And started again at square one. We asked nothing of him and offered trust.  We didn't ask him to go anywhere or do anything he was afraid of. Turns out he was afraid of everything. He had never been allowed out of his stall so he didn't have one sweet clue how to be a horse. He didn't know how to graze, what a stream was, what a puddle was, what the wind was. Nothing. He had instinct but no teaching from another horse on how to behave. We left him in the company of the cows and he started to learn.

We brought him back slowly using natural horsemanship and the guidance of Pat Parelli. Very similar in style to what I'd naturally been doing with horses my whole life, but with more tools and understanding.  When we started riding again he would only follow the dog. And did what the dog did. So we rode for a few months with his nose dragging on the ground.  It was two years before I could ride him down the road where he'd never been before.

He's come a long long way in seven years. I can confidently take him anywhere. He is not dangerous.  The tension is gone. He's a relaxed, happy boy. (On a side note, what we've learned through Bud has translated to our dog and kids.)  But he can still be a dink. He's a smart horse, which is why I think he snapped being cooped up in a barn all the time. He likes to push my buttons. Plus he still carries scars from his past life. He tenses when new men come around. He is very claustrophobic. He likes to scare himself like a little kid on Halloween. Having been gelded late imprinted stallion behaviour on his brain so dominance fights can be fun between us. He is a challenge and everything I get from him is earned.  He is affectionate and sweet and loves to play and think.  Plus he is wicked fun to ride and full of spunk.

To see a horse who was once afraid to stand alone in a field now gallop it's length, is a beautiful thing. Who was once afraid of trees, ride through the woods. Who was once afraid of a puddle, plod through a river with water up to his belly. 

Then he sees his shadow flicker and jumps in fright while I'm on his back. Chases the cows so they can't have a turn drinking water. Turns his butt to me and farts when I come to say hi.  Jumps into the road because he sees a mailbox. Dink.

I've always thought control is an illusion. There can't be control, control is forced. Instead, there is partnership. I had to earn that from Bud, and to know I have is an honor.  He had plenty of reasons to never trust again. He can be a dink, but I love him anyway. I've learned a lot from him. Most of all, that pedigrees don't make a horse. Or a dog. Or a person.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

It's silly right?

She emailed me and said something so simple. When are you going to start selling your work? I read it and laughed. I have no idea how to even approach such a thing. Plus, who'd want to buy, as in pay money for, my pictures? Silly right?

Then I told Martin what she said and chuckled as I did at the ridiculousness of the idea, waiting for him to laugh back. Except he didn't.

Now I'm reading stuff online and asking questions and putting together a group of pictures for friends to critique, all the while hiding under the couch waiting for them to laugh and tell me I'm silly. Your pictures are nice, but they aren't professional. You need to know everything in this here big stack of books if you want to be good enough to sell your pictures. Then I'll crawl out and laugh and say I know, I was just checking.

What do I know? Nothing. Well, I know I don't even dare breathe the words and I feel bare naked in front of the whole world when I don't like being in public in a bathing suit. And I can't even remember the password for my paypal account if it still exists and I'm not good at remembering to mail stuff and I have cows so I can't possibly have time for this. I know that.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The stuff you remember

I went to school with both of them. She was the cousin of an elementary school friend. He was just a kid from Hebron that lived close enough he walked to school. I met them in grade 7 when our elementary schools combined in junior high.

She was awkward and religious and didn't celebrate birthdays or Christmas or anything else. I understand more now, but at the time, that's all I knew. She played the flute in band. I forget what year it happened but she was in a bike accident and knocked out all her front teeth and had to get an insert of fake teeth. She wasn't pretty, her long brown hair was drab and often greasy. She dressed like an old lady in clothes that looked like they were going to be thrown away. The difference between her and most was she didn't seem to care. She was the opposite of cool.

He was the definition of cool. With good looks and nice clothes, he was popular. He pretended to be a bad ass but it was clear to see he was a softy at heart. He hung out with the cool boys, all of which I think I had a crush on at one time or another. The popular girls hung at his side and held his attention, but I don't recall him with a girl friend. With a word, be it a compliment or insult, he could sway the school population and change your position in the social ranks. He was funny. We shared a home room in highschool and sat next to each other in typing class. He called me Mistybush Rouge Cheveux, of course curious if I was a true redhead.  In his group of friends he was apparently the last to get laid and the most curious about it. On his own, without peer pressure, he was a really nice guy.

In the six years they shared a school and likely classrooms, they must have known the other existed. Our school was small. But I don't think I ever saw them speak to each other, or even acknowledge the other. They were after all, pretty much complete opposites. Their circles did not over lap.

A few years after graduation I heard that they married and lived in the same neighbourhood he was born.

And that he killed himself.

Our graduating class has never had a reunion. If we did, I wonder if she'd come. I wonder if people, who never cared about her one way or another back in school, would suddenly see her. I wonder how loud the whispers would be.

Highschool is a strange place. I'm left wondering about a lot of things that happened back then. How the paths of people cross, intertwine and veer away again. I've always wondered about theirs. How their paths came to cross. How it started, how it ended. If anyone else wonders too.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


I love dogs. If you know anything about me at all, you know that. But when it comes to dogs vs. cats, I have to say that dogs drool and cats rule.

I read recently that cats are the only animal to domesticate themselves. They chose to live with us. Which makes me believe that really, they domesticated us. They are so cunning that they decided to train humans to keep them, house them and feed them. The best part is they did so while having us believe it was our own idea. That was a key part of the plan.

They likely saw us a an attraction for rats. Where there are humans there is food to catch. Then they saw the food on our plates and our warm soft beds and decided they needed to get in on this deal. I don't know how they communicated this plan to all cats across the globe (another reason they are the superior species) but they did and now we're spending large percentages of our income on feeding them, tending to their comfort and their bathroom needs. The amount of forethought this required is astounding.

Perhaps the real reason they domesticated us was because they saw what we did to soft pelted animals and thought it would be best to train humans not to hunt them. It's probably a good thing they did, because Hobbes has the softest pelt I've ever touched.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bright idea

Sometimes an idea should remain just an idea. To bring it to reality would ruin it. And sometimes our desire to act on the idea is amplified by our inability to actually do it. For example: Maybe I'm sitting on the couch and it's 10:30 at night. All I want in the world is a fudgescicle. Not the no-name kind made with frozen brown water, the real deal. In order for me to actually have a fudgescicle I'd have to drive 20 kms* to get it, which isn't going to happen at 10:30 at night, but that only makes me want it all the more, until I'm actually contemplating driving 20 km for a stupid fudgescicle.  If I actually made my idea a reality I'd feel stupid for driving 20 kms and by the time I got the fudgescicle and ate it, it'd be close to midnight and I'd feel gross.

Bud the horse has been living in the barn with the cows all winter. It's an open area with an indoor and outdoor space. Plenty of room, but not enough to run.  Lately he's been acting like a brat. Wanting stimulation, wanting to run, wanting to do something.  I can't blame him, with the snow just about gone and the fields bare, spring fever has hit us all.  So I've been taking Bud outside in the evening light to play games, be stimulated and to stretch his legs and run.  It's really his idea. He's been leaning his head over the fence and staring out into the fields for days. 

Outside on the lunge line poor Bud is so out of shape he can't run a lap without panting for air.  At one point he stopped and looked at me with pleading eyes as if asking What was I thinking? I don't feel so good.

I just laughed. After all, it was his idea.

*It is actually a 20 km return trip to our nearest convenience store. I know, it's not very convenient.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


He's 14. When you are a 14 year old manboy you don't give hugs anymore apparently.

Reiley and his brother spent March break at my parent's house. The week was spent skeet shooting with Pappy and working on the tractor for Mimi. Spent not just doing big kid stuff, but man stuff. He always comes home walking taller.

Usually when he goes to bed he reaches over the back of the couch and gives our shoulders a pat. That's our good night hug - a pat.

The other night though, his first night home from vacation, when he was ready to doll out his goodnight pats, I was standing in the kitchen. I grabbed the chance and gave him a real hug. At first I got the one arm pat on the back. But then he paused and gave me a real hug back. Good hugs are like recharging batteries. I guess he realized you never outgrow a good hug.

Monday, February 21, 2011

It's coming

The only thing I know for sure is that spring is coming. Regardless of how much snow is in my yard and continues to fall on it, spring is coming.  Regardless of how much winter unpacks and makes itself at home, it's not staying.

The other day the sun was shining, but not in that freeze your eyeballs open kind of way, typical during winter in these parts, but in the wrap you in a warm blanket kind of way.  For one day the temperature rose above freezing and we caught a glimpse of spring. For one day you could even smell it. 

So despite the coop being buried under snow, I celebrated the day the best way I could. 

I ordered my chickens.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A bad day

When the radio alarm turned on yesterday morning and I heard the voices of the morning crew, my subconscious was waiting for them to announce that Misty's work is cancelled today. Of course that didn't happen. But I should have paid more heed to the warning.

Last Friday we brought our Chevy Equinox into the mechanic because it was over heating. For all the non-mechanics out there, it's never a good thing when your vehicle over heats when it's -10 degrees outside. They managed to fix what they thought was the problem (a broken dome gasket) and $1100 later, we were back on the road.  Until Saturday, when it happened again.

Monday we dropped the truck off again and found out it's a broken head (or head gasket, I'm a non-mechanic type) and it would likely cost us another $1500 to fix.  The only good thing to come off all this was that the dealership where we bought the truck (after some heated emails and inappropriate phone messages, which I'll save for another time) was going to fix it under warranty.  Until we got the final word of that decision, I think I lost 10 lbs and gained a few grey hairs. 

Without the truck, I was left to drive the Malibu. Our sweet little 2000 Malibu that has been slowly dying.

Back to yesterday morning.  The kids got on the bus as usual and as I was eating my breakfast the phone rang. My babysitter, calling to let me know that her whole house is sick and she can't tend Owen.  During the busiest time of the year, I'd have to rearrange work and be home for him.  Inconvenient, but not the end of the world.  After breakfast I pulled on my barn clothes to do chores on the way to work and the zipper in my jacket is breaks. Fantastic. It's cold. My coat is open. Great.  But not the end of the world.

The barn is 1 km down the road. The driveway hadn't been plowed completely, but I thought I could get the car in to save me from walking the whole way.  Anything to save time on my way to work.  And this is when I realized I should have stayed in bed. 

I got stuck. Very stuck. I've been stuck many times in my life, with cars and tractors and even my own two feet. I've never been stuck in snow like this. The car slid off the path, a path of ice covered in snow, and bottomed out.  She wouldn't budge. 

Our little Malibu we used to call Blue, who is now referred to affectionately as Old Blue, was purchased in 2003 after hurricane Juan crushed our car with two trees.  I was 5 months pregnant for Owen.  Owen will be 7 next week.  We have never owned another car longer.  She's been good to us.

The neighbour brought his tractor over to pull me out. He hooked the tow rope to the frame in the little hook spots that he's supposed to, I put the car in neutral and he gently pulled the rope tight and began to pull me out.  Then I heard a crack, then I looked back and saw Old Blue's bumper being pulled down the driveway, while I sat in Old Blue, not moving.  It was traumatic. I was beside myself.  Hysterical. The car was just torn in two. Our only car was just torn in two. The bumper was still attached to the frame of the car. The frame was broken. Let this be a lesson in undercoating your cars.

There are a lot of funny things that race through your mind when put under stress. The first was that we should just put the bumper back on. With glue maybe. The second was that I was completely stranded and would surely die where I stood.  What followed that was a mix of needing to get to work before I was late, fear of going bankrupt because we now had to replace the car, and wondering how on earth I was going to get the car unstuck now.  I had no idea what to do. I don't think working every waking hour since January 2nd helped me handle the sudden stress. 

Once calm (or at least not crying) and with Martin on his way home I called the salvage yard.  Her funeral is today. I visited this morning and it was sad to see her.  She deserved a better death than this, than my own stupidity.  Left in a snow bank with her muffler showing, completely undignified. 

It was a bad day to cap off a pretty stressful week.  I should have seen the warnings. I should have just stayed in bed.  Sorry girl.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Me: When is Valentines Day?

Mart: Hmm? I dunno. Monday I think.

Me: You don't know? How can you not know?

Mart: I don't know. I know it's the 14th. I think that's Monday.

Mart: Why do guys always have to know these things? Why can't women do stuff for men?

Me: Because it's important. Just like it's important that men know that their wives like daisies.

Me: And it's important men know which day their wives like to receive daisies most.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Two Crows Farm

There are bonuses to winter. For example, I can pull on my insulated coveralls over my pj's on weekends and go out to the barn. Another is that the poop is all frozen so it's not as smelly or dirty in the barn.  The bad part of winter is not having a heated water bowl and having to chop ice out of the water buckets twice a day. 

Last weekend we finally moved the animals 1 km down the road to the barn. We are borrowing a space in the neighbour's barn for the winter. Hopefully this is the only winter. This spring, plans are in the works to build our own. Crossing my fingers that it actually happens. There is government funding that will help with a big part of the bill.  I am beyond excited, but force myself to be patient. There is currently 3 feet of snow on the ground that has no intention of going anywhere and the funding applications don't come out until May. I'm not going to be too excited until I see an approval letter in the mail.

We brought the cows down the road by tying them to the back of the tractor and walking. Smokey, who had been halter broke in the past, I thought would be fine. Toodles, who I didn't think had ever had a halter on, I was worried about. Xanadu, the calf, she was left loose to follow along. I wasn't concerned about her. She had two choices, follow or be left behind alone. Of course she followed her mamma like a good girl. What surprised me was that Smokey wouldn't walk. She's approximately 1800 lbs and wouldn't take a step. The tractor pulled, she slid behind, then fell. Legs splayed on the road. We had gone 500 ft and her hocks we skinned and bleeding from falling on the pavement. It's frustrating watching. All she had to do to relieve her discomfort, was to walk. Each time she fell, I loosened the ropes and gave her a rest. Unsure what we would do if she didn't walk. We couldn't drag her, we'd kill her. We couldn't let her keep falling, she'd hurt herself.  Toodles in the mean time was tied next to Smokey, standing just as quiet as can be, without ever pulling her rope tight. You'd think she had been shown, she was so well halter broke. (She is now officially my favorite cow.) When we reached the farm next door, I'm not sure if Smokey could smell the other livestock or what, but she stood right up, shook her head and walked. The rest of the way was a breeze and thankfully she is no worse for wear, with no injuries other than skinned hocks. 

I wasn't terribly worried about the walk, because I knew it would work, but it was a huge relief to have them inside and out of the wind and snow. The trip back in the spring? Well, I'll worry about that when the time comes. In the mean time, I will be putting a halter on Xanadu and teaching her how to walk, as she'll have to be tied next round.

A few years ago I would have thought it impossible to farm without machinery or a barn. But I guess where there is a will, there is a way. I've had to be resourceful and return favours with my time (which is worth more than money) but it's working.  I have my cows.

The horse wouldn't let me catch him that day. He's in need of a lot of work. He's very herd bound and would prefer if I left him alone with his cows. The thing with him though, is that he's not mentally strong enough to be a herd leader. If he wants to go somewhere in the field, but he's afraid, he'll herd one of the cows and force them to come with him. He's severely claustrophobic (which stems from years of being trapped in a stall 24/7 and mistreated before we bought him) and is afraid of most things. So being in the barn is a bit of a mind blow for the guy. The space they are in is an open area, half enclosed and half outdoors. There is no reason he should feel the least bit confined or trapped, but he does. I'm not sure how to help him with this except to go back to the lessons of natural horsemanship and build his confidence with games and exercises. 

I left him in the field and took the cows. If he didn't want to follow me, then he'd suffer the consequences and be left behind. He wanted to be a dink, so I said fine, have it your way. When I returned for him, he ran up to me in the field, placed his head in my lap. He didn't care, he'd follow me anywhere, so long as I didn't leave him alone. He has a strong dominant streak in him, being a stud for 3 or 4 years and that dominance and fight for leadership is a daily battle with us. He wants to be in control, but wants me (or the cows) to provide him with safety and comfort. In the animal world, you can't have it both ways. You follow or you lead. Poor guy is in constant struggle with himself. 

We walked down to the barn. I had plans on riding him, but he worked himself into such a state he was covered in icicles from galloping through the snow banks and sweating. He's such a dink some days, but he's my special boy. There is no lack of personality. He is the furthest thing from a dead head quarter horse that you might mistake them for different species.

With everyone warm in the barn, I can wait for Toodles to calve. I'm not sure on her exact due date but some time in February is our best guess. Her calf will be the second born on our farm and will have a name beginning with the letter Y.  Two Crows Farm is officially a member of the Canadian Limousin Association and has been given tattoo letters that represent our farm. If we choose to register our animals they will have the tattoo in the left ear beginning with MDC then the number they were born and the letter of the year. So Toodles' calf could be MDC 1Y.  We chose the tattoo MDC because it is both Martin's initials and mine.

So the little girl that everyone thought was crazy for having a cow in her back yard, with no barn and no tractor, now has 2 cows, has sent 3 bulls/steer to market, fed 12 families, has had one calf born on the farm and awaits the second, with top of the line genetics and some pretty awesome cattle and plans to purchase two more. Hard to believe we had none of this two years ago.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Favorite Toy

When Shady was a pup the toy duck was bigger than she was.  But she would proudly drag it around, doing her best to lift it.  She sucked on it and slept with it and quacked it until it had no quack left.  Eventually the poor thing was brought outside and left there. With no wings or feet left, we eventually threw it away.

When I was a kid I had my sookie blanket.  It (she, really) was rainbow stripe with white satin edges.  I wore her as hair, tying her back with a clothes pin. She was the roof of my forts.  She came with me everywhere I went over night.

My mother made a blanket for each of my boys.  Satin on one side and the softest flannel on the other.  Don't tell Reiley I told you this, but he still has his hidden in his room.  Owen still uses his.  I am torn between him being old enough to give her up already and being heart broken that he's too old for her anymore.  He uses his blankie more than I did or Reiley did.  On long car trips he'll bring her along and suck on his fingers with her tucked under his nose.  Just like he did today when we went shopping in Halifax.

We didn't notice she was missing until Owen was getting tucked into bed.  After 2 trips to the truck looking and looking again, we couldn't find her.  I was ready to call the stores we had visited on the long shot that someone had turned her in, having found her in the parking lot.  She must have fallen out the truck when Owen climbed in. To be honest, I was heart sick at the thought of her lying in the wet, dirty slush, all by herself.  Lost.  I really didn't want to tell Owen she was gone.

I went back outside one last time and looked around the truck and found her lying in the snow.  After a quick fluff in the dryer, she was as good as new and warm too.

After good night hugs and kisses I walked into the kitchen and found Shady lying on the floor with her Christmas present.  Her favorite toy.  Even after all these years.  I guess we never get too old for some things.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Froggy Woggy

Owen's hair had grown far too long.

He had been evading me for just as long.  So I finally put my foot down and put Owen into a chair, fresh from a bath (he didn't want to take) and got out my scissors.  He insisted he put his stuffed toy frog in another chair to watch.  That done, he told me I could start.

As I was snip-snipping along I got a lesson in the definition of an old word I apparently didn't know, even after all these years.

Owen: I want Froggy to get a hair cut after me.

Me: How can I cut Froggy's hair? Frogs don't have hair.

Owen: Well he does.  His name is Froggy Woggy.

Me: (???)

Owen: He's not just Froggy, he's Froggy Woggy, so he has hair.  Woggy means he has hair.  So he is Froggy who has hair.

Me: Oh. Um, maybe I'll cut his another day though, ok?