February 12, 2013

On Death and Farm Life

Last week, I spent a morning lumbering over a 6-months-along-but-looks-more-like-8-months pregnant belly, collecting tools from the shed to pick away at a small shallow grave in still frozen ground near the back of our shelterbelt.

I'd found my favorite cat dead in the barn that morning. 

When she got sick, I'd wrapped her in her blanket, the one she used to curl up with on our bed, and less than a day later, when I found her dead, I kept her in that blanket as I placed her in the grave – the biggest one I could muster in mid-winter, mid-pregnancy.

I vacillated from “it's just a cat” to wailing uncontrollably at the foot of the grave, from grunting with the pick axe and just getting it done to shrieking like a scared child at the stiffness of my sweet cat's limbs, claws out, still clinging to the blanket.

As I buried the little black and white cat, I was struck at how equally I felt guilt for feeling too little and weakness for feeling too much.

I'm no stranger to dead animals. I've mourned my share, especially as farm kid. But, it was different then. I had someone to take care of the aftermath for me, leaving me with just the emotion, the heady wrangling that comes when you're faced with death, and none of the actual logistical chores that come with it. Whether it was the day the “custom slaughtering” vehicle pulled up to the house or the day I watched my cocker spaniel get hit on the highway, my reaction was allowed to be emotional only.

But now, as an adult, I have to deal with it all – the emotion and the cold, hard logistics. I have to cram the already rigid beloved cat in a too-small grave. And, I have to slit the throat of the Thanksgiving turkey, carry the blood bucket, pluck the feathers, cut the meat, throw away the dead baby turkeys or dispose of the body of a goose who strangled itself in the fence.

Death is part of any life, but on the farm, it's part of everyday life.

That has meant a bit of hardening in my heart. I actually cringe a little at admitting that, but it's true.

I used to be the one who brought home stray cats to the farm to “save” them. I insisted as a 10-year-old that Peter, the cat I'd saved from the tree in town, get extensive surgery to reset his leg and stitch his ear back on. Just a few short years ago, Jacob and I spent hundreds upon hundreds of dollars on the very cat I buried last week when she came down with some weird auto-immune thing. Back then, I wrapped bandages and applied ointment several times a day. This time around, I just wrapped her in her favorite blanket, made her comfortable and let her die. (In my defense, she was an older cat and had something obviously serious going on that I was pretty sure a vet couldn't fix. And, she'd become a barn cat – no less valuable than the house cat she was before, but just in a more natural habitat. I like to think she was happier there – in life and in death. But, also, she was just a cat.)

See? The equal parts guilt and weakness.

But what was worse within all of that was the strange, terrible feeling that somewhere along the line, life took away a little smidge of my sensitivity.

I'm still wrestling with that – whether it's a good or a bad thing. There's a fine line between becoming strong and becoming heartless. And, I'm trying to remind myself that the juxtaposition of practicality and sadness I felt burying that little cat is a good thing – it means I haven't crossed that line.

I never want to stop feeling the emotion about the loss of any life, whether that be a cat or turkey or a pig. But I also don't want to go back to that naive place I was as a child in which nothing should die, ever. And if it does, I don't have to see what that really means. Too often, I think we shelter kids (and ourselves really), girls in particular, from the full picture of life, showing only the pretty stuff and letting them, and ourselves blissfully ignore the hard, yucky stuff.

My first instinct was to wait for Jacob to get home and have him deal with the cat. My friend Renee suggested I call my Dad. My friend Brooke offered to come over and do the deed. But, for some reason, I felt like I had to do it. For one, I don't want Willa growing up thinking that only Papa deals with the hard stuff. And secondly, I just felt like I need to continue to prove to myself that I can be soft and sad and hard and practical all at the same time -- that I have the capacity and strength to deal with both the emotion and the realities.

Still, I took Willa to a friend's as I did the burying, not wanting to expose her to that just yet. It was the same instinct I had this fall when, just before the first turkey was killed on slaughter day I brought her back to the house and spared her the blood.

But both times, I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Maybe it would be easier on her to know, early on, the dichotomy I'm just now coming to grips with. Maybe it will be smoother for her to just know from the beginning that death is hard and sad but also necessary and inevitable.

Then again, she's two. We still have lots of time to talk about it and many, many opportunities. And maybe by the time we get there, I'll finally have figured it out for myself.

November 29, 2012

The New Farm

I feel like we are really starting from scratch.



I should have been documenting this whole thing -- the big leap our family has taken since I last wrote -- but it's almost as if it were too precious, to fragile to really put into words out there in the world. Not just yet anyway.

See, since my last post, we bought a farm. A real, honest-to-goodness farm -- of our own.

We've been working toward this for the last four -- eight, really -- years.

"If only," we'd say, "we had a place of our own."

"Someday, when we actually have a farm..."

"If we ever own our own farm we'll..."

And now we're actually here, on our own farm. 

We did first things first. We moved our stuff, turkeys and equipment.

Then, we broke ground.


Then we butchered said turkeys and delivered them across the state for Thanksgiving. (We have so many thanks to give for all the help we got with that.)

And now, that the dust has settled, it's started to sink in that this magical place is ours. Ours.



Then the panic really set in.

When you finally get something you really, really, really want, it can be a bit paralyzing.

Because now, we don't have any somedays. We have todays.

All the things we thought we could make happen if -- they don't have ifs anymore. They have whens. Now the real work starts.

And all that stuff I thought about our someday? Some of it was true and some of it wasn't, reaffirming that darnit -- life, motherhood, farming, love -- it all takes work, no matter how magical the place or how nicely situated the outbuildings or how well-organized the kitchen.

Everything is a bit easier, yes, and we're doing it all in a breathtaking place, but it all still takes hard, heart-ful, back-aching work.

One thing hasn't changed, though: It's still so very worth it.



August 8, 2012

All Kinds of Awesome

Because you can be dirty *and* pretty at the same time.

 A few weeks ago, I was ready to ring the bell. Big deadlines, covering for other editors, working around limited child care, a big camping/festival/selling weekend to get ready for and Jacob off the farm for a few days, leaving Willa and I to harvest (with our apprentices and some friend help) and then deliver veggies to 50 families in two cities, 2 hours apart.

It was all enough to a) strip me down to the very last shred of my strength and b) remind me of how strong I actually can be, even on a shred.

By Friday, harvest day, I was frazzled. I had to be out to the field early so I quickly woke the babe, got breakfast in both of us, slapped on one of my trusty, so threadbare-it's-almost-see-through farm shirts, my hat and dirty boots and dropped Willa off at daycare before zooming out for harvest. As I drove back into town from the morning, the logistics of the next two days of delivery and travel rambling through my head, I caught a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror.

And, whoa Nellie. What a sight.  Dirty, sweaty, frazzled. Haggard even. I was covered, head to toe, in sweat and mud and stress.

As luck would have it, I'd recently run into an old friend, who, of course, looked fabulous, just when I looked like a hot mess.

And the truth is, I look like am a hot mess most days.

I don't notice, really, until I see someone looking fabulous. Stylish. Put together. Clean. You know -- how I looked before the mud and dirt and beet juice on my shirt and no time for mascara or concealer or, let's admit it, showers even.

I like to think I don't care -- that I have more important things to think about and more important values to live up to.

But, I do care sometimes. And, it affects my self worth. Looking haggard can contribute to feeling haggard. And lately, I've both looked and felt pretty haggard.

I thought about it a lot on my early morning drive to Helena to deliver that Saturday and by the time I got there, I'd pretty much convinced myself that, judging by how much I'd -- what's the phrase? -- let myself go, I was hanging by the thread of one of my threadbare farm shirts.

I waver, pretty drastically, between being a strong, I-don't-care-what-I-look-like farm girl and a self-conscious, let's say medium-maitenence girl who doesn't feel quite right without a little foundation to cover up her old acne scars. I've never been pretty enough to be a pretty girl and never felt strong enough to hang with the real tough-as-nails farm girls out there. So I waffle somewhere in the middle, never quite knowing where I fit in. Why? I wonder, do I feel the need to be one or the other?

But, back to the big, hard week: I pulled it off by myself, even with Willa in tow, editing, writing, singing Muffin Man! at the top of my lungs over and over, chopping the tops off of kohrabi and lugging huge coolers of beets and cabbage and zucchini (you can't imagine how heavy those coolers were) in and out of our beat-up Chevy. Customers were happy at both deliveries and I was proud to pull every last head of cabbage out of those coolers.

At the final delivery, once everyone was gone, I started to load back up and noticed an old man walking by the pickup for a second time, gawking a little at a (what I saw as) frazzled farmer/mom in an already coffee-stained white tank top and muddy shorts awkwardly trying to push coolers almost as long as her into her truck.

He stopped for a moment and then kept walking, turning back to shout:

"I thought for a second you might need some help. But you look like you're pretty tough."

That's right old man. I am pretty tough. 

And pretty awesome.

Here's the thing I want to model for my daughter:

There are all kinds of awesome.

I may not be the prettiest or the strongest, but by God, I am pretty strong and even pretty pretty and I do awesome things every single day.

Once in awhile, we have to be the ones to tell ourselves that.

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By the way, it's amazing what a little bit of self confidence can do for a girl. She'll think she can do just about anything...


  Like you know, hop on a mechanical bull at the State Fair.


And be perfectly happy getting bucked off.

July 31, 2012

Here's to Family Farms! And Music! And Rural Communities! And Red Ants Pants!

We had just a fantastic time this weekend at the 2nd Annual Red Ants Pants Festival in White Sulphur Springs.

It's nothing short of amazing to watch a big pasture outside of a small Montana town come to life the way the Jackson Ranch does for this festival. And, to know that one incredible woman's vision for women in leadership and strong family farms and viable rural communities is the reason for it all makes it even more so. That's the reason we go. Because even in dust and heat (and with a toddler in dust and heat) -- it's just magical to watch it all come together and feel that energy.

This is the second year we've done the festival and this year, the music was even better (Mary Chapin Carpenter!) and we were able to do a demonstration of our bike-powered fresh flour, in addition to selling whole ancient and heritage grains and our sourdough Farmer Bread.

About 125 people showed up for the demo (called the Tour de Flour) to hear us talk about heritage and ancient grains, fresh flour and the renaissance of family farming. And, at least 15 brave people signed up to compete to win flour and bread with our grain-grinding bike time trials. (We did, however, had to call it at 7 contestants because the mill got so hot it started to gum up -- basically baking -- the flour. We've never tried grinding that fast, for that long or in that kind of heat. :)

To top off the excitement, the Red Ants Pants Foundation -- which is why the whole festival was started to begin with -- announced on stage Saturday that we are one of their first grant winners. Pretty darn cool, especially considering how highly we think of the foundation (and of our friend Sarah Calhoun, the owner of Red Ants Pants). Basically the organization was founded:

-To develop and expand leadership roles for women
-To preserve and support working family farms and ranches
-To enrich and promote rural communities

To that end, this year, the foundation used the proceeds of last year's festival to dole out community grant awards to people and organizations working toward those goals. We were so honored to be on this first list.

We won for a project we've been dreaming about for some time now: stone-milled ancient and heritage grains. So, thanks to the foundation, we're shopping now for an electric (our legs are so happy!) stone mill that will get fresh flour to our Grain CSA farm share members (sign up now!) as well as individuals, restaurants and bakeries across the state and the region.

So, even despite the dust and rain and sunburns, it was a tip-top weekend.

Here's the proof:

Willa and her Papa had a grand time walking around the festival, collecting rocks, listening to music and watching all the people. This girl did not get her Mama's aversion to crowds.
We got to hang all weekend with Emily, our amazing, awesome, incredible apprentice.  Here's Willa and Emily (or, "Ammee" to Willa) watching Mary Chapin Carpenter, sipping on a lemonade slushy and yelling "Good job people!" after each song. (That was Willa's idea.)


Oh, Mary Chapin Carpenter, your voice is like home to me. Here's one big reason why, and why she was just the perfect voice for this event.

July 19, 2012

When Things Make Sense, And Then They Don't

There are days when your life make sense. And then there are days it doesn't.

Being aware and respectful of how quickly it can change from one to the other can make you more thankful for the days it does and more patient on the days it doesn't.

On Monday, it all made sense, all this scrambling around, all this juggling. This cobbled-together existence of farm and work and home and parenting -- it's for something.

Mostly, it's for what I get to do on Mondays when I deliver farm shares to customers and veggies to the Mountain Front Market in Choteau. On those days, I get to: 1) get food to rural folks who are so appreciative of good food and good farmers and good local economies and good community and 2) do this while my daughter, who I often worry will someday resent the fact that we spent our summers schlepping vegetables all over the Golden Triangle, has a big time helping our friend and market owner Jill. This week, she helped stock apples.


Jill told me later that Willa would pick up an apple and stare at it for a few moments, intently exploring each curve and bump and color before handing it up to Jill to stock. "Isn't that what we should all be doing?" Jill asked. Stopping to smell and touch and really see the things in our lives?

After all that hard work, Willa sat down for a glass of milk with Jill in the back and Willa colored while Jill made new labels for the produce I'd just dropped off. I had a vision of her at 5 or 6 or 7 doing the same thing every Monday -- helping Mama deliver veggies and drinking milk with Jill in the back of a grocery store.

I thought about the stories someday she might tell her kids about those afternoons spent in the store. Picking out treats. Coloring. Hanging with her pal Jill.

I thought too about how similar her stories might be to the stories my Mom tells me about her childhood in her grandparents' store.

(My great grandparents, Lebanese immigrants, owned and ran "People's Grocery" in Great Falls -- which my Great Grandpa Mike called "Pe-op-o-lee's" -- for many, many years. Maybe the retail side of food was in my blood as much as the growing side after all.)

Sometimes, that full circle stuff just chokes me up, I tell you. I turn into a big, sappy fool. 

But, then, on Tuesday, wham. Nothing made sense. There were many tears, too much to do, not enough time, calls and texts and urgent emails, lettuce wilting, needing ice, conference calls wedged between my shoulder and chin while I tried to walk a squirmy, hot, cranky toddler in a stroller (nap, dammit!) for the third time around the neighborhood, spilled liquids on keyboards, sticky skin, dishes piling, dog puke on the couch and a mountain of laundry that seemed to have doubled in size overnight. Oh, and a veggie pick up at our aforementioned disaster of a house.

No, I don't have any photos to illustrate this s*^tshow.

But then! Wednesday. Harried, but manageable. Willa's pal Carey, who takes care of her occasionally while I work, saw the ridiculousness the day before in our house and so she offered to take her for the whole day. (And, she baked one whole cake and brownies and cupcakes for us to boot. That woman has saved my life more than once, I swear.) And then to cap off a productive day, we had our awesome farm apprentices over for dinner.  (Stuffed zucchini. Recipe to come.)

As I finished dinner prep and got everything out to the table, finally, I felt a calm I hadn't felt for a few days.

And I was able to stop long enough to witness this little girl's Papa tickling her with a few leaves.




Things made sense again. Just. Like. That.

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By the way, I'm back on the column writing for The Daily Yonder (a very cool online journal about Rural America) this week and my return column is about making room for special things to grow.


July 5, 2012

Farro It, Dude!

Hey there. We've been off gallivanting in North Dakota. Why? Because that's what Montana farmers do, apparently. On the only three days they have off in a row, they drive to North Dakota to talk to other farmers about, you guessed it, farming.

So, I don't have much to tell you this week. But, I do have a new recipe over on the farm blog to share:

Warm Prairie Farro Salad With Baby Beets, Blue Cheese and Mustard Greens



Dee-lish.

June 26, 2012

Pizza Season!

Summer means pizza around here.

There's no better way to carry all that goodness coming off the farm to your mouth than a good crust covered with cheese.

The latest creation took some of the arugula, now flowering, and thus, done for the season (sad face), and made it something to photograph.

Here is said flowering arugula. So pretty. But, again, so sad. (We are letting this bed flower, however, to hope to save the seed for next year. Jacob's been really into helping figure out how to create a more sustainable seed supply for both our farm and for our region.)


Aforementioned really something of a pizza.



This pizza was a bit of a mashup. I took this favorite salad recipe (the famous Prado Pressed Salad) as inspiration and combined it with an awesome pizza I had once at Missoula's Biga Pizza and just ran with it.

Here, again, is the dough recipe from Mark Bittman.

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more as needed (*Only, I use one cup all-purpose and two cups Prairie Heritage Farm whole Sonora wheat flour. Naturally.)
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

I just put the dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse for a second or two. Then, add the olive oil and drizzle in about a cup (or a cup and a 1/2) of water until the mixture forms a ball. Take out the ball and knead it on a floured surface 10-15 times and then put it in an oiled bowl and cover and let it rise about 2 hours. Then, I divide it into two chunks, let it rise again for 10 minutes or so, roll it out, put it on a pizza peel (covered in cornmeal or, see note below about parchment) and top it.

Bake on a super hot pizza stone (preheated to 500 degrees) for 9-10 minutes.

On top of this pizza was:

-A drizzle of olive oil
-Sea salt
-Cracked pepper
-Rosemary (I prefer fresh, but went with dried this time)
-Sliced dried figs
-Sliced shallots
-A handful of walnuts
-Crumbled Cambozola cheese
-A sprinkling of Parmesan
-Fresh arugula piled on top after the baking

The second pizza was sausage, onion, our first picking of spinach and mozzarella.

Also quite lovely.



P.S. I recently started putting the rolled dough on parchment paper and then putting it on the pizza peel, rather than using cornmeal to get the pie to slide off into the oven. I haven't burned my arm since I started doing that and while I do miss the cornmeal crunch, my arms, and my nerves are much better for it. (One of the only times I slip and say the f word around the toddler is when I'm trying to get my perfectly created pizza to slide onto a pizza stone only to end up with a misshapen hunk of dough and cheese and spinach or something.)

P.P.S. These lovely things were grilled on the grill (so I did use cornmeal on the peel). We put our pizza stone (which is actually a few unglazed quarry tiles) on the grill and heated the sucker up. (Because as much as we love pizza in the summer, my body does not like the heat of a 500 degree oven in the middle of summer.)

The pizza took a little longer on the grill (like 10-12 minutes), but it gave it a super yummy crunch. And, I didn't pit out while making it either. Win, win.

And, I promise, this face isn't an indication of the goodness of the pizza. In fact, this pizza prompted a new phrase: "I like it!" which sounds a bit more like, "Awee LIE-EE-K! it." (Or, maybe that's "I don't like it." Hmmm.)


June 14, 2012

A Week With A Small Farm Family

Photo dump! 


In case you're as scattered as I am and just want to look at something and not think for a second, I give you:

The week in pictures from a life cultivated and Prairie Heritage Farm...


Morning sun is about all we get in our otherwise, dark, dark, little house in town. Oh, what we wouldn't give to finally live out in the country. To live where we work the land.

We're working on it. But for now, we have all the stresses and risks of running a small farm with few of the perks, like you know, waking up with the sun streaming through the windows, or picking fresh veggies from your backyard for dinner, or playing, whenever you want, in the dirt with your daughter.

Someday, little one, some day.

For now though, we spend a lot of time outside to pretend like we live on a farm. As much as we can, we get outside to the farm itself, and every other waking moment we get outside in the backyard.

(Happy Father's Day, by the way, to this guy. What an awesome Papa he is.)




Or, we grab some valuable time at the park.
This is Willa's new "smile." Ask her to smile for the camera and she goes one step too far turning that frown upside down with her hands. 

 Last Wednesday, we hit the road to see Auntie Hannah graduate. Only the cool kids were allowed on the trip.
We met some nice chickens at the Museum of the Rockies, where we wandered through Jacob's favorite museum exhibit of all time: The Living History Farm. He said, at least twice, and wistfully, "I think I was born at the wrong time." 

If this guy had a time travel device, he would so be living on a turn-of-the-century (and I mean last century) farm, wearing suspenders and doing everything by hand. (See the photo in this post as evidence.) Jacob, of course, chatted it up with the farm folks and ended up leaving with some seedlings of an old variety of red orach, a red spinachy-kind of leafy veggie.

 And, the whole family got to practice their Willa smiles.

And finally, Willa and I got some farm time in this week. (We're home a lot these days while Papa toils in the dirt, given my whole online editing job, which you know, requires an Internet connection, which is absent at the farm.) You can almost hear things growing out there. (The weeds too though.)


Willa and I took care of some little bunches of chives that were buried under a mountain of quack grass while we were out there. And, oh, it felt good to dig and pull and smell and talk about what dirt and sun do for plants and which plants are yummy and which ones are yuck. 

It's a dandy thing, hanging out with a kid on a farm.

And, don't tell my husband, but I really miss the whole manual labor side of the farming thing, a lot, even the weeding part.



This is what we'll be doing again this weekend: driving first to Great Falls on Friday to deliver fresh veggies to our awesome customers there and then on to Helena for the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning, where we meet up with more awesome farm share customers and watch Jacob build up his quads using a bike-powered flour mill to get the fine people of Helena freshly-ground, flour from organic, heritage wheat. 

Nothing like it.


May 24, 2012

A Time Capsule, Or How One Person's Trailer Trash Might Be Another's Childhood

Our two farm apprentices arrived. And let me tell you, they're magic. Pure magic. Not only are they awesome folks to be around, they're super duper hard workers and for once, for once, we actually feel like we have the labor figured out on the farm. That's a big step for a small business.

The apprentices mean I don't need to be out there toiling in the dirt and sun as much and now that I have an more-than-part-time off-farm job and a toddler to chase, that works best for our lives. But, I can't say I don't miss it. I do. A whole lot. But, I'll still get out a few afternoons a week and get sufficiently dirty, I hope.

When we do get out to the farm, we try to do so by bike. Pretty awesome road biking around here for a Mama and Toddler.


Also, when on the farm, we always strive to look farmy.



And, while at home, we try to be as useful as possible, researching all things pertinent to small farmers, like, say, reading the most recent issue of ACRES USA magazine. (Someone has to know how do decode the nutrient density of our crops.)




In other news, in order to house aforementioned magic apprentices, we are borrowing this awesome camper trailer from my Dad.



I spent some good weekends in this as a kid and I don't think it's been used since the Lowerys last took it on the road, circa 1985.

So, this thing is like a time capsule on wheels.

It's so funny, how something you didn't even know you remembered can bring back such vivid memories.

Things like a 30-year-old baby doll, a rainbow hair band, a cassette tape, the print of a camper cushion, the lid of a margarine container, an empty box of clay, a key chain, a few handmade potholders, the top from a popsicle maker.


Aww... early 80s, you were totally rad.

May 12, 2012

Convincing Ourselves We're Mom Enough, Or What is Really Undermining Women


As a relatively new mother, I'm still figuring out my role – in the house, in the family, in the workplace, in the business world, in the mothering world and in my own sense of self.

It's a nuanced, complex and challenging place to be. But, it's my place to be. And in this place, I'd like to think I am fully thinking, and feeling, my way through it all -- my own way through it all.

But the last few weeks, a debate has been building online and off that insinuates otherwise – that seems to claim that in fact, my decisions as a mother are made from a place of influence, or fear, or insecurity.

So, I'll say this as eloquently as I can right now: Hooey. Pure, freaking, hooey.

Let me just go ahead and save you the trouble of answering the rhetorical questions raised by this firestorm of pre-Mother's Day media, by these so-called “mom wars.” (Really? Inflame much? “Wars?”)

First to the most recent question – the one posited on the cover of Time Magazine: “Are You Mom Enough?”

The answer is: Yes. No matter if you're an “attached parent” or not, the answer is yes. You are mom enough. 

Ok, that's done.

Secondly, to the question raised by the debate over Elisabeth Badinter's book – the question of Has Modern Motherhood Undermined Women?”

The answer is: No. Absolutely not.

But you know what is undermining women?  This crap.

All of it.

This crap. And this crap. And this crap.

And what's worse – women participating in this crap -- women spitting at each other from across imaginary boundaries between the right way and the wrong way to be a mother, or a woman.

It's an old tactic, you know, making women think that the real enemy is each other.

And, we're so quick to take the bait, aren't we? (You need to look no further than that Time cover to see the evidence of "bait." See what they're doing there with that cover? To use “war” terminology, it's a blatant attempt to incite violence. And, I've been so disappointed to see, all over, that it's working.)

It's either:
Oh, so you make all your own baby food? You're probably totally be judging me for the Goldfish cracker I just fed my kid, but you know what? Screw off, you're the one doing it wrong.

Or:
So, your kid sleeps through the night? In his own crib? And, I bet you think I'm totally enabling my kid by sleeping with her, don't you? But, you know what? Screw off, you're the one doing it wrong.

You've all heard some versions of these conversations, right? I have. Both of them. Both in my own head.

But here's a little secret: that piously “attached” mom you think you see? The one so comically portrayed in these discussions? (The one chasing her kid around the playground with the homemade marmalade?) Or, the similarly ridiculously-crafted depiction of the BabyWise-reading mom who reportedly lets her 6-week-old cry for 3 hours straight to teach the baby to to self soothe?

They're just snippets of women made into caricatures -- caricatures that make for convenient news stories about "wars." Caricatures that are easy to use -- either to make blanket judgements against other women or to create imaginary judges of ourselves.

Are we that insecure about our own mothering? That we have to tear each other down to validate our own choices? That we see judgement in every parenting decision that is not the one we've chosen?

Why have we evolved to celebrate all manners of diversity within our gender except within motherhood?

Well, that's where it gets really sticky. Motherhood is a complex thing. Perhaps our most complex thing.

It's at once intensely personal and communal. Instinctual, but also intellectual.

It ties into our deepest, deepest sense of self. It's our womanhood. It's our legacy. We have a little life in our hands. It is the most important thing we will ever do. 

But, it's also something with which we can never truly measure our success. That makes us vulnerable. We want a right and a wrong way. We want measurement. We want studies. We want labels. We want something that can take this big, sticky, uncomfortable thing and make it nice and neat and black and white.

That is why we are so quick to buy into the belief that there are “sides” to mothering. Camps to join. Gurus to follow.

But we're destroying each other, our children and ourselves by thinking that.

Because when it comes right down to it, parenting is really about feeling your way in the dark, even in this modern, intellectualized, information-overloaded world. The true trick to parenting is that there are no tricks. If at first, you do no harm (and protect your children from harm), then you are Mom enough. The rest -- and how you do it -- is purely personal.

And, certainly, what we read or hear or listen to is bound to influence how we approach parenting, but just how we approach it.  We all need information and we have it and use it. But, to insinuate that outside information – outside influence -- is the pure reason we mother the way we mother, is to tell us that we aren't thinking for ourselves. (Talk about an idea that undermines women.)

I parent the way I parent not because of some book or some guru or because of my "situation in life" or because of something I fear or something I have to prove, or some trend I'm following -- as if making the world-shaking day-to-day decisions of parenting is somehow akin to picking out shoes.

I parent by the heart, not by the book.

And I can honestly say that every other mother I know does the same – whether we bottle feed or breastfeed, co-sleep or use a crib, cloth diaper or disposables, make our own baby food or buy it -- we're all doing what we feel is best, and what works for our children, our families and ourselves.

No one is allowed to put us into camps for any of those choices, individual or combined. No one is allowed to label us for them. And no one is allowed to define the value of our motherhood based upon them and them alone. Not experts, not doctors, not magazine articles, not authors, not grandmothers, aunts or uncles. 

Not other mothers and certainly, most importantly, not ourselves.

Happy Mother's Day.

May 3, 2012

Cheap Sunglasses and a Book, a Real Book

I mean really. Who knew a cheap pair of sunglasses and a new bike helmet could create this kind of joy. (Or, whatever that is.)


In other news this week, both Jacob and I are published -- like in a book, a real book -- writers.

Our copies of Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers' Movement came this week and wowza, I wasn't prepared for how cool and different it would feel to hold a book -- that contains my words -- in my hands. Pretty neat-o.



The book is really gorgeous and well done. Among other great essays, it contains this one, titled "The Value of Our Produce," which I read just as I really started to struggle with this whole how-we-value-food-thing. (I say "started to struggle" because the inner conflict continues to build in me. But, that is a topic for another time.)

Anyway, here's a little gem from that essay, written by Ben James. 
"What is a carrot worth? A bunch of kale? A handful of berries? Too often, I find myself on the tractor making quick calculations in my head. For a bed of carrots, there are the soil amendments, the cover crop last fall, the chicken manure, the organic fertilizer, the plowing, tilling, seeding, irrigating, thinning, weeding, harvesting, washing, bunching, packing, and selling. Plus the cost of the tractors, implements, and fuel. Plus the cost of childcare and preschool. Plus, somehow, all the time spent on the computer (where does that fit in)? And I haven't even mentioned the cost of the land (hundreds of thousands of dollars, in our case). The sheer number of labor hours and material and property costs that went into helping this soil produce these carrots. I ought to shellac the carrots and hang them on the wall."
Sometimes, I feel like shellacking everything we grow.



April 25, 2012

Run and Gun

Apologies, there's not going to be much meat to this post. Or, perhaps any post from here until September. But photos. You'll get lots of photos. And recipes. (And sentences that aren't really sentences, apparently.)

Because folks, we've headed straight on into run and gun season.

This week, we plowed, planted, transplanted, direct seeded, weeded (I know! Already!), rototilled, fixed the fork lift, rode bikes (see photo below of the one in the family who is happiest about it finally being bike weather), worried and worried about the weather (We HAVE to get this in the ground if it's going to rain Thursday, etc. etc.) and prepped for our 150 heritage turkeys, which are scheduled to arrive at the Post Office Thursday morning.

(Really, they arrive via U.S. Post. Think of showing up at the counter and asking for a book of the forever stamps and, why not, 150 turkeys while you're at it.)


We will make our first CSA deliveries in a little more than a month. A month. Our two farm apprentices arrive starting in a week.

That is all to say: It's on.

A few highlights from the first week of the rest of our year:

Aforementioned stoked bike passenger. 

(Note: I need to stay in shape and get out the farm these days (we live 3.5 miles away from the farm -- that's a whole other story) so voila -- my friend Steph saved the day with letting us borrow this bike trailer. Two birds, one stone. Or actually, like 10 birds. 
Mama can get to the farm while she tones her quads and toddler gets in a good nap, shaded and happy and protected from blood-sucking insects and whatnot.)


Next: The field that will transform in less than two months from mere soil to a sea of vegetables...


Cute kid in aforementioned field...


Kid taking a snack break after a hard 10 minutes in said field...


And finally, how every one of my to-do lists starts recently. 
Because if I don't remind myself, I will forget or put it off and then I've become that lady...

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