April 28, 2011

Back to World Domination

Willa's first cold just about wiped us all out this week (seriously, what am I supposed to do with all this snot?), but even as a booger factory with a fever and a hacking cough, Willa proved to have more patience and grace with the whole thing than anyone else in the bunch.

She even put up with being stuffed into this outfit Easter morning.

But Mom, I can't breathe out of my nose.

And, so nice of her, she was willing to share with her cousins, who, despite getting an innovative treatment for higher-level oxygen from their Dr. Dad (depicted below), ended up getting the bug too.

Have I ever mentioned what an amazing Dad my brother is? It's been incredible watching him grow into fatherhood the way he has. I just love this guy.

The Cowgills are on the mend (hopfully the Lowerys are too) and it is so nice to see these little eyes this bright again.

Already, as you can see, we're back to exercises in world domination. (Or maybe she's just connecting to Mother Earth?)

April 26, 2011

How to Butcher a Pig

We've had some germination issues already in the greenhouse, but after Jacob gave me a few tips (dang!) things seemed to get better. Darn science anyway.

This year, Jacob has entrusted the Prairie Heritage Farm vegetable seedlings to me. Our first year, I was little more than (sometimes) reliable help. Last year, I took on a little more responsibility, but didn't really own any aspect of the operation (mostly on account of me being all knocked up and all.)

This year though, the veggies are mine, all mine. And although Jacob tries very hard to conceal it, I know this scares the living crap out of him.

We're both control freaks in our own right, but how we freak out is totally different.

I joke sometimes that farming would be a great relationship boot camp. One half hour herding turkeys with your mate will show you every issue you'll ever encounter in your marriage.

We're still working out the kinks in how to farm together and still like each other at the end of the day. Part of that is learning how to navigate each other's approaches to running a business.

Somedays, Jacob and I couldn't be more different in this regard.

Take for example, recent conversations about my management of the greenhouse. They generally go like this:

Him: (Carefully) Can I say something and you won't take it personally?

Me: You bet! (Words say "You bet!" but tone may say otherwise.)

Him: You're making sure everything is getting enough air, right? And, nothing is dampening off? And, we're on schedule, right?

Me: Of course I am. And no. And yes, of course we are. Of course.

(I then run out to the greenhouse to make sure that I've answered all those questions accurately.)

I haven't read a single book on how to start seedlings. Jacob has read like, one hundred and fifty-five books. (To that, Jacob would say, "Really? One hundred and fifty-five?" See, numbers are generally arbitrary to me -- sometimes only to be used for emphasis. I try to make it clear, which are for emphasis and which are fact, but am not always so good at it. This drives Jacob certifiably insane. A "couple" to him means two. To me, it can mean anywhere from two to 10 -- the fun is guessing by my tone and manner where in that range the "couple" actually is.)

Seriously (and by seriously, I mean literally) this is one of at least 10 shelves filled with books on soil, scythes, greenhouses, farming, homesteading, turkeys. You name it, Jacob has a book about i it.

Jacob keeps feeding me information from the books he's read, written by professionals (pshaw), and giving me tips from years of actual experience working with seedlings.

Meanwhile, I'm working off of feel and instinct with a just little bit of experience sprinkled in.

I know this is a huge limitation on my part, so, while I don't always let him know I'm doing so, I listen to what he has to say and am actually quite often hungry for any wisdom he has to impart.

For his part, even though he doesn't always appear to be happy to hear it, I'm usually the one who tells him it's time to stop researching plans for, say, a new turkey shelter and just put hammer to nail.

Our friend Karen painted a perfect picture of us when she said a few years ago that she had this image of the two of us out on the farm, Jacob sitting on the porch with his nose in a "How to Butcher a Pig" manual and me off in the distance, crouched in the field with a hacksaw to the pig's neck.

Some days, it feels like we're not too far from that. And, maybe that's a good thing.

April 20, 2011

Sold To the Lady With the Baby

Some of my fondest memories of my Dad when I was growing up involved getting up early on a Saturday morning and sneaking out of the yard (before my Mom could stop us) with a pickup and trailer to head to an auction.

We would wander around in the cold and wind and paw through rusted metal, old costume jewelry, antiques and farm machinery -- stuff we just might need someday.

We'd eat the homemade Sloppy Joes or chili, or whatever was on the auction menu and talk to neighbors. Dad would explain the items I hadn't seen before and tell me stories about how when he was a kid, they used those to...

Last Saturday, Jacob got up early and headed to an auction north of town to check out a manure spreader and a seed cleaner.

Willa and I followed later in the day to join him for a lunch of burgers from our friends from the Land of Grass ranch and by the time we got there, he'd already bought the manure spreader. (See photo of Willa sitting on said manure spreader above. I can't stop posting photos of her in that bonnet. Cannot, absolutely will not, stop.)

We walked around the auction and it was one of those moments where my childhood and my motherhood collide. I sometimes still can't believe I'm back here, going to auctions on windy spring mornings, this time with my daughter and her daddy.

April 12, 2011

Learning to Multi-Media-Task

The photos on this blog are about to take a rocket ship to the land of better.

I convinced Jacob recently to let me use his super nice camera every once in awhile (if I took really good care of it -- which I don't do for most things, other than say, Willa).

I've always been a terrible photographer and I'd chalked it up to bad timing, a bad eye and a general lack of patience in getting to know a piece of machinery like a fancy camera.

But, Jacob's camera -- a Canon EOS 20D -- is sparking a hope that all this time, I've been a rotten photographer because I've had sub-par equipment. A girl can hope, anyway.

Everyone has a particular mode of creativity that suits them. I've always been a writer, or at one time, a singer (I started college as a vocal performance major, but that's another story). With either singing or writing, there is nothing between me and the expression. It's pure words or pure voice. There is little technical knowledge, like say, learning notes on the saxophone, or the ins and outs of aperture and F-Stops, to filter the expression.

Funny, then, that I've always been attracted to photographers and artists. It's an admiration, I think, of people who can find beauty and emotion and capture it with a tool or a process or material.

Jacob is an amazing photographer, artist and guitar player and his artwork is almost always material- or process-driven: printmaking and sculpture, for example.

In 2008, Jacob put together an incredible show of sculpture for an exhibit he called "Prairie Stories." (Here's the announcement from the show. So very cool.) Each piece was crafted from parts of life on the farm that had "gone back to the earth" -- you might say.

OK, it was a bunch of dead stuff that he dragged home from his seasons farming in Big Sandy and put in our garage. I wasn't happy when I saw it all coming into our yard. A partially mummified coyote? What did I get into here?

But what came out of that garage that winter was truly beautiful and truly inspired. Each piece needs some form of manipulation to experience -- like real live artist books. So, with the shadowbox with the coyote inside, you pulled off little shutters on little windows to reveal pieces of the coyote underneath. This one, which I call "bird" has a long crank in the center that when you move it, the feathers twirl.

Watching Jacob work over the years has pushed me to find a tangible form of creativity that works for me. Writing just doesn't cut it all the time.  It helps me sort through things, good things, complicated things, tough things, sometimes impossible things. But, because of that, it can be emotionally labor intensive and it's really a solitary act. Also, once I started doing it for a living, my relationship with it has proven to be, well, complicated to say the least.

So, I'm loving playing with this camera.

For one, It's something I can do with Willa and is especially enjoyable with Willa in front of the camera. See here:

For two, I like that I don't have to create an expression from scratch. I have light and shapes and colors and timing to guide me.

But most of all, I like the perspective it has revealed in me. It seems to be helping me to see what's in front of me, instead of what's just inside me.

And sometimes, I think, you can learn a lot about what's inside of you by what you see in front of you.
In fact, maybe you can learn even more.

Also, now that I understand depth of field, I can take photos inside my house without you seeing the holy shitshow of clutter and dog hair. If I focus right, it all just gets turned into a lovely background glow.

See that black smudge behind my impossibly cute child? It is actually a pile of potting soil and dog dander. You never would have suspected.

April 9, 2011

Winter and Discontent

A few weeks ago, Jacob and I were walking to the grocery store with Willa in tow and Jacob sort of non-nonchalantly asks: "So, are you sure you want to live here for the rest of our lives?"

It was a gray, winter day, so cold I had both a Carharrt vest and a down jacket on for the block-and-a-half walk. I was certain Willa's cheeks were getting frost bit, a fear only exasperated by the fact that it was taking us forever to get anywhere because of the death trap that had become our sidewalks after a few weeks of thaw/freeze/snow, thaw/freeze/snow.

The week before, I took the kind of fall that can only be characterized as a total-freaking-yard sale. A feet-flailing, body-horizontal-in-mid-air, grocery-flying, neighbors-running-out-their-front-door kind of fall. (No, Willa wasn't with me. She was safe with her Nana in the car while I unloaded said flying groceries. And yes, I'm really, fine, thank you. I'm pretty sure I broke my hip, but really, I'm fine.)

Jacob's question was more rhetorical than anything, an opportunity to talk about the legally binding buy-sell agreement we were working on for the farm.

It was a "are we ready for this?" kind of question, the kind you might ask yourself before bungee jumping off a bridge, knowing full well you're going to do it -- I mean you're up there and you're strapped in already – but you just need to ask one last time.

April 6, 2011

A Rustic Little Tart

Yes, I'm referring to an actual tart, like one with fruit in it and whatnot.

(Although, I admit, I wouldn't mind being referred to as a rustic little tart. I'd like to think I'm a little rustic and a little tarty. What a wonderful combination.)

My good friend just popped out an adorable baby girl this week and I know from personal experience that in this take-out-free town, a good meal from a friend is priceless. So, I took dinner over to the new family and for dessert was this lovely tart of a thing.

The new mama, who is a fantastic cook, is the one who first introduced me the rustic tart to begin with. This summer, she brought one to dinner at our place, all peaches and crispy, crunchy and hearty. I was in love.

Since then I've tried a few recipes (this one from Food & Wine and this one from America's Test Kitchen) and I've combined them to create the following recipe which, if I do say so myself, is pretty delicious, and impossibly simple.

Home Again: We're All Just Renting

As some of you know, I've been writing a monthly column, called Home Again for two awesome online publications: The Daily Yonder and New West (my alma-mater as you might call it.)

It's my dream job, this writing/farming/mothering thing. So, I feel super duper lucky to have not only outlets for this writing (personal essays are hard to find homes for) but also two really great editors to work with.

This month's essay -- about my childhood farm and our new farm and what it means to really "own" a piece of ground -- is up on the Daily Yonder and will be tomorrow morning on New West.

It was an emotional, but satisfying one to write. Hope you like it.

April 5, 2011

Slipknot With A Side of Bananas

I had some work to bang out on Sunday, so feeding Willa breakfast (normally my job) fell to Jacob while I planned to take a circular saw to some plywood (normally his job).

I showed him where the banana masher is, handed him her bib and scooted out the door, with just a twinge of nervousness (I'm sure the same twinge he felt with me out there with a circular saw.)

"Oh, and," I said. "She likes to listen to Natalie Merchant during breakfast."

I just barely heard him as I stepped out.

"No she doesn't," he said. "You do.

She likes Slipknot.  Don't you Willa."

Sometimes, you just have to hand them off and hold your breath, you know?

April 1, 2011

Empty, Full, Empty, Full

Sometimes, if you're too busy to get the message on your own, it punches you in the face.

I'm surprised I don't have a black eye today.

Wednesday night, J and I and Willa spent a few hours roaming around the farm I grew up on (here's a piece that explains why this is a big deal). I'd heard it was on the market and called the agent to make an appointment to see the place. At first, I just wanted Jacob to see it. I mean, he's been hearing stories for years and had no topographical context in which to place his wife's childhood. He had to see it. And, I wanted to see it for myself. Maybe I need closure or something.

But, then I started thinking about it as a real possibility for our farm. It's the right size, the right place, the right buildings, the right options.

What a rabbit hole that became. I'll write more about it in a few days, when I've had a little more time to process but for now,  I'm just not sure how to describe how I felt, standing in front of that old house, wind whipping -- past, present and future colliding.

That night, whether it was all the juice from the farm visit or just part of my all-night diner gig (Willa has decided that nursing every hour and a half in the middle of the night is totally acceptable for a 6-month-old), I couldn't sleep. So, I got up at 3 a.m. to go through the photos from the trip and send a few off to my editor for my next Home Again column on The Daily Yonder and New West.

What ensued is why I'm surprised I'm not black and blue.


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