July 29, 2011

Getting Out of the Weeds

It's so hard this time of year to not get lost in the weeds -- figuratively and literally.

Like, as in, these weeds:

We promised ourselves we'd get to the onions earlier this year, that we would not let them get out of hand like they did last year.

See, the trick is to get in early, when the weeds are small. But, you can't go too early or you won't know what's weed and what's onion. So, there's a window. And, although we did better than last year, we still sort of missed it.

So, every Wednesday, I've been working a few hours on the two onion beds we have left to tackle. It can feels like hours in there, in the jungle of lambsquarter and thistle (youch!), mallow and mustard, before you find a bulb worth saving. But just when you think your hunting is for naught, lo, a mighty onion bursting from the mat of noxiousness.

As my husband often says: "We don't give plants enough credit sometimes."

In the middle of winter, I want nothing more than these days. Long, hot, breezy summer days, filled with the bounty of a July garden.

But it seems that by the time those days are here, we're so caught up in the weeding and planting and harvesting and living -- that we forget to look up remember why we longed for a July day in the first place.

If your head is stuck in the weeds, you might just miss out on the wonder that is a garden in the summer.

You can miss out on things like winter squash, sending out flowers as if to trumpet:  Bum, bum, bum, bum! Attention! Attention! You Will Have Squash Ravioli This Fall! I Say! You Will!

Or, if you're not careful, you might miss out on seeing the beginnings of a pantry filled with zucchini, of all shapes and sizes.

(Here is my favorite, the Magda. Or, as my grandmother calls it, Cousa. It's a Lebanese variety and my Grandma says until we started growing it, she hadn't eaten it since she was a kid.)

Or, you might not see just how beautiful strong perennial roots can be.

Or, my Goodness, you might not see just how far you've come in a few short months.

 All photos by Courtney except the cool overall garden shot. That's Jacob's. Thanks honey!

July 20, 2011

Letters To A(nother) Young Farmer

Note: In response to the last post about losing it, a friend sent the following letter, which was meant to be a comment. I loved it so much, I asked her if I could use it as a guest post. But before we get to it, first a few words about the author, Claire Boyles: Claire and her family farm in Colorado. They are also young farmers, striking out to raise food for their communities and so a while back, Jacob stumbled on her excellent blog and said something to the effect of "You have to read this. I think you'd love her." He was right. I've never met Claire, but I feel like we've been friends since we were wee. (Don't you love the Interwebs?) Anyway, Claire is an amazing writer, one heck of a farmer and my goodness, is the woman inspiring. If you don't already follow her blog (Little Farm, Growing). Do so. Right now. And now, to the letter -- which should exemplify the whole inspired thing.

The Boyles on their family farm.

Dear Courtney,

Your last post made me cry, mostly because I recognize that feeling so well. Before farming and kids, I think I was a very reasonable, even-tempered person. And now I feel that I am constantly struggling to maintain control of my emotions. . .joy, rage, sadness, love, frustration. I am always a split second away from one or the other. I often feel all of them at once, which makes me believe I might be going crazy. It’s normal, this ice cream bowl thing. It’s nothing. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad mother, and I say that because I know how easily those thoughts can invade a mommy’s mind.

Farming is such a pressure cooker, and add mothering to that (for you, especially, since having tiny babies is also a pressure cooker). . .let’s just say if you ever find a mother that hasn't had an ice cream bowl incident, let me know. I'm skeptical that she exists. If this imaginary woman said she’d never had this moment, I might think she was lying. I might even call her a liar right to her face though I am not normally a confrontational person.

Rage is a scary part of parenting, but it’s just one part, and it doesn’t go away. For example, Sunday night we were still up at midnight and working after a long hot day in the field. We had a flat tire, and when Matt went to fix it we discovered that our children had cut the hose on the air compressor with floral shears. He had to drive to town and fix the tire. I had to drag waterers out to the field broiler pens for the third time that day since it's so stinking hot. Did I mention it was midnight? And I had to get up at 4 to harvest so I would be finished in time to take the kids to the dentist? I had a crazy tantrum out there under the full moon. . .pounding the dirt with one of the hoes, flooded with anger and frustration, swearing like a sailor into the uncaring night. And then it passed, and I came inside to two sleeping sweeties and remembered that life is blessed, even when it’s so emotional. It's just hard to control these emotions with any sort of grace when you’re dehydrated and exhausted from a day of physical labor.

My dad had a stroke when I was 13, and it left him unable to speak much or get around very well. He’s still around, about to turn 60, but in those early days the doctors didn’t give us much hope that he’d make it to the end of the year. My mom was taking night classes to finish her degree, and she had the three of us in middle school, and she was only 33! We lived in the mountains, and she told me that she would get so worked up sometimes that she had to go run up and down a steep trail near our house, screaming and crying, over and over again until she nearly fell over. I have no idea how she did it, and honestly, I don’t think she knows either. I don’t think any of us will ever know how we manage it all, but in the end, we just do. We learned how from our own mothers, and I think that’s why we grow to appreciate them so much. Motherhood is a tremendous feat of strength in itself. Add other circumstances, like struggling to start a small-scale farm or having a disabled husband, and it can be absolutely overwhelming.

If managing it means throwing an ice cream bowl or shaking a hoe and cursing the moon or sprinting up and down a mountain, well, that’s just what it means.

You’re not alone. In any of it. I think it’s very easy to feel that way about raising kids, and it’s a feeling that can lead you to dark places in your mommy mind. I found that connecting to the mommy network was almost always very reassuring to me. . .still is. It’s tough to believe, and I found these reassurances very unhelpful in the thick of my kids’ night waking (so sorry), but they do actually start sleeping (and so will you) eventually. How you manage your job and the farm work in the meantime is a horrible chore, and I’m sorry. . .why does it all have to be so hard, anyway?

If you find a way to get back your reasonable, even-tempered self, let me know, will you? I’ve been trying to figure it out for years now. . .

Love and good cheer,


July 18, 2011

Losing it, Regaining it, and Losing it Again

 Last week, I threw a bowl of ice cream.

Actually, I dropped it. But, with a lot of force.

Still, it resulted in a broken bowl and a splatter of chocolate Ben and Jerry's all over the kitchen floor.

It had been a long day, for everybody and when, after several failed attempts, the bean finally fell asleep around 9:30, I snuck out of the room. I was dirty and stressed and totally empty.

I tiptoed into the kitchen and scooped two scoops. I pulled out the chocolate sauce and felt my shoulders start to relax a little. My mind went straight to the anticipation of collapsing on the couch, bowl in hand, and letting my weary body sink into the cushions as I shoveled the sweet and creamy into my mouth.

Just as I'd put the spoon into the bowl, Willa wailed. Not just a whimper, but a full-on wail.

I remember  thinking, "I should just throw this bowl." I wanted time to stop for a second, just a second, and somehow, I thought the shatter and the force of a breaking bowl might achieve that.

And so I threw it. And it did.

I calmly called for Jacob's help and he helped me with the mess, both the screaming baby mess and the mess of ice cream and ceramic shards on the floor.

You would think it was a loss of control. But, I think maybe it was an attempt to regain some control.

We've been under so much pressure lately. Part-time job, full-time Mom, part-time farmer and full-time cook and keeper of the house, the finances, the schedule, the diaper bag (do we have sunscreen? blanket? hat? bug spray? phone? wallet? ... you know the drill. Getting out of the house takes a spreadsheet and an engineering degree these days.)

By the end of the day, we're all so exhausted that when sleep is a fight, it's just enough to get us all right there, at the edge of cool and crazy.

The ice cream that night took me straight to crazy.

I waited a few days before I told Jacob that I did not drop the bowl, as he assumed. And, I didn't tell anyone else either for awhile. I was slightly, and maybe still am, terrified of what that act says about me. Am I out of control? Am I violent? Do I have some sort of anger management issue I need to work out?

Finally, I confessed to a few Mama pals.

They all had the same reaction: Oh honey, I've been there.

One told me she allows herself her own toddler tantrums. She waits until her little one is asleep, then goes outside and screams and jumps up and down and flings her arms -- the whole bit.

She also says her real urge is to run, as fast as she can, down the lane and just keep running.

Another tells her kids that Mama is being bad and needs a timeout. Then she locks herself in the bathroom.

Another tells me she has moments like these every day, sometimes several times a day.

Often, all you hear when your babies are little is how to not let a moments go by, that this will be the happiest time of your life, that you'll turn around and they'll be grown -- so savor every moment.

What you don't often hear from mothers is the pressure, the chaos, the power battles, the anger, the loss of control. And almost never do you hear about complete and utter emptiness you can feel after a full day of giving to your children.

It's as if talking about it might mean you're taking your child for granted. That maybe, if the word anger comes out of your mouth, it might make people think you don't love your child.

Or, maybe we're afraid someone might hear all this and find us unfit. Or worse yet, maybe we're afraid if we say it out loud, we'll find ourselves to be unfit.

But parenting is all about losing it, and regaining it, and losing it again.

Where there is love this deep and when there this much giving of oneself, there is bound to be an unraveling of the self. In fact, the unraveling may be the only way to give the way a parent gives.

Never have my emotions been as deep and thick as they have been since I became a mother. And if that means a broken dish here and there, so be it.

In other news, after the ice cream incident, it was even more apparent that our trip to Minnesota for a Farmer's Union leadership retreat came just in time. The day we left, we were both freaking out. What terrible timing. And really, would this be worth it? Why are we leaving the farm in the middle of July?

But, oh, how we needed a break. We got lake time, met some new friends, gained some really valuable insight and generally, were able to just check out of the farm for a two days.

When the retreat organizer asked us all to write down what we wanted out of the weekend, I replied with:


Space from the to-do lists and the deliveries, from the turkeys and the dishes, from the house and the seedlings and the work and the stress.

Space to talk, to actually relax a little, to play.

I'm hopeful it recharged us enough to last the rest of the season.

Note: As you can tell from Jacob's farmer tan (see photos above), we are not water people. I've always secretly wished I was a water person. People always seem to be having so much FUN in and around water.

But, we're dirt and mountain people and thus, a little wary of the water.

Which is why I was totally freaked out about taking Willa on a boat. At the last minute, I told Jacob we were going to skip the boat ride. Earlier in the day, someone mentioned that in some places, they make you put your kid in a car seat in the case of a boat wreck.

That got me thinking about boat wrecks and babies and ... by the afternoon, we were not going on a boat. Out of the question.

But at the dock, Jacob very nicely told me that while he understood my fears, also, they were a little crazy. He put Willa in the life jacket and told me what a great time she would have experiencing the wind and the water and the sun. And so we stepped onto the boat, me holding Willa so tightly she was in more danger of suffocation than drowning.

Then the minute we got out on the lake, both Mama and Baby relaxed a little. I released my grip (but not too much) and let both of us feel the breeze. We both needed it.

It's hard to know when your mothering instinct is right and when you're just being absurd.

Good thing I have a husband to help me tell the difference.

Out of all of this, two questions for you:

What do you do when you lose it? (Please tell me and make me feel better?)
When do you know you're being fearful just to worry and when your worry is actually an instinct you should listen to?

July 6, 2011

Bites, Backs and Parties

It's 2:00 in the morning and thanks to an overwhelming urge to saw off my left foot (mosquito bites right on the ball of the ankle), I'm up and have time for a quick recap of all things farmy and family.

In the last two weeks, that rainy, cool weather I was complaining about fled, replaced by the parched, sometimes oppressive heat so characteristic of a summer on the plains. This means our days are once again dictated by the thermometer.

Harvesting and transplanting can only happen in the early cool hours of the day. And, we can't very well leave our sleeping baby in the oven that is our camper trailer in the height of the heat either. So, we try to get as much done between the hours of 7 and 11 as humanly possible.

Humanly possible. Now that's something I've been pondering lately.

Hunched over baby seedlings, sore hamstrings and aching forearms, I sometimes wonder: Just how long will our  bodies be able to handle this work?

It's one of my biggest fears farming. I (sometimes) enjoy the work. Jacob (most times) enjoys the work. But that's now, when our bodies are relatively strong and our stamina is robust.

What happens when the backs we built the business on give out?

Speaking of able bodies, Sunday, we had to drop off our friend Shannon, a remarkable young woman and the daughter of some good friends of ours.

Shannon is interested in studying agriculture when she graduates from high school and lucky her, she knows some farmers who just happen to have a little bit of "training" to offer. So Shannon spent a week with us, getting sunburned (Shannon! Don't forget your hat!) and mosquito bit, as she weeded onions, transplanted squash, harvested for CSA delivery, did dishes (God bless her) and played with the bean.

Before she left, several of my friends asked if Shannon could: a) be cloned and/or b) come back and stay with them next time.

I've known Shannon since she was a 12-year-old girl with a pink room. Now she's a woman. She's always been wise beyond her years, but even more so now. This girl has it together.

Not many 17-year-olds would hang with a (boring, workaholic) married couple in the middle of nowhere, tending to a baby and an overgrown little piece of ground. And even fewer would have fun doing it. But Shannon is a gem, I tell you. If something needs done, she's on it. If someone needs help, she's on it. Even if someone needs a twirl, she's on it.

If ever, ever, you doubt leaving this world in the hands of this upcoming generation, don't fret. There are Shannons out there.

Now, to the partying: The last photo was taken on one of those magical summer nights on the prairie at a picture-perfect picnic.

Every year, the parents of some of our friends throw a big 4th of July party at their farm way out of town. I love the drive out there (it looks a bit more like home than where we spend most of our time these days) and the food is always amazing and the company inviting.

This year, the previously mentioned friends brought out the big guns and amped up for a little rock show on a flatbed trailer.

I'm continually amazed at the talent, creativity and gusto we've found in our small town. (One of these days, I need to tell you all about the friends we've found here. Rural brain drain? Hah! Not a hint of that around these parts.) This is a prime example right here.

The day after this party, we hopped in the car for yet another party -- the wedding of some dear farmer friends of ours across the mountains.

I love a summer wedding and even more, I love a farm, summer wedding. They make me want to listen to old-timey country and eat strawberry jam and run sack races.

This one was filled with amazing food, great music and some of my favorite people, as well as some of Willa's favorite people.

Weddings also present a rare opportunity for all of us to be showered and dressed up in town clothes at the same time, so, in hoping to capture the moment on camera, I even went so far as to match our wedding outfits. But alas. Our baby was most of the time in the arms of said favorite people and Jacob and I were too busy frolicking with friends, so nary a family photo.

This is the only one that even came close and let's just say: Not exactly mantle material.

July 4, 2011


The last week has been a veritable whirlwind of harvesting, weeding, planting, working, delivering, hosting, traveling and celebrating.

I'll catch you all up on the goings on later this week, but for now, introducing...

America, the Baby


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