Wednesday, December 30, 2009

She's Got A Ticket To Ride

January 3, 2009

This is my 6 year old mare Nora. She and I have the same hairstyle. Overgrown and flat but her eyes are sweet are they not ? She and I have made a pact. We are going to train these next few months in order to be in good enough shape to participate in some professional training. Not unlike cleaning ones house before the housekeeper comes, I have realized that I must work with her everyday if this new goal for my bucket list is ever to be met. Nora is going to be my middle- age- and- into -retirement horse and it starts now. I've already made the down payment for a three day clinic with Chris Cox . It cost us many many gallons of raw milk and several pounds of pastured pork and beef. If you are a horsey person you can check out Chris Cox at

The clinic is is Oregon, Wisconsin about 4 hours from here and starts August 22, 2010. It includes 3 full days of training for both me and my horse. I will trailer her up there, stay in the cabins provided, be whiped into shape by Mr Cox and his staff and then come home. Provided I am in one piece. If I am not then they will just have to ship the broken parts under separate cover.

Since I now ride infrequently and for less than an hour at a time I have quite a bit of conditioning to do prior to this next event. I used to ride all the time but then I got busy advising Sarah Palin, rebuilding international relationships, screening Obama's calls(just get a job would cha please ?) and I would put the horses off until the end of the day. By then I was asleep. Thus, I have some work to do.

I also have to learn to drive a trailer. Just a minor detail . I can trailer my horse forward but have yet to be able to back it up. This spring I plan to drive myself silly pulling the trailer round and round, backwards and forwards in the front four acres practicing. Horses. Can't stop loving them better start using them before my husband turns that front pasture into another hog resort. So I have 8 months to train, get fit, increase my life insurance, solidify my health insurance, hire a ghost rider...and catch my horse.

Beyond (???) Organic

January 2, 2009

There is a popular term making the rounds in the sustainable farming world. It is "Beyond Organic." As with any other term without government regulation, the meaning is often varied and inconsistent. Those farmers who use this term will state on their web sites "We have chosen not to be certified organic but instead we have decided to go beyond." Kinda reminds me of the movie Toy Story "To Infinity and Beeyoond !"

When a friend of ours recently told me his farm was "beyond organic" I asked him if he had ever read the National Organic Program Standards for Organic Certification (All my friends at work just rolled their eyes way back up into their heads as they know how obnoxious I can be when it comes to "standards".) He admitted that he had not. "Therefore" said I, "how can you go beyond organic if you do not even know the definition of organic ?" ( as far as farming goes ) He then put his foot ALLLLLL the way in his mouth by saying that organic means "no chemicals, no antibiotics."

Well Kemo Sabe, to be certified organic one has to go way BEYOND just the elimination of chemicals and antibiotics. Over 100 specific standards beyond. Then you must be surveyed by an expert in the field who decides whether or not you have met the standards. Its a tremendous amount of work and commitment. I equate it to the CNA (Certified Nurse Aide who will say to me "There's no reason for me to go to college I'm practically a nurse anyway" Those statements practically set the hair on the back of my neck on fire. Especially since it took me FIVE years to get a three year nursing diploma. I had little babies and worked part time while in nursing school. I take my education seriously just like I take our organic certification seriously.

So enough theory, lets do a real care plan on a real sick calf. We have one now. He was born several weeks ago and did well at first. About three weeks ago we noticed scours (loose manure). The calf was in a warm, well bedded hutch but the surrounding environment was very wet and the weather kept changing from cold to warm and back. A perfect bacteria hotel. We suspected the causitive organism (based on color and consistency of manure) was E. Coli and so we treated with the addition of Aloe Vera juice twice a day. The weather got cold, everything froze. He improved.

A week later and the temp is in its 50's, hutches are bedded well but the calves can go back and forth in and out of them. This same calf develops scours again but now with pink flecks. We now know it is Coccidiosis. A single celled parasite that affects the intestine. We return to one of our best resources. "Alternative Treatments for Ruminant Animals" by Paul Detloff DVM. He recommends adding Calf Shield (powdered electrolytes) to the Aloe Vera we've been giving with the calves milk. But first we decide to make the calf NPO for a feeding and give its gut a break. We also cut back on the amount of milk we're giving AND we double check the temperature of the milk.

Milk temp is another important factor when feeding calves. It should be as close to the temperature it would be coming directly from the mother cow as possible. We realize the 5-10 minutes it takes me to get to the barn to feed the calves after Keith calls me to tell me he has enough milk to do do, is enough to cool the milk too much. So we try ANOTHER intervention. Keith fills a large rubber pan with hot water to hold the milk can and keep the milk warm until I can fill the calf bottles.

A week of Aloe Vera and Calf Shield in the twice a day feedings as well as a noon feeding of warm water, organic molasses and Calf Shield and our calf is not worse but not better. This is where it gets hard for me. Organic standards do allow treatment with antibiotics if the life of the animal is at risk. Once given however the animal loses its organic status and cannot be sold as such. Antibiotics do work fast but was it best for THIS animal ? We decided to take the calf and one of his closest hutch mates (also with some scours but not bad) into the barn. A new environment, all warm and dry with a new buddy to cheer him on. If he did not improve by the next day...antibiotics here we come.

Withing 24 hours we saw tremendous improvement. The calves eyes were brighter, his appetite improved, he was more active. He looked better. Was it the environment change ? The addition of a buddy calf ? Our puppy Fanny sleeping next to him ? Or did we just give nature, with a little help from organically certified supplements, enough time to cure this calf ? We don't know for sure but we do know it took a lot of time and effort and thought for this ONE calf. Which is why we don't take the term "Certified Organic" lightly.

Fritz, we hardly knew ye.

January 1, 2009

Yesterday when I started to bed our 5 big hogs I noticed our boar Fritz was not moving. Upon closer inspection (I am an experienced nurse you know) it became obvious he was not breathing. Dead as a 500 pound doorknob. Sad. I was instantly sad. We had only owned Fritz and his farm mates Debbie and Anna for 2 months but they had all grown on us. Really, they all got bigger AND we had started to feel affection towards them. The cause of his death is at this time unknown. He was found in the middle of the group of five as if they were all keeping him warm. He looked as if he just passed on in his sleep. Heart attack ? He had not been ill, had not been off feed. He was only a year and a half old. He had suffered a little stress lately with the photo I posted of his backward breeding style but he seemed to understand it was just in good fun.

Seriously, Keith and I do take our animal husbandry seriously and although we understand that animals have life expectancies just like humans, we feel responsible when an animal dies unexpectantly. What did we miss ? What could we have done differently ? His prior owner told us that Fritz had been attacked by a coyote this past summer and nearly died, perhaps it was a complication related to that. (See the scar on his right thigh, he is the hog on the far left of the pic above. ) I've got some research to do. In the meantime we are hopeful that the four sows that ran with Fritz are bred so we'll have some little piggies to help us remember our first Red Wattle Boar.

Our new hog shed is almost complete and our remaining four large sows will be moved to the front east acres this next week. Too bad Fritz will not be part of that new adventure.

That leaves us with ONE Red Wattle Boar. Mad Max age 4 months. I'm thinking we should bring him into the house to protect the breed. There is a lot riding on that little guys shoulders.

The end of another year

December 31, 2009

Man oh man ! The end of another year. And where did that last decade go ?!?! Just yesterday we were all preparing for the big crash of 2000 when all things computerized were suppossed to go down in flames and here we are 10 years later with more cybermicronanoraspberry stuff than we've EVER had. I am speaking both in a worldly sense as well as here on the farm. As a matter of fact , you might not be able to tell, I am at this moment using a computer. See ? Its become such a part of our lives we hardly notice. And yet, as much as I enjoy and benefit from the technology I still at times think about going back to a life with less. Or at least a life with MORE human, face to face contact. So, a few resolutions because it is , after all, the NEW year.

1. I resolve to go to mass. And not just on the days it is easy.

2.I resolve never to learn how to text. It makes me livid to be in the middle of a conversation with someone and they turn away from me to answer or send a text. If it is that important they will call the police and send them to your door like we used to do.

3. I resolve to always check the inside of little childrens boots for snow packing when they are playing outside with me. Wesley, please forgive the yaya.

4. I resolve to really listen to my husband when he speaks to me instead of thinking about what else HE could be doing or what else I could be doing . (Its called head texting and its just as rude as real texting.)

5. I resolve not to watch Real Housewifes of Orange County anymore. It started as a harmless little pastime and then got out of hand. I just watched it because they made me feel superior.

6. I resolve to really LOOK at the decor of my adult childrens' homes so I don't accidently buy the same couch or clock or paint the walls the same color thus creeping out the in-laws who might think they all spend too much time with me any way but would never say so because they are too kind.

7. I resolve to sit down more. This allows my husband to think its OK if he sits down more. The work will always be there in the morning. He and I may not .

8. I resolve to finish my book and have it published. The title is Ashland Avenue.

9. I resolve to hug each of my family members each time they leave my home no matter how busy I am doing something meaningless.

10. I resolve to keep making funny faces, funny noises, funny food, funny music, funny gestures with my grandchildren because tomorrow...they will be all grown up.

Dance of the Sugar Plum Grand Daughters

December 30, 2009

Christmas vacation equals no school which equals more time with the grandchildren. They stayed overnight with us this past Monday and Tuesday. We kept them busy with baking cookies, finger painting, outside snow play, some TV time and the ever popular interpretive dance. The dancing was their idea. I was in the kitchen doing dishes while they were watching Tom and Jerry Nutcracker Suite. Yes, it is a real movie and if you have not seen Tom whack Jerry's head with an over sized Christmas Tree to the Waltz of the Flowers, then you have lived a sheltered life indeed.

After the movie the girls were still humming the classical music so I popped in my Nutcracker CD in the CD player I have in the kitchen. With no prompting the two of them began their own grade school ballet. They were all over that kitchen ! The louder I turned up the music the harder and faster they danced. They twirled and swooped, leaping through the air better than Michael Flatley

They danced almost an hour. Yes, I did join for awhile but my port de bras is no longer as graceful as it once was and the height of my soubresaunt is pitiful. It all came crashing down (literally as I bounced my head off the hanging pots over my stove) when I made a desperate attempt to do just one more rond de jambe. When my non-ballerina type body crashed to the floor on top of the sauce pans the girls told me with their eyes it was time to retire my tutu. So I pulled my injured ego off the dance floor and let the girls finish what they started.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Linus says it all.

December 25, 2009

And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born in the City of Bethlehem, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men'". That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie brown

Merry Christmas Family and Friends from Keith and Donna at Green Acres Farm

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The lights are on..but no ones' home.

December 24, 2009

Keith and I have been troubled. When we bought out first family of Red Wattle hogs, Fritz the boar and his girls, Lady Anne and Little Debbie we were sure the girls were bred shortly after arrival here on Green Acres. But we keep seeing Lady Anne, the 5 year old sow coming back into heat. We assumed it was age related. When we bought her we knew we were taking a chance on whether or not she would be healthy enough to produce a litter for us. It was unfair but Keith and I both blamed her. Seems we owe Lady Anne one big apology.

Frosty the snow woman

December 22, 2009

I gave up my obnoxious over the top feminist ways many years ago. It just took so much energy to be mad at all men all the time. So whenever I hear someone go out of their way to replace the word "man" with "woman" I am amused. Yesterday Allana and I were building a snow MAN, that is, it was a snow MAN until I addressed him as such and Allana decided it was a snow WOMAN who needed a girl scarf, not a boy scarf and a girl nose not a boy nose. Nothing feminist about any of this at all. She's just 5 and thinks all things little girl are very cool. I agree.

Later we made cookies with little brother Wesley. I have been teaching Allana and older sister Nicole how to cook for a while, and then suddenly brother Wes wanted to be involved too. Boys cook differently though. Egg cracking is not the gentle "oooooo look at the cute little egg"event that it was to the sisters. To Wes it was more "YEAH ! Lets crack this sucker open now !" Lots more eggshells to get out of the batter when he helps. Boys and girls really are meant to be different. But in the end the cookies still taste great (We gave the ones with extra "texture" to papa. He cared not)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Great Pyrenees Returneth

December 19, 2009

Everyone its OK to tell Keith. He knows. The puppy has arrived. Thanks to my internet search engine wiz Stacey L. , I was able to find a wonderful 9 week old female Great Pyrenees only 2.5 hrs from us AND she was reasonably priced. (Thank you Melinda and Mike)

The second this not so little puppy peeked around her home barn at us, we were smitten. Actually she had us at hello. Raised outdoors and acclimated to goats, sheep, horses and a llama, we knew this little gal was a keeper. Yes, I know, I once said after Chubs was gone there would be no more long haired dogs. Well, the facts are that short haired dogs make look pretty but generally fair poorly in the farm setting. Always wanting coats, hats, and gloves I grew tired of the short haired dogs weak constitution. (Big friggin' babies). So we are back to the breed we know, love and trust and comes with their own fur coat.

Keith has the joy of naming her so you know it might take a little while :) in the meantime I'll just refer to her as "fuzzy- wuzzy- was- a- bear."or FWWAB. So FWWAB is a quiet and gentle as Freddie our 1/2 border collie is wound up and excited. They were immediately smitten with each other and Freddie quickly toured her around the barn introducing her to the other manger inhabitants. FWWAB licked the calves nose, followed the ducks without any attempts at chasing them and snorted right back at the new Red Wattle group.

She them found a quiet space under the feed bunk and went to sleep. Freddie moved in right next to her. She completes him (Jeezy peets it so past time for me to watch some new movies)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pearls for the Yaya

December 16, 2009

When I picked up my grand daughter Allana from school Monday she was very excited about something. A "surprise" for me. When we got back to my daughters home, she brought me a nicely wrapped item. Shiny paper and a pretty bow. I asked her if I should wait to open it until Christmas. She firmly said no. "Open it now !" So I did.

Inside was a gingerbread man jewelry box but that was not all. Inside THAT was a the most beautiful string of pearls I have seen . Now don't mock me. I have been around (stop it !) and I have seen pearls, so I know good ones when I see them. These were made of the best string and white plastic known to the lower middle class. And they fit perfectly around my neck. The best part though, was not in the receiving but in the giving. My grand daughter was soooooo excited about giving this gift to me. She wiggled all over as I opened it, she smiled widely when I realized it was not one gift but TWO and she reveled in how fabulous they made me look.

She is only five, yet she already understands how Christmas is about giving and not about getting. Now if I could only remember that.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cows on parade

December 13, 2009

It was 2:00 pm and I had just awakened from the coma I go into after working my 12 hr night shifts, when our youngest son Kyle (just dropping by for a visit with his wife) opens the back door yelling for his brother Jason. He had spotted his brothers truck in the drive. I inform him he is in Chenoa picking up grain with his father. Kyle then informs me there are a few cows in the yard. "Few" meaning MANY MANY cows. My view out the office windows confirms they are indeed loose. I call the hubbie who sadly informs me he won't be home for at least an hour


So, to the chore boots we go. My new daughter-in-law was willing to help so I threw her a pair of my boots (we both knew the very striking 5 -inch -heeled- black -suede- boots she came with were not going to make the grade). I wear a size 10 boot. Amanda wears a 6. Did she balk ? Did she complain ? Did she make excuses about why she could not help round up the badly behaving bovines ? She did not.

She threw on my work boots while her husband grabbed another pair of extra chore boots in the basement and off we went. We ran , we yelled, we waved our arms and then we went outside to see if that would work any better. Cows were everywhere ! In the garden, by the machine shed, partially down the lane and a couple on the roof. One cheeky little heifer had hot wired my car and was heading down the drive with three randy looking peacocks in the back seat, each sporting those badly done homemade tatoos, you know, the ones with the numbers in fading ink across the knuckles. I hate those kind of tatoos, don't you ?

But they did not have a chance against the three of us. (I'm talking about the cows again, I'm done with hoodlum peacocks) Well four, when you count our dog Freddie who so wants to be the herd dog he is genetically meant to be, but without formal training he just ended up circling me a good amount of the time.

It took awhile but we managed to get them into an area with two side of intact wire. Amanda was new to all this but she ran through mud and manure like she's done it all her life. She moved those cows around very professional like all the while flopping around in the too-big boots. I put out some hay to keep the cattle focused while we untangled yards of electric wire and restrung it to make 4 sides of a pen. I turned the electric fencer back on but when several calves kept making a break for it without getting shocked we knew we failed that part of the roundup but by then, Keith was coming up the drive. I swear I heard Calvary Bugles sounding.

The five of us were then able to sort calves from cows and return everyone to their rightful pen. I know it may be a little out of our budget but tomorrow I plan to call Pontiac Prison and get the name of their fence builder. It seems to hold bad boys pretty well it should work for a "few" bad cows.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mad Max

December 12, 2009Two days ago Jason and Keith traveled to Kiss My Grass Farm in Morgantown, Indiana to bring home our second Red Wattle "family." Its over a three hour drive but Keith felt well worth it since he was able to bring home some fine looking pigs. The owners, Dot and Brian Jordan are fairly new to raising this special breed but have become experts in a very short time. Check them out at

My first impression when we unloaded the group late Thursday night was how healthy looking they were. Bright eyes, shiny coats and willingness to jump right into their new box stall. Obviously Dot and Brian had done a great job of raising these pigs so far. We bought one young boar, four months old who Jason named Mad Max. His two future wives are a month younger than him and smaller as you can see by the pics. I am still working on names for the pig chics.

Within a very short time I was able to pet all three briefly and within 24 hours they were enjoying ear scratches and back rubs as much as the Red Wattles we bought from Clyde Grover in Rockford, Illinois. This group comes from the Timber Line of Red Wattles which I am going to read about and then report back to you my millions of readers, very soon. In the meantime enjoy the pics of these handsome new residents of Green Acres Farm.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gigilo Goat on loan

December 10, 2009

Here he is. Stud Goat. Man of the hour. Tiger Woods Wannabee. On loan from our nephew Jeremy. Its breeding time for our female goats and they were in need. A need we could not fill. We don't keep Billy Goats on the farm anymore for the simple reason of...they stink. Its not their fault, it's just who they are. They have this curious habit of urinating on their own noses and then rubbing their noses against the nose of the doe they would like to date and later marry. I for one do not see the attractiveness of this habit but I've been told, more than once in my life, that my standards are too high. And when it involves pee soaked nasal cavities, yeah; I think I'll keep those standards high thank you very much.

So when we want kids (baby goats) we borrow a Billy to get the job done. He'll go back to his home farm in Watseka soon. He's a little rough around the edges, even his horns are cracked, but its a well known fact that the imperfect ones of any specious usually make the best mates. Last year the Billy we borrowed was a real pretty boy who ended up shooting duds. And after we removed his rifle loaded with the chocolate covered caramels we realized he was sterile as well. No babies this past spring.

So this year we went for the plain Jane (I mean Jack) He's friendly enough to me and very friendly to our does and that's what counts. The first few days they bossed him around quite a bit making him wait for his share of leftover produce and hay but then the weather turned cold and they needed each other for warmth. Soon I saw all five goats huddled into one calf hutch. They looked cozy. Which means Cozy Jr. should make an appearance next May.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Don't worry, be happy

December 8, 2009

Every year about this time (the first week of December) I feel anxious. I don't like that word "anxious" but it fits so it stays. I feel that way because Christmas is coming way too fast and I am worried (another word I do not like, "worry" because like "anxious" they are useless words that get in the way of "action", a word I really adore) that Christmas will once again pass by too fast without me having made all the things I want to make or get up all the decorations I want to get up or send all the cards I feel I must send. Where will I find the time to do all the STUFF ?!?

My parents had different agendas at this time of year. My father regressed to his childhood and made Christmas special by making a big deal of hiding gifts and pretending to be Santa on the roof complete with stomping around up there like a herd of reindeer. My mother made it REALLY SPECIAL by keeping enough money away from the kid that was my dad, so there would be food AND heat AND electricity on Christmas day.

I am the product of them both. I want to do all the things that make the season special but get caught up in the goofy stuff like finding the perfect gifts for my family. There are no perfect gifts. There is no perfect gift store . There is however TIME to spend with those I love. So yesterday when my grandchildren were with me , instead of wrapping gifts (I'm behind, so behind) we played with the new Nativity scene I have set up in the dining room. Allana was Mother Mary, Wesley got to move baby Jesus around from camel to camel lamenting all the time that there were no "monsta trucks" in the stable, and I chose to be the three wise men because I really do like to give gifts .I did notice that none of their gifts had co-ordinating ribbon and wrapping paper. I also noticed that my grandkids were quite happy with the gift of my time.

My granddaughter Allana summed it up well with the little note (above) she gave me this past Sunday. Reading from the right it says simply "It is Christmas Yaya." So simple, so to the point. We all need to slow down this time of year and enjoy our families and the precious gifts that they are; direct from Christ . Note to self.

Friday, December 4, 2009

If you build it, they will come.

December 4, 2009

Yesterday I was living high on the hog on Michigan Avenue, today I am back to slopping the hogs the grain and milk slurry they adore. We need a new slogan. From farrow to Filenes...needs work.

So here is the grandest pig hutch ever made compliments of husband Keith and sons Jason and Kyle. They have been working on this for a couple weeks now and soon it will be complete. The trick will be moving it to the pasture just north east of our house. It is intended to house 2 sows and a boar with room for two litters due in spring.

The bottom of this hog hacienda is made from two old iron girders Keith had hidden from me behind the barn. Hidden for 16 years. He's good that one. It is the only area of our farmyard this "Beautify the farm" manager forgot about. If I'd found these hunks of metal I'm sure I would'd asked Keith to take them to the iron yard. Good thing I didn't as they have made nice "skis" for the hog house to be pulled around with. At least that is the theory.

We have lots of theories at GAF, not all evolve into action. But this one..its looking better every day. Some damask curtains in front to keep the breeze down , a few framed and signed photos of Miss Piggy inside and we're set.Miss Debbie (such a stage name isn't it ?!?!), Lady Anna and Fritz the Man will be happy to leave their rental spot they've been occupying by the cow barn since we brought them home from Rockford.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My kind of town...

December 3, 2009

Chicago is. Sometimes you just have to get away. Pass the kids off to someone else who loves them, pack up your high heeled city boots, grab the cash you had stashed away in the box of Tide, call Amtrak for tickets and JUST GO ! That's what my friends Stacey, Kristy and I just did. Yesterday and today in Chi-town.

We crammed in an awful lot in 24 hrs. Train ride to and from Union Station, multiple cab rides,
( one involving a driver who insisted I gave him the wrong directions when witnesses clearly stated I did not, another driver who gave us serious whiplash with his acceleration/braking issues,) dinner at Old Town Social, outrageous comedy show at The Improve Olympic, dessert at Hard Rock Cafe, (waiter "Q" we are watching you) shopping at Water Tower Place, Rainforest Cafe, Filenes Basement and Navy Pier. What have I forgotten ? Oh yeah, the best and greasiest breakfast for cheap at the Ohio Street Coffee House. We also managed to get in a little sleep at the Best Western (No, NOT the Westin you ridiculous taxi driver you.) Well, we slept for awhile, that is until the Firetruck Parade woke us at 0500, which is a bad hour for Stacey as it is don't cha know ?

But back to Old Town Social. That place was too cool, too hip, too young and yet they still let me in. I know it was because Kristy and Stacey were all citified looking with their heels and scarves. Maybe it helped a little that this is the restaurant that has been buying pork from us and we do sorta-kinda know the owner Jared Van Camp but I'm not convinced. I am convinced however, that I have never tasted such good food as we had last night. Yoni, the executive sous chef, took time from his busy evening to say hello and then prepare us a charcuterie (handcrafted variety of sausages, salami, other pork meats) that was out of this world. Three wooden boards full of pepperoni, finnochia, toscano and chirizo. Along with crusty breads and relishes.Who knew so many wonderful tasting things could be produced from the humble hogs at Green Acres Farm. ?

And if that were not enough the 3 of us also ordered deep fried bread and butter pickles, which my friend Kristy best described as "really yummy with a kick at the end", mac and cheese with too many different kinds of cheese to even remember and roasted brussel sprouts with pancetta. So good were these little green things that I completely forgot that I am not a fan of brussel sprouts until I had eaten 3/4 of the dish. The staff was super attentive but not clingy, the music was perfect and the bathrooms !!!! They were executive style water closets at the least. We may have been just 3 small town girls from south of I-80 but we know class when we see it and its name is Old Town Social. 455 W. North Street, Chicago. Just go.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Decemebr 3, 2009

Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Reach for the Stars

November 28, 2009

I have written a book.

It is not very good. The plot is scattered. The characters, undeveloped. The spelling is bad and the grammar is muddled. The ending ? Well, it blows. It is not yet fit to be read by others and it is basically an embarrassment of literary nature. BUT, the process, has been overwhelmingly rewarding. When I signed up with NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) I had no idea what I was in for. The only rule was to do your best to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I did not reach that goal but I did get very close. I still have 48 hours left but unless I find a way to write 5000 words in each of those days I won't be hitting the 50,000 word goal.

It's taken far more structure, commitment, time and ...uh...talent than I had imagined. After years of reading fiction I was sure I could write just as well as any of those other puffed up buffoons. WRONG WRONG and WRONG. Two hours in and I realized I knew nothing about the art of conversation or the development of the story's protagonist ("protagonist" is the story's main character. Don't feel bad, I had to look it up too.) I had no clue how to adequately describe a physical setting . Just because I could see it in my head did not mean I could put in down on paper well enough to allow the reader to see it too. I kept at it though. I selfishly blocked a week out of my life and other lives around me so I could concentrate on this goal. I sacrificed clean toilets and swept floors. I left a lot of work for others. I have done only miniscule amounts of Christmas shopping. Usually by this time of year I am done.

Halfway though, when I thought I had a handle on where the story was going it became less analytical and more emotional. What started out to be a story about some family became a story about my family. I didn't plan to go there and I'm not sure if I'll stay there. I still have lots of work ahead of me. Statistics to validate, places to locate, run on sentences to cremate and scenes to narrate. Next month I will start the first of what will probably be several rewrites.

But, I have written a book.

Grandson Wesley and his GREAT Uncle John demonstrating how we can all reach for the stars with a little support from the people who love us.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Poultry Palace

November 23, 2009

One of our many fall projects was the remodeling and relocation of our chicken house. Originally, Keith and our sons built it with the goal of moving it around the pastures behind the cows to allow the chickens fresh grass on a daily basis. We found this to be more trouble than it was worth, primarily because it required hauling out water everyday (the cows walk themselves in for water) So we settled the chicken house closer to our house but in the middle of our goat pasture.

Over the last few years it started to show wear and tear. We decided to fix the areas needing attention AND move it even closer to the house. Well I decided that and Keith complied because he is just that way. It now stands directly between the farmwives kitchen and calf hutches, making it very easy to water and feed the birds on my way to feed calves and then collect eggs on my way back to the house. And because more customers are buying our products directly off the farm , this CEO of first impressions wanted the coop to have both form and function.

Thus, in addition to repairing and repainting the coop, the guys (including husband, sons, nephew and my brother each doing different parts of the job on different days) built a new attached chicken yard surrounded by white picket fence gifted to me by friend Kristy. I wanted cute and that is what they gave me.

The chickens have been running loose all summer, laying eggs willy nilly while we remodeled their abode. The barn was amess with their moulting feathers everywhere. Now they are back in a more controlled setting as we re-teach them to use the very lovely nest boxes filled with fresh wood shavings. Soon we should again have a regular supply of eggs to offer to visitors along with beef, poultry, honey and milk.

I'd still like to get the feed shed (to the left of the chicken coop) repainted white but its a little low on our priority list this fall. That's probably a good thing as I would hate to run out of things to put on our Spring To-Do list.

Friday, November 20, 2009

You want me to do WHAT ?!?!?!

November 20, 2009

A few days after we brought home our first lot of Red Wattle feeder pigs Keith said to me,

"You know, we'll have to castrate those smaller three. "
And I responded brilliantly, "Really ?"
And he said equally brilliantly, "Yup."
Hmmmmm, I hummed. "Do we use rubber bands like we do on the calves ?"
I continued "Do we call out Dr Whitman to do it ?"
"Do we.....(allowing the suspense to build) it ourselves ?"
"So you've done it before ?"
"And you'll do it again ?" I responded. Thought I better throw that in in case you lost track of the key characters in this rapidly moving drama.
"Nope, I did it in school once but I didn't like it"

So since we have eliminated Colonel Mustard and Professor Plum, that would leave me, Miss Scarlet to do the dirty deed. As with any new venture I went to the internet, no not Google, I needed something far more REAL. Youtube it was. Amazing how many pig farmers had actually videotaped the process for castrating baby pigs. Some of the videos were very dark and creepy, one involved about 10 people trying to hold down one small pig. She was wearing a pink ballet skirt. One was very foreign and I'm not really sure it was pigs they were working on. Finally I found one narrated and filmed by a woman (of course) capturing a woman (again, of course) doing the castration in an educated FAIRLY clean manner. I watched it several times.

Today we tested my newly acquired video knowledge in the clinical praticum arena. Keiths workshop. He did the pre-op teaching and lap holding. (We've always done the good cop/bad cop scene really well) while I sharpened up the scapels. We agreed on the right spot to cut, disagreed on the need for betadine wash before and after the procedure and agreed afterwards we could've done worse.

Overall it went well. By the third set of nads my technique had improved and I was sure what needed to be cut VS what should be twisted. I got faster causing less stress for the the little porkers. Post -op bleeding was minimal and non-spurting so I knew no arteries were accidently unearthed. The babies were surpisingly willing to walk immediately afterwards but not without some serious glaring my way.

Just another day in the life of Donna O: Barber of Seville.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rural Manpower

November 19, 2009

The mad rush towards completion of the Winter Preparation Project continues even though the continuous rain showers continue to vex us. Many tasks have been completed here on the farm, many have been started, many more our still waiting patiently on the priority list which is reorganized daily based on weather and available manpower. MAN-power is the key word here. And it matters not if it is simple MAN or the more moody and complex WO-man, the work needs to be done and we're all moving forward. Some of us are PULLING and PUSHING forward and even able to laugh while doing it.

A couple of years ago this wife thought it would be nice to buy a dozen or so calf hutches for our newly born bovines. We had kept them in the barn previously but seemed we always needed that space for cows close to calving time, so we bought the hutches and I got to line up my babies in those neat tidy linear formations I like so much. We have discovered that these hutches are very handy for other things as well. Sometimes Keith will put an entire large bale of organic hay in one which keeps it clean and dry and very handy for my use when feeding calves. Another hutch is used entirely to store extra buckets and feed pans.

Lately we used two of the hutches to house our 6 young Red Wattle feeder pigs. Attaching a livestock panel in a semicircle to the outside of the hutch gave them room to roam, while the well bedded hutch kept them dry and warm. As they were all located in the same area (calf and pig) it made my chores more efficient and allowed me to easily check for illnesses, eating problems etc. Which by the way no one has, must be all that organic milk they get in their grain slurry.

Another use we discovered last year was as winter housing for our massive goat herd of 4. Each hutch holds two goats very well when they need to get away from winter rains and snow. Because the goats are all adults and free roaming in their large pasture we do have to move the hutches into their area. "We" of course being husband Keith and son Jason. I'm not sure why Jason finds this task so amusing but he does. Maybe because of the power he has to run over his father, or to just stop pushing and see how long it takes his dad to figure out he's doing all the work. Either way this project always makes Jason laugh which I guess is why all us farmers continue to do what we do...for the pure hysteria of it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Back in the Saddle Again

November 18, 2009

Nope. Not talking about the horses. Haven't ridden in over a week. Haven't blogged in a week, or facebooked in a week. Haven't worked as a nurse. Have not cooked or cleaned or done laundry. Have not babysat my grandchildren. (THAT was the hardest) but I have been writing. And writing and writing and writing. I wrote when I got up and before lunch and after lunch. I wrote before supper and after supper. I wrote before bed. I wrote instead of going to bed some nights.

I took my Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) goals to heart and with my husbands full support, (yes, I am aware I do not deserve him and when I forget that my 91 year old Aunt Bernie is the first to remind me, yet somehow she cannot remember her neighbor of one years name ?!) I dropped out of our very busy farm life for a week to get a good grasp on my novel. In that short amount of time I did what I had hoped to do. I started a routine and selfishly prioritized something I have yearned to do for decades. Write a book.

Now, as of this morning, after writing for an hour, I took back the farm reins from my capable, gracious and patient husband who is not a saint in real life but does play one on RFD TV. I feel confident that I can maintain my new writing habit and make it part of the rest of my busy life. Like any new habit, you just have to repeat it over and over to get it to stick. I have reached the halfway mark of my 50,000 word goal by the end of November. I cannot wait to start writing everyday and I have banished the guilt I once connected with time devoted to writing to the dark dank basement it belongs in. Guilt is a worthless emotion if it has no action for improvement connected to it. Its no different than saying "I'm sorry" to someone you love while repeating the same action that caused you to say you were sorry in the first place.

So, I am back in the blogging saddle again, back in the farmwife and housewife bridle (No, I do not have hidden restraint fantasies you weirdos) and full of faith and hope for this story I am telling. I am also filled with extreme gratitude for my mate and the God who sent him my way. Keith is far more content with his life and never seems to feel the need to shake things up the way I do and I would say he does enjoy watching me disrupt things at times but even his patience has a limit. Where that limit is I do not yet know but no need to push it really. Instead, today will be payback time. I have some serious cooking to do and animal husbandry to share and pigs to castrate, and , and.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Who's on first ?!

November 8, 2009

By day my younger brother Tom is a sheet metal worker, by night he plays in his heavy metal band Drowning Face Down, but recently he has been...hog guidance counselor. Our work load keeps increasing at the farm and several family members have been working with us helping us to get ready for winter. In the last two weeks Tom has fixed fences, painted the milk parlor, repaired a chicken house and now was going to assist with our hog relocation program. Just 10 short days ago Keith and I picked up our new family of Red Wattler Pigs. Our first group of breeders were Anne, Debbie and Fritz. Today we focus on Fritz, our first Red Wattler boar age 1 and 1/2.

Fritz has had some tough times in the past. Several months ago at his previous home, a coyote managed to tear into his back right leg, in the ham area so to speak. He did heal but the scar is large and still easily seen. Yet, from the first day he came home to us he has been friendly and polite giving me no trouble when I enter the pig pen to feed him and the girls. These Red Wattler pigs are truly the Gentle Giants other breeders told us they were.

We had kept the 3 in our barn since bringing them home so they could acclimate to us and our surroundings but we were anxious to get them out onto real ground. Well I was anxious, Keith was more worried that Fritz would go through the fence as his recent reading had said such. I, on the other hand found these pigs to be waaaaaay too intelligent for that, I would sure once bitten they would be twice shy.

Keith put up some hot wire directly outside their pen and with him at "home base", brother Tom at "first" and me at "second" (Tom came up with the baseball assignments) we encouraged Fritz out of the barn. Yup, we felt our bases were covered. He slowly walked up to the fence by Keith, got bit by the electricity and backed up. We all felt a little bad for him as it is never easy to watch your loved ones learn hard lessons, yet we were happy he went back instead of forward. A little miffed, Fritz went towards Tom, no big surprise as Tom with his big smile and easy going ponytail is a pretty friendly looking guy. Again he got bit by the fence. He backed up but it was obvious he was getting agitated. Then he came running towards me. Waving my arms, he turned just before hitting the fence. Oh man was I good ! Hog woman of the friggin' year ! Before I could prance up stage to get my award, Fritz accelerated to warp speed, ran towards the corner section of the fenced pen to my right and burst through it. Wires snapping like pieces of yarn.

He ran about 20 feet heading towards open field when suddenly his male-dar kicked in and he got wind of our two crossbred gilts to the west of the barn. He made a bee-line towards them, barreled through two more electric fences and planted himself between Dot and Spot. They put on a pot of tea served him some biscuits and there he is still 3 days later.

We had planned to breed them to him in about a month. That was THE PLAN. It was IN WRITING. But things change, moods elevate and we estimate our breeding schedule has been moved up a month. Brother Tom could not have been more impressed with Fritz, boar of the hour who let no man or wire get between him and his needs.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A day at the pharmacy

A Man Named John.
          Donna OShaughnessy

There is no picture with this post.  It wouldn't be right.

I was picking up my meds at the pharmacy recently and waiting patiently (hardly) while they refilled my meds, my husbands meds and my aunts meds. We don't take many prescription meds but when added together it can take a bit. Yes, I did call ahead for these refills, still issues happen. I was frustrated as I was running late for a play date with the grand kids and I wanted to have enough time to go to Big R for more chicken feed. Really earth shattering important stuff I HAD to do.

While at the counter I saw a man coming directly towards me with a walking stick, apparently blind, and "looking" for the counter. To avoid a collision, I said "well, hello there." He greeted me back and thanked me for the verbal notice. We started to chat. This is his story.

John was 11 back in 1951 and helping his father, a farmer, in their fields. They were trying to break apart large rocks in the way of their planting. His father planned to blast them apart and with Johns help they wedged 7 sticks of dynamite around and under this particular boulder. The fuse would not light so the two of them walked back to their pickup truck to get more matches. Just as they returned to the boulder it exploded. Apparently the fuse had lit after all. John's father was killed instantly. John suffered life threatening injuries including the loss of his left eye and major brain/skull trauma. He was knocked unconscious. Johns 5 year old brother who had been left in the pickup, was bright enough and brave enough to run 1/2 mile to a neighbors house for help. He managed to do this after seeing his dead father and horribly maimed brother.

John does not remember the two weeks after the accident but he does recall relearning how to walk, how to talk, how to deal in a sightless world at age 11, all while grieving the loss of his father. He told me of the many plastic surgeries he had to endure as well. He told me how he "doesn't really like" the time changes each fall as he is still walking around town doing errands when it is getting dark. He has enough sight in his right eye to see shadows and he uses the street lights "like stars to guide my way." He joked about how a street light will get moved by a city official in a village redesign or stop working all together and how that affects his travel. Could I even tell you where the street lights are located ? No.

He did now whine or complain during this time. He did not blame his father. He never ONCE mentioned the word pain. I would ask a question and he would answer it quietly, factually and with dignity. In the 15 minutes I spent talking with him (poor pharmacy staff were having a bad bad day) I learned once again what a self centered, self involved ninny I am. Eventually my meds were filled and John and I said our goodbyes. When I turned away from the counter I overheard the pharmacist greeting him and then giving him a bag of meds for someone named Bev. Imagine that, here is a fellow in his late 60's with multiple physical challenges and yet he is able not only to care for himself but someone else as well.

It is my hope that I will never forget John. When a tire goes flat on the hay wagon, or the bee hive is killed off by mites, or the price of corn goes up again just when the price of hogs goes down, or when someone hurts my feelings with an unkind word, my hope will be; please...Don't let me forget John.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Coal Miners Daughter

November 4, 2009

No, I am not really a coal miner. I just play one on TV and in the barnyard. I wanted to share with you one of the neatest little contraptions I have ever bought. It is an LED Headlight which I found on Ebay at the beginning of the summer. Prior to this purchase I would struggle with late night chores. If I carried a flashlight, provided one was put back in its rightful spot and had batteries in it, I would struggle with carrying multiple calf bottles , pads of hay one hand and the flashlight in the other. Then if I had a task that needed two hands I'd put the flashlight down where a puppy with many issues would grab it and run. Like I am going to play flashlight tag in the mud with a mongrel. (Any visuals you just put in your head is YOUR responsibility not mine.) Doing chores after dark without a flashlight was an exciting option but then I had to carry the blowhorn with me to help Keith find me as I would frequently wander into the surroundings fields.

Now I am hands free ! This headlamp is amazing. I have been wearing it for 6 months and have yet to replace the batteries. Recently I bought a stylin' new fleece lined winter hat complete with earflaps and now my headlamp is even more secure. The hat came from Lands End Outlet store and because pink is apparently not that popular it was only $4.99 ! Go on, I know you want to say it. OK I will... Pretty in Pink. That's me all right.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Me and my shadow

November 2, 2009

Every Monday and Tuesday we care for our wee grandson Wesley age 2. His two sisters are in school all day now so its just him and us, us and him. As soon as I return from picking him up in Pontiac, we'll all head to the barn to finish morning chores. Keith has done all the milking but he leaves calf and pig feeding for Wes and I. You can see though, by this pic, who Wes really prefers. Oh, I'm ok if he is hungry or his diaper is wet or he needs a juice refill in his sippy cup but bottom line ...he is papa's boy.

Today in addition to the usual routine, Wes was introduced to our new Red Wattler feeder pigs. We brought home 6 last week when we visited Whispering Willows Farm owned by Clyde Grover in Rockford, Illinois. These piglets were very young and quite shy when we brought them home. Less than a week later they have become ravenous eaters and happy explorers. The calf hutch we are using "for now" has kept them warm but they needed more room to run. So Keith and Wesley wired together a few leftover wire panels "for now" to give the little guys a real pig pen.Wes took a liking to them immediately and was happy to play with them in the pen. So happy we had a hard time convincing him he would not be able to live with the piglets full time. He grabbed tight to the walls of the pen and clearly said "NO" when we suggested he come with the other humans

So I resorted to the time proven parenting trick of bribery. Promising him some water play time in the milk house convinced him to unchain himself from the pigpen playpen.

(So Raven, now you know why Wes's bath water is that odd shade of gray after hanging out on the farm )