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 )

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Leave me the blog alone !

November 1 2009

It seems I have let my public down, all 10 of them. This includes my 7 regular blog followers and 3 of my "friends" at work. These folks have noticed I have not been blogging up to their standards lately or to mine as a matter of fact. It is true that life has once again gotten in the way of writing about life. So ignore my post title, I'm really not at all hostile about being reminded that I have some catching up to do. In fact the little Kim Bassinger voice in me is screaming "They like me ! They really really like me !"

The picture above is just one of many reasons my blog is behind. I recently purchased my first laptop in order to participate in NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month which is RIGHT NOW ! It started today Nov. 1. Again the numbers to remember are 50,000 words in 30 days. I splurged on the laptop convincing myself that if I can take it to a quiet space to write instead of attempting my novel at our household PC (5 feet from the snoring bulldog, directly behind my husbands office desk, between two scenic windows where at any time a crazed peacock could thrust his body and outstretched wings against the glass trying to escape our playful corgi mix puppy.)

The laptop arrived 4 days ago and I spent the first 48 hrs trying to find time to get it out of the box. Its been downhill ever since. The new pigs we picked up in Rockford (a blog about that tomorrow I promise), the first delivery of meat for retail sale at Green Grocer in Chicago (Tuesdays upcoming blog) the old horse we picked up in Eureka (Wednsdays planned blog) have also slowed me down a tad. And oh yeah, having to work a thirteen hour night shift last night because some baffoon thought we had the power to "save daylight". Come a little closer buddy. I'll give you something to save.

But, today after 4 life changing hours of sleep, a trip to Eureka to see a gal about a horse, and an hour chasing loose baby pigs, I fired up the laptop and....wrote.....a bunch of words. A few are spelled correctly and some were even in sentence form. My goal was to write 1666 words tonight. I have hit 750, but do not worry mon ami, the moon is full and the night, it is young.