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Getting Lost on Dirt Roads

17 Jul

There are advantages to having a baby. Anders Knox is adorable, giggly, and a genius (in my unbiased opinion). He makes life more fun and more meaningful. But one thing I didn’t expect about having is a baby is the way life would slow down.

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Even though I’m back at work and we’re in the throes of a crazy busy summer, something about Anders has changed the tempo of life. My priorities have shifted, my dreams have recalibrated. I’ve been forced into a calmer, more carnal place.

This calm has caused me to do things I’ve never done before. Like intentionally getting lost in the country wilderness.

Every once and a while I take the long (long, long) way home when I pick up Anders after work. He needs a good nap before his next feeding at 6:00 and I need an opportunity to take a breath.

Paved roads won’t do. Highways won’t cut it. In true farm-boy fashion, my son takes his best naps while bouncing and jostling around on dirt roads.

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Such thoroughfares aren’t hard to come by near our dairy.

Usually my life is all about productivity. Efficiency. Get the job done, get there quickly, move on to the next thing. But these early evening drives with my son (and occasionally my furry firstborn even joins us) force me to slow down. While Anders peacefully snoozes, I drink in the impossibly big blue skies and rolling green hills. We bask in the middle-of-freaking-nowhere.

Last night was one such night. The A-man needed a nap and the clouds were breathtaking. We left civilization behind and turned onto a long dirt road near our house. I leisurely cruised through the deep ruts and gullies left by a recent rain, pausing every so often to snap a photo.

We drove through leafy tunnels.

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We said hi to the neighbors.

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We checked on the corn.

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We were rendered speechless by this ridiculous sky over the silage pack.

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I could have been home cooking dinner, doing laundry, or mopping the floor. But instead, I’m was awe. In awe of the size of the sky. In awe of the peaceful isolation of these dusty back roads. In awe of the sweet baby boy snoring in the backseat.

My former city girl self found catharsis in concrete, steel, skyscrapers, and the hustle of humanity. I still love those things. But now my soul also does somersaults for muddy roads, cornfields, cows, and the silence of the wind.

And that’s certainly worth a car wash (or three).

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Updates From the Polar Vortex

24 Feb

Pssssssssht. Breaker, breaker. This is MFW coming to you live from a snowdrift.

I’m going to start with this photo. Because it soothes me.

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I want to go to there. This lovely shot is from our honeymoon in Mexico a million years ago. It’s good to remember that there are places in the world free of this year’s #polarvortex.

Sigh.

Unfortunately Michigan is still firmly planted in winter. Despite wildly odd weather last week—thunder snow, 40 degrees, and pouring rain—temps are back in the low teens this week.

My psyche just can’t take it. I’m tired of wearing three layers at all times, getting my car stuck in the driveway, whiteouts on the roads, and worrying about our roof collapsing under three months of snow accumulation. I just want to be warm again. I’m still waiting for those awesome pregnancy hot flashes people keep talking about.

I’m getting close to my winter breaking point.

Dairy Man might be even more sick of winter than I am. His life the past few months has involved frozen pipes, broken machinery, stuck milk trucks, countless pairs of long underwear, and so, so much plowing.

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Dairying gets a lot harder when we’re dealing with six-foot piles of snow, icy roads, and sub-arctic temperatures.

Thankfully the ladies take it all in stride. They get fluffy winter coats, group together in the sand beds, and eat, eat, eat.

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We do our best to help them stay warm and toasty during the cold months. Cow-sized sweaters are out of the question—I was never much of a knitter—and the girls don’t love hot cocoa, but we close the barn curtains, change our feed ration to include higher fat, and turn on the heaters in the water troughs.

We’re all getting by. The only family member wholly unfazed by winter is Jersey the snow dog.

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He loves snow—for playing, walking or eating. The last one is most annoying. There are few things more demoralizing than being an adult human being standing outside in negative temps and 40 mph winds yelling, “GO POTTY!!!!” to a stubborn and impervious border collie chowing down on snow.

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It’s been a long, hard winter. Perhaps one I’ll creakily tell my children about someday.

But I must remember that this season won’t last forever. The days are getting longer, spring is getting nearer, and there are occasional moments of pure beauty. It’s all about the sunshine.

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From the safety of a warm car or house, the winter wonderland really is spectacular.

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And I’m sure we’ll get the tractors unburied … someday.

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Confessions of a Former Agoraphobic

19 Jun

Believe it or not, I haven’t always found the country beautiful.

The wide open spaces of this place used to make me feel twinges of agoraphobia (the opposite of claustrophobic). I feared the wide open spaces.

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I still remember my first few drives out to Smalltown to visit the Dairy Man when we were dating. I would feel twinges of panic as sidewalks and Starbucks were replaced by cornfields and endless country roads. The openness crushed me. I felt unmoored and lost. While DM marveled at a beautiful starry sky, I couldn’t stop looking around for streetlights.

It was like being on an alien planet a million miles from earth. But instead of extraterrestrial life, I was surrounded by cows and F-150s.

I desperately missed the city. I felt most at home when surrounded by tall buildings, a crush of humanity, and the perpetual cacophony of traffic. I preferred my experiences with nature to be within walking distance of a tapas restaurant or the John Hancock Center.

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I’m still getting used to life out in the boonies. The difference three years makes, however, is that I’m starting to see the beauty.

We had a brief thunderstorm this week. After the noise (including the incessant whining of one very high-strung border collie) died down and the rain puttered out, I took a look out our front window and my breath caught in my throat.

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Let’s face it, people. Skies like this don’t happen very often between apartment buildings.

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I finally appreciate the beauty of this rural wilderness. Here, I can be quiet, deliberate, and still. With skies this big, it’s impossible not to feel closer to heaven.

I miss the bustle of the urban jungle, but this country is home.

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Pupcakes and Puppylove: Jersey turns 2

8 May

May 7 was a big day in the MFW household. No, we didn’t finish the barn, get new cows, or plant all the corn.

More important than that.

Yesterday this furry little fella turned two!

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Even though Dairy Man keeps reminding me that 2 is really 14 in dog years and Jersey’s getting older, it seems like just yesterday that he was a timid baby ball of fur adjusting to farm life.

I still view Jersey the dog as my fluffy little child …er… puppy. I love him just a little too much.

Need more proof? While Dairy Man was hard at work strip tilling the fields last night, Jersey and I celebrated his two years of life at a party with his aunt Amber and cousin Maggie.

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Can’t you see the family resemblance?

Jersey, like so many human children before him, had the misfortune to be born during planting season, harvest season, or summer.

Thus, he celebrated his birthday sans father figure. You really have to hope for rain if you want the farmers to come in for birthday cake.

But Jersey didn’t seem to mind once he was chowing down on a banana peanut butter pupcake.

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Yes. I am that crazy dog person who throws my pup a birthday party. It was delightful, complete with party hats, wrapped presents, guest goodie bags, and canine baked goods. Don’t judge me.

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Jersey and I are an anomaly in the farming world.

Most farm dogs live outside, chase cows, and inevitably meet untimely ends (by tractors, skidsters, cars, larger animals, etc.). But Jersey is not a farm dog. I watch him like a hawk. My pup sleeps next to our bed, has his own chair, and will live forever.

Dairy Man and his farming family think my puplove is a little crazy, but I’ve never been a normal farm wife.

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The key, DM, is to just accept it. And yes, that does mean I would like to revisit the doggy bowtie discussion. Jersey would look so dapper…

Put Your Money Where Your Corn Is

24 Apr

There comes a point in every farm wife’s life when she must put her money where the corn is.

In short, there comes a time when she must buy land. At least that’s what the Dairy Man told me.

Buying land was a rite of passage for our farm life. I still remember the jittery feeling in my stomach back when DM and I first went down this path.

After months of research, loan applications, bargaining, and stacks of paperwork, Dairy Man and I took our first large step towards personal investment into the dairy: buying farmland.

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This land-buying venture represented our first foray into deep, personal dairy investment.

I was just getting the hang of regular old farm life. Sure, the hours were long and the work was never-ending, but I hadn’t thought about the point when DM would want to invest our hard-earned dollars into the farm.

Silly me. I thought that money was accruing for a fabulous Mexican vacation or a paved driveway.

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But dairy life and personal life are inextricably intertwined. I’m slowly learning that there isn’t a big difference between “family money” and “farm money.” Somehow it all ends up in the same pot.

This means that every dime we earn, every choice we make, has to take the dairy into account. Annoying. Does this mean my desire for new flooring might get trumped by the Dairy Man’s desire for new cows? Yes. Not an easy concept for a city girl to swallow.

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When Dairy Man and I started discussing the land deal, it was easy to hide behind obscurities, generalities, and “somedays.” But eventually the time came to talk numbers, dollars, acres, a closing date. It was scary. I felt levels of resistance similar to those I felt before DM and I got married and moved to Smalltown. I secretly resented the notion that we had to deplete our hard-earned savings to buy something as un-sexy as dirt.

Because that’s all it is. Dirt. Buying land requires a down payment similar to that of a new house. But instead of four bedrooms, crown molding, and a walk-in closet, you get dirt. Instead of remodeling the bathroom, you get to spread poo on your new purchase. Thrilling.

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Dairy Man tried to soothe my fears with land adages farmers rely on:

  • “Land is our retirement plan!”
  • “Land is a gift that keeps on giving!”
  • “Buying land will make us rich … in equity!”
  • “When the apocalypse comes and the world succumbs to chaos and lawlessness, the landowners will be king!”

Even my desire to become a post-apocalyptic czar was not enough to convince me. I was scared. What if we had a terrible drought? What if it snowed in July and our corn babies froze? What if the field was trampled by a herd of rabid water buffalo? What if there was a plague of corn-loving locusts?

Farm life is a good exercise in letting go. I’m still getting used to a farmer’s reliance on the land and weather. So many things are outside of our control. This could explain why Dairy Man is so annoyingly optimistic and flexible. My type A personality strains heavily against the lack of control that comes with farm life.

But ultimately I trust the business acumen of my scruffy Dairy Man. This is the life I’ve chosen and these are the educated choices we must make.

Because, really, life itself cannot be controlled or predicted. I can thank farming for teaching me this. I’m constantly learning and gaining flexibility and patience. Plus, I don’t even go into hypovolemic shock when I get my shoes stuck in the mud.

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The dairy is growing. I’m growing. DM is so proud. I know our lovely land parcels will be a good investment. I’m well on my way to being a feudal land baron and I’m excited to watch this dairy ebb and grow. Land is good.

Even though I can’t buy new shoes with equity.

Dairy Man, Get Your Gun

24 Jan

Despite living on a farm for the better part of the past two and a half years, I have a confession to make. Get ready for some serious self-awareness. Ready? Deep breath.

I have very delicate sensibilities.

Whoa. I know you’re reeling with shock right now. I’ll give you a minute to collect yourself.

While I’m not exactly a Victorian lady holding a scented handkerchief up to my nose and fainting at the mere notion of social impropriety (a la Downton Abbey), I have not transformed into a rough-and-tumble, dirt-loving, cow-milking, lady. I live on a dairy, but I still wrestle with the guileless city girl brain bouncing around in my head.

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I may be able to provide a detailed description of strip tilling or regale you with tales of escaped cows, but I try not to get too attached to our steers and plug my fingers in my ears and sing “Lalalalalalalala” whenever Dairy Man talks about artificial insemination. I blubbered like a melodramatic baby who just watched The Notebook when I ran over a squirrel.  Despite having a pair of stylish rubber boots that I use to tromp around the farm, I will be thrust into a horror-struck paralysis if I get manure on my shirt. While I know where my food comes from, I don’t really need to know the logistics of WHERE MY FOOD CAME FROM.

I’m sentimental about most living things. Deer look like Bambi. Steers are friendly neighbors. Geese remind me of Fly Away Home. Cows are dear buddies. Barn cats (provided they have all of their legs, eyes, and tails) are fluffy kitties. Jersey the dog is my baby.

Normal farm kids think differently about animals than I do. The “circle of life” that farmers accept (not to be confused with a baboon singing “Naaaaaaaaaants ingonyama bagithi baba” while hoisting a lion cub over a cliff) is still a concept that offends my delicate sensibilities.

It’s for this reason that I’ve resisted the idea that the Dairy Man should get a gun. Back in the “this-guy-is-cute-but-I-don’t-want-to-date-a-farmer-BUT-it-would-be-fun-to-visit-his-farm-and-play-with-calves” phase of our relationship, a BB gun was thrust into my hands to shoot pigeons in the barns. I missed every shot I took. To spare the lives of the fluttering birds, you ask? I plead the fifth.

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The Dairy Man doesn’t hunt and I stay far away from any mortality conversations around the farm, but there’s something about a farmer and his gun. As soon as DM got his dog, he started begging for a gun.

So, in the second-best wife gift ever, I finally caved and gave DM his heart’s desire for Christmas.

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While I don’t think DM will find time to hunt deer or geese next fall, he does have dreams of clay pigeons and skeet shooting.

(And because I want to save you from embarrassment, no, a skeet is not a small, flightless bird resembling a roadrunner. Don’t make that mistake in public conversation. I’m speaking from experience here.)

Dairy Man’s gun is just one more chip in my city sensibilities. It’s a gradual process, assimilating into this farm life. No one I knew in Chicago felt the need to own a shotgun, but we’re in the lawless country (pronounced COOOOOUN-TRAY) now.

I only hope that he doesn’t parade any trophies in front of me like Shadow the cat did with unfortunate field mice and moles. Only the mob should leave a corpse on your doorstep. Even if it’s a deer.

My delicate sensibilities just can’t take it.

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10 Mooing Neighbors

20 Dec

On the tenth day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me
Ten mooing neighbors

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Nine essential nutrients
Eight loads of sand
Seven bales of hay
Six stripping shanks
Fiiiiiiive commodity baaaays
Four milking shells
Three shifts of milking
Two orange tractors
And a twinkly-light-laden faux tree

Above you’ll see Jersey, chatting it up with ten of our mooing neighbors. I’ve talked before about taking walks with my pup to fill the time spent without the Dairy Man. During the spring, summer, and fall, Jersey the dog and I take a LOT of walks. It’s a wonderful time to get my bearings, to breathe, to appreciate this boondockish place in which I live. There was a time when I didn’t think the country was beautiful. But I officially stand corrected.

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On these walks, Jersey and I love to stop and say hello to our mooing neighbor ladies. Our neighbor farmer raises beef cows on a few huge, green pastures. The cows (and cute little calves!) are friendly and very curious about the black and white canine furball racing along the fence line.

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Jersey loves to socialize with the neighbors and I love to stop walking for a second to watch the black and brown cows frolic through the field. It’s an idyllic view. I can barely stop myself from taking a picture every single time.

I used to long for a real neighborhood; for human neighbors, sidewalks, streetlights, neighborhood watch, city plows, playgrounds, and playdates. But these wide open spaces and mooing neighbors make life in the country just a little sweeter.

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