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Going Thoreau

I did it.

I quit my job.

Friends, co-workers and my students have very gently and kindly referred to it as my “retirement.” I’ll be 45 this summer. Kind of young for retiring.

Retreating might be a better word.

Thanks to the brilliant students who walked through my classroom door for the past five years, I’ve learned a lot about how to teach, how to deconstruct and reconstruct a sentence, and how to deconstruct and reconstruct a story. Mostly, though, I learned a lot about myself.

One thing I know for sure, there’s a lot more to learn.

So here’s the plan: take care of what I have – my husband, my family, my farm, and myself. More specifically it means cooking better meals, spending more time with family, reversing the effects of five years of farm neglect, and writing. Writing religiously. Make it a job.

In the past two weeks we’ve gotten most of our hay put up, I’ve started a deep cleaning on the bedroom, and I’ve been making cheese. Today it will be another two-pound wheel of Monterey Jack.

I’ve also been writing. Religiously. Faithfully. Daily.

I have ideas for novels that have been floating around in my head for more than a decade. It’s high time they come to life. I have no idea if I’m doing it right, or even if I’m doing it well.

All I know is that I’m doing it.

Milking season

Last night, while thunder rumbled and lightning popped across the sky, Julia gave birth to her second calf. This time she had a heifer. Because the heifer is a Jersey/Angus cross, she’s about the size of a small labrador retriever. She’s also a dark chocolate brown.

She’s beautiful.

This morning I fed Julia some grain and tied her loosely in her stall. While she ate, I milked out about a quart of colostrum. The little one had taken the rest. Then John and I got the stall cleaned up, rebedded, and properly fluffed.

Mother and baby are doing just fine.

Julia seems quite contented in her stall, keeping watch over her new baby. Looks like she'll produce quite a bit of milk for us this year.

Here's the latest addition to our farm, all hunkered down and sleepy after a big breakfast.

Springing forward

In our neck of the woods, March doesn’t come on like a lamb – more like a stampede of lambs.

Two weeks ago the spring peepers began their rhythmic chorus and a few days after that, the turkey vultures coasted onto the scene, spiraling and circling in the air currents above the farm.

The daffodils and tulips I optimistically planted in November are coming up beautifully. Thin green daffodil stems are topped by tight, yellow-tinged buds. The short, squatty tulips haven’t progressed that far.

Already, the bed needs weeding.

Garden seeds are toasting their toes on a greenhouse heating mat, covered with a clear plastic tray lid, waiting to burst through a moistened sterilized soil mix. There are 18 plum tomatoes, three heirloom Black Russians and three hybrid slicing tomatoes. In cells next to the tomatoes are six green peppers and six Anaheims. The rest of the 72-cell flat is filled with kale.

Starting seeds is my favorite part of gardening. All promise. No weeds.

All the while, Julia’s been growing rounder and rounder. Her sides have bulged so much under her spine and hip bones that she’s turned a rather triangular shape. I came home tonight to find her contentedly chewing her cud, curled up in the comfort of her deeply strawed stall. She lumbered to her feet when I showed up in the doorway, and then she groaned a bit as she ate her dinner. I guess carrying an extra 60 pounds is starting to take its toll.

The string of mucus sliding down her backside was enough to earn her a midnight visit. We’re officially on baby watch countdown.

I’m a typically heavy sleeper, until it comes to midnight barn checks. I can wake up at midnight on the dot without an alarm clock. Tonight, guided by flashlight, I’ll be serenaded by the peeper’s song. If I’m lucky, I’ll also hear Julia’s soft, urgent moo-moo-moos signaling another spring arrival.

Gratitude redux

I fell off the gratitude wagon. Sort of.

I continued to write what I was grateful for on the whiteboard at school every day, but I stopped posting it here.

Then I watched Shawn Achor give a TED Talk about happiness and learned that seven days of a gratitude journal isn’t going to cut it. I need to carry on for at least 21 days to feel any of its effects.

So, let’s try this again.

Monday: I am grateful for snow days.
Tuesday: I am grateful for John. I can’t imagine sharing my life with anyone else.
Wednesday: I am grateful that one of my former students invited me to hear her compete today at the regional Poetry Out Loud competition where she was the runner-up. Her performance was spectacular.

Stock tanks and snow days

Yesterday was a snow day. I love them more as a teacher than I did as a student. I read “Pie” by Sarah Weeks and would have made a buttermilk pie, but I was out of buttermilk. Then I finished up “The Cupcake Queen” by Heather Hepler. I did make cupcakes – Valentine’s Day cupcakes to be specific. Mostly, it was a quiet, lazy day. Just what a snow day should be.

When John got home, we had to head out in that same snow to fix the stock tank. It froze on Sunday. We knew this because there was no water in the house. Apparently, the pilot light that keeps the propane heater fired so the pipes don’t freeze, had gone out. John shut the water to the tank off, and water returned to the house, but we didn’t have the parts to fix the tank that watered the horses.

The horses got moved to a lot with water, John bought a new fitting in town, and that meant we had an evening of plumbing in store.

While we worked by flashlight, we could hear from the depths of the woods to the south, the soft calls of a barred owl. You can learn more about them (and hear audio clips of their calls) at the Missouri Department of Conservation web site.

Perhaps this was the same owl haunting our yard.

Dog beds

The red dog sleeps on my side of the bed. When she decided that she wanted to sleep with the people, she sensed John’s lack of support for the idea. At first, she’d jump up so lightly you could hardly tell when her feet hit the bed. Then she’d curl up into the tiniest and tightest of knots.

Now she’s not so discreet. Now she lands solidly in the bed. She circles three times then slams her body into my ribcage, sliding down my belly so we’re snuggled in tight. If I move, she repeats the process and this way we both slowly migrate onto what John argues is more than our share of the bed.

It’s gotten worse than that. It used to be when we left for work, the pups would be snoozing on their dog beds in the living room, Ruby with a sock freshly plucked from the dirty laundry, tucked under her chin like a tiny pillow. After work we started finding socks in the middle of the bed. Now, she’s curled up in bed, usually on my pillow before we even leave, while the black dog, who even in her younger years was not agile enough to jump up onto the bed, takes pole position on the sofa.

Cesar Millan would not be impressed.

But it was Ruby who alerted me to trouble Sunday night. From a dead sleep, her head shot up, ears pricked. I heard the roosters in the pen near the porch begin to chatter. It wasn’t a “sky is falling” kind of squawk, more of an “ahem, but we have a bit of a problem out here.”

I crawled out of bed and turned on the yard light expecting to see a four-legged, furry body scurry off. Instead, nothing.

Back in bed, the roosters once again politely suggested there was still a bit of an issue outside. I got out of bed again (notice, the red dog didn’t budge), this time armed with a flashlight. Again, there was no furry, four-legged creature to scare off. I arced the light over the pen to see the silhouette of a huge owl. He heaved himself off the securely lidded pen and conceded a spot on top of the clothesline just a few yards away.

The roosters quieted and I returned to bed where Ruby had to circle again for a fierce body slam to my ribs.

My glimpse of that huge owl is one of the things I like about living in the country. Those unexpected moments that sometimes come in the middle of the night.

Gratitude day #4

Today was the first time in sixth months that I’ve come home and wanted to run. Not for my mental health, not because I felt I had to for my physical health, but because I wanted to. For fun.

Well, not a giggly, frolicking kind of fun. A more subdued, quiet form of fun followed by a hot soaking bath laced with epsom salts.

It’s taken me six months to get to week 7 on the Couch to 5k app. There’s been quite a bit of a repeating of weeks. But last night I could run four minutes and walk two minutes with no problem. In fact, it was easy. Enjoyable. Fun.

I am grateful that I stuck with the program. I’m sure there are plenty of un-fun runs ahead, but now I have a good memory of a fun one to tuck in my back pocket.

Gratitude day #3

Several months ago we purchased tickets to see Stomp through the MU Concert Series. I’ve been anticipating the show ever since.

Until last night. The show was at 7 p.m. and I got home at 4:30 p.m. exhausted and wanting nothing more than to go to sleep. But John heated up leftover soup while I tucked the chickens in for the night, and afterward I managed a fifteen minute nap.

Then back to town we went.

It was SO worth it. Watching these folks on a video is entertaining, seeing them live is an experience.

One of the things I don’t like about teaching is my exposure to noise pollution. Kids are loud; my room reverberates with sound, and I think the constant, chaotic chatter contributes to my end-of-the-day exhaustion.

Stomp was loud, the auditorium reverberated, but this wasn’t noise, this was like finding your pulse. You could feel the sound in the floor, in the seat of the chair, until the beat settled in your breastbone and matched the rhythm of your heart.

It was music.

So, today I am grateful that I have a husband who will feed me dinner, drive me to town in the dark (something I am reluctant to do myself) and settle me into a theater seat to experience something I didn’t even know I’d be disappointed to miss.

Gratitude day #2

Today I am grateful that I got to sleep in until 5:45 a.m. on a week day morning! We are in the process of drying Laura off which means she’s now milked every other morning. We started a few days ago, but I’ve had somewhere I’ve had to be on those mornings, so my alarm’s been going off at its usual time.

Not so this morning.

Gratitude journal

I listened to Dr. Andrew Weil on the radio this past weekend. He said that people who keep a gratitude journal for seven straight days will reap the benefits of that positive energy for six months.

I figure it can’t hurt to try.

Today I am grateful for the fact that even though I felt too tired to go to yoga, I went anyway. Turns out, I was the only one to show, so I got a private session.

During shavasana – or corpse pose – Sarah read a story about a young boy whose job it was to tend the cows. When one cow came into the barn without a rope to tie her, the boy went to the master and asked what he should do.

“Pretend to tie the cow,” the master said.

So, the boy did.

The next day he found her still in the barn with the other cows. When he had released all the cows, the one cow refused to leave the barn. So, he went to the master and asked what he should do.

“Pretend to untie the cow,” the master said.

So, the boy did.

And the cow happily left the barn.

The moral of the story is that it sometimes takes a teacher to untie you from something that never even existed in the first place – a reminder that we often feel bound even when we are completely free.

Thank you for the reminder, Sarah.