Friday, June 19, 2015

So Your Kid Wants to Be a Farmer

Me: So, Ming, what do you want to be when you grow up?

Ming (my oldest, and no, Ming is not her name): I want to be a farmer, a teacher, and a veterinarian.

Me: Hmmm. Um, all three?

Ming: Yep. I can be a farmer and a vet and then teach people about farming and taking care of animals.

Me, after a short pause, eyes filling with proud tears: Be still my heart!!

I wanted to be a vet once. Yep. Even went to school for it for a couple of years until I joined the Army. Side Note: Contrary to what any recruiter will tell you, the Army does not allow you to just walk in off the street and be a service dog caretaker...

I had the opportunity to see fully-operational dairy farms, cattle ranches, hog farms, and poultry farms. I was able to bear witness to the educational entryway for anyone looking to become a vet through a large brick-and-mortar university. I gotta tell ya, it scared me a little bit....even then. Even then, back when I loved McDonalds, before I watched Food Inc., before I started ranting about how traditional meat production is literally poisoning our country.

I remember standing in animal science lab, staring at the vast number of bovine stomachs set out on display on the tables in front of me, thinking back to the heifer I'd just witnessed, the one with the huge (painless) hole cut into her stomach so we could study the devastating effects of corn on a ruminant's stomach, and I realized right then and there that I wasn't learning how to save animals. I was learning how to extend the life of animals so humans could make more money. Not animal welfare....human welfare. And not even welfare....profits. Money. Something I grew up without and never wanted to focus on ever again. It made me, the naive little college dreamer with a moral compass untouched by the harsh reality of profit-driven behaviors, sick to my stomach.

Not long after (because let's face it, I'm obviously only a few years older than that youthful college girl...) I swore off traditional agriculture, period. Seemed to be a lot of "feed the world" mottos covering up massive biochemical contamination and dollar-conscious ecological irresponsibility.

But see here's the catch ... the hiccup in my steadfast mission to change agriculture forever, at least in this home...

Many of the farmers I know and love farm exclusively using traditional practices, like monocropping (one or two crops over acres and acres of land, normally corn and/or soybean, all genetically modified so they can withstand heavy amounts of pesticide, some plants actually produced with the pesticide already inside their DNA, which we then of course ingest and feed to our kids). These farmers still operate cattle ranches with huge troughs overflowing with the corn I described above. They still raise chickens for heavy producers like Perdue, who shamelessly "believe in a better chicken" yet single-handedly monopolize the market, force farmers into poverty, and operate the nation's worst, most disgusting living environments for these "better chickens." PS, ever notice how f-you and Perdue rhyme? Neat, huh? 

But these farmers are my friends, you see. This is how farmers can make money in America, so this is how farmers operate. We've got biochemical terrorists like Monsanto on one end of the spectrum, consumers like me on the other, and the majority of Americans and farmers stuck right snack dab in the middle, just doing what they've always done because that's the way it's done and it's too hard and too expensive to do it any other way.

And my baby, my precious, naive little 4th grader, wants to jump right into the thick of it.

She quit Girl Scouts to join 4H. When asked who she'd like to meet if she could meet anybody, dead or alive, she told me she'd meet Joel Salatin. She stands next to me as I cook so she can write the recipes down into her little pink notebook. She wants in on the food movement and I'm just not sure how to feel about it. It's like a thrill ride....terrifying and glorious all at the same time.

What do I tell her? Do I expose all the deep dark secrets of the traditional educational model for agriculture? Do I enter her into the very testy conflict between traditional farmers and more forward-thinking minds, like Joel? Do I allow her to skip a brick-and-mortar college degree so she can apprentice with some of the best permaculture groups in the world? Do I say nothing and allow her to figure everything out on her own?

I wonder how long this farmer-in-training mentality is going to last (so far we're going on 3 years). She's not exactly the world's most motivated kid, I can tell you that right now. She doesn't even remember to take the compost out. Nothing like good ol' Ree Drummond's kids, who seem to always be working and working and working and smiling and working. So maybe my kid will change her mind. Maybe I say nothing, and she figures out how hard it is on her own, and hates it so much she walks away from it.

.....but hang that really what I want? Is that really what we need? More young minds turning away from agriculture because they see this impermeable wall of hardship and greed in front of them?

My job is to raise someone who can contribute to society and understand what it means to be content. So I think instead of passing this off as a MingMing oddity, or falling back on the whole "she'll change her mind," principles, I am going to nurture this little seed of hope. I'm going to share what I'm learning with her and...

  • Take her out gardening with me. 
  • Introduce her to my homesteading handbook. 
  • Teach her how to respect our farmers regardless of growing practices. 
  • Let her care for the chickens. 
  • Show her why I choose to buy my seeds from heirloom suppliers. 
  • Teach her how to articulately debate. 
  • Explain how I came to choose companion planting over traditional garden rows. 
  • Show her how to instruct others. 
  • Teach her how to install hardware cloth over raised beds so the chickens can't eat all of her future cauliflower. 

Because that's all any of us can do, right? Grow within ourselves, respect others, and then share our knowledge with our kiddos? I gotta tell you, I think that's what parenting is all about.

And who knows, maybe I'll get a little homesteading partner out of the whole deal ;)

Any of you have a good story about what you wanted to be when you grew up? How many of you have kiddos that want to be farmers? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)


Friday, June 12, 2015

I Love Summer Break (and Might Be Nuts)

As I type this, my two kids are fighting. One stole something from the other (a fuzzy from her pants?) and the other is passively-aggressively retaliating in the hopes I won't realize what she is doing. This morning they argued about cereal. Later, the smaller one got kicked in the face by the older one who was "just dancing, mom!"

This is the way it is with those two girls. It just goes on...and on....and on....each time they are together and I can't regulate their interactions, arguments quite often ensue.

So you'd think the thought of spending an entire summer with both kids at home all day would make me want to invent a Mom Ship capable of blasting me into the next universe and replacing myself with a robot that sings and can cook dinner.

But that's not the case. I am so, so excited for my big girl to be home from school. I am honestly ecstatic about this summer. Yep. I might be nuts. But hear me out.

Older Kid Help
My big girl is 9. She washes things, can carry things, clean things, read things, make things, replace things, feed things, entertain things, and pretty much care for herself. She is an immense help. I don't get this kinda help when she's in school all day. No, during the school year I get a tired kid at the end of the day with piles of homework and not enough time in the day to complete her schoolwork and chores. It's exhausting to her and to me. Having her home frees up her time so she spends only a little bit of time working and the rest of the time being a kid. It's glorious. I get my help and she gets her relaxation. Win-win. Her help allows me to find the time to do stuff like this with my lawn mower:

Oh yeah, I'm going there. I get school. I love school. I feel blessed to have the educational resources we have in this country. But some stuff, some stuff I truly value, isn't taught in school. I am an art-biology-music person. School these days is a bit more math-and-technology focused. I get it. I support it. But you know what I'd support more? A school that allowed my kid to take some time at the end of her long school day to be focused on home, family, and freedom. She is gone from 8:20AM to 4:00PM Monday through Friday. When she gets home she's obligated to complete at least another hour's worth of homework. In 3rd grade.

So what does that mean for me? It means I can't have her learn how to cook during the school year because she needs that hour after school before dinner to do more schoolwork. It means I can't show her how to cage up the chickens at the end of the night because she's in the shower early so she can get up early and head back to school. It means I choose not to give her as much responsibility because I'd rather she take the 60 minutes leftover between dinner and shower time to go outside and .... I dunno.... play.

Now again, I am thankful for her public school. But I am also thankful for the opportunity each summer to teach her how to plant her own food.

I am thankful for the opportunity to teach her how to wash dishes, do the laundry, make a meal, clean the chicken coop, identify edible weeds, and learn more about actual living.

I love summer because I finally have the excuse to go to museums, the library, botanical gardens, arboretums, and any freakin festival I want.

I don't need to feel like I'm breaking routine, or worry about getting home in time for the bus, or freak out if I serve dinner late. It's all good - no school tomorrow. Might as well stay at the museum a little longer - no school tomorrow. Might as well let them stay up a little later - no school tomorrow. It's great to have the excuse to be childish and semi-irresponsible for a couple months.

My First Time
This is the very first summer I've personally been able to experience my two kiddos without work or school. Don't get me wrong, I am still working at night, on the weekends, and for 11-12 hours a day 3 days a week, but those other 2 days of the week? Glorious. I look forward to them with the brilliance of a thousand suns. I am gloriously happy to have those 2 days each week to love on my kids. I'm overwhelmingly grateful to even have the chance to experience them like this.

Book and Movie Days
It rains a lot here in the early summer. Nothing is better than waking up to two sleepy-eyed kids who want nothing more than to stay under blankets all day to read books and watch movies. It's a dream come true, people...especially for those of us who write for a living. Best of both worlds - happy kids and the ability to work? Fantastic.

Endless Possibility
I thrive on my imagination. For a while there, when things got truly rough for me, I went on AirBnB and just scanned thousands upon thousands of places I could potentially someday go. It's calming for me to think of the future, dream of the possibilities. I wake up each day with this huge sense of "maybe" in, maybe we'll go to the park today...or maybe we'll have an adventure in a new town....or maybe today will be the day I get an email from someone who wants to give me a book deal to write things like this (I'm tellin' ya, imagination rules).

These thoughts are lovely and comforting and help me realize there is more to life than just sitting around, doing the same thing every day. There is more to life than a job that keeps you from the things that in life that really matter to you. There is more to life than worrying about your kids arguments for the nineteenth time today. There is more to life...and since I'm in charge of my life, I can make this life whatever the hell I please. The freedom is exhilarating and motivating....even if nothing actually changes because of these early-morning summer thoughts. It's a beautiful way to start the day nonetheless.

So yes, the arguing sucks. The vast amount of yard work sucks. The bored whining sucks. The fact that the best weather days never seem to happen on the weekends sucks. But there are many more amazing things about summer break that can transform it into a time of renewal and learning for you and yours.

And what about you guys? Do you love summer break? Hate it? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below! Thank you very much for reading and I hope you each have an amazing weekend :)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Celebrating with What You Have: An Inexpensive Birthday Experience

My youngest turned 3 last week. How it's possible for a little baby to grow so incredibly fast, I have no idea. She's my last one - my last hurrah - my last chance to get it right (cuz that happens, right?). She, like my oldest, means everything to me.

And I want to celebrate the day of her birth with all the pomp and circumstance befitting such a joyous moment in my heart. I can recall the moment she came into the world with crystal clarity. My heart was so full. It continues to be full...overflowing, even. Sometimes overwhelmingly so.

How do you capture that joy each year? How can you recreate and display your deep, rushing feelings to her and those around her on that one special day, a day designed to celebrate her, celebrate the graciousness of having her in your life for another year, celebrate those who love her too and support her with their time, love, and energy?

Well Pinterest tells me to go all out, of course. Make it pretty. Make it special. Try these tricks and those snacks and that game and this theme. Special invites. Special cake. Special decorations. Because she is special. And those who love her are special. And it's time to show everyone exactly how special they are to you....right?


...what if instead of gorgeous table displays I have broken steps?

...what if instead of a picture-perfect sunset I have a thunderstorm?

...what if I don't have much money to spend?

...what if I'm truly too tired and beat up to hand-make decorations and food and invites and favors...?

What if my vision of "special" can't be realized? How can I recreate my joy without falling victim to the cultural trap I find myself in each and every! Make....make....MAKE! Do it BIGGER! Do it PRETTIER! Look, we found another super-easy way to be super-simple and super-chic and super-relaxed and super-put-together and still host 50 people at your house!

I had to redefine how to express my joy. How to celebrate my child. How to capture happiness. And you know what? It worked.

Now before I reveal what I did, let me explain this is not the first time I've gone cheap and easy with a birthday party. My oldest daughter gets a cheap and easy party each year - and her birthday is in the winter, too! The post I wrote about her Frozen birthday party is my most-read post to date. If you're looking for some easy winter party ideas, check it out.

But my second baby's birthday is in May. Right around Memorial Day weekend. That's outdoor party season. And prime storm time up here in the northern midwest. I like to live on the edge. How did I pull it all off?

I had two beautiful friends co-host with me. One has a son who shares a birthday around the same time, the other is married to a May birthday man. Find someone who has something to celebrate around the same time as your kid and ask if you want to combine parties. It splits responsibilities and makes the entire party much easier to handle.

Host Outside.
This meant no decorations, no intense cleaning inside my house, no space issues or seating arrangements necessary. Our decor included trees and grass and pretty May flowers. Some people like to string lights and hang balloons and all that....but I have chickens. They kinda check all the entertainment boxes.

Make a Backup Plan.
The day of the party it poured and rained and rained and poured. We made good use of my garage. I'd moved all the cars out. And emptied out some of the crap in there. And swept the whole place out. It provided a really nice, dry place for us to put the food and the adults.

Simple Games and Fun.
Do you have any idea just how much kids love to play in the rain? We had a mudpie kitchen along one side of the fence. Bugcatchers. A swing. The chickens. Balls and frisbees and a teeny little slide. A scavenger hunt I printed from Google. I made this truck tent by nailing a tarp to the ledge above my garage door.

As I'm sure you can see, nothing fancy. Just some rain, mud, and plenty of room to run. And boy did the kids run. My kid, the birthday girl, had mud all over her face, hands, and legs throughout the entire party. Kids went barefoot. I found a lone, small sock in my garage the next day. A little kid sock. A little reminder that it doesn't take much to keep people happy...especially miniature people.

Food Instead of Presents.
We had a lot of food. I provided drinks - beer and "moonshine" for the adults, water and apple juice for the kids. We set up a hot dog bar. Another awesome friend of mine brought an ice cream bar. We stuck candles into plastic bowls of ice cream and sang happy birthday.

The party was fun. Kids were wet and dirty and tired. Food and drink were consumed mercilessly. I didn't break the bank. I didn't break myself. It was good.

And on the day of her actual birthday, in the middle of the week, I took her to a local candy store and let her go nuts. It cost me $8.

We followed it up with a long reading session at the library.

I remember sitting with her, looking over her shoulder at the book she picked out, realizing that in just a few years she might not fit on my lap. She might not get the same excitement from dancing in the rain, or picking out her favorite piece of candy from a candy store. But dammit all if I'm not going to try and instill those simple joys into her heart, one birthday at a time.

Anyone have their own birthday party stories to share? What is your favorite tradition? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)