Farmer’s Lament

I need to get something off my chest. This weekend our favorite sow, Tuesday, gave birth and I failed her. And I can’t figure out why. I keep replaying the day over and over in my head and I know I should have done better. I could have done better. Perhaps it was just a combination of being too hot, tired, and overworked. My mind wasn’t firing on all cylinders. I thought she was doing ok. But the signs were all there and I missed them.

Saturday was a hot, sunny day at the farm. We knew Tuesday was close to farrowing, and a quick check of her early that morning showed she was producing milk, which for a pig usually means labor within 24 hours. At this point we were already set up for some trouble as Tuesday had decided to build her nest outside, despite having access to a lovely little hut that would have provided shade and kept her piglets safe. Once a sow builds a nest, there’s really nothing you can do to change her mind about the location, so we figured we’d roll with it.

A few hours later I went over to Tuesday’s pen with a pop-up farmers market shelter. I figured I could at least create some shade for her if she insisted on being outside. When I climbed into her pen she was in her wallow, but as soon as the shelter was up she waddled over and plopped down in the shade. I was so relieved! Her breathing slowed down and she seemed content. Suddenly I heard a wet, flopping sound and looked back over at her wallow, where a brand new piglet was struggling. Labor had begun!

I settled down next to Tuesday and waited for the piglets. And waited. And waited some more. Usually if the time between piglets is longer than 40 minutes, something is wrong and she needs help. At this point I wasn’t too concerned. I thought perhaps the first piglet came out early because she was stressed by the heat, and that her labor had slowed now that she was calm. Which in hindsight doesn’t make any sense at all; labor is labor and those piglets needed to come out! The next two piglets that came out were undeveloped and had clearly died a long time ago. This is not uncommon in my experience, so I still wasn’t worried.

As time went on, another healthy piglet was born. The time between piglets was still long, but for some reason I stayed back. Our new sow Holly had farrowed just a few weeks ago, and I assisted with her entire litter. Because I did, she delivered twelve healthy babies (though she wound up crushing two later that night). Had I not intervened, things would have turned out much differently because she wasn’t pushing and clearly needed help. I can’t figure out why I didn’t notice that in Tuesday. Perhaps because she is our older, more experienced sow. We’ve never had issues with her farrowing before. So I just ignored the signs. And that’s when things got worse.

After that healthy pig was born, another full term stillborn piglet slid out. And another. A couple more live piglets, and then another dead one. Suddenly a live piglet popped out and Andrew, who had joined me at this point, looked at it and said “whoa, something’s wrong with that one!” The poor little guy had a crooked spine and seemed to be missing his abdominal walls. It was obvious he could not have survived, so unfortunately we had to put that one down. Finally I decided to go in. I felt some afterbirth, and once that was passed we assumed she was done. We made sure the piglets were nursing, washed up, and ran across the street for about half an hour.

Whoops. When I returned I saw that Tuesday had passed yet another stillborn piglet. I sat there on my heels reeling, not understanding how I could have been so careless. Since Tuesday is an older sow we knew this was going to be her last litter. Our hope was to get a replacement gilt out of her, so that we could continue her legacy on our farm. At this point she had five live piglets, and NONE of them were female. I sat there thinking maybe, just maybe she had one left in there. As I contemplated going back in to help, out popped a healthy little girl.

Six healthy piglets out of a possible 11 that had come to full term is not ideal. But six is still a decent litter, and we had our girl! The rollercoaster of emotions was incredible. Finally we realized we needed to give Tuesday some oxytocin to get her uterus contracting and push out the afterbirth. In retrospect we should have given her this medication much earlier on, as it likely would have prevented most of these losses.

Unfortunately that night Tuesday accidentally crushed two of her piglets. We still have the girl, but now we are down to four. Thankfully she finally let us move her nest into the house, so at least they are staying safer now. But I can’t shake this feeling that there should be a boisterous group of piglets out there vying for mom’s teats. Instead there are only four. I know everyone makes mistakes, and I know that’s how we learn. I will never question myself again when a sow is in labor. I’d much rather help too much than not enough.

I realize this is a rather bleak post. Livestock farming is hard, emotionally draining work. There are a lot of romantic notions about what this life is like, but those cute animal photos on social media don’t tell the full story. I want this blog to be a place where I can be real and honest, and I’m grateful to all of you for reading. Putting these words down on paper is the best way I know to mend my aching, weary heart.

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Andrew and the little gilt. What a bittersweet moment.
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Baby Talk

It’s been a long while since I’ve updated this here blog! Every time I let so much time slip I become anxious about getting back into it. It’s hard to decide how much to include in each blog, what is worth writing about, or what you all will find interesting. This year is turning out to be especially hard to blog about, because lots of really big things are happening! So I sit here looking at a (mostly) blank “page” on the screen and don’t know where to begin.

I guess the biggest news (so far) for those of you who haven’t heard yet, is that we are expecting our first child this summer. Late July to be exact. Which is absolutely the WORST time for farmers to be having a baby, but sometimes these things can’t be helped. I have spent the last few months marveling at how different my body is becoming, and how much it affects my day to day. And the baby isn’t even here yet (although it’s currently kicking me, trying to tell me otherwise). Other than increased fatigue, little things like my abs stretching out and becoming weak are affecting my ability to lift buckets of chicken feed or haul water. Andrew is pulling far more than his share of the weight around here these days, and I’m more than a little nervous about what the looks like as the season progresses, our responsibilities on the farm grow, and then this baby appears!

Fortunately we are friends with a wonderful couple (who are also new parents), who have quit their corporate jobs and want to try their hand at farming. Sounds familiar! We are currently scheming up ways for them to help us out this season so we can have some relief and they can gain some skills. I’m sure having babies together at the farm will be a nice bonus as well! Oh, and for those of you who are wondering, we are not finding out the sex of the baby before it is born. I recently told that to a farmer acquaintance and she said, “Oh, not finding out is the new thing!” Of course my smartass response was, “Uh, actually, it’s the OLD thing” hah. We’ve only had the technology to learn the baby’s sex before birth for about 40 years. It seems to us there are so few surprises in life (although we’ve certainly had our fair share!), and we’re willing to wait to learn all about our little one after he or she enters this world. So stay tuned for that big reveal!

In other news, Andrew and I were lucky enough to escape to Costa Rica back in January. It seems like ages ago. The ten lovely days we spent in the tropics were rejuvenating, but this long, wet Pacific Northwest winter continues to drag on. We have lots of new projects coming up at the farm, including building new portable chicken pens that will improve quality of life for our meat chickens (as well as ourselves!). We were awarded a grant to build these new pens and are excited about the change. We have also had many new goat and lamb babes born this season, our first piglets of the year made an appearance, we will soon have meat chicks in the brooder, and they will be followed quickly by the turkey poults.

Finally I need to mention that my wonderful grandmother passed away last month. I have written about her many times in the blog; she and I were close and I miss her. Fortunately she lived to be 93, and passed away peacefully in her bed after a few months of slipping away. I mentioned in my last post that I got to visit her before her mind was completely taken from her. I was able to tell her I was pregnant, and suddenly she knew exactly who I was and what I was telling her. She was so happy for me, and it was all I could do to keep from bursting into tears on the spot. I’m sad that our child won’t get to meet my grandmother, or his/her own grandmother Nancy. Yet bringing new life into this world as other life departs is a powerful reminder of my own humanity and mortality, and brings to light the important role we each play in the continuity of this wonderful world.

Sows on the Move

I thought it was about time to write a post where I show you some of what we do day-to-day on the farm. Each day is different, which is part of the joy of farming. Of course there are the typical chores that must be done the same every day, but other events ebb and flow, and our workload fluctuates with the changes in season.

Some chores are done weekly or so, like moving animal paddocks. With the portable fencing system we use, most of the time moving animals is a breeze. After our last flood, we had to move the sows (female breeding pigs) back outside after they spent a week in a shipping container up on high ground.

First we set up the paddock. The ladies who farm vegetables here (One Leaf Farm) had given us a couple areas to use for the sows. The sows will do work rooting and digging, essentially acting as rototillers before the ground gets prepped for new crops.

Once the paddock space has been determined, we start by placing T posts at all four corners. This is done with a post pounder and muscles. Andrew’s muscles to be exact.

Once all four T posts are placed, we attach plastic insulators and run an electric wire around the pen. The electric wire is actually mostly poly, with a few thin metal wires woven in. The electricity is set to pulse, so it mildly zaps the sow when they come into contact but it doesn’t grab onto them and hold like it would if you stuck a fork in an outlet!

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Next we place simple rebar at intervals around the paddock to reinforce tension on the wire.

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Rebar is more user-friendly for shorties like myself. Having the wire pre-strung helps us line our rebar stakes. Then they get attached with plastic insulators as well.

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Once we’ve done the first lower strand, a second higher strand is placed. Two strands aren’t always necessary; pigs are highly trainable and usually respond well to a single strand.

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To train a pig to a hot wire, we set up a pen when they’re small using what are called hog panels. These are metal panels about 16′ x 3′ but any fencing material will work. Just inside the fencing install an electric wire at nose height. The pigs will learn very quickly that the wire jolts them, and the wire is now associated with the paddock boundary. After a week or so you can take the fencing away and they will stay inside the wire! It’s important that the wire stays hot though…as the pigs root they can bury the wire in dirt and cause it to ground out. If pigs learn their wire isn’t on, well then you have a problem!

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Once our paddock was set up, we had to get the sows out of the shipping container and out onto the field. They were desperate to get outside, but getting them in the right place without a bunch of detours is always the challenge. Thankfully the veggie farmers don’t have much going on right now, because our girls certainly would have trampled some crops! A bucket of whey-soaked bread was my bribe to get the sows to follow me in a mostly straight line.

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I dropped small piles of bread on the path to the new paddock. A few times the girls were so excited they actually ran ahead of me! It amazes me how fast a 400 lb creature can run when she’s excited! The piles of bread encouraged the girls to slow down a minute and let me get back in front of them.

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Look at that sow move!!

When we set up our paddock we kept one side open. Our sows are very well trained to the hot wire and will not cross-either to go in or out. So we have to make sure no wire is blocking their path into the paddock. Once the sows are in, we zip up the fence and plug in the battery.

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We recently purchased six poly calf huts from a farm that’s closing up shop. These portable huts are a wonderful addition to our space! They’re easy to move and we plan on using them for both pigs and goats. Sheep don’t mind the rain because of the lanolin in their wool, but goats get pretty moody when they’re damp. And if goats are moody, you can bet I am too.

Finally we haul out feed in a large trash can, water in a 300 gallon tote (since we have limited water lines at the farm), and our sow paddock is all set! Sows can root pretty deep, so when it looks like they’re close to China we move them to a new paddock. Easy as pie!

Recently Andrew and I attempted to artificially inseminate our sows. While we do have other pigs arriving soon from a breeder, we’re hoping to raise our first ever piglets on the farm this year. Stay tuned for more on that! If we were successful, we’ll have piglets 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days from conception. Squeeeee!

On a side note, in a couple days I will be announcing a fundraising campaign via Barnraiser, which is like Kickstarter but for farms and the food industry. You may recall reading about our turkeys, and how much fun we had chasing them all over the farm last year. It was definitely not a sustainable model, so we’re designing a portable turkey tunnel to help keep them contained while maintaining our ethical standards. I will post the campaign here on my blog, and I hope you will consider contributing to help us keep doing what we love! There will be plenty of farm-related rewards to choose from should you decide to support us. More on that soon!

 

 

When it rains…

Last week I wrote about perspective, and how it was too easy to focus on the mini-dramas of daily life while other people experienced true suffering. The mini-drama I was experiencing was a flood, the second of the season and one that peaked at about 16.5 feet on our nearest flood gauge. “Minor” flooding starts at 15 feet, according to the National Weather Service. The farm starts flooding at around 14 feet. At 16.5 feet, we were almost at “major” flood stage, and we thought it showed. As I mentioned in my last post, we had to do a lot of late-night scrambling to get animals to higher ground, but everyone made it safely and the waters quickly receded. It was easy to sit in my warm house and contemplate how lucky I am.

Mother Nature sure has a way of laughing at over confidence, doesn’t she? The next flood (our third in as many weeks) was predicted to crest at 18.5 feet, two feet higher than the last, and there was still standing water on the farm. The soil was completely water-logged, so there was no room for absorption. The next flood came fast, and it came big. Now this isn’t what you might imagine from a newsreel, where water is rushing by and people are being saved by daring rescuers. Here the flood doesn’t really rush in; instead it seeps in from all directions until gradually the new lakes meet in the middle.

We knew this next flood was coming for a few days, so we were a little better prepared for it. We were able to get most of our animals up to high ground early in the day. We built some temporary pens in a hay barn next to our house, and herded all of the goats, sheep, and our landlord’s two fat, little American Guinea hogs up the hill into safety. Our sows (breeding pigs) were dozing in a stock trailer parked on a concrete pad that, in our previous experiences, stays dry. The hens were locked into their house for the night next to the sows. Our market hogs had previously been moved to a new paddock in a relatively high spot, and were blissfully piled onto one another amid a deep bed of hay in a covered pen.

For the previous flood the turkeys had been moved into a dry hoop house to wait it out. The water started seeping into their house early in the morning, so I ushered them out and let them wander around the dry spaces on the farm. After the water receded we spread a large round bale of oat straw into the hoop house, set up nice roosting spaces for them, and turned them back in to happily (and dryly!) spend the last week of their lives. We knew this next flood would also get into the hoop house, but we had a hard time coming up with a good solution. Andrew thought maybe just having roosting bars would be enough to keep them out of the water. I agreed in theory, but in the last flood I learned that turkeys are drawn to the water at night. Birds have terrible night vision, and they are prey animals. They do whatever they can to be safe, and at night the water reflects light. The turkeys go towards the light, thinking, I imagine, it will be safer there. It is not. We decided to go in for dinner and revisit the issue afterwards. The floodwaters were not threatening just yet.

Our friend Ross was at the farm helping us prepare for the flood when he got stranded here. Our roads in and out of the farm are the first to go under water, so we put him up on the couch. We were grateful for this turn of events, as he was a big help getting animals safe. I should mention that in addition to the flood warnings, Western Washington was hammered with a massive windstorm that night. Our little house is up high on wheels, on top of a hill, and it was rocking in the wind. Trees behind us were smashing to the ground, which is actually pretty common; they’re old rotted plantation poplars. The wind was coming from the north, opposite from the normal pattern, and that small change gave the storm a more sinister feel. Spurts of intense rain pounded our metal roof and added to the feeling of being under fire. Ross and Andrew went out to move cows up to higher ground while I sat on the floor in the only spot I thought would be safe from shattering windows. I’m not sure that was a real possibility, but it sure felt like one! Something like 300,000 people in our area lost power that night. Remarkably ours never flickered.

Once the guys came back in we had a nice hot dinner, and thankfully the intense wind pushed the rain clouds away. We decided we had better take advantage of the clear skies and move the turkeys up to even higher ground. We moved a small tunnel that was previously the sheep house up onto the hill that was quickly resembling an ark. We herded the turkeys into it, which was a slow tedious business since it was dark. We tied the door shut and blocked off any possible escape routes, since heritage turkeys are not fond of being penned up. After that we went in for the night to try and get some sleep.

Sleep didn’t come to me, so I spent time on facebook, chatting with family across the country, which helped keep me calm. I also obsessively checked the flood prediction gauge. At 1:30 am I decided to go on a round to check on the water’s progress. It became obvious that the water was coming much more quickly now, and that the high ground where our sows and hens were parked was not going to stay “high” for long. Our ten snuggling pigs were also going to need to be moved higher. Andrew had set his alarm for 2:30 am to check on things, but I could see that we didn’t have that much time. I ran in and roused him, and we moved all of the rest of the animals up to the highest possible ground. Andrew easily passed back out (a trait of his that makes me insanely jealous), and I continued to quietly fret. A couple hours later the flood prediction jumped from 18.5 feet to over 20 feet. I panicked about this news, but there was nothing more we could do but wait.

Once morning hit we were amazed by what surrounded us. Water was everywhere. This was the first time since we’d been here that all of the farmable space was under water. We did our morning animal chores, which was relatively easy with all the animals in close confinement. We boarded our canoe to shuttle Ross across the street so he could go back home, and then we went up to our neighbors for a cup a coffee and a chat. Darryl, the patriarch of the family across the street has a million stories about this valley. His family has been living and farming here for generations, and as far as he was concerned this flood was minor. He regaled us of stories about previous floods, including one in 1990 where the peak hit 25 feet. At that level everything on the farm except possibly our house would be under water. After departing we took the canoe around the fields to investigate and take photos.

While the flood was dramatic, we were mostly prepared and everyone stayed dry and safe. We spent most of the day inside recovering, and while the animals were restless they put up with their confinement well. Thankfully the flood never reached the predicted 20 feet, and even the van our vegetable farming partners accidentally left on the farm seemed to have avoided getting water in its engine.

As I type all of this it’s hard to remember that this all happened yesterday. It seems like so long ago. I suppose lack of sleep and boosted adrenaline will do that to you. Needless to say were more than ready for bed last night. Andrew has been battling bronchitis for a week now, and I had been having sneezing fits and a plugged nose since the morning. Sleep was in order. And then, just as we started dozing off, we heard a strange sound. Actually it wasn’t that strange, it sounded exactly like gusts of wind rattling the plastic that covers the hay barn. Only there was no wind, it was an eerily still night. After this happened three or four times we ran outside to see what was up. The door on the turkey house had broken free and swung open, and the noise was the whoosh of turkey wings as they flapped out of confinement straight into the lake that now flanked our house.

Wearing only underwear, I grabbed my long down parka, which wasn’t the greatest choice considering it was now raining heavily, but I didn’t have time to think. I jammed my bare feet into my boots and ran out the door, yelling at Andrew to grab the canoe. I began wading into the frigid water to retrieve those turkeys that were within reach. The cold water rushed over my boots and filled them. I sloshed around, urging turkeys to walk up the hill. Those that were too cold to move merely stood there shuddering, so I picked them up and carried them one by one back to their pen. Some of the turkeys were in too deep, so we had to canoe over to them. We took multiple canoe trips, flinging scared, wet birds into the center of the boat while trying to maintain our balance. One bird was roosting on top of the hoop house, impossible to reach. Once we retrieved all the birds we could find we quickly realized that only about half were there. It was dark, raining, our teeth were chattering and my feet and legs were numb. We could not see or hear any other turkeys.

Defeated, we went back inside to deal with our oncoming hypothermia. The fire was out, so we put on dry clothes and crawled under the covers. I was inconsolable. The thought of helpless turkeys, birds I had raised since they were two days old, shivering and drowning in the cold was too much to bear. There really was nothing else we could do at that point but wait and hope for the best. I certainly expected the worst.

After a fitful night filled with horrible dreams of drowned turkeys and restlessness, I awoke this morning to an amazing sight. The water had receded substantially in the night, and I saw turkeys walking inland from various parts of the farm. Although they sounded hoarse from spending the night in cold water, there were no other obvious signs of distress. I don’t know how they made it through the night, but apparently they are stronger than I thought. Last night in the midst of my meltdown I proclaimed that I would never raise turkeys again. Now I’m not so sure. These guys are badass. They are survivors. It’s a strange irony knowing that I will willfully end their lives this weekend, but I am proud that they will be consumed at feasts designed for reflection and thankfulness. Everyone who has ordered a turkey will be sent the link for this post. As you sit down to your Thanksgiving meal, I hope you will feel deep gratitude for these creatures that have given so much of themselves for us.

Now that the waters are once again receding, I have released the rest of the turkeys and the hens. They are wandering happily around acting as a kind of clean up crew, enjoying the worms and other delicious tidbits the flood dredged up. Their sounds of joy and discovery delight me, and while the logistics of this weekend are looming and our roads are still under water, somehow I know it will all be ok. And it’s all thanks to those pesky turkeys.

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Canoeing during Flood #1. Thinking, “this is fun!”
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Flood #1…
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Flood #2 was a little worse
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Flood #2…
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Trumpeter swans enjoying Flood #2. Notice all the crops that survived this one?
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Preparing for Flood #3
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Flood #3…no crops escaped this one
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Flood #3…the hoop house on the right is where the turkeys were originally hanging out.
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The view of our new houseboat!
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Silage bales (fermenting hay) were floating everywhere. The owner’s teenage son had given some of them faces.
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The turkeys in their pen on “the ark.” Pre-escape of course.
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Hens locked inside on the left, sows on the right. Water got close but stayed out of their enclosures.
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Pig Mountain. On the left is the blue covered pen where they had previously been snoozing.
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View from Pig Mountain.
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The lucky van!
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The workstation. A lot of equipment was left out under here since this is normally a high point. Thankfully the barbed wire fences around the farm caught most of the stuff that floated off.
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Water water everywhere
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The inner Ark. Goats and sheep and two little pigs.
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Thank you. Thank you.

A Trip Around the Sun

Things on the farm are chugging along at a steady clip, and we are just a little over a week away from our first chicken harvest. Last time I wrote we were stressing a bit about the timeline crunch since our power wasn’t installed yet. The good news is the poles are now in place! The less-than-good news is that they aren’t live yet, but we are confident they will be shortly. We are definitely approaching the 11th hour, but I’m putting all of my energy into willing things to work out, so they will, right? I was on the phone with my sister the other day, and she has been dealing with the stress of working on a new house, hiring contractors, ripping up carpets, and taking care of her baby. She was getting pretty worked up, and then she had a revelation. She told me that instead of a “game face” she has adopted a “Maine face.” She said everyone in Maine is so doggone nice that things just always work out in the end because people help each other out. I like this philosophy a lot! I’m going to work on my “farm face.” Everything on the farm always works out one way or another, and we’ve become quite adept at flying by the seat of our pants. Especially when they’re Carhartts.

Last Friday I celebrated my 31st birthday. For some reason 31 feels a lot older to me than 30 did. I guess because it seems like I’m not more solidly in my thirties, rather than just teetering on the edge, waiting to be pushed back into my twenties by a strong breeze. I’m not actually worried about aging, I think I become more of myself the older I become. The essential “me-ness” has always been there, but it becomes more bold and complex with age. Just like wine, or cheese! And really what’s better than that? My dad recently suggested I write down what a “day in the life” is like for me, and that people might be interested in knowing what I do on the day-to-day level. I think my birthday is probably a great place to start, since it was such an awesome day. Here’s how it all went down.

Andrew was scheduled to work at his concrete job that day, but didn’t have to be in until 10, so we spent the morning together drinking coffee and enjoying local smoked salmon with farm-fresh poached eggs and chives. Then we took a stroll out to the goats so I could visit with my favorite kids. There is a small baby who is a slow developer and he’s very sweet and cuddly. I can pick him up and cradle him and he just nibbles on my shirt contentedly. Then we walked around the rest of the farm and visited the chicks, and pigs and carried out our various chores (feeding chicks, cleaning waterers out, checking the brooder temperature, chucking bread to the pigs, giving them milk, collecting eggs, feeding hens).

Then I took a very special shower. I usually only shower once a week or so (don’t judge!), and this time I had a brand new bar of homemade poppy seed soap from one of my customers, and a brand new razor I ordered from Harry’s. Nothing like getting razor blades in your mailbox to keep things exciting, hah. I also made a new leave-in conditioner, which helped tame my “no-poo” hair. If you’re not familiar, do a google search and you’ll see lots of people have jumped on the “no-poo” bandwagon. Instead of shampoo I use baking soda, and then rinse it out with apple cider vinegar. It gives me great volume and I love how cheap and natural it is, but tangles are an issue. This is where my new leave-in conditioner came in! Two parts water, one part jojoba oil, and a few drops of peppermint essential oil and I was a shiny new birthday girl! When you live a “simple life” like we do, it’s very easy to get excited about the little things!

After my shower I went to Costco with my friend and her three-year-old son. Costco is like a once-every-four-years event for me, but I needed a plastic folding table for the farmer’s market (starting June 20!!!), so Bri took me with her. Costco on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend is not a good idea. Cart maneuvering felt like being on the 5 freeway outside of Los Angeles, But we had fun with each other and little Elliott says the most hilarious things. He even asked his mom if his dumdum sucker was gluten and dairy free before offering me a lick. What a sweetheart!

Back at the farm we had our second visit from an aerial drone. The first visit upset me a lot, but this second one was great because I got the binoculars out and saw it go back home. Now at least I know where it lives, so if I feel so inclined I can stop by and very politely ask that they respect our privacy! I don’t mind when people come over and ask to walk around, take pictures, and enjoy the farm. But just having this thing flying in overhead and hovering above us and our animals made me feel leery. We have contemplated shooting it down, but after checking the laws it seems like this is not really an acceptable option. Although I certainly can’t help it if it happens to come over during target practice…

Later that afternoon I had the door to the house open while I was washing dishes, and a couple barn swallows flew in to check it out. They do this a lot this time of year, but this time one got confused and went for the window. I was able to catch him and release him, and it was pretty cool to have one of these lightning fast little creatures be still in my hand. Birthday power!

When Andrew came home we went to the winery (Covington Cellars: GO THERE!!!!) where I wash dishes for dinner. The chefs and I have become good friends, and they prepared an entire six-course, off-menu dinner full of Micha-friendly items. My favorites were bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with Marcona almonds, spicy prawns, artichoke and smoked salmon deviled eggs, and homemade hummus with amazing gluten free bread. They even gave me gifts including homemade sugar scrub. Now when I shower the combination of baking soda shampoo, poppy seed soap, coconut oil for shaving, and this sugar scrub (all while standing in what is essentially a metal pan), makes me feel like I’m baking a cake!

Next up Andrew and I went bowling, where we nursed bad cocktails while I trounced him pretty handily. Can you name a better way of making yourself feel exceptionally special on your birthday than by beating your husband at competitive sports? I sure can’t!

Unfortunately there is some less happy news to report. My grandmother, with whom (faithful readers will remember) I am very close, recently suffered a stroke event. While she is physically still capable, and certainly still astoundingly lucid for a 91 year old, she has lost some small part of herself. She tires much more easily, loses occasional words, and is struggling with the sensation of mental fogginess. At her age this is nothing unique, but for her (and us) it feels so. The real clincher for me in recognizing that things have changed was that she didn’t call me on my birthday. I was able to get ahold of her the next day, and she wished me a happy birthday, so I know her memory is still mostly intact. But that small little blip was enough to make me worry. At least I know she is in a wonderful home with lots of friends and caretakers nearby, which is a relief. And I’m so grateful I got to go visit her a couple months ago when she was still in top-form. She even took me to the opera!

The other bad news is that my mother-in-law’s cancer is progressing more rapidly than we expected. The new chemo drugs her doctors were excited about don’t seem to be doing a good job at slowing her tumor growth. Nancy doesn’t let news like this slow her down much; in fact she is currently on vacation in Cabo with her husband and friends! But it is hard for all of us to see her in so much pain and discomfort. She has to wear a back brace for some broken vertebrae (her bones are very weak due to the cancer, and then her car was hit by a drunk driver in an accident a few months ago).

As my birthdays come and go I witness the people I love also get older, have babies, mature, age, and head towards death. It’s easy to recognize the changes that occur in others, and sometimes it feels like I’m idling standing in place while the world whirls around me. Yet I must acknowledge the changes that are happening within myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. My wine and cheese analogy really isn’t that far off; the changes that occur are subtle if you take a nibble or sip every couple of weeks. But if you take 21-year-old Micha and compare her to 31-year-old Micha, boy what a difference a decade makes!