The Hog Floor and I…me…I…umm….

There is a hog floor at the yellow house. The yellow house is the other house on the farm. The house my grandpa was born in, where my parents lived when I was born. A tree fell on the house recently and it’s really not habitable. Please don’t be impressed that I own two houses. The hog floor is similarly unimpressive. (The new livestock trailer is not mine. The old chickens are.)


The picture above is the “good” end of the hog floor. That’s the end we use for our fall pigs. I do like to raise pastured pork but I don’t like to raise pigs in mud. So maybe I’m selling out a little bit. I don’t know. I have grass and trees and concrete. No mud.

I’m sure you have heard or said the phrase, “Happy as a pig in stuff”. Well, it usually isn’t “stuff”…

I don’t think pigs covered in “stuff” are particularly happy. Especially when it is cold. So I keep my pigs warm and dry…or at least make sure they have a warm dry option. This is the work-ey part of the show.


I have five little pigs. These bays are built for 20-40. 20-40 pigs quickly learn to go potty outside. 5 pigs lack sufficient incentive. We have to clean the aisle but also we have to clean the bedding where it gets messy. You can tell by the wet.


So we move the pigs to their new bay and clean the old one, making a compost pile at the front of the bay so we can shovel it out easily enough. I mean, as easily as one can shovel pig “stuff”.


I’m not at all happy about putting pigs on concrete so I try to mitigate the damage I’m doing to my ego by giving them lots of fluffy bedding and piles of sawdust to dig through and manure in (hopefully in that order). I also work to make sure they have fresh, green grass in their current bay. You know…pasture.


I would like to fill the entire floor with hogs just to have the manure. And maybe someday I will…just to express my inner Henderson. I need to figure out a more efficient way to deliver sawdust than just using a shovel though. This floor is very well thought out but in disrepair. With a little work I think it could be great again.

I said “again” but, to be honest, I don’t know if this floor was ever really “great”. I’m not sure this floor ever really lived up to its potential. Mom and dad moved away when I was under 2. The floor was built shortly after. There has always been some level of drama surrounding the hog floor. Interest rates rose, commodity prices fell, farmers went broke. During that cycle, this hog floor threatened to take the whole farm down. Grandpa held it all together in spite of pressures against him. Hogs were kept here until the mid-90’s. I kept open gilts here for a large producer in ’96. Then the bottom fell out of the hog market in ’98. Since then the floor sat empty. Gate hinges are frozen, fence rusted, wood rotted. It’s weird to know the history of the floor and what it cost my grandfather and to realize that it never met its potential. Even now I use it reluctantly.

The floor and I are roughly the same age. Have I lived up to my potential? Are portions of me decaying from lack of use? Is the farm better because I am here or am I just buying time for the next generation?

Challenging thoughts.

This was a post about the hog floor and I but it is also about the hog floor and me. I hope you will forgive the silly title.

How Can I Help?

“How can I help?”

That’s question number two on everyone’s lips. I’m both encouraged and humbled by the generosity expressed by those around us ranging from the church we attended as teens, our current church, my employer, my employees, friends, family, customers and complete strangers. It’s amazing.

First they ask, “How is your daughter”?

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There is a new kitten in the barn!

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She is doing well, thanks. She has chemo at regular intervals, two different sets of drugs in alternation. Her response to them is becoming predictable. One set is given over 6 days and doesn’t seem to do much other than make her feel nauseated. One set is given in about 30 hours and kicks her butt for the following week. 5 days of depression and fatigue, her immune system crashes on day 7 (resulting in a hospital stay recently) then she bounces back. We try to encourage her to eat and keep eating if she can keep food down.

Then the next question: “What can we do to help?”

That’s a difficult thing to answer. Sometimes there is a little bit more to the question:

“What can we do to help? I don’t know anything about farming but I don’t mind getting dirty!”

That’s so sweet.

They don’t know what they are saying but it’s sweet anyway.

We have immediate, pressing needs. Those needs are being met. Animals have water (most of the time) and eggs are collected, washed and packed. Dinner is often provided by others, especially when Julie is away at the hospital for days at a time and I work. The kids are attended to by family and we are working to automate home schooling as much as possible.

But there are things around the farm that are not immediate. That loose metal on the barn roof or the fence that needs to be repaired or hedge trees we need to turn into firewood. Those sound like fun projects to me but…well, when I gave that response to a friend recently he looked disappointed. He wanted to do something for us but didn’t want to do that.


So I have a list of ways people can help. I just have to find a way that leverages their individual calling which means I have to put thought into my response. Which means my response may not be immediate.


We know a woman who clearly has the gift of encouragement. We get a card from her every week if not more frequently. And if I said to her, “Hey, would you come stack firewood for me?” I’m sure she would be there with bells on. But that’s really not her thing.

That’s my thing.

I stand outside and leverage raw strength and noisy, dangerous machines to bring justice to outlaw thorny things that often retaliate when attacked. I feel an enormous amount of personal satisfaction when I reduce a honey locust to ash making room in the forest for hardwoods with better lumber and no thorns. I remember well the time the honey locust log fell on my foot and pushed a thorn through my boot and foot from top to bottom. I pulled the 4″ thorn out while my wife stood horrified.

Maybe that’s not for you. Maybe you just want to cook a pan of lasagna.

Cool. Julie never cooks noodles so…heck yeah!

I am working to find answers that both meet our needs and leverage the giver’s abilities. But it’s hard. And sometimes it takes me a little while.

Our daughter is getting the care she needs. Our cows have water. Our immediate needs are met.

I still hate it when people ask how I am doing. I think I’m doing ok. I’m tired. I cry sometimes. I cry when I see other sick kids. I know all the stats on ALL and AML and various tumors. I know about treatment plans. I know definitions of terms I never even imagined when I studied biology two decades ago. I don’t know how to impact those other children on the oncology floor. I don’t know how to help.

And I really want to help. We spoke to the father of a toddler with AML this week. Last time I saw him he really needed to talk. He was driving a truck in Birmingham, AL when they called to say their boy was going to the hospital with leukemia. I don’t know how many weeks ago that was but he was still there when we were in this past week. So I asked him. 6 weeks. Solid. And I didn’t realize this was the second battle they were having with AML. We were talking right outside of the closed door of an 11-year-old girl with AML who has been in isolation for the past 3 months, down the hall of another girl with AML who was currently in isolation. Lots of decorated windows on 9. Doors open, bald toddlers in cribs all alone, parents away at work, only able to see their kids for a couple of hours each day. Teens walking the floor for exercise, obviously in pain as they walk slowly pushing their IV towers along in sock feet.

I feel helpless against their suffering.

And I think that’s my biggest frustration. How can I help?

I have no idea. The problem is too big for me to solve. I just have to focus on my daughter.

So I ask her what I can do to help.

That’s a difficult thing for her to answer too.

And so I come back to my knees. I don’t know why my daughter has cancer. I don’t know why I don’t have cancer. I don’t know anything about cancer, really. I don’t know how to prevent it. I don’t know how to cure it. I don’t know how to help it. But I know God does. So I pray.

I have succeeded in making another weepy post here. I don’t want to write weepy posts. I want to thank the many people who are reaching out to us. I want to reach out to others. We are strengthened by your love. And we wish to pour some of that back into the lives of others. It is so hard for us to look around the oncology floor. We empathize with what’s going on in their lives…sometimes too greatly. It hurts us to see them hurt. But we can’t be afraid to reach out. We can’t be so scared of pain that we fail our fellow man. It is ok to cry. It is ok to hurt. It is ok. We are not alone.

No more weepy posts for a while.

How is Dad Doing?

Dad is maybe not doing well. I know I wrote “It Is Well” a couple of weeks ago but even then I was trying to talk myself into it. I am writing this today not so much to inform but to share where I am.

What does it mean to “fight” cancer? I wish there was something I could do directly to the tumor and to the root cause of the tumor. I mean, if I could just have her leg amputated below the knee I would. But that doesn’t work. That won’t fix it. That won’t make it go away.

So she has to have chemo.

And chemo makes her feel bad.

I don’t want to write another weepy post where I cry to the whole world about my daughter. Let’s talk about having fun in the pediatric oncology ward. Because that’s my fight. That’s where I can make a real difference. I can help my daughter feel better. So we try to have fun. In the hospital.

Sometimes by holding straws under our noses.


And that’s what my job in the hospital is. I bring the fun. A new favorite joke is this:

Two goldfish are in a tank and one says to the other, “Do you know how to drive this thing?”

Hilarious. When I told her that joke she rolled her eyes and laughed but she laughed. Prior to that she was feeling tired and maybe a little cranky. She didn’t want to read or be read to. She didn’t want to play video games. She didn’t want to eat. She just wanted to sit there quietly.

Now I’m all for children sitting quietly under normal conditions. But not now. Now we have to fight.

We have to fight to keep her spirits up and I am ready to fight.

But the battle is not focused entirely on my daughter. All of us are struggling.

Julie didn’t sleep last night. She cried. All night.

I can cheer my youngest up with a blue wig and some lame jokes but what do I do for Julie?

What do I do for my oldest boy who has become somewhat brooding and had a small meltdown yesterday?

What about me?

Someone at church asked penetrating questions about each family member ultimately landing on me. “How is dad doing?”

I guess I hadn’t thought about it.

I am in pain and physically exhausted and have a short fuse. My daughter has cancer. My wife isn’t sleeping. My boy is angry. The sink is full of dirty dishes.

But I can’t allow myself to focus on the bad stuff. My daughter’s cancer is localized. We caught it early. I held Julie close, told her I loved her and rubbed her neck, back and feet with lavender and she is resting now as I type. I treasure every moment with her, crying or otherwise. My son is becoming a man…and struggling with that emergence. It is a privilege to help guide him through it. Dirty dishes are a fact of life.

We practice taking deep breaths. We slow down. We laugh. We cry. We wash dishes.

We pray.

We tell jokes during chemotherapy.

This is how we are learning to fight.

How is dad doing? I am hurting but I know I am loved. We have been blown away by the support we have received from our church, our community and my co-workers.

I am not an island.

I am actually surprisingly weak.

But we are able to fight this together. And it helps to have a few laughs along the way. Naps help too.