Servers, Daughters and Dealing with Stuff

One of my egg customers invited me into a small prayer group when our daughter was diagnosed. The prayer group recently shared that a friend’s father had been diagnosed with cancer. I’m sure you, someone you love or someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer. And I’m equally certain you are acutely aware of the deep anxiety that accompanies diagnosis.

I took a moment to write out some encouragement for the friend. This slightly edited version may serve to encourage you as well.

My name is Chris Jordan. My daughter has a rare form of cancer but an excellent prognosis. We spend a lot of time in Children’s hospital and meet a large number of children and families. We seek to counsel and comfort them as we also seek counsel and comfort. In part, this is because the apostle Paul didn’t ask God why he was in prison. He asked God what he should do while he was in prison. Then he went to work.

I don’t know why my beautiful daughter has cancer. That’s really none of my business. I have seen a lot of children and whole families in pain in Children’s. It is tempting for me to ask God “Why?” But that is not what I need to do.

I don’t need to seek answers. I need to seek closeness with God.

And I am not alone in this need.

So I go out of my way to introduce myself to parents I run into. My daughter takes her dance partner (her IV stand) with her to deliver cards to other kids on the floor and invites them to play video games with her. We seek out opportunities in the elevator and hallway to pray for or pray with desperate parents or just to listen to them talk. And sometimes we all really, really need to talk.

Listen, I know how you feel. I know what you are going through. And I want to encourage you, as I encourage other families I meet, not to ask God “Why?” It doesn’t matter why. Asking Why makes you a victim. You are not a victim. You are a treasure and were created for a purpose. It only matters what you do. And what you need to do is pray. Ask.

Jesus didn’t walk around randomly healing the blind. In Matthew 20:32-33 Jesus waited for the blind men to ask. In Matthew 9:20 the woman reached out to touch Jesus. She had to reach out! In Matthew 8:8 the centurion asked Jesus for a simple word.

God is infinitely larger than your largest problem. Do you believe that? But you have to ask, just as Moses had to hold his arms out and the widow had to pour the oil. We have to ask. We have to pray. We have to draw close to the Lord and, I strongly suggest, PRAISE HIM for our time of need…a time that reminds us to seek Him out. A time that reminds us to seek his strength and remember that the angel of the lord encamps around and delivers us! Great is the Lord and Greatly to be Praised! Even if, like David, we don’t always feel it and we have to give ourselves a pep talk. Bless the Lord, Oh my soul! And all that is within me praise his holy name!

Please don’t waste your time seeking answers. Desperate times call for desperate measures. There is no more desperate act than praying hard. (This is a note I made in my prayer journal as I was recently reading The Circle Maker.)

One more thing. In Genesis 1:3 God spoke light into a dark place. I have been to dark places. In fact, I have been to dark places trying to balance my daughter’s illness, my job, my marriage, my farm…The light of the word of God brought me back to the path. Lean on the word of God now.

Feel free to reach out to us anytime.

Chris Jordan

Now let’s be real. We are friends here, you and I. Let me be completely honest with you. I wrote that for myself as much as for anyone else.

On Friday I was talking with my boss and discussing the issues I was facing that day. I needed to replace a mission-critical server and my daughter needed a blood transfusion. When discussing the issue with the server I was pacing, moving my hands excitedly and clearly expressing my anxiety. But when discussing my daughter I was sitting calmly on a chair and speaking matter-of-factly.  My boss pointed this out to me. He was concerned that I was worked up about the wrong thing.

ChemoDay

Do you know how much time I have spent praying about that server? Very little.

Do you know how much time I have spent praying about my daughter?

Heck, I have hundreds, if not, thousands of people praying for my daughter. I kinda think that’s covered. But the server is unprotected. So I got a little worked up on Friday.

Yes, I am extremely concerned about my little girl but somehow, it is different. Most of the time.

Most of the time.

But some of the time? Well, I think it is understandable that some of the time I go to pieces. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I wonder why my little girl got sick. Sometimes I worry about her future. She will be screened for cancer at regular intervals for the rest of her life. Why? Because there is a good chance this cancer will return or another cancer will appear. Or she will suffer side-effects of the drugs used to beat her cancer…like heart failure. What will her medical expenses be in 10 years?

Do you see how easy it is? We are facing real problems. But it is all a lie.

I can’t live my life in fear and anxiety. I can’t love my daughter that way. Even without cancer there is no guarantee that she will live to be 50. My job is to love and guide her. And I can’t love and guide her in the present if I’m crying about a tomorrow that hasn’t come yet…and may never arrive.

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The server issue at work is resolved. No big deal. You make this thing point to that thing and do some stuff so the servers know and trust each other…blah, blah, blah. What is the worst that could happen if server replacement failed? I would probably have to put in a couple of long days. Would I lose my job? Probably not. But there are worse things than losing my job.

But I wasted a lot of emotional energy on that issue.

I have wasted a lot of emotional energy worrying about my daughter too.

So I have to remind myself. I was created for a purpose. I am not an accident. I am a treasure. I have a Father in heaven who loves me…who wants to bless me. And I need to bless Him. Bless the Lord! O my soul! Especially if I don’t feel like it today.

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The Farming Manual: Rick Building and Thatching

TheFarmingManual

I’m afraid this chapter has little to offer me unless I look at the pattern exposed by the chapter. Let me start at the middle of the chapter

There is a big difference between building with 6-ft. wheat sheaves, and little, short, round barley sheaves.

The world has changed, Mr. Henderson. We no longer value straw. We have, in the modern era, moved to shorter wheat. I have never been lost in a wheat field. So I cannot build the rick you are describing. Even if you watch BBCs Victorian Farm you see short sheaves.

Some years ago I asked an elderly neighbor (when his combine was plugged up with wet wheat) if he could make a sheaf. He laughed, said yes and then said no. He could but he wouldn’t. He began twisting wheat to bind the sheaf and then he stopped saying he would never do that again…that there was no need.

He passed away a few years ago. That knowledge went with him.

Mr. Henderson spends the entire chapter cautioning us against common errors. Lay sheaves with the knots up. Build on a flat spot. The rick should be slightly larger at the top than at the bottom. Pages and pages of things to do and things to avoid so you will have a successful threshing 10 or so days later.

…a Cotswold farmer, with a rick big enough to hold a day’s threshing, will like his oats to ‘Hear the church bells twice’ in the field…

And then they thresh the wheat. There are still threshing machines around. You will see collections of antique equipment at shows in nearby towns. Groups of belt-driven and steam-powered equipment operated and maintained by older gentlemen who may or may not have both of their hands.

The next part of the chapter covers thatching and I feel that this paragraph is key:

About 2 cwt. of straw is required for each square of thatching. A ton should be kept back for every day’s threshing anticipated. Ideally, it should be hand-threshed with a flail, and grown without the aid of artificial fertilizers – although the farmer who can supply that today can sell every handful at a high price for house thatching. Straw that has been combine-harvested, baled or threshed with a fast-moving peg drum, is useless for thatching. In the West of England there are a few special threshing machines designed for the preparation of thatching straw, but require about five men to take the straw off.

This continues for a few pages. Please allow me to summarize. Even in Henderson’s time it was hard to find suitable straw for house thatching. That means I’m never going to thatch my house.

Look, I know. Those are difficult words to read. We love the Earth and want a biodegradable roof…as long as it doesn’t biodegrade today. And we have all seen The Quiet Man and want a cottage in Ireland with a thatched roof and a green door. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? But just like a prepper with a Red Dawn fantasy, we have to be more honest about our motivations. You don’t prep because you fear Russian invasion, you prep because unemployment lasts longer if you don’t have to buy food when you are unemployed. Chances are, you don’t want a thatched roof because it is practical either.

But let’s say you are not convinced. Good for you. Can you learn to thatch a roof by reading Henderson’s 6 pages? No. He is looking to improve the worker who is already familiar with the process. Can you learn to thatch by watching Tales from the Green Valley? No. But you can get an overview of the process.

Most of the skill in thatching comes from practice, well-prepared straw, carefully drawn yelms, and good organization of the work – the correct number of yelms in a jack to do one strip of the roof, the ladder in just the right place, and so on.

I seriously doubt that I will ever rip my soil to plant an antique variety of wheat. Further, I seriously doubt I will walk out to my fields with a sharpened scythe to harvest my wheat, then bind it by hand into sheaves, then stack it in ricks, thresh it by hand, pile and wet the straw and thatch a building. I might decide to do that one summer but I have serious doubts.

So the value of this chapter comes from the quote above. Most of the skill on my farm comes from practice, quality materials and good organization. However, Henderson spends page after page giving pointers. In real life that doesn’t work well.

Go ahead. Approach your spouse and list, in one long monologue, all of the things they can do to be a better person today. Let me know how that works out.

Henderson had to do that. It is a book, not a relationship. But in coaching my children or helping my wife I have to reserve comment from time to time. If I dare to open my yap I offer one pointer…not so much that they are confused by my instruction, just enough that they can make a small course adjustment and practice more effectively today.

So that’s the one small adjustment I have gained from this chapter today. I can give thought to organizing our labor. I can ensure that we have what we need to do the job right. And I can help everyone practice more effectively by saying less at once.

The Farming Manual: Hedges

TheFarmingManual

I have my days. Sometimes I sit, misty-eyed, looking at my fields dreaming of hedges following the contours of the landscape, providing shelter for wildlife, wind protection for the herds, cow protection for the cars driving past…sigh…

I should take a moment to be clear on this topic. What is a “hedge”? Hedges are not something we see outside of gardens in this country. This video is quite lengthy but covers the whole shebang from a how-to perspective.

And here is a later video of the same hedge discussing the results.

So we are talking about planting and training a fence. You typically want a plant species that will coppice well, something that will respond positively to being stressed, something that will grow in close quarters and, usually, something with thorns. You know what will coppice well, grow in close quarters and has thorns? Osage Orange.

Some years ago I read the book Hedges, Windbreaks, Shelters and Live Fences by E. P. Powell dated 1900. He is against using Osage Orange. While they fit most of the criteria, they tend to grow out as much as they grow up and you have to, according to Powell, trim them three times each summer. Worse, you have to lay the hedge at some point. Osage Orange typically has 1″ thorns spaced 1″ apart along the entire length of young growth. How on Earth would you weave those together as in the video above?

Rather than review Powell’s book I’ll continue with Henderson’s species recommendations.

In hedge laying every effort should be made to preserve the hawthorn, which is the hedging material par excellence, it gets its name from the Anglo-Saxon ‘hedge thorn’. If there is any choice, the hazel, elder, maple, privet, spindlewood, wayfarer, guilder, and briar should be cut out, a rapid-growing, large-leafed species is the enemy of the thorn.

We have hawthorn on the farm and, BOY!, does it succumb to fire blight. I suppose I could try to bring a blight-resistant species onto the farm or, over the long years, attempt to breed a more resistant strain of my own.

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Hazel isn’t exactly common in my area. Elder grows everywhere but is, in my opinion, not a worthwhile wood to cultivate. Maple sneaks in where it can. Same with black raspberry…and poison ivy. And rather than deal with a thorny, tangled mess intertwined with poison ivy, modern farmers tend to put up barbed wire or high-tensile fence and keep the fence clean with round-up. Or, if they have a line of trees (not a hedge) they just try to cut them back every so often.

High-tensile electric works pretty well. But that’s not what Julie and I are after. We need wind protection. We need wildlife habitat. We need food production. We need coppiced wood. We need a barrier to smaller animals. And to get this I have to grow appropriate species to my climate and lay them in a woven, living mesh, not just chop them back every so often.

Hedge cropping, the mere cutting back of growth, is not so effective, as the hedge tends to get thin at the bottom and gaps appear through which stock may escape, while a really well-laid hedge is hen proof.

And, later:

Hundreds of farmers no longer keep sheep because their hedges will no longer confine them. On many farms all the stock roam over too wide an area for want of efficient hedging. On such farms it is difficult to think of a more profitable investment for time, money, and effort, than in putting all the hedges in order.

From here, Henderson begins on dry stone walling. My enthusiasm for hedging is, I believe, obvious. My lack of enthusiasm on the subject of dry-stone walling may be similarly obvious. We do not grow rocks where I live. I suppose there are rocks down there somewhere but not like they are a few hours to the north. I have driven past fields in Wisconsin where there are piles of stones that must grow like potatoes in the soil each winter for harvest each spring. The few we have were carried by glacial action or by my vacationing grandparents. But he does talk a little about contour here, something we missed in the section about hedges

Where boundaries run up hill, the wall should be built horizontally, and not up the slope. Heading stones should be supported by a large block occasionally, or made to lean uphill, so that if a lower stone is removed accidentally the others do not fall like a pack of cards.

Contour is important for other reasons though. We want to slow down the flow of water so we can store as much as possible and settle out any sediment the flowing water has picked up as it passes over and through our farm. Our creeks should be wide. Our ponds should be many. And our hills should focus the flow of water to the ridges while slowing the passage of water downhill. The top of the hill is the place to store water. But sometimes hills cannot be avoided and for those moments it is appropriate to remember that water flows through plants too. Sap goes up the stem of the plant. Cut your pleaches so your hedge grows up hill to retain the flow of sap. It’s too much to ask a tree to grow upside-down.

Henderson ends the chapter talking about sheep hurdles. “Hurdles” are wooden sections of temporary fence. This is wood craft. Coppiced wood (probably hazel) made into a kind of wicker fence section.

That’s not for me either. But there is some detail here that pertains to us. We use temporary electric fencing and that requires some level of planning.

A very important aspect is in planning the number of daily pens in a given field inch a way as to give the sheep the food they require, and at the same time ensure the minimum of effort for the land covered, and to never the finish at the week-end with all the additional labour of moving to the next field. The old shepherds were always very cunning in having it all worked out. Many of them never set a hurdle after mid-day, but spent their spare time ‘looking at the sheep’, while lesser men would strive all day to catch up. In the old days it was reckoned one man could set for 400 sheep grazing roots, or half that number if he was grinding (pulping) the roots by hand. It was equivalent to having 1,000 sheep on each acre per day, no wonder the Golden Age of British farming was based upon them.

That is to say, if we are attentive to what we are doing we can be more efficient about it. There is a real difference in the amount of time and energy I spend building fence compared to the time Julie spends on the same task. But this isn’t a chapter about rotational grazing. It’s a chapter about restraining livestock.

The hedge is of interest to me. I have allowed a few black locust trees to sprout up here and there intending to pull them with the tractor and put them all in a row. I think this is the year. Mulberry would work well too. No thorns to mess with. Hawthorn may be the gold-standard but I can’t seem to get ahead of the fire blight. Osage Orange is only in Illinois because it was believed to be the best option in North America. Who am I to argue with that? I’ll argue anyway though. I hate Osage Orange. Hate.

What is the best option where you live? Probably high-tensile electric. But are you adventurous or dumb enough to hedge? Skilled enough to build a dry stone wall? Silly enough to make wooden hurdles in an era of electric netting?

Maybe it’s not dumb or silly. Maybe it’s the right thing to do in any economy. I don’t know.

Jacques, Julie and Joie de Vivre

February 6, 2016

Pere Marquette State Park

The locals say something that sounds more like Pierre Marquette. In fact, for years that’s just what I thought it was. A park for a French explorer named Pierre. Pere is not in our lexicon. Which is a little odd. The French were here at least until 1763 and left their mark on the landscape. James Fenimore Cooper wrote a little about the real estate changing hands.

We live in Illinois. Spelled with a silent “S” at the end. I live in Illinois but work in St. Louis (you say the “S” on that noun…unless you are Judy Garland). Well, not St. Louis, down the street from Creve Coeur. Little towns dot the landscape named Prairie du Rocher or Portage de Sioux. We are just up river from the place Lewis and Clark camped before their big adventure. The place where the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers all meet.

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All these French labels surround us but to get here we drove through Jerseyville and McClusky. It’s all a big cultural mix up. The French were the first Europeans here….long after the Cahokians left. Some of the names the French gave stuck. But we don’t speak French. We don’t speak German either…but I grew up in New Minden. We don’t speak British either. It’s a big cultural mix-up.

Who was Pere Marquette? What is this place? Well, it turns out to have little to do with Pere Marquette. But that doesn’t matter. It’s a New Deal public works conservation area with a flashy name. Again, doesn’t matter. Marquette was here once, said “Hello” to the Illini people, boosted the morale of the troops stationed here then went to Michigan. It is a nice place to see bald eagles. There are cabins, there are rooms at the lodge. The pool is nice. The trails are challenging. The food is fried. The Wi-Fi is functional.

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Julie and I come here often. That should sufficiently describe how we feel about it.

We stayed here on our anniversary in July. We had to enter through the back roads because the river was covering the highway. We got an inch of rain every day in June and the river, normally a series of ribbons in the distance, was a solid mass of swirling, muddy water with the accompanying mosquitoes. At that time we stayed in a cabin. “Cabin” is a loose term. It was a stone building with a shake-shingle roof divided into three air-conditioned, comfortable living areas. One queen bed, two bunk beds. Perfect for the family seeking a weekend getaway. We decided one night was not enough.

This weekend we are staying at the lodge for two nights. This is more like a hotel room. The Wi-Fi is more reliable in the lodge than in the cabin but the cabin was more comfortable. But the rooms don’t matter. There is plenty to do outside.

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Or you can sit inside and edit pictures for Instagram. Please note the stack of books she is ignoring.

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The place is packed this weekend with some sort of mom retreat. 100 or so moms comparing stories from the trenches, laughing at children who throw fits and stop breathing and grateful to have a weekend away from diaper duty. Are the kids with husbands or parents or ??? Based on the enormity of the diamonds on display I would suggest there are husbands somewhere. I wonder how they are holding up.

How am I holding up? We are years past diapers. But for 10 days out of every month our daughter is in the hospital. Julie is there with her. And I still have a job. And a farm. And three other children. And a marriage.

Julie and I found a break in the chemo schedule. It’s time for a checkup. This has little to do with missionaries sent by Louis XIV (Don’t say the “S”, the “X”, the “I” or the “V”), President Roosevelt, moms on retreat or children with life-threatening illness. The focus is simple. I love Julie. Julie loves me. But the busyness of our medical needs has prevented us from connecting. We are busy. Just busy. Busy all the time. And it is taking its toll.

Last night, in spite of the sound of free mothers roaming the hallways, Julie and I went to bed early. The we slept in a little. We ate breakfast at the little restaurant then took a long hike on the trails. The walk gave us time to talk. What are we each doing? What are the kids doing? What can we do to better meet their needs? What are our short and long-term goals? Are we still aligned in our goals? Why is it so hard to get rid of stuff in our house?

This isn’t just a chance to relax and take a nap. It’s a chance to relax, take a nap and finish reading a book or two. And to talk to my friend Julie.

On a hike with my best friend.

A post shared by Julie Ann Jordan (@handfulofacorns) on

Because we really need some time.

Shadow selfie.

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Make sure you are making time.

And for those who wonder, “How does this fit on your farm blog?” I offer this answer.

There is no farm without Julie.

The Farming Manual: Farm Tools

TheFarmingManual

Henderson spends a lot of time in this chapter describing a world I have only read about. I realize the traditional tools used in York differ from those used in Cornwall but I may be in the minority of Americans who can point to York and Cornwall on a map…let alone understand that there are differences between racial or cultural subgroups living within Cornwall.

It is in the shovel that we see the racial choice most strongly marked, the so-called Devon or Welsh socket shovel is used wherever you find Celtic people, in Cornwall, Wales, the west of Ireland, up the west coast of Scotland, and of course in the Western Isles.

What a diverse world! It is all but gone in America’s Midwest. There are only a few tokens of my ancestry laying around the old farm house. Stories mostly along with a few food items and family values. But really, the whole thing has gone the way of the shovel. No real variety. The industrial age standardized the shovel into a horrible thing that breaks upon use. There is one design available at multiple price points in every hardware store in America.

This chapter describes the different tools in use by farmers from different counties. Changes depend on the size of the people in the county, the variety of plants available and just plain old user preference. It’s kind of amazing. Tools with enough variety to meet the needs of the farmer. Tools that farmer will use for his lifetime.

I can’t imagine. I recently bought a new hatchet. I didn’t need a new hatchet. I didn’t particularly want a new hatchet. Especially not the toy steel hatchet I bought. But I spent about 5 minutes looking at the grain of the handles in the store and found one with straight grain pointed in the right direction. I bought it. It is nearly impossible to find tool handles with the right grain orientation, let alone one that will hold an edge or is the right weight. I suppose that’s why there are so many of those horrible tools with fiberglass handles. Yuk.

So here I am, living in a world of stamped, pre-broken round point shovels and cross-grain handled axes and hatchets reading about a world of quality hand-made tools in large varieties. Different shovels for different soil types, scaled down for users under a certain weight (14 stone). I can’t imagine.

And it is probably my fault. I don’t want to pay $100 for a spade. I want to buy a $20 shovel and use it like a spade, then complain loudly on the internet when it breaks.

So where does that leave us?

I don’t know about you but I could do a better job of caring for my tools. I could take time to clean my unbroken shovel and wipe the blade with an oil rag. I could keep the edge sharp. I could rub a little linseed oil on the handles of my tools. I could do a better job of keeping them put away (following behind my children…). Even my horrible post-industrial tools would be better if I would care for them a little better.

But it can’t just stop there. There are tools I use regularly and for hours on end. And I’m not talking about my chainsaw. We butcher chickens with hand tools. My best knives were given to me by an elderly man. His father was a butcher. My new knives don’t compare to those old ones. I prefer a high-carbon steel blade to a stainless steel blade. By that I mean I prefer working to sharpening. And in this case, I can buy near replacements of my old tools cheaper than their modern, stainless alternatives.

So where does this chapter leave us?

It may be as simple as this: Make an honest evaluation of your land, your size, your strength, your ability and your preferences. What are your needs? Now, what tools best fit your needs? Maybe you do need that $100 spade to help you double-dig your garden beds. Or maybe you don’t need to double-dig your garden beds. Maybe you need to mound up layers and layers of compost instead. That’s a different job, requiring a different tool. One sized to fit your body mechanics. One that does not overextend your reach or overtax your strength. One that makes work easy. Fun even.

How much is that tool worth? How many junk shovels and sore backs do you want to buy? Can you do a better job of deploying your resources? I’m sure Mr. Henderson would say something about Scottish opinions on relative scarcity.