I Don’t Have Time to Not Read

I was listening to a recent episode of the Read to Lead podcast this week and the guest was talking about the importance of reading. You probably aren’t too surprised by that, given the subject of the podcast is reading.

Guest Angie Morgan said you can’t argue that you don’t have time to read because we don’t have time to not read.

That was sufficiently profound that I felt prompted to write a blog post. A blog post on the blog where I spend a considerable amount of time talking about the farm by way of the books I am sharing with you.

I don’t have time to NOT read.

Why?

Because there is so much I do not know….too much I will never figure out or even think of without guidance. The depth of my ignorance is boundless. Reading does not alleviate me of the need for thinking for myself. Rather, it allows me the opportunity to catch up. Why do we ask the Muse to sing of the wrath of Peleus’ son Achilles? Because he brought so much pain upon the Achaeans. Because Achilles thought he wanted a short life and everlasting glory but, when later talking with Odysseus, changed his mind. He would have preferred a long life. Because we can see by their example how badly we can screw things up when responding to emotions rather than to reason.

Humans have shared read the works of Homer for 3,000 years. Is that by accident? I don’t think so.

Because I can’t tell the future.

I know very little about Neil Gaiman. I have seen his name on spines at the library and at book stores. Fortunately, the Milk is on our shelf and I suspect my kids know all about him. But I don’t. I have only read this article quoting him. Rather than quote the whole article, which you should read and consider, I’ll point out this sentence:

The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

But I can influence the future, just as Gaiman says in the post above. I can raise my children to wonder at worlds that will never exist but are reflections of worlds that could be. I can help guide my children through these worlds, the concepts and consequences the writer is presenting. Jean Valjean was not real but his impact can be felt. Bilbo Baggins, like Luke Skywalker, was an unlikely hero with a glowing sword…but a hero nonetheless. Jean and Bilbo teach my children about doing what is right in spite of the cost in a way they can relate to where they are now.

Because I don’t want to screw this up.

Is that silly? Or obvious? I want to be a good husband. A good father. Even a good employee and citizen. I want to understand the historical definition of each of those roles and I find my way through them. Not only do I seek to understand how previous generations raised my fathers, I seek to know why. And what traps did they fall into that I can avoid? Because it’s not enough to turn infants into adults-sized bodies. I want to shape the minds trapped in those bodies. And I can’t do it alone. I have to rely on outside help. Marcus Aurelius’ great-grandfather said exactly this:

From my great-grandfather, not to have frequented public schools, and to have had good teachers at home, and to know that on such things a man should spend liberally.

While you can’t learn to swim from a book, we rely on the perspective and experience of a wide variety of authors to teach us. And we do spend liberally. Amazon gets a frightening portion of our budget. So does the library in the form of overdue fees but that’s another story.

Obviously my focus in on my home but it goes beyond that. After Julie and the kids, I spend the most time with my employees and co-workers. I can influence the future of the company by encouraging others to explore, learn and grow. It’s as easy as asking, “Hey, whatcha reading these days?”

The most typical answer is, “Nothing. I don’t have time to read. Hey, did you see that last episode of Zombies Murdering People? It was Awesome!”

No, man. I don’t have time to watch watch Zombies Murdering People. There is too much I don’t know…don’t understand and haven’t explored. In short, I am too stupid to watch Zombies Murdering People.

How about you? Whatcha reading these days?

Update:

I came down kind of hard on Zombies Murdering People and for that I am sorry. It may be that in 100 years we will look back on the various episodes of Zombies Murdering People and reflect on the changes the show wrought in the human spirit. It may prove to become a classic. But the odds are against it. Jefferson wrote that the US was better for its lack of printing presses compared to France. France had plenty of paper for the toilet but the US only printed the things that had proven their worth.

So I’ll offer Zombies Murdering People the benefit of the doubt and I’ll just let it be. And while its worth is measured I’ll occupy my time on tested and proven resources.

 

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Looking Back on Surgery

A year ago today (December 18) we were in surgery with our daughter to make the cancer go poof. I am delivering you an unedited video of Julie and I and a whole lot of anxiety in the waiting room at the hospital.

This is how we dealt with the strain. We drew close together. We laughed. We talked.

So here it is.

I hope it helps you in some small way.

If nothing else, pay attention to how tired and confused both of us are about various surgeries, dates and locations in the hospital. This was the halfway point of Wendy’s treatment and it was all a blur.

Last year was hard.

A Failure of Reduction

Remember the movie Better Off Dead? That movie is a family Christmas tradition for us. Lane Meyer has to ski a dangerous mountain to prove himself to Beth. He seeks advice and receives the most boiled-down help imaginable.

While entirely accurate, it is incorrect and Lane barely escapes injury.

I was talking to our children recently about the search for that special someone and I, too, fell prey to the temptation to reduce. Not wanting to embarrass my child on the internet I’ll begin this way, one of my children was found to be holding hands with someone…but they were way, way in the back of the group trying to express their affections without being “caught”.

Allow me to reduce the other mother’s response: shock.

From my perspective it’s no big deal. Immature. Silly. But no big deal. But it gave me an opportunity to boil relationships down to the minimum: Whatever else happens, don’t anger the mother. You will lose. Make her your ally…pursue real friendship with her. And if you find you don’t like the mother you will find you no longer need to pursue the child because, if things go according to plan, you will have to spend every Christmas with her for the rest of her life. And that may not be what you want.

Whatever you think of my guidance above, it is hardly adequate. But I do this with everything.

How to take a shower? Get wet all over and put specific emphasis on cleaning places where the skin folds.

How to drive a car? The pedal on the right goes, one on the left stops. The wheel keeps you from running things over. Let’s do this.

The majority of server issues boil down to capacity management or connectivity.

So I have this pattern I fall into of attempting to boil it down to the essence. What is trying to be done here?

That practice, in summary, fails when people are involved.

Let me give you another one and then I’ll give you a few more.

I tend to manage people by setting expectations and turning them loose. I don’t micro-manage. I expect my employees to learn the basics and grow from there by teaching others. Let me know if something comes up.

But that’s not enough because these are people we are dealing with!

I have successfully described the work that needs to be accomplished but nobody comes to work to do the work and get money. We come to work to be with people.

People who care about us. People we enjoy being with. People we can trust.

So there’s another reduction. I would suggest my job accomplishes several things all at once. My work is meaningful, it pays the bills and allows me to enjoy interacting with others.

There is a kernel of truth there but it misses so much subtle detail.

Or maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m missing the subtle detail.

I’ll typically arrive at work in the morning after most of my team has arrived. I’ll walk in and speak some song lyrics or something like, “You know, I don’t need dolla bills to have fun tonight…as long as I can feel the beat.” Two of them will look at me like they have no earthly idea what I just said. Another will laugh because I’m such a dork…but everybody loosens up a little we greet each other and then tie into work.

But I have already reduced the workey part. Let’s pretend I have a new employee named Larry. “Larry, each of your co-workers assume primary responsibility for a platform. They have created documentation so anybody else can do the work when they are on vacation. I need you to learn A, B and C in and out. But you won’t be primary on any of those. You are going to take on a new project. You are going be primary support, create the documentation about it and teach everybody else. Let me know if you have any questions. I’ma go over here and work on the things.

“Oh, and on Wednesdays we get together as a team to update project status and do some team training. In your free time I need you to learn all about technology X and teach it to us next month. I know you don’t know anything about it at all. In fact, I’m well aware that you have never even heard of this. My goal is not to make you look stupid in front of your peers, it is to expose our team to something new and help us to find better ways of doing our jobs. I can’t sift through all of the options on my own so we learn things together and discuss. I need you to be a part of that.

“Oh, and one more thing. If I catch you working evenings we’ll have to have a serious talk.”

I REALLY like that freedom. I have had at least three managers who worked that way. They gave me a lot of room to run, expecting me to just get my stuff done because I’m a grown-up. And, for the most part, I do. But it’s not for everybody. Some people need much more structure. So I interview for that. I honestly and completely lay out the culture, the environment and the expectations in the interview. We have fun, we learn how much we don’t know, we teach each other. We own our projects. And if their eyes pop out of their head I scratch them off the list.

My style is not for everybody. Sometimes people need each day planned out. They need to be told each step along the way.

I failed to discover this when I interviewed Julie and the kids.

I tend to give vague instructions like, “Please move the cows before noon.”

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What I really mean is, “How are you feeling today? Look, I have to go to St. Louis today. I know it’s a bother but I need help with the cows. They cows are by the hog building. They are watering in the creek down the hill. Please set up a new grazing strip about 20′ wide to the East beginning at the hog building and going down to the bottom. Julie should carry the reel, oldest boy should set posts. As you are walking back, shift 40′ to the West and Julie should reel up the previous day’s rear fence while the boy collects the posts. Then leave any extra posts and reels in the SE corner of the grazing area. This should take you 15 minutes but give yourself 30 just in case. I really appreciate your help in this. The cattle are important to me but you are more important. This farm is important to me but we can put it aside if needed. I hope it is important to us. Maybe I can bring dinner home to make it up to you. I love you.”

It is not safe for me to assume they understand what my expectations are. Nor that they realize the most efficient way of getting it done. Nor that they won’t need discussion time to offer feedback. I just say, “Make the magic happen” and expect it to happen.

I had a boss named Rosie. She was a great boss. She was not technical so she relied on us to know how to fulfill the vision she gave. But she gave clear vision and she encouraged feedback. She didn’t say, “Go fast and turn”. She said, “Here’s the plan. Here’s where you fit. What do you think? Let’s go.”

Ugh. If only I could be more like that.

But I don’t even make time to talk to myself about why and how.

With the events of last year we were unable to raise replacement pullets. So right now, I have 100+ birds laying as many as 6 eggs/day. I know what needs to be done. There is no discussion. Nobody cares about feelings. Those birds have to die. We are already out of the egg business. That’s a fact.

But there is more. There are no replacements. There may never be. I have shown the kids the viability of the business model…when appropriately scaled and in partnership with other enterprises on the same resource base. And if they want to do it, they can. But if I am to put my resources to their highest and best use, I have to spend my time elsewhere. I can’t stay up all night hunting a skunk that is killing my birds and still answer tech calls at 2am and still show up at my desk ready to rock at 8. I am not 25 anymore.

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There are more factors involved. I can no longer reduce it to “I want chickens so I have chickens.”

Reductionism only goes so far.

So I guess I should spell out what I’m trying to say. I do a fine job of reducing tasks to their essential points. But I should not be reducing people…because people are more complex than tasks. And I need to encourage feedback rather than just act like it’s all obvious.

So…what do you think?

The Painful Place Between Willing and Wanting

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I am willing to wash the dishes. I don’t want to do it but I am willing to so our house will be clean.

I want to eat a chocolate chip cookie. I’m totally willing to eat chocolate chip cookies too.

You down?

Let me bring it to the farm. Julie is willing to milk the cow but she doesn’t really want to.

This really is not about milking the cow. It’s certainly not about chocolate chip cookies.

It’s about that wide and disheartening gulf between the things we are willing to do and the things we actually want to do.

What does Julie want to do?

That’s a very important question.

It turns out, more and more, that what Julie wants is not to run a farm while I’m at work. So year by year there is less and less farm. We started butchering layers today and there is no replacement flock.

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Why is that disheartening? Isn’t that a bit of a strong word?

Well, the shrinking farm is not disheartening. That’s a reality and a consequence of our daughter’s illness.

The disheartening part is watching Julie wither away as I impose my will on her.

…watching us grow distant as I want what she is only willing to do.

OK. So now what?

Now we address the problem. We make small adjustments to our routines.

We want chickens but we don’t want to wash 40 dozen eggs Monday morning. How about pigs? I love having pigs. But pigs on pasture cause her a lot of frustration. So I have to find simple solutions to the pig problem to make it as hands-off as possible…while still honoring the pig’s design.

And milking. Every year milking led to crying. And more crying. But not this year. And why? Because we realized that we don’t need 2 gallons of milk every day. More on milking another time.

I’m not as concerned about the kidlets as I am about Julie. They approach a number of chores only reluctantly and want to play video games. Part of the deal for them is doing things they don’t want to do. But what about me? What about Julie? Yes, we do a number of things we are willing to do but don’t really want to do. I drive away from the farm every day because it’s the best thing I can do for my family right now. But I don’t want to do it.

However, I see that differently than making Julie, who is a willing participant, do things she doesn’t want to do all day.

Because it leads to resentment if she is never allowed to do the things she just wants to do.

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I am being vague here. I don’t want to share too much about my beautiful wife…putting her on display for all the internet to read. But mistakes have been made. And we are working to ensure they do not continue.

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Take a moment to ensure that you and your other both want the same things. Ensure that you have common vision, not division.

Blackberry Time!

Blackberries are ready.

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The blackberries have been bright red for what feels like forever. They grow in the fence line which I climb over on my way to the barn so every morning the bright red berries stand out on the green leaves, saying, “Not yet, not yet”. But finally some of the red have turned dark and they are sweet to eat.

We did not plant these berries. We have not watered them. We have not done much for them. It is like free food. Until you start picking them and you are reminded that NOTHING is free. These plants don’t give up their fruit so easily, they bite as I pluck the sweet berries. They have thorns which seem to snag and sink into the skin and hang on.

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But thorns or no thorns, we pick berries, usually as a family. The kids start out with great enthusiasm. But after the first few buckets it starts to get hot, fingers and arms get a little scratched (remember these are biting berry bushes), and there may be a pesky deer fly or two. But Chris and I cheer them on, “We only have to fill our containers, then we can go home.” The younger two might not make it. They often disappear to explore the nearby pond or go sit in the shade of the truck.

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Finally our buckets are full. A drink of cold water, a shower and thoughts of blackberry cobbler with ice cream fill our heads as we pile into the farm truck.

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The cobbler recipe I use comes from The Pioneer Woman. I love her site!

Pioneer Woman’s Blackberry Cobbler #1:

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1-1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups blackberries (frozen or fresh, even better if you had to pick them yourself)

Preparation:

Melt butter in a microwavable dish. (We do not have a microwave, so we just melted the butter in a sauce pan on the stove top). Pour 1 cup of sugar and flour into a mixing bowl, whisking in milk. Mix well. Then, pour in melted butter and whisk it all well together. Butter a baking dish.

Now rinse and pat dry the blackberries. Pour the batter into the buttered baking dish. Sprinkle blackberries over the top of the batter: distributing evenly. Sprinkle 1/4 cup sugar over the top.

Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour, or until golden and bubbly.

Serves 8

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What is your favorite thing to do with blackberries?

 

The Getaway

Cows are in the barn these days. The pasture is a little behind and I want to give it a moment to rest. The summer sun is unbearably hot so we are grazing the cows on open, flat ground during the night then returning them to the barn in the morning. That way they are still getting fresh greens but they are also protected and have easy access to fresh water. Finally, it makes pinkeye treatment a snap. Salt and kelp are in the feed trough and we can easily spray the infected eyes without fear of a multi-acre rodeo. It is costing us a little hay right now but I think it is worth it.

All that to say, chores are pretty easy these days. So Julie and I kissed the kids goodbye for a short anniversary getaway.

Did you know we live next to my parents and near to hers? Yup.

Julie and I are currently (as I write on July 4) in Anna, IL at the Davie School Inn. We have a big classroom all to ourselves. King-sized bed, couch, giant bubbly bathtub and even a kitchenette with real dishes!

I brought a stack of books. Julie brought her notebook and a book she has been reading about writing: Jump Start: How to Write From Everyday Life.

One of the exercises is to write about what is around you in detail. We had dinner tonight at the Rustle Hill Winery. Julie had a glass of sweet chambourcin as we sat overlooking the water.

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Julie wrote the following while we enjoyed our dinner:

The sky is overcast but I can still feel the sun coming through the clouds. The chairs are of black iron – yours was broken in the seat. You exchanged it for one at the next table, fearing it would snag your jeans.

There is a small group of people on the balcony chatting and laughing. I can hear frogs creaking – sounds like rocks being struck together, crickets, a few birds chirping, light jazz music in the background and far away a soft thunder boom – must be fireworks.

There is a brick patio under my feet, a small decorative pond next to us, a larger pond down the hill. The hill is neatly mowed with a few trees sloping down to the pond below. I can see the rows of grape vines on the top of the next hill.

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The restaurant is empty except for the group upstairs. I wonder if it is the family who runs the vineyard or the employees.

They had events here Saturday and Sunday – the restaurant has a laid-back feel. I wonder if they are all exhaling after a very busy weekend.

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Even the menus looked tired with a “N/A” sticker covering many of the selections. I don’t mean tired in a run-down kind of description, but more of an exhaling, like a well-deserved rest.

That is somewhat edited from what she wrote in her journal but that’s it. She misspelled some words, crossed through others but that doesn’t matter. What do you think? Can you see it? Were you there with us? Did she succeed in taking you to Rustle Hill Winery on July 4th at 5pm? Can you taste the sweet glass of chambourcin? Could you hear acris crepitans chirping next to us?

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Maybe. Maybe not. But Julie is trying. And if you want to learn to write you have to write…and you have to write every day.

One of my initial goals with the blog was to write daily and I succeeded for a long, long time. I began by imitating the style of writers I enjoyed. Now I seem to have found my own rhythm.

But I think it is time for me to grow again. It is time for me to be challenged further. It is time to improve as a writer. (and the people said, “Amen”.)

It is a little bit like work.But the act of writing is itself an escape…one that does not require willing grandparents or long trips in the car.

What did you write today? What is holding you back?

19 Years of Freedom

Jean Valjean paid 19 years of his life for stealing a loaf of bread. 19 years in the prison and in the galley. A slave. He emerged a bitter, angry man in an unsympathetic, unforgiving world. It wasn’t until he stole from a priest that Jean Valjean experienced love. His life was forever changed.

Julie married me but did not enslave me. Quite the opposite. Julie gave me love and acceptance and forgiveness. Julie filled an emptiness…satisfied a need. I married Julie and my life was forever changed.

It is counter to our culture for me to equate my marriage with freedom. We typically refer to our mates in disparaging terms and to continue with the prison example we may refer to a spouse as “the old ball and chain.” In our media husbands are presented as dopey, wives as narcissistic. Why did that self-obsessed woman marry that idiot?

I joke sometimes that Julie married me because I am intelligent enough to get a good job and dumb enough to go to it every day.

But that is not fair to either of us.

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I was twenty when we were married. Looking back 19 years I can’t define what, specifically, I was looking for in a spouse. We dated for years. It was pretty casual. She was intelligent, pretty and shared similar values and family culture. But that describes other girls too.

Could I have married any of those other theoretical women? Maybe. But Julie and I selected each other. I can’t tell you why. But I would suggest to you that I would not be “me” if I had married anyone else.

I can also tell you it has been wonderful.

My reference to Les Miserables is finished. There really is no further comparison. No person from my past hunting me down to reveal my true identity. Julie knows everything about me.

There is no effort to fulfill a vow, protect the innocent and sacrifice myself for the sake of others. Oh. Well. There is that, isn’t there.

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I vowed to love, honor and cherish her. Richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Forsaking all others.

Honor is an interesting word…as in, “Honor your father and mother that you may live a long, full life…”

Respect is earned. I respect my chainsaw. It can kill me. Julie can kill me too but that’s no basis for a relationship.

I honor my wife. Not because of what she did but because of who she is. She is my wife.

But what does “Honor” mean?

It means I hold her up. It means she is special to me. It means I take time in my day to tell her how important she is to me and how lost I would be without her. Her. Specifically her. It means I am patient. It means I listen. It means I consider her needs, her wants, her dreams. It means I take time to find out all I can about her…who she is…today.

The woman I am married to today is not the girl I married 19 years ago.

But I am not the same either. And we have suffered through things I never imagined we would go through.

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I am more free now than I was when we were kids. I am loved now in a way I was not loved then. I am able to love in a way I was unable to love then.

Julie has been married to me for fully half of her life. That’s kind of a big deal.

And it’s the kind of a big deal I don’t take for granted.

I love you Julie.

The #1 Reason We Farm

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I can respond to the title in one sentence but that’s not what we do here. I have to use 1,000 words. Bear with me, please. You know I like to talk.

Last year I kept a reading journal on the blog. My reading journal continues, I just don’t share it with you. I wrote out a list of books I wanted to read/re-read on January 1. Here is the list:

Do you know what I did with that list? I read some, I put others aside for another time. I appended to the list. Good Profit and Superforecasting seemed, at the time, to be impactful but I would have a hard time telling you what they were about without flipping through the pages again. Landscapes & Cycles was preaching to the saved and I set it aside. Lean Farm and I couldn’t seem to meet up. High Output Management continues to challenge me. Louder and Funner was quietly hilarious and somewhat accusational. I have read enough of Wodehouse that when I re-read Malabar farm I heard the narrative in the voice of Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge, bragging that he was asked to speak at the meeting but had declined because he was too busy with the farm, old horse.

So what happened to MacBeth or Republic? Were those failures?

Maybe. Kinda. But mostly I think I got the idea of the first 100 pages of Republic then decided that now was not the right time. And that is true of a good number of books I run into. Today’s Chris Jordan doesn’t need that book. Tomorrow’s might though. I have never read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example. Look, I know. I get it. But they don’t seem to scratch an itch.

Is this failure? Maybe. But not the kind of failure we are looking for.

BTW, my current active stack (piled to my right) includes:

The book Turn the Page discusses the importance of reading several books at once and finding connections between them, discovering ways reading one book impacts your thoughts of another. How will Algorithms to Live By impact Tale of Two Cities? I dunno. It may not.

But Turn the Page also talks about the importance of sampling many books and setting the majority of them aside. Also, the author of Turn the Page is a bit of a bore, referring to himself in third person and constantly quoting himself in bold print.

Chris Jordan thinks the author of the book Turn the Page is a bit of a bore, referring to himself in third person and constantly quoting himself in bold print.

If you read the book you’ll understand that joke. There are some good things in the book but you have to get past the writing style.

So what is this all about, Chris? Why are you sharing this with the world? Why are you, who just finished bragging about how humble you are and what a complete flop you are as a farmer, now list out the books you haven’t read? What is the point?

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If I were to ask you, “What do we grow on our farm?” you might answer, “Well, Chris, you seem to have cattle and chickens. Sometimes pigs. There are bees out there somewhere but you don’t talk about that much. I guess you grow hay. Your dad has horses. So…is that what you want? Or are you looking for a more clever answer like, “money”. That’s the answer Henry Galt gave the judge when asked what he farms.”

You are not technically wrong. We grow grass. There are cows. Those things are here. And, yes, we pay a little tax on a very little income each year. But that’s not what we do here.

We grow people.

Our farm is a ministry more than anything. It’s about people.

And not just the six of us.

Jesus boiled life down to two simple tasks:

  1. Love God
  2. Serve People

Cows are a fun extra.

I can’t make you grow. I can’t make you read my blog. But the hope is that you, reader, will happen across my blog and I will grab your attention long enough to plant a seed. I tell you about the things I wrestle with. I tell you what I am reading and thinking and enjoying and experiencing. I ask you to celebrate when our marriage survives another year. I ask you to cry with me about our daughter’s illness. I ask you to share my burden when I lose a calf through ignorance or inaction. I embrace you as a part of my extended family. I want to hear about your struggles. I want to read what you are reading.

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So I lead by example. I write about the things that make the farmer. ..the things that make the marriage. …the things that make the family. …the things that add meaning to our lives.

We home school our children but we don’t do school at home. There are no classrooms, no desks, no ringing bells. No schedule. We read. They read. We discuss. They participate. We sell farm products. They stand beside us at every step.

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I write about my reading list in the same way. I think this is how I can serve you. I scatter seeds. Life is not easy, on the farm or in town. My days are long. I get tired. Julie gets tired. We work through difficulties together. We read books together. We walk through life together. My post about humility and failure was not seeking sympathy from my small group of readers/friends. I was sharing. This stuff is hard. Someone recently told me that I make everything look easy. I am, indeed, very blessed. But it is not easy. I meant that post to be an encouragement to the reader. This stuff is not easy. But I continue to plug away, trying, failing, trying again. Failure, we learned in church this weekend, builds faith.

I am a man of faith. And I do this to serve you.

I write to bless you. I hope you write back.

Chris Jordan hopes you will write back.

 

Working With the Kids

The question usually comes in as some form of this: “So, Chris, how do you get your kids to work and how can I get my kids to work like yours do?”

What a hilarious question. Don’t get me wrong, my kids work. But if you think it is easy you have been fooled.

Let’s take this off the farm for a little bit. Everybody makes dirty dishes. Everybody makes dirty laundry. Everybody can share in the work load. This is just part of living with others cooperatively. So we divide up the work. These are not paid jobs, these are just things we do. I’ll summarize the children’s chore list without going into detail.

  • Week 1: Wash dishes
  • Week 2: Walk the dog, clean bathroom sink
  • Week 3: Fold towels, set the table
  • Week 4: Put away dishes, take out trash

There is more on each list but that is the core of the rotation. Week by week, each kid specializes in a different set of simple tasks in rotation. We do not rotate in order of age, we split things up so we alternate between older and younger kids. We do this because the younger two are not reliable about washing the dishes and I don’t want to face two straight weeks at the sink.

The younger two are not reliable. They are currently 10 and 11. They may wash plates or cups. They may wash bowls and spoons. But they won’t wash pots and pans. The older two can be relied on to wash until the counter is clean. But not the younger two. And that is OK because they are children.

Toad

Look, I’m not making excuses, I’m setting realistic expectations. Washing dishes is not fun. The other 12 waking hours of the day the pair of them are parked at a table playing with Legos together or reading the same books (currently Warriors series). They don’t want to wash dishes. And I don’t want to force the issue.

To borrow a page from the book The Thomas Jefferson Education, I want to inspire, not require, my children to participate in our home. Be sure to click that link for clarification.

Now look, there are things you just hafta do. We seek to inspire but we still set expectations. You shower every week even if you don’t need to. You change your underwear at least once a month. You brush your teeth between meals. These are personal hygiene issues. But making your bed? Why? You are just going to unmake it again in 14 hours. What is the point?

The point is you live here too. Act like it. Make yourself at home. Use the vacuum cleaner. We want a nice, comfortable place of our own. Us. Ours. Nice. Put Goethe to the test. If everybody sweeps their own room and the whole house will be clean. But I have only met disaster when I take a hard line on this with the kids because they are kids and have an incomplete concept of “fair”.

So we seek to inspire them. I will admit, however, that I could be a better example. I have a pile of paperwork I need to file, or maybe just habits I need to change. Maybe I don’t need to file away that physical copy of the electricity bill for the next 7 years. Maybe it is trash. But I should do something with it and right now it is piled on the desk along with the lovely artwork our kids have created that I don’t know how to store.

I guess I could be more inspiring.

Everything so far applies to life in town. Let’s take it to the farm.

Walking the pasture.

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

My 10 year old will not gather eggs by herself. My 11 year old will not gather eggs by himself. My 13 year old will not gather eggs by herself. All three are intimidated by the roosters. My 15 year old can run the entire farm by himself with one exception: he is intimidated by the cattle. But the cattle, the roosters and the children all know I am not intimidated by them. At all. I am careful. I am watchful. But I am not afraid of them.

But let’s set fear or other excuses aside for the moment. I need help gathering eggs and watering animals. When we first started out, all six of us would go together to do chores. The kids would play and sword fight with weed stems and look for frogs in the creek but they learned the routine. They learned about watering and feeding and offering oyster shell. This period of training is very important to everything we do.They understand that chickens cannot get their own water when I am at work or we are at the hospital. So all these years later I ask the kids, “Can two of you go get eggs, check feed and fill water at the red layers? I’ll take care of the dishes while you are out.” Off they go.

Breakfast time. #farmphotography #farmchores

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Dishes done, the kids come back with a basket full of eggs.

Me: “Hey, did you remember to check the water?”

Kids: “Oh. Ummmm….did you ask us to water the chickens?”

Me: “Sigh. You know, chickens can’t get their own water.”

They know. They really do know. They have heard us say that literally thousands of times. Chickens can’t get their own water! It’s not that they don’t know. And it’s not fair to say they don’t care. It’s simply that they don’t share our vision.

Our kids don’t own the farm. They don’t own the chickens. They didn’t work and sweat and burn away years of their lives, believing the dream that someday, if they got good grades and worked hard, they, too, could be successful (whatever “success” means). They haven’t been sitting in a cubicle, looking outside at the lawn care guy and thinking, “What a life he’s got!” and wondering about the meaning of it all. Does it mean anything? “I have debt so I can have a car so I can drive to work so I can service my debt.” There is a difference between working toward a dream and having a dream imposed on you by your parents.

See the difference? What are you working for? I am working to fulfill a vision. A common vision Julie and I share. A dream. A goal. Not division. Vision. But the kids? They may be acting out of obligation out of respect for us. And that respect is how I convinced my 15 year old to spend 6 hours Memorial Day morning shoveling manure with me.

But let’s go back to that issue of intimidation. My eldest son is larger and taller than I am. Soon he will be stronger too. But he is intimidated by the cattle. The other three children are intimidated by the roosters. But the roosters and the cattle and the children all know that I am in control. I am not to be feared but I am to be obeyed. And now. (I have to tell you, Julie finds her comparative lack of control over the children frustrating.)

I am in control but I am not controlling.

I’ll come back around to kids in a minute but I have to talk about Julie here. I do not want to control my wife. I don’t want to bend her to my will. I don’t want to change her. I want Julie to be Julie and being “Julie” is a moving target. Julie is different than Chris…and in very good ways. And I love her. I love her much more than I love my job or my farm or even my children. My kids will move out in the next 10 or 15 years but Julie and I will remain. But the Julie that will be 10 years from now will be different than the Julie that is today. And if I don’t roll with those changes now I’ll be in for a shock. Empty nest syndrome.

No thanks.

I have to take time now to stay close to Julie each day. I need to know what motivates her. What excites her? What is she into right now? I have to know for this marriage to continue.

And, even though they will probably move out in 10 years, it’s the same with the kids. Talk about moving targets! I have to know what motivates the kids today! All four of them are different from each other and are different from me in ways that are difficult to quantify. I have to know all about each child and show them that I am interested in them as people, not just as extra hands, and I have to keep up with the radical daily changes in their personalities, interests, preferences and alliances! Not easy.

My helper this morning. It was hard work out in the heat.

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Butchering day is a good example of this. The only requirement was that the kids either worked with us, worked inside with grandma or, at a minimum, played near us as we worked. For years my oldest daughter would not participate with the chickens. She stayed inside with grandma baking pies. You know what? That’s totally cool. My daughter didn’t want to do hot, smelly, gross work. I get it. But she missed out on a lot of fun too. We listen to music while we work. We talk. We help each other. When we finish the last bird we all sing and do the chicken dance. And when the birds are all bagged and in the freezer the kids who helped get paid. One day our daughter asked if she could cut the feet off of the birds. I didn’t threaten. I didn’t scream. I didn’t berate her into helping. She wanted to have fun and make money too. So now she cuts the feet off of the chickens and does the chicken dance and listens to music with us and we eat fewer pies.

Kids

You know what she wants? What she really, really wants? She wants to bake pies and have fun. And on butcher day she chooses fun over pies in spite of gross dead chickens because she wants to be with us. And we want to be with her.

But she also likes to hold babies at church. And she loves to read P.G. Wodehouse. She loves Doctor Who and she hopes to become Groucho Marx when she grows up. And she bakes really, really good scones. And last night she was reading part 2 of a complete collection of Sherlock Holmes stories. I know because I talk to her like she is a person. I don’t speak to her like she is a child. She is not a nuisance. She is not an annoyance. She is not to be sent away in the evenings for karate, dance, soccer and gymnastics. I want to hang out with my daughter. She is a bright spot in my day.

She is also a reliable dish washer. But that’s the least important thing.

Farm or no, there is work to do. I confess, I am annoyed when they take a laundry basket to their room but fail to put away the laundry. I admit my patience is tested when I come home and the sink is full of dirty dishes. But if I lose my cool they will either fear or resent me. I do not want my children to be afraid of me. I want them to be confident that I love them in spite of their occasional failings.

How do I get my kids to work on the farm? I love them. They are learning to reciprocate.

I had written that last sentence to close the post but then I found this picture:

Skinner

We have some close friends with seven children of their own. They raise their own pigs and we like to help on butcher day. Last fall two of their seven children were on the scene to help. This one helped skin the pig. The other kids were busy elsewhere. They were still helping, just not with skinning a pig. And that was OK. Everybody was busy. Everybody was involved and still, somehow, having fun. But skinning the pig isn’t for everybody.

Where is My Joie de Vivre?

Something is wrong. Something is really, really wrong. I could only see red on Thursday. That’s not me. So I took a little time off.

Our pastor spoke this weekend about James 1, being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. I tend to fail on the slow to speak thing but, generally, anger is not my issue. Not as an adult anyway.

Julie and I are dealing with some stuff. Over the last 8 months we have watched as our daughter was treated for cancer. One day, happy, healthy little girl. Then she had cancer. Nothing I could do.

Seemingly the next day she had a vacuum line running between two ribs causing her intense pain. Nothing I could do.

Then there were weeks of time when I was home with the other kids while Julie and our little patient lived at the hospital. And there was nothing I could do.

I was helpless as she threw up for days on end, helpless as her hair fell out, helpless during her surgery at Christmas. Compounding that, I was helpless toward the other beautiful children and scared parents we met in the hospital. A hospital for sick children. At Christmas.

We lost two kids we knew at Christmas. 7 children in the 8 months at the hospital. There was nothing I could do.

And I still had a job and livestock and bills to pay and dishes to wash and stuff to do.

And I was not dealing with it in a healthy way.

Mostly I would race through my chores then play Minecraft with the other kids. But it was all racing. It was all rush. It was all hurry. Fast food, Coca-cola, late nights, early mornings. I stopped reading. I stopped exploring. I stopped writing. I stopped doing. Because there was nothing I could do. I was trying to be a “good dad” but, really, I was just distracting myself from the pain and feeling of helplessness.

I have hit low points in my life. Lower, I hope, than most people sink to. I was not at my lowest point but I was not in a healthy place.

As I walked through that valley, that low point, I decided to maybe stop drinking so much caffeine and sugar. My blood pressure had been high and my sleep quality had been poor. This seemed like a good first step to resolve my near-constant headache. With the exit of Coca-cola, my headaches intensified for about 2 miserable weeks. Then I felt like an AA member. I could tell you the last time I drank a Coke. “My name is Chris and I am addicted to sugar and caffeine. I had my last Coke on Feb. 20, 2016.”

But I really just replaced Coke with unsweetened coffee. I had to fix that too.

I also stopped drinking alcohol. After I dropped coke I found myself drinking a beer or two every night. Maybe a glass or two of wine. That’s not an outlandish amount of alcohol for many people but it is for me. So I stopped.

And I stopped eating multiple handfuls of candy from the candy dish at work.

And Julie and I cleaned up our diet. Again.

But the things that were whispering at me before we screaming at me now. Oh. My. Gosh! It is amazing how quickly and easily I can be set off. And for no reason! I stewed for two days on a joke some idiot made during a conversation on Thursday. Fortunately, I kept my thoughts to myself but…I was not happy.

Do you remember happy? I remember happy. Happy was reading books and sharing them with you. Happy was taking pictures of growing grass and cow manure and wondering if I could make the grass or cow manure look better by changing my grazing management. Happy was raising chickens and pigs and cows and children and preserving my marriage and continuing my education and writing about it and wondering, myself, how I had time to do it all.

But that was before my daughter got cancer and there was nothing I could do but watch her suffer as the treatment continued. Watching alone, from the sidelines. Living a third or more of my life without my wife at home, the rest of the time working to ensure that she and our daughter could rest because being at the hospital is not restful. At all.

Our daughter’s treatments are behind us. It seems I was able to push all of my bags to the side while she was receiving treatment but now it is all washing over me. I should feel relieved but, really, I just feel tired. So tired. Old.

I picked up some bad habits over the last 8 months. I lost some good habits too. I stopped practicing my writing, for example.

I broke up with Coca-cola in February. In June I am going to get back together with my old friend the blog. I’m going to try anyway.

These feeling I am dealing with? The experience we have been through? That feeling of rejection and isolation a husband feels when (in his mind) his wife chooses a child over him? Substance abuse? Insomnia? High blood pressure? Depression? These things have ground me down in ways that are not always visible from the outside. All of those families I met in the hospital are dealing with this too. And nobody talks about it.

Find a way to reach out to a family in need, including the husband who is expected to be strong and not to cry and to go to work, and keep it all together and to just deal with it all like a “man”. And if you are in need, please reach out. If you don’t know who else to call, reach out to me. Believe me, I understand.

This will be a farm blog again soon. I promise.