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.

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Walking the pasture.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

The Life-Changing Magic of Planting Trees

Mom mentioned some childhood neighbors in a blog comment yesterday that got me thinking about Mrs. Ruth. She lived next door when I was very young. I have only a few memories of her, really: She had a cat, she was a German immigrant and tended to mutter to herself in low German when I was around, she kept candy orange slices in the bottom crisper drawer of her fridge and she had three cherry trees east of her garage.

I remember more than that about Mrs. Ruth but the cherry trees are etched into my mind forever. In fact, I checked Google maps and it looks like the trees are still there. As a kid I would take a break from my sandbox and climb into the mulberry tree in our back yard for a snack and I would tend to stare in the direction of the cherry trees wondering why there were always mulberries but almost never cherries. But on those rare few days when they were ripe we would all help Mrs. Ruth pick cherries.

Buckets of cherries. Cherries in the freezer. Cherries in jellies. Cherry pies. Cherries cooked into a sauce with sugar and poured over ice cream. I don’t even know what else.

And you can’t overlook the reliable mulberry tree in that story.

Mulberries. Julie and her brothers didn’t have much experience with mulberries when I met them. Julie and I would walk through the pasture together at her parent’s house (definitely not a date, right?) and eat and talk (cause we are just friends, right?) and hold hands (friends can hold hands, right?). Mulberries were a staple food. They are not too sweet and tend to be a little stemmy but don’t have the pesky seeds of a dewberry or black raspberry. We would pick a few berries in the summer evening, our hands would be stained purple just like in the picture I shared a few years back of picking mulberries while putting up hay…because we always stop to rest in the shade under the mulberry trees in the bottom.

MulberryJuice

Not all mulberry trees are created equal, btw. Some are more sweet than others and some don’t fruit at all. And having written “btw” I am reminded that mulberries have a good BTU rating (above oaks) and coppice well. And the leaves are a good source of protein for cattle. So these are trees I work to keep around. Although, you don’t have to work too hard as mulberries tend to grow wherever there are birds.

But cherry trees are a different story altogether. There are wild black cherry trees all over our farm. We have picked buckets of these too but the fruit tends to be bitter and thin around the stone. Apparently it makes a good cordial. But a sweet or sour domesticated cherry tree is a real treasure.

My friend Yoichiro came to visit us in 2013. He and I planted a cherry tree together. I think of him every time I look at that tree. I am still happy we shared that experience.

I got the sapling from my friend Steve. They are a small, short-lived sour cherry and they replace themselves readily. He digs up a dozen or so saplings every year. The original sapling came from an abandoned farmstead. He dug it up at some point in the last 20 or 30 years. Here is a picture of it several years ago.

Garden2

Let’s review. decades ago, Steve and his wife spent an afternoon driving through the countryside looking for heirloom varieties in the yards of abandoned farm houses. Among other things, Steve found a cherry tree that he brought home, planted, cared for and propagated. Doesn’t that sound nice?

Years later we were invited to pick cherries and asked if he could spare a sapling we noticed coming up under the canopy. Early the next spring Steve loaded us up with a trunk full of food, rhubarb plants and a small cherry sapling.

A friend from Japan came to visit in 2013. Together we planted the cherry sapling above promising to meet again someday and enjoy the fruit together. Then my kids and I planted daffodils and comfrey around it.

Steve came by later, inspected the planting and took home some comfrey and some bamboo from my yard.

Do you see how that little cherry tree is intertwined in our relationships? …in our community?

Life changing magic.

I wrote about my grandpa Jordan recently. Last summer my kids and I spent a hot afternoon picking peaches from his peach tree. They were not spectacular peaches…kind of small and spotty. But he planted a tree, did a little maintenance on it and we all ate all we wanted and my kids have a fun memory of standing on great-grandpa Jordan’s cannon while picking peaches…just days before our youngest was diagnosed with cancer.

Peaches.jpg

What is the value of that peach tree? Or grandpa’s grape vines he made homemade wine from?

I have shared about my friend Eileen, her Mutsu apples and chestnut trees. This year we came home with a  trash can of waste apples and a big, big box of chestnuts. The pigs made pigs of themselves.

And it seems obvious to remember Aunt Marian’s apple trees. I have written this before but I would race to prune her trees as fast as I could, doing a portion of each tree each year, because she would catch me pruning and would run me off. But I had her Mutsu in good shape by making a few “accidental” cuts here and there to slowly get the tree in shape. And I got all the apples I could use. And so did the pigs. And aunt Marian had all kinds of stories about each tree in her orchard and where they came from.

picking apples

I’m sure there are other things you can do to build inter-generational memories but trees put down roots. There is a giant burr oak tree in my pasture that my grandpa Chism said was always big. Roots. Ties to previous generations.

What is that worth?

Where are you planting your trees? You don’t need a farm. You just have to stay put for a while.

 

The Jordan Side of Me

My mom is a Chism. I am surrounded by Chism…or descendants of Chism. Being related to the whole county made dating difficult as a teen.

Seriously.

But dad came from another state.

In some ways I identify more with my grandpa Chism than with my grandpa Jordan. Maybe because of proximity. I spent a lot of time on this farm as a small child, not so much in Indianapolis. Maybe because my grandpa Chism had tractors. I don’t know. I am not writing a comparison, I am hurting a little and thinking of both.

I am who I am, in part, because they were who they were.

The “me” inside of “me” has a lot to do with who I thought they were. And who I thought they were is surprisingly different than who my sister thought they were. And that is different than who my dad thought they were.

So who am I? And who do my children think I am?

My grandpa Jordan passed away last week at the age of 89. I have spent a lot of time in thought about the man and my relationship with him. And in my own head I seem to be mourning both of my grandfathers which is odd because grandpa Chism died nearly 20 years ago.

I really didn’t know my grandpa Chism when I was an adult. I saw him through the idealistic eyes of a child. He was big and strong and did the things big, strong farmer guys did. He was also quietly tolerant of me.

But I had time to really get to know my grandpa Jordan. He was not quietly tolerant of me. He was strong but not big. He did things retired city people did…like scratch lottery tickets. But he was also a carpenter and I have a number of skills I learned either directly from grandpa or from my father who learned from grandpa.

So who am I?

Carpentry and farming go well together but am I quietly tolerant or not?

I have wrestled with this kind of thinking all week. I am not Tom Chism. I am not Sherman Jordan. But they are certainly both a strong dose of what I hold up as the ideal of man.

I am acutely aware of both of my grandfathers’ many flaws. They were not perfect men. As an adult I avoided certain conversations with grandpa Jordan and to this day thank God he gave me a polite nickname (Old-timer). So why did he have rude nicknames for everybody else? That’s not part of my picture of ideal manhood. But it is not fair to say that my grandfather was a jerk. He could be at times but so can I.

There were conversations I just could not have with my grandpa. We could not talk about politics or religion…but that’s common in any relationship. But we could talk about stocks and coin collecting and commodity futures. These were safe topics, especially if you just open the throttle and let him run. But never get him started on “rich people” or labor or any of his ongoing list of conspiracies…

I learned to handle my grandpa safely. Great. What does that have to do with me? And what ON EARTH does that have to do with the farm?

There was no Jordan farm until dad bought land in the ’80’s. I think that is an important detail in this reflection. There was no land. No tie. No roots. There is a Jordan cemetery somewhere in Tennessee but I don’t know anybody in there. I know an awful lot about the Chism people buried on the next hill over from my house. I live in a house my grandparents lived in…a house my grandpa’s uncle built. On land we have owned for nearly 200 years. Why didn’t the Jordan family settle? Why didn’t they build permanence?

I don’t know much of anything about Sherman’s father, Arthur. I remember vague stories of extreme poverty and abuse. From what I have put together, grandpa Jordan had a very difficult childhood right up until he lied about his age to join the Navy. Then he met up with his siblings again, opened a carpentry business with his brother and played euchre. I have memories of my aunts and uncles playing cards at the dining room table together. Even if he made insulting comments, I think we can safely say that grandpa was different than his father. Better. Even if still rough.

And my father is better still.

I am who I am because he was who he was. I am who I am because he pushed me to become more than he was…even if just to prove him wrong about me. And my kids, through positive reinforcement, will continue that refining what it means to be a Jordan.

There is a lot to explore within our family legacy and culture. Who am I? Who are we? What do we believe? How do we treat each other? What do we offer our future generations?

I haven’t answered any questions here. These are ideas I am struggling to understand and I hope you are too.

Julie and I are exploring, establishing and refining our family culture together with our parents and our children. We are purposeful about giving everyone a sense of belonging, love, place and purpose. This is our way of cleaning the world by cleaning our front step. How are you changing the world?

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.

Rivers.jpg

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.

Lodge.jpg

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.

HikingTrail.jpg

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

PhotoEditing.jpg

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.

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On a hike with my best friend.

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Because we really need some time.

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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.

What Does 2016 Look Like?

What a difference a translation makes. Bear with me here. This is one of those posts presented without apology. We started 2015 with a  bang. And then September happened. I had big goals for the year, read a book a week, blog regularly, try to take over the world. I was unable to sustain the book reading pace once our daughter got ill. I find it is amazingly difficult to read in a hospital with the beeps and nurses and checking vitals and hoping we can find something she wants to eat today…

But now is not then. Now is now. And the requirements of today are not the requirements of yesterday. The vision of today is not the vision of yesterday. We are slightly closer to our destination. The path is more clear. In fact, this is a good time to stop and look. Are we going where we want to go? Have we gone astray? What’s the plan?

If you read Habakkuk 2:2 in NKJV it says:

Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.

But if you read it in the Message translation it goes like this:

Write this.
    Write what you see.
Write it out in big block letters
    so that it can be read on the run.

So this is what we do. We write it out.

A year is about as far out as I can plan as confirmed by a book I am currently reading called Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction. It is good to have some notion of what is beyond that…a destination maybe 5 generations out…but if you try to plan too many years ahead you trip over the stuff in front of you. Minor deviations cause major problems.

So vision for a year…keeping in mind that our year went swimmingly for the first 8 months then was entirely derailed. Well, our year went swimmingly for 3 months then my job changed and our year was changed radically. So maybe a year is too ambitious. But let’s plow ahead anyway.

 

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If things go as planned we should have 10 calves this year. That’s a lot of calves. In fact, it may be too many. It may be a 10 too many. Our goal for 2016 is not expansion, it is retrenchment. We need to do better. We need to be more efficient. I don’t need more cows. I need better cows. I need better fences and more access to water and improved pastures. I need to repair buildings and wiring and equipment.

Our goal is not growth. Our goal is to repair and replace our infrastructure. The South perimeter fence, the wells at both houses, the shed roof between the silo and the cattle barn…all things we need to repair. I will spare the reader the complete list but until these things are finished we are in a holding pattern.

But there is more. I can’t handle additional cattle until I remove about 18″ of manure from my barns to return to our pastures. Until I frost seed 5 pounds of red clover and one pound of white. Until I remove inner fencing that causes frustration, erosion and large weeds next to the clover field.

So that’s part of my to-do list. But this isn’t about the what. This is about the why. We need to make everything easier and better. Not bigger.

But some things have to grow. We have to continue experimentation. I have no idea which of my solutions will be accepted by the market. People seem to like our eggs. They seem to like cattle raised entirely on grass. How about non-GMO pork? You can’t sell non-GMO pork from piglets that were raised on GMO feed. You have to be non-GMO from farrow to finish. Can we farrow non-GMO piglets to sell as weaners?

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Dunno. Let’s find out.

People do seem to like our eggs. Heck, I like eggs too. But let’s talk about what I don’t like. I don’t like Silver-Laced Wyandottes. As a reader, Eumeaus, suggested SLW tend to be flighty and don’t lay well in winter. We still have about thirty 4-year old New Hampshires laying around a dozen eggs a day. Our hundred-or-so year old SLWs are laying 6. 2016 features the return of NH pullets to our farm. I suspect I’ll buy pullets rather than hatch eggs because I need 150 or 200 pullets. That would be 400 or 500 eggs. I don’t have that kind of capacity.

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Broilers. I don’t know. Usually we are first to market with our broilers. We get chicks on Valentine’s day and harvest them before buffalo gnats hatch. If you want a fresh bird for a beer can chicken on Memorial day we are your source. Then we shut down until August. But our daughter’s chemo treatments will last until April.

I think we will try. Maybe not hundreds of chicks. Maybe dozens of chicks. I think we will encourage our older children to completely own the operation. They can pay us to process birds with them. They can earn the money. This is, ultimately, the direction we want to go anyway and the oldest will turn 16 this year. It is time. But it is up to him. I will encourage him to spread his wings but I won’t push too hard. Maybe there will be no broilers this year.

Books and I are still good friends. I may be reading as many as six right now. I got a stack of books for Christmas along with gift cards from friends that were used for even more books. Stacks of books. I suspect we now have half of P.G. Wodehouse. I’ll try to return to journaling my reading so you can play the exciting home game. A notable book I did not journal this year was The Richest Man in Babylon. It won’t take you long to read and it is stuff you already know but it might enhance your own vision of 2016.

There is more. Much more. But these are the portions of our vision that seem appropriate to share with you. It is where we expect to go. Things happen but this helps us to focus. 2016 we rebuild infrastructure. In 2017 we take over the world. (And by “take over the world” I mean prepare to send a kid to college.)

Write out your vision. Write it out in big, bold letters so you can see it as you run past. Hang it on your fridge. Post it on your monitor. Make it the background on your phone. Record yourself saying it and listen to the recording. Your vision is your vision. You need to block out all the noise and focus regularly on it. You are going somewhere.

So get going.

With a Little Help

I stopped writing about a month ago for several reasons. The main reason is simple: We are busy. But there is more than just that. Some of it was just the way I felt. The way I feel.

I have written a series of weepy-feely posts and worry that I have been a little too open. Some of that was us dealing with anxiety and a feeling of loss.

I don’t know. But mostly it’s an issue of time.

Yesterday I spent nearly 5 hours shoveling manure. It was a lot of manure. A lot. Why did I spend 5 hours shoveling manure? For the same reason I haven’t blogged in over a month. I haven’t had time to do it.

Two years ago I began remodeling the bathroom for Julie. Merry Christmas 2013! A bathtub. A real bathtub. The kind you can take a bath in. A bath! When grandma built the addition and they installed a bathroom in the house, grandma just put in a shower basin. The kind you can’t take a bath in. Julie wanted to take a bath. So she got a bath tub. But that was 2013. It is now 2015. The bathtub is great, yes, but the rest of the bathroom…well, less so. Needs to be updated. To be brought out of 1967 and into the world of today. Goodbye wood paneling, hello drywall. Goodbye weird ’60’s copper hanging lamp thing, hello recessed LED lights.

But there is no time.

So the bathroom project sat. And waited. And life happened all around us.

I couldn’t get it done. So I asked for help.

We found a guy to finish the remodeling job. And thank God! I come home from work every day and the bathroom is a little closer to being finished.

I wasn’t shoveling manure yesterday all alone. My kids were there. My dad was there. The work was hard and took a lot of time but, with a little help, we got through it all.

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And that’s where we are with our little Friendy. We get a lot of help. Help comes out of the woodwork. It’s amazing. From people we know and love to people we have just met. Sometimes is it hard to say “Yes”. Humbling.

And in that same sense of humility we seek out chances to lend a helping hand wherever we are. Right now I have little to offer but maybe I can make a difference to another parent in the hospital just by listening. Or by saying “Hello”.

I don’t know.

But I know this. Moses couldn’t hold his arms up without help. The widow needed friendly neighbors from whom she could borrow jars. Simon carried the cross for Jesus.

We participate in the mundane part of any miracle. The mundane part for us is chemotherapy…something of a miracle in and of itself. But it’s just us borrowing jars to fill with oil. Once we have the jars, God brings the awesome.

The short list of things I am thankful for – things I consider miraculous – certainly include that we caught the tumor before it spread, that my little girl is doing so well and that we have some of the best doctors in the world available to us within an hour of home. But there is more.

I am thankful that so many people have loaned us their jars, held our arms up and helped us carry our burden.

Who Can I Thank Today?

One of the wonderful problems we are struggling with is being sure to say “Thanks” to folks who support us. And I mean “support” literally. We want to thank the people who are holding us up. This is a problem for us for several reasons. First, we just forget. Or we get busy. So many people approach us with so many different helpful things it’s just hard to remember it all. Let me give you a few examples just from yesterday.

Our local community hosted a benefit dinner for Wendy. During that dinner families in our community came together to make and serve soup, wash dishes, sell t-shirts…who did this? Not any one person. The whole town. One of my dad’s brothers calls me every Sunday at noon while he has lunch with my grandma. He is just calling to check on our daughter. He called during the benefit yesterday. Mom’s brother came to the benefit yesterday. He made it a point to relate to our daughter personally by comparing chemo stories. How do I say thanks for all that and remember the person who took out the trash?

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The second reason it is a problem is because we need to make the best use of the resources shared with us. We have to be good stewards. Our daughter is a sick little girl. She is getting the best medical care in the world and the best medical care in the world is not cheap. And insurance doesn’t cover gas, food, wear and tear…you get the idea. So, as Mrs. Reid patiently explained to me yesterday, we really need to be focused on making sure our finances are sound and our daughter is loved, not on writing and sending thank you cards.

So what do we actually do?

We care for our little girl. That’s what we do. But the time will come when our opportunity will change. The time will come when we are helping to host a benefit dinner for another family in need.

I reached my saturation point Sunday afternoon. It was all too much. Too many families missing football. Too many people making soup. Too many people stretched in a line out the door. Too many dishes being washed. Three generations of two separate families were easily identified on the front lines yesterday and I had no idea, really, who else was involved behind the scenes. So I asked. And I started to say thanks. And it was all deflected.

The universal response was, “It’s wasn’t me!”

Ugh.

“Oh, no. I didn’t order the t-shirts. That was all so-and-so.”

“No, we are just carrying bowls of soup. Those folks in the kitchen are the ones working.”

Then, to compound the issue, someone said, “Chris, what you need to do is keep writing your blog.” There are things I do that I don’t fully understand. My blog is one of those things. I sometimes don’t know why I do this. Maybe to publicize my own ignorance.

I started a blog because I wanted to learn how to write. But I wanted to learn how to write because a friend made a time investment in me through phone calls and emails. She wanted me to grow. To explore. To learn and to share. She encouraged me to write. Four years ago she passed away. Four years ago I began my blog. Linda Brady Traynham deserves all credit for that. But she was just one person. One influential person. And every time I write I remember the friendship we shared…even if only briefly.

Remember where I was yesterday…beyond saturation. Too much blessing. Too many people. Too many unknowns. And the straw that broke the camel’s back, if I can be the camel in this metaphor (and I think I can), is someone deflecting praise and complimenting my blog when I just want to say thanks to somebody. Anybody.

Heck, I’ll say it to you. Thanks.

Thank you for reading this. Thank you for understanding. Thank you for praying. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for showing my daughter your own chemo port so she doesn’t feel like a freak. Thank you for giving us gas cards. Thank you for ordering t-shirts. Thank you for understanding when I need time off. Thank you calling on Sunday. Thank you for asking her if she wakes up without feeling rested. Thank you for the plush kitty and blanket. Thank you for the knit hats, the window paint and the balloon animals. Thank you for bringing your service dog to Children’s hospital so it can jump up on her bed and give her some snuggle time. Thank you for washing your hands. Thank you for making us a lasagna. Thank you for the puzzles and paints and stickers and friendship bracelets and books. Thank you for broccoli and cheese soup. Thank you for baking cookies with the other kids, taking them to youth group and helping them with the chores. Thank you for picking me up at the car repair shop even though it made you late for work.

Julie and I are so thankful.

The only way we can see to repay your kindness, though it is not expected of us, is to serve our community. To look for opportunities to serve and encourage in the future. Either to ease the burden on another family in need or just to make an investment in a new friend as Linda did with me. We see so much need at Children’s Hospital. But those needs exist here at home too. There are people in need right here. People who need help caring for a sick child and people who need to be encouraged to try something scary like actually hitting the publish button. I can do those things. And that, I think, is how we say thanks.

But we also just say it.

Thanks.

And Mrs. Reid, the blog is almost free…other than the hour it took to write this early Monday morning and the annual domain registration. This was a lot easier than sending a bunch of cards. Thanks for the reminder.

7:25am addition:

Thanks also to my dad, my cousin and my cousin’s son who helped me bring the cows home from a night’s adventure after the deer knocked down the fence.

Out Of Order

It’s all messed up. Inside, I mean. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

I should focus on my relationship with God, my relationship with Julie then my children. But that’s not what we’ve got. We are certainly on our knees. No doubt. But then I think it’s our little girl. She is our primary focus. So our marriage is suffering…in some small way that’s hard to pin down. And our other children are feeling neglected.

We are out of whack.

Summary behind us, let’s go into the long-winded Chris Jordan blog post thingy.

There is nothing I can physically do to help my daughter. She is wrapping up 6 days at the hospital. I can’t help that. She cries in the morning because she wants to be home. She cries in the evening because she wants to be home. But she can’t be home. We can’t fix her at home. We can’t fix her at all. We have outsourced the fixing to the people most knowledgeable in the subject matter…possibly in the whole world. But I don’t feel that’s enough. Our doctors are hard working, knowledgeable, polite and, even, humorous. But they aren’t God.

And, yes, I believe in God.

And I believe God knows all about cancer.

So I pray. And Julie prays. And since there is nothing else for us to do, we pray a lot. This is a good thing. Our level of dependence on God is at 10…the highest it has been in years. And that’s good. Because that dependence is eternal. Forever. It won’t end. But sometimes, when life is calm, it is easy to forget.

But now we remember. Every minute of every day.

But the next priority is my relationship with Julie. Those kids we created? They will get hitched and move out within the next 10 years. My covenant with Julie is for life. That’s a long time. And we married early.

That lifelong agreement…that lifelong covenant…that life sentence I agreed to is kind of a big deal to both of us. But it seems like something we are just doing right now. It’s just a familiar pattern and we are going through familiar motions. Like brushing our teeth. It’s mechanical. Make coffee, eat breakfast, kiss. It’s just a daily pattern. We are working on momentum.

But what if we lose momentum?

Then what?

Is that what happens to empty nesters? A couple realizes too late that their marriage has lost momentum…that they have been focused on their children for decades and now have little in common with the stranger across the sheet.

I don’t know. I’ve never been an empty nester. I can tell you things were certainly different before there were children.

And I can tell you things were different in August.

But then September happened. And now my daughter is ill and spends a third of every month in the hospital and the balance of the month sick or recovering from the medicine. Julie is with her every step of the way.

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And that’s where Julie should be.

But the most important human relationship we have is our marriage.

Our little girl will grow up. The cancer will go into remission, she will grow, she will be strong, she will move into a home of her own.

So will the other kids.

But Julie and I will finish out our life sentence. We would like to continue to grow closer for the next 60 years but if things continue on their present course, if we continue to coast through our days without putting any effort into our relationship…well, people that go neglected begin to feel rejected. Unwanted. And, eventually, begin to consider alternatives.

The other kids are people too. People feeling neglected…

Our kids work hard. Their contributions need to be acknowledged. That 15-year-old manling is a feed sack carrying, hay bale lugging beast. He also plays guitar, enjoys video games, sports, time with friends, hunting and desires the attention of a select few young ladies.

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Big brother, little sister.

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He also had a birthday in the last week.

Where is his cake? Presents? What have we done to make him feel special?

Not enough.

It is not a question of “if”, it’s a question of “when?” When will he begin to express resentment? Some level of that is natural, normal…even important. He will want to spread his wings. That’s part of growing up. But the hospital is intensifying the pressure. How can I teach him to monitor his own emotional state as he is dealing with a sick sister, staying with grandparents, schooling himself, completing farm chores, helping with housework and, generally, sucking it up when I don’t have time/energy/ability to model it for him?

Or for the other two kids?

I don’t have any answers here. I don’t think there is anything you can do to help either. I think I, too, just have to suck it up. Go short on sleep. Renew my commitment to Julie and do so in front of the kids so at least they have the security of a stable household. That manling and I need to chat. Just chat. Even if his responses are single syllables. I have to show an interest in all of the children. Maybe work with them to find things all of us can do to help mommy rest and to help little sis to feel better. Or celebrate our evenings home without mommy by eating junk food and watching movies. I don’t really have specifics but I know I have to take an active role in building positive relationships in our home.

Because that’s my job.

I heard two women talking in the hospital. One was expressing herself publicly and was quite animated and energetic as she said, “I can’t respect a man who won’t do what a man should be doing.” I really don’t know what she meant but it sounded bad.

This is what I should be doing.

I pray.

I love and honor Julie.

I care for my children.

In that order.

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.

Oh.

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.

Help

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.