Nightmare on Winter Farm

Our little princess farmer awoke crying and screaming this morning. She was distraught as tears streamed down her face, wetting her tangled hair. I struggled to understand what she was saying through the sobs.

She must have had a nightmare, her first nightmare. Stupid Halloween with all its witches and scary pumpkins and ghosts at every store and every house. We’d driven by a yard last week with bloody skeletons and zombies made to look like they were crawling out of graves in the grass. I hadn’t thought she’d seen it, but maybe she had.

I sat on the bed and lay her chubby, raspberry-blowing baby brother next to her on the pillow. He rolled towards her sobs and began pulling on her hair (clearly out of concern). I scooped her up and asked her what was wrong.

She took a few deep breaths and looked up at me. Then with desperate, terrified eyes she cried, “Ma took my chickens!”.

“What!?”

“Ma took my chickens,” she insisted and buried her face in my arms.

“Ma” is my mother. You know, the one who slaved over the beautiful Frozen cake for my little princess’s birthday. Who knows how my daughter’s subconcious had mixed and mashed chickens and a loving grandma and poultry theft into an early morning nightmare, but it had.

Not having ever had a nightmare before, she thought the dream was real, a memory from an actual event. I tried to comfort her, explaining that the chicken thievery had not actually ocurred.

“It’s just something that happened in your head, honey.”

“No, mommy, it happened in the barn!”

Hmmm…

“Let’s go out to the barn right now and you’ll see, your chickens are just fine.”

“OK.”

I picked up her brother from the bed and went to her dresser for some clothes she could wear outside. As I pulled a pair of jeans and a T-shirt from the drawer, I heard the front door open. She had pulled her rubber ladybug boots over her footed Christmas pajamas and was halfway down the front walk towards the barn by the time I caught up with her.

So, before coffee or bathroom breaks or getting dressed, we headed out to the barn.

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For late October, it was a warm morning.

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As she stretched to open a latch on the gate, her much-loved and supposedly stolen chickens scampered out of the coop to greet her.

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“See!,” I told her, “your chickens are just fine.”

Relieved, she set about her chores cheerfully. She fed them and after finding 2 eggs on the coop floor instead of in the nesting boxes, she lectured our largest Buff Orpington on proper egg-laying practice.

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And then, eggs in hand, headed back outside to chat with the other ladies.

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She picked them little pink flowers to eat and the hens were good sports as she chased them around trying to feed them her finds.

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And then we headed back towards the house, chickens racing us through the grass.

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“What do you want for breakfast?” I asked her.

“Eggs,” she answered.

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The Princess Farmer

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.” -Albert Einstein

I’m really hoping Einstein is right about this one because Winter Farm has been invaded by the Disney princesses. Well, actually, there is just one little three year-old girl who likes to pretend she is ALL THE PRINCESSES.

Belle? Check. (Thanks for the fancy nightgown, Grandma!) Since its arrival over a week ago, it has been worn every night and a majority of every day.

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By the way, that hairdo took us 52 attempts and a half dozen crying fits (mostly hers) before we got the “Belle hair” and its requisite yellow ribbon just right.

Moving on…

Elsa and Anna from Frozen? Check.

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For months prior to her birthday, she told everyone she saw (family, friends, complete strangers) that she wanted a “Let it go” cake. My mom delivered big time on that request.

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Everyone else followed the birthday girl’s lead and she was showered with tiaras and wands and little Frozen figurines as well as puzzles and books featuring the sisters. She squealed with delight at each of them. She even stole a page from the Disney princess playbook, expressing her delight with this contrived little pose.

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Uggghhh. Where did she pick that up?! Oh, yeah, maybe from watching Disney movies a couple (thousand) times.

Anyway, when you have a three year-old girl, the princesses are EVERYWHERE. Every checkout lane (even at my beloved and usually brand-free ALDI), every library (generic princess books are unacceptable…they MUST be the trusted Disney characters), and every place where there are children. On the way into preschool this week, we took note of a Frozen t-shirt, a Cinderella backpack, an Olaf poster, a Tangled jacket and her own Disney Princess tennis shoes complete with flashing pink lights.

EVERYWHERE.

Even seemingly innocent items remind her of her beloved princesses.

This is now known as “Frozen salt” in our house because of the pale blue and nordic-esque pattern on the label.

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This duck’s name is Ariel.

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This crayon is the “Tiana color” (or “Tijuana tolor” in three year-old speak) because it matches the princess’s green dress.

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Disney marketing team = genius and (alarmingly) effective.


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As cute as this little Snow White is, I am conflicted about my daughter’s preoccupation with princesses. She doesn’t like them for their intelligence or kindness or bravery (and there are examples of all these traits among the Disney cast of princesses). She likes them because they wear pretty dresses and have beautiful hair.

Hair and clothes are nice and all, but in my opinion, they should rank beneath a strong education, a confident spirit and a compassionate heart. Hair and clothes will only get you so far in life…at least only so far in the circles I hope my daughter will choose to join one day. An over-emphasis on looks can really mess with a girl’s sense of worth.

In addition to the problematic princess standard of beauty, they aren’t exactly role models for healthy relationship choices or life ambitions. Most of them (with the welcome recent exceptions of Merida and Elsa) set their sites on some handsome prince they barely know and abandon their previous lives (mostly spent cleaning) to go live in their new love’s castle. Hmmm…

Several days ago, in an attempt to give my daughter some perspective, I informed her that the princesses wear nice dresses, but they don’t get to do anything else. “They don’t get to have chickens like you,” I said proudly. She promptly ran to her room, flipped through her Cinderella book until she found the page she was looking for, and, pointing to her evidence, declared, “Cinderella feed chickens!”. And, lo and behold, there was an illustration of Cinderella feeding her flock of chickens in the courtyard of her home. Busted.

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A different day, before shooting her little Nerf bow and “arrows”, she insisted on first putting on a dress. I argued with her that you don’t wear a dress to shoot a bow. Again, her books came to the rescue as she held up the cover of Brave, showing a rather fierce looking Merida in a long, green dress. Touché.

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So, to avoid further arguments (that she would probably win), I occasionally drop subtle comments that I hope will help my case.


Me: “You know, Belle is my favorite princess because she’s really smart and reads books.”

Three year old: “Button my Belle dress.” (Begins twirling) “Me pretty!”


Me: “Look how awesome Merida is at archery! She beat all the boys in the contest.”

Three year old: “Merida has fluffy hair!” (Fluffy is her word for curly.)


Me: “Look at Anna save her sister!”

Three year old: “Hans is mean.”

Me: (A small victory! She understands that Hans was a jerk. Thank goodness.)

Three year old: (Goes back to making her Anna and Hans figurines dance together….and kiss.)

Me: 😦


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While licking my wounds from exchanges like these, I comfort myself with the knowledge that, as a little girl, I refused to wear anything but dresses and I loved playing with baby dolls.

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During my own Disney phase, one of the very few movies we owned was Sleeping Beauty and I probably watched it a thousand times. I remember admiring Aurora’s black ballet flats as she walked through the forest, charming squirrels and princes alike with her singing.

Also, I constantly played with Barbie dolls, which are one of the worse possible body image models for a young girl. Yet, I am comfortable with my body today, despite the changes following the birth of my 2 kids.

It seems that I survived my childhood girly phase and dangerous brush with princess worship just fine. I found a balance between dresses (which I still like to wear for special occasions) and overalls (which I like to wear for other special occasions, like barn painting). I still find Disney movies entertaining, at least up until the hundredth time I am forced to watch them. And I have decided to let my daughter play with some Barbie dolls from a thrift store. Though I do regularly critique the impracticality of their shoes for farm life.

Am I completely at peace with the proliferation of princess paraphernalia in our house? No. Though my concerns now stem less from the psychological damage that so much princess stuff might cause and more from the excess of it all, the consumerism and the constant desire for more toys and clothes and toothbrushes covered in Disney characters. I’d like there to be less stuff in general, not just less princess stuff. I’m still figuring how to tackle that challenge while also allowing family to give the gifts they want to give. And I’ll admit, I’m not innocent either. It IS pretty fun to see how she lights up when presented with a new princess book or hair clips. Before the holidays are upon us, I’ll need to give this some more thought.

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In the meantime, as she pulls her princess shoes on over her princess socks and zips up her (hand-me-down) princess jacket. I’ll still continue to pepper her with ammo from my “you’re more than a princess” arsenal, and I’ll continue to be vigilant about not just telling her how cute she is but also how clever and strong and funny she is.

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I’ll still insist she leave her dolls in the house to help with chores. I’ll still encourage her to get dirty and sweaty playing outside with bugs and rocks and sticks.

But I think I’d better stop short of banning princesses all together because, you know, Einstein was a pretty smart guy.

For a fun list of talking points with your own princess wanna-be, check out this New York Times article.

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Good morning

I awoke this morning at 4 a.m. and lay in bed wide awake. I was frustrated. I knew I was going to be tired later if I didn’t fall back asleep. My sister and nephews were coming to visit mid-morning and I still needed to get the house in order before they arrived. To add to my sour mood, my computer refused to hold a charge and the replacement charger had not yet arrived, holding up my efforts to update the blog.

Grumbling to myself, I got up. I made coffee and saw my husband off to work. Even though I needed to get going with the housework, the kids were still sleeping and I didn’t dare attempt to put away the dishes or vacuum while they slept. A clean house was not worth two tired and crabby kids.

On the way into the kitchen for an apple and my second cup of coffee, I glanced out the back window and saw this.

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I grabbed my phone (which functions as my camera), tugged on my “barn boots” and quietly crept outside. It was chilly and I pulled my sweater tight around me.

Despite the chilly air, the October sky was on fire. The dewy grass and purple clover in the barnlot glowed, backlit by the rising sun.

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The colors were spectacular.

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The frustration of the morning and my worries for the day disappeared beneath the unblemished surface of the pond.

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I soaked up the silence and the calm. I found beauty everywhere I looked.

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The intense colors and feelings of my too-early morning faded away, the sun rose over the trees and the clean, white light of day washed over Winter Farm. I took a deep breath and headed back inside.

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My muse

My muse sits in the cloverfield behind our house, exactly at the center, the heart, of our farm. Her weathered, pock-marked skin covers the thick bones of her wide hips. Beneath her there is shelter from the sun and the snow, the wind and the rain. She watches over us, her dark eyes following the comings and goings of Winter Farm through the seasons. She does not speak, but she tells stories in countless portraits I make of her solid, ruddy frame.

Here she is, wrapped in a blanket of snow the first winter we met.

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And here she stands with her back turned to gather the warm sun on a cold September morning.

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And this one, where I caught her dripping with dew in the morning mist.

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I am shameless about my obsession with her and I can not stop sharing her pictures. She pulls a story from me every time I see her and though it ought to be my children in their innocence or my husband in his devotion, it is she who makes me want to write. She is my muse. And for the inspiration she has awakened in me, I am determined to care for her and repair where the years have bruised and wounded her tired face. She will stand bright and clean once again. She will be made young by my hands and I will rescue her from ruin.


That’s right, our little barn is my muse and for those of you who know me, you are regularly subjected to picture after picture of its squat, red frame. When my husband and I first looked at this property in our search for a home, we were happy with the house, but we were delighted by the barn. Its red doors with white trim symbolized for us that this was not just an acreage, this was a farm. And if we had a farm, we were farmers. We really liked the idea of being farmers. This was one of the first pictures we took in front of the barn.

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Yes, that’s a pitchfork–very American Gothic (and original) of us, I know. Note the plaid shirts and rubber boots. We were officially farmers now, time to dress the part!

We had been married for 4 years at that point and had just returned from an extended stay overseas. We had no children and our dog, Gus, had only been with us for a week or so. We were so excited to own our dream home, so proud of the land and the house and especially of the faded little barn choked by weeds. We saw in that barn all our dreams of owning chickens and growing our own food and raising children.

We still love that barn and though we’ve made lots of improvements on our land and home since moving in five years ago, until now we had yet to help it regain its original charm.

The little paint that remained on the barn was faded to a dull orange and one of its windows was missing. The previous owner’s horses had chewed up or torn off batten boards and where there had once been bright, white paint, there was now only the weathered gray of bare wood. We were sad to see the heart of our farm falling apart.

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In its state of severe disrepair, we thought we would have to completely replace the siding. But due to a lack of funds, we decided to just paint it instead. Our reasoning was that a fresh coat of paint would protect the barn’s structure from further deterioration until we could afford to fix it properly.

Well, let me tell you, a couple coats of paint later and a few new batten boards and our barn looks like a new building! Here is a before picture of the north side of the barn with its crumbling windowsills, vines clawing their way up the walls, and paint peeling from its boards.

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Take a look at that same side now.

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It’s such an improvement. (Don’t mind that paint on the window panes. We ran out of daylight before we finished scraping them clean.) The color we settled on is called “Moroccan Red” and I thought, “What a fun international touch for our little Missouri farm!” But no, put almost any shade of red on a barn and do you know what happens? It looks like plain old Midwestern “Barn Red”. And I’m OK with that. Doesn’t it look great?!

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Finally, before wrapping up this session of barn adoration, I want to thank my husband’s parents for traveling more than 4 hours each way for 2 consecutive weekends to help us. My father-in-law toiled away making repairs and painting while my mother-in-law handled the kids inside, allowing me to help out at the barn. They were so generous to give up their time to help us and we can’t thank them enough (though we did try by loading them down with home-canned goods and fresh pears from Winter Farm). Thank goodness for good family!

And now I’m off to design a gift for my muse, a barn quilt! In the meantime, enjoy a few more pictures of our barn restoration project.

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Proud of a job well-done.

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The early morning paint crew busy priming and patching.

The chickens were a bit annoyed with all the noise in their barn.

The chickens were a bit annoyed with all the noise in their barn.

Farm fashion's finest, yours truly.

Farm fashion’s finest, yours truly.

My father-in-law and his new lady friends.

My father-in-law and his new lady friends.

Winter Farm (Finally) Writes

“The secret of it all, is to write in the gush, the throb, the flood, of the moment–to put things down without deliberation–without worrying about their style–without waiting for a fit time or place.” – Walt Whitman 

Finally, I have stopped waiting. The perfect story, the perfect timing, the perfect writing desk or journal or blog theme or pen… they don’t exist. The trick, according to Whitman, is to just write and so, I am.

I hope Winter Farm Writes will help me exercise my story-telling muscles again. I imagine the posts as rough sketches in which I can write about anything or about nothing, about the profound or the mundane, just so long as I keep writing.

Get ready. Get set. Get writing.


 Chickens in the mist

Hidden Eggs

After a quick debate in my mind about the dangers of opening the front door, I carefully turned the handle and ever so slowly eased myself onto the front porch, careful not to let a single sound destroy the miracle of 2 small children napping simultaneously in their beds. Waking them would result in curses under my breath and in tired, needy children. Feeling rather tired and needy myself, I was hoping to make it out to the barn to let our chickens out of their coop before the heavy rains that had fallen all morning returned.

 

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A little time outside always helped me shake my mid-afternoon slump in energy and mood and as I walked the wet, grassy path to our barn, I could feel the clouds lift from my mind. After the morning’s downpour, the ground outside the coop door sounded like a sponge underneath my feet. Hearing my waterlogged approach, the chickens crowded around the door while I unscrewed the bolt that keeps them safe each night from raccoons and bobcats, coyotes and stray dogs.

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If you’ve never watched a chicken released from its coop onto fresh grass, you are missing out. They run and skip and dive in every direction, fanning out over the pasture in pursuit of fleeing crickets and startled moths.

Discovering the pile of windfall pears I’d dumped nearby, one chicken started clucking and cooing approvingly, immediately attracting the attention of her sisters. They came running, each one greedily pecking at pieces of bruised fruit and at one another in her excitement for the sweet treat. They looked just like a pack of kids scrambling for candy under a broken piñata. Eventually, the dominant hens assert their claim over the pile and the others spread out in search of other options.

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Our chickens have not been laying well lately. We recently rearranged their coop and moved their nesting boxes which, we assume, had unsettled them a bit. Chickens are easily flustered. Whatever the cause, we were barely getting enough eggs for our 2 paying customers, both coworkers of my husband. It had gotten so bad, that we no longer had enough eggs for ourselves and I had, with great frustration, broken down and bought a dozen eggs from the store. Buying eggs when we have 20 perfectly good laying hens in the barn felt a bit ridiculous, not to mention expensive.

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I decided to look around the barn again in case I had missed some hidden stash of eggs previously. Afterall, free range chickens are notorious for building nests in odd places. Right away, I spotted a cache of 5 eggs in a dark corner of the coop, covered almost completely in leaves and straw. Encouraged by my find, I started searching other dark and hard-to-reach places in our small barn. Three eggs lay hidden between the barn wall and a pile of old lumber. Four eggs were buried deep in a pile of hay behind the plow. And finally, two more were nestled in the dust below the garden tools. Fourteen eggs in all.

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Returning to the house as the clouds started to gather again, I slipped quietly back inside the front door and, holding my breath, listened for the sound of one or both children awake from their naps. Sweet, sweet silence greeted me.

I put the eggs in the refrigerator and made a pot of coffee, my second for the day, to give me a quick lift before heading into the afternoon’s activities: laundry, putting away toys from the morning’s chaos, and then more laundry. But tonight, dinner would not be the troubling question mark it often is. Tonight, we would have eggs.

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