When is the last time you went to your mailbox at the end of the driveway to find a handwritten thank you note? I’m sure most of you don’t remember the last time. Or maybe you DO remember because it doesn’t happen very often. How could you forget it, it made you feel loved and, well, thanked? Of course, a text “thx” or an email saying thank you is better than no thank you at all. But, how special it feels to know that someone took the extra time to find a card, pencil, and stamp, and walked all the way to the end of their driveway, maybe even in the rain, to mail you a note. I’ve taught my children it’s important to write handwritten thank you notes, reminding them how it feels when they get a letter in the mail. Like the other day, our family was surprised by a thank you note almost overlooked in a pile of junk mail. It was even beautifully written in cursive, which is, sadly, yet another lost art. Our children loved what it had to say, ”Dear the ‘Franch’ children, We wanted to let you all know how appreciative we are for the beautiful ‘franch-fresh’ eggs! We admired the color and cuteness of each one! They were delicious! We even loved the carton in which they were sent! Thank you all, so very, very much! We know you worked hard to gather them and we truly loved them! Happy Franching!” Wow, you’re welcome! We find ourselves collecting our eggs with a little more joy in our hearts because of that sweet note. I even thanked our chickens for doing what chickens do. Well, I know there are a lot of people in your life and mine who would smile big to find a handwritten thank you note like that in their mailbox this week. I think it’s time to find something to write with, some paper, dust off that kindergarten cursive writing desk strip, and in your best penmanship, thank someone. Maybe, maybe even probably, they will write you back and then, just like that, handwritten thank you notes will no longer be a lost art for you and me and them.
Where have I been? Has really nothing happened on the franch since last summer? Is it writer’s block? What could possibly be better than telling you stories from life on the franch? The answer is the baby boy in my arms! A baby that I actually can’t tell you much about at all. Why? It’s because he isn’t “mine.” He’s a foster child. He’s been a part of our family since last summer when a CPS worker handed him to my outstretched arms. Instead of blogging these days, I’ve been super busy giving this precious child a family and praying every day we get to someday adopt him. I’m told all the time “He’s one lucky little boy!” to be a part of my family. I say, and I mean with my whole heart, “We are the lucky ones.” Oh, how my family has grown in faith, joy, contentment, and purpose as we’ve faced the challenges, sacrifices, and risks of fostering this sweet boy. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen tomorrow with him. That’s the world of fostering. All I know for sure is that I will love this child for the rest of my life even if he isn’t in my arms forever. So, I’m really hoping that I will always have less time to write because of what that would mean. The better life is giving this child a family who loves him.
THE GREAT HORNED OWL ON MY RANCH by my 7 year old daughter
If you’re brave enough to go out at night, you might see an owl because owls are nocturnal. You will know that it is a Great Horned Owl because they have tufts of feathers on their ears that look like horns. They are the most common owl in North America. I know a lot about Great Horned Owls because one lives on our ranch.
Great Horned Owls spend most of their time hunting. Owls are sit-and-wait predators. They quietly watch their prey from a high perch and then silently fly to grab their prey who don’t know they’re coming. The owl at our ranch sits and waits on our barn roof. One time, my brother saw it swoop down to grab a chicken. We saw the owl on a branch high up in the tree next to the chicken coop with our special chicken dead in his powerful, sharp talons. That was a very sad day. It will also eat mice, rats, rabbits, squirrels, and even skunks. I do like that owls will eat the smelly skunks on our ranch.
Adult owls have no predators, except on our ranch. On our ranch, my older brother is hunting the owl to keep our chickens safe. Since it is against the law to hurt an owl, we really just try to scare it away. We look for the Great Horned Owl by searching for his big, yellow eyes. Their eyes are as large as human eyes. When I was little, I remember waking up in the night and seeing owl eyes looking at me through the window. It wasn’t a nightmare. It was a real owl on a branch outside my window.
If you want to see a Great Horned Owl, you need to ask your mom and dad if you can come for a sleepover on my ranch.
School’s out for the summer! Well, kind of. There’s always one thing in the homework folder on the last day of school that needs to be done before the first day of school. It’s the required summer reading list for the next grade. Thankfully, all of our children love to read so every year they go happily to the local library early in the summer with that list in hand. This year, by the afternoon of the first day of summer vacation, my eldest daughter was already well into her first book. She had decided she was going to read all her summer books to her horse. When she had asked me what book I think he’d like, I said, “I don’t know, probably anything, I mean, he’s a horse.” She wasn’t amused. She finally decided on The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis. Well, that makes sense. It’s about the adventures of two children and their talking horses in the Land of Narnia. Almost every day so far this summer, she brings her horse into the round pen and sits in the middle on a lawn chair with her book or slowly walks beside him in the pasture as he grazes and she reads. She reads out loud to him for hours. There are days she’ll come in from her story time disappointed when her horse seems to her more interested in eating grass than listening. Other times she’s certain he’s enjoying the book because of how he stands still quietly beside her and closes his eyes like he’s deep in thought. When he nibbled on the edge of her book, she expressed her relief that The Horse and His Boy happens to be one of our own and not from the library. One day she came to me worried about how what was said in the book may have hurt her horse’s feelings. In The Horse and His Boy, Bree, one of the talking horses, was captured and lived in a land as the only talking beast among “dumb and witless” horses. Since our horse doesn’t talk, she thought it was mean of her to have read Bree calling her horse “dumb and witless.” I told her to tell him it’s only fiction. She thought that was good idea. And off she happily went that day to pick up where she had left off in her summer reading.
We lost a sheep the other day. No matter how many you lose, it’s never easy, every one hurts. At least we found comfort in the way she was found. She had chosen a quiet corner of a pen tucked away inside our barn. There, she had breathed her last breaths. I remarked to my daughter how peaceful she looked, and even more comforting, how content. Her head was elevated slightly resting on a smooth rock and she looked like she was smiling. The way she was made it seem like in her final moments she had been thinking, “I had a good life.” I really hope so. She is survived by a daughter ewe, a grandson ram, and twin daughter lambs that are just at the age where they can take care of themselves. It was like she knew she couldn’t go until they didn’t need her anymore. What a good mamma she was! She was one of our oldest ewes and seemed to have the respect of the rest of the flock, just like Maa, the elder sheep in the movie Babe. I could see that sheep encouraging our others to humor our children and give in to their shepherding attempts. Our son was away on a Guatemala medical mission trip with my husband when she died. It made him really sad that he didn’t get to say goodbye. All we have of her now is a little lock of wool in a heart-shaped box that our sweet neighbor made for us. And, the memories of her living a good life on the franch.
My husband is always going to work with new stories to tell of life on the franch. I don’t think his colleagues and students really know what to say most of the time. Sometimes they just stare. Usually, they laugh. And, I’ve said this before, like most people who hear or read our stories, I think it’s more laughing at us and not as much with us. One morning a colleague of his was lecturing on ultrasound in the ER, and though I know it’s fascinating that you can see what’s going on inside the human body with just a wand and a lot of gel, dozens of black and white and every shade of grey images probably gets pretty boring pretty fast, which is likely why this colleague decided his lecture needed some one-of-a-kind franch humor. So interspersed among his Grand Rounds slides were a few on life on our franch, as well as videos of my husband “playing” on his banjo (that’s a story for another day). One of his slides on franching read:
You Might be a Francher If…
You have ever worn pajamas with rubber boots for midnight calf checks.
You think that the five gallon bucket is the greatest invention ever made. Really, the greatest ever.
You learned to drive a tractor or feed pickup looooong before you took drivers ed.
Your idea of neighborhood watch is someone calling you to let you know your bulls are out.
Your family instantly becomes silent when the weather comes on the news.
Now that’s funny, especially because it’s so true! And, I’m glad franch humor helped keep some ER residents and medical students awake during an early morning lecture on ultrasound in the ER. And though there’s certainly a lot more to being a francher, you’re well on your way to calling yourself one if you can say yes to all of the above.
Wherever our children go on our franch, so goes our border collie. Our kids love to take their new chicks out of their brooder and play with them in the backyard grass. And our border collie Sassy is always nearby…watching, herding, waiting… One recent spring afternoon, instead of getting a pat on the head from a child, our children, to be silly, carefully placed a chick on the top of her head. You’d think that would’ve ended badly? It didn’t. Our high-energy border collie actually stayed very still. She would move her head slowly around as though she was being careful not to unbalance the chick as our children continued to play with the rest of the clutch of chicks before her. The chick on her head actually seemed quite content and chirped quietly. I asked the children if they thought that means we have the best chick ever or the best border collie ever? Of course, they said, “Both!” But, the chick was only a week old so it didn’t know any better and likely thought that sitting on the top of a dog’s head is what life is all about. And Sassy is a border collie, and well, border collies eat chicks. So, I said it’s Sassy that’s the best ever. This was confirmed a week later when my mother and father came for a week-long visit and my mother said out of nowhere, “Sassy is a good dog.” I couldn’t believe my ears. In disbelief, I said “What?” even though I had clearly heard what she said. Why? Simply put, dogs are not “man’s best friend” to her. She does not like them. The funny thing is that as much as my mother dislikes dogs is as much as dogs seem to like her. Sassy was very fond of her; she would watch intently and wait patiently for her at our gated entrance whenever my mother went out for her daily walks. Upon returning, my mother would give Sassy a quick pat on the head as she walked up the long driveway with Sassy walking happily beside her. And that’s the best the best Border Collie ever will ever get from her. But, it means she’s one really special dog.
It’s springtime. The “Baby Chicks are Here” signs are up. And every Thursday morning, the local feed store gets 300 chicks. By Thursday afternoon, almost all the chicks are gone. By Thursday night, there’s not a single one left. Isn’t that crazy? Every week in early spring, hundreds of chicks are given homes in the backyards of the Texas hill country. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one crazy enough to keep adding chickens to our homestead every year. But, apparently, I’m either not as crazy as I thought or there’s a LOT of crazy people living within a 30 mile radius of that feed store. Like every year, this spring, my chicken-crazed kids had asked to raise another batch of chicks. There was no way I could say no when my eldest daughter handed me a glass milk jar filled with money. Without me knowing it, she had been saving for her very own Golden Laced Polish chickens for weeks. Well, if we were going to do this, again, I wanted my husband’s help picking out the healthiest dozen. So, on a Tuesday night, I opened the calendar on his laptop left on the kitchen counter and added “Chickens” at 8 a.m. on Thursday, March 10th. Our alarms sounded early that day so we could be outside the feed store well before opening. Believe it or not, there’s often a line of people waiting for the store to open on chick day. As we pulled into the parking lot, my husband started getting texts from his confused ER residents wanting to know what “Chickens” at 8 a.m. meant. Oh no! Somehow I had added it to my husband’s shared Google work calendar instead of his personal one!! One text was a photo of the ER resident schedule, and indeed every resident had been alerted that there was “Chickens at 8 a.m.” Our children thought mommy’s mistake was hilarious and so did I! Moments later though, our smiles turned to frowns when the clerk unlocked the front door and told us the chicks had come in yesterday, a day early this week, and were already sold out!! Later in the day, a resident had a quick exchange with my husband that went something like: “Did you get your chicks?” says resident. “No, sold out,” says sad husband. “Of course they were, we all knew it was time to get us some chicks. Next time don’t put it on our calendar, and maybe there’ll be some left for you!” jokes resident. Well, my husband and I don’t like to wait when our mind is made up to do something, so that morning, we drove straight home and ordered one of the last batches available directly from a hatchery (yes, you can mail-order live chicks). Mission accomplished — our chicks are on their way. And, my husband’s ER residents happened to learn an important lesson of the day should they ever franch, “Chicks sell out fast, and you better have a good plan to get them before they’re gone.”
It was time to do what you likely don’t want to read about. But, castrating our male lambs is a part of life on a franch. Otherwise, there would be brothers making babies with sisters in our pastures. It’s not something we do every day. So, every time it’s that time of year, we do a quick Google and YouTube search to refresh our memories. It’s something you don’t want to get wrong because…well…because that would just be wrong. My husband was at the kitchen table with his laptop searching online about using rubber castration bands with his castration assistants (our children) watching over his shoulder. They came across a way that we didn’t know, and now can’t un-know (and now neither can you!). Did you know that shepherds would once use their teeth to castrate their lambs? It’s even still talked about today as a possible method, though not recommended. I’m serious. Aren’t you thankful to be born in this day and age? Thank goodness times have changed. I get that testicles are slippery and hard to hold on to, but your teeth?! Here’s how it went: A shepherd’s knife would be used to cut the bottom of the lamb scrotum and the testicles would be pulled out with the teeth, sliced off with the knife, and the bloody testicles spat on the ground. I don’t know anything about you, but I do know that right now you’re totally grossed out and likely clenching your teeth or crossing your legs! I liked an anonymous “poem” in the comments of one site describing this old way, “Perhaps they were hungry or born of poor fate. I’m glad for my fortune, no sheep to castrate.” One good thing of now knowing the old-fashioned way is that it makes our way today less unpleasant to think about, and even my kids seemed less disturbed about what they were about to do as they went off to the barn with the rubber rings and elastrator tool in hand. “How’d it go?” I queried my husband and children when they later came in from the barn. It seemed to take longer than I had expected. My son explained why, “It was really tricky to get those testicles to stay in the band. They just kept slipping back up.” (Well, that’s certainly a comment you don’t want to take out of context!). It made me chuckle and I replied, “Well, I guess there is some sense in the old-fashioned way after all, isn’t there?”