There are days on the franch that are simply exhausting. I wanted to be able to say “today was one of ‘em” but last night I was simply too tired to write. Some evenings my husband and I collapse on our couch both asking why we are making our lives harder by living on a franch. We don’t have to do anything that we do on our franch. We are in fact choosing to do it. Actually, that’s the way it is with most of life, isn’t it? It helps on those harder days to remember it’s a choice. Occasionally, we romanticize what life would be like without all the responsibilities that come with farm animals. Then, thankfully, there are days, like yesterday, when we rub our sore muscles smiling at each other as we listen to our children re-tell the stories from a day well lived. Yesterday our family butchered the first round of broiler chickens on our own in our backyard. Our children are participating in a chicken competition at an upcoming junior livestock show. As we get closer to show day, only certain birds meet the standards of the judge so those that do not measure up can be butchered early. It was a day all of us worked side-by-side in the fresh outdoor air from sunup to sundown. It began first appreciating the life of each chicken. We all expressed the heart-wrenching hardship of picking up a chicken from its pen to be butchered moments later. Prior to choosing that first broiler, we had yet another family debate over whether we’d finally become vegetarians as we were all emotional and hesitant about starting the process. Then, it was unanimously decided that we love our homemade chicken wings on Super Bowl Sunday. (We aren’t ashamed of our love of chicken wings and apparently we’re not alone – it is estimated that 1.25 billion chicken wings were devoured during Super Bowl XLVII!). Yesterday, we didn’t need to lecture our children on the importance of teamwork. This lesson was learned in how we all depended on each other to complete their assigned tasks for the process to go smoothly. Something we will always remember about yesterday was how our five year old daughter was set on proving she was as grown up as her siblings. She didn’t bring us over to where the lines are in the garage marking her height to show how she’s grown over the past year. Instead, she firmly planted her feet beside the butchering table and watched the entire process with determined, wide-opened eyes. Last year, only four years old, she had insisted on helping and then immediately erupted into hysterics crying, “I thought you were only going to take its feathers off.” (To this day, I don’t know where she came up with the idea that that was happening. It isn’t like she’s ever seen an alive chicken scurrying about without its feathers before?). Once she knew she could handle what was happening, she eagerly asked for ways to help and then worked at her tasks as much as the rest of us did at ours. At the end of the very long and tiring day, you could see in all of our expressions a real sense of accomplishment in yet again raising our own food. We are indeed choosing to live a more exhausted life by living on a franch. But, for us, it means a fuller life with everyday experiences for our family that I once only read about. And if I could live all these days on our franch over again like the movie Groundhog Day, I’d happily live them the same way every time. Exhausted by all we do. Yet, at the same time, energized by all we do each day. Life’s good on the franch. And now you all know what we’ll be eating come Super Bowl Sunday.
Christmas on the franch isn’t anything like the paintings in the Norman Rockwell Christmas collection. Our life is actually pretty much the opposite of his artwork. But, the imperfections of our day lead to good laughs and memories. It’d be interesting to see how an artist would paint our Christmas on the franch. The first piece of work portraying our day would be of our children pulling on overalls over their pajamas. In the background, there’d be unopened presents still under the Christmas tree. It’s expected that morning chores be completed first even on Christmas day. Excitedly, our children go about their barn responsibilities as they guess the contents of the wrapped boxes of different shapes and sizes. The artist would later have to paint our children opening their gifts with hay on their pajamas from filling up the feeding troughs, wet sleeves from cleaning out the chicken waterers, and dirt under their fingernails from a quick barn sweep. In an art gallery exhibit of Christmas on the franch, you’d see watercolors of unusual gifts unwrapped on Christmas morning. One year, my husband decided it wasn’t right for his lady to sit on an overturned bucket while milking the goats. So, my special gift was a homemade milking stool. Needless to say, my husband isn’t gifted in the craft of woodworking so his plans of a stable three-legged stool didn’t quite work out. But, that wobbly, lopsided four-legged stool remains one of my favorite gifts ever and is proudly on display in my dining room. (And, by the way, I still sit on an overturned bucket to milk our goats). Another gift likely only a francher would be grateful to open on Christmas morning is an automatic water bucket. A painting of me beside a Christmas tree with a genuine smile and sparkling eyes holding an automatic waterer could very well be hanging on the wall of a gallery someday. Anything automatic on the franch is time saved for a busy franch girl. Painting our Christmas stockings hung over the fireplace would frustrate any artist because their work would never be finished. You see, our children insist on a stocking for their animals. And, the animals are always changing on our franch. My poor mother gets requests for her hand-sewn stockings almost every year as new animals arrive either through a sale or birth. Then, there are the stockings that stay in the Christmas storage bin out in the shed the next year (like the one for the dog that wouldn’t stop eating our chickens, and the one for the calf that was sold, and then there’s the one for the lamb butchered earlier in the year…). Unexpectedly, there was one brief moment during this year’s Christmas celebration that our family felt like Norman Rockwell’s The Thanksgiving Picture. Except it wasn’t roasted turkey. Instead, even better, we served fresh roast leg of lamb with rosemary. It was a lamb born and raised on our franch. And, each of the main ingredients of the side dishes was fresh from our winter garden. On the table with the lamb was creamed cabbage, sweet-n-sour beets with apples, broccoli sunshine salad, mashed potatoes, and fresh pumpkin pie from one half-green, half-orange pumpkin that had barely made it through an early frost and had surprisingly ripened off the vine in our barn. We all marveled that what was before us on the table was grown with our own hands. Though I must admit that something about our meal wasn’t perfect. We had planned such an extensive menu that it was served four hours later than promised. So, by the time we were gathered at the table, our children were already full from eating candy canes and chocolate stocking stuffers all day. Our family definitely doesn’t live up to the perfect standards of a Rockwell painting at Christmas or any time of the year, but what family does?
Whether you believe it to be true or not, I think we all can agree it’s the greatest love story ever told. The story is written in the most read book in the history of the world. The plot of any romance novel or movie pales in comparison. It’s the story of how the Savior of the world humbly began his life in a stable and willingly gave his life on a cross. Our franch helps us teach our children the reality of His birth. You see, your mama’s manger scene doesn’t tell the whole truth of that day. His birth did indeed happen in a stable. But, the nativity scenes sold in stores are clean, fresh, and flawless. Well, this isn’t really the case for any place farm animals are kept. For one, our barn is always dirty and dusty no matter how frequently the children sweep. Our children are used to their friends holding their noses because of the smell of fresh manure in our barn. We think of our feeding trough that’s bent and dented as it’s used twice a day every day to feed our livestock. It’s licked repeatedly, pushed over, and rolled in the dirt as the animals search for every last grain pellet. It’s likely that the feeding trough that cradled the hero of the world wasn’t brand new or scrubbed perfectly clean by Mary and Joseph. Our children have played on our hay bales for hours, but I’ve never found them asleep on the hay because it’s simply not a comfortable bedding choice. Yet, hay is what kept Him warm in the manger. A stable is also certainly not the most peaceful place for a newborn to sleep. Our drafty barn is filled with noise as the wind rattles the barn doors and all the farm animals make their Old McDonald sounds. The King of kings surely deserved a beginning opposite to circumstances such as these. But, God’s plan for His son was not a high-profile birth in an elegant palace on a hilltop. Instead, He came to earth in the lowliest of circumstances. Why? It’s all in His name, Immanuel, which means God with us. He wasn’t hidden behind some elegant gate guarded by an army of soldiers living a pampered, privileged life like the kings and queens of the ages. He was born in a barn so that even the lowly and filthy shepherds wouldn’t feel ashamed to go to Bethlehem to see Him. And so, our manger scenes could use a handful of dirt to remind us of what God was willing to do to show His love for us all. But, before you sprinkle some dirt on your mama’s antique nativity scene, you might want to first tell her why.
Our chickens give us fresh eggs every day. Correction: we take fresh eggs from our chickens every day. Sometimes we snatch ‘em right from under them as they rest peacefully in their nesting boxes. You may think chickens aren’t aware or don’t care that the eggs they’re laying disappear every evening at chore time. Well, one day, we were surprised to find a pile of about twenty chicken eggs in the middle of a cactus! Our chickens preferred the spines of a cactus to a clean nesting box filled with fluffy flakes. Why? Their eggs remained where they laid them for days. Chickens care. So, our children work really hard to give the chickens a comfortable and happy life. Our family decided to do something special with the eggs we collect from our chickens. We often have more eggs than we can use in a week so we give them to our friends. Our friends in turn give a donation which collects in a jar on our kitchen hutch. Our children save all of this money to donate livestock through a charity organization that works to end hunger and poverty around the world by providing livestock and training to struggling communities. All families receiving a gift of an animal through this charity agree to give an offspring of each gifted animal to another family in need. Our chicken eggs have thus far provided goats, bees, chickens and recently, a water buffalo for a struggling community. It’s incredible to think that the offspring of our children’s donated livestock are blessing even more. This has been an awesome opportunity to teach our children how to bless others with the blessings they’ve received. All that we have is after all from the generous hands of God above, and so we actually only give what has been given to us. I think if our chickens understood what their eggs have done, they’d never think about laying their eggs in a cactus again.
I was sprawled out on the ground. I felt the wet grass of the pasture soaking my pajamas. I could smell a pile of fresh horse manure nearby. I blinked my eyes as the raindrops pelleted my face. Charlie was standing over me looking guilty and repentant. How did I not see that coming? He must have watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving with our children at some point. Clearly, he knew what happened to Charlie Brown when Lucy pulled the football away. Charles Schulz, the founder of the Peanuts comic, once explained why Charlie Brown never got to kick that football, “You can’t create humor out of happiness.” Well, I certainly wasn’t happy lying in that muddy pasture with Charlie looking down on me. So, this better make you laugh. Charlie had sidestepped just in time so my kick didn’t make contact with him. I had lost my balance. Thud. Just like Charlie Brown. The “Lucy” in this story is a Great Pyrenees dog named Charlie. He was a rescue that we were trying to rehabilitate. He had been abandoned and left to roam and survive on his own in a rural Texas town. Sadly, our patience with him was wearing thin because he was killing and eating a chicken every few months. Each time he seemed to understand his wrongdoing and his sheepish eyes convinced me that he’d never do it again. Yet, it went on. The first chicken he ate, leaving only feathers behind, was named “Fence.” Yes, you know, the one our four-year-old would play hide-n-seek with for hours. The heartache of telling her what happened to Fence was still fresh in my mind that day. I will always remember her carefully voicing each word, one at a time, as she caught her breath between her cries. “Not (sniffle) Fence (sniffle), she (sniffle) was (sniffle) my (sniffle) best (sniffle), best (sniffle) friend (weep).” That day, out of the corner of my eye and through a back window, I spotted Charlie in the pasture with yet another chicken in his mouth. Without hesitation, I sprinted out the door, still in my pajamas, into the pouring rain and through the pasture gate full speed toward the dog. He saw me coming. He immediately dropped the chicken (it’s still alive!) as I planted my foot on the ground and swung the back leg toward him. He moved just one step to the left and I missed him completely. I don’t remember the last time I fell that hard on the ground. As the dust settled and I sat up, I glanced over making eye contact with the stunned chicken. I know that at least one time in my life I thought the same thing as a chicken. “Did that really just happen?”
One day, like every day, I was hurrying to cook dinner. My then four-year-old daughter skipped in from outside and announced, “Fence likes to hide in the white cabinet.” You need to know that Fence is the name of her favorite chicken (the reason for the name is another story). I responded the way I always do when I’m distracted on the franch and not really listening to my children, “Wow, that’s interesting.” I began to chop the cucumbers for the salad and requested that she set the table. Once finished with her chore, ten minutes later, she immediately asked to be excused to go back to playing her game. “What game are you playing?” I asked finally giving her my full attention. She explained matter-of-factly that it’s a game of hide-n-seek and the chicken had chosen a good place to hide. Her earlier words started to make sense. “Show me!” She led me out to the garage and opened the white cabinet with all the sporting equipment. Hilarious! Fence was indeed inside and seemed very relieved to be found. I don’t know why that surprised me as much as it did. Our children have developed very strong and meaningful relationships with their farm animals. Life on the franch is quite busy, so sometimes scheduling time with the children’s human friends gets postponed. When that happens, it makes me feel better knowing there are some real benefits of having friendships with farm animals. I will only name a few. First, it warms a mother’s heart so see how happy the animals are to see the children. All the animals come running when our children head out to the barn (even when it isn’t around feeding time). Secondly, farm friends have a positive influence on the self-esteem of our children. Our children do not feel judged by the animals in any way for who they are or the way they look. Third, I don’t have to worry about my children running with the wrong crowd or negative peer pressure. Even though there is a chicken posse on our franch, the worst they do is trespass in the garden and ruin plants with their aggressive pecking and scratching feet. Our children usually do not play games of “copy me” where the animals choose the action to be imitated. So, they learn to be confident in their choice to not always do what their friends are doing. A fourth benefit is that our children almost daily hone their shepherding skills. Our children are always in the lead of any sort of follow-the-leader game with the sheep and goats. Our children also get a lot of exercise chasing the chickens who’d rather play a game of “you-can’t-catch-me” instead of going into the coop on their own in the evenings. Yet another benefit of farm friendships is that the silly antics of farm friends are always making them laugh. And lastly, a game of hide-n-seek never ends in tears as the farm friend is always easily found.
Do you remember learning the four types of literary conflicts in high school literature class? Let me refresh your memory. They’re man versus man, man versus nature, man versus society, and man versus self. Well, there’s one more that isn’t in the textbooks. It’s man versus water pipe. Now, do you remember all the elements of a good story? The story I’m about to tell you is non-fiction. It takes place on our franch. There is only one character to develop in my story. It’s my husband. He is incredibly skilled with a stethoscope and intubation tube but not so much with a pipe wrench and plunger. The setting is in the barn and pastures near water troughs or anywhere there’s an outdoor pipe. The plot of this story repeats itself every couple of months. A pipe starts leaking. Sometimes a few days pass before we realize there’s a problem. It’s usually when our well runs dry and there isn’t any water coming from the kitchen faucet in the morning. Often still in pajamas, a frantic search ensues for a puddle of water. You’d think the climax of the tale would be when the leak is located. Not quite yet. It’s just the beginning of man versus water pipe. It usually takes several attempts to get water flowing again. This occurs over several days (sometimes weeks) because my husband also has to save lives in the emergency department. He’ll return home one day from a shift having inserted a tube into a patient’s windpipe to restore airflow and feel inspired to finish the pipe repair that restores water to the barn. The climax of the story is when we no longer have to fill the water troughs with buckets of water from a house faucet. The theme of the story is that mistakes are opportunities to learn something new. Each way that doesn’t work in repairing the water pipe is actually a step forward in the right direction. My husband rarely makes the same mistake twice so he’s eventually successful as George Bernard Shaw encouraged, “Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.” Conflict, in whatever form it takes, can make us grow in ways we never anticipated. I must admit, my husband has become quite skilled at outdoor plumbing. Still, even with all his successes at the barn, only expert plumbers fix the pipes inside our franch house. I don’t think my husband is quite ready to take on “man versus wife.”
Is it a dream of yours to someday become a francher? If so, a sense of humor is required. Don’t do it otherwise. The only way our family can live on a franch without losing our minds is that we have no problem laughing at ourselves. There are many things that have happened on our franch that if we hadn’t seen the humor in it there would have been a “For Sale” sign on our front lawn the next day. We also don’t mind people laughing at us either – we’re usually laughing louder than them anyway! No doubt, you’ve all heard that “laughter is the best medicine.” This originated from Proverbs 17:22, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” You can easily find information written about how and why laughter and humor greatly benefits our physical, mental, and social well-being. So, if you’ve laughed with or at us living the franch life, you’re welcome. You’re now a bit healthier! And it means you have a sense of humor. So, you can go ahead and get the franch!
That’s a good guess. But, I’m not talking about my in-laws. My in-laws are in fact pretty cool. It’s all the critters that think our barn was built for them. Our experience with barn intruders all began when our grain bins were dumped over several days in a row. So, we assembled our first trap to catch the culprit. Hilariously, the first thing we caught was a hen. Oops. It was soon freed once the children declared her innocent. Next, we captured our barn cat! Oops again. Well, it turns out we were housing a family of raccoons and all their cousins. Over the next couple of weeks, we became quite the ‘coon trappers and could have clothed our entire family with coonskin caps like frontiersman Davy Crockett and explorer Meriwether Lewis. Our then 3 year old pitied one of the trapped overweight raccoons, so she colored a raccoon family picture and placed it on the cage as a gift. Apparently, raccoons do not like coloring pages, or perhaps it’s that they don’t like their kind being colored all the colors of the rainbow. The paper was completely shredded within 15 minutes. Eventually, our bins did finally stay upright overnight and the traps were empty every morning. Word must have spread quickly among the Hill Country brush that we had become ruthless trappers. Or maybe it’s because we moved all our grain bins to the tack room and locked the door every night. It doesn’t really matter why – we outsmarted those raccoons. One problem solved. Soon after, we were reminded of the predation-prey theory which we learned years ago in ecology class. You see, our barn cats could not get in to the locked tack room but the mice could still find a way in through the cracks, and we were soon overrun with mice. Sticky glue traps were the answer for those unwelcome guests. Our success in eliminating the mice had one unfortunate consequence. We actually almost lost one of the chicks being raised in the tack room. It had escaped the brooder-ring and decided to test out how sticky the mousetrap really was. I was able to free the thing even though most of its feathers remained behind (thankfully, feathers grow back and it’s now a fully feathered healthy hen). Exhaustingly, our battle against unwelcome guests continues to this day. Our barn is present-day home to the smelliest of all guests. A skunk! Oddly, it likes to spray our tractor wheel for some unknown reason. We recently read advice that playing music in your barn will keep critters out. So, we’ve been blaring continuous Christmas music for the past week in our barn. Hopefully, the skunk shares views on Christmas that are similar to Mr. Grinch’s opinions (prior to his heart change!). So, if you’re ever visiting the franch, and you start hearing Christmas music 24-7, it may be a sign you’ve overstayed your welcome.
I simply love writing about our adventures on the franch. A friend recently inquired, “You are surely going to run out of stories to tell, aren’t you?” I immediately responded, “That isn’t possible – you know who I’m married to.” Life with my husband is never dull. There is always a new adventure to be lived. Our family once visited nearby Enchanted Rock with my parents, which is a massive rock dome formation rising approximately 425 feet above the surrounding terrain in Central Texas. It had been a very long day of touring the Hill Country and we were all quite worn out. I had also been the victim of a poisonous asp caterpillar sting at a nearby winery only an hour prior. How could we possibly now complete a hike on this rock, all before sunset? As we stood observing how those on the rock summit were the size of an asp caterpillar, I turned to my exhausted parents and warned, “We are here with my husband, so…we’re going to the top.” I think we must have set a record for our climb that day with three children in tow. I don’t know how it happens, but my husband always seems to fit in way more than there is time to do every day. You’ll often hear me say on our franch, “We don’t have time for that!” Yet, somehow we do one more thing. I feel like we live a decade in every one year of life together. So don’t fret, I will never run out of stories to tell.