every life lesson can be learned

Month: January 2015

Life’s Too Good on the Franch

On our franch, there is a small cabin only about 25 feet away from our back patio.  I really needed it to be a ranch hand house.  But, I can’t afford a ranch hand.  So, it has become a guesthouse for my in-laws and parents.  This year, they both let us know that they were planning extended stays with us.  So, I came up with a perfect plan.  They could be my part-time ranch hands.  This would work well for two reasons.  First, extra franch chores that would take our family weeks to complete would be accomplished sooner.  And second, I figured posting a long list of chores on the door of their guesthouse would eventually exhaust them, keeping their stay to a reasonable length.  Apparently, life’s too good on the franch.  One month ago, my in-laws arrived.  And, they’re still here.  During this visit, it seemed the more they lived each day on the franch, the more they wanted to stay.  And I couldn’t tire them out…they helped our children show chickens at the junior livestock show, helped butcher a second batch of chickens, helped prepare delicious meals from our garden harvests and with our homegrown chicken and lamb, assisted in training our border collie, cleaned out the barn, and delivered our goat to a fellow rancher to breed with his buck.  And, my father-in-law was even upset with us that we didn’t have a goat milking – he said he was looking forward to spending hours milking and making goat cheese!  Well, I am very blessed to have wonderful in-laws, but you all know what’s it’s like to have guests for after just three days.  And, it’s been a month!  Ironically, it was my father-in-law who first told me years ago the old truism found in Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, “Fish and visitors stink after three days.”  The idea is that fish left out start to stink, and so do visitors who keep prolonging a visit.  My in-laws promise they’re leaving on Tuesday, but I’ll believe it when I see their taillights at the end of our driveway.  I get why it’s hard to leave.  I agree, life’s good on the franch.  I’m ready for them to go.  But, the catch-22 of family visits is that I know as soon as the gate closes behind them, I’ll miss them.  This past month, life has been especially good on the franch.

*Note: I received permission from my in-laws to write about them in this way!  Thankfully, they have a sense of humor.  And they agreed with a smile, “Life’s too good on the franch.”

Sunday Best with Dirty Fingernails

Sitting in the church pew, all in our Sunday best, my kindergartner points her finger at the words of the hymn.  I slowly guide her hand so her finger follows along with the worship leaders.  I notice the dirt underneath her fingernails.  I glance at my son’s fingers flipping the pages of the Bible as he whispers the order of the books from memory to locate the scripture reading for the sermon.  His fingernails are dirty as well.  I inspect mine.  Yep, dirty.  Thankfully, for me, the white tips of a recent French manicure hide the dirt.  It’s odd – I’m only a tiny bit embarrassed.  You may think there is no excuse for dirty fingernails.  We live at a time where there’s probably hand sanitizer of some sort within an arm’s reach of you.  They come in every shape, size, color and fragrance – and they’re everywhere, some near your sink and even on your key chains.  Yes, it’s important to have good personal hygiene.  But, I like that our children are not afraid to get dirty too.  Did you know that there are even studies by immunologists and psychologists revealing that getting down and dirty in the outdoors helps children lead healthier, happier lives?  Some of these studies actually recommend parents go on occasional field trips to farms!  Well, I say – get a franch!  I especially like knowing that it isn’t just any old dirt – it’s garden soil from harvesting vegetables for the day’s meals, it’s dust from grooming the horse, it’s dander from scratching our dogs behind their ears, it’s grain crumbles scooping out feed from the bins.  Still sitting in the church pew (it’s thankfully a long sermon today), the dirt beneath our fingernails reminds me of my kindergartener’s recent Sunday school lesson.  It was about how the Lord formed man out of the dust from the ground.  You see, dirt isn’t so bad after all.

Rocking Chairs that Don’t Rock

If you were asked to paint a picture of a farmhouse, you would likely include a big porch with rocking chairs.  In the backyard, you’d likely paint an inviting hammock between two massive trees. If you took a drive out to the country on a quiet Sunday afternoon, you’d expect that to be part of the scenery.  One day I was thinking how our home has a big front porch and huge live oak trees in the backyard, but it was still missing the rocking chairs on the porch and the hammock hung between the trees.  Here I am writing about living on a ranch with farm animals and we didn’t have what you think of when you think of someone living the country life.  So, I asked my husband for a hammock for Mother’s Day.  He responded, “Really? You see a lot of hammocks but you never see anyone lying in ’em.”  Hmmm, true.  The children overheard our conversation and made daddy get me what I wanted because I’m their mommy not his.  I relaxed in that hammock only a handful of times those first few weeks.  But, I admit, I haven’t since.  Yet, that didn’t stop me from later the same year requesting rocking chairs for our front porch as a birthday gift.  I remember waiting for him to say something about how that hammock he got me only moves on windy days.  He instead lovingly responded with a “Yes, dear, whatever will make you happy.”  So, I began a routine of rocking on my front porch with my cup of coffee every morning.  But, this was short-lived, ending the day after the day after my birthday.  It’s likely your painting of a farmhouse wouldn’t have a farmer relaxing on the porch anyway.  It’s because one thinks of the farmer as always being in the pasture, or in the garden, or at the barn doing something that farmers do.  That’s where they are and that’s where I am.  The rocking chairs and hammocks would have to be empty for your painting to be an accurate portrayal of life on a franch.

It’s All About the Breast

My face was only inches from the vent of a chicken.  I realized I was breathing through my mouth and tightly closed my lips.  You see, everything that comes out of a chicken comes out of its vent.  I certainly don’t mind seeing an egg suddenly appear up close – I like eggs.  But, most of the time, it isn’t an egg.  So, it was difficult to keep my attention on the judge as I kept glancing at the vent for a warning sign that the dreaded was about to happen.  My eldest daughter was beside me skillfully handling her meat chicken with a confident smile and with her eyes fixed on the judge.  My poor friend was on the other side of her.  I felt a twinge of guilt that we had left out some details (namely that chicken poop may be squirted on her face) when she agreed to help my daughter show a pen of three chickens at the county poultry show.  As the judge came our way, the three of us had moved our chickens from their resting position like a football under our arm.  We were now holding the chickens upside-down by their legs with their breasts exposed and readied for the judge’s hands – hands which are trained to judge the quality of the chicken by the size and dimensions and tapering of its breasts.  He even has a college degree to prove it.  We all obey his instructions as he moves us around the arena ordering each pen of chickens and the children holding them from last to best.  Six weeks ago these chickens were a day old and now they are nearly 10 pounds.  The arena is packed with children competing for a belt buckle and a higher rank in the upcoming livestock auction where local companies bid on all the livestock shown at the competition.  Our children save whatever they win at livestock shows for college savings.  So, our final location in the arena can mean the difference between being able to fund the cost of a semester’s worth of books and funding an entire semester of classes.  I scan the arena wondering who knows the secrets to growing the meatiest chicken breast this year.  Every person who has ever shown chickens has opinions on what gets you in the top ten of any poultry show.  Last year, it was whispered in our ear to mix chicken feed with melted lard as we neared the show.  I chuckle softly remembering how embarrassing it was to fill a cart full of tubs of lard at the local grocery store.  We took every last tub from the bottom shelf of the baking aisle that day.  We figured that it wasn’t a high-selling item and we were doing a service to others in our community forcing them to make healthier eating choices for a while if there wasn’t any lard left in town to cook with (it’s likely there aren’t truckloads of lard replenishing their supply on a daily basis).  Well, the lard may have worked – a 10th place ribbon hangs in our barn from last year’s show.  A previous champion mentioned to us that red sprinkles in their feed encourage chickens to eat.  Chickens are attracted to red, I learned.  So, this year, we covered our feed in red sprinkles.  I had decided to do a big online order of red sugar sprinkles.  That way, I didn’t have to explain to a store clerk why my basket was filled with a few dozen red sprinkles.  The judge finally seemed satisfied with how he ordered us and reached for the microphone.  The audience quieted to listen to his reasoning which was basically “these breasts are bigger than those.”  The ribbons were handed out.  Our children’s chickens’ breasts were seventh.  Our children were happy to have improved in the standings this year.  We still have yet to learn the secret to earning the buckle though.  Our children already started talking about next year so I know I’ll be spending more time near the vent of a chicken in the future.  Thankfully, the friend who helped is still my friend.  And as a thank you, some prized chicken breasts will soon be delivered to her freezer.

To-Do Lists on the Franch

A quick and easy way to get to know someone is to read his or her to-do list.  If they don’t have one, well, that says something too.  I never would have imagined years ago that my to-do list would read the way it does today.  Here is an example of some of a recent to-do list:

* Butcher 48 chickens

* Deliver milking goat to breeder so we can have fresh goat milk in 5 months

* Give goat Chlamydia vaccine before she meets buck

* Sign up kids for basketball season

* Clean out kids closets to donate clothing and toys

* Clean out laying hen chicken coop and put down fresh bedding

* Wrap exposed barn pipes to prepare for upcoming freezing temperatures

* Write a better post for franchlife.com

* Give horse dewormer, and dogs theirs too

* Prepare for in-laws stay in guest house

* Call veterinarian to float horse teeth

* Schedule private banjo lesson for husband (this is a must if you ever buy your husband his first banjo and all he knows how to play is “Boil ’em Cabbage Down”)

* Trim sheep hooves and ear tag recent lambs

* Start training border collie puppy for sheep herding (well, first, learn how to train border collie for sheep herding)

* Borrow sheep shear clippers for upcoming sheep show

* Schedule babysitter for date night

* Sweep barn (this one isn’t ever checked off, as soon as I finish sweeping the other end of the barn is already dirty)

* Take kids to library (this should probably be up at the top of the list)

* Organize supplies and equipment as calving time nears for our two cows due in February

* Make an appointment for a pedicure or massage (this one is for me, not an animal)

I also include errands off the franch on my lists.  You will almost always see the local feed store listed.  It comes in a close second to the grocery store of places most visited by me.  I’m proud to say that at least feeding my children remains the top priority.  If we kept all the to-do lists we’ve ever made, it’d be an interesting way to see how our priorities changed as we lived the seasons of our lives.  What does your to-do lists say about you?

The Day He Became a Hero

It wasn’t when he returned home from his first deployment to Iraq.  It wasn’t the day our children sprinted into his outstretched arms as the surrounding crowd cheered in the airport after his tour in Afghanistan either.  Our children were very proud of their father for serving in the military knowing how he worked tirelessly to save the lives of injured soldiers.  But, he didn’t become a hero in our children’s eyes until the day they witnessed with their own eyes their father in a life-n-death moment on our franch.  The story goes…  The first cow on our franch had given birth before our family just moments ago.  Our children had witnessed the miracle of birth, something that my husband and I dreamed years before that a franch would give to our children.  But, immediately my husband knew something had gone wrong.  All of a sudden, my husband was beside the still calf all the way across the field.  I don’t even remember how he got from next to me to that calf without what seemed like any time passing.  He yelled out that she wasn’t breathing.  I remember it being in such a way that he wasn’t yelling it at us.  He was yelling it to himself.  He later said that all he could think of was how his children couldn’t witness something so wonderful end so horribly.  All the years of study and practice in responding immediately to life-n-death situations with a calm mind and steady hands made him seem as though he had rehearsed every move he made.  He pulled away the amniotic sac that was covering the calf’s nose and preventing her first breath.  Still not breathing.  So, he effortlessly picked her up and draped her over the fence.  Holding her head upright, he cleared the fluid away from her nose and tickled her nostrils to promote her breathing.  Still not breathing.  Without hesitation, he blew his first breath into the nostrils of the calf.  Still not breathing.  Again.  Again.  Then, again.  Until the next breathe was the calf’s first.  My husband immediately carried her over to mama cow and it was amazing to see the instincts of a first-time mother cow caring for her calf.  “Daddy, you’re a hero!” yelled one, then all of our children.  They were beaming with pride over what their daddy had done.  He turned to us with a huge grin.  His beard was dripping wet with amniotic fluid tinted a dark red and who knows what else.  Without any hesitation, I kissed him anyway!  He had indeed saved her life!  Our youngest daughter to this day likes to tell of how her father became a hero when he gave, in her words, “mouth to face” to save our calf.



First Day in Life of Calf video

Dancing on the Franch

You may recall that my husband and I struggle to find rhythm with each other to smoothly cut a piece of wood with a two-man saw.  So, I knew going to a dance hall to do some Texas two-step was likely to end in some sore toes.  But, it was my husband’s birthday request, so I put aside my barn boots and pulled on my fancy cowboy boots and took his arm with a smile.  I agreed with my husband that everyone who owns land in Texas should know how to two-step.  Thankfully, it isn’t that complicated of a dance.  But, we soon learned it’s way more difficult than the simple back-n-forth motion of the two-man saw action.  It’s two quick steps and then two slow steps.  Instruction videos (yes, I admit, we practiced on our franch before we left for the evening) had promised it’s an easy dance to learn, “It’s just like walking.”  That doesn’t sound hard, does it?  But, add in some turns and spins and side-by-side moves and then somehow my husband was on the first quick step and I was on the first slow step.  And, it doesn’t work unless I let my husband lead and I follow.  I kept forgetting that.  We had a couple of near collisions with other dancers.  Thankfully, they were all friendly and forgiving.  Maybe because our lack of skill had them feeling good about their rhythm that evening.  Others had noticed our fun and they smiled at us as we laughed at all our mistakes on the dance floor.  At one point, an older couple tapped my husband’s shoulder.  My first thought was that we were so bad we were actually getting tapped out and it wasn’t even a dance competition.  To my surprise, they actually wanted our permission to take pictures of us for some dance hall advertisement!  The caption of our photo will likely read, “Everyone is welcome, even those who don’t know how to dance.”  You see, the definition of “dance” is to move rhythmically to music following a set sequence of steps.  And so, I don’t think I can say we ever “danced” that evening.  We both occasionally moved with the rhythm of the music during the evening but hardly ever at the same time.  Since it’s a partner dance, that’s a problem.  We did the steps but not always in any sequence that made any sense.  In the end, all our missteps didn’t matter because we had a blast doing whatever you want to call it.  We are now determined to attempt all the moves of the Texas two-step.  So, don’t be surprised if you overhear us in our barn repeating “quick-quick-slow-slow” (pause) “quick-quick-slow-slow.”  We’ll probably be shoveling dirty stall bedding into a wheelbarrow.  But, maybe, one day, you’ll find us dancing.

New Year’s with Chickens

I rushed inside with my muck boots still on to check the kitchen clock.  Our family had already celebrated the New Year with my visiting in-laws earlier in the evening before my husband left for his night shift in the Emergency Department.  We had pretended it was midnight and had counted down from “10 to Happy New Year” with a balloon drop over the balcony of our stairway.  Our children and my in-laws had soon after gone to bed.  But, I had stayed up looking forward to relaxing by our fireplace, reflecting on the past year, and counting the seconds down to the real New Year.  Well, I had decided at 11:40 p.m. that there was still plenty of time left in 2014 to check on our children’s show chickens.  Re-filling their waterers with fresh water and piling more feed on their feeders apparently had taken a little longer than expected.  I had heard a flurry of fireworks exploding from distant parties.  But, I hadn’t thought 20 minutes could have passed so quickly, so I had figured our neighbors were warming up for their finale.  I even lingered a bit watching the happy chickens thankful for their fresh water and food.  I had then noticed that all of a sudden the skies had become quieter and that’s when I had sprinted at world record speed from the barn.  Standing in the kitchen breathless with a trail of mud mixed with chicken poop and bedding flakes on the tile behind me, I stared in disbelief at the clock.  12:04 a.m.  Seriously?  I had rung in the New Year in a barn with chickens.  Never again.  The next thing nailed to our barn wall will be a clock.

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