every life lesson can be learned

Month: February 2015

Gifts on the Franch

On our franch, you will find a horse, cows, chickens, goats, sheep, dogs, cats, fish and hermit crabs.  Doesn’t that sound like enough?  Our children don’t think so.  Each of God’s creatures offers a unique kind of relationship for a child.  So, with every birthday or holiday, it seems my husband and I almost always consider adding yet another kind of creature to that list.  Our most recent addition to our children’s list of loved creatures that they can call their own is an adopted bat named Cornelius.  Yes, I said, a bat.  Before you say “I would never…” you should know that bats are among the most misunderstood of animals but one of the most fascinating and ecologically indispensable animals on Earth.  Anyway, we were a little smarter choosing this gift for the children.  The children own the bat yet it remains at a bat sanctuary that rescues, rehabilitates, and provides a sanctuary for bats like Cornelius that can’t return to the wild.  Well, it’s been some time now since the bat became a part of our family.  And, our youngest daughter’s birthday is next month.  So, is it time to get a baby pig wearing a big red ribbon?


I was in the local feed store, again, and was considering buying a different brand of a stock tank float valve.  We were having issues with our float valves installed on the water troughs at the franch.  So, I figured perhaps it was time to invest in the more expensive brand.  I caught the eye of an employee walking by the aisle and asked, “May I ask you a question about these float valves?”  There was an awkward silence, as he seemed to be considering something about me, and then, he finally responded, “Yes, as long as I can ask you a question too?”  “Um, okay,” I said curiously, slowly nodding my head.  He gave his opinion about the choices of float valves on the shelf.  He mentioned the one we already have on our water troughs is purchased the most and how he has rarely heard complaints about it.  So, the float valve, I guess, isn’t to blame.  Yet again, the problem is likely something we’re doing wrong.  “Thank you for your help,” I said as I started to walk down the aisle.  But, he stopped me, “Now my question for you…,” and he smiled at me.  I felt awkward, wondering what he could possibly ask of me.  “Well, I thought maybe…” my mind raced through some responses I needed ready…“you’d like a compost bin for free?”  What?  A compost bin?  I was super relieved that I hadn’t interrupted to blurt out, “I’m happily married!”  Then, I laughed.  What was it about me that made him think I’m a woman looking to compost?  There were plenty of people in the feed store that morning, yet he choose to offer a compost bin to me.  Most people when offered something free just say yes.  Instead, I questioned him as to why he had chosen me.  He explained how he sees me in the feed store all of the time so I deserved something for free for once.  They needed the room on the shelves for a new brand and this particular one wasn’t selling fast enough, so it was mine if I wanted it.  I am not a lucky person by any means.  I don’t win raffles or door prizes or any of the hundreds of contests entered over the course of my life.  Finally, it was my lucky day!  I know I didn’t get a thousand dollars or a trip to Hawaii or tickets to an upcoming Spurs game – I jut got a compost bin.  But, maybe, this is the beginning of better luck in my life.  At the very least, we’ll likely have more luck with our garden this spring.

The Day a Calf Lived

I really don’t want to write that life isn’t always good on the franch.  But, it isn’t.  It’s 3 a.m. and I’m sitting in the dark in our living room with tears streaming down my face remembering the days just lived.  I go over in my mind how so many things could have gone differently.  Of course, I dwell on how it could have gone better, forgetting how it could have easily been worse.  On Valentine’s Day, our cow went into labor.  And we weren’t there.  We knew she was getting close to calving and so we had long debated cancelling our out-of-town plans.  But, my husband and I had trained for months to run a marathon and half-marathon, respectively.  It isn’t something you easily give up on.  So, we were staying in a nearby city overnight to run the race on the following early morning.  My poor parents (who, by the way, know nothing about birthing calves) and our children were in charge of the franch for the overnight.  It helped our decision to leave knowing that most of the time all goes well.  Usually, you wake up in the morning and there’s a calf beside her mom.  When my parents called to say that she was indeed in labor, we were excited that they were going to witness for the first time the beautiful miracle of birth on a farm.  My father was texting almost every 15 minutes as the evening hours passed.  But, it soon became clear that labor wasn’t progressing properly and the cow was showing signs of distress.  I knew my husband was worried when he grabbed the Franchlife shirt that I had given him for Christmas and pulled it on over his marathon shirt from our pre-race day packets.  He decided to make the long drive home, not knowing if he’d be back in time to complete his marathon, to save a calf.  We decided that I stay behind so at least one of us would for sure get to that finish line.  He made the drive in half the time and rushed into our two older children’s bedroom waking them up from a sound sleep.  My parents and children headed out to herd the still laboring cow from the dark pasture into the barn.  By this time, it was an emergency to figure out what was wrong.  My parents and children were alert and wide-eyed listening to every word of instruction spoken by my husband.  When he reached his arm into the cow, he found the calf dangerously breech but still alive.  The cow couldn’t give birth on her own and the calf needed to be pulled out immediately.  Every one did their roles amazingly.  My mom held the halter rope tight keeping the cow in the corner of the pen, while my husband and daughter and father wrapped twine around the back feet of the calf and, using a crowbar for leverage, pulled the calf from the mother cow.  Our daughter was hysterical, the whole time shouting, “Is it dead? Is it dead?”, yet doing everything asked of her with speed and accuracy.  My son overwhelmed by the scene dropped his head and let his hood fall over his eyes yet remained ready to respond to any request for a birthing tool lined up before him.  The calf was born within minutes, but wasn’t breathing.  It wasn’t over.  My husband did mouth-to-nose for what seemed like forever as the rest pleaded, “Come on, baby.  Breathe, baby, breathe.”  Even mama cow watched intently willing the calf to breathe its first breath.  Amazingly, its chest started rising and falling.  It was alive!  But, it wouldn’t stand up – and it showed signs that it had been too long without oxygen.  However, we all remained positive that it just needed some time to gain some strength.  My husband stayed well past midnight to help the calf in its first hours and to feed its first meal with a syringe as it couldn’t yet stand to drink mama cow’s colostrum.  He left my father with instructions on the morning feeding once he felt like the calf was on its way to doing well.  If there is ever such a thing as a Franchlife certificate, my parents will be honored in a grand ceremony for what they were willing to do for that calf.  In the early morning hours, my father and daughter went out to syringe-feed the calf risking their safety as the mama cow, now very protective over her calf, pawed the ground and threw her head about coming inches from them.  The calf was doing better, and my daughter even remarked, “It looks happy, poppy, it really likes you.”  In the meantime, my husband made it to the starting line after only three hours of sleep.  I ran every mile faster than any one of all the miles we ran in training.  And, my husband ran the marathon remarkably faster than his goal.  It wasn’t a runner’s high, it was a francher’s high – a calf’s life had been saved.  With medals around our necks, we started gathering our things happily chatting about what we were going to do the rest of the day to help the calf make steady progress.  It was by then late morning when my dad called and I had answered ready for him to say “Congratulations!”  I wasn’t expecting to hear, “The calf died.”  I didn’t want to believe it – it just couldn’t have died.  But, it had.  I’ve only seen my husband’s tears a few times in our years together – another time was when our daughter was in the NICU.  We arrived home to grieve with my parents and children.  My father told us how my daughter had gone missing and had run into his arms when he found her weeping alone in the barn.  It was incredibly heartbreaking to watch mama cow grieve for baby.  She kept nudging its lifeless body not understanding death.  My daughter had later in the day expressed how she wished the other cow who had given birth a couple of weeks ago had had twins so the grieving cow could now adopt one.  I need to go to bed so I think of the words of wisdom earlier said by my children knowing my husband and I were still very sad.  Their mature perspective helps some.  Our five year old had said, “Look around, mom, at all you still have.”  And our nine year old had said, “It’s very sad, it will always be sad, but we have to move on.”  I’m still crying thinking over and over about how we didn’t save the calf.  Suddenly, my daughter comes around the corner startling me.  My sobs woke her up and she snuggles in next to me.  In the middle of the night and half-asleep, she says, “Mom, I’m thankful God saved the calf so it could live one happy day.”

How’s the what?

“How’s the vulva?”  “How’s the size of the udder?”  I don’t even have to ask my children on their way in from chores the whole question any more…I say,  ”How’s the…” and I’m interrupted with the current status of our pregnant cow.  Our cow is well past when we expected her to give birth so we’ve all started to grow impatient.  Her vulva and udder has been the most talked about topic all week.  Observing changes in a pregnant cow’s udder and vulva can give clues as to when birth is imminent.  Shortly before birth, the teats fill and sometimes drip with colostrum, the important first milk for the calf.  Also, the ligaments around the tail and vulva relax as calving nears.  Thick mucous material emerging from the cow’s vulva can be another sign that she’s getting closer to labor.  Well, I know you’re wondering… “How’s the vulva and udder right now?”  It looks like we’ll have a calf in the next 12 hours.  Stay reading…

Wooden Egg Prank Gone Wrong

One way to deal with snakes that eat your chicken eggs is to put wooden eggs in the nesting boxes of your chicken coop.  But, if you do so, remember to tell your neighbor that there are wooden eggs along with the freshly laid eggs.  Otherwise, when she watches your chickens, she may collect and refrigerate them along with real eggs to only find out later she can’t cook with them.  That happened to our sweet neighbor when she first watched our place.  That would have been a good prank!  But, it wasn’t – we just forgot to tell her about them and why they were there.  Our franch guests who do chores alongside the children are often surprised to learn the wooden egg trick to kill snakes.  The other evening we were giving a barn tour to a remarkably mannerly, sophisticated, and accomplished family.  I had reminded my children throughout the day to be on their best behavior.  We had all followed my son out to the chicken coop and us adults were engrossed in a conversation about the farm-to-table growing trend.  My son appeared in the doorway of the chicken coop with two eggs in hand, yelled “catch,” and immediately threw them in our direction aiming at our feet.  We all stared in disbelief at our son who is known as a very polite, respectful, and kind young man.  It happened too fast for any of us to react.  One egg landed on the ground with a thud.  The other broke open with the egg yoke and white splattering on the ground before us.  It was a prank that had gone wrong.  My son thought he had thrown two wooden eggs our way.  A look of horror had come over my son’s face when that egg broke.  My husband immediately knew what my son had intended and started laughing.  You see, my husband thinks he’s quite funny and is working very hard to pass on his humor to our children.  I read the great classics to my children like Little House on the Prairie, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Secret Garden while my husband shows the kids silly scenes from movies he calls “classics” like Tommy BoyThree Amigos, and Talladega Nights.  It’s no surprise that my husband loved the prank, and, more so, how it went wrong.  My son wasn’t laughing though, he felt awful.  Our amused guests said they could forgive but never forget the wooden egg prank gone wrong.

Where Did It All Go

It’s that time of the year when you can’t put off thinking about your budget choices any longer.  The W-2 forms have arrived.  We all look at Box 1 and then, if you are like me, immediately wonder where it all went.  I just checked my wallet to find only $42 dollars inside.  Well, if you want to count all the nickels and dimes (which I did, of course)…I have $42.65 to be exact.  Some of the other boxes on that W-2 tell me where a huge portion of Box 1 went.  But, where did the rest go?  The other day our file folders were scattered on the floor as I began preparations for filing our taxes.  The folders are all labeled…there’s tithing & charity, mortgage, college education savings, retirement planning… I don’t fret over the choices documented in each of those folders…it’s the very fat file folder labeled “Franch” stuffed with receipts that causes panic every year.  This year was no different.  I interrupted my husband working from home and started questioning our choices in spending so much to live the franch life.  My husband grabbed my hand and, without saying a word, led me out to the barn, past the garden, and into the pastures.  It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and the air was fresh and crisp.  We opened the gate to the sheep pen and our trusting flock followed us into a greener pasture.  We called over our border collie puppy and watched in wonder at her sheep herding instincts.  We walked toward the horse under the live oak trees dotting our pasture and past the tree our kids like to climb.  I circled my arms around our horse’s neck and breathed in the smell of horse that I love so much.  In the distance, I noticed the cows sprawled out in the sun soaking in the rays on this rare spring-like day in winter.  I bent down to pet our barn cat who often follows us when we take a walk out into the pasture.  It was in that pasture where my husband and I chatted for a bit about all the memories we’ve made as a family on the franch over the past year.  I felt content.  I think of the successful “Priceless” ad campaign of MasterCard.  Everything I see around me on our franch has a monetary value.  But, learning all these life lessons on the franch side-by-side with my family every day…that’s priceless.  I know where it all goes and it’s worth it.


A Beautiful Sunrise

The sun rises every morning over a ridge in our back pasture.  This morning, as the sun neared the horizon, its rays were spread out making a glorious crown of light in the sky.  We didn’t notice it at first.  Our attention was on the reason my son had rushed into our bedroom to awaken us.  Sometime in the night, our cow had given birth to a healthy baby boy.  Our children had rounded the corner of the barn on the way to do morning chores surprised to count three cows in our pasture instead of two.  We were all congratulating mama cow and wishing happy birthday to the little man when my son interrupted, “Its name has to be Sunrise!  Look at that!”  We watched as the sun slowly rose just beyond the calf and his mother.  What a beautiful Sunrise!  It was sweet to see so many of our animals sharing in this moment with us.  The chickens had gathered nearby, all the sheep in the adjacent pasture were lined up along the fence, and the dogs were sitting on the other side of the pasture gate – all intently watching mama cow bond with her calf in the morning light.  The horse meandered over and as he bent his neck to check out his new pasture mate, he nickered.  We all smiled.  Horse whisperers say that a horse nickers to give a friendly greeting.  So, our children translated his nicker into English for us.  “Hello, Sunrise!” the children said the horse said.  I’m so thankful that we didn’t miss the sunrise this morning.  Can you think of a better way to start a day?

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