The Glamorous Life of an Urban Farm Wife (and the realities of death)

I tucked my Christmas pajama bottoms into my bright purple galoshes and tightened the belt of my fuzzy bathrobe that covered my nightgown.  I sighed, mouth askew in a grimace, and pulled my work gloves on while balancing the shovel.  Poised over the dead creature I tried to hold my breath while finagling the blade underneath the hardening body of a skunk who did not see it coming.

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I love ignorance.  It’s the best.  Kind of wish I could get back to it.  Ah, the mystique of becoming a farmer.  The love of the land, the fresh air, the bright dawn, the sound of a baby goat, the feel of a newborn chick, the taste of fresh eggs with gorgeous orange yolks.  The urban farm with the front yard completely gardened.  Beds filled with corn and pumpkins, rows and rows of chilies and tomatoes, and dozens of other herbs and beans and cucumbers and other delights fill the space where a lawn ought to be.  A rooster crows from the backyard.

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I guess what I never prepared for, and what no one could really express to me, is that death and cycles of life were going to become quite apparent to me.  The emotions that one might feel day to day in the suburbs would morph into much more intense versions of joy and grief.  That becoming a farmer means becoming privy to the real natural world.

See, in a high rise apartment or other such place, one might see a fallen bird from a nest or a cat that has been hit by a car.  We sniff and pout our lip and then move on with the day.  Styrofoam cartons and air sealed packages line shelves neatly labeled.  Beef tip.  Short ribs.  Chicken breast.  (Where did the rest of the chicken go?)  Away from a farm is an easy place for Utopian ideas to thrive.

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Last night the skunk was apparently on his way to have appetizers and cocktails in the chicken coop with the ladies when he was swiftly taken out by a monstrous being, that at first sight might not be taken for a swift sort of creature at all.  But the massive bite to the spine without being sprayed proved that Gandalf was on duty and was not allowing frolicking with the chickens past curfew.  The chemical, nauseating smell permeates everything but the dog.

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Now, if the pup was not there, the skunk would have made quick work of the chickens without a smidgen of remorse.

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The Cornish chickens can barely stay alive as it is.  Since my post three days ago, another chicken’s legs are breaking and one of the hens that seemed fine died of a heart attack.  They are scheduled to meet their maker in two weeks (because it is the humane thing to do) but we will see if they even make it until then.  My own Utopian ideas of compassion and living in a world without death backfired with meat chickens that were never meant to live this long and are suffering.

Over the years I have held a screaming goat as she died.  My cat, two chickens, a robin, a sparrow, and my dear friend’s ashes are buried in my yard.  A dead skunk is in a plastic bag in the alley until I can think of something to do with it.  Death is real and it is not necessarily not compassionate.  Not necessarily unfortunate.  It just is.

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But where there is death, there is new life.  New baby chicks, and wobbling ducklings.  Baby goats taking a bottle, and finches learning to fly.  A farm- whether in the city or in the country- teaches us what working in a temperature controlled office after driving in a temperature controlled car, after picking up a quick breakfast could never teach.  That life in its whole is a natural process of birth, delight, strength, illness, sustenance, death, grief, reality.  And in every cycle, it is beautiful and sacred and real.

 

Field Trip to an Animal Sanctuary (and saving chicks)

We loaded up the cat kennel in the Fiat (our urban farm vehicle) and headed hours north.  Through our old county, our old town, past our old farmhouse, and down the Kiowa-Bennett road.  The prairie is breathtaking even in winter.  Golden strands peek through layers of snow as the sun glistens across the vast expanse of country.  The western sky a watery blue stretching far and wide.  Singing to country music on the radio and a good feeling in our hearts, we drove towards Danzig’s Roost, a rooster and animal Sanctuary in Bennett, Colorado.

 

Sometimes the carefully protected public get glimpses inside factory farms.  What we consider family, humane, free range, and all the other marketing words that help sell meat is all a façade of chicken houses crammed with suffering birds and sometimes people are able to get a peek at those and the whole operation is exposed.  The huge chick rescue in northern Colorado this month made the news and raised thousands for resourceful sanctuaries.  But then so often apathy returns and people continue their habits.  Sad that animals are suffering, but unwilling to omit them from their plate.

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We were on our way to take home some of those rescued birds.  Chickens are snuggly, sweet, and have all different personalities.  One of the chicks we brought home is tiny, fluffy, and sings day and night like she is singing her songs of thanks to the heavens.  She doesn’t like to be put down.  As it happens, we went to get between four and six birds and ended up with seven, soft, white babies.  They are in the guest room.  They have every disease you can think of from parasites, E coli, to upper respiratory infections.  That is what is in meat.  I am treating them with my herbs.  So far they are thriving.  These lucky few were saved and will live their life here on Pumpkin Hollow Farm dust bathing, getting treats, and sitting in the sun or on our laps.

We are only allowed poultry in Pueblo but one day we will have land where we can take in more animals, save more lives, do what we can.  But every life counts.

Jewel Straightedge runs the sanctuary that we picked the chicks up from.  She has, what looks to be, hundreds of roosters that she has rescued.  Two calves with big, heartbreaking eyes are from the dairy down the road.  The little girl fights to live.  Darling sheep and goats and geese that clearly know the friend that rescued them all add to the raucous singing of the farm.  Turkeys strut about.  The wind picks up and turns cold and we hasten our tour.

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Jewel and her team rescued over six hundred chicks from the thousands and thousands that were being inhumanely killed and dying without food and water.  With the swift turn in weather, we help her chase hundreds of chicks trying to get them back into their warm enclosure.  It is every bit as hilarious as it sounds.  We are happy as we head back towards home.

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(Note: the chickens we rescued ended up dying anyway because they are meat chickens. We still had a bit to learn about that breed! This experience reinforced in us the desire to buy from friends who have small farms or raise our own.)

How to Accept the Challenge of Living Fully and Embrace Destiny

ninjaThe biggest challenge is living life in the fullest right now.  To be neither in the past nor the future.  To face fears as one experiences them.  To constantly reassess one’s temperaments and ideals, perceptions and reactions to become a better, kinder, more graceful person who lives with great compassion.  To find what destiny was designed for us and follow the cues of passion and interest to find where we make the very most difference in the world.

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Writing a memoir was a profound experience for me because I was able to start at the beginning of this life journey and walk through it.  I saw myself at three years old, at eleven years old, I watched as I experienced bliss, intense sadness, confusion, joy, and I nodded at each character that has helped mold me in my life, from my mother to my mentors.  I was able to see, understand, forgive, embrace, appreciate, and release.  I highly recommend that you purchase a journal and begin telling your tale.  Everyone has a message and a life of lessons to share.

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When one finds themselves fretting about the future or reliving a memory in the past, try to pull yourself to this moment.  I believe the reason I love great food, cooking, and the mysteries of wine is because it makes me grounded.  It forces me to use my human senses.  Otherwise I am always flitting about spiritually or stuck in my head.  Balance is needed.  Try to close your eyes and smell, hear, touch, breathe, taste.  Hear the birds.  See the colors of nature out the window.  Feel the breeze on your skin.  Taste the tannins in a cup of tea.  Feel the air fill your lungs.  Put your hands together in front of your heart and feel gratitude.  This acts as a reset and brings you back to now.

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In my book, The Making of a Medicine Woman; the Memoirs of Bird Woman, that is soon to be released, I experience facing fears.  You will always have to face your fears.  They will keep coming until you do.  My fear has always been of ghosts and bad spirits.  Nightmares from when I was very young and stories that haunted me (I should not have watched “The Exorcist”) through adulthood kept me from doing the work that I do.  I lived in haunted house after haunted house and had experience after experience until finally I turned around and realized I wasn’t afraid anymore.

What are you afraid of?

On my birthday I posted some crazy what-if’s.  What if I stopped writing out a to-do list, what anything get done?  My fear of not being productive enough prompts me to write elaborate lists.  I stopped writing them for a week.  And sure enough, not a dang thing got done!  So the lists are back, just smaller.

I wondered if I stopped worrying about money if it would come easier.  Our income didn’t increase but once I stepped back and stopped worrying, I realized we make enough.

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I wondered what it would be like to shave my head.  It felt like a beautifully symbolic new beginning.  A spiritual oath.  A bit of freedom (from tangles, hair products, and dye).  But what if people thought I had cancer?  (White girls with shaved heads are unfortunately assumed to be ill if they have very short hair, it turns out…)  Well, sure enough, lots of messages came pouring in and strangers walked up to me and asked if I were ill.  I dealt with the fear straight on with a smile.  And I LOVE my hair.  I don’t look in the mirror much now.  It certainly is freeing.

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Challenge yourself!  That is another way to live fully.  What do you want to do with your life?  How can you become a better person?  How can you live more compassionately?  How can you spread your light to the world?

Maybe open doors for people.  Give some leeway on the highway.  Give hugs, compliments, forgiveness, and small gifts.  Give of yourself.  Laugh.  Notice.  Be here.  Follow your desires.

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If you are not happy, figure out why.  It’s time to live your destiny and your birthright of joy.  Joy follows when you are following your highest self and living for now.

 

What If? (a birthday pondering)

DSC_6435My birthday is Saturday.  The years fly by in the breeze faster than I can blink but I am grateful for each and every year that I get to celebrate being on this beautiful earth.

New Year’s makes me ponder how I can do things better and makes me set lofty financial and personal goals.  Autumn makes me rethink what I need and what I don’t need.  It is a cleansing of sorts.  My birthday makes me think of ways that I can live.  How can I take in each day more deeply?  How I can be more present and more compassionate and more alive?  It makes me think…what if?

What if I stopped making a to-do list?  Would anything actually get done?  Instead of cramming sixty-two things into one day, what if each thing was done as I thought of them.

What if I stopped counting every penny?  Would money begin to flow in after I loosened my grip on worry?

What if I stopped circling back every time I began to move forward in my work?  Can I let go?

What if I got a Buddhist hair cut?  Would people think I was sick?  Or ugly?  What if it didn’t matter?  What if I released my appearance and symbolically started anew on my journey?  How fun would that be to not do my hair.  Or to not have a headache every night from hair ties?

Why is cutting my hair or releasing worry or moving forward or not having a to-do list so monumental?

What if I took more time to do yoga and to sit in coffee shops writing or got a bicycle and rode around town?  What if I spent more time in the garden or with my children or reading?  What if I had tea time every day at 4?  What if I cut my hair?

Maybe this is the year of boldness.

Of courage.  Of peace.

of living.

Finding Your Passion and Current Purpose-part 1

20180128_141816-EFFECTSHave you ever wondered what is next?  Where your path is leading?  What you will become next?  Some people work a career their entire life and then retire.  Some raise children and become entrepreneurs, like myself.  I have reinvented what I do so many times because I have so many interests but they all really dance around each other.  They are all interconnected.

I breathe in the cool morning air as the sunrise reaches rose pink across the winter sky and crows hover about.

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I lead an enchanted life of miraculous happenings, unusual animal and bird sightings, healings, and things happen to us that just do not make sense in the cookie cutter mind of our world.  This thrills me.  But there must be a reason why I see these things.  Experience these things.

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I have an influential voice.  That comes with responsibility to make sure that I am speaking and teaching what is compassionate and what is beautiful and what is real.  Before bed I ask my ancestors and friends to help me see answers to what is next.  The pictures in my dreams are always of me leading a group.  Or of me being a type of Martha Stewart with a compassionate twist.  I love creating; whether it be gardens or art or words or great food or inspiration or encouragement or a new life.

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The Universe has seemingly freed up some time for me.  I have time to do something.  I teach herbalism courses and shaman courses and I write and help with the shop and answer the apothecary phone and help people.  I’ll be on a radio show next week talking about my herbalism and plants in homesteading and promoting my book, Homesteader Pharmacy (click to see on Amazon).

There is more though.  I am on the cusp of something.  I am not just an herbalist.  Our goal is to pay off debt this year.  I want to work towards getting a farm and animal sanctuary in the future, but in the here and now….ideas swirl overhead like dust devils but don’t quite land.

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I fill my time just fine and come summer I will be really busy with gardens and wildcrafting and markets but there is just something below the surface that ties in everything that I do.  Something to give me purpose.  I have been working on a book for the past year.  I put it aside in order to write a novel.  I wrote said novel but I can’t say I am a great fiction writer.  I am a non-fiction writer.  This book keeps bobbing to the surface.  It just needs some dedication.  Writing a few hours a day has to make the to-do list.

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I know I am more than just an herbalist.  It used to consume twenty-four hours a day for me but my daughter has taken on most of the work.  Finding my other passions and moments of inspiration are what I need to ponder.  Something to tie them all together…

Now, where are you on your journey?

The Meat Dilemna (what’s a nice vegetarian girl gonna do?)

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There has been a huge gap for me to cross.  One that I started in my heart when I was a child.  Not wanting animals to suffer led me to becoming a vegetarian.  Outside of a few times when I was a teenager, I have been a vegetarian for twenty-seven years.  When I was fresh out on my own that looked like Hamburger Helper without the hamburger and other processed foods that resembled sustenance.  As I grew more conscious I then created two vegetables, a grain, and a veggie meat dinner.  Better, I am sure, but the canned vegetables and “whole wheat” breads of my youth were growing old.  Then Doug and I started eating fresh vegetables, or ones we canned, along with homemade bread, and veggie meat.

food incOur entire reason for being vegetarian was to lead a more compassionate life, to assure that no animal would suffer because of us.  Sickened by the documentary “Food Inc.” we became vegan.  Suddenly aware that we were living a lie this whole time, we quit all animal products.  Being vegetarian includes dairy.  Dairy comes from milk cows who are repeatedly bred, who live in an enclosure, who lose their babies immediately so that we can have the milk, then are slaughtered a few years later for meat.  Cheese is made by using rennet.  In other words the stomach lining of a calf.  Being vegetarian is not being vegetarian at all!  So we bought vegan products, and ate pretty good, I suppose, but we still were eating a lot of veggie meats and processed foods.

We got our own chickens and started eating eggs again.  Our own.  Delicious and far better than anything at the grocery store. We tasted some of Nancy’s goat milk a year or so back and loved it.  We decided to get a milk goat.

I started to wonder about the meat and dairy substitutes.  Each one had slowly been bought up by larger companies.  The ones that promote mass feed lots, genetically modified ingredients, and hormones.  I noticed that the veggie meats and non-dairy milks had a lot of ingredients that I did not recognize.  A lot of items that were listed were not organic.  For instance, Silk says they don’t use genetically modified ingredients.  White Wave used to own them and did use 100% organic and non-GMO soy, but Dean Foods owns it now (they also own Horizon organics) and their organic line is something to be desired with their heavy use of feed lot techniques and they do not promise not to use non-GMO ingredients. Coconut milk, cheese substitutes, and veggie burgers have their own lists of unknown products.  I began to question how healthy these items really are.

I started to look around at my friends’ farms.  John hunts and in one fell swoop can take down a deer.  Not fifteen, just enough to feed his family.

My friends have their cows slaughtered by a single shot to the forehead.  The cow never sees it coming.  This comes after living a pretty cushy life out in the pastures grazing in lush grasses and eating delicious hay.  Cows probably shouldn’t grow old.  My joints kill me as it is in the winter, can you imagine carrying that much weight and getting old?  Wouldn’t be a pretty sight.

chicken picSimilarly, chickens are running around one second, beheaded the next, never knowing they are about to meet their maker.  Other poultry the same.  As Suzanne McMinn says in her book “Chickens in the Road”, they have a lot of good days and one bad day.  That struck me.  We will all meet the Creator at some point, be it by car accident, cancer, or some other way.  We will all go.

I wonder though what right I have to take a life.  Life is sacred.  I could no more smash a butterfly then kill one of my chickens.  My cat can swoop up a mouse (or hamster unfortunately), kill it, and not feel a smidge guilty.  Same with coyotes, foxes, owls, any other predator.  I used to tell people that we are not predators.  Imagine running naked after a rabbit, actually catching one and eating it bare toothed.  It creates a vivid image, and one I used to prove my point that we are not meat eaters.  But, flea beetles met their match in the garden with me.  I’m fine with wasps killing larvae for me.  Everything else can do my dirty work.  I don’t think about big fields of vegetables and the animals that were displaced or worse in the process.  Ignorance is sometimes truly bliss.

We could live on lentils, beans, and nuts.  We can grow a small amount here, so I have to depend on the farmers that are growing them to not kill any animals in the process.  I can eat only vegetables and fruits from my garden.  Or my friend’s garden.

One day, I gave up.  It is hard to give up something you have actively advocated for the better part of your life.  Not to mention that Doug and I feel so strongly that veganism is healthier than meat eating.  There is solid proof that animal products cause many of the top killers; heart disease, stroke, cancer, toxicity in the body.  We began to analyze these things though.  I have no doubt that the way that animals are treated in factory farms, the way they are abused in slaughter houses, the hormones and anti-biotics they are pumped with throughout their lives, the genetically modified grains they are fed, and the dyes that are often added equal one heck of a cancer dinner.

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Our forefathers ate meat. Not as much as current society does, but they did eat meat.  Their own meat.  Their own pasture fed, free roaming animals sans anything extra meat.  They ate everything organic.  The chemical revolution that was disguised as forward thinking in farming post World War two with all its extra chemical warfare to do something with had not yet arrived.  Homemade breads and fresh vegetables and humanely provided meat started to appeal to me as a much more natural existence in this farming life we have chosen.

John was overjoyed that we had come to our senses and gave us a pork roast, some chops, and a huge hunk of venison, that I can only imagine (but tried not to) was the shoulder.  Debbie brought us some of her fresh beef.  We bought organic chicken raised in Boulder from the health food store and it felt oddly satisfying and comforting to have a freezer full of vegetables and meat.  Not an emotion I ever thought I would have.  Now, once a month we go to the store and stock up on organic meat.

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Then came the question of what happens if we have a boy duck.  I started out by saying, “We can pay someone to….”  Doug interrupted me hurriedly to finish my sentence, “to take him to the animal swap?” We are not really ready to slaughter or pay someone to slaughter our animals.  But, why would I take a perfectly healthy, likely spoiled rotten, organically fed plump duck to the animal swap, then go buy an organic one from the store that I do not know how was raised?  This is getting silly, really.  Are we going to eat meat, or not?  At some point we will have to learn how to provide our own sustenance.

I am getting ahead of myself though.  Hell, two months ago we were vegetarian.  Tonight we eat organic pork chops with mashed potatoes and carrots that were from the garden.  A loaf of homemade French bread from organic grains.  Local wine.  I am getting closer to what feels like a healthy, natural way of eating.  Farming does that to you.