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Archive for May, 2016

The Purpose

Life is funny. When I wrote a few weeks ago about my failing, elderly and befuddled chicken, I wasn’t prepared for a revival. When she wasn’t in her corner of the coop, she would wander about the yard looking confused, and each evening, I would have to either point her in the right direction or carry her to her roost. I thought she was near the end, and who wouldn’t? Chickens are not known for their long lives, and after seven years, I figured her days were numbered. Until the babies came. Not her babies, of course, as she is in her henopause years, but eleven fluffy-bottomed baby chicks purchased from the farm store (my favorite place to shop) and raised for the first few weeks under a heat lamp in the laundry room.  I love baby chick time, but HE dislikes the peeping poopy little creatures and for some crazy reason, thinks poultry should be raised out in the coop and not in the house.  I must admit, though, that despite changing their bedding twice a day, they do start to smell after a couple of weeks.  At that point, I moved the babies into cages out in the coop, with a heat lamp on a timer hanging above, since springtime in Minnesota cannot ever be trusted.  The cages are merely to wean the babies into coop life and to keep the others away from their food and water.  Old Mama Hen started to perk up and snoop around the cages once they arrived. By the time the chicks were ready to be let loose, she was not even close to being confused.  She fusses and clucks and gathers those babies under her wings at night. She shoos the others away from their food and water. She is showing them how to scratch in the dirt for bugs and any other delicious morsels they might find.  She has adopted a family, and a rather large one at that. Every afternoon, when I open the door to the outside world,  all the chickens go outside to frolic and forage in the grass. ALMOST all the chickens, that is. Old Mama Hen and one of her helpers stay behind to watch the babies, who are growing fast. Despite the door being open, not one of the well-behaved youngsters ventures out to the grass. I guess Mama’s instincts will decide when the time is right. It just goes to show that we all need a purpose in life to make it worth living. After my own sweet mama turned 88, and with her vision and health deteriorating, she told me she was weary and ready to go. Although I wasn’t ready for her to leave, it was not something in my control. I told her that if she was ready, it was OK with me, but I gave her a gentle reminder that she would have her first great-grandchild born in the spring.  “Oh,” she said, “I guess I’ll stick around for that!”  Call it purpose, determination, or just plain old-fashioned gumption, we’re mighty glad that she did.  I think that Old Mama Hen is planning to stick around for a while, too. She has work to do.

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Today I decided to have breakfast in bed.  It is not that I am particularly lazy or consider myself the Queen Bee or anything, (admittedly, I am a little bit of both),  but the morning view from my bedroom of a bright pink flowering crabapple  tree against a backdrop of blue sky and green grass is what drew me back in. That, and fact that the mornings are just a little bit too chilly to be dining outside. “Dining” is not exactly the term that I would use for my simple country breakfast of coffee and juusto.  Juusto, also known as  juustoleipa is a warm Finnish cheese, but when I was growing up in my strongly Scandinavian household, we called it “squeaky cheese”, for the way it squeaked against our teeth when we chewed.  Made from cow, goat, sheep or  even reindeer milk if you happen to own a reindeer,  juusto  is a fairly easy cheese to make, so they say.  It keeps well, and Finnish Farm Women in the old days would even dry it to store in their larders to eat when fresh milk wasn’t available for cheesemaking. (I hope they didn’t store it next to their dried stinky lutefisk.) It is traditionally served with coffee, bread, and jam, and to me, tastes like a buttery grilled cheese sandwich without the bread.  I remember my mother making it only once or twice, and since I recently discovered it in the grocery store, I haven’t bothered with trying it myself, so I won’t infringe on any copyright laws by sharing a recipe that is not my own. There are plenty of recipes available on the internet, if you are so inclined.  I usually warm mine in a pan or on the grill, but the package even gives microwave instructions. (My Finnish Farm Woman ancestors, who even warmed theirs by putting it in a cup and pouring hot coffee over it, are probably rolling over in their graves right about now.)  Barney the Chihuahua was hoping for a bite and was following closely behind me with every step I took, but then again, he would follow closely behind me if I was preparing warmed-over  Finnish shoe leather for breakfast.  I have served juusto as an appetiser, with coffee (on the side,  not in the cup),  or diced in a salad with mixed greens and vinaigrette dressing,  but my favorite way to eat it is just the way I did this morning:  Warmed in a pan and eaten while in bed on a Sunday morning, with the beautiful flowers of late spring right outside the windows,  a cup of coffee and a cute but begging little dog within my reach. I would like to think that my Finnish Farm Woman ancestors would be proud that I am keeping with tradition. Maybe not, though…by this time of the morning, they would have already milked the reindeer, stoked the kitchen fire, gathered the eggs, and scrubbed the
kitchen floor. Never, ever would they have crawled back into the bed unless they were either in active labor during childbirth or dying, but they most certainly would have  had the  limppu bread baked for the company that was sure to come for either.  I like to think that I am making new traditions, however,  so right now I’m going to go and pour myself another cup of coffee before I crawl back into bed.

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Graduation time is here once again, and this year it had been forty years since I graduated from high school. Forty. The big 4-0. Looking back, it is hard to believe that so many years have passed when it just seems like yesterday. 1976 was the year of  our country’s bicentennial and there was a lot of excitement in the air.  Although it was a long time ago, things were eerily similar.  It was an election year, and Gerald Ford was our president. Later that year, Jimmy Carter was elected. The Middle East was in conflict. We worried about the economy, the price of gas, and the jobless rate. We were listening to The Bee Gees, Diana Ross, and Elton John records on our stereos or perhaps the 8-track tape players in our cars. Much to my chagrin, disco music was becoming popular, but I preferred the rock and roll genre and still do. Just like today’s seniors, we could hardly wait to graduate and get out into the big wonderful world.  Although the draft was abolished in  1973 a few classmates joined the military.  Some of us were going right to work, some of us were going to college, some of us were getting married, and some of us  didn’t know what the heck we were going to do. I was madly in love with HIM at the time, and wanted to get married, but my parents thought I was way too young. They were right, as usual.  As that long-ago graduation ceremony ended, there were hugs and photographs, and a few caps thrown into the air. I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to some of those friends that I had spent half my life with, but thought I would catch up with them later.  I got married a year later (still too young), and moved halfway across the country.  I would see some on occasion, and we did have a few reunions, but the class was never together again as a whole. I don’t remember which reunion it was, but years later, we were reminiscing and remembering those classmates who had passed away. We had nothing to write on, so the names were written with a borrowed pen on a clean white paper plate. The list was longer than anybody expected and a surprisingly stark reminder of how short life really is. The smiling faces, forever young in those black and white photos in the pages of the yearbook are how we remember many of them. Some of us still mention that paper plate list when we get together.  We are not disrespectful in any way, but we all look at each other and share a humorless laugh, knowing as each year passes, the list will most certainly grow longer.  For any of you 2016 graduates who might be reading an old Farm Woman’s words of advice, I give you these:  Put down your phones and cameras for a moment and look around. Make some real memories and keep them close to your heart. Those memories will be there long after your phone battery goes dead and you upgrade to the latest device. Call your grandparents just to chat because they will be gone sooner than you think. Thank your parents, teachers, and mentors.  Continue to make them proud. Volunteer.  Live within your means.  Better yet, live BELOW your means.  Go to college or trade school, get a job, or join the military, but do SOMETHING. Pay for your own stuff with actual money and not a line of credit. Don’t  drink and drive. Don’t text and drive.  You don’t want to make the paper plate list any sooner than you have to .  Congratulations, Seniors! You did it! 

*Dedicated to  the members of the Deer River High School Class of 1976 who are no longer with us. You are not forgotten.

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Befuddled

About six years ago, I was given a gift of a dozen chickens from the friend of a friend. These ladies were of questionable age, perhaps a year  old, perhaps older than that.  They had luckily escaped the guillotine because my friend had already butchered and didn’t want to do any more. Their coop was overcrowded, so they needed a new home, and my home, which sometimes seems like the local nursing home for hens, was as good as any.  Since there were so many in this group, I didn’t name them individually, but called them all “Mama”.  Over the years, they have succumbed one by one until I was left with only one of the original group. She is a nice chicken as chickens go, not picking on the others, not pushing and shoving when it is mealtime, and fairly tame. She has given me dozens of delicious big brown eggs.  Last year, the others started picking on her. One evening, I thought she was dead for sure, as I found her wedged between a straw bale and the wall, not moving. I was surprised to find that her body was warm when I pulled her out. I think she was playing possum so the others would leave her alone. This was just before winter,  so I needed to come up with something to keep her safe. Not wanting to keep Mama caged for the long winter I rigged up a divider in the large coop and kept her there, soon to be joined by a another hen who was also being picked on. Chickens can be bullies, and I always have a soft heart for those at the bottom of the pecking order.  The two became best friends, keeping each other company as well as keeping each other warm all winter. This spring, I open the door and let them outside with the others each afternoon, and everybody seems to be getting along fine. I have begun to suspect, however, that the Dowager Countess is not quite right in the head.  Perhaps she is suffering from dementia, if chickens can even get dementia.  Befuddled would be the best word to describe her. While the others return to the coop at sundown, she sometimes wanders around the yard looking confused.   I often have to pick her up and carry her  back to the coop and to her friend, who waits patiently, and they cluck quietly to each other. The last couple of days, Mama hasn’t had too much energy.  Today, I carried her outside for a little sunshine, and she  sat in one place.  Later, I saw that she had wandered to a spot underneath a tree in the front yard and she was sitting almost motionless, which is unusual for a chicken.  Since there are eagles and foxes or any number of predators in the area, I wanted to protect her from being dinner for another mother’s babies, so I carried her inside once again.  I figure Mama’s days and perhaps even hours are numbered, and I want them to be filled with kind words and deeds, and hopefully, a  big juicy worm or two.  Mother’s Day will be here soon.  There are many types of mothers in our world. There are mothers who raise their own children and mothers who foster other people’s children. There are mothers who place their children for adoption so someone else can fulfill her dream of becoming a  mother. There are mothers of fur and feathered babies, who raise animals and love them as their children.  There are mothers who have lost their children, and there are mothers who share their children with us, fighting wars that certainly weren’t started by anyone who has ever been a mother.  There are mothers who are elderly, confused, and who may be living their last days on this earth.  May they all be honored this Mother’s Day  and every day with kind words and deeds, and perhaps a big juicy worm…or a hug…  whichever they prefer.  You’d better not mix up the two, or you just might get grounded.  Happy Mother’s Day. Peace on earth.

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