big cows

Thursday might just have been another summer morning except for an unusual pre-dawn sky. I stepped outside to retrieve my gloves and tipped my head to scan an expanse of wispy clouds backlit by the moon. They appeared like breaking waves on a dark sea. A half-halo of rainbow light embraced the moon. It was mesmerizing. Not just another day in paradise.

When we arrive at the barnyard early in the morning, I pull off and park to the side. The Hubs proceeds to a small open shed with calf feeding supplies. He leaves his truck running to illuminate our work. He confirms supplies before stepping into a skid steer waiting nearby.

His first job is to check cows on the verge of calving. A cow in labor sometimes needs assistance. By the time he returns to the shed, I’ve finished preparations. We load buckets of milk, bottles, nipples, pitchers and other supplies on the skid steer. I turn off his truck and walk behind the skid steer to the calf barn, not far away.

On this morning, as I stepped out of my car to exchange shoes for boots, a movement caught my eye. “Cows! There are cows out! Cows!” I yelled, frantic to catch his attention before he took off in the skid steer. He could barely hear me across the distance and over his truck engine.

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she farms

#SheFarms Series
she farms | refining firemilk bath morning | silos away!
second sleep | big cows|


One of my greatest joys as “GiGi” has been helping our grandchildren learn to appreciate the farm. Even as preschoolers, they are eager to help out when given a chance. One by one, they’ve found their way to the calf barn in the last few weeks to lend a hand.

Henry and Sadie proudly show the others what is what in calf feeding protocol. Rosie and Oliver join in the action. Anna “Beasy” uses the same voice as with her baby sister, “Hello, baby moo-cow!” She crinkles her nose and meets them eye-to-eye with her beguiling smile. They are so adorable; it’s almost too much cuteness to contain. Their great-grandparents and dairy farm founders, Lloyd and Betty, would be proud.

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dill pickle proud

I had no intention of canning dill pickles last week. I was looking for raspberries at the Amish farm stand. I was at least a week too late. But they had several bags of small cucumbers and a couple bags of itty-bitty cukes perfect for baby dills. I couldn’t resist!

Homemade dill pickles are a thing around here. A jar of of my mother-in-law’s (MIL’s) pickles was a highly prized possession. Nothing was more often stolen in the Santa gift exchange game or more fiercely guarded in the pantry!  Continue reading dill pickle proud

second sleep

There’s one major hitch with my she-farmer gig: sleep. More accurately, lack thereof. Women about my age often empathize with my challenge of getting a good night’s sleep. I’m too hot. Too cold. I toss and I turn. Midnight to 4:00 a.m. is no-man’s land. If I get stranded there, I count on 4:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. to redeem the night.

Well, that’s doggone inconvenient as a she-farmer. I’ve often just settled into my “second sleep” when the Hubs nudges me awake with gentle peck. I stumble out of bed with only one thought: I need more sleep. The mere hope of resuming sleep after I finish chores propels me forward.

The concept of second sleep was introduced some years ago on an urgent trek to locate an Amish midwife. Two young Amish couples, Fannie and Ammon and Anna and Sam, worked on our farm. Fannie had delivered her first baby with great difficulty in the spring. Now Anna’s time had come. We woke to a midnight call from their neighbor, Mrs. Jordan. It was our responsibility to go for help.

The Hubs asked me to ride along so the women would feel more comfortable. It was the darkest part of fall, before snow brightens the ground with reflective moonlight. We were immersed in the inky black of night. There were no street lights or house lights for miles of back roads. We drove down a long dirt road to reach Anna’s parent’s home.

The Hubs parked the car in the yard. He got out and approached the back door carefully, over uneven footing. I wondered if there were any vicious dogs on the property, relieved for my own safety and concerned for his. The Hubs began pounding on the back door, loudly. Again and again and again. Finally he heard a noise within.

He continued beating on the door. Suddenly, a curtain flew open. A bearded man glared out at him, intimidating and seemingly hostile. Anna’s father. It crossed the Hubs’ mind he might be armed? He clearly did not appreciate this intrusion in the dead of night. The Hubs hastened to explain, “Anna’s in labor. She needs help!” The curtain closed without a word in response.

The Hubs returned to the car. We sat in silence, not sure what to do next. Finally the door opened and a woman emerged. Anna’s mother got in the back seat. “I’m sorry,” she said, apologizing for the delay. “I was in my second sleep.”

Anna’s mother directed us down another dirt road. She went to the door while we waited in the car. Eventually another woman joined us, the midwife. She, too, apologized for a sluggish response. “I was in my second sleep.”

The Hubs and I exchanged puzzled looks. Is this an Amish thing, second sleep? For a long time we assumed so, often joking about it when we were groggy, “I must have been in my second sleep.” However, recently I discovered it is a real thing, if also an archaic concept. There is plenty of evidence that our ancestors were accustomed to first and second sleeps punctuated by a period of active wakefulness. Segmented sleep is well documented in pre-industrial era. Given sleep issues of our post-modern society, some speculate it may be time to return to this mode.

For decades, I’ve marveled at the Hubs’ ability to sleep. He falls asleep almost immediately. He sleeps like the dead. He’s almost impossible to wake until the “ding” of the alarm. Then he launches out of bed like Secretariat at the starting gate. “And he’s off!” barreling into his day with general good humor, I might add. That is much more than I can muster at the outset of an abrupt awakening.

I must admit I have longstanding sleep envy. I wish I could sleep like that. Furthermore, I seriously resent my sleep disrupted. As a preschooler, my parents paid me off with nickels for restraining after-nap grumpiness. A nickel was worth a fist full of penny candy at the general store, presumably sufficient motivation. My dad nicknamed me “Bear” with more success. There’s nothing more grumpy than a bear emerging from several months of hibernation!

Now I realize my mindset about sleep has been misguided, especially as an adult. Failing to achieve 7 hours uninterrupted sleep is not deprivation so much as an invitation to a second sleep. Well, then. I’m on it. Good luck to you if you get in the way of my nap!

~ Sondra

#SheFarms Series
she farms | refining fire | milk bath morning | silos away!
second sleep | big cows | dill pickle proud

five and a half

On Monday our eldest grandchild turned five and a half. That gives me pause. “Slow down,” I plead silently. “Don’t grow so fast.” I should know how chids grow, having raised three of them. Even faster now, with so many activities and more intense schedules. I don’t like it one bit.

A few weeks ago I was thinking about this phenomena and lit on the concept of “half birthdays.” Frankly, I never really got it. Suddenly it made perfect sense. Take time to celebrate mid-year, just because. Winter in the North Country sets some limits. It’s cool that two of our six grands can enjoy a summer “birthday” this way. Oliver is first up!

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silos away!

IMG_4773Upright silos are familiar features of North Country landscape. Like iconic windmills of the Netherlands, they were built for another era. Structures rose steadily in the 20th century on small farms with limited acreage. In the last few decades, feed storage has trended to concrete bunks. Some silos are torn down and rebuilt elsewhere. Some, like ours, stand empty in the midst of a farm embracing progress. Others keep quiet watch over barns falling to disrepair.

Once new facility construction was underway, attention turned to clean up of the barn fire site. Included in the mess were two blue metal silos compromised by the fire. Additionally, two 80-foot concrete silos at the main farm stood empty and smack dab in the way of progress. One of those was the monster that almost stole the Hubs’ life in 1997. All four silos were destined to be razed. Good riddance!

Who knew silo demolition could be so much fun? It was like a good ol’ fashioned field day for grands and adults alike. A lot of excitement for our small corner of the word. But when I heard an Amish crew would dismantle all four silos, I was sure I’d misunderstood. Seriously? How does that work?  Continue reading silos away!

milk bath morning

It’s dark each morning when we leave to feed calves. Even the songbirds have sense enough to sleep in a bit. I hear the soft call of a turkey and the deep bellow of a bullfrog on the riverbank. Otherwise, not a sound. The only thing getting me out of bed at this insane hour is knowing the Hubs was able to sleep in some himself. That’s something, anyway.

After ten days, the Hubs and I have synced pretty well on a calf feeding system. I know my job and can do it without too much trouble, freeing him up to do other stuff. Usually this means he wrestles the smallest calves through bottle feeding.  This morning he switched it up a bit.
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