Thursday, September 6, 2018

Lessons Learned

These last two years have been filled with lessons learned. Not the least of which have been taught through great losses.

Two years ago, Sam's mom was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and passed away. Our family witnessed another sad event just fourteen months later, when Sam's dad suddenly took ill and died. In between these two events, Sam's brother Doug was diagnosed with cancer. His passing occurred a few months after his dad's.

In those events, our family got a raw and up close view of what is important at the end of our days. Grandma and Grandpa Smith needed reassurance that they were loved; that their kids, grandkids, and great grandkids, were near. Sam's mom had no regrets. She knew she had done her best, knew God was with her, and knew she was going to be with Jesus. It is hard to say with Sam's dad because his illness was so quick and effected his brain, but he was "Swamp Yankee" stubborn to the end. He left a lot of unfinished business behind with his kids.

Doug, also, just wanted those he loved nearby. He wanted them to know that he loved them. He said "I love you" to Sam more times in his last six months than in all of his 64 years prior. Doug loved his farm, his horses, the people, but he admitted that it kept him from doing the other things he wanted to do. He had a bucket list of about fifteen items that he had never done because farming is a 365/24/7 kind of life.

Sam and I did a lot of soul-searching. We came to realize that we loved what we had done with our kids: dairy goats, chickens, yak, maple syrup, cows, dogs, cats, horses, 4-H. It was all good! Our kids were better for it; our family was better for it. We have zero regrets! (Lesson from Sam's mom) But... our kids were growing up. Only Samantha was living at home and getting the "farming" done took longer and was harder with fewer hands. We were doing it, but we were leaving a lot of unfinished business in the process. (Lesson from Sam's dad)

In March, Sam and I wrote out our own individual bucket lists and made a date to go over them (busy people need to make appointments). It wasn't surprising how many similar items we had on our lists. It was surprising how many identical items we had! We talked about making plans to start doing some of the items (Lesson from Sam's brother) and what it would take to be able to do them: money, time, coverage for farm, etc. We agreed to spend the next 30 days in prayer about it all.

And here's the thing about prayer: God listens. Through a series of events that only God could orchestrate (a post for another day), our farm was closed in June and sold in July. We now have the time, money, and freedom from chores to work on our list.

With all that going on, I spent a lot of time at the ocean. It's my go-to place when my life feels stormy. Something about standing in salty, wild waves, soothes my soul. I reason that if God can deal with an ocean, He can deal with me. 
And He does.
 Lesson learned.

Monday, September 3, 2018

TWO Years!

So, two years since I last submitted an entry to my blog!?

LOTS has happened. Things are very different now.

No more farm: Animals are sold or given away. Land and home are sold. Through a series of events that only God could orchestrate, our farm was closed in June of 2018, sold in July, and our new home purchased in August. We went from 2,600 square feet of house, 2 bay garage, 3 barns, over 4 acres, and practically no neighbors... to 1,000 square feet home, 0 garage, 0 barns, just 1 acre of land, and a number of neighbors. It's been a big adjustment (and we are only 9 days since move-in date!).

Grandkids! Abby and Justin had a baby girl in March 2017. Ava Rachel arrived and has been pure joy! Another grandchild is now due next March! Abby is still a nanny for two little girls and Justin is still a mechanic. Some things have stayed the same!

Nathalie moved to rent a room from my parents when her job changed in January. She is loving working for a local farm supply store and doing farm sitting on the side. She has settled into a church she loves and has developed a confidence and maturity that surpasses her 22 years. She still loves to bake and cook and my parents are thrilled to have her do it!

Wedding! Hannah and Trey will be getting married in January 2019. One of our prayers for all of our children is that they would find contentment. Hannah and Trey seem to have hit their stride in that department. While it seems they will eventually be living quite some distance from us (New York), it's not as far as Kansas!! (Hannah currently resides in Kansas as a live-in nanny to a family with four children and Trey works at a Christian youth camp in New York)

Rachel was "Promoted to Life" in January 2018 when she moved to Kansas for an intensive course in "Hard Knocks" and "The Real World" to finish her high school career. She worked as a babysitter and barn helper on my sister's farm until August. She currently lives with my parents (and Nathalie) and works at a local dog kennel. Rachel at 18 years old, has taken great steps in finding her own way.

Samantha: the last kid living at home. Single child status is a double edged sword, she has discovered. She gets the benefit of mom and dad having more time and money, but mom and dad also have more time to keep tabs on her! Entering eleventh grade this fall, she has already chosen her college (Dordt College in Iowa) and her back-up college (Huntington University's Haupert Institute for Agricultural Studies in Indiana), because you should always have a "Plan B". Public school suits her and God has used it to grow her faith.

Sam still works for tractor Supply part-time and full-time at the firehouse. Both of Sam's parents and his older brother passed away in the last two years. So much loss has taught us to "seize the day," so we have created a bucket list and already started to check items off!

I now work for a local graphic design/imaging company, sewing fabric and vinyl banners. It's part-time and the hours are perfect for me. The extra money funds our adventures/bucket list. I love working there (what's not to love: sewing and getting paid for it!). Once we get the house unpacked, I'll start sewing and selling clothing again, just on a smaller scale.

One of my goals is get back into writing again. So today is the start. :)

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Could You Be a Firefighter?

    The other day someone made a joke about Sam and his job at the firehouse. They commented that he gets paid big bucks to sleep, watch TV all day, and make chili. I just let the comment pass, but it has been bugging me ever since. So now that I have had time to think it over, here is my response:

    Last week Sam worked his regular 24 hour shift and then another 24 hour overtime shift. In that time span he dealt with a women whose husband had discovered her affair. He beat her unconscious, and then some. He savagely killed her lover and then killed himself. His next call was for a sixteen year old girl who was six months pregnant and needed to be extricated from her car after hitting another car. He managed to eat most of his lunch before being sent out to a person "hearing voices". A small structure fire and then a fourteen year old girl whose father had beaten her senseless because she stole his cigarettes. Next was a heroin overdose victim who had been found by her seven year old son. The last call was for an elderly woman who had called 911 three times in the last week. She was not poor enough for social services and not sick enough to be in a facility. She was lonely and just frail enough that she needed help. In between these calls were the ones for unconscious drug addicts who needed to be revived and minor car accidents. Towards the early morning hours were the calls for the drunks who couldn't walk or, even worse, tried to drive.

     Sam deals not just with injuries, fires, and illnesses. Every shift he comes face to face with the brutality of humans. He witnesses the worst that people do to each other and themselves. He doesn't really sleep knowing that the lights and tones could go at anytime. For 48 hours his mind and body are on high alert. His goal is to get everyone out alive, including himself. 

   Sam has said, "I wish I could forget the things I have seen and heard." He's been a first responder for nearly his entire life, and he remembers the first patient he lost. He remembers those that were gone before he got there and the ones he couldn't get to. 

   So, yes, he can make an amazing pot of chili and he does sometimes catch up on his TV watching, but could you do what he does, face what he faces, and do it well? Could you go for the fourth time to that old woman's home and take her blood pressure, reassuring her that she is okay, and then a few minutes later remain calm while doing CPR on a six year old, fully knowing that the child is not coming back, as the mother wails behind you? Would you for less than $19 an hour? 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

My Kids Aren't Perfect (Shocking, I know!)

My kids. I love 'em, but they aren't perfect.

My kids are pretty good kids (if I do say so myself), but I'll be the first to tell you that they are not always good. They lie, cheat, steal, get angry, hit, are lazy, etc. etc. You get the idea. Usually my kids keep their bad behavior at home, out of public viewing. Then there are times when they make some pretty poor choices in a really public way.

This past year one of my kids went off the charts public, with facebook posts and blog posts regarding her decisions to disobey our rules and boundaries. She also shared some of the consequences of those choices and her feelings/opinions about them. Everyone who knew our family knew that one of the kids had done something wrong.

And then yesterday, another of my kids, in a very public way, was openly defiant. She flat out refused to comply, to the point of setting herself up ahead of time to be unable to comply. She fussed. She fumed. She glared. She cried. She muttered under her breath. Everyone who was watching knew that something was going on.

God has taken both those times and taught me something: Sometimes when your kid publicly misbehaves, makes a bad choice, gets caught in sin; sometimes it is the best thing to happen.  

Let me explain by way of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;  Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

Outsiders viewed my kids' bad behavior in a variety of different ways. Some had concern for the child, some had concern for me, some sided with the child and others with me. Some quietly gloated from a distance while others were not so quiet. And some even felt the need to inform me of how bad my kid was behaving (as if I were unaware of the situation). 

And then there were those who came beside me. Encouraging me. Offering support, prayers, and kind words with a heavy dose of love and grace. Those friends are a gift of God and I do not take their friendship lightly. I am forever indebted to them.

There were others who were going through similar trials, who quietly pulled me aside and shared their situation with me. While I wish I didn't have the knowledge I now have in various ways to block cell phones and ipads, how to search computer histories, and which padlock is the best to prevent television access, I am thankful that through my experiences others can find what they need. 

I am counting it all joy that God is using our situations to help others and that other moms feel comfortable asking me how I handled a particular situation. That would not have been the case if I had perpetuated the idea that our family doesn't have issues and that our kids are never in big trouble. 

I am thankful for those who were brave to seek me out, to risk being bare-faced and vulnerable. God is using your situations to encourage me that this parenthood struggle is not all for naught! And someday, someone else may need your knowledge.

So, I want to encourage you! If your kids are out there and making bad decisions for all the world to see, take heart. God can use it for good! We don't always see how, but sometimes we get a glimpse. Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Happy Father's Day

Father's Day is tomorrow and I never know what to get dad. Not just on Father's Day, but any holiday that implies something must be gifted: birthday, Christmas, etc.

What do you buy the guy that has everything? Two years ago for his birthday we set him up with a Beta fish. It was one of the girls' ideas. I think he liked it: he named it Brady, as in Tom Brady. (He's a Patriots fan and his birthday is near the SuperBowl)

Dad soon changed the fish's name to "Boring" because the fish did nothing. Mom was always checking if it was even still alive. Dad fed it and mom joked about it. The girls would change the water when we visited. Then Mom and Dad went on a trip and turned the heat down. Tom Boring died. I think the Patriots lost that year too.

Last December Dad had a stroke. Scared all of us kids into action. We can be a mighty force when we come together. We don't get all huggy and mushy and we'll tear each other down in a heartbeat, but if one of us gets hurt, we're as tight as Gorilla Glue. Sarah and Emily flew in to Connecticut and Tom,  Andy and I took turns visiting at the hospital. Dad recovered quickly and came home.

On the day Sarah flew back to Kansas, Dad had another stroke. This one had me being the "ambulance" and Sarah upon landing at the airport, simply boarded another flight back to Connecticut. This stroke was more severe and came with complications.

At one point he couldn't really speak but he was trying to ask me a question. He kept saying, "I don't know..." After he tried a few more times to make the sentence, I just said, "I don't know either Dad, but I know I love you." He responded by laughing a funny "hahaha" kind of laugh. Two thoughts went through my head at that moment. First was, "Typical Dad. He's still in there. Everything that makes him him, is still there." My second thought was, "I don't want him to think that my saying 'I love you' is a joke. Ever."

When Dad came back home, I moved into my parents house for a few weeks to help Mom get Dad, literally, back on his feet again. We spent a lot of time together just sitting in the living room; Dad doing his speech therapy or resting and me on my ipad. Occasionally one of us would be inspired to share something and then we'd settle back in to our comfortable silence. As much as I wish my Dad hadn't had the strokes, I am grateful for the time it gave us to be together in our own quiet way.

It is our relationship and it's a reserved one. Dad and I have never had big conversations. We just don't need them. I have great memories of doing stuff with my Dad. He taught me my first constellations in the night sky and took me out to watch meteor showers. We tried to see Halley's comet, we observed lunar eclipses, and he showed me how to make a pinhole camera for solar eclipses. I'll never forget the night he woke me up around 2 AM when I was about ten years old. We went out and observed a comet that's orbit was estimated to be about seven million years!

 Dad loves science and he taught me to love it too. He took us to the Boston Science Museum and the planetarium. For science fair, he taught me about electrical circuits and we made one that worked! The following year we made a more complicated circuit. It was my Dad who showed me that "learn by doing" is sometimes the best way. Talking about it doesn't always get it done.

Dad has nearly fully recovered from his strokes. A stranger would be hard pressed to think anything had ever happened. It's a gift I am not taking for granted. Not much has changed in our relationship. We are still not huge conversationalists. But now when I leave after a visit, I give my dad a hug and a kiss.

For Father's Day I think I'll get my Dad a bag of bird seed. He likes to watch the birds come to the feeder while he has lunch. And while I still don't know what to get the guy who has practically everything, I hope he knows how much I love him. Enough to not get him another fish...

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A New Direction!

Last year we decided to sell our herd of goats and take a break from that part of our farm to concentrate on our Maple syrup production. With all the crazy stuff that has happened in our family since last October, when the last goat left, we know the Lord was directing our path and we are happy that we chose to follow His leading!

In the last few weeks we have done a lot of talking with Abby and have decided to take a new direction, even further away from the animals. (We are still raising our own chickens for food and eggs, and may raise a veal calf this fall for our own use) Now we will be focusing on creating a place where other small hobby farmers can showcase and sell their products.

Farmer's markets are becoming the place to sell farm products, but for the really small farmer it can be difficult to secure a space or commit to twenty weeks of sales. The fees for fairs and shows can be higher than a very small farm or craftsman can absorb and the start up equipment for such shows (tent, table, chairs, signage, etc) make achieving a profit very difficult.

While I was convalescing and Sam had a couple of weeks off from work to take care of me, we (meaning Sam, Abby, Rachel, and Samantha) stripped out "phase one" of the barn. The cement floor was scrubbed, the walls and ceiling were washed down.

Wiring was run, sheet rock hung, and lights were installed.

Through the window is the new room (used to be the "baby barn") for the evaporator. We aren't sure when we will move it up from the old building because we still need to pour the cement floor for it. The window will allow even the smallest guests to view the syrup making process without getting so close to the wicked hot evaporator! 

A sink and stove, with counter space and cupboards will be added to Phase one. This gives us space to finish and bottle the syrup all in the same area. Shelves will line the walls for products. We are looking to add items from local farmers, producers, and craftspeople, to be showcased and sold. We will be organizing more farm events similar to ones that have been so successful in the past and our new farm stand will give us space that is not weather dependent. 

It will take time for all these changes to happen and come together, but we think it will be a great new direction for us!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Learn By Doing Day 2016

Learn By Doing Day was so much fun! We had surprise attendees come all the way from Madison, CT and some of our animals were not cooperating with our planned schedule. So we did what 4-H teaches us to do: get flexible and go with the flow!
The weather was cooperative and we had a great day of learning how to show chickens, rabbits, dogs, and sheep, as well as a short workshop on 4-H record books. A huge THANK YOU to Mrs. Fields, Mrs. Atkins, Mrs. Button, and Mrs. Bennett! We couldn't have done it without you!
Chicken Showmanship

Rabbit Showmanship

Aloura shows Eamonn how to flip a rabbit for showmanship

Mrs. Fields taught dog showmanship

The awesome sheep!


Sheep showmanship

Shelley met a sheep for the first time.

Even the clean-up was fun!

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