Take two movies and call me in the morning

We limit the amount of TV the family watches. We don’t have cable or satellite TV. We live in a really rural area so that even broadcast TV is not really an option. So movies we own or borrow from the library are our viewing options.

Last week, when we were so sick I thought I’d have to call the president and have him declare a state of national emergency at our address, I brought home two movies.

“Toy Story 2” is a perennial favorite. Perfect to vegetate by.

“The Three Musketeers” was a total surprise. This is the 1948 version with Gene Kelly as D’Artagnan. The fencing scenes are extraordinary. They’re played for laughs to a certain extent, and Gene Kelly’s grace and physical strength take your breath away. My six-year old son was nearly beside himself with the excitement of this movie!

Ah the therapeutic effects of a good movie.

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5 sick kids + 1 sick dad = 1 sick mom who does all the work

My wife just saw that title and said “That’s not true!” She’s right, but the reality of the last 5 days isn’t very funny and right now I’ll do just about anything for a laugh.

Last Tuesday one of the kids came down with the flu. That evening the dreaded late-March blizzard set in, the high winds raking the house with ice droplets. By morning a foot of snow had fallen with drifts that would swallow a toddler. It was too wet and slushy for the tractor and blade, so I snowblowed 75 yards of snow, ice, and underneath that, mud. Did I mention that the weather previous to this was warm enough to melt most of the previous snows and make our driveway a glutinous mass? Ugh. That was a long 75 yards.

On my 5th pass out I stopped near the end of the driveway to watch the county snowplow come by. As he roared by a wave of snow enveloped me and I was buried up to my waist. It stalled the snowblower. It was really cool but, yeah, it was kinda dumb.

Back inside there was more hacking, groaning, and a couple more kids were sick. My wife was coughing too, but handling all the kids and the housework and the schooling like a many-armed goddess.

And me? Hey, I’m a guy!  I had to get to work! So off I go! The roads were pretty perilous, and after an hour (the drive is normally 22 minutes) I arrived. I checked my work e-mail and see a note from the Director saying “Don’t come to work today! It’s too dangerous!” Um, gee, thanks. Do some people check their work e-mail before they leave home? I don’t live in that world.

I go back home.  And just so that I can be a fully participating member of the family, I get sick too.  That’s the kind of guy I am.  I’m always there for them.

180 pounds of pig feed

Saturday morning I drove over to a near-by organic hog farm and bought some feed.

He has hundreds of pigs, housed in huge nylon hoop houses. Pigs! hogs! Hundreds of them, rooting around and grunting and, yes, oinking. I was surrounded by bacon!

I had driven my aging 4-door sedan and loaded it up with 6 5-gallon buckets. We filled the buckets and I arranged them on the seats. It turns out that 6 5-gallon buckets is equivalent to 180 pounds of feed.

As I drive home I figure that each of our two pigs eat about 6 pounds of feed a day. That’s 12 pounds a day, so this carload of buckets filled with feed will last about 2 weeks. I’m a one-man bucket brigade for pigs!

John Henry Newman vs Maisy

My weekend off. So I get up at my usual 6 am. I read a quote a long time ago that farmers, if they want to loaf, get up early to do it. I guess I’m in that league.

Both days I got up and made a cup of Earl Grey tea and sat on the couch in the kitchen and read more of a biography of John Henry Newman. I got the book through interlibrary loan (a little esoteric for my hometown library’s taste). I wanted the book for two reasons:

1 – John Henry Newman is a dang interesting guy. One of his best friends was Henry Wilberforce, without whom Hollywood would not have been able  to create a movie about the song “Amazing Grace.”

2 – The book was written by Father Zeno, who sounds like either a minor part in a Star Trek episode or a character in the third sequel to “A Canticle for Leibowitz.”

Fortunately Father Zeno is a good writer and the book has held my attention well enough that I now owe a fine on the book because I’ve kept it too long. I get about a half-hour each morning (if I’m lucky) to read through what is at the same time dense and enlightening.

So for the past two mornings I’ve gotten up, made tea and read. And each time shortly after I sit down Jasper (my 3-year old son) has come down, snuggled up to me and asked me to read him a story.

Do I say no to a 3-year old in order to increase my spiritual growth and the awareness of God’s grace around us?

Nope. Maisy it is.

First, “Maisy Goes Camping.” Then “Maisy Drives the Bus.” Then Maisy Goes Shopping.” We end up with the magnum opus, “Where Are You Going, Maisy?”

I’m not a bad storyteller. I’ve learned to do voices and encourage kids to read along, leaving moments in the book where they can say the words they think are on the page. This, of course, gives me time to try to synthesize the trials and tribulations of John Henry Newman into the Maisy books. So the questions in “Where are you going Maisy?” become spiritually rhetorical. Newman’s persecution and perseverance are reflected in the simple words and pictures of a children’s book. And the joy of a 3-year old in the timeless moment with a father is Newman’s realization that we are at times given glimpses of heaven.

And certainly, at 6:30 in the morning sitting in the kitchen with my 3-year old son, I have a similar feeling.

I owe 25 cents a day for keeping the book too long. I really want to finish the book. Is this the price of paradise?

“Have fun storming the castle”

And with those words my wife bade me adieu as I went to work.

It doesn’t help that I was listening to “The Lord of the Rings” on tape as I commute.  Frodo and Sam were in Shelob’s lair, and the darkness and oppression of her cave are descriptive of the weather on leaving the house. Oh well, as Sam says: “Now for it.”

The days are warming up (in the 30s and 40s, *above* zero) and the nights are in the 20s. This can only mean one thing: the sap is running in the trees!

For the last few years I have made modest amounts of maple syrup from our modest amounts of sugar maple trees. The first time I did it I honestly thought that I had witnessed a miracle. Some 10 hours of boiling gallons of sap yielded a couple of pints of amber looking fluid. One taste told part of the tale, and the faces on the kids who tasted it told the rest of the story: it was indescribably wonderful!

I was a Log Cabin man before this. What was good enough for my childhood was good enough for my adulthood. But it was time to put away childish things, and it was time to read the label on the bottle! Fercryinoutloud there’s no maple in the blasted thing!

I don’t have professional equipment. All I have is the kitchen stove, a big soup pot and some big sauce pans and some 5 gallon buckets. There are only about 6 or 7 sap-producing maples on my land so if I get a 10 gallons of syrup I’m doing well. Start boiling early, and finish up late. The first 10 hours of boiling is boring. The evaporation rate on a stove is tedious. I’ve heard that boiling sap in the kitchen will take the wallpaper off the walls, but since my wife wants to replace the wallpaper in our kitchen  I think I’m doing us a favor!

It’s that last hour of boiling, when the remaining sap is near the syrup point. The sap lingers at a point just before that for some time. Then BAM! It’s there and you’ve got to move fast! So in that long steamy day I get the bottles and lids ready for that BAM moment.

But for now, I’m still waiting for the drip and trickle flow of sap from those spouts.

To sleep, perchance to snore

“Hark! What light through yonder window breaks?”

Oh for crying out loud it’s morning already!

A relatively sleepless night, and all the lamer because I spent a lot of it thinking about, of all things, a broken sprayer bottle that I use to spray water over hundreds of seedlings I’ve started in the basement. That, and our two feeder pigs that I worry aren’t gaining weight like they should (they’re growing like hogs); wind scraping against the windows like cats clawing at bark on a tree; the low pasture: can I turn it into a baseball field for the kids, and who’s going to teach them baseball (baseball’s the one that’s played with a small, round ball, right?).

Then I ponder John Henry Newman’s great quote: “Life is short, death is certain, and the world to come is everlasting.” During the day that’s food for thought. But at night, with the wind howling and sleep out-of-reach, your mortality seems even closer at hand.

March 2, 2011

Up at 5:30 am. The wind was blowing last night and I knew I’d have to plow the driveway in the morning.
Drank a cup of Earl Grey tea on the couch in the kitchen and read more of a biography of John Henry Newman.
Then out the door by 6:20 am.
It’s -9 degrees, but no wind and at that time of the morning there are so few sounds. The air is still and frozen. It’s like being in a droplet of ice.
The sun hasn’t come up yet, but the eastern horizon is warming up with the pink hues of sunrise.
The battery is dead in the tractor so I jump-start it with the car. It starts and I’m on my way.
I break through the drifts like the pointed prow of a ship. The snow splits into blocks. A mental note to tell the kids about this: they can build snow-houses out of the blocks.
Our driveway is about 75 yards long, and after a few passes it looks pretty good. I pull out the snowblower to do the finish work.
As I blow the snow, I look and the sunrise is just spectacular. Pink, purple and gold, like a medieval tapestry.
The driveway cleared, I feed and water the horse, chickens, and our new arrivals, two feeder pigs. More on that later.
Chores done, I come back into the house. Jenna is cooking breakfast. Scrambled eggs, fresh bread, and thick cut bacon. As she puts it, “a farm breakfast for doing the farm chores.”