Thursday, June 23, 2016

My Beloved Horse, Flirt

Every horsewoman has that one horse in her life with whom she was completely in sync, the horse that was absolutely perfect for her.  When I was a teenager, I had a beautiful Paint horse named Tewanna.  I loved her dearly and felt completely at peace when I rode her.  Tewanna lived to the very ripe old age for a horse of 36 years.  When she passed onward, I was sure I would never again find a horse who suited me so perfectly.  I am blessed to say I was wrong, as Flirt the Horse was the perfect horse for me in my thirties, just as Tewanna was in my teenage years.

Flirt was buried last week, and my heart remains sad at her loss.  Despite this, the joy she brought to my life was so significant that my abundant tears still cannot wash away  the happiness that thoughts of her bring to me.  There is a unique symmetry that Flirt entered my world on the day that I first was given a piece of Chimeara crystal . . . And in the week after I purchased the Chimeara Crystal business, Flirt completed her time on this earth.  

In my last blog post, I wrote about the day that my friend Angie brought Flirt to Harrison Farm.  Angie had connected me with Flirt's previous owner.  Flirt had been a brood mare, and had much success as a mother.  Unfortunately, as she aged she developed cysts that prevented her from continuing her maternal role.  Flirt's owners loved her, and did not intend to sell her -- but they told Angie they would happily give Flirt to someone who would love her forever.  I was blessed to get to be that someone.  Flirt had a generous, patient nature.  It took her about a year to completely trust me, but our bond was very strong.  I spent time with Flirt almost every morning and every evening.  Just as she was calm and patient with the baby goats who ran under her and all around her, she was also calm with me.  In the last year as my life was a struggle, I always knew that if I needed to cheer myself that time with Flirt would do the trick.  I would wrap my arm around her, lay my head against her neck, and feel my heart rate steady as my emotions calmed.  Whenever I had a difficult day, time with Flirt would heal me.  I have had many friends who helped me to navigate the turmoil of the last year of my life, and chief amongst these was my horse friend.

Just as Angie was with me on the day that Flirt came to Harrison Farm, she was with me as I said goodbye to Flirt.  Colic is a terrible, awful thing.  A horse can colic for any number of reasons -- most of which are never fully known.  When a horse gets a twisted gut, the illness proceeds rapidly and rarely has a good ending.  Flirt was in good spirits that morning when we visited, but when I checked her at night she was very, very ill.  I am grateful that Angie was with me that night.  It is one hell of a good friend who will get out of her bed and drive an hour to your farm to do everything she can to help you care for your sick horse in the middle of the night.  Unfortunately, Flirt could not recover, and so we made the decision that she needed to be put down.  

One of the most difficult parts of owning animals is the recognition that at times we have to put aside our own emotions to make the best decision for the animal.  I wanted to lay on the ground next to Flirt and hold her for as long as I could, but Flirt was telling us that she was ready for her journey to end.  The State of Ohio has provisions for acceptable means of euthanasia for animals, and for horses the quickest way in the face of such an issue is to put them down with a bullet.  I am not a fan of guns (I have always been much more comfortable with a knife), but I recognize that guns are necessary tools for the world in which I live.  Responsible animal ownership and responsible gun ownership both involve maturity and analytical decision making.  I am grateful my horse had a good life, I am grateful I had the privilege of being her human, and I am especially grateful that I had my best friend by my side to counsel me through this difficult situation.

The night that Flirt passed onward, it was 3am by the time I went to sleep.  The next morning I was physically exhausted, emotionally stressed, and mentally worn out -- and I then had to face the problem of a large deceased animal in my barn!  I am grateful for the good neighbors that we have at Harrison Farm.  My neighbor James took time out of his busy day to help lay Flirt to rest.  I am grateful that I have such an amazing farm family.  So many of my interns & student assistants reached out to offer sympathy.  This was a testament to the beautiful spirit that Flirt possessed.  After Flirt was buried, we held a benediction for her the next Friday.  The goats joined us as we stood at her grave, which was rightly fitting.  

My student assistant Kaity shared these thoughts about Flirt . . .

"All that I can say about Flirt is that she was and is truly special. She was one of my favorite parts about Harrison Farm. I am grateful that I got the chance to become friends with her. I am even more grateful that she helped me convince Cecelia that I am not too bad of a human. I always gave her a hug when I went to the West End. Now I will just have to give Cecelia two, whether she wants them or not :)"

My intern Elizabeth shared this story about Flirt . . .

"Flirt is a very gentle and lovable horse. My moment with Flirt began during the time I was assigned morning duties one weekend. After I was done checking on the goat population, I saw Flirt calmly standing around the corner. Flirt and I locked eyes as I slowly began to approach her. Once I reached out to her, she then began to move against the palm of my hand as if she wanted me to continue touching her. I began to adore her greatly after this moment. It was later on Facebook that I saw a post on the Harrison Farm page that Flirt had passed. It was very sudden to me, and I started to regret how I was unable to share more moments with Flirt since I only knew her for a short period of time. Overall, Flirt is such a wonderful horse, and it saddens me to know that she is no longer with us; however, when looking at the situation in a positive light, I am happy to know that Flirt is no longer in pain, and I believe that she is now in a better place."

My lasting memories of Flirt involve so much joy & gratitude.  She brought intense happiness to my heart, and her story reminds me of how much I have in my life for which I should be grateful.  I know there will eventually be another horse for me to love, but Flirt will always hold a special place in my heart.  I hope she is at peace.  I hope perhaps she is in a place where she gets to graze with Tewanna.  As my mother Rebecca was wont to say, God forbid I should go to a heaven without any horses.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Life-Changing Opportunities; Amazing Friends

Like all truly great stories, this one begins with a goat.  In January of 2009, a woman named Angela placed a cold call to the butcher shop to ask about butchering a goat.  After speaking with me, she decided she would probably dislike me.  Once she met me in person, though, her opinion changed.  I must have done a decent job of butchering that goat, because she rapidly progressed from my customer to my friend to my adopted sister.  Apparently the mental image that was formed of me from the original phone call was that of an over-educated, possibly prissy woman who had married a farmer and was now doing the administration end of a business.  That image was blown out of the water by the reality of Katherine Harrison working a kill floor in a big yellow butcher apron.  It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

As time went on, we butchered more goats, we butchered pigs, we drank red wine, we shot guns, we shared our sorrows & our joys, and a deep kinship between us was formed.  On Christmas Eve 2010, Angie provided the transportation to bring my beautiful new horse Flirt to Harrison Farm.  Angie had connected me with Flirt's previous owner, and this amazing horse brought so much joy to my heart.  On the day that Angie delivered Flirt to the farm, she also gave me as a Christmas gift several horse-related items: a new halter, grooming equipment, treats for Flirt.  Amongst these items, there was also a beautiful etched crystal prism with an image of a goat.  Angie explained to me that this was a Chimeara crystal etching piece which was done by the couple who owned the booth for which she had worked at Quarter Horse Congress that year.  The prism was lovely, but I will admit that I was so fixated with joy at the arrival of my beautiful new horse, that I could never have dreamed that some day far in the future I would be the owner of that very etching business.

But the summer of 2012, Angie's friendship & loyalty had helped to see me through many life transitions.  She suggested that I consider working at the All-American Quarter Horse Congress that year.  This event is held every October at the Ohio Expo Center, and along with the horse shows & competitions, there is a large merchant fair.  I had many happy memories of Quarter Horse Congress from my youth.  Since it fell during my birthday month, my mother & I had a tradition that we would spend a day at Congress and I would get to pick out a birthday present.  Angie connected me with the couple for whom she had worked at the crystal etching business.  I showed up on my first day completely unsure of this endeavor to which I had committed myself for the next three weeks.  It took very little time for me to recognize that Kathy & Carl, the owners of Wilkinson Enterprises, were people of great integrity.  They were kind and caring and generous.  They set high expectations for their employees -- but it was always obvious that they themselves worked twice as hard as they expected of their employees.  Just as my acquaintance with Angie had quickly progressed, so my relationship with Kathy & Carl moved very quickly from seeing them as bosses, to seeing them as mentors, to seeing them as adopted parents.

By the time Quarter Horse Congress had ended in 2012, I had an offer to work for Wilkinson Enterprises the following January at the National Western Stock Show in Denver.  That was a true test of my endurance and abilities, and I loved it.  My vast respect and loyalty to the Wilkinsons was such that even once I had a new full-time job in 2013, I continued to work every day that I could at their booth at Quarter Horse Congress in 2013 and 2014.  I returned to Denver for the National Western, and even got to help with tear down for their booth at the National Finals Rodeo vendor show in Las Vegas.

Large scale events that go on for multiple weeks are exhausting.  I got to see the Wilkinsons in stressful situations -- dealing with difficult customers, managing employee issues, and working to keep up morale during long, tiring days.  My respect for them grew each and every day.  Kathy is the woman that I hope to grow up to be.  She is strong, and beautiful, and hard working.  She is completely dedicated to those she loves.  In her late 60s, she can still outwork me and look far better doing it!  Carl has given me paternal love & guidance that has shaped me in my adult life, as my grandfather's love & guidance shaped my youth.  Carl treats his wife with love, his employees with respect, and his customers as valued individuals.  I never saw him actively try to sell someone on a product; instead I saw a man who believed in his work and approached every customer as a possible new friend.  From how he carried himself to how he spoke, I learned the valuable lesson that if you act with integrity and carry a product in which you believe, you will be a very successful businessman.

During long hours working in their booth, we shared conversations that are dear to me.  We talked about our faith, we talked about politics, we talked about our families.  I learned big lessons and small ones.  Carl taught me how to size a ring, how to properly use a Swiffer, and how to use a business opportunity to support causes in which one believes.  Kathy patiently showed me how to make jewelry sets, and taught me that patience is a virtue that can improve almost any situation.  They both taught me that chocolate doughnuts are the most important for an event booth, that you should have fun even when you are working hard, that loyalty to your employees and to your customers is an important part of business, and that a business built on integrity & doing the right thing can be successful.  Most of all, they showed me that being a parent has much more to do with acting like a parent, than it does with either biology or marriage.  This lesson has resonated with me as I have worked with the young people in my world.  I may never be blessed with biological children of my own, but I have vast opportunities to use my skills & my guidance to assist the young people around me to grow into strong, successful individuals -- just as Kathy & Carl have done with me.

In the last year, as I have experienced even more transitions in my life, three of the people who stood by me resolutely every step of the way were Angie and Kathy and Carl.  I remember a particular phone conversation a year ago, when Carl had called me out of the blue saying he just felt that he needed to talk to me.  It happened to be during a very tough time for me, and he patiently let me tell him every detail of every tragedy in between my abundant tears.  It was humbling to have a wise gentleman listen to me, counsel me, and make it clear that he thought I was amazing -- and anyone who did not think so was obviously an idiot.  Shortly after that conversation, Kathy & Carl headed to Alaska for a long-planned amazing adventure.  Not long after their return home, Carl became ill, and it was discovered that he had a brain tumor.  The example of Kathy & Carl has shown me over the years what a loving partnership truly means, and their actions since Carl's diagnosis have shown me the strength & grace that is possible in the face of such an illness.

As I analyzed my next steps in life after the struggles of 2015, I knew that I wanted to work for myself.  I am a hard worker, I know how to build a business, and I know that I never want to work at a business without integrity as the founding principle to all business transactions.  In conversations with Kathy & Carl, they provided me with a truly life-changing opportunity: I could take over the Chimeara etching business.  The more I thought about it, the more I knew this was absolutely right for me.  And so I took a huge leap of faith, cleared out my retirement account, flew to their home in Nebraska, received a 48 hour crash course in everything Kathy had learned in 30 years, rented a U-Haul, and drove an etching business home to Harrison Farm.  It is overwhelming and scary and exciting.  I have been touched and humbled by the support I have received from my friends who keep volunteering to help me along the way.  It is inspiring to realize that I am never alone in my struggles or my challenges, with such good friends around me.  And none more so than my amazing friend Angie who took her vacation days, flew out to meet me in Nebraska, and rode 1100 miles home with me in a 26' U-Haul.

This opportunity will allow me to diversify the income stream at Harrison Farm.  It will allow me to set my own schedule.  It will allow me to develop my abilities to create animal-inspired jewelry and etchings.  I have a huge challenge ahead of me to master the skills that Carl & Kathy spent a lifetime mastering.  With their support -- and the support of all my friends -- I know this will be a great success.  I recognize that I am a caretaker for this business, and I will look after it with the same standard of integrity that Kathy & Carl have always used in their dealings.  I will make sure to honor their work, and teach my future employees based on the same standards for excellence that they set.  I recognize that I have been given an opportunity that is life-changing.  It is overwhelming and scary and exciting.  This is going to be a very fun adventure . . . And it all started with a goat!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Deo non Fortuna

On Memorial Day 2016, for the first time in my life, I built a fire at my farm and enjoyed it with some of my very favorite people.  As minor as such an experience might seem, for me it crystallized a recognition of how much my life has changed in the last eighteen months.  I remember Memorial Day weekend of 2015 clearly.  It was such a hot weekend, and I had a migraine that lasted for three days.  It seemed as though everyone at Jorgensen Farms was stressed: the brides were uncomfortable with the heat, the groomsmen drank too much, the mothers were on edge, and the vendors were a struggle to manage.  My boss was always agitated, and my boyfriend was always yelling.  As I write these words, I recognize that such conditions essentially applied to most weddings at Jorgensen Farms -- so perhaps it was only the painful migraine that makes that weekend stand out in particular.  I built many fires for the clients during weddings at Jorgensen Farms. There was something cathartic this Memorial Day about building a fire to enjoy at my own home with my own friends, and it put into perspective just how much my life has changed.

I have not written much about the end of my relationship with Matt, nor the conclusion of my time in the employment of Val.  By my nature, I like to share with others the joys of my life, and thus I limited what I wrote/said about what became the most painful year of my life.  As time moves on, I have reached many conclusions on my relationships with Matt and with his mother to understand the impact they had on me.  I have been blessed to have a select group of friends who have allowed me to cry and to talk as I needed while I tried to heal.  As time has moved on, I have gained the perspective to recognize that I need not be embarrassed by my own behavior.  I loved sincerely, I worked hard, I was loyal.  Unfortunately, those traits put me in a position that made me vulnerable.  Beyond the immense heartbreak I experienced through a crisis that was both personal & professional, I had such a sense of embarrassment at what had played out in my life.  I realize now that I should not have felt this way -- but Matt and Val trained me very well that it was my own fault that they had to treat me so poorly, and this left me broken.

It was a great surprise and a huge honor to me to be awarded the recognition of Woman of the Year by the Franklin County Farm Bureau.  How funny to be recognized in such a way for 2015, a year which I barely survived.  My mother was a previous honoree for this award, and to be grouped in a realm of achievement with her was profoundly touching.  The members of the committee who selected me are three women who inspire me.  I cannot believe how fortunate I am to have these amazing individuals as my friends, and it humbled me completely that women whom I admire would want to honor me.  Beyond this, Farm Bureau has provided me with so many opportunities -- AgriPower leadership training, the McCloy Fellowship in Germany, trips to learn about agriculture, opportunities to meet political leaders.  The greatest opportunity it has given me is the chance to meet others in the farm community, and through this I have found many dear friends.  As involved as I am in Farm Bureau, I was baffled that such a surprise could be pulled off without me knowing.  Many people have asked me the question of whether I had any idea this award was happening.  I truly did not, but I have hesitated to share the real reason why I never even considered it: Matt and Val trained me very well that I was worthless.  Thus, I did not have in my schemata that I could be worthy of any honor.

Healing is a difficult process.  I found myself in a situation where my relationship ended with someone who I loved dearly, which then put my professional world in jeopardy.  Against this backdrop, I had many other struggles.  My home was robbed, my mentor was diagnosed with a brain tumor, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer and passed onward, my relationships with extended family members suffered, and my neurological condition worsened precipitously.  My whole world seemed to change.  It has taken me a long time -- and oceans of tears -- to be able to now look back on what evolved.  I hate that all this happened.  But it happened.  Writing helps me to process, so my failure to write about the end of my relationship likely hindered my ability to process and to heal.  I was deeply, deeply in love with Matt, and I could not give up the hope that things could get better.  

Two of the good changes to my life in 2015 were the addition of Bonnie Blue Pooch and Demelza Kitten.  Demelza usually sleeps beside me at night.  When I start to rouse in the morning, Bonnie jumps up on the bed and wags her tail.  My first sight when I open my eyes is an adorable, handicapped kitten and a beautiful rescue dog.  These two give me strength.  I often reflect on their stories.  Bonnie had to be scared when she ended up at a shelter, but she made it into a rescue program that eventually brought us together.  When Demelza was abandoned on the side of a road -- young, handicapped, alone -- she had to have been terrified.  These are two of the most loving companion animals ever . . . And they were rejected by people in their lives, putting them into difficult situations.  They were rejected, they struggled, and then we found each other.  Now they have very good lives.  They make me believe that better days can come, no matter how awful a situation may seem.

When Matt & I were first together, he seemed to deeply appreciate my love of animals.  Because I adore the story of the Island of the Misfit Toys, he would joke with me about Katherine Harrison's Island of Misfit Animals.  As time went on, the jokes were less loving and more critical, until any reference to misfit toys was his way of belittling my life.  It was portrayed to me that the things that were important to me made me particularly unloveable.  As time has gone on, I have learned to embrace the things that make me the person I am -- particularly my love of animals.  Yes, my animals are misfit toys, and so am I.  But anyone who knows the story of the Island of Misfit Toys, knows that it is the misfits who love the strongest and are the most resilient.  

My life has changed dramatically in eighteen months.  I have learned to appreciate even more the people who have supported me and loved me and never wavered in their loyalty during this time.  I have learned that those who did not support me -- who found it easy to blame me because they were actually mad at other people -- who only valued me when I conformed to their expectations -- do not deserve me.  I am finally comfortable with letting people leave my life, when they do not wish to make it better.  I miss the connections that I previously had with many of my own extended family members, but I have come to accept that if they judged me so harshly, they neither knew me nor valued me.  I know that I am loyal, I know that I am honest, and I know I work very, very hard.  I trust myself much more now.

I do not write this to complain or to accuse.  Someday I will write more about my experiences at Jorgensen Farms and at Blystone Farm, and how both places grieved my heart.  Someday I may be ready to say more about why I fell so deeply in love with Matt, how he made me laugh, what our dreams were for the future.  Someday I may be able to share what Val said to me on the last night I saw her, which made it so painfully clear how little I was valued.  Any of those stories would take much more healing to be able to put them into words.  What I write now is because I have become so deeply aware that everyone has a story, that our experiences & our emotions matter, that we must support each other.  Life has given me challenges I did not want -- challenges I could barely handle and hardly bear.  I know keenly how precious life is, how precious love is.  I want to use any time that I have in this world to help those around me.  

My blog has always been an opportunity for me to share the truth of my life as a farmer.   Part of the truth of life is the heartbreak, as well as the joy.  If you are taking the time to read this, you are likely one of the very important people in my world.  I want you to know that I care about you, and that I will stand by you.  I want you to know that I did not give up, because of the good people in my life.  I promise I will grow stronger from everything I have learned, and I will use my resources to make the world a better place.  I promise that Harrison Farm will be a place of integrity and honesty and loyalty -- a place that makes lives better.  We will live as if the world were what it should be, to show it what it can be.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Happy Memorial Day from Harrison Farm!

Memorial Day is a just time to honor those brave souls who gave their lives that our way of life might continue.  For each generation of Americans, we must re-define and refine what our way of life means.  My perception of the dream that is America will always be influenced by history.  But history -- for me -- is a collection of stories.  Especially those stories of my youth, shared to me by my grandparents.  As a child listening to my grandfather, it was easy for me to envision him as a child listening to his own grandfather.  And that grandfather did not seem so very distant from me, when I was told of his youthful walk at age twelve to the Ohio Statehouse to pay his respect to the assassinated President Lincoln.  As a child listening to my grandmother, I could imagine her as a child playing with her favorite cousin Ray, just as I played with my beloved cousin Jim.  Thus, I could easily sympathize with her lifelong sorrow that her cousin survived the landing on D-Day, only to give his life at the Battle of the Bulge.  History is a collection of stories, and these stories are much closer to us than we often realize.

I am constantly amazed by the caliber of the friends in my life.  Part of the human experience is self-doubt, which can lead to great melancholy.  Even on my most melancholy days, though, I cannot fail to acknowledge the vast riches I posses in my friends.  I am blessed that many of the people whom I admire most in this world are the individuals who are my friends.  I have likewise been truly fortunate that God has sent such amazing young people to me to work as my student assistants and my interns.  When I meet these young people for an interview, I share with them the mission of our farm to connect people with animals and with farming.  I tell them that I love celebrations, and animals, and teaching.  We discuss their dreams & goals, and how this farm can serve to enrich their life.  Somehow, in all those discussions, the young people with whom I have worked have ended up becoming many of my closest friends.  They are truly my farm family.

The young ladies, with whom I have the pleasure of working this summer, are a dynamic, intelligent, and beautiful group.  While I have the lofty goal of providing internships to help make their lives better, the reality is that they have enriched my life immensely.  I am constantly inspired by their honesty, their desire to learn, and their willingness to share their experiences with me.  I do not worry about the future of the world or our country when I am in the company of such resourceful, amazing young women!  

As part of our summer internship program, we have instituted Friday Fun Day.  Our first Friday Fun Day coincided perfectly with Memorial Day weekend.  We attended the wreath-laying ceremony at the Statehouse in honor of Memorial Day, and got to hear presentations by a truly inspiring woman who lost her husband in Afghanistan, as well as a speech by Lt. Governor Mary Taylor (one of my favorite women in politics).  Afterwards we walked through the Statehouse and I shared with them why it is one of my very favorite places: the paintings, the history, the architectural beauty.  Holly Golighty had Tiffany's, and I have the Statehouse.  We did a pop-in at the office of State Senator Kevin Bacon, and his aide kindly allowed my interns to see his office.  We even took advantage of a fortuitously placed podium to recognize Intern Marissa's two months of work at Harrison Farm, and her promotion to Senior Intern.  After a respite at Starbuck's and a stroll along the riverfront, our group had a remarkable private tour of the Ohio Supreme Court.  We all learned a significant amount about the building, and had a marvelous experience there!

I love teaching because it provides the opportunity to share so many wonderful things about life.  I hope that this experience was an opportunity for my interns to understand why patriotism is vastly important to my life, why I believe in our democratic republic, and how immediate history & politics can be in each of our lives if we embrace them.  In discussion after our adventures, it was clear that the tour of the Supreme Court was a huge hit, and that my random stories about history & politics were appreciated.  That being said, everyone's favorite moment was a brief & beautiful one that we witnessed by chance.  In my eternal quest for shade, we had grouped under a tree at the side of the Statehouse as our vantage point to watch the wreath-laying ceremony.  A grandfather & his grandson stood in front of us, each holding the American flag.  We were also standing behind two members of the Air Force who were helping to coordinate the plane that flew overhead after the wreath-laying.  One of my interns snapped this picture of the young boy talking intently to the patient gentleman representing the Air Force.  I know a couple of my interns had tears in their eyes watching this gentleman give a patch from his uniform as a memento to the boy.  

We live in an amazing country.  It is our duty to share our love of it with those who come after us, so they grow to appreciate the beauty of the dream that is America.  It is likewise our sacred duty to live our lives in a way that honors those who showed the greatest devotion to this dream by giving their own life.  My grandfather was touched by his grandfather's deep respect for the assassinated president who held the Union together.  I grew up knowing keenly what it meant for my grandmother to experience the loss of her beloved cousin in World War II.  I hope my interns will never forget the quiet moment they saw of a member of our military demonstrating dignity and love of country to a child.  May God bless you this Memorial Day, and may God bless our great country.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Double Tough

On my best day, I will never be even half the woman my mother was on her worst day.  This time of year always causes me to be reflective on her life and her loss.  My mother passed onward May 15th --  thus every year I experience her absence on the holiday of Mother's Day, followed just a few days later by the anniversary of her death.  Such a loss never gets easier, however, the passage of time does allow us more perspective.  I am profoundly grateful to have had a smart, strong, funny, talented woman for my parent.

My mother soloed a plane on her 16th birthday, and had her pilot's license before her driver's license.  She could drive a truck, a motor home, a motorcycle, a tractor, and a skid steer.  She baked beautiful wedding cakes -- and only did so as gifts for the people she loved.  She learned to make baskets and to throw pots.  She sewed and crocheted and embroidered.  Her pies and breads were legendary.  She could butcher a goat, deliver a lamb, and repair a haybine.  Babies loved her -- of all species.  She could quiet any fussy human baby and heal any struggling orphan lamb.  She could run a bandsaw and a meat grinder.  She had a beautiful smile, a wicked sense of humor, and the ability to make a sailor blush with her predilection for colorful cursing.

She was a tough parent to have when I was a child.  My mother expected me to be independent and resourceful; she required me to have integrity and endurance.  When I signed up for a 4-H project, I was required to finish it.  When a horse bucked me off, I had to get back on.  Birthday presents & Christmas presents were not to be enjoyed until notes of thanks were written to the giver.  My mother believed that challenges made a person stronger, and children only learned through responsibility.  She never helped with homework; it was my responsibility to succeed or fail based on my own resources.  But she arranged her own schedule day after day to make sure I could take advantage of any opportunity I had in life.  She expected a lot of me, but she was always in my corner.

My relationship with my mother suffered during my teenage years.  She was struggling greatly with life, and had to face those challenges.  This was very hard for me as a young woman grappling to find my own place in the world.  I learned many powerful lessons, however, from my observations of what my mother experienced.  Do not be afraid to fail, but always learn from your mistakes.  If you hurt someone, make it right.  Never give up that things can get better.  Never stop believing in the healing power of love.  Surround yourself with good friends who will support you & love you -- and let them be your role models as you master the journey that is life.

I was very fortunate that as an adult my mother was truly my best friend.  We took wonderful trips together as adults.  (Although, I will always maintain that my childhood "vacations" on the wagon train were some of her worst ideas ever.)  We laughed a lot, we went to church together, we drank margaritas, and we planned all the wonderful adventures we would have together in the future.  My mother loved my friends, willingly accompanied me to ballets and goat shows and bull riding competitions, and supported me completely when I was confirmed in the Catholic Church.  It was hard for my mother to ask for forgiveness, but she spent my adult life making sure that our relationship was everything we both wanted it to be.  It was awesome.

Watching my mother at the end of her life was inspiring.  When she was told she had six months to live, she made it clear to the doctors that was not enough -- that was not even to Christmas.  And she did make it to Christmas, and to her birthday, and to Valentine's Day, and to Easter, and finally to Mother's Day.  As the cancer ravaged her physical self, her spirit seemed to shine without any temporal barriers limiting it.  Some of the most beautiful photographs of my mother were taken right at the end of her life; it was as though the camera somehow physically captured her internal light free of any worries of hair or weight or makeup.  There will never be a tougher woman than my mother facing the end of her days with love and grace and fierce rebellion against the reaper who was stalker her.

When my mother passed onward, my cousin (of the Dominican order) reminded me that death was the conduit by which Jesus was able to always be with His disciples.  By this freedom from the constrictions of the temporal realm, our spirits can also likewise be freed through death -- and thus my mother would always be with me.  I miss her every day.  There are so many times I wish I could tell her something exciting, make her laugh with my misadventures, ask her advice when I have a conundrum on the farm, or receive a hug from her when I simply want to cry.  I am grateful, though, for all the wonderful things I have to remember about her.  Her toughness and her resourcefulness.  Her beautiful smile.  Her pear pie and her lasagna made with goat sausage.  Her fearlessness in the face of a flat tire, or a divorce, or a diagnosis of cancer.  I was uniquely blessed to have this amazing woman for a mother.  I hope I can live up to the standard she set for me.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Tough Realities of Farming

As I walked up from the compost pile, with a stomach in one hand and a knife in the other, while covered in so much blood it had soaked through my overalls to my pajama pants underneath, it occurred to me that with my luck this would be the moment when a visitor would stop by Harrison Farm.  It was not even ten seconds later that I saw Auntie's big white Cadillac pulling into the barnyard.  She kindly inquired if I was trying to save an animal or if I had lost one.  I gently shared with her the reality of my difficult day as a farmer.  Unfortunately, the carcass lying a few feet away was proof positive that I had failed in my efforts to save this goat -- and the chickens were fighting over the lungs just a few feet from the driver's side door of the Cadillac as I spoke with my aunt.

I love to share the joys of farming.  There is nothing that makes me happier than welcoming friends to my farm and introducing them to my beloved animals.  Alas, sometimes the realities of farming catch up with me.  Not every day is a blissful one with adorable babies and healthy mothers.  Most days are rife with the usual frustrations of my world: sheep that waste feed, goats that knock me over, chickens that break eggs, water lines that do not work, old buildings that desperately need repair.  Some days, though, are particularly tough ones.  These days force me to acknowledge the reality of farming.

On the day in question, I took Bonnie Blue Pooch on her morning walk to the barn when we awoke, in order to turn off the night lights and check water buckets.  I observed that Mercy the Goat (in her first pregnancy) had a little hoof emerging from her.  I returned Bonnie to the house and pulled my overalls on over my pajamas -- expecting that this would be a quick exercise in helping a first time mother welcome her firstborn into the world.  Two hours later, Mercy & I were both exhausted from a failed labor.  It was becoming obvious to me that she would not -- she could not -- deliver this baby.  I called my neighbor, who kindly stopped by and confirmed what I feared: nature had completely screwed this one up.  The mother was small, it was her first time, and her baby was so giant that she could not pass it through her birth canal.  The day before she had been a beautiful goat awaiting her first offspring; now she was exhausted and in pain.  I could not rectify what nature had cruelly put upon her.

I am a farmer who raises animals for meat, and I have butchered hundreds of animals in my life.  I want my animals to have a pleasant life and a quick end.  I cannot bear to see them suffer.  I could not bear to see Mercy Goat in pain, and the only solution was to end her pain by putting her down.  The reality is that each animal has the value of what it can contribute to the farm, and that same standard applies to me as well.  If I had sold Mercy, she likely would have brought about $100.  To get a vet to come to the farm, it is a minimum $75 farm call fee just to get them there. To diagnose, medicate, and do surgery would have run a thousand dollars or more very quickly.  I do not have the funds to provide each animals with this type of medical care (even I receive very basic medical care myself!), and there are fewer and fewer vets who do this kind of work with livestock.  The last time I had a terrible labor and I asked a vet to come to the farm, the vet declined the opportunity.  That was the day that I realized that if I was to have livestock, that I had to be competent enough to provide all their care.  And when nature works against me, and I cannot save an animal, I have to be brave enough to provide it with a quick end.

I took my butchering knife, and ended Mercy's pain with a quick stroke of the knife to her carotid & jugular.  This immediately renders the animal senseless, and she bled out quickly.  As soon as reasonable, I performed a Caesarean section in the futile hope of saving the baby.  It had likely died, however, long before.  Perhaps if I had put Mercy down when I first found her, I might have saved the baby -- but I could not have known at that point what lay ahead and just how bad the situation was for Mercy.  The baby was giant.  It was absolutely unthinkable that this petite first time mother would have created such a baby.  In my pajamas & overalls, kneeling in the grass of the barnyard, with a dead mother and a dead baby in front of me, covered in their blood, I had a very significant crying jag.  Katherine before coffee is always a bit scary.  Katherine covered in blood all the way from her overalls to her glasses having a crying jag before coffee is an intensely scary experience.

I wanted Mercy's life to have value, so I then butchered her for my freezer.  She was a healthy animal, and her meat will nourish me so I have strength to work off-the-farm in order to earn money to buy more feed & hay to give to the animals that waste it and knock me down.  I will be sad to eat Mercy, but it is a reality of farming.  She was a good goat, and I will miss her.  I also wanted her child to have value, so I saved the baby to do a necropsy with my student assistant Kaity.  It is incredibly important to me to provide lessons to my interns and my student assistants on the reality & the value of the circle of life.  We are all a part of that circle of life, and learning the role of animals in it allows us to better understand our own role.  

I used the baby to share with Kaity some of the things that I see when a newborn arrives.  We discussed humane slaughter and I showed her how a proper ritual kill is done.  Then we opened up the baby so she could see the layout of the internal organs.  I taught her the trick to tell if a baby goat was born alive or dead: drop the lungs in a glass of water.  If it took breaths, the oxygen will cause the lungs to float.  Even in their death, we can learn things about animals.  Terrible losses weigh on me very heavy, and I was grateful to have Kaity's company after she got out of school that day.  I am incredibly fortunate to have amazing young people who work as my student assistants & interns.  Kaity knew my heart was sad, and she kindly kept my spirits up as we finished processing Mercy's meat.  

Several days prior to this, Kaity had given a presentation in her speech class on how to draw a goat using some pictures of our Harrison Farm goats.  I had asked her to make a picture herself that we could hang on the wall in the farmhouse.  It just happened that Kaity brought me her beautiful painting that day.  It was a tough day, it was a sad day, but it was a day that reminded me how fortunate I am to be at this farm.  To know one's place in the circle of life is a gift, and farming gives that to those who labor in service of the land and the animals.

I believe in my farm, and I believe in the animals and the humans who are a part of it.  I want to share with you that there are joys and frustrations and great struggles, but that this is the work to which I am called.  Through my efforts at this farm, I want to make the world a better place by enriching the lives of those around me through connecting them with animals and with farming.  I want to illustrate to you that farmers care deeply about their animals, that eating meat is an honorable part of the circle of life, that the hard work of farming bears great dividends to those who do the labor.  The reality is that farming is crucially hard work.  It is exhausting and it is physically back breaking.  I am usually tired, and in pain, and broke.  Yet I believe so deeply in farming, and I know I am living out my God-given purpose as a farmer.  I never fail to be filled with joy when my friends meet my baby animals, when my interns master new skills, and when I see myself carrying on the farming tradition of my family.  I hope that my writings allow you a window into the realities of farming, and I hope this encourages you to support the farmers in your own community.  It is the support of our communities -- and the love of our friends & families -- that allows us to keep farming.  And there is no endeavor as noble as the care of the earth and God's creatures.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Official Harrison Farm Statement on Bathrooms

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a conference out-of-state to represent a farm organization -- and on this trip I had one of my classic Katherine embarrassing moments.  While sitting in meetings all day, I inevitably take several breaks to stretch my legs and visit the restroom.  At this particular conference, I ducked out of a presentation for a few minutes to take a break during a very long day.  I headed for the ladies' room, and walked into the stall immediately in front of me.  While in there, I observed that there was someone in the stall next to me.  My observant nature operates at all times, so I realized it was a member of the cleaning staff by the uniform of their pants leg.  My mind -- always running -- thought to itself, "That poor lady . . . They really make the cleaning team wear such awful shoes!  Those shoes are just so manly.  What a terrible uniform for a lady!  Wait a minute . . ."  I hurriedly looked around the stall, and realized there was no discreet box on the wall for waste as would be present in every ladies' room.  And it suddenly occurred to me that I was observant enough to be judgemental about the shoes of the "cleaning lady" in the stall next to me, but not cognizant at all that I had just walked into the men's restroom.  I pulled myself together, stepped out of the stall, and as luck would have it there was a gentleman washing his hands at the sink.  He looked at me with questioning eyes.  I smiled and said "lovely weather we're having!" . . . And then hustled out the door as fast as my non-manly stilettos would take me.

My friends have laughed about that story for years.  As embarrassing as this story is for me, I love to make my friends laugh and thus the experience had a purpose.  Blissfully, I was not arrested for using the restroom of the gender to which I was not born -- a concept which never entered my mind when I made this mistake years ago.  Now we are oddly in a world where such things are being debated.  It seems to me to be a most ridiculous debate.  A bathroom is created for a specific purpose.  No one angrily chased me out of the men's room when I made my error.  At my church, there is inevitably a group of women who end up in line for the ladies' room during the "halftime bathroom break" that is the offertory.  In an effort to move things along -- and reserve the ladies' room for mothers with children -- some of the ladies will instead use the men's restroom (which never has a line).  I can report that the ladies' room is usually a bit better organized and cleaned, but both rooms are there for a specific purpose.  Arguing over who gets to use it is not a constructive use of our time.  Animals relieve themselves in front of me (and sometimes on me) all the time, so I am very happy that as humans we actually use dedicated restrooms.  Beyond this, it was not that long ago that my grandparents were using an outhouse at Harrison Farm.  We should be filled with joy that as humans we have the technology to offer real functioning bathrooms!

This morning in the Wall Street Journal, there was a photo on the front page of a bus that was bombed in Israel, injuring many.  There was an article inside on the hundreds of people who died in the earthquake in Ecuador and the current humanitarian crisis facing the survivors.  There was in-depth follow up on the terrorism in Europe over the last year and the intelligence failures that permitted these atrocities.  A particularly intriguing article discussed the struggles of aging parents in China (a culture that expects adult children to provide for their elderly parents without a strong safety net by the government) who lost the only child to which they were restricted to have by the government, and now have no one to provide for them.  And in the United States we are arguing about who gets to use a bathroom.  Our country has had 240 years of freedom and liberty, and we choose to exercise our First Amendment rights by arguing about bathrooms.

Friends, this post is not to attack anyone's beliefs.  These words are to remind you that our country is engaged in dialogue on a trivial matter: who gets to use a toilet.  I happily endorse that there are differences between the genders, and I happily promote that we are all unique individuals.  Parents who are concerned about their children using a public bathroom should always go with their child.  ALWAYS.  Women tend to go to bathrooms in groups -- this is both social and basic good safety.  In Wyoming, my girlfriends & I visit the woods in groups when we camp to help protect each other from bears of all genders!  It is as equally ridiculous that government bodies are trying to regulate the use of bathrooms, as it is that other government bodies are trying to protest this regulation with their own proposals.  I doubt there is a government entity in this whole great country that does not have at least one rule on the books that would be offensive in some manner.  Move on, and address issues that truly matter.

And if you end up in the wrong bathroom, just comment on the lovely weather!