Humble Pie

Written by Lydia Benedict.

A friend recently said that my blogs about my life sound boastful. I apologized, and then she did too. Still, it hurt because I hate to think I may have offended my readership—namely my friends. I'd like to set the record straight. Although my life is good, it's not perfect. Life comes with challenges, and mine is no exception.

While criticism is tough to swallow, sometimes it's good to self-inspect. The reason I have chosen to focus on the positive when blogging about my lifestyle is because no one wants to hear me carry on about the challenges of gardening, raising and caring for animals, or home schooling. Besides, I would likely sound unhappy—which I'm not.

At the same time, my focus on the positive may give a false impression. A farmer recently told me that people too often imagine farm life as skipping through the garden with a basket of flowers. Not hardly.

While I still view farm life in a romantic light, it comes with its fair share of blood, sweat, and tears...and challenges. Consider animals. Most adults understand the responsibility that comes with pets. Livestock is quite another story. For example, the family dog can often tag along on a weekend trip to the beach. Chickens, obviously, cannot.

Plus, people with chickens, cows, sheep, or other farm animals, often start working at sun-up (or earlier) and go until sun-down (or later). No sleeping in allowed. And you have to put your evening plans on hold, at least long enough to make sure the animals are bedded down. It's kind of like tucking the kids into bed at night: you can't get on with the rest of your night until it's done.

Still there are losses. When I went up to the chicken coop one summer morning to find a few of our hens (raised from chicks) all but pulled through the chicken wire at the bottom of the coop and gutted (opossum do that), it was very discouraging. So when there was a ruckus coming from the chicken coop a night or two later, Jeff, Tennyson and I ran to the coop. We chased off the predator before there were anymore chicken fatalities, but not before another hen was injured. Then we spent the next hour in the dark with flashlights trying to secure the coop from predators. The kids and I then nursed the injured hen back to health, as best we could. We are learning for ourselves that plans (whether it is dinner or family movie night) sometimes go on hold while a small crisis is dealt with.

The gardens also require constant attention with weeding, watering, staking, and much more. In the heat of summer, I often get up at 6 a.m. to get the weeding done by 10 a.m. My goal is to finish my work while it is still cool— only 90 degrees. There are many days in the summer when my clothes are drenched with sweat. (Talk about detoxifying.) Between the sweat and the dirt, I'm not a pretty sight (or smell). Plus, I seem to have a talent for finding poison ivy. I usually get multiple cases of it each summer (also not pretty).

                                                                   Chopping fresh vegetables from the garden (Photo by Clancy Benedict)

Then there is all the work that comes with preserving the extra produce. It starts in May with strawberry jam, and continues through the fall with pumpkins, with many an August afternoon in between canning tomatoes and green beans. With a pressure cooker, I literally have to stand over the stove for the entire process to maintain the appropriate pressure. Though not as exhausting as rototilling (which I sometimes have to do myself), the canning process is tiring. Growing up, I remember my mother soaking her feet after a long day of canning. Now I do it.

Then there is the home school front. I'd be lying if I said it was easy—it's not. It takes a lot of time, energy, and devotion. It's tough to find time for the rest of life, whether it is exercise, paying bills, or lunch with a friend. Like working moms, I usually compensate by getting up earlier and staying up later. Except there's no paycheck.

Still—it's okay because I believe in what I'm doing. If I didn't, I wouldn't do it. Of course, when the gardening and harvest overlap with teaching school (which they do both at the beginning and end of the school year), it is almost too much. Some days, there is nothing to do except "cry uncle."

However, in an effort to decrease the work load, we let our horses go. Horses are like 1200 lb children: they need their nails clipped, mane and fur brushed, and stomachs filled. And speaking of appetite, a horse is always ready to eat. (Hmmm...sounds like a teenager).

Plus, horses are just smart enough to hurt themselves. Let me explain. One of our horses had figured out how to push open the sliding door of the barn using his head. And using his head again (no pun intended), he forced the lid off the can and ate the grain down as far as his big head could fit into the garbage can. But at least he's not a picky eater—he even helped himself to the chicken grain.

When we found him, he was nonchalantly exiting the barn, clip-clopping over the cement, stepping over shovels and rakes (he had just knocked down) and working his way between lumber, ladders, and sleds (it's amazing how much stuff you don't need). Yet that was a good day. A bad day would have been if the horse died which can easily happen when horses eat too much grain.

But for me, the saddest thing about the horses is that I didn't have time to ride them. My kids did. I rode for the first and last time the day we said goodbye. If I could afford a barn—replete with both a stable and stable boy—I'd still have the horses. They had become part of the family, and letting them go was a hard decision.

Despite all the work that goes into this place I call home, I still feel rewarded. I take personal pleasure when my kids excel in their studies or when they interact appropriately not only with other children, but also adults. And as I've said before, I'm very pleased to see my kids learning hard work and responsibility. However, I recognize that they aren't gaining these attributes due to my mothering skills, but rather because it's just life—farm life. And when I open a jar of tomatoes in January, I smell summer—and smile. Plus, it makes me happy that my kids appreciate food and they know not to waste good food not only because it's healthy but because it's a lot of damn work.

                                                     Making homemade spaghetti sauce from fresh tomatoes (Photo by Clancy Benedict)

So folks, there you have it. At the risk of sounding unhappy, I've served up this blog with a good dose of honesty. Sometimes we think that for life to be good it has to be easy. Not so. Despite all the hard work, being perpetually tired and always running late (just can't seem to get it all done fast enough), I am happy. However, I devote this article to the good, the bad, and the ugly because I am as human as anybody else.