I am not an expert

At anything.


I decided to do this blog every day in August thing out of the blue after not posting for SIX WHOLE MONTHS and the very first prompt has to be something I have zero connection wtih.

Because I am NOT an expert.

I tried to toy around with some things I’m good at. I like to write. I like to think I’m pretty good at it. But an expert? Hardly. I read books like Click Clack Moo or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or The Chronicles of Narnia and I think, “Wow. I wish I wrote that.”

But I didn’t. And I never will. In fact, any attempt to write whimsical barnyard tales for children, sci-fi comedy or fantasy will forever be tainted by the book I can’t write. And those authors’ thoughts and phrases would bleed onto the page until I gave up.

Then I tried to take a bit of a cop out. How about me? I could be an expert in myself. Except, seriously? Whoever thought I’d be here, on some hobby farmstead in Nebraska milking cows, planning sheep breeding, fighting weeds in a massive garden and dreaming up more ways to anchor myself here, to this land. And making sure I can never again leave for more than 12 hours because the horses need fed and the poultry need watered and the cows need milked and someone needs to let the dog out.

I wanted to travel. And write. Have intellectually stimulating conversation about politics and art over coffee and wrestle with just the right words to describe the way the mist rolls over the sheep grazing on the dike on the coast of the North Sea. I wanted to travel and write and teach and explore and bind myself to ideas but not to places.

Back in kindergarten — KINDERGARTEN! — I wanted to marry a farmer and milk the cows and feed the chickens. But what does a KINDERGARTNER know about the kind of commitment and sacrifice that takes? What does a kindergartner know about anything?

Thing is, I’ve never aspired to be an expert in anything. I’m more of a generalist by nature. I know a little about a lot of things. And some things I even know well enough to know my knowledge barely scratches the surface.

Because knowledge is like that. It humbles you.

I mean, I can’t even be an expert at something simple like reading the directions. Or I would have noticed that this topic was actually for Monday because weekends are for free writing. But I’ve done gone ahead and written my very first post in six months and I’m not about to try for two. Especially not at, ahem, 3:30 in the morning.

So here it. My one kernel of wisdom: Knowledge is humbling.

Posted in education | 8 Comments

Sleepless nights

Minutes tick by. Hours drag on. This anxiety in my chest settles in and makes me restless. I’m exhausted, but I can’t sleep. It’s a familiar feeling normally reserved for stormy nights when the wind howls through the trees.

Nebraska has enough of them, you’d think I’d eventually get over it. That this sense of impending doom would lighten as night after windy night nothing happens.

But it’s not even windy.

The night is calm.

I am not.

So I pace. I move things around the house without really accomplishing anything. I watch a show on hulu. Read the same facebook statuses over again. Play some games and distract myself for a little while.

I think maybe it is because I have been looking at little Asa and thinking of Tiggy. I look at him and remember when we first moved here. He had just learned to walk. He loved getting suited up to sit in his car and watch me do chores. Most of his first words were related to the animals we owned.

I look at Asa and think of Tiggy driving his toy car up the arm of the sofa, pausing to look at me and saying, “Mom-mee” in that special way of his. I stroked his cheek while I nursed the baby and didn’t know that would be the last time I would hear him call me by name.

I look at Asa and wonder what it means that he is the only one of our children who never met him.

And I think the feeling will pass. That the next day’s activities will be a distraction and the anxiety will soften. But as soon as the children are in bed, I find myself anxious and pacing. Starting things I don’t finish. Moving things with no purpose. Drifting through the evening, tired but reluctant to go to bed.

Then suddenly I realize. Monday — now today — is his birthday.

He’d be six this year.

Posted in Grief | 16 Comments

Livestock will keep you humble

There’s nothing quite like livestock to keep you humble.

I say that because we have these two steer. Calves, really. I mean, they’re almost a year old, but even their mothers get mistaken for calves by the cattle people around here because they’re not Angus or Hereford or Simental. They’re Dexters. And they top out at about 41 inches and 700 pounds.

And they lead like puppy dogs. When they see their halters, they come running. It means a walk. Fresh pasture. A visit with mom. All good things happen after the halter is secured. This is why it seemed like a good idea to go ahead and let the girls show them at the fair. Sure, they’ll look a little puny against those muscle bound products of our neighbor’s, but they shouldn’t take two grown men bodysurfing through the fair like that steer last year.

So getting them weighed on Saturday should have been a breeze. Nevermind the fact I can’t back up a trailer to save my life. I mean, I have sweet little halter broke calves that look like newborns compared to these half-wild beasts being unloaded before and after us.

When I said, “Load up!” they hopped in the trailer. When I said, “Back out!” they backed out and let us lead them to their pen.

Easy peasy.

It absolutely did not matter that I could not back the trailer up to that shoot.

Until I told Mike, the kind man opening and closing the gate that we were just walking them out to the trailer.

Open went the gate and off went the calves. All my daughter and I had left was the rope burn as they kicked up their heels, bucked around the parking lot and made for the grass on the other side.

For a moment, I just stood there. For a moment, I thought it would be fine. They’d settle in to grazing and we’d just walk up to them and pick up their leads and haul them to the trailer. After all, they were scared. Grazing is comfort. We’re security. It would all be fine.

That’s why I didn’t run.

That and the fact that thanks to an old hip injury I really can’t run. But at that moment, I wouldn’t have even if I could have. I even told my daughter to approach from the south but to walk slowly.

And then the train whistle blew.

And the calves bolted.

And Mike sprinted. I never knew a man wearing work boots and Carharts could move so fast. But he was at a full run, waving his arms and doing everything he could to get those calves to turn.

I was almost at a run and the searing pain that normally accompanies such endeavors was noticeably absent. And then everything turned to slow motion. Mike, my daughter, the train, the calves.

And I saw it all. They were going to reach the tracks just ahead of the train. Just in time to get hit and there was nothing we could do about it. But everyone kept running. And I just saw them spattered all over the train and started wondering since we were right there if they would be able to process anything we scraped off the tracks when it was over.

Then they turned. The relief was met with that searing pain I hadn’t felt a moment ago and I couldn’t keep up the pace that really wasn’t getting me anywhere, anyway.

They ran straight up ninth street and the vet’s office there on the corner emptied out — the vet, the vet tech and I’m pretty sure the third person joining the chase was a customer. It was like the running of the bulls right there in Tecumseh, Nebraska.

Except everyone was in workboots and Carharts. And they were chasing 375 pound calves that don’t even have horns. Or testicles, for that matter.

They finally got them cornered and tied them to a fence while I went to get the trailer. A fence that in no way could hold them if they decided to take off again.

Ask me how I know.

Ask me why we had to replace our chicken run this summer.

And after a short lesson in managing steers, and a simple, “Load up!” we had them back in the trailer and tied for the ride.

And I told my daughter we’re changing the family motto from the old McIntire “per ardua” (through hardship) to “Yes, we’re that family.” And I’m putting it on a T-shirt.

Though apparently that isn’t necessary. Because when I stopped at Orscheln’s to pick up a new halter, the checker greeted me with, “So I heard about what happened with your little calves.”

Word travels fast.

And livestock keep you humble.

Posted in humor, Rural life | 5 Comments

My dog was hit by a car

I was sitting at the computer, nursing, surfing facebook.

“There’s someone here!” the children shouted.

I looked up to see our neighbor at the door. I knew it couldn’t be good. Not many people just drop in, but especially not this late in the evening. I didn’t really have time to think, though, because the door was already open.

“I just hit your white dog.”

And I was stunned. The only thing I could even think to say was, “He’s not even supposed to be out.”

livestock guardian

And he wasn’t . . . supposed to be out, that is. But Flee’s a good livestock guardian, patrolling his pasture, looking over his animals and making sure everyone makes it home safely. That’s why he chases cars. And from his side of the pasture, it is a beautiful sight to see him at a full run, escorting the car past his domain and standing at the end of the fenceline like a king as he watches the car travel on down the road. Another threat averted.

But that’s only when he’s on his side of the fence and I know no harm can come to him. That’s also why I don’t intentionally let him out of the pasture.

But he also likes to look over his mismatched flock of animals. He’s particularly fond of the cattle. You see, we got him after our little calf was attacked by a coyote and we were determined not to have that happen again. He was raised alongside those calves. He romped with them, watched over them and led them to safety any time danger was near. He is happiest when his herd is together and he can look over them all.

Livestock Guardian Dog

In return, they look to him for safety. When he barks, they come and stand near him. When he naps in the sun, they graze and play. And when it was time for them to have their own calves, they just looked on as he helped clean their newborn babes.

And at milking time, as we lead the cows out of the barn to tie them in the stanchion, Flee likes to follow. He likes to lay down by the alfalfa and just watch his girls and their calves. He likes to make sure the shepherds don’t get too close because there is absolutely no reason in his mind that they should ever give his girls that eye.

But then there’s the car chasing.

And tonight, my daughter was milking. And tonight, my daughter didn’t think about it.

So I walked out to the road with the neighbor as she told me he came out of nowhere. That she hit him pretty hard. That he ran off into the corn field.

And I wasn’t upset with her. I was thankful. We lost Timmy to this road and the driver never even slowed down. But there was no sign of Flee and I could only hope that whatever his injuries were, he could make it home so that we could take care of him and so that he could be comforted amongst his people and his herd.

I walked down to the barn because if he came home, that would be where he’d head. The animals were all out of sorts. The sheep were bleating. The cattle were incessant with their mooing and I could hear them pacing in the barn. The horses were whinnying over and over. Candy in the stanchion lifted her head from her bucket of grain and was rocking against the sides as she turned to look at me when I walked in to tell my daughter what had happened.

“Really? I just saw him and he seemed fine.”

“It just happened. They said he ran off into the corn field. They drove up the road a little to see if they could see him.”

“No. I just saw him. I heard the car and he took off, but just like two minutes ago he ran through again. He was moving just fine. He was fast.”

I was confused. Had she seen him tearing off after the car? Or had she seen him coming home, scared but without serious injury?

So I walked around the property calling him and listened as all of our livestock called for him as well. But there was nothing. Flee isn’t like our other dogs. He was raised with cattle. They are his focus and his job. He knows us. He knows his name. But he comes when he wants. Even when he isn’t scared and in pain.

And a few minutes later, he appeared in the milking barn. Our steer returned to his feed. Candy relaxed and settled into chewing her cud. And as I ran my hands along his sides, back and legs, looking for any sign of pain, I noticed how quiet everything had suddenly become.

Flee was home. The guardian was safe. And everyone relaxed.

Posted in Rural life | 1 Comment

Making marriage work

So apparently, a reddit user recently asked what makes a successful marriage. I thought that was easy.


It’s why every year, something takes out my garden, be it weather or weeds or my geese. Every year it is something, and yet every year I plant it again.

It’s why every year I start tomatoes and peppers from seeds and every year I end up going to the nursery to buy tomatoes and peppers because something happened, be it weather or negligence or my herbicidal cat. But every year, I try it again.

It’s why every year I lose chicks or ducklings or goslings to the fickleness of made-in-China heat lamps and cold spring weather, but every spring, I try it again.

And it’s why after over 18 years, I’m still married to the same man.

That and an ability to keep it all in perspective with a touch of humor to make it all worthwhie.

Like when our local nursery had sweet potatoes. Up until the very moment I found out, I had not considered planting sweet potatoes. I had actually decided that was a future maybe-if-I-ever-get-to-it project after my cow ate all I had planted the year before. And then I mistook the Japanese knotweed for a few survivors and dutifully nurtured and weeded my bed of knotweed until it was well-estabished and sent out its little runners into everything without producing a single sweet potato.

So anyway, we went down to buy sweet potatoes. They had like twenty each of two different varieties. I was inclined to take them all, because who can have too many sweet potatoes? My husband had to be all rational. Did I really need them? And I thought need? What’s need? What does anyone really need? At 79 cents a pound, sweet potatoes start looking pretty cheap at the end of a summer of weeding, especially when all you have to show for it is a bed of Japanese knotweed that the internet says you will never ever in a million years get rid of.

So no, I didn’t need it.

“What will you give up for it?”

There I was beaten. It’s hard to stake a potential harvest when my history with gardening is sketchy at best. So I relented and only bought 20 plants. And while I paid, he got to ride on their mower.


And I coud see in his eyes that gleam that says, “I want this. I must have this.” And it also says to me to run and hide the checkbook and the credit cards.

Instead, I decided to share some of his wisdom with him.

“What are you willing to give up for that?”

And you know what he said to me? This man who would begrudge me 20 sweet potato plants?

“Your hobbies.”

And there you have it.

What do you think makes a successful marriage?

Posted in family, humor | 4 Comments

On saving frostbitten potatoes. And hope after loss.

So I finally got to taking some pictures of my property. Nice pictures showing cute little calves.

The goslings our mama goose hatched out.

And the progress in the garden.

I had planned a post on the excitement of spring. The hope found in new life. And the feeling of finally seeing the rewards of years of working at this with little to show for it other than “experience.” And more things that don’t quite work.

But then we were hit with a late frost before I even got to decide which pictures to use for the post I never wrote. And for awhile, I felt like I was right back in that onion patch I planted the spring after Tiggy died.

What is the point of trying again and again and again when the only option is failure? It’s too much. It’s too hard. I don’t know how to do this.

But I also don’t know quite how to give up.

So I bought the rest of the heirloom tomatoes available at a local farm and filled out my selection with a variety of hybrids that looked interesting. I bought twice as many peppers as I had before. I took the rest of their onions even though my onion patch was unphased by the frost.

And then my garden had a little surprise for me. Four jalapenos and three tomatoes had survived. Under all the dead leaves was a lot of healthy green coming up in the potato patch. My garden wasn’t quite as dead as it looked.

I read that potato plants can frequently survive a freeze so long as there is healthy growth underneath, so I set to pruning back the dead leaves. And with the dead pruned away, there was room for life to stretch toward the sun.

And in the time it took me to prune all 280 square feet of potatoes, six of my “dead” tomato plants sent up new shoots.

Sometimes, the challenges of life knock us back. They kill our dreams, strangle our hopes and tear down our growth. But when our roots are healthy, life continues in the shadows, waiting for the chaff to be pruned away so it can again stretch toward the light.

Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.

~Psalm 31:24

Posted in faith, Gardening, Grief | 4 Comments

In which I run screaming down the road. Because of a honeybee.

I thought someone stole my beehive. Driving by on my way to town, I noticed it just wasn’t there. As I put my car into reverse to double check, I imagined someone cruising down the highway as my bees attacked.

photo by Johan J.Ingles-Le Nobel

It didn’t help.

I’ve put too much time and effort into these bees. I’ve been trying to start a colony for three years, but I just can’t seem to carry a hive through winter. And here after failure after failure after failure, April and the dandelion bloom are in sight. One of my students in my nature study class found a dandelion bud and I beamed as I told them the importance of early spring flowers.

And now someone is going to up and steal my beehive?

I wanted to cry.

And then I spotted the beehive upside down in the windbreak.

It’s maybe been a touch on the windy side these last few days. I didn’t even have that happen when the tornado went through that pushed our neighbor’s outbuildings off the foundation.

So anyway, I was a little too relieved to really think through what I should do. I just put the car in park right there in the road, grabbed my daughter and ran over. I was happy to see a few bees buzzing about and hear the whole hive buzzing.

The angry “you better not mess with us” buzz. After all, what colony of anything likes lying on its back, exposed like that? It didn’t really occur to me that they might blame me for their misfortune. I had nothing to do with it. I was rescuing them. And it was cold out. Bees really don’t fly around much when it is below forty.

So my daughter grabbed one side, I grabbed the other and we gently rolled the hive over and backed away quickly.

“Yay! Success!”

Or so I thought. I figured it best to leave the hive alone for awhile. Let the bees calm down, I thought. Besides, I wasn’t sure my daughter and I actually would be able to lift it anyway. So we went back to the car and continued on our way.

I made it all the way to the stop sign at the bottom of our road before I felt a buzzing down my back.

And this is the weird thing. I’ve been stung before. It’s not that bad. It isn’t fun. I’d rather it not happen again. But you get over it. Especially if you have bindweed because if you chew the flower and smack that glob of goo on the sting, the pain goes away almost immediately.

Getting stung isn’t so bad. But knowing you’re about to get stung is enough to send you into a panic. Or at least it is enough to send me into a panic.

And this after I oh so calmly explained to someone on facebook how easy it is to lose your fear of working the bees. How calming it is, in fact. I failed to mention that it’s still scary as anything to have a bee fly into your clothing and start that angry buzz.

So, yeah. I slammed on the brakes and tried to get out of the car. The door was locked. Put the car in park. Swung open the door and jumped out while trying to extricate myself from my jacket while trying not to let my shirt tighten across my back.

“Mouse! Help me!” I cried out as I ran around the front of car. (Good thing it was in park. Oh how fun it would have been to try to explain how I ran over myself while running from a bee that was stuck in my shirt!)

I’m not sure she entirely knew what was going on, but she dutifully grabbed my sleeve and pulled my arm out as I spun. I had my shirt half off . . . right there in the middle of the road on a 35 degree day . . . when I felt the bee crawl up my back and into my hair.

I screamed. I screamed and ran, flipping my hair over my head and spinning for no real reason while my daughter yelled, “I see it! I see it!”

That’s when I ran right into the open car door. The one I had left open as I made my dramatic exit from the car.

And that’s when the bee flew off.

And when my daughter and I started laughing so hard, I couldn’t drive.

And once again, I found myself incredibly thankful we don’t have neighbors.

Because what would you do if you pulled up on someone half dressed and frantically screaming as they spun in circles around their car?


Posted in Beekeeping, humor, Rural life | 6 Comments

Announcing our litter of English Shepherd puppies!

On February 3 and 4, Faithfull delivered her litter of ten in the whelping box my husband and children had made for her just the day before. Nothing like cutting it close! This is her not quite sure she likes her set up.

whelping box

The mattress is there because Mouse sleeps with her beloved Faithfull until she starts delivering. Last year, Faithfull woke her up by laying a newly born puppy on her! As soon as things got started, the mattress moved out so Faithfull and her puppies could have plenty of room.

And it didn’t take long at all before puppy number one came along.

first English Shepherd puppy

And number two.

And number three.

And numbers four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and finally ten!

English Shepherd puppies

And for all that work, mama defnitely deserved a little nap with her newborns.

English Shepherd nursing puppies

Marley, the papa of the litter, so wanted to know what was going on in that box. Everyone was paying so much attention to those squirmy, squeaky things, he knew it had to be something special.

English Shepher puppies

But alas, Faithfull is a good mama and not quite ready to share her litter. Her people are allowed to touch. And to fall in love.

English Shepherd puppy

But for now, Papa has to wait.

English Shepher eyes

I will post more about English Shepherds and how we raise our puppies later, but for those who are interested in more information, this is a link to our puppy blog that covers her last litter, including what we do to help make housebreaking easier and provide them with a stimulating environment to make their transition to their new homes easier. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me and I will answer as soon as I can!

Posted in English Shepherds | 1 Comment

Aquaponics in winter

OK, so last spring, we started on this aquaponics adventure. It was sort of my husband’s thing, but I like projects. Especially ones that involve ways to grow food. And it felt good to be able to turn an old IBC into something so . . . cool. And it really worked. Nutrient rich water pumped to the gravel bed, the natural biofilter provided the plants with food and clean water was returned to the tank for the fish.

herbs i aquaponics

It took a bit to get the system working. We lost a lot of fish. We set this up in the garage and it took a bit to get the lighting right for the plants. And the plants right for the lighting.

But it did work.

And we went into fall optimistic that we were past the first year bumps and this coming year might actually bring a successful harvest.Especially after discovering that one of the cold hardy lettuces we planted survived the first arctic blast and it was December before we harvested the last of the lettuce.

Then one crisp morning I walked into the garage and found several inches of frozen slush on the garage floor and a tank with fish flopping around in what little water was left. Thinking a tank had cracked in the cold, we got a livestock water heater, moved all the fish to one tank and shut down everything else. We eventually wanted heaters for all the tanks, anyway, but the cracked tank bothered me. That was a lot of work, and I didn’t think it should have happened.

But it didn’t actually crack. After I calmed down and the mess was cleaned up, we realized what the actual problem was. The water in the grow bed had frozen solid, covering the holes that allowed the water to drain back into the tank. So the pump had spent the night pumping water up to the top, where it overflowed, spilling partly into the tank and partly onto the garage floor.

So now we have one tank out there up and running, full of all the fish from five tanks. Four are frozen solid. But the heater is doing its job and keeping the water and the filtration flowing and the fish seem happy.

There’s even some leftover parsley hanging on to life, thanks to the warmed water that floods its growbed twice every hour.

parsley in aquaponics

And on a whim, I stuck the cut off base of some celery and leeks in the grow bed. I had read that you can regrow them if you soak them in water. An aquaponics tank seemed the perfect place for the experiment.

Except the fact it was below zero and all. Nothing grows all that well in single digit temperatures.

But I did it anyway. And this is what the celery looks like a month later.

celery in aquaponics

And even the leeks are showing some growth.

leeks in aquaponics

And I am getting really excited for spring.

Posted in Aquaponics | Leave a comment

An answer to prayer

I sit, holding Asa, watching him sleep. Mookie leans over to give him a kiss. I smile . . . then shudder.

For it occurs to me that this is how old Mookie was when his big brother died.

And I remember a moment a few days before that. I was sitting on the couch takinng off Mookie’s wallaby blanket in order to change his little diaper. The kids were running all over. Tiggy had a cold. The house was a mess. And I was overwhelmed.

I didn’t know how to get everything done, but mostly I was scared of getting pregnant again. I didn’t know how to take care of seven children. It didn’t make sense even then, but I remember praying for some help, some relief, some peace.

And on windy nights when I held a squirming Mookie too close through my tears I would think of that prayer and feel pangs of guilt. As if I had somehow asked for this because for one moment I was overcome by all the responsibilities before me. And it was hard to admit even to myself how much I wanted another child. And how difficult it was to go to the doctor and find out that the issues I was having didn’t really need treatment but would affect the likelihood of having another child. But I couldn’t really talk about that with anyone because who fights back tears over not being able to have a seventh child?

I knew my motives were mixed. I knew another child wouldn’t fill that hole Tiggy left. Nor would it take away an evening of feeling overwhelmed at the thought of a seventh. But feelings are what they are and mine longed for one more child to hold and to count and to raise.

And now here he is. Number seven. In my arms, asleep and showered with kisses by his big brother.

I lean over and whisper in his ear. “You are an answer to prayer, little Angel.” Because I want him to know that even as number seven, he wasn’t an accident. He wasn’t an after thought. He is our little “healer.” Our little reminder of “victory.” In Christ, over death and through new life.

Posted in family, Grief, parenting, Tiggy | 2 Comments