Ever since visiting my first farm as a young teen in Woodstock IL, I fell in love with farms and wanted to live on one. The land and wide open spaces made me feel very alive, connected and apart of something but I didn't know what that was at the time, let alone knew who I even was.
Being basically a city girl from the suburbs of Chicago, the likelihood of me living on a farm was slim to none, so I let it just rest in my heart. Any opportunities that came to go to a farm I went and each time I connected with the land and wide open spaces. Both of my Mothers In Law had been raised on farms and I saw their work ethic, respect for nature and how living on wide open spaces made them very strong and competent women.
Fast forward 40 years and my dear friend asked me if I would be interested in taking care of her farm and 3 of her 4 children for 8 days. I thought about it for about a nano second and in my heart I said yes, but my head won out and told her I would get back to her by the end of the weekend. I have never lived or worked on a farm but I think I would love it and it was on my bucket list to experience. Here was my chance!
I processed the pros and cons, realizing that my husband and son would not be joining me due to school and work which meant I would be on my own. I was told the kids would do most of the chores and I would be responsible for collecting and washing the eggs as well as caring for four, 12 day old puppies. Who doesn't want to have to care for puppies? Duties would also include chauffeuring children to the pool, soccer, friends etc. As a parent of 4 kids, I have been there and done that and decided I could do this.
As I leave behind my life in the suburbs the scenery changes and I am welcomed to southern Minnesota and all of her rolling hills, gravel roads, wide open spaces and farms scattered here and there. The sky seems bluer out here than in the cities and as I drive down their long gravel road, I am welcomed by "the" big farm dog Lucy and the other dog Chili. The dogs, kids, and my friends greet me and my loaded vehicle. I have 2 pairs of shoes for in the house, hiking shoes, and walking in the barn and muck boots which are a pair of 5 year old red sorrel snow boots that have seen better days and are well suited for the work ahead. I have art supplies and jewelry making supplies for things to do and make with the kids. I have packed enough changes of clothes so that I am prepared for falling into any kind of animal slop or poop. Books in a tote for quiet times, and I am armed with my favorite ground coffee: Dunn Bros. Guatemalan French Roast, sadly I realize I do not have a french press with me. I will survive without one. Right?!?
As my friend and her husband continue packing and loading up the kids are showing me where things are, and of course we must see the puppies! There are 4 of them all girls whose eyes are still closed. Apparently the mother licks their eyes open when it is time. Who knew? The puppies army crawl around the whelping pen trying to stay either attached to their mother’s teat or clumping together with each other to keep warm. Part of my job is to hold these little creatures which are about the size of a small skein of yarn. I see that I will take this job seriously and will go on to holding them multiple times a day. Puppy therapy is a real thing!
On this farm there are probably about 18 chickens, free range and running about the place eating the stuff that grows in and under the grass and on the pastures. 18 sheep which includes 8 lambs, and I believe 4 rams. 1 Cattle horse, (think cattle dog but a horse). 8 cows/heifers, and 3 calves. 4 purebred spaniels, 4 puppies, 1 farm dog. 1 female cat and 3 lazy toms, a sow and her 4 piglets, and 1 angora bunny. So, a few animals...
My friend and I go over the chores and contact information for everyone and everything in case any thing happens like the cows getting out or the sheep etc. I am hoping like all get out that neither of those things happen as cows are big! They say their goodbyes to the children and off they go leaving a cloud of gravel dust behind them. I am here with children who barely know me, and me who has somewhat of a clue, but not entirely, about what she has signed up for.
I unpack and walk around getting myself familiar with things. Double checking the list of who does what chores as well as all of the activities that the kids need to be taken to over the next week. It is beautiful out here and I feel myself take a deep breath in the open air and try to take in with all of my senses the land, buildings, animals and me.
Early evening chores take place without a hitch. I gather the eggs, and am shown where the chickens sometimes hide their eggs and walk with the two younger girls 9 & 11 to oversee and partake in the evening chores of checking on the water supply for the cows, pigs and lambs. We also join in with the boy 13 who is in charge of caring for the dogs who have their own kennel building. This means we not only have to play with the dogs while they get exercised but again we must hold puppies. I now understand the cartoonist Charles M. Schulz's book title: Happiness is a warm puppy. Puppies are warm, they nuzzle on your chest and sleep in your arms. This causes you to relax and your heart to melt, due to the sweetness of this simple act.
After dinner I run a second load of towels, finish cleaning the kitchen, start the dishwasher and wash the eggs. I take one last look out the bedroom window staring out at the land before my head hits the pillow. It will be a full moon soon and I feel like I am already so far away from home, yet being out on this expansive land feels like home.