Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Learning Opportunities

In Irish Grove we don't make mistakes, we have "learning opportunities".

A learning opportunity is good. Positive. Desirable. A mistake is bad: a reminder that you're a big fat failure, a screw-up, a nobody. Yesterday I was presented with a learning opportunity, and I'm nice enough to share it with you.

Our cows needed hay. The poor pregnant mama's and the young heifers were slowly walking circles around our snow-covered pasture all morning, trying to find a bit of grass to eat. They weren't starving, by any means, since Mom had thrown them a few small squares of good, green hay in the morning. But our cows are a lot like me: they're not happy unless they're chompin' and chewin' and chawin' all day long. (Hey, a girl's gotta eat.)

So late in the afternoon, I finally get around to grabbing the tractor so I could haul a few round bales up to the ladies. When I was finished, I was all like "I'm the real deal, man. I just can't get enough of myself. I'm a rockin' farmer, that's me allright."

I mean, I had dropped off the loader bucket and hooked up the bale-spear, I had plowed a path through our newest 6 inches of snow to the hay bales, I had loaded up the hay and driven it up the road without causing an accident, I had gotten the frozen gate open, and I had lifted those hay bales way up high, up and over the fence and dropped them squarely into the bale cages. It was the work of a professional...beautifully executed, if I do say so myself. And so I slept soundly last night, all warm with my feelings of self-congratulation and adoration.

But winter is bitter cold, and so is the feeling that washed over me when Marcel peeked his head inside before leaving for work this morning to say, "Hey, who drove the tractor yesterday?" (Conversations that begin by asking "who did that?" usually never end well.)

"Umm, I did. Why?"

Now Marcel has been stung by his wife's "how dare you accuse me" wrath before, so he's too wise to just come out and accuse me of something. "No. I mean who took the tractor out (meaning out of the shed)?"

"Yeah, I know. I did."

"But didn't Rob use the tractor to plow yesterday?"

Uh-oh. If he's looking to scapegoat Rob in order to escape my reaction, it must be really bad.

"Yes, he did. But I had already taken it out and gotten it ready for him. Why?"

Note to self: never ask why.

"Umm, well someone forgot to unplug the tractor before they drove it and reeked havoc with just about everything. Are you sure someone didn't drive it before you?" (Boy, this Marcel is good.)

And it is about now that that bitter cold feeling I mentioned earlier started to overtake me. "And by everything, you mean what? What did I do?"

Please note how I immediately took responsibility for my actions.

"Well...insert hesitation drove the tractor with the extension cord still connected between it and the electric box (which, if you don't know, keeps the diesel fuel warm in the winter, since diesel fuel can freeze at cold temperatures, unlike gasoline). The electric box was ripped off the wall, the cord is split and ruined, and you bent the h*ll out of the plug on the tractor."

To which I adeptly responded, "Oops." Then I crossed my fingers, hoped to die, and stuck a needle in my eye (not really) as I quietly asked, "Can it be fixed?"

My husband sighed a heavy sigh--like he needs more to do!--and said, "Well, I'll see what I can do." This, when uttered by my superbly-talented mechanically-gifted husband, usually means yes.

Whew! Thank God it will get fixed. And especially thank God we don't make mistakes in Irish Grove. We just create new learning opportunities. And I'm saying 'we' in a very general sense, if you know what I mean.

So, what did I learn? I learned that when you're gonna drive this:

you first have to disconnect this:

or else you're going to ruin this:

And you don't wanna do that.

Glad I could share this learning opportunity with you, everybody. I'm nice like that, no matter what my husband might fear, err think.

P.S. I'm soo glad Farmer Bill is on vacation.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


I just ate store-bought chicken. The rotisserrie kind.

It was gross, but I ate it anyway.

I do this often. Eat first, think later. It is the first of many symptoms that prove I have a unhealthy relationship with food. (I know, I know....who doesn't?)

The chicken meat was soft. The edges of the pieces were slippery and slimy. And the plate the chicken came on was positively swimming in grease.

By now you must be thinking, "And why, for the love of God, did you eat it!?!" That's a great question, of course, but what intrigues me even more is "Just how does a harmless piece of chicken get to be so soft, slimy and greasy?"

Warning: Stop here if you love to eat store-bought chicken.

Did you know that the chicken you buy at the grocery store was only 6 weeks old at the time of slaughter? 6 weeks old, and already 4-5 pounds! In the early 1900's, it took chickens about 16 weeks to reach 2 pounds. How could that be?

Well, in the 1930's some enterprising scientists, in the name of national security (ok, not really, but it sounds good) taught the old-fashioned poultry breeders some new tricks, and they began to produce broilers (meat birds) that were bred for rapid growth, white feathers, and meaty breasts and thighs.

Soon after, the mighty chicken complex was born. You might be surprised to learn that most meat chickens aren't raised in cages (laying hens are less fortunate). Instead, they get to live in a chicken complex. It sounds pretty fancy, but it basically means they get to share their bedroom with 20,000 other chickens, and the lucky dogs err chickens get a whole whoppin' 0.8 square feet all to themselves.

While in the complex, they are privy to an all-you-can-eat chicken-food buffet, every day of their lives (which might make my brother-in-law a little jealous). And chicken food is oh-so-delish, usually consisting of a little bit corn and soy, a little bit rendered animal parts (chickens don't get mad cow disease), and a little bit o' drugs, i.e. antibiotics, to help those babies grow big, fast.

(You can read about a study performed by Consumer Reports regarding Roxarsone, one of the antibiotics used that actually contains arsenic by clicking here.)

So now I know. Now I know why my disagreeable chicken meal was so soft, slimy and greasy. I just ate an overweight, under-exercised, flabby, drugged-out baby. Shouldn't someone call the Department of Child and Family Services or something?

If I had only thought about that before eating, I could have prevented this physical and mental indigestion. And regarding my unhealthy relationship to food? I think I may have just taken a baby-step towards a solution. No pun intended.