By Mary As I type, my hands are sticky from super glue that I was working with to make a pair of earrings. Initially the earrings were a pair of cuff links that my mother’s father owned. The cuff links were later given to me as a birthday present many years ago by my mom. Grandpa died when I was a young girl, just weeks before my birthday in October. However, I still feel a connection to this man who was known for his love of farming and his deep faith. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. It was a joy and an honor to gather a few tools and turn something old into something new that I can wear in honor of him and well, just because I love horses! Recently I was reflecting on how fascinating it is to recreate things that have a past, and a story of their very own into something new, that holds meaning and is useful. Stores like Ikea and Wal-Mart don’t interest me in the least. Mass productions of things that come off an assembly line and will eventually end up in a landfill strike me as empty. That’s not to say that some of the things manufactured aren’t useful or good in their own right. It’s just that for me, I delight in turning old things into new things. This spring I have had so much fun refinishing furniture. It takes quite a lot of time to strip, sand, and add coats of new paint. I am semi addicted to using a power sander that may or may not have been confiscated from my carpenter brother. I have enjoyed the process start to finish. Power tools are a blast! I am always amazed at how ambiguous DYI projects are as they manifest. Whenever I do needle work it’s such a jumbled mess of embroidery string until eventually an entire tapestry manifests. Quilting is similar to needle work. What starts off as a mess of fabric odds and ends can really transform into something uniquely individual and that patches together beautifully. Looking back at my life, it is truthful to say that I have quilted the most when everything had seemed really hard and like nothing was coming together in my environment. All those miss-matching pieces end up coming together over time both in the quilt and in life. The end result is a special work of color and collaboration that signifies meaning. Speaking of special, look at this wreath that I made just the other day! I figured that the pages from old books didn’t need to be wasted. Really, with a hot glue gun book pages can go through some major plastic, um, I mean * paper surgery! The last endeavor that I have been working on recently is removing flesh from a stack of sheep skins and carefully salting them down before lying them out flat to dry. Last week I sent a heap of them to a tanning company to get backed in buckskin and dry cleaned. It should be interesting to see how they turn out! It’s rewarding to be able to see the beauty in things that don’t seem to have a use or make any sense. Oftentimes, the cost of doing so is very inexpensive, and the best part is that old things become new things with both a past and a future- just like you and me.
We were talking about our day in the kitchen last night, when my husband mentioned that it was Take your Child to Work Day, and a couple of his co-worker had brought a child along to work with them.
Interesting, I said.
I didn’t hear about the nationwide celebration of the day because I’d gotten up early, packed three children and three bags of accessories into my battered van, and headed out to the farm for a photo shoot which, for once, found me on the opposite side of the lens than usual. Instead of shooting I was shot, high on a wind swept ridge with my hair whipping in the wind. I was wearing a summer dress, vintage boots, great big earrings, an armful of bracelets, and a baby in a sling. The wind was cold and it was a long climb up that hill with three small children, a fashion photographer in tennis shoes, and a stylish magazine editor from the city, but the whole crew had more or less cheerfully followed me through mud and cow, pig, and chicken manure up the steep hill to take my picture where the ridge met the sky. It was too cold up there to take more than a few shots, but hopefully I’ll look halfway decent in the June Issue of Whirl Magazine.
I know the baby in the sling will look great. She always does. In fact, she’s a big part of the reason we were up there on that hill in the first place.
A couple weeks ago I strode into a meeting in a real magazine office downtown, complete with glossy covers on the wall, exposed brick, and fancy lighting. It was the perfect opportunity to do something I’ve always longed to do, which is wear pleather pants to a business meeting. I was also wearing a five month old baby, dressed for the occasion in a fetching vintage outfit. I tucked her into the sling, threw a glittering printed scarf over her, and sailed into the meeting wearing bright lipstick, smelling like French perfume… and nursing a baby.
I was lucky. They loved it. It was bold, it was interesting, it was different- a six foot tall woman in pleather pants wearing a baby and representing a farm? Perfect for their monthly Style File feature.
Taking your baby to a business meeting is definitely different- but with this baby, I’ve done it over and over. I could never have done this with my first, but this is a peaceful little one, and I’ve gained a much larger degree of competence and grace and confidence in my ability to care for a very small sleeping baby worn against me while having an important conversation, which is what meetings are for. That’s why I keep scheduling them. There are conversations to be had! Deals to be made! I have to be there in order for these things to happen, and my baby needs to be with me in order to have her needs met. I’m not taking a stand on an ideological level but trying to address a practical need for all concerned- and you know what? The short term presence of a smiling baby in an office generally brings delight.
So, weeks later, there we were, children and chicken manure and chill wind, shooting for the Style File. Finding something different, something edgy? Well, that’s fashion! So said the sweet Style Editor who cheerfully clambered through the muck holding the hand of my five year old. She also asked me some interesting questions after we’d begun to warm up, settled into a booth at the Sandwich Shop.
Who inspires your style? Who are your style icons?
It was a tough question for me, so I opened a book and showed her a picture that has been inspiring me lately.
I love this picture. I love it because the prints are fierce and the woman is strong and the child is sleeping. I love that there are mountains in the distance, because this is how I feel in my life right now. I feel like my broad shoulders are carrying my children forward in life on a great adventure, climbing towards distant mountains, visible on the horizon but not yet known.
I do not believe that work must be separated entirely from children, kept in a separate place where children can visit once a year. I do not believe that caring for my children is not work. I am disturbed at the nature of our current conception of work/life separation and what it means for women, and men, and children, and the greater society.
On a farm, and for most of human history, work and family life are intertwined. While of course some tasks are not appropriate for children, they are a part of the work life of the farm from an early age, and they provide valuable assistance and gain self respect as they begin working. Small children want to work! They want to do what their parents do, and especially as they grow, to exile them to a life devoid of exposure to anything but rigidly structured and enforced play is a disservice. This may simply mean allowing your child to help sweep the floor or fix a bike- or you can go whole hog, tie a baby on, put on your pleather pants, and head to a business meeting.
Taking children to work is inconvenient. It’s embarrassing, and it can be maddening- but I’m going to keep doing it, because it’s hugely rewarding and so important. There are mountains to climb!
Yesterday I took home a pair of overalls that had been left on my sister-in-laws clothesline for about a solid week. Perhaps it’s a good thing that they had so long to dry. After all, they had been drenched in a spring hailstorm that touched down one morning while Patrick, Gabriel, Aurora and I were out looking for new calves and trying to move a group of cattle.
That particular morning I spent a lot of time with my head down because the rain wouldn’t stop pelting my neck and face, and I didn’t have a hat on to block it. However, glancing forward I was able to see the silhouettes of two of my brothers looking rather comical in long rain slickers as well as my sister in law Aurora who is still out riding and working cattle while six months pregnant. I was jolted out of my discomfort at the sight of the three of them in the harsh spring rain working alongside each other. It’s good to be able to collaborate with siblings to tackle jobs and life.
The sight of them reminded me of something I haven’t spent enough time being grateful for. It’s a wonderful gift that grown siblings choose to still stay involved in each others lives. That spring moment in the rain, I knew all sorts of funny idiosyncrasies that each of the people I was working with exhibit because all of us have spent so much time together as siblings and more or less, as closest friends. Do we fight? Yes! And sometimes often, but when push comes to shove, each of us has one anothers back. With the rolling black sky up above me, and my nervous horse who was skittish due to the storm underneath me, I knew that the morning rainstorms would let up and that within hours I would be dry and able to get on the road. The van I was driving that day was my brother Robert’s because he was borrowing my car to drive to for a family wedding. We decided my car was a better option because his family van has been having some issues which I can attest after my hand got burned from getting shocked while trying to jump-start it in the pounding rain late the night before. That day I knew that Robert would probably be busy with his family and in-laws in Moore, Oklahoma, but he also would probably be calling me to remind me that I had to get my taxes in because he knows how I am about filing taxes and my total horror of having to do them by myself. Due to this and the nearing tax deadline date I was getting reminders and encouragement that I needed in order to file by the 15th.
This support system is in a way how we operate frequently. What one sibling cannot do, another can. It’s a useful way to live and also a rich one. For that I am grateful! I was especially grateful that cold Thursday morning to end up at a friend’s cabin leaving a pool of rainwater on her floor and having Patrick arrange for a trailer to come pick us and our horses up.
Life has many storms, but in the end they always let up and no matter how difficult they may be, family is always there help weather them.
With my green eyes I see beauty and with my green thumb I like to nurture and create it. One of my very favorite things to do is to spend hours lost silence while gardening. Growing flowers never bores me. I have an appreciation for the flexibility of flower gardening because first and foremost, it offers me a creative outlet that is beautiful, as well as in constant motion. I really do despise sitting still, so it’s wonderful to be engaged in projects that keep me busy and moving, Plus growing flowers is such a flexible way to have a fun niche market.
Yesterday I picked up flats of baby lupines that I had started at an Amish greenhouse back in February. While at the greenhouse I spent a few minutes looking around at what’s available, which made me ponder new ideas for this season. Later last night I was able to look back at some of the pictures from last summer which made me remember times, colors and designs that were a joy to experience during last years growing season. Here are a few memories, designs and projects from 2014.
Last February the world seemed to as if it would always remain in a cold state of below zero frozen doom. Lisa King from the GAC show Farm Kings sympathized with my state of winter misery and was able to brighten my spirits by showing me the first shoots of new life inside her greenhouse. As a side note: Lisa is an amazing flower gardener and does some amazing and gorgeous things with flowers. For some great inspiration from Lisa, checkout some of the clips that are available from their show or Freedom Farms Magazine.
After coming back from Pittsburgh, I was able to put together some lists of records and start planting.
Writing for the Freedom Farms magazine challenged me to spend some time coming up with articles that gave potting a new twist (just like the twisted grass in the globe pots I made that resemble my unbrushed hair!). To make these, just up-cycle an old globe, slit it in half, drill holes for drainage, and plant inside before attaching rope for hanging,
Last summer I was able to burn out a stump and turn it into a flower bed.
Burning out a tree takes a lot of time, and in my case one very heated argument…. but I liked the end result!
Last year I recycled old bottles that had labels I liked and used them as vases. The price is right to reuse them. This gave me a great inspiration to buy bottles of wine that had horses on the labels, I mean, I bought them for my flowers, right?
When it comes time to fill buckets with bouquets to take to the co-op for market, I am in my zone!
This year I will have new colors and plants to work with. I am really looking forward to seeing what I come up with. My hope for this post was that it provided some inspiration to think creatively, and most importantly, encourage you to get out and get your hands in the dirt. Happy gardening and don’t forget to get lots of dirt on your hands!