The Gibson family farm has been in our family since 1906. It has been a fully functioning farm the whole time. My Grandfather and Great-Grandfather grew mostly canola and durum, and for the past ten years my father has been raising sheep. Our farm is located in the south-west corner of Saskatchewan. I grew up mostly in the city of Saskatoon, spending my summers out at the farm. You could say I have a bit of farm-kid in me. The farm spans for hundreds of acres around the farmhouse, but the garden is just down a path through the yard. This is where the magic happens...

To Hail and Back June 21

                  I am enjoying the calm after the storm. Sort of. I'm also kind of panicking because I may have lost some plants, and can't get to the garden because its too muddy, and I'm stuck in the house for the rest of the day. But other than that, I'm enjoying the calm after the storm.
               Let me clarify... we just had the mother-of-all hail storms. I was enjoying some sunshine, catching up on some weeding, and all of the sudden the sky darkened and BOOM.... thunder, followed by an intense shower of hail. I jumped into my car and sped up to the house, just before it got REALLY bad. And believe me, it did!! The hail stones were only about the size of a pea, but that's all it takes to cause some serious damage to tender plants like peas and corn. All I could do was stand at the window and pray for my little plants. It was a sense of total loss of control.
                I think this must have been what the pioneers that lived here 100 years ago must have felt every time a storm came, or an early frost, or a fire or a drought. Total helplessness. You put everything into your crop or garden, hours of labor and a bit of money, and in an instant, it can all be destroyed. Of course, now if this happens we have insurance and can always get food elsewhere. But 100 years ago, if a storm came, it was like standing back and watching the years' sustenance go down the drain. People died from incidents like these, whole families starved to death. It kind of puts things into perspective, doesn't it?
           That's not to say I wouldn't be devastated if anything happened to my garden... I'd be crushed. But just as you start to get cocky and almighty because you raised a few seedlings from the ground... nature rears it angry head and shows you just how insignificant you are in comparison. It's humbling.If you don't respect mother nature, she will bring you to your knees and make you respect her.
                Now I just have to play the waiting game, let the ground dry up enough to get down to the garden and check on my plants.        Pray for me?

Weeds June 15

Weeding. Weeding. Weeding. I have been weeding for over a week, and I'm only half done. And by the time I've finished the last row, I'll have to start on the first row again. But that's okay. For the most part I actually love weeding. I just sit right on the ground and dig in. I'm very thorough. My plants deserve the best, and I will not let any weed-bully get too close to my babies. Plus, I get a great tan from being outside. I find it therapeutic to just sit and do the same task over and over again. You don't really have to think.
                                  There are several ways to control weeds in your garden; one is to spray them with chemicals so they die, another is to lay down mulch such as newspapers covered with compost to suffocate the weeds. But I certainly don't want any unnecessary chemicals in my garden. And also, I like to walk in between my plants and sit on the ground in front of them, so mulch just isn't practical either.
That leaves me with one option... pulling weeds the old fashioned way. By the end of the day there's so much dirt under my finger nails they'll never look clean again. The pads of my finger are raw and my hands are cracking from being dried out. I have a solution to this, and don't balk at it, it really works. I like to slather my hands in olive oil and massage it in for 5 minutes. So what if your hands are a tad greasy, they will look much better after a few treatments. Another great option is to use udder cream (cream used to soften and heal animal's nipples after breastfeeding.) or a really thick hand salve such as Burt's Bees Hand Salve. Whatever product you choose, if you take care of your hands, they'll take care of you.

Burning the Midnight Oil June 11

Ohhhhh Boy it is late. And I still can't fall asleep. So I did what any rational person would do... I went to the barn with a couple bottles of milk and talked and snuggled with my babies. Lambs, that is. It's actually very therapeutic to talk to something that cannot answer you. Sometimes you don't want a reply, you just need to say the words out loud. Saying them out loud is like putting them in a journal, it gets your thoughts out of your head and onto paper... or in my case into the dusty midnight air of the barn.
A barn is kind of a spooky place at night. You have to walk to the middle of the barn just to turn the lights on, and once the light is on, you have 60 mama or mama-to-be sheep staring at you. Every little sound makes your heart race, and you start to think of things like ghosts and axe murderers. And once your settled into the straw with a couple of excited  babies, everything seems natural and wholesome again. On the way back through the dark, I fell!! I can't believe I survived the tragic incident, but I'm happy to report that I am fine now. It takes more than a fallen electric fence to hold me back!!! It was embarrassing that Minx the barncat was right there, witnessing the whole spectacle, me splayed out on the ground, face planted in the dirt. I swear she rolled her eyes. Is it a symptom of insanity to be self conscious in front of a cat?
I finally made it back home, which is where I am now, not scared of ghosts or axe murders at all, my dad is in bed in the next room. Which is where I should be. Sweet dreams everybody.

To Disinfect, or Not to Disinfect.... June 10

There has been a lot of hype lately about disinfection products like Lysol and Clorox. These companies manufacture all kinds of cleaning products, from sprays to wipes to dish soap and much, much more. I absolutely love those disinfecting wipes... not so much for the disinfection, but the handiness of grabbing a wipe, taking a swipe and being done with it all. And the Swiffer mop cloths are genius, so easy and quick. But there is a downside to using products like these. And this is where my paradoxical dilemma begins.
       I'm going to tell you a secret. Since I was a young child, I've suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I don't count or check 15 times that the door is locked or anything like that. I just like order. And I don't like germs. And I mean I REALLY like order and I REALLY don't like germs. Messes make me anxious and I just want to clean and tidy all of the time. If I could vacuum the garden, I probably would.
                    On the other hand, I truly believe that a well earned immune system trumps a bucket full of disinfecting products any day. It's proven that people who are exposed to germs their whole life have a much stronger immune system than someone who was raised being sheltered from germs. I think that kids should pick their noses and get scrapes and eat dirt. These simple acts are the difference between a strong immune system and a vulnerable one. Everyone has seen the kid whose mother smothers him and refuses to let him play in the dirt and this kid is usually sick. 
       The rational side of my brain does realize that the surge of popularity in disinfecting products has directly resulted in loss of exposure to pathogens and bacteria. And these products have probably saved a lot of people from getting food poisoning or a stomach flu... but bacteria is very resourceful and it WILL find a way to survive. By disinfection an area, you kill all but the very strongest strains of bacteria. These survivors produce bacteria that is also strong and virile. Essentially this is survival of the fittest. In this case, the fittest happens to be the most active bacteria, and therefore, the most infectious. Not a situation that a germaphobe wants to find them self in. It's also worth mentioning that these products are very toxic, and they leave residue all over your house. Most of these toxic substances are carcinogenic, which means they can lead to cancer.
                          So, what to chose? I do indulge myself in tidying the house, but I try to stay away from using too many of these products ( except my Lysol wipes, which I will NEVER give up. No one can make me!)                                                    If I really want to disinfect something, like a cutting board covered in raw chicken juice, I boil a kettle of water, and pour it over the board. But for the most part, hot soapy water and some good old fashioned scrubbing is really all you need to have a clean and healthy home.

Meditation June 7

               I've never known how to meditate. I mean really meditate the way Buddhist monks do. I've bought all kinds of fancy yoga clothes and instructional DVD's. I've gone to classes and tried my hardest to really relax and center myself. It's a challenge. I have a scattered mind and I'm always thinking or worrying or fussing. I find it hard to sit down and concentrate on nothing but relaxation. My body always hurts which makes it especially  hard to spiritually remove myself from my body. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about this in her book, "Eat Pray Love". It is a practiced talent to be able to truly meditate.
Today, I found my center. I went for an impromptu walk down the road between two fields. I wasn't planning on this walk, so I was wearing ballet slippers, not proper shoes. But I started to walk, the breeze was behind me, almost pushing me down the road. So I walked for miles, for no reason at all. I just wanted to be outside on this perfectly gorgeous day. I climbed up a big hay bale and sat, lotus style. (Lotus style is a yoga position in which you sit with perfect posture, legs crossed. Ya, at least I learned something from those yoga classes!!) 
I let my mind drift. I'm not sure if i fell asleep, but I felt lighter, like air. My mind couldn't focus on anything, and I didn't try to make it. I just went with it. It was like floating in water, or being held by someone warm. After a while I snapped out of it, jumped off the bale and slowly walked home, truly happy and whole. Now I know what meditating really is. It's not something you can force, you just have to let it in and let it out. Try it. Really. It's worth it.

Potato Soup June 6

The only thing I love more than gardening is cooking. I've been doing it for most of my life, and most people think I'm pretty okay at it. I'm terrible at reading recipes though, I get bored half way through the ingredient list and either lose interest or just make the rest up. Sometimes the results are disastrous but most of the time, things turn out okay. After so many years of practice I can usually gauge whether or not something will turn out well. And by "so many years" I mean almost 20, which to some isn't that many, but keep in mind I'm only 25!
I remember standing on a chair beside my dad in the kitchen (before he met my stepmother, which by my calculations puts me around age 5). He was whistling "Sesame Street" and instructing me on the fine art of icing a Minnie Mouse cake for my sister's birthday. Anyways, fast-forward 20 years and here I am this evening, eager to share a recipe I made up today for potato soup. The measurements are approximate because I wasn't paying that close attention to what I was doing, but here it is:
1 package of good bacon
1 medium sized onion
9 potatoes ( I used russet and red)
3 carrots, chopped
2 cups frozen corn
4 cups beef stock
2 cups homo milk
I browned the bacon in the bottom of a large pot, then I added the onions and cooked them until they were soft ( I removed most of the bacon fat before adding the onions, but you don't have to). I  peeled and chopped the potatoes into 1" cubes and added them, the carrots and the corn to the pot and added the stock to cover. I also added about 2 cups of homogenized milk, but I don't think it matters too much what milk fat % you use( The more milk fat, the creamier the soup will be). I also added about 3 teaspoons of pepper, and a little cornstarch to thicken it up. I let it all simmer for a few hours and voila... potato soup!! Perfect with biscuits.


         Wow it's been a great weekend!!! I went home to Saskatoon to spend some much-needed time with my girlfriends. Now I'm back at the farm, and it's time to work. Peas are finally coming up in my garden, as well as an army of weeds. We have one new orphan, so that makes three baby lambs to feed. And the mice... well I'm sorry to say they just didn't make it. I think they just weren't getting enough nutrition without their mama, and they were starving. I couldn't handle the sight of the emaciated babies, so I made the decision to put them out of their misery. It was the kindest thing to do, given the state they were in. I'll skip the details, but I will say that they had a quick and relatively painless death. I put them back in their box to ask my younger sister what she wanted to do with her deceased pets. When I got back.... the box was open and the mouse blanket was strewn suspiciously on the ground. Minx. The barncat. The hungry barncat. It seems that the painstaking effort I took in caring for these rodents was nothing more than a late lunch for Minx. She was laying on the porch belly up with a satisfied look on her feline face.
         Of course, there is nothing unusual about a cat eating a mouse, and they were already dead. I guess she was just taking care of my disposal dilemma. R.I.P. baby mice.
         Now, for a city girl, I think I have a pretty respectable demeanor when it comes to farm animals and the inevitable death they eventually face. I've seen my dad cut the head off a live chicken, I've actually held the chicken down as he did it. (**Interesting fact** Contrary to lore, chickens do not actually run around after their head is cut off, they just make a hell of a mess thrashing their wings around, spraying blood all over the damn place) I've helped my dad shoot sheep for slaughter. I was even in the car once when my dad hit and killed a fawn on the highway. It's not death that bothers me, but suffering. I hate that those mice suffered for days without their mother. I hate that the mother of my orphaned lamb twins spent the night with a prolapsed uterus. (You'll have to look that one up.) (On second thought, don't look it up, you don't want to know.) My dad eventually had to take her from the barn and shoot her. Again, it was the kindest thing to do.
         Farmlife is a balance between life and death all the time. Just as a mother perished from giving birth, new plants were emerging from the ground. As a chicken is butchered for meat, a family is sustained.  The role of a respectable farmer includes being an attentive care-giver. To respect your animals is to provide them with the best life within your means. There will always be suffering in life, but prevention is the best medicine. Take care of your animals and you'll have happy, healthy ones.

Summer fallow June 2

                                "Those who do not know how to weep with their whole heart do not know how 
                                                                  to laugh either.” - Golda Meir

I have been walking for miles. I didn't mean to. I meant to just go to the garden and take notes on the progress of my tomatoes. But when I got to the garden I just kept walking. Now I'm sitting on the border of two fields. The one on my right is absolutely green and lush with canola plants. The one on my left is empty. 
                         What it actually is, is summer fallow. This is what experienced farmers do to conserve vital nutrients and moisture in their soil in between crops. Plants take alot out of the soil, and without a chance to recover some of these nutrients, the soil may become barren. 
These days I feel alot more like the recovering summer fallow than the flourishing canola. It's been a rough couple of years. Sitting in the dirt, I'm contemplating all the ways the human heart can grieve. My grandmother died without me ever realizing how much much I would miss her. I lost the man I thought I would grow old with, and then the one that pulled me out of the frying pan and into the fire. My sister and best friend left for the United States and the space between us now feels like a canyon. 
And then the accident. This accident did not leave me paralyzed. Did not leave me blind or brain damaged. Did not leave me dead. But it did change my life forever. My spine was injured, and no amount of surgery will ever fix it. From the moment I wake up to the moment I lay down to sleep, and all of my dreaming hours in between, I am in pain. Throbbing, aching pain but also grief. Grief over the loss of movement, and the loss of freedom. I now know what hopelessness means. I know the gravity of dependence on painkillers, the relief that only narcotics can bring.
I do not believe there is beauty in pain or in tragedy. Misery sneaks up on you from behind and steals your breath.  It is a barren place that everyone must walk through at least once in their life. But I do believe there is a fine balance to everything, and where darkness falls light must follow. The harder you fall the higher you must rise to overcome it.  This is how one survives a lifetime of being human. Allowing the tide to rise over your head, and then letting it recede back into the ocean. Holding your breath until it's safe to breathe again.
There is nothing noble or romantic about this cycle, it is as natural as night and day, as basic as crop and summerfallow.

Now to Feed Myself.... June 1

                         I'm happy to report that all six of my baby mice survived the night, and they're doing really good!!! They're taking in milk with the dropper, and they're moving around a lot more. This morning they were cold to the touch, which was alarming, but their temperature seems to have risen, thanks to a heating pad under the box they were in. My baby lambs are also doing really well, I have to feed them a warm bottle of milk four times a day. Bambi, the little brown one (which looks more like a fawn than a lamb, hence it's name) is definitely the more aggressive one. I have to separate them to feed them so Bambi doesn't get all the milk. Add in the barn kittens and the dogs, and let's not forget the swarm of mosquitoes I ran through on my way to the barn, I've done more than my fair share of feeding today.
Now to feed myself...