Little Things: Old Dogs Edition

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Having a pup around this year has reminded me how valuable old dogs really are. It’s easy to take their self-sufficiency for granted, the way they just know what they should be doing and do it without being asked. I’ve found myself being more lax with them in their old age. I found all 190 pounds of farm dog on our bed yesterday afternoon, both of them curled up atop our quilt, snoring the day away. They were never allowed on the furniture before, but there comes a time when you see them willing to give their life for yours, their desire to serve even if their age puts limits on how effectively they can do so, and suddenly a little fur on the bed doesn’t seem so bad.

Five Little Things I Appreciate This Week:

1. Aging Mutts.

2. Classic Christmas Programming on TV. It’s just not the holidays until Rudolph graces primetime.

3. Hot tea.

4. Good Wine.

5. Small Towns.

On Gratitude and the Trendy-ness of Thanks

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The other day, an acquaintance and friend on Facebook lamented the latest social media trend of sharing one’s gratitude publicly. “Live it!” she posted, after charging her friends and family with publicly giving thanks only because it is “politically correct” to do so. People are thankful for their spouses one day and complaining about them the next, she offered as example.

As many of you know I’ve been maintaining a gratitude practice for over a year now; mostly weekly, sometimes daily, and I try to post about it here often. This, of course, is small apples compared to some people I know — those who have made a career out of practicing gratitude — but it’s also long enough to feel as though I’ve learned a thing or two. That gratitude and irritation are not mutually exclusive emotions, and that the attempt to make them such is not necessarily a righteous one, are not the least of those.

The Man and I have been married for almost eight and a half years now, together for almost thirteen. We’re quickly approaching that point in our lives where we’ve been together longer than we’ve been apart or with someone else. And through it all, I can honestly say one of the most beautiful things about this very messy ordeal we all call marriage, is at times I’m both grateful for and irritated with him all at once. In fact, it’s the minor irritations and annoyances that often spur me to remember how much he means to me. The way I have to poke him in the arm every single night when he falls asleep on the sofa and has to be reminded to go to bed. How after almost a decade he still hasn’t figured out how to start the dishwasher, though he’s become quite adept at filling it up with dirty dishes and leaving it that way. (Seriously, he even puts the soap in.) Even the obnoxious way he “rearranges” the sheets with his feet every night to get them just so before going to sleep ultimately leaves me smiling and shaking my head at his little quirks, kvetch about it as I sometimes may.

And life’s little annoyances outside of marriage are no exception to the rule. They certainly don’t invalidate the gratitude I feel about the things and people to which they apply. Ask me what’s for dinner at six o’clock on a busy Wednesday and — even with meal plan in hand — I’ll probably sigh, but I am no less thankful for the abundance of food in our cupboards. Catch me in the middle of a technological glitch as a deadline fast approaches and you’ll probably hear choice words that could make a sailor blush, but I’m still thankful to live in an age where technology brings virtually everything the world has to offer to my fingertips.

And by the same token, nor does the gratitude practice somehow make me miraculously less human, give me the superpower to leap tall buildings breeze through life’s most frustrating moments with unrivaled grace. Being grateful, I’ve found, does not mean being without faults, though it may serve to counteract them in the sum of traits that make up my character.

Of course this has always been true. It’s simply through deliberately pausing to reflect on the little things in every day life for which I am grateful that I’ve fully realized it, and, more importantly, been able to approach frustration with it in mind. Which is, perhaps, the even greater lesson the practice has taught me; intent follows action.

The truth is, while I can’t tell you why I started my gratitude practice all those months ago, and I suspect the influence of others was not the least of those that prompted me to begin, I can tell you the reason I continue it now. It enriches my life, elevates my happiness, and has fostered many life lessons. My intentions in beginning a gratitude practice may not have been pure, but by repeated action they have become decidedly so.

The other day, in an email to the ONE Moms delegation about working with people on both sides of the political aisle, I wrote, “We have to meet them where they’re coming from,” and while the context is a bit out of place for this post, I think the premise still applies. We have to meet ourselves where we’re coming from, because where we’re at is the only starting line we have. So if it takes a pre-Thanksgiving Social Media trend to get people pausing to appreciate that for which they are thankful, I say so be it! Even if 99.9% of those people who have picked it up for this month cast the practice aside once December knocks on our door, that means 0.1% of the probably hundreds of thousands who tried it out will have picked it up for good, and thus gained a tremendously enriching perspective on life. I have a hard time finding fault in that.

Thirty Days of Little Things: Canines

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Because? This. This right here.

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Thirty Days of Little Things is the daily incarnation of my (mostly) weekly gratitude practice. It will run everyday throughout the month of November. It also (conveniently) coincides with NaBloPoMo. To join in tell me what you’re grateful for today in the comments, or write your own post and leave me a link so I can check it out. I’d love it. No really. Of course, you can also read about more of my Little Things while you’re here. Because I’d love that, too.

Thirty Days of Little Things: Those That Have Gone Before

Last night, I caught word on Twitter that Bob Christensen, owner of one of the biggest pork operations in the world, had passed away of a heart attack. Bob was only fifty-one, and a leader in the swine industry. Credited with essentially bringing what we now know as modern pork production to the midwest, I doubt there’s a pork producer in the country who hasn’t heard of him and I was certainly no exception.

What I didn’t know about Bob though, what I found when I began reading about his legacy last night, is that his world-class operation began with just two bred sows — both given to him and his brother, Glen, by a neighbor — just a few decades ago.

It’s these two to two-hundred thousand Cinderella stories that give us little guys hope, we beginners a reminder that it can be done.

The truth is, I’ve been fretting a lot lately about the state of the swine industry — the animal ag industry as a whole, really. For livestock producers, business is chaotic. Inputs keep climbing, while the live animal markets continue to piddle away. Meanwhile I’m teetering on the fence of change here at home, wondering what I should do. Expansions that were planned a year ago now seem far scarier than they were, and I wonder daily if I’m stepping off the risk cliff, putting our family too far into harm’s way for this thing that took me heart and soul against my will. Is this the right thing to do? Will any of it pan out? Will I lose everything? I have more questions than answers.

So, when I ran across two quotes from Bob in an article last night — both that spoke directly to the precarious position in which I find myself — I knew exactly what today’s Little Thing would be.

“Substantial changes in the scope of the business have corresponded with times where the agriculture sectors — typically, in the swine sector, as well — were in periods of some chaos,”

“Good times never last and bad times never last. Be proficient enough at what you do so that you’re there towards the end.”

Today I’m grateful for Bob — and all the other hog men who have gone before — those who have been willing to leave nuggets of wisdom behind. You’ll be missed.

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Thirty Days of Little Things is the daily incarnation of my (mostly) weekly gratitude practice. It will run everyday throughout the month of November. It also (conveniently) coincides with NaBloPoMo. To join in tell me what you’re grateful for today in the comments, or write your own post and leave me a link so I can check it out. I’d love it. No really. Of course, you can also read about more of my Little Things while you’re here. Because I’d love that, too.

*Picture from the archives. Right about this time last year. She was so cute. Can you believe that adorable little pig is now a 300+ pound sow? She’s sometimes surly, too.

Thirty Days of Little Things: Innovation

I spent some of my day here… and the rest of it there.

And throughout it all I kept thinking to myself how fortunate we are to get more than a bushel a day. How fortunate we are to be able to do the things we do, eat the things we eat, be the people we are, and raise the children we want. I kept thinking to myself how incredible this all is, how improbable, and yet… possible. And all because of a little thing we call innovation.

Little ideas, tweaks, methods. Tiny changes that catch on and suddenly these truly enormous things are possible. (Don’t believe me? That orange-red rectangle in the bottom right of the second picture is a door. For humans, not elves. That tiny path between the bins? Big enough for a semi-truck. Truly enormous. And figuratively as much as literally. I promise.)

As we stood beside the field towards the end of the evening, one of the guys brought up the “old” manual swing augers on combines. The ones you had to get out of the combine and physically lock into place before you could unload the grain. Get out of the combine?! It seems so inefficient now and we’re not that far removed from the time when they were the only thing available. It seems so inefficient until you remember a man you met just three weeks ago threshing barely by hand in the mountains of a third world country. A man whose day of work would yield him just a bushel a day.

Today, I’m extremely grateful for innovation. Especially in Agriculture.

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Thirty Days of Little Things is the daily incarnation of my (mostly) weekly gratitude practice. It will run everyday throughout the month of November. It also (conveniently) coincides with NaBloPoMo. To join in tell me what you’re grateful for today in the comments, or write your own post and leave me a link so I can check it out. I’d love it. No really. Of course, you can also read about more of my Little Things while you’re here. Because I’d love that, too.

Thirty Days of Little Things: Chai + Farm Life Miscellany

Chai.

I’d forgotten the simple comfort of a hot cup of tea on a cold day. I’d also forgotten how easily I fall into a funk when the weather — and more importantly, the amount of daylight — begins to wane.

We’re entering the season where I have to force myself out of bed now, into positivity, productivity, away from the siren song of hibernation. I know I’m not a bear, but my body and mind beg to differ.

The rainy part of autumn seems to have moved along now. We used about a quarter of the straw we put back for winter getting through it. It’s more than I expected to use, but if winter goes as winter should in Michigan, we’ll be fine until next summer. Another twenty-five percent of what we have would get us through a frozen winter, leaving half for when next spring’s rains converge with the thawing of the ground and make an epic mess of things. On the other hand, if we don’t freeze this winter — as we didn’t last — we’ll be in the market for more — probably by the beginning of February. Especially with a few litters due in December and January.

The prospect of more pigs is always welcome, and in a year when we cut our herd by seventy-five percent with the aim to rebuild in a different direction it feels good to be on track. But with feed prices where they are, and no relief for rising inputs in sight, it’s a rough time to be expanding.

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Thirty Days of Little Things is the daily incarnation of my (mostly) weekly gratitude practice. It will run everyday throughout the month of November. It also (conveniently) coincides with NaBloPoMo. To join in tell me what you’re grateful for today in the comments, or write your own post and leave me a link so I can check it out. I’d love it. No really. Of course, you can also read about more of my Little Things while you’re here. Because I’d love that, too.

Thirty Days of Little Things: Day One

IMG_3627692 Since returning from Ethiopia I’ve felt a bit like my wheels are spinning. I have a lot to say, but am unsure how to say it. I have a lot to do, but am unsure how to do it. I’m so small and the world is so big. And yet, I’m so big and the world is so small.

It wasn’t until just recently that I realized my problem, I feel as though the peak of 2012 is over. It’s hard to keep running forward when your mind is stuck at a checkpoint three miles back, thinking it was actually a finish line. It was not a finish line, but the race from here on out seems bigger than me. I trained for a 5k and was somehow accidentally entered into a marathon. While my legs are happy to keep going my mind is carrying on about how this was a huge mistake and someone should pay. My mind is a whiner.

Of course, much of this has led to thoughts about next year. Somehow it’s easier to imagine continuing in a different calendar year. (My mind is also OCD.)

I’ve thought about whether or not I’ll do a Reverb this year, and what I’d like 2013 to look like. But I’ve also noticed a change in my thinking about the future since returning, a greater awareness about the state of mind in which I enter things. As I look through pictures from the trip, I’m struck by how the tiny details, the shots of places we passed by, are what take me back. How this picture of benches at a secondary school remind me of the way the dry grass on the school grounds crunched under our feet, how the teacher in the math classroom we visited tossed the chalk to and fro between his hands as he paced the room, the smell of the tiny room they called a library, the way its shelves held technology books published in 1992, and how Liz’s scarf framed her face.

Somehow I feel as though this year’s Little Things practice helped put me in the right frame of mind leading up to the trip — leading up to all of this year’s experiences and opportunities, really — and so, as I look forward, I can’t imagine a better way to get myself in the right frame of mind for the coming holiday season and new year than a month of Little Things practice. Today, the little thing I’m grateful for, is the tiny details and somewhat obscure scenes from Ethiopia, those that take me back. Tomorrow I’ll share another little thing, and then another the day after that, and another the next. I hope you’ll come back throughout the month and share the little things you’re grateful for, too.

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Thirty Days of Little Things is the daily incarnation of my (mostly) weekly gratitude practice. It will run everyday throughout the month of November. It also (conveniently) coincides with NaBloPoMo. To join in tell me what you’re grateful for today in the comments, or write your own post and leave me a link so I can check it out. I’d love it. No really. Of course, you can also read about more of my Little Things while you’re here. Because I’d love that, too.