My last blog post was three months ago. I could write a whole book about our life in the three months since. It has been full and meaningful and slightly hard and very beautiful. The book would be a little all over the place which sounds… fun. I’ll give it a go.
Chapter 1: Goats, Pigs, Chickens, Oh My
Michael and I don’t do much planning but when life brings you 20 acres and people with animals for sale, you follow the aligned stars and start a hobby farm.
Of course, the purchase of the farm came first. We bought my grandparents’ farm on March 30th. One month later, we bought three adorable and loving Nigerian Dwarf goats. This purchase stemmed from a work conversation. I said, “We’d like to get some goats.” A wonderful woman named Laurie said, “I got goats.” The rest is history. Lillian, Pickles, and Fern became our first farm animals. Fern joined us by happenstance. We were supposed to get Scout but when the guy who wrangled up the goats for us did his thing, he mistook Fern for Scout. When Laurie saw Fern instead, she and I both decided it was meant to be. Fern was ours. Scout would stay.
The piggies came when I did what most modern human beings waste their lives away doing- scrolling through Instagram. Taira, a former coworker, posted her adorable Mangalitsa piglets for sale. The breed appealed to me instantly- a rare wooly breed that foraged much of its diet and had a docile and friendly demeanor; they also make for fine tasting pork. Interestingly, Mangalitsa pigs were first introduced to the United States in 2007. They are indigenous to Hungary. We purchased two 8 week old male piglets from Taira and named them Finn and Sawyer.
On that same day, we picked up another Mangalitsa pig, this one a female, from another farm found on Craigslist. She was a 10 month old gilt named Rosie. With only eight months of age between Rosie and the male piglets, we planned to eventually breed them to expand our herd. It was comical to see the size difference when we got them all home. Rosie was huge. Any sort of natural mating tactic would be physically impossible for quite some time. Rosie could crush Finn and Sawyer with one hoof.
The chickens arrived to our farm with no help from us. My aunt Arlette raised them from chicks. She purchased a wide variety of “heavy layers” and kept them in her garage under heat lamps until they were ready to join the party. Arlette continues to raise them while Michael and I are their proud aunt and uncle who built them their nesting boxes in anticipation of this heavy laying phase. Hutch is their pesky cousin who is always trying to hold them or throw wood chips at them like its food.
The goats, pigs, and chickens live fairly communally. The chickens wander into the goat pen and sleep under the same roof. The pigs are still separated for fear of Rosie’s hoof finding its way on top of little Sawyer. While separated, Rosie’s fencing is shared with the “itty bitty piggies” as Hutch calls them, and the itty bitties are sandwiched between the goat pen and Rosie’s fence.
We love these animals. It is a welcomed ritual to visit them upon waking and again at bedtime and somewhere in between.
The goats are so friendly and sweet. Rosie is equally so. The itty bitties are a little more rambunctious, and the chickens are always up to something. Hutch might be the wildest animal of them all, but we love him too.
Chapter 2: Grandma Johnson
We lost my Grandma Johnson to the heavens on May 21st. I held her hand as she passed. Seeing her to the other side, along with my mom and my aunt, was one of the most important moments of my life. We all whispered love, thank you, and permission to leave and be with Grandpa. I know she was listening.
It has been a great honor to live in Grandma’s home in the wake of her passing. She is present here in so many of my favorite memories.
Her piano stayed and I smile to think of her fingers moving seamlessly across the keys. I laugh to think of her tolerating the pounding of keys performed by my cousins and me, the same kind of joyful tolerating I do when Hutch helps himself to the trial and error of musical artistry.
I look at my childhood climbing tree and remember Grandma’s gentle reminders to “Be careful sweetie!” Michael already has plans for a treehouse in that very spot.
Sometimes, there are parts of the house that smell like my memories. If I cook something in the kitchen, I might get a whiff of all of the cousins huddled around the table passing corn and mashed potatoes around and around.
The laundry room smells like Grandpa Johnson when he came in from the barn. The basement still has his pool table- the one that my mom grew up to be a pool shark on. (She’ll appreciate that acknowledgement.) Hutch loves to “go play pool balls” now, so watch out Mom, there’s a new shark in town.
I could go on and on about my memories with Grandma and Grandpa Johnson in the place we now call home. Memories of them are embedded into our daily lives. I get to pass those on to Hutch and Winnie by explaining Grandma’s garden or where the Brown Swiss cows roamed. I can talk about Grandma’s elaborate cake making and where Grandpa stored his encyclopedias that he read front to back and then over again.
Losing our earthly version of Grandma was hard but so full of love, just like every day with her gentle soul and beautiful smile. I see her still- in the garden, in the red pines she planted on the hill, and in the nooks and crannies of our home. She is with us- felt, honored, and loved.
Chapter 3: The Garden We Almost Never Had
Being 38 weeks pregnant does not lend itself to skillful gardening. The bending feature on my body was temporarily out of service. I could maybe lay down as I plant the seedlings, but passerbys might be compelled to issue a well check or the hawks might think I’m rotund looking roadkill. So, I avoided planting a garden. We actually tried once in May but broke the tiller immediately which led to a three week wait time until a new drive belt could be delivered. Meanwhile, we were out of our house for 10 days while our wood floors got refinished and also fell ill with something fierce. There were many excuses to put off the garden.
Then, on June 4th, a beautiful sunny day, we came home to two of the youngest old folks I know digging their hands in our garden with plants they purchased for us. My seedlings were past their prime now so these small plants and some seeds were exactly what we needed, along with ambition and gardening expertise.
It was Grandma Larson and Papa, my other grandparents that live on a farm a few miles away. They always have a knack for knowing what is needed and when, and they go above and beyond for everyone they love.
Michael and I joined Grandma and Papa in the dirt and asked all the questions that garden novices should ask- questions about spacing, thinning, watering, etc. Grandma passed me the knowledge from her own mom, the woman I remembered to love gardening, the Minnesota Twins, and an occasional cigarette. Grandma Millie was diligent about straight rows in her garden marked by strings that spanned from one end to the other. We followed suit.
I will always remember this summer day that concluded with planting our first garden here. It was special in many ways. First, Michael’s mom was visiting us at the time. We had such a good day of going to the park, making rhubarb dessert, and going for a long walk up the hill behind our house. Rennae, or as Hutch calls her “Gigi”, was now getting Hutch ready for bed, bath time and all. Hutch adores his Gigi.
Now, our garden would exist in the same place my late Grandma Johnson gardened for the span of my lifetime and even decades before- where I ran by and picked beans to eat as I climbed the trees, ran in the corn fields, and splashed in the creek.
It was special for the kindness of Grandma Larson and Papa to instigate a garden that almost never happened, absorbing their lifetime of gardening wisdom, and getting our hands dirty together on a perfect summer night. Thank you Grandma and Papa for this and the million other ways you love.
To continue the theme of wonderful grandparents who whip up a mean garden, I want to give a shout out to Grandma Ellen who turned 90 years old this year on July 8th.
Grandma Ellen is the sweetest soul you would ever meet. That sweetness got passed down to Michael’s mom and then to… Michael’s sister and brothers. The other trait that Michael did not inherit from Grandma Ellen is her pellet gun skills. We once found a pellet gun sitting on the windowsill above the kitchen sink. Turns out, Grandma Ellen wasn’t a stranger to taking out the bully birds by her feeders, even if it happens to occur in the middle of washing dishes.
Michael took a turn at the pellet gun that day. He missed his target, and when he turned to me, he had blood dripping from his eyebrow. I guess he didn’t expect such a kickback. Perhaps, he should stick to bow and arrow… or get some lessons from Grandma Ellen.
Chapter 4: Welcoming Winnie & Riley Too
I have a knack for moving residence at the most inconvenient of times, mainly when super pregnant. This happened with Hutch at the boathouse and again now. The inconvenient part is being unable to participate in construction and renovating activities that come with a new home- staining, lifting heavy objects, climbing into precarious places. Some may say this is well planned as Michael shoulders the bulk of the work, but that’s only cool for a day or two.
Waiting for Winnie was tough. Again, I was very round in the midsection which made for an interesting time at work where bending and lifting full grown humans was part of the hourly routine.
I always got a kick out of the things my patients would say. They included, “You look like a house on wheels.” One woman just said, “holy shit!” when I walked in the room. Another sweet and slightly confused man who I took care of for five days straight would rub my belly and say “six days left” then “five days left” as each day was a countdown to my due date. From some, the rubbing of my belly would be quite weird or intrusive but this man was so sweet down to his soul that it was nothing but precious. Plus, it was better than “holy shit” or “you look like a house on wheels.” I’ll take my wins where I can get them.
I expected Winona (the name we had already chosen for our baby girl) to be late. Hutch was two weeks late even with an induction. I wanted so badly to have Winnie arrive on her own time. We set an induction date for June 20th. I was bound and determined for her to arrive before this.
My attempts at initiating labor naturally were borderline comical. Starting at 38 weeks pregnant, I did it all- lunges, curb walking, eating pineapple, using my breast pump, raspberry leaf tea, swaying around on an exercise ball, walking up hills, and sex. Sex is probably the number one way to get labor going or so said my midwife when I asked her what to do at my 39 week appointment. She said, “sex, walking, then more sex and more walking.”
On June 18th, I performed all of the above, some of them twice. Yes, two pineapples. Yes, two sexes.
It worked! On 5am on Juneteenth and Father’s Day, I started to feel true labor pains. Hallelujah!
Winona would be born 13 hours later at 5:59 pm. It was a perfect birth experience with Michael and my sister Jessi at my side. The birth team I had at Gundersen Hospital was exceptional and helped make the whole experience incredibly fun.
Winnie came out crying at full volume for 10 minutes or more. Michael and I looked at each other like, “Eeks, we forgot about this part.”
I loved her immediately. I had already loved her but something about her coming into this world loud and proud as a robust 8lb 6oz female with a full head of hair and lots of strength made me so excited to be her mom and watch her take on life full steam ahead. Watch out world, Winnie is here.
Exactly two months before Winnie was born, we welcomed our niece Riley into the world. Just as I was with her two sons, I got to be with my sister during the birth of their beautiful daughter.
My sister is my best friend; she always has been. We are only a year apart in age. Jess and I are so excited to raise daughters together and have them be close in a similar way that we were… or maybe they’ll fight and hate each other. I guess one never knows!
Chapter 5: Neighbor John
For the last three years, Neighbor John has been a prominent person in our daily life. He is our downstream neighbor at the boathouse. John died on July 6th. After he died, I spent some time writing about his dynamic life. I will share some disjointed tidbits from those writings here.
John was 87 years young at the time of his death on July 6, 2022, or as John said at his recent birthday party- “29 for the third time” as he wore one dangly earring because “that’s something a 29 year old would do”.
The boathouse community at Latsch has a vibrant and tenacious history. It is a place where outliers, independents, creatives, rebels, heartbroken and soulful individuals have landed and often stayed. John was one of those. His controversial life led him away from mainstream society and straight to the river. John was gay and lived in a community of Christian Brothers until his early forties. In 1978, John left the Christian Brothers community, came out of the closet, and found the river. John later writes this as the last line in his own obituary, “The love experienced by the gay people God creates is God’s loving gift to them, a gift to be appreciated, enjoyed, and celebrated.”
John would stay as a resident on Latsch Island and more specifically Wolf Spider Island (the lower portion of Latsch and the part of the island that remains off the grid) until his death. John documented life on the river thoroughly. He was observant and thoughtful. He marked down water levels and knew what ducks were mates. He loved the birds. He protected swallow nests at all costs and fed the ducks while providing them areas to reside by tying floating logs off his boathouse.
He was a man of independence and routine. John was an advocate and a thinker. He often wrote controversial but important letters in the Winona Post about how harmful religious hypocrisy can be and how the current teachings of Catholicism are dangerous to the development of gay kids. John attended protests to stand up for his strong beliefs. At the age of 86, John counter-protested at an anti-abortion protest. At the end of the day, he was the only counter-protester remaining.
John always made Christmas cards that had a picture of the river or an eagle or ducks or some other form of river wildlife on them. He would go to the library to print these off and then would fold them into a card and write on them. He also gave Hutch a homemade birthday card made in the same way for his first and second birthdays. He had a special place in his heart for Hutch, and Hutch loved to wave out the window to John or yell to him from our dock.
John was dynamic and true to himself. He was a simple living man with complex thoughts. He loved the river, the wildlife, and the small circle of people he lent his time and wisdom to. I am so honored we were a part of knowing and loving him. Our family of four went to visit him the day before his death on July 6th. The last words I said to him were, “I love you John.” His to me, “I love you too.”
Also, and this is something I am so thankful for, my upstream neighbor Gina has spent the previous couple of years talking with John to document his life and the history he carries within the boathouse community. She will have a podcast coming out this fall to share this meaningful work. You can follow along with this in the following spaces: www.patreon.com/ginafavano or on Instagram @backchannelradio
Chapter 6: Fridays, Buzz Off
Everyone is out there yelling “TGIF” and glorifying Fridays like it brings nothing but sunshine and rainbows and delicious margaritas with salted rims. Fridays got a little weird for us though. If you work in healthcare or have any superstitious bones in your body, you know that unfortunate things happen in threes. I work in healthcare and have a tiny pinky toe bone that harbors superstition, so of course, the power of threes reared its mighty head for us.
On Friday, June 17, Hutch awoke from a nap and was unable to walk. He tried and limped with both legs and cried and stopped… for multiple hours. This is very outside of his personality. When I prodded around to feel for pain in his legs, he withdrew them both as if they were sore. As you may remember, he recently broke his right leg. This pain was different- generalized and in both legs. My nurse experiences led me to think of all the bad things- Guillian Barre Syndrome and Lymes Disease being at the top of the list. We took him to Urgent Care. They did all the necessary tests- all negative. Whew! He was walking normally by the next day. Perhaps a case of growing pains? Apparently, this is a real diagnosis. I found it on Mother Mayo’s website, so it must be true.
By the next Friday, Winnie was five days old. I was living in a headspace short on sleep and in the land of the baby blues. That night, Winnie began to grunt with her breathing- each exhale a grunt. I counted her respirations- over 70 breathes a minute. My intuition told me something was up, but my sleep deprived noggin made me question myself. At 2:30am, we decided to take her to the ER. She spiked a fever there of 102. At only five days old, a fever that high means they have to run every test in the book. They did just that.
She eventually needed some oxygen, antibiotics, and fluids. Her diagnosis was never definitive as all the tests came back negative. The important thing was that she improved. By Monday, we were back home with our baby girl.
Are you ready for Friday #3? I’m not. Friday #3 involves another Urgent Care visit for a baseball sized blood clot emerging from the lady parts of yours truly. Yes, baseball sized. Being a woman sucks sometimes. The Supreme Court has exacerbated that sentiment exponentially.
And on Friday #4, we decided Michael should stay in bed. The End.
Chapter 7: Grateful
Thanks for hanging in there. I hope I didn’t lose too many people at Supreme Court or baseball sized blood clot because this is the part where I acknowledge all the good stuff.
The last three months have involved life and death and illness and baby blues and lots of change and new responsibilities. It has also included laughter, fulfillment, milestones, and inescapable joy. The people in our lives have a lot to do with the latter.
When Winnie was in the hospital, I went two floors down to see my coworkers. I didn’t expect this but seeing them made me cry instantly. All of the tears I carried from that day of constant tests, pokes, and interventions fell on the shoulder of my coworker Elizabeth as she held me in a hug.
I felt so safe with these people, like I knew they could carry my stress and sadness. We do it every day at work, and these coworkers and dear friends of mine do it with such honesty and love. They were my safe place.
Later that night, my coworker Karly brought me all the snacks, Tylenol, and Ibuprofen a mama could need. My other coworker Elizabeth and her husband Andy brought us their own clothes so we didn’t have to be dirtballs for three days. Their delivery also included snacks. Our needs and wants were more than met.
When we got home from the hospital, we were greeted with a fridge, freezer, and cupboard full of food. My friend Katy did this and she did it big- ice cream, chips, guacamole, fruit, all the fixings for s’mores, and the list goes on. This friend of mine since high school knows me deeply… as evidenced by the cotton candy ice cream.
The gratitude list goes on. Grandma and Papa brought us dinner on our first night home from Winnie’s birth. Our upstream neighbor Marla made me an herbal bath mix to use postpartum. My aunt Arlette tended to the animals while we were gone. My parents checked on the animals too and took Hutch for multiple days at a time… twice. My parents have also helped with nearly every project going on at our new place- roofing the shed, cleaning up scrap metal, cleaning up brush, etc. I often think we’d be lost without them.
My friend Kelly checked in frequently just to remind me she was there to talk when I needed it most.
Good people have been our greatest blessing. To all of you, thank you.
So, that’s my book! The titles I am playing with include Fridays Suck: Where’s My Margarita, Life as a House on Wheels, Sex Works & Other Induction Wisdom, When John and Arlas Meet in Heaven, and Having the Best Grandparents and Other Gardening Hacks. I guess it depends on what section of the library I’m going for… TBD.