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January at the Farm

Two weeks of quarantine and too many meltdowns... Here's a summary of January at the farm.

On New Year’s Eve, I had a glass of champagne, closed my eyes at 11:57, and opened them at 12:02 am.

“Did I miss it?” I asked Daniel groggily.

“Shh, go back to sleep,” he whispered. And we slipped into the new year quietly, as I imagine many parents of toddlers do.


2022 began the same way as many weekends with a morning of farm duties and brunch of fresh eggs and pancakes.

A January morning during weekend farm duties.
A January morning at the farm.

Our own three hens had not yet started laying, but they had grown considerably in size, enabling them to altogether destroy the chicken wire that enclosed their coop. Without the fencing to hold them back, they now roamed freely in a pack around our yard, foraging for beetles and seeds.

“It’s true what they say. The early bird gets the worm, huh?” Daniel asked that morning as we passed the busy chickens on our way to Randy’s barn.

Far from the nervous chicks they had once been, our hens had grown brave with time in the wild jungle of our yard. As Snowpea napped that afternoon, they sat staring through the door of our screened-in porch, taunting Blue through the pane of glass.

“Our chickens have the best life,” I observed.

Looking back to the blank page of my notebook in front of me, I began scribbling resolutions: “Master all the latte art… Learn to (finally) keep plants alive…”

Writing my New Years "wishes".
Writing my New Years "wishes".

“You only get to make twelve,” Daniel said from over my shoulder.

“Why? I think some years, I’ve had about 50.”

“It’s what I was telling you about the grapes. My mama used to tell us to eat 12 grapes in the new year for good luck. With each one you eat, you make a wish,” he explained, scooting next to me with his bowl of purple grapes in hand.

“Wait, the grapes are your resolutions? I just ate mine while the pancakes were cooking,” I said, neglecting to mention Snowpea had also eaten about 20 of them before sitting down to peck at her brunch.

“It’s okay, they’re still inside you, so you can make your wishes now. You can write mine down for me. Ready? My wish is to spend an hour each day learning computer programing,” he said and popped a grape in his mouth.

“My next wish is to work out five days a week,” he continued, bringing another grape to his mouth.

“I think your next wish should be to go to the doctor sometime this year. And the dentist,” I nudged him.

He looked at me, considering my request. “My next wish is to listen to my wife every now and then,” he said, rewording my resolution.

“I want to retract my wishes about plants and lattes,” I said thoughtfully, moving my pen to the next page in my notebook. “All of my resolutions can be summed up with one: Trust in the process of the universe.

Daniel looked at me and shrugged. I took a grape from Daniel’s bowl and savored its sweetness.

January was the month I (re)learned to drive.

I expected getting a car to instantly set me free, as it did when I was a teen. But the truth is I’m still terrified of these roads.

Driving anywhere from the farm is a journey up steep hills, cattle crossings, over bridges, past locked gates, down lanes with no barriers to the adjacent cliffs that tumble deep into redwoods forests, and through winding one-way paths with cars moving at you in two directions. No wonder I miss the wide streets, flat land, and open space of my small Midwestern town.

I’m scared for my life each time I get behind the wheel. But I do it because being reliant on Daniel to give me rides makes me feel like a child. It’s so comfortable, yet so unsettling. I know once I’m comfortable with driving these wild roads on my own, doors will open for me. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

“You know, driving is everything you’re not,” Daniel observed from the passenger seat as we wound back up the mountain. “Aggressive, able to react quickly, good spatial awareness, good sense of direction…”

“Okay, I may not know if we go left or right at an intersection, but I can tell you the way the patch of daffodils by the stop sign looks in the afternoon sun. Those are the details that really matter, right?” I asked defensively.

Blue sniffing the terrain around daffodils at the farm.
Daffodils in January!

“Speaking of which," I continued. "Did you notice there are daffodils in bloom at the farm? It’s January! This is so crazy. That doesn’t happen in Boston until May, right?”

“Hey, slow down on this curve,” Daniel advised, directing my attention back to the road. The car swerved around the sharp corner, and I jerked the wheel to stay on course.

“Whoops,” I mouthed and decelerated. A white pickup truck behind me honked aggressively. “What does this person want?”

“Be careful,” Daniel said. “You don’t want to mess with this kind of driver.”

I slowed down even more, and the pickup truck moved closer to my tail. Its driver honked loudly again without releasing his hand from the horn. “I think this is the same car that was honking yesterday when I was driving up the mountain. Who has a white pickup truck? Randy?”

“No, that’s not Randy,” Daniel observed, craning his neck to see the car through the back window. “Could be Neil Young’s brother, Tom?”

“You know, that does look like his truck,” I glanced through the rearview mirror. The driver honked again. “I’m going too slow for him, huh?”

“Pull over at this trailhead and let him pass,” Daniel instructed me.

I veered right and the white pickup truck whirred past me in a mad rush.

The plan for the new year was this: I would drop Snowpea off at daycare and Daniel would pick her up. That happened once. The rest of the month was chaotic, unpredictable, and impossible to settle into a routine.

A few days after Snowpea’s daycare reopened after the holiday break, one of her classmates tested positive for COVID-19. On a Saturday afternoon, while she napped after farm duties, we received the email that listed her as a close contact.

To be honest, my first reaction was excitement. I felt as though a snow day had just been announced, and I imaged spending the week crafting and baking with my baby at my feet.

Flowers from the garden and tulip latte art - Not quite winter anymore.
Flowers from the garden and tulip latte art - Not quite winter anymore.

But I quickly remembered this was sunny California, and it was 64 degrees. I peered through the window above my desk and saw the green jungle of leaves and wild periwinkle in bloom. There would certainly be no snow day.

Then, my second reaction manifested as a lump that rose to my throat: dread. I realized I would still somehow have to juggle multiple part-time jobs and caretaking.

“I’ll watch her,” Daniel said over my shoulder. “I can’t work from home anyways. You can.”

“Okay,” I said. But something didn’t feel right.

No surprise, quarantine wasn’t as breezy as I initially anticipated. Each morning, I woke up early to begin work. I put my headphones in, turned my back to the living room, and tried to drown out the distractions.

Cocomelon played loudly on TV, and Snowpea twirled around on the living room carpet.

“Mama, mama!” Snowpea would squeal when she tired of dancing.

I would close my eyes and wince, wanting to pick her up and sing with her. “Are you watching her?” I would ask, eyeing Daniel.

“Yeah, I’m in a meeting now, but she’s fine. Just let her run around,” Daniel would say with headphones in his ears.

Then, Snowpea would climb the legs of my stool, saying, “Up! Up! Up!”

By noon, I would yield to distraction and exhaustion.

“Okay, you can work now,” I would say to Daniel, who was either chasing Snowpea in circles or lying on the couch.

“Periwinkle isn’t poisonous, is it?” I asked my father the botanist over the phone.

Wild periwinkle growing at the farm.
Wild periwinkle growing at the farm.

“Yes, it is,” he affirmed. “But only if you ingest it.”

“So, I can pick a bouquet from the forest? That’s fine, right?”

“Yes,” he confirmed. “Just don’t eat it.”

“Why would I – Of course, I won’t eat it,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“Make a wish,” I told Snowpea and held a dandelion to her lips. She stared at its wispy seedlings with delight.

But how could you NOT enjoy quarantine with that smile?
But how could you NOT enjoy quarantine with this girl and that smile?

Afternoons with Snowpea were my source of joy during quarantine. We would roam around the pastures, film yoga videos, forage for periwinkle, make lavender lattes, bake matcha buns, take our time watering the garden, and laugh all the way. Sure, I should have been working, but Daniel was tired, and I was having the time of my life in this early California spring.

Quarantine afternoons of crafty coffee and baking projects: matcha buns and lavender lattes.
Quarantine afternoons of matcha buns and lavender lattes.

“Like this,” I said slowly. In a breath, I blew the dandelion seedlings into the wind and wished for things to be easier.

Snowpea’s face lit up at the sight of my grand dreams. She breathed in through her lips and attempted a short puff of air. This did little to move the remaining seeds, so she shook the flower wildly in her hands.

That weekend, I dressed us both in our overalls, set the chicken scraps bucket by the front door, and walked to the parakeet cage to turn on the adjacent Eiffel Tower-shaped lamp. I eyed Jean, the husky green parakeet, who sat quietly and somberly in his coconut swing. Something was wrong.

In the blue bedding on the floor of the cage, Simone lay lifeless.

“Oh no,” I whispered.

“Oh no,” Snowpea exclaimed, mimicking me, yet unaware of the significance of my words.

On the walk back from the barn, we picked a bouquet of periwinkle. I donned my gardening gloves, lifted Simone from the cage, and placed her in the empty chicken bucket. Her body felt light like a Christmas ornament.

As we walked to the garden, I thought of the irony of the death of our bird. Did Jean-Paul Satre kill Simone de Beauvoir? It could have been the subject of a macabre French mystery.

Snowpea ran in circles around the plants as I dug a modest hole in the dirt.

“Eeeh!” Snowpea exclaimed, pointing at my shovel.

I nestled the blue bird into her hole, patted the top with dirt, and placed fresh-picked periwinkle atop her grave.

“Can you sing with me?” I asked, turning to Snowpea.

“Yeah!” she said, smiling.

I peeled off my pink gardening gloves and placed them beside the firepit. I reached for Snowpea’s hand and held it as we walked back up the hill.

“All things bright and beautiful. All creatures great and small,” I sang quietly as we climbed toward home.

Rest In Peace, Simone the Blue Bird.
Rest In Peace, Simone.

On Sunday night, we drove down the hill to Alice’s Diner to celebrate making it through quarantine.

“Why are you smiling?” Daniel asked suspiciously, glancing at me from the driver’s seat.

“I know this week has been awful for both of us workwise, but…” my voice trailed off.

“But?” He prompted me.

“But it’s made me realize…”

“Uh-huh?” He asked impatiently.

“When we have a second baby, I want to stay home for a year.”

“Hmm,” He replied, hiding his smile.

“I know I’ve been fighting this idea of being a housewife my whole life, and I do want to work. But I also never get this time again with Eira at this age.”

Snowpea squealed from the backseat.

“I thought you weren’t ready for another one?” He asked, still attempting to keep a straight face.

I gazed out the window to the scattering of stars and the waxing moon in the black night sky and asked slowly, “Is there ever a right time?”

One week later, I was laying out clothes for Snowpea’s next day at daycare when I heard Daniel wail from the living room.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, scurrying down the hall.

“Someone in Pokey Puppy tested positive again,” he groaned. “They just sent an email.”

I gasped and exclaimed, “Oh no! Not again…”

“So, she’s out all week again,” he continued.

“Okay. We can make this work, right?” I asked hopefully. But I wasn’t so sure.

I ran with Blue on the leash and Eira in the stroller all week, which is easier said than done. Lorri would pass us on our afternoon runs as her two dogs chased the tail of her ATV. That Tuesday, we paused our run to let them pass as we reached the peak of the hill that overlooks the Young Ranch.

“I would stop to say hi, but I’m sick,” She moaned, her face red and her voice cracking. “I was in Florida over the weekend picking out a new horse, and I think I caught something there.”

“I hope you feel better soon,” I said, and Blue jerked the leash as she and her small vehicle whizzed back down the hill.

“Lorri has COVID,” I told Daniel the next day. “That’s my guess at least. She says she got something in Florida. And Randy was at a duck hunting party last weekend, right? I’m guessing they were exposed one way or another.”

“And somehow, we’re all still negative,” Daniel said.

“Knock on wood,” I replied, rapping my knuckle against our cabin wall.

“Eww, what’s on your hand?” Daniel asked, pointing at the red bumps that covered the top of my right hand.

“I don’t know, this just started today. Seems like a pretty small patch, so I think it will be okay.”

Daniel frowned, looking uncertain.

“I don’t know how you do it,” My mom said as Snowpea, Blue, and I walked past the cattle crossing the next day.

“But I’m not doing it. I’m drowning. I’m so overwhelmed,” I stated into the phone that lay balanced on the top cover of Snowpea’s jogging stroller.

“But you make it look so easy,” My mom continued.

“No, you don’t understand. Nothing is easy with Snowpea in quarantine. Neither of us can work. We’re both trying, but we’re not getting anything done. And the house is a mess. And Snowpea’s mind is rotting on Cocomelon,” I said, exasperated and scratching my wrist with fury.

“Well, if anyone can do it, it’s you,” my mom tried to reassure me.

“YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND! I’M NOT DOING IT!” I yelled into the vacuum of open country air and hung up abruptly.

On Friday of our second quarantine, we both reached a breaking point.

“This place is filthy,” Daniel said eying the stains from Snowpea’s meals on the floor. “I thought you said you were going to clean during the afternoons when you watch Snowpea?”

“There’s no time!” I said defensively.

“What about all that time you spend going for runs or doing yoga with Snowpea? Couldn’t you be cleaning then?” He asked, peeling a stuck banana peel off the floor.

“Yeah, but I also need a chance to unwind. It takes a lot of energy to try to work in the mornings with her running around, and I just need a little bit of time to do something that makes me happy.”

“But then I come home and still have to cook –”

“What do you mean? I’ve been cooking most nights!” I exclaimed, scratching my wrist.

“Baked goods don’t count. How would you ever make a good housewife if you can't handle one week of this?”

“I'm not your housewife!" I snapped back. "You know, the real problem isn’t even the mess in the house. It’s your chickens and all their mess outside. They pooped all over the porch and ate my fern! Those things need to be caged!”

“My chickens are the problem?” He asked, aghast. “You know what, I don’t need this. I’m going to take Snowpea to get her COVID test.”

“But I was going to drive her,” I protested. “It would give you more time to work at the lab.”

“You can’t drive that far,” he hissed.

Snowpea squirming at one of a few COVID tests in January.
Snowpea squirming at one of a few COVID tests in January.

A few minutes later, I watched through the living room window as Daniel and Snowpea drove away. Blue, with her paws on the windowsill, whined and looked at me.

And then, it hit me like a freight train.

I was crying – no, bawling. My chest heaved and my body was flooded with emotion. Where was this even coming from?

Blue sat at my feet and looked at me somberly. My tears of anger melted into tears of love, and I sobbed harder.

“Bluuuuuuuuuee… I love youuuuuu…” I wailed, choking on tears.

Blue looked at me, confused, and handed me her paw.

I could blame the pandemic, the poison oak, or the planets all being in retrograde, but one thing was clear to me then: Something was going to change.

That Sunday, I walked Snowpea past the stream, and we watched the evening light change from blue to pink. The cattle grazed on the green pasture, and the black-spotted neighbor dog came to sniff Snowpea’s feet.

“Say, it’s a beautiful day for a walk!” Tom greeted us, rolling down his window as he passed us in his white truck.

He’s much nicer when I’m not driving, I thought, grinning to myself.

We climbed to the top of the hill, where we could see the sunset over the ranch. There was the barn, a small brown box in the distance surrounded by a garden of roses and corrals of horses. And there was our home, nestled into the little patch of wilderness and surrounded by a dark jungle or redwoods.

The dandelions, the periwinkle, the wild and mysterious poisonous plants…How was it possible to love and fear a place at once?

I looked at Snowpea who was squealing in delight at the view of the cotton candy sky. “Star!” She said, pointing up.

We both looked up to the changing colors of the sky, and breathed out, thankful to have made it through another week.

“Miss Eira, this will be a year to remember,” I said staring into the sparkle in her eyes.

The farm at sunset.
Sunset walks around the farm.


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