Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Or the horse may talk..."

We got the official news last night, the company where my husband works is shutting down the print facility of which he is Operations Manager. He and some 200+ others will be losing their jobs in the 4th quarter of 2012. (We had initially heard the numbers were higher, and are glad it's not 300, but J is still one of those who will be looking for work.)

J is almost 61. We were hoping his career would carry him through to retirement (we are not ready yet.) He's been in the newspaper industry for more than 40 years, it's all he's done in one form or another, all his life. My job, as lovely as it is, will in no way provide enough income for us to retire now. And by this time next year we'll have not one but two children in college.

It's an interesting time to be middle-aged, interesting ala the Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." I grew up in the 60s and 70s, and once married my mom didn't have to work. She kept house, and did an inordinate amount of volunteer work all her life. I wanted to live a life like hers, and to an extent, I have. I gave up a lucrative career to stay at home and raise my children. Oh, I've always done some part-time work or another all along, mostly computer related. But never full time, and never outside the house. So for me to try to re-enter the workplace now, in the midst of the worst recession in decades, is not particularly viable. But I've tried, applied for jobs I know I could do well, at a salary far, far below what I ever made even 25 years ago. But so far have found nothing.

An old expression I've always believed in is "Do what you love, and the money will follow." What I do now, working with the amazing collection of vintage ephemera that my mother left behind when she died, is amazing, satisfying, and just my dream job. I love it. I'd like to keep doing it. But will I be able to? I dunno.

It's not like we haven't dealt with this sort of thing before, sadly. In 2002, when the economy tanked and businesses were pulling back, my husband was told the giant print facility he was to build and run wasn't going to happen, and the company he worked for then let him go. Prior to that, a paper he worked for brought in a new publisher who systematically fired every single middle manager she had, J included, for no good reason other than she could.

So it's a situation we've been in before, and have made it though. And each time what came after was always better than what had been before: better job, better home, better life. So I have faith that the same thing will hold true this time. It's just the "getting through" it all that can be stressful. In times like these, I am reminded of a story my family told when we were growing up, often enough so that the tagline has become enough to bring the whole thing home. It goes like this:

A man had offended the king, and was sentenced to death. He fell to his knees before the king and implored, "Oh your majesty! Spare me but for one year, and I will teach your horse to talk!" The king was amazed, and granted his wish.

The man's close friend and brother upbraided him, saying, "Why did you make such an absurd promise?"

The man shrugged and replied, "In a year, the king may die. In a year, I may die. In a year, the horse may talk!"

The point of the story being, one never knows what will happen in the future. Something amazing could happen that you'd never consider. And since we've been given time (nine months to a year) to figure this all out, who knows what could happen? Hell, the horse may talk!

At any rate, despite all the ups and downs of the past year, our family wishes all of you a very happy holiday, whichever one you celebrate (and even if you don't,) and we send you light and love, and hopes for peace and joy in the coming year.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Teach Our Children Well...

Last week I got a call from daughter A's FFA teacher at school asking if I could come in and make a presentation on what it's like to be a poultry farmer. Now, strictly speaking, I'm not a "poultry farmer." When I hear that term, I think of the folks who own the big battery farms, and raise ten thousand broilers or laying hens. That's definitely not me. I told Ms. W that, and she said it was fine, she just wanted to give the kids some idea of what it's like to raise poultry. That I can do!

Production White Leghorn
So in I went today to make a presentation. I had nothing prepared, no notes or Powerpoint, just a chicken. I had grabbed up one of our Production White Leghorns (which A got for her 4-H project and County Fair this past summer.) Popped the hen into a crate and off to school I went. I've done lots of presentations and demos in my life, so winging it was just fine with me, I can extemporize with the best of 'em, on any number of topics (being able to spout bs at length and sound like you know what you're talking about is a gift, not a skill, I'm just lucky that way.)

Off we went, the chicken and me, up to school where I did my presentation for a 7th grade class (when did 7th graders get so old looking, by the way?) We live in a very rural area, and I admit I was surprised at how few of the kids in the class live on farms, only 2 out of the 25 in the room. Most of the kids were from "in town", and few had ever gotten close to a live chicken. It brought home to me how disconnected most of us are from how our food is raised (those of us who eat meat, that is), as the average 7th grader really only thinks of chicken as something that comes as a nugget, or is wrapped in plastic in the case at the grocery store. I think this is a Very Bad Thing.

Fresh eggs are so much better than store-bought!
Part of my presentation was to answer eight questions the kids had on a worksheet, and as we worked our way through the sheet several things became clear. The first was, the kids were eager to display what they did know about chickens (several weeks earlier A had done a presentation for the class on a different breed we raise, called Buckeyes.) Most of them were happy to share what they already knew, and were interested in learning more about what it takes to raise chickens. We talked about doing chores; every day, twice a day, sometimes three times a day if it's really hot and the animals need extra water. One of the questions was "What is the hardest part about raising chickens/living on a farm?", to which I replied "Finding someone reliable and knowledgeable enough to do chores if we want to go on vacation" which surprised many of them. But the thing I came away with, is that most of those kids would be perfectly happy to not ever be a farmer. And that makes me sad.

Children in our communities need to get more involved with production of their food, not less. We need to have more community gardens, more cooperative animal projects, not fewer. Kids need to get dirt under their fingernails, mud on their shoes, pull an egg out from under a chicken on the nest, to really appreciate what it means to raise food, to connect with the process. We do our children a disservice if we keep them from that, raise them to think food comes from Wal-Mart or Kroger, rather than the back yard, or the neighbor's farm. I have no answers, just concerns. How do we reconnect people to the food they eat? I wish I knew. But I think it needs to happen, somehow.