Now is the Winter of Our Discombobulation

We finally got the tree up and decorated, but Thomas is mostly oblivious to it. He did seriously maim the cow ornament, leaving the poor bovine with only one functional leg, but otherwise he’s paid little attention to the Christmas tree, or anything Christmas-related really. Christmas just isn’t special yet because, to him, the whole world is still special. Who needs Christmas gifts when you find gifts of great wonder everywhere? The Tupperware cabinet, alone, is like Aladdin’s Cave of Wonders. Add to that the contents of the pots and pan cabinet and Thomas is a toddler, content. 

Meanwhile, his parents are deep in a winter of discombobulation. For one, it’s hardly felt like winter. We’re in a severe drought, with temperatures more characteristic of a summer solstice than winter solstice (and it’s supposed to be in the seventies on Christmas day, ugh). During this drought outside, any semblance of routine has withered up and evaporated inside our house. Thomas has run the gauntlet of day-care germs (RSV, croup, stomach bug, ear infection, crud, ear infection, stomach bug), which has strangely left him more energetic than ever, but has completely exhausted his parents. 

The Tupperware Drawer

And it shows. Our pitiful little pencil tree is the only decoration up. There are no gifts around it, because, well, they still need to be wrapped. I didn’t put the big wreaths up outside because I was too busy scrambling to mend fences for goats. Natalie didn’t put out her Christmas village, and I didn’t even put out the nativity scene. It’s kind of sad, to be honest. I didn’t think I would miss the decorations, but now, in hindsight, I realize that Christmas decorations do serve a purpose, namely reminding me that it’s Christmas. I’ve probably thought about Christmas less this year than any since I was a blissfully unaware toddler like Thomas.  

I haven’t been blissfully unaware, but unaware nonetheless–too distracted by the burdens of modernity to stop and find gifts of great wonder anywhere, even in the Christmas story. That said, I’ve still got a few days left and it just rained, so maybe I should learn from my toddler and at least go rejoice in a mud puddle.  

Thomas playing in a mud puddle after rain.

The War of the Remote

“They’re just cute little movies,” my wife said, uttering a sentence that ushered in a new era. Soon ESPN would be dethroned, and princess programing would rule the domain inside our television screen.

Movie Review: The Princess Switch – Patriot Press

The first cute little movie was The Princess Switch. One actress plays two princesses who look alike. Both princesses find their prince charmings and live happily ever after—meaning they live happily ever after until The Princess Switch: Switched Again, the sequel in which the same actress plays all the important characters, more or less, and everybody lives happily ever after again. 

That is, until the tragic events of The Princess Switch 3. Aliens abduct the princess, clone her, and then invade earth with a force of identical princess warriors, all of whom are played by the same actress and live happily ever after (to be honest, I slept through The Princess Switch 3 and just guessed at the plot.) But whatever the plot, my wife thoroughly enjoyed the movie and was left craving more princess programming. 

“Can’t we just buy a second TV?” I asked. “That way you can watch your princess shows, and I can watch football.”

“No, we’re already over budget on Christmas this year,” she replied, “and TVs are sky high because of inflation.” 

Ugh, inflation. Because of rising costs of socks and underwear, I had to watch four seasons of The Crown, which is chock full of the story of Princess Diana. By the fourth season Agent Scully from the X-files shows up. I got excited because I thought there might actually be an alien subplot, but alas Agent Scully was just playing Margaret Thatcher. Meanwhile, Princess Diana does not live happily ever after as it turns out. Of course, I could have told my wife that much, but she insisted on watching it anyway.

Then my wife went medieval and started watching The Spanish Princess. It’s about Catherine of Aragon and based on real life events in Europe in the Middle Ages. Best I can tell, people didn’t do much back then, other than stand around a castle and scheme. Every fifteen minutes they interrupt the scheming for some regularly scheduled lovemaking. Likely that was the best way to stay warm in those drafty castles.

All this princess programming is taking its toll. Last night I found my wife asleep on the couch as the Spanish Princess streamed onward. Being a kind and loving husband, I let her slumber peacefully and gently caressed her hand.

Success! She released the remote. Then I paused Catherine of Aragon, lowered the volume, and reinstalled the masters of the gridiron to their rightful place atop the TV cabinet—even if only for a temporary reign.

The Child Who Gnaws A Lot

For someone who can’t even chew, my six-month-old sure likes to gnaw. I think that’s why many baby toys and dog toys look identical; in fact, I bet if you put a baby toy in a lineup with five canine chew toys, the baby toy would get off scot-free. Toymakers are marketing to the same demographic, mainly mammals who drool a lot. 

Which is the baby toy?

Both sets of grandparents have asked for guidance on what to get Thomas for Christmas. That’s a good question: What do you get for someone who is perfectly happy gnawing on a cell-phone charger cord? Thankfully, I caught Thomas trying to electrocute himself before he ruined my cord (life lesson learned: never leave a conduit for electrons near a baby). But the question still stands, what do you get a six-month-old? 

I thought about getting him a copy of War and Peace. For one, that title more or less sums up the early experience of human baby–either peacefully sleeping or engaged in wailing warfare over food or the ruined state of a diaper. Second, that book has a lot of pages in it, and Thomas seems most content when stuffing crinkly paper in his mouth. Third, if he starts a Tolstoy book early, there’s a chance he may actually complete it and succeed where his father has failed. I once voiced a critique of Anna Karenina in casual conversation with an English professor (she was a real literary snob if you ask me). She rebuffed my criticism that the ending seemed a little cliche by snorting and pointing out that Anna, after eloping with Vronsky, did not live happily ever after and instead jumped in front of a train. How was I to know I had only read the first volume of Anna Karenina when it alone was over 500 pages?

Sometimes I just wish Thomas would stay the size he is now. His collicky days are over and he is so easy to please right now–just give him a chew toy and he’ll gnaw happily. I’ve also successfully taught him to roll over, which he can now perform for the amazement of onlookers. And, to add his repertoire of tricks, I’m currently teaching him to babble on command and to crawl to improve his fetching skills. 

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Thomas is currently living the pampered life of a modern house dog, which is pretty close to an ideal existence. There have been many times in my life when I’ve envied tail-wagging dogs who are easy to please and unburdened by the worries and stresses of human existence. Now, as a parent, I find myself worrying about what Thomas will worry about. I just want him to live happily ever after, and I can’t imagine him being much happier than he is now as a six-month-old content to gnaw on paper. 

The Child Who Gnaws A Lot

Public Service Announcement: No More Barn Coats PLZ.

Recently several farmers have texted me long-winded messages. Figures–most farmers have notoriously bad texting skills; some even use punctuation and complete sentences. This may be an attempt to overcompensate and debunk the stereotype that farmers can’t spell or write, which is a real dumb stereotype considering sixty-three percent of new farmers are English majors trying to heal the land and grow organic produce. 

But yesterday, for example, I received a beautifully-punctuated message. It was from Vernon Dedham, a local grain farmer, via text message. It had not a single emoticon. It said, “Mr. Bishop, please utilize your public platform, The Misfit Farmer Blog, to stop the scourge of barn outerwear, i.e. coats, given to agricultural producers during the season of Christmastide. My closet runneth over with new barn garments. Yours Truly, Vernon Dedham.”

my barn coat and I.

If you’re under thirty, here’s what Vernon said translated to a proper text: FYI plz stop w/ barn coats cuz clos8 ful :). If you’re over thirty, you can text this to all the millennial gift-givers in your life to preemptively save closet space. 

On behalf of Vernon and farmers everywhere, let me explain. Farmers don’t want a new barn coat for Christmas. The rips, grease stains, and built-in manure smell in our current barn coat might lead you to think that we need, and therefore want, a new barn coat. You might think a barn coat is the perfect gift. But every year farmers are just being polite and faking it when they open the jumbo shirt box, the one with this year’s new edition of a barn coat. 

FARMER: (Feigning surprise) “Well looky here–a new barn coat!”

GIFT GIVER:  “Try it on. Do you think it’ll fit?”

FARMER: (Putting it on for the first and last time) “I think it’ll work.”

The current barn coat is not worn out. It’s broke-in. And the warm embrace of a broke-in barn coat is hard to beat and only gets better with time. I’ve had my barn coat for nineteen years. It has patches, tears, grease stains, and my undying loyalty. I like it so much I’ve even washed it half-a-dozen times in nineteen years. Meanwhile, I have a closet full of brand new barn coats given as gifts, many I’ve only worn once when I was trying them on at Christmas. Eventually, they’ll go to Goodwill when my wife goes on one of her Maria Kondo organizing and decluttering binges. 

Dreaming of a Cold Christmas

This has been a year of extreme weather—a summer of severe drought, then the wettest November on record, and now the second warmest December on record. On a farm, weather is always simultaneously helping or hurting something. The severe drought this summer wasn’t very good for growing field crops, but vegetable producers (who nearly all irrigate) did alright. Lack of rain means less disease pressure for them.

The oddly warm weather we’re having this Christmas means some strange things are happening here on our little farm. First, we have some strawberry plants that are already blooming. They aren’t supposed to bloom till early spring.

Strawberry in bloom on December, 20th

It’s almost January, and the apple trees are still clinging to their leaves. The oats and crimson clover are almost a foot high.

I tried to take a photo of the bees entering their hive, but they all turned out blurry. This time of year, bees would typically be huddled inside the hive to stay warm and conserve energy. No need to do that this year. Some were actually bringing in orange pollen.

All this warm weather is nice for a few days, but it can really mess things up if it persists. Instead of going dormant to survive winter, things will start ramping up for spring. Bees will begin using more energy and eating their stored honey. Strawberries will bloom in earnest. Then a cold snap will arrive and slaughter everything. So even if I don’t particularly like cold weather (I’d rather be hot than cold), I’m still dreaming of a cold Christmas, just like the ones I used to know…