Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

A 40th Birthday.

Posted on | March 21, 2013 | 16 Comments

I was looking forward to my birthday.  Was.

Oh, the 40 years old didn’t bother me.  I’ve seen other people turn 40.  Despite all the hoopla, it didn’t seem all that earth-shattering.  As a matter of fact, they looked and seemed the same way they did when they were 39.



But when I woke up on the day of my annual birthday beach trip, 2 of my friends had dropped out due to illness.  It was hard to decide if I was sad that they weren’t going.  Or glad that they didn’t show up ailing and spread norovirus to the rest of us.  By the time I was walking on the beach, I wasn’t worried about it anymore.   Ah, the birthday beach trip.

But then one of my friends started talking about her bucket list.  Bucket list?  Was I supposed to have one of those?  At 40????  And no matter how many walks I took on the beach or the hours spent soaking in the hot tub or even the Wild Turkey American Honey, I couldn’t think of anything that I wanted to do before I died.


It would be nice to travel more in the U.S. but if I never did, I’d be OK with that.  I always wanted to write a book, but if I never write more than this blog, that’s OK, too.  I’d like to retire at the beach, but if I am still just taking birthday beach trips with a pack of friends, a cooler of booze, and 2 bags of pretzel M&Ms when I’m older, I’m still OK.

Bucket list.


When I got home, I met up with some other friends.  Who started talking about their regrets as they got older.  Regrets????  Was I supposed to regret things?  I never finished law school.  But I used the money my parents had set aside for it to buy my first house, and I loved that little house.  Where my friend and I raised our dogs together.

Until The Other Half and I got married and started raising babies together.  So it was Big’s first house, too.  Back when he was the Little.

I gave up a promising career as Director of Human Resources when I was pregnant with Pretty.  And I never went back.  I spent the next 10 years having babies, warming bottles, changing diapers, making baby food, and cleaning house, cleaning house, cleaning house.  But never once when I was rocking a baby back to sleep at 1am or sitting on a park bench listening to “Mommy, watch me!  Mommy, watch me!” for the 1,000th time or singing along to The Wiggles did I wish I was back at that job.

I did miss the work lunches at Satisfaction’s.  Mmmmmm.  Focaccia bread with mozerella.  But then I discovered playgroups where kids gathered to play and interact and moms sat together to chat and laugh and drink coffee with flavored creamer.  Mmmmmm.  Flavored creamer.

By the time the kids were toddlers I had started the farm, so they grew up like this:

And just when chefs were calling the house for ducks and we were selling out at the farmer’s market, we decided it was time to cut back.  The kids were old enough to travel and wanted to start going places.  Which we couldn’t do when were raising 350 ducks a year and and heading to the processing plant every 6 weeks and spending Saturday mornings at the farmers market.  Building the duck farm was a lot of work and effort  and I thought it would be hard to walk away.  But as soon as we sold the business end of the farm we started doing this:

What’s to regret about that?

Oh, the kids are occasionally disappointed that I went back to work off the farm.  But they think I have a cool job.

And they’ve still never spent a day in day care.  When I’m not home it just means The Other Half is in charge of  homework and dinner and barn chores and play dates and sleepovers.  And emptying the dishwasher and packing the lunchboxes and getting to sports practice.  And picking up groceries and cleaning up the trash when the dogs get into it and going to orthodontist appointments.

Regrets that The Other Half has to do half the work at home?  Please.  Muwhahahahahahaha!!!!

But then the day of my actual birthday dawned.  And it was a bruiser.  As soon as I got off night shift I headed into the the barn to check on Brianna.  Pretty had called me during the night to tell me she was kidding, was having trouble, and one of the kids was extremely weak.  This was Brianna’s last birth.  She’ll be 10 this year and we decided that after these kids she would go into retirement.  We planned on keeping whatever does that were born to her in the hopes of getting another goat with her incredible milk production.  You don’t see too many udders like this on a Nigerian dwarf goat.

The sun hadn’t dawned yet on my birthday as I entered the kidding barn.

All 3 of the kids were bucks.

The weakest one was dead.

And Brianna was laying in the barn next to the dead kid, sad and exhausted.


I took away the dead kid, stroked Brianna, gave her some Nutri-drench, and tried to tempt her with some cookies.  She eventually got up to eat her breakfast.  But it was a bad start to a retirement.  And to a birthday.

After a few hours of sleep I got up and started the dreary task of setting the house to rights.  Pretty and The Other Half had been in the barn all evening and only came in after midnight.  So the sink was overflowing with dishes, there was laundry piled all over the house, and the floors were covered with grit and dog fur.  To add to the welcoming and homey air, the incubators in the dining room were emitting an indescribable stench.

Only a few of the 107 eggs had hatched.

Chicks were still struggling out of the shells, but most of the eggs were rotten.  Some had died during development when we had a temperature spike of 102 degrees in one of the incubators.  But a surprising number of eggs were simply infertile.  I kept everything running in the hopes of a few more hatches, and I transferred wet chicks to the brooder box throughout the day.  But every time I opened the lid of the incubator to pull out a scraggly peeping chick, the house was flooded with stink.  Which made the smell of the dirty laundry pale in comparison and made all my cleaning efforts a bit on the pointless side.  Except for the grit and the dog fur thing.  No one should have to live with this much grit and dog fur on the floor.  Especially not on their birthday.

When I couldn’t handle the house any more, I headed down to the garden where there was more cleaning to do.  I was going to plant my spring crops later in the week so it was time to check the areas the pigs had turned for us.

Too bad that the areas the pigs had cleared were a compacted mess.  Oh, the grass and weeds were gone and they had dug up even the most stubborn of roots and all the annoying blackberry starts that pop up into the beds.  But they had also trampled the dirt into a solid sheet.

The Other Half turned over big wet clumps of dirt with the shovel.  I went over it with the hoe and then forked a layer of compost from the barnyard on top.  But I despaired over the loss of the soft heaps of soil in my raised beds.  As I hoed I tried to decide if breaking up clods of rock hard dirt was worse than breaking up clumps of weeds and grass that grew into the beds.  I couldn’t decide.  The Other Half told me that the soil was just too wet to work.  But I was beginning to think that pigs in the garden were a big mistake.  It was beyond disappointing.  It was disappointing plus hard work.

Even the arrival of my Jumbo Cornish Cross chicks, at the same time as I had other chicks in the brooder box, just as I had planned, seemed more like a consolation prize than a birthday gift.

As I put them in with the Silkies and Welsummers that had hatched I figured I would be lucky if the bigger Cornishes didn’t just eat the other chicks.  That was the way my day was going.

We couldn’t go out to dinner for my birthday because Big had a lacrosse game and I wasn’t surprised that before I left the field to go to work, Big’s team was already losing 12-0.  It was that kind of day.  I drove into work, already tired, and I figured people were right.

40th birthdays suck.

I decided that I definitely regretted turning 40 and that I should put  “never turning 40 again” on my bucket list.

But there is an advantage to being a March baby.  Being born into the season of renewal and rejuvenation.  Because the day after my birthday was the first day of spring.  And it dawned clear and bright with warm sunshine and cool spring breezes.

When I did the morning milking I discovered that Brianna was back to her resilient, grain-gobbling self.

Both of her remaining bucklings were healthy and feisty.  And one of them had some of the most beautiful markings we’ve seen, including color splashes and freckles all over his darling face.

The chicks that had hatched actually did a decent job of filling up the brooder box.  And if their numbers were few, they were still cute, fluffy….

….and hardy enough to be moved into the brooder room in the barn.  Where their peeping didn’t keep us awake at night and didn’t attract so much attention from the dogs in the house.

With just a bit of bleach, water, sunshine, and fresh air, the incubators were cleaned up and ready to be stored for the next time.

Plus, when I opened the windows in the dining room to get out the stench, the sweet fragrance from the hyacinths blooming on the deck immediately flowed in.  Ahhhh!  Air fresheners without the chemicals and the outlet plug.

I headed down to the garden and discovered the The Other Half had been right.  The problem in the garden was just that the soil was wet.  After a warm breezy day, the clumps of mud topped with compost had been transformed into soft, crumbly soil.  I put in the lettuce, peas, and onions without any trouble at all.  The sun warmed my face and the breeze ruffled my hair.  As I worked, the pigs followed me around in their pen, grunting softly to me, and then settling down to sunbathe next to me when they determined I didn’t have any scraps to share.

When the kids got home from school, my parents treated us all to dinner at one of my favorite restaurants.  Where the waitress let us use both of our $10 off coupons even though the coupons clearly stated only one coupon per visit.  Over dinner I opened my birthday presents which included fabulous new flip-flops, ear buds, colorful yarn, a homemade card, and a Snickers bar.

In addition, when we stopped for gas on the way home, it turned out I had earned a pack of free Reese’s peanut butter cups with my Sheetz card.

So I decided I would claim that wonderful, perfect, first day of spring as my birthday this year.  Because it lived up to all my birthday expectations.  And because you can do that when you’re 40.

I guess I am unambitious.  Or lack creativity.  Maybe I am leading a woefully unexamined life.  I am probably simple-minded.

But if I choose to celebrate my 40th birthday on the day after my 40th birthday.  Or take my pleasure from just sitting in the soil on a beautiful spring day.  Or having dinner in a chain restaurant with my family, using coupons to pay.  Or a new pair of flip-flops (with memory foam sole!).  Or the adorable freckles on the face of a newborn baby goat.

Then so be it.  No regrets.  No bucket list needed.

Because it seems to me that just moving forward is enough.  That there are few troubles that a bit of forward momentum cannot overcome.  That there may be woes behind you or lurking in your future.   But there are sunny days and sun-basking pigs, too.  Well, there are sun-basking pigs in mine.  That might just be a euphemism in your life.

In the grand scheme of things, it might just be the little things that make a full life.   The good days and the bad days included.  Sometimes even back-to-back.

Welcome to my 40’s.  At the very least, I’m sure it will be something to write about.  And personally, I can’t wait to see what happens next.


16 Responses to “A 40th Birthday.”

  1. Terry Golson
    March 21st, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

    Love this post and agree with the sentiment (all but how you like flavored coffee creamer. Really? UGGHH.) The sort of animal training that I do has a philosophy that you focus on the good behavior and it multiplies. Same is true in life -focus on the good and it fills your days. Even days when bad things happen (so sorry about that kid.) Happy Birthday!

  2. Anne Kimball
    March 21st, 2013 @ 2:22 pm

    Happy birthday, my friend! Wonderful post. As per usual….

  3. Kari Boerger
    March 21st, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

    Happy Birthday “old” friend!!! Love your blog- awesome perspective!

  4. Jill
    March 22nd, 2013 @ 4:32 am

    Happy Birthday! 40 is nothing; wait for 50… but don’t live life thinking of regrets or bucket lists; live life as you want and need. You are an awesome mom and not too shabby farmer. And you have awesome friends! What’s to regret.. 🙂

  5. Aunt Peggy
    March 22nd, 2013 @ 5:22 am

    Happy Birthday!!!!!somewhat late. You sure “grew up good”! AND you should turn these blogs into books for those of us old enough to still be paper-addicted!

  6. Cheryl
    March 22nd, 2013 @ 6:13 am

    Wonderful and very insightful blog. PLEASE write a book. I would love to read it. Even my own grown children sometimes wonder why I am so happy with the small things on the farm. It is a good life.

  7. Ferne K
    March 22nd, 2013 @ 7:41 am

    I always love hearing about your adventures “down on the farm.” You do, indeed, have a lot to be thankful for. I celebrated my 75th birthday on Saturday and I can tell you life only gets better. Sure we could be focusing on our problems, but I like the way you look at life as a glass half-full, rather than half-empty, Happy belated birthday and many more to come.

  8. Tanya Lam
    March 22nd, 2013 @ 8:29 am

    Happy Birthday! Welcome to the club!!

  9. Lisa D
    March 22nd, 2013 @ 9:22 am

    Hello? This is called a life well-lived!! You are one of the few people who don’t need therapy to help them find this sense of gratitude, acceptance and happiness!! I may start recommending that my clients subscribe to your blog…

    And Happy Birthday to you!! Let’s celebrate with a $5 movie or martini 🙂

  10. Lisa
    March 22nd, 2013 @ 11:33 am

    It is wise and beautiful, what you say. I so enjoy your writing and wanted you to know. (Happy 40th!)

  11. Lin
    March 22nd, 2013 @ 12:43 pm

    Aw, Happy 40th…it’s not so bad, really. I liked being 40–it’s a great decade.

    I’m turning 50 this year–hard to believe. My kids are nearly grown–they are turning 18 and 21 and both will be gone to college in the fall…leaving me without my “motherhood” job that I, too, have loved for so many years. I’m back to working part-time (HR generalist) and it sucks. Nowhere near as rewarding as being a mom and not nearly as fun. Sigh.

    It’s not my birthdays that bother me….it’s the ones around me–my kids, who are moving on to other things and I’m left to figure it out without them here. It’s a mixed bag of happy and sad. So enjoy your 40’s….and don’t rush one single minute.

  12. Kim
    March 22nd, 2013 @ 2:17 pm

    Happy birthday Stevie! I loved being 40 (44 this year) and it gets better, more Spring days to follow……

  13. Tanya K.
    March 23rd, 2013 @ 1:44 am

    Happy Belated Birthday! And you’re right not to be bothered by the 40 thing, in my family it’s referred to as 30-10! Yup, life doesn’t even get interesting ’til 30-10.

  14. carolyn christman
    March 26th, 2013 @ 4:19 am

    My bucket list: do I have a bucket ready for whatever life brings? so glad about the pigs and the soil… and all. that is one cute goat.
    thanks, cc

  15. CC
    April 1st, 2013 @ 8:39 pm

    what I don’t get is why I only come to your blog now and again, when every time I come there’s such a tremendously delightful piece of writing, and this one even a heart-tugger to boot.

    cain’t buy a satisfied mind…

    Happy Birthday, from another March baby in her 40s. – your neighbor, with human kids, little lambs, chicks who wander out of the woods behind long-lost broodies, and thankfully, flowers, along with all that dog hair, and the muddy boots, dirty floors, and overflowing counters. thanks for the good company tonight.

  16. The witch
    April 14th, 2013 @ 11:05 am

    Happy belated Birthday.
    Just catching up on some blog post and was wonder struck by your beautiful writing.
    You surely put life in perspective.
    The baby goats are gorgeous. Glad Mom is doing fine.
    Love the flip flops. Memory foam how wonderful.
    I might actually think about a bucket list for myself after reading this blog.

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