Making Hay While the Moon Shines

As a Jersey girl, I grew up with a saying.
My mom said it.
My dad said it.
Teachers and friends said it.
For a bunch who predominantly aren’t farmers, they sure have a lot to say about agricultural production.

“You gotta make hay while the sun shines.”

Well, no.
Here in Eastern Colorado, you actually have to make hay while the moon shines.  Yeah, I know.  You already knew that by the title of this blogpost.  We’ll add this to my list of sayings that I grew up with that don’t actually make any sense in Colorado.  

It turns out that there’s actually a scientific process to making hay.  Who knew, right?  As best I understand it, there is a certain ideal humidity range to make hay.  If it’s not humid enough, the bale won’t actually stick together.  If it’s too wet, it’s a fire hazard (which I totally don’t understand, but I’m just the Jersey girl).  Here in Eastern Colorado, we usually hit that ideal hay-making humidity range in the middle of the night.  Everything in my life got flipped, turned upside down, like Fresh Prince, moving to Colorado.  But the toilets still whirl the same way here as in New Jersey.  Honest.

The bale wagon will stack the bales nicely.

These hay bales were made while the moon shone.

And now, I going to dedicate the rest of this post to everything you ever wanted to know and why about making hay.  Cut me some slack.  I am a Jersey girl explaining this all in Jersey-terms.  People like my husband who have grown up out here have known this all since they were two.  They’d probably just shake their heads at me.  But that’s OK.  We’ll continue and learn about hay.

Hay is made by cutting a crop growing in a field and forming it into a big chunk.  There three basic shapes and sizes of hay.  There are “large square bales”, “round bales” and “small square bales”.  I am least familiar with the first two.  One time we bought a large square bale from a neighbor.  He brought it here.  The bale weighed maybe 250 pounds.  He had the specialized equipment for it.  He dropped it here and we gradually flaked it off and gave it to our goats to eat.  Since large square bales weigh so much, they require that specialized equipment.  We don’t have it.  There are also “round bales”.  I am told these weigh over a thousand pounds.  They also require specialized handling equipment.  We don’t have that either.  I am most familiar with “small square bales”.  These are maybe 70 pounds.  I can lift them.  They do not require any special equipment and work well for small-scale farmers like me.

Aren't they cute? This is in 2012.   Vince is sitting on a small square straw bale.

Aren’t they cute?
This is in 2012.
Vince is sitting on a small square straw bale.

Hay can also be categorized by which crop it is made from.  People bale grass, foxtail millet, alfalfa, corn, clover and maybe everything in between.  There can also be mixed crops.  There can be different qualities.  A first alfalfa cutting is different than a second or third.  Hay can be weedy.  It can be organic.  Different hay has different nutritional qualities for the livestock. Hay can be everything.

Hay and straw are different.  Straw is actually made from the “leftovers”, usually wheat.  After the farmer harvests his main crop, he sometimes bales his leftover residue.  This is straw.  Straw isn’t typically fed to animals- it has minimal nutritional value and the animals won’t eat it.  Of course the same humidity rules apply here, too, and we also make straw while the moon shines.

Now I’m going to summarize the hay-making process:
1. Plant the field into cropx.
2. After cropx has matured, swath it.   Swathing is a fancy name for both mowing and placing it into windrows. Windrows are the crop or residue (in the case of straw) that is cut and put into a smaller pile.  Windrow is usually plural because no one makes just one.  A swather is usually an attachment that goes onto the back of a tractor.
3. The windrows may have to age.  They may have to dry a little bit.  This probably depends on the actual crop, the location and the weather.
4.Set your hygrometer alarm to wake you up when it does get to that humidity. Get up and drive your baler (tractor with bale-making attachment) over the windrow.  The baler will poop out bales of hay, while the moon shines. Different balers make different sizes of bales.
5. Drive back over the field with a bale wagon.  A bale wagon is a huge machine that will suck up bales and put them in nice stacks.
6. Remember that I’m a Jersey girl and that if you are actually so inclined as to make hay, you should probably consult with an expert and not actually go by these above instructions.

The baler poops out a bale of straw as the tractor drives over the windrow.  The tractor is parked in this picture because here in Eastern Colorado, we make hay and straw while moon shines.

The baler poops out a bale of straw as the tractor drives over the windrow. The tractor is parked in this picture because here in Eastern Colorado, we make hay and straw while moon shines, even in 2012.

This is SonOne pretending to drive the bale wagon in 2011.

This is SonOne pretending to drive the bale wagon in 2011.

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September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

My now-three year old Vince is a brain tumor survivor.   According to the World Health Organization, because brain tumors are enclosed in the skull and can wreak havoc on the brain, there are no benign brain tumors.  I’m not ready to use a different word than benign.  And I’m not really sure what the difference is between some tumors and cancer.  And I don’t want to know.

Vince was diagnosed with his tumor at not quite two and a half.  He never comprehended what was going on.

They said it was slow growing.  But how slow growing could it be if he was only conceived a little over three years before his diagnosis and it grew to be a golf ball?

As far as brain tumors go, Vince had a good one.  It was near the skull.  They got the whole thing out.  It only has a 5% chance of returning.  He never needed chemo.  But it was still a brain tumor.  We’re following up with the neuro-oncologist and will be for years.  So far, so good.

As you may know I am a real foodie type.  I have a long way to go and am still learning. I read a lot of real foodie and natural health things.  Recently, I have seen several articles and memes put out by these types of sites about Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.  The basic message is this: if parents had only not given their kid soda/ ate organic all the time/ breastfed them until they were 20/ never fed their kid a GMO, etc., then there would not be childhood cancer.


Those hit me hard actually.  You see, we’re a pretty ‘clean eating’ family.  I avoid processed foods like the plague.  We try to eat organic as much as possible.  We eat grass fed organic beef.  We avoid soy. My kids get real fats.  My children have a good diet.  And my son still had a brain tumor.

And there are tons of children out there whose parents feed them McDonald’s before they can walk, diet soda at two, expose them to who-knows-what environmental toxins and their kids don’t get brain tumors.  I even know of a farmer who takes their child with them to spray agricultural chemicals.  And my kid was the one with the brain tumor, not their kid.

Is autism the same way?  In these same type of groups, I see tons of vaccines/ GMOs/ wheat definitely cause autism campaigns, articles and memes.  Do you know for sure? Really?

We don’t know what causes childhood cancer or brain tumors or autism.  Stop saying that you do.

We need to step back and see what makes sense.  Back in the day, the days before McDonald’s and boxed food, people still did get cancer.  Our diagnosis methods are improved.  Does more diagnoses contribute to the skyrocketing cancer rate?  Did we have less toxins around? Were our diets different?  Well, of course, yes to all three.  Think that through and do what you want with it.  Make the best health decisions for your family.

But don’t throw all your ‘knowledge’ in my face.  My kid was two and a half when he was diagnosed with his brain tumor. We didn’t do anything wrong.  There are genetic components to tumors, too.  I know for a fact that genetics were a huge factor in Vince’s brain tumor.

I can’t imagine what the families whose children have actual cancer go through.  I can’t imagine what the children who are old enough to actually know what’s going on go through.  I don’t want to imagine this and I hope that I never get this experience.

I have seen or met many parents in the hall (of Children’s Hospital).  There was the lady whose down syndrome son was on his third round of chemo.  There was the the lady whose 19 month old had spent one day outside of a hospital his entire life.  There were others, but those stick out in my mind.  I was too preoccupied with my own worries to offer any help.  I bet there are mothers like that in every hall of every children’s hospital.

Having gone through the experience of Vince’s brain tumor, I’m going to stand on my soapbox and offer my suggestions of what you can do, if you so choose, for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month:

1. Eat clean and avoid environmental toxins.  Avoid processed foods.  Avoid eating out. Avoid GMOs. Avoid soy. Eat organic. Ferment things. Sprout your grain. Eat grass fed pastured everything. Don’t swim in the East River.  Don’t drink the tap water in Toms River, New Jersey. Diet and environment are probably contributing factors to cancer.

2. Remember that there many contributing factors to cancer.  Environment. Diet. Genetics. Maybe even phases of the moon.  We don’t know. Get off your soapbox saying you do. It’s like a stab to the parents.

3. Pray. If you don’t know a child with cancer, perhaps spiritually adopt one.  Offer sacrifices. Say a novena. Go to Confession. Our prayers are most efficacious when we’re in the state of grace. Get others to pray.  We had whole convents and monasteries praying for Vince.

4. Be there. Not just with your words but be there in the flesh.  A certain person was kind enough to take a day off from work and come sit with us in the hospital when Vince had his surgery.  I can’t tell you how much that helped us, helped us in all ways.  I truly believe that if they weren’t there, I would have flipped out. I would imagine that if children have longer battles, the parents would need more help.  Chemo is a five day per week thing.  It’s a job.  Maybe coordinate a schedule to help or do laundry or something. Something. Just do it.  Those families need help.  Help that they don’t know they need.

5. Act as a liaison. The person mentioned above acted as a liaison to the world to us.  They called people, texted people, asked my neighbor to bring the dog in, just dealt with things that I was in no mood to do.  Another friend handled everything long distance, with my blog and social media and made some phone calls and texted, etc.  I just wasn’t. in. the. mood. If it wasn’t for her, I probably would have flipped out.

6. Don’t criticize. We did the things the way we could. We did what was best for our family.  If you don’t like the update blog, don’t read it or offer to update it yourself. If you don’t like the text you received, don’t read it or let me remove you from the list. If you think we’d be better off at a hospital 1800 miles away, you better buy us plane tickets, rent us a car and watch our other kids or shut up. I had to deal with enough without the naysayers.

7. Send money. Someone sent us $600.  Someone else anonymously sent us $100.  Yes, we have great insurance.  Yes, there are tons of extra expenses, expenses that insurance doesn’t cover.  Denver is a major metropolitan area, but it is surrounded by nothing.  When I wanted a second opinion, since pediatric neurosurgery is so specialized, we had to go over 500 miles to Kansas City.  I also tried to alternative therapies.  They failed but they at least gave me piece of mind that I had left no stone unturned.  For us it’s 100 miles each way to Children’s Hospital.  That’s a lot of gas. There are extra meals on the go and meals for parents in the hospital. We stayed in a hotel the night before surgery since the Ronald McDonald House was full.  I had to upgrade my cell phone plan.  There were so many nuanced expenses that I can’t even think of right now. That $700 helped out tremendously with those expenses.  It was a God-send. I am grateful for every dime of it.
If you live near a children’s hospital, perhaps go there about 4 o’clock, when the chemo finishes up.  Those parents are easy to spot. They have a certain look, like they are battling in war.  It’s because they are.  Their kid is bald, too.  Maybe go up to them and slip them a $50 bill.  You can throw a bucket of ice water on yourself later, too, if it makes you feel better. There are many programs in place to help families, like the $10 daily cafeteria gift card that we got when Vince was in the hospital, but they are not enough.

8. Cook. Another friend coordinated meals for us. When we got home, we ate lots of homemade frozen meals.  Wow! It was truly a lifesaver! It also went towards decreasing the food budget to offset some of those expenses.  I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to brainlessly throw something in the oven and have a hot meal.

9. Watch the kids. I sent my children to three different households.  I did not want to overwhelm anyone.  I am so so grateful to the babysitters.  I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t know my other children were safe, well-fed and secure.  The babysitters even did the laundry and sent the children home with all clean clothes. Emulate these wonderful babysitters.

10. Don’t announce things on social media without either getting consent first or having the family announce it first.  A very well-meaning person asked for prayers for Vince on facebook, maybe the day of or day after we received his diagnosis.  I was not ready to deal with all the well-meaning “I’m praying for you” sentiments from decade-unseen acquaintances twice removed.  It was sweet. I am grateful.  I just wasn’t ready.  Vince’s tumor was a grieving process.  I would imagine childhood cancer is the same way.  I still have my baby, but it is a still a process to work through.  I grieve the tumor.  I grieve the diagnosis.  I still grieve and I am still wounded, which is why I am writing this blogpost.   I can’t even explain the grief, but it’s there.

11. Don’t make the parent repeat themselves. “Vince has a brain tumor.” “What?” “Vince has a brain tumor.” was the typical exchange.  You heard it right. People don’t make this stuff up.  Repeating it is like a stab in the heart.  I would imagine it would be worse for childhood cancer.

I know I on my what-you-can-do-for Childhood-Cancer-Awareness-Month high horse.  Don’t get on your eat-organic-and-your-child-won’t-get-cancer high horse.  You can get on your diet-may-be-a-factor high horse, but remember it is a factor and not the exclusive cause.  Saying it is an exclusive correlation is just a stab in the back to those who are battling cancer. Thanks.

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