Single Day Difference

Yes, I know it’s a cliche. But I’m going to say it anyhow: What a difference a single day can make.

About seven miles up the road from us, a big operation called Pregitzer Farm Market sells all kinds of wonderful produce. It’s the kind of place where you can take the kids to a corn maze, let them pet some sheep and goats, and come home with a bundle of fresh vegetables and eggs.

They also have one of the biggest pumpkin patches I’ve ever seen. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s easily five acres or more. Throughout October, you can go out to that field and pick your own pumpkin; this year, I think they were charging five bucks in the days leading up to Halloween.

But it’s not Halloween anymore. Who wants to spend five bucks for a pumpkin on November 1st? What’s a farm market to do with that many acres of leftover produce?

20171101_163724.jpg

Simple: they open it up to anyone who wants to pack their own truckload of pumpkins. Price per truckload? Ten Bucks. In other words, one of the best deals ever. You just need some kind of use for those pumpkins.

And we do. Our sheep and goats love pumpkins. The chickens and turkeys peck at the leftovers all day long, too.

Our truck isn’t currently road worthy, but Pregitzer’s isn’t picky about the type of vehicle you use — or how full you load it. They just want the pumpkins out of there. I decided to take all the back seats out of our minivan, and load it to the gills.

And I do mean to the gills:

20171101_163718

I bet you didn’t think a person could fit that many pumpkins into a Dodge Caravan. Here’s a view from the front:

20171101_164313

I made a total of four trips, sometimes with a kid. The almost-eight-year-old boy thought this was especially great fun. My biggest challenge was convincing him to leave the huge pumpkins alone, and to focus on gathering the smaller ones. (Naturally, he went straight for the ones that probably weigh as much as he does.)

If you’re a kid, how many times do you see the family minivan transformed this way? And get to ride in it? He had an absolute blast. The biggest challenge for me was driving slowly and carefully back to our farm. To say that the van’s handling characteristics were a bit more sloppy than usual, and that increased stopping distance was required, would be gross understatements.

Once home, we tossed several pumpkins to the goats. They came running, and went right to work chowing the things down.

20171101_171339

We also gave several pumpkins to the sheep, out in the pasture. We will continue to feed a few of these to each group of livestock, every day.

20171106_105426

I got every available kid to help unload the van into the upstairs portion of the barn.  This wasn’t nearly as much fun as making the trip to the pumpkin patch, but many hands made light work.

As I said, I made a total of four trips over the last week. Even so, and even with other people getting their own loads, the pumpkin patch looks barely dented. My understanding is that Pregitzer’s people will soon be running a disc over the whole field, plowing the remaining pumpkins under in preparation for next spring. Kind of sad, and I hate seeing a single pumpkin go to waste, but the weather’s turning nasty (and I really don’t have time to get over there again, anyway).

Besides, the supply we do have should last us a good long time:

20171109_113228

I must say: finding these kinds of surplus produce deals, and putting to good use something that would otherwise be wasted, is one of the things I especially enjoy about having livestock. There’s an apple orchard a few miles from us, and every fall our oldest daughter runs over there and gets boxes of damaged windfall fruit that otherwise would’ve ended up in a compost pile. Instead, thanks to our daughter, these apples become a wonderful treat for the sheep and goats.

20171027_130111.jpg

And hopefully, in just under seven weeks, we’ll again be loading up the van with unsold fresh Christmas trees!

Ultimate Star Wars

It’s hard to believe that this year marks the fortieth anniversary of the original Star Wars movie. I was only eight at the time, but still clearly remember the awe of watching it in the theater. I can’t possibly be this old!

Anyway, to mark the movie’s anniversary, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra is putting on a special event: they are performing the movie’s musical score, while the movie itself plays on an enormous screen. There are two showings; one was last night, and the other is tonight at 8pm. While driving to Chicago last month, I happened to notice a billboard advertising it. Once I got home, I jumped on the internet to get more details — and then bought a pair of tickets for last night’s showing.

All I can say is: if you’re reading this and you’re anywhere near Kalamazoo, you should try to get tickets for tonight’s show. If that’s not an option, then I highly recommend you keep your eyes open for a similar performance in your own town. It was worth every penny of the price of admission (we got $50 tickets, which were neither the least nor the most expensive), and worth every minute of the two-and-a-half-hour round trip drive.

I took my 15 year old son, who is a big fan of the Star Wars franchise. Each year, we try to arrange at least one special outing for each of the kids to do alone with me; it might be a trip to Detroit for a Tigers game, a day trip to Chicago (easier when we were living in Illinois), a trip to the zoo, or so on. He agreed that this would be an excellent choice for this year’s “thing.”

We arrived quite early, which gave us time to explore Western Michigan University; the performance was being held at Miller Concert Hall, on campus. We walked all over, and got something to eat before the show. We took our seats shortly after the doors opened at 7:30, so we were able to watch and listen as the orchestra warmed up.

Our seats were in the third row, toward the left. This put us a bit closer to the screen than I would’ve liked, but on the plus side we were very close to the orchestra. From the opening notes, I knew that having to crane my neck a little was going to be but a minor inconvenience; the music was so fantastic, it blew me away.

I don’t know any other way to describe it. If you’re like me, you’ve probably lost count of the number of times you’ve seen this movie. You can probably say half or more of the dialogue along with the actors. (I had a friend who could even do all of the “radio chatter” for the final assault on the Death Star.) You know every twist of the plot. But having a live symphony orchestra perform the Oscar-winning score? That made it almost a new movie. It certainly made for an unforgettable experience.

kso-starwars-webres-3.jpg

One thing in particular that I’ll never forget: this is the first movie I’ve ever attended in which not a single person left once the credits began rolling. At first, probably out of habit, a couple of people started to stand up. But nobody walked out. Everyone remained riveted on the orchestra, until the very last note. And then every person jumped to his or her feet, giving a thunderous ovation. My son and I looked at each other, and I mouthed a “Wow!” He commented, “That was so good!”

At last night’s show, the symphony director announced that they are planning to put on similar live shows for the other two films in the original Star Wars trilogy. I’m not exactly sure about the timing; they might be planning to do one per year. I just hope they’re not going to wait for the 40th anniversary of each film before putting on those performances. But either way, I plan to be among the first to buy tickets.

And I bet every other person who was there last night plans to do the same.

Nobel Prize for Farming

No, they don’t award a Nobel Prize for farming. Not yet, anyway. But when I heard the winner of another Nobel announced on the radio this morning, it reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to post.

Last year, a professor at my alma mater won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. When I was on campus last October for my 25th reunion, the school had hung banners trumpeting the big news. Then, during a break in the football game on that Saturday, they made a special announcement and presentation honoring the professor. It was really cool, particularly when the stadium cheered as loudly as it would for a clutch touchdown.

Earlier this spring, our alumni magazine published a lengthy feature article about the professor, J. Fraser Stoddart. I didn’t understand much of the technical aspects of his contributions to the field, but still found them fascinating.

What particularly jumped out for me, though, were the details about his life, growing up on a farm in post-WWII Scotland. Please forgive the length excerpt; I’m pasting it all (with some emphasis added), because it’s definitely worth reading in full:

Stoddart’s father caught the farming bug as a child, and after graduating from college in Glasgow, he became the manager of two farms owned by the University of Edinburgh.

Six months after Fraser was born in 1942, his parents decided to take on the tenancy of a 365-acre farm on the Rosebery Estate in Midlothian, about 12 miles south of Edinburgh.

As an only child, Stoddart helped his parents with chores from before sunup to well after sundown. There were dairy cows, cattle, “sheep of all different complexions” and hundreds of free-range chickens to care for. The family also grew everything from root crops to grain. And Stoddart was solely responsible for the fruit and vegetable garden.

With the arrival of the tractor and the car on the farm, he soon learned to take the simple and inefficient engines apart and put them back together.

“I had that wonderful time to watch a very big and fast change in technology up close,” says Stoddart. “So in literally 20 years we went from a horse-and-cart situation to combine harvesters with everything in between.

“The farm was very important to my training because it was multitasking on quite a large scale, particularly at high points of the year, such as March, when we were lambing, or in August and September, when we were bringing in the grain crops.”

In a letter to his daughter Fiona (excerpted below), Stoddart wrote of the significance of growing up on the farm and how it taught him discipline, resilience, resourcefulness and the nurturing of creatures great and small:

“I was present at lambings and calvings from quite a young age and was soon helping by myself to aid and abet the entry of lambs and calves into the world, particularly when it became a matter of life or death and the available work force was stretched to its limits and often close to exhaustion if the weather, as was often the case in that part of the world, decided to have its worst possible say. Wet snow was a killer, and very often newborn lambs had to be brought ’round from death’s door in the bottom oven of the Rayburn cooker in the farmhouse kitchen, while being fed hot cow’s milk laced with whisky! More often than not the lambs that survived this near-death experience were rejected by their mothers, and so the army of pet lambs that had to be fed by hand from bottles of milk four times a day grew to debilitating proportions. 

“During my professional lifetime as an academic, teaching and doing scientific research in eight universities on three different continents, I have no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that I learnt a lot more during my first 25 years on the farm than I have at all the universities combined over the past 52 years.

“Indeed, any modest successes I have reaped thereafter can be traced back to the University of Life in the Lothians of Scotland in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s as the country recovered gradually, under rationing in the beginning, from the devastation wrought by the Second World War.”

framhouse-fraser_m

The tenant farmhouse where Fraser Stoddart grew up, on the Rosebery Estate in the council area of Midlothian, Scotland.

We’ve found Professor Stoddart’s words to be as true for us today as they were for his own life. A farm is a wonderful first school, and an incomparable one, for coming of age.

Important lessons come not just from the hard work, or the discipline of having to get up early for chores. Or learning that death is an entirely normal part of the cycle of life.

Among the biggest lessons is that on a farm, there are some tasks that simply cannot be put off and must be done now. If rain is threatening, the hay must be brought into the barn. Doesn’t matter how hot the weather, or how heavy those bales are. Goats must be milked twice a day. Period. Somebody has to do it. It doesn’t matter how late the family got home from celebrating Christmas, or from that dinner at a friend’s place. Those goats cannot wait for the morning. The shivering little goat kid, or lamb, that the mother isn’t attending to (or that is having a tough time for some other reason) must be brought inside and warmed up. And fed, somehow. Now. And those other “bummer” lambs and goat kids? They must be fed a certain number of times per day, too.

It doesn’t surprise me in the least that the two oldest Yeoman Farm Children are now carrying these lessons over to college. Neither of them hesitates about putting in whatever hours are needed for study, and both are proving extremely diligent about getting their projects finished ahead of the deadlines — while continuing to pitch in a great deal here at home.

I don’t have any expectations of the Yeoman Farm Children growing up and winning Nobel prizes, but I am confident that no matter what the five of them do with their lives … they will be more successful at it for having grown up on a farm.

 

Passages

Spring is always a time of new beginnings on the farm, and that’s certainly been true this year. In early March, before Spring even officially got here, we had over a dozen goat kids born. It’d actually been a long drought; the kids were way overdue. We woke up the morning of March 6th, still with zero kids. By the evening of March 7th, we had SEVEN. Two sets of twins, and our first-ever set of triplets. Over the course of the next week, the rest of our goats delivered. They ended on the evening of March 13th, with another set of triplets. Here they were, trying to warm up in my office, the morning of March 14th:

17240260_10211630785988267_6313058490520369384_o

One of the males was very strong and went right back out to his mother. The female unfortunately had been born in very poor shape, and she didn’t make it past the first day. The other male was in-between; he was in poor shape, but just strong enough to pull himself to his feet, stand, and take a few steps at a time. He stayed in my office for several days, hanging out with the dogs. I actually grew adept at bottle-feeding him at my desk, while checking email. (The Yeoman Farm Children were bottle-feeding a couple of others, out in the barn.)

17264486_10211640816999036_8336638391815358519_n

To say we had our hands full was an understatement. We certainly didn’t need a dozen goat kids; what we really wanted was the milk, and a few females to keep as replacement milkers. One of our goats in particular, Button, was getting really old (she was our last surviving goat to have made the move from Illinois nine years ago), and had been looking especially worn out after this most recent kidding.

Mrs. Yeoman Farmer got in contact with the woman who serves as the goat coordinator for our county’s 4-H program, to see if they had any interest in our males. (The Yeoman Farm Children themselves haven’t participated in 4-H; we think it’s a fine organization, but we’ve simply had too many other things going on.) The goat coordinator was delighted and relieved to hear from us. As it turns out, they’d been unable to get kids this year from the large goat producer who usually supplies them. With the weird weather last fall, it seems everyone’s goats had gone into heat late. That meant kids were late this year. She had a long list of 4-H children who were wanting goat kids to raise; MYF’s call had come just in time.

All our goat kids are mixed dairy breeds, which is fine for our purposes, but it means the males don’t get especially large – and they’re not especially valuable as breeders. So, we let seven of the males go for ten bucks each. We gave away the frail one for free. And we even threw in what was left of the milk replacer that we’d bought.

All told, financially, we barely broke even (the 22# bag of milk replacer alone cost over $50) — but that wasn’t our goal. We wanted those bucklings gone, and we wanted to help out some local children. Above all, we wanted the milk. And are we ever getting milk: at least six quarts at each milking. That’s twelve or thirteen quarts a day. (Yes, that’s more than three gallons.)

Our eldest daughter, who’s taking a year off after graduating a year early from high school, has basically turned the kitchen into a cheese factory. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer has been assisting, especially with the hard cheeses; her press has been running more or less non-stop.

As if that weren’t enough, March decided to truly go out as a lamb: on the very last day of the month, we had our very first ones of the year born. FletcherBelle delivered a healthy set of twins (a male and a female), and has been doing an excellent job raising them.

FletcherBelle Lambs 2017

We had another set of twins born two days ago; in fact, they arrived while I was out in the barn taking care of early-morning chores. The female was very strong, and immediately thriving. The male was barely alive, and looked like he hadn’t fully developed in utero (his eyes, in particular, were badly deformed). I wrapped that one in a towel, took him to my office, and made him comfortable in a box near the furnace. I also held him in my lap from time to time. We knew he wasn’t going to make it, but got some satisfaction from knowing his few hours with us weren’t spent abandoned on the floor of the barn.

It hasn’t all been joy and rebirth. Life is a cycle, and we’ve had some sad reminders of it lately (much sadder than the loss of a couple of newborns). A week ago Sunday (March 26th), we lost our very oldest animal, a sheep named Conundrum. She was nearly thirteen years old, and the last couple of winters had been difficult for her. She hadn’t produced a lamb in a while. In recent weeks, she was getting more unsteady on her feet. We really should’ve butchered her last fall, but none of us had the heart to do it — she’d just been with us so long, and was such a fixture in the flock.

Conundrum had the distinction of being our first lamb born to a ewe that’d been born on our property. She arrived on a Saturday morning: April 17, 2004. I was in California, on a business trip, when I got the call from Mrs Yeoman Farmer. I remember being so happy, and so proud, I wanted to pass out cigars to my clients at our meeting. I can’t find any pictures of her as a lamb, but this was her as a yearling:

conundrum - yearling

And this was her in the Spring of 2014, at the age of ten, with the last two lambs she produced (she had a premature stillbirth the next year, and did not lamb last year).

conundrum 2014-2

She’d been especially unsteady on Saturday, despite the extra attention we’d been giving her. I checked on the flock late Saturday, before going to bed, and she’d seemed alright. Then, when I came out the next morning, I found that she’d left us sometime overnight. Hauling her body out of the barn was terribly sad, but I was grateful she hadn’t lingered in pain. And I did give thanks for all that she’d provided us over her nearly thirteen years.

We closed out that week by losing Button, our oldest goat. As I mentioned above, she’d been tired – and having twins had taken a lot out of her. She was still nursing her female, and we weren’t taking any additional milk from her; our idea was to keep this female as Button’s replacement, and build her as strong as we could by letting her take as much milk as she wanted. Button had seemed to be holding her own, despite being tired, but sometime in the early hours of Saturday … she wasn’t able to keep going.

I found her when I came to do chores that morning, and quickly moved her body from the barn. Our eldest daughter was very fond of Button, and I knew she wouldn’t want to find her like this. She’d want to remember her the way she was, like in this photo from nearly seven years ago (note the lopsided horns – Button was always getting herself stuck in fences, so we trimmed the right horn back to make it easier to free her):

Button-Kid 6.27.10

Disposing of the bodies of dead animals on the farm is always a challenge. Digging graves for mature sheep and goats is tough without a backhoe, so we prefer to give them a “Viking Sendoff” (minus the boat). Early last week, one of the Yeoman Farm Children and I built a large pile of logs and tree branches, and placed Conundrum atop it to incinerate her remains. This past Saturday, we did the same for Button.

It’s a bit sad: we’re down to exactly two animals, both of them sheep, which made the move with us from Illinois at the end of 2007. Soon there will be none. But that’s all part of the cycle of life on a farm, I suppose.

And it’s certainly something to contemplate as we bottle-feed Button’s beautiful little orphaned doe kid, and think ahead to when she’ll be producing kids — and milk — of her own.

Easter Sunday Surprise

Hope all of you had as nice of an Easter as our family did. We enjoyed spectacular 68-degree weather over at my father in law’s house; Homeschooled Farm Girl and I took full advantage of it and got out on our bikes for a 26-mile ride. Most of all, we had a great time hanging out with family and soaking in the sunshine.

We got home around 7:30pm or so, and I went more or less straight to the barn. Several of our sheep have been looking painfully pregnant and wanting to deliver, as was one of our goats. There were still no lambs, but the goat (Thistle) was lying down like she was in labor. She wasn’t yet actively pushing, so I did the rest of my chores and made a mental note to check her again later.

“Later” didn’t take long. After about 30 minutes of trying to relax with an NCAA tournament basketball game, I was interrupted with news from HFG: Thistle had the head of a goat kid sticking out of her, and the delivery wasn’t making any progress.

I hustled to the barn. HFG and I took a closer look at Thistle’s rear end, and quickly discovered the problem. In a normal delivery, the kid’s forefeet come out with the head. This kid’s little hooves were nowhere to be found. It was just his head. I tried gently tugging on his head, but he was clearly stuck. With his feet not leading the way, his shoulders were too big to make it into the birth canal. Fortunately, the kid was moving his head, so we knew he was still alive.

There’s only one way to fix this problem: reach in and find his front feet. I rolled up my sleeve, slipped my hand into the birth canal, and worked my way down the kid’s chest. Thistle was extremely unhappy, but I told her she could thank me later. Finally, I found what I was feeling around for: a leg. I pulled it up, and worked the hoof into the birth canal with the head. Then I put my hand back in and did the same with his other leg. HFG and I tugged on this package of head-and-feet, and an instant later the whole kid was out. While I was at it, I pulled the afterbirth out as well.

Thankfully, the kid was alive. I put him near Thistle’s head, but she wasn’t interested in licking him off. Way too tired. HFG and I took him in the house, and washed off all the barn gunk (and slimy amniotic residue) that we could. He was still kind of slimy, but reasonably clean. I wrapped him up in a raggedy old bath towel, and started drying him off.

We took him out to my office building, still wrapped in the towel. As we watched more NCAA basketball, I continued drying him off. He was pretty tired, but seemed healthy. No broken or twisted limbs. Good size. Responsive.

IMG_20160327_205446

The yellowish amniotic gunk was proving to be pretty stubborn, and wouldn’t come off with a simple toweling. Normally, the mother goat would do this job. Figuring that “a tongue is a tongue,” I set him down on my office floor to see what the dogs would do. Floyd, the border collie, immediately sprang into action (the livestock care / herding instincts these dogs have is unbelievable). Floyd began licking the little kid all over. Aggressively. From every angle.

IMG_20160327_211614

After a while, I was able to stand the kid up. His legs were steady enough so he could remain standing for Floyd’s clean-job:

IMG_20160327_223448008

Floyd was especially interested in getting at the bloody umbilical cord stump:

IMG_20160327_222810931

While Floyd continued working, HFG and I went back to the barn to check on Thistle. She hadn’t gotten up, so we helped her to her feet. She stood just fine, but didn’t seem interested in walking around or eating. I brought a bucket of clean water to her. She drank some, but not much. From her size and lethargy, it was pretty clear there was another goat kid still to come — but she wasn’t acting like she was in a hurry to push it out. I gave her 10cc of Bovi Sera, and 12cc of B-complex. I then went back to the office, and gave a couple of cc’s of Bovi Sera to the kid. (Bovi Sera is an OTC, injectable immune system booster that we keep on hand for these kinds of situations. It’s a cheaper alternative to goat serum.)

HFG milked as much colostrum as she could out of Thistle. We ended up getting about a cup, which wasn’t bad. I found an old 2.75oz feeding bottle and nipple that Little Miss Sweetness had used as an infant. We filled it with colostrum, I wrapped the kid in a fresh towel, and then I got comfortable on the couch in my office. He sucked down the whole bottle in short order. I refilled it, and he took some more — about 4oz, or half a cup, altogether. I was very pleased.

IMG_20160327_214727305

As a brief aside: I bought that sweatshirt in December of 1986, the day I got my acceptance letter from Northwestern. It was the only one I could find in Seattle. If you’d told me then that, nearly 30 years later, I would (1) still own that sweatshirt, (2) live on a farm, and (3) be wearing that sweatshirt while I bottle-fed a goat … I’m sure I would’ve laughed until I passed out.

Okay, back to the story. Floyd eventually finished with the goat kid, and the kid got sleepy. I made him comfortable in a large box in my office. Sometime after 11pm, I checked on Thistle again. Still no sign of another kid, and she still wasn’t getting up and standing on her own. I tried leading her to a separating pen, but she refused to go. I was concerned about her, but there wasn’t much else I could do. I couldn’t sit in the barn with her all night. I made her comfortable in a corner of the main goat area, and then called it a night.

Early this morning, when I came out to do chores, I checked on her first. She’d indeed delivered another kid, but it was stillborn. I helped her up, and she was getting around significantly better. She even went to the closest feeder, and began nibbling on some hay. I disposed of the dead kid, and then took care of the rest of the animals. No lambs yet, but they should start dropping soon. The ewes sure look ready.

Back in my office, I took the kid from the box and stood him up. He urinated, which was a very welcome sign. I then left him alone on the carpet and just watched him for awhile. He struggled several times to get to his feet by himself, and kept toppling over. I resisted the urge to intervene; he had to figure out how to do this. And, eventually, he did. He would try a few tentative steps, and then topple over. He’d cry, struggle, and then get up and try again. All of this was excellent, and very heartening.

What wasn’t heartening was his disinterest in more colostrum. I tried several times to get the nipple in his mouth, but he wouldn’t take more than a swallow or two. I turned him over to Homeschooled Farm Girl. She’d moved Thistle to a separating pen, with her own feed and water. She put the goat kid in with him, making sure to physically latch him on to an nipple. He’s still getting the hang of it. HFG will continue going out until we know he’s got it figured out. In the meantime, she’s also milking some colostrum from Thistle.

There’s nothing quite like Easter on the farm…

StoKid Riding High

With Spring weather here at last, Homeschooled Farm Girl (age almost 17) and I have been logging big miles on our bikes. We’re preparing for the Calvin’s Challenge 12-Hour race, approximately one month from now, and hoping to beat the 188.5 miles we managed to do last year.

The younger kids want to get in on the fun, but of course can’t keep up. The 13 year old is probably going to inherit HFG’s old Trek road bike; he’s taken it out a few times, and really likes it, even though he’s not in good enough shape to keep up with HFG (who got a new road bike over the winter). Little Brother (age 6) keeps begging to ride with us as well. What’s a dad to do?

The sixteen year old and I got out for 38+ miles early this afternoon. We thoroughly enjoyed the sunny, 50 degree March weather, especially given that most of our route was on quiet rural roads. Would a few more degrees have been nicer? Sure. But we had plenty enough clothing to be comfortable. I took my vintage Basso Gap road bike, as a fun change of pace, and was barely able to keep up HFG.

We got home, and then it was the boys’ turn to join us for an additional six miles. Big Brother is still getting the hang of his sister’s old road bike, so that’s plenty of miles for him for now. And as far as Little Brother goes … I don’t want to take him on too long of a ride too soon, and have him get discouraged. So, six miles is plenty for him as well.

How does a cyclist dad take a six-year-old on a six mile ride? In a such a way that the six-year-old can be a full participant, and not just a passenger?

Behold, our Co-Motion tandem bike:

IMG_20160326_165423874

I’ve zoomed in on the drivetrain, so you can get a better idea as to how it works. Each rider has a set of cranks. Mine (the “captain”), up front, are connected to the “stoker” cranks in the rear via a long chain on the left side of the bike. There is a regular set of chainrings and sprokets on the right side, just like any other bike would have.

If Big Brother were riding stoker, that would be the end of the story. However, Little Brother’s legs are way too short to reach the pedals at the bottom. That’s where the child conversion kit comes in. Notice that I’ve bolted an additional set of cranks to the tandem frame, just under the stoker’s seat. These are connected by the vertical chain to a second chainring on the lower left cranks.

Child Kit 2016

This whole kit can be attached, or removed, in about five minutes. The upper cranks are held in place by four hex bolts. All I have to do is remove them, remove the cranks, and the vertical chain simply slips off. Add a set of pedals to the main cranks at the bottom, adjust the seat height, and we’re in business for a new stoker. (The second chainring just stays in place; it isn’t interfering with anything, so it doesn’t need to be removed.)

Did Little Brother enjoy his first ride today? Oh, yeah! He had an absolute blast, cranking his pedals, as we flew along country roads. Yes, the captain supplies a huge proportion of the power. But that’s okay. StoKid is giving it everything he can. Best of all, he doesn’t have to worry about keeping up with Dad. And he’s close enough to carry on a conversation.

Our speed was naturally slower than what HFG and I rode earlier in the afternoon. And that’s fine. I still got a plenty-good workout, pedaling this beast. I sure enjoyed the change of pace. And the enthusiastic waves we got from other little kids as we cruised past them. And, above all, the smiles my StoKid gave.

Here’s hoping we have many more in the months to come.

A Modest Proposal

The next time you buy or rent a DVD, check the “special features.” Along with the Director’s commentary and deleted scenes, it’s often possible to select an alternate language to hear the movie in. Spanish. French. Portuguese. Italian. Whatever. It must not be too terribly difficult or disc-space-consuming to include an alternate audio track, because so many DVD movies now include that feature.

So, here’s my question and proposal: Why not include the cleaned-up version of the dialogue that is used for television broadcasts of the same movie? It could be another language option, alongside Spanish and French or whatever else. And for any movie that’s been cleaned-up with dubbing for television, that audio already exists. It shouldn’t be hard to do. Yet, in all the movies we’ve rented from Netflix, I’ve never seen a disc that offers this option.

I’m not talking about the “bad scenes” that are cut for television; I know some Christian groups have tried to produce and sell or rent versions of movies that cut these objectionable scenes, and have been sued. That’s not so critical for me; if I know there’s a bad scene in a movie, I can skip through it, mute it, or make my kids face away. But I can’t press the mute button every time Bruce Willis says the F-word. Sure, “melon farmer” is a silly substitute. But I’d rather my kids hear that than the original words.

What prompted this thought was recently renting Rain Man. It’s a wonderful movie, with absolutely superb acting from Tom Cruise and (especially) Dustin Hoffman. In fact, it’s hard for me to think of a movie with a better-acted lead than what Hoffman did in Rain Man. And the story itself, with Cruise growing to appreciate his brother for who he is, is powerful and moving. I really wanted to have the whole family watch it.

But it was rated R, and because I hadn’t seen it in many years I couldn’t remember exactly why. I knew there was at least one sex scene, but if that was the only problem…well, I could skip through that. But I had to know where it was, so I sat down to preview the movie by myself.

I found the sex scene, and it was pretty mild. Really mild, in fact, by Hollywood standards. The much larger problem was Tom Cruise’s mouth: the profanity never stopped flowing. The longer I watched, the more dismayed I grew. I loved the story and Hoffman’s acting as much as I remembered, but I knew I couldn’t share this film with the Yeoman Farm Children. If it’d just been that one sex scene, I easily could’ve skipped it. But the foul language was far too pervasive.

And you know what’s most frustrating? How completely unnecessary the rough language is. Yes, it fits Cruise’s character as a rough and profane guy who thinks only about himself. But an actor as good as Cruise could sell that role without dropping F-bombs.

In a similar vein, the first time I saw Coming to America was on an airplane. I was delighted. What a wonderful romantic comedy, I thought. And Eddie Murphy played such a refreshingly clean role! And then I rented it at home, and saw everything that’d been cut out. The language and short clips they’d cut weren’t just crude. They were totally unnecessary for the story — I’d loved it just as I’d seen it. The rough language and innuendo ruined it for me.

So, getting back to my proposal, why not offer cleaned-up dialogue as an alternate DVD audio track? If the film producers think it’s important not to exclude potential customers whose primary language is not English, why not show the same attention and concern to those of us who’d like to watch a movie with our kids and without all the four letter words?