What are we working for, really?

I told the farmer I wanted a horse.

Here are things I know about horses from the farmer's response:

1. Horses are very cheap right now. It used to be that you could buy an estate, put horses on it, call it a horse farm, and take a tax deduction on all the land. But the US just banned slaughtering horses. I am not sure why. I think this is part of Obama's attack on US subsidies to the rich. (Which, by the way, I support, and I am hoping he is so creative as this.) Anyway, now there are tons of people who want to get rid of horses.

2. Horses are a luxury to people who make a living from their farm. I will not get into the nuances of making a living vs. not making a living from a farm.

But wait. I think I will.

It's complicated. For example, if your great-great-grandfather homesteaded land and consequently you inherited 2000 acres and you mortgage it to support your family, is the farm supporting you? And if you don't mortgage it, but you live in poverty, is the farm supporting you? Stay tuned for posts when I answer these questions. Or just bitch about them. But anyway, horses are a luxury, according to the farmer, because they are a lot of work and they never make any money. (Well, except for the Amish, who still use horses to run farm equipment. But this will be in another post, too.)

No. I think it will be in this post. Everything in this post, but in a minute.

The issue is: what is making a living? And I actually do think I know the answer. The answer is if you are honestly making enough money to meet your needs.

So, for example, take Melville. He's hard for me to read because he was such a crappy provider for his wife and kids. I try to not think of that because my favorite character in all of literature is Ahab. And maybe it's impossible to write that crazy a character who we will still all identify with unless the author is crazy himself. Because we all would like to do just what we love and not support ourselves, but most of us don't indulge ourselves that way.

I used to say that all anyone needed to earn was $40,000 a year. And, because I dedicated the last decade (perhaps inadvertently) to personally testing all the happiness research I read I can attest that when I made $300,000 a year in LA my happiness was the same as when I made $40,000 in NYC. And, in that time, the Big Happiness Number has become $75,000, but I think that how much money I made didn't matter because my basic, underlying personal problems did not change.

Not that I am sure what they are, by the way. I am pretty certain, though, they are something about feeling lonely, because I don't read non-verbal cues well, and because I didn't feel loved as a kid. But, here's something else I learned from the happiness research: You will gain more from being my friend if I talk about happiness than if I talk about sadness.

So, lucky for you, I am clearing the $75,000 mark nicely this year, and the farmer responded to my request for a horse. With a donkey. He said that I have to take care of the donkey each day and if I do that, then we can consider the horse. But the farmer doesn't want to have a horse that he is taking care of.

The farmer thinks that taking care of animals that don't provide financial gain in return is a petting zoo, not a working farm. This is probably true. And, speaking of petting zoo, we have about 15 baby cats.

Here is a cat story: I think all farms have some cats. Is that right? Cat science: Tomcats travel from farm to farm, and girl cats stay on one farm. Some farms are very organized and they spay two cats and shoot the rest. Other farms, like the farmer's farm, let nature take its course. When the farmer lived alone, it was so hard for the babies to stay alive that it was a sort of Malthusian society where, by the end of the winter, he was always down to a manageable population of five or six.

But then the kids and I moved in, and we started taking kittens to the vet. And then we started buying expensive, grocery store food for the cats instead of forcing them to fight for table scraps.

The kittens started thriving, and things were going so well for the mom cats, that they were even getting pregnant twice in one summer. This was great news to me and the kids, because seeing one-day old cats is amazing—they fit in your hand. And taking care of them is great fun. But the farmer got worried.

Side story to the cat story but essential information: One of the farmer's friends, a dairy farmer, has a bunch of little girls, the demographic most likely to coddle kittens. After about three years of four girls, the friend's farm had 150 cats. So the friend and his wife took their kids away for the day and he had three friends come with beer and shotguns and they turned the farm into a cat-killing video game. The cats with the red ribbons on their necks were the ones the family wanted to keep.

So I guess we will have one summer of kitten glory and then I'll pay to spay the cats.

Which brings me to making a living on the farm. It's always a debate. Is it making a living if you don't have money to treat cats humanely? Because most farmers won't spend the money to spay cats. Is it making a living if the wife works off-farm? Because most farm families today need someone working off-farm, at least for the health insurance.

Sometimes, when I'm philosophizing about what making a living means, I think about lifestyle. Which brings me to the Amish. We live in a community where the Amish are buying a lot of land. They sell their land in Pennsylvania for $20,000 an acre and then move to our region of Wisconsin and buy land for $5000 an acre. So I'm living amongst the yuppie Amish.

What are we working for, really?

photo credit: 42N

To the Amish, making a living is sustaining a family within a community, and there's a great new book that describes why this formula leads to success in business: Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive, by Erik Wesner. For the Amish, the community is first. They do not drive cars because driving does not promote community, but they can hire someone to drive them, because sometimes you need to do that, and anyway, the alternative of making everyone into crazy Luddites does not develop community either.

The Amish are making me rethink why people work. And what supporting a family means. The Amish sense of community is incredible, and while we each think we are making a living by supporting the family unit, or supporting ourselves to create a world full of meaningful relationships, we are nothing like the Amish. We make so many choices based on our individual desires. For example, that I want a horse, or that the farmer wants to never leave the farm for a job that pays $75,000 a year.

I am thinking that the research about what makes us happy always comes down to community, not money. You become more like your friends, meeting regularly with a group makes us happier, if we structure our lives around consistent relationshipsincluding proximity—we are happier. So maybe Wesner's book on business is the most useful research about happiness, because how to be happy is about how to make a living in a way that enables you to provide something for a group rather than just for yourself.

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  1. H
    H says:

    You write: “Horses are very cheap right now. It used to be that you could buy an estate, put horses on it, call it a horse farm, and take a tax deduction on all the land. But the US just banned slaughtering horses. I am not sure why. I think this is part of Obama's attack on US subsidies to the rich. (Which, by the way, I support, and I am hoping he is so creative as this.) Anyway, now there are tons of people who want to get rid of horses.”

    First, the U.S. did not “just” ban horse slaughter. The legislation to ban equine slaughter was passed in 2006, and the last horse kill (in Illinois) was closed in 2007. All of this happened long before Obama decided to “attack…US subsidies to the rich.” I happen to know this information off the top of my head because I am involved in horses, but it would have taken you two minutes to exercise your fingers and search Google for this information. Of course, given the consistency with which you post spurious, barely researched piffle, I’m not surprised that you didn’t bother to lift a hand to do the search.

    Second, the ban on equine slaughter was led by animal rights activists who believe that the method of death by captive bolt and exsanguination is cruel. Furthermore, because most Americans view horses as pets and not as livestock, our citizens do not eat horse meat. In fact, many slaughter opponents believe that horse meat is unsafe for human consumption because of the chemicals that are used on horses (fly spray, wormer, etc.). All of the meat that was butchered and prepared in the heyday of the equine slaughter plants in the United States was sent overseas where it’s enjoyed as a delicacy.

    It should be noted that many equine veterinarians and many large equine breed registries including the American Quarter Horse Association opposed the anti-slaughter legislation. This created a lot of controversy within the horse community. Pro-slaughter groups argued that there needs to be a way to get rid of unwanted horses. It’s expensive to euthanize and dispose of a 1,000 pound+ animal.

    Third, the glut of horses on the market corresponds to a perfect storm of circumstances: the closing of slaughter, the economic downturn, and an overpopulation problem fostered, at least in part, by the breed registries (most notably AQHA and the Arabian Horse Association). As people began to lose their jobs, they were looking for expenses to shed. Horses are an expensive hobby. Breeders, who had been putting 50-100 foals on the ground each year at the urging of their breed registries, had nowhere to send their culls (i.e. to slaughter). The problem took years to create, and it will take years to sort out. In some ways, the economic downturn was a great thing because it forced the big breeders to rethink their strategy and to slow down. Many responsible breeders have chosen not to breed anything in the past two years as a result. This is not a bad thing.

    Finally, you are the worst possible candidate I can think of for horse ownership. Horses are a life-long commitment. It’s not enough to feed and water the animal. You have to maintain its feet with proper farrier care. You need to make sure it’s safely fenced, and no, barbed or smooth uncoated wire that is so popular for cattle isn’t going to cut it. (Take a look at this if you doubt me: http://www.horseproblems.com.au/Photo's/Veterinary%20Photos/Barbed%20wire%20injury.JPG ) You need to take lessons to ensure you know how to ride. You need to ride often enough to keep your horse tuned up and rideable. Anything that can go wrong? It will. Horses colic and get a twisted gut (torsion). They step on things that injure their hooves and render them lame. Etc.

    If you really want to see what it’s like to have a horse, go ahead and pay for lessons at a local stable. Here’s a place that’s not too far from Darlington: http://www.countryview-equestrian.org/. If after a year or so, you still enjoy the hobby, ask your instructor if you can lease a horse. Do that for another year. If you’re still interested (and odds are, you won’t be), then buy yourself a horse. You’ll be ready then.

    • Veronica Sawyer
      Veronica Sawyer says:

      H – Since you completely missed the point and went on an off-topic rant, I’ll follow your lead. I think it is hilarious that your link was broken by a misused apostrophe. Not sure whose fault it was but it makes me smile.

      • H
        H says:

        Oh right, because a broken link is indicative of…a copy and paste gone wrong? A link that has an apostrophe in it that the comment form can’t handle? If that’s what makes you smile, Veronica, you must be ridiculously easy to please. Lucky you.

        My “rant” as you call it was not off-topic in the least. Penelope wants her desires satisfied, and she believes acquiring a living creature will do that for her. (Newborn kittens aren’t enough, so she wants to graduate to bigger animals now.)

        Of course, she doesn’t even understand the simple economics that brought our nation to an oversupply of horses, but darn it, they’re cheap and she wants one. When the horsey of her dreams doesn’t make her as happy as she hoped it would or when it costs her a ton of money because of some problem or just simple routine maintenance (despite her happy-making paycheck), what will she do then? Will she dump it on Craigslist? Will she pawn it off on a neighbor? Will her farmer shoot the thing and bury it on the back forty?

        I get that Penelope is using this post to talk about what really makes her happy and why work is valuable, but when she opens with her usual poorly-researched, vague personal examples, it kills the mood for me.

        My point is, if you’re going to write about issues that matter to you, don’t do it in a vague way. Get the details. Know your facts. Develop expertise. The slaughter issue could have been a one-line, well-researched throw-away that established her credibility and informed her readers. As one of my teachers used to say, research is easy, and it sets a tone of veracity and respect for one’s readers.

        More importantly, if animals or kids are involved, you need to be that much more savvy about every decision you make. Horses are not motorcycles or couches. They are living, breathing, feeling creatures who require an enormous amount of energy, care and money. I liken horse ownership to opening up a pit in your backyard and burning sheafs of cash in it in the dead of winter in an effort to keep warm. The fire never stops demanding fuel, but your toes are still frozen.

        • Warrier
          Warrier says:

          I think your comment provided me more insight (and was certainly much more crisper) than the article.

      • Jim C.
        Jim C. says:

        H wasn’t off-topic.
        (1) Penelope did wonder why horses should be considered a luxury. Well, they don’t cost all that much to buy, but they are a bear to take care of. They are susceptible to all sorts of diseases, they require lots of hoof care and lots of visits from vets, and they eat like horses.
        (2) The horse slaughter bans were led by humane-society types and happened state by state over a period of years. Now, with no place to sell the culls, owners are literally abandoning horses, either physically or by leaving them to slow starvation and/or winterkill in inadequate pastures. (Did I mention that they eat like horses?) It’s not pretty.

    • Jenn
      Jenn says:

      When you wrote “when she opens with her usual poorly-researched, vague personal examples, it kills the mood for me”…..okay so why do you follow her????

    • Corinne
      Corinne says:

      You hit the nail on the head! As the “employee” of five dogs and four cats I wholeheartedly agree with your point that animal ownership isn’t something that should be taken lightly. It upsets me to think that anyone would buy a horse, or any animal for that matter, without fully researching the commitment involved. You are a great advocate of animals and I applaud your response.

    • J
      J says:

      Couldn’t agree more with H. Horses – and donkeys for that matter, which I happen to own – are not ‘set and forget’ animals and i don’t think Penelope should get either unless she’s planning to be on the farm and working with them more days than not.

    • Laurie
      Laurie says:

      Fantastic, thoughtful reply on this. Though she’s an amusing read, “Penelope” is the worst possible candidate for horse ownership. I don’t think she could make it through a week of regular care, let alone a night of colic.

  2. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    I think this is so timely for me right now. I work in vocational rehabilitation (helping people with disabilities obtain sustainable income) and it is difficult right now. We just started a new project with Griffin-Hammis to help people with disabilities start their own business or microenterprise. The question of success came up? and what are these people really working for in their lives. Some of these individuals don’t HAVE to work becuase they recieve a benefit from the state to live and pay for house etc. But these people WANT to work because it is “normal” to work and feel as if they are doing something productive. Meeting people, having friends, having some pocket money they can go bowling or go out to dinner. Being able to provide something to another person is important it is what “normal” people do everyday. Thanks and if you have any advise for us in Ohio or want to be a part of this let me know!

  3. Kerry
    Kerry says:

    This could not be more obnoxiously off-topic, but the farmer’s farm is on a homestead? And it’s still in the same family? You should totally get him a century certificate from the Wisconsin State Genealogical Society. http://wsgs.wetpaint.com/page/Pioneer+%26+Century+Certificates

    It’s cheap, and your in-laws would probably see it as a sign you value their heritage and whatnot. I know this because I’m a genealogist, and also because I married into a rural cheesehead family and have spent a decade trying to get them to like me.

    I’m going to spend all afternoon being upset about that story about the cats now.

    • Marisa
      Marisa says:

      Ditto on the cats.

      I have to remind myself, when I think, “Does Penelope not have a shred of sensitivity?” that no, the answer is definitely no.

    • Casual Surfer
      Casual Surfer says:

      That was a pretty disturbing story. There is a difference between wild animals and domesticated ones … our responsibility toward them is much higher. I’m glad P is on the scene to adjust the operating model on the farm.

      And for any nitwits who think, “The farmer didn’t want the cats …” I’d say he would be REALLY sorry if they just left one day. Cats can reproduce 2x/yr but mice can reproduce way more often. And do a lot of damage.

    • Chickybeth
      Chickybeth says:

      I really am deeply disturbed that people who claim to want to sustain life on a farm (i.e. the farmers) would be so callous with the lives of the cats. How do cats get on farms in the first place? Irresponsible people who want a pet but don’t want to pay to spay/neuter it. Then, they dump them off at the farm. If these farmers really cared about the life they foster on the farms, then they should spay/neuter the cats that are dropped off and there would not be an overpopulation problem. I found a previous post about the Farmer shooting raccoons pretty disturbing, but to know that farmers think it is a “game” to kill domestic cats makes me ill.

      • Maria
        Maria says:

        I don’t think anything that Penelope writes should be confused with representing the majority of farmers or farms.

        Yes, I’ve heard of raccoons being hunted to keep them out of the corn, but cats? No.

  4. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    I’m currently obsessed with the television show Eureka, which is unlike me, because I don’t like television, barely watch it, and have never in my life been obsessed with a television show before. But I realized just this morning that my obsession is because of the sense of community in the show and how much I want that community to be in my life. Sadly, Eureka doesn’t really exist, but it was really interesting to read your post and learn that community=happiness. Thanks for posting. And if you can figure out how we can create/find more community (without becoming Amish), please share.

    • Sarah
      Sarah says:

      Don’t laugh too hard. This is why I got addicted to Smallville. It sounded so stupid when my sister told me the main theme — until you watch it and see the community within the family and beyond. That community deteriorated in the last couple of years, and we no longer watch it. The one I really want to see? The one where his mother finally comes back on the show.

  5. Luci Klebar
    Luci Klebar says:

    Enjoyed this article and the $40K vs. $75K perspective. Does $35K really make a difference or has our lifestyle changed so dramatically that the “happiness #” has nearly doubled?

    Would like to see you write a post about what Ahab meant to you. Please write more about how difficult it is to sustain a family farm. City folks are so unaware of the challenges to small farms.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Luci. It’s a good question — why it’s so hard to make money on a farm. I think, really, a farm is a lifestyle business. I mean, the margin on cattle and pigs and chicken — all those profit margins are just terrible compared to any other business I’ve been in. But it’s so lovely to live on a farm and take care of those animals. So, like all lifestyle businesses — yoga instructor, novelist, antique dealer — you do it for love, not money, and you hope you can survive with the money you make.

      When I first met the farmer I thought it was absurd that a farmer would have been reading career advice. But now I see that farmers ask themselves the same career questions that bankers ask, they just each answer those questions differently.


  6. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Now, finally to take action, stop working so hard, and pay attention to my kids and my friends. I’ve observed this for years. The delay? I keep thinking that I need to get certain things established, so that they facilitate this ideal life that I keep imagining, in which I live in community funded by a few hours of outside work.

  7. Liza
    Liza says:

    I have to comment on the $ factor for happiness. I make just over $40k a year. I also have just about that much in student loan debt (which I pay massively on so I can be ‘debt free’)

    Therefore, my income feels more like $25k a year. And I’m still happy.

    I think the article regarding the $75k/year was referring to happiness in regards to making more than that amount, not substantially less.

    When we come down to ‘why we work’. You have to remember that the Amish work everyday. Farmer’s work everyday. They don’t have weekends, or sleeping in days because the day starts and it needs their attention-no matter which day of the week it is. So really, the Amish (and farmers) just work to help themselves strive and survive-their overall goal isn’t to make as much money as they can. (that is an ‘American Value’ that we have forgotten)


  8. Pam O'Hara
    Pam O'Hara says:

    Hi Penelope,
    I have been following you for 6 or 8 months now and have almost responded to dozens of your posts. I think I’ll email you. Anyway, I am enjoying following your path of learning what it’s like to live in the country. My husband and I, with grad degrees, ended up on his 150 year old family farm to raise our 3 kids. We’re in the middle of tending to the LLC that the farm has become with his 5 siblings We have two horses that we call “lawn ornaments’ or “big dogs”, would you like to buy them? We’ve gone through the whole kitten thing – agony, circle-of-life, adorable, tragic. One summer there were so many kittens born that the moms would all lay near each other and the kittens didn’t know or care who their mom was, as long as there was available milk. Is your donkey loud?

    We actually do NOT feel part of community. I don’t know if it’s because we’re so far out in the boonies or we just don’t have anything in common with our neighbors.
    We’re hoping to move to town, but feel stuck.

  9. Laura
    Laura says:

    I have to tell you when I read the part about the “cat killing live video game” at your friends’ farm was hysterical! When I was 6 years old, I brought home a beautiful white cat (girl) who had 6 kittens (all girls) and the next thing we know all 6 kittens had matured and had kittens and we had 48 cats! Not quite 150 BUT we were in a 1400 square foot home on a 1/4 acre lot in town! My dad would have welcomed a beer and cat shooting day I can assure you! New to your newsletter just this week! Thanks for the laugh!

    • beth
      beth says:

      Wow, your parents must have been irresponsible nitwits. Glad to know you think it’s funny to overpopulate your neighborhood with cats. Way to be a nuisance.

  10. Dan Strayer
    Dan Strayer says:

    Penelope, if you have not already read it, I HIGHLY recommend Rapt, by Winifred Gallagher. The entire book is about paying attention, and how we can/should/often don’t focus on what is important.

  11. Irv Podolsky
    Irv Podolsky says:

    You’re so right about community = friendships = security = happiness. My wife and I are considering moving from LA in a few years to stretch our nest egg in an area of the country that costs less to live. So we asked ourselves, what about our friends? Wouldn’t it be sad to leave them? And then, when we thought more about those close relationships, and we don’t have many, we realized they aren’t close at all. We wouldn’t feel comfortable phoning any of those friends for help, in the middle of the night. Maybe at noon. On a Saturday.

    My wife are quite happy having each other, but we’re not part of a religious community. Maybe that’s where you find real “friends.” Or in a bowling league.


    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s a good question: What does it mean to have a friend? I ask myself this all the time. I like to count my friends — to make sure I’m in the normal range. But then I think I don’t know who counts and who doesn’t. Well, and, then I guess it’s also true that I don’t know what the normal range is.

      But what I am trying to say is that I understand what you’re saying.


  12. Tina Portis
    Tina Portis says:

    I think your post invite us into your life just far enough to remind us to be thankful for ours. I read every single post (although I don’t comment each time) while at my day job. This is the only blog I get here in “Corporate America.” I agree, “What are we working for, really?” Me, I’m working to save all of this money to open my own Organic Life natural products store in my city and assist an Executive Director with running the non-profit I founded for Single Parents. You are so right about community and more importantly, I’m glad you have found someone to love you for you. You’re quite grand Penelope.

  13. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I know you will have some readers who will go stark raving mad over the cats and breeding issue, but you have to be practical about it if you live in the country. You will ALWAYS have feral cats, but you can manage your own colony on the farm, humanely (that is, without beer and shotgun parties). It seems like it would cost the most to start up but then costs would taper off for maintenance. There are web sites to help you like feralcat.com.

    The Amish moved into my (cheaper land) community and people were amazed at the money that they had. Amish communities adopt technology and spend money by discussing it and considering the pros and cons. This results in their monetary wealth sometimes. This is a lesson we should all remember that we can follow without adopting Amish religion or culture.

  14. Chelsea
    Chelsea says:

    What a great post. It’s refreshing to take a step back and be reminded of the importance of community. The photo with your son and the baby cats is adorable.

  15. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    “Is it making a living if the wife works off-farm?”

    I think you could broaden this far beyond farming. If two incomes are necessary for maintenance (not advancement, but maintenance), are you really making a living?

  16. barbi
    barbi says:

    You can’t say F**k and you can’t have a horse on a farm? He’ll get you a donkey? (That’s like getting Christmas presents from Walmart instead of Barneys!) Horses are of course best ridden, whereass donkeys are best not ridden so if you’re clearing over $75,000 then buy and keep your own horse. Your kids can learn to ride. You can’t put a price on galloping through a field, bareback, wind in your hair… But do some research or ask an equine friend to help you find a sound, kind and gentle one. My horse was one of those and when I moved to Miami Beach I sold him and posting this makes me melancholy….

  17. Angelo Bonito
    Angelo Bonito says:

    I also think the story about the cats and the beer and shotguns cat-killing video game was a hoot but sad too. I have another option for you if you have too many. Contact some oriental restaurants and let them have a pick of the bunch. I hear they find them delicacies, but also worry that I may be the victim of their cooking practices!

    • Amy
      Amy says:

      @angelo – Wow! Did you really just say that? Do you really believe that ‘oriental’ restaurants in the US regularly cook and serve cat? If you do you’re ignorant and if you don’t then you’re perpetuating a racist joke at the expense of an entire culture of people who helped to build your country.

      Maybe Penelope should prove she’s responsible enough for a horse by working on getting the cats fixed. It’s not an impossible task and likely if she speaks to her regional animal control centre, they may even offer to help. It’s an old fashioned conceit to think that perpetually reproducing feline is a necessary hazard of living in a rural area. We’ve got the technology to solve the problem, sadly we often just choose not to.

    • melanie gao
      melanie gao says:

      @Angelo – nowadays the term ‘Oriental’ is used to refer to rugs and antiques. When referring to people, the term ‘Asian’ is better.

      And it’s not true that Asian restaurants serve cat meat. Cat meat is eaten in some remote corners of China but it’s not common fare.

  18. Bill
    Bill says:

    Hi, Penelope. You state (albeit in fragments):

    “What is making a living? If you are honestly making enough money to meet your needs.”

    That is about as succinct a definition for success as I can imagine. All the rest is window-dressing.

    Thanks for your insight.


  19. Penelope
    Penelope says:

    Dear Penelope,
    I am another Penelope, with many things in common with you, am slightly older, have three children, am separated from my husband, who I love, a jazz musician, and in love with a Harvard professor, who does not love me, I am also a successful bookseller in Paris, although I am from Canada, originally I started off slowly getting your updates, and am realizing you actually speak for all of us, at least all of us Penelopes, great work. I think you are intelligent and are on the up and up. Bravo and keep going.

  20. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Who wants the horse … you or your son?
    Approximately two years ago, the horse was for your son ( http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2008/10/20/self-sabotage-is-never-limited-to-just-one-part-of-your-life/ ).
    Also you don’t mention exactly why you want a horse. I think I know why and it’s for your older son with autism. The horse would be good for him. I think the best solution would be to take riding lessons first. If that works out, gradually assume greater responsibility for a horse by leasing one at a nearby horse farm and take it from there. That’s my two cents FWIW.

  21. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Penelope, Penelope, Penelope…no one else I know has ever described the area where we live with such “insight.” I laughed till I cried. To “H”, please don’t take life so seriously, you are going to have a stroke!! This is a blog with Penelope’s outlook on life not the Ten Commandments. Laugh once in a while…it’ll do you good.

  22. Lucia
    Lucia says:

    I have not commented before and have been reading your blog for many months now.
    thank you for being a unique source of inspiration for me and for sharing <3

    that's why I don't understand commenters bashing you. it's your personal blog, you are the hostess, commenters are guests.

    anyway, please let me suggest (beg, implore ?) to please spay & neuter ALL cats.
    this is vital, many initiatives in the USA have been reporting and research, also by the American Vet. Society on e.g. cat health, male roaming etc. has been researched and published.


    should you be aware of these facts pls. forgive my enthusiasm for this cause.

    when I lived in GA I worked as a volunteer for a local cat-shelter (www.goodmews.org) and learned tons gallore about cats e.g. soc. animal control in GA killed more cats & dogs than the whole of the UK did (that's just the official numbers for one US-State) that same year.
    I was pretty shocked to say the least.

    now an American and Italian stray both live with me in Germany – both were "unplanned" and seemingly choose me ;-)
    (yes, they had non-stop flights from the US back)

    all the best & happiness

  23. Casual Surfer
    Casual Surfer says:

    Sometimes I think I want a horse (or chickens, or sheep, or a sheep-herding dog, or just another dog) and then I realize that what I am *really* craving is the time I’d spend with them. Somewhere in my brain I have the idea that if I had a horse/goat/chickens I would have leisurely times at the barn/chicken yard like I did when I was a kid.

    But I won’t.

    I’ll still travel 25% of the time for my job. I’ll still go to Asia 2x/yr and Europe 3x/yr. I’ll still be overscheduled, still have a hard time taking vacation, etc. But I understand the drive, the desire to get a “thing” with the hope that it gets you “time”.

  24. Sam
    Sam says:

    The idea of beer and shotguns to take care of cats you allowed to breed and propagate is about the sickest thing I can think of. Shame on them. Killing animals for food or your livelihood is one thing, indiscriminate killing of them because you allowed the situation to progress out of control is fucking selfish and sick. Fuck that guy.

  25. Amy
    Amy says:

    I married a farmer twelve years ago and for a while I was a woman who was married to a farmer. Then I was a farmer’s wife. Now I am a farmer.

    The difference?

    I once thought it would be nice to have a horse. I thought it would be fun to ride it all around the farm, like the Princess Bride.

    Then I thought it would be nice to have a Polaris Ranger ATV to help us fence the hayfields the Fall that my farmer threw out his back and I, six months pregnant with our third kid, was doing far more than my undercarriage muscles were comfortable with.

    We got the Ranger. My farmer recovered nicely, but we no longer have part-time milking help. We have Ranger payments instead. So I, the farmer’s wife, milk three mornings every week so my husband and his fragile back can sleep in until six.

    I read books about ranch kids with their ponies and think maybe we could get a horse when the kids are old enough to ride.

    Since I started regular morning milkings, not as a favor, but as my regular work, a few things have changed. I am no longer afraid of the dark or the bull. I am stronger and better, faster and more thorough about chores, but I’m no longer full of wonder and surprise that I should be doing such things. I don’t come back from pulling a calf and immediately do a Facebook post about it.

    The older kids are ten and seven and they could ride a horse, but they drive the Ranger instead. Sometimes we all load the Ranger up with shovels and head out into the pastures to kill thistles. We know a lot about thistles. We know to wear pants. We know to sharpen our shovels. We know to start early in the seaon. We sort of hate killing thistles, but we know we need to keep at it. And we also know the latin name for thistle: Onopordum Acanthium, Prickly Bush that is Eaten by Donkeys.

    Thoughts of a horse are long forgotten. But we really want a donkey.

  26. Rose
    Rose says:

    I am sad that people crapped all over “H”. I know that the formula of this blog is that Penelope writes something outrageous and her readers support her (often with god reason!)

    As I understand it, the real problem with horse ownership is the same as small pet ownership…people don’t take care of their horses, and they don’t control breeding. But horses are worse because they’re huge animals, so the cost of upkeep is huge, and horse people always seem to think they can breed horses and make ugly, unsellable horses, sometimes with awful genetic problems they didn’t pay to screen for.

    So, basically we’ve banned the equivalent of the kill shelter for horses, but it probably won’t stop these sad, ignorant people from continuing to do nasty stuff to horses and just increasing the stories of people found with 50 dead and half-dead horses on their farms.

    Penelope, I BEG you to get involved in a horse rescue organization. You can get a horse in exchange for a donation, but you can also understand the serious responsibility of horse ownership.

  27. No thanks
    No thanks says:

    Hi there,

    I’ve been following for a few months and usually find the posts entertaining and informative.

    I understand that insensitivities are normal in these posts, but the cat-killing paragraph was so appalling to me (there are so many alternatives, this sickens me), that I can no longer follow this blog. I know it was a friend that did such hideous acts, but the fact that it was included in an otherwise interesting post is so offensive — I can’t get it out of my head, and therefore need to unsubscribe.

    How unfortunate to seemingly condone such appalling behavior by including it (and why?)

    • Joselle
      Joselle says:

      I feel the same way. Reading about the cat-killing just struck me as sociopathic. They weren’t killed for food or to protect oneself. They were killed for fun whilst drinking beer.

      It’s disgusting and I don’t need to read about anymore senseless cruelty to any animals–human or otherwise–than I already do.

      I am an urban-dwelling vegan and damn proud. I won’t apologize for that or shrug off shooting your children’s cats while drinking alcohol as farm behavior I just don’t get.

      Read Will Tuttle.

  28. Robin
    Robin says:

    Penelope you ALWAYS crack me up. I feel sorry for those who take your posts so seriously and can’t just enjoy the funny parts and take the nugget of truth to infuse their day with delight.

    I grew up on a farm, and you really get to understand life by having cats and having horses. Having a cat is like having a job – they come and they go, and sometimes you have WAY more to handle than you want. Having a horse is like having a husband. Even when you no longer get along they are hard to get away from.

    Cows and chickens are the gravy part of life.

  29. Kyle Jackson
    Kyle Jackson says:

    Hi Penelope,

    Good post, I thought your bit about Malthusian population was very poignant. Do you think social media, such as a blog like yours, can go under that kind of change? I think maybe you can get to a point where the work overtakes what your working for and it caves in.

    But I think, social media and this kind of communication is probably more Amish than not. Yes it’s technological, but its also putting relationships first. A product is introduced into a blog, it serves to put a roof over the head of the authors so they can write more.

    Do you think that this kind of technololgy or mass population following is more Amish than people think? Love to hear your thoughts.


  30. Connie
    Connie says:

    Penelope, I know you will get a ton of grief for the cat shooting story. But people who live on farms (I am one) do what they have to do. Yes, get the female cats spayed as soon as possible. Maybe keep one neutered male around as well, to encourage the other males to move on. And don’t feed them too much, certainly not milk.

    Check out the equine rescue operation that’s on the other side of the state from you if you want to see what happens when people lose interest in/can’t afford their animals any more (amazing grace equine sanctuary). Ironically, friends of friends just collected a bunch of barn cats for relocating to the horse rescue farm., because they needed cats for pest control.

    The donkey will be good training for you to realize if you really want a horse instead of the idea of a horse.

  31. Mark E
    Mark E says:

    Penelope, I don’t normally appreciate the rants against your posts, but one particular element of this one concerned me: the farmer “letting” you have a donkey instead of a horse so you can demonstrate your willingness to care for it. As well-intentioned as it is, it rubs me the wrong way.

    The first poster’s suggestion of taking lessons elsewhere for a year, then leasing a horse for a year, is a good one. “Letting” you have an animal that provides you all of the work and none of the joy of a horse is such a poor compromise as to spoil the meaning of the word.

    It seems the farmer still sees the farm as his, and you’re allowed to be there with him so long as you do things his way. Being asked not to say “fuck” around the house doesn’t bother me so much – different people have different customs, and being courteous is always appropriate. The donkey thing, however, is just wrong.

    At best, it generates resentment. What if your care of the donkey is not up to the farmer’s standards? Neither of you are happy. You might think that if you had gotten the horse you wanted, instead of a stupid donkey, you would have wanted to take better care of it (and you might be right).

    Why can you, with your $75k+ income, not make a decision to provide for the cost of purchasing a horse and caring for it for the first year, with the agreement that if it becomes a burden on the farmer, it gets sold for whatever price is necessary to get rid of it?

    Even though you look 32, you’re 42, not 12. The donkey is a bad idea.

  32. Ken Wolman
    Ken Wolman says:

    Career satisfaction be damned. I work for money. It does not buy happiness, but it makes misery far easier to bear.

    BTW, don’t romanticize the Amish. They are ruthless puppy-mill breeders who will sell anything to anyone for a price. A few years ago someone posted a sign on the Pennsylvania Turnpike Lancaster exit: “Welcome to Lancaster, Puppy Mill Capital of the World.” It disappeared rather quickly. But it was and remains true.

  33. Jim C.
    Jim C. says:

    Feeding the farm cats is building a huge cat population that has to hunt something. (Cats hunt for pleasure as much as for food.) What effect do you reckon this is going to have on the songbird population?
    I grew up on a ranch in California. The cat population was never a problem, because the racoons, foxes, and even hawks kept them under control. We had enough around to keep mice, squirrels, and rats out of the barn, but their numbers didn’t explode.
    SW Wisconsin is probably too domesticated for that approach to work. It is farming country rather than ranch land. Forget about paying vets to neuter dozens of half-wild cats, unless you are promoting a farm foreclosure sale! The farmer will go broke. But there are more humane ways to kill cats than by holding a shotgun fest.

  34. Kevin King
    Kevin King says:

    Penelope you hit the nail on the head. It’s all about community.

    I don’t know what all these ranters are ranting about but obviously they’ve never lived a farm life or been generous enough to be part of community.

    My horse was a beautiful thorougbred cross named Jigger. When he became to old to chase the cows or be useful he was renamed Alpo.

    Keep up the good work.

  35. FollowerNoMore
    FollowerNoMore says:

    Like “No Thanks,” I, too, am unsubscribing following this post after being an avid reader for years. I get that “shock value” is your drug of choice to keep readers coming back, but the animal cruelty you gaily detail has no place in this post OTHER than shock value — and that tactic grows tiresome quickly. But more importantly, at a time when I think your particular experience, insights, research, etc. could be especially valuable to folks, your posts get more and more vague and you start adding random photos? I have found you to be inspiring, as well as informative, over the years, but since getting married and moving to the farm your posts have become increasingly disjointed and irrelevant. I’m all for you following your own dream/heart/happiness, but maybe your new life doesn’t jive with your old and you should re-evaluate either the content of or the audience for your blog.

  36. Yvette
    Yvette says:

    So did the dairy farmer’s hunting buddies ate the 100+ dead cats? Or they don’t follow the eat-what-you-kill principle, and killed them just for fun?
    This blog is more entretaining than Jersey Shore, for sure.

  37. P. Jennings
    P. Jennings says:

    Penelope, I think that people believe you say things for shock value. (Obviously some think that, there are posts which are very clear about it.)

    This story about the 100-or-more cats is one example. Your twitter about miscarriage was another. I’m sure there are more.

    However, they need to know — and perhaps you need to know — that it’s part of the territory with Asperger’s. At least for some Aspies, anyway. And that part of the territory is: inability to feel what other people (or cats) feel.

    The NT’s (neurotypicals), when told a story about pain or suffering, will feel it. Empathy.

    When Aspies are told a story about pain or suffering, they only ‘get it’ if such a thing happened to them. Complete inability to imagine the experience — to superimpose it upon themselves.

    This is a failure of neurons which are called ‘spindle’ neurons. Another name for the same thing is von Economo neurons.

    When they are not working properly, the individual has feelings and emotions — but can’t ‘borrow’ or understand the feelings of others.

    The person can experience pain and suffering, but only their OWN pain and suffering.

    When you and the farmer fight, is it sometimes because (he might say) you don’t understand his point of view? His pain, his worries, his troubles, etc etc? If so, maybe you don’t.

    So. About the cats. Can you imagine, at all, what the folks whose von Economo neurons are working, might feel at the thought of shooting cats?

  38. D
    D says:

    You might want to check out the book “I Could Write a Book…” It’s the autobiography of Roy Reiman. He made a fortune — and by fortune I mean, hundreds of millions of dollars — publishing magazines that target rural America.

    I believe his first big hit was called — no lie — Farm Wife. It’s very well written and his business advice still applies in the Internet age. Like all his other publications, he only sells direct and you cannot get it on Amazon.


  39. Rachelle
    Rachelle says:

    Sorry you’re getting so much guff about the cats Penelope, the facts are that the main reason that farmers keep cats is to eat the mice. A few of those cats are friendly and tame and more are half wild. If there are too many cats some cats have to go, otherwise there isn’t enough food for them and they’ll all be unhealthy and starving. Farmers usually don’t feed cats because they want them to be hungry and chase down the mice. Plus if they feed them too much they end up with a population explosion exactly like the one you described.

    Furthermore a decent farmer’s dog will kill rats. Full grown rats are too big for cats to deal with.

    My real point here is that until the last 50-60 years or so Meowy and Fido actually served a purpose other than looking good sunning themselves on the top of your sofa or laying at your feet. They were essential to keep your food free of rodents and protect the livestock. Quite frankly if more people grew their own food instead of picking it up at the local grocery store nicely packed there would be a lot more understanding of this concept.

    Maybe if we lived in communities instead of unfriendly urban jungles we’d need less companion animals because we’d have friends instead.

  40. Lori
    Lori says:

    love reading about your experiences of moving to the farm, especially since i also moved to the country and took my business with me. i’m interested in how you would define “community” in terms of your own life.

  41. Randy Domolky
    Randy Domolky says:

    I asked a happiness professor where he found the most happy people concentrated and he said in the old and the religious. He said that the religious are led by values that are consistent with what make people happy such as giving and helping and family and modesty and acceptance of others and that the old have just figured it out on their own after all those years of trying and observing other.

  42. Lori
    Lori says:

    I find it amusing that when you, Penelope, are “the rich”, you spend all your money and skip out your on your taxes. (Thus leading to your post about your wedding, which really wasn’t a wedding because you can’t marry the farmer because he’ll get a tax lien against his farm… which you later changed to remove the tax information…)

    When someone else is “the rich”, you hope Obama sticks it to them.

    Oh, I remember. nothing is ever your fault because you have Aspergers.

  43. Carol Saha
    Carol Saha says:

    I don’t know why but I found the part about the cats so hilarious I had to read it to my boyfriend. I never read blogs to my boyfriend. Thanks for the laugh.

  44. Carol Saha
    Carol Saha says:

    Okay, me again. I went back and read all the comments and have more to say. I love cats, they are my fav animal. I grew up in the city. We treat cats and dogs differently than farmers and ranchers, they are pets to us, they are working animals to them. I don’t have autism, I love cats, I believe we should all get our cats and dogs spayed, and I still think the cat shooting video game paragraph was funny.

  45. Mike
    Mike says:

    >I think this is part of Obama's attack on US subsidies to the rich. (Which, by the way, I support,

    I know that no one likes to pay taxes, but what are exactly are those supposed “subsidies” for the rich? As noted in an OECD report and reported here (http://www.taxfoundation.org/blog/show/23856.html) “…(U.S. collects more household tax revenue from the top 10 percent of households than any other country and extracts the most from that income group relative to their share of the nation’s income.”

    Also, you likely aren’t aware of it, but farms are probably the most highly subsidized industry in this entire country.

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