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Since Melissa is living on the farm full time, she has farm jobs. Her job is to get my younger son to take care of his lambs. Technically raising and selling two lambs is his business. He wanted to earn money like his brother, and his eggs selling is no longer high enough stakes for him.

But if the lambs are a small business, Melissa is a co-founder.

Imagine my five-year-old with his two front teeth missing and his blond curls still flat from the last night’s bath.

Imagine Melissa sitting next to him. Each with dark black lamb in their lap, each lamb the size of a kitten and each is drinking out of a bottle.

Cute, right?

But here’s what it is, really. My son is swinging a bat, threatening every living thing with accidental decapitation as he walks sort of to the lamb house and sort of not, as I shout, “Get your butt to those lambs!”

I go into Melissa’s room where she is curled up under the covers worrying that she will never get married.

I say, “Can you go feed the lambs now?”

She says, “Can’t he do it himself? I’m being sad.”

“No. You can’t be sad when there are kids. He needs help.”

“You have to stop doing phone interviews where you say all women should be married by the time they are 28. I can’t take it.”

“Baaaaa.”

“Okay. I’m going.”

Melissa is at the lamb barn and my son is gone. He is jumping on the hay bales. I yell out the back door, “You’re going to be late for school if you don’t finish chores now!”

He pretends he doesn’t hear me.

“Feed those lambs right now or you can’t play video games for the rest of your life!”

Melissa has been so diligent about feeding the lambs three times a day—and twice a day with my son in tow—that the Farmer has capitulated in the long-going discussion about whether I can get horses.

Melissa is a horse expert and she will take care of the horses and also teach us how to ride so I don’t get a concussion like last summer.

I spend mornings in the garden, thinking while I weed. The best part of starting my new company is that the beginning of a startup is a lot of thinking in between doing. Because it’s hard to know what to do next. So I think of the garden as integral to launching my company.

Last year I wrote about how excited I was to plant a garden on the farm, and a commenter wrote: “Sticking plants two feet away from each other in brown dirt isn’t a garden.” At first I thought She’s a bitch. Then: I think she’s right. I thought about her comment all winter and now I think that buying a bunch of annuals and planting them is like painting. Gardening should be more like sculpture. So I’m moving dirt and rocks all over the place right now.

I am making gifts out of rocks. I made paths to walk on with the farmer, I made treacherous climbing spots for the boys, I made secret hiding places for rocks that have my favorite poems on them.

Melissa talks to me while I garden. But she brings a New Yorker.

“You carry the New Yorker like it’s a security blanket,” I tell her.

She says, “I need it in case I get bored.”

“You get bored taking with me in the garden?”

“Sometimes. Yeah.”

So I made her a little rock perch in the middle of the garden. I made the perch close to the fence so that the lambs can’t get in, but they can be near her so they don’t baa for her.

Melissa decides she doesn’t want to work at our new startup. She can’t get her head around something that is nothing. She says, “When we have a warehouse full of cheese, or a web site that sells stuff, then I can get excited about working at this company. I can’t work in a company that is air.”

I tell her, “It’s not air. It’s ideas.”

“Ideas in the air.”

Melissa decides that since we are already getting horses, she will turn the horse barn into a business. She will buy four-year-old Welsh ponies and train them to be jumpers. She will qualify for Pony Finals from Wisconsin, where, apparently, there is scant competition in the area of rich pipsqueaks riding overpriced ponies. Then she’ll go to Pony Finals and sell the horse to a parent who thinks their kid is going to the Olympics for horse jumping, or is going to marry a horse breeder. Or something.

It is lunch. I make lunch for me and the farmer. I pick at my food because I like eating alone but the Farmer likes us to eat together. So I eat beforehand and then pretend during lunch. Melissa does not eat anything. When she first started living with us she would pretend. But now she only does that when the kids are at the table.

The Farmer says grace. He says, ‘Thank you, God, for taking care of us and for the food we are about to eat.”

He asks us how the business is going.

We tell him Melissa is now just an investor. She has her own horse business to run.

The Farmer laughs.

I say, “Are you surprised?”

He says, “No. I’d be surprised if you guys stuck to a single plan for longer than a week.”

55 replies
  1. c
    c says:

    As an animal lover I am extremely concerned about the baby lambs. Teaching your children to see them as chattel and investment when they are warm blooded loving beings will have an impact on the way they deal with not only pets but people. it is a fact that those who abuse animals abuse people. Here is an extreme example many murderers are hunters i.e. Scott Peterson, Mark Hacking, the list goes on. The lambs deserve a decent life as does your son’s psyche.

      • Maureen Sharib
        Maureen Sharib says:

        What Tzipporah said.

        i started my career in real estate at the tender age of 18 selling farms.
        Those farmers would wax poetic abt their cows but when Market Day came I saw nary a tear as they herded them up the plank into the waiting trucks.
        Jesus is right.

    • c
      c says:

      Teaching children to see killing animals is a dangerous proposition. I think of the 8 year old boy in New Mexico who shot and killed his father and his friend or the young boys who kill puppies and kittens and end up being murderers and rapists.

      • Holly
        Holly says:

        Breeding and selling farm animals for business is entirely different than torturing and killing puppies and kittens. One is for income and food while the other is just sadistic. I hardly think Penelope needs to worry about her kids. Besides, working outdoors on a farm is a much better childhood than sitting inside playing wii.

  2. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    How are you digging and moving the rocks around? That’s a SERIOUS lot of lifting – I know, I dealt with several hundred pounds of rock last year, making paths and a rock garden. I like what you’re doing. Are you making a kitchen garden, or a flower garden, or some combination?

    If you really want to get into the nitty-gritty of gardening, there’s a lot of fun stuff to learn about soil and amendments and companion planting. I’ve entertained myself for the last several years with that, starting from scratch. That might make the garden stuff less boring for Melissa, too, if you want her company.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The Farmer uses a loader. I’m not sure that’s the technical name. But he calls it that. He dumps the rocks in the general area and then he moves them himself. Sometimes he sort of rolls the rocks, if they are really heavy.

      Penelope

      • Tzipporah
        Tzipporah says:

        Wait, so the Farmer is moving the rocks? I thought you said you were doing stuff with them. Bossing somebody else is not the same thing.

  3. Karen Burgess
    Karen Burgess says:

    How OLD is Melissa, anyway? She looks 12.

    Am I too much like the Farmer? I am having a hard time with the idea that changing your mind every two minutes is good.

    Also, I want to have a friend so when I get tired of my life I can run off and think it’s being productive.

    Gosh, I sound like a bitch. Better stop.

  4. Jen
    Jen says:

    Melissa’s return to the farm has thrown water on my burning anticipation for the book. Wasn’t it supposed to inspire and soothe M., not have her return to the farm in what appears to be some defeat?

    Anyways, I’m sure I’ll still love the book.

    Melissa, I got married at 34 and am now 41. Everything worked out ok. Some people just take longer than others.

    • liz
      liz says:

      I don’t understand this post. Would “success” be tough it out in an obviously detrimental situation?

    • liz
      liz says:

      Also do not understand the “consoling” you are doing about getting married. Not only do I disagree with the assumed premise this is not the subject of this post. Spammer?

  5. Marti
    Marti says:

    If you can’t run off to a friend and think it is productive when you are young, then when can you?

    Coming up with workable ideas and feasible plans is like trying on shoes. The first pair you fall in love with never fit quite right and give you blisters, no matter how sexy they look. I am all for throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. Dogged determination and persistence on a mediocre plan is over-rated.

    I think you and Melissa are doing the right thing. Gotta say, nannying for the extremely wealthy in Italy, working for a goat cheese startup which has as yet no goats and no cheese, or nannying lambs wouldn’t be my first go-to businesses either, so I am all for abandoning projects that just aren’t working for me.

    Can’t wait for the next installment. I like the ponies idea. Oh, wait. That is, I like to bet on the ponies. Sorry. That is a different business.

  6. Matthew
    Matthew says:

    Please tell your editor that since you only have two sons, it is incorrect to refer to the younger son as the youngest. If you had three or more sons, youngest would be the better of the two words.

  7. Suzy McQ
    Suzy McQ says:

    Use straw to mulch between your plants and your garden rows. You won’t have to weed and the straw helps to hold moisture in the soil. I may not be good at guessing who M’s rich Italian client was, but I do know gardening. If you want to be even more efficient, put newspaper down first and then the straw on top. Weeding is not fun or cathartic, plus, as your veggies mature you will need your time to pick all your crops, and the sun will be blazing hot. Don’t forget to wear a hat and sunscreen, and, yes, I am a Jewish mother.

  8. Peter
    Peter says:

    I don’t know why I care, but I do. That should be good feedback for this blog.

    Melissa needs to start using her camera again.

    And the New Yorker is ubiquitous in my house.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh. I forgot to say that all the photos are by Melissa. Even the one that is of Melissa. Because I took the photo and she didn’t like it, so she told me where to stand and what setting to use on the camera and I took another photo.

      Penelope

  9. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Confession. It occurred to me to wonder whether you and Melissa and the farmer are having/will have sex. And that, my dear, is all for today.

  10. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    thanks Penelope! I just submitted to the American Express Facebook Big Break competition. Appreciate all the encouragement on getting it all done, personally and professionally.

  11. elaine
    elaine says:

    Penelope – I love that you hide rocks with your favorite poems on them. I used to paint pictures on small flat stones, then leave them in different places around the city. And I love Melissa’s boots.

  12. amy l The ParmFarm
    amy l The ParmFarm says:

    I just love that your son looks like you. I don’t have kids. I didn’t get married until I was in my 40s so it was ‘too late’. I am head over heels in love with my husband so I want to tell Melissa that is it totally worth the wait. But not being able to have kids has been a bummer. Most of the time I can accept it. Except on Mother’s Day when everyone says ‘Happy Mother’s Day’. Ouch.

    Amy Parmenter
    The ParmFarm

  13. Jani
    Jani says:

    Tell M that it’s ok – I’m 30 and haven’t married yet, either. Not to get all garden-y on her, but every flower blooms at their own pace. “Should” is quite often an illusion.

  14. Jani
    Jani says:

    Oh, and I forgot to say thank you for talking about all the thinking one does at the beginning of a startup. I’m starting my first business (aside from teaching piano lessons, which I only sort-of count since I wasn’t thinking much bigger than picking up ten students at a time), and I don’t really know what to expect, so it helps to know someone else with experience does that, too.

  15. Allison
    Allison says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I’ve been reading you so long,it feels voyeuristic like “The Truman Show,” except for the 50 percent professional insight advice part. Nonetheless, I”m a happier and more interesting person for it all. Odd tidbits stay with me, and I have never stopped thinking about those male baby goats and feta cheese. Are you considering really cool natural black wool goods, and developing sheep cheese potential?
    How bizarre of me to even go there, but…what the hay?!

    Make it a great day. :)

  16. MJ
    MJ says:

    This post about Melissa explains a lot of her prior career moves (always fretting about or focusing on something else, running from here to there etc.). Ya’ll are going to drive the Farmer to drink.

  17. rb
    rb says:

    In terms of your business, I am very much looking forward to humane goat cheese. Ever since you posted about the dark side of goat cheese, I haven’t been eating it. And I miss it.

    I have told friends the story and they’re off it too.

  18. Van
    Van says:

    Loving these on-the-fly style posts and the pretty perch you made for Melissa. I disagree with the comment on your garden “not being a garden”. One basil seedling in a dixie cup is a garden. Any deliberate intent to grow is a garden and for a true plant lover, each garden grown with love is equally fascinating and beautiful. For me, the quirkier a garden is: the better!

  19. Dimi
    Dimi says:

    Melissa,
    my sense is that if you try to manipulate your sentimental life the way you/we do with your/our carrier,
    you ‘ll only end up with a man who likes to be manipulated (dumn,depressive personality,ect).And this, will never really satisfy you i think.
    So,let love to come you whenever and don’t try too hard to get married
    :-)

  20. Margaret Goerig
    Margaret Goerig says:

    I’m enjoying these cliffhanger posts but I read this one before I went to bed last night and it gave me the weirdest dreams ever. I wish I could tell you how it all ended, too, but I don’t remember. Looking forward to the next installment.

  21. Clare
    Clare says:

    I think weeding is therapeutic! In fact, any sort of gardening is good for you. Wish I could dig out the research for you, but the enzymes found in soil are good for us – build our immune systems and trigger the happy chemicals. (As much as I can rememeber from the study.)

    Gardening – even if only the physical digging and weeding – is good when you need to iron out other problems or when you need to think. It’s calming and gives your hands something to do while your brain ticks over.

    And I don’t know about anyone else, but the veg and fruit I grow have more taste and bite to them than anything else I buy in the shops.

  22. Yvette
    Yvette says:

    Ah, gardens. It’s a wonderful hobby, and even in Boston people take great pride in their gardens, even contests for the pretties garden (as if that wasn’t subjective?). Lots of flowers of course, but I see veggies too, and tomatoes everywhere, in my neighborhood. (They taste better than whatever it is we getting in the stores these days, shipped green from God knows where).

    I think specialty foods is a terrific business, although the competition can be tough. Small and organic farms are doing well in New England (so far). I’d buy “humane” goat cheese, no problem. Even pay a small premium (which I have to do to get organic also).

    Will you be able to ship it out, in warm weather? I like to black wool idea, too. Some people still know the ancient art of spinning, and that’s a fascinating field. Did you know “spinning wheels” come in shapes like tops, and can be dangled off the body?

    I’ve been trying to think of some kind of business with my child, too, so I’ve found your idea process, bouncing around various angles, with a few constants, very helpful. As you’ve reminded your readers before, it takes different skills at different stages, in life and in starting up a business. And, yes, the game plan needs to be flexible, around the core idea(s).

    I see the farm as an ongoing, established, mature business. There’s a lot of long-term planning going on. For a start-up, there’s still a myriad of choices, so it’s more about imagining how different scenarios might work.

    Oh, and I got married when I wasn’t planning to. Something about “live your life” and let these sort of things fall in place. Sometimes spouses find you, so M might just have to wait, and put herself out there a bit, so her future spouse can find her!

  23. Celine
    Celine says:

    Was this a spam post? It had nothing to do with starting a business. It was more commentary about Melissa, the farm, the farmer, etc. Success never made it into the post.

  24. Penny
    Penny says:

    I have been reading and following your posts well, forever really but it has taken a photo of a baby black sheep to prompt me to finally comment. I live in a different continent, have a totally different way of life, a ‘halted’ career and a baby blog (baby as in just begun, not a blog about babies) but I have to tell you this is my FAV blog. You see I hesitated to comment because I don’t want to be all gushing and you probably know I link to you all the time because you are one of those technical people whereas I have no clue about all that. Actually what I know about say blogging I probably learnt here. But anyway I just wanted you to know that you have a big fan here in Northern Ireland and your commenters (commentators?) are so funny too. There I’ve gushed at you all and I haven’t even started on the lamb…I’m going to stop now. Just please keep doing what you do!

  25. Eirini H
    Eirini H says:

    Take a moment and look at the picture of that lamb.Pay attention to the eyes,really.Isn’t there something sinister mixed with innocent in that stare?

    • Holly
      Holly says:

      Sinister innocence? I think the lamb’s eyes are partially closed because of the camera flash.

  26. Raven
    Raven says:

    This post reminds me of what soul searching is about.

    I’m guessing Melissa is trying to figure out the ideas from the fluff – and trying to stick to the substance. Ponies…interesting. Is there much use for horses anymore?

  27. Lori
    Lori says:

    you need to write more about the air thing. when i started my second business, i had informational meetings (i needed community buy-in) where three people would show up to listen. we called that “talking to air”.

    what non-entrepreneurs don’t understand is that there’s a lot of air at the beginning of starting a business. you can’t get to the reality without the vision. entrepreneurs create businesses out of thin air. most people wait for something concrete to appear before they consider it real, not unlike men who think babies are useless until they can talk.

  28. sandy
    sandy says:

    I helped to start a business many years ago. The initial brainstorming sessions were a blast. You have nothing and are creating something. It’s very energizing. The next best thing I remember about it was the moment when other people outside of the start up group started taking the business seriously.

    Separately farming by definition is a commodity business. So most animals and produce end up at market. I’m not understanding the criticism of the goat business.

  29. webhostuk
    webhostuk says:

    As me what I have done while the start of new business, nearly worked 18 hours a day.. Hardly could sleep for 4 hours at one go.. its just hardwork that will pay.

  30. Srini
    Srini says:

    Can people be an entrepreneur and be risk-averse at the same time? I work 8-9 hrs at the day job and another 4-5 for my side business – every day – including weekends. Doing well at both for 4-5 years but can’t bring myself to break the chain and commit to doing one thing…may be if I keep reading your blog for another 5 years, I will :)

  31. Wording For Wedding Invitations
    Wording For Wedding Invitations says:

    Definitely a good read. I am reminded about the value of relationships. This is something I have uncontiously stepped away from being it so hard to find a good friend that accepts you for who you are, and doesnt spill all of personal life out to other people!

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