Savor success. Forget failure.


My son already has experience taking care of an animal and selling it. Last year, his 4-H project was pigs. He showed them, then he sold them, and we even went to the carcass show, which is where fifty people go into a meat freezer with a agriculture professor and find out why one kid’s carcass got a blue ribbon and one kid’s got a white ribbon.

If you guessed marbling, you guessed right. But the Farmer says this is an outdated way to look at meat. He says you get lots of marbling from feeding animals corn instead of letting them graze on the grass, but corn feed is like candy feed because there’s so little nutrition.

Okay. So even though we fundamentally disagree with the carcass show judging process, my son did take care of animals and then kill them, which is no small feat for a kid transplanted from New York City to rural Wisconsin.

In fact, I’d have to say that by now, my son’s childhood is more like the Farmer’s than mine. For instance, I walked out the back porch one day, and I saw my son chopping wood with an ax. Where I grew up, swinging an ax is like swinging a gun. Dangerous and only for crazy people.

So the Farmer and I agree to disagree, and when my son swings an ax over his head, I turn the other way. And pray.

I defer to the Farmer when it’s time to sell the goat. He says it’s fine to keep goats as pets, but we cannot keep having babies if we are not selling them.

My son likes the babies, so he agrees to sell one of the males so we can get the two females pregnant. He is selling Samuel, our favorite goat.

I try not to dwell on the favorite part. But we climb into the trailer and give him kisses goodbye before we start our trip to the auction house.

My son understands that if he is going to learn how to operate on the farm, he needs to stay far away from me. So when it’s time to sell his first goat, he rides in the truck with the Farmer. I follow along in my car

My son is excited. He feels grown up. And he does calculations to figure out how much money he’ll make from the sale.

At the auction barn, there are lots of goats. My son and I are curious. We get out of the car. We traipse around. The Farmer tells us not to get muck on our shoes. Muck is not the word he uses. Probably manure or something like that. There is lots of muck at the sale barn and the farmer does not want us tracking biohazards back to the farm.

Our farm is locked-down, or whatever the word is for the Farmer not letting other farm animal stuff onto our farm because of diseases. He has disease-free herds of pigs and cattle and surely that is from living for 20 years by himself. But I don’t say that. I just try hard to watch where I step.

I am concerned about how the animals are treated and I want to take pictures. I snap a few and the Farmer tells me that if they catch me we will not be able to sell the goat. PETA has come there. Or some PETA sympathizer types. In rural America PETA is a catch-all term for all people who are bothersome.

I take pictures while the Farmer is figuring out who is next and what we need to do to get Samuel into the holding pen.

I love when the Farmer takes charge. When we are fighting I tell him that I don’t need him to run a farm. I could run a farm by myself just fine. But the truth is that having him around makes my life so much more fun. I get to pick my head up and look around instead of sweating the logistical details of each step we make.

Samuel is scared, and I am scared watching Samuel be scared. We have protected him for so long. Someone left him to freeze in sub-zero temperatures two winters ago. We saved him. He is looking at us now, nuzzling our hands, assuming we are doing something good for him.

I look away so I don’t cry. I try to look away like I am curious and I sell beloved family pets for slaughter all the time.

My son answers the questions that the sale barn guy asks about breed, and age, and feed. My son knows everything about the goat but gets stumped when the sale barn guy asks for our zip code.

Right after, the Farmer puts his hand on my son’s back and says, “Nice job.”

My son is quiet. I know something is up because when the Farmer says nice job about something farm related, my son usually beams with pride.

The Farmer tells us to walk up to the auction room and wait for Samuel to come out for bidding. “See how much you get for him!” The Farmer says as he heads off to park our truck.

I walk with my son to the auction room but on the way, he starts crying.

Then I start crying. I say, “Do you want to bring Samuel home?”

“No. It’s too late.”

“It’s not too late.”

The Farmer sees us crying. He pulls me aside. He says, “It’s too late. Don’t encourage him by you crying, too.”

“He wants Samuel back.”

“He’s just sad. It’s part of the process of learning to farm.”

I turn to my son, “Do you want to take Samuel home?”

My son says yes.

The Farmer is so upset he has to go out to the truck.

I call to him. “Don’t be upset! I’m sorry!”

He says, “You can’t take an animal back. They don’t do that. It’s already processed in their system.”

“I can get Samuel back.”

The Farmer keeps walking to the truck.

I find the auctioneer. I tell him we are from New York City and we can’t sell our favorite goat and I am crying and my son is crying and they stop the auction and give us the goat back.

Then we are in the parking lot. Me, my son, and Samuel. Samuel is a bio-hazard now. He has poop from 100 other goats on his hoofs. I tell the Farmer I’ll put Samuel in the back seat of my car and we can give him a bath when we get him.

The Farmer looks down. Shakes his head. Laughs. He says, “No. Put him in the trailer. Let’s just bring Samuel home.”

This is the moment, right here, that determines what kind of person you are. If you see failure, you are a failure. And of course, failure is easy to see. We are not learning to be farmers. We are bringing bio-hazards onto the farm, and I’ve undermined the Farmer’s work teaching my son how to raise animals for slaughter.

There is success, too. There is the Farmer adjusting to our discomfort with farm life. He used to be much more rigid with us, and we would probably have had a big fight about this earlier in our relationship. I am helping my son to act on his emotions instead of hiding them. And, of course, we have Samuel back at the farm, and we love him.

Moments like this are so common in worklife. We can see success or we can see failure. We can choose. The right choice is to savor success and forget failure. That gives you energy to keep learning and trying new things. It gives you confidence to believe in your abilities. And remembering failure might seem educational to you—but it’s not. It’s a downer. So just forget it.

The Farmer usually approaches life this way, but this time, I wasn’t sure. Until we stopped for gas. My son wanted snacks. For himself and for Samuel. So we bought sunflower seeds, and while gas was pumping, the Farmer and my son stood at the back of the truck munching on seeds and sharing with Samuel.

When we got home, the other two goats were right there waiting, eyes glued to the trailer, looking for Samuel.

And when Samuel came out, everyone knew that the goats were now pets. So we compromised and got only one goat pregnant. We are learning how to be farmers, with some pets on the side. And the Farmer is learning how to raise a family, with some pets on the side.

114 replies
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  1. Julianna
    Julianna says:

    “I could run a farm by myself just fine.”


    I had an account manager tell me something similar during an exit interview. He could run the company I owned better than I could? Oh, you mean this well-oiled machine? Yes, I’m sure he could run it okay. Altho, of course, he didn’t know what I did day in and day out. He didn’t know what he didn’t know.

    But I told him he was more right than wrong. He was a capable person (more or less — I remember him more as an arrogant jackass). So he should do what I did: work for a decade learning an industry, making connections, earning seed money. Then go all in, strike out on your own, pay employees and rent and insurance and lawyers before you pay yourself. Work 10 hours a day, 7 days a week. Do the books yourself. Make the calls yourself. Live in fear. Repeat for 5 or 10 years.

    But now? Sure, now I make a ton of money and have hundreds of employees who manage departments all on their own. They’ve been trained to do that. And I MADE it happen.

    But sure, that dude could probably have done my job. Sigh

  2. Amy parmenter
    Amy parmenter says:

    This is not just a story about success or failure, pets or farm animals this is a story about love – lots of it – and I just love a story with a happy ending!

    And great pics!!!!

    Thx for sharIng.

    Amy parmenter
    The parmfarm

  3. catesfolly
    catesfolly says:

    This is at so many levels a fabulous story. This is some of your best work, not to mention a picture of a life well lived.

  4. Jennie
    Jennie says:

    Great piece! I recently found your blog and love it. This article pulled at my heart. I felt for Samuel being scared leaving the farm, I felt for your son not wanting to lose Samuel and feeling bad, and I felt for you as a parent losing your favorite goat and more importantly, seeing your son so upset. Great story and relatable on so many different levels. I’m glad I found your blog!

  5. Kusandra
    Kusandra says:

    So happy to read about one of your family’s success. Kudos to you and the farmer for growing and changing to accommodate the needs of the family. In the end this “sacrifice” makes all of you better people who are “lucky” to have love in their life. It is hard work and it ain’t pretty all the time. Thanks for doing this so publicly. Sorry to see all those people with opinions about you prior posts of relationship difficulties don’t bother to comment on this post which is about the positive results of all of your choices.

  6. Can't stop watching
    Can't stop watching says:

    ” When we are fighting I tell him that I don’t need him to run a farm. I could run a farm by myself just fine. ”
    You can’t get a driver’s license by yourself. Farmer: get thee a divorce lawyer.

  7. Kay Lorraine
    Kay Lorraine says:

    This was a lovely story. The farmer is making huge progress. Your kids are making huge progress. Work on your own progress, Penelope. You’ve made a good decision in staying. Please keep letting us know how it is going.

    • Can't stop watching
      Can't stop watching says:

      Oh Grace, honey, this freakshow is far too much fun. There are so many people who try so hard and feel so inadequate, it’s a pure refreshing treat to see pure sociopathy at work. Penelope brings new meaning to defining deviancy down, and her delusions are the icing on the cake.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        Comments like these make me wonder how many readers have a doctorate in psychology and psychiatry!

        Seriously! so many pros and experts…I feel so undereducated!!

  8. lhm
    lhm says:

    Thanks for the great story. You have mentioned a few times that you are working on improving your photography skills, and I just wanted to comment that the pictures in this post really add a lot to the story. Especially the last one where the goats are greeting each other. Well done!

  9. the pontificator
    the pontificator says:

    Really enjoying the farm posts, especially this one.

    I was a suburban kid. Then my Dad dumped his business and bought a farm. I was 10. We had pigs. I sat up at night with the sows and delivered little pigs. Cleaned them up with burlap bag, warmed them under a heat lamp and stuck them on a teat, next to their little brothers and sisters.

    Had my own motorcycle when I was 11. Rode all over hell and back. Learned to drive when I was 12. Dad stuck me in a pickup in the middle of an empty field, showed me how to shift and said, “Tear it up, kid.”

    We only lived on the farm for three years, it was too much work for just my Dad and a kid like me. But I learned a lot about work, and what was bullshit and what wasn’t.

    To this day when I’m sitting in some meeting with whatever jackass and his agenda, I know this: I’ve held the testicles of 400 pound animals in my hands and chopped them right off. Over and over. All day long.

    And I can surely chop anybody else’s testicles clean off, if I felt like it.

    Because I know how.

    • Mosaic
      Mosaic says:

      I have been reading this blog for years and never felt compelled to make a comment but this
      by far has been the best comment ever made on this blog.

  10. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    I loved this post. I have come back and read it numerous times, and even read it aloud to my husband this morning when he was lying in a hospital bed waiting to be wheeled away for his colonoscopy. I love the authenticity, your love for your son, Samuel and the respect your whole family had for each other. Mostly I loved that you were tenacious enough to get Samuel back, even whe the farmer said it was too late. Bravo!

  11. Jenx67
    Jenx67 says:

    I think Samuel is a great name for a goat. And your love for your son made me think of Hannah’s prayer for her son Samuel of the book of the same name.

  12. Kaiel
    Kaiel says:

    This is a wonderful post P. I’m so happy that Samuel, your son, the Farmer, and you all came home together.

  13. Angela Honea
    Angela Honea says:

    Love this story. I had three goats at one time. Now just one. I raised them all from babies and bottle fed them. They were precious. One died from urinary calculi :(, one I had to give away to another goat owner because he was too big and feisty for me (he was precious,just too wild acting) and then I have my very first goat still to this day, Berny. He is 14 and a good old goat. I miss my other two. Giving away Bandy was hard, but he was too ornery. :( Yours is a great story! I LOVE animals and understand COMPLETELY!

  14. Beverly
    Beverly says:

    I grew up on a farm, decades ago. This post was amusing to me because we had a cow and a pig that never went to slaughter.

    When asked why, my dad would say the meat was no good or that they had a problem or whatever else he thought of at the moment.

    Truth was he loved that cow and loved that pig. Both of them got extra attention, extra goodies, and were always being spoken to by him, scratched by my dad.

    Dad would never admit to this because it would of been a sign, in his eyes, as weakness.

    Most farmers around understood what he wasn’t saying. They also had an old horse, chicken or goat, that wasn’t any good for anything, or so they said.

    I love looking back on this now that I’m 60 years old. People don’t realize that farmers have a heart, but so often have to be tough at times because that’s what farm life is all about.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is such a fun comment, Beverly. Thank you. And thank you to everyone else who shared farm animal memories. The comments here makeme feel so happy to be where I am. And I think this is the best thing anyone could get from their blog. Thank you thank you.


  15. says:

    I cried when I read this. Terrific post and great lesson to be learned, in work and in life. Thanks for sharing.

  16. -k-
    -k- says:

    So glad Samuel stayed on the farm. I like the new site design, too.

    A recent Freakonomics Radio podcast had a good example of seeing success where one could see failure in the form of the reaction of the CEO of an expanding restaurant chain to a customer being served a salad with a dead mouse in it.

  17. Abigail Gorton
    Abigail Gorton says:

    I lived on a working farm with known and named animals. The macho, tattooed guy who looked after the pigs (swineherd? sounds so biblical!) would cry 24/7 for 2 days straight when we slaughtered a pig to eat it. He knew it had to be done, and he ate the meat but he still cried.

  18. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    That was a sweet post. I was raised by an Indiana farm girl who has told me about her “pets” who eventually end up at the slaughterhouse… I even went to the steer auction with my dad and my grandpa at 8-years-old and was well aware of where they ended up after the auction (steaks every Sunday night). My mom comes over to our house and is puzzled that we keep cats inside. She is more used to barn cats, who have a job. Outside cats here get eaten by coyotes. I liked the pictures a lot. Your son probably understands now, that one should try to keep one’s distance from the animals that will be sold. It is a good lesson.

  19. ssj
    ssj says:

    I LOVE the pictures — first the two goats watching for Samuel, and then him “talking” to the two of them.

  20. shayla
    shayla says:

    i think your photos are great-always getting better! i love this story, too. what a lovely thing to share. thank you.

    tiny rant: i will never understand why people come to blogs (that are free to read and open to the public)just to post negative comments. i just don’t understand it. if they don’t like what you have to say, why keep reading?!

  21. John @ Universal Remotes
    John @ Universal Remotes says:

    Samuel got to go home. Yay! I was actually getting emotionally involved. Learning is knowing the process but that doesn’t mean you sell the family goat. Stay strong and keep your son honest, he will be just fine.

  22. JTD
    JTD says:

    Hi Penelope, Unlike my comment on unlimited video games for kids, this will be short. Maybe it is not news to you but this subject sounds like a chapter out of Temple Grandin’s book Thinking in Pictures. As you may know, Temple is the lady with Asperger’s Syndrome who has designed a third of the livestock handling facilities in America. An enlightening read that The Farmer will find amazing.

  23. Jerry Ackerman
    Jerry Ackerman says:

    Hi Penelope, such a great story. It’s true that we can see success and failure but we can definitely choose. The right choice is to savor success and forget failure. Keep on inspiring us!

  24. Pat Henneberg
    Pat Henneberg says:

    What a great story.I grew up on a farm and it doesn’t matter when you come to the farm,there are just some animals you can’t part with.Period.Knowing when to hang on to them is the best life lesson!Well done!

  25. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    I don’t see failure. Sure, it’s failure if you think that the only thing you need to teach your son is how to be a farmer and bring animals up for slaughter. Instead you are teaching your son how to be a human being and that it’s okay to be compassionate.

  26. Ed McKeogh
    Ed McKeogh says:

    Ma’am, your blog is never easy to read, but on days like this, it’s wholly rewarding. Thanks for sharing this story and the perspective.

  27. D
    D says:

    The picture of the two lady goats looking all excited for Samuel to come back made me want to cry — but in a good way because he *did* come back and wasn’t slaughtered. Great post :)

  28. d
    d says:

    Penelope, you are a fantastic writer and this is a beautiful, meaningful story about life, and how we grow as humans.

  29. mary Lou Joseph
    mary Lou Joseph says:

    hey penelope! LOVED this story! heartwarming. when i first started reading your posts, i thought you were a bit over the edge—but you go girl—you’re great!

  30. Fenn
    Fenn says:

    OK, I’ll be the first to say this is one of your posts I HATED. You are so very often NOT a bleeding heart, and you were such a bleeding heart here.

    You allow your son to engage in the process of becoming a farmer but allow him to bail when it comes to the “hard part”? Does your family eat meat? Does your child understand where that meat comes from? Wasn’t this a time to talk about biology and the science of eating? Maybe this was a good time to talk about food and where we get it…instead of abandoning logic and letting emotions rule.

    I mean, I’m just thinking out loud there, but I feel like this could’ve been a teaching moment on being a farmer and how to handle the emotions that come with that instead of teaching him that it’s ok to back out of a decision, ok to break the rules of an auction, and ok to contaminate your husband’s farm because he is feeling an emotional attachment to an animal that you can’t reasonably keep.

    But I guess tears win over logic and rules and structure? Awesome. Let’s NOT teach your kid how to handle letting things go and instead teach him to break all rules just because he feels sad.

    Total bullshit.

    • chris
      chris says:

      @ FENN:

      I disagree, Fenn. I think this was a matter of knowing when to make an exception–knowing when to hold up and when to fold up.

      Further, I think you probably had to BE THERE to make the interpretation. And you had to know the people (children) involved. And the people who were there (parents) were the best people to make the interpretation.

  31. Ricky lastra
    Ricky lastra says:

    it was interesting to read abouth the possibility of taking diseases
    back to the farm if we dont take the nescesary precautions
    i had never take it in consideration and now I know it is very important.

  32. Becky Castle Miller
    Becky Castle Miller says:

    I saw success. I saw you be empathetic to your son’s emotions. I hope that tells me that I’m the kind of mom I want to be: empathetic, and teaching them how to handel their emotions.

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