Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Sad Tale Continues

The Fourth of July weekend was not kind to our oldest son. In one thud, his summer dreams of swimming, motorcycle riding, and bumper cars at the fair were replaced with a chunk of glow-in-the-dark plaster.

He received more sympathy than you could possibly imagine.

After three weeks of itchy agony, he had a date with the saw.

He wasn't quite sure that he was happy about that.

He got to keep the stinky shiny cast as a souvenier. His mom was thrilled.

Alas, his summer fun is postponed for another three weeks. This time it's orange, and cousin Brenna had first dibs on the signing. His next date with the saw is five days before school starts. I think he's counting down.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Getting Away From It All

I have a confession to make.

It’s rather un-American of me, I must admit, but I have developed a great deal of animosity toward the annual family vacation.

Many families plan the yearly outing months in advance, booking cottages on the beach or motel rooms at a resort. They rent RVs, buy plane tickets, hire house sitters, and arrange all the details well before their departure date.

In our family, things work a little differently. There is seldom any discussion of a vacation prior to the moment that my husband either finishes harvest or greens out, usually sometime during the week before school begins. He will come into the house and announce, “If we’re going to get out of here for awhile, we need to leave tomorrow.”

Having spent nearly every moment in field or pasture all summer, he is yearning to leave the place and relax. His secret desire is to get in the pickup and drive from implement dealership to implement dealership all across the country, stopping at truck stop restaurants in between and spending his dinner hour poring over the advertisements in an auto trader magazine he picked up in the lobby.

Knowing that the kids are due back at school soon, he modifies his dream trip to accommodate the family, and I begin the 24 hour marathon of work to prepare for a trip to an undetermined location for an undetermined length of time.

While I’m trying to pack for six people and prepare for the diversion of four kids under the age of 10 who will soon be confined to car seats for hours on end, I attempt to replace the feeling of dread with optimism. Unless you count hasty harvest dinners around the pickup tailgate, our family has little time together in the summer months, and our hasty trips certainly amend that. I enjoy traveling and seeing new sights. I want the kids to appreciate adventure and to learn that life exists outside of Fergus County.

The nice thing about arguing with myself is that I always win, and this case is no exception. By the time we are ready to depart, I have usually convinced myself that this trip will be enjoyable. Such was the case last summer when we headed for Wyoming despite the fact that a head cold has rendered me unable to speak or swallow.

The kids survived the eight hours in the car with few arguments and a minimal amount of screaming. We decided on a destination and reached it without becoming lost along the way. And, up until our six-year-old woke us in the motel room to inform us that our four-year-old had thrown up on her, it was a fairly enjoyable time.

Although the story culminates with the convergence of the stomach flu, a raging cold, and an eye infection all wreaking havoc on my exhausted body, I know that my children will not remember all those aspects of the trip.

They will remember the waterslides and the fun with their cousins. They will remember honking the horn through the mountain tunnels and visiting the dinosaur museum. When they look back on the trip, it won’t be about the time that we spent cleaning up bedsheets and stuffed animals or dodging the deer on the late-night trip home.

Their memories will be of ice cream cones past bedtime, climbing around inside old bomber planes, and crossing the state line. They will remember the simple things like seeing a freight train smoking along right next to the highway and playing in the cute little playhouse at the home of relatives in Wyoming.

Now that it's a year later and I can breathe through my nose, open both eyes completely, and keep down my supper, I can see the trip with new perspective through the eyes of my children, one of whom handed me a hand-drawn picture of six smiling people in a car after we returned from the ill-fated trip.

“Thanks for taking us on vacation, Mom,” she said. “It was the greatest.”

It was a relaxing trip (pre-puking).

Seriously. He visits tractor dealerships. Every trip.

This is what country kids read in the car: tractor brochures.

The dino museum was a big hit.

And it went downhill from there.

This year we went camping before harvest instead of taking the big hectic vacation afterward. You can read all about how that turned out here. Maybe next year we'll just go on a picnic in the backyard.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The County Fair

Maybe it’s the heat.

Maybe it’s the long hours of summer work.

Maybe it’s the repetitive pleas of small people peering up at their parents’ faces in hope.

Whatever the reason, every year at this time the vast majority of the people in the country have a temporary bout of insanity which causes them to take their children to the county fair.

As with most cases of insanity, the afflicted people don’t recognize the lunacy until it’s too late. Such was the case last week when I set off for the county fair with my four children in tow. When we arrived at the fair, we were surrounded by parents who were similarly afflicted with insanity. They were happily paying exorbitant amounts of money for cups of lemonade and food fried in grease. They were walking through rows of livestock that they have seen hundreds of times in their own barns, and they were waiting patiently for their kids to pet the babies in the petting zoo with hands sticky from ice cream.

Then they shelled out even more outrageous sums of money so their children could be flung up into the air on machinery that had been hastily assembled the night before by people of questionable backgrounds. They grinned and snapped pictures as their babies were buckled into seats of toy cars that went round and round, and they thought it was cute when the toddlers found the horn and honked it incessantly for the entire ride.

They waited in long lines so their kids could go on the roller coaster just one more time and thought it was worth it to see the look of wild excitement on their faces as they raced past, arms flailing in the air.

These are all people like me who usually spend a good deal of time making sure that their offspring are clean, fed nourishing meals, and protected from danger. The irony that we would then cart them off to a place to induce sugar highs and send them off to be flung through the air was striking; the fact that we, who are used to being frugal, would pay for the privilege of this experience was even more ironic.

Yet here we all were, carting filthy, exhausted children and empty wallets down the midway toward the parking lot. And, of course, we all stopped to buy a gigantic bag of cotton candy before we went home.

However absurd it sounds, I never questioned why we would engage in such uncharacteristic behavior. It’s one of those things you just naturally sign up for when you have children. You will drive 15 miles to bring them the show and tell project they left at home. You will endure countless sporting events during which they play for 15 seconds at the end of the game. You will pay year after year for the school pictures in which their eyes are crossed, their hair is sticking out, or their shirt is stained with ketchup.

The county fair is a tradition, and no matter how strange it may seem, it teaches the kids a valuable lesson. Tradition is a strong force that holds our families together through the generations. Without it, our farming and ranching communities would cease to exist.

Can all that be taught over an excursion to the fair? Probably not, but someday they will make the connection.

In the meantime, they had a day of cousin fun that won't soon be forgotten.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Riskier Than Farming: Part 2

Last month, I posted about an occupation that is riskier than farming.

Last Friday night, I documented three more.

Bareback riding

Saddle bronc riding

Trick riding

These people are either crazy or incredibly faithful.

Of course, the same could probably be said about people who put seed in the ground and wait for it to grow in order to make a living.

Friday, July 25, 2008

It's Been Awhile

It has been quite some time since I had a contest, so I'm launching one today.

Refer to yesterday's post. Beginning at the top photo, identify the breed of each chicken.

The only catch: I don't know the answers!

This is just a way to trick my more knowledgeable readers into telling me what I have here. According to the Murray McMurray website (from which I ordered the little critters), these are the possible answers:

Black Australorps
Lt. Brahmas
Dark Cornish
Black and White Giants
Buff and White Orpingtons
New Hampshire
Rhode Island Reds
Barred, White, Partridge, Buff Rocks
White, Silver Laced, & Colombian Wyandottes
Red Star
Black Star

I believe I have eight breeds here, including the wild-haired chick who is not a brown egg layer like the rest of them (and is therefore not listed above). As a matter of fact, I suspect that it might be a rooster.

So, those of you who are more familiar with poultry than I (which is probably the vast majority of my readership), please help me out here.

What in the world is in my chicken condo?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Awkward Adolescence

It happens to all of us. One day we're cute and fluffy, and the next we're preening at ourselves and wondering where it all went wrong.

Our feet look too big.

We have bad hair days.

Our heads just don't seem to match the proportions of our bodies.

Our noses look funny.

Our necks are scrawny.

Some parts develop faster than other parts, leaving us feeling mismatched.

It feels like everyone is staring at us.

Only the blonde chicks seem to go through this stage unruffled.

Sometimes we rebel. We engage in scandalous behavior and might even go for two different hair colors.

Thankfully, this stage is fleeting. We all get over it eventually. And once we're on the other side, it doesn't look like such a bad age to be.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Collections and Recollections

Some people collect stamps. Some people collect coins. Others collect thimbles or shot glasses or spoons.

My husband collects tractors.

Given that he's a farmer, an occupation that requires tractors, I have never really objected to his purchases. I figured that they were necessary business expenses.

I'm beginning to question the legitimacy of his latest purchase, though.

No, that's not an image from days gone by. It's a picture of our most recent addition to the tractor collection.

It's a John Deere 70 diesel, manufactured in the mid-1950s.

He says he needed a smaller tractor to do jobs for which the bigger tractors aren't well suited. I think he just bought it to make the square baler look new.

But looking at it from this perspective, I am in awe of the simplicity of it. There are no digital readouts, no climate control buttons, no GPS units, no CD changers.

Farming has certainly evolved in the past 50 years.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Always On My Mind

I'm a mom of four and a farm wife. Of all the thoughts that swirl throughout my head each day, one subject always outweighs the others: food.

Not only do I provide it for my family several times a day, but I rather enjoy it myself.

We are in the unique predicament of selling it so that we can afford to buy it.

Our distance from town requires that I constantly make note of what I use so that the list is complete when it is time to replenish the pantry.

Food is always on my mind.

After snacking on some peas in the garden this morning, I returned to the house and did a little reading. Apparently I'm not the only one who is thinking about food these days. The new fad is to create a garden in the backyard and grow produce in urban areas. I'm not one to follow trends, but I am encouraged by this development. I think that the more in touch people are with the production of food, the more positive the public perception of agriculture will be.

However, today's New York Times reported a phenomenon that disturbs me. Wealthy people are paying people to raise and harvest the produce - and in some cases to cook it into meals - so that they can have the benefits of the garden without getting their fingernails dirty.

I have no qualms about these people's rights to produce their own food. However, I see this development as further evidence of the growing rift between economic classes. In fact, I think that food (and access to it) is actually widening that gap.

This trend, just like the trend of eating organic or "all natural" (whatever that means) foods, is only available to those who can afford it. Many people are unable to shop at the farmer's market. We cannot all buy organic foods. We certainly can't all grow produce in our backyards; millions of people don't even have a backyard.

Those people who are economically or geographically excluded from obtaining food from those sources rely on production agriculture to provide the food. But because of movements like the one mentioned in the Times today, public perception is that production agriculture is no longer necessary. People who can afford to pay gardeners and chefs can also afford to support anti-agriculture environmental activists who work every day to shut down ag operations. Shutting down production agriculture in this country will mean further dependence on foreign imports.

Dependence on foreign food is a scary concept.

So, here's my plea. Buy organic. Buy all-natural (whatever that means). Buy locally. Grow your own. Raise a goat. Hire a gardener. But please think twice before supporting causes that aim to destroy production agriculture, even if they have shiny slogans and you want to impress the neighbors by how green you are. Those of us in production agriculture would like you to know that we take care of the land. We depend upon its health. We are proud to feed the nation - or at least those who can't afford their own personal gardener.

Monday, July 21, 2008


I am of the opinion that if a person is going to the work of making a dessert, it may as well be chocolate.

I am also of the opinion that if a person is going to eat a chocolate dessert, it's pretty pointless to try to make it healthy.

That said, I'm sharing with you my incredibly easy recipe for chocolate brownie trifle. I concocted this recipe after discovering that I have a trifle bowl that has been trifleless for 13 years. I thought I should remedy the situation, so I made a trifle. It was pretty good, but it wasn't quite perfection. I was asked to bring a dessert to a potluck over the weekend, so I decided to tweak the trifle. Since I was satisfying the chocolate cravings of a crowd, I used a large glass bowl this time, so my trifle bowl is still trifleless.

Here's the list of ingredients for the extra-large version.

a double batch of your favorite brownies (my favorite recipe starts with Betty and ends with Crocker)

one package cream cheese

one large tub Cool Whip

one large and one small package of chocolate pudding mix

3 1/4 cups milk

6 tsp. instant coffee dissolved in 4 Tablespoons boiling water

one Hershey's chocolate bar

Bake the brownies according to the package directions recipe. Cool for a few minutes and invert on parchment-lined cooling racks. When completely cool, slide cooling racks out from under parchment and use a pizza cutter to cut brownies into one-inch squares.

While brownies are cooling, mix together softened cream cheese and coffee until well blended. Add pudding mix and gradually beat in milk.

Enlist the subordinates to place a layer of brownies in the bottom of a large bowl.

Monitor carefully to prohibit unauthorized taste testing.

Use about 1/3 of the brownie squares. Please don't count them, though; this shouldn't be that stressful.

Spread 1/3 of the pudding mixture over the brownies. Make sure there is proper supervision.

Crack down on any nibbling.

Spread 1/3 of the Cool Whip over the pudding mixture, and then begin the layers again.

Repeat all layers three times. That last layer may require some real feet hands on treatment.

For the finishing touch (and to disguise the brown Cool Whip that results from overzealous Cool Whip spreading during the final step), top the dessert with some chocolate curls.

If I were concerned with appearances, I would go to the work of making homemade chocolate curls. But I'm more concerned with getting to the eating step, so I take the easy route. If you want the prettier way, go here.

My way involves a Hershey's bar and a vegetable peeler.

Holding the chocolate bar on its side, peel off layers and place them in curly positions on top of the dessert.

It may not be the prettiest dessert you've ever eaten, but it will certainly satisfy your chocolate cravings.

It's not bad for breakfast, either.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Parts Run

I have been writing a farm life column for a regional agricultural publication for nearly 10 years. In that time, I have received more comments about one column than all of the others combined. I think that the following piece resonates with farm wives because it is the absolute, universal truth. And, to date, it is the only column that has ever elicited a rebuttal column (written by a parts guy).

When a piece of equipment breaks down on a farm or ranch, it always breaks at a critical time. Swathers break during haying. Tractors break during seeding. Combines break during harvest.
When it is ascertained that the breakdown cannot be cured with duct tape or baling twine, the farm wife is contacted.

“I need you to go get parts,” the farmer or rancher will declare urgently.

The first time my dad said that to me, I was somewhat excited. The parts store held a kind of mystique for me because I had never actually entered it.

When I was a small child, I thought the parts store was “town.” My dad would come in the house and tell us we had to go to town, and after the hour-long drive all I remember is sitting in the back seat of our station wagon in front of the parts store.

It seemed like hours that we would wait for my dad to make his purchases. To my mother, it must have seemed like days.

She was forced to listen to three bored and cranky kids taking their frustrations out upon one another.

“Moooooooooom, Jimmy’s hitting me,” my sister or I would holler.

“Knock it off!” responded the fatigued voice from the front seat.

“Moooooooooom, Colleen’s on my side of the car.”

“What did I just tell you?” growled my mother.

As time wore on, the hot vinyl seats would stick to the backs of our bare legs, and we would yearn to run around.

“Sit down and be quiet!” my mom would mutter. “Did your dad get lost in there, or what?”

Finally, he would emerge from the parts store, and we would head home.

Now that I would finally be able to enter the store, I wondered what I would find there that held my father’s attention for such long periods of time.

I pulled the car up to the familiar building and anxiously entered it. Once inside, I couldn’t understand how my dad could spend so long in such a boring place.

After that trip, I realized that the parts store is an entirely different place for women than for men.

For men, it is a sort of Mecca. From farms and ranches everywhere, they make their pilgrimages to the place that houses the answers to their mechanical problems.

For most women, it is a building of doom.

During a woman’s first parts run, she is usually unaware of the mistakes she is about to make. Her spouse has told her exactly what she needs to bring home, and she relays this information to the man behind the counter.

He punches the information into the computer, looks up and asks, “Is that an “A” model or a “B” model?”

She panics. Her husband didn’t tell her there would be any questions. She was supposed to give the information to the parts guy, grab the part, and attempt to break a land speed record on her way home with the merchandise.

The parts guy recognizes the distraught look on the woman’s face and gives his co-worker a knowing smirk.

“Well, is it an ’82 baler or an ’83?” he asks.

“’82?”she guesses.

He disappears down the long aisle of boxes and returns with a small package. She signs the slip and heads home, feeling for the first time the doom that the parts store instills in a woman who has just bought the wrong part.

The parts guy is smiling when she returns with the package two or three hours later.

“It’s an ‘83, huh?” he laughs.

It is not so funny to her, since she’s the one who encountered the wrath of the rancher who is home watching the rain clouds build up over his broken baler.

The next time, she returns to the parts store a much smarter woman. She has written down the necessary information. Feeling more confident than ever, she passes her note to the parts guy.
I am convinced that parts guys go to special training sessions where they learn a secret language to make farm wives feel stupid. Even if the wife has all the significant information written on a carefully organized note, the parts guy will always look up from the computer and ask a question in a language that might as well be Greek.

“Is it the left galutaclophy or the right galutaclophy that is broken?” he asks in his secret code.

“Right,” she replies, smiling. Having witnessed the breakdown, she clearly remembers the side of the tractor from which the cursing was coming.

He throws the necessary part on the counter. She signs for it and dashes back to the field, convinced that she has purchased the correct part.

No such luck. She is beginning to realize that a strange power is working against her. In fact, some would consider it a conspiracy. Whatever the truth may be, the farm wife will rarely, if ever, return home with exactly the right part, and her husband will become exasperated with her.

She can try insisting that her husband call ahead and tell the parts guy what he needs. It’s a nice tactic, but like all other methods, it has flaws. When she arrives at the store, she may find that they are sold out of the necessary part. They may have it in two different types, or it might come with or without an attachment.

The parts guy does not possess the same sense of urgency as the farm wife, either. He ambles back among the rows of parts, stopping along the way to joke with another parts guy or to answer the phone. Meanwhile, the farm wife is looking at her watch, letting the baby on her hip teeth on the car keys and thinking about how she is going to get the kids fed and run the part to the field at the same time.

Even if she obtains the right part in a timely manner, that strange power that hovers over the farm wife will probably interfere at some point. For example, on her hasty drive home, she may encounter a highway patrol officer who thinks that a broken auger is no excuse to abandon reason and prudence on the road.

It’s a wise woman who takes her sense of humor into the season of breakdowns. In fact, it may be the only thing that preserves her sanity when, in his hurry to put the part back on the grain truck, her husband breaks something else, sending the farm wife back to town.

Friday, July 18, 2008


Imagine that this is your driveway.

This is your view.

This is your neighborhood.

This is your landscaping.



This was once reality for someone.

I find that difficult to comprehend. I think you would have to be pretty good friends with yourself to live like that. Makes me feel like we're not quite so isolated after all.


Thursday, July 17, 2008


Several years ago, I decided to try my luck with gardening once again after a three-year hiatus. I can’t say for sure why I quit the practice of gardening, but it was likely linked to two more children, astonishingly hot temperatures, lack of rain, and the memory of digging a freshly-shelled pea out of the nose of my three-year-old son.

But one year, I had no more excuses to neglect the task, so I yielded to the pleas of my children and set out one spring day to plant the seeds. Thanks to a screaming baby and a bit too much help from his siblings, that planting session lasted exactly 9 minutes. I completed the planting by the glow of the yard light after the helpers were all tucked in bed.

My husband, the farmer, set out in a friendly competition to grow a bigger, better garden than what I could produce. Throughout the summer, he thieved my seeds, my hose, my sprinkler, and my fertilizer in an attempt to demonstrate his superior gardening skills. I was undaunted by his challenge, but I was horrified when he told me that he had taken the zucchini seeds and had planted them.

All of them.

I warned him that a single plant could produce an annoying amount of squash, but he did not seem alarmed. I had frightening visions of myself becoming a zucchini pusher on the streets of our small town, forcing squash upon my unsuspecting neighbors and lurking in the church parking lot where no one locks their car doors.

Whenever he wasn’t looking, I snuck down to his garden plot, searching the ground for signs of emerging plants. I quietly breathed a sigh of relief when his plot failed him; only a few zucchini plants emerged in the row he was hoping to fill.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed tending my own garden. I relished the quiet peace I found while weeding between the rows in the evening. I enjoyed teaching the kids about plants, weeds, and nurturing new life. I especially took pleasure in serving fresh vegetables to my family at dinner.

Only when we returned home from a short vacation did I remember the real reason that I had ceased to garden: you reap what you sow.

Keeping up with the produce from my tiny garden plot became quite a challenge, and it turned out that my husband’s ploy to turn me into a zucchini pusher became a reality. With eight to 10 of the squash on my counter at all times, I was reduced to begging my family and friends to take them off my hands.

I bought a food processor so I could grind the stuff up small enough to hide it in casseroles, brownies, cookies, and cakes. I scoured the Internet for recipes and stuffed zucchini bread down my children for three meals a day. I fried it in so much oil that all the nutritional value was sucked out and replaced by cholesterol. One would think that I would have just given up and thrown it out, but I have enough of my parents’ thriftiness instilled in me that I could not bear to do it. I stopped short, however, of making the recipe I discovered for zucchini gravy.

Last year, a hailstorm eradicated most of my garden, and this year a cold spring caused spotty seed emergence. The zucchini just didn’t germinate, and I find myself missing it.

I guess I’ll just have to make sure the car doors are unlocked the next time I go to church.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Simple Math Lesson



= 3 hours of (relative) peace for Mom.

One of the disadvantages of living in the country (and 50 miles from a town with a stoplight) is that the kids don't have friends down the street or a library around the corner. We have plenty of chores to keep us busy, but sometimes we have to stretch our imaginations to come up with new recreation ideas. Chasing the chickens only lasts so long, and unlike our neighbor's five-year-old, my kids aren't thrilled with the idea of roping goats and dogs for fun.

Sometimes I like to surprise them with a special treat like a new game or outdoor toy. This week, we went to town for 4-H interviews (and parts and groceries - we must multi-task on our trips to town), so I browsed the clearance aisle of summer toys. I'm wary of the Slip-n-Slide. I already have one child in a cast, and I don't care to gamble.

This little fishy looked like a safer alternative. I should have known better. They soon had the slide and swings rigged up so they could splash into the water from greater hights. Luckily, no bones were broken, and the $4.99 was paid off - and then some - by the smiles I captured this afternoon.







Who knew that two inches of water could be so much fun?

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