Friday, February 29, 2008

Achieving Your Goals

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The first step is to stand up.

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Turn yourself in the right direction.

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Have a clear target in mind.

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Don't get discouraged.

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Keep trying.

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You'll get there eventually.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Farm Wife's Job

Every now and then, someone asks me if I “work outside the home,” which is the politically correct way to ask a mother if she has a paying job. In today's world, this seems like a loaded question. Some people think that a woman has little worth unless she draws a paycheck; others think that mothers should stay at home without exception.

I usually answer this question with a simple “no,” but that answer is not entirely true. First of all, any farm wife can tell you that she works outside the home every day, whether it is to drive a tractor, work cattle, weed the garden, shovel manure, or find the child that escaped to the muddy corral in her church shoes while her mother was cutting up the chicken for dinner. Technically, all of those tasks take place outside the home, and they all involve some measure of work.

Secondly, I do have a paying job. Actually, now that I no longer have a teaching career, I have two paying jobs. Now I am able to tell people that I “work at home,” another humorous phrase that was apparently created to differentiate between mothers who work at home and mothers who just occupy space while children run free and the house slowly deteriorates around them.

The more realistic label for “work at home” mothers would be “work at night after the children have gone to sleep and the supper dishes are done.” Attempting to work in a home during the day when small children are present is dangerous and should only be done by those brave souls who can risk a child screaming, “Mommy, the baby is stinky!” in the middle of a telephone interview.

Productivity is hampered when working in the presence of preschoolers as well. For instance, during the writing of my last column, I was interrupted at least 23 times. I may have lost count in between number 13 (“Mom, can you find the lego piece I lost last week? No, Mom, the tiny yellow one with the point.”) and number 14 (“Mom, are you done with those Cheetos? Can I have them?”).

All in all, it is much safer to work in the dark of night when the phone rarely rings and everyone, including the dog, is asleep and unlikely to have any emergencies requiring Mom’s immediate attention.

Rather than overwhelm the asker of the question with such a long explanation of my daily responsibilities, however, I just resort to “no” and then find myself compelled to explain that I used to have a job, just in case they might think me uneducated or unmotivated. In truth, I sometimes long for that job with its regular paycheck and long hours, since it seems I didn’t have to work nearly as hard as I do now that I’m essentially unemployed.

My fellow farm wives concur and share stories of their husbands coming in to find them simultaneously fixing supper, doing laundry, calming a crying baby, and talking to the banker on the phone. His boots dripping mud on the newly-cleaned floor, the farmer will say, “Honey, are you busy?”

The farm wife is required to lie at moments like that and say, “No, what did you need?” It doesn’t really matter what she replies, anyway. He has a plan for her, and he is likely not even listening to her answer.

He always promises that it will “just take a minute,” but she knows better. As she drops what she is doing to move an auger, go to town for parts, hold a nut in place for an agonizingly long time, move the cows, help pull a calf, or do any one of the other tasks with which the farm needs assistance, the farm wife realizes it may be nightfall before she returns to the house. Her farmer will then ask, “What’s for supper?”

These days, it doesn’t matter what politically correct term you use to label a farm wife and mother. The truth is that the only ones who fully understand and appreciate the scope of her job is those who have been in her shoes.



It's a full time job just being the mother hen around here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

It's a Horse, of Course

Kudos to all the brave souls who took a shot at the mystery photo.

That snout belongs to a very nosy horse.

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The pink spot, as you can see, is not actually a nostril. It's the skin between the nostrils.

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The photos came about when I was attempting to take a picture of our two horses together. If you look very closely, you can see the other horse in a few of the pictures.

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However, the particularly nosy horse kept nosing his way into my lens.

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This is the younger of the two horses. He's a five-or-so-year-old paint gelding that we bought last year.


His name is the source of marital discord. He came to us with a Spanish name . . . El Something or Other. . . and we clearly had to change it. We speak English at this house. My husband decided that the name must begin with "El" so he would not be confused during his training. I came up with several possibilities: Elvin, Elliot, Elgin, or Ellery would have sufficed.

My husband chose Elvis.

So I guess it's appropriate that this horse always wants to be on center stage.

I call him "that horse."

The good other horse, Skip, can be seen in the background here.

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But the attention hog doesn't let the camera have a clear view for very long.


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So here's a picture of Skip that I dug out from the archives. He's a good, steady, solid horse that I don't hesitate to trust with my kids. He might not be flashy, but he's responsible.

Maybe that's why we get along so well; we're kindred spirits.

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"That horse" isn't so bad, either. It's just hard to live up to Skip's example.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fun Farm Photo Contest

Here's a little challenge for you. Give me as many details as you can about this photo. Be as specific as you can be. Don't be afraid to make it up as you go.

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Come back tomorrow evening to find out who won and to see the uncropped version of the picture.

Have fun!


Do you need a hint? It's an animal. . . tell me which animal, which body part, and guess a breed if you're daring. C'mon, try it!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Cozy Calves

The calves have been dropping around here, and although we're enjoying a particularly warm February, the air still has the chill of winter. We had a bit of snow last night, and while the sunshine warmed the temperature today, it also thawed the ground and resulted in a coldy, mucky place for a calf to be born. Luckily for the calves, we have a good supply of straw on hand, and they took full advantage of it today.

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I love the swirl above this one's eye.

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His mama loves it, too.

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This is our first-born calf of 2008. I'm not too fond of her. She's not the most attractive calf that this operation has ever produced. She's just a few days old, and she's already developing an attitude. She was much too mature to be snuggled up in the straw today; she'd rather eat it.

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This little sweetie isn't very old. In fact, Mama still has a little bit of cleaning up to do around the ears.

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Nighty night.

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P.S. Thanks to all of you who have visited and left a comment or two. I appreciate the feedback!

And for those who aren't fond of cows, you can look forward to photos of a different species in the near future!


Sunday, February 24, 2008

An Unbroken Circle of . . . laundry

Since my primary function in life is being a mom, I often lament that the greatest intellectual feat of my day is matching the socks in the laundry basket.


Sure, there are the days when I have to balance checking accounts and project expenses. I sometimes have to write a coherent sentence or two for my column. I can troubleshoot a fever or a rash with the best of them. But when it comes right down to it, I find laundry to be the most consistent source of mental stimulation.

As I was folding tiny socks and Pooh Bear underwear last night, I realized that no one ever taught me how to do laundry. When the time came for me to tackle that task independently, I relied on memories of my mom’s methods.

After several years of habitually washing whites first and working toward the darkest loads, with the dirty work clothes last, I questioned my mom about the method. Why is it that we always start with whites? The answer, of course, was that her mom had always done it that way.

When Grandma did the laundry, she used a bucket and a washboard, so doing the whites first made perfect sense. In those days, washing the dark colors first would have meant hauling and heating more water to keep the whites from turning grey.

In today’s world of modern conveniences, there is no reason for me to keep washing the whites first in my washing machine. It drains the water with each load. But still, every Saturday I sort the laundry into piles and always carry the whites to the washer first.

I remember swearing as a twelve-year-old girl that I would never grow up to be like my mom. I spent the greater part of my teen years promising myself that I would not. But here I am at 31, realizing that the women who came before me are ingrained in the rhythm of my daily life.

I look down and see my mother’s hands kneading bread dough, using a serrated knife to cut it into pieces, and placing the rolls in the stream of sunshine from the window to rise. I answer the phone and hear my Grandma’s lyrical hello. I admonish my children and know instinctively that my face looks exactly like my mother’s when she spoke the same way to me.

At 15, I would have recognized these influences in horror. Sixteen years later, I marvel that, from many miles away, my relatives are here in my daily routine, and that somehow brings me a quiet comfort.

This knowledge will help me bear the time when my daughters no longer adore me and instead greet my teaching with eye rolls and impatient sighs. I will smile, knowing that one day they will fold my grandchildren’s socks and realize that they, too, are part of a circle so strong that it cannot be broken.

My six-year-old, with her dancing eyes and strong spirit, will glance into the mirror and see her mother. My youngest daughter, with her patient nature and ready smile, will lovingly rock her babies deep into the night and hum a melody that she subconsciously retrieved from her memories.

Someday, they will recognize my presence in their lives is inescapable. I can only hope that when they do, they will smile.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Big Sky

This is my backyard. I was probaby 150 feet away from my house when I took this picture. I am blessed.

I guess this is why they call Montana "The Big Sky State." We have had some big, beautiful skies lately, along with our 50 degree weather. Apologies to those who are freezing today.

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I grew up much closer to the mountains, and it has taken me nearly 13 years to develop an affection for this landscape. It's starting to grow on me.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Motherhood

It is very difficult to look dainty when you're a pregnant cow.

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In fact, when you're this pregnant, it's just downright impossible to look anything but miserable.

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But soon, the misery will be forgotten.

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Very soon, the months of awkward waddling will become irrelevant.

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All that will matter is this face.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Potato Soup: The Ultimate Comfort Food

Some days just don't go exactly right.

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On such days, it is crucial to eat some comfort food. I usually choose chocolate, but today just called for soup. I am typically not a big soup fan, but I do enjoy a good potato soup. I have never followed a recipe, but tonight I kept track of what I threw in the pot so I could share it with all of cyberspace.

I started with seven medium-sized red potatoes.

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You can use whatever potatoes you happen to have, but since I had some red ones on hand, I chose them. They tend to keep their integrity when boiled (i.e. they don't turn to mush). They also taste pretty good. Chop them up like this.

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Throw them in a pot and cover them with chicken stock.

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This is the kind I use, not because it's organic (not that there's anything wrong with that), but because I can buy it in bulk at Costco (and it tastes yummy).

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Cover the pot and turn that burner on high until it boils. Then you can turn it down to medium-high. Cook until the potatoes are tender (you can cut through one of the bigger chunks with a spoon).

Meanwhile, throw a stick of butter in a smaller pot and put it on medium-high heat. Chop up an onion (I only used half tonight because the kiddos are not big onion fans). Throw it in the pot with the butter, which should be melted by now.

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Cook that until the onions are translucent.

Meanwhile, chop up some bacon. If you don't have any leftover bacon like I did tonight, you can cook some and use the bacon grease instead of butter in the previous step. When I chopped up my leftover bacon tonight, I quickly realized that someone had stolen a few of the slices from the fridge today. I only had about half of what I needed (I usually use about 8 slices). It looks so lonely there on the cutting board.

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I had to cheat and find it some friends. I threw in some pre-cooked bacon pieces out of a package. Don't tell.

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There. That looks better.

Meanwhile, over at the stove, the onions are done. I dump in 1/4 cup of flour and some salt and pepper. Then I choose my other seasonings. Some people would have cooked some celery with those onions, but others don't have celery in the fridge and would have to drive 50 miles to get some. Those of you in a similar predicament can cheat like I do and use this.

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I figure I used about a teaspoon of that in with the onions. I also used about 1/2 teaspoon of thyme. This is what it looks like with the flour and seasonings.

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Now it's time to add some liquid to the lump of stuff. In a perfect world, you would use some half and half, but in my world, you have to use a 12-ounce can of evaporated milk. Then add the bacon. Another option is to add some cheese at this point to get a chowder-like soup. I threw in about 1/2 a cup of medium cheddar.

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The potatoes should be done by now. If they are, it's time to combine the two pots. Remove from heat and stir until they are incorporated. It should look something like this.

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This is how I serve it, but I suppose if you were trying to impress someone, you could dump it in a fancy bowl, like this high-dollar Corelle serving piece.

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Some people would choose a nice, crusty bread to accompany such a chowder. In our house, we use last night's leftovers.

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Yes, that's a hot dog, folks. I had some extra dough when I made rolls yesterday, so I wrapped it around a couple of packs of hot dogs and called it supper.

Hopefully the soup tasted good enough to make up for the side dish.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pioneer Life

In a moment of childhood nostalgia, I agreed to read the entire “Little House on the Prairie” series to my children. I can remember being enchanted by the books when I was young, and I wanted to share that with my kids. The books apparently have the same effect on them as they did on me; even my four-year-old listens with rapt attention and begs for more chapters each night before bed.

My ten-year-old, who has repeatedly expressed his astonishment that every home did not possess a personal computer when I was his age, is awestruck at the descriptions of the Ingalls family’s nomadic life.


My husband also marvels at the stories as he eavesdrops on a chapter every now and then. The concept of children being seen and not heard is especially appealing to him.

The gratitude of the family for simple pleasures in life, like white sugar and glass in the windows, is most striking to me. It has put into perspective how much we take for granted every minute of our lives. My kids have never known hunger, cold, or true fright. The most they have ever wanted is the newest toy that they see advertised on television. I can’t help but yearn for the simpler world in which Laura receives a peppermint candy stick and a homemade doll for Christmas, and she is so overcome with joy that she cannot speak.

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Of course, the price to pay to see that kind of gratitude in my children would be to deprive them, like the Ingalls family was deprived, of milk to drink, shoes that fit, and adequate protection from the elements and warring Indian parties that threatened their safety.

In the complicated world in which my children are growing, we have far different struggles and pressures. When I complain about any of these problems, my husband is quick to remind me that I could be a pioneer woman who has no modern conveniences. I have no desire to live the pioneer woman’s life, and I fully appreciate the incredible amount of work that they did. But I also know that you just cannot compare our worlds.

For example, pioneer women did their laundry on a washboard with water that was pumped by hand. I have a matching electric washer and dryer set, but I probably spend the same amount of time each week completing the chore of laundry as did the pioneer woman, since we have at least 20 times the amount of clothes that families had in pioneer days. And if I sent my child to school in the same clothing every day of the week, someone would probably call Social Services and accuse me of neglect.

If I served the same meal of salt pork and beans to my family for breakfast, lunch, and supper for five consecutive days, I’m pretty sure that my husband’s longing for pioneer life would cease.

Pa Ingalls spent his days toiling behind a horse-drawn plow, but I bet he would choose that life over one spent growing hundreds of acres of grain only to be at the mercy of world markets and government trade policies.

While the simplicity of their life is appealing, I would not want to live on the prairie for months on end with only a covered wagon for shelter. I don’t think the Ingalls family would trade their life for the complexities of ours, either. Still, we have the advantage of being able to take principles from their life and apply them to our own. We can be grateful for our blessings, be thankful for our families, and be wary of the trappings of materialism.

As for children being seen and not heard, my theory is that it was more of a dream than a reality.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Country Kids

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I believe that one of the primary benefits of raising kids in the country is that they have no choice but to become best friends.

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City kids run out to play with their friends after school. Country kids ride the bus home and have only their siblings and an animal or two to befriend. City kids have long summers of playing with their peers. Country kids rarely see their friends in the summer, so they make a special effort to get along.

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As a little girl, this seemed like a tortuous arrangement to me. (I'm the short one, by the way.)

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As I age, I realize what a precious gift it was to be close to my siblings.

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Most friendships are fleeting. Brothers and sisters are irreplaceable.

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Teaching my children the value of siblings is futile. They have to discover it for themselves.

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I think they're learning.

 
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