Wednesday, April 30, 2008

April is Autism Awareness Month: Part 3

April is drawing to a close, and its departure signifies the end of Autism Awareness Month.

In May, we look forward to celebrating National Vinegar Month, Latino Books Month, National Meditation Month, Haitian Heritage Month, and the International Internal Audit Awareness Month.

But before we usher in those all-important celebrations, I’d like to take the opportunity to give a few more insights into the world of autism.

One of the questions I frequently field is how we “handle it.” How do we cope with a child on the autism spectrum while also juggling the demands of three younger kids and a farm?

We are isolated from many of the services that are available for more urban families who are affected by autism. In the months following Riley’s official diagnosis, we received screenings from speech pathologists, an occupational therapist, and a pediatric neurologist. We implemented many of the suggested treatments in our everyday lives, and we continued to follow our instincts and common sense.

Some important factors in our approach were learning to prepare Riley for upcoming events and schedule changes, teaching him to read facial expressions, diligently practicing social skills, and teaching him anger management skills. We also worked to help him be more tolerant of sensory experiences; for example, we exposed him to loud noises and let him control some of those noises, such as the vacuum cleaner, so that he was no longer quite so afraid.

But the two most important factors were these:

1. We explained early on that everyone’s brain functions differently and that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. We pointed out things that he did well, and we pointed out things that he didn’t do well. We encouraged him to tackle challenges, but we assured him that he was loved and accepted for the person that he is.

2. We had a sense of humor, because if we didn’t laugh about some things, we just might cry. People with autism are very literal beings, and it just so happens that many of the nuances of the English language do not make much sense to a literal brain. We have had a few chuckles along the way as Riley has learned to discern figures of speech. At some point during the very frustrating echolalia stage, I uttered under my breath, “You are going to drive me nuts.” Later, Riley was overheard telling someone that “Mom is going to Nut’s house, and I’m going to drive.”

I asked Riley if he would like to share some of his perspectives. He readily agreed.

Mom: What would you like people to know about autism?

Riley: It may be hard to make friends.

An autistic person might act different than normal people. For example, I’m not that big on sports because they’re not any of my hobbies. They’re sometimes hard for me. I do play kickball at recess sometimes, though, but I don’t play football when the others are playing it. I don’t like to be tossed around the field.

I am really smart and know lots about the computer and other electronics. I figure things out easily such as a digital camera or cell phone.

I can get yelled at if I do something wrong. For example, I might mess with someone’s flashlight or camera and tell me not to do it or mess with it. I am also very sensitive. Even saying a little thing like “please don’t do that” when I’m doing something may cause me to tear up. I am afraid of crying in public.

Mom: Do you ever wish you weren’t autistic?

Riley: Sometimes. It would be easier to play with my friends because my friends usually play sports.

If I didn’t have autism, it would probably be easier to play the games my friends like to play. I go to a small school, and there are only five students in my class. I am friends with all of them. Actually, everyone is friends with everyone, counting me. I know each one very well. It’s just that I’m the only one in the class who has autism, which makes me a little bit different from the rest of the class. I usually get along perfectly with the third graders who share the same room as us. I am a fourth grader, by the way. Both the third grade and the fourth grade are taught by the same teacher.

Usually I get distracted in math class. I think of things in my head or mess with my writing utensils, books, etc., and then the teacher asks me a question that the rest of the class has already answered. She is asking me to re-answer the question, maybe because she saw me messing around with my writing utensils, books, etc., and I am unable to answer it because I was not listening.

Note from Mom: etc. is one of the fourth grade spelling words this week.

My teacher is not too strict and won’t give me a big punishment for what I’ve just done. She just says that I need to pay attention in class. This does occur with some of my classmates, too, but other times it occurs to me. This may occur because mostly in math class the teacher dims the lights and turns on the overhead projector, and the light from the overhead projector and the dimmed room may cause my brain to do things like I’ve just done. It usually makes me tired, too.

I may have acted a little more autistic in kindergarten than now because I was having speech problems, and now I talk normally.

I also get obsessed on things every once in awhile. For example, I might get obsessed on what kinds of radios there are in the world, computers, phones, weather stations, digital cameras, software for a computer such as Windows XP, Windows Vista, and how the human body works. I was obsessed on generators for a long time. It was nearing my birthday, and mom asked me what kind of cake I wanted. I said, “a generator cake.”

Autism is hard a lot of the time, but sometimes it’s okay. I like who I am.

Mom: I like who you are, too.

My Kids: Future Bloggers

My sister wanted to see a picture of my birthday cake. Strangely, I didn't take any pictures on my birthday. I guess it was my day off. However, I knew that my son's camera was in action that day, so I went to the other computer to see what he had recorded.

What did I find?

A complete photo story of the entire day, from beginning to end.

Many of those photos are just not fit for public viewing. I had a migraine that day, and since it was my birthday, I was the subject of several pictures. I was wearing baggy flannel pajamas. I had not fixed my hair. I had the expression of . . . well, of a mother with a migraine.

But there were many other pictures from which to choose. He took pictures of the weather, of his siblings, of the mess on the kitchen table when they were finished with the cake, and of each and every step of the cake construction project.

Here are a few samples.

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Sibling cooperation in its finest form.

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My safety-conscious child uses potholders even when the cake pan is entering the oven.

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Sculpting the frosting requires many hands.

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The finished project: a work of art. This is definitely my favorite birthday cake of all time.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Talking Back

One of my frustrations with this blogging adventure is that I find it awkward to respond to comments. If I comment back in the comments section, it ends up getting lost. If I try to email, I end up forgetting who is who and who said what. So tonight I'm taking the opportunity to talk back.

I'm glad you all are in the fields. TOO wet around here. - Jessica

We had that problem last spring, but this year we have dust blowing down the roads and creating visibility problems. I guess we’ll probably never have the perfect farming conditions.

I bet it was nice to get a bit of peace while the children were sitting in the car! - Mum-me

I did enjoy my solitude in the field. I never realize how much I miss the quiet until I actually experience it for a few minutes.

Okay, so what the heck is an alkali bog? I thought you said alkali dog at first! – Sandy

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This is an alkali bog. See the white stuff? That's alkali. Nothing will grow there, and if you try to walk through it, you will sink. It's like Montana quicksand. And it stinks.

Love the pictures! We put duals on our (green of course) tractors for many operations, but what do you call it when there are THREE sets of tires? – Jan

I call it very high bill when we have to replace 12 gigantic tires.

Actually, we call it triples.

LOL! So am I to assume he came home with a new mug & cap? And, if so, what else did he buy? - BoufMom9

Whenever a farmer comes home from a bull sale with a new cap, it means he bought a bull. And, like some of the commenters mentioned, it’s better to come home from a bull sale with a new cap than to come home from an implement dealership with a new cap; iron is far more expensive than animals.

I guess we all need to learn to slow down a bit some times. We make time for our kids's friends but not enough time for our own. So from one friend to another in this busy little place --Happy Birthday!!! - Mary W.

And Happy Birthday right back at you. Hope you had a nice day that involved cake!

Happy Birthday!!! Hope you had a good day today and celebrated with your crew! Did they bake you a cake? - Colleen

Ah, yes. They baked me a cake while I hid in the living room and tried to ignore their sibling squabbles. I did happen to stroll through the kitchen and suggest that they might want to add the water to the cake mix before they put it in the oven, but beyond that, they had no parental input in the baking process. The results were quite. . . edible.

My memory of spring was going with Grandma every day to scour this one tiny little coulee for shooting stars (rooster heads, whatever you call them) which was the only place they could make it out on the prairie by Roundup/Lewistown. I'm not sure exactly where you are in MT, but do you get shooting stars? – Robin

We’re north of Lewistown, and we usually have a fair supply of shooting stars. This year has been too dry and too cold for them, though. The kids found a few last weekend, but they were only about an inch high.

I love the lambs!! They are so cute! And WOW, how did you get your hair so high? :) - Andrea

Copious amounts of Aqua Net, my friend.

My knees get weak, my stomach starts to growl... Is it insane to lick the screen?I need chocolate chips! I need peanut butter! I need to get off this blasted diet! Is the vanilla liquid? Where is my transformation chart? If you ever want a challenge, write your measurements down in metric and celsius :D It would get me a few minutes closer to those b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l cookies.... - Julia in Sweden

Julia, I hope you broke free of your diet and found your conversion chart. I’d love to help you out, but math has never been my strong point. I can tell you that the vanilla is, indeed, liquid.

Erin, your pictures are really good, have you ever entered any in contests? - Jen

I have never entered a photo contest. I guess I’ve never really considered it. I love to take pictures, but I’m very much a novice. It’s just a hobby. But thanks for the compliment!

How do find time to write, and I mean write so well, with 4 young children in the house? - Mum-me

My kids are in bed no later than 8 p.m. each night. I use the next few hours as “my time,” and I usually read or write. I find it very difficult to write when I’m not alone.

What is your favorite time of day & why of course. - Linda

I love dawn and dusk. I love the solitude, the quiet, the stillness, and the sky.

If someone who had lived in the city all of their lives was considering moving to the country what advice would you give them? - oceans5

I would tell them to read this blog for a few weeks before hiring the U-haul. Do they really want their kids to be entertained like this?

Do you drive tractors? Would you have time to help me plant corn and soybeans? – Anonymous

Nope, I just chase them on foot through the fields.

I used to drive a tractor on occasion, but I strategically made a few mistakes (like forgetting to pull the plow out of the ground when crossing through the winter wheat on my way to the next fallow field). Shortly afterward, we switched to chemfallow, and my services were no longer required.

Four kids later, a nice, long day on the tractor all by myself sounds rather pleasant. It can’t be too difficult to learn to plant corn and soybeans, right?

And here is my question for all of you:

Where would you rather live: a) A city of 50,000 or more; b) A town of under 10,000; or c) 150 miles from the nearest Wal-Mart and 7 miles from the nearest pavement?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Playin' With Pictures

I have somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 photos on my computer. Most of them were taken in the past four years. Prior to 2004, I was a camera snob who condemned digital photography as a tool of convenience similar in quality to my blackening stash of old family Polaroids.

Instead of embracing the new technology, I continued to lug around a 35 mm camera and spend inordinate amounts of money on film and developing.

Then my third child was born. I suddenly had two children in diapers and not enough room in the diaper bag for the large camera, gigantic flash, and various lenses. My new point-and-shoot digital camera took up less room than a board book, and I was thrust into the digital world.

I took thousands of photos with that little camera prior to upgrading to a larger point-and-shoot last summer. Now I'm like the farm wife paparazzi. My camera is snapping everywhere I go.

Lately, it seems like all the pictures are beginning to look the same. The land refuses to green up and show any color, and the pictures have all taken on a look of dingy yellow. So today, since I had many other more pressing tasks that required my attention, I sat in front of my computer screen and messed around with photo editing tools. I rid my photos of that dingy yellow. I tried new color combinations. I didn't vacuum or fold that basket of jeans. But, at the end of the day, it's all about appreciating the beauty in life.

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A new view of an old favorite.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Just Leave It By The Gate

I woke up with a headache and the daunting task of making four children presentable for church this morning. My ever-considerate husband, who was heading out to feed the cows and plant barley, told me not to worry about packing his lunch just yet. He suggested that I bring it out to the field after church.

The plan sounded logical enough, so I agreed to it. After assembling the lunch, loading the kids in the car, and wrestling a toddler throughout a 90 minute church service, I turned off into the field on the way home. From my vantage point on the trail, I could see the tractor, and I used the radio to ask my husband how I should go about getting his lunch to him without breaking the First Rule of Farm Wives: Don't Drive On Seeded Ground.

His response was, "Just leave it by the gate."

I drove to the gate, parked, and decided just to wait there a bit and deliver the lunch when he was close by, saving him the time and effort of getting off the tractor and walking over to retrieve the lunchbox.

We sat at the gate for a spell. I couldn't tell you exactly how long the spell lasted, but it was long enough for the toddler to hike up her dress, remove her shoes and socks, and begin shoving her bare foot in her brother's face.

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I could hear the tractor nearby, so I decided to walk over the next hill and see if I could just deliver the lunch there. It was nearing 1:00, and being the considerate farm wife that I am, I was afraid my beloved farmer would be too hungry if I just left the box at the gate and waited for him to make it that far.

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He was actually quite close when I made it over the hill, but he was already turned in the other direction. I sat down on the lunchbox, sure that he would make it back to my position within minutes.

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See? I was right. Here he comes already.

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Getting closer.

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Excuse me? What are you doing?

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I couldn't believe my eyes. From my perch on the lunchbox, I could swear that I saw him turning the opposite direction. He's going in circles. He's lost his mind.

Actually, he encountered an alkali bog in the middle of the field, and he was farming around it. That meant that he wouldn't be back on my side of the field for at least 20 minutes longer.

I was faced with a difficult decision. I could go back to the gate and leave the lunchbox, or I could walk another spell, farther away from my vehicle, and try to chase him down. I figured it would be around 3:00 by the time he made it back to that gate, and considerate farm wife that I am, I decided to chase him.

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Eventually, he saw me.

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He stopped.

He asked me what in the world I was thinking by walking all the way into the middle of the field when he had clearly told me to just leave the lunchbox at the gate.

The gate that was now a good distance away.

The gate by which my vehicle was parked.

The vehicle that held my not-quite-as-patient-as-they-were-an-hour-ago children.

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Next time, I guess I'll leave it by the gate.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

How Much Did You Pay For That Hat?

This time of year, I cringe when I see my spouse during the daylight hours.

Let me clarify that.

My negative reaction is not due to the fact that he desperately needs a haircut and a shave. It’s not because he has had too much contact with the back end of a cow. I don’t even mind that he is wearing the same clothes he has worn for the past three days.

It’s not that I don’t want to see my spouse; it’s just that during this time of year, his presence at the house in the daylight can only mean bad news.

With the emergence of the wild oats and the convergence of chemical salesmen buying drinks at the local bar, we can be sure that spring is upon us. And during springtime on the farm, the male half of the partnership is seldom seen during the daylight.

Between feeding, calving, fencing, branding, and seeding, most farmers and ranchers these days are too busy to eat, so when I see my husband trudging toward the house, I automatically shudder as I imagine the bad news he must be bearing.

It is quite possible that something is broken. After a long winter of disuse, the farming equipment can usually be counted upon to have some kind of a hiccup.

If that’s not the case, it could be a casualty in the calving department. Since only a handful of cows remain to calve, they have fallen down on the priority list, which heightens the possibility of a dead calf and a flurry of phone calls to locate a graft candidate.

It could be that he is coming in for lunch at 3:30 p.m., having finally finished the chores he set out to do in the morning.

One of the scariest sights I have seen recently is that of my husband walking in the door wearing a new cap and carrying a new coffee mug. Normally, I would not make a fuss over his buying a new cap and mug, but when he acquires them at a bull sale, my heart begins to quicken. Just how much money did he have to spend in order to come home with both a cap and a coffee mug? I have learned the hard way that complementary caps are the most expensive headgear available.

No matter what the scenario, farm wives must follow a few simple rules to survive springtime.

First, they must never, ever ask the farmer, “How was your day?” That is simply asking for trouble. Second, wives should always have something in the refrigerator that can be microwaved in seconds when the farmer enters the house at 11 p.m. only to fall into bed too tired to eat it after all. Another safety precaution is to say as little as possible. Your husband doesn’t need anything else to think about, and chances are he’s not listening, anyway.

Finally, for goodness’ sake, don’t break anything, and if you do, hide it. Under no circumstances does a farmer want to come in during the stressful springtime rush and discover work to do in the house.

Following these bits of advice just might take some of the stress out of springtime and allow both you and your spouse to see the renewal of the land in a brighter light.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Thirty Years Ago

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Thirty years ago, I turned 2. My mom made me
a cake.

Looking back, I really don't think I've changed all that much.

I still have pudgy cheeks, bad hair days, and questionable taste in clothing.

I still like cake.

I can even pitch a fit if I feel the urge.

One thing is different, though.

Thirty years ago, I thought that 30 was old.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sure Signs of Spring

Spring is surely here. I know this because my husband is almost always out of the house these days, and his thoughts are shifting from calves to tractors. Fields await barley seed, and he is checking longterm forecasts and watching the radar screen like a hawk.

Another sign of spring is this:

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Blue skies meet a horizon with a tinge of green. Only a few snowbanks remain.

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Calves are playing peek-a-boo as their mothers eagerly search out green grass, a reprieve from the months of a dry hay diet.

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I see you.

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I smell you, too.

The surest sign of spring comes from the fists of small children.

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The first dandelion bouqet of the season. It's a beautiful sight.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

April is Autism Awareness Month: Part 2

When our oldest son was 2, we stayed home a lot.

It was too exasperating to go anywhere. It wasn't because he didn't travel well; in fact, he would ride in the car for hours on end without making a sound. Once we reached our destination, we encountered problems, though.

Riley would enter a house with two goals in mind: find the nearest cupboard door and light switch. Unlike most toddlers, he had no interest in tearing out the contents of the cupboard. Instead, he would silently and endlessly open and close the door. If he could reach a light switch, he would flip it on and off, staring at the light all the while. Only when we tried to stop his behavior did he make a noise, and a tantrum ensued.

Holiday gatherings seemed to bring out the worst behavior. I joked that kids always behave badly around relatives that the parents are trying to impress; inside, I wondered if those social situations were just too overwhelming for him. During his first birthday party, he crawled under the table with the dog. At his second birthday party, he still wasn't responding when someone said his name. He opened one gift, a school bus. He turned it upside down and spun the wheels, seemingly oblivious to his cousins playing around him.

Still, he did not fit the definition of an autistic child, according to the professionals I consulted. Most of his behaviors could be explained away, and 10 years ago, higher functioning forms of autism were not well publicized.

Looking back, I can see signs from the first moment I met him. When my other babies were born, there was a moment of eye contact and connection within seconds of birth. Riley gazed at the wallpaper or at shadows in the room. His first smile was directed at a picture of a giraffe, not at a person. He arched his back away from the person holding him, he did not point at objects, and he did not seem to care which adult was holding him, even if it was a stranger.

Riley did not wave or say "bye bye." He was terrified of vacuum cleaners, school bells, buzzers, and other sudden, loud noises. As he grew, he seemed to lack all interest in children.

His speech was very slow to develop, and when it did, it was not typical. He would repeat words and phrases back to us, so that if we asked, "How old are you, Riley?" he would respond, "How old are you, Riley?" The term for this phenomenon is echolalia, and it was the first step in a long journey of teaching Riley how to communicate. Almost as soon as his speech developed, we began to wish it hadn't; he began to repeat phrases over and over again until we thought we would go crazy. He would often pick up lines from videos, and two that I remember distinctly from his echolalia period are "My sweet, sweet Petunia," and a line he posed to my sister when she was caring for him: "Do you want a piece of me?"



While the perseverative speech stage caused his parents a few meltdowns, it seemed to lessen Riley's frustration with the world. As he learned to communicate, he was less likely to have meltdowns and behavioral problems. The "stimming" behaviors like flicking his fingers in front of his eyes and humming constantly seemed to lessen as he became more proficient at speaking. We also learned to help him manage his sensory difficulties during this stage.

As he entered school, we were still working on communication issues such as pronoun use, part of which was tied to his inability to differentiate between genders. Several years later, we are still working on how to read faces and discern people's moods. He sometimes has to ask a person if he or she is teasing or joking, and we work on social situations at home. Tonight, for example, he announced at supper that "maybe this meat will taste better if I dump a whole bunch of salt on it." I explained that he might not want to say things like that at someone else's table because it might hurt their feelings. The thought had never occurred to him.

The reason I'm sharing this story is because April is Autism Awareness Month, and someone just might see a similarity in this description that is enough for them to follow up on a nagging feeling about someone they love. We hesitated to label our child, but there were two moments that happened when he was 3 that propelled me into action.

First, I was shopping in a small gift store when the sales clerk asked Riley, “How old are you?” Even though Riley knew the answer and had answered the question from me before, he just began screaming at the stranger as if he were in pain. The final straw was on a trip to visit my sister. We went to the Cracker Barrel to eat lunch. My sister’s children, one of whom is the same age as Riley, went through the gift shop and sat down at one of the tables. My son stopped at the flashing traffic light in the gift shop and was fixated. He would not move. I begged, pleaded, and bribed to no avail. I had to drag him screaming through the restaurant and sit him down, and he sobbed hysterically for several minutes. I knew I had to get him some help.

My final autism post this month will address how far we have come since those days and how autism, or Asperger's Syndrome in our case, affects our family now. It has been more than six years since the official diagnosis of autism, and every one of those days has been a learning experience.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Perfection

Do you know one of those people who just seem to have it all together?

You know the one I’m talking about: the person who wears black pants without spending the day worrying about lint. She emerges from the windstorm outside with nary a hair out of place. She sends thank-you cards the day after receiving a gift, she never forgets anyone’s name, and she never speaks harshly to her children (who, by the way, never have runny noses, dirty faces, or mismatched clothes).

These are the people who thrive during the holidays. I have a friend, the mother of three young children, who bakes 60 dozen cookies during the week before Christmas. She then packages them in special holiday-colored containers decked with bows that she made herself, and she delivers them to every person who has done anything for her throughout the year: her children’s teachers, her neighbors, her dentist, her local co-op manager, her beautician, and the person who AI’d the heifers last spring. She delivers them in an astonishingly perky manner as if it were nothing to slave away in her kitchen with three children hanging off her leg while she meticulously frosted and sprinkled hundreds of cookies that she wasn’t even going to eat.

A part of me has always wanted to be a person like that, so last Christmas, I decided that I, too, would set forth to bake for all those who meant something to me. I began with fudge. I doubled the recipe, of course, realizing that it would be faster to reach 60 dozen treats if I made double batches. When the ingredients began to boil and immediately swelled over the top of the pot, I realized I had a problem.

Several sticky dishtowels and a load of laundry later, I was back in the kitchen, undeterred from the task at hand. This time, I was going to tackle a new recipe I found in a quaint little Christmas cookbook designed especially for those women who can whip up chocolate truffles without so much as smearing their shirt with the ingredients.

The first step was to crush ½ cup of peppermint candies. Anyone knows that a hammer is the weapon utensil of choice for this task, so I set forth to crush the candies inside a sturdy bag. After scattering peppermint all over my counter and floor, I added injury to insult by smashing my knuckle with the hammer claw.

Once the candies were smashed, I gently folded them into the cookie mixture as instructed. I dropped them onto the cookie sheet with the help of my toddler, who was smashing each cookie as it landed on the sheet.

Of course, the toddler then needed her diaper attended to, so I set the oven timer with the knowledge that it never takes 10 minutes to change one diaper.

When my husband came through the door an hour later, he found two cookie sheets with hardened brown lumps stuck to them, the result of one diaper that took much, much too long to change.

I realized that I should give up both the quest to bake more cookies than a human should endeavor to make in a day and the quest to become someone whom I obviously was not meant to be.

I’m the type of woman who forgets to offer guests something to eat or drink. My house is never entirely clean; while I’m cleaning one end of it, disaster is being created in the other. My kids might look presentable at church, but I have messy hair, one earring, and a Cheerio stuck to the back of my leg.

When I’m cooking, the kitchen looks like a war zone. I always drip ketchup in the middle of my white shirt, I always rub my sleeve against the muddy car, and if there is a sticky spot of something on a bleacher, I’m always the one who sits in it.

If I could get it all together, I would forget where I put it.

After the botched cookies and the overflowing fudge, I realized that I’m okay without being like my friend the superwoman, though. I have many blessings in my life, and believe we are all called to do the best we can with the talents we were given.

For some of us, that means we need to spend less time trying to be someone we are not and spend more time sharing our imperfect selves just the way we are.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Invented Word of the Day

"Pickoffable"

Pickoffable (adj.) - easily plucked from the top of a food item by the fingers of a small child

"Mom, can I have one of those square things like we had the other time, but it's not a cookie, and it has that white stuff on top of it that's pickoffable?"

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Five is a glorious age for vocabulary development.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Mom's Best Cookies

My kids think that this is the best recipe in my stash. They have named these "Mom's Best Cookies," and you're a few simple steps away from sampling one yourself.

Here's what you'll need:

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup oatmeal
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

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Cream together the butter and the sugars until well incorporated. Please don't use margarine. It wouldn't be right.

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Add the peanut butter. (Quick tip: spray the measuring cup with cooking spray before scooping in the peanut butter; it will slide right out into the mixing bowl.) Add the eggs and vanilla.

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Beat well.

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Don't tell my Grandma, but I have a confession to make. When I add the flour, soda, and salt, I just dump them all in on top and swish them around with the measuring spoon. I gave up sifting it all together sometime between my second and fourth baby. And guess what? Nobody noticed. The cookies still disappear within hours despite my heinous crime.

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After mixing in the dry ingredients, add the oatmeal. If you find yourself in need of oatmeal, you can have it shipped right to your door by a nice little company in Montana that may or may not be associated with one of my relatives. But I digress.

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Add the chocolate chips. I'm not a purist here; if you want to add some peanut butter chips or some milk chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet, you'll still be happy with the results. Dark chocolate works, too. M&Ms work in case someone has pilfered the chocolate chips from your pantry without your knowledge. Not that I would be familiar with such a situation.

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Now the mixing stage is compete. At my house, this is the time that someone shows up in the kitchen, looks at the dough, and with wide eyes asks, "Can I lick the beater, Mama?"

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Round up some subordinates; it's time to put them to work. This nifty tool has revolutionized my cookie making experience. The kids love it, the cookies are uniform in size, and it's dishwasher safe. Amen.

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My only regret is that I only have one nifty tool. I have four subordinates. That math doesn't work. So I invent jobs for them. This one has the job of "patting" the cookies.

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This one is a bit overzealous, so she's referred to as the "flattener."

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This is what the cookies look like when the subordinates have effectively smashed prepared them before baking.

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Miraculously, this is what a flattened cookie looks like after baking.

They're lightly crisped on the bottom with a soft, chewy center. It's cookie perfection.

Bake for 12 minutes at 350 degrees. This recipe yields 4 dozen cookies, which lasts approximately an hour and a half at my house.

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"I need choc-at, Mama."

Girl after my own heart.

Springtime in Montana

Spring is my favorite season. I love the new life embodied in frolicking calves and lambs, emerging blades of green, and bulging bellies of barn cats. Spring is marked in Montana by the first trill of the meadowlark and the first high school track meet at which the athletes can wear their shorts instead of their parkas.

Another hallmark of the season is the wildly unpredictable weather. Shifts in temperature of 80 degrees in a day or two are not uncommon. Such is the case this spring, when last weekend we were riding bikes and barbecuing, and this weekend the little ones are clambering to go outside to make snowmen. I won't let them. At 14 degrees with a stiff wind, their little noses would be frozen.

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I am already feeling nostalgic for last weekend's grilled steaks. Nevertheless, we are thankful for the snow that answered a prayer for moisture and covered the tender shoots of winter wheat to protect them from the bitter cold.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Country Girl in the City?

More Q & A:

"What would you miss most about country life if you were forced to live in the city? What would you like best?" - Let Them Be Little

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I would miss this

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and this

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and this.

I would miss going outside and hearing nothing but an occasional animal. I would miss fresh air and peace and the fact that the nearest neighbor is a couple of miles away. I would miss the opportunities I have to teach my kids about nature, reality, and growing food.

I would miss the small school where my kids have four classmates and their teachers have known them since birth.

If I lived in the city, I would really enjoy access to restaurants and grocery stores, although I would find it very difficult to break the habit of stocking up the pantry for winter and keeping half a beef in my freezer. I would enjoy the lack of mud and manure that is tracked into my house. I would really enjoy daily mail service, newspaper delivery, and DSL. I would like water that didn't kill grass.

Most of all, city life would afford me the opportunity to take a shower without first looking out the window to see if the cows were watering and taking away all the water pressure.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What I Miss

Today is Q & A Day, but I'm only going to tackle one question. The reason I'm only answering one question is that my brain is too frail to handle more than that tonight. I picked this question because it's easy to answer.

"If you could have one new thing on your farm added animal wise what would it be and why?"

Sheep.

Why?

The short answer is that I grew up on a sheep ranch, and I miss them. I like sheep. I like that they're small enough for me to handle, that they're soft, that they have very cute offspring, and that they're fairly simple creatures. I like their ears. I like the skin conditioning benefits of petting them.

My affection for sheep began at quite an early age. Since my grandpa and my dad raised sheep, I was accustomed to working with them.

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Here I am at age 4, clearly enjoying myself.

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By age 5 or 6, I was beginning to take over the care of the bum lambs.

I always cried when the bum lambs were sold, even when I was a teenager.

One summer I halterbroke my bum lambs using halters made from baling twine. I didn't get out much then, either.

One Christmas, my grandma gave all her grandkids a registered Suffolk sheep. Mine was named Flick. She produced many fine lambs that grew into my FFA project in high school.

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This is Rambo. What can I say? It was 1987.

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These twins were Flick's grandchildren, Patty and Patsy, who were born on St. Patrick's Day. I find it disturbing that I remember that. I find my asymmetrical haircut even more disturbing. The high top tennis shoes with the tapered leg jeans are nice, too.

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I'm not sure if the animals were drawn to my gentle nature or because I was a freaky looking girl in the late 1980s.

Just in case you're wondering, we did have sheep here shortly after we were married. It didn't work out so well. We have too many poisonous weeds in our pastures and too many coyotes roaming the range. The sheep did not fare well. Someday I'll try to sneak a few bum lambs back on the place for the kids to raise. Don't tell my husband.

 
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