Sunday, November 30, 2008

D Is For Dogs

D – Dogs

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I am thankful for the two dogs in our lives. Mitch, our firstborn, is nearly 13. He is deaf, his eyes are cloudy, and his movements are stiff. Despite his age, he still greets us with a wagging tail and still tolerates the hugs and overzealous petting of four young kids who, throughout the years, he has watched over and herded in the yard.

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Charlie, a four-month-old red Border collie, has been in our lives for all of six weeks and has established himself as a member of the family. His devotion to the kids is evident in the way he greets them at the end of the school day, his body wagging from nose to tail and his tongue unsuccessfully attempting to resist their cheeks. Charlie may never be a great cow dog, but he is certainly a great kid dog.

I do not count my blessings often enough, but during this season of Thanksgiving, it seems only right to acknowledge the richness of our lives. At this point, I’m feeling wealthy.

(Up Next: S is for Stomach Flu.)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

E Is For Every Day

(You can read the beginning of this post here.)

E – Every day

I am thankful for the blessing of every day and the opportunities that each day presents.

No matter what the wheat market did yesterday or what the cattle market might do tomorrow, each new day holds the possibility of something better. Each day brings new chances, new choices, and new challenges.

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Every day holds the potential for seeing beauty in the ordinary. You just have to open your eyes.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

S Is For Sunset

S – Sunset

Every evening at about 5:11 p.m., the patience of the occupants of this house is exhausted. The kids are tired, cranky, and hungry, which is unfortunate because I am too busy fixing supper and picking up the messes of the day to tend to their needs. Peace is found in the sunset, which transfixes even the youngest of the children, who proclaims that God must really like pink.

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The beauty of the sunset, and the stillness that accompanies it, are two of the reasons that I would not do well living in the city, which never stops to experience the stillness that the sunset brings. I love the solitude of experiencing the sunset alone. I can breathe, I can think, and I can stand it about 10 minutes before I begin to miss the noise and chaos of my kids. Sometimes a person must experience loneliness to be able to see the beauty in sharing life with others.

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S Is For Sunrise

(See the beginning of this post here.)

S – Sunrise

Mornings used to be my favorite time of day. That was before I was responsible for feeding the family and getting most of them out the door by 7:30. Now morning tends to be a frenzied rush of cooking, dressing, hair combing, library book finding, show and tell deciding, trombone forgetting, sibling squabbling, and much too little coffee consuming.

The sunrise, which usually occurs in the midst of the madness, has a way of settling the soul. The sunrise can put matters into perspective, and it provides the perfect opportunity to teach the kids that no matter what troubles may be at hand, the sun will rise.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

E Is For Eggs

(See the beginning of this post here.)

E – Eggs

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This year has taught me many lessons, and one that stands out is to appreciate eggs. While I have a personal distaste for chickens in general, I do enjoy a nice dish of scrambled eggs and toast, and the growth of our family has increased our egg consumption dramatically.

Since we have a chicken house and the paraphernalia required for the poultry business, I allowed the four-year-old to convince me that we should order baby chicks this spring. After a long summer of “helping” the kids care for the chicks, all of our time and effort was squelched in the matter of minutes due to an unlatched gate and an enthusiastic blue heeler. Picking up the carcasses of 22 chickens that were raised from baby fuzz balls was not a lesson that I or our children will soon forget.

While we had not a single egg from those chickens, a kind neighbor offered our son the opportunity to buy more hens, and he is building quite the little nest egg from his egg business. We have all learned the value of eggs, it seems, in addition to the value of good neighbors, good stewardship, and good gate latches.

Monday, November 24, 2008

L Is For Landowners

(See the beginning of this post here.)

L - Landowners
The economic reality of my generation is that a young person cannot buy land, farm it, and stay afloat without the support of another job or a generous landowner. I am thankful for the blessing of landowners who are willing to give young producers a chance to make a living in production agriculture and who have enabled us to raise our family while farming.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

B Is For Barns

I have been writing a farm life column in an agricultural newspaper for about 10 years. I keep expecting to run out of things to write about every two weeks, but thus far life has provided me with ample material.

Sometimes the deadline looms and the subject matter just refuses to surface. That means that sometimes I produce a column that I hope and pray people are too busy to read. Such was the case last year when I was so busy with holidays and year end bookkeeping duties that I actually spelled out the word "thankful" and wrote about one item for each letter in the word. It reminded me of a sophomore creative writing assignment that I may or may not have assigned when I was teaching English in the late 1990s.

This year I am equally busy during the end of this month, when Thanksgiving interrupts the Christmas preparations and the accountant wants the books and the banker wants the balance sheet. My creativity suffers. At some point near 1 a.m., with the deadline looming, I thought to myself, "Spelling out 'thankful' wasn't so bad last year. That lady at church said she really liked it. I think I'll just do that again."

That is how I came to write another column that resembles a sophomore creative writing assignment. And, because I am still not feeling very creative, I'm going to share it with my blog readers.

One letter at a time.

Just so you can fully appreciate the quality writing here.

Without further ado, I present to you why I feel "blessed" this year. One letter at a time. Just be thankful that "blessed" has one less letter than "thankful."

B - Barns
While this one might not make the top of everyone’s list, I am thankful for the blessing of barns for many reasons. Barns exemplify the country way of life, which I hold dear.

The most prominent barn in my life was erected by my grandfather, whose hands cut the trees and made them into the strong beams that still shelter my dad’s livestock from the storms. The lessons I learned in that barn went far beyond the care of the livestock within it. That barn was instrumental in shaping my life, and I truly appreciate the shelter that a barn can provide from a storm’s fierce winds that have the power to take your breath away.

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The hay loft of the barn of my childhood, which was the scene of countless hunts for new batches of kittens

Thursday, November 20, 2008

One Little, Two Little, Three Little. . . Native Americans

Sadly, political correctness really interferes with the rhythm of traditional children's music.

But that's not what this post is about.

I happened to have a front row seat for the drama event of the month here in the middle of nowhere. The production was called "The First Thanksgiving," and it had a cast of several short Pilgrims and Indi Native Americans.

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They introduced themselves to one another. It was a very straightforward and simple meeting which was probably completely unlike the event on which the play was based.

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Then they fished together.

I don't think they caught anything.

They dined on some lovely plastic food and then took their bows.

If only cultural issues were actually that simple.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Men In My Life

The time of year is approaching during which I begin to have frequent, meaningful conversations with the two most important men in my life: my husband and my accountant.

During that fleeting period of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, farm wives become reacquainted with their spouses, who have finally given up fixing fence with frozen fingers. The wheat is dormant, and so are the weeds. The calves are shipped to market, the cows are gathered at home, and the hay is stacked neatly in rows that await the snow that will cover the fall pastures.

Hunting season is over, and after a long summer of working overtime, the sun is finally setting before suppertime.

The farmer retreats to the house to familiarize himself with his family.

The farm wife makes up for lost time, barraging the farmer with all the conversations that were left unsaid during the exhausting seasons of summer and fall. She hears the farmer speak more during this month than she has heard in the previous 10 months combined.

I find myself rambling on about topics ranging from politics to the condition of the living room carpet. We have the luxury of having meaningless conversations for the first time in weeks.

We also have time to have meaningful conversations, such as the reality of finances and the future of the operation. These are the weeks in which we slow down, evaluate our priorities, and reconnect with our goals and our reasons for being engaged in agriculture.

I relish two aspects of this time of year. The first is that we sit down as a family to at least one meal a day, and it is eaten at a reasonable hour. I feel like we are almost a normal family.

The second is that a sense of completion descends upon us, and it is a satisfying feeling. The calf check is in the bank, the grain either binned or delivered, and we are paying the last few bills of the year.

This may sound strange, but I actually enjoy compiling the year’s financial data for the accountant to review. Discussing the expenditures, predicting next year’s income, and analyzing the operation provide a sense of closure on another year that we stayed afloat in agriculture.

More significant than the closure, however, is the promise of the next year. Like most people in agriculture, I live in that cloud of optimism for next year, and there’s nothing like signing a tax return to propel you into next year.

Although it means the beginning of calving and a return to the one-syllable grunts that will meet my attempts at conversation in a couple of months, I am looking forward to the new year. But until it arrives, I am happy to have a “normal” marriage, just for a little while.

Monday, November 17, 2008

They're Turning Out Okay

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As a mom, I can find plenty of evidence of my failings during the course of the day. Sometimes I fail to recognize the sweetness of a moment like this one. Despite the fact that the little one used her brother's toothbrush to clean the toilet, the kindergartener told me his supper looked too yucky to eat, and the oldest two won't stop bickering, I think they might turn out okay.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Back In Business

Once upon a time, we had chickens.

Then we didn't.

Then we did.

Then we didn't.

Just making sure you're up to speed.

After the last chicken episode, I decided that we should take an infinite break from the chicken business.

That plan was abandoned a couple of weeks ago when a neighbor called. She had heard of our predicament wherein 22 chickens were dispatched in a single killing spree. She happened to have some extra hens that had just begun laying. She offered to give them to the kids.

My initial reaction was to run far, far away from her kind offer.

I don't like chickens.

But I reconsidered when I realized that if we were doing the chores to care for two chickens (the sole survivors of the chicken incident), we might as well be doing the chores for a dozen.

I told her she had to sell them, not give them, to Riley. She agreed, so he and his father drove over one rainy evening and exchanged a crumpled $10 bill for 10 red hens.

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Riley is happy.

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The chickens are happy.

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The puppy is a little too happy.

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Even I, the chicken hater, am happy.

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They're good eggs.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Keepers

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When we sold the calves last month, we chose some heifer calves to keep. These calves will replace the old cows that we cull from the herd, so this is essentially the future of our cattle operation. We give them lots of TLC throughout the winter months, including premium hay, daily grain, and free rent.

They don't look very appreciative, do they?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Wordy Website

Words and graphic design are two areas of fascination for me, so when I somehow stumbled upon the "Wordle" website, I was hooked. It allows you to take any group of words and create a striking visual image with them.



This, for example, is my "Essay on Marital Harmony" - wordled.

My favorite part is there on the left where the words "wife" and "right" are parallel.



This is my post about culture.



Here's my blog title.



And here is John 3:16.



And here are our kids' first and middle names.

If you want to procrastinate spend quality time playing with words, check out Wordle.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Real Conflicts In Marriage

When we were first married, I assumed our largest sources of conflict would be major issues like money and parenting. Now, after enduring enjoying more than 13 years of marital bliss, I know that the sources of conflict that cause the most problems are the little annoyances of daily life.

If I were to counsel engaged couples, I would make sure to ask them the following questions:

- Are you a toothpaste tube roller or do you prefer to squeeze the tube right in the middle?

- After you brush your teeth, do you rinse off the toothbrush and shake the excess water into the sink, or do you suck off the excess water with a slurping sound?

- How do you feel about drinking milk straight from the jug?

- Does your filing system include alphabetizing papers in folders as soon as they arrive in the mail, or is it more akin to piling the papers up on the desk in towers in no particular order?

- Where do you stand on teaching children to belch in public?

- When you roll over in bed, do you wrap all the covers around you as you roll, thereby leaving your sleeping partner shivering on the edge of the bed?

- Will you promise to never, ever leave a strand of hair in the bathroom in view of your spouse?

- In your opinion, does a clean car mean no French fries ground into the carpet, or does it mean there is not a speck of dirt and the dash gleams in the sunlight?

- How often do you feel the dust bunnies under the washing machine should be cleaned?

- Do you consider a trip to town for parts and a stop at the McDonald’s drive through a date?

- At what age do you feel it is appropriate for your children to independently ride horses, drive tractors, or have their own motorcycle?

- How many gun and farm magazines do you feel should be displayed on your bathroom shelves?

Those recurring little annoyances can be the death of a marriage if patience and a sense of humor are not applied wisely (and liberally). I'm thankful that our marriage is blessed with both since I'm afraid that none of the issues above will be resolved anytime soon.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Great Blanket Search of 2008

Thank you all for voting in the First Ever Contest With a Prize poll. You have done what I could never have accomplished. You chose a winner!

The recipient of the two books is Whitney from
Baby Tunnel Exodus for providing the caption, "Whattaya mean the grass is greener on the other side? Looks the same to me."

Congratulations, Whitney! You can email me your address and I'll send your prize just as quickly as the rural postal service allows.

Those who are interested in the books can find them at Amazon.com. Just do a quick search for author Jenny Oldfield.


In other news, I spent a good portion of the past 24 hours searching for a blanket that my daughter misplaced.

I looked in closets, under beds, in the luggage, in every cupboard, behind every dresser, and under all the seats in my car. I even looked in the freezer, in the shower, and in the dog house. I stripped the sheets off her bed and looked under the mattress pad. She went to bed sobbing for her blankie.

After a long day of further searching, I gave up ever finding the blanket. I found 27 legos, 48 cents, 11 hair elastics, and a decapitated Barbie. No blanket.

At one point, my daughter said, "I can find the blanket, Mama. I will just be magic."

I said, "Really?"

She said, "Yes. I will say abwacadabwa."

She stood on the bed, looked very serious, and said, "Abwacadabwa."

Then she said, "It didn't work, Mama. I need a hat to be magic."

Alas, we don't have a magic hat.

We do have a very tiny drawer in the end table in the living room, however, which is where the three-year-old found her blankie tonight as she was headed off to bed.

I didn't know whether to be relieved or to scream with the agony of knowing that all the while, it was in the one drawer in this house that I failed to inspect.

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Lose 10 Pounds Instantly

It's the new weight loss plan: just take off your muck boots after slogging through the corral to feed the heifers.

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You'll immediately feel like your load has been lightened.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

We (don't) Have A Winner

Congratulations to all the entrants of my first ever contest with a prize.

The good news is that your entries were fabulous.

The bad news is that when I started this contest, I failed to consider how indecisive I am.

The bottom line is that there is no possible way that I can choose a winner. My solution is to pick the top three five entries and take a vote. Please see the poll to the left and choose your favorite. Voting will end Monday at noon, so hurry!




In the meantime, here are the prizes that were provided by Sourcebooks, Inc. A (long) while back, a publicity rep there contacted me about reviewing the first two books in a series called The Horses of Half Moon Ranch by English author Jenny Oldfield. This series is geared for the "tween" audience, and the first book, Wild Horses, will keep a young reader riveted. The second book, Rodeo Rocky, is a slower paced story with a clear message about the connection between humans and horses.





Both books will be headed the way of the photo caption contest winner. Thanks to all who entered, and don't forget to vote for your favorite caption.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Contest With A Prize!

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Name (or caption) this photo. The winner will receive a prize (two prizes, actually) for the first time in this blog's history! Contest ends at noon Mountain Time on Saturday, and the winner and prize will be announced Saturday night.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Culture

My college roommate from Seattle used to talk to me about culture.

It seems she found me lacking in that area after living in close quarters with me for around a month. This judgment was apparently based on criteria including the size of my wardrobe, the number of museums visited within a five-year period, and the identification of the music of several alternative bands.

In all three categories, I was a miserable failure.

My wardrobe consisted of blue jeans, t-shirts and a pair of scuffed-up boots. On special occasions, I wore black jeans. I didn’t see the catastrophe of buying the t-shirts and jeans at K-Mart.

The only museum I could remember visiting in my 17 years of life was a small facility on Main Street in Harlowton, and the highlight of the displays was a two-headed calf.

My roommate’s final category in the culture test is the one in which I completely obliterated any hope of being deemed “cultured.” Growing up near a town with a population of about 120, I thought “alternative” music meant anything besides country, and I thought that “grunge” was that stuff under your fingernails that your mother always spotted at the dinner table.

Trying to redeem myself, I took my roommate to my hometown over a three-day weekend. As we drove into town, she giggled and said, “Oh, look! It’s just like ‘Little House on the Prairie!’”

As the weekend progressed, her derogatory comments hit home. I began to even feel a little bit ashamed of my roots. I was suddenly conscious of the ancient school, the tiny gymnasium, the unpaved streets of town, the smell of manure wafting through the backyard of my folks’ place . . .

Now, I have always been tremendously proud of my heritage, and my parents had raised me to be a self-confident and independent person, but it still irritated me that this Seattle native thought herself superior to me based on my country roots. I kept looking for a way to prove to her that, in spite of my cultural deficits, I was not intellectually impaired.

I scrutinized the dictionary definition of culture, and suddenly the answer seemed clear to me.
The first entry in the dictionary said, “Development of the intellect through education and training.”

Well, we didn’t exactly have art appreciation or foreign languages offered in my high school, but I received a sound education. And no one can dispute that a ranch is one of the best places in the world to develop one’s intellect.

One of my most memorable lessons occurred as I was given the command, “Don’t let anything go through that door until I tell you it’s okay.”

As a 90-pound girl, that order is a bit difficult to fulfill, especially when you have a couple of hundred ewes charging around the barn and you’re standing in their only exit. But Dad’s words rung in my ears as the feistiest ewe came straight at me, and I stared at her defiantly as she lowered her head and charged. As I lay on the ground with a splitting headache and a sprained thumb, I learned an intellectual, profound lesson; never stand in the way of someone who is determined.

The next entry under “culture” in the dictionary read, “The arts, beliefs, customs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought created by a people or group at a particular time.”

Looking around at my ancestors’ handiwork on our ranch, it was difficult for me to find anything culturally lacking if this definition was followed. The sturdy buildings that have stood the fiercest blizzards of Montana, the grove of trees sheltering the place from the howling winds, the fences, the roads, the crops, the grass . . . all had been lovingly tended by a family quite concerned with its “products of human work and thought.”

The next definition brought a smile to my face. It all fit together now. “The raising of animals or the growing of crops, especially to improve stock; cultivation of the soil,” said the dictionary.

The dictionary never mentioned visiting museums, listening to a certain type of music, or wearing certain clothes.

Since that episode of my life, I have learned that culture requires three things. First, you must understand your roots and how they have shaped you. Second, you must keep an open mind about the roots of others and understand how those roots have shaped those people. Third, you must realize that culture isn’t stagnant.

Under those circumstances, you will understand what training and education you need to further your intellectual development. You will understand why people have developed the beliefs they hold. Finally, you will know how to grow . . . your crops, your livestock, your kids, and yourself.

I’m awfully proud of my roots. I’m not ashamed that I graduated in a class of seven. I’m glad our town’s phone numbers only take up one page in a very small book. I’d like to see more museums someday, but I’d rather just visit with my grandparents. That’s about all the culture I need.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Heavy Traffic

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Three

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I tend to see her like this.

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But somehow, when I wasn't looking, she changed.

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And now

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she is three.

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One of us is pretty happy about that.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Portraits

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Heroism
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Spirit
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Ingenuity
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Irony


These kids almost make me forget how much I dislike Halloween.

But I remembered when the sugar crash happened the next day.

Thank goodness their trick or treat candy was available so I could drown my sorrows in peanut butter cups.

 
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