Monday, December 21, 2009

A Christmas Tradition


By popular demand, I have once again compiled our family’s adventures into the annual Christmas letter. Unlike other letters you may receive, ours lacks the depiction of the perfect family complete with 2.1 children who are on the honor roll.

Our kids forget to flush, fight with their siblings, walk through the house with muddy boots, and pick their noses in church. With that in mind, I hope you enjoy our year in review. 



Dear Friends and Family,

Although the calendar on my wall still says October, the date on the last newspaper was December 9, so it must be time for the annual Christmas newsletter.

As usual, I must devote a significant amount of space to the many accomplishments of our children. Riley, who turned 12 this fall, continues his quest to horrify his mother with impressive burps at the dinner table. He has officially mastered the tone of voice that indicates his disbelief that people so inept could have possibly contributed to his genetic makeup. His attitude toward his parents is quite improved when he is in need of help or money. The last such circumstance ended with his parents plucking chickens.

Thankfully, Anna has not begun any business ventures that require feed, shoveling, or plucking. An avid reader, she is refining the skills of procrastination and avoidance of responsibility by keeping her nose in a book in a quiet room somewhere. Her love affair with horses continues, and while it may be an expensive distraction, we are hoping that it serves to keep her mind off boys for 10 more years or so.

Whatshisname, the forgotten middle child, has apparently learned to read somewhere along the line. That comes in pretty handy when his exhausted mother needs someone to entertain the little one. Matthew’s teacher says he is doing well in school, although he seems to have inherited his father’s inability to keep track of his gloves, glasses, books, pens, and jackets. He has also inherited the farmer gene; his last nightmare was about bad weather.

The only child at home, Emma Lou spends her days as Mom’s shadow. The independence that may be a strong trait in adulthood isn’t nearly so desirable in a four-year-old, but it certainly provides for some entertainment when she dresses herself each morning. She carries off neon flowered shirts and plaid skirts like no one else. Since four is that delightful age during which children remark about their mother’s housekeeping habits, I try to keep her home as much as possible, and the cows and chickens don’t seem to be concerned about her wardrobe. She has mastered writing her name, and we try not to discourage her creativity by complaining that she practices writing it with her sticky fingers on the window and with her father’s toothbrush on the bathroom mirror.

In addition to chickens and horses, the kids have also taken to raising an alarming number of barn cats. Our previous methods of population control are not easily achieved now that every kitten born on the place is named and subsequently adored by one of the children.

The population control challenge doesn’t apply to our cows, which drop dead for no apparent reason whatsoever. I advised Shane to stop checking the cows when he complained that every time he went out he found one sick or dead, but he didn’t heed my advice. Thanks to my handy cattle management software, my computer was able to calculate exactly how much revenue we lost as a result of those deaths, which prompted my husband to curse the invention of such a contraption.

Thanks to the subzero temperatures we experienced during the peak of calving, my organizational efforts will be difficult with this year’s calf crop. At this point, the replacement heifers can all be identified as “black earless heifer with no tag.” Thankfully, our cow herd was not in the running for the county beautification award. In fact, they’re lucky to be alive after competing with the grasshoppers for grass all summer.

We learned a valuable lesson in the importance of a timely harvest when a lightning strike burned our stubble field two days after it was harvested. Our harvest was once again much more successful than our efforts to predict the market and sell at the right time.

Despite our imperfections, we are thankful for our blessings and humbled by the resources with which we have been entrusted. We are thankful that we can retain a sense of humor while raising imperfect children and making a living in an industry with so many variables. And during this Christmas season, we are especially thankful for the gift of Jesus, a gift freely given and undeserved.

Wishing you each a very Merry Christmas and a new year of bountiful harvests, fat calves, and plentiful moisture.

~ The Slivka Family

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A New Decade

The last month of the year finds me scrambling to finish projects, finalize farm bookkeeping, and find the perfect Christmas gift for everyone on my list. It’s a frenzied time of baking, cleaning, and making sure the girls don’t spill anything on their Christmas dresses. I must carefully wrap each gift so I can later pick up the shreds of paper strewn across the living room floor. I painstakingly decorate the tree that usually falls down at least once before Christmas, leaving a pile of broken ornaments and needles below.

I’m ushering kids to Christmas plays and pageants, taking pictures and mouthing their lines to them from the audience. I’m baking treats to deliver to school parties, exercising patience as the kids decorate sugar cookies, making crafts and singing carols.

The Christmas card photo has been taken and the letter has been sent.

Somewhere in the midst of the holiday season, another year slips away.

This year is especially difficult to bid farewell. Not only are we entering a new year, but we are welcoming a new decade.

I rather liked the old decade. The old decade saw three new babies born. It witnessed the first days of school, the first loose teeth, the first successful hunting trip, and a multitude of hugs from little people in footed pajamas.

This new decade will bring strange new adventures. In the next decade, I will be parenting teenagers. I’ll become the mother of an adult. There will be cars and dates and acne and goodbyes.

The next decade will bring 40. It will mark 20 years of marriage. This will be the decade in which I can embarrass my children simply by showing up at their school and acknowledging that I know them.

As many transitions as the next decade holds for my family, it also holds changes for agriculture.

In the past decade, we saw mounting challenges to our industry. Increased activism in the areas of animal rights and environmentalism, combined with media bias and social networks, have done great harm to the image of agriculture as well as setting up legal battles. Decision making is becoming more and more difficult due to changes in farm policy and market influences that stretch far beyond the fundamentals of supply and demand.

As producers, our response to these challenges will be the difference between success and failure. Even as we tackle the issues of raising teenagers in the next decade, our most difficult struggles may involve finding a way to continue farming in a world that will demand more and better quality food that will be grown on a shrinking number of expensive acres.

While I’m curious to see what will happen, I’m glad I don’t have a crystal ball. I have a feeling that we don’t want to see all the challenges that agriculture will face in the next 10 years. But I also have faith that if anyone can meet those challenges, it’s our friends and neighbors who, from one coast to the other, work every day to make a living and provide safe and wholesome food.

If only I had that much confidence in my own ability to raise teenagers. . .

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Perfection

What happens when a mom tries to capture perfection for the annual Christmas card?

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Ah, well. This is about as close to perfect as it gets around here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Tale Of 40 Roosters

The tale of 40 roosters begins last June with the arrival of two cheeping boxes at the local post office.




The little cheepers numbered 50 in all, the idea being that approximately half of them would become the new flock of laying hens and the other half would become chicken dinner.


Alas, the plan went awry.


Even I, a novice chicken farmer and self proclaimed chicken hater, could see that the math was not quite working out 50/50. In fact, by the time July rolled around, I was guessing the male/female ratio to be right around four to one.


The final rooster count was 40, and a tale of 40 roosters and 13 hens has only one possible ending.


And so it happened that I broke my vow to never, ever pluck a chicken.




Sadly enough, one of the children grabbed my camera and documented the events. 





As unfortunate as that was for me, I must admit it was even more unfortunate for this obnoxious rooster who was introduced to the chopping block.





The camera didn't seem to bother my girl, though. She was busy at the plucking table. 





The chicken farmer of the family had no qualms about the gutting process and dove right into the body cavity.


And so ends the tale of 40 roosters, which is the second installment of Backwards Blogging


Prologue: In case you were worried about the fate of Riley's egg business, rest assured that he has acquired more hens from a generous friend who ordered pullets this spring. The nests are yielding nearly a dozen a day, and production is expected to double within a few weeks.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Backwards Blogging: Part 1

Having become a slacker blogger, I have trouble knowing where to start when I decide it's finally time to do a new post. I usually take a look at my photo files to remember what we've been up to lately, but I've been slacking so badly that I now have six months of events and activities that have gone unblogged.


Instead of reaching back to May for a blog update, I'm introducing a new concept that should suit slacker bloggers like me: Backwards Blogging.

I'll start with a more recent event and then work my way backwards through the summer. That way, we can all enjoy green grass and flowers when the temperature is dipping below freezing.

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Speaking of freezing, the first installment in the Backwards Blogging series is a trip to Yellowstone Park in October. It has taken me nearly a month to blog about this trip because it took nearly that long to recover.

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This was no simple family vacation to a national park. This was a trip with sixth, seventh, and eighth graders called "Expedition: Yellowstone!"

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For four days, the kids and their chaperons stayed at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in Wyoming.

The excursion included hiking, wildlife viewing, classes about ecology and geology, scientific testing of hot springs, freezing in the wind and snow, and a vicious outbreak of Influenza A that left most of the kids feverish, coughing, and nauseous for the duration of the trip.

Despite my official role as Dr. Mom, I enjoyed the time in Yellowstone.

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We saw geysers

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geyser basins

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bears

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hot springs

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hot spring terraces

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and so many buffalo that I never even photographed one. In fact, during the final night in the cabins, an entire herd moved through the camp. I could have reached out my cabin window and petted one. We could hear every sniff and snort as they grazed between the cabins, and at that point I decided that tent camping in Yellowstone would not be on my list of fun things to do.

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We also saw elk, especially in the towns through which we passed on our way to and from the camp. The elk prefer the green grass of the city lawns to the rough country crawling with wolves and grizzlies. They also pose nicely for people hanging out of vehicle windows taking drive-by photographs.

As field trips go, this was an exceptional one. Coming home with a very sick child and arriving to find three additional sick children was not, in fact, fun. But, thanks to this Backwards Blogging idea, I can now blog about the trip, share some scenery, and report that all's well in the house once more.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rite of Passage

After passing his hunter's safety course earlier this fall, Riley has been anxious to shoot something besides pop cans and paper targets. Last Saturday, he got his chance.


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I'm told that the first buck is something special for a boy. I suppose it's a rite of passage that goes back to a time when providing for one's family involved putting meat on the table - literally. It was an integral component of the transition from boyhood to manhood.

In our rural world, that tradition is still very much a part of our culture. Hunting is a skill passed down from generation

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to generation.

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It's hard to tell which one is the proudest, isn't it?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pink Piggy Party Pictures

My baby is four. I would be concerned about that if I weren't so distracted by the fact that my oldest child is 12.


Four also happens to be one of my favorite ages, so I'm trying to enjoy the time for what it is instead of lamenting the idea of my kids growing up too fast.

It also helps to have fun parties.

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This one was all about piggies.

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Pink piggies, to be exact.

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The guest of honor was a pink piggy pajama princess perched on a puffy pink pillow.

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The main course was ham, the pink meat, with a side of mac and cheese to please the 10 and under crowd.

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The cake was pink.

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The presents were pink.

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It was the perfect pink party for a piggy loving princess in pajamas.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rounding The Corner

Today marks an important occasion: selling and shipping the calves.


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As the cows rounded the corner toward home, I realized that we're rounding a corner, too. Today we're transitioning into the next year in the cattle business. We choose a group of female calves to keep, and in another year they will replace older cows that have reached the end of their careers.

The cows will transition through this weaning time and then begin their winter regimen of hay, enjoying a few months without a calf at their side.

The weather is transitioning, too. Not long ago, we were suffering through a hot spell. Now we've had a few snowy days, and today was a reminder of what a chilly fall wind feels like.

We're coming around the bend in parenting as well. I no longer tote a diaper bag, everyone sleeps through the night regularly, and I have become the baby snatching lady at church.

Rounding the corner. . . the only challenge is trying to figure out what it is we'll find there.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I Am Chicken

I have this thing with birthday cakes.


You can read about it here and here.

I also have this thing with chickens.

You can read about it here.

Combining the two seemed like a really, really unwise idea, but my boy wanted a chicken cake. Who am I to deny him his birthday wish?

So I set out to make a chicken cake, armed with a glass measuring bowl, a custard cup, and a coffee mug.

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Add a some frosting, a couple of crackers, and some M&Ms, and ta-da!

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A cake that (sorta) resembles a chicken.

And the next morning, it (sorta) resembled a chicken with its head cut off. But it was nothing that a little frosting and a plastic piece of lumber from Matthew's construction set couldn't fix.

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If only it was that easy to slow down Riley's race toward 13. Because, to tell you the truth, I'm a little bit chicken to be the mother of a teenager. Thank goodness I have a year left to dread look forward to that.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Evolution

When my first baby was born, I was 21. I was a college graduate, a farmer’s wife, and a newspaper reporter. I was pretty sure I could handle parenting. I had it all under control.

I found motherhood to be fairly easy. The baby needed held, fed, changed, burped, and entertained. I could handle all those tasks with ease. I could do several of those tasks simultaneously while stirring the gravy with my free hand.

The child was quite portable, so I took him with me when I was reporting on bull sales and ag field days. He went with me to feed the chickens, to gather the firewood, and to see Daddy in the field.

I considered the well child visits at the doctor to be performance exams. I began planning for each visit two days in advance, scheduling out the feedings so that I could manage a bath 20 minutes prior to leaving so he wouldn’t spit up on the outfit I had carefully selected for his appointment. His hair was freshly washed and fluffed. His blankets were spotless. His pacifier was attached to his shirt with a string to prevent the horror of it dropping on the floor.

I expected the doctor to recognize my superiority as a mother and to voice her approval. Instead, she casually mentioned that there is such a thing as washing a baby too often.

When my fourth baby was born, I was 29. I was a college graduate, a farmer’s wife, and a mom with three kids at home and one in school. I realized that evolution was not just a theory; it’s a natural process.

Evolution in motherhood begins with the birth of the second child and progresses more rapidly with each successive birth. It happens at such a rate that a person doesn’t perceive it until she finds herself in the parking lot of the hospital clinic frantically scrubbing the fourth baby with a wet wipe prior to the child’s well baby visit.

The first child’s pacifier was tied on a string to prevent it from falling. The fourth child’s pacifier was lost somewhere in the couch and recovered six months later when she would no longer take it.

The first child’s feedings were scheduled for regular intervals throughout the day. The fourth child ate whenever she cried because we couldn’t locate the pacifier.

The first child went with me to do the chores, packed securely in a carrier on my chest. The fourth child was plunked in a playpen under the observation of the eight-year-old because I was too tired to bundle everyone up to go to the corral.

The first child was always dressed in clean, matching clothes, no matter how many changes that required during any given day. The fourth child has been known to visit the grocery store in an orange shirt stained with chocolate milk, a blue plaid skirt, and pink cowboy boots.

The first child had a basket full of age appropriate, educational toys that were always returned to their place before another toy was removed. The fourth child takes her sister’s Barbies swimming in the mud puddle and gives the kittens rides in her brother’s Tonka truck.

The first child did not know of the existence of Pop Tarts until he turned 10. The fourth child ate her first Pop Tart at age 2 because they were on sale.

The evolution in this case is not the evolution of an organism or a species or a society. It’s actually just the transformation of a mother whose circumstances change with the growth of her family. She realizes that parents aren’t graded on how well groomed their babies appear at the doctor’s office; in fact, parenthood isn’t a test at all. It’s a process.

I didn’t have anything under control at age 21; I was just too young and inexperienced to know that I needed to relinquish control.

There is no doubt that the fourth child is dirtier, more independent, and more extroverted than her older brother. Those differences are to be expected; after all, she has been raised by a different mother. I have evolved. I have re-prioritized. I have aged. I have become dependent on coffee in the morning and chocolate in the afternoon. I have realized that dirt, mud, bugs, and an occasional bite of dog food or cow salt are all just a part of growing up a country kid.

My days are well spent teaching right from wrong, responsibility, and kindness. And I may just throw in a few words about evolution along the way.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Blondies

My sister and I weren't the best of friends growing up.


With six years separating us, we didn't have much in common.

My, how times have changed. Now that we're adults, we find that we sometimes have too much in common.

We frequently show up for family events wearing the same outfit, the same shoes, the same jewelry, and the same hairstyle. We make spaghetti for dinner on the same night. We married mechanics who turned out to be ranchers.

But that's not all. While the examples above are unintentional ways we are alike, we also tend to copy each other. We buy our kids the same coats. We buy the same brand of shoes. When one of us gets a new vacuum cleaner, the other is sure to follow with the same purchase. The same holds true for computers, cameras, furniture, and car seats.

As disturbing a trend as that may be, it's nothing compared to the way we have had children.

My sister had her firstborn, a son, on an October afternoon. Two years later, to the day, I had my firstborn, a son.

My sister had a daughter next, followed by the birth of my daughter, born on my sister's husband's birthday. All four children are brown eyed, dark haired, brown skinned kids who wear glasses, are musically inclined, and think their mom is the meanest mom ever.

Because I have always attempted to be different from my sister, I couldn't just leave it at that. My next child was a blue eyed blonde boy.

Nineteen months later, my sister produced a blue eyed blonde girl.

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I've always attempted to have the last word, and I certainly did when my own blue eyed blonde girl was born a year later.

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Now, the two little blue eyed blonde girls who defied genetic odds and perpetuated their mothers' freakish degree of sibling rivalry are the best of buddies.

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They share giggles, toys, and hand-me-down clothes.

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Now they are growing up too soon, no longer our babies, but always the babies of their families. One is now five; the other will soon be four. Their older brothers will soon turn 14 and 12. Their mothers are pausing for longer moments in the age defying makeup aisle.

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Happy birthday, little girl. Sure wish we could be there help you celebrate.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mama Always Says

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Mama always says to wash up before dinner.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Note To Self

Next year when I'm taking the "First Day of School" photos, I should remember the following:

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a) Don't force the poor children to squint into the sun.

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b) Convince Matthew that I said, "Say cheese," not "Be cheesy."

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c) Keep in mind that sixth graders are not keen on Mom taking "First Day of School" photos (or subsequently following them to school and showing up in their classroom to take another photo with all their classmates watching).

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d) Try not to think that very soon, all four will be climbing aboard the bus.

Just when they're old enough to be good farmhands, they go off to school. Something's wrong with this system.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Boomerang

This time of year, my husband feels a bit like a boomerang. He is caught between the two major components of our livelihood: crops and cattle.


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We're midway through harvesting winter wheat, which means he spends at least 14 hours a day - and usually longer - in the field and on the road hauling the grain to storage.

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But when the weather prohibits harvesting, he's catapulted into the cattle side of the business, searching for cows.

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And searching for cows.

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And moving cows to new pastures.

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And searching for more cows.

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You can see why this is a time consuming task. Look closely; we actually found some cows!

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Then the wheat dries out again, and it's back to the harvest field.

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Back and forth. It's a grueling schedule.

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But it's a nice view.

 
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