Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cough, Sputter, Hack

I spent the morning pounding steel fence posts, wiring up fence, shoveling grain and mouse droppings, and doing other assorted unpleasant tasks.

We are preparing for new arrivals. The idea sounded okay a month ago when the order was placed, but in the middle of coughing and hacking up dust while shoveling this morning, I remembered.

So why am I going through all this again?

I guess this is why.


Friday, May 29, 2009




Lately, we have been doing a lot of running


along with some jumping


and kicking.

Add to that the seeding, spraying, mowing, cow moving, gardening, pruning, and driving 60 miles away for t-ball games, and you have a very busy family.

We take moments together when possible, so a few days ago we loaded the kids in the pickup and took a little family drive. Our destination? Not a park or a campground or a movie. No Chuck E. Cheese for us. No, we went to the feedlot.

This is where our heifer calves have been for the past couple of months. They were preparing to be artificially inseminated, and we wanted to check up on them to see how they were progressing. 


I think they look homesick. 

After their date with the AI technician, they were brought home to green pastures where they can graze away the days and laugh at the rest of us running here and there trying to keep up with our overscheduled summer.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What I'll Do On My Summer Vacation

The local elementary school recently displayed a bulletin board full of students’ summer plans. Handwritten on colorful paper in the shape of kites, the children’s expectations floated up optimistically toward the sky. Some students expect to travel out of state to visit relatives this summer. Others have trips planned to Disneyland. A few kids mention visiting a national park, and others refer to long-planned vacations.

I could immediately identify the kites created by our children. Our kids are realists.

One of them wrote that she hoped to be able to spend a few days swimming at the city pool this summer. Another wrote about possibly seeing his cousins. Our kids, schooled in the ways of a busy farm in the summertime, know that we won’t be going to Disneyland.

Instead, they know that their parents will load them up in the pickup, hook up the camper, and take off for some unknown destination at some point during the summer. The date of these excursions cannot be planned ahead. It will happen when Dad is rained out, when the hay is all baled, or when the barley is a little too green to keep cutting.

We are not fussy about our location. The criteria for picking a camping spot are that we must not be able to see our house and the road leading to the spot must be rough, steep, rutted, and/or muddy. Sometimes we choose the mountains. Other times we head to the river. More often than not, we park at the bottom of the hill in the cow pasture.

In the eyes of the kids, the camper magically contains all they need for a good meal, some diversion, and a comfortable night’s sleep. The fact that their mom had to buy the groceries, plan the meals, wash the bedding, clean the floor and counters, and stock the cupboards is irrelevant. As long as there are plenty of hot dogs, chips, and marshmallows, all is well.

After an always entertaining session of camper leveling with the spouse, he goes about building a campfire while I begin the cycle of cooking a meal, cleaning up after a meal, and trying against all odds to keep both the camper and the little campers relatively clean. This is an especially difficult task given the fact that water is always a precious commodity while camping, and trying to clean the egg pan with just a trickle of water and some elbow grease can be an exasperating affair.

I realize, however, that it could be much worse. It could rain.

We once camped in the cow pasture over Memorial Day weekend, the only three days of the year when rainfall is reliable in Montana. The kids played inside the camper during the first afternoon, during which my daughter sobbed to my son, “You’re taking up the whole entire room, and you won’t even let me be the president.” His rational reply was, “Well, I guess you can be the vice mayor.”

After listening to the rain fall on the roof of the trailer all night long, my husband and I decided we should probably make our way out of the coulee before that was no longer an option. We hiked up the hill, four children in tow, taking only the necessities with us. We realized too late that the pan of brownies had been left behind.

While my memories of camping with the family include much cooking, cleaning, and laundry when we return, I know my kids see it very differently. To them, camping is an escape from rules that govern bedtime and how much dirt is acceptable on one’s hands and face. It is a time when Mom and Dad go on hikes with them and stop along the way to pick wildflowers. It’s about cave exploration, burning hot dogs over the fire and eating them anyway, and breaking Mom’s rules about drinking pop.

When our kids look back, they will forget about the fights with their siblings and the night it was 100 degrees in the camper and no one was able to sleep. They will remember that we took a family vacation, even if it was just in the cow pasture.


Monday, May 25, 2009


I always cry at graduations, so it was no surprise when I was choked up about my littlest boy graduating from kindergarten.


It's just that he's so. . . little. It doesn't seem right that he will be thrust into the big boy world of first grade in the fall. And truthfully, I'm not ready for him to be gone every day of the week. 

Neither is he. In fact, he was a bit miffed that he had to go to his graduation ceremony. It was held in the middle of the day, and he really thought he should be in the tractor with his dad. There was seeding to be done, and all this school stuff really interrupts the work schedule.


Luckily, the ceremony was short. It doesn't take long to present four diplomas.

So, after two weeks of complaining that the last day of school would never come, what are the kids all doing on their first day of summer vacation?

Playing school.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I'm not a very good housekeeper.

But lately, things have really gone downhill. It turns out that I've not only been living with dust bunnies, but I've been snuggling with them and kissing them goodnight.

Every two years, our local elementary school hosts the Missoula Children's Theater, giving our very rural kids an opportunity to star in a dramatic production that's a little bit more sophisticated than our annual church Christmas pageant. 

This year's production was "The Princess and the Pea." 


Our oldest daughter had dreams of being a princess and was quite distraught to be cast as a dust bunny.


Even more distressing than being cast as a dust bunny was the fact that her little brother was a dust bunny, too.

I happen to think they made rather cute dust bunnies. They're much cuter than the ones lurking underneath the refrigerator, anyway.

Riley was cast as Splash, a river runner. His job was to run in the river to keep the water flowing. 


He thought his costume made him look like a rapper. I'm uncertain if that's what he's trying to look like in this picture, but coming up with a good picture of an eleven-year-old boy is more challenging than you'd think. Considering that he had a cold, he had been rehearsing long hours all week, the stage lights were hot, and his autistic brain was overloaded, it's a wonder I captured a photo at all. His acting was excellent, though, so we'll call it a success.

Much more successful than my housekeeping.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My Top Ten

My Top Ten Excuses Reasons For Being A Slacker Blogger Lately

1. Laundry. It's going to be the death of me, I tell you.

2. My family insists upon being fed regularly. 

3. The dog needed to be neutered, and since we live an hour away from the vet, it was an all-day undertaking with all four kids.

4. Cows take up a lot of time, especially when they need sorted, moved, doctored, and marketed.

5. Kites are all fun and games until someone gets theirs tangled up in the barbed wire fence, another lets go and it ends up in the wheat stubble, and the other two mingle their strings together in a knot so complex that the only cure is a pair of scissors.

6. Eliminating caffeine from my afternoon routine has the effect of making me sleepy at 10 p.m. Who knew?


7. My little boy graduates from kindergarten tomorrow, and I'm just not prepared to accept that. I keep lapsing into nostalgic moments in which I imagine he is still three years old and hasn't yet figured out that his teacher is way smarter than his mom. 


8. Don't even get me started on 8. My girlie is now 8, and she had two chocolate cakes to commemorate the event. And now she drives a Dodge.

9. As part of the grand birthday celebration, we visited my childhood home, where lambing is in full swing. That was infinitely better than doing laundry.

10. Did you know I have dust bunnies at my house? I'll show you pictures to prove it tomorrow. . . provided I can catch up on my laundry today. 

By the way, thanks for all the great answers to my challenge below. I like them all, so I'm not picking a winner. But sometime soon I'll have another contest in which I will actually award a prize! Of course, that's all provided that I can catch up on my laundry. . . 

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Challenge

Are you up for a challenge?

Name this photo!


Saturday, May 16, 2009

It's A Big Day

Today is a big day in our little town. Aside from funerals, weddings, and basketball tournaments, high school graduation draws the most people together in our community. These kids are our pride and joy. They're the best crop that we produce, and we grow 'em well around here.

This year, I'll be in the bleachers as the senior class walks across the stage. It won't take long; there are only eight of them. But that doesn't change the significance of the day, and to one senior, it's an extra special day. 

Click here to read all about it, and you can revisit this post to hear more of this family's story. (And by the way, May is National Foster Care Month. If you know a foster care family, be sure to tell them thanks. These people are doing God's work.) 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Story Of My Life

I am frequently asked how I find time to write.

The truth is that I really don't know. Somehow, usually late at night, I am able to gather my thoughts and record them. But it's not an easy feat.

In the morning, I sit down to the computer, intent upon writing a complete column. Before I am two sentences in, the youngest child is awake and requesting breakfast. The following hour passes in a frenzy of breakfast making, coffee drinking, dish washing, spilled milk cleaning, library book finding, hair combing, teeth brushing, catching the bus chaos. With the older kids out the door, it’s time to prepare the little ones for the day and do the morning chores.

On the way back from the barn, I am mentally planning the day’s menus. After the calf bottles are washed and the little ones are settled with their toys for a few seconds, I remember that a bill needs paid before the mail goes out today, so I write a check and make a quick trip up to the mailbox.

Home again, I check the grain markets momentarily before I sit down to tackle the unfinished (and now overdue) column. By this time, the little ones need a story or two before they transition to their next activity of the day. I bundle them up and shoo them outside with warnings of staying out the mud puddles, and I again sneak off to the computer to work on the task at hand.

Two paragraphs in, the back door slams and my husband, having completed the morning feeding, requests the number of the calf we doctored two days ago. Retrieving that information for him, I return to the computer. A few more sentences are gained before the phone rings. The John Deere sales representative would like to speak to my husband, which arouses my suspicion.

After a phone call from the vet and an additional call from the Case IH sales rep, I am not only suspicious, but also off track. By the time I regain my train of thought, my husband is at the door again requesting a weather update and the checkbook.

The kids arrive at the door on his heels with an announcement. “Sorry, Mom. We forgot to stay out of the mud.”

Once I clean up the muddy tracks in the kitchen, I give up on the column writing and prepare lunch. Lunch and dishes conquered, I make a few quick phone calls for church activities and return to the task of writing. I have now forgotten the column idea altogether.

My husband engages me in a conversation about loan balances. Clearly under the influence of tractor sales reps, he attempts to convince me about the merits of leasing, which evolves into a conversation about our long term goals and the future of agriculture.

Now thoroughly distracted, I do some early supper preparations and then go to the end of the driveway to retrieve the older kids from the school bus. The after school chaos of hugs, snacks, chores, and homework ensues. I make a partial grocery list while finishing supper preparations and coaching the sentence diagramming that is taking place at my kitchen table.

On a good day, I am able to find a 30 minute window of time after the kids are in bed during which I have no interruptions and can complete the column.

On a bad day, I am called upon to help “for a minute” and find myself sorting pairs in the sleet, splinting a calf’s broken leg, and wondering why I didn’t find a nice accountant to marry.

I seldom become terribly frustrated during the writing process, though. I realize that all of those interruptions throughout my day are the real topics of my writing. Without all those experiences, I really wouldn’t have anything to share with my faithful readers. And I suspect that being able to relate to those daily experiences is the real reason that people read my writing to begin with.

The truth of the matter is that as soon as I find that I have plenty of time to write, I will also find that I don’t have anything to write about. Interruptions, it would seem, are truly the story of my life.


Sometimes when I look out the front window, I wish I could just hit the "refresh" button and see something different like I can do on my computer.

This morning was one of those times.


Unfortunately, I have no one to blame for the snow but myself.

You see, I put away the kids' snowpants last weekend. I also stored their snow boots and washed their winter coats. While I knew that we might have another flurry or two before mid-June, I was certain that the blizzards were over and that mud boots and jackets would suffice for the remainder of spring.

The result of that logical train of thought was looking out the window this morning to see snow flying sideways and beginning to drift. 

I love the view out my front window. I really do. But this time of year, I prefer it in shades of green.


Monday, May 11, 2009

May 12

We were young. We had no idea what the future held. We said our vows in a homemade dress and a rented tux, and he was optimistic enough to teach me how to drive a tractor that summer. I retaliated by acquiring sheep the next summer and returning to my ranching roots. Somehow, we struck a compromise, and we have been fine tuning our partnership for 14 years.

Happy Anniversary to the man who carries my whole world on his shoulders.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

The View

Around here, horse photography is quite a challenge. It seems that someone doesn't quite understand the concept of keeping his nose out of the camera lens. 

I guess close-ups can be interesting, too.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Pure Gold

He spent the afternoon on his tractor, working hard and being sure to dodge the sopping wet, sticky gumbo that threatened to sabotage his farming efforts.

Determination displayed in his furrowed brow, he masterfully guided the red machine up and down the hills, his goal clear in his mind.

The tractor picked up speed as he closed in on his destination. He parked it in front of the house and hurried up the steps, mud slopping off his rubber boots as he ascended the steps.

His fist thrust the yellow bouquet toward me. I looked down at his face, which was streaked with mud and shining with devotion, and I moved purposefully toward the china cabinet. I selected a crystal vase for my beautiful bouquet. As I gathered him in my arms to show him how much his thoughtfulness was appreciated, he looked into my eyes and said, "Mom, I had to pedal really, really far on my tractor to get those for you."

To anyone else, they might just look like yellow bells plucked from the cow pasture.

To me, they shine brighter than pure gold.

Monday, May 4, 2009


Our fourteenth wedding anniversary is approaching. I read somewhere that the traditional gift for such a milestone is ivory, and the modern gift suggestion is gold jewelry. Unless the wheat market makes a miraculous recovery in the next two weeks, I’m not anticipating such a gift this year. Actually, we have never exchanged gifts for our anniversary aside from the year that my spouse purchased a new rifle and attempted to pass it off as a gift for me.

Our true anniversary gift is the simple fact that we are still married. I think no materialistic token could truly mark the significance of that accomplishment, especially given the fact that we are married to a farm as well. That’s a balancing act that no one ever perfects, and I believe that fewer and fewer people are even surviving the attempt.

One of the key factors in the survival of our marriage has been the fact that we acknowledge our differences, our strengths, and our weaknesses.

He has come to understand that I cannot back up a horse trailer or provide hand signals to guide someone else in the task. It’s just not my gift. Early in our marriage, he thought he could teach me to master this essential role of the farm wife. He was certain that with a little instruction, some fine points of criticism, some hollering, and a few years of practice, I would eventually catch on.

He was wrong.

I am still utterly inept as a trailer-backer-upper. I cannot even be a trailer-backer-upper-guide. And now, instead of holding his head in frustration, he calmly accepts that I am unteachable. Just last week, when he called upon me for assistance in loading the bulls for testing day, I stood next to the post and watched him back the trailer up to it perfectly with nary a hand signal from me. I applauded his expertise, and he refrained from rolling his eyes at me in exasperation. That was, indeed, a gift.

My reciprocal gift is to refrain from smacking my forehead when he is standing in front of the open refrigerator with a blank look upon his face searching in vain for the bottle of ketchup that has been kept in the same location for a decade. Now that we have been married for 14 years, I can not only read his mind to determine which item he seeks, but I will swiftly move across the kitchen, deposit the item in his hands, and not even make a smart remark about finding something that is right in front of his nose. I realize that finding things is not his gift.

We both realize that we cannot go on a shopping excursion together. When I embark on a trip to town, I have lists of items that must be accomplished and a general timetable for the tasks at hand. He gets in the pickup and figures it out when he gets there.

Our differences can also be seen in our topics of conversation with others. A group of farmers who have just met will discuss markets, weather, and machinery. Farm wives who have just met will exchange birth stories, their children’s ages, and the difficulty of washing grease out of jeans.

When farmers are attempting to remember when an event occurred, they use the years of their pickups as a guide.

“Well, Jim, I believe that was back in ’88 because I remember I had my old body style Chevy with the two tone paint back then.”

Women, on the other hand, can accurately pinpoint the year of an event based upon the ages of her children at that time.

“Honey, I’m just sure that we fenced that pasture in ’97 because I remember little Mary was still nursing and I had to go back to the pickup and take care of her while you were putting in the corner brace.”

 These differences between genders are not coincidental, I believe. We were designed to complement each other and to utilize our strengths in order to minimize each other’s weaknesses.

I believe that being married has made me a better person, and I believe that being married to a farmer is a privilege despite its challenges. The results of our partnership can be seen in our four growing kids, our growing crops, and our growing calves this spring. Those are the gifts that I value.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Swine Flu

Is it just me, or does the Swine Flu hysteria sound just a little bit like the children's story in which an entire community follows the lead of a chicken who thinks the sky is falling?

I am by no means an infectious diseases specialist, although I do have some experience in the field as the mother of four children and a church school teacher.

However, this is what I know about Swine Flu.

It's the flu. And while the flu may be unpleasant, it doesn't kill most people who catch it. 

It's a virus that is passed along from person to person just like other viruses. You can't get it by eating a bacon cheeseburger unless the person who prepared the bacon cheeseburger has the virus and sneezed on the bun.

Influenza related deaths number 36,000 in the U.S. annually. Influenza A, which is the new name for Swine Flu, has killed one person in the U.S., and that person was actually from Mexico.

Now, I'm not saying that Influenza A is something I'd like to experience in my home, and I'm not saying that we shouldn't wash our hands and use common sense preventative measures to stop its spread. 

But, people. The sky is not falling. Please stop watching so much cable news which blows events and issues out of proportion and dramatizes the news just to keep people tuned in 24 hours a day.

During the course of the week, misinformation about Swine Flu caused damage to U.S. exports and a down turn in commodities markets from pork to wheat. It caused people to flood emergency rooms and delay treatment to people who really needed it because doctors were busy pacifying mothers of children with the common cold. It caused soccer moms to pass by the pork chops at the grocery store. It caused my second grade daughter to come home from school and inform me that a pig in Mexico was going to make us all sick.

Quite frankly, the speed at which the hysteria swept the nation frightens me much more than the flu itself.

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