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


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








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

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