Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The Souvenir

After we wed nine years ago, many evenings were spent in our small home on the edge of town trying to stuff all his Kansas/Angus/ranch memorabilia into an Indiana/Shorthorn/farm house I’d lived in alone for five years. Our styles were so similar: rich in history and stories of days and people gone by. What I didn’t consider was what it might be like to marry a fellow collector.


Too late now.  

Nearly a decade later and we’re still passionate about what does and does not belong around our farm. Does it have a story? Does it belong in the family? Was it once living? All questions we ask ourselves as we continue to make this homestead our own.

So you can imagine my surprise when I came home from work to find a five foot headstone erected in our front yard a couple weeks ago. 

While most families return home from vacations with sunburns, t-shirts and keychains, we came home from our trip to Kansas City with a headstone that boldly displays someone else’s initials.

It was an honor for husband Cody to be asked to judge the Bred & Owned (bred and raised on your farm, home grown, not purchased from anyone else) show at the National Junior Angus Show in Kansas City. To add extra sweetness, he was able to ask his father to be his associate judge.



The entry way to the prestigious show ring was flanked with two tall flint rock monuments commemorating the event. Throughout the few days we were at the show while Cody judged, I did notice him study the monuments. He touched them. Tried to rock them. Mentally judged their weight. Studied how they were free-standing. Never in my right mind did I think we’d haul one home.

Finally, it was time to pack the four of us back into the truck and head east to Wayne County. Cody walked over while I was saying goodbye to Missouri friends, “Did you see those stones by the ring?”

“How could I miss them? It’s like the Kansas Stonehenge.” He didn’t appreciate my joke.

“Well, they put them up on the silent auction for folks to bid on throughout the week…” he continued like a kid about to explain how he ended up in the Principal’s office.

“You didn’t. Please. Please tell me you did not bid on those,” I pleaded.

“Well just once or so and turns out no one else wanted them!” by his excitement I knew how this story was going to end. “I only bought one. The other will go the to Angus Hall of Fame.”

“Of course no one wanted them! They look like headstones!” I was not believing my ears.

Cody was so excited about this souvenir to commemorate the opportunity to judge the bred & owned cattle with his dad, that he didn’t even sense my frustration. “Did you bring the joint check book?” he asked with a pep in his step, as though he’d won the grandest prize of all.

“No way, pal, this is coming from your personal savings. Buying your headstone was not in the budget this year with the home renovation. Wait. Doesn’t it have words on it?”

“Letters. NJAS ’22. National Junior Angus Show 2022. It’s a souvenir. The year I judged with Dad,” he remarked.

Ugh. Now he was tugging at my heartstrings. “I thought they gave you coolers as keepsakes. Couldn’t we have stuck with the coolers?” I asked as he walked in the opposite direction.




One pallet, two skid steers, three state lines and four weeks later the rock (headstone) landed outside beautiful Economy, Indiana. He organized a team to help him place it on our farm before I got home. Not his first rodeo.

For four weeks now I’ve mowed around the headstone and roll my eyes each time. What a souvenir we’ll have to will off to our kids. I just hope Cyrus one day marries someone more patient that his own mother who can appreciate the free standing family headstone.

Last weekend we sat outside admiring the freshly mown yard, an Indiana sunset and American flags blowing in the breeze. Life is good in rural Wayne County.

“I just have one regret,” he said. Of course, my ears perked up.

“I wish I would have bought both of those stones. To balance things out around the milkhouse.”


Friends, if you drive by our farm and see fresh dirt under the NJAS ’22 souvenir, think nothing of it.

 

 

x

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

'22 Junior Nationals: A Log

My husband grew up traveling from coast to coast with his family of four, taking turns napping on the floorboard of the truck as they traveled from one national cattle show to the other. When the child on the floor would get hot, they’d switch with the child sprawled out across the back seat.

He yearns the same experience for our family. I prefer car seats.

Actually, he desires the family-of-four-traveling- to-exhibit-home-raised-cattle experience. I can more get on board with that idea.

I too grew up showing cattle, but the road trips I remember involved never stopping unless we were 15 miles to empty, a cooler in the back seat containing of a gallon of whole milk to keep us full and bing cherries to keep us regular.

Fast forward 25 years and it was my turn as the parent to pack the cooler.  For our cross-country cattle adventure I packed raisins, apples, sunflower seeds, and water. The only items touched during our entire trip were the bottles of water, and those were only used to wash faces after the kids devoured oreos from the gas station.

We traveled to two national junior cattle shows this summer as a family, one in Louisville, the second in Kansas City. Both had their excitement:

Trip 1, Day 1:

Caroline did a fantastic job giving her speech about the tools she uses to take care of her heifer. This resulted in a 4th place win.

Cyrus got drug out of a crowded women’s restroom and told all the reasons why he can’t use such a place to hide during hide-n-seek. This resulted in a humiliated mother.


Cousins Caroline, Bayler, Cyrus & Maddie 

just before the two older girls did their speech contests


Trip 1, Day 2:

Caroline goes on a 20-minute self-guided tour of the facility and mom panics a bit. That afternoon we sit down with the kids to go over why we don’t just wander away from the stalls in a place this big.

“Kids, you can’t just walk off with people you don’t know. Just don’t talk to people you don’t know.”

“Dad,” Cyrus said. “I don’t talk to people I don’t know,” then he paused. “But Dad, I don’t even talk to people I do know,” said Mr. Congeniality, Age 3.



Cyrus telling the Conley brothers from Oklahoma how much corn (wood chips) he's hauled to-date

Trip 2 Day 1:

After listening to John Denver’s, Country Roads Take Me Home on repeat for 40 miles Caroline asked, “Mom. How far from home was this guy if he should have been home yesterday?” We then rolled into Kansas City blaring the National Anthem, which is the kids’ current favorite tune.


Front row seat to see Dad & Grampie judge the bred & owned Angus cattle in Kansas City

Trip 2, Day 2:

I took the kids to the hotel pool and stayed in my street (barn) clothes. I sat pool side and never once jumped in to save someone who didn’t need saving. BIG WIN.



Trip 2, Day 3:

Cyrus had his first, hopefully his last, run in with the police.

In a rush to get to the show ring to watch Dad judge the cattle, Cyrus got locked in the truck. Which wouldn’t be such a bad deal if he wasn’t also strapped into his car seat, unable to reach the lock. And also if it wasn’t a spicy summer in Kansas City. We were very lucky in that this incident took place early morning and it was not yet hot outside. Had it been, a crowbar would have gone through the glass in minutes.

I called one lock smith who hung up on me after politely saying they’d call back within 30 minutes with a price quote. I didn’t care about a price; I needed my child out of the truck. I next called the American Royal facility (where the show took place) who sent out a security guard. I knew when he walked up to the truck with his thumbs tucked in his polyester pants that we might not get very far. Sure enough, he said he had the tools to get into the truck, but he couldn’t (wouldn’t) use them due to liability and possibly getting sued. You can imagine how this went over with ol’ Mom. The security guy then called the grounds maintenance man. This man was great at getting me calmed down. He was a grandfather and recognized the urgency in the situation.

Cyrus did fine during all of this, but he was very confused as to why I wouldn’t just open the door and get him out.

Finally, the Kansas City Police Department was contacted and they came out, also unable to get into the truck due to the type of lock on the truck. KCPD quickly called another locksmith. Within 3 minutes of the locksmith arriving, Cyrus was out of the hot truck. The ordeal lasted 45 minutes and Cyrus’s shirt was soaked by the time I pulled him out of the car seat.



Both trips were fun, exhausting and memorable. Our hope is one day the kids will look back and want the same experiences for their children. 

Except for the women’s restroom ordeal.

 Or the Stranger Danger. 

Or the locksmith situation.


Maybe they’ll take their kids to the beach.






Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Swim Lessons, Part II

On week two of swim lessons I was more aware and prepared myself for the day ahead. It was still cold then; I wore boots, jeans, and under-eye concealer to hide the fact that I don’t actually sleep, but merely worry with my eyes closed.

We arrived at lessons and both children were excited to be back. I wish I could say the same. I only wanted us to get what we came for: learning.

While Caroline’s class swam, Cyrus and I watched, and vice versa. It was this week that Cyrus noticed the kiddie pool. Just off the main pool was a large, shallow pool painted with sea characters. He asked if he could get in and my heart sunk.

Cyrus doesn’t fear water like I do. Cyrus doesn’t fear anything except being drug to my home extension meetings and sitting still while we discuss current events and volunteerism.

I told him he could get in the water, then I proceeded to pace the edge of the kiddie pool. There was another family enjoying time together. Cyrus started off slowly, cautiously, trying to figure out balance in a body of water alone (remember: no bathtub at home). Then he got confident. He began running laps around the pool, splashing, embracing the freedom.

Suddenly he slipped on the bottom of the pool and couldn’t find his footing. His arms flailed back and forth. His whole body was under water. This lasted for about 6 seconds which was plenty. I yelled for him but of course he didn’t hear me. The mother sitting on the edge of the pool leaned all the way into the water and grabbed his arm. She brought him back to a place where he found his footing. I couldn’t thank her enough, but tried.

Minutes later Cyrus was back in the pool. Having that under his belt, he was ready to move on. That made one of us.

It was not ten minutes later that the scenario repeated itself. This time, he was across the pool from help. He flailed, he sunk, I screamed. My heart was in my feet. Then I did what any mother would do.

Fully dressed, I jumped into the pool and ran (is it still called running when in water?) to him. By the time I reached Cyrus, he’d found his own feet was already above water. Using two hands to wipe his eyes, he was unsure of why Mom was in the pool in jeans and a sweater.

“What you doing?” he asked out of breath.

“Helping you, buddy!” I said, more out of breath.

“I was playing shark.”

Well of course he was.

I waded back to the edge of the pool and had one heck of a time getting my body out of the pool with my jeans, sweater, and everything else completely saturated. I tried to play it cool but the family ushered their kid to the locker room, confused as to what just happened. Weren’t we all? The lifeguard, paid and trained to do what I just attempted, re-focused her attention back on the big pool.

I’d publicly transitioned from Bathing Suit Mom one week to Fully Clothed Baywatch (more like River-look) mom in front of a whole group of people. I just wanted to be the mom on the sidelines watching her children learn to swim.

I found a chair and wrung out my pants then switched kids; Cyrus got in for a lesson, Caroline came to sit poolside with me.

“What happened to your clothes?” she asked, drying off with a mermaid towel.

“I went swimming,” I told her while rolling my jeans like Tom Sawyer.

There was a long, judgmental pause with observation.

“If you wanted to swim you should have worn your bathing suit again.”


S.O.S.




Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Swim Lessons, Part I

Swim lessons are finally over, so I’m willing to talk. There was a time when I wasn’t sure I’d ever be capable.

I’m afraid of water.

I grew up running through nettles in order to play in the Greens Fork River, and I’m afraid of water.


I took swimming lessons at the Splash Club in Hagerstown and jumped off the high dive, and I’m afraid of water.

I passed PE in high school which required swimming, and I’m afraid of water.

When the Golay Center opened enrollment for youth swim lessons, I knew it was time to enroll both children. Caroline was in infant swim lessons five (!) years ago, but that was before she could understand the aqua world around her. It was time for both kids to get acquainted with the waves. And it was time for me to get brave.



Five days prior to the first swim lesson I began laying out materials: trunks for Cyrus, a suit for Caroline and nothing short of a body bag for myself. With no ability to recall the last time I frolicked in a body of water, I was having a hard time finding anything suitable for myself to wear to such a lesson. I settled on a top and bottoms, both with elastic older than my barn socks. That’s old. Really old.

We arrived to the Saturday morning swim lesson and all three of us reported to the women’s locker room to get undressed and changed into our swim wear. I was nervous as all get out, anticipating fully that the discomfort I was about to feel in the water was a complete sacrifice for our children to learn how to take care of themselves in any crisis situation.

It wasn’t until we walked out into the pool area that I realized I was in a crisis situation, myself.

There were parents sitting poolside.

There were parents sitting poolside on their phones.

There were parents sitting poolside on their phones fully dressed.

There were parents sitting poolside on their phones fully dressed and in full make-up.

There were parents sitting poolside on their phones fully dressed and in full make-up, enjoying coffee from Café Neo.

I was, in fact, the only parent in the facility who was in swim wear, hanging off my left leg as though a dog had shredded the tired elastic.

When the lesson prior to Caroline’s was over, I oh-so-non-discretely walked over to the edge of the pool and asked the instructor in a whisper, “Don’t I need to get in the water with them?”

“Only for infants. Are they infants?” she responded with a gentle smile.

My “infants” (forever in my eyes) stood upright next to me.

I sent the children into the water took an awkward seat next to the other parents. There was not a towel big enough to conceal the awkwardness I felt.

The kids did fine during lesson one and seemingly 58 hours later we all reported back to the women’s locker room.

“Mom. Why did you wear that swimsuit today If you didn’t have to learn how to swim?” Caroline asked me while I tried to shimmy undies up her half-dried legs.

“Well,” I tried to reason within myself, “Mommy was trying to be prepared but I didn’t read the directions, I guess,” I responded somewhat surprised she even noticed.

“Yeah, Mom. That was weird,” Cyrus remarked, putting the final nail through my drowning heart.

Stay tuned. That was only week one. I regret to inform you that it gets worse.

 

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Oreo, A Tribute

We’re parents of a little girl who longs for a pet. Something to hold and love and take on adventures. Basically, the opposite of her brother. She adores any dog that comes onto our farm when folks show up to trade cattle. During Valentine’s Day she drew us a picture of a 4-legged creature inside a heart; I asked her what it was. 

“It’s the dog you won’t let me have. It’s in my heart.” Talk about marketing!

We haven’t made the commitment to a dog on a US highway (yet), but my parents lovingly brought three male barn cats to our farm last year. Since then, we’re on litter number four from those original three “males”. Truly, the gift that keeps on giving. It was in litter number two that Oreo (black, white, and round) arrived.

Oreo was…not right. He would sit in the middle of a busy barn lot and stare at the sun. He’d eat out of the cat food bowl by burying his head in the feed then looking straight up to the sky and sway back and forth like Ray Charles while he chewed. But Oreo wasn’t blind; we know because we did a sight test. Don’t ask.

Because Oreo didn’t run from the kids when they came to the barn, he became an instant farm favorite. This kitten experienced a whole lot of life with Caroline and Cyrus. He took many ATV rides. He was pulled in a wagon for hours. He was a frequent guest of the swing set clubhouse. He was carried around in a small Igloo cooler, full of grass, rocks, and cat food, so he could quickly go anywhere Caroline’s day took her.

In December we traveled to Kansas for Christmas with my in-laws. Upon our return, Oreo was nowhere to be found. This didn’t particularly surprise us, as we (Cody and I) knew the cat was vulnerable. In fact, we even told our chore help about him. “We have a slow kitten the kids love. You can’t miss him. He looks for ways to get killed in the barn lot. Do NOT run over this cat.”

For days we searched for Oreo in the haymow, the pasture, the barns, the rockpile and stock trailer. And we prayed for Oreo’s safe return from “hunting”, Caroline suggested. Of course, as parents we knew Oreo was not away on a hunting trip. Oreo was easy prey and Oreo was gone.

After about two weeks of mourning, which included morning and night prayer sessions and incessant talking about the missing cat, Cyrus had enough.



We were feeding cattle one evening when Caroline started talking about Oreo again.

“CARE-O-WINE!” Cyrus yelled, sitting next to her on the Ranger, unable to handle the cat talk any longer. “IT GOT ATED! IT GOT ATED BY A WOLF!” he screamed.

Caroline sat in silent shock.

I thought to myself while filling buckets, “Finally someone had the guts to tell her.”

Of course, this brought tears, and yelling back at Cyrus that he was wrong. The back-and-forth went on a few more seconds until he took it a step further:

“OREO GOT ATED BY A WOLF AND HE BIT HIS HEAD OFF!!!”

“Cyrus, Cyrus, stop buddy! We don’t need to hear the details!” I tried to slow the roll he was on. Caroline was in tears, begging me to tell him he was wrong. I couldn’t. I told both that we have no idea where Oreo is, but we probably will never see him again. I also reminded them that we don’t have wolves on our farm.

There was not another word.

Until about five days after that day, when our building contractor asked me out of the blue, “Hey, are you missing a cat?”

I stopped in my tracks. The contractor revealed that he showed up to work on our house one day while we were in Kansas and saw a black and white kitten in the barn lot, dead. Not smashed, no blood, just dead. He disposed of it before we got back.

He probably deserved a large Christmas bonus for sparing us that sight when we returned home from our trip.

While Cody and I hated to hear Oreo had indeed died, we were glad to have some finalization to the matter.

After laughing and talking about all the ways that kitten was an unwilling friend to two rambunctious farm kids, including but not limited to wagon rides, gator rides, cooler rides, heavy petting, swinging, sliding, over-feeding and constant welfare checks, it’s cause of death was finally determined: exhaustion.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Home Renovation: Part 3



I was only there for two avocados.

“How’s that home renovation coming along?” a stranger asked me in the produce section three weeks ago. 

I quickly wondered to myself if I should be thrilled that one person read my contribution to the paper or if I should invest in better blinds? I watch too much Dateline.  

Due to my nature, I enthusiastically answered his question, “It’s going great! We still sleep in our own beds, I still have a kitchen and a working bathroom. The crew shows up five, sometimes six, days a week. We really haven’t been displaced yet.”

That was three weeks ago.

Last week I was working in our dining room/office/living room/toy room and Cyrus said something to his sister that stopped my typing. I scolded him and told him to not repeat it. He repeated it, while looking me in the eye.

“That’s it, buddy. Go to your room right now!” I instructed as I put my laptop on top of the potted plant, which was resting on top of the sewing machine, which was resting on top of plywood.

The three-year-old paused and looked around. “I don’t have a room,” he said softly, blue eyes starting to get wet.

Darn it. He’s right. His room is currently full of horsehair plaster and lath. But I wasn’t going to back down to those baby blues.

“OK, Cyrus. Then go to your bed,” I commanded.

Seconds passed.

He softly said, “I don’t have a bed.” Again, not wrong. Darn it.  

“OK, Cyrus. Please go to my bedroom and sit on the bed.”

Both kids looked at me like I was the 21-year-old substitute teacher. Nothing I said made sense and everything was up for debate. I was vulnerable and they both knew it. We were all treading water.


There was a war raging within the stripped-down walls of this farmhouse. Being the peacekeeper, Caroline grabbed his little hand and led him to our bed.

“I think Mommy wants you to take a nap here,” she said. He immediately laid down.

May we never forget the value of bossy big sisters in crisis situations.




I’ve watched home renovation shows on television for years, but I think I’m living in the outtakes. I never once viewed an episode where the mother stepped out of bed onto a child because she has nowhere else to store it. We’re running out of Rubbermaid tubs.

Never before have our children migrated into our bed in the middle of the night at this pace. If they roll north, they hit a dresser. If they roll south, they roll under our bed. They’ve figured out that a bit of extra effort will land them between mom and dad. We’re exhausted.

We came home two weeks ago and saw dust was covering every visible surface. The smell stopped my constant on-the-go mentality; I stood in the moment. I have so many fond memories of sawdust, grit, stain, square nails, lumber, caulk, saw blades running, shingles, splinters. 

Brother Luke and I,1980s

But because I’m now the mother, none of these things sound fun. They sound like a ticket to the emergency room.  I opened my eyes and bounced back to reality, quickly.

“KIDS. THERE IS PLASTIC OVER THE DOORS,” I announced. Neither child knew the relevance here. They had no idea that the house they remembered when we left at 7:30 AM was no more. (De)Construction had escalated while we were gone for the day.

“From now on, do not sit down. Do not touch anything. Do not take off your shoes. There are splinters everywhere. There are rusty square nails just waiting on your tiny little feet to find them. In fact, until Mommy says, you need to wear shoes in every part of this house. Except the new part which has new, clean floors. Always take your shoes off in the new part,” I instructed.

At five and three, they were confused. This was probably a day, and a side of their mother, they’ll never forget. Regrettably.

Today, we’re still living in the saw dust. Every day we come home to find what is gone, carried out into the large dumpster in our yard. Yesterday it was the floor. I could look down and see my old washer and dryer in the basement.

So, to the very kind man who asked how things were going three weeks ago: I wish to change my answer.

“It’s going great! We sleep four deep in our bed, I pack sawdust in the kids’ lunchboxes daily and every day is a new adventure.”

And I’m not sure I’d change a minute.



Wednesday, February 2, 2022

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Newton’s theory stating, “What goes up must come down” certainly applies to gravity, but I have my own experience with that idea. In our family, when my husband goes up (in a plane) the temperature must come down. Hard.

Inevitably, when Cody is home, it’s 40 degrees and clear. When he leaves for an extended work trip to the wild west, the temperature drops drastically, and everything freezes. His last out-of-state trip did not disprove my theory; it was 37-degrees while he packed his suitcase and a mere 3-degrees four days later.

The good news is I love cold weather; the best news is our kids are very patient. They whine very little when getting bundled up, even with sticky Vaseline on their dry cheeks and hot chocolate in their plastic cups.



We drove north to check a pasture that about 25 cows are wintering in, only to find that the automatic waterer was completely empty and frozen. Nothing was in the tank but a 3-inch layer of ice. The pump house (a cinder block hole dug into the ground) was about 100 yards away, so we walked over to investigate. The heat lamp, which should have kept everything thawed and running so water would continuing filling into the tank as cows drank it down, was burned out. Everything was frozen. Even the hydrant wouldn’t produce water.

I called Cody to explain the situation, he asked many questions to diagnose the problem and find a solution from time zones away. I told the kids it might be a long while before we got into the house that evening and that didn’t bother them a bit. Cyrus was made for mechanics and Caroline just wants to be a helper.

We drove back to the home farm and got a ladder, an extension cord, a heater out of the calf box (a wooden box we would put a newborn calf in if we were experiencing sub-zero temperatures to save it from freezing), a spotlight, a socket set (no idea why, it seemed like a good idea) and two popsicles. You must always feed the help.

“Guys. We have a big job ahead of us and I need you to be helpers,” I told them in the truck.

“What do we get to do?” Caroline asked.

“Hold the spotlight when I crawl down in this hole so I can see what I’m doing. The light burnt out and it’s dark down there.” I left out the part where I’m scared of the dark and super anxious in tight spaces.

“Can we bring popsicles?” Cyrus asked, clearly unconcerned by the situation.

“Sure, Cyrus. But if Mommy gets into trouble I need you to call Daddy.”

“What’s Daddy going to do? He’s not here,” the empathic child reasoned with me.

“You’re right. Don’t touch my phone. Unless I scream. Then call 911.” I was starting to freak myself out. It was getting dark, I was going down in a hole that housed a lot of electrical and I didn’t have much experience in any of this.

My view from the hole

For the next twenty minutes I asked (commanded) Caroline to move the spotlight to the left, Caroline complained that her hand was getting tired, and Cyrus asked repeatedly, “Now can I call 911? Mom? Can I?”

“No! Put my phone down. We’re fine. I’m fine. We don’t have an emergency!” I repeatedly shouted up from the hole.

“But the cows are thirsty,” he responded with a burning desire to get a fire truck and a lot of tax dollars on the scene.

We got the heater set up in the pump house, the burnt-out bulb removed so I could go to the hardware store and buy a replacement, the cords all re-strung so they wouldn’t melt, and I climbed out of the hole without a broken hip or torn ligament. Small victories win battles.


My view from the hole as Caroline continued to help and Cyrus had lost interest

The kids earned two more popsicles upon our return home and crunched them down quickly, despite complaining about frozen hands. The next morning, we drove up to find the heater had worked! Kind of. The hydrant was working, but the electric waterers still were not. We hauled a tank to the pasture and ran a long hose from the hydrant to the tank, so the cows had something to drink.

As I pen, this my husband is packing another suitcase and talking about the approaching temperature drop in Rapid City, South Dakota. He believes that by the time he lands there, that cold snap will arrive in beautiful Economy, Indiana.

That gravity theory just won’t leave us alone.

 

 


Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Big Rocks in Little Boots

On her first day of kindergarten, I stood in an empty afternoon parking lot and texted Cody, “No one is here???”

He responded seconds later, “Of course not. You’re 45 minutes early.” Sometimes his common sense drives me absolutely nuts.

I sat on the bench anyway, wondering if Caroline had been worried sick about me all day, as I had been about her. Turns out, she didn’t even know I was gone.

Months later and when my schedule allows, I love parking on a side street and picking her up from school. She typically talks so quickly and with such enthusiasm that I know all about her 8:20 AM – 2:40 PM day by the time we get back to the car.

But this day was different.

“Why didn’t you give me pants with pockets today?” Caroline asked me as I kissed her head and grabbed her little hand.

I looked down to see what she was wearing: leggings.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “I thought you liked stretchy pants?” I tried to justify my 6:00 AM wardrobe selection for her. Who doesn’t like stretchy pants?

She suddenly stopped on the sidewalk and held my hand tightly as she tried to keep her balance. One at a time, she pulled each cowgirl boot off and dumped them out.

“Well, I’m sure glad you came to get me ‘cause I found these for you today and I didn’t have pockets so I just put them in my boots.”

Three rocks fell out of her boots and onto the sidewalk. She slipped her cowboy boots back on. “Ah. That’s better.”

The child had walked with rocks in her boots all day in an effort to please me.

“Caroline. Honey, you did not have to save those for me.”

“But I’ve never seen any like them! I found them during recess.”

“Morning or afternoon?” I asked, not that it mattered.

“Morning. I didn’t find any after lunch.”

In five years of motherhood, I’ve been gifted approximately 400 rocks, most off our farm. Many get shoved in pockets and later removed from the washing machine, but there are a few I’ll keep forever: The one she brought to me when I was in the hospital with Cyrus as he battled RSV at 6-weeks-old, the one she gave me when I was at Riley with Cyrus for his appendectomy and critical infection (sure sounds like a sickly little boy, doesn’t he?), the one she found in the barn lot that she is absolutely positive is Jesus’s tooth, and of course, I’ll keep these rocks, too.

Caroline with the rock she brought me, 
sitting outside Reid hospital 
when infant brother Cyrus had RSV

Because these rocks awakened me to the lengths Caroline will go to please me. What an eye-opening set of rocks! What a tender heart (and tough feet) she has to find such an object and want to share it with me, no matter the cost.

I praised her for the rocks. I studied the rocks and held the rocks and even showed the rocks to Cyrus. I’m sure this will shock you, but he could not care less. “What ‘bout ‘em?” he asked, confused as to what the fuss was all about. Caroline stood with such pride for being the gifter of greatness.

These little rocks in tiny boots taught me a lesson that day. Our kids are watching. They’re watching how we react to little victories and favors. They’re watching how we visit with them during the unremarkable conversations in the barn or on the couch. They love to watch our eyes light up in the same way we love to watch theirs.

I was reminded of this advice from Catherine M. Wallace, Author: “Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don't listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won't tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”

And these rocks in a little Ball jar on top of my dresser, they may fit in a size 9 toddler boot, but they’re big.

Really big.

 

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Colors of Christmas

“Mommy. Your hair looks so pretty with the red and blue lights in it,” Caroline calmly said from the back seat while she pushed her rose colored glasses back up on her nose.


“You goin’ to jail?” Cyrus asked without regard, more worried about where his lunch might come from if mom was headed to the pen.

According to the state trooper, I was going 63 in a 55, already late for school. He was a kind man and gave me a warning, but not before pointing out my plates were expired.

My mind raced. Expired plates?? There is no way I could have missed this.

Or is there?

I was sure I’d renewed my plates a month ago. I logged into the BMV website and sure enough, the new registration was in my “cart” but never officially purchased. I took care of the registration and drove ten miles per hour under the speed limit for the next week until the proper paperwork and a little magic sticker arrived. I have never been so paranoid in my life.

Talk about a mother running on empty. ‘Tis the season to feel a little overwhelmed.

For more than a week the children begged to put up our Christmas tree. I was ready for it too, although I had no idea where we were going to actually place such an object during a remodel. Much of our house is boxed in plastic totes, shoved against a wall, or outside in our “storage unit” (the unused chicken coop). The home renovation project is floating from room to room, as certain pieces come in while others remain delayed.

We finally fed cattle early one evening then went to cut down a Christmas tree. Talk about an experience. Caroline wanted to bring home every tree to ensure no one was left out and everyone felt special, Cody carried a tape measure and wanted to get the exact measurements of every tree considered to ensure we were maximizing our space, and Cyrus could not care less. Every time we’d stop to evaluate a tree, he’d sit in the grass and fill the bucket of his toy excavator with dirt.

We walked to the farthest corner of the tree lot (more like a 100-acre wood when you’re the one pulling both kids on the tree cart!!) to ensure we did not cut corners and miss the perfect tree. When we finally got to the back corner, it was determined that the white pine would not hold our heavy ornaments, so we retreated back across the tree lot (100-acre wood) to find something more stable.

At this point I would have settled for Charlie’s Brown’s spruce, but I was the only one with that sentiment.

Suddenly, the sun broke through the clouds, the golden rays poured down onto a tree and angels began singing.

Until we got closer.

“This is it!” Cody exclaimed. “Perfect size, perfect shape. What do you think?” he asked Caroline and I. Cyrus was 20 yards away digging a hole.

We studied the tree, seeing that the interior needles were completely orange. The tree appeared to be half-dead.

“Why is it orange?” Caroline asked.

“Because the sun is going down,” Cody quickly remarked, but we weren’t convinced.

“Look at the inside, closest to the trunk. All of those needles are orange,” I directed him.

“No they aren’t.”

“Yes they are.”

“No they aren’t.”

It quickly dawned on me that I was in fact arguing with someone who is red/green color blind.

Caroline quickly chimed in, letting Daddy know the needles were orange and this tree wasn’t the one. We moved on to the next. Aren’t daughters great?


We finally found one, smaller than we’re accustomed to but perfect for this unique year. It was decorated a day later (that’s a column in itself) and the kids have been quite diligent in keeping it, and the carpet, watered.



Though a rare year for our family, I’m certain we’ll look back on this one and smile, especially in the simplicity that a we’re experiencing. I’m slowly learning that the colors of Christmas aren’t supposed to be flashing red and blue (oops), glowing, blinding or distracting. Perhaps the most wonderful colors of Christmas are simply The Light.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Home Renovation II: Party Time

“You hung streamers today?”

Caroline seemed pleasantly confused as she walked in the door from school.

“Are we having a party?!” her eyes danced with excitement. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth, so I hung up the kids’ tiny coats and gave them both an after-school kiss just beyond the cheekbone. Cyrus proceeded to the living room without a word; rain was forecasted, and he had hours of carpet farming ahead.

But oh, to be five again and view the world in such a way that you believe the multiple strands of fly tape hanging from the kitchen ceiling, bathroom ceiling and living room ceiling is party streamers.

Caroline on the only horse we'll welcome to the farm at this time. 

Last week was an active week of the home renovation project, though I wouldn’t exactly call it a party. The builders worked on the roof and ordered cabinetry; the HVAC expert came and installed a new furnace; the local, farmer-owned cooperative set a new propane tank, trenched the line, and hooked up the system; and the electrician began marking outlets and asking a lot of questions I don’t know the answers to.

How many outlets does one laundry room need? I have no idea. My current laundry room houses two sump pumps and a tank of bull semen so I don’t believe I can accurately assess how a real laundry room should function.

We only went without heat for 36 hours while the new furnace was installed and the kids loved every bit of our camp-out (more like glamp-out, as we slept in our own beds). They begged for a fire in the fireplace and smores, but it was a Wednesday and I try not to start disasters mid-week. They settled for a Curious George story told by flashlight.

With all those guests over for a “party”, the influx of flies in our farmhouse was natural. Though, that didn’t make it any less annoying. Flies in the shower, flies over the produce, flies swirling around the kitchen sink, flies buzzing around the Halloween candy jar (this was the only time the children even noticed them), flies stuck in the curtains, flies in the hot-wax burner, our coffee, my hair.

So, I asked Cody to pick up a remedy the next time he went to the hardware store.

He returned with eight rolls of fly tape, and you know how I don’t like to let things go to waste. Eight rolls of fly tape can canvas a 1000-square foot home quite thoroughly.

We may not spend our Saturday mornings in a tree stand like avid hunters do this time of year, but Cyrus has really taken to checking the fly tapes every morning when he wakes. They’re high enough that he can’t touch them, but he can count the flies caught. He asked one evening if we could take the flies down so he could haul them in his grain cart to the elevator. I reminded him that he’d get docked for pests and foreign material. He quickly went back to hauling stale Cheerios. I do appreciate his interest in diversifying his farming operation.

I survived a major home renovation in the ‘80s, but I was Caroline’s age, so the mess, displacement and lack of order didn’t phase me. Survived isn’t even the appropriate word; I thrived in it. Every day was an adventure in which I was actively engaged. 

I remember my grandmother coming over periodically to view the progress. She’d walk in (usually through a wall because we didn’t have doors for a long time), look around and mutter about what kind of mess her daughter had gotten herself into. I remember her hands in her pockets. I remember clearly that Grandma rarely sat down, and she never took off her coat.

More than thirty years later, my mother showed up to our farm recently and wanted to walk through our home renovation progress. She walked right into the kitchen, then stopped and put her glasses on. “Do you have fly tape hanging up in your kitchen?” she asked with a teaspoon of judgement.

“Yes. And the bathroom. And the living room,” I revealed without hesitation. If she was going to judge our living arrangement, I might as well air all our dirty – fly specked – laundry now.

The woman didn’t say anything more, she just zipped up her coat.