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.



Friday, October 29, 2021

Home Renovation: Part 1

We’ve begun a small home renovation project.

Long story short, I got tired of wearing mud boots and waders to the farmhouse basement to begin a load of laundry, then praying I didn’t get electrocuted when I pushed the start button. Cody got tired of reading the Angus Journal in his recliner with a February wind blowing through the living room. Caroline got tired of sharing a 7’ x 10’ bedroom with a little brother who has no respect for toy horses. And Cyrus was just ready to see someone else tear the house down and not get reprimanded.

We’re early in the process.

The renovation is taking place feet from the kids’ playset in the backyard. They’ve spent hours swinging and asking questions. If the builder doesn’t finish on time, it won’t be due to delay in supplies or lack of labor; it will be because Cyrus questions their every move and he’s got a bit of a speech barrier. It takes the little guy a full minute to ask the question, three minutes for the workers to translate it, and five minutes for them to explain the work to him. The crew gave him a hat and a foremen’s pencil, so Cyrus is working his way up the management ladder, which is a pretty big deal for a kid who still wears Velcro shoes.



Caroline has shed many tears about this renovation. She doesn’t understand why we would want to make changes to a homestead such as this. She appreciates having carpet so worn out and stained that when she often forgets to take off her chore boots - and tracks (who knows what) across the house - her muddy prints can barely be seen. She loves that she can load her horse trailer in the kitchen and the floors are so uneven that it will roll on its own to the living room. She looks forward to  helping me load the washer in the basement and watch frogs jump across her boots. She adores the fact that when the north winter wind blows in, the windows open on their own and offer her fresh air in her bedroom. She is an eternal optimist who sees the beauty of every situation…except home renovations which threaten familiarity.

County records indicate that our house was built in 1920. Six weeks into the project, a postcard dated 1885 was found in the northeast wall. No wonder the basement floods! This place was built on Miami soil and dinosaur bones. The hand-hewn beams and wooden pegs have withstood many weathering years atop this hill, bearing witness to change, very few family names, and a whole lot of livestock. Today, we’re making a couple improvements to more so enjoy the place we call home.

Thus far we’ve explained in great detail septic tanks, wet t-shirts on grown men (it’s been a warm fall), and when it’s appropriate to hammer through a wall, versus when it is not (CYRUS!!). Caroline is currently in hysterics over the project because she came home to find windows gone and plywood in their place.

“You can’t even look out these new windows! They gave us wood windows!” She is five. I have little hope age fifteen will offer less passion and emotion.

We were so close to getting Cyrus completely potty-trained, then this renovation project began and now he just can’t take care of business while there’s men walking and talking on the roof above the commode.

Can you blame the kid? Stay tuned. We’re just getting started.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Bike Race

We were vaccinating steers and heifers on Saturday morning when an unfamiliar truck with Ohio plates pulled into the driveway. A couple got out and I suddenly realized it was beef customers from Hamilton, Ohio. They buy freezer beef from us annually and make it a point to drop off the payment in-person. I always enjoy the brief visit; they often have many good questions about farm life. 

They mentioned that there was a bike race going on just down the road and it looked like quite an ordeal. I hadn’t left the farm yet that day, so I didn’t know what they were referencing. I did mention that Highway 35 isn’t necessarily a road bicyclists should be traveling! They went on to say the entire road was blocked off to traffic

 

After they left, we finished our vaccination work and turned everything back out to their respective lots. I mentioned the apparent bike race to Cody and we decided to go see what all the commotion is about. We loaded up into the ranger and drove to the intersection of Highway 35 and  State Road 1. 

 

A “bike race” might have been an understatement. 

 

The shoulder was lined with vehicles with out-of-state plates. There were hundreds of bicyclists passing through the intersection as bystanders cheered them on. There were countless American flags and collegiate flags being waved. “The Eye of the Tiger” was blaring from some far-off place and there was a tent with dozens of workers passing out water. 


 

“What in the world is going on here?” I asked as all four of us watched with our mouths open. It was quite the event in northwestern Wayne County!

 

“What are they doing?” Caroline asked. 

 

“I guess they’re racing their bikes,” I responded, though not totally sold on my answer as the bike traffic was moving both directions.

 

“Why dey do dat?” Cyrus asked in his broken speech. 

 

“Because they’re nuts,” I told him

 

I got out of the ranger and walked over to a couple sitting in lawn chairs, holding encouragement signsand eating donuts. I asked them about the spectacle. 

 

“Do you know what this is all about?” I asked. “We farm just down the road and we drove down to see what all the excitement was about,” I explained. 

 

The man began, “It’s a triathlon today.”

 

And the lady next to him quickly followed up with more impressive details. “This is the Iron Man!” she exclaimed. “Swim, bike and run all in the same day.”

 

A lady next to her, wearing an Ohio State sweatshirt,finished the details explaining, “They already did a 2.4-mile swim at the reservoirthis is the 112-mile bicycle ride, and they finish with a 26.22-mile run.”

 

I almost passed out this trying to process this information. 

 

I thought we were doing pretty good, having already had breakfast, chored and processed 25 head of cattle in a morning. These hundreds of strangers were pushing their body to the max in the name of personal health and apparent enjoyment of pain

 

We sat and watched the event for a long time, in awe of the bikes, attire and cheering clubs. 

 

“I think if I was going to swim across a lake and then ride my bike for a hundred miles, the last thing I’d want to see is my family eating a box of donuts in a lawn chair with my face on their sweatshirt,” Cody said, still in disbelief of what we were witnessing. 

 

There was not a single person that appeared to be tired. If I was in the race I’d have to pull over and pretend to check the air pressure in my bike tires every five miles just so I could catch my breath. 

 

And don’t even ask me to swim in a reservoir. I get nervous in the bathtub. 

 

The sun went behind clouds, and it began to get dark. Caroline became instantly worried about the bikers who were about to get rained on. 

 

“Can you even think about riding a bike in the rain?” she asked. 

 

“Sis, I think the rain might feel good on them. They’ve got to be hot doing all of this exercise,” I tried to calm her concern. 

 

“Check the radar,” Cody said as we drove up the hill, heading back home.

 

“Are you worried about the bikers, too, Daddy?” I asked. 

 

I was more worried about if you and I can still grill out tonight.”

 

Folks, those are words of affirmation. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Kids Discover Encyclopedias

My parents made a major investment in the education of myself and two older siblings years ago. It wasn’t a trust fund or science camp, but rather a set of World Book encyclopedias. 


I still remember the day they arrived. Dad gave us a 30-minute tutorial on how to properly utilize the green, white, and gold-foiled volumes and Mom gave us a 20-minute tutorial on all the ways she’d kill us if we touched them with dirty hands. 

 

It was an intense short course on academia.

 

We sure got their money’s worth. We leafed through those pre-internet pages to learn about invertebrates, the Kennedy assassination, and the four hemispheres. I still remember sitting on the couch looking at photos of tornado destruction, internal organs, and umbilical cords. Who can forget the countless leaf collection leaves that were pressed between the pages of those books and a sheet of wax paper? We’re still looking for an Acer palmatum (more commonly known as the Japanese maple) which my brother swears he pressed in the letter M.

 

During pre-school our daughter began to identify letters everywhere we went. One afternoon at her grandparent’s house she became curious about the lettered books on the shelf. I was thrilled to explain to her what encyclopedias are, how they’re used and all the things we could learn by flipping through the pages. She’d recently learned about a set of birds, and we quickly read all that we could about the Blue Jay, Cardinal, and Red-winged Blackbird.


 

Sometimes when the kids visit, they just enjoy getting out volume F and looking at the graphic of all the feet. This is how kids should learn, I believe. Not by an iPad or screen, but by exploring until you find something that urges that tiny motivator in the mind to know more. 

 

Encyclopedias were verified, proofread, and authorized. As a parent, I get concerned about the amount of information thrown at early learners that isn’t accurate or even solicited. Heck, I get concerned about the amount of information thrown at educated adults that isn’t accurate or even solicited!

 

Today, we can enter a question or a word into a search bar and get millions of results. How do you quickly verify what is true? Or, we can talk about needing (ha!) new fall boots and minutes later advertisements for fall footwear begin to appear in the margins of our web pages (quite alarming). 

 

What might the younger generation see when they don’t even have the desire to learn more? What might show up that will take them down a long, dark path in just a couple clicks?

 

Goodness, I miss those treasured encyclopedias. 

 

They taught us how to spell, study, research, and learn based on fact, not opinion. 

 

Decades following the arrival of the World Books into our homestead, I’m now a parent myself and completely convinced Mom and Dad made the astronomical investment in order to streamline the number of questions coming into the parental call center:

 

“How are babies born?”

 

“Go look it up in the encyclopedia.”

 

“Why do moles have pig noses?”

 

“Go look it up in the encyclopedia.”

 

“Who shot JR?”

 

“Go look it up in the encyclopedia.”

 

I never could find the answer to that last one. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Ants Came Marching In

The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah.

The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah.

 

The ants are back. 

 

And not the fun aunts that bring dinner two weeks after you’ve had the baby, fold your underwear without judgment and let you nap for 20 minutes. 

 

I’m talking about the kind of ants which interrupt your weekly viewing of Dateline to show you they can in fact carry a week-old French fry across the coffee table in perfect time. I don’t know if I hate them more for their coordination or their intrusiveness, but I hate ants.



I always thought it was fresh mulch that brought the ants to our farmhouse. This year, they arrived two weeks before we landscaped. Maybe they’re just competing with the cicadas. 

 

I did warn the kids that anything left on the carpet had a very real risk of being carried off by an army of ants and that sure kicked them into gear. They hustled to pick up everything left touching the carpet, though I had to draw the line when they both threw out their backs trying to carry daddy’s recliner to the toy box. 

 

That night, peacekeeper Caroline prayed for Jesus to make the ants “nicer”, and warpath Cyrus prayed that Jesus would kill all the ants take them to the back pasture with the coyotes. We’re raising two very different children.

 

The employees at Nettle Creek Hardware are good about not asking questions. They’ve sold me a plunger, numerous mouse traps of different method (traditional wooden, easy-to-release-while-I’m-gagging-and-crying-plastic, sticky, etc.), a dozen different paint colors for a 1,100 sq. ft. home, masking tape, duct tape and superglue (all three in the same afternoon), and more bargains from the bin than I care to admit. 

 

So when I marched in on a mission to get the intrusive marchers out of our house, not a question was asked. I was prepared to lie and tell them the ant traps were for Cody’s outside office, but they probably already knew they were going straight to the kitchen. 

 

Local hardware stores are intuitive. And invaluable.  

 

We have two boxes of latex gloves leftover from the PICC line antibiotic administration Cyrus required in March, so I got creative. I told the kids that the ant trap instructions required glove use and both children were thrilled to be included in the action. 

 

They followed me around the house, both wearing purple latex gloves that went to their shoulders, instructing on where they thought I should place the ant traps. One went in my aloe plant, the next on top of the commode tank, third under the couch and the fourth trap rests proudly on our mantle. With a light shining upon it.  

 

The next morning the first words out of Cyrus’s mouth: “We get ant, Mom?” 

 

I’m not proud that insects now consume our son’s dreams, but at least it gives him a taste of adulthood. 

 

Just wait until he learns about taxes.