Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Winter with Kids on the Farm

“I love cold weather. I love cold weather. I love cold weather,” I repeat to myself while skating across a frozen barn lot with two buckets of feed. 

 

And I do love the cold. The way it makes apparent the simple acting of exhaling so curious that kids ask questions. Or the way we have to bed down huts in the middle of the pasture to provide some protection for new calves. Or the way it covers the land, gates, and bins with frost and makes everything glow in the moonlight. I do love cold weather.

 

But cold weather on a farm with two children may not warrant the “L” word. 

 

My husband travels often for work and January through April is his busiest time to hop on a plane and travel to North America’s ranches. We get through it with a lot of Snapchats of newborn calves “Look who arrived early!!!”, thorough feed instructions, and patient children not afraid of Vaseline.


Bedtime Skincare Routine

With temperatures in the twenties and dropping this week, bundling the kids up to go feed is a chore in itself. We start with a thick and even layer of Vaseline to the cheeks. I get down on two knees in front of them and paint their faces like we’re going into war. And in some ways, we are. 

Chore War Paint

 

“You are strong. We can do this. We’ll be back in the house in an hour,” I tell them over and over, mostly for my own motivation. 



 

Then we layer. 

 

Hooded sweatshirts for the base layer, coveralls so stiff they can barely walk in them, wild rags (silk scarves) to protect their necks and make them feel like real cowboys, Carhartt coats with pockets where they can hide snow, feathers and rocks, toboggans that fall over their eyes, and gloves that will be removed two minutes after stepping outside. By the time I get them both dressed and out the door we’re all three sweating and ready for the chill.



Because they’re 2 and 4 and in the thick of the independence stage (when does this end? And don’t tell me 18), neither allow me to help them through the snow or across the solid sheet of ice that is our barn lot. I walk to the barn and have 10 buckets of feed filled by the time they make it across the lot. 

 

We’ve been outside for seven minutes and Cyrus’ hands are already cold because he has removed his gloves to put tiny snowballs in his pockets and Caroline is licking snow and ice off the side of our farm truck. I warn about germs, but no one takes me seriously because I’m holding a pitchfork with 10 lbs. of afterbirth on it. 

 

We move on and feed the main lot of cows with new calves, then the feeder steers we feed out for freezer beef, then two separate pens of weaned heifers, then the cows who are in a lot close to the barn because I pen them up nightly so they don’t calve out in the pasture. Then we go out and check all the calf huts, counting calves and fluffing straw so the calves are more inclined to sleep there, safe and warm, rather than the middle of a dark pasture where predators and wind may get them.


 

Questions are plenty, and I answer the best I can. Right about the time I was trying to formulate an answer to, “Do you think coyotes come in the middle of the night because they want to drink the mommy cow’s milk when she’s sleeping?” Cyrus began whimpering that his hands were cold. When this banter begins, I know I have approximately four minutes until a high-speed-come-apart takes place. So, I hustle to wrap things up, bed down the barn, feed the barn cats (don’t ask), drain the hoses, throw down hay, and close all the gates for the night. 

 

By this time there are warm tears coming from both sets of eyes, gloves are lost, hands are red, and a change of heart has taken place: both kids are now desperate to be carried to the house. I convince Caroline to walk and hold my hand while I carry Cyrus across the ice and up the hill to the house. She’s having a hard time holding my hand because she is using her wild rag as a Kleenex. Cyrus is so over the chore experience that he’s thrown himself onto the hardened snow, facedown, screaming. I swoop him up as quickly as possible so no one driving by questions my parenting, grab Caroline’s hand and we briskly walk to the house. 

 

I get everyone unbundled, hats and gloves on the register so the snow melts off, frigid hands washed in luke-warm water and tears and Vaseline wiped off cold red cheeks. It was in this moment of thinking, “We got another evening’s work done and we all survived,” that I hear from the living room:

 

“Mommy. Can we have popsicles for being so good?”

 

“Yes, Mommy!” Cyrus chimed in, hanging on my leg with thawing red hands. “I want blue.”

 

 I didn't realize one could recover from hypothermia so quickly. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Oh Christmas Tree

We were recently gifted a "Treasury of Christmas Tales" from a friend whose child has grown. During the month of December, our kids looked forward to selecting a story before bedtime and listening to the magic of Christmas come alive at their bedside. Many of the stories I'd never heard before, but a few sparked sweet memories of long ago.


I made the mistake of giving in and continuing to read from this book after Christmas. "I'll quit at the New Year," I told myself. My timing couldn't have been worse. 




On New Year's Eve, we wrapped up the great Christmas storytelling month with "Oh Christmas Tree," a story about a young girl who begged her family to get a straggly tree off the live lot rather than a large, full one. The struggling tree went on to serve her family well through December, and then she begged them to plant it in the backyard. Her whole family knew the tree (with no ball) would never grow, but they carried out her plan and planted the tree. And it began to grow! And continued to grow! And it became magical! And it provided much joy to that family in the backyard for many years. The end. 


On January 1, 2021, we decided to haul our own live Christmas tree out of the house. 


"Can we keep it?" Caroline asked as soon as she heard we were removing it. She hugged the lower branches gently as though it were a friend. 


"No, honey, we can't. It's losing needles and Christmas is over," I told her, not even thinking about the bedtime story from the night before. Ornaments came off. Lights came off. 26,938 needles came off. Water was dumped out. And the tree went to the barn lot. 


Hours later, we were working outside when my husband asked me to pull the Ranger around so he could load up the tree. 


"Are you taking it for a ride?!" Caroline asked with great enthusiasm. 


"Yeah. To the burn pile," Cody responded without thought. "Load up, everyone." (Some families take Sunday drives. We take trips to the burn pile.) 


Then I heard the loudest, most broken-hearted, "Nooo, Daddy, nooo!" I've ever heard. "That's my friend! We need to plant it in the backyard so it will grow magic for a life!" she cried out. 


Cody and I looked at each other. We're raising the most tender-hearted little girl, and while this scene unfolds, her little brother begins kicking the down Christmas tree, watching needles fly. We've got two very different kids. 


We went on to explain that Christmas trees such as ours aren't able to be replanted. Also, that the beauty and fun of Christmas is finding and cutting down a new tree each year. Finally calming down, she asked if we could chop the tree up and burn it in our fireplace, which I thought was a little morbid after the dramatic scene we'd just witnessed, but I do often remind the kids that if you chop your own wood you'll warm yourself twice. 


The four of us loaded up and rode to the southernmost part of our land to the burn pile. I distracted Caroline with silly conversation while Cody dumped the tree in its final resting place. We didn't need any ceremonial and prayerful goodbyes as we had for the last possum we trapped in our feed room. 


Oh, to be a little child with great big feelings for every living thing again. 


I guess it could be worse. She could fall in love with one of our freezer beef steers. 







Wednesday, December 23, 2020

More Like Mary

As I pen this, we leave tomorrow morning for Christmas in Kansas.

My to-do list looms as travel and Christmas nears:

Finish Christmas shopping 

Line up help for farm chore work while we’re away

Pack the kids, and myself for the trip

Wrap and pack all gifts to haul 12 hours

Take care of all professional business that still goes on this time of year

Get Christmas cards addressed, stamped, and to the post office

Line out plans and a menu for Indiana Christmas with my family upon our return

Worry about things I shouldn’t, including but not limited to buying too much for our kids, buying gifts that aren’t practical and will add to someone’s junk pile, somehow finding the gifts I bought and hid in May, and beyond. 

 

Despite a constant effort to keep Christmas simple and meaningful with the heart of the holiday at the center of everything we do, boy do I feel like I’m failing. 

I think to Luke 1:26-33 

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Let me get this straight. I’m superficially stressed about getting presents bought and wrapped and menus organized during the week of Christmas and virgin Mary had an angel show up to her door and tell her she’s going to have God’s baby? 

How’s that for perspective? Where did my heart for Christmas go so wrong?

When we were young we’d open tiny paper doors on an Advent calendar December 1 – 24. For 24 days we’d learn the story of the birth of Christ and the 24th door was always the one covering the baby in the manger. It was the greatest ending to the perfect story.


I searched for an advent calendar in November to continue that special tradition with our kids. I found calendars filled with candy, various toys, wine, chocolate, horses, jewelry, and more. Is Christmas so commercialized that even the days of Advent are filled with daily gifts, trinkets, and junk? Unfortunately yes. It took some searching, but I finally found one as simple as ours from the 1980s. And a note: I later found an even better advent calendar at the Shoppes of East Main in Hagerstown. I’ll be buying ours there, next year.

Oh, how I long to be more like Mary. Less about gifts and food and festivities and more about the heart of the matter: the birth of Christ. Less about a to-do list that dictates my busy activity and more about the daily work that matters: raising children who know and love Jesus. 

Luke 2:19 tells us that Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Not the gifts (though I’m sure the frankincense made the stable smell fantastic) or the food (though I’m sure she was starving after such an event). 

 

More like Mary requires treasuring up all of these things that are quite significant past December 25, spending time in quiet reflection of the incredible event that took place in the manger, and most importantly, having a heart that trusts God’s plan. 

 

I must pause here, as our son has brought me a large, interesting ball of what appears to be scotch tape, bailing twine, toilet paper, and Barbie hair. Perhaps I better wrap up my lofty goal writing of being more like Mary and just get back to being a farm mom. 


Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Outgrowing Naptime

I believe fully that the two things that got me through the infant stages of our children were Jesus and a routine. 

Both children have been fantastic nappers (maybe they did get something from me, after all) from the beginning. Like clockwork for the past four years, come 1:00 PM they’re ready to rest and recharge their batteries – sometimes for up to two hours!

 

And let me tell you how precious that time is to me. Maybe one day I’ll regret not sitting by their cribs and watching their little chests move up and down. But today is not that day. 




Because during nap time I shut off all toys that make any sort of noise, radios and TVs included, and I enjoy a quiet house. I pay bills without anyone asking me if they can put on the stamp. I catch up on collaborative work without anyone yelling, “Can ya come wipe me already?!” in the background of my Teams videos. I prep dinner without anyone begging for a snack. I take a brief walk outside to check waterers on frigid days or cows who are close to calving without the need to bundle up two tots who can’t keep on mittens. I read my devotions, usually thanking God for naptime. I fold laundry without someone dumping the basket to make it a buggy. On particularly tough days, I just sit in a chair and stare at the wall. 

 

But our oldest is starting to change. 

 

“I didn’t think we took naps on Saturdays,” Caroline recently protested. 

 

“I didn’t think you knew your days of the week,” I responded both annoyed and impressed. 

 

She is beginning to question naptime a bit. Fewer are the days when, without being told it is 1:00 PM, she finds her white blanket and thumb and rests at the bottom of the steps until I carry her up to her bedroom. She’s learned that when she naps the world does not nap. 

 

She came downstairs recently after a brief thirty-minute shut-eye last week. It startled me. 

 

“What are you doing up!?” I asked, like Santa Claus who had been caught setting out presents.

 

“What are you doing up?” she quickly turned the question right back around on me. 

 

“Mommy is working on a grocery list,” I said, still confused as to why she was in the living room and not in bed. 

 

“Can I help? Better get some milk.”

 

“Honey aren’t you tired? You only napped for thirty minutes,” I tried to coax her back upstairs. 

 

“Is that long? I’m not tired anymore. I want to play without Cyrus. So he doesn’t run through my horse arena with his combine.”

 

I just sighed. I knew this battle was lost. “When you’re my age you’re going to wish you’d taken a longer nap,” I told her as I sat down on the floor with her and began helping her line up horses for the carpet rodeo. 

 

“But I’ll be 100 years old then and it won’t matter,” she responded, gently setting down her favorite Pinto. 

 

I didn’t have much to say after that and decided to just enjoy that quiet playtime while I could. Though if she thinks I’m pushing 100, I would like to know how old she thinks her grandmothers are. 

 

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Professional Family Photos

 We had organized family photos taken twice that I can remember while growing up; once at the fire station and once through Olan Mills. My sister had strep throat in one set, and I had pick eye in the other. I think that is why my mother never found it necessary to take annual family photos; they were never worth the money. 

As a parent I’ve made the poor choice to try to get family photos taken each fall. I don’t know why I do this, as I already have 1,027 photos of my children on the iPhone in my pocket. There is just something about getting the family cleaned up, out of barn clothes, hair combed and smiling. But let me tell you: it ain’t easy. 

 

You put a camera in front of Cyrus, 2, and he has as much personality as a celery stalk. He doesn’t smile, he scowls. He doesn’t show you his beautiful blue eyes, he glares. He doesn’t even prefer to stand, he must be held. We’ve always said that Cyrus is an 80-year-old man in a tiny body: he walks like he needs a hip replacement, talks to himself, prefers to eat by himself and generally acts grumpy just so people leave him alone. Add “thinks family photos are ridiculous” to that list. 





On the other end of the spectrum, Caroline, 4, was born for family photos. She encourages props (this year it was a stick horse she insisted on including). She poses. She takes direction quite well. She asks if her hair bow is visible. She tries to act as Cyrus’ smile coach which only irritates him further. 



Cody simply rolls in from the farm two minutes before the photographer is to arrive, washes his hands, combs his hat hair, puts on the clean jeans and shirt I’ve laid out for him and asks, “Why are we doing this, again?”

 

“For Christmas cards,” I remarked, trying to get Sharpie marker off Cyrus’ chin.

 

“My mom used to just sign some and mail them. There was never a photo,” he continued, tucking in his shirt. 

 

I didn’t even acknowledge his passive protest and stories of a simpler life long ago on the Kansas plains. This was no time for happy stories…it was family picture day. I just needed everyone to smile once. Preferably at the same time.

 

My job is to ensure everyone is fully dressed, and the beads of sweat running down my face - earned from squeezing into a pair of jeans I haven’t worn since quarantine started – aren’t visible. That’s tougher than it sounds. 

 

We had our family photos taken in October and have yet to see a single result. 


“What do you think it is taking so long to get our pictures back?” my husband asked last week. "I thought you were sending Christmas cards."

 

“She’s probably Photoshopping a smile onto Cyrus,” I responded without hesitation. He seemed to agree. 

 

Don’t let the perfect photos you see on Facebook or in Christmas cards this year fool you. Just remember: Behind every great family photo you’ll see this holiday season, there was one husband who would rather be doing anything but this, 45 tears cried inside the house because someone was missing Sesame Street for all of this nonsense, 2 pieces of Halloween candy melting in pockets used as bribery and a mother growing frustrated that it is seemingly impossible for everyone in the family to appear happy on the same day. 

 

If you don’t get a Christmas card, please don’t be offended. I’m just trying to protect the family reputation. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Coop Clean Out

“I looked at the forecast. The next couple days will be the nicest we may have the rest of the year,” he said while making coffee.

 

When my husband begins speaking this way, I know he’s not about to offer to drive us to Brown County to see the leaves. Rather, he is about to suggest we get something dreadful accomplished outside. 

 

Wrangle and bring cows home from summer grass?

Pull up all the temporary fence?

Vaccinate and tattoo calves?

 

Worse:

 

“It would be a great time for you to work on your part of the chicken coop. Mine is pretty much done,” he finished. 

 

When we wed and bought this farm seven years ago, Cody was in his early thirties and I in my late twenties. We both had established careers, lifestyles, and homes. I remember the first time I visited him at Michigan State University, where he taught. Walking through the farmhouse that sat on the university farm was like visiting an Angus museum. Archived photos framed on the walls, old leathercraft passed down from generations, buckles and bronzes. My walls back home in Greens Fork also told stories of a farm family rich history, Clay township pride and Shorthorn cattle memorabilia. 



Combining homesteads proved to be a monumental task. We didn’t have nearly the space needed to decorate with our favorite pieces of history. Some (actually, a lot) things had to be moved out to the old chicken coop turned storage shed. 

 

And there everything sat for seven years. 



Until COVID hit, and Cody got a wild hair (he was climbing the walls to board a plane and get back to work but the CDC advised against it) to clean out his portion of the tiny outbuilding that stored our things. 

 

I’m not a hoarder but I’m certainly not a tosser. In fact, I don’t get wild hairs to throw things away, ever. I’m a keeper, cataloger, storyteller, chronicler. Life has been good up to this point; I want to remember it when I’m old and senile. 

 

So, I’ve kept old purses with sticky lifesavers and concert ticket stubs inside. 

Senior pictures with “Stay cool, Bowman” scribbled on the back (oh, if they could see me now!).

Approximately 100 CDs and mixed tapes of which I have no way of playing.

Newspaper clippings about the 2000-2001 Hagerstown football team (that Ben Warner was one heck of a kicker).

My deceased aunt’s personalized stationery (boy, wouldn’t that confuse people if I began sending letters on that). 

Books I’ll never read. 

A 1998 wall calendar of beach scenes (I’m afraid of water). 

Empty apothecary jars found in a house my parents tore down 20 years ago. 

A box of jeans I hope to never fit into again (ever heard of the Freshman 15?). 

Bent whisks. 

Chipped pie plates. 

A cake stand with no top. 

A spring wreath that is now a gorgeous home to a mouse family. 

 

And that was just within the first five steps of walking in the chicken coop.

 

I looked to Cody’s half of the shed: Sorted. Stacked. Labeled. What a showoff. 

 

That day I cleaned out nine Rubbermaid tubs of stuff. Much went into the trash, but things worthy of use were donated to non-profits. I still have embarrassing amounts of things to sort through. 

 

But as I sit at the dining room table and pen this, a cold front is moving through Indiana. It’s raining now, 46 degrees and harvest has halted. We probably won’t have another nice warm, sunny day until March 2021.

 

Looks like the wild turkey feathers I found in the ditch while on a walk a decade ago will be pardoned for another season. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Working from Home

Almost three years ago I left a full-time job and took on a part-time role so I could focus on our family and farm. That required much better time management, prioritization, and record keeping. It was the best decision I ever made. 

 

ART

ECOLOGY

READING

LUNCH

With the onset of COVID-19, the local, farmer-owned cooperative (my part-time gig) has greatly utilized Microsoft Teams, a business-oriented communication and collaboration platform that utilizes video meetings. In-person meetings have been cut drastically and now we use video cameras to conduct business. 

 

Basically, we’ve taken conference calls to a whole new level. 

 

No longer are the days where I can put the business meeting on speakerphone, mute the chaos on my end, and cut waffles into 34 perfectly symmetrical pieces while listening to harvest projections and herbicide resistance issues. 

 

With Microsoft Teams, I join the video meeting from my dining room table (my office) and every person on the video call can see the chaos unfold around me in real-time.

 

It’s a PR nightmare. 

 

Our bathroom sits just off our dining room, which has always been annoying, but this layout has become super inconvenient while working from home. I was in a video meeting, trying to describe to a commercial printer the needs of an upcoming publication, when Caroline busted out of the bathroom and asked if washcloths could be flushed down the toilet? Turns out, she already knew the answer to this question. 

 

Last week I logged into a video conference that was scheduled for an hour. All morning I prepped the kids by telling them how important this call was, and how quiet they needed to be, and once I was on the video, I couldn’t step away to help with anything. I needed them to quietly entertain themselves for one hour. I asked if they understood and both nodded yes. This was a lie. 

 

Three minutes into the call, Caroline developed an intense need for the purple Play-Doh in Cyrus’ hands and asked him if she could have it. After several declines, she took matters – or, the purple Play-Doh – into her own hands. This did not go over well. There was screaming, crying and TOP OF HER LUNGS JUSTIFYING WHY BOYS DON’T PLAY WITH PURPLE PLAY-DOH! This, of course, was unfolding 12 inches from my laptop, as they were seated at the dining room table with me. With my microphone on mute, I put a smile on my face and through a clenched jaw demanded that Caroline return the Play-Doh to Cyrus and pick another color to use. 

 

The fact that I could have a pleasant smile on my face (for all my co-workers to see) and still firmly speak to my children in a “Mom absolutely means business” tone actually put the fear of God (or, Mom?) in them both. Cyrus quit crying instantly and without blinking, Caroline gave Cyrus the purple Play-Doh and quickly grabbed the blue container.    

 

An hour passed and we were only halfway through our meeting agenda. The kids’ patience was wearing thin. I allowed them to get down from the table and play in the living room.

 

At one hour and thirty minutes, the kids begged to go play in their bedroom upstairs. I told them that was fine. 

 

At one hour and thirty-seven minutes, the meeting was finally to the point where I was expected to present on marketing and digital communications. Just as I took the microphone off mute, Caroline starts screaming at the top of her lungs about Cyrus getting dollar bills out of my nightstand. 

 

“Mom!!! Moommm!!! Cyrus has your paper money and he won’t give it to me!! Mooommmm!!! CAN YOU HEAR ME?????” she yelled from upstairs. Then, I heard a loud thud. 

 

In my head, I responded by saying, “YES! Yes! I can hear you! This house is 200 square feet and I’m inches from the bottom of the stairwell! I can hear you, so can 8 other corporate leaders all across Indiana and Ohio! The WORLD can hear you! YOU ARE HEARD! Dollar bills can wait! This is Mom’s Time to ACT LIKE I HAVE MY LIFE TOGETHER!”

 

The people on my computer screen began laughing as they heard the debacle unfold. I quickly responded, “I’m sorry. There seems to be an issue upstairs and I just heard a loud thud,” I explained while smiling. “I’m going to put my microphone on mute for just a second…….”

 

MUTE 

 

“CAROLINE JEAN AND CYRUS. MOMMY NEEDS YOU TO PLEASE BE QUIET FOR 15 MORE MINUTES. EVERYONE IN INDIANA AND OHIO CAN HEAR EVERY WORD YOU SAY RIGHT NOW. WHAT WAS THAT LOUD THUD? IT DOESN’T MATTER. I DON’T EVEN WANT TO KNOW. PLEASE GIVE ME 15 MORE MINUTES AND I’LL BE RIGHT UP TO PLAY WITH YOU.”

 

“Which is longer?” Caroline responded gently from upstairs. “15 minutes or an hour? Because an hour is taking foooorever.”

 

UNMUTE

 

I went on to present my portion of the meeting and apologize for any interruption in productivity. Strangely, the three-ring circus in our house didn’t seem to bother anyone, except me. 

 

I don’t know how much this pandemic has altered life as we know it, or even what things we may never see again. 

 

I do know I’ll never regret time with my kids. But there is a 100% chance that I’ll regret time with my kids and my virtual co-workers, rural internet, and farmhouses. There is a whole lot that could go wrong there. 

 

And I’m living that dream weekly. 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Fireplace Mantle

Fireplace mantles were originally created to serve as a hood that projected over a fire grate to catch the smoke. Through generations they’ve served as a focal point of a room, proudly displaying family heirlooms, photos and artifacts. A time capsule of sorts, showing the world what is of value in a family.


 

Today, two sets of channel locks sit on ours. 

 

The mantle in our living room is one of the very few places our children, 2 and 4, cannot reach. There is no couch within short distance from which they can launch, no windowsill they can climb, no countertop they can access through sound footing like that of a reindeer on an icy roof.

 

Our mantle isn’t full of family photos, because there is no room for such items. Our mantle is full of things that must remain out of reach. 

 

Two years ago, Caroline received a toy racehorse with approximately 45 tiny accessories attached to it: a halter, saddle, saddle pad, breastplate, stirrups, bit, noseband, reins and beyond. It only took three days before we realized the choking hazard involved in such a gift.  45 tiny horse accessories: to the mantle.

 

In June, I was presenting in a virtual meeting when I was interrupted by a blood curling scream coming from the living room. The children had been playing with their channel locks (hey, they may not be able to read, but at least they’ll be handy) and Cyrus struck Caroline on top of the head when she would not let him park his combine in her horse barn. Channel locks: to the mantle. 

 

In July, Cyrus ripped a page out of a book that had an illustration of Jesus reading to children. He tore it in such a way that Jesus’ body was cut in two. There is just something about throwing away a picture of Jesus that doesn’t sit well with me. So, He got taped back together. Tiny torn Jesus: to the mantle. 

 

On Monday Cody busted through the kitchen door:

 

“Hey. I ordered a replacement American Angus Association membership card a few weeks ago and it should have been here by now. Have you seen it?”

 

“Yes. Caroline spotted it on the kitchen counter and was using it as a play credit card. Last I heard, she charged $700 worth of Teddy Grahams and horse movies to it,” I remarked without missing a beat.

 

He wasn’t overly amused. 

 

“Oh no! What did you do with it?” he asked. 

 

“What do you think I did with it? It’s on the mantle between the knife you brought home from Argentina and the 2019 tax returns we caught Cyrus stuffing into his lunchbox.”


 

I suppose in twenty years the kids will be in homes of their own and I’ll reclaim the mantle for my own use. Perhaps then I’ll display pictures of them at this age when almost nothing could escape the reach of their sticky sugar hands and constant curiosity, except those artifacts of this stage in life where I feel as though I’m constantly operating in survival mode. 

 

I think I dread the day. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

COVID County Fair

The Wayne County Fair sure looked different this year, but it occurred. When we look back on the summer of 2020, could that be all that matters?

 

The Wayne County 4-H and Purdue Extension team can’t be commended adequately for the job they did organizing the 2020 event. Woodworkers, photographers, electricians, seamstresses, and beyond still wowed the judges and those who raised livestock were still able to present their market and breeding animals.

 

It was different. 

It was lacking an urban crowd. 

It was managed unbelievably well. 

 

“Who was there?” Mom asked me on the phone one night after we’d returned from the beef show.

 

“Everyone you’d expect to be at the heifer show,” I said, then named the 3rd generation families that likely haven’t missed a beef show in 40 years. When your grandkid is in the ring, you show up, come COVID-19 or high water. 


 

There was no Sugar Grove Community Church lemonade shake-up stand, no queen contest, and no antique tractor display, but as a mother of two under four, it still got the job done. 

 

From the sidelines, too young to exhibit anything but stains down the front of their shirts, our children still had a ball. 

 

First, at the sno-cone stand where Caroline placed an order without parental supervision, leaving me no option but to run to the car for a wallet before it melted. 

 

Then with the rocks in Cyrus’ mouth because his hands were full, and his shorts didn’t have pockets. How else was he supposed to haul them?!

 

Then with the Play-Doh back in the camper area where friends had cattle tied. 

 

Caroline asked me, “What kind of Play-Doh is this?” holding up a tiny red stick.

“It’s not. It’s a day-old old French fry covered in ketchup. Put it back where it was. Someone may want it for supper”

 

That’s the county fair spirit!

 

Cody judged the beef show at another county hours away on that day. Every time the kids begged for cotton candy, I told them we’d get some when Daddy arrived (believing he never would). Low and behold, the Angus heifers walked into the ring and he arrived just in time. The man has a 6th sense for Angus cattle on display. 


 

All Angus classes and one division later, our kids appeared to be sweating cotton candy. 

 

Six minutes after that, the sugar kicked in and Cyrus began ripping the CAUTION tape (used for social distancing) off the bleachers. He’s never been a rule follower. That’s when I knew it was time to head home to Economy. 

 

By the time we got home, they were so deeply asleep that I had to wipe little rivers of drool and cotton candy off their faces. I washed their feet with a warm washcloth, in awe of how much they’ve grown. I put them in footed jammies so sand wouldn’t sleep in their sheets. I swiped Cyrus’ mouth for more rocks and he didn’t even try to bite me. That’s a big deal. 




As a parent, getting those two in bed early, completely exhausted was quite a feat. In fact, because of the great 2020 Wayne County 4-H Fair, later that evening…

 

I made no supper. 

Watered flowers. 

Tended garden. 

Meal prepped for the next two nights. 

Did two loads of laundry. 

Went to the bathroom and no one asked why.

 

Cody did all chores. 

Mowed pastures. 

Checked cattle at three different farms. 

He actually enjoyed a Diet Coke with no one hanging on his leg begging for a sip (chug). 

 

It was the most relaxing evening, ever!

 

So thank you, all who organized and hosted the Wayne County 4-H Fair. We don’t have exhibit-age kids but we do have two who enjoyed the event tremendously. 

 

And think of all the money I saved on Kemos. 



Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Summer Road Trip

With no one in the house but me, I stood at the top of the stairway: Is there anything we’re forgetting? 

 

I’m fortunate in that I married someone who can handle every construction zone, detour, speed limit and time zone change quite well; Cody is a natural born trucker. When we travel west to visit his family in Kansas, I simply have to get the kids (and myself) in the truck. He does all the driving – both ways!

 

There was an extra outfit for Caroline that I’d remove from the suitcase two hours prior and placed on our bed. But on my final trip through the house, something told me to grab it. As I locked up the house, something told me to grab paper towels. I don’t know what was “telling me” this, but I did it. We travel to Kansas a few times a year; even in the kids’ infant stage, I’ve never packed paper towels. 

 

We weren’t five miles into Illinois before Caroline whimpered quietly, “Mommy. I’m going to be sick.” She wasn’t wrong. The best I could do was hold her beloved white blanky in front of her to catch what I could. Cody was driving, in the thick of a conference call about flying live beef bulls into Brazil. I don’t know if it was the sound or the smell, but he kicked that Ford F-350 into NASCAR mode and we were at a rest stop in less than two minutes. 

 

Suddenly, the last-minute paper towels and extra outfit sure came in handy. 


 

For thirty minutes I wiped down every inch of Caroline and the car seat that I could reach. I used the paper towels and public sink to wash her hair. We were in a rest stop stall when someone joined us next door. 

 

“She’s suuuure using a lot of toilet paper, Mommy. Please tell her not to clog the potty,” Caroline requested, using her outside voice. I was mortified, but also proud that she remembered the 4-square rule, even with an upset tummy. 

 

I used the hand sanitizer in Cody’s truck to try to kill the acidic smell. That didn’t work. It just turned our truck cab into a tiny pediatric center waiting room on wheels. 

 

Because of our frequent flyer (or, driver as we’re usually pulling a stock trailer fully loaded) miles, our children have become fantastic travelers. In fact, we find that Cody and I usually need a stop before either of them mention it. I pack a lunchbox of fruit, fiber and Pringles and that usually gets us through the “you’re not hungry, you’re bored” conversations. 

 

These days we avoid truck stops as much as we can while driving a dually, and utilize rest stops more often. There are always families of other ethnicities, dogs and yoga poses that feed our need to people watch. 

 

We were almost to the heart of Kansas City when Caroline announced she had to go. BAD. 

 

I tried to convince her otherwise, but I know that 4-year-olds don’t joke about these things. Cody quickly exited the interstate and stopped at a Taco Bell directly across from Kauffman Stadium (where the Royals play) and Arrowhead Stadium (where the Chiefs play). Much to our dismay, it was open to drive-thru traffic only. Thanks, COVID-19.

 

By this point, tears were streaming down Caroline’s cheeks. 

 

He then hastily drove around a vacant parking lot and pulled behind a dumpster just off the I-70 freeway traffic of Kansas City. We were so close I could see cars zipping past us through a chain link fence.

 

“What are we doing here?” I asked.

 

“This is the last place to stop before Kansas City traffic stalls us. It’s now or never,” he responded. It was 5:00 PM CST.

 

I got Caroline out of the truck and looked around. I was fairly certain I had recently listened to a true crime podcast about this exact parking lot not long ago, but desperate times call for desperate pit stops. 

 

We walked over to a grove of trees and I studied the debris on the ground before encouraging her to take care of business. A lot of coordination and sanitary measures went into the next few moments, but you need not know those details. My fear is that Caroline will remember this pit stop when she’s 30. 

 

All of the sudden, loud sirens began blaring on the interstate just 20 yards from us. Absolutely startled, Caroline takes off running through the thicket and across the parking lot…pants not yet up.

 

“Caroline!” I called out. “What are you doing?!”

 

“Run Mommy! We’re going to jail for pottying in the ditch!” she screamed. 

 

So there I was. 

 

90° heat outside Kansas City with a 4-year-old running pantless around a parking lot screaming about getting arrested. When did life take such a turn?

 

While running to catch her, I had serious concerns going through my own head about her seemingly innate decision to run from the law. 

 

Cyrus handled the long trip (and dramatic big sister) like a champion. He tolerated diaper changes in the bed of the truck and somehow had the sun in his eyes 80% of the time. On the way home we were fueling up when a panhandler came to the truck asking for money. Cody was inside the store, so it was just me and the kids. After telling her no multiple times (I’d actually watched she and a man get out of their car and approach several people before coming to us), Cyrus chimed in from the backseat with, “No! No! No!” 


 

It was a good life lesson: If my dog or my kid doesn’t trust you, I probably won’t either. 

 

We’re home safely now. I always set out on these road strips with a bit of nostalgia running through my head (packed full of great expectations). I envision a family of four on a calm scenic drive maybe down US 40, enjoying the views and the company. Very Rockwell-esque. Then reality sets in and I realize anytime the four of us load up into the truck and head towards those Kansas plains we more resemble the Griswolds. 

 

Clark Griswald, 1983: Why aren't we flying? Because getting there is half the fun. You know that.




 

I’m not convinced.