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. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Bale Net Abode

It was just before dawn, and I was scraping bacon grease out of the iron skillet when something caught my eye. I stood still and studied the familiar but out-of-place colors. Green and white hay bale netting hung from the ancient spruce in our yard, swaying in the early breeze like a ribbon without care.

 

“How did that end up there?” I thought to myself. Then I poured a cup of coffee. 

 

Days later, the netting was gone, and I assumed it had finally blown away. 

 

Then the late April wind came. 

 

Caroline let go of the screen door, and it smacked against the side of the house.

Cyrus’s hat flew across the yard towards the highway, and I scolded him for chasing it. 

Hair was whipping across my face as I tried to take phone calls on the resistant side of the grain bin. No one on the other end could hear me. The wind was terrible atop our hill!

 

The following morning, we suited up for chores and walked outside to find not one but two bird nests laying on the ground beneath the ancient spruce. They were very different. 

 

One was quite large and constructed very loosely, using twigs, grass, stems, and black hair the birds had found chute-side.

 

My jaw dropped as we inspected the second nest because the second nest was a masterpiece. 

 

It was perfectly bowl-shaped, constructed of hay, sticks, hair, mud and green and white hay bale netting and tightly bound, sturdy from the dried mud. The familiar green and white hay bale netting was interwoven throughout the natural resources. 

 

This nest was a work of art!


 

We studied the rural architecture and differences in design. We reviewed materials and procurement, concluding that if to scale to fit our needs, they would have been $200,000 homes in rural Economy, Indiana.  

 

But no longer. 

 

Because on that particular morning after the wind, they were nothing but high-rise houses on the ground. And though I hate to question the strength of others, I doubt a bird was able to swoop down and lift its own home back into the limbs of the spruce. 

 

Caroline carried the sturdy nest all over the farm for two days, hauling it in her jeep, filling it with rocks, and showing the barn cats. As a mother who works to keep our small house in order, I felt compassion for the bird who had built this home, returned to find it blown away, then watched a 4 ½-year-old tote the dwelling all over the farm.

 

Can you imagine the work that went into building such a treasure, only to have it blown away by spring wind? 

 

I suppose we’ve all felt disappointment as such, whether it be a work project, home investment, relationship, or dear friendship, that we’ve poured our heart and energy into only to watch it fall apart.

 

But remember: 

 

Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? — Matthew 6:26

 

Some birds do little more than cover our cars in white, but God still cares for and values them. Just as your value doesn’t change when disappointment, shame, fear, or regret cover your heart. God loves and values every part of you. 

 

I began writing this early last week and can only finish as time allows. But I wanted to share that as I conclude for deadline, there is again bale netting hanging from the exact same branch in our spruce tree. 



This bird is persistent and hard-working, resourceful and motivating. Reminding us that no matter what life throws at you, there is hope. 

 

There is always hope. 

 

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Buyer 178 Strikes Local Gold

“You do not need anything. Anything! What you buy today, your kids will have to sell at an auction in 50 years. This stuff has been in a closet for 40 years. You. Do. Not. Need. Anything. Anything!” 

I gave myself a pep talk on repeat as I walked down the long farm lane, lined with cars and trucks from multiple states. A farm estate auction was taking place today, and there is just something about rummaging through other people’s junk that some people find irresistible. I’m one of those people. 


 

A favorite holiday tradition growing up was when we would drive down this same long farm lane and deliver a fruit basket with a beautiful bow to the three siblings that lived in at the homestead: Susie, Kermit, and Dude. To me, they were ages 145, 185, and 175, respectively, but you would really get them out of their chairs when company arrived. Especially company with fresh fruit. They always ushered us to the living room with great enthusiasm.

 

We’d sit in their dimly lit living room and visit for quite a while. Susie did most of the talking, Dude would chime in every so often, laughing without any teeth and Kermit said maybe 10 words during the duration of the conversation. Kermit was quiet and gentle. Sitting in their living room was like stepping back in time; the d├ęcor hadn’t changed in decades and aged family heirlooms hung on the walls. 

 

Over the years I read the obituaries of Susie, Kermit, and Dude, so when I saw their farm auction advertised, I didn’t want to miss the event. 

 

It drew a crowd.

 

Much like the funeral home, farm auctions are a surefire way to see neighbors you haven’t visited in some time, old classmates, and extended family members. At this particular event, I was able to ask a local farmer why I saw smoke at his place recently, visit with several co-op customers and rub elbows with a lot of very ordinary people. 


My kind of people.   

 




I got a bidder number (obviously my repeated self-pep talk didn’t work) and walked around the interior of the home, only curious to see if it was as I remember. Not a thing had changed. The house was cleaned out greatly and every piece of furniture was marked with a lot number, but it still smelled exactly as I recall. Isn’t it amazing how a smell can take you to a place and time? 

 

Countless salt-n-pepper shakers, feed pans, atlases, glassware, quilts, dressers, gas cans…the amount of stuff up for grabs was astonishing. Unless it has a connection to our family or Shorthorn or Angus cattle, I can usually pass over things pretty quickly. 


 

Then I spotted a box labeled “Scrapbooks.” I reached in my back pocket to ensure I still had my bidder number. 


 

There is something about other people’s stories that completely intrigues me. I leafed through a few of the tattered books and knew I’d found a goldmine for historians (or neighborhood snoops). Someone in the family had cut out hundreds of newspaper articles from the 1940s-1960s and carefully mounted them in this pile of books. They’d also kept every birthday/graduation/Christmas card over the years. What a treat for someone who once dreamt of working for Hallmark. 

 

Like any auction enthusiast, I stayed close to the treasure I’d found and patiently waited as they sold dated equipment manuals and jewelry before reaching my find. 

 

I’ll half-embarrassingly admit that I spent $40 on that box of old scrapbooks from Susie, Dude, and Kermit. 


But now I have months’ worth of reading ahead of me, seeking familiar names, old faces and stories left only to be told again if the right person stumbles upon them. 


 

“What that?” Cyrus asked as I carried them in the house the other evening. 

 

“Mommy storybooks,” I tried to explain by simplifying. 

 

Caroline came over and studied them, opening one to explore. 

 

“They smell dead,” she remarked. 

 

Who is raising these children?

Friday, April 16, 2021

The Lamb Cake

About a month ago, from dear Angus friends in Michigan I was gifted a Griswold Company cast iron lamb cake mold. I love cooking and baking in cast iron, but I’d never seen such a pan. With the months of February and March being such a blur to our family, I was determined to use this unique mold to create a cake that the kids would adore on Easter weekend. A new tradition awaited. 


In my planning, I’d forgotten that the visions I create in my head and what actually comes to fruition very rarely align. 

 

I browsed the internet to find every imaginable recipe and set of instructions for a Griswold cast iron Easter lamb cake. There are some true icing artists out there! What idyllic family stories Americans cherish with these early lamb molds.  



 

I enlisted the kid’s help to season the mold, make the batter, lick the beaters, and set the toothpicks in place to keep the ears intact. We filled the mold, tied it at the neck, put it in the oven and hoped for the best. 

 

 



As though a baby calf was about to be born, every member of this family peaked through the oven window over the next hour to see what was going on. No change was visible. We know a watched pot never boils, but does a watched lamb cake ever bake?

 

Yes. Yes, it does. 

 

Taking it out of the oven with a crowd breathing down my neck was the easy part. 

 

Keeping the thing alive while removing it from the cast iron required real skill that I wasn’t born with, nor have I acquired in my years. 

 

Everyone watched with bated breath while two of the lamb’s four stomachs fell to the side leaving it quite frail. Then the head fell wayside, clipping off an ear. Finally, one of the delicate legs crumbled onto the platter. 

 

“Take the kids outside,” I told my husband. “This is going to get ugly.”

 

“Uglier than that?” he asked. Then he took the kids outside.

 

What happened next can only be described as fraud. 

 

I strategically placed 8 toothpicks throughout the interior of the lamb, securing its head to its neck, neck to its torso, torso to its hip, hip to its tail and well, you get the picture. It was ugly. Ugly and pokey. 

 

Then I took the lazy woman’s way out and opened not one, but two, cans of icing and proceeded to coat the wooden lamb with 4,000 calories of vanilla icing. It acted as a glue, holding all crumbling parts together and covering the many imperfections. Then came the sprinkles, used as more of a decoy than decoration. I placed two raisins where the face might have been and welcomed my family back into the house.

 

“What is that?” Cyrus asked.

 

“Where is our lamb cake?” Caroline asked. 

 

“This is it, kids! You made this!” I tried to blow some enthusiasm and ownership into the room. 

 

“I thought it was supposed to be a lamb,” said Caroline, deflated. “It looks like a sad cat.”

 

“It does look like someone cut back on the feed too early,” said my husband who consistently accesses real life situations with cattle references. 

 

I rolled my eyes then used a plastic straw to point to the anatomy of the lamb, as clearly, they couldn’t even recognize the head from the tail. 

 

At dinner that night Caroline asked if I could move the lamb cake to the other counter because it was looking at her. 

 

At 9:00 that night Cody asked if I could put it in the refrigerator because it was now looking at him. 

 

“What are you going to do with it?” he asked the next morning over breakfast. 

 

“I can’t just throw it away,” I said. ‘I used real butter….and Mexico vanilla your mom gave us….and almond extract. It’s a good cake,” I justified my creation over a bowl of Cheerios. 

 

“But it scares the kids,” said Cody (voice of reason). “You saw the head fell off again over night?”

 

“Yeah, but who eats the head anyway?” I asked. 

 

Three hours later we’d experienced a lovely Easter service at Centerville Christian Church and we pulled into my parent’s driveway to enjoy Easter lunch with them. I carried a teal Fiestaware platter up to the door.

 

“I thought you were bringing salad?” Mom asked as I carried the foil-covered cake into the house. 

 

Before I could explain my dessert addition, our lovely daughter exclaimed “Don’t eat that cake, Grammie! It’s a cat.”

 

Kids these days.  


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.