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:


“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.