Friday, August 15, 2014

The Majority Heads to School

Like everyone, I'm sure, you've seen a lot of cute pictures on Facebook, showcasing new backpacks, new running shoes, a new year.

We did the same. It's been an exciting day so far, and it's only 8:15. My girls headed to school: a fourth grader (who has a new, excited, and YOUNG teacher. I think I could be her mother.), a second grader (who's best friend is in the SAME CLASS!!!), and--deep breath--a KINDERGARTENER!! Amelia is ready for kindergarten, but is kindergarten ready for her???

However, the biggest excitement (despite the fact that I will only have ONE child at home for a few weeks…before I have two more, but whatever.), is that Joe has headed back to the classroom as well! Yes, Farmer Joe, my farmer, has made a leap into the educational world, after 7 years of "just farming" (side note: I hate saying, "just farming," because farming is full time and hard work, but when we started our endeavor as a farm family, it was to be on a semi-part time basis with a steady job and paycheck on the side. Hopefully, I haven't offended any full timers, because, believe me, I get it.). Anyway, Joe started his career 15 years ago as an ag teacher. He loved it. He was good at it. He was moved up the "ladder," so to speak, until the economy tanked, and schools ran out of money to hire his services. He not only taught kids in the classroom, but he supervised teachers in the state of Illinois, and then moved on to develop curriculum and trained teachers across the country…from Delaware to California to Texas. He presented in front of the USDA in Washington, DC…he was a big deal. He is a big deal, and this step back into the classroom makes me want to BURST with pride. 

My dude is a smart one, and it's time for him to show it to the community. 

Plus, he's pretty cute. Please tell me you like his pattern-on-pattern tie…he wasn't convinced, but like a good husband, he wore it!! 

So the majority of my house was gone by 7:30, and that is just plain strange. A good strange. Although it's weird to have Amelia, Jack's partner in crime, gone all day, I'm not the mom that cries at the bus stop. I am made of steel, friends…just kidding. However, I taught. I know that the girls are getting the best love and the great experiences all kids need in school. I loved school, too, even though I cried every day of first grade, but we won't go into that today. I loved it so much that I became a teacher. I think that's another reason why I'm so excited for Joe to start his new chapter. As a teacher, I bloomed. I made lifelong friends with my colleagues and parents. Heck, they even bought me diamond earrings for my wedding day…that's the type of relationships I had as a teacher. I'm so hopeful that Joe will find that bond with his fellow staffers, as being a farmer can be a lonely profession. 

This is going to be good.

So, we have a big day, my boy and I, as the majority is out of here. Right now, he's singing as he watches for birds in his Batman cape. He needs this time, too, before more changes rock his world, but for now, I'm so excited that my people have embarked on another year…and it's not just because I don't have to make lunch for more than two people.

Happy first day of school, my loves.







Tuesday, August 12, 2014

When Did Canned Food Drives Become Controversial?

Oh friends.

It's the last week of summer vacation here, and like the last few days of summer fun, my spark has waned. Maybe it's because I'm entering the hardest part of carrying twins. Maybe it's because I'm ready for a change. Maybe it's just because there are times I want to just beat my head against a wall because I feel as if I STILL can't advocate for conventional agriculture properly.

Case in point: yesterday. As I sat at a staff meeting at work, hearing all the great things our United Way staffers have been working on (have I ever mentioned how great it is to work for an organization that, with the help of the community and generous corporate matches raises roughly 12 million dollars a year? In just PEORIA, Illinois? That's pretty impressive.), we reached the point in our meeting where we discussed our rather large scale food drive that is organized in conjunction with our campaign's kickoff.

A very sweet lady on our staff raised her hand then and asked if we could please have the grocery stores and drop off points specify that we would prefer organic canned goods so that, and I quote, "healthy foods can go into our family's mouths."

Say WHAT?

As I sat there, with a few glances from some coworkers who know me well and read this blog…I froze. This was work. This was where I was a literacy project manager, not an agriculture advocate. However, my life as a spokesperson (well, the few years anyway) flashed before my eyes. Yet, I was frozen. FROZEN. Both of my bosses were there at the table, do I dare create waves? And was she SERIOUS? Isn't a canned tomato a canned tomato, and not a bag of Fritos? And weren't we feeding the hungry? Would they really turn down a food donation bag if it were all conventionally produced.

My head was swimming, and for what seemed like hours, I sat there, mouth agape, and still receiving looks like, "you're going to say something, aren't you?"

Finally, I pulled myself together and said something like, "As a conventional agriculturalist, I absolutely disagree with this, food is food."

And that was it.

Now, if you know me, I am rarely at a loss for words, but I hardly knew where to begin, and again, I WAS AT WORK. And since when did canned food drives become a battle ground for conventional vs. organic food? And WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? Why couldn't I speak up for myself, our plight, our beliefs, research I have quoted…

Ugh.

I blame it on pregnancy, but in reality, it was because I felt painted in a corner. I wasn't sure how to approach the topic in a staff meeting. It wasn't the appropriate time to have a discussion about organic vs. conventional practice and choice and statistics, etc. Even though I was frustrated about my lack of a poignant statement in regards to the food wars, I guess what frustrated me was that what she was suggesting that we, as a staff, as a marketing campaign, to market a more "healthy" campaign to our very generous donors of food. A choice was asked to be set out in the forefront of the canned food drive, and it was one that was based on false pretenses.

Now, I'm NOT contending that you're not allowed to go out and buy canned organic tomatoes and give them to the needy. I'm not contending that organic farmers are any less of a farmer than we are, but to market it as more healthy is FALSE. A tomato is a tomato. Wash it, peel it, cook it, dump it out of the can. It doesn't take a powerful statement to plead the case that a can of tomatoes (organic or conventional) in a food pantry basket is more healthy for a family than Cheetos or shells and processed cheese. However, to market it as healthy from a non-agricultural perspective, just an emotional plea is FALSE.

So why couldn't I have said that yesterday?

Oh well. The food controversy wages on, my friends, and it's not just what you put in your basket for your mouth. We're moving onto the needy.

So much more work to be done…if I just had the energy.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Hitting the Fork in the Road

So I'm a day late and dollar short (thanks for the phrase, Kathleen!), and thus my happy anniversary post to my husband…a day late.

And I was not a dollar short, but quarantined to my home this week, so not even a card was exchanged.

However, we enjoyed a lovely time yesterday at my cousin's beautiful wedding, and dined on my uncle's dime, so Joe was off the hook for dinner! Thanks, Uncle Jeff!!
Us, August 2, 2014

While the same exact date, eleven years ago, Joe and I were truly quite different people, in different places (geographically and career wise), and had the whole rest of our lives ahead of us. Watchingmy cousin and her new husband (who are the sweet, tender age of 23 and 24…was I EVER that young???), exchange their vows and enjoy the night, I couldn't help but replay our night, eleven years ago. Dancing, good food, good friends, a beautiful ceremony (despite a little hail…yes, HAIL), but where we were in that moment is what got to me.

And us, August 2, 2003


Joe was poised to be a force in ag education and training. I was teaching, but was ready to start my first semester in an educational administration program, tracking me to be a principal in five years. We traveled; we ate out; we even had a pool in our backyard.

Seriously.

A pool. And a principal? Who the heck did I think I was? Grad school was college without the fun. And a pool. Honestly...

Anyway, looking at Joe and me eleven years ago and comparing us to who we are today would be unfair. Life has thrown us curve balls, has changed our paths, has exhausted and excited us. In our eleven years, we started with a plan, but that's okay. However, this year has caused us to look at each other and feel a day late, and a dollar short (sometimes literally). Our life plan has changed. Our life path has hit a fork, and we are standing at this crossroads, hand in hand, but looking at it in bewilderment.

This has been a hard year, one for the books, actually. But the thing is, when you're with someone who you know has your best interest and your love in the forefront of his decisions, even if you're not on the same page with all the time…maybe not even in the same book, for that matter, you can face that fork and forge through together.

Joe and I covet your prayers. Our marriage is strong, but with trials come stress, with change comes consternation, with great big scary life altering events come big fat hairy exciting blessings.

It's been an interesting and unpredictable eleven years, Joe Webel…and we're planners! In fact, right after we got engaged, we told my parents, we shared with friends, and then scheduled an appointment with the financial advisor. Such a romantic…

So, in spite of our stress, in spite of our exhausting and overwhelmingly full household, here's to many, many more forks in the road. Let's keep plugging away, surviving, thriving and planning only to have our plans laughed at, but let's keep doing it together.

I love you, Farmer Joe.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The BlogHer That Never Was

Remember this?


Oh so happy. Oh so free. Oh so alone. Yet, kind of having back pain…

Well, fast forward from that picture to a few hours later, and we were in communication with my doctor in regards to severe back pain, and I'll spare you all the gory details, but it wasn't pretty. 

He told me to cancel my trip.

I never made it to BlogHer14.

My bags were packed. Every electronic I was bringing was charged. Friends were contacted to meet for dinners, drinks (water for me), and sessions were being discussed.

I was ready.

Alas, it was not meant to be.

Instead, on Thursday, when I was supposed to be sipping decaf coffee with my friend Katie in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, I was being wheeled through the emergency room to be treated for a severe kidney infection.

Have you ever had one of those?

I've had four kids, and this pain was comparable to the worst labor pains I had with each one.

Fun times.

I spent my vacation time hooked up to IV fluids, receiving sonograms (babies are A-OK, by the way), barfing in front of good friends (Sorry, David and Katie), and being very thankful to be in the care of skilled health care professionals instead of in a hotel room across the country with a potentially dangerous health issue.

And still…

As I was enjoying the comfort of pain meds, I lived vicariously through the friends who were enjoying BlogHer14. It looked like a great time. I'm sure I would have had fun. Am I glad I didn't make it there, absolutely. Am I sorry to have missed out on the fun, of course, but you cannot choose your schedule some times, and I think this may have been a clue from the Big Guy to SLOW THE HECK DOWN.

So, that's what I'm doing…no poignant post about how BlogHer14 changed my writing life, or what new friends I made. Nope…I'm just happy to be able to pee today.

And that needs to be enough for now.

Until next year, BlogHer14. I'll bring the twins.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Boomerang

Today was Anna's 4H Livestock Show.

When I say I really have nothing to do with Anna's 4H experience, it is no understatement. While she and Joe had headed to the general projects show on Saturday, I stayed at home with the kids (and maybe took a nap). Yesterday, they loaded up to take the cattle to the weigh-in, while I loaded up my kids to the country club pool.

Today, however, I went to the show, loading up my crew and snacks and toys once again, putting on shoes I didn't care about, and herded my friends to the fairgrounds.

The fairgrounds I went to as a child.

The fairgrounds in my home county.

The fairgrounds where my uncle, my dad, and now my girl had/have their hands in the livestock show.

As I pulled into the fairgrounds lot, careful to park in an area that wouldn't have to back up around trailers (have I mentioned I'm terrible at backing up? Even with sensors and a camera? Sheesh.), it hit me.

These are my people.

The people in the stands, the names on the animals were all familiar, if not darned friendly. Name after name after name were of people I knew from towns I grew up around, played sports against, and thought I would never, ever see again.

Ever.

However, I boomeranged.

I'm back in my home county, and now that we have kids involved in county events, it's more apparent that I am truly home. As she took the ring, she did so with a young man from a family who have known me since the toddler years, had my dad as a teacher, went to church with my aunt and uncle.

The man in the ring, guiding the cattle, assisting as needed? He's the dad of kids I used to always babysit for.

The guy cleaning out the chicken coops as the little kids and I walked through, killing time between classes? He's my old neighbor who teaches Ag at my high school.

On and on and on and on I walked around seeing people I hadn't seen in years, and who didn't expect me to be there. I must have made it abundantly clear I was never coming back.

The best part? Our name was pronounced right. Not just ours, my cousin's (Mottaz, my maiden name…I know, I went from bad to worse in the name department) was pronounced correctly. When my girl won Reserve Grand Champion, we had a cheering section, even though my parents are on opposite sides of the country this week. Neighbors, friends, relatives. People knew us. They recognized us. They were supporting us.

It was surreal.

While speaking to a couple I have known all my life, who have been 4H leaders long since their kids have left the hallowed halls of 4H, I spoke of moving home to the "home farm." Pete, the dad, choked up as he spoke of the honor it was to have his daughter and family in the same situation.

I never thought of moving back to the home county in a way that would choke up my dad.

But it means something.

My boomeranging isn't just nice because I have someone to talk to at cattle shows, someone to cheer on Anna as she won Junior Showmanship (YES… SHE DID THAT, TOO!! Proud, proud mama!!), it's nice because it means something. While I never was a huge 4Her, I was a Knox County girl, and am a Knox County girl, and when people know your history, your beginning, that's a big deal. A comfort. A happy place to be when you're sharing your home with your children.

The lure of what's bigger and better and broader is strong. I felt it. I needed to branch out. I'm happy I did, and there are days I wish I could head back, but the boomerang affect is strong. Roots are stronger. Friendly faces and correct pronunciation of names may seem small, but in a big, big world, it's nice to come home to a familiar place.

Today, I truly came home, and I couldn't be prouder.


Such a great day for such a hard worker! Great job, Anna!!!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Bit on the Edge

Joe and I are a little on edge this week.

We dropped off our oldest at camp this week (five miles from our house, mind you, yet still away from us and our eyes) for the first time. If you've ever sent a kid to camp, it's a little disconcerting. She's my helper with the little ones; Joe's helper on the farm. We're a little lost, and a little freaked out.

Hay is also happening, as late as it may seem. Mowing hay, baling hay before the random rains hit, and getting everything and everyone ready before the hay choppers come today have been on Joe's to-do list for weeks, and today's the day the choppers come. He's a LOT on edge. It's 7:20 in the morning, and he's already been up on the top of the silo.

However, our crops look good. That should make us a little less freaked out, however, on Monday night, as Joe was scrolling Facebook, posts from friends in his home county were flooding his news feed. A three year old had wandered into a corn field, just after 6:30, a storm was coming, and after a few hours (A FEW HOURS), search teams from neighboring towns, counties, even helicopters were called in.

A three year old.

Like our son.

By the grace of God, this child was found, safe, SIX HOURS LATER, near midnight, but can you imagine? Can you imagine the fear this sweet little girl felt as storms raged above her head, surrounded by green, green and more green. And what about the parents? I don't even want to go there. There are no words for the anguish and helplessness and fear I would feel.

As I sit here, my backyard is surrounded on two sides by corn, in tight rows for greater yield potential, taller than my tallest relative. While looking out there on this beautiful morning should give me a sense of hope for a bumper crop and great harvest, today, it makes me completely freaked out. Jack is adventurous and inquisitive. I, though I try, can't be everywhere at all times, and it could happen- to anyone.

This story has led us to quiz Jack about the safety of our backyard. We've successfully freaked out our older two kids (we'll work on Anna when she gets home) with this story. I won't shelter them from the danger of this story, as it's IN OUR BACKYARD.

So, we're a bit on edge.

The country life offers calm, peace, and tranquility. However, small things can turn into big ones in the blink of an eye. We are so thankful that this family in Pike County found their little girl safe, but scared, and that this will be a learning moment for folks out in the sticks who use cornfields as fences.

For now, however, I'll keep Jack especially away from the backyard border, enticing him with bubbles and sticks fashioned into swords and all the things he loves to play with…in the front yard.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Just the Right Tool

Have you ever decided to get a project crossed off your list, only to find that the exact tool you need is nowhere to be found?

This happens to me every single time I clean out the garage. 

Every.
Single.
Time.

You see, when you live in the country,  and especially our country (read: dirty, gross road), your garage becomes the most ridiculously disgusting display of Little Tykes toys, John Deere Power Wheels, and cattle necessities. Seriously. Now as adults, we spend time in friends' garages during parties in town. I always take a good look around and marvel at the lack of nastiness. This attention to detail (read: anxiety) has been in my persona since I was just a kid. When we'd go play with our "country friends," I remember being worried about the amount of dust and cobwebs they had in their playhouse. I was not only afraid of getting dirty, but was curious how everything was so dirty in the first place. Town playhouses and garages were not this gross.

However, that's how it is in the country, and our garage is the epitome of our dirt road life. All of our kids' bikes have a small film of dust on them, even after I hose them off. Our lawn chairs are brought to ball games with just a slight bit of grime on them. Each freezer needs a good dusting once in a while. It's gross. Don't even get me started on the amount of dead bugs in our garage's window sills. Blech.

For a person like me, it's enough to send my anxiety to the roof.

I try to turn a blind eye.

I try to embrace my country life, love my dirt road and my constant state of film as character.

But on a day like today, I couldn't take it any more.

Thus, I needed my shop broom.

Do you have one of these? If you're a town dweller, as I was (once upon a time), you probably use it to push your lawn clippings off the well maintained sidewalks. You probably sweep your garage twice a year, and don't make but a small pile of dust and rogue leaves. 

I have one of these, and it makes my pile of dust and grit and, even one time, a dead bird, so much easier. However, I usually have to beg one of the farmers to return it.

Today was no exception. 

My boy was happily riding his John Deere Gator (not caring that it is filthy…ahh, the innocence of a carefree non-anxious child), so I figured it was time. As I unloaded my garage, moved all the dusty toys, old appliances that have yet to be taken to be recycled (why have I not done that yet??), and moved my car, I realized it was gone. 

My shop broom is just the right tool for this job, thanks to the sheer quantity of nastiness and grime that our garage seems to house. However, it is also just the right tool for about 15 other jobs on the farm, such as keeping the stalls clean in our barn, sweeping out the shop, and sweeping out the bin when it is nearly empty of grain. Regardless, it's never on my hook in my garage.

It's a handy little devil, and handy little devils tend to walk away, just when you need them.

I did get my garage cleaned out today, don't worry, I just used an old kitchen broom, which worked well as I knocked off old bug bodies and cobwebs from corners. No dead birds today! Score!

Maybe some day we'll have a lovely garage with just a puff of dust, and my shop broom can be loaned out whenever, and I'll never miss it.

But for now, I'd ask nicely for my shop broom to make its return, because in a matter of days minutes, our garage will be dusty again.

Or maybe I'll just run to town and get a new one...