Friday, April 30, 2010

This IS Fun!

Joe has been full time farming for three planting seasons, and in those short years we have had one picture perfect, bumper crop, crazy yield year (the first), one where it never stopped raining and was so stressful we all wanted 2009 to be over and done (sorry, Amelia. . . born that June), and then this year, which has yet to be labeled. After finishing with corn last night, Joe came in, did the hand clasp victory move and proclaimed, "This IS fun!"

What guy wouldn't want to work with large equipment, be outside, and play in the dirt for most of his waking hours? What manly man doesn't feel a sense of accomplishment when he hefts large bags of seed (well, not us. . . we're in bulk now!! Whoo-hoo!) off of pallets and into the planter? What man isn't interested in four wheeling around a pasture on a perfect spring day, scoping out what calves have been born that day?

I'm not trying to be sexist, by just referring to men, but in my limited experience, Joe's friends (the men) seem to hang on nearly every word when he explains what a "day in the life of Farmer Joe" is like. Most of these men have somewhat agricultural backgrounds, but even those from the city have many questions regarding equipment, livestock and the like.

I guess the lure of farming to those not in the actual production agriculture biz is that is seems like fun. It would appear to some "outsiders" that it would be relatively stress free, have a flexible schedule, and would be great to own acres and acres of land. This is true, it would be nice to have all these things, but as a young, starting farming family, we don't have a lot of these amenities. With self employment comes no company insurance, a huge line of credit with the bank, and cash rent or sharecropped land. As a new farmer, we don't have the built up experience to know that some years are tough and some are great. We just freak out when it rains buckets, and watch with bated breath out our kitchen window as the wind threatens to knock down growing corn in our backyard. . . that was NOT a fun dinner time conversation.

I was a first year teacher some years back, and was hysterical most of my first semester, having NO idea what it was like to really be a teacher. At the mercy of 21 sixth graders, it some times was comparable to being a newly trained lion tamer. However, by the time I was ready to quit, after having our first child, I had finally figured some things out. Isn't that just the way?

Anyway, like teaching and any new experience, home, community, for that matter, it takes time before it becomes less "work" and more "fun." We are finished with corn in a timely manner, there were no big breakdowns, debacles, or much hysteria. It was fun, and that is exciting. Joe has a few years under his belt, and therefore, can enjoy fun planting seasons like this one.

Although farming is a different type of stress, with depending on God, the weather, and the grain/livestock markets, and whatnot, shouldn't all jobs be considered fun most of the time? Shouldn't work not feel like "work?" In theory, yes, but that doesn't happen much around here. It just feels like we're walking on eggshells.

My hope for the bean planting season, in the next few weeks, is that it will be written in our record books as one that was fun (and maybe even a little profitable come fall!).

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rain Days

As a kid, and then later as a teacher, I ADORED snow days. They were filled with possibility, pancakes, and sleep! As a farmer's wife, now, rain days (depending upon the number of consecutive ones. . . last year was not the year to rejoice in the rain) are comparable to snow days. Joe is usually near the house, able to help with the kids to give me an opportunity to run to the grocery store without having to talk about every single purchase, what letter it starts with, and why we cannot buy PEZ dispensers.

This weekend, "they" (who are these weather gods anyway?) are calling for rain. Now, I have quite a dilemma. Typically, rain is a really good thing for the new crops. We have been able to "row" crops that are already in, which means, from the road, see little promises of corn plants (it's still too early for beans to be in the ground here) in their perfect little rows. Anyway, this weekend is a race in which I have been in training for quite some time. The girls are in the youth run (a 1K, isn't that funny?), and we are returning to our dear Alma Mater for the weekend. It's supposed to rain.

As a runner, I should be disappointed in this, however, as a farm wife, I am ECSTATIC! I don't have to be a single mom, or beg my mom to come and babysit the girls while I participate. We can actually do this activity as a family!!!! Oh the JOY!!

Farmers are not the only folks at the mercy of the weather, it's all really relative to whomever you are. We all want green grass, but not a flooded basement. Don't most adults need sunlight to get kids out in the yard, attend Little League games, and just be a generally nice person. Isn't a rainy day good for all of us to not feel like we have to be potting plants, mowing the grass, pushing the kids in the swings, plant the garden, and grill out dinner. . . all simultaneously, of course!

My Facebook alerts in regards to this run and the potential rain have been pretty funny. I laugh at the comments of, "OH NO!" or "I am hoping for it to be sunny!" That was me, just a few years ago. Now I have a piece of me that would like to not have to run 13 miles in a torrential downpour, but if it means that Joe can be there to watch me and the big girls cross the finish line, and will give our crops a well deserved drink, I'll take it!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Money vs. Wealth

Early in our relationship, Joe and I would discuss money. Just weeks after we had become engaged, he wanted me to meet with his financial advisor (what 27 year old has a financial advisor???). When we were first married we were fortunate enough to be DINKS (double income, no kids), had just bought a house, and were enjoying such fine things as season Illini basketball tickets and trips here and there. We would discuss my great talent of finding ways to spend our money, and Joe's inability to spend ANYTHING. We had differing views on spending vs. saving, and I always will contend had I not married Joe, I would be deeply in debt with an awesome collection of shoes.

Fast forward nearly seven years, and the discussions are still there, just without my job, but three kids and a paycheck that is at the mercy of the weather. Just today, Joe was talking about what it would be like if he were able to get a new (or new-ish) truck, but that we wouldn't be seeing much income until October. uhhhh. . .what did he say??? OCTOBER???



Farmers have a dirty little secret. Well, maybe just a secret from me (or selective hearing), but either way, it is that grain checks come only when the grain goes to the elevator. In the fall. As in a few times a year.

Anyone else sweating?

The first grain check I took to the bank was more than I had EVER made as a teacher, and I asked Joe what the teller would say. His answer, "It's named Farmers State Bank, Emily."


Anyway, what I have noticed in the farm world is that they all talk about prices and markets and costs and loans, but they never really get anywhere with the discussion. What I have come to realize is that farmers (around me), are more concerned with wealth rather than money. Cash is handy, don't get me wrong. It pays the bills, helps with the wife's once in awhile shopping fix, pays for preschool. But wealth is on the forefront of a farmer's mind. Owning land, good equipment, and storage are far more important to a farmer than having money to throw around on frivolities. A friend once sent me a picture of her dad in a Corvette, and my dad laughed at the picture, saying, "Do you know how MANY Corvettes we could have if we were to add up the machine shed's contents?"

Yet we still do not have a Corvette.

Here I sit tonight, with a list to purchase from of "necessities," and I hesitate. I- a self proclaimed SPENDER- am hesitating at the thought of spending 50 bucks on a piece of baby gear that is not necessary, because I know that the buck has stopped here for awhile. Don't worry, Joe's still using his financial advisor, and we have a budget, but this once in a lifetime paycheck idea is still foreign to me. I'm struggling with the money vs. wealth debate. My hope is that some how we can meet in the middle. That, and maybe I can get my "hook on" baby seat without much guilt!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Gold Standard of Farmwives

Every year, I have been told, Monsanto honors the Mom of the Year. I read the criteria, upon receiving an email from a sweet friend (sent to Joe, but I still read it), and hoped that Joe would consider me worthy of this coveted title. . . well, mostly I wanted to win the money to pay for my landscaping project and maybe a new patio set, but whatever. Anyway, I checked the Monsanto website and read up on the finalists, and holy moly. . . I have a LOT to live up to.


These women are not just hauling food and kids around! They're keeping the books, driving the tractors, hauling the grain, all while leading 4H clubs and youth groups and volunteer organizations and making their own jam. So it got me to thinking, am I really a farm wife? Am I really doing all I can as a part of this operation?

I took a minute to see how the women in my family took part on the farm for the past few generations, as one of the nominees credited that she was a third generation farm wife. . . well, I'm at LEAST a four generation one. . . why can't I make jam? Seriously, the women in our family farm operation have not been the tractor driving kind, but they have a HUGE job on the farm. To this day, my almost 96 year old grandma keeps the record books for my uncle's operation. My paternal grandma wrote all the checks, all the time. My mom signs her life away on a regular basis on equipment and land loans. If you don't think that's love. . . try signing off on a HUGE chunk of cash, and have the banker mention that if it's not paid up, the "assets will be seized." Yargh.

Anyway, I appreciate and am really amazed at the women honored by Monsanto, so don't take this the wrong way, but where are the women who are keeping it all together while doing things "non farmy?" All the women honored had amazing credentials in agri business, livestock management, and crop science. But where were the teachers, nurses, and business women who keep their kids in line, men happy (through regular feedings. . .this I know for sure!), and lives in order on the homefront? Where was the stay at home mom who is helping to raise the kids, shuttling them to and from school, playdates, church functions, all while trying to keep a garden, nice home, and trying to live on a shoestring budget?

So it again got me to think, what's Monsanto know about the Gold Standard of Farmwives? Who am I to worry about what a company thinks is the best of the best? I am going to try to get more involved in our operation . .. baby steps, people, I'm not talking about a semi driver's licence, I'm just considering learning how to turn the grain bin fans off. I shouldn't hold myself up to these women because I'm cut from a different mold. My hope is that next year as I read the biographies of these amazing women, I'll have more in common with them. . . and they'll maybe have more in common with me.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Essence of Time

I have ten minutes to complete my thoughts today. Literally. Josie is riding with Joe as I write (in the "TurboChopperFreeFousand"), Amelia's napping, and Anna is working on her dog sitting business badges (gotta love the working spirit of a five year old. . .she feels it's time to earn her keep!).

Time is on the brain today. Yesterday was time to start; now it's time to keep going; time to go, go, go! Hysteria has not set in, as the weather is cooperating, and it's technically still "early," according to family lore. April 25th is the magic day when corn should be planted, in my family's beliefs. Any date before then that we can get in and get started is just gravy. Whatever the magic date is, farmers stick to that, and once the date is approaching it's time to hustle.

Once the prime time has passed, however, time becomes a hot commodity around here. My quest for being a true farm wife is truly tested, as I have to masterfully craft meals that will not only stick to Joe's ribs throughout a long day, but remain hot or cold when he's way back in the back of a field. We watch as the planter, chopper, whatever turns and starts to make a pass toward the house, and then load up and head out with the provisions.

Time spent with our resident farmer is precious, too. Although it's bumpy and dirty, even my girly girl Josie wants to sit in the tractor cab with Daddy to steal a few minutes with him. I have learned in my short time as a farm wife that during planting, my requests for Joe need to be prioritized, and I should always preface my "honey dos," with "this will just take a second. . . "

Time's ticking, and it's ticking fast. Everyone is excited that we're in the field, but there's still a nervous pace in the farmers' steps. Even though I truly know that I am a schedule and time freak, this race against time is one that may drive a person crazy. The race against time is one you can't win, but don't tell farmers, they're too busy trying to beat the clock.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


With the calving season winding down, and planting season gearing up, there's a difference in the way our farm, and thus, our family is getting along these days. Although the unpredictability of calving is over, we Webels still cannot be considered a "regularly scheduled family." I have come to realize that farming is not only unpredictable, but there are some assumptions that a farm wife during a busy season should NEVER make.

Assumption #1: Never assume that because a Saturday worked the way you needed it to, the following Saturday could be scheduled the same way. Since calving is nearly complete, Joe's Saturday chores are a lot more flexible, thus, Joe is available to help with the kids so I can have some time to do a Saturday long run. However, this picture perfect Saturday plan I had in mind did not include that Joe was working on the Turbo Chopper 3000, trying to be ready to go out for a birthday dinner (for me) that night.

Which leads me to Assumption #2: Do not make plans, and assume that your farmer can a) commit to come a week--strike that a day-- in advance and b) would be okay with you going ahead and going without him. Seriously, I cannot win in this situation. I was born, lucky me, during planting season, and although I want to go to a nice dinner with friends tonight, because it's been hot, dry, and windy, all signs point to working day and night in the field.

Which leads me to Assumption #3: Don't assume that because the conditions seem perfect that all of the new equipment will work properly. As I write this, I see legs and a few ball caps buzzing around the new planter, as the farmers try to figure out why the fertilizer is not coming out the way it should. Did I mention it's Saturday, when a lot of things are not as readily available as on a week day. Thank goodness we helped fund the new Kliene's building in Brimfield with our equipment purchases. . . they're on the scene.

My final assumption, #4, is to not believe that the harried expressions, short conversations, and lack of details mean that the farmers are upset with what's going on at the homestead. Farming is a crapshoot- no assumptions there- and I am trying not to take personally that even though my girls are desperate for their dad's attention, and he breezes in, kisses them good night and falls asleep on the couch, doesn't mean he doesn't love them. He's preoccupied. This is the beginning of a growing season. The promise of a plentiful harvest means the opportunity to save money for the new truck Joe dreams of, or Josie's preschool tuition for next year or the purchasing of our own ground.

My psyche is at peace when my schedule is easy. My hope is that I can learn to go with the flow better. . .and maybe get a birthday dinner out of the deal!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Christmas in April

There is a buzz around my house today. The farmers are hustling from place to place. There's a trip planned to Canton for some hoses. A guy with a vac has come to work on sucking out the last few loads of grain from the bin to take to the elevator. The planter is hooked up and getting its final zerks (is that even a word??) greased. The Precision Planting guy even came during dinner and both Dad and Joe left ribeyes to get cold to go out and work on the planter.

Was that because the steaks weren't done to their liking?

No, it's because it's Christmas in April.

Santa Spring has come and the boys are all a flutter. We have various pieces of equipment out and being checked and worked on and such. There are some farmers even in the fields working, which, as we drove to preschool, Anna informed me that they weren't "doing it right, like Daddy." When I asked her to clarify, she said, "Mom! Look at the DIRT! It's WET! We don't want to get in until it's ready."

Silly me! Even though Anna thinks her old mom isn't wise in the world of farming, I do know that the farmers around here wait until window of opportunity is just perfect. . . which is a very, teeny, tiny window, so once that window is open, the guys will roll and go until the weather cuts them off. Everyone is a little trigger happy this spring, thanks to last year's rain and all its glory. However, we're waiting, as Anna says, until it's just right, just like a good little kid on Christmas morning. . . waiting for Mom and Dad to wake up until the presents can be unwrapped.

My preparation for planting is similar to my prep for Christmas: a lot of behind the scenes work. Like Christmas, shopping is key during planting season. Not only do I have to provide the regular fare for the girls, but I also have to hunt for the perfect "farm food:" food to be either packed and taken on the go or eaten well after the kids are put to bed. The job of this farm wife during this time is basically to be ready to load the kids in the car and take food, pick up farmers or parts in a moment's notice. Whenever I get a call that starts with, "Where are you right now?" or "Is anyone sleeping?" I know that I'm in for the gift of a trip to somewhere.

While planting season is unpredictable and some times frustrating (due to my control freak issues!), this Christmas in April time is a blessing. There is no happier farmer around here than a busy farmer. The best gift is a perfect spring day, with no breakdowns, and a Kit Kat bar in the lunch box.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Grass Is Greener

When Joe and I were first married we received what I believed to be the ultimate guy gift: a John Deere Lawnmower. We lived in town at the time and had a beautifully landscaped yard. Joe would "farm" our yard, keeping the grass at the perfect height, trimming around all that needed to be trimmed, even pruning the bushes and fruit trees that bordered our neighbors' yards. He loved to farm our yard.

When we moved to the farm, however, the lawn got to be more like a meadow, at times reaching Anna's knees when she was a toddler. The trees planted to replace the 20 that were knocked down by a tornado 15 years ago (why did we wait so long. . .that's a family mystery!) were planted by a local nursery. As for the landscaping. . .well, it's nonexistent.

As a town kid, I had a preconceived notion that all farmers love all plants, those that are marketable as well as those that are just aesthetically pleasing.


Just this morning, Joe was recalling that his dad and grandpa never mowed the lawn, and how happy his mom and grandma were when he and his brother were of lawn mowing age. I have never reached this said age, due to an unfortunate run-in with a culvert at age nine and was banished from the family's lawn mowing endeavors (a cross I happily still bear). Why wouldn't a man of the land want to make our own little patch look better? Why wouldn't he want to be a good steward of landscaping and plant some DANG bushes???

We have had a string of really nice days, followed by some rainy ones. Thus, the grass is greening up and the purr of lawnmowers can be heard in my parents' neighborhood in town. Not so much here. While the husbands of my town friends spread mulch, plant flowers, leaf blow, and trim, I sit and wait patiently for my husband to blow off the dust of the once pristine lawn mower, and try to not to lose my youngest in the meadow growing around our swing set.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Credit Where Credit Is Due

My blog got a facelift today, all while I just sat in the passenger seat! My dear friend, Kara, is an AMAZING photographer (visit her website). I consider her our personal paparazzi, considering Amelia has only had professional pictures taken, and she's a mere 10 months old. Anyway, Kara is a blog reader and writer, and offered her visual expertise to my blog. She took our picture, edited them, uploaded backgrounds (after many, many tries), and even had a babysitter at her house for my girls (thanks, Grammie Patty!)!! How awesome is that??

So, Kara, this entry's for you. Thanks so much for being a great and talented friend, and thanks especially for giving me some tough love and telling me to make the blog look fancy!!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Eternal Optimists

It's here. . . baseball season. Joe's finest hour: the greatest time spent yelling at the TV, watching his beloved Cardinals play. While we are definitely a house of Cardinals fans (there was a question about Anna being friends with someone at preschool because he was a Cub fan. We told her he was okay, just try to change him.), I can't help but see a lot of similarities between farming and being a fan of a not-so-great team. The "other" team in this house: THE CUBS.

The mantra many Cubs fans follow at this time of year is "This is the year. . ." Much like farmers in the spring, Cubs fans are clinging to the promise of the unknown, hoping that all the off season preparation will make a difference. Farmers follow the same creed. Seed purchasing based upon yield performance, early fertilizer purchases, and new equipment give us the promise of a better spring, better yields, and better financial picture in the end (whoo-hoo!).

Like being a Cubs fan, farming is heart wrenching. Joe's mama cow who lost her calf after birthing it in unseasonably cold temperatures in the wrong place in the muck was terrible to endure. The weather is unpredictable and maddening, much like the Cub pitching staff. However, you keep going, keep farming, keep rooting for the "home team."

"Maybe next year" is something all Cub fans think at the end of yet another losing season. Farmers say it, too. Last year was a tough year for us. From a terribly wet spring to a equally wet fall, we never seemed to catch a break. Everything was planted late, so it was ready late: a mean, vicious cycle. Our last round of harvesting corn was done in a skiff of snow. Even now, we're still feeling the affects of last year's craziness. We're currently hauling out grain that should have been out of the bins in January. Yikes. However, the three farmers in our operation, although frustrated by last year, knew that the next year would be better.

The promise of spring is bringing hope to the farmstead, making last year's nightmare just a memory. Everyone in our operation seems ready to start fresh. This optimism is pretty extraordinary when you think about it. Joe didn't walk away from his dream job when the seasons didn't cooperate. He just worked through the snow, giving my uncle a fist pump when they hauled their last load to the bin. He didn't sell all his cattle when he had to endure day after day of cold, wet chores during this crummy calving season. He just kept going.

All the signs of spring are starting to show up: baseball starting, the planter parked in the driveway, ready to go, green grass and warm temperatures. We don't know what this year is going to bring, but we do have a lot of hope. And, even though the farmers in our operation are not Cub fans, they share the same eternal optimism: the hope that "this is the year."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Down the Road We Go

As we traveled across the countryside this weekend, I noticed something. Usually, as we travel, there's a constant stream of questions from the back two rows. I try to answer eight thousand questions, ranging in topics from flags on people's cars to trampolines to school buses and their destinations. However, this time, while the two little ones were napping and Anna was quietly coloring, the running commentary was not from the "way back," but from the driver's seat.

This is not the first time I have noticed that Joe comments on all things agricultural as we travel. However, now that I have embarked upon my quest to learn more about farming, I took note of these musings. Every time we passed a field where there was evidence of either ground that had been "worked" or anhydrous applied (I just learned the difference during this trip. . . before, it all looked black and bumpy! Hooray for small victories!!) Joe would comment on it. Not a derogatory comment, usually, just a comment. In fact, we have been known to take different routes to our destinations just to see what's been going on.

This fascinates me. As a former teacher, I would think about school and lesson plans and the kids, but I would never go a different way home just to see who has the best playground equipment. I would also never peek into windows to see who had the coolest bulletin boards. In farm country, however, it's a different story. In fact, as I was cleaning up from breakfast on Easter Sunday, a pick up truck was CRAWLING down our road. It was nearly stopped across from the semi parking lot (i.e., my driveway), and it hit me. The man in the driver's seat wasn't trying to keep his car clean from the gravel road for Easter Sunday church. He was counting the rows on our new planter! Honestly, this guy was totally scoping out our stuff, without any pause or act of discretion! Now I tend to note cute shoes or a great purse or a big diamond ring, but there's no way that I would slow down my car to count the carats! That's just crazy!

However, in farm country, you take note, just for noting's sake. Farmers pay attention to each other's practices, but just for the simple fact that they are curious. No real competition, just curiosity. The same seems to go for when the grain markets are fluctuating. We cheer them on whether we're selling or not.
We notice people's activity in the spring and fall, paying attention to who's done with planting/harvesting and who's had a breakdown or not, just for conversation.

In my little world as Joe's farm wife, this is the way it is. And as bizarre as it may seem, it's refreshing to not be worried about keeping up with the Joneses. . .just wondering what they're doing.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Lure of a Good Sale

My Grandpa Mac was a cattle man. He had a nice herd, but retired when it got to be too much for him. However, like most farmers, he never really retired. Instead, on some Saturdays, he would still go to the Fairview Sale Barn for lunch (which is ironic, because my Grandma Mary is an excellent cook). More times than desired by my grandma, he would come home with "just a few calves." He could never resist the lure of the cattle sale.

Fast forward nearly 20 years, and here we are again. Joe does have a little different philosophy on cattle sales than my grandpa. He doesn't go just to buy a few. In fact, he rarely comes home with any. However, when a sale ad comes in the mail, the date is tentatively written in his Blackberry. Today is such a day.

The lure of a cattle sale is not just to add calves to the family herd. Joe rarely comes home with any wares. . . unlike my recent trip to the Gap. Essentially, a cattle sale and its advertisements are comparable to getting great coupons in the mail and going shopping with your friends. Joe has been to many sales since we have started our cattle business, generally going to scope out the calves, talk to fellow cattle folk, and enjoy a day off and out (a rare event). Unlike Grandpa Mac, Joe doesn't usually come home with "just a few," rather, he saves his money for the big Silvertown Sale in eastern Indiana in the fall. That's more of a "vacation sale," complete with a hotel room. Whoo-hoo! If it wasn't nearly 6 hours away, I would have first hand experience, but it's a man-vacation. . . until the girls are old enough to travel without asking, "are we there yet?" every 15 minutes!

Regardless of the location, the Saturday cattle sale is crucial in a cattle man's (or woman's) social network. From my perspective, it's a good place to check out who's buying what, what's "out there," and just getting a feel for the local cattle market. I compare it to window shopping.

So, on this dreary Saturday before Easter, Joe's considering making a two hour trek to Boden to just "look." I say, go for it. . .everyone needs a dose of retail therapy once in awhile.