Monday, June 28, 2010

Gritting through June

When I was a teacher, June was full of promise. That first sweet month of summer provided time for reorganizing closets, training for summer races, reading books that I actually enjoy, and SLEEPING! As a mother, the month of June is similar in its promise: days are spent outdoors, meals are accompanied with little clean up thanks to the grill, and tired kiddos nap for HOURS after a day at the pool.

As a farm wife, however, June is a little less about promise and a little more about gritting my teeth. This June started out with a lot of good vibes. Crops were in (unlike last June), grain was being hauled, and roadsides were being mowed. All was good in Farm Country. It then began to rain.

And rain.

We drove to town through flooded roads, and our gravel road turned to muck. All the farmers can talk about as of late, are the wet holes (which, of course, are all in plain view of the road), mud, the color of the corn coming up (did you know that the more lime-ish green the corn is, the worse it is?), and the weeds growing along side the otherwise healthy plants. The good news from all this rain is that our well will be set for the next 15 years.

Anyway, as June is coming to a close, I have spent some time reflecting upon my general mental state. It's not that great. I am nervous. I see the crops in the ground coming up, and, for the most part, they look okay (according to my untrained eye). However, there's still the threat of the weather: hail storms that could batter the growing plants, winds that could flatten an entire field, any time anything other than green shows up on the radar. . . the farmers are a mess.

But for me, the weather is not the only part that's making me nervous. There's a little whisper that maybe I'm just not cut out emotionally for this farm wife gig. You must have to be made out of emotional steel and live off the land to be a true farm wife. I, on the other hand, must be made out of goo and HAVE to go to Target once in awhile.

A farm wife also has to have this crazy amount of patience, and for me, that is one of the most difficult traits of a farm wife. It's hard to sit and wait, especially for me. I am not a patient person. I am a runner, not a walker. I'm a do-er, not a sitter. I even drive fast. So this sitting and waiting deal that happens, especially during June, is not for me. I'm filling my days with stuff to do and personal deadlines (such as, the trim in the upstairs bathroom that no one uses will be touched up by July) just to not go crazy with worry about our livelihood.

Regardless, my hope, as I look back on June, is that I'll learn that good things come to those who wait, and I'll continue to grit my teeth as the days pass. That, and the hope that no one will use the upstairs bathroom until the trim is touched up.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Electric Fence Fried My Fridge


This is not a cutesy play on words. The electric fence seriously fried my fridge. We have been experiencing a lot of rain as of late. I'm not talking sweet little showers that settle the dust on our road. I'm talking gully washers complete with lightning and thunder that then leave wet holes in the bean field.

Such a storm hit on Monday morning. Our power flickered once, enough to knock out the DirecTV and digital clocks, but no big deal. As the morning progressed and breakfast was being cleaned up, I noticed my freezer thermometer was rising. This does not a happy farm wife make!

I have a pretty crazy love for my fridge. It's a purchase we made when we moved into the farmhouse. Buying it was an act of great dedication. I researched, price compared, and checked Consumer Reports. Then, with savvy execution, we purchased my Stainless Steel, French Door, Bottom Freezer beauty and even bargained for a 5year free service call agreement.

Thank goodness for that agreement, because our rural address does not register in GPS. Therefore, I usually end up giving the poor lost city repairman directions over the phone using such landmarks as telephone towers, cattle lots, and mailboxes.

But I digress. . . anyway, after arranging the repair man's visit (two days later, thanks to our distance from the "big city."), Joe went out to do chores. Our cattle are fenced in by both barbed wire fencing as well as electric fence. The barbed wire fencing is multiple levels of wire hooked together with wooden fence posts. They look tall and ouchy enough to keep the cattle in. However, the electric fence looks a lot less harmful, but the thin metal line packs a powerful charge. Regardless of the fencing, Joe is constantly checking cows, mending fence, and making sure that the bulls don't jump any fences to make any more girlfriends.

When he went to check the cattle that morning, he noticed the transformer box by the lot was fried. After seeing that the electric fence was not working, Joe turned into CSI: Yates City, and did some further investigating. He discovered our outside lights were out, too. AH-HA! His sleuthing led him to deduce that lightning had hit the electric fence, zipped down the line, hit the adjacent transformer, which then blew our power out, thus frying our outside lights, fridge relay cords (whatever those are), caused me living like a true pioneer woman. . . or at least one that has ice in a cooler with milk and Diet Coke at the ready for 48 hours.

This electric fence/fridge episode was a first for me. I have experienced power outages. I have experienced having refridgerator issues. However, I have never had a barbed wire fence be the culprit. How bizarre is that? It made me realize how further intertwined my life is with this farm. Not only do our cattle and grain checks pay for all our bills, but the very fencing keeping in the cattle we sell can cause the milk to go sour, as well as my mood.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Weathering the Storm

In my short time as a farm wife, I have spent a lot of time worrying, watching, and wondering about the weather. Cooperative weather means a happy husband, preschool tuition for the girls, and the possibility of a trip to the Gap once in a while. However, when the weather becomes less of a threat to one's pocketbook, and more on one's life, that is a different story.

The Midwest had a crazy weather weekend, as Illinois seems to do in early June. Last year it was straight line winds and no power (and also water in our case. . .did you know that about country living??? No power = no water!) for a week. This year, nearly one year to the day, a devastating tornado ripped through our community, especially damaging the heart of the town where my parents, friends, and other loved ones call home.

The picture of Americana, this little town even was hosting their annual Strawberry Festival on the town square. Complete with a movie theater and even a hardware store that actually sold hardware (and not much else), this downtown was the crown jewel in the area. After Saturday night, however, all is going to change. Roofs ripped off, brick buildings left crumbled, and now condemnations of most of the downtown buildings have left this little town reeling.

As we watched the storm from our kitchen window, nearly a mile from our house, we watched helplessly as it tore towards town. Our view to the north is truly a sight to see on a pretty day, but when there's a twister framed perfectly in our kitchen picture window, it is less beautiful and more frightening. Joe, in true farmer/former firefighter form, stepped outside and watched and took pictures as it headed to the east. We were scared, helpless, and hopeful that the damage would be little.

But it wasn't.

While the tangible heart of this town has been destroyed, the spirit and pride of Elmwood has not left. That is what is truly amazing about living out here- that, and that there were NO injuries from this storm. I truly believe that living in a rural community makes for a better life as far as space, clean air, and other easy answers, but it is the reaction to adverse conditions such as this that truly makes living in a community such as this amazing. These people are a "pull themselves up by the bootstraps" type of folks. Rebuilding will take place. I believe that without a doubt. It may not look the same, but the same pride that was put into the buildings over 100 years ago can still be put in a building that now is equipped with sprinkler systems and meets all building codes.

I am sad driving through town, weaving through the detour signs and cutting through streets that I know go to my parents' neighborhood. It is sad to think that this little slice of Americana will not be the same, but there has to be some good, something to take from this experience. My hope is that, like a difficult year in farm country, you take this experience, tell it as a story for years to come, and make something great out of it.

That's how I will weather this storm.

Friday, June 4, 2010


We are coming up on Amelia's first birthday. The invitations have been sent out, RSVPs have been coming in, menu has been planned, and the crop work is even finished, so all the farmers can attend! Happy day! However, we cannot pass by this date without thinking about what was going on last year at this time.

I just wanted to get down on paper (virtual paper) what it was like the days leading up to her birth, just to demonstrate how from year to year, farming can potentially make you a crazy person if you try to plan or predict anything.

Amelia was to be born around June 16th, which we thought was perfect, because in a perfect year, that would be right after the first cutting of hay, and long after the planting season wrapped up. However, the best laid plans are NEVER followed when your profession relies on the weather.

The weekend before her birth, I had some false alarms. The first one I ignored, but the second one I took more seriously. It just happened to be on a Sunday night, when I was watching my 9 year old cousin, and Joe and my uncle were still in the field planting beans. When I called Joe to tell him I thought something was happening, he asked me if I could wait 30 minutes because he was almost done with the field he was working in. Seriously? 30 minutes? What am I supposed to do, cross my legs? By this point, I had also called for my aunt to come and get my cousin and put the kids to bed because, like a mama cow (so I was told by Joe after the fact), I just wanted to be alone.

All the while, our landlord, my dad, my aunt (who came to pick up my sweet cousin), and uncle were out in our driveway placing bets on whether or not I was going to go that night or not.

Then the toilets backed up.

Oh the joy of living on the farm! A septic system that went on the fritz.

Thankfully, no baby that night, and the beans ended up getting planted before another little shower came along. The septic system was also fixed the following day, thanks to my frantic "I'm about to have a baby" voice on the phone.

Fast forward to Tuesday: a doctor's appointment where he told me he'd see me next Tuesday, a dry day for the men to finish the bean planting, and my parents' moving day. They had made the move from my childhood home 35 minutes away to "town" a mere 5 minutes away, and I couldn't have been more excited! The big girls and I headed to town to see if Mom needed any help, because of course, a 38 week pregnant woman and her four year old and two year old are great to help move heavy furniture! As we headed home, tired from playing in the neighborhood, I came to the realization that I was going to be pregnant forever, and not have a husband either because of the crazy wet weather that spring.

As I put the girls to bed that night, alone again, I thought about how lucky I was to have my parents so close now, and heard the door slam. A happy Farmer Joe was fist pumping and exclaiming that the dreadful spring of 2009 was over, planting was completed, and I could have the baby any time!

We fell in a happy heap on our respective couches and promptly fell asleep. Not 30 minutes later, my water broke, my parents (now only five minutes away) came to stay with the girls (so much for the first night in their new house), and we were on our way.

Did I mention that when you live out in the country, going to the hospital to give birth is not just up the street? We are nearly 35 minutes from the hospital, and as we were timing my contractions, they went from 8 minutes to 7 minutes to 6 to 5 to 4 with every one. Joe had made numerous comparisons to me and his bred cows during my three pregnancies, and even proclaimed as we got close to each birth that he could probably "get the job done" and deliver me if "push came to shove." But that night, as we drove through construction and the contractions got closer, he proclaimed he did NOT want to deliver this baby, and it's NOT the same as pulling calves.

We made it. I received the necessary drugs (I'm no martyr, give me drugs), and had Amelia Jane at 2:20 AM.

Our life with three kids has truly changed how we parent, what we deem important, but the biggest difference that this year has brought me is my interest in what's going on with our farm operation and agriculture's role in our world. I have seen the looks of desperation on the farmer's faces as the rain continued to pour this fall and nothing was drying. I have felt the nervousness as the grain was harvested, and hopefully would be accepted at the elevator, because if not, no grain check to pay down the operating loan and buy groceries. I realized we have a story to tell.

2009 was a crummy year, as far as crops put in and crops harvested go, but for me, it was a turning point. We had our beautiful baby girl; we made it through the terrible fall, and I made the decision to understand more about this life I lead, rather than fight it. I became an ag-vocate.