Wednesday, September 29, 2010

By the Light of the Moon

Today was potentially one of the most perfect fall days we have had all year. So perfect that the guys have really had a big day. The combine has had to have multiple personalities today: the corn head was on in the morning, harvesting what was left of a field near my uncle's house, and then this afternoon/evening, the bean head went on to start the bean ground directly behind our house.

I have been trying to get a good picture of the view out my back deck, but I'm not a photographer, so you'll have to just picture it yourself. I guess the most interesting and slightly strange aspect to the harvesting tonight is to go from a silent back yard, where one could see nothing but bean ground for literally miles, to seeing headlights, hearing back up beepers, as well as the whir of the combine as they work all against the backdrop of the setting sun.

What is even more awesome is to see the workings of harvest during the night. We have friends and their kids who want combine rides, want to sit in the cab of the big track tractor in the shed, heck, some city kids even just want to sit on the lawnmower, but as someone who lives on the farm all the time, the thrill of just the presence of equipment has worn off. For me, the actual act and process of harvest is fascinating, and from just an onlooker's perspective, harvest at night is something to behold.

At night, the combine's double headlights create a strange and almost UFO-ish lighting, especially when the dust is kicked up around it. Its two sets of lights, one set atop the cab and then a set by the head (the part that sticks out in the front, for all you non-farmers) cast a glow around the machine that make it just a shadow. The dust created by the harvesting of the beans (which is, I'm noting, filling my house as we speak, but I'm okay with that. ) looks like smoke or haze, and creates an eerie presence around the combine. It is cool. Pair that with an orange harvest moon that is rising over the skyline of Yates City (all three buildings and about 100 houses), and that is something to behold.

This time in harvest is so amazing. After having two full days of good weather, good crops, and no break downs, seeing the lights of the combine behind my house make me a happy woman. Reaping what they have sown, the farmers are in good spirits, and on a night like this, why wouldn't you be? Unless you're afraid of large equipment in your back yard!

Monday, September 27, 2010

It's Not You...'s harvest.

Kind of. That's the problem around here right now. Well, let me rephrase. It's not exactly a problem, rather, a mood alter-er. We have enjoyed time with friends during this harvest season, have had rides in the combine, semi, and grain cart, and have watched as field after field around us has come out.

However, since Monday, this farm operation has been at a stand still. Thanks to rain and grain that is not quite ready to go, the guys have taken time to do other things during the day: taking out fence, finishing up little projects like washing tractors, mowing the grass, and the like. However, they are all itchy to get back out there. There is reasoning behind this madness, however, as some farmers around here are not proceeding with as much caution as we are. The farmers I am surrounded by know that with a little more time, the conditions of the ground as well as the conditions of the corn and soybeans will go from "just about right" to "just perfect." I needed to be educated on this practice, as combines around us have been rolling since Friday.

However, seriously. . . let's get this harvest party started! We're all a little on edge. The girls are clingy to Joe, as they know that once he does get going, he'll be gone. I'm grumpy, and, thus, Joe needs a break from us. Every farmer around here needs to get behind the wheel of something big and act hurried. I need harvest to start. As difficult as it may seem to believe, harvest is a nice respite from the daily grind of meals, laundry, juggling entertaining everyone, and watching baseball instead of the season premiere of Glee. I love Joe, and I love that he is a farmer. He loves his job, and I am learning to understand it better. However, the potential for just running to Target after school and not worrying about having pancakes or PB&J for dinner this week is enticing.

I hope this is not coming across as the anti-thesis of all other posts regarding being a single farm wife, but don't all humans crave a time when they can just be? Don't we all want to determine our own course of action, whether that be something as simple as taking the kids out for a run in the stroller without worrying about the time? Isn't there a time in the day that we all crave to be on our own agendas?

I know selfish thoughts such as these, a good marriage does not make, but for a farm wife, harvest is like a little vacation from the norm. However, I feel like so far, I have only packed my bags, and haven't taken off on my trip yet! Come on, already. . .let's get going!!!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Safely Enjoying Fall

Did you know that this is farm safety week?

I didn't until my friend on Facebook, McDonough County Farm Bureau, reminded me. Thankfully, farm safety week did not land on the week that we were using our farmer scaffolding. All joking aside, farm safety week is during a time that slow moving vehicles frequent back roads; augers are being used at great length, and bleary eyed farmers are pushing to finish fields, despite being tired.

During this week, I have been late to various activities, as I tend to be. However, my tardiness has been increased thanks to the slow moving vehicles, tractors, wagons, what-have-you that are taking up road space and going roughly 3 miles per hour. Even though my frustrations are great, I have to take a minute and remember that the person behind that wheel is some one's dad, uncle, grandfather, husband, wife, mother, daughter, aunt or cousin. Someone who would be mourned greatly if a person like me, late to a mom's group, were to compromise their safety by following too closely or passing without really having a lot of room. I have to remember that they are just trying to be safe.

Unfortunately, nearly every farm family has some sort of "war story" in regards to a farm accident. A friend of mine just called to tell me her friend lost a brother tragically in a farm accident. My grandfather was nearly crushed by a tractor as he was unloading it from a trailer. We have had close calls with fingers, fingernails, heads needing to be stitched up and the like. However, a tragedy, knock on wood, has never occurred. I believe this is truly to the credit of the farmers in our operation.

Joe especially, maybe because I spend the most time with him, is freakishly safe. He calls my dad's mower, the one he walks behind, the "Man Killer," and regularly calls him when he's working with it. When his job is to watch the unloading auger during harvest, he does not allow any of our children to be anywhere near him, as disappointed as they may become. That's not something you mess around with. As irritating as it may seem at times, Joe never wears his wedding band. When we first started farming, I would hound him to at least wear it to church. However, I just found it in his "junk" drawer as I was rummaging for some change. A few short months ago, I would have been irritated with him, but I am thankful he has a finger to wear the ring on, as some farmers have lost a digit thanks to proclaiming their love publicly by wearing a wedding ring while working on equipment or with livestock.

There's too much to lose if one does not exercise safety on the farm. Period. I am thankful that I haven't had to endure a loss of a loved one or take anyone to the ER because of negligence or a freak turn of events, but there are those who have. For them, I am deeply sorry. There have been times that I haven't been able to reach either Joe or my dad, and I have played out the absolute worst in my head, only to be, thankfully, corrected by the simple call proclaiming that they couldn't hear their cell phones.

Going to get preachy here: Even though it's annoying to be following equipment on the road, or having to wait for a combine as it moves from a field to the road, please exercise caution around farm vehicles and equipment. Remember that someone like me is expecting a loved one home to kiss my daughters good night.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

It's Not So Bad

It rained. Neither a gully washer, nor a sprinkle, but just enough to keep the guys out of the field for yesterday and today. However, because they have been able to knock out a few fields in four really good days, no one is in hysterics.

Thanks to these couple days of showers, my dad has been able to keep up with the downloading of the yield information from the combine. Although experts were predicting not-so-great yields this year, and the guys were bracing themselves for what could have been low yields, the results of the fields we have completed are surprisingly good. Again, no one is in hysterics.

Is there something wrong with this picture? Where are the farmers who were so forlorn looking last year as the rain poured and poured and poured? Where are these fields that the experts predicted as being disappointing? How was it that I was able to go out to dinner with my husband and friends last night, and not have to worry about the cost of the meal (thank you, grain check!!) or worry about whether I would have to go stag?

Is something going on here? Is there some sort of crop circle forming? When is the other shoe going to drop?

The answer is: It's not so bad.

Farmers are ultimate pessimists, and even though my husband is the proud owner of the book, How to Be an Up Person in a Down World, once he became a full time farmer, his optimistic attitude was and is often times over-shadowed by pessimism. That's a defense mechanism of farmers. Because factors are 99% of the time left to God and Mother Nature, farmers have to be mentally prepared for bad news. Everyone around my farmstead started out with kind of a hesitant attitude, and now that the results are in, we're all pleasantly surprised! The crops aren't that bad! The weather is actually cooperating! We're getting a few days rest, thanks to the rain, so that the guys don't become zombie like behind the tractor's steering wheel.

There are still hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of acres and days and days and days of dry, sunny weather we need, so I am feeling a bit nervous about posting these optimistic thoughts, but I am going to break the cycle of seeing the glass half empty!

Optimists UNITE! Harvest is going to be great!

If only the sun would come out. . .

And the grain market would continue to cooperate. . .

And the combine will not have a breakdown. . .

And I'm able to go to the Trivia Night in town next weekend, with a date. . .

Here's to hoping!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

You Might Be a Farm Kid If. . .

. . .your dad takes you to the bus stop on his way to the elevator in a semi filled with grain. Honestly, there are some times I stop and look at my life, and just have to laugh. Never in my mind's eye of my perfect suburban family did I see my little girl hop up into the cab of a bright teal semi. Anyway, with harvest going great guns, early mornings and late nights are the norm for Joe. He hasn't seen his youngest daughter awake since Monday night, as Joe's been getting up early to haul grain to the elevator, and is back long after Amelia has gone to bed.

Anyway, part of our agreement in the taking and picking up of Anna (she catches the bus at my cousin's house, as she would have had to ride nearly 2 hours total each day, eek!) is that Joe is solely in charge of taking her in the morning, en route to his morning chores, and back up in the afternoon, mainly for bonding purposes. Today, as he came in after his second load, I, still in my pajamas, sleepily asked him if he was still taking our kindergartener up to the hard road.

The answer I hoped for was a yes, without hestiation, as I still had two other sleepers. However, the answer was a hesitant maybe. What???? Am I going to have to put my bathrobe on, wake up the little girls, and do the ultimate stay-at-home mom thing that is to take the kids to school in my jammies? Plus, didn't Joe know I had to teach the study at our mom's group today as well as take Josie to preschool? I mean, come on, man. . .I have a schedule to keep and coffee to drink!!!

Upon replaying the situation of strapping in two sleepy toddlers (as I know a lot of you moms out there do, and kudos to you!), I begged Joe to reconsider his self-made schedule. They hadn't started combining yet for the day, and Joe was simply being the over-achiever that he is. . .which I love, somewhat conditionally! Thankfully, he reconsidered, and loaded up Anna's car seat, to my surprise, in the teal blue semi, full of grain.

Now I don't care who you are, whether the girly-est of girls or the boyish of boys, riding to the bus stop as a kindergartener in a semi is pretty awesome, and when Anna saw her dad load her booster, she flipped! She was so excited. As I watched her tie her shoes (I know, she's a prodigy), I told her that not many kids will get to ride the bus and in a semi in the same morning. As she finished her second shoe, she stated with the utmost certainty:

"Not many kids are lucky to be a farm girl like me."

No, they are not.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Why I decided to have dark wood furniture in my house is beyond me, but today the dust from our gravel road is good dust. The dust on our TV, coffee table, end tables, and basically any other flat surface in my house is the dust kicked up by the semis hauling grain to the elevator in town. The dust off to the west is grain dust from the combine, signaling the start to a new harvest season. The dust on Joe's clothes is from waiting in line at the elevator, as he unloads his grain.

This is good dust.

I never, ever thought I would say that. Ever. I hate our road. I hate that in the summer, it's so dusty our shoes get filthy while we play in the yard. I hate that in the spring, the wet weather causes it to ooze mud and slop, dirtying every crevice in every vehicle we own. I hate that my window sills are in a constant state of griminess, covered with dust no matter how hard I try to keep them clean.

However, today, I have come to terms with my road. While I'm not saying that if the road commissioner came to us and told us he'd be paving it tomorrow, I wouldn't do a small dance, I will say that today the dust on the road signifies the hustle and bustle that is harvest. Everyone wants to be a part of this today, and seeing the dust from the combine, my cousin jumped into my vehicle at the bus stop and asked to have me take him to his dad on the combine. The dust ahead of us on the road was from Joe's semi, and even though she's dead tired from kindergarten, Anna begged to ride with her dad. Dust today equals excitement.

Coupled with this excitement is hope for the season. We as a family have endured a pretty tight summer, and I have been told many times if I can "just hold out until harvest starts. . . " then I can fill in the blank. No, it does not include a new leather couch or a new wardrobe or trip to the Caribbean, but we're going to be able to be calm, for a while. Just as I have made peace with my dusty road, I am making peace with this lifestyle we have chosen. I need to quit whining about the little stuff, and realize how lucky I am to be able to see where my husband is at all times, and most of that is thanks to the dust.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Farmer's Intuition

Farmers, both of the older generation and the new, have this knack for knowing things that I could only predict with the flip of a coin. Joe has the way of knowing when to drag the kids' outside toys in because it's going to rain cats and dogs before I even notice the first cloud. My dad knows when it's the right time to start working on the equipment to get it ready to roll in both the fall and the spring. My uncle knows when to start cutting beans or combining corn. . . by the way, it's next Wednesday. My father-in-law has almost a sixth sense on certain things, and today, as our country remembers 9/11, I am thinking of not only those who had ties to those who lost their lives that day, but my father-in-law's intuition on that clear fall day.

Joe and I have shared our "where we were" stories to each other, as we weren't even an item at that time. I was teaching and could hardly believe it when my student, Ethan, said a plane hit a building in New York. Joe remembers driving to work that day, without his cell phone, huddling around a television at his office on the U of I campus. Joe's dad was out raking hay, in an open station tractor, with no radio, no television, no student to report what had happened, but he knew something was up. He didn't notice any planes flying that day.

Isn't that amazing? Isn't it strange that a guy who was just doing what needed to be done on the farm noticed there was not a plane in the sky? This is a guy who lives 45 minutes from a small airport and almost 2 hours from a big one. This is a man whose commute is driving 3 miles to the hog buildings. That to me is part of his farmer's intuition. Rick, my father-in-law, is a hard worker, a good steward of the land, and an amazing father to his kids. However, the thing I have noticed about him the most in my almost 9 years of hanging around with him, is that he is very perceptive. I believe that this is a great personality characteristic, but it's also something that makes him a good farmer.

He knows what's going on, without being too concerned about the "Joneses," caring little of what other folks are doing, unless they need help. He is in-tune with his animals and their needs, working hours and hours and hours to keep his hog confinement operation up to par with the standards of the EPA and the USDA. That takes dedication, my friends.

But it's his intuition on September 11, 2001 that will always intrigue me. I think of all the times I am outside with the kids or running that I hardly notice anything but the whereabouts of the girls and my footfalls on the pavement. Rick, however, noticed the lack of planes that day. Talk about knowing your surroundings.

All farmers have this intuition, in some way, shape, or form. Some are just better at putting it to use. Rick is also the guy who gives me advice on when to cut my hair to promote growth, so he has some pretty silly intuition, but we won't go there.

I think that what I gather from seeing this farmer's intuition put to use is that I need to stop and check out my surroundings a little bit closer. I need to quit moving onto the next thing before my first chore is finished. I need to quit multi-tasking. . . Okay, I can't stop that or our house will fall apart! Regardless, if you ever want to know when to do something, whether cut your hair or if you have a funny feeling about something, my advice would be to ask a farmer. They're probably just as good as a psychic.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hobbies: Happiness or Hooey?

We get a lot of agricultural mail: weekly newspapers, monthly magazines, parts catalogues, bills, etc. Today, however, we received an invitation to subscribe to Hobby Farming magazine. We even were sent cute little return address labels with fuzzy sheep, red barns, and an alpaca (or a llama. . .I don't know which one, but it has a long neck.). However cute these labels are, the premise of this magazine is funny to me, as we are not in this biz for a walk in the park.

So, it got me to thinking. . . who is?

Who are these mythical, mysterious hobby farmers, and what are their real jobs? Moreover, why would they choose such a labor intensive, costly, and frustrating hobby?

In my research on this magazine (i.e. googling Hobby Farming magazine and reading a few articles.), I am understanding hobby farmers are those who aren't investing hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment, seed, land, and/or operating loans. These folks are just hanging with their animals, probably in a small area, treating them as pets. They're gardening, probably (well, definitely) more successfully than my gardening attempts. They're enjoying the land because they are not having to pay their power bills off of it.

This realization of farming for the simple enjoyment of the land and its beasts made me look at the farmers in our gang of land lovers. Do they have a hobby? The answer is yes and no, I guess. Luckily, these guys are doing something they enjoy, so a hobby seems a little unnecessary. When one is accomplishing something during the day and enjoying what he is doing, then why would a day on the golf course be necessary? If you're spending a lovely fall day by enjoying it with your cattle in a pristine pasture, then why would you equate relaxation with something like hunting? So, I guess my farmers don't need hobbies. . .they may think that they're hooey.

However, I am a hobby girl. I love running. I love reading. I used to scrapbook. . . until I had Amelia. . .poor picture and sticker deprived child. I love shopping. I think I'd like to golf. I would like to keep up playing the piano. I guess it sounds like a do a lot of messin' around. However, activities such as these keep me sane. They keep me who I am. They keep me whole.

So, should Farmer Joe take up skeet shooting? Probably not, but I do believe that these guys, when the season is right, and the markets are up, and the stars, moon and sun are all in the correct alignment should take up something just for their own sanity and enjoyment. One that's end result doesn't affect our bottom line.

But for now, I'll just toss the magazine subscription, even though it's cheap (they understand farmers and their bank accounts!), keep the stickers for the girls, and if you receive a note from me, expect an alpaca (or llama) return address label.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Country Cross Training

No, it isn't a typo, for all you cross country runners out there. I can hardly find the energy or strength in my arms to type, and it's not because of an amazing run or crazy work out I just completed in the comfort of a gym. It's because I just finished scrubbing the scuzz off of my house and garage.

Are you jealous?

Part of the joy of living in the country is peace, quiet, a large yard, great views, and all the scum and dirt and grossness that comes with living on a gravel road. We did what was best for our family (well, mainly me) with the remodel of our house, and that was to do it all at once, and not live in it while we were doing so. However, the outside "fix up" has been a slower process. We have added decks, landscaping, sidewalks, a driveway, replaced a porch floor, trimmed trees, but still have a few more steps before we (again, mainly I) feel like it's complete. One of the not-so-fun aspects of this ordeal was the cleaning of our siding.


I love my white house, as it has a classic farmhouse look, but seriously Grandma (God rest your soul), what were you thinking with the white siding? Geesh. Anyway, thanks to my mom, some bleach, TSP cleaner, and a scrub brush, I embarked on the adventure for the day.

Anyone jealous yet?

Seriously, if you want some instant gratification, find some scum and zap it with this formula. It's very gratifying.

Anyway, my point for today is that holy cow am I tired, and again, it's not because I was slated in my crazy-organized exercise mind to "cross train" today. I have been on my feet, up and down, scrubbing, stopping to make lunch for my family, then back at it on a ladder, then with an extentable scrubber (usually used on tractors and semis). Thankfully, as I was cursing the bumpiness of the north side of our yard, teetering atop my ladder, Joe came in and set up farmer scaffolding. . .i.e., a pallet on the loader tractor. He came to my rescue- I was beginning to envision myself falling to my death off the tippy ladder- and finished the job, so I could go off and curse my gravel road and all its nastiness (again) on the front side of my house.

What I have taken from today is that I am happy to have heavy machinery around to help me do the lovely projects that come with having a home. I am so thankful that Joe was in and out today as well to help me finish up. I just hope that I am able to literally pick up the kids when I get to my mom's house. I don't think this project was ever completed in the years my grandparents lived here, nor the 10 years the various renters lived on the premises. Here's hoping I don't have to do this for another 10. Yikes.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A World View

Do I have one?

I thought I was somewhat in-the-know. . . I mean, I catch the Today Show now and again (in between Curious George and Sesame Street), and read the newspaper and read online news , when I'm not checking out the sale site from Banana Republic. So, I guess that answers the question:

No, I am not at all worldly.

This is entirely my fault, and, in becoming a farm wife, and more specifically, a livestock farm wife, I have land-locked myself to this itty-bitty piece of the world forever. Which, I might add, I am happy to do so, as my piece of the world isn't generally associated with mud slides, earthquakes, nuclear war testing areas, and the like. I like my little part of the world. However, thinking that because I live in rural America, the world's problems do not affect me or my family's livelihood is unrealistic. Just today, my husband and father-in-law were talking about the way the stored grain in Brazil could affect the markets here.

Seriously, now I have to worry about Brazilian markets? I haven't figured out the way the grain markets work here! YARGH!

However, I should take this conversation as a teachable moment. I should hop online and google Brazilian grain markets. I should ask questions. I should try a Brazilian Steakhouse.

I guess just as important as asking questions to become more knowledgeable in the agricultural sector, I must also become more diversified in my knowledge of the world.

Well, duh, Emily.

How do I do this, on a shoestring budget, not to mention as a fearful flyer with control freak tendencies???? I would love to say that I could hop a plane and travel around the world for a few months, just to get to know it better (which, I would like to add, a former runner of mine did, and has an amazing blog about her journey.). However, in this stage of my life, I am unable to accomplish such a feat. Even though hands-on learning like this would be the best way to experience the world, I'm going to have to adapt my strategy.

So, I'm starting with the basics: perhaps using the Internet "for good," as my brother would say. Time to get worldly.

Maybe this would help beef up the image of a livestock farmer? Here's hoping we can dispel the images of bib overalls and bad grammar. Talk of the farmer's image is everywhere in the agricultural world, and I would like to help to work against these stereotypes. But, how can I do so when I'm not able to intelligently converse about the drought in Europe and its affects on the markets here? How am I to know that my cattle are the best beef around, when I have never taken in a Kobe steak dinner (notice I haven't been out on a date night in awhile??)? I would like to be able to speak intelligently in regards to the world market, and not just know how much rain "So-and-So" got up the road. It's easy to slip into the comfort of our own backyards, but in order to be more worldly, I am going to have to step out of my comfort zone and ask more questions of more people. I have stepped out by becoming a nuisance to my farmer family members, why not move on to strangers?

Time to get worldly . . .after I clean up the kitchen dishes and put the kids to bed!