Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Prodigal Son

Well, it's coming, ready or... well, I'm ready. I am just a few weeks from the big delivery of our fourth and final child, a son. I am just as excited and uncomfortable as most of my other kids' pregnancies (sans Anna's, since I had NO CLUE, and no other kids to chase after!). However, all through this pregnancy, we have fielded the same question time and again:

Is your husband excited to finally get his boy?

Answer: Yes (to those in Target who are looking at me like I'm a fool, as I tool around the store in the gigantic cart filled with kids and paper products).

However, the answer to those who are closer to us is: Well...

Shouldn't we be happy with what God already blessed us with: Three beautiful, smart, and healthy girls? Shouldn't Anna's love for the farm, as well as Josie's and Amelia's budding farm-girlness suffice for a farmer? Shouldn't the farm be a part of all of them, regardless of the gender of each child?

Answer: YES, yes, and YES!

We are so, so blessed. We are so, so lucky, and we are so, so excited to have our boy, however, in my short time as a farm wife, I am seeing the roles farm women play in their operations that are just as big, if not bigger, than their husbands. I am shocked at how easy farm life and the love of animals come to my eldest daughter, and know that she will, no matter where she is in life, always have a strong work ethic and a stack of life lessons that far outweigh those learned in a classroom. I am surprised at how Josie, our girliest (thus far) is so excited when baby calves are born, wanting to pet them, care for them, and love them. I know that she may not seem to be as comfortable with the down and dirty details of it all (however...she's FOUR, mind you), but I know that her experience as a farm girl will be embedded in her strong little personality. Even our littlest, just shy of two years old, loves to wear her boots when she checks cows with Dad. She too is growing up in an environment that makes me so happy to overlook the dustiness of our road and the craziness of our schedules. She is able to run and play and watch the miracle that is life and growth right out in her backyard.

And, I'm excited for this little guy. What will he be like? Will we dress him in John Deere green, cowboy boots, and Carhartts? Yes. Will he receive tractors and cows and barns and other manly, farmy gifts for years? Of course! But, will we pin all of our family's hopes on the farm to continue on his little shoulders, no. I have learned, just watching Joe as a parent to his girls that they are to glean the good stuff from his lessons on the farm and apply it to whatever they do, where ever they do it. They are to respect the land and its beasts, as well as those who work it, and if they decide to follow in his footsteps, fine. If not, fine. Just be a good person, be kind to others, do your best, and work hard.

Those are lessons that you can't find just anywhere, and I am so lucky to be married to someone and in a place where my kids can get this firsthand.


So, I have a small following. I have some really loyal readers, and I forget that those loyal readers are not necessarily just my mother (who most likely is checking for grammatical errors) and my friends.

News flash, Emily: People actually are reading this.

And better yet: getting something OUT OF IT!!

Holy smokes.

I got an alert from a follower (read, a cousin) that I was mentioned in a blogpost. Thinking that it was another friend's blog, I clicked on it, and got this! Whoo-hoo! I'm on a list with the likes of the Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, HERSELF, and Amanda Radke, advocate for Beef Producers everywhere, and a really good writer at that...not to mention the Food Mommy, who I think is someone all moms should read, or people who EAT should read for that matter!

So, so, so excited...for myself.

So, if you're a follower, thanks for reading, and if you want to make my day, mention me in passing...I'll feel great all day. Who doesn't love PROPS??

Thanks, Celeste!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Birds and the Bees

If you're friends with Joe on Facebook, this will seem redundant, but for those who are not, his last status update recounted a recent event including Anna, her "town cousin," and a bull. After our family Easter egg hunt, Anna's little blond cousin ran up to the fence line where "Pappy" had a bull and a few cows near the edge of the yard. She innocently poked her hand through the fence and said, "Hi, cow!" Anna, who had run up with her, without skipping a beat, corrected the citified cousin stating, "That's not a COW, it's a BULL. Look at his {rhymes with falls}!"

Oh boy.

Joe's 86 year old grandfather, who heard the correction nearly died of laughter. Joe was so proud. I was MORTIFIED.


However, it got me to think, why shouldn't she correct something that's obviously incorrect in an absolutely blunt and truthful way? I have read a lot of debate and been a part of discussions recently about not lying to our kids. While it is probably not the most appropriate thing for us to equate certain events that are leading to the birth of our son with what the bull is now doing to the heifers in heat (cow porn is happening across the's very lovely, let me tell you.), isn't it okay to explain to Anna, in language and verbage that is appropriate to her about essentially the birds and the bees when it comes to the cattle in which she feels somewhat responsible for?

I'm not telling you to run out and teach your kids about reproduction using beef cattle, but when it comes time for our "talk," I feel like Anna will have at least a basis of science that will help her understand at least the mechanics of it all.

At least, that is what I'm telling myself. However, the first phone call I get from a parent from the kindergarten class that is complaining about Anna's bluntness, I might have to pull the plug on this scientific sex ed!

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Great Turkey Burger Debate

It is obvious that Joe and I are pro-beef. We raise it; I race proudly for TEAM ZIP (when I'm running), and we enjoy eating it.

Joe is uber-sensitive to any sort of argument put out in the media or amongst friends in discussions when it's said that beef is unhealthy, unethical, etc. I'm getting more and more in-tune with this argument, as I at one time did buy soy-meat to cook with...Joe is clasping his chest and sputtering for breath at this admission.

Anyway, Hardee's in the Midwest is promoting a new turkey burger, showcasing its wonderfulness with a lovely bikini-clad Miss Something/Somewhere enjoying it. While I do not wish to offend the poultry producers out there, I have to call "fowl." Ha, ha.

When one prepares any meat type of burger, be it turkey, pork or beef, if it is prepared in the most healthful way (I'm thinking that right?), aren't all of these types essentially providing the same amount of nutrients and general goodness? I understand that some beef is processed and packaged more lean, and there are reasons we need to eat a variety of sources of protein, but can't we all just be in this together?

Why must there be an "us vs. them" debate, even within livestock production? Why do I feel like I have to defend myself to another livestock producer? However, it does seem as if there's something billed more healthy on the menu in a restaurant, it's generally not beef. I dislike the way beef is marketed within the Hardee's corporation (actually, all Hardee's marketing is terrible, but that's another rant). Instead of a decent looking and well dressed person enjoying a juicy steak, Hardee's always shows a dude eating a hamburger, all the while wearing some crummy looking flannel shirt, sporting a scruffy beard, and the commercial nearly always ends with the burger being dropped onto a counter with a disgusting, squishy "plop." Where's the hot chick eating a burger? And why does the burger have to make that SOUND?

Last night, however, there was a small victory for us beef producers in the greater entertainment sector. On NBC's Parks and Recreation (which you all should watch, because although again I was skeptical of its Midwestern setting, it is so true at times, how could it not be funny?), anyway, the characters had a cook off between a turkey burger and a hamburger. While the cook of the turkey burger went to a fancy schmancy health food store to spruce up his burger, the burger dude (Ron Swanson...whom I LOVE), slapped his on the grill and served it up on a white bun. The crowd unanimously agreed with the taste of the beef burger being the best. I thought Joe was going to leap out of the couch in joy. Again, I'm not placing any blame on the turkey producers out there, it's just that some times what has always been a crowd favorite, should remain a crowd favorite, and shouldn't be under fire all the time.

It's raining...shouldn't we all stand together under the umbrella of peace???

Either that, or enjoy a good burger together and call it a day.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


There are a lot of similarities between the farmers around here and me. I am constantly fussing about and with something. Currently, I have a baby quilt on a rack, on my bed, ready to hang up. Poor Joe has about nine thousand hooks to hang in various places in our house (remember the Seinfeld episode..."Imagine! A series of hooks!" We're there.). I have furniture to move and paint to roll. I'm constantly rearranging drawers, changing pillow placement on couches, fluffing something. Something always needs to be put away or fixed, in my eyes. It's a nervous habit, I guess.

However, it's also a farmer's habit. It is raining again today, and although just last week the guys were tinkering in the driveway with the planter, lamenting on the lack of rain, it's now the third (or fourth) day of rain, or the potential, cooler temperatures, and one can hear a bit of grumbling. The grumbling at my house is coming from my husband who has been instructed with chalk lines and a power drill placed on his pillow (not really) to get to work on the honey-dos while the weather is crummy. I'm not naggy...I just have to jump on my chance to get some stuff done while he's in the house! Other grumblings include the fact that now it is after the "magic day" of April 15th, and there should be something going on around the countryside. Other farmers in our family (i.e., my father-in-law) have worked ground and even planted. Friends have called Joe, asking him the ever present question of the season, "What have you gotten done?"

Answer: Nothing, ground-wise. A lot, fidget and fuss wise.

That's not entirely true, and I would be in big trouble with my editors (aka, my dad, uncle, and Joe) if I didn't recognize the fact that the planter is unfurled and ready to roll, the Turbo Chopper 4000 is hooked on and staged like a runner at the start line, and the seed, fertilizer, etc. have been delivered. We are all ready to run our race; Mother Nature is just not necessarily cooperating.

Which leads us to the fidgeting.

I'm hopeful that the rain, although welcome for sure, stops and the temperature goes up to at least 65 degrees...for all of our minds. Kids need to be outside; farmers need to have a glimmer of hope that they will get out there and get going for planting season; and I have a garage to clean...with another series of hooks to install!

There's always something!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Oh My

I just read this post from Crystal Cattle's blog, and it lead me to read this article from the Chicago Tribune. And it lead me to form this opinion:

When has it become okay for the public school to make every decision for a child, and take out all responsibility for a parent?

As a former teacher, I feel like I'm pretty in-tune with what's going on at my daughter's school. I know what questions to ask, what to look for if she starts to slip, what "social" really means when it's addressed at parent/teacher conferences. However, that is by my own doing...and my daughter's teacher's lovely, detailed, weekly newsletter. It is MY (and Joe's) to read nightly with her. It is MY job to check her papers, ask her questions about her day, and drag out any (seemingly) minute detail of the day. However, according to my teacher friends still in the biz, there are a lot of state and district and even federal programs that have been implemented that are taking away a teacher's ability to just teach (in some cases), and, in my opinion, let the parent do a parent's job. It is important to me to trust my daughter's teacher, as I tend to hope that you would trust my farmer husband, but shouldn't parents be able to decide with their kids things like what they eat for lunch?

This is getting ridiculous.

My blogging friend, Crystal, makes a really good point about how this may affect the agriculture industry in the long run. She writes, "When will the school district decide that they should adopt Meatless Mondays, because someone fancies it will be a good idea?"

Good point.

What about the kids with special food allergies? I read that some of the concern was that the kids were wasting food, but isn't offering one choice that the kids already don't like defeat this purpose? How are test scores supposed to meet state and federal guidelines and standards when kids are hungry, left with no choice but one during lunch time.

My father-in-law would call this "ignorance gone to seed." My husband says its just another example of how our society believes that we are sheep without a shepherd, unable to make our own decisions about basic needs.

We have a pretty good relationship with Anna's lunch choices. She makes them based on what's offered, and while Joe some times disagrees with this, I believe that we are allowing her to make a big girl choice, but I still ultimately get the say in what's put in her tummy that day. Joe's experience with school lunch was essentially catering. His cooks lovingly prepared a family dinner for its roughly 35 students. I went to a bigger school, and had a little worse food, so I had the option to bring my lunch when I didn't want to eat chipped beef on toast. I had a choice, and although kids in my school didn't always make the best choice, I don't attribute their weight gain on the fact that they were able to bring Doritos in their lunch.


Doesn't this almost sound funny? I am trying to be educated on this, and know as much as I can, but it's almost ridiculous how one little thing can lead to more and more mandates that will take the parents' responsibility out of schooling their kids and will cause a big, big problem in the long run.

Read this article in the Tribune. Read Crystal's post, and let me know what you think. Maybe I'm just too sensitive about food, kids, and school!

Prep Work

Since we live about 30 minutes from a mall, "good" Target, etc., and since I have a kindergartener who needs to be picked up off the bus, a preschooler with class for just three hours, and a toddler who needs a nap, my morning today has been jammed already with prepping, list making, coupon getting for our pilgrimage to the big city for a shopping trip. I have to time my day in according to all schedules, a lunch date with a friend, and store openings. It seems like a lot of work for some Easter dresses and toilet paper.

This is quite a lot like the spring prep work that is going on in my driveway. Our planter is stretched out, arms opened wide so the guys can re-do hoses and fiddle...or so it seems. My dad has been to Farm King for hoses and various other necessities. Joe has been for parts in between working calves and doing his normal chores. A group of men were here yesterday helping my uncle the others get the planter all ready. Even my cousin, who is 10, got in on the action yesterday.



So where's the go? Why haven't we started? Like any operation, there are differing opinions in whether or not we should have unfurled the Turbo Chopper 4000 and started to work up the ground yesterday, or wait until today or tomorrow. There's still a lot to do as far as prep work goes. A lot like getting all your coupons in order as to get the best deals on Easter dresses or spring flip flops or toilet paper, in my world.

My hope is that fingernails are not bitten to the nub in anticipation, and that everyone keeps their wits about them when we do get started.

Here's to hoping.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Foster Care

We have been blessed with a pretty uneventful calving season. Well, not completely uneventful. However, compared to the first two years that we calved, the first year including a calf being born in the muck during Anna's 3rd birthday party and the following year when every calf was born in some sort of inclimate weather, it's been a good year.

However, this morning, Joe found a calf who had gotten into a fence line, and I will spare the details, but the calf did not make it. I hate it when this happens. Joe hates it when this happens, but these unfortunate events do occur now and again. However, we are surrounded by other cattle farmers, and had just received a phone call this past weekend from a neighboring "rancher" who had a calf who needed a mama. I can't remember if it was a twin who was rejected, or a calf who had lost his mother, but this neighbor was looking for a good home for an orphan.

At the time, we didn't need a superfluous calf, but as we speak, Joe is working with this sweet little thing and the mother who lost her baby today, trying to get the two to learn to love each other. The foster care program at the ranch has begun.

This all starts with nursing. If the mama can accept the calf and allow it to nurse, and the calf will take to this new mama, then all is well, and, like a good foster parent, the calf will be treated like he or she is her own. We're hoping that this is the case tonight. I'm hoping it's smooth and quick, considering it's been a gorgeous day, and I have three dirty kids who need baths, and I can hardly bend over.

But, I digress. This process is interesting to me. Cows and their "original" calves have a tight bond, that's for sure. Joe has experienced many a near miss with some ticked off mamas when he has tried to tag (or pierce) the ears of the new babies. Like any good mama, no girl wants her baby messed with (see any new mother as her baby is being passed around a baby shower or the church nursery). However, like any loving being, a mama cow also knows that all creatures need to be cared for and nurtured, and thus the simple act of nursing this calf will create a bond that will be as tight as if she had given birth to this little one herself.

It's amazing to me how something that is so much a business for us, something that inconveniences my ability to do this or that can really get to me as a mother.

Either that, or it's hormones.

Bringin' Home the Bacon

There are pork ribs simmering in my crockpot.

We had grilled pork chops for dinner last night.

Nearly every meal we have had has had the element of bacon in it.

No, we're not becoming crazy Atkins Diet folks, nor are we giving up on beef, chicken, and other means of protein. Last week, we met Joe's folks "in the middle" for pizza and to pick up pork.

How many of you have ever had pizza and a pig in the back of your SUV (don't worry, not a live one)?

My guess is not many.

Regardless, it got me thinking about how fortunate I am to not only have the opportunity to know my beef producer, but my pork producer, too. We are so lucky to have a grocery bill that rarely includes any sort of meat. It is truly a blessing, as much as two deep freezes in my garage are great for these blessings.

Anyway, we are so very fortunate to know our growers, but who else is? Am I a select group? With the push to eat locally and know your grower as well as know where your food comes from, how does one get the opportunity like I do to truly know where my food is coming from? Is it at a farmer's market? Is it from a glossy ad in the meat case at Whole Foods? Is it from word of mouth of moms at a mom's group?

Seriously, how does one truly know where his or her food comes from?

Luckily, around here, you just drive down the road, check your Facebook wall for Joe's advertisements of beef quarters and halves for sale, as well as ask around. But, if you're a city dweller, how do you do this? When all you see for miles is house upon house upon strip mall upon expressway, where do you even start this relationship process.

This is my quest.

I want you, city readers, to try to find a true grower of something. Not a picture at the market, not a random person you met once at the fly by night farmer's market. Get a relationship with some one who produces something for YOU. It is not out of the question for us to travel two hours south to deliver beef to friends of friends, as well as offer them pictures and testimonial information in regards to our operation. Try to find some one like us...or for that matter, come see us.

As much as I would love to say that all of our friends and friends of friends who have purchased beef from us know exactly where and exactly how their beef grew up, I can honestly say that we have had little to no questions, visits, whatever to our farm for the sole purpose of knowing where and how the cattle are raised. None. Nada. Zip.

Isn't that against every fiber of a person's being who is buying locally? Is that poor consumerism? NO! It's called TRUST. Our buyers trust us, based on our character and the quality of the product. There is no reason for these fine friends to believe otherwise. We have the reputation, and Joe has the know-how to do good things in this business. That is why it is important to us to keep livestock regulations in the hands of the producers, not the crazy nuts who want us to basically live as the cavemen did. As much as I love to say that our farm produces food...this woman cannot live on beef alone, and the corn and soybeans we produce are used in fuel and other products. I can't run out and pick an ear from the field behind my house. I can grow sweet corn, but only in July. So what happens in December?

How will Joe "bring home the bacon", as well as truly bring home the bacon for us to eat if regulations and crazy people put us out of business?

Think about it. Enjoy your choices. Enjoy your steak, but try to figure out, some way, some how to know who is putting it on your plate.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Spring Scratch

Well, it's that time of the year. The time whenever we go anywhere and see someone working ground for early spring field work, my husband reports his thoughts on whether or not they're doing a good job, whether or not he should be out there working, and whether or not a rain would do something good or bad for aforementioned field work.

Farmers around here are starting to surface. They're starting to get equipment out and ready. They're starting to "scratch around," as Joe says. I always thought Spring Fever came with an itch, not a scratch, but that's a technicality.

Whatever the case, it's that time, and we're all a little anxious. Should we be doing more? Should we be setting the planter up? Should the guys have been out this last Sunday, when it was 85 degrees, like some of the neighbors?

Would'a, should'a, could'a.

Seriously. Even though we have only been in the full time farming gig for a few years every spring, it's the same conversation: When to start? Where to start? And, some times, Who is starting?

I'm just hopeful I don't have to hear the phrase again, "could you wait about two hours?" when I go into labor and Joe's planting beans. That was a fun moment in our marriage!

The potential to do something, to scratch around, if you will, is there. The seed salesmen are starting to deliver this year's seed. The weather is warming up. There are fields that have been prepped by Crop Production Services. There are neighbors who have worked ground.

However, what no one seems to mention is that we're all a little jittery. To me, this beginning of the planting season is a lot like Christmas shopping. I have sisters-in-law who get their shopping done by October, and come to Thanksgiving and talk about all they have done. I leave the dinner, anxious and cranky, wishing I had been on top of the early sales or had the energy to even consider tackling the lines at Target on Black Friday. However, we all come to our family Christmas with the same gifts, and no one seems to care whether or not I wrapped everything the night before, or three months before. It's all there.

That's what spring scratching is like. Everyone and every operation works at his or her own family's speed. Even within each operation, there may be those who work at differing speeds, but in the middle of summer, the corn is up, and in the end of the growing season, the plants are ready to be harvested. I know I will get a lot of comments from my family about the optimum planting time making the optimum product, I wholeheartedly believe that no one should start to get grouchy or antsy on April 4th.

Now, talk to me on May 4th, and if nothing's done, then I'll be singing another tune!

Happy spring!

Friday, April 1, 2011

An Interesting Traffic Pattern

Where we live, we tend to be quite observant of the traffic that goes by. Our road is an unmarked gravel road, a road we tell friends and visitors where the turn is by the sign on the other side of the road or the distance from the taxidermist who is our "neighbor to the north."

Nice, huh?

Anyway, even though this lovely road is dusty, dirty and only has a handful of houses on either side (thus the need for blokes like us to have blacktop...grrr), it's a thoroughfare to various places. In nearly five years, Joe and I have spent many an evening peering out the windows as well as waving at random people as we play outside with our girls. My findings have led to the beginning of a case study of sorts. I think I will entitle it, Who Goes There? or The Crazies Who Fly Down My Road and Their Destination.

I'm still working on the title.

Anyway, here are my findings:

Group #1: The High School Student
These glorious children are out for a good time, speeding down our road after curfew. We have watched their headlights cut through our fields, go down in our ditches, all the while on the way to a destination, hidden from their parents. I don't want to know what they're doing, but I have an idea (thanks to a good friend who used to frequent the lake by our house in high school himself). Joe has even chased out a few of these kids (man, we're old), following them to make sure their stupid driving tactics and trips through our fields wouldn't knock out the hot wire (aka, electric fence), thus letting the cows out to roam free with these speeding teenagers at 2 AM.
These drivers tend to come out in late night/early morning, generally in the 1 to 3 AM bracket, and keep their speed a steady 60-70 MPH.

Group #2: The Sunday Afternoon Tool Around and Rubberneck Driver
This is a seasonal driver. As my girls and I play outside on a pretty Sunday afternoon in the fall or spring, these drivers, typically males in their upper years (aka old farmers), are just out for a drive. Especially when we were putting up our biggest grain bin (the one we also use as a landmark, as you can see it for miles), we had a lot of these gents. The track tractor my uncle purchased also led to four or five old man pickup trucks and/or Lincoln Continental/other boat like cars to drive by,creeping down our road, swerving as their necks craned to check out what was sitting in our driveway.
These drivers are late afternoon lookers whose speed never tops 20 MPH.

Group #3: The Spoon River Drive People Who Are Just Lost
These folks are very, very rare. Two weekends a year (right around harvest, thus making moving equipment and hauling grain super fun...thank you, crafters!), our area shuts down and gears up for the Spoon River Scenic Drive. If you want anything for your house from crafts to crap, this is the weekend to head to our area. We are between the "hot spots" of Farmington and London Mills, and middle aged women in painted and appliqued sweatshirts tend to think our road will get them to the next stop where they can buy goat's milk lotion and another painted Christmas nativity set faster. I have never seen so many unhappy people buying happy-faced, ruddy cheeked snowmen in my life.
We have had people stop for directions, but generally, these drivers are on a mission, from out of the area, even out of state, whose speed ranges from 30 MPH (to see if I'm selling my ruddy cheeked smiling children) to 50 MPH (to hurry to get to the next stop, the wreaths may be picked over! Hurry!).

Group #4: The Dude on the Lawnmower
Thanks to some field research and local interviews, Joe and I have discovered that our road is a cut through from the Middle Grove Tap (Middle Grove's population is about 14 with a bar count of two ...I think) to My Place in Yates City. Therefore, we have some older, over 21 road trippers who cruise by our house now and again. However, the most recent and most rare of these road trippers is a man on a riding LAWNMOWER. Seriously, this guy must have had some sort of issue with the law and his licensing, but for the past few weeks, he has been up and down our road, past dark, with no lights on. Sounds safe, doesn't it? Last night, as I peered out in wonder, I noticed he even had a small wagon attached to his lawnmower! How fascinating! He's going slow enough that I could probably ask him why the lawnmower, but I don't want to scare such a rare traveler.
His speed never tops 10 MPH (I don't think he can go any faster), and his presence is announced by the typical lawnmower buzz. He generally drives by between 7 PM and 10 PM.

My findings have yielded nothing but true entertainment and curiosity, but as you city folks watch your nine thousand cars pass by in a matter of minutes, think about who is driving. Consider where he or she is going and why. I guess life in the country is good because it's slow for many reasons, especially if your main mode of transportation is a lawn mower!