Friday, June 26, 2009

Hot Child Full of Pity

June26, 2009

Holy sweat glands Batman ! Another day over 95 degrees. Fifth day in a row. We keep getting up earlier to try and beat the waves of stifling heat here in Central Illinois but about 1/2 way through morning chores it hits us again. The knowledge that it is indeed...summer. Less than 10 days ago we had lots of cool rain and needed jackets to be outside. Now we're wearing white trash garb all day long. (I can say "white trash" because I come from a long line of very proud white trash, most still swiggin' on the Mountain Dew in between trips to the junkyards of Southern Indiana)

Our daily uniform consists of as little as possible, and by the time we are washing up buckets and milkers in the tank room well after dark, most of our clothing has been shucked off and left hanging on the tank room door.

Now before your greedy little heads start thinking "Woo Hoo we could be making some big money on the rural calender couple", remember; whatever skin is no longer covered by clothing is definitely covered with fly specks, mosquito bites and artistic manure smears. The cows love us sooooo much they like to mark us. Still thinking impure thoughts ? I didn't think so.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cow Pies: Not just for breakfast anymore.

June 23, 2009

When I was 8 we moved from the north side of Chicago to the rinky-dink village of Warrenville. I quickly made friends with two sisters, Barb and Pauline. Their parents owned a small dairy farm. They taught this city girl how to drink raw milk from a laddle dipped into the steel milk can, and how to "bronk-ride" 400 lb calves. On cool spring days when we played "Bonanza" in the pastures, they taught me the best way to warm up my bare feet was to bury them in a fresh hot cow pie. I thought I was just playing. I had no idea I was growing a healthy immune system.

I have been an RN for 24 years. In an average 12 hr shift I wash my hands at least 50 times, before and after every single patient contact. I do it because it is hospital policy and because I am exposed on a daily basis to a slew of infectious diseases, most resulting from the ever-expanding overuse of antibiotics in our country. I wash my hands to protect myself, my family and my patients. But on the farm...its a very different story.

On an average day I handle a lot of goop. Calf bottles that get pushed out of their holders and then get picked up by me will have slimy calf spit on the nipple and maybe some manure on the sides. Chicken eggs come out clean some days, other days are spotted with whatever the chicken had on her feet prior to laying. It usually isn't glitter. Cows love to dance when the weather is cool which can result in poo-flung hair if you are standing too close. You name it, we've stepped in it, fallen in it, accidently tasted it. (Hey, if your mouth is open when the cows are dancing...)

My husband and I believe strongly that the more germs you are exposed to the healthier you will be in the long run. Less infections, less sick time, less recovery time. Studies have validated this belief especially in regards to children. One pet good, two...even better. Its not that we don't wash at home. Certainly we do before meals, and before cooking and we ensure our cows and equipment are clean before and after milking. But we don't hit the hyper button when a grandkid kisses a goat, hugs a duckling or gets a little calf drool on their hands. Life is for living and farms get messy.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Write when you get work !!!!

June 22, 2009

Yesterday was Fathers Day and as is usual for our family at any event, we often end the day in the dining room or living room practicing the strange tradition of...talking. One of the topics we landed on was the decline in real communication in this era of cell phones, emails, Blackberries, texting, voice mail and yes even BLOGS. We vented about our feelings in regards to being cut off mid sentence when the person you are speaking to face to face , suddenly decides to abort the conversation in order to answer his Clamshell, his obnoxious call waiting signal , or even worse... to begin a texting war that includes you not.

When I was a teen, it was not unusual for me to have a fight with my folks and then threaten to run away. Did my parents beg and plead with me to stay ? Did they warn me of the dangers in the outside world and remind me of their unending love and support available only in the bosom of their home ? Naaaa. They said, "Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out !"

Face to face communication. They key to strong family relationships.

We also lamented (well my kids mentioned it, I was the "lamenting" one), the loss of real letters. The little treasures we used to find in our mailboxes . Both my parents were excellent letter writers. My mother would fill several pages with news of breaking down cars, trials at work, home repair nightmares. Day to day stuff. My fathers' letters often covered the same topics but in a completely different way. First of all his envelopes were covered with his artwork. Maybe done with marker, or chalk or crayon. Whatever he had available and in reach of the kitchen table. He would sketch little trains and cars shuttling mail across the country, Postmen looking for my mailbox in jungles or other rough terrain. His letters were equally colorful. He made fun of his daily financial struggles, the eejits he had to deal with and he spoke with great affection for my siblings. My brother may have lost his temper the night before and thrown a chair across the room chipping the Mother Mary statue one more time, but in my fathers letter he would say, "your brother really lit up the house last night with his antics !"

When our oldest son was in the Navy, and especially when he was out on the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Pacific Ocean, writing letters was the means of sanity retention for this mamma. From MY kitchen table, all the way out across miles and miles of water and then into his hands were feelings that could never have been well expressed with abbreviations like MUSM and 459 4EAE. When he was able to write back, my heart would leap at the site of the return address when I first glanced it in our rural mailbox. Somedays I would riiiiiiiiip it open on the spot and read it standing right in the middle of the road. Other days I would take time to make some fresh coffee savoring the letter and the hot beverage at the same time.

My favorite letter writer is a woman in her 80's. Mom R. When I was 19 and way troubled, she invited me to live with her and her family. I stayed for 3 months. I left her Northern Illinois home in the middle of the night and hitchhiked to SD . Within days of arriving she sent the first letter. I wrote back. Then she, then I. THIRTY-ONE YEARS LATER we are still writing. Several times a year. She has 8 children, multiple grandchildren, multiple multiple great grandchildren and yet she finds time to write to me.

So, gather up your cartridge pens, find a little paper and get to work. Write a letter to someone you love today. Don't forget the stamp and the wax seal with your initials on the back flap.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Organic Smorganic

June 17, 2009

Today I spoke with all of my three sisters and each brought up the word "organic". It reminded me again how confusing that word is. Even Rush got it wrong a few months ago on his program. He said "Organic simply means grown in manure". If only it were that simple. (Rush, when you read this give me a call on my private line and we'll chat)

According to , the word organic means "relating or belonging to the class of chemical compounds having a carbon basis " and "a simple and healthful, close to nature lifestyle". So basically all humans are organic (the carbon idea) BUT unless you are also simple and healthful then maybe not so much ? It gets even more confusing when every Tom, Dick and Hairy Farmer who throws their Round-Up away, feels entitled to call their farm organic. After that it becomes personal since becoming CERTIFIED organic required quite a bit more blood, sweat and jeers ,from my husband and I than just scattering a few seeds on a manure pile. (And now a sidebar for you music lovers...did you know Organic is the sixth full length studio album CD by heavy metal, progressively hard rock band Freak Kitchen ? How fun is that ?)

I'm not just worked up about the use of the word organic. I also cringe when I hear people call themselves "nurses" when they hand out a little Motrin or "farmers" when they keep two chickens in the back garage. Go ahead and say it , I'm a rule person. To be CERTIFIED organic one has to meet the very specific standards set forth by the NOP (National Organic Program) a division of the USDA (United States Dept. of Agriculture.) For our dairy farm those standards numbered over 150 and covered topics such as feeding, treating and housing our cows. Those standards also applied to our pastures which had to be free of all chemicals , treated seeds and synthetic fertilizers for three years prior to being surveyed. Once we felt standards were met we chose a certifying agency, paid a hunk of change and willingly submitted to a surveyor sloshing through our fields, interviewing our livestock and fingering our files for several hours. (Record keeping is very big in the CERTIFIED organic world.

These aren't complaints. Just facts. Consumers should be aware of where their food originates and be cautious when they see or hear about food that is "organic". Check labels, know your producers and if anyone knows where I can buy a copy of Freak Kitchens CD, drop me a line.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Knock Knock Knockin' on Heavens Door

June 16, 2009

On my way to watch the grandbabies yesterday a large gravel truck pulled out in front of me. I had seen him off to the left at the gravel quarry I pass often. I could also see he was moving a little fast towards me if indeed he was going to make the stop sign facing him. I started to slow down and suddenly he sped up and then he was right in front of me. I had to brake pretty hard but we did miss each other. I was not shook up. I've had many close calls in 38 years of driving, (yes, I started at 12, my dad taught me the ropes on a bright orange-three-on-the-tree-chevy pickup, ) but it made me think about my to-do-list.

Had I written "prepare to die" on that days list ? I think not. So perhaps I need to add it. I mean really, are all my relatonships in good standing ? Starting with the most important, when did I call God last ? Oh, I have emailed him a few times lately but when was the last heart-to-heart conversation ? And how about my husband ? He would say all is well but I know he often gets the short end of the stick. Then there are my children. Do they really know specifically why I am proud of each of them ? How much I treasure them ? And what about my siblings ? Any past injuries that need to be repaired ? Probably.

So my near collision yesterday did put me in great mood and it was easy for me to spend time with my grandkids at the park a large part of the day. Because WHAT IF that was the last time they had time with me at the park, shouldn't those last swing pushes be really excitingly high ? I also bought two new chair cushions for these great metal rockers I found at a garage sale a few years back. Those chairs have been in our garage too long, waiting for me to paint them the perfect color red so they would match the house.

Now they have the cushions my 7 year old granddaughter Nicole picked when we went to the store yesterday to buy picnic grub. The striped blue and brown cushions don't match my house, they just match her little heart. And my husband and I , and my grandchildren and I, are going to sit in those chairs today and watch the peacocks flirt with my husbands green truck because that is always good for a laugh. At least, that is what is on todays to-do list.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Geripediatric Confusion

June 19, 2009

Today is Monday. No, that is not my laundry day or my shopping day. It is my geripediatric day. I go to my daughters house to care for her children while she recovers from HER night shift as an RN. After she wakes I switch gears (grinding them all the way) and head over to my Aunt Bernies apartment to assist her. She is 90. I fill her med box, do her laundry and catch up on all the excitement of her assisted living facility. My sister does all her housekeeping. Between the two of us we are able to keep her somewhat independent.

On a good day I arrive home feeling like maybe I helped some folk in my family. A bad day is when I dress my 21 month old grandson in my aunts grannie panties and then buckle my aunt into his carseat when I take her out for supper. Neither of them complain when I make these mistakes. I guess they just like the change in routine.

Many woman my age (FIFTY ! FIT, FINE oh forget it...I'm just fifty) are part of this "sandwich generation", where we are in between two or more generations, providing care to those younger and older than we are. My 28 year old daughter nailed my life situation awhile back when she said I was more of the "lasagna generation" with many, many layers. (And a very messy looking top layer I might add. Who has time for coiffure ?!)

I love that I am physically able to be with so many I love in one single day. I am thrilled that they know of each other and that Mondays mean four generations of my family can be in one town. I am blessed to have enough nursing skills to know not to mix up the Cardizem with the kids Motrin. And at the end of the day I am tired I could sleep in a calf hutch.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Killer Calves

June 9, 2009

The birth of a newborn calf. The little pink nose emerges, mamma cow gives a few dainty pushes, and there he is, all sweetness and light. She licks him clean, he gazes with adoring eyes at mommy dearest and all is well on the farm.

The next day I gear up.

Calves have a way of transforming into Little Chuckie Bovines in a matter of hours. Its our own fault. We teach them very quickly after birth that milk really comes from bottles. Mamma cow goes back to the herd to earn a living and les enfant makes the move to our hutch village. Yes, we know some of you feed your calves in groups, out of large communal buckets with multiple nipples, but not all of us passed eighth grade you know. And besides , calf hutches all lined up look so....neat.

At first the doe eyed babes are tentative and cautious. A sip here and a sip there. Suddenly, on instinct alone they suck HARD and their reward is the spilling forth, of warm frothy whole milk. Pure Latte on Latte. And the evil begins. A hungry calf is a killer calf. If you forget that you are putting all your own soft spots in grave danger. I should know. I'm a bottle calf survivor.

Here are some tips for you calf feeding newbies.

1. Its always best to just throw the bottle into the holder on the side of the hutch and just
run. Distract your calf first. "hey look, isn't that the milk truck leaking milk all over our
yard. ?"

2. If your aim is bad and you have to actually place the bottle into the holder, walk up
to the hutch with your knees clamped together. More than one farmwife has experienced
a SURPRISE hysterectomy by a concrete nosed , milk seeking calf. Don't trust your own
muscle groups to do this. Use a bungee cord.

3. When removing the bottle after feeding, use your right hand to grab the bottle, use your
left hand to pinch off the air supply going through the calves nose. You have 1.2 seconds be
fore little Fernando realizes he can breathe through his mouth, giving him enough energy
to make a move on you. Yes PETA folks, I'm just kidding (sort of)

4. Never BACK INTO a hungry calf. His nose will connect with your ...uh...landing strip and
you'll be unable to enjoy sitting in your husbands recliner for some time.

That should get you started. Be brave, be quick and may the force be with you.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Farmhouse of Usher

June 6, 2009

I should be sleeping. I have to go to the hospital in a few hours and work my regularly scheduled 12 hour night shift on the Medical-surgical floor. But Alas, I cannot. The wailing sounds, flashing lights and eerie music of the Farmhouse of Usher waketh me. It says "clean me, dust me, scrape the old dead ladybugs , flys and tarantulas out of my windowsills"

I used to be a good housekeeper, back in 1814 when I had just two kids and a small rental home in town. The yard then was the size of my front porch now, and there were no gardens to care for because I had no brains for planting things . (Hmmm does the seed go on top or underneath the dirt ?) Well I did have 6 cute little matching pots with red geraniums on the front steps. My neighbor kept them watered. Now we are rich in farm land, farm animals and farm life. This equates to a house that never really gets clean because farm work is never ending.

I make attempts. Diaper wipes are my salvation. Before changing the grandson I'll use one side of the wipe to swoosh the hay and straw out of the sink, the other CLEAN side goes to his bottom. (Ladies , put down the phone to DCFS, I only mixed up the dirty and clean sides of the diaper wipe once). I am also very conscientious about our dog. If I think one of my grandbabies is going to drop food on the floor I call Buster in RIGHT AWAY to lick it up. My kitchen floor always looks clean, however if anyone ever cultured it....

Happy Anniversary to Us

June 5, 2009.

Happy Anniversary to us ! Sixteen years. I've always said my husband is a cross between John Boy Walton and John Denver. I am so blessed and so undeserving.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Mow is Me

June 4, 2009

Thanks to friend Stacey for the terminology. She must've gotten mighty tired of me complaining about the grass wars. Lots and lots of grass. In a past life that would've been good thing.

Now it means work and more work for both Keith and I. By the time I finish one end of the yard, the end I started with is a foot tall. Last year my husband convinced me to mow less and pasture or "naturalize" more. It made sense but did not result in less work, only a different kind of work. Pastures have to be fenced, perimeters need to be mowed to keep fences from grounding out, and even the pastures themselves have to be mowed at times after grazing to control weeds and allow sunshine to get to the grasses we want to grow. I see it. I want to conquer it. But maybe...I'll convince Keith to put up the hammock instead.