Monday, December 15, 2014

Maybe You Are, Maybe You're Not

Maybe you've been wondering how we're faring after all of our changes during the past 8 weeks.

And maybe you're not, and I guess that's why I have struggled to write as of late. There's a lot, and I mean A LOT, more hectic, exhausting, happy, sad, interesting life stories out there, so please excuse me as I add to that pile.

First and foremost, we are adjusting.

And by adjusting, I mean, after selling our cows about a month ago, in the past week, we (and by we, I mean Joe), have purchased three new show animals: two heifers and a steer. They are currently being housed at their vacation homes until we get our more permanent set up, well, set up. Now, while three animals seems very, very small potatoes considering we (and again, I mean Joe) were dealing with 150 cows, calves, and all the chores that go along, having these three new friends gives Joe just a taste of the life of a cattleman.

Adjusting is the best word I can use to describe the past month. On Thanksgiving, we leisurely traveled to my father in law's, and spent the night, not worrying about any animal or crop or anything nearly 100 miles away. While that was heavenly to me, as I wasn't forced to pack up six kids for just a short day trip, but rather enjoy time spent on my father-in-law's farm, for Joe, it was strange. Thankfully, a few of our purebred cows are wintering on this farm, so Joe was able to get a little "fix" while we were there.

While there's much to do around here...a closet to demo to make room for a new basement staircase, papers to grade, babies to feed, kids to run around and chase after, the adjustment from farmer to non-farmer is hard. As I have written about many, many times, agriculture, especially when you're a producer, with your hands deep in the dirt and choring every day, it becomes a part of your soul.

It's not just a job, it's your whole life, so when that piece of your life's puzzle is removed, there's a lot of adjusting.

The kids have fared well, it's not like we've moved or anything. Our show animals will require daily chores, just in a different venue. And while my dad and my uncle still pull equipment out of the shed, just feet from our front door, there's a little piece of me that is slightly off, knowing that Joe really doesn't have to go out there and mess around in the shed, or take the Ranger across the road to check cows.

It's strange.

And we're adjusting.

Like I said before, it's not like we don't have plenty to do...our babies are growing and becoming a little more demanding. Our big kids are still filling our lives and calendars with their joyous activities, and Jack...well, he's three and is wearing. me. out. Joe is thriving as the community's new ag instructor, and I'm just trying to hold it all together and appear to have it all rolling along.

Notice I used the word, "appear," because six days out of seven, I'm NOT together, I just made it to the shower, before noon preschool pick up and had regular (although NOT the right size...ugh) clothes on.

We're all plugging away, trying to navigate our new roles, and when the first snow falls, we'll get over this weirdness and enjoy coffee and cocoa, knowing no cows of ours will be calving in a drift.

That's a good adjustment.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ticking Things Off the List

It snowed a little last night. Nothing like upstate New York (which is now flooding...and I think I have problems. Sheesh.), but it snowed nonetheless. So, this morning, after kids were loaded on the bus, I spent time (read:money) ordering snow boots for my kids (Land's End is 40% off today!)...and a pair for me (thank you, Athleta gift card!).

One thing off the list.

Are you a list maker?

I'm psychotic about it. In college, my roommate would tease me about my overabundance of post it notes, many of them planning my day, hour-by-hour, including time slots to eat and shower. I was a little crazed, but I rarely forgot to shower, because my list told me to!

Anyway, I still make lists.

Yesterday, our list included such fun things as organizing the craft closet and, while I don't make a note to shower, laundry is always on my list. My girls were able to make a "fun" list, too, once they got their chores done.

Our life is like a list right now. Since finding out about the babies, Joe switching jobs, and our house project, our list seems to be never ending. However, there are things that have been ticked off the list:

1) Babies born (check)
2) School started
3) House jacked up (check)
4) Cattle sold (check)
5) Harvest completed
6) House set back down (check)

Did you catch #4?
Cattle sold?
What the?
Aren't we a "working grain and livestock farm?" Isn't that what this blog is all about.

Well, here's the deal: Sometimes, life doesn't work out the way you plan, no matter what's on your list.

What a prophetic statement, huh? I'm so deep.

But seriously, there are times when you have this plan, and you think that you have all your ducks in a row, and then...

Not so much.

This is us and our farming agreement. While Joe had an excellent herd and a good working relationship with our landlord, sometimes, plans change. People change, and life gets in the way.

Farming is hard, friends. For those of you in agriculture already, you know this. You know the feeling of being a slave to the weather, following markets as they rise and fall, the feeling of pride as you look out at your crops or animals, and the feeling of fear as you watch a storm roll in. You know the exhaustion from a long night of calving in the cold, the tug when you're working and want to be home. The rewards are great, and the risk is even greater.

Joe felt this. All of this. We first started when he was working his corporate job. We had a hired man. We had flexibility. In time, this flexibility waned; the corporate job thinned and farming took over our life. While that's not all bad, for some, it's too much. Joe likes to be in control, and in farming, there's little one can control.

So we persevered. We tried. Joe built his herd into a great one, but it felt like the list could never be completed. There was always so much to do, so little time, never enough money, and when you can't ever feel "done," you can't ever get away. It can wear on one's psyche.

When the ag teaching position opened up, Joe carefully considered all his options. He made a list. He decided to make a go of it, and try to keep up with the farm as well.

That's a list not even worth making, as it's impossible to tick anything off of it, especially with a wife, twins on the way (at the time) and four other active kids who love their daddy and his time.

So, he made another list.

One that included walking away.

That was hard to swallow.

However, from my short time of blogging and being a part of agriculture, I have come to realize that to be involved in ag, one doesn't have to just have a list that includes checking calves and buying seed. Agriculture is a career genre that encompasses so much more, and is more of a lifestyle than just a "job." I have blogged otherwise, but have become wise thanks to my interaction with other non-farmer ag people.

So, a few weeks ago, Joe ticked off list item #4: selling the cattle. His half of the herd. Two nights at the sale barn, a great financial reward for the hours and days and years spent on these animals,

and a big lump in our throat.

It's weird.

Our list has changed.
Our life has changed.

Yesterday, we didn't go to church (again), but Joe and Jack played Batman and watched Sesame Street together.

They've never done that.

While I know that Joe likes his list to be full, this time to just breathe and enjoy the children we have and the job that he has from Monday to Friday is precious.

We'll be back in the cattle business, however. The kids will still show, as arrangements have been made with a neighbor for Anna's show animals until our space has been built. And, like many careers, cattle farming is something that's in your blood, and you can't get out.


Joe's list may have changed a bit, but our goal here to keep you all abreast of what life on the gravel road is like won't change. I'm grateful that while we may be stepping out of the production side of agriculture, we are still invested in the ag community, and that's what's awesome about it. There's no list of requirements to be welcome as a member of the agriculture community. Once you're in, you're in. No items to tick off to enter.

And I'm so grateful for that.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

One Year, Two Babies, and a LOT of Change

One year ago, we were in a place that we knew was inevitable, but still were not prepared for.
One year ago, we were experiencing emotions, navigating the pain through our children's reaction, trying to be strong for them and for each other.
One year ago, we were driving to be with Joe's family, sifting through pictures, choosing things that weren't fun to choose, and accepting food. Lots and lots of food.
One year ago, we lost Karma, Joe's mom. It almost seems like it happened a week ago, for me, as I can remember weird details. What I was wearing, the look on my sister-in-law's face when she found certain pictures that made her laugh, and cry, the smell of the house with food and family and Karma's cleaning products mixed together. It's strange.
However, it also seems like ten years ago. Babies born, job changes, house remodels, and some insignificant changes make this day seem like an eternity away.
Nevertheless, today is similar to the feeling I had one year ago. Joe's family is amazing. They are strong. They are close, and they are loving. So today, like one year ago on November 20th, I don't know how to be supportive. When a family is strong and tough and loving and close, when you're a puddle and (this year) horribly hormonal, how do you show your support without seeming like a mess, still? She wasn't my mother, but she was like my mother. Joe and I are so busy right now, I hardly know what to talk to him about that doesn't involve carting kids around, appointments, plumbers, drop or non-drop ceilings...etc.
So here I am, writing, because although I generally have no problem talking to anyone about anything, this is hard.
Maybe it's because so much good has happened, and she hasn't seen it. Maybe because she's still here, in little things and big (like Caroline's bald head...her mother said so! ). Maybe because I still don't know what to say when Josie shares that she misses her Grammy and asked last night at choir practice for the Christmas concert for the choir to pray for us today.
Oh the heart strings. Pulled taut already, proud and sad.
Anyway, before I become more of a puddle, here's some cuteness and progress to share in honor of my sweet mother in law. She loved babies, and loved HGTV, and I feel like we're a great representation of both right now!
photo credit: Amy Davis Photography
We had a photo shoot with my sweet running partner (I've been given the go ahead to go on a run, and I CAN'T WAIT...but it's now 2 degrees to I will wait!) and friend, Amy Davis. We had so much fun trying to keep the girls asleep, then awake, bows on, then was a hoot, and aren't they adorable?
Oh friends...sweet, sweet friends. Do you know what these stairs mean? They mean that PROGRESS IS A-COMIN'!! We are now in the phase of our basement remodel that means we will have water and heat because the plumbers and HVAC dudes won't fall to their death from the utility entrance when starting to re-install our water and heat! Can I get a WHOOOOOHOOOOOOO????????

Small changes and big, this year has been one for the books, for sure. While we rejoice babies and steps, we also remember Joe's mom, and honor her today.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Survival, Harvest, and Working Toilets

There is a need for a big poignant post, explaining truly what's going on here on the farm.
But today is not that post.
Today is fluff, because I do not have the mental capacity for a statement post, because all I really want is a toilet that flushes, someone to not walk in while I'm nursing, and heat. Oh, glorious heat!
So, here's some fluff:
First of all, harvest. Remember that? Remember that this blog is agricultural?
Oh, yes.
Harvest 2014 should be wrapped up today. With a big bow. And a cherry on top. Joe has not had a big role in harvest this year, as he is at school all day, but my dad, uncle and cousins have been going great guns. Typically, we head to our local elevator a mere five miles from roughly anywhere we farm. However, this elevator has received a major facelift, and wasn't operational until last week. Big sigh to the stupid wet summer and its influence on all things construction (GAH). Anywhoo, Dad had to haul all over God's country to get the bumper crop somewhere that wasn't our full bins. However, I hope that alongside a big explanatory post, we'll have a collective hallelujah from our corner of the country that we're done TONIGHT.
How's that for a cliffhanger?
Secondly, our house. We are no longer "floating," as Jack says, but are set back down on the new foundation, and if everything goes as planned, should be back in the HVAC and soft water business in just a few days/weeks. All of you who are either in construction or who have built anything are laughing.
That's why I am typing from the comfort of my mom and dad's house. I had had enough on Saturday. When the plumber never came back to turn on the valve for my hot water to the kitchen and laundry, and I was washing breast pump parts in my bathroom sink, only having the dude come in and mention they had hit our phone/internet line while digging the absolutely necessary new septic system, and I had to drag my son back inside, as there were 53 ways to die in our yard. I HAD HAD ENOUGH. So, an hour and a half of packing later, the kids and I headed to Mom and Dad's where we have enjoyed the comforts of home (like heat and hot water), and I have been sleeping on my Mickey Mouse pillow ca. 1980.
I do have to toot my own horn for a bit. I feel like I have done well, despite the craziness. I have held it together despite giving birth to preemie twins who had to stay in the NICU for nine days. I have held my craziness in despite the four kids who need me to run them to their various activities. I have a great support team, don't get me wrong. I can't do this alone. Between Joe and Grandma and babysitters...we were doing fine. However, when your job becomes solely to feed, clothe and bathe children, and you have a house where you cannot do those without baling water in an ice cream bucket from one sink to the other, and your floor is cold enough you wonder if socks and slippers and shoes would be a good option, you may have had enough...for the time being. My husband is rolling his eyes at my lack of ability to rough it, but considering there's never been a time that I haven't lived without cable TV, I'm not known to be able to rough it. At all.
So, here we are.
In other news...The babies are doing well. Growing, gurgling, sleepingeatingpooping...the kids are taking this all with good, age appropriate responses. Jack is ornery as all get out, and is happy to be with his people...Grandma and Grandpa. The girls like pretending to be town kids, and I am enjoying having a break once in a while when Grandma whisks kids here and there.
And Joe? How's Joe, you ask? Joe, if you're reading this, I'd love to see you. He's been holding down the fort, keeping our pipes from freezing and being the ultimate multitasker, and teaching America's youth and trucking grain when he's not on the clock. We'll look back at this and laugh, right? In the meantime, happy 12 years of being together, as we marked that date yesterday...only I remembered it by a Facebook post that the girl I used to babysit wrote about her birthday, which made me remember we got engaged on her birthday.
So, I sent Joe a text.
This is where we are, friends.
Survival mode. No frills. Just survival.
So, bear with me...and enjoy blogs from other excellent writers, such as Holly and her 30 Days Campaign, which includes my friend Katie. They are highlighting some pretty amazing people.
I am not one of those, as I cannot even keep it together to remember to make my bed, and it's 11:30 in the afternoon.
Either way, happy's to a new week and working toilets!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

If You Can See God's Hand in It, Then Why Is It So Hard?

First of all, I'm not Job. If you're struggling, and you're not a Bible reader, read the book of Job, then you'll feel like you're just whining about the dirt on your kitchen floor.

However, everyone has issues, am I right? Some are better at hiding them via a flat iron and eyeliner and a cute outfit (ahem), and some are an open book train wreck at all times. Either way, we're all in this world for a purpose, I believe, and it's a Godly one.

So, then, why is it that I feel like at times God's hand is guiding me, and yet, it's so stinking bizarre and hard and roundabout?

Let's back up. It's been a year, friends. We're nearing the one year mark of losing Joe's mom to cancer. Her birthday was last week. Her fingerprints are in our fall traditions, still, one year after her leaving this earth. It's still hard. I'm just the daughter-in-law, but having the babies without Karma was something surreal.

Then, move into our jobs. Joe has changed professions...well, gone back to his original profession. I have left my professional path...again, and then there's the whole "do we keep farming or not."

That question is for another post, another day.

Regardless, with the blissful birth of the babies comes sleepless nights, tossing and turning and reconsidering every decision you've made since age 18.

Good times.

I know I'm on the right path; I can feel it, but in the midst of all this chaos...and by chaos, I mean late night groggy feedings, no water softener (and for a Type A Neatfreak, this is enough to push one over the edge), and the hectic time of harvest, one can start to question God's hand and plans for oneself.

Like today.

Joe's selling cattle today, and while I said I would post a more clear picture of this, we're re-inventing ourselves in the field of agriculture. He and his dad worked yesterday loading and sorting, and while part of me is excited for a new chapter, one with more freedom and less risk, why am I so teary?

If this is a part of our plan, then why am I so upset?

The thought of the unpredictability of a new chapter, yes.
The redefinition of ourselves, yes.
Hormones...oh, heck yes.

Either way, God's plan has unfolded in front of us, and unlike that commercial where the insurance agency leads you with a green line, we're searching for something, some direction, some indication that this plan will bring not only glory to Him, but happiness and stability for us.

Selfish, I know, but who doesn't want to be able to say, in nine years, we'll be able to start paying for our daughter's first semester of college (we had the "is Santa real" conversation last night with Anna, and I feel like the next step is sorority rush.)?

In the end, literally and figuratively, we'll be okay. We're not Job. We don't have Ebola. We're not living in a van down by the river. Our kids are healthy...our bills are paid. However, the unknown is strange and uncharted.

So, if you're starting to worry about your path, and wonder if God has a good sense of humor or just likes playing, well, God, remember that with every good, there's a bad.

And would you remind me of that when I start to feel like we need a few cows here and there? Remind me I can go on a vacation or a run without worrying about chores.

There's the light! There's the silver lining! Whoo hoo!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

What Did You Do In the Past Two Weeks?

Hi friends!

According to my calculations (the date on my last post), it's been over two weeks since last we met.

Two weeks.

Seems like two years.

What have you done in the past two weeks? Had a busy time? Enjoyed a pumpkin patch? Harvested or watched someone else harvesting? How about a football game? Today's my alma mater's homecoming...and I'm not there. Again.

Why, you ask?

Well, in the past two weeks, we've had a lot going on. Not only has harvest started around here with equipment coming in and out and all over the place, but we still have our house have we suspended in the air. We have moved out, and then moved back in (only to still be up on should feel this puppy shake when I do a load of towels).

Besides our logistics being a little "up in the air" (pardon the pun), we brought home our most precious portion of the last two weeks last Saturday.

Mary Kathleen and Caroline Suzanne were born a month early, safely, after a pretty scary delivery. I have done this birthing thing before, on my own accord, and when I was kicked out of the hospital October 9th, and then told again by my doctor at my weekly appointment that day that I would be pregnant for another week or so, I was not happy. Not comfortable, not hearing it, and NOT believing it. In fact, by the time we got back to our house, I was contracting. Then, by the time my kids had dinner and were shipped to Grandma's, I was contracting regularly enough that I KNEW it was coming. So, off we went to the hospital again, after a phone call to my doctor where I explained I was NOT going to be kicked out for a false alarm again that night. Babies were coming.

And come they did...just a few minutes after being admitted, my water broke, and we were on our way to a c-section room. I had spoken with my doctor that afternoon about the positioning of the girls, and we agreed, safety first. So, while I was told in my first delivery I was a "born pusher..." uhhhh...thanks?, and that I had delivered naturally four times before, this was a different case.

I will spare you the details, but those of you who have had c-sections can attest that it's major surgery in a scary sterile room. This was completely different and scary for me, but when they delivered Mary, she was as pink and dark headed and YELLING as LOUD as she could, just like my previous children. However, when I was told I needed something to relax to deliver the second baby, and then the look on Joe's face when she came out, I knew this was NOT like my last delivery.

Caroline came out, but had been basically trapped by my contracting uterus (sorry if you're squeamish about this stuff). She was stuck, and while safely delivered, was not breathing and her color was not good. I didn't realize she had been delivered, as the rush of NICU, labor and delivery, and doctors covered her from my sight, but the look on Joe's face told me the story.

And it wasn't good.

For two minutes, which seemed as long as these two weeks, they worked on our precious girl. One of our dearest friends leading the charge (Julie, I love you for saving my girl). She was breathing, with assistance, and for two minutes, we weren't sure. However, she came through, took a big breath on her own (I'm assuming), and both girls were whisked to the NICU.

I spent a good hour in recovery...I think. I was kind of in and out. I was then taken to see my girls in the NICU.

In isolettes.

In different rooms.
Caroline hooked up to a C-PAP machine so I couldn't see her face; Mary covered in monitors so I couldn't touch her.

I know hormones are raging at this point, but any mother who has had to endure this should be given a pass if they are hysterical.

Our girls spend a week at Hotel NICU, at Children's Hospital of Illinois. I will tell you, if you're ever in need of great, and I mean world class care for your infants, this is the place to go. While I had to leave them last Monday, as I was discharged and needed to be with my other kids, too, I knew that the twins were in good hands, and I would get to take them home when they were ready.

Thankfully, last Saturday, they were ready, and we've been home for a week.

Sleep is a distant memory. Space is at a premium, and our hearts are filled with joy of our healthy girls, helpful big kids, and generous and loving friends and family who have fed us, ran our kids around, and just taken good care of us. My mom, especially, deserves a medal. Anna said she was like our cook and chauffeur! It's the truth...she's been amazing, and it's because of her taking my kids to her house this afternoon to play that I am able to crank out this lengthy and rather newsy post!

Anyway, what have YOU done for the past two weeks, huh? I'm competitive in about everything, but these past two weeks and all that have gone on is a competition I was willing to forfeit.

However, life is good. Babies are sweet and content, and we are so blessed.

Thank you for all your prayers, and thanks for your understanding that while I signed up for Holly's post-a-day challenge in November (my series is entitled, Survival), I may be absent, as my life here is full. I'm efficient, but this portion of my life is sucking the efficiency and energy out of me.

However, I AM in pants that zip and button, and ARE NOT MATERNITY!!

Small victories, folks.

Here's some pictures, case you hadn't seen them.

Here's to a less eventful two weeks!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

#iam4H...Now, but not When I Was Really IN It

Oh, sweet, sweet irony.

So, like 20some years ago, I was a member of the Oneida Mix N Fix 4H Club. Cute name, huh? Totally appealed to the dudes and the dudettes, right?

Kind of.

Ask my brother...not so much.

Anyway, I was the president, I think, at one time, went to State Fair in sewing, showed my "Graphic Arts" projects (even though I have NOT ONE SINGLE CRAFTY OR ARTSY BONE IN MY BODY), and even went to the State Fair in Public Speaking for demonstrating how to French Roll one's hair.

Hard hitting, huh?

However, I never really bought into it. I never got involved beyond our little club that met in the basement of the Presbyterian Church. I never held a position, never wanted to be a part of the bigger 4H picture.

Then, sweet, sweet irony stepped in.

Meaning, my daughter.

Anna joined 4H last year, her first year of eligibility. She was pumped. She signed up for her projects, worked hard, and had a really successful first year, scoring blue ribbons, and doing great at the livestock show.

I'd say she's all in, considering she's in year two and is currently the secretary.

Now, our club is not a big one, nor is it a mighty one, but it's a group of kids who meet once a month who are doing something a little different. While the meetings (well, let's be real...the ONE I went to), could be a little jazzier, and we need a 4H flag to "pledge our head to clearer thinking" to (I still know all the words, thankyouverymuch), the basic premise of 4H still stands the test of time.

The motto is: To make the best better.

Seems simple enough, and kind of goes along with Joe's and my parenting philosophy. If you're going to do something, do it and do it WELL. I'm not saying I'm a tiger mom by any stretch of the imagination, but if Anna's going to be in 4H, she's going to actively participate. She's a kid that doesn't have to be coerced into trying something new, or going someplace different, or being a part of a new group. She's also a kid who strives to do her best, always...I credit my perfectionism gene for maybe with the other kids, it will be hard to "make the best better," but for now, Anna is the hashtag for this National 4H Week: #iam4H.

Which just blows my mind, because nowhere in my pre-kid parenting picture was there a 4Her, and NO WHERE was there a mom or a dad who were co-leaders (Joe), and as I sat at the meeting on Sunday, I thought, "You know, if I wasn't so grossly pregnant, I would help out more."

After this summer's showing experience, I see how 4H can benefit a kid and his/her confidence, work ethic, and personal motto. To make the best better shouldn't just apply to making a good heifer the reserve or grand champion, but to work hard to reap the benefits and the satisfaction of just working hard. Not to sound like a grandma, but kids these days are participating in things that are so parent driven, so coached, so structured, that if you had something like oh, a 1000 lb. animal you had to lead around and had to trust you, you'd take the initiative to work hard to not, well, get stepped on, for starters. 4H is different than sports, piano lessons, and the like. It's a choice, a commitment, and a time in your life when you can receive what you sow, so to speak.

So, I guess, because we'll have 6 4Hers for the next 19 years, I need to revisit my opinion and experience in 4H and help my kids see how by participating in this seemingly little part of their lives, they are making the best better for the next generation.