Our four-year-old grandson does his part to herd the cattle down the road by waving his cap in order to encourage them along. His dad takes a bit more active approach as he runs along behind the critters!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I'm Moving, Please Come Along!

During the months I came slowly back to life again following the crushing blow of losing my teaching job, I began going with my husband each morning to do chores (I took early retirement when my special reading program was discontinued; I wasn't fired or anything but I suffered anyhow.  I so loved teaching kids to read).

I have always loved nature and living on a farm, and so I found peace and healing  in the beauty of Kansas mornings.  The camaraderie with my husband along with exercise and learning some new skills brought renewed hope.  As I awakened to the blessings God had provided, I began to write once more.  My morning jaunts with John along with the photos I posted on this blog served as inspiration for the descriptive passages in my novel as I wrote of a young teacher who loves her students.  Before I knew it I'd crafted a novel that is a fictionalized memoir of my first year of teaching.  It is called The Children Are Tender. 

I'm melding my "Back on the Farm" blog entries with those at my new blog, At Home in Karola, Kansas.  I hope you will follow me there and tell your friends about this book; because I am convinced God has a plan for families, for schools, and for teachers that will bring new hope to our nation's educational system.

God bless each person who has read and enjoyed these entries here at Back on the Farm. You were a part of my healing process and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Autumn Again--Thank Goodness!

 It has been six months since I entered a post here at "Back on the Farm."  Spring planting time came, and that is a busy time on the farm.  I tutored a little boy this summer, giving him lessons every weekday morning until he blossomed into a reader; and this was a blessed but time-consuming task.  And our second grandson was born in July!  For a time we were all overwhelmed by the amazing workload a new baby brings, a frantic time of busy-ness that was infused with the great joy of precious new life.

And then there was a drought. In August my schedule cleared and I once again began accompanying Farmer John on his daily rounds, but I had no heart to describe the terrain we covered.  Grasses gone brown and dormant, a sun that had become malevolent in its scorching intensity, crops that withered and died...it was worse than disheartening; it was very nearly horrifying.  Our ponds went dry and we began hauling water for cattle.

Small silver linings appeared. When ponds are dry they can be cleaned out and deepened, and John rented a bulldozer to complete this task.  And then at a meeting John attended a conservationist told him that drought is one of the best ways to break up the hardpan layer of earth that can compromise drainage for fields and pastures. Those deep cracks in the earth that nearly made tears come to my eyes--it seemed the land was crying out for water--served a valuable purpose after all.  But it was a sad and wearing time nonetheless.

Finally, toward the end of September, we received a 3 inch rain.  Grasses greened, and the cattle grazed eagerly. The ponds John had cleaned were no longer completely dry.  A week or so later there was another half inch or so, and then nearly an inch fell this past weekend.  And the hundred degree temperatures of late summer finally gave way to freshening breezes of early fall.

This morning I picked up my camera as Farmer John and I left the house to do chores. We are blessed to welcome autumn back on the farm!

Our little yellow farmhouse. The maple tree at the left of this photo has turned red and the grass has greened due to recent rains.  

Weeping willow with a thick vine of red poison ivy in the background.  The leaves on the trees look healthy again.  s

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Counting My Blessings

Writing this blog has been good therapy during a difficult season of my life. It has allowed me to record my blessings by focusing on what is beautiful and praiseworthy.  I wonder, though, how edifying a blog such as this one is for others to read? Might it seem like one long "I've got it so great" Christmas letter?

My life looks idyllic to those who are in the work force, prisoners of schedules imposed upon them by others. During my 25 years of working outside the home I remember very well how I felt about the sound of the alarm clock when it went off at 5:30 each morning. (Alas and alack, I still wake up at 5:30 a.m., but rarely to an alarm now, PTL!)

I did not leave my job voluntarily, exactly.  I could have stayed on, but budget cuts and changing educational mandates did away with Reading Recovery in our little school.  I had established the Reading Recovery program in our district, which required a boatload of work and a huge time commitment. It was also a heart commitment; I was passionate about teaching children to read. More than that, I felt anointed to save children from the tragedy of being non-readers.  I headed this program for eleven years.

I stayed for one year after the Reading Recovery program was banished from our school.  I had been so highly specialized for so long that the powers that be did not quite know what to do with me.  I was bypassed for committee appointments that would have kept me on the front lines of knowledge and given me the skill set that would have allowed me to be of value in implementing the new initiatives that came to us from our State Department of Education. I felt unwanted and obsolete.

The rest of the story is that I also felt the Lord leading me right out the door. My mom has Alzheimer's, and lives with us. My husband is getting older and runs our farming operation pretty much by himself.   My daughter and son-in-law live near us and will make us grandparents for the second time this summer. There was definitely a full life waiting for me outside the doors of the school that had been my second home for so many years; but I grieved, oh how I grieved to leave teaching behind, years before I'd planned to do so.

As happens for so many of us, I'd suffered grief upon grief.  Just regular life happenings, but I found myself not coping well.

And so the Lord in His wisdom has led me to this quiet oasis of time that I pray--I PRAY--I am using well.  It has been a healing time.  And, because my assignment from the Lord for this time has been to write a book, there has been much silence.  The rhythm of my days for these months has been to spend mornings on the farm, and afternoons writing. It has been a blessed and productive time, different from anything I have experienced before.  It has been a time of honesty before the Lord.  With my days no longer filled with busy-ness, I've had to own up to the grief and fear I'd been able to keep buried when there were constant demands on my time. I thank the Lord for this time.

God's creation is healing because it reflects His nature.  I took a walk at about 9:30 yesterday morning and found the air scented with a fragrance so sweet that it defies description; I wish I could bottle it and offer it up with the photo below.  We had rain a few days ago, so there was a cleanliness along with a green scent of tiny leaves unfurling and blossoms of some sort...almost like the scent of lilacs.  The light was beautiful, not adequately displayed in these phone photos; and I stood on the bridge from which the top photo was taken and watched the progress of a carp feeding in the stream below. 

God is so good. I praise Him for this healing time back on the farm.

This was taken a few nights ago at sunset on a walk around the lake south of our house. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bloom and Bloom Again

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future' (Jeremiah 29:11).  
This is a Bloomerang lilac. The ad said, "Bloom and Bloom Again!" The lilac bush by my porch is not quite this far along, but is definitely going to bloom early this year if we don't get a much dreaded frost.
This blog has been an attempt to count my blessings, and as such has been effective. I have begun to feel thankful for where I am in life. 

However, in the past few years my father died of cancer, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and I gave up my teaching job when the special reading program I'd run for eleven years was discontinued because of budget cuts. During this same time period both my children grew up, left home, and then married. Seeing my children happily married has brought much  joy, but the end result is that here Farmer John and I sit in our empty nest.

Well, wait; I can hear Annie barking "What about me?"  And I mustn't forget my 87 year old mother, who lives with us...not such an empty nest after all...

At any rate here I am, spending my mornings back on the farm, my afternoons working on my first novel in the pretty little brown room I call my office; and most of the time in between is spent caring for my mother. I'm counting my blessings, but I'm aware I have some unfinished grief work to do before I can fully enter into the "new song" of this next phase of my life. Unreconciled grief and loss cripple because of the introspection they cause, while wounds healed by the Lord's light can in turn minister to and support others; we comfort with the comfort we have received. My assignment for this time has been to bring my hurting heart into the Lord's light.

 I remember when I was I child I dreaded my mother's ministrations after I'd scraped my knee. I would claim it didn't hurt and I didn't want a band-aid after all, but she would always insist. "We don't want that to get infected," she'd say as she scrubbed the dirt away and applied ointment, often to the accompaniment of my howling protests. 

And so I've tried hard to open my heart to the Lord and to sit still (without too much howling) while He gently exposes all my sorrows and then applies his healing balm.This has been such a quiet time, a winter time of silent sadness and unexpected beauty. I am grateful for this time back on the farm. 

Spring is here, a time of new life and stepping out, time to let go of winter's chill and move forward. I'm surprised at the amount of courage it takes for me to hold to the hope of Jeremiah 29:11 (above).  Disappointments and hurts make it seem more prudent not to venture out. Challenges so seemingly innocuous as the prospect of volunteering to help with a preschool Sunday School class cause my heart to pound with fear. Yes, because I was not appreciated or valued for the work I did as a teacher of children who could not read, I fear being unappreciated and undervalued at any new job I undertake; I'm really not quite all right yet. What a sad confession. But you know it would be sadder yet if past wounds kept me from future service. Healed wounds lose the power to cripple.  My heart is healing.

I confess I wish winter had lasted awhile longer. Winter was cozy and safe. This audacious spring invites participation and activity that I don't feel ready to join.  But spring is upon me, whether I would have it or not...and so...

I'll dare to hope. If I place my hope in the Lord I won't be disappointed. 

 The following lines are from
 George Herbert's Poem, "The Flower"

Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.
Who would have thought my shriveled heart
could have recovered greenness? It was gone
quite underground, as flowers depart...
..And now in age I bud again;
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing. O my only Light,

It cannot be
That I am he
On whom Thy tempests fell all night.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Outdoor Cats

This little girl is half Siamese and SO pretty--but she won't stay out of my artfully arranged bouquets! 

Here is Lady Gray.  When we discovered she was a he, we changed his name to Earl. (Earl Grey, get it?). However, we've now started calling him "Mr. Fluffy."
It is not politically correct, but we provide shelter and food to an assortment of outdoor cats.  I've read recently that the responsible thing to do is to capture them all, spay and neuter them; and then make them into indoor pets.

I'm pretty sure the people who have decided this don't live on a farm, and I'd like to see them capture the half dozen or so cats that live in Farmer John's workshop.  Catch them? Ha! Make them into indoor pets?  It'd be about as doable as taming a full grown bobcat. We buy cat food in 50 pound sacks and in return for a reliable source of food and water, these cats keep the barn and surrounding buildings free of pack rats and mice. It is a good trade. They are healthy, good mousers; and not the least bit tame. 

A few of them have migrated down the road a quarter mile to live around our house. I welcomed them because I hate mice, and it is difficult to seal every point of entry in our 100 year old house. We haven't had a mouse in the house or pack rats in the garage or surrounding buildings since these cats arrived. They have become somewhat more domesticated than the barn cats, and will allow us to stroke them if they are in the mood.  Our dog, Annie, has never completely resigned herself to their presence but the barn cats have taught her it is best to leave felines alone. 

I understand that city cats are definitely better off indoors, but  our cats have a good life. Yes, they sometimes beat one another up, but the pecking order is mostly established now and currently not one of the several cats who live around our house has battered ears or a scratched nose.  They perform a valuable service for us in helping with rodent control which is a real problem around our grain bins and out buildings. And when they laze in the sun on the porch glider they add such an ambiance to our rural home! 

I think a few well cared for feral cats are a good idea back on the farm.  

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Change is Good!

In case this blurry phone photo doesn't reveal detail, this my a western cut, pearl snap shirt draped over my farm boots. Who would've thought it? 
Last evening my daughter, grandson, and I were coming back from a run to Subway for sandwiches when I saw a calf standing in the middle of the road. I thought he'd probably escaped through the bars that run atop the concrete feed bunks; sometimes a smaller critter can squeeze through this space that is designed to accommodate heads only for the larger animals. My daughter was driving and, having followed my former non-farm-participation example while she was growing up, didn't have much inclination to take action. She looked somewhat alarmed as I confidently leapt from the car and chased the animal on foot.  He instantly ran the wrong direction and took refuge behind the oil tanks across the road, but I've had some experience now and knew what to do. I opened the gate to the feedlot and then took off through the ditch and across the bumpy pasture to flush him out.  He was just a young calf--about 450 pounds--and was feeling his oats (or  rather, corn chop). He kicked his heels in the air and again took off the opposite direction.  

My daughter was sipping her coke and staring into space when four year old Daniel, who had been watching his grandmother's antics, shouted, "Quick, Mommy, here comes the cow!"  I ran to the driver's side, hollered to Dear Daughter to scoot over, and the chase was on.  

"Ummm...you might want to fasten your seatbelt," I said.  

It was fun. I looked over at my daughter and saw the alarm on her face as she fumbled for her seatbelt. I  could empathize;  many times over the years I have been in her position. But, unbeknownst to her, I had no intention of indulging in the driving heroics of which Farmer John is capable. It was a fairly sedate ride. 

The calf ran into the lot, I got out and shut the gate, and we went home to supper.  

I was hot and tired and showered before bed.  As I left the room I looked back at the boots and shirt I'd left lying on the floor and laughed aloud. I've traded my teacher cardigans and slacks for jeans, a down vest, and yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, I actually own and wear a western cut pearl snap shirt. I never would've anticipated making such a radical life change at age 58.

Who would've thought it?  God is good, very good, and I am so blessed. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

How Tired Farmers Take a Walk

I started to entitle this post "How Tired OLD Farmers Take a Walk."  But then I decided to stop calling myself old, even if it is kind of true.  

John was sitting in his chair, feet propped up; eating a peanut butter/chocolate cookie from a batch given us by a friend. K-State is playing basketball this afternoon and he was enjoying a few minutes of after lunch  respite before heading back out to do some work.  I appeared at his side wearing sweats and walking shoes; and poked him in the ribs.  "Let's go for a walk."  

He was not enthusiastic.  

I said, "Fine, sit there and eat a cookie that I can't have because of my cholesterol, I'll go by myself."  And off I went.  

When I reached the top of the hill across from our house I heard John yelling, "I'm coming, I'm coming!" Grinning, I turned and went back down the hill to meet him.  

When we reached the top of the hill once more, we were both puffing like steam engines. This caused us to draw different conclusions about the need for exercise: 

John:  See how much trouble this is?  

Linda:  See how much we need to exercise? 

I crossed through the fence that goes into the wheat field up on the hill, planning to walk along the south side of the tree line in order to be sheltered from the wind.  I made it through the strands of barbed wire, then turned and looked back at John. I was startled to see him lying, spread eagled on the ground. Annie, our dog, ran over and placed her head on his shoulder.  Outnumbered, I clambered back over the fence and joined them (after making sure John didn't need CPR). The sky was blue, and we were sheltered from the breeze.  In unison we all three heaved a contented sigh. 
Not a bad way to take an afternoon walk, back on the farm! 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Busy Winter Days

The past few weeks we've spent our mornings feeding cattle. Annie (our dog) insists on riding in back even when the days turn bitter, which hasn't happened but a couple of times this winter. My normally conservative husband actually was considering buying her one of those expensive doggy coats but in an uncharacteristic role change, I talked him out of it, telling him she could stay at home when the days are too cold. But she howls so heart brokenly when she is left behind that he rarely leaves her. One day when I was staying at home because it was so cold, I insisted that Annie ride in the cab. John said she was so unhappy that he finally stopped the truck and let her get in back. 
Annie's muzzle turned white when she was still young--just 2 or 3.  She's about seven years old now. 
 We've attended the cattle sale several times but prices have gone high and we haven't bought the past couple of weeks. This photo is from the sale barn at the livestock auction we've been attending weekly:  
As I wrote in a previous post, I felt validated by the sale barn staff when I was given my very own "Eat Beef" farm cap. John says I completed the acceptance phase when I fell asleep during the cattle sale a week ago; if you really belong there you are comfortable enough to drift off (?).  It seems one of his pasttimes when he's not interested in the cattle being run through the ring is to count how many folks have fallen asleep. On this day it was just two fellows that were probably both over 80--and me. 

I alienated most of my Facebook friends when I posted that, in this unusually mild winter, I longed for just a little bit of snow.  Wow that struck a nerve.  I had to apologize and everything.  But this morning when there were two inches of snow on the ground, I'm afraid I enjoyed my morning walk even more than usual. The person who was the most vexed with me was my husband, Farmer John, who suspected me of actually praying for the snowfall and does NOT like feeding cattle when there is wet and icy white stuff on the ground, imagine that.  

Morning walk 2/13/12.  It was misting and so I had my hat pulled down over my sunglasses. Guess I need one of those stocking caps with a bill! 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I Feel So Accepted!

A week ago John and I attended the weekly cattle auction. It was a cold day, and the sale barn was warm; and I admit I was about to fall asleep when suddenly I realized John had just bought three 500 pound critters. I sat up straight and paid closer attention, and was more alert a few moments later when he bought 16 more.

We had to wait in the office at the sale barn for nearly 30 minutes for the paperwork to be completed. I made friends with the Australian cattle dog that was sleeping on the floor of the office, quite a friendly girl.

When the clerk brought up our paperwork she apologized for the wait and gave John a brand spanking new farm cap that said, "Eat Beef" in red letters against a blue background. I was standing a few feet behind John wearing a Carhartt jacket, my Ariat boots, and worn jeans. She turned to me and said, "Would you like a cap?"

"Why yes, I would," I said.

I am very proud of that cap.  That lady is a veteran at the sale barn and obviously knows a real farm woman when she sees one. :)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bookwork and a Bouquet

I have not been out on the farm for a week-and-a-half. I have been spending my time doing end of year records the old fashioned way; with a #2 pencil in a ledger book. Next year I'll probably put the farm records on computer, but I have to admit there is a kind of satisfaction to be had in putting pencil to paper--all those neat little rows of numbers and notations--never thought I'd say this about bookwork, but I'm kind of enjoying it.  
Farmer John prefers this old fashioned method, but we both are a bit sheepish about it and know we need to go ahead and proceed into the 21st century. But even as I shop for farm record software I am pretty certain John will continue to use the ledger book he's utilized for years.  This is probably a somewhat belated end of an era though; no matter how nifty the old fashioned way feels, you can't beat having 40 numbers added for you automatically at the click of a mouse. 

The weather has been amazingly clear and beautiful--springlike temperatures in the afternoons but with that gorgeous, winter-clear sky.  I couldn't stand being inside a moment more today and went tromping through the "woods" across from our house. I climbed the dam to the rock quarry lake atop the hill and startled about 500 Canadian geese, who took to the air with a great flapping and honking.  The lake is down and I walked out to the edge of the water and stood among hundreds of water lily stalks that looked strangely skeletal and barren. But gathered into a bouquet and photographed against that blue sky they were beautiful.  
winter bouquet
The flock of geese circled around and, discussing me loudly with loud cries and honks, flew right overhead. They didn't like the looks of me and kept right on going, but behind them came an eagle; majestic wings spread wide, riding the air currents, scanning the ground for any rodents the geese might have startled with their racket I suppose.  He circled overhead, apparently sizing me up but not finding me to his liking.  I watched him until he banked and flew off to the west and out of sight.  

My afternoon walk was almost as satisfying as going out with Farmer John to do chores, but not quite.  Next week I hope to be back on the farm.