March 2014: The Children Are Tender

Caregiving, teaching little kids to read, and riding in the pickup with Farmer John; I tweet, pin, and blog, from my home in rural Kansas. If you've landed here looking for information about my books, visit my author's page by clicking this link: A. Born. Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

39 Seconds of Relaxation Therapy

Turn up the volume to hear wild geese calling to one another and a faraway train whistle...ahhhh, Kansas!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

North Wind Doth Blow...

When I was a first grade teacher, I often taught my little students this snippet of a traditional nursery rhyme:

North wind doth blow
And we shall have snow
And what will poor robin do then,
Poor thing

He'll sit in a barn
To keep himself warm,
And hide his head under his wing, 
Poor thing

I'd not thought of this ditty in years, until a week ago when I was outdoors taking photos of a particularly gorgeous Kansas sunset.  Just look at those colors as a backdrop for this cottonwood tree (did you know the cottonwood is Kansas' state tree?) : 
The evening was perfectly still and at about 50 degrees, it was a lovely night to be outdoors. I was snapping photos as the sunset changed from pink to peach to liquid gold when I felt the merest touch of a breeze on my right cheek.  I turned toward the north and was instantly greeted by a cold blast of wind! Leaves began pelting me and I shot this little video:  

It would have been a lengthier film, but a leaf whapped me in the forehead and I thought, "If that had been even just a small twig, it would have really hurt.  A branch would hurt more.  Maybe I'd better go inside!" I was cold anyway; the temperature had dropped several degrees in the span of just a few seconds.  

I've never experienced a more rapid change of weather. I've often heard this statement: If you don't like the weather in Kansas, wait five minutes.  On this November evening I didn't have to wait that long! 

Monday, November 3, 2014

October Review

Despite the spiders (do they KNOW Halloween is coming?) and the small snake that startled our UPS driver when she dropped a package onto our front porch, I enjoyed our October. After a long, dusty summer, the air seemed cleaner and the light more brilliant.  We didn't receive a killing frost until late in the month, and so the leaves held to the trees a bit longer than usual. I love cottonwood trees and have embedded an 11 second video of how the wind turns their leaves to glitter, along with a view down our country road and an October Kansas sunset.  Enjoy!

The cottonwood trees from the video clip are visible in this photo. They are the tallest trees with light colored trunks, center/right.

Monday, October 20, 2014

October Sunset

The contracts for the pastures we rent state that cattle can occupy the designated spaces only from April 15 until October 15.  With permission from the landlords, Farmer John has been busy moving cattle home a few days late because we had some heavy rains around the 15th and he didn't want to make ruts in the fields.

Tonight John moved the portable corral from one pasture to another and I rode along, clambering into my customary place beside him in his red farm truck (a 3/4 ton GMC with a hay spike bed) .  While he folded the corral and hitched it to the truck, I walked down the road in the rapidly gathering dusk.   

It was an appropriately spooky October evening.  As I walked briskly toward a black stand of trees, a small creature scuttled out in the road about 100 feet in front of me, and both of us were startled.  It was difficult to identify him in the shadows cast by the trees, but I think it was a young raccoon. He turned and ran back into the ditch from whence he'd begun his journey, gathered his courage, then dashed across the road to the other side.

I paused, told myself that he was more frightened of me than I was of him, and continued my walk. I had my phone in my pocket and the night was still.  I told myself John would probably be able to hear me if I shouted for help.

The sun slipped below the orange rimmed horizon while the sky above deepened to rich indigo.  I was busy snapping phone photos and suddenly realized it had become very dark. I felt uneasy; what else might be lurking in those dark trees ahead?  I hurried back to the truck and was a little bit more out of breath than I ought to have been when I stepped back into the seat of the pickup.

John grinned at me. "Spooks in the bushes?" he asked.

"Just one," I replied, "And I think he made it safe home, just like I'm going to!"  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Good Times Then and Now

Our family gathered to celebrate our son's 27th birthday this past Saturday night.  I'd worked all week organizing and preparing our meal:

slow cooked roast 
cheddar topped twice baked potatoes 
pureed butternut squash sweetened with honey and spiced with cinnamon
confetti corn 
apple salad 
hot rolls
homemade German chocolate cupcakes 
frozen vanilla yogurt

We had a blessed family time as our son, who was the inspiration for Marshal Rosencutter in The Children Are Tender, opened his gifts.  He had asked for and received a banjo--a banjo--perhaps with an eye to the time when his swing dancing skills fade. He can play in the band instead!

The family gathering came to a close, and our daughter and her husband strapped our grandsons into their car seats. They pulled out of the driveway as John and I waved goodbye with fervent enthusiasm from our customary stations on the front porch.  I was still waving as we navigated our way back into the house, and caused my husband brief irritation when my hand moved in front of his face and blocked his view. He had pressed his face close to the storm door glass, evidently wanting to assure himself that our son-in-law had navigated out the driveway and onto the gravel road safely. Awhile later our son and his wife gathered birthday gifts and the granddogs (a black lab and an adorable corgi), and we went through the same ceremony again (only this time I was careful not to block John's intent gaze as he watched them drive away). 

It doesn't matter that our daughter lives just ten minutes away and our son and his wife visit once or twice a month. The days when there were four toothbrushes in the cup by the sink instead of just two are long gone, and we can't help that our hearts pine after our children each time they drive away.  Make no mistake--we are thrilled that they have happy lives of their own, we love their spouses, and grandchildren have brought us joy of a caliber that blesses our hearts.  Nevertheless, a Monday morning following a weekend family gathering often finds me moping about and pining after the sound of my children's laughter from the days these walls provided them home, and we were their primary sources of comfort.  The little yellow house seems too empty on Monday mornings, and a little sad.  

However, I have no business nurturing sadness when God's been so good to us.  And the truth is I would certainly not choose to keep my kids at toddler or grade school age forever. In the first place, I like the solitude and peace of my days, even rainy Monday mornings. And in the second place, our lives hold lots of joy right where we are.

Our daughter's birthday is in a month.  I'll probably do another roast and perhaps mashed potatoes and gravy this time, she likes that.  There will be peach cobbler for dessert, her favorite. We'll have lots of joy, perhaps to the accompaniment of banjo music (!).  And when everyone leaves, Farmer John and I will wave goodbye, maybe shed a tear or two...and then we will enjoy a quiet evening together.

And that's good. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Out With the Old...Or Not

The messy "870" is a recent addition, hastily applied one morning before our unhappy postman arrived. But our names were painted onto the box 40 years ago. 

We knew for quite some time that our local mailman did not like our mailbox.

Farmer John and I were sentimentally attached to that mailbox.  When we were newlyweds John had bolted it to an old pump, and I had painstakingly lettered our names on the side.  I must have used very good paint, because 40 years later our names remained legible, and although the box had survived being backed into by a fine array of vehicles over the years, it was still serviceable.  Or so we thought.

One day about a year ago a little slip of paper fell out from between a credit card application and the water bill in our morning mail. It was a form entitled "mailbox needs attention" and it had multiple boxes checked including "does not meet regulations" and "house number needs to be printed on both sides," and most upsetting at all, "mailbox needs replaced."  John and I were offended.  The mailbox was a bit battered and worn, that was true, but then, so were we.  We took the critique of our old box personally.

I am usually anxious to please everyone, and under normal circumstances would have been quick to make the suggested repairs.  But I had lettered my married name on the side of that box as a 20-year-old bride.  I hated to think of doing away with the box that had received wedding and birth announcements, Christmas cards, newsletters, college diplomas, copyright certificates, and a wealth of other missives over forty years of time.

But, a few months ago, the little slips of paper began arriving more regularly.  The last one we received had a check mark by the line stating "mail delivery may be discontinued unless repairs are made." 

I hurriedly painted our house number on each side of the old box, and then John and I sadly agreed to replace it.  I gave the old pump a fresh coat of paint and John mounted the new box, which weighs less than half of it's predecessor and has plastic fasteners and flags.

"This one won't last 40 years," I said, as we looked at the finished job.

"Well, we don't really need it to," said Farmer John.  

I put my hand in his and we returned to the little yellow farmhouse, which is a little battered and worn but still serviceable.

Just like us.
We etched our initials into the concrete step the fall after we were married.  Don't think I'll discard that old mailbox--maybe I'll use it as a planter next spring.  I think I can scrub the messy, recently applied numeral off and preserve our names.  

OK, I admit this one looks tidier.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The "Right" Light

Living on our farm necessitates a suppression of ideas about how things "should" be.  Farmsteads should be pristine, mown, and free of debris.  The air should be filled with the scent of new mown hay with just the lightest scent of bovine sweetness (never a heavy stink of feed-lot manure).  If Farm and Home Magazine reporters show up on our premises, we should be ready to provide them centerfold spreads depicting bucolic bliss.

Well.  My farmer is also a mechanic and his father is a flea market fan and collector.  I think the word "hoarder" might possibly be accurate.  He collects everything from old washers to small electric motors, which he keeps in a five foot high pile around the light pole in front of the shop.  Farmer John periodically clears a path through the center of the shop to do major overhauls on tractors, combines, and the like. 

Our yard isn't much better.  I have fibromyalgia and Farmer John has an aversion to mowing.

But this morning I noticed that the morning light rendered even our weedy garden and unmown yard beautiful.

It's important to focus on what is important.  Relationships are important.  People are important.  Putting the Lord at the center of our lives is VERY important.  Other things, like tidy farmsteads, not so much.  There's still beauty to be found if I'll look at things in the right light! 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Farmer John Witticisms

It is a blessing that, after 40 years of marriage, my husband still has the ability to make me laugh.  But then, he's quite the entertaining guy.

For example, today he came to the back door mid-morning and requested a banana for a snack.  I hurriedly broke a ripe fruit from the bunch I'd stashed in the cupboard, and the end came open a bit.  "Sorry," I said.  It broke open.  Eat it soon." And I handed it to him.

He didn't immediately turn and head out the door as I had expected, but stood looking at the banana sorrowfully.  "Now the handle won't work."

I was bustling around the kitchen in an attempt to complete morning clean-up before I was due at a church meeting but this comment stopped me.  As always, with Farmer John, I suspected a practical joke of some sort.

"What are you talking about?"

"Well"--he held up the ripe banana-- "The curved end is the handle and it's at the top.  You open it from the bottom and then you have a handle."

I stared at him.  Over four decades of living with this man I've learned many of his idiosyncrasies: for example the twisty tie on the bread wrapper is turned three times, no more no less. And, refrigerator magnets are arranged upside down in a sort of "Kilroy was here" ritual.  I could go on and on.

And on.  

But this was a new one on me.  Bananas have handles.  Okaaaayyyyy.....

Later in the day I hopped in the pickup beside my farmer and off we drove through a bumpy pasture to where our ailing swather was parked.  I walked laps through the hayfield as John and his father repaired the machine, then John and I drove away, leaving his elderly dad happily making rounds in the big field, cutting neat swaths of fragrant hay.  We had gone just a half mile down the dusty gravel road when John suddenly swung the truck into a U-turn.

I grabbed the door handle for support and exclaimed, "What in HEAVEN's name are you doing now??"

"I left my cold chisel and claw hammer on the reels of the swather," he replied tersely.

We roared back into the field at high speed, John lept from the truck and began taking long strides through the field, zigging and zagging methodically.  I'd seen that cold chisel; it was about 12 inches long and was the exact color of the brown shadows cast by the tall grasses in the field.  I trotted behind my husband in a vain attempt to catch up, "You are never going to find that chisel," I said, just as he plucked it out of the grass and held it up in triumph.

"Here it is!" He grinned at me then turned and waited for his dad to roll up beside us in the swather.  As soon as the reels stopped turning, John fearlessly dove in amongst them, and almost instantly retrieved his hammer.  He waved his father on and returned to the truck holding the hammer high like a banner of victory.

He held it in one hand as, with the other, he turned the steering wheel and guided us back through the pasture gate.  He looked at the oddly shortened hammer fondly.  "This is the steel-handled hammer I threw so hard that it broke the handle.  I was mad because the cattle had broken down a brand new fence, and I grabbed the hammer and threw it at a fencepost.  It hit just right and the handle broke."  He smiled reminiscently.  "Amazing that a steel handle broke. But now this short hammer is handy for working in tight spaces."

White puffs of cloud sailed through a cerulean sky, and clouds of brown dust boiled behind us as we sped down the road; all was right with Farmer John's world once more.

"The cold chisel was no big deal," he said, "But this hammer has sentimental value."

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Winter is Past--Finally

I admit our winter trials here in the little yellow house were nothing compared to those chronicled in Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter, but the challenges we faced were daunting nonetheless.  Our grandchildren were sick with one virus after another beginning in November and just when we thought we were beyond winter's grasp, every family member in succession was stricken with a horrific cold virus that kept us croaking and coughing throughout a dreary April.  I shuffled dispiritedly into May, still half-sick and oppressed by neglected paperwork and housecleaning.

One morning in early June I crept out to the old red pickup and climbed into my too-long vacant seat next to Farmer John, and all seemed right with the world once more.  We drove to one of our rental pastures, and while John sprayed musk thistle (a noxious weed), I tromped through the prairie weeds and grasses and took the photos below.
Rose verbena

Some farmers frame pasture entrances with tall posts attached at the top with a wire.   
These pretty little daisies bear the ignominious name of "Annual Fleabane."

Farmer John fights an ongoing battle against the non-native, invasive musk thistle.  Cattle will not graze around the painful, spiny plants, and untreated musk thistle will take over an entire pasture.  Victorians thought the blooms pretty and introduced the plant in the U.S. in the 1800's.

Stark beauty in the sculptural branches of a dead tree.  

The cattle like to congregate in this sun dappled corner of the pasture and have tromped the grasses flat.  

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Barn Cat by Any Other Name....

Miss Kitty, who has her superior feline expression down pat. 

My mother's overweight, indoor cat once had a name, but Mom--who was the inspiration for the character of Ruby Mae in The Children Are Tender--has Alzheimer's.  She can't remember the animal's original name,  so she simply calls her pet "Miss Kitty."  

Miss Kitty is a sleek, gray tabby with a superior attitude.  She considers Mom's apartment her exclusive domain, and casts an irritated eye at any intruder.  She loves Mom but dislikes me, even though I faithfully deliver her daily ration of low fat, indoor formula cat food. 

Imagine Miss Kitty's chagrin when, early one morning, a big male barn cat hopped up and peered through Mom's picture window.  Miss Kitty arched her back and hissed, but then curiosity got the best of her and she jumped into the window seat for a closer look.  The yellow striped tom insulted Miss Kitty further with a display of exaggerated disinterest, in fact, he stretched out on the deck railing with his back to to us and refused to look Miss Kitty's way.  She was deeply offended and has ignored him ever since (though it is difficult to ignore someone who has ignored you first). 

I began feeding the big tom that morning and, unlike most barn cats, he was affectionate and appreciative; his indifference was reserved for Miss Kitty.  I was immediately smitten because he is such a big, pretty boy.  Since our indoor cat was a Miss, I decided to call our new outdoor pet "Mr. Kitty."  A few mornings later I was stroking Mr. Kitty's big head and crooning his name when I noticed Farmer John peering out at us through Mom's screen door with something like disapproval on his face. 

Nearly a month later, our one-year-old grandson came to visit.  He climbed up into the window seat in Mom's room, teetering precariously as he pushed to his feet.  John kept hold of the back of the little guy's shirt to keep him from falling, and they looked out the window together.  I heard John say in a soft voice, "Do you see Chuck?  Can you say hello to him?  Hi Chuck!"  

I looked out the window and there was Mr. Kitty.  "Who's Chuck?" I asked.  

John looked guilty.  "Didn't mean for you to hear that.  It seemed to me that critter was embarrassed to be called Mr. Kitty so I gave him a better name." 

Chuck/Mr. Kitty does not seem to mind his changing name so long as the human who calls him has access to the big sack of cat food John brought home from Murphy's (the local elevator). I don't think I'll turn over pet-naming responsibilities to John; after all, he is the one who once named a defenseless puppy "Mortimer."  But, next time I name a pet perhaps I will try a little harder to take the animal's personality and feelings about the matter into account. 

Mr. Kitty/Chuck, who despite my urgings would not lift his head from this food dish to have his photo taken. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Funny Fellow

Farmer John and I were driving home from a parts run recently when we saw the critter pictured below, digging busily alongside the road.  We had never before seen a live armadillo in our area of Kansas:   

My husband has a delighted interest in all wildlife, but when confronted with this unique-to-us sight he exhibited even more than his usual amount of enthusiasm.  He slammed on his brakes right smack in the middle of the country highway, cut a U-turn, and rolled up just a few feet from the hapless varmint, who exhibited no alarm at the approach of a human being.  If had known my husband as I do, he might have shown a little more concern.

But the armadillo ignored us and continued his foraging.

John whistled shrilly and the little guy jerked upright, then froze.

He held this position without moving, perhaps thinking himself camouflaged.  "Ohhhh, if I only had the cooler in the back," said John longingly.  Danny (our grandson) would be the only kid on the block with his own armadillo.

I spoke sternly, "I am certain it is against the law to capture an armadillo (I am certain of no such thing but at need I am a convincing liar).  In the same tone (and with the same lack of background knowledge) I continued, "And armadillos carry salmonella in their, um, plating."  I stumbled a little here and John recognized uncertainty.

"I'm going to pick him up!" he proclaimed.

"You are not!" I said.

At that moment we heard the approach of another vehicle and we both got back into the car.  As we pulled away John was still expressing regret, "He was such a cute little guy."

"A funny fellow," I said.

"Me, or the armadillo?" John asked.

"Both of you," I said.  "Definitely both of you."

Note:  Several comments on this post's link on my Facebook page have warned that infected Armadillos can carry leprosy.  Please recognize that Farmer John's goal was to tease his wife, and that he did not seriously intend to pick up or transport wildlife, leprous or otherwise.  No armadillos were interfered with in the creating of this blog post.