Friday, January 13, 2017

Two Years In Review

Spring Planting 2016
Farm Notes. For almost two years I’ve neglected the thing that helped me to tell stories to my family, friends, and other readers I’ve never met about what was happening on our farm and my experiences with farm life through my city-girl perspective. But life happened these last two years and it’s still happening. Grad school continued and planting, harvest, planting, a baby, and harvest all happened since my last post. 

To write, for me, is to sit with my thoughts and experiences and to try to explain them as best as possible to my readers. I think deeply about what I want to say, how I want to say it, how it’s taken up by rural and urban readers and then finally commit my fingers to typing. Words and whole sentences are deleted as I re-read my writing, aiming for the best way to say what I want to say. Sometimes looking in on a life that I never dreamed of having can be difficult to write clearly about. There are so many thoughts. So many emotions. So many experiences I never thought I would ever have. And to have others read those thoughts makes one be cautious about what one thinks, writes, and commits to publishing for all to read. And it takes a lot of time, time I haven’t had for quite a while. 

Hay Baling Summer 2016
I spent a few hours yesterday writing a Farm Notes update that covered highlights these past two years. It was “light” and “fluffly” (two words I’d use to to critique surface writing-writing that doesn’t get to the grit of things). I looked through pictures, listed the highlights of planting and harvest seasons past, our life with kids and the arrival of our new baby. In farm news, there were lots of tractor rides, field meals, gardens planted, vegetables picked, and a trip to see the Panama Canal.  In family news there were sibling weddings, grandparents that passed, babies born, and vacations taken. Seasons came and went. But as I read over the post, it was dry, dull, and just a glance at what is at the heart of our experiences these past two years. So here, I will peal back the layers for you to see just for a moment what is underneath the surface. 

Welcome, Georgia Rosalina!
These two years have been the most challenging I have ever experienced. My PhD program pushed me to think in ways I’ve never thought before, often coming home in tears from the arrival of feelings and ideas sprung on me from class discussions and readings and a deep passion for what I believe and want to accomplish in my life and for others. Not many women with young children get PhDs. I don’t need to look up statistics to tell you that. No wonder. It’s hard. It’s late nights and early mornings. It’s discoveries of life and thoughts and people and society. It’s raw and it’s intense (and sometimes a lot to handle all at once). And it leaves little room for anything else. Classmates of mine without families or children can bury themselves in their work and charge ahead without much distraction. That is not the case for me. To survive, I have had to carve out separate physical, emotional, and intellectual space for it to live inside me and for me to continue to be a wife and mother that I want to be to my family. (Like right now, my daughter is pleading “Mama, help me,” in the background as she plays with legos. And I pause my fingers and thoughts, help her, and continue to write.) The space I’ve created allows me to separate my studies and my kids. Sometimes they overlap, and this past fall, I had to work on my first graduate exam with my baby on my lap or my foot rocking her carseat while she napped.
Working at Starbucks with Georgia!

I pride myself in what I’ve been able to accomplish, but I will not sacrifice my family. Close friends and family know that my new schedule has allowed me to be home more with my kids than I ever was before as a high school teacher. I can drop them off at school and pick them up; my first year of my graduate program I stayed home with them a few days a week when they were still in pre-school; I have volunteered in their classrooms and at their school; and I have had a chance to have a third baby and enjoy an entire semester snuggling her instead of heading back to work like I did at 12 weeks postpartum with my first two kids. As I start back to work next week after a semester off, I feel fortunate that my life and situation has allowed me to have the time I have had at home with my baby. And when I do begin teaching next week, it is only two days a week. The other days I can work from home or with the help of a babysitter and still get time to be home physically and emotionally with my kids. 

Not being at a job 9 hours or more a day, 5 days a week with grading on the weekends has also been a relief for me.
Playing at Granny's and Gramps'
Before I struggled to get anything done at home- there was little time for doing laundry, grocery shopping, and keeping the house clean. Visits to the farm during planting and harvest were a stress because they were always long nights after long days at work. Since I’m now home during the day more often, I have more time to take the kids out for farm visits, tractor rides, playing at various family farms, making and delivering field meals, going for parts runs (whenever the need arises), and having date nights in a truck with my farmer husband (whether it be for five minutes or a few hours). It has been a healthy change and transition. This part-time teacher, full-time student, and full-time mom gig has been good for us. 

Harvest 2016
However, life as a farmer’s wife continues to bring challenges during busy seasons. I read an article recently written by a farm mom/wife about her seasonal “freak-outs”.  I have those too, usually about a month into planting or harvest when being a “single”-mom and “farmer’s widow” gets tiring. The immense amount of responsibility of taking care of the house and the kids all on one’s own is wearing. Add graduate work, a pregnancy, and a newborn two weeks before harvest, and life gets, well, interesting. This sentiment, no matter a farm-wife’s situation, seems to be shared my many of my farm-wife friends. Being a mom is hard and tiring. Being a farm wife and mother is even harder. 

We attended the American Farm Bureau Convention in Phoenix over the weekend representing the state of Illinois in the Young Farmers and Ranchers Agriculture Achievement Award. While there, we attended learning sessions with other men and women who were representing their states for the same award. The caliber of farmers and ranchers in that room was amazing; all were leaders in their states and communities and were overall just awesome people. The common feeling shared by many women in the room, no matter how many kids they had, was the difficulty balancing life, farming, other jobs, kids, house work, and other responsibilities and relationships. Grant will be the first to tell you that during the busy seasons I’m the one at home supporting our family while he is in the field supporting our family. It takes work, balance, communication, dedication, patience, and great love. 

As you may have heard, we actually won the national award we went to the convention for. We won the Whole Thing! 

If you are wanting to learn about the award, you can read about it here: 

You can also view the video of the award announcement and Grant’s speech here (fast forward to 19 mins):

As I walked off the stage, and stood looking at the audience with tears in my eyes, the magnitude of this award hit me. It was not just for us. It was for our kids, family, friends, mentors, and communities that have supported us throughout our lives teaching us about leadership, passion, hard work, dedication, and love. It’s an award for all farmers and their families who work every day in their fields and communities. And it’s an award that recognizes the efforts of people like us who sacrifice a lot for a bigger cause especially during planting and harvest. Will this award make life easier for us? No. Will it solve the issue of my seasonal “freak-outs”? No. But what this award has done is solidify the reasons why we work so hard and why we will continue to be dedicated to our farm, our family, our friends, our passions, the organizations we are a part of, and to making things better than we found them. And for that, we are grateful and humbled. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

"This Land Was Made for You and Me"- IFF Blog Post

During our weekend trip to Nashville for the American Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Conference, I found inspiration for a blog post for the Illinois Farm Families Blog. You can access it here! Enjoy!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas Edition 2014

Instead of sending out paper copies of a Christmas Letter with our Christmas cards, we thought we could share our yearly happenings through this Farm Notes: Christmas Edition 2014! Enjoy....

Holiday Greetings, Family and Friends!

Each year seems to bring exciting changes and adventures especially with our kiddos. This fall, Gavin and Layla were both in the same pre-school class and LOVED being in school part of the week. Gavin says he wants to be a farmer when he grows up (and enjoys farming with Daddy, Gramps, and Papa) and Layla wants to be a princess or teacher depending on the day! They bring home stories of new friends, songs, and crafts. Days are spent singing songs together in the backseat of the car and dancing to Frozen and Peter Pan in the living room (oh, and chasing each other around the house and wrestling). Gavin asked Santa for Tonka trucks, Thomas trains, and Legos. Layla’s wish list includes dolls, princesses, and ponies.
Kristen also started a new journey this fall in ISU’s English Studies PhD program in hopes of someday teaching future English educators. She is currently on sabbatical from her high school teaching position and spent the semester taking graduate courses and teaching English 101 to ISU freshmen. She loves her new schedule of being a student, teacher, and stay-at-home mom for part of the week.

Grant and the farmers had successful and safe planting and harvest seasons. We spent time visiting Daddy in the field and bringing the guys “field-meals”. He has won yet another trip through the Illinois Farm Bureau, and we will soon be spending a long weekend in Nashville.

As always, this past year we traveled near and far. Last winter, it got so cold in Illinois that Grant needed to get to warmer weather so we booked a last minute trip to Florida to visit Kristen’s aunt and uncle and enjoyed the sunshine. Over the summer, we flew to California for a Strom family wedding and trips to Disneyland and the beach. Gavin and Layla also proved to be the perfect ring bearer and flower girl! Kristen took her high school students on a study abroad trip for the second year: Italy, Switzerland, and France were on the itinerary. Family weekend trips included St. Louis Cardinals games, Michigan lake house visits, and Lake Forest family time. Our backyard also received a much needed makeover complete with a beautiful patio and fire pit for wiener roasts and s’mores; we can now travel by foot to relax with family and friends. 

We are so grateful for the blessings in our lives, and we wish you a Christmas season full of love and joy! Toasting to a healthy, beautiful, and adventurous 2015! 

-Grant, Kristen, Gavin and Layla

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Talkin' About Field Meals

Yesterday, before heading to teach class at ISU, I stopped by the grocery store on my way into campus to pick up a few last minute ingredients for the field meal I planned to make later in the day. I had twenty minutes to grab the things I needed and head to class. While I was in the dairy section, an older gentleman re-stocking the shelves talked to me about the beautiful weather we were having and how it was going to be short lived because of the harsh winter we are predicted to have according to the Farmer’s Almanac. “I always follow that Farmer’s Almanac because every year it seems to be right,” he said. Then he added, “I just heard on the radio that someone said this warm fall weather we are having is a prediction that it’s going to be a mild winter this year. But I don’t know. I think I still believe that Farmer’s Almanac!” I proceeded to tell him that my husband is a farmer and says it’s going to be a harsh winter again this year, and that actually I was picking up food to make dinner for the farmers tonight. And yes, the weather yesterday was just beautiful and I hope we got more of it this week. He asked me if they were picking beans, I told them that this week was a big bean week and that tonight I’d be finding them in one of their bean fields. I wished him a nice day and went off to finish shopping. 

At check-out, I asked the ladies to keep the cold items together since I’d be putting them into a cooler in my car. They seemed a bit confused, but I didn’t want to explain. The same gentleman saw me as I checked out, and announced, “This lady is headed straight to the bean field with a delivery.” 

I added, “Actually, tonight I’m making our farmers dinner and bringing it to the field later. That’s why I need some of the food to stay cold since I won’t be home for a while before I start cooking.” They seemed amused, asked me a few questions about bringing them dinner, and made more small talk about the tractors they’ve seen harvesting recently.

I went on my way, packed my cold items in the cooler I brought with me, and drove to class. As I walked into my building, a graduate organization was having a bake sale in the entry. Knowing that I should probably deliver my field meal with dessert, I scoped out the selection on the table. I asked if they had a bag because I wanted eight of the peanut butter rice krispies treats. “Whoa,” someone said, “that’s a lot of dessert! Make sure you don’t eat them all at once!” I then explained that I was going to be feeding some hungry farmers dinner tonight, and of course, I needed to bring them dessert. 

A classmate working the bake sale added, “Gotcha! One less thing you need to make tonight!” 

“Exactly my thoughts!” I said smiling. “I just hope they are yummy!”

I took my bag of desserts to class and proceeded to make my students a bit jealous (and hungry) when they saw my bag. One student asked hopefully, “What are you doing with all those treats? Are they for us?!” I then explained that no, I they weren’t for them, but that I was making dinner for our farmers tonight and that this was going to be their dessert. 

Within a hour, I explained making field meals to over three groups people, totaling over 30 individuals. Even though we may see farmers harvesting this time of year, many of us don’t think just how those farmers eat throughout the day and into the late hours. It wasn’t something I ever considered when I would drive on the interstate through Illinois on my way to/from college when I’d see the bright tractor lights in the fields. 

Growing up, I always heard that farmers work from sun-up to sun-down. However, many work until the very late hours of the night if the conditions are right. When do they stop? There are a number of reasons: 1) If the dew comes in, the crop and soil gets wet, so farming becomes much more difficult, 2) They finish a field and are at a good stopping point for the night, 3) Equipment breaks down and requires either new parts and/or a lot of work, and/or 4) They are just plain tired. So, our farmers need to eat to keep their minds and body alert and awake while many of us are tucked into our beds at night. 

Last night, the kids and I brought our famers a field meal that was warm and right out of the oven. (I even made a bit extra to drop at my neighbor’s house who is due to have a baby next week and proceeded to tell her that I was headed out to the field to bring our farmers dinner. Her family of four, soon-to-be five, enjoyed my field meal in their own home.) A few weeks ago, I stopped at Subway and delivered a field meal consisting of sub sandwiches, chips, and brownies because that’s all I could manage with the time I had. Most nights, my mother-in-law with the help of my sister-in-law take turns feeding our farmers. My field meal last night was a success, the rice krispies treats were delicious (thanks to the ISU classmate who made them), and we got to spend a little bit of time with Grant while he sat in our car to eat with us. There were no tractor or combine rides last night, which disappointed Gavin, but we assured him that tonight when Grandma takes him to the farm while I’m at a night class, he would get a ride while bringing our farmers another dinner. What a lucky kid, and what well-fed farmers we have!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Field Visit

We are a month into harvest and have taken many trips to the field to visit Daddy. A few rainy nights have brought Grant home early to see the kids to bed, however, most days/nights we have to take trips to the field to be able to see him. Each visit to the field is a different experience. It all depends on where they are farming, what the weather and crop conditions are like, if the equipment is up and running properly, and the kids temperaments. 

Today, we spent about four hours visiting. Here’s what that meant for our field visit today:

-We pulled up to the field and immediately jumped into Grant’s tractor with both kids. We had to meet up with a combine (driven by Jeff, our brother-in-law) on the far side of the field that was full and waiting for us unload soybeans into the grain cart attached to the back of our tractor. Grant drove us through rough bumps in the field to catch up to the combine. 

-After the combine emptied soybeans into our cart, we moved to the other side of the field to catch the other combine (driven by Grant’s dad, “Papa”). The second combine emptied the soybeans into our cart and we waited for him to come back with more (and I grabbed a few pictures of it in the distance against the changing trees). 

-Gavin said he wanted to ride with Papa in the combine, so after unloading soybeans into our cart a 2nd time, both Grant and Papa stopped machines so that Grant could lift Gavin into the combine for some Papa-Gavin bonding time.

-Grant drove our tractor back to the side of the field where a semi-truck was hooked up to an auger that was loading beans up into a grain bin. 

-Grant, Layla, and I jumped out of the tractor and back into my car to drive to the farm to  pick up some equipment for the combine.

-At the farm, Grant searched the tool shed for what he needed, and Layla and I took advantage of the bathroom.

-We then headed back to the field so Grant could continue farming and Layla and I sat in the car. Layla ate lunch and watched Wreck It Ralph on our DVD system while I read Dracula for class this week (and I was reminded how much I LOVE that book). The windows were cracked, the sun was shinning, and the breeze felt amazing. We were blessed with a perfect fall day today! 

-For two hours, we hung out in the car, and Gavin rode with Papa in the combine and then again with Grant in the tractor.

-Grant came up to the car a few times to say hi when he made his rounds back to the semi-truck to unload. One time, while I was involved with the suspense of Dracula, I saw a shadow outside my window and jumped as he approached. (The first time I read the book in college I had nightmares for a month. I was hoping this time would be different since it’s my second time reading it, but so far today, I’ve been a bit jumpy. Not the book I need to be reading while I’m a farmer’s widow for two months!!! I actually considered asking my professor to modify my reading assignment, but I didn’t think that was a reasonable excuse. However, now I’m reconsidering. Hopefully, his Count will allow me pleasant dreams this time around.)

-After the guys finished up the field, Grant brought Gavin back to the car. As Gavin ran up to me, I asked him, “Did you have fun?” and he smiled saying, “Yeah, that was awesome!” I loaded him in his carseat and we took off for home. 

Tomorrow night, we plan to do another visit as we deliver field meals. It’ll be my first home-made field meal of the season. We’ll see how it turns out! 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Harvest Happenings- Fall 2014

Hello, Farm Notes Readers! It’s been a while (like last harvest) since I posted. So sorry. Life has been, well, life: busy, fun, crazy, enjoyable, can name it all with two little people running around. And yes, they are now little people. Gavin and Layla have both grown up so much since last harvest. As I look back at pictures from last year’s Farm Notes, I can’t believe how much they’ve grown. This year’s harvest is well underway, and I wanted to write about some “Farm Notes worthy” happenings.

On September 14th, a few days before the official start to harvest on our farm, our family of four went out to the farm to gather fall decorations for our house. For last year’s pumpkin picking (Farm Notes titled “Pumpkin Picking”), Grant was harvesting and told me over the phone where I could find his friend’s pumpkin patch. Being completely unprepared, I found the field, attempted to pull pumpkins off their prickly stalks, and brought them home for our fall decorations. This year, however, his friend picked some really nice looking pumpkins to share with his friends and placed them in his shed in town. We first stopped at the shed to take our pick, and then headed to the pumpkin patch to see what else he had out there (and because Grant wanted to see what his buddy was up to planting so many pumpkins!). After, we headed to one of our fields to chop down corn stalks. Actually, Grant chopped them down with a big knife, Gavin and Layla attempted to pull the stalks out of the ground, and I took pictures. We now have beautiful straight-from-the-field pumpkins and corn stalks adorning our front steps, and I must say, we are the best “dressed” house in the neighborhood once again this fall.

We’ve taken numerous tractor, combine, and truck rides this harvest, all thanks to my new “life schedule” of being home more often during the day while I pursue my PhD and am on sabbatical from my full-time teaching job. (Oh yeah, that’s also been happening. Most friends and family know this, but if you don’t, now you do!) Gavin absolutely loves riding with Daddy, Papa, Gramps, and/or Uncle Jeff. Grant has even been taking him on Sundays to farm with him all day and do “farm kid” stuff. And when Gavin’s not farming with the guys, he’s farming at home ALL THE TIME in our family room and kitchen. And when he’s not farming at home, he’s drawing pictures of tractors, trucks, and combines while he’s at pre-school. I think we are safe to say that he wants to be a farmer when he grows up.

So if Gavin is farming all the time, what is Layla up to?!?! Miss Layla and I have been getting some quality time doing “Mommy-Layla stuff”. We go to the park and library, take bike rides, run errands, "ride Gators" (small motorized vehicles) at the farm, hang out in the car signing songs and watching movies, take our own tractor and truck rides, etc. One of the last times Gavin was in the truck with Grant, and Layla and I were just hanging out in the car, Grant called us to go get the Polaris from the farm and to drive it down to the middle of the field to meet him and Gavin. Once we met them, Grant took ahold of the steering wheel, drove us further into the field, and we met the combine and tractors. The kids and I jumped into the combine with Papa, while Grant had to do some other stuff in the field. I also got some awesome pictures...
Combine ride with Papa!
Waving to Papa and Gramps from the Polaris
Following Daddy into the corn
Farm Kids- Just hangin' in a field!
Here’s to a safe and enjoyable fall to all my readers...and hopefully, here’s to more Farm Notes this harvest season!