Friday, December 19, 2008

Issue 5- Snow Day 2008

It is only fit that the day I actually want to go to school, we have a snow/ice day. Today would be the last day of final exams for my students and a pretty easy day for me since I would have only had one class and lots of time to grade papers and exam essays. Plus, with my Tahoe that we bought this summer, I have had some pleasant drives to work in the snow thus far. Instead, I get to relax in my home knowing that we are pretty much stuck here since everything outside of our house is an ice skating rink…no joke! Dudley even had his first experience ice skating this morning. So far, he has only wiped out twice and has found that if he jumps in a snowdrift that looks like solid ground, he will fall through and not be able to get out. I, on the other hand, have not slipped, yet, and hope that our power lines stay strong with the ½ inch of ice hanging on them. Our bathtub and buckets are full of water just in case. For those of you confused by this, like I was before an ice scare last year, we need water since we are on a well and if the power goes off we need water for washing, drinking, and the toilet. Like I said, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that our bathtub full of water is just a precaution and will not come into use.

I am sorry I have not written a new issue of Farm Notes since August. The time has just gotten away from me. I am amazed that there are only six days left until Christmas! In the past four months I have survived one of the hardest grad school classes I have taken thus far (I did an average of 10-14 hours of work per week for the class), I have fallen in love with teaching AP English students despite all the work, I have been busy leading the Freshman Advisory Program at Dunlap with another teacher (we just completed a service project for the Dream Center of Peoria and collected over $16,000 of donated items), I had an enjoyable experience coaching the girls sophomore volleyball team, and I have found that coaching girls basketball can be super exciting when I have girls that are talented and love to play and win. We are 6-2 in the season, which is a huge improvement from last year considering we only won 6 games last season. I even earned my first technical EVER which I still blame on Grant and the parents because they were way too enthusiastic with the referees after a bad call. I guess I had to take one for the team…and it pumped up my girls because we pulled off a huge win! We have one more game tomorrow night before break, and then I am giving my girls off for a week for the holidays. It’ll be nice to have a few real days off of everything and go up to the suburbs to spend the holidays with my family.

That’s the update from the farm on a personal level. On a funny note, here is a Farm Notes topic that I have wanted to write. It’s pretty long but humorous if you have the time and interest! Have a very merry Christmas and an exciting 2009!


Living Things…love ‘em or hate ‘em

In the past year and a half of living in the country, I have had quite a few…hmm, how would I describe them…let’s just say interesting experiences with living things. I have found that my heart either tells me to come to the rescue for certain animals or I become filled with loathing especially for those creatures that invade my house.

Let’s start with the fluffy friends that I see and immediately want to help. Last fall, on my way to work through the country roads, I saw a dog roaming the side of the road that seemed to have no destination in mind. It was a windy and rainy day, and I immediately began to think that the dog was lost. I pulled my car over and opened the door just enough so the dog could stick his head in the car so I could check his dog tags. Little did I know that this dog only had warmth and comfort in mind. His large body proceeded to push the door open even further, jump onto my lap (I had newly ironed and khakis on), lick my face, sniff my lunch on the passenger seat, and climb awkwardly over my lap through the seats and into the back. With one big turn of his body, which left dirty dog hair all over the back seat, he curled up and laid his head on his paws and looked at me like he was in dog heaven. At this point, I was overwhelmed not knowing what to do. I took out my sandwich and was finally able to lure the dog out of the car and back onto the road where I was able to check his tags. Unfortunately, there was only a rabies tag and no contact number of his owner. Knowing that I was probably going to be late to work because of this over-friendly dog and that he already muddied up my pants and my car, I decided that it was a lost cause and left him to go back to roaming the side of the road. As I drove away, I looked down at my mud colored khakis and my backseat full of dog hair and mud, and I thought to myself, ‘So this is what I get for trying to help a lost dog!’ Since then, I have seen my fluffy friend roaming the same street and a nearby homestead; I now know he wasn’t lost, just having a bit of fun down the road. Needless to say, this was my last experience pulling over on the side of the road to help man’s best friend.

After committing myself to not helping a dog on the side of the road, I never thought that I would have to help a horse or a donkey! On my way home from a late night basketball game last winter, I was driving slowly down our road and saw something very large in the distance at the very limit of my headlights. I slowed down even further and within a few seconds two large, beautiful horses came into sight. Normally, these horses would be behind a fence on our neighbor’s property, not in the middle of the road! I stopped my car not knowing if they were going to charge my car or slowly walk away. I crept my car forward, and to my relief they let me pass. I drove past my neighbor’s house and wasn’t sure if I should pull over and knock on their door that late at night. Instead, I went home, called their house, and informed them that their horses had escaped and were making their way down the road. These same neighbors also have some donkeys, and in October, I met Peaches the donkey! I was leaving my house for work, and at the top of the hill I noticed something that looked like a deer far off in the road. As I pulled up closer, I realized that it wasn’t a deer but a small pony or donkey scared and hiding in the soybean field. I also saw that it had a huge gash on it’s side, either from an animal or from the fence it squeezed through. I came up to our neighbor’s house, knocked on the door, and their 12 year old boy answered. His parents had already left for work, and he was waiting to catch the bus. Informing him that I thought he was missing a small donkey or pony, he looked out into the pasture and said, “Yep, that must be Peaches!” He grabbed a lasso, got into the vehicle, and we drove down the road to see if we could lasso up Peaches and take him home. Well, Peaches was very scared and walked further into the bean field. Knowing I was of little help and wasn’t about to go walking through the field in my work clothes, I called up Grant and he came to the rescue. I was able to leave for work as they continued to work to get Peaches to “come”. A phone call a five minutes later confirmed that the rescue mission was successful! I called Ellie and Luca right away to tell them of my adventure, since it’s not everyday that you get a chance to rescue a lost donkey!

More experiences have happened in the past few months with the kittens that live in the barn on my in-laws property. We had five kittens born this past spring in our barn, but since Marsha (my mother-in-law) feeds the farm cats on her property, the mama cat brought all her kitchens to live over there. We have found that they are very adventurous and like taking trips over here or in our vehicles without our knowledge. One Sunday night this summer, Grant pulled his truck into the garage, came inside to get ready for his 4H meeting, and as I was sitting in the kitchen I heard the meowing of a cat. We went into the garage to find one of the black kitchens trying to figure out where he was. On our way to the 4H meeting, we took him across the street back to his brothers and sisters. This black kitten, or maybe one of his siblings, took another longer road trip this harvest season with Grant. As Grant was dropping off corn at a grain elevator an hour away, the guy working there suddenly looked on the ground and exclaimed, “Hey there kitty!” Grant looked over at the kitten, and said word for word, “Shit, that’s one of our cats!” Yes, it was, and it was soaking wet from a very long and rainy, two-load drive under the hood of the semi-truck. He really does have nine lives! Grant proceeded to put him in the cab of the truck and the kitten spent the day in grain cart tractor with Marsha before they were able to take him home. This black kitten also has some yellow siblings that enjoyed wandering over to our house when it began to get cold this fall. One evening, as I shut off all the lights in the living room and Grant headed to bed, I heard a scratching at our front door. Not knowing where the sound was coming from, I took a look through the window to find two yellow kittens wanting to come in. I opened the door to pet the kittens and told them to “go home” thinking that they would understand me. I felt bad that they were out in the cold, but I remembered my experience with the dog and decided to let them find their own way home across the road back to their barn.

While all of these experiences have been quite humorous, I have had a few that definitely have not. You may find them to be, but I think of these experiences and cringe hoping that they will never happen again. Living in the country, I understand that we will have mice every year around harvest season when it gets cold and their homes in the fields disappear. Usually, I just get a bit mad that they eat through a purse that had old gum in it or they make a mess in my pantry. This time, they made a mess in my kitchen that was unreal! One evening, I made eggs for dinner and left the dirty pan in the sink. I woke up the next morning to find the dishes already done. Looking closer, I realized that Grant hadn’t surprised me with doing the dishes and instead the mouse or mice did the cleaning leaving evidence behind in the pan and ALL over the countertops. Every inch of the pan, sink, countertop, stove, and island had a trail of mouse droppings. I could literally follow the path it took through my kitchen from the trail. It was disgusting!!! From then on, I was on a mission to kill the mouse or mice that created this aftermath in my kitchen. He or they also had eaten their way through our pantry a few days prior and left remnants of chocolate chips and flour...another mess to clean up. Luckily, the next morning our mouse in the house was taken care of and since then we haven’t had a problem. Although, Grant swears he saw a mouse last week running around downstairs…this time we are armed and ready to take it on before it makes a mess!

I have saved the best story for last. It is the best because it makes me cringe every time I think of it, and I hope it is the only time I will ever have to experience this living creature. It is also something I wasn’t prepared to handle when I moved to a house in the country. Like every harvest season, Grant comes home very late and I go to bed without him. One night this fall, I went downstairs to take Dudley outside one last time before we both went to bed. As the dog and I walked into Dudley’s room, Dudley stopped and looked at something slithering on the floor. Yes, I said slithering!!!! (Writing about it now gives me the chills!) I had to look twice as I thought, ‘That looks like one of Luca’s toy snakes. Wait, I’m not at my dad’s house! Holy **** (insert four letter word there), it’s a real snake and it’s moving…and it’s in my house!!!!’ With that thought, I grabbed Dudley and put him in a room out of harm, and called Grant in hysterics. I was around the corner making the phone call because I couldn’t even look at the thing, and Grant asked, “Are you sure it’s a snake?!” With that, I wanted to respond, “No, it’s a cat!!!” but instead I said, “Yes, and it’s moving!” He then asked, “Well, where is it now?” and I said, “It’s in Dudley’s room, but I can’t even look at it.” With that, he reminded me, “You need to make sure it doesn’t slither away somewhere and then you won’t be able to do anything about it.” So, I had to go back where it had moved a few feet towards the wall and figure out what the heck to do with this snake. Grant advised that I kill it or figure out someway to capture it and put it back outside. For the next five minutes while keeping my eye on it, I found a shoe as a weapon, pulled my hoodie over my head (like that really would protect me), covered my hands with the sleeves of my sweatshirt in case it decided to bite me, and struggled to get enough guts to start pounding the life out of it. I thought, ‘If I don’t kill it and put back outside it’ll just find it’s way back in. If I try to kill it, it may bite me or it may not die.’ The best solution, I thought at the time, was to try to kill it with the shoe, which was the worst weapon of choice. As it curled up and started to hiss at me, I slammed the shoe down on it over and over and over and over again until it looked lifeless. Then, I ran to get a broom and tried to move it to see if it was still alive and it started to move again. Basically, the shoe helped to beat the crap out of it, but it didn’t kill it. At least it was moving slower than it had before, so with the end of the broom, I pushed it into a bucket, covered the top of it with a piece of paper (in case it decided to jump up at me), and ran outside as fast as I could to the edge of our grass and tossed it out into the corn field. I then shook every part of my body in case it landed on me instead of flying into the field. Completely grossed out, I ran back inside, called Grant, and told him that the next time we have a snake in our house, he was going to take care of it, even if I had to put a bucket over it and sit on it until he got home. I still don’t know how I had enough courage to start pounding it with a shoe, but take my advice, when you want to kill a snake, use a sharp edged shovel and not your running shoe!

Here’s to a 2009 that is filled with pleasant experiences with living things!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Issue 4- Summer Days Driftin' Away

I'm officially counting down my days of summer. In the next week or so, I finish up my last summer grad class (which means doing a lot more work in the next few days), start coaching volleyball tryouts, try to squeeze in last minute appointments, try to find time to get some work done for the new school year, attend our first day for teachers (the 15th), and start school on the 18th! Whoa...that's a lot...and I don't know how I'm going to get it all done. Oh, and I forgot, Grant and I are hosting our first ever farm party for some of our friends tomorrow night. I have been getting many requests all summer from friends to come visit; since we've been SO busy all summer long, we just decided to open it up to one night of fun for any of them that could join us. Therefore, since Grant was gone all day at the Illinois State Fair, I was left to get our farm ready for our guests tomorrow night. I can now say I know how to pressure wash a house...woohoo...and boy, did the house need it. I never knew how dirty a house could get until I was the one washing it! And thanks to Grant's mom, Marsha, our lawn looks fabulous...she rides this super fast lawn mower around that I don't trust myself with! I'm sure tomorrow night will be a great last night of fun with some friends before school starts next week!

These past few months of summer were filled with many weddings (seven to be exact), two vacations (one to Michigan with Grant's family right around our 1 year anniversary (pictured above) and the other to the Northwest to experience Seattle, Oregon, the Olympic Peninsula, Victoria, BC, and Vancouver, BC.), coaching volleyball and basketball camps, preparing an advisory program for Dunlap freshman, attending an AP conference and preparing curriculum for teaching AP English this coming school year, and three grad school classes. It's been a crazy summer on and off the farm, and Grant and I both agree that we can never be this busy again over a summer. Even though I had nothing to do last summer and found myself bored, I can now say that I am back "juggling 10 different plates over my head", as my mom says, in Kristen style. While I am sad to see my summer days driftin' away, I am happy to know that I will have a set schedule very soon: teach, coach, go to grad class once a night, and enjoy my weekends when I'm not coaching or doing school work.

Since the last time I posted, I have experienced a wide variety of new farm life experiences that you might find interesting...

Grant and our brother-in-law, Jeff, took me "pole fishin' " in June during sunset on the Spoon River right by our house. I never knew that we lived on such a beautiful river!!! We slid the boat down the bank and into the river (they actually did that), we loaded all the poles into the boat, and we went up and down the river sticking poles into the river banks in hopes of catching catfish (30 poles in total). I opted out of going back at midnight to check for catfish and re-baiting the poles for fear of bugs, the dark, and scary things that come out at night. I can hardly walk Dudley when it's dark out here because it is so dark...there is NO way I'd put myself out on a river that late at night!!!

In early spring, I helped Grant calibrate a planter. He called me on my cell phone with a sweet "Please come help me so it won't take as long", and I couldn't say no. I had already had a long day of teaching in high heels (those days seem to be so much longer) and an hour walk with Dudley, so calibrating a planter was the last thing I wanted to do. But, being a good wife, I went out to the machine shed, and pretended that I was doing scientific experiments as we calibrated. I'm assuming you don't know what that means...because I didn't before doing it. Just to clarify, a planter is the tractor that plants the corn or soybeans during planting season. Before it can plant the seeds, you need to tell it how much to plant in each row and make sure that it is planting the exact amount that you want it to. Therefore, you need to do a set of "experiments" with powder to make sure that the planter computer is set the way you want it. While this should have only taken us less than two hours, after an hour, Grant realized that we had been using the wrong over an hours worth of work was for nothing. We then had to re-do it all! After standing on concrete those two hours and climbing up and down the tractor to input measurements into the computer, my feet were ready to give up on me. At least I didn't have to calibrate in high heels!!!

Spring time brought lots of rain this year!!! Many days we were at the point that if we got any more rain much of our fields would have been flooded. Thankfully, many of the large storms that blew through Iowa went just North of us, like this picture here. That doesn't mean that parts of fields weren't flooded. We just caught a lucky break with all the rain that so many places around us got.
I can now say that I've experienced wild wind and rain storms out here in the country...something that I hate getting woken up by because I ultimately think that there is a tornado coming towards us. I can't tell you how many times I've woken up with an intense fear that I hear a tornado coming towards our house, only to look out the window at a lit up sky of lightning, rain, and wind. A few night ago, we were woken up by strong winds, fierce lighting and thunder, and loud rain...I looked outside to see our umbrella missing from our was blown all the way across our lawn next to the road. I learned my lesson: always take the patio furniture in at night!

For the last month, Grant and I have been enjoying our own home-grown vegetables. There is such a huge difference in fresh zucchini and onions! Our tomatoes are not quiet ready yet, and we still need to dig up our potatoes. Oh, and I learned that potatoes grow in the ground and not on top. Over the past month or so I've been looking for potatoes growing from our plants. No wonder I couldn't find any...One afternoon Marsha said to me, "Any time you want to dig up your potatoes, I'm sure they're ready by now." My response: "No way, I have to dig them up?!?!" Duh, Kristen!

And lastly, a few nights ago I was outside on a beautiful evening before dinner soaking in the last rays of sun as I read one of my many grad class textbooks, and I heard two gun shots echo off of our grain bins. The first shot caught my attention and I didn't know exactly what it was; the second shot was definitely a gun shot. Grant had gone out hunting deer about an hour earlier...that was him shooting at Bambi!!! He came home unsuccessful, but it was still strange to hear gun shots off in the distance coming from the trees. That's not something you hear living in suburbia...or at least something you hope you never hear living in the suburbs or the city! (Disclaimer: It is not hunting season yet, but since we have so much crop damage from the deer, they have a permit to shoot 10 deer in the next few weeks.) For the past few weeks, I've been seeing the same mama deer with her twins running around the fields as I drive down our road during dusk...I just hope they steer clear of my husband!

...I can't think of any more examples of farm fun that I've had these past few months, but I know there are many more. My brain is full of grad school stuff at the moment, so it's hard to think of anything else besides that information. I hope you are enjoying the last days of summer as we enter into a hopefully plentiful harvest the way, the crops look amazing!!! But shhh...I'm not supposed to say that...I guess it's bad luck...I don't think typing it counts!

Until next time, take care...and much love to all!!!


PS...If you are looking for a great read, Three Cups of Tea is an amazing book that everyone should put on their reading list. And of course, if you ladies haven't read Eat, Pray, Love, it's a must!!!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Issue 3- My New Home

In the past four months, I have started grad school at Bradley University, adopted a 2-year-old German Pincher named Dudley, turned 25, chopped off my hair, lost 15 pounds (on a good day), and survived the winter in the country …all in that order. (Oh, and Grant and I became an aunt and uncle again with the arrival of Trent Logan sister-in-law's new baby). Needless to say, these past four months have been filled with exciting new experiences of becoming a true student once again, changing my lifestyle to take care of a dog which is a lot more work then I thought it was going to be, and creating a home here on the farm.

Around Christmas time, I started looking around for dogs in the area that were available to adopt. After a few weeks searching on the internet, I found Dudley, a 2-year-old German Pincher that was at the Livingston Country Humane Society in Pontiac, IL. After many conversations about bringing a dog into our home, Grant and I took a trip out to Pontiac and feel in love instantly. The next weekend we went back and brought him home. After getting to know him, we’ve found that it doesn’t take much for him to make us laugh. He is such a sweetheart and is a great companion on my walks around the country roads. He’s also a good excuse to get some exercise when the last thing I want to do is go for a walk. While his energy level is higher than anyone or animal I know, he amazes me at how fast he can run away from me when he’s not on his leash, how excited he gets at trying to chase barn cats through our windows when he’s inside, and how high he jumps when he’s excited. I’ve grown to love him, Grant says he likes him, and I know my mom also has taken a liking to him since he travels with us to the suburbs. We can’t seem to figure out why he ended up at a humane society…our only guess is his bad habit of going to the bathroom in the house which is something we are constantly working on with him.

Grad school has also been an exciting experience. It’s been a nice change of pace to be a student once again. This blog is actually the result of one of my assignments for the technology class I am taking this spring. I’ve been looking forward to sharing this blog with you all, so you can more easily keep in touch with me, see what’s happening down here on the farm, and not have your email clog up with digital pictures that I send you.

In one of the pictures you can see my new hairdo! I’ve always wanted to donate my hair to Locks of Love, but since I didn’t want to cut off 10”, I donated 8” to Beautiful Lengths. I just love having short hair. It’s so much easier, sassy, fun, and professional looking. My students first reaction was, “You actually look like a teacher now!” My response was, “What did I look like before?!?!”

My short haircut also accompanies my improved waistline. Grant convinced me to go on the Atkins Diet with him on January 2nd. I was very resistant at first but then realized that it would be easier if I just tried it since I would be the one grocery shopping and trying to plan meals for his diet. The first few weeks it was difficult to change my way of thinking about food and eating, but it made me realize how “un-smart” my food choices were before. I don’t want to say that I was unhealthy before or ate too many sweets because that wasn’t the case. Instead, I’ve changed my food choices to include much more protein and vegetables instead of all those carbohydrates I was eating. By cutting out carbs, I realized right away how much more energy I had during the day, how much lighter I felt, and how I didn’t ever get hungry. All in all, it’s been a wonderful change of lifestyle and choices, and I love feeling healthy.

Now that the spring weather is finally here, I’m eager for the summer to begin. I don’t think we will have any more snow, so I can say that I survived my first winter living in the country. I didn’t think there would be anything too it, but I was completely unaware how different it would be from living in the city or suburbs. I never realized that streets may go unplowed all day, drifts can get up to 3 feet, roads can freeze over instantly when the conditions are just right, fog can be so dense that you can’t see more than 2 feet in front of you, and that my car can’t make it up hills in the snow (or even down the roads). I spent many stressful drives to and from work in my little Pontiac, and I’m happy that I no longer have to worry about the snow/ice/sleet/fog forecast.

The sun shinning through our bedroom shades before we get up is also a nice change. The change in weather also means a change in Grant’s work schedule. It’s been too wet outside to start spring planting, but within a week or so he will get busy once again. I figured if I survived harvest season, planting season will be a cinch. It’s been so nice to spend time together without me coaching basketball. We’ve been able to take trips up to the suburbs together, go out on dates, and watch Lost, The Office, American Idol, and many more of our tv shows at night. Our new addition of TiVo this past winter will also help Grant keep up with our shows this spring, since he won’t be getting home until the later evening hours. While he is out in the fields, I plan on joining him on some evenings, working on grad school assignments, and spending time with Dudley.

After reading through this addition of Farm Notes, I realize that I say that I “love” a lot of things that have changed in my life. That must be because that I love my life down here on the farm. I just went to lunch with a friend in the suburbs last weekend, and I was telling her how last spring at this time I was nervous for my move into a whole different way of life away from my friends and family. Despite those worries and fears that I had last spring and summer, I now know that the change has been wonderful for my soul. My grandmother sent me a newspaper article a few months ago that was titled “Finding a home and restfulness on Friday night”. In the article, it talked about how in our society we are so caught up in our busy lives that when we are sitting at home on a Friday night we tend to wish we were out being busy enjoying the social scene. Yet, “what we really want at the end of the day is home, ease, quiet, rest, someone to be comfortable with, some place to be comfortable in, a home.” Everyday, I find that I am “at home” and in love with the home that Grant and I have created in our little piece of heaven out here in the country. I do miss the people who were a part of my old home, but I am comforted knowing that here in little Dahinda my soul is quiet and at rest without the busyness and stress of my old way of life...and with that, I am truly happy. I hope you can find time to give your soul quiet and rest wherever you find yourself in your life.

**If you would like to respond to this blog, you can click on Comments (right below this posting) or email me at my email address. Comments can be seen by anyone that reads my blog, so be aware of that. Hope to hear from you!