Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Issue 7: Tales of Spring & Summer

I know, I know, it’s been over six months since I’ve updated my Farm Notes. It’s now September, and I have no idea where those six months went or what exactly happened in that six month span of time. If I think really hard I can remember back to what was happening in May and June when I was taking an intense three week grad school class, the school year was winding down, and I was itching for summer to begin. My school year came to a close on June 4th; however, within 30 minutes of feeling the freedom of summer upon me, it was over because volleyball camp began. From then on, my summer days were spent coaching volleyball and basketball every weekday and almost every weekend. The only real “summer vacation” I got was when I purposely took a week off of coaching to go to Puerto Rico with Grant. We also found weekends to spend Forth of July up at my my mom and Pat's lake house in Michigan and visit my dad and Amy at their new house in Lake Forest (yes, they moved back "home" to where I spent my first 14 years growing up).

In addition to coaching during our beautiful summer days, I was also taking my very last graduate school course that ran through June and July. My only motivation to go to class was thinking about how exhilarating it was going to feel to walk out on my last day and know that I was done with driving to campus to sit in a course, taking notes, and writing papers. I still had my thesis to go, but at least the class part of my program was going to be over! The light at the end of the tunnel was in sight. When that final day of the course was upon me, I met my classmates at a campus restaurant to “talk out” our final exam (a huge thank you to my professor for that oh-so-easy final assessment). After our lively discussion over lunch, my classmates applauded me in congratulations. A year and a half after starting my masters program, I was done with course work! Those 18 months of taking 30 hours wasn’t easy, but I assume that’s what has caused my fuzzy memory recall. The days, weeks, and months just seem to blur together in what can be summed up as a **** load of work.

I sincerely apologize to all my loyal readers, but somehow my time on the farm has been few and far between. The hours of time I once had to reflect on life and all its beauty now only happens on my drives to and from work as well as my walks with Dudley. I must say though, with how busy my life is, it is nice to come home to peace and quiet with no worries of traffic or loud neighbors. However, life on the farm has brought other worries, but they revolve around basement floods, crazy hail storms in spring, losing Kitty, and the survival of my flower and vegetable garden, just to name a few. Because my time is precious, and I don’t want you to have to read a novel at this point in my blog postings (that will hopefully come later), here are a few headlines from my home to yours. Hopefully, these Farm Notes satisfy your curiosity of what life has been throwing my way down here in little Dahinda!

We own land!
Mid-March Grant and I purchased our very own piece of soil. Grant had been wanting to buy land for quite some time now, but the opportunity just hadn’t been right in the previous months. While driving with Marsha, Grant saw a For Sale sign on a piece of ground about 15 miles north of our house. Upon calling about the piece for sale, it turned out to be the right opportunity this time around! Now, we can say we own 80 acres of God’s country!

Fire, where???

It was an early Sunday morning in April, and I was very much enjoying my comfy bed. I woke up to Grant calling, “Wake up, the pole is on fire outside!” Half in and out of sleep, I sat up and said, “Fire, where???” Confused as to what was going on, he pulled the shades open for me to see the power line pole on fire right outside of our house. A neighbor had driven by in the morning and saw the pole smoking, so he stopped by Marsha and Doug’s house to tell them about it. Within twenty minutes, the smoke turned into a burning fire. Knowing that our electricity was either going to go out or purposely be cut by the power company, we both took quick showers (we run on a well). Instead of hanging around the house all day without electricity, we decided to drive into Peoria to go shopping and see a movie. Before we left, the power company cut our electricity and was working on the pole and fairly quickly we had power again. Even though I had loads of grad school work to do, we still decided to take our trip to Peoria. Our spontaneous plan just sounded too good to pass up compared to getting work done.

Leaving my hard workin' man at home
I was so stressed from coaching two sports and working on my masters that I found time over my spring break to visit my aunt and uncle in Florida. I had to leave Grant behind because they were preparing to start planting season. One night on the phone, he called me a "lazy wife" of a hard workin' man. (He was just a bit jealous.) Yes, I agreed, I deserved to be lazy for a week and soak up the Florida sun.

Tales of a mushroom hunter
It is a common activity around here to go mushroom hunting in the timber to look for morel mushrooms during the late spring. I have heard stories of Grant and his sister, Joanie, mushroom hunting as kids. Grant continues to go every year and comes back with bags of morel mushrooms for his mom to fry up. Our friend, Jason, comes out to hunt for mushrooms himself. Grant’s cousin comes out on our property to take some home to his parents or sell to suburbanites who have summer homes out at Oak Run (he makes a fortune). Joanie, Jeff, and the kids also spend afternoons on an adventure in the woods.
So, I guess it was time for me to get my mushroom hunting gear on (clothes with long sleeves and pants to keep off the ticks) and try it out to see what the fuss was about. Grant was busy planting, so I went with Joanie, Jeff, Sidney and Trent (our niece and nephew), and Jeff’s parents to see if we could find ourselves some mushrooms one Saturday afternoon. Although I am not crazy about the taste of the fried delicacies, I still wanted to experience the hunting that everyone talks about.
After an hour of searching two areas of the timber, we came home empty handed. The expert mushroom hunters said that it was still too early to find any mushrooms, and that they’d give it a try next weekend. I was disappointed that my first time mushroom hunting was unsuccessful, but it was a cool experience to go walking through the timber around our house. As I walked over logs and around bushes, I couldn’t help but to think back to my childhood when I played in the jungle of a forest behind my childhood suburban home. My brothers and I would carve out paths, pretend we were army men, and play for hours in the trees. While guiding Sidney through the woods looking for mushrooms on the farm, I thought of how awesome of an experience this would be for her to look back on and anticipate every year. Even though I didn’t find any mushrooms this year, I can still call myself a mushroom hunter now that I’ve tried it out. Hopefully next year, I can actually find some.

Men looking for work

Wet spring weather caused the guys to delay planting season. So, they spent the days getting things done on the To Do List that has continued to grow season after season. These pictures show Grant and his dad, Doug, digging up an old tree stump and the absolutely beautiful pergola they built for Marsha. We’ve had many family picnics and barbeques under it this summer and fall.

Mama Cat is a bitch!
Warning: approaching vulgar language...
There is a mama cat that hangs around our barn, who the guys call Butterscotch. I called her Mama Cat, because she was the “farm slut” as Grant once pointed out because she was always pregnant. My relationship with Mama Cat was always from afar from inside our house since Dudley always wanted to jump through our windows at the sight of her. Then, once Kitty mysteriously arrived in Dudley’s dog house in the barn, I learned why Dudley wanted to oh-so-badly go after her. Let me point out that although Mama Cat was always having litters of kittens, as far as we know, Kitty was not one of hers since she arrived tame. After a month or so of caring for Kitty, she didn’t seem to gain much weight, but her food was always gone. One morning while placing her food out in the barn, Mama Cat came around looking all friendly and started to eat Kitty’s food. At the sight of Mama Cat, Kitty hid underneath an old tire in the barn looking very frightened. Then it became clear that Mama Cat was eating all Kitty’s food. So, from then on, I started to place Kitty and her food in Dudley’s kennel early in the morning to give her enough time to eat by herself. Then, before I’d leave for work, I’d take Kitty out of the kennel and place Dudley in there for the day. At first, Kitty could walk in and out of the kennel as she pleased through the small spaces in the fencing, but after she gained weight, she was no longer able to do so and just spent her days in her bed on the straw bale I made for her. This did not make Mama Cat happy. It was apparent that Mama Cat was once again pregnant, big surprise, and was upset that I had taken away her breakfast. You may be wondering why I just didn’t feed Mama Cat her own breakfast. Well, I learned from Marsha that Mama Cat ate over at their place in the morning with all of the other farm cats. So it seemed that Mama Cat was not only eating across the street, but then she came over to our barn to indulge some more. Therefore, I decided I wasn’t going to play this game with her anymore.
A few weeks after my discovery, while going out to feed Kitty one spring morning before school, Mama Cat followed me back up to the house and started to meow and circle around my legs. I wondered why she was being so friendly to me, but I thought that maybe she was coming around and realized that if she was nice, maybe I would feed her too. So, I bent down to pet her raised back and tail. Out of nowhere she hissed, scratched my bare arm, and tried to take a bit out of me. I jumped back and shrieked in pain, “Ahhh!!!! You Bitch!!!!” With that, I grabbed my arm to see blood start to gush out of a long scratch on my forearm, two punctured holes in my skin, and cuts on my fingers. I looked at her and started to kick my legs yelling, “Get the **** away from me!!!” With tears in my eyes, I ran inside to stick my entire arm under the kitchen faucet. The house phone randomly started ringing, so after grabbing a paper towel to wrap around my bleeding skin, I answered. “Are you okay?” Grant asked. “What the hell happened to you? I heard you screaming,” he asked immediately after hearing me pick up.
“The f-ing Mama Cat just attacked me out of nowhere,” I answered in distress choking back tears.
“Did she bite you?” he asked.
“I’m not sure, it happened so fast, I can’t remember. There are two puncture holes in my skin, but I think that might be from her claws,” I responded while looking at my arm and the bruises that started to appear under the holes.
“What were you doing that she did this?” was his next question. He started to sound angry.
“Well,” I hesitated, “I thought she looked like she wanted me to pet her and since she seemed like she was being all friendly, I thought I’d just pet her back for a second.” I replayed the attack in my head again to see if I could remember her biting me.
“Just stay away from her from now on. She’s a bitch!” I don’t think he heard me call her that across the barnyard, but at least he agreed with me. “You’ll need to disinfect it, so make sure you do that before you leave,” he added.
So, that’s how Mama Cat became known as Bitch, and why I didn’t even try going near her kittens when they were born in our barn in late spring. Since she was eating at Marsha’s, she brought her kittens over to their barn, like she always does. They are now part of the multitude of farm cats roaming their barn yard, but they are the craziest kittens they’ve ever had. I guess that’s because their mama is a bitch.

A pig what?
Now that I have space for flower and vegetable gardens, I try to spend time in the spring and summer cultivating the soil, picking out varieties of flowers and plants to grow, and watching all of it bloom. My grandma, mom, and aunt share a talent for gardening, so when I moved to the farm I hoped the green thumb would be passed on to me. I’ve tried my best to start two flower gardens and grow my own veggies, although one of the gardens next to our barn become “the jungle” this summer since I found I had little time to keep it up. One day, Marsha came over to help me mulch around my newly planted and transplanted flowers and plants. While looking my garden over she asked, “What’s that?” and pointed at a stem of what I thought was a flower that I had just transplanted from a different area.
“I’m not sure. I found it growing over there,” I pointed to a different spot of the garden that was now filled in with other flowers I had just planted. “I wanted to make sure I saved it in case it’s a perennial, so I just moved it.”
She walked over to it, bent down to touch the stem and leaves, and said, “I think that’s a weed, Kristen.”
“Really?!” I responded in surprise.
She grabbed it out of the soil and handed it over to me after examining it more closely. “Yep, it’s a weed,” she said as she threw it into the pile of garden trash I was collecting on the grass.
I brushed it off with a slight laugh and forget all about it.
That evening Grant came home from work and greeted me chuckling, “So I heard you transplanted a pig weed.”
“A pig what?”
“A pig weed,” he repeated again.
“What’s a pig weed?” I asked all confused.
“Mom said you transplanted a weed in your flower garden today!” He was very amused at my unintentional folly.
“How was I supposed to know!! And why the heck is it called a pig weed?”
I guess we just don’t have pigs out in the barn, because they also find their way into my flower gardens.

Escape of the pigs
Speaking of pigs in gardens (what a transition!), one day I came home from work and Grant asked me over dinner, "Did you find any hoofs in your garden?"
My lack of answer and look of confusion prompted him to respond to his own question. “I came home today to find the two pigs from our barn wandering out in our yard.” He laughed, “They were covered in mud, so they may have gotten in your garden or in the water hole back by the grain bin.” Instead of being concerned for my plants, I just laughed along with him at the thought of the pigs hanging around our house all afternoon. Thankfully, all my plants and flowers were safe. I just wish I would have gotten a picture of the pigs making their escape.

The world is ending
The first week of June brought with it the scariest storms I’ve ever experienced. These weren’t the typical lighting and thunder storms I wake up to in the spring and fall on the farm thinking that a tornado might be coming with it. These were storms that made it seem like the world was ending.
One late afternoon after school, I was transplanting some flowers my grandma gave me and realized that the sky was looking pretty ominous. I called Grant to see how things were going with planting in the fields, knowing that storms were headed our way. He was in the tractor and asked me to check the radar. It was obvious from the dark clouds and the distant sound of thunder that rain would be approaching. After pulling up the radar on the computer, I noticed that there were some orange and yellow spots headed our direction, but it didn’t seem like it was going to be too serious. I told him that it looked like he had a good half an hour or so before the rain got here, I hung up, and went back outside to finish planting.
Within minutes, the wind picked up so much and the thunder got closer that I ran inside to take cover. By chance, I looked up the radar again to see huge red spots nearing our location. The radar had changed to a fiery-red which I knew meant get worried and get in the basement. I called him again with the update, and he said his mom was on her way to pick them up. No sooner did I hang up the phone, and I heard a huge crash in the kitchen. The windows I had opened earlier to get some cool fresh air in the house had slammed shut from the wind. I hurried from room to room to close all the windows, grabbed my cell phone and a flashlight, and stood quietly at the top of the basement stairs waiting for something to happen. All of a sudden, the wind blew stronger, the sky outside turned a blurry white, and there was a roar of something hard hitting the roof. As I glanced toward the kitchen windows, it looked as if the sky was falling! I couldn’t see more than ten feet out the window because hail was coming down so hard. There were leaves, long branches of trees, and debris from the shed flying across the lawn. Instead of going in the basement, like I knew I should have, I found my camera and started to take pictures to document this ending of the world. If the world was coming to an end, I wanted something to remember it by. What the heck was I thinking?! After a few good shots, I yelled for Dudley and we ran to the basement where we were safe from anything flying through a window or a tornado swooping us away.

Ten minutes later, the roar of the hail was gone, the wind died down to a complete stand still, and I walked up stairs to check the damage. I couldn’t believe it! The grass was covered in hail and debris from trees and buildings, my flower garden was completed flooded, and my vegetable plants that were standing straight up earlier were now snapped over and submerged in mud. I started to cry looking at the damage. My spring had been so busy that I had finally found time that weekend to plant all my flowers and vegetables. I must have spent over 15 hours outside preparing the soil, planting and transplanting flowers, and caring for what would soon be my source of vegetables in the following months. But all of it was destroyed. I was devastated. Then, I realized something: this is what Grant goes through whenever there are wind storms, hail, or unexpected floods from the river. I understood. I never really got why farmers became so worked up over something they couldn’t control. But, after feeling the reward of getting my planting done, seeing the potential that my gardens had, and then within ten minutes time have it all taken away, I understood. And, I don’t even make a living off my flower or vegetable gardens! I wiped away my tears and no longer felt self-pity but instead sympathy for my husband and those families whose livelihood is from farming. I went outside to survey the damage and took more pictures to document the aftermath. The world hadn’t in fact ended, but the storm left in its place sad farmers and gardeners.

The storms also left us with an old tree down in Marsha and Doug's front lawn and lake front property. (Whenever we have heavy rains the Spoon River overflows into the fields just north of our house.) In addition, the stroms produced stunning sunsets.

Hot, hot, hot
After our crazy rain, hail, and wind storms this spring, we were out of electricity for almost an entire weekend. Beautiful sunny weather was accompanied by extremely high temperatures, causing our house to also get a bit toasty. Since it was a weekend, I sat on our couch trying to get grad school work done in my tank top and shorts and found myself dripping with sweat. I called Grant and told him that the thermostat read 86 degrees (the evidence is here since he didn’t believe me), and that I was going to go sit outside under a tree because it would be cooler out there. Fortunately, within an hour of that phone call, the electricity came back on and I was able to shower and blast the a.c..

Oh no, Kitty’s pregnant...I think
After coming home from spending a weekend in the suburbs, I was greeted by Kitty at our garage door. While petting her, I noticed that I could feel her unusually prominent nipples. Upon gently looking them over, a horrendous thought came to mind: Kitty’s pregnant!!!! For a few months, I had been meaning get Kitty spayed since I didn’t want her to be hustled by the stray male cats that come around the farm. I was too late, or so I thought. I called the vet, made an appointment for her spaying, and took her in a few weeks later for her operation. Since she’s a small cat, I wasn’t completely sure if she was carrying kittens or not, but I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to have more cats around our farm. Mama Cat was already pregnant and Marsha and Doug already had a plethora of cats and kittens at their house, so we already had enough.

Her big day was upon us, and when I called the vet to check in on her, they said that I had the sweetest cat they had ever met. They loved how friendly she was! 'That’s my Kitty,' I proudly thought. The next day I picked her up from the vet and she was as cuddly as ever. I told the vet that didn’t want to know if she was in fact pregnant, but after bringing her home I had owner’s remorse. I couldn’t help but feel terrible that I may have taken her kittens away from her. I knew that I was trying to do the responsible thing, but at the same time I was sad about it. Looking back, I wish I would have just waited to see if she was pregnant, but I guess I can't change the past.

Come home, Kitty, come home
Aside from taking a week off to go on vacation this summer, I took one day off of basketball camp in early July because I needed time to sleep, catch up on grad school work, and just relax. I had been looking forward to having a productive day at home while also enjoying the beautiful weather with Dudley and Kitty playing a bit outside. As always, when I woke up, I took Dudley outside for his morning walk, but Kitty was not around to greet us. Upon returning from our walk, she again wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Only one other time had she not turned up in the early morning, but I had found an hour later playing in the tree in the front yard before I left for work. So, I looked around outside, called her name, but she was nowhere to be found. It was unusually quiet out, and an intense pain and sense of fear rose up inside me. I ran inside to get my cell phone and called Grant. “Kitty’s gone, she didn’t turn up for breakfast and I’ve looked all over,” I said trying to sound calm.
I didn’t want to overreact because I knew Grant would respond just as he did. “She’s probably roaming around somewhere. She’ll be back later when she gets hungry. It was also cold outside last night, so maybe she’s hunting around.”
“No, I don’t think so. She’s never done this.” My voice sounded more worried.
“Well, you can try to look around some more, but I think you may just need to wait to see if she’ll come around. Put some food outside the house and keep checking for her.” So, that’s what I did. And that’s what I did all day long.
My day off turned into a search for Kitty all around our property. I walked the outskirts of our surrounding fields, drove up and down our roads, walked around neighboring barns, and called out, “Here Kitty, Kitty” over and over and over again until my heart got too heavy. I then returned back inside to only go back out again to do it all over. I even went out at night with a flashlight calling her name and listening for even the slightest meow. But, the nighttime silence was even more deafening as the morning quiet. She was gone, I just knew it.
I went home, cried, and called my mom and dad. The following days I continued to look for her, but deep down inside I knew she wasn’t coming back. I called the humane societies in Galesburg and Peoria just in case someone may have picked her up. I drove around to all the surrounding homes in the area and dropped off Lost Cat fliers with her description, and I continued to walk the fields around our house. But again, there was nothing.
I was devastated, and I still am. Just as she mysteriously appeared on a cold January night in Dudley’s dog house, she was again mysteriously gone. She was the sweetest animal I have even known. While comforting me, Grant said, “She was an angel cat.” I agree.
(Side note: Two weeks later, two cats went missing from Doug and Marsha’s farm. The next night during dinner, Doug saw a coyote walk right up their driveway to stalk the cats that were hanging out on their porch. Doug ran to get his gun, shot the coyote, and it ran off into the corn field. You can connect he dots from there.)

In early spring, Grant and I headed to a wedding shower a few towns away. The bride was Jenny, our brother-in-law's sister. Jenny and I were Pi Phi’s at U of I together and played on the same kick butt intramural basketball team every year. When Grant and I met, we realized the small world coincidence that he was semi-related to Jenny through his sister’s marriage to Jeff. Jenny and Chris, her fiancĂ© from England, and some of our sorority sisters came down for the shower in Jenny and Jeff’s hometown. Throughout the night, they had questions for Grant and I about life on the farm. It was fun to have them down here to experience what life is now like for me.
When it came time for the sun to set, they went outside to take pictures in front of the solid horizon of empty corn fields (they had yet to be planted). Later that week, Joanie asked me why so many of my friends like taking pictures in front of country sunsets. The situation was the same at our farm reception and our farm parties: suburbanites and city dwellers gather in front of the horizon to capture the moments of color in the sky before the sun leaves us only to do it again the next night. I told her that when you live in the suburbs or the city, you rarely get a clear view of the sunsets without houses or skyscrapers. Therefore, people rarely take the time or have the opportunity to see the sun go down beyond the horizon. While in the country, there is little noise and nothing to disturb the view of the setting sun. Everything seems at peace in the world in those final moments before the sun goes down. This tranquility is what people try to capture in those pictures. Now that I live in the country, I enjoy watching the sun rise and set over the fields. One of my favorite times of the day is when I walk Dudley up to the top of our hill to look down at the river bottom at the setting sun. It’s quiet. There’s no one around. And everything in the world seems to be at peace.

Friends on the farm
Before their wedding in August, Jenny and Chris returned to the country with Chris’ family to show them where she grew up. Chris and his family are from England, so getting them down to the farm was quite the experience. Marsha and Doug had them over for supper (lunch), they went on a tour of the farm, and they took turns driving a tractor. I’ve never seen so many people interested in farming and agriculture- it was great! I even was a bit jealous that they each got to drive the tractor more than Grant let me when I first came down to see the farm four years ago.

We also had our annual farm party in August attended by friends, family, and coworkers. It was a beautiful night filled with a wiener roast (clarification for some: you cook your own hotdogs/brats over a bonfire), s’mores, Grant showing off his pigs (he literally walks around his pigs outside the barn for all to see), a gorgeous sunset (yes, there were pictures of both the sunset and the pigs), great laughs and friends. Thank you to all of you who came, especially my 85 year old great Uncle Val who has always wanted to visit. Oh, and Julie and Mike...I'm glad you pitched your tent in front of our house this time around instead of next to the hog barn.
Grant and I also spent some time with some of my teachers from high school down here in little Dahinda. When I first was married, I had heard that a few of the retired teachers from Hinsdale South had homes on Oak Run, the lake community near by. We randomly bummed into each other last year at one of Grant’s 4-H meetings when my old driver’s education and health teacher, Mr. Kordewick, and his wife, Linda, spoke at the meeting about their trips to Italy. Before I saw Tom and Linda there, Grant was talking to them and said that his wife was Italian and that her maiden name was Lazzaretto. Tom immediately connected the dots and asked if I was the same Kristen Lazzaretto that went to Hinsdale South. Yes, I am! From then on, we’ve corresponded through email, and this summer we were able to go their home and enjoy a night of laughs and libations. I now tell my students this story as an example of how small the world really is (but I leave out the detail of the libations).

Knee high by the 4th of July
On my way to a leadership camp in 8th grade in central Illinois, my dad made my brothers and I get out of the car and stand in a field of corn to check to see if the corn was “knee high by the fourth of July”. It was late June, and as I walked up to the corn, I realized that it was not knee high but waist high instead. Unhappy I had to get out of the air conditioning to stand in corn that made my legs itch, I tried to smile as he snapped a picture of us unhappy campers.
While living on the farm, I’ve learned that “knee high by the 4th of July” is an assumed correct saying by many. Back in the day, when farmers planted their crops in late May and early June, knee high corn by July 4th meant farmers had a good corn crop. Nowadays, with earlier planting dates and genetically advanced corn, knee high corn by the 4th of July is a sign that things are not going as planned for Illinois farmers. Knee high by June 4th is more like it!
Since we had such a wet spring this year, we did in fact have corn knee high by the 4th of July. To put things in perspective, take a look at these two photos. One is of my family on July 1st, 2007 after our farm wedding reception and the other is me standing in a field of corn by our home on July 5th, 2009. This difference has caused our farmers to push back harvest a month or so this season because of the cold and wet weather we’ve been experiencing. It's almost October, and they are eager to get out in the fields and start working.
So, the next time you are driving through God’s country around the 4th of July, take a look out your windows at the corn and see for yourself what type of year our Illinois farmers are having.

Thanks for reading this issue of Farm Notes. I hope you’ve enjoyed my small stories, and don’t worry, I’m sure there will be many more in the coming months. Throughout the summer, I’d see friends that would ask, “How’s life on the farm?” and then quickly add, “Although, I feel like I already know what’s going on since I read your Farm Notes!” When I hear that, my heart smiles because I feel like you care enough to keep in touch through these postings. We may not always see each other or even know each other, but I’m glad I’m able to reach you wherever you are.