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That Darn Cat!

Like many rural dwellers, we have our fair share of creatures that make it onto our property. Some are on purpose (pigs, chickens, dogs), and some (raccoons, skunks, and possums) most definitely are not.

Barn cats have always been in that gray area between the two. While I like having a few cats around to help with mouse patrol, we haven’t actively introduced any to our place in quite a few years. They just seem to appear, and usually aren’t very tame – but never seem to turn down the bowl of cheap cat food I try to keep filled.

Growing up, I remember spending hours in the barn, searching out newly-born kittens and taming them into pets. My favorite cat, Purrfecta (I know, I was awesome at names), followed me around the yard and put up with a lot. I clearly remember the day I thought it would be a good idea to put her in the mailbox – I’m sure our mailman remembered that day for a long time, too.

 

imageAfter losing two dogs last year in close succession (one to old age and one hit on the road), we’ve been without a pet for the longest stretch in our marriage. Big C and I have been talking about some kind of pet for Little C to grow up with, but hadn’t made any decisions.

Last Saturday, that decision seems to have been made for us.

After taking a walk to get the mail, Little C and I decided to go check out the new batch of feeder pigs that just came home the day before. After counting them (there are seven), she exclaimed, “Mommy, look, a kitty!”

Thinking it was one of the usual barn cats, I turned around to see this pretty orange striped cat walking toward us. She was instantly smitten, and I was sure it would turn tail and run once it saw a three-year-old headed its way.

I was wrong.

Purring audibly, the cat came closer and allowed me to pick it up. Little C and I sat down and I let her scratch his (yes, his!) head and rub his belly. This cat has obviously been around people, specifically children, because I have never seen such a good-natured cat, let alone a tomcat.

It followed us up to the house and and allowed Little C to cuddle, carry, and have a one-sided conversation about how cu-ute he was and look at his little ears, Mommy!

imageThis also happened. It looks like he’s trying to escape, but no, he’s just limp.

It’s been four days now and the cat’s still around. I told Little C that sometimes cats on farms don’t always stay because they like to go see their other cat friends, but maybe this one’s decided to make our place his home base.

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I guess that means he needs a name. Considering his patience, I’m pulling for Job.

Little C? She likes Snowball.

 

 

My blue corduroy time machine

If you’re not aware, this week is celebrated as National FFA Week. Always held in February to coincide with George Washington’s Birthday, FFA chapters across the country are finding creative ways to celebrate – driving tractors to school, dressing up in official dress, or educating younger students about agriculture were all popular when I was in school, and still are today.

Not wanting to be left out of the fun, my workplace is encouraging employees who are former FFA members to bring in their FFA jackets this week and hang them at their desks. I’m really looking forward to seeing the office covered in blue corduroy tomorrow!

I wore the blue jacket for five years (high school plus my freshman year of college, serving as a section president), and pulling it out of my closet this morning brought back a rush of memories.

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I remember the very first contest I ever participated in. It was Parliamentary Procedue – the correct way to run a meeting. I was a freshman in high school, had only attended a couple chapter meetings, and I was recruited to serve as the team secretary. We met before and after school for weeks, learning the correct process and determining how we would work together to complete all the necessary motions. We were a well-oiled machine, and we took first place in that event.

That was followed by many, many other contests (or Career Development Events, as they are properly called) over the next four years, some of which we won, some of which we lost, but in all of which we learned something about agriculture, ourselves, and life in general. Rows of shiny pins line the inside of my jacket, awarded for most every activity I participated in. I’ve kept them all.

I credit much of my adult success to my years in 4-H and FFA. The skills I learned from both organizations are things I call upon daily. Public speaking. Record keeping. Developing a plan and carrying it through to completion. Teamwork. Networking. Confidence. Professionalism. All developed while wearing blue corduroy.

In the pockets were various items collected over those years. Programs from banquets. Pens from random hotels and career fairs. A little red arrow, given to me by a good friend for luck before a big election. A few photographs and notes, handwritten in the days before Facebook and texting (now I feel really old… I only predate Facebook by a couple years!).

And that’s where my best memories of FFA lie – in the people I met and remain friends with today.

During my four years of high school, I attended many statewide conferences, contests, and conventions, where I met other FFA members from across the state. Friendships and friendly rivalries developed, and many of those men and women remain my friends today. When I left my small high school (graduating class of 55) for the University of Illinois, I was much less nervous about the transition because I was rooming with several girls I knew from FFA and had FFA friends in many of my classes. And even today, I still run into people at work events who I first met back in high school. Agriculture is a big industry, but truly a small world.

So tonight, I want to say thanks to my trusty blue jacket. Thanks for helping me make so many great memories that will stay with me forever. Thanks for being my suit of armor when I was nervous. Thanks for opening doors to a small town girl and showing me my place in the big, wide, world.

Thanks for helping make me who I am today.

 

 

Just a knife?

To you, this knife may not look like much. It may look old, rusty, worn out.

To me, though, it’s so much more.

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Look closely and you’ll see the initials “RH” carved into the handle, put there years ago by a man I never met. He was Big C’s great-grandfather, a man he never met either.

I’m not sure how we came to own the knife, but it, like several other pieces of butchering equipment, now belongs to us and is used around this time of year – in fact, just yesterday.

While I certainly enjoy filling my freezer with homegrown pork, days like this satisfy more than just a physical need. They make me feel connected to my family, and agriculture, in a way not much else can.

As I said, we use several pieces of equipment, both large and small, that were used by past generations. Just knowing our grandparents and great-grandparents used the very same tools to do the very same tasks is fascinating to me. It’s also a testament to the quality of the products that were used much more frequently back then because of need, not novelty.

Using a sausage seasoning recipe in my grandpa’s handwriting, that calls for “a little salt,” “a good amount of pepper,” and “sage to taste” makes me think about how he knew exactly what that meant, and makes me wonder if our version tastes like his did.

As I try some freshly-cooked sausage, I think about how it’s truly “farm to fork” and how many farm families were local food before local food was cool. I know the animals we cared for on our farm will help feed not only my family, but families of others as well.

I also think about the fact that butchering is a social activity. There are many jobs to do, but there’s never a shortage of help. Family and friends come together to get the job done and enjoy each other’s company while doing it. While I’m definitely in favor of technology, I do feel that sometimes it causes us to lose the camaraderie of working together for a common goal, something agriculture, and families, are built upon.

So even though it’s old, that knife still has value. It’s still able to be sharpened for use, and a testament to the fact that even though many things have changed and are going to keep changing, there are still valuable lessons to learn from the past.

More or Less

When I became pregnant, I knew motherhood would change me – more or less.

Now that I’ve been a mom for two years, I’ve realized just how much that was true.

I know more about the characters and general storylines of “Sofia the First” and “Doc McStuffins.”

I can survive on less sleep.

We own more pairs of sparkly shoes and choosing which pair to wear on any given day is serious business.

While I still like to look my best, I’ve modified my routine to spend less time getting ready and more time enjoying morning snuggles.

I care less about having an immaculate house and more about whether Little C’s enjoying her books and toys and not being afraid to make a little mess once in awhile. (But let’s be honest, I never cared too much about having a perfectly clean house.)

I think more about spending quality time together, and wonder if the quanitity is enough, too.

Sitting down to a hot meal happens less, after cutting up chicken nuggets and picking up dropped forks and refilling empty milk glasses.

I worry more about the things that matter and less about the things that don’t.

I’ve listened to more renditions of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and the silly made-up songs she invents in the car.

I have more patience…except for the days I have less.

I pray more – for her, for me, for the world in which she’ll live and grow and, hopefully, make a better place.

I appreciate my own parents more. Much, much more.

I’ve fallen more in love watching Big C as a daddy and sharing this journey of parenthood with him.

I spend less money on myself, but I have found many more riches than I ever imagined.

My days are filled with more laughter, more peace, more joy, and more love than I thought possible.

So, has motherhood changed me? More or less.Two Days Old

One Day to Take My Daughter to Work?

I heard on the radio this morning that today was “Take Your Daughter and Son to Work Day.” I think that’s a great idea and appreciate the companies and schools that allow it to happen. It teaches children about what mom and dad do all day and opens their eyes to a variety of careers.

But I believe that on the farm, every day can be “Take My Daughter to Work Day.”

Riding in the sprayer with Daddy at a few months old.

Riding in the sprayer with Daddy at a few months old.

Since shortly after she was born, I was taking her with me when doing things outside. Sunny days found her napping in her bouncy seat in the shade while I weeded the garden. When she started walking, we went for strolls out to take care of the pigs. And now that she’s a little older, she loves nothing more than to help gather eggs (and try to pick up the chickens and give them “big hugs!”)

Her first experience driving a tractor - yes, she had control of the wheel! One nice thing about a harvested field - lots of space!

Her first experience driving a tractor – yes, she had control of the wheel! One nice thing about a harvested field – lots of space!

She loves to ride in the tractor with Daddy, PaPa, and Uncle J. More than once, she’s napped on my chest as we rode in the buddy seat. She loves to point out the difference in corn fields and bean fields in the summer, and knows tractors from combines.

Learning about the pigs last spring.

Learning about the pigs last spring.

She loves to be outside and usually the only way to get her to come in is to promise some chocolate (a girl after my own heart!). I hope as she grows, she will continue to enjoy doing things on the farm and appreciate the work that goes into making our operation successful.

She loved holding the baby chicks this spring.

She loved holding the baby chicks this spring.

I also like to take her with me when I do things for my “day job” when it’s practical. I want her to know what I do all day as well. and show her that there are many careers out there she may want to pursue. I want her to know that she can do anything she sets her mind to do, and to never feel inferior because she’s a woman, or because she comes from a rural area, or for any other reason that doesn’t affect her abilty to learn how to do a job well.

And hopefully, someday, she’ll be able to share her work, on the farm or elsewhere, with her own son or daughter!

A Very Happy Birthday

Two weeks ago, we had a family party to celebrate Little C’s second birthday. I still can’t believe she’s already two years old. I am already scared at how quickly two will turn into twelve, twenty, and beyond!

A big two-year-old smile - and pigtails!

A big two-year-old smile – and pigtails!

For her first birthday, I chose a book theme and asked all the party guests to write her a note in a copy of the book, so she can always have it as a memory. It went over very well so I’ve decided to continue to do that until she decides that theme parties are “uncool” or whatever the term will be when she gets that old. She’s starting to get into a few shows like Sofia the First and Doc McStuffins, but I made the mom-xcutive decision to go with The Very Hungry Caterpillar this year. Next year, she’ll tell me what she wants!

The food table.

The food table.

Cupcakes!

Cupcakes!

After a few Pinterest searches, all the decorating ideas came together very quickly. Lots of polka dots and bright colors – and the menu was pulled right from the pages of the book. I was really excited with how everything turned out.

The book that everyone signed.

The book that everyone signed.

I made this banner with her name on it and hung the body circles at different lengths to look like a caterpillar. I was pretty pleased with how it turned out!

I made this banner with her name on it and hung the body circles at different lengths to look like a caterpillar. I was pretty pleased with how it turned out!

Of course she was spoiled by everyone and received many nice gifts. My favorite was the Raggedy Ann doll handmade by her great-grandma, which I know she will treasure. She was also very excited to blow out her candle, and actually got to do that twice because she blew it out before we sang Happy Birthday!

Raggedy Ann

Candle

In the weeks since, she wakes up almost every morning asking whose birthday it is. She even tells our new puppy “happy birthday” whenever we go outside. Good thing Big C’s birthday is coming up in a couple months and we can celebrate again!Family

The Plans, They Were A’Changin’

More than three years ago, before Little C was even a twinkle in Big C’s eye, we decided to take a trip for our tenth anniversary. We’d never been on a cruise, and it seemed like a good time to experience one to celebrate. We started a vacation club account at our credit union and put a little money away each paycheck toward that trip.

In the meantime, Little C arrived and changed our lives for the better. We kept saving up for the cruise, though, because we decided it was still important for us to do something special.

We celebrated our tenth anniversary last fall and started looking at cruise options for February, the least busy month for Big C on the farm and an easier month for me to get away from work as well. We checked out cruises within our budget and had a nice one picked out…

But the thought of being out in the middle of the ocean, with uncertain communication back home, in February, made it awful hard to think about leaving Little C behind, even though she would have been in the best possible care from both sets of grandparents.

And so the first change of plans took place.

We decided on a four-day weekend, to a location within a day’s drive (just in case), and Big C requested heading south. A pretty good idea for the end of February, I thought. Going back and forth with a few destinations, we settled on Memphis, a place I’d never been and he’d only been to once, in high school.

Hotel reservations were made, and after a little arm-twisting, he even agreed to go see the Broadway touring production of The Lion King. We planned to visit Graceland and eat some good barbecue, and just enjoy the time away.

Elvis may have left the building, but he's still on the wall!

Elvis may have left the building, but he’s still on the wall!

As our departure came closer, I started watching the weather forecast. A few days before our trip, Memphis was hit by an ice storm that wreaked a lot of havoc on local roads. Temperatures were supposed to warm up before we left, though.

So we set off on Friday morning, planning to stop at Lambert’s Cafe in Sikeston, Missouri for a late lunch. The weather was great the whole way there, and we enjoyed some delicious food and of course their famous “throwed rolls!”

Fresh from the oven - yum!

Fresh from the oven – yum!

After lunch we stopped at an outlet mall so Big C could buy some new jeans. He knew exactly the brand he wanted and we spent about 15 minutes in the store. In that amount of time, it started to freezing rain, becoming pretty slick pretty fast. We decided to take off, hoping to get out ahead of the rain and be on our way.

A slow, slippery eight miles later, we’d turned around and headed back to a motel in Sikeston for the night. Plan change #2.

Relaxing that evening, I looked at the forecast again. Travel would be fine the next day, but more ice and snow was expected Sunday evening into Monday – when we were supposed to be at the musical and then headed home.

The third plan change – we decided to try and sell the tickets online and drive partway home Sunday afternoon. (The sale was successful, which made me very happy!)

Saturday morning took us to Graceland on a very rainy day. The plus side – crowds were slim! We both enjoyed Graceland and were glad we spent the extra $5 each to tour Elvis’s private jets. The self-guided tour was very well done and it was very cool to see the famous Jungle Room in person!

The Jungle Room - complete with green shag carpet on the floor... and ceiling!

The Jungle Room – complete with green shag carpet on the floor… and ceiling!

The one thing we hadn’t done yet was eat Memphis barbecue – so Sunday we decided to visit Beale Street and had lunch at Pig. I had ribs, which were fall-off-the-bone tender, and Big C had a sampler plate with chicken, pulled pork, and ribs. We bought a bottle of their spice rub, and plan to try it on some of our homegrown ribs soon.

A couple hours at an antique mall added a few treasures to our collection, then it was back to Sikeston for the night and one more meal at Lambert’s, because, well, why not?

The trip home on Monday was blissfully uneventful and it was so good to see Little C again. Now we’re finally back to a normal schedule and recovering from the colds we all picked up somewhere, and thinking about where our next trip might take us…

But if this one was any indication, it’ll change a few times before we get there!