Friday, June 29, 2007

Grooming the Farmstead

This week had become devoted to preening and primping around the farmstead, trying to clean up the rough edges. Lawn mowing, of course, is a major part of that. As on many farms, our yard is very large, almost like a city park. The task of mowing falls to me, as Husband and Son keep busy all day doing livestock chores and Daughter has summer employment off the farm.

Lawn mowing has always been a part of my life. While growing up, I spent countless summer hours pushing droning green Lawn Boys. My parents didn't consent to buying a riding mower until my brother was old enough to mow. Figure that one out! Push mowing was fine for us girls, but somehow was below what a son should have to do. Actually though, all that walking and pushing the mower was a good built muscles and kept us in shape.

Anyway, long-gone are my days of push-mowing. Since moving here to the home place twenty-one years ago, I have had access to a riding mower, thank goodness. There's been many frustrations, however, since Husband had inherited his father's tendency to buy cheap mowers which often broke down or just plain wouldn't start. That was usually the main problem......I would get all set to spend an afternoon mowing, and then the mower wouldn't start. Husband would get grouchy because he had to drop what he was doing to work on the mower. This went on for years, and I learned to just keep my mouth shut about it. Finally, this spring, Husband came up with the brilliant idea that we should invest in a higher-quality mower. Can you believe it?! So now when I mow I almost feel like I've died and gone to lawnmower's heaven. The mower starts nicely for me, and has plenty of power to handle all the rough and tough terrain around our farmstead.

Over the years, I've tried to expand the areas that we mow, because it makes the place look neater, plus really helps to control the nuisance of mosquitos, who like long grass and weeds to hang out in. If I mow everything at once, it takes about four hours. Sometimes I dread the thought, but once I get started, its OK......I can zone out on the mower and think and pray. Round and round, mower and I go, circling countless trees, avoiding rusty old farm machinery lurking in the weeds, outlining bins and buildings, and dodging pine tree limbs. By finish time, I'm covered in dust and dirt, with pine needles and tree bark pricking inside my clothing. It's great fun, and people ask me how I get that wonderful tan!

This morning after chores, while it was still fairly cool, I trundled about with my big yard cart, pulling stray weeds here and there by trees and buildings. By the house, I've been trying to establish a perennial flower garden, partly using native flowering plants. Right now most of the native ones are not blooming yet, so they look like weeds. Coneflowers, evening primrose, mullein, catnip, and black-eyed susans are the weedy-looking ones. I planted a patch of black-eyed susan by the barn door, too, and last week when the dairy inspector was here he wrote on his report that we need to "cut the weeds" in front of the milkhouse. That would be my black-eyed susans plus another area of bee balm! In a couple weeks, both will be in bloom......if only the inspector would see them then!

The main reason for all this farmstead clean-up is that this weekend my daughter's fiance's family is coming to visit for the first time. Even though they are long-time town people, I'm not too worried. Both parents grew up on farms, so they should remember what its like, and won't be too shocked by weeds and old stuff sitting here and there.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Shopping Day Adventures

Yesterday morning as I finished my chores in the barn, Husband suddenly asked me if I needed to go shopping. What a dumb question......of course, I can always come up with a reason to shop. He needed some parts for the elevator and for the pickup. Quickly, I racked my brain to see what other errands I could do, like scheduling a fitting for my mother-of-the-bride dress and the strappy shoes, and shopping for the undergarment the dress will require. Without much trouble, I soon had a whole day's worth of activities and shopping planned out.

Soon, our rusty old van and I were merrily making our way to town.......the big town that has the mall and all the usual chain stores......Target being my favorite. First stop was the dress fitting. Hmm......I seem to have a lost a little weight since buying the dress.....I should have ordered a size smaller, but its too late for that now. It can be taken in in late July, if need be.

Next on my agenda was getting Husband's parts, which included a long wait at the parts counter of a business which sells bearings, chains, belts, etc. We've done business there for many years, and through all that time the same humorous poster has hung on the wall by the counter. It contains a long list of hilarious quotes, and someday I should just go in there and copy them down.....they are so good. One of my favorites is, "The light at the end of the tunnel is the headlight of an oncoming train!" Life is so often like that, it seems. You think something good is coming, but it turns out differently.

A stop at an auto parts store was next. I handed over Husband's list of needed items and let the clerk find everything. No problem. Just down the street happens to be a favorite place of mine, so I couldn't pass up a chance to go there as well. Its a shop packed full of antiques and junk. Mostly junk, but well maintained, and the owners are friendly and interesting. Everything under the sun is, knick-knacks of every type, books, framed pictures, tools, furniture, kitchen supplies, name it, its there! I tried to narrow my browsing to the books and old fruit jars, which I collect. I found a Drey jar that I don't have yet, and some glass lids. I also picked out an old book on German history, but the owner saw that it was part of a set, and he couldn't find the rest of the set, so he said he would keep the book and call me later when he found the rest. Well, whatever. I only wanted to buy it because it had some chapters about politics during the Reformation, a subject I'm interested in. I think the Reformation was as much about politics as it was religion, and Lutherans rarely hear much about that.

After the fun at the junk store, it was off to Sam's Club. A boy from my church works there, so I visited with him for awhile. Sam's Club is great, but a person really has to be careful not to pick out too many items, or the bill quickly adds up to too much. I like to buy just certain things there......and I try not to look at anything else. Easier said than done.

Next stop was Penneys at the mall, and a dreaded session of trying on bras. Ugh. Unclothed middle-aged human beings are not a pretty sight. Sometimes I almost wonder if Eve, of Garden of Eden fame, was seduced not by an apple, but by the promise of clothing. Humankind could never have survived in the naked gets cold in the winter in some parts of the world! Plus, humans just look better in clothes. The fitting room next to mine was being used by two women who looked to be sisters. One was trying on bras the other one brought to her. Their conversation was hilarious. The one in the room was hollering things like, "The girls are falling out of this one!", "The girls don't like this one!", "Get me the 44D." Males have no idea how awful it is to try and find the right bra. I tried on about a dozen and found just one of those that was sort of OK.

When I left Penneys, the sky which had been threatening rain all day, had finally let loose, and was pouring. Rummaging around in the van, I finally found an old dusty umbrella to use while I ran through the Target parking lot. I made sure I had a sweater with me as the Target store is always freezing. Quickly, my cart became filled with miscellaneous groceries and supplies and through the checkout line I went, looking forward to heading for home (a light at the end of the tunnel!). As I pushed my cart full of sacks to the front door and opened my umbrella, I reached into my pocket to get the van keys.......the pocket was empty (the oncoming train!). They must be in my purse, I thought.......but how wrong that thought was. My heart sank. The keys were locked in the van, and the rain was still pouring down. Great. I called home and told Husband and Son what had happened and that I would be delayed. Then I just stood there trying to think of what to do, finally deciding to get a Starbucks decaf and sit by the window for awhile to see if the rain would stop. On a wall which I had never looked at before, because I don't usually sit down in Starbucks, was a huge collage-type painting. Big words at the bottom said, "Joyfulness evokes another world". Really. In other words something like, "Think happy, and you will find yourself to be happy." Good advice, I decided, and forced myself to maintain an optimistic attitude, and keep my little dilemma in perspective.....much worse things can happen than locking your keys in your vehicle!

Through the raindrops on the Starbucks window, I could see my old van sitting forlornly way out in the parking lot. People were running to and fro, some with umbrellas, most not. Husband had reminded me on the phone that the small side window of the van, behind the driver's seat, can be opened from the outside. (As if he thought I could crawl through that tiny window!) Then an idea popped up. I asked the Starbucks server if I could leave my full cart there, and then went back into Target and bought a broom for $1.39, and a cheap rain poncho. With some effort, I was able to slide the little van window open. Then I put the broom through and started blindly hitting at the area on the driver's door where the automatic unlock button is. This went on for ten minutes or so until my arm was tired. The rain continued to fall, but I was staying fairly dry under the poncho. My cell phone showed a missed call from home, so I returned the call. Husband wondered how things were going, and I told him not so good. As we talked, I started absently hitting at the door again, and all of a sudden I heard that wonderful ker-clunk of the doors unlocking! I told Husband that talking to him must have brought good luck! I ran back to Starbucks for my cart, and finally was on my way, stopping also at Pizza Hut to get food to take home.

What a day! Never a dull moment. Watch out for those oncoming trains!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Strappy Shoes and "Clompen"!

Several weeks ago I finally found a mother-of-the-bride dress that seemed to be right for's not too old-ladyish, and yet suitable for someone my age. As I stood there in the bridal shop modeling the dress in the big mirror, the very young store owner (in her 20's) cheerily chirped, "You'll want to get some strappy shoes to wear with it." Whoa. The word "strappy" reverberated around in my head, meeting with silent laughter from my feet. I've never worn "strappy" shoes, not even when I was young. And nowadays, my 48-year-old feet are veiny and calloused, so I'm definitely not inclined towards "strappy" styles. But since finding the dress, I've been weighing the options......the dress is floor-length, meaning my feet won't show much anyway, so I decided to be daring and try looking at "strappy" footwear.

Last Tuesday morning, after a really fun dentist appointment in which a cavity was filled, I, along with a numb mouth and chin, headed to the mall to look for "strappy" shoes. At Penneys and Younkers I scanned the racks and tables of shoes, trying several styles on. One black, strappy little slip-on was actually quite comfortable, so I bought it. The price was so good that I decided to look for a second more comfortable and stable pair to wear at the reception and dance. I'm not into high heels.....stability is important to me. So I found a very comfy pair of Clark's slip-ons for that. There were many racks of clearance shoes, so since I hadn't shopped for shoes for quite awhile, I browsed through them and ended up buying two more pairs of very comfortable clog types to wear with jeans and skirts in the fall and winter. I just love the easy-on, easy-off, clog styles. Anymore, my walking shoes are the only ones I still have to sit down and pull on and tie.

Speaking of clogs, they always makes me think of the Dutch wooden shoes. Those people were smart to make shoes like that. My older daughter spent the fall semester of 2001 in the Netherlands (she had been there only two weeks when the 9/11 attacks took place......someday I'll write a post about her interesting experiences there), and she came home with a Dutch/English dictionary. One time I happened to look up the English word "walk", and in Dutch it is "clompen". I thought that was so cute! "Clompen"......that's exactly what you do when you walk.....clomp, clomp, clomp!

I enjoyed my "clompen" out in the warm sunshine on our farm this morning! Hopefully, anyone reading this will have a chance to go "clompen" today! It's good for you!!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Dictionary Game

Because I'm fascinated by amazing little coincidences, I have to describe something that just happened today. Here's some background: The book I am reading right now is The Lost Language of Symbolism by Harold Bayley, first published in 1912. I love reading about history, the more obscure the better, and this book is definitely that. It is all about watermark symbols used in early European papermaking. Apparently the earliest papermakers were from southern France, and tended to be some of the earliest Protestant-type heretics, many later called Huguenots. This interests me because some of my ancestors were Huguenots.

Anyway, last night, as is my habit, I read from the book until I got sleepy. The last thing I had read mentioned Osiris, the Egyptian deity. The book said that the word "Osiris" means "many-eyed" (Os=many, Iris=eye). I had never heard this before. It reminded me of some verse in the Bible, in Revelation, I think, that talks about a creature in heaven that is "full of eyes".

Ok, now back to noontime, today. Husband and Son were sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for me to get lunch all set out. Husband grabbed the big dictionary which we keep by the table for working on newspaper Jumbles and crossword puzzles. He said, "Let's see if we can learn something", and then proceeded to open the dictionary to a random page and was going to pick out a definition to read to us. Then I said, "No. Do it this way. Close your eyes and open to a page and put your finger down and read the definition your finger is touching." So, that's what Husband did. And guess what word he opened and pointed to......"Osiris"! I chuckled. With a puzzled voice, he read the definition: "The ancient Egyptian god of the lower world and judge of the dead, brother and husband of Isis."

It was a funny little coincidence, just for me privately, of course. But that makes it no less entertaining and interesting. Watch for this type of happening in your own life!

P.S. - I had to come back and add this! In my email just now there was a message from advertising an upcoming book entitled Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, authored by George Rutler. His name is unfamiliar to me, but I may have to look into his book.

College Orientation

Last week I spent a day and a half at my daughter's college orientation. She's going to attend a school which is only 30 minutes away, so we did not stay overnight. About 400 students were there for their orientation, so a large crowd of parents was also in attendance. The first morning we parents were treated to skits and lectures to assist us in helping our children adjust to college life. One speaker talked about "helicopter parents".......those parents who hover too low over their child's life, producing a disturbance which clouds the situation instead of helping it. I smiled to myself as soon as I heard the words.....I had never heard that term before, but it makes perfect sense to me. At this point in a young adult child's life, the parents need to retreat somewhat into the background, "hovering" high in thought and prayer......and sending money, of course!

This is my third experience with launching a child into college, so I feel fairly relaxed about the whole thing. As I surveyed the crowd of parents, I could tell that some were more anxious than others about their child entering college. Of course, in a crowd that size, there were parents of all ages, some in their sixties, some in their thirties, and many in the middle like me.

We attended other sessions on financial aid, student services, and spiritual aspects. As I walked along with the crowd from place to place, I tried to read nametags to see where people were from. One mother I happened to walk next to was from a small town in hilly northeast Iowa, so I commented on that to her. We ended up having a great conversation. It turned out that she also lives on a dairy farm, and has a child getting married this summer, like me. Cool! Her daughter was planning to major in geology in college.

Our lunch was served in a high-ceilinged ballroom in one of the older buildings on campus. In around 1918 or so, my grandmother had attended school here for two years after 8th grade, to get a certificate to teach in the country one-room schoolhouses. I wondered if maybe she had spent time in the old building we were in. At my lunch table were three mothers from the Dubuque area, one whose child had graduated from a Christian Academy across the Mississippi River, in Galena, Illinois. These mothers' children were all planning to become teachers.

My daughter is a bit undecided about her major. She is interested in art and humanities, but says she does not want to teach. Time will tell.

By the end of orientation, my brain felt ready to burst, full of all the information that had been presented to us. I was very glad to finally get back home and go to sleep.

The next morning we had to be back on campus at 7:15 a.m. for my daughter's class registration appointment. I enjoyed the continental breakfast and waited for a turn to talk to the financial aid people. Oh, joy. Lots of loans. Then my daughter got her meningitis vaccination and we browsed the computer booths for awhile. She wants to buy a laptop computer, but has to decide between a PC or a Mac. I wish I was more knowledgeable about such things.

Anyway, the orientation all went well. My daughter and her roommate, who is from western Iowa, have been talking via e-mails and face-book chat. They have to figure out who has what appliances, supplies, etc., for their dorm room. Hopefully, the two girls will get along ok. One never knows, but needs to go into it with a positive, optimistic attitude.......that's what I'm trying to get across to my daughter, anyway.

Happy college orientations to everyone!!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Martyrs of Tulle

A few nights ago, in a dream, I was closely examining a medallion which was hanging by a length of tulle (the gauzy fabric used in wedding veils, etc.). There were symbols on the medallion, but I couldn't recall them very well after waking up, so I decided to focus more on the tulle. An internet search of the word "tulle" led me to the website of the city of Tulle, in France. The fabric called "tulle" had been named for its city of origin.

A link on the Tulle website led to information on the "Martyrs of Tulle", a story I had not been aware of before. On June 9 and 10, 1944, during the World War II Nazi occupation of France, a terrible event took place in Tulle. The story is not well-known outside of France. A skirmish of some sort had taken place near Tulle, and 40 German soldiers had been killed. The Nazis were furious and marched into Tulle to exact revenge. They ordered all the men of the town to line up, and then announced that they were going to hang 120 men of Tulle. The Nazis went down the line, choosing the men that would die-----mostly they chose the ones who had dirty shoes, because that gave indication of being part of the French Resistance. The Nazis then proceeded to hang the men, from lampposts and trees along the streets of Tulle. They stopped the hangings after the 99th man because they ran out of rope.....

I know we've all heard countless stories of Nazi cruelty, and this only adds another one to the grim list, but what a devastating thing for a small town to endure. The only book written about this event was authored by an eyewitness who had to watch his son be hanged. The book has never been translated from French, evidently.

Anyway, I felt this was an interesting bit of history to pass along about an event which occurred exactly 63 years ago.

What are those quotes about the importance of remembering history? "If we forget history, we are bound to repeat it." And, "History is our memory", or something like that.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

A Randomly Pleasant Morning

This morning I awoke and tried to orient my mind to the day, thinking about what everyone had going on. Older Son is home for the weekend from his summer internship, probably with plans to spend time with his girlfriend. Daughter will sleep late and attend more graduation parties this afternoon and evening. Younger Son needs to be driven to a friend's home for a "paint-ball war".

I shuffled through my usual wake-up routine of making coffee, eating a banana and a trail-mix bar, and heading out to the barn to feed calves. I can't sit down and eat breakfast, not right after getting out of bed......I must keep moving. About the time I finished with the calf chores, Husband informed me that he needed me to take a manure-spreader part to get repaired. Quickly, I cleaned up and jumped into the pickup. My son drove to the site of the "paint-ball war" where he would spend most of the day, and I headed onward down the road.

The town I was taking the part to is about 40 miles away, and is a town I don't get to very often, so I was happy to be driving on roads seldomed travelled. The weather was absolutely gorgeous. Fluffy white clouds in the deep blue sky were suspended over endless young cornfields of brilliant green. The green tones this time of year, when the corn is maybe 12 inches in height, is the most lovely green that could possibly be. In another couple weeks, the color will deepen and become less luminous for the rest of the summer, although it will still be beautiful in its own way.

Finally, I found my way to the implement dealership. Recent road construction in the area had led to me taking a couple of wrong turns. Anyway, being a woman and going for repairs and parts is always an interesting experience in a mostly male domain, and this time was no exception. I walked into the dealership building, and into a circle of farmers seated in chairs having a yap session. They then shut up for a minute or so, as if struck dumb by the entrance of a woman, and I thought, well, for goodness sake, don't stop talking on my account. Good grief! Sheesh. I felt like saying, "Please, guys, just carry on." Instead, I just pretended to be very interested in the machinery booklets hanging on the wall. Anyway, finally the guy behind the counter waited on me, and I gave him the part to be repaired and he said it would take about an hour or so to fix. Good, that would give me time to go back into town and snoop around.

It's a town of around 4000 residents, and has some stores downtown, so I headed that way. First, I filled the pickup with fuel.....what a joy, with these high gas prices.....the tab was $76! I noticed there was a Dollar General across the street, so I went there next. Truly, I would just as soon shop for supplies at a small store like Dollar General than at pointlessly gigantic places like Walmart. And I buy most of my greeting cards there at Dollar General, too. After picking out laundry detergent and drain cleaner, I wandered into aisles I don't normally look at in Dollar General....stationary and children's books. I was amazed at all the cute, inexpensive children's books, not like I need them or anything, but it was nice to know they are there. They would make good gifts for younger Sunday School students. They even had regular Bibles there. Anyway, I almost lost track of time, and soon I needed to check out and head back to the implement business. The wait in the check-out line took awhile.....many people were in town for a girls' softball tournament, and they were shopping between games, I guess. Sports for young kids keeps parents running and helps support small town economies, it seems. I'm glad not to be part of that rat race.

The part was all ready when I got there. The mechanic was very courteous and pleasant when he loaded the part onto the pickup. A credit to his gender. I don't mean to be critical.....guys just make me laugh sometimes.....they can be so predictable. Like that yapping bunch from earlier.

It was nearing noon, so I quickly made one more stop, at a Pamida. I like Pamida stores, but I hardly ever get to one anymore. Then a Subway across the street caught my eye, and I went in there expecting to walk out with my usual turkey sub sandwich. But, guess what......I walked out with a pizza! Must be something new Subway is trying. I chose the cheese pizza, topped with tomatoes, olives, green peppers, and onion. It was very tasty and I enjoyed munching on it most of the way home.

The road I was driving home on has always been a major link in this part of Iowa, always known for its heavy traffic. That is easing a bit, as slowly the road is being developed into a four-lane highway. It goes by the farm where my husband's mother grew up, and what's kind of sad is that the house and most of the buildings there were torn down a few years ago due to the road construction.
Ah, well, that's progress.

Not far from her old home farm, is the cemetery where my mother-in-law is buried, also right along the highway. I pulled in for a quick visit. I had put a flower there before Memorial Day, and I was kind of irritated to see that it had been removed already.....probably by my father-in-law. He must go there on the day right after Memorial Day and take away all the flowers, even though many of the graves still have flowers adorning them. I don't understand why he does that. Oh, well, its really not that important, I guess. My mother-in-law has been gone for thirteen years now. So much family stuff she's missed out on. There's times I feel like pounding on the ground above her grave and hollering, "I'm sorry! I should have been a better daughter-in-law to you!" We just didn't seem to connect very well.

I walked over to Husband's grandparents' gravestone, also. The flower I had put on that one was still there. I never knew the grandfather, but Grandma and I had been good friends. Someday, I'll blog an interesting story concerning her.

Anyway, what a wonderful morning, full of random interesting moments and lovely late spring Iowa scenery to enjoy!