Tag Archives: farms

Navigating the New Ordinary

For the most part–most of the day, most of time–the daily reality of life is a constant that defies geography. It has a rhythm that does not change, even for those of us who are making a home 1400 miles away from the last one. We get up, get dressed, make breakfast, lunch, and dinner, clean up, go to work, go to school, go the church, wash the clothes, take out the trash. The work is similar. The rhythm is consistent. What changes is the scenery. The people. The differing customs and cultures of American life so slight you could miss them if you aren’t careful and will certainly step on them if you’re too clumsy.

Case and point, back in Pennsylvania when I took out the trash, I put the glass and cans in a bin that was carted away somewhere by one truck and everything else in a can that was carted away to an unknown landfill by another truck. I did my ecological duty by sorting it out, but had no idea what ever became of it. Here in Nebraska when I take out the trash, I take the recyclable material and sort it into separate bins: aluminum, tin, glass, plastic, and paper. (Minus the egg cartons which we save to give to the local second hand shop to sell farmers who can use them.) Later we take them into town to be recycled, but they have different destinations. I give the food scraps to the animals. I compost the remaining organic leftovers for the garden. I put the “junk metals” in a separate container that almost never gets full that will eventually go for scrap. And then finally,  I take everything that is left, throw it in this enormous barrel, and I burn it. Nothing goes down the garbage disposal. Little goes to the landfill.  So even though the end is the same–I get rid of the trash–the process is lengthier. Here, through the lack of convenience, people not only know what happens to their trash, they have to deal with it themselves. And that dealing has the effect of making them more mindful, more conscious, and less wasteful. So I’m still doing the ordinary and taking out the trash, but you could say that it’s a “new ordinary.”

Other new ordinary activities are equally different. I still have to grocery shop, but am back to square one in deciding what the cheapest and most efficient way is to get this done. I’m used to having a variety of grocery stores within five minutes of my home.That is not the case here.  There is one in town, but it is more of convenience store than a grocery store. The big ones in Lincoln have more variety and are cheaper. So this means I have to think way ahead and plan better, otherwise I’m paying ten bucks for a pack of hot dog rolls or driving an hour there and back for a gallon of milk. No more figuring out what to make for dinner on the way home after school unless I simply deal with what I’ve got in the cupboard. And if I have a last minute craving for Chinese food because I’m too late to cook, you can just about forget about that and put on some mac and cheese for the kids. There is no last minute. There is no “could you run and get me some….” There is no “convenience.”

Don’t get me wrong I don’t find all this bad, it’s just different. And it does occasionally trip me up. I can’t buy a cup of coffee from the local coffeeshop after 2pm. That same grocery store is closed on Sundays. And we are at the way far end of the line for internet–the technician thought it was a miracle we could hook up at all.

So here I sit, typing away on my slower-than–I’m-used-to computer, working at adjusting my thinking away from a world full of “quick and easy.”

And trying hard not to tap my foot while I wait.

Retroblog: Thank God I’m a Country Boy

Dearest Blog Readers: After a six-week blog hiatus caused by the lack of working internet service in the faraway fields of Nebraska, I am now officially online and ready to roll from Big Red. I’m going to start out with a few “retroblogs,” written over the last six weeks and stored away here in my computer. I hope you enjoy catching up with us!

July 22, 2011

First thing in the morning, after snuggling in my lap for a few minutes dressed in his basketball pajamas, Nicholas looked up at me and asked the defining question of the day:

“Mommy, are we farm boys now?”

“Of course!” I told him, and truthfully although they are really only farm boys-in-training, they’re certainly off to a good start. We spent the day working in the state approved job—cornhusking. This spring Milt planted twelve long rows of sweet corn and this week it was ready to go. Right after breakfast, before the temperatures reached the promised 115 degree heat index, Orlando and Milt walked through the rows twisting off the corn while the boys and I played bucket brigade, exchanging their full buckets of corn for empty ones and then loading the ears into the bucket of the tractor. Then we went over to the trees and husked and husked and husked some more. They kids and I husked the corn, Wilma and Orlando’s sister Janell and her husband brushed off the silk, Milt cut off the yucky parts, and Orlando cooked off the stuff in a huge iron pot suspended over an open fire. I have never seen so much corn in my life. It took all of us—six adults and seven children, four and half hours to get it all cleaned and cooked. And for the kiddos, the job was done. Time for lunch.

But for the rest of us, the day had just begun!

We had to get it off the cob. Another five hours of cutting and bagging while the corn sprayed and splashed all over—my shirt was actually stiff from the homegrown corn starch. I felt a little silly being my age and having never done this before, but I’m pretty good with a knife and seemed to catch on well enough. Afterward my hands were cramped and I think it took my back an hour to straighten out the crooked position it took on so I could cut the corn at the counter. But when all was said and done and we spread the corn out in the freezers to cool, we had 62 bags of corn. There’s nothing like looking at stuff like this. Most of the work we do is momentary—I do the dishes now and I’ll do them again later. But in just a few days we stocked up 130 bags of corn– food that I’m going to use again and again for the next year. It does my heart good to work at something that I can actually see.

But yet one thing remained to do–clean up and get rid of the cobs and husks. So we loaded the leftovers back into the tractor and got ready to haul them off to feed to neighboring cows. Milt’s brother Arnold has a field nearby, so Milt hitched up the hay wagon to the tractor so the children could go with him out to the pasture. Orlando and I went along for the ride—I was again struck by the beauty of the fields and meadows of this place—rolling and rugged and in some places, unbelievably green. I sang old John Denver songs while riding along to road—it just seemed appropriate to me. When we reached the pasture, Milt jumped off the tractor and moved what appeared to be a single wire acting as a fence. We continued down the road and encountered the herd of cows.

Now truthfully I have seen a million cows in my life up till now. Pennsylvania is full of them and I drove by field after field of them for years. However, I have never actually been in the field with the herd before, and that was a different experience entirely.

As soon as we drove in the cows looked up at us and started running—right toward us! Soon these enormous black cows were swarming around the tractor and trailer, coming close enough to try to take a bite out of the hay we were sitting on. Alarmed, the boys and I thought we were going to be flattened for sure, but just at that moment Orlando jumped off the trailer and started to direct these huge animals around. He walked right through them, pushing them and shooing them and moving them to the husks and cobs we’d brought for them. He looked really small out there with all that future beef, but not the least bit concerned. He knew just what to do.

And for a moment I was again amazed at all that the man I married is. One moment he is the consummate professional who has schools lining up to hire him. The next he is a gentle daddy hugging and tickling his sons. And now another reality surfaces. He is, in fact, a farm boy. He is completely in his element here with all the cows and the corn and the tractors. Happy and free with his hands in the dirt.

Just the guy I need to bring up these little farm boys-in-training.

Country Boys

Sweet, Sweet Home

It’s amazing how days just roll by here. So much, and so little, has happened it’s hard to know where to begin. Suffice it to say the farm in the summertime is a hopping place.


Last Monday morning we woke up to our first Nebraska morning. Cooler than I thought it would be but far from actually being cool, our first day was spent primarily in the sour cherry trees out in the orchard. Completely full of ripe fruit and not able to wait another day, the six of us stood on ladders and large buckets picking and picking and picking until we were all soaking wet and sticky with juice. With so many buckets of newly picked cherries, the only thing to do next was to pit them all. Sitting on the deck getting stickier still, I was once again captured by the quiet of the place. Peaceful. Tranquil. The breeze stirring the trees. A far-off tractor. The boys laughing off in the barn. It was enough peace to silence even the clamor that occurs in my own head.  Usually, when faced with a mundane chore like pitting cherries, I plug in my iPod to create rhythm and a quicker pace. Not here. I wouldn’t dream of interrupting the soothing sound of the place itself. And the clock isn’t running either so there’s nothing to be gained by rushing.

And so we spent our first days: picking from the garden, mowing the yards, planning what to do next. The boys were thrilled to catch a glimpse of the only kitten to be born this year on the farm. “Sparky,” as Milt named her, is just a tiny fuzzy, black thing with huge eyes. It only took us a day of hand feeding her to get her to a place where we could pet her. And now, almost a week later, she’s tame enough to pick up, cuddles up against us when we sit outside, follows us when we walk away from her. The boys are smitten with her. The fish we carted from Pennsylvania largely forgotten–except by Nicholas who still checks in on them daily.

On Saturday Orlando’s family began to arrive. It’s a tradition for he and his sisters to gather at the farm for the Fourth of July. As his sisters and their families trickled in, the house filled with kids and dogs and general chaos. Of course I’m used to it—we do this every year. And of course we all visited the local fireworks trailer to pick out rockets and sparklers for the holiday. And of course we made meals for twenty plus people and tried to squeeze them all around a single table. And of course we went to the pool to cool off from the heat that crested 100 degrees on the garage thermometer. And of course, when the day came, we went into Seward, the neighboring town and self-proclaimed “Fourth of July City” for all the festivities. We watched local pilots turn their tricks in the airshow, run by local crop dusters and pilots who love to wow the hometown crowd with their courage. We browsed the quilts and art at the huge craft show, complete with any kind of Go Big Red ware you could possibly want. We waved to the horsemen and antique tractor riders and clowns and politicians and Czech queens in the local parade, standing with the crowd as the flag passed and giving a standing ovation to every single serviceman who walked by. Patriotism in its most honest, purest form. And of course we enjoyed a cookout complete with watermelon and homemade ice cream.

But the best part came later. We gathered the boys in the van and drove back into Seward for the fireworks display. Of course it’s a busy place so we had to leave the van several blocks away from the park where they blast the things. As we walked through the neighborhood, true to Nebraska tradition, every home was shooting off fireworks of their own. And they weren’t little either. The boys’ eyes were as wide as saucers and we walked through a veritable war zone of sky rockets and roman candles and artillery. The boomers clashing and spraying sparks overhead, it was both exhilarating and frightening. And beautiful. Even in my adult knowing that shooting fireworks from the middle of the street while cars drive by isn’t a smart thing, I must admit that it was cooler than cool to walk through the canopy of colored sparks and sprays.

But then, sitting on a blanket in the beautiful evening air, we sat together with the boys as the “real” fireworks burst overhead with every color and fizzle imaginable. They “ooohed” and “aahhed” with the crowd, snuggled closer for the really loud booms, and came away sleepy and content, feeling like they’d just lived through the “best day ever.”

And as we drove down the country road and the lights of the farm came into view, it was Dominick in the back seat, sleepy-eyed but watchful, who declared, “There it is! I can see it! Sweet, sweet home!”

And Orlando turned to me and smiled.

So we’re off to a good start. And even with the uncertainty of Orlando’s job and whether or not we get to stay or go, the sweetness of our new home and faith in the One who sent us is building within us. And for now, that’s enough.

Picking cherries

Nicholas and Dominick watching the tractors go by

The Midwest's smallest airport--in other words, that plane landed on top of that Suburban


A Preview of Coming Attractions

After a brief hiatus, I return with to the Big Red Blog with apologies for my unexpected absence.

I must admit, I thought the start of my first week as an ex-pastor would begin on a far different note from the one it began on. Benjamin fell prey to the stomach flu on Saturday and took the rest of us down with him in the next couple of days. Each of the boys, of course,  bounced back within twenty four hours. I, on the other hand, took days and days to recover. I am definitely too old to be throwing up, and that’s about all I have to say about it. You should certainly be glad I chose NOT to write about it.

On a happier note, dear Milton and Wilma, my in-laws, landed at our house on Friday. They came for “Grandparent Day” at the boys’ school, as well as to help us with the arduous and seemingly endless task of sorting and packing. Because of the plague at our house, they were delayed in coming and we actually saw them for the first time at the school for the Grandparent Day festivities. Dominick and I crept into the school gym during the breakfast part of that event to see if we could catch of peek of them.. And when we found the two of them in the crowd, you should have seen the sudden light come on in that little boy’s eyes. Instantly the hugest grin came over his face and he gave out this awestruck “It’s Grandma and Grandpa!” exclamation. Almost as if he couldn’t believe they were actually here in the flesh. Truthfully I have never seen a happier child.

But Dominick wasn’t the only one.  Each boy, in turn, had the opportunity to show their grandparents around their classroom and do little projects with them. They were so proud to have them in their little worlds. And for me, it was sweet to watch. With their grandparents living so far away, I know they’ve missed this kind of thing in their lives to this point. They’ve lived through several Grandparent Days before now, but either I’ve ended up playing Grandma or we artfully maneuvered our schedule in such a way as to miss the event entirely. But with Milt and Wilma here, the day took a whole new turn for them. Just like Dominick, they all lit up in their presence. They were honored to show them off to their teachers and friends.   These are our grandparents, our family. We go together. 

And for me it was simply more assurance. More confirmation that this move will be such a good thing for our boys and for us as a family. There’s something to this mixing of the generations that simply goes beyond words. I love watching Milt and Wilma’s godly influence on our children and seeing the boys watch their “faith in action” way of walking through life. I guess that’s why the Bible teaches so strongly that we are to pass down our faith from generation to generation. There’s something profound in it.

And of course now that Grandma and Grandpa are here, Orlando and I have been demoted to the position of chopped liver. We have to have the boys systematically take turns at the table sitting by them, in the car driving with them. I found Grandma in the backyard playing wiffle ball, dodging balls that Nicholas and Benjamin  “smashed.”I caught Grandpa climbing up into a pirate ship play set at the request of Anthony. And Dominick, well, he just keeps following them around with that great big grin on his face, taking every opportunity to sit on an empty lap and giggle. Just too thrilled to stop smiling. When I say, “Do you want to go with me?” the first question I get is “Are Grandma and Grandpa going?”

A preview of coming attractions, all coming soon to a farm in Nebraska. And wow, does it make me smile!

Missing Nelda

Nelda Stutzman Yoder Vogt  was my friend.

I can even go as far as saying that Nelda was one of the best friends the great state of Nebraska ever sent my way. Nelda was Orlando’s aunt, the wife of his mother’s brother. I must admit that our friendship was somewhat unexpected and unlikely. When I met her, back when Orlando and I were first married, she was about 60 years old and working as a waitress in my in-laws’ restaurant out on the interstate. She was short, wore big-framed glasses, and had beautiful white hair that she wore fluffed up on her head. She always buttoned the top button of her shirts, and I never, ever saw her in a pair of closed toed shoes. Even in the middle of the harsh Nebraska winter, she would come to work with sandals and socks on. Let’s suffice it to say that Nelda always did things her own way.

I got to know her working the evening shift at the restaurant. We would wait on tables together and close up the place. Nelda was quite independent, and at first I thought this was going to drive me crazy. She loathed the ice cream machine, but always felt it was her job to clean it every single evening. And by golly, did she clean the thing. She’d get out this little step stool because she was too short to pour the bleach water in the top. She would stand there with the bucket of water, teetering enough that I would feel the need to stand behind her, and scrub scrub scrub. It took a long, long time of my working with her before she would let me dump that stupid bucket of water in there for her. But after a while she let me. And then she started to ask for my help doing the daily jumble puzzles in the newspaper. Eventually we began to do things outside of the restaurant and she would come over sometimes and we would all go to Lincoln together. She enjoyed fajitas and seafood and well, you just couldn’t get those things anywhere but in the city. And over time we grew closer and I learned her story.

First I discovered that Nelda was an identical twin. Her sister’s name was Elda, and they were such similar creatures it made sense that they had such similar names. Of course, they were very close and so not surprisingly, Nelda and Elda married brothers. Two of the five Yoder brothers married Nelda and Elda in a double wedding.  They farmed together and had a dairy together for a number of years. Wallace and Nelda had two children together, Madge and Shane. But then Wallace was involved in tractor accident and  was tragically killed.  She told me that it took her a long time to come to a place where she could grieve her loss because “Darn it, she had kids to raise and a boy to get better.” (Shane had been injured in that same accident.) So she moved her mind off her grief and she did her best to set it squarely on her kids and what she needed to do to next.

Somewhere in there she owned a business, she fought cancer, and she married a jovial truck driver named Lonnie. She loved Lonnie, but still I remember her telling me one day that “Wally” had been the love of her life and that’s just the way it was. Even though I never walked in her shoes, I think I understood that. Even so, Wally may have been the love of her life, but her children and her grandchildren were certainly the apple of her eye. Her admiration for them was well known. Her daughter’s intelligence, her son’s talents, her grandchildren and their beautiful singing voices, her new grandbaby and her lovely eyes. I was able to share with her the struggles I felt at the time, battling infertility and not being sure if we would ever have the family that we wanted. She  encouraged me that even though life “isn’t always what you expect,” I should look for the good in it and the good will come.  If she could do it, she said, then I could do it.

And she helped me think that yes, maybe I could do it.

I’m sure Nelda was a lot of things I know nothing about, but for me, an unexpected twist  in her was her love for the weather. Since I am a weather geek myself, I found this trait particularly endearing. I think times being different, someone, somewhere should have encouraged the woman to go to college to study meteorology. I recall one summer evening Orlando and I were at the restaurant and we spotted a tornado out the back window, maybe five miles down the road. (You can see that far in Nebraska). Having not heard anything about tornado warnings, we called Nelda because we knew she would know. All of a sudden,  Nelda was calling us from her cell phone in her Buick–she was out chasing the stupid tornado and had spotted it in a field! Orlando was pleading with her to go home and take cover but she would have none of it and made it home to tell the tale.

Like I said, she always did things her own way.

Nelda died on September 11, 2007. She had developed a brain tumor that began by robbing her of her strength, then her memories, and eventually took her life. The last time I saw her, we had lunch at Red Lobster  . My boys were laughing with her and Lonnie about the live lobsters in the lobby, but even then she was noticeably changed. But what I remember most about that day was her smile. She couldn’t remember if she had ordered her lunch or what to call her food, but she would look at me and Orlando, surrounded by these little boys, and she would just grin. Somehow, in all she had lost, she remembered our story and was able to rejoice with us.

Nebraska without Nelda will be tough, but she would tell me to look for the good, so that’s what I’ll do. Maybe I’ll start by chasing a few tornadoes myself….

If My iPhone Doesn’t Ring on the Farm, Will I Still Exist?

I adore my iPhone.

I know a lot of people with iPhones and truthfully I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love the iPhone. (Well, maybe those people who got messed up with daylight savings time, but I don’t know any of those….) My phone was a gift from my church–a tool to be used by the pastors in an effort to help us organize our plate-spinning lives. And wow, did it do that for me! All of a sudden, my dual life as a full-time mom and a full-time pastor became so much more doable. I could take my boys to the park and still not miss an important email. I could work my calendar waiting in carpool. I could take a picture of this widget I wanted to buy for VBS and send it immediately to someone’s computer for evaluation. I could work on bulletin boards while listening to my iPod and never miss a call, a text, or an email. I got push notifications for weather alerts, school closings, important meetings, and breaking news. I was efficient before, but with my iPhone, I became Super-Me. (Or is that Super-i?) Always on top of things.

Of course I’d be remiss to leave out all the fun I’ve had with the thing as well. Downloading music from a satellite orbiting who-knows-where while driving through West Virginia, just because an old song popped into Orlando’s brain and he wanted to hear it. Games to keep my kids occupied while waiting at restaurants. Networks that allow me to listen to every single Mets game I want to while living buried in the heart of Phillies country. Engines to search anything, any time I want so I always know what I want to know when I want to know it. And of course, the Facebook app that allows me to check up on my friends all day long if I feel like it.

So today, as I sat chatting with my dear friend and boss, I just had to ask the question–is my iPhone mine? Or is my iPhone yours?

He laughed at me. “Your iPhone is yours,” he said.

Well, that ended that question, but it did begin a bunch of others in my head at the same time. Am I really going to need an iPhone living on a Nebraska farm? Would it be worth the expense? For what purpose would I be required to carry the thing in my pocket all the time there? Who is going to need to reach me so urgently? The corn? The cows?  Will I even get bars there? Any bars? At all?

And suddenly I was once again faced with the reality that soon my world will get a whole lot smaller. Not less significant or less important, just smaller. My sphere of influence will undoubtedly shrink, and the people who need to get a hold of me so urgently now will have someone else to call. Now I spend a little time with a lot of people every day. Then I am going to spend a lot of time with a few people every day. But at least I will be with the most important few. At least, the most important few to me.

So will I exist if my iPhone doesn’t ring? Probably. But my existence will probably look a lot different from the way it looks today. I guess if  that happens, I’ll just have to take a picture of that new me and upload it to Facebook, just to keep everybody in the loop.

Well, if I can find a way to get internet out there…..

Inheriting the Earth and Other Impossibilities

This might come as a surprise to you, but there is nothing I admire more than a truly meek person. Not meek as in spiritless or spineless. But meek as in gentle, patient, humble, unobtrusive.  All the things that on any given day I find myself struggling with.

For starters, I’m Italian! I talk a lot and I talk fast. I’m about as opinionated and argumentative as a person can be. (Please don’t argue with me. I think fast and I’m always right.)  I need a lot of stimulation and excitement to keep  going because I get bored easily.  I crave constant affirmation and recognition, and when I don’t get it I feel all whiny and irritated inside. I like people to pay attention to me. I like to be important. I like to be in charge. I love the spotlight. And when you’ve got things to do and places to go, who has time for patience or gentleness?

So I guess I can rule out inheriting the earth.

But the truth of the matter is I’ve always wanted to be different. I’ve wanted to be more. And I think little by little, bit by bit, I’ve seen some of the more unseemly parts of my natural personality get smoothed out by life’s challenges and the intervention of a loving God. But as I’ve seen some of those nasty things chipped away, I’ve also been able to come to terms with some of the good of who I am. I’ve learned to hold my tongue, but I’ve also learned that sometimes people need to hear what I have to say. I enjoy the spotlight, but I’ve been able to speak to and encourage thousands of people, young and old.  And yes, I am a leader, but  I’ve learned that doesn’t make me boss. A very important distinction.

Even so, I think it’s a tad ironic that God would send someone like me to live on the prairie. I am no Caroline Ingalls, and I know a hundred women who would make better candidates. But let me tell you what I hope for myself in all this. I hope that I can embrace the life and not battle it. I hope I can see His hand at work in quiet. I hope I can find His presence in the discipline. And I hope to find joy outside of the spotlight, doing for my family the things I know need to be done.

And who knows, maybe someday I will inherit the earth. But for now I’ll just shoot for seeing God.