Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tractor Tug-of-War

Where can you find ear-deafening roars, spurts of black pollution, cheering crowds, and Hooters girls?  A rural tractor pull, of course!

The sun was on fire over the corn fields in the west, the railroad tracks to the east were silent, excited mummers of the crowd could be heard in the north, and the south held antsy drivers awaiting the call to climb in their tractors for a 8 second ride vying  for first place.  This was my first tractor pull.  I wasn't sure what it was all about.  I sat in the bleachers with my cousins and 96 year old uncle.  Three thousand people surrounded us.  The excitement of the crowd had my palms sweaty.

Hooters girls from far away Council Bluffs roamed the grounds in a John Deere mule.  They were selling Bud Lights and Busch Lights by the case load.  Worn green bills protruded from their low cut tee shirts.  They were making a fortune!  I made a mental note for next year.  I will snip off my favorite blue jeans into short shorts, slip on a size too small push up bra, cover it with a revealing low-cut shirt, and bottle my toilet water.  Watch out Hooters Girls, you got some competition coming.

I anxiously awaited the first two tractors.  I could see it in my head.  Two tractors back to back with a chain connecting them.  The gun would sound.  The tractors would step on the gas to see who would pull the other over the line first.  A tractor tug-of-war.

The beginning of the track held a long orange machine.  A man sat high in it.  I asked my cousin if we could sit there too for a better view.  I was informed that was the Ironman Sled.  The tractors back up to it, get hooked in, and pull it.  The weights get heavier as they go along. 

Oh!  No he-man tug-of-war.  Bummer.  It's an interesting idea though.  Anyone interested?

The first tractor roared to life and puttered out to the sled.  The first lesson a tractor pull driver has to learn is backing up to the sled.  I could see some of these drivers had not attended that course. The tractors all have manly names:  "Fear the Fawn," "Naughty Intentions," "Rugrat Rampage." 

 Once hooked up the driver reeves up the RPM's, (I understand why concerned parents shove ear plugs in young ears.) and throws it into drive.  (I'm also told these are automatics.  I can drive one!)  Black smoke billows out the smoke stack turning the sunset to night.  The tractor pops a wheelie and continues pulling the sled while on the back two monstrous tires.  Eight seconds later the tractor is on all fours 200-300 feet down the track.  Finished.

Then out speeds two green tractors each pulling a cart.  One cart waters the track.  While the other is piled with sod.  Are they expecting sowing for after the tractor pull?

My cousin leans over and announces, "Hey, you know some of these tractors cost up to $300,000."  Wow!  That's three and a half houses around here.  "And most have an annual budget of $500,000."  Double Wow!  That's three and a half houses, a massive American made truck, a horse, and  gallon of milk.

The night skies were starting to brighten up.  Lightening was flashing all around us.  But, my uncle wanted to see the last tractor pull.  It was an Allis Chalmers.  His favorite.  This one had another manly name "Allis in Wonderland."  The announcer blasted the name of the driver.  I knew this guy!  He was my first nine year old kiss!

He had been to the Tractor Pull Backing up Class and hooked up without all the hoopla of pulling forward, rebacking, men waving arms like a scarecrow.  But when it was time to drag Ironman down the track, there was an explosion of exhaust and a dead tractor.  However, one more try and he was chugging down the track like he was on four wheels instead of two.  He tugged Ironman to the top of his class.

It was time to run (ok the 96 year old was on his scooter) to the truck before the skies opened up.  As I drove home in the blinding rain, I reflected on the evening.  There were family, friends, and good old fashion fun.  The tractor pull was a benefit for the local volunteer fire department.  It was for a good cause.  Where do you find these good times but rural Iowa?  And there were the Hooters girls.  I'm going to start bottling  my toilet water tomorrow so I will have a good supply for next year.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Spring or Winter?

Spring has sprung in south west Iowa.

The first inkling of spring is the return of the robins.  They have amassed around my house like a starving army.  The friendly robins brought various friends with them-woodpeckers, blue jays, cardinals, sparrows, and cute little birds that have no name.  They demand food. 

Every morning I yank open my blinds and am greeted by glaring birds.  They swarm the bird feeders.  Upon finding them empty they turn their beady eyes to my window and squawk.  No chirping here.  They are hungry.  Buy stock in bird seed companies-you will profit!

Other signs of spring are popping up.  The tulips are peeking through the ground.  The lilac bushes are going
from dusty brown to pale green.  Rhubarb is pushing green and purple heads through the hard, cracked
earth.  Mmm-pie soon!

Time for spring chores.  There are apple trees to be pruned, evergreen bushes to be lopped off, a garden to be tilled, and a mountain full of leaves to be raked out of garden beds.  I thought I would start with the easiest and rake leaves.  That's when my heart almost gave out as I drug my rake through the asparagus garden. 


How is it weeds grow when nothing else can?  They were blanketed all winter by oodles of leaves, giving them no sunlight.  We are in a drought, they have had hardly a drink all winter.  Yet, here they are green and healthy. 

The farmers say the ground is too cold to plant.  There is still frost in the ground, they claim.  How do they know this?  Do they dig a hole?  Do they stick a thermometer in the earth?  (I actually jammed my meat thermometer in my garden.  The red dial didn't budge.)  Do the farmers congregate in fields at night and have soil seances?  

Spring seems to bring out more critters.  Field mice are in abundance.  Snuggles thinks it is her duty to stalk, capture with her razor-sharp claws, and carry these varmints in the garage.  She throws them around like they are one of her toy mice.  I keep telling her they are called field mice for a reason.

Spring in Iowa comes with rain.  Not San Diego type rain where you say it's pouring cats and dogs.  But in reality you can do a hundred yard dash and only get one strand of hair wet.  No, Iowa storms are violent.  Gusty winds that could sweep you off your feet if you haven't eaten a large amount.  Driving rain that can soak you to the skin in two point five seconds flat.  Booming thunder and crooked lightening that make night appear as day.

Actually after a bitterly cold winter all these spring things are welcome with open arms.  We rejoice the passing of winter and on to the growing season.

But, this is Iowa.  I am told you can never count on the weather in April.  I woke up this morning, pulled open the blinds and was not greeted with starving birds.  I was blinded by the white ground.  This was an eerily familiar sight.

Yes, it had snowed over night.  The temperatures had fallen back to below freezing.  (I have no doubt now the ground is still frozen.)  Shivering birds were huddled together in trees.  My garden tools were deserted and lonely in the garage. 

It was time to get the popcorn popper out of its' short hibernation.  The DVR still has movies for an audience with popcorn.  I will endure the cold for a few more days.  Then old lady winter with her icy hands must be on her way.  She is no longer welcome!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Hen House or Cat House?

It happened again.  I didn't mean to.  It wasn't my fault.

We found another cat.

Doug and I were on an innocent walk.  We stopped to chat with our neighbors who live a mile away.  A pretty white and brown squatty cat came running over.  What was I supposed to do but pick it up and love on it.

"You want that cat?"  they inquired.  "She's about the nicest cat I've ever met.  Showed up here about a week ago.  We'd keep her, but she purrs in and out of our feet.  We're afraid with these new knees she will trip us."

I actually spoke before Doug could open his mouth.  "No!  Three are enough." 

Wouldn't you know we started for home and the cat was trailing us. 

"Don't look, don't turn around, don't make eye contact.  Keep walking."  I urged Doug. 

A half mile later he looked behind us.

"Don't look!" I ordered.  " But since you did, is she still there?"

"Trotting along a hundred feet behind us."  Doug didn't seem all that concerned there was a stray cat tagging along. 

We were charging up hill almost to our house when I had to turn around and look.  Kitty was lagging behind.  She was getting tired.  I worried where she would go if she was too tired to turn back.  I did the only thing there was to do.  I shuffled back and carried her home.

Doug had a smug look in his eye.  He knew we were going to have another addition to our family.

We decided she could be an outside cat and sleep in the barn.  The only trouble was we didn't have a barn.  Maybe she could sleep in the hen house.  But the hen house needed some repairs.  It was drafty.

Doug had some spare wood.  We worked past dark ripping off deteriorating wood and replacing it with smooth new siding.  A small opening just right for a cat, yet not big enough for coyote, was installed.  The broken windows needed replacing and some sort of cat bed need to be in place before it was inhabitable even for a cat.  She could sleep in the garage for the night.

The next morning found us zipping down the road to the vet.  "Snuggles" needed shots.  Doug made a pit stop on the way back at the local hardware store.  I stayed warm in the truck snuggling with Snuggles. 

Doug arrived at the truck with an arm load.  He wouldn't tell me what was in his loot.  "Wait and see,"  he patiently told me.

And I did see!  He had lived with me for 25 years and came to the quick realization this was not going to be a hen house cat.  Installed on the garage counter was a large box with a warm kitty heating pad.  Pointing at the box from across the sink was a heat lamp.   Snuggles had a warm, safe bed in the garage.  And Doug didn't have to share his bed with another cat!

Snuggles enjoys the fresh air.  She tags after us when we are outside.  She runs and jumps on tree trunks just to hang there.  I occasionally spy her up a tree meowing for help down.  She hasn't fallen yet.  I keep telling her she can't come down head first like a squirrel.  No one, not even the cat, listens to me.

My cousin came up to see the new fur ball.  She brought my uncle's dog, Benellie.  I had watched Benellie last winter.  She was comfortable in my garage and ran right in.

Snuggles wasn't thrilled to have a four legged canine invade her space.  Her back arched to the ceiling, her fur stood on end and endless hissing spewed from her mouth.  That was my cue to take her in the house.

One step into the house and Snuggles got more spooked.  I found out first hand how she hangs on tree trunks-her claws.  She jumped to my head and embedded those needle sharp claws into my scalp. 

I swung my head side to side in a desperate attempt to dislodge her from my head.  Not thinking it was possible, but the claws went deeper.  Crumbling to the floor I pried her off my head.  She took off for the shelter under the bed.

Doug moved my now wet, sticky hair aside to survey the damage.  "I don't think you will need stitches.  Look on the bright side.  The blood matches your hair color."

Snuggles is still a garage cat.  She does come in to visit.  Tree trunks are still her favorite things to hang on, because I keep my head away from those deadly claws. 

The hen house is still partially finished.  Doug and I need to get out there to complete it.  I have seen a black cat living there.  I will call him Larry.  Really, you can never have too many cats. 

My question is this:  Is it a hen house or cat house?  For those of you who know me well, you already know the answer.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Long Live Lola

February 20, 2012 we became residents of Iowa.  Two years I waited in anticipation of a  wet snow.  Not this light fluffy stuff that doesn't ball up or stick to anything.  February 20, 2014, I was granted my wish.

The 10 p.m. weather man predicted 3-6 inches of wet snow the following day.  I was ecstatic.  How could I think of sleeping?

I needed to be prepared.  I positioned my warmest parka and snow pants by the garage door.  A snow shovel, water proof gloves and hand warmers were ready by the outside garage door.  Oh yeah!  How could  I forget the virgin snowball gun.  I was going to break that baby in.  Doug was home to be my target!

My eyes popped open at 7:00 a.m.  I hopped out of bed and danced over to the window.  Danced, not because I was excited.  The floor was freezing.  I yanked open the shades to reveal glistening wet snow.  It was calling my name.  "Angie!  Angie!  Come out and play."

I scurried to find Doug.  "I'm going to make us a warm bowl of cereal.  You have snow to scoop."  Doug hasn't been around much for snow scooping.  He is still in the newbie stage where it's fun.  He doesn't realize that snow scooping is code for "I am going to throw snowballs at you."

Doug whistled while he shoveled snow.  I snuck out the back door and prepared my arsenal.  Twenty-one round balls of snow were ready to be launched.  Peering around the garage Doug was still happily scooping.  I rammed the first ball into the gun and pulled the trigger.  Thud!  It propelled two inches.  Not what I had in mind.  Another ball.  I stretched the trigger as far back as my short arm would allow. That yielded me three feet of flying distance.  Doug looked up to the sky to see what was landing a full six feet from him.  Another ball and another ball.  I couldn't make them go any farther than three feet if chocolate was dependent on it.

I could always use my arm.  I played enough catch with Robby.  I was sure I would ace this.  By this time Doug was on to me.  He stood on the driveway while snowball after snowball went right and left of him.  He was a lousy target.  Maybe I need to fatten him up.  Then I remembered why Robby was such a good outfielder diving for balls.  He played catch with me and I couldn't throw straight any day of the week. 

Abandoning my target practice, I decided to make a snowman.  I had not made a snowman in over forty years.  I bunched up some snow and began to roll.  My mistake was rolling uphill.  Wet snow is heavy!  Seventeen minutes and screaming muscles later I had a true to life snowman.

Now I needed accessories.  There were still walnuts on the ground under the walnut tree.  I went rooting through the snow to dig up a handful.  They made a beautiful mouth and eyes.  Hat!  Every snowman needs a hat.  I dug around in our donation  box for a ball cap or stocking hat, something to keep this snowman's head warm.  Nothing.  Then out of the corner of my eye I spied a lampshade.  Perfect. 

A three foot, lamp shaded snow man.  Something was wrong.  It didn't look like a snowman.  It looked like a snow woman.  Lola.  I will name her Lola.

Ten days later and Lola is still standing guard.  Her lamp shade ran off to the corn field.  Her teeth fell out.  She has been wind blown into a slumped wrinkled old lady.  But she is still proof that I have made a snow lady.  And very proud of it!

Then Robby who lives in Virginia and grew up in warm climates, made a snow man of his own.  He sent me a text of the picture just to let me know he showed me up.  I have only one thing to say.  His snow man has been reduced to a puddle.  Long live Lola!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Winter Water Park

My cousin, Pat, was going to a water park with her daughter and great grandsons.  Did I want to tag along?  Sure.  It sounded like fun.  Except it was the middle of a very cold winter.

I awoke the day of the water park journey to temperatures below zero with snow flying around.  I couldn't imagine taking a fifteen month old and a four year old to a water park on a day like this.  But I was a southern girl, not a seasoned winter veteran.  Yet.

I was up for the challenge.  I pulled on my long johns, dug out my warmest sweater, crammed my feet into my cozy Ugg boots, wrapped a wool scarf around my neck, slipped into my long down coat, tugged a cap over my ears, and located two matching gloves.  I was ready.  No, wait!  Hand warmers.  I would need hand warmers.  It was frigid outside.

All the way to Omaha I envisioned the winter water park.  Children were zooming down frozen slides like the luge in the winter Olympics.   The lazy river had not tubes, but blocks of ice to float around on.  Icicles dangled everywhere for children to break off.  The water would be frozen for an impromptu game of broomball or sock skating.  This was going to be an adventure.

A hour and a half later the snow had stopped.  We stopped in front of a huge building.  Bathing suit clad children raced towards  it at break neck speed.  Parents toting coats and mittens disappeared after them through the double doors.  This was not a winter water park.  It was a warm indoor child's water fantasy.  Ditch the hand warmers.  Quick!

Twenty-seven minutes later we had changed two wiggly, excited boys out of winter gear and into summer trunks.  Our cousin, Shannon, had shown up to escort the four year old, while Pat's daughter took the fifteen month old wherever his toddling legs would take him.  My job was to sit at the table and watch the mounds of towels and baby gear.

This was an "I've been in the house too long this winter" mad house.  Children of all ages ignored lifeguards warning to "walk" and sprinted in every direction.  There was jumping and sliding and splashing and laughter every where. 

Buckets filled over head with thousands of gallons of water to be dumped periodically on unsuspecting children.  There were no tubes in sight for the lazy river.  Pat disappeared.  Upon reappearing she was lugging a double tube.  She wouldn't say where she had obtained it.  I was afraid to ask what small child she had mugged for it.  Ignorance is bliss.

Toddlers swooshed down miniature slides.  Older children screamed down the larger twisty slides.  Everyone was enjoying this place of perpetual summer with their winter white bodies.

I was sitting in view of the baby pool.  It had two small slides and a lifeguard.  Parents sat around chatting or playing on their phone.  I spied one napping in a reclining chair.  They felt comfortable letting their children bop around without their supervision. 

I was beginning to wish I had brought my swim suit to join in the fun.  Then I saw it.

A small boy.  About two or three.  He was zipping down the slide, swaggering his way back up the steps, cutting in line and swooshing down again.  Between slides he was jumping from foot to foot.  Hopping up and down.  Grabbing between his legs.  I knew this dance.  The potty dance!

No parent stepped in to rescue this water-logged child.  He continued to hop and dance. Then stillness.  He walked out of the water and up the steps without so much as a bounce.  I'm thinking his legs were a bit warmer and so was the water.

Four hours later, tired boys were bundled in winter clothing and buckled in their car seats.  The car was headed towards home with snow falling around us.  Pat says she's bringing her other grandchildren next week.  Did I want to come?  I could bring my swimsuit next time.  She assured me the water was not at all cold.

Next time I will ditch the long johns.  But I will continue to view the craziness from the side lines.  I know why the water is warm.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Hot Firemen!

I whipped out my cell phone and sent an urgent text to my daughters (unmarried daughters).  "There are 30 hot firemen in my back yard.  Get here quick!"

The responding text was not quite what I had expected.  "What? Why??  Are your sheds on fire?"

Didn't they realize their not-so-normal mother would not text them about a shed going up in flames?  I am trying to find them Iowa boyfriends!  Never mind the girls are on the west coast and wouldn't make it to  my house before these hot firemen hit the road.

A few weeks earlier Doug arrived home from a firefighter meeting with his arm in a sling.  Someone was going to be holding a tree cutting class for firefighters.  (Really.  They do not know how to cut down trees?  Even my Marine son can man-handle a chain saw.)  The firefighters needed some volunteer trees to be chopped on.  That's when I realized how Doug had hurt himself.  He threw his shoulder out shoving  his hand skyward while jumping up and down. 

Yes, we have trees to be removed.  When we purchased this lovely acreage we were informed we would need a chain saw.  (Doug salivated at that.)  The many, many pine trees on the property had spider mites and were dying at an epidemic rate.  Doug was more than happy to oblige and donate his trees to a class.

That is how I got 30 hot firemen in my back yard. 

It was one of those days where the temperature didn't rise above freezing. Twelve vehicles descended upon my property.  Men spilled out and began dressing.  Well they were dressed, but not for cutting trees.  They donned chaps and bright orange and yellow hard hats.  Their breath clouded the air and they stamped their feet trying to find warmth.  It was like a tree cutting mating dance.

They divided up into groups of ten.  Each group had an instructor.  The instructor pointed and talked and handed over chain saws.  Soon the air was full of buzzing.  I'm sad to say these men were not trained well.  As the dead tree started to topple, no one yelled "Timber!"  All I heard was "Tree coming down!"  Duh!  We could see that.

Interestingly one man was his own group.  Perhaps he told them he knew what he was doing.  An instructor led him to a lone tree, did a little pointing and yakking and left him.  This solitary man began to cut.  He cut low.  He looked skyward.  He cut high.  He looked around at all the other wood demolishing men.  He pushed on the tree.  He cut again somewhere in the middle.  The tree was stubborn.  It was still standing.  He pushed again.  Then he spread his legs lifted the chain saw and attacked that poor defenseless tree.  The tree crashed to the ground without so much as a "Tree coming down."

Two hours later sixty-one trees were prone on the ground.  The freezing men threw off their orange head coverings and chaps and piled back in their vehicles.  They roared out of the driveway probably on the way to a cold beer.  Doug had succeeded in getting the insect infested trees to the ground.  Thus leaving me a staggering amount of mangled trees to drag to the burn pit and no possibility of an Iowa firefighter boyfriend for my girls.

There is consolation in this endeavor.  If I ever need trees cleared for a fire, I know thirty hot firemen who can do the job.  Okay, I do not really know if they were hot.  It was freezing outside.  They were bundled so tightly only their eyes peered out.  But aren't all firefighters hot?  I'm married to one!

Our small Iowa town, Irwin, has a wonderful, efficient, volunteer fire department and rescue squad.  Thank you to all of them for everything they do.

On another note,  Irwin is having it's winter blood drive on Monday, February 3rd from 11:00-5:00 p.m.   There is always a need for blood from trauma patients to surgery patients to cancer and burn patients.  Please come out and donate.  The gratification is instant.  Hope to see you there.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

I Won't Grow Up!

Sometimes life must be attacked as a child.  I have been known to do this many times according to my children.  I keep telling them it would be boring to have a normal mother.  This fall, once again, I enjoyed life as a child.

Have you ever had one of those ho-hum days where you wore sloppy clothes and not a trace of make-up?  You know, the day that maybe you cleaned the oven and are grimy from the roots of your hair to the socks on your feet.  Then a knock comes at the door.

The knock on my door that crisp autumn day was a ghost from childhood past.  Forty-four years to be exact!  Curt was the boy who lived two houses north of us.  At the ripe old age of five, I donned my mother's high heels, secretly borrowed my sister's prom dress,  and married Curt in my living room.  He wasn't exactly there, or knew about the arrangement.  Nonetheless, it happened.

We caught up on  lost years for over an hour.  We bragged about our wonderful spouses, the best ever children, and lively grandchildren.  (O.K.  I boasted about my grandcats.)  It was during the conversation we realized we would each be at a hay ride at his brother's house the following weekend.  Granted I was far more excited about this than he.

The evening of the hay ride was Iowa cool.  Meaning anyone from south of Interstate 10 would freeze their fanny off.  A giant John Deere tractor (I was told it wasn't a large tractor.  But by city-girl standards it was King Kong size.)  pulled a wagon piled in the middle with bales of hay.  I coerced Curt into riding along too.   He shouldn't miss the fun of bumping though a freshly cut corn field with the stars twinkling and the moon grinning at us. 

The ride was exhilarating.  All the fresh air had made us hungry.  Luckily there was a pot-luck supper in the house.  The warm house.  The men were discussing the combining happening on Monday.  It was then Curt realized they would be working by our house. 

"Hey!  Do you and Doug want to come ride along?"

Do girls from the south stick foot warmers in their boots when it's 50 outside?  Absolutely!

Monday morning I awoke to visions of five year old  me going out on the tractor with my dad.  I would beg him to let me ride along.  There was no cab, no air conditioning or heat, no jump seat.  Just him with me gripping his waist as to not fall off.  Those are memories I cherish. 

Surveying the combining operation from the road was like watching "Dancing with the Stars."  Everything was choreographed perfectly.  The hungry combine ate the corn at an alarming pace.  The grain cart appeared just as the combine was full.  Grain was transferred.  The cart lumbered away to the idling semi-trucks.  Once again there was corn flying from the back of one vehicle to another.  Then the semi roared down the road to stash the corn in the grain bins. 

I was not a child by myself.  Doug was as excited as I was.  I climbed up the five steps to the combine cab while Doug hopped in the semi.  Curt slammed the door behind me and we were off.  I didn't have to hang on to his waist for dear life, there was a jump seat.  I didn't freeze my nose off, there was heat.  But, my goodness, I had only seen so many buttons and levers and screens in an airplane.  Curt managed to cut corn, watch the screens, push buttons, move grain from the back of the combine to the grain cart, and talk to me simultaneously.  I, on the other hand, could hardly watch him do these things and chew gum.

Several passes later, we stopped momentarily.  Curt and I jumped out and Curt's dad, Stan, and Doug jumped in.  I thanked Curt for an educational experience. 

 "Don't you want to ride in the semi and see how the corn goes into the grain bin?"

He didn't need to ask twice.  Doug had already done this with Stan.  I didn't want to be left behind.  Besides I had never seen the inside of a semi truck.  The only thing I knew about them was they roar pass my house with road dust billowing behind them.

I hauled myself into the cab and we zoomed past our house.  Yes, road dust was following in our wake.  Once at the grain bins, the corn poured out the bottom of the rig moving along into the proper bin.  It all happened very quickly and electronically. 

All too quickly our afternoon of farming was over.  Doug and I went back to our little 4.5 acres.  We felt like Cinderella.  The corn-hungry combine turned back into a pumpkin.  The tractor and grain cart tuned back into white mice.  And Doug and I were  just common folks again.  But I know I do not want to grow up and will continue to strive to live life as a child.  Sorry to my children-You're stuck with me!