Saturday, March 21, 2015

Spring Has Sprung

Yesterday was March 20th, the official start of spring according to the calendar.  Without checking the calendar there are ways to know spring is in the air in western Iowa.

My first clue was two weeks ago as I was gazing at the bunnies hopping across the yard. A movement in the trees caught my attention. A bird was perched on a branch with its wings blow drying in the wind.  This was not just any bird.  It was a chubby red-breasted robin.  The first sign of spring!

Another sign of spring is the itchy hand syndrome.  Around the middle of March my palms become frigidity and itchy.  They long to be outside raking dried leaves and thousands of corn husks.  My fingernails start to beg for dirt to be packed deep into their depths.  My gardening gloves develop legs and position themselves on the outside step so I can trip on them.  I slip them onto my winter white hands assuring them it won't be long until we are digging in the earth again.

I was excited to see my tulips popping up yesterday.  How they knew it was March 20th is beyond me.  Pointy green leaves pierce the brown winter dirt giving it much needed color. I am eagerly awaiting all the tulips awakening.  Then I will probably say to myself, "Why did I plant tulip bulbs there?"

Living in the country a sure sign of spring are the farmers coming out of hibernation. Tractors start to rumble down the road lugging large clean implements behind them.  Pick-up trucks are spied in the middle of fields.  Farmers walk their land looking for...?  I really don't know what they search for. Maybe it's the itchy farmer syndrome.

This is a great time of year for a drive around the county.  Babies have arrived!  With the windows cranked down the soft bleat of baby lambs carry in the wind.  Fields are sprinkled with black baby calves kicking up their rear legs and playing games of tag.  I have yet to see a brown calf.  Or a spotted calf.  Or a white calf.  Not even a calf in Easter colors. Always black.

Every animal is thinking babies.  A friend whispered to me she has two stray female cats that she has been feeding on her back deck.  These homeless cats are about to have kittens.  Doug will be going back to work soon.  I wonder if I dare?

The most sure sign of spring at my house depends on our cat Snuggles.  Yesterday she played in the cool spring air.  She tore up a tree, cried  like she didn't know how to come down, then darted to the ground.  She smelled under out buildings and pine trees.  The spring wind blew her tail into a long puff ball.  But when she emerged from the ditch with a long garter snake dangling from her mouth, there was no doubt in my mind spring had made its arrival.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Five Amazing Aspects About My Gravel Road

Yes, there are numerous things to love about my gravel road.  Here are my top five.

  1. Wal Mart.  Wal Mart is 25 miles away.  25 miles!  Our last residence in San Diego was directly across the street from Wal Mart.  They receive deliveries at 4:30. A.M.! My eyes would be pried open by the beep beeping of trucks backing into loading bays.  Cars squealed in and out of the parking lot at all hours of the night. While it was convenient to walk across the street to shop, it also lead to boredom shopping. Twenty five miles away is actually an ideal distance for a Wal Mart.
  2. Seasons.  We are in the midst of winter.  Snow has been glittering on the ground. The temps have been below freezing which means I can don my thick sweaters and be cozy and warm. This morning there is a sheet of ice covering our cement driveway.  I didn't realize I would have an ice rink outside my own door!  Now I need to invest in ice skates.  Soon I will be tired of winter and spring will abound with green popping up in unexpected places.  Yes, unexpected because I can not remember where I planted the 47 tulip bulbs last fall.  On the heels of spring summer will arrive with corn standing tall and proud.  Windows will be thrown open to listen to the songs of doves, robins, blue jays, cardinals, and many more joining the chorus.  As I tire of summer, fall will sneak it's way in.  Canning and freezing from the garden will fill shelves and freezers.  Apples will be ripe and juicy for plucking off the trees.  Tractors will rumble past bringing the powdery smell of fresh combined corn.  There is always something new to be found with each season.
  3. Livestock.  I can be outside on any given day and hear the crow of a far away rooster.  Cows dot the horizon giving life to harvested ground.  Cattle move in to be my neighbors for a few months during the fall and winter.  They stand as one and listen to everything I need to tell them.  Occasionally one or two will hop the fence for a more neighborly visit.  Cows are considerate too.  While roaming my side of the fence they always seem to stop and fertilize the garden.   
  4. Community.  Wow!  Enough can not be said for the tight knit "how can I help you" people that live here.  Yes, there are eyes and ears on every electrical pole, but they are helpful caring eyes and ears.  People visit the shut ins, combine fields for ailing farmers, clear driveways for ignorant southern girls.  The community comes together to donate life saving blood.  (Don't forget the Irwin blood drive.  Monday, March 9th 11:00-5:00!)  I hope I am learning to contribute to this wonderful caring group of residents.
  5. Snow.  I love snow.  Really!  Snow transforms the brown winter ground into a peaceful glittery oasis.  I don't mind shoveling snow.  Really!  It's exercise in the fresh air with birds keeping me company on the bird feeders.  I have only one complaint about snow and it's a personal problem.  I have no aim in throwing snow balls.  If anyone would like to volunteer to come stand around my place while I take target practice on them, I'll pay you in hot chocolate and a warm cookie.
I can see where my readers might be confused.  My last blog post was about the things I did not like about living on a gravel road.  The five examples were the same as the things I love about living here. These are the things I hear most from people who do not know the good life we have here.  "Doesn't it smell?"  "It's got to be too cold to get out of bed."  "Doesn't everyone know your business?"  Life is all about perception.  There can be good and bad in almost everything.  My parents once brought a Texas couple to visit their Iowa farmer friend.  The Texas couple stood in the farmer's back yard amazed at how beautiful it was.  The farmer said to himself, "All I could see was work!" 

Come visit my gravel road.  Doug and I will be happy to show you the beauty.  We'll take you to the Country Store for a cup of coffee.  You'll be welcomed by any number of neighborly people having their coffee and sharing life's stories.  There's always something to do to occupy our time.  Or we can just sit on the porch swing and wave at the trucks and tractors rumbling down the road.

I do have just one question burning in my mind.  Do cats count as livestock?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Five Bummers Living on a Gravel Road

Yes, there are things I do not love about living on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere.

  1. Wal Mart.  Wal Mart is 25 miles away.  25 miles!  And it is a tiny Super Wal Mart.  If I want a mega sized Wal Mart I must drive for an entire hour there and back.  Two hours of my life wasted in the truck.  I need a list with no dumb blond moments. Forgetting something becomes a federal crime punishable by not having something important like bird seed.  No bird seed leads to angry birds who retaliate by decorating the house windows.
  2. Seasons.  Winter gives presents of chapped lips and cracked, bleeding fingers. Spring brings mucky, slippery mud.  It cakes everything from boots, hems on blue jeans, to my rump as I fly down.  Summer arrives with bugs of all shapes and sizes. Some you can see others are called "No See Ums" for a reason.  Harvest arrives in the fall.  This means numerous tractors and big rigs roaring up and down the gravel road.  Dust rolls across the yard and sneaks into every crack this 115 year old house owns.
  3. Livestock.  They stink.  Plain and simple.
  4. Community.  Small towns have eyes and ears posted on every electrical pole and spots in between.  Every one in town knows Doug tried in vain to send his 27 year old daughter to her room.  I must not extend my ladder to it's full twelve feet extension while Doug is away. People I've never seen before yell at me as they cruise by, "Hey!  You're too high.  You're going to take a tumble."
  5. Snow.  It's wet.  It's cold.  It's heavy to shovel.  Snow makes tires spin and cars do loop-d-loops.  It blows, giving the illusion of living in a snow globe.  A person could be trapped in their homes for weeks on end with only a cat for company.
These are my top five detrimental things about living on a gravel road.  Is there more I should add?

Friday, February 20, 2015

My Knight in Shining Green

I have been drumming my fingers against the frosty windows anxiously awaiting a snow fall amounting to more than "jam the truck in 4-wheel drive and drive over that white stuff." It finally happened.

Thursday evening the more experienced weather forecaster expected 1-3 inches of snow on Saturday. It would be pretty outside, but nothing out of the ordinary.  Friday morning the young intense forecaster predicted 5-8 inches of snow for the weekend.

I jumped off the couch whooping and hollering sending cats scurrying in all directions.  The kitchen was scanned for necessities-bread, milk, popcorn, and hot chocolate.  Books were dusted off.  The time had come to be snowed in!

The snow fell silently all day Saturday.  Sunday morning I was awakened by the shrill of the telephone.  (Yes Paul, you did wake me.)  No church today.  I was officially snowed bound.

The ground glistened like God had sprinkled millions of diamonds.  Wind blown snow swirled like icing on a frozen cake.  Inside was warm and toasty.  I had furry cats to warm my feet and vanilla flavored chocolate to warm my insides.

Monday morning reality hit.  I was snowed in.  Really snowed in.  The wind had howled all night. It's icy breath picked up snow and thrust it into drifts knee deep to hip high.  I would want to leave my house sometime before the Forth of July.

I put on my winter gear and forged through the drifts to the shed where my snow plow lay waiting for me.  I had the forethought to tote along the snow shovel.  The snow had to be shoveled away to slide the shed door open.  My frozen fingers turned the plow's ignition key.  The frigid snow plow coughed, sneezed, and shuddered but wouldn't come to life.

Great.  I trudged back down the hill to nab the 114 pound battery charger.  It had to have weighed at least that much.  Probably more.

Gasping and panting, I made it back up the hill and jumped the snow plow to life. I roared out of the shed lowering the steely blade.  Snow slowly parted for ten yards.  It was then the snow decided to become a brick wall.  Knee deep drifts has frozen in the overnight sub-zero temps.

There was no choice but to back the plow back in the shed.  I prayed the snow would melt before Memorial Day.

A couple hours later I was inside praying now that the snow would melt before Easter.  A green streak appeared in my peripheral vision.  I trotted to the window to find my Knight in shinning Green clearing the driveway.

I grabbed my parka and shoved my feet into snow boots.  By the time I was outside the green angel had cleared my way to freedom.

Justin, a neighbor climbed down from his lofty perch.  (He's not really a neighbor, but his grain bins are and his corn and sometimes his cattle.)  "Hey, I was just driving down the road and saw you might need a hand."

That was an understatement.  I was now free to go somewhere before Easter.  Justin you saved me from having to eat canned tuna for the next three months.

I have decided to ask Doug for a tractor for my birthday.  I can then scoop myself out and cruise the roads in green style.  So, if you spy my husband in passing, please mention that his wife really needs a tractor.  You might also add it needs to be an automatic tractor!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Burnin' Christmas Eve

I asked for a new range for Christmas.  Presents were piling up under the Christmas tree.  None of them looked or felt (not that I shake presents) the right size for a kitchen range.  It's not that I wanted one exactly, I needed one.  

Yes, this current one matched the other appliances and had the flat cook top that I prefer.   Those were the only two characteristics that endeared this maker of meals to me.  The oven is as loony as an addict on crack.  It takes twelve and a half minutes to preheat.  The center of the oven might read 350 degrees while the sides would be dancing at different tunes.  275 on one side 425 on the other.  Food has to be rotated every quarter of the cooking time.

And the broiler doesn't work at all.  My brother-in-law visited and wanted to make nachos.  The broiler wouldn't heat to pop a single kernel of popcorn much less melt cheese on nachos.  My brother-in-law was not happy.  Shouldn't we keep extended relatives contented cooks in our homes?

Christmas Eve arrived and still no large heavy box taking up most of the space under the Christmas tree.  But the children were home and life was good.  Robby awoke and requested chocolate chip muffins for breakfast.  It is a pleasure to cook for your children when you don't do it on a regular basis.

I mixed up batter and turned on the turtle oven to preheat.  Robby called out, "Hey Mom!  I'm going to town with Dad.  I'll eat the muffins when we get back."  No problem.  The oven might be at an acceptable temperature by the time you return.

Nicole awoke and staggered into the kitchen.  "What smells?"

What did smell?  It wasn't an offending smell, like the cats had eaten too many mice.  It was a plasticie smell.

I opened the oven door and discovered what it was.  Flames were doing a tango in my oven!

This year I was extremely organized.  The bread for the stuffing had been dried, cut and stored in plastic bowls.  However with so many sweets on the counter there was a lack of storage.  So I stuck them in the oven.  After all I always peek in the oven before I turn it on.

Flames danced around the inside of the oven.  Plastic dripped from the racks.  Bread crumbs lay charred at the bottom.  The fire alarm in the oven began a piercing chirping.

Luckily Doug had not left for town yet.  "Fire!  Get Daddy!"  I hollered to Nicole.  He's the fireman. He can have this out in a snap.

Doug doesn't move too fast.  I'm sure he didn't really believe there was a fire.  But, I knew how to get those flames out.  I am known for my hot air and ability to blow out numerous birthday candles with one breath.  Taking a deep breath I began to blow on the flames.

"Mom!  What are you doing?  Don't you know oxygen makes fire bigger?" Nicole screamed.

When did the kids get so smart?   I didn't know I was blowing oxygen.  Just hot air.

Finally Doug arrives on the scene.  He scampered out to the garage for a fire extinguisher.  Pushing us all aside he prepares to PASS.  Pull.  Aim.  Squeeze.  Sweep.  Nothing came out.  Not even a trickle.  Nada.

Nicole squatted down to assess the mess and think.  She is of the generation that can not go for 1.2 seconds without a phone in their hand.  My wonderful, stressed husband assumed she is talking on the phone.  Did he think she was punching 911?  Doug snapped at Nicole, "Go to your room!"

Nicole is 27.  She doesn't live with us.  Who tells a 27 year old to go to their room?  A room they don't have.

About this time the fire really gains speed.  The entire oven is now engulfed in bright orange, intense flames.  Someone says to Doug, "Maybe we should call the fire department."

I have been married to Doug for twenty six years, four months, and 18 days.  He was thinking:  "Not going to happen.  I am not calling my friends on the fire department.  I will get this inferno out and no one will be the wiser."  Then he slammed the oven door.

Cracking open the oven door, the flames were indeed extinguished.  Black smoke poured out filling the kitchen and surrounding rooms with smoke and dead plastic smell.  Windows were thrown open. Lucky for us it was 30 degrees outside, not -30.

Doug looks at me. "I didn't buy you a new oven for Christmas."

I had found a way to get one anyway!

Then Robby pipes up.  "I can clean this up and you will be back in business."

He rummaged through my cleaning supplies.  He scrubbed and rubbed and didn't even cuss.  The darn thing looked good as new.  I didn't have the heart to tell him I really wanted a new one.

We found extra oven racks in the porch closet and indeed I was back in business.  All that excitement and not one new oven on Christmas morning.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Tamales Anyone?

There are many things you can count on in the fall in Iowa.  Sweater weather, a welcome relief from the sultry days of summer.  Apples fresh off the tree-sweet and juicy.  The kaleidoscope of colors painting the soon to be baron trees.  And corn husks.

Yes, harvest leads to loose corn husks.  The wicked Iowa wind whips these nuisance things through yards, under bushes and into crevasses that you didn't know existed.  These dried up blankets for corn do not bother me much.  They do however, make my stomach rumble.  I think they should be captured and rolled up for tamales.  Yummy!

While I can over look the blowing debris in our yard, Doug is a perfectionist and it drives him mad!

The wind had been howling and corn husks were on the loose.  Doug would be home in a few days.  I was fretting how I would dispose of them before his arrival.  I tried mowing them.  Which lead to neat rows of husks through out the yard.  I thought about raking them.  But really I am not that insane.  Then Mother Nature helped me out.  She snowed.  Fluffy, glistening, corn husk hiding snow.

Doug arrived home to a beautiful yard of white.  I just knew snowing so early in the season would mean lots more snow and cold.  This was Iowa.  I was up for a cold snow bound winter.

Mother Nature does have a sense of humor.  She warmed up.  Not just a little, but snow disappearing over night warm.

"What is all over the yard?" Doug wondered peering out the kitchen window.

 "Ahh, well...," I stammered trying to jog my brain into an acceptable answer.  "They harvested and the wind has been blowing and don't worry, they will all blow back in the field where they came from."

He just looked at me.  I knew that look.  We were about to go outside and dispose of the corn husks. Some how.

First he tried mowing them.  Even though I mentioned many times, "Tried that.  Doesn't work." Abandoning his mower, his brain began to churn again.

Doug high tailed it out to his shed.  He trotted back with one of his favorite toys.  His candy red blower.  The plan was he would blow the husks into long piles.  I would pick them up, dump them into the back of the Polaris, and off load them into the pit we had burned the day before.

Seemed to me I was doing all the manual labor.

Off we went on our corn husk disposing mission.  I noticed after a couple trips to the burn pit, it was still smoldering.  A few more trips and flames were shooting up.  Me, being the nervous nellie around fire, I insisted Doug babysit it.

I actually had an ulterior motive.  I didn't want anyone to see him blowing corn husks into line dancing rows.  I really didn't want anyone to see me out there helping with his outrageous plan.  So with Doug at the far end of the property, I could still pick up the offending husks and listen for vehicles.  When my ears picked up the sound of an approaching car, I jumped in the Polaris and hid behind the potting shed.  No one would be the wiser that I was helping in this futile plot.

This went on for what seemed like hours.  Darkness came and I was released to the seclusion of the house.  Needless to say, the corn husks continued to swirl around the yard oblivious to our efforts.  I think next year I am going to trail the combine and collect corn husks then and there.  The only thing Doug will have to complain about is the collection of husks in the garage.  I will dry them out and make good use of them.  Tamales anyone?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Where's the Head?

I have just been to my first rural Iowa wedding.  It was nothing like you're thinking.  There was no granny sitting in the corner with her shotgun.  The buffet was not all corn pudding, corn bread, and corn souffle.  Like any other wedding there was the happy bride and groom and attendants.  The guest gussied up in Sunday best and sparkles.  There was food and dancing.  But that seems to be where the similarities end.

 My third cousin was getting married.  I was privileged enough to be invited to the wedding.  The family had fingers crossed for months for no snow and no ice.  I think they must have forgotten to ask for an above freezing temperature.  Outside was a deep freeze but beautifully sunny.

It was a lovely ceremony with the bridesmaids in stunning black and pink.  The bride had a sparkly gown ending with a cascading train of white.  A long veil covered her face.  It is a well kept secret that brides wear veils not to cover their tears, but the cover the mascara tracks down their cheeks.

The ecstatic couple floated down the aisle after the "I dos."  I sprang to my feet only to be yanked down by my cousin.  "We can't leave yet.  The couple hasn't greeted us."

Greeted us?  I thought we congratulated them at the door.

Sure enough.  The bride had ditched her bouquet and the new Mr. and Mrs. were headed back down the carpeted aisle.  Pew by pew we filed out, hugging the new couple while they thanked us for coming.

Outside a gleaming stretch limo awaited the happy couple.  The guests stood shivering on the sidewalk armed with bubbles until everyone was properly thanked for coming.  Once the couple emerged a rainbow of bubbles assaulted them as they nonchalantly made their way to the getaway limo.

 The couple ducked in the limo not by themselves, but with the entire wedding party.  Minus the children.  This was foreign to me.  It occurred to me it was three o'clock in the afternoon and the reception was in a neighboring town at five o'clock.  What did we do for two hours?  What did the wedding party do for two hours?

My cousins patiently explained to me that the limo may take the party to various small bars (dives) on the way to the reception.  Well, what do we do?  If you knew my cousins you could have anticipated the next answer-go shopping!  I was whisked off on an impromptu shopping trip with a cousin and my 96 year old uncle.  He ain't stupid.  He came along for the nap!

The reception was full of food.  Meats and potatoes and salads.  There was pink punch to match the bridesmaids dresses.  I did not spy a wedding cake.  But five tiers of cupcakes left my mouth watering.  Each tier was a different flavor, white, chocolate, spice, and two others I didn't sample.

We anticipated the 96 year old uncle may want to leave before the carriage turned into a pumpkin. When asked he exclaimed, "No!  This is too exciting!"

And it was.

There was a photo booth hidden in the corner for amusing pictures.  There was a DJ who played a variety of music.  Guests of all ages lined danced, boogied, and did the YMCA. There were kids darting across the dance floor.  Everyone laughed and ate cupcakes.

I was startled when my female cousins jumped up searching wildly for their purses.  Once located they pulled out their wallets fat with one dollar bills.  They waved the bills like a flag on the Forth of July.  Didn't the bride have a bachelorette party?  Were they really going to...

Why, of course.  They were really going to pay to dance with the bride or groom.  What was I thinking?

The DJ announced it was time to throw the garter.  I love this part of the reception.  The groom shyly slides his hand up his new bride's leg and slowly slips off the garter.  Then I realized what the DJ really said-"It's time for the groom to remove the garter using no hands."

Sure enough the bride was seated front and center.  The groom knelt down and his head disappeared under the waves of white.  His hands were over his back in full view.  I began to wonder what was taking so long, when he emerged triumphantly with the garter secure in his teeth.

When the bride's turn came to throw the bouquet I was ready for anything.  But it was the usual-round up the single females and toss over the head.  The bouquet bounced off many hands before crashing to the floor.  It was snatched up by the bride's sister.  Her boyfriend happened to be sitting at our table.  All eyes swung to him.  He just leaned back and smiled.  Now we really like this boy, so there is pressure to keep him around.  Grandma may own a shotgun.

I arrived home from eight hours of celebrating totally exhausted.  I don't think I have been to a more interesting, fun wedding.  So, when my children get married, may I suggest a rural Iowa wedding?

*While sister, Makayla, may have caught the bouquet, she will not be the next to get married in my family.  Congratulations to my niece, Cayse!  She was proposed to on the top of a snow capped mountain.  Jay welcome to our wonderful, wacky family!