These Are My Thirties

I am in my thirties.

There is an old Catholic tradition that since Jesus suffered, died, resurrected and ascended all at 33, that we’ll all be 33 in heaven.  At the end of the world when our bodies rise, we’ll be our perfect 33, even if we died before or after 33.

I always thought that my life would be a lot different in my thirties.  I’m actually past the age of 33, and even with these extra few years, I’m still not anywhere near where I’d want to be.

I thought I’d have more of life figured out by now.
I thought I’d be farming.  I mean farming for real and my husband not having an off-farm job.
I thought I’d have more kids. (I know I have six, but I really thought I would have started earlier and had more by now. I’ve always wanted a big family.)
I thought my house would be bigger. And cleaner.
I thought I’d be richer, a lot richer.  I thought my student loans would be paid off.
I thought I’d have another degree or two.  I have a Bachelor’s, but I thought I’d have a Master’s. I’m a grad school drop out.
I thought my faith would be stronger.
I thought I’d always know where my keys are.
And of course skinnier- I always thought I’d be skinnier.

It’s not all bad. I have had some successes. I had a llama. I am pretty successful at being a cheapskate.

But I’m frightened because I do not have too many more years left in my thirties. I wonder about the tone my thirties are setting for the rest of my life.

But then, I look at my six beautiful children. My children make everything worth it.  All my children have been born when I was in my thirties. They have challenged me in ways I never thought I could be challenged and yet they have delighted my heart in ways that I never thought it could be delighted. I’ve had to find strength that I never thought I had and this strength was something I never even thought existed.

I am tougher.
I am smarter.
My heart and my soul have grown tremendously.

My thirties are nothing like I thought they’d be, that’s for sure. Of course I still wish I was skinnier and richer and above all else that my son was healed from his brain tumor. We take it day by day with him.  We enjoy Vince’s preciousness, even if that means trying to have fun at chemo, something that was never on my radar. I enjoy all of the precious moments with all of my children.

So these are my thirties and it’s clear that this is not heaven’s version, yet I am here now as God draws me closer to Him.


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Heifer Bulls

Every once in a while I finally think I “get it”, living out here.  And then something slaps me in the face.
heiferbull
This afternoon I was reading Thursday’s edition of the weekly local paper.  I had that slap in the face.

They were advertising for heifer bulls.  Heifer bulls?  Talk about a contradiction.  This whole cow vocabulary had confused me, but I thought I was over it. If you remember correctly, a while back I shared my new found bovine term knowledge with all of you.

If you recall, a heifer is a female bovine that has not had a calf (baby) yet and a bull is an uncastrated male bovine. So obviously a heifer bull just confuses things.

As my husband explained (twice), it turns out that in the world of ranching, that is raising bovines, that the birth weight of baby calves is determined by genetics on their father’s side. A heifer that makes her entry into cow-dom, that is has a baby for the first time is younger and will have smaller hips than a cow who is older and has done this a few times. A lower birth weight calf is desirable for heifers, but not necessarily for cows. A heifer bull is a bull that is better to have a honeymoon with heifers to have low birth weight calves.

So heifer bulls exist. Mind blown.


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Chemo

My son Vince, who is 4 and half as of this writing, has been fighting a brain tumor for the last two years.  He is now receiving chemo weekly from Children’s Hospital.
Many of you have asked me some questions, so I’m going to attempt to answer the most common questions here.
What is the history of his brain tumor?
Vince has a pilomyxoid astrocytoma in his left frontal lobe.  We discovered it during an MRI (January 2014) for something else (a little lump thing at the base of his neck). His first tumor was the size of a golf ball. He exhibited no brain tumor symptoms at the time.  If it wasn’t for the MRI, we wouldn’t have known about it.
His first tumor was resected in March 2014.  The surgery was a success. They got the whole thing.  They sent it off for analyzing and it was a pilomyxoid astrocytoma.
The tumor grew back again and was resected the second time in July 2015.  It was the size of a grape and was still a pilomxyoid astrocytoma.
The tumor grew back again.  Since it grew back twice after surgery, we’re trying chemotherapy.
How did the tumor grow back twice if both surgeries were successful?
If even one cell was left, the tumor could grow back from that.
Is it cancerous?
Well, it depends on who you ask.
The World Health Organization considers all brain tumors cancer.  Physicians in the United States do not. Brain Tumors are “graded” on a scale of 1 to 4.  A pilomyxoid astrocytoma is a grade two. United States physicians only consider grades three and four cancer.
If it’s not cancer, why is he getting chemo?
He is getting chemo to kill this tumor.  Chemo will still kill it in theory.  Without treatment, he could die from this brain tumor.
What is his prognosis?
They are saying it is good, but they also said it wouldn’t grow back.  It’s all very scary.
What is his exact chemo regiment?
He is getting carboplatin, a milder chemo, once per week.  He goes four weeks on, two weeks off. Each “four weeks on, two weeks off” is called a “round”. They say for a year, but it could be more or less depending on his MRIs.
How do you know it’s working?
We don’t.  He’ll have a new MRI approximately every three months, after every other round.  His next MRI is in May.
If he’s getting chemo, why does he still have hair?
The particular type and dosage of chemo (carboplatin) that he has does not cause severe hair loss.  They said it would thin his hair, but we haven’t noticed it thinning yet.
What is chemo made from?  What is it like?
Vince’s chemo is made from platinum.  It’s clear, like IV fluids.  He gets it through his port.
What is a port?
A port is a long term IV (implanted surgically) that’s in his chest.  They take his blood and give him his chemo through the port.
What care is involved in the port?
Now that the incision is healed, we only have to watch for a fever.  If he has a fever of 101 or over, he has to go to the hospital to get fluids and tests for infections.  This happened once, before his first chemo treatment. He did not need to be admitted at that time.
What do they call it when he goes for chemo?
Every chemo treatment is called an infusion.
How does the chemo affect Vince?
Vince gets nauseous.  He’s thrown up from it.  We have zofran, an anti-nausea medication to lessen his ill feelings.
He has had a day on the couch all day, just feeling sick.  He has also had times where he was out playing the next day.
He sometimes gets pains in his legs, behind his knees.
My second-cousin-twice-removed’s former college roommate had cancer and beat it with eye-of-noot/ raw honey/ essential oils/ going vegan/ going paleo/ smoking a joint, etc. Why don’t you____ and skip the chemo?
We have tried a few “alternative” things.  They haven’t worked.  The tumor is back.  We need to kill it.  I would not not treat it with chemo and have my son die because we did something unproven.  I feel like we are past the point of trying these “alternative” things.  We already did a few. They didn’t work.  We just can’t fool around anymore.
Denver is no New York. Why don’t you take him to a better hospital in another city?
Children’s Hospital Colorado’s neuro-oncology is within the top ten in the nation.  We have also consulted long distance with another top ten hospital in another city.  Treatment in Colorado is the best for us as far as the impact on our family.  The treatment itself isn’t any different.
How far is Children’s Hospital from your house?
101 miles.  There are no local resources.
You have children that you homeschool. How do you do that and take Vince to chemo?
We reworked our schedule and chemo is part of our new normal.

 

 

This was Vince's last infusion. He was receiving his chemo and drinking juice.

This was Vince’s last infusion. He was receiving his chemo and drinking juice.


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The Danger of Fire Is Real Here

Spring had come. The warm winds smelled exciting, and all outdoors was large and bright and sweet.  Big white shinning clouds floated high up in clear space.  Their shadows floated over the prairie.  The shadows were thin and brown, and all the rest of the prairie was the pale, soft colors of dead grasses…
The dead grass was so tall and thick that it held up the sod…
“I do believe it’s going to storm,” Ma said, looking out of the window.  Laura looked, too, and great black clouds were billowing up in the south, across the sun.
Pet and Patty were coming running from the field, Pa holding to the heavy plow and bounding in long leaps behind it.
“Prairie fire!” he shouted. “Get the tub full of water! Put sacks in it! Hurry!”
Ma ran to the well, Laura ran to tug the tub to it… Ma was pulling buckets as fast as she could. Laura ran to get the sacks that Pa had flung out of the stable. 
Pa was plowing, shouting at Pet and Patty to make them hurry.  The sky was black now, the air was as dark as if the sun had set,  Pa plowed a long furrow west of the house and south of the house, and back again east of the house…
Laura stayed close to the house,  She could see the red fire coming under the billows of smoke…Pa was going along the furrow, setting fire to the grass on the other side of it. Ma followed with a wet sack, beating the flames that tried to cross the furrow.  The whole prairie was hopping with rabbits…
Pa’s little fire was all around the house now and he helped Ma fight it with the wet sacks.  The fire blew wildly, snatching at the dry grass inside the furrow.  Pa and Ma thrashed at it with the sacks… they stamped it with their feet.  They ran back and forth in the smoke, fighting that fire.  The prairie fire was roaring now, roaring louder and louder in the screaming wind.  Great flames came roaring, flaring and twisting high. Twists of flame broke loose and came down on the wind to blaze up in the grasses far ahead of the roaring wall of fire.  A red-light came from the rolling black clouds of smoke overhead…
Pa’s little fire handmade a burned black strip. The little fire went backing slowly away against the wind, it went slowly crawling to meet the racing furious big fire.  And suddenly the big fire swallowed the little one.
The wind rose to a high, crackling, rushing shriek, flames climbed into the crackling air.  Fire was all around the house.
Then it was over.  The fire went roaring past and away.
Pa and Ma were beating out little fires here and there in the yard…
The air smelled scorched. And to the very edge of the sky, the prairie was burned naked and black… But Pa and Ma were cheerful because the fire was gone and it had not done any harm..
…from Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

We’ve had a very dry late winter here in Lincoln County. We have a burn ban here now.  This means there is no burning allowed under any circumstances and that we must bring our trash to town and not burn it.
Fires were a problem on the Kansas prairie for the Ingalls family in the 1870’s.  They are a problem for us on the Colorado prairie now, too.
There was a recent fire in the Punkin Center area of Lincoln County that burned 2286 acres of land.  It didn’t burn any structures or house, thanks to the heroic efforts of the local fire departments.  They say it was started by a smoker tossing out a cigarette. The fire “jumped the highway”, that is went across the paved road, which is actually unusual out here.  It is all very scary and unchecked, it could have burnt my little house on the prairie down, too.  We are grateful for our fire fighters.

Almost four years ago, there was a fire in our pasture.  Thanks to the heroic efforts of the fire departments and neighbors, we were also unscathed.  The fire did not touch our house, outbuildings, firewood or garden.  We are truly blessed.  Now on with our pasture fire story…

Thursday, June 28, 2012, when it was very overcast and had cooled down quite a bit, I went outside with the kiddos to work on my project in the chicken house.  (I was working on a stall for the goats.  I wanted to be able to keep a few separate for times like this when one [Jade that time] has an injury.)  The children were contentedly playing while I checked the chickens, took some clothes in, gave water to all the animals, etc.  I happened to notice my closest neighbor drive by my house away from her house.  I gathered some of my tools.  It got darker and darker.

Suddenly I heard the loudest thunder that I had ever heard in my life.  I turned to the children.  “We’re going in the house,” I said.

I happened to glance south to the pasture.  FLAMES!  Straight south of me, my pasture was in flames!

I ran into the house.  I intended to get the cordless phone to dial 911, going outside to get the children as I called.  I could not find the phone.  I tried the corded phone.  It was dead.  That’s right, the baby had been playing with the phone earlier.  I looked for the cordless phone.  I couldn’t find it.  The pager on the cordless didn’t work, it must have been off the hook, too.

OH… MY… My babies were outside, by the chicken house.  I went outside to get them.  I saw the pickup in the driveway.  It was closest. I ran and grabbed the baby and yelled for my other two to run to the pickup.  I literally threw them in the pickup.  Snuffles the dog jumped in.  The children were on the floor of the cab.  The dog was on the seat.  The baby was in the car seat, but not strapped in.  I took off.  I somehow remembered that I had seen my next-door neighbor drive in the opposite direction as her house.

I drove to my next closest neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Wonderful-Neighbors-One.  I kept hoping that I would see someone drive by that I could flag down to call 911.  I did not.  

As soon as I got to the road that goes to Mr. and Mrs. Wonderful-Neighbors-One’s house, I started honking.

When I got to their driveway, I ran to their house, banged on the door and flung it open.  I was frantic.  They called 911 for me.  They called my in-laws for me.  I called Kevin at work.  I spoke to the shift commander.  I told him that I needed my husband home now, I think.  It’s all a blur.  Mr. Wonderful-Neighbor-One went to my house to check everything out for me.  I called Mrs. Wonderful-Neighbor-Two who lives further down the road.  I asked her to come help me with the animals.

I found out later that My-Other-Wonderful-Neighbor had come home, saw the fire and tried to rescue us.  “I’m surprised your door is still standing,” the neighbor said. “I banged it that hard.”  The neighbor didn’t know we were at the other neighbor’s house.

I felt so helpless.  I was at Mr. and Mrs. Wonderful-Neighbors-One’s house.  Their dog jumped in my pickup at one point.  I had my dog and my children, but I left all my possessions, my van that I had just dropped comprehensive on, my cats, my goats, my chickens, my cows, etc.  I didn’t know what to do to fight the fire myself.  I thought about dunking the stocktank, getting a hose and all sorts of other crazy things.  
Mrs. Wonderful-Neighbor-One offered to stay with the children while I went back.  I hopped in the pickup and went back to my house.
On my way, I ran into Mr. Wonderful-Neighbor-One.  We stopped in the middle of the road. He said the fire had blown east and they pretty much had it under control.  My house was OK.  

I still went back to the house. I found my father-in-law in my driveway.  I must have hugged him forty times.  There was at least a fire truck in the pasture.  There were some little flames, but not much else.

The Genoa Fire Department came.  Mrs. Wonderful-Neighbor-Two came.  Some man came with a red pickup and a water tank on trailer.  Kevin came home.  I hugged him.  My father-in-law left to pickup the children from Mr. and Mrs. Wonderful-Neighbors-One’s house .  I really don’t remember the order of all of this.

This is the Genoa Fire Department getting the part closest to our house…

Mrs. Wonderful-Neighbor-Two left once she’d seen that Kevin was here and that the house and animals were OK.  Kevin and I went out to the pasture in the pickup.  We saw Kevin’s brother, my brother-in-law.  Although he doesn’t live close by, he happened to be visiting my in-laws (his parents).  He was out there with my father-in-law’s pickup with a trailer hooked to it and a giant water tank on the trailer.  

Sure I knew my brother-in-law, but there were all these people.  It was kind of like giving birth in a hospital- all these people in and out of your room or your pasture.

Kevin left to get a shovel.  When he got back, he kept sending me to get him stuff.  I got rakes.  I got him his farm boots (since he didn’t want to ruin his work shoes).   I got water.  I got the baby formula and sent it with my father-in-law who had come to get it.  I think I was making him nervous as I was trying to put out the little embers with the rake. I was six and a half months pregnant.

On one of my trips back and forth, I drove so quickly through the pasture that I knocked down the spare tire holder thing and was dragging it on the ground.  I think that’s the time my father-in-law had come for the formula.  He crawled on the ground and put the spare tire holder back up with wire.

On my way back into the pasture, Mr. Wonderful-Neighbor-Three stopped me.  
“I have your spare tire,” he said.  He took it out of his pickup and put it in the back of mine.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I’m So&So,” he said, using his real name.  “I live blah-blah.”

“Oh, you live in the blah-blah-house.” I said.  I asked him the ages of his kids, since I knew he had little ones.  I told him that since our kids were the same age, we’d have to get them together for a playdate. We still haven’t.

Again the order of exactly what happened when was blurry.  Mr. Wonderful-Neighbor-Four happened to own an entire water truck which he brought over.  More firemen (and some fire-ladies) came.  More neighbors came.  I don’t think I even knew who was here, or who they were.  I think Kevin knew most of them.  I know I asked the red pickup man his name and he told me, but I forgot it. “I know your husband,” he said.  

We still haven’t figured out his name.  I still run into him in town now and then and I mention it to Kevin and he still doesn’t know who I mean.

Mr. Wonderful-Neighbor-Five came over.  He had a fire down the road on his land, and he came over to help here when they were done with his fire.  

All the wonderful neighbors, all the wonderful firemen and fire ladies and my brother-in-law all left.

Here are some of the fire trucks leaving…

The smoke was still smoldering in little areas where there were cow manure patties.  Kevin and I went around and put them out with the rakes.

This is what a pregnant woman looks like putting out a manure pile fire with a rake… I should note that Kevin was there, but he was still in his uniform. I’m not allowed to post pictures of him on the internet in his uniform because of his profession.

I shudder to think about the what-ifs.  What if it went towards the house?  What if I didn’t see it right away?  What if the first time I noticed it it was already in the house?  What if my neighbors weren’t home?

The fire was only about a football field away from our house.  It blew east, and a little north and south, too.  If it had gone north before east it would have taken out our outbuildings, our animals and our house.  It didn’t burn our garden or even our firewood.  The area burned was on two sides (south and east) of our house.  It was about 30 acres-ish burned.  I can’t imagine what the results would have been if the fire blew in a different direction, or if my neighbors or firemen weren’t there.  Thank you God for your protection.  Thank you neighbors and firemen.

This is looking north… I don’t have any pictures of actual flames…
This is looking northwest.  Those are our trees…
Burnt grass…
Yucca and cactus don’t burn…
Thank you, Hugo Fire Department…
Thank you, Hugo Fire Department…
My father-in-law’s trailer with the water tank and the Hugo Fire Department…
Cactus still doesn’t burn…
Some weeds don’t either…
Cow manure patties on the other hand burn really well…
These are most of the fire trucks when they were just about done…
An overview, looking east…
The steers seemed pretty excited about eating the yucca.  Of course this was after the fire
trucks left and the steers went out the open gate and Kevin had to get them back in…
Yummy yucca…
Although the yucca did not die in the fire, it did die shortly within a year after the fire.
I took this this morning.  This is looking south, from the northeast corner of our property.
The fence post you see on the bottom right is part of the fence by the road.  If the fire had
been this far north a little further west, it would have burned down the house…
The cows still seem pretty excited about it…
The fire even missed (barely) the wood that Kevin had dragged out there to cut for firewood…
On the left you can see our property line with the neighbor.  They got a little damage, too.
Looking southwest…
The tire tracks are from the fire department putting the fire out…
The fire went almost to the southern border of the property, but did not take out any farm fields there…
I think it’s amazing that that little strip of grass didn’t burn…

 

 


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Learning Michael’s Lesson: Be Prepared For the Unexpected While Traveling On the Prairie

When I was a kid, I followed the story of the Stolpa Family.  They had been traveling out west somewhere (Nevada- it was all the same in my Jersey mind) with their young baby. Their pickup truck had broken down.  It was winter.  On the side of the road, they waited days in their pickup truck. They turned it on periodically to warm themselves with the heat.  No one ever drove by.  When they finally ran out of gas, they set out on a 50 mile journey to a paved road.  Finding shelter in a cave, they spent the night there and the next morning the husband set out by himself to bring help to his wife and baby.  They survived.  A few years later they made a TV movie about their ordeal starring Neil Patrick Harris.  

During the news reports of the Stolpa Family’s survival story and again during the TV movie, I kept on wondering how it was possible that no one drove by the road they were stranded on. For days. I remember even asking my mother about that.  It’s just out west somewhere, was her reply. Now that I live on the prairie of Colorado, I understand how there are some roads that people really might not drive on for weeks at a time.  I’ve been in the Nevada mountains, and yes, it is more desolate and rough than the Colorado prairie, but the Colorado prairie and the Nevada mountains are really not that different from each other when you compare them to New Jersey.  We both have sagebrush and in Jersey sage is simply a spice to cook with.

Here in Lincoln County, Michael Anderson from Wichita Kansas was recently traveling through, on the dirt roads between Arriba and Hugo.  He ran out of gas in his pickup  and set out across a pasture to get help.  This was December 12th, which according to Weather Underground, had a high of 21 degrees in nearby Limon. Michael was never seen or heard from again until December 21st when they found his body in the original search area.  The authorities are not saying if Michael simply succumbed to the elements or if he met with foul play.  There is a current investigation so everything right now is hush-hush.  I wish Michael would have had a better outcome, one more similar to the Stolpa Family.  Although I never knew Michael, his tale has hit me hard.  His story points to our vulnerability traveling these prairies. May his soul forever rest in peace.

Living on the prairie, it seems that all I do is travel.  I travel to the Front Range frequently to go to real doctors and go to real stores.  Although not recently, I have frequently travelled to visit my relatives in Jersey through western Kansas, which is just as rural as it is here.  Here I must even travel to the “neighbors” who are maybe five miles away.  I even occasionally travel to more out of the way places like Karval or travel dirt roads for 40 miles if I take that shortcut to go to Colorado Springs.  Most of the time when I travel, I am alone with my six children six and under.  We are perhaps more vulnerable than Michael, who was a single man in his twenties.

So we can perhaps learn some lessons from Michael?  Can we be prepared so that we do not die in a pasture between Hugo and Arriba like he did?  We can try.  I am by no means a survival expert, but I will share with you what I do to attempt to avoid a fate like Michael.  The truth is that out here on the prairie it can happy to any of us.  So here is my “list” in no particular order.  I hope it can help you.  It is by no mean inclusive and I welcome you all to add to it in the comments section.

1.  I have a cell phone.  In theory I keep it charged, but not always.  This is something I have to work on.  I have T-Mobile which roams off of AT&T, but reception is spotty for GSMs and CMDAs.  I keep an old Verizon cell phone charged in my minivan, too.  If I do not have service in a particular area with a particular carrier, I might have service with the other carrier.  I can dial 911 if the need arises, with the charged up phone.

2. I try to make sure someone knows where I’m going.  My husband does not control me, but I always let him know where I’m going.  If it’s in the dark, I let him know the general route I’m taking.  Even when I was single and lived by myself in Pennsylvania, I would sometimes call a friend and tell her that I’m at a certain place when it was night and I was by myself.  If I go missing, I want someone to know to call the Marines.

3.  I keep my vehicles gassed up. I know. You’re shaking your head because you recall that time three years ago when I went down to Karval and ran out of gas on my way back.  (The closest gas station to the town of Karval is maybe 30 miles away.) My husband was at work and my wonderful saintly father-in-law came and brought me gas.  It was a few kids ago and it was in the middle of a beautiful sunny day, but I really learned my lesson and vowed that that would never again happen to me and it hasn’t.  I am not responsible for just me anymore.  I have the responsibility of my beautiful children and I am determined to not let something stupid like gas be our demise.  I always make sure I have enough gas in all of my vehicles to go to a real hospital, or for whatever unexpected adventure awaits us.  I also have money with me.  When I was a cashier at a truck stop, I can’t recall how many times travelers were stranded with no gas to go on and no money to buy some.  That’s not going to happen to me.

4. I don’t blaze a trail.  You’re also shaking your head because above I just told you that sometimes I take that 40 miles of dirt roads shortcut to Colorado Springs.  I do, but I always make sure it’s high and dry and during the day.  I will only venture that way when there are perfect road conditions.  And even so, it’s a known shortcut and it is very well travelled, for out here at least.

5.  I don’t always stop to check on strangers. That day when I ran out of gas, a kind pastor-man stopped to check on me.  The very time before that when I was stuck on the side of the road when my transmission died near Rush Colorado about four years before that, the very same pastor-man stopped to check on me.  If it is a well enough travelled road, I’ll drive right on by because someone else will stop.  I fear Jack the Ripper is there.  I’ll judge the situation. Sometimes I’ll call the non-emergency number of the sheriff dispatch.  Sometimes it will be my neighbor and of course I’ll stop.

6.  I ask our guardian angels to guide us there safely. When I’m traveling alone with the kids, we’ve got our 7 guardian angels in tow with us.  I’m sure we keep them working overtime.

7. I keep the van stocked. You name it. I got it. Water, glow sticks, granola bars, blankets, hoodies, diapers, formula, bottles, candles, matches,  etc. If we had to hunker down and spend some time in our van, we’d be OK.

8. Although our vehicles are older, we keep them in good working order.  I wouldn’t feel safe if they weren’t.   Of course anything can happen at any time, but we try to minimize the risks and have reliable vehicles and tires.

I feel so bad for Michael Anderson.  What a tragedy  that he ran out of gas on dirt roads in Lincoln County and it claimed his life.  I try to be prepared and take precautions so that we will not have the same fate.  The Stolpa Family in Nevada survived, but I do not think I could.  I aim to prevent situations like Michael’s and the Stolpas’.

Update 12/30/15: I have since learned that Michael did meet with foul play allegedly from his own traveling companion.  However, if he did not run out of gas, the murderer would not have the opportunity. We could also argue that if the murderer was determined, they would have found another opportunity.  Sigh. At any rate, this is a truly unbelievably sad tragedy.  May Michael’s soul forever rest in peace. 
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Thanksgiving Onion Dip

IMG_1670

 

You know those Facebook recipes, right?  The ones that people share and share and probably don’t ever make?  Well, they’re usually loaded with highly processed fake food.

Last year, I ran across one such recipe, a recipe for Turkey-shaped onion dip.  I decided to use the facebook recipe for inspiration, but make a real food, or real food-ish, onion dip.  So here we go:

Ingredients:
1 large onion, chopped
1 half stick butter
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp basil
1 tsp paprika
2 ounces cream cheese
2.5 cups sour cream

Directions:
1. Melt butter in a pot or crockpot.
2. Add your onion and caramelize.  You can do that in the pot and watch it for about an hour. You can do it in the crockpot for about 8 hours and only check on it and stir it periodically. (I go with option two since I have little ones that need my attention.)
3. Add the cream cheese so it softens.
4. Add your spices. (Feel free to tweak these to your own preferences.)  Stir it all.
5. Add the sour cream and stir it all in.
6. Remove it from your pot or crockpot and put it in a bowl that you can use for serving.  Cover it.  Refrigerate it overnight.
7. The morning of serving, cut up your veggies and arrange them around your dip bowl to look like a turkey.  There is no wrong or right way to do this.  In the above picture, I have cauliflower, green pepper, celery, rainbow carrots and cucumber.  I used a yellow bell pepper to make the turkey wings and beak, a cucumber slice for the head and carrot sticks for the feet.

Would it be better real-food-wise if I made my own sour cream and cream cheese from raw organic milk?  Sure it would, but this isn’t bad.  It’s cute, it avoids the processed “soup mix” type dip and it’s really not hard.

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Posted in Crockpot!, Laura's Little Kitchen On the Prairie, Recipes by with no comments yet.

Praying For the Propane Tank Holders

November is the month of All Souls. Halloween is October 31st, which is the Eve of All Hallows or All Saints Day Eve. On November 1st, we celebrate All Saints Day, a feast day of all the saints in the Church.  Then on November 2nd, we celebrate All Souls Day and remember everyone who has ever died in all of humanity.  We pray for their souls.  We believe that if they are still in Purgatory, our prayers can relieve their suffering and even liberate them from Purgatory and send them to Heaven.

Us Catholics pray for the dead throughout the entire year and not only during the month of November.  (Praying for the dead is in St. Paul’s Letter to Timothy and Maccabees, and that’s just off the top of my head.)  It’s a good practice.  We also believe that those dead we pray for will pray for us.

Everytime Sometimes when I pass a cemetery, I pray for the dead of that particular cemetery. So do my kids. They remind me. We offer the souls of the people in that cemetery a quick Eternal Rest or a Hail Mary or even both. For those of you that know the Pharisaical bo-bo Catholic that I am, you can imagine that these prayers aren’t always said with devotion or even at all and that I kind of take spells and do better at these prayers sometimes more than others.

Out here on the prairie, there are many country cemeteries. Sometimes they are family burial plots in unnamed cemeteries surrounded by pasture on land that hasn’t been that family’s homestead in 80 years. They don’t have signs. You can barely make out the headstones. I would venture to say that some might not even have headstones. We try to offer an Eternal Rest especially for these souls because I think it’s possible we may be the only ones still praying for them. There is one such cemetery only 2.5 miles from my house.

Genoa Colorado is hardly a mecca anymore. Still, there are times that I have to run to a certain business outside of Genoa or even pass through Genoa to go on the Interstate. When I am on my way to Genoa, I pass one such country cemetery.
propane genoa colorado
One day when I was on my way back from Genoa, my husband happened to be with us and I remembered to pray.
“What are you doing?” he asked, as I belted out a mumbled Eternal Rest.
“I’m praying for the people in that cemetery we just passed.” I said with all Pharisaical Catholic pride.
He started laughing.  “That’s not a cemetery,” he said.
“Yes it is.  Don’t you see the gravestones? They’re all fenced off there.”  Jesus really condemned those Pharisees.  Several times.
“Those are not gravestones. When I was a kid, that was a blah-blah and So&So had his giant propane tanks propped up on those stones.”

Oops.

Meanwhile I’ve been praying for the propane tank holders for years. I’m a Novus Ordo Jersey girl Catholic, trying to get this prairie-thing and this Trad-Catholic thing.  I’m bound to have a few slip-ups. Now I’m sure in all the course of humanity, someone had to die or be buried there, right? May their soul rest in peace.

eternalrest

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Posted in Culture Clashes of a Jersey Girl on the Colorado Prairie, Touring Eastern Colorado by with 4 comments.

Use a Baby Trend Car Seat to Make More Space- Works-for-Me-Wednesday 3, 10/28/15

Do you need a new infant car seat?  If you do, consider the Baby Trend Infant Car Seat.

First, let me make some disclaimers: I’m not a car seat safety certified technician or an expert.  The car seat decision that you make for your children should be yours and you shouldn’t blindly listen to someone on the internet.

The main advantage to the Baby Trend Infant Car Seat is that it is the only infant seat (that I’m aware of) that actually specified in the owner’s manual that it’s OK to use on a shopping cart.  It is also a relatively small infant seat, so it takes up less room in the car than some others.  (You should always use your own discretion here and also be mindful that the seat doesn’t make the cart top heavy and unstable. But as far as using the car seat on the cart, with the locking clips, the Baby Trend won’t shouldn’t fall off.)

We've belonged to Sam's for a few years and a few kids ago.

An old picture, but you get the idea. My Vince in the infant car seat is now four.

(For the record, I have read that the Baby Trend Car Seat straps do not adjust small enough for most newborn babies.  This is not an issue for me because I have ten pounders.  It’s something you should also research for yourself, but I’d be remiss not to tell you this. )

In case you’re like me and have six six and under or some large amount of little children like that, putting the car seat up on the shopping cart saves a lot of space that can used for other children or groceries.  Again, let me reiterate that most infant car seats aren’t designed to safely do this, but the Baby Trend is. Above all, you should do your own research and come to your own conclusions for your own children.

DSCN3331

I liked the Baby Trend so much (because of this feature) that when a drunk driver totaled my minivan two years ago and the insurance company replaced my car seats, I chose another Baby Trend. This is last fall, before Baby6 was born.

Works-for-Me-Wednesday, 10/28/15- Use a Baby Trend Infant Car Seat up on the cart to make more room for your groceries and other children.

If you do decide on the Baby Trend, here is my affiliate link for Amazon.

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Posted in Mom Tips, Works-for-Me-Wednesday by with no comments yet.

Should Farmers Be Added to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program? Here Is My Student Loan Story

Student loan relief is a hot topic.  Currently, there is a wonderful group, the National Young Farmers Coalition, that has brought farmer student loans into the national spotlight.  Since they are opening the conversation about farmer student loans, and since I am a farmer with student loans, I thought I’d share my student loan story with you here.

During the last few years there has been some programs aimed to somewhat relieve the student loan burden.  The Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness Program allows those with certain jobs in the public sector to have their loans forgiven. They must make 120 monthly payments of at least the minimum amount.  In certain fields, they do paperwork and viola!, the loan is forgiven. The other student loan relief program is called the Income Based Repayment Plan (IBR).  IBR is basically a sliding scale to recalculate minimum payments. There is even a possibility of a $0 monthly payment if your income is low enough.  If the IBR payment is $0, the federal government will pay the interest on the subsidized loans for three years.

The problem with the IBR is that if the student loan is not being paid (even if showing as current) the interest accumulates without the principal being chipped away at. In a way it’s like never having hope of repaying it. After 25 years, student loan debt is supposed to be forgiven.

There is a proposition to include farmers in the public service category under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.  It’s in that thinking about thinking about becoming a law stage. The National Young Farmers Coalition is really pushing for this.

Right now under the IBR, my student loan payment is $0.  I am still making monthly payments for what it was before the IBR, so I’m still chipping away at it.  I am just paying that monthly amount towards the “unsubsidized” loans.  Interest is accumulating on both.  After a year, I am told, the student loan servicing company will get a credit from the federal government for the interest on my subsidized loan and they will apply it towards my account.

I feel it’s necessary to keep chipping away at it.  Farmers being included in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is just a hope right now.  I need to deal with what is, and what is is that I need to keep chipping away at this loan.  If the legislation ever passes, maybe I can pay $1 a month or something since I’d still have to make 120 monthly payments for more than my IBR payment amount.

As I will outline below, it’s really my own poor choices that got me into this student loan situation.  If help was offered (in the form of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program) I certainly would not refuse it, but I don’t think it’s the government’s job to make up for my poor choices.

Let me start my student loan story where I’ll go back all the way to 8th grade.  I was a very good student and my parents wanted the best for me.  My father decided that the answer was a Certain Catholic High School.  That Certain Catholic High School had all the best everything that my family considered important- a very large percentage of students that went on to college, great sports, strict policies, and a Catholic identity.  My parents made many many sacrifices so that I could go to school there.

At That Certain Catholic High School, I was in their honors program.  I did well.  Not gangbusters, but my graduating GPA was still above 4.0.  Because of the very competitive nature of That Certain Catholic High School, I wasn’t even in the top ten percent of my class.  My best friends to this day are all ones that I met at That Certain Catholic High School. They are such great people that time, distance and different life stages have not separated us.

So I graduated and went on to Rutgers, Cook College.  Rutgers Cook was New Jersey’s land grant college.  They had a great Animal Science program: I wanted to be a veterinarian. So Rutgers it was!

I lived at home with my parents and commuted the 8 miles to Rutgers.  I started out with 14 credits from AP tests.  In my first semester, I took an introductory animal science class.  I hated it.  It was about farm animals.

I changed my major to Biology.  I figured it was close and I wouldn’t “loose” any of my classes.  I had started going through the course catalog in A.  I stopped at B for Biology.  So a Bio major it was.

I didn’t do so well at Rutgers.  I chugged through.  I failed a few classes. I got 3 D’s. I got a lot of C’s.  It took my six tries to pass first semester organic chemistry.  I always did great in my non-major classes.  (That should have been a sign that I was in the wrong major.) I went to school during every summer.  I worked throughout the school year.  I failed a class my supposed-to-be-last-semester (organic chemistry, the fourth time).  They changed the requirements on me and I had to unexpectedly repeat another class, so it took me 5 years to graduate.  But I did it, by the skin of my teeth, and I do have a Bachelor of Science from Rutgers the State University of New Jersey.  In retrospect, I think perhaps I was burnt out from my very competitive high school: I needed a break perhaps.

The highlight of my time at Rutgers was when I worked on the Cook Student Organic Farm (now known as the Rutgers Student Sustainable Farm) as an intern.  I worked on that three acre vegetable farm and that is where I decided that I wanted to be a farmer, that on a farm was how I wanted to raise my kids.  That was actually a wise decision for my student loans, too- I earned about $1300 there through Americorps toward my student loan debt.

Financially, I made so many mistakes during my college time.  I am Kevin is still literally paying for them now.  I’m going to enumerate them here, because these mistakes are my major point of this blogpost:

1. I shouldn’t have gone to Rutgers, or at least shouldn’t have gone there to start out.  I could have gone to community college and then transferred. I would have saved thousands.
2. I failed a few classes.  I even withdrew from one.  That’s just wasted money.
3. I took summer classes every single summer.  I paid for these summer classes out of my pocket and not my financial aid package.  If I had applied that same amount to my “regular” semester, I’d have a lot less student loan.
4. I worked during the school year.  Although I lived at my parents house rent free (until my supposed-to-be-last-semester when my mom said that if I couldn’t do it in four years it wasn’t her problem), I was still responsible for all my own expenses: books, car, insurance, college, etc.  When my parents fell on hard times, I helped them out. (This is not a mistake.) My mistake was that I should have perhaps worked like crazy in the summers instead.  I could have perhaps made the same amount of money, took more classes during the regular semesters, had more time to study and not had that additional cost of summer tuition.
5. Although I lived at home, I first experience new found freedom when I started college.  This was the first time my parents allowed me to drive.  I had a car and a boyfriend.  I worked.  I never “partied”, but I spent my money on going out to dinner with friends, buying clothes, buying lunch at the student center on campus, buying lunch in the mall at work, etc.  In retrospect, I should have brown-bagged it a lot more.  I had never drove, bought my own clothes or any of that before.  It was new.  Perhaps living at home actually cost more because I was always looking for an escape.  Escapes cost money.

I fared so horribly at Rutgers that I didn’t even go to my graduation.

They mailed my diploma to me.

They mailed my diploma to me.

And then when I graduated, I never did anything with my degree.  I was smart enough to go to college, but I didn’t have that other “something” to be successful.  At such a big place like Rutgers, I had no one to take me under their wing.  I didn’t know what trying for a successful career actually looked like.  I worked my way through school in retail and I never stopped.  I had a very good wage for a college student, but not at all compared to my peers five years later or so.  I was unloading trucks.  They were sitting at desks.  It’s different.  I was blue collar, but with white collar education debt.  I did not have the salary to go with my student loans.
I also felt like I was on hold.  I wanted so badly to be a wife and mother and have a lot of beautiful children. I never quite knew how to put that together with my college and career dreams and my student loan payments. I remember when I took Women’s Studies in 1997 writing a paper about this lament.  I went to college because I was supposed to. I never truly wanted to be a working woman.  I wanted to be a mommy to a bunch of children.  I wasted my whole twenties going in the wrong direction for that dream, too.
My entire student loan total was around $17,000.  Most were Federal Loans, except for one Perkins Loan for $1000 that I paid directly to Rutgers.
Because after my-supossed-to-be-last-semester I was not a full time or even halftime student, my student loans all came due six months after that semester ended.  I was still taking classes.
My other biggest mistake was mismanaging my actual loans.  I was most always having financial difficulties.  Several times I put my loans into forbearance.  In forbearance my loans accumulated interest which added to the principal, yet I did not chip away at it.

I did start grad school a bunch of years ago, but I did that through my employer’s tuition reimbursement program.

I did “buy the farm” and move to my own little house on the prairie.  Now that I am that stay-at-home mom with my six beautiful children, my husband works and we pay my student loans with his salary.  I feel terrible about my anti-dowry.  It is a financial burden to us.  The government makes all that interest money off me, so in a way it’s a tax, (although I voluntarily went to college, so I voluntarily pay the tax).

If I keep paying the monthly amount that I’m Kevin is paying, I still have about another four and half years to pay off the student loans.

So the bottom-line is that I am in the situation I’m in now because of my own mismanagement.  I mismanaged my education.  I mismanaged my student loans.  And here I am now, with my husband chugging away at the student loans monthly. I would love to farm full time as an only-career with no off-farm job for my husband or me.  But I’d lie to you to tell you that the student loan is the only thing holding us back.  Student loans are a factor, but they’re not the most important one. I don’t think that I’m really helping the cause for the good people at the National Young Farmer’s Coalition, but I thought I’d put my student loan story out there anyway.

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Attach Small Clothing Items- Works -for-Me-Wednesday 2, 9/30/15

As a mother of six six and under living in an extremely rural area, I’ve learned a few things along the way to make life easier. It’s very hard to live in a rural area about 100 miles from real stores and real doctors.  It’s very hard to have six six and under. Combining them is disastrous. I’ve learned a lot to make it easier. I will try to share a little tip or hack every Wednesday. On Works-for-Me-Wednesdays, I hope to give you a brief tip that might help you on your journey.

wfmw9.30.15Works-for-Me-Wednesday, 9/30/15- Attach small clothing items to each other whenever possible.
Eight people live in my house. Since all eight of us wear clothes, we have a lot of laundry. I have tried to simplify my huge mountains of laundry wherever I can. I try to attach small items together. Attaching things together keeps baby outfit pieces from getting lost and separated, with all the pieces never to be seen in the same spot again until baby is in the next size.(Ask me how I know.) Unless the clothes are very stained, attaching them for the wash cycle will still get them clean. They will take a little longer to dry and may have to be repositioned, but for me it’s worth it so they don’t get lost. I even keep the outfit pieces attached when they are stored in the closet so they don’t separate again. This also makes it easier for husbands or grandparents to know what pieces go together.  For example, if there is an overall strap, I loop it through the sleeve of the shirt so that both the overalls and short stay together. I also frequently use snaps on baby undershirts or baby pants to loop the outfit pieces together.   Attaching small clothing items together works for me!

IMG_20150929_174536 IMG_20150929_174603


Posted in Also Known As Logistics and Management in a Large Family, Knowing What to Do to Feel a Little Bit Less Like the Woman in the Shoe, Laundry, Mom Tips, Works-for-Me-Wednesday by with no comments yet.