Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Back in the Classroom Again

Today I was a teacher again. I've been out of the classroom now for 6 years, which doesn't seem possible. And honestly, in some ways, I felt like I never really left. Same age of students, same school, mostly the same faculty, same literature books, same stories. The only things that were different were the students themselves, and the life experiences I've had in the meantime.

Tonight, when Benjamin was "found out" doing something he was told not to do, even though I didn't see him do it, he said to me, "Hmph. Mom how'd you get so smart?" It took all I had not to laugh out loud, but then what he said made me think.

I'm pretty sure I'm no more intelligent than I was 6 years ago when I stood in front of the classroom every day for 180 days out of the year. In fact, in some ways, I feel a great deal LESS intelligent (mommy brain does that to a person). Then, I was "up" on all the educational theories of the moment, knew what the "best" young adult fiction was, understood the methods and modalities for presenting information the best way possible for different learning styles.

Now I'm smart in different ways. I know, for example, what a contraction is and how an epidural works; how to change diapers; negotiate with a 2 year old, to get her to eat her meat, what's a real "I-need-you-this-second-mommy cry" from a "Ha-Ha-made-you-jump cry". I know how to call the doctor when a child has a fever without crying to the nurse; how to cook Thanksgiving dinner for 15 in-laws. I know what ductal carcinoma in-situ is. And that a pregnant lady can undergo radiation treatment for breast cancer during her second trimester. I also know how to operate a combine and unload wheat into a grain cart. I also know how to determine what time the peach pie will be done in order to be just the right temperature when I get it out to the field to feed the crew.

So, I guess you could say that while out was out of education for a while, I was actually getting an education. Some of the things I've learned have been a pleasure and a joy to learn. And pretty easy. Many of the things I've had to learn have been excruciatingly difficult and very painful on both the physical and emotional levels.

But the one thing and probably the most important thing is about God's faithfulness. It doesn't matter if things are bright, sunny and going along at a pleasant pace or cloudy, stormy and recklessly pursuing, God is right here and He cares about the details in my life. It's pretty easy to just picture God as this undefinable quantity that seeps around the atmosphere, uninvolved, and uninterested in the goings-on here on earth. But through my experiences, I've learned that because I'm His child, He is deeply involved in my life, and would be more so if I'd yield my will and my "stuff" to Him. It's kind of an interesting idea really. Because He loves me so much, He will take care of the details of my life, if I focus on Him. Most of the time I get that all wrong. I'm so concerned about what I want, and where I want to be, that God kind of gets the gratuitous nod at the beginning of the day. Then I go on, planning, scheming, working toward my own end and looking to see what I'm going to get for me out of the deal. But when I focus on God and on others, my "stuff" is miraculously taken care of, most likely because I realize Who and what are important and it makes my plans look pretty puny in comparison.

I was telling one of my former colleagues yesterday that I think I'm probably a better parent because I was a teacher for a while, and that I'd DEFINITELY be a better teacher because I've been a parent. And it's true in other areas of my life too. I'm becoming a better person, and hopefully growing to be more like Christ, because of my life experiences and what God's been teaching me through them.

Just like students in the classroom though, I'm better off if I pay attention, study my Textbook, talk to the Teacher, and learn things the first time around.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Late summer, after the grain is in the bin and before the tractors and drills are tuned up to start planting winter wheat, it's time for a few days of cattle work. Each fall we gather the three bunches of cows for two purposes: to sort the calves by sex, and to give them their shots prior to weaning and shipping. Each fall we sell the steer calves to a feeder and retain the heifer calves to wean, feed and eventually use as replacement heifers for our herd.

This year, we gathered the first bunch on Tuesday morning and corralled them with only two attempted escapees. One cow and one calf, not necessarily a pair, decided they weren't in the mood to be worked and so they ran around the gate and after a bit of a chase by the hired hand and Alli and I in the Ranger, everyone was sealed up in the corrals.

Then the work began. Actually some of the work began the night before in Excel as Scott and I took the previously entered cow tag numbers and added their calf's birthday and sex. Then we sorted those into two lists, steers and heifers. Then after some cutting and pasting, we ended up with the list of cows who had heifer calves in numerical order.

The first job we do in the corral is to sort off the calves from the cows and separate them by gender--known around here as sex-sorting. Scott really makes that pretty easy as when the calves are born in the spring, we tag them with a tag that corresponds with their mama's tag, with all the steers receiving blue tags and the heifers receiving pink tags. Maybe a little "cute", but helpful come fall sorting! Occasionally there's a mix-up, say if we run out of pink tags in the process of going around the pasture, or if there's a particularly mean mama cow who makes you do your tagging job in a bit of a rush. So sometimes a guy actually has to get their head upside down to check on what's really going on.

As usual, Scott's the man with the most pressure as he has to stand in the middle of the alley with nothing but a sorting paddle to funnel the cows down the alley into their pen. Then we send the calves down the alley with the steers going "in" the gate to their pen and the heifers going "by" the gate to their pen. I usually run the gates into the pens, so I mostly have to just listen to what Scott tells me. Occasionally a cow or calf gets by and I have to try to do a little jumping around, waving of arms, and swinging of gate, not necessarily in that order, to try to get everyone in the right place. Occasionally it works, but usually it doesn't and we have to go into the pen and fish the wrong animal out and resort.

The last part of the sorting, and the hardest part, is to try to get the cows separated by the gender of their calves. Remember that list? Well Scott stands in the alley this round, with only a clipboard in his hand while Ryan or Alex brings him one cow at a time (hopefully), in the process hollering out the tag number so Scott can see if it is on the list and go "in" (steer mamas), or "by" (heifer mamas). Again it usually goes pretty smoothly, unless two or three cows get through and Scott has to make a determination on the fly. Sometimes I can get distracted by my own thoughts and forget which way is which and end up doing a quick switch at the end, which makes Scott a little edgy. Can't say as I blame him. Usually my distraction has something to do with one of the kids who are camped out in the back of the Suburban in the next pen, and instead of focusing on cows, I'm focused on which kid has smeared doughnut frosting all over the window or his sister, depending on the day. I'm sure I'll get much better at my job when my mommy brain isn't working over-time.

Once everything is in the right pen, we send the steer calves up the through the chute for new tags, fly pour-on and vaccines. Most buyers request the owners "pre-condition" the calves before shipping so that the calves are healthier when they arrive in their new digs with a new feed ration, environment and climate, which can create a lot of stress on the animal and a little sickness in the process. It's a relatively new requirement that has been met with a little resistance on the part of the seller due to the cost, time, and hassle. But I guess that's just how the business goes.

It's busy couple of days and it's a good chance for me to see what full-time working moms deal with... trying to get to the bus on time, figuring out what to make for supper, rifling through the stack of dirty clothes trying to find something that's mostly clean to wear during an especially busy week. I really enjoy getting to be outside and in the corral with the "guys" plus it's where I feel most comfortable when we're working outside since my family raises cattle too. It also gives us a chance to look at our animals close-up and check their soundness and get a feel for how the calves are doing before they go down the road.

As for the title of the post: well, just imagine a hundred or so cows all mooing for their calves, and the calves all mooing for their mamas. It's enough to give a girl a headache!

Gathering the pasture

Stopping for a drink

Windmill and water tank

Gathering the trap

Down the Alley

Heading for the gate

She's In

Waiting for a new bunch

Time for a meeting of the minds

Steer Calves

Hard to see, but the near pen is full of steers (blue tag)
and the far pen is full of heifers (pink tags)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Off To School

Last Tuesday morning, September 8 2009, Benjamin was off to school for the first time. He is beginning kindergarten up the road at our little country schoolhouse with two other children in his class (both of whom he's played with since diapers!--funny that doesn't seem to be so long ago, now that I think about it!) It seems a little surreal that my first baby is ready to go off to school all ready, but there it is. He was pretty excited when we took him off to Billings to do some clothes shopping for school, and then we bought school supplies and he thought it was REALLY exciting: his own markers and scissors!

He asked me to take him to school his first day because he was feeling "a little nervous" and so I obliged. Normally he will ride the bus that comes up to our turn-off and picks him up first and then 4 other kids on the way to school. We went into the little school to find a desk and bookshelf in a corner for the 3 Ks, complete with mini chairs and room for their little cubby of supplies. Once a teacher, always a teacher, so our dear teacher allowed me to check out the lessons for the day, thumb through the math and language workbooks, and even showed me the cool "letter people" 45s and curriculum she found at a 2nd hand store. Ben discovered the magic of an electric pencil sharpener so the teacher took me on a tour downstairs to find the area where the centers will be assembled, 2 computers for the little ones, and the big rug for the "resting" while reading area. (I told her the word "rest" would work better with the Ben than "nap" he's a big kid you know, who doesn't take "naps"!)

After the rest of the students arrived, Ben and his classmates paused, reluctantly from unloading all their treasures from their back-packs, and posed for me. Everyone asked me how it was and if I handled it. And you know, I did. Benjamin is clearly ready to learn some things from someone besides his mother, and I couldn't have hand-picked a teacher for him any better than the one we have. She understands how differently kids learn, and that they are not perfect. She loves them all individually and I've always thought kids could really sense when it was that someone truly cared for them. She holds the same values that I have for my kids--in fact she's been such a great friend that she's given me great parenting advice, as she had a child much like Benjamin. She's of another generation who really values hard work, truth, and the importance of building kids up based on their accomplishments rather than false praise. Benjamin is a 4th generation rural school kid on both sides of the family. From my observation and experience, I think it is one of THE best ways for a kid to be educated. Small class size, excellent student-teacher ratio, all kinds of opportunities for reinforcement as the kids listen to each other learn on all skill levels, and good families who are our neighbors.

It WAS hard, knowing that our season of being home together all the time is over. But that's part of life and it's time for a new season. He's loving it so far--he told me he thought he should really be going more than two days a week and he's really excited to learn to read. I'm so proud of the boy the Benjamin is now (even if there's few rough spots now and then) and I'm really excited to see the boy he'll become.

Billy, Benjamin, and Maggie

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Labor Day Fun!

Last week was a crazy week! As you all know we live about 40 miles from Miles City. On a normal week, we go to town on Sundays and usually one other day, at the very most we are in town 3 days in a given week. Last week was a little different.

Scott's oldest two, Haley and Adam, have moved back to Miles City with their mom, who is now an ICU nurse at Holy Rosary. We are excited and glad to have them so close so we can be a bigger part of their lives. And because of this, there were going to be some changes, including a few more trips to town for things that were happening with them and their schools. We were in town every single day! Last week was probably an extreme example of the change that will take place.

We journeyed to church on Sunday morning and came home for Sundy dinner of roast beef, potatoes and gravy. By that time, everyone was ready to just stay put. Scott decided to cancel band practice so then the fun began. We relaxed...played games, took naps, played tractors... and then I made a peach pie and homemade ice cream to be ready in time for supper--BLTs with tomatoes from our garden and bbq chips, everyone's favorite.

While I was cleaning up, Scott and the kids decided to play some hoops, and then football. Scott and Ben were one team, Adam, Haley and Alli the other team. I went out and decided to capture a few pictures.

Haley catching a pass from QB Adam

Adam, ready to air it out.

Shaking hands.... Haley and Adam won.

Finishing up with a prayer huddle, just like the big guys!

Full Moon... a beautiful end to a great day!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Have a Face-lift!

The kids are at Grandma's for the day, and I slept in a little and then decided to go for a walk. It's been way too long since I've gotten any exercise and I've been feeling a little blah, both physically and in general. So I laced up my tennis shoes, found my visor, strapped on my ipod and started out. I was on my way back and this song came up in the rotation. Talk about just what a blah spirit needs for a little face-lift! Literally! Maybe even some hands!

Most of the time when I'm feeling a little down, all I need to do is look up and then out and get the focus off of myself and my perspective changes. Thanks Lord. I needed that!