Thursday, January 30, 2014

Throwback Thursday

Though the episode itself was scary to me (and no one else), this is now one of my favorite farm stories.

When we first moved back to the farm in 2007, we wanted to knock down a silo because it had been damaged in a windstorm and was leaning toward the barn.

Kris, my dad, and Mike figured they could do it themselves.

First, they attached a cable to the silo, then attached it to a tractor, in order to encourage the silo to fall away from the barn.  Not right on top of it. 

Then, they took turns hitting it with a sledgehammer.

Now, when I tell this story to other farmers, this doesn't make them flinch.  At all.  This is a normal way people knock down silos.  But as I was standing a field away, with my children turned around in a stroller so they wouldn't be able to see people crushed to death, it didn't sound like a very good idea. 

They took a lot of hits, knocking out the entire bottom – you can see the black stripe of emptiness in the picture below. It seemed impossible it was standing with all of that support gone.

However, when they pulled with the tractor, the cable came off, so my dad climbed up ON THE SILO to reattach the cable.  Do you see him in this picture?  He's in the light blue shirt.  Doesn't that look unsafe with the entire bottom gone?

I was yelling, “Don’t do it! Mom’s going to be so mad!”  I was way too far away for him to hear me.  Not that this would have changed his behavior.

Dad climbed down.  They took one more hit with the sledgehammer. The block crumbled from the weight and everyone scrambled to safety.  I caught it on video.  It's shaky, because I was terrified it'd fall right down on top of them ... or the barn ... or somehow a piece of it would fly off and hit us in the field.  Almost an entire time zone away.

But, it fell perfectly in the right direction.

Giving me a story I still like to tell seven years later.  If it had a different ending, it wouldn't be near as much fun.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pay up

When I became an adult, my dad taught me how to do my taxes.  In the beginning, it didn't take long, and I kind of enjoyed it.

Then, one year I moved to a different state and was working for myself.  It required more paperwork, but it was fine.

Then I got married and worked in three states in one year.  It took me about three days to do our taxes that time.

I well remember my dad doing taxes when I was growing up.  He enjoyed doing them, and he was good at it.  Even while I was an adult, I called him for tax advice.

So when we came home to the farm, we ... hired an accountant!

Sometimes people ask me if I "do the books" for the farm, since a lot of spouses on farms do.  (Sort of a division of labor.)  I try not to laugh, because that is probably the last job I would ever volunteer to do.  Not that I'm horrible at math, (I do have a calculator), but I'm bad at making spreadsheets that anyone else understands.  They're clear to me, but probably the IRS would not see them the same way.

As a result, today Kris had a five-hour meeting with our accountant to do end-of-the-year tax things.  They meet once a year.  Kris keeps meticulous records and gives him both paper and online information.  They discuss it and we pay him to do the work. 

Kris scheduled this meeting a really long time ago, but today was a fantastic day for it!  Today was the wind chill of -26 with a thermometer reading of -9.  It got up to 4 degrees at one point.

This morning when Kris went to feed the cows at 6:00 a.m., the tractor wouldn't work.  It would run for five seconds, then stop when the fuel gelled.  He did that about ten times and gave up.  He got the space heater and put it against the fuel filters.  After he warmed it up for 20 minutes, it started and stayed going. 

The little amount of feeding he could do before he had to leave for his meeting, he had to do at low idle.  The tractor wouldn't rev up.  As a result, feeding took a lot longer than normal.

Also, something I never thought about.  We can't push manure into the lagoon anymore.  Manure is usually mostly liquid and it just slides down the angle into the bottom.  But!  When it's all frozen, it doesn't slide down the wall.  It just builds up on the wall, so you can't push any more in.  The guys were making piles on the cement and planned on putting it in the manure spreader.  However, since the manure spreader was frozen, the chain broke.  The guys spent the rest of the day fixing that.

In comparison, it almost makes paying taxes look better.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Answering questions

I went to Farm Bureau's Voice of Agriculture conference to be on a panel on social media.  Another speaker and I talked about why and how we communicate about farming online.  The actual name - which was attention-catching thanks to Jill Corrin - was 'A Social Media Tell-All.'  (Intriguing, right?!)

Most of the people who attended weren't yet doing social media work with agriculture, so it was interesting talking to them and answering their questions. 

After the technical aspects of it, I also focused on the why of it - that many people don't have an agricultural connection in their personal lives, so you can be the person to answer questions.  (Keep the questions coming!)

On the way out I saw they had a snack room, where they were offering warm pretzels, which are one of my favorites.  I asked a friend to take a picture of me with it, and she thought it was kind of funny. 

She doesn't know that I love them so much that I have not one, not two, but three pretzel Christmas ornaments at home.  That's how much I love them and how much people know that I love them.  They're all gifts, I adore them, and I put every one of them on our tree.

If you have questions about pretzels, I'm also the person you can ask.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Made in Michigan

Every Thursday the Lansing State Journal publishes a Michigander section.  This week I'm telling about how we got our start as dairy farmers.  We really do love living here in Michigan! 

This is what I said:

After college, my husband, Kris, and I worked in the corporate world. We liked everything about it: We lived in Illinois, North Carolina, and Connecticut; we traveled frequently; and outside of work, we had little responsibility. We didn’t see any reason to change anything.

Then, back in Michigan, my dad decided to retire from dairy farming. And Kris suggested we buy my parents’ farm.

Even though Kris was also from a farm, it never occurred to me he might want to someday own one. We dressed up for work! He had a company car! We visited a different city every weekend!

But ... we quit our jobs, left Connecticut, and moved to the same place my great-great-great grandparents started farming in 1879.

Six years later, we now live in the 134-year old house where my great-grandma was born. We’re renovating the barn my great-grandpa built, where he used to milk cows by hand. We pasture our cattle on the same fields as my ancestors. We milk our cows next to the same creek where my family used to get water to wash its clothes.

We added three sons to the mix, and we’re relishing living here.

Michigan gives us an opportunity we couldn’t get anywhere else. It’s difficult to start a farm from scratch. Here, not only were we able to take over the family business, but our eyes were opened to why people keep coming back.

Dressing up for work? Nah. But every day is take-your-son-to-work day. Company car? No, but it is great riding around in tractors. Different city every weekend? Yes. That’s the same. Even though we grew up here, we’d never been on the long, quiet beaches in Ludington. We’d never before taken a horse-drawn sleigh to see elk at Thunder Bay. We’d never visited any winery in Traverse City. We hadn’t seen how blue Lake Huron can be. We hadn’t even hiked The Ledges in Grand Ledge! Old Town Lansing and all the festivals? Completely new to us!

It’s easy to understand why my family keeps living here. The weather and soil are great for dairy farming — but that’s only part of it. The job brings you here, but the excitement keeps you here. We’re forever discovering new surprises in our own state, our own township, our own backyard.

But really, I shouldn’t be surprised by any of it. Loving Michigan is obviously in my blood.
The article is online here.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Homemade snow ice cream, anyone ... or everyone?

We recently had a huge snowstorm and the kids had an extra three days off of school. 

On Facebook, I saw videos where some friends were throwing boiling water outside and watching it turn to snow in midair.  What fun - and I couldn't believe I hadn't heard of that yet.  We did it (many times) and had a blast.

Also, my friend Jordan posted about making snow ice cream.  It seemed so easy ... you just had to mix:

4-5 cups of snow
1 cup of milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Again, I couldn't believe I'd never heard of it.  Soon everyone country-wide was posting about making and eating it.

First, the boiling water, and then this?!  Sledding, ice skating, snowshoeing - these are all wintery things I enjoy.  Was it possible there were more?  We'd see how it'd turn out.

I went out in the blustery, freezing cold and the kids watched me scoop five cups of snow into a bowl.  It was powdery, almost like sand.

We went inside and they helped me add the other three ingredients.  We stirred a couple of times.  They also put sprinkles on top.

Now for the real test!  The taste.

My whole life, our church has had a yearly homemade ice cream event.  When I was young, I remember making it with my family and it seemed like it took forever.  But it was worth it, because I love, love, love homemade ice cream. 

And making this?  Immediate gratification, because it tasted just like the homemade ice cream from the past!  The boys loved it too.

My mom was there while we did it, and she'd never heard of making ice cream like this either.  She told her friends, and they hadn't heard of it either!  Maybe church should have their ice cream social only during snowstorms.

So, here in the cold, we're throwing boiling water in the air and eating the snow.  Who says winter is boring?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tired tires


Last month Kris and I were on the way to see an MSU basketball game.  Woo hoo!  We were excited.  But as soon as we pulled on to the highway ... our tire blew. 

Oh, how unfortunate, I thought.  We're going to be late.

It was 20 degrees, it was night, and it was dark.  Kris got out to change the tire in his not-warm-enough-for-this coat. 

The cars on the highway seem to be going really fast when you're inches from them!  But Kris had to pull even closer to the road in order to get on the pavement, or we wouldn't be able to use the jack.

(When I say 'we' I mean 'Kris.'  Beyond yelling words of encouragement, my participation in the 'we' part of the tire changing was minimal.)

As he worked on it, I began to get the idea we were only going to be able to see the second half.

He checked the spare - I looked too - and started putting it on.  We thought maybe if we drove home and went in another car we'd be able to make it.

He got it on and let down the jack.  We watched as it hissed flat.  The spare wasn't able to hold the weight of the car.  You can imagine how happy we were. 

I was pretty sure that now we definitely weren't going to the game.  I called a tow truck and it arrived in just five minutes.  (How unheard of is that?  He happened to be just down the road!)

We got towed home, watched the game on TV with our kids - we only missed five minutes of it - and sold that car as soon as possible.

So I'd call that tire incident number one. 

Just this week, a tire tractor went flat.  It's the tractor we use to spread manure.  We're currently looking for a used tire to replace it.

Yesterday, the skid steer tire was flat.  It needed a tube, which we got locally.

And, our chopper is getting fixed up for the season.  They called and it needs - YES!  New tires!  Again, we're looking for used tires, which apparently aren't available everywhere. 

Recently I told my friend Aimee that something had broken on the farm, and she said, "It seems like there's always something breaking.  It sounds exhausting."

I kind of laughed, because it's true.  Something is always breaking, because we have so many things to break!  Tractors, trucks, complex machinery, feeding machines, pumps, motors ... all of them like to take turns being broken.  Or sometimes they all break at once!

So, you just fix as you go and control what you can.  With new tires on everything we own ... we've got our pick of vehicles.  Even if we have to drive the chopper, we're not going to miss another MSU game.

Monday, January 6, 2014


Everything was cancelled or closed today.  MSU was closed for the fifth time in history.  Regular offices, my dentist, my doctor, the library, the city of Lansing, every single school ... that's how much snow we have. 

It looks like we got over a foot, and it blew hard all day, making driving difficult.  The plows just can't get everywhere, and even when they plow, the roads just keep drifting over.

When we were driving home last night from getting our kids, the highway was fine, but our road had only one track.  If we went off the track, we'd get stuck.  The snow was hitting the bottom of our vehicle in the middle.  Kris wondered aloud, "What am I going to do if someone comes in the opposite direction?" because there was NO WAY we could move over.  But luckily, for the 7 miles we were on it, no one did!  Thanks for staying home, everyone!

For Kris, it means a lot more of plowing snow.  He spends a long time in the morning pushing snow so that the feed truck and the milk truck can get here.  Plus, he needs to be able to get around to feed the cows.

The snow is so deep - deeper than I remember seeing in a LONG time - that Kris drove the high school milkers to work and back.  They usually ride together in a car, and a car wouldn't make it down their unplowed roads.  So Kris picked them up and drove them home.  He said they encountered a truck stuck on one of the guy's roads, and Kris also almost got stuck, but - an uneventful day, all around.  Power is on, vehicles are moving, cows are fed ... and we're all looking forward to the 40 degrees forecasted for this weekend!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Yep, it's winter

We got about 6 inches of snow last night, and the (excitable) weather people are forecasting 8-10 inches more.  We have to drive an hour from here today, and needless to say, it's going to be slow going.

My friend Emily Jenkins posted this picture of the produce section at Meijer last night:

So people are getting prepared to be snowed in for a few days. 
Meanwhile, on the farm ... business as usual, except that massive amounts of snow and bitter cold makes every thing a little slower.  First of all, you have to plow everywhere.  You have to plow your barn driveways where you're going to drive your tractors.  Then, so the milk truck can make it to your barn, you have to plow your road.  The road commission simply can't plow everywhere before everyone's milk truck comes.  (We don't live on a main road.)  Thankfully most farmers have our own equipment. 
Second, machinery loves to freeze.  There's the matter of tractors and equipment starting in the morning after being shut off all night, and sometimes parts even freeze on the milking equipment.
Third, the people and animals get cold.  I know I move slower when it's cold.  I'm glad our cows have a nice, new barn to stay in.
It takes a lot of work to keep the grocery stores stocked, no matter what food you're selling.  So whether you're in sun or in snow, happy eating today!  I hope you got to the store before this comedian did ...