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kansasfarmer's blog

December 2008 - Posts

  • The best time of the year.

    Without a doubt this is my favorite time of year, in spite of the dreadful cold we are having.  I am quite taken with the Christmas season.  As Ally posted, in our family we are quite aware it is about "the wee baby Jesus" and take that seriously, but also it is everything else that goes with it.  Mrs KF for the most part this year is making the plates of Christmas candy we give out,without my help, we have cut down on the number of plates this year, about 20 down from around 44 last year, it is more about the work than it is the financial  crisis, but the two have combined to shorten the list.  Our small town has done its best to put up its Christmas lights, we certainly cannot compete with New York or any other big city, but what we have adds to our small town charm.  My very favorite part of Christmas is the music.  Our radio stations start slipping a few Christmas songs in Thanksgiving day, and work more and more in right up to Christmas, I skip through three all day and one of them has started non stop Christmas music today(Monday) by Christmas Eve day that is all any of the three will play.  I like the old traditional favorites, as well as a few new ones.  I am not a great singer by any means, but the Christmas Eve service holds my attention for the most part because of the music.  We are able to catch a TV show or two about every evening with good Christmas music as well. 

     As we move toward New Years, I become more reflective over the previous year, its high and low points, and always wonder what the coming year will hold.  Life goes on, savor everyday, because you never know when your last one will be.

    For a uniquely American west Christmas song(maybe they play it in the UK too) go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDPiVlO5BFs  hope that is right, because I still can't edit.  If it is, once you have listened to it, go to the left and click on "Two Step Round the Christmas Tree" another catchy western Christmas tune. Merry Christmas from Brian and Amy to all the folks on FWi. 

  • I hate cold weather.

    I seem to be on a blogging frenzy of late.  I guess it helps me to put down my thoughts.  Not much to this blog, just a simple statement, I hate cold weather.  Sometimes, in the middle of the summer, when it is 105F or so, I hate hot weather more than the cold, but today, I am pretty certain I hate the cold more than the hot.  I am sure those readers up north don't have much sympathy for me, it gets alot colder in other places....to them I say, that is your problem, you live there!!!  I couldn't stand Canada in the winter, I am sure of that.  The 4F we have right now is cold enough for me.

    It isn't so much the effect of the cold on me, I can bundle up to the point I look like an arctic explorer.  It is the effect of the cold on everything else.  The constant fretting about whether or not the heat is on in the well house.  Hydraulics that take forever to warm up so you can do anything.  The certain knowledge that nothing that isn't plugged in is going to start.  You find all your weak things in this first cold snap, from weak batteries to weak cows.  The strings are frozen to the bales, that always gets me to cussing.  Little things like giving  a sick calf a shot are tougher, sometimes the antibiotic will freeze in the needle if you draw it out too long before you can use it. 

    Hay rings are froze down, plastic buckets break easily if you are rough with them.  Frozen cow pies will trip you if you are not careful, waterers freeze up if everything isn't drained properly.  Keeping the house warm requires lots of $$$, and even the dogs are miserable, we brought one into the house last night.  I wonder what land costs in Florida??

  • Watching things unravel.

    It is stressfull to be an American these days.  The speed at which our economy plummets to the earth has been surprising and unnerving.  Each newscast brings news of another round of layoffs, each day brings another set of dire predictions. 

    In farm country, where just 6 months ago there was all this bluster about marching into a brave new era where food production was going to be all important, we now look at our future with a great deal of anxiety.  Land prices have lost about 30% in our area, nearly overnight.  That first 30% I think we can absorb, because land went too high too fast, and I don't even think there was time for farmers to get that 30% up on their balance sheets.  Cash flows are tight too, because so many were counting on much higher grain and cattle prices.  There is no reason to think that prices for what we raise are headed up anytime soon, the falling price of oil keeps a lid on any biofuels rally in grain, dwindling incomes keep the demand for meat, especially beef, down.

    Even the folks that work the oil fields that dot our eastern Kansas landscape are blue.  6 months ago, the sky was the limit for oil.  Their input costs have risen just like ours....now oil dives toward earth...what happened to the $200 per barrel predictions?? 

    My grandparents outlooks on life were shaped by the Great Depression, with money they were conservative to a T.  They feared the stock market, now their children have seen their retirement funds evaporate in the stock market..hmmm, maybe Grandpa did know best?  Both my mother and Mrs. KFs mother have put their retirements on hold, as have many others, due to huge losses of their retirement funds. 

    The worst part of all this??  A general feeling we are just beginning.  I don't think any of the regular folks believe this will all end in the 2nd quarter of 2009 as is predicted by our government...after all, they just decided the recession actually began in December of 2007.

  • Legendary farm women.

    Reading herself's blogs has made me think about how behind every good man is a good woman, nowhere is that more true than out on the farm.  During my bluejacket FFA vo ag days, our ag instructor told us  that perhaps no decision would be more important for our success than who we married.  As I grow older I can see both the truth and wisdom in that statement...either you and your wife are partners in the effort of farming, or you are adversaries, if the wife/partner doesn't understand the unique nature of the farm, then generally you are in real trouble. 

    The sad part is there are alot of men who wouldn't begin to give their better halves the proper credit they are due.  In some cases it is because the man can't admit the woman is as hard a worker as he is, in others I honestly believe they just can't see it.  I  don't know about the UK, but in our wide ranging neighborhood I can think of at least 2 farm wives who were much harder workers than their husbands, and it is and was generally accepted by everyone but the husband they were the only reason the farm stayed afloat, indeed in one case the wife has died, and the effect on the farming is obvious, in another the couple was divorced, and now the farmer is selling off land because he spends his nights at the bar, and his days sleeping it off. 

    To be sure and give Mrs. KF her due respect, along with my mother, there are scores of farm women who may not work much on the farm, but their jobs off the farm sometimes "keep the lights on" during tough times.  Both my mother and my wife have excellent jobs, I can't speak for dad but I am grateful for the part my wife plays in keeping things running smoothly and the electric bill paid.  There is no doubt that during the dark days in the 80s my mothers job as director of nursing at a hospital brought in far more money than dads farming, and if not for her I expect there is a good chance we might not have been able to stay on the farm.  As the worry over our economy and farm prices increases, my wife reminds me I told her before we were married we may see times where she carries most or all of the household expenses, true to form Amy is willing and ready to face that challenge with her customary good humor and smile...indeed, my old ag teachers words ring in my ears, and I feel confident that I made a super choice in a partner on the farm. 

    Then, there are the woman who don't work off the farm, but are a vital part of the farm.  Whether it is milking cows, baling hay, taking lunch to late working harvest crews, or going for parts, I have known my fair share of women who could work just as hard as any man, and still manage to dress up and look good for Saturday night or church Sunday morning.  Before my time, a couple comes to mind, Cliff and Ella.  They had moved to Kansas from Oklahoma because a large government lake had flooded their farm. They bought the farm my parents now own, and while I barely remember Ella and don't recall Cliff at all, these neighbors are vivid memories for my father and uncle.  Cliff had a bad heart, so Ella bore the brunt of the hard work, both my dad and uncle are fond of quoting Cliffs lunchtime statement of "Ella, that tractor needs gas", a signal for Ella to fuel the tractor while Cliff ate lunch.  While many farm women are legendary for their cooking ability, Ella was legendary for her lack thereof.  We rarely drink hot tea in Kansas, but in the summer consume large quantities of iced tea.  My father as a teenager sometimes helped Cliff and Ella, one day my grandfather ended up there for lunch.  Dad had been dosed with some of Ella's cooking and in particular her nearly unpalatable iced tea, and waited gleefully for what was in store.  Grandpa was a very confident man, and when asked if he wanted sugar in his tea remarked, "the stronger the better".  According to dad, grandpa took one big swallow of the tea, turned slightly red, then said rather non-chalantly, "I believe today a little sugar might be a good idea". 

    Any ode to our local farm women would not be complete without mentioning our neighbor Bette.  She can go from cooking lunch, to packing silage, to teaching Bible school without so much as a sweat.  Not only that, she is about as nice a person as ever walked.  Comfortable doing everything from combining to working cattle, she also managed to raise 4 children, and is a professional "grandma".  One of my most enduring images of Bette will be her driving along the road during a big prairie fire handing out ice cold Pepsi to all those fighting the fire...and all the comments of "leave it to Bette to remember we needed something to drink".  Another will be the time she turned the tractor over on the pit.  For years I had been told not to pack without duals, then one year someone in the "crew" decided we didn't need to put duals on to pack.  Bette hit an air pocket and the tractor turned over, for many that would have been all the packing they wanted for the day, but Bette stood patiently until the tractor was righted, then climbed back on and went back to packing.

    My own grandmother also deserves mention as a "legendary farm woman".  Grandma didn't ever run equipment, but she was a top hand with the bucket calves and hauling folks to and from the fields, was able to make do during the Great Depression when she went from being a university student and beauty queen to being a farm wife with no electricity living at the end of a dirt road that was impassible when it rained.  She told a story that she knew the honeymoon was over one Saturday afternoon when it rained while she and grandpa were in town.  They made it half way down the lane before the car got stuck in the thick mud.  My great grandparents lived at the opposite end of the lane, and my great grandfather was out in the middle of the road yelling at my grandfather to get a horse for grandma to ride so she wouldn't have to walk in the mud.....Grandpa growled under his breath "you can walk in the mud just as well as I can".  Lest you get the wrong idea, I was always impressed with the fact my grandparents were such great friends, and right up to the end enjoyed each others company for their 68 year long marriage.  Thinking of them leads me to end the blog with a bit about their lifelong friends, Fred and Hazel, a farm couple of the same age that lived a mile and a half away, perhaps my grandparents best friends.   All up and down the valley it was known that Hazel was a cook of legendary ability, stories were told of her feeds put on during haying and filling silo, and everyone knew you were lucky to eat at a table laden with Hazels food.....everyone but Fred. 

    Judging by Fred's overall roundness(in later years I always felt he bore a remarkable resemblance in some ways to Jabba the Hut of Star Wars fame, with a much friendlier face) he enjoyed at least part of what Hazel cooked.  Grandma told of an evening when they went to the home of Fred and Hazel for supper, after Fred took his first bite of steak he growled, "it takes me all year to raise this steak, it only takes you 10 minutes to ruin it".  Hazel didn't comment, and ate her supper visiting as usual.  The next time my grandfolks went to Fred and Hazels to eat, when Hazel delivered the steaks, Freds was put before him uncooked, with the rather icy comment, "since you are so damned smart, cook it yourself".  I think Fred got the message.

    In one of the James Herriot books the author recalls calling on a farmer who had just lost his wife, with a tear in his eye he said something like "by Gawd, that woman could work"..  My message for all the guys out there with good women at their sides, don't be afraid to give them their share of the credit.  It would be a shame for them never to know you appreciate them.

     

  • Pulling together.

    There seems to be no middle ground when it comes to opinions of life in a small town, either you love it or hate it.  I wouldn't leave here for all the money in the world permanently, although winning the lotto would lead me to cruise the road from Angus to Nottinghamshire a little more often, with side trips to Somerset and a few other places to pay visits to some forum posters.  My dads sister on the other hand once referred to our small community as "the armpit of the world" due to our lack of culture. 

    Nothing moves me like seeing how our small town and the surrounding community of farmers will pull together to help those in need, everyone will put aside their differences and pitch in.  I have seen this all my life, but only in the last 10 years have I really grown to appreciate it.  Be it a house burning down or a serious illness or accident, people come out of the wood work to lend a hand, I have seen everything from the community raising $100000 to aid with a bone marrow transplant to neighbors getting together to plant and harvest two different years for a man who was too ill to do it himself. 

    Once again we are faced with the prospect of one of our own falling ill and needing help.  The owner of our local "pub" as you would call it has had a myriad of health problems attack all at once, from Lyme disease to Leukemia.  The bills are mounting for he and his wife.  I can always be counted on to donate a hog for a fundraising hog roast, I justify that in my mind by thinking and hoping that should I find myself in that position, others would do the same for me, not to mention of course it is the Christian thing to do.  400 pounds of meat will be cooked Saturday by the fellow who owns our phone company and the community will gather to throw some dollars in the hat to help one of our own.  Shows the true spirit of America I think, one the BBC rarely shows, an America just as foreign to New York city as it is to London. 

    So, when you read on blogs, or watch something on the BBC about the excess of America, how we are self centered and care for no one but ourselves, think of a tiny community nestled in the eastern edge of the Kansas Flinthills where the 1200 or so people do care about each other when the chips are down, and will be dining on smoked pork Saturday evening and singing Karaoke( progressively worse as the beer gets downed I should think) while we raise money for someone we care about, certainly not the most sophisticated or cultured gathering, but in my opinion some of the very best people in the world.  Even God has lent a hand today,as the snow I feared has not materialized, making the hauling of the hog to the butcher much safer and less stressful. 

  • Deer season starts Wednesday.

    I reckon the first day of deer season would alarm many Brits if they happened to be passing through Kansas Wednesday.  The sight of so many heavily armed people, (right down to juveniles) to people from a country where most police don't carry weapons might be intimidating.  The next 10 days won't be a good day to rob any small town banks either, as about half the population will have loaded .243 and 30.06 rifles in their vehicles, the perpetrators wouldn't make it far. 

    I do not hunt, I have leased a substantial portion of the families property to 6 hunters from Louisiana and Mississippi to hunt.  My farmyard looks like we are preparing to invade a small nation, as there are trailers with deer blinds and stands, 4 wheelers, and even a camo painted Japanese mini-pickup. 

    Deer season is always stressful, because not everyone hunting really is smart enough to be lugging a high powered rifle around.  Typically, I try not to walk too far away from my pickup, and don't venture out very early or very near to dark.  Since we are overrun with deer, hunting season is a necessary evil, but I will be so glad when it is over.

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