Steak Out

The past couple weeks have been a whirlwind of farm indoctrination experiences for Mr. Farmer.

Before the perpetual mist settled on central Kansas, he mastered the art of tractor-driving on grain cart duty in the soybean field.

Then it got cold. And started raining.

Though the farm work has been on hold now for over a week, we’ve had the delightful experience of getting up each morning, hopping in the pick-up for the half-mile drive to Mom and Dad’s, and joking with them and my brother over coffee and 3 square meals over the course of the day.

Yesterday around noon, my brother came in the back door, poked his head in the kitchen and said to Mom, “Call the neighbors, some calves are out by our milo field heading east.”

As my grandma used to say, the worst call you can get is the one telling you the cows are out. Depending on how many escape the confines of the fence, it can take days to get them all gathered back up. Mom said once the cows got out and it took a week to find them all.

So Mom called the neighbors, and no one claimed the lost souls.

At that point Mr. Farmer and I went to town to run last minute errands for our big trip. When we got back home at dusk, it appeared that Dad had just learned of the drama. And he knew exactly who they belonged to. So he called the owner, who was headed home after a full day’s work in town. By that time the 40 calves had made their way north, milling in the milo field about a half mile south of the farmstead.

Concerned that his milo (and ultimately the yard) would get trampled, Dad rounded up a few neighbors to help drive the herd up the road, around the corner and another quarter mile down to our feedlot, where they could be penned up for the night.  Mr. Farmer and I were the designated blockers, and we were dispatched to sit on the bridge just past the feedlot in our pick-up to keep them from going too far.

In case you’ve never experienced it, when it gets dark here on a cloudy day, it’s completely dark. Like “can’t see your hands” dark. We managed to get ourselves in the truck and make the half-mile drive and get turned around in position. With only our parking lights on, we sat in the dark looking up the road at Dad’s headlights facing us from afar. And waited for the herd to come.

After 30 seconds of incomprehensible Morse code in headlight form from Dad, I got impatient and called him, “Where’re they at?” He reported that they were out in the herd owner’s field a mile away, and our Cow Whisperer neighbor was on his ATV attempting to bring them back to the road. Then he said, “I just saw a mountain lion…oh wait, they’re calling me,” and hung up.

Great. Here we are sitting in the dark, and a cat is on the loose too. (He was kidding.)

Pretty soon we saw lights from two pick-ups heading from the crossroad to our intersection, and we knew the calves were on their way. From that distance we could barely make out the herd – occasionally we’d see some moving legs in the fog of the low beams, but that was about it.

Then they rounded the corner. They were running. Right at us. Mr. Farmer feared for his life, though they were still a quarter mile away.  

It was truly a photo-worthy sight. Running legs, bobbing heads, clouds of breath all shrouded in dark mist, lit from the back with four pick-up light beams.

“What do I do?” asked Farmer from the ditch on the other side of the pick-up.

“Just spread your arms out and act like you’re trying to scare away a bear,” I said.

I can’t say I’m a seasoned cattlewoman by any means, but I’ve done this duty enough times to know that they’re pretty scared of people. Even so, when the herd was still running and they were approaching spitting distance (25 yards), I was glad to see the 4-wheeler come whizzing around to cut them off.

“Hi, nice to meet you,” Mr. Farmer said to our next-door-neighbor-ATV-driver. Then we edged forward, hoping that the softness beneath our feet was muddy road and not a poopy patty.

The calves had stopped, and after a minute they turned around to take off the other way. But by that time we had them trapped between the lot, the pasture fence on the other side of the road, and the human/pick-up fence opposite us. Pretty soon one found the opening to the lot, and the rest filed in behind.

The troops gathered at the gate to debrief and shoot the bull. No better way than a good cattle drive for Mr. Farmer to get to know the natives.

In the end, it was a successful steak out. Less than 30 minutes start to finish. And Mom’s yard escaped unscathed.

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Feeling strange

For the past two days, I’ve been laid up. Seriously slept more than I was awake. Which is no surprise to my family — apparently I do this every time I “come home”. I think the past two weeks of insanity finally caught up with me, and my body just said, “NO!”

Today I’m feeling somewhat back to normal, though the strangeness continues around me:

1. Mr. Farmer is wearing suspenders

2. Obama won the Nobel Prize

3. I’m living in the house I grew up in. (Not sure I’ll EVER get over that one!)

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Conquering Mt. Quandary

As if packing up my office, packing up my house, driving 750 miles to Kansas, and driving 540 miles to Breckenridge weren’t enough in the past 10 days, I decided to climb a mountain yesterday. And not just a little guy with a nice view. We climbed Mt. Quandary, elevation 14,235.

For a little background, I’m spending the weekend in a 6-bedroom house south of Breckenridge with my two Colorado cousins and their 12 other friends. They’ve been doing this annual girls’ weekend for 7 years, and this is my fourth outing with them. In the past we’ve enjoyed 1-2 hour hikes out our back door, mainly through wooded areas and not very steep. And in fact I’ve come to like hiking quite a bit through these outings.

But let’s face it. Those were sissy walks in comparison to what we did yesterday.

Fortunately Mr. Farmer and I have been accumulating gear for the 4-day Milford Track hike in New Zealand, so I was dressed appropriately for the climb. It was in the 30s when we commenced, and we knew it was going to be in the 20s and windy at the summit. So thanks to Mr. Farmer’s keen hiking experience and superb outfitting skills, I had my Keen hiking boots, wool socks, a windbreaker with a fleece zip-in liner and hood, and a backpack with a load of water. And a lot of layers under that.

Our party of four (my two cousins and a friend of theirs) arrived at the trailhead at 10:45 (less than a 10-minute drive from our abode), put ourselves together, and hit the trail at 10:55.

(I don’t have a way to post pics yet, so check out another person’s photo account of the hike in a much warmer time of year by CLICKING HERE.)

Two guys in their 30s were starting out at the same time, and upon looking at the entry into the trail going up into the trees, one said, “I thought this was supposed to be a beginner one [14’er]”. Ha! Boy was he in for a surprise, as was I. Quite honestly, my heart was racing after the first 10 minutes, and though I was aware that the ascent was probably going to take four hours, it didn’t quite register. In retrospect, that part was a piece of cake.

After about an hour and a half we were above the tree line, and the misery was just about to begin. Steep loose rock, ice, wind. I didn’t freeze to death, by any means. But at times I couldn’t feel my fingers. I had to sit down about every 100 feet.

After two and a half hours we reached a flatter ridge that led us to the final ascent. The ridge was OK. But about 100 yards up the final leg, I said aloud, “This is freaking bananas.” And I repeated that phrase every 20 feet for the next 200 yards. Then my tune changed to “I don’t have to do this. I can just sit down.”

Just as I opened my mouth to say, “Uncle!” I heard voices from above yell, “COUSIN!” and I got off my bum and started up again. I somehow convinced myself that it would be a shame to come this far and not see the summit. (Meanwhile my cousins — aka mountain goats — seemed to be taking the whole thing in stride.)

At 3:15 we got to the icy, windy, tippy top of Mt. Quandary. The two guys we saw at the trailhead had passed us (but not by much), and they were up there to take pictures of us as we looked around at the AMAZING view. Truly stunning. Completely unobstructed views for 50-100 miles at the mountains all around, even out to the plains. We were on top of the world.

We only stayed about 5 minutes; the wind was brutal. I was the first to head out, and for me, the most enjoyable part of the hike was the first 30 minutes down. Finally I wasn’t panting, and though it was pretty treacherous negotiating the rocks and ice, it wasn’t the nightmare of the previous hour and a half.

I only had to stop a few times on the way down. We sat down for about 10 minutes for a snack, then I paused a few times to recover a little. What a relief to finally hit the tree line!

We arrived at the trailhead at 6:00 on the nose. 7 hours, 5 minutes after we set out. The sun was starting to slip behind the mountains, so we were glad we it didn’t take us longer. Our two vehicles were the last ones left in the lot.

When we arrived back at the house, the group was merrily cooking dinner and having cocktails. I said hello then headed down to my cave and flopped on the bed, unable to move. That hike kicked my butt. Finally around 8:30 I started to feel better.

Today I feel great! I’m sure the soreness will hit me in full force tomorrow, but for now I’m sitting in my cushy swivel rocker, drinking a cup of coffee and staring out the window at the peak I conquered yesterday. It’s truly a great sense of accomplishment. It’s the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever one. (And I will NEVER do it again.)

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Home Sweet Home

After 740 miles, 15 hours of driving, 3 coffees, 4 diet cokes, 2 Balance bars and one night at a Country Inn and Suites, we are finally at home in the house my great-great-grandfather built. I giggled to myself most of the way about how I managed to lure Mr. Farmer to live in this historic house, sight unseen. (He just told me that he’s laughing on the inside about living in a Norman Rockwell painting, so I think our marriage will survive.)

Fortunately the journey was uneventful once we got underway. I thought the packing job was never going to end, and it was a good thing we hired guys to load our 26-foot U-Haul. It’s also a good thing our friend Glenn and his buddy accompanied us on the trip with their big pick-up pulling another box trailer (also packed to the brim). Otherwise we would’ve found ourselves back at U-Haul for another trailer.

To be clear, 80% of the stuff is Mr. Farmer’s. He’d lived in his house for 11 years and owns a complete set of equipment for every hobby and home improvement project known to man. Which makes him endlessly attractive, but a little expensive when it comes to moving. (And all this is after 7 trips to goodwill and completely filling a dumpster!)

We finally got away from the Chicago suburbs around 3:15, under cloudy skies and the threat of rain. The winds nearly did the U-Haul in, especially given that it was at least 5 inches lower on the right side from uneven weight distribution. I, on the other hand, had the cushy job of driving the Tacoma.

It’s really too bad that I learned the best way to lure a dude now that I’m married. Simply drive around a pick-up towing a boat. I’ve never gotten so much attention. And they all seemed to think I was really going fishing. The first comment was always from the guy at the next pump: “Gee, I’d like to be fishing today.” Then the guys running in for a soda would add, “Wow, and she’s by herself!” The dudes buying chew at the register would top it off with, “How much does a boat like that set a guy back?”  The really clever ones asked, “She’ll really get points if she can back it.”

With that much driving time, I turned to my cell phone for entertainment. I called Mr. Farmer at least every 10 minutes, even though he was right in front of me. Usually it was to point out amazing landmarks, like the Wendy’s at BETO Junction.

Ma and Pa, bless their hearts, commissioned a new paint job for the barn and garage. (They seem to be slightly excited about the prospect of having us as neighbors.) As of last night, the Floridian kin of an Amish guy who dad knows had finished priming both buildings. PINK! Yes, according to Mom, they were a lovely shade of mauve.

I just about couldn’t take the excitement of the trick I was cooking up for Mr. Farmer. Of course it would depend on the painters not showing up today, which was highly unlikely, given they’re men of God.

But I laid the groundwork anyway this morning as we were brushing our teeth: “Oh yeah, Mom said they are painting the barn a different color.”

“Do you know what color it is?” he asked.

“I dunno, some shade of red, I assume.”

“I hope it’s not pink.”

Who ever heard of a pink barn? He must have ESP. I am very proud of my straight face.

Of course, by the time we got there, there was only a trace of pink. So I had to explain the story. He got a good laugh, but we didn’t get to have the totally funny conversation of me saying, “Oh no! You can’t tell mom and dad you hate it — it would offend them.” Then go to them and say, “What a great color” and go on and on in conversation with only him being out of the know.

Movers met us on this end, too, to help unload the truck. We have three excellent bedrooms upstairs in the house, but unfortnately none of our beds fit up the stairs. So I guess all our guests will have to sleep on air beds. At least there’s a spare room on the main floor for our very excellent king. I suppose I’ll avoid telling him the part about that room being used to watch dead bodies of my kin to keep the rats away before burial.

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The Travel Doc

When it became apparent that our trip would take us to places with weird tropical diseases, Mr. Farmer and I each made an appointment with a travel doctor to figure out what vaccinations and prescriptions we’d need to get. I opted to go to the travel clinic at Northwestern Memorial, since it’s close to my office, and I’d heard that they give great advice. Technically I would be seeing a travel nurse, not a doctor, but that’s neither here nor there.

My first appointment was a month ago, and they told me to eat a full breakfast before an hour before my appointment, then arrive 15 minutes early with my vaccination record and itinerary in hand. So I hopped on the early train, grabbed a bagel sandwich and decaf coffee at Dunkin Donuts in the train station, and set out for my medical adventure.

When they called my name, I was led by my middle-aged friendly (male) travel nurse into a typical exam room, atypically equipped with a desktop computer. He had my itinerary from when I made the appointment, so he already had a stack of maps showing the malaria risk in the countries we’d be visiting. We went over the route in detail, taking note of where we would be when. Interestingly some malaria drugs can’t be used in certain countries because there’s a resistance built-up. He prescribed me Malarone, which is a pill that you start taking two days before you enter the malaria zone and continue take until seven days after you leave it. And I didn’t know that malaria risk is only from dusk to dawn, unlike the risk for Dengue Fever and Japanese Encephalitis, both of which you catch through mosquito bites during the day. (There’s no vaccine for Dengue, and the one for Japanese Encephalitis apparently can have some nasty side effects, so unless there’s major risk, he didn’t recommend it.)

Next we went through my list of routine vaccinations to see if I was up to date. He wrote down that I’d need a polio booster (since I hadn’t had one since age 20 and we’ll be going to Africa, where polio still exists), a tetanus booster, and vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B (now given in the same shot). He asked if we’d be staying is hostels, and though the answer is technically no, I told him that we were planning a 4-day hike in New Zealand and would be staying in bunkhouses along the way. He thought it would be a good idea to get a meningitis shot since we’d be sleeping in the same room with people we don’t know.

Then we talked about Tanzania, which has both the risk for yellow fever and typhoid. With yellow fever, it’s not an issue of having the vaccine before getting into a country with a yellow fever risk, but rather an issue of getting into other countries after being in an at-risk country. For typhoid, he had two options for me – one was a shot that would last two years, and the other was a series of four live vaccine pills taken every other day, which would last five years. I opted for the second, just in case we decide to go nuts and move to Nairobi or something.

He also prescribed an antibiotic for diarrhea (which he assured me that I would no doubt get – it’s just a matter of time).
Finally, we talked about shots for both the flu and swine flu. He suggested shots for both, though we’ll have to find the H1N1 shot when we’re already travelling because it won’t be out before we depart.

All in all, I would need 7 shots. We opted to split it up, so that unlike Mr. Farmer who got 6 in one fell swoop, I’d get 3 that visit and 4 the next.

Shots aren’t my favorite thing, but in truth it wasn’t that bad. And the only side effect was exhaustion by 8:00 p.m.

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I stand corrected

1. “American Wife” is not written by a dude. Curtis Sittenfeld is a woman. Who knew?

2. “American Wife” is actually quite gripping. I’m actually excited about the 4+ hour ride home from Fort Wayne so that I can bury my nose in it. After reading 150 pages, I’m already excited about reading “Prep” by the same author.

It’s Sunday morning and I’m sitting in the 3rd floor lobby of Grandma Farmer’s retirement home typing on one of the two shared computers. The type on the screen is about 27 pt, which means I can only see one sentence at a time. Yes, I know I could change it, but that would be too much work.

Grandma has been knitting and crocheting up a storm, as usual. We now have THREE Christmas stockings for our future children, as well as a zoo of the cutest knitted animals ever. I really love them. Click here for an idea of what I’m talking about, but the patterns she has are even more scrumptious.

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Rediscovering the Library

Earlier this summer, Mr. Farmer and I stopped by the village library when out on one of our evening walks. We couldn’t believe the travel book section! Seriously, I think there are more travel books (and recent ones) than you find at Borders. So we checked out books for like eight countries.

Tonight I felt the need to get out and move around in the lovely weather, so we decided to take the Fiji and safari planner books back and trade them for the places we recently added to our itinerary: Hong Kong, Cairo and Bali.

While we were there, it occured to me that I can actually read books for FREE instead of paying $10 for each one on the Kindle! Shocking! I picked up The Lovely Bones, which is coming out as a movie. (I saw the trailer on Tuesday while at the theater for Julie & Julia.) I’ve been avoiding that book for years because I typically don’t like to read things that creep me out, and given that it’s told by a girl who is watching the aftermath of her murder from heaven, I figured it fit that bill. My friend Chris assures me it’s not going to give me nightmares, and though she’s an admitted true crime junkie, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.

I also checked out American Wife, which I’ve been eyeing since our honeymoon. (How fitting.) I’m slightly skeptical, since it’s written by a dude, and that dude wrote Prep. We’ll see.

For now I’ve set them all aside, however, to watch Project Runway and gather my crap for a weekend in Fort Wayne with Momma Farmer and Grandma Farmer.

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