Thursday, March 28, 2013

weak coffee

Have you ever had really weak coffee?

I'm not talking about the light roast or anything like that. Though we drink mostly bold, dark roast in our house, a few of my favorite k-cups are light roast flavors. No, I mean the stuff that's really weak--so watered down that it looks more like tea than that heavenly beverage (that I'll be drinking once again on Easter--you don't know how excited I am for that small joy!).

It's not really good for anything. The smell is barely there, the caffeine is non-existent. You don't get that happy, relaxed feeling after you take that first sip (can you tell I've missed my daily cup?). It becomes so weak that it is useless.

There are a lot of crazy things going on in our world right now that I'm not going to get into, a lot of controversies I'm choosing to back away from. Those who truly know me know where I stand on all of them, and for the moment I'm okay with letting it go at that.

One thing I'm increasingly bothered by, though, is how watered down Christianity is becoming to so many people. What people once held as convictions are being pushed aside because those ideals might make somebody else uncomfortable. It seems people are trying to turn Christianity into a pretty package tied up with a bow, something nice and comfortable. They are painting a picture of God as being that grandfatherly type, sitting in Heaven and patting us on the head, telling us it's okay to do what we want as long as it makes us happy and nobody else gets hurt in the process.

If you have kids, you know what I mean--unless it's just my kids that get spoiled when they go stay with their grandparents!

If it isn't the Grandfather they're pushing, it's the genie in a bottle who will jump out and fulfill every request as long as we rub the bottle the right way and say the magic words when we ask.

Biblical truths and principles are being pushed aside or totally ignored, God's message to us called "outdated" or written for a "different time." I even saw a statement on facebook the other day that said we shouldn't be ruled by regulations from such an old tome.

People still quote verses, but most of the time they are the happy verses that give the impression that as Christians we should accept any actions because we are called to love one another. Yes, I fully believe God tells us--even commands us--to love, but I don't believe that means we are supposed to condone actions that go against His truth.

Jesus loved everyone when He walked on this earth. When He entered the temple, I don't doubt that He loved everyone He saw there--but that didn't stop Him from making a whip and driving the money changers and those selling sheep and oxen out of the temple when they were corrupting the house of God. Yes, He loved the people, but He did not weaken the message He was here to spread by condoning their actions.

Just like weak coffee isn't good for anything, weakened Christianity is useless, too. Yeah, I know that sound harsh and may raise some hackles, but I'll stand by what I've written. When we water down God's word so nobody is offended, or focus on the verses that make us happy but avoid the ones that make us uncomfortable, we dilute the Word to the point of uselessness.

Christianity isn't supposed to be a comfortable thing. Denying yourself daily and taking up the cross to follow Christ is not something that screams happy go-lucky. We are told in Matthew that the way that leads to God's kingdom is a narrow gate and a hard road to follow, yet so often we're painting a picture of a smooth path.

Let's stop watering down the message and get back to the real thing--the full bodied, rich, good stuff that can actually make a difference.

I pray we can all be strong enough to once again cling to the Truth--and not be afraid to admit that we stand alongside the ideals laid out for us by the Only One whose opinion of us really matters.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

keep it together...

That's always been me, for as long as I can remember (well, as long as you ignore those strange years of tears and tantrums...but hey, that's a teenage girl for you!)--the one who strives to keep everything under control, everything together.

I'm not a big fan of chaos, though you couldn't tell that by looking at the state of my house. I like--no, I'm desperate--to have everything fit nicely into place, just the way I think it should be. I'm a big fan of having all my ducks in a row, so to speak. I've had a "5 Year Plan" every year probably since I was old enough to know how long 5 years is...with some 10 and 20 Year Plans thrown in for good measure.

The thing is, my life has this funny way of refusing to go according to my plan. Really. Start reading some of these posts if you need proof!

Do you know what that does to someone who's a bit of a control freak like me? I can tell you, it's not a pretty picture. I start getting stressed out, and when I get stressed it seems like everything is falling apart: 
the fact that I don't have at least three things on the dinner plate for my kids is the end of the world...
the pile of laundry constantly growing seems as insurmountable as Mt. Everest...
the toys that I just put back in the kids' bedroom reappear in the living room maybe 5 minutes later, and my temper flares...
the physics homework I'm supposed to be doing? I stare at a jumble of letters, numbers, and Greek symbols for a while without it making any sense...
the commercials that lead to a constant stream of, "I want that!" drive me insane...
the chocolate milk that was just begged for is now refused because the cup is wet from being rinsed, and I feel like screaming...

Everything piles up, everything gets more out of control, everything pushes in on me
until I can't breathe
or see straight
and suddenly there's nothing I want to do but lock myself away from everything for a while, to ignore the demands on my time and just pretend like I'm neither mom nor physics student...

I fall on my face beside my bed, the sound of a cartoon drifting down from the living room where my kids are watching and playing with no clue that I'm in my room with every part of my brain screaming, "I QUIT!"

Then, as I rant and cry (though the words are whispered--I wouldn't want the kids to realize that mommy has lost it completely), four tiny little words slip out:


And in that moment, the sounds of the cartoons fade away. Those four words turn into a mantra of sorts, slipping out on each breath.

And then the answer came. Not in words I could hear (I've never been one to hear God's spoken voice in answer, though I agree with Raiden's sentiment that it would definitely make things easier for me to understand), but in a stirring deep in my heart.

Let Me. I can.

His four words, so full of peace compared with my four so full of desperation. Such a simple answer for what I was trying to make such a complicated problem. No, I can't--but He can.

"But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." (2 Corinthians 12:9)

This is a hard concept for me. Ask anybody who knows me--I'm a big fan of doing things myself and have been since I was little. I've always tried to be strong, tried to do things on my own. I really don't like asking for help.

But here is God, telling me that His power is made perfect in my weakness, telling me to let go of all the things I can't control, all the things that are seeming like too much, and just let Him.

..."For when I am weak, then I am strong."  
(v. 10b)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

more lessons from the dairy

My last post was getting a bit long, so here's part 2 of lessons from the dairy :0)

A) Competition can bring out traits you never knew existed--and what works for one may not work for another!
~When my parents bought the farm (wow, that comes across a bit strange--maybe I should say "purchased"...), a Border Collie came with it. His name was Jimbo, and he was incredibly timid--so much so that he was sharing his doghouse with a litter of kittens when we moved in. Border Collies are great herding dogs to be sure, but Jimbo didn't know us and he seemed unsure of himself around the cows.
     On the other hand, we brought with us a Great Dane & German Shepherd mix named Duke. He was a huge black dog with more energy than he knew what to do with and a major chocolate addiction. His tongue was huge, and when he ran it flew out of the side of his mouth, waving like a flag, causing him to run crooked to compensate.
     Duke thought the cows looked like great fun. Until we moved to the farm, his playmates were all cats. These cows seemed like much more fun, especially the babies that were all about his size. That thought got him into trouble a few times: once he ran across the pasture chasing a calf, trying to play. You know how I mentioned that Holsteins have big personalities and really love their babies? Well, we saw both traits that day--Duke ran one direction across the pasture after the calf, then the next thing we saw was him running the other direction with an entire dairy herd on his tail.
     Duke was definitely not a herder by nature, though he obviously wanted to be. He would get behind the herd and bark to move them, which worked for a little while. It seemed like before long the Holsteins realized he was all talk, though, and his barks stopped working.
     Meanwhile, timid Jimbo decided he wasn't letting this newcomer take over his job and he began working the cows again. Border Collies are crazy quick, and their favorite way to move cows is by nipping at their heels then darting out of the way before one of those big hooves makes contact. Duke, always a quick study, saw that Jimbo's method worked a lot better than barking and immediately tried to copy it. The problem was, Duke wasn't quite quick enough. Biting heels worked a time or two on the more timid cows that didn't feel like fighting back, but the first cow who kicked at him caught Duke square between the eyes. Talk about learning the hard way!
     After that, though, Duke figured out that he could nip at the back of their knees and get the reaction he wanted from the herd. Jimbo seemed to thrive from the competition he got from Duke, and Pop ended up with a couple of pretty good cow dogs--though one of them was a bit unconventional in his methods!

B) You can get quite a tan from the seat of a tractor.
~A few times, the task of brush hogging fell to me. Think of it like mowing, except you're driving a tractor that looks something like this:
     It isn't the most comfortable seat, but after a while you get into a rhythm and the bouncing gets a little less jarring and, believe it or not, it actually became a peaceful place for me. The noise of the tractor would become white noise and it would be a great place to think.
     Also, at 16 and 17 years old I was a big fan of the browned skin I ended up with as a result of a couple hours on the tractor! Shorts, swimsuit top, and flipflops was usually my brush hogging uniform.

C) Calves are crazy!
~One of my main jobs was feeding calves. These are some of the sweetest babies ever, and I will probably always think Holsteins are the prettiest cows on earth. However, these adorable little babies are also some of the craziest things you'll ever see--especially when they see a bottle!
     Our bottle babies wore dog collars, and spread throughout the calf barn were a lot of chains. We also had bottle holders, because it would be absolutely impossible to feed so many calves without them. The idea was that we would hook each baby's collar to a chain, hang a bottle in front of each one, then wait while they all calmly finished their milk. Here's what usually happened, though:

We fill bottles them load them into buckets to carry down to the calf barn. Calves recognize said buckets and storm the gate, shoving each other out of the way to try to be the closest to the buckets. We open the gate as wide as we want and don't really even have to worry about chaining it closed behind us because there's no way any of these babies are running away from the milk bottles! Multiple black, white, and pink noses are shoved into the buckets, searching for and often pulling off the nipple tops. Then, one bottle is pulled from the bucket and stuck in a holder--and at least four mouths are trying to suck on it, usually finding a finger or shirt in the process. By the time one baby has gotten set up with a bottle, the chain clipped to her collar, at least one nipple top has been pulled off of a bottle. If you're lucky, the bottle is still in the bucket instead of pouring out all over the ground. Once all the babies have bottles, there is always at least one who has finished and manages to just reach the bottle next to it, stealing it away from the slightly more timid calf. That or one baby is sucking on the milk covered chin or ear of another, which isn't too bad in the summer time but gets a bit dangerous in the dead of winter.
     After the milk, the babies got grain poured out for them in a couple of low feeders. We had one calf we called Bo Peep because she looked surprisingly like a sheep--she was short and a bit squat, and she had a hard time stretching her neck over the side of the feeder. She came up with a solution, though: instead of standing beside the feeder, she would just climb in and lay down to eat.
Crazy, I tell you!

D) A pile of hay and a yellow dog make a wonderful bed.
~Hay is surprisingly warm. I remember one day being out with Pop in the winter. It must have been during Christmas break or something, because I had helped Pop milk and was waiting for him to finish putting out hay for the dry herd.
     My dog--the first one who actually belonged to just me, a present from my brother and his wife while on their honeymoon--was with me, and we were done with our work and just waiting for a ride back to the house. The remnants of a hay bale lay by the gate, so I climbed over and Teddy crawled under the gate and we lay down in the hay to wait. I snuggled down into the hay and Teddy curled up beside me, his head on my chest so he could make sure I wouldn't forget to pet him. I was cozy enough to close my eyes and half nap until the tractor got louder and was close enough for me to open the gate for Pop so we could head back to the house.

E) You get used to bossing around 1,300 pound animals quicker than you would think.
~I remember the first time I was in the holding pen with our dairy herd, having been given the task of pushing them forward into a barn they didn't know. I had no idea what I was doing, and had even less of a clue as to how a 120-pound girl was going to manage to get something 10 times her weight to go somewhere she didn't want to go.
     My first attempts were timid, and probably would have been comical to anyone who knew anything about Holsteins. I would gently poke hips or try to talk them into moving forward with a quiet voice because I was unsure of myself. Once I started pushing on them a bit harder, one girl I was just walking past decided to remind me who was bigger and kicked out beside her to kick me in the side on the knee.
     I can tell you when my attitude towards them changed, though. I was standing with one foot propped up on the bottom board of the fence, the holding pen mostly emptied. We were almost done milking, probably for one of the very first times. One of the cows that was left started walking toward me, and for a minute I froze--I had no idea what to do. She came up to me and lowered her head, and I tightened my grip on the fence so I could climb quickly. Her next move, though, showed me all I needed to know about those big, beautiful girls: she stuck her head under the back of my raised leg and started petting herself against me.
     Yup. From that moment on I realized our Holsteins, for the most part, were a bunch of big softies. By the time we stopped milking I didn't think twice about shoving my way through the herd (unless the bull was around--he was big and he scared me).

Saturday, March 2, 2013

lessons from the dairy

*Note: I typed "lessons from the diary" first, but that would have been a whole different kind of post!*

When I was scraping the snow (which was over a sheet of ice--not much fun) off the sidewalk last week, one thought kept popping into my head:
This is so much like scraping the holding pen after we milked...

Since that was my thought at the beginning of scraping, I had a decent amount of time to dwell on the naturally that turned into me figuring out how to write about it.

This, my friend, is the result of my snow-scraping exercise:

Lessons I Learned as the Daughter of a Dairy Farmer

1. Mornings aren't entirely bad.
~If you know me, you know how dramatic that statement really is. Growing up, it took at least 3 wake-up attempts to get me out of bed in the morning. One of those attempts was undoubtedly my brother jumping onto my bed, placing one hand on the bed beside each of my shoulders, and bouncing me as high as he possibly could while hollering, "Waaaaakkkke uuuuuppp!"
Yeah, I know--wouldn't you just want to punch somebody for that?!
     Pop, on the other hand, always appeared highly unnatural to me, and actually enjoyed getting up early. In fact, he would attempt to wake me up with a bright, "Rise and shine!" every morning, which led to the present that still decorates his bathroom: a picture that says, ever so sweetly, "I may rise, but I refuse to shine."
     So, in the summer it was my job to go do the morning milking with Pop. That meant rolling out of bed at approximately 3:30 a.m., a time I had heard of in legends but never actually believed existed before then. We would then head up to the barn to pry the dairy cows out of bed, too (literally, in some cases--apparently our Holstein herd liked mornings about as much as I did!), then set up the barn and do the milking.
     You know what? Believe it or not, there's something incredibly satisfying about getting what is essentially a whole day's work in by 8 a.m., before most other 16 or 17 year old girls had even rolled out of bed. And besides that, do you know how many more hours are in the day when you get up early? Okay, so not really any more than 24, but I got to see a lot more of them those summers!
(Not our farm, but pretty similar)
     The other amazing thing about being up and working hard so early in the morning? When Pop would come back into the barn and tell me to stop and step outside for a minute so we could look at the sunrise. No words for that one.


2. Great conversations can take place anywhere.
~A dairy barn is a loud, dirty, smelly place. I can't speak for the new ones, of course, but I think it's pretty safe to say that the majority of them are like ours was. First off, to entice the cows into the milk barn you have feeders going. That means grain dropping into 10 different metal feed bins. I say 10, but it could quite possibly be 8. I was in that barn more times than I can count yet somehow I can't for the life of me remember if we milked 8 or 10 at once! You also have the milkers themselves going, which means 10 (or 8?) different machines with 4 vacuums going for each milker. Not to mention the compressor and the pumps for the milk. Besides all that noise, you also have to have the radio blasting because everybody knows that cows give more milk when they're listening to the radio!
     Then you have the dirty and smelly part. Not to go into too many details, but big cows that eat a lot of food make a lot of waste. Also, they aren't too particular about where and when they get rid of that waste. In case you still haven't quite gotten the picture, we kept cans of pop in a fridge that was cold enough to make them a little icy just so we could convince ourselves that the tiny pieces we were drinking were just icy soda. And no, I'm not much of a girly-girl...but that's pushing it even for me!
     In the middle of all that, though, Pop and I talked. I probably couldn't tell you exactly what we talked about, but that's not what really mattered. What mattered was getting to have long conversations, just the two of us, with no one else around. I wouldn't trade those mornings for anything.

3. Holsteins have big personalities (and big attitudes).
~Before we started milking, I would have told you that a cow is a cow is a cow. Sure, they look different, but I never would have imagined that their personalities could be so different.  Wow, was I ever wrong!
     As is the case for most dairy farms, we kept track of our cows by ear tags with numbers. That meant that most of the time when we talked about the herd, we called them by their numbers in the same way we would use names. To this day, some of those cows stick out to me. Mostly by number, but two of them earned names instead.
     First you have 70. She loved to have her head and neck scratched and wouldn't come into the barn without her scratch first. Once in the barn, she wanted her side and leg scratched (but only because those are the only areas you could reach while she was in the stall). After the milking was done and I was washing down the barn, she would come back to the open door and come inside to get her head scratched again.
     After her is 69. After milking, we would use a medicated dip to help prevent infection. That meant dipping each teat (sorry--thought I was going to get away with a whole post on milking without having to make anybody uncomfortable...guess not!), so holding this little plastic dip cup just above foot level four different times. Well, this girl decided for some reason that the dip cup was a game. As soon as the milkers came off, she would shift her weight, angle just right so she could see her back feet, and cock her foot off the ground. Her favorite thing to do was try and kick your hand or wrist hard enough to knock the dip cup out of your hand and send the medicated, thick, sticky, reddish-brown dip flying all over you. Yeah, I got it more than a few times--mainly because I'm just as hard headed and obstinate as she was and was determined to get her dipped no matter how many times she kicked me!
     The first one with a name was christened by my grandma. She got the name Dolly after Dolly Parton...I'll let you figure that one out by yourself!
     The other one with a name was named after me, though I think she had had a name for quite a while before anybody shared it with me. See, I have always managed, no matter what I'm eating, to end up with a decent amount of it on myself. Not just on my shirt, though--I've had food on my jeans (understandable), on my face (also pretty common), in my hair (a little less common...), or in my shoe (yes, it has happened). This little lady--meaning the cow now--had a bad habit of tossing her grain all over the floor every single time she came into the barn. Seriously, she would have a pile of it on the floor and then when she would run out she would start trying to shove in next to the cow in front of her to steal her food! Her name? Messy Mandy. Courtesy of Pop.
     There were a lot more that we knew for various reasons (like the one who wasn't too fond of bulls but was very much in love with Pop!), but this post is getting insanely long already so I'll have to save those for later. Besides the individuals, though, there was also just the general bossy-ness of the herd. Quite often we had to go back into the holding pen to move the one cow who had decided to plant herself in the doorway and not let any of the others inside. We would also have to slow down the ones who would be shoving multiple cows in ahead of her just so she could get to the grain faster. Add to that the cow who decided to kick me in the knee just to show me she was bigger when I was moving them into the barn. At the time we had just started milking and I didn't really know enough to realize that it was apparently just a "love tap" since it didn't even leave a bruise...

4. It is worth learning how to work hard.
~I know, I know--not something most people want to hear. It wasn't really something my teenage self would have readily admitted, either, but looking back now I can say that with full confidence. Before the dairy farm, I thought I had a strong work ethic. I mean, I was dedicated to cheerleading and worked hard at it. I did all my school work (though I was just as good at procrastinating then as I am now...have I mentioned that I have assignments in two of my classes and a midterm in the third all due Friday that haven't been started yet?) and got good grades. My room was always a disaster scene, but for the most part I thought I knew how to work.
     Once we got the dairy, I realized that I had never really worked. Until you have collapsed into bed at night, sore to your very bones, knowing that your body won't be able to move to roll out of bed in the morning yet somehow getting up anyways...well, for me, that was when I learned what hard work really was.
     The thing about hard work though? You can look back at all you've done and know that you've accomplished something.

5. Cows love their babies--and their herds.
~When a cow was getting relatively close to delivering a calf, we would dry her up and move her to a different field. Usually that meant we would have to chase her back into said field a couple of times before she would stay, because cows are incredibly social creatures and don't like to leave their friends.
     Once she had calved, it was time for her to move back to the milking herd--which meant us getting her calf to the baby barn. This task was definitely not always an easy one. I can't tell you how many big Holsteins decided they could just plow through fences to get back into what they thought of as the "right" field. Also, listening to mom and baby cry for each other through the fence for the first few days was absolutely heartbreaking at times!

There are definitely more lessons, but this post it s already getting way longer than I had planned. I guess I'll have to make a "Part 2"!

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