Monday, February 25, 2013

If only they could tell us...

Now that I'm once again caring for a newborn, I've been reminded how challenging it can sometimes be to care for those who can't use words to communicate. Especially this past week, I've found myself wishing: "If only they could tell us what's wrong."

two month old infant
Babies aren't always this content.

A week ago, Daphne caught the icky cold that Monika brought home from pre-school. And if the nasty cough and fever weren't enough for her little body to deal with, the cold also made her vomit after nursing several times a day. At least we think it was the cold.

We're not sure if she was gagging on mucus or if the mucus upset her stomach or what was going on. Some of the time she ended up vomiting after a really bad coughing fit, but other times she'd just start to whimper and then throw up a couple seconds later.

All I know is that the only thing worse than watching your two-month-old cough is watching her vomit. The next worst thing was seeing the scale at the clinic register a weight loss from our first visit last week to our visit on Saturday. And the worst thing after that was hearing that there really wasn't anything we could do to help her get better faster than what we were already doing.

While I've been trying to keep Daphne as comfortable as I can in the house, Glen is trying to help a fresh heifer get better outside.

Holstein dairy cow eating TMR
Cows don't always eat this well.

Shortly after Agape calved, she stopped eating. Glen did everything we normally do when a fresh cow stops eating – take her temperature, listen to her stomach, screen her milk, check her for ketosis – but none of those test results explained why Agape wasn't eating. Poor Glen; he gets so frustrated when he can't figure out what's wrong with a cow.

But, like with parenting, you put your frustration aside and do whatever you can to help your patient get better.

Agape got kaolin-pectin and oral fluids several times a day. Finally, after nearly a week without eating, she started to pick at her TMR and hay. Then, last Thursday night, Glen detected a DA when he listened to her stomach. The vet came Friday to do the surgery and now Agape is almost 100% back to normal.

It would all be a whole lot easier if they could use words to tell us what was wrong.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The 100th Day of K

Dan and his classmates celebrated their 100th day of Kindergarten yesterday.

My first thought, as I helped Dan count out 100 pennies to bring for the celebration, was, "Whoa! Where did the last 100 school days go?"

kids with backpacks
Day 1: September 4, 2012

My second thought was, "Wow! I can't believe how much Dan has learned in 100 days."

On Day 1, the only word could reliably read and write was his name. Now, I bet he can read and write almost 100 words. And what he doesn't know from memory he can sound out pretty darn well. I have been absolutely impressed with his progress. I tell him all the time when he's reading to me that I didn't learn to read until I was in first grade. (This supports my theory that each generation ends up smarter than the previous and contributes to Glen's fear that we, as parents, don't stand a chance if our children are smarter than us. And it makes Dan smile real big.)

Dan reading a book
Day 100: Reading by himself

Dan has learned numbers and math and science and technology skills, too. But he's also learned some pretty important life lessons, like how to not lose your mittens on the playground, how to hold a lunch tray without dumping your food on the floor, and how to ride the bus. (I'd like to say he's learned how to keep his hands to himself and mind his own business, too, but he's still perfecting those skills.)

Dan getting off the bus
Day 1: First bus ride

I drove Dan to school on the first day, since Monika had her first day of pre-school as well. So, his first time on the bus was the ride home from school that first day.

I waited in the driveway for the bus to arrive, camera in hand. When the bus did arrive, I could barely see through my tears to take a picture. (It was only 40 days later that I could watch him get on or off the bus without crying. It's such a big step to get on that bus – both literally and figuratively.)

When I wrapped my arms around Dan in a welcome-home hug, I told him, "Dan, that was your first bus ride."

Breathless with the excitement that only the first day of school can create, he said back to me, "That was the first time I stepped on the road!"

Apparently, he actually was listening to all of my lecturing about staying away from our busy road.

Speaking of listening...

During my first opportunity to help in Dan's classroom, I was shocked to see that he could actually sit still and not talk for extended periods of time. At first I thought maybe he hadn't fully woken up yet. Then I decided it must be a magic spell his teacher casts over the class, because he certainly isn't capable of that at home.

Dan waiting for the school bus
Day 100: February 22, 2013

While Dan and his friends were celebrating, I had my own little celebration of the 100th Day of Kindergarten.

Why? Because making it to the 100th Day means we have survived 100 school-night bedtimes and 100 get-ready-for-school mornings. Before Dan started school, I could worry myself into a panic about how on earth I was going to get the kids to bed on time and get them ready in time to catch the bus. The new schedule was an adjustment for all of us. During the first couple weeks, Monika would fall asleep in the skidloader at 5 p.m. and sleep until the next morning.

It also means that Monika and I have made it through 100 days of missing Dan. Before school started, I couldn't imagine how much we would miss him while he was gone. On the first day of school and pre-school, I picked Monika up after her class was over, but when we got to the van, she refused to get in. She didn't want any part of going home without Dan. It was many, many days later before she seemed to feel comfortable at home without her best friend. I know, because I must have answered her "How many minutes until Dan will be home?" question at least 15 times a day.

And, finally, it means that we've made it through the mornings of waiting for the bus in the dark. The days are getting longer and in 80 short days or so, Dan will graduate from Kindergarten. Where does the time go?

Dan waiting for the school bus
Day 100: Only 2,240 more days until graduation for the Class of 2025

Monday, February 18, 2013

Farm cats and kittens

It certainly doesn't feel like it today, but, since Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow earlier this month, spring will be here before we know it. On a dairy farm, spring is the season for kittens. Actually, there are kittens born in nearly all of the seasons, but most litters arrive in the spring. And if all the activity (wink, wink) amongst the cats in the barn is any indication, our farm will have lots of new kittens in approximately two months.

Most of our friendly kittens are born to Mama Kitty, pictured below. She's the only cat who doesn't always hide her kittens so well that we can't find them until they're hissing little balls of fur.

farm cat sitting on post

Most of the time Mama Kitty delivers her kittens in unsuitable places like the manger in front of the cows or on the floor in the middle of the barn office. That's when empty paper towel boxes come in handy.

cat and kittens in box

Here are some of Mama Kitty's kittens from the past six years:

calico kitten

This little calico kitten is known as Calico Kitty. Creative, I know. But we don't get very many kittens with bold calico coloring.

white kitten

This is Pearlie Kitty.

farm cat

This is Boots. He was born in the same litter as Calico Kitty and Pearlie Kitty.

farm cat in cupboard

Boots is quite the cat. He knows how to open the milk house hose port, crawl through and find a place to rest in the warm milk house. Even after we started blocking the hose port, he found a way to get in. (Don't tell our inspector.)

One time I caught him finishing my breakfast in the cupboard, so we started locking the cupboard doors.

black and white farm cat

Betty Kitty was named after our old house cat, Black Betty, because they look almost identical. Betty Kitty is the kids' favorite cat. And the one they think should be our new house cat.

Farm cats always know where to find the milk!

I'm just as excited as the kids to see what this year's kittens look like. Only 65 days to go!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The best valentine ever

Ah, Valentine's Day. A day to celebrate romance. A day for elegant dinners, beautiful bouquets, and lovely gifts. At least for those couples who don't fall into the we-have-small-children category.

After a discussion about well-intended sweetheart gifts that missed the mark, Glen asked me what I wanted for Valentine's Day. I told him all I wanted was a nap. A girl can dream, can't she? There's always next year.

The best Valentine's Day gift I've ever received came six years ago, when Dan was a two-month-old.

We were working as herdsmen for our friends at the time. At least Glen was; I was still on maternity leave. Glen got up at 3:30 a.m. every morning and left for the farm at 3:45. He returned home at 10 p.m. every night.

Dan was still waking up to nurse two or three times a night. And that was after fussing all evening.

Even if it had been an option, we both would have been too exhausted to celebrate Valentine's Day.

But, as most happy couples eventually figure out, the little gestures of love and appreciation count more than celebrations and gifts.

When Dan woke up that Valentine's Day morning, I took him to the changing table like I always did. But when I unzipped his sleeper to change his diaper, I was surprised to see this: ***

homemade valentine

In case you can't tell from photo, that's Glen's writing in red permanent marker (the one he always kept in the pocket of his barn jeans) on a corner of one of the microfiber towels we used to clean cows' teats with at the farm. And it looks like he cut the towel with his pocket knife. On the towel, he wrote: "Dan's ♥'s his Mommy."

And on the back side of the towel he wrote: "Glen ♥'s Dan's Mom."

For so many reasons, this simple valentine meant so much to me. (And still does.)

First, as a wife who got to spend a half hour with her husband most days, it was an affirmation of Glen's love. Second, as a new mom who constantly worried about whether she was doing things right, it was a reminder from Glen that our son loved me, too, regardless of whether my mothering style was right or not.

*** I hope Daphne won't be upset when she realizes that I dressed her up in her brother's clothes to take this picture. ☺

Happy Valentine's Day! And, remember, it's not the grand gifts of love, it's the little gestures that count.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Better for our calves. Better for us.

Days like today make me extra glad that we decided to invest in improvements to our calf and heifer housing.

Below is an example of what our calf housing would have looked like on a day like today before we made the improvements. This picture was taken in February of 2011, which was the last time we had a snowstorm comparable to the one that buried us today.

This is what our baby calf housing looks like now. Newborns go from the calf warmer into a small pen for a couple days and then into the big pen with the automatic calf feeder.

We continue to be amazed by how well our calves grow with their new amenities – access to fresh water 24 hours a day (no frozen water pails); access to calf starter 24 hours a day; automatically dispensed milk replacer; a temperature-controlled, weather-proof environment; and interaction with the other calves.

And while this system is better for our calves, it is also better for us.

Our animals' well-being often takes precedence over our own. Caring for our calves and heifers used to require a sometimes unbelievable amount of physical labor, especially during the winter. The winter of 2010-11 was grueling, to say the least. (We were kind of spoiled last winter.)

With our baby calves inside now and better facilities for the older heifers outside, our workload has greatly decreased and our working conditions have greatly improved.

Our calf and heifer housing improvements weren't the types of projects that have a proven track record for providing a financial return on the investment. But, sometimes, more than just finances have to be taken into consideration; time, labor, and quality of life (for both our animals and us) are important, too. I bet, though, that if we put a price tag on just the time and labor we're saving, the improvements we made will pay for themselves pretty quickly.

A year-and-a-half later, we're still glad we made the decision we did. And so are Dan and Monika.

Housing our calves inside makes it a lot easier for Dan, and especially, Monika, to play with the calves. Which, in turn, makes it a lot easier to tame future show calves. This is one benefit of our calf housing that we never anticipated, but, boy, are we glad to count it as one of the reasons this system is better for all of us.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Twelve from 2012

2012 might have ended 37 days ago, but in some ways it's not really over yet. We spent a fair bit of time this week getting ready for our appointment with our farm business management instructor to prepare our year end financial statements. One one hand, the filing and data entry are mundane tasks. But, on the other hand, going through all of the records from the year is a neat way to review the year's events.

I also get a look back at the year when I sort through the hundreds of photos I take to pick out the best ones for our family photo book. I already published some of the best photos of the year in other posts, but the photos below didn't find their way into a post – until now. Here are twelve more of my favorite photos from 2012:

Our much needed Hawaiian vacation.

Our hike through the Hawaiian rain forest.
We were told beforehand that it was an 'easy' hike.

A honeybee visiting a California almond blossom.

Hydroponic forage at World Ag Expo in Tulare.

Some of the Girl Scouts and their parents relaxing in the pasture
during their visit to our farm to learn about dairy farming.

One of the hundred or so wood ticks I picked off the cows this summer.
This year the ticks were the worst I've ever seen. Gross, I know.

Summer fun for Dan.

A cat nap in the barn for Monika.

My view while manually flipping bales off the conveyor because
the bale flipper wouldn't work. It was July. Yes, it was hot up there.

Me and Trent Loos at Chick Day. Really funny guy. Great messages.

Thanksgiving: We're thankful for cousins!

Daphne's first portrait.

2012 was a great year for us. We had a lot of fun with family and friends. The cows and crops did well. And we were blessed with a new family member.

OK, now 2012 can be over.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A sweet treat for a sad day

In Glen's own words, today was a sad day.

Dove, one of our beautiful young cows, gave birth to dead twin heifer calves this morning. For us, twin heifer calves are extra special. They even get special names – like Hope & Pray and Laugh & Love. So, to have twin heifer calves born dead was extra sad. To make it worse, not only is Dove a great-looking cow, she's ranked one of the best cows in our herd; the kind you really want to have a heifer calf.

So, in an effort to cheer Glen up, I decided a pan of bars was in order (even though our niece delivered the Girl Scout cookies yesterday). I thought the bars might be appreciated, given this conversation last night:

"Dang, I actually lost weight," Glen said, after stepping on the scale.

"What?!?" I asked, thinking maybe I hadn't heard him right.

"I'm trying to gain 10 pounds before spring gets here," Glen explained.

I understand his reasoning: He's trying to put on a little extra conditioning so that he has something to burn off when he's burning the candle at both ends this spring trying to get crops in the ground.

But, man, talk about injustice. I'm trying to shed my post-partum padding and Glen's trying to fatten up. Oh, the jealousy. I'd give my left leg to be able to lose weight while eating to gain.

With plans to send the treats out to the barn, I started rummaging through my recipe folder for the bar recipe I had found inside the Land O'Lakes butter box awhile ago, but hadn't yet tried to make.

Caramel 'N Chocolate Pecan Bars
Prep time: 15 minutes — Total time: 1 hour*

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup pecan halves

Caramel Layer
⅔ cup butter
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar

Chocolate Layer
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


Heat oven to 350°F. Combine all crust ingredients except pecans in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until mixture resembles fine crumbs.

Press onto bottom of ungreased 13x9-inch baking pan. Place pecans evenly over unbaked crust.

Combine 2/3 cup butter and 1/2 cup brown sugar in 1-quart saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until entire surface of mixture comes to a boil. Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Pour evenly over pecans and crust.

Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until entire caramel layer is bubbly. (Do not overbake!) Remove from oven. Immediately sprinkle with chips; allow to melt slightly (2 to 3 minutes). Swirl chips leaving some whole for a marbled effect.

Cool completely; cut into bars. Makes 36 bars. (Who are they kidding? It's more like 15 bars.)

*Note: Prep time will vary depending upon how many newborns and three-year-olds you're trying to entertain at the same time.

My bars don't look nearly as great as the ones pictured on the Land O'Lakes web site, but they taste great. After a little tweaking (see below), this recipe will definitely be a keeper.

Part of the reason my bars might not have turned out like I hoped was that when I went to the box of baking supplies to fetch the ingredients, I came up a little short. There wasn't even a quarter of a bag of chocolate chips left. Seems like somebody (not me!) has been raiding the supply of chocolate chips. Probably the one who's trying to gain weight right now.

I didn't have enough for the recipe, but I did find a couple squares of semi-sweet baking chocolate in the bottom of the box. I figured that would work if I grated it.

I didn't have as many pecans as the recipe called for, either. I found some coconut, though, and decided to toast it and add some of that. I also chopped the pecans so that I'd have enough to cover the pan.

My bars don't hold together very well — probably from chopping the pecans and adding the coconut. I'm hoping they'll hold together better when I make them with the proper ingredients, because, around here, bars need to be suitable for grab and go consumption.

And since I'm an incurable recipe-tweaker, next time, I'll try using the crust recipe from these bars, since I like it better. I'll also try increasing the amount of caramel (by using 1 cup of butter and ¾ cup of brown sugar).

It might take a few tries for me to tweak these bars to perfection, but I know each attempt will be enjoyed. And at 5,760 calories per pan, they ought to help Glen reach his goal and keep a smile on his face.