Amanda Hopper Writes

A writer's tale of living and working in the country.

Month: April 2010

Too Much Information

Bull stud service.
I can’t believe I actually typed that in my Google search window. It felt wrong. It seemed so crass. So disturbing. But really, what did I expect? It’s not like the cows can go meet a nice bull at a speed dating seminar.
Too much information. Too little information. The more I learn, the more I need to learn.
Is Limousin a good meat?…”Sam spell place”… Is Limousin cross bred to Angus better?…”Sam spell please”… Should we sell the girls and get Angus females?…“Sam spell keep”.
I’m trying to decipher animal husbandry via the internet, all while helping my 7-year-old study for his spelling test.
They don’t teach you how to multi-task like this in college.
Is it any wonder I can’t sleep? And when I do sleep, I have a recurring nightmare that I can’t get the cows into the trailer….
The concrete floor for the basement was poured yesterday. It was fabulous. Andy, Ian and I sat and watched the manly men sweat while smoothing our floor. I’m sure they were frustrated by our gawking, but we’re paying good money to gawk.  Plus one of the sweaty ones was none other than the bobcat driver that inspired the manly man rant.
Andy is crawling out of his skin to live at the farm. If I didn’t demand he return home every night I am quite certain he would camp there. If this building process drags on I am going to have to bring my A game. Dinner tonight? Ravioli with Crab and Shrimp Cream Sauce accompanied by a Cesar salad. And I cleaned the bathrooms. And I did the laundry. Admittedly my B+ game, but we can’t afford the A game calories right now.

Farmer-man

Remember manly-men? I have discovered another breed of man…farmer-men!
They are the leathery, gentle souls that frequent Tractor Supply and feed stores. They drive trucks caked with dirt, and often haul livestock trailers. They can be identified by their boots, cowboy hats, and weathered grins. Farmer-men chuckle at little boys wearing boots, and refuse to allow a woman to open her own door, even if their arms are laden with heavy bags. They have large rough hands that can rebuild a tractor, and comforting spirits that ease a heifer delivering her first calf.
I have had a day surrounded by farmer-men. Older, wiser men who guided me through the maze of questions boggling my mind.
First at Tractor Supply, trying to find a latch for the gate that would keep a Limousin in but not keep me out. The younger lads were trying to help, suggesting complicated looking devices. The older farmer-man saw the concern on my face and offered assurance that only a simple latch was needed. And with a twinkle in his eye the older teased the younger that cattle do not, in fact, have thumbs so complicated gadgets are not necessary.
Second, the farmer-man who delivered our pregnant cows safely. He answered my rapid fire questions easily, never making me feel stupid for asking. Although, his eyes did widen when I asked if his cows typically ate the afterbirth or if they left if alone. But he quickly recovered, answered me, and I continued with the inquisition.
I must admit that I was thrilled when a seasoned farmer-man emerged from the extra large cattle trailer to meet me this morning. I have been studying so much information about cows that I had driven myself into a panic by the time they arrived.
My relief at his experience lasted until I actually saw the cows.
 I had read that Limousin cows are one of the largest breeds. I knew approximately how much they weighed. But when I caught a glimpse of the first head peaking out from the top of the trailer windows an expletive burst in my mind.  
I actually had to glance around to make sure that I hadn’t said it out loud.
But the three-year-old mouth next to me didn’t repeat it, so that was confirmation of my silence.
Unfortunately my eyes betrayed me. When momma cow’s eyes met my eyes, her’s widened in alarm and she started trying to turn circles in the trailer.
That was my cue.
I jumped down from the side of the trailer and quickly instructed the nice farmer-man where to turn out the girls. As soon as he opened the gate the cows bolted for the grass. As soon as the grass touched their hooves, they transformed from harried wall street brokers to a couple enjoying a beach vacation. The momma cows sauntered, side by side, around the perimeter of the fence taking in all the sights and sounds.
After 30 minutes of stalking with a long range camera lens, I deciphered two distinct personalities in the cows. One is incredibly laid back and loves her some green green grass. The one I locked eyes with is much more aware of her surroundings. She watched me for the full 30 minutes that I watched her.
Or maybe she was posing for the camera.
Time will tell and time will bring baby cows. The calves are due in July, so I have 3 months to get to know the mommas. And the births will determine how intimately we have to get to know each other…

Shiny New Toy

Imagine a preschool room full of toys. A train table sits in the corner as the kids are running in from recess. Every boy runs to the train table. One shiny new train sits among the 20 scuffed up trains on the tracks.  Chaos ensues. Ten pairs of hands reach, grab, shove and scratch for the one shiny new train while the rest are left untouched.
Watching Andy and Grant fight over who gets to mow (yes, you read correctly, I said mow) is exactly like watching the preschoolers fight over the new train. And in both situations I find myself screaming at the top of my lungs, “Share!”
A shiny red garden tractor sits in our newly built shed. We bought it used and the previous owners even waxed it for us. I must admit, it is fun to drive, the thing is faster than any mower I’ve ever seen. I suspect that Andy built the shed as a shrine for his new tractor. There were no prior plans to build a shed until she arrived.
Let’s call her “Roxanne” shall we?
Two of the men in my life are smitten with Roxanne. In fact they can be seen racing each other across the field to drive her first. Lucky for Andy, he is the only one who can skillfully ease her out of the shed.
Grant is a quick learner though and he watches intently, studying every maneuver as Andy clears the shed doors. I give it three weeks until Andy is toast.
Frankly, Grant is a better driver.
The neighbors must have had a good giggle last night watching Andy and Grant follow each other on the tractor yelling, “It’s my turn!” I know I did when Grant at last got his chance and sped Roxanne into the back pasture laughing like a mad scientist.
I was in the back pasture with Sam and Ian who were fighting over who was going to hold the hose while we filled the stock tank. Yes, they were fighting over a hose.
Maybe it’s not Roxanne, maybe it’s just boys….

And the Award Goes to…

This makes the top 10 stupidest things we’ve ever done. That was the thought that kept interrupting my silent prayers as we drove out of the parking lot. One look in the rear view mirror instantly reminded me why I should not be involved in things of this nature.
I like being in control, it’s an oldest child thing. Oldest children should not listen to youngest children. Youngest children grow up to be spontaneous, crazy adults. Not only do I frequently listen to one, I married one.
“Stop biting your lip!” is something that can be heard coming out of Andy’s mouth whenever I am involved in one of his hair-brained ideas. What he doesn’t know is that I am biting my lip in an attempt to physically halt words from escaping before I have had time to swallow them.
After tonight, I’m lucky to have lips left.
Let me back up by saying that Andy and my Dad are in a perpetual contest of cheapness. Neither one really realizes they are competing in the race, but the rest of us know it. Well Dad, Andy pulled a full lap ahead of you tonight.
Building a house costs money. Lots O money. And we are always looking for ways to save money in the areas we can. One of the best ways we have found to save money is to buy appliances either used or on clearance. That is how I came to find myself gripping the car seat until the blood had fully drained from my fingers.
Andy found the refrigerator that we wanted on clearance at a store 25 miles from our current location. Great, except we have no place to store the thing. So we call in a favor from loving family members and they agree to hold it for us until construction is complete. Yes!
I, being an oldest, would have made lots of calls, spent hours immersed in research, and made a detailed list including time checkpoints. Andy, being a youngest, said, “Let’s go!”
Let’s go meant ‘I’m too cheap to pay $30 for delivery, so let’s haul this bad boy in our truck bed across the metroplex.’
So Andy and another manly man lifted the said appliance into the truck bed, tied it down, sort of, and we took off.
Who knew people of the metroplex were so friendly, waving and honking, wishing us luck, I’m sure, on our journey. We painfully discovered the state of disrepair in which the roads find themselves. With every dip or drop, the oxygen seemed to get sucked out of the truck resulting in a strange group gasping sound. 
I’m both happy and sad to report that the refrigerator made it to it’s destination unharmed. And no motorists were injured in our adventure. That’s the happy part. The sad part is looking at my husband who has a look of triumph on his face as he says, “See? I told you it was more stable than it looked!”
I love you Andy, God help me.

Where the Wildflowers Grow

Have you ever wondered how wildflowers choose where they are going to grow? On the sides of highways, or in remote fields?
I don’t think they do choose, I think God seeds them where His love needs to be seen. Wildflowers are watered only by rain, fed by harsh soil, and yet they can capture the attention of every living thing. They offer a moment of pure wonder to all who gaze upon them.
Maybe that’s what God wants for us. To bloom where we are planted.
It’s no accident that we are seeded in our situations. Grown in our troubles.
Our lives should reflect the beauty of the wildflowers and cause others to pause and wonder how we can thrive in such a place.  
The wildflowers have emerged in our fields, content among the cacti. A tangible reminder that God’s love doesn’t exist outside of pain, but overcomes and amazes.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Snake Killer. It was written in the dust that caked the rear window of my Dad’s car. My brother, Chris, had rescued Andy from a snake that unintentionally found itself under Andy’s foot as he exited the truck.
Now there was no way for that snake to know that we had just finished a long weekend of fencing. Or that we were headed down to the creek to try out the new ammo. It was just slithering along enjoying whatever it ate to make that bulge…
Wrong place, wrong time.
I thought snakes were supposed to scurry away from loud noises. Are you telling me that the snake couldn’t tell that a 5,000 pound truck was coming?!
What chance to do I have then, in the future, when I am just walking through the pasture?
This new incident has taken my carefully repressed thoughts of what is to come when living on the farm, and slammed them into the forefront of my mind causing severe whiplash.
You mean there is nature…actual wild animals…on my beautiful land?! 

 
 

Vaporware

We are constantly being asked how the home building is progressing. A natural, even expected question, but the answer is not so…simple. We always put on a smile and say something like, “It’s great, the excavation is complete, and more is coming next week.”
Roughly translated, this means, “We are now the proud owners of a big ‘ole hole in the ground!”
How do we know that our dream is not just vaporware?  
For those of you non-geeks, vaporware is the announcement by a developer that a new product is coming, but there is no real evidence that it will ever exist in reality. 
After an especially difficult week, a distraught Andy turns to me and says, “it’s just like Crazy Horse!.” Hmm, pretty sure that was not what I thought he was going to say. I give him my most perplexed eyebrow raise and ask the obvious question, “Do I want to know what that means?”
He proceeds to describe a monument in South Dakota that was begun in 1948. When Andy went to visit the monument, they charged more money than Mount Rushmore. And when he finally set eyes upon the wonder…it was a chalk drawing on the face of a mountain.
Now in all fairness, I looked it up and there is now a head available for viewing. Actually it’s really only a face.
After 60 some odd years there is only a head?!
Dear builder, we only have a one-year construction loan…..

A Woman in a Man’s World

Wow. It’s like watching peacocks. As I have mentioned before, every week there is some major crisis with the building process. Looking back over each one of them, I have realized that they all begin with the fact that I, a woman, am trying to navigate the world of manly men. There is a very delicate balance of letting the peacocks strut, whilst still getting what you want. Admittedly, I have not mastered the balance.
Andy works a lot. A LOT. So I am entrusted to handle the everyday details and conundrums that present themselves. It’s like trying to find your way in a foreign country and you can’t speak the language. I could swear that I have made myself completely clear… and they nod like they understand. But it’s always wrong, so so wrong. So I strap on my muck boots and start wading. This must be why God blessed me with a strong willed husband and three strong willed boys. I have learned when to bite my tongue and when to refuse to be moved over the years. Dealing with male Contractors is testing my limits. Wondering what brought on this newest rant? Cows. Longhorns with very long horns to be exact.
Last week we were working on building a shed. As we were silently screaming at the shed manufacturers, three longhorns sauntered onto our property. One of them is not so friendly. We later conveyed the story to our builder and he proceeded to freak out. His fear was completely sound, the cows are gonna ruin materials. It might be hoof prints in the concrete floor, or walking through a newly framed first floor. Hmm. I can honestly say that never occurred to me. But he’s right, they walked around like they owned the place. They have the law on their side and their bovine brains seem to know it. We can’t do anything but keep them out with a fence. So the second installment of fencing begins. Except that the brush is so thick that we can’t build a fence. So we hire a manly man to clear a swath with a bobcat.
I meet the Contractor and I literally walk him around the perimeter, describing the project. He nods, and even asks to borrow our new chainsaw. I oblige him, even running into town to get chainsaw oil. I double check that he has everything he needs, discuss one more time what needs to be done..I’ve learned to double check, then I head back home. Twenty-four hours later, the result is that only one side has been cleared. After nicely confronting him with this information, he says “I thought you only wanted the side cleared.”
Seriously?
So I nicely remind him, ” Well it doesn’t do much good to only fence the side if they can just walk through the front…”
That stumped him.
“Yeah, I guess I see your point.” he says. He agrees to come back Saturday morning to finish the work.
I relay the information to Andy and he becomes unglued. He has to start the fencing Thursday, not Saturday.
So I start calling other manly men to find someone to finish what should have already been done. I find a nice gentleman with a bobcat. And he can stop by later the same day on his way home. Great! Ian and I drop everything, again, and head over to the farm to meet the lifesaver. He walks with me as I talk to him like a kindergartner. It’s not his fault, but fool me once you know? He unloads his bobcat and I head home. I have not been back to check his work. I am afraid to look. Andy will be going by tonight to mark posts and he can look. And maybe I won’t answer my cell phone when he calls…

Unexpected Bonds

Have you even seen anything so bizarre? I asked myself this morning as I walked among the cacti on our land. And having been a stay-at-home mom for 9 years, I actually answered myself, nope. Ian and I were watching an amazing transformation of our beloved pets. We have two dogs, Jessie and Missy. Jessie is a 9-year-old nervous, slightly psychotic Aussie, and Missy is a hilarious, infinitely sweet 1-year-old Catahoula. Jessie hates other dogs. I believe this to be a result of her honest assumption that she is human, not canine. In stark contrast, Missy loves every living creature. Everyone is a friend…except for whatever was in the back pasture a couple of nights ago, but I’ll get to that later. Anyway, we began taking Missy to the land a week ago. She grew up, on her own, on acreage so she is a natural. I have been terrified to take Jessie, assuming that she would be a nervous disaster and attack our neighbors’ two dogs that have adopted us as family. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Jessie is a completely different dog out there. She loves her new job. I have always had dogs in the suburbs. In the ‘burbs dogs are pets, creatures that must be taken care of. You have to fence them in, tie them up, reign them in, and adorn them with permits. I love the dogs, but they have always offered little to me except more work. Maybe the reason Jessie was so crazy was because we have always forced her into a role that she was never meant to fulfill. Our roles have almost reversed at the farm. We rely on the dogs to protect us, warn us, defend us. They rise magnificently to the task. You can actually see them stand taller. Our two dogs, combined with the neighbors’ two dogs, almost immediately formed some sort of pack. They all follow us everywhere, if we split-up, they do too. Every once in a while one will break away and you would swear the chosen one is running a perimeter check. Last Friday, we had our first nightly visit to the farm. We made a fire in the back pasture, cooked dinner and s’mores over the fire, and gazed at the stars. We took Missy with us, thinking it would be a good time for her to acclimate. I must preface this story by saying that in the 6 months that we have had Missy, we have never heard her bark. No joke, the dog does not bark. Well, on Friday night, as the fire waned, Missy stood in front of us and so did the hair all over her body. A menacing growl starting rolling through her as she stared at something of mentionable size in the dark that we could not see. After positioning herself between us and the invisible danger, she continued to bark and inch slightly forward for two minutes. She then trotted back to us and layed down to nap. I have complete confidence that if she had not been there, we would have had the misfortune to meet whatever it was she scared away. My respect for my dogs has grown substantially over the last few days. They follow us unquestioning into the brush as we stake fence lines, and we trust every mannerism that warns us that some danger we can’t see is indeed ahead. They are the first to warn, and the last to run. Amazing.
The Builder and the concrete Contractor are marking the foundation piers as I write this story. The Plumber comes tomorrow to begin running lines. Concrete comes later this week, and another fencing expedition begins this weekend. All in all a productive week!