Amanda Hopper Writes

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

Month: July 2010

Multiplication

As I pulled down the drive toward the house, I unthinkingly glanced to our neighbor’s pasture. It’s a habit. The cows regularly come up to the stock tank in the cooler evenings, and we can check on them without taking the truck “off-road”. The movement must be unconscious, I scan the grass and turn my attention back to our house.
It took a few seconds for my brain to absorb what it witnessed. I slammed on the brakes and jumped out of the front seat.
Four cows.
Clara had her baby!

Absolutely the sweetest sight. Two calves following their mommas. The older, lighter colored male following Jenny. And a brand spanking new dark red fireball jumping and running after it’s milk supply. I’ve been worrying about how we will tell the new ones apart if they are the same sex, but that has turned out to be a non-issue. The first born male, Bolt, is the spitting image of his mother. A strawberry-blonde hulk that likes to jump fences. The new one is dark red and fast as lightning, just like it’s momma Clara.
I walked back to the house with a happy grin, until the facts of the matter hit me like a mud truck on a wet-dirt track.
Four cows!
Just three months ago I had no cows, now I have a herd. Four constitutes as a herd right? Albeit a very small grouping, a herd nonetheless.
What are we doing?!
I now have three boys, two dogs, and four cows! If I haven’t lost my mind yet, it has certainly packed it’s bags in preparation for departure. There are just too many things in there. Like someone with a trigger finger and a TV remote, my brain constantly switches between my rancher, mother, home builder, and CEO of homemaker industries hemispheres. 
I need cliff notes for my lists.
House update:
The insulation is finishing up today. The drywall installation starts tomorrow. Fencing completion will take place Saturday. We met with the cabinet maker yesterday and are dreading the bid. The fun stuff is coming soon and we are praying they make the end-of-September closing.

Clara and baby in front, Jenny and Bolt in back.

Beginning of front grading.

Clearing behind house, in front of back pasture gate. Goodbye Rattlesnakes!

Shenanigans

After a long evening of sweeping to prepare for the installation of insulation, I finished loading up the car. Grant and his friend locked up the shed and began walking toward me.
“Grant, I need the keys.” I shouted.
A look of horror came over Grant’s face.
“You did not lock the keys in the shed.” A demand, not a question.
“Oh no!” Grant wails.
Grant starts naming off names of friends who can come rescue us, all of them out of state on business trips or vacations.
“Run next door and see if they have anything to cut the lock.” I bark.
Meanwhile my brain is working overtime trying to think of a way out of this pickle I now find myself in. The sun is setting, and I have with me four little boys who will, no doubt, become unglued in the coming darkness. There are lots of things that go bump in the night in the country, both hot and cold blooded.
I look up to see Grant sprinting across the field.
“He’s coming to help!” He yells.
Sure enough, truck headlights flood the driveway and help has arrived. The neighbor gets the shed open, I will not reveal what he did, let’s just say it was easier than expected. A good thing for retrieving lost keys, but not so good for keeping the items in the shed safe. After we profusely thanked our rescuer he asked what I thought of the new calf (remember that the calf is still in his back pasture). I acknowledged that it was really neat to see.
“Yeah, she’s pretty cool” he replies.
Her?
“I was there right after she was born and the cows let me pet her.”
Oops. 
I thought the calf was a boy. Now, to save myself some humiliation, I have only seen the baby from far away, so I will have to defer to the neighbor who has seen her up close. A girl is cool too, we get to keep her for future calving if she is of good temperament and form. And we get to name her a non-food name.
A friendly farmer-man saved us again, and we drove home with the new knowledge of our newest family member. I went to sleep expecting tomorrow to be a good day.
Then I woke up.
To smoke that is .
Sam was attempting to make toast. He had actually brought me toast in bed while I was barely awake (I know… he is awesome), so the smell of smoke sent me flying into the kitchen ten minutes later. The toast had gotten stuck in the toaster, the boys had taken care of it, and I instructed them to open the windows to keep the smoke alarm from going off.
Where is the smoke alarm?
I look up to see the smoke alarm engulfed in smoke and utterly silent.
That’s comforting.
House update:
The roof is on, the fireplaces are in, and the painting is complete. The drywall was delivered yesterday and the insulation goes in Monday. We have decided to go with granite counter tops instead of soapstone, Andy is convinced that soapstone plus three little boys equals disaster. So we found a beautiful compromise and are now trying to figure out what to put on the fireplace surrounds.

Diary of a Stalker

Day 1
July 15, 2010
Dusk has come and the sun is quickly fading. We are heading out of the front gate when the neighbor flags us down.
“Your cow had a baby!” she shouts.
Excitement floods the car and we speed through the neighbors’ gate to their back pasture. Time is not on our side as the sun fades to black. We use the truck headlights to search the field. Finally we spot the cows…three of them. Amazing. Jenny had been spotted not 2 hours ago, with no baby in tow. Now she has a beautiful, fuzzy, stumbling calf beside her.
Andy climbs in the truck bed with the camera switched to the night time setting. I navigate the rough terrain, trying to keep a safe distance. Andy takes lots of pictures, but they are impossible to make out since we are maintaining a wide berth. We make the decision to come back in the morning for a better view.
Day2
July 16, 2010
I hunker down in the seat, demanding that everyone stay silent. I gently remove the cap from the long-range lens on the camera and wait for the perfect shot. From the outside, I probably resemble some random paparazzi awaiting his next big break. But my assignment is much more brutal than some celebrity lunching in Beverly Hills.
I am stalking a baby cow.
Laugh if you must, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. The heavy rains have lengthened the grass and the brush easily hides a newborn calf taking a nap. Not to mention the body guards thwarting my every move. The two mommas take turns blocking the fuzz-ball from outsiders. Jenny is the birth mother, and she has become gentler since she calved, as if she wants me to see the baby… share the fruits of her labor. Clara on the other hand, is still pregnant and ferocious in her possessiveness. She can only be wooed away with a bag of bread, her appetite apparently more aggressive than her concern.
So we wait, under the gigantic canopy of a pecan tree in the scorching heat. Camera trained on the orange patch of grass just beyond Clara’s hovering hooves, I refuse to leave without a portrait of the newest addition. The baby must feel me staring, because he/she randomly peaks at me over the blades of grass.
I get a few good pictures, but am still unable to tell if I have a new boy or girl in the herd.

Day 3
July 19, 2010
Of course she had to calve when we finally get a two-day break. We take the break, torn about leaving the cows. We return refreshed and see the cows near the stock tank. Andy sets the camera to work and begins snapping pics, hoping that one might come out well. The growing herd comes a little closer, but still keeps the baby from prying eyes.

Day 4
July 20, 2010
I drive the truck to the back pasture, determined to find out the sex of the baby. And to see if Clara has had her calf, ’cause she looks like she’s haulin’ eight gallons of milk in that udder. Clara spots us first and happily sloshes toward the truck. She must be looking for bread. Jenny looks up to follow Clara’s exit and sees us waiting. I say the words in a normal voice, from across the pasture.
“I really need to see that baby, Jenny.”
She stares at me for a moment and gently pushes the calf toward me.
“They’re coming!” the boys yell.
Jenny attempts to usher the little one closer, but the munchkin decides a drink is in order when they come to about seventy-five feet away. Jenny gives a look that says, I tried, and then stands perfectly still so the baby can feed and I can snap the prized pictures.
It’s a girl! (Yes, if you read this before I changed it, it used to say boy. I will blog about my humiliation later.)
A cute and cuddly calf that will grow into well over 1,000 pounds of attitude, given her parentage.
I’m thinking we might want our five-strand barbwire fence to become a seven-strand bard wire fence….

Tie Down Queen

Sing loosely to the chorus of Rawhide:

Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’
Though the cars are swervin’
Keep the cargo movin’ 
Tie Downs!

Load ’em in, Line ’em up,
Pack ’em in, Pull ’em tight
Lock ’em down, Tie ’em up
TIE DOWNS!

Ok, so it is a very rough approximation of Rawhide, but it is the song that plays in my head with every trip that includes something dangerous hanging out of my open tailgate.
I love my truck. I LOVE my truck. It’s got close to 150,000 miles on it and has hauled cargo of all kinds. The truck used to be a family truck, but like the rest of us, has morphed this year. Now Blue Betty is a farm truck. She has scratches and dents earned while engaging in off-road, back-pasture adventures. She is perpetually filthy from dirt road dust and let’s not discuss the state of her interior. Let’s just say three little boys practically live in her and leave the rest to your imagination.
And my beloved truck has aided in my transformation into Tie Down Queen.
On any given day I can be spotted driving down the road with 10 ft. long central vac line, appliances, 8 inch by 8 ft. wooden fence posts, barb wire, T-posts, tillers, two-man augers, etc.. hanging out of my truck bed. I keep in my cab, an entire bucket filled with bungees and tie-downs to aid in my activities. So after some friendly, well-muscled man has helped load up my truck, I bring out the bucket. I keep a serious face while weighing my options, never letting them know that my 10-year-old had to teach me how to use the absolutely non-self explanatory ratchet tie-downs…
Side note to the makers of the ratchet tie-downs: thank you for the lack of instructions on usage, if it really was that obvious there would not be a plethora of instructional videos on YouTube. I’m just sayin’.
Despite the many items of questionable nature that I have hauled, the one that keeps the cars furthest behind me is a ream of barb wire. Apparently those frightened drivers have never actually tried to lift the thing… trust me, ain’t no way that roll is going to accidentally fall out.
Still, it must be a strange sight. Driving up behind a truck loaded down with something that makes you want to pass on the right side, a movie screen hanging over the back seat playing Mary Poppins, and a woman behind the wheel.
After all that we have been through, my truck has my utmost respect. I will drive her completely out of the way to get Texaco gas when she is having a bad day. I will never sell her. I now totally get why farmers have old clunkers in their pastures. To the rest of the world it looks like junk, but to the old farmer, it is the well deserved resting place of a loved one. Someday when visiting the farm, you will see her parked in the shade of a pecan tree, rust having changed her color, and wonder about all the places she has been.

Man Down

Warning: if you are squeamish, you may want to skip this entry.

Crack!
Crash!
“Owwww…”
Have you ever been in a car accident? You know how the sound of crushing metal is permanently etched in your memory? That’s how the sound of plywood sheets breaking is for me. I could pick out that sound even if given dozens to choose from.
I heard it, but I didn’t really want to investigate. The logical part of my brain knew someone had fallen through the front porch…again, but the emotional part didn’t want to know who.
I managed to force my feet to move out onto the porch floor beams and hesitantly peek around the corner, looking for the newest victim.
Grant.
My doctor-mom instincts began looking for signs of injury….
ok, he’s moving…he didn’t fall through the porch, just on it…pants are ripped…face has dirt under the eye…he’s talking and the floor is stable.
“Are you ok?” I ask.
I think so.” he replies.
“What were you thinking?! Sam fell through the porch in that exact same spot!!!” I yell.
He starts to stand and says, “this is embarrassing” as he accesses that his pants are ripped all the way trough the seat. As he gingerly moves closer to me, I notice that what I first believed to be dirt under his right eye, is actually a bruise. The closer he comes to me, the bigger his eye is swelling. By the time we are back inside the house he looks like his twin is growing out of his face. It’s the kind of injury you can’t look at without feeling innate pain. You get that little pull in your lower stomach and your mind will only look at it from the periphereal.
And yes, you did read right, Sam fell through the porch in the same spot four days earlier. He had bruises and scratches that can only be described as “skid marks” down both of his sides. I know what you are thinking…keep them off the porch! Really? Why didn’t I think of that? Insert sarcastic eye roll here.
They are 10 and 7-years-old and frankly know better. However, laziness won over smarts in these instances. See, they would have had to walk all the way around the house to get to the first floor, and why expend that much energy when they could just climb up on the porch skeleton and save some sweat? After all, Ian does it, and never falls.
Because Ian is like a cat….unless he is being held by one of his brothers when he performs circus acts.
On July 4th, Ian and Sam decide to hold hands while jumping into the pool. This act is explictly forbidden, and they all know it. But Grant wanted to snap a pic of them jumping, so the warning was ignored… just this one time, I mean what’s the worst that could happen?
Ian jumped, Sam didn’t. This decision sent Ian swinging back into the stone wall…using his face to stop him. Sam lets go after Ian hits the wall…Ian falls into the water. Blood. Crying.
How can one person bite all the way through their lip twice in one lifetime?
An hour later we find an open ER and after some Dermabond, Ian is ready to swim again. He posed with a sad face on the gurney…you know, to use as blackmail with his guilty older brothers. I’m pretty sure I could have used superglue to fix his lip and it would have only cost $4.
Kidding…sort of.
House update:
The framers are finished until our porch wood arrives. The painters are very busy painting the outside of the house. The plumbing and propane lines are finished. The electrician is finishing up this week.
Cow update:
Girls are still at neighbors, but t-posts has been installed. Up next? Gate and hopefully calves!

The Naked Truth

I don’t remember this being part of the dream…..
I once again find myself using the big blue broom to push the water out of the basement. Rain may be great for the pasture, but it sure creates a mess in an unfinished house. The sunny side of the situation?  Ian loves catching all of the toads that the water draws.
Watching a house being built brings to mind a man anticipating his upcoming wedding. He has the dream of his beautiful wife and the many happy years to come. The night before the wedding he decides he is going to sneak a peek at his bride-to-be. He craftily sneaks up to her window, expecting her beauty to overwhelm him. His eyes settle on her robed back and as she turns around….he lets out a yelp of surprise.
The surprise is not a good one.
She has a green mask on her face and her head is adorned with rollers. As the groom runs for his life, he questions how he could have made such a mistake.
Now, as all we women know, the man only saw the preparation for the beauty to come. God does provide some wonders for the eye to behold, but let’s be honest, most beauty must be quarried. Sweat, filing, and scrubbing combined with lotions, waxes, and polishes are what it takes to soften those rough edges.
I suppose the same is true for the house. I see all the imperfections, sweep away all the trash from the cracks. I truly wonder sometimes if men or animals are eating lunch in my future living room. When I hear the curse words being showered over the walls, I want to shout at the manly men, “She can hear you!”
I can also appreciate the fact that she came from nothing. That once she was just a dream in my vivid imagination. That sweat, blood, and yes…curse words have built her. So I will focus on the fact that scars cans also be beautiful. They carry with them stories of endurance and survival. I will try to remember every heartache, gray hair, splinter, callous and bruise as a right of passage to our new life.    
Speaking of gray hairs, both of our cows are now in the neighbor’s pasture. There are still no holes in the fence. We all agree that they are walking over the fence, so fence reinforcement will begin shortly. Another hilarious tale of cattle herding will no doubt follow. For now I must watch them 2 feet across the boundry. Clara stares back with quilty glances that say “she made me do it!”, while Jenny glares as if to say, “whatcha gonna do about it cowgirl?” My thoughts as my eyes bore into hers?
I’m havin steak for dinner….