February 25, 2009

Green Acres

This entry is added by Andre Konstantinov.

Everyone at work, as soon as they find out that we own a farm, always starts: "Greeeeeeeen Acres is the place to be".....

Is it THAT unusual to own a farm?

I once worked for a small software development company in Glenwood, Iowa. It was, in fact, my first job after I married My Honey and got my Green Card (one of the many, many reasons that I married her...really!). They used to joke that if I did not behave, they would take away my "Pink Card". I did not mind. There was love and care in these jokes. They loved me and I loved the people I worked with.

At that company, it was fairly typical to take off three weeks in September to go and harvest, say, 60 acres of beans. I was a wide-eyed immigrant, graduate student at Creighton University in physics, just taking it all in. Good Lord, I didn't even know how 'John Deere' was actually spelled. Seriously.

Oh yeah, the company developed agricultural loan software.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would care about things like 'yield', 'pounds of nitrogen per acre' and 'mechanical weed control'. I grew up in a city. Food came from the grocery store, and it did NOT have dirt on it.

Twelve years after that time, having bought a farm, I find myself quite versed in the intricacies of ancient tractor makes and models. (I even own a few of them.) I watch the weather with genuine interest. I chart the rainfall. I know when the ground will freeze and thaw. I quiver with anticipation during the fall hunting season. I love that My Honey has just begun her seedlings in the makeshift greenhouse that was once our living room.

I've come a long way since the days of writing code for ag loans, and I'm glad of it!

February 19, 2009

My Better Half

I've got to hand it to My Honey.

The rain barrel was finally empty of water or ice. The new spigot had been purchased (and brought to the farm this weekend). Elements had converged for the optimum time to repair the barrel. Only one problem -- six inches of freshly fallen snow had arrived in the night.

Undeterred by the weather, he slithered on the ground and climbed into the barrel to attach the new spigot.

What a trooper!

We're all ready for spring.

Thanks, Honey! You're the best!

February 16, 2009

Good luck

My superstitious/traditional (not mutually exclusive here) Russian hubby decided that we needed horseshoes over each of the two doors in our cabin at the dacha*. So, we devised a plan. Our neighbor up the road, who has horses, must have a horseshoe lying around that he didn't need. Since he trusts us with his horses and gives us free rein (tee-hee) of his barn, whether we're going riding or not, we made a trip up there and, lo and behold, found a horseshoe. Picking it up and taking it with us, we were both filled with unspoken, yet utterly palpable guilt, of course.

Returning to our cabin, we face the next small dilemma -- how to hang the horseshoe, ends up or ends down. For the answer, we consulted Wikipedia:

In some traditions, any good or bad luck achieved will only occur to the owner of the horseshoe, not the person who hangs it up. Therefore, if the horseshoe was stolen, borrowed or even just found then the owner, not the person who found or stole the horseshoe will get any good or bad luck.

Makes sense. We are confirmed in our guilt. We move to Plan B.

Cut to a trip into town for supplies.

We found ourselves at the farm store where new horseshoes were readily available for a nominal price. We bought two and decided to secretly return the ill-gotten gain to our neighbor's barn as soon as humanly possible. No need for negative juju here. We're talking luck after all.

The new horseshoes are in place, granting luck to all who enter our beloved cabin. The old, liberated horseshoe, with loads of character, history, and rust IS STILL IN THE TRUCK! UGH! We can't return it until next weekend. DO NOT ENTER our cabin until then! You have been forewarned.


*Russian compound of house/barn/gardens outside of the city wherein to grow produce for the winter and to simply have fun in the summer.

February 13, 2009

Multiple Media and Me

Gone are the days when one would put pen to paper...the days of what is dismissively called "snail mail" (as if slow were bad. Hmm...I can think of some things...well, let's leave that for another entry). Gone are the days of long-awaited family missives, keenly anticipated news from long-distance friends, sweetly scented love letters, a 150-year-old journal in verse, no less, of an ancestor as she traveled around the world, alone, by ship. (True story.)

I'm sure I'm not the only 40-something that has wondered if she can keep up with the rapid pace of technological advances. I may have a leg up on things since I have children who span the gadget gamut from 1988 to 2001. My eldest Skypes and Facebooks me. (Sometimes, she even SkypeCries me...sorry Honey, but we're hoping to coin a term here. You understand.) The second daughter texts me and calls me on her cell or IMs me from her bedroom to my desk, all within the confines of our home. (My husband says I'm child-rearing by cell. What choice do I have?) The younger ones are learning the ropes of MySpace and Gmail (where I can feel like a pro, thanks to the tutelage of their older siblings).

Thirty years ago, yours truly studied abroad. The coolest innovation in communication at the time was the aerogramme. It was a blue, one-sheet letter, purchased at the post office, that could be folded in three and had self-adhesive flaps and postage (less than a traditional letter) already attached. I thought it was the bomb! (I know, anachronistic use of the term...forgive me.) It was used all around the world. I thought nothing else could make the world smaller. I had no idea what was on the horizon.

I remember spending time and thought composing. I was sure that letters I received from family and friends were given the same consideration. Each piece of mail was a treasure.

One correspondent who held a special place in my heart was my maternal Grandma. I was pretty sure she hated writing letters, but she wrote to me (all the more meaningful, don't you think?) She wrote religiously, and so did I, to her. I loved receiving her letters. They were a lifeline to my family halfway around the world.

Upon her death in 1991, 13 years after I had spent the year abroad, I went rummaging through her dresser drawers (a forbidden act for a granddaughter who had so respected her grandmother, but, hey, I was still young and curious).

The tears swell in my eyes even today when I remember the moment that I discovered, much to my surprise, neatly collected in a simple rubber band, in a top drawer behind her unmentionables, all of the letters I had sent to her from that year in my life...the time I lived incommunicado from my family, so far away, so alone. I grabbed the packet of letters and tucked them into my suitcase for the ride home. (Who else would want them?) I keep them with the letters I received from her that year...the letters I saved for all those years, as well. (Note to my children...look for these letters when I go.)

Will email be able to follow the act of snail-mail? Are we saving those emails that mean something to us? Or, do they end up in our accounts for so long that they disappear by default after 60 days?

I, for one, have printed hard copies of all those emails My Honey wrote to me when we were courting long-distance. (They total about a ream and a half of paper...note to children, look for those in the basement. You might make a nice love story book with them and make a little money!)

Let me just put this out there...if you have feelings for someone close to you, write that person a real letter. It will mean more than you know.

February 10, 2009

A Man's World

So, we're building a new barn. The old one, which was actually rather new, was rolled up in a ball by a spring tornado last year along with the garden shed. Thankfully, the main two cabins were left untouched. Note to self -- get that building insurance before the coming spring.

With the help of our neighbor's son and his friend, the skeleton is in place for the new barn. The next step is the metal roofing material which can be had at any decent hardware store. The problem with the decent hardware stores in town is that they are used to dealing with men. My man, however, is busy working all day, so I thought I'd take it upon myself to get some prices on roofing material from the three or four various hardware stores in the area. Having been building things for some two and a half years now, I've learned one basic tenet...men assume I don't know what I'm doing until I "talk the talk" of construction for them, not unlike entering a password in order to gain access, or, at least, strutting by in a bikini to gain attention.

I begin by boning up on the Internet...gauge numbers, widths, linear feet prices, and such. Then, I go to the various stores and let them see that I am price shopping and sometimes get a cute young thing who has a brain in his head and sees that I actually do know what I am talking about. The more interesting conversations are on the phone with the not-so-cute older things that are sure that I don't know what I'm talking about.

Liz: Hello. I'd like to get some prices on roofing panels.

Old Guy: OK. Well, what exactly do you want? (tone = "Ha. She'll be stumped now!")

Liz: Well, I'd like to know how much you charge per linear foot for your 36-inch, 29-gauge, 13-foot, metal, ribbed, white or red...is there a price difference depending on color?...roofing metal, and I need 32 sections of it to cover 1,248 square feet of a barn roof.

Old Guy: Oh. Well, just a minute. (Obviously shaken and calling to his more knowledgeable buddy..."How much is blah blah blah?")

Other Old Guy: (His interminable coffee break rudely interrupted) It's $2.75 per linear foot.

Old Guy: It's $2.75 per linear foot.

Liz: OK. Thanks. And, I assume you don't have it in stock (since no one else did, again, the learning curve in action), so how long would it take to get it in?

Old Guy: (Showing, once again, his utter dispensability) "How long would it take to get it?"

Other Old Guy: Three weeks.

Old Guy: Three weeks.

Liz: Thanks so much! (Touché)

February 5, 2009

"Life" and "Lost"

It has come time on the new blog to rant. I'm sorry, but I must!

The wasteland that we call Broadcast Television usually doesn't let me down, only because my expectations are so low. I know that there will be weeks of re-runs, other weeks of pilots that may have seemed like good ideas at the time they were proffered, and yet other weeks of inane reality shows. Same ole, same ole.

But, every once in a while, there is a show actually worth watching! A few years ago, an NPR* commentator predicted that the shows of the upcoming year would be Lost and Desperate Housewives. Well, being a loyal NPR follower, I tuned in to see what they were like and got hooked on both of them. Unlike my hero, David Letterman, I do know, "what the f$%k is going on in Lost" since I have watched it religiously from the beginning. And the Desperate Housewives never fail to satisfy.

Then, just last year, against all odds, along came another new show that had some promise...Life. It is one of those "critically acclaimed" but, I'm guessing, hardly watched shows. It centers on a detective who is given a second chance. Golden Globe nominee Damian Lewis ("Band of Brothers") plays complex, offbeat Detective Charlie Crews, who returns to the force after serving time in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Crews' new lease on life has provided him with a Zen-like outlook, peace of mind and no need for vengeance, an attitude which can be challenging to maintain when someone he cares about is threatened -- or when he is investigating the mystery surrounding the murder he was falsely accused of.

There are three plot lines going all at the same time -- Charlie does his day job of being a detective and solving crimes, he maintains a hidden room where he charts the ongoing progress of the conspiracy against him, and he works on finding the guy who did the deed that Charlie was accused of and served time for. Interesting, deep, and circuitous, no?

One other little note...I have been waiting for many weeks for the return of Life. New episodes were scheduled to start up again last night, February 4th, 2009, which they did. One small problem...the new episode was directly opposite the latest new episode of Lost! And no where around either one of them was a show anywhere near worth watching!!! Why, oh why??!! Why couldn't they have put them in different time slots for us geeks to be able to enjoy both, live? (Yes, I know one can watch online after the fact, but it just isn't the same now, is it?) Well, I was forced to choose. I chose Lost (for technical re-play reasons) and watched Life this morning on my PC...not nearly as satisfying. But what is an intelligent, demanding, television viewer to do?

Thanks for listening.

*National Public Radio - The voice of some intelligence in these matters.

February 2, 2009

Day by Day

In this part of the world, we don't pay too much attention to the prognostications of Punxsutawney Phil. It doesn't really matter which way he goes, we Midwesterners always have at least six more weeks of winter at this point in the year. We're used to it, so it's alright. But, having spent some of my formative years just north of Phil's stomping grounds, I still get a little thrill when his day rolls around. Even if he predicts more winter, the fact that Phil's day has arrived means that spring can't be far off.

Even more entertaining than watching a reluctant rodent being pulled out of his cozy hole is the movie, Groundhog Day. Bill Murray stars as a sullen, sarcastic news reporter who is stuck living the same day over and over again....until he gets it right. Along the way, however, he gets to act with impunity, knowing no one will remember his actions the next day. I'm envious. Do-Overs to the max! (Yes, I know it's just a movie, but still...)

His progress in the movie is through his own learning experiences, unencumbered by the passage of time (beyond one day). It's a great movie -- full of fun stuff, serious stuff, and a moral that doesn't hit you over the head. Thoroughly enjoyable and...timeless. (Ha!) Put it on your Netflix wishlist.

One of the more subtle lessons in the film is that of judging a small town like Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (a real place, by the way). We see through the cynic's eyes, as the story opens, that it's a non-descript, podunk town that he can't wait to leave behind. As the story unfolds, our antagonist, stuck there, begins to see the charms of the town. These charms are expressed in family ties, shared history, social cooperation, and a willingness to accept the newcomer, no questions asked.

Down on our farm, even though they call us "the crazy Russians", we know that it is said with affection, we know that we will never get a bum deal from our small town, we know that our neighbors will always watch out for us, and we know that a handshake is a deal-sealer. People around us are more interested in us succeeding than failing, they realize that we have something to offer, and they know that we're all in this together. I must admit that I used to discount small towns as insignificant. My bad. They are truly the backbone of this great nation and I count myself lucky to be someone who understands why.