Sunday Afternoons and the Dreaded Bowl of Doom

Sunday afternoons are supposed to be a time of rest and relaxations. It says so in the bible. I looked it up! After getting up early to go to church at 9 and then Sunday School afterward, we would all come home and enjoy a delicious homemade meal. A perfect set up for an afternoon nap. Then dad would stand up, walk over to the refrigerator, and grab the small bowl off the top. Every Sunday us kids would moan and groan, begging for mercy, but Dad would push on. “Who wants to go first?” he would ask. His question was always followed by a choir of “Dad, do we have too?” “Can we just skip this week?” “Can we have today off?” “I’m too tired.” “Please?” But dad was nothing if not consistent. “We can sit here all day if you want but we’re going to do this whether you like it or not.” “I’ll go first” I bravely proclaimed. My dad held out the dreaded bowl of doom. Then the other three siblings would follow my lead, and the last marble was dads. “Alright you four, those dishes aren’t going to wash themselves.” Slowly, I released the small fist I made around my marble, one finger at a time to reveal… the red marble. “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I yelled. The red marble meant I would have to wash the dishes. The most coveted job of them all! Matt had the black marble which meant he would dry, and Andy was blessed with the blue marble, put away. “Bek and Dad always get the green marbles” I complained. “Do you want me to empty the cupboards so you can wash all the dishes we own” dad would offer. “No” I would respond as I made my way over to the sink. “Alright then, you three better get to work.” Mom would always offer to help every Sunday and every Sunday Dad would force her to go upstairs and take a rest. She deserved a break from washing dishes the entire week.

“Get to it then, if I hear any fighting I WILL empty those cupboards” Dad would threaten. Mom and Bek would make their way up the stairs to relax and Dad would reside at his post in the living room, in the form of a recliner to keep a watchful eye on his little soldiers.

Sadly, I looked down at my freshly manicured fingernails and knew my labor from Saturday for beauty would be ruined after this excursion. I did my best to give dad the puppy dog eye but to no avail. My fate had been decided with no one backing down. “Come on Joanna hurry up! I want to watch the game” Andy would press.

Hanging my head in defeat I made my way over to the sink and counter full of dirty dishes; I filled the sink with water and began to wash as fast as I could and then passed them to Matt for inspection. Plop! A clean dish was thrown back into my sink of hot water. “It’s not clean” Matt said. Gritting me teeth I would rewash the dish and hand it back to him. Plop! He threw it back in my sink. With the look of a thousand demons on my face I glared at my older brother, “it’s still not clean” “Well then why don’t you wash it” I would whisper as sternly as I could as to not wake dad who had just begun his slumber in the next room. “I didn’t draw that marble, so I can’t.”

And so the bickering would start. And then get louder and well, let’s just say that sometimes, the cupboards were emptied on Sunday afternoons.

Matt and I washing the dishes. There really should be some child labor law in place, right? 🙂

Yours forever… *BGR

This is how I sign all of my love notes to my husband. We have a secret language. He loves that I can own being a “BGR” Or as I like to call it… A Big Giant Redhead. I’m not a big giant, this I know, but I am a redhead that is surrounded by a family of little people. Many people wonder where I get this idea… so I bring you, all of my reasons for calling myself a “BGR”.

And now it’s time to let you know… That I LOVE the title I have deemed to myself as the BGR!!!! I own it, it’s awesome, and I stand out like a sore thumb! If you ask me “What’s something about yourself that you would never change?”  It would be my BGR-ness. It makes me different and quite frankly it’s more of an attitude than anything else. 🙂

Your Favorite Story: The Case of the Heavy Boots

As stated previously, chasing cows is not only a big deal but a way of life at the Kopperud Farm. Like a doctor who is on call, you have to be completely ready for any situation at any time even from a dead sleep. Ya know, one of us really should have been a doctor… Oh wait! I crack myself up… Anyway, my point is,  many times you can be awakened in the early morning hours and you have to chase cows. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Get up and GO! You have 2 seconds to get dressed in the proper attire before you are expected to be miles away from the house and round up those thousand pound animals and make them go where you want them to go.

I really shouldn’t call it chasing cows when really it’s rounding up the cows and directing them where you want them to go. In the Kopperud family, we have a system that we follow. If you married into the family be prepared to get yelled at for being in the way at least for the first few times you join us. After that, you can do it in your sleep.

When I was around 10 years old, I had the wonderful privilege of being the only person home when the cows broke down the fence. This was before cell phones so without warning my Dad came bursting into the house and said “Let’s go! Cows are out and they’re headed to the tar road!” Sensing my father’s intensity I got up and threw on some old blue and white coveralls. Then I headed for the front porch to put my boots on. “Come on! What’s taking you so long?!” my father called out. “I can’t find my boots!” I yelled back. “Just put something on and let’s go!” The only boots that were available were a spare pair of my dad’s boots. He had several pairs so I slipped my feet into his boots and ran out the door. On my way up the hill through the tree’s and on my way down the gravel drive way I realized my choice in footwear was going to be a problem. Not only were his boots ginormous but I really couldn’t move very fast with their weight holding me down. “Hurry up!” my dad called out again. I could see him out in the field in waist high grass. My eyes went crossed. Not only was I doing my best to run in his giant boots, but I would have to run fast in waist high grass. I stood there wondering if I dare tell my dad, whose temper was already high, that I needed to run back to the house to change my shoes. “What are you doing just standing there? Let’s GO!” And then I knew what I had to do, I ran fast and hard through the waist high grass. I jumped and lifted my knees as high as I could so I wouldn’t trip on the grass. My boots were weighing me down. I did my best to keep up with my dad. I tried to stay right behind him so I could run in the grass he already knocked down. Then, the tall grass disappeared to reveal a small ravine. Dad leaped over the ravine like a graceful gazelle.  The ravine was only around 2 feet wide so under normal circumstances, this jump wouldn’t have fazed me, but since my legs were already feeling like lead weights from running in the boots, this small jump looked like the Grand Canyon. I looked up at my dad who was standing on the other bank, “Come on jump! I need you over here. What’s the matter with you? Jump!”

I didn’t want to argue with him because he was already frustrated that the cows broke down the fence that he would no doubt spend the rest of the day mending. AND to rub salt into the wound, his sons weren’t home to help him. All that was left was his little pip-squeak redhead.

I looked at him, and then back at the rustling water in front of me. “Okay Jesus, please help me make it to the other side.” I had full faith that I was going to make it. I took a few steps back so I could get a running start… “I can do this, I can do this”… step, step, JUMP! I jumped with all of my might. I threw my arms out to my sides like superman, spread eagle, as hard as my little body could handle and closed my eyes. I felt my feet lift off the ground. A small smile crossed my face and I knew I could make it. Just as soon as I thought “I’m going to make it” I felt my small feet hit the inside top of Dad’s boots. My lift off came to an abrupt halt. My face changed from the sweet bliss of a freeing smile to a look of terror. My body could make it to the other side, but not as long as those boots were attached to my feet. I had just enough momentum to make the toe’s of the boots slowly roll forward and shift. So there I was, the small bubbling water beneath me, mid air, and my face fast approaching the west bank of the ravine. “This isn’t going to be good” I thought to myself. Then, WHAM! I did a face plant straight into the other bank. From the waist down I was soaked in water. “Get up, Joanna, Get up! You have to chase cows. Dad’s already frustrated. Get up!” I thought to myself. It took all of my strength to stand up. When I got to the point where I had shaken the sense back into myself after the shock, I looked around for my dad. I thought for sure he would be angry at me for getting all wet. After all, this meant I would move slower with the water weight added to my already heavy load. I looked around but I couldn’t find my dad. I could see the cows grazing in the neighbors bean field, but my dad was nowhere in sight. Then, I heard him. He was breathing strangely and gasping for air. I saw some flattened grass on the edge of the field and then I heard his hysterical laughter. He was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe. I walked over and stood next to him as tears rand down his face, he said, “THAT is the funniest thing I have ever seen!”

To this day, whenever we talk about chasing cows, this is the story my dad tells. If you ask him about it, he will start laughing and crying all at the same time. So, there you have it dad. I wrote my side of “Your Favorite Story.”

The Truth About Showing Cows Part 3

I waited patiently as the judge walked away “It’s ok…. it’s almost over” I whispered to Chargette again. The judge took the microphone and began his speech, “Thank you all for coming out to the show ring today. I especially want to thank all these kids in front of me for all their hard work they’ve done. I’m gonna go ahead and give 1st place to the little lady on the end…” my whole body went numb. Not only was he referring to me, but I had no idea what I was supposed to do about it. “She has a nice little red Angus and I like the look of this little calf because she has some nice muscle tone through her mid-section…” I looked at my brother who was clearly infuriated by the judge’s decision and shocked beyond belief that I beat him. I was clearly shocked as well. Just then one of the guys in the ring that helped the judge direct the cattle told me to lead Chargette around and take her out the gate, but this time my brother and Charger we not in front of us. I still wasn’t exactly sure where I was supposed to go. The judge continued, “I also think it’s adorable that her hair matches her calf…” And then I knew my secret weapon. Something that gave me an edge above everyone else, I matched the calf! “I’m going to go ahead and give the second place to the young man standing next to her…” “Oh thank you Jesus” I thought “Matt was coming behind me.” I looked up at my brother hoping he would guide me out of the ring. Still not registering in my head that I just beat him, I looked at him like a tiny lost puppy and asked “Matt, what am I supposed to do?” After all, he didn’t tell me what to do if I won. I looked at him and his face was red with anger “Walk your stupid calf out the gate and give her to dad.” He hissed as he passed me and left me standing in the ring. Just then a young woman in a crown and leather sash that said “Beef Princess” walked up to me with a big smile and handed me a huge purple ribbon. “Congratulations” she said with a smile and then walked back to the podium where the judge was standing still calling out the order of calves and explaining his decision.

I spotted my dad right outside the gate. My brother led charger past him and my dad smiled at Matt’s frustration. Then he focused his eyes on me and a broad smile crossed his face. I led Chargette to him and he grabbed her leather lead and gave me a big hug. “Good job” he said. Mom came down from the grand stands and hung the Champion ribbon on Chargette’s leather halter. She took pictures of us to take home and show the family. She then did the same with Matt and forced him to smile.

My brother learned harsh but valuable lessons that day. First, choose your show cattle more wisely next year. Second, don’t train your sisters cow for her ever again. Finally, he could never be as cute as his little redheaded sister leading her little redheaded calf.

The Truth About Showing Cows Part 2

Me and Freckle. She was the best heifer I ever showed.

Me and Freckle. She was the best heifer I ever showed.

Then show day came. I was so excited to show my first feeder calf. That is, until I realized that I would have to lead Chargette around a huge show ring, BY MYSELF! I. WAS. TERRIFIED. My mom did her best to calm my nerves. I had a new shirt, my best pair of jeans, some brown show shoes, and my mom braided my hair. I looked amazing, but I was still terrified.

The morning of the show we arrived early. Everyone was showing on the same day, so everyone wanted to give their cows a bath, brush them, put a little adhesive spray on them, and maybe give them a little blow dry to get them ready for the big show. This was also a science. You didn’t want to start too soon or your calf would get tired and then lay down in the show ring, but you also didn’t want to start too late and then miss the show.

I led Chargette out to the washing gate, my dad at the end of the lead rope so she wouldn’t escape. I tied her up and gave her a bath. Then I led her into the show arena and tied her to one of the back pens. I combed her and talked to her “Chargette I don’t know what I’m doing. Please be good and don’t trample me.”

Just then my dad came in with the leather show halter we had borrowed from a friend and told me to go change into my show clothes. My mom pinned a number to the back of my shirt and I was ready to go. Before we went into the ring my brother tried to explain what was going to happen and what I would be expected to do. As he talked I couldn’t listen. I was too nervous. The feeder calves were first in the ring so I couldn’t watch all the others show first and then just mirror what they did. The time came. Panic and nerves boiled up inside me, “Just remember, no matter what, have fun” my mom said. “Fun? Here’s hoping I don’t die!” I thought to myself.

I untied Chargette and with my dad at the end of the lead rope we followed my brother and Charger to the gate. “Just follow your brother and do what he does” my dad instructed. The gate opened to let us into the HUGE show ring. Panic ripped through me like lightning as  I realized the ring seemed much larger when you’re standing inside of it than when you were watching from the grand stand. “Oh my… Oh my… I’m gonna die” I silently thought to myself. I found myself talking to Chargette in a soft soothing voice, “Please don’t trample me Chargette. Just follow Charger and do what he does…. that’s it…. ok now lets walk over here…. ok now stand nice…. ” I led her to stand next to Charger and the judge asked us to line up. “Good girl Chargette, good girl, just stay calm, it will all be over soon” I whispered into her floppy ear. “Yes, good girl, just stand still…” I did my best to get her legs positioned the way my brother had shown me.

This is Matt showing Chargette the following year as a breeding heifer. He looks mad because he just got a red ribbon and thought he would win. That’s me with the chicken legs running on the left hand side….

Just then the judged began to walk around. He was a middle aged man, probably in his early 40’s. He had a large white cowboy hat on, a blue polo shirt, and dark jeans. He looked like all the other ranchers in the Minnesota area. He walked around slowly, checking out the front and the back of each calf and then pausing at each 4-Her asking questions. “Good girl Chargette, just stay calm, it’s almost over… stay calm.” At this point in time I realized I was talking more to myself than the calf.

The judge came to Charger and I could feel Chargette tense as he approached. She could sense his movement but with her head facing forward she couldn’t see him. She jumped to get a better look. It was slight and she didn’t wrestle with me. “Thank you Jesus, she didn’t get away” To get her re-positioned I led her out of the line and circled her back around into position again. This time she was standing even better than the first time. I caught the judges eye and gave him my best smile hoping to hide how nervous I felt.

As he approached, Chargette’s whole body tensed. She didn’t move but was uneasy of him looking at her. He walked around to the back of her to check her hind quarters and then ran his hand up her spine. Then he focused his attention on me. “Hi, is this your first time showing at the fair?” “Yes” I nodded “That’s my brother” and I motioned toward Matt who was listening intently to my little interview. “This is a nice little calf you have here. Do you know what breed she is?” “Red Angus Cross” I said confidently. “What are you planning to do with her after the show?” I knew he was testing my knowledge so with confidence I answered “We will keep her and breed her next summer. My family has a small cow/calf operation and she will join the herd.” I smiled at him, impressed by how well that knowledge came out of my mouth. “When was she born” the judge asked. “March 3rd” I replied, thanking God that my dad had quizzed me before I went into the show ring so I would know how to answer the judges questions. I smiled broadly at the judge and he smiled back. He took another walk around the line of calves and then walked to the podium to get the microphone and announce his decisions.

The Truth About Showing Cows Part 1

When I was young, probably around 7 years old, I had finally graduated from being a 4-H cloverbud to an actual 4-H club member. Back then, cloverbuds were not allowed to show livestock. My county fair projects consisted of cardboard that was glued to something that I probably made little drawings on with scented markers. Needless to say, I was so excited to begin showing cows just like my big brother. (At this point, I don’t think my oldest brother was showing cattle yet. This was the first year the Kopperud’s showed beef cattle)

As I recall, Matt had been showing dairy cattle for a couple of years. He loved it. He loved the cow’s, the barns, and the sense of accomplishment. My parents loved the responsibility that we learned halter breaking a calf and all the other preparations that are needed to get the cattle ready for the show ring.

The day had come for us to pick our calves. My dad had rounded up all the calves that had been born on our small farm in Cottonwood County that year and locked them all in a pen. Dad made it clear that Matt would get first pick because he was older, and then I could choose next with help from my big brother.

Then I saw her, a wonderful little white face red Angus calf. I immediately closed my eyes and began to pray, “Oh Jesus, please don’t let him pick that one. I want her. Please, please, please…..” Fingers and toes crossed I anxiously waited for my brothers decision. I waited in agony while I listened to him “judge” all the calves like he was a professional. “Well, that one has nice hind quarters, but that one has a nice muscle tone through her body….” All I could think while he was talking is “Come on! Hurry up and pick already!” Of course, my only criteria for choosing my calf was that she was pretty and I wanted her. Who cares if I win or not?

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of listening to my brother weighing his chances at winning, he chose a little red white faced calf and named him “Charger”. It was finally my turn to choose, I jumped up on the fence and pointed at the little red white faced heifer with red around her eyes and screamed, “Dad, I want that one!”

Excitement flooded my soul as I watched my dad and my brother sort off the two calves from the others and proceeded to put blue rope halters on them. Then dad drug them both over to the side of the barn and tied them to a fence post. “Matt, you’re in charge. Help your sister and show her what to do” my dad said. I spent the next few days talking to, petting, feeding, and brushing my Chargette. (This was around the time the Westbrook Wildcats became the Westbrook-Walnut Grove Chargers. Yep, we were really cool.)

I’d like to think Matt had fun halter training my calf for me. I weighed less than 100 lbs and even that was all skin and bones. He would lead my calf to water, lead her around our drive way circle so she would know how to act in the show ring, he taught her how to stand with her hind legs wide but not too wide, and then he would tie her to the tractor by the water hose so I could wash her.

Washing cows in the hot Minnesota sun was actually enjoyable most days. I loved letting the water drip down the sides of Chargette’s body. I would run the hose slowly up and down her spinal cord and take delight in the way she would shiver. She would always be so relaxed when it came to bath time. Who wouldn’t like someone washing every part of their body and then scrubbing them down with dish soap?

Every day my brother would do the training and then I would do the washing. When Matt finally felt confident enough to let me walk her he stood next to me with the end of the lead rope in his hand. If she spooked he would still have a hold of her. And spook she did! I don’t recall ever leading her by myself. I always had one of my brothers or my dad at the end of that lead rope. They were my safety net.

A few weeks before the show it was time to “fit” the cattle. Basically, we would shave them in certain places to make them look clean and polished. We had a lot of help from other seasoned showman. The fact that my dad can make friends with anyone really benefited us kids. He had found a young man with all the equipment and the excitement to help us show our calves. We loaded Charger into the small grooming shoot first. I watched as Scott, the young man who was helping us, guided my brother in “fitting” Charger. Matt held the large clippers and shaved Charger’s head, belly, tail, and neck. Then it was my turn. Dad loaded Chargette into the grooming shoot and I grabbed the clippers. They were so large and heavy it was hard for me to maneuver them. I remember that Scott would help me hold the clippers and basically do the grooming for me while my hand just set on the clipper. He wanted me to learn, even if I wasn’t strong enough.

After weeks of preparation, it was time to head to the Cottonwood County Fair. Excitement filled our household as well as stress and a rush to get all of our non-livestock projects finished for judging the following day. I don’t know why, but we always waited for that final day to finish the other projects. We would all get up early and dress in our best attire to go through the judging/interview process. I had a photo and a sample of flowers from my flower garden in a vase, Matt would have some kind of wood working project, and Andy no doubt had some sort of super smart guy science project. My sister would come along but I believe she was still too little to enter projects. For some reason, I always remember that it would rain that morning. Not just raining, POURING. We would all run into the non-livestock project barn with our projects in hand doing our best to avoid getting mud all over our nice clothes. We would find the judging table and wait in line for our turn to be judged.

At the end of the day, it was time to go home and get the livestock. Not only did we have cattle but Andy and I would also show rabbits. My dad purchased an old homemade trailer from one of our neighbors. It was made of old plywood and old steel gates on a frame that was welded together. My dad would swing the back gate open and it was time to load. The calves went in first. Their blue lead ropes would be tied as high and tight as possible to avoid them moving around and injuring themselves. They would be packed in tightly against each other to ensure that movement wasn’t possible. Next would come a few straw and hay bales. Then the rabbits would be on top of those. After that, the big show box was loaded. My grandpa Truman made it for us kids. It was a large box probably a 3 feet by 4 feet cube. It was painted bright 4-H green and then Mom stenciled a white 4-H 4 leaf clover on the top. Who needs to buy a professional show box when you could make one? Inside we kept all of our materials we would need to wash the cattle along with spare clothes to wear. Giving a cow a bath is not a clean job. My mom would also pack sandwiches, snacks, and drinks for us so we wouldn’t go hungry in the days to come.

Matt with Charger. I believe Bek is trying to “show” Bingo our dog in the background. LOL!

Dad would drive the old truck to Windom, Minnesota. Under normal circumstances it would take 30 minutes, but with the trailer in tow and the bed of the truck full of bales we couldn’t drive as fast so it would take around 1-1/2 hours back to the fair grounds. Once we got there we would stop at the rabbit barn and drop off all the rabbits and their feed. Then head to the cattle barn. The calves would always be nervous after the long ride and all the other 4-Her’s would be unloading their cattle. It would be a little chaotic. My brothers lifted the bales and show box out of the back of the trailer. Then it was time for me to unload Chargette. She really didn’t like me leading her, or she just knew that if she jumped even a little bit I would give up and let go. When it was time to lead her off the trailer my dad knew she would probably freak out, then I would let go, and then he would spend the rest of the evening driving the streets of Windom looking for a lost calf. Sensing my paralyzing fear, my dad grabbed Chargette’s lead rope and led her to her pen for me and tied her there next to Charger. Matt then tied her with the second tie around her neck (all of the cattle had to be double tied) as I stood watching at the edge of the gate in the back of the pen.

A Cattle Barn Love Story

There were many years when my brothers would be around to help my sister and me with the cows at the fair. However, in the later years, my brothers would go off to start practicing for college football season in early August so we were on our own. Sure, we could get the help of the 4-H boys in the barn if we really wanted. The other boys were always eager to help damsels in distress. Not to mention, they were just good, homegrown, country boys who were raised right and knew when to help a lady out. My sister and I would capitalize on our feminine wiles during fair week.

We were both pretty good at getting beef burgers from the beef stand or milkshakes from the dairy booth, without paying a penny for them. But, if it were a competition, I would have to give first prize to my dear little sister. Nobody could do it up like she did. She could bat her eyes and then a milkshake from the dairy farmer’s booth would just appear. A little wink and a smile from dear little Rebekah and BOOM a beef burger from the cattlemen’s beef stand would be in her hand. A small girlish giggle and seconds later I see one of the boys leading her heifer out to the water trough. A sad puppy dog face complete with a protruding lip and WHAM one of the boys has volunteered to “fit” her heifer for her the night before the show. It was miraculous to watch folks. She’s a talented lady.

Bernie as a calf… Nice fanny pack Bek!

There were other times when the assistance of the boys was a life or death situation. After all, we were dealing with large animals. One year my sister decided to show a cow/calf at the fair. She chose to bring Bernie. Bek had shown Bernie as a feeder calf a few years before and she was the sweetest little calf. It was no wonder that my sister felt a special bond with her. Then she brought her back to the fair again as a breeding heifer, and well why not bring her again with her calf? However, as Bernie got older she got meaner and meaner. Bernie was no longer that dear sweet little calf that followed my sister around like a puppy. She was a red 1,000+ pound mean machine. She was strong as an ox and knew how to throw her weight around.

At this point in time when you brought a cow/calf as a 4-H project you wouldn’t have to halter break either of them. However, if we had to, we could halter break her to show her at the state fair. Bernie had a halter on before so she should be used to it. We learned otherwise quickly. We thought we would just put a halter on her to transport her to the county fair. When we put a halter on Bernie she would buck her head up and down like a rodeo bull until we took it off. Like I said, she was a mean old b—–. So we would just put Bernie and her calf in a pen together and locked the gate behind them. They were free to roam freely in their little pen.

One night, Bek and I stayed at the fair a little longer than my parents. They had gone home after a long shift at the Cottonwood Cattlemen’s beef booth selling hamburgers and left my sister and I at the fair. Before they left Dad said, “Be sure those cattle are watered and fed before you come home.”

My sister and I made our way to the cattle barn. We led our breeding heifers out to water and my sister filled Bernie’s water bucket through the gate, if my tiny sister had stepped foot in that pen Bernie would have swallowed her whole, spit her out and then trampled the pieces. We were all set to go when Bernie decided it would be a great idea to not only step in her water bucket but tip it over and trample it. We knew we couldn’t leave her with no water so like the brave sister I am, I said, “I’ll go in and put the bucket back where it belongs.” My sister replied, “No don’t go in there. Joe (a 4-H boy) is sitting right outside the barn. I’ll go see if he can help us.” Looking back, I know that my sister was wise beyond her years. Yes, her idea would have been the better choice, but because I have too much pride, I replied, “Oh it will be fine. We don’t need boys to do EVERYTHING for us. You stand in that corner outside the fence and feed her some hay. I’ll sneak in the opposite corner by the gate and fix the water bucket. I’ll be in and out fast. She won’t even know I was in there.” The plan seemed to be a good idea. For the first half a second, it actually worked! My sister agreed and did her best to distract the old cow for as long as she could.

I swiftly opened the old yellow gate and slipped inside like the ginja ninja I am and then shut the gate behind me to ensure that the calf wouldn’t escape. Then it happened. As I wrestled with the water bucket trying to stabilize it against the gate, Bernie made her move. My back was turned to her and I was bent over wrestling with the bucket, trying to get it to stand on its own after the brutal trampling. She quietly yet quickly turned her body around, I heard my sister say “Joanna…” But I almost had the bucket back into place so I ignored her. “Joanna…” she said a little louder this time. Finally, I got the bucket untangled and put back into place. Oozing with pride that my plan worked I stood up and SLAM! Bernie had turned around and positioned herself behind me. She hooked her nose low under my bum and whipped her head straight up. She had me pinned up against the fence, my feet dangling off the ground beneath me. My face and body were pressed up against the gate. She knocked the wind straight out of my lungs so I couldn’t make a sound. She held me there, pressing harder and harder into my lower back with her long face. “JOANNA!” My sister screamed as she ran past me and headed towards the front doors of the barn screaming for help. Joe had already heard my sister’s screams and rushed to the pen. He flung the gate open and I could feel Bernie’s body shift slightly from side to side as Joe threw his whole body into her shoulder like a line backer trying to get her to release me from my pinned up prison. Finally, he was able to shift her off balance and I came tumbling down onto my bottom in the middle of the cow pen. Heaving, trying to catch my breath I realized I was sitting in the middle of an angry cow’s pen. I crawled as fast as I could out of the gate and Joe ran out shutting the gate behind us both.

As I lay there on the cold dirt floor of the barn, clinging to my life, coughing still trying to catch the last and final breath of my life, I looked around to find that I was alone. The bright sun light from the evening sunset showed through the large open barn doors, burning my pupils as I squinted and tried to make out the picture… there they were, side by side walking away from me as if nothing happened. I could see two silhouettes walking into the sunset, gazing into each other’s eyes. Of course, she was only 10 and he was 18 so the love story only began that day. (HAHA just kidding Joe I know you aren’t that much older than her) They were married on May 27th, 2006 and now have two beautiful boys.

Ok so, MAYBE the story is a little dramatic. But you know what, it’s MY story told from MY perspective. This story is a true story with only some SLIGHT exaggerations. I guess there’s something irresistible about a guy who comes to… your sister’s rescue? But who am I to judge? Jesus clearly knew what he was doing that day. He let me live and He sprouted an epic cattle barn love story.

1996: An awful good winter

Winters in Southwest Minnesota have a way of escalating cabin fever. Sure, school would get cancelled and my siblings and I would all rejoice singing, “Schools out for winter!” even though that’s not how the song is written.

The winter of 1996 is one that I will never forget. It inched along in a never ending sea of white flakes that covered the farm completely. In fact, it not only covered the farm, it snowed so much that my dad had to crawl out of the second story window in order to dig us out of the house.

Instead of wasting away in a house submerged by snow, my siblings and I played card games. Every day I would crawl out of bed, still wearing the same layers of clothing as the days before and join my siblings around the kitchen table.

“Alright, whose turn is it to deal?” My older brother would ask hoping to trick one of his younger siblings into breaking out of their cocoons of warm blankets. We all looked at each other hesitant to remove our hands from safe place of heat close to our bodies. The power was out again and the temperature was no doubt somewhere below zero. If you move, you risk your body heat vanishing into thin air.

Finally, my younger sister said, “I’ll do it even though I know it isn’t my turn.” I watch as she slowly removed her hands from the inside of her blanket cocoon. Her mitten covered hands emerged; she slowly removed the wool mittens to reveal another pair of gloves that were covering her soon to be frozen fingers. In a Minnesota winter, one pair of hand coverings is just not enough. Her hands shivered and began to shake as she began handing out the cards.

And there we sat, day in and day out. When the electricity would flicker on we could get a few hours of warmth from the electric heater and maybe watch a movie. During those times, we would switch to the more physical game of spoons. But, once the heater shut off and the electricity was gone, we would all retreat back to our cocoons for warmth, back into our little huddle like homeless people searching for warmth around a garbage tin of fire.

My husband always asks me how I got so good at playing card games and yet there isn’t a competitive bone in my body. My only answer is, “Well honey, after thousands of card games during the winter of 1996, I learned how to be good. Back then, games weren’t about winning or losing. They were about spending time with family, making memories, and in some cases surviving in a situation when you could easily lose your mind in a sea of snow.”

The Case of the Rolling Bull

I found this little gem from my college years. It was written sometime before May 2005.

Our families cows breaking out of their “fenced in roaming area” is nothing new. I remember such experiences as a child when death felt near. It is those times when your heart beats fast and panic sets in, then your mind and body come together in that short instance that saves your life.

My family had just gotten home from vacation. We notice many footprints on our lawn. These were not any ordinary footprints but they certainly were familiar to my family. They were the kind of footprints that we all dreaded to see. They were cow footprints. My whole family was so tired and did not want to deal with the cows wondering all over our lawn. Dad took it upon himself and said that he would go out and see what’s going on while the rest of us unloaded from the trip. We were all laughing and reminiscing about the trip when we all turned to see my dad running towards us. It turns out that my neighbor’s cows had gotten into the very same pen with our cows and we would have to separate them. This is a HUGE job. My sister, mom, dad and I went and put our clothes on and got ready to go.

When I had finished getting changed I went down the hill to where the cows were. Naturally, the two bulls had found each other. I made my sister round up the herd while I stayed up by the house. My life all of the sudden became slow motion. The two bulls were coming towards me in a not so orderly way. Rolling, rolling towards me. I looked around for somewhere to hide, but unfortunately this was the open plain of the Midwest. There were no trees or anything to hide from two fighting, 2,000 Pd bulls. I screamed and looked at my sister. To my shock she was laughing hysterically at me. I did not think that this near death experience was very humorous at all.

I looked back at the bulls. The neighbor’s bull was running towards me looking for protection because our bull was winning the fight. This only worsened my situation. Finally, I did what I had to do; the only thing there was to do. I ran. I out ran them. After all I was only 140 pounds and they weighed only about 1,860 more.

Well, that’s what I remember. During the rest of the day I had two more near death experiences. If you would like to know “the rest of the story” just ask. It is quite amusing.

Meet the parents

Colorado Springs November 2006

Oh how exciting it is to be a crazy young love sick fool… “Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough, ain’t no distance FAR enough?” That’s how the song goes, right? The love of a young couple is VERY strong… or so we think…

And so begins my “meet the parents” story…

I met my army boy while he was still active duty Army stationed at Fort Carson. While he hates it when I describe it this way… I was a “crazy college girl on the prowl for a man in uniform” So I went to Colorado Springs with my wonderful cousin (who shall remain nameless because she actually convinced me to move with her using this argument). It was an exciting time. No jobs and no responsibilities… This situation led us quickly to realize that we needed both of those things.

Fast forward two years, I was still crazy, not so fresh out of college, and still in need of a good quality man. Some good friends of mine and army boys decided that we would make a great couple so the “set up” plans began. We met at their Halloween party which was thrown so we could meet. After a wonderful evening of me working VERY hard to impress the wonderful Army boy, he handed me his phone. Ummm… what? What else is a crazy girl to do other than put her number in it, right? Smooth… which is really funny because this army boy is not so smooth. Thus began our two week relationship spending every spare second we could with each other. After this romantic two weeks, he was getting out of the army and off to his homeland Nebraska he would go, back to nursing school leaving me in Colorado Springs. I did my best to convince him to stay with me but the plans had already been made. It was too late to change them now. When we will see each other next? We didn’t know…

After Christmas, I decided it was time to work my schedule out with my boss so I could get a long weekend. I had 2 whole days to do what I pleased. I was working every weekend in the retail business so to get two days off in a row was unheard of! YAY this was the perfect opportunity! I wanted to see the love of my life! I would drive 6 hours by myself, on the back roads, (because he said they were faster), in the dead of winter… Let me say it again… “in the dead of winter”…

(Insert the very dramatic, “Lord of the Rings” –ish music)

After what seemed to be the LONGEST drive of my life, I made it to Elm Creek, NE. I was going to meet him there. Wow I was so excited I could barely contain myself. My romantic story was about to begin! I sat in the parking lot of the gas station for what seemed like another 6 hours waiting for my handsome prince to arrive! Oh joy!

There was a subtle knock on the window… I turned my head fluidly as my hair flowed down my back I gazed up to see my clean cut army man I saw a…a…a…. mountain man? Apparently, when you get out of the army you don’t cut your hair or shave. I was so excited to see him though! I jumped out of my Buick Century and wrapped my arms around him! He was wearing the awful hat and scarf set that I made him for Christmas. Complete with variegated blue yarn and a seam up the back holding my rectangular square together to make it a hat. (not my best work but I was trying) He was there and I loved him soooo much!!! That’s all that mattered…

After working my 8 hour shift in the customer service department at the furniture store, I hopped into my car and drove 6 hours. We met with his brother and had a drink at the local bar following a rousing game of pool, and then it was time to meet his parents. “Umm… Can I just meet them in the morning?” At the time, my army boy was going to school so he was living with his parents. I didn’t receive a response so I proceeded to change into my pajamas and get ready for bed. When I came out of the bathroom to my surprise my army boy woke up his parents! He turned around, zipped up my hooded sweatshirt anther inch so that I wasn’t showing too much cleavage and turned around and said with all the enthusiasm in the world “these are my parents!”I thought, “ummm.. Hi I just started dating your son and spent the evening in a bar, and now you have been rudely awakened in the middle of the night by me. Nice you to meet you!” Not my best foot forward from the beginning. Bathroom bag full of toiletries in one hand and extending my other for a handshake I was greeted with 2 giant monster hugs. “ha ha I’m not wearing a bra” Again I said in my head… “This is uncomfortable”… Out loud I politely stated, “So nice too meet you!” and I was greeted with the same greeting in return. I immediately felt like I was back at my own parent’s house. Considering how awkward I must have looked on the outside and how embarrassed I really was by the situation, I felt remarkably comfortable at that moment. I knew I was about to be welcomed into a wonderful family.

Our wedding June 6th 2009

Now, you may be thinking that this is the worst part of this story… but oh it gets so much better…

I woke up the next morning to the wonderful smell of coffee and a very welcomed greeting. If you know me, you know I am not a morning person. I don’t drink coffee, I don’t talk in the morning, and I’m generally not a very nice person unless I’ve been up for at least 20 minutes. This particular morning was going to be tough for me. “The weather report says freezing rain for the rest of today” reported army boy’s father. “Well, I guess you are stuck with me sticking around inside the house then” I replied. The freezing rain proceeded to fall…and fall…and fall… In fact, it didn’t stop falling for another 3 days! Take a look back and remember how many days I was SUPPOSED to spend in good old Nebraska. I called my boss after the first day of making puzzles and watching movies to let him know my situation. He was very understanding and told me to be safe. In all honesty, I probably should have lost my job over this situation. But Jesus loves me.

I spent the entire day reading “Silence of the Lambs” which my Army Boys mother nicely said was “the spawn of Satan” (Ugh.. another epic fail. I should’ve brought Anne of Green Gables), watching movies, and putting together a puzzle. I learned very quickly that there were “rules” to building puzzles in this house. There were specific piles that all the pieces had to go into and a table that was specially constructed for puzzles by Army boy and his father. It would spin so you wouldn’t have to stand up to see the other side of the puzzle. I quickly learned that Army boy was sucking the fun out of putting a puzzle together so I retreated back to my book.

Zip, zip, ZAP! The power went off. It still hadn’t stopped raining ice. “Whelp, who wants to help me hook up the generator?” asked Army boy’s father. “We will” Army boy and I said eagerly. It would be an awesome adventure to stand outside in the freezing rain and help hook up a generator, right? We put on all kinds of winter gear and headed outside to the old machine shed. “Crunch, crunch, crunch…” went the grass under our feet as we walked across the lawn. The blades of grass were like tiny daggers shooting out of the ground.

We drug the generator from the shed to the side of the house where we fed the wires through the window to army boy’s mother. We stood patiently waiting for the go ahead to turn on the generator. We heard an “OK!” come from inside the house and army boy flipped the switch… Zip zip ZAP! Blue lights starting flashing form inside the house. A wretched scream left his father mouth. His mother ran to the widow waiving her hands yelling “TURN IT OFF!!!! TURN IT OFF!!!” Army boy immediately shut off the generator switch and ran to the window. “What’s going on?” “Your father didn’t have it hooked up yet you almost killed him!!!” screamed his mother.

A few days and a few laughs later, the sun came out and travel was once again advised in the state of Nebraska. Army boy and I went outside and cleaned the 5/8” thick ice off of my Buick Century to reveal a crack that spread across my entire windshield, as well as my heater no longer working, and the handles to my car doors frozen shut. However, I did learn a few things… First, if he’s so excited for you to meet his parents that he would wake them from a dead slumber he might be a keeper. Second, when the power goes off that also means there is no hot water. I can go for days without showering and still look presentable. And finally, a terrible “meet the parents” experience may just mean that you are meant to spend the rest of your lives together. My husband and I will have been married for four years this coming June. We have been together for 6 years in October.

Before I left, my first real experience in the state of Nebraska just wouldn’t be finished without my future Father in law seeing me slip on the ice directly onto my fanny. SO many more stories to share at a later date…