In need of a little good news today

Dear readers, how are you doing today?

You’re in the comfort of your own home, so be honest with yourself now. It’s not like I expect to hear your superficial “I’m fine” response. The reality is this pandemic is taking its toll on everyone in one way or another.

I’ve known for a week that I had a column to write for today’s edition, and for a week I’ve contemplated what to write. It wasn’t procrastination that has me sitting in front of my computer monitor on a dreary Tuesday afternoon with a looming deadline; it’s that I couldn’t find anything amusing about the past few weeks to share in hopes of brightening your day.

Frankly, it’s been an exhausting couple of weeks reporting on what’s happening in our agriculture sector as a result of the global pandemic, COVID-19. And yet, writing about the devastation this virus has had on our livestock industry cannot in any way compare to what our farmers are dealing with.

In the past three weeks, I’ve made more than a dozen calls to area hog farmers asking them to “tell it like it is.” More often than not they declined, and that’s OK. It is certainly not an easy thing to talk about having to kill perfectly healthy hogs. I can tell you, it’s not an easy thing for me to hear about it on the other end of the phone line. Yet, it’s a story born of COVID-19 that needs to be told.

There are so many COVID-19 related stories that deserve to be told, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day to pursue them all. We at The Globe are appreciative of the individuals who have called or emailed to provide us with news tips during this pandemic. You have certainly kept us on our toes, so keep it up!

From the many mask makers to deliveries and donations of essential items for those in need, we are finding — and we’ve always known — we can always, always find something good in the bad.

I have to remind myself of that on a day like today, when the words of country crooner Anne Murray keep circulating in my brain, “We sure could use a little good news today.”

Finicky feline proves I’m a ‘dog’ person

Growing up on the family farm south of Worthington, we always had farm cats. We almost always had a dog, too.

Lots of people refer to themselves as a “dog” person or a “cat” person, and the older I get, the more I can say with deep conviction that I am a “dog” person. I’ve been without a dog now for nearly two years.

With Molly’s absence came the attempt to have a cat. One cat became three, then nine and then another litter until we found homes for them all and became a one cat farm. We kept an adorable gray spitfire from the September 2018 litter and called him Fluffy, though I now refer to him as Mr. Fluff. The name doesn’t quite suit his temperament — he’d sooner swipe the hand that feeds it than sit on your lap and purr like a nice kitty.

On a recent visit to the farm, I donned my boots and mittens to walk about the farm and adjacent DNR-owned lands in search of deer sheds — the antlers the bucks dropped over winter.

Mr. Fluff was waiting outside the door when I set out for my walk.

“Do you want to go for a walk, Mr. Fluff?” I asked. Response: Meow. (Translation: “Well, there’s nothing else to do around here. I suppose I can follow you — maybe get between your feet and try to trip you.”)

“Watch out for the deer raisins, Mr. Fluff,” I said a little while later. Response: Meow. (Translation: “What is this disgusting pile I just stepped in? Are you kidding me!”)

We walk up a hill and down a hill and check around the trees.

“How’s it going, Mr. Fluff?” I ask, feeling the need to talk to someone, even if it is the cat. Response: Meow. (Translation: “I don’t know what the heck you’re looking for. I feel absolutely ridiculous following you around like a wandering drunk!”)

Yet, he follows me through the garden, across the farm yard and into the grove of trees. We circle through the “new” grove and the “old” grove, where a felled and hollowed out tree trunk beckons Mr. Fluff.

Mr. Fluff turns away from the critter hole in a felled tree on the farm.

As he walks toward the hole (an obvious critter hangout), I warn, “Careful, Mr. Fluff, we don’t need any extra excitement today.” Response: Meow. (Translation: “I’ll do what I want. I don’t have to listen to you.”) Then, peering back at the hole and again at me: Meow. (Translation: “I’m only walking away because I want to — not because you said so. That hole isn’t worth my time.”)

We manage to spook up a rabbit and it hops away like the world is about to end. “Ha, what is he scared of!” I think to myself. Mr. Fluff: Meow. (Translation: “What the heck was that? Some sort of food maybe? Certainly it can’t be as good as the warm milk and canned meat morsels my master feeds me. He’s not worth my time and effort.”)

“Mr. Fluff, are you getting tired of walking?” I ask a little while later. “Should I carry you?” Response: Meow (followed by me picking him up). (Translation: “I’m not really a fan of human contact, but hey, you can see a lot more from this high up.”)

I start walking and Mr. Fluff panics like there’s no tomorrow. I end up with a jagged scratch down the side of my left wrist and a claw hole next to my pointer finger knuckle. The crazy cat lands on all fours as I let out a yelp, then he proceeds to give me a domineering cat roar. (Translation: “You humans are all the same. I don’t know what you expect from us cats — it’s like we’re supposed to be your friends or something!”)

I started wishing for a dog again, right then and there. Hey dog, wanna go for a walk? Dog: Woof! (Translation: “Ya, ya, ya, of course I want to go for a walk. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go! I don’t care if I step in deer raisins — hmm, they smell like food! Oh this adventure is so much fun! What’s that — a hole in a tree? I’ll go investigate! Oh, there goes a rabbit, let me at ’em, just let me at ’em! I never get tired of walking, Julie. I’ll walk by your side forever and ever. Thanks for spending time with me!”)

Yep, I’m definitely a “dog” person.


Anxiety, fear halted by farm visits

As I pen this column Friday morning, my mind swirls with the drastic change that has happened within the course of just one week. 

Last Saturday, my mom joined me on a road trip to a needlework shop in northeast Iowa for some retail therapy amid specialty threads, fabrics and patterns not available locally. The trip was a reward to myself for finishing some special writing assignments a whole day before deadline. Spotting three bald eagles on our journey made the trip all the more enjoyable.

I made the journey despite the messaging to self-distance and stay home, at the time feeling the kind of safety I’d assume we all felt, back when life seemed somewhat normal.

Then, after seeing the small gathering at church on Sunday, and spending way too much time watching the news and Facebook feed on an extra day off Monday, the anxiety started to build. Since that day, the 24-hour news channel hasn’t been on in my house. And I’m so sick of seeing toilet paper memes and claims the “media” has blown COVID-19 way out of proportion that Facebook time is spent on my needlework pages and seeking out Mocha Moments and any pictures of cats, dogs and baby animals.

So, let me tell you about my Wednesday.

It started out with a special Nobles County board meeting, in which commissioners declared a state of emergency and ordered most county buildings closed to the public (exceptions at the Prairie Justice Center). Cases of COVID-19 were right across the border in South Dakota, and by the end of the day, two cases were announced in Martin County, roughly an hour east of Worthington.

I left the government center that morning with an eerie feeling. No longer was life as I knew it normal. I would guess most of us know someone whose life has been impacted by the temporary closure of government offices, restaurants, bars and other businesses. My anxiety began to build as I wrote the story and posted it online before noon.

I made the mistake of checking Facebook over lunch, where I watched a video someone shared about the Class of 2020 and all this batch of seniors are missing out on. I thought of my nephew Blake and the springtime graduation we plan to celebrate. Not only did the tears begin to fall, but I downright bawled. Why? That building anxiety needed an outlet.

My Wednesday afternoon schedule included two visits to cattle farms in Rock County — another special work project in advance of the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Summer Tour in Rock and Nobles counties this July. Little did I know when I scheduled the interviews on Tuesday that this was exactly the kind of afternoon I needed.

I met with two different farmers, avoiding handshakes and maintaining the kind of social distance that didn’t seem out of the ordinary. The first farm featured cattle lots with cattle who were as weary of me as I was of them. The second farm, though, offered some special surprises — a 7-year-old boy named Jason, his two-month-old puppy named Brutus and a trio of beef calves, ranging from two weeks to one month in age.

Brad and Jason Van De Berg with three baby calves on their rural Hills beef farm.

I’ll tell you that nothing clears up a case of anxiety faster than a puppy, baby calves and a little boy who, while wearing a John Deere sweatshirt, thinks my favorite — the International — isn’t all that bad.

The adorable baby calves — bottle fed by Jason and therefore eager to greet anyone who came to visit their calf huts — moo’d and stretched out their tongues in greeting the hands that tried to pat their head. I giggled and reminisced over the times we had bottle calves on our own farm. I even commented about the calf creep in their feeders — the same calf creep we used 40 years ago on our farm. So much in farming has changed, but tending to baby calves hasn’t.

As Brad Van De Berg pets the one-month-old calf, he gets a calf lick to his wrist. 

By the time I left the Van De Berg farm an hour later, my pant leg was covered in dusty and dirty smudged paw prints from Brutus, but I didn’t mind. Seems he just wanted some extra love and attention, and I was more than willing to oblige with pats to his head and scratches behind his ears.

For an afternoon, COVID-19 was out of my mind, and what a delightful afternoon that was.

If only every day could be filled with the unconditional love of a puppy and the adorableness of baby calves, the anxiety over this spreading pandemic might make all of us feel just a little better.

Yield means yield

Some days I really have to question the driving ability of people in our community — particularly when it comes to yield signs.

Earlier this week, I was on my way to work and rounding the curve by the Food-N-Fuel when an inattentive driver sped through the 10th Street yield sign and had to quickly swerve to miss me.

“Can you not see the bleepity-bleep yield sign?” I hollered, as if the driver of the other car could hear me. Of course he or she couldn’t hear me, and as is always the case, I didn’t think of laying on the car horn until I was at the next stop sign — far too late for it to have done any good.

I probably should have been thanking the man upstairs for protecting me from a crash, but instead I was cursing the long-gone driver within the confines of my car. What can I say? I grew up with three brothers and an Army veteran who knew his share of colorful language — in English and Deutsch!

With the number of times I’ve seen drivers not even attempt to slow down as they cross from 10th Street to 10th Avenue, rather than take the turn down Diagonal Road, I’m amazed I haven’t seen a crash there yet.

I’m convinced a good share of people don’t understand what a yield sign means.

According to the Minnesota Driver’s Manual, “Yield” means to “Slow down or stop, if necessary. Give the right of way to all other vehicles and pedestrians, and wait until it is safe to proceed.”

In other words, if traffic with the right of way is approaching, your yield sign means stop.

Last summer, I saw a car speed through the yield sign at Lake Street and Second Avenue — by the bicycle bridge — and the driver had the audacity to honk at the car he or she nearly sideswiped that was travelling down Second Avenue, the very vehicle that had the right of way.

I am, by no means, a perfect driver. I’ve gotten the horn a time or two, and the sharpness of the honk is one of the most unpleasant sounds there is.

That reminds me of a story the Star Tribune wrote a few years back, “Minnesota driver’s dilemma: To honk or not to honk.” It turns out my aversion to the car horn is directly related to the cultural norms passed down from my ancestors (my mom’s always polite attitude; not my dad’s tendency to cuss!)

In the story, Nichole Morris, a researcher who studies driving behavior, said, “We have quite a few people here with Nordic European ancestry, and it’s just not acceptable to rage on other people the way it might be in Mediterranean or some Asian countries, and honking is an act of rage.”

Well, my cussing is an act of rage, too, but the offending driver can’t hear that.

Perhaps a long press of the car horn wouldn’t be so bad, especially if the sound emitted was more like the aah-oogah emitted from the car horn of a 1920s Model T. Polite enough? I think so!

I won’t be changing out the sound of my car horn, but if I can remember to hit the horn the next time someone doesn’t think they need to yield the right of way, perhaps I’ll feel a little better for giving them the equivalent of a string of cuss words.

Sit back and relax

The past two years have been a whirlwind of travel adventures for me.

I spent hours on the island of Nantucket, visited Amish farms of Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County, embarked on a journey through North Carolina marshland, landed on the Caribbean island of St. John, traversed Route 66 on foot and got caught up in a mysterious chain of events on a Montana ranch.

The best part? None of the trips cost me a dime.

In reality, the only travel expense has come in making the short drive to the Nobles County Library — mere pennies, I must say.

Mason Cooley coined one of my favorite quotes about reading: “Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”

Oh, how that rings true!

Between the offerings at the local library, and an inter-library loan program available through the Plum Creek Library System, we here in southwest Minnesota have access to thousands upon thousands of books. What joy they bring to a reader’s heart!

My great-nephew Jonny likes to read too!

Several times a month, I carry home with me a new stockpile of adventures — primarily in the form of audio books. With the exception of a snowy December weekend when I was caught unprepared, the television screen has stayed dark. Books even won out over the Hallmark Christmas movie marathons.

Books — whether you read them or listen to them — make you think and dream and wish and do. As a writer, the one piece of advice I always give to new journalists is to read — read anything and everything. Book authors are never short on details. They set the scene and describe the activity so readers develop a picture in their mind. For newspaper reporters, reading about details translates into paying attention to our surroundings, because there’s always more than one way to tell a story.

Reading helps writers find their own writing style, and while you may never aspire to write, at least you can enjoy a good story.

A recent Gallup report said people visited libraries more often than they went to the movies, attended live sporting, musical or theatrical events, or visited a casino, national/historic park or museum in 2019. In the Midwest, adults averaged 12.9 trips to a library in 2019.

Among those making the most visits were young adults, women and low-income households. They come seeking wi-fi, computer access, programming for children and teens, book club activities, free rentals of DVDs, movies and, of course, books in various forms from print to audio and digital download. Visitors to libraries can get all of these things simply by swiping a library card.

February is “I Love to Read” Month, as well as the second month of your favorite southwest Minnesota library’s three-month-long Winter Reading Program, “Snow is Falling, Books Are Calling.” Read 12 books before the end of March and you get a prize, but you must sign up at the library.

So, I encourage you to turn off the TV and find something to read.

In the words of Dr. Seuss, “You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book.”

A resolution worth keeping

I was searching through a store before Christmas, on a quest to find a gift for our family’s annual gift exchange, when one of those blocks with words caught my eye.

“This is my happy place!” it declared on the front-facing block, and along the top were the words, “So glad to be home!”

It spoke to me — more than clearance racks of clothes and shoes; more than a 20%-off sale at my favorite needlework shop … well, OK, maybe not like a needlework shop sale. But, it spoke to me nonetheless.

So, while I should have spent my money solely on a gift for a niece, the block with the words accompanied me to the cash register. It was a gift from me to me — the right size, the right color, the right price, and just perfect for my spare bedroom turned heaven-on-earth haven for needlework lovers.

Just a small collection of threads in my stitchy space.

Placed atop the dresser drawers that hide away my fabrics, the sign is a reminder of what I already know: few places make me happier than being surrounded by my stash.

My mom thinks I’ve gone a little overboard — alright, a lot overboard — with my collection of fabrics, threads and pattern books. I tell her I’m stocking up for retirement, for snowy winters, for rainy summers, for the days when life’s stressors need to work their way out through needle and thread.

Buying more stuff to support my addiction, well, that makes me feel good, too.

But then I worry what my three brothers will do with my stash if I depart this world before them. Will my auctioneer brother come in and sell my precious Valdani and Caron threads and lugana fabric for 50 cents, maybe $1? Will the oldest brother or the younger brother empty out the room and toss everything in a dumpster? Oh, the horror!

I guess there’s only one thing I can do about it. Since it’s the start of a new year — a new decade — my resolution is: Thou shalt stitch up the fabrics with the threads using the patterns. Now, get to work!

Yep, that sounds like a resolution I can keep, and it doesn’t tell me I can’t add to my stash.

Happy New Year, dear readers! May you spend the year — and the decade — doing what makes you happy.

When dreams come true

Country crossroads, icy backroads

There’s no trip to the farm.

In the air there’s an unwelcome mist.

I’m not driving,

there’s no shopping

Oh the deals I have missed.

I’ll just stay home, do the laundry

Hang the ornaments on the tree.

Put my feet up, tune to Hallmark

It’s a good day to stitch.

Oh the weather, now it’s foggy

When will the next round come in?

These days I dreamed of, when it was busy

It’s time to get some projects done!

Yay, the tree’s trimmed — ain’t it pretty?

I sure did miss this last year.

What to do next? This is boring!

I’ll just sit again to stitch.

Time to get up, time to take a break.

I can shovel the walk.

Hey it’s not bad, I can go out

To the Y and walk the track.

Then the ice came, it was not nice

Freezing rain is not my friend.

I must go though, buy a jug of milk

And some bags of salad.

Back at home again, on the phone with mom

The hunters, they haven’t had much luck.

A puzzle’s out and on the table,

She’s in need of some help.

Well I’m sorry Mom, I’m not driving out

Think I’ll just stay home … and stitch.

Finally, now it’s Sunday night,

and my eyes are so strained!

Too much stitching, too much TV,

Won’t this headache just leave?

Back at work again Monday morning

Are those coworkers I see?

How I’ve missed them, it was so quiet

In my house, just my stitching and me!

Dear readers, I love snow days when I can be home and surrounded by my stash of needlework supplies, but a three-day stitching binge can sure make a person stir-crazy!

The sun is out now and the streets are clear, shopping must commence, for Christmas is near.

My wish for you this season is to spend time with those you love, make time for what you love and don’t overdo it on the eggnog or the oyster stew.

Merry Christmas!