Monday, March 27, 2017

Even Farmers Read

Today I sat on the couch reading a professional book and as I glanced over my book at my husband sitting in his big overstuffed chair.  He was intently reading his thick manual for his new planter that he just purchased for the farm.  On the footstool sat his pesticide/herbicide applicator manual he was also reading as he preps for the test that he will be taking in order to purchase and apply restricted sprays which are necessary to control the bugs and weeds that try to eat our profit every year.  I said, "Hey, I should take a picture of this so that when someone gets the idea that farmers just drive tractors and don't need to read I can prove otherwise."

Then I began to reflect to a time long ago to when my son was growing up and he hated to read.  He balked at doing his required reading at home. In first grade our reading specialist, God bless her soul, would drag him down to her office every morning before school started to work with him one on one.  She used what I called "tough love" telling him that his fits weren't going to work so you might as well get up and get it over with.  Sharon made some gains with Trent but it was agonizing.
As he got grew older his love for reading did not grow.  His teachers tried every angle: coercion, enthusiasm,  you name it.  None of it worked.  I bought every book that even remotely connected to farming, construction, equipment, and trucks.  He liked them but it wasn't enough to light the passion and it certainly didn't address the problem of chapter book requirements.  I tried taking him to the book store to engage his interest in a chapter book series but to no avail.
In middle school he was assigned chapter books.  He thought he was clever when he would read the beginning chapter, a middle chapter and the end chapter to do the required writing assignment.  Then he discovered a miracle to his dilemma, Cliff Notes. He read those and was able to get by in class.
Meanwhile he read.  He read video game cheat code books, mechanic magazines, farming magazines, ATV manuals, hunter safety test manual, equipment diagrams, etc.  Everything that didn't count but that counted for a lot as far as he was concerned.
My husband figuring out what the new planter can do!  With the new technology it takes a little programing to get it set up for planting


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Can't we get along!

Why can't we all just get along!
Every day we work through many different kinds of conflicts with our children in the classroom, working hard to get to the bottom of the issue searching for the truth so that both sides can walk away and feel satisfied that it was solved.  Then we reiterate to both, that once it's been hashed out to move on and don't dwell.  Let bygones be bygones.  In addition I find myself telling students  to not tattle tell,"blood, guts and tears".  As students feel compelled to rush in to hang their friends out to dry with out really knowing the facts first. 
Every day I continue to wonder why I have to reiterate the same issues with my students seemingly getting worse each year that I teach.  Some days it even seems that I can't move through the lesson contents because I have to deal with conflict resolutions instead. 
Suddenly it hits me like a baseball bat.  We are teaching our youth by example.  All you have to do is watch the news and it's crystal clear why our youth can't resolve conflicts and feel compelled to rush to tell on each other without the full facts.   The news is completely full of Americans unable to resolve conflicts, picking to share parts of a full story so that we remain unsure of what is the whole truth is.  Regardless of what "side" you stand on doesn't matter because with out any give or take a resolution can never happen.  Without getting to the bottom to reveal who is telling the truth it remains a precarious walk on a tight rope of untrustworthiness. 
A game of tug-of-war.  Back and forth.  No give and take.  Petty tattle tales never getting to the core of truth.
Regardless of my position or anyone else's stance, our children are observing and learning by example.
If adults can't get to the bottom of real issues, compromise, talk the full truth and nothing but the truth then how can we progress.  We expect our youth of the future to learn how to resolve daily conflicts and be honest.  So, why can't we!

Monday, March 20, 2017


My dog is kind of an asshole full of character.
Hoss is a heeler that is supposed to be a working dog with the purpose of herding our livestock.  He tries but when we are working the sheep in the barnyard he gets way too excited.  He runs at the gate sliding easily between two bars on the gate barking all the way.  Hoss rushes at the herd that I have grouped up moving all in one direction breaking them up with ewes leaping and running in every which way.  When I yell at him to come he goes low to the ground creeping towards me, with ears bent back and squinting as if I will beat him to a bloody pulp.  So, I can't yell even though he has made the job of herding the sheep more difficult.   Because his feelings are fragile when I get after him, even when he has ticked me off, I have to grit my teeth and be firm but encouraging so he doesn't run off to pout.
Hoss also loves to get a rise out of certain people.  He knows that some people will react when he runs up behind them barking and pokes them with his nose on the back of their leg.  They will yell and he trots off with literally a smile on his face.  Sometimes he will dart through the shop on hot summer days sticking his cold wet nose up your shorts.  Wagging his tail he just smiles. 
Hoss is a barker.  Visitors are greeted when he leaps at the screen door, whipping it open and diving straight out the door barking as if he is going to rip their face off but just stands there wagging his tail.   Some are barked at every time they stop by, time and time again.  One of our friends gets the obnoxious barking treatment even when he steps out for a smoke and comes back in. 
Hoss is always in the way.  He is like one of those kids that move so slow in front of you and you just want to put a boot in their butt. 
Regardless of how naughty of a dog Hoss is, he loves his family especially the grand kids.  He greets us with a smile and wagging tail.  Hoss will lay at your feet waiting for any kind of loving gesture.  He allows the children to put stickers on his face, lay on top of him and he retaliates with stealing a bite of their snacks. 
Hoss is quirky and a bit of an arse.  But no matter how much everyone yells his name they always reach down when his tail is wagging side to side to give him a loving pat.  Love comes in all shapes and sizes, obnoxious or not.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Chore Time

"Heee Kitty Kitty!  Whea.. a you? Whea a you?"  My two year old granddaughter yells as she digs in the bag of cat food with a large scoop.  Pulling out the scoop she scans the barn still  yelling for her kitty spilling half of it on the ground and Hoss our heeler dog frantically trying to follow Clair around as she dribbles a trail of kibbles.  She spots Mufassa the cat high up on the stack of straw bales.  "Thea you a!  Come on!"  She shouts tapping her hand on her thigh trying to coax him down.  But Mufassa is not dumb, he knows when the dogs are around he is safe to just stay put.  So, he just squints down at Clair. 
Clair gives up and dumps the few kernels that are left in her scoop in the kitty dish and then works on feeding the lambs.  Even at such a young age she knows which bag of food is for the lambs.  Climbing the woven wire gate and hanging over the top of the gate she dumps the mixture in the feeder.  The mischievous goat reaches up and nips her fingers.  "Owww.... goat bite me!"  She tattles on the naughty goat.
"All done."  she says " I hold you gramma"
I lift her up in my arms. 
"You ready to go home?"  I ask
"Yea, I go home!"  Clair cheers as we walk out the barn door. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017



I've been struggling this week.  Each day I promise myself I will get back to the Slice Challenge to write it out but then I just can't.  I stare at the blank screen.  I type one liners and erase...

----Have you ever wonder what your purpose in life is?

----I am searching for a sign that you are still here.


Then I read a title of an NBC post from Mandy Moore about the disappointment of the season finale of "This is Us".  By the way I love the show and was left hanging!
She said, "Sometimes we don't get the answers we want. Patience."
I know she was only talking about the fictional family on TV but what she said grabbed my attention and spoke to some of my internal struggles. 
Up until nine years ago I was pretty sure of the direction in life I was taking and thought I knew many of the answers to life's questions but that rug was ripped out from under me.  Now it's like rips and tides on the beach.  Ebbing and flowing.  Confidence and uncertainty.  Understanding and confusion.  Fulfillment  and emptiness.  Happiness and sadness.  Sometimes I can go weeks and months where I am fine.  Then all it takes is something bad  happens in life, a comment,  conversation, or just what doesn't happen. 
This is why I hesitated to post because I sound like a crazy person but if you see me everyday you wouldn't know this is going on inside.  I stand tall because I am tough and will keep on keeping on. 
I know I'll be ok again because I can be patient.  It will subside and I won't know all the answers but I can be happy.  I have accepted that events happen in my life that I may not know the answers to why but with patience someday I will. 
Thanks Mandy Moore for your message that mysteriously came to me when I needed an answer. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Not Me

Millions of thoughts rolling through my mind
Dreams invaded my sleep
Awake too early
Laying in bed
Thinking but trying not to
Giving in and getting up
Sip on coffee until
I feel like I should get something done
Not really wanting to
Can't stay focused
Wanting company
not sure who
would even want my company
Because I am
Not Me

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Another joins the club

What is the worst moment in your life?
Loosing your son and those moments when it is all starts to become reality.
Today, another young man lost his life way too young.
Today, I stood in their house and hugged another mom that has joined an unwanted... undesired... horrific club... the club of parents who have lost a child. 
It was like stepping back in time to that day.... the worst day of my life!
The horrific irony of this moment, when I am hugging this mom, was that nine years ago she was hugging me when I was in the grips of the most unbearable pain of loss.  But that is not the most ironic.  Her second husband a very close friend of ours, also lost a child.  One of a triplet about eight years before our son and the other two children were the same age as my son growing up together as friends. 
When is it enough?
Death lingers.
So many questions that are unanswered and never will be.
It brings back so much.  Flashbacks.  Feelings.

Closing the casket
Saying goodbye
Uncontrollable sobs
who is screaming
it's me
Inconsolable grief
Strangles my chest
I can't breath
Physically sick
My heart is broken
a gaping hole

Friday, March 10, 2017

Mother Nature Be Kind

You probably know that the food on your table and the clothes on your back are provided by farmers but did you know the hardships the farmer endures trying to make a living so they can put food on their table and clothes on their family's backs?
Crop farming is the only profession that you work all year and only get paid once a year. Sometimes we can plant wheat which is ready to harvest in the summer season as well which would allow a second paycheck for the year. 
Crop farming is one of the few professions in which your production is solely dependent on the weather and the stock market.  Two conditions that can't be controlled. 
There have been times when we are desperately trying to plant crops by the second week of June because of torrential rains or a late winter season where the temperature is just too cold to put seed in the ground.  We've had to replant on occasion when it was either to muddy or cold and the seed sat dormant, rotting in the ground.  Just because we get the seed in the ground doesn't mean it's smooth sailing.  Some years it was so wet in the spring and early summer it was a struggle to get the fertilizer spread over the emerging seedlings.  Fertilizer on the beans and corn equates to making a productive yield.  Herbicides have to be sprayed once or twice during the summer while they are growing or else the crop will be strangled out by weeds which is another concern.  Last year we had a complete drought during the summer.  Everyday was an agony around the farm as we waited, hoped and prayed for rain so that our crops wouldn't completely die.  Everyday we watched as our fields of beans and corn stayed short, sparse, corn leaves rolled up, turned yellow. They seemed to be crying out as we stood helpless.  Driving down the road was torture, trying not to look at our hundreds of acres and life savings wither up.  Once we got the rain it was too late for most of the plants and then it just slowed down harvest.  Some years it's too much rain while the crop is growing which can cause stunted growth, mold, weed and insect issues. 
Harvest time is always stressful as you hold your breath hoping for decent weather so you can get the crops harvest and good yields  so that you can pay the creditors that are waiting for their once a year payment.  Praying for a little left over to live a little.  I would say one in every ten years is a great year when there is a bumper crop and the prices are uncommonly high. 
I can say that we have endured some difficult times which would have collapsed most people but we just pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and keep going.  It's the love of tilling the soil, it's harvesting the golden corn, it's walking through a field of lush green soybeans that reach to your armpits, it's the rippling wave of yellow wheat, it's reaping the fruits of your hard labor, it's the pride of following in the footsteps of your parents and grandparents, it's watching your children work side by side with you and pride as they tell their friends that they can't go to the movies because they have to help plant, it's the morning sun rising over the fields that you planted and it's watching the sun set while you sit in the cab of the tractor.
Crop farmers put all their faith and livelihood in Mother Nature's Hands.  She wasn't good to us this year.  It has been a rough and extremely stressful year.  We are tired and spring season is just looming ahead.  I am hoping that Mother Nature will spare us this year and allow us to have one of those rare years where weather is perfect, crops grow strong, and prices are up. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Thicker Skin?

Thicker skin

I have always thought I had some pretty thick skin and could let little comments roll off my back but I haven't been able let some comments from colleagues go. 
Today in the staff lounge at lunch a colleague and friend made a comment about how she has had several students tell her they don't like science anymore and didn't like going.  This comment crushed me.  She said they do too much writing and they should be doing more hands on activities.
This year I started a new position in my building as the K-3rd grade science teacher. It was a well needed change from teaching 3rd grade language arts and I was excited about taking on the new role.  Our science curriculum is a complete program which our district buys into.  The kit for each unit is sent to our school with laid out lesson plans corresponding with the new science standards, science student journals and a built in assessment. 
It has been 15 years since the classroom teachers have had to teach the science curriculum, myself included so I have been diligently learning the new curriculum.  The lessons are a mixture of hands on investigations, read alouds, video clips, discussions and a lot of journal writing.  Students are expected to describe and explain their learning.  The assessment is mostly written responses with very little multiple choice which requires even the first graders to write answers to show their learning.  Knowing that an assessment is not the only tool to determine understanding I use it in combination with their everyday work in the journals to establish a grade.
The previous science instructor had no expectations for student journal entries.  Often times they did not even fill out the journal pages. They watched many videos, drew lots of pictures, and had free choice time during a 30 minute session. 
How can I follow this?
I have expectations, they are required to participate in class discussions, write complete answers that are legible and they are held accountable.  This curriculum is required to teach.  Coming from a 3rd grade classroom I know the expectations and what the state assessment requires of students.
Science is called a "special" but it can't be categorized with music and gym because it is an academic core that is assessed. 
This is my rationale but am I expecting too much?  Should I be trying to incorporate more hands on and less writing? 
Even though I am beginning to see some improvements in all of my students ability to write their thinking and learning or should I be trying to entertain and engage more with dazzling experiments.   My principal is watching closely to see the results. 
Should I get thicker skin or should I make some changes?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Holey Sock

I have a hole in my sock!
It started first thing this morning and progressively got worse.  My big toe started the day all snug in the sock where it belonged.  Then it slowly began peeking its way out and then before long it was completely out.  The feeling is so annoying and made it difficult to focus.  As the day progressed my attitude was reflecting the hole in my sock.  My patience was getting thin.  I know it is wrong but what do you do when your toe is out of your sock?  To top it off I had conferences until late!  It was difficult to NOT think about the irritation that was taking place in my shoe when you are trying to have a conversation about how their child is doing in class.  
Occasionally I will darn my socks when small holes begin to emerge but this sock doesn't deserve a second chance.  It will be going right in the trash can as soon as possible!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Testament to a Farmer

Testament to a Farmer

Today our community laid to rest a good man.  His tribute to him was a true testament to living your life with no regrets.
Bill was a fourth generation farmer in our neighborhood.  It runs so deep in his blood just as does in ours.
As I sat and listened to his brother, sister and nephew regale stories of how Bill lived his 67 years of life I looked around the crowded room some were old time farmers, retired now, some are still farming, many long time neighbors, and of course his large family.  It began to dawn on me that my husband and I were the young farmers in the neighborhood when we got married but we aren't anymore.  My daughter and her husband are one of the few in our area that will be bringing up the next generation of farmers.
There was a common thread as each of the family shared their hearts.  Bill was brought up to be a hard working man even when times got tough - roll up your sleeves, put your back into and work harder.  He worked long hard hours wrenching on equipment, feeding cattle, milking cows, driving truck, baling hay, pitching manure, sitting in the tractor or combine sun up until many times when the sun went down regardless of whether or not you were tired.  A farmer can't check things off the list because the work is never done. 
Bill expected the same hard working ethics from his own kids. 
Then there was tough love. Pinch a finger, fall down, or scrape a knee.  It didn't matter pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going. His dad always said, "It's a long way from your heart". 
It all sounds horrid! Hard labor with your hands from sun up till late at night!  But there is a flip side.
His family shared plenty of stories of spending time together: swimming, playing softball, going fishing, hunting and even though they were working EVERY day (yes that means seven days a week - summer, fall, winter, spring)  it was all time spent with the family. 
Reflecting on today I know my husband and I were raised the same as Bill and then instilled the same ethics in our children.  I hope that my daughter can bring her children up in the same farming lifestyle as we were able to. 
Farming has changed tremendously but the same ideology will continue to stay the same. 
Work hard - Play hard!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Then and Now

Then and Now

Trent gave me a big hug when I saw him today.  I hadn't seen him in a while.  "Mrs. Shrontz how are you doing?  You look good."
"Thanks Trent!" I replied and then asked him what he was up to these days.
He proceeded to tell me all about how he has a job working on CNC machines, traveling all over the United States  for his father-in-law and married for almost a year. 
Even though he has to be away from his wife the appreciation for his job was apparent.  I asked if he thought he would be able to move into a position where he didn't have to travel and he replied, "They treat me good, I've gotten a raise and I have everything paid for! I have to earn my way."
"Good for you!  I am so glad that you are doing so well." I encouraged.
Then he shared with me that he still had the note with the shreds of cloth that I sent home to his dad about twenty years ago.

Dear Mr. Piepkow,
Trent decided to cut up his shirt today.
He couldn't really tell me why.
Mrs. Shrontz

Enclosed in the envelope were his pieces of shirt. 

His wife had told him after reading this that he must have been quite a hellion.  "Nope, just wanted to be cool like all the older boys with cut off sleeves."

I smiled as I walked away. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Barn Memories

Remember that time?
Whenever something crazy, out of the ordinary or unbelievable happens around the farm our saying is always "building memories...building memories".
My kids were very active in 4-H showing livestock for many years.  Like most kids there were times that were challenging and then others that were rewarding but the time that I spent with my kids during the summer on the farm are irreplaceable. 
Every morning we would head down to the barn.  Each year we fine tuned our feeding and training program so that we could raise the most muscled lambs, pigs and calves.  They would get a scoop of this and a scoop of that making sure that it was weighed out to the nearest ounce to ensure that they didn't get too much.  After each animal was individually fed then it was time for exercise.  The lambs were tied to the back of the homemade chariot that was pulled by the lawn mower or walked down the lane to the end of the property to be vigorously chased back to the barn.  We figured if sprinting was a good muscle builder for people it had to be good for animals.  The pigs were walked around the farm making sure to give them marshmallows or peppermint treats every now and then so they would walk where you wanted them to.  Pens would have to be cleaned on a regular basis.  Sometimes the animals would need to be bathed and groomed.  Hours of hard work were put into each animal to make sure that they were prepared for their show day. 
Fair week was the pay off.  This was where they could see the results of the summer hours of hard work that had been done.  They didn't always bring home big trophies or prizes but it gave them incentive to work harder the next year in the hopes of doing better.  It was in 4-H and at the county fair where they made friendships, learned sportsmanship, success and disappointment.  Winning was a goal.   Only a couple winners were chosen by the judges, one person's decision on that day.  My kids came to understand lessons of life during this time:  sometimes cheaters will win, some parents do all their work for their children, and
sometimes hard work can pay off.  No matter what the outcome though they always shook the hand of the winner, kept their chin up and always strived to be better. 
Those years of memories will never be forgotten and there are so many stories that we continue to share even years later.  We can even chuckle at those times when we argued and fought amongst each other because we know that good or bad this is our story.  "Life is not always a bowl full of cherries" as my mother would say.  Building memories.
Now it's time to sit back and enjoy the next generation.  I watch my daughter with her two step children and a daughter of her own building memories in the same barn that was where we spent so many hours so long ago.  Hopefully her kids can learn the same valuable life lessons that made her the successful adult she is today.   A new chapter that will be full of memories to share. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Pubishing and Editing

Looking around the computer lab today I was amazed at how far the first graders have come learning how to navigate Google Docs and the keyboard.  I couldn't help but feel a little proud of their accomplishments. 
Some were using both hands to navigate the keyboard while others were getting efficient at pecking out the letters one by one.  We were working on publishing their expertise books that their classroom teachers had been working on.  Skills that I was able to reinforce were: capitalizing proper nouns, and beginning of sentences.  We talked about underlining titles and having ending marks when your thought is complete.  Many were concerned that their spelling wasn't all correct, which they knew because it had a red line under the word.  So, I was coaching them on using  a word dictionary and spell check, making sure the word they changed it to made sense. 
When our time ended many of them groaned that they weren't done yet and I had to reassure them that it was a project that will take some time to perfect. 
As I looked around I realized that they cared about what they were writing and it was exciting to watch how they were applying editing skills while using word processing. 
It seemed like only a few weeks ago that it took at least twenty minutes to just get logged in and now they are producing work that they want to share with an audience. 
I can't wait to see what they will be able to do by the end of the year!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Too Much

Mounting tension
Growing lists
Rising expectations
Fear of failure
Where to start
Check one off
Add two more
No end in sight
Turn for support
Can I do this?
Deep breath

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Life Milestones

Life Milestones

030117Like every day on my way home I crank the radio up listening and singing along to the tunes winding down from a hectic day at work.  Today Shania Twain's song "I feel like a woman"!-i-feel-like-a-woman/USMNV0300062
was playing as soon as I got in my truck. 
To anyone else this would be just another song on the radio touting woman power but to me it means so much more.  It is one of those unannounced memories in life that knocked on my door and continues today to linger around to remind me of those real milestones in my life. 
It takes me back to a neighborhood picnic celebrating an anniversary on a warm summer afternoon in their backyard.  Some guests were playing bad mitten in the yard others were giving the karaoke a try under the tent.  My husband and I were hanging out, visiting with friends when the Shania Twain song came floating through the air.
Our daughter, eight at the time and our son, five years old shot passed us, on a dead run for the tent.  Ashley and Trent arrived at the microphone at the same time singing "I feel like a woman..."  at the top of their lungs.  Then the game was on, pushing and shoving each other all the while not missing a note in the song.  Quickly it became a brawl, rolling around on the lawn. 
I'm not sure if we were more embarrassed with the idea that our children were fighting on the lawn in front everyone or that our son was singing "I feel like a woman" at the top of his lungs and willing to fight his sister to be the one at the microphone.
A small sliver of a memory in my life but one miniscule milestone that will "simply never leave".  Those days long gone I have come to discover my life is measured by these small life milestones. Days gone by.