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Recharging Your Spirit: Illinois Version

What I did on my summer vacation, by Terry.

We went to Illinois! Land of Lincoln, corn, wheat, soybeans, cows, people with Scandinavian names, and the finest breakfast pizza in this wing of the galaxy. But I digress. First, some background.

This is Uncle Leon (of Leon and Cindy Oleson Farms), along with my enormous son, who is also an Oleson.

We spent glorious days on the farm. There’s no other word for it.  I’ve never farmed a day in my life, unless you count raising chickens and gardening. Uncle Leon and the family are farmers; it’s what they do. They have an encyclopedic knowledge of topics that range from the hydraulic pressure in a tractor line to the tendencies of obscure beetle species. Riding around on the farm is like the best possible college lecture ever– you’re learning but you don’t realize it until after the lesson ends.

Iowa is, in some sense, my ancestral homeland, and there are a lot of similarities between Elkader, Iowa and Shabbona, Illinois. We start with the scenery.

That’s a lot of corn, and it requires large places to put it.

We visited Cousins Amber and Brent and their dairy farm. To sum up: loud, fun, smells like the essence of life, busy, beautiful, real. The Mueller farm is everything a farm should be, but with excellent Wi-Fi and lots of cats. It’s a lot like heaven.

It’s impossible not to feel connected to this place. There’s a visceral reaction to things of great purity, and being on the farm around great people is one such event. And now, the requisite picture of corn, if you will.

That’s the kind of scene that makes everyone think they can farm.

(full disclosure: not everyone can. it’s demanding work with a high degree of uncertainty. in short, farmers are cool under fire)

But the fact that simply being close to a farm engenders such feelings tells you that anyone who wants to refill their proverbial tank should consider a visit to the farm. I left with a head full of words, and it was more than the excellent company, food, and rest. It’s a mythological connection to something from the time before, when concerns, like life, tended to be more centered on community.

Speaking of community. Let’s see main street,, a couple towns over. They got the sign right the first time, so there’s no need to change. This is a testament to the power of Midwestern Culture, and yes, that’s a thing, because it’s so easily identifiable. If you step into a town and start looking for Frank Capra’s ghost– you’re in the Midwest.

My writing batteries were also recharged by something that is so rare as to be mythical. It’s the distinction between nice and good.

When you visit the Midwest and your family is filled with people who are nice and good, take a moment to consider the distinction. People can be nice– nice is polite, pleasant, mannerly. Nice can be your friend. Nice bakes for neighbors and picks up your mail when you visit relative on the other coast.

But nice is not necessarily good. Good is a kind of innate construction that makes some people break to the side of goodness out of instinct. Good is doing the right things without effort or thought, it’s the communal willingness to donate the two most precious things– time and work– to something other than oneself, in order to better the life of someone else. When you visit your family and realize that they are truly good, there’s a validation and hope that your child– my enormous, goofy, replete nine year old– will be emblematic of that tradition. Good is, in some sense, a choice, and it’s cultivated, not unlike the corn that soars across hundreds of acres on the family farm.

Good is not a goal. Good is a permanent structure, built by learning from others who share the ability to see beyond themselves out of a quality that cannot be measured or weighed.

Four days in July, and my tanks are full.  Here’s to a wonderful fall.


The Birthday Donkey Whisperer

Seven Years Ago, I Became A Dad.

My bride and I brought a relatively normal sized infant into the world. He’s growing at an alarming rate, due in part to the height on both sides of the family. Missy comes from a long line of Vikings. I come from a long line of angry American mutts- all quite tall. It’s a genetic match made in heaven if your goal in life is to produce a child who will never need a stepladder to change light bulbs. This is the boy:

The Post-Apocalyptic landscape is our backyard in the glory of “Spring”, a mythical season that’s actually just a period of mud followed by storm warnings, hail, and then the heat of summer. The boy is lounging, being tall. That’s what he does.

We Had A Birthday Party.
He turned seven. We ate a lot of birthday food, had fun, and rode around in a train that we hired for the afternoon. It was delightful. Here we are in our Official Land’s End Camouflage. We like stripes:

 It was held at my Mother-in-Law‘s home; she has more room and less barking dogs. Her backyard is adjacent to a pasture, where there are friendly horses and a donkey whom we’ve known for more than a decade.
This is the donkey:

I must confess: I don’t know a lot of donkeys, but this guy seems to be an absolute gem. He’s not stubborn at all. He’s friendly, fuzzy, generally cheerful, and seems to be willing to charge across any amount of open pasture to answer my bride’s call. She is. . . the Donkey Whisperer. Don’t get me wrong; all animals love her. But this donkey obeys, and he gives the impression of tail-wagging, even though that’s more a dog thing.

He’s besotted with her. Me too, but I get to live inside. And wear pants.

There are an array of horses, too– quite friendly, a bit quirky, as horses are, and fun for the son to feed.

Handsome fellow. Again, I confess to not knowing a great deal about horses unless they are French War Horses, or some other variety used throughout the Middle Ages/Renaissance. That’s more my area, but these guys are dandy. They put the frosting on the party, so to speak.

That concludes the farm report. New audiobook is out this week, it’s fantastic (Thank you Rebecca Cook!). All three current books are chugging along beautifully. I’ve got a zombie short story on Amazon, too– fun for a quick read.
Find everything here: Terry’s Dragons and Zombies and Critters. Oh my.
 If you like audiobooks and want a review copy, let me know. I’ve got a few to give away.

Until next time. Cheers!