Living the Country Life

Betsy's Backyard Blog

Betsy Freese is the editor-in-chief of Living the Country Life and executive editor of Successful Farming. She grew up on a fruit farm in Maryland (see and moved to the Midwest to get an agricultural journalism degree from Iowa State University. She and her husband, Bob, a veterinarian, have three children and own a farm where they raise sheep, hay, corn, and soybeans. 

January 18, 2013

Massages and bookcases

Two weeks ago Mom was diagnosed with pneumonia. It's been one of those winters. She got an ear infection the week before Thanksgiving, and then a nasty chest cold which lingered through Christmas. She is now on her fourth round of antibiotics, but is finally starting to feel better. I flew out to Maryland to see if I could cheer her up and stayed long enough to celebrate Dad's 75th birthday.

Dad is restoring an old manure spreader in the shop and pruning his raspberries. For his birthday Mom gave him a gift certificate for a massage, his first. She didn't know if he would like it, but thought it might help with his sore muscles. When he returned she asked how it went.

"Great," said Dad. "I'm going back in two weeks. She was a cute redhead."

I decided to buy Dad a bookcase for the basement. His books were in boxes. My friend Robin drove to the store and we loaded a 6-ft oak bookcase in her SUV. We got home and snuck it in the basement before Dad came in to watch the Ravens play.

"Where's Dad?" I asked Mom.

"He went to an auction to buy bookcases."

Soon Dad came in the lane with three bookcases in the back of his truck. He had quite a shock when he went in the basement, and then we all had a good laugh. His auction finds were junk, so he tossed them on the scrap heap.

Below: Mom and Dad in their favorite spots. You know Mom is on the mend when she starts baking.

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January 9, 2013

Stuck tongues

WARNING: Graphic image below.

An NBC report this morning talked about kids getting their tongues stuck inside popular metal water bottles. The narrow neck and brass ridges on the bottle create a suction and act like a noose, trapping the tongue. The tongue swells up and can die, or it can block the airway and suffocate the child. See the story here.

Many human health stories remind Bob of similar cases in his veterinary practice, and this was no different. He immediate thought of a hunting dog he saw last month with a swollen tongue.

On close examination, Bob saw that a tendon of some kind was wrapped around the base of the tongue. It turned out to be the trachea of a deer. The owner had fed the dog raw venison after a hunt and the dog had gotten his tongue stuck inside the deer trachea. It acted as a noose and caused the tongue to swell.

There is no happy ending to this story. After removal of the deer trachea, the tongue remained swollen. Quality of life became an issue, and the owner and Bob made the difficult decision to put the dog down.

The owner agreed to publish the story and photo as a way to warn other hunters and dog owners about the dangers of feeding raw venison to pets.

January 7, 2013

Census of Ag

Bob got a call from the USDA the other night. I wasn't sure who he was talking to at first; all I heard was "40...about 85...2...I have no more goats!"

The call was from the Census of Agriculture. I'm not sure why they called, as we still have time to fill out the batch of paperwork (shown below) before the Feb 4 deadline.

One thing they wanted to know was how many tons of hay we had fed in 2012. "Half a hayloft full," said Bob. We don't weigh our small bales of hay, and I'm not sure any small farmer does.

Last night Bob went through all the records on our sheep operation. He was astounded to find that we lost 12 tagged lambs last summer. That doesn't count lambs that died at birth or within a few days. We found three carcasses in the pasture killed by coyotes, but there must have been many more.

It was a hot, dry summer, and the ewes and lambs went into the pasture at night more often than in a normal year, searching for grass. This year we will call them up at dusk and lock them behind the barn until morning. Live and learn.

For more information on the Census of Agriculture, go here.

January 4, 2013

Wacky animals

Lisa Prater built a funny slideshow today called 16 Wacky Animals. She found an old photo of mine from the first year we raised goats. At that time I couldn't believe a goat would climb all the way to the top of a rack of hay. Later I learned they climb up the barn, on your back, and more. If you need a good laugh, check out the slideshow.

Here is my favorite goat climbing photo:

January 3, 2013

Games people play

What's your favorite card game? Every Christmas the extended Freese family plays 500. We set up card tables and split into pairs. Younger kids learn by sitting with an adult for a few years until they are old enough to understand the left and right Jack, trump, bidding, following suit, and other parts of the game.

In the photo above, I have my back to the camera and am playing with my brother-in-law Randall. His son, Graham, is to my right. On my left is Matt, my niece's boyfriend. Yes, we teach the boyfriends and girlfriends to play, too. Once they win a few rounds they can marry into the family. Just kidding.

In the photo below, Grandpa Freese has his back to the camera. He's been playing 500 for almost 500 years, I think. That is Aunt Lois to his right. She is an old hand at the game, too.

There was a fourth card table out of camera range. All told, we had 16 people playing cards for four hours one afternoon. Good times.

January 2, 2013

Handmade gifts

My mother hired her friend Linda Brammer to make a wedding quilt for Nowlan and Danie. It turned out beautiful.

I had a local furniture company, Sticks, make a custom mirror for the couple. I listed things I wanted as decoration -- barn, pigs, sheep, strawberries, cheesecake, and more -- and they created the design. (Caroline photo bombed my picture.)

Happy New Year to all!

December 26, 2012

Blizzards and other Big Events

A blizzard rolled in last week as Bob and I were set to fly to North Carolina. Our flight was delayed a day, and then longer (the plane froze to the runway). We finally made it to Charlotte just in time to drive straight to the courthouse where son Nowlan and Daniella were married! The timing was so close that Nowlan and Danie ran from the car, across the street, and up the stairs to the courthouse. Judges don't wait.

We had a wonderful trip, and the farm was in good hands with Warren and Caroline home from college. Speaking of college, congratulations to Warren who graduated from Iowa State University with a marketing degree!

It has been a big month for the Freese family. All the best to you and yours in the New Year.


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December 19, 2012

What was your favorite toy?

What were your favorite toys as a child? I can still feel the corduroy of this homemade stuffed brown pig today, even though it is long gone. I'm on the left and my sister, Molly, on the right. I don't know who made them (probably a great aunt). I hugged that pig for years until the corduroy was rubbed smooth. We were poor farmers and these toy pigs were made to match the real Duroc sows we had running around the pasture.

Below are too other favorite Christmas gifts. I'm holding a Betsy Wetsy doll in the first (makes sense), and that's a Skipper doll box on the chair in the second photo (I was more interested in my stocking). I had Skipper bald and covered in marker in short order.

December 17, 2012

We need to talk about mental illness

In light of the dreadful news about another school shooting, I wanted to share some additional passages from my grandmother's journal about her struggles with her youngest son, my Uncle David. (The original blog entry is here: Mental illness, and how parents and society can deal with it, is still the great unknown. I am praying for answers.

March 1979 Dave was bought up to the county jail. This seems to me to be about the bottom of the barrel for Dave. Will the judge release him? He apparently threatened people with bodily harm. What will we do for him?

The present laws are not helpful in helping mentally ill patients. They cannot be committed unless they are suicidal or get in trouble with the law, and by this time they are very sick.

So, I am depressed and worried about Dave.

April 1979  Charges against him were dropped when he plead guilty by reason of insanity, as advised by his lawyer. He called me Tuesday to tell me that he was “out of that cesspool,” meaning the jail. He was quite agitated from the experience and had a black eye and bruises from a beating by another inmate.

The whole situation is appalling. The jails and prisons in this country, in their treatment of mentally ill people, is man’s inhumanity to man.

Where can he make a go of it? I have been warned of the possible danger of having him live with me. I remember Dave as a kind, gentle boy who loved animals and wanted to amount to a great deal. Mercy, Mercy!

July 1979  Dave is coming to live with me. Thus starts a new life of adjustment for both of us. It will be a challenge.

December 1979  With Dave banging away at the piano and talking to himself downstairs, this is indeed a different Christmas day. Dave has little, if any, Christmas spirit, although he did go to the church program. He gave no gifts, and so far today has opened only one of his four gifts, a watch I gave him.

We do have much to be grateful for. Thank you, Lord, that he has progressed this far! He has a long road yet to travel to live independently, to hold down a job, and to cooperate with others. Sometimes he is almost normal for four or five days, and then he becomes belligerent and berates everybody and everything. Dave is more particular with his appearance and showers, but he has put forth little effort to find work.

January 1980  I have just survived a horrible, frightening, demanding week with Dave and am shaken by it.

He has been going backward since December when he took to more and louder mumbling and talking to himself. Then the bus drivers went on strike and his car developed trouble with the starter. This threw him and he became agitated and started snarling, “The Communists are doing it.” He would not let anyone look at the car.

Monday night he went on a tirade, cursing and at odds with everyone and everything. He frightened me by his threats and aggressiveness and I went into my bedroom and locked the doors and called the emergency number at the mental health unit. They said, if necessary, a worker and policeman could come out. Then I called Rev. Rader and it was arranged that he would stop by early the next morning.

Dave ranted until 2 a.m., and then had his daily diet of six soft boiled eggs and half a fresh pineapple. When he got up the next morning he was tired, but more reasonable. Rev. Rader spent two hours with him.

On Saturday night, Dave again ranted for hours, going to bed after midnight. The next morning the bus strike ended. We survive!

February 1980  Another month is gone, in which Dave and I have survived. This process of recovery moves slowly and unevenly. Usually he is in a bad mood, muttering to himself and shouting to me, all in accusatory, threatening terms. He’s down on the Russians, Governor Thornburgh, his father, etc.

Last night he started shouting, asking ridiculous questions, answering them himself, and interrupting supper. I stood my ground and he gradually calmed down and we discussed matters more rationally. Progress has been made in my understanding of his moods and in his admission of his needs of daily medicine.

March 1980  The past two weeks have put me under severe mental pressure and I find it hard to record events.

Dave was coming home every night frustrated and angry, and he would explode on me. I shuddered to see him approach, and took my dinner into another room to eat. He used gutter language and cursed, usually in a high-pitched voice. He talked almost continually to himself if no one was around, or he would make phone calls, as many as 10 a night. He was very agitated.

On Friday afternoon he drove his car to the store for cigars. A half hour later a neighbor woman saw him walking with difficulty and bleeding. She helped him to my door. He was bleeding from the mouth and left ear, and said two fellows assaulted him. His car was sitting on the hill a block away. I was appalled and asked Dave to let me take him to the doctor or call an ambulance. He said NO to everything.

With Dave lying down quietly on his bed, I gave up trying to do anything except to keep a watch on him.

The next morning he was very angry and accusing me of complicity in the assault. It was impossible to reason with him, so I went into my bedroom and called the mental health base unit to come out to see him. Two women arrived and he refused to come out of his room. They were convinced he did indeed need help and provided the necessary forms for involuntary commitment for me to fill out.

An ambulance and crew of three arrived and then Dave called the police. A large cop soon turned up and convinced Dave that the mental health unit had the necessary authority for him to be taken to the hospital, so he went quietly. During this stress, I went into my bedroom and locked the door, coming out after the ambulance left.

A number of times before, I was ready to ask for Dave’s commitment, but endured that night to find him better the next morning. But this time, with him beat up, down to his last tranquilizer and saying “No” to all help, I was desperate and needed him to be taken where he would be taken care of physically and mentally. It was a heavy burden.

I believe he will be vindictive toward me, and I can no longer tolerate having him live here.

April 1980 I drove to the state mental hospital to see Dave. He was antagonistic toward me, and said he would “sue me.” He was clean, but pale. His hands and fingers were shaking. His neck under the injured ear appeared swollen. His social worker says Dave struck an employee. The whole situation left me weepy and depressed.

June 1980  Dave has improved and was released to stay with a friend. Naturally, the friend has already had problems with him not abiding by her house rules. She called the police one night when he spoke badly to her, and they took him to the station. After a discussion, he was released and later apologized to her.

July 1980 Last Thursday I heard loud talking and it was Dave by the garage, talking to himself. I called to him through the window. He replied with curses and accusations. “I don’t want anything to do with you!” He spent the night in the garage and left early the next morning.

When he came back the next night I called the police and they warned Dave off the property. He left and I haven’t seen or heard from him since.

Tonight, please Lord, don’t let him come back. I don’t know what he will do next or how to help. It is exhausting!

August 1980 Dave has moved into an apartment. I left a food package there yesterday.

I have been attending weekly mental health support group meetings and have benefited from them.

December 1980 My granddaughter saw Dave in a local store recently. He has a beard and looks unkept. The clerks were talking about him, calling him a “town character."

Dave’s condition is truly frustrating, defying solution. I feel guilty and somewhat responsible, although they say it is a chemical imbalance. It is hurtful to the patient to be shunned and segregated as if he has leprosy, when in fact he has a physical condition like diabetes.

Dave has been calling my friend. He told her he “was so lonesome, enough to drive a person mad.”

January 1981  I spent New Year’s Day traveling. When I got home there was a frozen cup of coffee on my doorstop. Dave must have walked out from town.

February 1981 When I delivered Dave’s food package last Friday there were no tracks in the snow at this door. The next day I received a call from the hospital that Dave had been admitted.

I went to see him yesterday and he seemed glad to see me. His hair is shoulder length, he has a full beard and mustache, and is thin. He seemed alert, if nervous, but in pretty good shape. The counselor said Dave was accused of stealing something and was brought to police attention. Charges were dropped when the base unit was contacted and he was committed. The report to me was scant.

March 1981  I visited Dave today and found him hiding behind the Coke machine. His appearance and behavior differed from nine days ago. There was a mad glare to his eyes, his hands shook, and he was not glad to see me. He said he was on different medicine and had frequent blood tests taken.

He showed me three citations from police, and said he had tried to call a lawyer without satisfaction. One citation was for trying to enter the town library after being barred, another was from the market for not paying for merchandise, and a third was from a restaurant for abusive language. All charges have been dropped. Today was the first time Dave told me why he was committed, and says he feels he was “framed.”

He gave me a fine water color he drew of a bird and asked me for a couple of dollars.

I was tired on my way home, and ran off the road twice.

Late March 1981 Yesterday I drove over to see Dave. I found him playing the piano. We walked outdoors and he was happy with the jacket I brought. It seems playing the piano cheers Dave. We went to the canteen and then walked around the extensive grounds.

His doctor told me that Dave would soon be discharged. According to him, it will be progress if Dave can live in resident housing (not with me), go to Counsel House, take job training, and visit me. I am to insist he be clean and on good behavior when he comes. He said Dave needs strict guidance and structure to his daily living.

April 1981 Yesterday I spent an hour and a half with Dave and we walked the lovely, spacious grounds, had coffee at the canteen, and were able to get into the auditorium. It is a newer building with a large stage, basketball court, and a grand piano. Dave sat down and played the piano so beautifully it brought tears to my eyes. He played parts of different compositions, as he had no music.

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December 13, 2012

Farmer nightmares

Do you have a recurring dream? Growing up I had one that barrels were rolling down the ramp from our barn and I was stuck in the mud and was crushed.

My husband, a veterinarian, still dreams he is in parasitology class and not prepared for the final exam. I have to remind him he graduated 25 years ago.

The other day, Bob was working cattle and he and the farmer started sharing dreams. The farmer said he has the same nightmare every fall: He's driving the combine into the shed after harvest and he doesn't turn the machine off -- it just keeps going through the back of the shed.

What's your dream?

Mike McGinnis, the markets editor for Successful Farming, probably has new nightmares after yesterday. Watch what happens 28 seconds into this video: Poor guy, but that's what he gets for doing the markets report in the hallway. (He is such a pro, he never flinches, just keeps going.)


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