Got Opinions?

Mar 04

Watching the birth of a lamb

On a zero degree morning, two hours inside a barn is cold. And I was dressed for work, not hobby farming.

So I stood in my dress pants, black shoes, all-purpose coat, a scarf and those gloves with the fingers cut out so I could better work my iPhone.


We could tell one of our smallest ewes was ready to have her baby. We didn’t know if it would be minutes or hours. It’s her first pregnancy. She was born just less than a year ago herself and was a triplet who became our bottle lamb when her own mother couldn’t feed her.

I decided to hang around and watch since I’ve never seen the birth of a lamb.

It was a few hours full of anticipation. The other six ewes were curious why I was sitting on a straw bale in their tiny barn. They had to sniff and check things out and insist on a few pats on the heads. And they ate. It seems like sheep are constantly chewing something. They also went outside after a while, clearly no longer curious or anticipating that I was there to supply more food.

The three babies we already have — twin girls and a single — spent most of their time cuddled under a heat lamp. But they all got up and stretched and looked outside and sucked from their mothers, too.

Three pesky hens were looking for places to lay a morning egg. One in particular was clucking loudly, even though I shushed her. I guess she was the welcoming announcer for the morning. Finally, we gave her a lift out of the barn so we could get some peace and quiet.

In the meantime, the mother ewe got pretty anxious and pawed the straw into various arrangements, over and over. After awhile she started laying down and making labor noises, similar to a long, yet strained grunt. Then she’d get up and paw at the straw some more, smell it and plop back down with more contractions and sheep pushing sounds.

It was fascinating and sometimes it brought tears to my eyes because she was trying so hard to be a mother. After a bit, we decided to call our farmer friend who helped us start our small sheep hobby and bred our critters for us.

How long do we wait, we asked.

We could see two tiny black feet sticking out but for a long time, we didn’t see much more, maybe the tip of a black nose if we really stared hard.

Our friend said to not let her go much longer working on it herself. Then he told my husband how to tell if we were seeing front legs or back and gave him instructions to pull slowly.

The sheep was pretty cooperative about his help. She is tame and trusting of us because we’re with her a lot. My husband pulled one leg at a time out and then manipulated to get the head free. The rest went really quickly and the baby was in his hands.

When he put it on the warm straw, it quivered and shook a little, soon making the tiniest noises. It was almost like a baa but not really formed yet. I started the video rolling for the first 10 minutes of this lamb’s life.

The mother started drying off her baby, which was almost steamy in the cold air. Almost immediately, the lamb attempted to stand, first using its back legs. The ewe kept licking.

Then the company arrived.

One of the other ewes with a baby in the barn started baaing loudly. The newborn started answering, giving it all his might to try and be as loud as possible, too. It was comical, a little magical and it made me giggle.

Our latest baby — our first boy of the season — has a black circle around each eye. We call him “Buckeye.”

Feb 06

It’s twins!

Our blue tag 98 mama — she doesn’t have a more formal name other than her ear tag identification — had twin lambs that are a day old and as cute as lambs can be.

It’s our first experience with twins, although we suspected she would have two because this is her second pregnancy and she was particularly wide. In the world of building a herd, the great news is the lambs are girls. Honey and Oats, my son has named them. Honey has ears that droop a bit, and Oats has ears that stand straighter.

It’s really the only way we can tell them apart at this point. They’re nearly identical in size — roughly the size of a 20-ounce pop bottle on lanky legs with adorable snowy white faces. They sound similar with their newborn baaing, and they both go between standing under the heat lamp to pestering their mother by trying to suck. It’s their entire world at this point.

Newborns Honey and Oats with their mother last night.

This mama ewe has only birthed girls. Her first baby last year, Bella, is pregnant this year with her own baby, likely just a single. She’s the friendly one among the seven ewes in our tiny barn. She is the first to come over to us looking for some pats, and if you get close enough, offering some sheep sort of kisses.

Baby lambs are the only sign pointing to spring at this point. The ice and snow-covered ground shows no inkling of a thaw. The wind still is whipping up below-zero temperatures. It’s not possible to sneak outside for just a minute without putting on layers of coats, boots, a hat and warm gloves.

That weather made me worry in the night that the newborns would freeze to death on their first night on earth. These are tough conditions to survive. But this morning they both seemed happy and were up looking for some breakfast.

The mom in me rested a bit easier seeing that. Honey and Oats are just what we need at this point of the winter at our house.

Honey looking for a place to nurse this morning. You can see Oats’ legs where she is eating on the other side.

Mama blue tag 98 stands patiently for her babies to eat when they are not under the heat lamp. Some of our hens like hanging out with the sheep because it’s warmer in the barn.

Jan 22

Sympathy to the overextended parents in this world

The Nebraska mom who left her young child in a car seat recently in the car all day while she worked isn’t going to be charged with abuse or neglect.
I can honestly say, “Whew,” about that decision.
Before you condemn me or her for being complete idiots, stop a second. Have you never forgotten something really, really, really important because you had a hundred things on your mind thanks to the busyness of a daily routine. I once remember getting out of the car and seeing a sleeping child strapped in back and thinking to myself that I had forgotten he was back there because he was so quiet. By the grace of God, I SAW him.
Here’s the story about the Nebraska women:
Don’t get me wrong, this whole thing could have been an even more devastating tragedy. By a miracle, her two-year-old was unharmed and not distraught in the car for all that time. I’m happy the child was fine.
Just for a minute, image that mother’s horror. No one needs to charge her because she has likely been hard on herself and will have trouble getting it out of her mind anytime soon, if ever.

Jan 21

Job aps have changed in 30 years

Here’s my My Life column from Monday’s paper in case you missed it.

Thirty years ago, I took the first step that led to the rest of my career.

In many ways, it happened because of luck and a college connection.

In summer 1984, I packed my personal belongings in my red Chevy Citation hatchback and drove to Indianapolis for an internship with the National Retail Hardware Association, an organization that eventually hired me to stay on for a full-time job on its trade magazine staff.

I never had been to Indianapolis. I knew no one who lived there. I didn’t have a place to live until I arrived and looked around. I was lonely. And I cried once on the phone to my mom, who told me things would look better in the morning because they always do. She was right.

The experience is one I treasure today. It made me self-sufficient and confident enough to know that I could make it on my own. Kind of a Mary Tyler Moore moment in life. Everyone needs that.

I just finished a story for Wednesday’s Sioux Falls Business Journal about college students finding that first “real” job when they graduate, and I couldn’t help thinking that as opposed to today’s impersonal online applications, I got a job because my professor helped me out.

I’m not sure I would be a good job seeker if I were a 2014 graduate like my oldest son, who will earn his degree 30 years after I did from the same college. I think it is more difficult than ever.

I landed my first job out of college because of a marketing class I took from Les Carson at Augustana. I didn’t need the class for my major, but was interested in the subject and had heard of the professor’s reputation. It was a class in the business department, instead of the communications area, and Carson was a demanding,yet beloved professor. He insisted we come to class prepared and would randomly point at a student to answer a question or explain what we should have known from doing our reading homework.

I remember the class mostly as unnerving. And of all things, I remember being called on to explain what a “cash cow” meant.

Looking back, it was one of my favorite classes.

At the end of the semester, Carson — who is retired but still around — asked me whether I was interested in working on a trade magazine for the hardware industry, and I was up for the adventure. He knew Roy Nyberg, the late owner of Nyberg’s Ace, who was on the board of the National Retail Hardware Association at the time and knew about the internship.

That was how people got jobs back in the day. It was often connections that led to employment. I’ve always been thankful that Roy Nyberg and Les Carson made that connection for me. And I think they were even a little proud of having an Augie graduate in the job, too.

I spent the summer and subsequent year writing descriptions of new widgets, proofing magazine pages and writing a few inside stories. I practiced layout skills, wrote headlines and learned more than I ever dreamed about hardware retailing, end caps and competition in the industry. I shared a project with two other interns doing on-site price studies in Anaheim, Calif., and Virginia Beach, Va., cities where home centers had saturated the market.

It was a great experience, but I learned even more about myself, a good measure of any first job.

My top takeaways: You don’t have to stay in your first job forever. I wanted to be closer to home, and magazine writing was not brisk enough. I needed daily newspaper deadlines.

After about a year and a half, I applied for reporting jobs at the Argus Leader, the Mitchell Daily Republic and the Yankton Press & Dakotan. I ended up at the Argus, and except for a year at a sister Gannett paper in Minnesota, I’ve stayed. They say people switch jobs numerous times in their lives, but I’ve done that right here internally by taking various assignments in news, life and editorial.

I wonder whether my job path would have been the same if I were searching for that first job today?

Impersonal, online applications make job seeking seem like gumption is obsolete. There really is not a place to express your passion, and it’s difficult to stand out, I suspect. But job placement professionals say that face-to-face interviewing and networking still are vital for new grads seeking that first job.

That tells me people still matter, maybe even remain the most important part of the process.

I hope so.

Dec 03

Tracking modern kids fuels desperation

In today’s amazing, flexible school environment, it’s possible for a mom like me to track two high school kids at three different schools.

No complaints, but that’s what co-oping, specialized instructional schools and open enrollment can turn into. We’re not the only family doing it.

Luckily, the kids are all old enough to know where they need to be and when they need to be there, but I still need help keeping it all straight. That means tracking the school calendar for three districts.

One son attends Sioux Falls’ amazing school for career and technical education for part of each morning so we’re technically parent’s of a Sioux Falls school kid when it comes to school breaks and for parent-teacher, open house events. It’s an entirely different calendar.

Both boys go to most of their classes at the small-town high school in the district where we live. But because we co-op with another nearby school’s wrestling program, the other son goes there so we follow that sport’s schedule.

We love the opportunities the crazy schedule allows. It’s good for the kids. But it just means the paper calendar tucked into my purse is crammed and full of print outs of various districts’ schedules. Add in another son’s college breaks and concert schedule plus the other things we do each month, and I can’t write small enough.

I’m sure I could use the reminder system on my phone, but the thing would be going off all the time. Plus, I’m still pen and paper tactile. I like the writing part of keeping track. And I like seeing the entire month at one time.

But let’s face it, I may need the help of technology. I’m way beyond relying on color-coding with Hi-lighter markers.

After all, modern times call for modern solutions. Or is the saying really, “desperate times call for desperate measures?” I think so.

But I really don’t have time to change my system at this point. I have to run out and look for spirit wear for a couple of new schools.

Sep 10

This time they were asked to dig up the green

Lots of golfers are attached to the east nine at Elmwood Golf Course.

For the next year, they’ll have to play other holes while it is being dug up and redesigned so that the airport can extend its safety zone. It’s a pretty good compromise when you think about it. But that doesn’t mean that golfers won’t miss their friendly course and the large shade trees.

Mike Crane, president of the Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation board, was among the last people to play the ninth hole, where city officials had a press conference Monday to dig holes in the green, which is now brown because they cut water to it earlier. The ground was so hard that the holes were tough to dig, according to participants. But those are divots that nobody has to fill in, for once.

“Three years from now when we get done we will have a new Elmwood,” Crane said.

Aug 30

Play ball

Sanford’s Pentagon opens next week for local sports programs and will host its first big-ticket games in October.

In a tour this morning, work on the facility looks close to completion in time for the Oct. 10 tip-off between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Sure, there are murals to put up in each of four tunnels leading to the main Heritage Court, concession areas to finish, eight locker rooms to deck out and many more jobs that I’m probably not even aware of. They’re not popping the popcorn yet, but the official balls have arrived.

We’ll give you a peek with a story I’m writing for tomorrow’s newspaper. One thing that struck me is that the place is definitely designed for a classic basketball experience, the kind where you feel close to the action and a shareholder in the outcome.

"It’s all about fan and player experience," said Eric Larsen, general manager of the Sanford Sports Complex. "You’re never more than 19 rows away."

The Heritage court has that old-school look with high-tech amenities. You’ll see a lot of rich browns, from the parquet floor to wooden bleachers and brown chairs in the stands. Even the rusty industrial beams are covered with a product to make them appear to be wooden beams.

Here’s one other thing that struck me as fun, at least worthy of a quick photo — all the giant letters that spell Sanford waiting to go up on the buildings outside. Look for the full story in tomorrow’s paper or online at

Aug 27

Cookies and heat, not a great combination

I dropped cookies, photography, welded items, a drawing and a pair of earrings off this morning so they could catch a ride to the State Fair.

The 4-H projects are among the purple-ribbon winning entries my boys decided to take to Huron. The local 4-H office hauls a trailer full of projects that Minnehaha kids worked hard on and did well with this year.

For our family, the projects represent close to 25 years of showing exhibits at the State Fair. Other than tradition, why do we do it? To represent ourselves, our club and our county at the state level. To show what a young person can do if they are allowed to learn and try things. To participate fully in an organization we find valuable.

To run an experiment on what happens to cookies in this heat?

Here’s a peek at the ‘Smores Cookies my youngest is sending. I hope they don’t have to stay in the trailer all night or they might be the melted ‘smores. Who needs a campfire in August?

Aug 21

Pictures? Not cool on the first day of school

My children are trying to rob me of my motherly rights.

With two high school boys this year, pictures on the first day of school are not allowed. Well, to be fair, one of them cooperated. The other had a melt-down fit when I snapped a few on my iPhone as he was getting into the pickup truck.

“You better not put those on Facebook,” he said.

“I don’t plan on it,” I told him.

It’s apparently not cool for high school boys to have moms who take first-day-of-school pictures. Because I’m so unconventional and the meanest mom in the world, I did so anyway.

I plan to continue to be annoying to my freshman, who finds everything I do quite horrible. I wonder if he has any idea how good I can be at torturing someone. Has he met me?

I also plan to be loving, a patient guide, a correctional officer, a nurse, a social worker, a cook, a caretaker, a miracle worker (have you seen those football practice clothes) and oh yeah, a photographer.

Maybe I’ll try for that second-day-of-school photo.

Aug 15

Canning diary shares bounty, weather of rural life

When I married and my husband and I moved to our acreage 23 years ago, one of the first things we did was plant a garden.

The second thing we did was start to preserve our bounty by canning green beans, tomatoes, salsa and more. Last night while waiting for peaches to process, I got out a diary I started shortly after we were married. It’s entries typically are just a list of how many of each vegetable, fruit, jam or freezer corn I put up that summer and fall. Sometimes, I wrote about the crops themselves or the weather conditions that affected our produce.

It’s easy to see that I have cut back in volume since those early entries, even though our family has expanded to include three sons, all over the age of 14. They can eat. A lot. I think the time I used to spend on canning now is spent being busy with them.

In 1996, when I was pregnant with our second baby I canned 27 pints of green beans, 27 pints of peaches, an unlisted amount of applesauce, 35 quarts of tomatoes, 9 pints of spaghetti sauce and nine pints of salsa, which was the last thing I did for the season on Sept. 29. I froze rhubarb, zucchini and corn.

I can’t believe we did all of that work, and I’m sure my husband helped me. It’s a project we enjoy doing together and each of us have our jobs.

It’s the details in the diary that are interesting to me, such as canning tomatoes on Aug. 21, 2010 on one of the hottest, most humid days of the summer. Some pages include new recipes I tried and how they tasted.

I’m not sure anyone but me would ever find this journal interesting. But it’s a fun snapshot of one aspect of my life as a rural wife and mother over the years. And maybe someday, someone will want that recipe for rhubarb-apricot jam or will laugh at this year’s entry which explains how both my husband and I bought tomato plants, not knowing the other had. We have 32 growing in our garden.

Let the canning begin.