The Kitchen That Built Me

It was a Friday night, and my then boyfriend, Rich, and I pulled into the driveway of his house. Though we were in a new relationship, and long-distance too, without actually talking about it—we both knew it was getting serious. This was the first time I was seeing his house and meeting his family who lived nearby. We drove up to his farm house, and he mumbled something, but I only caught a few words: “Retro kitchen . . . someday I want to remodel it.” 

I brushed it off and said, “I’m sure it’s not that bad.” 

We walked into the house and down the hall—the hardwood floors were a welcome surprise, their modern look a contrast to the dated exterior of the house. We turned the corner into the kitchen, and the salmon-colored cabinets were the first thing I noticed. On a second glance, I realized they were made of metal. I looked down and saw orange carpet—the kind that’s flat, without any fibers sticking up. Retro was definitely the right word

“I was thinking I could sandblast the cupboards and repaint them. But it might be easiest to just tear them all out and start over. I don’t think much has changed in the kitchen since the house was built in 1955,” he said. 

“It’s fine. I don’t like you for your kitchen. It feels huge compared to the tiny kitchen in my apartment,” I laughed as I squeezed his hand.

Our relationship was still new and I didn’t know how much time I would end up spending in this space.

              //

Two years later, I bounced my newborn around this kitchen, trying to get him to stop crying.

 “He won’t stop crying!” I said to Rich, now my husband, who was leaning against the laminate countertops.

“I fed him, but he just falls asleep while he’s nursing. Then he wakes up crying. I think he’s starving,” I said, glancing at the salmon colored cabinets that I felt were beginning to taunt me.

“I’m sure he’s getting enough to eat, babe,” Rich gently said as he took Rhett from me. 

“I’m going to weigh him. Do we have a scale I can use?” I asked, my hand cupping the back of my neck.

Just then I remembered the kitchen scale in the pantry. I set the tiny scale on the old countertop, then grabbed the baby bathtub and balanced it on top of the scale, and zeroed the weight. 

“Next time I feed him, I’ll weigh him first, then feed him, then weigh him again.” I was mostly talking to myself, but Rich nodded along. “Then if he’s not getting enough, maybe I should give him a bottle?” 

We had been parents for only a few weeks, but I think he already knew I wasn’t looking for an answer. I just needed to work through my thoughts out loud.

Later we balanced the whale bathtub on the scale—the underlit kitchen making it hard to see the numbers on the scale. Just as I began to shrug my shoulders in defeat, I noticed a bit of sunshine coming through the window behind me. The sliver of light fell over my shoulder, giving us just enough light to see the numbers go up on the scale after I had nursed him. 

Satisfied he was at least getting a few ounces, I put the scale away. Later that night after he had gone to bed, I stood at the kitchen sink scrubbing the dinner dishes. No light came through the window this time, the room was barely lit by the dim hue of the single light overhead. I wondered what would happen tomorrow that I would need to survive. Not even one month in, and motherhood felt so hard. I heard a creak, and saw a cabinet door had fallen open, again. I was doing it all wrong, I thought with a slam.

//

A year later, I turned around from the sink and saw my crawling baby licking the cabinets in the kitchen. “Rhett, what are you doing?” I laughed. 

I grabbed my phone and snapped a few pictures, wanting to remember this. His cheeks were so chunky and full, no one would have guessed I ever worried about his weight. He continued to crawl around and I imagined the sixty years of boots and shoes that had walked over the floors. I shuddered, thinking of how dirty the old carpet was, knowing the only way it would feel clean would be to tear it out. Did we want tile or hardwood floors? I silently wondered. I pulled up my Pinterest board, “Future Kitchen” and added more pins for the kitchen remodel. 

The years went by, and we brought another baby home—the kitchen remodel always at the back of our minds. Finally, after being married for over six years, with two kids (and a third on the way) we made official plans to start the renovation. In the last few months, Rich and I had gone over all of the choices we had to make. What color did we want the cabinets and appliances? What type of flooring? What color for the backsplash? What style of handles for the drawers? 

For years, part of the reason I had put off the kitchen remodel was that I was worried I would make a wrong decision and be stuck with it. It felt like too much pressure to get it “just right.” Looking over the proposed drawing from the interior designer, I remembered how overwhelmed I had felt with my first baby—wondering if he was getting enough to eat, immunizations, nap schedules, and when to feed him solids. I was always exhausted from all the decisions.

The night before the construction crew arrived I stood alone in the kitchen. We had emptied all the drawers and cabinets and I stood in the entryway one last time. My stomach bubbled with sadness—an emotion I wasn’t expecting. When I looked down the hall, I pictured myself walking in for the first time and seeing this kitchen. I saw myself standing here, wide-eyed and in love—with my then-boyfriend. At the time I thought I knew what love was, and what marriage and motherhood would look like. But I didn’t know how often I would second guess every decision I made with my kids. Or how long the days would feel waiting for Rich to get home, trying to keep his dinner warm in the oven, with two kids crying at my feet—all in this space. This was the kitchen I became a wife in, then a mom. It’s where I learned to cook meals that would feed more than just myself. I burned food, tried new meals, and accidentally dropped eggs on the carpet. Even as I stood there in the silence, I could hear the sound of the oven door creaking—its hinges well-worn from decades of use. I always imagined this day would only feel exciting—a chance at designing my own kitchen. But at that moment, all I felt was a bit of sadness.

“You ready to go?” Rich called from the front door. I nodded and gave the kitchen one last glance before I walked out of the house. 

//

Thirty-four days after we moved out of our home, the remodel was done. I walked down the hall toward the kitchen—anxious to see it all put together. The white tile shone in the sunlight, a bright contrast from the hardwood floors. The deep white sink caught my eye and drew me in. I walked into the room, and reflexively my hand reached out toward the nearly black countertops. My fingers skimmed over the smooth surface, cool to the touch. I paused and glanced around taking it all in—amazed at how much had changed.

I turned to face the living room, the hardwood floors running from the kitchen into the rest of the house, tying it all together. It looked like it was meant to be.

Rich opened the door from the garage, “What do you think? It looks like it could be in a magazine, doesn’t it?” 

I stood and nodded, at a loss for words.

In the following days, I carefully washed the pots and pans in the brand new sink, taking special care not to scratch the white porcelain. Each time I walked toward the kitchen it was like I was seeing it again for the first time. The old kitchen stood the test of time, refining me along with it. My edges were worn down—my expectations of what a home would look like, along with what it would be like to be a wife and mom. Neither of us was perfect, but we did the best we could. I know now that just because the kitchen is new, it doesn’t mean it’s perfect either. The corner cabinets next to the dishwasher can’t be open at the same time. And while the “fingerprint resistant” appliances might keep off fingerprints, we’ve learned the hard way that magnets scratch them. And despite being cautious, I already put a tiny nick in my new farmhouse sink. 

The kitchen is beautiful—there’s no denying it. But part of the reason it’s beautiful to me is that I know what it once was, and the life we’ve lived here. When I close my eyes, I can still see the old kitchen—the retro cupboards and orange carpet. I can see the younger me taking it all in for the first time. I’ll always remember the years I baked in the cramped oven—the tick of the oven matching the amount of time it took to heat up. I’ll remember the sound of the metal cabinets banging shut—their doors full of scratches and worn from decades of opening and closing. The carpet was stained with flour, dropped eggs, and honestly, who knows what else. But it was full of happiness too. I watched Rhett take his first step in this room. I can picture the time I found Allie covered from head to toe in powdered sugar, the orange carpet around her dusted in white. Or the late nights when Rich arrived home from the field, greeting me with a kiss and a “thank you” for the dinner I had brought to the harvest crew.

Part of me wishes I could go back to the “first-time mom” me and tell her not to worry so much, not to stress over every decision. But I know those moments and decisions carved me into the mom and wife I am today. Despite all my imperfections, like the cupboards and worn carpet, it was never about how they looked. It was what they could hold—their role in our home. The woman who walked into this house years ago isn’t the same one who stands in this kitchen now. All the decisions and worry, happiness, and joy molded me into the woman I am today.

And I’ve learned it doesn’t matter what my cupboards and cabinets look like—what matters is who I will continue to become.

Photos by: Josey Miller // @storyanthology

A Few Good Things

As a kid, I remember thinking of Christmas as a mile-marker. I would look back over how much had changed from one year to the next. In high school, I’m sure I wondered if the next Christmas I would have a boyfriend. (Spoiler alert: I did not.) Or the year I went from not being able to drive (legally) to driving on my own. Then a couple of years later, I went from living at home to my first year in college. There were sad reflections too. The Christmas we spent with my aunt, knowing it would be her last. A couple of years before that, we gathered around my grandpa’s bed for his final Christmas—he passed away a couple of months after the new year. The following Christmases felt different. It wasn’t that it just felt like something was missing. Someone really was. 

As an adult, I see Christmas mainly through the eyes of my kids. Last year, Rhett and Allie were 5 and 3 and they were both old enough to be excited about Christmas. Their eyes sparkled with the magic and lights, the wonder of what would be under the tree on Christmas morning. I never even brought up Santa, they remembered from the past year. Last Christmas, my belly had the hint of a baby bump—and we didn’t know if the growing baby was a boy or a girl. The overwhelming feeling of adding a third baby to the family was slowly wearing off, and finally, my appetite was back to normal—my days of nausea behind me. We celebrated with my family in Wyoming, with yet another empty space on Christmas Day—my cousin had passed away two months before Christmas. 

This year, I know many people around the world will have empty places around their Christmas trees and tables. Maybe because someone passed away since last December, or maybe because they aren’t gathering together this year.

As I sit here writing this, I can’t help but wonder what Christmas 2021 will look like. Will masks be something we are talking about in the present tense or a thing of the past? (Let’s hope.) Will Rhett and Allie still believe in Santa? How many words will Nora be able to speak? I pray my family will still have the same people around the tree, even if we aren’t celebrating together. 

Even though this Christmas won’t look like year’s past, I know from experience that no Christmas looks the same as the year before. There is always good and hard. But I believe both can exist together. 

//

These are the good things I want to remember about 2020. 

In January we remodeled our kitchen that was stuck in 1955—and it’s beautiful. I’m grateful for it every day, and haven’t once missed the orange carpet.

Nora was born on May 21st in an exciting roadside delivery. Adding a new baby to our family is at the top of my “Good List” for 2020. I don’t take it for granted what a blessing a new baby is—one wished and prayed for by many.

Rich turned 40! I don’t know if he would consider it a part of the “good list.” But I’m reminded every year that growing older is a gift that’s not afforded to everyone. 

A few weeks before his birthday, we celebrated with friends. We rented a cabin on the river and the guys fished and the girls got pedicures. We ate good food, watched The Office, had cake, and relaxed.

We had another successful and safe harvest. I also survived my first summer and harvest season as a mom of three. I spent most of harvest cooking meals, with one half day spent driving a combine (with a three-month old in tow).

I kept the flowers in my garden boxes alive all summer—which is truly a miracle. 

Rhett started kindergarten in August and can go in-person. We’re thankful for his teachers and the school for making it possible in this crazy year.

 This year I was especially thankful to live in a rural area. With hundreds of acres surrounding us, the kids were able to run, play, and farm with dad, and life went on (mostly) as normal for them.

Rhett is learning to read and write and wrote me this note last week. 

“Rhett loves mom”

Allie started taking dance class once a week this fall and loves it. Since Rhett started school, there is a lot of talk at home about his teacher and class and learning, and Allie loves having her own teacher and class. She taught herself to write her name and is excited to be in school next year.

In October, Nora was baptized in the church I grew up in. When the pastor was pouring the water on her head (in the silent church) she had a huge blowout in her diaper. Rich remained calm under pressure and held onto her bottom to keep everything in place. He held it together long enough to finish the baptism and get a few family photos. Afterward, my mom admitted that at first she thought it was my sister passing gas and was worried she was getting sick. My sister was slightly offended.

Rich and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary in September. We spent the weekend before with the kids (on our first trip as a family of five) in Glacier National Park. We ate Chinese take-out and enjoyed the absolute beauty that is Glacier. On our actual anniversary, I baked a cake. Mostly because I like to eat cake. 

Nora cannot wait to be on the move to keep up with her siblings. She thinks their crazy antics are hilarious. She just turned seven months old and her two bottom teeth came in at the same time. She is so happy and always has a smile on her face. Allie and I often say how much “we want to eat her!” Rich still finds this disturbing, but has come to terms with it three babies in.

Above all else, one thing remains the same—the true meaning of Christmas. We will be celebrating the birth of our Savior—and that is something great.

There’s Something I Need to Tell You

The hot water pours down my back, steam surrounding me. “Babe. There’s something I need to tell you,” I say through the fog. 

I turn my head toward the bedroom, his outline is faint through the dingy hotel shower curtain. 

“Okay,” he slowly replies. 

“Nevermind,” I say. Butterflies feel like they are going to jump out of my throat. 

I hear the bed creak as he sits up, followed by the sound of him placing his phone on the nightstand. 

“You can’t start something like that and not finish,” he says. 

“Well, I’m not sure if it’s true, so I don’t know if I should tell you,” I reply. 

“Just tell me.”

I pause, wishing the water pressure matched the pounding of my heart. I let the water continue to run down my back, shifting from one foot to the other.

“Stacy. You’re making me nervous. What is it?” his voice rising. 

I take a deep breath. 

“I might be pregnant,” I breathe out. 

The silence that fills the room is deafening.

“I haven’t taken a test yet, but I’m a few days late . . .” I say. 

I shut the shower off, then move the curtain to the side—the curtain rings rattling overhead. Despite the clanging from the bathroom fan, it’s clearly not working—my shape is barely visible in the mirror above the sink. After grabbing a crisp white towel from the rack, I begin to dry myself. I reach up and wipe the condensation from the mirror, taking a look at myself for the first time since I’ve said the words I’ve been carrying out loud.

Tightening the towel around my chest, I walk to my suitcase perched on the table by the floor to ceiling windows. I begin to get dressed and look down the 20 floors to the busy street below. My mind flashes back to the last eight months of negative pregnancy tests, coupled with my knee surgery that forced us to postpone trying for three months. The past two months I didn’t even bother with the ovulation sticks. Despite them saying I was ovulating for the last year—the negative pregnancy tests outweighed their positives.

He leans his head against the headboard. “Should we go and get a pregnancy test?”

“I’m sure there’s a store around here somewhere,” I say, grabbing my phone from the table. “Looks like there’s a Target a few blocks down the street.”

We chat for a few minutes, a mixture of excitement and nerves fill the hotel room. I picture our two kids at home on the farm with their grandparents, feeling like it’s too soon to get excited about a baby. But then picturing a baby with two older kids sends me into a slight panic.

I collapse onto the bed. “I don’t know if I can handle three kids,” I exhale. “I thought I wanted another baby, but now I feel like we waited too long.”

I pause, running my hand across the maroon bedspread. “We can actually travel and leave the kids for a few days.”

He nods his head. “Well, we don’t know anything yet.”

After I’ve dressed and blow-dried my hair, I grab my purse and room key and we head to the elevator. We silently ride down the 20 floors and walk through the lobby. The sounds and smells of Chicago hit me as soon as the revolving door opens. The shock of concrete, people clogging the sidewalk, and traffic is such a contrast to our life at home, it makes me pause. Outside our front door on the farm I’m surrounded by dirt roads, wheat fields, and cattle. For a moment, I’m able to forget about the tiny being that might or might not be growing inside of me. 

We step onto the sidewalk, making sure to stay out of the way of the other pedestrians. I look down at the street, still wet from last night’s downpour. Then I squint my eyes from the sun and glance up at the tall buildings around me.

“Which way?” he asks, grabbing my hand. 

I squeeze his hand with more confidence than I actually feel.

I nod to the left, “This way.”

//

**This essay was written as part of the workshop, “Reading Well, Writing Well.” The assignment was to focus on writing dialogue.**

My Own Little House on the Prairie

The five of us piled into the van before the sun came up, my grandpa hunched behind the wheel. We crested the mountain as the sun came up, the elevation wrapped us in cool air, despite the summer season.

We spent the rest of the day driving, miles of open space and nothing but highway in front of us.

Eventually, I peered out the back window of the van and saw a green billboard, “The Home of Laura Ingalls Wilder Next Exit.”

“Grandpa, can we go there?” I asked from the backseat of the maroon Econoline van. I don’t remember his response, or maybe he didn’t give me one. The interstate whirred by as we continued our family trip to Michigan. My parents, younger sister, and my grandpa—all packed into the van. This was the early 90s and my sister and I spent most of the trip lying down on the bench in the third row—no seat belt or booster seats in sight.

We made the drive from Wyoming to Michigan, and I’m sure that I passed some of the time reading, either the Babysitters Club or anything by Beverly Cleary, Goosebumps, or Little House on the Prairie

On the way back from Michigan to Wyoming, my grandpa took that exit—and we spent the day where Laura had once lived. I was able to walk the same places she had, and I imagine I felt like I was inside her books. 

I was 8 or 10 at the time, maybe 12. My elementary years all run together, with bits and pieces sticking out. I wish I could say I remember more specific things that happened that day in South Dakota. Did the air rustle through the prairie grass, reminding me of Laura and her beloved Jack the bulldog? Was it everything that I had imagined?

Every Christmas one of my favorite gifts in my stocking was a gift card to Barnes & Noble. My mom, sister, and I would drive the 90 miles to the nearest city where we could use our gift card. I searched the shelves for the newest James Patterson or Mary Higgins Clark. Then made my way to the historical fiction shelves. The well-worn red and black paperback, Number the Stars, a favorite on my bookshelf at home since the 4th grade. Annemarie and Ellen were two characters I often imagined myself as. Ellen’s dark hair made it seem more likely that I was her—except I’m not Jewish. I often wondered if I would have been as brave as Annemarie’s family, had I been in their shoes.

College was full of textbooks, course syllabuses, and homework. I know I read for fun, but I couldn’t tell you any of the books I read outside of the classroom. I left my beloved Number the Stars and Little House on the Prairie in my childhood bedroom to collect dust throughout my 20s. After college, I spent those years finding myself, sometimes between the pages of books, getting lost in them when I was too scared to admit to myself that my life wasn’t where I had hoped it would be. 

Near the end of my 20s, I met Rich. His farm on the prairie was nowhere near where I expected I would end up. Could I be as resilient as Laura and Ma? Even though I have the luxury of electricity and running water, it still takes some grit and a different mindset to live in the middle of nowhere. All those years ago when I convinced my grandpa to take me to Laura’s house in South Dakota, I never imagined I would find myself living on the prairie. But now I’m surrounded by it. 

//

“Mom, it’s a rattlesnake!” Rhett runs from the dirt pile to the back of the house where I’m watering the newly planted trees. 

I glance up from the tree, dropping the hose. I follow him to the edge of the yard that connects with one of the many fields we are surrounded by. The grasses sway back and forth, and I wait to hear the sound that upset him. Knots form in my own stomach, hoping it’s not a rattlesnake. Rich isn’t home, and I am not looking forward to having to deal with a big rattlesnake on my own. 

The hot dry air surrounds us. Then I hear what he heard. The many grasshoppers that have filled our fields, yards, and the grill of my car, move their legs in rhythm, almost making a rattling sound.

“It’s just a grasshopper, buddy, not a snake. But good job coming to find me.” I reassure him. “Let’s go inside and get a drink,” I say.

We walk past the bookshelf, stacked with books I’ve read, books I plan to read, and Laura and Annemarie are here too. I knew when I got married, I was changing my story, and I was ready to bring them with me—their years in my childhood bedroom over.

Whether it was living in apartments alone after college or motherhood—but I’ve mostly given up suspense novels. Number the Stars was my gateway to historical fiction, and my GoodReads shelf of “Read” books is dominated by that genre. Despite the sadness, I’m still drawn to their stories. I’ve read the Little House series a few times since childhood, and hope to pass them down to my own children (along with the twig I have from DeSmet—tourism dollars at it’s finest).

Reading and writing come in waves for me. My book club often asks me, “Have you been writing a lot?” And the answer always depends on if I’ve been reading a lot. I haven’t been able to manage both well at the same time. When I’m reading a lot, I’m hardly writing. When I find myself inspired to write my own story, I find it distracting to read someone else’s. 

Years ago when I was a high school counselor, I never picked up a pen or put my fingers to the keyboard to tell a story. My love of writing was pushed to the side, my new career taking all of my time and brain space. But motherhood and farm life has brought back that urge to tell a story. And I’m surrounded by stories—from the farm to being a mom, and usually a mix of the two.

Over the years I’ve traded post-it notes lists of books to read for GoodReads. And I’ve tossed the guilt of starting and not finishing a book. Because I’ve learned that when you know, you know—with books and love.

This essay was written as part of the “Reading Well, Writing Well: Building a Writer’s Toolbox” workshop through Exhale Creativity.

My {Most Likely Last} Maternity Pictures

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“Everything grows rounder and wider and weirder, and I sit here in the middle of it all and wonder who in the world you will turn out to be.” – Carrie Fisher

We are excited to welcome another baby (boy or girl—we don’t know!) to our family in May.

Thank you to Josey Miller (@storyanthology) for coming out to the farm to take our photos.

On Cake and Love

“Not that I’m counting, but I see you with your second piece,” Rich says with a wink as I bring a forkful of tiramisu cake to my mouth. 

I smirk and happily scrape the rest of the cake from the bowl, not wanting to waste a bite. “I’ll probably regret that tomorrow, but it’s so good.”

“Nah, you deserve it,” he says. 

A couple of weeks earlier, while digging through the chest freezer looking for something to make for dinner, I found a Rubbermaid container filled with Rhett’s birthday cake. Dinner was pretty much forgotten once I discovered the cake. While the cake itself is made from a box mix, I use my mom’s recipe for buttercream frosting and then I decorate the cake. I don’t consider myself a pro by any means, but it’s my one “crafty” thing I do for my kids. And it’s the only true tradition I have kept going for five years. 

Growing up, my mom made all of my birthday cakes too, which I know has influenced my desire to make my kids their cakes too. In the early years my mom picked the cakes she would make, but then I started picking my own designs, from Winnie the Pooh to the Tasmanian Devil. Each year on the night before my birthday, after I went to bed my mom would stay up and finish my cake. When I woke up on my birthday, the cake was perfectly made and displayed on the kitchen table. 

I know my mom was up well past when I went to bed, and I only know this now because I’ve found myself up late, putting the final squeeze of frosting on the cakes for my kids. And every year I ask myself, “Why did I want to do this again?” But the next morning when the kids wake up and I see the looks on their faces when they see their cakes for the first time, I remember why I stay up late. 

Now back here in my kitchen, I open the Rubbermaid container, impressed to see the cake still looking delicious—not a speck of freezer burn. Rhett sees the bright blue frosting and says, “My birthday cake! Is today my birthday?” 

I pause, honestly surprised he remembered his cake from almost six months ago. I laugh, “No, this is just leftover from your birthday.” 

After dinner, I slice the cake and each of us has one piece—and I am impressed at how well it tastes for being frozen. 

One-piece remains, and I put the container back on the counter. 

The next day, Rhett asks for the cake again and Rich tells him, “Nope, that’s Mom’s piece.” Whether he said it because he loves me or is scared to get between me and a piece of cake, I’m not sure. But I love him for it anyway. 

According to Gary Chapman’s book about the five love languages, quality time is my love language. And while I definitely know that’s true, I believe cake is part of my love language too. It’s more than the taste of the cake, which don’t get me wrong, I love. It’s the time my mom spent making 18+ cakes in my life, and now the time I’ve spent making cakes for my kids.

Cake marks special occasions and traditions. From birthdays and weddings to the everyday—such as a solo trip to the grocery store. There are also the vacations I’ve taken to visit friends, where I’ve dragged them to the nearest Sprinkles cupcake store (shout out to Melissa and Sprinkles in Scottsdale). Or the times Rich has surprised me by bringing cupcakes home from town when I knew he had to go out of his way to get them. 

Just like I can picture most of the cakes my mom made me, I hope my kids remember some of the cakes I make for them. The fact that Rhett knew this was his cake six months after his birthday, already gives me hope that this tradition is meaningful.   

I don’t expect them to remember each cake, I just hope the memory of how they felt on their birthdays doesn’t completely fade. Even though my cakes are far from perfect, I want them to know I did it out of love for them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a piece of cake in the kitchen that’s calling my name. 

//

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Love Languages”.

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I surprised Rich by having this groom’s cake made for our wedding.

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Accidentally lit my hair on fire on my 30th birthday.

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@phoenixfeatherscalligraphy for C+C, 2020

The Same Season Never Comes Back

“Mom? Dad? Come get me!” Rhett calls from his bedroom. 

I reluctantly open his door, easing myself into his room (and this conversation). “Hey buddy, Dad went to the field already. He had to leave really early.” 

He falls back onto his pillow and yells out, “He forgot to take me with him!”

Rich’s work can be busy or slow, but if I’m honest it feels like there are more busy seasons than slow. Life on a farm is dictated by the seasons. Spring means planting, summer brings haying and harvest, in the fall there is more planting, followed by snowy, cold winters full of feeding cows, and calving. Slow, downtime is scattered throughout the year. During harvest, the kids go to bed before he’s home, and wake up after he is gone. 

“Dad said he’ll pick you up in the combine after you’ve gotten dressed and finished breakfast,” I say, rubbing his back. 

Even though he’s almost too big now, I carry him from his room and set him down at the kitchen table. I pour his favorite cereal (Rice Krispies) into a bowl and make sure to give him the blue spoon I know he likes, in an effort to avoid a meltdown.

After breakfast, Allie wanders out of the living room and back into the kitchen, bringing me the remote. She wants to watch her favorite show, Pinkalicious. I sigh as I oblige. Somehow this has become our daily routine … one I’m not sure is the best. But, in this season of harvest and solo parenting, I find myself pushing the “easy” button more than I should. 

I start the water in the sink to wash the dishes from breakfast, watching bubbles form under the stream of hot water. One meal down, two more to go (including one meal that I will have to load in the pickup and deliver to the field). Then another bedtime by myself. I glance back at the calendar on the wall as I slip on my rubber gloves. It’s only the beginning of August; harvest has just begun. I sigh, feeling exhausted about the looming day ahead. I know this is the life I signed up for when I married a farmer, but sometimes the reality of long days and endless work is lonelier than I ever imagined. 

As I rinse off the last bowl and place it in the drying rack I hear, “Mom, mom, mommy!” I turn around to face the living room, “Yes?” I snap, irritated already by their constant demands. Immediately I regret my tone. I know it’s not the kids’ fault I feel so overwhelmed and alone. But how can two small people need so much? I stare down the hallway to the front door and wonder what it would be like to be able to leave without taking a kid or two with me or making childcare arrangements.

I envy Rich for walking out the front door before breakfast, unknowing to the kids’ schedule, but confident they will be taken care of. His day isn’t full of snacks requests, “play with me” demands or never-ending laundry. Although I know Rich’s days are anything but easy, when I’m feeling down, I imagine that his life is easier (and quieter) than mine. 

As I finish up the dishes I remember something an acquaintance said a couple of nights ago. The kids and I were waiting on the side of the gravel road to ride with Rich in the swather. As we were standing there in the 90-degree sun, a neighboring farm wife pulled up and got out of her pickup. She walked over to me, holding out two ring pops. 

“I’m sure this is just what your kids need.” She laughed. “I know the long days of harvest are hard for mom too.” 

I smiled and added them to the cooler I brought. “Thank you. The kids get all excited about riding with dad, but then get bored shortly after.” We both laughed as we watched the kids climbing the ladder into the swather.

“My kids did the same when they were that age. But it goes so fast, they will be grown up and gone before you know it.” She said as she held her hand up above her eyes to shield them from the sun. 

I looked over at her, the bright sun nearly blocking out her face. “I want to complain to Rich about how long my days are, but then I feel guilty—it’s not like he’s out on vacation. He didn’t get home until 2:30 this morning, after spending nearly 24 hours straight in the swather.” 

She nodded and touched my arm. “Oh, I know it. Sometimes it’s better to not say anything. You’ll get through.” 

“Dad’s here!” Rhett calls from the living room, bringing me back to the present. I hear the low rumble of the combine pulling up in front of our house. Glancing out the front window, I watch Rich climb down the ladder and make his way toward the house. “Grab your boots and hat!” I say. The front door opens and he kneels down in front of Rhett, who is sitting on the floor pulling on his well worn John Deere boots. As Rich starts helping Rhett with his boots he looks up at me as I pass him his cooler, “Thanks for lunch.”

“You’re welcome. I’ll see you around 5 for dinner.” I say as I hand Rhett his own cooler. 

“For me?” Rhett beams up at me as he takes the small cooler from my hand. He points to the writing on the side and says, “Does that say Rhett Bronc?” I smile, as he is still unable to pronounce our last name. 

“No, it was Papa’s lunch box, remember Grammy gave it to you?” I say as I put his baseball cap on his head. 

Allie and I spend the rest of the day at home, while Rhett spends the afternoon with the harvest crew in the field. When I think back to last summer, Rhett could only stay a couple hours in the field before he went stir crazy in the combine and Rich was ready for him to come home. I keep an eye on the clock, trying to make sure I get dinner to the field on time. Around 4 o’clock, I (somewhat reluctantly) head for the kitchen. By this time of day, all the cool air from the night before has left the house, coupled with the heat of the oven, I find myself sweating—wishing we had air conditioning.

“It’s almost time to go! We need to get the food out to the crew. Get your boots on, Allie!” I call out to her. She runs down the hall and grabs her pink boots. “I go see Rhett!” she yells. 

Back home, with the meal delivered to the field, the kids and I start our bedtime routine, and I miss Rich to shoulder half of the work. I hear the tiny patter of small feet on the floor and see Allie tiptoeing naked down the hall in front of me. She looks back at me with a half-smile and keeps running. I can’t help but smile. I imagine in her mind when she is tiptoeing, she thinks I cannot see her naked bottom. Even at this moment when I feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and lonely, I’m reminded of their littleness, and how much they have changed since last year’s harvest. Just like my neighbor said, “It goes so fast.” I feel an unexpected pit in my stomach, thinking one day the kids won’t be underfoot while I’m making dinner for the crew. There won’t be little shoes cluttering the doorway, or little bottoms running down the hall. Likely sooner than later, Rhett will be driving a combine or a tractor and will spend all day in the field.

After baths as I’m settling Rhett into bed, he starts to cry, “I miss Daddy.” I remind him that he spent half of the day with him, and he can probably spend the day with him again tomorrow. But I know he really misses him at bedtime. At this moment I’m reminded that this season isn’t just hard on me; it’s hard on them too.

Harvest will come again next summer, but I’ll never get this same season with them back. Even when the days feel really hard, as I give final hugs and kisses at bedtime, I’m grateful for the chance to do that each day.

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Still Looking for Love

Still Looking for Love

Despite the wind blowing outside, I’m comfortable and warm with the down comforter pulled up to my chin. The kids are fast asleep. The only light I see is from under the door—a glimmer of the last strand of Christmas lights hung above the picture window in the living room. I turn my head to Rich and say, “I want to write an essay about ‘love after babies’, what should I write?” I hear the bed creak as he turns over, and even through the dark I can tell he is looking at me.

He pauses and teasingly asks, “Is the title going to be ‘Still Looking for Love After Babies’?” We both laugh.

I gently nudge his arm. “Maybe. I’ll let you know when I find it.” He rolls back over, and it isn’t long before I hear his heavy inhales and long exhales: his rhythmic breathing telling me he is fast asleep.

I lay there, eyes wide open, beginning to think about what he said. I close my eyes and picture our wedding: his gray suit, his eyes fixed on me as I walked down the aisle in my white sequined dress. I was about to marry a man I’d met less than a year before. But it didn’t feel crazy. It felt right. I had found my soulmate—the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

Much of the preparation before our wedding was about the ceremony itself, not the marriage. I knew he wanted kids, but how many? Was he a morning person or a night owl like me? (Spoiler alert: he loves mornings and I’m a night owl.) I didn’t worry about any of those things. Instead, I agonized about the details right in front of me: what flowers would be in my bouquet, what the groomsmen would wear. It didn’t feel like we thought much about what came next. We just knew we were in love.

“Mom, mom, mommy!” Rhett cries from his bedroom. I let out a sigh, I’m not sure I’d even fallen back asleep after getting up with Allie only an hour before. I gently nudge Rich’s back, loudly whispering, “Rhett is awake, can you go in?”

He quickly inhales a breath, finally awake. He doesn’t say anything as he gently eases himself out of bed. I hear the door shut behind him and through the wall I hear his mumbled voice: “It’s okay, Rhett. I’m here.” I snuggle back under the covers, grateful to stay in our warm bed.

Five years into marriage and two babies later, love comes in different ways. It might look like getting up with the toddler while I sleep. Or bringing home pizza when I don’t feel like cooking. It’s easy to feel like our marriage isn’t as exciting as it used to be. We don’t go on weekly, or even monthly dates. But you will find us holding hands in church and going for drives to check on his crops in the field. Some mornings he leaves Post-it notes for me when he rises for work, long before the sun comes up. And other times it looks like grinding coffee beans for me, right as I’m about to brew my first cup of the day.

While what he said was meant to be a joke, it reminds me that we always have to keep looking for love. Love before babies felt easy and exciting: an adventure. But our wedding day was the start line, not the finish line—our signatures on our marriage license the silent crack of the starting gun.

—                                                                             

The next morning as we are getting the kids’ breakfast, he stops to give me a hug and says, “Are you still looking for love?”

I laugh and kiss his cheek before grabbing my cup of coffee. The months of December and January mean feeding the cows every day on our ranch, which has become the kids’ favorite time of year.

As the sky finally starts to redden around the edges, the first light appearing, he says, “Get your boots on, let’s go feed cows.” Both kids jump down from the table and run to the front door. I instinctively look over at Rich. His eyes light up, creases forming at the corners as his mouth widens in admiration of Allie.

She starts pulling on her cowboy boots and exclaims, “I go feed cows!” We both smile and laugh as she runs back toward us, boots on the wrong feet, but her heart in the right place.

As the kids and Rich head out the door to feed the cows, I watch out the window with my cup of coffee in hand. Sometimes, love feels hard and I can’t remember what it was like before we had kids. But mornings like this when I see the excitement on the kids’ faces and the admiration on his: I’m reminded why we started this race together.

//

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This essay was inspired by the writing prompt #love after babies from Coffee + Crumbs.
My friends, Molly & Cara, also wrote essays about #love after babies and I would love if you would click over to their essays (and give their blogs a follow too).
52 Minutes” by Molly Flinkman
Butterflies” by Cara Stolen

10 Reasons Farming is More Than You Might Think

In honor of National Farmer’s Day (October 12th), I thought I would share my essay that was published this past spring for National Ag Day (March 20th).
Five years ago I didn’t even know National Ag Week was a thing. Now that I’m a farmer’s wife, Ag Week is every week around here—it’s our livelihood. I think it’s telling to how important Ag is that it was given a whole week, not just one day. March 20th is National Ag Day, but the whole week is considered National Ag Week to recognize those who put food on the table, clothes on your back and much more.
Since it is National Ag Week, I thought this was a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned so far about Agriculture.
  1. Agriculture is more than a job, it’s a lifestyle. The lines are blurred between work and family. When you work where you also live, it can be hard to separate yourselves from work. When you can look out your window and see all that needs to be done, it’s hard to take a day off.
  2. The weather dictates many parts of your lives. Before I married a farmer, my idea of checking the weather was looking out the window and seeing if it was raining, sunny, cloudy or snowing. Then I knew what the weather was. My husband is constantly checking the weather and knows what the forecast is for next week. Granted the forecast isn’t 100 percent accurate, but it gives you a good indication of what’s to come. It can also be devastating when the forecast shows a big rainstorm which then passes you by, not giving your crops the much-needed rain. Or the storm can stop right over your farm and pound you with hail, ruining all of your work in just a few minutes.
  3. Farmers and ranchers are intelligent people. There’s more to just planting a crop and hoping for the best. While a lot of farming is out of your control, (see #2) there are a lot of roles a farmer and rancher has: CEO, HR Director, agronomist, accountant, equipment operator and much more. Equipment and technology are always changing, which means a farmer must always be willing to learn and change, too.
  4. A farm and ranch might be the greatest place for kids to grow up. My son gets to ride in tractors on an almost daily basis and loves to go feed the cows with his papa. “Take your child to work” is a daily event and not just once a year. They learn about life and death from an early age and to not take life for granted.
  5. There’s an amazing community to be found in agriculture. Not only have I found an amazing community of women in my area, but also online. I had no idea how many blogs and Facebook pages there were that are dedicated to farming and ranching. I feel like I know a lot of these women, but we’ve never actually met. It makes the world feel a little smaller and more connected.
  6. We spend time together. Sometimes I complain about the long hours my husband is working, but there are days that I get to ride with him in a tractor or that he comes home for lunch. I know these are times I take for granted. If we were in the corporate world I would rarely, if ever, get to just hang out in his office while he was on the clock. And I definitely wouldn’t bring the kids along to climb all over his desk.
  7. Date night gets creative. When your farmer asks you to go with him, offer to drive unless you want to be the gate opener. Even if you feel like you have so much else you should be doing, go with him when you get the chance. Driving around is sometimes the only date you’ll get! Just make sure you wear the right footwear and don’t leave anything cooking on the stove. You’ll likely be gone longer than you plan.
  8. Things aren’t always what they seem. When you are out for a drive and you think your farmer is looking lovingly at you across the pickup, like he just can’t help but stare—he’s most likely looking past you and into the fields to check his crops. I actually learned this while we were dating, but it’s still true to this day.
  9. Your future labors and deliveries will be compared to calving and being a cow. Don’t be offended; your husband is amazed at how strong you are. And most likely he has a pretty strong stomach and you won’t have to worry about him passing out in the delivery room.
  10. Working from sunup to sundown isn’t just a phrase. In the summer months the work day is dictated by the sun. Your farmer will be up before dawn and likely won’t shut down the equipment until the last bit of sunlight leaves the sky. In the peak of summer this will be after 10 o’clock.
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My hope this week is that all consumers will take a few minutes to recognize where their food comes from. And when you’re picturing that farmer or rancher, know that there is likely a whole family working behind the scenes to bring the food to your table. Many of them are working on a second, third or fourth generation farm or ranch. They don’t take what they do for granted; it’s a passion and a calling. And less than two percent of the population are lucky enough to be here.

This essay was originally published on Her View From Home.

Married Date Night is Just My Style

“I’ve missed you,” my husband says as he reaches over to hold my hand across the cab of the pickup. I look at him and smile, “I missed you, too.” Even though we just walked out of the same house together, not really having a reason to miss one another. Tonight we are going on a date, just the two of us. It’s been awhile since we have gone out, too long to remember and too long to admit. Before we left the house my husband asked which vehicle I wanted to take, his or mine. I thought for a few seconds before replying, “Let’s take yours.”

Click here to read the rest of my story (https://herviewfromhome.com/married-date-night-is-just-my-style/).

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Rich and I in our dating days, with his pickup.