A Few Good Things

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.

Something I Came Back To

Last week, I set my phone down
and went for a walk.
I put one foot in front of the other—
the earth solid beneath my feet.
The crunch of gravel rang through my ears,
instead of the noise of strangers.
The heaviness of the stroller under my palms
pulled the weight of the world from my shoulders.
The air was cool on my face.

With each step,
I was reminded of my life beyond a screen—
and the view looks good from here.

Photo by: Josey Miller // @storyanthology

*this post was inspired by Callie Feyen’s 30 Days of Grateful Writing Challenge
Day 5: something that you came back to

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.