Wednesday, April 23, 2014


There is a lot more to this photo than I would have expected.  It was taken with my phone as I jogged down the driveway and wiggled off my work gloves (in-laws are coming home tomorrow and it would be nice to appear to have done something with the flowers while they were gone.)  While you might see a little boy flying a kite as his sister looks upward, I see a boy dancing and screaming, "Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Spider-Man is on the waaaay" with delight because he got his kite to fly, and fly really really high for a really really long time.  I see the triumph of overcoming the disappointment of his previous attempt to launch.  I see pride in his accomplishment and how happy he is to have his little sister running after his kite.  He asks if I see the kite, but he's really asking, do you see me?  Do you see what I'm doing?  Do you care?  And of course, my answer is yes.  I love you so much I will touch meat with my bare hands for you, kid.

You might notice a cute little girl who loves pink and pony tails, but don't miss the fact that she put those clothes on all by herself.  Her shoes are on the right feet today, and she even had the courage to go potty outside all by herself (because peeing outside is better than peeing your pants).  While we thought Matt, who loves nothing more than an outside morning pee, would be quite proud, he was not.  Perhaps a discussion on where it's ok to pee outside and where it is not is in order.  Grass, ok.  Next to Matt's car door, not ok.  The upside: I'm no longer nervous about taking her camping.

You might also notice who's not in the photo.  There are two more and they were busy riding horse in the barn or playing with their friend or watching a volleyball game, who knows?  Keeping track of four is like listening to four songs at the same time and trying to figure out the story line of each song.  It's all a little blurry.  I claim new mom brain.

This photo contains so much more than a couple of kids having fun on a windy day.  It makes me think of the hours I worried about being too hard on them, not being hard enough, the moments I totally failed at compassion, my frustrations with them, their frustrations with me, failing at dinner, when she learned how to write the letter M, when he begged me for a book each night, when the other girls were brave enough to feed the old mare by themselves, and when we heard the first "I love you".  That's a lot of baggage for a kite to carry, but I think with Spider-Man's (and Jesus's) help, we can handle it.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Things We Hold On To

It's really an ugly shirt.  I don't remember it looking ugly when he wore it, but it was the early 90's.  It's a long sleeved polo shirt in blue and purples and it's something I can't get rid of because my dad wore it, probably with a turtleneck.  It stays shoved in the bottom drawer of my dresser, crumpled up like an old receipt in a purse, reminding you to subtract some money from your budget.  Except this is a different reminder; one of love, comfort, and a big tall man.  Sometimes I think maybe it would make a nice little pillow, but then I couldn't see the sleeves and imagine the long arms that used to fill them.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the things we hold on to, whether they be material or not.  Things from times in our lives or loved ones now gone are precious and help us to remember.  That silly shirt of dad's reminds me of the every-day dad that I miss; seeing him stand over the stove cooking dinner, or picking me up for piano lessons where he sat in the car and planned out those dinners (listening to my piano pounding from the car was music enough).  I can picture him sitting on a gym bleacher in that shirt, his lanky arms holding up a long trunk, shoulders close to his big ears, watching his sons play basketball.  His gaze breaking only to clap after points were scored or a play was made.  This is why I hold on to the shirt and keep it in tact.

What will I hold on to of Grandma's?  Photos would normally suffice, but they just remind me of how she hated getting her picture taken (which is funny because Grandpa was a photographer and I hold tightly to his old cameras).  Maybe it will be the glass funnel she used for canning, or the pair of orange high heels, or just the smell of horses.  I'll hold on to all of it, of course, but I predict as life goes by, some will get lost in boxes, break, or get thrown away, and that's ok.  My goofy smile is certainly my dad's, and that can't get lost in the trash.

Some friends recently lost their daughter, an unbelievable and utterly heartbreaking thing to live through.  What could they possibly not want to hold on to?  How do you decide?  I hold on to a memory of a pretty baby girl who was so secure in a room full of strangers, looked exactly like her dad, and was as cheerful as her mom.

I hold on to student art from my time in Korea because it provided beauty and comfort in my teeny weeny apartment when I was lonely and homesick.  I hold on to photos of Rosa because she was so pretty and didn't mind getting her photo taken (and was creative in her poses, apparently).

I wonder what I'll hold on to from this time in my life.  Will it be memories of walks with my dogs in the pasture, the peacefulness interrupted because I have to yell at the dogs to PLEASE  STOP CHASING THE HORSES!  Will it be pieces of hay that I weekly find stuck in my hair?  Will I hold on to the blood (and tear) stained Carhart coveralls in honor of Tugs' battle with a horse hoof in which he survived (but I nearly died from worry)?  Whatever it ends up being, I hope it reminds me of a time that I learned to give myself some grace when I failed (and left the gate open for Boots to escape), a kick in the butt into jumping (into a business, and off a cliff into Sheridan lake), and a high five when I succeed (I made friends!  I can drive the tractor!  I fixed a fence, sort of!)

Two things are for sure, I'll hold on to this man, who is the biggest part of my life here (and let's be honest, why I'm even in South Dakota).  And may I always hold on tight to the promises of God; that we're forever loved and never alone.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Wisdom From the Vegetables

It's a humbling experience to bend over in your garden to pick a hard to reach tomato (because your brilliant staking idea was much better in theory) only to hear the "snap!" of an innocent pepper plant, taken out by your butt.  I only mention this because it's happened not once, not twice, but THREE times this year.  A younger and less confident self would have said, "Oh man, my butt is too big," but an older, wiser self with a better self image says, "Oh man, my garden is too small!"

I have had deep rooted garden envy since trying to make a go of it in our new climate.  A recent visit to some friends' Minneapolis gardens left me thinking I should just shut down the farm all together.  And then I remembered my first garden and how wonderful a failure it was.  Because of that failure (nothing survived except Thai peppers and one tomato plant) my neighbor offered to let me jointly garden his plot.  We worked really hard to prepare the soil, plant, weed, water, and watch our garden grow.  And it did.  And so did our friendship.  It was a blessing to share what we grew with friends, neighbors, and strangers alike.

Starting a garden from the ground up is a great metaphor for life; you have to start somewhere and it's usually messy, stinky (especially in the case of burying week old fish remains for fertilizer), and a lot of work.  You can research all you want about what should or shouldn't work, but until you dig in and sweat a little, you're not really going to find out.  And each year you have to reflect, evaluate, and make changes.  I have to gently remind myself of this when I'm surveying my new garden when I'm trying to build a new career, family, and life in our new home.

A few weeks ago was my first birth as a birth doula.  It was the fruit of months of learning, website building, reading, and networking.  Much like planting my kale seeds this spring in hopes for healthy greens, I signed up for training and bought books in hopes of someday supporting expectant mothers and their partners during labor (except my kale plants were brutally attacked by aphids and I had to chuck 'em).  Bad comparison maybe, but things were learned in both scenarios and adjustments will be made for the next client and next year's kale.

Earlier this summer in my new garden
After a long journey of frustration, heartbreak, and disappointment at growing our family, we're signed up for foster care classes.  Growing this "garden" has taken more patience than I think I have.  There are so many ways to have a family and everyone has opinions on how you should do it, or what you shouldn't do, or who you shouldn't adopt, or maybe you should just do this and that and maybe if you just relax and woah, it's really none of your business, people!  Bringing up issues of fertility, foster care, and adoption in conversation is like inviting anyone who has ever eaten a vegetable into your garden for advice on how to make your beets grow better.  Sometimes you must close the gate and sit in your failed spinach plot while the chickens cluck at you for more cherry tomato treats, please.

The mule from whom I fell off  later in the day
We're slowing building our new life; I have friends (even some non-relatives), my horsemanship skills are slowing growing (falling off the mule wasn't an issue, but getting kicked by a colt yesterday has me questioning my dedication), and we're feeling involved in the community.  Oh, and I scored, the first in my lifetime, a goal in our indoor soccer league!  Celebrate the small victories, I say, and forget that your opponent was a woman in her sixties.

I loved watching parts of my garden flourish its first year; its much more fruitful than expected.  Maybe it's time to give myself a little break and expect the same for the rest of my life; although it might look a little hail damaged in parts, fruit will grow and it will be delicious!

Wildflowers near the coop

Friday, July 26, 2013

Mary Virginia Lynn

The barn smells of sweet thick hay these days.  Mixed with the distinctive smell of horses, it reminds me of my Grandma Virginia.  Since her passing earlier this month, it seems my senses have been turned on high and I can't touch a horse without thinking of her.  "Oh I love the smell of horses," she'd say.  "I had a pony; did I ever tell you that?"  "Yes Grandma, a few times.  Didn't you ride her to school?"  And she would tell the story I grew to love so much of her big brothers lifting her up on her pony every morning for her ride to the country school.  At the end of the day, they would lift her up on her pony again, and because she was quite young, little Virginia would often fall asleep on the way home.  "But that pony knew her way home!" she would say with a proud smile.  She loved her pony, who was appropriately named Beauty.  Once, she let Beauty run the whole way home and the poor little horse nearly expired.  When she got home, her father met her and calmly said, "Now Virginia, you need to walk your pony until she cools down before either of you can have a drink."  It was clear that Grandma loved horses, loved animals, and loved people who loved animals.

Before I was married, Grandma called my boyfriend, Matt, my "special friend."  They bonded through their love of discussing investments and she always asked about my special friend, even after we stopped dating.  She reminded me how much she liked him and it was she who unknowingly convinced me to marry that special friend of mine.  We were married in her yard, next to all of the birds, squirrels, and stray cats that came to eat their fill at Virginia's house.  "Look, that squirrel is hungry," she'd say while pointing to the fattest squirrel you'd ever seen.  "I better go put out more corn."  Grandma measured a person's goodness by how nice they were to animals.  After Matt and I were married and adopted a dog, she would say "Oh I like him, he is good to animals."        

A visit to Grandma's house had one guarantee; you would not leave hungry.  Whether it was tenderloins, chocolate mint bars, cookies that always contained walnuts, Diet Rite soda, or the most amazing sour cream raisin or lemon meringue pie, you were going to eat it, and you were going to eat a lot of it.  Even the sandwiches made with mayonnaise and butter.

While looking in my own cupboard the other day, I saw only three jars of elderberry jelly and I burst into tears.  Usually, it's full, but now all that's left is the last of the elderberry jelly that Grandma and I made together.  I am thankful she took the time to teach me, because until then, I didn't truly know what a rolling boil was.  Without her instruction, my jelly would have been just juice.

When I received news of Grandma's passing, I had a vision of her with Grandpa Lowell; they were young and beautiful, she had bouffant hair, he had hair, and they were dancing.  I imagine that's what they looked like when they were married, in secret before he left for the war.  She was in nursing school and being married was not allowed.  Grandma didn't care for rules like that, and she held tight to her convictions.  During her nursing career, she once baptized a baby in secret because the baby was not going to live very long.  The parents did not plan for it to be baptized, but Grandma had other plans.  I am proud to have come from a woman who came from this woman.

I am proud to be a granddaughter of Mary Virginia, or Ginny as Grandpa called her.  A woman who loved animals, loved people, and loved to feed them all.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Dreaming of a metaphorical dream house

If your dream house is a double-wide trailer sittin' back in the holler on a country road, then baby that's where we'll go.
-Jake Owen

At least once a day for the last few weeks, I've spontaneously burst into singing this country song, usually directed towards Matt, sometimes just singing to myself.  It makes me laugh and smile, but mostly it reminds me of life's possibilities.  Not so much possibilities regarding a double-wide trailer (it's doubtful we'll move any time soon, which is fine by me!) but exciting possibilities regarding life and work and play.  My life dreams have always been pretty foggy, so as not to be too disappointed with any outcome, but they have recently become clearer than ever.  

It went something like this: 
Masters degree completed = (accomplishment +10, desire to teach -10)

Met with childbirth educator to answer questions about doula certification (hopeful +30)

A job interview is gifted to me, followed by some shadowing for work that would probably have been great with the exception of the hours. (uncertain -50)

Worry about money and future work. (worried -40)

Received email that solves money and future work problem temporarily. (hopeful +15)

Turned down job offer above. (fearful -10, hopeful +15)

Decide to fully pursue my own business being doula (clarity, hopefulness, joy +100, fear -3)

And that's where we're are today...+97 of good feelings.  It's a scary road and I don't know what will happen.  A few mornings ago after chores, I was shoveling old hay into the trailer behind the 4-wheeler to use for mulch in the garden.  It was quiet and breezy except for a bird's song coming from somewhere down the barbwire fence.  I stopped for a moment to realize that although my dreams have never specifically involved morning chores or digging up old hay piles, right there was precisely where I wanted to be.  I had let go of trying to hang on to foggy ideals and pressures from nowhere important; I was finally content in my situation.

And then the 4-wheeler wouldn't start, so the feeling didn't last too long.  But this time there were no tears of failure or choice words thrown out to the universe in frustration.  I just laughed and said, "Fail!" and walked back to the house for some breakfast.

I have never imagined an actual Dream House, but my metaphorical Dream House for LIFE now has blueprints, and that is something to be thankful for, +75.

Mia KNOWS she is living her dreams, everyday.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Things to Do Before 9am

I have never been been a bright-eyed morning person.  (All roommates and family members say, "Amen.")  It matters not what time I went to bed, the amount of coffee poured down my throat, or threat of getting fired from a job, it has always been difficult to wake up in the morning.  Until lately.

There are 3 things that get me out of bed these days; one is a furry little ball that whines at my bedside with the crack of dawn.  The other two have feathers.  Just knowing they are pecking at their coop window anxiously waiting for the door to magically flip open, coupled with the knowledge that Tugs will in fact, poo on the floor, is enough to roll me off the bed.  My eyes are still closed of course. (this morning I walked straight into a plant container by the door.  Darn near tripped and fell on my face.)  I wiggle into my boots, grab the kitchen scraps, and head outside.

But then this weird thing happens.  I approach the coop and hear the chickens tapping on the glass while the dogs weave an invisible web around the yard, sniffing the morning ground, and let the chickens out.  The stillness of the day, the sunlight peeking over the hill, and the cool air all work to gently coax my eyes open.  By the time I kick off my boots and go inside, I am awake.  Any attempt to crawl back into bed until Matt's alarm goes off, is an exercise in futility.

I get out of bed again, make a smoothie, and make sure Matt has food for the day (I know how he gets when left unfed.  I do this for his co-workers.)  The rest of the morning looks something like this: feed the dogs, feed the horses, walk up the big hill, chase down Tugs and pull out the horse poo from his mouth, keep Mia from seeing the deer in the field, clean Ellie and Elle's stalls, unload dishwasher, load it up with dirty dishes, check email, realize it's only 8:30!  High-five self for being awake and productive.

This particular morning was extra special. Janna and Dan had a guest for the night and he brought miniature ponies!!!  They are adorable!  Anyone who plans to visit after this guy will have to think of something amazing to bring because PONIES are pretty much the best.  Except they are the worst; if you're over 100lbs, you can't ride them.  All you can do is stare at their cuteness.  The rest of the morning I was a quiet observer of conversations between former farmers and a current rancher about the complexities of planting oats, alfalfa, timothy, wheat, and clover in Canada, Wisconsin, and South Dakota.  It was an agriculture lesson of sorts.  Best morning class I've had in awhile!
Pony 2
Pony 1

These two are not staying here, but they sure made for a pretty exciting morning, despite it only being 8am.  I'll get on with the rest of the day with fresh air in my lungs and look forward to tomorrow's wake up crew.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Where everybody knows your name, except the opposite.

Yes, I love small towns.  Yes, I like living in the country.  And no, I haven't daily put myself out in the community.  But shoot!  The process of making friends and creating community has failed to be a fast moving train.  Everyone knows those big trains take a lot of energy to get started.  It's called Inertia and if you were one of my students, you'd know Newton's 1st Law of Motion describes this property of matter.  Basically, if you're stopped/stalled/not moving, it's going to take some force to get you moving.  The bigger you are, the more force it will take.

In light of the world news, of Boston, Texas, and other places where peoples' problems are way bigger than mine, I feel like complete idiot for even feeling sorry for myself.  I had an especially large self-pity party yesterday.  Boohoo, I don't really fit in anywhere. Boohoo, the Meetup group I was so nervous to join cancelled their event.  Boohoo, I don't have any friends, I don't have a job, and they won't let me get a library card because I live in the wrong county!  (I don't know where the bookstores are either.  Boo freaking hoo.)

And then something sweet happened.  I checked the mailbox.  In it was a postcard from a friend in Boston (BOSTON, of all places this week!)  It was a reminder that yes, I DO have friends.  I DO fit in.  I am loved.  I mean, duh.  And that's what the end of a pity party feels like - "DUUUUH.  You're fine."

So today I'm grateful for Adam who gave me a big push forward.  I'm grateful for my dogs who know when their sloppy dog kisses are needed, for phone calls with mom, and for Murphy the mule who made it clear that all he wanted in life was to be near me during chores.  And for my husband and his family who keep me laughing every day about stuff that really matters, like even though blowing your nose into a hankie is super gross we should probably use them anyway and how the heck are we going to cut the top off that horse trailer?  Ya know, good stuff.

The good news is that we're all loved, all the time.  God is pretty incredible like that.  (note-to-self for next pity party)

The other good news is, once you're moving, (according to Newton) it takes less energy to KEEP moving.  And you're even harder to stop.  It's all physics.  Nothing special, nothing to get all emotional about, just physics.