Lessons & Thoughts From the Farm

Grocery Shopping Has Never Been Sweeter

I’m a bit of a weirdo. I actually enjoy grocery shopping. I like to wander the aisles for recipe ideas, get drawn in by pretty packages, and fill my cart with new finds.  I am my father’s daughter when it comes to this. We are both store aisle wanderers.  

Cowboy, on the other hand, is all about efficiency and says it is decidedly cheaper and faster when he goes it alone. The man sticks to the list (can you imagine???), and well it’s hard to argue when someone volunteers to do a chore.

But grocery shopping has changed in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.  I’ve only left the farm twice in as many or more weeks. The first time, Cowboy and I went to get provisions to ensure our critters and parents were well fed.  I’m glad I wasn’t alone, because I was incredibly distracted by the surreal nature of it all. Shelves half stocked, favorite items nowhere to be found, and busy stockers putting things out as fast as they were flying off of the shelves.  

I walked through the big box store wide eyed and holding my breath.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t observe all of the social distancing rules, not because I wasn’t trying, but because I was simply in awe. In all of my forty plus years, I’ve been lucky enough to go to the grocery store and buy whatever I needed, and 99 percent of the time, whatever I wanted.  That this is a privilege is not lost on me.

The second trip out was to our small town grocer, and was planned for this weekend. To prep for the store, I sat at the kitchen table surrounded by my recipes  and cookbooks, and made a menu. I looked for things that could make use of what we already had in the freezer and could also be repurposed for multiple meals. Could a cooked ham on Sunday mean ham and potato soup or a ham salad later in the week? Most definitely.  I needed to use the resources we had wisely, not just for me but for everyone else, too.  We are all sharing these precious resources, and the old phrase, “waste not, want not” kept surfacing in my mind. 

Come Saturday morning, off to the store I went, just me, myself and the list. (Cowboy and I wanted to limit the number of people in the store for everyone’s health and safety.)  And while I was a bit more prepared for what I might see, I found myself with thoughts that had never occurred to me before: how quickly can I get in and out, do I wipe down all of the cart or just the handles, what path should I take through the store, should I start with things like eggs or canned goods, what time does the store open for the general public?

Wipe in hand, I diligently went up and down the aisles.  Stopping to allow someone to pass. Standing back and waiting my turn to choose veggies or go down a particular aisle.  Glancing and smiling at my fellow store goers as we all had tentative looks on our faces, unsure exactly how to behave in these unprecedented times, our deeply rooted southern hospitality at odds with this strange reality.  Making sure to adhere to store management requests to limit critical items like soups, breads, meats, dairy, and leaving those things that I did not need for others who may need them. I even chuckled to myself when a lone box of plant butter stood on the shelf that normally housed dozens of butter options. I guess even a pandemic can’t make some things palatable. 

I filled up my cart with more than enough to take care of my family for two plus weeks.  

I stood on the black X on the floor, six feet away from the next person in line, waiting to check out.  As I stood there, I was awash in sheer gratitude. Cowboy and I still have our jobs. We can still get what we need.  The farm critters,  our families and dear friends,  are all safe and well.

And then I got to the cashier. Behind newly installed plexiglass, we chatted away. He was friendly and jovial. He talked about his new baby on the way. About how many hours he’d been working, and what he’d do if he ended up as the only one in his household who could work. My emotions welled up, as I thanked him for all he was doing.  He shrugged it off as no big deal.

The grocery manager, who I’ve seen dozens of times often over the years, greeted me with a tired smile.  I asked how he was and he shared he’s worked 190 hours over the last two weeks. I have no idea how that feels. More thanks came tumbling out of me.

I paid, grateful to these workers who were doing so much for me, for my family.  I pushed my cart to the car, and the teenage bag-boy rushed over to help me load (social distance style, of course) and take the cart back in the store (because yes, we still do that in small towns).  He, too, was tired but smiling. Sharing how he had been given official papers that would allow him to go back and forth to work in the case that things continued to shut down even more. I could not utter enough thank yous.  Like the clerk, he shrugged it off, more worried about people being able to be tested and protecting his grandparents.

Humbled.  Simply humbled.

On the way home, I dropped off a few things on my parents’ porch.  I stood back as we blew air kisses and gave ourselves virtual hugs. And then I talked about the grocery workers, and I stood there and cried.  Tears streaming down my face as I was overcome with gratitude. For the people who are getting up every day and doing their jobs so that life can go on.  People who still have time to share a story, lend a hand, offer a smile. To every single one of them, thank you!

Grocery shopping has never been sweeter.

P.S. Thank yous matter.  When you have to venture out for necessities, please pass along oodles of gratitude.  Beautifully, gratitude and kindness are unlimited resources.

Featured image (grocery cart) © Have a nice day – stock.adobe.com.  Standard license.

Farmtastic Faves · Lessons & Thoughts From the Farm

Why We Love Hallmark

When I was growing up, Hallmark was the store where you bought the BEST cards, and like the old slogan said, you’d send a Hallmark card when you cared enough to send the very best.  When I would hand my mom, a woman who quite frankly prefers cards over gifts, an envelope with the tell-tale gold crown seal, she would smile and say, “Oh, it’s a Hallmark!”

Hallmark Ornament - Chocolate Moose
Chocolate Moose, a Hallmark ornament from 2007, and one of our farm faves. He gets a prime spot on the tree each year to show off his movable dangly legs.

After Cowboy and I got married, Hallmark became known in our house as the purveyor of our favorite Christmas ornaments.  He’d get the car, tractor, or airplane series, while I’d get the Winnie the Pooh or whimsical animal characters.  When our tree is covered in these memories and reminders of childhood, hobbies, and dreams, it is transformed into my absolute favorite Christmas tradition. Heck, we’ve gathered so many ornaments over the years they even have their own box for storage. (And no, that doesn’t mean we have enough. And yes, I still buy new ones every year.)

Today, Hallmark is best known for TV, Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies and Mysteries specifically.  While they’re most famous for turning out oodles of Christmas movies, they also make movie magic with made-for-TV series, cozy mysteries, and other seasonal flicks.  And if you’ve watched even a couple of these movies, you inevitably know how they will turn out.  Happily!  There seems to be a delightful formula to it all:

  • Woman has important city life/job aspirations/family business. Bonus points for chef, writer, professor, flower shop owner, or decorator jobs.
  • Woman’s life gets interrupted by family or job opportunity/obligations/loss. Bonus points for family inns, bakeries, and tree farms.
  • Woman travels to scenic small town/village/farm to address said challenge.  Bonus points if the woman is already there and the opportunity comes to her.
  • Woman runs into old flame/new flame, and is rarely thrilled about it at the beginning. Bonus points if woman has existing flame she must extinguish.
  • Woman finds her true meaning by following her career passion and also learns to view the guy in a new light and they live happily ever after.  Bonus points if children, dogs, or cats come with the package.

I’m sure the writers would tell you that it’s definitely more complicated than that, and I have no doubt that it is. Heaven knows, no one has been able to replicate their special magic, and criticizing someone else’s art and creation is not my jam.  But why are we so drawn in when we know how it will end?  From the opening scenes of charming downtown shops, cityscapes, and country vistas, we are hooked. We know that two hours later, crisis will be averted, hearts will be happy, and the future will be bright.

That’s the magic.  In a world that can feel crazy, sometimes our hearts just want to escape to a place where things will be okay.  We’re living in a time that can feel especially vulnerable with quarantined family and friends, stores and restaurants closed, and fear and uncertainty easy to find in large doses. Sitting down with a cozy blanket, a cup of tea, and a Hallmark movie (or 12), could be just what your heart needs.

So hats off to Hallmark this weekend for re-running some of their best-loved Christmas movies, with their We Need a Little Christmas Movie Marathon.  Christmas is known as the season of giving, so during what are unprecedented times, let’s make sure that we fill our hearts up with love over fear, check on our neighbors (virtually of course, social distancing rules apply), share what we can, and remember that this too will pass.  And most importantly, when it does may we all be better for it. (Oh, and please wash your hands!)

P.S.  If you’re like me and love a good list checking app, Hallmark has you covered. Through the Hallmark app you can  make lists of what you want to see, get reminders for airings you don’t want to miss, and keep count of how many movies you’ve watched (which trust me, can quickly become A LOT.)

P.P.S. It’s hard to find a Hallmark store these days, but if you can find one, it’s absolutely worth it and you will be delighted. You simply can’t help but smile as you roam the aisles filled with heartfelt and funny cards, colorful home accessories, and unique treasures that make the perfect gifts.

P.P.P.S. This is not an advertisement and no money, gifts, or favors were exchanged in return for this post.

Lessons & Thoughts From the Farm

Every Month Can Be January

How can it already be January again?  TV commercials are filled with gym ads and weight loss schemes, magazines are filled with pages of organizational bliss, and everywhere you look it feels like the collective universe is trying to turn over a new leaf. 

Poor January, so much pressure on this one month, so many hopes that we will turn it all around.  It all makes me twitch a bit, as it feels like I’m being bombarded with guilt wrapped up in empty promises of someone else’s definition of perfection.

Now here’s the good thing about January, it gives us hope.  It’s a time of reflection, a time when we feel like we get to wipe the slate clean and start fresh.  There is a pure sense of optimism in January, and that feels lovely. That, I can get on board with.

So how do we embrace January’s sense of optimism in a way that can actually be helpful and not leave us feeling like a dejected heap of failure the first time we find Valentine’s candy hopping into our grocery cart? (We know who we are.)

For me, it’s balancing optimism with a dose of realism. I am optimistic that this is going to be a good year.  I am optimistic that I can continue to build some better habits. I am optimistic about creative opportunities I have yet to discover.  

But (there’s always a but), I’m also realistic.  For example, while I am excited to learn to cook more whole foods, I’m not giving up chocolate or promising that I will never again indulge in the deliciousness of a sweet tea on a summer day.  (I mean let’s get real, I do live in Texas and we are rather fond our sweet tea. Have you tasted the stuff?)

My Farmtastic Life - Ice on the Farm
A little proof that January weather on the farm can be a bit chilly. Yep, even in Texas.

If I can look at each day as an opportunity for change, for better choices, and honestly, for just accepting myself as is, sweet tea and all, I stand a chance at harnessing the hope of January all year long. And while I have no interest in hanging on to January’s weather, I would totally love to hang onto feeling this hopeful, this willing to try new things, this fervently that I am capable of changing the things I want to.

Did you notice what I said in that last sentence? I focused on the things that I want to change, not what someone else thinks I should change or who they think I should be. That’s critical to being real as well. It helps to view change as a journey you choose.

As I’ve gotten older, I can look back and see how my views and opinions have shifted the more I learn, the more experiences I have, and the more people I meet.  So when I’m talking about January changes, I’m talking about the sense that we all have inside that we can keep moving forward, keep growing, keep learning.

A friend once asked me, “When you think about making a change, does that change make you feel open and happy or does it feel constrictive?”  It’s a good question that has helped me embrace the spirit of optimism in January (and hopefully all the year through). It’s about who you want to be,  knowing that every day you get the opportunity to put one foot in front of the other, and embrace the journey, even beyond January 31.

Featured image (Hello January) © MarekPhotoDesign.com – stock.adobe.com.  Standard license.

Lessons & Thoughts From the Farm

Soul-tober

Sometimes we just need to take a break, whether it’s from a litany of commitments and chores or the mental gymnastics we put ourselves through on a daily basis (we know who we are) or from something as simple (and as overwhelming) as the news and social media.  Sometimes, our souls just need a rest.

And given that I’ve already heard Christmas music in stores and seen the trees and ornaments stacked for sale, I think October is a glorious time to inhale and just take it all in. Because, seriously people, it will be holiday-palooza before we know it.

It’s easy to feel like this life is just one giant to-do list as we race from season to season. Whether we’re rushing kids from here to there, putting in extra hours at work, or Pinterest-ing ourselves to death to create some perfect moment, life can be downright busy.

A dear friend and mentor once said to me, “Instead of saying ‘I don’t have time for that’, instead say ‘It’s not important to me.’”  I’m just going to leave that there for a minute and let it sink in.

What she was advocating is that this wheel of busy we are all on is filled with choices.  When we tell ourselves things like we don’t have time, what we are really saying is that thing/commitment/effort is not important to me.  Ouch. That was a hard one for me.

But if we are honest, we really don’t have time for all of the things we could take on.  And most of us have likely taken on lots of things without really thinking about if it’s important to us. Whether it’s from guilt, a sense of duty or out of habit, it’s super easy to say Yes and way harder to say No.

It’s curious that the thing that we most often say No to is making time for ourselves.  Sometimes in our culture it’s easy to feel like making time for ourselves is selfish.  In the faith culture I grew up in, putting yourself first was not only wrong it was a sign of a weak character.  Oh my stars how sad this makes me to think of this now, and how I hope with all of my heart that we aren’t still instilling this in our young ones.

Listen, I’m not suggesting that you sign up for narcissist 101, I’m simply suggesting that you take time to feed your soul, fill up your cup, soak up some gratitude, care for who you are, and dream of where you want to go.  Give yourself permission to say, “Yes, I am important.”

For me, it’s the simplest of things like planting myself on the porch with a good book and a cup of mint tea or listening to my favorite podcast or music while I weed the garden.  It’s brushing a horse or trying yoga (which also leads to much laughing). It’s making time for storytelling and cooking and crafting. It’s simply sitting side-by-side with Cowboy and talking about life. Those things fill me up.

Here’s what we all know deep down inside, when we are broken and tired, we can’t give our best and quirky selves to those we love most.  And while it sounds dramatic (cue music), the world really does need us to be our best selves, for all of our sakes.

So as you bask in the bluer skies and golden sunlight of October, think about what you will say Yes to and put yourself at the top of your to-do list.   Whether it’s making time to read a good book, meeting up with a friend who makes you laugh, or spending time in nature (like Dinosaur Valley State Park or Fossil Rim Wildlife Center – our town really does have the best), take some time for a soul break.

P.S.  A version of this post was published in the the Glen Rose Reporter. This farmgirl is delighted to serve as a community columnist.

Featured image © Marek – stock.adobe.com.  Standard license.

Farmtastic Faves · Farmtastic Reads

Farmtastic Faves – The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee

The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee – Talya Tate Boerner

Oh my stars am I ever in love with the grit, wit, and wisdom of 10-year-old Gracie Lee.  Set in the sweltering heat of an Arkansas delta summer, we are invited to come along for the ride as Gracie Lee navigates the beauty and the brutality of the hard truths that life has dealt her, and in some ways the truths and the questions that are in all of us.

Told in first person, Gracie reminds us of the bravery, curiosity, and compassion that children possess in spades, and that we often spend a lifetime trying to figure out how to recapture.  From the first moment she marches down the church aisle to ask her a pastor a question, which hilariously ends up in her accidental salvation, to her quest to find out who lives in the big house next door to the myriad of emotions she experiences as she watches the unraveling of her alcoholic father, Gracie has you cheering for her on every page.

Gracie’s family is complex – a loving but exhausted mother who wants nothing more than to be loved herself, a younger sister who requires comfort and other times a good eye roll, and a dad who is checked out emotionally but dedicated to the hard work of financially providing for his family.  The lives of this famer’s family weave and bob around each other as they live in their reality of barely hanging on to the middle class, and at times each other.  They deal with the precariousness and mystery of nature including flooding rains, crop cycles, and our human desire to harness it all.  And most of all, our desire to connect and understand.

Growing up Baptist in the south, I can whole heartedly testify (see what I did there?) that Talya has captured every nuance of the culture – both the Baptist and the southern – all rolled into one big patchwork quilt.  I was humming along as the congregation sang every endless verse of Just as I Am.  I was reminiscing at the details of unscheduled childhood summer days where bicycle exploration and ham sandwiches with mayonnaise, iceberg lettuce, and white bread were what made our world go round.  If you grew up in the south anytime between the 1950s and early 1980s, I suspect you’ll feel your senses toggle between the feeling of home and “oh my what were we thinking.”

This is my absolute favorite kind of fiction – one where the landscape is as big of a character as the people, one where you feel the sense of place as large as life.  Most importantly, while it is fiction, you know that there are thousands of Gracies in this world, and you simply want to cheer for each and every one of them.

P.S. – This farmgirl loves a good book – whether that book makes you laugh, cry, refreshes your soul, dances with your imagination, or teaches you a history lesson.  Books are just the bees knees.  Check out our Farmtastic Faves section for more of our favorites.

P.P.S. – Check out Tayla’s website for more information about her and the book.

Featured image Amazon

Farm Life · Farmtastic Stories · Lessons & Thoughts From the Farm · Uncategorized

Choices – It’s Not Always Rainbows

Animals are my jam, but if I’m honest I  don’t think I ever thought about having quite such a zoo – 4 dogs, 6 cats, 4 horses, 2 donkeys. (Not to mention the scads of wildlife around here – hummingbirds, barn swallows, leopard frogs, and jack rabbits galore.)

If you follow my Instagram feed, you’ll see all sorts of fun animals pics – from the frog riding around on a pool thermometer to Max the dog sporting glasses to horse and donkey antics.  Every single one of our critters has their quirks (don’t we all), and every single of one of them is part of the family.  That means they are here to stay.

I’ve had folks tell me, “You’re living my dream.”  That is beyond sweet and kind words are always appreciated. (We could all do with a few more kind words. Am I right?)

But there is another truth.  There are moments when the fur and the feeding duties and the poop scooping chores and the vet bills are not so Insta worthy.  There are moments when I have thought, “What in the world was I thinking with all of these critters?”

Everything in life is a trade off.  Unlike the story that the media likes to tell us, we cannot have it all.  Something has to give.  And that’s not a bad thing; it’s really just simple math.  There are only so many resources – time, money, space (physical and mental) – a girl has, and so you make choices.

My Farmtastic Life - Max the dog in glasses.
Max, clearly deep in thought, thinking about his choices. Which are generally, “Do I want to sleep on the sofa or on the bed?”

Some choices last a LONG time.  (Did you know horses can easily live into their 30s? Seriously!) Some choices don’t seem long enough.  (Why can’t our best dog pals live forever? Maybelle, I’m talking to you!)  We all make choices – whether to marry, to have children, where to live, where to work, what to risk.  And some choices get made for us – what family we are born into, what physical abilities we have or don’t have, what natural gifts we have, the challenge of loss.  It’s part of this great big life adventure we are all on.

Now nothing I’ve said here is new; we all know this stuff.  We just don’t generally stop and think about it. So why am I sharing it?

Well if you’re like me, when you find yourself looking at folks’ social media personas (and let’s face it, that’s what they are, the version of us we are all putting forward), it’s easy to forget that choices have been made, which inevitably means sacrifices, compromises, and unrealized dreams are likely heaped in a pile somewhere.  We just don’t share them.  (And that’s cool.  No one needs to see someone’s drama blasted all over the Internet, although it wouldn’t hurt us all to be little more vulnerable.  Balance, my friends!)

So as a girl who is living on a farm and working in technology by day, what don’t you see in my Instagram feed?  You don’t see buckets upon buckets of horse poo.  You don’t see the travel dreams I’m longing for, as being away from the farm is hard.  You don’t see the daily vacuuming and sweeping in a (losing) battle to keep the fur under control.  You don’t see the mile long list of things that need fixed or tended to. You don’t see the moments when I think, “Dang, living in a condo sure sounds nice.”  You don’t see the hay bill to keep my equine babies fed for a year. You don’t see the heaps of sand we’ve brought in (yes, we paid for sand!), to try to deal with crazy boot sucking mud when it rains buckets.

Would I trade my farmgirl life?  Heck no. It’s what Cowboy and I chose, and we are grateful.  We feel lucky to have this adventure.  But it’s also okay to have those moments when you sit down in a pile on the floor and ask yourself, “Holy cats, what did I choose?  Did I choose the right thing for me?”

And here’s the really beautiful thing about life.  You cry, you think (and lordy can this girl spend some cycles whirling around in her own head), you get frustrated, and then you get up and keep going. If something’s not working for you, you can continue to shift and twist and turn and make this life your own.

So when you see all of my adorable critters (and yes, they are adorable), don’t forget there is a whole lot of work and choices and compromises going on behind the scenes. None of us gets to escape that, no matter how Insta perfect the story appears.

P.S. – As I was lamenting about all of the critter chores to my momma the other day, she reminded me that, “It’s never a bad thing to save an animal.”  And you wonder why we have 16 critters?  Seriously, I come by it honestly.

P.P.S. – There are those amongst us for whom making choices seems a far reach. They are truly working so hard just to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Let’s remember that we don’t all get to start from the same place in life, and as often as we can we should offer compassion. You truly never know how someone’s story has impacted their available choices.  Let’s love each other.

 

 

 

Farmtastic Faves · Farmtastic Reads

Farmtastic Faves – Barking to the Choir

This farmgirl loves a good book – whether that book makes you laugh, cry, refreshes your soul, dances with your imagination, or teaches you a history lesson.  Books are just the bees knees.  We’ve had our Farmtastic Faves section for a while, and we think it desperately needs a Farmtastic Reads section.  So in an effort to share one of my absolute all time favorite things – STORIES – here goes.

First up in the Farmtastic Reads category …


Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship – Gregory Boyle

I must admit, up until about a year ago, the chances of me making it through any nonfiction book were slim to none.  For years, my reading was limited to mystery fiction, and I wasn’t really open to exploring much else.  It was my guilty pleasure. Last year, a wise soul turned me onto Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, then Love Wins by Rob Bell, and well my bookshelves – virtual and real – are so much broader, deeper, and richer for it.

With my reading horizons expanded, I’ve found that I am usually reading a book or five (thank you Kindle), and in that mix is always something that speaks to the broader sense of humanity, spirituality, and the divine.  On the recommendation of a friend on Instagram, I added Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship to my list.

Filled with engaging, uplifting, and at times gut wrenching stories of men and women coming out of gang life and into the fullness of seeing their own value and divinity, Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit Priest affectionately known as Father G, reaches straight into the heart of our shared humanity.  He deftly weaves his personal observations and experiences with lessons that we can all take to heart.

You know it’s a good book when you and your highlighter become besties as you try to soak up every last nugget of truth, hoping that just a tiny bit of the goodness you are experiencing will stick to your core.

Father G doesn’t mince words.  He sheds the formality and the perfection facade common in many religious circles and writings, not afraid of using strong language and slang to make his point, and to simply remind us all of the realness and the emotion of life.  Father G strips away the sterileness that modern Christianity can often be wrapped in, and shares the gritty truth about trauma, loss, and hope.  In short, he takes us back to the original story of Jesus – connectedness and kindness, compassion and love.

My emotions ran the gamut while reading this book. At one point, so moved by a former gang member’s story of loss and redemption that I found myself crying. At other times laughing out loud at the sheer smart and witty dialogue of these former gang members who were coming to see the beauty of their true selves, often for the first time.

You’ll also get a feel (or more accurately all the feels) for Homeboy Industries, started by Father G in 1988 as an answer to the question, ““Can we improve the health and safety of our community through jobs and education rather than through suppression and incarceration?”1

Barking to the Choir is a neon reminder that we  make it far too easy to write off the other in our world – the gang member, the mentally ill, the poor.  We’ve come to believe everything is a simple choice, while forgetting the impact of heartbreak, trauma, and fear on the human spirt .  That we are all fragile, and strength comes in our kinship, in our ability to see and be seen for who we really are. Father G puts these truths front and center and reminds us all that we are the choir.

This is Father G’s second book, and believe you me within an hour of finishing this one, I  ordered his first one, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.  Come on Amazon Prime speedy delivery, this farmgirl has some soulful reading to do!

1 – History of Homeboy Industries

Featured image Amazon.