Lessons & Thoughts From the Farm

Look Up

This thing going on in our world can result in an emotional rollercoaster.  And this rollercoaster has room for all of us. No height requirement necessary.

For me, this week was tough. My emotions poured out of me in a million little ways. I teared up at the sound of a treasured song. I smiled at the many acts of kindness taking place in our small town. I was filled with gratitude that Cowboy and I both still have jobs, a home, and groceries for us and our zoo. I got stressed over a work project. I missed hugging my family members. I felt guilty for being in an okay place when I know folks who are not. I felt happy when I was able to share and to help others. I got lost in nature. Up and down, left and right, I rode this roller coaster in the front seat with my hands in the air screaming, laughing, and crying. 

Here’s the thing.  This pandemic has changed our world. It’s changed us.  Every single one of us. But we don’t yet fully know how much and to what extent. There has been loss for everyone –  freedoms to move about as we please, pay and jobs, a sense of security, and worst of all the loss of neighbors, friends, and loved ones.  And yet there has been so much goodness as unsung heroes have emerged to keep us all moving forward.  I’m looking at you healthcare workers, first responders, truck drivers, and grocery store workers.

It’s one big, beautiful terrifying messy life right now. 

And for so many of us, it’s also the time to celebrate Easter or Passover or simply the arrival of spring.  It looks different this year. There are no fields filled with laughing children chasing down Easter eggs. There are no churches brimming with Easter bonnets as parishioners sit shoulder to shoulder. There are no tables set for extended family gatherings centered around a favorite meal. 

I was telling a dear friend of mine that when I go for walks through our pastures, I often walk with my head down because I am staring at my feet.  I do this because I’m incredibly clumsy, so it’s purely for self preservation (of my knees and my dignity). And she said to me, “Don’t forget to look up.”

Look up my friends. Even in times of loss and sadness and confusion there are reasons for hope. There is love. There is kindness. There are doggy kisses and flowers blooming. There is prayer and meditation. There is goodness in this world. There is each of you.  

So in these trying times, when emotions have become theme park rides, and clumsy feet seek steady ground, may we all find a moment to look up.

Featured image (heart in hands) © simona – stock.adobe.com.  Standard license.

Lessons & Thoughts From the Farm

It’s Okay to Just Be

As someone said to me this week, “I don’t want to see or hear the words unprecedented times or our new normal anymore.”  To be honest, they, like me were just mentally exhausted and rife with a bit of anxiety. And who could blame any of us right now?  These are different times for sure.

Now to be perfectly candid, I’m a born worrier. So even though there is a pandemic going on, this anxious brain is not new to me. In fact, my third-grade teacher pulled my parents aside to say she had never seen a child worry as much as I did.  So to be frank, it’s in my DNA, and I have my suspicions about where it came from, but that’s for another day. The point is, even when all is well in the world, I struggle to keep my overactive imagination in check. The what-ifs take over and I’m quickly swept up from the present and plopped right down into the imaginary future.  And while this sounds harmless enough, it means I am completely and utterly missing the present.

Here’s the deal, as much as the phrase unprecedented times makes me want to throw things, it’s where we are at.  It’s where we are all at. No one is exempt. And we all deal with our stress and our anxiety in our own ways, some admittedly better than others. 

Some people like to dig into the data and the stats and predict a potential outcome. Some like to retreat completely and escape into a good book or a movie.  Some like to make a Plan B, a Plan C, and a Plan D just in case. (Do I have any kindred spirits on this last one? It’s okay we know who we are.) Anyway, I could go on, but you get the gist. In particular, when times feel out of control, we are all craving some predictability, something we can count on, something we can control. But as another dear friend and colleague said to me, “Control is an illusion. We never had it in the first place.” (He’s far better at rolling with it than I am.)

So here we sit, all coping in a myriad of ways.  All learning new things about ourselves, our communities, and our society.  All in this thing together, no matter how it turns out. So we could stand to give each other a little grace as anxiety and worry are too close to the forefront for so many.

All of this got me to thinking about another anxious time in my life, which honestly seems silly right now, but in the off chance it’s helpful, here’s how it went.  As this past January was rolling around, the start of a fresh decade, I found myself getting lost and wound up about making a New Year’s resolution. Should I or shouldn’t I? Maybe just a theme or a word? Maybe a 20 for 20 list? I was riding in the truck with Cowboy one day vomiting all of these words and anxious thoughts to the calmest soul I know, when he looked at me and said, “I’ve got one for you. How about you just be. Just live your life and just be.”

I immediately had this sense of “duh, you are making this way too hard” wash over me. I smiled at him and said, “You’re right. You are absolutely right.”  I’m telling you the man doesn’t say much, but when he does it’s totally worth listening. 

So if you need someone to give you permission to just be, I’m offering these words up to you in the hopes they bring you comfort or maybe just a little relief in these anxious times. The beautiful thing about taking a moment to just be is that the past and the future aren’t part of the equation. Rather, it’s just the moment, the present.  So hug a dog, text a friend, take a walk, read a book, or say a prayer. Whatever works for you, but allow yourself time to just be.

Featured image (just be) © treenabeena – stock.adobe.com.  Standard license.

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.

Lessons & Thoughts From the Farm

Independence In the Middle

As we celebrated our nation’s Independence Day last week, I was struck by the beauty that happens when we all take a break from being so staunchly in our respective corners and join each other hand in hand in the middle. Stars and stripes. Parades and fireworks. Sunshine and barbecues. For a moment, with all of our beautiful differences, we were one.

And then it was July 5.

More than ever, we are in love with being outraged. We argue about immigration, tariffs, guns, the economy, religion. If there is a side to be had, we will find it. We have become amazingly adept at drawing lines and determining who is in and who is out. We see it on the right and on the left. No one is immune.

Where is the middle?

Conversations about meaningful and important topics have become difficult because we go into them having already determined that we are right and that the other side is wrong. While we might ask, “Why do you think that?”, all too often we have stopped listening and are ready to pounce with our rebuttal before the question has left our lips.

Trust me, I know this is not easy. Especially when both sides feel like they have so very much at stake. But the real beauty is in the middle. In trying to understand why someone feels disenfranchised or left behind. In trying to understand why someone is adamant about their position on open borders or immigration reform.

We all come from a distinct point of view that is formed by our experiences, our environments, our tribe. And we can’t all be right, which also means, hilariously enough, that  we can’t all be wrong. So how in the world do we move forward?

We all take one giant step toward the middle.

I think back to my school days and remember the dreaded group project. Oh my stars, I cannot stress how much I absolutely detested group projects. In this crazy exercise, we each had to do our part to succeed. Torture, sheer torture.

Inevitably, I would volunteer (ahem … demand) to take on much more than my share because I just knew if I trusted others that the project would go south and my grade would suffer. But let’s just call it what it was, I was terrified of losing control.

Some folks in my class loved having me as a partner; it meant less work for them. Others, I’m sure, were not so thrilled as we vied for control. But how much more would I have learned if we collectively shared our work and our ideas?  How much more meaningful would those relationships have been with my classmates if I had taken a step toward the middle?

And if in the end we had gotten a B, or heaven forbid a C, instead of an A, what would I have really lost? Imagine if if in my compromise I had gained knowledge, friendship, and let go of some stress in the process. Success isn’t always an A. (And yes my overachiever self has had to work years to come to this place.)

I see our love of taking sides in a similar way. We all want control. We all want to be right. And when we think that’s in danger, we retreat to our corners mad as hornets. Here’s the deal, I know the problems facing our world and our country are not simple. Congress is in gridlock, we’re marching in the streets every month for some new injustice, and we have become professionals at being outraged.

But in the end, if we’re honest, outrage is easy. And quite frankly, exhausting. Action is so much harder. Listening is harder, yet. The first move is taking one step toward the middle. Having real conversations with your neighbors. Understanding the deep down why of their beliefs. Finding just one little thing you can agree on and then building from there. Maybe even find a joint cause and volunteer together. It’s amazing how you will see the heart of another when you are giving back shoulder to shoulder.

We are not all going to get what we want. It’s impossible. But together we can embrace a little of that Independence Day spirit every day, when we find our common ground and move forward, one step at a time.

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