A set of mule deer in aisle 3, please.

Does anyone have a pair of tigers? Maybe a set of lemurs? Because if it doesn't stop raining, I am full-on prepared for the Lord to start encouraging us to build arks and start rounding up animals.

It rains a day. It's dry a day. It rains. It's dry. It's a farmer's nightmare. Too wet to get the rye silage out. Can't get crops planted.

WHERE ARE THE MATCHING BABOONS, LORD, BECAUSE WE ARE READY!

Last year it was a drought. This year it's a flood.

It's just that at least with droughts you get some sunshine now and then. And dust. Usually a lot of dust. But whatever. SUNSHINE.

My farmer -- the optimist -- and I -- the pessimist realist -- saw each other for a few moments in passing last week. "I got a guy mowing and one is merging and I'm chopping and he's tilling and that guy's planting and another's spraying, and there's stuff going on at church, and there's stuff with employees, and the vet's coming tomorrow and the forecast says rain again tomorrow but if we can miss a shower this afternoon, we can at least keep working into the night," he said while chugging down an iced coffee.

Or as I say, "IT'S ALL THE THINGS."

And then he ran back out the door and jumped in his pick-up and the kids and I waved white hankies in his direction like ladies standing at the dock when ocean liners would take off for the other side of the world with their husbands and sons aboard.

Actually, it was a napkin and that's just because someone spilled yogurt on the floor, but the idea was there.

I could tell he was . . . well, we don't use the word "stressed" in our house. We just say we're busy . . . or our plates are full . . . or we're juggling a lot of balls. Because if one thing stresses us out, then it's easy to say something else does, and pretty soon making dinner is stressful or deciding what book to read next is stressful and then basically just doing life is stressful and that's lame.

So let's just say I could tell all the plates available were spinning.

Now, a nicer me would have texted him and said, "You can do this! You didn't get to where you are by letting 87,000 inches of rain and a forecast sent from the underworld itself get you down! I believe in you!"

And there are days for that.

But today he needed his BFF Jocko Willink. Jocko says that there's a two-step process to dealing with stress: (1) detach and (2) don't worry about things you can't control.

You detach yourself from the situation. Is it raining like you're in the midst of a hurricane? Yes. But are you freezing at the Battle of the Bulge? Are you walking with your feet tied in rags like men in the Revolutionary War? No. So stop whining. You don't have it so bad.

And stop fretting about things you can't change. Can you stop the rain? No. So use it to your good. Turn it on itself. Make it your ally.

So like any kind, thoughtful wife, I MPed my farmer and said, "You think you have it bad? You don't. You're not getting your legs blown off. You're not in a foxhole. You're not starving in a concentration camp. Rain has nothing on you!"

I'm helpful like that.

And you know what? By the end of the day, he was happy to report that he had turned the rain into an ally, made some decisions about the future that would make spring time easier in seasons of endless cruddy weather, and had a beer to celebrate his success.

Now, the point of all of this is not to gripe about the rain (ok, but seriously, it can stop any day now) or to claim that Jocko and I made any difference on my farmer's day, but it is to say that the Lord really can use difficult situations for good. I mean, so what if the kids can't play outside again until they're 45? We can still learn from this! And grow! And become more resilient!

There are times for empathy and understanding. And there are times for pushing and prodding and tough encouragement. I'm thankful for a farmer who doesn't let me wallow and who shows me that -- even when all the balls are in the air and someone tosses ten more in -- we don't freeze up or melt down. We embrace the suck. We just lean in and push even harder.

Which is good for him especially, considering he'll need all those muscles to build a house boat for our family to live on until the ground dries out again . . . in roughly 2025.

So here's to soldiering on, chins up, shoulders straight through the tough stuff. It can't last. The sun does come out again. It has to. In fact, it always does.*



*Or so I'm told. 




rye silage

Amy Grant may think that Christmas it the most wonderful time of the year, but at the dairy, we think silage chopping time is actually the best!

Or maybe just the most high energy. 

Ok, fine, Amy. You were right all along. But silage is still a pretty sweet time of year, no matter how many CDs you sold!

Where was I? Oh! What is silage? you're wondering. 

It's ok. I was too the first year. Turns out I have this handsome farmer who is happy to explain. Have a read!

Me: What is silage?

Chris: Silage is harvesting and ensiling a forage. 

Me: Wait. What's a forage? Isn't that what dogs do behind dumpsters?

Never Surrender. Never Retreat. Texas Style.

 

When my parents asked my husband and me if we wanted to join them for a few days during their annual winter pilgrimage through Texas, I fired back a quick, "Nope. Bad idea. Kids are too young. It'll be a trainwreck. Trust me on this one. Ain't happenin'. Let's try again when they're . .. 15."

San Jose Mission - San Antonio, Texas
My husband's cooler head prevailed. "Let's hold on a minute," he said.

And I knew where this was headed.

Aren't my parents just the cutest? Still holding hands -- 40 years and 3 obnoxious, I mean, awesome daughters later.
As it turns out, he was right. My sister watched my littlest, we took our two older kids, and we loved it. 

San Jose Mission - San Antonio, Texas
One of the things we appreciated most about the trip -- apart from the 80 degree weather and the sunshine -- is something Senator Ben Sasse hits on: the difference between vacationing and traveling. "The key distinction here," he says, "is between active seeking and venturing and learning on the one hand, and passively taking in the sights on the other hand."

We were all about the active seeking on this trip.

"Buddy, you can't run off. You have to stay by Grandpa." Little man: "Noted. Staying right by Grandpa."

"'The traveler is an active man at work.' By contrast, 'the tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes sight-seeing.'"

On this trip, we were active.

We got to experience the San Antonio Stock Show, watch its nightly rodeo, learn from cutting horse competitions, and see how Brahman cattle are different from our own.

Girl's wearing her mama's dress with pink fringe and her new pink cowboy hat. Sensing a theme, are we?
My farmer also found someone to steam his cowboy hat to fit better, which pretty much made his trip.


"Travel done right is a kind of work that takes you out of the familiar -- out of your comfort zone -- and offers the chance to see the world through fresh eyes."

We learned about chuckwagons, randomly parked next to and chatted with San Antonio's undefeated boxer Brown Nevarez (the "Living Legend"), and ate too much good food while smelling brisket smoking away nearby. 


I tried to buy a handful of cows to bring home with us -- mostly because they were fluffy -- but that got nixed, so I guess there was maybe one downside to the vacation, but that was basically it.


The kids ate it up too. They may not know the difference between a longhorn and a shorthorn, but they did find the large blue circles of cement at the stock show great "water to splash in" and I kind of loved watching their imagination with something as simple as the ground they were walking on.


We also soaked up Texas history and wondered why our respective states don't cling as tightly to their pasts as Texas does. We went to Presido La Bahia in Goliad and remembered the hundreds of men massacred there for the sake of freedom.


We went to Gonzalez and saw the cannon that began the re-use of "Come and take it" and marveled again at the guts of these frontiersmen who didn't give a hoot what a giant army and its leader told them to do or not do because NO ONE WAS THE BOSS OF THEM.



 "Exploration is 'an art that liberates, that frees, that opens away from narrowness.'"

And we were free, free to stop at the Sam Houston Oak to see where that great man rallied and headquartered his troops before pushing them on, tired and exhausted, but determined.


We learned about the Chisholm Trail and young boys pushing massive herds of cattle while eating dust and biscuits for weeks on end. And we determined to try out best to raise our boys to be such men, the kind that can write and live like William Barret Travis, writing from the Alamo:


Bejar, Feby. 24th. 1836
To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World-
Fellow Citizens & compatriots-
I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna - I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man - The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken - I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls - I shall never surrender or retreat.  Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch - The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days.  If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country - Victory or Death.
William Barret Travis.
Lt. Col.comdt.

Do you have chills after reading that? 

I get the chills.

Every time. 

And I pray that our sons are those kind of men -- the kind that perhaps have more courage than they ought, but that kind of boldness and bravery nonetheless.

 

And in the midst of all we saw and learned, we even managed -- quite by accident -- to come across the church in Sulphur Springs where a mass shooting occurred last year. These kinds of things happen when you get off the beaten path. We learned that too. 


"The philosophy of travel starts with the important lesson that travel is an active pursuit that requires preparation (actually 'work' if you want to call it what it really is) and openness."

And we are thankful to my parents for all their work in making this trip such a delight, right down to the hourly brisket and sausage stops. I'm not sure I've ever been so full in my life. No one told me I'd need to bring my fat pants to survive a BBQ run through Texas.

Lesson learned. 



I was wrong. I admit it. We were right to go. The kids did well, we learned a Texas-sized amount in three days, and it was the kind of trip that was good for your mind and your soul . . . not to mention your belly.

So, thank you, Mom and Dad, for teaching us how to be active, grasping, curious travelers.

And for hitting up all the best brisket joints.

We loved that too.

Never surrender. Never retreat. 

















Snow

My farmer and I have this fun game we like to play where I tell him that living in Missouri is basically the same as living in Mississippi and then he tells me that living in Iowa is the same as living in the tundra, and then we both laugh like we really didn't mean it but we actually do. 

I'm pretty sure I'm right on this one. Case in point: They have sweet tea in this state. That means it's the deep South. 

Common knowledge.



What Missouri doesn't seem to have much of is good old-fashioned snowstorms.  The first winter I lived in St. Louis it snowed several inches. I headed out to church on Sunday morning only to find there was legit no one else on the road, which made me wonder if I was the crazy one or if it was just that everyone else was. 

Don't answer that. 


Growing up in Iowa meant learning to play and work and drive and live in and with a lot of snow. Snow days were the best -- although somewhat rare because snowplow drivers in Iowa don't mess around -- and I distinctly remember one day where the school bus stopped to pick me up, headed to the next house, and then got the call that school was cancelled, turned right around and dropped me back off again. 

It was like Christmas! Except that it was probably, you know, like October or maybe May.



There was also the Halloween blizzard of 1991 (now I sound like an old timer) where trick-or-treating was basically cancelled because feet, not inches, of snow were piling up. (Those of us hardcore enough to go out were rewarded handsomely because we were the few, the proud, the . . . ok, too far.)

But still, some candy AND snow days? Do you see now why Iowa is a child's paradise?


Then there's the infamous story of my sister who, in a rush to get to the bus, lost one of her snow boots in a snow drift on our lane, but didn't want to take the time to go back for it, and ran ahead to the bus anyway in one sock and one boot. I've never asked if she found the other boot. Maybe when the snow finally melted and the ice eventually thawed . . . so basically mid-July. 

My sisters and I spent our childhood winters playing in massive piles of snow, pushed up in mounds by our dad's tractor; sledding down those mountains after diving into a precariously perched sled and shooting out across the driveway; tromping through our grove where the snow was covered in rabbit and raccoon and deer tracks. 



I'm hopeful my kids can have the same experience here in Missouri at least once every ten years, even if the one-year-old is currently at a stage where he can barely move when bundled up and basically just wants to sit in the snow and cry. It'll come. 

Or we'll just have to visit Iowa in the winter more. 

Either way. 




All I Want for Christmas Is . . . Dairy

Anyone else meal planning for the week of Christmas in a semi-frantic state because you just realized that it's Thursday and Christmas is Wednesday and WHAT ARE WE FEEDING ALL THE PEOPLE?

My family always ate chili and oyster stew on Christmas Eve. 

And by "my family," I mean that my mom made oyster stew and my grandparents ate it and thankfully no one asked me to take a bite because there FOR SURE would have been coal in my stocking when I gagged it right back up. 

Oyster stew. Pffff.

Thankfully, Lauren Lane did not serve oyster stew when we gathered at her home a few nights ago. I mean, she probably could have made it and it probably would have even tasted good but let's not take chances, people. I can live dangerously but not like that.  

 

Instead, she set a beautiful table, kept our wine and water glasses filled, and welcomed us into her home and kitchen with kindness and grace. 

She stirred, and we ate. She plated things, and we dug right in. She cooked, and we felt cared for.


We were quite the crew -- from food bloggers and chefs to dietitians and TV show hosts (and me . . . the farmer . . . except for the part where I just keep the real farmer fed, caffeinated and never lacking for clean work jeans) -- and Lauren kept us all fed, laughing, and oohing and ahhing over her menu, which featured dairy in every course.

 
Yes. You read that correctly. 

Every. 

Course. 

From a gorgonzola souffle . . . 

 

to ricotta gnocchi with tomato butter sauce and milk-braised pork with herbs . . . 


to a vanilla bean panna cotta with berries, which, to be fair, I would have eaten for every course.


Speaking of meal plans, I've added that panna cotta to our Christmas Day dessert menu because I'm not Scrooge and you won't catch me withholding that deliciousness from anybody.

 

It was such a treat to meet people who not only eat dairy, but who create recipes that include it, cook with it, encourage others to benefit from its nutritional value, and love it as much as we do.

Look at all that joy right there. It's all from dairy!

Ok, it's really from Lauren's cooking but it included dairy so it's basically the same.

(Good job, cows!)

Frantically meal planning? Take a breath. Our cows have you covered. Step away from the oven. Put down the baking mitts. Lauren's taken care of you for at least one meal with a post on how to host a wine and cheese party perfect for any night of the upcoming 12 days of Christmas.

And while you're pouring that glass of wine and slicing up some delicious cheese, know how grateful we are that you love to drink milk, lick the bottom of your ice cream bowl, and spoon granola over your yogurt.

You're the best.

(Well, actually Lauren's panna cotta is the best, but you're a really close second.)


 
Merry Christmas! 

My Spirit Season: Christmas

 

I love Christmas. 

Christmas is my spirit season.

Is that a thing? If we have spirit animals, can we have spirit holidays too?

(Sorry, Tax Day. You're nobody's spirit ANYTHING.)

I love the trees and the food and the decorations and the music and the snow (as long as it's only an inch in accumulation and melts the next day, but other than that, I'm not at all particular).

I love traditions and memories and family and taking all morning to open presents and giant Cracker Barrel-esque brunches and trash bags of wrapping paper and the clinking of wine bottles against glasses and how it used to take us roughly 11 weeks to handwash all of the Spode Christmas dishes after every meal (I'm looking at you, MOM!!)

(JK I love you)

(PS Can I have all that Spode when you don't want it anymore?)

(K Thanks)

(Sorry, sisters. You snooze you lose.).

I love it all.

(Side note: I hope that you all know this by now, but of course the thing I love most about Christmas is the remembrance and celebration of our Lord's birth.)

But, guys, it's December 5, and we don't have a tree.

I'm not saying that -- as Alicia Hutchinson called it -- "mama's lost her merry." I'm just learning that Advent teaches us to pace ourselves in all sorts of (immensely) humbling ways.



In reality, I'd love to have all sorts of people over for supper during the holidays. I'd like to make antipasto platters and cheeseballs in the shape in pinecones. But instead, I'm making a handful of freezer meals for friends who have their own stuff they're dealing with in life right now and dropping it off on their doorstep with reheating directions and the hope they enjoy just one night off from cooking.

I'd like to have my tree planted firmly in front of the window with the perfect tree topper situated just right and white lights glimmering in the snowy darkness outside. But instead, I'm trying to teach my one-year-old that he can't muscle the Christmas village around the house in his giant man hands.

I'd like to host a wrapping party and a soup swap and a cookie exchange. But instead, I'm taking my presents to my mom's house for her to help me wrap them, and making my own dang chili, and forgoing cookies this year because my husband introduced me to the deliciousness that is a pomegranate five years ago and those have just seemed so much more festive and exotic instead.

I'd like to go wander through the Christmas aisles at Target with my sisters, sucking down a mango smoothie from Panera and laughing so hard people start to look at us like we're weird. But instead, I Marco Polo them and they give me tours of their houses all decked out with beautiful decorations and then we all laugh and pretend we don't live on different continents. (Well, technically we don't but it basically feels that way if you want to get nosey about it.)

I'd like to pack the kids in the van and make them eat cheese sandwiches and carrot sticks like we had to do when we were kids while on our way to go Christmas shopping or caroling or to see the Christmas lights. But as it turns out, they're asleep by 7, so I turn on my own twinkly lights and eat a slice of American and call it a day.

Mama's not losing her merry this Advent. Mama's not even turning into Krampus.

I'm just being realistic about what's possible when little people are, well, little, and I don't think that's so bad.

Then again, compared to hearing Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is YoUUuuUUUUuuUU" for the 37th time today, nothing is bad. Nothing at all.

So here's to enjoying the holiday season -- its smells and tastes and sounds or complete lack thereof -- Spode dishes, soup swaps, cheese sandwiches and all!

How are you keeping it real this Advent and Christmas?







Fall


I call this one, "Dear Winter, Please Stay Away and Leave Us Alone. We Prefer Sun and Warmth and Fall Leaves, and In That Regard, You're Basically Nothing But a Killjoy," (2018).
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