Friday, March 2, 2018

Dear Heart

We have a teenager today.

Anna is 13.

While today is a little atypical from our usual birthday celebrations, it is and will continue to be a big day.

Sitting alone in a downtown Chicago hotel room as I write and reflect on my first day of being some one's mommy is a strange space to be. However, I find this space in being alone in my thoughts allows for good reflection, feeling #allthefeels. As I think about that 36 hour endeavor 13 years ago, and the last 13 years- as cliche as it sounds- these years have flown by.

You guys, our Anna is pretty amazing. When I tell people I have six kids, I always lead with the caveat that I have the most helpful big kids a big family could have, and it starts at the top.

Anna was born older. Born exactly on her due date, she was almost nine pounds, never losing any of her birth weight during those first tender days. She walked early, talked early, read early, reasoned early. I don't know if that's just a sweet symphony of her development or personality or if she just rose to the occasion as more and more little Webels joined her in the ranks.

Regardless, this kid, this teenager, is one with great potential. On a birthday, you can't help but reflect on those tender toddler days. First day of kindergarten. First basketball game. First cattle show.

But as I think about those days I had at home with my little Anna, I can't help but feel this burst of pride and excitement for the next chapter. While society wants us to think that teenagers are difficult and dark, Anna is has brought so much happiness and light in our life. Those first years are sweet and exhausting and exciting, but just in the past year, our girl has proven to be thoughtful, thought-provoking, inquisitive in a mature way, responsible in more than just the "do your homework" way.

Anna is different from our other kids. A bit more of an introvert, she is also extremely funny, super smart and driven without being overly competitive. While her goals include exceeding in judging, starting in sports, and winning the state discus title, she knows that her worth is more than those titles. Her walk in her faith just recently has given our whole family a new light inside.

See? This kid is powerful.

Anna, we treasure you. We truly do. Your life is one that will continue to surprise, impress and challenge us.

13 years ago, I was excited to be your mom, excited to start that journey. 13 years later, same day, I'm still feeling that excitement.

Dear heart, you are tender hearted. While your character is strong, life is hard. Please know that we want you to experience the hard, but to know that we are always the soft spot to land.
Dear heart, we have you in our house for just five more years. Every day I watch you as you make your own lunch, practice your guitar, ask me or your sisters to sing along, work your calves, know that I am watching you, cheering you on, valuing every minute we have together.
Dear heart, we love you. Dearly. Truly. Always.

Happy, happy birthday to our sweet #1 girl, Anna Grace. Our teenager. The one who started this all, set the bar high and keeps us going.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

42 Was Hard, 43 Will Be Stronger

Well friends, it's a big day around here. The big guy, Farmer Joe, has a birthday. While he's not a gift guy...ummmmm...ask him about his NEW SOCKS...42 is a year that needs to be celebrated.

That it's over.

42 was a hard one. Joe had some employment shifts around here. He had some hard conversations. He had some pretty significant health issues that can cause you to really re-evaluate nearly every decision made in one's life.

But, guess what? He MADE it. We made it.

And 42, you're done, and we're stronger because of it.

42 was the year of the "scare." Without going into the whole story, Joe could have died. His "widowmaker" artery was 90% (is that even right? That seems like a lot.) blocked. If he would have adhered to my "suck it up and go for a walk" advice (I NEVER claim to be a doctor.), he could have never come back.

I spent the better part of the beginning of year 42 being upset. Our life was in upheaval. I felt like we had too much of everything and too little of everything else. But when a health scare, a significant one like this comes in front of you, you tend to worry less about the kitchen countertops and the bedroom furniture and focus on what is truly valuable.


Life, my friends.

If you're a believer in God like I am, you believe that He is a healer and has a plan. I don't always agree with that plan (see the months of February-May of 2017), when you look back, you see the good in the upheaval. You find the answer in what seemed like was unknowns.

43 is Joe's next year, and as I place candles on Joe's Texas cake tonight (THANK YOU MAMA!!), I will not only thank God for Joe's 43 years before this one, but will give thanks to the next 43 or 53 or whatever we have together.

I am nearly in tears sitting here writing this. Tears of  joy that we get to navigate the ick and the good and the sad and the hard together, but also that I didn't lose you. WHAT WOULD I WRITE ABOUT IN THIS BLOG??? Ha.

So as you wear your very practical new socks, know that while my present was not fancy, your presence is a gift to me today. Thank you God for blessing us with Farmer Joe who teaches the value of hard work, rest when necessary and a good, old fashion pun. Thank you for allowing our girls to still work cattle with their dad who stands today healthier and more aware of what's important. I am blessed to have a little boy who tosses a ball and walks pasture with his daddy. I am thankful for a husband who took a leap of faith into a new career that will not only provide for our family, but allow space for us to BE a family.

Happy birthday, my sweet Farmer Joe. May you enjoy many more years of a happy ticker and some ribs and Texas cake...but only once in awhile. I'm still your nutritional boss, you know.

Love you.

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

"It's Like Charlotte's Web, Mom."

So today is a big day around here.

We have been showing cattle for four years. That first year, we started with one picture in our head of how we would always have access to a barn. With our transition out of that operation, we had to quickly shift. For three years, we have been so grateful for our friend's barn down the road. While it always came with a warm welcome and was a hospitable space, it was never super convenient. Chores had to be done with a parent in a car...not the easiest feat when it was nap time or dinner time.

Since our kids have continued to show, we have wished and prayed and cursed for a space on our farmstead for our calves to be near. So our kids could be those farm kids that walk out the door in their pajamas and chore boots to do those quick chores. So our kids could be those farm kids who don't have to have a driver's license to get to the barn.

Today, that day has come. My parents and uncle and grandpa have been working and figuring out and agreeing to this space for us. It's a tricky spot where we are.

You see, where we live is the heart of the farm. Thanks to a lovely tornado over 20 years ago, the barn lot was blown away. Furthermore, "our" barn lot is actually my grandpa's. We own our house and the land around it, but otherwise, we're pretty much landlocked by fields of grain and gravel not owned by us. Over the years, it has morphed into a communal space.  My dad's semi is parked in the shed. The main pieces of equipment are here. It's the space where the hunters meet, but also is where our kids play, where we live.

If you were to look at our house's footprint, an untrained eye to what is necessary for cattle might assume to "put a fence here" or "put a shed there" (these are words I have said).

It's not that simple. There's water. There's power. There's shade. There's flies to consider and smells.

Many, many days last summer as we waited (sometimes) patiently for this deal to be sealed, and there were days we thought we would just put and fence here and a shed there and call it a day. While my yard is still bumpy and unlanscaped from our remodel (fingers crossed for this summer!), I wasn't necessarily asking for THAT type of fence when I requested a space to be fenced in.



Just about a quarter mile from our house, six head of show calves are taking up residence. The power guys came on Friday and by Saturday afternoon, Joe and the girls were hauling bales and readying water for Lil' Sebastian, Tommy Fresh, Pandy, Queen B and two others I can't remember the names of BECAUSE THEY HAVE BEEN SO FAR AWAY.

While the logistics of this makes life so exciting, the experience is what I cannot wait to see unfold.

As we were chatting on the way to church today about the excitement of the barn, a little voice piped up from the way back.

"It's like Charlotte's Web, Mom."

The idyllic picture of farm life, the stereotype that I have spent a lot of time rolling my eyes at, writing blogs that proclaim we are NOT like, is the picture my kids have wished for.

Isn't that just the way life is?

Oh the irony...

The wish list for the barn is long. There are things still that are just "fine" for now, but will be corrected sooner and some later. The kids want pigs. They want barn cats. Amelia wants desperately to show rabbits over cows. They want to walk down by themselves and talk to the animals as they do their work after a day at school. The quiet, sweet smelling barn is what farm kids are supposed to experience, and until today, we haven't had that without a lot of wrangling and who's going and who's not and who's too little and who's napping.

So, yes, today is a big day. As the sun goes down, there's muddy boots on my freshly mopped porch (gah), but there are happy kids and a really, really, really happy dad chatting in the basement about chores.

No big deal over here, we're just dreaming of pigs and cows and maybe an amazing spider. Because, we dreamt of a barn some day and here we are. Why not shoot for "Some Pig?"

Monday, November 27, 2017

Dear Josephine

Dear Josephine,

Today is your birthday!!! YAY!!

You have been keeping us updated by counting down each day this month as your big eleventh birthday approached.

Your birthday present list has been sitting beside my computer since early September (with asterisks next to the items you wanted to "consult" me on!).

You have prepped and planned for a fun birthday party with friends and willingly celebrated your day on Thanksgiving with family.

You enjoyed Mexican food, complete with a serenade and ice cream on the face, and have already tuned and taught yourself two chords on your new ukulele.

Life is good today for sure, and it is so fun to watch you grow and flourish right now.

Eleven opens a door to a new time. You're about halfway through your last year of elementary school. You're starting to make choices on activities, take on leadership roles, and be helpful even more so at home. You're at a space in your life when possibilities seem endless, growing up looks like fun, and being a kid is still awesome.

However, eleven also ushers in a tricky time. You're approaching middle school. While I know that you will be fine, you will have to deal with some hard stuff. Friends are going to come and go. Choices about activities will need to be made. Independence is something you crave, yet can't quite comprehend. You may feel lost at times. You may feel sad. You may feel upset. You may not...who knows? That's what's fun and also kind of scary about getting bigger.

Here's the good news: Your dad and I are sitting here, watching you. We love you so much and are here to help you figure things out. However, this is time in our parenting that is still somewhat new to us. You are a completely different eleven year old than your sister, and so we're trying to figure this out, too.

Let's do this together, okay? Let's give each other space and grace and encouragement. We want to guide you like we did when you were learning to ride a bike. Remember that? You might not because now, you fly across the gravel driveway now. Just a few years ago, we were the ones to steady you,  guiding you with our hands on your back to help you right your way. You may have forgotten that, but I still see that little girl on a pink princess bike every so often. Keep that determination, but know that your dad and I will always help you right your way when you feel lost.

Josie, I am certain that big things will come for you as you get bigger. I know that your spunk and your spirit and your talents will lead you down a road that I can't even imagine. You are feisty and fearless and might give your old dad a run for his money, but in the end, you will always be our dearest Josie.

Tonight, I'll tuck you in as a new eleven year old. My eyes well up with tears thinking of that first night you were born. You were so tiny, dark haired and already opinionated. I couldn't even imagine that night what you would be like as you grew up. Now that you are, I can't believe how amazing you are.

Thanks for keeping our lives interesting and busy, Josie. We are right here, always watching, always ready to guide you. We love you and are so, so excited to see where the next eleven years take you...because these first have flown by.

Happy birthday, my Sweet Jos.

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Friday, November 17, 2017


When I was a kid, I loved November. Thanksgiving was a great holiday for a kid like me who enjoys wearing sweaters and eating pie. When I was in college, I loved November. We came home to the Cranberry Classic basketball tournament, sporting our newly minted Greek letters or school colors. There was just enough break for us to catch a breather before finals.

As an adult and a farm family, November has become a little harder. Harvest *should* be done. The weather is getting colder, so chores are less fun. The nights start at 4:30, and if you're a mom of toddlers, going to bed at 5:30 makes for a hard next day.

Four years ago, November took a whole other meaning. We lost Joe's mom to cancer November 20th. Josie's birthday is just a week after, and while we are still celebratory and together around that time, November is still hard.

Yesterday, in true November form, we received the news that we lost one of our friends, Jay.
In November.
From cancer.

November, you're relentless. Cancer, you stink.

I just saw Jay about a month or so ago, maybe longer. I was having a lunch meeting at a little restaurant off the interstate, and in he walked, plopping right next to me, introducing himself to my colleagues. After my meeting ended, I went over and sat with him, joking with him about how he was eating pie before his lunch. "You gotta live, Miss Emily."

Yep. You do.

Jay was one of those guys who made Joe and me laugh about everything and anything. When we first had Josie, we were attending a mutual friend's wedding. I was holding our newborn, standing and chatting with Jay while Joe was off talking somewhere else. Another one of Jay's friends (did he have millions of friends or what?) came up and Jay said, just as casually as he could, "Have you met my wife, Emily?"

We laughed so hard that day, and every time I saw him or he saw Joe, he would ask, "How's my wife?"

He was a talented and smart and funny and witty and complex guy. But he was sick. When I saw him last, we spoke of Joe's health and when I asked him how he was, "I'm okay today!" was his cheerful answer.

I believed him.

I just don't get this world we live in. I don't understand God's plan when it includes taking people like Jay out of the world at such a young age. Jay had already lost his mom at an even younger age, and now his dad has to go through this? This is what brings me to tears today. The unfairness of it all.

Friends, I am here to tell you that I'm done with November. Today I'm sad and tired of trying to explain why my iPhone knows where I am at all times and can get me an Uber, a Starbucks, and everything on Amazon, and yet we keep losing friends and family to this crappy disease.

November, you're relentless.

However, I am too. I will keep telling stories about Grammy to my kids who never met her to keep those memories alive. I will hold fast to the last hug I gave to Jay and will chuckle every time I think of him and his funny references and stories. Joe and I rarely say the correct city name for Davenport, Iowa. Thanks to Jay, it's Couch to us.

Rest in peace, Jay. This Thanksgiving, I'll eat pie first in your honor.

Monday, October 16, 2017

An Influencer, Really?

So, if you follow me on various social media outlets, you know that I have had a fun fall. Between birthdays and ball games, harvest and homecoming, I have been fortunate to do a bit of traveling for work and fun.

This is crazy that I am now the frequent flyer in our family, considering three years ago, I NEVER LEFT HOME. Remember these moments from just a few years ago?

We spent a lot of time doing this.

And then this? Remember this simultaneous craziness?

That's our house on stilts.  Sheesh. 

So friends, when I am asked, "how do you do it all?" I honestly don't know how to NOT do it all. I don't remember a lot about this particular year, but what I do know now is that if I can weather being a mom of six, nurse twins while simulatneously answering construction questions, I can figure out how to get on a plane and talk to adults. It's all relative, really.

Fast forward to this past year, and I have had the incredible opportunity to work in a job that is rewarding and flexible all while still figuring out who I am online. I took a step back to figure this out, and as a writer, I highly recommend that head space.

So when I was contacted to be a part of the Rural Influencer Project, I was surprised. My presence here has been sporadic at best. My social media outlets mostly included kids and cattle, but I never have considered myself an influencer. However, hearing the premise of this opportunity made me realize that this was just the place I needed to be. 

Here's some background: Brooke Clay is a dynamo. She has a wide range of experience both corporate and grassroots. She dreamed up this retreat to not just connect and encourage folks like me with an online presence, but to push us to consider our influence. 

I have been to blogging conferences. I have been to ag conferences. 

This is neither and both.

In her first year, Brooke has created a space where presenters are learning alongside attendees. We were encouraged to consider ourselves as a business by discussing the legalities and accountancy of our art. I was pointed out in the first session by a PR expert to get my site off a blogspot and some new pictures because, "You're darling, and people love that." Ummmm...okay. Is that why you're here? Because I'm darling??? Either way, I appreciated the "get off your booty and update" suggestion!

I haven't given the time to oomph up my presence online, and that's not just because I have all these kids and a life. This was somewhat intentional and always something I kept close to my chest. I have always focused on the content and not the targeting or the outreach because I have always held firm that this is a grassroots effort over here, and I never want to be anything but real.

However, after this weekend, I am reconsidering the options I have here. You guys, I appreciate all of you and all your shares, but this Internet thing is really here to stay (ha, ha). My story, my influence, my life is something to share, and while I'm still navigating how exactly to market that, after this weekend spent in Denver with some incredible people, I have received the encouragement and tools to do so.
What a space to collaborate!

Here's what I took away the most:
  • I know who I am online. I have stayed true to that since this blog started seven years and three kids ago. However, I never trusted that I had an influential voice, until this weekend. I'm not saying that I am someone who will write for Time Magazine or something like that some day, but with the community we have created, the connections we have made, and the content you folks have continued to read and support, Brooke may be on to something here. Being invited to this table of influential people was truly remarkable.

  • We have a story to tell, Rural People. Our story is one that spans generations, raises up kids who know what to do when life gets hard thanks to life lessons and days spent working. We need to tell those stories in a way that leans on common ground and less on textbook explanation, hoping that people who don't understand will just "get it." We need to hook folks in with cinnamon rolls, and "sprinkle in the prolapses." Thank you, Leah Beyer ( 

Here's where I learned the magic that is DSLR photography! Ha!
  • And, did you know that a good camera takes better pictures than an iPhone? I now need to apologize to all of you for the crappy pictures I have taken, and to my children for the fuzzy cell phone pictures that have documented their lives. Merry Christmas to me, maybe, Farmer Joe?

I am so thankful to have been a part of this inaugural opportunity. I went in feeling like I was probably not legit enough to attend, and left knowing that my voice is valued, influential and one to be heard. It was an empowering, enlightening and encouraging weekend. 
Leah Beyer inspiring Erin Brown and me. This is what the conference encapsulated the most: empowering through collaborating.

I hope you have an opportunity to be stretched in something you love to do. I hope that you have the chance to use where you are to influence the greater good. I encourage you all to take where you are and figure out a way to use that space to make a mark, even if it's not where you thought you'd end up.

I have mentioned this before, but did you know that I was supposed to be living in a city? 

Could I have spent my entire adult life wishing that was true, miserable where I landed? Yes.

Have I? No.

Maybe that's because I was raised by parents who encouraged me to embrace the day ahead and enjoy the past without wistful "what ifs." My life has gone through paths that I thought would NEVER be laid before me, but through this space, I have been able to work through them, enjoy them, embrace them, and educate you a bit along the way.

Being an influencer is not just changing people's minds, but being true to who you are to show how you're doing what's right for YOU and hopefully encouraging someone along the way.

So, what does this mean? I'm still working on that. However, for starters, there's going to be an updated picture at least because we ARE darling! Ha! Stay tuned for that!

Thank you so much for weathering all the twists and turns, and for allowing this space and me to be influential. I appreciate all of it.

And, just for fun, here's the venue! A house made of shipping containers...seriously. Weirdest and most awesome place ever.

And, the mountains! This is all I saw! Ha!

Monday, October 9, 2017

It Ain't Easy Being 3, When You're #5 and #6

Our twins are three today.


I have been telling people it feels like either 30 minutes or 30 years that they have been with us. You can read my reflection on the way they rewrote my life's story here. It's a good one.

Holding Caroline for the first time. I don't remember it...lots of meds.

Anna holding Mary for the first time. 
Don't let them fool you, this was NOT a common occurrence in the first few weeks.

And here's where they are now:
The two moods of Mary: Wayyyy up or wayyyy down.

Our thoughtful curly girl, Caroline.

It is so stereotypcal "mom" to reflect on a birth of a child with wistful bliss. Those first baby moments and fuzzy first memories popping up throughout the day. I love those memories for all of my kids. However, with these twins, a lot of those early memories are more fuzzy than sweet.

This is real life, people. I have six kids.

I never want to be considered a martyr or pitied for our sheer volume of children, but to all of those who have given your sweet three year olds the perfect Peppa Pig birthday party, 
While we did not have a themed birthday party, we did celebrate our three year olds three times. Does that count?
We spent time with Joe's family, celebrating as cousins came in and out from various sporting events, then again with my parents last night after the 4H wiener roast, and once today, in between Daddy heading to work and Anna's 10 o'clock basketball game. When my girls get a party that is not bookended by another kid's event, they will be THRILLED...

and possibly 18.

It ain't easy being 3, when you're #5 and #6. 

We consider these experiences for our twins gifts. Life lessons, if you will...or we at least go to bed at night with a little less guilt when framed this way.

So, in honor of my sweet twins' birthday, here's my wishlist for them as they embark this tricky toddler year:

1) Mary and Caroline, you will be flexible. Between ballgames and dance lessons and piano lessons and church duties and calves and work trips and babysitters, you girls need to figure this out early. Naps are always key, but sometimes come in the car. You may or may not be included in a big kid event, but there's always a fun "Grandma Day" or babysitter to soften the blow of being left out. You girls are age appropriately patient, and can do about 3/4ths of any event: concert, game, lesson, but are very capable of continuing to go with the flow. Praise for that.

2) Twins, you will not be self-centered. You can't be. While 3 is an age that tends to deal in tantrums and demands, my sincere hope is that through your shared existence as twins, combined with being at the tail end of a tribe, you will understand early these things: 
Life is not fair.
Not everything is always about you.
BUT: you are loved and cherished nonetheless. 
This is a lesson we are standing firm upon as their parents.

3) You girls will be happy in who you are. God had a plan for us to be blessed by you two girls. We have had a lot of change, good and bad, since your arrival. Thankfully, this change has solidified our marriage and our values, but it hasn't just stopped there. It gave your dad the strength to choose us over a career, which is ultimately made everything all the better. It gave me the confidence to step out in my career. Let's be honest: if I can manage all you little people, juggling a room of adults and projects IS NOTHING! The trickle down effect of this change has made your pretty awesome big sisters and brother even more amazing. They have thrived having more responsibility, more tests to be patient, more chances to be kind and understanding. Finally, for you sweet baby girls, being a part of this family is something that will shape who you are always. You are two important pieces to our puzzle. Your personality quirks (did you know Mary is extremely OCD about just about everything? And Caroline? She's a ninja.) and charm make us grateful for you every day.

I am so happy to be celebrating my twins today. I am so happy to watch them change into little girls right before my eyes. I am so happy to search back in my memory of those first few days, babies hooked up to wires, and see how far our girls have come. Modern medicine within the NICU is something to marvel, my friends. Our girls are strong, smart and pretty darn cute, thanks to good genetics and a whole bunch of luck.

Happiest of birthdays, my sweet Mary and Caroline. We adore you and celebrate you, always.