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 (beyerbeware.net). 

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.
Always.






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.

Three.

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, 
KU-FREAKING-DOs.
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.



Monday, August 21, 2017

What Could Eclipse a Total Solar Eclipse? A Rain!

Yes, friends.
Happy TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE DAY!!! Otherwise known as the day where parents everywhere have lectured many a child about damaging his/her retina, only to have to explain to that SIX year old what the heck a retina is. Also known as the day of packing lunches in disposable containers to send the kids to a lovely day sponsored by the library and school...which is probably not happening thanks to a good soaking rain, so I hope you kids enjoy your lukewarm Gatorades!

Anyway, you want to know what could totally eclipse the excitement of a total solar eclipse in farm country? A good half inch of RAIN (and maybe more...but my dog has eaten our rain gauge, so I'm just "ishing" it.)!
While I want to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event, you should see the happiness on my face realizing that God will not let us burn up during this eclipse, as we are dry as a danged bone around here. I know it's getting down to the harvest wire when we'll be complaining about moisture, but as for me and my dusty car, we are celebrating rain!

Which has gotten me to thinking about the brevity of drought and eclipses as well as the reactions we have had in our first world culture. Today, as I trolled social media while the twins watched Daniel Tiger (don't judge, I never claimed to not be #firstworld), I saw how many people in my feed had pulled their kids from school or were headed south for a better view.

Really? Pulling kids out of school? Our school is having a program, so I believe that my choice to work happily in silence while experts guide the discussion and monitor the aforementioned retinas of my kids seemed like a parenting win, but you do you.

Next on my feed were my farmer friends, praising God about the rain. Not in a "who cares about the eclipse," but more of a "if the world doesn't end because of this event, we will be able to feed and clothe our family and yours" sentiment.

Which led my thoughts down the rabbit hole of how we as people of means and constant news and information are reacting to things in nature. In true first world fashion, there are reports of price gouging in hotels along the prime viewing area and sketchy, unprotected glasses (KIDS-SERIOUSLY, YOUR RETINAS WILL FRY). There are people who are way into this, and while I think this is pretty amazing, shouldn't just the actual event itself the amazing part? Maybe I'm just jaded. Maybe I'm just going to walk out in my driveway, wet from a soaking rain and wear the glasses my mom bought me (she's still concerned about my retinas) and enjoy the moment in a very "in the moment" way.

Why do we live in a world where everything has to be so pomp and circumstance-y?

I think that's what got me to consider the reaction of the farmers to the rain and the eclipse. Our worlds are ones that are focused on "us." Put that on a pillow as one of my best, most deep thoughts, right? And, while my world today is more concerned about the information my kids are given, their eyes, and the fact that the crops and pastures look good, I'm a little less concerned about an eclipse themed meal tonight, or driving three hours south to get a better look.

I'm not being judgmental, so please hear that. You do you. Seriously.

Again, today is amazing. This event is incredible. I wish I could see Amelia's face when she gets a good (albeit safe) look at something she'll remember forever. Jack was bummed to miss it, because, like a smart first grade team, those teachers didn't want to monitor glasses wearing and are instead watching it on live feed. However, I want all of us who have listened to the coverage, made the plans and the meals and maybe even trekked to another zip code to also remember that while this is all amazing and incredible, the natural world is pretty danged amazing all the time. Maybe it's because of where I live and who I am, I have seen a lot of pretty amazing things that I haven't had to wear protective eye gear.

A well timed rain shower being one of them.

Friends, enjoy today, but don't wear your protective eye gear tomorrow. Look around. Find someone or something/someone that is bigger than you, bigger than any party or news coverage, and celebrate it/them. Eclipses have happened in my life's story several times, I have been too busy worrying about what's blocked out that I couldn't appreciate the outer rim.

So, I hopefully haven't offended all you cookie bakers and party makers. Enjoy today. Look through your glasses, and know that I'll be standing in the puddles in my driveway, thanking God for rain and uncompromised retinas.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

You're Not a Princess Anymore

There are still a few wedding pictures up in our house amidst all the school and baby and family pictures.

One in particular is on my desk in our home office. Our office is in the heart of the home, a marketplace of craft supplies, our family computer, the entrance to our basement, and my desk. By design, I like it (and the locking doors help when I have conference calls), especially when little voices come up with commentary behind my desk chair.

"Mommy!" Mary gasped one day with her hands on her face. "You're a PRINCESS! And Daddy is so FANCY!!"

Well. If that doesn't make the piles of laundry on the floor and the salty feel of my skin, still not showered from my morning's run melt away from my memory...

"But you're not a princess anymore."

SCREEEECHING halt to that warm fuzzy.

Joe does look fancy in our picture. I am princess-like in my white dress and veil. It's a candid picture of us sharing a kiss after our wedding ceremony, 14 years ago today.

Today, not so fancy.

The past 14 years, very few "princesslike" moments and fancy times have been shared.

But that's real life, folks. Pinterest and photos and curated images and perfectly posted Facebook memories are all lovely and nice. But they are not real. Our wedding day was a lovely one. I have shared that while it was one of the best days, best parties...it too was not perfect. We planned and planned and planned and God laughed and laughed and laughed (all while He unleashed the best hail storm He could during our ceremony.). The picture on my desk doesn't show that we were all pretty worried about my aunt, who was supposed to be our photographer. She was in the ICU, unsure of what was wrong, in critical condition.

But that's okay, too. I'm good with remembering the moments that are small and sweet on that day. Isn't that what we're supposed to do in marriage? Remember the sweet small times and hold on to them as we navigate the big?

This year has not been the easiest in our marriage. Lots and lots and lots of hard and scary and tricky and trying and exhausting moments and conversations have been had. Joe and I have pushed through, pushing away at times, but always figuring out how to come back together to work through the hard. It is human nature to look around and see everyone else doing it "right," and our culture has become one of comparison. However, it is faithful marriage and believing in and living out those vows we shared 14 years ago to quit comparing and start loving each other, even when we ourselves are unlovable.

This next year of marriage is going to be easier, right? There will be moments of princess and fanciness, right, Joe? Nah. There's still laundry and car pool and ballgames and lessons and cattle chores and dust and bills and appointments. However, in this new day, this new year in our marriage's story, I am encouraged more and more every day. I do not recommend a massive health scare and employment woes as a way to see your spouse in a new light...however, I am seeing you for the fancy dude you are. I am seeing your new role at work making you fulfilled. I am cheering on your new page in health. I hear your encouragement as I walk into my career. I lean on you for support in the hard days and laugh with you when the not-so-fancy part of parenthood rears its ugly and gross head.

Thanks for 14 years of non-princess, non-Pinterest days, my love. Life is hard and messy and crazy, but I wouldn't want to roll my eyes at anyone else but you.

However, next year? Can we take it easy on the crazy? Maybe a nice island vacation instead of a stent?




Saturday, June 17, 2017

Who Paves Your Path

Nope, this is not a reflection on the sad state that is our gravel road.

Ahem, I'm looking at you, Knox County.

No, today I'm staring at my Facebook Events invitations and not wanting to respond "yes" to one in particular.

It's our pastor's last day tomorrow, and there's a "celebration" for him.

I'm not in a super celebratory mood about this. I have been a card carrying Methodist all of my life. Pastors come and pastors go, but this move is one of the hardest.

There are few people who have truly challenged and touched my life in a spiritual manner.
Pastor Dave, my childhood minister, loved me and my family like, well, family.
Roger Ross led me back to a faith I had forgotten how to practice in a time when I needed it the most, grounding our early marriage in a truth and a love that can be bent but not broken.
Pastor Mark welcomed us to a community when we felt like we had made a HUGE mistake moving to, allowing us to lead and grow in ways that we thought were not possible in a tiny church.

And then came Brad.

We were nervous that first Sunday. We were certain the growth in our church was surely going to be stunted because of YET ANOTHER changing of the pastoral guard.

Little did I know, God had a huge plan for us when we were given Brad and Debbie as our new leaders.

I feel like an Israelite! Will I ever learn that God's plan is not necessarily the easiest and/or the most simple?

The energy that was included in that first service in which Brad preached was palpable. He spoke without NOTES. He used a booming voice. We were going to be rocked, and it wasn't because of a new set of musical selections.

This was the summer before Karma, Joe's mom, died. She was very, very sick, and while we know all of our time on this earth is limited, hers was short. Pastor Brad challenged Joe and me to co-lead Disciple Bible Study starting that fall. I remember saying yes because I knew I was equipped to teach, but where we were with Karma's illness and a growing uneasiness in our farming situation was causing my mind great angst. What I didn't realize, and I'm sure Brad couldn't predict either was that teaching this class was timed perfectly during an imperfect time in our life.

When Karma died, Pastor Brad and Debbie drove all the way to the visitation. He showed up.
When our twins were born early and we were tired and worn out and the babies were teeny tiny. he showed up at the NICU.
When Grandma Mary died, and before she did, he showed up.

This is the thing about Brad. He shows up. Even when it's hard to get there. Even when it's the worst timing for him or for you or for whatever, he shows up.

As I sit here typing this and wiping away tears, I am realizing Brad's timing at Elmwood United Methodist seemed strange at first. We loved Pastor Mark, so why would we need another minister?Looking back on these three years, I am realizing that they have been our family's hardest: Karma's death, our farming journey changed, our twins. Here's what's been constant: our faith. And I tell you honestly, it has been tested. It has been bent. We have wondered why in the world our world was being shaken to the magnitude where I couldn't get my bearings. But each Sunday and the days in between, Brad's teaching and guiding and example have allowed Joe and me to feel loved and welcomed and celebrated and challenged and understood when we didn't feel any of those.

I am not happy about this transition. I will admit that there are times when I wonder if I can do this pastoral transition AGAIN. However, as written in the the first line first book we studied as small group leaders, The Purpose Driven Life (thanks, Roger!), "This is not about me." Nothing is permanent. Super glue loses its strength. Sadness can morph into happiness. Leaders can follow. New opportunities are soon old. New shoes get scuffed.

I will get over the sting of "celebrating" Pastor Brad and Debbie's move, but the mark they have made on our family will not be easily removed.

Thank you, Pastor Brad and Debbie for stretching our faith and leading us to be rooted in the love that only can be felt by believing in something bigger than yourself.

We know that all things work together for the good of whose who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28 NIV 

^^^That version is for you, Debbie!!


Friday, June 16, 2017

From Outside of the Ring, Looking In

I'm at home this week. Joe and Anna and some of our Illinois Simmental friends are in Ohio for a Regional Classic. This is not as big as a Junior Nationals, but it's still states away and a larger pool of cattle from across the country.

Since Anna has been of 4H age, she has shown cattle. She does love it. Josie has now taken to showing as well. The girls and Joe have had a good time working cattle, learning life's lessons and making new friends. We have had our share of big shows, little shows, winning shows, losing shows, learning shows, raining, cold, hot, and sweltering shows.

However, no matter where in the country my family is, how hot or cold I am, I have come to the realization over and over and over at why I am NOT the show parent, and probably never will be.

I can't take it.

I know I didn't grow up doing this. 
I know that I just provide the blingy jeans and the snacks.
With our increasing number of children participating in showing, I feel like I should get a handle on the process, the reasoning, and god-help-us the politics and business of this activity.

However, the anxiety and angst and frustration I feel at the few shows I can logistically and emotionally handle to go to is just too much. 

I consider myself a reasonably intelligent and teachable human being, but friends, showing animals is not like sports. There are nail biting moments in baseball, but nothing compares to the utter angst that is being ushered out of the ring with the rest of the group still in. There are free throws that come up short. However, when you're at that line, you're not having to explain the process of how you learned to shoot that free throw. There's that last game that you'll ever play. And then there's selling your animal at the end of the season. Forever.
But it's sort of like a sport, right?
Not so fast, cattle showing! From what I gather, in showmanship, you have to explain a lot. You are on the spot, answering questions about the breed, your animal, your role, etc., etc. Answer those questions to a complete stranger, in the middle of an arena, in an eloquent manner...

...when you're in the sixth grade. 

My girls are more confident because of this. They are "look you in the eye and shake your hand" type of kids. That's huge.

This comes, however, at the cost of my husband's blood pressure and my nervous stomach. 

Maybe it's because I only can come to a few shows a year, and I just want to see the fruits of our girls' labors be recognized. Maybe I should start going to livestock judging practice to understand the process. Maybe I should just stick to sports. 

Either way, my stress level cannot take the ups and downs. 

You win again, agriculture! 
Livestock friends, congratulations!

Once again, the manner in which you can handle this has successfully shown (no pun intended) that I am NOT made of stronger stuff than you guys. I am neither advocating for an "everyone wins!" campaign, nor am I saying that we are the wronged winners, I'm just saying I can't handle it, and I don't know if I ever will.

Anybody willing to explain this to me in a manner that doesn't include the phrases "builds character" and "it's always been this way" will win a fresh baked batch of my chocolate chip cookies. 

With a side of Xanax for me to handle it.





Saturday, June 10, 2017

Time Is Not Going to Slow Down, So I Better Try to Slow Down Myself

Do you ever have that frantic feeling during the day? Like you have been working and feeding and playing and laundering and carting and refereeing and then you stop dead in your tracks, feeling like you have forgotten to do something?

Maybe it's just me.

Well, our society lives at a breakneck pace, and while our family tries (so desperately) to find margin, my personality doesn't allow me to slow down. For example, it's 9:30 on the evening of my daughter's 8th birthday, and I'm just sitting down.

I'm not being a martyr. I'm just admitting I'm terrible at slowing down, resting, finding "white space."

So, when Amelia, our as of today 8 year old, asked to spend the afternoon with me, just me, I had to really try hard to be present. After sending Anna off with Joe for the Illinois Simmental Preview Show, shuffling Josie to a carpool for a birthday party and ditching the littles at my mom's, we were off.

I am trying to find space to enjoy my children one on one, but with the sheer volume of people and tasks and activities, it gets tricky. Add in my crazy "get-er-done" personality, and Joe and I rarely have time to go on a date, let alone have kid dates.

But today, as Amelia and I were enjoying our massage chairs at her first ever pedicure, I looked over at my third girl, my sweet girl, my spunky girl, and realized I had better quit worrying about the deck stain that needs to be put on because time is not slowing down. I had better just try to slow my pace to enjoy her sweet face.

This kid's timing is perfect. When she was born, we were feeling weary and haggard from a really hard, wet spring. Her birth was quick and her disposition as a newborn, toddler, preschooler and now elementary school kid has remained the same: steadfast, happy, easy. She takes her sweet time to do about everything, which is perfect because her birthday buddy, my late Grandma Mary, did the same. Amelia finds herself lost in the shuffle at times, but that doesn't mean that she's lost herself, She's just off singing her own song, puttering with her Legos, or helping a little sister play dollies.

She wanted a fairy garden this year for her birthday so that she could learn to grow something and enjoy it.

Who is this kid? I can't even keep petunias alive!

She was put on this earth for amazing things, and with her heart and spirit, I know she will do it. But for my life, for my selfish purpose, Amelia was put here to teach me to slow the heck down and enjoy my life that is unfolding in front of me. To take it in. To write about it. To sing along with a song on the radio. To enjoy a pedicure by giggling and savoring the Starbucks and THEN picking up the deck stain at Home Depot.

But only once the shopping, the sipping and the giggling had ended.

Amelia, you are so lovely. We adore you. We are proud of you, and we are so thankful for you. Thank you for teaching me to slow down.

Happy birthday, my dolly.