This article was published in Progressive Farmer as part of their OurRural Roots column.
The end of 2021 was filled with loss for our family. The two most profound being our 13-year-old neighbor, Kooper, who died in a car accident, our 28-year-old saint of a quarter horse, Lou.
I’ve read articles about how farm kids have hearts that are hardened to death, particularly that of animals since they may be seen as an expendable commodity.
Watching my two children over the past few months, I have not seen hearts harden. I have seen them open. And, in the midst of tragedy, this seems an important gift.
When we lost Lou, there were three generations of tears over that old horse who loved us all so well. Farm families are notoriously tough and not the best with emotion, but there is something about the bond with a horse that hits different. Comments flooded my social media page from people who understood that good horses are part of the family.
These passings have resulted in new prayers and triggered a lot of conversations about Heaven in our house. We’ve seen expanded imaginations and increasing faith. A few days after Lou died, my son said, “At least we know Kooper is there to ride Lou in Heaven.” A few days later, my daughter prayed that God would take good care of Lou and provide his favorite feed. Yesterday, my son asked if I thought there would be mutton bustin in Heaven, because he and Kooper both liked to do that. Again, hearts not hardened, but opened.
While we would never have chosen these losses, I am proud of the way we have walked through them. I am grateful for open hearts and bigger prayers and growing faith.
And yes, I absolutely picture Kooper riding our sweet Lou and a good arena for mutton bustin somewhere in the sky. May it be so.
I make my Gran’s Tiger Butter every year for the holidays. She has been gone for almost 20 years. It still tastes like Christmas to me. I can close my eyes and be sitting right at her kitchen table.
Harper asked me today what she talked like. Of course, I can remember her voice, but there’s no way to share that very well with the kids. But when they taste the Tiger Butter, they’ll know a little piece of her.
That’s the thing about little family traditions. They don’t have to be fancy or expensive…but they let someone’s memory live on with generations whom they never met. That’s the gift. That’s why it matters That’s why we keep swirling chocolate and peanut butter year after year.
One of my favorite podcasters talks a lot about the importance of having a good memory as part of being faithful. She says that we need to write down our prayers, thoughts, miracles, and hardships so that we can remember what God has done for us. Because we, like the Israelites, can so easily forget the miracles, both big and small. They stacked stones. We can write words.
Ten years ago, long before I met my husband or had any prospect of ever moving to Texas, I penned these words on my blog in a letter to my then un-identified future spouse.
“Last week I ended up on a last minute work road trip through rural west Texas. I kinda secretly hope that you live there.
In a small brick house, surrounded by cotton fields. With two dogs and a tire swing in the yard. And a John Deere tractor and a beat up Ford truck in the driveway. And that the house has a back porch that holds a porch swing overlooking the orange sunsets on the western horizon. Near a town with a sign that says “Population: 2006” and a high school football stadium that holds double that number. And a tiny church where people sing Amazing Grace on Sunday. One with a water tower that lists the State Championship titles won since the 1970’s and a welcome sign made by the students in FFA. That’s my dream.
Because small town football and a porch swing, a John Deere and Amazing Grace, you and me….well what could be better than that?”
I get chills thinking about it.
It’s our front porch, not the back one, that faces the sunsets in that west Texas sky. And the population on the sign is 1,000. But other than that, it’s spot on, down to the beat up Ford and the John Deere Tractor.
God knows. He hears. He’s working. And I’m not saying things always work out down to the detail you draw out like this, goodness knows that’s not true…but sometimes, they do.
What grace it is that our God is a God of the details. What a gift it is to have this written reminder of his faithfulness that I so easily could have overlooked.
Our beloved Pokes fell short—two inches short, to be exact—of the Big 12 Championship. We profess being #loyalandtrue in our alma mater song for days like today.
More importantly, I wanted to share a few things you would have heard if you watched the Big 12 Championship at our house…
Braun: Mom, does he know our team is wearing orange not white?
Harper: I can’t watch dramatically covers eyes
Me: You two do not say any words Mama says when we watch the Pokes play football.
Harper: Can we have a snack (for the 57th time)? Me: Eat whatever you want, I just need to focus!
Harper (after I hit the wall and had to leave the room after the last play): Wow, Mama is really mad huh?
Braun: Guess we should have listened to Sean and gone for the Bears. Me: No—we go for the Pokes. We always cheer for our team even if we lose. That’s called loyalty. Braun: I think I want to be a winner instead of loyal.
This article was published as part of Our Rural Roots with Progressive Farmer.
I recently purchased one of those ridiculously expensive exercise bikes. I debated for months about spending the money on something like this for myself. There were so many other purchases I could make: feed or a new ewe. We could have put it toward the cost of drilling a new water well in the pasture (that was a fun surprise expense). A farm girl doesn’t have to look for ways to spend money.
But, I was working on developing some content on farm and ranch mental health for National Suicide Prevention Month. It stressed fighting for one’s mental health on a daily basis, not only in crisis. One thing I have learned about myself is that exercise is therapy for me. There are few things I like more than breaking a sweat running down an old dirt road or feeling sore muscles after a hard workout.
Finding that something that helps you find yourself, relax and refocus and feel a sense of peace every day is important. Maybe that is reading a book or sitting on your front porch watching the sunset or taking a walk first thing in the morning. Maybe it means making time for breakfast with your spouse or throwing the football with your kids or riding horses with your grandchildren.
When we are busy on the farm or ranch, it is easy to put me and us time on the back burner. So, I’m committed to keeping my seat on this fancy new bike, because fitness and mental health go hand in hand. It is more than a ride, it’s a journey. Investing in me makes life, family and farm better.
**Side note: If you’re in the market for one of those expensive exercise bikes…message me before you buy and I can get you my code for $100 off!
As has become a bit of a tradition, I’ve pulled together a little holiday gift guide. This does include some affiliate links…so if you’re going to order these, click my links here and I’ll get a little cash for my own Christmas shopping!
Here are links to the lists from years past: 2020, 2019, 2018.
With that….here are my ideas for 2020!
For the kiddos…
Books. Books are always on our list! Here are a few of our favorites.
Jesus Storybook Bible. If I could only have one book in my house, this would be it. We read it literally every single night. For years, I let this kids choose the story–I’ve basically got David and Goliath and Joseph and his colorful coat memorized at this point. But about a month ago, we started reading it through in order, and we plan to have read it cover to cover by the end of the year. It’s the best thing I’ve done for my kids’ faith. And listen, it’s been awful good for my own faith too! (This is also my go-to baby shower gift, so if there is ever a good book sale, I stock up!)
Hank the Cowdog. Ever since I played them the Matthew McConaughey Hank the Cowdog podcast, my two are obsessed. If you’re a ranch kid, these are right up your alley! My two will be finding this one and this one in their stockings.
Little Blue Truck series. As you can see from the photo below, we love Little Blue and his friends! These are some of my favorite children’s books. We also have the Christmas one, but I haven’t broken the holiday books out just yet. If I had to choose my favorites, I think I’d go with the original Little Blue Truck or Little Blue Truck Leads the Way about his trip to the city.
The Christmas Story. I’m a big fan of this book. It’s from the amazing women at She Reads Truth. I ordered it several years ago and it’s one of our very favorites year after year.
The Animal’s Christmas Eve. This is a super fun Christmas book for less than $4! It may be because of my own Christmas experiences in a barn (which I wrote about here), but gosh I love the way this book tells the Christmas story through the eyes of the animals who were there that very first Christmas.
Fearless Faith by Melanie Shankle. My Goddaughter will be getting this from me this year! It’s 100 devotionals for girls from one of my very favorite authors. I’m positive it won’t disappoint!
100 Days to Brave Kids by Annie F. Downs. Heads up–this is a pre-order and it won’t arrive until January. But hear me. I don’t think anyone has formed my faith more than Annie F. Downs in the last couple of years. I am ecstatic about this book for kids, and you bet I’ve already got my pre-order in!
Board games. This is a fairly new item on my list, but my kids are now at the point where they love playing games. It lets me sit down and be still…so win-win! Here are a few fun options.
Alphabet Go Fish. Go Fish is no joke around our house, and these cards have both led to near-fist fights and also taught my kids their letters. So…all in all…I call them a success. They also cost less than $3, so perfect stocking stuffer!
Kwik Stix Paint Sticks. My neighbor got these for Harper’s birthday, and they’re hands down the best crafting supply we’ve ever had in our house. My kids use them every day, they make no mess, dry almost instantly, and wash out of clothes. If you’ve got budding artists, this has got to be on your list.
Keepsake jewelry. The last couple of years, family members have gotten Harper keepsake jewelry as gifts and I love it. I have her a little jewelry box, and when she gets something, I write a little note an tuck it in the box. So one day, she’ll be able to look back and know the Montana Silversmith necklace was from Grandad for Christmas in 2020, and her Navajo Pearls are from Uncle Dent and know that her first squash blossom came from Aunt Elaine. I just think it’s such a cool tradition to start.
Peloton. I know it’s expensive. I know. But…I also know it is hands down the best thing I have ever done for myself. I’ve had several friends also get one in the last few months and everyone loves it. They have a ton of different classes like biking, walking, yoga, strength, boot camp, stretching, meditation…
If you want to do a little test drive, I can send you a 60-day free pass to check out the classes. It will give you a feel for what they’re like abs you can do the non-bike ones!
If you’re ordering the bike or treadmill…I have a code that will get you $100 off, so message me before you order!!
Santal essential oil. This came from Melanie and Sophie at the Big Boo Cast and I diffuse it non-stop in my house. It smells so good! They also have a scent called hotel that might be worth trying.
Hoodies. Who doesn’t love a hoodie? It is basically my winter uniform. I love the shirts at This Farm Wife. The “Dirt Road Dreamer” one is my favorite, but don’t everyone order them and make her sold out before I get my own! Brooke Clay Taylor has some cute clothing options in her shop as well. I really like the choose adventure hoodie.
Pajamas. Every mom I know in her 30s has these pjs from Target in multiple colors. We all love them.
I find “him” the hardest category to shop for. So if you have good ideas, send them my way! Ha!
Books. I helped my Uncle Buddy write the story of his year in Vietnam in a book called All I Ever Wanted to Be Was a Soldier. I’m biased…but I really think it’s a great story. People have loved it and he donates proceeds to various charities helping veterans. I love following Carlos Whittaker online. I’ve read his book Kill the Spider and I still think about it all the time. I’ve got his book Enter Wild on my list and trust that it will be fantastic.
DeWalt Leaf Blower. Ty got one of these several years ago, and I swear it is used at least once a week. It’s a super handy gadget, especially if your guy is Type A and a bit of a clean freak. That first link is just for the leaf blower–which if course works with any DeWalt battery (what a genius system that is). If you need the battery and charger to go with it, click here.
Dino Cornay art. If I want a sure-fire hit on a gift for my husband or brother, Dino is where I go. He’s a pencil artist from Northeastern New Mexico and his work is absolutely amazing. When I was in high school, he coached the livestock judging team at the high school where he lives, and my ag teacher told me the reason his art was so good is because he really knows good livestock. Our family has collected lots of his work over the years.
I have lots of memories of Kooper. Him giving Braun a vest to wear and some advice before Braun did his first mutton busting and Kooper and Kade cramming in the back seat of our feed truck with my two kids so we could all get home from the rodeo at 1 in the morning have crossed my mind a lot this week.
But my favorite was one day at the pool. Braun was 3. He had his little life jacket on and wanted to go off the diving board. He went to get in line with all the big boys, including Kooper. As soon as Kooper saw him, he sprung into action. “You guys, get out of the way, Braun wants to jump!” He cleared those boys back so fast you’d have thought he was secret service. Braun walked right by the like some sort of royalty, high-fived Kooper and jumped right off that board.
Kooper was a great kid. We know he’s in a better place, but we will sure miss him here.
I couldn’t watch the slide show at Aydan’s (our 12 year old friend who was killed in a tragic car accident) funeral. Every picture they posted of him as a little red headed boy just had me seeing the little red headed boy who calls me Mama.
So, I just clutched my rosary and prayed. But when the words wouldn’t come, I just repeated those three over and over. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Anytime I lack words, I know that he knows my heart. So I just say his name.
I just wanted to share in case you ever find yourself in a situation where this might be useful. He knows our prayers, even when we don’t.