School Parties

I hate school parties.

Yes, I said it.

As I finished putting together the Dollar Store valentines for my kids, I was reminded how grateful I am for women who are different than me. Women who live for things like school parties (cough my friend Lyndse! cough) and who have worked for weeks to make these events special for all the kids in the class. They make my kids’ lives better and I am grateful for their gifts.

One day, I’ll try to return the favor by helping their kids prep for a speech contest or writing a recommendation letter on my fancy letterhead.

One thing I will never do is compare or guilt them for living into their callings. It takes a village and women with all different gifts. We need every one of us living into ours to make this all work. Remember that.

Remembering my Visit to Auschwitz

In honor of the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I am sharing posts I wrote several years ago after visiting.

Most people who heard that I was going to Auschwitz said that they did not know if they could do it; that it would just be too hard.  And it was hard.  And eerie.  Unbelievably so, really.  But I honestly think that this is something that every person should see.

Auschwitz Summary:  Beautiful, heartbreaking, eerie, quiet, people just like you and me.

As I stepped off the bus at Auschwitz, I was immediately stricken by how beautiful the camps were located.  The middle of rural Poland, with green grass and rolling hills, trees and purple flowers.  But inside the fences occurred the worst, most systematic genocide in history.  Maybe it was appropriate, this juxtaposition between the beauty of God’s creation on the outside, and proof of the horrific way that humans can ruin that within the gates.

When you approach Auschwitz, the first thing you see is the front gate, which holds the message, “Work will set you free.”  This was only one of the cruel mind games played upon the prisoners by the Nazis.  The former buildings and barracks have been turned into museums to remember the 1.2 (plus) million people killed in this place.

There are stark reminders about the lives lost here.  Men, women, children.  Jews, Christians.  Doctors, lawyers, farmers, teachers, professors.  Before the camp was opened as a museum, survivors of the camp and family members of the dead were contacted and most supported the opening of the camp in order to show people what happened here.  In Poland, all children are required to visit when they turn 14.

Monument next to the pond where ashes remain
Urn holding ashes of those killed in the crematorium.
Something I did not fully understand is that most of those killed were never prisoners at Auschwitz.  Most arrived and were sent directly go the gas chambers to be killed.  They were never checked in, never tattooed, never prisoners.  Instead, they stepped off of the train with their belongings, after being told they were simply being “relocated”, sent to the showers, and killed.  This was true for most people who were not deemed able to work, meaning that the children, elderly, and most women were immediately killed upon arrival.

Those who did not meet this fate became Auschwitz prisoners.  One of the buildings has all of the mug shots lined up on a wall.  Most of the prisoners lasted only about 2 months at Auschwitz before they died, either from being shot, starvation, or being worked to death. 

In Building 11, known as the Death House, is the cell in which St. Maximillian Kolbe gave his life in order to save another man.  When a prisoner at Auschwitz escaped, 10 more were executed.  When a man  who had a family was selected to be one of the 10, St. Maximillian Kolbe offered to take his place.  He was placed, along with the other nine men, into a starvation cell for two weeks.  When the door was opened, 9 men were dead.  Only the Saint survived.  He was then shot and killed.  The man whose place he took?  He survived Auschwitz.  St. Maximillian Kolbe saved his life.  Seeing the cell where this happened, and flowers placed next to a statue with his name on it was incredibly moving.

 Just outside building 11 is the wall where many prisoners were shot to death by firing squad. 

One of the eeriest experiences for me was walking into the only remaining gas chamber.  Of the 5 gas chambers, the Nazis destroyed 4 before fleeing the camps.  Only one remains.  Photos are permitted inside, although speaking is not in order to honor the memory of those killed.  I could not bring myself to take photos of such an awful place.  You walk into the room where the people were killed.  You can see the “showerheads” on the wall, which were there only to make plausible the story that everyone undressed and piled into the room to take a shower. In the next room were giant furnaces where bodies were burned (after all hair being shaved and gold teeth being removed).  It was a horrific thing to see and to feel.
After Auschtitz I, we went to Birkenau, the second of the Auschwitz camps.  This camp was built larger to house and kill more people.  Also striking to me was that the train tracks ran right through the main gate, and ended inside the camp.  There was no need for the tracks to continue, because people were not going to be leaving alive.

At Birkenau, they let you tour the barracks, which shows just how horrible the living conditions were for prisoners.  Wooden beds, drafty buildings, stables built for animals.  It was unbelievable really.

It is hard to fathom the volume of people who were killed here.  The numbers for Poland alone are staggering.  1/5 of the Polish population died during World War II.  Of the 3,500,000 Jews living in Poland before the war, only 300,000 remained.  Most of these were deported to other countreis after the war ended.  Today, only 10,000 Jews live in all of Poland.

 The museum does an amazing job showing you physical objects to give you an idea of what it means that over 1.2 million people were killed here.  One of the worst things that I saw was a room full of human hair.  Mounds and mounds of hair that was shaven from the heads of people killed and used to make blankets and uniforms for the Nazis.  There were similar rooms filled with other belongings brought by the victims–clothing, dishes, shoes, eye glasses, hair brushes….thousands of these items represent the people whose lives were pointlessly taken by other human beings.  I couldn’t bring myself to take photographs.  Not that I need them.  These images are forever etched into my brain.
The people who told me that Auschwitz would be terrible and hard and exhausting were right.  It was all of those things.  It was also something that changed my perspective on life.  If you ever have the chance to go, take it.  I firmly believe that this is something everyone should see.

Happy Birthday, Amy!

17 years ago (!), two girls moved into a dorm room in the basement of Bennett Hall. The RA told us that friends who come to college and room together never leave college as friends. She may have known the stats…but she didn’t know us.

We’ve done football games and Calf Fries and lots of nights at the Penny. We’ve run races and danced nights away and sang karaoke. We’ve stood by each other at weddings and funerals and holding babies. We’ve been there for bachelorette parties, proposals, and birthdays.

I’m so grateful that silly RA was so wrong. Happy birthday, Amy!

Cover to Cover: The Bible in a Year with The Bible Recap

For years, I have wanted to read the entire Bible. I started a hundred times and quit. Then…enter Tara-Leigh Cobble and The Bible Recap.

If I chose a person of the year like Time Magazine does, it would for sure be TLC! I cannot tell you enough what Tara-Leigh’s faithfulness and sacrifice to create this resources has done in my life. I am forever grateful.

Also enter, my friend Rebecca, who previously read the Bible in a year and convinced me this was, in fact, doable.

So, on January 1, I set out in this journey determined I would succeed. I devoted about 20 minutes per day for reading (or listening to The Bible App read) the daily scripture and then listening to Tara-Leigh offer a short recap is what we just read.

On December 31, I read the final chapter. I’ll be honest and tell you that of all the things I have done in my life, this ranks up there with those of which I am the most proud.

So…what did I learn about God that I did not know on December 31, 2018 before I read the entire Bible?

1. What God requires, he provides. Look at Abraham and Isaac just as an example–God requires a sacrifice and he provided the lamb in place of Isaac. So many other examples.

2. In the Old Testament, God dwelt in the arc of the covenant, rather than in the hearts of believers as the Holy Spirit does now. What a blessing we easily overlook!

3. The reason for all of the laws in the Old Testament was to allow God to dwell among the people. Despite their best efforts (and sometimes terrible effort), the people could not keep all the laws–their sacrifices were just not sufficient. That’s why we needed Jesus.

4. What the enemy meant for evil, God meant for good. Look at Joseph. Look at Esther. (Two of my favorite stories!)

5. It’s so easy to be critical of others when we do the same things. Reading about the Israelites in the wilderness I just kept thinking, “Good gracious how can you be so quick to forget all God has done for you?! How can you complain in the face of so many blessings?” And I should be asking myself those same questions every. single. day.

6. Our time here on earth is our only chance to have faith. Once we go to Heaven, we will see and know and be with God. We will not need faith then–faith is hope of what we do not see. Don’t waste this opportunity.

7. Don’t let the Bible scare you. Remembering all of the dates and lineages and tribes and all the names (that are so much alike!)…that was overwhelming for me. Tara-Leigh tells you up front not to focus on that. It’s not some sort of memorization test like the bar exam. Every day, we looked to see what we can learn about God’s character. And Tara-Leigh shares her “God shot” every day. Even when you are deep in the weeds of the laws in Leviticus.

Lastly, I have said this recently in another context and I will say it again quoting Kevin Queen, “God will bless the pilgrimage.” I did not do this perfectly. Some days I was just trying to get through. I wish I could spend hours in the word each day studying and journaling and focusing…a lot of days all I could muster was to listen while multi-tasking on something else. But I believe–no, I know–that He has blessed my imperfect pilgrimage.

Do you want to join and do this in 2020?

Just download The Bible app. Then search in the app for The Bible Recap reading plan and choose to start. That will give you your daily reading assignment. You can read in your own Bible, in the app, or have the app read it for you. After you read, you go to your podcast app and search for The Bible Recap. Subscribe. Each day, you will listen to the recap for that day’s reading. Simple as that. Message me if you have any questions.

New Year’s Eve Traditions

When I was a kid, my Gran had awesome New Year’s Eve parties for all her friends and neighbors. She would always make punch in her crystal punch bowl. Our neighbor, Faye, would bring bbq lil smokies. Everyone would dress up and come over to eat, drink, and visit.

Tonight isn’t fancy. Only the four of us. A cheap sign made from construction paper and markers. Junk food I didn’t have to cook.

But there is love and my Gran’s punch bowl and Faye’s lil smokies. And I hope that 30 years from now, my kids are passing these little traditions on to their children.

Happy 2020 to all!

2019 Recap

In the words of Parker McCollum, “it’s been a hell of a year.” Here’s a little recap.

{Word of the year}

I always like to choose a word to sum up the past 365 days. For 2019, I’m going with survive. In many ways, it feels like that was the biggest accomplishment of the year. I survived medical issues and arguments, unexpected twists and wonderful opportunities. When I think about things that could have easily have taken a wrong turn and people who were not as fortunate as I am, I’m very grateful for that being the best word to sum up my last trip around the sun.

{Family photo}

{Photo Year in Review}

Teaching at the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management

Valentine’s Day

My first column in Progressive Farmer

TSCRA Convention


Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey

Selling show lambs

Finished my ag law handbook

Speaking at graduation at my former elementary school

Riding horses with Grandad

Took the kids with me on a work trip to Dallas to see Cousin Sean

Family reunion in Red River

My sweet Maddie’s wedding

Swim party for our friend

Reunion with former college judging coach & teammate

My praying nurse—the biggest blessing in the kidney stone fiasco

Braun’s 4th Birthday!

Bringing Lou to live at our house

Annual Tri-State Fair photo

Drinking wine with one of my favorite gals

Gardening success

Three new kitties!

Harper turned 3!

The infamous feed sack ghost Halloween costume

Joshua the bottle calf

Dinner with one of my favorite people

Attending oral argument at SCOTUS

Winning an AALA Excellence in Ag Law award

Sneaking cake at a wedding reception

Advent activities with the kids

Kansas Beef Expo with some great friends

Read the the Bible cover-to-cover

{Quick Q&A}

Favorite Quote

“God will bless the pilgrimage.” -Kevin Queen on That Sounds Fun Podcast with Annie F. Downs

Favorite Trip

In July, I went to Albuquerque for a wedding and had the chance to meet up with several dear friends and former professors and be back in a place I called home for 7 years. Maybe it was the mountain air or the break from Mom life or all the green chile, but that weekend just rejuvenated my soul.

Favorite Podcast Episode

I have a highlight reel of all of my favorite podcast episodes if you follow me on Instagram (@littlehousebiglifeblog), but if I have to pick one, I’m going with 4 Things with Amy Brown’s episode on December 5th with Steven Young on homelessness. Everyone should listen. It is literally one that could change your life.

Favorite Book

I read a total of 9 books this year and will deem them all excellent. Seriously. For the full list, go see my Instagram highlights. My favorite was Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. It’s another that addresses a hugely important issue and might change your perspective on race, the justice system, the death penalty, or all of the above.

Biggest accomplishment (life)?

Reading through the Bible in a year with Tara-Leigh Cobble and The Bible Recap. I cannot tell you how proud I am about this. I have had this on my list for years but always quit. Then, enter Tara-Leigh and her daily podcast that explained what I was reading (or listening to some days) and she kept me going and motivated. My gratitude for her cannot be adequately expressed. If this is a goal you have, you can join for 2020!! Here is the link for more info, or you can contact me and I’ll help you get started. Dedicating 20 minutes a day will have you done cover to cover by this time next year.

Biggest accomplishment (career)?

In November, I won an award at the American Ag Law Association Conference. This meant so much to me first because I am such a fan of the AALA organization and second because it was peer-nominations and selections by a committee of my peers. To think that so many of the best and brightest ag lawyers in America selected me for this award just makes me feel speechless.

Biggest challenge (work)?

Finishing my Owning Your Piece of Texas Ag Law handbook. When I undertook to write a 14 chapter legal handbook for landowners and ag producers by myself, my friends told me I was crazy. They were right. This was quite the project and thanks to people like my friend Robyn who helped keep me on track with frequent pep talks, my lawyer friends who helped review my content, my Mama who proofread this whole thing, and my friend Haleigh who is a printing guru, I got this one off my list and to the public.

Biggest challenge (life)?

The kidney stone fiasco. I have never had a single kidney issue in my life. I have none of the risk factors they look for. I have none of the habits that can cause them. Yet in August, I landed myself in the hospital, had an infection that could have been deadly, and underwent three surgical procedures to deal with this mess.

What do I know about God today I did not know on January 1, 2020?

I have so many thoughts thanks to reading through the Bible (blog on that coming soon). I think for me, it is the blessing of having God with us. Reading through the Old Testament, I was struck at how God dwelt in the Tabernacle rather than within his people. How they must have yearned to have the blessing of his presence. What a gift that believers have his Spirit dwelling not in an unapproachable tabernacle, but within our very hearts.

Advent Activities with Little Ones

This year, I chose “intentional” for my word. If I am honest, I did not do well with that until the last month of the year. For a variety of reasons, I felt very convicted to focus on intentional time with that kiddos this Advent season. It’s so easy to be busy and tired and just trying to get through the daily tasks and miss the opportunity to have intentional time together.

So, on December 1, we set out to make the season of Advent one of intention and time and projects. As someone who is not at all crafty or creative, I was a little nervous that I might hate this…but as it turns out, I loved every minute.

Here are the activities we did together as we counted down the days to Christmas and focused on preparing our hearts for Christmas Day.

Day 1: Setting up my Gran’s nativity.

Day 2: Build a gingerbread house ($10 at the grocery store).

Day 3: Making Christmas cards for their friends.

Day 4: Making Santa ornaments (felt ornaments on 50% off at Hob Lob for a cost of $1.49)

Day 5: Painting ceramic reindeer (50% off at Hob Lob for $1.99)

Day 6: Making homemade wrapping paper (Craft paper roll cost $5)

Day 7: Driving around our small town in our pjs, drinking hot cocoa, looking at Christmas lights.

Day 8: Sugar cookie baking, decorating, and delivering.

Day 9: Stamping Christmas card envelopes. (Stamps $.50 and stamp pad $2)

Day 10: Painting Ceramic Christmas tree ornaments ($1.99)

Day 11: Painting pine cones from the back yard.

Day 12 – 14: We were on vacation at a cattle show…does painting a heifer count?

Day 15: Painting thank you notes to send for Christmas gifts. (Blank cards 5.99 with 40% off coupon)

Day 16: painting the solar system. This was a kid request that I went along with…I mean, God sis make the planets, right? Good enough.

Day 17: Making my Gran’s traditional tiger butter candy. (Click here for recipe)

Day 18: Making Hanukkah cards for our Jewish friends.

Day 19: Making homemade mini loaves of pumpkins bread and zucchini-banana-chocolate chip bread for our teachers.

Day 20: Playing in the Christmas gift bouncy house from Aunt Elaine and Crazy Larry.

Day 21: Tour of Christmas lights in Amarillo with stop for hot cocoa (and limoncello for Mama!) at our friends’ Andy and Shane.

Day 22: Taste testing cookies for Santa.

Day 23: Making footprint reindeer.

Day 24: Candlelit church service, prepping for Santa, and reading our favorite Christmas books.

As usual, I probably learned more from them than they did from me. Here were my takeaways.

1. Let go of perfection. Let them mix paint colors. It does not matter if the sprinkles are poorly distributed. It’s the memories, not the perfection, that matters.

2. This does not have to be expensive. As you see above, I gave you an idea of what I spent for each activity. We were under $50 total.

3. Don’t let them paint in their school clothes. Learned that the hard way on Day 3. Note after that we had a lot of photos of painting in our undies.

4. The pilgrimage was blessed. I heard Kevin Queen say this on Annie F. Downs’ podcast. “God will bless the pilgrimage.” It does not have to be perfect. We do not have to be reading chapters of the Bible and having theological debates or hanging perfectly curated works of art. If we have a desire to focus on God and we take action in light of that, He will bless the pilgrimage, however paint smudged it may be.

Christmas Tradition: Tiger Butter

Every Christmas, my brother and I would whip up some Tiger Butter candy with my Gran.  It is one of my favorite Christmas traditions and I was excited to share it with my own kiddos.
The best part about this recipe is that is is SUPER simple and it’s a great one to get the kids involved.
Tiger Butter
1 (24 oz) package of vanilla almond bark
1/2 C crunchy peanut butter  (You can add more if you like–If you really like peanut butter, you can put in the entire 16 oz jar if you like!)
1 1/2 C semisweet chocolate chips
Put almond bark in microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave for 1 minute and then stir.  Then microwave for 45 seconds at a time, stirring each time until melted (it only took twice for me….be careful that you don’t burn it).
Add in peanut butter and stir. Spread out on wax paper or foil.
Place chocolate chips in microwave-safe bowl.  Cook for 1 minute and stir. Cook another 45 seconds and stir. (Keep going if not melted, mine were).
Pour chocolate on top of the almond ark/peanut butter and use a spoon to swirl.
Let it cool and place in fridge to harden.  Break into pieces and enjoy!

Away in This Manger

This article was published as part of the Our Rural Roots column with DTN Progressive Farmer.

The traditions my family practices each Christmas Eve are some that I hold most dear. Candlelit church service is followed by tamales and posole for dinner, and negotiating over how many gifts will be opened that night. But, my very favorite time is when we head to the lambing barn.

Before any gifts are opened or tamales are eaten, we go out to check for new lambs and to put our “drop herd” (ewes that are about to lamb) inside the Quonset barn for the night.

We walk from the house to the barn under a pitch-black sky sprinkled with stars shining bright with hope. Oftentimes, there is a blanket of freshly fallen snow to soften our footsteps. The barn is quiet, too, except for the bleating of baby lambs. Sometimes, we carry a bottle of milk with us to help a struggling lamb along. It’s always been understood that even on a holiday — especially on this day — the animals come first.

I’ve been thinking on what it is that makes the barn so special on Christmas Eve. Maybe it’s the moment of quiet in the midst of several days of holiday craziness. There is no hustle and bustle, no worries about choosing the perfect present, no pressure about the perfect place settings for Christmas dinner. 

It could be the animals. There are few things more adorable than a baby lamb and its first wobbly steps. Possibly it’s the connection to the Christmas story. The angel appeared to regular people tending their sheep, which can make that task feel almost sacred on such a special night. 

Did God consider some of these things when he orchestrated the savior of the world to be born not in a palace or place of worship, but in a dark, quiet barn surrounded by animals? Perhaps he, too, understood the sacred space that exists in a barn on Christmas Eve.