If you know me, you know being in front of a group isn’t easy for me. When I was a kid, I loved spelling, but at the same time, I HATED being a good speller because it meant I had to stand in front of my classroom until the very end of the spelling bee…
Then I had to stand in front of our elementary school gym full of big kids and little kids and teachers — so many teachers…
And THEN, at regionals, an even bigger room packed with grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles…
My knees knocked and my right upper lip twitched while I strung together consonants and vowels to create the complicated words I’d memorized from the massive, obscure study list.
I could have faked sick. (I did that sometimes when life was too intense for me.) I could have faked a mistake in Mrs. Witter’s fifth grade classroom and sat in the bleachers during the school-wide spelling bee, rather than on the stage.
But I really did love spelling. And I cared about doing my best. So I chose to be brave.
Far greater than my love for spelling is my love for theatre. I’ve been in several plays throughout my life, and I’m always exhilarated, terrified, and extremely sentimental in the days leading up to production.
Tech week is intense — you rehearse every night and get little sleep and try your darndest to get used to bright lights in your face once again. You help other cast members through their own jitters and throw them a lifeline when they forget a line, knowing they’ll throw it back when you’re bobbing in the sea yourself.
The energy is HIGH. It buzzes through your whole body. You’re tired, but you can’t sleep. When you do, you can bet your bottom dollar that your whacked-out dream brain will have you naked and mute on stage. All the grandmas and aunties from the spelling bee will be there, smiling sympathetically at you while you cross your knees in failed modestly and attempt mouthing your next letter — your next line. Was it a double ”r” AND a double “s” in embarrassed?
But today isn’t a dream. It’s opening night. Realer than real. And even though the present reality is that I’ll be off in a couple hours for a giant session of well-orchestrated pretend play with a group of once-strangers who are now friends, things still feel pretty intense right now in my quiet house on this dead end street.
So I’m choosing BRAVE again, this time at forty-one years old. I’m choosing to press on through knocking knees and clammy palms. Eyes looking in my direction. Smiling aunties. (Thank you, GOD, for smiling aunties).
Because I love art. Because I love community. I love story. I love that I get to be the good guy in this play and fight for a cause bigger than myself.
It’s all worth it.
If you’re in the Iron Mountain area this weekend, come see our show. We’re doing it for ourselves and we’re doing it for you. The story you see on stage is one part of the whole — there is so much time, effort, energy and heart in every production. And probably some breathing into a paper sack.
We hope you like it. We hope it inspires you. And we hope it nudges you to be brave too.
“It takes a great deal of courage to stand alone.” – Juror Nine
I know — the title of this reflection is forty, but I couldn’t find the words last year. Forty felt kind of, well, monumental.
Honestly, I didn’t feel super sad or sentimental saying goodbye to my thirties. There was a lot of good and beautiful stuff in there, but some really hard stuff too. A lot of searching and striving. A lot of hiding.
When I was about to turn forty, I made a bunch of promises to myself, and a year later, I can truly say I kept them all.
Okay, okay, there is one I didn’t keep — staying on top of laundry and dishes. Maybe next year? 😉
I’m not writing this reflection to say, “Look at me! Look at my magnificent life.” I’m writing so I can remember who I am right now in this moment in time.
If you’re my friend, you know I have a rotten memory. I’m always steeped in feelings and the details of real life tend to float away on me. Writing is one way I preserve them. So write, I will.
Forty was a year of adventure.
Let’s just start with my hubby and I ziplining off a 50-foot tower.
I hate heights so much, guys. When I was a kid, we were eating in a mall food court on the third floor and our table was close to the railing. I couldn’t even swallow my food because I was close to the edge. So ziplining was NOT high on my priority list (pun intended…). But our 4-H club brought us to an adventure park and all the cool kids were doin’ it, so we did it too. I said my final prayers and screamed and squealed all the way down and somehow maintained control of my bladder. I wish I could say I got to the bottom and said, “Again, again!,” but it was probably more like, “Is there a bench somewhere nearby?”
Still. I did it.
Another huge adventurous highlight of the year was our family’s trip to Disney World in October. Our boys were 9, 11, and 13, which were REALLY FUN ages for a grand adventure. No diapers! No strollers! No meltdowns after fifteen minutes of being hot!
We had an absolute ball. Chad, Gray and Reed did all the big kid rides and Miles and I had a ball riding the carousel and Small World 🙂 We DID stretch our courage and ride Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Terrifying, but fun.
Also, Flight of Passage. Holy dizzying virtual reality! And also FUN.
The boys also got to experience their first plane ride…
…and first time playing in the ocean at Daytona Beach — an absolute dream come true!
Our family trips are usually local outings to Marquette, Green Bay, campgrounds, etc, so a trip like Disney World was pretty epic. We are forever grateful to Roxanne and Sally for making this trip possible for us. It truly was magical!
Forty was a year of friendship.
So many of my dearest friends also turned forty, so we partied hard. And when I say partied hard, I mean Cabernet and PJs. Kristen, Roxanne and I spent a whole week together in Florida. We did hit Epcot and Blue Springs to see some amazing manatees, but for the most part we just enjoyed being together and reflecting on the decades of friendship we’ve shared.
In the spring, Michelle, my childhood bestie, and I, toured around the Black Hills, dodging Big Papa Bison and trying not to fall off cliffs beneath the chiseled faces of our presidents. It’s a beautiful thing when the friend who knew you better than anyone at ten years old is still your partner in crime and shoulder to cry on at forty.
In June, Jenny and I spent a weekend in Marquette catching up on life, lamenting the state of our country, and enjoying sunshine on our faces and Lake Superior breezes in our hair. We always wish we had more time together, so this weekend was a true gift.
In late summer, we enjoyed one of our favorite weekend traditions of friends camping out on our property. The whole weekend is always wild and free. There was an attempted bicycle ride across the river, hours of floating with cold drinks in hand, campfire games of telephone, and way too many s’mores.
It is such a blast having kids of all ages run as a pack, play hide and seek in the dark, and best of all, beg to do my farm chores!
This year, we added a new rock-painting tradition to our camping weekend. We lined our fire ring with brightly colored creations from this year, and I can’t wait to watch all the nooks and borders of our little campsite along the river fill up with more colorful memory rocks in the years ahead.
Just before Christmas, Michele, Brit and I continued another yearly tradition of hauling gifts to Brit’s workspace and having a big wrapping party. This year, Kristen and Kelsey joined in on the fun. It was like a red and green Christmas explosion. We always stay up waaay too late. We laugh and cry and wish each other a Merry Christmas before driving packed SUVs and minivans back home and wondering how in the heck we’re going to keep it all hidden for the next few days!
I honestly can’t imagine having better friends than the ones I have.
Forty was a year of theatre. So much theatre!
Our entire family participated in a community theatre production of A Christmas Carol in the fall of 2021, and we were hooked so hard! Chad, Miles and I returned to the stage in Check, Please! a few months later. Gray participated in a high school drama club production of Carol vs. Christmas, and I teamed up with Erin, my own high school drama club coach, to co-direct Spoon River Anthology, a play I was in during my junior year of high school under her supervision. This was truly one of the most special experiences of my life. I have to wipe a tear every time I look at these photos!
Theatre adds so much value to our family life, and Chad and I are excited to participate in another community theatre production, 12 Angry Jurors, NEXT WEEKEND!
Along with being in several plays, we traveled all over the place to attend productions. Art has always been an important part of my life, and getting to share it with so many of my loves filled my heart right up. We saw A Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Neverland, Moana, Frozen, Hairspray, Hamilton, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Every show was delightful, from the community theatre level on up to Broadway.
Forty was a year of learning new things.
Along with ZIPLINING and directing AN ACTUAL PLAY, I learned how to:
…deliver a stuck lamb.
…embroider with my sister and my niece, the creative queens of the family.
…help the boys enter lambs and goats in the fair, which included learning to shear squirrely ruminants. THAT was an adventure!
…truck all over God’s green earth building a herd of dairy goats for future farm pursuits.
…successfully grow peppers — finally! Turns out a greenhouse is the golden ticket on that. We’re turning up the heat! 🌶
Forty was a year of laughter.
I know I sometimes take life too seriously, but forty was a TON of fun.
I’m still giggling about approaching these two boys wearing “I ❤️ HOT MOMS” shirts at the county fair and asking them if they wanted a photo with a real live hot mom. Maybe they didn’t find it humorous, but my friends and I sure did.
Im still looking back and smiling on a weather situation in Florida that had us all giggling. Kristen, Roxanne, Rox’s son and I were out on a big walk and got caught in a steady rain. We were absolutely drenched by the time we turned back onto Roxanne’s street. A friendly neighbor pulled over and gave an umbrella to Rox’s little boy. He looked at the three of us drowned rats and said, “You girls are on your own!”
Another favorite memory that was sort of horrible at the time, but is now quite humorous, is Kristen and I only having seven minutes of layover time in the Detroit airport and having to run, with luggage, through a concourse, the trippy DTW light show tunnel, and to our gate. We still can’t believe we made it. And we’re still trying to catch our breath.
On a more serious note, forty was a year of loss.
In February, one of our ewes gave birth to twin lambs. The ewe lamb, Maude, was separated from her mama and became chilled. I went to YouTube University and learned how to tube feed lambs, then tried all day to save her. At the end of the day, we lost her. It was a hard day on the farm.
One of the most significant losses of my life happened last May when my grandmother, “Nana” passed away at the age of 98 years old. Being at her bedside during her final days and final minutes was the most cherished part of my entire year. I will never stop being grateful that I had my grandmother for forty years of my life. She hugged and loved and cheered me on for my first four decades, and God granted me the privilege of holding her hand while she moved from our arms into His.
Forty was a year of remembering how to love my very own self.
I went through a lot physically and emotionally from 2009-2020, and it took a toll on my body. I had three c-sections in less than four years, and nursed three monstrous boys. In 2015, I lost a dear friend shockingly and unexpectedly while vacationing together in New York City. In 2016, I injured my hip and, after a year of pain and decreased mobility, underwent surgery to repair tears in my labrum. Just about the time I was feeling ready to start getting back in shape, the pandemic hit and debilitated the whole of us. I grew up with a mom who was VERY concerned about germs (refraining from specifics — you’re welcome, Mom!), so let’s just say there was a lot of hiding and stress-eating in 2020. By the end of the year, my anxiety was awful, my body hurt, and my weight was the highest it had ever been.
Physical fitness has always been important to me, so one of the promises I made to myself when I turned forty was to lose weight and build strength. I’ve been back to the gym regularly for over a year, setting my alarm for 4:30 so I can get my workouts in and get home in time for homeschooling and farm chores. I’m now teaching five classes a week at the YMCA, and with a mix of yoga, Pilates, circuit training, and a low-carb diet, I’m fifty pounds lighter in my body and exponentially lighter in my spirit. Every time I lift a fifty pound bag of chicken feed, I marvel at how heavy it is — I was carrying around that much extra? No wonder I hurt!
Reclaiming my physical health is one of the most important things I have ever done — and it hasn’t been easy. Road trips were hard. Thanksgiving and Christmas were hard. Eating tuna out of a can at Disney World while my kids ate Dole Whips was hard.
But the thousands of small decisions have paid off. Along with promising myself to lose the last twenty pounds in the year ahead, I’m committing to loving and caring for myself as I age.
I love life SO much — and there is so much I still want to do for my family, my community, and myself. I’m going to need a strong body, strong mind, and a whole lotta prayer to keep having fun for forty more! 🎉
So that’s that. Forty. It was a good year. Maybe my best year. At forty years old, the girl in this photo is more herself than she’s ever been. She’s more alive than ever before. Best of all, she has more to give than she ever has.
Miles, on the day before your sixth birthday, you asked me to take one last picture of you so you could remember what it was like to be five. I can see you there, kneeling in the yard with the ducks around you, eating grain out of your small mittened hand. You had this sweet, contented smile on your face — so at home with your animal friends.
This photo of you and Meri that I took yesterday, on your last day of being nine, is so much like that duck photo. Look at you in the sunshine, delighting in your little lamb. The two of you are obviously dear friends, and you have that same contended grin on your face.
There is so much I could say about the kind, smart, generous boy you are, but I think what I want to say most right now is that you are JOY.
Happy Birthday, Miles. I remember you at five. I remember you at nine. All your ages are written on my heart.
Twin lambs were born on our farm yesterday morning —a tan male, Milo, and a black female, Maude.
Maude managed to get through a welded wire fence into the nighttime pen of our Livestock Guardian Dog. When we discovered the lambs in the morning, Milo was up and nursing, but Maude was inactive and shivering.
I brought her inside and checked her temp — it was 97.4. Anything below 99 is hypothermia for a lamb, so I tucked her in my shirt and covered us both with blankets and a heating pad. Once her temp reached 100, she accepted a bit of honey from my fingertip. At 101.5, I tried giving her a bottle of colostrum, but her sucking reflex was weak, so I went to YouTube University and quickly learned how to tube feed a lamb. I had everything I needed on hand — every farmer has bins full of medicine and medical supplies they hope never to use. The tube feeding apparatus and colostrum replacer were, no doubt, in that category.
After feeding, she took a nice long nap on the heat pad, and when she woke, I brought her out to her mama to try nursing. She was too weak to stand, so I held her to the ewe’s udder — she showed a bit of interest, but never really nursed. The ewe kept smelling her daughter, and I honestly believe she was terribly confused. Why did this lamb smell like her, like me, AND like our guard dog, Nala?
The ewe pushed the lamb away again and again as I tried getting her to nurse. It was cold out, and I didn’t want to risk the lamb’s temp dropping again, so I decided to do another colostrum tube-feeding. As I turned and climbed out of the pen, the lamb let out one small bleat, a cry for her mama.
I carried her away.
Throughout the afternoon, the lamb grew weaker. Her body temp kept dropping to 99-100 despite my efforts to keep her fed and warm. I stroked her soft ears and spoke gently to her as if she were a human. She looked back at me with trusting eyes.
By evening, her breathing was erratic, and I knew the end was near. I called my sons in to explain what was happening, and we all cried as we said a prayer of thanks for her one day of life.
My youngest son hugged me so hard and sobbed on my chest.
“It’s just so, so sad. She only lived one day.”
“It is sad,” I replied. “I’m so sad with you.”
“I’m glad she got to spend her one day with us,” my middle son replied.
“I am too,” I answered.
And I was.
I gave that little lamb everything I had yesterday. Heat. Warmth. Courage. Comforting words. A soft touch as she took her last breaths on a warm pad, wrapped in faded towels.
I sat over her for several minutes after she died, thinking of the other deaths I’ve witnessed.
Small chicks that weren’t strong enough to hatch from their shells.
Bunny kits that strayed away from the nest.
My beloved dog Riley who locked eyes with me in his final moment.
My dear friend who died so unexpectedly on what began as the vacation of a lifetime.
My grandmother who lived almost 100 years on this earth, and whose hand I held as the curtain closed.
My eyes filled with hot tears as I thought of these deaths. I know what to expect, now. I know how death looks. The shallow, erratic breathing. The distant eyes. The twitches and tremors. I’ve never looked away through any of it. As much as it devastates me, I want to be there — fully there. I want to bear witness. To be a companion. To hold space when holding space is the last thing I can do.
When you live on a farm, you live for beginnings. New birth. New life. Seeds sprouting in trays. Chicks tucked in beneath mama hens. Lamb siblings frolicking around on the greenest of spring fields.
But death is as much a part of life as birth. We cannot wish it away. We cannot cover it or conceal it. We cannot escape it. And sometimes, even all of our love and efforts and prayers and intentions cannot stop it.
So we step in.
We say “Let it be.”
We offer our gentle hands and empathetic eyes.
We offer our presence and our peace.
We even offer our gratitude for being chosen to occupy such a holy and sacred space.
Where there is life, there will be death, and where there is death, there will be life.
What an honor to be the holders and keepers of both.
We’ve had some unseasonably warm temps in Upper Michigan this week, so I was able to pop the lids on my four beehives to check emergency food supplies.
Beekeeping is tricky business. Helping bees through a northern winter requires a dry hive, emergency food (in case they burn through all the honey stores you leave them), and keeping Varroa counts low. The Varroa mite is a parasitic mite that weakens bees and makes them more susceptible to maladies. We use a variety of organically approved treatments to keep Varroa population low spring through fall so bees can go into winter strong. I felt good about these colonies when I applied my last treatment in the fall and added emergency food and pine shavings to control moisture. Mite counts were low and bee populations were solid.
Still, my bees are dead.
It’s not uncommon for northern beekeepers to lose their bees each year and have to buy more in the spring ($150-$200 for a few pounds of bees and a queen), but it’s still a bummer.
If you’re gonna be a beekeeper, you gotta be tough.
It’s hot, sweaty, heavy, squinty-eyed work that often ends in what you see here.
You bent over these boxes for three seasons admiring the intricacies of your bees.
You marveled at the egg-laying ability of an amazing queen and texted pics to your beekeeper friends: Check out this brood pattern!
You were careful not to take too much honey in the fall because you knew they’d need it more than you do.
You screwed your mouse guards into place across entrances when a chill hit the air and whispered “See you in the spring,” as you closed the lid on the season.
Three months later, on a sunny day in February, everyone is dead.
It would be easy to quit. To give up. Sell all the equipment and leave the complicated, sticky work behind.
But beekeeping has a hold on you. In a world that can seem cruel and chaotic, you need those bees.
You need the hope of ordering bees with your club in the dead of winter.
The excitement of shaking a box of bees into your hive on delivery day and carefully tucking the queen between two frames.
The awe of watching the population double and triple through the season.
The comforting, droning hum you hear as you approach the hives in high summer.
The wonder as you hold a brood frame in your hands and watch a fuzzy baby bee emerge from a cell.
The winter distraction of wondering how they’re doing out there, and watching the forecast for a sunny, 48 degree day so you can sneak a look.
If you’re gonna bee a beekeeper you gotta be tough.
The meatballs are browning in the pan, “Acoustic Christmas” album playing (on CD in my “boom box,” of course), twinkle lights and candles shining everywhere this Christmas Eve morning.
I’m holding my Nana close in heart as I cook this simple dish she made for us hundreds of times. She’s not with us this year, yet she is.
Soon I’ll pop these meatballs in the oven, light my Swedish Angel Chime, and look through the Christmas cards and letters once more before I vacuum the floors and set the pretty table.
This afternoon, the family will come over and the cousins will pile on the couch to watch “The Polar Express” with popcorn and puppy chow and hot cocoa. The kids will be sugared up and the dogs wound up and the house will be destroyed again and for a few hours everything will be just as it should.
I’m not saying it’s easy or perfect. We’re a little sick and a lot messy. The walls are smudgy and the windows never got the fall washing they needed. There’s a giant honey extractor still in my kitchen with jingle bells now hanging around its neck. And we’re 100% gonna cry a lot of tears over our first Christmas without Nana.
I’m just saying we’re in it together. Of all the things we’ve learned these past couple years, I hope the thing I never forget is that we’re here to take care of each other.
God could have written out the rules and loved us from afar, but that’s not who He is. He’s flesh and blood. He gave us one another to hold hands and sing hymns and feed hungry mouths.
He gave us palpable hope in a humble stable wrapped in simple blankets, delivered amid the smell of animals and earth and sweaty, weary travelers. He gave us hope that can be held in our arms and passed around in our homes. We still need it, and we still have it.
If you’re alone tonight, come over. Sit at our table and scratch our dogs’ ears. Drop powdered sugar on your chin and on the rug as you pop another pinch of puppy chow into your mouth. Feel the warmth of belonging as the wind whips outside the window and the flakes fall sideways. Ride to Christmas Eve church with me — we’ll laugh and curse about why we live where the air is so cold it hurts to breathe.
Sing “Silent Night” from the pew beside me. Light my candle with yours and I’ll light my neighbor’s, and the whole place will shine with the hope of Christmas.
It was a cedar shed on an old farm that had recently been put up for sale. The owners wanted to clean the place up and get rid of some of the sheds and outbuildings that had become eyesores over the years. My brother-in-law saw the listing online and texted me, “How about this for your barn?”
We drove an hour to look at it on a Wednesday night while my hubby was tied up at work. My brother-in-law was amazed at how the builder of the shed (someone’s Uncle Leonard) used one-foot centers and built the thing as strong as a brick house. No wonder it was still standing after all these decades.
My husband, brother-in-law, and a team of buddies pulled the shed apart in eight-foot sections, loaded it onto trailers, and drove it 60 miles to rebuild at our farm.
We replaced missing boards, stained the weathered wood, and my brother-in-law even added a charming cupola to the top, making it resemble a little red schoolhouse.
Somebody’s Uncle Leonard’s shed is now the place where sheep sleep in soft straw. The place where I sit on an upside-down pail every morning and scratch our farm dog’s chin. Where I assisted a laboring ewe with a stuck lamb this spring, then wiped joyful tears from my cheeks as the mama cleaned her squirmy, lively babe.
I wanted to live on a farm my whole childhood, but we were city people. Every morning that I creak open these rough-hewn barn doors and sheep come spilling out around me for their morning treats, I’m grateful to God for whispering this story into my heart some forty years ago.
I’m grateful to Uncle Leonard and the care he put into building a shed that would last.
And I’m grateful to the ones who said yes with their hearts and hands to helping build this life I love.
I could see the lamb was stuck, its left front foot and the first few inches of its muzzle outside the birth canal, right foot not yet visible. Noel panted and strained, but little progress was made. I didn’t grow up on a farm, but plenty of livestock books and Facebook groups and YouTube mentors have shown me the way, and I knew it was imperative that both of the lamb’s feet emerge from the birth canal first. I pulled on my arm-length OB exam gloves and slipped my hand inside Noel, feeling around for the stuck foot. I couldn’t find it at first, and I gently pushed the lamb back in so I would have more room to work. The pressure of Noel’s body and the force of life and birth squeezed my hand tightly.
I felt the small hoof tucked up toward Noel’s tail and I grasped it firmly and maneuvered it out of the birth canal. Noel was quite tired by this point, having pushed for nearly a half hour. Both of the lamb’s feet were out now, along with its muzzle, a small purple tongue hanging out of the mouth.
I prayed the lamb would live.
Noel pushed again, and I grasped the lamb’s legs together in my right hand as I slid my left back into the birth canal, cupping the top of the lamb’s head and gently pulling with Noel.
Come on, girl. We can do this. Come on, girl, almost there.
With a final push and pull, the lamb slid out onto the hay. He shook his head side to side, spitting and sputtering. I pulled what was left of the wet membranes from his nose and mouth and he inhaled for the first time. Life filled his lungs and his body.
Noel’s tongue lapped in and out at the air, but she was too fatigued to fully turn and reach her baby. I picked him up and placed him beside her and she immediately started the work of cleaning the yellow birth fluids from his white coat. She took care of all of the mess of birth, softly baa–ing to her son between licks.
My hands trembled as I crouched over them both, smiling and wiping tears of wonder and gratitude and humility on my own shoulder.
My own birth experiences were difficult, and they all resulted in c-sections despite my extreme efforts to have natural births. I’ve carried a pang of grief with me these past 13 years that I never had the opportunity to bear witness to birth – with three sons, the likelihood of being invited into anyone’s birthing suite seemed slim.
Yet here I was, crouching on the floor, the mess of birthing fluids at my feet and on my hands, the sweet smell of hay and new life in the air around me, and the sounds of a mama cooing softly to her son in my ears.
This morning is Mother’s Day and my own sons are still tucked into their beds where I sang them to sleep last night. They are somewhere between boy and man, but still they wait each night for their bedtime songs before closing their eyes on the day. I scrawl a quick note to leave on the coffee table.
Good morning, Loves. I’m in the barn.
Steam rises from my coffee cup on the ledge by the door as I pull on my rubber boots and click the door quietly shut behind me. The first dandelions are up in the yard. The air holds the scent of renewal – of river water and morning dew. The songbirds hop and sing in the maples. For a moment I swear their song is just for me.
The first bird we raised on our homestead. I brought her home in a barn-shaped cardboard box from the feed store on my 35th birthday. We had a sweet foster babe with us that day, and I bought a small duck stuffed animal for her and each of my boys. There was a soundbox sewn in that quacked when squeezed, and foster babe squealed delightedly when I pushed the button and nibbled her toes with the duck bill.
I held the box of ducklings on my lap on the way home and I felt like I was cradling the spark of something I longed for my whole life. I set up a brooder in my laundry room beneath the window and the boys took turns feeding handfuls of sweet peas to the ducklings, giggling as the duck bills dabbled in the divots of their cupped hands. Foster babe lunged and reached for the ducks again and again, but they always dodged her wild grasps.
The ducklings grew FAST, as ducklings do, and soon they were splashing and diving in the blue plastic kiddie pool in our backyard. I sat and watched them for hours on sunny afternoons, scooting my chair back, and back again, as their ducky antics grew wetter and wilder. Who knew a few birds would offer such thrilling live entertainment?
Four years have passed, and foster babe is across the country now, with her mama. The quacking duck stuffed animals haven’t been seen in years — they are probably wedged beneath a car seat somewhere, or between the bed and the wall where small toys and paper airplanes go to die.
But Dahlia is still here. Her flock has grown to a dozen. Our little homestead has expanded onto the adjacent property and the menagerie now includes seven breeds of chickens, New Zealand and Silver Fox rabbits, honeybees, and a small flock of Katahdin sheep. The farm that was a spark of a dream only five years ago is alive with noise and color and the deep joy that comes with chasing after a calling, no matter how out-of-reach or unconventional it seems next to where you are at the time.
In the meantime, God, with his wise and clever weaving, has connected us with another child to love on — a small boy who delights in nothing more than carrying offerings of cracked corn and kitchen scraps to the ducks. “Let’s go see Dahlia!” he exclaims when he arrives at our house, kicking off his sandals and slipping on the rubber Paw Patrol boots we keep near the front door, just for him. The ducks come running as we enter the gate, Dahlia bringing up the rear. She quacks and waddles and sways her fluffy butt side to side, determined to get to those treats. We wait for her to get to the finish line before doling out the scraps, and every time, I smile and tell her she’s my spirit animal.
What can a duck really know? Can she know I pointed to her in the metal stock tank at the feed store, declaring that I wanted that one, my heart giddy over the best birthday gift I’d ever received? Can she know what came alive in me as she rode home in my lap from the feed store? Can she know how loved she is by every kiddo who’s run or played at Moss & Meadow farm? That she’s everybody’s absolute favorite?
She may be a duck, but her ten pounds of frolicking fluff have been, and always will be, one of the best things that have ever happened to me.
Last year, my friends took me out for birthday dinner and we tried not talking about what we couldn’t help talking about. The virus was here, now. Schools were shutting down. Employees were being sent home to work. The world as we knew it was about to change forever. We slurped our Tom Yum Pho with bewildered eyes and questions none of us would ever be able to answer.
A year later, I’m standing over my kitchen stove boiling sap into maple syrup and still thinking about the innumerable, unanswerable questions. How long will this last? How many will we lose? Could life ever be normal again?
I have been extremely/overly cautious this last year, but even with all my THINKING and DECISIONS and PREVENTION and PRECAUTIONS, here I am, quarantined because of a recent exposure. A quick stop off at a friend’s house and a hug I didn’t say no to will turn into weeks of waiting and wondering.
When I think back to that dinner last year with my friends, I feel like I’m looking in on another life. We were girls around a table of Thai food, shoulder to shoulder, living among one another, breathing each other’s air. We were so sickeningly rich in the closeness and togetherness I ache for in these lean months. There was open-mouthed laughter and tasting each other’s dinners and lingering around. There were smiles and unmuffled words and hugs without hesitation, and dammit, I cannot stop crying about who we were before. We were grown women, but we were babies. We stopped by each other’s houses. We rode in cars together. We let our kids play with one another. Tell me, what didn’t we have?