Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Turtle Dove

We were eating lunch one day last week when I first noticed the turtle dove outside our dining room window. The bird would land, peck around our wood pile, then take flight again, finally landing in the nearby lilac bush. This sequence took place many times through the duration of our feast of leftover ribs, reheated baked beans and cold milk. 

That afternoon I sat outside on my laptop and worked in the sun while the kids napped. I am not a bird watcher by any means, but I was excited to recognize the turtle dove back again, busy as ever. I stopped my work in order to observe hers. 

She was picking up twigs and dandelions and taking them into the lilac bush to build her nest. Incredible! Piece by piece she plucked and placed. Sometimes she’d drop the twig or weed and would swoop down in a rush and try to find another. I slowly walked over to the bush to confirm my belief and saw the nest, quite large, resting on a branch. I got back to work so I wouldn’t bother her. 

Then I made the mistake of hosting a post-nap ecology lesson for the kids. We went outside and quietly (as quiet as 1 ½ and 3 ½ year olds can be….which isn’t) snuck over the lilac bush to spy on the turtle dove.

Sure enough, she was resting in her newly created home, sitting straight up and alert to the chaos on the ground. I swept the kids up and we went to the barn to pick on someone our own size: Daddy.


When I was preparing for motherhood and in the act of delivering our children, I didn’t have an appetite for fanfare. My mother even asked to come in and visit and I declined the offer. This wasn’t the time to ask me if I’d seen how nice the produce selection at Aldi had become. Minutes later, she was at my bedside, encouraging me. I’m not sure who let her in, but something tells me it was my husband who needed a break from the 26-hour ordeal. 

I guess this is why I’ve tried to keep the kids away from the turtle dove for a few days, while she hopefully prepares for her family. At every meal we talk about her and every morning Caroline is quick to run to the bush to see if she is home. It is not easy keeping curious minds and hands away from something so intriguing and special. 

Particularly when we need some new life around this place. We scraped a cat off the highway two weeks ago and on Saturday Caroline brought me a cracked egg in one hand and a feather-less baby bird in the other. I didn’t react well to her presentation. Another ecology lesson and much hand scrubbing followed.


I think, now more than ever, it is critical to help our children find the magic in ordinary days. 
To watch a bird build its nest or an ant fill up on dropped popsicle pieces or clouds evolve into shapes and animals in the sky. 
To enjoy ruining clothes in soil and gravel and sand. 
To feel soft grass on their tender feet and experience eating a grape tomato warmed from the sun. 


We should be cautious about what they see and hear. There are unsettling words, stories and images all around them right now. 

Caroline prayed recently, “God keep away the wolves, werewolves, coyotes, the virus and mean geese.”

I was taken back that she knew enough about the virus to ask for God’s protection from it. I was also curious about her experience with mean geese, but I decided to save that question for another day. 


So for now, we’ll shut off the damn news,

focus less on mean geese

and be more like hard working turtle doves

who have built their home

on visible hope for tomorrow. 


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Quarantine Cut

After looking at Easter photos I realized that Cyrus’ hair was so long you could barely see his piercing blue eyes. It was beyond time for a haircut, but all the shops remained closed due to the times we're living in. 


I asked my husband if he could cut Cyrus’ – an extremely active 1 ½ year old – hair, because I certainly wasn’t doing it. 

Do you remember a time when you came to the realization you weren’t talented in an area? I remember clearly a day that I decided to trim my Barbie styling head’s hair. Barbie styling heads were a big deal in the late 80’s. They were simply the large head and shoulders of a Barbie that you could apply make-up to and style the hair. It was very basic training for your first homecoming dance. 


With purple Fiskars in hand, I began the trim on one side, and slowly twirled the head around while I snipped precisely, from ear to ear. When I finally got around the entire head, I spun her around to learn that the cut ended in a perfect spiral. In fact, the left side of her hair was down past the chin, and by the time I got done, the right side of the head had hair above the ear. 

It was then that I knew: I wasn’t cut out to cut hair.

Fast forward thirty years and my husband was plugging in clippers and snapping on guards in our kitchen. My blood pressure was rising.


I sat Cyrus on my lap and wrapped a towel around him like a cape, then kissed his cheek. The clippers began buzzing and he jolted. But dad talked to him throughout the process and he became completely calm. He giggled when Cody went around the ears. 


White hair began falling onto the towel and he fought to get his arms out. He grabbed a handful and studied it like snow. 


I grabbed a handful and set it aside. That handful now rests in my cedar chest in an envelope, “Cyrus’ Quarantine Cut 2020”. If you come to his graduation open house in 17 years, you’ll probably see it on the display table. 
I have a damn hard time letting go.



Then, the mood suddenly changed when Cody began dropping hints about how badly he, too, needed a haircut. The hints were unnecessary; I’d been living in the same house with him 24/7 for 45 days. 

I told him the Barbie styling head story and he either didn’t care or didn’t listen, because by the time I wrapped it up, he was sitting in the chair with a towel wrapped around himself like a cape. 

Two minutes, many verbal complaints and an acre of dark hair on my kitchen floor later I told him:

“Listen, pal. I can’t do a fade. I can’t blend. I can only take little bits off a time and hopefully not an ear.”
“OK,” he replied. “Well, my girl in town can do all of it. Just try.”
“Ok, well, your girl in town went to school for this. She has a license to run these clippers. I only have a license to drive a car,” a snipped back.

“Daddy. Who is your girl in town?” asked Caroline. 
The three-year-old took the words right out of my mouth. 

It took twenty minutes and four trips to the bathroom mirror for Cody to agree that we could end the charade. 

He was somewhat content with his fresh quarantine cut, 
the kids were covered in dark hair from playing on the kitchen floor and 
I was hiding a dirty little secret: a 1” x 1” patch I shaved bare behind his left ear.

You can keep a secret, right??

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Line for the Bathroom

There was a time in My Life, B.C. (before Caroline) when I’d stand in line for the bathroom and it didn’t bother me much. Maybe at a concert or a baseball game, I’d usually make a new friend along the way. We were all there for the same reason, and we laughed that the line never moved quickly enough. 

Fast forward a few years and two kids later, I find a significant part of my morning routine standing in line for the bathroom, again. Except for this time, there is no Eric Church jamming as background music, only the Frozen soundtrack. Sigh. 

When we bought this farm, we were interested in the pasture, fence, and outbuildings. The house was a second thought for newlyweds who didn’t have a family on the brain, yet. 

Boy, was that naive. 

Potty training in a single bathroom home could have been a book in itself. Inevitably, every time she decided it was finally “time” there was someone else in the bathroom and an accident would happen. There were lots of tears of frustration and embarrassment. The whole training process took longer than it should have and I believe some of that had to do with waiting in line. 

Now that Caroline is potty trained and seemingly running on her own schedule, the bathroom has taken on a whole new role in the home. 

“Why is the bathroom door locked?” Cody asked last week. 
“I think Caroline is in there,” I responded. 
“The 3-year-old doesn’t need to use a lock. That’s way too dangerous and she’s way too smart,” he remarked. 

Two minutes later:

“She’s still in there,” Cody said, sounding annoyed.
“Well knock and ask her to get out.”
“Caroline! Times up. Wash your hands and come out. I need in there.”
“Can’t daddy. I’m only halfway through my Earth book. It’s a pretty big book.”



Cody looked at me, “I really hope she didn’t take a library book into the bathroom.”
“No, that’s one of ours. She did take an Angus Journal in yesterday,” I told him, trying not to laugh. “I’m not sure which issue it was, but I think she put it back on your side table.”

That really fired him up. Angus Journals are prized possessions (to him), as a source of great beef knowledge, Angus history and cattle pictures. 




“Caroline! Out! I need in there. The bathroom is no place for storytime.”
“Dad! Don’t rush me! This stuff takes time.”

He mumbled something about “Lord help us when she’s 15” and went outside. I never saw him again. 

Cody came in the house yesterday and Caroline and Cyrus were both sitting outside the bathroom door. 

“What are you guys doing?” he asked. 
“I have to go and Mom’s taking forever,” she said. 
“Have you knocked?” he asked. 
“Yep, she told me to go play.”
“She only wants in here because there is a Barbie in the shower!” I yelled from inside.
“Caroline, why did you put toys in the bathroom?”
“Cyrus and I were going to give Barbie a bath and wash his tractor,” she explained.
“Bbbbbmmmbbbb” Cyrus started making a tractor sound and pointed to the door. 
This explained his stake in the bathroom game. 

Ok, you both need to get off the floor and leave Mom alone. She’ll be out as soon as she can.”
“No, I won’t. I brought my cookbook in here and I’m making my meal plan for the week ahead. Don’t worry. I’m sitting on the sink. It’s the only room in the house with a lock,” I yelled through the white door covered in handprints on the bottom 1/3.

The room is only 8 ft. x 6 ft. (yes, I measured it to ensure accuracy for this column), but for whatever reason, one person cannot go inside without the rest of the family following them. 

I went in to floss Saturday night and both kids fought for a spot on the toilet lid to watch me “string my teeth.” Cody shaved Sunday morning with an audience. “If you’re going to be in the way, you might as well be useful. Hand me a towel,” he told them. 

I hope one day we can add on to this old farmhouse and another bathroom will be on those plans. I dream of a day where I can go into the bathroom and not give an oral dissertation as to why. Because frankly, between you and I, I actually locked myself in the bathroom last week to eat a Reese’s egg from the Easter Bunny. I shouldn’t have to explain that to anyone. 

In my defense, it’s the only room in the house with a lock! 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Modern Medicine

You'll soon realize this was written before the pandemic. 

I recently had a procedure done at the local hospital. Nothing serious; I’m very healthy but I have a throat like a chicken. 

I have put off having this done for some time, despite my physician’s counsel. The procrastination didn't happen because it was painful, but because recovery takes an entire day. No driving for 24 hours: Who will run to IGA when we’re out of the pediatric staple of the Sankey household (ketchup)? Even worse than that, the procedure requires no food, drink or even water after midnight the night before: A request that seemed quite impossible since I prefer to snack every hour on the hour. 

I had the same procedure done seven years ago, just weeks before Cody and I wed, and to be completely honest, it is a wonder he went on to marry me after witnessing me on drugs. I don’t do well under anesthesia, and hours after that endoscopy I actually tried to cut off my beloved dog’s tail. I remember nothing of this, which is terrifying. After that day, I told myself I’d never put Cody through that again. Fast forward a few years and few choking events later, and we again sat in the waiting room.

I’m an optimist, so of course, I found the silver lining to an outpatient trip to the hospital: for 20 minutes I would have uninterrupted sleep. No tears that needed to be addressed because a pacifier fell between the wall and the crib and no screams because there is a werewolf in the closet. Just rest. Drug-induced-met-our-health-insurance-deductible-in-February, rest. It would be the expensive and short kind, but I’ll take rest in any form these days. 

My appointment time finally arrived, and I rested beneath an oxygen mask, wondering about the last time I laid in a bed and just waited for something, with no phone, no bunk mates kicking me, no to-do list looming in my head. All I was able, and expected, to do was wait. It felt so strange, so out of my control, yet a few minutes of quiet was probably what I needed. 

However, this afforded me the unfortunate opportunity to listen to the man in the prep room next door (separated by a curtain) give far too much detail when asked what his last bowel movement looked like. Those are things you can’t unhear. 

The nurse then brought Cody to the tiny fabric room and just having him close made me feel at ease before we began. Then, his phone rang and I had to listen to a conversation regarding a beef bull’s testicles freezing due to frigid temps in North Dakota and how that will affect semen production and supply for the approaching breeding season. 

“Just put me out of my misery, already,” I thought to myself. 

That call ended and his phone rang, again. It was daycare. Cyrus had a fever. He needed to be picked up immediately. As Cody tried to work through the logistics of finding someone to pick up Cyrus within an hour, be present for my procedure and around to visit with the doctor afterward, as well as buy a bull in Montana over the phone for work, I laid there, being of no help to anyone, and quite convinced that I simply did not have time for the nervous breakdown I deserve. 

Moments later they swept me through the curtain door, ushered me into a sterile, bright room and asked me about raising kids on a farm. Finally, a conversation of which I could get on board. 

The next thing I know, I’m waking up to Cody asking me how I felt. 

It was easy. 

It was fast. 

It was over.

We were home with a sick toddler within an hour. Life was back to normal within twelve hours and within 24 hours my snacking habits had recovered fully. 

Isn’t modern medicine grand?



Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Quarantine

Quarantine
quar·an·tine
noun
a state, period, or place of isolation in which people or animals that have arrived from elsewhere or been exposed to infectious or contagious disease are placed.

Also, a situation where you have a burning desire to try every recipe you’ve ever encountered.


Like everyone across America, I’ve been cooking much more in the last two weeks. My previous routine included cooking a large meal on Sunday and Monday evenings, then Cody would take flight on Tuesday, and the kids and I would live on leftovers until Friday when Cody would return. The COVID-19 travel ban has changed all of that. I’ve cracked open cookbooks I’ve not used in five years. I am so thankful for the local Hagerstown IGA; they’ve consistently had everything I’ve needed.

The increased appetite also stems from a group of eight college sorority sisters who are terrific cooks. We often swap stories of desperation when trying to visit with the UPS man who won’t make eye contact because you’re still in yesterday’s mascara, and husbands we’ve been married to for years, but are just now revealing that they don’t like Miracle Whip. Who knew? Talk about sleeping next to a stranger.

Our sisterhood group also swaps recipes. Between all of us, we have 18 children that line our dining room tables morning, noon and night. Also, ten times throughout the day for snacks.


One is a ranch wife in California; her recipes include a lot of fresh food and wine. Three are farm wives in Illinois and Indiana; they’re really into crockpot meals and things you can prepare at 11:00 PM the night before, then bake the next day. One is a pharmacist in Illinois; her recipes always include the calorie count and nutritional facts (gross). One is a marketing big-wig for John Deere; her menu usually includes meals that can be enjoyed on-the-go in a tractor or combine cab. Friend number seven is an engineer for August Storck; she figures out how to get Werther’s Originals on your grocery shelf. Her recipes will rot your teeth.

My recipes always include beef. 


Being a good and supportive friend, I work very hard to try each recipe the girls send out. We had five-course meals three nights last week. I’ve made dessert more in the last two weeks than I have in the last 35 years. My jeans are begging for me to eat a spinach salad, but I can usually shut them up with another Werther’s caramel brownie.

Our kids still don’t know how to practice social distancing, so I have yet to go to the bathroom alone. They’re also really into sharing food right now. If I hear, “Mommy, close you eyes an’ open you mouth,” one more time, I’ll probably put myself in legit quarantine. Maybe in Mexico. 

Because of this new routine, I also get stuck eating cold oatmeal at 9:00 AM that someone abandoned because they found a book to read, half-eaten chicken tenders at 1:30 PM after I get them down for a nap and grapes drenched in ketchup at 8:30 PM when I’m finally cleaning up the kitchen for the day. I don’t know the calorie count on crumbled chocolate chip cookies I’ve consumed, but it has to be around the 10,000 range. We don’t waste cookies in this house. 




I’m so thankful for the recent beautiful weather we’ve had so we can get outside to work, play and burn a few calories. On Saturday and kids and I went to town and walked four miles before the rain moved in. I felt great about the exercise and the fresh air we each enjoyed. So, we stopped by The Dairy and ordered cheeseburgers to celebrate. 

I wanted to lose 10 pounds this year. 

Only 13 left to go. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Thanks, COVID-19

My husband, who typically travels the great plains weekly from January 15 – April 15, has been issued a flight travel ban through May and frankly, I’m not handling it well. 

He wants to talk. 
He wants to be included in meals. 
He wants me to run the headgate while he breeds cows. 
He wants to begin watching a movie at 8:00 PM, oblivious to the fact that I prefer to be in bed before 9:00. 




Thanks, COVID-19, for bringing Cody back home early so we unexpectedly have a full dining room table this season. 

The COVID-19 virus situation has transpired into a much bigger issue than initially thought. I never dreamed a bat in Wuhan would inspire me to find what lies on the bottom of our deep freezer (beef soup bones from 2013 when we bought the farm). 

Thanks, COVID-19, for reminding me how fortunate we are to have a freezer full of food for our family. 

My role as an agricultural communicator has been kicked into high gear as we work to tell the public on radio, web and in print that our work as your local farmer-owned cooperative is essential and we will continue to operate as long as we legally can. We have homes to heat, first responder fleets to fuel and a 2020 crop to get into the ground so we can supply the global food chain. 


Thanks, COVID-19, for giving me professional purpose outside of the home, while I write to remind the 300 folks who work for Harvest Land Co-op that the work they do daily is absolutely essential to the rest of our community. 

Late last week Cody went to Lafayette to pick up beef embryos, so the kids and I went into town for a walk. When I was expecting Cyrus in 2018, Caroline and I walked the same route through town multiple times a week. We haven’t been back since he was born. 

It was fascinating that we’d pass a house – or even a dog statue on Sycamore Street – and Caroline would remember it from two years ago. She remembered big hills on Parkway Drive where I inevitably get winded (I’m not even 6 months pregnant this time) and she was quick to point out her beloved veterinarian’s house on Washington. It is foolish of us to think children aren’t paying attention.

On this particular walk, we entered West Lawn Cemetery and that really changed our exercise routine. I figured if the official instruction was to stay further than 6 feet from the rest of the public, a cemetery was surely safe ground. 

Boy, was I wrong. 

I saw gals I went to high school with. Caroline saw pre-school buddies. We saw old family friends who hadn’t even met Cyrus, yet. And also strangers so eager to say hello. It was sincerely the most joyful time I’ve ever spent in a cemetery. 

Then came the questions from the 3 ½-year-old:

  • If people are in heaven, why did you put rocks on them? To keep them in there?
  • Why does that one have an angel on it?
  • Look, Mommy! A rock puppy! Is the puppy in there?
  • Is this where Great-Grandma lives?
  • Why haven’t they taken down the Christmas tree?
  • Does Santa live in heaven, and that’s why we never see him?

Thanks, COVID-19, for presenting these moments where I have an opportunity to (try to) explain heaven to our children. 

I don’t take lightly the number of people who are economically affected by this pandemic. Homebuilders, daycare workers, restaurateurs, beauticians, bartenders, teachers, librarians, those in food service and retail, the list goes on. The financial loss that will affect nearly every American due to this outbreak could linger for years.

Thanks, COVID-19, for teaching us a lot. 

Thanks, COVID-19, for teaching us to break bread again. 
We sit down around the same table and share a meal, as intended. We have a brief (how fast can brother inhale his supper these days?) conversation about the day and likely about tomorrow, too. We connect. Wifi not included. 


Thanks, COVID-19, for removing so much distraction. 
Thanks for allowing us to read a book, thoughtfully prepare for a garden, make an intentional grocery list, learn from our devotions without rush, read a book to our grandchildren. 

Thanks, COVID-19, for keeping us home. 
Quarantined together, against a culture that tells us to be anywhere but within the walls of the family home. Thanks for reminding us who will be there, under the same roof, when nothing else in the world seems to make sense. 

This will change how we do business, eat, lead families, live. 
There is a tremendous opportunity to learn before us. 
A tremendous opportunity to learn, and I hope it isn’t only to wash your hands regularly. 

But if it is: Please make sure you utilize the full 20 seconds. And use the brush. 




Wednesday, February 26, 2020

A Succession Plan

Last week I had the privilege of organizing an event for the local farmer-owned cooperative where we welcomed Jolene Brown, a nationally known spokesperson for American agriculture and champion for teaching others how to create a succession plan for the family farm. Basically, she spent the day making us laugh and coaching us through ways to avoid an argument about land values on the way to the funeral home. 

It may sound funny, but it is not. 

Succession plans are difficult things to talk about for farm families. Partly because we are the kind of people who have a to-do list that doesn’t grant any free time for dying, so we seem to think we never will. 

But also, our roots, and even identity, are found in the ground on which we work daily. Most in agriculture are born in the same area their ancestors were, and now make a living off the same land. This land. Those barns. That farm. This house with the unlevel floors, drafty windows and seventh stair that creaks: It isn’t something we want to let go of. So, we tend to have a hard time doing so. 



The event was certainly eye-opening for me. Though we’re in our thirties and hope to live another 70 years, I learned that now is the time to get to work on a succession plan. Of course, it’s easy to give all your stuff away when you don’t have much. The most expensive things we own are eating hay just south of the house as I pen this. 

Nonetheless, would the kids know what we want to be done with things should something happen? Would they know what cows their grandpa in Kansas might want on his ranch, compared to what could be sold? What about the hot-tempered cow with the split ear, 18A, would they know what sale barn to call first to haul her away? More importantly, what would they do with the 12 antique doors I’ve collected and stored in the barn for “rainy day projects?” Probably the burn pile. 

A succession plan will take higher priority as the children grow and we learn their personalities. Today, they love the farm life so much, I have to bribe them out of the barn and into the house with popsicles, even on 15-degree days. But will they still want this lifestyle in twenty-five years? Or will they prefer we sell the farm, the land, and the cattle and they take an inheritance check so they can invest in a condo in New York City or Nashville? It isn’t a question we’ll ask lightly when the time comes. 



But for now, we can only focus on building strong kids who are able to make that choice when the time comes. 

Two weeks ago, I had a really trying day on the farm, while Cody worked in Montana. I found a sick calf that needed attention because of the swing in the weather. I had two active kids at my side, without lunch or naps. And our vet was running terribly late – at no fault of her own. She was dealing with a prolapse on another farm (What’s the old saying? If everyone threw our problems into a pile, we’d be quick to grab our own back). After being outside in the wet February snow for two hours, we got our calf work done and I let the vet know I’d handle the rest, which included getting the pair off pasture for the night and into the barn. Our amazing vet had more stops to make.

I was tired. I had mud down in my boots and my socks were soaked. My gloves were lost somewhere between the barn lot and the north calf shed. The kids and I got into the house at 4:00 PM and I still hadn’t fed my children lunch. But our kids watched us work until the cattle were taken care of and saw that we did what was right for our farm, our cattle, their future. 





I hope they never forget that. I hope they do the same in thirty years. I hope they are an example for the next generation. I hope they work hard, whatever they’re working at. I hope they are stewards and stockmen. 

I also hope they forget the day that mom never fed them, but spent two hours bedding calving pens and treating a sick calf.

Perhaps our succession plan should be more about raising good kids who value work, rather than the current market values of beef cattle. Perhaps I should worry more about if they understand the importance of please and thank you, rather than the price per acre of pasture in Indiana. Perhaps I should not think about who will want what when we’re gone, and focus more on what we’re giving our children today: Patience? Affection? Days spent exploring in the sunshine?

What about you? Do you have a plan for your family should life go on without you? But more importantly, are you passing on the values today that will afford them success in days and years to come, whether you’re here or not?

I left the succession plan event feeling pride in how the day went and with a to-do list a mile long. For instance, has our will been updated since Cyrus was born? Good question. Do our children understand that the greatest thing we want to pass on to them is love for people, life and Jesus? 

I think I’ll wrap this up here and go get to work on that. 







Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Of Soap and Shells

My grandma passed away more than two months ago, and I still find myself waking and wondering if I can fit a trip across the state line to see her on that day. She left a void that will never be filled. 



Throughout the years Grandma gave me many things that I’ll forever hold close to my heart. Her cowboy boots, Granddad’s cowboy boots, and old love letters between the two of them written in the 1940s. Since her passing, our large family has worked to clean out her homestead, each family combing through years of memories, collectibles and “stuff”. 



Three generations have gone through closets, looked under beds and cleaned off bookshelves. We’ve taken oak dressers, beloved toys from our childhood, photos of champion Holstein heifers from the 1960s and record players with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys still in the play position.

I took shells and soap. 

One day the kids and I drove to Grandma’s and began sorting through things that we might want to keep forever. In Granddad’s old room, Caroline dug eagerly (we were on a treasure hunt of sorts) through a filing cabinet and found a bag of seashells. She was elated; I was confused. 

My grandparents were not regular vacationers because they had livestock. When hundreds of animals depend on you for their food (or, their milking twice a day), you do not often leave. You can’t often leave. But there were occasions when Granddad would come in from the barn and tell Grandma to pack a bag, they were going on a trip tomorrow. Sometimes they went to Virginia to visit Charlie Potter, a man they ran cattle with on the rolling green hills of the Shenandoah Valley. Once they drove to western Nebraska and showed up on the ranch house steps of a college friend of mine, only because they wanted to see how farming was different in Nebraska compared to Ohio. And apparently, at least once they went to a beach.

I was surprised to find seashells amongst farm paperwork in a filing cabinet, but I was relieved. 

Because seashells meant he – and grandma – took a break from the work of the farm to enjoy themselves. Seashells meant that he traveled far enough to see new land and meet new people that would become a part of his life’s story. Seashells meant that at some point he rested in between the hundreds of decisions it takes to operate a farm, and maybe even put his feet in the ocean. I hope he at least took off his boots. 

That afternoon, I also took soap. 

I have a habit of taking the unopened hotel soaps (lotions, shampoos, coffee…..what is wrong with me?) home with me when I travel. I figure if the Wagon Wheel Inn outside Lusk, Wyoming offered the goodies, I might as well return home with a souvenir. I get this habit honestly, and while cleaning out Grandma’s house I also found a bathroom drawer (maybe two) full of hotel soaps. Pony Soldier Motor Inn, Urbana-Lincoln Hotel, and one bar that didn’t have a name, but did advertise “wall to wall carpet” and a “24 hour switchboard” – whatever that is. Each ancient bar represents places she’d been, while out on a great voyage off the farm. She kept those soaps, and now I will, too. 

To me, these petite hotel soaps represent the exploration of unfamiliar places where she need not cook for the family and hired help or wash milkers. She simply had to be open to the road, likely interpreting the map, and ready for the next adventure. At some point in her 89 years, these soaps represent her courage to leave the farm – and trust me, it takes courage to leave the care of your livestock up to someone else – and see another part of this beautiful country. Even if they did sleep at the Pony Soldier Motor Inn.




Grandma and Granddad left many legacies, but today I think about the lesson they’ve taught in soap and shells. 

No matter how hard you work, how little quit you have in you, or how hard you find it to disconnect – everyone deserves to rest. To step away. To take a break. To explore. Maybe it is a morning walk in the fresh snow when you can’t seem to focus on graduate school studies. Maybe it is a Sunday afternoon drive to see someone you miss. Maybe it is getting back to a hobby you’ve abandoned because life keeps you too busy. Or perhaps, it’s a cross-country adventure just to discover new land and unfamiliar faces. 

Go. 

The work will be here when you get back, but experiences don’t wait.

And if you do find a place that has something worth packing home, do so. You never when those tokens will serve an entirely new purpose. 

In writing this, our daughter asked what the tiny bars of soap were. I told her they were part of her inheritance. She appeared confused, but hopefully one day she'll get it.