Wednesday, March 20, 2019

An Opinion of Mud

I hadn’t even changed the first diaper of the day when I was asked this question:

“Mom. Jump in mud puddles today?”

I’m not sure if she recognized the rain pounding on the roof throughout the night as I had, but our 2 ½ year old has a way of planning the day before pajamas come off. 

It’s been a long winter. I’m a big fan of cold weather, but this season seems to be relentless. As the snow stops falling, the rain has set in, and with livestock, it’s hard to tell which natural element is worse.

As someone required to work in mud daily to care for livestock, I view mud differently than our little girl. 

I view mud as the thing that keeps my feet stuck into the deep, soggy ground when hungry heifers shove me around as I toss buckets of grain in the feed bunk. 

I view mud as the thing that causes me to get our Kubota stuck in two-feet-deep ruts while my husband’s instructions of “DON’T TAKE YOUR FOOT OFF THE GAS!!” echo through my head. He’s in Montana for the week so my week’s priority shifts from keeping all stock fed and alive to digging or pulling out a diesel Kubota without leaving too much proof of the incident. Talk about covering your tracks. 

My opinion of mud changed after the first time I got muddy, flowing water down into my waterproof boots, then again after I lost a boot in the mud and had to sacrifice my socks and reputation in front of customers, then once again when I learned how muddy navels on a calf can affect their health. 

Mud isn’t nearly as fun when you’re in your mid-thirties and considering a double knee replacement due to months of carrying feed buckets several yards through the relentless brown tar far up your shins. 

But when you’re 2 ½, mud looks much different. 

When you’re 2 ½, you’re not worried about topsoil washing away, wet basements or newborn calves finding their way. 

When you’re 2 ½, mud becomes the medium for which you can paint murals on the side of barns, trucks and cement pads. 

When you’re 2 ½, mud brings worms and worms are quite interesting creatures. 

When you’re 2 ½, mud allows you to stay outside longer because you must wash your boots. For several minutes. Using a scrub brush. To get them spotless. Then spray the kitties for good measure. 

When you’re 2 ½, mud allows you to hunt for bears more effectively, searching for tracks of the beasts that fascinate us so much right now. We’ve found countless “bear” tracks across our farm in the last several weeks, and we’re also convinced Mr. Brown Bear lives in the woods just off Charles Road. You’ve been warned. 

When you’re 2 ½, mud creates opportunities to learn a whole new vocabulary from Mom when she gets the Kubota stuck in the mud and Dad is two time zones west. Mom is not proud of this. 

Oh, to have the optimism of a child, waking in the dark to the excitement of a day ahead, instead of dread. I laid in bed that morning thinking of how tough the day was going to be, and she woke with plans for the day to take advantage of what nature had presented before us. 

I think her mind will change the first time she loses a boot in the mud with two feed buckets in her hands. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

One Day I'll Carry a Purse Again

There are certain things that have no place in our home, so they ride around in the back storage area of my vehicle: a bag of Goodwill clothes that never made it to the store, 12 reusable grocery bags, and three purses.  

Cody was loading the double stroller into the storage area of my vehicle not long ago and soon realized it wouldn’t fit because of the baggage - literally - that was taking up space in my life. 
He was quick to ask, “Why haven’t you delivered that bag of Goodwill clothes we sorted through back in January?” 
Because I always forget they’re there. 
Then, “Do you really need a dozen reusable grocery bags?” 
No, but six don't have an insulated liner in them and six don't have a sturdy I don't know which ones to toss. 
Finally, “These three purses have been in here for a year – do you really need them?” 
My immediate and firm answer was YES.

I’ve not carried a purse since July 1, 2016 – the day I became a mother. I packed an overnight bag and a diaper bag to go to the hospital, and I never picked up a purse again. Not because I didn’t want one, but frankly I don’t have enough hands. Instead, I've tucked everything I need for myself inside a small wallet.

In My Purse, BC (before children) was an array of things, part CVS store, part time capsule. Before children, you could look in my purse and find: a can of Friz-Ease hairspray, two lip glosses, four lipsticks, four credit cards, 45 bobby pins, an array of gum and mints, a risky can of mace, a mirror, expired coupons, band-aids for bad shoes, shabby Kleenexes, most with a mint inside, a Keith Whitley CD, a Robert Earl Keen CD, outdated business cards from two jobs ago, Advil and ticket stubs from shows I went to in 2014. 

But there is no room for those things in a diaper bag. 
Diaper bags are much more selfless and extend beyond one’s self.

When I carried a purse, I spent time in an office, talked a lot to my girlfriends, and cared much about my appearance. Today, I spend a lot of time in a pasture, talk a lot to bred heifers, and do care about my appearance, only because I’m certain a someone could stop by at any given moment and ask about our Certified Angus Beef barn

But one day I’ll carry a purse again. 

Because one day there will be no more diaper bag. There will be no more need for extra bibs tucked in every compartment. There will be no more gummy spoons or Ziplock bags of dry cereal that busted open during the trip. There will be no more thermoses of warm water, waiting for the next bottle. 

There will be no more stickers from the doctor or dum-dums from the bank. No more hair bows to dress up an outfit last-minute, dinosaurs to occupy a baby or toys to keep someone quiet in the waiting room. 

There will be no more crushed goldfish crackers, ground graham crackers or animal crackers without legs. No more dried blueberries, extra pants in case of accidents or one stray shoe. 

There will be no more books with pages stuck together because of fruit snacks left in between, no more earrings with no match, no more spare socks so small that even the smallest in the family outgrew them six months ago. 

There will be no more diapers by the dozen, no more wipes and no more Desitin. No more rattles. No more Tide pens. No more Vaseline. No more pacifiers. Right now, I have a hard time imaging a world without pacifiers. 

There will be no more packing for anyone else but myself in order to leave the house for two hours. I'll no longer need much, at all. 

I guess one day I’ll carry a purse again and it will be a big, vast space waiting to be filled of pieces of my life. With a house key, an array of coupons I'll never use, expensive lipstick that need not be kiss-proof and really great hairspray. Perhaps at that age, I’ll start packing the vast space with my insurance card, eye glasses and tums. And probably a nose aspirator because I have a really hard time letting go.

Between you and I, 
I absolutely dread the fact that 
one day I’ll carry a purse again. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Saving Grace

It was a busy Friday. 

We had two plumbers here making improvements, going from the exterior of our home, to the basement, to the kitchen, to the bathroom, multiple times. 

Cody was working diligently to prepare the farm for his upcoming travels. 

I was in the house – trying to stay out of the plumbers’ way – making lunch, when I heard a strange, loud noise. 

“Call 911!” I heard my husband frantically yell from the yard. I grabbed my phone and looked out our kitchen window: a red SUV was in a million pieces in the ditch in front of our house. I heard the two plumbers run up our basement steps and dart outside. 

I tried to figure out what was going on while on the phone with dispatch: 

Serious car accident on 35. No one is getting out of the car. Car flipped several times. Windshield busted out. Both ends of the car are crushed like a pop can. Was another vehicle somewhere I couldn’t see? There is no way this is a single vehicle accident. A woman is crawling out! She is screaming for her baby. Oh no, there is a baby in the car. We need help.

The plumbers ran across 35 and jumped onto the vehicle and somehow got the car seat out. The dispatcher told them to keep the baby in the car seat, but get it somewhere warm. Cody suggested our milkhouse, but my motherly instincts told me to get the baby in our warm home. This would prove to be a mistake. 

It took a while for the mother to realize her baby was in someone else’s care and in our house. This was the first red flag. She came in extremely distraught as anyone who had just rolled their vehicle three full times (this according to investigators) across a state highway would be. She was barefoot, bloody and disoriented. Her concern then shifted from her baby, who would be fine, to the ramifications of what she’d just done. She suddenly had a break down in the middle of my kitchen. Reality had set in. 

While I stayed in the house with our two little ones, the paramedics, officers and others rotated in and out of our kitchen gathering details of how this could have happened. I tried to keep our children quiet while watching the clean-up from a window. There was debris and glass all the way across the highway, ditch to ditch. 

The woman was traveling from a clinic in Richmond back to her home in Muncie. I don’t know, or care to, the details of how an accident that horrific happened or the choices she made that lead to it. What I cared about what that the baby was ok. She was. Her blanket was covered in blood; the baby didn’t have a scratch on her little body. She was giggling by the time they left my kitchen. 

“I have no idea how this baby is fine. She doesn’t have a scratch,” I texted Cody. He was outside working with officers and moving equipment so EMTs could get in our driveway. 

But Cody knew. While they were picking up the debris, something caught his eye. Among the bottles of cheap perfume, fast food trash, clothes, toys, sub woofers and more, a leather-bound Bible lay in the middle of US Highway 35. That baby was in much better hands that afternoon than we realized. 

There is a grand plan for the child; her story is just beginning. From the moment I took the bloody blanket off her and saw her big, healthy smile, I just wanted to hold her tight. 

But I soon realized that little girl 
was being held tightly and lovingly already, 
by Someone far stronger than I. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Bundling Up

I love cold weather, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make things more challenging on the farm. Especially as Cody travels, the weight of calving and keeping stock (alive) weighs on me. I’m sincerely glad to do the work; I grew up in this lifestyle and knew early that I wanted to spend the rest of my life around cattle. 

So, what is the worse part about raising livestock in the winter? 
Fixing frozen waterers? 
Getting cows in the barn during a wind storm? 
Carrying buckets through drifts? 
Nope. None of those things. It’s bundling up the kids to go outside. 

Here is my daily routine:

Change two diapers. Put Vaseline on cheeks and lips. 

Start bundling Caroline: Firstly, get warm socks on her. This consists of spending two minutes explaining why socks are necessary when it is ten degrees outside, then crushing her dreams of wearing her Crocs in the snow. Wipe tears. Lots and lots of tears. Put her hooded sweatshirt on her. Not the easy, slightly large one, but she insists that she wear the old one with a horse on it, the one that I can barely get over her head. This one is apparently the only one that is suitable at this stage in her life. Find her pink coveralls. Sit her on my lap and stuff her into pink coveralls. Stand her up, then tuck her horse sweatshirt down into the coveralls. Zip up the coveralls, forgetting to tell her “chin up!”. I zip her chin. More tears. Tell her I’m sorry then give her my phone to pacify her while I bundle Cyrus then myself, and also to buy her love from zipping up her chin. 

Next, Cyrus: Get Cyrus out of the jumper. Cyrus smells. Back upstairs for another diaper change. More Vaseline for good measure. Grab his snowsuit and head downstairs. Try to find a two-foot by two-foot space on the living room floor that does not have a toy, blanket or shoe on it. This is very difficult.  Lay snowsuit on the floor and place baby inside. Kiss baby and tell him I’m sorry we have to do this, but it will be over soon. He rolls his eyes because I use the same line, daily. Lay baby in the snow suit and zip it up. He is smiling. He is easy. 

Instruct Caroline to stand by the door because we’re almost ready to go outside. Repeat myself. Caroline cannot hear me because she’s watching Baby Shark for the 3,532,694th time and has lost all sense of her surroundings. 

Go to the mudroom to find my clothes. I forgot to lay my gloves on the register after breaking ice this morning and they’re still soaking wet. Search our bottomless bucket of nice gloves that fit and match. This is very difficult. I choose one advertising a semen service and one advertising a bovine estrogen drug. One day these kids will be able to read and I’ll have to explain this to them; today is not that day. 

Shimmy into my snow pants; they should not be this tight. Pull my hair up and pin it into a toboggan. I have to do this before putting on my coat because I’m not able to raise my arms well once it is on. Get coat on. Check pockets for adequate Kleenex supply; supply low. Open door to kitchen and ask Caroline to get Mommy a Kleenex. Repeat myself. She cannot hear me because she’s now watching videos of Asian children wash their hands and has lost all ambition. 

Cyrus is crying. I tiptoe across the kitchen floor in an effort to not leave a trail of mud – or other – across the floor. My kitchen floor is extremely clean and I want to leave it that way. If you believe that last line, you don’t read this column enough. Find the baby in the living room screaming his head off. Someone has placed a stuffed chicken on top of his head. Something tells me it was not him. Ask Caroline again to go stand by the door. Miraculously, she hears me. With her newfound alertness, she realizes that she has on several layers and it is 70° in the house. Suddenly, she is on fire, screaming that she is hot. I understand how she feels; I started sweating when I was trying to stuff her into warm socks. I tell her there is a draft by the kitchen door and she will feel better when she gets there. This is not a lie. 

I put Cyrus into the car seat and buckled him in but do not pull him tight. His snowsuit is so big on him that there is very little room left in the car seat. He’s not going anywhere. I set the car seat by the kitchen door so he, too, can enjoy the natural breeze. I go back out to the mudroom and put on my boots. I carry both kids to the mudroom and instruct them to stay right there. I have forgotten Caroline’s gloves. Her gloves are on the register. I have to take off my boots and tiptoe across the floor again. But the register is empty. Someone has moved her gloves. I go back to the mudroom and ask her where she put her gloves. She admits that she took them upstairs and hid them under her crib. I am really sweating now. 

I try to dodge every toy, blanket, and shoe on the living room floor to make my way upstairs. I cannot find her gloves but I did find an unwrapped granola bar. Suddenly, our mouse problem begins to make more sense. I go to her dresser and find a pair of pink mittens, knowing full and well she will lose her head when she sees they are not her favorite Mickey Mouse mittens. This is a battle I’m willing to fight mostly because I started this process 45 minutes ago and we have probably had four calves born during this “bundling up” process.

I report back downstairs to the mudroom to find Cyrus crying and Caroline taking 50 pairs of gloves out of our glove bucket. This is fine. This can be addressed later. Right now, I need fresh air and enough stamina to make to the barn. I get my boots on and put my phone in my pocket.

I open the storm door and get Caroline outside and pick up the carrier with Cyrus strapped in. All three of us are outside of the house; now, we can start chores.

And my husband wonders 
why I insist on 
feeding the stock only once a day. 

You must always pay the help.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019


Since we're still talking about Christmas....

I watch too much Dateline for my own good. There is something about a real-life murder mystery that reels me in every Friday night (I have a crazy exciting social life), then in turn makes me run as fast as I can from the barn to the house after the 5:00 AM feeding, unsure of what lurks in the early morning hours outside Economy, Indiana. Dateline does nothing for my mental health. 

So, you can imagine the thoughts that went through my head when Cody stood at the bottom of our stairwell on the Wednesday before Chritsmas and said that a truck driver was broke down at the intersection of 1 and 35 and needed a ride to Economy. A few questions I had for him:

1.   Who has ever needed a ride to Economy?
2.   Why did you even tap the breaks when he flagged you down? KEEP DRIVING AND DO NOT MAKE EYE CONTACT!
3.   Doesn’t he have AAA?
4.   Do you have a weapon?
5.   Do you want me to follow you?

Of course, Cody thought all of my questions were ridiculous. He reported that the man crossed the 1 and 35 intersection to flag him down to ask for help, and Cody felt compelled to do so. 

Ten minutes later, Cody texted me: “This is the wildest trip ever. Wait until I tell you.” 
I hoped he would live to do so. I was packing for our Christmas trip to Kansas with two kids and my feet and anxiously awaited his return home. 

The trucker’s name was Spanky. You read that right. He revealed that he was from central Kansas, and while he typically hauled livestock, this particular assignment to gain some extra cash for Christmas (he was married with children) had him hauling a load of batteries to Muncie, Indiana. The fact that he was from central Kansas certainly made Cody’s ears perk up, as Cody’s family ranch lies in the same western plain. Cody asked for a more specific area in Kansas and Spanky said Great Bend, Kansas, just 140 miles west of my in-laws ranch. 

During the brief drive to Economy, Cody revealed that he, too, was from central Kansas and his family is still there today. More specifically, his grandmother and uncle still reside in Sterling, not far from Great Bend. As irony would have it, Spanky attended college in Sterling, population 2,300. A Kansas town just a bit bigger than our beloved Hagerstown. 

The mechanic that Spanky was trying to find in Economy was nowhere to be found; his truck wouldn’t be repaired that night. He asked Cody for a ride back to his rig, still parked at 1 and 35. Cody gave him one of our Sankey Angus business cards and asked if he could bring him dinner (a double cheeseburger from a local joint – only the best for our guests!); Spanky obliged. But when he looked at the business card, Spanky asked, “Sankey. You don’t know a Larry Sankey, do you?”

Larry Sankey is Cody’s paternal grandfather. 

As absolute fate would have it, while in college, Spanky (I have no idea of this man’s birth name, so we’re assuming it is, in fact, Spanky) went to the small-town bank on business and asked a teller (Cody’s grandmother) if she knew of any places where a college kid could live. She thought they might have a place on the ranch he could rent, and the rest is history. Spanky moved into Larry and Melva’s rental and Larry nearly killed him (his words, not mine) the day Spanky decided to trim the shrubs without asking. 

Thirty-five years later, Spanky breaks down ¼ mile from Larry’s grandson’s Angus operation in Indiana. Small world, indeed. 

Our son woke at 4:00 the next morning, and when he was done eating, we loaded the truck and headed west for Christmas in Kansas. Spanky’s truck was still parked at 1 and 35. We hoped he was sleeping soundly, and would make it back west in time for Christmas. While in Kansas, we told grandma Melva about the trucker and she didn’t really remember him, but she did remember a guy who Larry almost killed because he trimmed the shrubs at the ranch house. Some men are just particular about their landscape, I guess. 

I'm a firm believer that amidst disappointment, God puts people in our lives to make the frustration more bearable. This Christmas, we remembered how He crossed Cody and Spanky’s paths, making the 800 miles that lie between Sterling, Kansas and Economy, Indiana feel just a bit closer to home. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Eighth Annual Christmas Letter

When I was still under my parents’ roof, we’d always roll our eyes when Brenda's Christmas letter would arrive. This was the 1990s and most families sent generic Christmas cards and simply signed the salutation. Not Brenda. Brenda always typed a full page (+) detailing the wildly exciting year her family had: trips, promotions, home additions and more. Her family seemed perfect, and it was exhausting to muster up the attention span to finish the greeting. One year she wrote about her daughter’s promising career as a “Pigment Solution Specialist” at Lowes; the reality was that she mixed paint at the paint counter. My favorite part of the letter was always the end…when it was over. 

Following in Brenda's splendid footsteps, I too, write a Christmas letter annually and have for eight years. The fact that this is coming out the second week in January should allow you to rest assured that it won’t make you feel bad about your life; in fact, it should make you feel better. I've found there is a direct correlation between the more people that I love and the later this letter gets written. Before Cody, I wrote it in early December. Caroline pushed my deadline to New Year's Day. Cyrus is as spunky as his hair and I frankly forgot about sitting down to write this until two days ago. 

So here we are. 

Let us be the absolute last family to 
wish you Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

We began the year (I'm talking 2018) as we have for the last five years: Cody in Denver for eight days at the National Western Stock Show and I enjoying (no, really) the responsibility of taking care of our stock at home, Caroline included. I don’t remember many big problems or visits from the vet during that time, so I’ll call it a good calving season in the frozen month of January. I can also walk into a room and not remember why, so trying to remember our calving record from a year ago is a bit of a challenge. 

I did fly to Denver for 20 hours to stand with our family as they received one of the most coveted livestock industry honors: Chris and Sharee were selected as the 2018 U.S. Livestock Industry Leaders of the Year. This award has been presented at the National Western annually since 1946 to many prominent industry leaders, and they joined them in having earned this award.

2018 brought big change in my professional career, as I left Harvest Land full time and created Sankey Creative, which allows me to contract communications work while taking care of our children, also allowing for better management of the farm. Has my meal planning improved? Nope; you can still find me at the Hagerstown Market two times a week. Is my house cleaner? Nope; Caroline asked for a bunny around Easter and I reminded her we have plenty of dust bunnies at home. This confused her. Is my stress level lower? Not really; owning a small business is serious work. But I have more time with Caroline, and now Cyrus, and that is what I’ll remember when I think back on this stage in my life. We spend many days outside with the cattle, painting, playing house and rocking babies, both real and dolls. 

Of course, the greatest addition that came in 2018 arrived on our fifth wedding anniversary. Cyrus Sankey joined our family on August 10 with a head full of blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin. He and his sister could not look more different. We didn’t find out the gender ahead of time because I was certain it was another girl. Perhaps my maternal instincts will kick in by the time they start school. You can imagine our surprise when we were told “she” was a he – what an incredible gift! I’ve learned quickly that there is something very special about the bond between little boys and their mommas.  

Caroline has been an incredible big sister. We didn’t know how that transition would go, but there has been no jealousy, only lots of squeezing. He really does well for being smothered often. She is constantly touching him, stroking his hair that refuses to lay down, shoving food in his mouth and sharing her head cold with him. One day he was babbling and then got very quiet. I entered the living room to find she’d opened my Bible and simply laid it on his face to shut him up. It really is a great brother/sister relationship. 

Cody’s career as Genex Sire Procurement Manager keeps him on the road and professionally fulfilled. This year he traveled from Argentina to Canada, California to Pennsylvania. He sends home amazing photos of his travels and I send him pictures of the kids. My view always wins, and he agrees. 

2018 was a wonderful year, not without its challenges. Starting and managing books for a small business required much more attention to detail and frankly, taxes, than I was prepared for; 2019 will be better. Cyrus spent 4 days at Reid with RSV; 2019 will be better. I had a falling out with a friend that I miss dearly; I commit now to making 2019 better. We still have a mouse problem; 2019 has to be better or I will lose my mind. 

We hope that your family is well and optimistic as we move into another year. If I had any realization in 2018 it was this: Despite the dark circles I’ve acquired under my eyes, toy pile that never stays where it should, constant mud across our kitchen floor and sleepless nights rocking a baby fighting sleep, I am actually living – right now – in the good old days. The ones that one day, when our house is quiet and clean and just home to two, we will long for. And that changes my entire outlook on life.

Until then, here is a look at the
real Sankey family during photos. 

I appreciate you taking the time to read our family update. If you’ve found yourself asking, “Is this the end, yet?” while reading this, you’re suddenly in luck. 

The Sankey Family