Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Fifth Annual Jean's Boots Christmas Letter

We received what I believe to be our last Christmas greeting of the season in the mail yesterday. I was so happy to see it; it granted me one more day to get this deal out.

Let me be the first to wish you 
Happy New Year!

2015 was a good year for the Sankeys. We traveled, gardened, celebrated, invested and survived. What more could you ask for? We spent much of our energy growing beef, watering a garden and killing mice. It’s an enchanted life.  

BSG beef, Sankey garden grown tomatoes and chives

For the sake of everyone's time and interest, let's just hit the highlights:

We traveled to South Dakota in March to see Cody’s sister and her family – including niece Bayler who changes so much each time we see her. The verdict is still our on which is bigger: Her personality or her eyes?

Alaska in August allowed us to see some of America’s most beautiful sights. And experience things we hoped never to. Like a 6-hour rough water boat cruise where nearly half of the boat’s occupants fell ill. Ever been trapped on a boat with folks losing their boxed lunch left and right? We landed ourselves smack dab in the middle of a real-life Hunger Games and nowhere to go but overboard. I had to sit in a booth with my head down, counting as far as I could in Spanish. It was somewhere around “jota” that Captain Miserable allowed us to go outside and sit on the deck. I’ve never wanted to swim with the humpbacks like I did that afternoon.

The good news is we made it to the next day and traveled to Homer Brewery where we met this fellow. We must have been obvious tourists because he came over and told us his compelling life story – having made a career by welding ship propellers. This dude was wildly interesting.

Stout lager gave him that crazy look in his eye.

It just wouldn’t be a Jean’s Boots Annual Holiday Letter without a cat update.  Single-26-year-old-me can’t believe I even typed that.We have yet to own a cat that devotes its life to ensuring no mouse enters our home. Still, we allow them to free load. Wilson (finally) had a run in with something bigger than himself,  and walked around for two days with things that belong on the inside dragging on the outside. He succumbed to his injuries. While we were at the NAILE in Louisville my dear friend Krista threw a random cat - she had found at her place  - into a barn at our farm and quickly slammed the barn door shut before driving off. What are friends for? Said cat (Shadow) is a female and kind of sleazy. We anticipate a growing cat herd in a matter of days.

Jean’s Boots Are Made For Talking gained some national exposure after I had the opportunity to speak at the Ag Catalyst conference in Kansas City  in October and then the 103rd Kansas Livestock Association Convention in December. I thoroughly enjoyed both experiences and the folks I met along the way. My in-laws were at the KLA convention and I still got invited to Christmas. WINNING.

In October we welcomed niece Georgia to the family. She is tiny and smiley and just wonderful. She’s also a brunette, which my side of the family may not be accustomed to. She is a perfect fit to our puzzle.

The Original Jean and Four Bowman Great-Grandkids

In early December I did something silly and took it upon myself to order Cody a new recliner to replace the broken down (/broken in – it depends on who you ask) one he’s had for years. Have you ever surprised a man with a new, supportive recliner to replace the one he’s spent years in? I wouldn’t recommend it. After nearly three weeks of online shopping, shipping logistical nightmares (it wouldn’t arrive by the 25th if delivered to our rural address, so I had to get creative) and second-guessing my bold decision to replace ol’ trusty I clicked “confirm purchase” and Christmas was over. Cody walked into the living room to find the leather recliner with a big red bow and calmly asked, “You didn’t throw out my other one, did you?” Apparently buying a recliner for someone without an opportunity for them to “test drive” is like buying a new car for them without them knowing. I didn’t see the problem? Anyway, he fell asleep in the new recliner for the next four nights. 

We traveled to Kansas last week for Christmas. Our return trip was interrupted by winter storm Goliath so we loaded up our rented sleigh and steered the red sled all the way back to Indiana. Our path included tumbleweeds and a closed I-70 interstate system due to flooding; an obstacle course of sorts. Twenty white knuckles and 24 hours later, we made it back to Indiana.

Can you believe I’ve been writing this annual letter to you for five years? I have a hard time committing a cereal for more than a week and somehow I’ve found the appetite to write this deal for five solid years. I guess only once a year helps. 

It's hard to believe 2015 is nearly a memory and 2016 anxiously awaits. We wish you all the best in 2016 - please do keep in touch!

Happy New Year, 

The Sankeys

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Born In A Barn

The old barns across this country could tell a thousand stories if square nails and round pegs had the power to speak; stories of progress and pride, disappointment and doubt, even of birth and death within the confines of the structure. Hundreds of hot July suns have crept across rough-hewn beams to light straw aglow and ruthless January winds have swept through cracks to blow the hair on livestock inside.

There are several old structures around our area that have become – not only members of certain families – but community monuments. Rob Allen’s big white barn on State Road 1 just north of the railroad tracks has seen countless cuttings of hay and straw move in and out of it’s interior. Kenny Stuart’s red barn on the bend at State Road 38 and Manning Road has stood as a timeless backdrop while progressive agriculture boomed with the expansion of grain legs over the years, reaching farther - and to quite larger – bins, topped with an American flag. And what about Bill Powell’s barn? The barn, where “GO TIGERS” once adorned the east side in white paint, has watched generations of Nettle Creek kids load and unload along the front entrance of the rural high school.

State to state and township by township, I bet you too can think of barns dotting the countryside which have gone from domineering focal points to quiet, background objects.

Taken in Montana

These old barns are special structures, built generations ago by local men of toil who understood the value of craftsmanship and took great pride in the work. They’ve withstood centuries of harsh weather, heavyweight livestock by the ton and progress abound.

Looking at today’s grand structures, it’s difficult to remember that they came from such a humble beginning, where it all began. What an incredible thought for those who have ever spent quiet hours inside an old barn. How remarkable that a structure comprised of so many basic raw materials, was the scene set for something so powerful: The birth of Jesus Christ.

I’m quite certain that the manger in which Jesus was born was not built of dozens of 14” x 14” beams and it didn’t have three levels for livestock, equipment, hay and straw. But I am certain that it was a humble place, like many of the old local barns are today, quiet with anticipation of new life. What an incredible thought that God chose such a modest location for such an extraordinary event. A peaceful, unassuming site which was bedded with straw became the birthplace of our Savior. A quiet place built of little, created to welcome so much. What a majestic manger it turned out to be.

Taken outside Meeteetse, Wyoming
We'll soon begin calving in our old barn. It’s generally a quiet season, checking every so often on young heifers who may have trouble their first time. Like many of you, we’ll spend hours in the dimly lit barn, seeing our breath and waiting for new life to be introduced to our little part of the world. Silent prayers will be said for healthy calves and mommas; we’ll say prayers of gratefulness that we were given the opportunity to raise the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10), even in -10º wind chill.
I was celebrating Christmas at a friend’s home a few weeks ago where I read a sign: 

Heaven is a little closer in the barn

- and I think I believe that. I also think that I’ll not drive by these old structures that now seem to sit in the background of our busy lives – perhaps zipping past a dozen on the way to work, on the way to basketball practice or on the drive home for Christmas – and not think of the particular miracle that was set in that simple scene; a wooden frame, made to welcome the world’s greatest Gift.

"Hurlbut Angus Farm" outside Raymond, South Dakota
Now RMH Livestock

I can’t count the times my Mom would yell 
at the three of us growing up, 
with hair in our faces or our rooms closely resembling a pig sty: 

“Were you born in a barn?!” 

I would always quietly reply in my mind, “No, but you raised us in one.”

My hope is that one day I'll ask the same pointed question to our children, 
“Were you born in a barn?!” 
and our kids will quietly reply in their mind

“No, but I know Someone who was.”

Merry Christmas from the Sankeys

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Take A Walk

“So what do you have planned while Cody’s traveling?” a friend asked me just days ago, assuming I would spend the Kohl’s cash burning a hole in my pocket or buy a tub of ice cream and catch up on the Hallmark channel.
“We may have cows cycling into heat. So I’ll be keeping up with that.”

I’m not sure the gal understood anything about my week’s plans, but I didn’t bother explaining that I’d sit outside to watch for certain behavior coming from the lot to log estrogen cycles so cows can be appropriately bred and due dates are accurate. Stockman wives just spend their time differently.

Cryptic snapchat I sent to CS using my nose to type.
I didn't want to take off my gloves. 

CS has been traveling out of town and rather than sleeping later since there will be no shower line or parading through town in the evenings wrapping up (no pun intended) our Christmas shopping, I’ve spent more time outside.
Part responsibility, part desire.
My responsibility lies in checking all cattle, feeding a set of heifers and watching heat in the main lot. It’s easy work and I enjoy it. Ask me again when it’s -10º and some idiot cow has splashed enough water over the float water system to freeze the blue balls and cause mass chaos around waterer. Yeah, ask me then.

The responsibility forces me outside, morning and night, clean air filling my lungs and extra steps in my day. I’ve gotten into a routine of walking laps around a 15-acre lot before I start feeding or heat-seeking. The areas that I have to feed are well lit; the pasture is not. Before it gets completely dark – night falls right around 6:00 PM – I take a solo stroll.

I’ve come to crave this time, if only 35 minutes, of walking and thinking; or, not thinking at all. And before this somewhat recent routine, I have trouble remembering the last time I walked with no intent, no music or no partner. Only the crunch of leaves and twigs under my boots. It’s been a while.

I walk and see headlights in the far distance, traveling north, likely heading home from work. Even as close as we are to a highway, I can’t hear the steady traffic way out there.
Have you ever noticed that the quieter you become the more you can hear?

I walk and think about the long list of work responsibilities that lie ahead in the next three months. None seem as pressing when I recall them along a tree line with hedge apples wasting at the ground. For every thing, a time. Even during a season where everything seems to be dying off, it’s amazing the peace and life found in things that are growing.

I’ve learned that with every quiet walk outside I receive more than I set out to find. There are few endeavors I’ve taken on that have offered that advantage.

I never have a set path, though I do have a particular distance I like to make. My path may wind or cross or repeat, but it always gets to me to where I need to go. It’s funny: when I pass through that second red gate I never really know where I’m going until I get there.

Do you want to get a better night’s rest? Talk a walk outside.
Do you want to get more out of something than what you put in? Talk a walk outside.
Do you want to do something good for your body? Talk a walk outside.
Do you want to get your mind off the day’s trouble? Talk a walk outside  in uncomfortable shoes.

I’m no health nut (I love cheese), fitness expert (have ya seen me?) or tree hugger (just, don’t). But I do think there is power in getting out of the house and spending some solitary time in nature. And nature seems like such a vast cliché. Just get outside and leave anything with a battery on the kitchen counter. For 30 minutes a day.  How's that for basic? You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel. Worry not, you trivia tyrants; Alex Trebek will be on again tomorrow.

Looking back, I think there was a reason Momma always told us to “put on a hat and go outside to build character". She knew that we’d have a far greater advantage creating our own adventure by exploring the big world outdoors than anything Alvin and the Chipmunks could have offered.

Such a tough lesson when you’re six; 
a little easier to swallow at 31.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Warm, Glowing Fiasco

We never say the words, but every so often Momma and I ask for opportunities to be miserable. 

We’re alike in that there is no place we’d rather be than home. On any given Friday night we’re happiest at home with a box of Triscuits, sharp cheddar cheese and a 2-hour Dateline Special. With the deadbolt locked…and taking turns checking it during every commercial break. But sometimes we do leave home and venture into what one might call situations.

We once sat in line for four hours during  Tire Drop Off Day. You want a good glimpse of the people in your tiny part of the world? Go ahead and tell the public they can dispose of all tires for free during one Saturday only. Then sit in a parked truck for four hours and watch. That’s a blog for another week. We survived, but it was the only time I seriously thought my Momma might consider leaving Dad. He had sent us to town that day in the farm truck with a bed full of dry rot tires, some stale airplane peanuts in the console and two cookbooks. Like I said, a story for another time. 

Momma and I are on the right. 

She called me Sunday morning:

“Can I call you back when I get in the car? I’m trying to get out the door to church,” I asked in haste.
“Well I’m walking into church now (her way of revealing that my time is no more valuable than hers). Do you want to go to Warm Glow after church?” Momma asked.
I knew what I wanted to do, but I also knew the timing couldn’t be any worse: this was Christmas open house weekend at possibly the largest public attraction in our area: Warm Glow.


I grew up just minutes from Warm Glow, a candle shop once the size of a two-car garage that has more recently expanded into 80,000 square feet of candles, signage, home décor, beer, wine, hand crafted soaps and other wild things that I’m certain your brain could never even dream up. It’s every most women’s dreamland and every man’s nightmarish hell. 

Check out the amazing products at  Lonely Windmill Farm 

In my life B. C. (before Cody) I invested a small fortune into Warm Glow turning my first house into a beautiful little home. Now A.C. (you get it) those scented candle rings and sparkly burlap lampshades hide in mouse-proof (I do the best I can) Rubbermaid tubs while I now prefer to decorate with anything that can be rinsed off with a garden hose. Guys are gross.


Knowing that this weekend was the biggest shopping weekend for Warm Glow (like, thousands flock to this place), I accepted the challenge and told Momma I’d meet her at BSG after church and we’d carpool the 4.7 miles to Warm Glow for an afternoon of shopping for things that will be in Rubbermaid in 25 days.

I drove over I-70 and our grand idea of self-inflicted pain really struck; the parking lot was packed, the lawn was covered by vehicles and cars were winding down the long driveway, parking by the road.

“Well this was stupid,” Momma said. I kept driving. Misery loves company and I was about to rub elbows with 1,500 of my very best friends. Once inside she told me we didn’t need a cart since we’d be here only 20 minutes. I knew better and grabbed a cart then threw my purse and coat inside. Might as well get comfy. I should have worn yogas.

We were on a (suicide) mission to find only a few, very specific things:
Momma: 1 Red, 1 White and 1 Green candle for a centerpiece.
Me: Two candles for upcoming gift exchanges.


I got my steps in, though my Fitbit was resting peacefully on my nightstand. We actually walked the entire width of the store three times looking for a damn peppermint candle – the white in Momma’s festive trio. We couldn't do Evening Mocha or Coconut Cream or Creamy Vanilla Bean. Nope. Nothing smells like Christmas like a Merry Mint candle burning next to a Northern Pine burning next to a Cranberry Stardust. At one point I didn't know if we were going by color or the fact that Momma made her list on an empty stomach.

However, during our voyage for the perfect Merry Mint, we visited with:
1 old nursing colleague
2 high school classmates
 1 FFA friend
3 people we tried to avoid for the sake of time
8 Facebook friends, one of which I asked how wedding planning was going only to learn there would be none. Jean’s Boots Lesson #1,271: If you can’t recall many Facebook posts about said wedding planning, best to not even mention it.
And 378 children looking for
Santa, Mrs. Claus and….Elsa.
Momma got more excited about Elsa being at Warm Glow than a 60-something should. It’s the Grammie in her, I guess. She asked me to wait in line to see Elsa so I could get my picture with her to send to my niece Marlee (6).

I found a few holes in this proposal:
I’m 30-something and have frankly never seen Frozen.
I forgot my Frozen costume.
I’m 30-something.
I couldn’t see the end of the line.
I’m 30-something.
If I did stand in line looking like Buddy the Elf compared to everyone else, who in the heck was going to take the picture? 

Momma got an iPhone just over a month ago and has Facetimed me something like 68 times since. There was no way I was going to teach her how to use the camera today. 

I came up with a better solution and asked Elsa to pose for a solo photo in between toddler hugs. The only thing that could have made this more awkward for this amazing sport of a gal would be if I were a 57-year-old male.

We then found the bird display and stocked up on birds for Momma’s old bird tree, which sits at the top of the landing and terrifies every grandchild old enough to focus their eyes (Georgia is just so very young, give it time). I’m including pictures for my friend Cheyanne.


When the day was said and done, in our cart we had 14 candles, 6 candle plates, 4 creepy birds, 3 bags of candle chips, 1 Christmas present I can’t discuss and a box of wine. Yes, on a Sunday. There was a winery on display in the corner of the Watering Can (Warm Glow’s garden center) and Momma somehow found them while looking through the Fairy Gardens. 

Who am I kidding? We were as lost as last year’s Easter egg and that card table with a wine display seemed like a mirage. But it was real! Twelve bottles, real.

If you’ve never been to Warm Glow, it’s a must-see attraction while traveling I-70 between Indiana and Ohio. The concept of the perfect candle began in a couple’s basement just down the road from BSG and has grown into this really incredible shop tucked away in rows of Indiana corn. At the same exit is a Dairy Queen, so you can spend your kids’ inheritance on hearth candles then blow your last $15 cash on Blizzards just across the way. That’s assuming you didn’t eat Warm Glow ice-cream while shopping.

The afternoon turned out well and Momma and I left feeling as tired and broke as we did after Tire Drop Off Day. Our legs and pocketbooks hurt, but we reconfirmed something that day:

We just weren't cut out for 
some social events unless they involve 
cheese and  Keith Morrison.