Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ice Road Truckers: A Modern Day Christmas Story

Last Friday Cody, Caroline and I headed west for Christmas in Kansas. When we pulled out of the driveway – an hour later than hoped and loaded down with BSG sale cattle in tow – we had no idea what lied ahead. Had I known, I would have packed more snacks. Or, any snacks at all. The first thirty minutes into our trek set the tone for the entire adventure. I forgot three gifts in the back compartment of my Edge, so we had to turn around and get those, putting us even further behind. 
11:15 AM: we hit the road – again.

I’m certain that Cody has an app on this phone that directs him to the dirtiest truck stop restrooms in the history of the world and because he’s a curious guy, he likes to experience them. We hit one every 3 hours, or so.  I killed 17 trees making sure no part of Caroline’s body would touch the plastic changing tables at every bathroom we entered. Point of reference: The Pilot in Terre Haute, Indiana has the coldest bathroom I’ve ever been in. Caroline would agree.  She went through two outfits just trying to self-regulate her body temperature.

I don’t remember much of Illinois. It's probably better that way.

Between St. Louis and Columbia, Missouri a freezing rain moved in and completely crippled the interstate system.  Our truck came to a screeching halt, but we didn’t think too much of it because the roads had gotten noticeably slick. Two hours later we were still crawling westbound in stop-and-creep traffic.

By hour 4 Cody was getting quite uncomfortable. First he took off his belt, which was pushing on parts of his body that didn’t need any extra pressure. What made this noteworthy is the fact that he forgot this minor detail each time he got out of the truck. Have you ever seen Cody Sankey jump out of a truck without a belt to hold his pants up? Noteworthy. Secondly, he got a leg cramp so bad I was sure we’d have to amputate, but he couldn’t get out and stretch because we were sitting on pure ice. Then, somewhere in the dark between Wright City and Warrenton, Missouri these simple words cut through the dark, idling truck cab:
“You’re not going to like this, but I need you to dump this cup as soon as it’s full.”
60 oz. and two minutes of gagging later I knew that love truly knows no bounds.

Both directions of I-70 traffic were stopped for several hours.  In fact, we sat in a 7-mile stretch for 8 hours and in park (not moving an inch) for 6 of the 8. We rolled past one man who had fallen asleep behind the wheel, car still running. Cody honked to wake him up as we slowly rolled past him, but we didn’t get the job done. We later saw the guy back up and going; more rested than the rest of us, no doubt. I forget what hour it was when Cody told me that if we sat there much longer he would have to shut off the truck to conserve fuel and I’d have to keep Caroline warm. It was then that I went from frustrated to worried.

It was an eerie feeling driving, or skating, past abandoned semis and cars/trucks that had either fallen victim to the ice and landed in the ditch, or those which had run out of gas from sitting idle in single digit temperatures for eight hours. Those big semi trucks don’t seem so powerful when they’re strung around like rag dolls and piled against guard rails. Once up and going we also saw a lot of cups lining both sides of the interstate. Cody found a bit of peace knowing he wasn’t the only one in such a predicament. I felt empathy towards any co-pilots involved.

We saw only one MoDOT truck during our 8-hour stop, and he kept driving back and forth across the over pass ahead of us. The local country station wasn’t playing music, but rather taking calls from stranded drivers. Cody called in once we “made it through the gauntlet” and told the DJ about the conditions we encountered, how long we’d been sitting, etc. On the air the DJ asked if Cody had a clean joke he’d like to share with the listeners:
Cody was quick to respond: “Do I have a joke? I sure do: MoDOT.”

We were hauling six cows and three calves that had sold two weeks ago at the Bowman Superior Genetics Form to Function sale. One buyer sat at a truck stop in Kingdom City, Missouri from 4:00 PM (when we told him we’d be there) until 1:00 AM (when we actually arrived) waiting on his investments. We unloaded half of the stock in the truck stop parking lot on a sheet of ice, used the restroom, bought coffee then kept on west. Had there been any available hotel rooms there or the next three exits we would have stayed over night. Every room along icy I-70 was already full at 2:00 AM.  Our family has a whole new appreciation for the phrase "No room at the inn" this year. 

For 370 miles – from St. Louis to Council Grove, Kansas – Cody didn’t exceed 50 mph., nor did he take the truck out of 4 wheel drive. I did my best to keep Caroline fed, changed and entertained in the backseat. I’ll admit I broke many rules in terms of keeping her buckled in, but she stayed warm, dry and fed and at the end of the day(s) that’s all we cared about. I learned how to change a diaper in a single-seat space and how to feed a baby while sitting amongst truck drivers in a well-lit Pilot fuel pump line. Motherhood has a way of tearing you down and then truly empowering you in the next moment.

CJ praying outside a Topeka truck stop that we make 
it to the 6N Ranch in time for Christmas

We left our house at 11:00 AM Friday and should have been to the ranch by 9:00 PM that evening.
Instead we arrived at 11:00 the next morning: Almost 24 hours to the minute. To top it all off, Cody went to unload the remaining Shorthorns (sold to Colorado) and the trailer door was pure ice and frozen shut. He had to unload the cows and calves out the side door. That’s just the luck of Cody Sankey, Ice Road Trucker.

I rolled out of the truck with spit up in my hair, my fingers webbed due to the amount of formula caked onto them, my leggings so stretched out that the crotch was between my knees, and a restless baby in my arms.  Cody was in serious need of a stiff drink and stretch, but he settled for a shower and a nap before the Laflin Christmas began in two short hours.

We had three really nice Christmases, were gifted far too much and spent hours watching Caroline and cousin Bayler interact. It was such wonderful family time. But in no time we were heading east again.

The trip home was much more uneventful, thank goodness.
Although we did stop mid-Missouri for fuel and another dirty Pilot truck stop bathroom experience:

I had just lined the changing table with 40 paper towels and laid Caroline down when another mom came in with yoga pants, a thigh gap and her two young kids.  She looked at Caroline sprawled out on the plastic table, then instructed her kids, “Do not touch anything in the bathroom. Keep your hands off everything.”

As she led her Baby Gap models into the handicap stall, I turned and looked down at CJ, batting her tiny hand against the wall, and began to feel like Grand Champion Dirty Mom of Missouri. Meanwhile, thigh gap continued to instruct her kids to keep their hands off everything. In an effort to make more room at my workstation, I wrapped up the dirty diaper and threw it approximately 8 feet across the restroom to the trash can. If you know my athletic history (it’s brief), you won’t be surprised to know that I missed the trash can, the diaper ricocheted off the side and rolled into Thigh Gap’s stall.

I didn’t know what to say other than, “I’m sorry about that! I never was much of a basketball player.”
No response.
Shortly after, she and her kids emerged from the stall, she scrubbed their hands and they left without a word of encouragement or disdain. If I had a Snickers bar in that moment I would have gladly given it to her.

In the meantime Cody had come into the travel center to get caffeine. I took Caroline out to get her loaded up and heard water running? I quickly learned that the diesel pump had dispensed 17 gallons over what our tank actually holds because the pump didn’t shut off automatically when full. That was a $39.00 travel lesson learned the hard way.

The best news: We’re home. We’re safe. We were able to catch up on conversations that we hadn’t had in a while and I was given the opportunity to sit next to Caroline Jean and study her for hours on end, uninterrupted. How many other moms get that chance, especially during this busy holiday season? God doesn't always give us what we want, but rather what we need

Speaking of needs. 

Does anyone have a chiropractor recommendation in east central Indiana? 36 hours of sitting in a crew cab has really taken a toll on this old mom. I've considered doing yoga stretches but I haven't been able to touch my toes in 24 years. 

Merry Christmas from the Sankey family

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Nothing Is Easy

Nothing is easy anymore.

Two weeks ago on a Saturday night I logged on to to buy diapers and a sink stopper.

On the following Tuesday I came home and met the following on our back door step: an outfit for our niece in South Dakota, a copy of Grace,Not Perfection, wool boot socks, pine-scented wax cubes and 36 bars of Kirk’sCastile Soap. Thank you, protector of marriages, for placing Cody in Argentina on this particular day.

Last Thursday I set my alarm for 4:30 AM - 30 minutes earlier than normal -  so I could get to work at 7:00 and use the central printer before the rest of the crowd showed up.
I rolled into the office at 8:07 with half-dry hair, no mascara, slacks with no top button, my work belt (as in: the farm) rather than my work belt (as in: career), spit up on my blanket scarf that I still don’t know how to tie and no cell phone. It was 20 minutes away in the diaper bag. You know, in case Caroline wanted to Snapchat someone throughout the day. 

Last night after work I pulled Caroline out of her carseat to find  - - - a mess - - -  completely filling one leg of her sleeper. I stripped her down to nothing but a diaper rash, bathed her, only to remember that her bottles were soaking in the sink which her - - - mess water - - - was draining into. I threw the sleeper down into the basement where the wild things live, boiled bottles, and attempted a supper for Mr. Sankey. An hour later and two bites in I realized that the chicken wasn’t cooked all the way through, the rice was hard as a rock and I forgot to pre-treat aforementioned sleeper. I did two loads of laundry last night and baked the baked chicken dish - - - twice. 

This working-mother-ranch-hand may be a ticked overwhelmed this holiday season? What day of the month is Christmas this year? Still on the 25th? I want to make sure I at least have something for dear Shadow.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Kids' Table

When I think of Thanksgiving, I remember the innocence of the kids' table. 

I remember a mysterious set of arms - sometimes my mother's, sometimes not - would rotate around a tiny table of small children and cut the turkey and ham into digestible pieces. Mashed potatoes and cranberry jello salad were suitable art medium and the pristine, dreaded dress clothes never lasted long. We were farm kids; a stain was bound to happen. Food stains were a badge of pride at the kids' table.

I remember sitting with a small group of semi-strangers - the ones I only saw at major holidays such as Easter and the county fair - and watch them eat like drunk, teething, Jack Russells. I remember thinking how gross they were as I wiped gravy off my chin and deviled egg filling off my sleeve. It was a caloric massacre. Food everywhere. The floor. The table. The walls. Inside the creases of Clark's arms. 

I remember sitting at the tiny table long after the others had left because I had to clean my plate in a way that resembled an apartment with the goal of getting the full deposit back: spotless. I don't remember licking my plate in order to go play, but I've blocked out some parts of my childhood. To this day, I get paranoid that Dear Ol' Dad is watching when I throw my plate away. 

I remember eating and keeping one eye on my plate and one eye on the toy calling my name. Today that "toy" looks more like the couch or even better: The Original Jean's lift chair. 

I wish I hadn't been so eager to move to the adult table. Moving there was the first phase of childhood lost. 

At the adult table the drunk, teething, Jack Russells were traded for adults who knew only how to discuss the milk, beef and pork markets, the never-suitable weather and health insurance. Worst part about the adult table: I couldn't even reach the butter.

Thanksgiving today hasn't changed....too much. 

I still plan to sit at the adult table and discuss beef and pork prices, cuss the weather and discuss health insurance. I'll stand in the food line with 60 others and watch with longing eyes as the tiny tyrants at the kids' table stare at a full plate then proceed to only eat one bite of pork, a roll covered in ketchup and ice cream pie. They don't know how good they've got it. 

These days we eat in shifts, because let's be honest: No one can truly enjoy a meal when you have spit up running down your arm and you're constantly raising a baby over your head to sniff out a diaper check. Thanksgiving in this phase of my life means I only put things on my plate that I can cut with a fork. Spoons and knives don't exist in a new-mom place setting; there aren't enough free hands for either.  

Unless, of course, Momma offers to hold Crazy Train and I can eat with both hands. If thats the case, I'll be relocating to a secluded second-floor closet where I can eat in peace, with two hands, and maybe even use a knife to cut the brisket. I may even have time to get a drink. With ice. If I eat fast enough, I may even have time for a nap. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow

Do you know the best thing about the way the 2016 election turned out?

The sun will come out tomorrow.

As I write this, no polling place has been closed, no state has been declared and no race has been called. As I write this, Americans are still feverishly voting.

The best thing about not knowing how the presidential race will end is being forced to remember all the certainties that I can still rely on. Perhaps you can rely on these, too.

I know that there has never been a greater need for our country to instill two things into the next generation: honesty and character. 
OK, three things: A sense of humor.

I know that our kids would have brighter futures if they had to use a landline phone, with a long spiral cord connected to the wall, to contact their friends.

I know I’ll still feel compelled to buy something I don’t need to justify using the coupon burning a hole in my wallet.

I know that God knew the outcome of the election long before any media did and that this has been a part of His plan for a long, long time.

I know that there is no better time to make that phone call to the person you’ve neglected. You've put it off long enough.

I know that I never want my mother to see two things: the inside of my oven or the mop water after I’ve scrubbed my kitchen and bathroom floors. 

I know that now – more than ever – kindness matters.

I know that prayer is bringing your wishes and worries to God, but faith is leaving them there. I also know that faith is tough.

I know that the best way to raise strong kids is to be an example: Be nice to servers, invest in your health (eat beef and greens and move), and with confidence unapologetically represent what you believe. 

I know that as you age you realize that saving money is far more gratifying than spending it.

I know that the hours spent at work will never reciprocate the joy found in the hours spent with the people you love.

I know that there is power in accepting the fact what goes in the dryer may never come out. Get over it.

I know that your opportunity to be a mentor, a better friend or a positive influence has never been greater. Be someone worth knowing.

I know that sometimes a battle won is actually a battle lost. Perspective.

I know that an hour of alone time to think far outweighs two hours of social media scrolling.

I know that confidence is far quieter than insecurities. In fact, the person who must be heard and seen is likely the one who relies on others' validation.  The confident person rests assuredly on their own beliefs, values and goals; they need not accreditation from other sources. 

I know that if you chop your own wood you warm yourself twice.

I hope that you woke this morning with a heart full of optimism as we move forward as a country. Do not be weary. God’s plan for this life far exceeds anything you can imagine right now.

How awesome is that?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Scientific Name: Platanus occidentalis

It’s taken me a long time to get back to a place in my life where I entirely appreciate fall foliage. 

There was a period when I saw a beautiful leaf and had visions of wax paper, encyclopedias, Platanus occidentalis and an adhesive sheet scrapbook flash through my head. Of all the memories I have of grades K-12, the leaf collection in Mr. Lewis’ class is probably the worst.

First of all, Lewis’ enthusiasm for the project was just a tick over the top. He’d been assigning the project from hell for at least a decade when I was in his class; I would have thought he could have curbed the smile in year three. He got some sort of sweet satisfaction passing out the assignment specifics, which actually contained more qualifiers and ridiculous instructions than a building permit application:

When you find (what you believe to be) the perfect leaf, you may touch the leaf, but not with your hands. You must use American-made metal tongs with black rubber end grippers to gently pick up the perfect leaf and place it into a plastic, dry, gallon size Ziplock brand freezer bag. Do not touch the bag with your hands. You must hang the bag on a low-hanging limb of a Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) and drop the perfect leaf inside so only the sweet autumn breeze touches the bag. Then you must review the check list:

No holes
No bugs
No moisture
No tears
No mold
No folds
It gives you a happy feeling like a puppy in a parade.
If you gently swoop it through the air, east to west only, it sounds like angels singing a William Clark Green song.
If you gently swoop it through the air, north to south, you can hear Elton John singing Candle in the Wind.
It has at least 35 individual CMYK colors on the left side of the midrib.

If (what you believe to be) the perfect leaf, still suspended in a bag hanging from a Robinia pseudoacacia, appears to meet the above requirements, you must find two more just like it.

By the time we got to the end of the characteristic requirements for each leaf I was convinced I would have better luck finding the lost city of Atlantis, and would have enjoyed that more, also. I'm not even a good swimmer.  

So I spent a weekend wandering aimlessly around a local forest and using a pocket field guide (this was the bag phone era) to identify the difference between a White Oak, Red Oak, Bur Oak, Chestnut Oak, English oak, Pin Oak and Black Oak. By the time I got home I was so sick of oak that I was ready to rip all of the woodwork off the walls.

Then we had to transport 4,327 leaves home in $88 worth of plastic Ziplock bags, then use 4 rolls of wax paper to individually press every single leaf. Once positioned in the wax paper, we pulled 17 cookbooks and 13 encyclopedias off the shelf and tucked the leaves deep into the pages. To this day if Momma gets itchy hands we don't pass her the corn husker's lotion; we just assume she found another pressed poison sumac leaf in the pie section of her Southern Living cookbook.

There are likely 17 leaves still tucked in those shelves.  

But which part of the project was worse: Finding the perfect leaves, pressing them or labeling each? We had a home printer but Dad wouldn’t let us use it because he thought ink was too expensive. So with a Producers pen (that Dad obviously snagged from the Tuesday market) I hand wrote every intricate detail of every delicate leaf:

Common Name of Leaf: American Sycamore
Scientific Name of Leaf: Platanus occidentalis
Where & when you found it: Hayes Arboretum, about 18 feet off of trail 4, 39°50'24.6"N 84°50'43.9"W. October 1.
Simple or Compound Leaf: Simple
Venation Pattern: Palmate
Write an interesting fact about this leaf: The red splatters are actually blood from tripping over a log and having a stick puncture my left thigh. Mom wants to know if the school has good insurance?  

And lastly, the monumental question:

What have you learned from this leaf collection assignment?:
I’ll tell ya what I learned from this assignment. It ranks right up there with Science Fair projects regarding all the ways public education can initiate a second Civil War within the confines of the family home.

To wrap up the academic charade, we’d get our graded leaf collections back with holes punched in every single page so another student - or younger sibling - couldn’t reuse them.

That really stuck in my craw.

Last week I was walking into work and a leaf on the ground caught my eye. Having an affinity for pretty and free things, I scooped it up as my computer bag fell off my shoulder. I got inside and unpacked for the day and studied the little leaf.

Though proportional and colorful, it had 6 noticeable imperfections and was tossed in the trash seconds later.

I think the leaf collection of 1999 ruined me.

Note: In my thirties I see Mr. Lewis every so often at a mutual friend's house. He's a super nice guy and has acquired many more human attributes than he had while teaching my class. And I'm somewhat terrified he's going to read this. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

When Time Stands Still

Sometimes I wonder why I am the way I am.

Then I go visit Momma and Dad.

Sunday afternoon Caroline and I drove down to BSG to get ready for a farm tour they were going to host the next day. Momma and Dad are good at many things, and one is educating the public about responsible beef production. Monday evening was the third time in a year they’ve opened their farm to the public and made themselves available for any question asked. Any question asked.

Momma and I went over the timeline for the evening, the expected guests and our last minute to-do list. As I was gathering up the diaper bag and getting ready to head north Momma spoke these all too familiar words: Before you leave, will you help me with something?

Over the last fourteen years (since I last lived at home) this request has resulted in:
Fashion shows
Window washing
Googling some 1960s musician to “see if they’re still alive”
Crawling under beds
Reading a devotional that really spoke to her
Searching through the attic
Programing a cell phone
Trying to read her own writing
Lugging a tote of my high school memorabilia downstairs and to my car
Checking her email
Using scissors to cut, trim, snip or kill something

But Sunday afternoon was different.
Sunday afternoon she wanted to me to set the microwave clock. 
No problem.

I asked her what time it was. While she checked her watch I simultaneously walked over to the counter and grabbed my phone. A generational thing.

“4:57,” she said.
“4:55,” I rebutted, showing her my screen.

Within 15 seconds I had the microwave set, from 3:18 (I was just as confused as you) to 4:56. I’m a peacekeeper.

She went on to ask if I’d also set the clock radio under the spice cupboard while I was there. I looked over at it:  12:23. I set it for 4:57.
Out of curiosity, I glanced over at the oven clock: 4:20.
The clock that hangs over the doorway (this one actually has hands): 7:15.
The coffee maker: 9:07.
What in the world? It was as though every clock in the kitchen had reset itself throughout the day at different times.

I asked Momma about it. She went on to explain that they’d all been “off a bit” for months but she didn’t mess with them because she was afraid she’d accidentally set an alarm or timer and she would wake up to the sound of the microwave making a pot of coffee with Italian seasoning at 3 am.
Fair enough. 

This wasn’t only room in their big old farmhouse that needed some attention when it came to living in the present. While every room the in house had been demolished and eventually restored (you’ve read The HouseThat Built Me series, right?), not a single room in that homestead was keeping time. But with every clock, whether far ahead or way behind, came a lesson

For the sake of time, we’re going to start in the kitchen.

The microwave, set from 3:18 pm to 4:56 pm: Be patient. Perhaps if I type this enough in my writing I’ll begin to listen to myself. Time and patience travel hand in hand, though sometimes one seems to drag the other. Do remember that its only when nothing is certain that anything is possible.

The spice cabinet, set from 12:23 am to 4:57 pm: Use the good stuff. I know you’re saving the good wine for a reason worth it’s taste and you’re saving the good hair product for the days when you want to look your best and you're saving the expensive candle for when company is coming over and you're saving the good china for a meal worth presenting and you’re saving the bubble bath for the day that you really deserve it and you’re waiting to break the starch on your favorite jeans when it’s a day that matters. I’ll only say this: The people that died yesterday had something planned for today. Use the good stuff.

Oven clock, set from 4:20 to 4:20. The oven clock wasn’t reset. As it turns out, the oven (installed during the kitchen remodel the same summer I was born, 30+ years ago), hasn’t worked in at least a decade, so its worth no ones time to rub their fingers raw trying to twist the knob. But remember that even on your worst days – when it seems nothing can go right – that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Let's knock off there. I'm going to be super honest when I say that I have a sweet little crazy train ready for a night cap and This Is Us begins in about 3 minutes. And believe it or not - no matter how I was raised - I like to be on time