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