Wednesday, January 28, 2015

On the bright side.

For all the sadness and anxiety and depression that came with being on my own for those two years, though, there are some good points.

I never in a million years had any idea how strong I really was or what I was actually capable of handling. I've always been so content to just be a wife and mother, doing wife and mother things like cooking meals and canning jam and wiping runny noses and teaching two grades at the same time.

But, as it turns out, I'm capable of a whole lot more than I ever expected. The list of things I learned is long: I learned to hook up a truck and trailer and haul horses through a canyon a lot of people would refuse to haul through. I learned to haul my own water through snow and ice. I learned that I can be the only help available through the births of goats and cows. I can fix fences - both barbed wire and board fences. I can disassemble and reassemble forty acres' worth of side roll sprinkler and I can grow twenty tons of hay. I can manage a divider box on an irrigation canal. I can plow snow with a four wheeler and I can drive in all kinds of conditions. I can pick up dead cats and chickens and deer and dispose of their bodies. I can open the door at ten o'clock at night holding a hunting rifle when a stranger pulls up. I can catch run-away cows and I can wrangle calves as needed. I can plunge clogged toilets and repair broken water pumps. I can breast out seven geese in an hour an have them in the freezer. I can butcher an entire goat. I can be the "chute mom" among a bunch of chute dads when my youngest daughter is mutton bustin'. I can spray a wasp nest. I can manage the pump room in the basement where the water comes in and goes out. And a big thing - I really am able to ask for help.

When we moved up here, I knew I'd be depending on him to do a lot. There's just so much I've never done and don't know how to. But when we moved up here, I also didn't expect to be living here alone most of the time. There are a lot of things I don't know how to do, but I've learned that I better decide to figure them out. And usually, I do.

For all the weak moments I have... and there are sooooo many.... I really am stronger than I ever could've imagined.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Such is the life of an oil-field wife.

Ya know, I never did write much about what it was like to live up here in the Tiny Little Town, all alone with Two Little Girls, running a ranch for two years while my husband worked on the other side of the state and lived in a hotel room.

I mean, we've done this before. Such is the life of an oil-field wife. All through our marriage, we've dealt with separation after separation - Oklahoma while I was pregnant with Littlest One, North Dakota when I was first learning to homeschool, more shorter stints than I could even begin to count. But none of those compared to 2013-2014. Those didn't involve isolation and forty acres.

So what was it really like, those 21 months he was working away?

It was the most difficult thing our marriage has been through. And while I've been through plenty of hard times, none has lasted that long. It wears on you. You're exhausted, but you don't get to just take a break from it. You give up hope that there's even an end to it.

Living alone - save for two children who require your care - is crazy-making. It's up before dawn, work till you're so exhausted that you collapse into bed at night, only to lay awake thinking of all the things you didn't do, worrying about all the things you hope don't happen, and jolting out of sleep every two hours because more snow fell off the roof or the coyotes are too close or the dogs are barking at some noise only they can hear. It's planting a garden, then realizing there is no way in hell you're ever going to keep up with it, trying with all your might anyway, and having to walk by it every day and realize how badly you're failing. It's not wanting to cook dinner because the kids would rather eat ramen anyway, and gaining ten pounds because rather than make a salad, you just join them. It's not giving a damn what's healthy anymore because all you really care about doing is surviving.

For two years, I did everything I could to try to keep my children from feeling the pain and stress of having The Daddy gone all the time. I spent every spare moment I had driving them (and their horses and their chickens) all over creation because I felt like that was something we would've been doing if Daddy was home, and they should suffer because he wasn't. I celebrated their successes with them and sent him cell phone pictures. I cried through their losses with them and sent him heart-breaking text messages.

For two years I did everything that a wife and mother should do... and everything a husband and father should do, too. I irrigated a pasture. I milked goats. I built a tree fort. I disciplined. I hugged and encouraged. I disciplined some more. I taught kindergarten and fourth grade. Then I taught first grade and fifth grade. I drove us on road trips to visit family. I hauled water and I hauled horses. I cleaned the house, fixed the meals, canned the meager harvest, and irrigated the pasture some more.

For two years, I hid a lot of tears. The kind that came out of frustration when the pasture sprinklers wouldn't hook up like they should. The kind that came from feeling like I was failing as a mother and had no one there to offer encouragement or a break. The kind that came from feeling so damned alone that I just couldn't stand it anymore. The kind that came from feeling so exhausted and just wanting to sleep but being too full of anxiety to close my eyes. The kind that came from the anger I had bottled up over the whole miserable situation. There were tears cried while I sat on the bathroom floor hiding from my kids. There were tears cried into my pillow at night. Tears cried with my face buried into the soft side of an understanding horse and tears licked away by an ever-faithful dog. At some point during it all, I gave in and started taking anti-depressants. I also learned that it really is possible to drink a bottle of wine in one night, if one really sets their mind to it. (It is also possible to homeschool with a hangover, but I don't recommend it.)

You know the "fight or flight" response they taught you about in seventh grade? As soon as he left, I would go into "fight" mode. It was me against the world. Or at least against the farm. I would steel myself the night before he left, preparing for the weeks ahead. I would tense my shoulders, my heart would start pounding, I'd narrow my eyes, grit my teeth and prepare for a knock-down drag-out fight... and I'd stay that way until he pulled back into the driveway weeks later. For a few days I could let my guard down, and then it was back to fighting. And the physical and emotional exhaustion that comes with that response, carried on for almost two years, is more than one mama can bear for very long.

Angry words were spoken to sensitive little girls who really didn't deserve it, and to the husband who was working so hard to give us everything he could. Rage would spark at the smallest little thing gone wrong - goats eating the lilac bush, dog puke on the carpet, spilled milk. From the outside, I could tell you that I was being ridiculous and should be ashamed. But from inside, while it was happening, I just couldn't control all the emotions that would finally pour out in the worst of ways.

I lost all semblance of joy. Laughter didn't happen unless it was forced. I hardly smiled, except when I had to fake it for the sake of the children. Creativity all but vanished - where I once spent all of my spare time making beautiful things, I just had no desire to even try. I'm not sure I could've even recognized beauty at that point.

Yeah. It really was the hardest time in our marriage, and one of the hardest times in my life.

And then, just when we were almost convinced we were going to have to move across the state, it happened: he was transferred back home. Life was again as it should be - a Daddy home for dinner every night, home every weekend to do little projects around the farm and take us on drives and hikes. A Daddy home for holiday celebrations and birthdays and family movie nights. A Daddy at home to help with animal chores and to bring in firewood. The hard thing - the beautiful thing - about our marriage is that we make an absolutely incredible team. We function so well together, support each other, take care of each other. Our children have changed in the past few months - they are happier, they are learning more and you can just see them blossoming, likely because they have a mama that is happy again and they have a Daddy at home to share their lives with, too. It's been an incredible four months. I can look into the future and imagine a garden full of produce again, having help hauling animals to fairs and gymkhanas and rodeo practice and sharing the pleasure of watching our daughters grow. I've made plans for hiking all over our area together and I've pinned new recipes to try and I'm even throwing around ideas for camping trips. It's no longer survival. I'm actually living again.

Except, you know... the oil field. It's a rough business in a rough economy. And today he called to let me know this brief period of a beautiful life is already ending. He leaves tomorrow.

On Geocaching: After Find #150

At the beginning of the year, I made a list of... well, not exactly resolutions. Let's call them "goals". They won't all happen overnight. Some might not happen at all - I'm realistic enough to realize that. But it looked good on paper, anyway.

Keeping in mind with my One Word for 2015: Peace, one of my goals was to find a hobby The Man of My Dreams and I can enjoy together. I mean, we both have hobbies... but reality is, I don't really like hunting all that much, and he's not going to take up knitting or scrapbooking any time soon. We used to love to go camping, but with a farm full of animals that's not really an option so much anymore. (And honestly, we aren't desperate to get away and go somewhere quiet. We live in 'quiet'.)

So my brilliant idea for a hobby is.... hiking! It gets us outside, where we love to be. It takes us to places we haven't seen before, which we both love. It's quiet, it's exercise, it's nature, and most of all, it's together.

A number of years ago, while reading a Facebook post (or was it Myspace? ha!) someone mentioned "geocaching". It was immediately intrigued. We borrowed my dad's old GPS and set out and found.... absolutely nothing. We tried again. And again. And finally it started clicking. Sort of. It wasn't easy, it was frustrating, and I couldn't for the life of me understand why anyone would put a Tupperware container on a ledge way up there for some other stranger to find. We didn't geocache for another three years.

And then we tried again. It got easier. We found ourselves in some really neat places, places we never would have thought to go otherwise. The kids started getting excited about the "treasure" they were finding, and we packed a "geo-bag" to have ready. When we would travel, we'd stop a few times a see what we could find, logging finds in Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming and South Dakota. Since 2012, we've really started enjoying it. We go in spurts - sometimes we'll find 40 caches in a month and then nothing for several months after that. But it's something we all really love doing.

For our anniversary, The Man of My Dreams got me a new GPS (likely so I'd stop stealing his for long periods of time.) It's made this whole sport (is it a sport?) much more straightforward. Not necessarily "easier" when it comes to finding the caches, but easier to get started, at least. And now, we have a real, true hobby.

We spent the majority of today wandering around in an area neither of us had explored before. It would have been a nice hike anyway, but geocaching took us around to different places, interesting spots we probably wouldn't have stopped at otherwise. We had lunch at a campground I never knew existed, climbed a ridiculously steep hill (only to find we could have driven to the top if we'd have kept going.) We walked a couple of miles, saw rock formations I couldn't name, laughed at Littlest One galloping through the sandy creek bed, and stared mindlessly at a rock wall for the better part of half an hour trying to find something I'm pretty sure wasn't actually there. (Such is a geo-cacher's life.) We found ammo box after ammo box, full of trinkets and treasures (and lots of trash.) At the end of the day, we logged our finds and realized we were at #149. Clearly, it would have been ridiculous to stop there, so we found one last quick cache on the way home an rounded it out to #150.

I'm hoping we'll spend at least a few days a month finding new places and hidden treasures, and getting out in the sunshine and fresh air, too. It really is a ton of fun.

Some pics from our day:
Littlest One with an ammo box -
 the most common kind of cache.

Littlest One and I with an amazing view that you can't actually see behind us. I suck at selfies. (Another of my "goals" is to be in front of the camera more often. This is a big deal. I hate cameras and I hate pictures of myself.)

Littlest One and The Man of My Dreams
 at the base of one of those crazy rock formations,
sticking up out of the middle of the desert.

I really would encourage just about anyone to go out and give geocaching a try. There are really easy ones, really hard ones, some that are in the parking lot of your favorite stores (yes, really!) and some that require days of hiking and rock climbing and river rafting to get to. (We're not that cool. Yet.)

Here are a couple of notes though, if you do decide to give it a go:

*Don't expect to find them all. Or even most of them, when you first start out. Be patient. You'll develop a "geo-sense" and it'll get easier.
*If you're going to take something from the cache, the general rule is "trade even or trade up." That means don't take some awesome find and replace it with a piece of twisted up pipe cleaner or a rock you just picked up off the ground. That's just not cool. (And I'm not exaggerating.)
*Do get a GPS. Cell phones work sometimes, and get you close, but they just aren't as good as a real GPS. If you're going to do this with any regularity, you'll want the real thing. Sometimes we use both, depending on where we are, but the GPS wins every time.
*Don't let other people see you. This can be tricky, but there's no shame in pretending to tie your shoe all of a sudden when someone walks by. We've all been there. If someone who doesn't cache finds it, it might be lost forever.
*Carry water. In all likelihood, what should've been a 200 yard walk will turn into a 2 mile hike straight up the side of a mountain. Expect that, and plan accordingly.
*Take your kids! This isn't just for grown ups. In fact, sometimes our kids find the caches first. Being short can be handy, and so can having small hands and skinny arms. Children really are useful little things, I tell you. Plus, they love toy cars, plastic jewelry, and squishy frogs, which is the usual loot in a cache box.

I'll close with that. If all goes well, I should have several more posts this year about our adventures (or misadventures.) This is one goal I really plan to work on accomplishing, so stay tuned!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Wanna Help With Our Nature Study?

Okay, Internet Friends! Who wants to help out a couple of homeschool girls with a little project/lesson? It encompasses geography, climate study, nature study, and even fits in with our Explorers of North America unit. And it'll only take 15 minutes of your time.

Here is your mission, should you choose to accept it:

Head outdoors with a pen and a piece of paper. Start looking around and listening. Your goal is to write down as many things that are "nature" as you can in that fifteen minutes. There are obvious "big" things - trees, bushes, snow, clouds, maybe some birds. But if you look closer, you'll also be able to find some tiny little details: animal tracks in snow or mud, seed heads on dead weeds, blades of green grass where the snow has melted, spider webs, a live fly on the warm side of your house. Just look around and see what you can see, hear what you can hear. Is the moon up right now? Can you hear the call of a familiar bird?

When you've got a list, you can send it to me on Facebook or at Mama2Girls82 at gmail dot com. Let me know where you're at, and if you'd consider yourself rural or city. Bonus points if you want to include the time of day you made your list - sometimes that can be interesting. Bonus points, too, for any trees, birds, etc. that you can identify. What seems commonplace to you might be really interesting stuff to Two Little Girls who are used to seeing only snow and cedar.

We're going to use the lists to compare and contrast different parts of the country, imagine what it would've been like for explorers as they traveled across the New World, find places on maps, and look up species we don't have around here to study and draw.

Thanks so much for taking the time to help us out! I'll let you know how the project turns out, when we finish up with it.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Birthday Weekend

What a lovely weekend we had! With The Oldest's birthday falling in the middle of the week, she opted to save her Activity of Choice for the weekend so that The Daddy could participate. I'm glad she did - it turned out to be a great time of family togetherness.

A few years ago, I decided to give up trying to throw a huge party for both girls on each birthday. Parties are expensive and exhausting. I was a little nervous about making that change, thinking it would be a great disappointment to the girls, who were pretty accustomed to annual birthday celebrations, but really, they haven't minded. The new rule is: Party Every Third Year. So this means ages 7, 10, 13, and 16. Those birthdays are pretty special ones, and that rule gives me enough time to plan and prepare and not lose too much sanity.

And on the in-between years, we let the kids pick a special activity they don't usually get to do, take them out to dinner (or make them something special at home, if they would rather) and we spend time as a family celebrating their life.

For her birthday this year, The Oldest chose to go to a local fun park and play laser tag. We got there early enough that it was only the four of us in the laser tag rooms, and it was a blast! I had to laugh at first - both girls were more than a little afraid of being left alone in a dark maze, though their eyes soon adjusted. Much laughing, running, and squealing happened, and memories were made. We rounded it out with a few games of ski-ball (mostly for my benefit - I can't pass up a game of ski-ball) in the arcade and a nice lunch at Red Robin, where our now-twelve-year old got to order off the grown-up menu.

Littlest One had so much fun she thinks she might change her Birthday Activity from ice-skating to laser tag now. The Oldest thanked us again and again for such a fun day. I think, overall, it was a birthday success!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Happy Birthday, Oldest One!

Oops... I forgot to finish getting this posted yesterday...


It's incredible how fast time flies, isn't it?

Today, this beautiful young lady is twelve years old.

Twelve years of laughter, joy, learning and fun (along with some blood, sweat, and tears) has brought us here. She's full of imagination and creativity, she's positively brilliant, and she's growing into such a mature and responsible young woman.

There's this unique and very brief fragment of life where one is old enough to be trusted and relied upon to take care of things (mostly) and is also young enough to still play like a child at times. That is where we are, and I love this stage.

I'm filled with gratitude that I've had the pleasure of raising her and enjoying her and loving her.

Happy Birthday, my dear Oldest One! May this year be filled with all the things you hope for, much growth and grace, and above all, joy!

Monday, January 5, 2015

The first day of school in 2015

This is what my kitchen table looks like when I'm writing
curriculum and making school plans. It's more organized
than it looks, I promise!
Today starts the first school day of 2015! I'm always so excited for school to start after a long break – I crave the order and the schedule as much as I crave the chaos and freedom of a break at the end of a school term.

We're changing things up just a little around here. Instead of starting school at 10:00, we're going to shoot for 9:00. A 1 hour break at noon for lunch, laundry, and exercise, and then we'll get back to it for an hour or two and finish things up between 2:00 and 3:00. My day starts a 5 am, with an hour of quiet time before I get to work. The girls will be up at 6:30, breakfast will be on the table at 7, and the day will progress from there.

That is, of course, if things go smoothly. It's the first day. I'm prepared to give myself – and them! - a bit of grace.

Our course of study this semester should be fun and interesting – the usual math (Saxon for The Oldest, aBeka for Littlest One) and English (aBeka for The Oldest, Rod & Staff for The Littlest.) For history we're focusing on the exploration of The New World, starting with Leif Erickson and moving through the Pilgrims. I see a lot of “explorer” crafts and games in our future. Geography will coincide. We're sticking with KONOS (which covers all subjects to some degree,) where the main focus is stewardship – taking care of our bodies, health, money, talents, and time wisely. The girls are starting piano lessons tomorrow, and we're going to go back to an art curriculum we loved in the past but were struggling to find the time for. I'm also going to try to get nature studies going once a week, but that can be hard in the winter.

I love teaching my children. I love that they are (mostly) excited about starting up again. I love that they are inquisitive and want to learn. It won't go perfectly smoothly – it never does – but I have high hopes for this school term.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Year's Eve 2014 - Glowing Fun!

Last year, we started a new tradition: a family New Year's Eve party. As soon as Christmas is over, I plan some fun games and other activities (using Pinterest, because my creativity level after Christmas is pretty pathetic!) We have appetizers for dinner and snack on them all night, spend a lot of time together playing and laughing, and reflect on the past year and its many blessings.
Here are some highlights from this year's party:

We implemented the time balloons again this year, as they were a big hit last year. Each hour (or so) the kids pop the balloon with that time written on it. Inside is a piece of paper that tells them the next activity. And confetti. Because confetti coming out of balloons is cool. I also prepared the supplies for each activity by putting them in gift bags that had the times on them. This kept the supplies at hand but still kept it a surprise for the kids.

First, we painted t-shirts with glow-in-the-dark puffy paint.

While those were drying, we decorated the living room (mostly with supplies I had on hand from past parties, a few dollar store finds, markers and paper, and some glow-sticks I purchased at Michaels that were 12 for $1.)

While the kids finished up the decorating, I got the food out. I prepared most of it during the day before the party started.

At this point, we turned on the black lights. I'd mentioned on Facebook that I was going with a glow-in-the-dark theme for this year, and a friend offered to loan me some black lights. The kids hadn't spent much time playing around with black light, and were pretty into it. The neon balloons that I'd bought, along with many of our other decorations, glowed beautifully.
(Yes, even the dog is wearing a glowstick necklace.)

From there, we played several rounds of Minute To Win It games. There are dozens of game ideas on Pinterest. I settled on Face the Cookie, Suck it Up, Keep it Up, Penny Hose, and Junk in the Trunk. There was much laughter, and the videos are priceless!
(Face the Cookie! Get a cookie from your forehead
into your mouth, without using your hands,
in under a minute. It is NOT EASY.)

Then we sat down for awhile and looked through pictures from the last year, much as we had done the year before. I love this time to remember and reflect together. At the end of the hour, we made a list of our Top Ten Favorite Things in 2014. Topping the list (for the second year) is animals – getting a new horse, raising baby animals of all kinds, gymkhanas and rodeos. It's neat to see the things that really stand out after a year has gone by.

After that, we needed to keep moving – it was 10:00 – or we were going to crash. So we played some glow-in-the-dark games. For ring toss, I made rings from the glow sticks. Then I dropped a glow stick into five water bottles (this is a cool effect!) We formed teams and tried to rack up the most points. Glow Bowling involved those same bottles and a neon ball. I had a piece of neon paper and neon markers, so even our score sheet glowed. Last was Glow Volleyball – a neon balloon was our “ball” and we used a strip of flagging tape as the “net”. Of all the activities, the glow games were probably the biggest hit.

Next were fireworks (leftover from the 4th of July) – we lasted as long as we could out in the frigid cold!

And then we poured some champagne – and sparkling cider for the girls – took a few last pictures, and toasted the New Year!

I'm so grateful for these moments spent with my sweet family. It took a fair bit of effort to plan it and put it all together, but the laughter and memories are more than worth it. As we head into 2015, we are filled with the memories of the past year – highlights, lessons learned, and knowing we have each other to get through all of it.









Friday, January 2, 2015

One Word 2015: Peace

Looking off into the distance after a much needed
rainstorm, during the drought in 2012.

After throwing around some different options, I've decided my One Word for 2015 is going to be Peace.

This crazy life we live up here in our Tiny Little Town gets hectic. There's always more to do than will ever get done. Two Little Girls are getting to be very busy with their school work and activities - the pressure is mounting to keep them well-taught and well-rounded. There are always more things I could be doing – chores that fill the never-ending to-do list, things people have asked me to take on, things my kids want to do, animals we could bring home, family activities we'd like to plan. But there has to be a limit.

This past year, my life has been full, busy, blessed... but it lacked peace. It was stressful, sometimes to the breaking point. I tried to do it all – with a big smile on my face – but I didn't always succeed. And when I didn't, it was my family and myself that suffered.

My first step in achieving the peace I so desperately need has been to prioritize. I spent some time doing some much-needed soul searching and journaling. I wrote down all of the things that truly matter in my life, categorized them, and numbered them in order of importance. From there, I got my Top 3:

    • Grow and maintain relationships that really matter
    • Live a life of intention and purpose
    • Find peace and joy in my life

Having that list, tucked into the cover of my Household Notebook, I can easily ask myself if something applies to one of my priorities. It's easy to see which parts of my life are important: Spending time with my family, my parents, my dearest friends and a few new friends; farming; leading my own kids and many others in 4-H, an organization I truly believe in; spending time on crafting and creating and art, something I've hardly allowed myself to do for the past several years; keeping a clean and organized house – but not so clean that I'm making myself crazy; successfully homeschooling my children in a way that prepares them to be the women I'd like to see them be someday.

The list of things that matters is long, but the list of things that doesn't can be even longer if I'm not careful.

I'm also an exceptionally skilled worrier. I can find things to worry about that don't even exist, except in my head! Let alone worrying over things I truly can't change. I worry over my kids and my husband and my animals. I spent hours worrying about the health of two loved ones last year, and despite my constant worrying, they still passed away. I worry about what other people think of me, I worry about how to get everything done, I worry about the future – and we're talking the really distant future.

Worry is the opposite of peace. What is going to happen will happen whether I worry over it or not. I can be diligent and caring without worrying, and that is what I will strive to do. I will be at peace with situations beyond my control. I don't have to like them, but I don't have to worry about them, either.

Life is too short, too precious and valuable, to spend it all wrapped up in worry or fear or frantically trying to keep up.

This year, I will slow down, I'll breathe deep, and above all, I will embrace peace.

What is your One Word this year?