How I Accidentally Fell in Love with a Farmer

Ours was not love at first sight.

Dairy Man was a friend of my college housemate. The first time I remember him was when he came to my door looking for her.

“Is Amanda here?”
 
“No, sorry.”
 
“Ok. Hey, would you like to get coffee sometime?”
 
“Um. What was your name again?”

DM wants me to point out that I’m oversimplifying this exchange, but that was the gist. He wasn’t on my radar until that moment, even though his friends had been pushing him the direction of Amanda’s single (and ravishing) housemate for a while.

I was startled but I said yes.

So we went out for coffee. Hands cupped around warm mugs, we talked comfortably for a couple of hours. I came home and told a friend, “It was fun. He’s really nice. But there weren’t any sparks.”

….

Fast forward six months.

DM had become one of my best friends. We studied together, spent hours engaged in witty repartee on AIM (#90schild), and resisted the less-than-subtle attempts of our friends to get us together.

Well, at least I did.

I let that poor boy chase me for the better part of a year, but I just wasn’t ready. I was selfish. I couldn’t get over the farmer thing. We were constantly embroiled in typical 20-something college drama deserving of a reality show. Will she? Won’t she? It was exhausting and nobody got a rose.

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Then I got accepted to a semester program in Chicago. DM’s frustration with my coquettish ways had reached a boiling point. We had a huge fight before I left and decided not to talk for a while.

….

Chicago was an incredible experience. I shared a studio apartment with a bed in the wall and a kitchen in the closet. I tried Indian food. I interned at the Museum of Contemporary Art by day and spent my nights going to plays, ballets, museums, and modern dance performances in empty swimming pools (just as weird as it sounds). I loved everything about the city.

But something still tugged on my heart.

Every morning as I walked the 15 blocks to my office, I talked to my sister on the phone. Many months later Mandy told me that I mentioned Dairy Man in almost every single call. I said that I missed him. That I wondered what he was doing. That it was killing me not to talk to him.

I had escaped Michigan for the big city, but I hadn’t escaped him.

….

He was the first person I called when I moved back and we started dating a couple of days later. It was instantly comfortable, perfectly right, as if this is what was supposed to happen all along.

We were so happy. Crazy about each other. But we weren’t out of the woods yet.

I still didn’t love the farmer thing, but DM talked about moving away after college, working for the commodities exchange in Chicago, trying something new. I clung to this hope.

….

The sun felt unbearably hot on my head as I sat in silence, trying to digest what he had just told me.

“Jess, I’m going to stay here and work on the dairy.”

My heart sank into my shoes. I suddenly wanted to leap from the bed of his red truck and run until my lungs burned. But I was frozen.

We had talked about this. After we graduated from college, DM went home to work on the farm and save some money. I knew there was a possibility of his staying on the dairy, but he seemed so sure he wanted to get out of West Michigan and experience something new. That was my expectation, my deepest yearning.

Now it was August. I still hadn’t found a job in Chicago and DM was planning to stay here.

I felt silly for hoping. I felt silly for thinking that I could coerce him into my world of sushi and skyscrapers.

I should have known his heart was too deeply rooted in farming.

This was my first true introduction to an undeniable truth: farming is not a job, it’s a life. It was in DM’s blood. It pulsed through his body like oxygen. He couldn’t fathom leaving the work that made him feel most alive. I couldn’t fault him that. But that didn’t make my choice any easier. At a very young stage in our relationship, I had to decide: Chicago or him?

Because I knew in my heart that long distance wouldn’t work. Once my feet left Michigan soil, I wouldn’t be back for a while.

I wanted an adventurous life. But this boy was offering a farm.

“I just don’t know if I can do this.”

….

Happy tears burned my eyes as I rounded the corner, arms locked with my dad, white dress swishing.

And then I saw him. My love, my life, smiling and waiting at the front of the church.

Violin strains of “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve swelled around me in the most visceral way imaginable. I could barely breathe.

I kept walking, unable to take my eyes off the man in front of me.

We had come so far. We had crossed so many valleys together. I was young and terrified, but I did not doubt my choice.

For whatever reason in God’s design, I was going to marry a dairy farmer.

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….

And now we’re here. 900 words, nine years (five and a half married), two barns, one baby, and hundreds of cows later.

Becoming a farm wife has become surprisingly normal, but I don’t ever want to forget that it wasn’t easy to get here. I had to overcome a lot of fear, stubbornness, and unreasonable expectations before admitting that, EGADS, I was in love with a dairyman.

I’m so glad he stuck with me.

Because love isn’t always obvious or simple. It isn’t something you just fall into. It’s a choice you make every day.

As I look ahead to Valentine’s Day this weekend—that ubiquitous holiday of candy hearts and overpriced red roses—I am grateful for our kind of love. This love is hard-fought. This love is not perfect nor without cow manure tracked into the house, but it’s real. We make each other better through our differences.

Our love story reminds me that I chose this life. I chose him. I wasn’t looking for what DM offered, but God knew it was exactly what I needed.

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“If it is right, it happens—the main thing is not to hurry.
Nothing good gets away.” —John Steinbeck

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Dear Anders: A Letter to my Son

Hi, bug. It’s kind of crazy that I haven’t written to you before. Writing used to be Mom’s way of processing, of coping, of making sense of the world. But she hasn’t made time to do much of it since you came along!

It’s hard for me to believe that you’re 20 months old. 20 months. Within spitting distance of two years old. I can’t remember life without you, but I’m still not sure how it went so quickly.

We wanted you so desperately, you see. It’s not always easy to have a baby. We waited a long, long time to meet you. It’s hard to describe the disbelief and joy your Dad and I felt when we found out you were coming. God is so good.

And then you were born. One week early, which was a nice kickoff to Mom realizing that she no longer had any control over her life. You cried the entire first night we were home and only slept when you were in our arms. It was an exhausting time—Mom cried a lot that first week—but devastatingly beautiful. We were so in love with you, in awe of your tiny fingers and huge blue eyes.

(We were also amazed at the amount of time we spent studying, smelling, and cataloging your baby poop, but that’s another story for another time. Maybe at your wedding.)

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That first year was a blur. Small victories alongside defeats. Periods that seemed an eternity at the time (like those two weeks where you were waking up every 1-2 hours) were forgotten in the wake of your first smile, first tooth, first word.

It’s like Dr. Seuss said: “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

Just when we got used to you crawling, you took your first steps. Now you RUN.

You are smart, friendly, hilarious, polite, and so loving. And these days you’re like a sponge. We only have to speak a word or phrase a handful of times before you’re repeating it in correct context. Mom still regrets the time she said “Sit down on your butt!” because we’d all be a little happier if that last word wasn’t in your vocabulary quite yet.

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I’m floored by how quickly you are learning and changing each day. It’s hard to comprehend that you’ve transformed from the red-faced little blob we met 608 days ago to the little boy swatting my hands away saying “No tank you, mama” when I try to help you climb the stairs.

YOU’RE NOT EVEN TWO, MAN.
Mama’s going to have a hard time letting go.

You were born into a big tribe of family on both sides who love you and go out of their way to spoil you with stories and farm animal toys. Grandma Bareman can’t seem to stop buying you cows.

And don’t even get me started on all the dairy stuff. Your dad couldn’t be more proud that you know words and phrases like “milk truck,” “Holstein cow,” “Big loader, beep BEEP,” and “rotary parlor.” You love cows. Seriously. When you walk through the barn in your tiny rubber boots, you are fearless. You think nothing of walking right up to a cow and reaching out to touch her nose.  Mom didn’t grow up on a farm (that explains all the high heels in her closet), but I love watching you gaze around in wonder at this crazy place we live. Just try not to track it into the house.

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Dad and I have been asked if your name has a special meaning. We didn’t pick a family name, but we did agonize for months trying to find something strong and masculine that was neither too traditional nor too trendy. It wasn’t easy. We liked the Dutch-ish sound of Anders. We liked that we didn’t know anyone named Anders. And we liked the meaning: manly, brave.

It is my hope that you grow to embody both of those attributes.

I hope you are manly. I hope that you are kind, tell the truth, respect others, and perform selfless acts. I pray that you will grow to be strong and sure, but that those characteristics are enhanced by love and humility.

I hope you are brave. I hope that you have strong convictions that will allow you to stand up to those who are ignorant, care for those who are marginalized, and live your faith loudly. I hope you will not be afraid to stand up for what’s right.

Most of all, sweet Anders, we know that you are a gift. The blessing isn’t lost on us. That’s why we pray every night before you go to sleep, “Thank you Jesus for entrusting Anders into our care. Help us remember that he belongs to you.”

We are your parents, but God is your Father.

I hope this will guide you all your life. We couldn’t be more blessed to be your parents. And I apologize in advance for our dance moves. Just succumb to the awkwardness now.

xo,
Your silly and loving Mom

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Hi, It’s Been a While

Hi there.

It’s been a while.

In the wake of motherhood and the ease of Facebook and Instagram—where I do a much better job of documenting our life—this blog has taken a backseat. Well, let’s be honest. It’s way past the the backseat and is bumping along on the tailpipe of a cattle trailer by now.

For me, the ability to write is like a muscle. It needs movement, stimulation, exertion, but it can too easily become flaccid with disuse. The longer I wait, the harder it is to whip myself back in shape.

But as I sit in our kitchen, tea in hand, looking out onto a whispering sea of green corn stalks, it sure feels good to be writing.

Something.

Anything.

I have to be honest, writing isn’t coming as easily to be as it used to. When life is full to the brim it can be difficult to find the words to start.

But it’s important. We are doing something of great consequence with our lives (and no, Dairy Man, I’m not just talking about adding cows to the herd) and I miss having the opportunity to share that consequence.

So, how have we been?

Well, let’s start with the reality that I have a 16 MONTH OLD. I’m not quite sure how that happened. Someone hand me a tissue.

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The last time we talked, Anders had just learned to army crawl, was sporting two teeth, and had just started baby food.

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Um, people, things have changed a lot since then.

Now he can walk (or run). He can climb. He has 10 teeth. His vocabulary and repertoire of animal sounds are growing every single day. He repeats everything we say. He loves flipping through dairy magazines. He eats just about everything, from blueberries and spinach soup to Pad Thai and shrimp paella. He’ll try anything with bacon but can’t seem to get down with tomatoes.

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He loves walking through the barns and waving to his “moos.” He’s not at all afraid of cows. And did I mention he knows the difference between a “tuck” (truck) and a “tra-trac” (tractor)?

Dairy Man is so proud. We have a regular dairy boy in the making.

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As you all know, there have been a few times (ok, a lot of times) where I have lamented my transplant to this country wilderness. It’s not easy to cope with the isolation, the long hours of farming, or the fact that the nearest Target is 45 minutes away. But I’m starting to take more joy in this life as I see it through the eyes of child.

I think we’re going to have a lot of fun here.

Anders is a blank slate. Everything is new to him, but he is becoming more fully aware of this unique place in which we live. He’s going to grow up amongst our bovine roommates and jaw-dropping sunsets. He’s going to build forts in the barn, take care of calves, and ride along with Daddy in the tractor.

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As we prepare for The Season of Impending Doom …er… I mean “corn harvest,” this year, I can’t help but notice how different it feels.

Last year Anders was still a helpless babe. I was at my wits end trying to juggle work, a baby, and everything else in our lives while seeing only glimpses of Dairy Man for a number of weeks. Did we eat? Did the sheets get washed? I can’t even remember.

But now that Anders is older and our lives have settled into a more predictable rhythm, I actually look forward to introducing him to farm life.

This year we can visit Dairy Man in the fields. We can watch the corn chopper from our back deck. He might even get to ride in a tractor.

I think this will reawaken the novelty of our farm life.

Sometimes I feel like it’s hard to write about something I’ve become so used to. Farm life is still filled with oddities; I don’t quite fit in. But so many of the abnormalities have become mundane. I don’t even notice anymore.

No dinner till 8? Totally normal.
Husband’s clothes covered with caked-on manure? Just don’t sit on the couch. 
Tractor parked in my driveway? Old hat.
Incessant mooing coming from the barn on the hill? Just another Tuesday.
Dinner conversation about bull semen? Pass the green beans.

At some point, unbeknownst to me, I morphed into a farm wife. It’s like turning into a werewolf at midnight but with less body hair and more corn kernels in the laundry. I still don’t bake pies, milk cows, or wear a gingham apron, but this crazy life has become my real life.

I still struggle with single-parenthood and frustration with the farming schedule, but I can tell we’re going to have a lot of fun with Anders on the farm. He’s going to be a farm boy before I know it.

I just hope I have a few more years before he comes home covered in manure.

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All is Calm, All is Bright

Today I’m feeling equal parts crazed and contemplative.

On one hand, this is Christmas week. Between Wednesday and Sunday we have five different Christmas parties in three different cities. Two are on the same day. We’ll spend our time this week in the car, missing nap time, eating too much sugar, and making small talk with relatives. It will be busy, messy, exhausting, and beautiful.

On the other hand, 2014 is quickly drawing to a close. It’s been a whirlwind of a year. From Anders’ birth to building yet another new barn, we’ve rarely had moments to settle, to be still. We made it through the early days of parenthood and now I have a beautiful, happy son who is somehow crawling, waving, and cutting teeth. Quite a difference from where we were just eight shorts months ago.

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The swift passage of time is startling. I started 2014 with a growing belly, an unfinished nursery, and raging donut cravings.

I end it with a healthy baby, a house full of toys, and… raging donut cravings. (Um, hello? I though those were supposed to go away?)

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Life has changed irrevocably, but we are so blessed it hurts my heart.

So, in spite of the busyness, the driving, the sugar, I choose joy. I choose to wrap myself in the promise of Christ’s birth and savor the ordinary moments that form this beautiful life.

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I wish the same to you, dear friends. Find the calm, bright moments this week and don’t let them go.

Merry Christmas, from our barn to yours!

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xoxo, Dairy Man, MFW, Anders, and Jersey

When I Became a Mother

I don’t even know where to start.

I don’t know how to find the language to articulate the profound, irrevocable change that motherhood has rendered within me.

I’m stunned by the beauty of it: the love I have for this child. I want to devour him. I want to wrap myself in his impossibly long eyelashes, pressed up against his round, soft cheeks.

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Nothing could have prepared me for the debilitating lows or gut-busting highs of becoming a mother. I couldn’t have predicted or planned it. I couldn’t have anticipated the miracle that occurs when a piece of your soul lives outside of your body.

Yet the last seven months have been the most difficult of my life.

I’ve been stretched and challenged and changed in uncomfortable ways. I’ve shattered into hundreds of pieces and put myself back together. I’ve subsisted on meager amounts of sleep and adult conversation while still feeding, cleaning, and caring for a helpless creature. This is what it truly means to be needed. His entire existence hinges on my waking, my body, my caress.

There’s something so carnal about this need. It’s all that really matters.

For the first few months we were just surviving. Learning about each other. Finding moments of joy amidst the terror, the fatigue of being a new parent. It was a season of gravity and clarity. My heart felt heavy with love.

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There were times I struggled. I faltered. I curled into a ball and wept. But the sun rose each morning on his sweet skin and I couldn’t remember a time before he existed.

And it got easier. When the meals ran out and the visitors faded, I faced motherhood on my own feet. With each day, I gained confidence; I got to know my child. I learned the curve of his face, the tenor of his cry, the warmth of his little body against mine. As the spring days stretched into summer, I slowly re-entered the world.

It didn’t stop turning, you see.

My small, carnal existence had isolated me. Motherhood caused me to skip a beat. It was blessed, needed time, but the world had gone on without me. So I reintroduced myself to church, to friends, to the grocery store. I was like an ostrich lifting my head from the sand.

But nothing would ever be the same. There was no returning to “normal” because normal was new and shifting.

And it was ok. The beauty of our new normal outweighed the frustration. My child grew and changed and explored like I had forgotten how to do.

Now, he’s being shaped before my eyes. Each new day brings a new discovery, a new skill, a new item to chew on.

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My heart bubbles up to my throat when he sneezes, smiles, laughs. Suddenly his bright eyes render recognition, delight. His chubby hands reach out with intention.

There’s just something about watching a life being formed. I love him so deeply my breath catches in my chest.

It’s worth falling off the face of the earth, if only for a little while. I’m still moving slowly. I’m still learning to accept failure, to accept advice. I’m still paralyzed when a social obligation interferes with bedtime. I’m still figuring out how to be a mother and also be a person.

I can barely remember to wear two socks in the morning, much less to write. But it’s so important. It’s necessary to capture this holy, exceptional time.

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Because I want to remember.

I want to remember his spindly, alien-like limbs when he was just a few weeks old. I want to remember the sweet, clean smell of baby lotion and powder after his bath. I want to remember the waves of grief that rolled over me the first morning I went back to work and had to leave him. I want to remember swaddling and shushing. I want to remember the unbridled joy that washes over his face every time I walk into a room. I want to remember the twinge in my heart when Dairy Man reads bedtime stories to his son. I want to remember how everything changed when I became a mother.

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So forgive my sentimentality, excessive use of adjectives, lack of blogging, and baby spam on Facebook, but I’m still figuring out how to be his mom and also be myself.

It’s not easy, but I wouldn’t change a moment. Life is just too good.

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Getting Lost on Dirt Roads

There are advantages to having a baby. Anders Knox is adorable, giggly, and a genius (in my unbiased opinion). He makes life more fun and more meaningful. But one thing I didn’t expect about having is a baby is the way life would slow down.

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Even though I’m back at work and we’re in the throes of a crazy busy summer, something about Anders has changed the tempo of life. My priorities have shifted, my dreams have recalibrated. I’ve been forced into a calmer, more carnal place.

This calm has caused me to do things I’ve never done before. Like intentionally getting lost in the country wilderness.

Every once and a while I take the long (long, long) way home when I pick up Anders after work. He needs a good nap before his next feeding at 6:00 and I need an opportunity to take a breath.

Paved roads won’t do. Highways won’t cut it. In true farm-boy fashion, my son takes his best naps while bouncing and jostling around on dirt roads.

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Such thoroughfares aren’t hard to come by near our dairy.

Usually my life is all about productivity. Efficiency. Get the job done, get there quickly, move on to the next thing. But these early evening drives with my son (and occasionally my furry firstborn even joins us) force me to slow down. While Anders peacefully snoozes, I drink in the impossibly big blue skies and rolling green hills. We bask in the middle-of-freaking-nowhere.

Last night was one such night. The A-man needed a nap and the clouds were breathtaking. We left civilization behind and turned onto a long dirt road near our house. I leisurely cruised through the deep ruts and gullies left by a recent rain, pausing every so often to snap a photo.

We drove through leafy tunnels.

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We said hi to the neighbors.

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We checked on the corn.

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We were rendered speechless by this ridiculous sky over the silage pack.

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I could have been home cooking dinner, doing laundry, or mopping the floor. But instead, I’m was awe. In awe of the size of the sky. In awe of the peaceful isolation of these dusty back roads. In awe of the sweet baby boy snoring in the backseat.

My former city girl self found catharsis in concrete, steel, skyscrapers, and the hustle of humanity. I still love those things. But now my soul also does somersaults for muddy roads, cornfields, cows, and the silence of the wind.

And that’s certainly worth a car wash (or three).

Update From The Farm: It’s Not Just Spit Up and Diapers

Phew. People, life with a baby is a lot of work. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The last two months have been a blur of hundreds of diaper changes (over 330 in May according to the app on my phone) and a whole lot of spit up.

But today I’m showered, wearing real pants (versus yoga pants), and the sun is blazing. I’m feeling like a human. Life is bright and happy.

It doesn’t hurt that the weather in our patch of of the world has been gorgeous lately. The skies are impossibly blue.

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The fields are patchwork shades of brown, green, and yellow as the corn starts to come in.

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These pre-summer scenes remind me why I love Michigan. I could have done without the six-ish months of frigid, dreary, soul-sucking winter, but those days are a distant memory in the glow of today’s sunshine.

The recent pleasant weather has allowed Jersey, the A-man, the Baby Bjorn, and I to get out of the house on foot to check out what’s happening around the dairy.

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For example: did you know we’re expanding another barn?

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Last summer was a flurry of barn expansion activities. Dairy Man must have enjoyed every minute of it, because he started construction on another barn expansion about a week after Anders was born (because we weren’t busy enough, oof). But things have been going well and it’s almost time to let a new batch of bovine ladies stampede into their new digs like last year’s lucky ducks. As of this week, the concrete is poured and the anticipatory mooing is palpable.

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In addition to a new barn, the boys and I have noticed that our farm is home to a pack of adorable calves.

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This year we’re housing some young heifer (female) calves in our former steer barn. It’s nice to know they’ll be around longer than our steers. I never wanted to get too attached to those guys–I’m still a delicate city girl deep down. Typically we don’t have calves at our facility (the pregnant ladies live here during their gestational period, but they journey to the other dairy to give birth), so I’m really enjoying the cuteness.

Anders is less enthralled, but he’ll get there someday.

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It’s been wonderful to walk around with my boys, even if it is nerve-wracking to be carrying a baby when Jersey takes off after a barn cat or woodchuck. But walking around feels normal. It feels right. It feels like I’m reclaiming a favorite pre-baby pastime.

It even gives us a chance to visit Daddy at work.

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Honestly, I’m feeling a bit panicked about returning to work from maternity leave in two short weeks (more on that later). For now I’m trying to seize every opportunity to bask in the beauty all around me.

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And according to the Dairy Man, the remainder of my maternity leave is the perfect time to introduce Anders to the awesomeness that is a dairy farm. Train ’em young and all that.

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He’s got to get used to the smells sometime.