Checking In: 30 Before 30

I turned 27 this month. This provoked a mild existential crisis (in which the voices in my head kept whispering, “Almost thirty… Almoooost thiiiiirty… Are those crooooow’s feeeeet by your eyyyyyes?“) that was only offset by the realization that Dairy Man would turn 28 in two weeks. If nothing else, I still have my older man. DM tests out every age for me before I arrive. Isn’t that nice of him?

27 seems like a good time to break the blog’s summer hiatus and check in on my “30 Things to Do Before I’m 30” list. I’ve made process in some areas, refused to skydive in others. There are things in life that terrify me (#12) that DON’T come with a chance of this:

Drunk plane

Go home, plane, you’re drunk.

So, I haven’t skydived…dove. But I am ready to detail the remaining 15 items on the list (check out the first 15 here), and give you a sense of how the 30 are going. It’s all about accountability.

16. Say “I’m sorry” more than 50 percent of the time
I am stubborn, opinionated, and bask in being right. But as my parents taught me, marriage (and life) is not about being right. It’s about compromise, humility, and grace. I want the words “I’m sorry” to become less of a poisonous extraction and more of a gracious offering.

17. Talk to my grandparents each week via phone or email
I think I’ve gotten a little lazy on this one since both of my grandmothers hopped on Facebook. That’s almost human interaction, right? But seriously. Over the course of my life, I’ve been lucky enough to know all four of my grandparents. They were at every play, choir concert, and birthday throughout my childhood. I want to make it a priority to stay in touch with my three remaining g-rents. It’s good for the soul. Plus, there’s usually some delicious lasagna or homemade frosting involved.

18. Drink a $50-100 bottle of wine (and see if I can tell the difference)
DM and I love a good glass of dry, oaky red wine. But our definition of “good” wine is typically around $15. We’re not the Rockafellers, people. I’ve always wanted to try an expensive bottle of wine to see if my tastes are as refined as I think they are.

19. Complete family photo yearbooks for 2010, 2011, and 2012
I’m already 2/3 of the way through with this one. Like many people, I have approximately a bazillion photos just sitting on my computer. So I decided to create annual family photo yearbooks on Shutterfly to preserve the memories. Plus, it’s nice to have something on the coffee table besides dairy magazines.

20. Purchase coffee for a stranger behind me in the Starbucks drive-thru
Once I was driving through Starbucks in need of a grande dirty chai. When I got up to the window, the girl wearing the headset said, “You don’t owe anything. The lady before you took care of it.” I was flabbergasted. I’ve always wanted to pay forward the kindness. Because, really, the best way to show your humanity is through caffeinated beverages.

21. Create something with my Instagram photos
Since getting my iPhone in the summer of 2012, I have documented our life on the farm with hundreds of Instagram photos. It’s well and good to have these photos living on my phone, but I want to do something with them. I’m thinking a poster for the basement.

22. Upgrade to a DSLR camera
I barely even know what this means, but I do know that iPhone photos just don’t cut it in the blogging world. I want to learn how to use a fancy camera and take photos of our dairy and Jersey the dog to the next level.

23. Teach Jersey a new trick
I might be biased, but, um, my dog is the smartest dog in the world. Now that he’s two years old, he has increased capacity to do awesome things. I recently taught him how to high-five, but I think “stick ’em up” might be next.

24. Spend an entire weekend unplugged
Dairy Man and I got into a scuffle over this one. While I think the idea of a of weekend free of laptops, iPads, and cell phones sounds relaxing and cleansing, all he could say is “No way! What if my employees need me!?” The man can’t fathom ever being away from his phone. So my plan is to combine this one with #10 and actually force him to leave the U.S. sometime in the next three years. Because not even a dairy man wants to pay $20 a minute to chat with his employees from a Caribbean beach.

25. Refurbish an old piece of furniture
I bought an old mid-century dresser for $60 from a thrift store in 2011. It has great bones but needs a lot of love. This is the year that I’m finally going to USE one of those 43,563 furniture painting tutorials on Pinterest and stop telling people who enter my dining room, “Don’t mind that ugly credenza; I need to refinish it.”

26. Make a list of birthdays and addresses and send cards
My friends can count on fun-filled birthday texts or FB messages, but there’s nothing like snail mail. I want to start sending physical cards. With handwritten notes. Maybe this will help me check off #1.

27. Pay off our student loans
Dairy Man and I finished college almost five years ago and are so close to paying off our loans that I can taste it. Between now and 30, we will pay off every last cent and say “sayonara!” to loan payments. Dave Ramsey would be so proud.

28. Find an active outdoor activity DM and I can do together
Two things that Dairy Man and I need more of (in my opinion) is quality time and exercise. I want to kill two birds with one stone and find an outdoor activity we both love. Are we hikers? Bikers? Runners? Vine swingers? Tennis players? Parkour-ers? Only time will tell.

29. Have a baby
DM and I have always known that we want a family. By the time I’m 30, I want to have at least one heir to the dairy throne around the house. If nothing else, we could use some more farmhands.

30. Write a letter to myself to be opened on my 30th birthday
I’d better get cracking on this one. If the past 27 years are any indication, a LOT can happen in three years. I want to make sure I don’t forget where I’ve been.

So, how’s the whole list going? Let’s check in.

  1. Send 25 handwritten notes
  2. Drink a large glass of water before every meal We do this faithfully
  3. Read at least one book every two months
  4. Visit our friends in Salt Lake City This hasn’t actually happened yet, but DM and I purchased plane tickets and will be jetting out to SLC in August!
  5. Milk a cow
  6. Take a girls trip to Vegas
  7. Try ten new restaurants in West Michigan
  8. Have at least one official date night a month
  9. Host a dinner party After reading this book, I really had no choice. My dining room table hosted an excellent dinner party for 10 of my girlfriends
  10. Go on an actual vacation with DM Will be accomplished the same time as #4
  11. See a show at Second City in Chicago
  12. Do something that absolutely terrifies me
  13. Go to five plays or musicals
  14. Run the Fifth Third Riverbank 5K  I donned stylish running tights and blazed through this race on May 11, 2013. 29:30 wasn’t a bad time for someone who didn’t train one iota! 
  15. Spend a day with each sibling doing something they choose, paid for by me
  16. Say “I’m sorry” more than 50 percent of the time
  17. Talk to my grandparents each week via phone or email
  18. Drink a $50-100 bottle of wine (and see if I can tell the difference)
  19. Complete family photo yearbooks for 2010, 2011, and 2012  Two books down, one to go
  20. Purchase coffee for a stranger behind me in the Starbucks drive-thru
  21. Create something with my Instagram photos
  22. Upgrade to a DSLR camera
  23. Teach Jersey a new trick I taught him how to high-five, but as mentioned, I have plans for other tricks
  24. Spend an entire weekend unplugged
  25. Refurbish an old piece of furniture
  26. Make a list of birthdays and addresses and send cards
  27. Pay off our student loans
  28. Find an active outdoor activity DM and I can do together
  29. Have a baby
  30. Write a letter to myself to be opened on my 30th birthday

Yikes. There’s a lot to do between 27 and 30! Some will be easy (buying coffee for a stranger) and others will be challenging (like trying to find time for date nights during corn harvest), but I’m looking forward to checking things off the list.

With a handsome fella like this at my side, how could I fail?

DM stache

Advertisements

Where Dreams and Dairy Cows Coincide

My childhood was immersed in stories.

I read veraciously. I wrote obsessively. I actually got in trouble for reading too much (when I was supposed to be bathing, when I was supposed to be getting dressed, when I was supposed to be sleeping). Super nerdy. As I added facts, literary devices, and vocabulary words to my holster, I began to write my own stories. I wanted to write a novel, become a foreign journalist, publish poems.

When I went to college, I had big dreams of the city, journalism, and power suits. I knew the pickings were slim for jobs in my creative field, so I planned to move far, far away. But then I met a handsome farmer. We moved to the country. Our lives unblinkingly surged in another direction. The longer I was on the farm, the more my dreams became entangled in my husband’s dreams. These new dreams weren’t better or worse, they were just different.

I think I was always in danger of becoming complacent.

I worked through my issues with cows, country, and the lack of Chicago (my marriage depended on it). I found the strength to support my husband’s dreams, often above my own. I teetered on the edge of martyrdom, but I managed to find happiness in my new home. I dealt with the transitions much more gracefully than anyone expected I would.

But something inside of me cooled. The passionate, wild, idealistic dreams of my post-college months succumbed to “realistic” dreams that would put food on the table and give me a modicum of self-respect. I found a job with people I liked. I learned to cook, loved on my dog, and fixed up our old farmhouse. I knew that my creativity was most likely going to be used on my own time, so I started a blog.

It was almost enough.

I still felt twinges of loss—the growing pains of new dreams—but I was happy. I knew that dreams change, twist, evolve, and even disappear over the course of a life and there was nothing wrong with that.

This all changed when I heard about an amazing job in our small town. It was the kind of job I dreamed of as a young college grad, full of writing, graphic design, social media, and zeal. It was the kind of job I could see myself growing into for the rest of my career.

So I applied. Somehow, I got it. After only seven months in my current job, I am moving on again.

If there is one thing I’ve learned from the Dairy Man and his farming family, life’s greatest riches come to the risk-takers. Very few people have the world dropped into their lap. Ultimately, every dream requires a dangerous first step … and hundreds of difficult steps after that. My father-in-law milked every day for seven years when he started the dairy. That’s every single day; twice a day; no weekends, holidays, or vacations. For S-E-V-E-N years. He made profound sacrifices that would one day lead to a booming, successful business. He risked everything he had. It would have been impossible to predict success or failure, but his dream sustained him.

As the wife of a dreamer, I’ve had to find peace in the truth that we will have to take risks to achieve my Dairy Man’s dreams. Businesses don’t grow without sacrifice (time, money, relationships); career aspirations aren’t realized without leaps of faith; passions are not satisfied without following a dream.

Farm life has taught me flexibility. God has shown me that the best-laid plans are subject to his will. Life happens, love happens, cows happen. At the end of the day, however, I know that the farming man who is brimming over with vocational passion will rejoice that I have found mine. We celebrate each other’s dreams.

I’m excited to start this new chapter of my career, but I’m also terrified. I thought this particular dream had fizzled. I accepted it. I felt God’s gentle nudging in a new direction. I clung to the best parts of myself, but I also acknowledged that I needed to evolve. I wasn’t willing to live a lifetime of dissatisfaction by doggedly clinging to old dreams, so I made new ones.

But this new dream is better than I could have imagined. I can feed the long-forgotten creative corners of my soul and still live in our small town, take long walks down dirt roads, and support my Dairy Man.

No matter which direction life takes us, we dream on.

The Road Less Traveled

As many of you already know, Michigan has been enjoying some delightful weather lately. This past Sunday was a beaut of a day. The sun was blazing, the sky was impossibly blue, and the temperatures were in the 40s. After a mid-afternoon nap, the Dairy Man, Jersey the pup, and I shook off the grogginess and headed out for a long walk.

Typically Jersey only gets to walk with one parent at a time. Dairy Man entertains the pups during the day and I try to take him on outings after work or on the weekends. It’s a rare occasion when he gets the chance to cavort around the dairy with both of us. Naturally, this thrilled him.

I have always loved these “family walks.” (As a note, the Dairy Man doesn’t like me to refer to the J-man as our “family.” In his mind, dogs are dogs and people are people. We’re the masters and Jersey is the subordinate. But I love that ball of fur like a baby. He has me wrapped around his little paw. And this is my blog.) Our walks are a rare time without distractions —no TV, no computers, no chores— it’s a time just to BE. We breathe clean air, marvel at the landscape, and really connect.

We also take turns holding the leash so that our shoulders are equally dislocated. That Jersey’s getting too strong for his britches.

It is on these walks that we lay out our plans and dreams. Something about the brief departure from our busy life catapults us into introspection. As we walk through the open space between the milking parlor and the road, the Dairy Man plots future barns. As we stumble through the grassy clumps behind the steer barn, I talk about writing, art, and family. As we climb the tall hill beyond the dairy, Jersey eats grass and rolls in unidentified piles of poo (ok, not all three walkers are catapulted into higher thoughts).

Each time we walk, I feel like I’m seeing our farm for the first time. Somehow there is always an angle I missed, a place I’ve never stood before.

This is the time when the Dairy Man hashes out his hopes and dreams for the dairy. He paints pictures of a bigger herd, new barns, and new machinery. His eyes glow and his words are satiated with optimism. In these moments, I am reminded anew of the ambitious man I married. I know enough about farming at this point to anticipate that his dreams will not come without terribly hard work, but as we tramp through the long grass, I fully believe that he can accomplish them.

In our harried life of farm and family, these walks give the Dairy Man and I a moment to connect, to get centered. We feel blessed, young, and hopeful.

I don’t think I’ll ever get the mud off my boots from these walks. Nor do I want to. My boots are destined to tromp around these farmlands, and so I am.

Life is what happens.

Change.

This is a word that has defined my life ever since the dairy man came into it.

Almost nothing that college-aged Jess expected out of life came true. I didn’t move to a big city, I didn’t become a journalist, and I don’t own a single pair of Manolos. I drive a well-loved car that is almost always muddy/manure-y and have an old farmhouse instead of a ultra-mod loft apartment.

But, much to old Jess’ surprise, change is not a bad thing.

The quote that best sums up my life thus far is from John Lennon: “Life is what happens when you make other plans.” I’ve spent so much time making plans and life has happened in spite of them. God laughed at my plans. Somehow the things I was trying so hard to avoid ended up bringing more joy than I could have ever imagined. This life is different than I planned but, in a lot of ways, it’s better.

A recent change of note is the end of my life as a long-distance commuter. I started a new job this week for our county in an office a mere 15 MINUTES from home. After over a year of driving 80+ minutes to work (one way!), this is insanity.

It was crazy difficult to leave the people I worked with for the past three years, but I know this change was the right one. That being said, I’m having a heck of a time wrapping my mind around it. Work ends at 5 and I’m pulling into my driveway at 5:15. What do people do with all of this time? I have big plans for exercise, puppy playdates, and tackling my book list. But a small part of me still feels a twinge of panic.

Even though I moved to the country a little over a year ago, in a lot of ways, I didn’t move. I still had the same job in the same city (emphasis on CITY); I saw the same people; I could eat at the same restaurants. I had to drive a lot further to get to these things, but they were still available to me on a daily basis. In many ways, I was the same old urbanite. I still don’t know my way around our small town because I’m never here.

Now I’m moving. For real. My whole life—home, job, and friends—will be up here. I know the city isn’t that far away (as evidenced by the fact that I used to drive back and forth to it every. single. day), but it’s not going to be as easy to get there. I’m starting a new chapter: “City girl really really moves to the cornfields.” My job change will have a ripple effect into every part of life.

But change is a part of life.

Because let’s be honest here; the Jess of my college years would have laughed hysterically at the prospect of living in the country, tromping through cow poop, and being married to a farmer. But here I am. This is my (happy) life. Somehow all of these changes make my heart swell with contentedness. I have found bliss in the most unexpected place.

And now I have more time to be here. A frightening blessing. I still will not learn how to milk (because, as a wise farm wife once told me, “If you know how to milk, you might have to!”), but I’m looking forward to joining the gym, cooking meals that take longer than 30 minutes, and writing more. While I’m sad to leave my half city life and my wonderful coworkers (one fabulously snarky boss in particular), I’m excited to start this new job. I’m excited to build new relationships. And I’m excited to take a leap that more fully invests me in this life up north with my dairy man.

Bring on the changes.

Nice to meet you.

Hi. My name is Jessica, and I’m a dairy farmer’s wife.

I did not grow up in the country. Though in the name of full confession, I did not grow up in a city either. I was born and raised in Holland, a suburban home to roughly 35,000 Dutch reformers on the shores of Lake Michigan. But I always felt like a city girl trapped in a suburban girl’s body.

During my senior year of college, I spent three and a half months living and working in Chicago. This beautiful city had me at hello. I loved the taxis, the crush of bodies, the subways, the restaurants, the ethnic neighborhoods, the theaters, and the shopping. I worked four days a week at my internship at the Museum of Contemporary Art. I had my pick of five Starbucks within a mile radius of my apartment. That semester was bliss and I fully intended to move back the second my diploma was in my hand.

But it’s like Lennon said: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” I made other plans. But life laughed at me. After my semester in the land of steel and glass, I returned to finish my final semester of college. It was there that Dairy Man finally weaseled his way into my heart. Two years later, he was down on his knee pulling a sparkly ring out of an ice skate. Little did I know what my “YES!” would entail.

Today the Dairy Man and I live on a 118+ acre dairy farm in the middle of Michigan. I can actually see cows from my kitchen window. I have to wear rubber boots to walk to the garage. The Dairy Man works between 80 and 100 hours per week. It’s very common for me to say “What’s on your shirt?” and have the Dairy Man respond, “Oh, just some manure.”

I don’t think any amount of research could have prepared me to be a dairy farmer’s wife. Farming is not just a job; it’s an all-encompassing lifestyle. The farm is my Dairy Man’s job, passion, hobby, and mistress. Dinnertime is a moving target; vacations and holidays are non-existent (the cows always need to be milked, even if it’s Christmas); artificial insemination is a mealtime conversation topic; and Dairy Man works more and sleeps less than I thought a person physically could.

But my Dairy Man loves it. He’s full of big dreams and won’t quit until he achieves them. Ironically, it’s this same dogged persistence that won me over and has me waking up in countryland every morning.

Life is funny on the farm. Now that we’ve been properly introduced, I hope you’ll think so too.