I Talked to Your Dad, Go Pick Out a White Dress

The Dairy Man and I aren’t the kind of couple that celebrates every little relationship milestone. We don’t exchange gifts or Facebook statuses to commemorate things like “the day we first kissed,” “the day we went on our first date,” “the day we said I love you” (though I can remember the circumstances), or “the day we first ate pizza together.”

Who has time to remember every little thing? When you’ve been friends for five years, dating for four, and married for one and a half(ish), who has time to recognize each wonderful first? Not us. We’ve got blogs to write, cows to milk, you know the drill. That’s not to say we don’t like to reminisce about that first date, that first kiss, that first slice of pizza (just kidding). We love to look back on our history and savor those little moments. But we don’t have enough space in our brains to remember to celebrate our first jog together.

That being said, today is one date I’ll always remember. In 20 years, it won’t rise to the height of our wedding day or the day we have our first child, but it will be a date I won’t forget.

What’s today you ask? Well, it was exactly two years ago that my bashful Dairy Man knelt down on one knee and asked me to marry him. It was undoubtedly one of the most pivotal days of my life. This day marks the moment I fully committed to farm life, to Michigan, to him. It’s also the day I got to start wearing something sparkly and practice writing “Mrs. Folkema.”

It was Tuesday, December 22, 2009. I had just returned to my apartment after my last day of work before the holidays. The Dairy Man had called from his home (an hour away) and said that he was going to drive down to make me dinner. Which, frankly, was suspicious. But I did what all girls who helped pick out their rings do—I played dumb and waited. The Dairy Man showed up with grocery bags, candles, a tablecloth, and a bottle of wine. We chatted awkwardly while he cooked up some shrimp tortellini (what I ordered on our first date) and sat down to dinner.

After dinner, he suggested we head downtown to go ice skating. When we parked, he said, “I’ve got something for you in the back of the truck.” Wouldn’t you know it: two brand new pairs of ice skates! We carried our skates to the steps of the Grand Rapids Art Museum and sat down to lace them up. Strangely, the Dairy Man wanted me to put mine on first. He handed me a skate** and hovered over me while I put it on.

MFW: “Um, don’t you want to put on your skates?”

DM: (Shifting from foot to foot) “Uhhh I will in a second. Ready for the other skate?”

As I pushed my foot into the second skate, I felt something hard in the toe. I pulled out a ring box and wahBAM Dairy Man was down on one knee.

He said amazing things.

I cried.

And then there was some light and joyful snogging.

Unbeknownst to me, a friend had popped out from behind the building when DM’s knee hit the ground and started taking pictures of the whole thing. I treasure these pictures. I still remember the elation, the love, the hope of that moment. I also wish I hadn’t tucked my pants into my argyle socks, but what can you do?

**In regards to the awkward hovering? Later, the Dairy Man mused: “If I had been thinking, I would have handed you the skate with the ring in it FIRST, not second.”

I remember telling a friend a few weeks prior that I really hoped the Dairy Man didn’t propose on Christmas. It was too cliché, it wasn’t us. Rather, I said, “I just really want him to propose on some random Tuesday!” And it was. The Tuesday before Christmas. My man knows me well.

Even though we don’t celebrate today, we remember it. I get warm fuzzies when December 22 rolls around. This day is symbolic in so many ways. That December 22 marked the last year I celebrated Christmas in the city. It marked the last year I celebrated Christmas as a Bareman. It marked the start of a new adventure with a handsome man who milks cows.

Two years later, these recollections still cause my breath to catch in my chest. It’s easy to get swept up in the normalcy of work, marriage, no-longer-pending adulthood. But today I will look at my Dairy Man and remember those two bright-eyed kids, shivering in the cold, agreeing to start a life together.

And really, somewhere in the distant hills that night, I think the cows agreed too.

Merry Christmas!

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What It’s Really Like to be Married to a Farmer

A while back, Meggie from Hooiser Farm Babe wrote a post with this same title. While reading her words, I found myself nodding, laughing, and thinking to myself, “Holy goodness. This is exactly how I feel. These things are all true for me too.”

And then I wondered if I could add a few things to the list. I could have used all of her headings and wrote my own thoughts (because, as mentioned, all apply!), but maybe I can add something to the conversation.

My experiences with farming really didn’t begin until I said “I do” that hot August day. I had no idea what I was getting into. I came from a suburban realm where dads came home at 5 and dinner was at 6. In my world, families took summer vacations, slept in on Saturdays, and were always on time to church. Farm life is an entirely different animal.

So, what is it really like being married to a farmer?

You are alone a lot (this is such a big one I had to borrow it from Meggie)
I’m not sure what I expected when I married a farmer, but it wasn’t eating dinner at 8 and spending my weekend by myself. But that’s the nature of farming. Between daily chores, fixing things that are broken, supervising employees, and the crazy times of the year (planting, harvesting, haying, etc.), there isn’t much time for things like vacation, going out for dinner with friends, or weekend getaways. It’s very difficult for the Dairy Man to peel himself away from the dairy, even for a night. I go to a lot of events alone. Watch a lot of TV alone. And talk to our puppy far more than I should…

You do the housework
At first, it was very important for me to keep things equal in the marriage. I didn’t mind doing some of the housework, but I wasn’t doing it all just because I was the girl. I wanted my husband to know how to vacuum, load the dishwasher, and do his own laundry. And he does. But unfortunately there are just times of the year where he can’t. The Dairy Man works 6.5 days a week and usually gets in around 8. I work 5 days and get home at 7. I have more time, so I do most of the housework. But not because I’m the girl. And my husband does know how to do laundry.

You just can’t commit
To events and obligations, that is. This reality drove me crazy during our dating life. If you say you can go bowling with your friends on Friday, then you GO bowling with your friends on Friday. But not if you have to work late. Or if the tractor breaks. Or if there’s a cow having difficulty in labor. These things all take precedence over previous plans.

You’re always late
The dairy makes us late for everything – church, parties, dinner at his parents’ house, vet appointments, and nights out with friends. There’s always one more thing to do, one more thing to fix, or one more problem to tackle. Fortunately our farming community gets it. If you’re 30 minutes late for church you can say, “Sorry, Pastor, problems on the dairy,” and he nods his head knowingly and declares, “Well, we’re just glad you made it!” A secret added bonus of this reality is that people start to get excited when you actually make it to an event. We’re fashionably late. All the time. I like to think we’re the life of every party.

You learn flexibility and patience
Two traits I did NOT possess before I married the Dairy Man were flexibility and patience. I’m a planner. When I say I’m going to do something, I do it. I like to know what to expect and I don’t like surprises. Some might call me type-A OCDish, but I call myself organized. I may or may not have matching baskets labeled by category in the bathroom closet. But farm life doesn’t work that way. It isn’t neat. It isn’t organized. If you want to be happy, you’d better learn to be flexible. And, really, being a little less uptight hasn’t hurt me one bit.

I could go on, but you get the idea. That being said, being married to my farmer is fabulous in so many ways.

He exemplifies work and passion
I’ve never seen someone work so hard. Seriously. My Dairy Man has a work ethic that baffles me. It has downsides, but I am so proud to have a husband that understands the value of an honest day’s work. He also loves it. He’s passionate about it. He talks about it all the time because it’s so exciting to him. Again, annoying, but I think this kind of vocational passion is so rare and admirable.

He asks me about my day
Despite dragging himself into the house exhausted each night, my Dairy Man still cares about my life, my day, and my feelings. I can’t remember the last time he didn’t ask me “how was your day?” before sitting down to dinner. He’s busy and gone a lot, but he always takes a moment to ask about me.

He teaches me something new every day
Did you know that cows can get pink eye? Or that cows don’t give milk until they have a calf? Or that there’s a big difference between a bull and a steer? I’m always learning new things from my Dairy Man. It’s impossible not to. And even though I sometimes learn things I never wanted to know, it’s great to expand my knowledge base.

He loves me
Sometimes I catch the Dairy Man looking at me and the love in his eyes takes my breath away. I love being married to him more with each day. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m not in the land of steel and concrete. I’m here because of him.

And, also, he cleans up quite nicely.

1 down, 80 to go.

This weekend, the Dairy Man and I celebrated our one year wedding anniversary. As old(er) people say, “My, how time flies!”

It’s hard to believe I’ve been living this country life for an entire year. I can’t really consider myself a newbie anymore. Though, honestly, that ship already sailed the day I started explaining the difference between a heifer, cow, steer, and bull to my boss.

The past year feels like a great accomplishment. It was challenging and frustrating, but it was also filled with unspeakable joy and love. I am more in love with the Dairy Man today than I was on our wedding day. Now that we’ve gotten a chance to get our hands dirty in this thing called marriage, we are even more certain in this life we’re building together.

Unlike many newlyweds, I don’t think that the Dairy Man and I entered marriage with our eyes glazed over with love and rainbows. We’ve always been fairly realistic people. We didn’t enter into marriage lightly or with unreasonable expectations. And I think that’s what has sustained us through this crazy year.

Over the past 365 days, we lived in two different houses in two different locations. We went through harvest season, planting season, and a whole lot of hay cutting. We began the (never-ending) process of renovating our farmhouse. We started a new dairy. We completely gutted and renovated our milking parlor. We lost two beloved grandparents. We got a dog. We joined a church and made new friends.  We lived through power outages, blizzards, 3 a.m. phone calls, passionate disagreements, runaway cows, and one very expensive trip to IKEA.

This year has been tumultuous and unstable. But it has also been rewarding and reassuring. Somehow our farmer/urbanite love has blossomed into a beautiful marriage.

I still remember something my mom said to me a few months after my wedding. The Dairy Man was in the midst of starting the new dairy. I barely saw him and felt marginalized, alone, and unimportant. I was sick of coming second to the dairy. While the Dairy Man was working 15 hour days, I was saddled with keeping everything else together. I resented it all. I hadn’t signed up to do everything myself. But when I lamented this to my mom, she said,

Jess, in a marriage you can’t be so concerned about things being perfectly 50/50. You both have to give 100 percent–all of the time. Things aren’t always going to be equal. You might have to take turns carrying the other. But you should both always try to give 100 percent. That’s what love is.”

My mother is very smart and her advice stuck with me. An egalitarian marriage (as I hoped for) is a great idea, but real life isn’t always that neat and tidy. You can’t just give 50 percent and stop giving. Sometimes we have to pick up each other’s slack. If you go into marriage thinking that things will always be fair and perfectly equal, you’re in for a rude awakening. Especially if you marry a farmer. We will spend our lives trying to find balance.

My happiness required that I accept this. I had to learn flexibility, patience, and grace. I had to be ok with giving more than 50 percent some of the time. On the flip side, the Dairy Man had to shake off years of putting the farm first and learn what it was like to be married.  He had to learn how to prioritize, say no, and invest in life outside of the farm. We’re getting there.

To my husband, thank you for the past year. Today, like that day a year ago, you are it. You are everything. You’ve turned my life upside down and it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. I may live in the boondocks and have a home that smells faintly of cow manure, but I still feel like myself. Stilettos and all.

Bring on the next 80 years.

Woman vs. Farm: On Being a Farm Wife.

My Dairy Man spends a lot of time out on the dairy. Like, a lot. He usually hits the dirt around 7 a.m. and I see neither hide nor hair of him until 8 or 9 p.m.

The time between when I get home from work and when I see the hardworking farmer can be a lonely time. In the first few months of our marriage (harvest time), it was actually much worse. I resented it. I felt like I barely had a husband. When he finally got home, we would scarf down a quick dinner, spend 20-30 minutes catching up, and then head to bed so that we could wake up to do it all over again. It got better when we actually started living on the dairy, but the Dairy Man’s life is still at the mercy of the farm. If something breaks, he has to fix it. If an employee needs assistance, he has to help. If the cows get out, he obviously has to wrangle. Regardless of the time, day or night, the dairy almost always comes first.

This reality has been the most challenging adjustment as I learn how to live as a modern farm wife. I grew up in a family that treated work very differently. My dad was home for dinner almost every night; no one was calling him at 4 a.m. to report a problem; he could plan his days and we could plan on him.

But farming is very different. Long hours and lack of freedom come with the territory. This is your name on the line, your reputation, your livelihood. There is a high level of personal investment. Farming is like any other small business … if the business were on steroids. Farming will never, ever be a 9-5.

Honestly? I’m still adjusting. I suspect it may take years. The all-encompassing nature of the farm still shocks and annoys me. My Dairy Man will spend the rest of his life trying to find balance and I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to accept that we often won’t achieve it.

A few months before we got married, Dairy Man and I were in a premarital counseling session that changed everything. While addressing my fears of living in the country and marrying a farmer, I came up with a laundry list of worries: living in the middle of nowhere, dealing with my husband’s work schedule, and giving up career options to follow him. Would he make enough time for me? Would I get lonely? How could I survive when the nearest mall or Starbucks was 45 minutes away? What kind of future would I have?

When I stopped to take a breath, Dairy Man started talking. He talked about his love of farming and his eagerness to grow and innovate on the dairy. His passion was palpable; his eyes were gleaming; his ambition was remarkable. And then he said, “But I feel so guilty about all of this because I know Jess is unhappy. And I understand, but I just don’t know what to do.”

BAM. My selfishness hit me like a load of bricks. And it hurt. It hurt to see that I was unintentionally stomping all over his dreams. It hurt to know that I was taking the joy out of something he loved so much. That’s when I decided to stop digging in my heels. I chose him and thus, I chose this life. If we were going to be happy, I would have to start being ok with this.

I’m proud of my husband. I’m proud of how hard he works and how big he dreams. He inspires me to do more and push myself harder. I need to reciprocate. Even though the stiletto-wearing city girl from five years ago would have been horrified at the prospect of living in the land of sky, dirt, and cows, this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.

And so, when I am eating yet another dinner alone, I remind myself why I’m here. The Dairy Man and I both have things to learn, but we’re on the same team. Even if the team uniform requires old jeans and rubber boots.