On Marriage, Blue Cheese and AA Batteries

To commemorate our fifth wedding anniversary, I thought I’d compile a list of what I’ve learned over the years. But, “he doesn’t like blue cheese” seemed like kind of a short list. So, I grabbed a handful of chocolate chips and glass of iced tea, plunked down on the couch and scribbled the following collection of marital advice.

Spoiler alert: My list reveals the secret to a lasting marriage, which, as it turns out, involves a handheld battery-operated device. You’ve been warned.

 

1) Never pass up a chance to say “I told you so.”

The bigger his or her mistake, the more your spouse will appreciate hearing you say these four little words. For long-time couples, the same effect can be achieved with a simple eyebrow raise. If time allows, launch into a lengthy monologue detailing the events that led up to your spouse’s being wrong and your being right. The more details, the better. If you find your spouse is no longer in the room, don’t be deterred. Continue lecturing, and they will eventually have to hear you out, especially if you strategically placed yourself in front of the bathroom door.

 

 

2) Pray for each other.

At first, you will likely lift up sweet sentiments like “God, please protect my husband while he is at work today and bring him safely back home to me,” or “Lord, thank You so much for my wife. She means everything to me.” As the years, children and facial wrinkles accumulate with alarming rapidity, it’s perfectly normal for those prayers to evolve into “Dear Lord, please help me to not pick up that shovel and use it to test the hardness of my dearly beloved’s skull,” or “If You would only grant me the patience to sit through another lecture on the pros and cons of rubber frogs as they apply to bass fishing, I won’t even complain about the children’s fighting tomorrow. Well, I won’t complain until lunch. How about an hour after breakfast?”

3) Learn how to fight fairly.

Then contact me with details ASAP. While you’re at, what’s the secret to ensuring that every wet towel is picked off of the bathroom floor? What’s the status on that house with the self-cleaning kitchen? Did Porky Pig ever get his jet pack figured out and off the ground?

4) Smile, dammit.

Jim looked at me one evening while I was washing dishes on a July day in a house with no air conditioning and a baby strapped to my back and asked “Why do you have that smirk on your face?”

“I’m not smirking,” I replied. “I’m making myself smile, because I find it makes unpleasant situations better.”

“It’s kinda creepy. Could you stop?”

“So, you’d rather start seeing my real expression every morning while I clean the floor, my own feet and the bottom of a child who didn’t make it to the bathroom in time before I’ve even had a sip of coffee?”

“Point taken. I like the smirk.”

5) Insist on a picture-perfect proposal and wedding.

An over-the-top proposal followed by the most romantic, fairytale-esque wedding that your friends and have family have ever attended is an absolute MUST for a happy, long-lived marriage.

If he isn’t down on one knee offering a diamond ring that seriously jeopardized his ability to feed and house himself for the better part of eight months and she isn’t having heart palpitations as her shaky left-hand ring finger and soon-to-be-married brain connect the dots, then….it doesn’t really matter.

Shhhhh! Don’t tell the diamond companies!

A wedding and the subsequent marriage are about so much more than the perfect dress, fresh flowers and a five-piece band. Marriage is about exploring the deepest parts of your innermost selves together, like discovering that he stops breathing when the TV remote dies, and she plots a course around a grocery store like a drunken primate. The secret to a lasting marriage? Learn to administer CPR while changing AA batteries and practice deep-breathing exercises in preparation for your fourth trip through the produce section.

Wedding_rings_photo_by_Litho_Printers

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Life Lessons From A Cowboy Kid

We human beings typically prefer to learn our life lessons the hard way. In case you’re interested in shortcuts, here’s a cheat sheet straight from the perspective of a cowboy kid.

1)Pants are optional.

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Don’t let society dictate what constitutes acceptable fashion. If you want to hang out in your front yard wearing a cowboy hat, long-sleeve shirt and cowboy boots, whip off those britches and get out the door.

2) Always size up your opponent before entering the arena.

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Never back down. But if there’s an orangutan (big, scary, hairy critter) on the other side of the gate, it might be better to take a good look before jumping in spurs-first. You might want to grab bigger spurs.

3) Don’t be afraid to stick out your belly.

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You work hard at avoiding sit-ups and only running when someone yells “Cake!” Regardless of your physique, you gotta show off that shape. Especially if your older sister is on your side, and she is even bigger and ornerier than you are.

4) Find a worthy role model to follow.

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It doesn’t matter if your role model is the opposite gender or doesn’t believe in wearing shoes. We all need someone to look up to in this world, and not just because they’re taller than us. Once you find that person(s), you better not let them get too far away.

5) Dress for the job you want. DSC_0901 (1024x702)

If you want to be a cowboy, then by gosh you better strap your spurs on each morning and head to the barn. Even if you don’t know exactly how to properly use the gear or fix a wonky item, put it on and hang out with people who know how to use it, and you’ll soon learn their skills.

6) Kick off your boots once in a while.

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Occasionally, we all need to run barefoot and feel the dirt between our toes. It reminds us of our inherent freedom as human beings, our core connection with the natural world, and the primary reason for shoes: protection from sharp rocks and thorny plants.

7)  Stop and figure out why there is poop on your hat.

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Sometimes in life, you’ll discover that everything that was once green, growing and wonderful has turned to poop. Instead of a July hay field bordered by wildlfowers, you’ll discover you are surrounded by bare dirt and dried-up poop. It covers the ground at your feet and even adorns your hat.

Initially, you may become angry and withdrawn, pulling your hat down over your eyes in a futile effort to ignore the poop.

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Then, you may become sullen and distant, pulling your hat up to acknowledge the world but allowing the poop to remain on your hat.

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And then, to your (and your sister’s) dismay, you sometimes discover that YOU are the cause of the poop on your hat.

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At this point, it is generally considered wise to stop putting poop on your hat. Cease your destructive actions, clean up your hat, and continue leading a clean, fulfilling, poop-free life.

8) Develop a Grrr Face for challenging times. DSC_0904 (1024x683)

Next time life throws you a sh!tty situation, you can face it head-on with your hat pushed back and a fearsome grimace on your countenance.

9) Practice your pondering face.

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It is wise to be able to look wise at a moment’s notice. This way, it somebody asks you a tricky question like “What is the meaning of life?” or “How do I cook spaghetti noodles that don’t stick together?” you can instantly switch into Pondering Mode until the inquisitor realizes that you are much too wise to be bothered with such trivial matters and heads off to solve their own problems, or look up the answer on Google.

10) Always bring a hat, because you never know when you might need a place to sit.

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Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. A hat is a hat, unless it’s a seat.

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Not A Suburban Housewife

Sometimes, I think I missed my true calling as a suburban housewife. I could totally see myself wearing yoga pants and signing for UPS packages while my husband was at work and Disney Junior blared in the background.

Instead, I live on a remote cattle ranch 2 1/2 hours from town and one hour past mail delivery. Amazon Prime and cable cartoons don’t apply to my life. Even though I grew up in the country, sometimes I think I’m not cut out for the unusually large amounts of dirt, wild animal encounters, and solitude that is provided by my life as a cowboy’s wife. I want my children to be clean for longer than the duration of their baths. I want to see a tarantula never, instead of on my bathroom floor. I want to have a friend besides the windmill.

I dream of having real electricity. We live off the grid, so when the power goes out, I must get out of my warm bed – sometimes during a freezing rainstorm – and locate a flashlight, find my husband’s boots, then brace myself for the final step.

“Here, take these and go start the generator,” I whisper as I shake Jim’s shoulder.

“Why? It’s the middle of the night.”

“I might want to make some microwave popcorn.”

“We don’t have a microwave.”

“I might want to watch TV.”

“We don’t have cable.”

“I might want to read a book.”

“Use your flashlight.”

If I lived close enough to other humans to have real electricity, I could probably have a real, live friend, too. I’m tired of meeting for coffee with the family dog and a windmill. The dog always has gas, and the windmill never holds up her end of the conversation.

I want to know what it’s like to buy bananas and have them arrive at my home bright yellow and unbruised. I wonder what it’s like to brake smoothly at the stop sign on the corner rather than shift into four-wheel-drive in order to make it through the cow pasture on my way to town. I yearn to own a house key and lock my car upon each exit. I want to walk outside my house in my nightgown to wave at the garbage man and embarrass my kids, not chase the bulls out of the front yard.

I could definitely envision myself driving a shiny SUV that has never seen a speck of dirt. Maybe a newer model in cobalt blue. In actuality, I do drive an SUV, but it’s a ’95 Jeep Cherokee. The paint job is flawless, but you’ll have to take my word for it, because it’s usually covered with dirt. It has a CD player and power nothing, but driving it makes me feel like Indiana Jones.

Shopping online with free overnight delivery is probably overrated, anyway. Playing in the dirt helps build my kids’ immune systems, and I keep reminding myself that tarantulas are harmless. At least the windmill doesn’t spread gossip (she’s not THAT kind of mill).

Plus, out here I have plenty of room to practice my off-road driving skills. Once I got the feel for four-low and made it through a few monster mud puddles, I realized that I could never hack it as a suburban housewife. Next time I see a giant arachnid in my house, I’ll just channel my inner Indy and crack a bullwhip at it…while screaming for my husband to come kill it, of course.

I like living out in the sticks so much that I even pose for pictures while holding a stick. The only thing missing is an explanation for why I was holding a stick.

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Life With A Dumb Phone

The Pioneer Woman stars in a cooking show and Sherry Cervi is a barrel racing legend, but my claim to fame is that I have never owned a smart phone. Instead, I’ve used the same blue Samsung slide-out for the last 6 years. I bought it brand-new without a payment plan, because it cost $35. I have thrown it against the floorboards up the pickup, handed it to teething babies for a chew toy, and misplaced it for days on end.

My trusty old phone’s seeming inability to destruct isn’t the only reason I keep it around, though. After several years of rarely living within cell service, I’m not in the habit of constantly packing a phone. And I like it.

When I wait to be seen at the doctor’s office or am in line at the Walmart pharmacy, I don’t scroll through Facebook or tweet about the experience. Instead, my attention wanders and I journey to a state of mind that is becoming desolate and forbidden in modern America. It’s called “boredom.” I invite you to join me there – it’s boring and relaxing and wonderful.

I miss out on a lot of status updates and pictures of other people’s kids doing adorable things, but I get to actually witness my own kids doing adorable things, so I guess it’s worth the sacrifice.

This lifestyle choice is unusual, though, and I understand it runs counter to the modern American culture of hyperconnectivity. My husband and I recently ate lunch together at a restaurant, and we didn’t bring our phones in with us. While sitting at the table in broad daylight, we boldly looked each other in the eye and did something unusual and so rarely seen in public these days that it bordered on obscene.

We talked.

We stood out like a pair of life jackets at a chili cook-off. Before we could make other diners uncomfortable, a waiter quickly brought us each a smart phone. Jim, tech-savvy cowboy that he is, immediately downloaded a team roping game. I struggled in vain to use my device, but I couldn’t make it past the cryptic numerical pattern required for entry. Eventually, I gave up and attempted to resume conversing in public with my husband.

“What did you order for lunch?” I asked.

“Dang, plus five!” Jim replied.

Shoot. Now even my hubby was sucked into the smart phone dimension, never to return until the chute help took a virtual break.

There are times when a smart phone and a selection of apps sure would have come in handy, though. Once, while driving through Phoenix, I got so turned around and confused without Google Maps to guide me that I pulled over and cried. I found my destination and came up with a long-term solution, though: don’t go to Phoenix.

Apps can include more than maps, and while “there’s an app for that” usually holds true, I’m not sure it applies to my life in the extremely remote American West. As a ranch wife traveling 2 1/2 hours one way to town, I need an app that tells me the melting rate of the ice cream I packed into the cooler between four gallons of milk and three blocks of cheese. When driving on dirt roads at dusk, I could use an app that alerts me to the presence of antelope and their proximity to my vehicle.

Well, I guess there is an app for those things, and it’s even free. Now, if only I could figure out how to write “common sense” into computer code and market it to Apple, I’d have so much money that I could buy the biggest cooler Yeti makes to haul all my ice cream – or maybe make the first month’s payment on a smart phone.

“They make phones WITHOUT CORDS that you carry around in your POCKET?!”

girl-on-phone

 

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Don’t Touch That: A Day Date

To celebrate Independence Day, Jim and I left our kids with his parents and went to town for a day date.

“Hey, look at me!” I said as I walked across the yard. “I just left the house without a diaper bag!”

Then I got in the pickup, threw two graham crackers into the back seat and patiently said “I can’t pick your sippy cup up off the floor right now; Mommy is driving.”

I quickly snapped back to reality when I realized I was sitting in the passenger seat. Or, as it is known here at the ROs, “the gate-getter seat.” I don’t know what cowpunchers have against cattle guards, but I do know that there are 6 gates between our home at the Triangle N camp and town. That’s a total of 12 gates to open and shut in order to visit civilization.

The tedious chore was totally worth it that day, though, because I was footloose and child-free with my hubby! I looked forward to a quiet drive to town followed by a leisurely lunch at a steak house, then wandering slowly through an art gallery filled with breakable objects. But most of all, I looked forward to what moms of young children crave more than that second cup of coffee each morning: using the restroom alone.

It would be such a treat to relieve myself without trying to keep the one-year-old occupied by asking “Can you bring Mommy more toilet paper?” – even though I already held half a roll – and telling the four-year-old “Do NOT open that door until my pants are up and buttoned!”

Once we arrived in Prescott, we went to the Phippen Museum of Western Art. I thoroughly enjoyed all the cowboy paintings, sculptures, written information and historical gear. Plus, since my husband and I went to the museum sans kids, I only had to say “Don’t touch that!” once.

We bought an illustrated print of Gail Gardner’s “Tying Knots In The Devil’s Tail” to commemorate our date, because in our marriage it’s an annual event that deserves a souvenir. After leaving the museum, we wandered leisurely around a few stores, where we enjoyed browsing and shopping without anyone throwing a temper tantrum. Jim had a close encounter with a hunger-induced meltdown, but he quickly threw a king-sized Snickers at the problem and I immediately calmed down.

After my chocolate appetizer, we ate at Texas Roadhouse and called the grandparents to check on the kids. Neither of Jim’s parents answered their phones.

Hmmm. I figured they were just fine and we shouldn’t worry about them at all; in fact, we should just stay the night in town and catch up with them the next morning.

Ha! If you believed that, then you’d believe that we could rent an ocean front room in Prescott. Truth: I insisted Jim call his parents every 7 minutes, then begged him to swing by the hospital just to check. He kept driving, so I wondered aloud how to issue an Amber Alert. Jim wondered silently how in the heck motherhood can make one petite woman so enormously crazy. He didn’t have to wonder this aloud, because after 5 years, I know that look on his face.

We made it home just about dark. The kids were fed, bathed, and ready for bed. Grandma and Grandpa were worn smooth out, and I was happy to have a kid in each arm again. My internal maternal conflict was worth it, though, because I got to spend a whole day with just my husband. Using a public restroom alone was pretty great, too.

This picture is from our last date, which occurred in October of last year. We didn’t get a picture from this year’s date. We bought a souvenir, though, so that will remind us of the occasion until Date Night 2018.

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Fragrance: Gasoline By Generator

On any given day, I can be found wearing an outfit. As a full-time cowboy, I used to wear long-sleeve shirts and Levi’s every day. Now that I’m a full-time mom and part-time writer, I usually wear dresses and sandals. Wearing a fun dress like this helps take the sting out of not wearing boots and spurs to work.

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An unexpected side effect is that now I just want to twirl my skirt around, bake cookies and have more of Jim’s babies. He is totally on board with the cookie idea, but he is not enthusiastic about having another kid. Something about pregnancy weight gain, mood swings and lack of sleep. Plus, he’d have to put up with me.

Now that you know a little too much information, here are the actual facts about my outfit of this day.

Dress: Ruby Rox. You probably haven’t heard of this brand, because I purchased this dress at a Ross store during my freshman year of college. One of the buttons is yellowed with age, which is super weird because just yesterday my roommates and I were curling our hair and borrowing each others’ shoes to go to a party at the ag frat house. But, it makes me feel like Lucille Ball, so I absolutely love it. Plus, I can wear it with assurance that no one else will have it, because most people update their wardrobes more than once every 12 years.

Fragrance: Gasoline by generator. We live off the grid, so our home is powered by solar panels. Periodically, we to have run the generator for backup, and no matter how hard I try, I always spill a little gas on my hands, shoes, clothes, or all three. This is not surprising, since I hold the funnel to fill the gas tank while I simultaneously pour the gas, bat the four-year-old away from the funnel, and evasively maneuver the one-year-old away from the stream of gas.

Hair: Twist ‘n clip with hair washed yesterday. It’s my go-to face-washing style that usually winds up staying for the rest of the day.

Earrings: Absent, because I don’t yet trust the one-year-old. I like intact earlobes more than I like dangly earrings.

Right-hand ring: Leon Gage silver. Jim bought it for me at the Jordan Valley Big Loop when I was 13 weeks pregnant with our daughter, where I spent the majority of the rodeo laying in the shade beside the tipi trying not to throw up. Jim spent the majority of the rodeo doing things that really irritate a hormonal pregnant lady, like talking to his friends and breathing. The engraving is worn smooth on the bottom of the ring, because I wear it every day.

Left-hand ring: Jim bought me this 14-karat gold-and-diamond band from a pawn shop in Elko, Nevada. He put it on my finger in the front seat of our new-to-us Dodge pickup while we were parked on Idaho Street, and we eloped the next month. I put a gold band on his left hand five months later, because cowboy families have to budget like that sometimes.

Makeup: Clinique foundation with cheap mascara. Last month, a friend gave me an extensive makeup set, and I have been experimenting with colors with the glee of a kindergarten who recently discovered finger paints. I justify applying foundation every day because of its SPF properties, but I put on lipstick, blush and eye shadow because I like feeling – and – looking like a lady.

Now, if only I could justify smelling like gasoline fumes while looking like a lady.

 

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A Totally Sick Trip

Our recent three-week trip to California was fun, but it would have been a whole lot more fun if we could have stayed healthier for longer than 10 minutes. Basically, I paid hundreds of dollars to clean up my kids’ puke in another state.

I planned a long trip to my hometown to visit family and friends since my husband would be camped out on the spring wagon for 10 weeks. He left for the wagon the first of May, and after three weeks of living one hour from the nearest human with only my two small children and a windmill for company, I was pretty excited to visit the home folks and have someone besides the windmill to talk to. I wasn’t too worried about my habit of talking to the windmill, but I got a little concerned for myself when it began answering back.

Due to our extremely isolated living conditions, our kids have developed the immune systems of a piece of sterile gauze. They can’t fight off the common cold with a bottle of bleach and a face mask. If they see a cartoon germ in a TV commercial for Mucinex, they immediately start sneezing and spike a fever. So, it was no surprise that they picked up a virus during the airplane trip north.

On our second day at my dad’s house, Grace ran a temperature and threw up. I treated her virus with my standard Mom Cure For Everything: an unlimited supply of popsicles, a reasonable dose of Tylenol, and a heaping helping of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

“Well, at least this is just the beginning of our trip, so she still has plenty of time to recover and visit,” I told my dad.

A week later, her one-year-old brother came down with the same virus. He napped in the bedroom and his sister watched cartoons while I scrubbed the house with bleach in an effort to kill the virus and salvage our trip. Before too long, I’d be back in northern Arizona talking to my windmill, so I desperately wanted to take full advantage of visiting and talking to actual real, live human beings while I could.

Apparently, my kids completely missed this memo. On the last week of our trip, I called a longtime friend I had been planning to stay with for a few days and said “Does pinkeye freak you out? Because I think Milo has it.”

I completely gave up trying to visit anyone besides my dad when Grace woke up with severe conjunctivitis in both eyes. Our new plan was to limp home to Arizona and call, text or write the friends we didn’t get to see.

The journey home proved more terrifying than any of the previous illnesses, though. There was a dramatic and terrifying moment when the flight attendant got on the intercom and asked the passengers “Is there a doctor or nurse on board? We have a passenger who needs medical attention.” Unfortunately, Grace was the star of that scene; she had an allergic reaction to the prescription eye drops I had been giving her for three days. The evil drops waited for us to leave my dad’s home located 20 minutes from a hospital and board an airplane before they swelled up Grace’s face and partially closed her airways.

Thankfully, there was a doctor on board (hi, Karen! We love you! You were an unexpected angel in the skies!). Grace’s swelling went down during the remainder of the flight, but her eyes were really infected from the drops. Karen told me to give her Benadryl at the hotel room and take her to a doctor the next morning. Done and done; Grace recovered completely in a couple days with oral antibiotics.

We three travelers are now back home, safe and sound at the Triangle N with Jim. If you’d like to visit, please drive out whenever you can. Because we are never leaving the ranch again.

Grace

Photo of Grace by Grandma Two Dogs (my mom, who is not native)

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