Life is so, so sweet

For the second day in a row, at 6:30 pm, give or take 10 minutes, I opened the door to our house and was hit by the smell of a hot, home cooked meal. And I was greeted by smiles from the most handsome man I know and his precious little boy. Tension melted off my shoulders and I became acutely aware of how happy I was to be home.

How happy I was that this was my home.

How lucky I was that I found him.

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If you had asked me a year ago where I would be this July, I never would have guessed that I would have moved to Colorado Springs, be engaged to a Navy fighter pilot, and be learning to be a mom. My life has shifted 180 degrees, in the direction I’ve always wanted it to go but couldn’t take it there alone. And I can now confirm that what I always believed turned out to be true… that it would be easy when I met the right man. That everything would fall into place and I would “just know”. That my priorities would shift and I wouldn’t be so career-focused. That everything would make sense.

What I didn’t know, however, was that it is possible to be in a relationship and to be in love every day. It is possible to be in a relationship and to be perfectly content with life… to be free of anxiety and doubt. I didn’t know what it was like to trust someone fully. I had always felt the need to hold something back… love or time or (sadly) money… to protect myself. I had never met the man I could invest in fully and throw caution to the wind. Until now.

But now, here I am, coming home to a home cooked meal on the days that I work and he doesn’t. And I sometimes come home to find flowers on the table for me, just because… or a refrigerator stocked with foods that he doesn’t eat, like Greek yogurt and hummus. And I always come home to a man who greets me with a smile and is as excited to spend the evening together as I am.

And have I mentioned how handsome he is??

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I have found such joy in simplicity. Such fulfillment in being a part of a family. Just this morning, Little Man followed me around the kitchen, still in his pajamas, giving me hugs every few minutes. I stopped what I was doing and knelt down for a full-on hug, where he rested his head on my shoulder, and overflowed my heart. Just a hug. Who knew that was all it would take.

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Life is so, so sweet. I am so blessed.

 

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I hunt like a girl

I can count on one hand the number of hunting seasons I’ve missed since I was about three years old. When I was little, I just tagged along. Dad would leave the pick-up running so I’d be warm, and I’d eat candy and drink soda while I waited for the men to come back. I remember feeling like I needed to at least look for deer, so I would have something to report upon their return. Just tryin’ to be helpful. But usually I crashed from the sugar and fell asleep across the binoculars and ammunition boxes that were scattered around on the seats of Dad’s work pick-up.
 
When I got a little older, it became my job to “walk the bottom”. Two people would sit at the end of a draw and wait for the rest of us to walk it, pushing deer toward them. The walkers would spread out, with one person walking the top of each side, one person walking the middle of each side, and one person walking down through the bottom, crawling over dead branches and wading through creeks. The person walking the bottom made a lot of noise, got a lot of exercise, and saw very few deer. It was a perfect job for me.
 
When I was in college, my dad gave me my first rifle, which to this day is one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received. It’s a small .243 with a good scope. It has almost no “kick”, so I wasn’t scared to shoot it, and the size doesn’t weigh me down. I didn’t know it then, but it’s a pretty small gun as far as deer rifles go. But that’s ok. It just means I have to be a good shot. And so far, I have yet to shoot at something and miss.
 

My rifle

But I don’t want to mislead anyone. I don’t deserve any praise. Because the truth is…

I hunt like a girl.

Every time I raise my rifle to look through the scope, my heart starts racing. I’ve only killed two deer… only shot twice. And both times, I was terrified. Scared to pull the trigger. Scared to miss. Scared to not miss. Scared for the deer. Scared to make a fool of myself. But I suppose that’s part of the reason people hunt—to overcome the fear. (Try getting a man to admit that.)

I get cold faster than the men do, or at least I start complaining about it sooner. My feet freeze in the South Dakota cold and I start wishing for hot coffee and a fireplace. It’s a production when I have to go to the bathroom, not only to find a place out of sight of all the men and their binoculars, but to get out of six layers of clothing and… you get the idea. I have not and will not ever “gut” my own deer. I couldn’t saw through the pelvic bone if I tried, but mostly, I just don’t want to. I may have just killed a wild beast, but thankfully, the men recognize that I’m suddenly a damsel in distress once it’s on the ground. And I’m happy to let them be my heroes.  🙂

You see, the real fun of hunting for me is not actually in the hunt. It’s in everything that comes along with the hunt, such as the whispered conversations I have with Dad as we sit in the snow and wait for the sun to come up and the bowls of chili we eat around the dinner table to thaw ourselves out. I look forward to deer season all year long because it’s time with my dad and brothers and family friends that I cherish. Dad beams when his kids are home. It’s his livelihood—his ranch—that brings us together for a common purpose. It’s the time when we bond together for a shared goal. We scout and plan and strategize. And while we do that, we eat and drink and laugh at stories from deer seasons past. It’s our family and our time. And while each hunt is an opportunity for all of us to bring home a trophy, we always make it mostly about one person. “Let’s get Dan that monster whitetail. He’s overdue for a big one.”

I remember the first year I hunted to kill—the year after Dad gave me my rifle. The whole weekend was about getting me a deer! After a day and a half of missed opportunities, it was the afternoon of the second day. It was our last hunt before sundown, and we would be leaving the next day to drive back to Denver. I felt pressure to not let everyone down after the effort they had put into helping me. We had our plan. The deer would be coming out to eat before sunset, and we were going to put ourselves in position to see them on the alfalfa field. There were four of us on the hunt: Dad, my big brother Dan, our friend Troy, and myself.

We parked the pickup at the top of the hill above the alfalfa field and walked, out of sight, down to the haystacks near the field. We must have spotted two dozen deer as we walked slowly, quietly into position. And then we spotted it. … The Big One. … The one we were hoping to see. My heart raced. We huddled and Dad whispered the plan to us. But before we could execute it, The Big One took off. He dropped into the draw near the alfalfa field and was out of sight. We started running to where he disappeared, hoping to see him come up on the other side. And we did! We crouched in the snow, watching him slowly climb the hill on the opposite side, waiting for him to come into a clearing.

And then he stopped. Broadside. And Dad said exactly what I was praying wouldn’t be said. “Pam! Shoot him!”

I took my gloves off and settled into the snow, stabilizing myself. I drew up on him and found him in my scope. He still looked tiny. “Dad,” I whispered. “How far away is that??”

“You can shoot him at that distance,” he said.

I looked again. No better. Shit. Deep breath. Holy shit. Ok.

I tried to remember everything I’d been taught about shooting a gun. Very little emerged through my adrenaline clouded consciousness. Let out all your air, I remembered. So I did. But that was no good because then I had no air. So I took a deep breath and held it. And aimed. And prayed. And fired.

The deer bucked. HIT!! As soon as the men confirmed that I had hit him, they all opened fire. World War III erupted on Dad’s ranch. I didn’t fire another shot. I froze. They all emptied their rifles while the deer slowly made its way up the hill and out of sight. None of them could land a second shot. The Big One was wounded but not even scared. But there’s a rule on Dad’s ranch. You never leave a wounded deer without exhausting all efforts to put it out of its misery. And so the hunt was on and chaos ensued. Dan sprinted nearly a mile back to the pickup and came tearing across the prairie to pick us all up and take us across the draw to where we last saw the buck go out of sight. Dad nearly fell out of the pick-up when Dan punched the gas before he was able to close the pick-up door. We bounced around with all the guns and binoculars and ammo, speeding across trenches and ditches, where no vehicle should go. When we got to the other side of the draw, one-by-one, we bailed out of the pick-up to try to pick up the deer’s trail in different places.

I bailed out last. And saw The Big One! This time he was running. I fired and hit him again but he kept running. Dan fired his last bullet at him and missed. Then he grabbed my gun out of my hands and ran after him. I just laughed at the ridiculousness of it. Dan fired and hit him this time but still didn’t stop him! Finally, Troy fired and hit him, and it was bullet number four that brought him down. It was my deer… but it was our kill.

We went home that night wired from adrenaline and high on success. It was a shared victory and a story that would be told for years to come. We even named part of the ranch after that story. The place where I sat in the snow to take my first shot became known as Copper Hill because of all the bullets that were fired there. As the story spread over the months to come, the neighbors teased me about running the town out of ammunition. I just smiled and reminded them that I only fired twice. And both shots were hits. Blame the men for the rest of it. 😉

My next deer hunt went much better but was much less exciting. One shot, meat. I learned my lesson after the first one. My little rifle is not meant to kill a deer at 350 yards. Or 400 yards… or 450 yards. (The distance grows every time the story is told.)

I leave on Friday to go home for another hunting season and I can’t wait. This time my brother is bringing his little boy, who is old enough now to sit in the pick-up and eat candy. Dan is passing the tradition on through the generations, and I look forward to doing the same with my kids. I hope I have a daughter.

So she can hunt like a girl too.

Deer season 2010

Maybe it'll be big enough next year

I Didn’t Go to Church Today

I feel rushed today. I woke up this Sunday morning with a to-do list running through my head. There are errands I need to run before the work week starts again, groceries I need to buy, laundry I need to do, and accounting principles I need to master so I can take the online quiz that’s due tomorrow. I also have some calls to make just to catch up with people who are expecting calls from me. Strangely, on what is supposed to be the slowest day of the week, I may not have time to go to the gym… the one thing I like to do for me. And I won’t be attending church today.

Even before my breakfast was eaten, I’d created a mental schedule for the day, and if all goes well, I will be able to get 8 hours of sleep tonight. By 10 am, I was fed, my dog was walked, my bed sheets were in the wash, and one of the chapters of my book was read. So I decide that it would be a good time to get on the treadmill that sits in the corner of my master bedroom and pound out 3 miles since I don’t have time for a trip to the gym. As part of my treadmill routine, I run a little, walk at an incline for a while, and then turn around and walk backwards. And as I’m walking backwards I can look out my window and see the beautiful day that I won’t be outside to enjoy. But today I noticed something other than what was beyond the window. I noticed the window itself. And the blinds. The blinds were dusty.

It was only last weekend that I ran a washcloth over the blinds in a half effort to clean them as I was cleaning my room (one of the things on last Sunday’s to-do list). But that didn’t get the blinds very clean. As I walked backwards thinking about this, I remembered watching my mom take the blinds down, put them in a bathtub full of soapy water, and scrub each individual slat (or whatever they’re called) with a scrub brush. Then she flipped the whole thing over and started again on the other side. And I remembered being about 10 years old when she taught me how to do it, and it became a job I (begrudgingly) did from time to time.

I started wondering… How many families have time to have clean blinds? The house I grew up in was spotless. The furniture was regularly stripped of its coverings and cleaned, the curtains were taken down and washed, the windows were free of smudges, and the house always smelled of either home-cooked meals or lemon Pinesol. I maybe ate one or two meals per month that weren’t home cooked, and I thought it was a treat to eat out. I had a mother at home who read to me every day when I was little and helped me with my homework when I was older. I remember sitting in front of our south-facing sliding glass door in the winter time, soaking up the warmth from the sun and having a picnic lunch on the floor with Mom. I remember getting bundled up to go out and do chores with Dad and Grandpa on the ranch. I’m sure my brother and I were more work than help when we were young, but Dad never seemed to mind. And not attending church on Sunday was not an option.

I remember being given time and patience, just like the blinds in my parents’ house were given time and patience. My Dad’s work was given time and patience too, and his healthy herd of cattle and well-kept fences, buildings, and ranch equipment were proof of it. My parents made time… for family, for lessons they taught us, for details, and for God. I didn’t know, until much later in life, how blessed I was.

So as I walked backwards on my treadmill today, thinking about the dusty blinds in my bedroom, I re-examined my to-do list for the day. It suddenly all seemed kinda silly. I even asked myself why I am back in school again, working on a second graduate degree. Hours of my days for years of my life spent doing work that will ultimately allow me to walk across a stage and be handed a piece of paper. A piece of paper?! And what will that piece of paper get me? The opportunity to take a job that will require more of my time, mental energy, and added responsibilities. And if I have a family one day, that job will probably take away from time I could spend with them.

I didn’t go to church today. Instead, I walked backwards on a treadmill and spent the day on my couch, surrounded by stacks of books. I would so much rather be having a picnic lunch on the floor with a loved one. But instead I feel rushed to make my way through a self-imposed to-do list.

Funny the things that give you perspective. Today it was dusty blinds.

Old Souls

Has society taken a turn for the worse? In many ways I think it has. Women have forgotten what’s beautiful about being a woman. They’ve forgotten how to be graceful and classy. They’ve forgotten how to treat a man; how to appreciate a man. And men have forgotten how to court a woman; how to make her feel treasured and valued. It’s rare now to meet a man who instinctively opens doors for her (after the first couple dates), pumps her gas, and tries to lighten her load, both metaphorically and literally.

And what has technology done to us as a society? People are addicted to text messaging (I’m guilty of it too). But high school boys rely on it to ask girls out. Gone are the days of working up the nerve to call a girl and ask her to prom. Of stammering on the phone, and being horrified at the mess of words that are coming from your mouth as a result of being so nervous… And then realizing that it didn’t kill you, and you could probably do it again someday, maybe a little smoother next time. What’s going to happen to the generation of young people who can hide behind their gadgets and devices, rather than developing confidence in themselves (as well as humility).

My generation is a far cry from that of our grandparents, ‘The Greatest Generation’. A handshake doesn’t hold the same promise. A man’s word is worth nothing more than the air it’s uttered into. Now we demand that everything be put in writing and signed, in order for it to hold up in court. It’s a time of contracts and prenuptial agreements and more lawsuits than the courts can handle. How did we as a society become this? It’s also an era of convenience. Why do the work yourself when you could hire someone to do it for you? All it takes is a phone call. We have internet access on hand-held devices, and anything we need is accessible with the touch of a few buttons. The fact is we are lazy!

But the picture is not completely bleak. Every once in a while I meet someone who restores my faith in mankind:  an ‘old soul’. Maybe they had a Brady Bunch style childhood and an overall good life. Maybe not.  But maybe their moral fiber has led to a lifetime of challenges, because often the right path is not the easy path. And maybe they have been burned by others, but they’ve resisted the urge to adopt the look-out-for-number-one mentality that so many others have. These people have strength of character and usually a rock solid foundation of faith. They are inspiring.

As a woman who wants a family one day, I hope to spend my life with a man who is one of those ‘old souls’.  This man is not afraid of a hard day’s work.  He wants a family one day and looks forward to being a part of something larger than himself.  This man will have spent time thinking about how he will raise his children to know the importance of hard work and the value of a dollar. This man will think to check the oil in his wife’s car before she leaves for a long drive. He will cherish the trust that his wife has for him, and would never compromise it. This man will be grateful to have found a woman who wants to cook for him and do the household chores that he despised as a bachelor, simply because she wants to make his life a little easier, a little warmer.  He will ask his wife to dance when her favorite song plays. This man’s family will be his legacy…his own little empire that he can sit back and admire as he grows into old age.

Finding one of these old souls is a blessing.