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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The Search for a Cowboy

If you’ve read any of what I’ve written, you know that I appreciate and attempt to live by an old-school value system that came from my old-school upbringing. I don’t run across a lot of other people my age who grew up on a ranch, attended a one-room schoolhouse with one teacher for kindergarten through eighth grade….  and ate lunches comprised of vegetables from the garden washed in water from a livestock tank to avoid going to the house and being put down for a nap. So now that I’m an adult (and a contemplative one at that), I’ve thought a lot about how my upbringing has translated into my search for a husband.

Or really… my search for a cowboy.

I’m speaking metaphorically when I say that, because I’m not actually looking for a man with a big belt buckle who saddles up a horse to start the day’s work. Rather, I’m looking for a certain mentality. I’m looking for the way in which a man conducts himself, and the standard he holds himself to. You see, there are certain traits that I associate with cowboys, and those are the traits that capture my attention and command my respect. Those are the traits that cause me to put a man on a pedestal and look at him with admiration in my eyes. This list is not comprehensive, by any means, but it’s a good start.

A cowboy lives by a code of honor. Somewhere along the way, people pick up a set of rules or principles to live by. Sometimes their parents give it to them. Sometimes it comes from an influential figure, or maybe even the military or an amazing coach. But this code of honor guides a man to do what is honorable, whether or not it’s easy. For example, a student’s code of honor requires that the work he turns in be his own. A soldier’s code of honor requires him to stand and fight rather than deserting his fellow soldiers. A father’s code of honor requires him to protect and teach his children to the best of his ability. A cowboy looks for the appropriate honor code and upholds it without needing to talk about it or be praised for it. He does it because it makes him a man.

The code of honor really encompasses everything that follows, but I think it’s worth detailing them anyway.

A cowboy has good work ethic. He does what is necessary to get a job done. He takes pride in his work. Simply good enough is simply not good enough.

A cowboy is compassionate to children and animals. He recognizes that he has a duty to those who cannot help themselves, and he gladly shoulders that responsibility. I’ve never met a true cowboy who didn’t play with children or love a good dog. I’ve never met a true cowboy who was cruel to his horses. In fact, a cowboy will take any measures necessary to correct a man who is abusing his power and strength with those weaker than himself. He defends the weak, and he’s not afraid to teach a lesson that needs to be taught to those who don’t.

A cowboy respects women. Men and women are different by God’s design. It’s unfortunate, in my opinion, that society has worked so hard to mask those differences. But a cowboy sees and appreciates them, and cherishes a woman for the ways in which she differs from himself. Now don’t get me wrong… not all women conduct themselves in a way that warrants respect, in which case, a cowboy simply moves on. But when he does find a good woman, he knows how to treat her.

A cowboy respects his elders. At some point in his life, he will slowly take over the responsibility of caring for his parents in the ways that they used to care for him. He will value their wisdom, listen to their stories, and cherish the time he has to bridge the gap between generations before that opportunity is gone.

A cowboy makes no apologies for being a man. Even in the midst of a society that has devalued masculinity, a cowboy remains masculine. He recognizes that it’s in a woman’s nature to test him and make sure he won’t break… make sure he has the strength to be her man. (Forgive us. We don’t even know we do it sometimes.) Men are naturally more inclined to be competitive, to enjoy sports or the great outdoors or whatever their particular “thing” might be. A cowboy embraces what’s in his nature, pursues his interests and desires, and is a better husband, father, friend because of it.

A cowboy is prepared physically, mentally, and spiritually to fight for what is right. That means he protects his family, stands up for what he believes in, and fights for his country if necessary. And he takes the steps necessary to make sure that he can.

A cowboy is humble. He recognizes that even if he has spent a lifetime working tirelessly toward his goals, he is still thankful for his health and good fortune. He doesn’t look down on others and doesn’t forget to count his blessings.

A cowboy has quiet strength. I’ve found that the strongest of men are sometimes the ones you’d least expect. That’s because they’re humble (see above). And you only learn how strong they are when they are tested. You learn just how much of a rock a man is when you push on him, attempting to move him. A cowboy will allow you to push, but when you reach his limits, you’ll be stopped in your tracks and no amount of pushing will budge him. The loud one in a room… the boastful one… is not a cowboy.

Lastly, a cowboy has courage. Winston Churchill said “courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities… because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” Without courage, a person cannot hold themselves to any of the standards listed above, because inevitably his convictions will be tested. Courage will be required to stay the path, to uphold his code, to fight for his beliefs, and to withstand pain because sometimes life delivers pain. To recognize your own faults and correct them requires courage. Even to love requires a great deal of courage. A cowboy has enough of it.

So there you have it. The man I seek is a cowboy, not by occupation or dress, but by the qualities I’ve listed. I’ve been disappointed by the lack of cowboys in my generation, but once in a great while, one will appear. He might be a business owner, a salesman, a construction worker, an accountant, or a pilot. But regardless of how he looks on the outside, he’s saddling up and riding for the brand… a true cowboy at heart.

Bravo to all of you who are.

My grandfather and his brothers, the Blair boys. Their parents are on the left.

Perfect By Design

I’ve noticed a trend among my fitness-enthusiast friends lately, which culminated in seeing a giant tractor tire propped against the wall in a small 24 Hour Fitness near my office recently. The way people work out is changing, with the new school workouts actually being very old school ways of staying fit. Now it’s not uncommon to see a group of people in a gym parking lot pushing cars, carrying buckets full of weight either in their hands or hanging from a bar across their shoulders, moving big tires from point A to point B, and so on. And the kettle bell phenomenon is the same idea. They are a bunch of weights of varying sizes with handles so people can do explosive movements designed to imitate throwing stuff, usually over their heads. (Anyone else reminded of square hay bales?) New research has also taught us that the optimum cardiovascular exercise is moderate enough to raise your heart rate, but not so much that your body switches to anabolic mode and begins burning muscle for fuel. In other words, walking at varying inclines (like you might find outdoors) is pretty ideal. Who’da thought?? So it seems that the science of  exercise has come full circle, and we are now doing what people have done since the beginning—moving our bodies in the way they were designed to move before innovation made it possible for us to be lazy all day long.

And so I started thinking… and I realized… pretty much everything comes full circle. We, as a species, keep getting smarter. And we’re learning that the changes we make as a result of new discoveries often need to be undone because when we finally uncover the whole picture, we realize that things were better off left alone.

Remember when everyone thought that eggs were bad for you because of the cholesterol in them? And red meat was banned from the list of acceptable foods for anyone hoping to lose weight. Innovative companies started producing sugar substitutes and fat-free everything. The goal was to allow people to eat and drink to their heart’s content without adding pounds. Fruits and vegetables were genetically engineered to be bigger (but somehow lost all taste). Preservatives were added to everything so no one needed fresh food, ever. Chemicals were sprayed on crops to kill bugs and produce the maximum output per acre. Hormones were given to animals so they would be bigger and produce more milk and meat. The wonder of innovation!

What has been the result of all that innovation? Staggering increases in the rate of mental health issues, including among children. More people than ever are dying of cancer. Dysfunctions that mimic MS are seen among diet soda drinkers. The rate of Alzheimer’s has increased dramatically. Society is depressed, can’t concentrate, is malnourished and disease-ridden, and there’s more obesity than history has ever seen. Innovations in curing disease haven’t kept up with the rate at which innovation has caused disease. So now we’re being told to revert back to the way humans ate a century ago. Eat organic food. If you need to sweeten something, use real, raw sugar. Avoid the fat-free stuff, because it actually causes more weight gain. In other words, eat and drink the way people used to eat and drink… the way God intended us to eat and drink. We haven’t improved upon his creation at all. As it turns out, eggs are one of earth’s perfect foods. We should eat whole grains, lots of fruit and vegetables, and avoid processed stuff. “Stay in the outside aisles at the grocery store” is the modern-day advice. God even gave us caffeine and alcohol! What more could we need?? Food was perfect by design.

Humans seem to have a need to understand and then alter everything. Scientists discovered the smallest particle on the planet, the atom, and then wanted to break it into even smaller pieces. What did that lead to? Nuclear fallout and atomic weapons of mass destruction. Chernobyl and Hiroshima. Oops! Granted, nuclear power is nice, but I’ll still argue that we should never have messed with it. It was perfect by design.

We have even decided that the human body wasn’t good enough as it was. I won’t get into the topic of whether or not it’s morally acceptable to grow organs from stem cells. If I ever need a new organ I’ll make up my mind about that topic. But let’s talk about this on a smaller scale. I grew up in the 80’s, and as a little girl, I remember seeing actresses and models that didn’t look like any  of the women I encountered in daily life. Don’t get me wrong… my mother and her sisters were beautiful women who took very good care of themselves. But they were real women. They didn’t have visible ribs or porcelain skin. I got a very clear message that it was important to be skinny. And just as women were shrinking, men were growing. (Thank you Arnold Schwarzenegger.) It become just as awful to call a man “skinny” as it was to call a woman “fat”. Both genders began using substances to help them achieve an unnatural appearance, some legal, some not. And I’ll admit, I fell victim to the pressure to achieve the “ideal” body. I held myself to an unrealistic standard and hated myself when I fell short. Thankfully, those days have given way to a much more content place of moderation. I personally have come full circle, and while I still work out and eat healthy, I also indulge in my favorite things. That includes the occasional burger, sweet potato fries, movie theater popcorn, Crown Royal, and of course, ice cream. You only live once!

There’s more media attention given to the pressure put on women to be “ideal” than the pressure put on men. But they feel it too. A lot of men put a great deal of time and energy into being bigger and more muscular than their genetics intended. I can’t say that I speak for all women, but I think I represent the vast majority when I say that women don’t like the “steroid look”. When I see a man who looks like a real life version of Johnny Bravo… who might tip over and not be able to get back up because he’s so top-heavy… it’s not attractive. You know the look. It’s as if his shoulders and arms have been inflated with air. Sorry, but I don’t want to cuddle up to that! There’s no room for me! I can fully appreciate a man’s physique when he takes care of himself, and has that V-shaped torso, with broad shoulders and a lean waist. But his delts alone should not command attention. It’s distracting. An overall athletic appearance will win out every time. So guys, chill out! It’s ok to weigh less than 200 pounds. You’re still bigger than us and can carry the heavy stuff that we can’t, and that’s all we need.

Regarding my own gender, I read something written by a man about the things he loves about a woman. He wrote about the way she smells and the primitive manly thing in him that ignites when he sees her in his shirts. He wrote about “the look” that she  reserves just for him, when she suddenly realizes she adores him and is wildly attracted to him all over again. He wrote about the fact that it’s slightly more charming than annoying that she worries about his health and safety. He wrote about the way she fits in his arms, with her face buried in his neck when he hugs her, as if she was designed just for him. What he didn’t write about was physical perfection. In fact he said he liked that her body was soft, and he thought she was crazy when she criticized herself in front of a mirror. She was womanly, with womanly parts. And the “flaws” she saw in herself were the things that made her different from him in exactly the ways she was supposed to be. She didn’t need cosmetic procedures or Botox or even make-up to be beautiful in his eyes. In fact, lots of makeup makes women less approachable rather than more attractive.

My girlfriend took a trip to LA recently, with plans to go out every night and enjoy the LA “scene”. She packed really tall heels and really short skirts. She took every beauty product and tool in her arsenal, planning to be dressed to the 9’s. And when she came back she told me that she was so busy having fun that she spent no time getting ready for the evenings. She went out to nightclubs in jeans and a tank top, with barely any makeup on. And she got more attention from men than she’d ever had in her life. It was probably a breath of fresh air for the guys (especially in LA) to see a woman… I mean really SEE a woman undisguised by all our crap that we think makes us beautiful.

So this blog kinda started as one thing and ended as another. But I guess it all relates. And it all stems from an idea that I was mulling around in my head, which is this:

The world and all things in it are perfect by design. God designed us in a way that is functional, and we are attracted to each other because of the very things that help us get by in the world and produce more human beings. The food he gave us fuels us and keeps us healthy and lean. The improvements we’ve tried to make have actually been steps backwards. God must feel like the parent of a  two-year old… patiently waiting for us to grow up and stop make messes everywhere. But then again, he designed us to be slow learners, so I guess that’s perfect too.

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.