Home Office

The Cowboy told me at least two years ago now if not three .. this was shortly after we first met but well after we knew this was such a good thing .. that if I would consider a move to South Dakota, he wanted me to have freedoms I wasn’t able to enjoy in the past. That of a flexible life and schedule. A career where I could pursue any number of my passions and do so from the solitude of our acreage or wherever else my work might take me. He and his dad would build me a small office, a space all my own out here on the acreage. It wouldn’t take any time at all to put up, he told me. His dad builds steel buildings and this would be a quick and easy project. All I needed to do was say the word.

Years later, families combined under one roof in one state and some long overdue repairs and remodeling done to the house to better accommodate us all, the office has now become our focus. I couldn’t be more grateful.

Before the snow started to fly last November, we re-roofed our old red barn with used tin found on Craigs List (I say we, loosely. The Cowboy and his dad tackled the majority of that project. So glad it’s over. So is the Cowboy’s mom who couldn’t stand to be over here watching her husband and son 30 feet in the air working on it.) Since then, the cold winter kept any work in the hayloft at bay. But we are feverishly back at it.

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We recently found more cool, old tin from the Stockyards in Sioux Falls for some of the interior walls.

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Sioux Falls Stockyard Steel Panels

And a farmer just down the road has been planning to burn his old livestock barn to the ground. We’ve gone and pulled boards to use for trim and another interior wall.

Insulation has made the loft remarkably comfortable and drywall is going up where barn wood and steel panels aren’t. I’ve saved an old light fixture to use in the space. Friends offered to part with two old windows from their grainery, we’re using those too. We found the coolest old tailgate to turn into a desk. I talked with a friend tonight who’s an auctioneer and let them know we’re looking for a couple of old wood cabinets I might use for storage.

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It may not be in the time-frame we initially talked about. But the delay allowed us some wonderful opportunities to do things differently than we might have otherwise and make use of a great existing space. It also allowed me to start building a business that is now ready for a little more elbow room.

For each step of this journey – with the Cowboy, with my daughter, our families, friends, even my ex, my career, faith and life – incredibly humbled and grateful.

 

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“Just Trust”

Love all, trust a few.

The word, trust, has come up quite a bit for us today. The Cowboy and I had a conversation about trust first thing this morning in regard to a project we’re working on together with someone – and that what we’re counting on from this other party, will happen. Trust came up again later today in regard to an article I’m working on, that I’ll do right by the people involved in it because it’s a genuinely sensitive issue.

In the midst of another interesting discussion tonight. The words, “you just need to trust .. ” were part of a lengthier text we received a few moments ago.

There are reasons, that after years .. heck even days of working with someone, living with someone, knowing someone, you just know that you can trust that person. Wholeheartedly.

Or, that you can’t. Sometimes trust goes away with one incident. Other times, no matter how many chances you give a person, no matter how much you love them or want to believe things will be different this time around, trust is just hard to come by. Why? Because they’ve shown you time and again they can’t take responsibility for their own actions or tell the truth, they’ll screw you over for fun, for spite, to get ahead or .. for really no good reason at all other than a lack of empathy, if given the chance.

Trust – and respect – need to be earned. Not demanded. And I’m amazed anymore at how often people feel these two things are a God given right. Mistrust, more often than not, doesn’t just happen. For no good reason. Heads up.

Can it be earned back? Absolutely. Do people change? Of course. But trust is a biggie. And re-gaining it doesn’t happen overnight. Or, just because someone tells you you should.

There isn’t a morning that goes by I don’t wake and put every ounce of trust I have in the Lord that people all over the world, and in our own circles, will do right by each other. When that doesn’t happen, which is often the case, I trust there is a reason we have yet to learn. And we try again tomorrow.

Stayin’ Alive and Kitchen Table Discussions About Divorce

I’m sitting at the kitchen table, like most nights, with the Cowboy. To set the scene, he’s making fun of me because I’m in my ‘get stuff done mode’ – trying to get this written, have it make sense, not piss anyone off and have an ounce of valuable takeaway. Which I can’t be sure of if I don’t focus on this before I hit publish. It’s not all that p-c to tell you what he’s doing to get me to laugh .. I can tell you however, he’s been laughing at himself as he rocks out again tonight on his guitar to Stayin Alive. We are apparently in a Bee Gees phase.

Playing Guitar

I want to write about co-parenting, what it is and how some experts advise doing it well. Because, it’s a constant struggle to do well in divorce, if parents consider doing it at all. Because it’s an ongoing conversation in our home. Because we have children and we are challenged to always be doing things better for them. And because we see so many of our friends (and quite honestly complete strangers who share way too much with us at times, which is okay, don’t get me wrong) that struggle with it and often want advice. 

Having said that, I feel perhaps it’s important to start this conversation with the following information:

I have done my best over the past 13 years now, to be a good co-parent. My ex may argue with me, but I’ve tried. To me, that journey started well before our child was even born.  

My efforts didn’t stop with our divorce. I have always felt my daughter needed my ex husband as much as she needed me in her life. We both bring different personalities and traits and skill sets to the table. And, she loves us both. 

We have shared equal time – split absolutely down the middle, almost this entire journey post separating. We agreed to this in what’s called a collaborative divorce process where we sat down at the table together, with our attorneys and literally discussed how we would work together on everything – and never say anything negative about the other in her presence, because it was and is in the best interest of our only child. Equal time. Equal say. Equal rights. Equal everything for the most part. 

We’ve worked over the years on a weekly basis (every Monday), to email each other with any and all updates in regard to anything involving our daughter. It was recommended as a good model for contact and communication because we were struggling with our communication otherwise. 

Those emails weren’t perfect – on either side. We’ve had our share of other issues as well. Issues that, no matter how much love was behind the root cause, ultimately became detrimental for our daughter’s overall well being. 

But we’ve tried always to do what is right by her.  What does that mean though….  

Damned if you do ..

The Cowboy is standing at the sink, cleaning up after having just made us both some breakfast. We’ve both got busy days ahead. And we’re both already somewhat exhausted. Neither of us slept much last night, the dogs were out and barking incessantly for some reason until about sun-up this morning.

Further exhausting us, is a situation we both feel passionately about. One that we are confronted with on a daily basis through the eyes of so many others as well as our own situations; the healing of families after divorce and doing what is in the best interest of the children stuck in the middle of what can often be a tough situation.

The Cowboy is heading to a South Dakota Shared Parenting Rally here in just a bit, a group he’s quietly helped lead behind the scenes for a couple of years now. It’s a group he joined and quite honestly, helped to restart out of the pain of his own family’s situation. The mission since, has become far greater. I’m not overstating this – there isn’t a day when at least one person isn’t calling the Cowboy asking for advice, needing someone to understand where they’re at and asking why no one seems to care that their children have been ripped out of their lives other than four days a month for no apparent reason – a standard custody judgement in South Dakota no matter how good or fit both parents may be, no matter how close they may live, no matter that a growing amount of evidence shows it is best for children whenever possible to have as much time with both parents assuming they are both fit, willing, loving and able parents. 

“It’s a no win situation,” the Cowboy says to me, still standing at the sink, looking not at me but thoughtfully out the window. “All I want, all most people want that are in my situation, is more time with their kids. If you don’t fight for it, people say you don’t care. If you do fight for more time, you’re told you’re bitter and angry. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

It’s not always about time, either. The concerns. There are so many other issues that surround children of divorce. And the parents, quite honestly. One parent badmouthing the other in front of the kids, phone calls or even standard visitation denied with no recourse for the offending parent, never any extra time given, important information about child development withheld, medical issues, the list goes on.

I’ve been cautious to post much of anything over the past year around the topic of our families for a number of reasons. These tough discussions permeate our everyday and are often the conversations the Cowboy and I have when we are alone. But I think there is an incredible amount we’ve learned and that we’ve learned through others that is worth sharing ..  discussions worth taking part in.

Information as simple as – does your state offer/promote collaborative divorce? There are so many I know of who look at me like, what are you talking about, when I ask if this is something they’ve considered.

Important questions to ask an attorney before you retain their services.

Important details to work through before you sign off on finalizing your divorce or custody arrangement.

Working out a communication plan in regard to the kids – if you have a tough time communicating in any way with your ex. What is a communication plan and what resources are available? And, do they work?

Divorce impacts over 50% of our society anymore, most often these couples have children. What states do divorce well? What can we learn from them? Where are there helpful resources for these families? How do you work with someone who doesn’t want to work with you but rather hurt you in a divorce/post divorce/through the kids? Is it possible?

What is happening legislatively across the nation when it comes to child custody arrangements, decisions and laws? Shared Parenting conversations and legislation are growing. But what does this mean?

The media, the family court system and our government like to talk about how big a problem fatherlessness is in our society, yet the system often seems stacked against men, especially. Why is this?

The less a non-custodial parent sees their kids, the more they’re required to pay in child support. May seem logical on some fronts and there are parents, countless parents tragically, who want nothing to do with their kids lives and be free of the financial burden. But I’m not sure that’s the norm. SO .. when you have a fit, loving, caring and genuine non-custodial parent asking for more time, not to get out of paying, but to genuinely have more time with their kids because it is what most likely best all around .. what incentive is there for a custodial parent to agree to any change the arrangement?

Deadbeat dads is another topic the media likes to latch on to and promote the heck out of, I know, I’ve worked in newsrooms that have done this. Let’s follow around the cop walking door to door with arrest warrants for those who haven’t paid up. That’s sexy ‘journalism’ to use the term loosely and is easy to promote, I can just hear the male announcer voice now booming 10 seconds of copy over how we have a society of deadbeat dads and how we can’t let them get away with it. While I will never think it is okay to walk away from your kids or the financial responsibility of them – I have now also seen firsthand why it would be easier for some dads, especially, (some moms too for the record) to walk away versus be put in the situation their ex spouses continually put them and their children in. I am amazed to even think I can now understand this. Not as easy a story to tell, but one equally worth sharing. Who’s got the guts (or quite honestly the time in a churn and burn world of media) to do it? Running stories that are deep and meaningful and true to both sides often bring out the Jerry Springer in many families. It’s a risky deal for news outlets and which side do you believe? Why perhaps the flip-side or even the front side often don’t get told. Stick to the facts of who hasn’t paid up and there’s your story.

What happens when two parents, both hurt by a marriage that didn’t work out for some reason, let go of the past and come together sincerely to move forward, work together, get along and operate in all honesty and do what is in the best interest of the child? What happens then? How does the child benefit/react/grow? What does this look like?

Where are there resources to help you learn to let go, get along? What are the warning signs your kids really aren’t handling the mess you’ve created well?

 

The system is broke in so many ways. How do you fix something so intimate as family and interpersonal relations? Can it be fixed? Who can help, if anyone? Who’s doing it well? I am not claiming to have any answers. But there are always others we can learn from.

I’m not saying I’m going to write about this everyday, but in light of some recent issues in our own family (positive and negative) and in a few conversations we’ve had with others in just the past week, I’m done being frustrated over saying nothing and the fear of saying anything. 

These conversations are happening, but they need to be happening on a broader scale than inside our own homes, or in isolated silos to friends who will listen and can empathize because they are in the same situation.

I’ve taken long enough to write this that the Cowboy has since left his perch at the sink where this whole conversation started, and has left for today’s Shared Parenting rally. Unsure if two people or two hundred people will turn out, he plans to be among them…

While others have told the Cowboy he’s an embarrassment for doing what he’s doing, I hope he knows how incredibly proud I am of what a good dad he is, of how much he cares about and for his kids, and that even if he can’t change his own situation, he’s doing what he can to create as positive a situation for other parents and children should they have to go down the same treacherous path.

While the rest of you are griping about winter ..

There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t hear someone complaining about how long and how harsh this winter has been.  I too, am ready for spring.  So I get it.

But there are a few I know ..

One of my fav shots from the weekend -

One of my fav shots from the weekend –

.. who just can’t seem to get enough of it.

The cold and snow have meant a playground of sorts here at the ranch all winter.  I know I’ve posted pics of our crew sledding before, but there were very few moments the kids (or the Cowboy) were inside this weekend.  If they were, it was momentary as they came in to warm up.

Sledding South Dakota style -

Sledding South Dakota style –

And then they would head back out again ..

The Cowboy and his little girl -

The Cowboy and his little girl –

While I don’t typically show faces, the expressions I believe, are what make these photos.  At least to me.

All smiles -

All smiles –

So many more great snapshots from the past few days.  Thought would be fun to share even a few ..

About to lose one.  Holding on with all his might ..

Holding on with all his might –

.. as we all still wait on spring.

Added benefit to come from 4H ..

This would be a follow up to my post yesterday about Annie Oakley and how I am intrigued by her story ..

In part because my daughter and step-daughter are thoroughly enjoying right now, learning to shoot.  And whether it’s personal determination ..

Wishing she could get there more often ..

Wishing she could get there more often ..

.. or friendly competition between the two of them, they’re determined to shoot well.  Annie’s name just keeps popping into my head when I think about it all.

Focus

Focus

We spent time again this weekend with 4H instructors who have not only incredible amounts of patience but also heart to work with what seems a growing number of kids coming in every Saturday.

Loading up.

Loading up.

And had the range been open longer, the girls would have stayed.  We were sincerely the last to leave.

Scoring

Scoring

Shooting sports isn’t something that we most likely would have ever gotten into back in Wisconsin.  While my brother is an avid hunter, I grew up surrounded by an entire community of sportsmen and women, had my own bb gun growing up I used to love to shoot, am comfortable around firearms and we have in the family one of the most accomplished women bowhunters in the nation .. shooting sports, bb gun/bow or otherwise, it isn’t something we ever gave much thought to doing.

“I think she’s a natural,” one of the instructors quietly said to me, of my daughter yesterday as she was firing off another shot.

“Seriously?” I asked.

Instruction.

Instruction.

“I really think so.  I told my son he’s got some pretty fierce competition this year in the junior division,” he added.

The fact she loves it on top of picking it up easily, has been a confidence booster for our 11 year old.  Our 8 year old too, as she gets in more practice.

Support system.

Support system.

That one element of all this, of 4H shooting sports, is something I am incredibly grateful for.  I imagine some I know would scoff at me for that, for being grateful our girls are finding strength in something that even remotely includes anything to do with a gun.  BB or otherwise.  But I’m thrilled they are finding ways to build themselves up that have nothing to do with body image, make-up, their appearance, boys, what others think of them or in putting other kids down.   At such a fragile age, they are building themselves up through some pretty neat life skills.  Focus.  Attention to detail.  Patience.  Math.  Teamwork.  And their own unique talents.

Camp comes to a close ..

Last walk up with a friend ..

It has been one of the hottest June’s on record here in Wisconsin and this week at camp, the girls .. most of them anyway .. didn’t seem to mind.  Other than one day.  They rode in the morning and went to the pool in the afternoon.

“Well,” my daughter tells me on the way home as she is reliving some of the fun that went on this week outside learning better horsemanship .. “some of the girls got really crabby the last couple days.  I think it was just too hot.”

We laughed a little about it, especially since we were at that point, sitting in the air conditioned car.  I looked at the temperature gauge.  99 degrees.  According to the car.

Hugs, introducing parents and taking last day pics ..

Our 11-year-old absolutely loves this camp ..

Showing families all they’ve learned ..

This is only our second year of overnight .. but she’s been fortunate to come for years to the day camp.  There is something about it.  The place.  The people.  The other girls.  Learning something new.  Being close to home but not too close to start to really learn to feel more comfortable in her independence.  Perhaps most importantly, it’s just camp.  Late night chats.  Secret stories.  Running around like crazy.  Freedom of being a kid in a cool place and confidence building in life and social skills.  That experience she’ll remember for a lifetime.  That she’ll perhaps tell her own daughter about.

One last ride for this year anyway, on Quincy ..

She gave a few hugs.  Said many thank you’s.  Bought the standard camp sweatshirt.  Grabbed a Gatorade and we hit the road.  Ran errands.  Then having had enough of the heat all week, grabbed the dog and headed for the River to cool off.

What a beautiful day.

………………..

While she has a few other camps coming up yet this summer, ones that I know she will love in very different ways ..

As we were watching early 4th of July Fireworks from a friends pier on the lake last night and she is leaning on my chest with her arms around me, she says, “Mom, I really miss camp.  I’m worried I won’t be able to go back next year.”

“We’ll see,” I told her.  “If you love it that much and it is important to you, that might be one of the things we’ll make sure you’re able to do.”

She hugged me tighter and said thanks.