Sunday, September 10, 2023

The Art of the "Girl's" Weekend

I have put together lots of "Girl's" weekends over the years, for myself and others. It’s one of the things I really look forward to doing on the experience side of things once the cottage is taking guests.

I hope to host Hygge weekends, bridesmaids, reunions and celebrations, for groups of women. I hope to make an art form of it.

I recently went on a weekend with a group of ladies I love. And I really mean I love them. I hope they know. I hope the ones who couldn’t attend this time, know it too. 

Make no mistake, these aren’t “girls.” They’re women who have been dealt some of the worst blows life can land. Full-grown, big-girl-panty-wearing, functioning, coping, bad-ass women.

I respect them even when I don’t agree with them. Because they let me disagree, be imperfect, have moods, fail in full-blown crash-and-burn color and even get really upset. They forgive my selfishness. They fully expect and foster my continued growth.

We all wish we got together more often, every time. But what is the art of it?

Is it the lovely accommodations?


the beautiful food at hip places?


that there is always something to celebrate?

and fun and games?

is it that we delve into the arts?


or that we shop til we drop? (No one actually bought anything there!)


These sure were fun and entertaining things to share with these beloved women, but the don’t think I’ve nailed it yet…

We could have skipped all of this and sipped coffee and wine and talked all weekend.

Aside from activities planned, we always have a great time together, just being together.

We laugh and chat and catch up. We talk about things we are looking forward to and things we are struggling with. We vent. We cry. Someone always cries. Because life, as beautiful as it is, hurts so much sometimes too. And it’s scary. The rest of us listen. Relate. Support.

I think that’s closer to the art of it. The way a weekend away with clever, supportive, fierce, resilient women can refresh you, set you straight again. Set you upright again.

So maybe…the art of the “Girls” Weekend is really in the hearts of the women attending.

When I host Girls weekends at the farm, I will focus on the details and customizing each stay. There will be great food, fun activities and lovely accommodations, and my heart will be fully in it. So fully in. Every time.

Still, I’m not sure I can ever capture that as “art,” but oh how I look forward to providing a place for women to bring their hearts and make “Girls” memories of their own!

Make their own art.

I have the best job.

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Thursday, September 7, 2023

It’s Whether You Get Up II

This is my friend Lee. In March of 2022, he and his wife were run over and dragged 200 feet under a ‘97 Dodge Ram pickup while biking trails in Tucson, AZ.

He lost his beautiful wife as a result of that accident. She was my friend and I miss her every day. I’m crying on a plane as I write this, because she was a mentor who inspired me to live and love my life, fully, and here I am, off on a grand adventure!

Lee was expected to lose his life too, but he didn’t. He fought his ass off to survive what must have felt like the force of a thousand suns torching his entire existence. I’m grateful he is still here. Every day.

Somehow, he managed to get back up. For that he is, and always will be my hero.

My hero Lee, you are my hero.

Because getting up, knowing that you will do it alone, without the person you’ve done everything, all over the world with, for all the best years of your life, must be excruciating. I know it has been for him.

Lee suffered 11? broken ribs, 2 broken vertebrae and degloving of his left arm. (Yeah, zoom in on that arm. It’s a medical miracle.) If you don't know what "degloving" is, it's pretty much exactly as it sounds. Maybe don't "Google" it. It's not for the faint of heart.

Those are just the highlights. There were a multitude of gruesome injuries and subsequent surgeries. So many surgeries, carefully (and sometimes not so carefully) picking debris out of his skin. So much suffering on so many levels.

Eight weeks in, I watched him weep as he said goodbye to his best friend and lover. The woman he co-parented with. The woman he became a grand-parent with. The woman he built his life with.

Despite it all, he got up and kept going.

Now I could tell you what sets this man apart is that he survived and has gone on to ride a bike again, across the entire state of Iowa, in honor of his late wife, or that this Maestro has started playing his cello again, something we all doubted would be possible, or I could tell you it’s because despite losing the literal loves of his life he pushed forward.

But that’s not entirely it.

What sets this man apart is his humility. His gratitude. His forgiving nature. His ability to live in his moment, even his moments of anguish. His ability to find acceptance in even the most gut-wrenching scenarios.

His Zen. It's his ability to find pleasure, laugh, challenge himself and seek contentment in spite of a horrible, irrevocable situation that he never saw coming.

Just like my dad.

But the best thing I get to say about Lee, is that he lets me be part of his extraordinary life. Where I get to admire him, learn from him, and love him with all my heart.

I pray for his restoration and every happiness, daily. I'm so lucky, so lucky, for the examples I've had in my life. It’s not whether you get knocked down.

It only matters that you get up.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Back to the Project-Cottage Progress

We have returned from the second trip of our "big travel year 2023." I'll write more about it in a future post, but for now, here is where things are with our building projects!

The cement still has not been poured for the foundation of the garage/mother-in-law apartment. This time the holdup was the plumber. The entire time we were in South Africa, nothing moved. 

Ugh. Argh. Grrr.

Moving on. 

The plumber is here today laying out all of his work so the foundation can be poured. Things are ready to go so hopefully once we clear this hurdle, we will see more action.

We are doing demolition on the addition for the cottage project. 



Andy took out a small section of wall and we are working on a new doorway, which will lead to the "master" in the cottage. 

We still have a closet and a wall to take out and a new wall to put in, but we have some electric to move first. New subfloor, new doors and windows, new flooring, all coming. 

I am discovering new ways to hurt myself with tools. 

I want it to move faster, but I remind myself to be patient and grateful. It's happening. 

I used a sledgehammer to punch holes through walls. No turning back now!

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Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Fixing the Floor-Cottage Progress

Progress continues to grind slowly on our cottage project. Back in early July, we had the contractor who is fixing the floor, come out and give us an estimate and a date at the end of August (ugh) to come and do the work. 

Well guess what? We can't really do anything until the floor is fixed and level. 

Color breathing. 

Level floors, I guess that makes sense. It doesn't thrill me. More delays, but I get it. 

So now we are finishing up clearing the entire addition because there can't be anything on the floors when they make these repairs. There will be some heavyish demolition in the bathroom very soon! 

This damage extends around the entire perimeter
of the addition. Time to get it fixed.

Love that guy. We've been through a lot together. Some may find his
gesture threatening. He's swinging a hammer and using a chisel to pry up
carpet tack. That's not threatening. That's just hot. 

We have things waiting in the wings like tile, cabinetry, fixtures, lighting, etc., so hopefully when things really start moving around here, it will feel more satisfying, less frustrating. 

As for the garage and mother-in-law apartment, the weather has really conspired against us on that one. The much-needed rain has managed to fall in intervals that, literally up until today, have kept the contractors from digging/pouring the foundation. There is a crew out there this morning, finally digging the footings. Progress!

I can't curse the rain. Every drop that falls is money in our pockets. Money we need to complete our projects. 

We will be taking out that window and putting in French doors
leading to a small deck and eventually a screened gazebo.

We will be knocking out that closet and
doorway and creating a wall there.

Oh, and this little thing around here that happens every year, we like to call "harvest." It's a good thing it's not weather-dependent or time-consuming. Pardon the sarcasm.

Harvest is the time of the year when my husband and stepson become completely single-minded. Completely. If it is fit, eat, sleep, breathe...harvest. Until it's done. Period. 

We don't plan much in October around here. 


Having guests by October is looking pretty optimistic at this point, but it's moving forward so I figure there will definitely be a month, in the future, where we are finished with the cottage and taking guests. 

That's about all I care to promise at this point. 

Forging ahead. 

With all my heart, thanks for coming along. 

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Saturday, August 12, 2023

It's Been a Month...

...since I have posted anything here. That's because it's been a very hectic month and sometimes, I just have to check out of social media and e-communication for awhile. For my sanity. Honestly, checking back "in" can be difficult after a break, but here I am. 

Over the past month:

  • I've been running, catering special events, planning girl's weekends, anniversary and birthday parties.
  • We drove for RAGBRAI L for our friend, Lee, in honor of his late wife, Roxy. The heat was absolutely brutal for the riders. Even I got a pretty good case of heat exhaustion. 
  • I've been addressing some health concerns and nailing down details as we get ready for another travel adventure.
  • We've made progress on our cottage/kitchen plans, but once again, we are dealing with (weather) delays. 
Over the next month I anticipate:
  • More cottage/kitchen progress with more delays/hiccups
  • Travel delays/being stuck in transit somewhere
  • Unanticipated expenses (hopefully nothing too major)
  • A big shift in focus toward harvest

Ugh. Sometimes things can seem so unpleasant or overwhelming. So many things going on. So many details to remember and boxes to check. Not enough hours in a day. Delays, arguments, ever-growing task lists, added expenses...

But then I look at the list again and notice all of the memories made, opportunities created, experiences to be had and think, "Life is pretty OK, isn't it?"


Look for these posts coming next week!

It's Whether You Get Up II
The Art of the Girl's Weekend
Repairing the Floors-Cottage Progress
Packing for Africa COO
And hopefully a great potluck recipe too! 

Saturday, July 8, 2023

It's Whether You Get Up

This Vince Lombardi quote has been on the boy's bedroom door for over ten years now. I hung a poster of it at the foot of my dad's bed when he was fighting cancer. 

He lost that fight more than 7 years ago now, but before he did, he got up many times. 

If I have anyone to credit in my life for what some people call "stubbornness" and I call "tenacity," it's probably my dad. 

He was a tenacious fighter, indeed. 

When he was 13, he broke his neck in a diving accident. You read that correctly. He broke his neck. 

He was in full-body traction for six months. They would come and flip him every two hours and he would stare at the ceiling or the floor. For six months. He was a child.

The doctors discussed his prognosis like he wasn't even in the room, telling my grandparents that he would never walk again. When I asked him, "What did you think when you heard him say that dad?"

Bear in mind this is a 13-year-old kid in the 50s. He replied, "I thought 'Bullshit', I'm going to walk again." 

And he did. He was in chronic pain every single day of his life after that. 

But he got up. He did way more than walk. He was an avid sportsman for years. He hunted, fished, participated in trap shooting and all sorts of tournaments. When I was a very young child he even bowled and played golf.

Playing baseball one time in the back yard with my brother, Brady, I once saw him run the bases, and to this day I both laugh and cry when I think about it. 

Many years later, he was loading an ATV onto his truck when the tailgate failed and it fell on him, breaking 7 ribs. 

He got up after that one too. 

Throughout all of it, he resisted prescriptions of heavy pain medications because he knew later in life, he might really need them, after all that his body had been through. He survived chronic, sometimes excruciating pain, on over-the-counter pain relief. For decades. 

It was a good thing he did, because when the cancer came, it came hard, and it was wickedly painful. The drugs he avoided all of his life, were suddenly necessary for him to survive, and thankfully they worked for him for the last 2 years of his life. 

He made the best of every day he had. Once, when we were out on his little fishing boat at sunset many years ago, I caught him smiling and said, "You look happy."

He replied, "I'm better than happy."

Puzzled, I asked, "What's better than happy?"

"Content," he said. 

When people ask me about "cottage progress" and "how are things going?' and "when will it be done??!" and "how much will it cost?!" they sometimes seem surprised when I'm not overly stressed about the number of delays and detours and issues that have come up.

Big deal. 

I grew up in the shadow of a giant, who was also my dad, and the person who taught me everything I know about "getting up." His bar for surviving adversity and pain was sky high. There was no way that wasn't going to influence me and my brothers. 

They're "Get Uppers" too. 

Don't get me wrong. I know we are taught now that we should not ignore our own suffering and struggles "because someone else had it worse." I get that, but for me, this isn't about diminishing my own difficulties because my dad survived much harder ones. 

My dad found contentment in a life that served him a disabling pain sandwich. 

For me, it's about using his example to inspire, comfort me and push me forward.

It has been a way of coping with the inevitable agonies that have come to me in the form of injury, illness, loss, tragedy, betrayal and/or death. It's knowing that life is definitely going to knock me on my can. Over and over again. Sometimes it's really going to hurt, too, and there is really nothing I can do to about it. 

Except get back up. 

I will survive my cottage project difficulties just fine. I'm starting a new business. This is not a tragedy. It's a challenge, and one that I feel blessed and fortunate to have.

I will survive with contentment, and I will do it in honor of the man who taught me how. 

I will do it like he did. Until I just can't anymore. 

Friday, July 7, 2023

Bucket Lists

I was never the sort of person who felt like I needed to make a "bucket list." I'm not even sure why. Maybe I was just too lazy to make one! Or maybe it seemed sort of morbid. Or maybe I just didn't know what I would put on one. Maybe I just didn't see the point. 

Then something changed, clicked along the way. We suffered some big losses and hardships in 2022. We also had some big wins and some very good fortune as well. Weird how life doles it out like that, so often. Among the losses came a reminder that life is short, but it can also be sweet, even amid the heartaches and the hardships. 

I decided a bucket list wasn't' morbid, it was just a list of goals and dreams. Who doesn't need more of that? I decided that I can get up and sit on the edge of my bed and cry for the first five minutes of every day, because my heart hurts, in Prague as well as Pierson, Iowa. I decided I should do that. I should do that because I'm the only one who is going to live this life for me, and although it's not perfect and not always the way I imagined it, it's wonderful and completely worth living to its fullest. 

The difficulty and challenges that keep coming at us don't cease. We just get older and hopefully a little better at coping with them, but we shouldn't wait for a magical time when everything is perfect to plan to do the beautiful things in life, whatever that means for you, personally. 

Write a list. Make some goals and dreams come true. Do some of them now. Do some of them next year. Keep knocking them off your list. 

Die trying to do all of them. 

Note: This was originally published back in January, but I felt the need to revisit it.

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Thursday, July 6, 2023

A Visit to the Lumberyard-Project Progress

We went to the lumberyard last Friday to pick out exterior finishes for the garage and apartment. It really shocked me how many things we had to decide and how many questions we were asked...just for the outside of the building. 

Soon, Andy's mother will be picking out interior finishes and details for her apartment. 

Building permits, county inspections, contractors are all in a row. 

The clearing of the addition continues. We have contractors coming next week to look at what will be involved in repairing the floors down there. 

Next up: Concrete work for the foundation of the new building plus septic, water and electric. 

So many things to do, but we will get there.

We just have to keep taking all of the identifiable steps. 

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Wednesday, July 5, 2023

You Never Know-Mickey Baillargeon

When I was young, I had a Fairy Godmother of sorts. Her name is Mickey and she is the mother of one of my very good childhood friends. 

Mickey wasn't the kind of "Fairy Godmother" who waved a magic wand and turned pumpkins into carriages. She was far more magical than that. She had the ability to see people. Really see them. 

She saw me. 

During my elementary school years, I spent a lot of time at their farm. Mickey had a soft spot for me. She included me and all of my spaz-monkey neurodivergence. Good grief, most adults, including my own parents had no idea what to do with me. My sixth-grade teacher wanted me evaluated for "mental disturbances."

He had no idea what was going on in my home. Or that I had ADHD. One of the "most acute cases" the therapist who evaluated me, "had ever seen in her 21 years of testing." 

Mickey knew there was more to my story. She laughed at my jokes and told me I was pretty. Some of the best childhood memories I have are sitting around their kitchen table in the morning before the bus arrived, eating Wheaties with whole milk from the milk house and toast with real butter, listening to all of them talking about what the day had in store.

I used to love to watch her with her husband, Dennis, the hardest working man I've ever known, at the kitchen sink after supper. Mickey would wash dishes and I would often see Dennis walk up to her and pull her close to him. He looked at her like she was a star, the love of his life. She was. I think their eyes actually twinkled when they stared at each other. That's how I remember it, anyway. 

Mickey made me believe in true love. Mickey made want to marry a farmer.

Most importantly, Mickey taught me that you never know how you might influence or impact another person, just by being kind and nurturing toward them. You never know how much you might improve their outlook or build their confidence or teach them about love, if you just resist the judgement, we are fed every day about one another, to make room for compassion. 

You never know if you might be helping someone hang on for one more day. 

She's the reason I tell children they are funny, smart and beautiful. Because I remember how it felt when she told me. I remember the impact it had. 

Mickey is responsible for some of my very happiest childhood memories. I wonder if she knows that? 

Maybe I should go see her and tell her. 

Play Acting in the Grove-The Children

When I was young, my brother, Brady, and I would play-act in our back yard. We had a few rows of pine trees which separated our property from a swamp. Brady and I would play for hours in those trees, pretending all sorts of stories and adventures. Later, we played "Star Wars" with friends, acting out battles and encounters with stormtroopers. Using pretend light sabers and "the force" to defeat our enemies. 

My kids grew up doing similar in our yard on the river in Wisconsin. They would run around our big yard with their friends and act out stories inspired by their video games and books they loved to read. 

When I came to Iowa with my two, they play acted with Andy's kids in the grove. They dressed up and played out WWII battles and played "Lord of the Rings." 

Never mind that the WWII acting came with real campfires that almost set the grove on fire or that they used my best tablecloths for capes. I loved that they wanted to use their imaginations and could keep themselves entertained for hours. They were all such bright and precocious children.  I would often pack up picnic baskets full of "supplies" and props for them to take outside. 

It didn't even bother me that I'd find my dishes and utensils laying in the dirt the following spring. With the remains of the campfire.


Sometimes ignorance is bliss. 

I imagine children doing that in the grove again soon. As we busy ourselves with clean up and planning of the garden/grove, I see little ones using the shrubs and trees as secret hiding spots and little houses. I look forward to seeing them play-acting outside my window and eavesdropping on their tales and adventures like I did with our kids.

I sure hope that happens. I have missed it so much.  

Hopefully they won't set real fires. 

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