family, Uncategorized, writing

Take Me Back to Yesterday Once More

OCIJ150“Victory is better when you earn it.”

This morning, Wyokiddo and I sat at the kitchen table and colored Thanksgiving pictures while we chair danced to some Bengals, Justin Timberlake and Pharrell.

And suddenly, I was transported back in time 30 years.  I was sitting across from my dad, staring at the chess board and contemplating my next move. We sat at the kitchen table in pink swivel chairs at the house on Hirst.  The stereo was playing the country station out of Laramie from the family room and we were locked in an epic battle over the cardboard chess set my mom had picked up at a garage sale for $.50.

It could have been one of a hundred nights we sat at that table.   We would pass those evening hours playing board games and card games, everything from cribbage to chess.

He never once let me win.

Oh I suspect he forgot to count some points in cribbage occasionally to keep it close.  But he never threw a game for the sake of my confidence.  I asked him about it one time and he said something about how “Victory is better when you earn it.”

As I stared at the board some more, a smile crept over my lips.  I moved my queen three spaces over and smiled up at him.

“Checkmate.”

Dad studied the board a second, then stuck his hand for me to shake.  “Checkmate.  Well played!”

It was one of only a handful of times I ever beat him at chess.

Dad died two years ago today and I mean it when I say not a day goes by that I don’t think of him.  I think of him when I hear a Johnny Cash or Moe Bandy song on the radio.  I think of him anytime I watch a Wyoming Cowboys game, eat a piece of pecan pie or see  a pelican.

“There once was a bird named the pelican,” he would quip any time the word was mentioned.

Aside from just missing him, I am saddened that my daughter never really got the chance to know him.  Most of her memories of Big Papa, as she calls him, are of visiting him in the nursing home.  And that kills me, because that is not representative of his personality, or his life.  He was a big, take-charge kind of guy.  He never backed down from a challenge and never ran scared from a fight.

As Wyokiddo and I colored and chatted this morning, I talked about about sitting at the kitchen table with my dad, learning how to play cards or do Algebra.

“Do you miss him?” she asked.

“Yes, sweet girl.  I miss him very much.”

As tears trickled down my face, she leaned over and hugged me.

“Don’t worry, Mama.  He’s still here,” she told me, pointing my chest.  “In your heart.”

I have his nose, his penchant for bread and his shotgun.  I inherited his competitive streak, his love of the outdoors, rodeo and country music.  And my darling 5-year old daughter has it right.  He is still here.  I carry that life lesson about a victory earned is the only kind worth having, and a thousand others he taught me, in my soul for all time.

And those same lessons are the ones I’ll pass down to her.  She’ll never have the time with him I would want for her, but she’ll carry a piece of him in her heart all the same.

Teresa

 

 

 

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photography, Uncategorized, writing

The camera lies

Self Portrait.jpgThe camera lies.

How we look in an image depends on so many things…the angle the photograph was taken, the light in the scene, the lens the photographer uses.  There are subtle changes and distortions in every image, changes that can be more flattering or less complimentary to anyone in front of the lens.

The problem is that the brain accepts that photo as ultimate truth and then we alter our perception of ourselves, and usually NOT for the better.

“Oh God!  When did my face get so fat?”  I remember thinking to myself after letting my daughter play with my camera a few weeks ago.  I took that photograph, taken by a five year old laying on the ground with a $2000 camera she knows nothing about, and made it my reality.

What’s even worse is the camera doesn’t tell the whole story.

My photo shows a face that is heavier and fuller than it was two decades ago.  It shows my gray hair and my thinning bangs.

But it doesn’t show me.  Not the real me, at least, of which I’m most proud.  It doesn’t tell you about the degrees I’ve earned, awards I’ve received or the friends I’ve made.  The camera doesn’t  show the ten wonderful years I’ve had since I met my husband.  It doesn’t show the daunting pregnancy I endured with my daughter.   It doesn’t show the pain I’ve survived, the things I’ve accomplished, the person I was or the person I work to be every single day.

The camera shows the crinkles beginning to form at the edge of my husband eye’s.  But it doesn’t show the sheer infectiousness of his big rollicking laugh that I can pick out three aisles away in a crowded Walmart.

The camera shows the similarity between a mother and her adult son.  But it doesn’t tell the story of how he was born, months early, and the desperate fight and scary moments that young couple went through to raise that tiny baby into adulthood.

The camera shows a soft smile and kind eyes.  But it doesn’t show how that woman put herself through graduate school, started her own successful business, raised two kind and considerate children and became a respected member of her community.

So hate the photographs.  Hate the camera.  Hate having your picture taken.

But love yourself.  Own your story.

We are all more than the camera shows.  We are all beautiful and complicated and joyful and conflicted.  We are brave, smart, foolish and rude.  We are gracious, selfish, arrogant and humble.  We all have a story, and that story is infinitely more perfect than any single snapshot in time ever could be.

Teresa

country life, Uncategorized, writing

Gratitude and Attitude

Poopy Bird Hat.jpgA pheasant pooped on my head today. I was helping my husband load pheasants onto the stocking truck when a rooster got away and flew off, pooping all over me in the process. It was on my hands, down my jeans, down my back and all over my hat.

Definitely not my best day. And it only got worse from there. The dog threw up on me, I slammed my hand in the door and I lost my photo order and had to spend another two hours recreating it.

Later, I was grumping to my daughter about my rotten day. She just laughed and said “Good thing you were wearing a hat!”

And just like that, I was given a lesson in perspective from a five-year old.

Each day, we have the choice to focus on the bad or focus on the good. We can look at what has gone wrong in our lives and bemoan the unfairness of it all. Or we can choose to see value and cherish what is good and right in every day and focus on that.
The first leads you to more negativity and anger. The second leads to gratitude and contentment.

So the next time everything is turning to poo and the proverbial blue birds of happiness drops a load on our heads, let’s choose to be grateful we have hats.

country life, family, Uncategorized, writing

Lifetime Dogs

Emily and Roxy-3I’m reading A Good Dog by Jon Katz.  It’s a sweet story about a middle-aged New Jersey writer and his adventures with his border collie, Orson, and the other dogs in his life.

Katz says he’s owned several dogs, but Orson was his lifetime dog…that one special dog that you connect to more than any other in your lifetime.  Your canine soulmate, if you will.

I spread the ashes of my sweet lifetime dog, Hoops, yesterday.  Hoops died over a year ago, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it until yesterday.  So on a perfect Wyoming fall morning, the Roxy dog and I went for a walk and I said a final farewell to my big, fluffy buddy.  I scattered them under the big cottonwood tree in our yard.  It was his favorite place to bask in all seasons.  And the sentimental side of me likes the idea part of him watching over us from his familiar post.

We have other dogs, dogs that I love and adore.  I love the patience and sweetness of our lab mix, Roxy.  And I love watching Ziggy the border collie herd birds and chase a frisbee.  But I agree with Katz.  There are lifetime dogs, and Hoops was mine.  I miss that big fluffy bugger every day.

Wyokiddo is following in the footsteps of her parents and is already a dog person.  She especially loves Roxy.  They play dress-up and chase.  She reads Roxy stories and likes the white dog to be near when she’s sick or upset.

My daughter will likely know many more dogs over the course of her lifetime.  I hope that one day, she’ll also know her lifetime dog.

Teresa

 

family, Uncategorized, writing

Flyin’ Solo

Emiliy's First Day of School-3My little one fledged the nest today.

The last few weeks, when we asked Wyokiddo about starting school, all she would say is “I’m a little nervous.  It’s a lot bigger.”

So this morning, I expected some anxious moments, maybe even some tears.

Nope.

From the minute she woke up this morning, she was smiles and sunshine.  I offered yet again to drive her to school, but she insisted she would ride the bus.  When the bus came, she climbed in like she owned the thing.

Outdoor Guy and I followed behind in the car with a grocery sack of school supplies and Kleenex.  Without any fuss or fanfare, Wyokiddo listened to her teacher as she explained the morning routine.  Then it was off to recess to see her friends.  No tears, no hesitation.  Just a dismissive wave and she was gone.

It will be a bit of a transition for me.  For five years, the curly-haired dynamo has been my shotgun rider.  To town, to photoshoots, exploring around the county– she was my partner-in-crime and willing duet partner.  We’ll both have to get used to a new normal.

I was doing okay until editing some photos later this morning and “Shotgun Rider” by Tim McGraw started playing on Amazon Music.  That’s when MY tears started falling.

Roll, won’t you come roll with me slow, fast, full speed
Girl wherever sweet time takes us
Hang, with me down this old road
Only God knows where we’ll go
Don’t matter long as I’ve got your love

I am in awe of the confidence and the zeal with which my daughter attacks life.  Wyokiddo has such an amazing little spirit and sweet heart.  That coupled with a silly sense of humor and a sharp-mind makes me one blessed mama.

Being a stay-at-home mom hasn’t always been easy.  There were moments I wished for more free time to pursue a hobby, or just an uninterrupted shower.  But it’s also been the most amazing gift to see my baby girl grow, learn and change.

As she grows, she’ll need me less and less.  And that’s okay.  Because I know our days together helped prepare her for these moments of independence.  She can tackle the world, then come home and have a snack and tell me all about it.  I wouldn’t want it any other way.

No I don’t ever wanna know, 
No other shotgun rider, 
Singin’ to the radio, 
You’re my shotgun rider.

Teresa

family, Uncategorized, writing

When Yes Isn’t Enough

Alaska.jpg

This weekend, the woman that introduced me to Outdoor Guy asked me “So do you feel like you have a strong marriage?  Everything is good?”

Without hesitation, I answered “Yes.”

While this friend and I were once quite close, life and jobs have moved us in different directions.  The weekend was a great opportunity to touch base with one another, and I think she just really wanted to know in her heart I was doing well.

“Yes,” I answered again with a bit more urgency.  “We’re great.”

Today, as I sit here on our eighth wedding anniversary, my “yes” just doesn’t seem adequate enough of an answer.  It doesn’t capture the depth of my feelings for and about the amazing man I married.  The man that keeps me grounded and lets me soar.  The man that wipes my tears and kicks me in the butt.  The man that lifts me up and brings my head out of the clouds.

In many ways, it feels like we’ve been married longer than just eight years.  We’ve endured the birth of our child, the death of my father, the loss of two pregnancies and the death of two beloved dogs.  We’ve survived three moves and two career changes.

Some of the ladies were ribbing me about sneaking out of camp to call Outdoor Guy and check in.  But that’s what makes us who we are.  I don’t call him out of any sense of obligation or because we need to keep tabs on each other.  I genuinely want to talk to him, to hear his voice, to know how his day went.  And he wants to know how things are going for me, too.

We love each other.  We respect each other.  We value the strengths and support the weaknesses of each other.  We are a team.

I’ve over-thought and second-guessed many decisions in my life.  But never him.  Never us.  I didn’t hesitate to say yes eight years ago in our vows and I won’t hesitate to say yes when someone asks me if my marriage is still going strong.  Yes.  Yes.  A thousand times, yes.

Teresa

photography, Uncategorized, writing, Wyoming

Dichotomy

Wildflowers1DRWI spent the last four days nestled in a little nook along Clear Creek on the eastern slope of Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains.  Oh how my soul missed those mountains.

It felt like old home week for me.  The earthy smell of a dewy forest floor, the tang of pine, the crisp air stinging my cheeks, the twittering of chickadees… it was a feast for the senses.  Wildflowers carpeted the hills, the meadows afire with the likes of arnica, lupine and prairie smoke yet to bloom, set against the jaw-dropping beauty of granite peaks like Loaf Mountain and Big Horn Peak.

Just looking at this stunning, familiar landscape made my heart sing with happiness.

Most of my time was dedicated to taking photos of women learning new outdoor skills.  But when I thought no one would miss me, I would sneak away to find a mountain view to photograph or just a quiet spot in the woods to stop and be.  The soft cushion of pine needles under my feet and the occasional chattering of a red squirrel provided a quiet musical accompaniment to my thoughts and musings.

I never realized how much I truly missed living and playing here until now.  Outdoor Guy and I started our lives together on the western slope of these mountains.  Together, we fished the high country and hunted the lowlands.  We talked about our present and dreamed of our future.

When it was time to pack up camp, I drug my feet coming home.  I didn’t want to break the spell this place had woven around me once again.  But I had made my choice long ago, and it was time to leave this place behind me.

Twenty-four hours later, it was back to Goshen County, where wide open spaces and endless views give my soul room to breathe.  A place where tractors and balers churn across the hillside  A land of the heady smell of fresh-cut hay and cow manure. These plains of my childhood are as comfortable as an old pair of shoes.  Antelope and hawks, “minor fauna” like Woodhouse toads, sagebrush lizards, bull frogs and opossum to encounter.  New friends that welcomed us here with open hearts and treat us like family.  This place is home, too.

“You can’t ride two horses with one ass, Sugar Bean.”

As Wyokiddo and I sped toward our house with the bright red doors, I contemplated the conflicting emotions inside me.

We live in world where we are forced to make dozens of choices daily.  We are expected to choose a course of action and stay on our side of the that line in the sand.  Paper or plastic.  Organic or conventional.  City or country.  Foreign or domestic.  Red or blue.  Society demands strict adherence to this rigid dichotomy.

I believe otherwise.  My life is richer for the diversity of experience.  We can have plains and mountains, frogs and elk, roots and wings.  It is the breadth and very dichotomy of this state itself that feeds my soul.

Teresa

family, Uncategorized, writing

To My Daughter on her Fifth Birthday

5th Birthday-1Dear Emily,

You turned five this week, as you happily told everyone we encountered the last few days.  You think turning five means you can run faster and reach taller things like your other five-year old friends.

We celebrated with a party with your Wee Pals friends, lunch with Daddy on the actual day, and a party with family a day late because of some crazy thunderstorms that hit Wyoming on your actual birthday.  What a lucky little girl you are to have so many people who love you and want to celebrate with you.  I made an Elena of Avalor cake, and the hit presents were an Elena of Avalor guitar and a Minnie Mouse watch.

You have grown so much in the last year.  You are definitely a big kid now, ready to tackle kindergarten in the fall and anything else that life might throw at you.  I love your sense of adventure and willingness to try new things.  School, soccer, ballet…you tried all of them with a zest and confidence I admire.  Today, you went off the diving board at swimming lessons and swam to the side.  You didn’t hesitate once.  Your fearlessness inspires me to step out of my own comfort zone and try new things with you.

Your friends are becoming more important to you.  At school, I was told you usually preferred to play with the boys.  You love to play chase and tag and monsters and bad guys.  You attended your first birthday parties this year.  You teachers described you as the kind of girl who is friends with and plays with everyone.  When your new friend Colby told you his horse died and he was sad, you came home and drew him a picture to help cheer him up.  I love that you are social and genuinely kind to everyone.

Our relationship is changing, too.  No longer do you accept everything I tell you as gospel.  You question me and test me.  Sometimes it infuriates me, but I also know that it means you are developing your own sense of self and independent thinking skills.  You are also developing your own opinion on everything.  It is hard to accept because I still want you to want and need me.  But you are growing up and that means sometimes we will disagree.

You are looking forward to kindergarten and being with your friends.  You’re sad that Colby, Brady and your other Wee Pals friends won’t be there with you.  You cried when we had to say goodbye to Mrs. Mareta, Mrs. Molly and Mr. Lance at the end of the school year.  But I know you will enjoy the coming years too.  You are very much like Daddy and I in that you love to learn and understand how things work.  You are reading simple books by yourself, adding small numbers and counting higher and higher each day.  This spring, you accurately explained to me what an eclipse was, even demonstrating it with your yogurt, cereal bowl and water glass at breakfast one morning.

You continue to be an animal lover and nature explorer.  We spent hours in the barns so you could see and hold the pheasant chicks.  You love to watch nature shows like Wild Kratts and Nature Cat and learn about animals.  At night, when we give you kisses and cuddles, you most often want to play the “Animal Game,”  where you describe an animal and we have to guess it.  You know where an animal lives, what it eats, what it looks like and other weird facts about it.  Lemurs, giraffes, turtles, panda bears, whale sharks, you love them all.  You are Ziggy’s best friend and Roxy’s best girl.  I love watching you play “dog trainer” and putting Ziggy through his paces.  You were so upset when Roxy got bit by a rattlesnake.  I don’t think you slept at all that night we had to leave her at the vet.  Thankfully, she recovered and the two of you were back to playing dress up in a few days.

It is no surprise that you want to be a veterinarian when you grow up.  But I can also envision you as a scientist, teacher or a wildlife biologist like Daddy.  With your sense of adventure, I can picture you tracking down snow leopards in the Himayalas for your own Youtube channel.  Or maybe you’ll be an artist.  We spend hours drawing, painting and doing crafts.  My office is rapidly filling up with all your artwork!

Your favorite song right now is “Dirt on My Boots.”  You love it when Daddy and I turn on the music after dinner and we dance in the kitchen.  Some of your other favorites are “Walk Like an Egyptian,” “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” and “Happy.”

You are one of the only 5-year olds I know with a summer job.  After dinner, you, me, Daddy and Ziggy head out to the bird pens to run the chicks into their houses.  Sometimes you like it, other times you’d prefer to stay inside where it’s cool.  But we’re it as an opportunity to teach you about chores and responsibility.  You’re learning that life isn’t all fun and games and that we can’t quit just because a job gets hard.  I hope that seeing him in action and being around him will help you develop a work ethic like Daddy’s.  And I hope that little glimpse into how hard he works for our family will stick with you for life, and you’ll appreciate the sacrifices he makes for our family.  Chance are good you’ll like this chore less and less as time passes.  Until the day, that is, that you realize it wasn’t about working but about family.

There are times I look forward to the fall when you will be in school and I will have more free time.  But most of the time, I just get sad thinking about it.  You’ve been my constant companion and partner in crime for the last five years.  Not having you with me all day will be a big change for both of us.  No more impromptu trips to Cheyenne for lunch with Nana or afternoon runs to AJs for a soda.  I will miss this time with you more than you’ll ever know.

We argue and get frustrated with each other.  We get mad.  You get sad.  But nothing is ever too bad that we can’t fix it with an “I’m sorry” and a good, long hug.  May that always be the case for our relationship.  We love you to pieces my dear, sweet, kind, beautiful girl.  Happy 5th birthday.

Love,

Mama

(This is the fifth in a series of letters I’ve written to my daughter each year on her birthday.  When she’s 18th, I’m going to give them to her and let her see herself through our eyes over the years.)

Uncategorized, writing

Don’t Sell Your Saddle

Graphic.jpgEarlier this month, I went legit and officially created my own business, Dirt Road Wife Photography LLC.  I have an tax ID number, official looking paperwork from the Secretary of State and a business checking account.  Heck, I’ve even got business cards.

Except sometimes I don’t feel legit as a photographer.

I will encounter a new situation and don’t know exactly how to tackle it in the moment.  Or I get home, start editing my images and am crestfallen because what felt good in the moment and looked good on my LCD screen isn’t wowing me after the fact.

Sometimes, it’s other photographers who undermine my self-confidence.  Long-time pros who make snarky remarks about all the wannabe mom-tographers devaluing the industry and undermine their pricing.

“Is that what I’m doing?” I ask myself.  “Pretending to be a photographer?  Am I a joke?”

I compare my work to the work of the professionals I admire and it feels woefully inadequate.  Tara Bolgiano, Janelle Rose, Cassie Madden…real women, wonderful people and phenomenal photographers who seem to ooze beautiful images and confidence out their pores.  And I work and practice and study, but I still can’t quite get there…

Those are the days I think about selling my saddle.

It would be easy to quit.  Walk away.  I’ve had different offers for work, who’s to know I chose it over my secret goal of being a professional photographer?

I would.  I would know that I took the easy way out.  That I was afraid to grow, to risk.  And I would regret it.

So I’m going to tackle this new goal like the others I’ve set for myself.  I’m going to continue to work and study and practice.  I’m going to hustle.  Maybe I’ll get there, maybe I won’t.  But I do know I’ll never ride that horse to the finish line if I sell my saddle now.

 

Teresa

*”Don’t Sell Your Saddle” is a poem written by Don Bilup.  The above photo is mine, copyright Dirt Road Wife Photography LLC.

family, Uncategorized, writing

What’s In a Name

Zoo Trip-1-2.JPG

To all the little kids in Wyokiddo’s preschool, my name is Emily’s Mom.

“Hi Emily’s mom!”

“Emily’s Mom, come sit by me!”

“Mrs. Emily’s Mom, can you help me with  my juice box?”

It’s music to my ears.

When I resigned from my professional position to marry Outdoor Guy, several of my colleagues didn’t hold back in criticizing my decision.  They said I was wasting my education.  I was crazy to walk away from such a successful career.  I could have it all.

They couldn’t understand that their goals for me weren’t my goals for me.

As much as I loved my job and was good at it, I knew in my heart I wanted a different future.  One where my title wasn’t assistant division chief but wife and mom.

One amazingly supportive husband, two miscarriages, four solid months of throwing up and 8 years later, I’m both.

So call me Mrs. Milner, call me Emily’s Mom, either way, I am blessed.

Teresa