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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family, photography

The Moments In-Between

Goshen County Wyoming Family Photography, Torrington Wyoming Family Photography, Torrington Wyoming Photographer, Goshen County Wyoming PhotographerWhen we choose what prints to hang on the wall, we usually go for the beautiful family shot where everyone is looking at the camera and smiling. Those are the ones we print and share and put on Christmas cards.

But the in-between moments are my favorite part of family photography. Those moments where the subjects forget they are in front of a camera and let their guard down and get real. Like this moment between these two sweet siblings, Jack and Anna. I asked them to look at each other and try to make the other laugh without laughing themselves.

At first glance, they look like they are mad at each other. But they’re holding hands, you can see the smile playing at the corners of their mouths and there is subtle twinkle in their eyes. And isn’t that what having a sibling is all about? Equal parts love and frustration? Orneriness and love? Pushing each other’s buttons but always, ALWAYS having each other’s back, too?

So print those beautiful family photos. And cherish those in-between moments, too. They might not be perfect, but they are every bit as beautiful.

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

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.)

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

Uncategorized, writing

Strong is the New Pretty

Grasshoppers-44I saw a book advertised on http://www.amightygirl.com today called “Strong is the New Pretty – A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves.”

Strong is the New Pretty.  What an awesome message to send little girls.  As I edited some photos from Wyokiddo’s final Pee Wee soccer game, I realized how far we’ve come, as women, in terms of how we view ourselves and how was ask others to view us.

I grew up a tomboy.  My favorite sport was soccer.  Across a league of more than 100 kids in my grade level, I’d say there were less than 10 girls in the league.  My best friend and I were two of them.  We played with boys and were coached by men.  Always men.  Same with baseball and basketball.  The girls were often treated as second-class citizens, usually plunked on the bench to wait for the boys to run up the score or shoved in the outfield because they boys had the infield covered.

I once asked a soccer coach if I could please play offense in one game.  He told me something like “I have to have girls on my team.  I don’t have to let you lose the game for us.”

Never mind that some of us were, GASP, actually talented, or HORROR OF HORRORS, actually better than the boys.

I knew I was facing an uphill battle.  I had wonderfully supportive parents that never forced their square peg daughter into the round mold society tried to dictate.  But my dad was upfront with me, telling me things like “A lot of men my age aren’t used to tough little girls that like sports.  They don’t think you can do it.  Keep working and prove them wrong.”

At first, the uphill battle didn’t bother me so much.  But after years of going to every practice, working my butt off and still not getting a chance, I sort of lost heart.  I knew I wasn’t as good as a lot of the boys.  But I also knew I was better than a lot of them, too.

Luckily, I found horses.  I had a strong, independent woman as a riding coach that didn’t take anybody’s grief.  In her and the other girls I rode with, I found my tribe.  I think that’s one of the reasons I loved riding and showing horses so much.  It didn’t matter if I was a girl.  I was judged on my abilities and performance, not my genes.  And everywhere I turned in the horse show world were encouraging, supportive, kind women and men.  We competed, but we were all a family, too.

Now, some thirty years later, Wyokiddo is playing soccer.  She has a team of six, and four of them are girls.  Her coach this year is a woman, and she is awesome.  Coach Kaitlyn has helped the kids improve some basic skills and introduced them to concepts like offense and defense and making stops.

I know there will come a point in time where Wyokiddo will be told “Girls can’t do that!” or not treated the same because she isn’t a boy.  But I love that her introduction to sports is filled with girls and women alike showing the world that yes, yes we can.  And that strong really is the new pretty.

Teresa

family, Kids, Uncategorized

Gifts from Little People

emily-flowers-drw

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Mama. Sorry they’re dead. But uh, it’s winter, so…”

Wyokiddo @ 4  years old.  If I’m being honest, I’ve received far less thoughtful gifts from far less cuter humans.

Happy Valentine’s Day.  Show the world how big your heart is today, and every day.

Teresa

country life, family, photography, Uncategorized

Ziggy

Ziggy at 11 Weeks.jpgAbout three weeks ago, we expanded our family to include this little dude.  Meet Ziggy, the newest member of the Downar Bird Farm Management Team.  Ziggy is an 11-month old border collie, and was bred to be a lean, mean, herding machine.

He’s got some growing to do before he’ll be ready to hit the bird pens.  In the meantime, he is quite the snuggler and is entertaining himself finding little bits of food, paper and other detritus to eat on the floor.  I’m choosing not to take that as a condemnation of my housekeeping.

Look out roosters, there’s a new sheriff in town.  He’ll come after you just as soon as he’s caught his own tail.

-Teresa

family, Uncategorized, writing, Wyoming

The Mother of Invention

We’ve got a house full of new toys Wyokiddo received for Christmas.  But for almost two hours tonight, she entertained herself with a box, straws, tape, beads, feathers and pipe cleaners.  Lots and lots of pipe cleaners.

She was creating an “invention.”  I’m not clear on what the invention will do once it is finished.  I don’t know that she cares.  Wyokiddo was all about the process, attacking the placement of each hole, each bit of straw, with a great deal of concentration and seriousness.

Wyokiddo is too young for New Year’s Resolutions.  But I think I’ll take my cue from her and work to find joy and purpose in the little things that surround me.

Teresa