January 23, 2012


I celebrated my 32nd birthday last week by getting up, first at 2:30 a.m., and then for good at 5:15 a.m. thanks to a toddler yelling for her Mama.

I talked to Jacob about the never-ending question of grain cleaning equipment, about what seeds to order and whether or not we needed to buy new seed-starting trays this year. I talked to a friend overseas, read lovely missives from other friends, listened to a sweet rendition of Happy Birthday from my Mom, played a little fiddle and started prepping lunch.

I ate a pile of greasy fries at our small-town diner, washed it down with a 7-Up, spent time with great friends and collapsed into bed at 9:00 p.m., so very grateful for my life, however ordinary it might all seem.

Ten years ago, on my 22nd birthday, I was just getting ready to graduate from college. I had a DC internship under my belt and would go on, later that year, to intern covering the state capitol. When I blew out my candles that year, I'm guessing I wished for grandness in my career. 

My 20s were filled with aspirations. Big ones. Of changing the world. Changing journalism. Helping rural communities. Helping the West. Helping young journalists.

And by my 27th birthday I was making headway. I'd launched a media company, I'd traveled a little, I'd taught at the university, secured a grant to help rural newspapers and generally, watched my own star rise. But, I'm guessing when I blew out my candles that year, I wasn't wishing for my career, I wishing for a wedding and, someday, a baby. 

My 26th birthday was spent eating cake and painting the first real office of our 1-year-old company. The people I worked with became family -- bonds that continue even after the company has shut down. In this photo is a bond that is chief among those (my business partner, boss and mentor). And behind the lens is another. The great Chris Lombardi, who would later photograph my wedding.

Three years later, I turned 30 as a married woman. Still a full-time journalist, but now farming with my husband too. I spent that birthday surrounded by great friends, breaking the news to them that finally, I was pregnant. I'd just found out myself days before.

In the background, the company I helped start -- the company that had so far defined my career, and thus, my sense of self (for better or for worse) -- was crumbling. And, my Dad was in the hospital, recovering from a traumatic accident. That's how my life seems to happen. All at once.

It felt strange to be away from Jacob, newly prego, weird to taking press phone calls about the possible closure of my company and extraordinarily difficult to be away from my Dad's side.  Marriage, work, family, collided.

But, despite all the turmoil, I was calm. Peaceful even. There was a little person growing inside me and that made the path before me smooth before my very eyes.

The company has since shut down. My Dad has recovered but the accident has just made me even more glad I'm only 15 minutes away from him. I have a beautiful little girl, a growing farm, a wonderful husband and a great part-time editing gig that keeps me tied into online media while I do all the other things.

So, when I got these business cards in the mail a week before my birthday, I thought to myself about how preposterous they would have seemed to me a week before my 22nd birthday, or even my 27th.

It would have been preposterous that I would be living in a small town, 15 miles from my childhood home, a stay-at-home/work-at-home mom, running a farm on the high plains – rather than covering Congress for a national news organization, maybe with a stint overseas, or maybe editing a New York magazine.
It's still somewhat preposterous (and particularly so on days when I'm covered in baby vomit or turkey poop and juggling 10 different things). But, when I opened up these cards, I couldn't have been prouder.

Proud -- even though I did two things that I promised myself in my early 20s I wouldn't do: I moved home and I followed a guy -- a farmer no less. The latter was the sin of all sins detailed in the feminist handbook I adhered to.

And yet, I did it -- because it just felt right.

I worried, pretty solidly, for the first two years that I'd regret it. That I would resent him. That the star I saw rising would flicker. That I would be stifled. That I would stagnate.

But slowly, those fears faded. And when I look at my life now, I know that I'm becoming my true self. Not because of my career, or my husband or my child, or where or how I live, but because I've stopped following some made up list of rules, whether self-created or otherwise. I've learned to define myself not by what I do or what I've accomplished, but by who I am.

My aspirations are smaller, simpler and closer to home now. But, in no way have I "settled." Quite the contrary. I just see now that big things happen in small lives, in small towns, and in small, everyday acts.

One of the best presents I got on my birthday was this note from my very wise friend Kelly, who I've known since those college days of grand plans.
"I am so proud of all that you are and have allowed yourself to become."
If only we could all remember to allow ourselves more often.


  1. I hope you get this, even though I am commenting way after the fact. I was sent your blog, because a friend said she saw it and "thought of me immediately."

    I am you, except in NC and with older kids. My husband and I have a small-scale organic farm and also raise turkeys, although fewer than you do. We have two kids and two off-the-farm jobs. I TOTALLY relate to weird harvest times - distinctly remember harvesting at 11 PM with headlamps because we didn't get the kids down until 8:30 or so after working all day, and I had to go to the farmer's market the next day.

    Things have finally gotten easier - we actually hired a farm manager, and I am going to cut way back at work. The kids are older and easier to manage (3 and 7). The bad news (and isn't there always a little bad news) is that we didn't even break even last year. All that work actually cost us money. But I look out the window at the beauty all around us, at my son knee deep in dirt, shoveling one pile into another, or at my daughter running under the sprinkler in all her clothes, soaked and laughing. All the while I am washing our spinach or getting our pesto out of the freezer or cutting bruises off of tomatoes (we get the culls, right?) to cook them a wonderful supper. And I know that there is nowhere, nowhere, else that could fill me with the kind of joy and contentment the memory of which will last a lifetime. I almost feel lucky that I get to pay for that - if we ever actually make money it will be a cherry on top. Just wanted you to know that there are others out here.....will follow your blog religiously now, if that's ok. Your writing is inspiring.

    p.s. I have "dropped" my ice cream, too. For sure.

    1. Hi Betsy,

      Wonderful to meet you. I'd love for you to follow my blog and I'll keep tabs on you too. It's nice to connect with other farm mamas. I'll be we have loads to talk about.

    2. if you want to see who i am, and that i am not, in fact, a deranged stalker, it's www.sugarcreek-farm.com. although i guess the website just proves i am real. i could still be a stalker. but i'm not, i promise! i don't have time! have a good day!

  2. In the midst of freaking out over whether I'm doing the right thing in marrying the love of my life in a few months versus what I always thought I'd be doing (traveling the world, lobbying Congress for change and changing the lives of the poor and hungry), my hubby-to-be referred me to this post.

    Allow me to introduce myself, I'm you, 10 years behind :) Thank you so much for reassuring me and allowing me to have some faith in myself as I grow. I'm only just beginning to believe that I can do great things with little actions and it's something I hope to share with the world on my 32nd birthday.

    1. Hi Kaity, I'm so glad I could help my 22-year-old self. :) Good luck with the wedding -- and congratulations! Keep me posted -- I'd love to hear more.

  3. Courtney - you're already doing grand things, changing the world, helping the West, helping journalism-- all while being with the man you love and raising turkeys and cherishing Willa. Thank you for this post, which reminds even us old folks to allow ourselves to be who we are. One of the best things you wrote was this: "I just see now that big things happen in small lives, in small towns, and in small, everyday acts." Yes.

    Love to you all. Spring is on the way.

    1. Oh Sheri, I always love to see your name pop up in my inbox. Lots of love back to you all.



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