Tag Archives: satisfaction

A Life Unexpected

When I was in high school, I went to Washington, DC.  Twice.  It was amazing.  I was absolutely in love with it and decided that, for certain, I would live in a big city someday.  I would wear fancy suits and tall shoes and I would carry a powerful, yet trendy, briefcase and wear pearls and be rich and powerful and important and it was all going to be awesome.

So, here’s a picture of me this Spring, on a typical Saturday morning:

Tractor and Cat

Right.  About all those plans.

Sometimes life does not turn out the way you plan it.  And that’s actually finally ok with me.  For a long time I felt like I was somehow a failure if I didn’t meet the adolescent picture of success that I had dreamed up.  But my love for politics and all things fashionable and metropolitan has slowly morphed into an incredible love for rural-living, hard work in the dirt, and domestic (or should I say homely) things that I never, in a million years, would have anticipated.  But we’ve discussed that already.

I even, as you can see, spent some serious time driving a tractor while wrangling a stray cat.*  My life is so unexpected, so completely contrary to what I might have imagined, and yet, I love it.  Truly love it.

It was really easy for me to pack up and move to DC for grad school.  It was really hard for me to admit that I didn’t love it, that it didn’t live up to my sky-high expectations, and that I wanted to move back to the midwest.  (Midwest coast is the best coast!  To me, anyway!  Love me some great lakes!  Even Lake Erie and it’s three-eyed, two-tongued fish monsters.)

Granted, living in DC was an excellent experience.  I saw that the grass was not, in fact, greener on the other side and I made amazing friends and had wonderful experiences that I am incredibly grateful for.  I would have always wondered if I hadn’t tried it.  But I was happy to leave and I am quite happy to be settled where I am now: smack dab in the middle of nowhere, Wisconsin.  Surrounded by beautiful farmland and gentle hills, the smell of manure and fields of sunflowers.  A place where the sound of horse hooves and a buggy rolling down the street isn’t terribly uncommon and where parking lots are equipped with both cart corrals and hitching posts.

(Something you should perhaps know I about me.  I get really into things.  Things like dinosaurs, rocks, the Manson family, HAES, Lean In, etc, etc etc…  Recently, I got really into learning about the Amish and Mennonite cultures.  I read some non-fiction, learned lots of fascinating things about the Anabaptist communities throughout the US and Canada and then I borrowed some fiction books set in plain communities from my friend Michele– they were AWESOME.  How I can like both Fifty Shades and Amish Country Crossroads is beyond me… but I do.)


I truly love it here.  I love my life here.  It’s a far cry from marble buildings and people in suits, but it is a perfect place for me.

(Fade out to song lyrics:  Home, let me go ho-o-o-me, home is wherever I’m with you……)

*For those of you wondering (Steph-a-nie…), the cat is doing great!  (And number 5 is alive!)  We were out picking rock in the field (cue joke: we really should stop planting those rocks every year!  But seriously, glaciers, it’s a thing) and my husband’s uncle heard meowing over the sound of the tractor and found a kitten in the ditch.  He was HUNGRY and therefore MAD.  So, since I was sitting atop the tractor, I was tasked with wrangling him until we were done picking rock and we could get him back to the barn for milk.  (Seeeriously?!  Do you see what my life is like– how could I have possibly anticipated all of this?!  Let alone anticipated liking it so much!)  Because we were out picking rock, I named him Rocky.  (Also because in the movie Rocky Balboa (aka Rocky 6) Rocky says that Adrian died of “lady cancer,” and I love that that’s what he calls it, even though it’s sad.  But I didn’t tell anyone on the farm that part.)  So anyway, even though Rocky tried to claw his way up my neck, we got him back to the barn, got him some delicious fresh milk (straight from the cow– again, my life, what?!), and he’s doing quite well there.  A lot of people drop cats, dogs, kittens, and puppies off at farms… it’s pretty common.  My husband’s uncles always take them in and let them live in the barn, coming and going as they please– it’s a good life for those lucky animals!  And as a bonus: they have very little trouble with mice.  I can see how that would be a good thing 😉


…Oh geez.  It seems as though I can’t stop coming up with things I want to say.  An additional note about the photo.  A large part of me is hesitant to share this picture with you on account of the way I look.  (My hair!  My clothes!  My face!  My weight!)  But how am I ever going to convince you that I drove a tractor… while wrangling a stray kitten… without photo evidence?  There’s just no other way.  BUT… But another part of me is actually totally cool with sharing this picture because it’s not about my hair, my clothes, my face, my weight.  It’s about me driving a tractor while wrangling a stray kitten.  AND you reading this blog is about us sharing some stories, some insights, some thoughts– it’s not a beauty contest.  (But if it were a beauty contest, my little sister would win– trust me on this one.  Too cute for words, she is!  (where is this yoda-speak coming from???)  Seriously, she’s gorgeous, inside and out!)  So there you have it, insecurity out in the open– enjoy the tractor!  (Now I’m really done.)

My sister called me homely, and I think she’s right.

A few years ago, I was at my parents’ house for the Christmas holidays, baking cookies in the kitchen and singing along to Christmas carols on their early 1990s stereo system when my sister looked at me sweetly, cocked her head like the most adorable little puppy that she is, and said:

“Oh, Rachel, you are so homely!”

Oh my goodness.  Could not.  stop.  LAUGHING!!

It would be easy to be upset, but I know my little sister and despite her brilliance (no, seriously, she is a genius chemical engineer), her vocabulary is a wee bit limited on account of her general dislike of reading when not absolutely necessary.  What she meant to say, and essentially thought she was saying, was that I was being homey.  Domestic, if you will.  Homey.  Ahhhh…  what a difference a single letter can make.  (Remind me to tell you a great joke about celibacy my dad sent me one time…)

Anyway, it’s hard for me not to think of that day, those feelings, every time I do something “homely.”  And since I’ve moved to Wisconsin, I’ve gotten homelier and homelier 😉  (And NOT just because I do most of my clothes shopping locally.  Although, I am concerned because either Penny’s clothes are getting cuter, or I’ve been here too long…)

In the past couple of years, I taught myself to sew (yay, books!  They really can teach you anything!) and to really bake, like from scratch-scratch.  (Scratch-scratch is essentially the opposite of done done.)  More recently, I’ve been doing some crazy experimenting in the kitchen, and being the scientist that I am, here is my lab notebook:

Cookbook in Progress

Love the mess, the work in progress, the chance to experiment again and again, and that unlike PCR, my life doesn’t depend on it.

Even more recently, I learned to freeze corn.  I know what you’re thinking: Seriously?  Like put corn in a freezer?  But no!  Not just that!  Like I went to the farm (lots more on that later), picked a couple rows, shucked the ears, cut the kernels off the cob, roasted it, portioned it, and froze it to eat all winter.  Like the ants.  (Please tell me you know Aesop’s fables, otherwise this is about to get confusing.)  I’ve always been more the grasshopper, waltzing my way down to the store to buy some corn in the middle of winter (or grabbing it from my mother-in-law’s always-well-stocked-with-delicious-things freezer).  But this… this was a thousand times more satisfying!  And my house smelled so good!

With this recent success under my belt, things are about to get even homelier.  I recently completed a test batch of homemade pizza sauce with tomatoes from my mother-in-law’s garden (seriously, what can’t she do?!) and it. was. AMAZING!  Best homemade pizza I have ever made.  My husband agreed through his mouth full!  Next up: learn to CAN!  (And then after that, maybe I’ll can can, but we’ll see…)  I can’t wait for the gorgeous rows of mason jars to be lined up in my basement pantry!  (I’m planning to make spaghetti sauce too, so if you’ve got extra tomatoes in your garden, you let me know and I’ll take care of them for you!)

I may be homely, but this DIY thing is so ridiculously satisfying to me.  I was a little bit bored for a minute when I finally got out of grad school and entered the real world (i.e. left academia).  What do you do with the rest of your time when you’re only working 40 hours a week?  I watched a lot of tv at first, but then that bored me too.  (Note: that is totally NOT a dig on tv, I still love it, and thanks to the magic of DVR, I still watch a considerable amount.  Especially when Lifetime, Hallmark, and ABC Family start playing holiday movies– I am such a sap!)  So I started to learn stuff, do things from scratch, and now I can’t find enough hours in the day!  I feel like every little thing I take on leads to something else and my life just keeps unfolding in new and exciting directions right before my eyes.  (Ok, freezing corn may not be what you might consider new and/or exciting, but for me, this is a big deal.)

Once upon a time, I thought that a life full of “simple” things and “mere” happiness in the absence of recognition and “success” wouldn’t be enough for me.  I stressed over every little choice and the abstract idea of the future weighed heavily on my mind.  But I love the simplicity, I love the satisfaction that comes from hard work combined with creativity, learning, and experimentation.  I love doing my own thing.  As far as I know, a scientific research writer slash blogger has never been asked to host Saturday Night Live, and I doubt that I’ll be the first (it’s not like I’m a model slash actor up for a slashie or something, le sigh…), but I’m ok with that.  I’m more than ok with that, because my definition of success has changed dramatically over the years (oh man, that’s a complicated one, worthy of it’s own series, perhaps) and I find that I really prefer going with the flow rather than constantly trying to swim upstream.  I’m a lady, not a salmon, after all.  (And maybe part dinosaur, but it’s hard to say for sure…)


DISCLAIMER: No little sisters were physically hurt in the writing of this post.  Although, she may be feeling embarrassed.  Seriously though, she’s too cute for words and doesn’t have a malicious bone in her body (nor does she know what malicious means– omg, I can’t stop!) so I know for an absolute fact that she had no idea the difference between homely and homey when she said it.  Which leads me to another funny story that is just begging to be told right now.

Once upon a time, my beautiful littler sister was honeymoon shopping with her fiance (now husband).  She was surfing the web, researching locations, doing what engaged ladies do, when she stopped short, got on her I’m concerned voice, and said to us, totally seriously:

“All these places say they’re exotic, but what if we aren’t really in to that sort of thing?!”

Because, you know, tropical flowers, beautiful sunsets, azure seas, and white sand beaches… it’s all so scandalous!  So, I had to reply, “Exotic, Shabs… not erotic.”  And then I laughed.  For years.  Literally.  Like if that scene pops into my head while I’m standing in line at the grocery store, I’m going to laugh out loud about it.  I just can’t help it.  Oh, my little sister, she’s really the best– you’d love her!  (And you will love her, because keep reading and I will make you!)