Love Letters

Love Letter: To My 18-Year-Old Self

Whenever my birthday rolls around, I always struggle with whether to do a blog post. I typically do a new year’s post and always decide that is enough. But last year I saw this letter to her 18-year-old self-reflecting on the last 10 years, by Design Darling, and knew that it was something I really wanted to do for myself. She says, “it’s a fascinating exercise to recall memories from so many years ago and see which ones feel like they could have happened yesterday, and which ones seem like they happened to a totally different person.” After doing this for myself, I wholeheartedly agree.

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Mandy,

At 18, you are getting ready to your senior homecoming dance in a green dress that makes your hair look redder than you care for at the time (but learn to love later). When your acceptance letter to Kansas State University comes in a few weeks, you start to daydream about what college and living so far away from home might be like. You tell everyone that you are “still deciding” because you are scared, but when you visited campus in December you knew deep down that you would be back to stay. It is a fun last year of childhood in the dusty sagebrush town you grew up in and you celebrate graduation with your two best friends with a trip to Hawaii. Your lives all go three very different directions but 10 years later they are still an important part of your life. You experience your first taste of heartbreak over FFA state officer dreams that did not pan out and a boy that you met a little too late. But you will remember him for years to come and always be thankful that he showed you early on what a good guy should be.

At 19, you are two months into your first semester at K-State and while you have been more homesick than you expected, you are finally starting to carve out a new chapter. The scholarship house you are living in is already keeping you busy with activities and new friends. There is one girl who talks more than you and laughs just as loud, and after bonding over goldfish crackers and studying for an animal science exam, she becomes your “person” and a part of almost every story you have worth telling. The two of you are still inseparable to this very day. You are relieved that those ideas you had about what a career in agriculture and communications could look like since you were 10 years old are a possibility and you never look in any other direction. You attend an agriculture leaders conference you randomly saw advertised in an email and are recommended for a job in the grain science department. These two experiences will help shape the path to where your career is now. Also, years later you are going to wish you had listened to Mom and taken care of that broken finger properly. Always listen to your Mom.

At 20, you are so excited to be back at K-State for your sophomore year and it is a year full of lots of fun memories, which include spending almost every weekend cheering on your sports teams and falling in love with red dirt music while two-stepping at Longhorns. You are selected to be on a national leadership team for the student ag leader’s organization that you were introduced to last year. Later you will look back and see this as the most meaningful experience of your college career. Your network is still full of people you met back then, and you are still involved at the alumni level. You take a summer internship that is a great experience, but it teaches you exactly what you do not want to do for the rest of your life and you are grateful for that.

At 21, you are headed into a roller coaster year. You moved out of the scholarship house into a house with your best friends, added a few new ones and probably have a little too much fun – too often – exploring Aggieville. Your first semester on the student ag magazine hones your storytelling and creative skills in a new way that makes you so excited for your career path and you take a summer internship that pushes you outside your comfort zone in a good way. On the other hand, you also doubt yourself a lot this year. There are some conflicts, over-committing and growing pains that test your character. After failing your second class of college, you are put on academic probation and are forced to have a serious talk with yourself and your mentors about turning things around. This is also the year you get bangs and then spend years wondering why you thought they ever looked good. Like I said, this year was a roller coaster, but I promise, you get through it.

At 22, adulthood is rushing at you fast, but you are ready to work hard and finish senior year strong. Some of your best memories all these years later are from living with your two best friends (two of you will stand as co-maids of honor in the third’s wedding someday). Attending K-State was the best decision your 18-year-old self could have ever made and you are forever grateful for the experiences and “K-State Family” it gave you. You decide that the Midwest feels like home now and the day after Christmas you accept your first job as the Director of Communications at the Kansas Pork Association, an entire semester before you officially graduate.

At 23, you are a few months into your “big kid job” in the real world. You quickly realize that working for a farmer-led organization gives you a newfound sense of purpose. Hold on to this feeling for the bad days — it will remind you why you love what you do. There is a lot to learn, but you have a supportive boss and a co-worker who is a pioneer when it comes to modern agriculture and communications, and she teaches you how to hustle. You moved into your own apartment, but you are still living in your college town, so you are learning how to navigate being a young professional while still enjoying time with your college friends. You are a part of three weddings for your closest friends – all in the span of a month. These are women you have shared plenty of tears and laughs with and you know you will want by your side someday, so celebrating them is the highlight of your year.

At 24, you truly love your job, but finally admit to yourself that you are in a rut and know deep down you need to move on to something else, but you are not sure if that means moving home to the Pacific Northwest or somewhere else in Kansas. Then one day you see a post on Facebook about an open position just outside of Washington DC. You go back multiple times throughout the day to read the description and by that night you are calling your parents to tell them that you have a gut feeling that this job was meant just for you. Nine weeks later you have accepted the position, moved to the East Coast and started a new job working for an organization that does export market development for the U.S. wheat industry. Everything about your life changed quickly and the learning curve at the new job is high, but you love the challenge and spend the rest of this year adjusting to your new way of life and exploring your new city.

At 25, you have settled into your job and life in DC and are proud of yourself for being able to trust your gut feeling and being brave enough to follow through on it. (Also, a big shout out to the people in your life that continue to cheer you on.) But you also face some growing pains this year and make some not so great decisions. Living in DC introduces you to so many new experiences, diverse types of people and new ideas, that both challenge your way of thinking and refine who you are at the core. DC has so much to offer, but the harsher reality is making friends in a status-climbing, agenda-driven city is hard, and you struggle to figure out where you fit in. You also start to think seriously about dating (which is even harder in this city!) and decide to try online dating. You have quite a few funny stories and conversations to screenshot and share with your best friends, but none of your dates really amount to much. But keep your head up and have a little faith. You move to a new apartment that is a bit quirky but the perfect space for you and finally find a young adults small group that fits you. Your life will slowly get back into a rhythm that feels more natural.

At 26, you will be closer to 30 than you are 21 and are totally OK with that and looking forward to the next season of life. After 23 years, you and your sister finally get a baby Ego cousin and are absolutely smitten with Sawyer June. You are taking on more responsibilities at work and are recognized with a promotion part way through the year. You travel to Thailand and the Philippines for both work and a vacation and realize you have missed out on not traveling more internationally and promise yourself to make that a priority. Then, just as you decide that online dating might not be for you, a quiet, scruffy guy with soft eyes from Maryland messages you and soon you are spending all your free time together. He thinks it is cute when you ramble on and brings you three different types of mac and cheese when you are sick. You love his work ethic, arguing about Lebron vs. Steph, how easy it is to laugh with him and are empowered by how he makes you see yourself. You fall in love for the very first time and start talking about taking him home with you for Christmas.

At 27, the guy you wanted to introduce to your family decides that the timing just is not right, and you make the heartbreaking decision to part ways. This is the hardest thing you have ever been through and you struggle for longer than you want anyone to realize. You have never been more grateful for the small band of people who saw right through that and held you up and reminded you of who you were until you could see it for yourself again. Early on, you practically force yourself to join a Pure Barre studio out of need for a healthy distraction but are be surprised by how much you love it and how quickly it makes a difference in more ways than one. At work, your industry is in for quite a year of uncertainty on the trade front and you take on the challenge of leading a project for developing a new website. You throw everything you have into this project, and while completely exhausted, you successfully make it to launch day and are proud of what you did. Looking back on this year, you will always think of it as a hard one, but it also had a lot of high highs. You made good on your promise to travel more internationally and take a fun girls trip to London and an incredible family trip to Italy.

Now at 28, you are sincerely surprised at how quickly the past year went by, let alone 10 years since that green dress. You have lived so much in that time, finished growing up and took some big risks. You made some mistakes and got lost a few times but are thankful for a lot of grace. You set and carried out some big goals, started to build a career that gives you purpose, made it through growing pains, saw beautiful sites, experienced falling in love and being heartbroken and found people and places that mean the world to you. You are ready for what is next, with just a few more freckles, and tips and tricks in tow.

But Mandy, before I end this rambling nostalgic saga, I want you to know that the best is always yet to come. Hold on to that. I want you to know that it is OK for others to not understand your goals and decisions, and it is OK for you to change your mind about what you want. I want you to know that you should always strive for humility, but you should never compromise yourself or your values for others’ ideals. I want you to know that you have a one-of-a-kind family and you will be reminded often that others are not so lucky. Nothing is more important than family. I want you to know that a small group of people who inspire you and invest in you are a million times more worth your time than a large group of occasional friends. Invest in meaningful relationships and always show up for the people who show up for you. I want you to keep writing on this blog. Do not worry about what people think, that it does not fit into a certain niche or that you need to take a few breaks. This little space is all yours and it makes you happy. I want you to know that you will never regret hustling for what you want. I want you to know that the world is sometimes cruel and discouraging, but I want you to continue to believe fiercely that it is full of kindness and beauty. And yes, it is OK to believe in cheesy Taylor Swift songs. I want to remind you to stop and be still every now and then, and to not fear feeling things that are not happiness. There is a time and place for everything. I want you to know that you are beautiful, smart, thoughtful, creative, funny and surrounded by people who will tell you so.

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Keep searching for good stories to tell. You have got this. I love you.

Love,
Amanda

Oregon, Photography

Pendleton Round-Up Wagon Train: “Horsemanship is in the Details”

Back in June when I was at home on vacation visiting my family in Oregon I had the opportunity to experience a few days at the annual Pendleton Round-Up Wagon Train. This week-long family event has been around since 1982 and is an opportunity for people to bring their horses and teams to experience a week in the beautiful Blue Mountains and recreate the wagon train experience that the pioneers had on the Oregon Trail. This is the second year that my parents have been the event’s official caterer. While I was there I was able to tag along on the morning route for two days before heading back to camp with my dad who met the wagons and riders out on the trail for lunch. This is an incredibly unique, fun event filled with history, beautiful animals and salt of the earth people. 

This part five of five posts. With so many pictures, I struggled with what was the best way to split them up across a few blog posts, but in the end I decided to organize them based on a few themes. So what you see is not in any type of chronological order and covers the two and a half days that I was there. Enjoy!

If you missed them you can view:
Part One “On the Trail” HERE
Part Two “Circling the Wagons” HERE
Part Three “Cookin’ Spoo Style” HERE
Part Four “All in the Family” HERE

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We are down to my last post of this series! I had much fun going back through all of these photos and choosing my favorites, which was obviously hard since I had to spread them out over five posts. I’ve always said that photography is just a hobby for me, mostly because I have friends who do this for a living, work so hard to perfect their craft and are SO TALENTED. But it is a creative outlet for me and it makes me so happy that other people enjoy them too.

This last post is all about the “details.” These kind of shots are my favorite to seek out. I am a very detailed oriented person and appreciate how its the small details that make usually add the final touch to a story.

And as you will see, in order to keep everyone, people and horses alike, safe, and for everyone to have fun, horsemanship is ALL about the details.

Thanks to everyone at the wagon train for letting me tag along and making me feel welcome. I loved taking these photos.

Oregon, Photography

Pendleton Round-Up Wagon Train: “All in the Family”

Back in June when I was at home on vacation visiting my family in Oregon I had the opportunity to experience a few days at the annual Pendleton Round-Up Wagon Train. This week-long family event has been around since 1982 and is an opportunity for people to bring their horses and teams to experience a week in the beautiful Blue Mountains and recreate the wagon train experience that the pioneers had on the Oregon Trail. This is the second year that my parents have been the event’s official caterer. While I was there I was able to tag along on the morning route for two days before heading back to camp with my dad who met the wagons and riders out on the trail for lunch. This is an incredibly unique, fun event filled with history, beautiful animals and salt of the earth people. 

This part four of five posts. With so many pictures, I struggled with what was the best way to split them up across a few blog posts, but in the end I decided to organize them based on a few themes. So what you see is not in any type of chronological order and covers the two and a half days that I was there. Enjoy!

If you missed them you can view:
Part One “On the Trail” HERE
Part Two “Circling the Wagons” HERE
Part Three “Cookin’ Spoo Style” HERE
Part Five “Horsemanship is in the Details” HERE

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My Dad first learned about the wagon train and this catering opportunity from one of the teachers at his school, Rochelle Meyers. Her family, starting with her husband George and his parents, have been a part of the wagon train for 12 years. Now they bring along their kids and sometimes cousins and other family members too. Rochelle and her family let me tag along in one of their wagons for one morning (and arranged for me to ride in a different wagon on a second morning.)

If you know me well, you know my first love is for a good story (hence my career and this hobby blog), and I loved hearing this family’s story. They were so kind and shared a lot about the history of the wagon train and stories about favorite memories, mishaps and about some of the different characters that participate every year. It was fun to watch and take pictures of the three generations working together doing something they love and taking the time to patiently help the kids learn how to help and contribute themselves.

The Meyers’ have two teams of Belgian Draft horses. There are the geldings (males) Gus and Call who are 20 years old and have been with Rochelle’s father-in-law Bill, since 2001. The team of mares (females), Kayla and Angel, 9 and 11 years old respectively, have been with Rochelle and George since 2016.

Thank you Meyers family, for letting me hang out with you!

Part five (the final one) will be up on Friday!

Oregon, Photography

Pendleton Round-Up Wagon Train: “Cookin’ Spoo Style”

Back in June when I was at home on vacation visiting my family in Oregon I had the opportunity to experience a few days at the annual Pendleton Round-Up Wagon Train. This week-long family event has been around since 1982 and is an opportunity for people to bring their horses and teams to experience a week in the beautiful Blue Mountains and recreate the wagon train experience that the pioneers had on the Oregon Trail. This is the second year that my parents have been the event’s official caterer. While I was there I was able to tag along on the morning route for two days before heading back to camp with my dad who met the wagons and riders out on the trail for lunch. This is an incredibly unique, fun event filled with history, beautiful animals and salt of the earth people. 

This part three of five posts. With so many pictures, I struggled with what was the best way to split them up across a few blog posts, but in the end I decided to organize them based on a few themes. So what you see is not in any type of chronological order and covers the two and a half days that I was there. Enjoy!

If you missed them you can view:
Part One “On the Trail” HERE
Part Two “Circling the Wagons” HERE
Part Four “All in the Family” HERE
Part Five “Horsemanship is in the Details” HERE

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Today’s post veers off from the series of photos of the horses and people on the wagon train, and focuses on the whole reason why I was actually there… my family!

My Dad built his first BBQ with his students when he was teaching high school agriculture maybe 15 years ago or so (?) (now he’s a high school principal). They used that original BBQ for high school football concessions, offering tri-tip and pork loin sandwiches along with your typical hamburgers and hotdogs. But more and more people became interested in it that they started using it for fundraisers and my Dad really started to get into trying new things (he’s always loved cooking). Eventually my Dad built his own BBQ and started doing the meat catering for weddings, company parties, golf tournaments and other events. Now on his third BBQ (because he always has new ideas on ways to improve it), he stays pretty busy with his side business, Cookin’ Spoo Style. He mostly sticks to just catering the meat but sometimes branches out and will do the whole meal.

As I mentioned above, this was his second time as the official caterer for the wagon train event and this year it happened to fall on the same week that I was able to come home for a visit.  As the caterer he was responsible for all three meals Tuesday through Friday, plus a dinner on Monday night and breakfast on Saturday for approximately 150 people… all without running water and electricity. So this event was much bigger than anything else he’s ever done and took a full-time team of 6 (and a second BBQ) to pull off. For lunch, instead of having the wagons come back into camp or sending them out with a cold lunch, my Dad, Mel and Tim would meet them out on the trail with a hot lunch, while my Mom, Jerrie and Dave stayed back at camp to prep for the next meal.

I spent the first 2.5 days there helping out and spending time with my parents, and though they put me to work, I had so much fun. I didn’t have cell phone service the whole time I was there, which was honestly so refreshing. My Dad was meant to be an educator and anyone who has met him can see the passion he has for his profession, but I love that he also has other interests and passions that he pursues and shares with others.

Part four will be up on Wednesday!

Oregon, Photography

Pendleton Round-Up Wagon Train: “Circling the Wagons”

Back in June when I was at home on vacation visiting my family in Oregon I had the opportunity to experience a few days at the annual Pendleton Round-Up Wagon Train. This week-long family event has been around since 1982 and is an opportunity for people to bring their horses and teams to experience a week in the beautiful Blue Mountains and recreate the wagon train experience that the pioneers had on the Oregon Trail. This is the second year that my parents have been the event’s official caterer. While I was there I was able to tag along on the morning route for two days before heading back to camp with my dad who met the wagons and riders out on the trail for lunch. This is an incredibly unique, fun event filled with history, beautiful animals and salt of the earth people. 

This part two of five posts. With so many pictures, I struggled with what was the best way to split them up across a few blog posts, but in the end I decided to organize them based on a few themes. So what you see is not in any type of chronological order and covers the two and a half days that I was there. Enjoy!

If you missed them you can view:
Part One “On the Trail” HERE
Part Three “Cookin’ Spoo Style” HERE
Part Four “All in the Family” HERE
Part Five “Horsemanship is in the Details” HERE

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I didn’t find time during my work trip this past week to get part two or more up, but I should be able to move forward with sharing the rest of these photos over the next few days.

At the end of every day upon the wagon train’s return to camp they “circle the wagons,” which originally was a safety tactic for protection. Today, it creates a great display of these beautiful animals and horsemanship.

Part three will be up on Monday!

Oregon, Photography

Pendleton Round-Up Wagon Train: “On the Trail”

Back in June when I was at home on vacation visiting my family in Oregon I had the opportunity to experience a few days at the annual Pendleton Round-Up Wagon Train. This week-long family event has been around since 1982 and is an opportunity for people to bring their horses and teams to experience a week in the beautiful Blue Mountains and recreate the wagon train experience that the pioneers had on the Oregon Trail. This is the second year that my parents have been the event’s official caterer. While I was there I was able to tag along on the morning route for two days before heading back to camp with my dad who met the wagons and riders out on the trail for lunch. This is an incredibly unique, fun event filled with history, beautiful animals and salt of the earth people. 

This part one of five posts. With so many pictures, I struggled with what was the best way to split them up across a few blog posts, but in the end I decided to organize them based on a few themes. So what you see is not in any type of chronological order and covers the two and a half days that I was there. Enjoy!

If you missed them you can view:
Part Two “Circling the Wagons” HERE
Part Three “Cookin’ Spoo Style” HERE
Part Four “All in the Family” HERE
Part Five “Horsemanship is in the Details” HERE

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For many years, the wagon train group would actually move camp each day or every couple of days but more recently they’ve kept a base camp and go out on different routes from there each day. There are outriders, folks that just bring their horses to ride, and then there are the teams (both horses and mules) that pull the wagons. There are also a few single-horse carts. The first day I went out with the Meyers family (who I’ll share more about in an upcoming post) and their two teams. The second day I rode with Jill Perrine and her single-horse cart.

It takes an incredible amount of attention to detail, skill and teamwork for everything to go smoothly on these rides. I really enjoyed learning and taking it all in. Even though my family has never had horses, I have always really loved them and I was so memorized watching them work. Some folks go all in on this event and make an effort to make their wagon historically accurate. And some even wear period specific clothing! And if you’ve been a regular reader here you know that I think that the Blue Mountains are God’s country, so I was so happy to be along for the ride and the opportunity to capture it all with my camera.

Check back soon for part two!

Family

Sawyer June is 1!

Today Miss Sawyer June turns one years old!

If you’ve been following along at in the past year, chances are you’ve heard me talk about this sweet little girl or at least seen her picture.

Sawyer is actually my cousin, though age-wise she’s obviously more like a niece. My own sister and I waited 23 years for a cousin on this side of our family and we love her to pieces!

The first word that I’d use to describe Sawyer is sassy. She has such a big personality already! So I laugh, because on this particular day that I took these pictures of her when I was home in Oregon a few weeks ago, I was watching her while her mama napped and Sawyer was about 20 minutes or so away from going down for a nap of her own. So she kind of looks a bit more shy in these photos than she actually is 🙂

She is ALMOST walking and says “danke,” which is “thank you” in German since that’s where her mama’s family is from.

I know its cliche, but its amazing to think that she’s been a part of our family for only year, especially since I don’t actually get to see her that often. But she’s been the highlight of my Snapchat reel and is my favorite scene-stealer when I’m FaceTiming with my family.

Happy Birthday Sawyer June! We all love you so much!