The Pleasant Farm

Life & Family

Dear Trent & Tyson (Daddy is a Hero), March 17, 2017

Filed under: Family — Jess Z. @ 5:47 pm
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Dear Trent & Tyson,

Whoa.  To say the last two days have been a whirlwind would be a ginormous understatement.  I don’t know how much you can understand at your ages, so in true form, I’d like to write you a letter that just might stay with you forever.  And maybe someday you’ll have a better realization of what the recent events have meant for your daddy… and for you.


Here’s a nutshell, since I plan to include all the official reports in your scrapbooks for this year.  Your daddy was working on the ambulance (we visited him earlier that day; you played hide-and-seek and weren’t ready to go home for naps when I was) and got a call at 5:30 the next morning, before his shift would have ended at 7.  A car was seen driving into Silver Lake, and the ambulance crews and fire department were dispatched along with the police officers.  Your daddy spent the ride out to the scene emptying his pockets: phone, wallet, chapstick, keys.  Because he was ready to go in if he had to.

The police officers on scene verified that there was in fact a car in the water, headlights on.  So while Daddy’s partner handled the scene and radio traffic on land, Daddy jumped into the 46-degree water with just his pants on (oh yeah, and the air temperature was in the 20’s).  When he got to the car, he found an unresponsive 3-month-old baby boy, pulled him out of the vehicle and got onto the roof.  There, he performed CPR, wishing and praying the fire department was nearly on scene to rush to their assistance with cold water suits in a boat.  But, when he found out they’d been delayed by a train, he did what he had to do—jumped back into the water, swimming backwards while holding that baby above the water, and handed him over to his partner and the police officers on the shore.  That baby has already been released from the hospital in great health.

So, as you can imagine, there’s a lot of people who are excited over the fact that your daddy very honestly saved that baby’s life.  He was given the terrible circumstances of darkness and cold, oh yeah and being in a lake, and managed to literally save a life.  Turns out, the story has spread quite like wildfire.  Trent answered the door yesterday to a very well known news reporter from St. Louis, while Tyson stood smiling in his underwear.  Then we found out it had even made the Washington Post and led a congressman to give a speech and order a flag to be flown over the U.S. Capitol today.  Is this all really happening?  I don’t even know yet what tomorrow will bring!


You are his sons.  Those are the shoes you will spend your lives trying to fill.  What do I want you to know?

I want you to know that before most people have a huge success, there’s so much work and commitment that goes into it first that people don’t even realize.  Yes, your dad did a very heroic thing yesterday.  But he loves his job, and makes sure he is always prepared for the worst of circumstances by studying and learning from those around him.  He also takes his fitness level very seriously, not by bragging about how many pull-ups he’s done or miles he’s logged on his last run, but by proving that he’s not only willing to put himself in a risky situation but physically strong enough to almost guarantee a positive outcome (because let’s be honest, there’s no guarantees).  He always makes sure to work as a team, the first to say that he didn’t want to do any interviews unless his partner was there with him.  He’s more prepared than most for the unexpected, which is why anyone in this little town who knows him also knew “it had to be Todd” when they heard there was a local paramedic who performed heroic actions during an unfortunate situation.  Because yes—of course it was Todd.  Not because he worked a miracle— he prepares himself daily to perform the most difficult tasks in difficult situations— but because he miraculously was in the right place at the right time, with the right skills and strength to see the incident through.

So know this.  You don’t have to pull an unresponsive baby out of a submerged car and then resuscitate the baby to be a hero.  You have to find something you’re passionate about, work hard daily to be the best at that job, and be prepared to be under-recognized for your efforts.  Maybe even for years.  And when people don’t always see how hard you work or note your dedication, do it all over again the next day anyway.

Always remember to keep your team close to you.  Keep up the good communication and always have each other’s backs.

Ignore the people who criticize you, whether it’s because they don’t understand your level of commitment or if it might be because they don’t think they could measure up.  Their opinions are not of any importance, nor should they change the direction of your goals.


Our community, the reporters, and everyone else who hears this story are calling Daddy a hero.  And he’s saying “I’m not a hero, I was just doing my job.”  So do you want to follow in your daddy’s footsteps?  Be a rockstar at your job, whatever may be your passion, every stinking day.  And when all that hard work pays off with a big reward, be so humble and modest to truthfully say you were just performing for what you’ve prepared for.  You might be a farmer, or a teacher or architect or engineer or train engineer, you might be a construction worker or firefighter or banker—work hard, prepare for every situation, and then be a hero.

And you will be filling those very large shoes, filled by a man who loves you so very much and is an amazing role model of selflessness, bravery, and strength.





Dear (Stay Young) Trent & Tyson January 8, 2017

Filed under: My kid's growing up! — Jess Z. @ 9:08 pm
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Dear Trent & Tyson,

Man, are you guys annoying.  One of you can’t even put on your own shoes yet, and I have to remind you to use the potty or you’ll end up having an accident.  The other one of you insists on having everything cut up before you eat it, as if it’s a terrible thing to pick up a piece of pizza with your hands & take a bite.  Neither of you can get yourselves completely buckled or unbuckled from the car seats, which means I have to weather the elements to do it for you.  And it’s freaking cold right now.

But you know what?  I’m still one of your favorite people, even when I’m the one who put you in time out.  When you wake up in the morning, you are looking for me or Daddy– you’re not checking your phone first thing in the morning to see what Rick or Paul had to say about each other, or to see if Sheila changed her profile picture.  And there is never a point in the day where someone is sending you a cruel, disappearing Snapchat that threatens to change your entire self-worth.  Please, stay young.

Right now, I get to completely protect you.  If we go to a playground and there’s a bully, we can leave.  But someday you’ll be in school, surrounded by all sorts of people who might be plain mean, fighting through some of their own personal battles, or even just misunderstood.  And when those kids make you second guess your worth or hurt your feelings, I won’t be able to swoop in, grab you around the waist, and escape to the car– partly because you’ll both probably be taller than me & it wouldn’t be physically possible.   So instead, please stay young.

I don’t like putting on shoes & buckling seatbelts.  But I promise to put on your shoes, buckle you in, & even wipe your butt forever & ever if only I could get the two of you to make some promises to me.

I wish I could make you promise never to even start a Facebook or Snapchat or whatever other social media of the future will be; awfully ironic as I type this, don’t you think?  I ask you to promise me to remember who you are– you are both very wanted & very loved children, surrounded by people who love you for exactly who you are and for the goals you are reaching.  Promise me you will never let anyone put a doubt in your mind that you might not be good enough, smart enough, or attractive enough.  Promise me that when kids are cruel, you two will be able to look beyond the moment & recognize the real truths.  Promise me you’ll find friends who build each other up & support each other, not “friends” who will manipulate or insist that they always be #1 even with a cost of tearing you down.  Promise me that even though there will come a day when you won’t come from your bedroom in the morning to climb in my lap, you might still wake up looking forward to starting your day with my encouragement (note to self: be more encouraging).

Maybe you can’t make these promises, because growing up is just tough.  (Which at least means that someday I won’t be wiping butts!)  So I will go ahead and warn you that I’m going to need a lot of help learning when to offer advice and when to stay silent, when to reach out with a hug and when to give space, when to try to make a new rule and when to let the two of you keep growing up.  My job will be to make sure you know without a shadow of a doubt that you are loved.  And sometimes I’ll mess up & approach such a basic fundamental all wrong.  It would all be easier for you to just stay young.

The reminders are frequent, which I’m thankful for: reminders to cuddle with you on my lap.  Steal kisses in public.  Hold hands even when you’re already safe.  It sucks to realize that I can’t keep you young, I can’t protect you forever, and I can’t promise to stop all the words & actions of others that will burn you in the future.  So what can I do?

I can spend every day openly loving you, and be thankful for these years of young innocence– even while I’m wiping butts & buckling seatbelts.

Love you forever & ever, BOTH of you,





Dear Trent & Tyson (on Veterans Day) November 10, 2016

Filed under: Family — Jess Z. @ 9:38 pm
Tags: , ,

Dear Trent and Tyson,

Tonight we had a unique opportunity to watch your dad talk to some school-aged kids about Veterans Day and his story of being a soldier.  I was so excited at the idea that this would be the very first time that you guys would see your dad in his Army uniform, so we tagged along.  Before we left the house, Tyson asked “Why are you wearing camouflage?” but the curiosity didn’t really spread from there and the evening was mostly spent with me trying to discretely tell you to sit still and stay quiet (any bets whether that was successful?).

So, you guys aren’t going to bed tonight with any sudden insights into your dad’s past.  You didn’t want to know what any of the patches on his uniform meant.  You didn’t ask why he wears pins on his left chest.  You didn’t wonder which ends of the earth that uniform had taken him, or what memories were made that he’d rather forget but instead play a role in the nights he’s awake while we sleep.

The kids there did get to hear why he joined the Army at the age of 17, although I’m sure they have an extremely limited understanding of 9/11 and its impact.  Maybe one of them will remember that a kid who doesn’t go straight to college from high school can still be on a path to do amazing things, or even end up on a Dean’s List later in life.

My message to you today, to hopefully understand later in life, is that you live a blessed life to have Daddy as your role model.  He is tough on you because respect, discipline, and integrity are important characteristics to learn early in life, but you know just how deeply his love runs for you because he gives it freely– he knows that the two of you are the highest priority in his life.  He will provide everything you need, but also ensure that you take none of it for granted.  You will learn the value of hard work and the pride that comes from completing tasks independently, but you will always have someone to lean on.  He won’t be the one to whine to when you feel like you’re starving or tired or too hot or too cold (you can trust me on that one); he doesn’t have much patience for the complaints of people who are hardly in a difficult situation.  But you will always have someone to undoubtedly turn to when you find yourself struggling.


I don’t know much about raising boys and I’m basically in on-the-job training all day, every day.  But I’m learning from Daddy that the best I can do for you is to support you in all things you feel passionate about, and I’m preparing myself for that day when you two discover what that may be.  And in the case that either or both of you choose the military, and in the case you decide that journey should start at the incredibly young age of 17 and someone is asking for my consent, I’m hoping I can be strong enough to hide any hesitation.  To follow in Dad’s footsteps to serve our country would be a noble and worthy calling.

I look forward to the day when you boys finally do ask questions, learn your father’s history, and start to realize what amazing sacrifice and bravery built this great nation.  I know that someday you’ll look at Daddy’s uniform and feel your heart swell with pride– it’s a humbling feeling to have that personal glimpse into a story of patriotism and selflessness.

I love you boys forever and ever, and am so glad for your Daddy.



Dear (Preschool) Tyson September 6, 2016

Filed under: Family,My kid's growing up! — Jess Z. @ 11:29 am
Tags: ,

Dear Tyson,

We’ve talked a lot about it, read some books where the main character gets dropped off at school but Mommy always comes back, and reminisced over dropping your big brother off for school.  And you’ve been confident all along, telling me “Miss Donna is very friendly!”  “Mom, you take Trent with you and then I’ll get two suckers so he can have one!” and even “I won’t be scared.”

And just like that, you’re off.  A big boy.

Trent may resemble your daddy a little more than you do, but you have his charm and ability to make people laugh.  I know you’ll be one of the class clowns, and probably not the first one to follow directions.  But you’ll learn so much and easily make friends.

Your teachers are sure to love your stories about farming and putting out fires, and I can’t wait to hear your stories of the projects you complete and songs you learn.  I’m so proud of the boy you’re becoming, because you’re so considerate, smart, and loving.  And I’m extra glad you get to spend a year being near your brother, a chance to step out from his Big Brother shadow but still have the encouragement of knowing he’s nearby.

Good luck on a great first year of preschool, baby boy!  I love you!

Love always,




Dear (One More Year… Hallelujah!) Trent August 25, 2016

Filed under: My kid's growing up!,Uncategorized — Jess Z. @ 8:10 pm
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Dear (One More Year… Hallelujah!) Trent,

It’s almost time for you to start preschool again.  And let me just say that I’m so glad you (I?) have one more year before the Land of Kindergarten!  I assure you—you are smart as a whip and would probably do just fine in a kindergarten-type setting, but oh shucks they have those durn cut-off dates.   So you will turn 5 years old on your second day of the 4-year-old Class at Peppermint Preschool and I will bask in the fact that I have you for one more year.


One more year of days together, where we can take advantage of weekday trips to the zoo and other attractions and avoid the crazies on the weekends.  One more year of afternoon cuddles on the couch, where I try to sleep through whatever crap you might be watching (seriously, Dino Trucks?  Angry Birds???) while you excitedly narrate it all.  One more year of that little taste of freedom while you’re at school, that really isn’t quite enough independence to even get out of town before it’s pick-up time.

One more year before you realize how different your family is… before anyone tries to figure out whether or not you have a stay-at-home mom, and what it means that your dad works for 24 hours at a time.  One more year before trying to explain that too often, goodnight kisses are through Skype but we always make up for it.  One more year before the other kids influence you to want some sort of craptastic toy that my own mother would have never wasted a penny on for me, and peers start bringing new words to your vocabulary that I probably won’t like.   One more year for you to be unabashedly you, so smart and funny, but also so incredibly sweet.  One more year for me to be on the receiving end of your random coats of kisses, another year before you might realize the other kids might not do the same thing.


You are such an amazing kid, and you hear it so often that I hope I’m not swelling your head.  It makes me feel so warm and fuzzy all over to see how you and your little brother interact.  If he is scared of an unfamiliar place or a goofy dog, you calm his fears with your words of encouragement and by so often reaching for his hand.  You are the epitome of the phrase “big brother” and I know that when he feels unsure about starting his own preschool class, we will bring him peace by assuring him you are right down the hall.  You will see some kids from last year, and make new friends too.  And for any of the kids that aren’t quite your cup of tea, or don’t fancy you to be theirs, remember that you don’t have to be buddies to be kind.  Please be kind.


I’m excited to see where another year of preschool takes you, because it was amazing to watch your progress last year.  I will fill another binder with your projects and pictures, and you will probably tell me “I can’t tell you” when I ask about how school went—even though apparently little girls love to share all the details from their day.


So off you will go, to a land of letters and crayons and Playdoh and silly songs.  And while it’s such a privilege to watch you grow and learn, I’ll continue celebrating the fact that while so many moms are braving kindergarten, I have one more year with my baby.

I love you, I’m proud of you, please keep the kisses coming,




Life Lessons From The County Fair July 28, 2016

Filed under: Fair,Farm — Jess Z. @ 8:04 pm
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It’s that time of year: the Madison County Fair.

I can’t recall a time in my life that my family didn’t spend the week of the county fair making trip after trip after trip into town for fair activities; and for a rural family, a trip “to town” was most definitely not a daily activity.

Growing up, the week of the county fair meant 4-H projects to be completed and judged, fair entries to be turned into the basement, and dairy cattle to be washed, trimmed, and hauled into town along with show ring supplies, hay, straw, feed, pitchforks, wheelbarrow, and eventually a sleeping bag.  Talk about a big deal to young kids!  And that’s not even counting the excitement of carnival rides, Optimist pizza, and (once upon a time) pig races.


Sketchy Carnival Ride City!

Now, it’s impossible to stay away from the fair even though my involvement is miniscule in comparison.  I love walking with the kids from barn to barn, and still need my fix of Optimist pizza.  The boys have some years ahead of them before we will start their own 4-H experience, but the times spent at the county fair remind me of all the things this one week in July has taught me through the years.

Lesson #1: If you’re gonna procrastinate, be ready to pay the price.

I have no idea how my mom survived four daughters struggling to finish a dozen 4-H projects in time for them to be turned in for judging.  I remember many evenings in the playroom with scissors, paper, and glue sticks trying to get an Animal Science project done that I’d spent much more time thinking about than physically working on.  There were water garden and rock collection projects (Jenny), herb gardening and visual arts projects (Julie), a beautiful bug collection project (Jackie), and my Animal Science and photography projects.  They all had to be turned in on the same day, to be judged and receive their ribbons and placings.

I learned that it’s better to work on things ahead of time and avoid the rush: but if I must fall into procrastination mode, then I’m accepting the responsibility of feeling frustrated and likely not doing as good of a job as I’d planned.


This is Jackie modeling a 4-H clothing project at the fair… definitely something that can’t be done the night before! (Sorry Jackie, my picture was all dark 😉 )

Lesson #2: Big awards follow a big investment.

Those flower gardening, art, photography, and cooking projects were fun, and came with a small amount of prize money for blue ribbons.  But the big money came with showing dairy cattle.  We never showed up with a dozen (or more) snazzy calves, heifers, and cows like some people would, but the few we picked out came with a lot of work.  Having a cow ready for a show can’t be done the night before, with scissors and a glue stick.  Rather, we would go out every morning for about a month prior to where our show string was tied up in their own space, taking time to not only give them feed and water but also practice walking them around the yard and brushing their hair.  Most of the time, this job was not fun.  Cattle have to learn how to be lead with a halter, and unfortunately for small kids and adults, that learning curve comes with those animals who are too stubborn to take a step forward and those who are so excited to get outside of the gate, they go 100mph leaving behind a rope burn and yelling.  This was work, especially when it came to giving them their first baths and haircuts.  Luckily, as kids, we weren’t on our own to figure this all out.

By fair time, we (usually) had tame cattle who were cooperative and shining from head to tail.  Having them at the fair meant that we had to invest a lot of time being with them, to make sure they were getting fed and enough water to deal with the summer heat.  And when it came time to go into the ring, we weren’t just hoping for a ribbon similar to a photography project; now there were beautiful plaques and big prize money.

I learned that if I’m hoping for a fancy award, or especially big money, it’s going to take a lot of time and pure work.  And that work might involve steel-toed boots.


Lesson #3:  You can’t always win.

Now that I’ve painted this awesome picture of winning hardware and money, I have to admit that we didn’t often come out on top.  There was a lot of competition in our county who were very worthy of winning all their blue ribbons and shiny plaques.  But that’s an important lesson: sometimes, you can do everything right and work your butt off.  And not win.

And that’s okay, because you’re still stronger and smarter for having worked towards the goal of winning.


Can you see me? I’m not getting a blue ribbon.

Lesson #4:  Make friends.

Some people have the gift of being easily friendly and outgoing, which is a gift I didn’t receive.  Growing up, my friends consisted of people that I went to school with: typically involved in the same activities, and often the same age.  But being involved with the fair meant that I was entering 4-H projects with kids across the whole county, and it turned out there was a whole lot beyond Highland!  When it came to showing dairy cattle, we’d find ourselves sitting for hours talking to people that we likely wouldn’t even cross paths with again until the following summer.  It was fun playing cards and sharing stories, but the best part was having help.  If I had to take a big bossy heifer down to the wash rack, and I was pretty certain she could make a break towards freedom, I had help.  If I had to be gone for a few hours while the cattle were at risk of taking their dumps and laying their freshly-bathed butts in it, I had help keeping them clean.

The 3 minutes circling the judge in the show ring were only a tiny portion of the fair experience.  Sleeping on straw bales in a barn at the fairgrounds is actually fun with friends (although I’ll be honest, you won’t convince me to do that now!).


I’m pretty sure Jackie is also hanging onto mine because she was a bossy girl with an attitude.


Lesson #5:  You can’t always care what you look like.

I kinda live by this lesson every day, to the point where I could probably benefit from leaning back the other way.  But at the fair, I’d see classmates come to the fair for the rides or an event in the arena; they’d be wearing a new summer outfit and pretty sandals, and have hair and makeup to match.  And there was me, sitting on a hay bale with a t-shirt that could handle getting pooped or slobbered on, hair up in a ponytail minus all the humidity-loving fly-aways (crap I haven’t gotten away from this at all), and never EVER sandals unless I was heading to the community shower.  If I had cared, I couldn’t have accomplished anything else that I was there to do.

I guess the lesson here is that it’s fine to enjoy the confidence that comes with having my hair fixed and makeup in place.  But life comes with lots of opportunities I would miss if I worry about messing any of that up (i.e. a tough workout, playing with my kids, anything on the farm).

You’ll see me at the fair, either pulling my kids along or being pulled (depending on the circumstances).  I won’t be sleeping on a straw bale or modeling a sewing project (thank God).  But hopefully my kids were still ask about the fair all year long and get excited at the chance to put together their own projects when they’re old enough.  I can’t wait!


Dear Daddy (On Father’s Day), from the boys June 19, 2016

Filed under: Family — Jess Z. @ 6:49 am
Tags: , ,

Dear Daddy,

All the time Mommy is saying to SLOW DOWN!  SIT DOWN!  STAY INSIDE!  QUIT WRESTLING!

But you chase us to go faster, and we’re learning that it’s fun to be fast and that someday we just might outrun you.  And Mommy will be super happy if we decide to run cross country during football season.

And you don’t tell us to sit down, you go with us to the basement to build with train tracks and make forts.  You show us how to work together as a team and have even more fun.  We are crazy boys who don’t have time to sit down!  And someday we’ll be just like you, a long to-do list every day of tasks that will always include being productive, adding more knowledge to our brains, and jumping at every chance to help someone out.  It just might include a pager!

When Mommy says to stay inside, you run us outside.  It doesn’t matter if we’re spraying water through the hose, playing in the rock pit, climbing on the treehouse, buzzing around in the Gator, or playing on a bicycle.  And it sure doesn’t matter to us if it’s 100-degrees outside or we’re missing socks!  We are men and we need to be outside!  You teach us not to be afraid of heights even when Mommy refuses to watch, and we’re learning to be strong, brave, and capable.  While we’re outside, you’re also teaching us what it takes to build a treehouse: a plan, a goal, supplies at a discount, and pure hard work.  We are watching everything you do.

And you are the reason we wrestle while Mommy hides in the other room.  She always thinks someone’s going to get severely hurt, but in reality we only get hurt enough to play harder.  You are so strong that we just want to be strong like you, but we aren’t sure how long that will take.  So until then, we’ll soak up your attention and enjoy the roughhousing that is missing from our lives whenever we miss you.


You are our role model.  Our teacher and team player.  You are everything we want to be not just when we grow up, but everything we wish we could be right now.  But for all the ways we love you for being so different from Mommy, we also love you for your unending cuddles and kisses and love that can be so similar.  We know we are the most important people in your lives because you not only tell us, but show us.  We know you kiss us goodbye in the morning while we sleep and we know you miss us when the house is too quiet.

Happy Father’s Day to the best daddy— you’re the strongest, smartest, bravest, most fun, and most kindhearted man we know and we will always be looking up to you!

Until we’re taller, faster, and stronger than you, anyway 🙂

We love you, Daddy!

Love, Trent + Tyson