As I sit to write this article today, I note that it is minutes before I officially turn 39. Ah, birthdays. That day that comes rolling around on the calendar once a year. It’s a day to eat cake, pie, ice cream, or all of the above. A day to do what makes you happy, even if it’s just for a moment because you are now an adult and the world doesn’t stop for your birthday. For me, I promised myself I would pick a bouquet of peonies and eat my cereal in peace and quiet prior to the chaos of four children shaking the house. If I sneak in time to pull weeds (I know, I’m a nut) I’ll count this day successful.  
    Milking cows and pulling weeds give one plenty of time for quiet reflection on how they got to where they are in life. As soon as the calendar flips to June, it seems my brain begins more pondering sessions when it’s not otherwise engaged. I mentally scan my memories, thinking about how I’m in many ways still the same girl I was all those years ago, but in many others, not.
    I hesitate to admit that as a young teenager I would disappear into our big white shed with my Walkman pumping some Trisha Yearwood tunes. I would sing as loud as I could – the shed has some incredible acoustics. I was certain for a time I could be a singer, though I doubt I confided that dream in anyone but the kittens. Yet, give me a hot summer day and some good ‘90s country music, and my arm will be flailing out of the minivan (as I pretend it’s a farm truck) belting out the words that have cemented themselves in my mind. I’m sure for a moment that I could be a voice double, I’m really hitting it out of the park—then I look around and make sure I’m actually alone in my reverie. I come back to reality. Then decide I don’t care, and sing just as loud. Knowing full well that my kids think I’m crazy when I sing like a star, and the cows are a biased audience.
    At the time my parents divorced, I couldn’t boil water. No joke. I vividly remember thinking I was going to make macaroni and cheese for supper and putting the nice ceramic white bowl with a blue ribbon around the top on the stovetop to boil. In case this is a new experiment for you, the result is the bottom of the bowl cracking out in a perfect circle. Twenty plus years later, I can report with the utmost confidence that I can boil water. I can also whip out a pie crust, have replaced my distaste for rhubarb with a healthy obsession, can concoct a meal to feed eight or more daily, and make a mean meringue.
    I’m becoming my mother. I say this with sheer pride, not disdain. Before the cancer started gnawing at her brain, she was an incredible woman. I’ve been perusing her old gardening books, thankful that I have them, and find myself daydreaming about new flower bed construction as I clean out waterers. I’ve always loved playing (how can it be termed work if I enjoy it so immensely?) in the flowers, and I’m trying to up my game this year. More flowers – less weeds, more hummingbirds, monarchs, and fewer pests.
    I quit highlighting my hair three years ago, and the sparkles that have popped up cause those taller than me to comment. I have quite the chrome streak in the front that draws attention, not to mention the smattering of gray that has placed itself all over my head. I embrace it for the most part. There are days when I wonder if the world sees me as ‘old’ because of my hair, but then in the next breath, I’m fine with it. Some people pay to have a streak of a different color, mine is all-natural.
    My fondness for all things old has only increased with my number of birthday candles. I bought dresses at an estate sale that have lived lives I’ll only read about in books. They are handmade treasures from decades ago, and I dearly wish they could tell me what they’ve seen. As I slip one over my head, and tie on an apron, I pretend I have an alter ego that doesn’t have to hurry to get kids to places, and life is a smidgen slower paced. These dresses transport me back in time, and I imagine feeding my chickens, scraping cream off of a pitcher of fresh milk, scooping up garden produce, and cooking for my brood. I have enamelware as decorations and for their functionality in the kitchen. I appreciate all of these wonders as a connection to my ancestors, and use them with knowledge that the old things last the longest.
    It took me until my 30th birthday to find the comfort in my own skin that I had been waiting for. Granted the skin may be a bit rearranged after four children, even still, I’m much more at ease with who I am in this world. I have fewer and fewer moments of questioning myself as I age. My confidence has become more stable, and I embrace my quirks as part of who I really am. I still see hints of the wild girl in my eyes as I look in the mirror. The one that would go out dancing and to concerts with her girlfriends isn’t far away. I see her come to life as I muster up the energy to go out after a long day of working and parenting. I hope she stays around, despite the approaching wrinkles that threaten her ‘let’s do it’ attitude. This next decade could be the best yet.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wis. Her children, Ira (12), Dane (10), Henry (5) and Cora (toddler), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.