| Jan 02, 2024

Begin with Gratitude by Dana Stewart

In this new year, let's remember to practice gratitude.

Dana Steward Blog

I recently read a book that highlighted the benefits that gratitude can have on our mental and even physical health. A deeper dive on the web quickly reveals how practicing gratitude can improve your sleep, your mood and even lower your risk for disease. This concept left such an impression on me that I have been intentionally practicing gratitude. My outlook changes completely when I remember “I get to” rather than “I have to.” It’s pretty incredible how this simple phrase can turn my mood around when things around me seem to be falling apart, and as a mom working on my family’s sixth-generation cattle farm, it’s not hard to get overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood and farm life. With the stress that farm life brings, practicing gratitude has reminded me that I am fortunate for this life and to make every moment count. 

Balancing farm life with family is like orchestrating a beautiful dance, with each move calculated so that the next move doesn’t cause an unintended collision. My day revolves around feeding my family and feeding 1,200-pound cows. I love doing both, and they are my passion. My work on the farm ensures that families across the country continue to enjoy the safest, most affordable food supply in the world. 

On any given day, I’m a nutritionist making sure our herd receives the proper feed it needs. I’m a midwife helping bring new calves or goat kids into the world. I’m a record keeper recording dates and weights. I’m a conservationist carefully taking care of the land that’s been in our family for six generations so that it will be there for the next six. But I’m also a mom, feeding my own family nutritious meals, making sure the homework is complete and tests are studied for, providing encouragement and hugs to get through a hard day. These are things I get to do, and I’m so thankful for every day of it. 

My outlook changes completely when I remember “I get to" rather than "I have to."

Even so, I am a work in progress. A few days ago, I walked into our mudroom and had one of those moments… the kind of “momma ain’t happy” moments. Our mudroom is a bustling hub, the command center for preparing for the day. So, when I walked in and saw all the shoes and boots strewn everywhere across the floor, I kind of lost it. It’s embarrassing to look back at it now, recalling how quickly I became frustrated. In my own defense, however, I couldn’t even make it to the shelf to grab the pair of boots I needed for the day’s chores. Before I go any further, I think it’s important to explain that this is a real-life farmhouse mudroom. It’s not a spotless, Pinterest-perfect mudroom. Our mudroom is filled with boots and shoes for every occasion. There’s an overflowing coat rack with a variety of rain jackets, vests, and coats. You’ll find shelves with bottles for baby calves and goats, a basket of gloves, cleaning supplies and more. It’s a small room with a big job, which includes keeping the shoes and boots organized to ensure we get out the door quickly.

First, there are the cowboy boots. My trusted, everyday boots with sturdy soles and protection for my feet for most of the jobs on our farm - jobs like feeding our cattle and goats and checking pastures to make sure all of our livestock are healthy. Then, there’s muck boots. They’re tall, waterproof and warm - a much-needed item when it rains and the days following the rain when the mud remains. Farm chores don’t stop because of the weather, so I love my muck boots when it rains. I have short, waterproof boots for wet summer jobs. There are quick slip-on shoes for a run to check on the barn or an occasional phone call to tell me that my daughter's bottle calf once again found a gate to sneak through. 

All of these boots and shoes play such an important role in making sure I can do my job with the right tools. So imagine my mudroom with all of these shoes TIMES 4. That’s because my husband and two children also need these shoes to be on the farm with me. As I stood overwhelmed in my mudroom with dirty boots and shoes spilling over in a mess, I became frustrated about the mess instead of appreciating the reason for this mess. All of those boots and shoes are there because I get to work with my family doing something that I really love. 

My kids are learning to love the work we do, too. Last year, when an unexpected winter storm brought freezing, icy rain, my kids jumped into action to help a calf that was born early and needed to get warm. They never complained about being cold or the hard work that followed. Instead, they were excited to do what was best for the calf. Likewise, they’ve become my right hand during kidding season when our baby goats are born. They eagerly volunteer to make sure the new kids are warm and have nursed.

When I think about these things, my heart nearly bursts with joy. A messy pile of boots is a small price to pay to be able to share these experiences with my family. In this case, “I have to” looks like a messy mudroom, but “I get to” reminds me of my family’s commitment for over six generations to doing the very best we can on our family farm to raise quality livestock, take care of our land and leave all of it better for the next generation. 

As winter brings long, cold days, I hope that you can remember the things you get to do rather than focus on what you have to do. I challenge you the next time you are frustrated with something to stop for a moment and instead think about what makes the situation a privilege. Practicing gratitude has helped me transform mundane moments into cherished memories. The next time I reach for my boots, I’ll remember to be thankful for how the chaos and stress of carefully balancing farm and family life are a small price to pay for doing something that brings me such joy and fulfillment with the people that I love. 

Check out FARM BOOTS from Feeding Minds Press, a book that celebrates the joys of rural life.

- e d i t -

How do you use AFBFA resources? We are always looking for ways to create resources that are more impactful.