Bloom Where You’re Planted

One young woman’s journey back home

Editor’s Note: This article was guest written by Wisconsin farmer and blogger, Lauren Rudersdorf.

Five months ago, my husband and I bought a home. Our first home. As we sat beside each other signing our closing documents, it felt positively monumental. It was the first time in my young life that I really felt like I had made it. My husband and I had started a small, organic vegetable farm four years prior and it had brought enough hard-earned income that we could afford a home of our own in a beautiful town within commuting distance to both our farm and my off-farm job. We had enough stability in our lives that we felt comfortable committing to a place. The fact that our new home was move-in ready and fully renovated five years ago was just icing on the cake of our late twenties’ lives. I felt mature. I felt settled. I finally felt like maybe I could call myself an adult.

We moved into our home on July 1, 2016 (give or take a few hell-ish weeks of schlepping boxes back and forth from Albany to Evansville in our Ford Ranger and my parents’ minivan). Over the next couple months, we did the new home thing. We unpacked boxes. We hung pictures on the walls. We put a “Rudersdorf” sign on the front porch and bought a lawn mower. Yet despite all the effort I put towards turning our new house into a home, I felt myself continually waiting to be excited about the move. There was no doubt it felt empowering to be a young homeowner, but something about the situation just didn’t feel right. I wasn’t happy. I felt anxious and insecure all the time.

The strange thing about our new home is that it’s located in the town where I grew up. The town where I had spent 13 years of my life in school, sports and community organizations. When I had graduated nine years earlier, I fled my hometown just as fast as I could for a small private school in Ohio and told myself I’d never look back. I wanted big things and was certain that big things didn’t happen in small towns. I expected moves to Europe, New York City and Washington D.C. I envisioned a big flashy career and non-stop travel. I imagined a life nowhere near where I grew up. I was convinced I would leave Wisconsin and become a totally different person. Returning home had baggage and baggage I had not yet dealt with.

How I ended up back home was a long and winding journey. I took a year off from college to travel and experience the world. I had solo trips abroad that were beautiful and transformative. I learned a lot about myself, and also realized, to my own dissatisfaction, that the private school I loved in Ohio was no longer right for me. I moved back home to earn some money and figure out next steps. I got my first apartment in Madison a few months later and by 2010 had transferred to the University of Wisconsin enrolled in an undergraduate program I was passionate about.

In Madison, I quickly fell head over heels for a man who loved soils and nature and wanted to live his life outdoors. We were the perfect compliments to one another and decided to begin an organic farm together. I was fortunate enough to have parents with farmland so we rented four acres and began building our business. Shortly thereafter, we decided to commit our life to one another. We were married in 2014 and began thinking about where we should build our life and home. Taking over the family farm was what made the most sense for us, and suddenly we found ourselves looking for homes in Evansville.

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Life moved fast, as it does, and a journey that began in other states and other countries had suddenly catapulted me back home. As I unpacked boxes and looked out the big windows of my beautiful new house at a community I’d ambled through as a kid and young adult, I felt uncomfortable. It was as if suddenly, I was right back where I started. I felt pathetic, almost like I was moving backwards.

Those first two months in our new home were really difficult for me. I was exhausted from the farming season and trying to process my feelings about being back in Evansville. I was forced to learn some really hard things about myself, like how I never quite escaped the need for validation from other people. Or how for a long time my greatest desires in life weren’t motivated by my own dreams or desires, but by my own obsession with always trying to impress people. Or how I felt like success could never be at home. It had to be somewhere else.

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I could have never imagined that 10 years after fleeing the town where I spent my childhood and adolescent years, I’d be living in a neighborhood with old teachers right next door. But it’s perfect. And I chose it. I chose to leave and I chose to come back. I hadn’t gotten lost, run out of options and returned home because I had to. I chose this. Every decision I’d made since I became an adult led me back here because it’s where I wanted to be. I had traveled and tried new things, and the more I did, the more I felt pulled back to the place where I had been raised. Despite my urge to fight it, my connection to the Midwest was undeniable.

In the end, it turns out moving home was exactly what I needed. It helped me forget and forgive that girl who grew up in Evansville 10 years ago: who could be so naïve and cruel, putting pressure on herself to change because she thought who she was and where she came from was never enough. It helped me stop caring about what other people think and do things for myself instead. It helped me move with confidence as I push my career forward in ways that aren’t always linear to the outside world. It helped me accept the person I have become instead of making apologies or excuses. It helped me shed the weight of expectations and find happiness from within. Moving home helped me finally heal.

And what I learned by removing any self-judgment was one irrefutable truth: I love this place. I understand it. It’s flawed, like anywhere, but its enchanting. The rolling hills. The agricultural and environmental legacies. The pristine farmland and beautiful bodies of water. The historic small towns and colorful main streets. The subtle charm that requires patience to be discovered. The hardworking people and sense of community. I love it here. I love everything about where I’m from. And I couldn’t be happier to build a life here and do what I can to make it better.

Lauren Rudersdorf is a Rock County, Wis. native who loves all things food, farming and Wisconsin life. If she’s not out in the fields of Raleigh’s Hillside Farm or kicking butt at her day job in Madison, you can find her hiking on the Ice Age Trail, testing recipes for her blog The Leek & The Carrot or planning her next vacation. You can find more of her writing at Edible Madison in the Farmer Voices column and Madison Magazine beginning in June 2017.

 

 

From Traffic Jams to Peanut Butter & Jelly

Truth is, I still struggle with my decision to stay home daily.

Editor’s Note: This article was guest written by Milwaukee media personality turned Los Angeles stay-at-home mom, Caitlin Morrall. 

It was the family Christmas vacation four years ago. Everyone was out to dinner on Miami Beach, enjoying steak, seafood and cocktails. Well not, everyone. Before the questions about why I wasn’t drinking the wine came up we presented our Moms with their Christmas gifts a few days early. Bracelets with little baby carriages because in seven months they would become Grandmas for the first time. There were the hugs, of course my Mom said she had kind of figured it out already and the congratulations.

Dessert had barely digested and we were walking back to our rooms when two family members asked, “Will you continue working after the baby is born?”… that didn’t take long. This was something my husband and I hadn’t discussed yet. To be honest, I kind of assumed he preferred I stay home. He was raised by a stay-at-home mom, his Grandma was a stay-at-home mom. It’s just the type of life he came from and I thought was accustomed to. On top of that, he was smack dab in the middle of a medical residency in plastic surgery. I wouldn’t wish marriage to a surgical resident on my worst enemy. It’s the pits. Plastic surgery is the second longest medical residency there is… six years of uncertainty, middle of the night pager noise, missed holidays and vacations, going alone to nearly every event you are invited to and sleeping alone more nights than you care to think about. One parent should probably be available and present to our child.

I replied to the question as I assumed much of the family would see fit… that I would likely stay home with our child. You would have thought I proposed taking up work as a professional hit man. Apparently what was once a way of life for many people in my family was no longer a thing… women belonged in the workplace now. It was never brought up again and seven months later we welcomed an amazing baby boy and 12 weeks after that I went right back to my job as a Traffic Reporter on the morning news.

Returning to work was not without its own challenges. Think back to the uncertainty I mentioned with my husband’s job… due to his call schedule I couldn’t count on him to be home overnight or home the next morning to take a baby to daycare. I had to be at work at 4 a.m. before daycares are open. That means we find a nanny who can arrive at 3 a.m. Who wants to work at 3 a.m.?! I mean besides my crazy ass! But lo and behold, we found one… somehow, someone who was willing to wake up in the middle of the night and hang out while our kid slept. Do you know how depressing it is to pay someone to sit in your living room while your kid sleeps? To be honest, I found two someones who were willing to do that. We had to find a fill in when the original nanny was offered a summer intensive spot at a prestigious university as part of her Masters program.

Clearly the work lives we led were not the norm. You’ve heard of the term “two ships passing in the night”? That was our life. Sometimes the only time I would see my husband was to catch a glimpse of him sleeping as I woke up for work. Or we’d let out collective groans during the third overnight wake-up with an infant. My day went as follows: wake up at 2 a.m. (often after having been up once or twice in the night with the baby), shower and do makeup, nanny arrived at 3 a.m., I take the dog out for a walk, come back up and make coffee, go to work. On the air at 4:30 a.m., last update at 9 a.m., home and take the dog out again before the nanny left. Mom all day, kid to sleep at 6:30 p.m., take the dog out, get myself to sleep by 7:30 p.m. I often called myself a stay-at-home mom who works full-time. I did most of my working while my son slept and once I came home I was “on” all day until bedtime. During that first year my husband was also interviewing all over the country for fellowship positions in orthopedic hand surgery and he was given the opportunity to travel to South America for a medical mission trip. To say things were stressful would have been an understatement. In May of that year he matched into a very prestigious hand surgery fellowship that would require us to move to Boston the following July after his residency had been completed. Around the same time, my mom asked me if we would even be married by the time that move came around. Our lives became a constant argument centered around who was more tired, who had the next turn on dirty diapers, who was waking up with our son next. It wasn’t like my husband could switch jobs and I was worn so thin, you could see through me (Although I wish I was saying that in a literal sense… baby weight is a bitch!). The only answer was for me to stay at home.

To make matters worse (or maybe better?), our nanny took a job as a research assistant and would no longer be able to work early mornings for us after the school year started. I had hoped to ride out my contract, which ended on December 31 but couldn’t hire someone for mere months under those conditions. I gave my two weeks notice and said I would be available to fill in as needed until they found a replacement. I ended up filling in for myself at least once a week until December 31. Thank goodness for a retired Grandpa who didn’t mind sleeping on our couch.

Now here I am… explaining my decision to you all, like I need to make excuses for being a stay-at-home mom. This blog post simply should have started out with “Hi, I’m Caitlin and I am proud to be a stay-at-home mom”. But no, our society doesn’t find a whole lot of value in the woman who doesn’t bring home a paycheck. I’ve always said one of the hardest things about being a woman is that now that we CAN do it all, we are EXPECTED to do it all. I’ve had friends start on the SAHM front, and months later they are reapplying for jobs because they feel like their education is going to waste, or that they aren’t contributing enough. That being said, I also have career Mom friends who tell me that my husband couldn’t afford me as an employee… that the work of a SAHM is a million jobs in one. In one day I work as a chef, a chauffeur, a dog walker, a maid and a nanny. Sometimes I work as an assistant too, managing calendars, picking up dry cleaning and booking appointments. There’s very little glamour (we’re lucky if I shower some days), there’s very little praise and there is nearly no encouragement. You are exhausted and irritable all the while never feeling like you’re doing enough. And let me tell you, coming from the working world of local television, that’s a really difficult transition. In Milwaukee I was “The Road Warrior”, people would see me out and talk to me about my future plans. I typically parlayed my decision into “Well, I am preparing to move our family to another state” instead of just owning my decision. Always the question of “Will you be returning to work?” and “What’s your plan once your son is in school?”. I had been coming into the living rooms of thousands of people every morning for five years. Many of them couldn’t grasp the idea of me not working. Their opinions weighed heavily on me and I was never happier to move to another state, a state where would only be known as “Jack’s Mom”. But in hindsight, was I just shifting the blame? Was it just me who couldn’t grasp the idea of not having a career outside of the home?

Truth is, I still struggle with my decision to stay home daily. I sometimes still think former colleagues and former viewers look at me differently for deciding to leave it all behind. More than ever I am realizing those thoughts are a product of my own insecurities. I often have to remind myself how much I loved having a parent waiting in the hallway at school to pick me up. How much it meant to have a parent in the audience at school programs. In my case it was my dad. My mom worked in corporate America for most of my life. She traveled the country almost every week. As a little girl I thought working until 7 p.m. every night was “the norm” for her. My husband will rarely be able to pick our son up from school. He will never be able to help organize the class Christmas party and couldn’t take a day off if our son needed to stay home sick. I have the opportunity to be that rock for our little boy. To be the face he sees after lunch every day (and when he yells “Hi Mama!” through his classroom window, it’s pretty awesome). I’m a work in progress most days still… but I do make a mean class treat, I have a hell of a cleaning schedule and like most moms who have 90% of their human interaction with a three year old, I lose my shit occasionally. But I do the best I can, the best I know how. I take each day as it comes. Some days are easier than others. Every stage of childhood and motherhood is equally difficult, unpredictable, frustrating, wonderful and amazing. I’m sure when my son is 18 I will have finally come to terms with my career… a Stay at Home Mom.

Caitlin Morrall is a former Miss Wisconsin USA and competed for the title of Miss USA, live on NBC in March of 2007.  She finished among the Top 15 semi-finalists. Caitlin continues to be involved in many areas of pageantry including judging, coaching and consulting. In addition to her work with contestants in the Miss Universe Organization she was also a four time titleholder in the Miss America Organization, placing as a runner up at the state level each time she competed. She continues to volunteer her time as a pageant producer, emcee, judge, coach and local competition board member in the state of Wisconsin. During her time competing in pageants Caitlin championed the causes of Breast and Ovarian Cancer awareness and the important of Character Education. She has also been very active in her community, participating in events supporting charities including Children’s Miracle Network, Special Olympics Wisconsin and the Make A Wish Foundation. 

Caitlin joined Milwaukee’s NBC affiliate, TODAY’S TMJ4, in November of 2009 as the “Road Warrior” Traffic Reporter on “Live at Daybreak”. Prior to joining the TMJ4 team, Caitlin was a freelance reporter for Fox Sports Wisconsin. In 2008 she was a sideline reporter for the WIAA State Football Championships. She also contributed to feature reports for “Bucks Live”, the pregame show for the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Caitlin attended Alverno College in Milwaukee and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Professional Communication. Upon graduation she completed an internship with ESPN Radio in Milwaukee. In 2013 Caitlin appeared in a Wisconsin Summer Tourism television campaign alongside Hollywood Actor, Robert Hays.

Caitlin currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband, their Pug and their three year old son, Jack.

Advice for 20-somethings from a 30-something…on Life, Love and Living

After burning my horribly self-defeating H.S. diaries, I am writing again….about what I should have written about 10 years ago.

Editor’s Note: This article was guest written by my smart, lovely and talented stepmom, Amy Haberman.

I recently came across my diaries from high school and early college. Wow! What a trip that was…and then I promptly burned them. Seriously. The timeframe in which I wrote these notes may be similar to where you are in your life, so I want to speak to who I was then and why, if I could do it all over, I’d do it differently.

Despite the popular quote that is circulating on Pinterest and Facebook “Don’t cheat on your future with your past. It’s over.” I propose we take a look back at what I’ve learned in the 10 years that have passed since those rambling diary entries. I am hoping this defies the wisdom of the quote because you will delve into MY past to better YOUR future. I’m willing to take the risk…

I’ll spare you the sad, sad details of my prolific diary entries. But I can tell you the main subject matter never did change: BOYS. Despite successful academic and athletic careers at both the H.S. and college level, I cared more about boys than myself, my future, who I was or wanted to be when I “grew” up. I didn’t come across any diary entries pondering college major decisions, career path choices, life goal ambitions or anything of the sort. I was more interested in whom my next date would be with.

I justified my dating experience (once older) to say that if I had not had these earlier experiences I would not have realized my husband was “the one.” That my ability to quickly dismiss many men from my life gave me the fortitude to know what’s best for me and recognize it when he walked into my life. True. But it also did something else: it left me completely unprepared for real life or life beyond that moment when I found “the one.” And it left me completely unsure of who I really was. I was so busy focusing on all the men around me, I completely ignored the woman inside me (besides her opinion on men of course).

So my advice is simple. Pay attention to that woman inside you who knows deep down there is more to life than men, getting married and having babies. Even when happily married, what determines our happiness is not external, it’s internal. I can’t expect my husband to make me happy – only I can do that. Sure, he can certainly do nice things for me that I appreciate, but he is not responsible for sustaining my happiness. That is a big burden to put onto someone and why, oh why, would we hand over that power to someone else, when only we know, truly, what can make us happy?

I have been married for 12 years, have a college degree, a nine-year-old daughter and have worked a part-time or full-time job for nearly 20 years. But none of these things define who I am. I am trying to figure that out now. And let me tell you, it’s a lot harder to take time for you, when you have a mortgage to pay, mouths to feed, and housework to do, on top of working a full time job that is quite demanding and juggling a business on the side.

So, what I’d do differently and what I recommend you do before you commit yourself to a man, a mortgage or many mouths to feed: LIVE. Do all the things you are scared to do, second guess yourself, screw up, learn and do it all over again. Live life on YOUR terms, no need to hang on someone else’s coattails – wear your own cape!  This will do a few things for you: 1) you’ll learn what you love, what you hate and how to balance the two. 2) you’ll know exactly what you need in your life and you’ll be able to tell the difference between a need (food) and a want (man) 3) you’ll make the task of loving you much, much easier, because you aren’t looking to him to make you happy because you already figured that out (he’ll thank you later).

I’m certainly not saying if you don’t do things in this way your life will suck. Not at all. I overcommitted, I leaped before I looked and I got lucky. Things have turned out alright (well, much better than alright). In part, because I do think I married the best man for me despite my inexperience.

Now I’m taking my 30s to have my first real adventure (moved to Florida three years ago); I started my own business (graphic design on the side), setting career goals much higher than I had imagined (recently attained a director level position at a major university that made me vomit the night before the interview) and in general trying to be a leader by example for a nine-year-old girl who is looking at her mama and saying, “I want to be an artist and a baker and, and, and…” and I can say, “there’s nothing stopping you, sweetie!”

Following one’s dreams take a bit of coordination when you have a family to tend to, that’s why I say do it when there are as few obstacles as possible. I’m very blessed and have an extremely supportive husband, who has realized there is a lot of truth to the statement “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Very cliche, but true, the more I attain my goals and follow my dreams, the more I push my husband to do the same and I know our children can only learn by our example.

So after burning those horribly self-defeating diaries, I am writing again….about what I should have written about 10 years ago, my goals, my dreams, my ambitions, and now, what I can do to nurture the dreams of my family.