How to date your co-worker

When we are not in the garden, I obsess about how I want to redesign my blog to look like the Pioneer Woman’s blog. I want to be the Pioneer Woman on Suicide Watch. That will be the new title of my blog. I am obsessed with stealing her blog design.

Melissa sits in my garden with me and talks. She likes to talk to me in my garden because she says it’s the only time I don’t interrupt her.

In the garden Melissa narrates her Facebook activity like it’s a horse race. And she takes pictures of the farm all day long and posts them to Facebook.

Her Facebook friends tell her she is really lucky to be living on a farm. An old friend of hers that is really not her friend but her ex-boyfriend’s friend, says, “You’re so lucky. I wish I were on a farm right now.”

Melissa tells me he is a designer who can write code and he wants to live on the farm.

“Invite him,” I say.

She tells him, “You can come live here. Penelope needs a designer. Can you redesign her blog?”

He says yes. Melissa gives him one of the ten thousand free tickets she has from living in Hong Kong and Milan with jet-set millionaires who foot the bill for everything.

I get giddy. I start making notes about my love for the Pioneer Woman’s layout.

Melissa is giddy because she suddenly remembers that this guy is cute.

“What’s his name again?”



“No. Cullen.”


“Cullen. You already have a Wisconsin accent.”

Cullen arrives from Austin the next day. He says he was going to move out of his apartment anyway. So he spent the next 10 hours packing and moving all his stuff to storage.

My sons love him right away.

So does Melissa. The flirting between them is so obvious that the Farmer starts making jokes. We have never seen Melissa so charming.

Also, I tell Melissa I need photos of Cullen for the blog, and she sends me a series of swooning pictures of Cullen on the farm.

I tell her, “Are you kidding me? My blog is not Tiger Beat.”

I make our porch into a bedroom for Cullen. This seems okay because he is spending only a few weeks here redesigning my blog.

Melissa sets up a big desk for Cullen’s computer and screen. In her bedroom. “It just fits better here,” she says, appealing to the interior decorator in me.

Melissa tells Cullen he can put all his stuff in her room because there’s so much more storage there than on the porch, where he’s sleeping.

Melissa and I spent weeks creating a sort of still-life-of-Melissa in her bedroom. I can’t decide if I think Cullen is a sweet addition or an unexpected eyesore.

That was the first two days of Cullen.

The third day, I started worrying that maybe the porch is sort of yucky. But still, I was surprised to see Cullen in Melissa’s bed.

Do you notice how he matched? It was ominous. So the Farmer laid down house rules to Melissa. “No sleeping in the same bed because our kids know you guys just met. They can’t see you guys in bed together.”

Actually, he made the house rules but I was who told her. It felt ridiculous. But not as ridiculous as it would have been to explain to the kids why Melissa is in bed with the guy who just showed up at our house two days ago.

Then, the next day, Melissa is in bed with Cullen. Sort of just sleeping there like, maybe, if there were one bed left in the whole world, sleeping how I would, next to one of my brothers. But still. It broke the new house rule.

So we had to have a summit meeting. The four of us. The farmer explained that we can’t have the kids exposed to confusing sexual relationships in their own house. “I don’t want to ever see or hear you guys having sex in the house.”

That was nice, I thought. He left things sort of open-ended for in the barn, the hayfield, and other places that might be romantic to two twentysomethings who don’t actually have their own home.

Okay. Fast forward. Melissa is gone all the time, fawning over Cullen. Cullen is not doing anything on my blog because he has Melissa—a full-time job—and he has a full-time job at this startup Daily Dot, which, maybe I am officially launching, since I don’t think they have announced yet. But anyway the editor-in-chief is Owen Thomas who is one of my favorite bloggers. So I keep thinking, Owen is working with Cullen so I want to be working with Cullen too. Actually, I want to be working with Owen and Cullen. I want everyone to be working on my new blog design. I have a lot of ideas. Like, I could do a cooking blog where I write about bulimia. No one does that. I think Owen would be a great editor. Melissa could take photos of stuff to throw up.

But there is no one around. Everyone is busy doing Daily Dot and dating on the farm.

It’s asparagus time on the farm.

On the farm, you eat whatever is in season until it is gone. You get sick of it before it’s gone, but you try to remember that as soon as it’s gone, you’ll miss it.

We eat asparagus every day and it’s so fun to pick it and cook it, but it’s not fun to serve it to Cullen and Melissa when I feel like I’m running a B&B.

So I tell them that we need to talk. “I am not getting a good deal here. Melissa is not being a good friend because she is falling in love and when you fall in love it’s like you’re losing your mind (literally) and I feel like, at best, I have an insane friend .”

So I don’t have a friend and I don’t have a guy working on my blog and I have these two people who don’t cook or clean. Not that I’d want them to. Wait, I’m so excited to tell you this—Melissa is a member of the incompetent elite. A commenter said this about her after an earlier post, and we have adopted the term for her. So, Melissa is part of the incompetent elite and cannot cook or clean.

Cullen says he will start working on my blog.

I say, “Okay. Then I can pretend Melissa is your fun girlfriend you brought along to the farm when you came here to work on my blog.”


“So, you guys are boyfriend and girlfriend now. I don’t have patience for the slow pace of courtship.”

They look at each other. They say okay. They laugh.

I say, “I’m happy for you guys.”

Then I say, “You have to sleep in the same bedroom. I can’t have the kids seeing you sleeping separately and then see you sleeping together. So Cullen, just move into Melissa’s room.”

They look at each other.

I say, “Sorry to be bossy. But I have to look out for the kids.”

They say okay.

They look nervous. I tell them, “Wait here. I’ll get you a bottle of wine to celebrate.”


86 replies
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  1. Dan
    Dan says:

    Ooh, can Melissa help me out with one of those free tickets? I have a sibling graduation across the country I could attend.

  2. Maria
    Maria says:

    Just say no to PW, Penelope. Really. It’s like Martha Stewart with homeschooling pressure. It AIN’T real and she aint’ keeping it real….of course, none of this stops me from looking and reading her book….she’s a marketing genius!

    • kim
      kim says:

      Seriously; I can’t see why anyone likes Pioneer Woman’s blog. I don’t like anything about it. It’s too busy & the content is, yeah, whatever. Maybe it’s a GOOD thing if Cullen doesn’t get around to that re-design!

    • CDM
      CDM says:

      I also dislike the Pioneer Woman’s blog. It’s almost impossible to find anything. It took me ages to figure out that her little icons represented different sections of the blog. It’s impossible to tell what the latest post is. She does have good photography, though.

  3. Raven
    Raven says:

    Whenever I wanted to change my blog design, it was because I’d see other blogs and think, “I want to be that person who is writing on that blog. If my blog looks like that, then maybe I can be that person, a little bit.” But then, I have to remember why I want to change so badly. Especially to be like another person.

    And I guess it’s just exciting to pretend you’re changing through a blog design than really changing at all. I have to appreciate blog envy for what it really is.

  4. J. Tracey
    J. Tracey says:

    This post is charming and full of electricity. I hope they make it. (And I do mean that in the broader, macro sense, since it’s quite obvious they already have made it in … the other way.)

  5. linda Clark
    linda Clark says:

    i loved this piece until the end came. nobody’s perfect, but you could have kept some integrity. since when is it okay for kids to see boyfriend and girlfriend sharing a bed? i predict the kids will be very confused.

    • Walt Darson
      Walt Darson says:

      @Linda: i bet you were surprised and disappointed when the world didn’t end. it’s time to wake up and get with the 21st century.

      @Penelope: this is definitely among my favorite-ever posts of yours, and that’s saying something. thank you yet again.

    • Nancy
      Nancy says:

      But then when is it okay to lie to kids? There’s not much point in pretending that kids don’t know what’s going on. I cringe when ethics becomes lying.

      Penelope, this was a funny, happy post! I now have pink-boot envy and red-garden-glove envy. But not asparagus envy – I tore mine out last year because I got sick and tired of it. Besides it makes your pee smell funny. Have you noticed?

      • melanie gao
        melanie gao says:

        There’s a difference between lying to kids and protecting them from thing they’re not ready to deal with yet. Remember, Penelope’s kids are young. I thought the Farmer was trying to protect their innocence.

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        I agree. There’s not much point in pretending that kids don’t know what’s going on. I think the important thing, though, is to have a good and open relationship with the child so that the child feels comfortable enough to ask any questions for things they don’t understand. Answering their questions can be tough at times but it’s part of being a good parent.

  6. terri
    terri says:

    Isn’t anyone wondering if Melissa’s ex-boyfriend is going to find out about his ex-girlfriend and his friend and come and blow up the farm?

  7. Morgan
    Morgan says:

    I like this post like I liked the ones about you meeting the Farmer. These posts make me think about my days and want to rewrite them as love stories and not how I usually think of them – as an arduous list of tasks. The kids seem like they grow and learn through relationships, so I think they will be fine.

    And, I signed up for the daily dot….hopefully that means cullen can spend more time making you PW, because he is gaining traction with his site by just being at your place. I think he owes you.

  8. Gib Wallis
    Gib Wallis says:

    This is an adorable post but it definitely breaks the mold for advice.

    Penelope’s Co Worker Dating Guide in 11 Easy Steps

    1. Start a new job.
    2. Become an investor
    3. Quit
    4. Find a cutie using Gen Y networking tools
    5. Get the cutie a contract position and fly him out
    6. Cutie starts contract on site
    7. COO creates no cohabitation policy
    8. Co-mingle all your possessions with new co-worker contract cutie
    9. The contract cutie receives investor-level benefits but doesn’t work
    10. The CEO gives the contract cutie a poor performance review
    11. The CEO countermands the COOs policy and requires cohabitation

    Of course, perhaps this is really advice on how to date your co-worker and this means the Farmer and the Bulimic Chef (seriously, Penelope, that’s a great idea and I can see the taglines now, “if you’re tasting it twice, it’s got to be great” etc.). Which means that any time your cohabitant LTR makes a rule affecting their property and your children, you can rewrite the rules at will.

    I love the photos.

    Maybe part of the redesign of the blog is refocusing it. Like, it’s now more love and work and working at love and loving at work and loving work than plain career advice.

  9. Marti
    Marti says:

    Change your blog? Gimme a break. Just what the world needs – another farm wife blog with recipes. What we DO need is what we got — a schizophrenic blog that bobbles around among personal tidbits, career advice, observations and comparisons of life on a farm in Wisconsin and life in NYC, child and chick and lamb raising, and the dailiness of life with a new relationship, and with a screwball girlfriend. I don’t need recipes. I got enough recipes. I need more gossip. And career advice. Let the young lad expend his energies on Melisa and his startup. Leave your blog alone.

    • Jani
      Jani says:

      I mostly agree. What I love most about this blog is the gossip-toned advice mingled with your life, Penelope. As for redesigning though, I totally understand that. It’s like changing your hair color, or redecorating the living room to suit whatever phase of life you’re in right now. Sometimes these are the very things that free us up from the past and help to usher in the next phase.

  10. ResuMAYDAY
    ResuMAYDAY says:

    Your posts always make me sad for your marriage. Your husband is allowing strangers to reside in his home, and all he does is make simple rule: to keep the sexual relationship out of the house. Melissa and Cullen couldn’t abide by that small and sensible request, so YOU completely turned the rule on its head by telling Melissa to do the opposite of what your husband wanted. I have to wonder how he feels about that. Marriage isn’t easy but it seems like you go out of your way to make it more difficult than it needs to be. I’m sorry – and I’m always rooting for you – but that’s my takeaway from reading this post. It seems that you and the Farmer were doing well with mutual respect, and then Melissa moved in.

    • dl
      dl says:

      Mutual respect and getting along? What would Penelope write about if that’s all there was? She had to bring Melissa in for reader interest. And now Cullen, for even more.

  11. Sosympl
    Sosympl says:

    agree with Gib… no recipes, no country living, … stick with career advice; dating/life tidbits, etc. It’s entertaining too…don’t lose that.

  12. Jill
    Jill says:

    What a great love story in fast-forward. I’m not a romantic at all, so the way you just took charge, told them what to do, and stripped all the romance out of the thing, is just, well, romantic in it’s own right.

    Keep us updated.

  13. Devon Shane
    Devon Shane says:

    I think you are so open and generous to share your home like you do – especially with people that won’t share responsibilities – that personally drives me nuts. Your writing makes me want to play with lambs and garden and pick asparagus…thank you for being a continual reminder about the life I crave to live closer to the land – like you do with the Farmer -it’s so easy to get caught up in the rat race and lose track of our authentic desires…

  14. Twister
    Twister says:

    I follow your blog, I don’t follow the pioneer woman. Does that count for something? Although before your blog was kind of blue and I liked it better than the orange…too stark

    I like the term incompetent elite. I once had a camper who had never swept because her “fillipino does that”….NOT FOR LONG! That broom was in her hands faster than you can say “Kamusta!”

  15. sophie
    sophie says:

    Cute story. Except for a couple of things: Please, please, PLEASE don’t copy Pioneer Woman. Everyone tries to copy her, and it’s so cliche. Even she herself has become cliche. Don’t copy her. Be yourself.

    Secondly, I’m becoming more and more impressed by the Farmer every day. He’s becoming a very good dad. Good for him for not wanting the Melissa/Cullen sex in the house.

  16. zan
    zan says:

    i love this. i want to live this life for about 17 days, with an adorable farmer and a lush garden and a couple of smart young kids to be shielded from silly, sexy friends. and fresh produce to feed a fertile brain.

    on the 18th day, i’d run back to LA to see if i’d forgotten anything.

  17. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Pioneer Woman’s blog format is very confusing. You have no idea where the blog part is among all these links.

    Part of that is because she is a jack of all trades. You are a writer. Your blog needs to be a writer’s blog.

    • dl
      dl says:

      Pioneer Woman isn’t a jack of all trades: she’s a jack at marketing and managing. There’s no way one woman can do all she’s doing. She’s got a whole network going there with lots of people contributing to what we see on the screen as her. Think early years Martha Stewart.

  18. Geli
    Geli says:

    I can’t believe that so many people would object to them
    having sex in the house. It seems, every age group has it’s
    religious hang-ups – amazing!
    I just wonder how long the farmer is putting up with the
    city folks….

    • Skweekah
      Skweekah says:

      Yeah I remember that time too. How sad it was. And, how disfunctional to treat sex so taboo. It’s not like youre doing crack!

  19. Michael
    Michael says:

    Perhaps I am the only one who thinks it is odd to jump in bed with someone because they show up or spend two days with you in the same structure.

    There was a time when sex wasn’t handed out freely like samples in Costco.

    There was an actual investment and commitment. Some even called it marriage.

    • Magalita
      Magalita says:

      Well, not everyone feels sex is something that has to be earned. Read Paying for It by Chester Brown for an interesting perspective on sex. I don’t think it’s our job to judge people’s sexual behaviour.

  20. Tanya
    Tanya says:

    I love that your posts make me think. This one made me ask, “Why do we lie to children about relationships and sex?”

    I don’t have a strong opinion one way or another – I can see both sides of the coin on this one, but this post brought up that question for me and makes me think that I will probably be more honest with my son when the issue arises at our house.

    • ResuMAYDAY
      ResuMAYDAY says:

      Let’s not forget that many, many times PT has written about how consistency is extremely important in her sons’ lives. Melissa and Cullen drop out of the sky and when their next adventure presents itself, they will go away. For many reasons, I think the Farmer was right on point about this one. Some may call it romantic while others call it a careless abandonment of self-control around children.

  21. kathy
    kathy says:

    I love the mis-aligned boobs on the dress form, like it’s made to fit a dress for a real person. Did you make it? ‘Cause that’s exactly how an extremely literal person would make a dress form for an actual woman who hangs slightly lower on the right. I’ve never seen a dress form before that isn’t exactly perfectly balanced in every respect, and therefore useless for people who want a dress that fits.

  22. Stu Langley
    Stu Langley says:

    Admit it, Penelope, you are trying to turn your farm life into a BRAVO channel TV script. I hope you succeed.

    We really do need some fresh and funny stuff to watch on the tube.

  23. Diana
    Diana says:

    I don’t think Pen blogs so that a bunch of strangers can judge her. Come on people, be entertained!!
    Pen, I live on a farm, and I need some coding done. You just send little ol’ Cullen off to me!

    • MJ
      MJ says:

      EVERYONE blogs for an audience, which means that people judge the bloggers. It is what it is. At least it’s honest to have comments and leave up the critical ones (versus the bloggers who tell all and then get into “I know you are but what am I” with critical commenters – put up or shut up, or go private, folks).

  24. Hazel
    Hazel says:

    I’m not sure if you’ve been tweaking this new blog, or if I’ve just become accustomed to the change, but I’m starting not to miss the Brazen Careerist look.

    The photos are flowing better.

    I’m wondering about your money situation, was the book profitable? What is happening with your new company? I’ve been enjoying goat cheese less.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Good question about money, Hazel. It’s always an issue for me. I get stable with money, then I have a new business idea and then I get unstable. A startup is always unstable financially. There never seems to be an exception because the entreprenurial mentality is to put too much into a company. Too much time, energy, faith, money, everything. I do it over and over again, like a disease.

      That said, the business is going great. The book sold so well that investors take it as proof that I can sell goat cheese. (Correlation unclear in everyone’s mind but the investors’, I think. But whatever.)

      And I love the problems of a startup. I think life is full of problems. We choose the problems we can tackle. Most people would hate the tummult of a startup. like, where is my money coming from, how can I have faith that somehow I’ll make a good company, how can I believe I’ll do something good for Zach and Mitch when I have no idea what I’m really doing. These are all nagging questions that actually feel comfortable to me.


  25. Chris
    Chris says:

    I think maybe you’re on the path to turning the farm into a new-millenium Bloomsbury.

  26. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    This post is interesting from the perspective of mixing friendship with business. The lines can become blurred and the path(s) can be difficult to navigate. I hope everything works out for all concerned.

  27. Lori
    Lori says:

    ah, from the title i thought this post was going to be about you and the farmer. being married and working at home makes you coworkers even if you have different projects, imo.

  28. CS
    CS says:

    Sweet post! I’m happy for Melissa!

    I am super cute and only pick up emotionally unavailable a-holes and retarded married guys who want to have their cake and eat it too. Where the hell’s my CULLEN!?

  29. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    Cullen is freaking adorable. Of course you’ve probably ruined their chances as a couple by putting all this pressure on.

    Did you digitally manipulate that first photo with Melissa and the flowers? I thought they were plastic flowers, at first. And Pioneer Woman can go suck it. She’s a brand, not a person – you are both. You don’t really want to be Betty Crocker, do you?

  30. Stephanie@MyThornsHaveRoses
    Stephanie@MyThornsHaveRoses says:

    Love this whole story. Your pictures are super vibrant. The flowers are soo colorful. It’s my life-long dream (and my man’s thankfully) to get on a farm eventually. Feel free to send me a plane ticket to come visit and get ideas. (or just to stalk you really) I love both yours and PW’s blogs but I don’t regularly read hers because your farm life is much more interesting. I need the crazy along with the simple domesticity. And yes…I’d kill for a blog layout like hers.

  31. Jane
    Jane says:

    Penelope, Yes, life of the farm sounds very interesting, and since I grew up on a farm, it also sounds very familiar. Your photos are quite good, as well. However, I’m really wondering about when the books I ordered might arrive?

  32. Leslie
    Leslie says:

    Your beautiful photos make it look like you are running a scintillating B&B. With so many people telling Melissa they wished they lived on a farm it sounds like a destination resort–sort of. This could be a side business and maybe more fun than the Pioneer Woman.

  33. Geli
    Geli says:

    Haha, the comments on this blog are almost as amusing as the
    blog itself! I agree with …..(forgot who it was) who said
    that the farmer needs his own blog. Wouldn’t this be a riot?

  34. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    Pioneer Woman’s blog looks like it came from one of the thousand WordPress themes that are available–which isn’t to say that’s a bad thing necessarily. I don’t particularly like how it’s presented except when I look at it as satire, then it flies.
    One of my favorite posts ever that you’ve done. Sometimes things work (for awhile) even when lots of socially acceptable rules are being broken. Spring has sprung. Thanks, P.

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