Parenting

Respect is Earned

There was a moving Tiktok video that came across my Facebook feed earlier this week of a young mother who was pleading for help. The beautiful but exacerbated woman had a scratch of blood dripping down her cheek. She was on the brink of crying but spent a few moments relaying the challenges of parenthood.

To summarize, her child had a meltdown in the middle of a public library. The humiliated mother carried her child kicking and screaming out to the car. The little one clawed at the mother’s facemask, tore it off and threw it at strangers. When I could see the overwhelming emotion in her eyes, I wanted to reach through the screen and hug her.

Most mothers at some point in time have come across a moment of total bewilderment. When exhaustion, frustration, and humiliation collide and they feel that their child’s behavior is the fruits of their parenting style. It’s been scientifically proven that how you raise a child has a direct correlation with how they handle events in their life, but there are exceptions to the rule. There is no such thing as a human being that doesn’t make mistakes. A lot of the time kids have no idea how to handle their emotions and they use their behavior to express themselves accordingly.

There have also been cases where children had loving families but (as anyone who enjoys crime shows will tell you), even amazing people can raise children who grow up to do terrible things. There have been some pretty horrible parents in the world who managed to raise children who grew up to be incredible people despite the negative effects that their parents had on them. The age old nature vs nurture argument still prevails and all we can do as parents is the very best that we can. Chances are if you’re begging others for parenting advice you’re already a pretty great parent… because you care.

I am not a child rearing expert. I have only had one child of my own, and several foster children that I helped raise due to the fact that my grandmother has been a foster mother almost all my life. When I give parenting advice, it’s important to keep all of this in mind. Anything that I have to share comes from my own personal experiences and every child requires something unique.

One sunny afternoon my sweet kind hearted, adorable three year old boy turned into a monster. The kind of monster that left me hiding in my bedroom closet. I stood there in the dark sobbing feeling exactly like that poor mother on Tiktok. My son had an outburst where I had told him not to do something and without warning, he began screaming at me. In his frustration to communicate he hit me, and kicked any part of my body that his little legs could reach. It was a behavior I had never seen in him before or ever would have tolerated.

While taking a moment to catch my breath, I returned to our living room to discover that my son pulled soot out of our fireplace and smeared it angerly all over our plush sofa and into the carpet. My living room looked like a crime scene within a matter of seconds. I was livid! He then caught me off guard when three of the most horrible words left his sweet little mouth.

“I HATE YOU!”

I sent him to his room for a much needed time out because I could feel anger surging through me like a wildfire. The flames were licking away at my resolve to hold onto my sanity and I struggled to push down the rage that was pulsing its way through my chest. Once in his room, I could hear him kicking the walls, tearing things apart, and throwing precious belongings that my husband and I had diligently saved to buy him. Meanwhile I went back into my bedroom closet to have yet another panic attack over my failures as a parent. While standing alone in the dark, I quickly dialed my mother’s phone number for reinforcements. As usual she gave me the most amazing pep-talk and some pretty fabulous advice.

Who’s the adult in the house?” she asked firmly.

“I am.”

Who’s more stubborn?”

“I am.”

“Go back out there, get creative and act like the adult that you are. Don’t let him see you cry, and don’t you dare let him win.”

I hung up the phone, washed my face so he would have no idea that he had gotten the best of me, and came up with a plan. Respect needed to be earned. My son knew better despite his age and this moment was the perfect time to set new boundaries. If he wanted to make messes, he could learn to clean them up. So I called him out of his room, got a bucket of soapy water and a sponge and put the boy to work.

We carpet shampooed, scrubbed the sofa, mopped the kitchen floor on our hands and knees, cleaned the bathroom, and tackled baseboards. He didn’t do it alone. I was right there with him guiding him on the art of washing dishes by hand and teaching him the proper way to use a broom and dustpan. While we worked I came up with a phrase that I now use all the time.

“It’s easier to choose kindness over being disrespectful, because when respect is lost… you can only earn it back when you work hard to deserve it.”

At three years old I shortened it to something like- “It’s easier to be good than to be bad, because being bad is hard work.”

By the time we were finished my boy was exhausted and my house had never looked better. Did he always do the job perfectly? No. He was three years old. Yet the job got done and I re-did what needed perfecting. Later that night he put his little arms around my neck and apologized for everything he put me through earlier that day. He couldn’t find the words to explain why he had done what he did but that didn’t matter anymore.

I learned very quickly that parenting using hard work as a way of reprimanding my son was far more effective (for us) than yelling. That’s not to say I’m perfect and never yell. Trust me! Yet as he grew I utilized things like, running laps up and down the driveway, hauling manure, pulling weeds from the garden, and other tasks that wouldn’t normally have been on his list of chores. The change I saw in his behavior was measurable.

At seven years old my son now notices when I’m feeling stressed or having a bad day. He will often choose to do extra chores on his own to show that he loves, appreciates, and respects me. He does this in the same manner as carefully choosing which wildflowers to pick for my surprise bouquets (my favorites of course). One week I had been feeling exceptionally overwhelmed from being sick for a long period of time. I had been struggling to keep up with my responsibilities of being a mom, balancing farm chores, and managing housework while my body was failing me. I laid down to take a nap and woke up to a spotless house.

My son had cleaned the living room. He pulled a chair over to the sink to wash dishes, vacuumed the floors, mopped, and even dusted underneath books and decorative knickknacks. I was overjoyed that he went above and beyond and I felt an overwhelming sense of pride (that he felt as well)! He’s not perfect (neither am I). He still has moments where he doesn’t feel like doing something and will complain or choose to be lazy.

He still gets mouthy from time to time so we have to revisit his chores list as needed. Yet over all, this method has helped him to see respect as something he has to earn rather than something that’s freely given to him. He is always kind to kids at school. He volunteers to help his teacher clean up after other students, and when he see’s trash laying in a parking lot or at a park… he will clean up after adults who should honestly know better.

As he grows it wont stay this easy. In fact, we will have to revisit this lesson many times as he moves from boyhood into being a teenager. I’m sure that I will also have to get more creative as time marches forward and the chemicals in his brain begins to change. However, up until this point… this technique has built character within my son that many kids his own age don’t have.

I am looking forward to seeing how it plays out in the future. In the meantime, I judge other mom’s far less. When I see a struggling mother on the brink of losing her mind, I make a point to tell her how incredible she is. I hope that you decide to do that too.

Nikolai with our dog Moosey
Nikolai & Moose in Savannah GA
Nikolai in our canoe after fishing 🎣
Health and Wellness

The Value in Being Validated

I am no stranger to doctor appointments or hospital visits. My favorite primary care physician once told me that my medical records were so interesting that he took them to bed with him as reading material. I laughed and told him that interesting wasn’t the word I’d use to describe them. I’m thirty five years old but before my twenty fifth birthday I had already had several close calls with death. I’ve seen more specialists in the past seventeen years than most people see in a lifetime. Yet if you had asked what the hardest part about being sick has been for me… I would have told you that it was going through the motions unheard.

I would spend weeks or months counting down the days until my next big doctor appointment. I would carefully make a list of talking points, plan out what I was going to wear, and even decide what kind of makeup to use… all because my life depended on it. Within the few minutes of meeting a new doctor and going over my case with them I could tell whether or not they were going to write me off. If I looked too pretty I was labeled as having psychological issues instead of physical ones. If I wasn’t put together enough, I was (in their mind) a possible drug seeker. If I looked too young… I was a healthy woman physically but a hypochondriac, or a woman who had severe anxiety problems and a nervous stomach.

If the doctor chose within those first five minutes to write me off, then the process of finding someone else and having to wait for an appointment time would start all over again. It would pull me back into the cycle of trying (and failing) to manage symptoms on my own over and over again. I would pin all of my hopes on receiving a diagnosis or finding a doctor who would take a moment to hear me out. Someone that could possibly provide me with the knowledge and power to change my life for the better. Yet when those hopes were dashed… I wanted to claw my way under the silver and white comforter on my bed and stay there.

To say that my quality of life was significantly diminished would have been an understatement. At one point I weighed sixty four pounds… total. I knew if I didn’t fix it, I was going to die. While trying to figure out why I couldn’t hold food down, my doctors discovered by accident that I had a kidney disease. From vomiting, to severe weight loss (then later rapid weight gain), to random fevers, OBGYN trouble, unusual swelling in my limbs, heart and blood pressure issues, to kidney trouble, vertigo, unconsciousness and beyond. Every day of my life was a challenge (and still is).

I can count the doctors I credit for giving me hope again on one hand. Not a diagnosis. Just the ability to have hope that someone was willing to fight for me. When compared with the money spent seeing hundreds of doctors throughout my life… it’s a tragedy. All they had to do to be counted was to take the time to listen. I had more respect for the OBGYN who tried to think outside the box than I did for the OBGYN who brushed off my suffering and told me to only come back and see her when I had my yearly physical exams.

Upon being sent to a cardiologist recently, I sat in the waiting room with one foot out the exit. Having experienced things like severe high blood pressure, unconsciousness, heart palpitations, forgetfulness, feeling jittery, and my hands shaking uncontrollably… my husband pushed me to be seen by a specialist. My husband was afraid that I would have a stroke, but I was afraid that it would end up being another useless endeavor.

This time will be just like all the others” I told myself as I tapped my foot impatiently. I was so sure of it.

I felt that it would be a total waste of time and that our money was better spent elsewhere. Another long battle to find the right doctor to figure out how best to fix me (with medication) or to help me learn to live with my new symptoms. When I was finally ushered into an exam room, I started answering questions being fired at me by the nurse. Ten or fifteen minutes went by after she had left, a short elderly gentlemen entered. He announced that he was my doctor but I only felt relieved because I couldn’t wait to get the whole thing over with. He started off by asking me if I still had fevers. I’d been struggling with them again for several days.

How did he know about that?” I wondered thoughtfully.

He went into great detail about reading my medical history all the way through my time spent at Mayo Clinic many years ago. I began to feel impressed, most physicians wouldn’t take the time to get that far. He went over my kidney disease, my stomach illness, and even read the report that had my autoimmune specialist puzzled. I discussed being a wife and a mother while trying to find balance with my health. I talked about having a small farm, and struggling to accomplish daily tasks. I revisited times when I had left a shopping cart full of groceries sitting inside a store so I could return home quickly in order to rest. I didn’t have to say anything he didn’t already know, but he listened anyway.

When we got done discussing my case, he looked me in the eyes, touched my hand and said “I can’t fix everything, but I think I can help you.”

My eyes overflowed with emotion, fat drops stormed down my cheeks. I sobbed and asked him if I could hug him before wrapping my arms around his shoulders. After we discussed testing, treatments, and follow-up appointments, he bowed his head and prayed with me. Before I left he said I seemed like a kind woman who just wanted her life back. His words planted seeds of hope not because he knew what was wrong with me, but because he spent time listening. He made me feel safe and he validated my concerns. I walked out of his office feeling like I didn’t have to carry my burden alone anymore. Someone was on my team.

You don’t have to be a doctor to validate someone. You just have to be the kind of friend who listens. It takes such little effort on our part to change someone’s life by letting them know that they are being heard. To remind them that they have someone on their team. We get so wrapped up in our own lives that we forget to nurture others. Just the other day I caught myself making this grave mistake while I was talking to my mom and I had to correct myself. The true value in being validated is that burdens become lighter when they’re shared. If you really want to see someone bloom… take the time to listen and plant seeds of validation.

Roses from my garden
Some of my favorite garden blooms
Helping others bloom will add to the joy in your life
Parenting

When Bad Things Happen With Good Intentions

I wasn’t with her during the intense moment of impact but I can easily envision the turn of events that led to the accident. I could see Izzy waving from the car window before leaving home for work. Her blonde curls bouncing behind her coach shades, her floral top rippling as she rolled the window back up. I could see Bambi her big German Shephard sitting in the back seat, bubble-gum pink tongue rolled in a pant and dripping with saliva. I had missed seeing the back half of her car sitting in my driveway in the early hours of the morning. I had to slam on my breaks when I heard that I had tapped her vehicle with mine and I could feel the guilt rising in my chest.

I truly felt that the moment I had tapped her car would be the worst thing I was going to have to face that day. Waking her up to tell her that I backed into her very first car that she had ever owned was something I dreaded doing with every step I took towards the front door. I had to make a plan to right my wrong. I was trying to work up the nerve to explain myself to her while mentally preparing for how she was going to take it. In the end, she was so thoughtful and sweet about it that I had a hard time accepting my own actions. Had I been on the receiving end, I doubt that I would have been quite as gracious. I left to take Nikolai to school feeling blessed by her loving kindness.

I was wrong though. Wrong that this moment would be the hardest thing we faced that day. Instead just fifteen minutes after witnessing her leave for work, glass particles were flying through the air like tiny pieces of shrapnel. Her big beautiful dog was saved only because the back seat laid flat and kept the poor animal from becoming a projectile. The airbags never deployed and her body went into survival mode as her car skid several feet through the intersection.

She had plans to drop Bambi off at her boyfriend’s (Matt) house before making her way to work. She was driving down the highway when a blue van failed to stop at a stop sign and plowed right into her little Prius. Oh how she loved the gas mileage on that car! I watched her laugh when people tried to tease her for driving it and she would toss quips back at them about how far she could drive on a single tank of gasoline. Isabell has always been like that. She could take the insults as much as she could dish it out.

The driver and passenger of the blue van were an elderly couple. They somehow missed the stop sign when they ran through the intersection. A motherly stranger who witnessed the accident shakily made their way to Isabell’s side to see if she was alright. The van was totaled and Izzy’s car wouldn’t even turn on to pull it onto the shoulder of the road. The stranger took Izzy’s phone from her hands and helped her make calls to her boyfriend, her mom, her sister, and myself.

“Lish, I need you to know that I’ve been in an accident. My car is totaled, my body hurts all over, but I’m okay. Bambi and I are both okay. Matt is on his way to sit with me until the police arrive and I have paperwork to do but I’ll keep you posted. Don’t worry.”

“Don’t worry?” I repeated.

I could hear her voice quivering but I could also hear the confidence in her underlying tone. I was absolutely worried. In fact, I was so worried that I could feel my stomach churning and I thought I was going to get sick. She’s the daughter I never had. There was no way I was going to refrain from being worried about her. I changed her diapers when she was little. I dressed her up in pretty dresses and called her mine. She’s as much my daughter as my grandmother’s who adopted her. I urged her to go to the hospital and get looked at. I knew she was going to be hurting in the days ahead and we formed a plan on how she would get through the accident step-by-step.

I spent several hours trying to wrap my head around having almost lost her after she sent me the images from the accident. I felt confused about why her airbags never went off, thankful that her seat snapped backwards to protect Bambi, and grateful to the elderly couple who felt nothing but remorse over their mistake. It could have worse. I could have been planning a funeral for my girl.

The hours that went by after the accident and the many phone calls we took back and fourth to our family members had me reflecting on the events throughout that day. What are the odds that I would tap her car with mine and hours later she would be in such an accident as this one? What if it had been a different accident in a different place and time? What if Bambi had been in the front seat? What if the airbags needed to deploy in order to have saved her life but they never did?

Sometimes we have to accept that bad things happen for very good intentions. As inconvenient as moments like this one are, any change to her routine that morning could have left me with the responsibility of planning her funeral rather than helping her plan for the future. A car is replaceable, a human being or beloved furry family member is not.

I’ve had similar moments myself. One day I spent an hour trying to locate one of Nikolai’s shoes before making a trip through Atlanta to spend quality time with my husband. I felt flustered after having torn the house apart only to discover it at the bottom of a toy box. When we were finally well on our way, we passed a five car pile-up in the middle of the highway. Had we left when we planned… it would have put us right in the middle of the entire thing. The accident had at least one casualty that day but because of a missing shoe, we weren’t one of them.

Life is full of stories like this one. Stories of near accidents that kept people alive, there’s also some pretty amazing books about 9-11 survivors with similar themes as well. We don’t always know when things like this will happen. Sometimes people find themselves leaving the house early because they set their alarm clock wrong and something happens within moments of them leaving the scene. I always try to remind myself of times like this when something comes along to disrupt the way I plan my day. We often have more to be thankful for than we realize.

farm life

Bad Luck

Life is sometimes a steady stream of unfortunate events with occasional silver linings. I once had a “friend” tell me that I was the only person she had ever meet that had such rotten luck. My “friend” went on to say that perhaps the universe was attempting to right a wrong that I somehow brought upon myself. I disagree.. I believe that hardships are given to people who will use them to bring about the most good. Be it growing as a person, having the opportunity to help someone else, or impacting someone else’s day in a kind of butterfly effect. I think God gives us more than we can handle so that we will lean on Him and on one another. That doesn’t mean I manage hardships well.

Last week I sat in my car soaking up the sunshine that I hadn’t seen in days. I was hanging out in the Aldi parking lot while eating macaroni and cheese by using two fingers to scoop it from the bowl into my mouth. The fast food chain had forgotten to give me a fork so I ate like an animal because I didn’t get the chance to eat anything throughout my highly stressful day. The ease of my morning consisted of opening my eyes but it went in a downward spiral from there.

Positivi•tea

It was still dark and I was exhausted from the night before so I decided against wearing a bra to drop Nikolai off at school. I had never done that before because I prefer to be fully dressed. It’s never fancy but a pair of leggings, gum boots, and a pull over sweatshirt will do and I NEVER leave home without my bra and a clean pair of panties. Until this moment.

“Nobody is going to notice!” I told myself. “I’m not even going to be getting out of my car or leaving the front seat.”

Down the bumpy dirt road we went when I suddenly heard “POP! Hissssss” and I cringed. It didn’t sound good. I remained hopeful until I hit blacktop when I heard “Thump, thump, thump”. I had a flat tire. The jack in my car needed to be replaced so I knew that I was going to have to call Triple A. The first and only time that I decided to leave the house without a bra left me waiting to introduce myself to total stranger with my boobs flapping in the icy winter breeze (so to speak). I felt humiliated.

Thankfully Izzy saved the day by getting Nikolai to school on time while I waited three hours for Triple A to arrive. When they finally showed, a rickety older gentleman with a balding head and white hair wobbled out of his big rig to lend me a hand.

“I’m not the best at fixing flat tires. I’m not as young as I use to be.” He stated after staring at me as if I was somehow going to be more qualified.

“I’m sorry! I’d fix it myself if I could but my jack is broken as it is and I’m not sure if I’d be able to get the lug nuts off. That’s why I called you.”

He grumbled under his breath about his aching knees and his back being in pain but he got to work. We checked to see if the tire would hold air but we could hear it whooshing through a hole in the sidewall. It had to be replaced. I grabbed the spare and rolled it over to him. When my car finally had four ties on again, he hopped up into his rig and went on his way.

The problem was that when I pulled out onto the highway to get to the tire shop… my steering wheel began to shake violently. At 30 miles per hour I felt my spare tire rattling underneath me. I pulled over onto the shoulder to have a look at all four tires. No more flats. I checked the lug nuts on my spare, Nice and tight. Yet my gut knew that if I didn’t get it fixed at the first tire shop I came to… I was going to be back down to three wheels again.

I had multiple places that I needed to be all at one time and yet there was only one of me. I had a short window to get Nikolai to school, to run farm errands, to grab food for school lunches, drop everything off at home, pick Nikolai back up, and make our way to the vet. Tallulah had a spay consult over an hour away and we would barely make it to the appointment as it stood. Not to mention I needed to troubleshoot why the generator wasn’t triggering the well pump to click over and I still had farm chores to finish. I wasn’t handling the stress well.

By the time I got to the repair shop my spare tire felt like it was going to bounce away. The good news was that I survived. I made it in one piece and it wasn’t going to cost me nearly as much as I had anticipated. The downside was peeing in the shop’s gross restroom, seeing a dirty pair of panties laying on the bathroom sink, not having time for this madness, and my life relying on the fate of one tire. The mechanic however, was thorough and efficient. He explained that I was right to worry because a round metal fitting that slipped onto the shaft for the wheel was left on when it should have been removed. It very easily could have left me driving down the road watching my tire pass me by.

I had jitters over seeing my death flash before my eyes on the highway but I shook it off. I only had an hour before I needed to pick up Nikolai from school. I hit up a fast food place where I spent twenty minuets of my one free hour waiting on my food. I ended up going inside to grab it. I relayed the frustration of my day to the clerk who kindly gave me her sympathy along with extra frosting on my blueberry biscuit. No fork for my mac and cheese though.

I ran to Starbucks to get a spare fork and ended up with a chai latte and a cake pop. I had relayed my crazy day leading up to needing a spare fork and the kind woman listened intently. She gasped over me almost not making it to the tire shop, laughed at my bra story, and then to my surprise she offered a free chocolate cake pop to make my day brighter. It worked! I left having forgotten about the fork entirely. I slipped into Aldi to pick up groceries and thats when I found myself using my fingers to eat lunch in the parking lot.

My delicious blue Chocolate cake pop

After Nikolai and I picked up Tallulah, I had to hit up the feed store on our way through the mountains to buy a leash. I was nearly late picking Niki up from school because I had to haul hay to Harlow, and was very late to Tulla’s vet appointment. I couldn’t find her leash anywhere! I called the vet to apologize but they managed to fit us in anyway.

Nikolai and I enjoyed the drive through snow capped mountains, drifting our way though patches of dense fog. There’s something peaceful about driving through clouds. It makes our big world feel tiny and our problems feel important when it obscures everything else around us. Talking to Nikolai about school and friendships made this moment the brightest part of my day. Made more spectacular by amazing wildlife as we watched hawks cliff dive into an ocean of color when the sky was kissed by the setting sun. I was finally starting to feel like myself again.

Incredible mountain sunset

The vet had quoted a price that seemed reasonable when I had spoken to them over the phone. When I took Tallulah to them in person, that’s what I had been expecting.

They said things like “This isn’t an exact price, it’s just an estimate.”

The price that they quoted me at was no more than three hundred dollars max. They did bloodwork, checked her vet records, and gave her a vaccine that they thought she was missing before setting up her surgery date. I planned on paying in advance so I went to check out. That’s when they handed me a bill that was closer to seven hundred dollars. I nearly choked and then canceled all future plans with them. I ended up walking away having paid over two hundred and thirty five dollars just for the exam, an inexpensive vaccine, and her pre-surgery blood work.

Breathtaking mountaintop scenery

I drove two hours to see them and I felt lied to. It’s one thing to be upfront about giving a ballpark number regarding cost. It’s quite another thing entirely to slap someone with a fat bill that wasn’t even close to the “ballpark figure”. Three hundred dollar max was nowhere near almost seven hundred dollars total. The woman at the front desk was rude, dismissive, and disrespectful.

I was so angry that I sat in my car and cried. The day having had one disaster after the next left me feeling overwhelmed and bitter. I drove home sliding from one emotion and into the next. When we finally made it back, I laid in bed and looked for some clarity. Yes, I had a horrible day. I also had Izzy who was able to get Nikolai to school on time, a good mechanic who fixed my car, two strangers who listened to me complain about my day and then tried to rectify it, and a drive through the mountains with my son.

Makes it all worthwhile

It’s really hard to see the good things when you’re wading your way through the bad ones. It helps when you can take a step back to get some perspective. Yet sometimes you just need somebody who will listen to you. I think sometimes I overwhelm my friends when I’m trying to work through things like this. Thankfully in those moments I have an amazing husband, the listening ear of any number of fuzzy farm faces, and a journal with plenty of blank pages.

Not bad for a tough day!
Things could always be worse
Mountains capped with snow are my favorite
Animals

Winkin, Blinkin, Nod, & Night

We have hit the ugly phase of winter where the trees look pitifully dead. Any snow left on the ground has clods of dirt marring it’s purity, and the grass is so saturated with rain that walking turns into wading ankle deep in sludge. With fifty five days left until spring, I find myself cheerfully thumbing through seed catalogs to pour a little sunshine into this tediously gloomy waiting period. I dream up garden fencing ideas, farm life additions in every size, and carefully map out how my cut flowers might grow best for the most lovely bouquets.

Spring is the busiest time of the year for our little farm. Seedlings are started before the last frost hits. Pods of sprouts will line every spare surface in our little house. Large bags of mulch, compost, and rabbit manure is hauled from one area to another. Particularly warm and dry afternoons are allotted to re-staining porches and flower boxes so that that they may look breathtaking once they are overflowing with blooms again. We take care to plan out our vegetable gardens and landscape around them accordingly. The briars are dug up, unwanted trees are cut down, and any hardwood is cut into rounds and stacked to season until winter. Even our stalls and enclosures get a facelift with a fresh coat of paint just in time for new arrivals.

The highlight of spring’s blessings are the tiny poof balls that bathe in our farmhouse sink and follow at our heels during farm chores. Or the long ears and scrunchy noses that we can hold and plant kisses on while they rest in our hands. One year we had around thirty ducks on our little farm. I would sometimes have to take a walk up to my neighbors house in order to chase them all back home again. They thoroughly enjoyed riding down the creek to go exploring.

Some of their quacking sounded more like an old woman cackling, and I’m sure it made for a funny scene to bystanders. My wet red hair piled onto my head, a fuzzy pink bath robe tied at my waist, sporting gum boots and bare freckled knees. A cup of tea probably sloshing over my fingers, while chasing our ducks home who were laughing as I was scolding them. Occasionally my neighbor up the hill will drive by and wave at me while giggling to herself and shaking her head. I’m known as “the animal lady” by everyone in our neighborhood, but there are worse things to be called.

The chickens have already begun to hide their eggs in the funniest of places in order to start nesting. Just the other day when it was unusually warm, I discovered a pair of hazel eyes glaring at me from within Harlow’s round bale. I had reached my hand into the bale to pull hay and nearly jumped out of my skin when I discovered something fuzzy instead. Not a broody hen in sight but instead, our barn cat Tetley was diligently laying on a clutch of colorful eggs hidden within a pocket that Harlow had eaten out of his hay.

Nikolai couldn’t contain his hysteria and announced that Tet would forever be known to him as “Mama Tet”.

We haven’t had bunnies on our farm since last summer when “Jellybean” (Nikolai’s bunny) passed away. Violet our other bunny was so strongly bonded with Jellybean that when her friend passed, she passed shortly after. We truly believe that Violet died from a broken heart. Nikolai was a wreck over it. I had to tell him what happened after I picked him up from school one sunny afternoon. The hardest part about farm life is loss. Loss to predators, loss to ailments, and loss to senselessness. Sometimes animals die and we don’t have a clear cut reason to bring us closure. Nikolai’s arms wrapped around his knees, his voice shook, and the sobbing left him struggling for air.

Our very first bunny was named Fed-a-lot and we called her Lottie. She was deeply loved by all who knew and meet her. She was a Giant Flemish Rabbit who was the size of a small dog. She lived in our house and knew how to open her cage door to run around and play. She would thump her foot when she wanted cilantro and would race you to the refrigerator. She was something wonderful. When she passed we buried her on our farm with a bulb of purple star shaped florals that would bloom yearly and I promised Nikolai that someday we would own another Flemish Giant. Recently when I went to pick up feed at the local feed store, I inquired about bunnies for sale. Nikolai held his breath when I asked about Flemish Giants.

An image I took of our Lottie

“We don’t have any or keep any here… but I can order some for you from our breeder!” The clerk said enthusiastically.

That made Nikolai’s entire week. We spent the car ride home discussing rabbit names. We decided on getting two females and I racked my brain for something clever to call them whenever we got to pick them up. I typically keep a name bank in my head for times when I come across unusual names that we like and I save them up for animals that are exceptional. While leaning in to curvy mountain roads, I recalled a story my Grandmother told me. It was about her mother, four tiny kittens, and a nursery rhyme.

My Grandmother’s father was given a pregnant Siamese cat from a friend that didn’t want anymore cats. The mama cat (who was sweetly named “Siami”), gave birth to four beautiful squirmy kittens. My Great Grandmother (Jessie) had a knack for coming up with unique names for both animals and people. The incredible woman was born with one arm that wasn’t fully developed. With one usable hand she raised several children and was an avid animal lover like myself. Although she had a hard life… she never let anyone call her disabled or say she couldn’t do something. She could hold a wiggly kitten in the crook of her “bad arm” while changing a baby diaper with the other. She stumbled across a nursery rhyme about resting (see poem below) and decided to call the kittens “Winkin, Blinkin, Nod, and Night.” Nod and Night were given away to good friends while Winkin’ and Blinkin’ stayed in the family.

My grandmother told me that Winkie was her cat and he would drape himself around her neck and stay that way for hours. He would climb trees and follow her on walks. Wait for her to get home and spend all day curled up in her lap. As I was racking my brain for bunny names… the story about my Great Grandma and four little kittens flashed into my mind. It was perfect fit. I ran it by Nikolai and he agreed. If we got another black bunny (or two) like Lottie we would name them “Nod and Night” and if not… we would call them “Winkin and Blinkin”.

Baby Lottie in an Easter basket
farm life

A Taste of Ass

I was sitting on my bed in the evening chatting with a photography friend who was asking for advice on image editing. Feeling like I was in my element and thriving over talking shop, I was enjoying every second of our conversation. The snow was finally coming down in fluffy cotton ball puffs and I decided to act like I hadn’t wasted my day waiting to be snowed in by the underwhelming “Snow Storm Izzy”. Feeling rather content, I stretched out under the blankets and wiggled my toes towards the edge of the bed to keep from overheating. I just so happened to gaze back out the nearby window. That was the exact moment when I saw him.

My night was officially ruined. Caspian our miniature donkey was standing on the wrong side of his pasture and was sneakily making his way towards ripping into a feed bag. My heart wanted to stay tuned into my conversation about all the things I had been missing about photography, and my body wanted to stay cozy warm by remaining exactly where I was. Yet my brain was silently screaming “NOOO! OH PLEASE GOD NO!” Instead I called for Nikolai to get ready for battle and hastily hung up with my friend.

“SHOES!!! YOU NEED BOOTS… HURRY HURRY HURRY… We are SO screwed! Don’t forget to find your jacket, it’s super cold. You know what? Just wear daddy’s! Oh mercy where’s my pants?! Pants… pants… LEGGINGS! Oh thank the Lord! Lead rope? Screw it I’ll just grab the dog leash and rig it!”

I don’t think we’ve ever ran so fast down the front steps before. Nikolai almost nipped our sidewalk with his teeth when he tripped on the walkway but I caught him in Rob’s oversized jacket and yanked him upright. It was a close call but Nikolai was unharmed and his daddy’s jacket kept him safe and warm.

“SHHHH!!! Go slow buddy. Seriously, if he knows we’re coming right at him it’s going to be a long night in hell for both of us.” Didn’t I mention before just how unsuccessful bribery is on donkeys? They see right through your every intention. Don’t even bother rattling that bucket of sweet feed. Your Ass will be in the wind after grabbing a mouthful and you’ll down some dollars in feed while watching him run away from you. I’m convinced that they can pick up on our subtle body language and it gives them the unique edge of having mind reading capabilities.

We tried to sneak by, to make him think that perhaps we were busy doing something else. Like… feeding the chickens. I even hid the dog leash behind my back. No rope catching abilities here man! He knew this game though and he was way better at playing it than me. His head popped up, his eyes widened, nostrils flared, and then… he was gone. He first headed down the dirt road (which leads out to the main road) and all I could do was pray. He may be roughly 350 pounds, but he’s 350 pounds of pure Asshole. Caspian once attacked my friend’s horse and nearly bit her mare’s ear off.

We CALMLY walked after him so as not to spook him. I could see him thinking about giving in. He walked towards us, and stopped halfway. For a moment I thought to myself “Maybe tonight wont be so bad after all!” Yet I quickly realized that I had sealed our fate. Caspian darted off towards Harlow’s stall and up the pathway into the woods that led up the mountain. This had the potential to be far worse than him running down the road. Harlow (our big paint horse) slipped his head over the stall door. His black forelock dappled with flecks of white snow danced over one eyelid. Pieces of hay dangled from his fat lips while his jaw chewed on it thoughtfully – the equivalent of someone eating popcorn to watch the show. He looked SO pretty in the evening light but I didn’t get the chance to enjoy it.

I could hear tiny hooves pounding though dead leaves. Tallulah, who had just joined us, looked like she had flames coming from her paws as she skid to make a tight turn. One second I could see them and the next I was searching the woods for hoof prints in the dusting of snow. I could barely track them because the snow on the ground was melting faster than it was falling from the sky. We hiked all the way up the mountain until we could see the roof of our house. I held Nikolai’s hand tightly in mine but we kept slipping down the steep embankment.

After a breathless hike, we finally found Caspian surrounded by trees near the drop off. The smell of sweet pine wafting around us. He looked like a mountain goat. Our chests were heaving, our lungs were choking on cold air, but Caspian just stood there. His hooves on the edge of the rocky cliff like the jackass from “The Lion King”.

I thought that if I came directly at him that he might decide to jump, but Caspian (being a donkey) was way too smart. He saw my fear and took a short cut by sliding on his rump like a sitting dog, ALL the way back to the very bottom. How he missed being nailed by trees I’ll never understand, but he cocked his head to look back up at me with a satisfying glare. He was unwilling to relinquish his freedom for the safety of his pasture. He dared me to take Nikolai and follow but the dare was without question, a threat.

I decided against risking a neck or leg injury that may leave us stranded on the mountain by taking the long way down. Meanwhile, Tallulah followed Caspian without hesitation while snarling at his heels. We FINALLY made it back to the house where my villain was snatching up a mouthful of vibrantly green grass. Ears pinned at Tallulah who was stalking him, he twisted his neck back around to get a better look at us. I blinked and I was back to chasing my Ass who was playing ring-a-round Harlow’s Stall with me. Down the pathway he ran once more, and right back up the mountain again. Nikolai’s legs and mine wanted to die.

He ran back down just briefly as we were starting the daunting hike to get back up the mountain to catch him. This time Nikolai and I had to slide on dead leaves to get out of his way. He ran right at us. Tallulah was committed to chasing him back home but Caspian found a way to outsmart her. He darted one direction before making a sharp turn and running right back at us for the second time. Literally hauling Ass all the way back up the mountain for the third (and what I hoped would be the last) time.

Behind our property is almost 700 acres of wilderness. There’s a bear who lives up on the mountain on our little farm that we lovingly named “Winnie.” As angry as I was (and I was LIVID), I didn’t want to hear Caspian screaming from being eaten. I also didn’t want to leave him and have him find his way home half starved. So back up the mountain we went, and back down we came in a similar fashion… with Caspian ten steps ahead and an empty dog leash in hand.

We ALMOST had him cornered between my car and the rocky hill that leads up to the other mountain on the other side of our house. Unfortunately for me, Caspian’s goat skills kicked in. With the athletic ability of a cat… he leapt up the steep rocks faster than I could wrap a leash around his neck. TWO hours later Tallulah was standing in the paddock with me while Nikolai was guarding the exit. I was in mud up to my ankles on my gum boots but Tallulah and Nikolai helped me successfully lunge Caspian. If he wanted to run… we had to make him run harder.

The only way to get him to stop would be to make him think that it was his idea to do so. The only way to accomplish that was to wear him out. The tricky part is that donkey’s can cover a lot of ground (up to 25 miles a day) and can practically run forever. He would try to trick us by slowing down as if he was exhausted and ready to call it quits, but then surge forward like he had been ignited by a spark of electricity. If we stood too close when we were driving him forward, he would sneakily toss a kick in our direction- the donkey version of flicking us off.

So we ran, and we worked until poor Nikolai was vibrating with chills. I took off my sweater, helped him put it on, and then we worked some more. THREE hours from when I first spotted Caspian outside the window, we were still striving to capture him. Tallulah had mud clumps attached to her belly and her legs were trembling. She was tired but she was more stubborn than Caspian or myself put together. I could smell nothing but equine sweat and hear nothing other than my pounding heart and rising anger. My own legs wanted to give out from underneath me, my muscles spasmed, and I had rolled my ankle several times.

“I SWEAR that when this is all done, I’m officially selling you for dog food! DOG. FOOD! Do you hear me? I will personally, let Tallulah eat you like she eats steak! I have NEVER been so angry in my entire life Caspian.” I meant it… but I also lied. Caspian is an asshole… but he’s MY asshole. He has moments of being the most interesting animal on our little farm. He can even be a sweetheart! He has our farrier convinced that he’s a total love bug (he’s not). His good moments are short lived but his good side IS there. He’s our welcome committee, singing songs that sound more like someone is strangling him… but he belongs to us.

He FINALLY stopped and I slipped the leash into a loop around his neck. You would think that once we caught him the fun would be over. Oh-no. Caspian turned into a dead weight. He was an unflinching stump stuck in the mud and no amount of force would cause him to budge. I pushed. I pulled. I snapped the dog leash into the air behind him to get him moving by spooking him forward. Nope. If he was too tired to run, he would stay exactly where he stood. Thankfully Tallulah saw my struggle and decided to get a mouthful of Ass by nipping at his rump. It took a while but we finally made it to where I could swap him out with Harlow.

I tied the stall door closed with hay bale ties, and took my own tired ass into the house. Nikolai, Tallulah, and I needed to get warm fast. Nikolai was dry from using my sweater but Tallulah and I were covered in frozen goopy dirt clods. I even found mud that had sloshed down inside of my good bra, and streaked up my arms as if I had taken a bath in it. I turned on the shower, stripped, and had Tallulah join me. I gave her all the warm water first and then finished washing myself up with the icy water that was left. By the time I hobbled to bed, Nikolai and Tallulah were passed out already.

The next day I couldn’t put weight on my ankle. I called my Bestfriend Heather to see if she could help me rig Caspian’s pasture again to keep him from getting out. His pasture fencing use to look beautiful but since Caspian is so good at escaping, we had to line his fence with cut down and fallen trees. It’s not pretty but it gets the job done. Isabell helped with the farm chores in the morning and I avoided Caspian for the sake of holding a grudge. Besides that, I was in too much pain to walk out to the stall to see him. I know myself well enough to know that once he puts his nose over the stall door to greet me… I’ll forget all about how I had almost made up my mind to sell him for dog food.

In the words of Terri Clark- “I just wanna be mad for a while.” Having a farm full of animals is fun until you’re chasing your ass up a mountain, in the snow, up hill both ways and back again right? He can wait for me to forgive him sometime tomorrow.

Tallulah done in
He’s an Ass.
He’s cute though!
That time I had all my ducks in a row… almost never happens!
Parenting

Winter Storm Izzy

Isabell had picked up a discounted package of ground beef at our local IGA. She planned on using it to feed “Bambi” (her stunning and very large German Shephard who also happens to be Tallulah’s mom). The majority of people in my household (Rob excluded) are vegetarians, including my son Nikolai. Isabell spent a year working at a butchers shop in Arizona and helped process cows, and I currently raise meat for my husband to eat while helping him to clean and pluck as needed. Nikolai often gives a hand in culling chickens as well. None of us are uncomfortable working with meat or cooking it for others, we just don’t personally eat it.

As Isabell was wrapping up the ground beef to put it away, I reminded her not to forget to finish feeding it to Bambi so it wouldn’t go bad. She assured me that there was no way she was going to forget about feeding Bambi the rest. Nearly a month went by after Izzy had bought the meat for Bambi. Nikolai spent his winter break traveling with me to see Rob so we could spend the holidays together, and Izzy spent her time farm sitting for us, working at Starbucks, and recovering from Covid.

After the storms hit our little farm, all of Rob’s and my available time was spent on damage clean up, medicating Harlow, ER visits, and trying to fix our well. We ate out a lot, made a ton of trips to the hardware store, and slept when we were exhausted. Several times upon opening the refrigerator for a bottle of water, I caught a whiff of something putrid. I spent a good deal of time thinking that maybe a mouse died in our house while we were away. I even spent several hours after cleaning the kitchen trying to figure out where exactly the smell was coming from because it seemed to waft around. Upon further investigation, Rob discovered a half empty rancid container of ground beef. It was so awful that he nearly threw up.

I text Isabell to relay my frustrations and suddenly remembered that she was taking a proctored exam for school. The process involved giving a teacher screen sharing access to her cellphone and computer where she could receive text messages but was unable to respond back to them. Sometimes circumstances beyond our understanding will bestow us with a moment of parental clarity and divine… payback! I finally got the honor of relishing each delectable second of horror and humiliation when this rare opportunity was presented to me. It was too delicious to turn back.

I decided to send another text.
“I’m your emergency contact on your OBGYN forms. They called and left a message for you with me. They said you tested positive for gonorrhea & you’re pregnant. Congratulations on the pregnancy! They sent in a prescription for the gonorrhea, I’ll go pick it up for you later. The hardest part is probably going to be explaining who the babies father is but we’ll get through it, I promise.”

I read the messages out loud to Rob after hitting send. KNOWING her teacher was going to see it pop up across her phone, he was laughing so hard that he couldn’t breathe. Fortunately I was able to calm my own hysteria down long enough to remember that Rob also had a phone. What better way to sell the story than by using two different cell phones? He dug deep into his jacket pocket and even deeper into his soul to really bring it home for me.

“Hey Izzy this is Dad. I just heard from Lish that we are having a baby. Any guess for names? We should carry on our ancestors name of Delbert Stankenshitz.”
Written and sent. All we had to do now was wait for her to call. Less than ten minutes later my phone rang and Izzy’s name popped up.

“I was in the middle of a test! WHY were you blowing up my phone?”

“Did you read the messages?” I grinned

“Oh I read them! My teacher was screen sharing! I’m not allowed to respond or I’ll flunk the test! I can’t believe you did that.” The humiliation in her voice was way sweeter than the smell of rotting meat in my house.

“Remember that ground beef you bought Bambi? Well, my whole house smells like road kill because you didn’t remember to give her the rest of it.” Payback is too lovely to pass up pumpkin.

Isabell laughed “Well, that’s fair. I was sooo confused at first! It all makes sense now. Glad you had your fun!”

Later that same day my phone sent me a notification update on the weather. The winter storm that’s headed to North Georgia could possibly dump anywhere from 3-12 inches of snow. The weather lords and ladies finally came up with a name for it. “Winter Storm Izzy.” I almost choked on my tea. The headlines below that article read that weathermen expected it to impact millions of people across the United States. You know with 100% certainty that the winter storm slamming the south is going to be a messy disaster when it’s named after your daughter. Southerners had better prepare themselves.

I may or may not have written out that last paragraph verbatim onto Facebook while tagging her in the process. I also may or may not have added some beautiful hashtags like #wereallscrewed #evecuatenow as well as #buyallthemilkandbread. When I say “may not”… I mean that I absolutely did and I have no regrets over it. #MyHouseStillSmellsLikeRancidMeat #WeStillLoveHer #NOWwereEaven

Rob & I
Don’t worry! She still loves us 🤪 (Nikolai & Izzy)

Animals, Uncategorized

Tallulah… in boots!

I don’t know what it is about Tallulah wearing boots that brings out the absolute worst in people. I can’t say that she’s brought out the best in people when she wasn’t wearing boots but I can say with certainty that the boots make interactions with other people far worse than usual. It’s as if people see them and suddenly lose their manners.

Tallulah and I can’t go into a store and be left alone. If I go in for a single item, along the way we will get stopped at least two or three times. Can you imagine everyone at a grocery store stopping you to ask you what you’re doing there or trying to be friends with you? If the store is larger and more crowded that number vastly increases. These moments happen even more frequently when Tallulah is wearing her boots. Retrieving one item with her boots on can take us 20 or 30 minutes and we will get stopped by almost every single person who passes by. The conversations go something like this:

                “OH MY GOD!!! How did you get your dog to wear those CUTE boots?!”

                “My dog would NEVER let me do that.”

                “DID YOU SEE THE DOG WEARING BOOTS?!”

                “So umm… are you like a dog trainer or something? I could use your help with my dog.”

                “Why do you have a dog in here?”

                “Is this a Seeing Eye dog?!”

                “Why is your stupid dog wearing boots?”

“What’s wrong with you that you would need a service dog? You look fine.”

“My cousins uncles ex-wife’s sister had a service Dog. I know ALL about how to train them. I’m getting one for myself too.”

I’ve had grown men bark at Tallulah when we’re out and about, in an attempt to get her to react poorly. I’ve had people call me names for having her with me and that was without the boots. Adults have grabbed at her face and pulled her tail and have run up behind her to grab her. She’s half German Shephard and ½ Rough Coat Collie. Their behavior makes for some of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen adults do.

Still, worse yet are the more recent interactions I’ve had while Tallulah was wearing her boots. I needed to take Tallulah into Kroger with me so I could pick up some items. Rob, Nikolai, and I were staying in a hotel while Rob was working on a downed life-flight aircraft that needed his attention and mad skills. As I was driving I could tell that I wasn’t feeling right. My heart was flip-flopping in my chest but I decided to ignore it because I really needed to pick some things up and I knew that I was going to bring Tallulah in with me.

I pulled into a parking space and Rob pulled into a different parking space because we had taken two separate cars. He decided to take himself and our son to Great Clips for haircuts, this way he would look more professional and Nikolai would look cute for school when break was over. I grabbed my wallet, gave Tallulah her command to unload from the car, and off we went.

The second her feet hit the parking lot I had four people staring, pointing, and commenting. No big deal. I use moments like this to help train Tallulah to be at the top of her game. We walked into the store and an employee is squealing with delight at the sight of Tallulah. I don’t feel the best so I ignore it and make a path to the Dog food isle. We get less than one fourth of the way there when a little old man tries to stop me so he can pet Tallulah. Not a problem normally except that I felt off and I wanted to get in and get out. Tallulah ignores him as I taught her to do. I smile politely, Keep my eyes on where I’m going and decided to “Korea” the situation.

While living in Korea in the “Ville,” salesmen would stop us every few feet to sell us something. We quickly learned that while it’s polite in the States to stop and make small talk with some vendors… you wouldn’t get very far in Korea if you chose to do that. You would open yourself up to a haggle over the pricing of an item that you never wanted in the first place. Since vendors line the streets in Korea you would never get to your original destination on time. After making eye contact, every attempt to continue walking would have them stepping in front of you to cut you off and stop you from leaving.

The only way to avoid a situation like that was to smile but keep your eyes focused on where you were going and ignore everything else. If they stepped in to cut you off, you push past them as if you never saw them in the first place. Most people (state side) think you’re too focused to have heard them correctly or that you’re in too much of a rush. It’s better to be rude than to never get where you need to go.

I squared my shoulders, smiled, kept my eyes forward, and disengaged with the man. I cued Tallulah to “Leave it” even though he was trying to pet her as we walked by. The Korea method did the trick and I used it again to get past a group of teenagers. There were a few other adults who also desperately tried to get my attention (and Tallulah’s) but we acted like we were on a mission and we were!

Someone yelled “Are you a dog trainer?!” from somewhere in the store in the store, but Tallulah and I just kept on walking.

We FINALLY gathered up all our items and I was determined to check out quickly. My hands were vibrating. Not from the stress of all the people trying to stop us… but because I didn’t feel well. I ignored my body so that way I could get Tallulah and Nikolai some food but I could tell that I was getting worse. I felt unsteady. Dizzy, and my chest had a horrible pressure that was painful. My hands were trembling harder by the minute. It was really important to get to the car to check my blood pressure and make the decision to possibly take my medicine.

We stood in line to checkout but behind me a small group gathered to get a better look at Tallulah. It was finally my turn to pay. One woman followed me to the self-checkout counter. I tossed my items down to scan them and focused on keeping my breath even. SO much frustrating chest pressure but there was no way I was leaving without my items this time. The woman moved so that she was standing so close behind me that she was breathing on the back of my neck.

                “Hi baby! What’s your name? You’re a cute puppy aren’t you? I love your boots. Come here! Let me pet you. Here sweet baby. You’re too cute in those boots for me not to pet you. Here girl! Come see me. You don’t need to lay there.”

I turned around to look at her and tossed her a disgusted expression. Tallulah scooted closer to me. She felt uneasy. Tallulah’s golden colored ears were constantly flicking in my direction. She looked up at me for reassurance which I rewarded with love and a treat.

“Leave it Tulla.” I cooed over the woman’s outstretched hand.

I was trying to put my card into the pay slot and type in my PIN number. The woman (with no groceries) frustratingly stood past my bubble of what was socially acceptable for strangers and just wouldn’t quit. She stood so close that she was almost touching the back of my head and was looking over my shoulder at the card reader while I was trying to enter my pin. Her eyes then darted back down at Tallulah when she saw that I caught her snooping. I punched in my pin, waited for it to accept my payment, and I gave Tallulah a TON of positive feedback with treats during the process.

“WAY TO GO GIRL!! You did SO well at ignoring the crazy lady! I’m SO proud of you” I said while turning to make direct eye contact with the crazy lady. I then gave Tallulah the cue for us to leave once our grocery bags were securely on my arm. We walked calmly to our SUV. Once we got to the vehicle I opened the back door up and gave Tallulah the cue to hop back in.

A man getting into the vehicle across from mine with his girlfriend in tow, looked over at Tallulah and I. He loudly announced to his partner “Did you see that woman with her stupid dog wearing shoes? I can’t believe she put shoes on a DOG! Some people are so dumb!”

I could have ignored it and walked away. I probably should have but I could feel the anger rising up to heat my throat. I laughed and firmly announced back “We’re right here! My dog is a service dog who’s a lot smarter than you are so I’d watch what you say.”

With that Tallulah was loaded up, tucked in, and buckled. I decided to wait an hour or so before checking my blood pressure because the guy made me angry and I didn’t think that the reading would be accurate. Once we were at our hotel and I had rested for a bit, I decided to check it. My hands were still jittery from not feeling well. My chest hurt, and my heart still felt jumpy. The numbers were 129/101 but I decided to wait a little longer to see if it would come down on its own. I finally caved and took some BP medicine after having woken up later that night to my heart pounding in my chest. My numbers were a lot higher and although it took a while to start working, the medicine helped.

A few days later in the hotel lobby, I was standing at the coffee counter making Nikolai and I a small cup of hot chocolate because I had been feeling a little queasy. We had just taken Tallulah out to use the bathroom and I needed something to sip. Tallulah was sitting quietly waiting for us to get our drinks when a woman behind us piped up and caught my attention.

“Is that dog wearing shoes?! WHY?!”

“Yep! She’s a service dog in training. There’s glass in the parking lot and in the grass where I tried to take her to use the bathroom. She’s wearing boots to protect her feet.” I said with a smile.

                “OH! That makes perfect sense. Plus it probably helps her outrun the drones.”

I stared at her with a blank expression on my face. She looked completely serious. The silence between us grew thick. Nikolai looked at Tallulah, then at the woman, and back at me. Tallulah’s eyes darted from me, to the woman, to Nikolai, and back onto me.

                “Ummm… what?” I said looking for clarification, even though I knew there probably wasn’t any.

                “Yeah! You know… the drones! They’re real. They probably chase her and her boots help her outrun them.”

I grabbed Nikolai’s arm, and wrapped Tallulah’s leash a little tighter around my fingers. I picked up my hot chocolate in the hand that was holding Tulla’s leash while ushering Nikolai to stick with me. I cued Tallulah in that we were making our way to the nearest exit.

                “Why are we leaving so fast mom?” Nikolai asked me

I stared at the woman on our way out and responded “We need to go so we can get very far away from the weird creepy lady.”

Nikolai hit the elevator button and I laughed it off as the doors closed us in and lifted us to safety. Nikolai giggled too. I felt like Tallulah thought the entire thing called for a nap. Instead of sitting in the lobby sipping on our drinks and watching the rain fall (like we had planned), we cozied up to watch some movies on cable TV instead. Tallulah slept on the cool foyer tile for a bit. I was feeling extremely thankful that the bizarre interactions at least gave me something interesting to write about this week.

Tallulah… in boots!
Sleepy puppy
Homesteading, Recipe, Cooking, Snow, Farm, Snow Ice Cream

Cold Weather… in Georgia

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a school shut down for any reason other than snow and Covid. After having grown up in Chicago where the wind-chill could easily drop temperatures to something more closely resembling forty below… I was overtaken by a case of the giggles when I received a text message from Nikolai’s school that read something like this:

                “Due to extreme weather changes, we have decided to delay the school day by two hours this morning. Please drop off students before 9:20 AM. School bus schedules will continue on a normal schedule just on a two hour delay.”   

I sat staring at my phone screen trying to figure out what I was missing. Had it snowed over night? I checked the window and stared out at my driveway. No snow. Was the temp outside that outrageous? I pulled up the weather application on my home screen. Twenty three degrees was the low but it only lasted for an hour and the day was calling for sunshine and clear skies. The school couldn’t possibly be on a two hour delay over a hair below freezing. Could it?! Apparently so! Not a single snowflake to be seen and yet we all got to sleep in because… it was a little cold in Georgia.

By this time I was having fits of laughter. The only time my school in Chicago shut down was if the streets were so full of snow and ice that the plows didn’t have the ability to handle bailing everyone out right away. Even then, at the most it lasted a day… maybe two and we were right back at it as soon as possible. Most of the time school resumed even when our parents thought the roads were still too dangerous.

For fear of an unexcused absence, as kids we waited to be loaded up onto busses. We spent a lot of time waiting at the bus stop in temperatures fit for living in Alaska while blowing hot air into our gloves to heat up frozen fingers. School hallways were covered in muddy icicles that got kicked around. Most of us wore the same fluffy snow boots and snow pants to school multiple days in a row to help us stay warm. Our hair was frizzy from our snow hats and our lockers would barley close but we were there to learn!

More recently I got a weather report on my phone calling for 2-3 inches of snow and ice in North Georgia possibly by this Sunday. I have only seen it snow once on our little farm but it was a magical sight. Snow in Georgia is usually gone by the late afternoon but it’s balmy and delightful instead of bitter cold like it is in Illinois. I’d happily take a snow day to watch Nikolai’s cheeks turn pink as we spend the morning making snow angels and snow men together. I’ve been dying to make him some snow ice cream this year! I’d also happily take an extra two hours of sleep over trying to back down my driveway in the dark to get Nikolai to school in the morning. I am hopefully optimistic that we may get this privilege once more.

Our Easy Homemade Snow Ice Cream Recipe:

Add snow to a bowl

Add milk but only until the snow is packable or a tick more soupy

Toss in a splash of vanilla

Add sugar to taste

Farm life, Homesteading, Horses, donkey, chickens, ducks, geese, farm animals, bears

EverFine & Gasoline

Ever since New Year’s Day we’ve been putting out figurative farm fires about as well as tossing gasoline onto them. From water outages due to our well wiring shorting out, to injured animals, to Covid, and beyond… 2022 is the new 2020. After having Isabell farm sit for us while we took some time to spend the holidays together, we pulled into our driveway to massive amounts of flooding. The farm survived two tornado touchdowns nearby but there was a lot of work to be done to fix the damage.

Both of our main pastures were under water. The creek built up to the bank and then poured into our fields. Our ducks were having the best week ever but our poor cats, dogs, chickens, and equine were swimming in it. Our driveway was all but washed out, there was a waterfall being made out of the leftover hay pile and the cleanup involved wading in horse manure and old hay almost up to our knee caps.

Harlow was my first biggest concern and major worry. The big black and white paint suffered a slip and fall injury (most likely due to fireworks) that left him with a swollen hip on the back end. The flooding and mud gave him white line (a fungal infection in his front hooves) which made him pretty tender on his toes as well. To top it off he just wasn’t acting quite like himself. I was so stressed and concerned for his well-being that I had a panic attack on the way to tractor supply for vet wrap and liniment ointment.

A few days later, after a trip to the vet for pain reliever to help Harlow… my mom and my grandmother in Arizona called to tell me that they both contracted Covid. My grandmother who has severe asthma was struggling to breathe at night on her own and my mom was having a hard time staying awake during the day. Neither one of them was functional. I felt helpless. They were also struggling with water issues on their farm. Despite her high fevers from Covid, my mom was forced to haul water because their water tank kept freezing. I had to call them a couple times a day to check in to ease my concerns. I felt worried that things would take a turn and they may end up hospitalized.

My health was struggling again as well. My blood pressure spikes and heart palpitations made it difficult to keep up with treating Harlow as well as covering the usual farm chores. The cherry on top was that Isabell had also come down with Covid. We had to deep clean the house and social distance from her to keep the rest of us as healthy as possible.

We continued to have issues with our well. Rob spent most of his time at home trying to rewire everything or rig things to be at least more functional for the short term. Meanwhile he had a toothache and a Covid booster to tackle as well as being concerned over my rising blood pressure that was out of control. It was all too overwhelming for both of us. Some days we hid under the blankets in the early hours of the mornings. We whispered and joked that if we never got out of bed than we wouldn’t have to grapple with whatever came at us next.

We built up the courage, had our morning beverages, and pulled our mucking boots over our pant legs. It’s hard to go from losing a friend on Christmas day to all this hitting us at once on New Year’s. Yet when you have a farm there’s no hiding from the work that needs to get done no matter how you feel.   

                “We’re fine! Everything’s fine! Fine, fine, fine. Everpine… EverFine… We’re NOT fine!” Rob joked with me one morning during yet another car ride to the hardware store.

Good farm days are fabulous but bad farm days are horrific. This life is far from laid back or free of hustle. We work hard for everything we have. It’s a different kind of work than that of an office job and a rental property or regular mortgage. You have to make the most with what you have, rig things to work when you can’t make it perfect, and keep moving forward. There are no sick or mental health days when farm work needs to get done.

You know things are turning a corner when your biggest problem of the day is an escaped horse who stuffed his face in dog food. There was no misstep to Harlow’s gate once he was feeling more like himself again. He decided to ditch his pasture for greener grass as soon as he realized that his electric fence was down for the day. He simply pushed on it with his chest and stepped over it gleefully. We pulled into the driveway after picking up Nikolai from school and had to tag team as a family in order to catch him and rectify the hot wire.

We were so happy to see his spunk come back that we didn’t even mind the attitude from “Jerk Face” Harlow (I say that with love). We laughed, we shook our heads and we thanked God for a more normal day than the ones we’ve had. Caspian too was feeling his cheerios because a day or two later he nearly scared Rob to death while he was working on our well in the middle of the night. Caspian looked almost like a bear in the dark with all his ruffled hairy fur rather than the crazy donkey he truly is. Poor Rob spent an hour trying to catch Caspian by himself that time.

It took cornering Caspian and chasing him off into the stall in order for the little Ass to be caught. I’ll bet Caspian was sitting in that stall laughing at Rob for having outsmarted him quite a few times like he does to me. It just wouldn’t be OUR farm without the mischievous furry faces. Everpine… Everfine.               

And this happened on a good day!
Spontaneous doctor appointment for high BP
Farm, Farm Life, Old Truck, Ford Truck, Homesteading, Uncategorized

Truck Girl

I didn’t think that I was a truck girl when I was growing up in Chicago. I was far more in love with the fast cars at the racetrack that my father’s family ran. The deafening roar of the engine, the wind in my hair from cars speeding around the track, and the sleek curvy bodies on some beautifully engineered sports cars. It was the chef’s kiss in my opinion and it still is… in a way. I loved sitting in the stands on the very edge of the icy aluminum bench while peeling one butt cheek up at a time to alleviate the numbness. I found joy in braving the Chicago wind that would chaff my nose and lips before I could make a run for a warm pretzel and a sugary cup of hot chocolate. I thought I’d never be the type of girl who owned a rusty beat up ford truck.

I began to fall in love with country living when I started growing up and taking horse riding lessons. Trail riding in open fields, flanked by rows of corn was medicine to my soul. Robin blue skies above my head, heels down, quiet hands, and finally being able to hear myself think after being bullied in school. Horses don’t care if your hair is red, and lesson horses don’t mind if you wrap your skinny arms around their neck to take a moment to cry about your day. They don’t talk back by calling you stupid for being dyslexic. The only currency a horse will demand is in respect and once you’ve earned it, your investment doubles. They certainly won’t verbally abuse you with the kind of words that take years to undo.

I fell in love with horses first and country living second before I fell in love with trucks. Everything changed after my grandfather bought a brand new ford. A stunning blue and white two-door Ford truck was sitting in my driveway after school one day. My grandfather was so proud of it that he asked to take my picture while I stood in front of it. He carried that picture around in his wallet for as long as I could remember. We took so many road trips together in that truck. I would slide in next to him and we would bounce down the private dirt road that led to his 20 acre farm in Arizona. The windows rolled down as far they could go and the scent of gasoline hanging thick in the air while hauling my pony home…that was the moment I fell in love with trucks. Being able to combine my love of equine, gardening supplies, and my joy of surrounding myself with nature was the perfect marriage.

My first truck (of my own) was a dodge that after about 6 months give or take, broke down in my driveway because it failed to go into reverse. It didn’t last long but I was thankful for the memories I made in it with my son. I picked him up early from school one day and took him to get donuts and drinks at Dunkin’ Donuts. We spent the afternoon feeding ducks at a random pond that we found and later played on a little swing set nearby. I kept a tube of pumpkin chapstick and bottle of pumpkin hand lotion in a little holder in the front seat so it always smelled like pumpkins. Riding in that truck was the highlight of Nikolai’s week. The darn truck drank oil like a fish in water and would sometimes overheat but it was our farm truck. We named it Big Blue for the V8 engine. That rusty old rattle-can-spray-painted Dodge is still sitting lifeless in my driveway; its new purpose is to hold round bales in the flatbed that I cover with a tarp until I’m ready to use them.

My second truck is an old 72 Ford F100. It’s missing a gas tank but I spotted it on advertisement on Facebook Market place. It doesn’t exactly run either. I mean it runs if you rig a gas can up to it… but it’s not reliable. The rear tire is flat right now, and it’s been sitting by my creek for about a year or so. We have big plans for her once our to-do list isn’t quite so overwhelming. We plan to bring her back to her former glory with an alignment, all new parts, and a new paint job. Maybe we’ll even get the farm logo branded onto the door. She’s got chippy paint that matches the sky and possibly a bee’s nest under the hood but she’s lovelier with age and patina. Nothing brightens my day like snuggling with my husband and Nikolai as we drive through mountain roads together in an old truck. As much as I still admire sports cars, there’s something special about dusty dirt roads and patina coated farm trucks. Don’t you think so?

Our F100 on the farm
Nikolai experiencing moments from my childhood for the first time
health, cancer, friendship

F*ck Cancer Anyway

Friendships through adulthood come and go. As people age and life marches forward, everyone gets wrapped up in playing the leading role in their own personal lifetime movies. Once you get married and have kids, it’s really easy to do. I think more about what I need to cook my kid for dinner, or reminding myself for the thousandth time to set the alarm on my phone so that we make it to school on time, than I do checking in with my friends. Nobody does it on purpose. I know I don’t anyway.

As I’ve aged my circle of friends has become smaller and smaller. I’ve kept the relationships that were important to me and I tossed out the rest. The people that remained in my life were those who were the most valuable. They were the kind of people who I could call weeks or months later and we would have the kind of conversations that made it seem like only a day or two had passed us by. My friend Tiffany was one of those people.

She would see something I wrote on Facebook and then my cell phone would ring on some random Wednesday. I’d be in the middle of driving myself home from a health crisis or on my way to get groceries. I’d pick up the call and it was her voice that was on the other end of the line.

                “How are you holding up?” She’d ask me.

I would pop off with a generic answer and mid- conversation Tiff would stop me.

                “No. Tell me how you’re REALLY doing.” She would say sternly.

Just like that she was my shoulder to lean on. She was my sounding board for medical drama. Most of all she was the person holding my hand from another state while I cried my eyes out on the side of the road in frustration. She sat, she listened, and she helped me lace my boots back up so I could keep moving forward. I tried to do the same for her but Tiff was amazing at lacing up her own boots.

Tiff’s personal life was a mess; People closest to her would hurt her in the worst ways. She never deserved it, and incredibly Tiff was able to forgive. Not forget. Not be a doormat. Deeply rooted, loving forgiveness. I once asked her how she was able to find it in her heart to do that after all she had been through and she told me that it hurt her more to hold onto the anger than it did to let it go. I couldn’t do it. Not the way she did but her strength was inspirational.

On a sunny day with my windows down and my music maxed out in my SUV, my phone rang. I picked up the line to hear Tiff’s voice on the other end asking me if I was able to sit down somewhere because she had something she needed to tell me. She had cancer again and my heart broke. I cried and she told me not to be sad.

                “I beat this before. I’m going to kick cancer’s ass Lish! Don’t be sad for me. I’m going to beat it and then I’m going to live my life doing all the things I love.”

20 years of friendship with this incredible woman taught me that if anybody could beat cancer for a second time… it was her. She lost her eye to cancer as a child but she kicked its ass. Despite the odds then, she spent her high school years being friends with me and several other amazing women. Tiff was fearless. Sometimes when she was struggling she would withdraw into herself to protect those around her, I knew whenever I hadn’t heard from her in a while that she was struggling. I also knew I needed to give her the space she needed to deal with it because… I’ve been there. Not with cancer but with my own health battles.

I finally got the call that I had been praying for. She finished radiation; they thought they got it all in time and all felt well in our worlds again. It was short lived. A persistent dry cough was bothering her. She assured me it was nothing but she decided to get it checked out. It was cancer for the third time. This time it was more aggressive and it was on her lung.

When she told me what was going on, I had this awful feeling twisting up my gut. I mentioned life expectancy and she told me that she refused to go there. She was in it to win it and no mindset otherwise would help her get to that goal. So we never talked about it again. We talked about throwing up (something I’m familiar with) and about trips to chemo. We talked about things she wanted to do and short term goals that filled her with joy… like going to Disney World with her family.

She meet the love of her life, a man named Ty. Tiff finally found a man worthy of being with her. He took her to doctor appointments, held her hair when she threw up, and had her overflowing with happiness. She wanted to marry him and I was grateful that he was the sunshine to her cloudy days. She deserved all the love this life had to offer her and I was thankful that he provided that.

About a week and a half before Christmas day, Tiff sent me voice recordings on Facebook. It was unusual. She had never done that before but I was so thankful to have heard from her. We spent two days sending messages back and forth for hours at a time. It started before her mom picked her up for her next chemo treatment. She asked me questions about Gastroparesis- the stomach illness that nearly killed me. She found out that because of chemo and the medication she was on, that she had it too.

                “How did you do it? How did you get through how horrible it feels and how painful it is for as long as you did?”

Nobody ever asked me that before. No one ever validated me in that way. Here she was, the woman fighting cancer despite the odds and she took the time to validate me. That’s the kind of person Tiff was. Not just for me, but for everyone else too. She was one of a kind in more ways than I can write about. Some of her life stories are only hers to tell which prevents me from going into too much detail, but believe me… Tiff was special.

On Christmas day I got a call from our mutual friend “Ashley” informing me that Tiff’s body was rapidly declining and she decided to enter hospice. I knew how angry tiff was when the doctors mentioned hospice the last time. She could no longer call anyone. She hadn’t held food down in days. The day or so prior to this, she married the love of her life in a non-legal ceremony to avoid saddling him with her medical debt. Ty will forever in my mind be known as Tiff’s husband.  My beautiful selfless friend passed away 15 minutes after all of her family members arrived to say their goodbyes on Christmas Day.

I spent the rest of the day trying to focus on my family, and slipping out of the room to cry. I cried during dinner when I couldn’t hold the flood of emotions in any longer. I cried during the movie we tried to watch together as a family. I cried on the phone with Ashley, and I cried alone in the hotel parking lot before calling my mom to cry some more. Tiff was so loved that when her family posted the go-fund me page for her end-of-life expenses… within 6 hours over fourteen thousand dollars had been raised.

I was able to forward some of her voice recordings to Ashley, and Ty. Ashley forwarded them to Tiff’s family members for me. I was so thankful I had them. I think she knew in her own way that people would need them. I deleted Tiff’s number from my cell phone. Not because I didn’t want to remember her anymore, but because I didn’t want to out-of-habit text or call her. I knew in my gut that I would. Something would come up and I’d think of her and instinctively out of muscle memory… I was going to grab my phone to share it with my soul sister. Only eventually I’d hear some random person attached to her number and it would break me.

Tiff lived to be 34 years old. People gravitated to her like planets around the sun. She spent 34 years defying the odds. She died fighting to live. Even after enrolling in hospice she was asking if she could leave once she got better. Cancer never won because Tiff never gave up. Her memory will follow me until I follow her and it will be that way for everyone who knew her. She would have been pissed at me for spending Christmas crying over her rather than finding joy in my loved ones but I just couldn’t stop. Even knowing in advance that this time might come… I still felt caught off guard. Tiff was going to win. I didn’t have faith that cancer wouldn’t take her, but I did have faith in Tiff’s strength. She won the war in my opinion and as Tiff always said… F*ck Cancer anyway.

Uncategorized

Heat Pants & Humiliating Moments

Sometimes my kid will do something so hysterical that I have to rush to find a quiet spot to jot the entire thing down in order to memorialize it. Recently Nikolai was frustrated with me because we sat in the parking lot of dollar general for a solid 30 minutes due to me having had one of those moments.

Tears were pouring down my face and I just had to get it on paper. Prior to this event, I needed to hit up the store for some odds and ends so I grabbed Tallulah and was nearly late picking up Nikolai up from school. Tallulah is going through her first heat cycle and I thought we were getting through it beautifully up until she began driving me to insanity with her restlessness. It helps exhaust her by working her brain as well as her body, so she needed to come with me. I was almost late because I had to search the house to find her heat pants. Last time when I forgot to grab them, she made a mess in my car. Nikolai was screaming with horror from being stuck in the back seat with her. He suddenly began yelling something along the lines of “MOM! TULLA GOT BLOOD ON MY CAR SEAT!!” Whoops! Insert puke emoji here.

It’s a bit awkward taking my service-dog-in-training to public places while wearing doggy underwear. A normal dog being in a store draws a lot of attention. A dog being in a store wearing doggie underwear draws ALL the attention. Most of the time it’s because people are wondering why a service dog isn’t potty trained and I find myself having to defend her honor. So once I got her heat pants on and finally picked Doodles (Nikolai) up from school, the three of us piled out of the car and made our way into Dollar General. Every eye turned to look at us from the moment we walked in because… heat pants.

So we’re browsing the isles with a good amount of people surrounding us and that’s when Nikolai spotted a nut cracker with a sparkling blue jacket, black boots, and a red top hat. Nikolai gasps with delight and so begins one of my favorite new memories.

Nikolai shouts at me “MOM! LOOK AT THIS NUTCRACKER!”

“Cool! Put it back” I respond firmly.

“BUT MOM! I NEED TO CRACK NUTS! You don’t get it.”

“I DO get it Nikolai, but no… you really don’t need it. Please put it back.” I laughed a little, shook my head and continued browsing further down the aisle with Tallulah at my side.

“BUT MOM! I NEED TO CHOMP SOME NUTS! I’ve never had a nut cracker before! LOOK AT HIM! We have nuts, I NEED to chomp them!”

I could feel my face beginning to flush so I tried talking in a more hushed tone. “Settle down. Please for the love of all things holy stop yelling that.”

This only animated his plea and furthered my humiliation. “CHOMP! CHOMP! NUTS! I NEED TO CHOMP ALL THE NUTS! LOOK AT HIS MOUTH MOM!”

“Look mom, we have TONS of nuts at home. TONS! I HAVE to have it! I wanna see him chomp the nuts! I HAVE to do this! I HAVE to chomp ALL the nuts mom!”

By this point I think I’m dying… of humiliation… of laughter… of my mind being in the gutter. I was sure I was going to Hell for thinking of the wrong kind of nuts but as it turned out, I wasn’t the only one.

Nikolai at this point had created a song that he was sing-shouting at the top of his lungs. “CHOMP! CHOMP! CHOMP! CHOMP ALL THESE NUTS!”

Tears of joy poured down my Santa-Clause-red cheeks and refused to stop. A fellow mom with two teenagers standing in the aisle with me began hyperventilating from trying to hold in the laughter.

She choked out “Oh my Lord. Your kid… just made my day. PLEASE tell me you’re buying that for him.”  

I’m not usually one to give in to any kind of pleading but this time I ceded with “I guess I have to now!”

Nikolai was enjoying the attention at this point and asked if he made us laugh and I quipped “You sure did buddy, but not for the reasons that you think.”

Yet another mom to a couple of younger kids (who were wandering around the balloon aisle), was laughing so hard she was snorting pig noises and her chest was heaving. I didn’t think at this point that the conversation with Nikolai could get any more humiliating… but I was wrong.

Nikolai upon learning that I was giving in to his plea started dancing in the middle of Dollar General on the way to the checkout counter shouting “YAY! You’re the BEST mom EVER! Thanks for letting me chomp nuts at home mom! I LOVE chomping nuts! I can’t wait to chomp SO many nuts mom!”

A third mother and several employees were doubled over and somewhere in the store somebody was gasping for air and begging the Lord to make it stop while another employee exclaimed “I think I peed myself!”

I KNEW I had peed a little (product of having had a kid that was bouncing on my bladder at one point of time in my life) so I decided that it was time to head home. Nikolai spent over an hour searching our house for the almonds I like to snack on. When he crawled into my arms empty handed, his face was wearing a forlorn expression.

He looked up at me with glossy eyes and with a straight face exclaimed “I don’t have any nuts mom.”

They fell asleep while waiting for me to finish writing
Uncategorized

Managing Disappointment One Cup of Tea at a Time

I don’t know what’s more frustrating- waiting for news about the direction in which your life is going to go, or not being able to sleep through it. Nikolai woke up this morning with hardly enough time to spare to get to school before the first bell. With my newly acquired blood pressure medication making my body feel more confused than ever by bottoming out my numbers, I’ve been in no shape to drive so Rob took Nikolai to school for me. One moment I’m feeling amazing because the pressure in my chest is gone from having high numbers and the next I’m wondering why the walls in my bedroom are bending. I should have gone back to bed but my brain wouldn’t allow it.

I decided to plan on tackling the day regardless of the circumstances at hand. My body feels unsteady but there’s a list of housework, farm chores, and errands to be done before Rob leaves for his next life-flight destination. Izzy’s car needs new breaks on it so Rob is fixing that for her for Christmas today. The farm is out of feed that we need to replace right away and we have to drive to Atlanta to pick up a rental truck for Rob to use while traveling for work. As an added bonus the truck will help us take trash to the landfill. None of that includes my crash course in rainwater maintenance or the housework I need to finish.

My mind keeps wandering back to what the bank is going to say today as I sip my hot cup of spiced tea and stuff a cinnamon raisin bagel into my mouth. It will be a while yet before the bank opens and we need to give them time to discuss our case. I find my gaze drawn to my bedroom window, down our long driveway, and watch as several chickens peck at some pebbles. It helps to manage disappointment by reminding myself of how big our little life is and to count the blessings we already have.

Tallulah is lying in the driveway hysterically looking as if she’s lacking front legs. Her golden and white coat on her chest is parallel to the ground, and her front paws are tucked away under the fluffy mane around her neck. She thrives on being able to run the perimeter of our farm with our other amazing dog named “Moose” and her mama “Bambi”.

When the air is crisp and the temps drop, our farm babies start to feel frisky. I caught Harlow (our big black and white horse) dancing around his pasture yesterday, flinging mud in every direction, tossing his head, and rolling to his heart’s content.

Caspian our little donkey made his daring escape last week. Rob and I were taking a short nap before picking Nikolai up from school when the little jerk hopped the fence to his enclosure. The dogs were going crazy which is what woke Rob up in the first place. To my horror I saw that Caspian had dragged the brand new bag of cat food I bought, into the middle of the driveway. Shreds of the cat food bag littered the yard and floated into our other pastures on the winter breeze. Caspian’s eyes were dead locked on mine and his mouth was slightly agape as tiny fish shaped snacks fell from his lips.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from owning a donkey it’s that they are nothing like any other animal I have ever known. You can’t bribe a donkey in the way you can bride a dog or a horse. Most are very cat like in the fact that as long as they have food, they don’t really care if you love on them or not. They also have the unique ability to smell your intentions long before you’re even sure what you’re going to do. Caspian took one look at me, tuned his butt cheeks in my direction, and trotted towards the dirt road.

While I was busy trying to locate my shoes and decide if a dog leash would work as a makeshift halter, he was already making his way towards the main road with our three dogs trailing behind him. I felt my panic level rising and my blood beyond boiling point. By the time I caught up to him he was trotting gleefully through the mud puddles he refuses to go through with me. I attempted to turn my Ass back towards home by cutting him off. It worked… up until it didn’t. He decided that the tuffs of fresh grass we’ve been growing out in Harlow’s second pasture looked like a more mouthwatering idea.

In hopes that the electric fence would somehow contain him long enough for me to get the leash around his neck, I creeped towards him at the pace of an inchworm. I swear I saw Caspian’s eyes glaze over with amusement the moment I thought I had him beat. Yet with all the grace of a ballerina… he surged forward and slipped through the fence lines. Rob fixed the fence where Caspian jumped his way out of his own pasture and when Caspian was good and ready… he waltzed through the open gate with all the swagger of a winner. Other than my disheveled mess of red hair, had anyone shown up within that moment they wouldn’t have guessed that I spent over an hour trying to get him to do just that.

Nothing is more humbling than being outsmarted by an Ass after chasing it up and down the road. Unfortunately this isn’t the first time this has happened, or even the second. I once came home to Caspian wearing Mardi Gras beads, having escaped his pasture, bucking and rearing while trying to chase one of our farm cats up a tree. Where he got the beads from I wasn’t entirely sure but I suspected Nikolai had something to do with it.

Sometimes farm life makes it so you’re not sure if you’d rather laugh about certain situations, be livid, or cry about it. Yet a bad day on the farm you own (despite being far more overwhelming than a bad day of living in a rental house)… is still better than the best of days without all the furry faces to pull you through the tough times.

The bank called us back and told us to re-apply for the land loan on February 1st. I think I feel relieved about the fact that it’s not a solid “No” it’s more of a “Not yet”. I called the land owner and she too is willing to wait the month and a half timeframe we need to re-apply. So there’s hope! We will continue working towards our goal, pull up our boot straps and try again. We’re not shy of hard work or bad farm days.

Uncategorized

There are Worse Things than Rainwater Showers

We should never have gotten out of bed today. After having spent all day yesterday in the hospital, trying to figure out why my blood pressure was overwhelmingly high, we truly expected today to go better. We stayed up late because we couldn’t sleep and with Izzy’s help covering farm chores in the morning, we felt comfortable sleeping in. Even though it was only Tuesday… we needed the mental and emotional break from my current health crisis. Which is how my husband and I deal with mental stress. We fight through it, rest, and then we regroup. So we relaxed and lazily slept until noon, after which I got up to tackle some house work. After every battle with my body, our little house goes from tidy to messy and as soon as I feel physically able to do so… I get to work to rectify it. That’s how the day compiled into what we call “a crap sandwich”.

We went from attempting to shower before picking up our son up from school, to sitting in the car line brainstorming strategies on how to troubleshoot the electricity going to our well-house. It’s never a good day on the farm without running water. The well went out last week and my amazing husband was sure he had the thing fixed. Thankfully a while back Rob installed a rain water collection system that could, in a pinch, be hooked up to our house, ran through the water heater for hot showers, and used for farm animals as well. He figured this out when we had no electricity to water the animals after a bad storm hit one year. Yet with my husband’s job as a Life-Flight aircraft mechanic things get tricky when he has to be gone for weeks at a time and we’re without water. There just wasn’t going to be enough time left in his week at home to fix the well before having to return to work this Thursday. That meant coming up with a plan to spend the next two weeks keeping our house rigged up to rainwater and me trying to keep everything skating until he makes it back. Strike one.

Strike two for the day was our son piling into the car and announcing that he said “yes” to a little girl at school who asked him to be her boyfriend. I personally wasn’t emotionally prepared for this type of conversation with my just-turned-7 year-old son. He sat and told us how he wasn’t sure how to handle it and rather than break her heart he agreed. There were some awkward silences and confused concern on my part as I wrestled with my feelings. I listened to my husband try to find the words to convey that the best policy for heartbreak is honesty. He also pushed that Niki was way too young for girlfriends anyway. If my brain hadn’t been silently screaming “NO!” during the conversation while simultaneously stressing over the well issue… I might have peed myself when Niki mentioned that he couldn’t even remember the little girl’s name. Rob on the other hand could barely contain himself. Laughter bubbled through his stern expression and the grin he flashed won me over momentarily. Strike Three came shortly after that when Nikolai announced that he lost his big winter jacket somewhere at school.

Strike four popped up when we arrived at our destination a good distance from home. We had been driving on red when we arrived and were suddenly overcome with horror upon realizing that we both forgot our wallets sitting on the kitchen counter. Thank goodness for laundry day! We scoured the car for loose change and scored a whopping $4.00. Due to current gas prices, neither one of us was sure if we were going to make it home but we had few options left. Beyond attempting to get there in our car, and walking… our only other option was panhandling our way there as a family. We found a gas station to hand over our nickels to, held hands, and prayed for the best.

My blood pressure felt awfully wonky and rightfully so… but we pulled into the driveway at home having arrived without having to beg for spare change. Hardly having a moment to breathe with relief, strike five blindsided us. Rob’s cell phone rang and he held it up to show me that it was the lender for the land we’ve been scrimping and saving for. The ability to own more land and expand our little farm without having to move was a potential blessing that we didn’t see coming. We discussed what we would do in the event that it fell through but we didn’t think that we’d actually have to face that option. We saved every penny they asked for. We got it done in two month flat and we still had money to spend on Nikolai’s birthday and Christmas.

I saw Rob’s face drop when he took the call. I knew we had been denied. Almost 5 years ago we lost our house in Tennessee because there was no job security. We bought the Tennessee house long before the housing market crashed and we owed more on it than we could reasonably sell it for yet we couldn’t live there any longer. After holding onto it for as long as we could, the bank took over. We were forced into filing for bankruptcy and foreclosure. It hit us hard. We took it personally but we pulled up our boot straps as a family, determined to never go through that again and wanting to own something that we could easily pay off. We saved up cash and bought our small nearly 5 acre farm. We got a loan for a little house to be pulled onto the property. We paid off our cars, the property, and began working our way towards paying off our little house. That’s when the opportunity to buy more land became available. It was more than what we dreamed possible but it seemed within our reach so we saved up like crazy. The bank denied our loan for not having been exactly 5 years post-bankruptcy. We were exactly one month short of our 5 year mark.   

We called to discuss the issue with the woman handling our bank loan. We talked to her about re-applying in a month or seeing if they would wave it since we were so close to their cut off mark and closing wouldn’t happen until after their cut-off date anyway. We were told we’d get a final answer within a day or so. She admitted that she had no idea it was so close to the 5 year mark and remembered her discussion with me about the foreclosure on our record possibly being close to the cut-off date. The situation isn’t over quite yet.

I’d be lying if I said we didn’t feel disappointed, frustrated, and discouraged in this moment. While Rob held my hand in the hospital yesterday this is all we looked forward to. This land was the early Christmas present that we were gifting to ourselves. The beginning of something bigger, it was going to be our pathway to being a working farm. To be able to sell beef and cut flowers as an actual business while supplying food for ourselves off the land. I pre-made a website in honor of rebranding to save the farm name from anyone else. I jumped ahead before I should have and told some of our friends when I was too overwhelmed with excitement. Rob asked me if that made me feel embarrassed and the truth is, it doesn’t. Trying something crazy and being told by God that now is not the right time doesn’t make me feel the least bit guilty.

There are worse things in life than having a bank account with savings in it, hot rainwater showers, bad health, or tough farm days. It doesn’t matter if we have to reevaluate and change course as long as we’re stuck getting through the mess together.   

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A Gatlinburg Birthday

When we first moved to our little mountain farm in North Georgia, Nikolai was 3 years old. Today he’s officially 7. My wonderful husband picked up cupcakes to deliver to his classroom at school tomorrow to celebrate. He opened a gift from us yesterday evening and I got to spend some quality time snuggling away the last of his 6 years on the sofa. It’s cliche, but I really don’t know where the time went. We’re spending his school day doing laundry, filing paperwork for our lawyer to get us closer to closing, and packing up the car for a birthday celebration in Gatlinburg. I’m praying we get lost in a sea of Christmas lights and that perhaps this birthday will be as magical to him as the day he was born was to us. The day we brought him home from the hospital in the Mojave desert and it snowed for the first time in 45 years. The boy who saved his mother’s life by gifting her better health and is constantly in the middle of the most miraculous situations. Even before he was born he proved the doctors wrong when they thought he was dead. His heart beat was the strongest I’ve ever heard. He is the most lively, hysterically funny, breath of fresh air. Always the one to be respectful, kind, and loving. So we’re left continually wondering where the days went when our boy was just a tiny bundle within our arms. Where the toddler turned into boyhood and boyhood is quickly approaching double digits. Everyday he needs us a little less and his independence becomes a little more. That’s the goal right? To watch them spread their wings and fly away from the nest? I’ll never be ready for it. Can I bottle up the feeling of his small arms around my neck? Can I box up this memory to relieve it long after it’s faded away? I think I’ll end up in a pool of tears at some point today. It’s basically inevitable. Happy official birthday to our gorgeous 7 year old boy at 12:25 AM. May you forever be exactly as you are now and keep your open heart.

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An Everpine Christmas

When I was young, my mom did up our Christmas tree as if it were in a Macy’s Day Magazine. Stunning ribbons and bows, color schemes, and everything in its place. My parents usually fought the entire time because it was stressful on them. My mom, my brother, and I typically put the tree together on our own in the end. Christmas trees in our ranch styled home in Illinois when I was growing up were usually 8 feet tall or higher. They required the help of a ladder to get to spots our arms failed to reach. Many hours were devoted to decorating and we would eat mouthfuls of fire roasted chestnuts late into the night. I loved when it was my turn to put the angel on the tree top. I have many amazing memories of Christmas time as a child. As an adult however, I’ve loved doing things very differently. Having our little mountain farm traditions of hiking to find our perfectly imperfect tree. Allowing Nikolai to decorate it however he sees fit. Letting him take pride in his own artistic abilities while we just help him along the way. We get so much enjoyment out of walking in the woods on our farm as a family to find the right one. Usually a farm cat or two trailing behind us, our dogs in tow. Our trees always have wonky branches, large missing spots with holes, and don’t stand up quite right. We could spend $50-$70.00 on a store bought tree that someone carefully pruned to perfection… but then we would miss out on beautiful mountainous view’s. We would miss reaching the top of the ridge line, or hearing our donkey’s song echo through the valley. We’d skip right over giggling while watching daddy struggle to cut the right spot on the tree, and most of all… we’d miss out on knowing that the tree we chose got to live it’s life on our farm. Planted there by Jesus himself and chosen by us in honor of His earthly birth. Sometimes imperfections are just as magical as perfection and a Charlie Brown tree can be stunning in it’s own right. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a beautiful Christmas tree but I think there’s much joy and thanksgiving to be found in the kind of tree that spent it’s life growing only because God himself let it be so. Having had squirrels run through it’s branches and felt the heat of vibrant red sunrises with its bows raised to the heavens in thanksgiving to our creator. Prayerfully we hope that this time next year we’ll be able to search the acreage we long to add to our farm in order to expand and- if all goes well- bringing our traditions into new territory with more exploration to be had. However things sort out… our bows will be raised for having spent another year of the pandemic alive, together, and continually fed by God.

My mountain men
The golden blurs
On the hunt for a tree
Some of the best views can be found up here
The perfectly imperfect tree
Giggling at daddy
Tallulah the magestic
Moosey Moo & Tallulah too!
On our way home
Tetley
Our little tree ended up being too big!
Nikolai’s decorating skills
Merry Christmas to all!
With love from Everpine Forest & Farm