Spring in North Georgia among the pines and wildflowers gives off a similar experience as autumn. You can smell floral notes on the breeze as colors of red, florescent green, pink, and purple paint the wood line and open themselves up to rolling hills. Ribbons of gold thread their way through spiral black-tops that wind up mountains and weave through farmland. It’s enough to have us rolling down our car windows or opening up every door in our little house… even when that means that we have to chase the ducks and chickens out.
The hummingbirds who dine on spring blooms have been bravely coming up to my house, sitting on my planter boxes and knocking on the windows. If I’m not quick enough with my early morning chores I have more than just my farm animals to lecture me for it. There’s a family of blue jays that like to steal left over cat food from my six barn cats. They sit on the electrical wire or sometimes on nearby tree limbs, they puff out their feathers and make sharp chirping sounds as if they are telling me off when I get behind.
There’s a squirrel who lives in a tree on our new property who has a habit of tormenting Tallulah. She’ll come down, flick her bushy tail, make noises to catch Tallulah’s attention and then bound right back up into her nest again. Tallulah will make chase and stand on her hind legs frantically barking in desperation of catching her until that funny little squirrel cackles with laughter. Tallulah will get frustrated and find a spot to sulk until that silly creature torments her all over again.
One of the best things about living out here is that even when we’re gone from home for a day or a few hours… we miss it deeply. I’ve never lived somewhere that despite the endless list of work that needs to be done, felt more like a vacation than an actual vacation does. Of course, that’s not to say that I won’t change my mind and feel desperate for a vacation after all the excitement of this next week. We’ve hired a digging company to remove and replace our culvert (the large pipe that allows our creek to flow underneath our driveway), as well as an electrical company who’s coming to re-wire and fix our well issues.
It’s been at least a couple of months since our well went out and we’ve had to run it off of a generator in order to have flowing water in the house again. We have also occasionally hooked up the rain water collection tank as well. My hair has never felt more amazing than on the days when I get hot rainwater showers, but I can’t wait to be able to turn on the faucet without having to take a walk down to the well house to do it. All of that aside, it’s officially gardening season and I’m behind. I had planned on starting seedlings but with all the construction I wasn’t sure where to put them… so I waited.
The most recent plan is the one I had been hoping for all along. We’re going to take down and remove Harlow’s original pasture and make a new pasture on our recently obtained property. We’ll be chopping down trees, stacking trunks to use as fencing material, and creating a much larger space for both our boys (Harlow & Caspian). I’m certain I’ll get to experience exactly how my mom and my grandparents felt when they we’re doing similar things for the forestry service like I wrote about last week!
The old pasture will become our new gardening oasis. Harlow and Caspian’s composted manure will be good food for fragile seedlings. We’ll clean our bunny coop out and add that manure to our garden as well as the adding all of the left-over scraps of hay from the horse trailer where we store our bales. I even have several piles of compost from Harlow and Caspian’s stalls that I’ve been churning, as well as compost piles inside of our chicken coop!
Having the entire pasture to use as a garden this year will greatly improve how much we are able to harvest. This autumn we’ll dismantle the ugly cement blocks that protect our well house and replace them with a greenhouse so that we can continue planting and growing things throughout the winter. Since the well has access to power, we’ll be able to run a heater that will keep the pipes and pump from freezing over while keeping our plants warm from bitter wind and frost. This will essentially fix several problems all at once.
As I said in “The Leap” buying the land to add to our property was only the beginning. The work that comes after is what shapes it into what it can become and how it can provide for us. It’s a wonder that the love we put into the soil, we get back ten folds. The work load is overwhelming to be sure… but it’s also invigorating! Our peach and apples trees are dappled with blooms. It won’t be long until I’m filling baskets to the brim with fruit and hauling fresh cut flowers into the house.
My love of nature and small farm living didn’t burrow its way underneath my skin on some random Saturday afternoon. Instead, it was deeply rooted into my history years before my childhood began. It was planted and nurtured by my grandparents and their parents before them where it blossomed like a flowering vine that somehow wove us all together. It started sometime when people valued the kind of richness from life that flowed from calloused and hard-working hands, but like an invasive species… it never let our family go.
In a diner amid a small copper mining town… a tiny slip of a waitress with auburn hair was taking orders during the lunch rush. A shy but dashingly handsome man made the extra effort of sitting in her section as soon as he had set eyes on her. He was quiet, fresh out of the Army, and kept to himself. Yet he tucked his long legs underneath the booth and studied the barely five-foot-tall girl with the fresh face and crooked smile as she danced around tables and balanced discarded dishes onto her arms. The sound of her laugh made his heart swell and he couldn’t help ease dropping whenever she made small talk with the locals.
It was the kind of earth swelling moment where a plot twist hung in the air. Yet it took time to unfold all of the pages before they realized just how important those first moments between them really were. Thirty-eight lives were in the making on a day that otherwise would have been insignificant. If the soldier had chosen another diner, or the girl had called out sick that day. If he had stopped in another town, or she had accepted the marriage proposal from the rich gentleman who wanted to build her a big house in the city… maybe then things would have gone differently.
Instead, she chose him because they could talk for hours, because they shared a love for Arizona, and most of all because he loved adventure as much as she did. He didn’t give her a fancy pick-up line like some of the other soldiers had attempted to do. He treated her with loving kindness and it felt as if their souls had found what they never realized they had been searching for. He had the unique ability to drop everything and start over just because he wanted to see something new and it fueled a life well-traveled.
Together they taught their children how to read a map at a young age and how to navigate rough terrain. As their family grew into having three boys and two young girls, my grandfather took a contracted job for the forestry service. They were able to camp at campgrounds that were closed for public use by joining teams of men yielding chainsaws and hatchets. They would cut down what they called “dog hairs” which were large gatherings of small trees that could easily make a forest fire become uncontainable.
The men would cut the tree trunks to the ground while the women and children would follow behind and stack the limbs into large burn piles. My mom was eight years old and my Aunt Susie was five but they all hiked the woods together. The work in the Arizona sunshine wasn’t an easy accomplishment especially in locations like Flagstaff, Prescott, and on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Yet nothing tasted better than the fizz inside a chilled bottle of root beer or a delicious sandwich after hours of hard work. My mom’s favorite treat was listening to the great American broadcaster Paul Harvey over the radio while she ate her lunch among family.
My grandfather (Dale, or as I call him “Papa“) and my uncles Vaughn, Clay, and Brent frequently crossed paths with wildlife that found a way to humble them. On an evening where they returned to their camper after a long day in the woods, a bear had ripped the door off of their icebox and had used its teeth to pry into their supply of canned goods. Their camper trailer had been all but ripped apart. My Papa had to load his riffle to search the grounds and make sure that the animal wasn’t lingering somewhere nearby.
In a separate incident a herd of elk bounded through the forest and soared over a fence when a calf got its leg hung up in barbwire. To this day my uncle Brent (the youngest of the three boys) still recalls running to my grandfather’s truck to retrieve a pair of wire nippers so he could help rescue the thrashing infant. It was a moment of awe that left a lasting impact on my Papa’s memory as well. He talked about it with such fondness and reverence in the years that followed. I still remember my own first encounter with elk when I was left in wonderment over how they sounded a lot like singing blue whales that vibrated around mountains rather than within the swells of ocean waves.
My grandmother (Helen) left her children in the care of her mother (my great-grandmother) one winter afternoon so that she and my grandfather could photograph a heard of elk that were making their way to a local feeding station. They never did come across the elk that they were looking for that day, but as they made their way down the mountain my grandfather nearly stepped on a rattlesnake instead! Backing up ever-so-slowly he reached behind him so that my grandmother could place large rocks into his open palms in order to discourage the snake from coming any closer. As she searched for one boulder after the next, she nearly served up another rattler instead.
There was a sudden shock when the two of them realized that they had stumbled upon a den of rattlesnakes. Everywhere they looked the ground was camouflaged and covered with them. My quick-thinking grandfather located a walking stick in order to very carefully pick their way through the path home. He kept my grandmother close behind him as he poked at the ground to see if anything moved before placing another foot in front of them. It took a lot of extra time but thankfully they made it back to safety.
Beyond forestry contracts and working in the copper mine, my grandfather had other odd jobs as well. He road and adored horses. He had a friend who married into ranch life and owned several head of cattle. My grandfather would lend a hand sorting and moving them. When I was younger my papa worked as a ground’s keeper for a hospital near Chicago where he blessed others with his ability to make things grow from nothing. To this day those who knew him talked about how incredible his gardens looked and how no one has been able to measure up since.
When my Papa finally planted roots of his own… it was on the twenty acres he and my grandmother had invested in. They built a life together in a town that was smaller than the town where they had first meet, surrounded by mountains near the border of Arizona. They had dreams of building a house that they could grow old in but settled for a large greenhouse and added several rooms onto their mobile home instead. That well-loved house helped raise the five additional children that they adopted together.
Two of my uncles bought land in other states, and my mom has taken over the upkeep of the farm in Arizona. My Grandparent’s love of travel, and desire to live life on their terms taught me how to fulfill the dreams of my own family. Our son Nikolai at seven years old has visited sixteen states in the United States and we are working on adding to that by planning trips to Yellowstone, and Glacier National Park in the near future.
My grandfather isn’t here anymore but his legacy continues in every adventure we take and in how we build lives of our own here in the mountains of North Georgia. I sit and marvel over watching pine trees taller than apartment buildings sway in the balmy spring air and I smile because I know how proud he would have been to see me here. But as my wonderful Grandmother likes to remind me… “We can’t go back. We can only make new plans, new memories, and continue moving forward.”
Other than being a pretty face, Aspen arrived on our farm without a true purpose and with very little expectations from me. I had heard that geese made wonderful guardians for chickens and livestock, but I really only picked him out because I thought he would look lovely swimming around in our creek. He was a sight to behold for sure but in a very short amount of time his real worth came in teaching my family that the best friendships happen organically and when you least expect them.
Noelle and Bells we’re Aspen’s mates and even though he loved his girls, to our delight he still made time for us. He would spend the early morning hours preening his stunning white and silver down and then take his daily walk to the creek with a dame (female goose) on either side. Shockingly Aspen set aside the late afternoon warmth in order to sunbathe right next to our front door by himself. He would peak into our little house and watch our every move. If he caught someone walking by in the living room he would tap-tap-tap on the glass and horrify them with what sounded like a bike horn inside of a megaphone.
If he was ignored further, he would waddle down a step or two so he could peak into the other window and tap on the glass over there. He would make as much racket as possible in order to get the human contact that he felt he justly deserved. Back and forth this crazy bird would go from one window to the next even long after we had tossed him kitchen scraps in an attempt to silence him. His nemesis the broom would shoo him down the stairs to prevent Aspen’s poop from sticking to our welcome mat but even that wasn’t a strong enough deterrent to keep him away for very long.
In the middle of a weekday Noelle went missing and Bells became Aspen’s leading lady. Several months went by before Bells went missing as well. Predators are an unfortunate hazard of farm life and in the summer, we become surrounded by hungry mating coyotes. Aspen kept to his routine without his girls but his love affair with people (most particularly my husband) grew stronger than ever. As Rob (my husband) would leave for work, Aspen would fly the entire length of our driveway and chase his car all the way down the dirt road just to catch up to him. This crazy goose would then hitch a ride home in the car so that my husband could drop him back off before attempting to leave for work all over again.
I was sitting on my bed distracted from having deep conversations with my grandmother over the phone when a deafening “HONK! HONK! HONK!” overpowered my ability to speak or listen to anything that was being said to me.
There in my bedroom stood our insane goose. His big blue eyes swirling suspiciously to get a better look at my face from his position on the floor and his feathers puffed out for full effect. Apparently, Rob had been bringing in groceries and left the storm door open just enough for Aspen to slide his beak into so he could finally make his way inside the house. He had been trying to follow the dogs inside for ages but this time he finally made it! There he was filling my bedroom with his megaphone voice box when my husband and our son Nikolai sprinted to my rescue in order to aid in chasing him back out again.
This bird somehow dodged three people only to escape by waddling between Nikolai’s open legs. He pitter-pattered as quick as his flippers could take him into the living room where he helped himself up onto the sofa. When he thought he was cornered he spread open his stunning wingspan to fly around the kitchen counter before landing with a wicked “THUMP!” back onto the living-room floor. It took some football style tackling but my husband was successful at scaring him out of the house again. Rob then caught the big guy outside and brought him back in to make a round of apologies.
He once had a week-long vacation spent at one of my best friend’s house. While farm sitting for me, he made it a point to climb up into Heather’s truck and out-right refused to get back out again. Luckily for Aspen, Heather spoils my farm more than I do. She came to the conclusion that my poor goose was lonely so she hauled his kiddy pool all the way to her house. She created a pen of his own where she fed him all the kale he had ever dreamed of… until Aspen fell in love with Jimmy (Heather’s husband).
Poor Heather got caught up in a love triangle between Aspen and her beloved Jimmy. Aspen loved Jimmy so much that he would bite at Heather if she tried to get between him and the whirlwind love of his life. Aspen would fly to Jimmy so he could sit on Jimmy’s foot, where he would love bite the heck out of Jimmy’s knee caps before making sweet love to him by humping his foot. I have never laughed so hard or snorted so loudly as the night I got that phone call from the hysterical and gasping for air version of my friend Heather.
We had joyful tears poring down our cheeks as Jimmy exclaimed in the background… “It’s not funny!!! He tried to mate with me!”
Aspen also tried to mate with Rob as well. As Rob was sitting outside working on our broken-down dodge in the driveway, Aspen would get upset over any lack of interest in him by the men within his vicinity. He would steal Rob’s tools and haul them off into the woods. I would watch the two of them as they interacted with one another from the window while clutching my heaving sides. Rob would yell and chase down this massive goose while carefully searching the bramble for his missing equipment. However, the longer Rob went on ignoring him the angrier Aspen got until… he would love-bite Rob in the knee cap and start dry humping Rob’s leg and foot. Whenever Rob wasn’t home, our poor farrier became Aspen’s next love interest whenever he popped by to trim the hooves on the equine.
Until Aspen we had no idea that Geese would hump the objects of their obsession. We also had no clue that they might get so attached to one person that they make the decision to mate with them for the rest of their lives. We bought some baby ducklings who liked to follow behind Rob and I. Aspen took to them as if they were the fruit of his love for my husband. He looked after them, took walks to the creek with them, and scolded Rob for neglecting them.
We had a family movie night one summer evening and while being emotionally invested into the plot, Aspen snuck in to join us on the sofa. When I got up to grab a second helping of popcorn… I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. That crazy goose had his eyes glued to the screen and watched the movie as if he understood everything that was being said. He even reached over to steal some popcorn that Nikolai had dropped between the cushions.
I think my most favorite memory was when a car pulled into my driveway to deliver a package. A man stepped out of the passenger seat carrying a box that they thought was mine but he only got halfway to my front door before spotting Aspen. That bird spread his wings open and screamed a battle cry that I could hear from within my house. The poor unsuspecting man’s face changed to several shades of white. He threw the box at Aspen and made a run for the car door. His foot lost grip and slipped in the mud underneath his boot as he scrambled to reach the door handle. Aspen had already surpassed the runway for flight and landed directly on top of this poor soul. He was bashing his wings against this man’s head while biting the guy who was now screaming for his life. To this day that car made the fastest three point turn that I’ve ever seen.
We loved Aspen so much that we created a dating profile on Facebook to help him find the perfect mate. It got thousands of views and spread joy to everyone who got to know him through social media. We also tried to keep Aspen safe by penning him up at night in our big coop with all the chickens. Yet he made his opinion on the matter VERY clear to us when in retaliation and anger he would grab the chickens by the back of the head and launch them through the air behind him. Like a three-year-old throwing a temper tantrum at the expense of the poor chickens. He would thrash his wings against the wire pen, and stomp around throwing chickens in his wake.
We came to the understanding that his happiness revolved around his ability to go where he pleased… even if that meant I was scrubbing goose poop off my front porch every single day. His zest for life was more important than our desires to keep him as safe as possible even if at some point we would have to live without him. Besides that we were sure that even the neighbors could hear him scream/honking in anger over his confinement. The quality of a life is far better than the quantity of days in which that life is on this earth. We knew that his days were numbered and yet we had our dogs on patrol to keep him around for as long as we could.
Even still, when that day finally came it hurt our family deeper than we could have ever anticipated. We missed the sound of Aspen’s voice echoing through the mountains. We searched the woods for a body to bury but we never found one. Whenever we went hiking around the farm and looked behind us to where he normally would be… the only thing left was emptiness. Aspen became a beacon of light within our lives, an endless supply of humor, but most of all… he became our friend.
We risked everything when we first bought our little farm. We sold whatever we could for 4.71 acres of mountain land that we bought from a meth addict. 3.71 acres of which was sight unseen. It was among the most crazy endeavors that we had ever tackled in our lives and I’m not the risk taking type. I’m the think-everything-through-from-all-angles type of woman. The ask-100-questions-before-you-ride-or-die sort of girl, while my husband is my polar opposite.
We couldn’t afford much but we had this little dream tucked away in our hearts of owning our own property and finding financial freedom. Throughout the years, my husband and I talked about our love of country living and our desire to be engulphed by mountains. Early on in our marriage we bought a house near an Army base in Tennessee. It was a stunning old farmhouse in suburbia with original hard wood floors on .25 acres of land. We loved that house. We wanted to raise our babies in that house. Unfortunately the year after purchasing was when the housing market came to a crashing halt. We paid far more for it than what it ended up being worth.
We tried to hold onto to our love of that old house for dear life. Meanwhile, my husband barely made it through five different layoffs at work. He needed a position with better healthcare and stronger job security. We tried to sell the house to get out from underneath it. We tried to rent it out, and we tried paying for two mortgages. In the end we were left living pay check to pay check and struggling to keep the piles of bills at bay. We spent many nights fighting between our fears of losing everything and our need for sleep. When we finally filed for bankruptcy and foreclosure, my husband took it as a deeply personal failure on his part, while I felt relieved of our biggest burden.
We moved around quite a bit with my husband’s new position in life-flight until we ended up in a little mountain town called Ellijay. It was one step closer to everything we had ever wanted and we had the privilege of renting a house with some amazing views. The “No pets allowed” policy however was a stab in my animal loving heart. I longed for something that was ours. My husband was convinced after our foreclosure that we wouldn’t be able to buy anything of our own for a very long time. Yet there it was… that little dream tugging on the strings of my heart. So I started browsing Facebook Marketplace for land. Who would have thought that a seller might be satisfied with owner financing something just to have money in their pockets and not have to pay the taxes on a property they don’t use anymore?
There were so many listings that found their way onto my feed. Most of them were far above our price range, some were in gated communities, and others were land parcels that were lacking in natural resources. I kept looking until I spotted an advertisement that read something like “Nearly five secluded acres in Georgia off of a private dirt road. Needs work, asking 28K. Has a well and a septic tank.” I gasped. There was no way it could be possible, but I wasn’t about to walk away without being sure. I knew that if it was true… it was more than likely going to get snatched up by someone who probably had enough cash in their pockets to throw at it than we did. Yet I wouldn’t forgive myself if we didn’t at least have a look.
My husband thought I was crazy at first. He was right, I was. Yet I knew that there had to be a better way to live rather than struggling from pay check to paycheck. I was done with worrying late into the night and watching my husband fight to keep a roof over our heads. I was tired of throwing rent money away while never seeing the end of the rat race. So I begged him to think about it, and then I drove to the property with Nikolai so we could have a look. The bumpy dirt road was a muddy disaster. My car nearly got stuck and the first driveway I came to made my heart sink because it was steep… but I kept going anyway.
When I finally found our destination, the property was a mess. The only building on it had burnt down and needed to be removed. The drug addicted mother to the man who was selling the parcel had left trash everywhere and hoarded old tires. Yet if you looked past what needed elbow work… stunning large pines loomed overhead. The smell of forest and earth lingered in the air, the creek babbled over rocks, and you couldn’t see a single neighbor because you were surrounded by nature everywhere you looked. It was dripping with potential in my eyes.
I talked the seller down in price due to the cleanup involved and the taxes they owed on it. We walked away having paid 21K, interest free for almost five acres of land. It was one of the most challenging things we had ever done because once we bought it, that’s when the real work began. We downsized our belongings, threw everything else into a storage unit and lived in hotels for 6 months. Nikolai wasn’t in school yet. Rob traveled for work anyway and his company paid to put him up in hotels, so we traveled with him. In between my husband’s work, we would drop by the farm to clean it up. Little by little we took it from where it was and polished it into what we knew it could become.
We didn’t have time to build a house. We didn’t have the funds to build one either. Instead we bought a brand new two bedroom, one bathroom single wide mobile home. 782 sq. feet, just a little bit bigger than the largest tiny house. I didn’t think I would be the kind of woman who would fall in love with what most people call a trailer. It wasn’t my dream option as a little girl or as an adult. That all changed once I started pouring my heart and soul into it. Between my love of decorating and our stunning $300.00 a month mortgage payment… I lost all desire for having a big house with fat monthly bills no matter how pretty the house might be. Peace of mind was worth it’s weight in gold.
We had everything we needed and so much more. We paid off our land, both of our cars, and brought home some pretty amazing fuzzy faces to add to our little family. I learned how to compost and began creating the garden of my dreams. We spent evenings catching fire flies with our son and cutting walking paths into the woodlands. When we finally got around to seeing the rest of our property, we discovered incredible mountain views and explored the little creek that runs through the entire front end of our property. With hard work, dedication, and a shoe string budget, we created the kind of life that we had always dreamed of.
In the beginning stages of filing paperwork to close on our property and feeling the pressure to get the clean up sorted as quickly as possible, we had moments of doubt. Living out of a suitcase with a three year old made me want to loose my mind. It was challenging, frustrating, and at times we thought that perhaps we had made the biggest mistake of our lives. Yet, we stuck it out and we found that sweat equity more than doubled the value of what we had originally put into it. On the other hand, the memories we made while we were working together and the lessons that our hard work taught our son was priceless.
Four years into living the life we had always dreamed of and another unexpected opportunity ended up coming our way. The property directly across from our driveway went up for sale. 6.49 acres listed below fair market value and it was sitting directly within view out my bedroom and living room window. We talked to the land owner and created a plan to start saving. In December we applied for a bank loan to purchase the property but a week later we received a call from the loan manager who told us that we had been denied. Our bankruptcy and foreclosure date disqualified us from meeting the bank’s requirements by only one month. We waited 6 weeks, held our breath, and we applied again.
Those six weeks crept by at a snail’s pace but we kept in contact with the seller and saved money like crazy. Many weeks that rob could have spent with us at home were used up as he put in extra hours at work. When the day finally arrived to reapply, Rob sent in the paperwork and then we waited… again. Four days later we got a call from the bank telling us that our loan had officially been approved. The two weeks after that moment were a blur of filling out and faxing information over to our lawyer as we inched our way towards receiving a closing date. In the meantime, we went through one crisis after the next from December to March.
My nerves were raw, stress levels high, and my hopes needed to come back down to earth before I hurt myself. Still, I looked around at all we had built together over the whirlwind of this adventure and I was overflowing with wonderment and gratitude. We had been gifted the ability to more than double the size of the lot that we already had without having to move anywhere to do it. This is the moment that we had been blessed with. That crazy dream that we held in our hearts until we took one leap of faith after the next is what brought us to the point of owning 11.20 stunning acres.
I created this blog and website with the hope that our farm might grow and that we might be able to rebrand it. I decided to keep the website and the dream even after our first refusal from the bank. Sometimes that leap of faith turns out better than those carefully choreographed plans that we make. Sometimes doing what feels safe is actually the very thing that’s holding you back from living the life you’ve always wanted. No matter how things worked themselves out, I knew that we were exactly where we were meant to be.
Today we signed the closing documents with the bank and the seller of the property. Once again we find ourselves at the beginning of all the hard work that is to follow. It’s a beautiful place to be. Our goal of having a greenhouse, turning Harlow’s current pasture into rows of cut flowers and garden beds while eventually obtaining cows… is now a reachable one! Happy birthday to Everpine Forest and Farm.
I was walking down a city street in Chicago. Garbage littered the edges of the hot pavement, and there was a smell I couldn’t quite identify. The blacktop was so poorly maintained that it was broken up into large chunks which I nearly tripped on, yet there arising from the cracks was a lone flower. The purple upturned petals lifted skyward, it had taken root in the smallest patch of soil and despite being engulfed by skyscrapers… it had bloomed. This tiny little thing among giants was a marvel of strength to behold.
When I wrote my story titled “The Night I Had to Save Our Lives”… I decided to post it because I felt that it might make me feel better. I was reliving what happened to me as if it was permanently locked into my brain and I felt compelled to find a way to pour it out. In a world where women’s rights and gun rights are a hot topic, I felt a lot like that tiny flower. A small thing among the giants who more than likely voted towards whatever swayed their hearts and lined their pockets. Yet it’s impact negatively effected my life.
Just a few short weeks later, Russia invaded Ukraine. My husband and I stared at our smart phones while checking for updates about the war on a daily basis. We watched videos of mothers clutching their children while rockets zinged over their heads. We saw images of a father weeping over the lifeless body of his son. We heard stories about brave families who fled the country but left loved ones behind to defend their homes. As more and more media piled into news feeds and the shock of the unjust radiated through the comfort of American homes… people were overwhelmed with the question of “How could something like this happen to someone like me?”
Meanwhile, alone on my laptop I browsed through stories that total strangers shared with me about horrific events that happened to them in their own homes. The messages in my inbox on Facebook discussed the topic of being empowered over taking back the control and responsibility over one’s personal safety rather than leaving it in the hands of others. Women reached out to me and talked about being raped, beaten, and many times caught off guard by an intruder within their own homes. What happened to me was a nightmare and yet many had stories that were so much worse than my own.
Some days ago a clip rolled around of the Ukrainian government giving out weapons that had been shipped straight from American soil. These firearms were being placed into the hands of grandmothers, CEO’S, mothers, and even stunning debutant winners. Soldiers helped prepare these brave people by setting up targets in alley ways to show them how to use their weapons to defend what’s rightfully theirs. Over here in America we continued to take our children to school and live our lives almost untouched by such traumatic events with the exception of the rising cost of oil and gasoline.
My story proved to many of my personal friends that the complacency of the thought that “This won’t happen to me”… was a dangerous precedent. How can we swell with pride for Ukrainian mothers over defending their own and yet ridicule American women for protecting their homes and children at the same time? How can we readily ship firearms overseas to make them more accessible in the hands of law abiding citizens and yet create antigun laws within cities like Chicago? The average man is capable of overpowering the average woman and a firearm in the hands of a law abiding woman is the only equalizer she has.
Weather you’re comfortable with firearms or not, most people can physically see how itty bitty Ukraine is bravely giving Russia a reason to reconsider entering their home and country… one bullet at a time. A tiny Ukrainian woman went viral for going nose to nose with a Russian soldier who was twice her size. She handed him sunflower seeds to put in his pocket “So that flowers would grow when he died on Ukrainian soil.” If the power of that statement and the bravery of what that implies doesn’t move you to tears I don’t know what will.
We all have to live and survive within this great big world. I pray that the voices of humanity will echo throughout world history loud enough so that there is a brand new movement for the right to bare arms. There is a reason why the second amendment was written into the American constitution and Ukraine is the perfect example of that. To be able to defend our homes, our loved ones, and to neutralize any threat both foreign and domestic. If history teaches you nothing, I hope that you will allow it to teach you this: Don’t get too comfortable. What happens to a small thing like me… can happen to you too.
You ever have one of those days when after a storm in your life has passed, you’re finally overcome with an overwhelming sense of peace? Almost like God and nature just wrapped their arms around you and hugged you until you had no choice other than to smile again? The last couple of days have been like that for me. Wandering around the farm, grinning, and counting my blessings.
There’s this pressure in the spring time to hurry up and get the next batch of baby chicks, to rush to get seeds started, and to mend pasture fences in a timely manor. Farms, homesteads, and gardeners are in a race with the seasons until harvest time. This winter has been especially challenging for my family, but the sun is finally out again. The decay from winter is seeping nutrients into the soil of the forest and new life is springing into motion. The process is as humbling as it is healing.
I myself have been fighting with time to overcome the trauma and decay that we have endured. I have been searching for my peace of mind and the harder I push, the longer it takes. One moment I think I’m feeling like my old self and the next, like a sneaky final frost… something will trigger that overwhelming feeling of terror that I had when I found the hooded stranger standing in my bedroom. I’m starting to learn that healing and happiness is an awful lot like slow feeding fertilizer. The damage has been done and it will take a while for me to bloom again, but I can enjoy the sun while it’s shining.
In the last couple of weeks I have struggled with depression, hypervigilance, insecurity, flash backs, and PTSD. I have blamed myself and made lists of things we can implement to make us safer. I’ve had nightmares that even kept my husband up late into the night with concern, and I’ve had to help Nikolai through nightmares of his own. Then out of nowhere, like a spring rain I almost feel normal again. I’m able to smile and to laugh again. I embrace feeling that way and hold on tight. Sometimes it lasts for a day or two, sometimes just a couple of hours but it’s a wonderful glimpse of what I know is to come.
I had to read the police report over the phone to the insurance company. It sounded easy enough but it ended up being a detailed retelling of the events of that terrible night through the eyes of the arresting officers. They mentioned that my hands shook with fear as they were speaking to me. That I told them over and over again how afraid I was for our lives. They mentioned that both Nikolai and I were traumatized. As I read it, I found myself stumbling over their words and choking back sobs.
Later that night a brand new furry of nightmares began. It left me getting a total of 6 hours of sleep over the length of 3 days. My eyes were bloodshot, I was angry all over again, and back to feeling depressed. It took five days from the moment I read the report to feel the sun on my face and to find my smile again. I went to church with Rob even though I didn’t want to go and hadn’t been to church in a long while. The pastor whom I had never meet, handed me a Bible verse that I kept in my pocket. I’m sure I gave off the worst impression but the verse was about hope and healing. It was exactly what I needed and it took my breath away. It was another beautiful reminder that this season won’t last forever.
Back when I was mostly bedridden, I learned that the best way to find joy was to create it myself. A quiet moment stolen to sip on a hot cup of tea and listen to the birds sing. Taking some precious time to lean against a fence post and hear the sound of my horse thoughtfully grinding the hay left dangling between his lips. A hot bath full of bubbles, my favorite scent, and a good book did wonders for my mental health on a night when I was in too much pain to sleep. When I can’t feel joy naturally, I know the recipe to create it.
It will probably become more challenging when my husband leaves for work. He will be gone for a couple of weeks. He has been the glue holding me together on my roughest days. It won’t be much longer now until he has to return to help the life-flight helicopters and airplanes so that they can continue flying people to major hospitals. His job matters and we make sacrifices as his family so that he is able to serve those who need him most. I’m not looking forward to his departure but I know that we will be okay.
This past weekend I visited one of my best friends and she loaded my car up with enough plants to jump start the garden of my dreams. I filled the planters on my porch with stunning cold hearty bulbs. The sun was shining as dirt found it’s way underneath my finger nails, smeared across my arms, and Georgia clay stained my blue jeans. I was humming to myself, grinning, and completely filthy. Yet there it was… happiness again.
“Weeping may tarry for thenight, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:5
Tallulah had been whining, she was running from one window to the next and I heard my roosters stirring. It’s a sound that I hear a lot when something is trying to eat them. The scuttle of feathers and wings slapping together… it was nothing new. The hair on Tallulah’s back stood up, but no alarm bells rang in my head because we live among bears. So I let the dogs out to make noise, to sound threatening. If I had decided not to let them out, Tallulah would have pestered me until I caved. She would run to me, then to the door, then back to me again like always.
Nikolai and I did our usual routines. We were in bed by 7:30 PM because it was a school night, but I couldn’t sleep for some reason. I stayed up laughing at videos posted on Facebook and browsed the headlines. It was around 11:30 pm by the time I had decided to let the dogs out and it was as dark outside as it normally is. No lights flashing through the darkness, just the wind slapping gently on tree branches. I was finally feeling the full effects of exhaustion and my chest had been aching but I planned on letting the dogs back in again before going to sleep, so I closed the the door but I left it unlocked. I- left-the-door-unlocked.
I had dozed off in the middle of a TikTok video and woke sleepily when I heard Tallulah and Moose barking like crazy. I smirked before tucking my phone underneath my pillow and drifting back to sleep again. I figured they had something cornered out there and were on the brink of annihilation. The last peaceful thought that I had that night was that my chickens were safe due to the watchful eye of my amazing dogs. When I woke up again, it was to the sound of Tallulah’s feet pounding on the floor throughout my house. Down the hallway she galloped and right into my bedroom. I felt disoriented and I was trying to connect the conscious thoughts together that were swirling around in my head as she launched her body on top of mine.
I was lecturing Tallulah on her etiquette while loving on one of her ears with one hand and simultaneously fumbling to grab my glasses and locate my cell phone with the other. I wanted to see what time it was. That’s the moment I realized… I wasn’t the one who let the dogs in. It took a second to grasp the weight of it, but the feeling that something was horribly wrong crept over my body like ice. I tried to rationalize with myself that perhaps Tallulah had gotten the door open on her own somehow but I knew that just wasn’t possible. I had to get up and I HAD to get to my firearm as quickly as possible.
After mashing my glasses onto my face, I sat up in bed and hit the button on the side of my phone that illuminated the room. I glanced over at Nikolai (who always sleeps on daddy’s side of the bed when my husband isn’t home) to check on him. To my horror there stood a man wearing a dark blue hoodie pulled down over his face who was looming over my sleeping son. My ability to scream was tangled in my throat. I tried to adjust my eyes to the light and reason with my brain that the man had to be my husband. Who else would let themselves into a house that wasn’t their own? Who else would stand over a sleeping child and his mother in the middle of the night? I was forced to face a sickening reality when I discovered that this man’s skin color and my husband’s were not the same.
Shock and terror overtook my limbs as they shook with what felt like chills running though me. My body pumped adrenaline into my chest with every thundering heart beat. This was real. This was happening and it was happening to me. Every mother’s worst nightmare was my waking reality, my child was between me and this man rather than the other way around.
My ability to safely retrieve my firearm had been cut off. It was too late because it sat in the safe on my husband’s side of the bed between my son and the intruder. I had forgotten to move it over to my nightstand after my husband left and if I managed to get to it, there was a good chance that my son would have been in the way or it could have been taken from me. I was sitting in bed wearing only my T-shirt and a pair of panties while gawking at this man who was standing in my bedroom over my child.
Did he want to kill us? Was he here to take my son from me? Rape me? Steal from us? I didn’t know but I felt like I had to cover myself and I had to save my sleeping son who was waking up. My number one priority was to position myself between him and Nikolai, and then fight my way out of it to protect us. There was no other option. My husband was taking a call for a helicopter that was down in a city on the other side of Atlanta, there was nobody else here to save us. I had to save us. “I HAVE TO SAVE US!” was the thought that I was screaming in my brain even though I had yet to find my voice to speak.
I leapt from my bed and shrieked “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! GET OUT NOW! GET OUT!”
I searched in the dark for something to cover my bare legs with while the figure made his way down the hallway. Tallulah who was sitting on my bed, came to realize that all of her service dog training that I had drilled into her head to be accepting of strangers was now void. As I wrestled to put pajama bottoms on and race down the hallway after the stranger, she was hot on my heels. We made our way into the living room where the man stood. I had hoped I scared him off but I was wrong. He wasn’t leaving and I could smell the heat of alcohol on his breath.
“I crashed my car into your creek.” his words slurred together so that I barely made out what he was saying.
“There is absolutely nothing you can say that would excuse the fact that I woke up to you standing in my bedroom over MY son. GET OUT!”
“I got lost. I crashed my car.”
“GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!”
He walked onto the porch and stood there, the glass door some-what between him and myself but largely agape.
I clutched my cell phone like a weapon and tried to call my neighbor with the volume on low so the man couldn’t hear and then sent her an SOS in text:
“Send your husband.”
“Get a gun. help.”
I once saw an ambulance search for a man who needed medical attention off of my dirt road. They never found him and he died of a heart attack. I knew that my neighbor was a lot closer than any police officer would be so she was my first call and my first text while I occupied the man in the blue hoodie with conversation. Talking my way out of it was the only option I had, he was twice my size and I had to protect my son at all cost.
“You know your dogs allowed me to let them inside your house right?” he slurred some more.
“They let me let them in… you can trust me. I can come in.”
“I would never trust someone that I caught leaning over my son in my bedroom in the middle of the night. I have no idea who you are but you’re not coming back into my house.”
“Your dogs wont bite. I pet them earlier.”
“You want to make a bet?” I taunted, I could hear Tallulah snarling at my side a deep growl rattled her chest.
“I need a phone. Give me your phone.” he demanded as he reached in to grab my phone from out of my fingers. Thankfully Tallulah took this opportunity to lunge forward placing herself between him and I while biting towards the hand grasping the other end of my cell phone. Her warning made him recoil from taking my phone from me and also stopped his attempt to get back inside my house.
If he had gotten a hold of my phone and taken it from me and if my neighbor hadn’t gotten my message due to a lack of cell reception… then no one would have been available to help us. My cell phone was the only lifeline I had to protect my son and I. By this time Nikolai was awake and sobbing in the bedroom because he heard everything, right down to Tallulah snapping at the stranger within our walls. I had yelled at him to stay put, to hide and to not come out no matter what.
The man still stood there on my porch in a stand-off with Tallulah and I.
“Where is YOUR phone?” I asked shakily.
“I lost it in your creek.”
“What’s your number? I’ll call it for you so you can find it.” I had no intention of sitting around to help him find his phone. I knew that he was drunk and that a ringing phone may draw him away from the house so I could close the door and lock it without being overpowered. He rattled off the numbers and I was pretty sure I got them wrong because I couldn’t understand him but I called it anyway.
He left my porch to look for his phone and the moment his feet touched earth my front door was slammed and locked behind him. I hung up my call and dialed 911. As suspected the 911 dispatcher as well as the police couldn’t locate our road. I grabbed my son from my bedroom and forced him to lock himself in the bathroom while I pulled my firearm and loaded a round into the chamber.
I can’t tell you how many times I practiced shooting scenarios in the woods at home. I had drills on pulling my firearm from my holster with the prayer that I would never have to use it on animals or people. The last time I shot at something other then a target was last summer when I saw a snake messing with one of our cats. I couldn’t tell if it was poisonous or not at the distance I was positioned, but once my cat ran off I aimed for it’s head anyway because it was coiled up where my son liked to play. My husband is rarely home to help me with these things so I’ve learned how to take care of myself.
I got my conceal carry license a couple of years ago. I woke up one morning and I decided that my safety was my own responsibility. Especially when you live way back in the woods like I do and you’re on your own a lot with a baby who relies on you. It was important to learn how to protect us and I practiced this skill weekly on our little farm (and still do). I know my Glock as if it were an extension of my limbs. Other than petty crimes and random drug users… my town has 750 people in it and is far safer than most. It’s easy to get complacent, to feel like this kind of thing will never happen to you. Suddenly you realize too late that you’ve made a mistake or two. Like not having your bedside safe in it’s usual place, and not locking the door because you dozed off.
Yet once that round was loaded and I was on the phone with 911, I felt safer than I had since I found the blue hooded man standing over my son at 1 AM. In the middle of trying and failing to give directions to the police, the man came back and was standing on my porch. My neighbor had texted me that she too was on the phone with 911. Her husband had tried to keep eyes on the guy in the hood but the stranger took off. Nikolai was screaming and hyperventilating in the bathroom. I could hear him sobbing while begging to be let out and praying I was okay.
The man was pounding his fist on my front door. I held my gun where he couldn’t see it below the glass window and kept it pointed directly at him. I told the dispatcher that I was armed and I knew that if he broke through my front door, I intended to fire. My mind was made up and it was the most terrifying moment of life. I’m a vegetarian. I love all living things. I believe in second chances and equality for all. I believe in kindness, but I would end my life if it meant allowing my son to live his.
I told the operator that the hooded man was trying to get back in. Through more slurred words behind my front door he didn’t ask but rather demanded to be allowed in from the cold.
“Is your husband home? Where is your husband at?”
“That’s none of your business! GO SIT IN YOUR CAR.”
“It’s cold out here! You’re going to let me in RIGHT NOW to warm up.”
“I’m not opening this door. I’m not an idiot. Go wait in your car for the police.”
“You called the cops?! OH SHIT!!” Down my steps, across the lawn and into the darkness he ran.
It took a while for the police to find us, my nerves were shot by the time they arrived and arrested the stranger who broke into my house. Four or five cop cars lined my dirt road and some officers arrived on foot. The hooded man didn’t live in my town, in fact he lived almost an hour away. I had never meet him before. Police corroborated his story through his text messages that he had intended on hooking up with a woman he meet online at her place on the other side of my little town.
His cell phone fell between his drivers seat and the center console while he was driving. It was Valentines Day night and he later told one of the detectives that he had stopped drinking at 6 pm. A whole 7 hours prior to him being arrested with the smell of alcohol on his breath outside of my home. A bottle of booze rolled out of his car and landed in my creek while his vehicle was being searched by officers. In the week that followed, I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the bottle. A storm rolled in and the flood of rain water in my creek washed the bottle away. The only thing I felt about it was relief.
He told detectives several lies, the first being that he wasn’t drunk by the time he arrived to my house. The second lie being that when I asked him to leave my house that he did so immediately (my call to 911 thankfully backed me up). When I went out to speak with the officers, the man’s car had run over the culvert to my creek but was in no way submerged. His drivers side was easily accessible. The blowers in his car were still running and were blowing out warm air. I could feel and hear them as I walked by and I remembered him trying to convince me to let him into my house to get warm.
One detective felt that perhaps the man was mentally off. The hooded man claimed to have knocked on my door before entering. He meet Tallulah and Moose who seemed friendly and upon not getting a response… he let himself in. He admitted to that much while being interviewed. He walked through the entire length of my house to get into my bedroom. Not once did I hear a knock or hear someone cry out. I had been teaching Tallulah to be more accepting of strangers and she did exactly as she had been taught to do, up until she realized that the situation was all wrong. My pounding heart beat and the smell of fear flipped a switch in her that gave him a reason to think twice about re-entering my house. If she hadn’t stepped in, I wouldn’t have been able to call for help since he grabbed my phone and tried to take it from me with force.
It’s possible that he was mentally off and for that reason, I’m thankful my firearm was out of reach and we all walked away alive. Yet the little things he lied about ate away at me all week long. My son was traumatized. He had a panic attack after the incident because I was going to look for his jacket for school without him and he was afraid to be left alone. He hid when Izzy came to the door later in the week to see us, and he ask me to hold his hand while we walked to lock the door together. He struggled with some nightmares, but most of it seems like it’s finally beginning to ease up. I had to notify the school about what happened in case he tried to talk about it (which he did). He told a little friend about the bad man in our house, was called a liar by his friend, and came home in tears. I tried to reassure him that to most people… the event sounds unbelievable.
I felt like I was living someone else’s life. I sobbed in front of more strangers than I care to admit. I drove myself to see a therapist and broke down in the car before making it to her office door. I’ve had more panic attacks the past two weeks than I’ve ever had in all the years I’ve been struggling with my health. I had a panic attack when a man wearing a hoodie crossed in front of my car at a stop sign. I had a panic attack when I parked away from all the other cars in a parking lot and a stranger darted by my car and ran into the woods on a walking path. I’ve dreamt vivid and violent dreams which is unusual for me.
It took me a long time to be able to sit down and write about what happened to us two weeks ago. Upon typing the first few paragraphs I was shaking so hard that I slammed my computer shut and left the draft unfinished. On week one I couldn’t stop talking about it because it was all I could think about. On week two I was having a hard thinking about it after anyone talked about it. The flip in how I felt was bizarre. I’m still flinching over unexpected visitors. I don’t sleep until I’m too exhausted to stay awake or force myself to sleep by taking a sleep aid. Every sound has my eyelids flying open and I relive it again and again while triple checking that the door I know I locked is truly… locked.
Last night I dreamt that instead of a hooded figure, it was a bear looming over my son. I had to chase him out of my house, it ripped someone to pieces, and I was forced to shoot it to death. I woke up drenched in my own sweat this morning. I have gone over the story with friends and family members as well as police and detectives multiple times. I was victim shamed on Facebook in both public and private messages with lists of things people would have done differently or better. I was told by multiple people to “just teach my son not to touch guns and leave the weapon sitting out.” Which is some of the most ignorant parenting advice I’ve ever read. I will never feel guilty about locking up my firearm because kids are kids and they make mistakes too.
Someone also said something along the lines of “Well, at least he didn’t steal anything.” Except that he did. He took my peace of mind, my sense of security, and my ability to feel safe. I don’t know when I’ll ever feel normal again. The messages have died down, I’m still consulting with the DA and the state is working on filing charges. I’m not thrilled with how some things have been handled there either. As far as I’m aware, no breathalyzer was done. No drug testing, no DUI is being filed. They never got his license and car insurance information, they never made any kind of an accident report so that I could get the property damage fixed. The man made bail the next day and I’m left wondering… if he can lie, what else is he hiding?
Meanwhile I’m seeing a therapist and trying to find my way back to happiness. Some days I just don’t feel like myself at all. What I know for certain, is that I still love where I live. My home in the woods is still my haven, I’d have to be dead for him to have taken that away from me and thankfully Nikolai feels that way too. I’m not okay today… but maybe I’ll be okay tomorrow.
*100% True story, took place on 2/15/22 at around 1:00 AM
I grew up learning how to fly fish. I’d spend the afternoon wading into a bubbling stream, a fishing pole in one hand, and a tacklebox in the other. The sounds of birds cheerfully overhead with their sing-song voices echoing through the forest. The wisp of my fishing line zipping through the air as I made my cast and the feel of it slipping through my fingers as I gently pulled my fly back in again. It was one of my most favorite childhood memories.
There’s something both humbling and healing about nature, it has a way of reaching into the soul to soothe the ache for places untouched by the horrors of humanity. It didn’t matter if I caught a fish that day or not. No classroom lecture was more valuable than the lessons nature was able to teach me. Dragging my kayak into a muddy river, stretching my legs across the bow and dipping my feet into the water below to allow tiny fish to nibble on my toes… it was exactly where I belonged.
If I’m being honest, it’s where we all belong. Not fighting against nature by being cooped up in town houses or living in suburbia. Not surrounded by people who measure the length of their grass rather than letting it grow so that birds and foxes can nest. The ridiculousness of HOA squabbles set aside along with petty neighborhood arguments over things that are truly meaningless to the bigger picture. Spending our lives being afraid over how we’re going to come up with the funds to pay large mortgages in an effort to keep a roof over the heads of our children. Worse yet, trying to figure out how to put food on the table when the cost of produce continually rises. Instead, we should choose to allow the dirt we walk on and the labor of our hands to do the providing while sharing that nourishment with others. Prioritizing our needs over the love of things.
When I had my son, it was vitally important to me that he have the opportunity to grow up with this kind of freedom. Not just to visit it or only be allowed to taste what a life like this could offer only once in a while… but to own it every single day. To learn about different animals, share our home with nature, and watch my boy discover the beauty of growing our own food. To teach him the responsibility of nurturing the world around us while maintaining empathy for the only planet we have to live on. To teach him that in buying less, we actually have so much more.
When the pandemic hit, many people discovered the value in this way of life than ever before. My city living friends were flocking to buy homesteads. I witnessed more people put down their cell phones than ever before. Adults helped their neighbors cope, parents began taking charge of their children’s education, and best of all… people were actually interacting with nature. News sources were put on mute and choices were made to take back what’s always been the most valuable thing of all… our freedom.
Animals walked among skyscrapers, whales were able to move closer to the shoreline to feed rather than starve. Smog cleared and the earth began the process of healing. No one had ever seen such incredible phenomenon’s… right up until we reverted back to old habits. That’s when the healing began to rot again. Nothing changed for our little farm though. We continued to wake up surrounded by woodland nature. We fed our animals, tended to our garden, and best of all… we spent summer days teaching our son how to fish. We hiked our way up mountain tops to explore, left nothing but footprints behind, and continued working towards living below our means.
In South Korea my husband and I saw apartment homes full of community gardens. Everywhere you looked, people found a way to plant beautiful things in the ugliest of places and they did their best to help one another. This lifestyle isn’t the only way to live, but it’s one of the better options available. The cost of borrowing large sums of money to live above your means will take a toll on your health. Taking walks while breathing in toxic fumes will cut years off of your life. Raising children in an environment that’s lacking humanity can teach them to become immune to the inhumane.
So how do we fix it? When the next pandemic or natural disaster happens and it’s too late to teach such valuable survival skills… where will we be then? The world as we know it is changing everyday. Human nature is adding toxins into our food sources and dumping trash into the earth. Never before have we seen so many life altering illnesses and mental health distress. So… where do we go from here? My family packed up everything we owned to create a new way of living. How about you? Where do you see yourself? What do you think you can do to help?
Before my son was born, when he was just a tiny squiggle within my belly and his gender was unknown… we decided to temporarily name him Blueberry. Due to severe weight loss and illness, my pregnancy was labeled as high risk and I had an overwhelming fear that my baby wouldn’t live long enough to be properly introduced to us. With the exception of a small group of close friends and family members, we kept Blueberry’s existence a secret from the rest of the world. Yet, we would exchanged knowing glances when discussing our love of… blueberries.
When we discovered that our tiny Blue was indeed a boy… it felt like God himself was smiling while walking us through the challenging process of being a high risk pregnancy. I spent nausea filled days writing letters and addressing them to “Little Blue” as keepsakes for him to read when he was grown. As a toddler my son got into several large containers of blueberries that I kept in the refrigerator on the lowest shelf and ate so many of them that it turned his poop black. He somehow managed to hide the containers from us but the black poop sent us running in a panic to visit the nearest pediatrician to check for blood. Several hundred dollars and a stool sample later… those containers of blueberries were the most expensive berries (besides our son) that we had ever paid for.
Early one morning a couple years later, I woke to what looked like a blue Smurf peaking up at me over the edge of my bed. With a blue face and lilac hands, my bright eyed boy was a giggling disaster. He had gotten up in the middle of the night, pulled a chair over to the refrigerator so he could reach into the freezer and over indulged on the bag of frozen blueberries I had saved for breakfast. He ate so many that his face, arms, belly, and legs were covered. It took days to wash out all the purple dye that stained his skin. The kid looked like he had been pulled straight out of a Pixar movie.
To this day he loves the fruit so much that we planted several blueberry bushes on our farm specifically for him. Even then, he begs us to still make time to hit up the you-pick’s in the summer. We bring home blueberries by the bucket full and I’m left sorting out how to use them all up in recipes. I pay extra money in the winter to buy fresh off-season blueberries from local farms. Yet I end up buying even more at the grocery store because he gobbles them down before I can pop them into his breakfast box for school. I’ve even seen him put farm chores on hold, stopping dead in his tracks to eat handfuls of unripe blueberries because he just couldn’t wait a moment longer!
Being a mother to this amazing little boy is forever an adventure. I’ve never laughed so hard, worried so much, or loved blueberries more in my entire life. He will risk walking through thorns and bramble while allowing me to pull out the stickers caught under his skin… just so he can get a mouthful of their juicy goodness. When asked to choose between a piece of candy or those delicious violet colored fruit… he goes for blueberries every single time. If I had only known just how much his nickname meant!
In third grade my mama and I would sit at the kitchen table and watch all the wild birds go about their day. They often had such unique personalities. If you weren’t paying attention… you would miss experiencing the joy and laughter that they had to offer. One day I came home from school to find a bird book resting on our kitchen table with a pair of binoculars. For several years the book was only removed from the table when we needed space to eat and afterwards, was carefully put back again.
Some afternoons I’d spend hours flipping through the pages of that book while reading about my favorite species of finches. To this day I still have a love affair with owl finches, spice finches, and even the European gold finches that are located throughout parts of Europe. My thirst to learn about birds followed me well into adulthood and was passed down to my son. It was on our little farm that I discovered one of the most unique types of birds I had ever come across. Ten years ago throughout many neighborhoods you could hear the sounds of nightjars at dusk. With countless pesticides being sprayed to reduce the bug population, the number of nightjars has decreased by staggering amounts.
These amazing birds are nearing extinction now to the point where people rarely hear them at all. Their main food source and hunting ground is wooded areas with large open fields. These ground dwelling creatures make nests out of forest leaves and are extremely hard to spot due to their ability to blend into their environment. They look something like a cross between an owl and a frog. They have small heads, round bodies, and very large mouths. They swoop across pastures with their mouths open wide like a butterfly net to capture moths and other flying insects for nourishment.
When we first moved to our little farm we set up a firepit with Nikolai (our son). It allowed us to roast marshmallows and eat charred vegetarian hot dogs smothered in delicious condiments. With the fire blazing and our bellies full, we listened to the sounds of nature all around us. Big bull frogs singing from our creek, tiny tree frogs belting out sounds that should have come from something far larger, and little crickets dancing among the tall grass. There was one sound that we just couldn’t place though.
I took a recording and uploaded the sound to Facebook so we could find someone who possibly knew more. Responses flooded my feed but I was able to rule out most of them. One friend of mine suggested that it sounded like a whippoorwill. I searched for videos on YouTube and compared them to what I heard. It was close but it still didn’t fit the mark. It took some more digging but I finally came across the exact sound that I was looking for. A close cousin to the whippoorwill is an amazing creature called the Chuck Will’s Widow.
The bird’s cry sounds exactly like it’s name suggests. It first makes a chucking sound in it’s throat, then a noise that sounds something like “Will’s-Widow!” It’s incredibly unique and I was positively giddy over my discovery. Now every spring when the weather gets warm… we sit outside together as a family and listen for this special voice that lives on our mountain and hunts in the pastures of our farm.
Our first night after having bought Harlow (our paint horse), I was driving home from Atlanta with Nikolai while marveling over the dusty pink hues that sun made across the sky as it set. Our hands hung out of the open car windows to enjoy the coolness of the evening air on our skin while our vehicle finally skipped down our dirt road bumping it’s way over potholes. Suddenly, a flurry of wings caught my eye and forced me to mash my breaks to the floorboard of my car. I thought I had nearly hit a bat but instead two eyes glistened in the glow of my headlights.
I watched his head swivel and my eyes locked with his. In the span of just a few seconds he lifted from the ground making the most lovely shape with his wings as he flew up and over our car. All Nikolai and I could do was gasp. We knew exactly who he was from the countless hours we spent researching information and browsing photos of what he might look like. We had hoped that we might see him one day but knew since he was so hard to spot, that it may never happen. We happily settled on enjoying the stunning song that he preformed every night instead. Actually having the opportunity to see him however, was a magical moment indeed.
In the years that we lived on our farm, we only heard one Chuck Will’s Widow crying out of the curtain of darkness. However, several weeks after that amazing encounter, we heard not one… but TWO Widows! Clear as day! Singing in unison, two beautiful voices were enjoying the night together. The lone voice coming from our little friend was lonely no longer. We prayerfully made requests that they might make babies together so we could enjoy the fruits of their love for years to come. This spring we hold our breath as we listen for their triumphant return home.
I have recently started writing as a ghost writer for a wedding photography business. The endeavor has kept the topic of marriage on my brain throughout the week. The other night my husband slipped into Walmart to grab a few things for our house and came out bearing a planter full of violet calla lilies, tulips, and a slew of bulbs to add to my garden. After a stressful January, Rob (my husband) decided it was exactly what I needed to start my February off correctly. His superhero-like ability to recognize my needs before I’ve gotten a moment to recognize them myself, has had a profound impact on our relationship.
The man is more than just my partner, he’s my caregiver, the supporter of my dreams, my cheerleader, the brilliant father of our son, and the man who gets things done. He’s held my hair back while I’ve thrown up, helped me bathe when I couldn’t do it by myself, and I’ve witnessed him pleading with God to save my life. He’s taken our son fishing to give me time to rejuvenate even after working himself to death. He’s accompanied me to more hospital and doctor appointments than I care to admit, and is the hardest working person I’ve ever known. He continually fills the cups of others before he fills his own.
In the middle of a war zone with bombs going off, my husband was sitting in a bunker writing english essays and solving complicated math equations to send to his collage professors. He worked out at the gym on base, yet still managed to call me twice a day while witnessing things most people only see in their nightmares. He graduated with two associate degrees, and a bachelor’s degree in technical managment and engneering. Before we were forced to move (in order to be closer to my team of doctors)… he was just 6 classes shy of graduating with a second bachelor’s degree in electrical engneering. I am forever proud of all that he has accomplished and all that he does for the future of our family.
In the six years that he spent serving our country he made a career out of fixing Apache helicopters. His first job after leaving the service entailed working as a civilain contractor on other types of helicopters as well. More specifically, his original job title was to work on electrical system repairs. However, since he fought in a line unit on the boarder of Pakistan and Afghanistan… he was able to become certified as a civilian to work on mechanical system repairs as well (this is not an easy task to achieve in the world of aviation). This qualified him to work on helicopters, airplanes, and jet turbine engines. He knows how to strip a bird down to the bare bones, rewire it, and put the parts back together again without assistance. He later went on to work for several life-flight companies (which is what he does today).
My husband and I meet my freshmen year of high school (a story that I can’t wait to tell at a later date). We got married in South Korea at his first duty station as a United States soldier. I was eighteen years young when we signed our marriage cirtificate at the embassy and he was just ninteen years old himself. Everyone we knew thought we were crazy. Both friends and family struggled to talk us out of it, but we never waivered. Throughout our marriage we struggled to overcome almost every crisis a relationship could possibly go through. Not because of our age, but because life threw a lot at us all at one time.
We once told our story to a marriage counselor who sat back in her large brown leather recliner to gawk at us. She stayed that way for several moments, eyes wide in disbelief before exclaiming- “Most marriages don’t survive ONE of the events you two have been through, let-alone ALL of them. The fact that you are still together is… beyond impressive.” It could have been taken as an insult but we chose to take it as a compliment.
That wasn’t the first marriage counselor we went to see over the years, or the last. Yet somehow we woke up every day and chose to love one another through our trials. We chose love despite days when warm fuzzy feelings were nowhere to be found. We chose love after seeing the ugliest side of each other and the ugliest parts of ourselves. We chose forgivness over mistakes we both made along the way and we grew stronger for it.
“I chose to be with you because you are my best friend and I didn’t want anyone else.” My husband replied with a wicked grin “Plus, you’re really hot.” I laughed at his remark and shook my head.
We’ve been married now for seventeen years, spent eighteen years of our lives together, and have been best friends for more than twenty years. We’ve been with each other longer than we have lived without one another. We are able to look across a room full of people and understand without words what the other needs and is thinking. Somedays the decision to choose love is an easy one, other times it becomes far more challenging.
There have been situations where one of us ended up working harder on our marriage than the other. Yet, the hard work that was poured into our relationship is what carried both of us through challenging times. Whatever trials we face, we are in this thing together. When we got married we had no idea what was to come. We were two babies full of promise and hope for the future. Despite serious obstacles like near death experiences, PTSD, financial crises, serious health problems, alcoholism, and so much more… our ability to choose love has only strengthened.
My marriage is living proof that when two people decide to put one another first, you can achieve a love that is unconditional. I promise that you read that correctly. No, it’s not a fairytale. That doesn’t mean you don’t get angry or struggle to get through horrible events. It doesn’t require one spouse to be a punching bag for the other spouse either. Love isn’t the warm fuzzy feelings people get when everything is going well. Love is a choice that both parties commit to making, simultaneously. That’s the real secret to a successful marriage.
The quickest way to ruin a watercolor painting is by rushing to add layers. Every stroke needs time to swirl, bloom, and dry before tackling the next one. If you get overly excited to see the finale by rushing through the waiting period… the end result may be a muddy image. Before you know it, a piece that had potential is ruined and the only fix is to start again.
Photography editing works in a similar way, choosing to walk away from an image can help things stand out that need correcting. Key details easily get overlooked when you don’t give yourself a chance to see it with fresh eyes and a new perspective. So many times I would get overly excited to share something and I’d post an image online or E-mail it to a friend only to discover a day or so later that I needed to go back and perfect it. Choosing to be impatient caused mistakes to be made.
Unfortunately I’m the queen of rushing things. When I see something I want to tackle, I don’t stop until I get what I’m aiming for. There’s something to be said for having tenacity but having a lack of patience is not a good character trait. My husband often gets frustrated with me when rather than waiting on him to help me with a task, I do it on my own and end up messing it up. I get flustered with life in general when I have to wait on the outcome of events.
Life is constantly teaching me invaluable lessons on the art of being patient no matter how many times I need to be re-educated. One of my biggest teachers as of late has been Tallulah my service-dog-in-training. When we started our training sessions, Tallulah would growl or bark at any stranger who came across our path. One beautiful summer day a jogger on my favorite walking path spied Tallulah and I enjoying a walk together.
“Oh my gosh! What a BEAUTIFUL puppy!” She gushed as she bent down to pet Tallulah.
Tallulah’s body became stiff, ridged, and alert. She growled deep within her rib cage, barked with her “big girl” voice and backed up into my legs. The woman’s outstretched hand trembled, she recoiled in horror, and quickly went back to jogging… in the other direction. Tallulah had no interest in being touched by that stranger or any other strangers we came across. She reacted over a little old lady working in tractor supply one morning. Refusing to take a treat from the woman’s fingertips. Another time she became terrified of a 4 year old boy even though she had always been amazing with my own kiddo.
Upon seeing how fearful Tallulah’s reactions had been, I had some serious concerns about her service dog training. A cashier at a grocery store even made the remark that they considered petting her… but she looked way too nervous and it made them feel uncomfortable. One night I stayed up late discussing my fears about investing money into Tallulah with my husband. We went over all the options together and decided that giving up wasn’t one of them. I desperately needed this dog, and she needed someone to work with her.
Every time I took Tallulah out I used positive reinforcement to correct her behavior and create better habits. Somedays we had setbacks that shook me so much that I would send texts about my frustrations to my trainer. I continued to have doubts over my abilities to teach Tallulah and I worried over her ability to learn and adapt. My impatient nature wanted to see results in Tallulah’s behavior immediately but she needed to learn at her own pace.
Little-by-little, Tallulah began to change. We would spend an hour, or thirty minutes in town together doing training sessions and I could see her dark brown eyes searching to grasp what I was trying to teach her. I would watch her think through a situation and after sleeping on it and tackling it again, she would suddenly choose the right behavior. It didn’t come naturally to her, we had to work on it every single day.
We continued to have setbacks (and still do) but rather than getting comments like “Your dog looks really nervous!”
I started getting compliments along the lines of “Oh my goodness, that’s the most well behaved dog I’ve ever seen!”
I once even heard a stranger in a grocery store gasp and say “I wish MY dog behaved that well!”
I found that Tallulah enjoyed learning as much as I enjoyed teaching and having her with me. I decided to take Nikolai to school one morning and leave my girl at home because there wasn’t any errands that I needed to accomplish in town. I got Nikolai buckled up but I had forgotten something in the house. Without much thought I left my car door open to run inside and get what I needed. Upon my return, Tallulah had found the open car door and was patiently waiting in her spot in the back seat for me to put her vest on.
Another time Tallulah chased my car down the dirt road and I had to take her back home again. It took a lot of training to teach her to stay home when asked and even then she would stand in the driveway looking forlorn as I pulled away. As much as I wanted to always take her with me, some situations (such as MRI’s at the hospital) required her to stay home. She needed to learn to be able to respect that. When she finally understood what I was asking, she stayed home but that didn’t mean she was required to look happy about it.
Whenever I rushed Tallulah into grasping something, it took twice as long for her to learn it. She wasn’t interested in my timeline. She could sense my frustration which only served to feed her own frustrations in me and got us nowhere. Our relationship grew only when I respected that some things required more time and patience than others and that her timeline was more important than my own.
Not giving up on Tallulah has payed off countless times. One day I tried to take her into Walmart with me but she refused to get out of the car. I couldn’t figure out why I had to coax her into it. She now loved going into stores with me and it was an unusual behavior for her. About fifteen minutes later my blood pressure was so high I thought I was going to pass out in the middle of the pharmacy department. Tallulah had been trying to tell me something was off the entire time. She helped me make my way to the blood pressure cuff and my reading was something like 178/146. She kept bumping me with her nose but I never registered that something was very wrong. My heart rate looked as if I had just finished running a marathon.
On my way out, even the greeter asked me if I was feeling okay. My cheeks were on fire, I was breathless even though I hadn’t walked far. Yet Tallulah guided me safely back to the car where I sat resting until my head felt clear enough to drive home. When I crawled into bed to take my medicine… she laid across my chest. Big brown eyes full of concern and tongue lapping at my neck. I couldn’t walk to the bathroom or kitchen without her there to guide me.
Tallulah’s ability to teach me the fine art of being patient has drifted into other areas of my life. It’s been easier to take a step back and accept things as they are. I’ve also learned that sometimes the journey is sweeter and more valuable than the outcome. I wouldn’t have the kind of bond that I have with Tallulah if we both hadn’t worked so hard to get to where we are. I also wouldn’t appreciate our relationship nearly as much if it had come easily to us. We still have a long way to go, but I know that having the patience to overcome obstacles will help us get there.
Early in the morning before tackling farm chores or getting dressed for the day, I woke up slowly by reading various blogs that popped up underneath the “Discover” tab on WordPress. I found that this little button opened my eyes to an amazing new world of writers. Beyond that it has been helping me grow and improve so that I am able to communicate better with all of you.
Some Blog posts this week have left me in awe and pushed me to think about situations in my life in an entirely new way (Like the one written by Wynne Leon about Mount Everest). Other posts have inspired to me to tackle unique writing prompts (like this one written by Ben who enjoys farm life as well).
I thought a lot about how writing prompts might fit into a farm blog where I primarily discuss various events in my life and my ability to reflect on them. I came up empty. Especially when those writing prompts take me on a tangent that is nowhere near being farm related. Yet the more I read, the more I wanted to write something completely off topic to share here with all of you. I looked over the writing prompt made by Ben on Trail Baboon and decided to shove my concerns out of my head and to sit and enjoy the journey.
I ended up loving it so much that I shared the un-edited version of the writing prompt (typos in all) with Trail Baboon and Ben. I then decided to toss my “brand” out the window to share it here with all of you as well. To summarize this exercise, Ben shared a local town mystery that involved bottles of vodka, and a man who followed the wrong woman wearing a red jacket. The story itself was true but the prompt encouraged others to solve the mystery with a piece of fiction.
Without giving too much away, (it would be far better to click the link so you can read it for yourself) I’d love to hear your version. So if you decide to write about it, please share it with Trail Baboon and also share it here with me.
Small towns are notoriously more interesting than fiction (mine included) and I have been planning on sharing a piece with more information about that topic at a later date. Until then… here is the story I concocted that was inspired by Ben’s writing prompt about his little town’s mystery. I believe that my title fits both this explanation and the piece I wrote below perfectly.
My fingertips dripped with the essence of her. They had come too close to catching me. I had gone to see a showing of “Come From Away” with my wife at a tiny theater in town. Petite exactly like she was, not my wife… her.
After much deliberation my “better half” decided to wear the wine stained pea coat that I so strongly recommend. I only bought it because it reminded me of her, but had given it to my wife as a birthday gift. The magnificent color that had once beautifully highlighted wavy copper hair and tulip shaped lips. It didn’t look nearly as lovely on my wife.
I had discreetly slipped the travel sized watercolor brushes and paint into my overcoat. The large breast pockets perfectly hid the cheap bottle of vodka and even left enough room for my smallest notebook. It was the perfect way to keep her close to my heart.
How many hours had I spent in the glow of early morning sunlight, bent over the edges of that rough paper? Avoiding police officers while waiting to catch a glimpse of her on the running path. I couldn’t remember. Too many. It was hard to keep her in sight while lurking underneath the dark twisted branches of the forest. My hands desperately trying to engrave the image of her into my notebook.
My mind was drifting when I realized that the frigid air had made my glasses fog up. I had been making my way towards the car while following the wrong red pea coat out of the theater. I was being careless again. My wife was several feet behind me. I had to explain myself. Using my hot breath to ease the numbness in my hands, I grazed the stubble on my chin and mumbled an excuse for my actions.
Long after the movie had been over with- yet before the sun graced the sky with an ocean of color… I would slip out of bed and make my way to the path. The vail of darkness obscuring my true intentions. I dressed in jogging shorts and a runner’s shirt underneath my signature jacket. I needed to look the part of being innocent. The bottle of water firmly in my clutch helped me blend in even better and would also serve as another useful tool.
I was slinking my way into my favorite spot when I spied ember flames licking their way down pavement. Her lips pursed in concentration for the next breath and she wore freckles that kissed the creamy skin on her shoulders. Sapphire spheres scanned the wood line but were swollen and ruby red underneath. I watched her suck in the scent of evergreen and pine while her limbs propelled her to push onward.
She had clearly been crying again and it killed me not to know why. “I love my wife.” I whispered. We didn’t fit together (my wife and I) but I never wanted to hurt her and I loved her deeply. My love for my wife however, wasn’t enough to keep me from coming back here to see… her. I dipped my brushes in paint and got to work. I used the cheap vodka in my pocket to add elements to the scene that the water in my bottle couldn’t accomplish.
When I was finished, she was gone and my fingers were stained with Daniel Smith’s Perylene Red watercolor paint. It was the essence of her. My copper muse. On my way home I ran into an officer who was keeping an eye over other joggers.
“Have a good run? What have you got on your hands there Mike?” He questioned suspiciously.
I had almost been caught the last time I was here by my wife over the exact same evidence. Red handed… literally. It threw me into a panic so I tucked my fists into the pockets of my shorts and decided to attempt to change the subject.
“Hey Sam! How’s your wife doing? You know it’s been a while since we had you both over for dinner…” the small talk distraction worked beautifully in my favor.
When I was finally on my way again, I stopped by the old town hall building to discard the vodka. In my haste to paint as quickly as possible, I seemed to carelessly pour large quantities over my brush. Sometimes this left me with half a bottle, occasionally more, and many times it left me with far less.
My head rotated to be sure no one was around to witness me sliding the bottle out of my pocket. Listening to the satisfying “THUNK!” as it hit the ground gave me such an overwhelming sense of pleasure. My little secret. The thrill of it had me smirking. The evidence of my visits just lying there to glisten in the light of day as I waltzed home with the real prize.
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.
“Who’s more stubborn?”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Iuse 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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”.
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.
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