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
I don’t know what it is about Tallulah wearing boots that brings out the absolute worst in people. I can’t say that she’s brought out the best in people when she wasn’t wearing boots but I can say with certainty that the boots make interactions with other people far worse than usual. It’s as if people see them and suddenly lose their manners.
Tallulah and I can’t go into a store and be left alone. If I go in for a single item, along the way we will get stopped at least two or three times. Can you imagine everyone at a grocery store stopping you to ask you what you’re doing there or trying to be friends with you? If the store is larger and more crowded that number vastly increases. These moments happen even more frequently when Tallulah is wearing her boots. Retrieving one item with her boots on can take us 20 or 30 minutes and we will get stopped by almost every single person who passes by. The conversations go something like this:
“OH MY GOD!!! How did you get your dog to wear those CUTE boots?!”
“My dog would NEVER let me do that.”
“DID YOU SEE THE DOG WEARING BOOTS?!”
“So umm… are you like a dog trainer or something? I could use your help with my dog.”
“Why do you have a dog in here?”
“Is this a Seeing Eye dog?!”
“Why is your stupid dog wearing boots?”
“What’s wrong with you that you would need a service dog? You look fine.”
“My cousins uncles ex-wife’s sister had a service Dog. I know ALL about how to train them. I’m getting one for myself too.”
I’ve had grown men bark at Tallulah when we’re out and about, in an attempt to get her to react poorly. I’ve had people call me names for having her with me and that was without the boots. Adults have grabbed at her face and pulled her tail and have run up behind her to grab her. She’s half German Shephard and ½ Rough Coat Collie. Their behavior makes for some of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen adults do.
Still, worse yet are the more recent interactions I’ve had while Tallulah was wearing her boots. I needed to take Tallulah into Kroger with me so I could pick up some items. Rob, Nikolai, and I were staying in a hotel while Rob was working on a downed life-flight aircraft that needed his attention and mad skills. As I was driving I could tell that I wasn’t feeling right. My heart was flip-flopping in my chest but I decided to ignore it because I really needed to pick some things up and I knew that I was going to bring Tallulah in with me.
I pulled into a parking space and Rob pulled into a different parking space because we had taken two separate cars. He decided to take himself and our son to Great Clips for haircuts, this way he would look more professional and Nikolai would look cute for school when break was over. I grabbed my wallet, gave Tallulah her command to unload from the car, and off we went.
The second her feet hit the parking lot I had four people staring, pointing, and commenting. No big deal. I use moments like this to help train Tallulah to be at the top of her game. We walked into the store and an employee is squealing with delight at the sight of Tallulah. I don’t feel the best so I ignore it and make a path to the Dog food isle. We get less than one fourth of the way there when a little old man tries to stop me so he can pet Tallulah. Not a problem normally except that I felt off and I wanted to get in and get out. Tallulah ignores him as I taught her to do. I smile politely, Keep my eyes on where I’m going and decided to “Korea” the situation.
While living in Korea in the “Ville,” salesmen would stop us every few feet to sell us something. We quickly learned that while it’s polite in the States to stop and make small talk with some vendors… you wouldn’t get very far in Korea if you chose to do that. You would open yourself up to a haggle over the pricing of an item that you never wanted in the first place. Since vendors line the streets in Korea you would never get to your original destination on time. After making eye contact, every attempt to continue walking would have them stepping in front of you to cut you off and stop you from leaving.
The only way to avoid a situation like that was to smile but keep your eyes focused on where you were going and ignore everything else. If they stepped in to cut you off, you push past them as if you never saw them in the first place. Most people (state side) think you’re too focused to have heard them correctly or that you’re in too much of a rush. It’s better to be rude than to never get where you need to go.
I squared my shoulders, smiled, kept my eyes forward, and disengaged with the man. I cued Tallulah to “Leave it” even though he was trying to pet her as we walked by. The Korea method did the trick and I used it again to get past a group of teenagers. There were a few other adults who also desperately tried to get my attention (and Tallulah’s) but we acted like we were on a mission and we were!
Someone yelled “Are you a dog trainer?!” from somewhere in the store in the store, but Tallulah and I just kept on walking.
We FINALLY gathered up all our items and I was determined to check out quickly. My hands were vibrating. Not from the stress of all the people trying to stop us… but because I didn’t feel well. I ignored my body so that way I could get Tallulah and Nikolai some food but I could tell that I was getting worse. I felt unsteady. Dizzy, and my chest had a horrible pressure that was painful. My hands were trembling harder by the minute. It was really important to get to the car to check my blood pressure and make the decision to possibly take my medicine.
We stood in line to checkout but behind me a small group gathered to get a better look at Tallulah. It was finally my turn to pay. One woman followed me to the self-checkout counter. I tossed my items down to scan them and focused on keeping my breath even. SO much frustrating chest pressure but there was no way I was leaving without my items this time. The woman moved so that she was standing so close behind me that she was breathing on the back of my neck.
“Hi baby! What’s your name? You’re a cute puppy aren’t you? I love your boots. Come here! Let me pet you. Here sweet baby. You’re too cute in those boots for me not to pet you. Here girl! Come see me. You don’t need to lay there.”
I turned around to look at her and tossed her a disgusted expression. Tallulah scooted closer to me. She felt uneasy. Tallulah’s golden colored ears were constantly flicking in my direction. She looked up at me for reassurance which I rewarded with love and a treat.
“Leave it Tulla.” I cooed over the woman’s outstretched hand.
I was trying to put my card into the pay slot and type in my PIN number. The woman (with no groceries) frustratingly stood past my bubble of what was socially acceptable for strangers and just wouldn’t quit. She stood so close that she was almost touching the back of my head and was looking over my shoulder at the card reader while I was trying to enter my pin. Her eyes then darted back down at Tallulah when she saw that I caught her snooping. I punched in my pin, waited for it to accept my payment, and I gave Tallulah a TON of positive feedback with treats during the process.
“WAY TO GO GIRL!! You did SO well at ignoring the crazy lady! I’m SO proud of you” I said while turning to make direct eye contact with the crazy lady. I then gave Tallulah the cue for us to leave once our grocery bags were securely on my arm. We walked calmly to our SUV. Once we got to the vehicle I opened the back door up and gave Tallulah the cue to hop back in.
A man getting into the vehicle across from mine with his girlfriend in tow, looked over at Tallulah and I. He loudly announced to his partner “Did you see that woman with her stupid dog wearing shoes? I can’t believe she put shoes on a DOG! Some people are so dumb!”
I could have ignored it and walked away. I probably should have but I could feel the anger rising up to heat my throat. I laughed and firmly announced back “We’re right here! My dog is a service dog who’s a lot smarter than you are so I’d watch what you say.”
With that Tallulah was loaded up, tucked in, and buckled. I decided to wait an hour or so before checking my blood pressure because the guy made me angry and I didn’t think that the reading would be accurate. Once we were at our hotel and I had rested for a bit, I decided to check it. My hands were still jittery from not feeling well. My chest hurt, and my heart still felt jumpy. The numbers were 129/101 but I decided to wait a little longer to see if it would come down on its own. I finally caved and took some BP medicine after having woken up later that night to my heart pounding in my chest. My numbers were a lot higher and although it took a while to start working, the medicine helped.
A few days later in the hotel lobby, I was standing at the coffee counter making Nikolai and I a small cup of hot chocolate because I had been feeling a little queasy. We had just taken Tallulah out to use the bathroom and I needed something to sip. Tallulah was sitting quietly waiting for us to get our drinks when a woman behind us piped up and caught my attention.
“Is that dog wearing shoes?! WHY?!”
“Yep! She’s a service dog in training. There’s glass in the parking lot and in the grass where I tried to take her to use the bathroom. She’s wearing boots to protect her feet.” I said with a smile.
“OH! That makes perfect sense. Plus it probably helps her outrun the drones.”
I stared at her with a blank expression on my face. She looked completely serious. The silence between us grew thick. Nikolai looked at Tallulah, then at the woman, and back at me. Tallulah’s eyes darted from me, to the woman, to Nikolai, and back onto me.
“Ummm… what?” I said looking for clarification, even though I knew there probably wasn’t any.
“Yeah! You know… the drones! They’re real. They probably chase her and her boots help her outrun them.”
I grabbed Nikolai’s arm, and wrapped Tallulah’s leash a little tighter around my fingers. I picked up my hot chocolate in the hand that was holding Tulla’s leash while ushering Nikolai to stick with me. I cued Tallulah in that we were making our way to the nearest exit.
“Why are we leaving so fast mom?” Nikolai asked me
I stared at the woman on our way out and responded “We need to go so we can get very far away from the weird creepy lady.”
Nikolai hit the elevator button and I laughed it off as the doors closed us in and lifted us to safety. Nikolai giggled too. I felt like Tallulah thought the entire thing called for a nap. Instead of sitting in the lobby sipping on our drinks and watching the rain fall (like we had planned), we cozied up to watch some movies on cable TV instead. Tallulah slept on the cool foyer tile for a bit. I was feeling extremely thankful that the bizarre interactions at least gave me something interesting to write about this week.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a school shut down for any reason other than snow and Covid. After having grown up in Chicago where the wind-chill could easily drop temperatures to something more closely resembling forty below… I was overtaken by a case of the giggles when I received a text message from Nikolai’s school that read something like this:
“Due to extreme weather changes, we have decided to delay the school day by two hours this morning. Please drop off students before 9:20 AM. School bus schedules will continue on a normal schedule just on a two hour delay.”
I sat staring at my phone screen trying to figure out what I was missing. Had it snowed over night? I checked the window and stared out at my driveway. No snow. Was the temp outside that outrageous? I pulled up the weather application on my home screen. Twenty three degrees was the low but it only lasted for an hour and the day was calling for sunshine and clear skies. The school couldn’t possibly be on a two hour delay over a hair below freezing. Could it?! Apparently so! Not a single snowflake to be seen and yet we all got to sleep in because… it was a little cold in Georgia.
By this time I was having fits of laughter. The only time my school in Chicago shut down was if the streets were so full of snow and ice that the plows didn’t have the ability to handle bailing everyone out right away. Even then, at the most it lasted a day… maybe two and we were right back at it as soon as possible. Most of the time school resumed even when our parents thought the roads were still too dangerous.
For fear of an unexcused absence, as kids we waited to be loaded up onto busses. We spent a lot of time waiting at the bus stop in temperatures fit for living in Alaska while blowing hot air into our gloves to heat up frozen fingers. School hallways were covered in muddy icicles that got kicked around. Most of us wore the same fluffy snow boots and snow pants to school multiple days in a row to help us stay warm. Our hair was frizzy from our snow hats and our lockers would barley close but we were there to learn!
More recently I got a weather report on my phone calling for 2-3 inches of snow and ice in North Georgia possibly by this Sunday. I have only seen it snow once on our little farm but it was a magical sight. Snow in Georgia is usually gone by the late afternoon but it’s balmy and delightful instead of bitter cold like it is in Illinois. I’d happily take a snow day to watch Nikolai’s cheeks turn pink as we spend the morning making snow angels and snow men together. I’ve been dying to make him some snow ice cream this year! I’d also happily take an extra two hours of sleep over trying to back down my driveway in the dark to get Nikolai to school in the morning. I am hopefully optimistic that we may get this privilege once more.
Our Easy Homemade Snow Ice Cream Recipe:
Add snow to a bowl
Add milk but only until the snow is packable or a tick more soupy
Ever since New Year’s Day we’ve been putting out figurative farm fires about as well as tossing gasoline onto them. From water outages due to our well wiring shorting out, to injured animals, to Covid, and beyond… 2022 is the new 2020. After having Isabell farm sit for us while we took some time to spend the holidays together, we pulled into our driveway to massive amounts of flooding. The farm survived two tornado touchdowns nearby but there was a lot of work to be done to fix the damage.
Both of our main pastures were under water. The creek built up to the bank and then poured into our fields. Our ducks were having the best week ever but our poor cats, dogs, chickens, and equine were swimming in it. Our driveway was all but washed out, there was a waterfall being made out of the leftover hay pile and the cleanup involved wading in horse manure and old hay almost up to our knee caps.
Harlow was my first biggest concern and major worry. The big black and white paint suffered a slip and fall injury (most likely due to fireworks) that left him with a swollen hip on the back end. The flooding and mud gave him white line (a fungal infection in his front hooves) which made him pretty tender on his toes as well. To top it off he just wasn’t acting quite like himself. I was so stressed and concerned for his well-being that I had a panic attack on the way to tractor supply for vet wrap and liniment ointment.
A few days later, after a trip to the vet for pain reliever to help Harlow… my mom and my grandmother in Arizona called to tell me that they both contracted Covid. My grandmother who has severe asthma was struggling to breathe at night on her own and my mom was having a hard time staying awake during the day. Neither one of them was functional. I felt helpless. They were also struggling with water issues on their farm. Despite her high fevers from Covid, my mom was forced to haul water because their water tank kept freezing. I had to call them a couple times a day to check in to ease my concerns. I felt worried that things would take a turn and they may end up hospitalized.
My health was struggling again as well. My blood pressure spikes and heart palpitations made it difficult to keep up with treating Harlow as well as covering the usual farm chores. The cherry on top was that Isabell had also come down with Covid. We had to deep clean the house and social distance from her to keep the rest of us as healthy as possible.
We continued to have issues with our well. Rob spent most of his time at home trying to rewire everything or rig things to be at least more functional for the short term. Meanwhile he had a toothache and a Covid booster to tackle as well as being concerned over my rising blood pressure that was out of control. It was all too overwhelming for both of us. Some days we hid under the blankets in the early hours of the mornings. We whispered and joked that if we never got out of bed than we wouldn’t have to grapple with whatever came at us next.
We built up the courage, had our morning beverages, and pulled our mucking boots over our pant legs. It’s hard to go from losing a friend on Christmas day to all this hitting us at once on New Year’s. Yet when you have a farm there’s no hiding from the work that needs to get done no matter how you feel.
“We’re fine! Everything’s fine! Fine, fine, fine. Everpine… EverFine… We’re NOT fine!” Rob joked with me one morning during yet another car ride to the hardware store.
Good farm days are fabulous but bad farm days are horrific. This life is far from laid back or free of hustle. We work hard for everything we have. It’s a different kind of work than that of an office job and a rental property or regular mortgage. You have to make the most with what you have, rig things to work when you can’t make it perfect, and keep moving forward. There are no sick or mental health days when farm work needs to get done.
You know things are turning a corner when your biggest problem of the day is an escaped horse who stuffed his face in dog food. There was no misstep to Harlow’s gate once he was feeling more like himself again. He decided to ditch his pasture for greener grass as soon as he realized that his electric fence was down for the day. He simply pushed on it with his chest and stepped over it gleefully. We pulled into the driveway after picking up Nikolai from school and had to tag team as a family in order to catch him and rectify the hot wire.
We were so happy to see his spunk come back that we didn’t even mind the attitude from “Jerk Face” Harlow (I say that with love). We laughed, we shook our heads and we thanked God for a more normal day than the ones we’ve had. Caspian too was feeling his cheerios because a day or two later he nearly scared Rob to death while he was working on our well in the middle of the night. Caspian looked almost like a bear in the dark with all his ruffled hairy fur rather than the crazy donkey he truly is. Poor Rob spent an hour trying to catch Caspian by himself that time.
It took cornering Caspian and chasing him off into the stall in order for the little Ass to be caught. I’ll bet Caspian was sitting in that stall laughing at Rob for having outsmarted him quite a few times like he does to me. It just wouldn’t be OUR farm without the mischievous furry faces. Everpine… Everfine.
I didn’t think that I was a truck girl when I was growing up in Chicago. I was far more in love with the fast cars at the racetrack that my father’s family ran. The deafening roar of the engine, the wind in my hair from cars speeding around the track, and the sleek curvy bodies on some beautifully engineered sports cars. It was the chef’s kiss in my opinion and it still is… in a way. I loved sitting in the stands on the very edge of the icy aluminum bench while peeling one butt cheek up at a time to alleviate the numbness. I found joy in braving the Chicago wind that would chaff my nose and lips before I could make a run for a warm pretzel and a sugary cup of hot chocolate. I thought I’d never be the type of girl who owned a rusty beat up ford truck.
I began to fall in love with country living when I started growing up and taking horse riding lessons. Trail riding in open fields, flanked by rows of corn was medicine to my soul. Robin blue skies above my head, heels down, quiet hands, and finally being able to hear myself think after being bullied in school. Horses don’t care if your hair is red, and lesson horses don’t mind if you wrap your skinny arms around their neck to take a moment to cry about your day. They don’t talk back by calling you stupid for being dyslexic. The only currency a horse will demand is in respect and once you’ve earned it, your investment doubles. They certainly won’t verbally abuse you with the kind of words that take years to undo.
I fell in love with horses first and country living second before I fell in love with trucks. Everything changed after my grandfather bought a brand new ford. A stunning blue and white two-door Ford truck was sitting in my driveway after school one day. My grandfather was so proud of it that he asked to take my picture while I stood in front of it. He carried that picture around in his wallet for as long as I could remember. We took so many road trips together in that truck. I would slide in next to him and we would bounce down the private dirt road that led to his 20 acre farm in Arizona. The windows rolled down as far they could go and the scent of gasoline hanging thick in the air while hauling my pony home…that was the moment I fell in love with trucks. Being able to combine my love of equine, gardening supplies, and my joy of surrounding myself with nature was the perfect marriage.
My first truck (of my own) was a dodge that after about 6 months give or take, broke down in my driveway because it failed to go into reverse. It didn’t last long but I was thankful for the memories I made in it with my son. I picked him up early from school one day and took him to get donuts and drinks at Dunkin’ Donuts. We spent the afternoon feeding ducks at a random pond that we found and later played on a little swing set nearby. I kept a tube of pumpkin chapstick and bottle of pumpkin hand lotion in a little holder in the front seat so it always smelled like pumpkins. Riding in that truck was the highlight of Nikolai’s week. The darn truck drank oil like a fish in water and would sometimes overheat but it was our farm truck. We named it Big Blue for the V8 engine. That rusty old rattle-can-spray-painted Dodge is still sitting lifeless in my driveway; its new purpose is to hold round bales in the flatbed that I cover with a tarp until I’m ready to use them.
My second truck is an old 72 Ford F100. It’s missing a gas tank but I spotted it on advertisement on Facebook Market place. It doesn’t exactly run either. I mean it runs if you rig a gas can up to it… but it’s not reliable. The rear tire is flat right now, and it’s been sitting by my creek for about a year or so. We have big plans for her once our to-do list isn’t quite so overwhelming. We plan to bring her back to her former glory with an alignment, all new parts, and a new paint job. Maybe we’ll even get the farm logo branded onto the door. She’s got chippy paint that matches the sky and possibly a bee’s nest under the hood but she’s lovelier with age and patina. Nothing brightens my day like snuggling with my husband and Nikolai as we drive through mountain roads together in an old truck. As much as I still admire sports cars, there’s something special about dusty dirt roads and patina coated farm trucks. Don’t you think so?
Friendships through adulthood come and go. As people age and life marches forward, everyone gets wrapped up in playing the leading role in their own personal lifetime movies. Once you get married and have kids, it’s really easy to do. I think more about what I need to cook my kid for dinner, or reminding myself for the thousandth time to set the alarm on my phone so that we make it to school on time, than I do checking in with my friends. Nobody does it on purpose. I know I don’t anyway.
As I’ve aged my circle of friends has become smaller and smaller. I’ve kept the relationships that were important to me and I tossed out the rest. The people that remained in my life were those who were the most valuable. They were the kind of people who I could call weeks or months later and we would have the kind of conversations that made it seem like only a day or two had passed us by. My friend Tiffany was one of those people.
She would see something I wrote on Facebook and then my cell phone would ring on some random Wednesday. I’d be in the middle of driving myself home from a health crisis or on my way to get groceries. I’d pick up the call and it was her voice that was on the other end of the line.
“How are you holding up?” She’d ask me.
I would pop off with a generic answer and mid- conversation Tiff would stop me.
“No. Tell me how you’re REALLY doing.” She would say sternly.
Just like that she was my shoulder to lean on. She was my sounding board for medical drama. Most of all she was the person holding my hand from another state while I cried my eyes out on the side of the road in frustration. She sat, she listened, and she helped me lace my boots back up so I could keep moving forward. I tried to do the same for her but Tiff was amazing at lacing up her own boots.
Tiff’s personal life was a mess; People closest to her would hurt her in the worst ways. She never deserved it, and incredibly Tiff was able to forgive. Not forget. Not be a doormat. Deeply rooted, loving forgiveness. I once asked her how she was able to find it in her heart to do that after all she had been through and she told me that it hurt her more to hold onto the anger than it did to let it go. I couldn’t do it. Not the way she did but her strength was inspirational.
On a sunny day with my windows down and my music maxed out in my SUV, my phone rang. I picked up the line to hear Tiff’s voice on the other end asking me if I was able to sit down somewhere because she had something she needed to tell me. She had cancer again and my heart broke. I cried and she told me not to be sad.
“I beat this before. I’m going to kick cancer’s ass Lish! Don’t be sad for me. I’m going to beat it and then I’m going to live my life doing all the things I love.”
20 years of friendship with this incredible woman taught me that if anybody could beat cancer for a second time… it was her. She lost her eye to cancer as a child but she kicked its ass. Despite the odds then, she spent her high school years being friends with me and several other amazing women. Tiff was fearless. Sometimes when she was struggling she would withdraw into herself to protect those around her, I knew whenever I hadn’t heard from her in a while that she was struggling. I also knew I needed to give her the space she needed to deal with it because… I’ve been there. Not with cancer but with my own health battles.
I finally got the call that I had been praying for. She finished radiation; they thought they got it all in time and all felt well in our worlds again. It was short lived. A persistent dry cough was bothering her. She assured me it was nothing but she decided to get it checked out. It was cancer for the third time. This time it was more aggressive and it was on her lung.
When she told me what was going on, I had this awful feeling twisting up my gut. I mentioned life expectancy and she told me that she refused to go there. She was in it to win it and no mindset otherwise would help her get to that goal. So we never talked about it again. We talked about throwing up (something I’m familiar with) and about trips to chemo. We talked about things she wanted to do and short term goals that filled her with joy… like going to Disney World with her family.
She meet the love of her life, a man named Ty. Tiff finally found a man worthy of being with her. He took her to doctor appointments, held her hair when she threw up, and had her overflowing with happiness. She wanted to marry him and I was grateful that he was the sunshine to her cloudy days. She deserved all the love this life had to offer her and I was thankful that he provided that.
About a week and a half before Christmas day, Tiff sent me voice recordings on Facebook. It was unusual. She had never done that before but I was so thankful to have heard from her. We spent two days sending messages back and forth for hours at a time. It started before her mom picked her up for her next chemo treatment. She asked me questions about Gastroparesis- the stomach illness that nearly killed me. She found out that because of chemo and the medication she was on, that she had it too.
“How did you do it? How did you get through how horrible it feels and how painful it is for as long as you did?”
Nobody ever asked me that before. No one ever validated me in that way. Here she was, the woman fighting cancer despite the odds and she took the time to validate me. That’s the kind of person Tiff was. Not just for me, but for everyone else too. She was one of a kind in more ways than I can write about. Some of her life stories are only hers to tell which prevents me from going into too much detail, but believe me… Tiff was special.
On Christmas day I got a call from our mutual friend “Ashley” informing me that Tiff’s body was rapidly declining and she decided to enter hospice. I knew how angry tiff was when the doctors mentioned hospice the last time. She could no longer call anyone. She hadn’t held food down in days. The day or so prior to this, she married the love of her life in a non-legal ceremony to avoid saddling him with her medical debt. Ty will forever in my mind be known as Tiff’s husband. My beautiful selfless friend passed away 15 minutes after all of her family members arrived to say their goodbyes on Christmas Day.
I spent the rest of the day trying to focus on my family, and slipping out of the room to cry. I cried during dinner when I couldn’t hold the flood of emotions in any longer. I cried during the movie we tried to watch together as a family. I cried on the phone with Ashley, and I cried alone in the hotel parking lot before calling my mom to cry some more. Tiff was so loved that when her family posted the go-fund me page for her end-of-life expenses… within 6 hours over fourteen thousand dollars had been raised.
I was able to forward some of her voice recordings to Ashley, and Ty. Ashley forwarded them to Tiff’s family members for me. I was so thankful I had them. I think she knew in her own way that people would need them. I deleted Tiff’s number from my cell phone. Not because I didn’t want to remember her anymore, but because I didn’t want to out-of-habit text or call her. I knew in my gut that I would. Something would come up and I’d think of her and instinctively out of muscle memory… I was going to grab my phone to share it with my soul sister. Only eventually I’d hear some random person attached to her number and it would break me.
Tiff lived to be 34 years old. People gravitated to her like planets around the sun. She spent 34 years defying the odds. She died fighting to live. Even after enrolling in hospice she was asking if she could leave once she got better. Cancer never won because Tiff never gave up. Her memory will follow me until I follow her and it will be that way for everyone who knew her. She would have been pissed at me for spending Christmas crying over her rather than finding joy in my loved ones but I just couldn’t stop. Even knowing in advance that this time might come… I still felt caught off guard. Tiff was going to win. I didn’t have faith that cancer wouldn’t take her, but I did have faith in Tiff’s strength. She won the war in my opinion and as Tiff always said… F*ck Cancer anyway.
Sometimes my kid will do something so hysterical that I have to rush to find a quiet spot to jot the entire thing down in order to memorialize it. Recently Nikolai was frustrated with me because we sat in the parking lot of dollar general for a solid 30 minutes due to me having had one of those moments.
Tears were pouring down my face and I just had to get it on paper. Prior to this event, I needed to hit up the store for some odds and ends so I grabbed Tallulah and was nearly late picking up Nikolai up from school. Tallulah is going through her first heat cycle and I thought we were getting through it beautifully up until she began driving me to insanity with her restlessness. It helps exhaust her by working her brain as well as her body, so she needed to come with me. I was almost late because I had to search the house to find her heat pants. Last time when I forgot to grab them, she made a mess in my car. Nikolai was screaming with horror from being stuck in the back seat with her. He suddenly began yelling something along the lines of “MOM! TULLA GOT BLOOD ON MY CAR SEAT!!” Whoops! Insert puke emoji here.
It’s a bit awkward taking my service-dog-in-training to public places while wearing doggy underwear. A normal dog being in a store draws a lot of attention. A dog being in a store wearing doggie underwear draws ALL the attention. Most of the time it’s because people are wondering why a service dog isn’t potty trained and I find myself having to defend her honor. So once I got her heat pants on and finally picked Doodles (Nikolai) up from school, the three of us piled out of the car and made our way into Dollar General. Every eye turned to look at us from the moment we walked in because… heat pants.
So we’re browsing the isles with a good amount of people surrounding us and that’s when Nikolai spotted a nut cracker with a sparkling blue jacket, black boots, and a red top hat. Nikolai gasps with delight and so begins one of my favorite new memories.
Nikolai shouts at me “MOM! LOOK AT THIS NUTCRACKER!”
“Cool! Put it back” I respond firmly.
“BUT MOM! I NEED TO CRACK NUTS! You don’t get it.”
“I DO get it Nikolai, but no… you really don’t need it. Please put it back.” I laughed a little, shook my head and continued browsing further down the aisle with Tallulah at my side.
“BUT MOM! I NEED TO CHOMP SOME NUTS! I’ve never had a nut cracker before! LOOK AT HIM! We have nuts, I NEED to chomp them!”
I could feel my face beginning to flush so I tried talking in a more hushed tone. “Settle down. Please for the love of all things holy stop yelling that.”
This only animated his plea and furthered my humiliation. “CHOMP! CHOMP! NUTS! I NEED TO CHOMP ALL THE NUTS! LOOK AT HIS MOUTH MOM!”
“Look mom, we have TONS of nuts at home. TONS! I HAVE to have it! I wanna see him chomp the nuts! I HAVE to do this! I HAVE to chomp ALL the nuts mom!”
By this point I think I’m dying… of humiliation… of laughter… of my mind being in the gutter. I was sure I was going to Hell for thinking of the wrong kind of nuts but as it turned out, I wasn’t the only one.
Nikolai at this point had created a song that he was sing-shouting at the top of his lungs. “CHOMP! CHOMP! CHOMP! CHOMP ALL THESE NUTS!”
Tears of joy poured down my Santa-Clause-red cheeks and refused to stop. A fellow mom with two teenagers standing in the aisle with me began hyperventilating from trying to hold in the laughter.
She choked out “Oh my Lord. Your kid… just made my day. PLEASE tell me you’re buying that for him.”
I’m not usually one to give in to any kind of pleading but this time I ceded with “I guess I have to now!”
Nikolai was enjoying the attention at this point and asked if he made us laugh and I quipped “You sure did buddy, but not for the reasons that you think.”
Yet another mom to a couple of younger kids (who were wandering around the balloon aisle), was laughing so hard she was snorting pig noises and her chest was heaving. I didn’t think at this point that the conversation with Nikolai could get any more humiliating… but I was wrong.
Nikolai upon learning that I was giving in to his plea started dancing in the middle of Dollar General on the way to the checkout counter shouting “YAY! You’re the BEST mom EVER! Thanks for letting me chomp nuts at home mom! I LOVE chomping nuts! I can’t wait to chomp SO many nuts mom!”
A third mother and several employees were doubled over and somewhere in the store somebody was gasping for air and begging the Lord to make it stop while another employee exclaimed “I think I peed myself!”
I KNEW I had peed a little (product of having had a kid that was bouncing on my bladder at one point of time in my life) so I decided that it was time to head home. Nikolai spent over an hour searching our house for the almonds I like to snack on. When he crawled into my arms empty handed, his face was wearing a forlorn expression.
He looked up at me with glossy eyes and with a straight face exclaimed “I don’t have any nuts mom.”
I don’t know what’s more frustrating- waiting for news about the direction in which your life is going to go, or not being able to sleep through it. Nikolai woke up this morning with hardly enough time to spare to get to school before the first bell. With my newly acquired blood pressure medication making my body feel more confused than ever by bottoming out my numbers, I’ve been in no shape to drive so Rob took Nikolai to school for me. One moment I’m feeling amazing because the pressure in my chest is gone from having high numbers and the next I’m wondering why the walls in my bedroom are bending. I should have gone back to bed but my brain wouldn’t allow it.
I decided to plan on tackling the day regardless of the circumstances at hand. My body feels unsteady but there’s a list of housework, farm chores, and errands to be done before Rob leaves for his next life-flight destination. Izzy’s car needs new breaks on it so Rob is fixing that for her for Christmas today. The farm is out of feed that we need to replace right away and we have to drive to Atlanta to pick up a rental truck for Rob to use while traveling for work. As an added bonus the truck will help us take trash to the landfill. None of that includes my crash course in rainwater maintenance or the housework I need to finish.
My mind keeps wandering back to what the bank is going to say today as I sip my hot cup of spiced tea and stuff a cinnamon raisin bagel into my mouth. It will be a while yet before the bank opens and we need to give them time to discuss our case. I find my gaze drawn to my bedroom window, down our long driveway, and watch as several chickens peck at some pebbles. It helps to manage disappointment by reminding myself of how big our little life is and to count the blessings we already have.
Tallulah is lying in the driveway hysterically looking as if she’s lacking front legs. Her golden and white coat on her chest is parallel to the ground, and her front paws are tucked away under the fluffy mane around her neck. She thrives on being able to run the perimeter of our farm with our other amazing dog named “Moose” and her mama “Bambi”.
When the air is crisp and the temps drop, our farm babies start to feel frisky. I caught Harlow (our big black and white horse) dancing around his pasture yesterday, flinging mud in every direction, tossing his head, and rolling to his heart’s content.
Caspian our little donkey made his daring escape last week. Rob and I were taking a short nap before picking Nikolai up from school when the little jerk hopped the fence to his enclosure. The dogs were going crazy which is what woke Rob up in the first place. To my horror I saw that Caspian had dragged the brand new bag of cat food I bought, into the middle of the driveway. Shreds of the cat food bag littered the yard and floated into our other pastures on the winter breeze. Caspian’s eyes were dead locked on mine and his mouth was slightly agape as tiny fish shaped snacks fell from his lips.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from owning a donkey it’s that they are nothing like any other animal I have ever known. You can’t bribe a donkey in the way you can bride a dog or a horse. Most are very cat like in the fact that as long as they have food, they don’t really care if you love on them or not. They also have the unique ability to smell your intentions long before you’re even sure what you’re going to do. Caspian took one look at me, tuned his butt cheeks in my direction, and trotted towards the dirt road.
While I was busy trying to locate my shoes and decide if a dog leash would work as a makeshift halter, he was already making his way towards the main road with our three dogs trailing behind him. I felt my panic level rising and my blood beyond boiling point. By the time I caught up to him he was trotting gleefully through the mud puddles he refuses to go through with me. I attempted to turn my Ass back towards home by cutting him off. It worked… up until it didn’t. He decided that the tuffs of fresh grass we’ve been growing out in Harlow’s second pasture looked like a more mouthwatering idea.
In hopes that the electric fence would somehow contain him long enough for me to get the leash around his neck, I creeped towards him at the pace of an inchworm. I swear I saw Caspian’s eyes glaze over with amusement the moment I thought I had him beat. Yet with all the grace of a ballerina… he surged forward and slipped through the fence lines. Rob fixed the fence where Caspian jumped his way out of his own pasture and when Caspian was good and ready… he waltzed through the open gate with all the swagger of a winner. Other than my disheveled mess of red hair, had anyone shown up within that moment they wouldn’t have guessed that I spent over an hour trying to get him to do just that.
Nothing is more humbling than being outsmarted by an Ass after chasing it up and down the road. Unfortunately this isn’t the first time this has happened, or even the second. I once came home to Caspian wearing Mardi Gras beads, having escaped his pasture, bucking and rearing while trying to chase one of our farm cats up a tree. Where he got the beads from I wasn’t entirely sure but I suspected Nikolai had something to do with it.
Sometimes farm life makes it so you’re not sure if you’d rather laugh about certain situations, be livid, or cry about it. Yet a bad day on the farm you own (despite being far more overwhelming than a bad day of living in a rental house)… is still better than the best of days without all the furry faces to pull you through the tough times.
The bank called us back and told us to re-apply for the land loan on February 1st. I think I feel relieved about the fact that it’s not a solid “No” it’s more of a “Not yet”. I called the land owner and she too is willing to wait the month and a half timeframe we need to re-apply. So there’s hope! We will continue working towards our goal, pull up our boot straps and try again. We’re not shy of hard work or bad farm days.
We should never have gotten out of bed today. After having spent all day yesterday in the hospital, trying to figure out why my blood pressure was overwhelmingly high, we truly expected today to go better. We stayed up late because we couldn’t sleep and with Izzy’s help covering farm chores in the morning, we felt comfortable sleeping in. Even though it was only Tuesday… we needed the mental and emotional break from my current health crisis. Which is how my husband and I deal with mental stress. We fight through it, rest, and then we regroup. So we relaxed and lazily slept until noon, after which I got up to tackle some house work. After every battle with my body, our little house goes from tidy to messy and as soon as I feel physically able to do so… I get to work to rectify it. That’s how the day compiled into what we call “a crap sandwich”.
We went from attempting to shower before picking up our son up from school, to sitting in the car line brainstorming strategies on how to troubleshoot the electricity going to our well-house. It’s never a good day on the farm without running water. The well went out last week and my amazing husband was sure he had the thing fixed. Thankfully a while back Rob installed a rain water collection system that could, in a pinch, be hooked up to our house, ran through the water heater for hot showers, and used for farm animals as well. He figured this out when we had no electricity to water the animals after a bad storm hit one year. Yet with my husband’s job as a Life-Flight aircraft mechanic things get tricky when he has to be gone for weeks at a time and we’re without water. There just wasn’t going to be enough time left in his week at home to fix the well before having to return to work this Thursday. That meant coming up with a plan to spend the next two weeks keeping our house rigged up to rainwater and me trying to keep everything skating until he makes it back. Strike one.
Strike two for the day was our son piling into the car and announcing that he said “yes” to a little girl at school who asked him to be her boyfriend. I personally wasn’t emotionally prepared for this type of conversation with my just-turned-7 year-old son. He sat and told us how he wasn’t sure how to handle it and rather than break her heart he agreed. There were some awkward silences and confused concern on my part as I wrestled with my feelings. I listened to my husband try to find the words to convey that the best policy for heartbreak is honesty. He also pushed that Niki was way too young for girlfriends anyway. If my brain hadn’t been silently screaming “NO!” during the conversation while simultaneously stressing over the well issue… I might have peed myself when Niki mentioned that he couldn’t even remember the little girl’s name. Rob on the other hand could barely contain himself. Laughter bubbled through his stern expression and the grin he flashed won me over momentarily. Strike Three came shortly after that when Nikolai announced that he lost his big winter jacket somewhere at school.
Strike four popped up when we arrived at our destination a good distance from home. We had been driving on red when we arrived and were suddenly overcome with horror upon realizing that we both forgot our wallets sitting on the kitchen counter. Thank goodness for laundry day! We scoured the car for loose change and scored a whopping $4.00. Due to current gas prices, neither one of us was sure if we were going to make it home but we had few options left. Beyond attempting to get there in our car, and walking… our only other option was panhandling our way there as a family. We found a gas station to hand over our nickels to, held hands, and prayed for the best.
My blood pressure felt awfully wonky and rightfully so… but we pulled into the driveway at home having arrived without having to beg for spare change. Hardly having a moment to breathe with relief, strike five blindsided us. Rob’s cell phone rang and he held it up to show me that it was the lender for the land we’ve been scrimping and saving for. The ability to own more land and expand our little farm without having to move was a potential blessing that we didn’t see coming. We discussed what we would do in the event that it fell through but we didn’t think that we’d actually have to face that option. We saved every penny they asked for. We got it done in two month flat and we still had money to spend on Nikolai’s birthday and Christmas.
I saw Rob’s face drop when he took the call. I knew we had been denied. Almost 5 years ago we lost our house in Tennessee because there was no job security. We bought the Tennessee house long before the housing market crashed and we owed more on it than we could reasonably sell it for yet we couldn’t live there any longer. After holding onto it for as long as we could, the bank took over. We were forced into filing for bankruptcy and foreclosure. It hit us hard. We took it personally but we pulled up our boot straps as a family, determined to never go through that again and wanting to own something that we could easily pay off. We saved up cash and bought our small nearly 5 acre farm. We got a loan for a little house to be pulled onto the property. We paid off our cars, the property, and began working our way towards paying off our little house. That’s when the opportunity to buy more land became available. It was more than what we dreamed possible but it seemed within our reach so we saved up like crazy. The bank denied our loan for not having been exactly 5 years post-bankruptcy. We were exactly one month short of our 5 year mark.
We called to discuss the issue with the woman handling our bank loan. We talked to her about re-applying in a month or seeing if they would wave it since we were so close to their cut off mark and closing wouldn’t happen until after their cut-off date anyway. We were told we’d get a final answer within a day or so. She admitted that she had no idea it was so close to the 5 year mark and remembered her discussion with me about the foreclosure on our record possibly being close to the cut-off date. The situation isn’t over quite yet.
I’d be lying if I said we didn’t feel disappointed, frustrated, and discouraged in this moment. While Rob held my hand in the hospital yesterday this is all we looked forward to. This land was the early Christmas present that we were gifting to ourselves. The beginning of something bigger, it was going to be our pathway to being a working farm. To be able to sell beef and cut flowers as an actual business while supplying food for ourselves off the land. I pre-made a website in honor of rebranding to save the farm name from anyone else. I jumped ahead before I should have and told some of our friends when I was too overwhelmed with excitement. Rob asked me if that made me feel embarrassed and the truth is, it doesn’t. Trying something crazy and being told by God that now is not the right time doesn’t make me feel the least bit guilty.
There are worse things in life than having a bank account with savings in it, hot rainwater showers, bad health, or tough farm days. It doesn’t matter if we have to reevaluate and change course as long as we’re stuck getting through the mess together.
When we first moved to our little mountain farm in North Georgia, Nikolai was 3 years old. Today he’s officially 7. My wonderful husband picked up cupcakes to deliver to his classroom at school tomorrow to celebrate. He opened a gift from us yesterday evening and I got to spend some quality time snuggling away the last of his 6 years on the sofa. It’s cliche, but I really don’t know where the time went. We’re spending his school day doing laundry, filing paperwork for our lawyer to get us closer to closing, and packing up the car for a birthday celebration in Gatlinburg. I’m praying we get lost in a sea of Christmas lights and that perhaps this birthday will be as magical to him as the day he was born was to us. The day we brought him home from the hospital in the Mojave desert and it snowed for the first time in 45 years. The boy who saved his mother’s life by gifting her better health and is constantly in the middle of the most miraculous situations. Even before he was born he proved the doctors wrong when they thought he was dead. His heart beat was the strongest I’ve ever heard. He is the most lively, hysterically funny, breath of fresh air. Always the one to be respectful, kind, and loving. So we’re left continually wondering where the days went when our boy was just a tiny bundle within our arms. Where the toddler turned into boyhood and boyhood is quickly approaching double digits. Everyday he needs us a little less and his independence becomes a little more. That’s the goal right? To watch them spread their wings and fly away from the nest? I’ll never be ready for it. Can I bottle up the feeling of his small arms around my neck? Can I box up this memory to relieve it long after it’s faded away? I think I’ll end up in a pool of tears at some point today. It’s basically inevitable. Happy official birthday to our gorgeous 7 year old boy at 12:25 AM. May you forever be exactly as you are now and keep your open heart.
When I was young, my mom did up our Christmas tree as if it were in a Macy’s Day Magazine. Stunning ribbons and bows, color schemes, and everything in its place. My parents usually fought the entire time because it was stressful on them. My mom, my brother, and I typically put the tree together on our own in the end. Christmas trees in our ranch styled home in Illinois when I was growing up were usually 8 feet tall or higher. They required the help of a ladder to get to spots our arms failed to reach. Many hours were devoted to decorating and we would eat mouthfuls of fire roasted chestnuts late into the night. I loved when it was my turn to put the angel on the tree top. I have many amazing memories of Christmas time as a child. As an adult however, I’ve loved doing things very differently. Having our little mountain farm traditions of hiking to find our perfectly imperfect tree. Allowing Nikolai to decorate it however he sees fit. Letting him take pride in his own artistic abilities while we just help him along the way. We get so much enjoyment out of walking in the woods on our farm as a family to find the right one. Usually a farm cat or two trailing behind us, our dogs in tow. Our trees always have wonky branches, large missing spots with holes, and don’t stand up quite right. We could spend $50-$70.00 on a store bought tree that someone carefully pruned to perfection… but then we would miss out on beautiful mountainous view’s. We would miss reaching the top of the ridge line, or hearing our donkey’s song echo through the valley. We’d skip right over giggling while watching daddy struggle to cut the right spot on the tree, and most of all… we’d miss out on knowing that the tree we chose got to live it’s life on our farm. Planted there by Jesus himself and chosen by us in honor of His earthly birth. Sometimes imperfections are just as magical as perfection and a Charlie Brown tree can be stunning in it’s own right. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a beautiful Christmas tree but I think there’s much joy and thanksgiving to be found in the kind of tree that spent it’s life growing only because God himself let it be so. Having had squirrels run through it’s branches and felt the heat of vibrant red sunrises with its bows raised to the heavens in thanksgiving to our creator. Prayerfully we hope that this time next year we’ll be able to search the acreage we long to add to our farm in order to expand and- if all goes well- bringing our traditions into new territory with more exploration to be had. However things sort out… our bows will be raised for having spent another year of the pandemic alive, together, and continually fed by God.