Animals

The Art of Being Patient

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.

Parenting

Respect is Earned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I HATE YOU!”

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

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

“I am.”

Who’s more stubborn?”

“I am.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Value in Being Validated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Bad Things Happen With Good Intentions

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t worry?” I repeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Animals

Winkin, Blinkin, Nod, & Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An image I took of our Lottie

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

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

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

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

Baby Lottie in an Easter basket
farm life

A Taste of Ass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Storm Izzy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you read the messages?” I grinned

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncategorized

There are Worse Things than Rainwater Showers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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