Animals

Scribbles and Doodles

I’ll never forget the day Nikolai came home and asked me if I thought he was stupid. Tears were trickling down his cheeks, his mouth was twisted in emotional agony, and his sunshine blue eyes had turned into wells of pain. The mother bear within was ready to rip someone apart.

Kids can be brutal.” I soothed as I gathered him into my arms and tried to hide bitter tears of my own.

The ride home had been filled with silence. I kept asking about his day but the set of his jaw spoke volumes. The moment we walked through our front door his words came tumbling out. I sat with him in my lap, little fingers curled around mine and listened for him to tell me the entire sordid tale.

Nikolai (Doodles as we call him) had been sitting at his desk, pencil in hand when the teacher asked him to write his name at the top of the page. His mind went blank. He began to fidget and get nervous.

Don’t you know how to write your own name? What are you stupid or something?” His young classmate sneered as all eyes turned to look at him.

Nikolai froze. He didn’t know how to react. He just sat there gripping his pencil until his knuckles turned white.

You ARE stupid! Who doesn’t know how to write their own name? Stupid people, that’s who!” The girl taunted.

Thankfully his best friend whispered into his ear “It’s okay Nikolai. I’ll do it for you.”

Unfortunately the damage had been done and the little girl began to make every day a nightmare from that moment on. She called him names, singled him out, humiliated him, and alienated Nikolai from his classmates. Meanwhile, I wrote his teacher on a regular basis in an attempt to resolve it. His seat was moved somewhere else in the classroom… but nothing helped. My happy bubbly boy was being pulled into depression.

I spent most mornings begging him to go to school. I gave him pep talks and let him take a stuffed animal with him so he wouldn’t feel alone. He carried a stuffed fox lovingly called Foxy everywhere he went. Yet the boy who normally never meet a stranger began to have trouble making friends. Eventually he stopped trying and I grew increasingly concerned. He was sad constantly.

Please mom, please don’t make me go. I hate school. I really don’t want to go. I don’t feel safe. Kids hate me.”

I would sit in the car, put my face in my hands and cry about forcing him to be there. I had meetings with the principal, I took him to do as many fun things as possible but nothing made an impact. More than being bullied, Nikolai had been struggling to learn. I knew in the depth of my soul that my son had a learning disability. No matter how many times his teacher and I went over words and letter sounds, the boy wasn’t grasping them.

Second grade came and brought new beginnings… but the battle ground was much of the same. More bullies and the struggle to learn was forever present as it hung like darkness over his head. Outside our favorite park one afternoon, my husband had a conversation with our son about our farm animals and their mutual desire to get another dog. Our beautiful Moose has been living in her golden years. She’s gray around the muzzle and we give her pain medicine for arthritis. She is forever the light of our lives since we rescued her from the Humane Society in Atlanta (long before we moved to our little farm in the woods).

Tallulah is my service dog. She loves to play with Nikolai but she gets overly excited and her size sometimes knocks him over. While they’re two peas in a pod… Niki isn’t allowed to feed her or walk her. Tulla’s job lies in helping me monitor my health and she takes it seriously.

Nikolai wanted a dog. The more I thought about it and the struggles my son had been enduring… the more I got on board. Plus, I was outnumbered two to one! I spent a good amount of time researching because it’s not easy for a dog to fit into the established crew on our farm. The right dog needed to be outgoing but friendly. They would need to be able to get along with Moose and Tallulah, while learning to live around chickens and livestock.

Most of all… the right kind of dog needed to be small enough for an (almost) eight year old boy to handle but have a big enough personality to be a best friend for life. All of which is a rather tall order for a dog. It took a lot of internet browsing on my computer at the local coffee shop to find somewhere to take Nikolai to look for a dog while checking off our primary requirements.

When my husband and I picked Nikolai up from school, we didn’t tell him where we were going. The winding mountain drive to Blue Ridge forced us to squash his questions about our plans for the afternoon under the premise that we needed to run some errands (which wasn’t a lie). Since we had already agreed to get him a dog, Nikolai sat in the back seat excitedly discussing how he had told his entire class.

It wasn’t until a little pal named Einstein came across my Facebook feed which put the Humane Society of Blue Ridge Georgia on my radar. The almost all white dog looked similar to a baby Yoda with his cocky little ears. He was too cute to pass up an introduction. The bonus being H.S.B.R had a couple of other dogs for us to see as well (just in case).

Are we at a doctor’s office?” He asked when we pulled up outside a red brick building. His small face etched in confusion.

Lets go inside and find out. Tell the lady at the desk that you would like to meet Einstein.” I smiled feeling a little tearful.

The beauty of looking for a forever friend is keeping an open mind. Sometimes the dog you have your heart set on or imagine yourself with… isn’t the one that’s right for you. Einstein wasn’t a good fit for Nikolai. He was fearful, and nervous after having been abused by kids. Although Niki loved him right away… it was clear to me that Nikolai wasn’t what the sweet guy needed. It took some convincing on my part but Doodles agreed to meet the second contender… a scrappy six month old pup the Humane Society lovingly named, Dunn.

From the moment this large eared, funny faced little dog walked into Nikolai’s life… it was as if the two of them were made for one another. He bounced his way into Niki’s arms, licked his jaw and Nikolai erupted into a fit of giggles.

This is my dog!” Nikolai proclaimed proudly, and as if he always had been Nikolai’s dog… the two of them walked to our car together.

On the playground after school, Nikolai was surrounded by children. His puppy (who never meets a tiny human he doesn’t like) had his stubby tail going wild. Kids were laughing, wiping slobber off their palms and cheeks, while Nikolai’s wing-man helped him make more friends than he knew what to do with. The tough days he had at school were meet with kind eyes and a playful gesture when he came home.

The nightmares about the man who broke into our house, were soothed by having this little dog rest beside him. Nikolai isn’t afraid to be alone in his bedroom anymore which is exactly what I was hoping for. He isn’t afraid of the dark anymore either because if something is amiss… his partner will let him know.

The learning disability may always be there. I myself have struggled with dyslexia since I was young. Yet the burdens people face in life aren’t quite as heavy when they have a friend to share it with. There’s something spectacular about dogs… they are capable of loving unconditionally. It doesn’t matter what you look like or what you struggle with, they only care about who you are as a person.

As I sat scribbling down notes for a blog post… Nikolai asked me to brainstorm names for his (at that moment) future dog. I thoughtfully suggested that we call his new friend-to-be Scribbles. He pondered for a moment, and with a huge grin… exclaimed that Scribbles was perfect (and he was).

Notes from the author:

* Scribble’s introduction to Tallulah & Moose, and the rest of the farm couldn’t have gone any better. All three dogs are the best of friends.

* Apologies for not being on time with my post this week, I skipped last week because it was my birthday, and I was late this week because Niki gave me a cold virus from school. I’ll be back to posting regularly on Tuesday’s at 10:00 AM this next week. Thanks for being patient with me!

* If you haven’t seen the post my friend Jen from BosssyBabe did about me and my little farm blog… you’re missing out! I answer a ton of questions about how I got to where I am, why I write the way I do, and what drives me. Take a moment to stop by and check her out plus… her blog is down right incredible so read some of her other posts as well. She’s one of my favorites!

Nikolai, Moose, and two of our six cats Tetley the calico, and Mousey the tuxedo
Moose & Scribbles on our morning walks
Tallulah & Scribbles passed out after an hour long play session
The day Scribbles & Nikolai became partners
A bright future & an autumn walk
Watching me scribble blog notes while waiting for his kid to get home from school.
farm life

The Devil Underneath the Bath Tub

I couldn’t sleep. When I did sleep I found myself dreaming about strange things and when I woke… it was before my six thirty AM alarm. I heard a sound I couldn’t place and discovered not everything in my dream had been locked inside my mind. Was it coming from the roof?

I blinked several times to try and wake myself up. It had been raining for days so perhaps the sound was radiating from the trees. Sometimes water collects on leaves until it’s too heavy to hold. Branches bow and fat droplets make crazy noises when hitting shingles. It didn’t really didn’t sound like that though. More like banging… or gnawing. A shiver shook me from head to toe.

Barn cats playing above my head? Sometimes they get a mischievous glint in their eyes during witching hour. They tear across the pasture, sink claws into bark and shimmy their way up to chase one another on top of my house. If I were to guess… I would say something was trying to eat it’s way- in. I was wide awake now.

I ran outside wearing only an over sized sweater, tiny pink shorts, and my muck boots. Wild red hair piled and knotted atop my head. Thankfully I have hardly any neighbors because even astronauts would have been blinded by my white chicken drumsticks for legs. I grabbed a handful of rocks and launched them (rather poorly) at my own house. I missed and nearly hit a window instead.

When I came back inside everything was silent again. Nothing but a rush of cold air blowing from my vents. So I breathed a sigh of relief, kicked off my boots, and tip-toed back to bed. I was asleep for less than half an hour and the devil was back. This time the gnawing was so loud, it seemed to shake my bedroom wall. I shot into a sitting position, ice blue eyes flaming with anger and rimmed in red.

I thought about the squirrel who lives inside a massive crimson maple. He once lectured me in his accusatory squeaky tone for stepping into his domain. Right before the little jerk chucked a half eaten acorn. I had been trying to refill water buckets for animals on my farm and that stupid acorn nailed me in noggin. He had much better aim than I did.

Hey! I have to live here too you know!” I yelled as I rubbed the lump forming on my head.

That seriously hurt!” He didn’t care.

I wondered if squirrels could eat through the roof of a house. I grabbed my cellphone and propped it up in the window where (If I was lucky) I could get one bar of service. The page loaded and I almost woke Nikolai up when I squealed in delight. After clicking on the most relevant link to my question, I learned squirrels can indeed eat through the roof on a house. This was not great news for someone who lives on eleven plus acres- in the woods- surrounded by squirrels.

The gnawing continued but it didn’t sound like it was coming from the roof anymore. It sounded like it was in the wall… or in my bathroom. I shoved my feet into my slippers, slid down the hallway, and paused at the threshold. What if I find it? What will I do then? My 22 caliber firearm was out of rat-shot. I didn’t have a bat or a golf club handy (Rob doesn’t even play golf) and the nearest shovel was laying somewhere in the garden. I am so screwed.

I decided against opening the bathroom door until I could get some advice. So, I located my cellphone and called my husband for backup. The call went to voicemail but I tried again. His sleepy voice was finally coming through the speaker on my phone and it gave me an instantaneous feeling of relief. Surely he would have some insight into my dilemma.

It’s probably just a mouse.” He lectured.

It’s definitely not that.” I stated firmly.

Well, why don’t you just grab a frying pan or something?”

A frying pan? Seriously?”

Well, that’s what I would do. Hit it over the head.” I could hear him shrugging his shoulders.

I think it’s coming from underneath the bathtub” I whispered frantically.

Just pry up the sealer around the tub, stick your hand in there and figure out what it is.”

What kind of advice is that?”

Use your bad hand. You can lure it out with your broken finger. It doesn’t function well anyway.”

Are you crazy? Stick my hand in there… you’re as useless as tits on a bull.” He roared with laughter but I was livid.

Trust me. It’ll work.”

Trusting you is how my middle finger became permanently screwed up in the first place. I don’t need a side of rabies to go with it.”

Hey, you called me remember? This is the advice you get when you wake me up at three in the morning.”

I hung up the phone and walked back to bed. Nothing was going to get resolved tonight. I pushed a pillow over my ears to muffle sounds of my house disintegrating in the devil’s jaws.

When my alarm finally sang to wake me up again, I had a sharp pain radiating within my skull. The house was silent… but it didn’t last long. I got Nikolai ready for school while I scooped up his backpack. Yet right before dogging thunderstorms to get to the car, we nervously held hands near the mouth of hell so I could take a video recording.

Thankfully my husband isn’t the only person I call for advice. My friend Heather almost always has a creative solution for farm situations. I sent both her and my husband the video recording and waited for a response.

A ping sounded off after I had pulled back into my driveway alone. I fished through the contents of my handbag to locate the source. Two notifications flashed across the screen, a text from Rob, and a missed call from Heather.

Rob: “You’re right. That’s definitely not a mouse. That thing sounds like a bear.”

Me: “I told you!”

As I returned Heather’s call, I was pacing the length of the farm. Kicking rocks and dreading another sleepless night. I had days left before Rob could make it home. This had to be resolved now.

It could be an armadillo, or a gopher rat.” She suggested.

Awesome! I love armadillos and rats the size of cats.” I quipped sarcastically.

Mmm leprosy, the health crisis I always wanted!”

Heather’s advice involved a large quantity of rat poison. I grabbed a screwdriver and scraped along the edge of the tub to remove the caulk. My fingers trembled but I managed to make a small hole. Using the tip of the tool I carefully pushed the delicious treat into position. Some dangerous contents broke apart and sent powder peppering my leggings and arms while I worked. Praying I stuffed enough in there to entice the beast, I stripped myself of clothing.

After cleaning up and washing my hands six or seven times (the packaging said to handle the product with gloves I didn’t have and to avoid getting it on my skin… whoops), I sat on the sofa in my living room to wait. I listened intently, typed on my laptop, and stared at my opening paragraph. My eyes nearly crossing out of exhaustion, I gave up and closed the screen. I decided a nap was in order and had stretched out to get comfortable.

Until I heard it… enjoying a morsel. I picked up my cup of tea feeling warmth radiate from within. A smirk played at the corner of my lips as I sent the creature to another kind of hell. The kind that lasts eternal. Eat up little devil, don’t you miss a crumb now.

As I held Nikolai in my arms later that night, I listened to his rhythmic breathing. The crickets serenading the two of us to sleep. The bull frogs croaking in the creek, as I slept poetically deep. As for The Devil… lets just say he didn’t make a peep.

My sleeping angel 💗
Epic Adventures

The Great Race

I belong to a family of travelers. Midnight drives across the United States, watching sunbeams dance over a dew logged windshield as morning light graces the horizon. Waking up sometimes at two AM because our rickety car was bouncing across uneven roadways… it was a big part of my childhood.

My mom or my grandfather would turn to look at me as I rubbed sleep from my eyes. Attempting to make sense of where I had laid my head previously and trying to comprehend my new reality. Surrounding scenery engulfed in darkness at times.

My mom would say something like “Oh good! You’re up! Guess where we’re going?”

She would toss her head back to laugh over my confusion. Yet it was all so enchanting not knowing what was to come. My childhood of travel is why Nikolai has crossed so many states off his list. It makes coming home sweeter instead of being taken for granted. In his (now) young seven years of life… he has been to at least 25 States.

While browsing news articles one evening, I read about a magical balloon race starting in Helen Georgia and reaching all the way to the Atlantic. At two hundred and twenty five miles it was deemed as being one of the best long distance balloon races in America. When I laid eyes on the advertisement I knew Nikolai needed to experience it for himself.

Late one Wednesday evening in May, I booked a hotel, packed our vehicle, and buckled four-year-old Nikolai into his seat. I slid my body behind the wheel and smiled back at him. His sweet little face was full of confusion. His eyes asking questions his lips hadn’t caught up to.

Guess where we’re going?” I asked with a giggle

He hadn’t a clue. Just my boy and I set off to see spectacular things. We lugged belongings into our assigned hotel room with bags of snacks spilling out onto the red carpeted floor. I tucked him into bed, kissed his forehead with a promise of adventures to come in the morning. We skipped winding down over a glowing television screen for going to bed early and yet we barely slept a wink. Our exhaustion was evident when we missed our first wake-up alarm. Yet before the sun, we rose to greet the day. Slipped our shoes on and grabbed breakfast to take on the road. Nikolai’s little legs did a jig all the way to his surprise encounter.

Our car weaved around mountains. Patches of gold and pink fog billowing into the valley as I asked him which items he would take if he were setting out on a hot air balloon trek rather than watching it. Water, Snacks, binoculars, a picture of daddy (since he was working), and mommy would come with of course! My camera nestled into the passenger seat nearly slid to the floor as an idea for a photograph blossomed in my head.

We walked a winding blacktop following crowds of visitors. Birds fluttering about, having been disrupted of their routine. A nature path through woodlands opened to a grassy field full of baskets. Tipped balloons were graced with fire breathing contraptions. Nikolai’s eyes were wide in anticipation of lift off. Children held hands and ran through the meadow careful to stay out of the way. Pick-nick blankets covered fresh earth where families sat cross legged together. The scene similar to something I saw in film somewhere.

Tiny pests were waved away from morning meals in frustration and people of all nationalities held their breath. When the first balloon lifted, cheers erupted. Loud clapping and well wishes echoed through the forest. As I am terrified of heights, my fingers laced into sweaty fists. I couldn’t imagine seeing beautiful things from their advantage but I also couldn’t grasp how to avoid falling out of such a flimsy restraint.

I pictured myself dropping out of the blue sky and landing on someone’s house while mentally adding a parachute to my own personal list. If I was setting out on such an epic adventure, I would take my camera, my journal, chocolate (to calm a panic attack), several parachutes, my husband (someone has to help make flight repairs), and of course… my son. I’d also low-key kidnap (but later return) a therapist and pocket a large bottle of Xanax to swallow with my bottled water.

I doubt all of those things would even fit. Where would we go pee? While I love adventures, I am happiest watching ones that involve great heights from somewhere on the ground while cheering for those who are braver than myself. I couldn’t imagine getting caught at the mercy of a storm. Thunder and lightening wouldn’t make very good neighbors. I prefer to enjoy them from a location of safety.

We stayed until the last balloon lifted to the heavens. I sighed in contentment and folded our throw blanket over my arm. Nikolai put his tiny hand in mine, and I traced his fingers as we walked to our car. We got to see the balloons suspended over German architecture. We enjoyed cobble stone streets, listened to a rushing river, and grabbed lunch at a nearby cafe.

I ordered a hot cup of tea while Nikolai pocketed rocks he found along the way. When my husband and I visit Helen by ourselves, we sit along the river and look for heart shaped rocks to bring home to our boy. Nikolai likes to set them in odd places around our farm and throughout his bedroom. It’s a little tradition we do almost anywhere we go (but especially when visiting Helen).

When I asked my husband what he would bring if he came with us, he conveniently left out bringing any kind of tools what-so-ever. We had an amazing conversation about plunging to our deaths, hoping for the best, and panicking afterwards. He’s forever the rock when everything is on fire but quickly falls apart when life is back to some sense of normalcy again. I think it has a lot to do with his time spent as a soldier. That therapist on board would sure come in handy.

When we pulled into our driveway at home, Nikolai ran to his room to dig through his toy box. He grabbed his flight jacket, his flight goggles, and his pilot’s hat. Maps were drawn out of crayons, Moose (our farm dog) was forced into being a copilot, and together they flew past chickens who clucked their intense disapproval.

A long pink tongue rolled out of Moose’s mouth, but there was joy found in her eyes. Doodles (short for Doodle Bug, also known as Nikolai) was so worn out from the day’s activities he fell asleep early. Long lashes against soft peach skin and cupid bowed lips were slightly agape as he rested in a heap of blankets. A pilot’s hat still pulled down over his face and one arm draped over Moose’s belly.

Name 5 must-have essentials you might take on a long hot air balloon race! Are you adventurous? Do heights freak you out too? Could you guess what your spouse might bring? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

This image was shot in sections and blended together. The background was shot with a GoPro at sunset, the balloons were shot on race day individually, and Nikolai was photographed at home on our farm.
Nikolai & Moose
Two best friends ❤️

Health and Wellness

The Zebra Farmer

There’s a famous one-line quote that many doctors have heard in medical school that refers to looking for a diagnosis that’s more common than not. “If you hear hoofbeats, remember to think of horses and not of zebras.” The problem is that medically speaking… not everyone is a horse.

Six months after I got married, my husband and I sat down to a large cheese pizza and a movie. We did this little routine every Saturday night to ensure that we made time for one another as much as possible. Rob was stationed in South Korea, and we could never be sure when he would be shipped off for training or getting ready for war.

We lived in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom flat a few streets over from the Army base with a rice paddy in our back yard. It was our first home together and the minimum requirement that we would be living there (through military contract) lasted at least a year, but possibly longer. None of that mattered so long as we could be together… until the night that changed everything.  

I was positive that I had the stomach flu. By the time the movie ended, I wasn’t feeling so hot. My stomach churned, my face turned pale, and I made several trips to the bathroom to get sick. I had hope within that moment that everything would work itself out. That I would be feeling better again in a couple days.

That’s the funny thing about hope, in the beginning you have a lot of it. Yet as time wears on, it becomes the most dangerous emotion that someone who’s chronically ill can have. When days of being sick turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months… with no end in sight. You begin to lose it. You bargain for your life. Have another hospital stay, see another doctor. Sit down in your 100th exam room and hope has dwindled until there’s nothing left.

When you’re young you start out with the notion that all doctors are smart. You feel as if the world is full of incredible people, and that someone somewhere will know how to fix you. You move on to hoping that there’s a pill to take or a treatment to try that will give you a better quality of life. Yet you settle on symptom management. The ability to have more good days than bad ones… or just any good days at all.

My husband watched me waste away from being vibrantly healthy to counting the bones in my body just from looking at me. I weighed 64 lbs. Just a few pounds shy of the weight my almost eight-year-old boy is now. My body punished me for every morsel of food or liquid that passed my lips, and I was told more than once that I was probably going to die. I was racked with abdominal pain, and I couldn’t prevent myself from throwing up repeatedly no matter how much I begged to make it stop.

I reached a point where I longed for death. It took great effort to get dressed, to brush my hair, or just to walk from one room into the next. Upon trying to make my way to the hospital on base (The TMC), I would sit on the curb and lean away from traffic to avoid getting hit by cars when I passed out. I was transferred to a better hospital by ambulance, where doctors discovered that I had a kidney disease… which had nothing to do with regaining my able to eat.   

I went from having a needle phobia and being terrified of hospitals to showing up to medical exams for regular testing. I was forced into being dependent by allowing my husband to help wash my hair when I couldn’t do it myself. Rob spoon fed me broth or soup when my hands shook too much out of weakness from malnutrition. When he couldn’t be there, and we were back in the states (two years later) my mom helped take care of me.

All the while my husband was forced to continue going on training missions that kept him away from home for weeks at a time. He would stock the refrigerator and pray that I would still be alive by the time he came back home again. I was unrecognizable. He didn’t handle the new adjustment to my health very well. Alcoholism ran in his family, and he relied heavily on that to help him cope. Which began another kind of sickness that we had to fight to get through together.  

I spent nine years of my life more bedridden than not. I fought to avoid feeding tubes and TPN, I tried every medical miracle I could find (sometimes at the detriment to my body and peace of mind) because deep-down I wanted to live. I wanted a full life on my terms without lasting side effects from daily medications or being hooked up to machines that would barely help me survive.

Six months of testing at Mayo Clinic and I was diagnosed with a little-known illness called Gastroparesis. Which is the shortened medical term for stomach paralysis. To this day episodes of what I call GP strike fear and anxiety within my heart. It never fully goes away. It can become more manageable (like it did for me) but for the millions of friends I’ve made over the years through support groups… Gastroparesis doesn’t always get better with time (or in my case… with pregnancy). It can get so much worse.

I have a long list of zebra-like symptoms beyond Gastroparesis. Things that happen to me that can be explained under other diagnoses in which I was given, and things that can’t. I’ve had more than one near death experience and knowing my medical history… I’m sure there will be more. My husband and I have spent thousands of dollars trying to figure everything out only to walk away with less money in our pockets, and no answers to show for it.

One of my favorite primary care physicians I’ve ever had once told me that my medical history was so interesting, he took it to bed with him as reading material. While under his care, I contracted a rare parasite that no one in my area had experienced in almost 45 years. Upon returning to his office for a follow up exam, he shook his head, and we laughed over the absurdity of it together.   

When new doctors are forced into my life because physicians retire or move away, I am coaxed into relaying the bizarre sagas to fresh faces. The jaw-dropping reaction of disbelief is one I’m all-too familiar with. I can tell within the first five minutes of conversation whether that specific doctor can handle my case or not.       

Farm life and motherhood are my reasons for getting out of bed in the morning. There are moments when I am so overcome with pain that it takes everything within me to do the most basic tasks. My ability to run our farm, be a professional photographer, write, and build a small business is accomplished not because I’m young or feeling my best, but because I am resilient.

One of the many roses in my garden.
A picture of me right after I got pregnant. I got worse before I got “better”
I didn’t take pictures of myself very often but I took this one to show how much
weight that I was losing
Flower Farming

A Life Fulfilled

Earth chunks soared over my shoulder. Some fell short only to land onto my itchy scalp. My shirt was soaked all the way through, my jeans… pressed so tightly against my skin that in order to remove them, they had to be peeled below my hips. Once I tossed the last of the carnage into the compost pile, I am rewarded by sinking into a hot lavender bath. I can almost taste the icy bottle of water that I left in the freezer before it’s pressed against my sun kissed lips. It only takes about an hour for me to get the job done because I am determined to get it over with.

The war on weeds is my biggest gardening frustration to date, yet I feel so empowered and satisfied when I’ve finished the task. I wait until the sun begins to set after a small rainstorm has loosened the soil and then… I attack! I rip unwanted stems out by the head and dig for their roots with my hands until the muscles in my legs feel too wobbly to keep me in a squat position. Sweat pours from my brow and my hair lacks luster when I’m done, but tiny red curls form at the nape of my neck.

The long-term reward of weeding around all the beautiful things in my garden is spying brand-new buds on my camellias the next morning. Eagerly waiting for my dahlias to make their appearance and having the room I needed to tuck new blooms into the paradise I have created with my own two hands. I use the hose to fill up my mud smeared watering can, and then I take a little walk clutching a pair of nippers against my chest.

Stormy and Waddles, (our ducks) are usually taking a stroll as well. I typically need to wave them away from my vegetables or they will use them as an all-you-can-eat buffet. Sometimes I’m forced to chase them off because they like to crush my flowers as they walk and nibble leaves and petals off my blooms. During our big family trip this summer, I received a call from one of my best friend’s informing me that Waddles wasn’t a drake (a male duck) like I had originally suspected.

Waddles had laid a clutch of eggs near Stormy and the two ducks were terrorizing my farm sitters. The girls were determined to have babies, but I didn’t have a drake old enough to provide them with fertilized eggs. This problem also caused havoc for Harlow (our big black and white paint) and Caspian (our miniature donkey). While trying to eat their feed, Stormy and Waddles would launch themselves at the equine and horrify them by nipping at their hooves. It was hysterical to watch the boys retreat to a corner of the pasture and eye the ducks suspiciously out of fear for their lives. Two large animals at the mercy of two angry females.

Izzy (my daughter of sorts) made a wonderful suggestion. She recommended buying some baby ducks and in the cover of darkness, to swap the duck eggs in exchange for ducklings. This way the girls get the babies their hearts desired, and the little ducklings get the mothers they never had. So, I went to Tractor Supply, and I carefully selected and bought four tiny, orphaned puffballs. I had never witnessed an adoption like this before and I couldn’t wait to see the outcome.

I sat on a log nearby and watched the shadows in the forest grow longer. I listened to the chuck-will’s-widow and heard an owl shake off the cobwebs of slumber. A daddy-long legs with two missing limbs crept over the dirt but when blackness encompassed me, I made my move. Moose (our farm dog) had stolen Waddle’s eggs earlier in the day, but thankfully I was able to snatch some from Stormy. Izzy had told me that the two ducks would share and raise the babies together if the imprinting was fruitful.

Stormy tucked those babies underneath her wings as if they had been hers all along. The relief in her body language was evident. Her purpose in life, fulfilled. The next day my neighbor drove by with her granddaughter and watched the ducklings play in a puddle with their two mothers. I myself stopped mid-snip of a flower stem to witness the binding love between adopted ducklings and their protective mothers. Rather than chasing two ducks out of my garden beds, I was now having to watch my step and encourage six to find another place to feast.

I adopted a love for gardening in the same way my grandfather adopted me. I didn’t have a father who was present in my life when I was young until my mom meet my stepfather. My childhood after their marriage became even more complicated but that’s a story for another day. My papa was the one (besides my mom and grandmother) who was always there for me no matter what. One of my most favorite memories was of holding his finger in my fist as he let me pick an armful of flowers.

He had sewn the seeds inside a drainage area that was fenced off and locked up when he worked as a ground’s keeper for a local hospital near Chicago. The skill seemed to come naturally to him while it took a long time for me to learn how to have a “green thumb”. It’s funny that I say that because the secret to growing beautiful things is simply… sunshine, food, and water. I reached a point in my adult life where I had a moment of clarity and suddenly an achievable passion blossomed. My papa however… he could grow things in the middle of the desert.

Long before I was good at growing things, my husband knew that simply pulling over on the side of the road to pick a bouquet of wildflowers was the way to my heart. I can’t imagine what people driving by must have been thinking. I wonder if they sat and watched as a tall man with broad shoulders, in full military uniform stood alone in a field of flowers as he carefully selected which blooms to add to the handful. They probably assumed he was in marital trouble. As a friend pointed out to me not long ago, my husband understands my love language and he knew what would make me happy. He still does.

Before that green thumb kicked in, I used to dream about having a secret garden full of beautiful flowers. It helped me cope with events in my life that were out of my control when I was young. Underneath my bedroom window a large cluster of daffodils bloomed and there was (to this day) the biggest lilac bush I had ever seen near the edge of our property. I would pick clusters and stash vases on every available surface. It was my way of bringing light into the darkness. Storm clouds brewed within the walls of that house. It was beautiful on the outside, but what lied within was destruction.

As an adult, I have surrounded myself with people who bring peace into my life. One of my most precious friends is a woman named Heather. When I was feeling especially lost with yet another health crisis, she invited me to see the farm where she worked and encouraged me to bring along a bucket for cut flower clippings. Her hard work and encouragement inspired me. She had created an oasis of living things with a few seeds, some bulbs, and a lot of hard work. The beauty of it breathed new life into my soul again.

“Do you think that I could have a garden like this one?” I asked her.

“Girl, I believe that you can do anything!”

My first year growing cut flowers was so successful that I made floral arrangements and gave them away weekly. Seeing how much joy it brought into the lives of other people had me researching ideas to improve my output. One of the first steps I needed to take was to expand our farm. We succeeded in doing that in March and rebranded our farm with the name Everpine Forest & Farm. This year we’ve cleared trees and worked to create a new pasture space that would allow us to move the equine around.

Harlow’s original pasture has served as my new gardening space. This spring I bought out four stores of their cut flower seeds. I planted hundreds of dollars in seeds and bulbs. Most of the time it was a matter of experimenting to see what worked and what didn’t, but each day taught me something new. I now know that next year I need to stagger my blooms by their growing season to help me have flowers to cut year around. I also learned that it’s best to keep each type of flower together with its own kind, so they don’t have to compete for sunlight.

I have discovered that like any crop… spacing is EVERYTHING. Rather than planting thick rows like I did this year, I need to plant smaller rows with a narrow space in between so that I can walk in and gather blooms without trampling, tripping, or dancing my way around them. I’ve learned that it’s better (and cheaper) to buy seeds and bulbs in bulk than it is to buy from your local Walmart, nursery, or dollar general. Best of all… I learned that in order to keep my output flowing efficiently, a greenhouse is a must have essential.

While all these changes are in the works to help me improve next year’s garden, I am thankful for the joy that this year’s garden has brought with it. I look forward to planning and building our greenhouse, and I can hardly contain my excitement regarding my future cut flower stand. I have high hopes of donating arrangements to people in hospitals and nursing homes who need a little extra love to lift their spirits.

A couple weeks ago Heather called to tell me how proud she was of my hard work. To my delight she told me that she was envious of my flower garden this year! This woman is the most selfless and hardest working human (besides my husband) I’ve ever meet. Her house is covered in plants, and she basically helps grow lovely things for other people even though she works three jobs and has no spare time. I’ll never forget her kindness in sharing seeds and bulbs with me to help get me started.

I can’t adequately put into words how much sunshine floods my veins when I’m standing in the middle of something tangible that I thought I could only dream of accomplishing. As a summer storm unleashes above me, I’m laughing as I chase six ducks out of my haven. I have rose petals plastered to my cheek. Rain is dripping off the tip of my nose, and my butterfly top is drenched as I attempt to carry a watering can stuffed with blooms up to the house. My favorite pair of nippers are clutched close to my heart and I’m overflowing with fulfillment.

One of my most recent arrangements from my garden 🪴
My magnolia that I planted a couple years ago.
These beauties took my breath away this spring
An arrangement that I made for my neighbor
I had rows of seedlings lining every countertop in my house and covering my porch.
Created with roses that I grew myself
A special delivery
Another bouquet that I was delivering
I hand deliver to our local coffee shop as well
Roses from my garden and some rather beautiful weeds that I was trying to identify
They’re everywhere!
It’s hard to see everything that’s in here but there’s rudbeckia, poppies, zinnias, marsh pink, cosmos, sunflowers, cornflowers, sweet asylum, marigolds, Asian forget-me-nots, cowcockle and so much more! Not to mention I planted a bunch of various bulbs, roots, about a hundred dahlias (no joke), and peonies in another area closer to my house.
Stormy and her ducklings
Stormy, Waddles & the youngsters (plus one chicken) playing in a mud puddle near the creek
My favorite butterfly top!
New business logo!
Nikolai & Moosey (our farm dog)
Nature

The Challenge with Connection

Most people are shocked when I tell them that we don’t have access to internet out here. I must be honest; it was a learning curve for me as well when we first moved to our little farm. It’s not because we don’t want to pay for it, but rather because no working internet provider will bring it this far out of the way. Our town Facebook page is littered with posts about how the only satellite that provides internet is down time and time again.

The town grocery store puts up a sign asking people to pay in cash and Nikolai’s school has internet access issues too. When you live deep in the woods like we do, there’s no point in paying for something that rarely works. Large pines, poplars, and oak tree’s spread their limbs and reach to the heavens causing the signal to be disrupted. It’s almost as if nature is blocking the path for a reason.

The more I read the news and catch up with old friends on Facebook, the more thankful I become for the interruption. My ability to get into stupid debates when something rubs me the wrong way is limited to moments when out of nowhere my phone suddenly receives two bars of LTE. As soon as I’m invested in riveting conversation… the moment has passed and I’m unable to respond again. Instead, I use my phone as a paperweight. I listen to Audible, pull up pre-downloaded books on Kindle, or just leave it to charge while I spend the afternoon in my garden.

We don’t live “off grid” but I’ve come to enjoy my life being this way. When I want to upload a blog post and catch up with other writers, I must drive to the coffee shop to connect or wait until I need to go get something from one of the bigger towns nearby. I often pull up Facebook while I’m picking up feed for my animals. In other words, I schedule time to use the internet and my time is limited.

About six months ago a man came and knocked on my door to ask me if I wouldn’t mind putting my dogs up so he could access the powerlines. His bald head was a glossy glow in the morning light, and he had the kind of nose that was thick through the bridge but flat around the nostrils. He was doing research for an internet company who was determined to “bring knowledge and connection” to rural towns that are hard to reach. Apparently, there is a government contract for this kind of thing.

“Knowledge and connection.” I think towns like mine have more to teach the world about knowledge and connection than the millions of people who live in large cities and never look up from their phones. I’ve read articles that detail the problems that social media has caused on the mental health of billions of people. So much so, that humanity likes to boast about taking social media breaks (which I have done myself).  

One of my biggest accomplishments was the time I deleted all my social media apps from my phone for six months. I didn’t miss a single thing. I did, however, enjoy more phone calls from loved ones. They made my day burn brighter. Friends reached out with cellphone numbers so we could chat and there was far less confusion about the tone in which something was taken because it was a lot easier to clarify misunderstandings.

The gentlemen from the internet company asked me if I was excited at the possibility of getting internet. His brown eyes lit up with the prospect of gifting something of such great importance to most people. I attempted to smile.

“Not really!” I replied. His bushy salt and pepper eyebrows furrow at my response, so I elaborated.

“Why bother with that when I have all of this?” I reached my arms wide to gesture to our 11.2 acres.

He didn’t get it. My niece and nephew who live near Chicago didn’t get it either when they first came to visit. It took time for them to see the value in how we do things out here. I took them hiking on our farm, drove them to see an amazing waterfall, and took them to an empty field where they could learn to drive for the first time. The learning curve hit them harder than it did for me. Yet by the time they had to go home… they were wishing they had what we have here.

It all comes back to connection and real connection doesn’t come from a screen. It comes from immersing yourself into your environment. The feeling of your bare feet touching solid earth, seeing a creek turn into a waterfall, holding hands with the ones you love, and listening to the soothing voice of a friend. Salivating over an amazing meal and mentally stimulating your brain with conversation that bubbles over into laughter.

The internet can’t provide substance for you and knowing a lot about the world is meaningless without experience. People were social distancing long before Covid ever came into play, we all just got better at it. It’s a lot harder to handle the news when you’ve lost sight of things that have real value, and we can’t expect to change people’s points of view without first being able to connect with them.  

Upon returning home from our amazing family vacation and having the alone time to sit and reflect on everything I have learned… I continue to come back to the topic of connection. It doesn’t take living in the middle of nowhere to find it (though I truly believe that it helps prevent us from slipping into old habits). You can limit your time social distancing exactly where you are.

My hope in writing this is that these thoughts of mine will touch someone who is as exhausted as I am. That perhaps they will read what was on my heart and have a desire to take a leap into connection with me. Challenge yourself to put your phone down, to limit your internet access and use the extra quality time this week to read a book that shakes you. Grab a loved one and hike to somewhere you’ve never been. You don’t have to be in shape for it… Lord knows I’m not!   

If you’ve decided to commit to doing this with me… I want to read about it! Write me a comment to tell me what worked for you and what didn’t. You don’t have to make it an everyday thing, just circle one day a week on your calendar. If you can’t do a full day, try an hour or two. Contact some friends or family and see if they can’t meet up with you or give gardening a go. Most importantly of all… share how this challenge made you feel, not just with me but with others.

Nikolai standing in the rain on an empty mountain road. WiFi free, making connections
My usual work spot is in a quaint little place down the road from my farm but since Izzy is working today… I popped by to brighten her day and say hello.

Side note: I had originally planned on posting more about my incredible vacation today but in light of what happened with Canada loosing internet service… I felt this was a better fit for this week. I’ll post amazing images, videos, and stories next week instead. Hopefully I didn’t disappoint anyone!

Parenting

Of Kisses and Magic

The other night when Nikolai was racing through the house with his fuzzy navy socks on and one of his favorite toy cars in hand, he slipped. As his legs gave out from underneath him and his open palms slapped laminate flooring, he skinned his knee, and knocked the breath from his lungs. When it finally caught up to him, he was a heap of tears and a sobbing disaster. I put aside cooking dinner for a moment by removing heat from the pan so I could comfort him. Yet as soon as he felt calm again… he said something that left me grappling for words I couldn’t hold on to.   

“I’m so sorry you hurt yourself, can I kiss it to make it feel better?” I asked, my heart overflowing with empathy.

Sniffling he replied, “I know that’s not how it works mom. Kisses aren’t magic. They can’t make me feel better. My body just needs time to heal up!” He smiled sympathetically and embraced me in a hug before emptying my arms to resume playing.

I sat there frowning for a moment feeling as though my heart had somehow shattered within the walls of my chest. Kisses aren’t magic. The more I turned it over in my mind, the deeper the notion cut me. I tried to resume cooking and yet I couldn’t shake the feeling of despair. It wasn’t just the loss of childhood innocents that struck me so profoundly, though that was part of it. What really got to me, was the fact that the statement wasn’t true. At least it wasn’t true for me and in my heart, I felt that it wouldn’t be true for him either.  

I didn’t know what to expect when Rob met me at the airport a week before New Years Eve. We had been talking over the phone for months. My parents had screamed at me when they saw the phone bills that we had run up due to our non-stop conversations. I waited outside the terminal feeling breathless with my stomach twisted into knots. We weren’t officially dating. We had been friends for a long time, but this was different and when I saw him waiting for me, carrying a bouquet of roses… I knew that things between us were shifting.

Yet the chemistry didn’t fully ignite until I was standing before him in his parent’s rented apartment kitchen. When his arms slipped around my midsection, and he pulled me into him for the kind of first kiss that made it feel as if life itself had been put on pause. All the heartache of relationships past, and childhood trauma quieted within that moment. Rational thought left my head and the only sound I could hear was my heart strumming music into my ears.

I don’t remember kissing Nikolai for the very first time because I passed out. I had a C-section and after they removed him from my belly, I felt as if I was burning up. The last thing I recall saying to the nurse was that I felt hot all over. The last thing I remember feeling was the coolness of a temperature strip being placed on my forehead before blacking out. There are pictures of me kissing Nikolai’s forehead after the temperature strip had been placed but I don’t remember that part, and I don’t recall having seen his face.

Three hours later I woke up in a recovery room alone. My belly felt empty, and my baby was nowhere to be found. I didn’t know if they had taken him from me or if something horrible had happened. I couldn’t remember what he looked like because I didn’t recall having seen his face, nor did I remember if I had heard him cry or not. The pregnancy hormones were dropping, and I felt such a crushing sense of despair that I didn’t want to live.

When I was finally brought back to my room and Nikolai was placed into my arms where I could kiss his tiny forehead… I couldn’t contain the tears of relief and joy from flooding my cheeks. The same was true when he wrapped his tiny arms around my neck and kissed me back for the very first time. The magic that having him had helped to heal my body and had given me my life back plus so much more… was beautiful. I had gone several years bed ridden wondering if I would get the opportunity to be a mom at all. That moment felt just as powerful and just as healing as the first kiss I gave my beautiful boy on the day he was born… because I felt as if I had earned it.

There had been other kisses over the years that healed me as well. Friends who held and kissed my hand when I was in the hospital and my future was uncertain due to my health. Kisses that my own mom gave me throughout the years when I needed them most, and just-because kisses. Make up kisses, heartbreak kisses that gave me closure, and the kisses I gave to my husband before he left for Afghanistan so we could remember our last moments together for as long as possible.

These are the thoughts that ran through my mind as I was cooking that had eluded me within the heartbreak of the moment. Yet I knew that I had to rectify Nikolai’s notion on the subject matter before I forgot everything that I needed to say. When our meal was finished and the plates had been served, I took his small hand in mine so I could have his undivided attention.

“Remember when you fell today, and I offered to kiss your knee to make it feel better?”

“I remember.”

“Did my kisses make you feel better on the inside?” I asked

“Yes, I stopped crying.” He shrugged and smiled

“Your body will heal at the rate it normally does, that part is true but that doesn’t mean that kisses aren’t full of magic. They have a special way of healing your insides and when you feel good on the inside… you’ll feel better on the outside too!”

“OH! So, kisses are magic?”

“Kisses are the best kind of magic… because they are the kind of magic that’s real.”

I smirked at him before tickling him and attacking his grinning face with a million smooches. He squealed as he usually does and asked me to tickle him some more. When we were done laughing, I winked at him and told him to eat up before it was time to get ready for bed.

If you enjoy my blog, you may enjoy other things that I’ve written as well. Here is a list of some of my most popular posts. There’s no greater compliment than when people comment and share the things I have written with others, so thank you for taking time out of your day to spend it here with me. Happy Reading!

The Missing Piece

Fragile Lemon

Discarded Fear

We Can’t Go Back

A Small Thing Like Me

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

The Missing Piece

As a family we talked about him often. The crazy adventures, his knack for stealing Rob’s tools, and all the times he snuck his way into the house. It had been at least two years since we heard honking echoing through our farm. We discussed getting another goose regularly but for some reason the timing never quite worked out the way we hoped it would, and we knew that life without Aspen wouldn’t be the same.

On a random Friday afternoon after having tackled farm chores, we decided to make a trip into town for essentials and extra feed for the farm. We had been hauling things to the nearby garbage dump so rather than take our usual route, we knew it would be more direct to take the back roads. The long stretches of farmland between scenic mountains and sunshine did my heart good. I let the windows slide down to the rim so the breeze could dance over my throbbing fingers and ease the pain from the injury I had obtained a couple weeks prior. The rolling hills were carpeted in rich shades of green and dappled with day lilies while the last of the spring blooms put on a show of pink and purple hues.

It’s funny how quickly an ordinary afternoon can become something more extraordinary. Rob was sitting in the driver’s seat with one hand on the steering wheel while the other caressed my non-broken limbs. His amber eyes sparkled, and he threw a cocky grin at me. We were secretly listening to Nikolai drift off in his own little world. Wiggly legs dangled over his booster seat; he had been making up lyrics to songs that he wrote himself. Something Niki said about redheads being dangerous had my husband and I roaring with laughter. I intended to write it down. I do this a lot to savor his words for a later date, but I was interrupted by a sign advertising the sale of a flock of chickens.

Two large cages filled with birds had caught Rob’s attention and since we could always use more chickens, it captured my attention as well. It happened so suddenly that in the middle of typing Niki’s lyrics, I dropped my phone between the seats. While fumbling to find my cellphone, Rob made a three-point turn to get us back onto the highway. My hand was already hovering over the buckle to release my seatbelt before my husband had the opportunity to throw the car into park once we had arrived at our rerouted destination. I was eager to leap from my seat so I could stretch my legs but more than that, I was curious over how much the asking price would be. If it wasn’t too outrageous, I figured we would probably load up the car and take them all home with us.  

I lifted a hand to shade my eyes from the sun so I could see better. Three menacing dogs snapped at me behind a chain link fence that blocked the front door. I couldn’t decide where the best point of entry to ring the doorbell might be. Was it behind the dogs? I wasn’t about to jump the fence to find out. That’s when I heard a sound that instinctively had me snapping my neck to locate the source. Underneath a shade tree was a large coop and five long necks that were straining to get a better look at me.

HONK! Honk, honk, HONK!” I gasped and slapped my good hand across the car window so Rob would roll it down to speak with me.

Do you hear them?!” I asked excitedly

They have geese?” He asked with wide eyes

They do!

“See if they will sell them! Forget about the Chickens, try to convince them to let us buy a goose.”

A young dark-skinned boy in his early teens emerged from the woods in a dusty red golf cart and inky shorts. His flip flops made a sloppy sound as he was walking towards me after parking. Yet his eyes were bright, and his smile was more inviting than the dogs who kept him company.

“Can I help you?” He asked inquisitively

“Hey there! I saw your sign along the road for chickens, I was wondering how much you wanted for them.” I asked even though at this point I couldn’t have cared less about the chickens.

“Ten dollars a bird.”

“Hmm” I responded, “what about the geese? Are they for sale by chance?”

“The geese? I’d have to ask my parents, but I might be able to sell one to you.”

“How much?”

“I’m not sure… twenty dollars sound fair?”

Twenty dollars wasn’t a fair price. Most goslings in our area cost around fifty to seventy dollars but I wasn’t about to question him. Instead, we would bring extra funds with us just in case he changed his mind. With that, an agreement was made, and we left to locate an ATM.

When Aspen entered our lives, it was through a woman that I meet on Facebook. She was an amazing person who quickly became a friend. Aspen landed in our lap as the beautiful gift he truly was. I believe that the best friendships happen when we least expect them. I find that to be true of people as well as the animals that enter our lives and live on our farm. Some of my most memorable relationships have occurred when animals (and people) have showed up on my doorstep like a dusty puzzle piece that I never knew had been missing.

When we got back to the chicken sale with cash in hand, the boy’s father had been waiting for our return. He wore a grim expression across his face, and he was rubbing his rough hands across his jeans. His lips were pursed, and his jaw was set tight. Either they weren’t selling, or the price was way off. My stomach churned as my hopes began plummeting.

“I hate to break it to you, but those geese cost more than twenty dollars.”

“I figured as much.” I responded with a shy but knowing smile.

“I’ll only sell the male and we’ll take no less than a hundred for him.”

The boy shook his head and mumbled an apology. “That’s way more than I thought they should be sold for.”

“Can I see the male?” I asked politely as his father left to retreat into the confines of his home.

When the boy pointed to the gander, he was a stunning grey and white beauty with a graceful neck but a messed-up wing. The wing wasn’t a dealbreaker, but the fact that he was a Toulouse was. Male Toulouse geese are known for being exceptionally aggressive during mating season and I refuse to keep aggressive animals on our farm. There was no way he would be taken from his girls without a fight.

Standing next to the Toulouse gander however was a goose that looked almost identical to our late Aspen. She was white with blue eyes and a hump on her bill. Something like a cross between an Embden and a white Chinese goose. Where Aspen had splatters of soft grey down, she had a more muted sandy brown. I believe they call the cross breed, a painted goose. When I saw her, I knew in my heart that we couldn’t leave without her. She was standing in a thick, soupy mess of a pen. Her feathers desperately in need of a bath but her eyes were soft and bright like the boy who raised her, and I knew that if I could talk the boy’s father into it… she would be ours.

“What about the white one? She’s a female, right?”

“Yes.” The boy sighed “She gets bullied all the time. Are you interested in her? I could probably convince my dad to let you buy her. I have talked about rehoming her several times before.

“If your dad is okay with it… we’ll take her.”

One phone call later and my husband and I were switching positions in the car. I was driving us home to protect my broken fingers from further damage and he was sitting in the passenger seat… holding our painted goose. Other than the occasional honk and pooping on the door handle… she sat rather quietly. The boy had told us that she was a good girl who didn’t bite as he released her from his arms and into ours. Before we left, he stopped us one last time to plant a goodbye kiss along her slender neck. She had been well loved before, and she would be well loved forever more.

We tossed around names for hours. Some were funny, some silly, and some were positively ridiculous but none of them seemed to really fit her. As we were fixing up our big coop so that it could become her new home, it came to my attention that we should name her after a tree like we did with Aspen. As suggested by one of my best friends, we decided to call her Maple.   

Nikolai, Caspian, and Aspen
Rob my husband & the wonderful Maple 🍁

If you enjoy my blog, you may enjoy other things that I’ve written as well. Here is a list of some of my most popular posts. There’s no greater compliment than when people comment and share the things I have written with others, so thank you for taking time out of your day to spend it here with me. Happy Reading!

The Most Unlikely Friendship

Discarded Fear

Tiny Terrors

The Leap

The Night I Had To Save Our Lives

Animals

Written For Me

“Do you know what you need? You need a service dog.” 

That was how my husband proposed the idea after I began battling with severe vertigo and had passed out a few times. I had seen several doctors but we still didn’t have an explanation for the new bizarre symptoms that were honestly ruining my life. That wasn’t even my only health issue. I also had been spiking chronic low-grade fevers. I had issues with a butterfly rash across my face, joint pain, exhaustion, a stomach disorder, a kidney disease, blood pressure problems that I had never dealt with before, and ocular migraines where I would suddenly lose my vision.  

I couldn’t figure out how to handle everything or where to go next. My quality of life was greatly diminished and the issues with my body would easily wreck the kind of havoc that made every-day tasks nearly impossible… especially when things hit me at once. I could go a couple of weeks feeling amazing when out of left field I would be knocked on my behind for a month or two… or longer. I once lost my vision while I was in the middle of driving. I never saw the semi that was barreling down the highway towards my car. It happened so fast that Nikolai and I were almost taken out of this life for good. Something had to change. Anything! I was desperate.

Still… a service dog? Dogs like that are expensive right? Was I “sick enough” to have one? What did “sick enough” even mean? Was there a person behind the scenes who would qualify sick people for service dogs? What would people think of me for having to rely on a dog to make me a more functional person? The questions swirled around in my brain until it made me feel that much worse. I decided to do the only thing that make sense to me… I sat at a booth hunched over my keyboard inside our local coffee shop and I googled the heck out of it.

I learned that the only one who could approve my service dog request was my physician. I also came to the realization that people used service dogs to do all kinds of things, from helping with PTSD, to managing anxiety, and other health problems as well. Yet the biggest thing I discovered was that I was over qualified.

Incapable of preforming daily tasks due to a disability or illness?  

Check.  

Hospital visits that are frequent?  

Check.  

Official diagnoses on my medical records?  

Check. Check. Check. Check. Check! 

I read that owning and training your own dog with the help of a professional trainer was the fastest way to obtain such an animal. Otherwise, you might be sitting on a wait list for a couple of years or more. It takes a minimum of two years to train a service dog and you need to be committed to the endeavor or you both will fail. It’s one of the hardest (and most rewarding) things that you’ll ever do. Finding the right kind of dog would be a whole other mountain to hike. Temperament testing the dog’s personality for service dog traits and willingness to learn was just the beginning. Even that wouldn’t guarantee success. Dogs have a high rate of flunking out of service work.

Most people don’t have family who raise purebreds at their disposal. Most don’t have an army of people in their corner who have physically seen them suffer over the years either. I was blessed enough to have both. My grandparents had been raising Rough Coat Collies for well over fifty years. They came from a long line of calm, quiet, and gentle dogs. On top of that, my grandmother’s adopted daughter Isabell had worked for a neighbor who raised search and rescue German Shepherds, police dogs, and yes… even service dogs!

My mind was made up. I needed a service dog and with my doctor’s approval in hand… I knew exactly where to get one. I picked up my cellphone and called my grandmother. From that moment on, my life was forever changed by the most amazing dog my family and I have ever known. The events of her birth and that of her siblings are of such epic proportions that you almost had to be there to believe it.  

“I’m not positive, but in my gut, I think that Bambi is pregnant!” 

“How do you know Grandma?!” 

“Well, I don’t know for sure… but I feel it.” 

A week before easter my grandmother had felt that Bambi (Isabell’s German Shepherd) had been filling out her naturally lean frame. Bambi had connected multiple times with my grandfather’s dog Sampson, which was within itself rather miraculous. You see, Sampson was an old man for a purebred Collie. Even though my grandfather had passed away years earlier… Sampson (who was the last generations of purebred collies on my grandparent’s farm), was still very much alive.

We had wanted and loved these puppies before they were born. It was the end of an era for my grandparents but the beginning of an era for me because one of the babies was going to be my service dog. I spent many nights lying awake and praying for a pregnancy to take place. Begging God to provide the kind of dog who would help me become a more functional person for my family. It wasn’t a cure, but I needed to be more confident in my abilities to manage my household and health on my own while my husband was away for work.

The day before easter I was sprawled out in bed with my husband by my side and my 6-year-old son’s foot in my face. Nikolai had crawled into bed with us and spent the night kicking me in the head. It was a beautiful Saturday, there was a periwinkle hue over the mountain peaks and the fireball in the sky was just beginning to show off. It was going to be a lovely, relaxing weekend… until my phone rang.

“You’re aren’t going to believe this! You just aren’t going to believe it!” My grandmother’s voice was lively and animated. 

I yawned, stretched my legs out before me and mumbled sleepily “What time is it? Why are you up so early?”

“SHE DID IT! WE HAVE PUPPIES!” 

I flew to a fully awake sitting position among piles of blankets and maneuvered the limbs of my family away from me. “What do you mean? How?! Last week you weren’t even sure if she was pregnant and now, we have puppies? WE HAVE PUPPIES!” 

I squealed and my body shook with excitement “I HAVE A SERVICE DOG IN TRAINING!!” 

Had I stuck to the typical service dog rules… it may have made my life easier. Rules such as, “not choosing a puppy until you have them professionally evaluated first” are important to a higher success rate. My wonderful trainer lived in Georgia with me and these puppies were located in Arizona with my family. I decided to trust God and do my best to evaluate them myself through facetime. I don’t recommend doing what I did, but if I had done things any differently… than this would be a different story. Tallulah wasn’t the right dog but she was right for me.

Bambi had her babies in a field, choosing to hide them rather than be cozy and warm inside the house. My mom and my grandmother saw blood and found a hole that she dug to hide them in. The first two (and the oldest) puppies never made it into the foxhole. Their bodies were discovered lifeless several feet away. My mom ran her hands over them, rubbing the puppies with all her might. She breathed life into their mouths and gave them CPR to revive them.

One of the two puppies yelped and began rooting but struggled to latch or eat. The other laid limply underneath my mother’s hands. She called me with tears pouring down her face and I listened to her voice quiver as she whispered a prayer over the tiny animal’s body. Hours went by and she continued begging the fellow to live until his body became cold to the touch, stiff, and ridged. There were no more soft sounds from a beating heart. No shallow breaths being taken. He was gently set aside in the dumpster behind the house so that the other dogs couldn’t take him away before she had a chance to bury him. She devoted the rest of her time to encouraging the puppy who didn’t want to eat, to nurse.

Tallulah was found with one of her brothers in the hole her mom dug out of the earth to save them. The moment I saw her picture on my cellphone… I knew that she was mine. It was as if God took the extra time to write my name on her. She was the only puppy born with a large black letter “L” marking on her back… a characteristic trait that she eventually grew out of. Yet she had been written into existence especially for me. Her marking was a beacon of light within the whirlwind of darkness that my health had plunged me into once again.

After a long day, my exhausted mother had to dispose of the dirty towels and blankets from Bambi’s birthing room and move them into the dumpster. She had helped Bambi’s babies to nurse and even delivered a few more puppies along the way. The sky was fading from blue to silver and the stars were making a dashing appearance of their own. It was almost time to bury the body of the first born. The closer she got to the trash can the louder a scuffle from within became. Twelve or more hours had passed and there had been no sign of life or a will to live. Yet she lifted the lid and there he was! A living, breathing, wiggling miracle searching for his mother. That’s how “Lazarus” changed my mom’s life. A puppy that was completely dead came back to life with nothing more than faith and a prayer… the day before Easter.

My own prayed for puppy, has rescued my life countless times. She has warned me when it wasn’t safe for me to be driving. She has told me when my blood pressure became dangerously high. She helped chase an intruder out of my house and away from my son. She’s watched over my baby as if he were her own. I’ve seen her soothe Nikolai on sick days, and giggled to myself over the joy of her bubblegum pink tongue kissing away his sadness until laughter was all he had left. She has put herself between me and those she didn’t trust on multiple occasions and I’ve learned that she’s the best judge of character that I have ever meet.

There were moments within this amazing first year together when I thought that she wouldn’t make it as a service dog. We have been through trials that I never saw coming. Yet between my wonderful trainer’s advice (thank you Sharon!) and Tallulah’s desire to learn, my relationship with this incredible dog has only strengthened. She has saved me again and again. I owe her my life.

If you enjoyed this post about Tallulah, I have written other posts about her as well that you may want to check out! You can find those posts here, here, and here!

Animals

Tiny Terrors

Nature hasn’t always been kind to me. There have been a number of instances where my love for animals has gotten me into trouble. Nothing reminded me of this more than the meme that came across my Facebook page a few weeks ago. The bold writing prompt stated to “Name an animal you’ve been chased by other than a dog.” The more I sat and thought about it… the more interesting my list became.  

I decided to re-post the meme to Facebook along with the catalog of events that I had created without any further explanation. Several friends came across what I had written and had questions about how I got into such unusual circumstances to begin with. I had some of them laughing hysterically while others were horrified. I’m not entirely sure how to justify everything other than to say that I am and always will be, a lover of four legged and feathered creatures. I prefer their company over human beings and I just can’t seem to help myself.  

A picnic basket slung over my arm, I laced up my salmon and slate colored tennis shoes to aid in the search for the perfect location. My family and I had been hiking through the mountains of North Georgia to find a lake that we had never seen before. The temperatures were sweltering into the upper eighties so it was imperative to find the perfect shady location to prevent my skin from turning the same shade of pink as a rosy maple moth. After a lip-smacking meal, we decided to discard our trash before heading out on our next adventure. 

Within seconds of pushing the lid back to drop the contents inside, a squirrel launched itself at my horrified face. I barely had a moment to react but somehow dodged seconds before its outstretched claws grabbed at my gaping jaw. I screamed and ran but the tiny terror chased me around the parking lot. I used the car tire to lift myself up onto the hood of our vehicle yet the little jerk was persistent. My husband, who attempted to aid in my rescue (while uncontrollably cracking up) unfortunately became the next victim.

There we were, two grown adults being chased around our car by an animal who didn’t weigh more than a couple pounds. The evil little thing stole the uneaten crust that I dropped off of my son’s sandwich. He chirped angerly at us before finally racing back to the bin with his treasure and diving underneath the can’s swinging lid. That’s the last time I’ve ever tossed anything away without double checking for squirrels. I later came into contact with a woman who had been bitten and attacked by a squirrel herself, she was forced to get a series of rabies shots and even required surgery! Never underestimate the size of a creature or the damage they are capable of inflicting. 

Before the sun had graced the day, my girlfriend and I tacked up our horses so we could enjoy a foggy trail ride through the woods. Moody mornings have always been among my most favorite kind of mornings. There was a clearing where the tall grass swayed in the breeze and tickled the bellies of our horses. It was the best spot to allow my chestnut mare to take her time so she could gather enough sweet grass in her mouth to turn her lips green. I was enjoying the gentle sway of my hips rocking to her gait when I noticed her swiveling ears and felt the flick of her tail. All at once I felt the warning of danger as her body tensed underneath me. 

“Mia” who was normally quiet and steady, balked and danced a jig using her long slender legs. My eyes searched the wood line looking for the obvious such as a herd of deer, a bear, or a bobcat. Instead, my girlfriend pointed and gasped while holding her own mare steady from surging forward into the thicket. There under our feet were six bottle brush black tails with striking white stripes through them. We immediately stopped holding our girls back to allow their hooves to fly. I looked behind us as we galloped away only to realize that we were being chased by a family of skunks. They ran after our horses but thankfully our girls outraced them before they had a moment to spray us. I have no idea what it would take to get the smell of skunk off of a horse and I didn’t want to find out but it was a close call! 

One of my most bizarre encounters occurred while taking a walk through a Florida subdivision. Out of my peripheral I saw the ground move below the towering pines and realized that I had stumbled upon a roll (also known as a herd) of armadillo. They typically don’t come out during the day and I had never seen one alive before. I had to bury one that our dog Moose killed on our farm. I remember being shocked to come across one on our little mountain… but this situation was something else entirely. 

I got a little too curious and stuck around to watch them in order to understand what they were eating. Unfortunately, that’s when they noticed me as well. I’ll never again assume that armadillos are slow moving and social animals because once they realized I was there, they began to chase me. I had to run for my life past a row of houses and a gawking girl in pigtails that was sitting on her tricycle. I was convinced that if they caught up to me that I might contract leprosy. I never did figure out what they found so delicious but I left my dignity behind so I could escape with my health intact… and that was good enough for me. 

It’s no secret that I loathe swimming (see last week’s post on this subject here). Since I was young, I’ve hated water activities of any kind and preferred to read a book pool side than join my peers. I’ll happily wade out into the water but once its lapping at my belly and I can no longer see my toes… I’ve had enough. Nikolai (my son) and Rob (my husband) talked me into going swimming at our favorite mountain top lake with them. I was having a wonderful time cooling off until I felt something bite me on the rump. Swirling about to save myself, I brushed it off as a fluke until it happened again. Then again! Only that last time… really hurt!

I screamed for my life and tried to run through water to get to shore but the stupid thing just kept biting me! I couldn’t figure out what it was and I couldn’t get traction. I shoved past a group of kids, stubbed my toe on a rock, tripped, and landed face first with an epic 10/10 worthy splash. Rob and Nikolai didn’t even try to hide their amusement and neither did the locals. When I finally made it close enough to shore to search my swimsuit bottoms, I felt humiliated to realize that the culprit which had bitten on my derriere was a small but apparently hungry fish. There wasn’t a soul on that beach that wasn’t laughing at my horror show and azalea-red cheeks.

Among all the birds in the bird world, Sparrows and Canadian Geese are my least favorite species. Sparrows are known for being territorial and Canadian geese… well they’re known for attacking people. My most traumatic memory as a four-year-old was when I attempted to feed bread to a Canadian goose only to have it come after me. It bit my finger, took some of the flesh off of it, and then beat me with its massive wings. Now having owned a farm as well as geese… I’m older, wiser, and far more prepared to handle them. Yet I’ve held a grudge ever since.

When Tallulah (my service dog in training) was around 11 weeks old, a territorial sparrow at a hotel gave both of us a lesson in PTSD. There we were, enjoying a walk together to stretch our legs outside our hotel room when a ninja in trees began to nail me repeatedly in the head. I never saw it coming! Poor Tallulah was caught off guard as well. One moment she was squatting to pee and the next, this insane bird was slamming into her nose pointy beak first. My brave half German shepherd girl yiped and attempted to hide behind me for cover.  

This bird wasn’t giving up. As we ran from it, the bird flew from one tree to the next in pursuit of execution. Our only chance of escape was to run inside and allow the glass side-door to slam behind us. I will say that although the bird made Tallulah’s bathroom breaks a nightmare… we enjoyed watching the show from our hotel window as it attacked other unsuspecting victims. One woman clutching the hand of her lover had screamed and tossed her pool-side reading material at the bird. Another gentleman walking a Pitbull had to pick up his dog and run across the parking lot to his car when his dog became paralyzed with fear.  

A horse, a donkey, a group of pigs, more than one rooster, an evil goat, a turkey, a snake, a swan, a bear, a feral cat, a racoon, a buffalo, and so many more have chased me. I have enough stories that I could probably fill the pages of a book. You would think that it would deter me but somehow, I only love them more which is probably why my neighbors know me as “the crazy animal lady.”  

Is it just me or have you had some crazy experiences too?  

Nikolai and Winnie (don’t worry I’m not a horrible parent, just a photographer)
Health and Wellness

Discarded Fear

I sat on the dock with my feet dangling over the edge. Wisps of my red hair that had mixed with the salty sweat on my forehead and neck had practically glued themselves to my skin. I tried to pry them away by piling the mass of flames onto the top of my crown to cool myself but they just kept tumbling back down again. I felt sticky and it made the humidity that much more unbearable. Maybe that’s why the idea popped into my head in the first place. A combination between the wicked Tennessee heat wave I had been enduring and the stress that war had brought into my life.   

Fear constantly played in the background of my mind like static taking over a good song on the radio. Somehow the events of the day had subdued it for the time being. It was as if someone turned down the volume just long enough to quiet my insecurities so I could enjoy myself for a spell. The worry that my husband might not make it home was still there, it just played a little softer. My irrational fear of deep dark water was still there too. The fact that I never really got the hang of swimming any more than I could flail my arms during a doggie paddle. A graceful swan dive wasn’t within my skill set so it probably wasn’t the best idea. I also never really got over that weird self-conscious feeling whenever I was forced to undress in the girl’s locker room.

Hush.  

Hush.  

Hush.  

I swirled my toes around the murky darkness at the edge of the bank. It was a fear facing kind of night. The stars danced on the water like fireflies in the middle of summer. The moon shattered into pieces of light over the lake and three of my favorite girlfriends gathered around me. We laughed together after a full day of trail riding horses and eating buttered popcorn for dinner. We smelled like manure and bug spray which made me happy even though in the back of my mind I knew that somewhere in Afghanistan my husband was probably running from mortars. Every day without him was a struggle. I thought a lot about death in between the moments of living my life and I needed an escape.

I was the girl that never really took risks- unlike my husband who pulled me out of my comfort zone whenever he had the opportunity to do so. Mid-twenties at the time and I had never been drunk (I still haven’t). I had never so much as considered trying drugs, and I certainly never put a cigarette to my lips. I was proud of that (I still am), but I wanted to know what freedom felt like. To not be so wrapped up in worry that it prevented me from actually living my life. To all my church friends I was the “bad girl” who made inappropriate sex jokes because I grew up in Chicago. I thought they were funny… they didn’t. Yet to all of my non-Christian friends, I was the religious kill-joy who played it safe and ruined their fun.

All of those things encompassed who I was to some degree or another and yet none of them expressed me at all. There was a whole other version of me that very few got to know. Sure, I was uptight at times. Yet my soul had been searching for the kind of freedom that came with letting go of what was expected of me and finally doing the things that made me happy. I needed liberation from the prison I had built within myself. I looked at the water rippling below me and I couldn’t shake how good it might feel to be fully submerged. To quench the heat of the day. To put a stop to thinking endlessly about what could go wrong and just enjoy everything that could go right.

The tree frogs serenaded one another and the crickets joined in harmony. My friends and I talked about our lives. We cried over things we had never spoken out loud before. We howled over shared memories that had long-since passed and the mood of the night unchained me, link by link. The background noise in my head sounded a lot more like my husband’s voice of reason and his endless support.

“We should go swimming.” Did I say that out loud?  

“We don’t have enough swimsuits.” My blonde friend replied pouting with disappointment.

“Do we really need them?” I pondered.  

“You mean like… skinny dipping?” My brunette friend giggled.  

“Why not?” My heart was racing as I said it.   

How deep was the lake again? I couldn’t remember. Could my feet touch the bottom? Doubtful. Weren’t there fish in there? Probably.   

Snakes? Most definitely.   

It was too late to take it back; a pact of trust had been made. All four of us left piles of discarded clothing on the landing. I pulled the hair tie from my tresses and curled my toes around the edge of the pier. My stomach lurched and goosebumps sent a shiver over my spine but the rest of me was still. My bare-bottom faced the woods but I was locked on the rippling reflection of the sky beneath me. I took in several gulps of air, squeezed my eyes shut, and squealed before launching myself into the milky way.   

Twisted red locks suspended like a halo and my heart paused for a moment. I left everything I had been afraid of behind me with the heap of laundry that I didn’t need. Within that moment I was the brave one. Within that moment, I could do anything I set my mind to and I could do it on my own. The lake kissed my flesh with ice water as I plunged below the surface. It was a shock to my mind. I was swimming naked in an inland with no bottom while facing some of my biggest fears. My soul had never tasted such joy… right up until my foot touched something slimy.

My pale legs danced beneath me and parted water to keep me afloat. I imagined that I looked something like a gladiator or a goddess because that’s how I felt. To everyone else I probably looked like a fish slapping its fins against the shore and begging to be released… but it didn’t matter. A whippoorwill cried out from the darkness like my soul had been reaching towards the light.

I didn’t need anyone to help me get there. No hand holding was required as I stood at the edge of the pier. I did that all on my own. There’s a sense of empowerment when you tackle things you didn’t originally feel comfortable doing. You become washed in pride over having proved to yourself that you could do the unthinkable. A caged bird no longer, fear facing nights are the kind of nights that set you free.  

So tell me, what fears have you faced and how did coming to terms with those fears help you? 

An old image of me before I had my son
Back when I was a lot skinnier 😉
farm life

Coming Home

Spring in North Georgia among the pines and wildflowers gives off a similar experience as autumn. You can smell floral notes on the breeze as colors of red, florescent green, pink, and purple paint the wood line and open themselves up to rolling hills. Ribbons of gold thread their way through spiral black-tops that wind up mountains and weave through farmland. It’s enough to have us rolling down our car windows or opening up every door in our little house… even when that means that we have to chase the ducks and chickens out.  

The hummingbirds who dine on spring blooms have been bravely coming up to my house, sitting on my planter boxes and knocking on the windows. If I’m not quick enough with my early morning chores I have more than just my farm animals to lecture me for it. There’s a family of blue jays that like to steal left over cat food from my six barn cats. They sit on the electrical wire or sometimes on nearby tree limbs, they puff out their feathers and make sharp chirping sounds as if they are telling me off when I get behind.  

There’s a squirrel who lives in a tree on our new property who has a habit of tormenting Tallulah. She’ll come down, flick her bushy tail, make noises to catch Tallulah’s attention and then bound right back up into her nest again. Tallulah will make chase and stand on her hind legs frantically barking in desperation of catching her until that funny little squirrel cackles with laughter. Tallulah will get frustrated and find a spot to sulk until that silly creature torments her all over again.

One of the best things about living out here is that even when we’re gone from home for a day or a few hours… we miss it deeply. I’ve never lived somewhere that despite the endless list of work that needs to be done, felt more like a vacation than an actual vacation does. Of course, that’s not to say that I won’t change my mind and feel desperate for a vacation after all the excitement of this next week. We’ve hired a digging company to remove and replace our culvert (the large pipe that allows our creek to flow underneath our driveway), as well as an electrical company who’s coming to re-wire and fix our well issues.  

It’s been at least a couple of months since our well went out and we’ve had to run it off of a generator in order to have flowing water in the house again. We have also occasionally hooked up the rain water collection tank as well. My hair has never felt more amazing than on the days when I get hot rainwater showers, but I can’t wait to be able to turn on the faucet without having to take a walk down to the well house to do it. All of that aside, it’s officially gardening season and I’m behind. I had planned on starting seedlings but with all the construction I wasn’t sure where to put them… so I waited.  

The most recent plan is the one I had been hoping for all along. We’re going to take down and remove Harlow’s original pasture and make a new pasture on our recently obtained property. We’ll be chopping down trees, stacking trunks to use as fencing material, and creating a much larger space for both our boys (Harlow & Caspian). I’m certain I’ll get to experience exactly how my mom and my grandparents felt when they we’re doing similar things for the forestry service like I wrote about last week

The old pasture will become our new gardening oasis. Harlow and Caspian’s composted manure will be good food for fragile seedlings. We’ll clean our bunny coop out and add that manure to our garden as well as the adding all of the left-over scraps of hay from the horse trailer where we store our bales. I even have several piles of compost from Harlow and Caspian’s stalls that I’ve been churning, as well as compost piles inside of our chicken coop! 

Having the entire pasture to use as a garden this year will greatly improve how much we are able to harvest. This autumn we’ll dismantle the ugly cement blocks that protect our well house and replace them with a greenhouse so that we can continue planting and growing things throughout the winter. Since the well has access to power, we’ll be able to run a heater that will keep the pipes and pump from freezing over while keeping our plants warm from bitter wind and frost. This will essentially fix several problems all at once.  

As I said in “The Leap” buying the land to add to our property was only the beginning. The work that comes after is what shapes it into what it can become and how it can provide for us. It’s a wonder that the love we put into the soil, we get back ten folds. The work load is overwhelming to be sure… but it’s also invigorating! Our peach and apples trees are dappled with blooms. It won’t be long until I’m filling baskets to the brim with fruit and hauling fresh cut flowers into the house.

Nikolai playing with bugs 🐞
Since I rarely post selfies… hey there! It’s me!
farm life

We Can’t Go Back

My love of nature and small farm living didn’t burrow its way underneath my skin on some random Saturday afternoon. Instead, it was deeply rooted into my history years before my childhood began. It was planted and nurtured by my grandparents and their parents before them where it blossomed like a flowering vine that somehow wove us all together. It started sometime when people valued the kind of richness from life that flowed from calloused and hard-working hands, but like an invasive species… it never let our family go.

In a diner amid a small copper mining town… a tiny slip of a waitress with auburn hair was taking orders during the lunch rush. A shy but dashingly handsome man made the extra effort of sitting in her section as soon as he had set eyes on her. He was quiet, fresh out of the Army, and kept to himself. Yet he tucked his long legs underneath the booth and studied the barely five-foot-tall girl with the fresh face and crooked smile as she danced around tables and balanced discarded dishes onto her arms. The sound of her laugh made his heart swell and he couldn’t help ease dropping whenever she made small talk with the locals.  

It was the kind of earth swelling moment where a plot twist hung in the air. Yet it took time to unfold all of the pages before they realized just how important those first moments between them really were. Thirty-eight lives were in the making on a day that otherwise would have been insignificant. If the soldier had chosen another diner, or the girl had called out sick that day. If he had stopped in another town, or she had accepted the marriage proposal from the rich gentleman who wanted to build her a big house in the city… maybe then things would have gone differently.  

Instead, she chose him because they could talk for hours, because they shared a love for Arizona, and most of all because he loved adventure as much as she did. He didn’t give her a fancy pick-up line like some of the other soldiers had attempted to do. He treated her with loving kindness and it felt as if their souls had found what they never realized they had been searching for. He had the unique ability to drop everything and start over just because he wanted to see something new and it fueled a life well-traveled. 

Together they taught their children how to read a map at a young age and how to navigate rough terrain. As their family grew into having three boys and two young girls, my grandfather took a contracted job for the forestry service. They were able to camp at campgrounds that were closed for public use by joining teams of men yielding chainsaws and hatchets. They would cut down what they called “dog hairs” which were large gatherings of small trees that could easily make a forest fire become uncontainable. 

The men would cut the tree trunks to the ground while the women and children would follow behind and stack the limbs into large burn piles. My mom was eight years old and my Aunt Susie was five but they all hiked the woods together. The work in the Arizona sunshine wasn’t an easy accomplishment especially in locations like Flagstaff, Prescott, and on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Yet nothing tasted better than the fizz inside a chilled bottle of root beer or a delicious sandwich after hours of hard work. My mom’s favorite treat was listening to the great American broadcaster Paul Harvey over the radio while she ate her lunch among family. 

My grandfather (Dale, or as I call him “Papa“) and my uncles Vaughn, Clay, and Brent frequently crossed paths with wildlife that found a way to humble them. On an evening where they returned to their camper after a long day in the woods, a bear had ripped the door off of their icebox and had used its teeth to pry into their supply of canned goods. Their camper trailer had been all but ripped apart. My Papa had to load his riffle to search the grounds and make sure that the animal wasn’t lingering somewhere nearby.  

In a separate incident a herd of elk bounded through the forest and soared over a fence when a calf got its leg hung up in barbwire. To this day my uncle Brent (the youngest of the three boys) still recalls running to my grandfather’s truck to retrieve a pair of wire nippers so he could help rescue the thrashing infant. It was a moment of awe that left a lasting impact on my Papa’s memory as well. He talked about it with such fondness and reverence in the years that followed. I still remember my own first encounter with elk when I was left in wonderment over how they sounded a lot like singing blue whales that vibrated around mountains rather than within the swells of ocean waves.  

My grandmother (Helen) left her children in the care of her mother (my great-grandmother) one winter afternoon so that she and my grandfather could photograph a heard of elk that were making their way to a local feeding station. They never did come across the elk that they were looking for that day, but as they made their way down the mountain my grandfather nearly stepped on a rattlesnake instead! Backing up ever-so-slowly he reached behind him so that my grandmother could place large rocks into his open palms in order to discourage the snake from coming any closer. As she searched for one boulder after the next, she nearly served up another rattler instead.  

There was a sudden shock when the two of them realized that they had stumbled upon a den of rattlesnakes. Everywhere they looked the ground was camouflaged and covered with them. My quick-thinking grandfather located a walking stick in order to very carefully pick their way through the path home. He kept my grandmother close behind him as he poked at the ground to see if anything moved before placing another foot in front of them. It took a lot of extra time but thankfully they made it back to safety. 

Beyond forestry contracts and working in the copper mine, my grandfather had other odd jobs as well. He road and adored horses. He had a friend who married into ranch life and owned several head of cattle. My grandfather would lend a hand sorting and moving them. When I was younger my papa worked as a ground’s keeper for a hospital near Chicago where he blessed others with his ability to make things grow from nothing. To this day those who knew him talked about how incredible his gardens looked and how no one has been able to measure up since.  

When my Papa finally planted roots of his own… it was on the twenty acres he and my grandmother had invested in. They built a life together in a town that was smaller than the town where they had first meet, surrounded by mountains near the border of Arizona. They had dreams of building a house that they could grow old in but settled for a large greenhouse and added several rooms onto their mobile home instead. That well-loved house helped raise the five additional children that they adopted together.  

Two of my uncles bought land in other states, and my mom has taken over the upkeep of the farm in Arizona. My Grandparent’s love of travel, and desire to live life on their terms taught me how to fulfill the dreams of my own family. Our son Nikolai at seven years old has visited sixteen states in the United States and we are working on adding to that by planning trips to Yellowstone, and Glacier National Park in the near future.  

My grandfather isn’t here anymore but his legacy continues in every adventure we take and in how we build lives of our own here in the mountains of North Georgia. I sit and marvel over watching pine trees taller than apartment buildings sway in the balmy spring air and I smile because I know how proud he would have been to see me here. But as my wonderful Grandmother likes to remind me… “We can’t go back. We can only make new plans, new memories, and continue moving forward.” 

Nikolai reaching up to pluck an apple
Nikolai hiking our farm with us
My Great Grandmother Jessie, my Papa, and my grandma Helen
My handsome grandfather in his Army uniform
Bisbee Arizona, the mountain town where my grandparents meet, fell in love, and where my grandfather worked in the copper mines
My Papa & I when I was young
Nikolai & my grandma saying our goodbye’s to Papa many years ago
Papa, my mama, uncle Vaughn, my aunt Sue, and my beloved Grandmother Helen.
Animals

The Most Unlikely Friendship

Other than being a pretty face, Aspen arrived on our farm without a true purpose and with very little expectations from me. I had heard that geese made wonderful guardians for chickens and livestock, but I really only picked him out because I thought he would look lovely swimming around in our creek. He was a sight to behold for sure but in a very short amount of time his real worth came in teaching my family that the best friendships happen organically and when you least expect them.

Noelle and Bells we’re Aspen’s mates and even though he loved his girls, to our delight he still made time for us. He would spend the early morning hours preening his stunning white and silver down and then take his daily walk to the creek with a dame (female goose) on either side. Shockingly Aspen set aside the late afternoon warmth in order to sunbathe right next to our front door by himself. He would peak into our little house and watch our every move. If he caught someone walking by in the living room he would tap-tap-tap on the glass and horrify them with what sounded like a bike horn inside of a megaphone.

“HONK!!!”

If he was ignored further, he would waddle down a step or two so he could peak into the other window and tap on the glass over there. He would make as much racket as possible in order to get the human contact that he felt he justly deserved. Back and forth this crazy bird would go from one window to the next even long after we had tossed him kitchen scraps in an attempt to silence him. His nemesis the broom would shoo him down the stairs to prevent Aspen’s poop from sticking to our welcome mat but even that wasn’t a strong enough deterrent to keep him away for very long.

In the middle of a weekday Noelle went missing and Bells became Aspen’s leading lady. Several months went by before Bells went missing as well. Predators are an unfortunate hazard of farm life and in the summer, we become surrounded by hungry mating coyotes. Aspen kept to his routine without his girls but his love affair with people (most particularly my husband) grew stronger than ever. As Rob (my husband) would leave for work, Aspen would fly the entire length of our driveway and chase his car all the way down the dirt road just to catch up to him. This crazy goose would then hitch a ride home in the car so that my husband could drop him back off before attempting to leave for work all over again.

I was sitting on my bed distracted from having deep conversations with my grandmother over the phone when a deafening “HONK! HONK! HONK!” overpowered my ability to speak or listen to anything that was being said to me.

There in my bedroom stood our insane goose. His big blue eyes swirling suspiciously to get a better look at my face from his position on the floor and his feathers puffed out for full effect. Apparently, Rob had been bringing in groceries and left the storm door open just enough for Aspen to slide his beak into so he could finally make his way inside the house. He had been trying to follow the dogs inside for ages but this time he finally made it! There he was filling my bedroom with his megaphone voice box when my husband and our son Nikolai sprinted to my rescue in order to aid in chasing him back out again.

This bird somehow dodged three people only to escape by waddling between Nikolai’s open legs. He pitter-pattered as quick as his flippers could take him into the living room where he helped himself up onto the sofa. When he thought he was cornered he spread open his stunning wingspan to fly around the kitchen counter before landing with a wicked “THUMP!” back onto the living-room floor. It took some football style tackling but my husband was successful at scaring him out of the house again. Rob then caught the big guy outside and brought him back in to make a round of apologies.

He once had a week-long vacation spent at one of my best friend’s house. While farm sitting for me, he made it a point to climb up into Heather’s truck and out-right refused to get back out again. Luckily for Aspen, Heather spoils my farm more than I do. She came to the conclusion that my poor goose was lonely so she hauled his kiddy pool all the way to her house. She created a pen of his own where she fed him all the kale he had ever dreamed of… until Aspen fell in love with Jimmy (Heather’s husband).

Poor Heather got caught up in a love triangle between Aspen and her beloved Jimmy. Aspen loved Jimmy so much that he would bite at Heather if she tried to get between him and the whirlwind love of his life. Aspen would fly to Jimmy so he could sit on Jimmy’s foot, where he would love bite the heck out of Jimmy’s knee caps before making sweet love to him by humping his foot. I have never laughed so hard or snorted so loudly as the night I got that phone call from the hysterical and gasping for air version of my friend Heather.

We had joyful tears poring down our cheeks as Jimmy exclaimed in the background… “It’s not funny!!! He tried to mate with me!”

Aspen also tried to mate with Rob as well. As Rob was sitting outside working on our broken-down dodge in the driveway, Aspen would get upset over any lack of interest in him by the men within his vicinity. He would steal Rob’s tools and haul them off into the woods. I would watch the two of them as they interacted with one another from the window while clutching my heaving sides. Rob would yell and chase down this massive goose while carefully searching the bramble for his missing equipment. However, the longer Rob went on ignoring him the angrier Aspen got until… he would love-bite Rob in the knee cap and start dry humping Rob’s leg and foot. Whenever Rob wasn’t home, our poor farrier became Aspen’s next love interest whenever he popped by to trim the hooves on the equine.

Until Aspen we had no idea that Geese would hump the objects of their obsession. We also had no clue that they might get so attached to one person that they make the decision to mate with them for the rest of their lives. We bought some baby ducklings who liked to follow behind Rob and I. Aspen took to them as if they were the fruit of his love for my husband. He looked after them, took walks to the creek with them, and scolded Rob for neglecting them.

We had a family movie night one summer evening and while being emotionally invested into the plot, Aspen snuck in to join us on the sofa. When I got up to grab a second helping of popcorn… I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. That crazy goose had his eyes glued to the screen and watched the movie as if he understood everything that was being said. He even reached over to steal some popcorn that Nikolai had dropped between the cushions.

I think my most favorite memory was when a car pulled into my driveway to deliver a package. A man stepped out of the passenger seat carrying a box that they thought was mine but he only got halfway to my front door before spotting Aspen. That bird spread his wings open and screamed a battle cry that I could hear from within my house. The poor unsuspecting man’s face changed to several shades of white. He threw the box at Aspen and made a run for the car door. His foot lost grip and slipped in the mud underneath his boot as he scrambled to reach the door handle. Aspen had already surpassed the runway for flight and landed directly on top of this poor soul. He was bashing his wings against this man’s head while biting the guy who was now screaming for his life. To this day that car made the fastest three point turn that I’ve ever seen.

We loved Aspen so much that we created a dating profile on Facebook to help him find the perfect mate. It got thousands of views and spread joy to everyone who got to know him through social media. We also tried to keep Aspen safe by penning him up at night in our big coop with all the chickens. Yet he made his opinion on the matter VERY clear to us when in retaliation and anger he would grab the chickens by the back of the head and launch them through the air behind him. Like a three-year-old throwing a temper tantrum at the expense of the poor chickens. He would thrash his wings against the wire pen, and stomp around throwing chickens in his wake.

We came to the understanding that his happiness revolved around his ability to go where he pleased… even if that meant I was scrubbing goose poop off my front porch every single day. His zest for life was more important than our desires to keep him as safe as possible even if at some point we would have to live without him. Besides that we were sure that even the neighbors could hear him scream/honking in anger over his confinement. The quality of a life is far better than the quantity of days in which that life is on this earth. We knew that his days were numbered and yet we had our dogs on patrol to keep him around for as long as we could.

Even still, when that day finally came it hurt our family deeper than we could have ever anticipated. We missed the sound of Aspen’s voice echoing through the mountains. We searched the woods for a body to bury but we never found one. Whenever we went hiking around the farm and looked behind us to where he normally would be… the only thing left was emptiness. Aspen became a beacon of light within our lives, an endless supply of humor, but most of all… he became our friend.

Aspen watching Nikolai play, taken with my “good camera”
Aspen, Noelle, and Bells
If we took a walk… he had to come too!
Sneaky boy!
My husband with Aspen enjoying a bonfire
Watching over his ducklings
One of the MANY times we had to escort him back home 🙄 😅
Farm life, Homesteading, Horses, donkey, chickens, ducks, geese, farm animals, bears

The Leap

We risked everything when we first bought our little farm. We sold whatever we could for 4.71 acres of mountain land that we bought from a meth addict. 3.71 acres of which was sight unseen. It was among the most crazy endeavors that we had ever tackled in our lives and I’m not the risk taking type. I’m the think-everything-through-from-all-angles type of woman. The ask-100-questions-before-you-ride-or-die sort of girl, while my husband is my polar opposite.

We couldn’t afford much but we had this little dream tucked away in our hearts of owning our own property and finding financial freedom. Throughout the years, my husband and I talked about our love of country living and our desire to be engulphed by mountains. Early on in our marriage we bought a house near an Army base in Tennessee. It was a stunning old farmhouse in suburbia with original hard wood floors on .25 acres of land. We loved that house. We wanted to raise our babies in that house. Unfortunately the year after purchasing was when the housing market came to a crashing halt. We paid far more for it than what it ended up being worth.

We tried to hold onto to our love of that old house for dear life. Meanwhile, my husband barely made it through five different layoffs at work. He needed a position with better healthcare and stronger job security. We tried to sell the house to get out from underneath it. We tried to rent it out, and we tried paying for two mortgages. In the end we were left living pay check to pay check and struggling to keep the piles of bills at bay. We spent many nights fighting between our fears of losing everything and our need for sleep. When we finally filed for bankruptcy and foreclosure, my husband took it as a deeply personal failure on his part, while I felt relieved of our biggest burden.

We moved around quite a bit with my husband’s new position in life-flight until we ended up in a little mountain town called Ellijay. It was one step closer to everything we had ever wanted and we had the privilege of renting a house with some amazing views. The “No pets allowed” policy however was a stab in my animal loving heart. I longed for something that was ours. My husband was convinced after our foreclosure that we wouldn’t be able to buy anything of our own for a very long time. Yet there it was… that little dream tugging on the strings of my heart. So I started browsing Facebook Marketplace for land. Who would have thought that a seller might be satisfied with owner financing something just to have money in their pockets and not have to pay the taxes on a property they don’t use anymore?

There were so many listings that found their way onto my feed. Most of them were far above our price range, some were in gated communities, and others were land parcels that were lacking in natural resources. I kept looking until I spotted an advertisement that read something like “Nearly five secluded acres in Georgia off of a private dirt road. Needs work, asking 28K. Has a well and a septic tank.” I gasped. There was no way it could be possible, but I wasn’t about to walk away without being sure. I knew that if it was true… it was more than likely going to get snatched up by someone who probably had enough cash in their pockets to throw at it than we did. Yet I wouldn’t forgive myself if we didn’t at least have a look.

My husband thought I was crazy at first. He was right, I was. Yet I knew that there had to be a better way to live rather than struggling from pay check to paycheck. I was done with worrying late into the night and watching my husband fight to keep a roof over our heads. I was tired of throwing rent money away while never seeing the end of the rat race. So I begged him to think about it, and then I drove to the property with Nikolai so we could have a look. The bumpy dirt road was a muddy disaster. My car nearly got stuck and the first driveway I came to made my heart sink because it was steep… but I kept going anyway.

When I finally found our destination, the property was a mess. The only building on it had burnt down and needed to be removed. The drug addicted mother to the man who was selling the parcel had left trash everywhere and hoarded old tires. Yet if you looked past what needed elbow work… stunning large pines loomed overhead. The smell of forest and earth lingered in the air, the creek babbled over rocks, and you couldn’t see a single neighbor because you were surrounded by nature everywhere you looked. It was dripping with potential in my eyes.

I talked the seller down in price due to the cleanup involved and the taxes they owed on it. We walked away having paid 21K, interest free for almost five acres of land. It was one of the most challenging things we had ever done because once we bought it, that’s when the real work began. We downsized our belongings, threw everything else into a storage unit and lived in hotels for 6 months. Nikolai wasn’t in school yet. Rob traveled for work anyway and his company paid to put him up in hotels, so we traveled with him. In between my husband’s work, we would drop by the farm to clean it up. Little by little we took it from where it was and polished it into what we knew it could become.

We didn’t have time to build a house. We didn’t have the funds to build one either. Instead we bought a brand new two bedroom, one bathroom single wide mobile home. 782 sq. feet, just a little bit bigger than the largest tiny house. I didn’t think I would be the kind of woman who would fall in love with what most people call a trailer. It wasn’t my dream option as a little girl or as an adult. That all changed once I started pouring my heart and soul into it. Between my love of decorating and our stunning $300.00 a month mortgage payment… I lost all desire for having a big house with fat monthly bills no matter how pretty the house might be. Peace of mind was worth it’s weight in gold.

We had everything we needed and so much more. We paid off our land, both of our cars, and brought home some pretty amazing fuzzy faces to add to our little family. I learned how to compost and began creating the garden of my dreams. We spent evenings catching fire flies with our son and cutting walking paths into the woodlands. When we finally got around to seeing the rest of our property, we discovered incredible mountain views and explored the little creek that runs through the entire front end of our property. With hard work, dedication, and a shoe string budget, we created the kind of life that we had always dreamed of.

In the beginning stages of filing paperwork to close on our property and feeling the pressure to get the clean up sorted as quickly as possible, we had moments of doubt. Living out of a suitcase with a three year old made me want to loose my mind. It was challenging, frustrating, and at times we thought that perhaps we had made the biggest mistake of our lives. Yet, we stuck it out and we found that sweat equity more than doubled the value of what we had originally put into it. On the other hand, the memories we made while we were working together and the lessons that our hard work taught our son was priceless.

Four years into living the life we had always dreamed of and another unexpected opportunity ended up coming our way. The property directly across from our driveway went up for sale. 6.49 acres listed below fair market value and it was sitting directly within view out my bedroom and living room window. We talked to the land owner and created a plan to start saving. In December we applied for a bank loan to purchase the property but a week later we received a call from the loan manager who told us that we had been denied. Our bankruptcy and foreclosure date disqualified us from meeting the bank’s requirements by only one month. We waited 6 weeks, held our breath, and we applied again.

Those six weeks crept by at a snail’s pace but we kept in contact with the seller and saved money like crazy. Many weeks that rob could have spent with us at home were used up as he put in extra hours at work. When the day finally arrived to reapply, Rob sent in the paperwork and then we waited… again. Four days later we got a call from the bank telling us that our loan had officially been approved. The two weeks after that moment were a blur of filling out and faxing information over to our lawyer as we inched our way towards receiving a closing date. In the meantime, we went through one crisis after the next from December to March.

My nerves were raw, stress levels high, and my hopes needed to come back down to earth before I hurt myself. Still, I looked around at all we had built together over the whirlwind of this adventure and I was overflowing with wonderment and gratitude. We had been gifted the ability to more than double the size of the lot that we already had without having to move anywhere to do it. This is the moment that we had been blessed with. That crazy dream that we held in our hearts until we took one leap of faith after the next is what brought us to the point of owning 11.20 stunning acres.

I created this blog and website with the hope that our farm might grow and that we might be able to rebrand it. I decided to keep the website and the dream even after our first refusal from the bank. Sometimes that leap of faith turns out better than those carefully choreographed plans that we make. Sometimes doing what feels safe is actually the very thing that’s holding you back from living the life you’ve always wanted. No matter how things worked themselves out, I knew that we were exactly where we were meant to be.

Today we signed the closing documents with the bank and the seller of the property. Once again we find ourselves at the beginning of all the hard work that is to follow. It’s a beautiful place to be. Our goal of having a greenhouse, turning Harlow’s current pasture into rows of cut flowers and garden beds while eventually obtaining cows… is now a reachable one! Happy birthday to Everpine Forest and Farm.

Our new property!
Isn’t it stunning?!
My favorite kid!
The view on our 4.71 acres
Baby Tallulah in front of our girl Moose!
Took this image long before we bought the new property. Everything to the right of Nikolai all the way up the hill is ours now.
Our new farm logo
Welcome to our home ❤️ This is the living room where I often type up my blog posts
My favorite view and now all that land across the street is ours as well
Our horse Harlow that I write about often
Crime

A Joyful Morning

You ever have one of those days when after a storm in your life has passed, you’re finally overcome with an overwhelming sense of peace? Almost like God and nature just wrapped their arms around you and hugged you until you had no choice other than to smile again? The last couple of days have been like that for me. Wandering around the farm, grinning, and counting my blessings.

There’s this pressure in the spring time to hurry up and get the next batch of baby chicks, to rush to get seeds started, and to mend pasture fences in a timely manor. Farms, homesteads, and gardeners are in a race with the seasons until harvest time. This winter has been especially challenging for my family, but the sun is finally out again. The decay from winter is seeping nutrients into the soil of the forest and new life is springing into motion. The process is as humbling as it is healing.

I myself have been fighting with time to overcome the trauma and decay that we have endured. I have been searching for my peace of mind and the harder I push, the longer it takes. One moment I think I’m feeling like my old self and the next, like a sneaky final frost… something will trigger that overwhelming feeling of terror that I had when I found the hooded stranger standing in my bedroom. I’m starting to learn that healing and happiness is an awful lot like slow feeding fertilizer. The damage has been done and it will take a while for me to bloom again, but I can enjoy the sun while it’s shining.

In the last couple of weeks I have struggled with depression, hypervigilance, insecurity, flash backs, and PTSD. I have blamed myself and made lists of things we can implement to make us safer. I’ve had nightmares that even kept my husband up late into the night with concern, and I’ve had to help Nikolai through nightmares of his own. Then out of nowhere, like a spring rain I almost feel normal again. I’m able to smile and to laugh again. I embrace feeling that way and hold on tight. Sometimes it lasts for a day or two, sometimes just a couple of hours but it’s a wonderful glimpse of what I know is to come.

I had to read the police report over the phone to the insurance company. It sounded easy enough but it ended up being a detailed retelling of the events of that terrible night through the eyes of the arresting officers. They mentioned that my hands shook with fear as they were speaking to me. That I told them over and over again how afraid I was for our lives. They mentioned that both Nikolai and I were traumatized. As I read it, I found myself stumbling over their words and choking back sobs.

Later that night a brand new furry of nightmares began. It left me getting a total of 6 hours of sleep over the length of 3 days. My eyes were bloodshot, I was angry all over again, and back to feeling depressed. It took five days from the moment I read the report to feel the sun on my face and to find my smile again. I went to church with Rob even though I didn’t want to go and hadn’t been to church in a long while. The pastor whom I had never meet, handed me a Bible verse that I kept in my pocket. I’m sure I gave off the worst impression but the verse was about hope and healing. It was exactly what I needed and it took my breath away. It was another beautiful reminder that this season won’t last forever.

Back when I was mostly bedridden, I learned that the best way to find joy was to create it myself. A quiet moment stolen to sip on a hot cup of tea and listen to the birds sing. Taking some precious time to lean against a fence post and hear the sound of my horse thoughtfully grinding the hay left dangling between his lips. A hot bath full of bubbles, my favorite scent, and a good book did wonders for my mental health on a night when I was in too much pain to sleep. When I can’t feel joy naturally, I know the recipe to create it.

It will probably become more challenging when my husband leaves for work. He will be gone for a couple of weeks. He has been the glue holding me together on my roughest days. It won’t be much longer now until he has to return to help the life-flight helicopters and airplanes so that they can continue flying people to major hospitals. His job matters and we make sacrifices as his family so that he is able to serve those who need him most. I’m not looking forward to his departure but I know that we will be okay.

This past weekend I visited one of my best friends and she loaded my car up with enough plants to jump start the garden of my dreams. I filled the planters on my porch with stunning cold hearty bulbs. The sun was shining as dirt found it’s way underneath my finger nails, smeared across my arms, and Georgia clay stained my blue jeans. I was humming to myself, grinning, and completely filthy. Yet there it was… happiness again.

“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:5

Nikolai on a beach in Florida
farm life

Where We Belong

I grew up learning how to fly fish. I’d spend the afternoon wading into a bubbling stream, a fishing pole in one hand, and a tacklebox in the other. The sounds of birds cheerfully overhead with their sing-song voices echoing through the forest. The wisp of my fishing line zipping through the air as I made my cast and the feel of it slipping through my fingers as I gently pulled my fly back in again. It was one of my most favorite childhood memories.

There’s something both humbling and healing about nature, it has a way of reaching into the soul to soothe the ache for places untouched by the horrors of humanity. It didn’t matter if I caught a fish that day or not. No classroom lecture was more valuable than the lessons nature was able to teach me. Dragging my kayak into a muddy river, stretching my legs across the bow and dipping my feet into the water below to allow tiny fish to nibble on my toes… it was exactly where I belonged.

If I’m being honest, it’s where we all belong. Not fighting against nature by being cooped up in town houses or living in suburbia. Not surrounded by people who measure the length of their grass rather than letting it grow so that birds and foxes can nest. The ridiculousness of HOA squabbles set aside along with petty neighborhood arguments over things that are truly meaningless to the bigger picture. Spending our lives being afraid over how we’re going to come up with the funds to pay large mortgages in an effort to keep a roof over the heads of our children. Worse yet, trying to figure out how to put food on the table when the cost of produce continually rises. Instead, we should choose to allow the dirt we walk on and the labor of our hands to do the providing while sharing that nourishment with others. Prioritizing our needs over the love of things.

When I had my son, it was vitally important to me that he have the opportunity to grow up with this kind of freedom. Not just to visit it or only be allowed to taste what a life like this could offer only once in a while… but to own it every single day. To learn about different animals, share our home with nature, and watch my boy discover the beauty of growing our own food. To teach him the responsibility of nurturing the world around us while maintaining empathy for the only planet we have to live on. To teach him that in buying less, we actually have so much more.

When the pandemic hit, many people discovered the value in this way of life than ever before. My city living friends were flocking to buy homesteads. I witnessed more people put down their cell phones than ever before. Adults helped their neighbors cope, parents began taking charge of their children’s education, and best of all… people were actually interacting with nature. News sources were put on mute and choices were made to take back what’s always been the most valuable thing of all… our freedom.

Animals walked among skyscrapers, whales were able to move closer to the shoreline to feed rather than starve. Smog cleared and the earth began the process of healing. No one had ever seen such incredible phenomenon’s… right up until we reverted back to old habits. That’s when the healing began to rot again. Nothing changed for our little farm though. We continued to wake up surrounded by woodland nature. We fed our animals, tended to our garden, and best of all… we spent summer days teaching our son how to fish. We hiked our way up mountain tops to explore, left nothing but footprints behind, and continued working towards living below our means.

In South Korea my husband and I saw apartment homes full of community gardens. Everywhere you looked, people found a way to plant beautiful things in the ugliest of places and they did their best to help one another. This lifestyle isn’t the only way to live, but it’s one of the better options available. The cost of borrowing large sums of money to live above your means will take a toll on your health. Taking walks while breathing in toxic fumes will cut years off of your life. Raising children in an environment that’s lacking humanity can teach them to become immune to the inhumane.

So how do we fix it? When the next pandemic or natural disaster happens and it’s too late to teach such valuable survival skills… where will we be then? The world as we know it is changing everyday. Human nature is adding toxins into our food sources and dumping trash into the earth. Never before have we seen so many life altering illnesses and mental health distress. So… where do we go from here? My family packed up everything we owned to create a new way of living. How about you? Where do you see yourself? What do you think you can do to help?

Nikolai fishing with daddy
Cellphone shot of one of my favorite places
Parenting

Miracles and Blueberries

Before my son was born, when he was just a tiny squiggle within my belly and his gender was unknown… we decided to temporarily name him Blueberry. Due to severe weight loss and illness, my pregnancy was labeled as high risk and I had an overwhelming fear that my baby wouldn’t live long enough to be properly introduced to us. With the exception of a small group of close friends and family members, we kept Blueberry’s existence a secret from the rest of the world. Yet, we would exchanged knowing glances when discussing our love of… blueberries.

When we discovered that our tiny Blue was indeed a boy… it felt like God himself was smiling while walking us through the challenging process of being a high risk pregnancy. I spent nausea filled days writing letters and addressing them to “Little Blue” as keepsakes for him to read when he was grown. As a toddler my son got into several large containers of blueberries that I kept in the refrigerator on the lowest shelf and ate so many of them that it turned his poop black. He somehow managed to hide the containers from us but the black poop sent us running in a panic to visit the nearest pediatrician to check for blood. Several hundred dollars and a stool sample later… those containers of blueberries were the most expensive berries (besides our son) that we had ever paid for.

Early one morning a couple years later, I woke to what looked like a blue Smurf peaking up at me over the edge of my bed. With a blue face and lilac hands, my bright eyed boy was a giggling disaster. He had gotten up in the middle of the night, pulled a chair over to the refrigerator so he could reach into the freezer and over indulged on the bag of frozen blueberries I had saved for breakfast. He ate so many that his face, arms, belly, and legs were covered. It took days to wash out all the purple dye that stained his skin. The kid looked like he had been pulled straight out of a Pixar movie.

To this day he loves the fruit so much that we planted several blueberry bushes on our farm specifically for him. Even then, he begs us to still make time to hit up the you-pick’s in the summer. We bring home blueberries by the bucket full and I’m left sorting out how to use them all up in recipes. I pay extra money in the winter to buy fresh off-season blueberries from local farms. Yet I end up buying even more at the grocery store because he gobbles them down before I can pop them into his breakfast box for school. I’ve even seen him put farm chores on hold, stopping dead in his tracks to eat handfuls of unripe blueberries because he just couldn’t wait a moment longer!

Being a mother to this amazing little boy is forever an adventure. I’ve never laughed so hard, worried so much, or loved blueberries more in my entire life. He will risk walking through thorns and bramble while allowing me to pull out the stickers caught under his skin… just so he can get a mouthful of their juicy goodness. When asked to choose between a piece of candy or those delicious violet colored fruit… he goes for blueberries every single time. If I had only known just how much his nickname meant!

My silly boy as a toddler
Caught washing handfuls of them so I grabbed my camera to help me never forget
Nikolai eating buckets of blueberries at the you-pick.
Nature

Love that Jars the Night

In third grade my mama and I would sit at the kitchen table and watch all the wild birds go about their day. They often had such unique personalities. If you weren’t paying attention… you would miss experiencing the joy and laughter that they had to offer. One day I came home from school to find a bird book resting on our kitchen table with a pair of binoculars. For several years the book was only removed from the table when we needed space to eat and afterwards, was carefully put back again.

Some afternoons I’d spend hours flipping through the pages of that book while reading about my favorite species of finches. To this day I still have a love affair with owl finches, spice finches, and even the European gold finches that are located throughout parts of Europe. My thirst to learn about birds followed me well into adulthood and was passed down to my son. It was on our little farm that I discovered one of the most unique types of birds I had ever come across. Ten years ago throughout many neighborhoods you could hear the sounds of nightjars at dusk. With countless pesticides being sprayed to reduce the bug population, the number of nightjars has decreased by staggering amounts.

These amazing birds are nearing extinction now to the point where people rarely hear them at all. Their main food source and hunting ground is wooded areas with large open fields. These ground dwelling creatures make nests out of forest leaves and are extremely hard to spot due to their ability to blend into their environment. They look something like a cross between an owl and a frog. They have small heads, round bodies, and very large mouths. They swoop across pastures with their mouths open wide like a butterfly net to capture moths and other flying insects for nourishment.

When we first moved to our little farm we set up a firepit with Nikolai (our son). It allowed us to roast marshmallows and eat charred vegetarian hot dogs smothered in delicious condiments. With the fire blazing and our bellies full, we listened to the sounds of nature all around us. Big bull frogs singing from our creek, tiny tree frogs belting out sounds that should have come from something far larger, and little crickets dancing among the tall grass. There was one sound that we just couldn’t place though.

I took a recording and uploaded the sound to Facebook so we could find someone who possibly knew more. Responses flooded my feed but I was able to rule out most of them. One friend of mine suggested that it sounded like a whippoorwill. I searched for videos on YouTube and compared them to what I heard. It was close but it still didn’t fit the mark. It took some more digging but I finally came across the exact sound that I was looking for. A close cousin to the whippoorwill is an amazing creature called the Chuck Will’s Widow.

The bird’s cry sounds exactly like it’s name suggests. It first makes a chucking sound in it’s throat, then a noise that sounds something like “Will’s-Widow!” It’s incredibly unique and I was positively giddy over my discovery. Now every spring when the weather gets warm… we sit outside together as a family and listen for this special voice that lives on our mountain and hunts in the pastures of our farm.

Our first night after having bought Harlow (our paint horse), I was driving home from Atlanta with Nikolai while marveling over the dusty pink hues that sun made across the sky as it set. Our hands hung out of the open car windows to enjoy the coolness of the evening air on our skin while our vehicle finally skipped down our dirt road bumping it’s way over potholes. Suddenly, a flurry of wings caught my eye and forced me to mash my breaks to the floorboard of my car. I thought I had nearly hit a bat but instead two eyes glistened in the glow of my headlights.

I watched his head swivel and my eyes locked with his. In the span of just a few seconds he lifted from the ground making the most lovely shape with his wings as he flew up and over our car. All Nikolai and I could do was gasp. We knew exactly who he was from the countless hours we spent researching information and browsing photos of what he might look like. We had hoped that we might see him one day but knew since he was so hard to spot, that it may never happen. We happily settled on enjoying the stunning song that he preformed every night instead. Actually having the opportunity to see him however, was a magical moment indeed.

In the years that we lived on our farm, we only heard one Chuck Will’s Widow crying out of the curtain of darkness. However, several weeks after that amazing encounter, we heard not one… but TWO Widows! Clear as day! Singing in unison, two beautiful voices were enjoying the night together. The lone voice coming from our little friend was lonely no longer. We prayerfully made requests that they might make babies together so we could enjoy the fruits of their love for years to come. This spring we hold our breath as we listen for their triumphant return home.

Nikolai and his binoculars bird watching
Writing

The Muse

Early in the morning before tackling farm chores or getting dressed for the day, I woke up slowly by reading various blogs that popped up underneath the “Discover” tab on WordPress. I found that this little button opened my eyes to an amazing new world of writers. Beyond that it has been helping me grow and improve so that I am able to communicate better with all of you.

Some Blog posts this week have left me in awe and pushed me to think about situations in my life in an entirely new way (Like the one written by Wynne Leon about Mount Everest). Other posts have inspired to me to tackle unique writing prompts (like this one written by Ben who enjoys farm life as well).

I thought a lot about how writing prompts might fit into a farm blog where I primarily discuss various events in my life and my ability to reflect on them. I came up empty. Especially when those writing prompts take me on a tangent that is nowhere near being farm related. Yet the more I read, the more I wanted to write something completely off topic to share here with all of you. I looked over the writing prompt made by Ben on Trail Baboon and decided to shove my concerns out of my head and to sit and enjoy the journey.

I ended up loving it so much that I shared the un-edited version of the writing prompt (typos in all) with Trail Baboon and Ben. I then decided to toss my “brand” out the window to share it here with all of you as well. To summarize this exercise, Ben shared a local town mystery that involved bottles of vodka, and a man who followed the wrong woman wearing a red jacket. The story itself was true but the prompt encouraged others to solve the mystery with a piece of fiction.

Without giving too much away, (it would be far better to click the link so you can read it for yourself) I’d love to hear your version. So if you decide to write about it, please share it with Trail Baboon and also share it here with me.

Small towns are notoriously more interesting than fiction (mine included) and I have been planning on sharing a piece with more information about that topic at a later date. Until then… here is the story I concocted that was inspired by Ben’s writing prompt about his little town’s mystery. I believe that my title fits both this explanation and the piece I wrote below perfectly.

“The Muse”

My fingertips dripped with the essence of her. They had come too close to catching me. I had gone to see a showing of “Come From Away” with my wife at a tiny theater in town. Petite exactly like she was, not my wife… her.

After much deliberation my “better half” decided to wear the wine stained pea coat that I so strongly recommend. I only bought it because it reminded me of her, but had given it to my wife as a birthday gift. The magnificent color that had once beautifully highlighted wavy copper hair and tulip shaped lips. It didn’t look nearly as lovely on my wife.

I had discreetly slipped the travel sized watercolor brushes and paint into my overcoat. The large breast pockets perfectly hid the cheap bottle of vodka and even left enough room for my smallest notebook. It was the perfect way to keep her close to my heart.

How many hours had I spent in the glow of early morning sunlight, bent over the edges of that rough paper? Avoiding police officers while waiting to catch a glimpse of her on the running path. I couldn’t remember. Too many. It was hard to keep her in sight while lurking underneath the dark twisted branches of the forest. My hands desperately trying to engrave the image of her into my notebook.

My mind was drifting when I realized that the frigid air had made my glasses fog up. I had been making my way towards the car while following the wrong red pea coat out of the theater. I was being careless again. My wife was several feet behind me. I had to explain myself. Using my hot breath to ease the numbness in my hands, I grazed the stubble on my chin and mumbled an excuse for my actions.

Long after the movie had been over with- yet before the sun graced the sky with an ocean of color… I would slip out of bed and make my way to the path. The vail of darkness obscuring my true intentions. I dressed in jogging shorts and a runner’s shirt underneath my signature jacket. I needed to look the part of being innocent. The bottle of water firmly in my clutch helped me blend in even better and would also serve as another useful tool.

I was slinking my way into my favorite spot when I spied ember flames licking their way down pavement. Her lips pursed in concentration for the next breath and she wore freckles that kissed the creamy skin on her shoulders. Sapphire spheres scanned the wood line but were swollen and ruby red underneath. I watched her suck in the scent of evergreen and pine while her limbs propelled her to push onward.

She had clearly been crying again and it killed me not to know why. “I love my wife.” I whispered. We didn’t fit together (my wife and I) but I never wanted to hurt her and I loved her deeply. My love for my wife however, wasn’t enough to keep me from coming back here to see… her. I dipped my brushes in paint and got to work. I used the cheap vodka in my pocket to add elements to the scene that the water in my bottle couldn’t accomplish.

When I was finished, she was gone and my fingers were stained with Daniel Smith’s Perylene Red watercolor paint. It was the essence of her. My copper muse. On my way home I ran into an officer who was keeping an eye over other joggers.

“Have a good run? What have you got on your hands there Mike?” He questioned suspiciously.

I had almost been caught the last time I was here by my wife over the exact same evidence. Red handed… literally. It threw me into a panic so I tucked my fists into the pockets of my shorts and decided to attempt to change the subject.

“Hey Sam! How’s your wife doing? You know it’s been a while since we had you both over for dinner…” the small talk distraction worked beautifully in my favor.

When I was finally on my way again, I stopped by the old town hall building to discard the vodka. In my haste to paint as quickly as possible, I seemed to carelessly pour large quantities over my brush. Sometimes this left me with half a bottle, occasionally more, and many times it left me with far less.

My head rotated to be sure no one was around to witness me sliding the bottle out of my pocket. Listening to the satisfying “THUNK!” as it hit the ground gave me such an overwhelming sense of pleasure. My little secret. The thrill of it had me smirking. The evidence of my visits just lying there to glisten in the light of day as I waltzed home with the real prize.

A watercolor painting created by me.