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.
Health and Wellness

The Value in Being Validated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Luck

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

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

Positivi•tea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My delicious blue Chocolate cake pop

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

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

Incredible mountain sunset

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

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

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

Breathtaking mountaintop scenery

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

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

Makes it all worthwhile

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

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

Winkin, Blinkin, Nod, & Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An image I took of our Lottie

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

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

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

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

Baby Lottie in an Easter basket
farm life

A Taste of Ass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Storm Izzy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you read the messages?” I grinned

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

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

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

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

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

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

Animals, Uncategorized

Tallulah… in boots!

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

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

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

                “My dog would NEVER let me do that.”

                “DID YOU SEE THE DOG WEARING BOOTS?!”

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

                “Why do you have a dog in here?”

                “Is this a Seeing Eye dog?!”

                “Why is your stupid dog wearing boots?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that dog wearing shoes?! WHY?!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tallulah… in boots!
Sleepy puppy
Uncategorized

There are Worse Things than Rainwater Showers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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