Animals

Scribbles and Doodles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes from the author:

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

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

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

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

This Messy Life

He had a cocky smirk on his face when our eyes meet, almost like a child who got caught stealing from a cookie jar. Crowds of kids swirled on and off between us. Instinct declaring upon a single glance I would be burned alive, yet oxygen was fueling the flames inside my veins. Ignore it my head sang but it was too late, I couldn’t tear myself away.

How does a chance encounter end up laying the foundation to something extraordinary? What are the odds of meeting the one person who could derail all of the plans I had so carefully crafted? At an event I wasn’t supposed to addend no less.

Yet there he was, with a grin permanently plastered across his face. As if he had already won the war even though my stubborn nature was still trying- failing to rebel. My cheeks flushed poppy pink. I could barely make out the shape of my own hand let-alone guess the trajectory which this night would take us. Glow sticks were waved into the air as school advisors cranked fog machines to max capacity.

When the cloud cleared, he was in the middle of awkwardly peeling another girl’s hands off his body. Wait a minute… how dare she? Yet he was still looking at me. I lifted my chin to meet his gaze while heat crept up my spine. The girl was persistent. Her hands balled into fists which gripped his T-shirt as they danced even though he was becoming exacerbated with her. So, I squared my shoulders, waltzed over, and I cut between them to take what was mine…just as the beat was getting good.

“You looked like you needed rescuing” I mused into his ear.

“I’m so glad you stepped in to save me.” His voice sounded husky.

He was exactly a foot taller than me. Lean, with brown eyes which turned to gold in the flash of a strobe light. His dark hair curled a little on the ends and he had to hunch over to meet my small frame. Something between us felt perfectly clear as we danced our way towards curfew.

“What’s your name?” He asked but I could hardly hear.

“You can call me Lish.”

“Trish?”

“No. L-I-S-H.” Confusion furrowed his brow.

“My name’s Rob.” He said, and I was left feeling spellbound encompassed by his arms.

Outside glossy gymnasium doors, the teachers had hauled tables from the cafeteria. We grabbed water bottles out of ice chests which were provided and re-hydrated before heading home for the night. If I had been less naive, I might have noticed he was rather inebriated. Instead, I handed him a slip of paper containing the phone number he had asked for, and hoped he would call. To this day we’re convinced he accidentally used it to smoke a joint.

Freshmen year of high school Rob had been an honor roll student who spent the summer playing football. He was in band, taught himself how to read music, and played several different instruments. He tried out and made it onto the swim team. He won second place in the state for a math competition, even though his calculator broke less than halfway through it. While everyone else had the advantage, Rob tackled equations in his head. He was smart, driven, and accomplished.

By sophomore year none of his achievements measured up to the allure of spending time with the wrong people doing the kind of things which got him into trouble. Rob and his friends ran from the cops after being clocked going far above the posted speed limit. Rather than face jail, his brilliant idea was to lose the tail by sneaking into a subdivision and parking in a stranger’s driveway. He forgot to take his foot off the brake and was caught over the glowing lights that bounced off the pavement.

It should come as no surprise after searching his jean pockets the following day, the phone number I gave him at the dance was nowhere to be found. It also shouldn’t come as a shock when I was told by a mutual friend about Rob’s more wild behavior, I decided I wasn’t interested anymore. The spark of electricity between us was quickly snuffed out by my stubborn nature and refusal to settle.

The following Monday Rob looked for my face throughout the hallways at school. Yet when I was finally located, I turned on my heel… to head in the opposite direction. There was no way I was getting sucked into making the same mistake twice. He assumed I was angry because he never called.

When the new class schedules were handed out the following semester, I showed up to P.E prepared to do whatever it took to avoid exercising. I waltzed into the weight room and ran right into Rob. His body towered over mine and his mouth was wearing that smile again.

On the track, we were manipulated by our teacher into running for a passing grade. I pulled my hair into a ponytail and stretched out my hamstrings even though I planned to jog at a walking pace. I linked arms with one of my girlfriends out of solidarity and when the whistle blew… we practically crawled towards the finish line.

“Hey Trish!” Rob shouted.

“If you can’t bother to remember my name… you and I are not on speaking terms.” I quipped.

Using his long legs and height to his advantage, he embarrassingly sprinted from one classmate to another.

“Do you know what the redheaded girl’s name is? I need to know so I can get her to talk to me.”

By the time he had it figured out, he had already lapped me and was running backwards with his hair blowing in the breeze. There was a glimmer in his eyes and a wicked smile crept across his lips as he faced my direction.

 “I’m going to convince you to go out with me Lish.”

“Over my dead body.” I laughed with conviction.

Seventeen years of marriage, eighteen years together, and over twenty years of friendship. I still can’t believe that he talked me into it. Waking to find his fingers tangled in my hair and his lips covering mine, taking walks together on rainy days, and kissing underneath streetlamps. There is nothing more enchanting than strolling through this messy life with his hand in mine.

Happy anniversary week to us!

Taken by my amazing friend Chris Hansen of Rob and I on our horses
A picture of us when we were living in Germany visiting my favorite castle (Burg Eltz)
The two of us dancing at a friend’s wedding
Is it just me or is it getting a little steamy?!
Our first wedding ceremony when we were just babies. I was 18 and Rob was 19.
My Soldier and I
Rob headed back to a war torn Afghanistan
Health and Wellness

The Boy I Could Have Been

I put my hand over my heart, and I begged it to stop rattling against my rib cage. Rain was hammering my bare flesh. The trees were suffocating me, and I was locked within them. If I stopped now, they would be my tomb. Strands of wet red hair clung to my face where salty tears mixed with freshwater raindrops. I was going to die.

Thorns and branches tugged at my limbs. They scraped my skin until pebbles of blood pooled along the surface. Wobbly legs led to a break in the forest where I could see an empty beach. Dark thunderclaps rolled in the distance. Waves broke along the shore, swirling and frothing with rage. The last time I was here the sun was kissing my cheeks. A cold pink popsicle melted over my fingertips and ran down the length of my arm. My cousins laughed and my mom handed over napkins with smile. This time, I was alone.

I gagged on the sobs I tried to contain as vomit threatened to burn my throat. My mom was probably being told that no one could find me. I imagined her pouring her heart into her hands as she screamed my name. I’ll bet she was giving people a description of the dress I was wearing. It had been so pretty this morning, with delicate blue flowers printed on white cotton. It wouldn’t be recognizable now. I used it to wipe away mud that was smeared up my legs. I raked my hands across the hem to unpack the grime from underneath my fingernails.

I had twirled my way to the campground showers like a princess. Yet the longer I waited for my cousins to finish getting ready, the more impatient I became. I decided to venture off towards the direction of the campsite on my own when one path turned into another. Had I gone to the left or to the right? Or maybe straight? If I could just get up higher… to see where I was, then perhaps I could find my way back.

I climbed a dune near the beach knowing that my mom would be furious. It was against the rules to be out here alone. Although I wasn’t normally a rule breaker, an exception was made in my mind for life and death situations. Yet the water would remain off limits even as the hot sand burned blisters into the bottom of my feet. The task to reach a higher perspective was daunting, and my leg finally gave out from underneath me.

A twisted piece of driftwood sliced through my arch and blood stained its bark crimson red. I screamed in frustration, my wound, throbbing. I sat back on my bottom with a hard thump so I could have a good cry. A random hiker might find the shoe that got sucked into the mud pit. Or maybe they would find the one I threw out of anger when I couldn’t get mud-pit-shoe out of the hole it sank into. I wondered if they would locate my body sometime after that. 

Using the back of my hand, I dried my tears. I was a tiny speck of blue and white among miles of rolling sand mounds. I would allow myself to cry but I wasn’t allowed to give up. When the sun broke through the clouds, I shaded my eyes by using my fingers like a visor. A boardwalk path leading back into the woods could been seen in the distance and I whooped for joy! I still didn’t know how to get home, but I might be able to find help. I sprinted and the mud smeared dress swirled torn and tangled behind me.

When I reached the path, the knots in my stomach cinched tighter. I had barely touched breakfast and it was nearly lunch time now. The walkway wound through an eerie marsh lined with stumps and dead limbs, but I tried to keep my mind focused. I giggled when a long tongue darted out from the muck to catch a fly but stuck to the frog’s green eyeball instead. The creature looked confused and wiggled his mouth a little which made me laugh even harder.

A seagull, suspended in flight tucked its wings against its body. It danced with the breeze at a dizzying speed. Through moody storm clouds and patches of sunlight it dived headfirst into the wind.

I bet he could see my way home… I wish I had wings like his.

I rounded a corner to find myself no longer alone with the frog, the seagull, and my thoughts. A stranger materialized and for a moment I was relieved that I might be saved. I wanted desperately to tell someone that I was lost. Yet the voice in my head told me that he was untrustworthy. He tried to appear friendly, but his blue eyes struck me as menacing as he squared his shoulders with mine.

“Where’s your mom?”  He asked and I groped for words to wield like a weapon.

“Catching up to me.” I stammer and point in the direction I had come from.

I have the sudden urge to run, so I do. I carry myself as far away from the stranger as I can. When I am out of breath, I think about how his eyes brightened when he thought he caught me out here alone and how they darkened when I pointed to where I wished my mom would have been. It gives me a second wind to pace myself so that my legs can pump even harder in case the man tries to catch up to me.

The boardwalk ended at a dirt road and a three-way junction. I didn’t know where else to go from here. My stomach roared with hunger. The sun tucked itself behind the clouds again so I could barely stay on the path. I was exhausted. My resolve to hold onto hope was weakening with every step. Then I heard something. The rumble of an engine. A man wearing a park ranger vest on the back of a four-wheeler was coming for me. His vehicle skid to stop and relief floods his expression as he shouted into a walkie-talkie that he yanked off his belt.

“I found her! I found her! Tell her mom that I’m bringing her back to camp now!” The static was electrifying.

Through tears of relief, I explained how I lost my shoes. As he doctored up my blisters, I talked about making my way to the beach to look for help only to find it empty. The ranger winced as he applied a sunshine yellow sticker to the cut on my foot. His kind face was contorted into a grimace as he told me that the beach was empty because a boy my age had drowned.

He had been ripped away from his family by an undercurrent. Search and Rescue had been on the water trying to locate him and they cleared the beach, but it was too late. When my mom heard a rumor circulating camp that a missing child had washed up dead on the beach, she thought that the kid might be me. She spent the hours I was missing praying that it was someone else’s child as she searched the campground trying to find me.

The ranger scooted forward and tucked me safely behind him. My legs suspended around the seat; my fingers griping so tightly that my knuckles turned white. I rested my head on the strangers back as we flew through the forest. Myhair waving goodbye to the marsh, the dunes, and the boy I could have been.  

Every year three to four people drown in Lake Michigan at or near the Indiana Dunes State Park. Men, women, and children have disappeared. One boy fell through a sand dune never to been seen again, and police in the area are still looking for three women who went missing on a beach full of out-of-state visitors.

While there have been other times throughout my life when I have gotten lost, I’ll never forget how lucky I was to be found that day. In moments when my health has tried to drown me, or in instances where I’ve felt like I couldn’t find my way, I remind myself to keep moving forward. As my grandfather use to say, “If you don’t know where you’re going, and you don’t know where you are…put one foot in front of the other.”

Health and Wellness

The Zebra Farmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Things We Hide

Opening credits roll and the camera zooms in on a group of kids navigating a boat through a series of channels near the ocean. They’re looking for lost treasure and you can’t take your eyes off them because you’re invested. People make books, movies and T.V shows about treasure hunting (Outer Banks on Netflix for example), and viewers of all ages are on the edge of their seat.

My husband and I have very different ideas on what Treasure Hunting looks like. His version entails going through boxes in the sweltering Georgia heat while mine, involves searching for new blooms in my garden. Yet who wouldn’t want to know what’s in that old trunk, locked box, or what’s buried underneath the surface… right? So, when my husband tells me that he wants to go treasure hunting, I can see the appeal even if I’m not in the mood to join him.

X doesn’t mark the spot here and I’m usually groaning when the topic comes up. Yet when Rob has the itch, I know without a doubt that I’m getting roped into helping whether I want to or not. It also means that I am forced to reorganize inventory, so we don’t end up with a ton of junk stored inside our little house.  

Thankfully my husband grasps that even if I’m not nearly as excited as he is, it doesn’t make me any less grateful. Especially when I’m able to donate large quantities of items to those who need them most or furnish our house with unusual finds. Knowing that we possibly helped a single mother, a kid just beginning adulthood, or a low-income family in the process… is a completely different kind of treasure in my opinion. A more valuable one.

This past weekend my husband had the itch and because I knew I was going to be involved in the adventure… I decided to take a more proactive approach. I logged in online and I began to search for storage units that we could compromise on. That’s when I hit the jackpot. We would have to wake up early in order to place our bid using the coffee shop Wi-Fi, but if it all worked out… we would be busy for days.

After reluctantly rising to greet the morning sun, and refreshing the page several times, my night-owl heart fluttered when the winning banner danced across the screen. It’s not quite as glamorous as Storage war’s makes it out to be. That T.V show is dramatized to add a more competitive nature, but I will say that bidding on storage units can be a lucrative side hustle… if it’s done correctly. It’s also, a ton of work but the excitement of discovery is what makes the daunting task feel lighter.

Imagine helping a stranger move. Except that there’s no free pizza, and the payment comes only after you sell the things you find within their belongings. Unboxing, organizing, then packing it all back up again after taking several trips to the local garbage dump… and repeat. The upside (besides selling things) is not having any sentimental ties to the valuables that are in storage because it makes easy work of sorting everything.

It never fails to baffle me when we win a unit that someone has been paying on for years only to find that it’s mostly filled… with bags of garbage. What a let down! Why pay to keep things that clearly belong in a landfill? The hasty departure almost gives off an apocalyptical feel.

Contrary to what you may be thinking, poverty is not the only cause of units being listed for auction. In many instances we have discovered drug addiction to be the primary culprit. This is evident by the number of needles and drug paraphernalia that we find stuffed into old socks and bags of dirty laundry.

Other units have ended up in our possession when the previous owner has passed away. It’s heartbreaking to come across obituaries, yet these units typically contain the most significant treasure troves for just the change we’ve had in our pockets. Gold jewelry, real diamonds, full bedroom sets, brand new sofa’s, leather furniture, kitchen appliances, cell phones, computers and so much more. Stunning antiques, newspaper clippings from world events, old love letters, and items just waiting to be refinished and repurposed.

More gut-wrenching than death are the units that go to auction because of a divorce or jail sentence. Witnessing happier memories though photographs, wedding guest lists, childhood treasures, and High School yearbooks filled with hope for the future, only to see them end up in the rubble of things discarded and left behind. It’s enough to leave you twisting internally and wishing that you could save someone from themselves.

You can learn a lot about people by things they keep. Yet you can learn even more about them from the things they hide. Underneath the family photographs, and ever-changing events throughout an individual’s life, are the items that were once tucked into the back of their closet. Burner flip phones with messages to mistresses. Naughty toys, dirty magazines, and bizarre sex fetishes. We’ve identified cheating spouses in what looked like happy homes and long-term marriages, as well as sex addicts and pill-popping mothers.

Upon discovery it has at times, left me wondering if the people around these human beings knew who they really were. Yet the more I learn about humanity, the more I realize that we all have something to hide. Weather it’s the ugly parts of ourselves, some unusual extracurricular activities, or the things we do when we think that no one is looking… we’re all a little bit guilty of something. We’re all searching for acceptance and forgiveness in one form or another.    

The beauty of losing the stuff that we think is important… is that it makes space in our lives for better and healthier things. Weather it’s surrounding ourselves with the kind of people who lift us to a higher standard or finding a partner who respects healthy boundaries… we all deserve some wiggle room for growth. Who knows, maybe in losing everything, the drug (or sex) addict may finally have the strength they need to get help.

There is also a beauty in old things being made new again. Repurposing discarded items while simultaneously making the lives of other’s just a little bit easier. Perhaps a young mom who couldn’t afford to buy a brand-new pack-and-play, is able to get one because we donated what we found in a storage unit. Maybe a father that couldn’t furnish his house can have a house that’s just as beautiful as anyone else’s because of the furniture we refinished. Or perhaps someone, somewhere found healing from moving on.

The truth of the matter is that while you may not know who’s sitting next to you, I’ll bet that there’s something you regret or have kept hidden yourself. You know exactly what’s buried underneath the surface in your life. The gift is that you’re not alone. It’s never too late to box it up and throw it out.

Ya’ll have never seen my client work. Meet my amazingly talented friend Kayla who was both the makeup artist & the model for this shot that I took in my living room in the middle of summer. Her dress is one of our storage unit finds!
Travel

Stay on the Path

Sometimes I’m forced into managing my expectations. I get an idea in my head about how something should look. A picture of perfection that I attempt to manifest but circumstances out of my grasp humble me.

When we took our family vacation this summer, I thought I’d be feeling my best. I planned for the unexpected by bringing all my medications along, but I told myself that I wasn’t going to need them. We were going to have an amazing time, and I wasn’t going to let my family down.

The guilt of disappointing those you love most when your body refuses to cooperate is one of the hardest feelings to manage. The list of plans you made, go out the window. Hearing your kid try to be understanding even though he’s holding back tears… is devastating. Your husband gripping the steering wheel tight lipped even though he doesn’t blame you, he’s just attempting to manage his own feelings of frustration… it’s gut wrenching. Worse yet, is trying to contain the anger you feel towards yourself.

If you weren’t there, they would be able to tackle all the plans that were made. If you were someone else or had a different body, then you could go with them. If you were healthier. If you were stronger. If you were better. Yet it took a lot for me to accept myself as I am and to know when to call it quits. To know when my body has had enough. After days of limited sleep, camping in icy weather, attempting to hike,  and trying to stretch out in the car, my body was telling me that I couldn’t go on anymore.

We were walking together on a boardwalk on the top of a volcano. One of the largest volcanos in the United States and Nikolai couldn’t stop asking questions. Steam was rising out of these amazing blue pools. Water, mud, and other organic material was frothing along the bank. On our way to see these spectacular sights, a HUGE fountain of water shot up into the sky and shocked the crowd of people.

Big signs said things like “Enter at your own risk.”

“Caution hot thermal temperatures.”

“Unstable ground. Stay on the path.”

As we were walking and reading the labels on the different phenomenon’s surrounding us, a Hispanic man with a baseball cap pulled over his eyes decided to step off the platform. His feet shuffled across forbidden earth and bubbles formed around the souls of his shoes. Nikolai gasped clutching my hand tighter out of concern. The man proceeded to bend at the waist and put his face inches above the fountain that had gone off a few moments prior.

“What do you think you’re doing?”  My husband said sternly.

“It doesn’t look that hot to me.” The man smirked and shrugged his shoulders.

“What about it doesn’t look hot to you? The fact that it’s boiling water? The signs telling you to stay on the path? Or the fact that it launched like a rocket as we were walking up to see it? Do you seriously need the flesh on your face to melt off, and life-flight to haul your ass out of here before you’re able to admit that you’re standing on top of a volcano?”

Anger rippled across my husband’s face. Nikolai’s eyes widened, the confrontation had him feeling unnerved. The man just laughed and got back onto the platform. He made his way past us, a swagger to his gate. He was undeniably full of confidence… as if nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred even though he risked his life. My husband shook his head in disgust and strangers murmured under their breath.

“This is why we respect nature and follow the rules.” I said with an unamused expression.

“What was that guy thinking mom!” Nikolai wondered out loud.

“I don’t know, but he almost ruined it for everyone.”

A chilling sweat broke over my body even though I had burrowed into my sleeping bag like taco meat inside a burrito. I couldn’t stop shaking but my body was on fire. It was confusing. I hunted for a bottle of water inside our tent to help me swallow my pills. I didn’t want to wake my family. My bones throbbed; my stomach churned. So many of my chronic illnesses began hitting me all at the same time. I worried that I might not make it to the restroom and wished I had a hot bath available.

The signs had been there, I just didn’t want to read them. The exhaustion, the fact that I was struggling to hike and opt for staying in the car. I waited alone for my family to see the amazing things we had driven so far to set eyes on. I wanted to be with them, but I had pushed myself and I could feel the breakdown starting to happen. My head feeling light and dizzy, the worry I felt over making my way back to the car. Wondering as I walked if I was possibly going to pass out.

I had pushed through and now it was the end of me and the plans I fought so hard to create. The medicine wasn’t working this time and the only way to recover would be to get a hotel room and sleep heavily for the next day or more. The thought of missing out on our last adventure broke my heart. It would break Rob’s and Nikolai’s too. I tried to put off the inevitable, I attempted to sleep, but I ended up getting sick in the campground restroom. My ability to spend another night fighting the elements had come to an end. It was time to head home whether I wanted to go or not.

Nikolai stifled a sob in the back seat of the SUV. He wanted to be brave for me. We had one last amazing day planned but I just couldn’t make it happen. His little arms were crossed over his chest, I could see the rise and fall of his breath weighing heavily. We had packed up our tent and all our things before our last night in Yellowstone was through. We had come face to face with grizzly bears, black bears, bison, elk, five point bucks, and so much more. We saw old faithful, and some spectacular waterfalls. We had ONE last place we wanted to visit but it just wasn’t going to happen. We had one last animal encounter on our list but that wasn’t hopeful now either.

I should have paced myself better, I should have listened to my body more. Yet I wasn’t reckless like the man standing above the hot springs was. Recklessness would have closed our trip with a hospital visit instead of heading home a day early. Stupidity would have been going hiking and needing someone to carry me to the car instead of staying behind, wishing that things were different.

“Don’t feel bad mom. I know you can’t help it. I’m just disappointed.” Nikolai sighed.

My husband gave me a sympathetic smile and held my hand. It was hard to see in the dark. Winding around twisted roads and praying we didn’t hit something as twilight descended. It took over an hour to find our way to the exit. We made a quick stop at the restrooms before entering a canyon.

Our headlights were turned to the high beam setting once we pulled back onto the highway. Something shook the tall grass and darted across the pavement. To our wonderment, a white tipped tail, red fur, and two pointed ears bounced to the other side. A breathtaking red-tailed fox with copper highlights was on the hunt for his dinner. The final encounter we hoped to have… spectacularly checked off our list, all because I stayed on the path and respected the signs.   

Flower Farming

A Life Fulfilled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire Embers and Glass Lakes

It’s funny how farm life follows me no matter where I am. Like the bits of hay that I find tucked inside my bra and pushed into the creases of my pockets. Or in this case… a couple of fireflies that hitched a ride and found themselves trapped inside our SUV in a state where they wouldn’t otherwise survive. The tiny yellow lights flashed and caught my attention as they clung to the windshield near my visor. My husband and I pulled off the highway to switch places and as we did so, I released them… knowing full well that they were doomed.

At home, the woods light up after dusk and if I’m not wearing my glasses… they look like hot embers dancing towards the treetops in the darkness. On an especially warm night, their numbers increase and if you catch them from the corner of your eye, you’ll be convinced of a raging forest fire taking place among the pines. These are the things I miss when I’m away, even if I’m surrounded by some of the most impressive scenes. Thankfully, it makes the homecoming even sweeter.

I woke up early because the chill in the air was nibbling on my numb toes and the birds were especially cheerful. Their shrill voices felt the same as stepping on Nikolai’s Legos with bare feet… except it was happening inside my throbbing head. I yawned and stretched my cramped legs as far as the floorboard of the car allowed them to go. When the promise of adventure glimmers underneath exhaustion and homesickness, you override your senses to radiate a joyful demeanor that’s infectious.

My sleeping bag had been pulled tight around my ears and I found it ridiculously complicated to wiggle my way out. I tried to look outside to see where we were but there was too much condensation. Droplets turned into rivers that ate up larger droplets until the glass meet rubber. I had to take the sleeve of my sweater and use it to buff out a peephole. Grey rock formations enveloped a rest stop where like us, rows of cars had parked to get off the highway sometime throughout the night.

The cold wetness on my sleeve mixed with the insane temperature drop raised the small fibers on my arm. My skin puckered like a freshly plucked chicken and sent a shiver that shook my bones. I leaned over to turn the key in the ignition and the dash lit up to inform me that it was a frosty twenty-six degrees outside. From the heatwaves we had in Georgia to a winter wonderland, my equilibrium felt distorted, but I was glad to be here in this magnificent place.

A place where green grass stretched out like an ocean, bending and rippling like waves against the shore. Only rather than hot sandy beaches, we were meet instead by cold and jagged mountains and water plummeting thousands of feet to the ground from melting glaciers. We arrived holding our faith in our hand like cowboys hold their hats. We couldn’t get the website for the national park to work. Reservations typically made 180 days in advance except… the sight would crash.

I would refresh the page and get on at eight in the morning per recommendation from Glacier’s Facebook page. Yet so would thousands of other visitors and only two hundred tickets were passed out daily. I kept trying anyway.

Page refresh… sight down.

Page refresh… tickets sold out.

We came with the hope of getting in but there was no certainty about it. Having driven thirty-one hours one way on prayer alone that I would be able to show my son and husband places from my youth that I visited again only in my dreams. I’ve taken more complicated leaps of faith before. I clicked on the campsite list, but I had pretty much given up. A lump of doubt formed in my belly and nibbled on my expectations like a rat. My husband was feeling moody. The thought of coming all this way to… be forced to sit outside the gate? It was heartbreaking.

Then there was this voice in my head about an hour and a half past eight… it said refresh it again. So, I listened. There it was… an available campsite listed for one night. My fingers shook with anticipation as I put in our credit card information and begged my phone to not loose cell reception. I hit the button to finalize the payment and forgot to breathe. Success at last! Time and time again, God proves to me that leaps of faith are the only way to live.  

I couldn’t stop photographing one scene after the next. I felt a lot like Julia Andrews during that famous scene in The Sound of Music. Arms spread wide, wind catching my cardigan instead of the hem of a dress. Nikolai and my husband would pull off to the side of the road to pick handfuls of wildflowers for me that I had never seen before. I had to photograph some of them just so I could look them up later and decide if it was possible to grow them at home. I think I would need an icebox for these blooms to survive on my farm.

The greenery of the Rocky Mountains is so different to that of North Georgia. In comparison, Glacier National Park looked like a desert. Not because it was without lush beauty… but because Georgia’s lush greenery is on steroids. We own a mosaic of trees while Glacier’s trees need to be able to survive drastic climate changes and avalanches. Furthermore, there’s a line where things stop being able to grow altogether due to the altitude. They don’t measure things by sea level but instead, by above or below tree line.

The campsite was… everything I had hoped for and yet beyond what I had expected. We were snuggled into a valley surrounded by silver cliffs with gleaming tinsel of white. Glee bubbled inside the way it used to on Christmas eve when I was young. A good portion of Highway to the Sun was shutdown due to flooding but we spent so much time soaking in what we had access to that it didn’t feel like we were missing out.

Upon parking to photograph thunderous falls, we took our picnic lunch and our pack of essentials on a hike with us. I put about three hundred more photos into my phone’s memory bank and had Tallulah help guide me down a path with a no-pets-allowed sign. Thank goodness she’s as well trained of a service dog as she is because she had to listen to commands carefully when it came to crossing narrow bridges. One bridge had water that leapt out to kiss our ankles. She almost attempted to turn around, but I told her to stop and move forward instead.

A lesser companion would have knocked themselves off the bridge and down into the frothing rapids out of fear. Not my girl! My heart swelled with pride even though my nerves jittered behind my confidence. A steep and tricky hike brought us to yet another waterfall that rewarded us by spraying a fine mist and cooling us down. Despite the weather at night, during the day it was rather balmy. There were lakes so clear that they reflected the blue sky like a mirror, and it made me wonder if that was how everything use to look before our world was polluted by humanity.

We decided to tuck in for the night a bit early (or so we thought) and that’s when I noticed something unusual. I felt exhausted but the sun was still up. Hours went by and twilight lingered. I couldn’t tell if I was that sleep deprived or if maybe we had gone to bed earlier than we had expected. My phone battery was low, but I had enough charge to see that the sun didn’t fully set here until around eleven at night. I didn’t remember it being that way when I was young, but it made nightly trips to the restroom easier to tackle and less likely to run into grizzlies. The Black bears in North Georgia are typically less confrontational.

Rob (my husband) had a difficult and bitter night when the freezing weather crept in again, whereas Nikolai and I possibly stole his blankets by accident and stayed rather toasty. The next morning, we packed up camp so that we could make the trip around the outskirts of Glacier. We were on a family mission to see my favorite place of all, McDonald Lake.

The odd timing of things working out beautifully continued to carry us throughout our journey. With road closures around the lake made of glass, Rob suggested we stop by a large log cabin hotel. We had driven past it at first, but it looked to be the easiest access point to arriving at the bank of colorful stones. There at the edge of the lake, sat a kiosk advertising guided ferry and motorboat rides. While the ferry was overpriced (and fully booked) … three motorboats sat tied to the pier like an open invitation.

I wasn’t sure how Tallulah would handle this kind of adventure, but I intended on finding out. I tied lifejackets around our midsections and slathered so much sunscreen onto our skin that we looked rather ghostly. Despite being noticeably uncomfortable, Tulla got into the boat and once she settled down… the exploring was underway. The heat was made tolerable by the breeze we created while flying across the water. I took pictures with my cellphone, yet the scenery was so breathtaking that friends of mine thought it wasn’t real.

I was able to photograph everything in a way that was impossible to do when I was younger. To my knowledge, boats weren’t allowed back then in order to avoid pollution. There were also spectacular ice caves to explore when I was last in this magnificent place and in its current state, 80% of the glaciers are long gone now. Even though the water wasn’t as crystal clear as I remembered it being… the views and images that I got from the boat will forever be something I cherish.

I’ll admit that it was hard to pull myself away from the beauty and serenity that we found here. The only thing that made leaving easier was knowing that Yellowstone (and the list I had created in my head of all the animal encounters I hoped we would have), was our second to last stop before going home again. Nikolai was most excided about witnessing living volcanos. I had been forced into creating multiple science experiments with him at home over the years. As we drove onward through the night… I spent time listing facts about what awaited around the bend.

Our view from the motorboat 🚤
Adventures with these 3 are always the highlight of my life.
Cellphone pictures only!
This flower is called a bear tooth. It’s a spectacular bloom!
Nikolai is king of the Rockies!
The sun like a spotlight over the lake ❤️
The stunning waterfall we hiked to
Rob & Nikolai on our way back to the car
Tallulah with her service dog vest stuffed with wildflowers that Rob and Niki picked for me 🥰
Aren’t those silver rocks amazing?
I couldn’t believe I caught this video of them. Absolutely hysterical!
Nature

The Challenge with Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health and Wellness, Parenting

Thief of Joy

I can feel sweat sliding down my neck and slipping between my breasts underneath my shirt. Its continual dribble is saturating my bra with the scent of salt crystals. My nostrils flair because I’m worried that if I can smell it, someone else probably can too. I am convinced that my brain is swelling and smooshing against the confines of my skull. It must be that way because my mood has soured and I’m feeling forgetful, mouthy, and blatantly rude.

The day began with such promise but turned rotten when amid running errands during a Georgia heat wave, the air conditioning went out on my SUV. Even with all four windows tucked away and the breeze attempting to cool things down, I can feel my skin cooking like a rotisserie chicken set aside at Walmart. I don’t do golden brown though, I only do red. The flecks on my shoulders become more prominent but the rest of me looks like the underside of a baboon.

My husband kept talking. I would ask a question and he would snap at me while my son would repeat himself… and repeat… and repeat. My mind wandered and drifted off to laying on my bed at home in my underwear like a starfish. Air conditioning on blast, an iced tea in my free hand… or maybe it was an ice cream. My mouth watered at the thought of anything cold being pressed against my lips and lingering on my tongue. I would love for the water from a frozen swimming pool to graze across my skin right about now.  

“Maybe it’s a problem with the compressor… are you even listening to me?” He interrogated.

I wasn’t. The blowers were turned on but the only thing coming out of them were flames that were aimed directly into my face. He kept them turned all the way up because he had spent hours sitting in the Auto Zone parking lot messing around with parts underneath the hood. He wanted to see if he had fixed it yet, he hadn’t. He was doing it for me, but I just wanted it to be over. The vents stayed on blast while I was in the fast lane of being driven to insanity.

I wanted to feel ashamed for not considering the homeless people who have tents tucked underneath bridges in Atlanta. Yet I was selfishly focused on my heat intolerant body and my ability to avoid passing out so I could make it home… so I could identify as a pink naked starfish. The trip to the laundromat proved to be equally fruitless. I tucked my computer underneath my arm hoping to connect to the Wi-Fi, download some movies, write, and perhaps cool off a little. The problem was that their air conditioning had gone out too.

They used an extension cord to provide power to a massive fan as a way of circulating air flow and making things more comfortable. Unfortunately, a woman who didn’t have enough quarters for a dryer had emptied her wet belongings into the bottom of a cart while hanging her fitted bedding from the corners of the rack on top. The speed of the fan turned her bedding into a parachute that blocked the cool wind tunnel from caressing anyone or anything other than the clothes she wanted dried.

Normally I pay close attention to my body language but since I had lost my ability to sympathize, my foul mood and disgust was written clearly across my face. I should have considered that perhaps the woman was a truck driver, or someone who (in this current economy) was forced to live out of her car. It’s also possible that like me, she felt so delusional from the grotesque Georgia heat that she had forgotten all about the fact that they would dry rather quickly if she had only chosen to hang them up outside. I however didn’t think about any of those things before tossing dirty looks in her direction. She was the thief of my joy after all.

She tucked her yellow locks behind her ear, and I thought that it looked a lot like crunchy instant ramen noodles, so I made another face. I didn’t feel particularly proud of myself for thinking that way, but I was angry. Nor did I feel good about judging her life choices, yet I wouldn’t dare choose to wear white spandex in public on a day like this. As I sat there making mental notes, I assumed that perhaps this heat had her looking at me in the same light… or not. I didn’t care.

The woman stammered an apology. She tucked her sunny blue shirt into her leggings and fiddled with her hands as she tripped over excuses for stealing my happiness. It was too late; my back was turned, and I wasn’t listening. We loaded our small laundry pile into our plastic basket and onto the sticky leather seats of my car so we could head home. Relief at last!

As I lay like a naked starfish across the length of my bed, I didn’t radiate with joy like I thought I would. I felt cooler, I felt more levelheaded, but the only one I had to blame was myself. Rather than thinking rationally about my mood or my actions I allowed how I felt to determine how I treated people like my husband, my son, and even strangers within my orbit.

I could have scrounged my car for spare quarters to share. I could have thanked my husband for standing in the heat to rescue me even though he was frustrated too. I could have set a better example for my son. It’s hard to humble myself and ask for forgiveness. To point out that I didn’t do my best and that sometimes how I treat others is a dead give-away to what’s going on inside my head. My car runs. I have a house to go home to and yet, I was the thief today.

My blueberry lavender mental health milkshake 😋
My mental health reading list for this summer & for our big family trip to Glacier National park 🥰❤️
Health and Wellness

Fragile Lemon

I knew it was a bad idea the moment I had agreed to it. The gravity of how unbelievably stupid I had been didn’t fully register until I was holding on for dear life, staring at my muck boots while watching the ground skate underneath my heals. I kept recalling all the times I walked by a mirror and was struck by the realization that I’m not as young or as thin as I once was. My age and poor judgment left me with a crippled right hand, a limp, and a trip to the emergency room.

As I was withering on the ground with pain sending shockwaves through my body, I wondered how I was going to explain what happened to my friends and family. I didn’t last more than a handful of seconds before going bottoms up and mooning the evening sun. I tried to do a mental inventory of my extremities, but I had already assessed that something felt broken. Perhaps multiple things and there was no way I was going to be able to write for a while.

One moment I was screaming and the next moment I was uncontrollably laughing at the absurdity of the accident. My husband looked at me in horror. Blood was pouring down my hand, running over my arm, and dripping off my elbow. He doesn’t do blood. He handles it well because he was a soldier, but the sight of blood makes him sick to his stomach and causes his head to feel woozy.

“I’ve never seen someone get so injured going under five miles per hour. Why didn’t you hold on better?”

“ME? Why did YOU speed up?”

“Well, we’re not exactly tiny people Lish. I had to build up momentum!”

“Yet I was begging you to stop! I think I broke something. No, I KNOW that I broke something.”

He helped me limp my way to the house by slinging my arm around his shoulder and we left that stupid minibike where it fell. If I didn’t need one good leg to stand on, I would have kicked it out of spite as we were hobbling by. I had spent all day gardening. I was sunburnt, exhausted, and possibly a little heat sick. That’s the only reason why I recalled agreeing to his request. That and my desire for a little excitement. The walk up our driveway had looked especially daunting and the thought of a cool breeze getting tangled in my red hair sounded magnificent.

“Want a ride to the house?” he asked

“It’ll be fun! Come on… live a little. You won’t have to walk!”

“You’ll be fine!”

It looked like a bad idea. I said as much but he’s always good at talking me into stepping outside my comfort zone. Yet a conversation I had with Izzy just a week or two before didn’t resurface until after the accident. Rob had attempted to convince her to ride on the back of that stupid minibike too. She came into my bedroom laughing about how ridiculous someone would have to be to take him up on it. She talked about how there was no way they both would fit because there was barely enough room for one adult person. That’s when I told her that saying “No” was probably the smartest decision she had made that day. Yet somehow, I had forgotten to say no.

“Eighteen years babe. You should know by now not to listen to my bright ideas.”

I snorted, laughed, and then admitted that he wasn’t wrong.

Two broken fingers in my right hand, tons of bruising on my side, a possible fracture to my right kneecap, and I had obtained some wicked road rash on my palm and knee as well. I almost needed surgery and I had to re-learn how to do things. I still have months of physical therapy to tackle in order to get my middle finger to bend correctly. What’s interesting is that this isn’t even the first time that I’ve broken the exact same middle finger.

I can no longer make a fist without flicking people off which to be honest… may have come in handy a time or two. Yet I didn’t grasp just how messed up I was until the night after the accident when it took over two hours to open the bottle of painkillers that the doctor had prescribed me. Or the almost three hours it took me to accomplish farm chores the next morning (not including all the regular housework I had to do later in the day). Hauling feed, tossing hay, washing dishes, opening packages were only a few of the things I began to dread doing.

While contemplating the state of my existence and waiting in line to order my favorite drink from our local coffee shop… the barista asked me what had happened to my bandaged hand. I laughed nervously, trying to decide if I should add the fact that I injured myself on a mini dirt bike or if I should go ahead and leave that part out to make myself sound cooler. In the end, I relayed the truth of it and had her grinning. Then with a mischievous spark in her eyes, she said something that profoundly changed the way I saw myself… curvy body and all.

“Yeah… but at least you got on!”

At least I got on. I stepped outside my comfort zone. I tried something extremely stupid. I failed, but I got back up and I had been physically and mentally open to doing something spontaneous. As my husband had slung my arm around his neck to help me limp back to the house, he beamed at me and shook his head.  

With a chuckle in his throat, he said “Think of it this way my fragile lemon… you have a good story to write about.”

He wasn’t wrong.

Taken with my “good camera” of one of the ducklings on our farm a couple years back.
A cellphone picture I took of Nikolai and his cousins playing with our baby ducklings in our kitchen sink.
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 😉
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