Animals

Scribbles and Doodles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes from the author:

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

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

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

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

The Devil Underneath the Bath Tub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That seriously hurt!” He didn’t care.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A frying pan? Seriously?”

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

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

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

What kind of advice is that?”

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

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

Trust me. It’ll work.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “I told you!”

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

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

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

Mmm leprosy, the health crisis I always wanted!”

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

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

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

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

My sleeping angel 💗
Epic Adventures

The Great Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.   

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!
Epic Adventures

An Impossible Task

Other than the white noise of Rob and Nikolai snoring, it was rather quiet inside our vehicle. Tallulah had her wet nose pushed against the glass so she could keep an eye on untrustworthy strangers. I could see the reflection of the flashing crimson sign from the “Come and Go” gas station lighting up her peripheral. We had laid all the seats down and blown up the air mattress in the back of the SUV with the hopes of re-balancing our sleep schedule.

Despite the exhaustion, it was the smell of equine sweat clinging to the breeze that woke me. It felt out of place within the truck stop’s parking lot until I realized that there was a farm nearby. We popped the trunk open for better airflow and let our tangled feet dangle out the back. The temperature was near perfection but It’s hard to sleep when there is an undertow of excitement crashing over your psyche. A crack of thunder strangled the peace. Darkness danced with lightening, and the anticipation of damp earth hung like a curtain in the atmosphere.

My stomach lurched with electricity, not from the storm but from the adventure of it all. The ability to witness firsts with my family, to see things that I saw as a child with the eyes and humility of an adult. I wanted to etch every detail to memory. Thirty-one hours of driving just to get to our first destination and that didn’t include the trip back or the stops we planned to take along the way. My friends thought we were crazy but, in my opinion, the best way to enjoy the mountains… is to get lost in them.

With only a couple hours of sleep in our pocket and first morning light on the horizon, we visited the restrooms and refueled with caffeine. The first fifteen hours of driving had been uneventful but from this moment forward there would be an endless supply of amazement. You can’t (rather you shouldn’t) visit Glacier National Park without stopping by to see things along the way, like the Badlands and Mount Rushmore. There’s even an amazing town from the 1800’s where you can visit the past as beautifully preserved as if it were the present, and you wouldn’t want to miss a little town called Walldrug where you can buy a cup of coffee for a nickel.

My beautiful boy had a history book opened across his lap one day. He was sitting on his bed flipping through the pages when I heard him gasp. His blue eyes wide in wonder as his fingertips graced a picture of some faces that had been carved into stone. His mouth left agape, and his expression full of questions that had me pausing in the threshold to wait for his thoughts to materialize.

“Hey mom? What is this?”

“That would be Mount Rushmore.”

“Is it a real place?”

“It’s very much a real place. In fact, I’ve been there… more than once.”

“YOU’VE BEEN THERE?! CAN I GO TOO?! I want to see it!”

“Not today sweet boy, but I promise that someday, I’ll take you.”

I laughed a little as I walked back to the kitchen. I knew how far away Mount Rushmore was, and I had been making plans with my husband to take Nikolai to see it for a long time. He had been so disappointed that afternoon. You would think the little conversation we had back then would have prepared me for how overwhelmed with emotion he would became when he saw it for himself… but it didn’t. After bounding up the steps towards the mountain cliffs, he threw his arms into the sky and leapt as he whooped for joy.

“MOM! I’VE WANTED TO SEE THIS FOR MY WHOLE LIFE!”

“I CAN’T BE-WEVE THAT YOU TOOK ME HERE!”

“LOOK AT IT MOM! It’s so be-woo-di-ful!”

People all around us found his excitement just as intoxicating as my husband and I did. Nikolai’s slight lisp made everything he said that much more enduring. It was demanded of me that I take his picture immediately and explain how and why the president’s faces were carved into stone. I did what was asked of me with gusto. I have a passion for history and lovely places.

Earlier that morning, hours before reaching Rushmore, I could feel my palms turn icy cold with a cool sweat. The sun was skipping off the copper highlights in Nikolai’s hair. He held daddy’s hand tightly as he gazed into the steep canyon of the Badlands. Wind so strong it tugged at the curls in my ponytail and threatened to push me over the embankment.

Every inch my family took towards the edge had Tallulah and I feeling anxious for their safety. She cried out for them, and I was forced to tighten my grip on the black lead that kept her at my side. I’m terrified of heights, and I knew she was picking up on my concern as she had been trained to do. I considered what early Native American’s and settlers must have thought when they saw the Badlands for the first time.

Void of walkways and trails to navigate through it and the extra miles it must have added to their trip in order to go around. Did it feel daunting? An impossible task with the wicked heat of the sun beating on the crown of their heads as blustery hot winds spooked their horses. Did they find a way to work with the land or did they lose loved ones? It was within that moment of staring into the emptiness that I felt myself being restored from my busy life.

I get wrapped up in to-do lists, maintaining my health, and being a partner to my husband as we attempt to make ends meet. I lose my ability to sit quietly, to allow the strong winds of life to soften my rough edges but not to break me. I am horrible at trying to maintain control over events in my life but as I get older, I’m finding a newfound freedom in weathering the storm. In allowing myself to let go of things I cannot control; I have discovered a depth of peace that is unmatched.

We slid back into the car, and I realized that sometimes we all need to slip away in order to see the bigger picture. Two days into a ten-day trip and I was feeling more like myself already. The tension released from my shoulders when I allowed spontaneity to take the lead rather than trying to micromanage our plans. With an audiobook keeping us on our toes, a cup of hot chocolate in my hand, and an empty road kissing day two goodbye… I could hardly wait to see what would come next.

Taken with my cellphone if you can believe that!
My two favorite people in the entire world
Mount Rushmore… look at Nikolai’s face!
Our feet hanging out the trunk at the truck stop
Can you imagine trying to cross this?!
These two sleeping in the back seat
Just us and an empty road at the end of day two.
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 🥰❤️
Parenting

Of Kisses and Magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I remember.”

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

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

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

“OH! So, kisses are magic?”

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

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

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

The Missing Piece

Fragile Lemon

Discarded Fear

We Can’t Go Back

A Small Thing Like Me

Animals

Written For Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check.  

Hospital visits that are frequent?  

Check.  

Official diagnoses on my medical records?  

Check. Check. Check. Check. Check! 

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

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

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

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

“How do you know Grandma?!” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“SHE DID IT! WE HAVE PUPPIES!” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Animals

Tiny Terrors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Can’t Go Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Most Unlikely Friendship

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

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

“HONK!!!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Leap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Joyful Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nikolai on a beach in Florida
farm life

Where We Belong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miracles and Blueberries

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respect is Earned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I HATE YOU!”

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

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

“I am.”

Who’s more stubborn?”

“I am.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nikolai with our dog Moosey
Nikolai & Moose in Savannah GA
Nikolai in our canoe after fishing 🎣
Parenting

When Bad Things Happen With Good Intentions

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t worry?” I repeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

farm life

Bad Luck

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

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

Positivi•tea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My delicious blue Chocolate cake pop

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

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

Incredible mountain sunset

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

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

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

Breathtaking mountaintop scenery

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

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

Makes it all worthwhile

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

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