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
Parenting

Winter Storm Izzy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you read the messages?” I grinned

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

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

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

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

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

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