February 22, 2018
The first of the week seems like a blur. I was more tired than usual, and in retrospect, I guess it is because I was coming down with something. All day Monday, Rory was unhappy. She just clung to me and screamed. I wasn’t sure what was wrong but when she woke up from her nap and was sitting on my lap, she vomited all over me. I tried to get her cleaned up and get all three of us washed up and sterilized, as Analia was exposed as well. For the rest of the day Rory fussed, cried and clung to me but never threw up again. I finally decided maybe she wasn’t really sick and that perhaps she wasn’t contagious. We made it through Tuesday and Rory was still super fussy and I just couldn’t decide if she was actually sick or just cutting teeth. Tuesday, middle of the night, I heard the baby crying and water running in the bathroom and got up to check on them, finding that Analia was sick to her stomach. Within the hour, the virus had struck Mike and I as well. Wednesday morning, I was so miserable that I didn’t want to even think about making the trip back to Laurel Fork, but we did it anyway and when we arrived back in Southwest Virginia, I crashed in the bed. Except for emergency trips to the bathroom, I remained in the bed for about 15 hours. Somewhere around 3 am I woke up and realized I was going to be seriously dehydrated if I didn’t drink water. I got out of bed for a bottled water and sipped it for about an hour while I played around on the computer before I passed out again. We skipped meals and just drank fluids until supper time today, and then managed to eat a good meal without any harmful effects. We heard from Alissa that Analia was better after having thrown up quite a bit the day before. Alissa immediately began taking activated charcoal tablets as soon as the rest of us got sick and said that although she felt nauseous at times, she never succumbed to the virus. We assume that the baby, Rory, only had a mild case because she is nursing and has a certain amount of immunity built up, for which I am thankful.
Today was an absolutely beautiful day. The temp reached around 70 degrees and the sun was shining. I opened the windows and aired out the house. Mike worked some outside, cutting up some wood and moving it out of the way so he could park his trailer up by the barn. When he tried to move the trailer, he found it was still too muddy to get it up the hill. He also just worked on general clean up. I was worried about him being so sick and then going out and doing manual labor after not having eaten for 36 plus hours. We spent some time trying to decide how we want to build the fence, especially in the area around the barn. We didn’t come up with a definite plan for the fencing, but we have some decent ideas of what we want to accomplish and it was a beautiful day to be out in the sun planning for the future.
February 23, 2018
All the sleep I had yesterday caught up with me and now it is 3 am and I can’t sleep. Guess that means I am feeling better for sure. Mike is always amazed at how much I sleep when I am sick. That is how I cope and how I heal. I have always been that way. But, I always know when I am better because all the extra sleep catches up with me and then I wake up far sooner than I would like. Part of the problem is I also fell asleep so early last night. I sat down on the couch with Mike and tried to write but I couldn’t focus and finally stretched out beside him while he watched television. It wasn’t long before I was sound asleep and it was far too early to be sleeping. I remember him trying to wake me up to tell me something but I couldn’t pull myself out of the fog. But, being awake so early this morning means I get my coffee for the first time since Tuesday morning. I have been afraid to drink anything but water and a little ginger ale. It sure does taste good.
One thing I thought a lot about yesterday was the extra ten to fifteen pounds I am carrying. I know that’s a strange thing to think about, but for years, I had very unhealthy habits to keep my weight to a certain point. I’ve always been a relatively healthy eater and I have always had a slender build but I would become fixated on a certain weight and skip meals or exercise to an extreme (or both) to achieve or maintain that weight. After being so sick with my gallbladder episode in 2016 and losing such a large amount of weight so quickly, I finally learned my lesson I think. I decided then that I would never starve myself, or exercise to extreme again, and that I would not allow what anyone else thought of my weight or my figure to influence me one way or the other. I stopped weighing myself, bought bigger pants, stopped measuring my steps, and allowed myself to just eat and enjoy life. Sure, I sometimes eat things that I shouldn’t. It has been more difficult to eat healthy with the changes in our lifestyle with so much traveling, and with my trying to come up with quick, easy meals to fix when we are in Staunton and I am watching the girls. However, almost everything we eat is sourced from what we have grown and raised or from other local sources. I still have a huge aversion to any meat not humanely raised and usually eat vegetarian when eating out at restaurants, because I have developed allergies to most sea food which is what I used to eat when we were away from home.
The whole-body image phenomenon within the American culture is disheartening. My body shape has actually always been that slim build that our society promotes but I started taking it to an extreme at some point during my early adult years. My ex-husband picked up a habit of looking at Playboy and Easy Rider Magazines toward the end of our marriage and he would say things to me such as “If you just worked out and lost five more pounds you would have a body like this gal.” I was immature and insecure wanting to save my marriage. I had been taught that divorce was a sin and that if I just lived a good enough life and tried hard enough to please my husband that I could save my marriage. The books I had been given to read before my marriage had emphasized the importance of the wife looking her best for her husband to keep him from looking at other women. Seriously. (Oh the things that were taught to me in those Independent, Fundamental Churches of my youth and how they affected my life in negative ways! I learned to love Jesus of the Bible and let go of the church whose controlling did more harm than good to so many of the people I love who grew up with me, but the harm done can never be undone and I see the affects in the lives of so many of those friends who grew up in the same environment as I did.) Even though I was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed not more than 125 to 130 pounds, I began skipping meals and working out. Often, in my extremes, I would fall well below the 125 range which was far too thin for a person of my height and build. It was a pattern that lasted until fall of 2016. Now I am not ashamed to say that I weigh a comfortable 140 pounds and I am thankful for those extra pounds. My good friend said to me one time that we need those extra pounds for when we are sick and can’t eat and she is so correct. I know to those who struggle with excessive weight that I sound like a vain and self-centered person worrying about my weight when I am naturally a “thin” person anyway, but the truth is that an extreme in either direction can be debilitating. Our society’s focus on weight and other physical attributes is part of the reason (or a the major reason) so many women struggle. It took a huge blow for me to finally come out of my crazy cycle and I am so thankful for a wonderful husband who loves me from the inside out and who thinks I am beautiful no matter what I weigh, and no matter what I struggle with physically. My gallbladder issues were left undiagnosed for many years because my symptoms did not present themselves in text book fashion and when I had my last flair up, I went close to two months being unable to eat much until I finally found a doctor that would test for gallbladder and order the surgery. During that time I was under a tremendous amount of stress trying to run the mobile, produce stand in Verona. On the other side of my surgery, Mike had his rotator cuff surgery and had a rough time of it for a while and I took care of him until he was back on his feet. At this point, my hair dresser confirmed what I already knew, that my hair was falling out by the handfuls and getting extremely thin. I went to the doctor and had them run a full panel of blood work. Except for still being underweight, I was very healthy. After reviewing my history, talking to me and receiving the results from the blood work the doctor concluded that my significant and rapid hair loss was the result of the “perfect storm”, so to speak. Extreme stress, rapid and extreme weight loss, illness, surgery and menopause all in one fell swoop had caused me to suffer from extreme hair loss. Adding to the damage and hair loss was my obsession with keeping my hair colored light blonde every four to five weeks as well as the fact that I had been living in pony tails and buns for so long because it was quick to pull my hair back and go on with the day. Not even thinking about hair loss, for years I had jerked the hair ties out of my hair pulling a handful of hair out with it each time. To say I was devastated to experience such significant hair loss is an understatement. Again, a lifetime of being fed crap by our society caused a difficult situation to be even more devastating to me. Growing up, I was not blessed with beautiful skin like so many of my friends. My dad struggled to make ends meet but somehow coughed up enough money to send me to a private, Christian school. Image was important there. The “in” crowd dressed a certain way, had their hair fixed a certain way, and the majority of the girls were truly, natural beauties and are to this day. I wasn’t blessed in that way but I had a good figure and I had great hair. Everyone always commented on my hair. I was a natural blonde (my hair turned to more of a dirty blonde with my first pregnancy hormones) and I spent a good deal of time making sure my hair was “right” because it was what I considered my best feature. When I would go to summer camp and the boys from St Louis would be at the rural, church camp where I went each summer, they always wanted to know if they could touch my hair because it was so light in color, bleached naturally by the sun and soft to the touch. I was vain about my hair. I was self-conscious about my weight, but vain about my hair. And here I was in 2017 turning 50 after having probably the best few years of my life as far as self confidence and body image goes while I was in my 40’s, and literally watching my hair fall out by the hand full. It was hard for me to even go out in public. Knowing my own struggles, I have long been an advocate of praising women and young girls for who they are and not what they look like. I have tried to be careful with my daughter and grandkids to not draw attention to body image and to praise who they are as a person. As I struggled through this part of my journey in life, I began to see it as a time for cleansing. It was time to really let go of some of those feelings of insecurity that had been instilled in me from childhood and early adulthood. I am not going to say that I have completely arrived. The level of emotional and psychological abuse I endured in my first marriage couple with some misconceptions I had from the amount of responsibility the churches I attended as a child put on the woman (and the excuses made for men who looked at other women) left me with some wrong thinking that I will have to fight for all of my life. But this change in life, of getting older, and of losing some of my youthful attributes so quickly and noticeably has given me opportunity to address the cycle between vanity and self-loathing in regards to body image. It has reinforced my desire to build women and young girls up regarding who they are and what they can accomplish and to not give any excuse to men who want to exploit or dominate based on a woman’s physical attributes. The battle is a tough one to wage but the good news is that we as older women can make a difference in the life of a child. One child given confidence does and will make a difference. Someday, perhaps, I will write a blog post on how I tackled the hair loss naturally with supplements, eating plenty, gaining back the weight I lost (plus that ten to fifteen extra pounds), and my experience with hair loss shampoos. About a year and a half later and I know I will never have the head of hair I use to have but it is thicker than it was at the height of my hair loss. The hair that I have is healthy and a great hair stylist has helped me find a cut that minimizes the impact of so much hair loss. I began the process a little over a year ago of letting my natural hair color grow out. Each time I notice how grey I am getting I smile because I am embracing the grey and thankful for each strand. My struggles are minor compared to someone going through chemo or radiation or something else that causes complete loss and I often tell myself how selfish and self-centered it is for me to even be discouraged by the hair loss that I have endured. Yet, there is no question that issues such as these have a profound, psychological affect on women who experience them causing women often to feel alone in their struggle. This is a difficult thing for me to share but I think struggles such as this are things that women need to talk about with each other more often and be supportive of one another. It can’t go without repeating that Mike’s love and support have been instrumental in helping me through this time. Yesterday morning, he tousled my hair as we lay in bed and said, “I love the way your hair looks this morning.” He has always loved that messy hair look for which I am thankful. My first reaction, born out of a lifetime of insecurity, was to think how thin and horrible my hair must look, but I immediately recognized his sincerity, that he saw me through eyes of love, and that he truly did think I was beautiful lying there. I smiled a huge smile and let him run his fingers through my hair.
February 24, 2018
I would like to be writing that my week has gone smoothly and when it has not, I have breathed deeply and invited peace to rule my heart anyway. That’s certainly not the reality. There has nothing gone terribly wrong, just a week of worry over those I love adding to minor irritations of life that can disrupt and put us off course. A dear friend is facing some health issues with family members and normally I would be by her side, but with the recent stomach virus, I don’t dare expose her family and put them at risk. I feel helpless as I am unable to go to her and my mind won’t quit thinking about the serious health challenges her family member is facing as well as a deep loss by another of her family members. I want to DO something and all I can do is stay where I am and pray for them offering verbal encouragement as I can. In addition, I am really feeling the stress as Alissa tries to finish up her Master’s degree as well as teach at the community college and apply for full time positions for next year. Her stress level is over the top and I think the little ones feel it and react to that. I am just ready for this phase to be over so that we can move past it. We do get a spring break week after next, so that means that if I count the weeks until completion after Spring Break, we are looking at nine more Mondays. (Mondays are the hardest days for me because I have the girls 14 hours and it is just too long for the baby to be away from her momma.) I am so very thankful that I can be there with the girls at this time and I am happy to help Alissa so she can get her degree, but the little girls need their momma to be able to concentrate completely on them. I am just really feeling the stress of the back and forth and trying to provide the stability the girls need right now. And my grandmother continues to fail in ways that are difficult to share publicly but that are very concerning. Her health and welfare always fall back on me and that responsibility of that can be completely overwhelming sometimes. Sometimes it is the little things that push me over the edge. Actually, it is usually the little things that push all of us over the edge. One of the hardest things I have to deal with regarding my grandmother is the way that she exerts her independence and her strong, willfulness and how other people react to that who don’t know how hard I struggle to help her. We pay for someone to mow her yard but her mind focuses in on certain things and she becomes obsessed by them. It doesn’t matter who tries to take care of the particular situation she is obsessing about or how well they take care of it, she feels that it just hasn’t been handled adequately and insists that she must take care of it. The yard is of special concern to her. No matter how much other people mow or clean the yard, she goes out and tries to labor like she is 50 years younger than what she is. It is so frustrating for me because I am fearful that she is going to hurt herself and I am sure that folks wonder how we can allow her to do the things she does, but she is in excellent physical health for her age and in spite of all our efforts to keep her from doing things she shouldn’t, we can’t physically keep her from doing them. Almost every night no matter how much time she has spent in the yard, and how much time her caregiver has spent assisting, and how much time the paid help has spent mowing, she talks to me on the phone and obsesses about the yard. It is not a joy to her. It’s not something she wants to do or enjoys doing. She’s worried about how it looks, what the neighbors might think, and how it might reflect on her. She literally drives herself and me crazy with it. No matter how I try to handle it, with more help or trying to talk sense to her, the cycle continues. Last year, I was able to keep her from pushing the lawn mower, but this year she has already found a way to get someone to start it for her and to push it around the yard. She will be 89 in April and has no business on the uneven ground pushing the lawn mower. Soon, when I visit again, the lawn mower will disappear, but in the mean time I guess she will continue to do what she decides she is going to do. It is so heartbreaking to see her level of anxiety about everything and the yard is just a little example of the many things I try to manage from a distance to try to keep her in her familiar surroundings for as long as possible which seems to be the best-case scenario for her at this stage in her life. Again, we are so blessed to have my cousin helping her. My cousin literally does the work of a servant on many levels and takes less than minimum wage for her services. Even on her days off, she calls or brings a meal. When my grandmother went through some difficulties managing her finances before I took over managing them for her, I actually had some folks throwing accusations that we as the grandchildren had stolen her money and then that her caregiver might be taking her money. It just breaks my heart how people attack at a time when you need their support. It breaks my heart to think the level of sacrifice that my cousin (who is not related to my grandmother) gives to care for my grandmother for basically nothing. By the time she subtracts her expenses for travel to and from my grandmother’s house, drives my grandma anywhere she wants to go, and more often than not provides food from her own home, and frequently picks up carry out meals several times a week out of her own expenses, she can’t be making a dime. On top of that, she literally labors at jobs it would be difficult to get anyone else to do for good money as my grandmother makes demands on her to do yardwork, paint the deck, scrub the fire hydrants clean and paint them etc. Things are progressing more quickly in the last few weeks with some issues with my grandmother and that has put stress and worry on me and I have not been able to really shake it this time. This week has been particularly hard for whatever reason and I have been so absent minded and forgetful that Mike has been concerned. I have got to breathe deep and get a grip because things are just going to escalate from here. Mike is feeling the stress in other areas. Being sick threw us off track and when he tried to get some work done on Thursday after being so sick on Wednesday, he didn’t get a whole lot accomplished but did accomplish to get the truck and trailer stuck in the mud and tear up the drive going to the barn. He was so frustrated with himself. Suddenly we are so close to calving for the Jerseys and have so much to do here in Laurel Fork. We are discouraged again as we can’t seem to get anyone to follow through with commitments. We had someone lined up to put a new roof on the barn and they have completely dropped the ball just like all the others. That has to be done before we can really finish up the inside because we don’t want to replace flooring and such inside if the rain is just going to come in on it. We have another company supposed to come out today and give us an estimate on replace the barn roof. Mike is going to try to get an estimate on some fencing as well. The fencing we can do ourselves with time if need be, but I do not want him on the barn roof. It is far too steep and I can’t take a chance of him falling. It is just not worth it. It will work out but we are feeling the crunch and so many frustrations. They are typical and normal and everyone faces these types of situations. We have just go to try to go with it and remember that each situation offers us a chance for growth. It is so hard to do sometimes! To add to the list of irritations and frustrations, my used washing machine started having issues. I just wanted to get another used, agitating washer, but we decided to go by Lowes and check on prices and features of new agitating washers. I was greatly discouraged by the mandatory regulations (although I understand why they have been implemented) that lock the lids even on these top loading washers and that limit the amount of water. The agitator seems so different as well. I am sure it is easier on close but I wonder if it is any better than a front loader? I am convinced the old agitating washers are better at cleaning. I hate a non-agitating machine whether it is a front loader or a top loader. I have owned both. I walked away from the new washers and we found one advertised on Craig’s List that was also a new model, still had the plastic on it, and we were promised was in good working order or we would get our money back. We went through the whole ordeal of getting it off the truck with just the two of us and down the narrow stairs to the basement only to find out the drum had a crack in the base and it poured water. We will see if the man stands by his word and returns our money but of course, we have to get it back up the stairs and take it 45 minutes one way back to is house. I am usually the one who keeps us both focused on being positive and I am the encourager in our relationship. Last night when Mike looked at me after the floor was wet and dirty from the leaking water and we had pretty much wasted a beautiful day on tasks that didn’t’ work out the way we wanted them to and had strained our backs and bodies to move the machine and we didn’t accomplish anything toward working on grounds or outbuildings and said “I’m discouraged and frustrated” I just looked at him and said, “I am too”. It didn’t take me long until I started verbally making a list of how good we have it and all the things for which we should be grateful and we are and we will be fine. We are blessed and have a great life. We just have to keep the right attitude and a spirit of thankfulness.
This week has brought moments of pleasure and a chance for us to stop, pause and give place to intentional living as well. Each day truly does offer us a chance to stop and be thankful. Sometimes we have to search a little harder for those moments, but they are there. We got our first ten pullets and have introduced them to the farm in Laurel Fork. Having chickens here seems like the logical first step to getting this place off the ground. The birds are various sizes and various types including mostly mixed breeds. I hope to add about 20 more birds to the flock with time. This is a start and it feels good to start. We have not introduced them to free ranging yet and I am not sure that we will be able to completely go that route like I have always done. Without a Livestock Guardian Dog or some sort of protective fencing, they are going to be eaten by predators. After they have acclimated to their new house and know it is home, then I will work out something to get them outside, probably on our next trip to Laurel Fork.
“Our” turkeys have continued to provide a show for us as feed in the meadow across the road, beside and behind our house and evidently roost in some of the tall pines on our property at least on occasion. They are still in a large group. We counted 18 at one point with a couple of Toms strutting. We enjoy watching them so much.
Something I have not done in years is to feed the birds and recently I put a birdfeeder outside the kitchen. It took the birds a while to find the food but a few have started coming and it brings me such joy to see them. We have a pair of cardinals, male and female and some smaller birds as well. The Phoebe birds have started calling loudly at first light and I have seen them looking for a place to build a nest. I try to pause each morning and pay attention to my surroundings. It is a good way to start the day. I am not able to do that much in Staunton as we live such a fast-paced life there but here in Laurel Fork it is much easier to stop and absorb the natural world around me. As I looked out through various windows yesterday morning observing the wild life, I saw an extremely large raccoon running down the bank and towards the chicken house. We know of several living up in a deteriorating building on the property and I assume it was one of those. I don’t think there is any way he can get into the chicken house to eat my chickens but I am sure he is aware they have arrived. Just another reason why free ranging them will be difficult, but I couldn’t help but smile to see him running down the bank. It seems when I stop to absorb life it always brings back memories of some sort and that raccoon brought back a childhood memory for me. I must have been around four or five when we traveled to visit my great grandma Armstrong in Lebanon, Missouri. The trip was maybe two to three hours from where we lived. I don’t remember exactly. Along the way, my parents came across an orphaned raccoon. I am not sure how they knew it was orphaned. My memory doesn’t serve me well there. I am thinking the momma was hit by a car and this little one remained. My mother was an animal lover to the extreme and it wasn’t long before my daddy was out catching that baby raccoon. This was back in the early 70’s in rural Missouri, and I don’t think anyone thought twice about any laws regarding taking in wild animals or if any laws even existed at that time that prohibited such. At any rate, that little raccoon came to live with us and we named it Missy. Missy was the cutest thing but of course, a wild animal, and while my parents would take her out of the cage and hold her, I was not allowed to pick her up but I so enjoyed watching her, especially when she would eat. As she grew she became more and more unhappy alone in her pen and one day when I went down to see her, she was gone. I am not really sure if my parents let her out or if she let her self out. By that time, she had learned to unfasten the door to her pen and let herself out. I always remember Missy with fondness and can’t help but think of her when I see raccoons.
February 25, 2018
The turkey sightings continue. I looked out the kitchen window behind the house yesterday and saw three large Toms scratching near the pines. They stayed for a few minutes and then suddenly they all lifted and flew, two of them breaking toward my right and the other toward my left as they went right past the kitchen window and flew over the meadow beside our house, across the road and into the woods. Later, in the evening, we saw the large flock all together hanging out in the meadow across from our house where the neighbor has about a dozen draft horses and mules.
I was feeling extremely frustrated yesterday morning. It feels like time is getting away from us and we are starting to feel some pressure to get things done. It seems a little overwhelming right now. This has not been a very productive week. It seems everything we have tried to do has not gone as planned and we have unintentionally “wasted” a lot of time. I was irritable about it all, especially when I still couldn’t get the things accomplished I wanted to get done yesterday morning. It isn’t that we aren’t working towards the goals we had this week. They just are not coming together for us. By afternoon, the fog and gloomy rain had gone away and the sun had come out and my attitude was better. I just approached the rest of the day with the idea that whatever we had accomplished was a step forward and fretting wasn’t going to make things any better.
It wasn’t cold this week but the evenings and nights were chilly and we are trying to conserve as much fuel as we can. We have kept a small fire burning in the fireplace during the day to take the chill out of the house and to keep the furnace from running. At night, we stoke the fire up a little more and have slept comfortably. It is amazing how green the grass has become this week. With the warmer weather, it feels like we can see it getting greener by the minute. It is so early for it to be warm and stay warm, so I am sure we will see some more cold weather but it feels like spring. I am starting to think about flowers and the garden. Mike says he won’t be putting out a big garden this year. We have no plans to sell produce on a large scale ever again. It was hard on Mike last year when our garden didn’t do well and we didn’t sell to the public except in small amounts to a few people. For so long growing a huge garden and selling produce has been the highlight of his summer. He has truly loved it. After finally letting go and relaxing into this knew phase of our life, I am interested to see where he goes with it this year. I know he has no intentions of growing a lot of garden but when he gets started planting, it will just be natural for him to plant a lot more than we can use. Most of our garden will be planted in Staunton again this year. We have the established garden area there already. Mike’s mom enjoys being able to go out from her house and work in the garden and I think he will plant there for her more than anything so that she won’t be disappointed. We are also planning on putting in a few raised beds here at our mountain home this year but we will have to have some good fences to keep out the deer and wildlife. I am considering doing some container gardening just for fun and because most of our garden will be in Staunton.
Spring is around the corner. The winter has been good, a time of personal healing and growth for me, a time to build on establish relationships and begin new friendships. Spring and summer are always our busiest time of the year and it is with part excitement and part regret that I watch winter come to an end as we transition into spring.