North to Alaska

Our July is usually so busy I want to run away when I get to the end of it.

I’m totally overwhelmed, drained of energy, and ready to up and move to a place where there are no farm animals, no fishermen, no motor homes, and no boats.

But every July, on the 27th, I remember…

I chose this place!

It was nineteen years ago today that I rolled into this amazing place that became my new home.

It had been a boyhood dream of my husband’s to move here after high school with his best friend, but meeting me changed all of that.

When, years into our relationship, he told me of his past plans, I chastised him for not telling me sooner and told him I would’ve gone with him.

Thus began the planning and the saving and the letter writing with his friend, who’d long since settled in the land the two of them had talked of.

And when his friend came back for a visit and his folks were planning a haul of goods up the AlCan, we took our dreams and we hit our knees and we asked if now, right now might be the time.

Those good folks were thrilled to have another driver and they packed their goods and they packed my husband and I sent our valuables in the valuable trunk he’d built on our first Christmas. His Daddy shook his hand and told him he always had a home to come back to and we all stood and waved goodbye as the tooley fog lifted off the cornfield that June morning.

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I talked to him every night, but one afternoon he called in the middle of the day and a call at work meant something big and the big thing was a job and a job was the go ahead for me to give up the steady paycheck that tied us to somewhere secure.

I hung up the phone and went to my boss and gave her my two weeks’ notice and that night I started selling all that was left of our stuff.

I was Alaska bound. Even though he was already there, WE were officially Alaska bound.

On a humid July morning, my mom and I rolled out of the only state I’d ever lived in with my big brown dog and my little tranquilized cat and all I owned on the top of my red four-door sedan.

We rolled into Alaska six days later, and on the night of the 27th, when I’d made it to our new town and stopped at the first gas station I found for a pack of cigarettes and a Diet Coke, I knew I was home. I knew I would never want to leave this place.

And I haven’t.

Oh we’ve flown out a few times for family trips and the occasional vacation, but this place is a place that holds a person. When we think of how much easier it’d be in the Lower 48, how much more affordable it is in other places, how many more people there are for our kids to know…

…we come back to the fact that we’d have to leave Alaska.

I lost the cigarettes and my ability to drive in big cities and freeways.

But I found the Lord.

We came up not knowing one another that well.

But we wrestled our way into being best friends.

The two of us didn’t have any furniture.

But now we have a house full of it because we have all these kids.

We only knew one family and held them close.

But now we know many families who hold US close.

Nineteen years.

Not long at all.

And when I look at my calendar and the crazy amount of writing on all the squares this month, my eyes fall to today’s and I remember that I really don’t want to run away. I already did that nineteen years ago and every since…

I’m home.

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OCTOBER 2015 360

 

I am Woman. I Bought a Gun.

I bought a gun today.

I took my ten-year old daughter with me.

When I learned that my trusty old revolver -the one I am comfortable with, the one that has few moving parts, the one that fits my hand just right- well, when I learned that it might not be the best gun for a woman to become too comfortable with, and that the instructor of the class I’d signed up for wasn’t excited about having me use it over a semi-auto…

I looked down at my sweet daughter, -patient and holding Mama’s cell phone and keys at the gun counter- and I decided that I’d move out of my comfort zone just like my girl does all the time with her many 4-H projects.

I decided to follow her example and step out of my box and push myself to learn-by-doing just like any good 4-H’er knows is the very best way of starting something new.

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So I bought a gun.

I bought a gun without even talking to my husband, or consulting any other man, (unless you count my pal, my husband’s handsome lifelong friend who happened to stroll up to the gun counter and, when seeing I was buying a gun, offered a once over, a word of caution about the thumb safety on my model, and an atta girl) and with no guidance from anyone other than a brief chat with the kind-eyed woman who will be my shooting instructor.

I bought a gun even though we own many and I’ve shot most of them and I even have one of my very own that everyone calls Mom’s Rifle.

But those guns my husband bought.

This one I bought.

I am now the proud owner of  a Smith and Wesson 9 mm, complete with a magazine (not a clip folks, never a “clip”), a holster, 100 rounds of ammo, and a soft-sided case. The whole shebang.

And do you know what I heard after I walked out with my new gun?

I heard that just this morning, in our fair state of Alaska, there was a massive theft of guns from a small gun store.

Today my girl and I spent over one hour legally procuring a weapon, filling out pages of paperwork, having my height and weight (so what if it was just my driver’s license weight, STILL) blown up to 8×11 size for the file, having my drug habits and mental status queried, having my name run through a federal registry, having my signature scrutinized, having to provide all the basic information that anyone would need to steal my identity and wreak havoc on my life, all so I could be declared “safe” and walk out of the store with a weapon.

Legally.

That is the process.

That is how it’s done.

I did everything right.

And I told my girl as we drove off that today was an important day for her.

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That today she got to be part of witnessing a free woman in a free country exercising one of the rights so many that have come before her fought and died for.

Today was the day when she saw her grown up mama become a little more of a grown up.

Today was the day we talked about countries and laws that aren’t friendly to women and how in this land, we don’t yet live that way.

Today we talked about how it’s important to use the strength God gave you in the place that He put you.

How having a good husband is a wonderful and amazing thing, but that not every woman has one, and even if they do, it’s good and pertinent for her to know how to make decisions for herself.

How men and women fought and died so that we could do what we did today.

And she said That’s right Mama. We can bear arms.

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I did it legally.

And what took us an hour, buying that gun with hard-earned money my husband toils for week in and week out and generously provides for me to use as I see fit…fulfilling all the government’s requirements to purchase and possess a weapon…

it took the thieves 28 seconds.

Twenty-eight seconds of video footage showing them stealing many weapons, taking all they could fill their shirts with, fulfilling zero governmental requirements other than those required to be considered a gun thief.

They didn’t even have to give their driver’s license weight.

Do you see why gun owners have a hard time when folks start murmuring about upping the requirements for gun ownership?

I did it legally.

Someone bent on destroying lives will do it whether it be by a knife, a step van, a bomb, or an illegally-obtained weapon.

Gun owners, responsible, law-abiding gun owners…

we own guns legally and we use guns legally.

We fill out the paperwork, we answer the questions, we write down the serial number, we pay the money, we carry responsibily and we shoot responsibly.

Do you think the little 9 mil I’m now so proud of and a little scared of and can’t wait to practice with is going to mow people down by my legal hand?

Or do you think one of the many that those thieves so indiscriminately stole will?

Do you see the difference?

After today, after exercising my freedom and proudly practicing my independence, and teaching my daughter to do the same, I feel a little tug to throw a Don’t Tread on Me sticker on the back of my mom-SUV.

I feel a need to maybe get a little more vocal about our Second Ammendment rights, maybe even get my Concealed Carry permit.

Not to show off or sound big.

Not to paint myself as a knuckle dragging Neandrethol that many today in our society are quick to label us gun owners.

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I feel the need because today I exercised the right that so many fought and died to provide for me.

For my children

For you.

For your children.

For my daughter, my precious girl who smiles at me when I tell her how proud I am of her and the young woman she is growing into.

I may take flak from some but you know what?

I am a woman and I bought a gun and I bought it legally and I will learn all I can about it and I will practice with it and it will be my tool.

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I am a woman and I bought a gun.

Many picked up their weapons and they said we have a right to defend ourselves. To defend our loved ones.

And today I could almost hear them speaking to me and my girl.

They were saying That’s right Mama. We can bear arms.

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Short and Accurate Post on Life With a Teen Boy

Snapshot of a Week in the Life of Being the Mama of a Teen Boy:

Scenario 1: (Watching the garbage truck pull out)

Me: “Well hm. I guess I didn’t need to go into all that with the garbage guy. Sometimes I think I just talk too much.”

Teen boy: “Yeah.”

~
Scenario 2: (In the hay field)

Teen boy: “Man mom, a cold lemonade sounds good right now.”

Me: “You want ME to fetch drinks? Hey I’m buckin hay here, not fetchin drinks. I’m not just a pretty face ya know.”

Teen boy: “No. You’re not.”

Me: “Uhhhh?”

Teen boy: “You’re the PRETTIEST face.”

~
And that, folks, pretty much sums up how it is living with the wild and growing creature we all call a Teenager.

 For I too was a son to my father, still tender, and cherished by my mother. Proverbs 4:2-3

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OCTOBER 2014 163
 

The Haying

Our haying for 2016 is done.

Over the past two days we’ve moved 200 bales of hay, a small haul for a small farm, just over five and a half ton. We’ve spent over ten hours in the amazing bake of Alaska sun. We’ve laughed, we’ve snarled, Mama secretly cried a few times over memories and tiredness and quiet grief over a pony we don’t need to buy chow for any more, Daddy not-so-secretly got a sunburn on his bald spot, and we’ve bonded as a family.  

Tucked in alongside hay trips, we’ve learned how to put stitches in a lamb’s leg, we’ve met new people who love 4-H and want to support us in small and big ways, we’ve reunited with some favorite music that speaks of the Great North like no other, and we’ve gone out to eat for the first time in forever.

I thought after Beau died that maybe we weren’t meant for the farm life.

I thought maybe we weren’t good enough for this life with animals and farm folk and feed stores and hay fields.

But after this weekend I realize that the farm life isn’t a matter of who’s good enough or not good enough.

It’s a life that changes those who choose it.

And that with each passing year, with each turn of the season…

you buck bales a little quicker and you learn to steer a little straighter and you get more efficient at driving the field and your muscles get a little bigger.

And just like the hay…

you reach toward the sun and you grow.

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~

 

 

Pushing

I decided to update my folder of barn records in the morning and before long there were surprised tears in my coffee as I typed up Beau’s last notes.

Our long weekend with him…

and then his final lay down.

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The afternoon was filled with 4-H and phone calls and sunshine and then yells from the front yard that the dog had eaten the sheep’s leg off.

There were angry tears when I saw that the dog hadn’t actually EATEN the sheep’s leg, but had tried to herd the sheep and a tied sheep won’t herd and a cattle dog without a job sometimes herds too hard.

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The evening saw us in the hayfield, dropping everything to go on that one day a year when the hay man says it’s here, and the injured sheep stayed home with his girl and my boys donned gloves and my big man does what he does best, he hefts and he pushes through life so he hefts and he pushes through the field of hay and I want to lay down but I drive slow instead and sometimes heft too and then, when my littlest baby is driving the truck and the music is playing and the sun is shining, tired tears come because sometimes a mama really does just want to lay down.

Because sometimes all life is, is hopping from one mishap to another…one mess to the next…one big job to one more big job…

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and it can be overwhelming.

And a mama gets tired.

But when a few more quiet tears come on the way home, hay loaded up and midnight approaching, they’re both sad and sweet and grateful because sometimes in the tired we can forget who we are and where our strength comes from.

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And while I follow in the second truck and the hay on the trailer in front of me rocks through the Alaska wilderness and the construction zones, I realize how far I am from where I want to be. From where I should be.

All the things…all the places…all the words…how have I gotten this far and left them all undone, unsaid?

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But as the midnight sun glares and my baby switches songs on the playlist like a big boy next to me, I remember that I’m close to the One who’s taking me there.

And that every breath is the opposite of mishap and an opportunity to do the things and go the places and say the words.

The mountains are purple on the flats and we take our hay home and my men unload and my girls put the crock pot away and we tuck in the sheep and we go to bed.

And I tell myself that tomorrow there will probably be more mishaps and messes. But that I need to listen. I need to remember the wide open sky and the freshness of hay and the muscles that move.

I need to listen to it all.

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So I’ll remember. I’ll remember that tears come when I’m listening and when I’m listening, I am strong.

I’ll remember that my job is to grow into who He made me to be and while I’m doing that, to love.

To share.

To remember where I get my strength.

And to use that strength to manage the mishaps and weather the worries and surrender the sorrows so that I’ll keep standing.

I’ll keep standing and I’ll keep lifting and I’ll keep pushing and I’ll keep hefting…

All the way up to my final lay down.

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Great is Your faithfulness oh God
You wrestle with the sinner’s heart
You lead us by still waters and to mercy
And nothing can keep us apart

Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough for me

~Your Grace is Enough, Chris Tomlin

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13

 

 

 

 

Hug a Teacher Today

When I was my Ella’s age, my mother began her trek as a single mom. She worked hard, my grandparents worked hard, we all worked hard…and with the money from our family’s town-wide paper route, and the efforts from all of what extra time she had, she studied herself as far as she could go through community college classes.

When I was my Gracie’s age, my mom made the hard decision to uproot her little family to a town two hours away from our home where I started a new high school, my brother started Junior High, and she started life as a college student with two kids. Over the next four years, we lived in cinderblock campus housing and she studied and she studied.

When I was my Colton’s age, my grandparents and my brother and I all put on our Sunday best and we went to the big stadium where we watched my mama walk across the stage in her graduation gown and her yellow honors neck cord and we clapped and we clapped and we spray painted her name on the big rock we’d driven by every day while reading hundreds of names painted on it for the past four years.

Since she was a little girl, all she ever wanted to be was a teacher.

And today, twenty-six years since she was officially certified as a teacher, my mama and her best friend, a fellow teacher, walked out of the classroom for the last time.

She has taught me to be resourceful.

She has taught me to be independent and strong.

She has taught me to work diligently when something needs to be done for the betterment of others.

She has seen so much change in the public school system and the past five years have been hard on her. When a teacher isn’t allowed to teach, there is something in their spirit that is stifled. When a teacher is only allowed to teach-to-the-test…when their every minute is regimented…when the bureaucracy goes against their natural teaching instinct, it is a burdensome load to carry.

But her greatest joy every single year has been to teach a room full of missing-their-front-teeth children to pick up a book and READ it.

For a child to delight in books is one of her greatest delights in all the world.

And from the best I can gather, twenty-six years of an average class of twenty-five students means that she has had a direct impact on 650 lives. When you add in me…my brother…our spouses…our kids…our friends…their kids…

her influence adds up to many, many more.

Teachers touch lives.

My mama was a good one.

And while she’s done in the classroom, there is no doubt in my mind she will continue to teach for all her days.

 Hug a teacher today. They devote their life to the lives of others.

 

So thankful for you mama.

 

Your hard work has changed the world.

 

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Her children rise up and call her blessed….Proverbs 31:28

It’ll Be Okay

There was something wrong with my Wishy.

Lord, No. Please.

It’s too soon after Beau.

I wiped the inside of her hind legs off with a warm wet cloth and tried to figure out what could be causing her diarrhea.

I’m irritated with myself and wondering how it was that her symptoms slipped by my eagle eye that’s become even more watchful this spring.

She’s my low-maintenance mini. Beau was our big boy and Charlotte is our keyed-up mare, but Wishes…Wishes is a go-with-the-flow horse if ever there was one. Her previous owner compared her to Eeyore, and the personality suits her perfectly. She goes along and gets along and she’ll get a little pout to her every now and then, but nothing that a few soft words and two soft hands can’t soothe.

I love that horse.

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And now, as I put her back in the pen with Char, my brain goes into high gear thinking on how I’m going to get my kids to the good-bye party for friends that we all realllly really want to go to, yet be here too in order to assess Wishes a little better while trying to get the vet out. My hands tremble while latching the gate and in my mind I’m standing in the barn at 4 a.m., exhausted after days on my feet in hopeful vigil while watching a brave and noble pony’s lips clamp tight in pain and dehydration just hours before his body lies down one last time.

I can’t stand up under it if something happens to her, Lord. Not now.

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A sweet friend shuttles my kids, and my man-boy and I watch Wishy in the pen, and before I say anything about what I think, he tells me “I think she’s having a hard time holding her back end up. She’s swaying in the hind.”

Which is a sign of neurological damage from the common weed called mare’s tail that grows prevelantly in our area. I’ve not seen it in our yard, but I remember a week or so ago when we found her grazing behind a new shed we put up last year. My boy and I wander back to take a look and sure enough, the area is packed full of brand new shoots of the toxic horsetail.

My heart falls and I get my horse friend on text and she’s Googling and I’m researching and watching Wishy at the same time, and there right in front of my eyes she tries to pee and can only pee down her legs.

I can’t stop scared tears from coming and I’m trying to keep a grip on my fear and my big boy, he tells me it’ll be okay Mama.

I breathe deep and amp up my calls and texts to the vet and track down another one that’s a friend-of-a-friend and we all suspect plant toxicity and if that doesn’t take her, it’ll throw her into colic and if she pulls out of the toxicity, she might not pull out of the colic and that’s what took Beau and there she goes swaying her hind again and then settling into a new place that she’s never lain before in the shady part of the pen not the sunny, and that’s a bad sign too so I text the vet.

Again.

He tells me just what shot to give her to relieve pain and help her pee and says he can come see her some time the next day.

So we order pizza and eat out at the barn and I watch her and as I watch her close…so closely…I remember something small.

Small like her.

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The day we rolled our little horse trailer onto the barnyard and walked the new pony Beau over to the horse pen, both minis went into a wild fit of star struck crazy horse love. They fussed and fought and bucked and ran around him so much it was like watching a bunch of barfly groupies at a Tim McGraw concert.

Both of them were thrown into heat that day and for about a week, every time we’d go out to do chores, we were stepping into a world of premenstrual high school girls. Hair flinging and head tossing and eye rolling and snap talking had become the norm on the barnyard.

Our boy horse, though castrated, (gelded in horse terminology) had thrown both our mares into heat.

But once things leveled out on our barnyard, -in the hormones and in the herd- I never saw either of our mares behave that way again. The three of them made a happy herd, and if any one of the three got grumpy, it was usually Beau, tired of their constant snuggling up to him, them preferring to stand in the warmth of his flanks over the barn almost every time. Marish behavior had gone by the wayside after that first few days of getting over their boy-horse crush and a calm, serene trio prevailed.

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And now, here they were, just over a month without him, and right around the time when mares in our area go into season.

But why wasn’t Wishes drinking much water? Why was her hind end swaying like her back legs weren’t working? It couldn’t be that my wee little mare was just in heat. These symptoms were so different from anything I’ve ever seen before. She’s so level-headed and submissive and quiet, this couldn’t all be just a normal hormonal thing.

I lunged her in circles in the driveway to make sure all her legs and her back were working. I put a bucket of water in front of her so I could monitor her intake. I tied her outside the pen so I could watch and see how much she peed and pooped.

I saw how she reacted to her half ration of feed and gave her a little more when she still acted hungry. I saw how she blinked her soft, wide-eyed blink at me, just like normal with no flaring of her nostrils or clamping of her lips.

She seemed just like my regular ol’ Wishes.

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I pondered the possibilities and I put her back in the pen for the night and my panic level came down after seeing her eat and drink and poop and kind of pee. I kept thinking over her symptoms and worried about them, but felt secure enough to let her overnight until I’d do an early morning check, so I tucked her in with a fresh trough of water, a few flakes of hay, and her pal Charlotte.

In the morning the vet texted that he’d be out later in the day and I posted my son as sentry and watcher of Wishy while I went to another appointment that I needed to keep. I raced home after the appointment, anxious at the fact that she’d not taken in much water all morning. At this point I was convinced that she had an Urinary Tract Infection, which was causing her to not be able to pee, which would cause her hind end to hurt and sway, and which could be deadly.

Doc came just as I was pulling Wishes out and getting her ready to see him and he took his stethoscope and his old sparkly blue veterinarian eyes and his knarled up country hands and he looked her over.

And then he looked at me and he said if I wanted him to, he could find a little miniature stallion to come on over and visit my little mare because it was pretty obvious to him that my little girl horse was just in heat.

Oh!

My deep-down was right!

I was paying attention.

I did know my little horse.

And my fears, -those doubts, that grief, that insecure feeling that I must’ve done everything wrong with Beau since he didn’t live- they had just manifested so much louder than my deep-down knowledge of my little mare.

My tears started to push against my eyes and pretty soon my shoulders were shaking because I lost a horse once and once was once too many times but now, today, I wasn’t going to lose this one.

I wasn’t going to have to say goodbye to the soft eyes of a creature that loves so loyally.

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Not today.

So I cried quietly.

All the grief that’s been working its way out…all the hoping that it would go differently…all the wishing that it could’ve been this easy with Beau too…I just let the tears fall while the sun shined and the minis munched their hay.

And my vet, the vet to all the farms and mushers and 4-H kids here in paradise, he looked at me and saw I was crying and he was quiet too and he just stood with me like a gentlemanly elderly man would while the woman next to him cries, and then he gave me a little pat on the shoulder and he said I know. It’s hard. 

And I know he knows every last thing I’m crying about and how it’s all tied up into farming and the future and the kids and the critters and our hearts and our life and how a soul crumples a little when she loses a beloved animal and how the loss puts something into that soul that makes it never quite be the same.

And then he tells me it’s okay.

It’ll be okay.

So we stood quiet for a few more seconds in the sunshine and looked at my fuzzy little mini in heat and I wiped my eyes on my sleeve and he honked into his hankerchief and then we walked past the barn and past the chickens and back toward his truck that was waiting to take him to the next call.

And as it is with a farm vet, he was soon sitting on the tailgate surrounded by kids and showing them his veterinarian bible, a current edition of the book he read every night in vet school. They oohed and aahed and coveted the thick copy and learned from him and from it the number of days in the estrus cycles of horses…and barn cats…guinea pigs…goats…alpacas…ferrets…and fox.

We learn from him and we glean from him and we send him on his way with a dozen pheasant eggs and his refusal to take a penny for his care and his call and his time.

It’s good that you called he tells me.

His blue eyes twinkle when he tells me we’ll just call this one an ‘information only’ call.

And it was information.

Good information.

The disruption in the herd, losing their gelding, this being the first heat cycle of the season…those things can cause a mare to have an out-of-whack cycle, one that involves hind-end swaying and pheromone peeing and out-of-the-ordinary behavior. That’s good information. That’s information I didn’t have before.

But knowing that I can trust my deep-down when it comes to my animals…that’s good information too. Being able to sense when something is just slightly off… Knowing that I had a gut instinct and action behind it is important for me right now as we still process the loss of one of our animals and fight to not second-guess all we did.

But the best information that came out of our farm call was information that I already knew: that while us folks that manage animals and farms tend to the critters we love, one of the most valuable resources we will ever have is the kindness, care, and compassion of a country vet.

He puts on his sunglasses and starts his truck and it rumbles to life, and while I wave him goodbye and watch him leave our driveway and turn toward his next call, a farm up the road, I’m thankful…so thankful.

Thankful my wee horse will be fine…

Thankful for the life and love and lessons of the one we lost…

Thankful for this farm and these kids and these critters…

And thankful that while I tend to them all, I have a good farm vet on my side.

~

To everything there is a season,  a time for every purpose under heaven…Ecclesiastes 3:1

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