Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Say What You Need to Say

Do you have an old birthday card you treasure, or a hand-written note tucked away somewhere that you read from time to time. Why? Because it reminds you that someone special wanted you specifically to know something important.

There are never enough opportunities, it seems, to convey our deepest feelings to each other. Our lives are busy, our attention is strained, and meaningful moments are hard to come by.      

With my son starting high school this year, I decided I didn’t want to dispense my thoughts out on special occasions only, or wait until time is too short to tell him about some of the important lessons I’ve learned along the way. After all, these things may perhaps spare him some pain or provide him some encouragement when he needs it most.  So here are a few pieces of advice that I have written out for him, and I hope they will encourage you as well:

1. There’s a fine line between contentment and complacency. Always be thankful for what you have, and always stay open to achieving more. Don’t pitch a tent at a pit stop. 

2. There’s a marked difference between letting go and giving up. Take the time to evaluate your life from time to time and drop what’s weighing you down. Giving up is a result of hopelessness, but letting go results in renewed courage.

3. There’s more to life than a fancy car and a fine house. “Home” trumps all, and you can make even the smallest and poorest of dwellings rich in love and laughter.

4. There’s really no telling what the future holds. Don’t project past discouragements on the days ahead. Take time to remember how far you’ve come when life gets you down, and purposely reflect on fond and funny memories.

5.  You have unique gifts and talents. Pursue them and don’t waste massive amounts of time, energy and money on things you aren’t good at.  Pray for guidance every day.

6. Keep it between the ditches and seek out people who will help and encourage you. Find them, appreciate them, and spend time with them as much as possible. If you find yourself in the ditch, these are the ones who will come to your aid.

7. Be kind to yourself. You are what you think.

8. Serve others even when it hurts. There’s no better way to stay joyful.

9. Always remember feelings are fickle. Don’t make stupid decisions or statements in the heat of the moment that you can’t take back for the rest of your life.

10. Don’t try to be perfect in the eyes of the world. The whims of culture change like a stormy weather pattern. Seek to be all that God created you to be instead.

I hope this post inspires you to sit down and say what you need to say to someone important in your life. Happy reflecting!

Originally published in my column, 'The Upside,' in the Ellijay Times-Courier.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Day Chica Found her Mojo

About a year ago, my family took on a rescue dog, named Chica. When we first brought her home, she was very timid, to our cat’s great delight. You see, Meow wasn’t pleased about her arrival, not pleased at all, and she exemplified her disdain with a well-placed claw to the ear upon introduction. 

Chica soaks up some lovin'.

Poor Chica’s ear bled and bled; she ran around our unfamiliar home shaking her head, splattering blood everywhere. Five minutes of this and our house looked like a crime scene. I finally cornered her, scooped her up and applied pressure to the wound. I pulled out the only band-aids I could find- neon purple- and fixed her up. It took days to heal, and she was a sad sight moping around with that purple bandage. Meanwhile the cat contentedly licked her paws from her cozy perch on the sofa whenever Chica was in sight.

Meow is a typical feline narcissist. She likes to spend her days sunning outdoors catching critters and dragging them to the porch as headless trophies. But she also likes spending her nights indoors, cozying up in my son’s room, enjoying the good life of cat food and soft blankets. She scoffs at any attempts to convince her to play, and turns her nose up at anything but name-brand cat food. As the saying goes, my dog things it’s human, but my cat thinks it’s God. 

Meow, enjoying the good life.

Chica cowed to the cat from that very first day forward. She tip-toed a wide circle around her whenever possible, and Meow enjoyed all of the fear and trembling. Sometimes she would lay by Chica’s food bowl just to be mean. This behavior continued for a year, until one day about two months ago.

That morning Chica was cleaning her brand new puppies, when Meow entered the scene. I was standing by the back door next to the cat when she looked at the box of tiny dogs cross-eyed. Something in Chica snapped that instant. She came charging towards us. The cat leapt from the floor all the way to the ceiling, just like you see in the cartoons. Then she clawed along the tops of the curtains hissing and spitting, but Chica just kept on barking and jumping after her.

It looked a little something like this. (

I was tripping over the dog trying to open the door for the cat as the hilarious scene was unfolding. Finally I managed to turn the knob and swing the door wide open, cat attached. Meow snarled and pounced outdoors, where she has remained ever since. She currently takes her cat food on the porch railing, and sleeps in the shed. She won’t step foot in the house, even though the puppies are gone.

They were so cute!!

Chica now lives to chase Meow. Each and every walk we take she relentlessly sniffs her out. Sometimes she locates her, and drives her off into the woods. Sometimes the cat outsmarts her and regally sits on top of the van in victory. Whatever the outcome, Chica found her mojo, and the pet dynamics have shifted in her favor.

Whenever I think about this story, I literally laugh out loud. I have honestly never in my life seen a cat jump that high! I hope this story brings a smile to your face this week and perhaps encourages you to  find your mojo, like Chica did, and stand up to those hindrances in life that need a good chasing.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Know your farmer, trust your food... and experience the BACON

If you have been keeping up with international news, you’ve probably been seeing a lot of headlines about other countries banning GMO (genetically modified) crops and rejecting such imports from the U.S.; meanwhile on American soil an increasingly loud cry from consumers continues to grow over farming and food labeling practices that seem bent on keeping us in the dark regarding the types of food we are purchasing and eating. 

In the wake of this increasingly controversial topic, I decided to visit Gilmer County’s oldest operational dairy at Mountain Valley Farm to check out their all-natural way of doing things. I had been hearing good things about this farm store for a while, so the hubby and I packed up the whole family and invited some friends along for a bonafide summer outing.
 After a nice drive down a country dirt road, we arrived. Bunnies hopped around in nearby grass, goats and cows and pigs and horses were relaxing under the shade of towering Weeping Cherry trees, and there was no charge to visit with the animals. The kids squealed and giggled, and we spent a good half hour just wandering around outside enjoying the sunny afternoon. I was mesmerized with the grounds to be sure.

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed hanging out on the grounds of Mountain Valley!

But after entering their farm store, I was equally mesmerized with their many products; the clean store was stocked with grass-fed, free range, no-hormones-added selections of beef and pork, fresh eggs, raw milk (for pet consumption), cheeses, and creamery butter. According to owner Suzy Wright, other farmers often stop by and sell fresh breads, vegetables and other deliciously local-grown foodstuffs. It’s a beautiful picture of farmers working together to help each other.

In fact, I ran into Sarah Burnett of Holden Creek Farms while there. (Holden Creek specializes in non-GMO pastured chickens), and it was a real pleasure chatting with her about the large selection of grass-fed meats offered at the Mountain Valley Farm Store. "And what about the bacon?" I asked. She just smiled widely and explained, "It will keep you coming back!" I decided to purchase two pounds, as well as some ground beef, to give it a try.

As the demand for non-GMO, grass- fed and free-range food skyrockets, I feel blessed that I only need to take a short drive for access. According to Suzy, nearly 80% of their customers drive between one and two hours just to visit, often from Atlanta and Chattanooga. And that means that these customers are passing by Ellijay's beautiful orchards and vineyards, the Cartecay River, cabin rental businesses, and our incredible mountain scenery. I can't help but wonder how much reverting to more traditional, natural techniques could help other farmers and craftsmen in the area and positively impact commerce for our county. The demand is there, and Mountain Valley has shown that folks are willing to travel.                
As I was discussing all of these things with Suzy, she agreed that her operation was only one type of success that this demand could create. “Our family operates seven farms to meet the demand. Our store has grown, and we are now open seven days a week from 10-6. But, I think a big part of the reason our customers recommend us and keep coming back is the fact that we educate them about how we raise all of our own animals freely and happily (it takes about twice as long to raise a grass-fed and finished cow than your average supermarket cow.) And we also take the time to educate customers about how to cook these special, healthier meats.”

The Farm Store!

Their sustainable methods, personal interaction with customers, and the joy of successful farming keeps Suzy smiling. She has the privilege of “raising happy animals on a small scale, working with a wonderful, indispensable support staff, and contributing to the advancement of agriculture in our area.” It’s worth noting that now all of Mountain Valley’s meats are USDA certified, so for all of you locals out there who have considered giving grass-fed meats a chance, now is your time.

And as a side note, I can attest that their bacon is in fact the best I’ve ever tasted. Ever. And Sarah was right, I will be returning soon to purchase more.

If you are interested in visiting Mountain Valley yourself, visit or call 706-889-0999 for directions and more information. Don’t forget the weekend farmer’s market in downtown Ellijay is also back up and running! Happy shopping and healthier eating!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mom on a Wire

If you buy into Hollywood’s version of modern motherhood, a woman should have beautiful children, an amazing job, and an immaculate home. She can bring home the bacon, cook it up, and never gain a pound. She takes her perfectly dressed kids on play dates, kisses her husband with a smile, and loves her domestic diva duties in her off-time, after yoga and the salon of course. And she's never dog-tired!

My reality is oh so different. I wish I brought home more bacon, usually burn it when I do, and scarf down the worst of the charred pieces after the rest of the family stampedes into the kitchen like a herd of wild beefalo. My house is not immaculate. The laundry is never caught up. My kids don’t always mind their manners, and sometimes I hide from them in the bathroom while gorging myself on my secret stash of Hershey’s kisses. 

In short, I do not measure up to the standards espoused by American culture, and I’m okay with that. I used to feel like a mom on a wire, walking a tightrope with no safety net below. I was often miserable. But accepting my perfectly imperfect life was a game-changer, and a battle worth fighting.

It’s no wonder that now more than ever, moms are stressed, depressed, burnt out and angry. Every magazine cover, every billboard, every commercial, and every television show seems to tell women they can be, and need to be, perfect. And after decades of exposure to these messages, moms find out that attaining this utopia is harder than the media culture has let on, especially considering the enormous amount of personal sacrifice good parenting requires.

For me, finding balance and rewriting my own set of expectations has made all of the difference. I try my best to be a good wife to my husband, keep the house tidy, feed the family nutritious meals, work towards my personal goals and be the best mom I can be. I know that the components of that last sentence explain why women like myself find themselves exhausted. I pray often for help, and I've learned to laugh at myself and focus on joyful moments.

I’ve also learned to accept that motherhood is messy, and that things won't always go the way I hope. I’ve learned that It’s crucially important to allow yourself the grace to be at peace when you have done your best, even if your best falls short of perfection. So to all of you moms out there, I pray you learn to give yourself a break, and take the time to prioritize the truly important things in life.

Because in between stressing about mismatched socks and crumbs in the cushions, children are growing up watching how we handle it all. They are being imprinted with our values, good and bad. Are we teaching them to strive towards perfection in the eyes of society? Or are we giving them the grace to develop their unique personalities and talents by allowing them to learn from their failures without being devastated by the fact they didn’t measure up? They will follow our lead.

I’ve been blessed to have a wonderful mother to encourage me when I have fallen short. I have learned many lessons from her, and wouldn’t be where I am today without her unconditional love and support. She has taught me that life’s foibles and failures can lead to amazing changes for the better. She has taught me that special moments spent with family far outweigh a sink full of dirty dishes. She has taught me what it means to never give up on your children.

Today, I hope all of you mothers out there reading this will take a deep breath, and begin to enjoy motherhood in all of its glorious messiness. It's a wild ride, after all, and some days we should celebrate simply keeping it between the ditches. Gorging on Hershey's Kisses is an excellent start. Enjoy!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Snorts and Giggles and the Price of Mommy Time

Last year, I recall writing about this week; this lovely, lovely week where the kids enjoy spring break from school. And once again, in the midst of many friends traveling and vacationing with their families, this week has proven to be memorable for me in a completely different way. Because this is the week that the grandparents want to keep the children. All 3 of the children. At the same time. But first I would have to survive the weekend, and what a weekend it was.

It all began on a Friday, the last day of school. I had attended my youngest daughter's Pre-K Easter egg hunt, and while I was entertained watching the little tikes search for eggs and fill their baskets, I was more amused at the sight of the extremely tall person dressed in an Easter bunny costume that the school had brought onto the playground as a surprise during the middle of the hunt. The gesture was truly sweet, but it resulted in a weird combination of fear and awe from the tiny 4 and 5-year-olds, all of whom either froze or ran the other direction upon spotting it.

The look says it all.

After (finally) convincing Miley to take a picture with it, she and I (and her basket of candy) soon ventured to pick up her 7-year-old sister, Madelyn, and her basket of sweets.

Then it was home for an evening of beginning to pack the kids' clothes (it's never too early), candy, dinner, candy, laundry, candy; searching for matching socks, candy, meltdowns due to sugar crashes, and finally collecting and trashing as much candy as possible after everyone pretty much passed out from the exhaustion of a very busy week.

Saturday was much better, as it was nice enough for everyone to play outdoors while I finalized the shopping list that wasn't going to take care of itself before Easter (the very next day). I did hear a lot of, "Hey, where are my Nerds?" and, "What? I had 19 Hershey's Kisses and now I have 4!", but I just shrugged it off and reminded them they would be getting another Easter basket in the morning. When that didn't satisfy them, I blamed the pesky leprechaun. I know it's awful, but they absolutely go bonkers at the thought of a leprechaun causing mischief. So this seemed like a good time to bring him up, and sure enough, they were all snorts and giggles afterward. Cameron (who's 13) gave me a thumbs-up for a job well done. I love that kid -- he totally gets me.

I waxed nostalgic during the 15 minute drive to the grocery store, remembering my childhood Easters. They were always wonderful, and some were more memorable than others, like the one when my brother threw a large pointed stick at me as I was swinging from a vine 30 feet over a valley (true story). He had good aim, I bled from the head, and I got my Easter basket early. Candy is the best revenge, I learned, especially when eaten slowly and in plain view. Then there was the Easter where I had fractured my elbow after being thrown from a horse that I had been riding bareback. My mom decorated my cast with ribbons Easter morning. She's the best. 

But I digress. At the store, I got all of the Easter basket goodies 50% off (see, my waiting until the last minute was totally on purpose), and was able to squeak out an extra few bucks to spend on a new dress for myself. And so I did, returning home with a bounce in my step. That night I gathered everyone's outfits together for the next morning. Since I am a part of our church's praise and worship team and arrive there hours before the service begins to rehearse, the burden of dressing and readying the kids falls on Kerry. That's the equivalent of a double negative because with my three redheads, getting them ready to leave the house can be a seriously challenging sequence of events, and under that kind of pressure, Kerry's design aesthetic goes straight to street urchin a la Charles Dickens. Considering it was Easter weekend, I mustered up the energy and had everything ready to go.

Before falling into bed, I practiced my songs and preset the coffee maker for the crack of dawn. Fast forward to glorious Easter morning. I woke, got dressed and was about to walk out the door when I realized I had forgotten to set out everyone's shoes for church. This shouldn't be a problem, right? Except it's always a problem, because Miley notoriously separates pairs of shoes, hiding one far, far away from its mate for no reason other than, well, for no reason. There simply wasn't time, though, for me to remedy the situation. Kerry would make do. I just hoped the girls didn't arrive in their beautiful Easter dresses and snow boots. But it wouldn't be the first time, and worse things have happened.

Daddy's version of fashion. He's the best, obviously.

The kids arrived with the correct shoes on to my great delight, and church was amazing. After the service we came home, changed and prepared to go to my mother's Easter dinner, which would be the last event prior to meeting up with my in-laws to officially surrender the kids. Before leaving for that celebration, I carefully loaded the van with the kids' bags, and each bucket of candy they had received so far. Grandparents are better suited for sugar-crazed maniacs, after all. "Maga and Paw-Paw," i.e. my wonderful inlaws, i.e. the Queen and King of a land where children need only point to what they want to receive it, surely wouldn't mind.

Once at my mom and dad's house, I loved watching all of my nieces and nephews investigate yet another basket of goodies (yep, that makes 3 separate baskets for each of mine). My brothers, parents, aunts, uncles and friends all had a swell time eating our traditional dinner of ham and green beans and deviled eggs; and cake and cookies and crescent rolls and fruit (except I managed to forget to bring the fruit plate, how, I can't imagine).

Aren't these just adorable?

When the time came to leave my mom's dinner and drive an hour and a half to meet my in-laws and drop off the kids, I felt pretty ragged. I could barely stay awake on the ride there, but the thought of  three blissfully peaceful kid-free days kept me going. We were so close now.

We finally arrived and transferred aforementioned children, car seats, bags, toys, blanket, and six glorious baskets full of candy as the sun was beginning to set. When I heard the click of the final seat-belt in Paw-Paw's vehicle, my mind immediately shifted gears, although I felt none less settled. The house was a disaster. Clothes were strewn in every direction and candy wrappers littered the entire place. The refrigerator was ransacked.

Would I spend my free time cleaning? Sleeping? Drooling while staring out the window? Time would only tell, but at least the time would be mine for the choosing. Late that night after we pulled into the driveway of our home sweet home, we dragged ourselves indoors, slumped on the couch, and toasted to our new-found freedom with Capri-Suns. This was gonna be good. Epic even. It's just too bad there's not a cleaning leprechaun. Cue snorts and giggles.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Are We There Yet?

                I was scrambling to finish packing on Saturday morning while my husband was having new tires put on our minivan. Our mission was to use the kids’ week-long winter break to visit our family in Florida. It is an 11 hour drive with three children who don’t do so well in close quarters with each other. Is there an upside to this equation?
                We hadn't even made it ten minutes down the road when we heard the first, “Are we there yet?” I thought Miley was joking, but by the time we hit Atlanta, she had asked 11 more times. She was 4 years old when we left Georgia, and was extremely excited that she would be turning 5 in Florida. My husband (Kerry) told her we would be stopping at a hotel when the sun went down, and that would mean we were halfway there. I was pretty darn impressed that he had quenched her questioning, until five minutes later we heard, “How many more minutes until the sun goes down? This trip is taking like 100 days! I think I see the sun moving down. Do you see it? My eyes are really special. They can see far away. They are magical eyes. How many minutes, mom? Are we there yet?”
                We stopped in Valdosta as the sun was setting. The hotel we had reserved contained an indoor heated pool, and the kids were wild with anticipation over going for a swim. My husband and I “parented up” and jumped in with them. We wanted the kids to have as much fun and make as many memories as possible on a trip that we weren’t able to take often enough.  The next morning we woke refreshed and enjoyed our teenaged son Cameron’s favorite part of staying in a hotel, “the glorious hot breakfast where you get to make your own Belgian waffles.” They were delicious, if I do say so myself. 
                Soon afterward, we loaded up and began the second leg of the trip. And it wasn’t long before the squabbling began. “Mom, she isn’t sharing the crayons,” Madelyn whined. “Well, she won’t stop staring at my snack!” Miley countered, followed by “And she doesn’t believe that I have magical eyes!” And of course there were the many, many cries of: “Mom, I have to go to the bathroom!” Kerry said they each had a bladder “the size of an acorn, or maybe the size of an octogenarian,” and I laughed heartily in agreement. 

Is it a bunny? An angel? We passed a lot of time playing the cloud game.

                 We made pit stops at gas stations at least every hour and a half, and each time, the girls became better at bargaining. They would run up to us with a “king-sized” candy bar, and when we shook our heads “no,” they would take it back and return with the “regular-sized” option. When we told them “no” again, they would return with a lowly lollipop. I realized this technique was very effective when I was cleaning out their seating area and retrieved a handful of sucker sticks.
                When we finally rolled onto my father-in-law’s street, cheers erupted from the kids, and Kerry and I gave a sigh of relief.  After hours and hours of traveling, we had made it at last. Already we had some unforgettable memories, and the week had only just begun. With Miley’s birthday coming up, and relatives to visit, I knew we had only just scratched the surface of the adventures in store.

                Lord knows I was focused on the blessings of it all, and enjoying all of the funny moments in-between. I hope this post inspires you to treasure even the little details life brings your way. Beauty is out there, sometimes you just have to hunt it down. Happy trails!