Winter-Polcolypse?

I surely do not know what else to call it. It has been one heck of a week and we are not even finished seeing the results of it yet.

If you did not know, Texas and much of the central and United States have just been majorly smacked around by Old Man Winter. In a BIG way. Lives of all kinds have been lost. There is much to be said on this whole situation from many different places and perspectives, but for now, I have my experience to share. Having animals, and any kind of livestock in particular, is a lot of work in normal circumstances. It is much more work in times like these.

I do not know how people up north handle it! Other than the fact that they are just more prepared for it and are used to it. This last week has felt like a whole three month long season and yet, at the same time, I am dazed at how it was only a week and somehow became the last week of February with the sun shining and temperatures rising to the 70s? What is that? Where did the month go? It is still going to take me some time to decompress from all of this. And to thaw out. I swear I am still cold. At 70 degrees.

I do not even think I really knew winter storms had names. To me, storms with names are tropical! Hurricanes! However, winter storms do have names and we got hit by not only one, but I think we got hit by two named winter storms in one week. Winter storms Uri and Viola. It is not that we have not had winter ‘storms’ or even snow before. We have! It snowed actually in 2017 not long after Hurricane Harvey. In 2018 we had many freezes in one week where I was farm bound. That was the first time I really heard the term Polar Vortex. It just was not as cold. Or windy. Maybe this is what we are getting after having such an active tropical season. I have already heard that this year’s tropical season is going to be the same, so maybe we need to prepare for next winter! Just a thought, you know. However, we need to get through this one first and I am not so sure it is finished.

There is a saying that goes something like this, “if it thunders in February, it will freeze in April.” It thundered the Thursday and Friday before this! I have also heard something like, “if it thunders in December, it will be a very cold winter.” I am sure we had thunder in December! Prepare now. You heard it here first.

Anyhow, enough of that. I am no meteorologist. Let us get on with it.

I suppose the beginning is as good of a place as any to start, as with any story. Day by day? Yikes, they all started to run together very early on.

Get yourself a whole pot of coffee or tea.

This long winter’s tale begins a couple of weeks ago when the forecast for last week continued to not change. Almost as if it was set in stone. So set in stone that it was even worse than they anticipated.

At the beginning I thought to myself (and then later on, not so much to just myself!), “Eek. Surely that can not be right. There is no way. Lows well below 20? Snow? Freezing rain? Surely not.” Then it got worse as forecasts began to predict a low of 5 degrees F on Monday night and Tuesday morning and persisting winds and deadly wind chill and freezing rain before and after that. And, and, and!

I very quickly prepared to head to the farm the afternoon of the 11th, that would be last Thursday, after preparing my home in Houston. Luckily for me, taking care of my townhouse is not all that much involved. I set my central heating, closed the blinds, opened by sink cabinets, turned off the water supply to the house, drained the lines, and insulated the external exposures. Then I said a prayer for the best (I will go ahead and tell you that my house is just fine! I feel very blessed).

I got to the farm before dark and made my plans and lists to go to town Friday morning to stock up on feed for the animals and groceries for myself. I knew it was very likely that I would not be able to leave much at all during this and I wanted to be prepared for that no matter what happened.

Friday afternoon through Sunday morning were spent with Pops preparing. (Please also make note that it is cold and windy this whole time by our standards already..it only gets worse!). Making sure all external water line exposures on the property (to the houses, water troughs, and various water line risers) were as covered and insulated as possible. Virtually every towel, blanket, piece of cardboard, and big tub bucket (and anything else we could find) was utilized. Making sure the access holes on the old pier and beam farm house were not only covered, but would not get blown open. Putting round bales out for the cows. Draining hoses and putting them inside. Setting up heaters in the well houses. Getting the barn mucked out and clean, stocked with water and hay, and setting out every single horse blanket I have. Literally! Filling up the bathtubs and every horse bucket left and any other receptacle to know we would have enough water for not only us, but for all the animals as well.

Sunday morning I stepped out confidently to continue on in our efforts after feeding the horses, but our porch was already covered in a layer of ice. Ice that I did not see or notice. That is until I slipped on it one or two steps in and almost fell and broke my face! Luckily I somehow kept from falling, but my back was already screaming before I even got back inside. Poor Merle, who somehow escaped all calamities going out of the house that morning, had a similar experience to mine and almost completely blew out on his way back to the door! When he regained his balance he looked back and forth from me to the ice, dumbfounded, expressing great confusion all over his sweet face. He then smartly watched me carefully side step on a protected edge that was ice free and proceeded to trace my steps to get inside safely. Each morning he was a little less exuberant to head out until he evaluated the footing!

By Sunday late afternoon/early evening we had done as much as we could to prepare. Except for emptying the manure spreader. The freezing rain came sooner that afternoon than expected. I was going to do that at the last minute after I mucked again. Oops. Spoiler alert, I will not let that happen again. That would be a problem. It was full. I naively thought it would not be a problem and that I could do it the next day.

Before dinner, I went out to the barn (the horses had already spent most all of the weekend up in the barn by this point because the weather had already been so poor) and brushed the horses down, got their blankets on (2 each! They all had on some combination of a turnout sheet, light to med weight turnout blanket, and a fleece or cooler liner), fed them their dinner with added probiotics and electrolytes (I kept these going for days), and put out extra hay in the slow feeder nets.

They all knew the atmosphere was amiss. Merle did not seem to care all that much besides being clingy, but Lito very much cared. Here we were on night one and he would barely eat his dinner. We were in for a long, long week.

By this point all the trees were covered in a veil ice and being shoved angrily about by the wind.

You know what I do not like? The sound of ice in the trees. Ice screeching and scratching and breaking. Lito said he did not like it either.

I also do not like the howling wind from inside the house for that matter.

I was short one horse blanket to double up on Ike so he got to wear the big cooler under his medium turnout blanket. Not what it was designed for, but it worked in a pinch for the night times. Petunia comes ready made with a heavy coat and a tough as nails constitution. I have no idea how she makes it through summer. I trace clipped her last summer because I felt bad for her.

After dinner, I topped off the barn buckets, drained the hose, put the hose away in the heated well house, and mucked out the stalls again. We then turned off the water for the duration, drained the lines, and said our prayers.

I left all the horses except Lito in their stalls Sunday night as that was to be the ‘wettest’ (and most icy and snowiest) night and I wanted to make sure Ike was kept warm and dry. He is the lowest ranked in the herd and I did not want him kicked out of the barn. I left Lito’s stall open so he could wander as he was very bothered by it all and I figured it was likely I would find him not where I left him come morning. That may or may not have happened once or twice in the past. I also left the bottom chain on the other three stalls open so Petunia could get in wherever she wanted to to stay warm.

After my final barn check I was able to catch our cat, Luke Boots, and bring him in for the night. I set him up in Merle’s crate with a towel, food, and water. Boy, he was thirsty! It had been so cold and windy, I do not think he had ventured out of the garage at all, not even for water! I brought him almost every night.

I enjoyed a couple glasses of rose champagne for Valentine’s Day that I picked up for myself on Friday (I also picked up chocolates, because again, why not!) and watched a little bit of television. At some point I made myself go to bed knowing how tired I was and was going to be even if I did not feel ready to sleep.

Going to bed was quite futile. My mind almost felt like the air outside. It was blowing like crazy and it was so loud in the house. I was just plain worried about the horses. And the cows. And the cayotes were very vocal and as close as I have ever heard them. Everything! And it was only the beginning. I could not get comfortable thanks to my back and I kept getting up to look out the window to see how the horses looked.

By the time 5 AM rolled around I was ready to get suited up and start feeding and hauling water out to the barn.

Lito (black blanket) spent almost the whole night right there in front of Chance’s stall and Petunia spent pretty much the whole night in Lito’s stall next to Cheetah. I have never been more grateful for this barn (and the lights) in the whole time that we have had it. Of course to be able to see them from the house, but the wind was just going absolutely crazy. I have never felt anything like those temperatures. Goodness, and that wind chill. The barn was the next best place to the house to be. It really makes you realize how important a shelter of any kind is and really makes you look at your house differently.

I will say, it is pretty. That is the upside to the hard and harsh. The yield is very pretty. As are the sunrises. I do not need anymore snow pictures now! We are good for a WHILE. Spring is welcome!

It is hard to tell how much snow we actually got because of how windy it was all night. It was very blown and on a bed of ice. I do not think we got as much ice as they thought we were going to get, but ice is ice in my book. In places it almost seemed bare of snow and in other places it was five or six inches deep. It was not light and fluffy.

They all seemed to drink well in the night before breaking the ice themselves was no longer possible, but they were also grateful for and drank up the water I brought from the house. They all also seemed pretty dang comfortable. Nobody was shivering and their spirits seemed bright and light. I know they were grateful for the barn too. This really was a weight off my shoulders and allowed me to be able to see and appreciate the beauty. I mucked out the barn (and filled the last bit of space in the manure spreader…which there really was not any space. It just spilled over the side.) and broke ice as the horses ate. Lito was more relaxed come sunrise and even ate his breakfast well before the sun was even up. I am very happy that he ate well the rest of the week. I was very worried when Sunday evening he did not finish his feed.

Merle was the most excited about it all and had a big time. Light on his paws, shall we say! I make no apologies for the amount of pictures. I was feeding off of his joy.

Once they were finished eating, I went ahead and let them all out of their stalls to move around since the wind had quieted down finally and the sun was coming out.

You can take some time now to laugh at and be prepared to laugh even more at my pipe coverings. I have already shown you some, but there are more to come. PVC does not handle extremes very well, so I wanted them as covered as possible even if they were drained. You can spot blankets, feed bags, cardboard, and A LOT of duct tape. You have to do what you have to do. Underneath all of that is even more. Towels. Actual pipe coverings. Even more duct tape! Some hay twine because nothing is complete without hay twine. Most of my work lasted, some did not, but I do think it all helped.

Yes, he is playing with frozen poop. It is apparently better than regular poop?

Look! Not only the sun, but blue skies!

After the horses and the barn were squared away for the time being, I went and started my car (I am still surprised I could get it open with all the ice) and fixed myself a cup of coffee to-go so Merle and I could go count and feed the cows and break ice on their troughs.

This time as we were leaving the house there was a stunned bird sitting on the iced over porch. Just sitting, motionless. Merle went straight to him and the bird tried to fly away, but he did not have the strength. I quickly called Merle off so he would not use the poor little guy as a play thing and picked him up in my gloved hands. After some deliberation with the little bird stock still, but alert in my hands, I tucked him into a protected cubby in the garage for him to recover. I said a little prayer and hoped Luke Boots would not find him. While I am pleased to report I am pretty sure this bird survived as I saw what looked like the same bird flying around the garage, I saw many many dead birds over the next couple of days. I have never seen anything like it. Merle was quite pleased with himself as he retrieved one such carcass to me. I praised him for his effort all the while being sad for the reason. However, I could still hear birds singing. Another blessing.

The cows were very happy to see me and seemed to be doing ok. They emerged out of their protected pasture next to the river without encouragement, covered in snow and ice, happy to have a bag of cubes. All the cows, calves, including a calf from next door, and our very old longhorn steer were accounted for! I was very worried about old Chacho. Those longhorns are tough. He is teaching these young girls to be tough.

We have the smallest herd we have had in years, and this is one of those times I am grateful for it. Each morning I drove out there to feed, count, and break ice. The calves on the ground are old enough to not be overly vulnerable even in these extreme conditions. My heart really goes out to all farmers and ranchers with much bigger operations than ours with many more animals to care for. Many do not have the same news to report as me.

I stopped back in at the barn on the way back to check waters and scoop more poop. As you can likely guess, the spreader is more than overflowing at this point. My goal was to just scoop every time I was out to try and stay on top of it. To keep the barn habitable to keep the horses as comfortable in the barn as possible to stay warm and dry. Even though the sun was out and they did step out some when the sun was out, they spent the majority of the week in the barn. It was just that cold and windy. Their gate was open for them to go out in their pasture when I did not have to change blankets.

I kept looking up at the sun in amazement every time it came out. Yes, that tree is covered in ice if you look close enough. I was just so glad that the sun was finally out, even if it was only for a little bit of time. Monday did not get even close to above freezing and we were due to have even lower lows and more freezing rain.

In between putting layers on (yikes! so so many layers), feeding, scooping poop, toting water from the house to the barn, scooping poop, breaking ice, scooping even more poop, and stripping off all the layers, we warmed up inside and got what rest we could. We reached out to our people to make sure everyone was doing ok. Logged on and did some work work. I tried at one point to spread and empty the manure spreader. Ha. That was more futile than sleeping! It was completely frozen! Wheels did not turn. That could really be a problem, but at that point, I just shrugged and said oh well. What can you do?! It is not broken like that one time. I just piled it around and when everything thaws I will either pick it all up or spread it around? At least frozen poop is easier to scoop and it does not really smell.

This is basically how the whole week went. Rinse and repeat! I carried water out to the barn, two buckets or one boiling pot at a time, two or three times a day, with multiple trips each time. Horses drink a lot of water. I would have had to do it more if I did not have the water trough and was keeping them locked in their stalls. Adding boiling water helps to keep the buckets from freezing so quickly and some horses do not drink cold water very well. It also helps to get rid of some if not all of the ice already there. In this particular case, it was only some of the ice. Luckily, our horses are mostly very good drinkers of cold water. My arms got very sore. I am still feeling a little bit of that today. They started to feel like noodles. My back stopped screaming at some point, but it was still nagging. I just shrugged it off.

Some of my people were not ok. Most of them had no power or water. There was nothing I could do to help but offer support, motivation, and prayers. But they kept on. One step at a time. One friend had to haul her colicing horse to the vet in the ice and everything else that was falling from the sky. The vet did not have power or running water at the clinic, but they were able to treat her and get the mare back home safely. I had another friend who’s horse tied up during the worst of the storms with no way to get him to the vet or to get a vet there. She just kept injecting him with banamine and ace to try to help him relax and get comfortable. At one point she just sat in the snow and cried. She had her moment and felt her feelings, but do you know what she did then? She stood up, dusted the snow off of her bum, and marched on to do the next thing. There is always something. You just have to do one thing at a time.

My grandparents did not have power or water. I am so very grateful that they were not alone and were able to keep warm. I am thankful for wood burning fireplaces and space heaters. For gas grills if there is not a gas stove. For their spirits of seeing the blessings and just being plain tough. Not one complaining word came out of their mouths. “What can you do,” they said with a chuckle, “it can be worse, many have it worse.” Apparently it takes a child of the depression to see past the bad. To not complain.

The horses did have some fun for those small times they ventured out. We even got some melting in such low temperatures. The power of the sun. Never underestimate it! I was grateful for it even though I knew that would just mean more ice.

I had to break ice several times a day to keep them drinking. I have never seen water freeze back so quickly.

I upped the ante Monday night after it was all said and done. A margarita. I cheered myself and I cheered everyone else that was out there doing what I was doing. To those doing it times 10. I cheered my friends who were out there struggling, but keeping at it.

My work to keep drinkable water in the barn as long as possible was likely for not, but it was worth a shot. It is always worth the shot.

Tuesday dawned our coldest morning. With blessed stillness in the air.

Cold sunrises are always the prettiest. Just another blessing to see and feel. My animals were surviving. We had shelter to be in. Water to drink. Food to eat. Ways to make heat. And. Eyes to see these sunrises.

That is ice covering the pond. I have never seen that. There were ducks standing on it before I took this picture!

The livestock were not the only ones that needed water.

It is just so pretty and that sun was getting to work quick.

Ike was enjoying being spoiled in a stall and being comfortable to laydown and take a nap after feedings. He also was not drinking as well as everyone else and seemed the most eager when I was carrying water out. I allowed him to have the first drinks.

Merle and I took a walk down to the pond when the horses ventured out into the pasture Tuesday. The sun was really warming things up even at 30 degrees F. I was even able to get the ice blocks out of the stall buckets after I put them out into the sun.

There were more blocks of ice in another bucket. I wanted to save the ice for when it melted in case we could not get the water flowing again.

They were all over it! Their faces said it all. Even Merle was getting there. I think his paws were getting tender on the ice.

Wednesday the sun went back into hiding, but the temperature rose above freezing for a little while, even as the wind picked back up, so we took the opportunity to say a prayer and turn the water on to shower, clean, and fill all the tubs and buckets again. Thankfully, this went off without a hitch and we were able to do everything we needed to do. We turned the water off again and drained the lines after dinner for the second storm. I am so happy that we were able to get more water in the paddock water trough. All my goldfish were surviving some how and if I could not have gotten water in that trough, they would have frozen for sure. We also got more hay out for the cows.

Getting clean does a person wonders. It felt so good to get completely good and clean, after days. Showering every day is a luxury! I even put earrings and lipstick on after because, well, why the heck not?! Bet you do not have reason to tell me not to. It got me thinking how excited I am to give these horses a full bath.

Many of my friends discovered broken pips in their homes and barns on this day when the ice started to thaw and water started to flow, or rather spew and spray, everywhere. Sister K had a river of water falling down her ceiling and walls and through her house. Another friend had at least six broken pipes in her home. Grandmother A had her ceilings literally caving in and falling down around her mattress in the den by the fireplace. But not on her mattress! All of this with no plumbing supplies to be found for many as they had all already been purchased. All plumbers already booked up for months and frantically trying to fix everything that was broken with anything they can find. My friend who’s horse tied up? Now that he was doing better, she went to fixing her pipes with radiator hoses and clamps.

This second storm was not as bad as as the first in theory. The lows Thursday and Friday night were in the low twenties (as opposed to the once forecasted teens) I think and still windy, but it was all compounded on top of the previous days. The animals continued to do well and these final days had a beauty all their own.

By Saturday, the sun was out and the temperatures were rising quickly into the forties. We were once again able to get the water turned on and flowing. We had a couple of broken external pipes, but nothing that can not be fixed in time. All of the horses and cows took extended long sun bathing naps. At one point I was worried that they were sick after all of that because they were down for so long! Thankfully, they all eventually got up and back to grazing.

Many farmers and ranchers did not make it out as well as we did. Some could not get to their animals because of the ice on the roads. Some had no way to get water to them. Many had calves and foals dropping in the middle of the storm. Some of the babies could not be found. Could not be warmed up and revived. Many ranchers were out at all hours trying to get all the animals fed and ice broken for them to drink and count all their cows praying they were all accounted for all the while taking care of their kids from pasture to pasture. They were out there rescuing animals that had fallen into icy waters when they stepped out onto ice covered ponds. I can not even imagine how the crops are.

The wildlife also suffered. Birds dead everywhere. Stunned deer laying exposed in the middle of pastures. We placed a blanket over one praying it would make it. The fish in our coastal waters are being washed up on every shore. Stunned fish are helplessly floating, just trying to survive.

It is going to take time for our resources to recover. This is only the beginning.

Welp. This post turned as long as these two storms over this week! I am even more tired! I have more to share, but this is more than enough for now. Say your prayers for everyone down here. For the farmers and ranchers. For the wildlife. For all the linemen and plumbers. For our suppliers and truckers. Hug your people. Hug your animals. Be grateful for what you have. Many have much, much less.

Walk in love, dear readers.

It Is A New Year.

Yes, indeed, that is fact. It is a new year.

This morning I am sitting in a warm house with coffee and homemade pumpkin bread after feeding and mucking out the barn. A perfect time to talk with you, dear readers!

Say peace out to 2020! Say it all you like if that is what brings you joy. I won’t lie and say it does not bring me joy.

Peace out like Merle flying out of this water trough.

But, today is a day just like any other though, and many things in this earthly world we live in do not exist within our human schedules and boundaries. A new year in itself, this new year or any other, or a new day for that matter, does not guarantee change on its own or forgiveness from the very life we live. Forgiveness from its hardships or its joy. Its light. Its peace.

That my dear readers, is up to you.

Every day you have a choice. A choice to see and be good or not. A choice to love. A choice to see the joy. A choice to be happy. It is that simple. That is the AHAmoment. One of those keys to life.

Be the change you want to see. If you want greater change of any kind beyond yourself, look within your very person first.

Live the life you wish to see.

Peace.

Love.

Joy.

Be grateful for every morning you wake.

New Year’s Day sunrise.

New Year’s Day or any day that I wake up and am able to breathe and see the sunrise, is a blessed day.

I thank Him for it.

Be grateful for the cleansing and growing rain. For the warming and invigorating sun. Both that give us life. Being happy in it and all the gifts of life like this dog. Even if it means wearing rubber boots more than not, trudging through the mud scooping up horse poop. Really, it could be worse! It could be flooding, for instance. Or burning.

I thank Him for it. The gifts of rain, sun, and my Merle. And yes, the poop too!

Oh to be happy like a dog! That is our ultimate goal!

Be grateful for your very life. Take time for yourself and do not be selfish. You can do you while still showing up for your people. Considering them. Be grateful for the people in your life and be grateful for the things in your people’s lives! Each of us in on a unique walk together to the same place. You are not meant to go through exactly what someone else is. Embrace and enjoy it! Community and fellowship is a big part of what makes this life what it is all about.

Classic head shadow does not distract from that mover and shaker.

I thank Him for the people and animals in my life. To be able to do what I love with people I love is one of the greatest blessings!

Slow down and enjoy the little things. Build your life around what brings you joy. Ride more horses. Fish more waters. Hike more paths. Drive more roads.

Seriously though, these blue skies!

Lay in the leaves with your dog. When was the last time you played in the leaves??? Inspire the kid within you!

Take more pictures of your actual life. Your actual view. Or draw. Or paint. Or play.

Take the time to hand graze your horse and have quality time. Have quality time with your people. Linger over your coffee. Slow down and enjoy the meal. Count all the colors you see.

Be grateful for your perspective. You are unique and uniquely made for a reason and a purpose!

I thank Him for it!

Do what makes you happy. Be with who makes you happy. Brings you joy. Sparks inspiration. Sees the best in you. Does not take you away from what is good and right. Supports you. Sees life the way you do. Does not shrink from challenges.

You only get one life. A life made up of days, hours, minutes, and seconds. Do not waste a single one. You don’t get any of them back. You might not have tomorrow.

Mad or angry?

Forgive! And then step on.

Find yourself frowning?

Smile!

Are you seeing the dark? Or the negative?

Look for the light! The positive!

Getting mad at someone who just cut you off?

Blare some happy music!

It is all about perspective. Your choice!

Walk in love, dear readers. Embody it!

Let others see and feel it.

They will in turn do the same.

That is the way you inspire change.

The 9 Days of Christmas, Day 8.

Day 8.

Happy Blessed Christmas Eve!

Alas, here we are with the best transformation Thursday, Merle edition. Just wait for what I have saved for you tomorrow.

Same mohawk.

Same attitude.

Same drool (refer to photo 1).

I wouldn’t change or trade him for anything!

He is every bit of boy setter.

Be with your people, whoever they may be. Tell them you love them. Smile. Be joyful and feel the spirit. Cook and bake together.

Happy Christmas Eve.

Walk in love, dear readers.

Two Questions.

And just like that, ‘fall’ has blown in from the north all the way down here to Texas. The horses are getting fuzzy and the pecan trees are turning and losing their leaves. The sunrises over the pastures and moonlit nights are spectacular.

And, um…that means…

We are almost in November?

I mean, what? Indeed where has the time gone?

I find as each year passes that question is ever more on my mind. Anyway, that is a thought for another day.

Not that I am going to lie, I am more than happy to welcome my favorite time of year, even if it feels a little different this year than years past.

Take heart though, not everything has been or will be different. Just look out the window and see the seasons change. Feel it. THAT is not different. That my dear readers is comfort.

I sat and watched the most recent front push through on Monday evening.

It left us with clear and cool nights that are ‘here to stay.’ I mean, we are still in south central Texas, so it is not like we get ‘real’ winters by many standards.

You can not see the rain of pecan leaves, but trust me it is there.

That is our fall expression here. It is interesting, I always notice it, that change of fall, in the exact same place. Right there in the same place as these pictures. It is always in the moment that I am walking out to the horses or riding under this very pecan tree. It is generally the first moment I bother to wear a sweater. The pecan leaves are always falling and beginning to roll across the ground. I did not think of that until just now.

Anyway, you know that sound of the wind through the drying, falling, bumbling leaves. That feel of the chilling air. Think of that when looking at these pics.

The horses had already gotten all their frisky, first chill energy bursts out.

Not all that much has changed since I last wrote.

We have been riding. All over.

Enjoying sunrises.

Watching those sunrises get better and better.

Going on adventures when not working.

Being present. Living life. Being busy as it would have it. That is the season we are in right now. The extraordinary of ordinary, every day life.

I spy a Merle Man!

Speaking of adventures…

Where dis?

HorseAddict, look! Just fulfilling a riding dream of mine. To ride in the forest. There may not be actual snow on the ground, but there is a snow blanket of pine needles!

This was our most recent adventure with friends old and new and new scenery in east Texas. In the tall pine trees. Talk about magical!

Lito won the award of best jumper of down trees.

Every bit of magical as I dreamed it would be.

I love how we do not have to even leave the state to have such a variety of riding places. I have been blessed to ride in several different, beautiful places in this great state.

If we could not go on our usual October adventure fun, I will take this one!

The last time I wrote to y’all I was asked two questions by a dear reader and I figured I would answer them here.

Back in the office or spending more time at the farm?

Am I back in the office or spending more time at the farm? Both?

You see, I am in the office at my new job (now a few months old) about four days a week and I am also able to spend more time at the farm in both a professional and a personal capacity. Quite the door that opened up I dare say! Life sure is interesting and keeps us on our toes.

Song of the moment?

What is my song of the moment? Goodness. This is always a difficult question for me, but it is certainly easier than the ‘what is my favorite song’ question. My song of the moment has definitely been Who Am I by Needtobreathe. There are other gems on this album, so go treat yourself to a listen.

“You grow Your roses on my barren soul”

Seriously. That lyric. All the lyrics. Truth does not even touch the feeling. It gets right down in your soul and just rocks you. You’re welcome. My kind of gospel right there.

What about you dear readers? Are you back in the office at all? What is your song of the moment to share?

OK, fine. How about more than two questions? What is the extraordinary in your ordinary life?

Walk in love, dear readers!

Well.

There has been a lot going on!

These indeed are trying times for all, in more ways than just this ‘rona business.

Hey, gotta keep it light and positive. It is what we do here!

In all seriousness though, we all got down to the basics pretty dang quick. Writing got shoved to the back burner and then right off the back of the stove all together.

Certainly not because I did not want to write to you!

We packed up food and other necessities and went to our safe place, the farm. I have been living here now with my family for over two weeks. Logging in remotely and working (which has been frustrating). Crossing farm chores and projects off the list (feels amazing). Cooking and baking. And, of course, soaking up all the horse time and riding I can.

I will not get into everything that Covid-19 entails or the politics or anything that everyone is talking about. All the things that have been right in front of us for weeks. It is very likely that I, along with many others, will be without my job soon because of the oil prices. I do not think there is anyone who is not feeling the weight of this in some way or another (hey howdy, you’re not alone!!!). I know I have not been immune to it. It is all just heavy no matter what. We have been taking periodic breaks from it all by turning off the news, not getting onto social media, and doing farm things. Only checking in and updating every couple of days. I have gotten into the habit of just leaving my phone and not being available (liberating).

Even still, I feel even more blessed for the beauty all around me. It makes it easy to celebrate every day. All I have to do is look up. And you know what, it is the same for you! Just look up…or out.

Mother Nature and the change of seasons. We got a bunch of rain on Saturday (praise the Lord! For this and many other things!) which will grow some good grass for the stock and get a good start on our vegetable garden. The wildflowers. The birds frolicking. Our home bred heifers and their first calves. Family time. Being conscious to live simply. My horses, of course, because a horse is a horse of course!

Want to see just what I have been up to when I am not working? Well, have a look. Get a dose. Take a breath. Get some inspiration, dear readers!

Taking walks, often with my Lito man.

You know what else?

Our lovely heart hole oak tree has its heart hole again! This is my favorite tree. I know I might have said that about some other trees before, but this is really and truly my favorite. Did you miss why? Well, you can find out here.

You want to see what else? If you look off in the distance past the heart hole by the pond, you can see the pecan trees starting to get their leaves (and progressively through all these photos). Like I said, they always get their leaves. This year seems early, but spring as a whole did come early. Every year is its own.

We have had many many caterpillars. So cool.

More walks with Lito, I tell you, are good for everything.

Rides on my Cheetah are also good for everything. With or without wildflowers.

New mammas and babies.

The lush river bottom. Just look at those baby blues and that light. This is such a special place and holds so many memories for all of us. We would spend hours down here as kids. I used to ride my childhood mare, Fresca down here on hot summer afternoons. I would let her eat all her favorites. A little walk down here the other day with Pops and Cousin W turned into a couple of hours talking about trees and grasses and wildlife. Good for everything.

Lots of baking! These are my special chocolate chip cookies. I have also made molasses cookies and raspberry crumble muffins. Mamma has been making muffins and cookies (and so much other good food in addition to everyone else). Sister K has also made muffins! It is only a matter of time before pumpkin and banana bread are made.

More riding.

Watching sunrises.

And sunsets.

Having Petunia snuggles.

Projects and chores and more! This implement has been here since we bought the place, 22 years ago! It was the last remaining thing from the previous owners. There used to be a tree living in the middle of it. The tree finally died and we finally cleared enough brush from around and within it to get it hauled out. Quite a thing really!

We watched weather and spring unfold. Keep watching those pecan trees!

This is usually my view from my ‘remote office.’

Just look at those pecan tree leaves.

Do you recognize that specific tree?

If you do recognize it, you should, for you have seen it before! I guess it is my second favorite tree. Certainly my most favorite pecan tree!

More wildflowers! We get some bluebonnets and indian paintbrushes along the road here but we get a lot of these all around our place.

More caterpillars! A Monarch!

More sunsets.

More weather. This was an early morning walk with coffee before sitting down on the computer to work.

Of course, more sunrises.

Wondering where my Merle man is? Fear not, he has been off at hunting camp learning. Just have a look. I miss him terribly and the last few weeks without him have been very difficult, but I am so proud of him and he has been doing very well. I am counting down the days till he is back home where he belongs.

So much to celebrate, dear readers, even in these, dare I say, uncertain times. Look up, stay positive, be a light. Keep the faith.

Share what you have been up to!

Walk in love, dear readers. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for some past AHAmoments uplifting reads!

Winter Wisdom

Winter. There is a ton of symbolism in the season. Whether it be the actual weather and Mother Nature or a very real reflection of a season in your life.

I have a wise friend who wrote some great winter words that I wanted to share with you.

“I will be honest, there’s a lot I don’t get right now about a lot of things & the more I work on it, the more frustrated I feel. I literally post something similar to this every single season because I am forever stubborn and continuously forget the basics of God & faith.
That said, I am all the more thankful that the consistency of seasons is a reflection of God and the steadiness of His character. If you stop and really “consider the lilies,” you can’t escape how Creation reflects the detail oriented nature of God. It shows how He created us to see Him & find Him not just in religion, but in snails, twigs, monarch butterfly migrations, and sunflowers that tilt upward so they can face the sun.
I took a bunch of pictures on a walk through Camp Allen this last weekend at my church’s women’s retreat. I made my friend stop every 3 minutes of our walk because I was distracted by how oddly beautiful dead-looking things become when light shines on them. Romans 1:20 talks about how seeing the visible helps us understand the invisible. What appears to be dead actually isn’t dead, it’s just winter. Winter doesn’t last forever – it stays awhile & through the shorter days, lack of color & seemingly barren/exposed trees all contrasted with light, winter reminds me how paradoxical God is- how my weakness is actually His strength.”

Good, no?

Like I have said before, take comfort in the consistency of the seasons. Of the sunrises and sunsets. No matter what, they show up to party every time. They go on over and over without fail. Whether or not you can see them!

There truly is beauty in all things, even and especially in winter.

Take pecan trees for instance, because we all know how I love them, with or without a Merle man in the frame.

Many on first glance may think they are dead in the winter. They are the first to lose their leaves and they are the very last to get them come spring. Even I start to wonder if they ever will get their leaves as spring might start to feel like summer.

Even still, I can never stop being amazed at the raw beauty in the bareness of their branches in winter. Against a sunrise. Or backed by the strong, bright, and grass growing winter sun. Or reflected in the sunset’s light on the pond. There is beauty even on the dreariest of gray winter days.

Indeed they make an inspiring frame for a sunset of any kind!

Dead pecan tree among the live oaks? Nope. A beautiful and unique one, standing strong waiting out winter for its bloom.

And you know what? They always do get their leaves. Every spring. And I am just as amazed every time.

The same happens for us when winter comes to a close and spring starts to bloom. It may likely feel as if you are wandering aimless in this winter. Trust me, I know. Your feeling of wandering is not without reason or purpose. It is your winter season of waiting. Preparing you for your spring. Take your time and be patient. Have faith. Rest. Be ready. Remember what you are fighting for and hang on tight. Keep your focus on the light.


When your world’s of madness
And you’re burned at both ends
Your walls are closin’ in
Won’t you remember?
Open up your heart
Let yourself unwind
Find peace of mind
Among the wandering
Step into the unknown
Where your path rewinds
See if you can find out
What you came here for
Roll one from the green vine
Disregard the time
Find your peace of mind
Among the wandering
Don’t fear the vendors
Dreams can’t be bought
As long as you don’t sell
What you’ve been fighting for
As long as you don’t sell
What you’ve been fighting for
If your heart’s of anger
And you’re helpless in the end
Won’t you let your friends
Help you remember?
With every box of poison
There’s a ribbon tied
Don’t believe them eyes
When they deceive you
Take a look inside
If you’re so inclined
Just leave some time
For the wandering
Find your peace of mind
Among the wandering
~Ryan Bingham

Walk in love, dear readers, and see the beauty in your winter. Spring is coming, and not just because I am covered in horse hair shed and counting down the days for more daylight.

God’s Country Ride

Where do I even begin. I truly am not even sure. The Monday blues were real and hardcore on the struggle bus yesterday.

Years 1, 2, and 3 were all so different and this year was, well, no different! It was indeed the best year in my estimation and I believe in several others’ as well.

I suppose starting at the beginning is the natural way of things. It just seems so long ago!

I was able to skip town pretty early on Friday. I already had my things packed and Merle with me at the office. All I had to do was drop him off (more on that later) and I was off scot-free! Well, as scot-free as one can be in Friday traffic, but hey, I was on my way!

There were only a few stops I needed to make on the way for necessary long road trip things. Shavings for Ronan and Lito in the trailer and breakfast kolaches (both sausage and fruit) to go and nacks (that is ‘snacks’ for all you people without a cute niece) for R and me.

R and Ro made it to the farm Friday evening with just enough time to get Ro settled and for us to get into town for a Mexican food dinner. We were both starving and decided loading all of my stuff could wait till the morning.

Morning came quick enough, as it does, and there was plenty left to do before we could leave, but we got it all done in not much time or having to rush too badly. After loading Ro and Lito and before pulling out, R warmed up the sausage kolaches while I turned the rest of the horses out.

Our farm cat, clearly a bit miffed that he was going to be missing out on the fun and the kolaches, decided he would take matters into his own paws by snagging and eating our fruit kolaches off of the truck dash. He clearly enjoyed them! After having a good laugh, the first of many, we were on the road by around 10 AM. 

Lito in his road gear. Am I ridiculous? Maybe, but I do not care.

The drive was going smoothly enough.

Long time horse people never actually think that thought though because it is just a matter of when something will happen, not a matter of if.

Is that not so subtle foreshadowing you read?

Spoiler alert, there were incidents.

This was the first incident. Blown tire.

Doesn’t that just look like a party?

There are several great things about this incident. Both the horses and us were just fine. We had all the things we needed to change the tire. AND, go figure this, a friend just up the road to help. We were on the road in very little time at all. By all accounts, this part really could not have gone any better.

That was the first part.

Once we got to the next town about 45 minutes down the road, we spent the next hour trying to find someone to check the rest of the tires and replace the blown one. After trying three places, we finally got the others checked and decided to get on down the road. We started the drive with two spare tires and knew we would have better luck replacing the one in a bigger town or come Monday morning.

Feeling pretty alright about our good fortune, but still someone shaken, we drove on.

I will spare you some of the details of what happens next, but we almost got in a bad wreck…Like slam on the breaks and horn and basically come to a stop on a major freeway bad. And feel the horses get smacked around in the trailer behind us bad. All because someone was not paying attention and was entering the freeway incorrectly! (Let us all make a pact to help educate people on driving the road with horse trailers, OK? Thanks). It could have been much, much worse. I do not want to focus on that.

The point is, we were and are still OK.

I have shown you this cross before.

I can tell you one thing, we were praising the Lord during and after this drive.

Us humans were pretty shaken by the day’s events and we have never been so happy to unload horses in our lives. Oh, and bless these two boys of ours. They unloaded calmly and seemed to comfort us and not the other way around! I think at that point we would have been happy to never leave that hilltop ranch. At the end of the day, the drive took about twice as long as it should have.

We put the horses in their pens to settle and went to settle ourselves. That later on included an evening stroll with the horses before dinner with some of the other early arrivals.

Lito wanted to make donkey friends, but they were not so inclined.

The Sunday sunrise the following morning was stunning as per usual. R and I climbed on top of the trailer with our coffee for a better view. This basically set up the rest of the day.

I stayed in my pajamas until 11 AM. This will likely not be a shock for you to learn, but I never do that. Ever. It was glorious. I probably had four cups of coffee too.

Lito and one of his many girlfriends, Jazzy.

The longhorn wanted to make friends too.

Later on, in real clothes, we went for a much needed ride.

I have shown you this cross before too!

We then watched the sunset before heading down the hill for dinner in town with friends.

At dinner, our great friend and hostess read that day’s devotional aloud.

Boy howdy, if that did not speak right to me, I do not know what does.

It was a great evening and we all awoke on Monday morning rested and ready to make it to our final destination for the main event! …Sans incidents!

However, R and I first needed to replace our blown tire which took some time. This was actually kind of nice because we got to have a nice breakfast in town while we waited. Once that chore was finished, we went back to the ranch, loaded up (again, I praise these boys that loaded very well despite how their last trip went!), and headed out!

I am happy to report that we made it without any problems and got our ponies all settled for the week of fun!

And fun we did have in a big way.

Fun. Fellowship. Sisterhood. All with our horses. I can not share too terribly much because it is all, you know, secret and stuff, but here is a little taste of what went on.

Just look at my cute boy. He looks happy, yes? He had this face on pretty much the whole week.

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We enjoyed a movie out on the lawn after dinner the first night, complete with popcorn and candy…under the full moon! It took me right back to childhood and camp. We watched The Man From Snowy RiverGreat movie if you have never seen it!

I had late night and early morning hangouts with my guy.

Lito striking a pose while looking for the strange animal that made a scary noise.

We rode the hills together.

Those are my friends R and H. And Lito’s friends Ronan and Chica.

We crossed a lot of water and we loved it.

We rode through the shady, idyllic groves.

We hung out in the river and watched the fish.

Lito took many naps. I did not. I did not sleep much all week!

We saw, experienced, and felt God’s creation from the back of God’s gift to us. It could not have been any better.

We caught the sunrise each morning and the sunset each evening.

I felt transported to a different place at times. Which was much needed.

I do believe my Lito had as good of a time as I did.

My horse. My Lito man. He was amazing and seemed to be very happy (even if he did get bored and frustrated when we were going too slow or stopping too much). He wanted to be friends with everyone. I could not be more proud of him. He is not the horse for everyone, but he is for me. We have our own thing.

I lost count of how many times I laughed until I cried with my fellowship and horsemanship sisters. My stomach and my eyes hurt! Y’all have no idea how much I needed that. How much we all needed and still need that.

We rode together. We prayed together. We laughed together. We cried together. That is what it is and was all about. That is what IT is all about. AHAmoment. They call the Hill Country God’s Country and it sure did feel that way!

Now I can not share any more about that! BUT. I do have one more thing for y’all.

Did you wonder about my Merle while we were away? Well, wonder no more. He was in excellent care. I had to board him because all of my people were busy or out of town. He did not seem to mind and clearly had fun! Does he look like he is practicing his face for Halloween, missing baby teeth and all?!

By the time we got back to the farm and unloaded, I wished R a good safe rest of her drive, took a much needed bath, and then took a two hour nap (another thing I do not do).

I still have not caught up on sleep! We are all happy to be safely home even though we were not quite sure we wanted the trip to be over. This week is major catch up and now I just want to go back!

Walk in love, dear readers! I sure missed y’all!

 

Teaser

Y’all. I just can not help it. I have a little teaser for you. OK, maybe not so little…I am sorry I am not sorry! Just a little stroll down memory lane, if you will.

It is just that…

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We will be headed to our yearly ride in a little over a week and I just want to go through photos and memories until we are on the road! So, I am going to bring you along with me!

A photo summary of year 1…

Year 2…

Year 3…

How will I make trough the next week???

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I am so excited to see what this fourth year will hold. A little older. A little wiser. And no less in  need of it!

Lito is just as excited as I am, even if he can not tell me so in English.

Walk in love, dear readers!

 

 

 

 

The Change of Fall

Do you feel it?

You know it. What I am talking about.

The feeling in the air.

The days are getting shorter.

Fall is here. Or. At least coming to these parts!


To celebrate, I will share with you the ultimate fall song. Remember this one?


It is October! And I felt it in the air this morning while taking Merle out.

Well, actually, I have been feeling it in the air for a few days now and it has been just slightly, ever so slightly clicking up. Not just because we have now hit October 1st. You can only really feel it at dawn and dusk and if you try hard, throughout the morning. That soft, drier air. It has a different feel. A different smell. It makes me giddy inside. Just downright giddy, I tell you. For the change in more than just temperatures. For freshness. For the setup of the reason for THE season. The reflections of the past seasons and the ones to come. You know how I get this time of year.

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I have been out of the state for work for a few days drilling a well. With how busy and ‘full’ life has been the last few months, I was not looking forward to having to be away from home and my Merle. As it happens, like it always does, my eyes were opened while I was away. I was driving myself to dinner after my sift was over one night when I was caught in awe.

I was headed into the sunset down an old, old road that had been long cut through the tall pine trees of the rich timber country. I first noticed the way the light was forming the sunset and the time of day. It made me realize how the days have been getting shorter and the sunsets earlier, and earlier. Then I noticed the ever glow of the golden color of the rays. They were clear rays that bounced off of everything they touched, illuminating anything in contact, but at the same time, my eyes could not tell the difference from one to the other. How they shone between the trunks and the long shadows they created. The rays were seemingly suspended there, caught in that moment and time. Still. I like to think of them being captivated, much like I was. Rewarding me for seeing them. There was promise held in that golden light suspended in those trees.

The camera could not see what I was seeing.

It made me even more excited for fall and what is to come.

My cousin and I have already done an ‘all the fall things’ cooking session. She made a pumpkin chili and I made a pumpkin toffee dump cake. Um. GOOD. We have even picked more things to make for another fall evening and I can not wait. The date is not even on the books yet. Nothing gets me more excited for this time of year.

Sister K texted me yesterday reminding me that tomorrow (meaning today) was October 1st. Which really only means one thing. That we can start playing Christmas music. I know, I know, settle down. We will only play it for ourselves and BIL T, don’t worry. She is married to him so he has to listen (joking!). I promise to not share any Christmas music here until December.

There is another thing about this time of year. The thing that makes me the absolute giddiest of all giddy. If you have been around here for a little while you might be able to guess. It is something that happens for a week every October. A week that I live for. Now that my work commitments are complete (and I can feel myself breathe again) and we are in this fine fall month of October, I am thinking of nothing else.

Walk in love, dear readers, and do enjoy this fall! Embrace the change and allow it to happen like the change of the seasons.

Alright

You know what it is going to be? Alright. Everything is going to be alright.

I used to hate it when sister K would say that. Mostly because she would say, “you know what it is going to be?! Fine.” Something about that ‘fine’ word would just…stick…stick in my craw, you know? Still does as a matter of fact.

Maybe you don’t know what I mean, but I do. Trust me.

Do you need to hear that everything is going to be alright right now? I have been, so I am going to tell you. I know I am not alone and neither are you!

Let me tell you how and why I know everything is going to be alright.

I could go on and on with a multitude of reasons, but I will just limit it to the reasons my eyes have been shown as of late.

So today (it would be today, such a Monday thing to do), pretty much just now, I started some laundry. Do you feel the bad omen? One of my sets of bed sheets if you must know. Also if you must know, they have been sitting on my bedroom floor acting as a play mat for Merle covered in toys (his doing, not mine) waiting to be washed for a week (some good adulting right there, let me tell you), but let us not speak of that.

Back to the story. Said sheets are now in the machine. We, Merle and I, are going about our business about to go on a walk when I walk in to the kitchen (that is where my washing machines live) and I see suds streaming down the face of the washer onto the tile floor. I told you there was a bad omen. Apparently I got overzealous with the soap. Admittedly, this is not the first time this has happened.

I curse myself for not being more careful AGAIN and stomp off to the front door with Merle confused (after trying to lick up the aforementioned soap suds) and running after me. We left the sorted mess to be dealt with later. After our walk and after I run an extra rinse cycle.

Let us admire all that color and the way he sprawls out…and my pink socked toes…

I opened the door and it was hot and humid and so very muggy. I roll my eyes and just start walking. Eventually at some point down the street I looked up and saw a beautiful rainbow. Not bold and distinct and in your face like you might think, but subtle and quiet and soft, just like its message (hardy har har). A, “hey, you, yes you. Open your eyes and see. Forget about all that other stuff and see all your blessings.”

I could not help but smile. Then I started to notice the after rain blue sky. The green green grass as a result of all these rains. The beauty in the aftermath.

I took a deep breath and knew it was all alright.

Every day I come home to this (as in that. That puppy up there with the toys) little orange and white puppy named Merle. This little Merle just explodes with unconditional love the second he sees me. A kind of love us mere humans can barely fathom or even hope to express. His tail wags so fast I can not even see it. He has his own smile and language. He tries so hard not to use his teeth on me because he knows he is not supposed to, even though he still does sometimes. I love this little pup and he makes my heart smile even if I still shed tears at the slight passing thought of my Darcy girl.

I stumbled upon these pictures of her the other day and just could not keep it together.

I can not.

I can not EVEN.

I got angry and down right mad to be honest. Then that little mighty Merle came and plopped himself in my lap and looked up at me with those dark, soulful eyes as deep as the biggest ocean while he pressed his body and head against me. Just like Darcy would sometimes do.

I knew in that moment Merle was meant to be mine at this time and that everything was going to be alright.

This cuddle bug.

This guy…

Even if I am not over Darcy (which. I do not think I ever really will fully be). Even if Merle is a slower learner. Even if he is worlds beyond smarter than me. Even if he is into and chewing everything. He is a puppy and that is what they do! And you want to know what? He loves my travel bag, just like Darcy. And he loves to sleep on my feet, just like Darcy.

He lets me know everything is going to be alright.

Two weekends ago Lito and I went to ride with friends. I woke up early to feed, load, and hit the road not too long after sunrise to beat the coming heat. We were greeted with a full moon and a clear, starry sky. There was a slight ‘chill’ in the air. I could see the fog not too long off down the valley and the way it reflected the moonlight. I could see the long moonlit shadows of the pecan and oak trees. I could smell the distant aroma of the previous night’s cooking fire.

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The sights and smells stirred up a lot of feelings and emotions. Excitement for the day to come with my boy. Joy and anticipation in the change of seasons. The end of summer and the beginning of fall. The excitement and promise of the future and things to come. The small feelings of that moment and how they reflect the bigger picture of life.

I knew in that moment, walking to the barn to feed with Merle at my feet that everything was going to be alright.

Then there is this guy. This guy right here. I am not sure I can even find the words to express the feelings and emotions and I do not even know what. The gratitude and the love. The pride.

Look at that face and proud stance. He marches right up into that trailer now. We were listening to a Ken Burns interview on his Country Music Docuseries before going out to ride with friends.

He is my love bug.

I have written some about our struggles over the last year and a half. The difficulties and set backs and trials. The ‘phase’ my Lito has been in. I just stopped writing about it after a while, just trying to give it time to play out and for him to come around. Giving him his time and not putting more energy into the situation. And because honestly, I did not understand it. I raised this horse. He was a consummate professional from the minute he was born until this whole thing started. It was not ‘supposed’ to be like this.

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It is hot and humid here. We all sweat.

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Pecan trees offer nice shade and the sun offers nice shadows and reflections.

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Any time is a good Lito nap time.

I do not think understanding it is the point. I think the point was and is to let it go (go figure that one there!). To just accept him where he is and the situation and let it be. Give him his time and work through it and allow our relationship to be better than it was before. And I really think it is. I am not going to say we are completely over it, but man oh man, we have come so far. And getting even better every day.

Just being in his presence lets me know everything is going to be alright.

That is a lot of words for tonight, especially after my prolonged silence. I suppose that is the natural way of things! There has been a lot going on and yet, at the same time, not much going on.

I know I have already said thank you, but I really do appreciate y’all. More than anything, I want each and every one of y’all to know everything is going to be alright. This I know.

Sometimes life just is not fair and we do not understand it. Stuff happens. Or does not happen. No matter what, everything is going to be alright. AHAmoment. Trust me. Take a very deep breath and hold it. Have faith. Pause. Have faith. Then slowly, very slowly let it out. Have faith. Being completely aware of every molecule and how your body reacts. Have faith. Where those molecules go. Have faith. Rinse and repeat.

Then see and count your blessings. Blessing number one is the fact that you are awake and breathing. Open your eyes and see and feel the rest. There are so many.

Everything is going to be alright.

Tell me, how do you know everything is going to be alright?

Walk in love, dear readers.