Chickens, Oils, and Eggs

At some point this past year, my life took a weird turn.  I’ve never figured myself to be an all-natural and livestock keeping kind of woman, but that’s exactly where I deviated.


Last November, after a three-week run of the flu, I’d had it.  Between the hacking, the coughing, the vomiting, and the sharing of germs back-n-forth, I was willing to try anything!  I accepted a friend’s invitation to a doTerra presentation, and this time around, I actually listened to the testimonials. We’d had success using doTerra’s Deep Blue Rub for Jon’s arthritis, and I was excited to hear what the oils could do for my family’s health.  To say I was skeptical would be an understatement, but when one is desperate, you’ll try anything.


So we invested in the Physician’s Kit and were shocked when December passed without a single cold or flu.  Slowly we built up our collection, and we can honestly say that this past winter was one of the healthiest winters we’ve had in a long time.  Even Jon, who was a bigger cynic than I, admitted that these essential oils were helping us stay healthy.  He was soon raving about the benefits to his coworkers, even bringing samples for a few of the guys.  And just this past week, I found two vials of oil stashed in his work truck.  


While I won’t allow the oils to take the place of doctor and modern medicine, I love having another tool in my box of tricks.  At the first sign of a sniffle or fever, I grab the Protective Blend and rub it on the Littles feet.  Even they have gotten in on the oil craze and will ask for an oil before anything else.  I’m not big on the sales aspect of the company, but I wholeheartedly believe in these oils and know that we can look forward to anther relatively healthy year.


Then in April, my life took another detour when Jon finally agreed to let us raise chickens in our backyard.  I was bit by the bug when friends built their first coop and I realized how fortunate they were to have access to fresh eggs.  But Jon adamantly disagreed, therefore it was a conversation that went back and forth for years.

Then out of the blue, Jon started waffling in his stance and soon we had plans for a coop and were stalking baby chicks at local feed stores.  The kids were just as excited as we were and each chose their own chick to own and name.  


Our very first night of owning the chicks showed that this was not going to be for the faint of heart.  Ashlynn’s chick, named after Ariel the Mermaid, was obviously very sick and Ashlynn was distraught.  So Jon packed Ariel the Chicken up and told her he was taking her to the “veterinarian” and would be back later.  Instead Jon came home with a new chick and Ashlynn never knew the difference.  Jon and I laughingly refer to her as Ariel 2.0, and we’ll keep that secret between the two of us until Ashlynn is a little older.


For five months we watched these chickens grow.  We had tragedy strike in the form of our dog, Gracie (and that’s another story for another time), we had to give away one chicken when it became apparent that she was actually a he.  Jon spent months converting the back part of our shed into a chicken coop.  We spent hours on the internet familiarizing ourselves with nesting boxes, roosts, chicken runs, and chicken diseases.  We’ve fed them treats, watched as Ariel 2.0 learned to fly and make it out of our backyard, and laughed as chickens were chased by Littles.  Its absolutely apparent that these chickens are not livestock and have quickly become pets, much to Jon’s dismay.  There have been many days that I’ve sat on our patio and watched the chickens scratch for food, sun bathe, and interact.  They’ve had a calming and healing effect on muddled thoughts and anxious feelings.  I’ve jokingly referred to it as chicken therapy.


And now, we’re reaping the rewards of fresh eggs.  We have five laying hens and it has yet to get old running out to the nesting boxes to check for eggs.  This has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made and I am so thankful that we’ve allowed the Littles this opportunity. 

I can’t help but laugh at this woman, the one who tells her children to go collect the eggs, or who goes digging through her oils when a symptom appears.  But somehow, I’m embracing the fact that I may be more of an all natural, free spirit than I ever imagined.

Two Little Boys

Grief is a weird thing.  I’ve decided that not only does grief affect every person differently, it manifests differently in each situation too.  When Grandma Nancy died in 2012, I was so much more open in my grief.  Blog posts, IG images, and FB statuses about grief, pain, and the loss  of her presence, filled my life during that time.  Upon the loss of my nephews, I shut down and internalized so much.  I’m still shaking my head over that, wondering what could be the underlying motivator in keeping my pain and thoughts to myself.


I don’t know if I felt permitted to grieve nephews I’ve never held or touched, not the same way I’m allowed to grieve the loss of a grandmother.  Infant loss is a different world, there even seems to be a wide spectrum within the world of infant loss.  From miscarriage to 2nd trimester to 3rd trimester to newborn and beyond, it feels as though there’s an allowance for pain depending on when the loss happened.  And if its murky for mothers and fathers, imagine how more confusing it is for extended family.  Until Courtney lost Hastings and Campbell, I didn’t get it.  I can pretend I got it, I thought I could say the right things and give correct answers.  But I didn’t get it.  Not really.

The depth of pain this past summer has shocked me.  I was completely unaware of the impact that those two boys had on me, and what the loss of them would do to me.  I constantly told Jon that it felt like a bad nightmare.  I look back on 2015 and I wondered how it was possible to feel like I’d aged ten years in the blink of an eye.  Could I possibly  have imagined it all?  I was so very unprepared.  As the aunt, I knew it would hurt but I figured it would be a short journey.  As month two and month three passed and the ache continued, I was forced to admit that this had rocked me far more than I thought possible.

I never doubted God.  I never doubted that He is sovereign, that He is good, or that His plan is better.  But I no longer cared.  I didn’t care that this had been His plan all along.  I didn’t care that He is trustworthy.  I was ambivalent.  I stopped praying because really, what’s the point, I cried.  For three months I stopped praying because I no longer had anything to say to Him.  I just walked away.  I told Jon and close family and friends not to worry, that I’d be back.  But I needed to not hear Christian platitudes for a summer.

I’m making my way back to Him.  I’m not going to lie, praying is stilted and awkward right now.  Its true that when you stop using it, the muscles weaken and the same can be said of prayer life.  I’m curious to see where I’ll be a month from now.  And I’ve been on this road long enough to know that time will help heal.  I’m counting on that…

Their due date is this weekend.  And I can’t even see those words clearly through the tears in my eyes.  Once we found out that Courtney was expecting twins, we knew they’d never make it to their due date.  But there’s something final in the passing of their due date.  I’ve found myself reflecting a lot this week, there’s been an ever present lump in my throat that I can’t swallow or make go away.  It feels raw all over again.  And maybe its because they were supposed to be here by now.  We were supposed to be taking turns and flying to Philadephia to help Courtney care for her boys.  We were supposed to be ooohing and aaahing over twenty fingers and twenty toes.  I was supposed to be pestering Courtney for pictures of my nephews.  And instead we have aching hearts and empty arms, and all I can think is that it wasn’t supposed to be like this.

I have no words of comfort to offer my baby sister.  How can I, when my loss pales in comparison to hers?  Instead we move forward, through each hour, each day and wait for the time when the ache has dulled and when the burden isn’t quite so heavy.  All I have to give is a promise to Courtney and Jeremy that their boys aren’t forgotten, they can’t possibly be forgotten, because they left their mark on all who had the privilege to know them in their short lives.  I will never be the same after this year, and its because of those two little boys.  Who are still very, very much missed…

Veggie Crack

I’m going to rue the day that my friend, Lynn, introduced our family to Veggie Crack. I fully underestimated the addiction factor on this particular side dish.


She told me to search Pinterest for the recipe and I found the original recipe here.  I added a few different ingredients and it was still a hit at a barbeque yesterday.

2 cans black beans
1 can of garbanzo beans
1 can of canned corn
2 red bell peppers, diced
1/2 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
2 avocados, chopped

2 teaspoons salt
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons sugar
8 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon lime zest (be sure to zest limes before juicing them)
6 tablespoons fresh lime juice (I used 2 limes)
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon onion powder

  1. Rinse the beans and corn, place in a bowl.
  2. Dice the red bell peppers, place in bowl.
  3. Add the chopped cilantro and the chopped avocados.
  4. Make the vinaigrette dressing, be sure to zest the limes first.
  5. Pour over the beans, pepper, corn, and avocados.
  6. Place in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.  The longer it has time to marinate, the spicier it gets.  Trust me.
Serve with tortilla chips and enjoy!

She turns 95 today.

We come by our desire to document our days honestly.  Before social media even existed, Grandma Rose was perfecting the art of “smile and say cheese.”  I can’t tell you how many times we’d be at a family function, or even just visiting Grandma, and she’d whip out her disposal camera and say, “Let me take a picture.”  I have no doubt that if Grandma had a smart phone, she’d be a part of the digital age.  And I can’t begin to express my appreciation for all the pictures taken in her time.  Its always bittersweet to walk down memory lane based on the photos lining her kitchen wall.

She turns 95 years old today.  Ninety five.  Wow.  There is so much wisdom to be shared from those 95 years, and I often walk away from a conversation with her, having a problem solved.  Or at least a better understanding of where to go from here.

Grandma Rose is one in a million, and I often say that everyone should have a Grandma Rose in their life.  From pictures and scriptures and drawings from grandchildren and great-grandchildren lining her kitchen walls.  To her desire to make sure you never leave her house hungry, rustling through her fridge to offer you at least four or five different meals.  To her love of reading and always offering to lend you the latest book she read, or a book that pertains to your current situation.  To her amazing prayer life.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come to her with a request for prayer or even a problem I’m having, and the first words she utters are either “Have you prayed about it yet?” or “Let’s pray together. Right now.”

I have never met a woman with more energy, a desire to help, or always available with a listening ear.  She has never met a stranger, not one.  It never fails, she’ll be visiting and a friend will come over, one whom she’s never met before, and within an hour, Grandma will have the friend’s life story and will more than likely be promising to pray for them.  I’ve stopped being shocked when I find out something new about a friend from Grandma Rose.  “What?” she’ll say. “I asked her and she told me.”

We celebrated her life yesterday.  It was my 36th birthday and once again, Grandma shared the story of my birth with me.  “I told your mother,” she said, “to wait just a few more hours.  Just three more hours and you could’ve been born on my birthday.”  She paused, and grabbed my hand, “But things weren’t going well and I decided that it was a better idea for you to have your own day.  Your grandmother, dad, and I went to the hospital chapel and we prayed for your mother during that c-section.”  I’ve asked before if she was scared during the surgery and she always looks at me with shock.  “What? No way, honey, I knew God was in control.”


Grandma Rose had seven children, four boys and three girls.  When she calls to talk and tries to apologize for bothering me because I’m so busy, I often laugh and remind her that she did this seven times.  She shrugs off my explanation and will say, “Honey, I remember those days.  It doesn’t matter if its seven or four or two, those babies need you and its hard work.”  And from those seven children, she has 21 grandchildren and 33 great-children.  Its an amazing legacy, truly.

I don’t know how many more birthdays we’ll have with her, but she’s said that she’s going to live to be 107 years old.  And truthfully, I believe she can make it.  She is an inspiration and if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times.  I want to be her when I grow up.

School Daze 2015

Well, in the blink of an eye, I managed to NOT post in three months.  In fact, I’ve only posted five times in eight months!  That has to be a record of some kind.  As I was going through old first day of school posts, it made me sad to realize that if the Littles ever come looking at the blog, they’re going to wonder what happened in their lives during 2014 and 2015.  Its as if I dropped off the face of the earth… So sorry Kiddos!

But without further ado, I give to you the beginning of the 2015/2016 school year.  I’m not sure how I feel about having a 5th, 3rd, and 1st grader but it happened.  And I suddenly feel quite old as Devyn begins her last year in elementary school.


As the spring wound down, I had a number of friends ask if I was going to put Ashlynn in preschool. I wavered between committing either way and waited until the last possible moment to try to get her into our neighborhood early childhood program.  It may have been a subconscious way to have the answer taken out of my hands, especially if there was no room for her. But shockingly she got into the program and started her first day of preschool today.

I cried. I cried more than I thought I would as I said goodbye to the last of my babies and walked away from her classroom.  I can’t believe I’m here, a brand-new stage of life and one I’ve dreaded for a while.  I now have four mornings a week where I have  no one at home with me, and I find myself at loose ends.  But that’s another post for another day…  She woke on her first day of school bright and early, before the rest, and was more than excited to start this new adventure.

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes,
then you are making new things, trying new things,
learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world.
You're doing things you've never done before,
and more importantly, you're doing something [new].

A Time to Weep

Its been over two weeks since I've had a good night's sleep. My new normal consists of waking about 2:00am, laying awake for an hour or two, then reaching out to my mom or a sister via text, knowing someone is awake for the same reason.

We said goodbye to Campbell this week. We knew it was coming, but even preparing your heart for it doesn't make it any easier. I've cried every day for the past 14 days. Hell. I've cried more times in the past five and a half weeks, than in the past year.

On the day of the surgery, almost six weeks ago, I was hopeful and optimistic. I knew there were dangers, but we had so many people praying and my God is bigger than statistics and worst case scenarios. But when the story took a turn for the worse, my faith began to crack.

That Sunday morning, when we told Devyn that Hastings had passed, she fell in my arms, sobbing and asked, "But why??? I don't understand!! I prayed so hard!" Jon and I exchanged looks over our heartbroken daughter's head and had no way of answering her question. How do you explain that sometimes God's answers don't make sense?

Five and a half weeks. I didn't know it was possible to age years in such a short amount of time. I didn't know it was possible to experience such highs and lows in the space of a day. It was a never ending roller-coaster. I can't tell you how many times I begged to be let off the ride. And oh, how my heart hurts knowing that my emotional fatigue pales in comparison to that of my baby sister's pain.

Within 24 hours of a particularly bad appointment, where the doctors told her she needed to be with her husband, Courtney finally reunited with Jeremy. She now lives in another state, approximately 1,721 miles away, which translates to a 26-hour car ride or a $400 plane ticket. I know her place is there, but it doesn't make it any easier to be this far away from her.

For the past five months, I've felt God asking me, "Do you trust Courtney with me? I know you love her, but my love for her exceeds yours." It was the obligatory, quick response, "Of course, God. Of course I trust you with her." But as this journey has taken one bad turn after another, I felt the foundation of that trust start to crumble.

The day before Courtney flew to Philadelphia on a one-way ticket, I felt him ask again. "Do you trust Courtney to me?" And I realized in that moment, no, I didn't. You're supposed to be a faithful God, I screamed at Him, I don't see your faithfulness here. You're supposed to be good, but this doesn't feel good. My faith is on shaky ground here, God, and no, right now, I don't trust you with her. It was a hard moment to swallow, showing me that my faith is only good so long as the answer is yes.

A few days ago, Jon shooed Devyn and I out of the house. He always knows exactly what I need before I do, and I needed that time with her. I remember asking her if she had any questions or doubts about God in the midst of this story. She shook her head and resolutely said no. I confessed that I was struggling, that I didn't understand. "It just feels like He hasn't heard any of our prayers," I explained. I watched as my 10-year-old daughter tilt her head, slight confusion wrinkling her forehead. "Yes, He did," she exclaimed. "She got pregnant, didn't she?"

It was in that moment that I got my first glimpse of peace. I started looking for the small mercies in this story. Yes, it didn't turn out the way we wanted, the way we prayed and hoped it would, but there are small mercies sprinkled throughout our time with Hastings and Campbell. I'm going to focus on those smaller mercies while I start to claw my way back to faith.

I don't expect the pain to subside any time soon. There's the side of me that mourns the loss of my nephews. And then there's the side that hurts for my sister's loss and pain, and my deep desire to take it all away for her. I know the journey ahead is a long one. And I wonder if the beauty we find will make this all seem worth it. It feels unlikely, but only time will tell, I guess.

They stole a piece of my heart.

“Wait. What?” I made her repeat the words again.  My heart was caught in my throat and my skin grew clammy.  Shock was an understatement, but there was no other way to describe the emotion.  I hung up the phone with Mom.  It wasn’t the call I was expecting, and my head refused to accept the news she’d shared.  It couldn’t end like this…

For three years they tried to have a baby.  Three years.  Sure, there were short two or three month breaks sprinkled throughout those three years, but it was a long time.  A time where I watched my youngest sister battle the emotions that come with infertility.  And when she and her husband finally announced their pregnancy, just a few days into the new year, it was met with excitement and cheers and celebration.  Even knowing that a move was in their imminent future, even knowing that it would likely be a move across the country, even knowing the idea that this child would be born away from our family, we celebrated this new life.

When they called me after the first ultrasound to announce that it was identical twins, I laughed, both in joy and in irony.  Because of all the sisters to have a multiples birth, the last sister I’d pick would be Courtney.  She’s a planner, through and through; Type A to a fault.  And in having two infants at once, two toddlers at the same time, she was going to have to let go of a lot of that control.  "It was perfect," I crowed to Jon, "exactly what she needs."

We fell in love with those twins from the moment they announced it.  We talked about plans and ways we could help while living across the country.  We talked about schedules and visits, all of us would take turns to fly out and help her with the babies.  We envisioned matching outfits and brainstormed names.  We held this little secret close to our hearts, respecting their wishes to wait.  It took everything in us to not shout it from the rooftops: not only had God answered their prayers for a baby, He’d doubled the blessing.

Though it was a while before we found out that it was boys, we eventually learned that it was Campbell James and Hastings Christopher growing in her womb.  We anxiously awaited their ultrasounds, anxious to hear how they were growing and what they were doing.  We laughed when we heard Hastings had kicked Campbell throughout the ultrasound.  We smiled when we heard Campbell kept sucking his thumb.  We chuckled as we heard how active and feisty Hastings was, and how calm and collected Campbell was in comparison.  Personalities shone through each ultrasound and we relished these stories, loving them already.

Throughout the ultrasounds, it became apparent that something was wrong.  Hastings was falling further and further behind Campbell.  First it was just a few days, then it was six days, and then a week.  The doctors started talking about TTTS, also known as Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome.  Christine and I dreaded that acronym, because as soon as we’d heard the words "identical twins", she and I Googled.  And identical twins seemed to be synonymous with TTTS.  The syndrome is scary, the outlook bleak, but we knew science and medicine had made great strides in recent years.  And even though it was daunting, we hoped for the best.

This last week has been a blur.  I’m not even sure what day it is, or how many days have passed since the nightmare started.  I suppose high emotions and lack of sleep will do that to a person.  But when I look back to where we were a week ago, it exhausts me.  I’d give anything to turn back the clock and have a different outcome.

It started with their weekly ultrasound.  There was nothing unusual about it, she’d had so many.  But unlike the week before, the news wasn’t good and it looked as though the TTTS was starting to take over. Still the doctor didn’t sound that worried, just concerned.  However, the call from Children’s Hospital two hours later had a different tone and it sounded like things were more serious than any of us had cared to admit.  A few days later, Courtney and Jeremy had a five hour consultation that involved ultrasounds and tests and it was decided that it was time to have a surgery that would divide the placenta and close off the blood vessels that the twins were sharing.  It was the only way to give both twins a chance to survive.

It was a nerve-racking hour and a half.  We gathered, all of us, sisters, brothers-in-law, moms, and dads.  We paced the waiting room, stared off into space, stared at our phones, refusing to voice the deepest doubts and fears that pervaded our thoughts.  We fought to be strong for Jeremy, for Courtney.  We willed those twins through that surgery, praying with every heartbeat that they would make it through.  And when the surgeon came to give us a report, he sounded optimistic.  We all breathed a sigh of relief, I remember telling the surgeon I wanted to hug his neck.  The news still wasn’t great.  Hastings was small, way too small and he’d only received 30% of the placenta, but there was hope.

We spent the rest of the afternoon, talking and laughing.  We alternated between distracting Courtney and Jeremy from the what-ifs, and then talking through the doubts.  There was laughter and tears, companionship and the sharing of fears.  There was unity throughout the day, the only goal was to support, encourage, lift up, and stand in the gap for the couple we loved so dearly.  And when we left that night, it was with the promise that we’d know more in the morning.

I’ll never understand the timing or the whys.  And I’ll never forget the utter despair I felt when I’d heard our worst fears were realized… Hastings had passed and Campbell was in danger of going into preterm labor.  It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.  This wasn’t the ending we envisioned.  And I couldn’t bear to think that the heartache I was feeling in that moment was exponentially worse for my little sister.  I cried for the loss of the little boy we wanted so bad, I cried for loss of the dreams we had for these two boys, going through life side-by-side.  I mourned for my sister and brother-in-law, wondering if they’ll get to have even one child to raise.  “You are faithful, you are faithful, you are faithful,” I whispered to God.  “But I still don’t understand.”

And I’m not sure I ever will…

To the boys who stole a piece of my heart.

Hastings - I can’t begin to express how much we wanted you.  I dreamed of my sister’s smile on the day she would hold you in her arms.  I dreamed of two little boys, identical in looks, opposite in personality, tugging on a parent’s arm to get to the playground a little faster.  I dreamed of milky, coma-like smiles, of burping one little boy while your mama nursed the other.  I dreamed of watching your fierce personality make up for your tinier body and watching you annoy your calmer, older brother.  But child, it appears that God had other plans for you.  I pray you knew how much you were loved, how much you were wanted. You will not soon be forgotten, little one, and am so thankful that we had time with you.  No matter how short that time was, you became a part of us.

Campbell - You’ve been the calm, reserved child. Growing as you should, content to suck on your thumb and finding comfort in keeping your hands near your face.  I see you as the older, protective brother who has indulgently allowed the smaller one to rest his head on your belly or play kickball with your home.  And now, little one, I ask you to hold on.  Hold on for your mama, who has already lost so much and wants nothing more than to bring you home.  Hold on for your daddy, so that he can breathe in your newborn scent and find some healing and closure in that maybe, just maybe, it was all worth it.  You have cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents who are anxious to meet you.  Hold on with everything you have.  Grow strong, child, and I pray we get to meet you on this side of heaven.

We love your mommy and daddy, so much.  You’d be proud of them.  They have always loved each other, always been each other’s best friend, but you two have made them stronger than ever.  Their love for you and their fears for your health have brought them together in a way that has cemented their relationship.  They are more firmly connected in a way that only trials can do.  Their concern is always for the other, always wanting to make sure that the other is ok.  The way they watch each other move across the room brings me to tears. And some day, they will be ok.  It might take months or years, but some day, they will be ok.  I hope that in time, we can look back at this and see the bigger picture that is currently evading us.  But in the meantime, we will take care of them, they will take care of each other, and some day it WILL be ok.