Building a farmhouse: Land clearing & the foundation

My hubby doing a little lot prep after working at his real job all day.

My husband & I have lived comfortably in our small home but then we had kids & everything started shrinking: our home, our cars… our bank account! We wanted a home with more space so that we could start hosting family holidays & have friends visit without being too crowded.

We started building our farmhouse in October of 2017. It has been a very long process, years in the making. From getting the construction loan clearing the raw land, we have certainly invested quite a bit of time, effort & of course, money.

The land that we purchased is almost 6 acres. About 2 of those acres are already cleared & that is where our barns & pastures are located. We had to rent equipment & hire a machine operator (my uncle!) to clear the remaining land for the homesite. Operating heavy equipment looks like fun & seems pretty easy. I got to try it out for about 5 minutes & yes, it is fun (for the first few minutes anyway) but is it easy? Nope, not even close.

I had to try out the land clearing equipment. It is a lot harder than it looks!

After a few weeks of land clearing & some impressive bonfires, we started prepping the site. Getting the actual homesite ready for building is called site prep & it is much more involved than you would think!

One of our giant bonfires. Those are about 20-30’ trees on the pile to give you an idea of the size of the fire.

Our surveyor came out & used a transit level to determine the elevation of the site so we would know how much sand to order. You ideally want your home to sit on an elevated spot to prevent flooding problems. Moisture under your house can cause a lot of damage (rot, mold & mildew to name a few) so it is best to keep your house as high & dry as possible.

Using the transit level to measure the site.
Our boys watching the dump truck delivering sand. Note the giant bonfire behind the truck!

So we had load after load after load of sand delivered to raise the homesite. You would think sand is really cheap when you live by the ocean but it is surprisingly pricey. The kids loved the sand delivery because what kid doesn’t love giant piles of sand?!   The dump truck driver even honked the truck horn after each delivery which the kids thought was awesome.

After having lots of sand delivered & spread, we had to dig footers for the house. The building code in your county tells  you the size, number & location of footers that you need based on your blueprint. The entire perimeter of the house was dug out as well as various spots towards the middle of the footprint. Rebar was then placed in the holes as support for the concrete. At this point we had the county inspector come out to ensure everything was up to code so we could proceed with pouring concrete.

The footers around the perimeter of the house.
One of the footers in the middle of the house.

The footers passed inspection so now we got to cover them up with concrete!

Concrete getting poured in the footers.
Concrete in the footers!

Once the concrete cured (hardened) the brick mason started work on the blocks for the foundation.

The start of the cinder block foundation
The block foundation! The black things are foundation vents.

My husband wanted an extra tall crawl space (the space between the ground & bottom of the house). He has done a lot of work in crawl spaces & said it makes life much easier when you’re doing any install or repair work. It is surprising how many things get installed in the crawl space!

Building materials being delivered!

Now that the masonry work was complete we were ready to start building the floor & framing the house. Stay tuned for our next post when the house actually starts looking like a house!

Kids and Farm Life, a Match Made in Heaven

Our sons Jason (left) & Joshua (right) enjoying farm life.

I grew up in the country & loved every minute of it. We had goats, chickens, ducks, bunnies, a pony & of course cats & dogs. My brother, cousins & I were always riding our bikes down the dirt road, trying to catch turtles in the pond, riding 4 wheelers & making other priceless memories. I have always thought that a childhood spent in the country is special, especially when you’re lucky enough to share it with animals.

Jason & Joshua, farm life 🚜❤
Animals teach important life lessons, like eat your snacks up high so the goats can’t steal them!

Safety first!

Our kids love spending time with the animals. We teach them how to properly handle each kind of animal to make sure everyone stays safe.

We have 2 horses, Harvey (27 years old) & Bert (41 years old). They were both my childhood horses & are now enjoying retirement on our farm. Both horses are well trained & extremely gentle but horses are very big & very fast, which can be dangerous. Each horse weighs over 1,000 lbs so you can get hurt really bad, really fast, even if it’s just an accident. For those reasons we are especially careful with the horses. The kids are by no means scared of the horses but are taught to have a healthy respect for their size & strength.

Joshua talking to Bert, our 41 year old horse.
Jason grooming Bert

On the other hand, we also have very small animals that require extra care for their own safety. Our baby goats were less than 2 lbs each at birth. The boys were only allowed to hold them while they were sitting down so the baby goats wouldn’t be in danger of being dropped.

Kid people with their kid goats
Holding just-hatched baby chicks

Work ethic

Our kids are still young; Joshua turned 3 last week & Jason turns 5 this week. They both help around the farm with lots of chores like filling water buckets, measuring feed for the animals, sweeping and even cleaning stalls.

So we don’t have to do those things anymore since the kids do them, right?! Hahaha! No. They are still kids & still do kid things. Sometimes I find sticks floating in the water trough where they were pretending the sticks were boats. They help clean stalls for a few minutes then get distracted & have to have a scooter race. They also like making ‘concrete’ in my buckets by mixing sand, rocks, water, goat poop; you know, whatever they find. We always have to go behind them & finish the chores but they are still learning & we greatly appreciate their effort.

Joshua, helping around the farm when he had just turned a year old.
Jason helping me clean the barn. He is 4 years old in this picture.

Unique experiences

Of course there are some experiences that farm kids get to have that are unique to country life. Most kids would beg for candy at the checkout line but when you’re at the feed store during Chick Days, you may impulse buy a box of baby chicks.

Jason with his box of baby chicks.
Goat kisses

And what could be more fun than riding around a store on a cart full of several hundred pounds of livestock feed? Riding on that cart with your best friend, your partner in crime, your brother.

Best friends, partners in crime, brothers. ❤❤

 

How we turned a carport into a barn

It happens to the best of us. You start out with a few chickens (the gateway drug to the livestock world) then soon start experimenting with other animals. A donkey? A goat? Sheep? Potbelly pigs? Emu?! The sky is the limit! Who knows what will show up on your property. That’s part of the fun (for me anyway, but probably not as fun for my husband who gets to build their homes).

The horses have their own barn but there wasn’t enough room for the goats. After all, the herd just went from 2 goats to 5 goats. They more than doubled their numbers in less than a week & needed their own space. Well played, goats.

I started searching Pinterest for goat barn ideas & of course was not disappointed. There were so many creative  barns made out of many different materials. Then I saw  something that caught my eye: a carport turned into a barn. It was cute & looked so easy to build (hahaha!! Spoiler alert, it’s not as easy as it looks).

24×24 carport.

We eventually landed a used carport & set it up in the corner of the pasture. According to my expertise all we had to do was tack up some plywood & cut a few windows & doors. My husband (a contractor) quickly burst my bubble with reality. Yep, he was going to do it the right way so the barn wouldn’t blow away in the first storm. After all we live in hurricane alley (& he knows how much I worry about my animals) so he made a valid point.

We hooked up the trailer & took a trip to the home improvement store. One of my favorite places to go! Seriously, I have this thing where I think I can build anything, probably because I watch too much HGTV. My husband is never too excited in those stores because he frequents them for work.

We started to load up sheets of plywood, 4’x4’s, concrete, screws for metal, screws for wood, some kind of metal strap things, some giant screw things, & other stuff they don’t talk much about on HGTV. After paying an eye-opening total at the register, we loaded up our loot & headed to the barn.

Just some of the materials from the home improvement store. Those are sheets of 3/4” treated plywood & they are heavy! Our son was more than willing to help.
My husband (left) & stepdad (right) working on the goat barn while supervisor Sprinkles makes sure their work is up to snuff.

We laid 4’x4’ treated wood posts on their sides on the ground then set the carport on top of those posts (with the help of the tractor!). This was done to keep the bottom of the carport from direct ground contact & hopefully extend the life of the metal. Large bolts were drilled through the metal & into the 4’x4’ to keep everything in place.

You can see the carport sitting on top of the 4’x4’ wood posts.

The plywood walls were attached to the frame of the carport with 1.5” self-tapping metal screws. This part was way harder than I thought it would be. The 3/4” plywood was pretty heavy (even heavier because it was rained on & therefore added quite a bit of water weight) & awkward to handle. The hardest part was driving a few hundred metal screws through the plywood & into the steel frame. It should probably be a new CrossFit class.

Bottom row of plywood finished & 4’x4’ wood posts up.

Next we put up two 4’x4’ treated wood posts on each end of the barn. These would serve as a support for the barn doors that would be added later. The 4’x4’ posts are 12’ long. We dug a 2’ deep hole with post hole diggers for each post, set the post in the hole, made sure the post was straight & level, then poured a 40# bag of concrete in each hole.

Framing started on the ends of the barn.
More framing on the ends of the barn & the second row of plywood finished.

Unfortunately we were interrupted by a hurricane before we could finish the barn doors. We boarded up the unfinished parts with plywood & screws then used anchors to secure the barn to the ground.

The anchors that we used to secure the barn to the ground. These were attached to the frame of the barn with bolts, screws & washers.

After the storm passed, my stepdad made custom Dutch doors to go on each end of the barn.

The Dutch doors are up! My husband also cut windows into the barn for more airflow & ventilation.

I couldn’t be happier with how the goat barn turned out. Of course we added a few things after we thought we were done (doesn’t that always seem to be the case?). Extra windows, vents, whitewash, a chicken coop, sand – you get the picture. I’ll share the upgrades that we did in a later post.

Please let me know if you have any questions & I’ll do my best to help!

They’re finally here: Baby goats!

Clean sheet night for the goats

Silly

The stalls were clean & I had put down fresh bedding. The birthing kit was ready with clean towels & way more supplies than I would (hopefully) need. My trusty goat books, a ton of notes, & extra camera batteries were on standby.

We were thrilled to meet the newest addition(s) to our farm. Would it be twins? Triplets? More? Or just a single baby? Boys or girls? Both? I was just hoping for an uneventful delivery, healthy babies & a healthy mama goat.

Silly when she was pregnant with Teddy Graham

We are extremely fortunate to have a wonderful veterinarian hospital in our area who treats goats. Most vets will not treat goats in their practice even if they treat other livestock like cows or horses. This was my first time being a midwife at any birth so I was pretty nervous, but it eased my mind to have a great vet just a call away.

Luckily everything went really well & suprisingly quick. Silly gave birth to 2 healthy bucklings (baby boys) that we named Teddy & Graham. Both boys were up & nursing within minutes of being born.

Graham was first to be born (right, being cleaned up by mama) & Teddy arrived shortly after (left, nursing for the first time).
2 healthy baby boys! Teddy & Graham, born August 25, 2016

Charlotte

Just 5 days later, Charlotte went into labor. It was thundering & pouring rain. The sound of heavy rain on the barn’s tin roof made it impossible to hear anything else. As soon as I ran into the barn Charlotte laid down & started pushing. Soon she delivered a beautiful black & white, blue-eyed doeling (baby girl!) that we named Sprinkles.

Sprinkles, just moments after being born

I was very excited (& surprised!) that they both had their babies in front of me instead of waiting until I wasn’t around. Usually animals of prey, such as horses & goats, wait until they are alone to give birth. It made me feel pretty great that they trusted me enough to have the babies while I was in the pen with them.

Me & Graham. I’m obviously a little excited over holding my first baby goat.

I may post the actual goat birthing pics in another post with a warning in the title since the pictures are graphic & not everyone enjoys that kind of thing! 😆

 

 

Retail therapy: Livestock style

Charlotte on the ride home

So I was advised by doctors not to ride horses again after my Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). I needed a new (safer) hobby.

One day I happened to see an ad with some beautiful goats for sale & thought they would be a fun addition to our farm. I mean they’re goats: they’re cute, they’re funny, what’s not to love?!

What it’s really like to go goat shopping

We drove to a beautiful little farm with goats running around everywhere. It was amazing! I purchased 2 gorgeous does (named Silly & Charlotte) that were pregnant. Yes, pregnant! I just jumped into the goat world head first.

Charlotte (left) & Silly (right) going for a walk

I loved my new goats. They were sweet, affectionate, & made me laugh all the time. They really added a lot of fun to our farm. I even took them on walks sometimes which they loved. People would take pictures of us & we often had people making ‘baaaaa!’ sounds to the goats when they would drive by. Just about everyone gets a kick out of seeing goats!

It soon became obvious that both girls were definitely pregnant. We didn’t know how how many babies each doe would have so the size of our herd was going to be a mystery for a while. The vet said they could ultrasound each of them to confirm pregnancy & count the babies but that would be an expensive vet visit, on top of the other vet bills I already had with 2 horses & my old dog that was in kidney failure. The vet said she didn’t think the ultrasound was necessary & kind of gave me a rundown on what to expect (when your goat is expecting! See what I did there?!).

Silly when she was pregnant

Even though I knew all about taking care of horses, goats were a whole new world to me.  I bought some goat books & started reading blogs written by experienced (& not so experienced) goat owners.

Raising Goats for Dummies is a great book for goat owners. Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats is also good & I still refer to both books often.

I didn’t know exactly when they would have their babies so I obsessively checked them over every day, looking for any sign that labor was near. One day Silly was very vocal & wanted to be right beside me every second. I knew we were getting close. I had yet another doctor appointment for myself that day so I couldn’t stay with Silly all day but I checked on her before I left. Then when I got back from my doctor’s appointment I stopped in to check on her. She saw me then laid down & started pushing. Baby goats were on the way!

 

 

 

Recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury: What Worked For Me

Getting ready for yet another round of medical tests.

If I could sum up in one word how it feels having a brain injury it would be frustrating. Incredibly frustrating. I remember crying during one of my doctor visits. The doctor asked why I was crying & I said ‘because I remember how it felt to be smart.’ Life had become much harder since the accident.

I graduated high school with honors. I was in Honor Society & the Accademically Gifted program. I graduated from a University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in (ironically) Psychology. I made A’s in college calculus classes without ever studying. I was enrolled in graduate school at the time of the accident. I was only one semester away from graduating with my Master of Business Administration (MBA). Now I couldn’t even remember if I should wear a jacket when it was cold or hot outside.

You have no idea how many MILLIONS of pieces of information are stored in your brain until they’re gone. I would stand in front of a rack of clothes at a store & just stare at them. Purple shirts. Did I like purple? I had no idea. When do I wear short sleeves? When do I wear long sleeves? No clue. Is $10 a good price for a shirt or is that a lot? I’m still not much fun to go shopping with because I have trouble making decisions.

I would have to concentrate on everything. Mundane things that I had done thousands of times before would now feel like I was taking a college exam. I would get in the shower then think ‘ok now what?’ Sometimes I forgot to take off my socks before getting in the shower. Other times I would wash my face then get out, not remembering what else to do. Or I would get out then not remember how to dry off. Having to concentrate that hard on everything, all day is incredibly exhausting. And very frustrating.

My home away from home. One of many doctor exam rooms I visited weekly.

I went to several doctors after the accident including:

Neurosurgeon– He originally diagnosed my TBI & did lots of tests & scans. Thankfully I didn’t require surgery.

Neurologist – She also did lots of tests & mainly helped manage my headaches & migraines.

Neuropsychologist– She did many, many tests to find out exactly what parts of my brain were damaged & gave me homework to try to help recover my memory & problem solving skills. She also gave me lots of tips on ways to cope with my disability, which included things like keeping a journal (which is where this blog came from) & putting my medication with my toothbrush so I wouldn’t forget to take it every day. I still do those things.

Orthopedic surgeon – He managed my many aches & pains, especially in my back & neck. He was also the doctor that I saw first after my accident, who recognized my brain issues & referred me to the neurosurgeon.

Psychiatrist– He helped with mood/emotional issues which are extremely common after a TBI.

All of these doctors worked together to treat me (I still see most of them & probably always will). I have put together a list of what they recommended for me & my specific injury (all of these notes are from my personal journal, otherwise I would never remember them). Please keep in mind that this is what worked for me & may not work for everyone. I am not a doctor & you should get your own medical team to diagnose & figure out what would work best in your particular situation. Also remember that we tried many different treatments, some helped & some didn’t. You will likely have to go through your own trial & error to see what works best for you. This is just a list of the things that helped me in particular.

Antidepressants

Depression was very real following the accident. I began taking antidepressants (specifically Prozac) & that helped me more than anything. The doctor said that antidepressants actually speed up the mind & help you think clearer, both things that I was struggling with. I still take them & probably always will. We tried weaning me off of them but my mind & speech slowed significantly so I stayed on them. Prozac has dramatically improved the quality of my life. There are many different antidepressants & it can be tricky finding the right medication & the right dose for you. I’m not saying everyone who has had a TBI should be on them, I’m only saying what worked for me in hopes that it will help someone else who is struggling. Don’t be scared of taking a medication that can change, even save your life. Big pharma didn’t throw me on the ground so they can make $4 a month off of me.

Brain Games

I started doing puzzles & other brain games as recommended by my neurologist. You can go to the App Store & find tons of games that challenge your brain & keep your mind in better shape. My doctors said to think of your brain as another muscle: use it or lose it. Some of the games that I play daily are puzzles, word searches, seek & find, & crossword puzzles. I like to switch them up so I don’t get burned out on one kind of game. Lumosity has a lot of great games but it costs money every month so I cancelled & found some random free games instead.

Rest

Rest is super important for recovering from any injury & your brain is no exception. Try to get a good nights sleep & nap during the day if at all possible.

Water, lots of water

I really upped my water intake after the accident & it helped lessen the severity of my headaches. Unfortunately I’m not a big fan of plain water so I started adding Mio or other flavored drops to my water so I would drink more. I wish I liked plain water but no matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t drink enough plain water every day to keep well hydrated.

Protein

I was also told to eat more protein since it helps repair your body including your brain. I don’t eat red meat or pork so I started drinking protein powder shakes to help get extra protein in my diet.

Exercise

Luckily I didn’t have to run marathons or anything but I did make sure to walk every day. I aim for 30 minutes of some form of cardio daily: stationary bike, treadmill, elliptical, walk around the neighborhood, any of those will do. Just depends on what you’re comfortable with & what you have access too. Exercise really helps with my mood as well. I’m much happier & positive when I exercise.

Your support system

This is a big one. Try to surround yourself with good people that care about you & support you. A good support system is good for life in general but it is golden when it comes to TBI. Recovering from a TBI or any other serious illness or injury is no time to deal with added stress or negativity, you have enough on your plate.

I am still not the same as I was before my injury but I’ve learned to accept my new normal. I still have headaches everyday, my mind doesn’t work as fast as it did before the injury, I forget what I’m saying while in mid-sentence, my words often come out jumbled, & I still get very frustrated. Some days are better than others but I try to be thankful for every day that I have a second chance at life.

 

 

50 First Dates: Life after a Brain Injury

Me & my boy Harvey, just a few weeks before my injury.

If you read my previous post entitled The Accident, you will remember that I was a crazy horse lady but a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) put a damper on things. My brain surgeon warned me that I should never ride horses again or I could end up with severe brain damage, rendering me unable to care for myself. Ouch.

You see, you never fully ‘heal’ from a brain injury. My doctors kept reminding me that with head injuries ‘1+1 does not equal 2’ because the damage is not linear. The effect of each brain injury is cumulative so you never really get to start over with a clean slate.

My neurosurgeon asked if I had ever had a TBI or concussion before & I said no. Then he asked if I had fallen off of a horse before or been knocked out & I said of course, I’m an equestrian! He then informed me that I have had TBI’s before. I was stunned. He said that every time you’re knocked out, that is a TBI. He also said that any fall where your head falls from 4 or more feet is considered a TBI. My horse’s back is over 5 feet high & my head sits about 3 feet above his back so that’s 8 feet total; a pretty long ways from the ground & more than twice the 4 foot ‘safety’ range.

Me & my horse, Bert, on a trail ride.

I had never heard any of those things before. How could that be? You would think the entire horse community would be experts on TBI’s. If you know equestrians, then you know they’re experts on everything! Nutrition? Check. Proper saddle fit? Check. Blanketing? Check.

On a serious note, there is a great organization trying to get TBI information out to the horse world. They are called Riders 4 Helmets. I highly recommend checking out their website & reading about others who have dealt with horse-related TBI’s. There are some incredible, inspiring stories & lots of good info about concussions.

I need a bubble wrap sponsor.

Turns out that most people that have had a TBI never even knew they had one. How many times have stamped your frequent flyer card by coming off of a horse? Then what did you do afterwards? You probably didn’t rush to the doctor. Most horse people just jump right back up & school their horse, untack & groom their horse, muck a few stalls, fill some water buckets, mix feed for the next day, sweep the barn – ya know, they take care of their horse & completely neglect themselves. Ibuprofen & a beer or maybe even an epsom salt bath if you’re feeling fancy. Certainly not heading to the doctor for a concussion screening.

Me & my other horse, Moonpie, competing in an obstacle course challenge.

I was instructed by my doctors to rest & give my brain & body a chance to heal. I’m not too good at taking it easy (or listening, for that matter) & I struggled with my new stagnant lifestyle. Luckily I have a very supportive family who took care of my animals during my recovery period. I wasn’t allowed to drive, exercise, go for walks by myself or even read. My friends joked that I was prescribed a typical American lifestyle! I asked the doctor what I could do & she said after a few weeks I would be able to watch tv. No documentaries or anything that would strain my brain, only mindless tv. I’m 100% serious that my neurologist told me to start watching the Kardashian’s show because it would not challenge my brain in any way. I laughed, she didn’t. She was serious. I watched it. I felt my IQ decline so I turned it off.

My memory, along with my ability to solve problems & make decisions, was left in the dirt of an arena floor in another town.

The TBI caused me to be exhausted & I had to take at least a 2 hour nap every single day. My nap schedule went on for months. For some reason I craved sugar after my injury. I’ve never been a big fan of sweets but I craved candy (specifically Mike & Ikes) for months afterwards. Light & noise were my enemies. My eyes didn’t feel like they lined up right which distorted my vision. I went to physical therapy a few times a week to get help with my balance issues. I was put on antidepressants to help speed up my thoughts & wake up my brain. I had no idea that they were used for anything besides depression, but it helped since I was struggling with that too. I lost my job of 8 years due to my injury.

So I was trapped in a never ending blonde moment. Unemployed. A recluse. Now what? I decided to view my injury as a blessing instead of a curse.

 

Magnolia Market: visiting the Silos in Waco, Texas

The infamous Silos at Magnolia Market

Family time is very important to us. My husband & I used to travel every chance we got but having two small children makes traveling a bit more difficult… and expensive. While we love the farm & all of our animals, it is nice to take family trips & get to explore the world around us. We try to make time for a family vacation every year & last year led us to Magnolia Market, made famous by the show Fixer Upper. We were immersed in shiplap, subway tile, chippy paint & modern farmhouse decor.

A beautiful rustic outdoor sink in the Market

So how did we end up choosing Magnolia Market? I am a fan of the show & always amazed at the talent & creativity of Chip & Joanna Gaines. My husband is a contractor that does a lot of professional remodels & new construction, so he actually gets many requests to recreate the Gaines’ famous modern farmhouse style. Requests for subway tile & farmhouse sinks have dramatically increased since the show became popular.

Subway tile inside the Market

Seeing the Market actually wasn’t the main reason for our visit though. Our main purpose for flying halfway across the country was to visit my brother in law who is currently stationed at Fort Hood. But when you’re a Fixer Upper fan & only an hour away, of course you make time to see it in person!

A map of the grounds at Magnolia Market

The grounds at Magnolia Market are beautiful, clean, family-friendly, & of course impeccably designed.

There are even man-benches strategically placed for bored husbands.
Willies Jeep

Of course the place was packed but we still had a relatively easy time finding free parking & easy access bathrooms. Tip: if you drive past the Bakery (it will be on your right), then take the next right, there is a free parking lot just for Magnolia customers. You can go in a back entrance without having to cross a road, a definite plus if you are traveling with kids. Other area parking lots are charging upwards of $20 just to park! Another side note: admission to all of the Magnolia grounds is free!

Dont forget to explore all of the grounds. There is a small retail shop towards the back of the grounds called Magnolia Seed & Supply. There are also plenty of beautifully landscaped gardens throughout the property.

A small animal pen was tucked away in the gardens but there were no animals in it at the time. Maybe a future goat or chicken house?
Genuine, Joanna-approved #Shiplap! This is located in the Seed & Supply shop, towards the back of the Magnolia grounds.
Inside the Seed & Supply store.
They have a variety of shirts & souvenirs for sale in each building. Here is just a small sample.
I love this garden! So much inspiration for our own homestead.
The line to the Silos Bakery was wrapped around the block so we decided to skip the baked goods.

Giant swings & plenty of seating are available throughout the property.
There is a large area where people were having picnics & playing some activities supplied by Magnolia, such as beanbag toss. The grass is actually artificial turf!

Are you a fan of Fixer Upper? Do you have any farmhouse inspired decor in your house? We would love to hear about it!

Chickens: the gateway drug to the livestock world.

A silkie chick

The barn has always been my happy place. The smell of hay, the sound of silence, the escape from the pressures of society, & of course my best friends live there, horses. I still enjoyed taking care of my horses & spending time with them but I was also constantly reminded of my limitations. No riding, no jumping, no competing, no shooting guns on horseback & playing cowgirl. This made me pretty depressed. I had no idea what non-horse people did with all of their time. I’m certainly not the type that will be happy & fulfilled by spending my time indoors.

My boys Harvey & Bert, enjoying retirement

I still loved my barn time but felt like something was missing. One day my husband surprised me by bringing home a small chirping box from the feed store. Inside were 6 little fluffy-butt baby chicks! I was in shock because I’m ALWAYS the one bringing home animals & my husband is the voice of reason (‘what exactly are you going to do with 2 feral donkeys?’ Ok, he had a point).

I let the chicks loose in our bathtub & hung a light over them to keep them warm. My husband quickly remembered why he should have surprised me with flowers instead. I started googling ‘baby chick care’ & was soon flooded by too much information & too many opinions. Oh no, chicken people are just as crazy as horse people!! I was stunned yet relieved, I will fit in just fine in the poultry enthusiast world.

The 6 chicks that started my addiction when they were about 3 months old. And yes, they are riding a Tonka truck!

Of course neither my husband nor I had any idea that chickens were like a gateway drug into the livestock world. I soon wanted more chickens. Who knew they came in so many colors & patterns?

They were actually pretty entertaining too. I don’t know about you but watching a chicken leap out of your lap & snag a wasp out of the air is pretty impressive. Bonus: I’m allergic to wasps! Did that chicken save my life? Probably not but it was still pretty amazing to witness.

My chickens are obsessed with mowing time. When you start the mower they will stampede towards you, then follow you up & down each row, eating every bug that is unearthed. Pretty sure they think of our mower as a big Pez dispenser.

Of course my flock grew very quickly thanks to the feed store. Every Spring the livestock feed stores & hardware stores get in hundreds of adorable baby chicks. They cleverly place them between the entrance & the feed section so you are overwhelmed by cuteness when you just need a bag of feed. But you can’t buy just one! Most stores have a minimum purchase of 6 chicks so they can keep each other warm, or keep each other company, or just increase the store’s revenue. Either way your flock will grow by leaps & cheeps in no time.

I went to the store for a bag of feed & came home with these little fuzz balls.

The chickens that you already have are determined to increase their numbers as well. I collect eggs every day & try to discourage broody hens (those are the hens that try to hatch eggs). Every once in awhile they will succeed in hiding a nest then parade around with another 8 or so baby chicks about 21 days later. Is it adorable? Yes. Does it increase your feed bill? Absolutely.

We went out of town & came back to a broody hen on a hidden nest. She increased our flock by 7 just a few days later!

Of course if you have a small coop & keep your chickens locked in that coop at all times you won’t be dealing with hidden nests (or a daily Easter egg hunt). We free-range our chickens during the day & only lock them up at night so they lay eggs all over the place (except in the variety of nesting boxes I made).

One of the chicken’s favorite nesting sites, in my hay feeders.
The flock stampeding when I let them out of their coop for the day.

My flock started outgrowing our acreage so I rehomed a few chickens to some good friends. Don’t worry, we still have enough chickens to make the neighbors give us weird looks.

The Accident

I’ve been an avid equestrian my whole life. Horses have always been my passion & I’ve spent every second I possibly could in the saddle. Exactly 6 years ago on February 4, 2012 that all changed. I had a young mare (female horse) named Moonpie that I had bought, sent to a horse trainer & was trying to put miles on (aka: give her different experiences to boost her confidence, typical of what you do with a young horse). I had taken her on trail rides through woods & fields, ridden her in a cowboy mounted shooting clinic and competed on her in equestrian obstacle courses. We even won champion in our division in the obstacle course show with some stiff competition!

The Champion horse blanket that we won at the High Cotton Obstacle Course.


Moonpie & I riding in a cowboy mounted shooting clinic. She had only been started under saddle for 42 days at this point. I was shooting a .45 caliber revolver off of her (blanks! Not live rounds) & she handled it great. By the way, I highly recommend cowboy mounted shooting! 


In a costume contest with Moonpie. I was the wicked witch & she was my flying monkey from Wizard of Oz!


We were having lots of great adventures together but still had some challenges that are typical of young, inexperienced horses. Young horses, just like young people, are still learning what behavior is acceptable & what isn’t acceptable. They will test you at times & they may throw tantrums which are extra dangerous when they weigh 1,000 pounds! Each horse is different just like each person. Some horses are easy to train while others are more challenging, some are excitable while some are laid back. Moonpie was overall a good horse but would still test you at times. I’m more of a laidback person & aggressive riding just isn’t my style. Needless to say Moonpie knew that & would test me, trying to be queen bee in the pecking order. Basically I was the pushover parent & she had my number.

One day I decided to go with a group of friends to a cowboy mounted shooting event about 2 hours from home. It was a cold windy day, which can make horses ‘feel their oats.’ In other words they tend to be more feisty & excitable when it’s cold, windy, or stormy.

I got up early on the morning of the shoot & hooked up my horse trailer to my truck, noticing that the trailer lights were not working. With the help of my stepdad (a retired electrician), we got the lights working. It was an inconvenience & made me run a little late but wasn’t too big of a deal. I now look back & realize that was the first warning sign. I never believed in signs until that fateful day.

I loaded up Moonpie & pulled out of the barn driveway. A small tree was leaning over the driveway, probably pushed over from the wind. I maneuvered around the tree but a branch hit one of my running lights on my trailer & shattered it. That was my second warning sign. Not deterred, I headed to my friend’s barn just a few miles down the road so we could ride together to the shoot.

I arrived at my friend’s barn, unloaded Moonpie from my trailer & then loaded her onto my friend’s trailer with her horse. There were several people going to the shoot & there wasn’t enough room in the truck for everyone so I rode in another friend’s car, following behind the horse trailer. We got about halfway to the horse facility that was hosting the shoot when the tire on the horse trailer blew, ripping the fender off of the trailer in the process. Warning sign number three. Luckily we were very close to a rest stop so instead of unloading horses on the shoulder of a busy interstate, we limped the trailer to the rest stop. Once we parked the trailer at the rest stop we immediately unloaded the horses & got to work changing the tire. The tire change went quickly while curious onlookers asked to pet the horses & take pictures of them, which we obliged. We loaded the horses onto the trailer & the spare tire went flat. The horses once again were unloaded from the trailer, the spare tire was removed & a friend took the tire to a gas station several miles down the road for more air. A few of us stayed with the horses while the tire was being inflated. We were relieved to see our friend arrive back with the spare tire. The spare was once again put on the trailer & the horses were loaded. The spare tire went flat AGAIN.

Once again the horses were unloaded, the spare was taken off & the tire taken to a service station. This time it was inflated correctly, put back on the trailer, the horses were loaded & we were on the way to the shoot. We got close to the facility but got separated from our friends at a stoplight. My friend & I had been to the horse complex multiple times before but couldn’t find it this time. No big deal, we would look it up on our phone’s GPS. Well GPS took us somewhere but it certainly wasn’t the horse complex. We finally made it our destination (which turned out to be about a mile away) around 30 minutes later.

Our friends from the Double L Bar shooting club were already there & competing. I grabbed my horse & saddled her up then took her to the big indoor arena where the shoot was already taking place. We watched the shoot from the fence until it was our turn to go for an exhibition run (practice run). We entered the arena & did the pattern, weaving around cones. I was so proud of how amazing my horse handled everything & was beaming as we completed the pattern. At the end of a run you ride your horse in a circle, slowing them down before you walk them out of the area. This is where things went bad.

The rest of the events are very foggy but some were caught on video that I have watched since then & my friends helped fill in the gaps in my memory.

I remember not knowing which end was up & which was down, extreme vertigo. Gravity soon forcefully showed me which end was down. I was very disoriented & couldn’t tell if I was dreaming or if I was in reality. I remember hitting the ground very hard & hearing every vertebrae from the base of my skull to my tailbone cracking at the same time. I thought I was paralyzed which had always been an incredibly huge fear of mine, since I have a quadriplegic & a paraplegic in my family. I remember coming too, several minutes later when someone handed me the reins to my horse that had run away after the accident. I was walking somewhere but had no idea how I got up or where I was going. I remember someone saying ‘your hood is filled with dirt’ then emptying my hoodie on the arena floor. I remember hurting all over & being very angry. I remember wanting to ‘get back in the saddle’ & ‘not let her get away with throwing me’ but truth be told, I had torn my groin (yes, women have groins) so bad that I couldn’t lift my leg high enough to reach the stirrup. I told everyone I was fine even though I was confused, hurt, angry, sad & wanted to just hide & cry. But cowgirls don’t cry (in front of other horse people anyway, it’s a pride thing), so I put my horse in a stall, sucked it up & stayed at the show until nighttime.

Evidently we even went to eat at a restaurant after the show but I don’t remember. I slept the entire car ride home. My friend kept my horse, truck & trailer at her barn for the night while another friend dropped me off at my house. My mom called me & I yelled at her which I never ever do. I trashed my room then went to sleep. I mainly slept the next 2 days, only waking to eat & use the bathroom. The day after the accident was the Super Bowl. I slept through it & thought it was football season for many months afterwards, like I was stuck in that place in time. Light & sound were unbearable so I closed every curtain in the house, kept the tv off & slept. I had constant migraines. My eyes felt like they didn’t line up correctly, which affected my vision. My speech slurred, my thoughts were delayed, I had no short term memory. I did weird things like put electronics in the refrigerator & put milk in the cabinet. I was living alone at the time so no one knew the extent of my injury.

The accident was on a Saturday & the following Monday I went to the doctor to get a muscle relaxer or something since every muscle in my body ached. I got lost driving to the doctors office that I had been to many times before. I tried filling out the forms at the doctor but realized I no longer knew how to read. I could say the word on the paper but had no idea what it meant. Words had lost all meaning to me. I told the receptionist I couldn’t read & she asked if I ever knew how to read. I told her yes, I had graduated college, was currently in grad school & working full time. I tried paying my copay with a Lowes gift card & couldn’t understand why the receptionist was giving me a hard time.  She got the orthopedic doctor who immediately sent me next door to a neurosurgeon’s office. I was very mad about having to go to another doctor but I went anyway. I checked in then fell asleep in the exam room until the doctor came in & woke me up. I was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury or TBI. I was told to be very careful & not to damage my brain any further or my injury would be worse and my impairment could become permanent.

At the time of my injury I was wearing an ASTM/SEI approved equestrian specific helmet. My neurosurgeon said that my brain was probably damaged by the violent shaking I experienced in the saddle so I probably had the TBI before I ever hit the ground. He said that helmets won’t prevent a concussion caused by shaking but they do help prevent skull fractures. For the record, I’m still pro helmet.

A few weeks after the horse accident I was in a car that was rear ended at a stoplight. I went back to all of my doctors as my symptoms had worsened. Any healing & progress I had made was completely lost & I had to start the process all over again. I started improving again very slowly. Then I was a passenger in yet another car accident a few weeks later while coming home from a doctor’s appointment. I regressed yet again, & had to start from the beginning again. My doctor’s were stunned that I could have that many brain injuries in such a short amount of time.

The next few years (yes, years) were a blur of doctor’s appointments, tests, more tests, referrals, specialists, therapy, medicine, & having my mom drive me everywhere. I wouldn’t speak in front of anyone for about a year because I was embarrassed by my speech & the fact that I couldn’t understand what they were talking about. I wasn’t allowed to drive. I carried a notebook everywhere, writing down everything (including meals I ate, people I had talked too, if I had fed the dog that day, if I took my medicine, etc.). I literally wrote down every detail of my life. I have since replaced my notebook with a smartphone & still have to rely on it for many every day tasks. Fortunately I have come a long way but still deal with issues every day of my life from my TBI.

My doctor’s told me to never ride a horse again or I could have a much worse prognosis if I received another brain injury. I struggled with adapting to my ‘new normal.’ I needed to find a new hobby that would take my mind off of the loss of my lifelong passion.