Who Would Have Thought

Reflections of our truck and our life.

As Mr. J and I moved about the farm with morning chores, we heard a persistent low “mooooo” from Dude, our steer. His bawling tells us that there is not enough grass in his pasture, and he is expecting us to resolve the situation. Our grass is greening, but we are not at the spring flush so we decide to haul out the last roll of hay from the barn to keep our small herd happy for another week.

This roll of hay weighs about 600 pounds and requires some maneuvering to get it from the barn to the bed of the truck. But we have polished our technique over this past winter and work well as a team.

I drive the truck to the pasture, position it at the top of the hill, then Mr. J gives the roll of hay a heave-ho setting it on an unrolling path down the hill.

We then walk the length of this unrolled hay to spread it out.

While tossing hay here and there I pause and think:

Who would have thought.

Who could have predicted twelve years ago when we bought this truck that we would use it to haul rolls of hay to our cattle. In Tennessee.

Who would have thought we would be right here, right now, with this truck, in this field.

We had a vision when we bought the truck. We had a plan for our lives.

We knew we would pay it off and keep it for many years. It needed to be able to carry our three boys comfortably into adulthood.

We wanted the option of towing a trailer for camping.

And maybe at some point we would need the four-wheel drive to go off road.

Our truck has done this and more.

This truck has served us well.

It has carried soccer gear, ski equipment, and surfboards.

It has hauled loads of compost and fruit trees for my gardening exploits.

It has worn the license plates of California, Virginia, Nevada, and now Tennessee.

When we bought this truck in 2011, we could not have anticipated being on a farm in the South. It never occurred to us that Mr. J could earn a living working remotely with a computer and phone. Who would have thought that this truck would one day haul pigs and sheep to our own homestead or pull felled trees out of the woods.

God has a plan. He nudges. He guides. And if you are lucky, you can see a few steps ahead on your journey. But most of the time we just bumble along.

When I look back, I can see how we were gently positioned to be right here. Right now.

Truly amazing.

Who would have thought.

The Good News is the Floor Got Clean

When the Outside Water Came In.

This area of Tennesse is known for its waterfalls. I had no idea I would have one in my home.

Let me back up a bit. Two weeks ago, I had a prompting to start tackling some of the bigger projects on the homestead. This means calling in contractors and shelling out substantial amounts of money. Mr. J is handy, but he is not replacing the roof handy. Time to bring in the big guns.

Our home has a metal roof that looks a bit like a patchwork quilt. I don’t know much about metal roofs, but I’m pretty sure that is not a good sign. The roofer confirmed it. He also found an area of the roof that had several inches of standing water and no slope to drain it. He promised to fix this issue when the roof is replaced…two weeks from now.

We weren’t too concerned, because while the house has several leaks there were none in that area…until early Saturday when we were hit with 6 inches of snow and below freezing temperatures.

The dam broke loose. Our son woke to water dripping on his bed at 6:30am and our day began.

Handy Mr. J overcame bitter cold and fear as he climbed the ladder again and again to try to scoop water off the roof with a squeegee on a long pole. On the inside, I was adjusting buckets and sopping water with towels.

Our outlook improved as the drips appeared to stop, but that was really just the water turning to ice as the temperatures dipped into the low teens.

This morning’s bright sun turned that around and we looked into our son’s room to find this…

Honestly, after a while, you take inside waterfalls in stride. It makes you take a good look at the dust bunnies on the floor and provides plenty of water to wipe them up with.

When outside water comes in, use it as an opportunity to clean the floor.


And did I mention we have guests arriving this afternoon? And before heading to church this morning Mr. J found a leak in our hot water heater?

Taking it in stride my friends. God allows these challenges to both humble and strengthen us.

Welcome to Tennessee

Where bees and blueberries lead to moonshine.

One thing that I quickly learned about Tennessee: make sure you have time to chat. In the front yard, two cars side-by-side on a country road, over a fence, at the grocery store. Folks in Tennessee chat.

A few days after we arrived at our homestead, a truck made its way down our drive. Inside was Ivan Lee, a good friend of the previous owners. Ivan stopped by to introduce himself.

Ivan is a beekeeper. He is spending his retirement taking care of bees and learning their ways. He is a man after my own heart. Two of his hives are on our property and Ivan wanted to make sure it was okay for them to stay there. Of course!

I let Ivan know what my plans are for the homestead and that he is welcome to put as many hives as possible on our land. Deal!

I see Ivan from time to time as he comes to work with the hives. On one visit, while chatting he mentions the pain from arthritis in his shoulder. Pain so bad he felt like putting a bullet in his shoulder to try to get it fixed. He relates how he has his bees sting his shoulder to relieve the unbelievable pain. It works. I run inside and grab a jar of my Lion Balm in case that might help as well. Another time he brings a jar of honey. As we chat, I find out that he loves figs. I run inside to give him a jar of my fig preserves.

Then last week I got a phone call.

“Nancy? It’s Ivan Lee. I have a mess o’ blueberry bushes. So many I had to mow ‘em down last fall. I was thinkin’ you might just wanna come and git some.” Of course!

I called Ivan today and asked if I could stop by and get some blueberry suckers. I arrive with my bucket, shovel and a jar of Dilly Beans for Ivan. This was one of my two jars from last seasons harvest. A prized possession. The least I could do for his thoughtfulness.

Ivan drives over from his workshop in his side-by-side, I hop in and he takes me to the blueberry patch. After a little guidance on digging up the suckers, he goes back to his workshop, and I dig in.

Once my bucket is full, I wander over to the workshop to thank Ivan again. He invites me in. This is a real workshop. Ivan is currently melting wax to prepare his hives for the spring. He has tools, supplies, and projects strewn about in organized chaos. This is where he spends most of his day. A heater keeps it toasty warm and there is always plenty to do. Not bad for a retirement gig.

We talk bees for a bit. I tell him that I learned about bee “glue” and that it is medicinal. “The propolis,” he clarifies. “We can collect some in the hives on your property if you want.” I’d love that!

After a bit he tells me about the loss of his wife and how soon after he lost his best friend. Another friend came to inform him of this second loss, bringing him a jar of homemade moonshine to help ease his pain. This friend has spent years perfecting his moonshine in his copper still.

“Do you drink?” Ivan asks. Why, yes, I do. He makes his way to a shelf where he keeps a mason jar of the ‘shine – for medicinal purposes, of course. He unscrews the top and hands it to me. I take a sniff. Mmmmm.

“Go on, take a sup.”

Ooooh, that stuff is smoooooth right out of the jar. I am amazed.

“You need to come over to my house and have a sup of something I have there.”

Alrighty then!

In his kitchen, Ivan pulls another mason jar out of his fridge. This liquid has a red tinge. He pours a good amount into a crystal glass and hands it to me. It tastes like cinnamon, my favorite.

He adds hard cinnamon candies to his friend’s moonshine and the result is like a mild Fireball. As I drink the moonshine, we chat some more.

Glass empty, I set it by the sink and head for the door. He asks if I need more honey. Of course!

I give him a hug. He thanks me for the hug. “I don’t get many of those these days, he says.” So, I give him another hug. “You and your people stop by any time, and we’ll have a nice chat.”

Walking to the car, I smile to myself thinking that sure was a very Tennessee thing to do.

And as I drive myself home, I am thankful the distance is short, and the road is straight.

Meeting Neighbors and Finding Cows

In all things God’s Grace abounds.

In my previous post I relate how our two new heifers escaped. Let’s continue the story with how they get found.

It is 1pm, Friday. The cows that arrived earlier in the week have disappeared into the dense woods of our property line. I need to leave to go pick up our oldest son and his new bride from the airport. That leaves Mr. J and 2 boys to handle the cow search. They form a search line and spend the next two hours looking for cows until eventually Mr. J and the boys lose each other. Still no cows.

Time for a new approach.


The sun will be setting soon. We decide the best plan is to reach out to our neighbors. We have been so busy working the farm that we have been unable to introduce ourselves to the farms around us. Now is the perfect time. Mr. J. drives the truck to nearby properties handing out cards with our number and asking for a phone call if someone sees our heifers. He gets much sympathy and understanding nods as he describes our plight. Evidently, we are not the first people to have cows break loose.

The sun sets. The cows are still out there on their own. We are worried. Our only consolation is that the weather is mild and there has been plenty of rain so there will be water out there for our girls.

After dark Mr. J walks out to our woods with a flashlight to have a final look. Shining the light into the trees he sees two sets of beady eyes peering back. Then the eyes close, the heads turn, and the two cows all but disappear into the night. Stinkers! But at least we know they are close.

With the arrival of our oldest son and his new wife for a holiday visit we now have more hands to add to the task.

The next morning is Saturday, and as the guys head out again to search the woods, Mr. J gets a call on his cell phone. It is a 911 dispatcher asking if we had lost two cows.

(Can I just say, I love the fact that 911 is instrumental in connecting the threads of our little drama and that the deputies are looking out for all the creatures in their county not just the people. I’m sure we also gave them a good chuckle.)

A sheriff’s deputy had seen the two cows and reached out to a nearby farmer to try to track down the owners. Fortunately, it was one of the neighbors we had given our number to the night before. The deputy worked through 911 to track us down. We identified the girls by their tag numbers and the dispatcher gave us their latest location.

The guys leap into action. As they throw on their boots, I gather water and protein bars to keep them going. We learned from yesterday that this cattle wrangling is neither quick nor easy.

Mr. J and the three boys meet the deputy and two concerned neighbors on a country road about 2 miles away from or homestead and get an update on the girls. Helen Reddy and Panda have moved off the road up the hillside into trees and brambles. Not optimal, but it could be worse.

At the top of the hill another neighbor on his ATV is keeping an eye on the cows and waiting for my guys to arrive so he can help. Dylan and his ATV prove to be lifesavers in this story.

But we have a problem. A big problem. Suppose we can get the girls; we have no way to contain them. It’s not like they will allow themselves to be herded. We don’t have a cattle trailer and our property is over two miles away by country road. We can’t think about that now. First, get the girls.

So, it’s all hands on deck with Dylan on the ATV and my four guys spread out at strategic points in the trees and brambles. Eventually, they get Helen down the hill to the country road. This is ideal. The road, fenced on both sides, creates a chute. And off that road is a gate to a well-fenced pasture holding a small herd of Angus cattle. The perfect place is placed right before us. Using our truck, the ATV, and three boys they are able to get Helen herded close to the gate. Mr. J and the boys keep Helen in place while Dylan calls the pasture’s owner, Travis, asking if we could get his gate unlocked and herd our cow in with his. He sends someone over to unlock the gate. Before long, Helen is contained.

Trying to lure Helen with a treat.

But Panda is out of sight, she zigged when Helen zagged. We got one girl secure, but the other is still out there, and we don’t know where. We think Helen will call out to her from the paddock and Panda will wander back to be close to her friend, but that will take time. Not much else can be done at the moment, so my guys head home and wait.

Back at the house, us girls are regaled with their adventure. The chasing through brambles. The running to prevent Helen’s escape. The helplessness as Panda heads off in the opposite direction. The helpfulness of Dylan and his ATV. The boys are animated in their storytelling and united in the experience.

Listening to them, I recall all the times as my boys were growing up, I planned vacations and activities with the goal of creating family memories and shared experiences. I felt I had to orchestrate moments like this for them to treasure. On this day, through no efforts of mine, a significant memory was created; an exciting day was lived. This homestead life we chose certainly makes life interesting and I am thankful that, at this moment, all my boys are along for the ride.

Around 4:30 that afternoon, I suggest to Mr. J that they hop in the truck and search for Panda one more time before it gets dark. Hopefully, she will have wandered back to Helen who is secure in the paddock. Mr. J, youngest son, and our new daughter-in-law, head out to have a final look for the day.

My three searchers wander about looking all the places Panda is not, while at the same time Dylan and his wife spy her from their farm and get her going toward the paddock with Helen. My crew falls in on the efforts. Panda heads to the gate, daughter-in-law opens it up, and Panda walks right in.

Hanging out with the big girls.

With the help of our neighbors, both cows have been found, corralled, and secured. We can breathe easy tonight.

Dylan, and his ATV, spent several hours that Saturday afternoon helping us. Time sacrificed for strangers who had lost their cows. We are humbly grateful.

The girls are tucked safely into Travis’ pasture with his cattle. When Mr. J offers to pay for their feed, Travis replies, “They don’t each much. You don’t owe me nuthin’.” When we worry that weather is preventing us from getting them in a timely manner, he replies, “They ain’t causin’ no trouble.” His hospitality is more than we could ask.

Our struggle with these two cows has brought to life in a tangible way the second of the two great commandments:

…”You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Mark 12:31 (NAB, St. Joseph’s Ed.)

At the end of this Gospel passage Jesus says that if you love God with all you heart and love your neighbor as yourself “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34) I certainly feel as though I have experienced a little bit of heaven here on earth.

In small town Tennessee, 911 calls you about your lost cows and your neighbors go out of their way to help you find them.

And amid all the struggle God’s Grace abounds.

The Well Stopped Working

And I am thankful.

Another busy Saturday on the homestead. The chore list is unending, but we pick a few priorities a put at the front of the list. This Saturday our goal is to paint the guest room and replace the heater in the room (because it stopped working).

Side note: my mantra on the homestead…

If it’s not broken now, it will be soon.

The guest room is a priority, because we have guests arriving Monday. Normally painting would not be a priority, but the ceiling in the guest room had to be repaired because the last time we had guests in that room there was a leak from the shower above and they woke up to dripping on the bed. So, my husband had to remove the drywall ceiling to investigate the leak and we have spent the past few weeks slowly putting it back together. But guests are coming so that is the priority today.

But remember: If it’s not broken now, it will be soon.

Saturday, late morning in the middle of painting and heater replacing the water stops flowing from the faucets.

Our homestead is on a well. That was a major selling point for us. Having our own well makes us independent. We are neither reliant on, nor answerable to the city for our water usage. The water is clean and delicious without chlorine or fluoride. Our water comes from below our property, not hundreds of miles from some faraway mountains. This is our water.


This is our water. This is our responsibility. I can’t call some clerk at some bureaucracy and demand that the problem be fixed by some stranger. It is our problem. Fixing it is up to us.

My 18-year-old son and I take over the painting. Mr. J goes to replace the heater in the guest room with a new one, only to find the old one just needed a good cleaning. Live and learn. By Saturday mid-afternoon Mr. J is able to pivot his focus to the broken well.

Mr. J and son investigate the well. They checked the pressure on the tank – it is low. They check the switch for the pump – it has power. The only thing left to check is the pump and that job is too big for my very handy husband.

Friends, the well stopped working.

And it is Saturday.

The beauty of small-town Tennessee is that everyone stops working Saturday afternoon and nobody works on Sunday. That, of course, is assuming you can even find a plumber that works in the area – evidently there are very few for our county. There was a local plumber we had called earlier in the week, but he is booked until January.

It is Saturday afternoon, and the well is not working.

But I am thankful.

How can I possibly be thankful? I have no running water and no plumber is coming to save us in the immediate future.

I am thankful that the weather is mild and it has been raining the past few days. After all, we could be freezing and in a drought.

I am thankful for the opportunity to test our emergency preparedness. I thought that having a well means you always have water, but the well stopped working. I need to make sure we have water storage on hand for drinking and flushing toilets. I can prepare for this now and be ready for the future.

I am thankful I get to test my Berkey water filtration system in real life. We poured water from an outside barrel in it Saturday night and used that water to make our morning coffee. And we are still alive.

I am thankful my handy husband was given a reason to thoroughly investigate the well system. It is a system he was unfamiliar with and now he knows how it is put together and can do some basic troubleshooting.

I am thankful for the chance to practice virtue. I seek to find joy in this while my husband digs deep for patience.

I am thankful my son had this opportunity to work with dad on a very real problem. He was helpful with trouble shooting the system and this will better prepare him when he has his own home.

I am thankful for the existing water catchment in place around the homestead. I was able to walk out my back door, dip a pan in a barrel, and heat it up to wash dishes.

I am thankful for YouTube and a bottle of wine. This made our Saturday evening almost romantic. We learned about wells and for a short time cared just a little less – thanks to the wine. YouTube has everything and RC Worst has a great channel on how to trouble shoot your well.

Our romantic Saturday night.

I am thankful Costco is not too far away and is open Sundays so I can buy more bottled water and get the supplies we need to make it through the next few days.

I am thankful we don’t have to use the outhouse. Our homestead has the original outhouse (a double seater I’ll have you know) still standing a short walk from the back door. It worked for the last century it could still work for this one. But thankfully I don’t have to find out…yet.

At lease it didn’t come to this…

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.

Daniel 3:89 (NAB St Joseph Ed.)

I am thankful for this homestead. This opportunity to work, to struggle, to do something real.

And eventually, I will be thankful for a well that works.

A Punch in the Gut

How the Holy Spirit finally got our attention.

It was a fate-filled Thursday, at the end of August 2021 when, over the course of that day, we went from telling our parents “We are thinking about moving to Tennessee” to deciding “We need to get out of California as soon as possible.”

Sudden and dramatic. That’s kind of how it happens when the Spirit smacks you across the head and you get the wake-up you need to move from the comfortable to the uncomfortable.

California was home for us. And though we spent over 20 years moving with the military due to my husband’s service, we always found ourselves back in San Diego. Back home. This latest time, we were settled in the home I grew up in, at a church we loved, with homeschool friends that cannot be found anywhere else. This little treasure of a community has not been matched anywhere else in our many moves. It was and is hard to leave this behind.

But this was still in California and in the last eighteen months my state had led the way in lockdowns and mandates. Our governor had taken away all manner of freedoms under the guise of safety. Even our county supervisors were exerting power and influence that did not belong to them. Many families we knew had already made the choice to relocate to other states. But not us. We didn’t see a reason to leave. Until we did…

Thursday afternoon while visiting with my parents, I let them know that we were thinking about moving to Tennessee at some point in the future, but we had no plans to sell our house. I just wanted to plant the seed, so that when we eventually made the move they would not be surprised. We lived about an hour away from my parents in California. My husbands folks were in Tennessee.

That same Thursday evening as my husband was talking to his parents in Tennesse, letting them know that we were looking into moving there in the future, I glanced at my social media feed. I saw a post that gave me a gut punch, took my breath away, and made my blood rise. Yes, it was that visceral. Our governor and state legislature were working on passing laws to further limit our freedoms. The conspiracy theory of vaccination passports was quickly becoming conspiracy fact. I showed my husband the news headline that got me fired up and within minutes we decided it was time to move. Right now.

Time to sell the house I grew up in. The house with no mortgage and unbelievably low property tax. Time to sell the house I said I would never sell. The home I had known since I was a year old.

That news headline provided the gut-punch I needed, the kick-in-the-pants to get us moving, but it wasn’t just that headline that sent us to a state with more freedoms and a life of more self-reliance. You see, our president also declared that all government contractors supporting the military would need to give up their medical freedom to stay employed. And that those employees who would not be coerced would soon find themselves unemployed. The deadline: December 8th. My husband’s steady paycheck may soon not be so steady.

It was time to get uncomfortable. Take a leap. Time to

Trust in God and His Providence.

It was time to trust. In a big way.

So, we tapped into a dream that I have had for many years: raising the healthiest food possible and living in tune with the land and the seasons. We decided now is the time. The time to find some land of our own, in a state that values freedom over supposed safety. Now is the time to leave the anonymity of the big city and connect with a smaller community. Time to raise our own food in the best way possible.

Friday morning, the next day, I called my realtor and began the process of putting our house on the market. The house I told myself I would never sell. The one that had been a part of my life for over 50 years.

The whirlwind began. Selling a home. Buying a homestead. Telling friends and family our plans. Explaining that we are seeking to

Do God’s Will

in all of this. That we believe this is God’s plan for us.

You see, God has a sense of humor. When I say “no” to something, God chuckles and says, “we’ll see.” When the Navy moved us from San Diego to Virginia in 2013, we said we would never come back to California. In 2017, we chose to move back to San Diego – and it was the right place at the right time. When, this past summer, I made a list of possible states for relocation, Tennessee was not on it. Tennessee was not on our list…until it was. A little voice inside told me to add it. And when we finally put it on the list of possible places to move, things began to snowball. My husband and I allowed our thoughts to move in that direction. We knocked on that door. Soon after, I got my gut-punch. And before we knew it, we were moving to Tennessee.

God has a way of opening doors. But we need to knock on the doors. We need to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. And sometimes we need a punch in the gut.