Wednesday, June 30, 2021

A Killer Week

I've been working diligently to get through this week. But it's been a doozy. Surprisingly, one of the harder things for me has been that my kids are in all different places this week. I emotionally miss being with them, and I find it hard to feel like my heart is in different places. 

Isaac has been home, and helping me on the farm. He's been a HUGE help and has really focused on helping me get through my daily events. 

Hannah has also been home, but she's been going back and forth between our house and her cousin's house. 

Sidge and Abigail have been at two separate camps: Abigail a full day ballet intensive, and Sidge, a full day camp at the awesome Longview Ranch about a half hour away.

I could NOT have gotten through this week without a lot of people helping. My Uncle Ed has been doing 2.5 hours of watering at the Kotynski's each day -- we have a huge overflow garden over there. My cousin Hannah has taken the girls to ballet everyday. My friend Jenn has taken the boys from camp everyday. Jacob. Anni. Gabe. Our returning woofer, Maryann. I really needed all these people to get through.

Here are a few snapshots from the week:

Abigail is at a full day ballet intensive this week. Here she is practicing partnering with the professional, Dylan, who does a lot with our studio. Gabe is partnering too, and Isaac is also learning!

Here's a picture of Gabe practicing partnering with Maryah. (Isaac wouldn't let me take any pictures of him.)

Hannah and Isaac don't have camp this week. But she's getting to spend a lot of time with her cousins. 

To say the farm has kicked my butt this week would be a huge understatement. John has worked 4 of 5 days in the ER, and we are processing chickens on Monday and Tuesday next week. Meat chicken season is SO hard. 

Here's my attempt at a fish tail braid for Abigail's ballet day. 

Working on buns for Abigail

Sidge with his buddy Micah. They are at Longview Ranch this week for their day camp!

Sunday, June 27, 2021

We Bought a Farm: So much learning

This life is HARD with a capital H. Slow life? Yeah, right. If you want a farm to settle down into retirement, think again. What you really want is one potted plant and a cat. 

Life with four kids on a farm, homeschooling, isn't nearly as slow as I dreamed. It will take a Type A controlling personality (like someone I know) and flip her upside down and throw her out sideways. Plan A never works on a farm. That isn't being a pessimist. It's just the gosh darn truth.

But, ohhh, the things my kids get to do. The life they live. Anni took Hannah with her to milk the goats today. And here's the video they took. PLEASE watch it to the end when Hannah goes to say something but it appears she is the one making the goat noises!

When I think of throwing in the towel, I think of moments like this and the good outweighs the bad (most of the time).

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Grandparent's church and the piano

Last Sunday I attended the grandparents' church with my kiddos. John was working. (He usually gets two Sundays off a month. The other two he works.) Isaac had just started playing piano at the grandparents' church around the corner when COVID hit. Now, well over a year later, he can return to trying to do that again.

I captured a few videos of Isaac playing piano to share:

Piano video 1

Piano video 2

Piano video 3

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Car Wall

I have decided, as therapy from this COVID year, to write a book on our family's experiences with this virus. I have no idea if I will finish it or I will publish it, but I hope to!

In the meantime, my Blog posts may be a little less writing and a bit more quick posts about our life. It's the best way I can come up with to keep my Blog going, but to focus on my writing right now. The more Blogging I do . . . the less writing I do!

So here is the current adventure on our farm. My amazing husband fashioned this wall mount on the boys' bedroom wall with 250+ cars! (Our Isaac is a HUGE collector of these cars. He saves his own money to buy them! Many stay in the packaging, but the ones that don't, needed a display.) 

Here is a video of us putting the finishing touches on it and here is the finished product and some of the preparation in the garage:

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

A farm poem (while battling for my mental health!)

To my trusty sideklick jumpin' line

My loyal help

My dog at my side.

And the nearly full moon in the waining sky

As I feed the chickens

and bid them g'night.

The sheep in their paddock resting comfy and sweet

At peace in the night air

Baa'ing quietly to sleep.

I thank the human that learned to breed chickens

That are big and fat 

And born to help feed us.

And I'm proud of the scarecrow my husband created

To outsmart those owls

That tried to lament us!

My son in his hammock reading at leisure

The breeze softly blowing

As the rain brings us treasure. 

I've been stopping more moments in the quickness of farming

To love on my land

And the serenity it brings me.

It isn't as slow or as calm as I'd like

And many a day

I think "I'm done with this life."

But when I take the time to look at the life all around me

I see God's sweet touch in our pastures

And the gift -- oh so sweet.

Tomorrow's a new day; The animals won't wait

But this land is my home

And it's hills are my place.

    Monday, June 21, 2021

    Anni moves to K-Town

    My friend Stebbs said she is going to call our little town here in East TN, K-Town after Kitsteiner-Town. That might be a little extreme, but we are excited to have so many people we know and love moving around us. When we moved to Bulls Gap, the eight of us raised the population by a whole percent. (Not hard when the population is 800.) Here's some other people who have moved to Greene County. (Most are not going to be in Bulls Gap proper, but we still consider them right-next-door.)

    • My cousin Eddie and Hannah moved about ten minutes from us three years ago. They are in Mosheim. 
    • Eddie's parents, my Aunt Jan and Uncle Ed, moved here last year. They are currently renting a little trailer while they build a home in Greeneville. 
    • My parents bought a home in the big ol' city of Greeneville that is currently under renovation. They hope to split time between South Florida and here as my Mom joins my Dad in semi-retirement.
    • John's sister and her husband: (a different) Eddie and Katie bought land that borders our farm at the top of the mountain! They hope to be here sometime in early 2022. 
    • We had good friends purchase a property down the road from us that they hope to use for vacations and as a rental property.
    • (I have another good friend considering a similar purchase of a vacation property as well.)
    • My friend Erin and her two kiddos will be residing on our farm for about 6-8 months starting in August. Her husband is deploying, and they are going to rent a little piece of our property to get to "live the farm life" while their Daddy is far away. This is a great family, and I'm super excited about this.
    • And last but NOT LEAST is Anni!!! She and her foster daughter (whom I cannot post photos of) have officially moved to our little town as of yesterday! This is so incredible for us. She purchased land and is working at a children's home in Greeneville! We cannot believe we are going to get to have Anni right around the corner from us now. (Hopefully, forever!)

    Saturday, June 19, 2021


    Life is kicking my butt. 

    I wish, at 44, I could finally say: 

    I got this. Been there. Done that. I'm through that valley and all that is left is the trees and the mountains and sitting around eating nuts and berries.

    (Man, writing the number 4-4 is incredible. I am 44? How in the world did that happen? How can I possibly be getting close to 50? Where in the world does time go?)

    I know we never arrive. That we are always growing and learning and changing and evolving. But man, you'd think at 44 the majority of the work would be done.

    I'm battling feeling overwhelmed. And I know it's because it's June. June on a farm is TOUGH STUFF. It's the time when the meat chickens are present, and that alone takes eight weeks of nose to the grindstone type of effort.

    I've done something to my knee.

    My weight is higher than I want it to be. 

    The Emergency Department is kicking John's butt. Like kicking h-a-r-d. His shifts are brutal and packed and completely overwhelming. There is hope on the horizon but it isn't here yet.

    On a farm, plants die if they aren't watered. Animals get eaten by predators if they aren't put to bed for the night. Water must be available. There is no ability to say: "I just can't do this." 

    You gotta do it.

    Same with motherhood. I don't have the option to say: "I don't want to take care of these children." 

    They require complete devotion.

    So I'm struggling. Battling some mild depression and anxiety. I never hesitate to speak TRUTH about my life. For people reading. And for future me reading this Blog someday, remembering that there were hard times.

    This is a hard time.

    Thursday, June 17, 2021

    Gardening find Gabe

    Gabe found a real, actual, arrowhead while we were gardening in his yard today! This is so unbelievably cool to me. A real “someone” from centuries ago, lost an arrowhead on their land! So neat!

    When you hit 10,000 steps at 10:30am

    Wednesday, June 16, 2021

    Family from Turkey

    I am SO glad we are no longer in the military. 

    But when I say that, I am in no way implying I am not grateful for my time that we were in the military.

    For us: the moving, the good byes, the lack of predictability, the bureaucracy ... seven years was all I could take of that life.

    But ohhhh the people we met during those seven years of life. 

    To this day, I consider people in the military individuals that I need to take care of. If you are PCS'ing through (permanent change of station), you have a place on our farm, and I will make sure you can regroup and unwind. People did it for us. We will do it for them. That's just how the military is. That's how it's people are. We are a resilient bunch. And while the word is flocked with complicated connotations, in the end, that word means we will push onward. We will utilize connections and resources. We will do the next thing even when we think we can't.

    We were stationed on Eglin Air Force Base from 2007-1010. This is where we got our dog, adopted our first son, and had our surprise Elijah "Sidge." From 2010-2012 we were in Turkey. This was where we brought Abigail home to. And from 2012-2014 we occupied a home on an island in the middle of the Atlantic on Lajes Air Force Base. This was the first home our Hannah ever had. 

    While all of those places was home, it is Turkey that occupies the largest chunk of my heart. I could write pages and pages on our life there. It is etched permanently on the recesses of my heart. It's language is one I came to speak. It's culture one I embraced. 

    Sarah. William. Graham. (And Ryan who wasn't here with them.) Part of our family. Sweetness.


    It's hard to believe that it has been over five years since I said good bye to my Scrubby. He really was our "first child." Obviously, a dog is not a human. But he truly occupied a place in my heart that was grieving so badly from infertility.

    And now, I have three more dogs. I love them all, but Arabelle is my dog. She is brilliant beyond belief. A dream dog. The kind of dog that people stop me and say: "How did you teach her to do that?"

    And I could pretend that I am some master trainer, but the truth is, Arabelle is simply that dog. She is my right-hand-man on the farm and my partner in crime. She gets jealous when one of the other dogs slides in front of her for pets because she is mine. 

    This video really speaks to me. Dogs are incredibly powerful. I know God made them simply to provide joy to humans.

    What a cool God.

    Tuesday, June 15, 2021

    June on the Farm

    June on the farm is BUSY.

    Not just a little bit more BUSY. A LOTmore busy.

    Like, a lot.

    In addition, my body is fighting off a run with anxiety and depression.

    Today, I filmed this video describing the crazy day we were having here. 

    But this friend was here with me ...

    I wrote a post documenting this friend's involvement in my life back in 2017. 

    She is such a gift to me.

    I am blessed with such amazing people in my life. And each of them has a different role, a different strength, a different gift. 

    "Stebbs" gets me when the anxiety of life takes over. She knows how to talk me down off cliffs. She can be brutally honest with me. She can call it like it is.

    In addition, her young William is one of my Sidge's best friends. He was here with Sidge this week. My Sidge, who is in his own hard times. And we watched as Sidge healed while he was here. Belly laughs. Big smiles. Peace. Even momentary.

    I am so blessed to have her in my life, and so blessed to have had her with me these last few days.

    Life is now going to take her from the Washington D.C. area to Nebraska as her husband finishes up his time in the military.

    I'm not sure when I'll see her again, but this visit was a great BIG God hug.

    Sunday, June 13, 2021

    Getting a bird to eat out of your hand

    I am going to be documenting Sidge's journey to getting-a-bird-to-eat-out-of-his-hand. Stay tuned for updates and pictures.

    Ballet Camp 2021 (Part I)

    This past week, both my girls attended a ballet camp. For Hannah, it was an older version of "Princess Camp." This was perfect for my youngest. While she has an athletic body and all the potential in the world, I'm not sure her desire is anywhere close to her potential at this point. Here is a video of their closing "show":

    Hannah Ballet full dance

    In fact, you can see from this video below, that even when doing ballet, she figures out ways to be silly:

    Hannah Ballet (short, silly clip)

    Abigail, on the other hand, is all-focus. When she was Hannah's age, she participated in a six hours a day camp. (Hannah would never want to do that.) But Abigail is a very serious dancer. This was actually a "beginner" camp, however, the girls in it were her age, and I thought it would be nice to do something "short and sweet" (two hours a day) with kids her own age for once. (She's often with older girls.) She ended up getting to "lead" one of the dances as you can see below. (I know I am partial, but I think she did an amazing job).

    Abigail Ballet full dance 1

    And here is the second dance they performed:

    Abigail Ballet full dance 2

    Thursday, June 10, 2021

    Any guess which one is Hannah?

    I love this picture (above) of some of the ballerinas in princess camp ... no big surprise that the one that's my daughter ...

    ... is the one without shoes on. So like her to beat to her own drum. All the time!

    Wednesday, June 09, 2021

    Thanking my husband


    Will y’all do me a favor?
    This man John Kitsteiner has loved me for almost 30 years. He has supported me during infertility, anxiety, depression, in ten homes on three continents.
    This last year kicked his butt as he managed a pandemic as the co-director of a rural ER. He never wanted to be the director. And he certainly didn’t want a pandemic, but he did it.
    Ask anyone who works with John and they will use the same adjectives to describe him: kind, intelligent, humble, down to earth .... he’s an incredible doctor ....
    .... but he’s an even more amazing husband and father. During the last month our family has come out of covid and been hit by anxiety and depression — in me and in two of our children. We know this is probably both hormonal and situational after the year we’ve gone through.
    But John doesn’t blink. He continues managing his ER (which is seeing record numbers of patients beyond what their capacity can handle after losing many nurses during the pandemic) and then comes home to a fragile wife and struggling kiddos and wraps us up and guides and loves us while still managing the farm that waits outside his door.
    I know it may be corny to shout out to him on social media, and he would tell me not to do it, but I want to.
    If you have read this far, will you leave a comment with an adjective to describe John? Or share a story or memory? If you’ve seen him as a patient, please share! He would never ask for encouragement but this year truly took it out of him, and I want him to know how many people value his wisdom and character and the amazing man that he is. I love you JB.


    The Internet is always coming up with something new! Here's the latest! Thanks Kristin Girton!

    Tuesday, June 08, 2021

    Chapter 7: Back Dosling/Guck

    We are going to be doing a science experiment around these parts. First, we must formulate a hypothesis. If a goose hatches a duck egg and thinks that the little baby is her gosling, will the bird grow up to be more duck-like because of its nature ... or will it grow up to be more goose-like because of its nurture. 

    It reminds me of a favorite book in our house: A Blessing from Above which details the story of a kangaroo that adopts a little blue bird. 

    As an adoptive-family, I am constantly amazed by the lessons I witness and could give on nature vs. 

    Here's the truth: there are things my son that does not share my DNA does that remind me so much of his birthmother. A movement he makes. A facial expression. A look. 

    And then, he'll do something that makes me think: he's definitely a Kitsteiner

    And now, we will have the opportunity to see how this works with ducks and geese! 

    So fun!

    Monday, June 07, 2021

    Losing in Chess

    Sidge snagged these pictures of me attempting to beat my eldest in Chess. 

    Truth: he beats me nearly every time.

    Truth: if I stand a chance, I have to concentrate very hard.

    Truth: While I can sometimes get all the way down to a "win", I stink at preventing a draw!

    Truth: Who invented this game? I mean, it has to be the best game of all time? Would anyone argue that?

    It's summertime here. School is done for the next two months. So I am trying to spend my days playing games with the kids, getting some long-overdue organizing around the house done, and of course, the farm calls our name even louder in the heat of the summer. 

    I have begun to recognize that May may be the hardest month for me on the farm. I think it's because the farm has started to pick up for the June/July push, but I'm still trying to educate my children. We haven't completely finished schoolwork, and yet, the farm is requiring my presence more and more.

    June, on the other hand, is actually an easier month than May because the pull to both things has ceased a bit. The kids don't need me for their education. The farm needs me more. 

    Saturday, June 05, 2021

    Chapter 5: Therapy

    Hard labor may be some of the best therapy there is. 

    I suppose, in my growing up years, that therapy was my athletics. I can clearly remember struggling with my emotions during my senior year of high school. I asked my English teacher, Mrs. Mackey, to excuse me, and I think, sensing I was struggling, she let me go to my athletic director father's office. (She was a gem by the way)

    My wise Dad sent me out for a jog. 


    I don't shoot baskets anymore or kill a volleyball to release anxiety and depression. But I can unload the back of a Ford with two tons of chicken feed and feel better. 

    Here's what I'm learning ... more and more as I spend extensive time in this rural bit of America ...

    We are designed to moveWe are designed to work. Both sexes. (Although I really think, boys especially, need work and girls have the ability to find outlets through other things.) I think athletics helps replace that fact, but I truly believe the absence of movement is affecting our children. 

    Our boys are turning into me, and they crave responsibility and jobs and purpose. Today, Sidge successfully pulled John's tractor out of a ravine with the side-by-side. What a moment for him!

    Truth: our family is dealing with some anxiety/depression right now. One of my sons is battling. I'm battling. A daughter is struggling with some sleep issues related to anxiety. It's awful to feel this beast as a grown-up. But to watch your child face that same beast and be helpless to fix it, is gut-wrenching. 

    But as son and I unloaded these bags of feed, you could tell: this movement, the strength required, sweat, heat ... it's good for the soul. It means something. It's ... therapy.

    Pine Cove Camp 2021

    This is my oldest daughter. Like any child, she's incredibly special, and it can be hard to put her into words. 

    And because I love her so much, I can't even stop myself from posting BOTH of these pictures of her this morning, out with me on the farm as the sun was rising before 7am. 

    And while I find it very hard to put her into words, her camp counselor, after just five days with her, was able to put her into these three words above -- which truly highlight her nearly perfectly.

    Both my daughters just finished a week at Pine Cove Cam, hosted by my church: First Christian Church Greeneville. This is the second year we've had an opportunity to be involved with this amazing "traveling" camp, and I seriously cannot put into words how impressed I am with every aspect of what this camp does.

    Three years ago, our church decided to stop doing "traditional" VBS camps. Instead, they "hired" Pine Cove to come to our church and put on a camp. The first time, my oldest three went. Then came a year off with COVID. And now this year. The boys are too old, Abigail could return, and Hannah could attend for the first time.

    From the moment you pull into the property, these counselors are demonstrating more energy than I could have ever thought possible for 9am in the morning. I got a video of our "morning arrival" here. 

    I love that my girls were sad the week was over and so blessed by the opportunity they had to attend!

    Every time I watch the sunrise on the farm I think, I should do this everyday. Until it’s 6am, and I’m cozy in my bed, and I don’t want to get up to go outside yet. 

    But this morning, it’s a perfect 57 degrees, and my heart is resting in the sounds of the world waking up. Everyone needs a chance to hear nothing artificial. I can’t hear any vehicles or sounds but the world waking up. 

    Thursday, June 03, 2021

    Chapter 4: The Basket in the Tub

    This happened when we were moving 400+ meat chickens across the property in our side-by-side. We needed one more container to put the chickens in so I asked Isaac to go find me something as I kept my brain sharp for the counting I was doing. Gabe and Sidge were loading the chickens into the bed. I was in charge of keeping a close count on how many they were loading. 

    Trust me on this. You don't want to get your count off when you are loading multitudes of chickens. The counter is very important. Focus. Let the loaders load. The counter counts. 

    Writing that paragraph makes me think of the song: And the haters gonna hate. Perhaps my chicken-loading could be set to the tune of some sort of pop ballad someday.  

    Keeping my focus, I yelled over my shoulder to Isaac: "Find one more container for the last 20 chickens!"

    Had we put the chickens directly into the "bed" of the side-by-side they could have easily jumped out. So we had put three boxes in the back. But we needed one more. 

    Isaac came back with one of my clean laundry baskets from the house. 

    I honestly should have told him that was a terrible idea and please find some cruddy, broken down box somewhere. But it was very hot. The chickens that we had already loaded were waiting in that heat to get to their new home. And I just wanted to move 'em out. So I said "okay!" and the laundry basket became holding tank #4. 

    After it was done moving chickens from one side of the farm to the other, it got chucked to the side of the brooder when the bed needed to be used for something else. This morning, I brought it back into the house and tossed it into the tub to wash when I could get to it. 

    Later, my husband would say: "Why didn't you bring that outside and wash it with a hose?"

    Why didn't I wash it outside with a hose? I honestly have no idea. That's a WAY better idea.

    I used to dream of a pristine farm. One where every single thing was where it was supposed to be. There would be no random pieces of wood scattered around the driveway. Everything would be perfectly mowed. No extra feed containers littering walkways. Tools hung up perfectly in their pre-determined spot.

    But what I have learned in five years of farming is that a working farm means work is occurring. And that work means scattered messes here and there. You can try to keep it fairly clean. But pristine farms mean one of two things:

    1. No work is actually occurring. The farm looks great, but it's all just a facade. It isn't a real working farm.

    2. No money is being made. They are spending all their time worrying about how things look and spending tons of money on barns and shelving and not on the things that really matter. 

    If anyone can find a farm that is pristine and making money and really working, more power to you. I don't believe it's a reality. A reality is laundry baskets in the bathtub.

    It's why I laugh when I see pictures of people decorating their house in "farmhouse" style. It's very white. And very clean. Is this the perfect definition of irony. A real farm has mud and boots and dirt and scuff-marks and seed catalogs and buckets. 

    It's real. Real isn't what my mind imagines. But real is what it is.