Saturday, April 30, 2022

We Bought a Farm: Auditory Observations from a Hammock

My daughter, Hannah, snapped this picture of me resting in my hammock. 

The following are the notes I logged in my brain during an hour of rest on my hammock:

A donkey (our neighbor's -- man can that thing get loud.)

Children giggling in our neighbor's yard. 

My own four children and two of their friends chattering inside the house and going in and out and in and out as they played. 

A goose hissing at a perceived threat. 

The splashing of a duck in our little duck pond. 

A rooster. Crowing.

Cluck. Cluck. Cluck. (Those are the chickens.)

Quack. Quack. Quack. (Ducks).

Honk. Honk. (Goose). 

At least four different types of birds squawking/singing/chirping. I actually thought: "I'd like to know which is which."

My umbrella getting hit by gusts of wind. 

Some sort of bug or frog or creature making a noise repeatedly that I was trying to memorize so I could try to figure out what it was later. But as I figured, it was erased from my memory moments after the noise stopped.

The wind. You can't hear the wind. Obviously. But I could hear the leaves moving. I could hear the side of my hammock flapping. I could hear the umbrella flapping. 

Dogs barking at neighboring farms. (I had put my own dogs inside the indoor kennel so they wouldn't find mischief while I was relaxing.)

* * * * *

I remember when my children first came back to the United States after spending their early years away from "normal USA." The first years of their life, as they could remember them, were on a military base in Turkey (Incirlik) and then on a 19x21 mile island in the middle of the Atlantic (Terceira Island in the Azores, Portugal). . 

As we sat inside my parents' house in Coconut Creek, Florida with my two little boys, toddler daughter, and new baby, I remember Elijah "Sidge" kept saying, "All I hear are cars and noise."

I had been trained that those noises were normal. I grew up in a trailer park on a six-lane road. Noise pollution seemed normal.

But it's not. 


What's normal is nature. Peace. Solitude. The Earth. Breathing. Being. 

I have been trying to take one hour each day to be completely unplugged and in nature. Not just working on the farm. But resting. Listening. Feeling.

The words that started this post are what I observed with only my ears in one hour.

Friday, April 29, 2022


I am
Not sure 
How different 
My life would be 
Without this family in it. 
This was family I didn’t know well 
Before we moved to the Smoky Mountains  
And now they are such a part of me 
That I’d be incredibly lost 
Without them here
With us 
On our

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Theo Turns 2

Little Theo turned two yesterday. His second birthday always reminds me of Bronco too since Gabe got his dog right around the time the Kotysnki family had child number 6. We had a little time to have a mini family party to celebrate Theo. Here were some pictures I took:

This is actually a photo of that morning. I took Theo WITH the Quad Squad (and Grama helped!) so that Hannah could get her house a bit in order to have a little party.

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Perfect Word

The Perfect Word

By: Wendi Kitsteiner

(It's been 14 years, and the beauty of this word is not lost on me ... ever.)

The test says "No."





I can't even imagine it as I look back. (And it was me who was hearing and seeing it in those moments.) Over and over again. How did I continue standing? Continue moving onward? 

How could I hear "No" sixty times? Or more. Yes, more than sixty times. Year after year after year after year. And not completely give up? I look back and think:

I was stronger than I knew

Or did I give up? Perhaps I did. Perhaps I gave up and didn't even realize I  did so that the "No" didn't hurt so bad after awhile.

Maybe I became numb to the word "No."

Again and again and again.

All the while my friends and family heard "Yes" and I smile and I hug them and I even buy a present and sit and pretend that I don't feel jealous when I can't even possibly imagine how it would feel to be them. And I dream so hard that I was them. And it doesn't feel fair to not be them. 

And that other lady hears "Yes" a second time. And a third. While I sit there and listen to the "No" over and over and over again. 

And their "Yes" is so reliable that they plan for their "Yes." They say, I'll shoot for a "Yes" in May. (And this is beyond anything I can even comprehend, and I want to laugh, but I don't.) I just want to hear a "Yes" in any way. On any day. 

I don't plan for a month of the year or the right timing between a "Yes." I just want to hear it. Just once. 

But I hear "No."




I ask for help. And the doctors say "No."

I cry.

I beg.

I plead.

I move on.

(Or I try.)

Do I ever really move on?

And then someone asks me if I will be the Mommy to their miracle. My barren womb opens its arms and a little beautiful baby climbs inside and emerges from the deep recesses of my heart. 

I hold the power to say "Yes."

look at that child and I choose "Yes." I choose to be a Mama. And the babe falls asleep on my chest and is breathing small puffs of baby's breath into the wrinkles of my neck as I spin the word around in my mouth and whisper it and yell it and can't believe I get to hear it. 

"Will you by my Mommy?"


I give a precious soul a place in my home and the judge says: "This child is now your blood. This child is equal in all ways to any child that comes from your womb. Will you say yes?"

The word floats around again in a place where it never seems like it will land and hold truth of its own. But it does. And I yell: "Yes!" 

The baby is buckled in, and instead of suckling to my chest, it's tiny self cradles into my arms. My body doesn't make milk, but I am okay with "No" because this "No" means this perfect child is the child of my barren womb. 

I just sit in awe and count the tiny fingers and toes and cry and thank God, and I no longer look for a "Yes" because I've received the "Yes" of my dreams.

And the "Yes" is more perfect than I could imagine.

And I thank God for the dozens of times I heard "No."

To receive the privilege of this exact, "Yes."

Saturday, April 23, 2022

An Easter Egg Hunt

Kids grow up. This may be the very first year my boys did not participate in an Easter Egg Hunt (that I can remember.) But they helped hide the eggs. As did Micah and Noah Jenkins (brothers that hang out with us sometimes.) I waited until after Easter so I could buy half-price candy. It was simple. But it was fun. The Quad Squad + Theo = fun times!

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Wee-wind Wednesday

Life flies by. 
In 1994, John started Art School at the Fort Lauderdale Art Institute. 

In 1995, I left for college at Western Kentucky University to play basketball.

When he finished art school in 1996, he decided to make a go of life in Kentucky with me.

He got a job working for a graphic design company in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where I was going to college. When they went out of business, JB kept going -- designing for companies in the area. My parents co-signed on a $10,000 business loan, we got all the computers he needed, and he started his own graphic design company.

These were his first business cards. 
In 1998 we got married.
I graduated college in 1999.

By 2000, we had moved from Bowling Green to Franklin, Kentucky so I could be closer to my teaching/coaching job. JB continued to run his business out of our home. 

He decided to go back to school. Just take a few science classes to "see what was out there."

By 2003 we would be moved to Minnesota for him to start medical school.

I stumbled upon one of his business cards the other day. 

SO many memories ...

How is 2022?

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Elijah's passions

Our 13-year-old Elijah "Sidge" is now 5'10". His passions include: 

  • Woodworking: he takes a class with Grama every Wednesday, and his precision and perfection goes well with the craft. The bird feeder (above) is one of his first completed projects. 
  • Fish and aquariums: he'd have 100 aquariums if we'd let him. We bought him a tank for Christmas and it truly filled him up in so many ways. 
  • All things animals: he'd take dogs and animals any day of the week. He is actually going to "run" our turkey production this summer. 
  • Birds: Loves him some birds. In fact, Ms. Blair came over the other day to bird with him. 
  • Plants: He recently started his own herb garden. He loves planting and is working on seeing what plants he can bring from the outside in and help them regrow. 
  • Being outside: He truly seems to be affected when it's raining and he can't go outside. 
  • Marvel Movies / Star Wars movies: Enough said!


Headaches subsiding

Today marks 30 days without a migraine. Some slight headaches here or there but NOTHING like the endless migraines that seemed to surround the last two years of my life. 

I've battled headaches since I was 21. However, two years ago, I got an IUD. This was not for birth control, but simply to help with some very heavy bleeding I have battling. Unfortunately, the neurologist I finally went and saw felt very confident that these were making my migraines worse. 

We still aren't sure if that was the case, but at the end of December I had the IUD removed. March 15 I had my last headache. It's been a month now. Praise the Lord!

We are hoping that they are gone forever, but even if they come back monthly, I can deal with that. I just need a reprieve sometimes. 

So thankful for all the prayers and encouragement!

The three youngest girls

Our Two-family Homeschool has evolved quite a bit. It began with Abigail paired off with the older Kotynski girls, Ana and Kari. When they first arrived, Kari was in 4th grade and Ana in 6th. Abigail was in 1st believe it or not. 

As the Kotynski big girls got bigger, Abigail slowly migrated into hanging out more with the younger gals: Genevieve and Hannah (both in second grade). Abigail, now in 4th, unfortunately, always feels she's a bit of a person without a country, but she's more and more becoming close with these two best friends. 

Genevieve and Hannah are best buds. Eoin, who is in 3rd grade, hangs out with them too, but you can tell the boy in him will start to deviate from them more and more. 

I am so incredibly blessed to have this family in my life. I feel I don't Blog as often as my kids get older. There's so much they do not want shared. But there is so much I want to remember. These little gals are a big part of that.

Monday, April 18, 2022


Talking about abortion with Abigail yesterday after a piece came on The radio. Farm kid says to me: “Mom, I don’t understand how you get pregnant if you don’t want to be. If you can only get pregnant at a certain time. So if you don’t have sex at that time, you won’t get pregnant and won’t have to think about abortion.”

Friday, April 15, 2022

Friday Funnies

Hannah had to do her Xtra Math website that she does each day. She said to me: "What a horrible name for a website? Don't they know kids won't want to do anything called Xtra connected to Math?"


Aquariums make such an awful noise. It sounds like all the fish are peeing.


And a flashback Friday Funny for Old Time's Sake:

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Thursday Throwback

I have been enjoying looking back at old videos and reflecting on my children. What an incredible gift to be able to watch them grow up on video. To remember all the incredible moments. There is so much I am unhappy about in the world right now -- and especially this social media age we live in. But my GOODNESS there are some great things about living in the century/ies we do!

Raising Teenagers (copied from Facebook)

I have no idea why people say raising teenagers is so hard. It's really quite simple.

You just need to make sure you let them have their independence but also have a strong set of rules and boundaries.

You need to supervise their education but don't interfere too much. Check the parent portal, but not too much. Ensure your child is doing their school work, but not too much. Grades aren't that important, but make sure they are trying their best.

Monitor what your teen is doing online, but don't invade their privacy. Keep up with all the latest trends on YouTube and TikTok and SnapChat and every app that comes out each day. Set appropriate screen time limits even though most of their school work is now online.

Stay involved with your teen but let them fail.

Pick and choose your battles, but not that battle. Not that one either. Maybe that battle, but you won't know until later if you picked the right one.

Make sure you find a village but be prepared that the village could kick you out if your teen does something wrong.

Spend quality time with your teenager, but don't force them to spend time with you. Don't worry if they never want to spend time with you. That's normal.

Teenagers absolutely need their sleep. Good luck getting them to go to bed. Or getting them out of bed in the morning. Also note, teens need to learn to get themselves out of bed in the morning and put themselves to bed at night.

Nutrition is super important, so make sure your teen has access to fruits and vegetables, but also don't make what they eat a big deal. Ignore the 47 empty bags of Takis you found in their backpack and encourage healthy choices. Sour Patch Kids are practically a fruit.

Give your teen loads of grace, but also hold them accountable. Just make sure you are picking and choosing the right battles.

Keep talking to your kids about sex, drugs, social issues, online dangers, what to do in an active shooter situation, consent, their future, the environment, etc.  Let them do the talking.

Make sure they are kind but know how to stand up for themselves. Teach them to respect authority but not succumb to it. Raise independent thinkers but don't let them get too extreme. Learn how to fight for causes they believe in but don't ruffle too many feathers.

Make sure they are well-rounded by participating in activities but also ensure they have plenty of downtime.

Don't take your teen's attitude personally. Remember you're the grown-up. But don't beat yourself up when you don't act like the grown-up. You're only human. Give yourself grace.

Love your kid exactly as they are, but make sure not to raise a jerk. Model good behavior even when your kid never wants to come out of their room. Make sure to spend quality time, but respect their privacy.

Encourage them to discover who they are but never comment on their clothing, hair, significant other, friends, activities, or any choice you disagree with at any time.

Try to enjoy every moment, even when your teen makes it hard.
Why does it always feel hard when it looks so easy for everyone else?

Oh yeah, don't forget to pick and choose your battles, but after you picked one you'll probably realize you chose the wrong one. Again.

Don't worry too much.

The kids will be fine as long as you do your best. Stay available and on their terms, but not too available. Don't let them walk all over you.

All they need is love. And rules. And independence. And boundaries. And resilience. And confidence. And humility. And manners. And money.

And an education, unless they don't want an education. Then they should find a trade but make sure you don't push them in a certain direction. Make sure you let them chase their dreams but in a realistic way. Don't worry if they don't know what they want to do with their life but make sure they get a job out of college.

Help them, but don't enable them. Support them but don't coddle them. Be there, but make sure you're not there too much.

Love them through it all.

See? I told you raising teenagers is easy.

*If you've read until the end, I hope you get that this piece was completely tongue-in-cheek and written in jest. The point is that parenting teens is HARD and there is no one way to do it right. If you are struggling, you are not alone.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Sidge following in John's footsteps

Man, this kid ... without any prodding or pushing from John, he seems to be the one who wants to do the types of things that John does. Animals, fish, plants ... it's all his choice. And all things he loves. 

There is no question we love BOTH of our boys and ALL of our children completely equally. But oh it's so different with all of them. The things they love and are passionate about are just DIFFERENT. 

God made them all UNIQUE. No amount of farming can make a farmer out of a kiddo who doesn't want to be farmer. 

And no amount of anything could keep the farmer out of Sidge.

Been a Fun Week Here

There has been a TON going on around here. As you've seen from previous posts, JB took a trip from Portland back to TN with two of the four kiddos (Abigail and Sidge). I stayed home with Isaac and Hannah. Grama Joni came to hang out with me during the time John was gone, but she purposefully overlapped with John returning so she could see the other two kids for a day or two. 

John returned on Friday late-afternoon. Joni flew back today (Sunday afternoon).

Joni AND JB overlapped with one of the biggest events we've been able to celebrate here on our farm. Our dear friend Anni officially became a Mama. Her adoption of little Trin (whose name will now be Tristan -- although I think, with Anni's permission, she'll still be "Trin" to me) was official on Friday. Here's a picture of them after the Judge signed all the stuff!

Anni was planning to have a party at the pavilion of a church down the road. However, the weather did NOT cooperate and at the last minute, we shifted it to my house. Forty or more people at the last minute? No biggie! Especially when my amazing housekeeper, Julie, agrees to SWOOP in and help get the house looking fantastic. 

Life on the Bauernhof is NEVER boring. And I am NEVER lonely.

Saturday, April 09, 2022

Books we are reading this school year (2021-2022)

The Sonlight Curriculum is CHOCKED full of reading. There are SO many books. I am constantly reading. I thought I would try to do a post where I shared the books we are reading this year.  I am also including books I have read in my spare time this year. So here we go. I'll put comments on them to as I can!

I read this book with my 7th-9th graders. I did an oral reading of it which you can view here. Holy cow was this a POWERFUL book about war, community, different cultures coming together ... incredible and so pertinent as our world seems to be falling apart all over again.

Pontius Pilate by Paul L. Maier was a HUGE surprise to me. I never dreamed I could find a book "like this" so interesting. I truly feel every Christian should read this to understand the political climate around the time of Christ. This was a SONLIGHT book (through the Christian History curriculum). I am changed because of this book. Truly had my eyes opened to a lot of things. I actually believe they have phased this book out of the current curriculum (I bought an older version) but it was just GREAT! (Sonlight: 10th grade British Literature/Christian History Curriculum)

The Ravenmaster's Secret was generally received with good reviews by my Language Arts class at co-op. A part of the Sunlight CORE H, it follows the life of a boy in the Tower of London. Did you know this was a real place that people lived (and still live today?) Did you know that people were hung for the entertainment of others? Did you know that the ravens in the tower are full of some great lore and history? A good book with good lessons and good history. An easy read for your middle schooler. (SONLIGHT: Core H World History 2 designed for students in grades 7-9).

This book: A Murder for Her Majesty was SO fun to read. Truly one of the most fun and well-done and cleanest kid's "mysteries" I have ever read. Gives a great look inside the church and boy's choirs in England. Loved this one! (SONLIGHT: Core H World History 2 designed for students in grades 7-9).

Escape Across the Wide Sea was a look at the Jacobites and the French and what it meant to not be Catholic during this time ... and also what it meant to be a slave during this time. Follow a family basically forced out of France unless they convert aboard a ship that first goes to Guadeloupe and then onto the East Coast of the USA where they developed their own colony. Not the best written book ever but a very easy read with lots of eye-opening reminders of the challenges people faced in their journey to America and freedom. In general, the kids thought it was "okay" but the learning from it was substantial. (SONLIGHT: Core H World History 2 designed for students in grades 7-9).

I am not sure HOW in my life I escaped high school and college without reading this book but what a TRAGEDY that I did not. Truly, this is one of the most brilliant pieces of literature I have EVER written. Bronte's writing is simply beyond words. How can she have such a complete handle on the English language so continuously?! How can the story by THIS good?! Blown away. This will rank as one of my all-time favorite books. (Sonlight: 10th grade British Literature/Christian History Curriculum)

What would a good ol' British Literature course be without a bit o' Shakespeare. He's never been my favorite and never will be ... I read Romeo and Juliet with my three tenth graders. We watched the 1964 film as we read it. None of us enjoyed it very much. There are other Shakespeare novels I prefer so we will try another one later. (Sonlight: 10th grade British Literature/Christian History Curriculum)

The Broken Blade was FANTASTIC! A great middle school piece of fiction with lots of adventure and lots of learning. Sidge thought this was one of the best books he read all year. I really enjoyed reading it and learned a lot about the Voyageurs who travelled long distances in a canoe to sell goods to the Native Americans. (SONLIGHT: Core H World History 2 designed for students in grades 7-9).

The King's Fifth was not one of our favorites. It is set in the world of Spanish conquistadors and involves the hunt for gold with murder and adventure. I read it with my 7th-9th graders, and we all liked it "okay enough" but it wasn't our favorite. (SONLIGHT: Core H World History 2 designed for students in grades 7-9).

This version of Anna and the King was "okay." I have not read the more Adult version, but this one was simply "okay." It was interesting to get the general gist of the story (and we watched the musical that has made the book famous) but none of us loved it. I did this book as a read-along for the kids. (SONLIGHT: Core H World History 2 designed for students in grades 7-9).

But Don't All Religions Lead to God
This story just did not work for me OR my students. To be honest, the dialect that the author chose to use made it SO hard to follow along. I tried it on audible and "in the flesh" and just had such a hard time understanding what was happening. I abandoned it, as did all four of the kiddos reading it. We won't read this one again. (SONLIGHT: Core H World History 2 designed for students in grades 7-9).

The Gammage Cup was an enjoyable read for me, but the 10th graders I had read it, weren't impressed. I really think it has to be intended for a younger audience. It's a witty tale about a race of people called the Minnipins -- small people who become BIG heroes. It's an introduction to fantasy for kids (and actually, the word "muggles" is first introduced here), but I am not sure I would have my students read it again. Really didn't offer anything historical and just sort of a dud for my high schoolers. (Sonlight: 10th grade British Literature/Christian History Curriculum)

 Enchantress from the Stars is a book I will read with my kids, but I read it on my own in preparation, and I loved it. (Sonlight: 10th grade British Literature/Christian History Curriculum)

The Sherwood Ring was a VERY fun story. Told with ghosts and flashbacks. Peggy finds herself involved with Colonial ancestors and personally witnesses the unfolding of a centuries-old romance. This was brilliantly spun, and a bit older than some of the other CORE H books we read insomuch as following the story. (SONLIGHT: Core H World History 2 designed for students in grades 7-9).

The Ramsay Scallop follows a young betrothed girl on a pilgrimage to far off Spain. This book was a good read, easy to follow, and presented a thorough explanation of what a pilgrimage actually looks like with a bit of adventure and romance intertwined. (SONLIGHT: Core H World History 2 designed for students in grades 7-9).

Still working through this one with my high school students but REALLY enjoying it. I am learning SO much about all the contributions of Christians/Christianity to our history. Women's rights, human rights, the rights of the unborn ... the first scientists were definitely Christians as a matter of fact. Really outstanding. My 10th graders are really enjoying it as well. This is definitely a book for kids old enough to discuss sexual topics/sexuality/perversion/ etc. (Sonlight: 10th grade British Literature/Christian History Curriculum)