Lucy and the boys

Experiencing Life and Death

Our family had to say goodbye to our eleven-year-old dog, Lucy, this past week and it was way harder than I expected it to be.  Lucy was our first and only family pet and Joe and I got her just after we bought our first house together and three and a half years before we had kids.  So Lucy was a big part of our family and had been around for as long as the kids could remember.  Even for us, Joe and I realized that Lucy had been in our lives for a full third of the number of years we have been alive!  Yet, as with so many things in life, I am finding that the kids are showing me the way and also providing me with the comfort I need to deal with my grief. 


It is my belief – based on my observations of our kids as they have experienced life and death over the past few years – that when children are raised in an environment where they are educated about life cycles but also are not shielded from the death portion of the cycle, they will be more respectful of life around them and more resilient when they need to be. 


Over the past few years on our homestead, the boys have witnessed and even participated in the humane harvesting of some of our rabbits and chickens.  Just before we begin, we all say a prayer of thanksgiving for the animals’ sacrifice before harvesting them and putting the meat away in the freezer.  And when we serve the rabbit or chicken meat at dinner, the boys are both thankful and proud of their role in providing meat for our family.  


Similarly, as the boys perform their daily chores, they realize that by feeding the chickens and rabbits and helping them to grow today they are helping to put eggs and meat on the table tomorrow.  It’s a cycle of life that is more natural than we might be led to believe if we were not raised on a farm or around animals.


When we experienced what I like to call “The Great Chicken Massacre of 2016” back in the spring, I was the one to walk outside and find three chickens dead and mangled and two chickens badly hurt but still alive.  I couldn’t stop the tears from coming and I felt intense sadness for the chickens that I knew were in pain and would need help from us to stop that pain.  But the boys were there to comfort me and explain in more practical terms that this is the reality of life and death when you are raising farm animals.  And they were also the first ones to offer to help reinforce the chicken coop so that a predator could not gain access to our chickens again.  They respect and protect life whenever possible but also realize that death is an unavoidable part of life.


As we walked out of the vet’s office after being reassured that it was indeed time to let Lucy go, tears were streaming down my face and all three boys looked up at me with wide, caring eyes and then closed around Lucy and me in one big group hug.  On the drive home, they asked many questions about what was happening with Lucy and how she would die and what would happen to her afterwards.  (These sort of discussions about life and death are always much harder on me than they are on the kids.)  Our oldest son suggested a location for a burial plot in our woods and offered to help dig the hole.  The younger two offered to gather stones to mark the spot so that we could always remember where Lucy was buried.  And in the week that followed that vet appointment before we returned for the final appointment, I often found the boys petting Lucy and talking to her lovingly, saying goodbye in their own way. 


It is my strong belief and my deepest hope that because our children have been respectfully exposed to life and death from an early age, when they grow up and are faced with things like factory farms using inhumane slaughter practices or the overfishing of our rivers and oceans or human/animal cruelty of any kind, they will know immediately that these practices are wrong and might even have the courage to stand up and speak up and do something about it.  And when they buy meat at the grocery store or farmers’ market, they will understand and respect where that meat came from and be thankful that they are able to enjoy it in a meal.  And when they are faced with hard decisions or situations in their life, they will be more resilient and will be able to see the big picture of life and death on this earth.  We’re already pretty sure that at least one of the boys is going to be a biologist or ecologist or geologist…or something else with -ologist at the end of the name!  One of the other two is currently trying to decide between being a farmer or a priest.  Tough decision, kiddo.  But seriously, whatever they decide to do with their lives, I know that they will be (because they already are) some of the most caring, empathetic, respectful human beings that I have ever known.    


If you are nodding your head to anything that I’ve said here or just want to read a similar perspective in the news, check out this article by Joel Salatin that appeared in Mother Earth News magazine earlier this year.  He puts it much more eloquently than I did and with more experience behind his words.


Rest in Peace, Lucy.  We will remember and love you always.

last day - Lucy, Joe, and the boys


we miss you, Lucy!



Regaining My Balance…Literally!!

It is probably evident from the fact that I haven’t done any posts in the last 18 months, but for a variety of reasons, life has been more than a little hectic around here lately.  For me, a lot of it came to a head last November impacting me in a pretty scary way.


I had just taken on a new role at work which was (and still is) really demanding.  Longer hours, faster pace, more travel, etc…  It is a positive thing career wise but definitely puts a tax on the whole work-life balance thing.  Thankfully, the kids have been taking on more responsibilities around the homestead, taking care of the chickens and rabbits, but it was still becoming awfully hard to keep up with everything.  We were also bearing down on the holidays, which felt extraordinarily busy this year for some reason.  Thanksgiving was coming up fast, followed by a week long hunting trip with my father-in-law and brother-in-law (a fairly recent addition to my annual tradition which I have come to cherish), followed almost directly by a work trip which would take me out of the country for another whole week, after which we had only a few short weeks until Christmas/New Years.  I know…boo-hoo me, getting a great new role at work, having nice holiday time with my family/friends, a rejuvenating week in the woods with the guys, and a trip to Europe for a week before being off for a long Christmas break; but as Maria could tell you, I can get pretty easily overwhelmed by a continuous stream of plans, and with the new job, I knew that this was all going to bring a world of stress trying to keep up with anything.


With all of this on the horizon, I woke up one morning feeling a little stuffy in the head, like I normally feel when a bad cold is coming.  I hit the pre-emptives pretty hard that day, taking in as much raw garlic, elderberry syrup, and vitamin C as I could stomach.  Things stayed mostly stable the rest of that day, except for a feeling of increasing pressure in my head, to the point where I started feeling “water-logged”, making my vision a little slow to stabilize when I turned my head suddenly.   I went to work, but by the middle of the next day, I started to feel what I can only describe as really drunk (without the pleasant feelings of euphoria).  It was getting really hard to focus my vision, and I started to lose my balance a bit when walking.  Early in the afternoon I had a meeting with my new boss, and was hardly able to keep it together.  He probably thought I was crazy as I could hardly look him in the eye without feeling nauseous.  I left work right after that meeting…that 45 minute drive home never felt longer.  I ended up pulling over at one point to throw up after being at an intersection where I had to look back and forth a bunch of times to find a break in the traffic (sorry to whoever’s front yard that was!). 


I got home and laid down hoping that it was just a bad virus and I could sleep it off.  Only when I woke up, things had gotten even worse.  By that night, I couldn’t focus my eyes enough to make out words (let alone read the kids a bedtime story), and when I walked, I stumbled around like a drunken sailor.  I couldn’t keep much food or water down without throwing it up a few minutes later when I moved my head too fast.  When I looked blankly at Maria, she said that my eyes were constantly moving back and forth really rapidly despite my best efforts to keep them still.  The only thing that didn’t feel completely awful was to lay down in silence with my eyes closed (which even then my eyelids started to get sore from the CONSTANT eye movement). 


By this point, I was getting really freaked out.  So, I did the one thing you should never do when you are freaked out by an unexplained medical condition…I searched the internet.  Fighting with every ounce of energy I had to focus on the screen, I was able to convince myself that I was probably dying from mad cow disease, which I must have contracted from the super-rare cheeseburger I had eaten over the weekend.  I went to bed filled with crazy thoughts of what would happen to the family if I died, or maybe worse, what life might be like for all of us if stress had caused a permanent snap in my brain where I would live like this for the rest of my life; a deranged madman…”Crazy Eye” Joe.


At this point we had to wait until the following morning to see the doctor.  In the mean time, it came out from discussions with lots of different people that the symptoms were very synonymous with vertigo; a disruption in the inner ear which basically controls every part of your body’s ability to balance itself and equilibrate vision, caused by a number of factors including the dislodging of small stones in your ear (what the hell…I have stones in my ear?!??!) or the rupturing of small liquid “endolymph” sacs in the inner ear (a condition known as Meniere’s disease).  Basically, it can cause all of the things I was experiencing; nausea, loss of balance, “horizontal nystagmus” (that damn eye movement), etc…  I was very surprised to find that a number of people I knew had gone through this, including a few for which it is a recurring issue (which is really scary considering how debilitated I was…I could not imagine having this consistently).  Many of the pieces fit with that vertigo diagnosis, so at the recommendation of some close friends, I did all sorts of funny exercises to try to reset the stones in my ear, hoping that it would make it go away.  Unfortunately, they didn’t work for me, and only made me want to throw up again. 


The next day I went to the doctor and she pretty much confirmed that diagnosis that it was something like vertigo, though postulated that it was probably caused by an inner ear infection which caused a pressure buildup which ruptured those fluid sacs.  She gave me an anti-nausea medicine (a God send), some gel drops to relieve my eyelids which were pretty much raw at this point (a HUGE God send) and a round of antibiotics (which knocked things down, but didn’t totally resolve it).  It took about a week until I was able to function normally again (read, drive, etc…), missing quite a few days of work while Maria chauffeured me around (which might sound nice, but I hate to be dependent like that). 


Fast forward 3 months and I am mostly back to normal (though still not sure that I have totally kicked that inner ear infection since there is some residual imbalance and I still suck down some pretty nasty looking phlegm throughout the day).  We ended up having a great Thanksgiving, a good hunting trip (though came up without any meat in the freezer :-P, but 4 days in the woods is never bad), a successful work trip, and a really nice Christmas holiday.  Things have stabilized mostly with the new job, and we are getting close to hitting stride in our family routines again.  The whole experience reminded me how fragile our delicately balanced life is, where the  imbalance of only a few micro-liters of liquid in my ears could completely change our world.  I am thankful for my wife, family, and friends who so quickly rallied to help me out when I was down.  I am proud that we had positioned ourselves for resilience to absorb (for a short time anyway) the disruption that this caused in our lives.  While we are passionate about natural treatments and remedies, I can’t deny that I was really happy that a few select pharmaceuticals were available to resolve an acute condition like this.  I am eternally grateful that my condition mostly resolved itself (be it by pharmaceutical or divine intervention), and my heart goes out to those that deal with this condition on a routine basis. 


Looking back, all of the things that were stressing me out were meaningless in comparison to being able to just lead a happy, healthy life with people that I love.  It is a perspective that I already find it difficult to maintain on a daily basis…I will just need to set a reminder to come back and read this post every once in a while to remember how crappy it was to be debilitated, and how lucky I am to have my health, my wife, my kids, my family, and my friends!