Leif’s Story, Day 1, Part 4

Shortly before the girls arrived in a quiet moment in my room, I received a message from my friend, L.A. In it were words sent straight from Heaven. I couldn’t have been more appreciative of the vessel she allowed herself to be when I read:

Baby Bird (The Gift It Is To Be)

Baby bird lays in a tree

Warm and safe ‘neath mother’s wing

Knowing not a world of sin

 Or pain or suffering of man.

He knows of only joy and love

Protections by his God above,

The care his parents give and of

The gift it is to be.

In his egg, he stays untainted

Blue and white and speckle-painted

Content to live unchanged

From his fetal state of life.

For to live a life so short as

Straight heaven-bound from unhatched

Is having not such things as

The devil and his strife.

He’ll know of only joy and love

Protection by his God above

The care his parents gave and of

The gift it is to be.

 

I cried as I finished it and thought to myself, Oh, yes…what a gift it truly is to simply be. I read it to Leslee and said, “Those last 4 lines…they have to go on his headstone.” Leslee agreed.

I had a moment to myself later. No one was in the room. Leslee had gone to get our things and see the girls off. I was alone. Alone with Him. A moment I had been waiting all day for. I looked over at my baby in the crib, sweetly “sleeping.” I started sobbing. Desperate pain and sorrow overtook me. Oh, Father, please give me strength! Give me comfort!  I don’t know how I’m going to do this! I love him so much! I can’t bear this burden, God. I need You! I need You to take this! I don’t know what you’re thinking. I don’t know what path you have me on, but I want you to know I trust you. Please give me peace.

And then the poem came to mind and even amidst the deepest sorrow I’ve ever felt, I felt gratitude, which only brought more tears. Thank you for letting him “be” with me. Thank you for keeping my little treasure. I told You I wanted to raise him to be Yours…This isn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I’m grateful, Father. I’m so thankful I got to be his mommy.

 

Leslee

The girls arrived and ran to me. I soaked them up—sight, smell, and sound. Taegan’s little face was tear-stained. Oh, how I wish she could have been spared the pain of this. And oh, how I hoped this didn’t shake her faith or ruin the burgeoning little relationship we saw our daughter enjoying with the Lord. I prayed about that– and sensed it was up to us to model what unshakeable faith looked like for her. I walked them to our room and Taegan was the first to enter. She went straight to Breauna and held on. I had watery eyes. They held onto each other like a lifeline. Taegan saw Breauna’s mom holding Leif and averted her eyes.

“Do you want to hold him or see him?” Breauna gently asked her.

She shook her head.

“That’s ok. You don’t have to,” she said. As mothers do, I knew Breauna could sense every question Taegan wasn’t asking. Every thought she wasn’t speaking. Several family members had arrived with the girls. They hugged each other, offered mutual condolences, and looked at Leif for the first time. Breauna took that moment to quietly tell Taegan through tears of her own, “Baby, you don’t have to be strong right now. It’s ok to cry. Daddy and I are so, so sad and it’s ok for you to be, too. But I want you to know this: God didn’t do this because He’s mad…or because He’s punishing us…or because He doesn’t love us. He is still good and still faithful. I believe that with my whole heart and I want you to believe that, too. Ok? He’s going to get all of us through this.”

Taegan was fighting back tears, but she nodded her head.

She never did look at Leif. Never did ask to hold him. But, when the nurses brought the memory box in with sweet little pictures they had taken of him, a locket of his hair, a special blanket they had wrapped him in, and other little keepsakes they thought our family might like, Taegan untied the green string, looked at every photo, gently touched and inspected each item, and neatly placed it all back in there, tying the bow neatly as if it were something precious. She sat there in a tall chair by Breauna’s bed faithfully for an hour and a half being a little rock. And I can’t number the times she picked that memory box back up and gently, lovingly caressed each item in there while a tear or two would roll down her cheeks. I couldn’t help shedding a tear or two myself as I thought about what she was going through. How much love this little girl had for a baby boy that wasn’t able to feel it. How she had longed to feed him. Longed to hold him. Longed to love him. And in that moment, I did feel a little sorry for Leif. Even though I knew he was in a much better place than I…because he was missing out on Taegan.

 

Breauna

That night was the worst night of my life. Shock was wearing off. Each time I would go in the bathroom, I couldn’t bear to look at myself in the mirror. I didn’t. Everything about me was a reminder of him. I already knew what this felt like. I didn’t need to see it. Everyone had gone home for the evening which left Leslee and I in some much-needed, but very painful silence. Although we were completely exhausted, we didn’t really want to go to sleep.

The nurses were supposed to come take Leif some time in the night so the funeral home could come get him. Leslee had taken it upon himself to make all the arrangements and I was grateful.

I fell asleep some time around 11 and woke back up at 1. I immediately looked over where Leif had been to find him still there. I don’t know why, but this wrecked me. If he had been gone, it would have wrecked me. Everything wrecked me. I was wrecked. If daylight had been unimaginable, the night was beyond comprehension. I let the sobs rock my body. I tried to be quiet because Leslee had fallen asleep, too. We need him to get some sleep, I thought to myself. He’s got a lot on his shoulders right now and I’m too weak to carry anything but this. I reflected on our conversation before bed. As we stood over the crib and looked at our sweet baby boy, I turned to my husband and broke down.

“Will I ever be ok again?” I clung to him and cried my eyes out. “Will this gaping, gut-wrenching hole ever be filled? Because I don’t want to feel like I’ll never recover from this! I don’t want to feel this hole forever!”

All the while, I was wrought with guilt for feeling this way. Salty, guilty tears for having the opportunity to carry on without my baby boy. And wanting to do it without feeling the weight of this misery. People had told me this hole would never be filled, but that time would make it better. That offered me no comfort. It left me feeling like a comeback was impossible. So I turned to the only person that might have an answer for me. The one I trusted most with predicting my outcome. These were uncharted waters for me…but they were not for Leslee. Amidst this present grief, he had been here before. He had walked out of a hospital without his child…and without a wife. He had navigated the unimaginable.

He put his finger under my chin, lifted my face up, and in answer to my question said, “Although I don’t want to say it, you’re not through the worst part yet. But, let me tell you this…you will be ok again, baby girl. We’ll get through this. And just speaking from my own experience, holes can be filled. And it doesn’t mean you love the ones you lost less…it just means you found joy again…and that’s ok. We have two beautiful girls and I love you. I can carry us. We have much to find joy in. We can fill holes, baby. Don’t feel guilty using a shovel.”

He lay sleeping and his words continued to run through my mind. Holes and shovels. I got out of bed and walked over to Leif’s crib. My heart implodes while new tears burst forth. I walked back over to my bed, but decided to sit in the chair next to it. I grabbed my phone and clicked on Pinterest. I wanted distraction. But, as I scrolled, I found no satisfaction. Distraction wasn’t a luxury awarded me. So, I decided to look up comforting Bible verses. I knew them all, but felt led to look again.

“Code blue! Code blue!” an automated voice declared over the intercom system in the hallway. I didn’t know what that meant, but knew it couldn’t be good. I went on scrolling and read verses like Psalm 14:73, “He heals the wounds of every shattered heart.” Isaiah 43:2, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.” Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” I continued to seek His word for comfort in this as I continued to cry. And then, as I do when anything affects me positively or negatively, I decided to write. I sobbed as I wrote, but yet I didn’t want to forget the moment.

“Code blue! Code blue!” the automated voice again sounded the alarm. It had been about an hour and I wanted to know what that meant. Cardiac arrest was Google’s answer. A patient requiring immediate resuscitation. I inhaled slowly. Oh, please let that baby be ok.

My tears had started to dry up. It was 4:30 in the morning. My eyes were getting heavy and I crawled back into bed. As I drifted off, I was awakened by a screaming sob in one of the rooms down the hall. Leslee stirred. He heard it, too. I wanted to run out of my room to her, but all I could do was squeeze my eyes shut and grit my teeth knowing there was nothing I could do to ease her pain. I knew that all too well.

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Messes and Miracles (The Flood, Part 2)

The rain turned into a light mist and then dissipated. While enduring the waiting, all I could do was pace…or clean. The girls were inside with me and we were all restless. Little Luxe was feeling the vibes and constantly wanted me to hold her. Taegan decided that a rainy day was good day to go to Papa & Nanny’s, so she took off before Leslee came in the house.

When he walked in, I was ready to get in the side-by-side and go see the situation. He was hesitant to even go driving around because the sound of our Ranger is a call of sorts to our cows. They know when he’s driving around in it that 1) food is coming or 2) it’s time to go to the milk barn. Our stranded cows were already motivated to be milked—as they are every morning—and Leslee didn’t want that to entice them to attempt crossing the creek. It was way too deep and swift!

Not knowing cattle as well as he, I asked, “Are cows good swimmers?”

“Ehhh, they do alright. They really need to be able to bounce off the bottom while they swim to stay afloat. I don’t think they could ever get any footing with as fast as it’s moving and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s 10 feet deep.”

Well, that settled that for me. Cows are big, but they’re not that tall. I was really hoping that even if some did attempt to cross this morning, worst case scenario would be getting washed down to a different property, not drowning.

“Can we go check on them? See if they’ve moved or maybe if they’re even there at all??”

He hesitated, but curiosity and concern won out. We loaded ourselves and Luxe into the Ranger and took off for the only vantage point Leslee was able to get to.

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Beauty amidst disaster

It was a muddy mess of a ride with little flood-made rivulets all over the property. Dairy farms tend to be muddy, anyway, so it made an everyday problem ten times worse.

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Sometimes disaster creates beauty.

As we drove through the first gate, the cows that had stayed on higher ground all night were gathered…just standing there. That’s not normal.

“See, look at them,” Leslee said. “They know something’s wrong. You should have felt the mood in the barn this morning. They were mopey and a little tense. They’re missing the rest of the herd.”

He called another cow by name and said, “She’s been bawling quite a bit this morning.” (Bawling means “calling by mooing” if you’re not familiar with dairy lingo). “The girls she’s with aren’t the ones she usually hangs out with.”

Cows have cliques. They stay together for the most part, but they have their certain little tribes within the group. Kind of like people. You tend to separate into different age groups, different likes/dislikes, etc.

Listening to him speak with such care and intimate knowledge of his cattle led me to think of all the bad press farmers get regarding their treatment of animals and the farming practices they choose to implement. I’m sure I could meet some farmers around the world that practice a moral or ethical code that I would not agree with. Show me a career field that DOESN’T have unethical or immoral people. But, THIS farmer on THIS day and every other day is what I know. And it’s worth sharing in a world that seems to be so angry all the time at the people providing them food. This man knows them all by name or number, knows whom runs around with whom, immediately realizes one might be walking with a limp, notices when droopy ears might be a sign of sickness…all of it. He cares.

We arrived on a high-point from which Leslee had last seen a few of the trapped cows. I’d never seen anything like it! Water was EVERYWHERE—to the point I was disoriented about location. I couldn’t pinpoint where exactly we were from where they were because all dry land was covered.

We looked through a gap in the trees and about 250-300 yards across the water, we could see some cows. Not all 36, mind you, but at least some. Leslee breathed a small sigh of relief and said, “They moved.”

“What do you mean they moved?”

“That’s not where they were when I came over here last. They were able to retreat.”

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“Ok, so that’s not the piece of land they were on before?”

“No, it’s covered now.”

I felt an overwhelming amount of gratitude to God then. A friend had told me she was praying for God to put “a hedge of protection” around our cows and seeing them butted right up to a line of trees immediately made me think of her wording. A hedge. That’s exactly what He had done. And whether He had given them some extra intelligence or moved them Himself, they were on higher ground.

Fortunately–and yet still unfortunately–we could only see 6 or 7. Although Leslee was glad to see some had survived, I could tell he was preparing himself for the worst. Thirty-six cows was over half of our milking herd. When you’re a small operation, every last cow matters. Six or seven of 36 was not going to improve our potential loss. Replacing thirty cows was not an option for us financially. The only option upon suffering a loss of this magnitude was selling out and starting a new, unknown journey.

“These are the same cows I saw earlier. I don’t see any new ones,” he said.

“At least these are still OK. We know He’s got these. Maybe we just can’t see the other ones. There’s a lot of trees and brush they could be hiding in. Or maybe they got separated from this group and they’re holed up in a different spot.” Positive Polly here…trying to lift her husband’s spirits.

I was choosing to believe it. I was still going to believe that God had saved every last one of those cows and I just couldn’t see them. So, I got back on the computer and updated our friends and family about the current situation while continuing to ask for prayers of protection. The tremendous outpouring of love, offers of help, and prayer was palpable. If it’s possible to tangibly FEEL the power of prayer and love, I was feelin’ it.

It gave me a good boost for what was next. More rain was coming.

 

Conversations Between the Farmer and His Wife, Part II

We’re in the second week of the farmer’s low-carb, high protein, no sugar eating adventure. I chuckle as I type the word “adventure…”

This has not been an easy feat for my grains and starch and sugar loving hubs. In fact, he’s been quite cranky. And I get it. It’s only been  two weeks. You do a lot of conquering what your brain is telling you you’re craving in that period of time. Your body has to remember how to pull energy from fat storage instead of just burning carbs. You get a little lethargic and moody sometimes when your body was used to counting on something it’s not getting now. He’s had great days where he’s thought this isn’t bad. And he’s had bad days. I think the phrase, “My life is no longer worth living” comes up periodically. (Dramatic, anyone?)

However, he’s stayed the course like a champ and looked fiercely forward to the one cheat day he gets a week where he goes completely off the rails and has whatever he wants. On the non-cheat days, he can have whatever he wants as long as it’s meat, eggs, veggies, beans, and nuts. And ya know what? He is very visibly shrinking. While he loves that, he still has to complain just a bit because he feels like he’s eating the same things over and over again. (He kinda is…but ya know what? That right there is part of why he’s been so successful).

This afternoon was a bad day. It didn’t help that I’d let our supply of foods he can have dwindle. It also didn’t help that I was within earshot–he’s gotta play it up for that.

Farmer (as he stands with the fridge doors open): “I am so SICK of lettuce! This fridge looks like a stinkin’ vegan lives here. My options are green, green, green…and green.”

Me: “Oh, come on now! Look at what’s in the crockpot for dinner! STEAK! And you’ve liked every meal I’ve made all week.”

Farmer:  (grumble grumble…something about how they’ve been alright, but not his first choice. )

Thanks, honey. Thanks a lot.

Me: “Really when you think about it, I’m not even cooking much differently than I usually do. I mean, what is missing from our meals that I used to make?”

Farmer: “HOT ROLLS! POTATOES!”

Me: “I NEVER MADE HOT ROLLS! And potatoes? We hardly ever had potatoes!”

Farmer: (more grumbles…something about at least he could have had them if he wanted to)

Because of his lack of choices and apparent desperate hunger, he settles on some refried beans mixed with salsa. And continues to be the curmudgeon to my positivity and bubbliness. But, see, this only eggs me on because it’s my greatest pleasure to make him smile and laugh in these moments.

And even though the farmer’s cranky, his mood actually improves his natural sarcasm and wit…which I get a kick out of.

So, I shift gears as he berates the fact that I told him he could have sweet potatoes. For the love of all things good, when will I be serving sweet potatoes?

Me: (with a ornery smirk) “Now, is this how Jesus would talk to His bride?”

Farmer: (as he looks at me incredulously and holds up his bowl with what looks like brown and red mush in it) “Is this what you would serve Jesus??!!”

At that, I am in tears. Laughing so hard I’m crying at the thought of this being the straw that broke the camel’s back for Jesus. He continues on with his spontaneous skit. Passing his bowl of refried beans and salsa to  imaginary Jesus in the chair next to him and saying all kinds of more hilarious, sarcastic things as he offers him our “best” food and hospitality. I can’t even catch all of it because I’m about on the ground. All the while knowing that I in no way forced my beloved to eat what he concocted in his bowl.

However, because of how hard I am laughing, guess who’s smiling…and laughing. The more I howl, the more he cracks up.

And that bad mood takes a severe hit.

 

Jesus’ presence wasn’t so imaginary in that chair next to my husband, after all.

 

Conversations Between the Farmer and his Wife

The farmer is baling and wrapping hay all day today, but he came in for a quick bite to eat. As I walked from my desk area to the kitchen carrying a plate, he says,

“Watcha doin?”

Me: “Oh, ya know, what I do best…”

Him: “Editing?’

Me: “Well, I was thinking more along the lines of eating, but I’ll take editing, too. I’m multitasking. All while being SUPER efficient because I’m eating leftovers…therefore, no food is going to waste.

Him: “Yeah, I see you also finished off the last Clif bar.”

Me: “I couldn’t let YOU eat it!” (He’s all low carb, high protein, no sugar right now. I took one for the team. That’s sacrificial love right there, folks. In action. )

Him: “Oh, no! We couldn’t have that!”

Me: “OH, OH! AND here’s the best part, (I ignore the prior sarcasm) while I’m eating, editing, and being SUPER efficient, I’m also growing a tiny human! And that quite possibly makes me the most productive person you will encounter today! 

Him: *smirk*

Trust me, it blew his mind. I rendered him speechless. He’s a lucky, lucky man. (I’m still hungry.)

The Family that Hays Together

Last weekend was a momentous weekend in my years on the farm.

It all started with knowing Dad, Mandy, and the farmer would be gathering up all the square bales from a neighboring farm we cut hay off of and split between the owner and ourselves. So, I was aware of what Saturday’s plans were; I just wasn’t aware of what MY plans were until my dad informed me Friday night that I would be driving. Driving meaning I would pull the trailer with the truck as the rest of them walked along beside, picked up the square bales, and hefted them onto the trailer. Sounded simple enough even though I’d never done anything like that before.

So, what do I do? Arrive ready to do it straight up farm girl.
20160924_1157501Dad has to hook up the trailer and tells me to go ahead and drive the truck to the field. Since he’s in the passenger seat, I’m already feeling a fair amount of anxiety–because I have a good feeling he’s not going to get in the driver’s seat and back the honkin’ truck up to the trailer himself.

Me: “Are you going to back up to the trailer?”

Dad: “No, I’m going to coach you.

Oh no…said the city girl who 1) is not an expert backer and 2) cannot read hand motions or follow directions.

The farmer was already headed down the dirt road and saw us–or more importantly me in the driver’s seat–cross the road into the field. He later told me he wished he could have stopped and watched because he knew it would be good. Brat.

So, he has me swing around to where the hind end of the truck is in front of the trailer, hops out, and proceeds to wave me on back.

“Ok, straighten up a little! 

I straighten.

Straighten up your wheels!” 

I am straight.

“Straighter! Turn your wheels to the left!”

How is that straight?? He’s walking towards the driver’s side window.

Pointing at the steering wheel, he says: “When “Ford” is straight in front of you, you are straight.”

It wasn’t. I was looking at the tires the whole time.

Ok, so now that we got that part accomplished, he continues to hand motion me back ward and then throws up the fist that means stop. Well, I found that the difference between my husband’s fist and my dad’s fist is that Dad means for you to slam on the brakes while my husband means an easier stop.

Therefore, I have to pull forward again.

I think we did that about 3 times before Dad said, “Two inches. That’s all we need. Two inches.”

Finally, we got it as Mandy was pulling into the field on the side by side. Dad waves and points at the truck like “HA HA! Isn’t this a kick in the head?” Her expression mirrored his.

Little did I know he was going to continue to make me drive. He hopped back into the passenger seat and by this time, I’m being more vocal about my anxiety. “Dad, I’ve never done this before! I’ m going to take out every fence post from here to there! I’m not coachable!”

Long story short, I’ve watched my husband more than I realized, swung wide where I needed to, used my mirrors, and trusted Dad to tell me how best to maneuver through tight spots.

So, now it was my turn to learn what “bucking bales” was all about.

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Even though it was 94 degrees outside, look how beautiful it is! It was my job to slowly drive the trailer down the lines of square bales so all the farmer and Mandy had to do was walk along and throw the bales on the trailer. Then, Dad grabbed them–as I’m continuing to drive, mind you–and stacked them. He may be eeking ever closely to 60, but he’s still spritely. Staying on two feet while stacking 60 lb. bales on a moving vehicle is definitely for the sure-footed.

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I’m just guessing here, but the “bucking” part seemed to have to do with your knee motion as you heft the bale onto  the trailer. You use your knee for an extra nudge up.

You don’t know how many times I giggled thinking about making the farmer chase the trailer with one of those bales. If Dad and Mandy hadn’t been working like dogs themselves, I totally would have done it. Don’t feel bad for him. He’s ornery.

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There’s Mandy. I got the cush job, for sure. She’s She-ra.

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Fun fact: Mandy did not grow up on a farm and had no experience with farming until she met my dad. And yet here she is, buckin’ bales and later shouting “GIRL POWER!!” as she jumped out of the truck after grabbing a quick drink of water. I’m feelin’ it, man. I’m driving the diesel in 4-low with a trailer full of hay behind me.

The trailer soon grew as full and high as it could get. I gladly hopped out of the truck and into the backseat so Dad could drive. I wasn’t feeling so confident in my newfound skills to think I could maneuver the squirrely path back to the highway without losing half the bales. In no way did I want to be the person that made all this hard work for naught.

And when Dad lost about 8 bales in a ditch along said squirrely path, I was just thankful it wasn’t me.

We arrive back at my Dad’s barn where the hay will be stored…

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and go to work undoing all the work we did before. And by we, I mean not me. I have the VERY important job of making sure all of this gets documented.

First, one must pick up the bale.

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Then, one must throw it into the barn where the man in black awaits…

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to stack it all over again.

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Mandy climbed to the top of the heap to continue to push bales down for the farmer to throw. He likes to throw stuff.

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In other news, MUSCLESSSS!!!! I’m likin’ my job right about now…

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The sweaty assembly line. Mandy may or may not have tried to take my beloved out a couple times with a flying hay bale. Don’t feel bad for him. He’s ornery.

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Sweaty sweeper. Boots were not working in anyone’s favor that day. If you look at the two above photos, you’ll see that the truck and trailer is practically parked up a cliff. Slick hay + very worn boots = an extra element of fun while working. Sliding around like they were on slick floors with socks was not part of the objective that day. So, we look like OCD farmers instead. Something appears to have my dad very perplexed here.

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Mandy doesn’t take herself too seriously. That’s one of the things I like about her. Are we surfing or working here? Well, both…in an attempt to keep herself from sliding off all the bales straight into the farmer. I personally think Mandy and I add a lot of fun to the workplace. They wouldn’t know what to do without us. No laughter. No shenanigans. Possibly more productivity. I mean, can you imagine?

But seriously, Mandy’s one of the hardest working women I know.

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Last one of that load! Did I mention that I really like my job? This view never gets old. 😉

We still had some bales left to load, so back to the neighbors for the rest of them.

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After those were loaded, Dad and the farmer had some straggler hay in the corners of the field.

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In goes the hay, out comes a square bale.

 

The farmer hopped in one tractor and Dad had to drive this one out. Mandy was in the passenger seat of the truck. Who does this leave driving the truck with a trailer load of hay down the squirrely path to the highway? ME! This is bad…this is very, very bad.

But, you know what? I made it. I made it the whole way. Without losing ONE bale which totally showed my Dad up.

It mattered in no way that they double strapped everything that time.

Winning’s winning.

It was a good day.