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Cultivating a Dream

The Tail of Two Puppies

Cultivating a DreamIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

The asparagus popped and so did the bugs. We built a pond for irrigation and it leaked. Farmers' markets began and we were behind the eight ball – again.

Tom and I drove home separately from our first market of the season. We’d made a little money and practiced setting up our booth so we considered the day a success. Tom texted me this message:

I’m on the way to the vet. Found a puppy. You’ll be impressed.

I met him at the vet. Cuddled in his lap lay a tiny brown and black bundle with a pushed-in nose.

“He ran across the road in front of me. I got out of my car and he came right to me. You see his back paw, it’s mangled. Looks like it was wrapped in barbed wire.”

Tom with Barnabas

The puppy's bad back paw

Tom with Barnabas and a photo of the puppy's bad back paw.

After we’d spent more than half the money we’d made at the market, we took him home to the farm and our Cracker-Barrel-sized front porch. It’d been a few years since adopting a puppy and we hadn’t made any preparations, so through the first few days of howling, crying, and general mayhem among our other animals, we got almost no sleep.

“What shall we name him?”

We decided on Barnabas. He’s a character in the Bible whose name means Son of Encouragement.

That was a step of faith.

Within a few days we heard another howling in our yard. A second puppy moved onto our porch. We named him Cooper.

Cooper, the pooch from the woods.

Cooper, the pooch from the woods.

Puppies are almost the best thing on God’s green earth. Tails wagged each time we came to the house or visited the porch. The terrible two terrorized our three rescued cats and annoyed our standard poodle, Sam.

After a hard day's work, Tom and I would lie on our backs in the front yard and let the puppies lick our heads and jump on our chests. It was by far the favorite part of our day.

Cooper and Barnabas and the best part of our day.

Cooper and Barnabas and the best part of our day.

Since we’d made no money in a very long time, we tried not to spend much money on them. But puppies need collars and medicines and shots. We kept them in a pen on the front porch, but as time went on, we’d let them run in the yard as we worked. One day the dogs disappeared. After frantically calling and searching for hours, all three of them ran up from the pasture in front of our house.

It looked like a scene from Homeward Bound – Sam leading the way with Cooper nipping at his heels. Barnabas limped behind, barely keeping up, all three wagging their tails with smiles on their muzzles.

There were several of those days where one minute all dogs were accounted for and the next minute they were gone. We spent half of our time farming and half of our time running after dogs and half our time caring for my mom. (I know there are too many halves – you get my gist.)

I’d planned a weekend trip at the end of May with my daughter. Sure, I’d miss my family, but most of all I knew I’d miss those puppies. A few days into my trip Tom called.

“Cooper is sick. He can’t hold anything down. I don’t know what to do.” Tom tried feeding him rice and water from a dropper.

A holiday weekend, we didn’t even know if we could get our vet and we knew we couldn’t afford one. I tried to call, but another vet in a different city was on call and we didn’t know him.

Cooper died. Tom buried him in our yard wearing his bright red collar. The deed was done before I arrived home.

Sadness fell on our farm. But somehow Barnabas still made us smile. Often, he’d hide under the porch – refusing to come when called. Eventually, he’d obey. And as he loped onto the porch and into our lives, we developed a warm spot in our hearts just for him.

Barnabas continued to grow and fill out. He got to almost 30 pounds and began to look like a shepherd. He chased Sam and chewed on our cat, Brie. (Who by the way likes it ….) Often, we’d take Sam over to our other field where our chickens, pigs, and livestock guardian dogs. We decided to let Barnabas ride along, too. Letting them loose with our guardian “girls” Molly and Lacey was the highlight of their little doggy lives.

One day, as we drove along our dirt road on the way to feed the livestock and visit the “girls,” we heard yelping. Barnabas decided to jump out of the truck and we ran over his legs. Gently, Tom picked him up and cradled him in his lap as we drove to the vet for an emergency visit.

“The back leg is broken, and this front paw may have permanent nerve damage. He’ll need to stay here for the night and we’ll get a good look at it in the morning.”

We drove home in silence. That night, the lack of whining and general porch mayhem kept us both awake.

The next day we picked up our puppy. One back paw mangled by barbed wire, one in a cast. His front paw wouldn’t work. He had only one working front leg. Each time we looked at him, our heart hurt.

The vet encouraged us to keep him quiet, so we confined him and administered medications and watched and waited.

An amazing thing has happened. Barnabas is adjusting. He’s running and smiling and chewing on Sam’s ear and Brie’s neck.

And he’s wagging his very big tail.

He’s gonna make it. And he’s happy about it.

So are we.

Farming is hard on the body. Caregiving for my mom is hard on the heart. And then there’s Barnabas. So many times I’ve been so discouraged I’ve not only wanted to quit, I didn’t even care if I quit. Not just farming, but life.

I think the Lord sent us those puppies. Because through loss and gain we experience both deep love and profound grief.

And joy.

Barnabas, Son of Encouragement, has lived up to his name.

And that is a tale of a tail of two puppies.

Barnabas after his cast was removed.

Barnabas after his cast was removed.

The Terrible Twos

Cultivating a DreamOn TV where I live, there's an ad for a website called It's an online dating site that hooks up farmers with other farm-loving people.

Now I know why. 

You have to be crazy to be a farmer – or marry one. 

Crazy hours, slave-like labor, back-breaking work, below-poverty pay.

I'm not so sure I signed up for that.

When Tom and I dreamed of farming, we dreamed of skipping to fields of bushy-green plants over-flowing with fruit and veggies. 

Instead, we trudged to uneven clay-baked dirt to find our plants withered and malnourished. Japanese beetles feasted on the green leaves, leaving them unworthy of the farmers' market and unsellable to the public. We picked off the bugs and ate the questionable plants ourselves.

Our livestock guardian dogs "played" with a few chickens – to death.

The chickens, or "ladies" as we call them, decided not to lay eggs. For six months. We almost chopped their heads off until we realized I wasn't feeding them enough. 

I'm just glad I haven't been charged with a crime.

Now they're laying. Things are looking up. Thirty-two eggs yesterday.

Peeled Poplar Farm is making head way, too. I'm selling to a few high-end restaurants and they even like me. I've produced value-added products that seem to be popular. A few local stores carry them and wineries are testing out my jellies.


All in all, it's a better year.

And there are benefits of farming.



Fresh tomatoes pulled right from the vine and eaten over the sink.

Growth – both plants and people. 

For instance, if you would have told me five years ago I'd be making my own laundry and dish detergent, I'd tell you to get out of town. Or that I slow cook my own yogurt, I'd tell you to take a hike.

Yet, I'm learning and growing. I know what a baby cucumber plant looks like and when tomato plants have their true leaves. I know that a bush hog is not a pig hiding in the woods. I know AI is not a scrabble word, it's has to do with cows and other livestock and you should ask your mother.


Which brings me back to Photographs of happy couples horseback riding on a wide open range or snuggled up beside a cozy campfire.

Sounds good to me.

I'm looking forward to to year three ...

A Farmer's Wife on a Date

Cultivating a DreamYou know you’re a farmer’s wife when you go on a date to an actual restaurant that serves you food that you neither cooked nor grew and you talk about chicken poop.

And you’re OK with that.

That’s what Tom and I did the other day. I needed a break. A place where people talked and lived and worked without dirt.

So my husband took me to the local Thai restaurant.

After our appetizer, I quieted. My mind drifted back to our farm and our chickens and dogs and kittens and crops.

It’s not that I don’t love all those things. Sometimes, I just need a break.

During the Golden Noodles (Thai spicy), we talked about chicken poop. How to improve our coop, make it cleaner – our birds healthier.

Because we’re cultivating our dream. Watching it appear before our eyes. We’re building it together

When we first talked about farming, we both agreed that retirement was over rated. Like the two old guys in "Secondhand Lions," we want to die with our boots on. We’ve told our children to till us into the ground – and we mean it.

Because we love what we are doing. We see how the Lord is blessing us and every morning it makes us smile. Makes us want to get out of bed.

After our dinner, we went to my new mall: Tractor Supply for chicken food, Lowe’s Home Improvement, and “The Walmart.”

We blew our restaurant budget for the month, so I guess I’ll be cooking. And maybe I won’t have my next meltdown until next month. We can’t afford it.

But we’re rich.

My farmer family 

When Life Hands You Lemons Make Chicken Pie

Cultivating a DreamAfter single-digit-weather, 17 degrees felt almost balmy. A perfect day to celebrate my farmer husband’s birthday.

We drove the short distance to the field that held the chickens and Great Pyrenees puppies. They are protected by a pliable electric fence that separates them to keep chickens with chickens and puppies with puppies.

Something wasn’t right.

Our LGD’s (Livestock Guardian Dogs), Molly and Lacey wagged their tails as we drove up. Trouble was, they were munching on black feathers. And chicken wasn’t on their menu.

Tom intervened. They’d just begun their feast when we’d appeared.

I heard Tom scolding the “girls,” and watched as their tails swiped back and forth like windshield wipers in a snowstorm. They were clueless about their misdeed. All they knew was a chicken flew over to their side of the fence. I’m sure at first they were playing, but then their carnivore instincts kicked in.

When am I gonna figure this whole livestock thing out? I thought as I collected eggs from the traumatized ladies.

Tom threw the bird in the woods and we trudged back to the van.

“If we were brave, we’d go get that chicken and cook it.”

That’s all I needed to hear. You see, we could probably have paid for another child’s wedding with the money we’d been pouring into our poultry adventure. “Someone besides the neighborhood fox should benefit from the chicken and it might as well be us,” I stated as we headed back to the forest.

We loaded the chicken in a bucket and traveled home to watch a Youtube video. Also, I knew I could call my friend and farm-wife-guru, Kelly Josey, to figure out what to do with the bird. (The bird was almost completely intact.)

“Get as many feathers off as you can, dunk it in hot water, then gut it.”

I did what Kelly said. Soon, what I held in my hand looked like meat that would stock the shelves of any local grocery store. I boiled it, added vegetables and a crust.

I made two chicken pies – courtesy of one of the “ladies.”

When I committed to being a farmer’s wife, I had no idea I’d be plucking and cooking a chicken. In fact, before I moved to the farm, I never really thought about where my food came from. I guess I thought it magically appeared in the store.

Now I know how much work it takes to cultivate the land, plant a seed, and harvest a head of lettuce. I understand how the tomatoes on my sandwich are pruned and fed. And now I’ve a glimpse into the complicated life of owning livestock.

I now have a context when I use the phrases, “you reap what you sow,” and “there is a pecking order.”

For Tom’s birthday dinner, we decided to eat my very first farm-to-table chicken pot pie.

After that, I understood another phrase – ”She’s a tough old bird.”

That she was.

May she rest in peace.

My pie courtesy of the ladies 

Chickens and Puppies and Kittens, Oh My

Cultivating a DreamBefore last year, almost the only time I'd seen a chicken, was on my dinner plate. On August 1, 2013, I ordered 75 chicks.

I should have had my head examined.

After two dying within a day, and my dog Sam playing with one to death and me sobbing, we've pretty much kept the rest. (Although they are difficult to count.) I thought they would pasture and not eat chicken feed. Wrong. If I don't feed them twice a day at a specific time, they will fly in my hair and on my back and out of the fence as I approach them. This morning, we heard a knocking noise on our window. Our house is a quarter mile from the coop.

Feeding the chickens

"You're late. It's probably a chicken," Tom said.

Also, I didn't figure out the fact that we don't have pasture. Now we have mud. And lots of it.

So after three or four catastrophes and about 5,000 hours of man and womanpower, a couple weeks before Christmas, we got our first egg.

You would have thought we had a mid-life-crisis-baby.

So the chicken purchase has cost us close to the national debt and we've retrieved perhaps four dozen eggs so far.

But that's not the end of the story.

You see, we had to store the chicken feed somewhere and not only don't we have pastures, but we don't have any storage buildings so the chicken feed is stored under our house.

Rats found the feed. We needed mousers. 

Enter Reep and Cheep, two male stray kittens.


Now I go to Tractor Supply and buy 100 pounds of chicken feed and 20 pounds of kitty food. That's not counting the warm milk the kitties get every night. (I might need a cow next.)

Then there's the safety of the "ladies." We can't have our national debt chickens being eaten by someone other than us. We needed a guardian. A dog. A Great Pyrenees.

Trouble was, I couldn't just get one. She'd be lonely, so I got two girls – Molly and Lacey.

Dogs on the porch 

Not only had I never had chickens, I'd never had an outside dog. 

I picked up "the girls" and they got sick in my car on the way home. Big time. They'd never been on a leash and were afraid of Tom and I. After I put their colorful collars on, I leashed them.

"Come on, Lacey! Come on, Molly!" They sat.

The outside-dog-thing wasn't going well.

"Where do we put them?" Tom asked.

I hadn't thought of that either. So we made a make-shift pen under our porch. Then I had the bright idea of putting them on our porch. They weren't potty trained. That was big time, too.

Tom set up a strand of electric fence next to our chicken "ladies" to hold our puppy "girls."

Immediately, Molly and Lacey ran from zap to zap like a pinball machine until they retreated to a makeshift doghouse we put in for them. 

Lacey didn't come out for over a day.

Then it got rainy and cold. We put them back on the porch and tried potty training them. They ran away.

Tom took off in his truck and I took off in the van. We combed our 60+ acres. I knocked on the doors of a couple of our neighbors. Three hours later we still found no trace of them.

My husband thought of Sam – our inside, couch-loving, potty trained Standard Poodle.

Within five minutes Sam found them. Molly came back with Tom, but Lacey ran off again only to show up four hours later.

They have a proper doghouse now. It's very trendy since it's made of reclaimed oak and a shiny metal roof. They're getting used to the electric fence, and each day I take them in with me to meet the chickens. No recent catastrophes. Although I have no doubt there will be others.

Tomorrow, I'll head to Tractor Supply to get 100 pounds of chicken food, 40 pounds of kitty food, 50 pounds of dog food, with a stop at the local meat market to pick up large dog bones.

And the day after that, I'll probably head to the vet.

I'm eating the most expensive eggs in the world.

And they taste good.

A Real Farmer's Wife

Cultivating a DreamSo, since I actually became a farmer’s wife, I haven’t had time to write about becoming a farmer’s wife.

Go figure.

I've got chickens to feed, eggs to gather, fields to consider, barns to take down, barns to put up, and a life to learn. 

I guess when I thought about being a farmer’s wife, I didn’t think it would be so much work. 

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It’s like delivering the newspaper, or raising children, or having a good marriage – it’s just so daily.

But I love it.

I love waking up to space. Lots of it.

I love throwing a stick for my dog after I clean out the chicken coop. I love watching our two new mousers, Reep and Cheep, wrestle on our Cracker-Barrel-size front porch.

I’m mesmerized by the light of the sun as it glides across my porch and shines into our over-sized windows.

I’m content.

I’ve met a hard-working couple who raise chickens and cows and pigs. They’re fine people. On Christmas Eve, I dropped by their house to buy a gallon of fresh milk. That’s a tough act to follow.

We’ve been befriended by a young farm couple who stopped by our house during the Christmas holidays, bearing the gift of flavored popcorn. It makes me smile thinking about it.

We belong here.

It’s nice to have a place to belong. My heart still aches for friends and family in Florida, but I wouldn’t want to move back.

When Tom and I think of the future, if we’re not careful, we’re afraid. But we shouldn’t be. A hundred years ago, people lived from year to year and crop to crop like we’re doing now.

It’s a hard thing, but good, too.

It’s made us realize how dependent we are. Dependent on the weather, the land, the economy, but more than any of those temporal things – dependent on the eternal God. 

As Americans, we sometimes forget that.

We shouldn’t.

It’s a new year. No one knows what this year brings. Not in my old house on a quarter of an acre in Florida – not on my 64-acre farm in North Carolina.

In 2014, I’m glad I’m a farmer’s wife.

We’re cultivating a dream.

And it feels good.

P.S. In the last week, we've added four to our family: Two kittens named Reep and Cheep, and two Great Pyrenees pups named Lacey and Molly.

Life is good.

Not What I Expected, Only Better

Pauline HyltonI guess I imagined my life as a farmer's wife would look something like this:

"Time for dinner, Tom!" I'd shout after I rang the ornate dinner bell perched on top of a sturdy wooden frame.

Tom would look up from lush plants and graceful grape vines strewn artfully along strong twine. He'd wipe his brow while he smiled at me and saunter to the farmhouse.

I'd wait. Hair pulled back in a cute ponytail, attractive apron around my thinning waist, a rosy hue on my cheeks, Tom would pick me up, twirl me around and say with a drawl, "Howdy Sweetheart. You look gorgeous!"

He'd follow me into the kitchen where smells of homemade bread, baked chicken, and fresh greens filled the air.

Silky music would crescendo and then die down.

Here's reality:

Bent over our sickly beets Tom says, "I guess we shouldn't have separated the leaves and planted them."

"Yeah, I guess when one seed produces several shoots you should leave them alone." I frown, thinking of the three hours I spent gently placing about 200 beet plants in the ground." 

I look down at my fingernails. They are caked with red clay that matches my skin color. My hair is pulled back in a ponytail as rebellious strands stick out in unusual places. My hairline is graying and I toy with the idea of getting it colored and then remember our negative budget and balk at having to put up grown-up clothes to visit a salon.

Speaking of clothes, mine are reddish orange with some brown mixed in.

Tom hits me. "What was that for!"


We finish.

After sloshing around in our wet field, we head toward the house.

"What's for dinner?" Tom asks.



"This time I put them over tortilla chips with cheese and canned salsa."

Tom grunts as we head into the house.

After dinner, I head for the shower. "Anyone need the bathroom for ANY reason?" 

Grandma, Tom, and our caregiver decline.

I contemplate a soak in the bathtub but realize it will take 25 minutes to fill it with the well water.

I splurge.

30 minutes later, I have 5 inches of water in the tub. I've scrubbed all the dirt I can off of my toenails and smile at the sight of my colored toes. Who needs a pedicure? I lean back and relax.

Knock! Knock! Knock! "Your mom needs to use the bathroom," Daphene announces. 

I empty the water, towel off and head for my room. Tom is waiting. "Do you want to read about asparagus tonight?" he asks with a smile on his face--lately, there is always a smile on his face.

"Sure," I say is a crawl into bed, knocking a dead spider off the wall.

Being a farmer's wife is not at all what I pictured, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.

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