We’re Not Getting Out of this Alive

It’s not a damn competition. Life, I mean…it’s not a damn competition. I’m not supposed to be in competition with anyone other than myself. Yet, I keep getting sucked into competitive mode. Maybe it’s part of human nature but the competitiveness can also manage to suck the happiness out of a being.

When I’m not writing and masquerading as a published author, I show my collies. This year has been an ugly year. I’m not sure what shifted because I’m still winning as much as I usually do, but something changed and it just wasn’t as much fun as it used to be. Competition became cut-throat. Back stabbing became the norm. And, when that wasn’t happening, and there wasn’t enough sh*t flying, some people took it upon themselves to out and out lie. Twice this year, I seriously considered hanging up the leashes, putting the brushes in the tack box for the last time, and calling it quits. A few years ago, I had already retired the “professional” shingle because I was well over the drama. It used to be what happened in the show ring didn’t affect the friendships and relationships outside of the show ring. Not any more.

And my writing career—I’ve seen far too many authors attacking and slurring other authors. We’re all in this together. I guarantee, it’s a really big pool of readers out there. There’s more than enough readers to go around. The only thing that happens when two authors go at each other in public forums like Facebook and Twitter is you make the rest of us look bad. So if you could please knock it off and at least try to act professional, the rest of us would appreciate it. If Author Aaaa says something you don’t like or says something about you, you don’t have to respond. When you do, you’ve given Author Aaaa a much bigger audience than they probably would have ever had and you’ve given them “street cred” because you’ve responded.

The only exception to that response has been another ugly trend I’ve seen in the writing world—and that’s the bad behavior of some of the male cover models. Gentlemen (and I am using that term VERY lightly), it is NEVER—I repeat NEVER acceptable to intimidate, harass, and belittle any woman for any reason. When you attack, mock, and degrade the very women who write the books that you appear on the cover of, you better believe the rest of us are going to sit up and take notice. And, we’re not going to want you on the cover of our books. Ever. We’re going to respond to that bad behavior.

Politics—Oh, dear God—I am sick to the death of the political posts. The election here in the U.S. is over. One side lost. One side won. For the love of all that’s holy, can we please remember we’re all supposed to be Americans and work to making this country better for EVERYONE? I have lost track of the people I have unfollowed on Facebook; some I’ve had to unfriend, and about half a dozen, I’ve actually blocked because of the vitriol. Guess what, folks. In two years, we get to vote on most of the Senate and almost all of the House, AGAIN. We get to do this all over, AGAIN. I can’t wait (and add as much sarcasm as necessary to that last statement).

The only thing I can attribute all this nastiness and ugliness to is competition—competition for readers, competition for modeling gigs for those covers, competition for championship or national ranking points, and competition for which political ideology will govern for the next few years. But you know what—at the end of the day, all the competition gets us very little. Oh, there is some monetary compensation, I’ll admit that. But, when the competition becomes so intense that it makes us into ugly, hateful people, it’s not worth it. Personally, I like to be able to look at myself in the mirror.

 

 

 

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The Knight of the Plains

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What is it about the cowboy that is so enduring? What was it about this breed of man that has made the cowboy such a part of our national mythos? Sometimes, the word “cowboy” has been used in a derogatory manner—but for the most part, the cowboy is the good guy. He might be taciturn, but when he spoke, people listened to him. He was as careful with his weapons as he was with his words. He tipped his hat to a lady, regardless of her status in life, because that was just how he was expected to act toward a member of the fairer sex and this myth of the cowboy and the frontier West was born shortly after the Civil War, when heavy industrialization was the experience of many Americans, and out of the need for a unifying image after the bloody and deadly divisions of the Civil War. “It’s a kind of fiction with a traditional shoot ’em up formula. A hero who is tall, handsome and taciturn and skillful with a gun and a rope rides into town, and he saves everyone” (Don Graham, professor of English literature, U of TX).cowboy

 

I can only speak for myself, but I know why it is I look up to cowboys and why they hold such a large part of my heart. I grew up, figuratively, in the Old West. My childhood heroes were John Wayne, The Rifleman, Matt Dillion, the Cartwrights, the Lone Ranger, and Superman. Superman? Yes, the Man of Steel, too. The cowboy lived by a creed—don’t lie, don’t take advantage, respect and defend women and children, stay on this side of the law, your word was your bond…sounds suspiciously like Superman fighting for “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”

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In those Westerns I cut my television viewing teeth on (and in the novels, as well), the good guys were discernible from the bad guys, and it just wasn’t the white hat which let me know who the good guys were. Those good guys lived that cowboy creed. Call it chivalry, if you will, because it was a form of chivalry. It was a much simpler time, then. You knew who the bad guys were. They didn’t live that creed. They didn’t care, so long as their nefarious plans didn’t go awry. Cardboard villains shooting it out with cardboard heroes. Those Westerns offered predictability and simplicity. Most are morality plays—set against the backdrop of a landscape huge, sweeping, and intimidating. It was the simplicity and the predictably which made the Western and the cowboy so much a part of our national psyche.

 

Yet, there is something to be said of those simpler times. Perhaps that’s why even though the genre fades in popularity (including in the movies), it will never go away. The cowboy has made comeback after comeback because I think deep inside of us, there is a longing for a bygone era when we knew who our friends were, who we could trust, and who was the bad guy. It’s certainly not so simple today.

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Define Beauty

How do you define beauty? I know how our society seems to define it and I never fit that “ideal”. Because of that ideal, I have never really seen myself in a positive light, unless I was evaluating a role I was fulfilling—mother, wife, grandmother, dog handler. We use body shaming too often with our girls and ourselves. I can partially understand why the Mayor of London (as in Great Britain) has banned some public images of the female body. After all, as he says, he has two teen-aged daughters and he’s worried about their self-image in regards to their own bodies. I also have my reservations about the Mayor’s edict, but that’s for another blog post.

 

I’ve found a wonderful organization which celebrates girls, teens, and young women with disabilities. Founded by Abbie Curren, 2008’s Miss Iowa, and the first contestant to compete for the Miss USA crown with cerebral palsy, this organization is the “Miss You Can Do It” pageant (https://www.facebook.com/missyoucandoitpageant/).

 

I like this organization for a lot of reasons. Beauty comes in all sizes and in all forms. Beauty isn’t just the “ideal” our society claims it is. Beauty is just as much in the eye of the beholder as it is to be found within. I struggle daily with body image—I’m not getting any younger and those grey hairs I keep finding aren’t helping. The fact I’ve carried two children within my body doesn’t help that body image. That is—they didn’t help until I looked in the mirror a few years ago and said, “ENOUGH!” How I view myself had a direct effect on my daughter. I hear her say the same things about her body that I’ve said, unwittingly, within her hearing about my own body. And, I’ve heard my ten year old grand-daughter and my six year  grand-daughter shame their own bodies.

 

Enough is enough. I will no longer allow myself to be shamed because I’m not 95 pounds soaking wet. I will no longer allow myself to be shamed because I have stretch marks from carrying my two children, or that I have grey hairs in the brunette because even though Miss Clairol is wonderful and only she and I know how much grey I really have I earned those grey hairs, or be shamed because….You fill in the blank for whatever reason we as women allow ourselves to be shamed.

 

I will see myself as my husband sees me—as a beautiful woman he is attracted to. I will see myself as my son sees me—as the beautiful woman who gave him life. I will see myself as my daughter and grand-daughters see me—as a woman who is beautiful, caring, strong, and intelligent.

You probably need a new religion

Fifty dead, another fifty-three (the latest figures at the time of writing) injured. Another mass shooting, this time in a social club where members of the LBGT community were known to congregate. And, later the same morning, another man was arrested all the way across the country in a car loaded with explosives and weapons. He was on his way to a LGBT parade. Thank God he was stopped before he could carry out his blood-chilling acts of murder and destruction.

And, speaking of God, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about our ideas of God, that Higher Authority, Al’lah—whatever you call it. I’m not arguing whether there is or isn’t a Higher Power. What I have been questioning are the dogma and doctrines of some of our current religions. I’m not delving into the past for any of this, either.

If your religion, and by extension your view of that god within your religion, doesn’t view tolerance and acceptance as a fundamental right of all humanity, you probably need a new religion.

If your religion, and by extension your view of that god within your religion, claims to be the only correct manner to achieve paradise, you probably need a new religion.

If your religion, and by extension your view of that god within your religion, argues only your god is the one true god and insists on killing those who disagree with your god, you probably need a new religion.

If your religion, and by extension your view of that god within your religion, makes the claim that the being who gave life to you by carrying you for nine months within her body and under her heart is never equal to a male, you probably need a new religion.

If your religion, and by extension your view of that god within your religion, argues that a woman does not have a right to determine what to do with her own body but then turns a blind eye to born children living in poverty, with abuse, and in squalor, you probably need a new religion.

If your religion, and by extension your view of that god within your religion, argues that humanity has dominion over the earth rather than the caretakers of this planet, you probably need a new religion.

If your religion, and by extension your view of that god within your religion, argues that those who slur the religion’s prophets are to be put to death, you probably need a new religion.

If your religion, and by extension your view of that god within your religion, makes your beliefs the sole arbitrators of morality and decency, you probably need a new religion.

If your religion, and by extension your view of that god within your religion, promises you seventy two virgins, or fields of flowers, or spending eternity in a candy shop if you martyr yourself by slaughtering innocents, you probably need a new religion.

Religion is a good thing. Belief in a god is also a good thing. Religion and the many god and goddesses which have come from religion give comfort in times of sorrow, hope for a life after this life, precepts on living a moral and decent and compassionate life—but when any religion is twisted, bastardized, and corrupted to fit a certain world view, religion becomes the most dangerous weapon known to humanity.

How about, instead, we actually live the command we have been given—in every major world religion—to love one another as we love ourselves. Maybe, we could surprise ourselves with how gentler, more accepting, and tolerant the world might be.

 

What the Hell Was I Thinking?

If you find me in a group of more than two or three people that I don’t know well, I’ll be the one not saying a word, hanging back, and trying to appear invisible. I’m pretty sure if you look up the word “introvert” in the dictionary (does anyone still have an actual, physical, words-on-paper dictionary?), you’ll see my picture. Or, more like the top of my head because I’m slouching and looking at the ground. To this day51V142mXicL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_, I can hear my mother telling me to stand up straight and be proud of my height. “And smile. You have such a pretty smile.” NO! That would bring more attention to me. Nonononononononoooooo.

Those of you who know a little about me know I show dogs. I have for over thirty five years. And, it took me about fifteen years to be comfortable enough in that little community to actually go out with dog show people after a show. More than once I was dragged to a restaurant after a show where the only words I think I spoke were to the wait staff to place my food order. The dog show world is one place where being a painful introvert is actually to my advantage. Because I’m so adapt at blending into the background and not bringing attention to myself, I learned very quickly how to fade away so the focus was solely on the dog(s) I was showing.

A few years ago, not only did I run the writing center at my alma mater, I also taught freshman composition at the college level. Yeah…and amazingly, I enjoyed it, because on that first day teaching, I realized those kids sitting in my class room were as terrified as I was. We got to know one another. I let them know up front what the rules were in my class (it was all spelled out in the class syllabus), told them I can’t spell worth a tinker’s darn (and stressed how much I rely on a dictionary), and assured them that anyone who told them they couldn’t write was full of manure. Everyone has a unique voice and it was my job to help them discover that voice and hone it. Words have power. My comfort level with speaking in front of a group of people rose—at least in that situation.

Back in my first marriage, I6e426a276aac57e1f90b359ca0f32e93 started writing. Being an author is great career choice for introverts because writers (for the most part) are really shy people. We’re also pretty darn comfortable with our own company. We better be, because we chose to spend hours a day, locked away in self-imposed isolation, fingers tapping on a keyboard. And, in the worlds we create and populate, the people there know us and we know them really well, so it’s easy to interact with them. I was pretty sure the romance I was writing would sell, so I screwed up my courage and signed up for a weekend conference with the local RWA (Romance Writers of America) chapter.

I have never been so terrified in my life. And, when I’m terrified, several things happen to me. I can’t think. I stammer and stutter. I slouch even more and talk to the floor, when I can form words. I have anxiety attacks that make it impossible to breathe. I left that conference in tears, without ever sitting in on one workshop and without meeting with the agent I had signed up for a meeting with.

Fast forward to my time at the university which is my alma mater. I was confident enough that I let my husband (who is also my best friend and biggest fan) talk me into going to college as a non-traditional student. I completed my undergrad degree by graduating Magna Cum Laude. I went to work on my master’s at the same university, took over the writing center, and taught freshman composition—to mostly at risk students. And, I was still writing. I signed my first book contract (my publisher–The Wild  Rose Press–is the best in the world, BTW!) before I earned my Master of Arts. I had learned coping skills for the anxiety attacks that go hand in hand with the painful introversion.

Since signing that first book contract, I discovered Facebook is an introvert’s best friend. I could interact with other authors and readers from the safety of my keyboard. I built a street team, composed at first mostly of close friends but that grew to other friends on Facebook. And, then I got a burr under my saddle blanket. Why not try a writer’s conference, this time as a published author? I have three books out, I reasoned, and they’ve all done very well. My first, The Devil’s Own Desperado, has a good review ranking on Amazon and is a Laramie Award winner for debut novel. My second, Smolder on a Slow Burn, was RONE nominated. (Yeah…should have seen me dancing around my living room when I got that review from InD’Tale magazine and realized the review nominated the book for the RONE!) My latest, Seize the Flame, has received some really good reviews for the manner that I’ve dealt with the issue of spousal abuse. So, why not try a writer’s conference?

WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?

I took my bestie with me, because I’ve joked more than once she’s my good luck charm. When she’s with me at dog shows, I clean house. So, it was only natural that I take her with me. She’s one of those people who just doesn’t know a stranger. I envy her natural ability to make friends instantly and be able to talk to people she doesn’t even know.

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gratuitous brag about my collies–the Van-Man

We went the day before to help stuff goodie bags for the readers and authors attending the conference. (Yeah, silly me volunteered us to help with that.) We were back at the conference the next morning when it started at 8:00 AM. I had to stand up in a room full of people and announce what I write. I’m exclusively a western historical romance gal. Just love my cowboys—but hate modernity. (Yeah, I write that on my computer keyboard and will be posting this on a strange thing called the Internet.) And, then, after that opening session, I had to talk to more people in something called “Speed Dating.” Tell people about my books. Say what? Ask me about my hubby, my family, my grandkids, my home in Tennessee, the property we have in Wyoming, let me brag about my collies—talk about my books? Oh, Lord, help me…

And, by the end of the weekend, I’d made several more friends, got to meet authors I’ve been friends with on Facebook for several years, and even though I’m not a NY Times best-selling author, I was treated by the authors and the organizers of this conference as if I was. As a matter of fact, every single author and reader was treated like royalty. The atmosphere was laid-back, the ladies who organized this were wonderfully accommodating and adaptive (something is guaranteed to go wrong when planning an event like this), and all the authors and readers took the one SNAFU in stride.

This little slice of heaven for this introvert was A Weekend with the Authors, in Nashville, TN. (You can find them here on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/A-Weekend-with-the-Authors-1030606610309225/) I am planning to attend next year’s conference, as soon as I can figure out finances. Even as an introvert, it wasn’t hard to force myself out of my protective shell. And, because I’m planning to go next year, I’ve got a whole year to polish my sales pitch.

Thank you, Sandy and Maranda, for putting on such a wonderful conference.

It’s a Long Road

This past weekend, I accomplished something that I have never done in more than thirty-five years of showing dogs—I completed the requirements for a championship on a rough-coated collie that I bred and every point Dixie earned was from the Bred-By-Exhibitor (BBE) class. She is not the first rough champion I have bred, but she is the first that I have taken from no points to finishing points strictly through the BBE class.  As I said, there have been other rough champions that I bred or co-bred.

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Ch. Wych’s Where Honor Lies–aka “Dixie”

I’ve finished many champions over the years, most of them for other people, but I can say that I have had a good run with my smooth BBE champions. There have been ten of them. I know that number because of the beautiful medallion the American Kennel Club sends when someone finishes a champion with all points earned exclusively from BBE. I actually counted the number of champions that I have bred over that thirty-five year span and came up with twenty-three. Considering that on average, I breed less than one litter a year, that isn’t too shabby for a small, hobby breeder.

And, what does this have to do with the writing life? On first glance, not a whole lot. But, upon scratching the surface, the similarities start to emerge. Both activities should involve a deep commitment to producing the best product possible (and before anyone starts to flame me, I DO NOT consider my dogs a “product”), both involve a learning curve, both have short-cuts to “success”, and both have a high rate of burn-out when that success isn’t instantly realized.

Like dog shows, being a writer involves what should be a deep commitment to producing the best product possible. Learn the rules of writing (at the very least, proper grammar. PLEASE!), learn the norms of the genre you’re writing in (once you know them, you can push and bend them), and READ. READ A LOT! As Stephen King has said, if you don’t have time to read, you aren’t a writer. Good writers read everything they can get their hands on. They read in the genre they’re writing in. They study how other authors take the norms and push those boundaries. They read in other genres.

Being a writer has a learning curve. That’s where all that reading comes into play. Read “how-to” books on writing. Maybe you won’t use all or much of that advice, but there is something to be learned within the pages of that guide. Just as the American Kennel Club standard is the guideline/blueprint for what a collie should look like, that standard is open to personal interpretation. Dog show judging is highly subjective. So is writing. However, if what you’re writing isn’t selling, just as in the dog show ring if the dogs aren’t winning, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate how you’re approaching the guidelines. I’ll never forget a time one very self-important small man announced to me (amidst several insults, as well) that he was going to be the number one breeder of smooth champions of all time. That was thirty years ago and he is still involved with this crazy sport. Anyone care to take a guess as to how many champions he has bred or co-bred? Anyone? Just like him and his inability to adapt and to follow that blueprint for what a show collie should look like, if you cannot adapt your writing you are doomed to failure before you sit down at the keyboard. There is a learning curve and you either learn or die.

That isn’t to say you should be writing to a template or formula. Use those as guidelines. How you color with the words inside that template/blueprint/formula is entirely your choice. Your unique choice of words, your spin on how the story is told is what makes your story different from every other story out there. I read somewhere that there are only about six or seven different romance story lines out there: the Cinderella story line, the Beauty and the Beast story line, Sleeping Beauty…how you tell those tales makes it your story line.

If you aren’t committed to creating the best writing you possibly can, please spare the rest of us. I understand that’s harsh. The lack of commitment to being the best and the ability to publish something as soon as you’ve written the last word in a first draft through mediums like CreateSpace falls into the area of a short cut to “success.” Yes, that’s your name on the cover of that book. And, yes, you’ve probably got a lot of friends to tell you how wonderful the book is and will even post a review for you—but, as a famous politician said a few years ago just because someone puts lipstick on a pig doesn’t change the fact it’s still a pig. It’s just wearing lipstick, now. It’s still a pig.

That high rate of burn-out is common to both dog showing and writing. How many start NaNoWriMo every November and never finish? How many start November out ready to write, hit a wall at about day 10 or 15 and never go back. Or how many actually get that novel written and on December 1 push “publish” at CreateSpace and when the horrible reviews start to roll in, stop writing. They blame the bad reviews on trolls, on the fans of authors with more name recognition, on the barred doors of the ivory towers of traditional publishing, rather than attempting to understand what it is the reviewers are saying. News flash—if the vast majority of reviews are arguing for a proof reader and a professional editor to look over your masterpiece, you might want to consider such. Pull the book down, spend the extra money and get it professionally edited and then republish it.

For years, I had a sign in my tack box that said “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.” Too often, I’ve seen people buy a first rate dog, have some success with it, only to find at the larger shows, they weren’t prepared. They hadn’t learned the nuances of grooming a dog to accent virtues. They aren’t as polished in the presentation as people who have been involved in this insanity called a dog show for years. And, instead of evaluating why they aren’t winning, they chalk it up to “politics”, become discouraged and leave. We call them five year wonders…in that we wonder if they’ll still be involved in five years. Even those of us who have been involved for years (decades) chalk up some losses to “politics.” The latest tempest in a tea pot over group placements is a good example of politics, and I’m just as guilty.

And, just as I did something this past weekend that I haven’t done in thirty-five years of showing dogs, this week something happened that has never happened before. My first published book The Devil’s Own Desperado suddenly rocketed up the charts at Amazon and by the end of the day on Wednesday was sitting at number one in Westerns and number four in western romance. number one babyAnd, I was just as giddy about that as I was the day I signed the contract for publication of that book and just as giddy as I was about finishing my first bred by champion. I never want to lose that wonder, that giddiness, that sense of deep gratitude to my readers.

Go do something you’ve never done before. The sense of accomplishment is simply amazing.

 

 

Moving Dreams Around

All those blog posts over the years about moving to Wyoming…and we’re going to retire in Tennessee. Please, don’t get me wrong. I am still (and will always be) in love with Wyoming, but reality sucks. The reality of the Wyoming property is that the nearest thing that even resembles a town is more than 30 minutes away and that’s only if the roads are dry. A hospital is two hours away. The only way to get electricity in to the property in Wyoming would be through solar and wind power. Now, for Wyoming, that really shouldn’t be a problem, as the state averages 350 days a year with sunshine, and I can honestly say in the all the times I’ve been there, the wind has never stopped. Sometimes, it was a gentle breeze and other times it was a howler, but wind power wouldn’t be an issue. And water…that was also going to be a major challenge.

So, with all that at play, about two years ago, I realized building my happy homestead in Wyoming was never going to be a reality. Instead, we found property right next to some very good friends in Tennessee and we began to plan a retirement home in the woods and hollers of the Volunteer State. Two buildings were purchased, just empty shells really, and they were delivered to the property. Merriweather Lewis Electrical Co-Op was contacted and power was brought to the homestead. A cistern was installed for water.

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Day after the buildings were delivered
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Early December 2014

While I was in the midst of laying out the floor plans for the two buildings and telling DH how we would connect the public and private living spaces of this homestead, he suddenly stopped me and said, “You seem to have this all planned out, already.”

Well, yeah…the homestead was supposed to be in Wyoming, so I just picked up the dreams, plans, and hopes for that place and moved about 1500 miles to the east and a little more south. The homestead in Wyoming had been dreamed of, planned, sketched, re-sketched, and fussed over for almost twenty years.

Thanksgiving 2014 was spent at the Tennessee homestead and work began in earnest on the cabins. The smaller one was used for storage of wood and building materials. That first week our good friends Jacque and her husband Dick helped Ken and I make the first dent into turning a large, barn shaped storage building into a home. We built a small bookcase, constructed a bench seat in the nook of the building, framed in what would be the bathroom with the help of more friends, Tenna and David, wired the building for electricity, fully insulated the building (and installing insulation on sloping ceilings is a bear!), and put the walls up in the nook.

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End of day one’s construction including wiring the building
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First Thanksgiving at the homestead
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Even my grand-daughter approves of the bench seat

Week one was in the books!

After that, I spent a week a month in Tennessee, working on the buildings. I learned several new skill sets: how to lay flooring, how to put up walls, how to plaster the seams between sheets of dry wall, laying tile, framing in the kitchen counter…in July, the main cabin was as finished as it could be and my attention turned to the smaller of the two buildings and making that into the “private space” of bedroom and my office. Until it was finished, the main cabin couldn’t be finished because I couldn’t move the bedroom out of what was the bathroom space.

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Flooring installed before the counter was built
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overhead storage and I love the door
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kitchen counter is in

The week before Thanksgiving, I went to Tennessee and completed the bathroom in the cabin. Finally, the interiors of the little cabins were finished. Before family arrived, I spent a few days decorating for the holidays. The whole time I did that, I was thinking that one year prior, both these buildings were empty shells without anything in them. Now there is a half wall of glass blocks separating office from bedroom space, a bathroom, an enclosed storage loft, a sleeping loft for guests…all accomplished for the most part by two older women and one older gentleman who are not professional builders of any kind.

 

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Yes, this is my kitchen

 

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I LOVE how my bathtub turned out

 

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The finished reading nook

 

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Christmas has exploded in here
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my office space
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bedroom space

We’re not finished by a long shot. The covered dog trot between the two buildings has to be built but that’s for this spring. The landscaping has to be finished. Because of the shade from the trees, a rock garden is the most obvious choice for that. Even shade loving plants won’t get enough sunlight when the trees are fully leafed out. The kennel area has to be built. What I have for the dogs is temporary but it serves its purpose while I down there for a week at a time. However, slowly but surely, the homestead is becoming just that—a home.