To the Tearful Eye

To the Tearful Eye,
I know how you cry.
In the dark and all alone.
Throughout life, troubles are sewn.
They catch you off guard and at your peak.
They’ll break you and convince you you’re nothing but weak.
You can listen to them–every word that they say,
And let the Darkness swallow you away.
But let your Light shine in the days ahead.
Keep trudging through the burdens and dread.
A time will come when life gets better.
And you’ll be smiling through all kinds of weather.
Keep your head up and your eyes on your goal.
Don’t worry about others and the drama they toll.
Do your work and do it well,
And that will be all there is to tell.
You have great worth, you better believe it.
No matter the dream, you can achieve it.
So, let your tears fall to the floor,
And when you rise, let them be no more.
When troubles come, may hope be your guide.
This is my prayer for the tearful eye.

Cheetah’s Adventure pt. 1

“Hey! Nikki! I got an idea!!!”

Fright nearly makes me lose my skin when Cheetah comes running up so fast. The gust built by his speed scatters the papers on my desk. I take a deep breath. I just organized these. Those papers were for the 401k, that paper pertained to my story, and I think this other one can be recycled? “Cheeath, not now, I’m busy.”

“But I have an idea!!!” Cheetah’s bouncing like a little kid. “You’ve been wondering what to write for a web post this week. Use this!” He pulls a picture out of his fur, the one I made as the cover photo for this web post. “Let’s go on an adventure!”

“Uh…Hm…” I remember what prompted that photo when I made it. It was a good idea, but I shake my head. “I can’t type it up right now. I’m busy.” I motion to all the paperwork scattered across my desk. “I’ve got to get this stuff figured out.”

“But that’s booooriiiing!” Cheetah deflates. “Come on! When are you going to have time again to type a post like this up? I wanna go on an adventure!”

“Go with Candra.”

“Candra’s a killjoy.” Cheetah crossed his arms and bitterly lashes his tail. “Besides, I thought it would be fun if we went together instead! Come on! Just you and me! It’ll be like old times!”

“If it were like old times, Candra would be coming along.”

“Alright, then, it’ll be better than old times!”

I can’t help but chuckle. It’s not hard to admit that I’d much rather be typing up a web post than working with all this anxiety-filled paperwork. 401k, loan stuff, a peek at a job hunting website…yeah…I’d MUCH rather being writing up a post. “Alright,” I sigh. “What did you have in mind?”

Cheetah gives off a chirping squeal and he dances in excitement. “I know just the place we can go! And I’ve got an outfit ready and everything! You’re going to need your queen’s gear and sword. I’ll go change and we can head out! You’re gonna love–”

Knocking echoes off my door, cutting Cheetah off. “Hey, is everything okay in there?” It was Candra. “I thought I heard a scream–or squeal–or something.”

“Uh–” I’m trying to think of what to say when suddenly Cheetah steps in front of me, waving his arms to keep me quiet. His ears fall back and his eyes grow round with pleading like Puss N’ Boots from Shrek instead a cheetah version. I sigh. He really doesn’t want Candra to come, but I know if I don’t say something quick, Candra will open the door and get suspicious. Although, it’s likely he’ll get suspicious anyway if he found Cheetah interrupting me while I do adult stuff. I grab Cheetah’s paw and motion for him to follow. We can lose Candra if we slip through a couple doors of my imagination.

A jump through Hogwarts, Narnia, and a couple of my own words and I’m satisfied we lost him. Cheetah’s beaming with excitement and it’s hard to keep him contained. The more excited he gets, the faster he gets and I have a hard time keeping up. We pause in a blank slate of imagination. Candra never comes to these areas unless I’m with him. I nod to myself and look at Cheetah. “I think we lost him.”

He’s snickering with delight. “Think Candra will be mad?”

Oh, I know it. Candra may be a ‘killjoy,’ but he loves adventure like any of my characters. “As long as no one rats us out.” Besides, if he does find out, I’ll just explain to him that Cheetah wanted it to be just us.

Cheetah huffs and innocently waves his hand. “He wouldn’t want to come anyway.”

I roll my eyes. “I hope you’re right.”

“Come on!” Cheetah takes my hand and flashes me a toothy grin. “Before he shows up!”

I chuckle. “Alright, lead the way.”

Writing Prompt: Thief of Slumber

What keeps you from a good night’s sleep?

A lingering whisper creeps into your mind. Your worst fears paint it’s breath. A scenario. A situation. A “what if” that could happen. You’re not good enough. Not pretty enough. Not enough to be a precious life. The monster isn’t under your bed or in the closet. It’s hidden deep inside your mind. Sweet whispers quicken your fear. Your ribs rattle and you toss and turn. There’s no way out. No hope of dawn. Or sleep to ease your terror. You’re a fool! You’re a fraud! You’re behind in every area! The monster is relentless, cruel, and unforgiving. It doesn’t care if your day was good or bad. It doesn’t care your degree or place in life. It will crush hope where it can! Like a lion stalking it’s prey, it creeps upon you, but it’s mighty roar is a stealthy whisper. A single whisper to take root and hold and in the shadows it festers to grow. Grow into your mind and every part of your life until you’re too exhausted to fight. To see you crumble is it’s desire. To swallow you whole that you can’t get away and you allow the monster to win the day.

But it’s whispers are lies and nothing more. It’s only weapon to even the score. You are stronger. You are beautiful. And more importantly, you have soul. A light within the monster fears. There’s no need to shed any tears. When you shine bright and guard your heart. You’ll find that the monster was only the Dark.

Character Interviews

Part of being a writer is crafting characters. It’s one of my favorite parts of story building. As a fiction fantasy writer, you can get away with most anything as long you can find a way to make it make sense. You could build a character who’s knowledgeable beyond their years. Or a character who has a devastating backstory he doesn’t like to talk about. Or even create a new species. When I first started writing, I didn’t craft characters like most people do. I didn’t plan out where they came from, what they wanted in life, or even what their favorite food was. I just started writing and my characters built themselves as I went. Not having a plan at the beginning is one way to make writing more exciting, because you’re the first to see those surprises and plot twists. However, when you learn something about a character midway through the book, you end up having to go back to the beginning to update it–which I had to do a lot. One way to try and avoid going back and changing scenes is to craft all your characters before you even start writing. You’ll still run into some hiccups because you can’t predict everything your characters do, but you’ll have a good start.

Remember that Miitomo app I talked about several weeks ago? Well, that app ended up helping me build some of my characters. Not only could I make physical Miis of my characters, but it gave me a chance to interview them by answering several questions for them (433 questions total). I’ve done interviews before for my sci-fi novel, but it always took me a while since I would type it all out in a screenplay format and I would only ask questions pertaining to the plot of the story and how the character view different things in the story. Miitomo made it a lot easier getting to know the nitty gritty of my characters: favorite color, favorite five letter word, animal, etc. Little things that contribute to who they are and what they want from life.

If you’re a writer and you haven’t interviewed your characters, I highly recommend it. Go to a little coffee shop or cafĂ© with your laptop/journal/etc. and act like they’re sitting right across from you. You could even invite them into your room and ask their opinions about everything hanging on your walls. I firmly believe that the better you know your characters, the better you’ll be able to write your story because you’ll be able to see it from everyone’s perspective.

To give you a little example, I’d like to introduce you to the main character of my completed novel by sharing some of the interview I got from him using Miitomo. His name is Justin, he’s an 18-year-old human, and he can be rather stubborn…

“Alright, Justin, this has a been a long time coming. Glad we can finally sit down and talk.” He only bobs his head at me with his arms crossed. It’s written all over his expression: he does not want to do this. I take a deep breath and hope I can get him to bear with me. “Let’s get right into it: what is one of your current aspirations?”
Justin’s bobbing head slows to a single nod and his expression softens a bit. He was probably expecting a tougher question. “I want to do good for my country.”
“That’s a little vague. Care to elaborate?”
He shifts in discomfort, but his tone is firm. “I’m going to prove that I’m more than the son of an alchemist. That I have worth.”
“I have no doubt about that.” I nod. “Tell me something that’s surprised you the most lately.”
Justin’s brow furrows and I can guess every thing that goes through his mind. “Too many things.”
“Still vague. Can you elaborate?”
He frowns. “Let me put it this way: I’ve lived with my bitter father at home for 18 years. Now, I’m finally in training and live in the barracks at a castle. You’d be surprised by a lot too.”
I chuckle. “I see. Next question: What do you feel the need to apologize for?”
He tightens his arms upon his chest and looks away. “I try not to apologize.”
That’s a lie if I ever heard one, but I won’t push him. “What’s one thing you’ve always wanted in life?” I smile. “Except proving your worth.”
The line of Justin’s frown deepens and he still won’t look at me. I can tell he’s thinking of his home life…his father. It takes him a while to even respond and his words don’t surprise me. “I’d rather not say.”
“You’re not one for talking about yourself, are you?” The look of annoyance he gives me makes me laugh. “Yeah, you get that from me!” I clear my throat and move one. “What’s one luxurious experience would you like to try at least once?”
Justin actually laughs. “I live in a castle now! I think that’s about as luxurious as it’s going to get for me!”
“You live in the barracks as a trainee.”
He grins. “Still a castle, though.”
I roll my eyes. “Alright, what’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done?”
“You wrote the book. You know.”
I sigh. “Come on, Justin. Work with me.”
Now he rolls his eyes. “At this point, I’d have to say the time my best friend and I went after that rabid dog that was living in the alleys of Castle Town. We were just kids, but we thought we could be heroes by saving the city from it.
“What happened?”
“We found it.” Justin shrugs and the tint of guilt and embarrassment finds his cheeks. “Both of us snuck out at night and we found it behind the church. We didn’t plan on how we were going to kill it and we didn’t bring anything with us. So, my friend started throwing rocks at it, but he missed and ended up breaking the church’s window. Next thing I know: the dog is chasing the both of us down the alleys. We split at a crossroads and the dog ended up following me. I tried climbing on crates to avoid it and end up ripping my pants. It would’ve bit me if my friend hadn’t arrived in time with the city soldiers. They put the dog down and we got scolded and escorted back to our homes.” Justin shakes his head and looks away again. “My father was furious, but he was more angry at the fact that I snuck out and ripped my pants. He didn’t care what happened with the dog.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Justin.”
He shrugs.
“I’ve got one last question for you.” I smile in attempt to lighten his spirits. “What’s your favorite color?”
He stares at me. “Really?”
“Of course! Everyone has to have a favorite color! It’s the go-to question!”
Justin chuckles and shakes his head. “Well, it used to be blue, but lately it’s been yellow.”
“How come?”
He smirks. “You wrote the book. You know.”



D&D Writing Prompt: The Woods

I just got this really cool D&D writing prompt journal for my birthday (came from a good friend of mine). Don’t be surprised if a bunch end up on this site.

Prompt: You stand at the edge of a dark wood that is rumored to haunted with dangers unseen. How do you feel? What memories do you recollect? Disclaimer: everything written below is fiction.

This wood is where it happened. These primeval, black trees. They sit at the back of my family’s farm. We were told to never go near them. It’s too dangerous! That’s why the fence line was built twenty feet away. Yet, no one told us why. Why was it dangerous? Why did we need steer clear? The curiosity was too much for my brother and I. He was older and always looking out for me, his little sister. But, that day, I should’ve been looking out for him.

We stood at the edge of the wood like I am right now. We just wanted a peek. Just a glimpse as to why it was so dangerous. Then, the melody slipped past our ears. A smooth and slow song. “Come to me. Come to me.” Like a lullaby, it drew me in. It reminded me of my mother’s voice and a sense a serenity calmed me. I found myself taking a step into the wood.

The crunching of dead twigs shot start through my heart and I broke free of the enticing song. I backed away into the safety of the sunlight. I wanted to run. Whatever had come over me chilled terror to the deepest parts of my heart, but I couldn’t leave my brother.

I’ll never forget his face. He had never made that face before. His pupils were dilated and longing ached his expression. He didn’t hesitate to walk into the woods.

I had never screamed so loud. I tried to stop him. I tried to pull him back, but he fought me. He didn’t even look at me as he shoved me down. He just kept going toward the wood and he disappeared into the dark.

The village wrote him off as dead. It was just too dangerous for anyone to even think about going after him, but I never gave up. Ten, long years have passed. Ten, long years of training, work, and research. I dedicatedly everything I am to this moment. It won’t entice me. I know the song. I know how to beat it. It may not be the only thing in the wood, but it’s the only thing I’m after. It’s not fear or a song that drives my first step into the wood, but my crusade to behead the thing that took my brother.

Feature image taken from the cover of my Dungeon & Dragons Writing Prompt book: The World Builder’s Journal of Legendary Adventures.

The Weight of Patience

Last week, I met with a friend of mine who I asked to take a look at my novel. Her dream job is to become an editor for fantasy books, so naturally, she’s gonna be someone with eyes for the page. Not to mention, she reads a lot, so she knows the market better than I do. We met up because she finally got through the entirety of my novel. To my great relief, she loved the story. She loved the plot, some of the characters, and all the twists I threw in it. She had a lot of great things to say, but she also had a lot of suggestions for improvement.

She had a couple, to start, and there were all reasonable like these two character names are too similar, more culture should be protected, and more woman should be featured because of X reason. Most of it was things that I didn’t think of because I know my book, it’s characters, their background, and I can’t see it from a first time reader’s perspective. Excited and encouraged that I was excepting her feedback, my friend kept going. I ended up having a page full of notes and by the end of the night I had this heavy sigh in the back of my mind. I started to wonder if it’d ever end.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my friend’s feedback. I’ve been thinking more into it over the past week and how I can implement these changes. However, in the moment of writing down all her suggestions, I couldn’t help but wonder if the improvements would ever end. I thought my story was at a great place. I’ve been working on it since 2009! If it’s not good now, when will it ever be?! The scratches of frustration got me that night, followed by the suffocating fog that my dream is just too big. I mean, if my novel isn’t ready now, when will it ever be? Turns out the answer to that question is rather simple:

It’s ready when it’s published.

Not now, not after another round of edits, not even when you get representation. Your novel will be ready when it hits the presses. Just think about it. There’s always room for improvement. My novel still has to go through the basic grammar edits because I often use too many fragmented sentences (I’m getting better at it though). You have to keep making improvements and keep learning to really get the most out of your novel. Even when you sign with an agent, you’ll still go through a lot editing phases. The agency will suggest edits, the publisher might suggest edits, and that takes time. It’s a daunting task, but the dream won’t come true if you don’t make the effort.

After I healed from the frustration and took a deep breath out of the fog, I took a look at my novel again. I started with the easiest thing I could agree with from my friend’s feedback and went from there. And you know what? It’s reminding me about why I like writing so much. You’re in a world with your characters and working on portraying them in a way everyone would love them like you do (or hate them like you do. It depends on the character). Honestly, since I’ve been working on other stories, it’s been a while since I cracked open my novel. With a fresh set of eyes, I’ve found places that even I want to improve.

So, yeah. The improvements continue and the waiting lengthens. Frustrating and hopelessness will knock on the door of your mind, but you’ve got to be careful to not let them in. It may take me another 12 years to get my novel published, but I believe it’ll happen someday. I just have to be patient and persevere.

I’ll admit: I always considered myself a patient person, but lately, I’ve been having to learn how to handle it’s weight all over again. It’s a heavy weight sometimes, especially if you’re waiting for something you really want. Yet, with each step of perseverance, it doesn’t feel that bad. My novel may get represented next year or in 12 years, but I’ll wait however long it takes and I’ll keep improving while I do.

Honestly…

It’s been a rough week and I really hadn’t thought about what to put on paper. I’ve been trying to take things day by day, because sometimes, that’s all you can do.

Last week, on my way to work, the muffler pipe on my truck snapped. Someone at my work was kind enough to rig something so the pipe wouldn’t move while I made my way home. Now, my truck is very loud and it isn’t running as well as I’m used too. My brother rigged a beer can to it to try and keep the pipe together, but it’s only a temporary fix. When it comes to it, my old man (truck) is getting to the point where he’s is calling it quits. So, I’ve been searching for a new car.

At the start of the week, my mom and I went out to a dealership to test drive a few cars. I determined I like the Chevy Spark and I thought I was going to purchase one that day, but the one I wanted was sold the morning I went in to look at it. So, the search for the kind of Spark I want continues.

Not only has my truck been an issue, but things are popping up at work. 401k stuff has to be redone since we’re moving to a new company and to me, all that is like trying reading Klingon. Then there’s changes in my workplace. A new cleaning crew started and messed up everyone’s routine and the crew still hasn’t gotten the flow of things yet. My coworkers and I end up having to finish the job when they leave for the day. Plus, we have to find all the places they hid our food bowls so we can clean them. There’s drama amongst my coworkers and with the new cleaning crew, things are tense. Then, literally yesterday we got two new people on the team and I was asked to train them. I don’t think I’m very good at teaching people, but no one has complained so far.

It’s safe to say that I’ve been quite drained and tired at the end of the day that I can’t even get myself to write anything: my stories, a writing prompt, a more clever and funner idea for this post. But that’s okay. Everyone has days where things just get away from you. You have to shift your priorities to get important stuff done, then when the 401k is translated, the new people know what they’re doing, and the drama dies down you can get back to what you love. It just takes patience, perseverance, and discipline and I’ve certainly been learning about all three lately.

It’s too easy to want to get frustrated or overwhelmed or even wrapped up in the drama. There’s too much to do, too much going on that sometimes you don’t want to deal with any of it. When this happens. I find it best to make a list. Make a list of everything you need to do: 401k stuff, car search, training plan, webposts, grocery store, writing, call your brother, watch that new episode, etc. etc. etc. Get a definite list of everything you want to accomplish: good things and tedious things. So, when you get a few of the tedious things done, you can reward yourself by watching that new episode and then that’s another thing you can cross off your list! (I’m the type of person who is very satisfied with crossing things off lists.) You can actually see yourself making progress, feel accomplished, and all those good things that come with it. You may not get to everything in one weekend/day/night/etc. but make priorities. Get stuff done that needs it now and rollover other things for the next weekend/day/night/etc. You just have to make sure you get past the hardest part:

“But I really don’t feel like doing anything.”

That’s the trap, isn’t it? You don’t feel like doing anything, so nothing gets done. I get it, you could have a hard day at work mentally, physically, and/or emotionally that “feeling” like doing something typically wins over. This is where discipline comes in. You have to be an accountability for yourself. When you don’t feel like doing something, you do something anyway. Start with the easiest thing on your list and go from there. You might get a second wind and accomplish more things, you might just stop at one, but at least you got something done!

Getting stuff accomplished this week has been hard for me, but I still manage to write a post, get 401k jumbo started, determine what kind of car I want (even though I haven’t found one yet), I even met up with a friend to discuss edits and improvements for my novel. When it comes to work, things are still getting done, our routine is all out of whack, but everything that needs to get done gets accomplished and we can move onto the fun stuff like enrichment for the dogs. Tomorrow, after work, I plan on accomplishing more things on my list and rewarding myself by watching the new episode of a show I like. I know it’s hard to push through the “I don’t feel like doing anything,” but that’ll only lead to you feeling bad about not getting anything done–trust me, I’ve been there.

So, I’m going to work on my list and I encourage you to write one up for yourself. If you think of more things, add them and keep crossing them off. I believe in you.

Writing Prompt: A View From Others

Think about a time you were in public. Describe yourself from the point of view of someone else.

“Oh, Oscar, don’t look now, but I think someone got stood up,” Viv chuckles as she takes a sip of her cocktail. The bar is pretty active tonight, but it was no surprise for a Saturday. Most of the usuals were lingering around, but Viv just happened to notice one girl sitting by herself. Oscar starts to glance over his shoulder. “I said don’t look now!” Viv about smacks him. “She’ll know we’re talking about her.”

“Doesn’t look like she’s too interested in what’s going on around her.” Oscar shrugs and turns back toward his food. “She’s probably just waiting on her friends to arrive.”

“She’s been waiting for over thirty minutes.” Viv huffs and looks back at the girl. Poor thing was sitting by herself at a table for six. Menus and chips were laid out and the girl’s drink was just glass of water. “She looks like she just got off work.” Viv eyes the girl’s outfit up and down and huffs again. “Who wears that anyway? Burgundy scrub pants, a ragged, gray, work shirt, and is that a purple ball cap? Who wears purple ball caps? Not to mention those boots are hardly flattering.”

“It’s her work uniform.” Oscar gives Viv a light scowl. “She probably just got off and didn’t want to change before she came out. Why are you being so judgmental?”

Viv shrugs. “I just feel bad for her. Her friends obviously stood her up.”

“You don’t know that.” Oscar sighs and steals a glance over his shoulder. “She looks perfectly content to me. Whether her friends show up or not, I don’t think her night is wasted.”

Viv frowns. “What do you mean?”

“Look at what she’s doing. She’s writing in a journal or something. To me, it looks like she’s getting something done and enjoying herself.”

Viv shakes her head. “Enjoying herself without her friends? I would be embarrassed.”

“We’ll she’s clearly not you, Viv.” Oscar rolls his eyes. “Some people just enjoy their alone time and she looks like one of them. Look, I bet she hasn’t looked around once since she got here. Has she?” By Viv’s off-glance scowl, Oscar knew he was right. “She probably wouldn’t care if she found out you were judging her. She’s doing what she likes, so leave her alone. Besides, what’s it say about you for putting her down like that?”

Viv let’s out a long sigh. “I guess you’re right. I’ll leave her alone.” She looks at the girl one more time, but catches sight of two other girls heading over to her. “I guess her friends didn’t stand her up. She’s saved from embarrassment now.”

Oscar turns around to follow Viv’s gaze and he chuckles. The girl in the purple hat greeted her two friends, but then went right back to writing in her journal. “Heh, I don’t think embarrassment ever crossed her mind.”

Writing Prompt: Right Now?

What do you need right now?

I need to write my stories. I need to read many books.
I need to promote my website and focus on my looks.
I need to draft some posts. Figure out book reviews.
Find a community to call my own and contests of the right hues.

So much to do to chase a dream.
So much to do within a day.
40 hour work a week. 56 just for sleep.
Leaves just 72 to chase the dream.

Yet, in comes chores, dinner, and bills.
Fix the house, mow the lawn, make sure little stomachs are filled.
Then tired you are, no energy to spend.
No motivation to grab the dream again.
It’s time to query. It’s time to research,
but now you can’t get your head to work.

A day comes and is gone and your dream’s on the shelf.
You want to give up, but can’t face yourself.
Hope is thin, a small light of resistance.
But every step closes the distance.

So, go on and write and go on and read.
Every bit will help your dream.

Sturdy Little Pecans

Some people have green thumbs. Some don’t. Some have an elaborate garden while others just have a few flowers. Me? Well, I’m trying to grow pecan trees. Just a couple pecan trees, but it’s proving more of a challenge than I thought. I’m not going to give up. One day, I will have my own tree producing its own nuts, but in the meantime, I’m learning the lessons that little pecan trees can teach.

I’ve been trying to grow a pecan tree for years. My grandparents have trees lining the side of their house and I thought it would be cool to grow another tree from it’s seed. In college, I took a single pecan, soaked it in water for a while, then planted it in dirt just to see if I could get it to grow. It did! But I somehow killed it…maybe too much water? I didn’t transplant it to a bigger pot? Part of me thinks its because I wasn’t too serious about growing it. I mean, I lived in an apartment in my college town. Where was I going to put this tree? So, the little guy didn’t make it. I wanted to try and grow another one, but my grandparents live over a state away, and with college stressing me out, I wasn’t be able to get another pecan for a while. When I could get one, I got multiple to increase my odds of growing one to full maturity.

It was spring 2019 when I got my pecans and got more serious about growing them. My grandpa had just passed away and when my grandma found out I wanted to grow trees like she and my grandpa did, she saved a few sprouts that were growing in her yard for me. When we left the funeral for home, I had six tree sprouts in the backseat.

I planted them in bigger pots right away and they were doing great! Getting bigger and leafier, I was very excited! People kept asking me: “where you going to put these pecan trees?” And my answer was always the same: “I dunno! I’m just trying to grow them first!”

All my trees bundled together on the back deck that summer. They were in a good spot where they would get a good amount of sun, but not too much. I loved checking on them every day to see how they were doing. Yet, one day, one of them disappeared. It was devastating! A hole was in the place the tree should’ve been. A squirrel dug it up, stole the leaves, the roots, and especially the nut. After that, my trees got caged in fencing.

A few days later, I decided to name my trees to help me tell them a part. The first was named Little Diek (pronounced “dee-k”) because Diek was the name my grandfather went by. The second one is called Cardinal, because my grandma loves cardinals. Then there were Putt Putt and Sequence, two games my grandparents liked to play. The final one is called Double Shift, the topic of the last conversation I had with my grandpa before he died.

Throughout the summer, my trees grew really well, each got big and leafy, even Little Diek, who was always smaller than the others. Then, one day, Little Diek got snapped by a squirrel. I don’t remember how or why. I just remember checking on my trees to find Little Diek as less than a stump. I was worried he was gone for good, but his roots were still intact, so I held out hope, and you know what? He bounced back! He grew a new stalk and new leaves and was much smaller than the others now, but I was just happy I didn’t lose him.

Fall came around and I heard that it’s best to plant trees in the ground in the fall. So, I planted my little trees. Cardinal and Double Shift went into my mom’s backyard since they were the strongest of the five while Putt Putt and Sequence went out to my brother’s acres. I didn’t have a place for Little Diek and I didn’t want to plant him outside while in the midst of his recovery. So, he hung out in the garage when the temperatures dropped. Once I had my trees in the ground, I put hay around them to keep them warm through the winter (and fences, of course–stupid squirrels).

Winter of 2019 wasn’t bad, but dormant baby trees are just twigs sticking out of the ground. I’m not a tree expert, so I don’t know how to tell if a dormant tree is still alive. Seeing them as sticks always had me questioning if they were dead, dying, or just not going to come back in the spring. Plus, I wasn’t sure how well my older brother was taking care of Putt Putt and Sequence. I thank God that my worries were in vain. Come spring, my trees started showing new growth again!

2020 was a messed up year for all of us: Covid, job closings, stay-at-home mandates. We can all agree that it just sucked. Well, honestly, I think my trees felt the weight of 2020 too, because they weren’t growing as well as they did in the previous summer. I kept them watered, but something didn’t feel right. Their leaves got pretty big, but they were crinkled or spotted. I sprayed bug spray on them to keep the pests off, but no matter what I did to help them, something always felt wrong.

I expressed my concerns to my grandma and she told me all about the sprouts that are growing in her flower beds and gardens (the soil at her house must be blessed by God since she can get these trees to grow without even wanting them and I’m struggling to grow five). She said my dad was going to come out one weekend, so she’d have him bring many of the sprouts with him.

I ended up getting a lot of sprouts from her. More sprouts than I knew what to do with (I definitely counted over twenty of them)! However, they hadn’t been dug up properly. Out of all of them, only two had their main roots intact (which was fine by me because I had no idea where I was going to put twenty trees). With how small these two new trees were, I put them in a pot together. They’re named Vandalia after a bus company my grandpa worked at for years and Patchwork, because my grandma is really good at making quilts.

In the fall of 2020, my mom had tree guys come out to do an estimate on how much it would cost to take down a few dying trees in the backyard (it was a long time coming. We were watching them fall apart. One of them had a completely hollowed-out stump). My mom ends up bringing up my pecan trees and proudly shows them off to the tree guys. Well, one of the guys is a tree expert and he takes a look at Cardinal and Double Shift and goes: “Oh…huh…well…those aren’t going to survive the winter…”

Remember when I said I felt like something was wrong with my trees? Turns out, I was right. From what I understood, they weren’t injured, they weren’t sick, but they were vulnerable–extremely vulnerable. The tree guy looked at the little bumps on my trees (natural bumps that are the zones for growth. They’re where the leaves sprout from), and he said they needed to get covered up or the frost was going to freeze them out. As much as I wanted to believe my trees could power through, I knew they needed my help. So, I dug up Cardinal and Double Shift and brought them inside. However, I never made it to my brother’s to get Putt Putt or Sequence.

The dying trees in my mom’s backyard were taken down that fall and they left wood shavings and chips all over the place. Decomposing organic material is usually really good for trees, but just to be sure, I looked it up. Turns out, unprocessed wood shavings–just like the ones laying around our yard–is great for trees! So, I scooped up as much as I could and added them to my trees’ pots. Then, winter came, a much harsher winter than the year before. I’m glad I brought my trees inside, but they returned to being twigs sticking out of the ground and I could only hope that they’d survive.

Winter ends. The fresh breath of spring graces the land. My family and I headed out to my brothers for dinner and I went to his back field to check on Putt Putt and Sequence. I hoped that even though I wasn’t able to dig them up, the hay and fencing we put around them would help them power through the winter storms.

They didn’t.

Both Sequence and Putt Putt were undoubtedly dead. Putt Putt was dried out and even snapped when I gently tested its flexibility while Sequence had disappeared. I dug through the hay trying to locate Sequence, but I have a feeling it dried out and snapped long ago. It was heartbreaking. Two more trees from my grandpa’s funeral were killed. I definitely planted them in the ground too early. They weren’t ready for the harsh weather of the Midwest and because I forced them to be, they perished. I decided that my other trees aren’t going into the ground until I’m sure they’ll make it through the winter on their own. My brother still wants pecan trees, so when Vandalia and Patchwork get old enough, they’ll be going out to him.

As for the trees at my mom’s house, we got them outside as soon as the weather got warmer and staid warmer. I stared at my trees like a hawk just searching for signs that they were alive. We kept them in the garage all winter, but even our garage can get pretty cold. Vandalia and Patchwork were the first to shows signs of life and growth, but I expected that from them. It was Double Shift, Cardinal, and Little Diek I was worried about.

Cardinal was the first of the three to show signs of growth. She had always been an overachiever and the strongest of my trees, so once one little leaf sprouted, all her little leaves sprouted. Little Diek was the next to show signs of growth! However, Double Shift kept me waiting.

If I hadn’t learned my lesson before, I’ve certainly learned it now. One day, I went to check on my trees and Little Diek was gone! I forgot to put fencing around them and the stupid squirrels came back and snapped Little Diek at the base of his trunk AGAIN! It wasn’t fair! He had survived the harsh winter, but the squirrels still had it out for him! I was devastated, but I refused to give up on him. I mean, his roots were still intact, so maybe he could bounce back again? That same day I discovered the crime scene, I caged my trees. Each one got wrapped individually in fencing and then I wrapped them all together with more fencing. No stupid squirrel was going to get to them again!

I kept watering them over the next couple days. Every time I got home from work, I’d go check on Little Diek for any signs of life. Cardinal had little leaves all over her, she looked like a really small baobab tree. Vandalia and Patchwork had even growth all over them and they were definitely competing to see who could stand straighter than the other (Pathwork was winning and he rubbed it in by growing a couple more trunks). Yet, Double Shift and Little Diek weren’t showing any signs of growth. The back of my mind told me to give up on them. I could use their pots for Vandalia and Patchwork when the two got big enough. But, Little Diek and Double Shift were two of my favorites out of all my trees. Their pots weren’t in the way of anything, so I didn’t give up on them yet.

Fast forward to a day my family’s working in the yard. I’m hanging over Little Diek and Double Shift like a scientist at a microscope and I’m observing every millimeter of them for any signs of change. And you know what? One of the zones of growth on Little Diek was slightly green. I held my breath in daring to hope. I couldn’t be 100% positive, but I was 99.3% positive that he was going to bounce back!

“But, Nikki, it was slightly green. Are you even sure you knew what you were looking at? What if it was a trick of the light?” You’re right. It could’ve been a trick of the light, my hopeful mind trying to see something that might not have been there, but I kept going back to him everyday and everyday he grew a little bit greener, until one day I came back and Little Diek had a little leaf growing from that zone of growth!

He survived the squirrels AGAIN! Little Diek shot toward the the sky after that! The photo featured in this post is actually of Little Diek a week after I spotted that slight bit of green on him. A few days later, he was taller than all my other trees! Even Cardinal! And I guess his growth inspired Double Shift, because after Little Diek bounced back, Double Shift sprouted leaves as well! I couldn’t believe it! All my trees were alive and well and growing beautifully!

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had our share of hardships this summer. There was a week where we got nothing but rain so I had to constantly pour water out of my trees’ pots else they’d drown. Then, we got blazing sunshine for a week, so I was constantly watering them. During those times, I was worried about Double Shift and Cardinal. They used to be the strongest of my trees, but now they’re not as full as the Little Diek and the others. Now that the weather has–for the most part–calmed down, they’re all doing pretty good. I actually had to take Little Diek’s personal cage off of him because it was stunting his growth. Now, he only has one protective layer of caging, but I’ve made sure the squirrels won’t be able to get to him again. Vandalia and Patchwork are still in the same pot together, but over the next couple of days, I plan on splitting them apart into separate pots. As competitive as those two are, it’s not healthy to get too competitive.

Looking at my trees today, Little Diek still has the most luscious growth out of all of them. Double Shift is getting fuller with his leaves and Cardinal is actually growing more branches down at her base. Like I said, Vandalia and Patchwork need to be split apart, but they’re both doing amazingly well (Pathwork is still straighter and taller than Vandalia and now has multiple branches growing at his base–the show off). I’m hoping I can get them all in the ground this fall, but I’m worried about how harsh the winter may be. We’ll just have to see how things go when we get there.

So, I started off with six pecan trees. Lost one. Then, gained two. Lost two, and now I’m down to five. It’ll probably be Little Diek and Cardinal that go in my mom’s backyard. Vandalia and Patchwork will go to my brother, and we’ll just have to see what happens to Double Shift. I’ve definitely learned a lot from these little pecan trees. They’re sturdy and resilient–especially Little Diek. Life can throw squirrels at you, storms, and drought, but taking care of yourself, getting help from others, and being patient in hope can lead to some massive growth. I believe, someday, my little sprouts will be producing pecans just like my grandparents’ trees and when the storms of life come at them, they’ll be strong enough to stand on their own. I’m super excited to see how they’ll grow from here.