a breakfast story

A major part of the homesteading that we’re doing this year, is living off our land and knowing first-hand exactly where most of the food that we’re eating is coming from.  And in the last few weeks, not a meal goes by that I don’t see my wife make a trip out to the garden a few minutes before, to pick lettuce or spinach or radishes to be part of the lunch or dinner that she’s making.  And every morning of course, starts with a trip to the henhouse for fresh eggs.

But this morning when I came in from feeding the cow and doing my daily chores (and drinking coffee in my barn while I read USA Today), I walked in to the kitchen to the familiar sound of bacon frying in a skillet… and the not so familiar view of a live chicken sitting in our sink.

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It turns out that one of our hens was sick.  Joey had heard some noise when she was bathing Indy and looked outside and to see one of our hens huddled in a corner of the pen as other hens were pecking at her.  The hen was what Joey called “egg bound”, and she was worried about her.  So there she was at our kitchen sink with rubber gloves and olive oil…cleaning out the mama hen’s backside.

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I watched for a minute or two, then decided that maybe I should just concentrate on turning the bacon (and taking pictures) and let Joey and the hen have their private lady-time together (I felt the need to protect my child-like concept of the eggs magically appearing in the roosting boxes each morning).

A half-hour or so later, as my wife and I sat at the table, eating our breakfast… a chicken stared at us from the sink (Joey had her bottom soaking in warm water to soothe her).  Her little beak was almost smiling.

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Sometimes we hear from people who aren’t big fans of the fact that we raise chickens for eggs and some also for meat.  But today watching and listening to Joey talk to and care for her sick hen… it was easy to see that long before the day comes when my wife “harvests and serves” her chickens, she “loves and serves” them daily.


my uncle Leo

My mother’s cancer has been progressing and hospice has been called in to help manage her pain.  I’m pretty sure Mom’s been in alot of pain the last few weeks, but most of the time, we never know it.  Other than the cancer, and the hospice and the pain… somehow, Mom’s pretty much her normal self.  Always smiling, always happy and positive.  A month or two back, Mom asked me to film this season of her life and so I have been.  Every few days, I show up at her house with my camera and follow her around or we sit and talk awhile, and I capture it on film.  Forever.  Someday, when our minds have a hard time recalling certain things about someone we love, the camera will remember.  I love that.

My uncle Leo came to visit my mother just before Easter.  There were 12 kids in mom’s family, and he’s her oldest brother.  With all the fear and hurting that cancer can bring, when Uncle Leo comes to visit, he only brings love and joy with him…that and a set of golf clubs.  He is filled with life and you can’t help but smile back when you see his big Irish grin or listen to the silly jokes he tells.  He’s nearly 80 years old now, but in some ways he reminds me of a little boy, mischievous and filled with wonder.  That never goes away I guess, no matter how old we are.  Although I knew he came this time specifically to spend precious time with his little sister, selfishly, I love when Uncle Leo comes to visit too.  My brothers, sisters and I get to sit near them and hear stories about our grandparents, Maddie and Leo Carnahan Sr, back in the old days in Michigan when they were all young.  Stories about the great snows they had growing up and how they would go swimming in the great lakes and about the fire that burned their house to the ground and burned one horrifying night into the minds forever.  Uncle Leo and mom never smile when they talk about the fire.  It happened in the 1950’s but they seem to remember it like it was yesterday.  Like cancer, it brings pain with it, but a scarier pain I think…the kind that is in your heart but the doctors can’t see.  My sister Marcy found some newspaper clippings one time from back then… and there on the front page was my mother as a little girl, and Uncle Leo at 18 and their brothers and sisters just after the big fire.  My mother is still afraid of fire to this day.  When we grill out with her at her house on Sundays, we have to put the barbecue grill far away from her patio… she doesn’t want to take any chances.  I can’t blame her, after hearing what they lived through in the fire and what their little brothers Patrick and Timmy didn’t.

I was thrilled to see Uncle Leo’s little white pickup truck in mom’s driveway when I came over to visit one day.  I’m not a golfer, but I am a lover of my Uncle Leo.  And since he had his clubs, I I told him I would go play nine holes with him.   So, there we were on a Wednesday afternoon… me (no they didn’t let me where my overalls on the course), Uncle Leo and my nephew Mikel – riding in golf carts, shooting triple bogeys, and making a memory that will last a lifetime.  Unfortunately, my memory isn’t what it used to be, so once again, I brought my camera along… so it could remember this day.  Forever.


joey’s favorite holiday

I love Christmas.  I start talking about it and getting ready for it in about June every year.  Something about it changes me.  Makes me remember what’s most important.  Snaps things back into the proper perspective for a season.   So I try to make that season last as long as possible.  I think most people are probably that way about Christmas.

But Christmas isn’t my wife Joey’s favorite holiday, nor is Thanksgiving, or Valentines day or any of the other most popular holidays – she’s all about… Easter.

Joey gets so excited to watch the grass, the trees and our farm start springing back to life after a long, cold winter.  It’s finally time for baby chicks, ducks and goslings to be born, dandelions to pop up, the sun to shine and the sweet rains to come.   And it’s time to start planting for the harvest that we won’t see until this fall.

But above everything else, my wife loves Easter because it’s the day set aside to celebrate that Jesus has risen… that He went through all He went through for her.   She cries when she thinks of Easter and all that it means to her.  When I see those tears in her eyes, it makes me wonder if maybe we should all love Easter as much as my wife does.

So this past Sunday was Joey’s special day.  But she shared it with all of us.  And what a glorious day it was…

Though we spent the day in our front yard making wonderful memories with family and friends… I’m humbly reminded by her that it’s really all about Him.

* “I Surrender All’ is performed by Tim Menzies.  I love this song and I love his version.  You can find it at https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/his-way-of-loving-me/id837964684



flip phone 5s

One of the things Joey and I are doing this year is homesteading.  I don’t mean the kind where you move to the Montana prairie and just live-off-the-land in a small remote cabin… although part of us would love to.  We’re just trying to simplify our lives and learn to be more self-sustaining.  We’re planting a bigger garden, canning, freezing and learning as much as we can about living off of the small piece of land that God has provided us.  Eating more of what we grow with our own hands and less of what we find on a shelf in the grocery store.  Shopping for dinner at Kroger is definitely easier, but I don’t think it’s better.  We already have a freezer full of chickens that we harvested last year and the eggs we have at breakfast every day are gathered a few minutes before in our henhouse.  As this year progresses, we’re hoping to raise our own beef cow, a few pigs, and more meat birds and layers.  A few weeks ago, Joey ordered 50 baby chicks and they came in the mail three days ago.  It’s gonna be a fun spring.

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Those things are easy.  I don’t mean easy – work wise… but easy – decision wise.  I have no problem heading down that path.  But when it came to our cell phones, that was a little more difficult.  I have every Apple gadget there is…  iMacs, Macbook Pros, iPads and Joey and I each had an iPhone.  The technology that Apple has created has literally changed my life.  They made it easy and understandable for me to learn to edit video and photos, to build websites, to record albums at home, and do a thousand other things with just the click of a mouse.  Steve Jobs single-handedly gave us the tools we needed to build a successful music career from home, our own unique way.  But all that has come with a cost.  A heavy cost.  Although we still don’t have hi-speed internet at our farm, our iPhones have kept us connected to everyone and everything at all times.  They made it easy to check email, text, tweet, get the weather, watch videos, listen to music, etc… but they made it extremely hard to focus.  They made it almost impossible to be completely present and in the moment.  Joey and I found ourselves checking our emails every 15 minutes, googling our every thought, and texting instead of talking with people.  Instead of simplifying our lives, they brought chaos, anxiety and an unhealthy fear that we might miss something.

Joey was the first to jump ship.  In early December on a trip home to Indiana, Joey dropped her iPhone by accident and it stopped working.  So we stopped at an AT&T store to have it fixed (turned out only the charger was broke, the phone was fine).  While there, the guy behind the counter said Joey was due for a free upgrade to the iPhone 5s.  I thought “awesome!”.  But as the guy was talking, Joey saw a $30 flip phone on a wall display next to her and asked if she could have one of those instead.  He said yes, but didn’t she want her upgrade?  She said absolutely not.  She left the store with an old-school flip phone and the biggest grin on her face that I’d seen in a long time.  About two weeks later, I went to the AT&T store in Columbia where we live and traded mine in too.  Partly because it was the right thing to do, and partly because Joey didn’t believe I ever would.  That’s been almost 4 months now and neither of us have missed our iPhones at all.  We only have about 10 numbers stored in our phones now, so every time one of our phone rings, it’s a surprise to find out who is calling.  And we talk to people again.  That can’t text us, and we can’t text them.  We don’t check our phones, because there’s nothing to check.  It’s amazing.

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I keep running into friends who see my little flip phone and say “man, I wish I could do that, but…”.  I just smile, because I get it.   It’s big.  It’s scary.  But it’s also game-changing.  The world’s moving forward so fast… and the only way to slow it down sometimes is to grab the brake and do something radical, like get rid of your smart phone, or disconnect your television (we haven’t had a tv in almost ten years).   What is there to lose?  Not much compared to what we can gain…the chance to truly “be” with our families, the opportunity to really talk to people again, the time to read a book that you can hold and touch in your hands, the chance to just be still and hear what God is trying to say to us.   Joey and I are want to connect less with the things of this world and more with Him.  I want to be a better husband and father more than I want to be a better business man or songwriter or artist.  I want to have the courage to make hard decisions when I need to.

I have to admit, our cheap little flip phones have definitely made our lives much, much richer.


just say yes

Twelve years ago, when I got down on one knee and asked Joey if she would take my name, she said yes.  A few years later when she asked if I would take her name… I almost said no.

In late 2007, we had been married for five years.  Joey was an aspiring singer and nothing was happening with her music.  She had opened our little family cafe Marcy Jo’s about a year earlier with my sister Marcy and was keeping herself busy working there everyday waiting tables and baking.  Part of her wondered though if her dream of a career in music was ever going to happen.  Instead of being frustrated, she poured herself into the restaurant and came home each day with a new-found sense of pride in something special that she had been part of creating.  It was a neat thing for me to watch happen.

I had been a songwriter since I came to Nashville in 1995 and had been blessed to have a number of my songs recorded and some of them even hits on the radio.  Joey was the singer and I was a songwriter.  We never once considered singing together.  But then, as the year came to a close, that all changed.

I was asked to write a song with a friend of a a friend.  It was a random writing appointment on a random day, like many others I’d had over the years.  But when John came to our farm to write on that Wednesday, he was wonderful.  We instantly hit it off and had a great time.  Around lunchtime, we took a break and went to Marcy Jo’s and I introduced him to my wife Joey.  And somewhere in the midst of his lunch special, he must’ve seen something that Joey and I never saw.   About a month or so later, he called and asked us to meet him at a coffee shop in Nashville.  So we drove to town and over coffee, John explained that besides being a songwriter, he was also a band-leader for tv shows, and that CMT was about to cast a new television show that was looking for American’s next great country music duo.   And then he said, “I think you guys are it”.  That took us by more than a little surprise.  We explained to him that we didn’t sing together, that Joey was a singer and I was just a songwriter.  And besides that, we didn’t have a television at home and the last thing we wanted, was to be on one.  He said, “trust me, what you guys have is special.  It’s the real thing”.  He explained to us that this show was being done by the folks who make American Idol and that he knew the producers and could help get us an audition.  But we would need to get them something on dvd to the show’s producers that showed us singing together.  As we left the coffee shop and walked hand-in-hand back to our truck, Joey asked me if I would do this with her.  I wanted to say no.  I almost did.  She knew that one of my biggest fears was being on tv or in front of people in a setting like that.  I was comfortable writing songs or sitting on a stool at the Bluebird Cafe singing, and was happy just being a behind-the-scenes songwriter.  Plus, I was 42 at the time, I wore overalls, and didn’t really know how to sing harmony… I was pretty sure I was going to be one of those guys that gets made fun of and exits the show heartbroken.  But I also knew that if we got on the show, the world might get to hear my wife sing, and even if I was humiliated, but they kept her on the show, it would be worth it.  So I looked at my bride and smiled and said “yes”.   And just like that, we became Joey+Rory.

My cousin and best friend Aaron (who lives in Denver and is now our manager) came to visit us a few days later and he and I decided to make a dvd that didn’t just show Joey and I singing together, we thought it should tell a little bit of our story.  So he and I went to BestBuy and bought a little hand-held video camera.  Then the next day, we filmed Joey opening up the restaurant at 4 am and serving customers, and me feeding our cow and chickens and writing a song, and of course Joey and I singing together.  Then, though I’d never done it before, I put it all together on my laptop in iMovie and burned a dvd.  Joey dropped that dvd, along with a roll of pecan-sticky-buns from the restaurant, off to the producers of the show.  This is the video that we made.

Flash forward to 2014.  I’m sitting in our farmhouse, and Joey’s feeding the baby next to me.  I’m thinking about all that’s happened in our lives since that day…

– We got an audition for and were cast on the show “Can You Duet” on CMT. We went all the way to the finals and performed in front of millions of people on tv.

– We signed a record deal, had a hit song on the radio, made music videos and sold tons of records.

– We performed on the CMA, CMT and ACM Awards, and even won one, and have toured all over the world singing together.

– We’ve met most of our country music heroes and played the Grand Ol’ Opry dozens of times.

– We’ve created and made our own weekly television show at home for past two years that I write and edit.

– We have a beautiful newborn baby girl together and time off this year to cherish this moment in our lives.

If you would have told me back then, that that one decision would open the door for all of Joey’s dreams to come true (and dreams that I never even dared to dream also), I wouldn’t have believed you.  I had no idea what would happen.  I only knew that I was scared and nervous, and wanted to say no.  In my mind, it didn’t add up.   So for once, I didn’t use my mind, I used my heart and just said yes… and that made all the difference.