Dairy Farmers are in Crisis – Find out why

I chat with Erica Leubner, pictured here with her husband, Tim. Erica and Tim are both farmers from farming families, and they know what’s going on in the farming community.

I grew up in the rolling hills of Upstate, New York, where many beautiful farms dot the landscape. My grandfather built silos for all the local farmers and I even played on a small dairy farm down the road as a kid. It’s fair to say that I have a soft spot for farmers.

So when I heard that famers are committing suicide at an alarming rate, I reached out to my friend and high school classmate Erica. Erica is a farmer, business owner, counselor to the farming community, owner of Tim’s Pumpkin Patch, and a wife and mom to three adorable girls who run a farming Instagram page. I figured that Erica would know what’s really going on.

I was right.

Erica has warm brown eyes and a friendly and laid-back demeanor. She is always upbeat and positive. But behind her ready smile is a burden she carries for all the farming families she talks to around New York state. These farmers are really struggling right now and facing increased pressure, depression, and even suicide. Erica tells us what’s really going on and how we can support them.

Erica, tell me a little bit about your farming background so that people know you are the real deal.

I grew up on a small 100 cow dairy farm in Onondaga County, New York. I am the second of four sisters. My father is the second of four brothers, all of whom have their own dairy farms. My husband is a partner with his siblings in their dairy and grain farm operation. They milk about 550 cows and grow around 2100 acres of corn, wheat, soybeans and hay. My husband and I also own and operate Tim’s Pumpkin Patch with our three daughters. Our pumpkin farm business is a pick your own agri-tainment farm including a farm bakery and brewery. 

Aerial view of Tim’s Pumpkin Patch, outside of Syracuse, NY.
Who doesn’t love a good corn maze?

You also work part-time with farmers. Tell me about that.

I have my Masters degree in Social Work from Syracuse University. About 15 years ago, I learned about an organization called NY FarmNet based out of Cornell University. I can utilize my background in social work, as well as my own life experiences growing up on and operating a farm business, to help other farm family businesses. I have been doing consulting work for NYFarmNet for almost 8 years. 

What are you consistently hearing from the farmers you interact with? 

That it is too expensive to produce milk for the prices they are getting paid for it. Most recently, the newly elected democrats in New York are trying to pass new labor laws that will dramatically effect farmers. They want farm workers to get paid for overtime and be able to unionize.   These laws have passed and will take effect January 1, 2020.

New York State farm families are facing the worst economic conditions since the farm crisis of the 1980s. Farm families’ heritage, identity, pride, and finances are tied directly to the farm. And yes, it’s costing more to produce milk than farmers are getting paid for it. I have a client right now, his banker just told him to get on food stamps! That is the last thing a farmer would do. The long hours they are putting in, as they cut back on employees, equipment failing (that they can’t afford to upgrade), and the biggest stressor for them is that they might be the generation that loses it all. I was at a farm a few months ago where the farmer was suicidal. He had just found out that he is going to have to sell his farm.

On that note, I read that the suicide rate among farmers is increasing. Why?

Dairy farms, especially small dairy farms (200 cows or less) are going out of business at an alarming rate. These farms have often been in the family for generations. The burden is too much to bear for a farmer to be the last generation  to lose the farm. Stress levels are extremely high. This often leads to depression. Farmers by nature are often very unlikely to ask for help, especially mental health help.  Depression can lead to suicide if left untreated.

I originally interviewed you about six months ago and you were concerned about the farming community back then.  Has it gotten any better or worse in the last six months?

I feel that stress levels are starting to go down, especially because milk prices are starting to increase. However, in New York, the labor law legislation did end up passing so there may be added stress as the pressures to comply will create more financial strain on farmers. 

To read more about the pressures facing farmers, including suicide rates, click here: epublic.com/article/153604/work-suicidal-farmers-its-becoming-much-bear.

How can we support farmers right here, right now?  What is one action-item we can take away from this interview?

Do not rely on google and youtube to get your information about farming and agriculture. Animal rights activists have done very well at dispensing false information about animal agriculture on the internet, which is very triggering to the general public. Follow actual farmers on social media who tell the true story of what really goes on in agriculture.  And buy milk and other dairy products!

Can you describe the role of the Federal government in the agriculture community (in other words, setting milk prices, subsidies, bailouts)?

Many people think that the United States government subsidizes Agriculture.  The reality is the consumer is subsidized.  According to the article below and as an example, Americans spend just 6.4% of their household income on food. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/12/this-map-shows-how-much-each-country-spends-on-food/. Food is very inexpensive in the US and so called subsidies to farmers artificially deflate consumer prices. Historically, the United States was more involved in setting agricultural prices. The passage of the 2012 Farm Bill eliminated and or made significant progress toward the elimination of direct payments. Direct payments are replaced with crop insurance.  Farmers purchase insurance to protect against price validity; similarly, consumers purchase car insurance in the event of a car accident. Form more information: https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/EC/EC-774-W.pdf

Are farmers heavily subsidized?

I would not say farmers are heavily subsidized, and farmers do not want hand-outs at all. They want a fair price for the work they put in to produce the safest, healthiest foods on the planet. The government steps in to help farmers because Americans are used to cheap food! There are certain programs that the government supports such as crop insurance, and premiums are subsidized by the federal government. Then most recently, 11 billion dollars was handed out to farmers, which they called it “Tariff money” from President Trump’s trade renegotiations. Look on the website www.weforum.org to see what percentage of income different countries spend on food. We are so spoiled in this country!! You can also check out this article: https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/Dairy-MPP/index

Describe other ways that farmers can make money.

The pumpkins are a money maker for us. If they weren’t, it would be a hobby! 🙂 Farmers who are diversified and produce other goods besides milk have an advantage when times are tough. Anything from Maple syrup, to a sawmill, pumpkins, apples, beef cows, etc. Farmers get pretty creative when they need to bring more money in. That’s where hops, hemp, cannabis comes in — diversification.

What do you think of President Trumps policies towards farmers? 

President Trump is putting his best foot forward to protect all American businesses.  Unfortunately or fortunately, US agriculture is dependent upon exports.  We produce a commodity product meaning corn from Brazil is the same as corn from the US.  China and other countries are now purchasing corn from Brazil vs the US.  US farmers are feeling much short-term pain. In theory, this should only be short-term.  

Why is the biggest misconception about farmers or farming?

The average American is about three generations (about 100 years) removed from farming. Therefore, there is a huge knowledge gap about modern dairy farming. Consumers only recently starting paying attention to how their food is produced. Consumers became alarmed and upset when they learned about modern dairy farming. They created the demonizing term “factory farms.” Farmers are extremely efficient and always adapting. The way that we farm now looks nothing like it did when great grandma and grandpa farmed. 

Will there ever be a food shortage?  

There already is.  Food deserts exist in every part of the country.   Why would I operate a retail store in rural America if I’m not profitable?  Why would I deliver food to a rural retail store if it is not profitable to deliver food to a retail store? The most efficient business will survive.  I just hope those businesses outlive the unhealthy consumer living in the food deserts.

(Heather’s note: a food desert is defined as parts of the country without fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers markets, and healthy food providers.)

Briefly describe your farm: what do you grow? You also have a dairy farm, please describe that. Tell me about Tim’s Pumpkin Patch.

At our farm we milk about 550 cows and have around 1000 cows in total. We also grow 2100 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay. At Tim’s Pumpkin Patch, it is 65 acre pumpkin farm – 30 acres is for pick-your-own and 35 acres is used for our displays and wholesale orders. We also grow about 30 different varieties of squash, gourds and decorative Indian corn etc. We have a farm bakery, farm brewery, and several activities for our visitors. We have always tried to keep the activities agricultural, such as visiting with farm animals, hay/corn mazes etc.  We also have about an acre of asparagus. 

What do you love about Tim’s Pumpkin Patch? What do you dislike?

I love the fact we’ve been able to raise our girls in the business. They watched their parents work hard and now they know how to work hard. They have an incredible work ethic and critical thinking skills that is hardly seen in the average teenager today. I also love that Tim’s is a happy place, where people come to make memories. I love that we get to be a part of that. We just celebrated our 33rd season!

I think when I was younger, my dislike list would’ve been a lot longer than it is now. Things like being in a weather dependent business, people who steal from us, managing over 30 teenage employees (herding cats), those are all things that present challenges. Now I just look at those challenges as a part of the business that needs to be dealt with. 

What do you think of Hemp Farms and marijuana farms?

I think right now there is a “goldrush” mentality in NY amongst farmers who are looking for the next money maker. There are many factors that need to play out. Licensing, where to get seed, marketing, harvesting, product, and market flooding. We are sitting back on this one for now. 

What is running a dairy farm like?

It has a lot of ups and downs physically and mentally. It is usually a lifelong commitment. You have to be extremely business minded. 

What do you dislike about farming?

The fact it’s so weather dependent. 

Tim and Erica try to squeeze in as much time as possible having fun with their three girls.

Please tell me about your girls.

Evelyn is 20 years old and in her junior year at SUNY Cobleskill. She is planning to graduate early doubling up on all of her classes. She is currently searching for an internship in the south. Evelyn is most interested in communications, marketing and social media in agriculture. Claudia is 18 and a senior in high school. She has been accepted to Kansas State, Nebraska-Lincoln and Iowa State. She’s still waiting to hear from a few other colleges, but as you can see, she wants to be where the action is in the mid-west. Jojo is 15 and a freshman in high school. She works with Claudia at the farm and is very much involved in soccer. 

They also have a huge following on Instagram. I’d say head on over there, because they have multiple posts that describe what they are up to. (You can find the girls on Instagram at nyfarmgirls. The girls have a whopping 31,100 followers!)

They also have a YouTube channel, ​Facebook and TikTok page where they advocate for the agriculture industry.  

I understand your girls face a lot of criticism on Instagram. Why? And how do they respond to that? 

The animal rights activists do not think that animals should be used in any way for human consumption. What I love about the girls’ Instagram page is that it’s very positive. They get a lot of criticism, but they remain positive and kind through it all.

Here is a sampling of what Erica’s daughters are up to Instagram: “Making sure our animals are taken care of in the best way possible is our #1 job. If you have a farm that should be your biggest priority. If you aren’t patient, caring, and compassionate, don’t work with animals. Plain and simple.
After the Fair Oaks video came out last night I was so angry. Angry at a lot of things. First I was angry that management had no clue that was happening. I understand it is a big operation, but that means you should only be watching your employees more closely! Secondly, I was so disappointed in the employees that were harming the animals. It hurts to know that humans are capable of such horrible things. There is not an excuse in the world for the appalling treatment of those innocent animals. Lastly, (and the biggest reason) I was angry was because the people filming, who apparently love animals so much, didn’t do a thing. They let it go on for months without saying a word. Many are saying this was a set up by animal rights activists, in order to raise more money for their cause…but who knows. I know not everyone will be angry about this scenario but this is our take on it. It happened and it’s not a good representation of our amazing industry. Despite if it was a set up or not. 
All we can do is continue to show love and care for our animals.”

When I was growing up I played on a family farm down the road.  We had so much fun making mazes in hay bails and playing hide and go seek around the farm (I once hid in a milking vat!). What are some things farmers do for fun around the farm?  

I think every farm family finds fun in their own way, or at least they should. That is the key. It can be difficult for farmers to get away so making time for fun is so important. When Tim was growing up his family would often stop for lunch and make a small campfire in a nearby woods and roast hot dogs. We continued that tradition when our kids were small. Any time the girls can incorporate having fun while they work, they do. Much of that can be seen in the videos that they make. Farmers are natural-born pranksters. Growing up we pulled a lot of pranks on the hired guys that worked at our farm. Once I put duct tape over this one guy’s headlights and then watched him drive down the road trying to figure out what was going on with his car. 😂

Farmers can have fun too!
Erica with her three girls.

Last question: if you could speak for a farmer, what is the number one thing he or she would want all of us to know?

That farmers are just like anyone else. We love what we do, we love our families, and we love our country.

Tim’s Pumpkin Patch is celebrating their 33rd season. Tim, Erica’s husband, started the pumpkin patch from scratch when he was a teenager!

Heather’s closing thoughts: I’m very grateful for Erica’s time in giving this interview. We went to school together so I feel like I really know and trust her. Also very grateful for my now deceased Grandpa Art, who built silos and modeled an amazing work ethic (as all farmers do). Their work ethic is the best in the world, in my humble opinion. 👍

My hope is that, after reading this interview, you will support your local farmer, especially your local dairy farmer, as much as possible. Check in on them. Get to know them. See how they are holding up. Follow them on social media. Buy their milk and cheese and ice cream. They need our support as much as possible because they feed the world.

Thanks for reading and thanks for supporting the farming community!!

PS: One last article if you are interested: https://fortune.com/2019/06/11/farm-crisis-midwest-floods-2019/

What happened to Sarah and Jacob? A recent conversation with their aunt – Raelane Turner (as of 2022)

This post has been updated!  I recently re-interviewed Raelane for this post, and she gave me the inside scoop. Read on!


It has been eight long years since two young children, Sarah and Jacob Hoggle, disappeared without a trace from Montgomery County, Maryland.  The children’s mother, Catherine, was charged with murder but, based on her mental health status, her case has never gone to trial or received any verdict or closure. 

So where does the case stand right now, in September of 2022?  

In the following post, I will re-interview Sarah and Jacob’s aunt Raelane Turner, my close friend whom I have known for almost 15 years, and who has closely followed this case over the last eight years.  I will also give a brief update on the court case against Catherine.  Additionally, I will leave the original interview I conducted with Raelane following this post for reference.  

Before I get into the interview, here is a quick update on the actual case against Catherine Hoggle from the Washington Post: 

A Montgomery County judge said Thursday that he needs more time and information to decide whether the woman charged with murder in the disappearance of her two children is mentally fit for trial. Circuit Court Judge Richard Jordan indicated that he wanted to hear testimony from some of the forensic psychiatrists who examined Catherine Hoggle, rather than rely only on the many written reports assessing her competency to stand trial. (source: Washington Post, August 4, 2022).

This also from WTOP news:

State’s Attorney John McCarthy claimed Hoggle fully understood her legal situation and was making the considered decisions of a person competent to stand trial. “Working, considering, consulting with her lawyer — perfectly logical. These are not the actions of an incompetent individual,” McCarthy said. He asked the judge to conduct a series of questions Thursday, to determine once and for all whether he believes Hoggle is competent. (source: https://wtop.com/montgomery-county/2022/08/judge-could-rule-if-catherine-hoggle-will-ever-face-trial-in-death-of-two-missing-children/)

So while we continue to wait for some sort of closure and to figure out if Catherine is competent to stand trial, let’s hear from Raelane.  I think you will find her opinions and thoughts very interesting. 

I will also leave my personal opinion of what happened to the kids immediately after this update. 

So without further delay, here is the updated interview, which took place in early September 2022 over email:

Heather: It has been eight long years since Sarah and Jacob went missing.  Looking back, what do you personally think happened to Sarah and Jacob?

Raelane: Yes, eight long years. I can’t give a decisive answer to that and I flip-flop back and forth. There’s so much more to this than anyone outside of the family could imagine.

Heather: Did investigators ever figure out if Catherine was with a man with a tattoo on his wrist the day Sarah and Jacob went missing?  And if so, did that observation from several witnesses ever lead to any meaningful investigative leads in the case? 

Raelane: No, nothing more came up about the ‘man with the tattoo.’

Heather: What is the status with Catherine and her case and her mental health?  Was she ever stand trial or ever be forced to share details of her involvement with the disappearance of her kids? Do you think she will eventually go free without really giving any answers or providing any closure to this case?

Raelane: She’s not been ‘put on trial’ and she can’t be forced to share information, not in this country. I don’t think she’ll ever ‘be free’, no matter what happens in the courtroom. Only God can heal this. It’s beyond what we know. All things are possible with God, so I think it’s possible to know what happened. That doesn’t mean it will be soon. She’s already been criminally charged, but I don’t know what will come of that because as law enforcement personnel, several attorneys, and others have mentioned, our system is not set up to protect the victims. My niece and nephew, and my entire family grieving, are the victims. The system does not make it seem as if they are the victims. This is the world we live in. Since the words ‘mentally incompetent’ are still being used, she is treated differently.

Heather: Looking back, do you feel that the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) did a good job investigating this case?  Why or why not?

Raelane: The Maryland State Police wanted to help and provide other resources to help with the investigation, but MCPD denied their help and assistance, after stating that they could not provide enough help themselves.  I was told this by County police staff. The FBI was never ‘invited’ in to help. I can only hope the MCPD have done and are doing the best they can. I don’t know why more people weren’t interviewed to better understand the case and have more information, but that’s just my perspective. That is what I know, along with other things. This does not surprise me. As I mentioned, many other people go through this. Our family is not the only one. The system needs an overhaul.

Heather: Have there been any interesting or compelling or helpful leads over the last eight years which could lead to closure on this case?

Raelane: There must not be because there’s been no closure.

Heather: Did you ever figure out if Randy’s weird behavior around the time of the disappearances had anything to do with the two kids going missing? 

Raelane: I would hope that neither Randy nor Lindsey (Catherine’s mother) have any knowledge of what happened. Quite a few things have made many people question some things about who knows what. I could say much more about this, but I won’t. Would you travel out of the state if your daughter and two grandchildren were presumed missing? I wouldn’t.  Most people wouldn’t. 

Heather: How is Troy (Sarah and Jacob’s father, and Raelane’s younger brother) doing and how is your relationship with Troy at this point?  Many readers may not be aware that Sarah and Jacob had an older brother who was not taken. How is that son doing now after eight long years?

Raelane: It’s sad that I don’t get to speak with my little brother much at all which is a huge change from before. He went through some time periods like this before with Catherine, when they would stay away from family for a little while, due to what was going on with them. Something happened in his life (not to do with the kids) and he’s ostracized himself and my nephew from me and other extended family. I’ll always love him and have an open door for him.

As for my oldest nephew, who lived with me and my kids for 2 years and was doing very well when he lived with me, I can’t speak for him now, as I have no idea. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be taken away as a child from all whom you knew for 7 years, and just cut that off abruptly. We keep them in prayer. I learn from the past but don’t live in it like the Bible says “…forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14) I have to keep looking ahead and always look up.

Heather: If you could go back in time and do one thing differently with respect to this case or Sarah and Jacob, what would it be?  Do you have any regrets?

Raelane: I would have taken more action than I did to report everything myself, instead of relying on other(s) in the family to report things, when they said they would. And for those who wanted things to remain unsaid, I would speak up right away, instead of waiting for them to say something. I was outspoken about things going on and do NOT regret it. Some still blame me for reporting things. I would do it again and again and again. I regret not stepping over Child Protective Welfare and the police department (to whom things were reported) when nothing was done. I regret not going to agencies that were over these agencies to get help for the family, thinking that that was the agency’s job and not mine. There is more to this answer to give but I do not want to hurt a family member any more than that person is hurting now.

Heather: Has anything good come from this tragedy? 

Raelane: Definitely more of an appreciation for God’s peace and guidance, and many good conversations about the Gospel with people I know and people I don’t know. I can only hope and pray that this tribulation has blessed some with a feeling of dependence on God for all things, appreciation for his love, care, and sending Jesus for us, and gratefulness for his forgiveness (because we are all in the same boat with having fallen short of Him). I have become a stronger person in doing what is right by God, and not people. This heartbreak has made me grow and be able to stand up to family member(s) for what is truth and right. I pray that I’ll not be intimidated or silenced for speaking the truth anymore. 

Also, I know my niece and nephew are ok. With whatever happened, Jacob and Sarah are ok and God takes care of them. Gone from here or still here. I’m thankful God is in control and all is for the good of God. It’s ok if I don’t know or understand everything in this world. 

Heather: Last question: anything else you would like to say?  Any last thoughts about this case, about Sarah and Jacob, about Catherine, about God?  Feel free to share.    

Raelane: The only thing that matters to me are discussions about where people put their trust. Don’t put your trust in yourself, and don’t put it in others. Life here is short. What our family has gone through, many have.  It’s to be expected here in the world. Nothing surprises me, including what happened to my nephew and niece. All that matters is that my faith and trust is in our Lord and I know what is next for me. I would ask what or who are you putting your faith and trust in? Even with covid and all of this political stuff going on, I can feel peace with my trust in God. Doesn’t matter what happened or what is to come, God is my everything.


Thank you Raelane for this update!

My opinion on the case: 

It is my opinion that the Montgomery County police department (MCPD), based on statements made by Catherine at the time of her arrest, confirmed (in their minds) that Catherine was indeed guilty of murdering her two children, therefore they did not investigate other legitimate leads that they absolutely should have.  For one, they should have attempted to locate the man with the tattoo on his wrist, or at the very least interview witnesses who saw him. They did not.  And that’s just to start.  I have dabbled in the private investigative world and I can tell you that investigators need to follow every loose string as you never know what you will find on the other end of that string. If the MCPD had solid evidence and proof and bodies, it seems like we would know that by now.  With that aside, I have hopes that she passed her children onto someone else or some other group of people, maybe as a power play over Troy, her partner (they were never married but living together).  There were definite mental health issues involved.  Whether or not her mental health issues led to the murder of her two children, I cannot say.  It seems difficult for a woman who is not right in the head to be able to pull off two murders committed at two different times (see the timeline of the case below).  But as they say, sometimes the most basic theory of what happened is what happened, and therefore she is most likely guilty of killing her children and placing them somewhere where they will not be found.  Maybe MCPD knows this and has lots of solid evidence that we just don’t know about yet since the case has not gone to trial.  

Bottom line: I have no idea but I pray that the kids are still alive, out there somewhere, maybe with an underground group of people.  But honestly, she probably killed her kids, sadly. 

As far as Catherine’s competency, I believe she is definitely competent to stand trial.  I have never met her but I have heard she is clever and is of sound mind.  She must give an account of what she did with her two children many years ago.  

Thanks for reading and please continue to pray for closure to this case, and healing for all members of her family, including Raelane.  

Below is the original interview I conducted with Raelane several years ago.  You can probably skip the whole thing if you want to, but before you go, you should at least check out the timeline of events because it’s really interesting.  

Thanks for reading!  Any likes or comments are appreciated greatly. 

Below is Raelane’s story and her perspective on what happened to Sarah and Jacob.  

But before I get to her interview, I think it would be helpful if I summarize the events surrounding the disappearance of Sarah and Jacob.  I will put the order of events in bullet form because I find bullets to be helpful for my brain.  (Timeline provided by Raelane.)

  • Sunday evening September 7, 2014, Troy Turner took Catherine and all three of their children to Catherine’s mother’s home in Darnestown, MD. After Troy left, Catherine told her father, Randy, that she wanted to take Jacob out for pizza and be right back. Bear in mind, Catherine was not allowed to drive a vehicle and not allowed to be alone with her children because of prior unstable behavior around her kids.  For whatever reason, her father allowed Catherine to leave with Jacob, with Catherine driving his vehicle.  Three hours later, Catherine returned without Jacob.  She told her father that Jacob was now at a play date instead.
  • Later that evening, with Randy driving, the four of them (Randy, Catherine, Sarah, and the eldest son) went back to Troy’s home in Clarksburg, MD.
  • Troy came home later that night from work and went straight to bed, although typically Troy would kiss his three kids goodnight first (on this particular night, however, he got home later than usual as Catherine had kept him late out running errands for her).
  • The next morning, Troy was awakened by his eldest son who asked him where Sarah and Jacob were.  Troy quickly did a search of their home, and sure enough, no Catherine, and no kids. Troy proceeded to get his eldest son ready for school and headed to the bus stop with him.
  • Awhile later, Catherine returns to Troy’s house (with Troy’s vehicle that she wasn’t supposed to be driving) and Troy asks her where Sarah and Jacob are.  She tells him that the kids are at a new daycare center and that she needed to be taken to her class.  Troy drove her to her class and then picked her up later.  After her class, Troy picked her up.  When Catherine got into his car, he asked to be taken to Sarah and Jacob at the daycare facility.  Over the course of that afternoon, Catherine leads him on a wild goose chase looking for this made-up daycare center.
  • Once Troy realizes that Catherine is not being forthright about the kids, he became very angry and asked Catherine repeatedly to tell him where they were.  When she refused, he told her they were going to the police station straight away.
  • There was a fast food restaurant adjacent to the police station which Catherine saw, and asked to stop there. Troy went in with her and waited for her to receive her order, and then escorted her back to his car.  At the last moment, Catherine requested to run back into the restaurant and then gave Troy the slip.  She escaped out of the back door of the restaurant.
  • She spent the next four days hiding out in the Germantown, MD area until she was finally caught and questioned by the police.  The police interrogated Catherine for many hours on the day she was apprehended. She is now being held in the Perkins Hospital Center, a psychiatric facility, in Jessup, MD and has recently been charged with two counts of murder in the disappearance of her children.
  • Three and a half years later, Sarah and Jacob are still missing and Catherine is the only one who knows where the are (at least, from what we know).  The problem is, she is not telling anyone where they are or what she did with them.

From Raelane….

Can you tell me the two prevailing theories of what happened to the children?

First, Catherine passed them off to someone else.  But then there is a fork in the road after that. The question is: did she give them to a family member or did she give them to someone she didn’t know?  Catherine’s mother (Lindsey Hoggle) brought up the theory that she thought Catherine was into Scientology.  But we just don’t know who she would’ve given them to because Catherine didn’t really talk to people. Or, did she pass them to a possible family member?

The other thing that has come up with the case has to do with Randy, her father.  Because oddly enough, the next day, while his grandkids were missing, he took a trip to PA.  So a lot of people are asking “how do you go out of town when your daughter and two grandchildren are missing?”  So that would be the other thing; if he helped out or something.

Of course, the other theory is that she murdered our Sarah and Jacob and took them away from us forever.  It’s one fact we don’t want to come across but we have always tried to consider both sides.

What do you, personally, think happened to Sarah and Jacob?

If I am stepping back and looking outside of my family, then I would say that I think she murdered them.  Just looking at the case; her actions and the things she said. We all had major concerns about how Catherine interacted with the kids, and CPS was already involved at one time, as some members of her family had seen Catherine display unstable behavior towards the kids.

But then again, I hope she gave the kids to someone and that they would be found, like other children that have gone missing, and be returned home to us and to my brother.

Tell me about the man with the tattoo on his wrist and what happened that day at the bus stop.

Here is something that gave me hope early on: there were people at the bus stop the morning that Sarah and Jacob disappeared who witnessed Catherine pacing near my brother’s van while she was waiting for (presumably) her eldest son to come to the bus stop.  Inside Troy’s van they saw a man sitting in the drivers seat with his left arm resting on the door with the window open, and he had a very prominent tattoo on or around his left wrist.  Witnesses say he had longish blond hair.  To this day, we don’t know who this man is, why he was sitting in my brother’s car, and why Catherine was pacing, as if she was nervously waiting for something to happen.  So people wonder if she was waiting to grab her eldest child before he got on the bus, as he would often walk to the bus stop on his own.  This time, however, Troy was with him.

So you believe that she wanted to take their eldest son?

I have no idea, but there are many other people who believe that yes, she wanted to take him as well but didn’t have the opportunity to do so.  For example, as I said, witnesses say she was pacing near my brother’s van while she waited for him to come to the bus stop. Why would she be pacing, up there, near his bus stop when she wasn’t even the one to bring him there herself?

What is the status of the court case as of right now?

Two murder charges have been filed against Catherine. And the last time we went to court, they declared her to still not be competent to stand trial. She will be reevaluated in a year.

Why would Catherine either pass off her children to someone else, or murder her own children?

I have no idea.  I couldn’t even think of why a mother would want to get rid of her children in any way, shape, or form.  I know she didn’t want her mother to raise the kids, she didn’t want me to raise the kids, and she didn’t want Troy to raise the kids.  Unfortunately she was not able to raise them herself.  Maybe she would want someone else to raise them so she gave them to someone else.  That theory is giving me a glimmer of hope.  Some people have said that it seems like Catherine lacks a soul and a conscience.

What would you say to Catherine if she ever read this interview?

A lot of people are saying “It’s all about Sarah and Jacob, let’s stop talking about Catherine,” but I say instead: Catherine is the key to finding Sarah and Jacob.  That’s where the answer lies.

Only she knows what really happened that Sunday and Monday.  The only thing I would say to her is I hope that she will tell the truth, and either way, if the kids are with us or they’re in heaven, that she would repent of her sins as we all should do and turn her life over to the Lord.   I would also tell her that she can always pray and ask God for help with the things she doesn’t know how to handle, and that she can contact me anytime.

Do you believe she is being treated fairly (or too fairly) by our justice system?  Is she competent to stand trial?

I believe she IS competent.  Both sides of the family believe this and even her mother has made statements to this effect.  I think the justice system needs to be revamped because a lot of things have changed and a lot of things are classified as mental illness vs. someone who is violent and uncaring; someone who knows exactly what they are doing.  There has to be a way to differentiate between that. The changes need to be made through the people and the politicians.  There is no uniform standard and you can easily hide under it.  And it depends on where you live as laws vary state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  We have talked to many police officers and attorneys and private investigators both in state and out of state who say the case would have been handled differently had it been in their jurisdiction. The criminals are protected more than the victims.

Do you think the Montgomery County police department has done a good job with this investigation?

(dead silence for several moments……)

From the beginning I think the investigators felt 100 percent that she murdered her kids and they geared the investigation toward that.  And I don’t see how they heard or saw everything that they should have, in my opinion.  To this day, I have never been interviewed by anyone and there are many other people who are close to the case who have never been interviewed.  So I don’t see how that’s really a thorough investigation, or a complete picture.  For example, I’m not sure if they ever spoke to anyone about the man with the tattoo on his wrist.  They even told Lindsey, Catherine’s mom, to “check your home for us, and check your home computer that Catherine used, and see if you find anything that can help in this case.”  They didn’t even do it themselves.  I know that if I were investigating this case, I would have sent law enforcement agents in to do that search.  Thank goodness my mother mentioned to law enforcement that they should be checking Lindsey’s home computer, and then they did.   And when Randy (Catherine’s father)  traveled to PA, it seems like they would’ve called law enforcement in PA to stop him and check his vehicle, since it crossed state lines.  They asked Randy, himself, to “please bring the vehicle to them so they could check it.”  Again, I certainly would not have done that.  Had my mom not been assertive, I wonder if they would have checked his vehicle at all.

So because they had a firm belief in the fact that the Sarah and Jacob were no longer with us, was every avenue covered?  And should Randy been charged with allowing Catherine to drive the vehicle that she wasn’t supposed to be driving and to take my little Jacob with her when she wasn’t supposed to be alone with the kids?  It makes no sense to me and it’s sickening.

What is her official mental health diagnosis?

Paranoid schitzophrenia but also severe psychosis and a plethora of other things from what I know. But from what I’ve seen from her, she is fully capable of comprehending what is going on around her.  Some people may think that she is sitting there, zoned-out and not functioning.  But that’s not true.  She can talk just like we are talking.  She is very intelligent.  She has just used everything in the wrong way.

Do you think the truth will eventually come out?

I do.  But I am hoping Catherine will tell us sooner rather than later what happened. The truth will come out if and when God decides it’s time.

Tell me about the searches?  What were they like?  How many did you participate in?

I can’t even describe what it’s like to be searching for my niece and nephew, who had already become like my own children to me because I had spent so much time with them over the years.  They were dearly loved, sweet children. It’s gut-wrenching; and that phrase doesn’t even do it justice.  In the beginning I went out there often with the hopes of finding them, and I was screaming their names, hoping I would hear a tiny peep.  I had to be out there; and even though I often felt nauseous, I also felt compelled to look until I found them. But then after several days, it just turned into looking, and looking, and I couldn’t stop looking, and I had to get everyone else to look too. And then that turned to organizing and strategizing more, and making sure we were searching in the proper areas.

Have you seen good support from the local community for your searches and other aspects of the case?

Yes.  In the beginning we had 500 people come out. But then it trickled off because these aren’t their kids, and people have their own lives to lead.  Our search leaders still call me and text me, and they still want to go out and look. We are like family.  A lot of people are still asking what they can do to help.  It warms my heart to know that many other people out there are concerned about Sarah and Jacob and want to help find them or to bring closure in some other way.

How are your brother and your family holding up?

Even though it’s been more than three years, I still feel right in the midst of this.  I still feel the need to keep up on things, that I need to keep doing things to find them.  I can’t imagine what it’s like for my brother.  Everything is hard.  Holidays are hard.  I don’t even want to shop for my own kids and not shop for Sarah and Jacob too.  It’s still hard.  I still cry.  I still have nightmares.

How has your faith in God impacted you during this difficult time? 

It’s what has gotten me through.  You can’t have anger.  I have forgiven Catherine because I realize IT is not Catherine.  God’s carried me through everything and I am in the palm of his hand, knowing that He is taking care of things.  And even if the kids are gone, God is taking care of them; they are with him in heaven.  They are not suffering or in pain.  I think that people who are not believers don’t understand that there is a purpose.  God is a God of good and of love, and whatever plan He has, I welcome that in my life.  We have to look down the road to our eternal salvation and what is to come.  We are going to go through hard things in this world.  I don’t have a right to say that I shouldn’t go through some hard things.

You have four kids yourself.  How has the disappearance of their cousins impacted them?  

All of them were like brothers and sisters.  Sometimes Sarah and Jacob and my older nephew would stay with us for weeks or a month at a time, then we would all kind of tag team to take them out.  We would go to bed together and get up together.  The kids are really hurting.  They are growing up not with one hole, but two holes in their heart.

If you were a police officer or an investigator with unlimited resources, what would you do to solve this case?

Finish with the searches; we do have maps that Klauss kids has helped us to generate.  If you don’t find anything you can at least say you cleared that.  Investigate the angle that they were alive and taken to another location.  Figure out where Catherine had family and look there, but I’m sure law enforcement has already considered doing that… or at least I would hope.

Please tell me a little about Sarah and Jacob. 

They were such sweet kids.  Sarah was our tough little football player.  Even looking at her from the back, she looked like a boy with her broad shoulders.  She was very strong-willed personality.  But she was also girly, and had a purse that she would stuff everything into.  The purse still sits on my dining room table in my home.  Jacob was my little smiley-face; he was friendly with everyone he met.  Jacob and I would stay up all night; he was my night owl and I would just sing to him all night long, carrying him around.  I would sing “You are my sunshine” to try to get him to sleep.  I still miss that and tear up when I sing that song to my grandkids.

How would you summarize the disappearance of your niece and nephew?  

A lot of people use the phrase “emotional roller-coaster”, but the only thing I can think of everyday is that a train hits you, and you are barely out of the way before another train hits you.  But even through these ongoing train wrecks, and even through all the hurt and pain, and through the tears, I can still feel the peace of the Lord.  And God still has his hands on me.  And one day, very soon, I will be reunited with Sarah and Jacob.  If not here, then in Heaven for all eternity.

For more information and to stay updated with this case, please visit this page and hit ‘like’: https://www.facebook.com/JusticeforSarahJacob/

To read a recent article of this case, click here.

Visit this website for more information: here.

Raelane and me at a recent get together. 🙂


Closing note from Heather:

I will always remember searching the woods.  From my perspective as her friend, you do feel compelled to help, because you imagine it’s your own children.  And I didn’t want Raelane to have to search alone.  (What kind of friend lets her friend do that?) Searching for missing kids is a very surreal and emotional experience.  You want to find them, but you don’t.  You are afraid to find them because of exactly what you may find.  But you really want to help, and you want the family to have closure.  You want the truth to come out.  

After I was done with the searches, I would always come home and hug my kids a little tighter.  

I wrote this post for three reasons: first, to show my support for my dear friend Raelane.  Secondly, because I felt like Raelane should finally be able to share her story; she always told me such interesting information about the case and I thought other people should know about it, too.  Finally, and most importantly, my hope and prayer is that this article would be helpful in solving the mystery and bringing Sarah and Jacob home.  

After my conversation with Raelane, I still have questions about the man with the tattoo around his wrist, and the lapse in judgement (or worse?) from Catherine’s father.  And what about Catherine: will she ever be competent to stand trial?  Will she ever confess to what she did?  And did the local police search every possible angle or did they focus in too much on their one prevailing theory?  Many questions remain.

So what do I think happened to the kids? I go back and forth between believing that Catherine killed them and placed their bodies somewhere in two wooded areas around Montgomery county MD, OR that they are still alive and well with other people (there were details shared with me privately that give me hope that they are still alive somewhere else).  So if I can have a sliver of faith and hope, then you can too!  

If you would like to help with this case — first pray!  Secondly, feel free to share this post.  Leave a comment if you think you have any information that can help!  And feel free to like the Facebook page that I linked above.  And if you have any information, feel free to contact the Montgomery County Police Department. 

In closing, I am praying that Sarah and Jacob will be found alive some day; in essence, for a miracle.  But either way, I pray for justice for Sarah and Jacob.  I pray that God will squeeze Catherine so hard that the truth will finally seep out of her.  I pray for closure for the entire family.  And I pray for healing for my dear friend Raelane, who is still deeply grieving for her niece and nephew.

Thank you for your interest in this case and for reading!

Raelane will never stop looking and praying.

Interview with a Preparedness Expert/Mom

Marla is a regular mom with a great skill set — family emergency preparedness — and one of my best friends from high school. I visited her last year at her home in Southern California.  We are standing on a picturesque hill directly above their home in the above photo.  Crazily, the entire area where we are standing caught on fire a few months after this photo was taken.  The out of control wildfire traveled downhill and almost burned down her house.  Read the full story below.

Marla is a preparedness expert/mom who lives in a major wildfire and earthquake zone: Southern California. I met Marla at the start of ninth grade when I took a two year break from public school to attend a small, Christian private school in Syracuse, NY (where I grew up).  Ironically, I was going through my rebellious/class-clown phase during those two years (not so compatible with a strict Christian school), and Marla was my very first friend; we met at my locker.  We’ve kept in touch all these years and I visited her a year and half ago at her home in California and that’s where this interview began. In this interview, Marla discusses the top three ways a family (or individual) can be prepared for a disaster, how to approach thinking about the unexpected, the number one thing you need during an emergency, social unrest and the zombie apocalypse, and how her house literally almost burned down due to an out-of-control wildfire.  I interview her from her well-stocked underground bunker in California.  (Kidding…her garage is well stocked, but no bunker.)

Heather:  Marla, last year you had a wildfire almost burn your house down.  Please tell us what happened.

There were some wildfires in my general area, but due to the wind direction, we were told that our home would probably be ok.  I was at a garage sale in town when my friend’s husband who was fighting the fire said I better get home, because he was pretty sure we’d be evacuated soon, so I drove home.   I could smell smoke and the sky turned a very dark but also a weird orange color as I drove.  I arrived home, and power was out, so no AC, but because of the smoke cover, what would have been 104 + degrees was about 80 something…we packed a few things in the car easily because I had our valuables gathered, consolidated and organized. My new neighbors on either side of my home were pretty panicky. They admittedly couldn’t think straight- so I was able to have the privilege of talking them through what they needed to do and how to prioritize. I asked if I could pray for them and prayed for God’s peace to be known to them.  That was pretty instantaneous after praying. He is a present help in a time of need 🙂  Awhile later I looked out the window and saw a huge plume of black smoke barreling down on our house.  I went out to my back yard to pack up our chickens and just as I finished, I heard a sound like rushing wind — almost like a tornado, and a loud crackling sound.  It was the wildfire coming over our hill behind our house!  My girls and I got in the car and drove out of there, and like an idiot I was almost out of gas and the roads were really backed up.  My husband and some other husbands decided to stay at the house and fight the fire with their garden hoses.  At that time there was no firefighter support. The fire was super close to my house at this point, and according to my husband, had reached a fort my kids had built and it all had to be aflame. My one neighbor came up to my husband and she prayed something like this: “God, you have power over the wind and waves, and over the fire. We ask you to push this fire back, preserve their home and land, do a miracle, and keep the hill from burning.”   And God answered.  All the things that my husband and neighbors saw, with their own eyes, as being consumed by the flames, were not even burnt.  Or near burnt.  Our house was saved.  It was a miracle.

Above: the wildfire that was coming straight down the hill towards Marla’s house.  It was a miracle that her house and land were saved.


A helicopter sprays water and chemicals over the wildfire.

Keep your valuables (documents, keepsakes) in one place for easy grabbing.  Marla was able to quickly put those important items into her car, and leave her home, in a moment’s notice.

What did you learn from that experience?

Keep between half and a full tank of gas in your car.  Keep your keepsakes, important documents, and valuables in one place so you can quickly grab them.  Prepare your neighbors for peace (more on that in a moment). And honestly, nobody came to tell us to evacuate; there was no announcement that I was aware of.  Sometimes you have to trust your instincts and not necessarily rely on the authorities to tell you what to do.

Why did you become interested in preparing for a disaster?

Because I do live in a place with earthquakes (Southern California, near the San Andreas fault) and that terrifies me.  I didn’t think much of it and put it off, even after I had children.  Until there was actually a little earthquake one day and I had two little tiny kids in a shopping cart.  It made me realize that I would have no idea where to go or what to do or how to get ahold of my husband or how to get home if the roads were blocked.  And I was in Walmart, in the camping section, so I was very thankful for that.  So I grabbed a few things and left.  But that got me thinking that I should really think a lot more about preparedness.  So I learned a lot about it, took some classes, and started a website.  (Her website is here.)

Let’s start with the two recent devastating hurricane events.  How would you advise a family to be prepared for a hurricane and its aftermath?

First, if you live in area prone to hurricanes and if you haven’t taken the time to make sure you’ve assembled an Emergency Supply Kit, build one now! A few other things: board up your windows, fill the bathtub with water, go over the evacuation plan with the family, and know the location of the nearest hurricane shelter. If you are instructed to evacuate, do so!  You cannot be certain that help will come later if you find yourself in a deadly situation after evacuations have taken place.  Remember to do the following when you prepare to leave home: turn off lights, gas appliances, heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems, keep refrigerator/freezer turned on (and turn it up to the coldest setting), and of course, lock your home!

(For more information on hurricane preparedness, please go directly to Marla’s website. CNN.com also had a great article on this topic; some of the information above was taken from the article: here.)

What are some questions that individuals and families should be asking about being prepared for a disaster?

What are the dangers we could have locally?  What are the natural disasters that may be prevalent in our area?  What kinds of man-made disasters could we face?  What would I like to do in those situations?  Do we want to high-tail it out of town?  Where are we going?  Is that place stocked with what you need?  Natural disasters include hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, flooding, and wildfires.   And in some locations, a tsunami. Man-made emergencies include power grid problems, terrorist attacks, EMPs, etc.

What are some simple ways a family can get prepared?

I think families are loathe to prepare for emergencies because you would rather not think about those difficult scenarios.  But I have three words of advice for you:  SKILLS TRUMP STUFF.  Knowing how to do things is better than having stuff.  The first order of business is coming up with a plan. First, come up with a fire exit plan.  In about four minutes a fire can be raging and almost impossible to escape.  If you live in an earthquake region, practice an earthquake drill.

Figure out where your family is going to meet up in case of a natural disaster or social unrest.  Maybe you work in one corner of the city/county, and your spouse works in another area; maybe your kids attend school in another area.  How are you getting them?  Where are you meeting?  What if traffic is blocked up?  Do you have good walking shoes in your car? Do your kids have extra water, sneakers, and a food bar in the car?  Even schools need to have good supplies in the event of a lock down situation, including a privacy screen.

I will bottom line it for everyone: what are the Top Three Ways to get prepared for an emergency?

First, make a family plan (see above); talk to your family about what you can do to prepare.  Learn about what you already have that can prepare you. For example, big garbage bags can line your toilet for sanitation when there is no plumbing (for sewage purposes, if it comes to that).  Learn how to get water out of your hot water heater.  What are all the water sources in your house? And trust in the Lord.  Secondly, make sure you have a 30 day minimum of WATER (one gallon, per person, per day).  And if there is a big disaster in the city, the Suburbs are the last area to be addressed.  It’s the high density populations that gets addressed first.  Where I live, about 40 minute outside of a big city, they told us it will be two to six months before anyone is able to get out here to address anything.  That’s a long time. Thirdly, have a month’s worth of food.  Start with two weeks and then incrementally increase it.

How do people get started preparing for difficult scenarios?

Start with the basics. Most houses have anywhere between one and two weeks of food.  You need to think: how am I going to cook it with no electricity?  What is my fuel source?  Do I have enough canned food?  STORE WHAT YOU USE AND USE WHAT YOU STORE.  Rotate your food. Know that children and elderly are more prone to starve in a time of distress.   Take small steps.  Be a little more prepared today than you were yesterday.  Preparing for the apocalypse is completely overwhelming and impossible.  Don’t become obsessed and fearful.  If you sense the Lord nudging you to become more prepared, that’s wisdom.  Take small steps.

What can people do to help their community prepare?  

So make your plan for fire exits, make your plan for a couple of natural disasters, then say to your neighbors, “Hey guys!  We’ve never met, we just drive into our garage, but I wanted to give you my contact information, if ever there is an emergency or something suspicious, and hey we made a fire safety plan, and one for a hurricane, if you want we can all brainstorm together and be prepared as a neighborhood.”

People don’t love it.  They are kinda slow and suspicious.  Neighbors can feed and save each other.  There are plenty of stories about the Northridge earthquake where everyone pulled their grills together and grilled all of their meat before it rotted and fed the entire community.  That’s a beautiful thing.  However, 20 percent of the neighborhood will do 80 percent of the work.

What is the number one thing people need access to during a disaster?

Water.  You need to access water.  You can live three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food.  We came home one day and our water had been off all day.  And if that had been prolonged — you realize in those moments where your water is: in your ice cube trays, in the back of your toilet tank (not the bowl!), etc., but how long is that going to last me?  You realize how badly you need water for so many things!  Watch out for those foil pack waters – they taste wretched after a short period of time, and your kids won’t drink them.

Is it important to have access to a local water source such as a lake?  Should you purchase a hiking water filter like Erik and I have for our back-packing trips?  

Here’s the challenge: everyone is going to go to that lake or stream to get water.  There are really great tools like the UV Water purifier.  Like a huge thick pen with a filter; they are battery powered.  You can stick it in your cup of water to purify it.  Have your bottles of water; have your gallons.  Don’t set them straight on concrete, though, because that leeches in.  Sometimes you can use tablets and drops.

(Heather’s note: honestly, if this is the one thing you take away from this interview — think about water.  Do you have a nearby water source?  And do you have a dependable water filter? If not, order a water filter today (google “water filter for back-packing.”) If there is no water source nearby, go buy water at the grocery store and store it in your basement or garage on a shelf.)

Can you talk a little bit about situations that can lead to social unrest?

Extended power outages, “social justice” issues, rioting political protestors, EMPs, terrorist attacks, power grid problems, terrorist attacks.  You could have localized black outs with a nuclear power plant problem or an aged electrical grid. I get paranoid about social unrest.  I have a quick story: the power went out in a grocery store one night.  The doors wouldn’t open; you had to pry the doors open because there was no power.  Everything was pitch black except a flickering green light.  In a very short time I started to hear people chant, with nervous laughter, “Loot the store!”  I left my cart of groceries and got out of there.  I got to my car in pitch blackness.  Did I have anything to light my path?  Or keep me safe? I really didn’t.  When you don’t know the time when things will resolve, people get crazy.

I had wished I had a flashlight on my keychain that didn’t need constant pressure to stay on, and maybe a whistle. Happily- I didn’t need either.

But can’t we all go to a cabin in the woods?

A really nice idea, but your biggest problem is actually getting to the cabin.  And eventually the hungry hoards are going to come looking for food.  People will say “I want an RV.”  You can’t go off-roading in an RV.  Roads are going to be clogged.  What are my back ways of getting there?  How much gas do you need?  Keep your cars half to three quarters full of gas at all times.

(Heather’s note: everyone will come after the RVs, people, just like in the movies and on TV. But I’m not going to lie, I totally want one anyway!  I have heard people say that if the roads are clogged or blocked, try driving over the railroad tracks.)

Marla, let’s talk The Walking Dead.  End of the World.  Zombie Apocalypse.  What then?

Honestly, you’re a goner.  I mean, there is nothing you can do for that stuff.  It’s going to chaos and mayhem.  And you have the Lord; like….that’s it (and really, what more do you need?).  Your days are numbered; He knows when your end is going to be.  Some, even Christian believers, are like “I will kill anyone I have to – to protect my family.”  Others are like “absolutely not. I know where I’m going; if we get taken out, we get taken out.  We are not going to wipe someone off the planet before they have a chance to repent and turn to Christ for salvation.”  I feel like in those times of crisis it’s an opportunity to lead as many to Christ as possible.  It’s our last chance to bring people into eternity.  Our life is fleeting and short; this body is temporary.  That is what I am trying to tell my girls.  If you don’t believe that, I have no help for you.

I fantasize about setting up a bunker; I’m not going to lie.  It’s nice to find like-minded people with whom you can live in community if it comes to that. But it is really going to take a lot of financial investment and a lot of educating yourself in order to prepare for that. And is that really what you’re here on earth for? Maybe. Maybe not.

I’m not sure if an RV, a bunker, or a cabin in the woods will protect us from zombies or normal people who act like zombies during a period of social unrest. So let’s spend the little bit of margin we all have to store about a month’s worth of food and water (and a few other necessary items — including a water filter — see the list below), and pray that the above scenario never happens!!

You’ve touched on this a little bit, but should you help people that run out of food in a crisis situation?  

That’s lovely, but you only have so much.  Also, when people find out that you have food and you help, more people are going to come, most likely.  The best thing you can do is to help your community be prepared.

How do you know when it’s time to leave your home?

I always say to my husband: “what is our clue that things are getting bad and we need to high-tail it out of a situation?  What would be the catalyst?”  So we would leave and have a two week or two month vacation, and maybe we would come back and maybe we won’t.  I think that is where you have to be led by the Spirit and not led by fear.  It’s a delicate balance.  Perfect love casts out fear, but we also want to be prepared and protect our family.

Advice for how the faith community should approach preparedness and social unrest?  

Christians have an opportunity to be more prepared for PEACE.  So we help those around us more effectively, and be a light in a dark world.  Jesus is the prince of peace.  We want to be deliverers of that peace.  And ultimately knowing that your life is in His hands brings peace.

Joseph’s life is a cool example. God showed him to prepare for hard times ahead and when famine came, not only was Egypt saved but many people from far away received aid.

Closing thoughts?

You cannot avoid the inevitable and unpredictable, but you CAN plan for SOME of it.  You have to prepare yourself mentally before you are out of time. Remember two words: peaceful preparedness….anyone who is a little more prepared or has put a little bit more thought into how something might be like is going to be calm when that thing happens.  SKILLS TRUMP STUFF.  We hate thinking about it….but thinking about it is going to get you further along than buying an emergency pack at Walmart and never looking in it or figuring out what its lacking for you is practically fruitless.  Know things.

Preparedness in one sentence?

There is a quote in the book of Proverbs that I think sums up preparedness well: “A wise person sees danger ahead and prepares for it.”

A little bit of wisdom goes a long way.

Thank you Marla for sharing your tips with us!

Marla and me on a beach, when all was well in the world and there was no emergency to think about.


Closing thoughts from Heather:

If you are a back-packer/hiker or love to go camping, you will already have a bunch of preparedness items in your basement or garage (think camp stove, propane, water filter). The one thing I cannot stress enough is: do you have a plan to access water?  I think my biggest take away, after interviewing Marla, is that I actually don’t have much of a family plan in place in case of a disaster.  My kids go to school across town and in case something happens, and the streets are clogged or shut down, I’m not really sure how to get to them.  A couple of other takeaways:

  • It’s good to pack sneakers and water bottles (and protein bars) in the car – just in case.
  • I’m glad I already have a water filter and live near a lake.
  • I’m glad skills are more important than stuff.
  • I need to organize all of my keepsakes and important papers in one spot.
  • I need to remind the kids about the fire plan we made a long time ago.
  • I hope I can get to the grocery store before everyone else does. 🙂
  • I have a long way to go.

One last note: when you are making any sort of plan, please don’t forget your pets!!

Thanks for reading!!


For further resources:

Click here for the Red Cross, which already has emergency kits put together for you: here.

The CDC also recommends you should have an emergency kit prepared.  Whether or not you actually do that, scan the list below to make sure you have most of these items around your house in case of an emergency.

Please go to the CDC here.

The CDC recommends the following:

At Least a 3-day Supply of Food and Water

Water – one gallon per person, per day

(Heather: I am adding in water filter right here.)

Food – foods that are easy to make and won’t spoil, like canned soup, dry pasta, and powdered milk

•Manual can opener

•Basic utensils to prepare and serve meals

•3-day supply of all medicines, at a minimum

•Medical supplies like syringes, a walking cane, or hearing aids with extra batteries


•Toothbrush and toothpaste

•Baby wipes

•Contact lenses or glasses

•First aid kit

•Emergency blanket

•Multipurpose tool (that can act as a knife, file, pliers, and screwdriver)



•Radio (battery-powered, solar, or hand-crank) for updates on the situation

•Cell phone with chargers

•Extra batteries and cash.  Find out where your gas, electric, and water shut-off locations are, and how to turn them off.

There is more to this list, so please visit the website.

Confessions of an Exorcist

I remember being scared out of my mind when watching the 1973 horror classic, The Exorcist.  So I decided to interview Dr. David Appleby, who performs exorcisms.  Most exorcisms (or deliverances) are not like the movie.  Read his story below.

I interview Dr. David Appleby, founder and president of Spiritual Interventions, Inc., which is based in Lynchburg, VA.  Dave is also a graduate counseling professor and pastoral counselor.  He has been involved in the deliverance ministry for more than 35 years.

Heather’s note: Dave doesn’t see like a demon-slayer: he has warm and kind brown eyes and has a very fatherly way about him.  He’s also very soft-spoken.  But don’t let that fool you.  In addition to being super smart, well-educated, and possessing an impressive professional pedigree, he gets rid of things that literally go bump in the night.  People come from around the world to see him, after they’ve tried just about everything.  He then performs an exorcism (or deliverance, in evangelical Christian terms) on them, and their whole life changes for the better.  Below is his story:

Do you consider yourself an exorcist?

By definition an exorcist is one who is able to cast out demons or spirits.  It is usually a word associated with the Catholic tradition.  Protestants often use  the word deliverance, or deliverance ministry.   That would be me.

How in the world did you end up in this line of work?

When I was an associate pastor I was responsible for providing counseling services for my church.  I kept running into good solid Christian people who apparently weren’t able to overcome their problems when I used the standard psychological or spiritual protocols.  I knew that I was missing something so I went back into the Scriptures to look for indications of supernatural change.  I saw that change occur when demonic spirits were cast out.  Back in the 1980s there were no books explaining how to do deliverance available (though there were several who made a case for it) so I just started experimenting.  After 35+ years I’ve developed a methodology that seems to work consistently.  I got into the field because nothing else was helping my clients.

Dr. David Appleby has developed a model he has been using for 35 years to help people with demonic oppression.

Please describe your typical client?

Our clients are all Christians.  We won’t work with anyone who is not. Deliverance is for believers.  Why would one who has refused to be submitted to the Lord want, or hope to be set free from things when their whole attitude is in rebellion against the one who can provide their freedom?  Plus, if you remember the story from the Scriptures about the strong man and the stronger man.  When the house was cleaned out but not filled, the stronger man could come back with others that were seven times worse than the ones that were there to begin with.  Why would we do that to anyone?  Please see my book, It’s Only a Demon, for a more detailed explanation.

We see men and women, children and adults, professional people and not so professional people, the wealthy and the poor.  We see the physically and emotionally well and those who are not.  We see a huge range of clients.  The consistent factor is often that they have been damaged in some way, which in turn, opened the door to demonization.

What are some symptoms of spiritual oppression?

There are many.  First, feelings of shame or guilt that don’t resolve, accusatory voices in the mind that won’t stop, ungodly coping mechanisms (such as cutting, binge drinking, drug use) that just make the situation worse, difficulty making connections with people and with God, recurring nightmares or thoughts that disrupt sleep, and sins that don’t yield to traditional spiritual disciplines like meditation, prayer, fasting.

Some of this will be psychologically based, some physiologically based, and some spiritually based.

Here are a few more: a feeling that your life is not your own and that something else is working against you, personal or family problems that don’t respond to therapy, physical or psychological problems that don’t respond to medication, and finally, an inability to really, truly change.

How do you specifically make the demons leave the person? 

I don’t have the authority to make anything leave anyone.  As believers, however, we have all been given the authority by our Savior to command these things to leave in the name of Jesus.  When we do that in faith, and stand firm, they go, not because they want to, but because they have to.  Sometimes, however, we have to address the situations where these things gained access to the client before we can move forward.  It is only through the name of Jesus Christ (and his power) that a client can be set free.  While he is fully human, he is also the Son of God.  He created everything that is, including Satan and his demonic kingdom.  He defeated death when he died on the cross and rose from the dead.  In him we find life and supernatural authority over demonic spirits.

So you’re telling me that some Christians are under the influence of demons.  How does this happen?

Oppression is a non-biblical term that believers have decided to us to describe some level of demonic involvement that keeps the demon outside of the believer.  If you don’t believe that a believer can be demonized you have to have some explanation of what is taking place in the person.  Saying that the person is oppressed keeps the demon on the outside so you don’t have to deal with the theological issues.  The common doorways are generational (coming down through family lines), occult involvement (such as Ouiji boards, divination, witchcraft, sorcery, false religions, Masonic involvement in the family, drug use), trauma and victimization (physical, emotional, sexual, and verbal abuse, abandonment or betrayal by parents or loved ones, etc.), and long-term sin (a commitment to disobedience).

So there are four doorways for demonic oppression.  What is the most common one you’ve seen?

Trauma and victimization is the most common.  We are constantly astonished how many children are traumatized by their families and sexually assaulted by friends and family members.  When a person finds himself/herself traumatized, victimized, and isolated, with no support from the people who are supposed to care for them, they can become prey for the Enemy.

What are some of the strangest things that you’ve ever seen during your sessions?

Physically I have seen people act like spiders and try to climb up a wall, writhing on the ground, screaming, changes in voice and mannerism, etc.  Just a variety of weird stuff.

Can you elaborate on this a bit more?  I know there was a young man you mentioned in your book where it took you several men to pin him down.  Can you give at least one more example of odd/crazy behavior?

One time I was speaking at a conference where I normally do a public deliverance at the end of the training.  Actually seeing what takes place during a deliverance helps to normalize the experience for those observing.  It also normally makes people more comfortable with the thought of them joining a team and participating in the ministry.

In any case, in preparation for the conference, I asked the host to find someone who was willing to have a public deliverance.   The host was such a believer and had such confidence in God’s ability to deliver people that he went out and found the worst client that he could find.  What I did not realize at the time was that my client was about 6’ 4”, weighed about 300 lbs., and had a long history of mental illness.  He had also just been released from a mental hospital that morning.  He had also not attended the conference, nor was he a Christian.  I had no idea about any of this.  I try not to work with openly mentally-ill people in public settings as it often leads to a whole other level of complexity that is not helpful in a teaching setting.

In any case, all the attendees were sitting in rows behind me while I was sitting in a chair facing him.  He was an enormous, powerful man.  The first part of the deliverance went well.  When I addressed the demon, however, things deteriorated rapidly.  Suddenly he stood up, put his face about four inches from mine and began roaring, I mean screaming with a power and volume that was new to me.  I could feel his breath and spittle on my face.  After he got finished roaring at me he stood up, still screaming, and moved to the back of the room, where he started picking up and tossing chairs and tables around.  I sat in my chair without moving silently praying, “Lord, big angels, big angels.  Lord, big angels.”   Eventually he calmed down and told the host that he had to leave as he had to go to work.  He walked out the door.

The observers, who were sitting behind me, didn’t say a word the whole time as they sat there in total shock.  Needless to say, there were not many people who were interested in joining me in the deliverance ministry after that.  🙂

Another time, my team and I were working with a young woman who was suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (Sometimes what appear to be alters are actually demonic spirits.  Other times they are legitimate alters; parts of a fragmented personality.)  In the midst of this deliverance I excused myself to go to the bathroom while a colleague continued working with her.  When I came back into the room I recognized that something unexpected had happened.  In the midst of the deliverance the main personality, with whom we were working, disappeared and a pure demonic spirit took its place. It was not fettered by the presence of a human personality.  As soon as I walked into the room it recognized me and began to speak to me.  As it spoke every hair on my body stood up as an overwhelming sense of evil and terror filled the room.  It then went on to suggest all kinds of sexual things that I could do to myself.  It was a little unsettling.  In any case, we went ahead and removed this spirit and several others.  When we finished, our client was completely healed and never again had any episodes of dissociation.  In this case, what appeared to be alters were actually demonic spirits.  That is not always the case.

I hesitate to mention these extreme examples, as they tend to reinforce the Hollywood stereotype of what deliverance looks like.  Events such as mentioned above almost never occur.  I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times such incidences occur out of literally thousands of deliverances.  When these manifestations begin to occur I just tell them to shut up and sit down and they do.  We have authority.

Have you ever been afraid during or after a deliverance session?

Rarely, mainly startled, because sometimes the unexpected can happen pretty quickly.   Plus, I do have big angels (I am told).

Have you ever encountered a demon you could not cast out?

I have discovered that I cannot cast a demon out of someone who wants to keep it or who refuses to submit themselves to the Lord.  I can’t help that person.  I have encountered situations where I was unable to figure out what needed to be done in order to cast the demonic spirit out so we were not successful.  Over the years we have, by God’s grace, become more discerning and have seen more success.  We now just assume that the demonic spirits will be gone by the time we get finished working.  That regularly proves to be true.

Can you tell me, briefly, about principalities?

These creatures, along with powers, thrones, and rulers, are mentioned in only a few places in the Scriptures ( Rom. 8:38; Eph. 3:10, 6:12; Col. 1:16, 2:15, and Tit. 3:1).  Not much is said about them.  I believe (and this is just my opinion) is that they are the same creatures that are referred to as Celestial Beings in 2 Peter 2:10 and Jude 8.  They appear to be demons or angels of a higher order that are often responsible for overseeing specific territories or have specific responsibilities.  Sometimes they find their way into people.  We are able to help people remove them.

Does your ministry do anything else such as clearing out peoples houses of ghosts, or other paranormal activities?

Sure.  I do that on occasion, as people request.  When I do, the manifestations stop.

What are ghosts, and do you believe in them?

The Bible is really unclear about it so I leave the question open.  When the Witch of Endor called up Samuel at Saul’s request it was apparently really Samuel.  Would he have been a ghost? Probably.  That is the only place in the whole Scripture where such activity is recorded.  I suspect that most of what people encounter aren’t ghosts, but familiar spirits acting like ghosts.

We’ve all seen movies with Catholic priests reading from the Bible, using holy water, and symbols like the crucifix. How is what you do similar or different compared to this? 

Sometimes we will read the Scriptures, sometimes anoint with oil, sometimes lay hands on the person.  I’ve not used holy water or the crucifix, but others have with some success.  Bless them.  We try to do nothing unless we are directed to do so by the Holy Spirit.

What is the actual deliverance process like, and who is typically on your team?

Not generally dramatic.  Quiet.  Intense.  Fun.  Lasting about three to four hours.  Successful.  My team consists of men and women, some in their 20s and some in their 70s, all of whom love the Lord and are delighted to have found a place where their unique spiritual gifts can be respected and utilized.  Each one blesses the other.  It’s wonderful.  Please see the book for more detail.

Is the devil real? 

I think so.  It is hard to look around the world and not see the fruit of evil surrounding us.  If you believe in good, it is hard not to believe in evil.  Whether or not that good is personalized as God or the evil as Satan is a matter of opinion.  Since the Holy Spirit is the one who convicts of sin, I don’t spend much time trying to convince others one way or the other.  I am too busy seeing people be set free.  🙂

What does it mean to be possessed?

Bad word, as it springs from a bad translation of the Greek in the KJV of the Bible.  Better translation would be demonized (which says nothing about ownership), which means being under the control or influence of a demonic spirit.

Do you believe in angels? Have you ever seen any of them?

Yes, I believe in them. I’ve never seen an angel, but I have been aware when they have been around. Sometimes I can feel their presence. Those who can see them tell me that they are often around me.  I need all the “air” support that I can get.  🙂

How does someone know that they may be spiritually oppressed and in need of deliverance?  In other words, advice for someone out there reading this who thinks they may need some extra help in this area?

Lots of times these folks wrestle with guilt, blame, and shame that will not go away, in spite of the fact that they know that they have been forgiven by God.  They find themselves tormented with no relief even though they are doing all the normal things that most churches teach should help to relieve such things such as more Bible reading, more prayer, more fasting, more worship, more church attendance, more small group participation or even, in the most desperate situation, working in the church nursery.  Most churches believe that the remedy to such torment is simply more.  The trouble is that that doesn’t fix the problem because these disciplines aren’t designed to address the issue of demonic spirits.  Only deliverance can do that.

Can you tell me about the gift of the seer? How does that gift manifest? Have your seers seen angels and/or demons?  

Sure.  Seers are people who are wired to see spiritual things, as did many people mentioned in the Scriptures.  Most of them have this gift from childhood but find it repressed by parents and churches who have no category for one who can see into the spiritual.  Parents will keep telling the child that they didn’t really see anything; it was just their imagination.  Those who are so gifted rarely tell others about this for fear of being seen as strange.

When such people join me in my work it is often like God suddenly opens a door and they find themselves seeing all kinds of things that they’ve never seen before.  Some have impressions.  Some see things in their mind’s eye.  Others see things as clearly outside of themselves as clearly as you and I see people.  We value these gifted people, affirm them, and train them to use their gift, particularly in deliverance settings.  They bring a very unique flavor to deliverance sessions.  Some can see demons.  Some see angels.  Some see both.

What are some of the positive changes the clients tell you about post deliverance?

A man with whom we worked a few weeks ago sent me an email.  This is what he said happened to him:

  • I must say that there is much that is different since we met. It has taken a couple of weeks to come to clarity and take shape. Let me describe what I feel is different.
  • I don’t hear the noise of condemnation constantly in my head. And when I feel something threatening it is much easier to redirect.
  • I feel at peace more often than not. I routinely sleep in when I want to instead of waking up to anxiety way earlier than I should be.
  • I don’t feel powerless. Even when I don’t do something I want to do I don’t relentlessly beat myself up. I am much better able to create and implement a plan than I have in years without feelings of pressure and hopelessness to perform. I have developed several plans and have actually followed through. Who knew 😊.
  • I do not feel a profound sense of incompetence.  I feel much more like other people.
  • When people ask how I am doing I more often spontaneously say ‘great’ – I never used to say that – ever.
  • I do not feel a profound weight of hopelessness around my spouse like I have for these few years, though this is still a matter of prayer.
  • I experience myself as uniquely gifted by God. Several have told me recently that I am anointed and I am actually experiencing that in a humble way.

Other common experiences include the removal of voices, fear disappears, there is more peace.  Even if nothing overtly can be reported, everyone will say that they feel more peace than they have ever had.  It’s all good.

Can you tell me an example of a client where the deliverance was not successful?  Why was it not successful?

Sorry, but I can’t.  I can think of people who have walked away from deliverance because they decided that they wanted to keep their demons because it gave them a sense of power that they didn’t want to lose.  I can think of people who stopped the process because they had, in infancy, been so traumatized that the demonic spirit had so closely identified with the human personality that they didn’t know where they ended and the demon began.  As we removed the demonic spirits the person became more and more fearful as they felt like they were losing themselves.  The demon that they knew was less threatening to them than the freedom that they had never experienced.

Have demons ever come after you personally because of your line of work?

Sure.  I am a target.  After 35+ years of doing this I suspect that somebody from the other side knows my name.  I’ve been impacted personally and professionally.  Of course, the Lord has always used if for the good.  Sometimes I’ve found myself demonized as a result of trauma, or personal sin.  Sometimes the Lord has delivered me spontaneously. Sometimes I’ve had to call my team to help me. Fortunately that doesn’t happen a lot.  I’ve always viewed what I do as like being in a boat.  As the water gets deeper the boat floats. As  long as you stay in the boat it doesn’t matter how deep the water is.

What is the biggest misconception about the devil?

That if you leave him alone, he will leave you alone.

In your view, what is the Devil’s primary role in someone’s life?  

His desire is to destroy everything that God loves because he hates God so much.  God loves you and he loves me.

What is the biggest misconception about God?

That he isn’t good.  That he doesn’t love us.  That he wants to punish us.  That we can’t trust him.

What have you learned about God through your participation in this ministry?

He is more loving, forgiving, accepting, and powerful than anything that I can conceive.  The Enemy has already been defeated.  God has chosen to use his children to set other children free.  That is so cool.

Second to last question.  What would you say to readers who would not yet consider themselves a Christian? What evidence can you give to them that points to a loving God?

You don’t know what you are missing.  The fact that all of creation has been created for our pleasure and that we are surrounded by a God who loves us and gave his Son over to death that we might experience all these good things.  After all, he is love.

Finally — If you could sum up your entire ministry in one sentence — What would it be? 

My six year old granddaughter was trying to explain to a friend on the school bus what it is that her grandfather does.  She said, “My grandpa is a doctor who takes bad dreams out of people’s lives.”  Love it.  🙂


P.S. from Heather, in bullet format, because bullets are fun:

  • I have been fascinated with the Dark Side since high school and used to read a lot of books about the occult and watch a lot of horror movies. I’ve always wanted to interview someone who has direct contact with the spirit world — so here you go peeps!  I hope you enjoyed it.
  • I have my own demon story to share, and will do so in a later post.
  • I am always hyper sensitive to people’s reactions when I post a blog.  First of all, not everything that people experience is demonic oppression.  Problems and issues can be physical, psychological, mental-health, emotional,  chemical, or spiritual (demonic) in nature.  Or, more likely, a combination thereof.
  • I also don’t want people to think that only Christians can be oppressed by demons.  That is far from the truth.  Everyone certainly can, from every walk of life.  Christians are able to be set free from Satan and demons, however.
  • Deliverance is a ministry that can help some people.  If you think you need help, or have further questions, please contact Dave directly at: dappleby@spiritualinterventions.org.  His website is www.spiritualinterventions.org.  His book is “It’s Only A Demon.”  You can find it on Amazon for $16 bucks — however there are only a few left, as it’s being replaced by his new book.  Fair warning, the cover of his book is creepy and weird.  The book itself is super interesting.  He also just released a new book called “Transformative Encounters” which will be available shortly.
  • Thanks for reading!!

Blowing Stuff up with an EOD

I interviewed Paul, who was an EOD with the Air Force.  He dismantled IEDs (home-made bombs), blew stuff up, protected the President, completed top secret missions, and kept people safe.  Below is his story. 

When Claire was just a little baby, she was in foster care for three and a half months.  After we adopted Claire, we became great friends with her foster family, and still have a relationship with them to this day. One of their sons, Paul, was already in the Air Force at the time of Claire’s adoption, working as an EOD Technician. (EOD stands for Explosive Ordnance Disposal.) Claire’s foster mom Robin would often email me and request prayer for Paul, because he was often in very dangerous situations.  I am finally interviewing Paul to figure out exactly what he did for a living. Paul is now retired from the Air Force (even though he’s fairly young) and I had the opportunity to do a Skype interview with him.

Paul (center), with Afghan soldiers.  Paul was retired as an EOD Tech after 16 years of service in the Air Force.  It’s a small miracle that he even survived. Below is his story.


Paul and Claire, being silly.

First of all Paul, tell us about your job?

EOD stands for Explosive Ordnance Disposal, basically disarming anything that was ever created since the beginning of time from any country, whether chemical weapon, biological weapon, nuclear weapon, hand grenades, or IEDs.  We deal with them all.  And then, where appropriate, detonating the bomb.  We deal with anything that goes boom or zoom.  We also do range clearances and also Secret Service detail for the President.

(quick research note: according to Airforce.com, an EOD Tech is “trained to detect, disarm, detonate, and dispose of explosive threats all over the world…assigned to some of the most dangerous missions.  They do what needs to be done to keep others safe.”)

Why did you choose to go into EOD?

I wanted something more, and that was definitely it.  If you google the most dangerous job in the military across all the branches, it’s number one.  We all go to the same school — the Navy, Air Force, Marines, Army — we all attend an EOD School on an Air Force base in Florida that’s run by the Navy, but all of us are in the exact same school, even mixed in the same class.  I went in for the action, the adventure, and to blow stuff up.  What little boy doesn’t love that?

What was training like?

Training was very difficult.  We started with 100 people and we graduated with 7.  EOD has an extremely high wash-out rate.  You have to be able to do a very high-intensity job with zero errors.  And you have to be able to do it in a 90 pound bomb suit when it’s 115 degrees outside.  You have to be able to function well while you are exhausted.  All of our studying was done through books and publications.  All the studying had to be done at the classroom for up to fourteen, fifteen hours a day.  Because it’s classified, you couldn’t bring anything home.  And you do that for nine months straight, and that’s just for the basic course.  You will continue years of additional school and a lifetime of training.

Are there any women that go into EOD?

Yes, there are.  A lot of women don’t make it through the pull-up part of the test. But there are females that do it and many of them are actually really good bomb techs.

How long were your deployments?

Six months to a year for a deployment.  Some don’t deploy for awhile and some deploy back to back. I left Iraq because Bush told us we were pulling troops out of Iraq and everyone cheered, but then I got shipped straight to Afghanistan.

What do you actually do in the field?  Sounds like you dismantle bombs and then blow things up?

Yes, we try to disarm them first, where they are at. Usually, the bomb is in a bad spot, we disarm it enough to where it’s safe for transport and then we bring it out to the middle of nowhere and dispose of it.  We blow it up.  We try to get the intel part we can keep first.  We also do range clearances, which is essentially where we clean up bombs that don’t go off at military training sites, especially in Nevada.  We also dispose of things for the Military (by explosives).

Paul, on one of his deployments.

Have you ever disarmed a bomb that you weren’t quite sure how to properly disarm?

Yeah, all of them, kinda.  A bomb that is dropped from an aircraft, all are pretty much the same and there are publications and books to deal with this, step-by-step.  With an IED (which stands for an Improvised Explosive Device), which is a home-made bomb, it’s different, as they are all slightly different.  But that’s the challenge – to figure it out.  That’s why I like it so much.  How does it function?  How does it work? And then figure out the safe way to disarm it.

Were you afraid to die?

For me — the reality of what just happened or what you just had to do never really hits me until after.  Even afterwards, when you are heading back to camp, you are still on the “mission high” and you really don’t think about all the “what ifs” and what could go wrong.  Thinking about ANYTHING else but the problem in front of you will get you killed.

Where did you serve?

Texas, Mississippi, Colorado, Florida, Europe, California, Nevada, then deployments: Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places (top secret).

Tell us about your Presidential Detail?

We are the bomb squad for the President, so wherever he goes, we go.  We get there long before he does.  We also provide service detail for Foreign dignitaries, First Ladies, Vice Presidents, U.N. Counsels, anything where there will be big people at, where there could be a threat, we work with that.  I was face to face with President Obama once; we both nodded at each other.

Tell me about a typical mission?

When you are deployed, you get a call, most of the time it’s a group, maybe a convoy somewhere, that came across an IED and they set up a safety circle and evacuate everyone out of that area. And they call us and say, “hey, we need an EOD for an IED.”  At that point, we either convoy or fly out to that location.  We also bring a whole security convoy. We go out to the location and deal with it.

Tell me about one of your more memorable missions?

That’s a hard one.  There are so many and I don’t know how to categorize.  There are some missions that you will never forget; they leave a scar on your heart.  There are some where you get a good feeling.  For example, once we took an IED out of a school.  They try to blow up their own schools with their own kids in them.  Another time, there was a magnetic IED that was stuck to the side of a fuel tanker. In front of hundreds of other fuel tankers, all side by side.  Had that gone wrong…

Most dangerous mission?

Night missions are always some of the most challenging and dangerous missions.  But a lot of work is done under the cover of darkness, at night.  Other dangerous missions are when you are going after the bomb maker; their homes are well guarded by the products they make.  But I have to say that the most dangerous missions I did as an EOD Tech are the ones we are not allowed to talk about.

Your mom told me that she prayed constantly for you.  Was there a time where you know for sure your mom’s prayers for your safety were answered?

Yes, there were at least three times that I remember.  First, before I was an EOD I was a Firefighter in the military.  One night we got called to a building to put out a fire.  The building had ammunition in it which we had no idea about.  While I was in the building the ammunition started going off, so  I was immediately pulled out of the fire. When I got out they checked my jacket and sure enough, there was a bullet lodged in my jacket, through my clothing, but somehow, miraculously, had not penetrated my final layer of clothing — it hadn’t pierced through my chest.  However, my jacket did end up with so many holes in the front and back that I had to replace the jacket the next day. Come to find out, my mom had been up all night, unable to sleep, with a huge burden on her heart to pray for me.  Everytime she’d fall asleep, the Lord would wake her up again to pray for me.

Another time I was in Iraq and was afforded the opportunity to Skype with my mother.  During the Skype call we had a rocket attack.  One of the rockets exploded close to the area I was in.  The “wood building” I was inside (that was really more of a shack), had sustained massive damage.  I was blown to the floor and the shack was full of holes going in one side and out the other.  I got up, a bit shocked with ears ringing and a massive headache, but I was alive with no real injuries.  The moment the rocket hit, all Internet was killed.  The last thing my mother heard was the sirens warning of incoming rocket attack, and then everything went black.  A few days later I went back to that same shack; it was closed off due to damages but I went inside anyway.  I sat there scratching my head asking myself over and over again: “How did none of that hit me?”  There is no way I should’ve survived that.  Come to find out, my mom had been praying.

Lastly, one time we went out on a post-blast analysis, after there’s been an explosion somewhere.  We go out there and determine what type of explosive was used, how it was detonated, are there any more, gather intel, look for patterns, and make the area safe for other personnel to get in and do their job. The enemy knows this and will sometimes use that to lure us into a trap.  The enemy waits for us to arrive because they want to take us (the EOD) out because we are a high-value target to them.  There were a couple of times when I got to the scene that I got this weird feeling — the hair on the back of my neck stood up; it didn’t feel right.  To this day I can’t tell you what it was that was “off.”  But it’s listening to that inner voice, not just hearing it, but doing something about it, is what keeps you alive.  I had great fellow EOD team members with me whom I also trusted with my life.  When they didn’t like the way something was being done, or had a bad feeling about something, we would switch things up.  We wanted to keep the enemy constantly guessing at what we would do next.  I know my mom’s prayers were heard and answered on some of these particular missions as well.

Aunt Robin, and Claire.  They are so cute together.

What did you love about your job?

I love traveling.  I love blowing things up.  It’s a lot of fun, like fireworks, but so much better; you are so close it just rocks your world. And then seeing the dust and everything flying up around you. I also enjoy the camaraderie.  I used to be a Firefighter in the military– EOD is similar to that but even stronger.  And you truly made a difference.  When someone steps on an IED on the ground, if there is one IED, there will be more, it’s like a land mine.  You gotta run to the front, sweep up, but that guy is screaming and you have to get to him.  To make a difference and do all of that, it’s a gratifying feeling.

I absolutely loved my job and I miss it.  I wish I could still do it.

Even though it was so much pressure, stress and danger?

Absolutely.  They only want people in this career field who absolutely love it.  If you ever decide that EOD is not the job for you, they will immediately cross train you into another position in the military.  Again, they only want people who love their job.  And you have to be of the right mind to work in this job.  If your wife just left you, they will pull you off the field, so you don’t make a mistake. Everyone you’re working with loves their job and wants to do well at their jobs. Plus you get extra money for it.

What is the mortality rate of an EOD?  It seems pretty high.

I don’t know.  I know the injury rate is really high.  I know for our class we started with 100, we graduated seven (the rest washed out).  Of those seven, three are now dead.  And two of us are out.  There are other ones that keep working longer. The EOD motto of “Initial Success or Total Failure” could not be more true.

Was the movie The Hurt Locker an accurate portrayal of the life of an EOD?

The movie is great for showing you an idea of what we do while deployed and a rough idea of what the life of an EOD Tech is like.  However, this is a lot of Hollywood added.

What did you dislike about your job?

I had some long deployments.  I was never married, so it was a lot easier for me, but that’s why I never married.  I chose not to because of that.  There was a woman I was dating, she was in the military, she said she would refuse to date me if I went EOD, because she had lost too many friends who were EOD.  She said she wasn’t going to lose a husband.  I can respect that.

Why did you stop working?

I was medically retired early from the military, due to injuries sustained while I was deployed, mostly due to TBIs (traumatic brain injuries).  Some of it was due to explosions, being too close, things that hit me in the head, anything and everything that wasn’t supposed to happen, did.  I had 19 TBI concussions and 13 knock-outs.  So I had to retire.

What is the number one piece of advice to give anyone going into EOD?

First is, you gotta know you want it.  Because when you’re sitting there in school, for hours and hours, and you’ve been studying your brains out and chugging five hour energy to stay awake, you have to know you really want it.  But it’s very rewarding.  It’s a brotherhood much like the Fire Department but stronger and tighter.  That leads to my second point, you cannot do this job without your team.  You have to work as a team — period.  And you’ll be deployed a lot which is really hard on families. EOD stands for “Every-One’s-Divorced,” — due to the amount and length of deployments.

What are you doing now?

I am converting a Mercedes Sprinter Van into a custom RV so I can travel the country.  I’ve cut out a lot of people in my life that just waste my time.  I want to spend my life with, and my time with, the people I love.  So right now that’s my girlfriend, and her son.  I’m working on getting my health back.  You only have so much time, so I want to spend it with the people I love.

Has it been an easy or hard transition?

It’s actually weird and difficult.  I joined the military right out of high school, and I was always told what to do.  So now I still feel like that kid right out of high school again.  I don’t know where I want to go or what I want to do.  I have the financial means and the time, which is even better, but at the same time I’m like “I don’t know what I want to do or where I want to go.” And also, the civilian world is different.  There is less of that sense of camaraderie and brotherhood.

Describe your EOD job in one sentence?  

It was a blast!


A quick note from Heather:  Sadly, most EODs end up six feet under.  Maybe not most, but many.  That fact that Paul survived is a small miracle.  I credit that both to Paul being an outstanding EOD Tech, but also to Robin, Paul’s mom, who prayed for him constantly.  It really is true that when it’s your time, it’s your time.  And when it’s not, it’s not.  Grateful that Paul is still with us to share these stories! And….I hope he gets married someday because he’s a great guy!  I’m glad he’s part of our extended family and we wish him the best as he gets to have a second chance at the rest of his life!

To watch a video of Paul blowing stuff up, click here:



I wish Paul all the best as he enjoys the first day of the rest of his life!  Thank you so much for your outstanding service!



Venezuela in Crisis

18698582_10154654317252218_1194346669_oNo food, no medicine, babies left at hospitals, kidnappings, protesters dying, and complete government denial.  Maria shares her story.

A quick note from Heather:  About four months ago, I watched a news clip of a very attractive yet very skinny Venezuelan woman digging through the trash.  She explained to the news reporter that she was looking for food to feed her family.  I then contacted my friend who is from Venezuela (who now lives in the U.S.) and asked if this report was indeed true, and she said a resounding YES but that it was far worse than I could imagine.  She told me her mother in law (Maria) lives and works in Venezuela and could really fill me in.  So I sent Maria an email with several questions.  She wrote me the following letter in return:

Dear Heather,

Without a shadow of a doubt, Venezuela is in the middle of  a complete humanitarian crisis.  Please allow me a few moments to tell you what I see on a daily basis.

No food, no medicines, and even longer lines to obtain what little people can find.

People are dying on a daily basis due to lack of food and BASIC medical supplies. Hospitals and healthcare centers have collapsed due to the fact that there are no supplies in order to treat patients. Doctors have been arrested or reprimanded by the government for “smuggling” gauze, band aids, alcohol etc. in order to help treat patients. Add to these more serious cases, like cancer patients receiving chemotherapy or diabetic patients receiving dialysis treatments, and surviving deems nearly impossible.

There is also an immense  lack of staple foods and essential items (toilet paper, sanitary pads, deodorant, toothpaste, etc.).  The government has tried to subsidize these items but you must stand in very long lines (we are talking anywhere from 4 to 12 hours) in order to obtain them at a reasonable price. For those who can afford to pay prices that are 4 to 5 times their cost, they are limited to a certain quantity and you must present your identification every single time you make a purchase. It has been a way for the government to control and monitor your spending for years. And they still call this a democratic country.

The inflation rate has caused devastation throughout the nation.  A monthly minimum wage salary is 40,000 Bolivares (About 10 dollars) which can buy you practically nothing, so standing in extremely long lines is the ONLY option for most Venezuelans.

A study came out recently, that the average Venezuelan has lost 19 pounds. People call it the “Maduro diet.”  People are rummaging through the trash. Everyone is so thin. I can’t begin to imagine what it is like to raise a young family.

I need to tell you about the babies.  As a volunteer in a children’s hospital, I see how almost daily, mothers are leaving their babies because they are physically unable to feed their children (lack of proper nutrition for the mother; therefore little to no milk production) as well as financially (formula is liquid gold…too expensive). Mother’s resort to the last option, leaving them somewhere they feel can properly keep these infants and babies alive. Most are sent to nearby orphanages, which as you can imagine are already filled to capacity; with yet again very little to tend to these children. Some babies have died due to lack of nutrition.

Venezuela is very unsafe.  It’s not safe to walk the streets.  Business Insider ranked the top 50 most dangerous cities in the world; seven of them are in Venezuela. Caracas, our capital, is ranked 1st. However, the government has rarely released this data, and most know the numbers are far worse than the government claims.

Close friends of our family were kidnapped off the streets and held for ransom.  They call this the Secuestro Express.  This is where gangs target upper class citizens whose families are able to pay ransoms quickly and quietly.

Things are completely out of control.  

There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press, no freedom to protest peacefully as the constitution states. There is no democracy.

The people of Venezuela have been protesting out on the streets for the past 50 + days. This is a constitutional right, but from that first massive protest, the national guard has acted out violently against protesters. More than 50 deaths have been reported, mostly young students who are in the front of these marches.  These young people, the future of our nation, protest wearing white shirts on their backs with their hands raised, yet this is the threat the government chooses to silence.  These young adults who were born into this administration, but knowing that there has to be a bigger and better future for them, choose to stand up and resist this regime. These 16, 17 and 18 year old young adults are our fallen heroes.

Those who speak out against the government will be sought out and punished and for the case of many, they have been silenced.  Passports have been seized and many people (at this point, those in dissent) are not able to leave the country.  I am worried that soon it could be even worse for regular citizens who wish to leave.

Maduro is an illegitimate president. A dictator to a once fruitful nation. Alongside Chavez, he has destroyed our nation and left it in RUINS!

I have a few thoughts on what people can do to help.

First, you need to know that this a spiritual battle. There is EVIL residing in our land, no doubt about it. Only through prayer and fasting will these demons come out. To those who can, please pray, please fast, please spread the word.

There are many organizations that help.  We recommend cuatroporvenezuela.org.  This organization provides food, basic medical supplies, and much needed medicines to the people of Venezuela.  

Thank you for your interest in our story and the plight of the Venezuelan people.

May God bless you,


P.S. from Heather: This blog post is my attempt to help. If you are willing and able, please consider making a donation to the website I listed above.  No amount is too small.  And FEEL FREE to share this post.  And above all, please PRAY as Maria directed.  God bless you all, and may God save the people of Venezuela.

Below: protestors attacked by the Venezuelan military.


Below: doctor pleads with the National Guard to stop harming the young students.  Moments later he was hosed down. (see photo at top of post).  All photo credits go to the people who posted them on Instagram.


Confessions of a Divorce Lawyer

Printer Paper Cut With Orange Scissor

My Aunt Judy is funny, big-hearted, free- spirited, very smart, super direct, and an overall great person. She practices divorce law in the Northeast and speaks with a thick Boston accent as she orders her “wheat bagel with butta” from Dunkin Donuts.  Judy candidly shares her perspective on what she hears from her clients on many aspects of divorce. 

(quick note: this interview was recorded, not written, therefore I attempted to keep Judy’s “voice” alive and well in this interview. So if it feels different, that explains it.  And please read my comments at the end, especially if you have walked through a divorce or separation.)

Q: How long have you been a divorce attorney?

I received my Bachelor’s Degree in 1977 from Boston University, a M.Ed. from Boston University with a concentration in Counseling Psychology in 1980, and a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) from Suffolk University in 1986.  I have been practicing divorce/family law for about 20 years.  Divorce law can transform attorneys into social workers, so the two degrees help me to understand my clients in a more thorough way.

Q: Describe your typical client? 

I think there is no typical client.  I represent both male and female clients, elderly clients, mid-life clients, and young people who have been married for a very short time.

Q: Why do people typically get a divorce? 

I think you first have to look at the ages and socio-economic classes.  A lot of times, young people get married on a whim and after 2 to 3 years they realize that they are growing apart. The marriage is not working.  They’re maturing, basically.  For the marriages that are 20-ish years long, a lot of times people are married young, they’ve had their children, they’re now older, and they’ve stayed together “for the children.”  Frankly, I’m not so sure that’s the best thing in the world.  Kids know before the adults that mom and dad are not getting along very well and sometimes it’s very painful for children.  Staying together for the children can sometimes be the worst thing a couple can do.  The people who have been married for 40 years or so — a lot of them have traditional thinking that says you should stay married.  It’s only in the last few years that they’ve felt like it’s ok to divorce.  I once had an elderly client say to me “I’ve been married for 40 years and I cannot wait for the day that I can say I’m not married.”

Q: What do you hear from your male clients as to why they are seeking a divorce?

Almost always there’s a financial component.  From what I hear, there always seems to be this agreement that the wife will stay home with the children for the first few years and when she doesn’t go back to work full time and begin to contribute financially, men start to resent the fact they they’re working full time, five days per week or more, and their spouse is not.  She seems be going out a lot more, having a lot more freedom when the kids are older.

I don’t see affairs as much as the primary reason.  I mean certainly I see it a lot, but it doesn’t seem to be as prevalent as maybe it was years ago.  I really think a lot of it is financial.  A lot of people are just drained. They’re tired of working, and not getting any help, and eventually it just surfaces.

Q: Then why doesn’t the woman just begin working again?

Most ignore the request or argue against it because they believe staying home with the children is more important.   On the other hand, husbands tend to repress how angry and frustrated they feel until it blows up at the end.

Q:  What do you hear from your female clients? 

A lot of times the females resent the fact that the husband is never around, he’s always working too much, he’s with the guys, or he just doesn’t seem to have time for her anymore.  And a lot of times she or he may be ready to do something on the weekend and the other spouse is just exhausted – either from the kids, or from working too much.  They never seem to make it jive.  Within the past 10-15 years, more women have been working and are contributing 50 percent to the marriage, and I think that has really helped some of the marriages stay together.  And with courts now, you’re expected to contribute towards the support of your children almost on a 50/50 basis.

Q: You touched on affairs.  Can you describe the typical affair scenario?  The idea is that middle –aged men are having affairs with younger women.  Is this true? 

I do see a lot of older men, say 50’s, hooking up with younger women, say 20’s and early 30’s.  I just finished up one.  It’s very painful for the wife.  The men blame the women for not being fun anymore or not being a partner anymore, or being more interested in the kids.  Women complain that he just wants to drink and hang out with his friends.  I have been seeing older women hooking up with younger men a lot more. Older woman bring some financial stability to a relationship with a younger man.  I don’t see as many marriages between older women and younger men as compared to older men and younger women.

Q: How much does a divorce cost and how long does it take? 

I think that is a very scary factor for people.  Divorce is expensive.  Prices can vary.  You will probably take a long time to recuperate financially after a divorce.  You’re taking a whole pie, and splitting it in two, and giving a good percentage of each of those halves to the lawyers.  More specifically, I think for a marriage of 20 years or more, where assets have been accumulated and the incomes together do not exceed $200,000, the average cost is between $12,000 to $20,000.  There are many variables that affect cost, like litigants who can’t or won’t agree on anything or over-zealous attorneys.

Q: Are divorces messy and dramatic or calm and civil?

When people are first confronted with the notion that the other wants a divorce, or they have learned about an affair, or something has been the trigger, those are very painful.  And it takes a long time for people to go through the grieving stages that happen.  You go through all the stages of grieving when you go through a divorce.  However, if people have already processed through those stages, then their divorces are more peaceful.

Q: Have you ever felt conflicted about assisting someone in the dissolution of their marriage?

One of the first questions I ask in an interview is “are you sure there is no possibility of reconciliation?” and “have you seen a marriage counselor?” or “Is there any way you can save this marriage?”  And with a lot of  my in-takes the answers are different.  A lot of times the wife would prefer to keep the marriage together, but not the husband, or vice-versa.    I feel comfortable that when I start this process, people are ready to go forward.  I’ve had people back out right before they are about to walk before a judge to get their divorce, and decide “we’re not ready to do this.”  Even after a year’s time on the court track.  It happens.

Q: What, in your view, makes a successful marriage?

I think people need to be friends, first and foremost.  Both parties need to contribute to the child-rearing, and both parties need to contribute financially.  If one doesn’t respect the other, because they haven’t contributed to one of those other things, the marriage is eventually going to have a problem.

Q: Advice for someone considering getting married.  Advice for someone considering a divorce. 

I think it’s very important that, before you marry, there is full disclosure as to what you both have beforehand.  I am a big proponent of prenuptial agreements in this day in age where women do work as much as men, and where women can earn more than men very easily. I think a pre-nup is much more respected than it used to be.

If you are considering a divorce, I think it’s very important that you first seek counseling so that when you enter the process you are comfortable with your decision.  And you are not going to end up acting out all of your grieving and spending a lot of money on that, too.  I tell my clients to collect documents and get familiar with their financial situation so that there are no surprises down the road.  And a lot of times there are surprises.  So I tell my clients to be “financially sophisticated.”  Unfortunately I think a lot of women still leave their financial affairs for their husbands to manage and I think that’s a mistake.  I think women have to demand to know what’s going on with their finances.  That’s one of the biggest complaints I hear: the wives say they don’t know what they have; they don’t know their assets or liabilities.  But there are also times when I hear the husband say that he gives his whole paycheck to his wife and she handles everything.  I think it goes both ways.

Q: What do you like about a being a divorce attorney?

I like to help people.  That was my first career as a therapist/counselor.  But it’s also very hard because there’s a lot of blame to go around and it’s easy to point the finger at the lawyer because it’s too hard to blame yourself, or the other party.  So I take the brunt of it.  We act as counselors, priests, fantasy lovers, and fantasy spouses; we take on all kinds of roles.  You have to be comfortable with that as well.

Q: Any other points I missed, or last closing comments? 

Instead of thinking about how you can get back or seek revenge on the other side, always remember that everything you say and do will be seen by your children.  And it will affect your children.  Divorce affects children — I’m sure of that.  People don’t always handle divorce well because they are so angry or they are so sad, or they are feeling so much revenge.  But remember your children are watching.

Q: Finally, describe divorce in one word:


Quick note from Heather: So — wow.  I didn’t really know a lot of men complain about their wives not working.  I had no clue.  As a stay at home parent I find this very interesting and I have asked my husband his opinion on it.  The reason women cite (men not being around) is not a surprise to me.  And, to that point, I thought people divorced mostly due to affairs or pornography or some kind of moral failing or just not getting along anymore.  I am wondering if Judy’s perspective is region specific, or can it be applied across the U.S.?  I have no idea. And I do agree that divorce can and does affect children. I know this firsthand as I experienced two divorces growing up.  And finally, I am so thankful for my great marriage.  It’s such a gift.  However, I am well aware that not everyone who has been married has experienced a loving, healthy marriage.  If you are a divorced or separated person — I LOVE you.  I know many of you and I do not judge you.  The only reason I am publishing this is because Judy and I have had many convos over the years and I realized that, even though I experienced divorce as a child, I really had no clue about divorce as an adult.  So, I am educating myself along with you, my Dear Reader.  Thanks for reading!