Adventure, mental health


3,288 days ago, on January 4, 2014, I met my best friend and the great love of my life. Sweet Jennifer Full Simms rode with me all the way to Winston-Salem to pick up River Love Dillon Cottam. On the way home, we tried to put her in a pop up crate in the back seat, but she was NOT having it. She spent the 3+ hour car ride sleeping in Auntie Jennifer’s lap instead.

Over the course of the past 9 years (and one day!), River has gone from beloved pet to indispensable service dog back to a beloved pet in her retirement. She has brought me more joy, laughter, and love than I could possibly ever express using the limited language I have available to me.

River was just under 11 weeks old when she came home. A few weeks before Christmas 2013, a therapist at Mission’s Intensive Outpatient Program (shoutout to Robin!) told me that I should get a dog to give me a reason to get out of bed and keep to a schedule due to the depression, mania, and mixed symptoms I was experiencing at the time. I was, of course, IMMEDIATELY on board with this plan. The first dog I ever had was an Airedale Terrier named Marble and I had known for a long time that when it was time for me to get my own dog, I wanted another Airedale.

I spoke with breeders in Kentucky and in Winston-Salem, NC. I found out that the Airedales from the Kentucky breeder were Oorang Airedales, bred to be larger than your typical Airedale (100 lbs +). After speaking with my vet, I decided I didn’t want an Oorang Airedale because of their shortened lifespan and predisposition to certain medical conditions. (Important to note- I didn’t realize this when I got River, but she does have an Oorang Airedale in her lineage as is shown on her pedigree. That’s likely why she weighs 80 lbs. when our last Airedale weighed only 62).

Lillard Kennels in Winston-Salem had a litter of puppies that would be ready to be separated from their mother at the end of December. When I spoke with Keith Lillard on the phone from my Granny’s house in Memphis, TN, he told me that he had a female puppy who had a skin infection that left her with a bald spot on her tail. He informed me that she would be half priced because she could never be a show dog. I immediately said, “I’ll take that one” and immediately placed a deposit. This couldn’t have possibly worked out any better for me in the long run! I explained that I would be out of town and unable to pick up my puppy until January 4th and Keith reassured me that it would be totally fine to wait until then.

River (left) with one of her siblings.

I knew that I would love my dog, but I had no idea just how much I would love my dog and how much my dog would love me. I named River after River Tam from Firefly (tv show) and River Song from Doctor Who (tv show), two badass sci-fi women. Several years ago, I promised River that I would never ever leave her by choice. There have been multiple times since then that this promise saved my life. River is, without a doubt, the best thing that has ever happened to me.

Many of you will already know this, but while I was in the Peace Corps, I got super depressed after a series of pretty awful events. I was so depressed that I was suicidal. On October 20, 2013, my friend and fellow PCV told me that if I didn’t call the medical office and tell them what I was going through, she would. I called and spoke to Arlene and she was wonderful. She had me come into Pretoria the same day. What I didn’t and couldn’t know at the time was that on that day, when I finally said, “I can’t do this alone. I need help.”- River was born. I’m not really religious and consider myself agnostic. I also don’t believe that a coincidence this huge could happen. Both/And. The exact day that I admitted I needed help, help arrived on this Earth in the form of a teenie tiny little Airedale Terrier puppy in Winston-Salem, North Carolina who would change my life forever.

River (I know you can’t read and I’ll read this aloud to you as soon as I finish typing it), you are hands down the best thing that has ever happened to me. You are gentle and playful and loving and beautiful and funny and loyal. You are the goodest, bestest, sweetest, prettiest, cleverest, gentlest and Mom loves you the mostest. Every moment that I get to spend with you is a gift. You have brought so much love and joy into my life. I am so proud to be your mom. I am so proud to love you. (I got some kisses when I read this to her, then she went back to sleep.)

Here are a variety of photos from throughout River’s life for your viewing pleasure:


Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour- DIY Bag Plan!

*NOT FOR SALE*. Informational post and review only!


Hey everyone! I just wanted to make a post that 1) reviews CAK Creations ( ) and 2) shows my DIY bag plan for The Eras Tour!

To start, working with Carrie at CAK Creations was SUCH a positive experience. I had found some bags I wanted to use and asked each of the people attending the concert with me what their favorite Taylor Swift lyric was. Carrie was able to custom create each of the vinyl lyric stickers I wanted. She matched the fonts of the lyrics to the album they were from and we collaborated to select colors for each sticker. She used permanent vinyl and I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out! Before she shipped them, I asked if it was possible for her to recreate the Eras Tour logo as a sticker as well and she was able to. After she had made all of my beautiful stickers, she shipped them in an awesome silver holographic mailer and they arrived within a couple days. Shipping was really fast and they were very safely packaged between two pieces of cardboard within the bubble mailer.

There will be lots of photos below and I want to make extra sure you have access to Carrie’s site, so I’m going to link it again here:

If you want to find Carrie on Facebook, here’s a link for that as well:

Carrie is also available at and TikTok (@colorado.swiftie13) and on Twitter at

If I were to give CAK Creations/Carrie a rating, it would be 10/10! She was a dream to work with, her products are well made and look great, and she made the collaboration process very fun. Her stuff is also very reasonably priced! This is not an ad, I have not received anything in exchange for my honest review, and I do not know Carrie personally. She was just that wonderful to work with!

I am going to the Nissan Stadium in Nashville and their bag policy is that you can have a clear bag up to 12 inches x 12 inches x 6 inches.

I bought four of these clear bags from Walmart for $10.99 each plus shipping ( They are 8.27 inches x 8.27 inches by 2.95 inches:

Now you’re going to see the awesome stickers Carrie created! Here is the logo sticker:

For each bag, I’m putting the large The Eras Tour sticker on the back, then putting a lyric sticker underneath the flap in the front!

This is what the lyrics stickers look like. The grid is the transfer tape and will not be on the final products! There are only four of us going and four bags, but I just couldn’t pick my favorite lyrics so I ordered several extras!

Here is what I did for each bag (with guidance from Carrie, who is AMAZING):

Step 1: Open each bag so the back will be the right shape. The bags were kind of pressed together for shipping by the third party retailer from Walmart.

Step 2: Slide a piece of cardboard into the bag. This will help stabilize the bag and will make it easier to attach the stickers.

Step 3: Wipe the area where the sticker is going to go with isopropyl alcohol. ALLOW IT TO DRY COMPLETELY.

Step 4: Peel the backing off of the Eras Tour logo stickers.

Step 5: Line the sticker up with the edges of the bag and try to get it as straight as possible.

Step 6: Gently place the sticker. I started at the bottom then slowly moved up the sticker. I then just kind of ran my debit card up and down on the Eras Tour sticker to make sure it was on the bag well.

Step 7: At this point I realized it would be smart and make my life easier to cut a piece of cardboard for the front pocket of the bag also. So I did that and placed it in the pocket. I removed the big cardboard piece from the main pocket of the bag just in case that would somehow interfere.

Step 8: Repeat step 3 on the front of the bag under the flap. Wipe the area where the sticker is going to go with isopropyl alcohol. ALLOW IT TO DRY COMPLETELY.

Step 9: Place the vinyl lyrics sticker on a hard flat object. Rub a credit card/debit card/ something similar over the top of the transfer tape to ensure the letters are all on the transfer tape.

Step 10: SLOWLY peel the transfer tape and vinyl sticker off of the backing paper. Start from a corner and ensure each letter is on the transfer tape before moving on.

Step 11: Place the vinyl lyrics sticker as close to the center as you can (or wherever you would like for it to be placed.).

Step 12: Run your credit card/debit card/ something similar over the transfer tape, taking care with each letter to make sure it is attaching to the bag.

Step 13: Starting from a corner, gently peel the transfer tape off of the vinyl lyrics sticker, ensuring each letter is being left behind on the bag.

Step 14: Remove the cardboard from the inside pocket and take a photo to show people!

Repeat with other bags and stickers until you have attached all the stickers you want on your bags. Wait 72 hours before using the bag or moving it around too much so the adhesive has time to set!

Some of you may say, “those bags look like they were made by an amateur!” To that, I would say, “well yeah, I don’t exactly have a ton of experience applying vinyl stickers to stadium bags.” Carrie did not place the vinyls for me. She just created and mailed me the stickers. If you hate them, that’s cool, but I don’t really need to hear about it because I tried my best!