Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Learning to dance with the limp.

Loss has caught up with me. That deep, resounding knowledge that something or someone is gone has embedded itself within me and I cannot shake it. All my life I have connected too freely. I have fallen in love too easily. As time went by, these connections fell or ripped away. In the years since marrying and having children I have experienced a haven of love and comfort, but unfortunately, that haven couldn't last. As a person suffering from depression and anxiety, I should have known the peace would not last. 

There are walking ghosts in my life. The presences of those I've loved and lost haunt me now and I cannot shake them. I am gutted and I feel I have lost my ability to connect with myself and overcome as I once did. To quote a lost friend, writing was how I survived. It was how I dealt with everything that happened in my life. I wrote down everything. In order to understand my own thoughts, I had to write them out and study them, go back and edit, keep writing, keep editing, until my mind made sense. I used to write five to seven hours a day. For years, I barely write anything at all. It's as if a section of me has been cut off and my mind has not yet reconciled its loss. So now, all loss deepens. I see faces I shouldn't see. I see them in the cars driving next to me, I see them around the corner or in line at a shop, and then I see them far away: in reality, far away from me where I couldn't possibly see them except for in my mind. That sudden realization that what my eyes merely hope to see is not really there sends a rush through me. I shiver and I feel alone. 

I listened to a program this morning on writing and I cried throughout. It shouldn't have had this effect but it did. I realized that a part of me was missing. The part that made everything else make sense. The part that connected my past and loss with what is now and real. I've been neglecting the very part of myself that can lift up the rest claiming I don't have the time or the talent or the strength. I don't know how much I'll succeed in bringing back the part of myself I was most in love with but I must try. If for no other reason than to turn these ghosts into joyful and grateful memories. To usher my past into the past and wave every now and then instead of dragging it along, holding tight. To those I've lost: I miss you but please, please let me be.

"They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up.
And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg
that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold,
but you learn to dance with the limp."
- Anne Lamott

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Back in the Moment

It's been a while, perhaps too long or perhaps just long enough to jump back into this space. We still have no internet at home, just as much from laziness as anything else. But today I have a moment sitting by the chicken coop, listening to clucks and sparrows chirping, using my neighbors' connection, feeling the breeze, and swatting away mosquitoes every three seconds. I have missed this space and wondered what the next subject would be but for now I just want to reacquaint and be back.

After months of fearing the news I'm finally happy to hear it. At least, that one bit I've been waiting for too long. Now it is here and more can be done and I am happy. Just in time to celebrate the 4th of July with a little more pride than I had before. Congratulations to all those who have been waiting and hoping right along with me. It's exciting news.

I can't even think of what has been going on with me for the last few months. It has been hard and confusing, but beautiful as well and I am so grateful to my husband, family, and friends who have shared in making the confusion I've felt less confusing or just helping me to forget it for a moment. I know I'm being cryptic. I'll share another time when it's more clear to myself.

Right now I'm going to join my family on a walk around the farm and fall in love with this place all over again on this, thankfully, sunny day.

Love to you all and be back again soon. Promise.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Learning and Researching: Farming Books that Inspire Me

I come from a family that loves research. In any given argument, I can guarantee you the dictionary was near always pulled out at some point. With a linguist for a father, a Scrabble champion for a mother, and five older siblings all ready to correct me at every opportunity, I picked up the Know-What-You're-Talking-About mantra. I plan forever in advance, read all that I can from different sources, and make list after list of what is needed and what I like. Yes, Pinterest is just about my favorite invention ever. Every once in a while when Birch and I are out shopping for needed supplies for whatever project, he'll say something like, "Are you sure we need that specifically?" It takes all my energy not to slap him upside the head with all the books, time, and effort I've used over the last several months planning for the project we're finally executing. I don't, though. Usually I just shoot a look of death and sigh that passive-aggressive sigh most men have come to fear and loathe.

So, it should come as no surprise that while Birch and I scheme and plan to exit our current life and enter into a dreamworld (to us) of buying farmland, raising heritage breed farm animals, building a sustainable house, and becoming self-sufficient, we are both soaking in just about everything related we can get our hands on. We talk to friends we've made here (farmers and ranchers) and vendors at the farmer's markets, read blogs written by farmers across the country, read magazines and articles dedicated to farming, and follow farm-related news. But most of all, we read books. As you can imagine, some are more helpful than others and some are more inspiring than others.

We borrow books from our local library then buy the ones we know we'll read again and again. Here is our list:

There are SO many books out there begging to be soaked in and churned out into practice. We're still making our way through them and more continue to be written! It is so exciting to experience this life through others and I am so grateful that so many people are returning to the farming life, even those converting their yards into a place rich in animals and vegetation. I look at this shift not as a trend or "the hip thing to do" but a movement. Sure, there are people not as serious about the philosophy behind the change, but I believe that as more and more people start growing their own food, more appreciation and concern will surface and our world will be a better place for it.

Birch and I struggle with our current place in this movement: willing and dedicated, but honestly, scared. Right now, Birch has job security, a regular paycheck, and amazing health insurance. He also has debt that we must pay. Changing our lives will mean the end of all those things. It will be a sacrifice. However, it is a sacrifice we are willing to make. We are confident that the satisfaction of our new life as farm owners and workers will greatly outweigh the comfort we feel now. It will be a difficult change which is why we strive to go in knowing as much as we can.

We can't, however, research forever. At some point, we'll have to act. Find land, move, and start the rest of our lives. So now we wait for that When. It's coming but not yet and we'll need to learn a bit more patience and take advantage of our advantages while we can.

What do you aspire to be? How do you help yourself to become the person you long to be?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Spring Into Action

We're currently obsessed with the Aston/Long books. They are informative and beautiful and Keats loves learning all the different names.

We are, as of now, calmly ignoring the fact that we have been ill. I declare us healthy and ready to face the world like the incalculable blooms and leaves popping forth everywhere I look. The animals on the farm are giving birth, the sky has turned a purplish shade of grey, and the green on the pussy willow bushes pops like never before.

It is so refreshing to see the farm start again. It brings a gravity to the seasons that I don't feel when I'm away. The lambs coming just on time, the kids nearby coming after, the leaves on the willow trees pushing out past their buds, and the wild mint showing itself at last. The fields of the surrounding farms are freshly tilled and ready for seeding. Keats points out all of the different machines with impressive accuracy and knows what they're each doing and why. 

I've put in the fresh spring plantings in my parents' front garden and sowed seeds for summer. Next up is the back vegetable garden. We've got to put something new in the usual tomato planter and put the tomatoes in a different one to refresh the soil. Seeing as the tomatoes have always been in the same planter for as long as I can remember, this couldn't happen sooner. My parents have been good sports in letting me head up their garden this last year. It's good experience for me and with the flooding issues we've had at home, it's been the perfect gardening outlet while we get our own yard sorted. I spent most of my childhood weekends with my dad digging in the dirt so this continuation years later is fitting.

Birch has planted some radishes and other random seeds in random spots around the house "just to get something in the ground." Can you tell we have different project styles? I have to give it to him, he gets it done. I really am grateful for that. I overthink just about everything and Birch reminds me, gently, that sometimes it's just better to have completed a project than to have done it to our ideal standard. That is a hard lesson for me.

I've admitted to myself that I am a perfectionist. I have a pretty heavy fear of failure and so I obsess over a project so much that sometimes I never finish it purely because it's not coming together exactly as I envisioned. I never once submitted a philosophy paper in college for this very reason. Looking back I can see how ridiculous that is. I was terrified by the critique, but come on! It was a PHILOSOPHY paper. That critique was the point! In fact, even earlier in school I had this issue. I think my parents assume I just never did my homework. I never told them I just refused to submit it. The work that was genuinely difficult for me, I was too scared to ask for help. It didn't even occur to me that I might have a learning disability until college. Then, when I explained how I felt and thought about learning math and learning languages, my special education teacher of a husband just nodded and said, "Yeah, that's a learning disability." Oh, great. The point is: I could have had help when I was younger, but I was too afraid of failure. I was too afraid of not being smart! The truth is, struggling doesn't mean you are not smart. It doesn't mean you're worthless. It shouldn't be embarrassing. I could have asked for help, I could have been placed in a special education math class, I could have asked for intensive tutoring. There were things all of the adults in my life could have done differently, sure, but when it comes down to it, it was my failure to accept failure that led to my academic downfall. I just let myself get horrific grades and accepted the storm at home when that report card dropped in the mailbox. That attitude has permeated other parts of my life as well.

I didn't understand it then, but I do now. It's okay to not understand things, to have to work hard, to not be inherently gifted at what you're doing. The success you accomplish on completion is far more powerful than the success of a natural talent. I hope I can work through this enough to teach my children that trying is better than succeeding, enjoyment is better than easy, and most of what we really pine for in life takes hard work, focus, practice, and passion.

So while I plan out flood-proof planters for our vegetables and veggie/herb planters for the chickens and ducks to munch, Birch is busy checking his seedlings in the yard and pulling weeds when he finds them. Together we make a fairly effective team. We'll figure it out. We have time.   

For now, I want to enjoy spring and practice my new life as a non-perfectionist. I'm not even going to look up the appropriate word for that.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Sorting and Wearing

Clothes breed, don't they? I swear I've gone through my clothes every time we've moved. Each time I've saved certain pieces attaching some sort of sentimental feeling to them or just hoping I'd fit in them again. Yeah... So now we're in this house and Birch and I are feeling the spirit of renewal and purge. New Year resolutions abound and I am not the only offender when it comes to clothes hoarding. I cannot tell you how many shirts Birch has with holes and/or unspeakable stains. I mean, he's had most of them since middle school. MIDDLE SCHOOL. I'll remind you, he's 32. Yeah. So while I reassemble Birch's wardrobe with appropriate wear, I'm shredding unthinkably ridiculous shirts and things for a rag rug and cutting up squares of the nicer prints for a quilt. The rest... well, I don't really know what to do with the rest. The whole point of these clothes is that they are not fit to be worn so I don't want to drop them at Goodwill or anything.

My personal resolution for myself is that any new clothes I purchase must fit these requisites:
  • It fits me NOW.
  • It makes me feel BEAUTIFUL and FIT.
  • It goes with clothes I already OWN.
  • It is HIGH QUALITY and will last over a years' worth of wear without warping or fading.
Very simply, I haven't made it a priority in my life to primp everyday, but I've begun to feel like I'm letting go a bit hence the rules above. No more clothes that fit poorly, no more that shrink or warp with one washing, and no more struggling to find something to wear out. I don't want to just be buying things all the time. I want each purchase to be calculated, budgeted, and thought out.

There is also the issue that my life is somewhat erratic when it comes to clothing needs. This is true of us all, right? So our closets have to accommodate different needs and occasions. Mine vary thusly:
  • Clothes able to be covered in chicken nastiness.
  • Clothes for date nights and parties.
  • Comfort clothes for sick days.
My most recent purchases since this resolution have been mostly from Anthropologie, but I'm looking to Etsy and its many sellers creating handmade items from organic, fair trade cotton, etc. Leggings, especially. I swear I've died and gone to heaven looking through the various shops for leggings. I swoon just thinking about it.

Fox print leggings by Supayana; image courtesy of seller
Spirit Bear Print leggings in black by prettypennydesigns, image courtesy of seller
The Bees Knees leggings by blackbirdtees; image courtesy of seller
As you can see, I have an affectionate love affair with Color and Pattern. They are jealous of each other at times, but when the three of us get together all at once it's just steamy and fantastic.

The last step of sorting is storing! I have a few ideas floating around and a Pinterest board I'm slightly ashamed to call my own. With literally nothing to show for all the planning in my head, Spring isn't going to pass by without this project cementing itself on the checked-off list. That is paramount.

Love to you all. What are your favorite pieces of clothing? What do you have your eye on?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Falling Behind

It was inevitable. I'm officially behind on all of my resolutions. Wahhh.

Our little family has been playing tag-you're it with fevers, colds, the full-on flu, teething, and zero sleep for about a month. I was keeping it together for a while there, but I have been struck down by the Yuck and so I sit on the couch, wrapped in a down comforter, in front of the heater while Birch (taking a sick day off) takes the recovering but fussy children out and about the farm before it rains again. I made a horrible breakfast mistake involving cheese and Crystal hot sauce and now my belly is rolling around laughing on the floor. I'm telling you, the things it has said to me this morning would astonish you.

I started decorating March's mantle last night but it just doesn't feel right. It needs more potted plants, I think. Maybe twinkle lights to add a bit of brightness to all the gloomy, rainy days ahead. And a garland. Definitely. Also, I have a lot of rabbit-related decor.

As you might imagine, Date Night has been pretty much obliterated. We've declared a few nights as stay-at-home date nights complete with delicious, extravagant meals, but any other effort has been nonexistent. It's all right. We've been doing better. We had a run-in at the lumber yard recently that made us both think. There are certain areas where Birch and I just do things differently and we've come to realize that when discussing projects we both have to put extra effort into saying our ideas nicely and staying friendly throughout the process. It feels fake still, but I'm confident that it will start coming naturally and feelings will be spared (while still getting the project done and looking lovely).

I still haven't finished ridding ourselves of books galore we don't need/read and I'm at a complete stand still on the clothes purging. We have, however, built a new chicken run that will actually keep the chickens in. (There were about five or six that consistently flew out to explore and demolish the neighbors' plants. Always the same hens, too.) With our neighbors' invaluable help, the run is now taller, slightly bigger, and easier to upgrade later. I'm still mourning the loss of our first chicken coop but what are you gonna do? Additions in the coming months will include a decorative top edge, a coat of whitewash on the inside of the coop, an upcycled window door, an indoor dust bathing box, and another set of nesting boxes.

With Keats' third birthday and party coming up next month, we are gearing up for the Great Switch. Keats and Frida will have the big bedroom while Birch and I go into the smaller room. All we really need is a bed and the closet but we'd like the kids' room to have tons more space for playing and storage. The Switch is necessary. I'm hoping to finally build a lofted bed for Keats over a playhouse and a small/medium-sized play table for their trains (with built-in storage). Keeping it simple is key.

I borrowed a lovely book from the library and I'm a few chapters in now. I'm really enjoying it and highly recommend it. When I finish, I'll do a full blown review here, but for now, if it looks interesting and useful to you, I can say that it is motivating, sympathetic, and useful.

With all that, this is the (hopefully) final month of flood season. If the house makes it through, I'll feel much more secure in all the effort I want to put into making this house our home.

I hope you and yours are healthy and well. What have you been working on lately?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Happy Birthday Miriam!

You're my girl. Best friends since we were thirteen. Basically, right before it all got real. Haha. We made it, though, and I'm so happy to say that it was in large part because of our friendship. You are constant, compassionate, beautiful, loving, hilarious, wild, creative, direct. You have the best laugh I've ever heard. I love you more than ever. Keep being you and I'll keep being me. Friends forever, my love.


p.s. I cannot wait to see what idiotic pictures we have of ourselves together when we're 93. Love you.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Have Yourself a Merry Little Valentine's Day

One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life:
That word is love.
- Sophocles

Valentine's Day has all kinds of cans hanging off the end of it: expectations, frustrations, loneliness, memories, new relationships, old relationships, sex, self-loathing, self-love, giving, gratitude, family, friends, and animals. We go out or stay in. And EVERYONE has something to say on the subject. Some people love the holiday. Some people love the idea of the holiday. Some people are upset they don't have someone special to share it with. Some people gleefully enjoy the "We're Single" romp out and about. Some people eat way too much ice cream while watching "Eulogy." (Look it up, it's fantastic.) Some people spends days and weeks preparing for their kids' Valentine's Day parties at school. Some people cut out paper hearts and set out dishes of heart-shaped chocolates and conversation hearts. Some people decorate the whole house. Some people write new songs commemorating break ups or glorifying love. Some people go all out and spend insane amounts of money on each other. Some people simply exchange notes. Some people start relationships, some commit to relationships, some end relationships. Every year we are inundated with how other people feel about a holiday some describe as a "Hallmark Holiday." So, I'll add to the flood.

Valentine's Day is a set day when all of us can come out of our emotional closets and say "I love you" to whomever we please. Sure, we should say it every day, we should say it, write it, sing it, show it every day. But most of us don't. For whatever reason we just don't. Having a specific day is good. Sure, just like any holiday, we can drown ourselves in expectations. It's easy to do. I do it nearly every year with every holiday, especially now that I have kids. Trying to create memories and traditions for them is a daunting task. Add to that the pressure of enlivening my relationship with my husband and the insanity that is Panic Disorder and you could have the perfect storm. BUT, starting with last Christmas, I'm doing pretty well at keeping my expectations in order, keeping the budget down (or at least just reasonable), and making myself feel that I've done enough. Having a specific day to say "I love you" takes me out of my usual reflexive "I love you"s and gives me a deadline to make sure it is special. It gives me time to reflect on WHY I love who and what I do. It gives me a medium to express it. It gives me an opportunity to teach my children about the importance of love and showing love. My conversations with Keats about Valentine's Day have been my favorite so far. Christmas was fun (he was obsessed) but I feel like Valentine's Day is a holiday that truly anyone can celebrate without thinking twice (and yes, I know it's based on several saints, etc.). It is purely about love, gratitude, and charity. Even historically. It hasn't been so fully switched about as other major holidays.

Admittedly, I get a little confused when people demand they hate Valentine's Day. Really? You hate expressing love? Sure, sometimes the day falls a bit too close to raw feelings, but there is always someone to say "I love you" to. (And yes, I have a sentences ending in prepositions problem.) To me, it's important to remember that Valentine's Day didn't start off celebrating romantic love. That started around Geoffrey Chaucer's time (about eleven centuries after the first Valentinus was imprisoned and executed). Before I was settled and happy within my romantic sphere, Valentine's Day was always a bit rough. I not-so-quickly learned that I needed to move my attentions to others: friends, family, strangers and myself. Love is universal, all-encompassing, sweeping, and well, lovely. It can be as simple as a smile on the street and as extravagant as a world tour. I love Valentine's Day. It's my favorite holiday. Busy lives and horrendous events be damned. At the end of the day, I will remember love. In the night, I'll dream of love. And when it's all over for me (hopefully in very, very many years) I hope I'll be remembered in love.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Year in Chores

This is one of those lists that I am, at the outset, positive will be rearranged and completed as we can. In between, there will be other to-do's like preparing for parties, coop chores, and hopefully getting more done than we'd planned. But here it is, in its near entirety. I'm positive things have been forgotten or will merely be added as we come to them. Also, I know: this is daunting. This is a lot. This is too much, really. And that is fine! I'm not so stuck on some of the items, but I wanted to get them down so I wouldn't forget. I also find it helps to have the full picture so I get what I can done in a way that won't be completely disrupted when the later projects are finished through.
  • organize books (purge)
  • build driftwood bench with hairpin legs (find reasonably priced legs online)
  • create a reception station (boot & shoe area, place to put down bags, garbage can, shredder, mail sorter, key rack, coats hung up, hat rack)
  • buy large all-weather mat for the space from the dining room to front door
  • new bed frame (iron from
  • buy extra bedding
  • take doors off closet
  • purge clothes
  • organize clothes by function (for birch) and color (for me)
  • take out boxes to the garage
  • create a space for desk and a wall filing system (for dealing with bills, etc)
Nursery corner:
  • set up crib
  • sew flannel bedding for crib
  • put up decorations
Laundry area:
  • more plants (ferns, etc) in the window
  • put up a line for drying some things
  • build shelves in the cabinet for detergent
  • keep counter above washer and dryer CLEAR for folding
Dining room:
  • clear up cold breakfast station
  • clear up hot drink station (with added coffee supplies from kitchen)
  • create recycling area
  • clear off buffet table
  • organize dishes
  • buy serving dishes once a month until we have what we need
  • buy dining chairs (at least four)
  • buy booster seat
Kids' room:
  • take doors off closet
  • hang up clothes (by function for keats, by color for frida)
  • new bed for keats (smaller, lofted?)
  • buy bins and organize toys
  • buy another bookcase
May/JuneLiving room:
  • replace and paint windowsill
  • paint fireplace white
  • create photo wall
  • paint remaining walls
  • put up artwork and photo frames
  • more light (!) especially over the mantle
Front garden and porch:
  • rake/sweep
  • build raised bed around perimeter
  • plan garden
  • put up birdhouses
  • put up shelving for cookbooks (purge some we never use)
  • oil drawers so they pull out and push in smoothly
  • small shelf or rack for frequently used items right above the butcher block (to clear space for chopping, etc)
  • shelf above counter for smaller bulk item jars
  • move coffee making supplies to a special station in dining room
  • move toaster to the counter
  • clean out fridge and put down liner for easier clean-up
  • sort drawers and label
  • herb garden in the window
  • purge glasses (so many means infrequent dish-washing and dishes piling up)
  • buy new teapot (le creuset)
  • put up shelf for pots OR get more hooks for the pot rack
  • put up the three-tier basket for heavier vegetables and fruit
  • paint walls
  • buy/make new shower curtain
  • buy new shower curtain pole/holder
  • organize diaper changing station
  • purge all old/expired products and medicine & REPLACE what is needed (medicine, especially)
November/DecemberBack garden: 
  • build duck enclosure
  • buy and put up aviary netting to keep out hawks and little birds
  • build raised beds for vegetable gardening
  • secure shed and paint
  • put up garden art
  • put up shelving for boxes (at least three feet off the ground)
  • organize tools on pegboard
  • clean out chick brooding box
  • sweep

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Resolution Three: Unclutter

At the end of last year, I borrowed this book from the library. I've renewed it once already and I may need to again, but perhaps I should just buy it! It is fantastic.

It sections out into Morning, Work, and Evening from Monday through The Weekend. For example, Monday parcels out as follows: the morning is dedicated to purging and organizing your wardrobe, your time at work is dedicated to organizing your desk and surrounding area in the office, and your evening dedicated to creating and organizing a reception station. This section is what hooked me completely. It rang true like a giant bell ringing away in my heart. It may sound ridiculous, but I just about started crying. Suddenly, I knew that not only could I get my house in order, but that I would actually enjoy it! I also knew that it would be hard work. The description of going through clothes made me a bit woozy as I knew the volume in our house is insane. Birch and I are clutter freaks! I tell you, we are downright redonkulous when it comes to cleaning up and making time. So, with this book in hand, I am venturing forth to declare 2013 the year of organization and improved sanity. #unclotterproject is underway. The clothes are being washed, sorted, purged, stripped into pieces to make a ragrug, and hung in a closet without doors. 

In the meantime, during glorious car naps and moments of quiet playing, I've been putting together lists of needy areas in our house and snapping photos to remind me of what needs to be sorted, organized, chucked, or donated.

For those of you wondering, yes, the book does account for the fact that not everybody works in an office and some have children and I left it feeling quite confident that going at our own pace is exactly fine. I've been even more fortunate to have a friend or two join in on the project in their own homes. Care to join in, too? We can link up blogs, have an email list, or have a hashtag on Instagram, maybe a group on Facebook where we can post photos of our progress/discuss our ideas, etc.  

In between the bigger projects I've been eying our books. Since the last flood, they've all been breeding in our built-in bookcase, piled up and cozy-like. My order-by-color has been sullied with horizontal stacks of books I'm not always sure why we own. At least, still. They are books we've read and books we've enjoyed, for the most part, but they are not books we need or want to keep and read again (think: outdated textbooks, ridiculously depressing novels, and informative books I'm not sure were ever helpful). So, I've vowed to purge, purge, purge. And no, I'm not going to listen to my husband's odd attachments to outdated geology and math textbooks he studied from over ten years ago. I will allow him to photocopy what he needs, etc., of course. I'll even make him a special binder to keep the copies in and then take to work. Eventually, I will organize his work cart for him as well. He doesn't have his own classroom so he moves from room to room with a cart and it is a complete disaster.

Initially daunted by the task, I was inspired to actually write out an entire list of what I'd want to accomplish this year as far as this project goes. It's long, it's exhausting, it's overwhelming... almost. I think Birch and I can do it. I'm giving us two months to "complete" each room. One month to save up money for anything we may need to buy and to do what we can without the item(s), the second month to buy whatever it is and complete the space. With January nearly over, I'm happy to say our first area is coming together. A sudden small dinner party at our place spurred me on yesterday afternoon to rearrange the entry a bit and now I have a very clear idea of how I will proceed.

I also started snipping away at old tee shirts, etc., creating strips and braiding them together to make a rag rug. I'll be working on that for months, I think. Though I've only been working on it for two days, I've taken nearly every opportunity to work on it. It's relaxing and I can braid while watching the kids (ideally) or while relaxing as they take a nap or are down for the night. It's been an especially nice project to have while I settle for the night with something yummy to drink and an episode of "All Creatures Great and Small."

One project at a time. One step at a time. One day at a time. #unclutterproject is now underway!

What are you worst at organizing? What are you best at? I'm the worst at dishes and putting away clean laundry. I'm best at vacuuming and making the place appear clean for parties (but don't go in the one room I dumped all the unsortables into).

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Resolution Two: Date Night

This didn't start out as a New Year's Resolution. Birch and I decided we'd had enough excuses and we were going to force ourselves to go out and enjoy ourselves without the kids. It was really frustrating to realize that we'd gone an entire year without a single kidless date and then truly disheartening when we realized there was no good reason.

I could go into the saga that is Frida's first year (in fact, I wrote it all down but it exhausted me just thinking about it) but I'd rather save those nitty little details as ammunition when she's sixteen and complaining that I won't let her go out until she finishes her homework. Sufficed to say that she was difficult and demanding. After Keats' super mellow babyhood we were not prepared for the infant that was Frida. Holy moly (as we've taught Keats to say in lieu of certain other phrases he's picked up from these two irresponsible people who claim they're his parents)! For Frida, life is either blissful or excruciatingly awful. There is no uncomfortable and there are no minor inconveniences. Basically, we were afraid and riddled with guilt. Not for Frida, for the poor sucker we got to babysit for us. The last couple of months have seen a change in her, though, and with the realization that Birch and my relationship needs a serious overhaul of awesomeness, we promised each other (while I cried over the phone to him before he came home from work) that we would go on a date. I utilized the glory that is Facebook and within about two minutes, maybe less, my sister-in-law was slated to come over that Saturday evening. I'm telling you, if I could have jumped through the computer screen into her arms, I might have done something drastically inappropriate. She was a life-saver.

That Saturday, Birch took the kids out so I could get ready. I did everything I could think to do to myself and I was shaking the entire time. I was nervous! I was actually nervous to go on a date with my husband. I was tingling with anticipation. I even shampooed my hair twice by accident and nearly the shaved the same leg twice, too.

In the end, the date was calm and relaxed. We didn't really know what to do with ourselves, actually. We went with the old standby of sunset and sushi. I mean, you just can't go wrong. We came home relaxed. Relieved. Refreshed. All the moments that had been so difficult in the last year had just melted away in those few hours. We could just enjoy each other.

We've had a couple of dates since then, but they felt random and unplanned (and not in a good way). Then we met our new neighbors. They have two children right around our kids' ages. They invited us to dinner at their home and as the kids played amazingly well together, the adults drank a little too much wine. Match made in heaven. So, we made a plan. We'd switch off date nights and babysit for each other, that way we'd get at least one date in a month if not more! When we got home, the wheels started turning. How could we go on even more dates? 

I made up a calendar. Every first Saturday, grandparents babysit. Every second Saturday, we babysit and our neighbors go out. Every third Saturday, our neighbors babysit. Every fourth Saturday, either we stay home OR hire a babysitter for all four kids, split the cost and go on a double date! If there is a fifth Saturday, we stay home. Genius.

After finishing the calendar, I immediately went into our budget and adjusted and rearranged. Now there is a big, new category: Date Night. It has three subsections: solo dates, double date, and babysitter. We don't need our dates to be extravagant. Sometimes we'll most likely stay in and enjoy the quiet in our home or watch a movie together, uninterrupted, with the volume up so we aren't constantly asking each other what that person just said. I've scoured Pinterest for date night ideas, too.

Some of my favorites:
Wife.Mom.Superwoman's 30 (Non-Cheesy) Date Ideas
The Bridal Tree's First Anniversary Idea (our 5th is coming up!)
Love the Grow's His & Her Q & A

Keeping our relationship growing and alive is very important to us. We love each other so very much and we know we both deserve to not only have more fun with our relationship but also to continually get to know each other. People change as time passes. Birch and I are both different people than when we met, than the people we were when we married, and we are certainly different after having two kids. Growing and changing is perfectly fine and expected. I just want to make sure I stay connected and never grow so busy that I forgot to know the person I chose to spend the rest of my life with and I hope/know Birch feels the same.

What is your favorite date night activity? What have you been yearning to do?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Resolution One: Family Budget

Why we needed a budget: 
At the end of each month, we were routinely running out of money, sometimes with bills left to pay. This made it so that some bills were doubled the next month and our money very quickly began slipping through our fingers

Deciding what we value:
Food. Once I put together an initial budget, it became clear that we spent a whole lot more than most people we knew on groceries. Since we buy high quality food, we accept and expect the higher cost. We try to buy food we can feel ethically sound in buying (pasture-raised meat, eggs, and dairy; local and organic vegetables and fruit, organic grains and sugar, etc). We also spread our money around many different grocery stores and farmer's markets. We have one store that has the best deal on bulk items like flour and rice, another store where we buy harder-to-find "ethnic" ingredients like fresh locally-made tofu and noodles, and we buy the bulk of our vegetables and fruit in season at the local farmer's markets. Though we knew we wanted to pay more for higher quality, we also knew we were spending too much and too impulsively. So we made up a system for ourselves where we buy bulk items and household necessities (like toilet paper) once a month, then have a set weekly budget for the farmer's markets (where we buy our meat, vegetables, and fruit). Having a set amount before entering the store or market (as well as eating beforehand) has made our spending decrease by $200 per month.

Eating Out. It became clear that since Birch and I cook almost exclusively from scratch for each meal of the day, we really appreciate a meal out of the house at least once a week. Nothing too extravagant, just a pop-in to the local taqueria or a snack at the bakery. Looking at our unstructured budget, we could see that we were eating out too regularly and most of all when we were stressed. Putting a cap on what we could spend eating out meant that we had something to look forward to each week. We have come to look at it as a little present to ourselves instead of an escape.

It also meant we had to figure out how to make mealtime at home a better experience for everybody. Birch is an amazing cook, but the nature of cooking from scratch is that it takes longer! After spending all day with the kids, I'm usually in dire need of a break when Birch gets home. So, we're working on meal-planning and stream-lining chores so Birch doesn't end up washing dishes he needs instead of preparing the family meal.

Doing this has saved us about $100 per month.

Monday, January 7, 2013

When It Rains, It Floods

Like I said before, winter here is wet. Spring even more so. Since November, we've had two flooding scares. The first time was the most emotional for me. We weren't prepared in any way for it. It's not a flash flooding situation, more of a five-foot-high-and-rising situation (though, not five feet high, thankfully). The water rises high first from the field across the road from us. The creek floods there and then Pescadero Creek floods coming down our road from the other direction. When that happens, our house is in danger of major flooding. Our place is already raised about two and a half feet from the ground, but when it floods, we're still in danger of our floors getting soaked. Yuck. Our landlords will be raising the house even more in the coming months, though we're not sure when. We assume they'll have to wait until reliably dry weather which isn't until August and September. 

That first flood of the season was a doozy for me. Not knowing what to expect, I ran around the house like a madwoman, collecting all of what we deemed to be "favorites" and boxing them up to either put up high or bring with us in the car. I found gifts from friends who've passed away and took photos out from their frames. In hindsight, much of what I did to prepare was an overreaction to the situation. I was scared and a newbie to the whole situation so I'll go ahead and excuse myself. That experience left me a bit numb and I questioned whether to decorate for Christmas, but in the end, I did and I was glad.

The second flood took place the night before Christmas Eve. We were calmer this time. Most things were still arranged for easy pick up and removal. And this time, we saw it coming. The timing was a bit crazy as we were out of town that morning, but we got home in time and packed up to go stay at a cabin the owners provided for us. Driving up to it, Birch and I immediately relaxed. It was beautiful and serene. If we had to be out of our place for Christmas, this is where we wanted to do it. The morning of Christmas Eve, we checked our floors at home: all dry and the water was already draining from the yard. We were so happy and relieved as the water had risen higher than before and we were nervous driving home. We spent Christmas Eve and morning cozy and grateful at home. We awoke to our Christmas tree towering above us and clear light shining through the window. It was a clear, beautiful day and we were right where we wanted to be.

These experiences also just furthered that spring cleaning bug we've been feeling for months. That ongoing project of perfecting our various systems and routines, the purging, the journey to Less Stuff. You'll hear more of that another time.

It should also be noted that both floods were a dream come true for Keats...

Friday, January 4, 2013

Winter on the Farm

It is wet and cold now. There are days of bright sunshine when we run outside and soak it up, even when the air is chilled and our noses turn pink. Mostly it is cloudy, overcast, and rainy. Of course, temperatures don't dip below thirty degrees Fahrenheit and it doesn't snow here, so "winter" is used loosely here, but to us it is a far cry from a California summer where everything is just lovely and perfect outside and to stay in seems like sacrilege. So, we made a promise to ourselves that we would get out in it every day and bring at least one thing back to put up on our nature board.

Even Frida now understands the going out process and brings us each article of clothing she will need especially: coat, shoes, hat. With Keats, it's almost always a frustrating process with reminders of patience and "You don't have your boots on yet." That boy loves stomping in puddles and they are everywhere this time of year. The ground is squishy and the creeks are high. He stomps and trudges through fresh and muddy puddles alike, coming out soaked and smiling ear to ear. We've learned to bring two strollers with us now as Keats quickly realizes that it's not actually comfortable to walk in boots filled with water. We need to get him some waders!

We still haven't found any good quality boots in Frida's size so her puddle stomping days will have to be in the coming rainy months when she reaches a toddler's size five (her feet are tiny). For now, Keats helps her by pushing her through the puddles in her stroller. They both squeal as the water splashes up.

Frida more and more wants to be out of the stroller and walking about just like her big brother. She is good about holding hands which makes it easier to steer her away from tricky spots on the path. It takes us about an hour to walk the entire forty-acre farm at a leisurely (read: baby step) pace, but that's without stopping too much to see the animals and play, so usually we're out and about for at least two and a half hours if not three. During the rest of the year, the kids get two farm walks a day: one with me in the morning and one with Birch once he gets home from work, but with the sun going down so early, they're only getting one in these days. If Birch gets home with some time left before dark, the kids go out with him to the basketball court next to our place and play kickball. I am so grateful to Birch for these breaks. On the busiest of days, a break means I can finally wash some dishes or vacuum the floor. On lazier days, I can take some time for myself to watch something, write, READ, or even... gasp... take a long bath. When the day hasn't been too wearing, I go out with the rest of the family and play. It's nice to get a break from the kids, but that usually means more time away from Birch so I go out with them when I can, if only to get a strong arm wrapped around my waist for just a moment or to hook arms and hold hands while the kids entertain themselves a bit.

The farm changes quite a bit from season to season. Some of the larger willow trees are cut back after the fall harvest while the smaller trees and bushes are left to bud and then harvested to make more decorative fences and things. We've watched this process only twice since we began our time here on the farm and have pieced together what we could from our distant observations. I'll have to ask about it more the next time I see the owners. The farm has so many things going on, there is always something being done. Hustle and bustle is a way of life here, but there is a great rhythm to it. The busyness here is different than that of the city or even the suburbs. The country is a special place. The work here is hard and constant but it has the appearance of leisure. Riding around in tractors and forklifts, herding sheep with a pack of dogs, feeding pigs... it all seems so idyllic. To me. Some people look at us like we're crazy when we tell them what we enjoy. You should have seen my sister's face when I told her Birch wanted a whole hog for Christmas. Let me clarify that I do mean "idyllic," not easy, not always fun, but idyllic. Farming in this way seems to us to be the perfect marriage of doing what interests us and acting on the principles that are important to us in order to make our world a little better.

This place is a wonderland to us. Seeing it everyday, coming home to it everyday, watching it change and evolve right before our eyes is all absolutely stunning. We see so much wildlife everyday. I count all the different seasonal birds, take note of who stays year-round, and watch for other wildlife like coyotes, bobcats, deer, and the very occasional mountain lion. We hear frogs and crickets every night. We have daily visitors such as owls, hawks, kites, egrets, and herons. Ducks and geese land in the flooded field across the road. We see tracks from raccoons, badgers, and so many more. Often we find the remains of animals in various states of decomposition. Keats is curious and compassionate, so we discuss what might have happened to the animal and what might happen to it now that it has passed on. It's a good opportunity to introduce him to the topic in a way that isn't overly traumatic. When we lost Harlequin, our rabbit, Keats was still quite young and couldn't really understand it. He just waited at Harlequin's cage for him to come out. Birch and I would see this and tear up. Not knowing what to say, I told him that Harlequin had "gone bye-bye." It worked, but it felt a bit like cheating. Now that Keats is older, I feel like he needs a better understanding of death and loss. I've always been afraid of death and even more afraid of others dying. My very first memory is standing next to my aunt right after she passed away. I can see her face very clearly, not her face as she was in life, but the strange face that appears after we die. I've seen it too often. I've seen too many relatives, too many friends pass away and I can only hope that my children will have a better understanding of the event than I. 

Winter can have the appearance of a mass death among all things, but looking closely, I can see life pushing forward, growing stronger, and making its way to being even more brilliant than it was the previous year. 2012 was the winter of my marriage. It was hard. It seemed like too many things were falling apart. Birch and I didn't love each other any less than the day we got married, but our days became relentlessly filled with frustration, sorrow, and exhaustion. We've learned our lesson now. We're pulling ourselves back up. I can only hope we have the resilience of the farm that takes what it is given and makes itself stronger and more beautiful than it has ever been. I know we can do it. I've told some friends and family that Birch and I are struggling and they immediately become quite worried. Don't be. Birch and I are fine, we are in love, we are committed to each other and to our life together. Some days are harder than others; some years are harder than others. I'm so very happy that a new year has begun, that Birch and I have summoned up and renewed our energy, and that we have such caring individuals all around us who help us to be who we want. Who knows, this may be another hard year for us, but I already feel stronger as my roots sink deeper into the earth here on the farm.