Spring Decor Farmgirl Style

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We love each season and each of their gifts.  Renewal, Sunshine, Harvest, Rest.  Each season in our house looks differently.  To switch from winter to spring a house needs but a few touches.  Trade heavy blankets and pillows for lighter ones on furniture.  A bold Indian blanket was replaced with Kat’s grandma’s beautiful quilt.  Still nice to curl up with during movies but cheery enough to emote spring.  The pillow was a Pottery Barn Christmas pillow.  Adorable.  Perhaps time to cover the Christmas stockings on it though!  A vintage pillow case does the trick.  Stacks of gardening books surround the chairs.

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A simple pair of humble galoshes can whisper springtime is approaching!  They are good for trekking through the snow to the chicken coop or standing in the garden.  I like them by the door.  An invitation for springtime to come on in! (And springtime mud indeed will.)

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Look closely at this picture!  It is easy to be distracted by the seventeen year old “farm dog” there guarding the rug.  Look at the tablecloth.  For ten dollars I was able to get two yards of vinyl for our six foot table at the craft store.  It lasts a whole lot longer than the cheap plastic tablecloths at Walmart, standing up to cat scratches, stains, and daily wear and tear.  It just washes off.  I have a vintage New Mexican tablecloth underneath it to keep it protected.  There are lady bugs all over the vinyl tablecloth creating a look of picnicking on the dining room table.  Lady bugs and bees welcome spring.

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Lanterns and warmer weather decor is replaced with bird cages and flowers.  I bought this bird cage at a thrift store for next to nothing to house vases of spring flowers (which I am yet to get) to protect them from nibbling kitties.  Pots of daffodils look great tucked inside as would a bird’s nest or Easter eggs.

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The indoor garden is still brightening the window sill to the south.  The petunias simply love it.  A package of petunias can be arranged in pots and placed throughout the house in sunny locations.  They are so easy to grow.  They love sun, water every three days, and dead head the plant so the blooms keep coming back to show off.

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This lovely peasant dress arrived in the mail early yesterday.  Something sassy to wear to Santa Fe next week (along with her four sisters I may have purchased in a spring fever frenzy.  Beautiful.  Where creamy whites and piney greens are show stoppers in winter, nothing beats bright colors to infuse the spirit in time for spring.

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Mine aren’t quite this glorious yet, my daffodils are merely peeking their arms up out of the soil, but I do hope you planted bulbs last fall!  Nothing sings spring like birds raucous and loud outside the window and fields of daffodils and tulips.

So, out with knits and winter reminiscences, and in with bright, happy decorations, clothing, and flowers.  Welcome Spring!

Will the Real Farmgirl Please Stand Up?

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When I told the owner of Miller Farms, Joe, at his birthday party a few months ago that I wanted to be a farmer, he looked at me with a mix of pity and humor.  Apparently grown women don’t run around dreaming of being a farmer when they grow up.  The rest of the farm hands laughed too.  The grumpy farmer at the farmer’s market asked why I would want to do such a thing?  It’s hard work.  I have never been afraid of hard work.  In fact, I dislike days that there is no work.  I have to keep busy.  I am not afraid of sunrise, dirt, or feeding people.  Only two percent of the population grows all the food for our country.  Scary.  Not crazy about relying on someone else to grow food for me.  Makes me feel kind of helpless.  That is why I garden.  Be it not very well for the past twenty years but I had a slower learning curve then everyone else and no family to teach me.  Just books.  And now Debbie.

Debbie started out as one of my students learning herbalism a few years back.  She received a grant for a greenhouse and grows a myriad of wonderful herbs as well as vast amounts of food.  So, the teacher becomes the student today as I go for my internship and learn which side is up.  Everything in her hoop house survived the below zero temperatures.  I am intrigued.  Her land is a picturesque bounty set against hills and filled with roaming cows and a beautiful old restored house.  Her general demeanor is always kind and upbeat.  A renaissance woman, a Master Gardener, and a friend.  I will learn well in this atmosphere!  http://lookingoutfrommybackyard.wordpress.com is her blog.  I shamelessly stole these pictures off of her blog!

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I think I will plant a few rows of wine grapes.  I have two Cabernet Sauvignon vines here I can bring with me to start.  An Apothecary garden that will consist of beautiful medicinal and culinary herbs.  Long rows of three sisters, corn, beans, and squash will grow together and remind us of history.  All of the glorious, unique, colorful heirlooms seeds I ordered back in January in my garden dreaming will sprout and take hold, reaching their heads up to the endless sky, looking out to the mountain range, and will provide sustenance for our family and beyond.

I never want to sell wholesale.  Just as I run my Apothecary.  No wholesale.  No faceless item on the shelf.  No wondering who made it.  I want to hand it to you.  Tell you a funny story about it.  Throw in a free round of cheese to eat with the fresh tomatoes and kale.

Now I am really getting ahead of myself.  I don’t have a goat!

In Season

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Between learning how to spin, how to knit, how to make soap, how to play fiddle and continuing all the other things I can do like crocheting, sewing, coming up with business ideas, cooking, baking, and attempting to be Susie Homesteader of the Year, I am exhausted!  I sit and look at the baby now.  Spend hours reading and thinking about what I should be doing right this very minute but alas, no motivation.  I want to plan my garden but don’t know where my garden will be.  I want to get things ready for the farmer’s market early, but I am too busy looking at the new baby.  I have actually been perusing sites pricing out washers. *gasp*

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And then I realize, this is my body giving me a time out.  We are leaving behind the skill learning, trying to keep warm, time of winter and are about to embark on the craziness of Spring, Summer, and Autumn before we get to rest again!  I am just taking it easy before the whirlwind of being a farmer.  Which this year, I perhaps will actually be.  I really want to spin.  I want to practice.  After how much money I spent, Doug really wants me to practice!  But I feel like spinning is for January in front of the wood stove watching the snow fall.  So, while I was sitting doing nothing I came up with this list for what feels natural depending on the time of year.

Summer

Planting

Farmer’s markets

Canning

Drying food

(Why on paper does summer look like the easiest season?  Holy smokes, it is a fast paced, never stopping season!)

Autumn

Harvesting

Drying

Canning

Weather proofing

Wine and Cider

Stock up on wood and kerosene

Stock  up on food staples

Harvest honey

Winter

Sewing

Hobbies

Spinning

Crochet/Knitting

Plan for next season’s garden

Make soap

Spring

Shearing animals

Planting

Can staples before kitchen gets too hot

Farm clean-up

Spring cleaning

Make goals for farm season

Start seeds indoors

Clean out coops and animal enclosures

Maple sugaring

Sew new sundresses and aprons

I can’t really do most of this because I don’t have a farm…yet.  Remember this is the adventures of an ex-city girl becoming a farmgirl.  I need to be getting out the new spiral notebook I bought to record garden happenings and seed selection and start plotting.

Chick Magnet

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The girls are looking fine.  We have only lost one of the infants (thus far and hopefully total!) and the girls are already showing vast personalities and trying to fly out of their plastic storage container.  They ended up back in Emily’s room because of the cold snap that we did not expect.  Two below zero is a smidge cold for little chickies.  Emily is not pleased but is being a good sport.  She is the only one with a cat proof room!  They were banished last night from her bedside, however, for being stinky, loud, and jumping out of the box.  When one of them escaped and pooped on her makeup box, that was the end of that.  They are now in the bathtub (in her bathroom).  New moms are no fun.

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The Polish girls, Aretha Franklin and Ginger Rogers are looking more and more like Billy Idol.  We all went through some funky stages as teenagers though.

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My angelic little Buff Orpingtons.  They are the smallest of the bunch and look like a quintessential Easter chick.

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This is one of three Cuckoo Marans.  They look like they have bald spots on their heads.  Like little old men running around!  The two Buff girls and the three Marans are named Gretel, Marta, Louisa, Brigitta, and Liesel.  Pop quiz!  Where are those names taken from?

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This is Nala, our little leopard Araucana.  The Araucanas are so cool looking!  (Yes, I know.  Nala was a lion, not a leopard.)

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I just kept calling this gorgeous Araucana, Falcon.  She looks just like a miniature wild bird.  Her new name though is Sophia.

We have one more yellow Araucana with a brown halo.  Emily advised me not to name her Angel as that is too predictable.  (Guess what I was going to name her?) We’ll see what her name becomes.  I asked Doug what he thought would be a good name.  He said it didn’t matter because he will never be able to tell them apart.  “You can’t tell them apart?!”  Maybe I have too much time on my hands.

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I am incredibly nervous about integrating them with the big chickies.  I don’t want any massacres or injuries.  I know that you sneak them in with means of a dog kennel and the chickens think that they were always there.  But, I think Daffodil will remember.  How do you integrate new chicks to the flock?

What the March Root Cellar Holds

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I suppose you might have thought me lazy when I first started canning for I really didn’t want to go through the whole trouble of water boiling the jars to seal the jars.  I just figured that if the top popped I was good to go, so any form of heat would probably be good.  Window sills seemed reasonable. Luckily, I was in the beginning stages of canning and really limited to pickles.  I filed them into their jar, filled half way with vinegar, half way with water (just like I do now), a sprig of dill, a teaspoon of salt, and some mustard seeds, celery seeds, and cayenne.  Then in the window they went!  We enjoyed them greatly.  I wasn’t making the amount I make now so they were gone in a matter of weeks.  Same with tomatoes in their tablespoon of lemon juice and teaspoon of salt.  We thankfully ate them quickly.  I got really brave one year and made salsa.  With corn.  I asked a friend at the farmer’s market, who I knew canned, about what I might have done wrong.  She looked a bit horrified at me as I revealed how I canned.  And the yummy tomatoes and corn and spices I have sitting in the window.  They were ticking….oddly enough.  Literally, ticking like a time bomb.  She said hoarsely, “Get rid of it!”  I did.  I ran with the ticking thing to the trash and threw it in and said a prayer for the trash man!  I hoped it wouldn’t blow up until it got far away.

I can immodestly say now that I have perfected canning, the real canning, with a little sheepish horror in reminiscence for how I started!  So, last year I decided to can over three hundred items.  It was a homesteading goal.  Just to see if I could do it.  And I did.  I am doing a root cellar tally.  I did not really think about all I was canning, just that I needed to can.  So whatever Miller Farms had extra was in my kitchen.  So here’s how it looks come Spring time.

Peas were the earliest to be canned and promptly eaten…sadly.  So delicious.  The frozen not quite satisfying my craving.  It seemed like I had tons of peas, but had only four jars by the end of shelling.

I have one can of corn left.  Not bad, but not enough.  Corn won’t be here until July so I should can more corn this year.

Apparently we ain’t big on beets.  We like them alright but somehow I still have at least twenty quarts left plus all the pickled beets.  It is very beautiful in the root cellar with all the ruby colored jars.  Perhaps less this year?

Ditto with zucchini.  Seemed like a brilliant idea.  Lot of zucchini and zucchini and tomatoes to put into soups and minestrone.  I guess we didn’t feel much like minestrone and soup this year.

The green beans are half gone.  I like them better canned than fresh I think.  How weird.  Perhaps because my memory growing up is of canned vegetables so they taste like when I was a kid.  Only organic and home-canned.  Still put butter and salt on top.

The fruit cocktail didn’t last too long.  The apples did.  Apparently I did not bake as many apple pies as previously expected (I baked one).  However, we do not get more apples until this fall so there is time for apple crisps and cabbage and apples.  The cherries are holding out alright.

Tomato sauce is gone.  It is a staple.  I have eight jars of spaghetti sauce but those won’t stick around.  I am swimming in ketchup, barbecue sauce, chutney.  These should last until fall though when it is time to do it again.

No matter how many jars of diced tomatoes I put up every year, it is not enough.  I am down to one.

We ate pickles like they were going out of style last year.  I ran clean out, so I doubled my numbers.  They haven’t been touched.  Oh, if we could only predict cravings!  Too bad Emily didn’t crave pickles!

The dried beans are holding out.  I am almost out of honey.  I have plenty of wheat.  I have an entire bucket of beets in sand.  Really?  More beets?!

The carrots that I packed in damp sand last fall?  Awesome.  Crisp, delicious, perfect.

The potatoes?  Well, you read that story.  If I hadn’t escorted them to the compost bin, they may have climbed straight out the window.

I have one less squash than when I started.  Huh.  I should have canned it.  During the winter, I don’t feel like canning.  It feels too out of season.  Too comfortable in the house or something.  It must be at the peak of temperatures and misery.  I will can in the fall.  More of this, a whole lot less of that!

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Wine 200

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We bartered for a class each.  I would teach her beginning herbalism and she would teach me beginning wine.  She reminded me of my ballet teacher in college or my sixth grade teacher.  She kept snapping at me.  She said, “What do you smell?”  Then just as quickly, “YOU ARE TAKING TOO LONG!”  “Uh,” I replied with a squeak, “I smell…red.”

I then took a set of sommelier wine classes from a teacher that taught for a rather big wine school and now works for a winery in Napa.  Much better.  Among giggly, well traveled, interested people, I learned more, and more about how I learn.  We were to smell upwards of forty different wine glasses filled with everything from dirt to ammonia, from lemon to grass, and memorize scents.  Smelling the wine is a way of tasting it and a lot can be determined by the sniff.  One can tell if oxygen got in (vinegar).  How the wine maker prepared it.  Whether he chose Sur Lis (placed on yeast to sit and create a creamy taste), more tannins (that pucker taste) means longer with the skins,  and what kind of oak was used.  Whether it grew in limestone or in a rural area.

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In a comfortable atmosphere I breathed in deeply from the glass of wine and closed my eyes.  I could smell cinnamon, and figs, currents, and sunshine….touch of vanilla.  I smell sunny days and atmospheres, like France, and a later harvest.  It is not right or wrong.  I am not going to be a sommelier for a living.  I can smell Autumn in Tuscany along with fruits and spices and Slovenian oak and not get scoffed at.  It so increases my enjoyment of the wine, isn’t that what wine is for?

Choosing a wine for food can be daunting.  But it is simple.  Think of common tastes.

A creamy sauce might want cream from the oak of Chardonnay balanced with its tropical fruit to cut the richness.

However Chardonnay will make a salad taste metallic, better to drink a crisp Pinot Grigio to bring out the freshness.

One wouldn’t want to mix a bold, knock your socks off, Tempranillo with say….a light broth because you would lose the taste of the broth!  Better to mix it with a flavorful marinara sauce or barbecue.

On the same note, one wouldn’t want to drink a Moscato, in all its sweet glory, with a big bowl of stew because you would lose the wine.  It would taste like sweet water.

So choosing wines that are the same “strength” as your dish helps balance the flavors.

Those that prefer red wine but are drinking a “white” dish could opt for a Pinot Noir.  It is more subtle than Cabs and has lovely earth and cherry flavors that work well with nearly everything including spicy foods.

Ideas:

Oyster mushrooms with butter and Parmesan over linguine and Chardonnay

Mushrooms in a thick sauce with seafood and tomatoes loves Nebbiolo

Dessert loves Champagne

Chef salad and Pinot Grigio

Potato Cheese soup with Chives and a red blend

Flourless dark chocolate cake…not too sweet…with Moscato

Tomato soup and Merlot

Spicy mole sauce over trout and Pinot Noir

Fruit Salad and Sauvignon Blanc

Root vegetable stew and Cabernet Sauvignon

In the end….drink what you love!

Toast to life!  Cheers!

Click here too read Wine 101.

Ready..Set..Chicks!

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I carried the box of babies, chirping up a storm, out the back door to the garage.  Apparently eleven chickens and a red light were a bit too much in the nursery for a new mom so Emily banished them to the garage!  So out we traipsed to the garage where the set up and Aretha and Ginger had been moved.  The noise raised the attention of Daffodil the grown chicken.  She pulled up tall and started attacking my boot.  Seems one of the babies was talking smack.  Safely in the garage, I dipped each tiny beak into the water and let them have a drink.  They settled in immediately.  The sheer horror and confusion on Aretha’s face was more than amusing as she was ten days old when the chicks came and had clearly made this her domain.  While Ginger hid in the corner, Aretha pecked at their little toes and ran right over the top of them.  I held my breath and tried to calm her but I knew she just had to get used to the new infants.  Which she quickly did.  Lesson one: Don’t put chicks around the big chickies yet.

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Lesson two: Make sure you keep the red heat lamp on them.  A draft will kill such fragile babies.  Lift it a little each week as they grow to help them get used to the outside temperature but if they are huddled beneath it, lower it again.

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Lesson 3: Some will die, it is inevitable.  They are taken immediately from the shell and placed in boxes and shipped all over the country.  It is a hard beginning to life.  The strongest survive.  I came in the other morning to check on the little fluffs and saw one laying down.  They do sleep a lot, sometimes with their little faces in the shavings.  They look dead, but then jump up in a surprise manner to let you know they were just kidding.  This one looked flat, deflated.  Her sisters ran over her and she didn’t budge.  I gently lifted her little body out of the box.  One Buff Orpington less.

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Lesson 4: This is where being a mommy comes in.  Check bottoms regularly.  If they get plugged up with poo, just take a hold of the dried mess and pull quick, like a bandaid.  It will free up the space so they don’t get stopped up.

Lesson 5: Feed organic chick feed, specific to new chickies.  You do not need the antibiotics and fillers that are in conventional.  It doesn’t cost a whole lot more and you know they are getting good nutrition.

Lesson 6: I used a small saucer for water because the chickens were so small but with eleven it sure emptied out quick and there would be a little yellow chick sitting sadly in the middle of the empty saucer.  I couldn’t seem to find the little automatic waterer I had for babies so I went to the feed store and bought a new one for five dollars.  I filled the water reserve and placed it in their box.  They danced around with joy and drank around the miniature water trough.  Make sure you check it a few times a day.  These kids love to scratch and will pile shavings and poo right into the water….often.  As I walked out of the garage, there was the old waterer.  In the chicken yard.  Who put that there?!

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Lesson 7:  Give kisses daily.  Hold them and introduce yourself so you will have a good shot at having friendly chickens like Peep, who you have to be careful not to trip over because she stops right in front of your feet to be pet!

Food, water, kisses…what more could a baby want?

Catching Time…unplugging

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I want to feel satisfied as I fall into bed exhausted.  Complete in what I do.  Comforted in the thought that homesteading improves my lifestyle and mood, that I stay healthy, contribute to the health of animals, grow glorious food for my loved ones, prepare for accidents or Mother Nature or the Zombie Apocalypse, according to my dear friend, Erik, but also live a good life.  I want to lessen my footprint on this fine earth and live fully.  Busyness sneaks up.  Its eager eye on making me feel tired and blue instead of satiated.  It robs me of time to make gourmet dinners and practice all the skills I am learning.  Here I have learned all these much desired skills this winter with scarcely a moment to practice or put into place.

This winter I have learned to make soap, spin (somewhat…I am getting there), knit (crooked albeit), and play the fiddle.  I have designed two new businesses.  I have learned how to keep chickens in the past year and will learn how to keep bees this year.  I will intern with my friend in her greenhouse.  I have my shop in town.  I will be a friend, mom, wife, lover, grandma, and farmer/homesteader extraordinaire…..tomorrow.  Because busyness makes it tomorrow far too quickly.

So, I look around in vain trying to find the cause of my minutes flitting away.  I still wanted to take a cheese class!  I still want to go to college.  I still want to do farmer’s markets with Emily, Maryjane, Nancy, and Faleena.  What is taking so much time?  Granted I do hand wash laundry, try to do things slow, but something else is stealing in the shadows.

Then a revelation!  Lo and behold the thief comes to light.  Do I seriously need to check my email twenty-five times a day?  Check my blog to see if it is still there?  See what’s happening on Facebook?  Would it wait until the next morning?  Could I properly homestead, complete tasks that I desire to do, and have time for a chapter of my book and a glass of wine under the huge Elm tree if I didn’t continually stalk the internet?  What kind of off-gridder wannabe am I?  I thought I had outsmarted technology and all its glitz by not watching television (save for The Voice and So You Can Think You Can Dance…I don’t think it’s too late for me!), but then the internet, in all its Siren glory, tricked me out of a few good moments on the land.

I will turn its face to the wall, turn it off if I must, but I will only view this box into the world once a day…..maybe twice.  And find magic hours to read how to keep goats, play with the baby chicks, plant potatoes, treat animals, teach herbs to children in the inner city, learn to knit straight and spin fabulous yarn and breathe outdoors on this quaint little mini-farm.  And play with Maryjane.  Time found.

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Lost Hobbies…what are yours?

Our living room with Sister Mary Francis

What was your hobby when you were a kid? What did you want to be when you grew up? What is something you are really good at? Your lost art?

When the kids started being gone more and I had to figure out what to do if I weren’t bossing people around and working, I started thinking of all the things I loved to do before I had kids.  I loved to dance (reopened my dance company), I loved to write (I am definitely writing more!), and I loved to paint.  So, a few years ago I gathered up supplies and started painting again.  How different my paintings are now then when I was in high school!  Landscapes and still lifes, fashion design and drawings of cats made way for paintings of farms and farm animals, of praying nuns and villages.  Looking at a painting, one can see the artist’s soul, their utmost desires and needs, their joys and sadness, their inspirations.

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When we moved last March, everything was put up and I haven’t done many paintings of late.  How easy it is for us to get lost in our world of working, errands, play, children, spouses, to-do lists and lose the essence of our expression.

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My paintings will be shown at the coffee shop in Elizabeth next month.  I would love to have some new paintings out to show.  One can tell that I am not putting as much energy into painting as I could as I sell roughly one painting a year.  I can’t do art shows near our town because everyone only knows me as the herbalist.  Last year I did my first art show since school.  I kid you not, every single person came up and said, “Where are your tinctures?”  “Do you have any Allergy medicine?”  “No?  How about Stress and Blues?”  “Oh, who’s the artist?”  I would send everyone to the shop.  Doug had a stellar day; I did nothing!  Then things got busy and the paints got put up.

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People are often intrigued by the paintings of the nuns.  Baffled and interested at the same time.  I paint nuns because I had every intention of becoming one.  After watching Haley Mills in “Trouble with Angels” I decided that is what I wanted to be.  I already made my way by myself to mass often.  I loved the peace and serenity one could find in prayer and the beauty of the Catholic church simply amplified that.  I love helping people and it just all seemed to be a good fit.  Apparently being pregnant is frowned upon when becoming a nun, however!  And of course I realized my true path in life is as a mother and wife.  I cannot imagine anything better.  But my desire for peace and tranquility, for serenity and prayer comes through that set of paintings.

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The farm animals, the New Mexican paintings all speak of what I really want.  I have more paintings in my mind, one of my son Andrew, Maryjane needs to be immortalized in acrylic (though I could never do her justice), a table of brightly colored chilies, a barn, a child praying…..no pastels, only vivid colors.

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What hobbies do you hope to start up again?

Farmgirl Accessory

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I knew my life had changed when I asked for a pocket knife.  Not even when I lived in seedy apartments in west Denver with its cacophony of gunshots each night did I desire a pocket knife.  The past two houses/gardens I just carried a kitchen knife around to open bags of soil, finding lost knives in the garden several months later.  And here at this mini-farm there is likely a kitchen knife in the garden somewhere.  But, when it seemed that the kitchen knife wasn’t cutting it (haha…cutting it!), I decided to ask for a pocket knife for Christmas.  But this is still me, people, so I couldn’t just ask for a utilitarian pocket knife, something that makes sense, or has lots of tools on it.  No, I wanted a turquoise pocket knife, small enough to fit in my apron pocket, with knives and a corkscrew (for impromptu bottles of wine I might come across in the orchard!).

Doug went on a wild goose chase looking for it for Christmas and I was ever so pleased to find it in my stocking. (I was a fairly good girl; I still get a stocking!)  A beautiful, hand made knife with inlaid turquoise, two blades, no corkscrew.  Oh well, I’ll just have to plan outings better and bring one along.  But the knife is truly beautiful.  Farmgirl ready.

I use it to cut the thick twine off of bales of hay, open twenty-five pound bags of organic chicken feed with dancing chickens at my feet, stems off of flowers that Doug brings me, impossible to open bags of whatever, and potting soil.  In the summer I cannot wait to cut a tomato off the vine, slice it with my turquoise pocket knife, savor its sweetness.  Perhaps we will have apples this year.  I can slice them on the spot and put the farmgirl knife back in its safe spot, my apron.

Things I want to “cut” out: Never ending to-do lists, worrying when I should be enjoying the present, hysteria over the kids growing up, and thinking like an adult.

My goals: See things as a child would, play and sing and be silly, and enjoy the people around me.  Spring is coming; time to cut out the winter blues!