Autumn Challenge; Creating the Life You Want

Life is really beautiful, isn’t it?

Ever since I was a small child, I always had the innate sense that time here on this earth is limited. That each day is anew with experiences and exhilarating breath. I feel like I blink and my husband is kissing me goodnight again. These days go fast. Better be living in a way that brings about joy! How do we balance living in the present, moving towards a future that we dream of, and learning from the past?

Let’s start with the past. Okay, great- now let that go. Seriously, the past is filled with learning lessons and decisions that got you where you are now, of bittersweet memories of when the children were little and of people past, and traumatic experiences. Tip your hat at it, close the door on it when things pop up, and then look around you in the here and now. Breathe. Look up. There is simply no time to waste on it.

Present. No time like the present. Several times today, just look up. Look around. Smile. No matter what is going on. Gratitude can get you through anything. It can fortify the best days. Notice the details. There is a breeze kicking up. The mountains look bright against the deep blue sky and the horse across the street is running circles around his house- all muscle and brilliance- to wake his dad, who has apparently forgotten breakfast. I am writing- my favorite occupation and pastime- and, I am afraid, I made my coffee too weak. The kittens are running around the house. All these moments make up a life here. Seemingly minute details of everyday life, each decision we make, moves us towards a life well lived, and affects the future of the next generations. How do you want to live?

In my lowest moments I have often wondered what is the point? If we are just going to be struck down dead at any given time, what is the point of pursuing a new career, or completing a dream, or dreaming at all? We are painting a picture of the new world to come, of life for future generations, for- depending on your beliefs- our own future when we come back to try again.

Each one of us are given a set of lessons to learn here. Every circumstance and coincidence in your life is a means of learning and mastering the lesson. Every passion, every talent, every dream is there on purpose to move you towards and through the lesson and gives you an opportunity to paint a brighter world and future. We are always one step into the future. Already, everything I just wrote is in the past. Let us live moving forward.

I tend to get stuck in the status quo, what always has been done, how things have always been, and figure they are the way to be. But we change, things change, our dreams change, we must morph with it. Even if it doesn’t make sense, or if it doesn’t seem possible, if you have it in your heart, and it feels right to you, then it is good. If you lead with kindness, and lead with love, you cannot go wrong.

My last post prompted me to reanalyze how I am living my life. I do that often, particularly this time of year, as Autumn always seems a good time for contemplating. Ask yourselves the same questions and see where they take you:

  1. How do you feel physically? How do you feel mentally/emotionally? How do you feel spiritually?
  2. Does your work bring you joy? How does it serve others? How does it serve you? (It has to go both ways.)
  3. What are your dreams right now? What are your goals? If you could do anything and not fail, and had ample money to do it, what would you do for work? What would you do for play? What experiences do you want?
  4. What is heavy on your heart?
  5. What are you passionate about?

I tend to look at the past to govern my future, but the things that made me happy before do not do so now. The ways I have lived in the past do not serve me now. So, even if it is difficult, not socially acceptable, or risky, answering these questions helped me paint in my mind what I do want my life to look like. When you paint that in your mind, the universe goes straight to work painting it with you. (So, watch your thoughts and words!)

Using bullet words helps it all come together. Animals. Farming. Herbs. Writing. Health. Homesteading. Family. Vitality. Life. Kindness. In my life now, I don’t feel the need to be a professional herbalist in the ways that I have been. I don’t feel the need to do a lot of things I used to do. My job and life desires have changed, as I have.

Create a new mantra. I do this every year and it really helps me make decisions and move myself to where I want to be. “Never make a decision based on fear” was one year’s. I think my new one will be, “Lead with love and promote life.”

My daughter and I are now working as Doulas. (http://SacredHeartbeatDoulas.com) A new way to use my herbs and my expertise but very different from what I have been doing. I have a great desire to farm, and I can visualize my herb gardens, my vegetables gardens, the orchard, the wild land left untouched so the wild life have a place to be and the wild herbs can flourish, and the animals. But the animals are not going to be for meat and milk. We will rescue some furry farm kids and allow them a life of fun and ease and love. That feels tremendously right to us. I will eat plant based, because I am spiritually, emotionally, and physically healthier when I do. I will continue to write to inspire. My family is the most important aspect of my life. Everything else will be filed under, the past. All of that matches my new year’s mantra;

“Lead with love and promote life.”

What will your mantra be?

Your Only Job During the Holidays

The number one reason that folks feel depressed during the holidays is because they do not feel welcome, a part of a village, or loved as they are. There are habits that have been acceptable for a long time that we as parents and friends must change. If this is the season for kindness, than we must go beyond random acts of kindness to strangers and really be kind and absolutely loving to those around us.

From top left: my husband, Doug, my oldest granddaughter’s dad (and Emily’s ex), Bret, my son-in-law, Reed (Emily’s husband), my son, Andy, his girlfriend, Bree, my granddaugher, Maryjane, my daughter, Emily with Ayla, Bret’s brother, Bailey, me, Shyanne’s boyfriend, Jake, and in front is Shyanne. They are all apart of my family.

Now, this is important- Number One- no nagging. For god’s sake, we don’t really think that nagging will endear our children to us, do we? Your grown children make decisions every day- hard ones- and are becoming the people they are meant to be (whether they are eighteen or fifty-five!) and they need support, not “advice.” Once they head out that front door as a young person setting out into the world, their business is no longer yours. They are more likely to come to you for advice and friendship if you are not already badgering them. The way they raise their children is not your business either. They can homeschool, travel the world, be strict, have no rules, or send them to private school. Our only job is to show by example unconditional love. Unconditional love. That is what this world needs more of, especially around the holiday table.

Perhaps your daughter brings home a young man with a mohawk or her new girlfriend. Or your son brings home a woman your age, or someone of a different religion. Maybe your child quit college to your dismay and your daughter moved in with her best friend who has less-than-admirable habits. (None of that is your business.) Our job now is to be undeniably loving, welcoming, supporting, hugging, happy and accepting examples of love. That is what people need. Unconditional love.

I adore all of my kids’ friends. Many of them call me mama. Everyone knows that we can squeeze in more chairs. I will have plenty of food. Everyone is welcome at my table- mohawk or not. They also know they can call me to talk or if they need advice.

My mother used to say (following the advice of many parenting gurus) that she is not our friend, she is our mother. That is too bad, because she is still not my friend, sadly. Be friends with your kids, their friends, the neighbors down the street, the woman who just lost her husband, the coworker without family here, the people that Creator sends into your life. They are not being sent to you to be saved, they are being sent to you to be loved.

stock photo

Let’s make this holiday season a bright one for others by accepting them as they are, opening your home and table to them, offering respite from expectations, and offering unconditional love. See how that doesn’t just change your world and the world around you.

A Book Themed Birthday Party

When the children were growing up, we started our morning with two things, coffee and Martha Stewart. We loved her show when it took place in her house (and how I would love a set of DVD’s if they were ever made!), and then we watched the newer Martha Stewart Show. Me, Andy, Shyanne, and Emily piled up on the couch with our cups of coffee, absorbing everything the maven of domesticity had to teach us. Perhaps that is why my kids are such clever party planners, or perhaps it just comes natural to them. Yesterday, Emily threw a book themed birthday party for her daughter, Ayla’s, first birthday.

I made the girls matching dresses with books on the fabric. They were adorable at the party!

I cannot believe my granddaughter is already turning one! Oh, she is a darling little thing- spunky and all smiles. She was quite a hit at her own party as family and dear friends gathered around the local coffee shop (closed on Sundays) to celebrate. Here is a look at Emily’s brilliant birthday party plan. Kids get tons of plastic toys that will not be played with long, but books…now books are a great gift.

The menu was made to look like a library check out card.
Emily is a great cook and she spent the day before making miniature quiches and muffins. She also set out a parfait bar with yogurt, chia seed pudding, fruit, and granola. Doug and I picked up Einstein’s bagels and shmear on the way.
A drink station and food buffet makes it easy for everyone at the party to help themselves and let’s mama play with her children and visit with guests.

My daughter, Shyanne, is an amazing baker. I have shared with you her work before. I must say, she outdid herself this time. These cakes were not only gorgeous, but absolutely delicious. The double tiered cake was orange and vanilla and the other was a vegan chocolate that was so rich and so amazing. https://www.facebook.com/WickedlyDeliciousDesserts/

The baby loved all of her books and entertained everyone as she stood up and walked around and danced. It is always lovely to get together with friends and family. Emily took a simple kid’s birthday party and made it affordable, creative, and fun.

A Wedding in the Woods

On July 27th, a hundred-year-old lodge was decorated with pastel roses and succulents, lights, and pink table runners to celebrate a special union. There were photographs of the bride and groom as children and a few of the parents of the couple in their wedding splendor, in frames glued together to make centerpieces. The place was coming alive that early morning as the groom finished getting ready, the music was being tested, and the photographer came to capture our two big families coming together.

A village put on this wedding. Our long-time friend volunteered to DJ the music and another officiated the wedding. A dear friend donated all the dishware, my other daughter baked and decorated the cake, a friend made the carefully scripted signs for the wedding. Love from all corners of the world came together to bestow wishes of happiness and love to my daughter, Emily and her groom, Reed.

The warm sun was showering through the vanilla-scented Ponderosa pines. Family near and dear gathered along the wooden benches. The couple was quiet and sweet as they muttered their own vows to each other.

The celebration continued with dancing and visiting between families and friends.

The cake was beautiful and the spirit of love was present. A young deer curled up near the lodge to rest. The children danced and ran around the near forest.

On this cold, frosty day, it is lovely to go back to that warm Sunday afternoon. It seems my child was five, then eight, then suddenly twenty-two! Her daughter looks so much like her at this age. We are most grateful in our life for our family, for our children, for our grandchildren, for the partners our children have chosen. Emily and Reed had a lovely day and a beautiful wedding. Wishing them every happiness and so many decades of love and laughter!

Mr. and Mrs. Reed and Emily Thompson

Seeking the Simple Life and Penpals

The sun is rising, splaying pink and metallic colors across the mountains and along sides of structures. I am so thankful to be in the country. I watch the horse across the street from my office window run and jump, darting through trees, and landing in a swirl of dust near his food bowl as his owner comes out with hay.

Maryjane (my six year old granddaughter) had her first riding lesson. She at first did not want to go because she found that her cowgirl boots were too small. She perked up the minute she saw the horses and she fell in love with the bubbly, blond instructor, Miss Britney. These were great horses; Maryjane clutched one large horse in a hug and he did not budge. Maryjane easily learned how to guide the horse, as her little sister, Ayla, blew kisses to all of the horses. These are country girls.

At Grandpa’s house Saturday, we celebrated his 92nd birthday. He had to take off work to do so. He is forever at his drawing board, on the phone, or meeting with clients. He sipped his coffee as he told us stories of working on a dairy farm, milking eighty head, or helping the vets bring down the draft horses for treatment. He once rode round-up moving horses from Sterling to Estes Park, 146 miles. His stories about being a cowboy, the rodeo circuit, World War Two, working on the sugar beet farm for his uncle during the Depression, and working at a dairy come with a final relief that he moved to the city.

We are lucky to be modern farmers and homesteaders. I am able to romanticize it a bit. It doesn’t hold the same urgency of survival as it did in Grandpa’s time.

Doug and I chat in the car on the way home about our ideas and goals. We have done this before so we know what to expect and how to do things better this time. We want to live simply. So simply (and prepared enough) that if the power were to go out or a storm were to rage, we would be snug in our home with plenty of light, warmth, water, and food.

Simple enough that our electric bill stays lower than if we purchased solar. The clothes being cleaned with a washer plunger in the summer and dry flapping in the wind on the clothes line. Food chosen from rows of dirt or rows of canned goods. Meat from our own chickens or from our friends’ cows and pigs. We seek out and associate with other homesteaders/ranchers/farmers. We travel long distances to each others’ homes for dinner. Keep up on social media. Cheer each other on. Support each other.

One of my favorite old activities is to write and receive letters in the post. A moment to sit with a cup of tea and an old friend in prose and see what is going on in their world. Then with pretty stationary and pen, share our private life, thoughts, and ideas. Now that we are settled into our home and winter is upon us, if you would like to be pen-pals, please write me! I would love to correspond.

Mrs. Katie Sanders, 790 9th Street, Penrose, CO, 81240.

Cowgirls, Colonial Dresses, Apples, Tinctures, and the Family Farm

Emily is driving “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s” (Grammie’s) house this morning. We are taking my six year old granddaughter, Maryjane, to her first horseback riding lesson.

If you have been following me over the years, or if you know us, you know that Maryjane Rose came into this world a future rodeo queen. Or at least that is what she told us when she was two. She was upset when we moved to the city because there was no way she could fit a horse in our back yard. And she was overjoyed when we moved to the farm in August, her glimmers of horse-hope restored.

I struck up a conversation with the cute blond farmgirl who was cashiering at Tractor Supply and it turns out that she can give Maryjane lessons and that she lives a half a mile from me.

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I walked to the library yesterday. I spent the morning designing and sewing a long skirt for myself out of green and beige check. It is tied shut with four lace ribbons and the front has a high waist. I sewed on a lace hem. It looks a blend of Victorian and colonial- my style. It just needs a pinafore.

My eyes were tired and I wasn’t keen on jumping into housework. The air was a warm eighty degrees and I wanted to stretch my limbs, so off I went to walk the three quarters of a mile to pick up more books.

I passed an empty commercial building and in front were two large apple trees- all of the apples wasted, on the ground, and rotting. I made a mental note to come back next year and harvest them. I passed houses with trees with masses of untouched apples on them, now too late in the season to harvest.

I plan on planting plenty of apples and other fruit trees. It seems strange to me that I did not spend the summer harvesting, canning, or prepping for winter. That I am not exhausted, finishing up the farming chores, and looking forward to winter. I wear myself out daydreaming these days.

This time next year, I will be exhausted, because this beautiful plot of land will be teeming with vegetables, fruit and nut trees, and livestock. There will be no wasted space or apples on this land. This is our fourth homestead and we know what to expect and what to do better.

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I set up my jars of herbs that I had tinctured before we moved. Each medicinal herb carefully harvested and brewed. I had to order loose herbs for teas. Lord, have mercy, they are so expensive! I have been spoiled with my medicine gardens! Those will come next year as well. I signed up for a craft show and will take my humble medicines and books there to introduce myself to the area.

We did not expect to move. It came as a complete (and pleasant) surprise. One day we were sitting in a park in June with my students after visiting a medicinal herb farm and Doug and I wondered aloud how far Canon City was from his work in the Springs. Doug walked off and started talking to someone in the park who was from Penrose. Ten weeks later, our house is sold and we are living in Penrose. Funny how life works that way.

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A student brought me a chokecherry and gooseberry from her land to transplant as a gift. Aren’t plants the most fabulous gifts? I hope they thrive here. I know we will.

My beautiful family at our daughter’s wedding.

Bringing Back Sunday Dinner (and an easy dinner to prepare)

Norman Rockwell’s famous dinner party.

Sunday feels symbolic of family and spending time together. In old homesteading and farming memoirs I have read, the families go visitin’ after church, or family comes to see them every Sunday. A chicken or two inevitably gets plucked and the sound of children running around while the adults chat can be heard through pages of books and memories. I love the idea of bringing Sunday dinner back. (Dinner traditionally being lunch, whereas Supper is actually the later meal.)

My cousin had come from two hours north to visit me. She hadn’t seen our new farm yet and after much chattering and catching up, she spent night. As she sat on the couch sipping coffee, catching up on news, my husband drinking his and waiting for football to start, I texted my best friend, Tina, and invited her and her husband over. I had a chicken defrosted.

I had harvested some things before we moved out of our old house and into this one a few months ago, so the meat chickens were in the freezer, my homegrown potatoes and onions were in the pantry, and I had jars of green beans. A half stale loaf of homemade onion bread became stuffing and a bottle of local Pinot Noir was opened.

I drizzled olive oil in the bottom of a cast iron Dutch oven, and placed fingerling potatoes all over the bottom. They need a sprinkling of salt and pepper. I then used my fingers to rub the chicken with olive oil and gave it a good rub with New Mexican red chile and other spices. That went breast down into the pan on top of the potatoes. Cook the chicken with the lid off for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and replace lid. Total, the chicken will cook for 15 minutes per pound.

I let the chicken rest on a platter for 10 minutes, moved the potatoes to a bowl, heated up the green beans with butter, and made a quick gravy with cream and flour in the broth that was left at the bottom of the Dutch oven. The stuffing came out, the chicken was cut up, and everyone feasted. The chicken was tender and delicious, the stuffing crisp, the potatoes soft and the green beans reminiscent of summer.

Rusty, Tina, me, and Julie. Doug is taking the photo.

Nothing has to be difficult to prepare. The table settings simple. The conversation and connection is the important thing. Sunday dinner is a very nice tradition to bring back.

Moving Aunt Donna’s Garden (and how to create a cottage garden)

We climbed out of the truck at Aunt Donna’s house. My cousin and I fought back a few tears at the thought that she wasn’t here. Nor will she be again. Her gardens were so dry, but the snap dragons and the huge trees stayed true to Aunt Donna’s garden with color and life. We were there to pick up wood for my new wood stove.

My Great-Aunt Donna

Janet and I walked around the back yard reminiscing. The old swing that used to hold family laughing, rocking back and forth. The family gatherings on the porch.

My Andy and Emily on Aunt Donna’s swing at one of the many family get-togethers we had at her house.

The decades old rhubarb was gone. The apple tree looked the same but with no apples. A broken limb hung from its girth.

I went to the shed and found all of her tools still in place. I took a shovel and went to the Oregon Grape Root that I always gather this time of year from her house. The last time, most likely. The house will be sold soon after the estate sale.

I filled a small bucket of water. I pulled up some of the Echinacea and placed it in the water. I dug up a few Sumac tree starts that had scampered away from the large trees. “Come with me, kids,” I said to the silent plants, “we are moving to a new garden.”

My own land here isn’t ready to plant. There is no amended soil. Just limestone and clay as far as the eye can see. The previous owner put in a small strip of garden along the front of the house with a plant every few feet for curb appeal to help the house sell. You know me and inter-planting; no soil unused! I filled in some of the spaces.

It is very easy to transplant anywhere you live.

  1. Simply dig a hole.
  2. Water the hole.
  3. Let it drain.
  4. Sprinkle a little organic garden soil in the hole.
  5. Put plant in the hole.
  6. Cover with soil.
  7. Give a little more water.
  8. Talk to it and tell it how happy it will be here if it will grow!
Sumac and a stone from Aunt Donna’s garden.

I do this every time I plant a tree or transplant a plant or bush. To prevent weeds and to keep invasive plants in place, put cardboard around the plants and top it all off with wood chips or straw. Everything looks beautiful, there was no need to rototille everything, and one can fit a lot of plants in a seemingly small area. It is the secret to creating a sprawling, cottage garden.

Pinterest.

I will increase the size of the garden next year with the same technique and establish a walkway. A hundred medicinal herbs and more flowers and pleasing plants will join the garden. It won’t be Aunt Donna’s garden, but with any luck, her plants will thrive here and I will have a little piece of her spirit in my cottage garden.

Everything in its Season

I long to get this show on the road. To get this new farm set up! Get the rototiller! Get the goats! Get the fencing done! Let’s get planting!

But, alas, it is October 2nd. I can plant hopeful bulbs of dancing tulips and sunshine yellow daffodils that will surprise me with delight come spring. That is all.

The wood stove is coming next week and the goat shed is coming too and we are slowly getting fencing done. I can see it all! I can see the corn in rows interspersed with pumpkins zooming along the front yard on green tendrils and vines. I can see the vineyard I have always wanted stretching out to the western sky. I can see the bright red tomatoes, the crisp lettuces dancing in the cool breeze, the baby goats and sheep jumping around the pasture in the sunlight. My polar bear dog with a job, finally.

I can see myself moving the dutch oven to make room for the kettle for a cup of tea and checking the fire. I can hear the vibrant shaking of the pressure canners putting away summer’s gifts. Wiping my hands on my apron and taking my granddaughters outside to play. Watching the sun set behind the wild pasture with rabbits shooting to and fro and turkey vultures swaying gently on the breeze overhead.

This is our fourth farm. Our fourth homestead. The second home of our own since beginning homesteading. This one on land. In the country. Our own. My heart soars with gratitude and excitement to get this farm set up! But alas, it is October 2nd.

The dark smoke billowed densely and ferociously off the mountain sides. The smell of it all filled the air. The wildfire was scarcely contained and my heart broke for the animals and trees and the wildness being consumed. Death and ending before our eyes as we drove to our mini-vacation spot. Next spring, there on the mountain, life will unfold. Everything in its season.

The aspens and oaks danced in brilliant colors of gold and red, creating patchworks across the mountainsides. That specific shade of bold autumn blue sans clouds stretched above everything and the west was in its ultimate splendor.

Our youngest daughter, her husband, and their new baby joined us for a few days at a beautiful place. A private spot where one can hike to various hot spring pools nestled along the mountain. Walking along the path we stopped to eat hawthorn berries and wild plums. Deer wandered past the pools, a fawn catching up with her mother. Birds flitted from thick tree to tree and life buzzed all around. It is a clothing optional resort and the feeling of air on one’s skin while passing thickets of herbs and trees and the feeling of the water from warm waterfalls is grounding and restorative.

A crow cawed and flapped its wings loudly as it flew close by. The warmth of the water followed by the cool breeze was enlivening. Amongst plans of future and to-do’s and day-to-day life, it is good to rest and restore, to ground in a new place, to spend time with loved ones, and to look out over thickets of oaks and pines and into valleys. To pull a blanket closer around, sip coffee, and hear the earth speak, as breezes lightly blow fog up the road. Everything in its season.

Starting a Farm and Homestead (Pumpkin Hollow Farm adventures continue)

“And just like that, we are homesteading again!” Doug said as he walked into the house after work. Two pressure canners were sputtering on the stove, twelve quarts of homemade chicken broth within. The house smelled wonderful. I was in the process of making cheese. We ate tortellini en brodo alfresco while pointing out where we should put our Pumpkin Hollow Farm sign. Yes, just like that, we will be farming again too.

The first real homestead we had was gradual; first a garden, then chickens, then goats, we learned one thing at a time. The next thing we knew we were practically living off grid and cooking on a wood cook stove! We have learned a lot over the past decade. I waited to see if Doug wanted to homestead and farm. I didn’t want to just jump into it. After all, it is an expensive adventure to start and it is a lot of work. He keeps talking about breeds of goats, and wethered sheep, and plotting the grazing section and where to put our vineyard…we went and picked up fencing for goats and sheep. We’re in. Homesteading isn’t just a job or a lifestyle, it becomes a very part of you.

I couldn’t remember how much it cost to have farm animals (besides chickens), it has been four years since we have had goats and sheep (that is how long it has taken us to get back to the country). This blog holds, not only my memoir within it, but so much information that I constantly resort back to. I looked up “How Much Does it Cost to Have A Farm Animal” from the first year I started this blog. I was pleasantly surprised to see that prices have only increased about 20%. I did expect higher. We should still be well in our budget to feed some more furry kids that give milk and fiber.

I have been visiting local vineyards. Grapes grow very well here and I would love to start my own winery. Even if it is just for me and my friends to start. A lot of folks focus on one thing, maybe beef, or chickens, or vegetables. They aren’t all over the map like I am. I want to have a vineyard, use my own plants to dye my own fiber from my sheep, create beautiful crocheted and sewn pieces to sell, have a huge pumpkin patch, a large garden, have milking goats, and still leave land to be wild and a safe place for bunnies. (Gandalf loves bunnies. They are as delicious as the chickens, apparently.) I love to have variety. That way, I always have what we need and my creative expressions can change as well. I am not going to get burnt out having sheep if I only have two!

When plotting your homestead, first write out what you would like. Garden? Chickens? Ducks? Remember that poultry will consume everything in their path, so they have to be separate from the garden. Goats? They will eat trees down to nothing so the orchard (did you want an orchard?) has to be fenced away from the cute ruminants. Do you have a niche you want to focus on? Don’t think of money while you are writing down your list. What do you want to do? Then draw out your land (even if it is a quarter acre or in the city) and sketch in where you will put everything. Decide on priorities based on money and time to get things started.

Then note where you might make extra money from your homesteading adventures but always have a back up plan. That is the most valuable lesson we learned over the past ten years. Pumpkin Hollow Farm continues on! Our family is excited.

Where are you at in your homesteading adventures? My granddaughter, Maryjane, has loved our farms and has made so many memories. I want to have Grammie and Pa’s farm for her and her sister. So, it’s not all serious here. Homesteading and farming should be fun.