Permission to Let Go (a poem)

And then

All of a sudden

She found herself quite tired

So she sat down.

Why all the madness?

she thought to herself.

Do I do so much just to keep busy?

Do I do so much so I haven’t time to think?

What do I fear if I have time to think?

I might find peace.

Do I need to give myself permission to let it go?

Have I convinced myself that the only way is this way?

Is there more I have yet to discover because I keep looking back?

Keep walking back

Keep turning around and heading back

Do I keep looking ahead into the fog and muttering

what if?

There was nothing but time, of course

and a comfortable chair and a lovely steeping tea

a good book and a cat curled up on her lap.

There were pasts to leave behind and old memories and old habits and old

And there were futures and memories and friends and children and laughter

and everything that seemed so imperative just kind of drifted away

For she was quite tired, you see.

So she sat down to rest.  and the birds sang.  and the sun shone.  and life went on.

The No Farm School (what is next?)

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The third era.  The third year.  I have been thinking about this blog.  I started it because I love to write.  I have filled dozens and dozens of notebooks in my life of thoughts, ideas, rants, rejoices, to-do lists, plans, and prayers.  The blog is a more public journal but one I don’t mind sharing.  Farmgirl School was such a fitting name.  I was going through farming 101 in life and as I wrote it I learned so much with the encouragement and ideas from readers.

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A year ago this week we moved to what we thought would be our possible forever farm, but of course it was a detour.  Sometimes life does that, teaches you lessons when you would rather it not.  I walked away from my greatest gift.  I am a good writer.  I am an excellent dancer.  But I AM an herbalist, a medicine keeper, a plant healer.  I possess the knowledge of my ancestors, things I knew that I didn’t know how I knew, passed down and that should be put to use.  More important than dancing or writing even.

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I love growing my own food, but I also love finding wild foods.  I loved having livestock, but the kitties are good too.  I love living simply.  I learned the hard way that one can really never be self sufficient and I spiraled back quickly into total dependence on my community and my friends.  I still continue to learn.

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A couple offered to carry a note on a house for us but then with nary a full text disappeared and we haven’t heard from them since!  Every step leading us back to where we are best suited.  In nature, living simply, with a community apothecary.

I considered not writing anymore since I do not have a farm per se.  But, I decided that even though I don’t have a farm, the real idea behind this blog was to write and record.  So, the name doesn’t fit (perhaps it will again in the future!) but I am still here writing.  Maybe it would be better suited as Grammie School, or Herbal School, or the like.  Who knows!

I suppose I will lose some readers because I am not canning, gardening, milking, or much else but making medicine right now, but I am still alive and following a very interesting journey.  Those of you that are sticking around, I’ll see you in the pages to come!  I think it is going to get interesting.

The Bad Day

My friends, I appreciate every single person that takes the time to read my words, to cheer us on, to cry with us, to talk to me outside of this blog, who cares about our family, who lets me write and allows me to have readers.  Thank you.

One of my problems, that I think might be cured now, is that I speak too soon.  I cannot keep a secret to save my life and I love to share news and get excited about possibilities and I speak too soon and send everyone on a wild goose chase of emotional rollercoasters and bottles of wine.

This seemed so promising but sometimes things are not as they seem.  At the last minute the whole house dream was over.  So many things I cannot discuss in order to respect others’ thoughts and ideas and this time it just didn’t work out.  Again.

Where are we supposed to be?  I wish I knew.  I will work on getting this shop open.  I will not have a nervous breakdown.  I will not even have a glass of wine.  I will just go get my book and go to bed.

The Discombobulated Farmer

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I can’t seem to wake up at dawn anymore.  I hear a rooster crowing from down the street.  I hear my goat, Isabelle, yelling for food at her new home two blocks away.  I try to push the pit out of my stomach.  The heaviness will not lift.  I turn over and fall into listless sleep.  I find myself falling asleep in the car, crying suddenly, and feeling hopeless.  I guess I am experiencing a bit of depression.  Without a to-do list I feel bored and useless.  For the first time in my life I do not have a job that helps people.  I do not have a job at all.  I wonder if I fell off the face of the earth would anyone notice.  I am not feeling suicidal, just struggling with who I am without a purpose, a to-do list, a goal, a dream, a busy life.

We used to dream of these days.  We would read and write and walk and be on a kind of vacation.  However I am struggling with my own identity and fate and rewriting the chapters has proven more difficult than I imagined.  To be fair, it hasn’t been that long.  Perhaps I will fall into a gentle wave of security.  The characters in the novel I am working on introduce themselves and create themselves in times of silence.

We need to finish up at the house that destroyed me.  Giving all of my possessions away has been an interesting venture.  Folks that were in the very same situations as ours gather replacements for things they lost to give homesteading another go.  Our goal with the farm and homesteading school was to encourage folks to be more self reliant and to try homesteading.  And in a twist of fate our final chapter was to give people what they needed to set up shop.

For years Doug and I have given things away.  Given gifts.  Given medicines.  Helped people out.  Helped wherever we were needed but now that the tables are turned, so to speak, I find that it was easier to give then to receive.   To receive a blessing is to be humbled and thankful.

Our friends have opened their home to us and our cats.  As cat people they know that giving away our felines would be the final knife to me.  To lose my cats is unthinkable.  I struggle with feeling awkward in their home, with being in the way, with being a nuisance.  Rodney and Pat took us on a trip.  Monte and Erik took us out to dinner.  Kat and Rod bought us lunch and helped us move.  Sara helped us move the cats.  Kim and her family came and cleaned out the dreaded refrigerator at the near empty house.  Thank you.  It is not easy to be in need.

At a particular low point we pulled into the library and to my surprise my girls happened to be there.  Those three smiles can brighten my day.  Friends out of nowhere showed up and invited us to an event.  We have been visiting.  Grandma broke her knee and is recovering well in a rehab.  Thompson had a heart attack and two strokes.  He, too, will be alright and it was nice to visit him.  We saw our son, Andy, and his girlfriend yesterday.  Our schedule is free to reconnect and visit with folks.  I must open my eyes and see the blessings before me.  To humbly accept.  To be grateful.  To embrace this new path into the unknown.  To free myself of this heaviness and enjoy the greatest blessing, LIFE.

Winds of Change

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The warm wind blew around me foretelling a light rain to come.  The mosquitos lessened and took cover as I pulled bindweed and thistle.  I don’t know why I would be weeding a garden that I cannot harvest from but I looked down the other day and noticed my nails were clean.  The lines in my hands were free of earth.  I had to get back into the garden.  I pulled weeds and counted what was growing.  Rows and rows of crops are waving proudly in the prairie soil.  Plants growing heartily in the prairie without much amendment and among weeds and voles.  My goodness, I think I can say I have a green thumb now.  How easy it will be in the city.  I begin to cry.  The cows are lowing loudly to capture the attention of the males across the road and the owls sweep grandly from tree to tree and the wind carries on it the sweet smell of first cut hay drying in the sun.  The country holds a place in my heart that cannot be tethered.  But it is not meant to be for us now.

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There are great opportunities in the city as well.  Wonderful folks to meet and wilder animals coming through from the mountains.  Its own beautiful scenery and friends to be found.  And seeds.  I can always plant seeds.  A message from a friend and I now understand.  It is sometimes hard to step off and go with the wind in a new direction but there is always a reason and the Creator knows where we are going in this sliver of time.  We just have to hold on to the tailwind and be on our way.

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Farmgirl School Part 3 (cottages, mountains, and Permaculture)

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Farmgirl School began while looking out the French doors onto a barren back yard in a small town.  Two dogs slept behind me as I set up the WordPress site.  What to name it?  It seemed perfect.  I needed a school!  Things that we were not taught growing up in the city were difficult to learn, we often did it the hard way, and the adventures were funny and informative to write about.  Our first garden there was short and compact.  We didn’t water enough.  By the third summer there we were quite a spectacle when folks drove down the main road in front of our house.  There we were among honey bees, watering the expansive pumpkin patches along with all the other vegetables that had taken over the yard.  The corn field in the driveway, the raised beds, the chicken in the front yard that wasn’t supposed to be there, the goats in the back yard.  The ducks playing in their pool.  It was quite a blissful place there in town.

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Last fall we moved to a homestead without heat, without any luxuries, and made our way chopping wood, hauling water, taking care of sheep, goats, and chickens.  We worked and toiled through hail and cold to put in a half an acre garden, and donned our accomplishments with peace and pride.  So the delusional insinuations and the suddenly suburb-same rent was a blessing, it turns out. (As these things always do.)  The most we lost was all of our money and a tiny piece of our sanity.  As I write a looming picture comes to view, a futuresque, Tim Burton style Holland appears all across the horizon, and amazingly close to this property, a windmill farm threatens my beautiful owls and the equilibrium of the occupants in this area.  Well, the lessons we learned here were great.  We realize that nature provides.  A willow tree can provide food at its base, water nearby, medicine in its branches, and shelter from storms.  And it turns out we didn’t need so much stuff!  The owners of this property will be gifted with the lovely wood stove we put in and a half an acre of food.  I hope it blesses them and that they will find happiness.

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And now we are off to Part 3 of Farmgirl school.  I felt suddenly saddened that I may not have anything else to write about, that our farming, homesteading, living sustainably, poetical outlet was finished.  This blog seems to be a bit of a life force for me.  I so look forward to waking with the sun to write about our adventures, to teach, to learn from readers, to ignite friendships around the world.  And I am so pleased to announce our next step of this adventure.

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Remember in January when the house was forty-five degrees and we could see our breath because the wood cook stove in the kitchen didn’t actually heat the house?  We escaped to the Indian Hot Springs that day in the mountains and soaked in the warm pool.  There were two girls there that just seemed like light filled spirits and I had to go tell them how lovely they were.  One of the ladies, Jillian, contacted me a few months later and signed up for the herbalism course.  Each week I see her and when it was apparent we had to leave here she had a brilliant idea that she and her husband, Chris, pitched to me and Doug over drinks on a patio of a historic hotel at the base of Pikes Peak.  A co-homestead.

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They close on a bed and breakfast in Manitou Springs in three weeks.  The beautiful old inn is a smiling Victorian in town with a wee cottage in back.  One room will be available through Air B&B on weekends.  They will inhabit the upstairs and most of the downstairs.  A large area with a classroom is being set up for our respective classes.  We can see a large blackboard with that week’s specials on it that Jillian and I lovingly prepare en masse once a week in the larger kitchen.  She is a baker and a great cook.  You all already know my obsessions with great food and cooking techniques.  Perhaps I will finish that Sommelier Certification.  We have great plans for feeding our families.  A large root cellar and pantry downstairs will hold our hundreds of preserved foods and root cellared items.  We will don our aprons and create sustenance for winter.

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The men are heading to a cobb making workshop Thursday to learn to build an outdoor kitchen, bread oven, and hobbit style chicken coop.  They are planning the infrastructure of the new urban farm.  Chris is planning a party where the local experts on Permaculture and sustainable gardening come and mingle and note where things might work well in the new garden to be.  The large u-shaped driveway will become a meandering, lush oasis of food and teaching.  We can glean knowledge from these folks that have done this before and then take our own ideas and create this garden complete with a greenhouse (and possibly a solar heated hot tub within!).  The three of us have taken Permaculture classes but need to just put it into place with our hands.  They have learned more than I and I am excited to have new teachers all around me.

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The cottage is three hundred square feet.  It is, um, quaint.  And enchanting, and challenging, and cozy.  A Snow White cottage in the middle of town surrounded by trees and lilacs.  It’s pink, and has shutters, and window boxes.  It is the playhouse I always wanted!

Half a block away is the main strip of shops and restaurants in this historic town that nestles at the base of our favorite mountain.  My great, great, great uncle was Zebulon Pike and my adventurous spirit comes from the lines of pioneers before me!

We will be warm this winter.  We will be visiting farmer’s markets, preserving food, getting honey bees, creating a Permaculture garden, ponds, and a greenhouse.  We’ll have an outdoor kitchen, a traditional horno, chickens, ducks, and herb gardens galore.  We will be co-homesteading, proving that it can work, sharing the load, and creating an oasis here that will inspire and sustain.  Their sweet daughter, Ahna, can enjoy the security and serenity of this place, and Maryjane will be with me two or three days a week where she will be doted on and taught by a whole new family of people.

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I changed the name of my herbal school to Sacred Owl School of Original Medicine and will teach classes there.  I’ll tell you more about that later.  We are brimming with ideas and excitement for this new venture.  Even though this place is incredibly breathtakingly beautiful, it seems to always be in a fog, always windy, colder than town, and not really our home after all.

I raise my coffee cup to you, here’s to new adventures on the journey ahead.  Thanks for reading and I can’t wait to see what we will all learn next in Farmgirl School!

Setting Yourself Free (Part 5- Letting Go and Dreaming New)

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I have written many times about how to manifest your dreams.  Write them down, set a goal list, talk about them, and watch them turn into reality!  It is a science.  It works.  What I haven’t written about is what happens when that dream comes true then gets taken away?  How do you restart?  How do you manifest a new existence when the circumstances are being laid out for you.

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Someone responded on my blog post Sunday that they hope I find what I am looking for.  That bothered me all day because I did find what I was looking for!  I am living on my homestead!  I had trouble putting the hand clothes washer for sale.  What if I need it?  Folks, I haven’t used it in two years!  BUT, what if I get my off grid homestead and don’t have a washer?!  Things to think about, people.  I put it up for sale anyway.  I know we have nesting instincts and want to be prepared and all, but I am starting to look around and realize I am prepared to have a dinner party for seventy-five people! I have three tables, cupboards of dishes, closets of clothes when we only wear a few outfits, and things we just do not use.

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We went walking in Castlewood Canyon yesterday.  A miraculously beautiful and peaceful place, it balms the soul and brings calm with its breathtaking features.

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Doug and I talked and then fell into silence.  We would bring up ideas, then fall into silence.  For an hour we walked, sat, dreamed, talked.  This homestead isn’t really what we wanted after all.  If we are going to live thirty feet from someone on a homestead they need to be likeminded folks.  We also talked about how the most devastating part is behind us.  The loss of our animals was difficult and the death of our dream was too.  But now as each thing leaves the house, as we sell off one more piece of furniture, fill one more bag for charity, sell one more pile of things, we are beginning to feel something we really have never felt, liberated.  We are daring to dream of another existence.

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Perhaps I can speak at herb conferences.  Perhaps we can be so light on possessions that it is nothing to pick up and head around the country writing about farms.  Or visiting friends.  We are free.  We need to get a backpack.

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For the next 18 months or so I am going to step back from my ego.  Seek out teachers for herbalism and Permaculture and whatever else the wide world thinks I ought to learn.  Guitar lessons, continue my wine classes, who knows?  Improve my art and maybe get my things in a gallery?  Or just enjoy homesteading with my co-homesteading compatriots.  I want to be more quiet, more helpful, more creative.  There are wine bars, and restaurants, and ice cream shops all down the strip near our new home that beckons to be tried out.  Each and every one.

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I will be with my husband.  My closest friend.  I could walk with him forever.  What do we need with all these possessions?

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A lot of folks right now have had major transitions or on the brink of them.  Maybe take a little time today to write down what you would like to do (or not do) in the next year.  Then gather up a bag for charity and let some things go.  Let us let ourselves go.

Journey to Our First Farm-A Love Story (Part 2)

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We loaded the children up the first week of December in 2009 to find adventure and a new life in New Mexico.  I had already scouted out a few rentals in charming adobes for us and we were going to stay a week near the plaza in Santa Fe.  A week of rejuvenation is just what we needed.

As the snow fell softly outside the window, we sat in front of the kiva with its fire burning brightly and made a plan.  For me it involved a farm, a new life as an herbalist, and happy children living and playing in the land that we love.  For Doug, it was an effort to keep from crying or withdrawing.  He was still reeling from his final straw at the office.  Should he put his two weeks notice in?  Are they going to fire him?  What are we going to do?  He stressed and fought within himself the entire trip.  We weren’t sure if we could make it solely as herbalists.

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We had just completed our first summer of farmer’s markets on the weekends just for fun.  We had a small line of products that we had made and that worked for our family.  We didn’t expect them to take off the way they did and be so accepted at the Parker and Lone Tree Farmer’s markets.  It gave us hope.  Still, we didn’t have a huge clientele. (Partially because we forgot to put our phone number on the labels that first year!)  We had fallen in love with the herbals though and wanted it to be more of our life.

It had began simply enough.  A book on natural beauty.  Which led to herbal gifts, a class held at the local nursery.  Which led to picking up a book there called 101 Herbs that Heal by Tammi Hartung.  Which led to, “What?! That heals what?”  And the mission was on to learn everything I could about herbs.  Doug followed along.  He enjoyed the farmer’s markets and that we were helping people.  He learned through me.  I got a certification as an herbalist to offer some credibility to customers the year before.  We had a new career.  But one that really only made $200 a month outside of markets.

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Then the door closed.  On New Mexico anyway.  We received an email stating that there was a rather long waiting list for herbalists to get into the markets.  I wasn’t unique there.  I tried then to get my dance company into their schools as I had done in Douglas County.  Someone had beat me to it.  Then the clincher.  No one would return my calls about the rentals.  Not a single one.  We loaded the kids back up and headed back to our home we were about to lose.

“How about Elizabeth?” Doug asked.

“Elizabeth?” I responded.  (That’s not even close to New Mexico.) “Why there?”

Doug had grown up going to and working at a summer camp in Elbert (not far from Elizabeth) and had fond memories of the whole area.  It was only thirty minutes from where we currently lived and secretly he had not wanted to move so far away.

I was thumbing through a newspaper, actually looking for a job, when I came across an advertisement for a house in Elizabeth.  Four bedrooms, 2 baths, on a quarter acre.  I called.

I said kind of snottily, “Is your house still for rent?  I have nine cats.”

“Oh good, I love cats.  Yes, when can you move in?”….

We’re All Mad Here

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The baby goats ran under my skirt hiding from the fiend.  His mouth was open, his eyes wild.  He had regressed five years.  My relaxed greyhound was half fed up, half wound up and the goats were then sorry they had spend so much time jumping on and off of him while he rested peacefully on his comfy lounge chair.  He lunged at them playfully (though slightly mad), putting their heads in his mouth and pouncing on their backs as if they were his same size.  They had acted like they wanted to play before but were now hiding under my dress expecting me to stop him.  I could not believe he was acting that way.  I put the babies in the garage and when I came out Bumble was chasing chickens.  He never chases chickens.  He guards them like a worthy protector from his lawn chair.  He is himself again, but really doesn’t want to go outside now if the babies are there.

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We made them their own pasture, which they get out of every day.  The neighbors come by regularly to tell me they put the babies back in the yard.  The goats were on the driveway….on the porch…running around the front yard.  I live on a major street.  Not good.

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I fight them to stay outside while I go in the house.  I am bruised and battered and tired.  And they are six weeks old.  Remember my fears about the bruiser animals?  I am wondering if I got in over my head.

I wonder how to balance farm life.  I feel a bit like Bumble right now.  I feel like running around screaming with my eyes all ablaze with insanity and then lying down on a lawn chair…for the next three months.

Next week when our life is calmer I will think…oh, I got this!  I can handle everything.  Right now, I can handle weeding, replanting, harvesting, canning, dehydrating, freezing, feeding baby goats, four markets a week, a shop, a house, and cooking, full knowing that in the winter I am so bored I need to take up cross country skiing or something to fill the time.  This week though holds its own craziness.  On top of all the other things, the house has to be cleaned and readied for the shop to move into the dining room.  I want to go Amish and give away all the extras.  My house is too full.  My shop has to be readied for our huge sale, everything cleaned, organized, and then emptied.  My shop closing leaves me at once relieved and heartbroken.

I am, however, constantly reminded that running it out of my house and doing markets is the smart move to make.  The neighbor came over to talk to Doug and Leo about our goats getting out and happened to mention his business.  It is just a few blocks from ours.  In the past three years, he never knew we were there and then in humorous fashion (I am being sarcastic) he asked, “Oh, an Apothecary?  Do you sell pot?  Hahahah.”  Hmm.

I will be in the back yard chasing chickens if you need me.