Life Lessons From the Garden

In four weeks from today we will be moving towards the mountains to our new homestead.  Oh, it doesn’t look much like a homestead.  It looks like a suburban style house from the 90’s on an unused acre of land with a workshop that is about to become a chicken coop.  Our neighbors near, our mortgage double, but if I close my eyes and push away the anxiety of moving and inspections and packing, and “see” the new property for what it will be, I am filled with optimism and strength.  A friendly small town.  Baby goats.  A thriving garden where there once was nothing.  A view of the sunset.  I haven’t seen the sunset in years, blocked in by trees and neighbors.

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Google Earth has not updated the view of our present house since we moved here so one can see the tired house, the empty planting rings, the barren yard, a car backed up in what is now my potato patch.  We have done miracles here in just two and a half years.  Everything in life can be transformed by a little love, research, and hard work.  Everything from a house and garden, a marriage, a friendship, to a new outlook and fresh perspective.  Yes, this house and garden represent so much in life and has taught me some valuable lessons.

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1.  Have faith in the future.

Moving here fresh from heartbreak and a mere eighteen months after we lost everything, this house was a blessing.  It represented new life, faith, a fresh start.  A house of our own- not rented.  Always have faith.  Looking back, one can easily see all the “coincidences,” friendships made, sheer luck, and universal pulls to get us where we are.  Even now, my house sold in one day, we found a house the same day, all is going smoothly thus far, the money showed up, the young military family in need of a nice home to raise their infant child precisely around the time of closing saw our house first….everything going on in the world around us is so much bigger and more controlled than we think.

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New, cheaper soil

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Doubled the price soil.

2.  Buy the best that you can afford.

I skimped this year.  I usually buy a particular kind of soil to start my straw bale/permaculture/quick beds of my own design, but it wasn’t there this year.  It seemed Miracle Grow (hello, Dow.) had taken over the shelves at the nearby stores.  So, I opted for cheaper bags of soil.  Lots of them.  It’s just soil, right?  Those beds look terrible.  I wasted hundreds of dollars.  If the seeds did germinate, they quickly died.  In everything you do, just do it right the first time.  Maybe I have always been a cheapskate, but that keeps biting me in my farmgirl derriere.

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3. Expect surprises.

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Being on this earth is such a blessing.  My goodness, to wake up every day and see the great sky, the warm sun rising, the birds singing, the plants surrounding us, to see the people we love, and to learn and experience this day- such a gift.  I love how Mother Nature gives sweet gifts, like wild sunflowers, and potatoes I didn’t plant, and hollyhocks.  Elderberries that aren’t typical here in Colorado.  Fresh rains in July, and cool breezes on a hot day, surprise trees, and places for wildlife to live.  Surprise friendships that become incredibly valuable, great jobs, and moments to help others.

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4.  Leave a legacy.

In all you do, try to leave things better than they were.  Whether that be cleaning up trash at the park, using less resources, offering a smile and compliment to a stranger or friend, or planting a tree, always try to serve.  I hope this pear tree grows wild and fast.  I hope the three month old baby moving in climbs its branches and loves it when he is older.  I hope the tree feeds many and brings joy to the beholder.  I may have paid for, planted, and tended to it, but it is not mine to benefit from.  It is a gift to the future.

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5.  Don’t run from your true self and purpose.

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In a blog post last year, when our shop was about to close, I questioned, “Am I nothing more than an herbalist?”  Well, of course I’m not just an herbalist.  I am a friend, a wife, and a mother, an animal lover, a nature admirer, and I have a few talents, but I am not just those things either.  I am me.  Individual.  Specially created, me.  What I was pondering when I uttered those words though, is if I could be something else, start a new career.  My table is filled with dozens and dozens of single and compound extracts beginning their brewing process.  I am at peace when I am gently clipping echinacea leaves and popping calendula heads into jars, and talking to the rose while I snip comfrey.  I am an herbalist.

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6. Learn to let go.

I am preparing so many new medicines because I am going to have to say goodbye.  I could try to transplant everything I have planted but I have learned that if a plant is thriving where it is, it doesn’t necessarily want to grow somewhere else.  I will take a few things but most will continue to live here, and I do hope thrive.  I will not be able to harvest my sweet corn, or Aztec blue corn, or popcorn, or pumpkins, or all the tomatoes, or so many other things I have carefully tended this summer.  It is hard to leave behind so much that we create, so much that we build, to start over.  But we don’t really start over, we just start anew with more experience, more lessons, more faith.

Journey To Our First Farm-A Love Story (Part 5)

Our landlord that owned the house was so sweet.  We were instantly drawn into long conversations every time we saw each other.  She wanted to come out and garden with me that first year.  She would come to the farmer’s market and visit with us that summer.  We loved so many of the same things.  Wine, food, farming, and she was interested in the herbal medicines.  I asked her jokingly one day when she was picking up some medicines if she needed a Love Potion Tincture.  She said matter-of-factly, “I am not sleeping with him, he’s an asshole.”  That was the first time we knew something might be amiss.  We had met her husband each time we met with her.  He was fairly quiet.  It had been his house until they got married and moved into hers in Parker.  When she announced that they were getting a divorce my first reaction was, “Uh oh.”  She got her house in Parker and he got to keep his house in Elizabeth.  The one we were living in.  He couldn’t afford the mortgage payments, so we were able to stay there.

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Meanwhile, Doug and I were busy patting ourselves on the back.  Congratulating ourselves on raising the most amazing children.  What was this teen thing everyone spoke of?  Geez, our kids were 17, 14, and 13.  Lovely children.  Polite, intelligent, gorgeous young people.  We were really something as parents.  We agreed we had such fantastic children because we homeschooled.  They had freedom.  We had interested them in the arts.  We filled the house with singing, musical instruments, and painting.  We drove them and all their neighborhood friends two to a seat to youth group every Wednesday in Parker.  We took them to church.  We raised them to be considerate and to be able to hold adult conversations and to be passionate and compassionate.  Pat. Pat.  Man, we were great.

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So one day we found ourselves standing in front of the house, arms linked, jaws open, contemplating whether it was proper to move out until the kids became themselves again.  We were shell shocked.  Never had we heard of anything like this before.  When folks have teenagers, they joke when they are past the stage.  They never really tell you what it feels like to be a parent to a teenager who has come into their own.  Not only did the kids start to rebel, but they all became rebellious at the same time, fueling each other.  An inferno within the walls of our supposed sanctuary.  It was terrifying.

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And they tried and did everything.  They knew all the police officers by name and not in a good way.  The court house was becoming a regular date on my calendar.  While we were doing markets every day, our house had become the neighborhood hangout.  Pot smoking, drinking, cussing, drag racing.  Our neighbors glared at us in the grocery store.  My mother called to tell me to take charge.  Short of tying them all up and keeping them in a closet for two years, I was unsure as to what I could possibly do.  I had already attempted bribing, begging, crying, ignoring, and every other reaction I could possibly come up with.

Emily disappeared for three days.  We thought she had been kidnapped and feared the worst.  Shyanne began to sneak out at night and go who knows where.  Andrew’s temper made a fierce appearance and he eventually moved in with his girlfriend for awhile.  We did not recognize these children.  Emily was helping herself to our money, a lot of it.  The kids had no desire to listen or be around us any longer.

One night Emily had a lot of food in her room.  Doug told her to take it out as we were beginning to see a mouse problem.  She squinted her eyes, gave him a glare, and did not remove it.  He threw it all away.  The next day we went to the farmer’s market.  When we returned (that is when we contemplated moving out) we were shocked and crushed by the result of three children’s tempers.  Eggs were broken in my shoes.  Antiques had been thrown off the second story deck.  Things were broken, thrown away, and I think I have blocked out the rest.  But the three little (used to be) angels looked at us with insidious smiles and said, “We didn’t do it.”

Oh, that was a time.  Even though we are past it now, it feels like a wound that will never fully heal.  A rejection and a stab that no one tells you about.  Five years off my life easy.  Doug’s beard half grey.

The landlord without his wife was becoming a problem.  He hated gardens. (He even sued us when we left for $15,000.  The garden a part of the damages listed.)  Turns out he hated cats.  He hated life.  And he certainly would not let us have chickens.  He was losing a battle to Hepatitis C.  He lost his job.  He needed us to pay him the rent two weeks early every month.  We did so for over a year which is probably what gave him the idea that we had money.  (The case was dropped by the way.)  We expected a foreclosure notice on the door any day.  We could not fathom how he could be paying his bills.

The house had bad vibes.  Haunted.  Whatever you want to call it.  We don’t usually mind the here and there spirit.  We live in exceptionally old towns.  It kind of comes with the territory.  But, this was evil.  I hated getting up in the middle of the night to use the restroom.  I flew there with my eyes closed.  I was terrified.

The house was quickly losing its charming and promise.  Bad memories, bad mojo, and a real possibility of being out on the street was staring us in the face.  The shop was doing great but at home, hell had broken loose.

Two years after we moved to the house, we needed to get out.  I could not find anywhere to rent though.  I was getting scared…but as fate would have it…

Funky Farmhouse Style

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I bought my first house when I was nineteen years old, new baby in tow.  I have always loved decorating and lovingly infused the new place with hand me down furnishings, trash finds, and funky antiques.  Lace curtains, wood floors, black and white tiled linoleum in the kitchen.  It was quaint, it was home.  After a few years of modeling, I got a little high falutin’.  I was tired of used items and old stuff.  I sold my house and walked away with a whopping 30,000 in profit.  I sold every single item in the house and moved to a nice townhome.  I headed to American Furniture Warehouse and walked around like I was the Queen of Sheba, irritated that no one would talk to a twenty-four year old with $30,000 to blow.  I spent nearly all of it on new furniture.  Which all fell apart or was ruined by three children under the age of four (Emily loved to put lipstick on everything!).  I can sure look back and get the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s but I try not to, because it was a lesson learned and what good is life if you learn nothing from it?

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Fast forward…ahem…a few years and we are in our rented house on 2/3 of an acre.  This house was built in 1920 and is just full of charm.  It is a cute, little ranch style farmhouse.  I painted it in colors that were warm and cozy to me.  The huge windows cast such fantastic light in the winter throughout the open living room and in the summer it is shadowed and cool.  I originally started painting it apricot, trying to create an adobe feel.  It actually made me start to cry!  It was so bright and little girl-like, I just stopped mid-wall and went and bought Cinnamon colored paint.  You can do that.  Don’t be afraid of bright colors.  Color infuses the spirit of the place with warmth. Doug and I have decorated this place with Craigslist finds, antiques that we understand will have to be reupholstered at some point so we don’t stress over drinking coffee on the couches, or the cats climbing up the back.  We filled it with items from our trips, or just trips to the thrift store.  Items that remind us of New Mexico and the vibrant spirit there.  Pick a place that you love…fill your home with things that remind you of it.

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Old photographs of grandmas, our wedding, our children, goofy pictures, pictures of Maryjane.  Only keep what you love.

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I rearranged the house and moved the art/sewing room and all its chaos to the living room.  I don’t care anymore about where things are supposed to be!  If you sew a lot more than you serve fancy dinners, maybe the dining room is where you can sew or maybe the dining room table should live on the porch all summer for al fresco meals.  There are no rules!

We infused the house with items that are funky and fun.  One Christmas Doug kept telling me that I am going to love, love, love my Christmas present.  I was so certain I was getting red high heels.  Much like this last Christmas I was ever so wrong.  I held my breath and opened the package and there was a stuffed moose head.  A fake one.  A stuffed animal to hang on the wall.  I sat there with my jaw open for awhile.  We named him Christmoose.  I adore him.  (And my girlfriend sent me some sexy red high heels from Montana!)  Pat and Rodney gave me the cute wine sign.  Doug got me a gift certificate to an antique store in the mountains one year.  One of my favorite gifts.  I was able to purchase something that I never would have for the price otherwise.  This fabulous old door has a different color paint on each side so is essentially reversible!

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I love this picture of the Rat Pack Andy so proudly bought me for my birthday one year.  Their sheer joy and laughter makes me smile too.

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This piece was out in the yard in a pile of debris when we moved in.  I salvaged it.  I love its folk art appeal.

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I collect wooden saints.  It is nice when under a lot of stress to simply light a candle in front of them and they can go on praying for me.

I fill the space with candles, oil lamps, and twinkly lights.  It all simply feels magical.  I took the bird feeders from the back yard and put them all around the front porch where I will see them more.  I hung my own paintings up.  I filled the house with cats and dogs….and chickens.  I fill it with friends, and board games, and wine.  Forget fancy furniture, this place speaks of home.