Abuse, Alcoholism, Faith, Forgiveness, Gratitude, Healing, Religion, Spirituality

The Great Divider

Now it is time to forgive him and comfort him. Otherwise he may become so bitter and discouraged that he won’t be able to recover. Please show him now that you still do love him very much.” 2 Corinthians 2:7-8

The Great Divider, the Adversary, has been working his mischief in my life of late. Instead of being loving and forgiving, instead of swallowing my pride and reaching out to others with whom I have a bit of conflict, anger and bitterness have been welling up inside and a part of me is ready to cut all ties, to slam the proverbial door in the faces of those who have recently hurt me. And I know that is definitely NOT God’s plan.

I am speaking of the family conflicts that have arisen these past few months, conflicts that I have blogged about a few times. I’ve tried to keep mum about them as much as possible but my soul is hurting because, people I have trusted above all others, have lied about me, lied to me, and now accuse me of things that they should know better about me…even to questioning my faith in the Lord and my vocation as a minister. I know the Bible says the world will hate me because I am His but I don’t think that’s the motivation behind it.

Or is it?

I am suddenly maligned because I won’t take a side in this family conflict. I cannot. Even if I wasn’t a minister, family is extremely important to me and, the idea of turning my back on any family member, goes against everything I believe in. Yes, I know there are many who come from families where they’ve been abused and seriously mistreated–I can claim some of that myself, coming from an alcoholic home with a stepfather who wanted too much to do with me. So I understand why some would not want to associate with family if such an association only brings more pain. Finding the strength to walk away from that abuse and mistreatment takes courage. I know. I’ve been there. And I respect those feelings in anyone who has or is walking a similar path. For myself, I’ve come around full circle, finding forgiveness for those who have either abused me, or who saw the abuse and did nothing to try and stop it. Forgiveness does not wipe the slate clean, it does not justify the offense, the act, the unkind words, etc. Forgiveness, however, does cleanse the soul–the soul of the person who is finally willing to surrender and offer that forgiveness. Forgiveness takes away the resentment that has built upon our souls, resentment that opens the door for that Great Divider, Lucifer, and gives him free rein to wreak even more havoc in our lives. By choosing to forgive, we open the door to Jesus Christ and allow the healing of our broken and battered souls, minds, spirits and bodies to be complete. I cannot change what has happened in my past. Holding onto that resentment and anger only hurts me more; it doesn’t hurt the people who have hurt me. It doesn’t stab them with guilt so that they want to repent. In fact, holding onto that grudge, that resentment, only gives others a power over us, a power that is not of God’s way, a power that tears us down and makes us less than what we are. In short, by holding onto that resentment and anger, another person can claim a victory over us. As can the Adversary. Forgiveness gives us the Power to heal. It tells that Great Divider to “get thee behind me” in Jesus’ name.

There are countless references in the Bible about forgiveness. And each and every one of them admonishes us to forgive our brethren because, if we do not, our Father in heaven will not forgive us. And, no matter how much I may try to deny it, I am as much a sinner as the next soul. So I am choosing forgiveness.

And yet, there’s still that little voice, the voice of my wounded self, that still wants to snarl and sneer. I am still looking to lash out, to shout at the selfishness of spirit that keeps dividing us. And, as I do so, I am reminded of the entry I read today in my Al-Anon daily reader, Courage to Change: “Other people can be our mirrors, reflecting our better and worse qualities. They can help us to work through conflicts from the past that were never resolved. They can act as catalysts, activating parts of ourselves that need to rise to the surface so that we can attend to them.” What part of this situation is pointing that spotlight back on me?

I want to be liked by everyone. That’s the sin of pride. I have this unrealistic view of that utopian world, a world where everyone gets along and shares only the best of themselves. Would that this world existed, but by trying to force it to be so, I am in danger of doing more harm than good. And I can recognize that abused little girl inside of me that gets violently shaken whenever voices and tensions arise. I hate conflict. I avoid it to my own detriment because I still struggle with how to assert myself. Speaking my mind, speaking up for myself, was not encouraged growing up. And, really, I’m thinking that this is the conflict from my past that has never been resolved. For the first time, I asserted myself in this situation. I refused to allow myself to be bullied into taking a side. Because that’s what was done. I was given an ultimatum and I refused to give in to it. For the first time, I refused to be a nodding doll, holding my tongue about things that I didn’t agree with simply to keep the peace. I’m sure for some family members this has been akin to one of our resident mice suddenly developing fangs and claws to pounce on my cats rather than the other way around. No, I didn’t “pounce”. I asserted myself calmly. But the effect was the same. While I have never been guilty of trading secrets or bad-mouthing anyone behind their back, because I kept silent when others said things that didn’t sit right, I can certainly understand why others might believe I would. “Keeping silent” has hurt people I care about, has hurt me, and it is akin to lying, even if an untruth was never uttered. By keeping silent, I have given a false impression. I’m not sure if this last revelation is that “mirror” talked about in Courage to Change but it is certainly that catalyst activating a part of me that needs to be attended to. While I would wish it otherwise, and while I know I will never be comfortable with loud voices and angry confrontations, it is better to risk that anger, that disagreement, than deliver another shock to someone later on down the line. And maybe, just maybe, I can finally learn to value myself enough to communicate without harm.

May God bless you & keep you!

Creativity, Faith, Frugality, History, Minimalism, Religion

Can’t Call It a Holiday

Black Friday, that is. And many do refer to it as a holiday, of sorts. Somehow, camping outside of Walmart in frigid temps, snow, rain, or whatever else the elements are throwing at us this time of year, doesn’t seem like much of a holiday to me. Neither does fighting the hordes of humanity, swearing and cursing in an attempt to find a parking space, being flicked the bird when I do find it ahead of some other shopper, simply to find that “perfect” gift is “out of stock” and the store isn’t issuing rain checks…the “perfect” gift that will likely be returned the day after Christmas. But to each their own.

(Sorry, inner-cynic coming out…LOL!)

Of course, I used to pride myself in having all of my Christmas gifts purchased by Black Friday and to spend this day actually wrapping them and filling out Christmas cards. I’m not quite as efficient these days. And, as I tend to make most of my gifts now, instead of purchasing, and I tend to procrastinate, I’m still working on those gifts right up until the last possible moment. This year may be different though. While I don’t have any gifts completed to wrap today, having found a new passion in the form of painting, I may not be procrastinating quite so much this season. Rather, I plan to use the day to simply make out my Christmas list.

But I can’t help wondering how such a tradition got started. Yes, from my years of working/volunteering in living history museums, I know that the Christmas tree became popularized in 1848 by an engraving that was published of the Royal Family–Queen Victoria and Prince Albert–admiring a Christmas tree in their home. Prince Albert was German and the yew tree was already a tradition in his homeland. This started the trend of trimming a tree. And, shortly thereafter, as the world figuratively shrunk due to what were then modern methods of travel, and cultures blended, the tradition of gift giving became a regular thing during the Yuletide season. But, back in the 1840’s and 50’s, gift giving involved a few sweets, or small tokens, hung on those evergreen boughs. I can remember, too, reading the “Little House” series of books where Laura Ingalls Wilder writes about the gifts she and her sisters received in their stockings but, again, they were modest by today’s standards: a shiny tin cup, a penny, an orange. This was the 1870’s and 80’s. Santa was ho-ho-ho-ing across the skies on Christmas Eve by now. And has been doing so ever since. But why has this day, the Friday after Thanksgiving, become marked in red on every modern calendar as the quintessential day to bowl our fellow man over in an attempt to get the best deals? I know it’s a marketing ploy for retailers but it just seems like such a waste, such a vulgar display of materialism, greed and pride.

But, then, I tend to be a minimalist.

And, as a Christian, I would rather remember the real reason we celebrate this day. While there is no mention of a date for Christ’s birth in the Holy Bible, remembering that a Savior was born to save the world fills me with far more satisfaction and peace than snagging that marked-up 50″ plasma screen TV, at 20% off, before every other shopper does.

May God bless you & keep you!

History

Thanksgiving in 1830’s New England

Having been a volunteer at a local living history museum since 2011 has been the best on-going history class I’ve ever taken. While, in recent posts, I have lamented not being able to learn many of the antiquated skills that make the museum such a popular attraction–for both tourists and local folks alike, I cannot deny the value of those history lessons. I shared a condensed version of this in the dealership’s newsletter.

In 1838, the year that the museum roughly interprets, Thanksgiving was the big holiday. This was the time where, if you could, you went home for the holiday (note the singular here). The Christmas celebrations we enjoy today were unheard of. Christmas was, by the puritanical standards that still governed much of New England in the 1830’s, a papist celebration and considered idolatrous and unscriptural by Puritan fathers. That’s a tough one for most folks to wrap their mind around. But nowhere in the Bible does it give an actual date for Christ’s birth. Therefore, the Puritan religion, with its strict adherence to biblical truths, did not mark December 25th as anything out of the ordinary. The museum has many diaries and journals where the author’s entries mark this day as business as usual. And, while the Puritan religion had died out by 1838, the influence was still felt. The Christmas celebrations we enjoy today were enjoyed in the big cities, like New York or Philadelphia, but it would be close to another decade before they moved into this part of the country.

That being said, families gathered together in celebration of Thanksgiving. This was the start of our great nation, a symbol of the fellowship between our Native American neighbors and our Pilgrim forefathers. As President Abraham Lincoln would not officially mark the 3rd Thursday of November as Thanksgiving in the United States for a few decades later, the actual date for this celebration tended to vary as it was usually the mayor of a town that declared the holiday.

Much like today, housewives began their baking for this holiday weeks in advance. And, before anyone asks, because this is a time long before refrigeration, they stored their baked goods in the top dresser drawers of upstairs’ bedchambers…where they froze solid. Local dry goods’ stores would receive in rare treats, such as raisins and cinnamon, well in advance of the holiday. And, as raisins were not pitted in those days, young children would be set to helping by removing those pits, one raisin at a time. While we think of turkey as the main entree, duck, goose and other wild game were also common. Incidentally, venison would have been rare; New England of the 1830’s was mostly farmland, taking over much of the habitat, so that deer were few and far between; we have more forests today in New England than they did in 1838 due to clear cutting and the 11-14 cords of wood needed by each household just for cooking (isn’t that a kick in the head?). As so many would gather, those not seen for the better part of the year, many and myriad special dishes were set to table to enjoy together.

Interestingly, because so many loved ones would gather together in their Sunday best, a church service would lead off the holiday, and so many special entrees graced this feast, celebrating weddings was also a common practice at Thanksgiving. Housewives would simply add a few extra entrees and a special cake for the bride and groom.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t anticipate any weddings today. And, as a pescetarian, I won’t be eating any turkey, but I always look forward to the wide array of my favorite vegetables: turnip, squash and green bean casserole, and a healthy slice of pumpkin pie.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone! May God bless you & keep you!

Animals, Faith, Homesteading

Goodbye, Alice Cooper…

Alice Cooper the Cat, that is; not the rock star. Yes, this is one of those blog entries again. I’m too shocked and angry and blubbery to really register how abysmally tired I am of making these kinds of posts.

I came home last night from the dealership and went about business as usual: feeding and watering the goats, chickens and ducks, and settling them into the barn for the evening. I finished up in the barn, came inside and opened a couple of cans of cat food. After scooping the food into their bowls, I turned around and noticed Alice was missing.

“Oh, no!” my heart screamed. Alice never misses a meal. I smothered the panic rising and tried to rationalize. He’s asleep upstairs and didn’t hear the can opening. It would be a first but it might be true. Or, as I strode to the bathroom door, he’s shut in the bathroom. I opened the door. No Alice. I gave a quick, cursory glance around the rabbit room, knowing that if he was in there, he’d have come running for dinner. I guess some part of me already knew but didn’t want to believe. Still rationalizing, I ran upstairs. Maybe I closed him in my office…even as I knew I hadn’t been in there since early morning and he’d been down to breakfast since then. He’d played with the rabbits later that morning, too. I remembered him chasing the blue feather on a stick, the cat toy I bought, I think, for Samantha and 8-Ball and that has entertained nearly every feline since.

When I got to the top of the stairs, something compelled me to go into Mom’s room and turn on the light. I went straight to the new bed she’d created out of a cardboard box; cats love boxes, love any hidey-bed they can find. I looked down and saw a fluffy, white tail. Even before I reached in to touch him, stone-cold and hard as a rock, I knew. I knew he was gone. Didn’t stop the major freak out that followed as I picked up my beautiful, blue-eyed baby boy and gave in to hysterics. I went racing downstairs with him. Mom came running.

“What’s wrong?”

“Alice!”

“Why? What’s wrong with Alice?”

“He’s dead!”

Poor Mom. I think she aged 20 years in the span of about 20 seconds. No sign of illness or injury. Happily running around with his litter mates, Emmylou and Ozzy, Mom Priscilla, and pals Whitney, Kirby (surrogate father), Rosco, Paz and Pearl right up until the end. Other than a couple of fleas–and we’re not “infested”, just overdue to pick up more flea prevention–he was fine as frog hairs. Or seemed to be. After I calmed down enough to talk without babbling, I called my best friend, Mary, who works at a vet hospital in the Midwest. Without actually seeing him, but based upon my description, it is likely he had some sort of congenital heart disease or defect, possibly something he was born with but wasn’t detected earlier in the year when he went in for neutering, shots, etc.

I am devastated. I lost my cool last night after I found him, railed at God, yelled, swore better than the best truck driver or sailor, raged. He was only 15 months’ old. And such a sweetheart. When he wanted attention, he planted himself at your feet, looked up, blue eyes squinting as he grinned up and purred loud enough to shake the floorboards–or almost. My last moments with him were in the rabbit room that morning, a brief playtime with the feather and a quick cuddle before I ran out the door to the food pantry.

I got Jeremiah 29:11 again yesterday, too. To paraphrase, it says that His plans are to give us a hope and a future. I’m not sure if I believe it now. I’m not sure it truly is a good future without Alice. I do know I was blessed for the 15 months that we shared on this earth. I just can’t wrap my mind around the why of it though. When they’re older, like Ariel, though it cut to the core, I knew it was coming, expected it. At 16 years of age, it was inevitable. But with Alice, well, I guess this is an example of that limited understanding of humans. I know when I signed on to this homesteading thing, when I signed on to rescue and care for as many unwanted and unfortunate animals as He gave me the means to do so, that heartache was a part of the deal. But I’m angry right now. That beautiful flame-point, double-pawed, blue-eyed sweetie was beloved of everyone in this household…and everyone who visited. I had more offers to give him a home–even from another best friend, whom I know would have cared for him as well, if not better, than I could…from the moment he was born. He was impossible not to love. There’s the blessing, that such a creature should grace my life at all. I’m about out of hope though. That’s 3 in as many weeks: Ariel on November 1st, Charity the Chicken was found decapitated a week later in the barnyard (owl hunt) and now Alice. I feel as though I’ve been clubbed to my knees. Though I try to hold onto my faith, wanting desperately to believe that I may one day see all those–human and humane–that I have lost, that’s lagging a bit, too. Awful thing for a minister to say but I’m lucky even to make a coherent post through the tears.

I love you, Alice Cooper Burbank…heaven must’ve needed another angel.

May God bless you & keep you!

PS I have pictures of him but they’re all on my cellphone. As soon as I figure out how to download them, I’ll post them. =O

Abuse, Alcoholism, Creativity, Gratitude, Healing, Writing

The Grateful Journal

“I will praise the Lord no matter what happens. I will constantly speak of His glories and grace. I will boast of all his kindness to me. Let all who are discouraged take heart. Let us praise the Lord together, and exalt His name.” Psalms 34:1-3

I’m not sure when I actually started keeping a grateful journal. Or where I learned about it in the first place. I do remember sharing with my therapist years’ ago that I had started one and she was enthused about it. But, while I would like to give credit where it is due, and use this moment to give thanks to that source, the best I can do is give thanks to the Source who led me to it. It has truly been a blessing in my life.

What is a grateful journal? Or thankful journal, as some may refer to it? It is a journal where you make a conscious effort everyday to write down a certain number of things that you are grateful for. Mine is a simple notebook of college-ruled paper; it doesn’t have to be fancy, just a place to record your entries. I typically keep mine on the nightstand by my bed and write down 5 things that I am grateful for from that day before I go to sleep. I remember when I started, I only wrote 3 things each night. Then one Lenten season, I upped it to 10; I’ve since settled on 5. The benefits of this exercise is that you start to look at your life a lot differently. Instead of your cup being half-empty, it is now half-full. I never realized how much I complained or entertained negative thoughts until I started this journal. And, if you battle depression as I often do, making an effort to count 5 blessings each day (or whatever the number), is a great way to lift yourself out of that depressed feeling. And talk about giving yourself a boost of confidence!

Don’t think you have enough for which to be grateful? I started listing family members, then friends, and pets. I even included those who have departed this earth, expressing gratitude for the time I did have with them. Once started, I began to see the times we shared, the lessons taught/learned, and even some of the myriad quirks they each possess, and suddenly, I had a treasure trove to account. And it doesn’t have to be a litany of every epiphany or Wow! moment. The mundane is just as good. I have several entries where I have expressed gratitude for popcorn. Sound silly? But I have popcorn to enjoy. That’s something to be grateful for. I have even expressed gratitude for some of the not-so-happy times in my life–like illnesses, injuries, heartaches. All of these have the potential to become opportunities for growth and understanding. It is all about perspective. And that slowly changes when you search daily for things to be thankful for.

As we approach this Thanksgiving season, I am going to share a few of the things I have in my journal:

2/5/2016 “I am grateful for the extra 4 hours of work this week”
3/2/2016 “I am grateful for strawberry banana almond butter smoothies”
3/6/2016 “I am grateful for the story I wrote today”
3/29/2016 “I am grateful for the trip to Maine to look forward to”
4/30/2016 “I am grateful they had the border collies at the CT Sheep & Wool Festival this year”
5/26/2016 “I am grateful for Farnoosh and Smart Exit Blueprint”
5/31/2016 “I am grateful Mom has this holiday with Shaun, Stefanie and the girls”
6/18/2016 “I am grateful for books”
6/19/2016 “I am grateful for healthy food”
7/2/2016 “I am grateful for the blueberry bush, rhubarb and cucumber plants I purchased yesterday”
7/4/2016 “I am grateful the blackberries are ripening”
8/28/2016 “I am grateful for the relaxing place that painting takes me to”
8/31/2016 “I am grateful for Smart Exit Blueprint”
9/3/2016 “I am grateful for the day spent at Uncle Ernie’s house”
9/3/2016 “I am grateful for the ride on the pontoon boat”
9/4/2016, 9/6/2016, 9/8/2016 “I am grateful for cool breezes” (must’ve been hot the week before…LOL!)
9/14/2016 “I am grateful for help trimming goat hooves”
10/8/2016 “I am grateful for the safe trip to and from Salem”
11/9/2016 “I am grateful for all future blessings”

Yes, you can do that. You can give thanks for the future and what it may bring. You can give thanks for anything. And, as you keep a grateful journal, you will give thanks for everything. And that puts a whole new spin on life.

May God bless you & keep you!

Gratitude, Writing, Yoga & Fitness

20 By November 20th – Revisited

Yup. I failed. Miserably.

I got on the scale a couple of weeks ago and found I had lost 6 lbs.; Friday morning, November 18th, I had gained the 6 lbs. back. I can certainly sympathize with someone like Oprah Winfrey or Kirstie Alley, both of whom fluctuate in the weight department like yo-yos. I feel their pain. It’s frustrating. But I’m also honest enough–in my case–that it was a lack of discipline and that ol’ bugger willpower that defeated me.

Yes, my cabinet shelves are now lined with chips and sweets and all the myriad no-nos that helped contribute to this now-officially middle-aged spread (I turned 50 yesterday). Yes, the candy bowls are usually filled at work, too. I’ve even risked serious injury to myself by popping the occasional Hershey’s caramel kiss. (Chocolate and IBS are not compatible…) And, no, I haven’t disciplined myself into creating a solid walking habit. So, extra fats, sugars, carbs and a lack of exercise. While I stay ever-faithful to my yoga, it doesn’t burn the calories like a good cardio routine would. And the need to resist temptation is one I need to respect as I keep sabotaging my own efforts.

All this being said, I’m not giving up. I’m simply taking responsibility for this failure and readjusting. They say only a true optimist would consider dieting during the holidays. I’ll take the compliment…and the challenge.

I’ve readjusted something else recently. I can no longer claim 3:30 woman; it’s more like 5:15 woman. Working nights it is nearly impossible to get to bed early enough to support such an early rising time. Burnout moved in fast and I started dragging my backside. When I found myself zoning out, staring at this computer screen for almost an hour without having written anything, and not remembering where I zoned out to in that hour, I realized it was time to make that adjustment. Sorry, Dolly, but some of us work a “day” job. (Chuckle)

So, how did I spend my 50th birthday? Besides lamenting my downfall? After an hour at church, which proved quite enjoyable as I sang with friends in the choir loft, I spent 8 1/2 hours on the computer working on homework that was due. It wasn’t exactly how I’d planned to spend my b-day but, while others may think it strange, I had a lot of laughs with the many family members and friends who posted birthday wishes on my Facebook page. Wandering down memory lane reminded me I have much to be thankful for. I also had my faithful sidekick, Pearl, glued to my lap, and myriad other felines–and Mom–popping in and out of the office. The latter came first with the painting she’d done for me and later, with a big bowl of popcorn, heavy on the parmesan cheese (and I wonder why I can’t shed pounds…lol!).

I’m looking forward to the next 50 years–well, give or take a few.

May God bless you & keep you!

aquaponics, Faith, gardening, Gratitude, Organic, permaculture, Politics, Religion, Spirituality

Squirrel Leaps

That’s what my mind feels like it is doing today–squirrel leaps. I have so much to consider right now. It’s time to take a deep breath and try to center myself.

Breathe. In. Breathe. Out.

Phew! There, that’s better.

Well, not really. My mind is still jumping from one avenue to the next. I’m thinking of making a nice long list of things that need to be done if I’m going to make this move. Especially since I don’t really know where I’m going yet geographically. (insert sheepish grin here) But it might give me a better sense of direction.

Or not.

I typically make lists and then forget about them. Or else scan the length and overwhelm myself.

Mom and I have been talking about this on and off all week, this whole relocation thing, as well as starting our own aquaponics’ farm. She likes the concept of it, seems to be fascinated by it almost as much as I am. And, of course, living with me, she keeps getting regular updates as I learn new things about it. As I consider my Mom’s gifted way with people, if we were to start a commercial scale aquaponics’ farm, Mom would be unstoppable where customer relations are concerned. She’s definitely a people person. She’s also very persuasive. Yes, Mr. I-just-drove-up-in-a-2017-Jaguar, you do want the 10 lbs. of spinach; 5 lbs. might not be enough to feed all of your guests.

Actually, doing the aquaponics thing right here in Connecticut isn’t a bad idea either. Having utilized the local food pantry in recent years, I know how hard they struggle to get the donations needed to feed so many individuals. Friends of Assisi Food Pantry in Danielson is only open Tuesdays and Fridays but there are often 25-30 recipients each day. If we take the conservative side of the range, this is 50 families per week X 4 weeks = 200 families. At least. And while The Pantry receives some produce, much of what they distribute is more of that packaged, processed crap. I’m not dissing The Pantry over it, nor the purity of hearts who opt to make the donations. I am grateful that so many care and are willing to help in whatever way they can. And the packaged, processed crap has a longer shelf life. I understand this is one of the reasons Mom invested in it growing up. But it doesn’t give the consumers of it a longer shelf life with it. And, no, I’m not going to go into one of my usual rants about the food industry but it does seem sad to me that it is the ones with lesser means who are forced to consume this agri-poison. When you’re receiving a measly government check the first of each month, whether it is welfare, unemployment, disability or social security, it is hard to stretch it for a full month. Again, I feel a sense of gratitude that our government has such provisions for our citizens but cost of living isn’t really factored into it. And it is worse with the SNAP program, or what was formerly food stamps. There was a man who used to visit The Pantry (he may still) who was so crippled up, his hands, fingers, all of his joints, severely twisted, one elbow perpetually frozen at a 90 degree angle. He used a walker. If I had to guess, he was in his late-50’s, early-60’s. Probably a forced early retirement. He was talking one day. He only qualified for $16 per month on the SNAP program. How the heck does anyone feed themselves on $16 a month? Especially if you’re only living in a rental where you likely can’t have a garden, outside of a few containers on the back steps. And, considering his crippled body, he likely wouldn’t have been able to tend it unless it was made up of raised beds. And most rentals won’t allow you to install something that’s even semi-permanent like that.

I am not a politician. I don’t know how to influence others into making certain decisions. I wouldn’t know where to begin to lobby for better, more humane provisions for the sick, the elderly, the infirm who cannot work 40+ hours a week to provide for themselves. Yes, there are the occasional lazy-bodies who do not truly want to work but, at the food pantry, they are far and few between. And, yes, I am of the mindset that it is better to help someone learn how to fish than to provide the fish. Again, I’m thinking of those who cannot. I’m also thinking of those who are working but their income simply isn’t enough to cover basic living expenses. Northeastern Connecticut has plenty of minimum wage and/or part-time jobs but few with full-time, competitive wages. I can’t force our government to up the cap or quota that determines a person’s eligibility but, with a commercial-sized aquaponics system, I could provide more produce for the local food pantries.

I am ruminating a bit with this because I’m trying to flesh it all out in my mind. But it is a worthy goal. And I am holding onto the faith that says if this is His will for me, then He will provide the means–both the financial and the mental/emotional support to keep going. Educational, too, as I may know what to do with the plants, but I have never put together or maintained an aquaponics system, so there will definitely be a learning curve involved. If these changes are signifying some doors being closed, then I am assured He is opening some new ones for me. I’m going to hold onto yesterday’s biblical passage from Jeremiah 29:11 that His plans are to give me “a future and a hope”; faith can move mountains. I’ve only got a few steep hills to climb.

May God bless you & keep you!

Abuse, Alcoholism, Faith, Gratitude, Healing, Homesteading, Religion, Spirituality

Trust Issues

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

This biblical quote has been given to me twice this week. First, it was part of the readings in church this past Sunday. Yesterday, another member of the Christian Mompreneur Network, quoted it to me after I posted a prayer request on their Facebook page. I don’t really need a third to tell me He’s trying to get my attention, that I need to learn how to trust that He is a loving God and Father. To trust, period.

Ironically, today’s post in my Al-Anon daily reader, Courage to Change, traveled along the same theme: “‘Let Go and Let God’ teaches us to release problems that trouble and confuse us because we are not able to solve them by ourselves.” But maybe it’s not so ironic. Because this is exactly what I need to keep hearing right now. That I am loved. That I have not been abandoned.

I am a chronic worrier. And only He knows how many years I’ve probably sheared off of my life by doing so. You’d think after years of stressing and worrying–and all of the myriad stress-related conditions that I’ve developed from it: Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Acid Reflux, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic Epstein-Barr, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder–that I would have gotten the memo decades ago. Granted, many of these maladies are also a result of a poor diet growing up. Mom has ever been the queen of packaged, processed junk food. But it is the combination of the two that really sets it all off. And, of course, it is a vicious cycle. The poorer the diet, the more stress on the body, and, what do many of us do when we’re stressed? We reach for the junk food.

Why do I worry so much? Because I am a control freak. Growing up, scary things were always happening in my home. Having a cold beer or two, or a glass of wine isn’t inherently bad, and I’m not a tee-totaler. However, the step-father kept going until he was raging drunk. From the age of 5 and up, he skulked about looking for any opportunity to get me alone so he could do things that were frightening and painful. We had pictures hung in odd places from a fist or a foot colliding with the wall. And, on more than one occasion, the police were at our door. I know that I have a choice now. And I choose to live without such a scary environment. Albeit, I do so by somewhat isolating myself from friendships, both new and old; I seem to have forgotten how to make those needed connections. But the scars run deep. And I am perpetually driven to find some worth in myself.

Actually, I’ve gotten better with the self-esteem thing. Around 12 years of age, the skulking thing stopped. For the most part. Albeit I still slept with a pocket knife under my pillow…just in case. The drinking raged on. And we all heard almost daily how stupid we were; how we couldn’t do anything right, etc. All of the little jabs that pepper an alcoholic’s speech. Yes, I understand it is a disease. And this is the disease talking. But, growing up hearing it, you start to believe. It didn’t matter that I was a straight-A student, that my name was often on the honor roll. I was also perpetually laughed at and picked on in school. And my first “crush” in high school? When he found out I liked him, told me he wouldn’t go out with anyone as ugly as me if I was the last girl on earth. By that point, I already believed myself “damaged goods”. I’m divorced twice. In more immediate times, I’ve had family members bad-mouthing me behind my back. I’ve allowed myself to be taken advantage of. People close to me do not follow through with things they’ve committed to–and I don’t always hold them accountable. And, most recently, I’ve lost a lifelong and close family member because I wouldn’t shut my doors and my heart to other family members with whom she was feuding. So, yes, the self-worth thing has been a long road to travel to a healthier self-image.

To be honest, today I am quite comfortable in my own skin. I’m too old to be a candidate for Miss Universe but I am confident I wouldn’t qualify as a blooper either. I don’t write any of this to be wearing my heart on my sleeve but merely to explain where some of this journey started, why trust is such an issue with me.

The biggest thing I have struggled with throughout all of my life is the belief that He is a loving God. Or, more appropriately, a loving Father. The condensed explanation of my life is that my biological father has never wanted anything to do with me, and my step-father wanted too much to do with me, so the concept of a loving Father in heaven has been tough to wrap my mind around. For other victims of abuse, this is quite common (I’ve had 20+ years of therapy). And, where I start to wane, is in the “waiting on the Lord”. I tend to be impatient. I know the best things in life are worth waiting for but the waiting makes me anxious. And I’m apt to sabotage my own efforts if the waiting goes on too long.

This is happening in my life now.

I left work on a Friday in 2008 with 30K in a 401K account to plunk down as a down-payment on a property in Maine. This is when the crash happened. I came back on Monday with only 3K available for that down-payment. I let it go. A year later, I was laid off from the corporate position. Though I would miss many of the friends I’d made in that position, I cheered as I drove out of the parking lot. The last few years there, I’d driven into work raging and miserable. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. As I began the long, arduous journey of unemployment, never suspecting how long and arduous it would be, I turned my focus back on my current property, determined to create a small homestead here. And it definitely has potential but I’m looking to spread my wings and fly; I’ve kept them clipped for way too long now. However, as the world spreads out before me, my lack of trust that He will provide, that everything will work out in better ways than I could ever imagine (i.e. step out in faith), keeps me worrying that when I finally do spread those wings, I’m liable to go splat on the pavement.

Family members and close friends parrot predestination platitudes about things being “meant to be”. While I believe in predestination in some areas, such as death and taxes, falling back on these platitudes keeps one perpetually in a victim mentality. Yes, “Let Go and Let God” but haven’t we all heard that He helps those who help themselves? That means we cannot have a lukewarm faith; we have to have an active faith. And I have to step out in that faith, flapping those wings like ain’t nobody’s business, trusting that I will be airborne, rather than a half-hearted rustling of those feathers that will surely result in that splat I live in fear of. Fear is the opposite of faith. And it keeps me grounded…and not in a good way.

As for wrapping my mind around the concept of a loving Father in heaven? While I may not have an earthly image to compare it to, the scared and scarred little girl often dreamed of what a loving father might look like. While he may have worn the faces of Pa Ingalls, John Walton Sr. or Mike Brady, I believe my Father in heaven is equal to all of these images…and more. My personal God will never leave me. My personal God will not abandon me.

It’s time to fly…

May God bless you & keep you!

“Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” – Anonymous

aquaponics, compost, ecosystems, Environment, gardening, Homesteading, Nature, Organic, vermicomposting, Zero Waste

Aquaponics 101…or Dreams of Fish, Flora and Fauna.

I am pumped.

Fueled.

Psyched.

I’ve been viewing some videos produced by a man named Murray Hallam, who hales from Australia, about Aquaponics. I’ve had an interest in this for some time but, for some strange reason, have not satisfied my curiosity about it…until last week when I decided to type “Aquaponics” in the Facebook search engine and came across his Facebook page. He provides a link to his website and a host of videos that provide a good introduction to this phenomena.

And, yes, phenomena would be the perfect terminology when one considers what this man–and others–are growing in such a system: potatoes, squash, cucumbers, papaya, and even bananas and mangoes! Who would’ve thought? As a Master Gardener, I am well-familiar with hydroponics, which uses a “raft” (a square of styrofoam with circles cut out with which to “plant” the plants) in a tub of water to grow greens, strawberries, and some herbs. But, because there are no fish involved–fish, which supply the much-needed nutrients each plant requires–there is a limit to what can be grown in hydroponics. From what I have been able to learn from these videos, hydroponics is designed for growing lots of a single crop, or a handful of crops in a rotational manner, similar to the big agribusiness farms out West. And, because it is designed for monoculture, nutrients must be added to keep the plants healthy. Oftentimes, especially in commercial operations where a large output is needed to stay afloat (no pun intended), synthetic fertilizers, plant feed, and even pesticides are added. They’re not needed with aquaponics. The only additive that Mr. Hallam added to his tanks was a bit of either compost tea or worm tea.

What is compost tea? It is very simple. You take a handful of composted waste from your compost bin, place it in a mesh bag, tie it off and steep it in a barrel of water–much like a giant bucket of tea. Then you pour that water into your tank (or, for those of more traditional garden means, you can pour this nutrient-rich “tea” into the soil around your plants). Worm tea is the run-off from a vermicomposting set up. Vermicomposting is using worms to digest kitchen waste. It is very easy to do. Get a square box, drill a small hole in the side towards the bottom and put a plug in it. Layer strips of newspaper (non-shiny…i.e. no glossy advertisements), and/or wood shavings in the bottom of the box (PS Box should be wooden or plastic, not cardboard as the worms may eat that, too, and it won’t hold up to all the moisture inside) and then add some worms. Red wigglers work best. Now start adding in all of your kitchen scraps: vegetable peelings and cores, eggshells, spent tea leaves and coffee grinds (minus the paper filters or actual tea bags) and those little guys will start eating it up. As they eat, they do what every other creature does after eating–they excrete. This pools up into the bottom of the box and this is the reason for the plugged hole. This worm excrement is the consistency of tea, a liquid black gold that has nothing to do with the petroleum industry and everything to do life. After about 2 weeks of steady feeding of these scraps, you should be able to harvest this “tea” by simply placing a bucket under that plugged hole and pulling out the plug. This, too, may be added directly to your soil as a natural means of fertilizing it. Also, for those of you in more northerly climates, you may also cover this worm bin with straw to help insulate it but there are companies out there that sell vermicomposting systems at a fairly low cost. They are designed to actually sit in your kitchen, being a fairly attractive apparatus, with a handy little spigot at the bottom for extracting the “tea”.

Anyway, I’ve veered a little off subject but that’s what happens when I get all fired up about something. My enthusiasm takes me away. And that’s what has happened with the viewing of these videos. Now that I have a better understanding of how it all works, I want to plunge right in and get started. But I may need a greenhouse for that as New England is rapidly approaching winter and the freezing temps that go along with it. And I have no desire to go ice fishing–even if it is a popular endeavor with many fishermen.

So how does it work? The system is comprised of multiple tubs, or basins. There are actually three types of grow “beds”. One is a raft system with the styrofoam “grid” (picture a square of styrofoam with 16-20 circles, about the size of the bottom of a styrofoam cup, cut into it in neat little rows). Another is called a media bed that has gravel or clay pellets and you plant directly into them. This is for more “permanent” plants like squash or corn, whereas the raft system is more for quick-growing plants like leafy greens and strawberries. The last is a wicking bed, which is used for growing root vegetables. It is similar to the media bed with its gravel but the plants are placed in a basket of gravel and then the basket is set inside a media bed (water and gravel). This keeps the roots from becoming too soggy and rotting. Some systems also have towers, which are basically PCB pipes with holes drilled in them for planting so that you can take advantage of vertical spacing…but you need a stronger pump for these. And, of course, you also have a tank or two of fish. Mr. Hallam recommends jade perch, tilapia, or carp as being the most hardy for these systems. In short, waste water from the fish is pumped up into the grow beds. The plants filter this waste water, extracting the nutrients from the fish waste, and then the filtered water goes back into the fish tank. In the media and wicking beds, the water is actually drained and then re-filled in a constant cycle, which is how the roots are kept from rotting; in the raft beds, you need a means of aerating it. (Not sure if the latter are also drained; still learning…)

What I liked best about this is that it is a perfect eco-system. Yes, you will get bugs–both beneficial and some not-so-beneficial. But, if your system is maintained properly, you’ll strike a good balance in keeping those harmful bugs to a minimum.

Yes, an aquaponics’ system does require energy to run. Mr. Hallam has a video about using solar. He had four batteries connected to 20 solar panels to power his Indy 23 system (he designs aquaponics’ systems). He also talks about using wood pulp/shavings/mulch in a pile that you keep moist–basically, green compost–and burying some geothermal coils in it. As the moistened mulch heats up, it heats the water in the coils and that keeps your plants at a nice, even temperature. So there are definitely alternatives and, with a little Yankee ingenuity (even if you’re not a Yank!), it may be easy enough to set something up at a reasonable cost. When one considers how much food can be grown in such a system, that certainly outweighs the cost of operation. You’re getting both vegetables and fish to eat, as the fish are also harvested regularly, and both are free of harmful chemicals. In one of his videos, Mr. Hallam, talks about feeding his fish naturally (i.e. no commercial fish feed), using some of the greens grown in his beds, vegetable waste, steel-cut oatmeal (dried oatmeal) and, occasionally, some finely-cut chicken. Fish, like chickens, eat just about anything. For fish, it simply has to be cut up a little smaller.

There is also a segment about the yield one of these systems can produce: 19.8 lbs. of Swiss chard from just 3 plants; 88 lbs. of tomatoes from 5 bushes; 22 lbs. of beets from 60 plants; 33 lbs. of lettuce from 30 plants; 6 lbs. of radishes from 60 plants. Those were some samples. It’s pretty impressive. And it’s food security at its best. In today’s market, with so many herbicides and pesticides killing our rivers and streams, animals, plant life, and human life, finding healthier ways to grow food is a worthy endeavor.

For more information, you may visit Mr. Hallam’s website at https://murrayhallam.com

May God bless you & keep you!

Creativity, Healing, Herbs, Homesteading, Minimalism, Nature

A “Tiny” Drool

I don’t remember his name. I do remember he was a professor at a college in Massachusetts and that he was looking for a slightly larger tiny house closer to his work. His current tiny house was approximately 124 square feet. That’s a bit too small for me; if I were to build a tiny house, it would be closer to 300 square feet. And the loft would be tall enough I could sit up straight without bumping my head. He couldn’t in his loft. I wasn’t drooling over his tiny house. I was drooling over what he’d built around it and the lifestyle he was leading with this first tiny house.

Nestled in the New Hampshire woods, this permaculture farm provided for all of his needs. He grew fruits and vegetables, raised chickens for eggs, and there were even a couple of pigs running around. Albeit, as a pescetarian, I would likely omit the pigs for anything other than pets but to each their own. I may not have a need to fill my freezer with ham or bacon but I can appreciate this low-impact lifestyle, this more sustainable and healthier way of living. As he was growing and raising his food, he knew exactly what was in it, how it was fed. That was worth the drool. He was entirely off the grid. That, too, was worth a drool. And what made me chuckle was the bowl bath he took outside each day. Now I have no aspirations to dance around sky-clad under a full moon or anything but, that he could get away with such, without being hauled into court somewhere for indecent exposure, is a measure of the freedom this man enjoyed. For someone who feels so totally oppressed living on a major interstate with the fish bowl effect, this was definitely something to drool over. I like my privacy. And this man had it in abundance.

Yeah. I am a bit of the hermit in the woods. Don’t get me wrong. I love people. But I also love my solitude. Quiet time for me is how I rejuvenate. Granted, my idea of “quiet” time typically involves the CD player cranking out some Within Temptation or Blackmore’s Night while I paint or draw–and I do plenty of that right here on Route 6. But I’m not surrounded by woods. I’m not walking out my door and hearing nothing but crickets chirping and bird song. I’ve got the perpetual hiss and rumble of traffic zooming by, the growl of a semi down-shifting as it passes through this little strip of residential properties. And, as I type this, I am realizing how much I’m growing to hate the noise most of all.

Yeah. I think that decision I lamented about a few posts’ back is already made. Yes, I can start with what I have right here. There’s land enough to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs, and I have done so in the past. This summer, we grew very little as I concentrated on building and outlining more raised beds. But it comes in fits and starts as I consider the filtering of carbon monoxide which undoubtedly contaminates everything I grow here. There’s also the continuous development of commercial land in this area. This strip of Route 6 is rapidly becoming a big box nightmare. So I procrastinate. I do so, too, because life here is still in financial limbo. I’ve been on mortgage assistance since 2013. While I am grateful that it saved my home and put me right-side up again on the mortgage payments, this is a loan. And it is a bit counter-intuitive in my quest for getting out of debt. But, without it, I’d likely lose even this noisy, little patch of land. So I take a step forward, then a couple backwards. A friend of mine called it projectoral thinking. It’s anticipation of the worst-case scenario. And, in doing so, I trigger the law of attraction and welcome in my worst nightmares–maybe. I’m also a cock-eyed optimist. But I can’t help wondering from time to time, if I throw all of my efforts into developing this property into the homestead of my dreams, that some hotshot developer is going to suddenly want to buy it for a strip mall. At this point in time, I’d likely let him. But, at present, I need to focus in on that decision and concentrate all of my energies on whatever path I eventually choose.

It’s time for a change. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find my own little woodsy oasis in the middle of nowhere where I can dance around naked under a full moon without scaring any neighbors–but only on Halloween.

May God bless you & keep you!