Closing the Loop

“Then the Lord planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and He placed there the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made various trees grow that were delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.” (Genesis 2:8-9)

I feel like I’m back where I belong–in an environmental science class and feeling that “fueled” feeling that grips me every time I am in such a class. Though a part of me is also feeling a little burnt out lately between school, commute and farm, and the same ol’ financial struggles, another part of me is contemplating going for my masters in environmental science…something to discuss with guidance counselors and financial advisers. It will be well worth it.

I’ve also been contemplating some changes to this blog. Nothing major, just a more stream-lined focus. I’ve been a little all over the place. What started out as just another homesteading blog, has really evolved into so much more, but it is truly a reflection of its author–it has Scatter Syndrome. Scatter Syndrome is what happens when you try to focus on too many things all at once and, consequently, accomplish little. So I’ve been sitting back and evaluating what is most important to me and where do I truly wish to focus that energy. Since my passion seems to be held with environmental issues, it seems a worthy start.

As for the passage of Scripture I opened with, we have eaten of the tree of knowledge. We should know better than the wasteful course we’ve been on. The natural world is a perfect, closed loop system. God/Source made it so that all things in nature balance. It is only when Mankind tries to manipulate nature, when we over-consume, when we add things that should not be in nature, that everything goes out of whack. And Gaia is letting us know with the increase of higher category hurricanes and tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and earthquakes. Yes, Mother Earth has means to right herself; these natural disasters are part of how she re-calibrates. The severity of these natural disasters should be clue enough that we’re over-taxing her beyond her limits.

The following link is to a YouTube video that was required viewing for my new class. It is definitely thought-provoking. I hope you enjoy it…may God bless you & keep you!

PS It is good to be back at the keyboard again…

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Taking Heart

“Be strong! Be courageous! Do not be afraid of them! For the Lord your God will be with you. He will neither fail or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Some days the alarm goes off and it’s all you can do to keep from shutting it off, rolling over and committing to spending the day in bed. Not because you’re ill or seriously sleep-deprived, but because some little guy with a pitchfork is sitting on your shoulder telling lies: You’re not good enough. You’re wasting your time. No matter how hard you work and strive to do otherwise, you will never succeed…or get ahead of the game.

You’re in this alone.

This last one doesn’t frighten me overmuch. I know I am not truly alone; God is always with me. Some days though, it is hard to remember this fact. Not because I don’t feel the Lord’s presence in my life but because, despite my faith, there is a part of me that caves under the onslaught of the adversary’s attack. I start to believe that maybe my life would be better if (fill in the blank). Yearnings escalate. I sink into despair. That little hamster running on the wheel that is my brain just turned into a T-Rex. Inwardly, there is a protest that, if I gave into it, would find me hiding under those covers.

I had just such an anxiety attack yesterday on the way to work. I wanted to turn right back around and head for home. Where it’s safe. It’s known. It’s familiar.

My work place is familiar. No real step out of the comfort zone there. But anxiety, depression, low self-esteem are many of the tools the adversary uses to trip us up. I disobeyed the wowzy wowzy woo woo voice and carried on. The day would begin with or without my presence.

But I’m glad I showed up.

Newly-acquainted friends from my church showed up with their children for our homeschool days and I got to chat, find out I’m not such an oddball after all with wanting to grow my food, raise honey bees or goats; they do all three. There’s a common interest in herbs, too. Rather than spend the day solo in the herb garden (though I fairly love it), I got to spend the day helping my supervisor and another co-worker create a new vegetable garden for our charter school kids to work on as a project. What a great blessing to be able to share gardening (and learn some gardening skills) with so many eager youngsters! Later in the day, a trio of lambs escaped. I got to help round them up and even carried one back to his/her Mama. Such joy! His/her bleating nearly broke my heart but the little kisses I planted upon his/her brow had every ounce of love in my heart being given. And the look on his Mama’s face as I drew near the sheep pen with her baby was classic. I pushed away the dark reminder that said lamb may one day become a roast or a pile of chops; today is when we need to be living. And, God willing, this one will escape such a fate. But that didn’t stop me from fantasizing about bringing the whole herd home with me where such a fate would never be theirs (yes, I have it bad). The rest of the afternoon was spent with my co-worker digging a new hot bed for early plant starts–a good skill to learn for a would-be homesteader.

All in all, it was a productive, happy day and one I would have missed if I had given in to those ol’ devils: anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and even panic that rode with me for much of the hour’s ride into work yesterday morning. I once read a book by author Susan Jeffers entitled, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”. That should be the battle cry for anyone whose ears are being filled with the adversaries lies. I know, oftentimes, it’s easier said than done but I am enough. I am good enough. My time is well-spent. I am a valuable asset. People do like me. And, through that hard work, one step at a time, I am succeeding. I am never alone. God is always with me. And He will never leave me.

Or you.

Invite Him into your life today; you won’t regret it. Take that Mr. Pitchfork.

May God bless you & keep you!

An Unexpected Gift

“There is a right time for everything: A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant; a time to harvest” (Ecclesiastes 3(1-2)

This is actually one of “those” posts again. The cycles of life and death are never more apparent than when working the earth, working close to the seasons, as one does as a farmer or homesteader. I have been eagerly anticipating the birth of a few ducklings as Dixie Duck has been setting some eggs over the last few weeks. She hatched one yesterday morning. I found the tiniest but most perfectly formed duckling lying on the floor outside of the nest. I wanted to weep. After all this time, with Dixie and I both worrying and waiting and, again, eagerly anticipating.

A stillborn.

It is surely one of those “Why?” questions I hope to ask God someday. I know I’m not supposed to question His wisdom, His plans. But seeing such a tiny life that never got the chance was heartbreaking. Moments later, I also said “Goodbye” to Connie, my New Hampshire Red hen. Truly, Connie was only 3 years old and should have been in the prime of her life. She snuggled down in the hay the night before last, tucked her head under her wing as always and simply went to sleep. I suppose I couldn’t have asked for a kinder end. But I wonder what sort of illness or injury might her stoicism been hiding for she exhibited no sign of either. And there were no signs of having skirmished with either a fellow chicken or even the hoof of a goat.

(Miss Connie is in the lower right corner of picture)

I’m going to hold in my heart that she went to care for the little one, Little Duckie, as I christened his/her remains, on his way to eternal rest. So little and cute, he/she needed someone to care for them. And Dixie, being the only female duck on the farm, elected to stay. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Of course, I also said “Goodbye” to a human acquaintance this week, too. A gentleman who used to greet people at church and also serve as an usher was found on March 21st on the floor of his home. He had suffered a coronary; his 86 (I think; give or take) year old father found him. And my heart goes out to him. I worked with Don at the dealership (the father, not the son); we also share the same parish. I can’t imagine the pain of losing one’s child, no matter how old (Stephen was in his early-60’s). To make matters worse, his mother recently broke her hip. My heart, my thoughts and my prayers go out to this family. When I see the loss and the struggles of others, I often wonder what I’m complaining about in my life.

And yet, there were two unexpected gifts during the memorial service for Stephen on Monday. First, the strength and apparent serenity displayed by his mother. Oh, I’m sure inside a storm was raging over the loss of this child she sheltered for 9 months in her womb, raised to be the fine gentlemen so many of us were blessed to know. But the joy on this woman’s face…it was easy to see that the eulogies given by both Father Ben and Father Elson were of great comfort to her. Again, I don’t know what was truly going on inside but, to be able to display such grace outwardly, when all of your world is crashing down around you, is a faith worth striving for.

And, yes, Father Elson. That was the other unexpected gift. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that Father Elson was transferred out of our parish back in November. I had been away from church for some weeks due to a conflict with my work schedule and came back with a shock to realize that Father Elson had left. I tried hard not to mind that Father Ben now stood on the altar. And, in truth, Father Ben is proving to be as much of a blessing as Father Elson. However, my heart broke just a little thinking I had never gotten the chance to say “Goodbye” to him and wish him well on his future endeavors. He gave so much to our parish, breathed so much life into it, that he will be forever missed. So it truly was a blessing to see him standing on the altar again, giving this eulogy. His first words were that he had loved Stephen. You could feel the warmth and gratitude such words meant to all of Stephen’s loved ones as it was apparent that he meant them. Though it was a sad occasion that brought him back to our parish for the day, it was good to see him, to talk with him and, yes, to wish him well as he journeys back to India today. Though he was just getting over the flu, his trademark smile still lit up the church and the altar. In finally saying, “Goodbye” in another way, I realized just how much I have grown to love this young man…as a friend, as a brother in Christ, as a priest and spiritual leader in our community. Father Elson is not the reserved and somewhat distant priest I remember from my childhood. He’s warm and welcoming and as down-to-earth as anyone could wish. Whatever parish that receives him in the future will be truly blessed, indeed. And I give thanks to our Father in Heaven for the many years we were graced with this man…and for the new chapter that is beginning with Father Ben. In all fairness, he seems cut from the same cloth.

May God bless you & keep you!

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Lenten Re-Cap

“The next evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene and Salome and Mary, the mother of James, went out and purchased embalming spices. Early the following morning, just at sunrise, they carried them out to the tomb. On the way they were discussing how they could ever roll aside the huge stone from the entrance. But when they arrived they looked up and saw that the stone–a very heavy one-was already moved away and the entrance was open! So they entered the tomb–and there on the right sat a young man clothed in white. The women were startled, but the angel said, Don’t be so surprised. Aren’t you looking for Jesus, the Nazarene, who was crucified? He isn’t here! He has come back to life! Look, that’s where his body was lying. Now go and give this message to his disciples including Peter.” (Mark 16:1-7)

I made a number of vows on Ash Wednesday (February 14th, Valentine’s Day–a serious celebration of love this year). One of them was that I would avoid social media. Amazingly, my blog posts have also been few and far between, though my blog was not targeted as “social media” when I made the vow. However, I can honestly say I did very well in keeping this vow. I peeked at one message from an aunt of mine as it was obvious it was an actual message rather than a joke or inspirational then politely reminded her that I had given up social media for Lent and she would have to contact me via phone or come visit until Easter. Otherwise, I stayed away from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. What blog posts I did create automatically posted to my FB account when I hit “Publish”; ditto for the Treehugger news stories I shared. Neither required me to visit my social media sites as I have them linked. However, it’s funny. I didn’t really miss them. And I didn’t really miss much on them. I value my social media accounts primarily for keeping in touch with friends and family members who live too far away to make frequent visits between us. I may opt to keep my social media usage to a minimum going forward; less time wasted getting into the political hypes–whatever they may be this week.

I gave up sweets, desserts, etc.

FAILED

Miserably.

Albeit, I did significantly cut back and, the few times I fell off the wagon, so to speak, I made a valiant effort to get back on and keep trying again. But my sweet tooth won out quite a few times. Scary to think how addictive sugar is! (My waistline can certainly testify…)

I would avoid music videos except for 2 hours in the afternoon on my days’ off. That one tanked, too. However, I will add that I stayed predominantly in contemporary Christian and used the time to recharge my spiritual batteries instead. For King and Country’s version of “The Little Drummer Boy” is, in my not-so-humble opinion, so upbeat and uplifting that I don’t care if it is a Christmas carol; it’s worth listening to–and viewing their concert video footage–any time of year. And, no, it doesn’t really justify the broken vow. I’ll simply have to do better next time.

Lastly, I vowed to write 3 pages per day of my adult fiction novel. On this one, I rocked (insert stoked ego here). I have filled two college-ruled spiral-bound notebooks (one subject, approx. 100 pages each) full of scenes for my novel + many pages of a few others. Granted, some of these scenes may never see the light of day outside of their respective notebooks, but I plowed ahead anyway. There were only three nights where I didn’t pick up the notebook to write until bedtime and, on one such occasion, fell asleep mid-stride and two others, crashed before a word was written. Otherwise, I managed to do at least three pages; some days, more. Like many other writers, I am my own worst critic but mission accomplished. And I have every intention of continuing with the momentum. I’m looking forward to the day when I can post here that the first complete draft is, well, completed.

May God bless you & keep you!

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Not by Bread Alone

“He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)

The power of music. It truly is a bit of manna for the soul. I’ll try not to be redundant but, yes, another blog post about my love affair with music. It’s simply that I’m itching to pick up the six-string again and, somehow, such endeavors always seem to get relegated to that “Someday” list. Ditto for the Appalachian dulcimer; I can’t remember the last time I played that. And then, of course, is the list of instruments I’m planning to learn “someday”: bowed psaltery, hammered dulcimer, Celtic harp, Nickelharpa, Hurdy-Gurdy, fiddle. I don’t want to wait until I’m retired. The way things are going I might be well into my 90’s before I can afford to do so. (Yes, there’s still a bit of Bad Luck Schlepp-Rock lurking around…)

And, why, yes, I do have a thing for stringed instruments! =)

The latest homestead dilemma has left me more frazzled than I care to admit…enough so that the Irritable Bowel Syndrome just kicked into overdrive and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is threatening to down me, too. I can’t afford either. There’s work to be done to get this homestead back right side up financially.

Paradoxically, He’s also giving me a little nudge to slow down, take it easy, even just for a moment. And music helps to make that happen. I tuned into Pandora radio on my iPhone on the way to work Saturday morning and listened to some Contemporary Christian for the hour drive. The nerves that have been dangling on tenterhooks suddenly mellowed out and I found myself singing along with Casting Crowns, For King and Country, Francesca Battistelli. The good mood carried me into the museum and stayed with me while I made preparations for a boiled dinner on the hearth. Even after I had turned Pandora off and tucked the cellphone away in the pocket of my 19th century flannel work dress, I found myself still singing, not caring if anyone heard (which might not be appreciated by the powers-that-be; these weren’t period correct songs). One of the volunteers came in and she, too, started singing. Different songs but we had a grand old time peeling vegetables and stoking fires while the songs flowed. I tuned into Pandora on Sunday morning’s commute, too.

I have visions of something similar here at the homestead. My dream is to eventually host Saturday night potlucks where everyone who plays an instrument brings it along and we sit around after dinner playing and singing by the fire. Of course, if I’m going to host something musical, I need to dust off the instruments and re-learn to play them. It’s been too long. And, even if this homestead is again at risk of being lost (at least the actual property), such a dream is not so far-fetched.

Only finding the time to put in the practice. (I really do need a 28-hour day.)

Time is a precious commodity these days. It feels like I have to make an appointment with myself just to find the time for the most basic endeavors…like shaving my legs and armpits. But, before anyone thinks I’m running around here in rural Connecticut looking like the hairy wildebeest, think again. ‘Tis only a metaphor.

Relax.

Breathe.

Phew! Glad we nipped that one in the bud.

Back to our regularly scheduled program: music. I’m missing the late nights of sitting alone with the guitar wailing away. Far more powerful than listening to the radio, or a CD, my own hands (or lips) creating that flow of emotion takes me out of myself and helps me to focus in on Him a little better. Suddenly, there is no one and nothing else in the room with me…except maybe the errant feline, or canine (when I had canines), sharing the moment with He and I. I can’t say that the music I’m playing is necessarily Christian, but it often does have an almost-spiritual quality to it…at least on the benefits to my soul, in helping me to relax. And let go. Just that.

Come to me and I will give you rest. We hear that over and again in the Bible. I can’t help thinking that maybe He’s giving me a nudge to find that rest again with my instruments. Maybe it’s time to check something else off of that “someday” list; I’ve been neglecting it for too long. The money I need to get right side up again will come. Or it won’t. But either way, He’s got my back. I have to trust that. And, in the meantime, I have to let go and let Him work the miracles He has in mind. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

May God bless you & keep you!

How to Let Go and Let God

“Now to Him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

I know nothing is greater than God. But, for some reason, I continue to take back the struggle, thinking, for some unfathomable reason, that I can handle things better than He can. Or maybe that scarred and abused little girl inside of me is still envisioning a vengeful God ready to strike at any moment. So, when I pray for that help, there’s still a part of me holding back, protecting myself from further harm.

I’m not worthy. He doesn’t love me. I have to earn His love…and I haven’t earned it. I’m not good enough.
I’m asking too much. Those gifts are for other people, not me…etc. etc. etc.

The proverbial tapes play over and again in my head. How do I shut them off long enough to ever get ahead? To find that promised peace?

Well, maybe the answer’s in the question: I. See? I’m still trying to take control. I can’t shut off the tapes that the enemy plays. But He can.

Of course, I have to ask. And some days, I’m so mired in my Bad Luck Schlepp-rock mood, I can’t see beyond that proverbial forest through the trees. It’s only after I’ve wallowed painfully in “wowsy wowsy woo woo” for however long that I even think to ask sometimes. Really?

And then there’s those days when everything just seems to get heaped upon me by the shovelful. In truth, that seems to be a steady theme in recent years. And, while it may sound as if I’m still wallowing in that self-pity, the truth is that I’m sinking fast. And I’m hoping that this sinking is part of His plan for that something so much greater that I keep hearing about.

Maybe if I swallow that infernal pride…so, here’s the rub:

Over 10 years ago I started homesteading here. I was still working in the corporate world then but also working two part-time jobs and taking clients in reflexology on the side. That being said, it didn’t leave me much time for homesteading endeavors but, somehow, I still managed. Along the way, I started thinking about relocating. I set my sights on Maine. One Friday I got in the car and drove to Maine with enough money in my corporate 401K to put a down-payment on a piece of property. I came back on Monday to find that my 401K had been pretty much wiped out. This was the start of the Great Recession. I had to let the property go. Shortly thereafter, I lost one of the part-time gigs; there wasn’t enough work. Then 10 months’ later, I lost the full-time corporate position as a part of a corporate downsizing; my position was outsourced to another country. Then 6 months’ later the second part-time gig let me go as they couldn’t afford to pay any help anymore. And, of course, with so many others in similar situations, the reflexology dried up, too.

Still, I was at least able to collect unemployment. And I remained hopeful that I would find something new to sustain us (me and the homestead, of course).

One year went by. Then two. The 99 weeks of unemployment insurance dried up. Despite the loss of the 401K mentioned earlier, I had re-built it considerably before the corporate position ended. I lived on that for another 6 months while still looking for full-time employment.

And then the 401K ran out, too.

By then, I had two seasonal, part-time jobs (all that I could find at the time) and had started a pet and farm sitting business. Clients were spotty; not too many people were traveling for their own economic reasons. But the occasional call came through. I started building a reputation as a reliable person. I also began getting a few clients now and again in Reflexology, Reiki and Touch for Health.

Despite all of this effort to stay afloat, I missed one mortgage payment. And then another. To make a long story short, I eventually received a foreclosure notice. It was a near thing but I managed to get into a mortgage assistance program with my state’s housing authority. They put me back topside and I’ve been making steady payments to them every month for 5 years. They, in turn, are sending those payments to my mortgage company. This is, sadly, a loan that I will eventually be amortized into a new mortgage payment once I’m working full-time and able to make the payments on my own.

And, yes, I am working full-time again–finally–but what I earn is not quite enough for that refinance.

With the two hour commute, the college courses to earn my degree (another hopeful endeavor), etc. I gave up pet and farm sitting. It wasn’t steady enough and my time has been severely curtailed with everything else in my life. I’ve also nixed the holistic health practice as the rent for a room in a spa, insurance premiums, and re-certifications make it more a drain than a fill. But, again, I’ve been making steady payments and staying on top.

Or so I thought.

I received another foreclosure notice again. It appears the mortgage company raised my payment due to tax and insurance increases and, though I sent the housing authority notification of the change, they have not adjusted accordingly.

I’m ready to give in to despair. But I also feel a calling to use this hardship as a way to build my faith. I’m going to trust Him. I’m going to trust that He has this, that He will work it for some good. And, in saying, praise Him even in this storm. But I feel a bout of “wowsy wowsy woo woo” settling over me again. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

May God bless you & keep you!

Heart’s Desire

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.” (Ephesians, 2:8-10)

I am struggling to put words to the page this morning. I gave up social media for Lent, not my blog; I don’t consider them the same thing. The idea was to give myself a little more time for writing. And, for the most part, it has worked. I’ve been able to put those 3 pages of my book together each night and I’m starting to see some real progress. That pushes me forward. And yet, the enemy of my soul keeps tempting me with those little pop-ups that say, “You’ve been tagged in a photo, a video, a post on Facebook by so-and-so.” What photo, video or post??? Inquiring minds want to know. And what further proof of how addicting social media really is!

I am determined not to break my Lenten vows this year.

No, it won’t make a difference in my salvation (please read the bit of Scripture at the start of this blog post). But it is a vow made to God. It’s like when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane and some of his apostles, who were supposed to be keeping watch, fell asleep. I don’t want to fall asleep on this watch.

And so, I carry on.

However, the enemy certainly has some persuasive arguments. Like, it’s okay if I peek at that message as long as I don’t proceed to read the feed on my Facebook page, or someone else’s Facebook page.

Nope. Not working.

I’m still resisting…even if the temptation’s still there.

Ditto for the 3 pages of book each night. Last night was a push after spending 8 hours working on my final paper for class. The night before I actually fell asleep a few times over my notebook. I don’t have the time I used to have at the dealership so I have to squeak my book, blog posts and even quality time with the animals here on the homestead in around a 2 hour daily commute.

But still, I carry on.

I’ve been good about the music videos, too. In fact, I haven’t watched even one since the Lenten season started. I do miss that. As most of the bands I watch on YouTube are contemporary Christian, listening and watching their videos can be a nice little pick-me-up at the end of the week. The saving grace–no pun intended–is that I’m not getting so immersed in them that I neglect everything else.

Like writing.

Or homesteading.

My two heart’s desires.

Of course, for someone whose religion doesn’t follow any Lenten obligations, it may sound as if through these Lenten vows I’m still hoping to earn my way to salvation.

Nope.

If that were the case, we’d all be doomed. Lenten vows are often like New Year’s Resolutions; they keep for a week or two and then, as the struggle becomes too great, we often allow them to fall by the wayside. However, it is a good means of incorporating more awareness of Him in our daily lives. And that’s the best habit we can cultivate of all.

By the way, I have broken my vow to abstain from sweets: I had a frozen yogurt frappe on the way home from work the other day (complete with a single-serve plastic-lidded container and a straw; bad me!) and I couldn’t resist the free maple popcorn being offered for grabs at work. That doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying to resist future sweets; one can always readjust and reaffirm one’s resolve.

However, the measure of this broken vow may not necessarily be on the scale of one’s faith, or dedication to one’s vows, but on the scale of a different sort. Talk about your addictions.

May God bless you & keep you!