A Part of the Whole

“As God’s messenger I give each of you God’s warning: Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you. Just as there are many parts to our bodies, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of it, and it takes every one of us to make it complete, for we each have different work to do. So we belong to each other, and each needs all the others.” Romans 12:3-5

In this journey of healing and homesteading, it shouldn’t be any surprise to myself that I often measure my worth by what I have accomplished each day. I pressure myself constantly to do more, over-crowding my life until I squeeze all of the, well, life out of it. And I drive myself bananas trying to fit that 30 hour day into a 24 hour time frame. As I blogged about yesterday, growing up with an alcoholic in the home, unreasonable expectations were placed upon me.

In high school, and for several years after, my dream was to be a heavy metal rock star. I wanted to be on that stage, playing my guitar, being viewed as the best of the best. I was driven to find some worth in myself and, despite having a beloved grandfather as a mentor with my writing, that wasn’t an acceptable career in those days; a metal artist was so much cooler (sorry, Poppop…). And, in my more honest moments, I know part of the musical appeal was to get under my stepfather’s skin; my father plays guitar, too.

Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon (though not a metal band), George Lynch of Dokken and, later, Lynch Mob fame, and Yngwie Malmsteen were my heros, my mentors, if you will. And I wanted to play just like them…especially George. I also sang lead. Queen of Metal, Doro, was the major influence there. I wanted to sound just like her but she’s a powerhouse as a vocalist. My own voice, by comparison, sounded weak to my ears. As mentioned yesterday, my stepfather often taunted me about my musical aspirations. However much I practiced, it was never enough. I should work harder, practice more…if I wanted to succeed…even as he directed from the easy chair. In those earlier days, if I read an article that George Lynch practiced 8 hours a day–and, of course, this jived with my stepfather’s “advice”–then I would suddenly be killing myself trying to squeeze those 8 hours of practice around 6-8 hours of work and another 7-8 hours of sleep…and mentally beating up on myself when I failed. My younger self did not take into account that each of these artists were performing for a living. They didn’t have to go to a “day” job (though I’m sure they all had one before they “made it”).

Sadly, that vicious cycle of comparing myself to others and pushing myself to do more, because I never do “enough”, has stayed with me through the years. I recently read that author, Nora Roberts, writes 8 hours a day, every single day of the week…including holidays and vacations. I don’t know how true this is but I do know I simply don’t have 8 hours a day to give to my craft, no matter how much I may wish it or enjoy it. The best I can do is 4 hours…and that’s only if homework and homestead work don’t take priority. I still try to get to the keyboard–or at least sit with a notebook and pen–every day. Again, that’s the best I can do. I do not have the luxury of staying at home all day, everyday. I haven’t gotten that proverbial foot in the door of the writing industry enough that I can afford to stay home (and maybe some would argue that’s what’s holding me back but I’m also partial to food and shelter…for me, for Mom and for my animals). That doesn’t mean I haven’t tried to “find” 8 hours a day though. And, for anyone who has been following this blog since last August or September, you know I suddenly started setting my alarm for 3:30 a.m. after reading an article that Dolly Parton does her best writing at that hour. That fell by the wayside fast as first Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and then a bit of Chronic Epstein-Barr slapped me in the face. I work away from home evenings; I don’t get home early enough to support such an early rising. And that’s a fact. I’m now back to 5:30-6:00 a.m. And most of my writing time has been shifted to evenings, after all of my college homework and chores on the homestead are done, and the rest of the world is heading off to bed (fewer interruptions that way).

It’s the same with the homestead. In this case, my mentors are the folks at Path to Freedom. My homestead is nowhere near as developed as theirs; it’s certainly not a working farm yet. I have to constantly remind myself that this is a family working 1/5 of an acre. I have almost a full acre and, while Mom may plant a few vegetables, most of the work is mine. The Dervaes also started over 20 years ago; I’ve only just begun.

What all of this means is that the mental and emotional abuse I endured as a child and teen, I still perpetuate on myself today. I’m still not “enough”, not doing enough. And so, I see myself as less than those I might unwittingly put on the proverbial pedestal. Whenever I receive a compliment about my playing, my singing, my writing, or anything else I do, it always comes as a surprise and then a bit of discomfort that I am not deserving of the compliment. Such are the seeds of doubt planted by the alcoholic…and they are as perennial and as invasive as a blade of couch grass.

The truth of the matter is that my perception of self is actually quite skewered. I may not get up at 3:30 anymore, or write a full 8 hours each day, but I continue to maintain a 4.0 GPA in a creative writing degree program. I have been published before; have had a couple of professors encourage me to try publishing some of what I’ve written for class, and I’ve managed to attract a following of over 500 people with this blog in less than a year’s time. Once, while practicing with the folk group at church for our Christmas program, I was admonished by the choir director to sing softer. Our objective was to sing the Baby Jesus to sleep…not wake the dead. So much for that “weak” voice. And, many years back, my second husband’s nephew gave me quite a compliment when his mother pooh-poohed my guitar playing and he exclaimed, “But you haven’t heard Auntie Lisa play!” And, of course, having grown up with alcoholism in the home, my mind immediately rejected the compliment.

“One evening I was taken by surprise when another member complimented me. I was very uncomfortable with this gesture of kindness, feeling inside that I didn’t deserve it. When I tried to talk her out of her kind words, she refused to take them back.” (Courage to Change, 1992, p. 130).

Ironically, it is a young adult fiction story that has helped me to accept and appreciate who I am. It is a novel by author, Karen Cushman, called “Catherine Called Birdy” in which a young woman in medieval times seeks to find her purpose in life by trying to be an artist, running away with a circus (or maybe it was a fair; been awhile) and various other projects. In the story, Catherine trails a Jewish family and the old grandmother finally gets her to open up about why she wants to join their traveling show. I’m going to paraphrase a bit but the old woman admonished her that when she got to the pearly gates of heaven, she wouldn’t be asked why she wasn’t an artist, or a dancer, or someone else. She would be asked why she wasn’t Catherine. It doesn’t matter that I don’t play like George Lynch, sing like Doro, have a fully-working homestead like the Dervaes or write for 8 hours like Nora. I sing, play, write and homestead like me. Like that part of Christ’s body, as He intended.

May God bless you & keep you!

References

Al-Anon Family Groups, (1992). “Courage to Change.” Al_Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc, Virginia Beach, VA.

Cushman, K. (1994). “Catherine Called Birdy.” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, MA.

Accepting the Challenge

Yesterday I did some catching up on the emails in my Inbox. It doesn’t take them long to build up, especially when I tend to ignore them for days on end due to the other demands on my time. In my perusal of them, I came across a post from a fellow blogger whose blog I have been following. Another writer like me, he has decided to challenge himself to further excellence by asking himself to write, I believe it was, 90,000 words of his book by the end of April. He asked if other bloggers and/or writers would also take up the challenge.

I have long been searching for an accountability partner, or at least someone–or something–to keep me focused that I don’t lose heart with my book. I tend to procrastinate, even as I long to finally finish at least the first draft of it. And I’ve decided this is the accountability, this month-long challenge that says by the end of it all, I will have written 150 pages of my story.

I am still short a few pages as of the writing of this blog post. This is my second day at it as I did not see the post at the very beginning of the month when it was originally written. I have just a little over 5 pages of type and a word count of 2782 words, which I just divided by 5 (# of current pages) and I came up with 556 words per page. Using that as an average and multiplying by 150 pages, I will have 83,400 words written if I stick with this. So maybe I’m taking up more of the challenge than I even realized.

As for my blog, I will still be here, keeping my readers posted about my progress on the book and, of course, the myriad homestead happenings. It’s time to feel like a true writer again.

May God bless you & keep you!

Rainy Days

“In bygone days He permitted the nations to go their own ways, but He never left Himself without a witness; there were always His reminders–the kind things He did such as sending you rain and good crops and giving you food and gladness” Acts 14: 16-17

I’m of two minds when it rains. There is that laze-around-in-my-pj’s-curled-up-with-a-good-book mindset. And woe the temptations of the flesh because that is often the mindset I follow under angry, black clouds. Today it’s the good-day-to-putter-around-the-house-and-get-things-done mentality. I hit the yoga mat early this morning, waking before the alarm–despite the dreary skies–and then added a few pages to my book. Max was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs to go out when I finished up. The rain was only threatening at 7:30 a.m. but the warmer temperatures we’ve had over the weekend has left a muddy mess of the barnyard as snow from Blizzard Stella melted away. Max, being a dog, did what dogs do best…he stayed out in the mud a little longer than usual and tracked wet, muddy prints throughout the house when he came back in. I tugged on my rubber boots, threw a coat over my pj’s (standard morning chore attire) and began schlepping water and feed out to the goats, chickens and ducks. The usual cacophony of barnyard greetings met me as I opened first the hen house and then the goat barn. I’d like to think they’re happy to just see me but I suspect it’s only the canisters of feed I’m bearing as gifts that bring about this reaction to me…

The rain started in earnest shortly after their breakfast.

Mom calls these heavy rains we’re having today “season breakers”. And she’s probably right except she will call every hint of snow or rain, from now until the trees finally bud and the thermometer hits and stays steady above 50 degrees for more than a week, a “season breaker”. It’s all good. And she bears the occasional razzing from me with grace.

Actually, I hope she’s right. There’s much to do this spring on the homestead and I am eager to get started. Despite Mom’s predictions, the weather in New England is too unpredictable this time of year so it will be a few more weeks before I can start planting and there’s a bit of landscaping to finish up from last fall before that planting can be done. Again, I’m looking forward to it. The last couple of years I’ve been in such a slump that I’ve neglected my gardens. I’ve got itchy fingers now, looking to plunge into that soil and cultivate some life-giving sustenance from it.

The goats, chickens and ducks are also getting new living quarters. The old shed that I converted back in 2010 has seen its better days. I can throw a few old pallets down on the rotting floors and continue to use it for storing firewood and/or hay but it has seen its last winter as a barn. This will take some doing; I’m definitely not a contractor or construction worker but I don’t think this will be too difficult. The “new” structure is already here in the form of a double bay garage. The previous owners of the property had removed the garage doors, built a wall, and added a door to the outside (albeit, it faces into the garden so it will not be seeing much use…). The floor is still concrete, which will be much easier to clean than wood. No oil stains or anything that might prove hazardous to the animals. There’s even a propane space heater mounted towards the ceiling, well out of reach of curious goats, but available if needed. The only real work to do is the construction of a few stalls inside, the removal of the back window that faces the barnyard, and building a ramp for the animals to get in and out. And, of course, said window will have to be replaced with some sort of door to keep them in at night…and the predators out. The biggest part of the job will be cleaning it out as it has become the depository of any unwanted “junk” and out of season “stuff”. And that about sums it up.

(Yes, I do still have some minimalist chores to attend to, too…)

In another 15 minutes or so, it will be time to head to work–the paid position in town. But, for now, I’m compromising with this rain, writing and working and puttering around in my pj’s, as it washes away the last of the snow and reveals just how much clean-up is still to do in the gardens. And about the homestead.

May God bless you & keep you!

Thoughts on This Blogging Thing

It has been seven months of pretty steady blogging. And, wow, what a change in my life this has made. Sure, there have been a few hiccoughs along the way when my postings haven’t been quite as steady: a bout of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (still recovering from that but it’s getting better); the loss of Internet service at home; and, amazingly, once you break a habit, such as a very early rising to write and blog, it is very difficult to get back on that horse again and ride, as they say. But I won’t give up. And I love horses…and blogging.

Obviously, this post is a reflection of these past seven months. Prior to making this commitment, my blog posts were pretty sporadic, spanning months sometimes in between. Now, when I’m away for even a few days, I’m like that hungry bear coming out of hibernation. It’s become like a drug and I need my fix. These seven months have taught me a few things, too.

First, I underestimate myself. And maybe others, too. When I first started, I think the reason my posts were so few and far between was because I didn’t believe I had anything to say that people would want to read. The long list of followers and “likes” for each post that I have received these last several months–both here on WordPress and on my Facebook timeline from friends and family–have proved me wrong. And a big “Thank You!” to all of you for the boost in confidence; the support; and simply for being curious enough to read a post or two in the first place. Also, to the many friends and family members who have “shared” some of my posts.

“In Al-Anon I realized that I had a distorted self-image. I had never thought to question my beliefs, but when I took a good look, I discovered they were untrue.” (Courage to Change, 1992, 192)

Another thing I’ve learned, and there is a little voice of cynicism rippling through as I type this, is there is definitely some truth to that old adage that those closest to you have the toughest time accepting changes in you. In being brutally and painfully honest about the effects of alcoholism and abuse in my past; in sharing political views; in taking a much stronger stand with my blog about animal rights and environmentalism; in staying true to my faith in God and openly sharing that faith, I have alienated many who have been close to me and yet, ironically, found new friends who share my views–in some cases, in places I never would have expected. This last one is a gift because we can never have too many friends.

A difference of opinion can divide the best of friends. I am learning, through blogging, to be more forgiving of those whose reactions in the face of a different opinion may be hostile. I’m learning not to react in kind. A difference of opinion is simply that. A difference. It need not divide us. But I’m also learning to accept that sometimes it does…and not to take it so personally. In short, I’m growing a thicker skin yet being more willing to offer that olive branch in return. Life is too short.

I think the most amazing thing that has happened with blogging, is I am learning to stand up for myself and what I believe in. I hope I am doing so in a respectful way; I have no desire to purposefully alienate anyone…I do enough of that without trying. (chuckle) But I am no longer as afraid to rock the proverbial boat. My thoughts, feelings, views and opinions may be in the minority in some circles. But I truly have learned to say, “That’s okay”, and really mean it. I now share those feelings, thoughts, opinions and views anyway. And not as a heart-on-my-sleeve victim but simply as a fellow human being with a voice that no longer wishes to be silent. And, really, I think that’s what writing is all about: having something to say. Whether it is a blog, such as this one, a news story, a textbook or even a story made up expressly for the purpose of entertaining, writers are good with words. I hope I am…and this blog is good means of exercising that creative muscle.

As for homesteading? This blog has been good medicine for that, too. I know where I want to go, where I want to be but, for years, I have allowed others to sometimes influence of bit of my direction. If there is anyone more of a non-conformist as me, I’d truly like to meet them. While more and more people turn back to the land because of a distrust of what’s in our food and what sort of damage is being done to the environment, I am in the minority even further being a single female doing this homesteading thing and, while I raise animals, I do NOT raise them for meat. That’s a complete anomaly. They are here for eggs or dairy, or fiber for spinning, depending on the animal; they give me free fertilizer for the garden; companionship, love and laughter. That’s enough. But it has taken me seven months of steady blogging to be able to write this and to say it aloud, and to not care if people don’t “get it”. This is part of who I am and I make no apology for it.

A friend sent me something that I copied on a little Post-It note that has been attributed to author Anais Nin. I don’t know if she really said this or not but it fits: The time came that to remain in a tight bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

May God bless you & keep you!

Works Cited

“Courage to Change” Al-Anon Conference Approved Literature. Al-Anon, Virginia: 1992

A Writing Habit

This is another short post but, another benefit I’m finding from this public office here at the local coffee shop, or public library, depending where I land, is that when I am at home in the actual home office, I write.

Internet accessibility? I read my emails. I read others’ blogs. I touch base with friends and loved ones on Facebook. Nothing wrong with any of these activities but I am finding that, without the Internet at home, when I decide to sit down to write, with only Word available to me, I actually do just that. I WRITE! Suddenly, I’m re-working characters, getting back in touch with all of them, developing them so that they are more three-dimensional. And I’m loving it. I actually feel like a writer. And, of course, I’m adding content to my book. It’s no longer collecting cyber-dust.

Now, if I could only convince the local library to open their doors for more than 3-5 hours per day, I might be able to write longer posts, get more homework done, and even squeak in a few more Treehugger articles. Ho-hum!

Maybe just a little break from having 24/7 Internet access until I truly develop that writing habit. Instead of indulging the distractions. Keep our fingers crossed!

May God bless you & keep you!

Another Benefit

Adding onto yesterday’s “Public Office” posting, I’m definitely seeing another merit to using a public facility to write/study. Here in this booth, I am in my own little world and yet, life is swirling all around me. It’s rather comfortable.

More importantly, I am also being forced to be a little more pro-active in completing my homework assignments well ahead of their due date. As long as we’re boycotting Charter’s high prices, I cannot procrastinate and then “cram” Sunday night when everything is due. Everything closes down fairly early in Northeast Connecticut on Sunday evenings. The public library, my first choice for working in public, isn’t even open on Sundays. And the hours are pretty limited during the week: M/W 2-7 (I work 3:30-7:30), T/S 11-5 and Th/F 2-5. I didn’t make the 2 p.m. time slot this afternoon so I’m back at the coffee shop with another cup of tea. As it is Friday, two days’ before my assignments’ due dates, and I have already turned them in, I am feeling pretty good.

So far, the only drawback I can see is, as it is a public venue, video viewing, which is part of my education, may be limited. I may lower the volume but it also eats a lot of battery juice so will have to seek out booths and tables with an outlet under them…just in case. Otherwise, this isn’t a bad deal at all.

It also gets me out of the house. I really am the hermit in the woods, tending to be a homebody these last few years. And, because I am taking up public space, and trying to be respectful about it, I’m also focusing on the essentials…rather than the multiple newsletters and free webinars I lamented about a couple of posts’ back. Come springtime, and my investment in an adult-sized tricycle (they come with handy little hauling baskets between the back wheels…I also have balance issues, despite the yoga), I can add 1/2 hour each way of exercise to my routine…and a reduction of my carbon footprint. Not a bad deal at all for a $1.79 cup of tea…or a free book rental from the local library to curl up with when my work day is done.

May God bless you & keep you!

Public Office

No, I’m not running for any election or government position. I’d be a terrible politician. And probably get myself bumped off due to my tree hugging, Bible thumping, no kitty left behind, tightwaddery views. Every petroleum based industry would be wanting to stick my head on the proverbial platter. So, no, not looking for a career in government any time soon.

“Public Office” is literal. I am currently sitting in a public coffee shop typing this up. The reasons are two-fold. The first is Charter Communications keeps jacking their prices up to where it has become too expensive to keep Wi-fi/Internet/cable TV etc. at home on a part-time income. Mom and I do not watch the boob-tube enough to justify the expense (though Mom is sure to miss her HGTV from time to time…), and I can’t remember the last time I saw a good, quality TV show. Though there is still the expense of a cup of tea at the local coffee shop, when doing the math, it is much less than Charter’s bill. (And before all the aunties start coming out of the woodwork with pitchforks after me, the decision to remove cable and internet from the house was Mom’s decision; she approached me with it). I know all about licensing expenses and insurance and keeping folks on the payroll, as Charter must do, but sometimes you have to take a stand and we’re doing it by withdrawing our business.

The second reason is part of the first because it has forced me to take the advice of other work/study-from-home friends who say they are way more productive sitting in a public place away from home distractions. And I certainly have them. While I’m a pro at ignoring the telephone, knocks on the door–whether the outside door or my home office door from Mom–cannot be ignored without appearing rude and/or anti-social. Here, I have one responsibility: to write. Whether it is schoolwork, blogging, or work on one of the three novels I have “in the works”, this is all I have to do. And, though it is only my first day in this “public office”, I’m finding my focus is much stronger. And that’s worth the $2 and change for a cup of delicious Chai tea…albeit it may knock the 30 lb. weight loss plan out of the ballpark.

May God bless you & keep you!