Are you stressed?

Over the last months, I have heard so many people mention that they are feeling stressed. Why wouldn’t you be stressed right now? In the midst of a pandemic, we are seeing civil unrest, economic concerns, and so much more.

What can you do about it that doesn’t cost additional money or put you in greater health risk? Go outside, even if just opening your door and breathing deeply. Give thanks for what is good and brings joy or peace in your life. Send a note of love or support to someone, a text will do.

Life is uncertain, no matter whether or not we are in a pandemic. Change and uncertainty are hard, period. Finding those moments of peace that open your heart and soul will help keep you whole, and will let your light shine for yourself and others.

Breathe. Give thanks. Love. Go outside. Do all of them over and over again as many times as you need!

Kindness in Times of Stress

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Everyone seems to be stressed right now. Everyone. Children seem stressed by both the limitations in a COVID-19 world, as well as internalizing the stress of the adults in their lives. Adults are stressed trying to keep everyone safe, fed and housed. Masks are tiring and can cause stress as well.

With all of that, many (or all) of us have our emotions closer to the surface than normal. You can hear people snapping at others, whether at the grocery store or over parking spaces. And mask requirements? Everyone has as strong feeling one way or another. Toilet paper? Somehow, still, there seem to be shortages, leading to nasty encounters as people try to grab packages in stores.

So, we are stressed. Much is still uncertain. But one thing is for sure. In this time of stress, we all need to reach deep inside for our patience, gratitude, and for decency in how we treat self and others. Kindness is the key to all of this.

How can we help others? It doesn’t have to be big things or gifts. Text messages saying you care can go a long way to lift spirits. Thanking people when you call a company asking for information. Returning emails promptly and with gentle wording. Saying hello to others when you are masked as they can’t see your smile. Small actions can make a huge difference.

Kindness and relentless love, they are the keys to all of us getting through this stressful time with a sense of community instead in a fractured, angry manner.

Sending love to you all!

The Power of Theater and Television

In the last week, I have been moved to tears by both a theatrical performance (televised) and a television series (Netflix). That is the power of the written word brought to life in presentation art.

First, the television series. Season 3 of Ozark, specifically the story line about Ben Davis. Now, if you haven’t watched the series, you are probably wondering why it touched me. The answer is simple, it is the most realistic and painfully honest depiction of bi-polar disorder I have ever seen on the screen. As many of you know, my father suffers from bi-polar disorder, as did Sam. When it is well-treated and controlled, the person (and those who love them) have a relatively normal life. And when it isn’t, life is chaotic, funny, painful, sad, frustrating — and all of those feelings can happen in a ten minute space of time. It is a roller coaster you can’t truly understand unless you have lived it, but the actor’s depiction of it is the best I’ve ever seen. And the response of his sister? So painfully honest and realistic… The hope. The anger. The sadness. The guilt. The willingness to try one more thing. It is a brilliant depiction, and it is a gift to the world because it gives a brief glimpse through that window of experience.

The second was watching Hamilton. Thankfully, as I hadn’t seen it prior to last night, nor did I know much about the story line, a member of the group Compassionate Friends posted online prior to the television event that the depiction of the grief of losing a child was so well done that it could be triggering. I am so thankful to that person for sharing that information, as it meant that I had a pocket full of tissues with me. The lyrics about losing a child and life after was spot on, and painful to watch. Yes, I cried. But as I looked around the people watching it outside with us, most of whom hadn’t buried a child, I saw many tears snaking down their cheeks. No, if you haven’t experienced this loss, you can never really understand it, but that theatrical representation is just plain brilliant, and again, gives a glimpse through that window.

How fortunate we are to be able to see such incredible performances, based on such strong writing, so that we can see into the lives and emotions of others.

Grievance or Gratitude?

When I was teaching, I had a colleague who often referred to whiners as growing a garden of grievances.  Lately, I admit it, I have been sowing, weeding, watering, and fertilizing a garden of gorgeous grievances. Gorgeous. Luscious. Aggressive and pervasive grievances. Why? Because, well, no other way to say it, the last couple weeks have tried my patience, and it has made me cranky.

That is not the way I want to look at life. But it has been difficult to not look at things that way. Yes, I’ve followed my practice of daily gratitude, but frankly, sometimes it has been through gritted teeth.

Today I took a deep breath. Did I really want to continue to cultivate my garden of grievances or one of gratitude? Ultimately, yes, after some tears, I came to gratitude. And then I took this picture.

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This is one of the garden boxes the men in my life made for me this spring, and it is gorgeous. I choose to grow a garden this way — appreciating love, laughter, support, kindness, and empathy.

Which kind of garden are you growing? Which kind do you want to grow?

Trauma Redux

 

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Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

As many of you know, either because you know us personally, you’ve read this website since the beginning, or you read my memoir, I have a bad, nasty, horrible history of phone calls in the night. Okay, let’s get real, how many bits of good news are delivered via phone in the wee hours of the night, right?

On October 9, 2013, while we were still sleeping, the phone rang at 5:34 in the morning, with the news that our beloved Sam “might” be dead. You know how that story goes, there was no “might” about it.

Now, long before that call, I had trouble sleeping. I’ve had insomnia most of my life. Sam’s death moved it to biblical proportions.

Fast forward to last night. I was in a rare deep sleep cycle, and at 3:34 a.m. this morning, the phone rang. I was so asleep, I thought it was the alarm (which I turned off, meaning that I overslept this morning), but finally realized it was the phone. In the dark, I struggled to find the receiver and croaked. “Hello?”

The woman on the other end barked. “Oh. Wrong number,” and slammed down the receiver. No apology. Nothing.

Here’s the thing. That simple wrong number isn’t just a wrong number when you have experienced a trauma that originally arrived from a phone call in the wee hours of the morning. It isn’t that simple. That phone call last night threw me into hours of a racing heart, fear, grief, sadness, a little bit of anger for the woman’s cold response, then contemplating what is coming with the ALS, and how I can help with that. From 3:34 until 5:48 (the last time I looked at the clock), I had hours of grief, fear, and anxiety. I can’t tell you how many times I talked myself through mindfulness breathing routines. I did the full-body tense-and-relax activities. I envisioned a white wall and focused on it. I visualized the places on earth where I am happiest, and the people I am happiest to be with there. None of that helped because I was too triggered.

Why am I telling you all this? Because if you have experienced trauma in your life, no matter how you try to protect yourself, you may come into situations where it is triggered, and it will knock the stuffing right out of you. Even now, my hands are still shaking and I am tired and fighting a headache from that adrenaline rush from when the phone rang. But the person calling didn’t set out to do this to me. While I would question why anyone is calling someone (it was a local Vermont number) at that time of the night, still, she didn’t plan to trigger me. But it did.

If you have a history of trauma, take care of yourself. Be gentle. Don’t expect perfection from yourself. And if you trigger someone else, own it, learn from it, and give as much love as you can to the person you have harmed.

 

 

Why now?

I have often written about why we choose to grow as much of our own food as possible. Health reasons. Financial reasons. Environmental reasons. Being-painfully-independent reasons. But the most important reason is for our own mental health…

Right now, between the racial tensions in the country, COVID-19, and the partisan divide, we all are stressed. Even if you don’t have to worry financially right now, it still is a time that provokes anxiety. That is why I grow vegetables. The time I spend in the dirt, digging, planting, weeding, mulching, harvesting and processing are moments when I connect with the larger universe, forget about my own petty issues, and find peace in my soul.

Yesterday, I spent the majority of my day on my  knees in the garden. I planted, mulched and weeded. And I thought about my obligation to other humans, and what kind of a world I want for my grandchildren. At the end of the day, I was dirty and tired, but my heart was far less heavy than when I started.

Here are some pictures from our farm. Hopefully, they will make you smile.

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The little chicks, in a clean house. Their names are Stella, Ethel, Scout, Papi and Kinko.

 

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The big, woolly girls, hoping to convince me to bring them more grain. They were unsuccessful.

 

 

Our new raised beds, with perennial herbs and some vegetables. The picture on the right has Sam’s hot peppers in it.

 

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And finally, a picture of Sam’s garlic, growing tall and proud.

 

The Start of the Season

Last Saturday, we had inches of snow. Tomorrow, we will start planting our big vegetable garden. We have already planted several rows of early greens, peas, beets and radishes, but tomorrow, the real fun begins.

Tomorrow, we will plant (finally!) our perennial herb garden. Then a flower garden. Then, hopefully start our biggest vegetable garden. If I get organized, I will share photos.

Why do we do this? Because it brings us joy and peace. Because we produce our own food, knowing where it came from.  It is one of the things that means the most to us as a family, and I can’t wait for it to really start tomorrow.

Transitions in Life and New Goals

Back in 2013, I couldn’t even think (really) of being a published author. Yes, I dreamed of it for years, but with the same sort of yearning that most young women hope to someday have a unicorn as a pet.

After Sam’s death, I made a commitment to becoming a published author. I had queried agents and publishers for years, but I finally got serious. I hired an editor. I hired someone to critique my query letters. Now, to be clear, I had great editors already. I had friends with degrees in English or literature, who edited my work. They did a great job, but they did it with love. To a certain degree, you need brutal people as editors. To be clear, I love my paid editors. They now are my dear friends, but they are just as brutal now as they were in the beginning. They were cutting and clear in their editing. They kicked my butt around the block. I cried. I swore. I threw manuscripts out in the trash. I shredded some. And they made me a better writer.

My first publishing contract made me cry with joy, excitement and grief. Sam had believed in me so deeply, it broke my heart anew that he wasn’t there dancing around with me in the living room. But, with the hindsight of the passing years, I know I would never have done the serious work of hiring editors if Sam had lived. It was losing him that drove me to do what I needed to do to fulfill his belief in me.

Obviously, years have passed. I now have published four novels and a memoir. As you know, I have chosen the traditional route for publishing because that was what I needed to do for my own heart and soul.  I also write professionally as a paid ghostwriter and freelance writer. I have accomplished what Sam knew I could, and it makes me happy.

Yesterday, someone asked me about my writing plans now. I realized that the joy of achieving your goal means that you can set new goals. Yes, I want to continue to publish under my own name and my pen name, as well as continue to write for others.  Now it is time to set a new writing goal for myself.

Hmm… What will that be?

 

The Meaning of May

May 2019 started off so well. Along with a dear friend, I’d been part of my first literary panel, the weather was incredible, and it was time to start planting the garden.

Then May 7th arrived.

As I have written before, my life was divided into two clear parts as of October 9, 2013.  The first part of my life was everything up to that date, then Sam died. And I thought that date would be the big dividing line.

Then May 7th, 2019 arrived.

We went to an appointment in Burlington, knowing that something was wrong with my beloved husband, but we had no idea of how serious it was. On that day, the doctor coldly announced that he had ALS. Then he said that the average life expectancy is 6 months to a couple of years. The words were cold. The delivery was cold. It was pure and simple a message of “go home, get your affairs in order, and there is nothing that can be done.”

Now, I realize now, as I did then, that there was nothing that can be done to change the diagnosis. Nothing to change the outcome. There is no cure. But the delivery? It was cold, impersonal, and cruel. There is a huge difference between giving a realistic view, and being cold and cruel… No one should be given such a diagnosis in such a manner.

How did we react to that news? In shock, we got in the car and started to drive home. We had to pull off in a parking lot so we could fall apart. Over that next few days we did that a lot. We cried. We yelled. We swore. We figured out how to tell our parents and children. We got our “stuff” in order. We had those god-awful conversations that no one ever wants to have.

Then we found ourselves again. We decided knowingly and openly that we would live every moment to the fullest. We would not keep asking “why us,” and instead enjoy how fortunate we are. We have love surrounding us. We have incredible friends and family. We live in a place we love. We would do things we’d always wanted to do, and we would not take a single moment for granted. We did our research, we sought out both traditional and non-traditional treatments, and we have re-found (is that a word?) our gratitude.

It’s almost a year later. On the night of May 7th, 2019, I felt that my heart had been broken a second time. On this May 7th, I will instead celebrate how incredibly fortunate we are, and give thanks for every moment we have had in this last year.

 

Today in the Life on a Farm

Life on a farm, no matter how big or small of a farm, has rhythms to it. No matter what, you are impacted by weather, rain or drought, temperature, insects, wind, and so many other factors.

Right now, right here, we are gearing up for a new season of  gardening. While it is still cold in Vermont, so cold the wood stove is still going, we are almost to full garden season.

Already, we have two different rows that have lettuce, spinach, radishes, beets, kale and chard planted outside. One was started more than two weeks ago, one yesterday. Both rows are covered by small hoop houses to give the seedlings a little more warmth. Extra hoop houses have also been deployed outside to the spots where we plan to plant our next early crops, so they can warm up the soil a bit.

Inside, we are in full swing. We have four different kinds of sprouts growing so that we can add nutrition and depth to our salads. We also have seedlings for tomatoes, peppers, basil, zucchini and yellow squash, cucumbers and carrots all growing on our grow shelves, ready to go outside when the time is right.

As many of you know, this year we made the decision to use old seeds (seeds from previous years) for our garden rather than just throwing them away. So far, they are doing just wonderfully!

If you haven’t already done so, go plant something today!