Monday, December 10, 2012

On a warm-ish day in December Tuesday and I plodded around the pasture together.  She practiced stretching her stride and I practiced staying on.  As we walked along the fence-line separating us from the grasslands the wind combed through the baptisia skeletons knocked from their dried moorings and blown into the fence like midwestern tumbleweeds.  The sound of their pods clattering together was like the ghost of native american ceremonial rattles and we paused and were still for a moment, just listening.  It was a bumper crop of baptisia this year.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Learning as Therapy

The day before classes were to begin I finally decided to attend the Master naturalist training through the University of Illinois extension office.  A very sweet friend, who was very determined to see me join, informed me that it was being offered through Ogle County, which is sooo much closer than, well, anywhere else.  I hemmed and hawed about the cost, but kept coming back to the fact that I was not working, was wasting away creatively and really had no other excuse not to.

I joined, I rushed to the first class and got there late because of an earlier appointment, and have not looked backward since.  I am an amateur naturalist; like I have written before I have my dear friend Laura to thank for that.  I have also been through the Master Gardener training so was no stranger to the general format of classes and certification.  In fact, the MG training was what really sparked my fire to get back to school and study horticulture, which eventually led to a pair of two-year degrees.  But imagine my delight at discovering that the majority of our training would take place in the field, on the spot, hands-on.  Yessss.  My kinda learning.  I also was given to understand on that very first evening that there was going to be some repetition in learning, for me, but that there was so much still to learn.  We will cover subjects that have intrigued me for years, and not being near a university that offers classes such as these toward a degree, I am eager to take advantage of the opportunity.

Really, I have said all of the above to say this:  these classes are coming along at a critical time for me, and I can already see how the program will benefit my state of mind.  The first night were all given "phenology" journals, with which we are to observe and record natural occurrences.  In the strictest sense of the word this would be things such as temperature, humidity, moon phase, rainfall, etc.  Our director, however, felt that term to me too restricting; what she wants from us is to really look at our personal outdoor environments.  What is happening with the flora and fauna?  What do we wonder about the situations?  How do they fit into the grand scheme of things?  And WHY?  I love it.  I have journaled in the past, and a blog is but a semi-private journal, right?  I love to be given the assignment to journal.  LOVE it.  It gives me purpose, and it also makes me accountable to look around, even when I am not journaling at the moment.

Observation, meditation, awareness, appreciation; what's not healing in these things?  My dark spell has left me atrophied on a number of levels, but the way I see it I have nowhere to go but up by getting back to studying the natural world..

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Identity

In one sense of the word, identity is easy:  who are we?  Mother, niece, friend, female, male, son, etc.  I think most people would also agree that identity is closely associated with what we do, and that is not so easily defined OR maintained.

Empty nest.  I saw this coming a LONG way off, and have been preparing for it for years.  I recognize that it is Good and Right that our children grow up and move on with their lives; it is what we have been training them to do their whole lives.  That does not change the fact, however, that when I am done with my stage of active mothering I am stepping out of a major phase of identity:  "I am a stay-at-home-mom and homemaker."  I also saw this off in the distance, and got my schooling finished, some occupational training under my belt and started my own business.  I was also planting my veggie garden, nurturing my flock of pullets and waiting for the arrival of my first eggs. My own life was rolling right along into the next phase, too, and I was busy enough to be distracted from my sense of loss as the kids started trickling away.

Then, BAM!  What started as a wonderful, busy Spring and lots of great jobs turned into nothing, nada, zip, zilch, zippo.  A couple small things here and there, and now a couple more small things on the horizon, but it really slapped me hard in the face.  "Wait.  If I am not mothering anymore, and I have no work, what exactly am I supposed to be doing, here?"  My crisis was made much the worse for a depressive reversion.  Those who have walked in the shadow of depression know that it is not as simple as "getting over it" or "finding something to do."  At times it is, literally, the valley of the shadow of death; it is suffering and oppression.  The things you most enjoy doing are meaningless, pointless and joyless.  Oh, I am a gardener?  I couldn't really care any less about my gardens right now, and let them go to weeds.  Sometimes it is all you can do just to take care of your charges but because they would DIE otherwise.  It is not a good place to be, and it can be a hard place out of which to climb.  Physical and spiritual issues can also play a significant role, so we go back to a holistic examination of one's life, like I alluded to in earlier posts.

My backwards crash was not a conscious one; I crashed and was taken aback by what was happening to me.  After all, I was in counselling, taking anti-depressants, improving my diet, losing weight, enjoying fellowship with God.

Retrospective examination brought all this unbeknownst angst to the surface, where, fortunately, it can be dealt with.  As my counsellor so aptly put it, the muck in a glass of water can settle out to the bottom but if you jostle that glass the much gets stirred up- a perfect time to skim it off.  Hooray for skimming!

So, as I feel the oppression begin to lift, and my eyes start to drift back upward, I breathe in deeply, and think about the idea of identity a little more clearly.  I am still mother, wife, female, etc.  What I DO will look different, of course, now that I am not actively mothering.  But our sermon last Sunday was so perfectly timed that I cannot help but thank God for reminding me that He is there, walking through the muck with me.

Who am I?  I am a human being living on this world we called earth.  I am a Child of God, created to glorify Him.  My suffering has been great, but nothing compared to what He endured on the cross for my sake, and if I hold tight to the reminder that He walks with me and will use my suffering for His glory I will do it again.

"Whom have I in heaven but Thee?  And there is nothing on earth I desire 
besides Thee.  My flesh and my heart may fail, 
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."

                                                                                                      -Psalm 73:25-36

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Old Pleasures

I am writing again.  A wee, little bit.  It has been a long, long time since I put proverbial pen to paper and laid fiction on the page, and I am unsure why I am revisiting old words.  Maybe I needed time and distance; maybe I am lazy and unmotivated.  What is un-changed in all this time is the characters that live in my head, clamoring for their story to be told.  I think they are frustrated by my just not getting it right, that I just don't know them well enough.  Hmmm.

It has been a bit of a desert for me, creatively speaking.  I have no design work, and no budget to do any designing at my own home.  I painted and re-arranged furniture, that lasted me well for about a week.  I miss the intellectual stimulation I got at school and when I was at The Clearing.  Maybe I need to take another class.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pacing Myself

Focus.  That's what I need.  Every day, sure, but especially those days, like today, when my energy level is up, I am feeling super-motivated, and start thinking about all the fifty gabillion things I need to do and the myriad projects I can start.  My appetite for productivity is making my metaphoric eyes larger than my proverbial stomach.

First things first:  what are the things I absolutely MUST accomplish TODAY?  Start there.  If I get finished, move on down the list of importance.

Focus.  And don't burn myself out.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Back on track?

It has been awhile.  I refuse to give up hope that I can consistently journal, so just to get some words on the page I will do a little posting today.

It has been hot.  Hot and dry.  The sun is scorching our earth, killing our crops and withering our spirits.  I feel the way I do in the middle of winter, when an unreasonable hopelessness descends and threatens to stay until weather-related relief drives it out with whips and shouts.  The pasture is all brown (except the weeds, of course,) but I did manage to get some hay in the barn.  If I play my cards right I might even be able to get all the way through winter.  I really should think about getting another fifty bales or so in, but loading and unloading hay in 95 degree heat dropped a nice load of heat exhaustion on me and I think I might still be recovering from that after a whole week.

My tomatoes suffered some serious herbicide damage.  It is unclear at this time whether it came from my manure contaminated with pesticides from treated hay or whether I caught some drift from local spraying, but most of the tomatoes are toast.  I think I will be pulling some out today, and leaving only those that are still producing.  I did get some absolutely fabulous broccoli out of the garden, and some beautiful cauliflower that never got eaten.  (Note to self: we didn't eat the cauliflower but loved the broccoli.  Grow what you love.)  We planted some melons late, but they are growing well, finally.  I have hopes of getting some nice melons before it turns cold again.  Peppers have been a bit of a flop, fruits are misshapen and off-color, although with some heirloom varieties like "Chablis" the pale green color is likely spot-on.

The sweet cherries we bought at a local farmstand were wonderful, and we bought them out.  At 3.99 a pound they are still cheaper than buying frozen ones from the grocery.  Steve had a good old time pitting them with my hand-pitter, turning a section of counter-top into what looked like a surgical table when he was done, with crimson splashes of juice on the counter, walls, fruit and appliances.  Good thing he's cute.

The floor in our bedroom is torn up.  Just before I went out of town to The Clearing we had a massive storm system move through our area while we were away visiting friends.  The wind blew the rain so hard through our open windows that our whole carpet got soaked, then ruined.  We have decided to put down laminate, which will be much easier to maintain with the big dogs in the house.  So I took the opportunity to repaint the bedroom, after agonizing over just the right color.  It took me three tries at the mixing station at Ace to get the right color, and I am finally happy with it.  I will be very, very happy to get the room back together, but we are still looking at a couple of weeks.  Gah.

I am sort of at a point of being overwhelmed.  there is a loot of mess to clean up- in the barn, in the house, in the garage, the shed, the basement.  I am not feeling particularly motivated so it makes me feel all the more anxious about it.  I have been struggling with feelings of depression again, and actually wonder if I didn't get a bad batch of meds.  I mean, how would I even know of they had been exposed to high heat or something?  My suspicion is that the underlying cause of said depression (and a host of other issues) is not being addressed, and I have taken steps to find out if this is true.  I have made an appointment with a doctor out of the Chicago suburbs, who is doing a much more thorough blood panel than I have gotten, in addition to a saliva test to check female hormone levels.  I feel like it is the right thing to do, but have no expectation, yet, that I will find relief.  Maybe I am jaded, but I have never gone to any doctor for any chronic issue (even things like my plantar fasciitis) and gotten answers or relief.  The jury is out until further notice.

The chickies are no longer babies, but adolescents on the very of growing up and beginning laying.  I have made a ghetto-pen for them to hang out in outdoors if they choose, and have decided to wait until cooler weather to get their real pen built.  I am also considering how to encourage them to stay in the pasture so they can free-range.  I do still worry about hawks.

So there it is, a brief update.  After a visit to The Clearing in Ellison Bay, WI I came home with a desire to write again, and I am going to try to nurture that.  In this season of no work and little money for plants or decorating it is a good way to fulfill my need to create.

We'll see how that goes.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Vegetables, Meet Soil: Ready? Set? Grow!!!


Finally got my tomatoes and peppers in the ground, even though “finally” is a misconception.  I bought plants this year; I planned to grow my own from seeds, but my days got away from me and I let the seeds dry out under their lights.  It is definitely not “late” to be planting starts, but it feels like it because I would be so far behind if I were starting seeds.

My former employer, Distinctive Gardens, grows awesome, organic tomato and pepper starts for sale.  They love the funky and the heirloom, and Bud has a thing for hot peppers.  Hot is not my thing, but even the selection of sweet peppers was enticing.

This year I built (okay, Steve did most of the work building these!) two more raised beds, built out of 2x10 construction lumber (whoops, did I do 8-inchers last year??) and treated with boiled linseed oil to prolong their life in the weather.  Treated wood is not an option in my garden, I do not want treatment chemicals leaching into my soils and thus into my food.

Because I accidentally built these beds bigger my normal 10 bags of topsoil supplemented with my composted horse manure (see?  She’s good for something!) was not enough.  The ONE bed took all 20 bags!  That’s okay, though.  I can go back for another load.

So, finally I get to fill those beds and plant those vegetables.  20 bags is 800 pounds of topsol.  That is a lot of hefting, especially at the end of a long day of planting for work.  I got it done, though.

The starts are beautiful, good color and reaching for the sky.  The planting is easy, with all that loose soil, so my soil knife (A.M. Leonard, you will never use another tool!) is sufficient for the planting.

It feels right to be caressing the soil, gently firming around the baby plants.  I stick the tag beside each plant and their names intrigue and amuse me: Red Rose, Big Bertha, Mule Team, Chablis.  They spark my imagination for late summer, when I will be picking luscious fruits from the vines.  That is, IF they grow well and I am not neglectful. 

Last year I got a couple measly peppers and zero tomatoes.  What appears to have happened is a drift of herbicide that sought and found my ‘maters.  They never grew except marginally and in the most contorted way.  Disappointed, I pulled them all.

This year I am hopeful.  I still have another bed to fill and plant, and plenty of seeds that can be direct-sown.  Cut cattle panels will make fantastic bean trellises, and compost will make wonderful mounds in which to grow melons and pumpkins. I WILL nurture these plants and I WILL enjoy the fruits of my harvest this Fall.

Watch me.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Legacy of a Friend

In 1999 I was newly installed in a country home, had animals on the property for the first time and was actively involved in an organization called Pegasus Special Riders. Pegasus helped me get back involved in horses after a long hiatus, and I loved being a part of the team. I volunteered with barn chores, sidewalking and leading during lessons and, finally, training volunteers. This last task brought me in contact with a woman who would change my life in myriad ways, and all for the better. Laura showed up one morning for volunteer training, and she claims she appreciated the straight-forward way I had during interaction with the volunteers. I knew right away she was an intelligent and sensitive person, and we became fast friends. Laura is unlike most other people I knew. She is a rural girl but not “country.” She is highly learned and very intelligent, but not arrogant.

 I never knew much at all about native plants and plant communities when I met Laura, but it did not take long for her to expand my knowledge and create a solid appreciation for our natural resources and a desire to live more lightly on the land. Conscientious to a tee, animals under her care are always treated with respect and dignity.

 When I think back I ask myself, “Which came first? The chicken or the coffee?” I was completely unfamiliar with either when I met Laura, and she unashamedly got me hooked on both! I knew I wanted chickens, and she said “You should, you will love them.” I had no idea I really WOULD love them and become enamored with their silly ways, their beautiful feather patterns and the precious warm gifts they would leave for us each morning. Six hens quickly turned to a dozen, then twenty. I had a go-around with meat birds, too, and while that didn’t turn out to be my thing it is not off the table yet for our new place. Likewise, the first time she encouraged me to try a Starbucks chilled Frappuchino with chocolate milk I was SOLD! That led to mochas at the local indy bookstore to brewing my own at home. *gasp!* Now I am adept at brewing a cup or two in my French press and making my own mochas at home with ground chocolate and coconut milk creamer.

 Eager to return the enablement favor, I introduced Laura to my own horses. She had ridden and loved horses all her life, but loved being in contact with the Pegasus horses and taking opportunities to ride with me. When the time came for us to find a new home for one of ours she took the plunge and bought him! He was a great companion for her for a few years until life got too busy for her to spend enough quality time with him and he went on to a new home.

 Laura and I had many great times together. When our kids were younger we would head to the local bookstore, drink coffee and chatter with the store-owner. We would read the organic gardening magazines together and talk about our fantasies of having our own, self-sufficient gardens and animals. She introduced me more fully to the world of art, and helped me fall in love with an artist or two. Many beautiful prints hang in my home now because of Laura’s influence.

Laura was a faithful friend. She still is. She never judged me, at least not to my face! She was always patient and kind and helped me reach my own conclusions on weighty matters. When I struggled she stood by and held me up. When rejoiced she sang with me. When I cried she cried.

 Things are a little different now. We don’t talk as often, seldom, in fact. She is working full-time now, as am I. The farm here keeps me as busy as my professional work does, and spending time any friends is difficult, let alone the ones who also work much. The other night we had a lovely conversation on the phone, and I was reminded again how much I care about and miss her, and what a precious gift she has been in my life. I can honestly say, without exaggeration, that there are several big aspects of my life now that would not be there except by her influence- my school and work careers being among them. It is probably safe to say that she helped me grow as a person more than any other person in my life.

 The only picture I have of her and me together; a terrible one of me but one I cherish nonetheless; a morning we spent canoeing on the Rock River:
                        

I hope I never take her for granted, and that she knows how important she is to me.
 I think I’ll tell her.

Friday, April 20, 2012

How Tight is YOUR Coop?

It is quiet on my work front today, has been for a couple weeks now. A minor back injury has sidelined me and left me chomping at the bit to get going again. I have already learned that to rush it will only be worse. I have still been able to meet with clients and do some drawing and planning, but maintenance has been out of the question, and that includes my gardens here at home. My landscaping (for what its worth) and vegetable -garden-to-come are in shambles. I am about ready to recruit me some boys to get all this back in order and ready to roll for the season!

The good news is that I have managed, with Steve’s much-appreciated help, to get the chicks out to the barn and into their stall-turned-coop. They are now four weeks old, and nearly completely feathered out. They officially look like miniature chickens and not like infants! They sound like infants still, and that is strange.

Back when I had full back function I built the coop door to hold two catch latches and eye-screws to which I can clip a bolt latch. The combination of these will render the coop impenetrable to raccoons…at least by this avenue! They have been known to rip through chicken wire, but that is a gamble I have chosen to take, seeing as how the cost of using the alternative, hardware cloth, is very expensive.






So, the other day I was visiting said chicks in their new home; for some reason they are much bolder and easier to catch out there, so I was catching and cuddling a few. I saw the cat coming to check out the happenings, so I pulled the door tighter to make sure she could not squeeze through. Unfortunately for me, that top latch performed exactly as intended and latched me in. Oooh…did someone (besides me?) manage to get a latch string installed yet? One that would allow someone to unlatch themselves from the coop from the inside? Nope. Dangit. No one was answering phones at the house. The only alternative left me was to unwind pieces of chicken wire where it was exposed on the edges and form a strong enough hook to reach through the wire, snag the tiny hole on the arm of the latch and let myself out. Second attempt was the one that gained me my freedom, whew! Fortunately it was not cold, and Steve was expected home any minute. I was glad, however, not to have to yell for him to let me out. We still got a good laugh at it.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Monday Musings, 3rd edition

It has been a whole week since I updated my blog, and I hope this will not set the pattern for the duration. It HAS been a very busy week, though, and I have hardly had time to sit down and play, let alone come up with something useful to share. My schedule has been amazingly full, which is good AND bad. I have hardly had a chance to finish preparing for the season before it was jump-starting a month early. So nearly every free minute last week was taken up with cleaning and organizing my work stuff and doing that boring admin work. This is all in addition to the regular family stuff like cooking dinner, paying bills, grocery shopping, building a chicken coop, caring for chicks, etc.

We finally got the tractor started and running. It needed to be jump-started last week, but I guess we didn't let it run long enough, for when we tried to start it again the battery was completely dead. but now the pastures are mowed and filling in beautifully, and even the lawn got done with the bush hog. Yes, it was that long. *sigh*

The chicken coop is nearly done, and I am thinking "just in time!" The chicks still have plenty of room to run around their pool/box, but they are getting rowdier by the day. They frequently overturn their waterer, and will scratch their feed into the shavings in about 10 minutes flat. Grr! Plus, their darting and flapping and shrieking has become a nuisance at night. They are still super-cute, though, piling together on their kindergarten-perch or stretching all out on the shavings for a nap. Their wings are nearly completely feathered, and their tails are getting so long. hard to believe they are only two weeks old!

Griffin tried to grab a brat off the counter last night, but I caught him before he could figure out he only scored the bun and not the meat. I gave him a tongue-lashing and banished him outside (boy its great to catch them in the act!) but that hasn't yet deterred him from his behavior. he gets a nice 'come-to-Jesus meetin' " every time I catch him (third time?)to no avail. Not sure what to do about it now.

Steve is off for a couple days, today and tomorrow. Tomorrow we will hit up an art museum and maybe a garden; today is still up in the air. A trip to Barnes and Noble is about all I know for sure. I DO know that it has been awhile since we have spent a day together and I am looking forward to it.

Today or tomorrow I start the Green Smoothie Girl's 12-step program to healthier eating for life (www.greensmoothiegirl.com) but I am not looking forward to it. I can probably tolerate a mostly-vegetable smoothie, but I really don't like raw vegetables. Apparently cooking them higher than 116 degrees destroys the good enzymes in them, so I understand the benefit, but for the first time in my healthy-eating journey I am feeling a little distressed about my diet. The program is meant to be accomplished one step per month over a year, so we'll see how it goes. Maybe slow will be the trick.

Guess that's it. The birds are back and in full courtship mode, and barn chores wait for no man.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Random Musings, Redux

Wow, the weather went from balmy to brrr literally overnight! It feels quite like March today, then back into unseasonable temps for the next ten days or so. This weather makes it a lot easier for me to transition into my landscaping mode.

Our chicks arrived last week, and they are just so cute and funny! We are all enjoying them, even the dogs. I put a chicken-wire lid over the brooder box so they could safely stare at them as much as they want- which is quite a bit, actually. Every chick in the shipment arrived healthy and has stayed healthy.



We were disappointed to think we were going to have to replace the starter in our '48 Ford 8n tractor, but turns out the battery was just totally depleted and our charger gauge is inaccurate. Got it jumped, turned over and ran the first time! You can't beat that old machinery with a stick, when it is properly maintained.

I have an incredible small group to attend every other Sunday evening. Our leader(s) is/are committed, Godly, humble, and wise. My fellow group-attenders are a fantastic group and are not afraid to speak their minds when they don't understand or when they have something to offer the group. Our church has a handful of elders that oversees the goings-on of our church, but even outside the elders our church is populated with many God-seeking men who spend the time to search God and stay in love with Him. Over the years we have lost many such people to the mission field or moving, but as Francis Chan says in "Crazy Love," the analogy was used for him once that a group of Christians is like a pile of manure. Leave it growing in a pile in one place and it is a stinky mess. Spread it out, though, and air and light gets to it and it helps make the plants grow. So it can go with Christians, too. It is bittersweet when we send someone else out to make a difference somewhere else.

I have to mow the lawn already. I like to mow, but it is time-consuming and wasteful of fuel. Last Fall we over-seeded our front 1.5 acres with prairie seed, and killed off a big section of lawn on the west boundary to be over-seeded with prairie grass. Between shrinking the lawn, adding prairie and gardens, the mowing should be reduced to highly-manageable levels in just a couple years.

I came home from small group last night to see Matt walking up the drive with a flashlight. "What's going on?" I ask him as I pull alongside. He and Jeanette heard a startling noise and he went out to see if our Minnie-Kitty (our barn cat) was alright. She was nowhere to be found, and we nervously chalked it up to her being out hunting. At chore time I found clumps of grey and cream fur that could have been hers and could have been from a rabbit. Gratefully Phil spotted her on his way back home a while later. We fully understand that Minnie's outdoor home comes with her potential peril every night when the coyotes and raccoons are out and about. Even one, big feral cat could do her in.

Work is busy; I like it. I think I picked up another job yesterday in the course of random conversation. It is going exactly the way I had hoped God would allow it- jobs just keep coming up, not too fast that I cannot handle it all, but enough to encourage me that I am going in the right direction.

Life is crazy; life is nutty, and fast and awful and beautiful. But God is good; I truly believe that. It is harder to believe it when the crappy times hit, but I do nonetheless. To Him be the glory.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Full Steam Ahead

I knew this would happen. This scenario is what I have been preparing for since the end of LAST season: the weather takes a turn for the better (okay, aMAZing!) and immediately there will be 101 things that need doing outside here on the property and landscaping jobs that are ready to roll! Rest assured, this is NOT a complaint. It is exactly how I imagined; however it is a little hectic, the white space in my calendar disappears rapidly, and the housework piles up. Somehow I can’t bring myself to be stressed about that housework though, because it is still March. There will be inside work days- like today. Still a pile of tasks to accomplish, but I have already accomplished so much. I am working with a clarity and focus that I haven’t really had for about four years. That is startling to me. It also makes me excited for the rest of the season. After all, this is what I have been working toward for three years, and where I believe God has led me.

It is going to be an adjustment for everybody: myself, the people who are here during the day, even the dogs. I have re-discovered joy in my home tasks; I still hate how much time cooking takes, but I love planning meals, prepping and cooking, and when Phil texts me “Is there food at home?” I can say “Yes! Yes there is food at home.” It will get squirrelly at dinner-time from here on out, and finding recipes for the slow-cooker that are also healthy is proving to be a bit of a challenge.

On a side-note, my coop is almost ready, albeit it in most basic form. It will be a few months before the chicks will be big enough to go outside on their own into a pen, so I have made my first-stage goal to build a door and enclose all openings in the stall with chicken wire. This is nearly accomplished! The door needs hardware, bracing and chicken wire, but fudging around with dimensions and figuring out the logistics of stringing the netting is finished. Next is cleaning out built up yuck from the previous owners, setting up perches and arranging nest boxes and feeders. It will be awhile before they will be ready for nest boxes and perches, but chickens are not super-smart, and the earlier they are accustomed to their new landscape the less they have to be freaked out by the addition of new “scenery.”

So, this afternoon I submit my first proposal of the season, and tomorrow I meet with a new client to discuss a BIG design job. The day after that I begin a new season at an old client’s house, and Thursday I join a friend in cleaning up her yard and establishing new veggie garden areas. Always a treat there, with the chickens and dogs and fish pond and snakes. The snakes make me squeal every time I see one, but only because I am easily surprised. I do love them, even if I don’t want them climbing up my pant leg!

Well, would you look at that! Time to go already….vroom vroom!!!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Thinking on Heaven

I can’t think of anything more impossible than a human being trying to imagine what Heaven will be like. An awful lot of people think about it habitually, particularly true followers of Christ. I am sure our thoughts all run a whole spectrum of images and reflections, but how can an earthly mind even begin to comprehend the eternal and the perfect?

This is one of those fine Spring mornings when my heart is still, the sun is soft and the breeze delicious and fresh. In the wee hours of the morning a tremendous storm cell rolled through our area and surrounding counties, lashing rain upon earth that has been parched from a warm winter, and splitting the clouds with thunder that shook the foundations of our homes. Lightning lit the skies like daytime. As so often happens after just such a storm the day dawned bright and clear. It is the kind of day in which I could be still all day, just feeling the breeze and listening to the birdsong, not saying a word. The calm in my heart and mind is yet unaffected by the cares of the day or the world.

Additionally, some friends posted photos taken in Nepal, where they are doing language surveys in remote Himalayan villages. Ben and Holly are abundantly blessed with God-given talents, and Ben’s photos are National Geographic-worthy, to say the least. He is also somewhat of a purist, relying on the knowledge he has gained and his experience behind the camera to capture the pure heart of each scene. In this age of digital revolution when any person can manipulate an image into seeming perfection, Ben’s photos are beautiful and technically wondrous just as they are; the images are minimally manipulated if at all. This morning I came across this photo, and it was so overwhelmingly beautiful I didn’t even look at the rest; it is difficult to take in so much beauty all at once. (Please click on this photo to make is larger)

Now I think of the best this earth has to offer: I try to imagine standing on that mountain in Nepal, with the stunning beauty of the Kiev Chamber Choir singing ‘Bless the Lord, Oh My Soul’ (one of the few pieces of music on this earth that will move me to tears EVERY time. Sometimes even when I am only thinking about it…like now…) ringing in my ears, with this morning’s ambrosial breeze on my face, and my mind quiet and at peace. I can’t help but to think that Heaven has got to be like this. I let myself bask in that thought for about a minute before I venture forward in my thoughts a little more. I know, intellectually, that Heaven will be nothing like this. It is so far beyond the best of this imperfect world that I cannot even reckon it. Then there is that final thought, the subject of Jesus.

I am working my way through Francis Chan’s book “Crazy Love,” and it is a wonderful book. Within the narrative he puts forth this challenge: If every one of our favorite and most amazing things will be waiting for us in Heaven, but there is no Jesus, will we still want to go? It is a perfectly legitimate question. We as Christians are called to be so in love with Jesus that NONE of the rest of this stuff, as amazing and visceral as it all is, matters. What only matters is to be with Him, the Author of our salvation. After all, this is why we were saved (if we are) in the first place, to gain access to the God of Heaven and of Earth. (Ephesians 2:5-7)

So we might think, when considering these awesome earthly wonders, that it does not get any better than this. Our mind cannot comprehend what it does not know.

‘But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him"—‘ I Corinthians 2:9

So I soak in the light, and bask in the beauty of the day….and think about the time when it will be unimaginably better…even better than this.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Let the Gardening Season Begin!

I had the supreme pleasure of beginning my work season at the home and in the garden of a lovely friend. Yesterday was an extremely atypical March day in northern Illinois, finishing out in the 70's for crying out loud! But it is so satisfying to help clients get an early start to cleaning out and garden planning.

This year, as a fledgling business, it will be the first time I will not have an outside employer and will be solely responsible for generating my own income. (Click title link for more information) This has taken a lot of faith in God having brought me to this place for a reason, for other employment opportunities have come my way. I could have had 40 guaranteed hours at Nachusa, every week, for the entire season, but after the Mid-America Horticultural Trade Show I came away more excited than ever to get my hands dirty in the garden and jump back into design for the season.

I have some irons in the fire, and word is getting out about my work. (It would probably help if got that advertisement completed. :o/ ) Maybe I will be swamped with work! Maybe I will limp along for three seasons and decide to throw in the towel. maybe a totally unexpected opportunity will come my way that I will just have to explore.

I don't know; what I do know is that I have worked hard to get to this place, and had faith that I was on the right path. I also know that whatever happens it will be a learning experience.

And I know I am excited for the outcome.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Chickens Are Coming! The Chickens are Coming!

Another edition of The Prairie Homestead's barn Hop! Click the post title to get back there...

It has been six years since I gave up my rainbow-colored flock of 20 laying hens, the year we moved out of Hell House and into a house in town to recover financially and emotionally. It was strange to me that such a rural town, much of which was comprised of retired farmers, did not allow chickens in any way, shape or form, in town. I was fortunate enough to find someone local to take my whole flock, gently and gratefully.


I missed them a lot, maybe even more than the horse. (Is that possible?) While in town I dreamed again of having some space to raise chickens again, and here we are, six years later, ready to go once more! One 9x9 stall in the barn will have a coon-proof door built, will be completely enclosed with chicken wire, and will eventually have windows cut and an opening to an outdoor run.

But when the chicks arrive on March 21, they will be tiny and featherless. Keeping them warm, dry and well-fed will be top priority, so they will spend some time in a large plastic tote in my kitchen- in the basement, if need be, although that is less than ideal. It is surprising how noisy chicklets can be!

So my new starter flock will include:

· 2 Buff Orpingtons

· 4 Auracanas/Americaunas

· 2 Golden-Laced Wyandottes

· 2 New Hampshire Reds

· 2 Single Comb Brown Leghorns

It is not quite as “rainbow-y” as I would like, but I am pleased with the start! On my wishlist still are another pair of Salmon Faverolles, some Welsummers, Black Copper Marans and Barnvelders. There are actually quite a few left on the wish list, but those are my “priority favorites” for their tinted eggs and, in the case of the Faverolles, their beautiful, bearded faces.

Nothing beats farm fresh eggs, and the family all know that- except my daughter-in-law, that is! This will be her first experience with chickens and she is nearly as excited as I am!

So here we sit, with bated breath and drumming fingers, day-dreaming of the peep-peep-ing box that will signal that we are one step further our homesteading journey.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

My Journey to Wholeness


It is only natural that when people hear the term “holistic” it conjures up notions of hippies and herbalists, tree-huggers and voo-doo. But consider these definitions:

Holistic: (adj)

1. Characterized by the comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole

2. Characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the physical symptoms of disease

(Google dictionary)

Or:

"Emphasizing the organic or functional relation between parts and the whole"

(worldnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn)


These are pretty accurate in describing the personal journey I have been on for several months now. It has nothing to do with herbs or sticks and twigs or hippies. Rather it is the examination of myself as a complete unit of body, mind and spirit. For a few years now, somewhere between two and three years, I have encountered stress upon stress, and it has taken its toll on me. (Reference “If You Really Want to Know” for an introduction to this.) Finally, at the end of 2011, it reached a peak from which I could not climb down on my own. A family trauma left me reeling and broken emotionally, and opened my eyes to years of manipulation, and finally led me to seek counseling for the second time in my life. Meeting with a counselor led me to getting a complete physical, which revealed exorbitant levels of cholesterol and blood sugar, and extreme deficiency in my Vitamin D level. (This is actually a pretty chronic thing among Americans, this D deficiency. I highly recommend people get their levels established and do the research as to why this is important.) Worst of all, depression had left my high and dry, physically and spiritually. I had no desire to do much of anything, let alone try to connect with the God of the universe and maintain a relationship with him. I was languishing in the desert.

When we moved onto this property at the end of 2010, we brought with us stuff we had collected over the years at the previous place, plus junk we had collected at the place before that (aka Hell House). From day one I said, “I will not move this crap anymore,” and started throwing things away, re-homing other things, and really examining why I was hanging on to belongings that only made more work for me and less time for things that were truly important. To say it was liberating to let go of stuff is a major understatement!

Once I started counseling, though, the analogies hit me like a ton of bricks. Okay, sure, I was hauling around with me a bunch of useless garbage that only weighed me down and robbed my joy. But boy oh boy, the emotional baggage I was hauling around!!! The trauma inflicted upon me by a close family member left me reeling in shock and absolutely heart-broken, but through the pain lucidity prevailed, and things I had chosen to ignore and allowed to happen were revealed in perfect clarity. It took me several weeks to process it all, and a patient and kind counselor, but I was finally, in the end, able to put down emotional baggage I had been carrying with me for decades. I only needed to open my eyes to the burden I had allowed to be placed upon me to finally realize that is was not even mine to be carrying. Talk about liberation!!!!

Though clarification was mine, years of stress and depression had left me depleted. I made the decision to begin anti-depressants for the first time in my life. I never wanted to before, and I have come through bouts of depression in the past with good counseling and spiritual renewal. I came to realize, though, that sometimes you can just get so low, biologically speaking, that recovery is doubtful without medical support. I take an antibiotic when I have an infection; I felt my mental state warranted some assistance.

The state of my body and my diet has been deplorable for several years. I don’t even understand how I got through the summers of landscaping work like I did. My diet was terrible, high in comfort foods and foods eaten to unwittingly boost my endorphins and adrenals. The result is being overweight, over-cholesterol, over-sugared. There was no way I was going to exercise the way I needed to if I didn’t feel like it. There was no way I was going to feel like it unless I felt better. Vicious cycle, right? You betcha. But test results don’t lie, and are a huge wake-up call. Reduce my sugar levels, lower my cholesterol, make my heart and body fit again or risk serious, life-long health debilitation.

Meds helped me feel better emotionally, and started bringing my mental state back to normal. Feeling better allowed me to set aside the foods that would comfort me, which, in turn, also made me feel better physically. Feeling better allowed me to WANT to be healthy, and inspired me to exercise and reduce my calorie and cholesterol intakes. Finally, feeling better helped me remember what I was missing in my walk with God, or LACK of walk. I craved Him, not food. I craved the spiritual peace that comes from fellowship with Him. The more time I now spend reconnecting with God the more my life-paradigm shifts back to proper balance. Mind:body:spirit.

So my journey to wellness again is circular in a way I can’t even fully understand, but I accept it at face value. I have a lot of work yet to do, but I also understand that the journey is about learning and growing and not about “getting there;” at least as long as I am a part of THIS realm. I have cleaned out so much physical junk from my basement and shed and drawers, but just when I think I am done I come across stashes of detritus. Literally and figuratively I will continue to seek those pockets of rot and get rid of them; for I am on a journey, a journey to wholeness.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Yeah, About Those Lyrics....

"All I know is I'm not home yet,
this is not where I belong.
Take this world but give me Jesus;
This is not where I belong."
-from "Where I Belong" by Building 429

Random Thoughts in Lieu of Philosophical Musings

The low last night was 48 degrees Fahrenheit. I kept my windows open until about eight o'clock last night, and the fresh air was wonderful! I am sure Tuesday, my older mare, was very pleased to go without her blanket for a full 24 hours. That thing sure does make it hard to scratch all the right places in a satisfying manner.

So it is another day full of promise and possibility; there is lots to do, will I have the perseverance to make it through and be productive?

Matt and Jeanette have been in Michigan since Saturday afternoon, and the house has been very, very quiet. They are due back today or tomorrow, but they are having so much fun that I suspect it will be tomorrow before they return. In some ways it is too quiet; it some ways it is blessedly quiet. I love it now, but when they go for good it is going to be harder.

My body is feeling stronger as I exercise to be fit and eat to be healthy. I am overall feeling so much better; of course anti-depressants might have something to do with that. I am certain that in time and with health recovery I will be able to leave behind the anti-depressants and be healthy through and through.

Phil is on Spring Break but has been working a lot. I am very proud of him for being diligent, making better decisions about being autonomous over his life and considering the future.

Chicks come in two weeks. Guess I better get that coop ready, although I will be brooding them in the house for at least two weeks.

Bud swell on the maples! A large number of big , mature maples in town have been tapped for sugar, and with brand-new equipment. This is interesting to me. I should probably read the paper more often.

Steve is working afternoons this week, teaching the brand-new class how to function as part of an actual crew in addition to just having the knowledge they need to run a nuclear plant. He is very good at what he does and loves the work. Sometimes the days are long, teaching all day and being on his feet all that time wears him out. But I am so proud of this man to whom I am bonded.

Just cleaned the cat litter box. Okay, gross, I know. But recently I switched from feeding her a low-cal "diet" food to full-blown Taste of the Wild (something fishy.) I was told she would probably actually drop weight versus the diet food because it is so efficient produced that they end up eating less. It's true. The litter box is also less full and less smelly. This is an unpaid plug for feeding your animals whole, appropriate foods. Dogs and cats are not herbivores, don't feed them corn and wheat and soy. Feed them meat.

Last night I watched episode four of this season's "Top Shot." Man, that Greg guy is weird. That guy's got issues.

I heard this awesome song on K-Love yesterday, heard the lyrics and tune in my sleep last night. Now I cannot remember either, which doesn't help with a lyric search. Score.

Today I am one day older than yesterday. And that's okay.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Gimme Shelter!

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to be a quest poster on my friend Alena's blog, Our Little Bit of Wonderful. Clicking the title above will take you there!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Spring Has Never Yet Failed to Show...

I am excited to make my first contribution to The Prairie Homestead's Barn Hop! Clicking the post title will link you back to their post regarding the barn hop. until I figure out how to work the glitches in my own blog I cannot include links in my actual post.


It feels ungrateful to even utter those words: “Will Spring ever get here?” After all, here in northern Illinois we have had a remarkable, tumultuous and…warm…winter. We have barely topped six inches of snow for the entire snow season, although we have had significant rainfalls. Many, many days in what used to the dead of January or February we were running around in short sleeves. My senior citizen mare has even gotten to go naked for days at a time! Now that is remarkable in the land where we hold the record for the number of freeze-thaw cycles every year.

Even, so, at the risk of being accused of not counting my blessings, I long for Spring. The dreariness takes its toll on me as it does many people, but even on the warmest of days my hands are still tied in regards to gardening. It might be 60 degrees in February but that certainly does not mean it’s time to work in the garden!

We are relatively new to this five-acre tract of heavenly-preview, but it certainly is not the first time we have lived a rural lifestyle. Even so, it has been a lot of work to get settled in here, learn the sun, water and wind of the land and make plans. Growing our own food is important to us, so we did get some fruit trees in right away; awaiting bud-break in Spring are whips of apple, pear, peach and cherry trees. The two raised beds I started my garden with are still sleeping soundly.

This week, however, I got a call from a friend, asking about some composted manure, and about getting together to plan her garden. I know I have way more seeds than I will use this year, so I busted them out to take inventory of what I had, and see which seeds could be shared or exchanged.

Seeing their tiny shells, pregnant with expectation was gratifying to see, and feel. The slick coats of the beans rattled in my hand, and the startling geometric shapes of the swiss chard were treat to behold. Even their names intrigue and stimulate: Rutger and Oxheart tomatoes, Italian Borlotti beans, Jarrahdale pumpkins. Speaking their names out loud sounds like poetry, and inspires images of a garden of color and sustenance.

It might be a warm winter, but it is still winter. Come on, Spring, arrive… we have the business of growing to get on with.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Tragedy, a Miracle

There comes a point in the life of anyone who owns an animal, whether it be pet or food or servant, that they face the end of that animal’s life. The circumstances are varied and reactions differ from person-to-person. Yesterday was just such a day for us.

The dogs had been pretty wound up after spotting deer in the yard tonight, and wanted to go back outside to get the wiggles out. Mere minutes later (ten? Fifteen?) I hear crazy yipping from the backyard, and my IMMEDIATE thought is of Roxie jumping the gate again like she had earlier today and two days ago, and the packs of coyotes that are frequent travelers through the yard and prairie. I flew to the door, threw it open and called them.

“Dogs!”

“Roxie!”

“GRIFFIN!”

There is a panicked snarling and whining and yelping from the yard. No dogs. It is ten o’clock at night, and pitch black. I start shouting.

“HEY! Hey!! Hey!”

I am fairly certain that the coyotes will flee at the sound of my voice. Nothing changes, the yelping intensifies. Steve comes flying out the bedroom door and around the corner to the yard. Time condenses to a thick bubble around just my head. I flee back into the house for light. The flashlight batteries are dead. Matt miraculously produces a head lamp with bright lights, and I tear down the deck stairs into the yard, where Steve and two dogs struggle. Just two dogs. No coyotes. What the HELL is going on? Steve is in the mud in his bare feet and underwear, so it is serious, and I do not hesitate to run into the fray. What I see takes my breath away.

Griffin’s jaw is clamped around Roxie’s neck and his face is crazed.

What? This is not Griffin! What is he doing! I rush in and seize him; Roxie is limp and unresponsive, and I shout at him to “Drop!” Steve has his hands on both of them and he says, “She’s dead. He is caught on her collar by his tooth and I need a knife to cut the collar. Just a terrible accident.” Griffin is not crazed, he is panicked. And now I am panicking and cannot control it. Roxie’s dead!! No! She’s dead!! I race back up the stairs shouting for a knife, and my panic catches me. “Take the knife to dad,” I say to Matt. He is confused, unaware of what is happening, and Jeanette is in total distress. Matt runs away with the knife and I let it go. “Roxie’s dead!”

“NO!!!” I shriek. This is my husband’s beloved dog, and the feeling was mutual for her. Velcro-Nose would follow him with her nose practically velcroed to his calf, wherever he might go. As much as I have grown to love Roxie I could not even bear the thought of my husband losing his Baby.

“Oh God, no! Please! It can’t be true!” I am full-out melting down at this point. I plead, begged God to spare her life.

Steve walks in the door with her in his arms. Her eyes are open, but she is glazed over. I cannot even tell if she is breathing. I have never whipped out a phone so fast in my life, dialing the vet’s emergency number. While I am waiting for the call to go through I look at her, where she was laid in the middle of the living room floor. Her 85-pound puppy body looks so small and vulnerable in the vast ocean of carpet. She lay flat on the floor. Not moving, only gasping like these are the last breaths she will ever take. By the time the vet answers and I manage to get enough coherent words out to convey that my dog is in dire straits, Roxie is the tiniest bit responsive. Dr. Albano graciously agrees to meet us at the clinic, where I have told her that she will need to treat Roxie…or put her to sleep.

Little by little, life returns to Roxie’s body. I don’t want to believe it and be floored with grief and panic again, so I just drive; keep driving, mind the stop signs, set your cruise so you won’t speed. Steve keeps a hand on Roxie; he is sitting beside me in his jeans now, but in his stocking feet.

By the time we shut off the car at the clinic door, Dr. Albano is turning on the lights, rushing out a slipleash, and Roxie is…sitting up! Praise God!!! She is wobbly, her head is covered in saliva from Griffin’s panic, her body is filthy where he drug her unconscious body through the mud, and her hind end is covered in feces where her own body gave in to panic and released its stress in the last way it knew how. But she is ALIVE!

Watching her walk into the clinic under her own power, I broke down again, thanking God for hearing the pitiful cries of a human over a beloved pet. I could still hardly believe what I was seeing!

Roxie checked out remarkably well. Her heart rate was normal, her lungs sounded great, her capillary refill (used to measure blood pressure and oxygenation) is excellent. She is most certainly wiped out from her struggle to free herself from her critical entanglement, her journey to the brink of death and her subsequent resurrection.

She was not dead, she was unconscious. She was not dead, but she was within a hair’s breadth. Another minute, maybe two, and it would have been all over for her. As it is, it is a miracle she survived, that we even heard the distress calls through closed doors.

Griffin and Roxie are both young dogs, big dogs, and they play hard. In one of those freak accidents you believe only ever happens to other people, his tooth caught underneath her collar as they presumably wrestled or bear-hugged. His efforts to free himself choked her off, she passed out, he dragged her, panicking. I can’t help but understand that if this had happened in the daytime, when they were turned out together for a time we were not home, she would have died. No two ways about it. Mere seconds after cutting her collar and releasing Griffin, and at about the moment I am pleading to God for her life, she drew a deep, gasping breath. Steve shook her body, calling her name, and she breathed in what might still have been “agonal breaths,” or what are essentially death throes. He picked her up and cradled her against him and carried her into the house. You know the rest of the story.

It occurred to me how quickly our lives can change, in a split second and when we least expect it. I understand this was “only” a dog, but I can much more easily see how it could happen to lose a loved one in just the same way- quickly and without warning. A warm bath and some pain relievers will send Roxie into a deep, healing sleep, but there are families out there who do not have that same comfort. Their loved ones are gone, and there will be no bringing them back. I hope this incident with our Roxie will help me to be empathetic with those who grieve.

I know in the grand scheme of things it is just a little mercy, but it is a mercy nonetheless, and I give thanks to God for it.

Here are Griffin, aka "Reddog" and "Box o' " Roxie, our buppy dawgs:



Thursday, March 1, 2012

I am Happy to Give You a Chance to Win!

I love Amazon.com, I do a LOT of shopping there. Okay, not excessive, but if I need something and am going to order online, I always start there. My friend Alena is sponsoring a giveaway on her blog, and I have the ability to link back there- just click on the title of this post, it is as easy as that! Why not give it a shot?


The giveaway begins today, March 1, and ends on March 14th. I do believe there are multiple chances to win, and additional opportunities on multiple days. The winner will receive a $50 Amazon.com gift card. Now who wouldn't want that?

Monday, February 27, 2012

It is Not Just a Bunch of Weeds


In perfect keeping with the strange winter we have been experiencing, yesterday's temps were in the very high forties, affording us the perfect opportunity to hike out over the prairie. Trudging through slush and tall grass is vastly preferable to stomping on a treadmill, so I didn't even bat an eye. Steve was even game, which is unusual for him in the cold!

Nachusa Grasslands is the perfect prairie in which to hike, because, unlike most state parks and recreation areas, they are no rules about sticking to a trail, staying on the path, avoiding the best places on the prairie. In fact, they promote "freestyle" hiking at Nachusa, and the only real trails they have are the two-tracks on which the vehicles drive when need-be. Coupled with the fact that all we have to do is duck under the fence to be on Nachusa property, this is very convenient for us.

I love the prairie. Growing up in Vermont, the landscapes of my childhood were a lot of trees and forests, granite spills and verdant fields. Grasslands were a foreign concept to me until out arrival in Illinois in 1997. I still remember the day I fell in love with the prairie...

I was driving up the long, winding road that leads from the main road to the Forest Preserve building and museum. I had heard they offered preschool classes there, and since I was in the market for one for Phillip it was time to check it out. When you top the hill and make the turn into the parking lot, you are on one of the highest spots in Byron, and the prairie open up at your feet! The Nature Center and Museum squats atop the hill and overlooks the prairie like a grounded sentry, and I was instantly smitten. When the wind dances through the grasses is like being at the ocean again; an ocean of grass. And no one can call it boring; the russets and golds and browns combine to create the most freeform and dynamic quilt you might ever see. Tall-ies like compass plant, Indian grass and prairie dock offer texture along with the short-ies like little bluestem, prairie clover and goldenrods.

Now, being here in this home, we have come full-circle, so-to-speak. It is a matter of steps to bring ourselves in intimate contact with a unique and diverse ecosystem. As Steve and I head across the grass, I am always looking down. Not only must you watch where you are walking lest you turn an ankle, there are so many fascinating plants to see and discover, even in winter. I readily recognized leftover Round-Headed Bush Clover, Grass-Leaved Goldenrod and Bergamot among myriad others. Even after a winter of wind and moisture many of these plants can be plucked from their stems, crushed between your fingers or rolled between your palms, and they will still release their pungent and earthy fragrance. In addition, there are about seven distinct types of habitat and Nachusa, and a lot of cross-over among them, as well. The terrain varies from very easy to extremely rugged in places, lots of rolling hills, wetland areas, woods and savannah.

Our first steps are high on a “knob,” or hill, of sorts. Where the soil is poorer or drier the plants become shorter, more conservative and cautious. Little bluestem abounds, but the high places can also be where you find some of the coolest and rarest prairie plants. It is easy to walk through shortgrass prairie, for there is little to hinder your movement. You must watch out for patches of wild raspberries, though! My heart rate increases right away because I am still so out of shape, but that is good. Feel the burn! Burn those calories! We stride across the shortgrass for quite a while before the way starts to drop. Where the shortgrass is careful and cautious, the tallgrass is exuberant, reckless…uninhibited. Plenty of moisture allows the inhabitant plants to throw their roots deep, sometimes as deep as 10 feet! A massive root system allows for tremendous top-growth, hence the name “tallgrass” prairie. Some of the tallest species are ten feet tall! This is where walking can get tricky. Much of the plant material is already flattened down from wind and snow, but you must pick your feet up high to avoid tripping. It is also a good idea to walk with an arm before your face, to avoid getting smacked in the eye by grass. We trudge through the tallgrass. Ascending another knob, the grasses go short again, and my heart really starts to pound as we clamber uphill…yes! Feel the blood pumping through my veins, the crunch of dry grass beneath my feet, recognition of leftover (but rotted) prickly pear cactus as the grass gives way to rock. Massive outcropping of sand stone and St. Peters limestone dot the prairie, and even these rugged places provide a unique environment for very specific plants like shooting stars, stiff aster and gentians.

On our way back down the knob we pass an infant savannah…an area of combined grassland and minimal trees. Whichever trees survive prairie fires and browsing by deer will create their own little open forest-like area. Here are a few 15-foot bur oaks surrounded by their children, in various stages of life and death. Their corky bark is uniquely suited to sustaining the whoosh of a prairie fire and the drying winds they encounter. Their twisted limbs reach for the sky and out over the field of oak-children, ancient even in their youth.

As we climb back over another ridge and head back toward the house we pass by some of the sedge meadows, wetter places that offer their own protection from those who do not wish to get their feet wet or stuck. Some really elusive birds live in the sedge meadows in summer, like the bobolink, sedge wren and swamp sparrow. Their songs and calls taunt you from their dense hiding places, well-protected from the prying eyes of humans and predators.

Finally, we climb Schafer knob just before reaching the house again. Schafer is a highly diverse area, a good portion of which has never been plowed and probably minimally grazed in the centuries since man has been here. Prairie Dropseed and side-oats grama grasses live here, among the little bluestem, silky asters, thimbleweed and, if you are really lucky and looking carefully, some native orchids. This is a precious place.

I am always a little sorry to reach and be ducking under the fence back onto our little homestead property again. Time out on the prairie can come to a standstill of sorts, where the clock means nothing, but the rising and setting of the sun means everything. I have escaped into another world for a few precious minutes, and now it is time to come back to reality. But this is home, my sanctuary and shelter. My husband is beside me; what more could I want?

Friday, February 24, 2012

On Diet and Exercise

Among the many reasons I am inspired to blog again, tracking my journey to health again is a major player. I have known for years that my diet is not good, that I am overweight by at least 35 pounds and that I was playing Russian roulette with my sugar intake. Now the chickens have come home to roost, (figuratively only, since we are still preparing our coop for REAL chickens) for my really little, young, cute, mother-of-two doctor has informed me that my LDL cholesterol levels are much too high and my blood-sugar numbers are at pre-diabetic levels. Therefore, I am faced with a choice: diddle around at pretending to get healthy and fit, or do it for real. Let’s just say that the thought of injecting insulin and pricking my fingers multiple times a day is not particularly appealing; I will opt for dietary changes and the addition of cardiovascular activity. Ready? Go……!

Ugh. This sucks! 1500 calories a day max? Seriously? That really sounds like a lot until you really start tracking your intake. I signed up (for free) at myfitnesspal.com, where you plug in your personal stats and weight-loss goals, then they tabulate for you the numbers for calories, carbs, fat and protein you should hit each day. I always drank my sweet, chocolatey coffee guilt-free because I figured a little bitta this and a little bitta that didn’t really add up to much. Well, it does. ONE cup of my favorite morning beverage is equal to nearly a tenth of my total caloric intake for the day. Again, not really that much until you consider that the average healthy meal is still three- to four-hundred calories. Count in snacks, and not even any non-water drinks, and you are finished. Kaput. Done.

Fortunately, I am, so far, doing okay with this. Sometimes I really crave something sweet, and my evening routine has nearly always included some sort of crunchy, salty, fatty snacking. That is difficult when my evenings are not busy. Yesterday I blew over all my limits by about exactly the calories, carbs and fat in the little, tiny (eensy, really,) Jr Frosty I ate at Wendy’s.

I only regret it a little. I am very determined to get back to a place where granny bras are not my only option, and to have the energy and fitness level my life goals now require of me. In addition, I reeeaaalllyyy want to be on the fire crew at Nachusa this year, and you must pass a fitness test to do so. Being able to walk two miles in 30 minutes, while carrying a 25-pound pack is NOT easy, and I am not yet able to be at that level. If I hammer hard I can do two miles in 30 minutes, but I am wasted and sore. I know I can’t do it with a pack.

I will continue to walk, I will swim at the rec center, I will even do the orientation required to get onto the fitness machines. I will adjust my eating habits, learn to like vegetables, and discover new and healthy ways to get a fix for my sweet tooth. And I will rejoice at the meeting of every small goal. Baby steps, after all.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

If You Really Wanna Know….(part two)

Today’s post is the second of two featuring an interview with Shannon and helping chronicle the gap years between the last blog and the beginning of the new one. Shannon has graciously agreed to be interviewed by herself…let’s see where they are….

Interviewer: Good morning, Shannon, nice to see you again!
Shannon: Good to see you too!

Interviewer: I could hardly sleep last night for thinking about your Big Event in the Fall of 2010. Let’s get right on it.
Shannon: Fire at will…

Interviewer: Okay, so something big happened….what was it?
Shannon: Well, we…bought a house!

Interviewer: {…..}
Shannon: (grins like the Cheshire Cat)

Interviewer: (clears throat) Okay? That’s it? That’s the Big Deal of 2010?
Shannon: (eyes glinting) Yes…but it wasn’t just any house. It was THE House.

Interviewer: Your first house?
Shannon: (chuckles) Oh no, certainly not. We have moved quite a bit in the span of our marriage.

Interviewer: How many times are we talking, exactly?
Shannon: Well, let’s see…including our first apartment and The House, we have had thirteen different addresses in five different states. Remember, Steve was in the Navy for the first seven years of our marriage. Once he got out we spent additional time trying to find the right fit for what we hope will be our “until we die” house.

Interviewer: And you think you have found it, finally? I am starting to see how the purchase of this house could be so meaningful.
Shannon: God willing, we have found our home. See, while Steve was recovering from his foot surgery he had not much else to do but peruse the real estate ads. We were living in town at the time, in a very cute house in a wonderful, small community. We knew, however, that our hearts were really in the country, even after a disastrous experience with our last country home.

Interviewer: That sounds like it could be an interesting story!
Shannon: Yes, it is…but one for another time. A part of me never wants to look back at those times again, but we learned so much and went through so much. Now we recognize that we needed to go through that to find our contentment now. So, we played around a little with looking at properties. We even went so far as to enter negotiations with a seller for a small rural property, to no avail. Now we are SO glad that never happened, because Steve ran across the ad for this house two days after it hit the market. Economic times were just starting to hit hard in our area, and the property was a foreclosure. Steve hobbled out to the van, demanding that we drive straight over there to drive by that same evening.

Interviewer: Does he do that kind of thing often?
Shannon: Let’s just say that I am used to it. And also that he does not, anymore. At all. *winks*

Interviewer: Okay, then…tell me about the house!!!!
Shannon: Well, when we got there he insisted I drive up the driveway to the top of the hill where the house sat. He knew it was empty, so I trusted him and did. We had to drive past two large outbuildings on the way up the drive, and at the top was a circle drive in front of the house. Before I even had the van in park, my heart started pounding. I scrambled out of the van as fast as I could, and by the time Steve had hobbled up alongside I had already burst into tears.

Interviewer: Was the house just that lovely?
Shannon: The house? No…I wasn’t even looking at the house. (pauses) See, when we reached the top of that hill, our view opened up over thousands of acres of restored Illinois prairie, a Nature Conservancy property since 1987. If you have ever seen the sun setting over the prairie in September you know it is a sight you will never forget. The brilliant gold of the sun set the russet-colored bluestem grasses ablaze with color. The breeze was perfect and caressing; the birds were singing their evening lullabies. I knew I had to live there. Now, I am not normally given to such extravagant shows of covetousness, but I KNEW in my heart we belonged there.

Interviewer: Surely you didn’t purchase the whole property just for the view?
Shannon: Surely you have not seen it, or you wouldn’t be asking me that. (winks) However, no…we did make a sound and sensible purchase. Our realtor came out the very next day for an official showing, on Labor Day even, and our offer went in that same afternoon. The house was small-ish but everything we needed, well-maintained, and obviously well-loved. The icing on the cake was the barns. One was completely ready (after a little cleaning) to house livestock of about any kind, and the other was a nice, big open shed ready to claim our junk and our equipment. All that was missing was the fencing before I could bring my horse home. We moved in the beginning of November, three whole days before the horse came home.

Interviewer: Wow. So it wasn’t even wrecked in the typical way that foreclosures can be?
Shannon: Nope, not one bit. The major mechanicals needed replacing, except for the furnace, but that was it. We were very grateful.

Interviewer: So what are your plans for the place? Five acres, is it?
Shannon: Yup, on the nose. Our plans are to partake in some self-sufficiency-type activities like growing some of our own food, raising our own eggs (and maybe meat birds) and maybe a couple dairy goats. We have also begun the process of replanting our front acre-and-a-half back into prairie from pasture. The folks at Nachusa Grasslands have been a tremendous help and support in this endeavor.

Interviewer: So that should keep you pretty busy.
Shannon: Yes, but we have learned over the years to pace ourselves, and not get in over our heads as far as projects go. I will be building my own business this year, we have become unit stewards at Nachusa, I have started volunteering at church again, and I have re-discovered my domestic roots, so-to-speak. I have come back to enjoying cooking real meals at home, sewing and stitching, gardening. There are a lot of things to do, and a lot of world to see. We don’t want to get to a place where this farm is a drudgery. So we prioritize and take it slowly.

Interviewer: Sounds wonderful! I will look forward to hearing more about your passions in future posts. You surely have a lot about which to blog! It is also my understanding that your family adventures aren’t quite over at the time you moved into the new house.
Shannon: No, not by far. We moved in early November, like I said, then celebrated the wedding of Matt and Jeanette in January! It was a busy but joyous time. Their wedding was simple and uncomplicated but moving and beautiful. I think they were BOTH radiant! (laughs) Then later that Spring Phil graduated high school, I graduated from college with my AAS in Landscape Design and another in General Horticulture, I took on a new job for a small landscaping/retail business in town, also worked for myself, left the job at the business, took a temp job collecting seeds for Nachusa and saw Phil start his college career here locally. We rented out our town house, started a garden, lost our old dog in early 2011, got a large-breed puppy, hung real fences, got another dog…yeah, we have been busy!

Interviewer: Well I guess so!
Shannon: But Steve started a new job at the nuclear plant in early 2010, finally getting transferred out of operations and into an instructorship. This has done wonders for him, as he loves the work, and the hours are mostly straight days. We are thankful every day for the blessings God has sent our way, as un-deserved as they are.

Interviewer: What would you most want your readers to take from these interviews?
Shannon: Gosh, that’s a hard one to sum up. I guess it would be that we have learned a whole lot on our journey to this physical, mental and emotional state we occupy now. The factors that brought us to this place are varied; some are very good, some are frighteningly bleak. We have come to understand how to learn from hindsight, to be more relaxed about the future, and to live in the moment when the occasion calls for it. I think that maybe others might benefit from our triumphs and struggles, too.

Interviewer: It sounds like there are a lot of undercurrents behind these vignettes you have offered us.
Shannon: Oh, yes…that is an understatement! Stories of joy and agony, of faith and family. But there is plenty of time for those revelations.

Interviewer: This interview has run on a little long. Any regrets about that?
Shannon: No. None at all.
Interviewer: (smiles) Good. See you on the blog?
Shannon: Indeed.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

If You Really Wanna Know...(part one)

If You Really Wanna Know….(part one)

As I stated in my previous post, a lot has changed in the last three years. I thought it might be most efficient to sit down with an eminent interviewer (me) and lay it all out there. What transpired is as follows:

Interviewer: Thanks for sitting down with me today Shannon; may I call you Shannon?
Shannon: Of course! Some call me Mama G, but Shannon is just fine.

Interviewer: So, Shannon, what exactly HAVE you been doing these last two-and-a-half years?
Shannon: Wow, well, let’s see: In 2009 our older son graduated high school, of course, and that Fall he headed off to Indiana Wesleyan University. He had a tough couple of semesters, some was his fault some was not; like a bout of appendicitis and a ruptured appendix at finals time.

Interviewer: Wow, that doesn’t make it easy!
Shannon: No, certainly not. He never quite recovered academically so he came back home to attend a local community college. That summer he started dating Jeanette Marian Kaminski.

Interviewer: First girlfriend?
Shannon: Indeed! We knew she was special right off the bat. So, that Fall of 2009 I went back to school and plugged away at my degree. It was sometimes very hard to be a mother of two teen boys and a full-time student, but I knew it was temporary. During the Summer of 2010 I began again at Prairieview Golf Club, and even got to hand-pick my own intern! I soon discovered that the job wasn’t really a good fit for me. Plus, I was picking up some of my own business on the side and wanted to devote myself to that.

Interviewer: How do you like working in landscaping?
Shannon: Well, it is hard work, to be sure. But I love to get my hands dirty; I actually enjoy weeding and cleaning up an area. I especially like the design process, and seeing a project through from beginning to end. My favorite part is when the customer is pleased with what I have done.

Interviewer: It sure is important to like what you do. Let’s talk about the Fall of 2010. From what I understand a sort of vortex of events took place at that time.
Shannon: Yeah, you could say that! (laughs) Let’s see….that Fall we planned to take a family hiking trip to Colorado, and each of the boys were given permission to bring someone along. Matt brought Jeanette, and Phil brought his friend Joey from school. Unfortunately, mere days before we were to leave, Steve (my husband) tripped on some stuff on the basement stairs and broke his foot in two places. We were devastated!

Interviewer: Oh, what bad timing! Right before a hiking trip, too!
Shannon: Yup…really bad timing. Steve wanted to go anyway, so off we went, in two cars nonetheless since we had so many people along. He had on splints and a walking boot for protection, and a pair of sturdy crutches. Since he would have to wait for surgery until the swelling went down it seemed natural to go anyway.

Interviewer: Man, I give that guy credit for pressing onward!
Shannon: Eh, he’s a trooper. (shrugs) It’s what he does. On our way to Colorado, the car carrying Steve and Jeanette, and being driven by Matt, was rear-ended in Nebraska. Everyone was basically fine, in our car and the one that hit us, but the car was pretty wrecked up. We limped along to Colorado and got the repairs started out there. We ended up renting a van that would be with us for a good two months until the car was repaired and shipped back.

Interviewer: Did you think about turning around at that time? To press on seems a little insane at this point.
Shannon: (heavy sigh) Yes, yes we did. It was probably foolhardy, but we went anyway. The trip was vastly modified from what we originally planned, but we had a good time anyway. The weather was good, our cabin was comfortable, and Joey and Jeanette got to see the Rockies for the first time. The trip back was pretty uneventful.

Interviewer: Soooo…then what?
Shannon: Well, I went back to school, the kids went back to school, Steve got his surgery, and Matt and Jeanette got engaged!

Interviewer: (laughing) Wow! Is that all?
Shannon: (also laughing) No, actually, that is not all.

Interviewer: No! Say it isn’t so!!!
Shannon: God’s truth! It was a biggie, too, a pivotal moment.

Interviewer: Bigger than an engagement?
Shannon: No, certainly not. We were very excited to be gaining a daughter-in-law, and were busy helping to plan a wedding for a mere three months hence. Nothing could top that! But the next event changed our world, hopefully for the better.

Interviewer: Sounds big; let’s take a break and pick this back up tomorrow. One more question, though, and I do feel it my duty to ask the hard questions: Do you wear bifocals?
Shannon: Wow, ouch! (laughs heartily) Well, no, I don’t. But the truth is I am ready. I was nearly ready last year and did not adapt to the Progressive lenses. Now I know I am ready. Shannon, I will look forward to seeing you again tomorrow.

Interviewer: Likewise, Shannon! Sleep well.
Shannon: God bless.