Connection

The world is a lot right now. I have begun to feel the dark thread weaving itself into my mind, attempting to tether me to the chaos, doubt and disease of this moment in history. Each news broadcast. Every swipe through social media. All of it leaves me feeling the pull of the thread strengthening, threatening to bind me to the abyss of negativity.

I sat with these thoughts this morning. Let them rest in my mind, acknowledging their existence, then deciding to abandon the binding holding me to the night and instead choosing to look into the light of day. I left my phone, that device often threatening my ability to lean into brightness, resting in my bag for the day. No news. No social media. No hum of electronic connectivity.

This afternoon I found myself in a favorite spot. Sunlight streaming through the newly bare tree branches. Pebbles and sticks crunching beneath my feet. The unseasonably warm breeze whisking over my skin. The tumble of the river traveling rapidly downstream. My mind quieting.

Then from out of this quiet came a hum. A different hum. No longer the hum of electricity, but rather the soft whisper of natural connection. The connection to Earth on a cellular level. The vibrations within the atoms of my body aligning with that of Mother Earth.

Here I will sit awhile. In this space. Feeling this thrum of connection.

This Girl: Part 2

As those struggling with mental health issues know, as much as we wish these matters would simply disappear, they do not dissolve into nothingness like we hope. Each day can bring with it a new challenge to face and overcome.

Two months ago, with the guidance of my doctor, I reduced my anti-anxiety medication by half.  I had been feeling pretty darn great with this new dosage of meds.  I hadn’t even noticed an increase in my anxiousness at all.  All was well.

Enter this week: Coronavirus. Closures. Travel bans. Cancellations. Fear.

Amid this flurry of fear, I found myself in my former trigger location on Wednesday: the grocery store.  I was milling about the aisles, stocking my cart with goodies for family who plan to come to town this weekend, when I saw a man coming toward me down the aisle.  His cart was overflowing with bottled water, toilet paper, bleach and canned sardines.  Holy. Shit.

I instantly began to feel that all-too-familiar feeling of panic rise within my gut.  My teeth clenched, my breath became shallow and quick. The dizziness began.

I stopped mid-aisle and immediately began to employ the strategies my counselor passed along to me so many months ago. “This is anxiety,” my inner voice whispered. “I am safe and I will get home soon. Safely.” I took a deep, cleansing breath.  Then I smiled and chuckled to myself. (This was definitely NOT what I was expecting to happen.)  I was imagining the inner dialogue of Bleach Man as he passed me in the aisle, gazing into my my cart  filled with wine, chips, brownie ingredients and a smattering of Reese’s peanut butter eggs, “Oh my God!  Doesn’t this lady realize what is going on in the world right now?  She is crazy!”  And then, just like that, the panic subsided and never manifested into a full-blown attack.

The days that lie ahead will certainly be challenging, both physically and mentally, for all.  I think it’s so important for each of us to find our own unique strategy to navigate the days, weeks and months ahead.  Since Monday, I have found myself on my yoga mat each day. I know that my yoga practice is what I need in order to continue to fight my battle with anxiety during this season.  This practice helps me feel stronger physically, but also more confident in my inner strength.

This girl can overcome this hurdle.  We all can.  I hope this trying time helps to strengthen each of us, and in the end, we are better because of it.

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” ~Ernest Hemingway

This Girl: Part 1

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(Written in 2019)

I heard my phone vibrate as it sat, nestled in my cup holder beside my coffee mug.  I pulled into my driveway, shifted the car into park and then picked up my phone to find a tiny red number one beside the Gmail icon.  I clicked on the envelope icon and up popped a picture of a girl standing on what looked to be some sort of stage.  She was laughing in the photo, joy evident across the expanse of her face.  This girl.  Who was this girl with her head held high, poised behind this podium?

***

I battled anxiety for years before I even knew what anxiety was.  It started with odd feelings while standing in line at the cash register or breathlessness while waiting amongst a string of cars at a stop light.  The years flowed on and this strange feeling began to seep into other areas of my life.  What started out as discomfort while driving on the interstate and nervousness when in large crowds morphed into an animal of which I had no conscious control.  This animal consumed my life for an entire decade.

I found it difficult to stand during Mass, and found it especially grueling to stand in line waiting for communion.  I would dig my fingernail into the fleshy skin between my thumb and index finger while my hands were folded, because feeling that pain while awaiting the Eucharist was better than the all-consuming feeling that I was going to fall to the ground in front of the entire cathedral.  I was unable to drive on the interstate because my heart would begin racing so fast that my hands would shake to the point that I could no longer hold onto the wheel.  I would even find myself in the restroom of the grocery store with my head between my legs hyperventilating, and I politely decline invitations to join friends for dinner because I didn’t think I could make it through the evening without having a panic attack.

But on a sunny day 3 years ago, those panic attacks in the bathroom seemed like walks in the park compared to the feeling that overtook me at the YMCA while on the elliptical trying to catch a workout.  I was plugging away on my machine, and I had gotten to that point in my workout where I really felt like I was going strong and the beat of the music was propelling me forward.  While riding, I took in the gorgeous view of the river and watched as people walked along the bike path on this beautiful day.   I then saw an elderly man cross the parking lot below.

I wondered about him.  How old was he? Had he always worked out? Was it illness that drove him to work out? Ill.  Ill like my mom.  Ill like my mom was before she died.  Ill like my dad who was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.  My dad would never get to be that elderly man waltzing across the lot with ease because the disease would overtake his body, changing it into something he could no longer control.  What if I was ill too?  What if I would never be able to be like that elderly man effortlessly crossing the lot?  What if I didn’t even see that day and instead die an early death like my mom? What if I die here, now, on this silly piece of cardio equipment.

I could no longer breath, I grew dizzy. I grew so dizzy I feared I would fall, hit my head, lose consciousness, and not be able to pick my two young girls up from the childcare area at the Y.  My anxiety had never impacted my children.  Now it did.  In this moment, I questioned my ability to care for them.

I gingerly stepped off the elliptical, and clutching each piece of equipment hand over hand, I found my way to the cool metal of the door handle.  I honestly do not remember much of what happened next other than that I did make it to my girls, we must have traversed that same parking lot that the elderly man had crossed only moments earlier, and we were in our car.  And this is the point where my recollection becomes clear again.  I called for help.  I have a very distinct memory of the nurse’s voice on the phone when I told her I needed to make an appointment with my general practitioner to discuss my extreme anxiety problem.  This was the very first time I admitted, out loud, that there was a very real problem and anxiety was its name.

***

Now here I am, back in that same car, looking at the picture of this woman.  I recognize this woman.  This confident woman behind the podium, standing beside a man with a smile spread across her face…is me.  After hundreds of hours talking with therapists and doctors, even more time logged in the yoga studio, and finally sharing my struggles with my family and friends, I can truly say the tide has finally turned.  This girl just spoke in front of a group of nearly 500 people. The girl who couldn’t walk through the aisles of the grocery store because of the crowds.  The girl who dug her fingernails into her hands while awaiting communion. The girl who turned down friends’ invitations and had become an agoraphobic hermit.  This girl did this.  This girl.

***

[I encourage you to return to this space tomorrow, when I will share how I am navigating through my personal anxiety as the world seems to grow more anxious by the moment.]

 

Homemade Sunscreen

Homemade Sunscreen

I have been experimenting for a while now to craft a homemade sunscreen that works for my family.  I wanted a sunscreen that was not too oily, didn’t turn our skin completely white, and most importantly, one that actually worked.  Well, after much trial and error, I believe I have found the perfect combo and ratio of ingredients that meets all of those requirements, plus one:  it smells amazing!  I am so thrilled to share this recipe with you today.  Enjoy!

2 oz. beeswax

2 oz. cocoa butter

2 oz. coconut oil

1 1/2 oz. grapeseed oil

1/2 oz. carrot seed oil

1 oz jojoba oil

2 1/2 oz. non-nano and uncoated zinc

Measure the beeswax, cocoa butter and coconut oil by weight and place in a double boiler.  Heat until all components are melted.  Remove from heat.  Add grapeseed oil, carrot seed oil and jojoba oil.  Mix well to combine.  Finally, whisk in the zinc (also measured by weight).  The mixture will thicken up pretty quickly.  Once mixed and thickened, spoon into a glass jar with a lid.

As with most natural sunscreens, you need to reapply often.  I have found best results when reapplying this sunscreen every 60-80 minutes.

(*Note:  Be sure to wipe out all vessels and utensils thoroughly with paper towels before washing, as beeswax can clog plumbing.  You can then discard of the paper towels in your compost bin.)

Patience

Things have been tough lately, friends.  As you may have noticed from my lack of presence in this space, I have been finding it hard to articulate exactly what it is I have been feeling.  And because I try to keep this blog filled with positivity, it has been difficult to come into this space with the honesty I try to present here.  Over the course of the last few months, the void of life without my mom has been growing to depths I never thought possible.  I guess I never anticipated what it would be like to raise my children without my own mom by my side.  Even when we lived in Champaign, she was just a phone call away, and now, well, she is not.  It feels as if I am on an island, on which I am alone and unable to navigate.  I am just lost.

My mom always talked of seeing signs of her own deceased parents in her natural surroundings.  The turkeys crossing the road were signs from her dad, and the blue birds perched on her bird bath was her mom stopping by for a quick hello.  Well, I had been grappling for these same signs of her, but as I looked out my window all I seemed to see was the dreariness that is February and March in the Midwest.  I grew weary, for I could see no signs of life, nor signs of my mom.

But last week, something seemed to have shifted with the thawing ground and the warmth of the sunshine upon my skin.  I felt like I may be turning a corner.  I saw glimmers of my mom in the cardinal resting upon the chair outside my window while I drank my morning coffee.  I sensed her excitement as my girls assembled the fairy garden she gave them.  And I could feel her presence beside me Friday afternoon as I peered into the soil of my garden perimeter and spied her blackeyed susans pushing up through the surface of the blackness.  Perhaps I just need to have patience, and although I now know I will never feel completely whole again, maybe I will be able to heal just enough to see the color of life push its way through the darkness.

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Need

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When faced with difficult situations in life, some people need to work out, others need to chat with friends, while others need to indulge in a chocolatey treat.  Me…I need to weed.  To some this may seem a strange act, but for me there is nothing more therapeutic than crouching down amongst all that green, plunging my hands deep into the soil, and pulling out those weeds from the root.  It almost feels as if this simple act helps me to get to the root of my problems, and as each weed falls in my bucket, a small piece of that grief and frustration falls into the bucket as well.

And so I have found myself in the garden a lot lately.  Pulling out my struggles, piece by piece.  And in the end, I am left feeling a little bit lighter, and find myself surrounded by a beautiful miracle.  One that will provide my family with beauty and sustenance for many months ahead.  And one that I know my mom is looking down upon with a smile on her face.

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Culinary Inspirations

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Just to give some forewarning, today’s post is going to be Monday-ish.  You know how Mondays are?  It’s the day when you wake up and have a million thoughts, plans and lists going all at the same time–that’s this post.  Monday-ish.

So, here we go…Give me a good book and an even better piece of produce and I am a happy camper.  Last week, I reached for two of my favorite books and some of my favorite spring-time produce, and I was off.  I have often talked about this book before in past posts, but Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver is a book that will change your world.  Not only is it a beautifully crafted piece about Kingsolver and her family’s journey toward eating locally, but it is also filled with the most delicious recipes! I looked out my kitchen window to find our strawberry and rhubarb bed was overflowing with goodness, so I knew this was the book I needed.  I went with one of my favorite recipes in that book: the strawberry rhubarb crisp.  This recipe is a family favorite, using very little refined sugar, and I love cooking it up in my small stoneware baker because I can cook in it and serve from it.  This time, I chose to dish up this gooey creation in our nourish soup bowls, which I thought looked just lovely because of the matching color profiles.  The other reason I have so many of these bowls on hand is because $2 of every bowl is donated to Feeding America.

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Also growing in our strawberry and rhubarb bed is asparagus.  We didn’t have a great crop of asparagus this year, so we supplemented our own with some from the farmers’ market.  I tried a new recipe, pistachio-crusted asparagus with feta vinaigrette, from Ashley English’s Handmade Gatherings to showcase this delicious perennial.  It was absolutely divine.  In fact, every recipe I have tried from this book has been a crowd pleaser.

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Now you may have noticed that when discussing the strawberry rhubarb crisp, I mentioned (and linked to) a few of my favorite kitchen essentials.  Please understand, it is not my intention to lure you to my blog with discussions of holistic living and sustainability and then try to sell you something.  Instead, I would love to share some of the kitchen items I use every day, because they help to make my life easier.  My hope is that in sharing this information, I can also help to make your meal preparation easier.

The other reason in sharing this information with you is to provide a means to contribute to my family financially.  After 3 years of debate, I have decided to leave teaching for good and homeschool my daughters.  I have wanted to homeschool ever since my eldest went off to kindergarten, but always held back because homeschooling was just too very far outside the box at that time in my life.  But as I mentioned last week, I need to do what I believe is best for my family, and for us, homeschooling is where it’s at 🙂  I have never beed more sure of a decision in my life, but the fact of the matter is that there will be a gap in our income.  I have worked (or maybe I should say dabbled) as an independent consultant with Pampered Chef for over five years, and I believe it’s business model is one that is keeping with my family’s belief structure.  It is based in Illinois (where we live), many of the products are made in the U.S., they provide funding to Feeding America and the American Cancer Society, and they allow women and men to work from home and put their families first.  So, from time to time, I will share some products that I use, and it is up to you whether or not you would like to link to them and find out more information.  I hope you understand my reasoning in doing this.

Well, if you have followed me through to this point, you have made it thought my Monday stream-of-conciousness post.  Books.  Produce.  Recipes.  Pampered Chef.  Homeschooling.  Lots of Action.

I wish you all a wonderful week, in which you can work through all those thoughts, follow through on all those plans, and check off all those items on your lists.  Happy Monday, friends.

The Ladies: A Lesson in Love and Loss

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Do you remember on Tuesday when I told you I didn’t ever really like to put myself out there and go too far outside my comfort zone for fear of upsetting others?  For this reason, I have never shared (in this very public space) a simple fact about our family’s suburban homestead:  We have a flock of backyard chickens.  Oh, and we have had them for over two years now 🙂

When we first brought them home as chicks, I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it here on the blog for fear that we may not end up being able to care for them as they needed.  I didn’t want to appear weak for having to give up on something that had only just begun.  Then as months passed, and the chicks became laying hens (Well, one ended up being a rooster and thus was scooted quickly out to a farmer we know.), I still didn’t share any stories about the chickens because it just seemed like too much time had gone by, and it would be strange to introduce the concept so late.

But in keeping with my promise to myself, to remain transparent and open, let me tell you a little bit about our backyard coop convent.

These ladies have taught our family more than we ever could have envisioned when we picked them up from the feed store so long ago.

Did you know that chicks sometimes need a little booty soak and wipe when they are first born in order to prevent their vents from becoming clogged?  I sure didn’t!  But there I found myself, sitting on my basement floor with a warm cup of water, a three-day-old chick cradled in my hands, giving her the best spa treatment imaginable.

Did you know chickens each have unique personalities?  We had no idea this was true until our gal Limey (She was named by my then-four-year-old.) came along.  She had the most loving demeanor and just loved to be in on all the people-action.  In fact, she would often fly out of the run, walk up to our back door, and scratch her claws against the screen door in order to get us to go outside and play with her.

Did you know laying hens are more than just egg producers, but members of the family?  We definitely had no idea of the emotion impact we would face this past winter when our Limey would again fly out of the run without our knowing and was lost to a predator at night fall.

These feathery ladies have given us so much more than an egg a day.  They have taught us valuable life lessons of love and loss that I believe have helped to shape our family.

Here is a little photo tour throughout our two years with the ladies…

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Living for the Pockets

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Well friends, it has been almost a month since my last post.  When going back to work full time, I had high hopes of still being able to post each day.  Now I’m thinking I may have been in the midst of a bit of a crazy streak to think that would be possible.  In fact, for a few weeks there I did feel like I was quite the loony lady, and sure I would never again be able to take part in those “homestead-ish” acts that had come to make up so much of my life since I left the workforce in 2009.  I felt like I couldn’t balance anything, and found it difficult to stay afloat.

But as always, my husband was there to tell me two things: 1.  You are crazy.  But not  headed down the path to Crazy Town like I thought.  He said I was crazy to think just because I had started back to work full time, that I would have to suddenly abandon who I was.  2.  Give it a few weeks, and you will soon be able to figure out where to fit in all you love to do: teach, raise our family and keep our suburban homestead afloat.

So I did as he directed.  I waited.  And low and behold (and as much as I hate to admit it), he was right.  I have found those little pockets of time here and there where I can still do those activities I love.  In fact, I didn’t even realize I was doing it until I went to download pictures this weekend and discovered that over the course of the past month I had been able to do quite a lot.

But these activities have taken on a different form.  Instead of dedicating several hours in the afternoon to crocheting, I sneak in a couple of rows while sitting at tumbling lessons.  Rather than having an entire fermenting-day, I whip up a quick batch of yogurt on Saturday mornings with extra milk that is about to expire, and throw together an attempt at water kefir on a Friday night after the girls are asleep.

And I think my favorite part of all has been the ability to interweave these homesteading activities into my classroom.  In the midst of a soil composition unit, we  started a worm compost bin, and a chemistry assessment turned into a soapmaking lab.  And I can’t forget the measurement conversion unit where we went outside to make ice cream in the snow.

The crazy part of this new life of mine has been how I now live for those pockets.  Those pockets of time when I can do and share those activities that make me who I am.

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I hope you all move into this week, able to find those pockets in which you can do all that you love.