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showers of blessings (and rain)

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D and I are approaching the end of Week Six of our new normal, homesteading on a single income, and it is starting to feel less like a big terrifying risk and more like a comfortable, though exhausting, routine. In general, life seems to be running more smoothly, thanks in large part to many blessings we’ve received lately. This post is devoted to some of those blessings, with photo credits to Nell Smith and D.

After two straight days of rain, the clouds broke on Harrell Hill and we had a bridal shower for my brother’s sweet fiance, Rachel. It was beautiful. She was even more beautiful. Friends and family and babies attended. It was perfect.

The weekend also included a visit from Brianna, our sweet cousin who we don’t see enough and who always brings joy and light when she comes.

We’ve seen more of the sweet boy this summer, thanks to his Dad and his Rachel. I am so grateful for our family who keeps on working for love, learning and grace, even when we aren’t always the most graceful at it. And for Corn Hole. We (mostly D) have enjoyed many hours of Corn Hole fun with the boards his brother made for us.

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On a slightly darker note, we’ve had a black snake in the chicken coop! Thatcher caught her in the act of eating an egg two weeks ago, and then D found her with the baby chicks last week! Thankfully, she has been taken far, far away. It is a blessing to share our home with other living creatures, reminding us that we aren’t in control of all things, that the cycles of life continue regardless of us…

I think I had the funnest day of my life (seriously) canoeing and tubing the Toe River from Spruce Pine to Penland. I now want to be on the river ALL the time. I am thankful for the days of rain we’ve had that will feed plants and streams and make for good canoeing.

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And above, the table and chairs that now brighten our living room, thanks to Aunt Deb and our local thrift store! We continue to enjoy working in, around and on our little home.

This summer, unlike some past ones, we have had timed to help friends, cook for family, and even recreate some, blessings I am so very thankful for.

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What mother among you?

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What mother among you, when you heard about the kids at the border
Didn’t feel a wrench in your gut like a key turning a deadbolt,
An urge to set out walking, running
To race out the front door of your office
Or tell your husband you’re sorry but maybe you’ll be back,
To catch a ride,
To blow your life’s little savings and
By whatever means necessary
To get yourself down there?

Who among you who sent your sweet firstborn
To preschool or daycare or her first day of highschool or her first day on the job
Can resist that pull deep and low in your stomach
To struggle through roads and routes
And maybe soldiers and people and night,
To knock on doors and hold up your hands in innocence
Or knot up your your fingers into fists and fight and spit,
And just get yourself down there,

And find one, just one child
And stroke his hair and tell him,
“Yes! I know; I know. Yes!”?

Who, like me, looks again to the half-written email or spreadsheet
And sits, tense in your chair, holding your breath between your shoulder blades
Until the intestinal clench moves upward, farther into your chest and throat,
Where guilt and helplessness go?

Child detainees in a holding cell at a Border Patrol facility in Brownsville, Texas (http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/07/15/331477447/who-is-smuggling-immigrant-children-across-the-border)

 

 

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sweet summer

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All is well in summer. We are in the middle of Week Four of homesteading on a single income, and so far things are continuing to be pretty wonderful. The holiday brought a lapse in posts, so here is a little update.

A few highlights:

  • Listening to the sweet peeps of new chicks
  • Canoeing with the boy and tubing the Toe (check out this amazing resource: Toe River Canoe Trail!)
  • Eating D’s summer specialty,  smoked pork
  • Inhaling cool rainy evenings
  • Observing the magic of the Rhododendron maximum and the slow ripening of tomatoes

As summer continues, I can only hope for more of the same. I’d also like to give photo credit for my header image to my very talented little sister, Nell Smith.

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week two

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Week Two is almost through, and while lots of important work got accomplished, thanks in HUGE part to D’s mom and dad (more below), D also captured some pretty neat fellas during his time at home this week. They were just too cute not to share!

Now, for the very big homesteading job that got tackled this week. Last summer we bought some Jacob sheep (jsba.org) from our neighbors who were moving. We weren’t sure what we’d do with them, but they were there, we had fence, and I loved them (wu wei style!). Unfortunately, we didn’t get them sheared last summer because it was so late in the season, we were worried their wool wouldn’t grow back in time to keep them warm for winter (we also had no idea how or who might be able to do such a job). This year, we were determined to get them sheared. They were starting to look like woolly mammoths, and they were clearly miserable in the heat of spring. We got some names of local shearers from fellow Jacob breeders, but had trouble tracking them down. Apparently there is a shortage of skilled shearers in the region. So, we called on Diane, D’s mom. He had a hunch that she would be a good hand with the electric shears, and he watched some videos about how to hold the sheep to keep them still. His hunch proved correct!

Diane and Kenny came down and sheared three sheep one morning and four the next. She did such a good job and the sheep are so much happier! D and I are blessed to have such wonderful, helpful parents. Not every mother-in-law would jump right in when asked to come a shear and bunch of dirty sheep! Thank you Kenny and Di!!!

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week one

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It is almost the end of D’s first week at home (and since I am working four ten-hour days this summer, it is definitely the end of my time in front of a computer for the week). I won’t write for D (and hope he’ll write some later), but for me this week has been strange, wonderful, freeing and blessed. I left for work Monday morning feeling a weight rise from my shoulders, a deep peace knowing that he was home. When I came home that evening I was bursting to know the details of his day. I am marveling at the big and little improvements he’s already made. A few updates:

At the top of D’s list: Daily work with our horse, Adela. We bought her with hopes of breaking her to work a plow, but so far have barely had time to see her.

The chickens have moved up to a larger coop. Pretty soon they’ll be ready for the big run which surrounds our entire garden!

A real weekend! Now that D can contribute to work at home during the week, we can actually spend some time together on the weekends (instead of playing catch up on chores on Saturdays). We checked out two local farmers markets to see what folks were selling, and spent the afternoon hiking around Mt. Mitchell.

Supper. I don’t want to gloat, so I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

One of the most gratifying changes for me so far has been that we now have time for evening walks. So precious, these strolls have made a huge difference in my overall sense of well-being.

D has already had a couple requests for help and catering, and he has actually been able to consider them, since he would have time to do them now. More updates coming soon!

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a new light

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With the change I wrote about in the last post, I’ve seen a new lightness in D’s step, and a new light illuminating our home.

 

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more on home and work

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When I started this blog, I wrote a lot (here and here, for example) about D and I building a home-centered life on Bee Branch, living simply and together with our community, eating food we would grow and setting ourselves apart from the mainstream, get more stuff, job-centered culture. Our plan has always been for me to work at a job that will allow Derrick to work at home. We have lots of examples of people successfully living this way; friends and acquaintances in Virginia and Michigan are making it work (with the added challenge of children!), so we know it can be done.

It has been two years since I wrote about that, two years since we moved into our own home and we both started working full-time. We have kept up gardening, tending animals, and loving our home and community, but as you can imagine (and as many of you probably know from experience), both of us working 40+ hours away from our home has made it difficult to homestead in the comprehensive way we would like one of the most stressful, yucky times of our lives! On weekdays we leave home together at seven in the morning and get home around five-thirty or six. We fly into chores, me catching up on laundry, cleaning up, and starting supper; Derrick feeding animals, mowing, and/or working in the garden (or splitting wood, in the winter) until around eight-thirty. Then we eat supper, do dishes, and are lucky to get to bed by ten! It feels like we are running a marathon, every job is done just well enough, and we barely even see each other (let alone friends and community members!)!

(I know that the lifestyle I’ve just described is one many people have no other choice but to live. Circumstances demand that they work hard at a job just to survive. I understand that to want something different is a privilege.)

How did this happen? If you remember, D started working at a local heating and plumbing business nearly three years ago, while I was frantically submitting job applications and looking for work. Then, I found it! I got a full-time, grant-funded position in the public school system in our neighboring county. While I loved the work I did with students in the GEAR UP program for nearly two years, I couldn’t shake the instability of grant-funding, and the pay wasn’t quite enough as our single source of income. During this time, we bought a small home for (we think) a modest price, and we encumbered a small monthly payment. We needed a reliable vehicle (we live in the mountains where the nearest grocery store is 30 minutes away, winter includes snow and ice, and public transportation is virtually nonexistent), so we bought a nice car that we hope will last decades. And we adopted another monthly payment.

Now, I’ve just started a new job at our local community college, which has meant longer hours but more financial stability. While I am immensely thankful for the comforts of a home, car, and job, I fear that our homesteading dream might soon become unrealistic. Sometimes I find myself thinking more about the purchases I’d like to make. In my moments of extreme self doubt, even though I know that we have tried to spend little and buy intentionally, I even start to feel like a phony, wondering if we’ve sold out by making these big purchases, and aligned ourselves with the culture we were trying to avoid (the horror!).

So, while D and I still have the luxury of making choices, before our lives so subtlety adapt to two incomes that we can’t do anything but keep working away from home, we want to make a change. Next week, D will drop his job and start working at home full time.

We are nervous but terrified! We have just started imagining what it will look like (“You mean, you will do supper, and the laundry, and grow our food?”). Please say prayers for us as we try to scale back our expenditures even more, as we communicate to friends and family this big change, and as we seek to connect on a deeper level with our home.

I will keep you posted!

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welcome

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I can’t believe more than a year has passed since my last (real) post. I feel the need to re-welcome myself to this blog and my readers to myself.  Welcome! Looking pack on my past posts, I can see why I did so much writing last year. It was a hard year, full of big changes, painful losses and some intense lessons.

This time last year I was enduring one of my longest bouts of anxiety yet. I lost weight, couldn’t sleep, and ultimately had to increase the dosage of medicine I had been taking. It was just a terrible time. Close friends recommended I see a pastoral counselor they know and respect. In just a few visits, this counselor shared a practice with me that has completely transformed my relationship with my anxiety, and really my whole life. The Welcoming Prayer is from a book called Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault, and it has simply worked (in amazing ways) for me. I’d like to share it with you here (taken directly from the book).  For a re-welcoming post, I think it fits.

The Welcoming Prayer

The three step process of the Welcoming Prayer

  1. Focus and sink in
  2. Welcome
  3. Let go

Focus and sink in

To focus means to sink in to the feeling in your body. If it’s a physical pain, like a toothache you become very present to it, putting your full attention inside it. Exactly the same is true for emotions. If you are angry, see if you can be present to how anger is manifesting in your body—is your jaw clenched? Stomach in knots? If fear is present, what is the sensation of it? Is your breath short? Is there a sense of vertigo, or a stampede of ‘fight or flight’ adrenaline?

Don’t try to change anything. Just stay present.

Focusing doesn’t mean psychoanalyzing. This is not about trying to discover why you feel the way you do, or justifying your feelings. This first step is the key to whole practice. By becoming physically aware of this energy as sensation in your body, you can stay in the present, welcoming it.

Welcome

Now comes the most inscrutable and counterintuitive instruction in the whole of Welcoming Prayer. Sitting there, steeped in the feeling, you begin to say, ever so gently, ”Welcome, anger” or “Welcome pain, welcome.”

How’s that again? If this emotion is what necessitated the practice in the first place, why are we welcoming it? Isn’t the goal to get rid of it?

Actually, no. The goal is not to let it chase you out of presence.

Admittedly, this is paradoxical. Common sense tells you that the emotion is the problem and the solution is to eliminate it. But by welcoming it instead, you create an atmosphere of inner hospitality. By embracing the thing you once defended yourself against, or ran from, you are actually disarming it, removing its power to hurt you or chase you back into our smaller self.

This moment can always be endured, the well-known spiritual writer Gerald May reminds us, and the act of welcoming anchors us firmly in the Now. This is the moment where those two great streams, awareness and surrender, converge. The small self is surrendered into the authentic self, connected to the divine within. In this configuration, you are able to stay present in the Now regardless of its physical or psychological content. It’s something the great saints and mystics have always known.

A couple of important points: First, what you are welcoming is the physical or psychological content of the moment only, not a general blanket condoning of a situation. I’m frequently asked by people with abuse histories, “But incest shouldn’t be welcomed, should it?” This misses the whole point. What you are welcoming in this moment is not incest, but the feelings the experience triggers for you: the fear or the rage or shame on your plate right now.

This is a very important mistake to nip in the bud, because if uncorrected it can lead to the assumption that surrender means to roll over and play dead, or that the purpose of the practice is to teach you to passively acquiesce to situations that are in fact intolerable. This is not so at all. There’s a crucial distinction between surrender as an inner attitude and as an outer practice, and we are concerned only with the former here. From the point of view of inner work, the situation is straightforward: anything done in a state of interior bracing will throw you immediately into your small self, with its familiar repertoire of defense mechanisms. Surrender understood as an interior act will place you in alignment with [your authentic self, your imago dei, that part of you that is connected to God]. Once you’re in right alignment, you can decide [freely] what you are going to do in the outer world. Sometimes this is a spirited fight; other times it is acquiescence. But whichever way, you’ll be doing it from consciousness, not reactivity.

Let go

Don’t get to this step too quickly. The real work in Welcoming Prayer is actually accomplished in the first two steps. Stay with them, going back and forth between ‘focusing and sinking in,’ and ‘welcoming’ until the knot begins to dissolve of its own accord.

And yes, ‘letting go’ is also just for now. This is not a final, forever renunciation of your anger or fear; it’s simply a way of gently waving farewell as the emotion starts to recede. If you can’t quite make it to this step, that’s OK. Don’t fake it, because the bulk of the word has already been accomplished.

When you are ready to let go, there are two ways to go about it: a short way and a more complex litany. In the short way, you simply say something like “I let go of my anger,” or, if you prefer, “I give my anger to God.”

Mary Mrozowski (creator of the Welcoming Prayer) preferred a more complex and invariable litany. When it become time to proceed with the third step, she would use this:

  • I let go my desire for security and survival.
  • I let go my desire for affection and esteem.
  • I let go my desire for control and power.
  • I let go my desire to change the situation.

The would be her inevitable litany, whether dealing with physical or emotional affliction. Those first three, of course, are the three false self programs, and in naming them thusly, Mary said, “I feel like I’m sending a strong message to the unconscious.”

The last one, “I let go of my desire to change the situation,” is right between the eyeballs and a stroke of pure genius. In no uncertain terms, it removes this practice from the ballpark of “fit-it” (“I do this practice in order to correct an unpalatable situation) and back into unconditional presence.

For Mary this practice was all about inner alignment. Whether the pain went on forever was not the point; the point is that throughout this entire “forever,” an awakened and surrendered consciousness can remain fully present to God “for the duration.”

This year, a routine of normalcy has sweetened our lives. No dreadful accidents, no tragic losses have tumbled me into panic. I know the hard times will visit again, but I feel so better prepared for them now. Maybe this prayer will help you sometime, too.