A Garden Takes Root

It’s been snowing for three days straight, but I keep picturing what our yard will look like in a few weeks. We’re going to start a garden this year!

I am so, so new at this. If you handed me a newborn goat to take care of, no problem, but gardening is not something I ever got to try as a child. I know quite a bit about it from reading and my agriculture classes, but this is one of those cases in which book learning can’t hold a candle to lived experience. Even just figuring out how to get started: what size bed to choose, raised bed or not, what vegetables to grow… it’s overwhelming! Fortunately, some neat things came my way this week that will make the process easier.

Toddler in smock playing with water.

I hope the garden is as much fun for Fire as the water table at the Sciencenter is!

First, I attended a “How to Get Started with Vegetable Gardening” class at my county’s Extension office. In some ways it was for me a review of my book-learning on the subject, but one of the leaders there was able to answer my biggest question: What is a good size to start with if I’m planning on using raised beds? My primary reason for wanting to use raised beds is because we don’t have a lot of yard space and raised beds can be planted more densely than a more traditional garden. The woman suggested creating 2 beds next to each other, 8 feet long and about 2.5 feet wide, with a path between them wide enough for a wheelbarrow. We have deer, so I’ll put a fence around the whole set-up. She assured me that it’s too small of an area for them to jump into, so I don’t need to get an 8-foot high fence; about 5 feet high will do. 40 square feet still seems like a lot, but I haven’t yet done the math to figure out how much I’ll be able to plant in there.

The one thing that concerns me about building raised beds is the potential for it to be an expensive endeavor. We stopped at Finger Lakes ReUse this weekend to donate a few things that we don’t need anymore, and I took a minute to ask if they had lumber available. Do they ever! It’s all from various deconstruction projects around the county and it’s in all different sizes and lengths. They charge mere cents per linear foot. I didn’t write down the prices of any particular sizes, but everything was 50 cents or less. The sales clerk said that an 8-foot 2×4 would cost about $1.40. A quick look at one of the big box store’s lumber prices suggests that the salvage wood prices are half or less than the prices of new lumber. Amazing! I considered cinder blocks too, but they’re 75 cents each, making them more expensive than the lumber. Looks like I found my source for affordable raised beds!

The other thing that made gardening feel more do-able to me this week was this post about starting seeds in newspaper pots. Tiffany is a Master Gardener with a brilliant idea for starting seeds indoors on the cheap – and easy. She’s located in Arkansas, so I’ll have to keep the difference in climate in mind, but the upside is that I’ll get ideas from her blog well in advance of when they’ll be useful up here!

This week we’ll be asking our landlords for permission to start a garden (we own a mobile home and rent the land, so I can start seeds indoors anytime I want, but I need permission to build my beds and transplant my seedlings!) and choosing what veggies and herbs to grow this year. We have plenty of good ideas already, but no master list. I’m daydreaming about fresh peas and I’m so excited to get started!

The Recipe for Success

(Pardon the long paragraphs and lack of pictures. I can’t keep quiet about this anymore, and I’m better at essay writing than blog writing.)

Today I am thinking about truth and lies, but mostly lies. I was raised to believe so many things that have proven false already, things like “Work hard, get a degree to get a good job and you’ll be successful.” This was a reasonable thing for my parents to believe and it was a reasonable thing for people who were young adults when I was a child to believe. I don’t think the idea was passed on to me with any kind of malice or intent to deceive, but I also wonder if those who told me that knew how deeply it would sink in… and how much trouble it is now causing for many of us.

In a struggling economy, in a country with a staggeringly skewed distribution of wealth, at a time when there are more people than there are jobs, it’s just not true that working hard and having the “right” degrees and an impressive resume will get you a job, let alone a good job, by default. I am not the first to point this out: a couple weeks ago the New York Times ran a piece called, “It takes a B.A. to find a job as a file clerk.” But I am thinking about it today because some things hit even closer to home.

My cousin, who is the same age as I am, received a cursory rejection email regarding a job she’d applied for that she was well-qualified for and very much wanted. She wrote to confirm that her application materials had been received, and not 20 minutes later received a perfunctory “Thanks, but no thanks” reply. My cousin has degrees from 2 well-known and well-respected “name brand” institutions and the resume to back up her interest. All of the work she’s done as a student, an intern, a regular employee, and as a volunteer have been to prepare for a job like the one in question today. As she asked me, “What are they looking for, if I’m not qualified?” And I can only tell her that she IS qualified, and that the reason she hasn’t been hired for any of the jobs to which she’s applied in the last year or more is simply that in hard times and in a highly competitive area, the overqualified people are the ones who are hired.

After over a year of searching, rejection feels personal. I’ve been there too; before Fire showed up and changed my life, I hadn’t looked for a job beyond waiting tables and lifeguarding for a few months because I was so sick and hurt by the constant rejection I’d experienced. No matter how many times I reminded myself that it was the economy’s fault, not mine, it didn’t change the sinking feeling I got that brought me lower and lower every time someone turned me down for a job. When the message you’ve heard from childhood is that success naturally follows from hard work and a good education, it feels like your failure to secure a job by following such a simple recipe indicates that there is something fundamentally wrong with you. Each additional rejection only confirms it more. At some point, the emotional beating you take by continuing to apply for jobs outweighs your need to earn more money to support yourself and your other dreams, and it outweighs your need to do meaningful work that engages you with your passions and helps to make the world a better place.

I hear faint voices in the back of my head that tell me that I, my cousin, and all the other young adults like us should just shut up and be grateful for even having a job at all. We should bloom where we’re planted, we should make ourselves indispensable to our employers so that they will promote us, and that we should keep working hard because that recipe for success still holds true if we’re just patient for a little while longer. Whoever says that sort of thing has truly never been in our shoes.

I am grateful that I am not out in the icy winter streets with my family. I am grateful that my work and paycheck keep my family alive, sheltered, clothed, and fed. I am doing everything that I can to bloom where I am right now, to keep learning and thinking and challenging myself every day. But my cousin and I, and many others like us, are under-employed for our talents and training yet considered “not experienced enough” for the jobs we were told we should be able to get for the asking. Our physical needs may be met, but we were raised to do more than go to work every day and do what someone else tells us to do. We were raised to discover and pursue our passions for learning and for making the world a better place. Far from being entitled, we simply want the opportunity to apply our knowledge and dedication and to prove ourselves to be contributors, to give back to our communities through our work. Now, at the time we imagined we’d be embarking on our journeys, we feel that we have reached a dead end, a no-man’s land of boring, stifling jobs and endless rounds of rejection letters. This treadmill wears away at our self-respect and hope for the future.

The problem I’ve identified isn’t just a problem for me, my cousin, and the other young adults who are adrift in that same ocean: It’s a problem for our whole society. When a generation of young people is stifled and told, endlessly, that they’re not good enough, we are wasting both the current talents and the future experience and wisdom of those people. When employers consistently choose the overqualified candidates because they’re a safe bet, they’re missing out on the fresh energy, enthusiasm, and dedication of the younger, less experienced candidates. We have a generation here who could be bringing just as much change and improvement to their work and to the world as their parents and grandparents did but who instead are told to shut up and be grateful for what they are given. That idea combined with rejection only reinforces the idea that something is wrong with us. The job postings we read and respond to say that we’re qualified, so why is it that we are rarely even called for interviews? We’re told that our cover letters are outstanding and our resumes impressive, but we’re consistently passed over for jobs that even we are overqualified for in favor of people with even more experience. How can we get the experience they say we lack if no one is willing to take a chance on us?

It’s hard not to be bitter. I’ve only just started extricating myself from the rat race and the emotions that are fresh for my cousin today are not so stale for me, too. But I don’t want to be bitter. I want to be the creative, empowered person I have worked to become; more on that for another day. I don’t know what the future holds for any of us, whether we choose to keep applying for jobs or whether we choose to explore other ways of living and working, but I do know that there’s no fail-proof recipe for success for my generation. The way out starts by recognizing that “hard work + education = a successful career” does not apply to us the way it applied to past generations. The way out will be different for everyone, but it involves finding or creating a new definition of success and applying hard work and dedication in the service of that new thing.

Birthdays

My son’s first birthday cake is in the oven. Just writing that makes me feel a little breathless and dizzy. The growth and changes a human being goes through in his first year are nothing short of astonishing. This year didn’t go as fast as everyone said it would go. It went faster. Right now I feel like I skipped an entire year and got picked up in 2011, pregnant, and suddenly set down here… with the memories of this year implanted in my brain. The rest of this post is for Fire, someday.

Dear Fire,

Happy First Birthday! Wow, look at you go! You took your first solo steps a little more than a week ago and I love watching you grow steadier on your feet daily.

You’ll probably ask me someday what you were like when you were little. Well, you love feeding yourself, cuddling with Mama and Daddy, chasing the kitty, and clapping. You think it’s a great game to put your toys in our mouths and make us walk you in circles around the house. We haven’t yet found a food that you don’t like, except pureed green beans. Whole beans are fine! I’m with you on that pureed business… gross.

Two of the first things you learned to do were growl, thanks to Daddy’s favorite “I’m gonna eat you!” jokes, and turn pages in your books. Just yesterday you pulled the diapers out of the dryer and handed them to Daddy for folding, one by one. What a good helper! You’ve always loved being upright as much as possible. Before you could sit, you did crunches trying to figure out how to sit up. You like to play with Daddy’s electric guitar and have also learned to clap in time to a beat. Your favorite toy is a little music player that plays themes from classical pieces.

You love nursing. Nothing else will help if that’s what you want. Even through all the trouble we had at the beginning, you’ve always loved nursing. I can tell that things are starting to change, though: you don’t need to nurse to sleep every night and you are less interested in it during the day. Today you had your first cow milk and gave it an enthusiastic round of applause (which made your Dairy Princess grandma ecstatic!), which probably means that Mama doesn’t have to pump so much anymore. It feels like the beginning of the end of something that we fought tooth and nail to be able to continue in the first place, and that’s sad for me. I had to figure out how to make it work; now I have to figure out how to let it go, little by little. I hope that you’ll give me plenty of time to work through that! I’m with Grandma on the cow milk, though. For anybody who isn’t still nursing on his own mama, it’s “nature’s most perfect food”. Yum!

I love you, my small one. It is a joy to watch you grow, explore, and learn every day. I’m excited to meet the little boy you’re fast becoming and to eventually meet the young man. I adore your sunny, sweet personality, and wonder how that will come through when you can run and talk for yourself. You’re teaching me how to slow down, pay attention, and find joy in small things, even simple and mundane things. I didn’t think my baby would become my Zen teacher, but I’m grateful for it.

Happy Birthday! Let’s see what adventures this year brings!

Love,
Mama

Listening

Someone is calling my name.

Someone is gently knocking at a door in the walls I didn’t know I built around me.

Someone is opening my ears and heart to a new message.

I can follow the trail through the past few days and weeks, but I can’t take credit for the inspiration behind each step. It started with a series of articles about parenting and listening, really listening, to children. The description of interactions from a child’s perspective is so empathetic that my reading made an immediate, deep, and lasting impression on me. But the impact is broader than parenting: it got me thinking about listening in all relationships in my life.

Ever since then, things keep bubbling to the surface. It’s not easy to acknowledge how far I’ve strayed from the path I want to be on, but I’m also feeling hopeful because the way back is being illuminated just ahead of me.

I’m not one to write or speak like this usually, but I’ll have to expand on the reasons for that another time. (It’s a HUGE tangent otherwise; I just deleted a Really Long Paragraph about it and had hardly begun to scratch the surface.) For now, please believe me that even thinking and feeling what I’ve experienced lately is a big deal, let alone deciding to write about it. Publicly. Yikes.

You see, it’s God. God spoke to me through those articles and unleashed a torrent – a slow, thick, oozing torrent – of revelations and insights. I reevaluated my patterns of interacting with Zach and decided that more patience and listening on my part would be a good idea. I’ve watched my patience with Fire grow, especially in the difficult moments. I’ve prayed more in the last week than I have in months. I was moved to read my Bible tonight for probably the first time since I became convinced that I needed a theology degree to understand it. Well, I pretty clearly understood what was given me to understand tonight: don’t be afraid (Hebrews 13:6) and don’t be angry (James 1:19-20).

Needless to say, I’ve been afraid and angry often in, oh, the last year and then some. But this week, and especially the last couple days, I feel like I’m walking in grace. Someone used that phrase “walking in grace” on Tuesday night and the mental image it gave me was of thick, warm, shining air. The feeling is like a warm blanket and yet it buoys you up instead of weighing you down or holding you back. I can’t explain why I’m suddenly focused on listening with full attention to my child, my partner, and God. I can’t explain why I’m suddenly willing and able to be honest with myself about my fears and anger. And I certainly can’t explain why all this is happening now. It’s not an intentional part of my quest or anything else I charted out for myself. It’s a gift and a blessing.

It’s also a challenge. Can I trust this opening up, this gentle claiming and redirecting of my attention and priorities, to last? Can I learn to let go of fear and frustration in my daily life? Can I learn to listen and really hear?… and then, if necessary, act on it? Where else will I be led and do I have the courage to follow? God knows, and I’ll keep listening.

No More Shampoo!

Well, almost. I’ve been weaning myself off shampoo for 3 weeks, and I am so thrilled that it is working! I was on a swim team as a kid, so I’ve washed my hair every day for YEARS. I’ve skipped a day on occasion, but only on weekends, because my hair would just be far too gross by noon of the second day for me to be comfortable or presentable.

I’ve been wanting to break that cycle for a long, long time. A few years ago I tried to go cold turkey on shampoo and use only baking soda and water to wash my hair, with disastrous results. My scalp probably did slow down its oil production, but I couldn’t tell for sure because it went crazy in the first few days. My hair was roughly shoulder length at the time, and it was oily and greasy from roots to ends within a couple days. I just couldn’t do it.

I tried again a couple years ago when I was living in Alaska without running water. I washed my hair twice a week, using my normal shampoo. In the 3 months that I was there, I never noticed a change in my my scalp’s oil production. By day 3 or 4 after a shower, my morale would be in the pits just from feeling so darn greasy.

But this time, it’s working! This time, I did my research. Some lucky folks out there say that they haven’t experienced a transition phase when switching from their normal shampoo to something homemade or to baking soda, but they’re definitely not me. I needed to manage my transition differently.

I found some really great homemade shampoo recipes and even had most of the ingredients I would need for them, but I figured that KISS would be a good motto. So instead of mixing up something, I decided to use Fire’s natural, super-sensitive baby shampoo/soap. Pretty much all of the ingredients in it were in at least one of the recipes I found anyway. I also used diluted apple cider vinegar instead of my usual conditioner.

After 2 weeks, my hair was softer than ever. I didn’t have any gross oil buildup and found that I needed less and less of my “conditioner” each day, or even that I could skip a day. It used to be that I couldn’t drag a comb through my hair without conditioning, but I think that’s because my former shampoo stripped so much of the oil out. The baby shampoo doesn’t do that, at least not to the same degree.

The second weekend, I challenged myself to skip washing my hair on Saturday. It did get gross by Sunday morning, but for most of Saturday I felt… and looked… just fine. That was something to celebrate!

So I decided to be even more adventurous: I made a baking soda solution to use instead of the baby shampoo on Monday. I used the vinegar afterward, and I swear that my hair has never felt softer in my life. On Tuesday morning I took another bold step: I rinsed but didn’t wash my hair. I went to work without washing my hair. There’s a part of my brain that is still in shock over that (“Are you kidding me?! You did WHAT?!”), because if I’d tried that a month ago, my hair would have looked bad enough to cause people to talk. But this week it was really, truly ok.

I’m still not entirely weaned off the baby shampoo, but I’ve made enough progress to trust that I’ll be able to make it all the way to baking soda-and-vinegar only. From there, I hope I’ll be able to wash my hair less often than my current daily routine.

Why? If you think I’m a dirty hippy, you don’t know me. I do want to be clean and don’t want anyone to be able to tell just by looking at me that I’m not using store-bought shampoo. But this change is making both tangible and symbolic differences in my life. I don’t want to be dependent on a product that I have to buy in a big box store. I don’t want to flush chemicals of questionable toxicity down the drain and into our water system after rubbing them all over my head. I don’t want to be stuck in a cycle where I “need” something that isn’t actually essential to living a good life. Not using shampoo will save time, money, and resources: time in the shower/getting ready in the morning, money for shampoo/conditioner and hot water, and all the water and oil in the products I’m no longer using as well as the water I won’t be using in my shorter showers… and electricity… the more I think about the cumulative effect of quitting shampoo, the more encouraged I am. If I can make more changes like this, wow, that’ll add up!

Has anyone else gone shampoo-free? Or made other changes to cut something unnecessary out of your life? It’d be great to hear about it!

Blessings

We’ve had a couple wonderful days of family time. I’m thankful for so many things this year, like the love and support of our families, our continuing health, and the opportunity to buy our place (it’s not much, but it beats renting!). But of everything in the last year, I’m most thankful that I’m still nursing Fire.

Newborn Fire

I didn’t know yet how much trouble he’d be…🙂

Fire was born tongue-tied and couldn’t move his tongue properly to nurse. Having short or “extra” skin under the tongue doesn’t automatically cause nursing problems because it depends on how everything fits together, but in our case it caused huge problems. For me, the pain was so bad that I pretty much screamed in agony every time he nursed. It took 2 months to figure out what was going on, how to fix it, and to resolve the secondary issues that came up, like low supply and slow weight gain. At the time, we were blessed to have the support of family and the wonderful local lactation counselors and La Leche League leaders. There was a time when I didn’t know how I could get through a single nursing, let alone imagine the next. Today, and for many many days, I’ve nursed him without giving it a second thought. He’s a happy, healthy baby who LOVES to nurse. Thank God for that.

Future Voter Fire

Fire on Election Day! He got a “Future Voter” sticker.

I’ll write a longer post about that experience at some point, but I couldn’t let Thanksgiving go by without sharing my gratitude. I hope anyone who reads this is well and enjoyed a wonderful holiday with family!

Back in the Game

My last post was April 5, 2011. Today is November 21, 2012. What happened?

Well, I don’t have any excuse for the first month after my last post. My bad. But in the middle of May, I found out that Zach and I were going to have a baby. Fire (not his real name) is almost a year old now. I didn’t feel much like sharing for a while, and there was a lot that we needed to change about our lives both before and after becoming parents.

I’ll probably write about some of that journey in the future, but for now I’m more interested in both continuity and setting the stage for future posts. Reading over my last 2 posts, which set up my intentions to intentionally challenge myself and change whole facets of my life, I’m somewhat surprised and gratified to find that I have actually made progress on some fronts, even in the midst of pregnancy and mothering, and even without specific intentions of challenging myself in these ways. For example:

  • I have a full-time job that pays the bills and supports my family, and Zach and I stick to our budget and do manage to save a little (financial)
  • I have been guzzling water like nobody’s business for the last year and a half, mostly due to breastfeeding (body)
  • We finally set up our compost bin and I’m planning a garden for next spring (food/environment)
  • We’ve started inviting friends over for dinner about once/month as a way to reconnect with and thank people who were amazingly helpful and supportive of our small family in the last year+ (social)
  • I’m finally taking the plunge to experiment with homemade cleaning supplies, including shampoo (body/shelter/environment)

Many of these changes are recent and I attribute the surge to 1) feeling like we finally have our feet under us when it comes to parenting and being a family and 2) my realization that my lifelong heart’s desires and goals are leading me to a lifestyle, not a career. 1) and 2) are both good fodder for future posts!

So what brings me back to blogging now? I was doing tons of research on homemade shampoo recipes and going “‘poo free” (strange, strange term, but it seems like everyone else gets it) and was drawn in to read some of the blogs I came across. I love the sense of community I saw there. I’m irredeemably introverted, though not painfully so, and I want to work on building a village online as well as off. (It is definitely work for me!) The two spheres compliment each other, I think. Also, like everyone else with a blog, I feel like I have something to say, something that might be interesting, entertaining, and perhaps even useful to others. I’m not setting specific blogging goals right now, but I’m hoping and intending to get started and keep going for real this time. My motivations are different enough from what they were in the past that it just might stick this time.

What can you expect in future posts? Stories about my life and thoughts on ideas, trends, events… whatever I’m moved to ponder. It will probably certainly evolve from there, but this time I’m taking a more relaxed approach and not trying to impose a topic on myself. I know that flies in the face of all the “get readers to your blog” advice out there, but I’m just not a topic-oriented blogger. At least not yet.

Welcome back and enjoy the ride!