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Monday, November 15, 2010

Progress, not perfection.

Perfection is self-abuse of the highest order, Anne Wilson Schaef.
10 years ago, even 5 years ago, I would not have thought this to be true. I spent my 20’s and most of my 30’s looking for perfection…in myself, my job, my house and my children. I was under the misguided impression that life was about doing everything just right and to the very best of my ability. While a noble goal, it was also exhausting. My joy during those days came not from within, but from others. I glowed over the comments on the house and everything always in its place. I basked in the praise from bosses, coworkers and professors as they wondered how I managed to keep everything afloat. Little did they know that behind this seemingly calm, organized life, there were sleepless nights, headaches and poor parenting. I was exhausted most days from balancing so many things on my plate. While on the outside, all appeared to be perfect, inside I was falling apart.
I managed to keep this persona of perfection up for nearly 15 years and then one day, I just couldn’t get out of bed. Some days I managed to drag myself out and to the shower by the time the kids came home from school. I would toss together some dinner and be back in bed by 6 or 7 o’clock. This went on for months. When I did leave the house, it was only with the assistance of serious medication. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I simply could not understand how I went from an over-achieving, A-type personality, multi-tasking, fulltime employee, mother of 3 to a procrastinating, barely functional, unemployed, medicated mess. I had every medical test known to man, took every vitamin recommended and followed any remotely useful suggestion offered by anyone and everyone, all to no avail.
Then one day, I came to the realization that I had simply burned the candle at both ends until there was no more left to burn. For years my body had been giving me little hints that it was time to slow down. I was so busy that I didn’t have time to pay attention. I simply ignored the signs and went on. Until one day my body, my mind and even my soul just said NO. No more working all hours of the day. No more running in 10 directions at once. No more PTA, Scouts, Sunday School. No more Volunteer Extraordinaire. It was time for a break and since I wasn’t smart enough to take it on my own, my body was going to do it for me. There was no concern about being dragged kicking and screaming into a slower pace. I didn’t even have the motivation to lift a toe, let alone a whole foot to kick. It was as though my inner clock had slowly wound itself down.
Looking back to that time, I can see now that it was a necessary evil. It brought me to the realization that life is meant to be savored. Each moment in time has its own flavor. A flavor for your soul to wrap itself around and delight in. Enjoy those moments. Embrace them. Let them wash over you, drenching you in color. Allow the flavors to blend like a fine wine. Open yourself to the melodies in the twinklings of time.
Just ‘be’ in the fullness of time.
Our goal as we travel on this amazing journey is progress, not perfection. At the end of each day, if you are farther; emotionally, spiritually or physically, than you were the day before, you have succeeded.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Web of Life

I have often referenced my life as the grand-daughter of a Farmer, and I have long known that this has affected my every decision since beginning the search for my authentic self. However, it wasn’t until recently that I realized just how closely that I am walking in the shoes of my family and how closely I am connected to them.
When I went home this past July to visit my Grandmother upon the loss of Grandpa at the age of 88, I had no agenda other than to wrap myself up in the warmth of my family and refuel my soul with their love. Allthough it was a short visit it was long enough to catch up with family that I hadn’t seen in several years, though we keep in touch online.
One afternoon, my middle child, Mason and I had the pleasure of having Grandma all to ourselves. Everyone else was home with their families and recuperating from the emotional drain of the past few weeks. It was a sunny afternoon, with a cool breeze blowing through the sheer window dressing. We spent some time that day in Grandpa’s bedroom going through his life both tangibly and spiritually, touching his treasures, laughing over little things that we came across and helping Mason to see his Grandpa in a new light, in a time before his body had begun to show the harshness of time. Mason never knew Grandpa without the infirmities that eventually took him from us. It was a wonderful experience to bring Grandpa to life through pictures, knick-knacks and stories of a time when life was simpler.
Grandma was in a melancholy mood, just right for opening the flood gates holding back 50 years of memories. We learned more that afternoon than I knew that I was missing.
We learned that Grandpa’s Dad was never a farmer at heart. He had chosen to do the only thing that he felt qualified to do after being ousted from his life’s passion as a cheese-maker, due to a life threatening case of pernicious anemia. At the time, his doc told him that the only way to get better was to get out of the factories and into the fresh air. So, being banned from the factories, he took a step back in the cheese-making-chain and went into the dairy industry. Thanks to the hard work of his three sons, he was able to make a go of it and support his family.
For years, they all worked hard to keep food on the table, a roof over their heads and clothes on their backs. Over time, Grandpa’s older brothers grew up and grew away. This left him handling the farm and now starting a family of his own. Sometime around the mid 1950’s, small time dairy farms started to fall to the larger farms and milk producers. The industrialization of farming had begun. Now, they were faced with a decision. To keep the dairy or let it go. Thankfully for those of us in subsequent generations, a compromise was reached and the dairy cows went, and in came beef cattle, a beautiful group of wooly headed Herefords which would become a constant sight on the hills of the farm for the next 30 years.
By this point in the story, my heart was filled with a yearning for more, more history, more knowledge and more memories. I could have listened for days and days to all of the things that Grandma was sharing. Some of them I had heard before, some were new. Some were even considered risqué back in the times. But all of them were filling me with a sense of who I am, where I come from.
The story of Great Grandpa’s cheese-making passion had brought sharp, burning tears to my eyes. My heart filled with that yearning again, for this past summer, I had begun to experiment with the art of cheese-making. With this adventure, I had unknowingly, created another connection from my life here in the hills of Southwest Virginia to a life 700 miles away and more than 70 years ago. The web of my life is spinning along, anchored in time by yesterday and all of the days before.
As I come closer and closer to finding my authentic self, and what brings me true joy, I know that there will be many links to the past. Some of them will be painful, some will make me laugh and some will make me cry. I hope that the tears will wash away the pain, some of which is buried deep in scar tissue of old wounds. I know that ultimately, this is the true path. I hope you continue to follow along and one day soon, begin your own journey to a joyful life.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Joy from within

Well friends, it has been a while since I have had the heart to be here writing. It's been hard to write about yoy and my quest for happiness when things have been so chaotic and painful in our lives.

But I realized this morning that joy does not from outside, it comes from within. To let someone else control what your heart feels is stifling to the joy that resides there. And that is what I have been doing. I have been allowing outside influences to affect the joy that I hold in my heart.

One of my favorite authors, Sarah Ban Breathnach states in her book, Simple Abundance, "Inadvertantly, we become the authors of our own misfortune. And so we struggle from day to day, from crisis to crisis, bruised and battered by circumstances without realizing that we always have a choice."

From here on out, I will remember that I have a choice. I can let the drama and the chaos around me, effect my joyous spirit or I can choose to let it wash over me and away from me like a salty, white-capped wave, taking with it the hurt, the dispair, the pain and the sorrow.

I can rise from the chaos and the drama, knowing that I have chosen to continue on my journey to a joyous life untouched and unscathed by negativity, dis-harmony and ignorance.

I will choose to trust myself, accentuate the positive, dream the impossible dream and become the person that I truly want to be. I will write my story in the prose of passion, with the the flavor of fullfillment and the scent of sweet success. I will be the author for only I know the secret life lusts of my soul.

I will look inward and find my hearts delight. This is the Holy Grail at the end of the Joyful Journey.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Just call me the Crazy Chicken Lady

My children tell me that I have crossed a line today. I dont think so, but you decide...

We currently have a Silkie chicken residing in a small cage in our bathroom. Isn't she gorgeous?
LeyLa is suffering from some unknown illness which has left her temporarily unable to eat or drink without assistance. She also unable to move on her own. She is paralyzed on one side and seems to have a Parkinson's thing going on.

In order to feed her, I prepare a soft diet of scrambled eggs...yes, chickens love eggs...yogurt, oatmeal and whatever else I can scavenge from the fridge. She sits on a towel, on the table while I hold her upright and bring the food to her mouth. As you can see in her photo, she is a bearded Silkie which sometimes leaves me unable to find her beak. When serving raspberry and blueberry yogurts, this can cause a bit of a mess.

After her latest meal, it became obvious that she needed a bath. While she was soaking in her little bubble bath, it occured to me that I now had a sick, wet, cold chicken on my hands. Egads! What to do? Well, this is what concerns my children. I placed a thick towel in the dryer, turned it on for 3 minutes until it was good and warm, opened the door, created a little nest area in the middle of the toasty towel and placed LeyLa in it. Then I hung a second towel over the door to hold in the. Moments later, LeyLa was snuggled down in her make shift sauna and looking pretty comfortable. Every 15 minutes for the next hour I removed LeyLa from her sauna, reheated the towel and returned her to the healing warmth.

I suppose to some of you, not my BYC friends of course,  may find this slightly bizarre. However in the grand scheme of things...not so much. To date we have birthed Pygmy goats in the sunroom, brooded chicks in our bedroom, incubated on Lindsey's dresser and allowed two Nigerian goat kids to winter over in our bathroom during a nasty 2 week freeze last January. I have also recently taken to identifying bees that find their way into the house before administering the death blow. If they are my honeybees, we follow the catch and release philosophy. Wasps and hornets still get the flyswatter. So, you see, I do know where to draw the line when it comes to the critters here at Camelot Farm. *wink*

I believe that this quality of care and the willingness to go the extra mile, also described by my 17 year old as going over the edge, gives my children a diverse perspective on responsibility, life and love. Someday, I hope that my children will remember their unique childhood and the lessons that they learned.
So many of life's lessons can not be learned in a book, they must be experienced. So I will sacrifice my 'normal' status and become the crazy chicken lady if it will provide them with a look at the world from a window that they might otherwise never have looked through. The fact that I enjoy every crazy minutes of it is simply a bonus.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What's in a name?

What's in a name? This can be one of those 'hot-topics', especially in families. I remember back when my boys were young and I remarried. I was thrilled the first time that I heard them refer to my husband as 'Dad'. It felt as though we had crossed some giant hurdle into 'normal' and with the bestowing of this endearing title, we were on our way to being a family. I'm sure that my ex-husband wouldn't have appreciated this mile-marker in the same way that I did. Just as I am quite sure at that point in my life I would have washed out the mouth of any of my children who dared to call another woman- Mom.

Now, picture me sitting here 10 years later with a cartoon lightbulb over my head. Ding! We have a winner!

**Thanks Bec'. Bet you didnt even know that you were so inspirational in our little chat tonight. Bec is my long time friend, personal advisor and conscience as well as secret keeper extraordinaire**

Back to the point...

I like to think that I am a fairly intellegent woman who keeps her finger on the pulse of the important things in life. However, I missed this one by a mile. Was it ever really important as to what my boys called my husband? Dad? Curt? Sir? Hey you? Ok, maybe not 'hey you'. The point is that it never mattered what they called him. What mattered is what they thought of him and he of them.

How many times have we turned away from a book on the shelf because the title didnt sound interesting? It doesnt matter what its called. The important thing is what it is all about. Its what's between the covers or in the case, behind the name that truly matters.

Today, I watch the boys interact with him and know that while their relationship isnt perfect, it's exactly what I want it to be. What it is. They have a relationship fileld with love, respect, tradition, kindness and a kinship that goes far beyond a name or a title.

So whether you are Mom, Ma'am, Mrs Hayden's Mom, Dad, Curt, Grandpa, Granny or even BiBi to someone who loves you...it's all good. Love isn't in the name, it's in the heart.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A 'Just Because' Cake

Tonight's bedtime snack was 'Just Because' cake. There is no special recipe or secret ingredient to this cake other than a little bit of 'Just Because' magic. What is 'Just Because' magic? It's a little something that I picked up years ago from an dear old friend. 'Just Because' magic is found in your heart but only works when you give it to someone else. As it passes from you to them, it gains the power of love, friendship and kindness. As they accept the 'Just Because' magic, its doubles in volume filling both of your hearts with joy.

'Just Because' cake doesnt happen on birthdays or holidays. It doesnt come with rhythm nor reason. It doesnt come after an excellent report card or a winning game. It simply appears on the counter on a normal, everyday day. Some might wonder why this 'Just Because' cake is so special if it's baked on a nothing extraordinary, simple, regular ol' day.

That is exactly what makes it special. In a world where life is often hectic, schedules are packed to overflowing and chaos reigns for families, 'Just Because' magic can slow time, halt the frenzied pace and show our friends and our families that we dont need a reason to show them that they are loved.

Cake on a Saturday night. Just because.
A kiss for a child. Just because.
A note with a few words of love. Just because.
A phone call. Just because.
Bring home take-out. Just because.
A touch on the arm. Just because.
A special lunchbox treat. Just because.

Who doesnt love to be loved in small and even silly ways? We all do. We like to know that we are thought of. We like to know that we are loved every day, not just on the special days.

So, bake a 'Just Because' cake this week. You'll love how it makes you feel!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sunflowers

For as long as I can remember, the sunflower has been my favorite bloom. They have graced my gardens, filled vases and adorned my jewelry. There have been times that I am certain that my husband has intentionally mowed them down when they threatened to overtake the yard after 'accidentally' being planted by visiting wild birds, while I carefully mow around each one giving it full room to grow and blossom.

Until recently, I had not bothered to reflect on my love for these admittedly gangly, overly tall blooms. As a child, our yard was flower-free in order to keep my mother sneeze-free. Our table was never blessed with bouquets nor our gardens with a profusion of petals. I always assumed that my passion for the sunflower arose from those years of flower famine.

Then, one day this past July my Grandfather suddenly died. With his death came all of those little tasks; phone calls, obituaries, hymns and of course flowers. My cousin Bridget and I went looking to find an arrangement that would represent one of the greatest influences in our lives. Of course, being 650 miles apart we were forced to complete our searching online. I pulled up the website for a florist back home and the first arrangement to come on the screen was filled with sunflowers. Golden faces floating on a sea of green. I waffled with my conscience for a few moments, wondering if I was choosing these for me or for him. Then a gentle tug at my heart prompted me to click the email button to Bridget sending her my choice.

The coming days kept me from thinking about that little nudge against my heart. Then came a day, a week or so after the funeral and we were visiting Grandma at her home. The day was sunny and a gentle breeze wafted through the house. The windows were open and we were nearly drowned out by the chittering of birds at the feeders just outside of the kitchen. I saw Aunt Sandy part the curtains and the air was filled with dozens of Gold Finches flying for the safety of the cornfields around the house. She glanced at the feeder and then looked to Grandma. 'Did Dad plant those sunflowers, or did the birds drop them?' she asked. 'No, Dad planted those', Grandma responded. Aunt Sandy smiled and thought outloud 'he loved sunflowers.' My breath caught at my throat for a split second. He loved sunflowers! How did I not know that? I had seen sunflowers at their home for years and always assumed that they were one of Grandma's many projects. For years we had shared a passion that I never knew about until it was too late.

But, is it too late? Surely not. Thanks to this shared love, every time I see a sunflower I can't help but think of him. What could be more beautiful than this wonderful reminder of a great man? When I find a sunflower hidden somewhere in my day, I'm forced to smile, sometimes tearily but a smile nonetheless. It keeps him close and carries my heart back home in a flash of gold.

Lloyd Stedman 1921-2010