Thursday, January 29, 2009

Working in a Winter Wonderland

This morning I woke up to snow. A lot of snow. I think the storm that hit yesterday brought about eight inches to our area.
First, I cleared out the dog pen and around the table where the bird feeders are. Then I had breakfast and got ready for the day. Fully bundled up, I headed out to clear a path to the barn so I could feed and water the chickens. It was so beautiful out. The sun was shining and it made all the snow sparkle and shine. After I took care of the chickens, I thought "Hey, I might as well clear around my car." So I did that.
Then my neighbor came to clear my path to the mailbox (how sweet!). He told me he didn't think I would be able to get out of the driveway and offered to come clear the end of it once he finished his morning coffee. How many people have neighbors who are so nice? I thanked him profusely, and then started clearing the top of the driveway, working my way down. I took it slow--didn't want to pull anything in my back or hurt the baby.
As I worked I was reminded how much I love to be outside, moving and doing something productive. All I could hear was the birds and the rhythmic "swish" of my shovel as I tossed the snow to the side of the driveway. The sun was warm on my face, the sky was blue. I remembered in my old job how I would long for time away from my desk and the ringing phone. I wanted to go outside whenever I pleased. And now that I'm able to, I certainly don't take it for granted.
I got so caught up in my chore that I ended up finishing the whole driveway myself, before my neighbor came back outside!
What's funny to me, is that even though I love to work outdoors, there is always this resistance to the thought beforehand. If someone had said, "Boy, you need to get out there and clear the driveway," I would have been totally disgruntled and resistant. But because I went out thinking I'd just "do a little", it ended up being a real treat.
I came in with rosy cheeks, clean lungs, and a much more positive attitude.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Going Local

Localvore (also called locavore) eating is gaining popularity. If you aren't familiar with the term, it basically means eating foods grown as close to you, normally within 100 miles, as often as possible. There have been a lot of books written on the subject. One I would HIGHLY recommend is Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" Excellent book and very informative without being preachy.

I have to admit that eating locally is not something I do very well. In fact, my friend Renee recently mentioned in an email the importance of eating locally, and how if we continue to choose cheap foods from other countries, our own farmers will eventually be put out of business. Well, that got my attention. Though I try to buy organic foods at the grocery store, make food from scratch as much as possible, and frequent the local farmer's market in the summer, I do these things more for health than any else's well being.

I am especially guilty of this in the cold weather months. I LOVE tropical fruit in winter--bananas, mangoes, pineapple, dried papaya--love it, love it, love it. In fact, I'd have to say that it's what I eat most of, after the organic apples which are grown heaven knows where.

Strawberries, grapes, cherries, blueberries--the list goes on and on. And that's just the fruit! So, my friend's observation has really gotten me thinking. How could I incorporate more local foods into my diet, especially in the cold winter months? Is it really hopeless? Am I destined to a fate of dried local apple slices and potatoes for months on end?

I interviewed a wonderful woman named Robin a few months ago for an article I was working on. Robin heads up the Mad River Localvores here in Vermont. She is completely, utterly dedicated to this movement and shared with me that she and her husband are complete and total localvores, other than the spices that they cook with which come from non-local sources. When I asked how she survived the winters without lettuce, grapes and other warm weather produce, she told me that it's just something you get accustomed to. She said my reaction is typical (which made me feel only slightly better) and that it's really just about making different choices. Over time, it becomes second nature. As an added benefit, when you do get local foods like peas, greens and asparagus, you tend to appreciate them a lot more.

Maybe it's time to borrow "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" again from the library. It's definitely time to think about how I can grow, buy, and preserve more local foods for next year's cold winter months.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Intution or No?

Do you believe in intuition? Fate? Faith?

For much of my life I have relied on my faith to get me to where I was going. Most times when I have a big (or even a small) decision to make, I pray about it and go where I feel led. This has been true even in times when I felt really removed from my faith and as though God was the farthest away from me. I've used my faith when contemplating big things like job changes, moves, and reducing my debt, and for making small decisions like how best to reach out to someone, what healthy things I could include in my life to make it better, and how to solve everyday problems.

I have always believed that if doors were closed to you and you had to really struggle to pry one open, it wasn't meant to be opened by you, at least not at that time. Doors should be opened for you, or be open already for you to walk through--if you are indeed on the right path.

Recently I read that this might be the wrong way to look at things. I'm sporadically reading a good book, Jesus, Life Coach, by Laurie Beth Jones who is a life coach herself. In the book she reminds readers that Moses had to approach Pharaoh more than once before Pharaoh agreed to let the Israelites go. What if, asks the author, Moses had just tried once and then said, "Oh well, I tried. See you later Israelites!" (Paraphrased)

Hmmmm, an interesting concept.

So, now it's made me wonder if I'm wrong to question if things don't go smoothly right away. Am I still on the right path when doors aren't opening? Do open doors indicate the right path or just a path? Should one keep pressing on even though they feel like they are treading water more than swimming somewhere?

What do you think about intuition, faith or fate? Do you trust it? Or do you prefer to make your decisions in another way?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Enjoy Today

Today I'm going to accept what I can't change, trust that things will turn out okay, and be happy where I am.

I woke up feeling not-so-great--tired, scratchy throat, stuffy nose. Worst of all was that my mind immediately went to my bank account. Not a good sign first thing in the morning.

No matter how often I think that I've "let go" of worrying about finances, where the money is going to come from, will it be enough, where will I get more work, it seems to creep back up on me. If I can't learn to accept that this is part of a freelancing lifestyle, I think I'd better head back out to the working-for-someone-else world. And that is something that I never want to do again.

Instead, I'm going to make an conscious effort to let go of the things I can't control like where or when the next check is coming, if I'm really getting a cold, if I'll freeze to death going to feed the chickens this morning (it's below zero again--brrrr!), if the pets will adjust to the new baby okay, etc., and focus on all that I have right now that is good.

Wonderful family
Money in the bank
Supportive friends
A warm house
Fuzzy pets
Plenty of food in the cupboards
Great books and mags waiting to be read
A little bit of land
Warm, dry clothes
A heater and blanket while I work
A great church
Artistic creations

So today if you're feeling anything like me, try to just take a few big, deep breaths and exhale all the worry swirling around in your head. We're bound to free up some creative energy for something much more important.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Money, Money, Money

(Photo courtesy of

"Money is the root of all evil." Many people have misquoted that famous verse from scripture. In fact, the verse says, "Love of money is the root of all evil."

What's the difference?

Love of money, in my opinion, is a big problem because it causes people to put their trust and faith in something fickle. Though the huge problems that have spread across Wall Street and now the country are definitely NOT a good thing, there are lessons to be learned.

1) Don't put faith in things.

2) Don't spend more than you can afford.

3) Have a back up plan.

Some of the stories we read about in the news are heartbreaking. Families who've been forced to leave their homes after one or both parents loses their jobs, companies downsizing, businesses going bankrupt.

But some of the stories make me frustrated. The people who could "afford" a $400,000 mortgage who've lost their home because they really couldn't manage a payment that size after all. The people who run up so much credit card debt that they just move to another credit card when one is maxed out. The well-off families who have been living "the life" and now have to cut back to only 2 modest sized cars instead of 4 SUV's, stop eating out every day, and cancel their masseuse and maid services and are just so put out over it. Oh, to have those kind of troubles!

I'll be the first to admit that I haven't always been responsible with my money. It's still a struggle to this day for me to pass up "great deals", even if they're at the local thrift shop or lawn sale. If you don't need it, it's still a waste, no matter how cheap it is.

My finances now look quite a bit different than they did eight or 10 years ago. Several things influenced me. One was that I had quite a bit of credit card debt myself in my early 20's. And let me tell you, it did not feel good. Another thing that influenced me was meeting my then boyfriend, now husband who is very responsible with his money. I also started reading a lot of great books about living more simply and learned a very important lesson while reading, "Your Money or Your Life". This book teaches many, many lessons but the most important thing I got from it was this: Your money is your life energy. How you spend or save it allows you to live in the manner you most want to live. In other words, if you are working some stressful job that makes you very unhappy but brings in a large paycheck, you're expending your life energy for that money. You could decide to move to less stressful job with a pay cut or start a business of your own. But only you can decide ultimately if it's more important for you to make a lot of money or do work that you enjoy but make less doing it. And for some (many?) people, giving up the "extras" seems like too much of a drawback.

Another excellent book that I'd highly recommend is "The Simple Living Guide". This book is chock full of great ideas and best of all, the ideas are practical and lead to a more balanced way of living. The author doesn't encourage readers to sell their homes, move into studio apartments and grow sprouts for food. She instead recommends looking at what's working and not working now and making small adjustments until you get where it is you most want to be.

The Simple Dollar is another great resource and it's online (free!). Many great articles about finances and how to start making changes.

Most importantly perhaps, is remembering that money is just an exchange. It's not magical. It's not the most important thing in life (if it IS the most important thing in your life, you might want to re-evaluate). Personally, I don't see anything wrong with having it, as long as you don't keep it all for yourself. Remember that saying, "Love isn't love until you give it away?" Same holds true for money, I think.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thursday ramblings

I love old stuff. Case in point, these wonderful, candy colored Pyrex bowls that I scored at a tag sale some years ago. I use them ALL THE TIME! In fact, I have other bowls languishing in my cupboards that I should probably get rid of. I don't though just in case, (horror of horrors!) these bowls should break someday. Then where would I be?

Our society is such a throw-away place these days. Buy it cheap, use it for awhile and then pitch it when it breaks. Part of the problem is the junky, crappy stuff we're buying. Another part of the problem is being too lazy to research ways in which an item can be fixed. (Remember my laundry basket? Still going strong!). Sometimes people don't have the skills they might need to fix things. I darn mine and my husband's socks. When I told him to put his holey socks (the clean ones!) in my mending basket, he laughed. He didn't believe I knew how to darn. In fact, he didn't even think that "darn" was a verb. And let me tell you, that my mother-in-law is not one to waste things. Surely she must darn socks? I'll have to ask her sometime. But some people don't know how to darn, or fix a laundry basket or repair a toaster oven. Some of us are just too lazy or unmotivated to learn these type of skills. And some, like me, are sure we would burn our houses down if we tried to repair a toaster or any other electrical gadget.

Still, all this waste gets on my nerves. This is one of the reasons I hate big box, cheap-crap stores. It's not so much that I feel they are taking over small towns and wiping out mom and pop type establishments (though in many areas, they are), I just don't like what they stand for. It's like the mentality of the shoppers in those stupid commercials for The Christmas Tree Shop. You see these women, carts piled high with loads of stuff I'm sure they didn't go into the store intending to buy. Betty, says to her friend: "Marge, did you see this chop-o-matic? It's ONLY $5.00!!!!" Marge: "Wow! $5.00? Let me get 10!" Marge's hands furiously snatch up chop-o-matics and throw them into her groaning shopping basket. Betty: "But Marge, you don't even cook!" Marge: "Who cares! At that price I can't afford to pass them up!"

"Who cares?" seems to be the mentality of a lot of shoppers these days. "Who cares that the people who made these jeans only got paid $.17. I got them for only $19.99. Now that's a bargain!" And, "Who cares that this junky little stroller/microwave/toy is going to break in 10 days, I'll just toss it out and get a new one."

And I'm certainly not saying it's all the fault of the consumer. Many companies now make things that will break quickly so that customers will keep coming back for more. A lot of times it's faster, cheaper, and easier to toss something out than to have it fixed because it costs less and is a whole lot more convenient to get a new gizmo than try to have a broken one fixed.

Grrrr, makes my blood boil.

If you, too hate waste, try this experiment. The next time something breaks and you are going to have it replaced, try to find out how it might be fixed. The next time you're about to buy a new piece of clothes, see if you can't find something just as cute at your local thrift store. The next time you really, really need something for your house, kid, dog, guinea pig, see if you can't find another alternative to brand spanking new. Could you borrow it? Barter for it? Repair something that would make do?

Creative thrift--hopefully the wave of the future.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Oh my Gosh, my Sister is Famous

This is my sister, Celeste. On top of being a multi-novel writing , freelance journalist for many years, she is also an editor, baker, artist, farm girl, and all around creative person. For the past several years, Celeste has really gotten into traditional music. Cajun, French, Irish, Celtic--she loves it all and plays and sings it like she was raised in a family of musical professionals, instead of a family where music can't be read.

Celeste was recently featured in a special section of the Rutland Herald called "Talking Pictures". Here's a link to the section that was produced, complete with clips of Celeste performing. She is good. And no, I'm not just saying that because we're related.

Go and check it out for yourself. I dare you not to like it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

New, old projects

This is Ella. By day she's a school secretary, but by night she takes to the stage, "Ella the Enchantress" is what she's called. Ella sings and dances, making her audience forget their troubles. Thoughts of paying for the new furnace, the dishes in the kitchen sink, and the friend who's been sick for weeks fall away as the audience sits, captivated by Ella's voice and movements.

I've been on a recent creative buzz lately, which is great for two reasons:
1) It's wonderful to finish up some projects that I started and never completed.
2) It keeps my stress level more manageable. It's hard to feel stressed when you're up to your elbows in glitter and paint and bits of fairy fabric!

Ella is just one of the art pieces that I listed recently on my etsy shop. The theme of all my art work is "re-done". I use as many recycled materials as possible, giving new life to things that otherwise might just end up in the trash.

Stay tuned, there will be more items going into the shop as time allows.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I was just thinking this morning as I performed my morning "getting ready for the day" rituals how different they are now than in the past.
Like many things I thought could never change, my bathing rituals are certainly different from when I was in my teens and early 20's.
Here's an example of my past grooming practices:
Wash hair with chemical shampoo and condition (if necessary) with matching chemical conditioner. Use perfume-y (and probably toxic) yummy smelling bath gel. Shave legs with disposable razor and more perfume-y shaving gel. Apply scented lotion and/or powder/perfume after shower to seal in scent. (I read somewhere about "layering" scents in high school and did this for a long time). Don't forget to apply a lot of chemical anti-perspirant! Apply 2-3 products into hair while blow drying. Put on arsenal of conventional makeup with scary ingredients that I can't pronounce onto my face, after rubbing in a moisturizer full of still more ingredients I can't pronounce. Spray hair liberally with hairspray. Done!
Now my routine is a little different. I'm certainly not a full on crunchy yet. I still wear makeup. I still use some chemical products on my hair and face. But my routine has been cleaned up significantly since the ole' days.
Now my grooming routine looks something like this:
Wash hair (I still use non-natural shampoos as they all seem to make my hair as flat as a pancake--anyone have good suggestions?). Sometimes clarify hair by adding a little baking soda to shampoo to remove any residue. Soap up with natural soap fragranced with essential oils. Shave using shampoo or soap with razor that has replaceable cartridges. Apply almond oil to face and body after shower. This oil is GREAT, absorbs quickly and never leaves me feeling greasy. Or alternately, apply a natural body butter or add a drop or two of essential oil to almond oil for fragrance. Dust baking soda under arms in place of deodorant. Dry hair and add a little mousse or spray (again, I haven't been able to find good natural alternatives but am open to ideas!). Apply mineral makeup and traditional liner/mascara (suggestions for the best natural one you've used?). Done!
There has been so much in the media in recent years about what we are putting on our faces and bodies. What was eye opening to me was a time when my grandmother, we called her Memere, was in the nursing home. She got pain patches to help her and my mother described how the patches worked. Basically, like the nicotine or birth control patches they are placed directly onto the patient's skin and are then absorbed into their blood stream!
If medication can be applied onto the skin and absorbed, then where are all these lotions and oils and soaps and deodorants going?
If you have any interest in this at all, or even if you are a skeptic, you really should check out Skin Deep. This organization has a database of all all the ingredients in popular cosmetics and what their potential dangers are. It also gives the product a score of lowest to highest danger. Thank goodness I just found out that my chemical mascara is only a 1 (lowest danger) but I'm still going to keep searching for a good, natural alternative.
Tell me about you~have you made any changes to the products that you use over the years for health reasons? What do you think of all the research around toxic ingredients being found in cosmetics? Leave a comment and let me know what you think about all of this.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Happy Anniversary

Today is my one year anniversary of launching my freelance writing career. Though I have been writing for a long time, it was January 12th, 2008 when I went out on my own--my first day as a self-employed writer.

There were many reasons for choosing to pursue this. I actually made a (lengthy) list of the reasons that were most important to me. I titled it "What I want more of". Here are a few of the things I jotted down:

1) More time to help others/causes I believe in.

2) Time for devotion/meditation every day.

3) To feel fulfilled through my work.

4) To do really well at writing--to reach others, to be paid well, and to be acknowledged as a good, hard working writer.

5) To give back and become more generous.

Looking back over the past year I see where I made mistakes (quite a few, actually) and where I was successful. I can honestly say that mistakes and all, this is the best job I've ever had and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Working for myself meets my needs--not just financially. It goes deeper than that. I'm back to being myself. For a long, long time I was someone who tried to stuff myself into the molds that other people expected me to fit into. Now I feel . . . free.

For any of you out there who are contemplating a big leap of faith, I offer this unsolicited advice: Don't over think it. Pray, pray and pray some more. And then let go and be amazed.

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Year, New Goals?

What are some of your goals for the new year? I prefer goals to resolutions--goals are something tangible that I can work toward in small steps, whereas resolutions sound so final. Either you are successful and complete your resolutions, or you fail. Goals can be tweaked over time and adjusted as you change and grow.

With that being said, there are a few goals that I want to keep working on in the year ahead. One is to do more for the environment. It's all fine and good to talk and write about how important making changes for the environment are, but sometimes it's easier to talk than walk if you know what I mean. For instance, I'm starting a new branch to my writing service, focused on environmental writing. For my new venture I'll need business cards and brochures. My first instinct, of course, is to get these as inexpensively as possible as long as they still look professional. I can get 250 business cards online for under $20, including the shipping. That's hard to beat. But then I started thinking--is that the message I want to send to my clients? Cheaper is better? Not exactly. So I started calling local printers to ask about recycled paper options (none). Then I went online and started researching recycled paper options and found several. After doing some price comparisons, I asked for samples from one company so that I can see and feel the four papers I have in mind. After I order the paper, I'll need to bring my PDF to a local printer for printing/folding/cutting. All of this will cost me a lot more time and money than if I had simply ordered the cheapo business cards online. BUT what positive effect will this decision have?

1) I'll be supporting a local print shop.

2) I'll be using 100% post consumer recycled paper.

3) (And possibly most importantly) I'll be living my values.

I don't want to be one of those people who laments the fate of the planet and doesn't do much to change it.

Here are some personal goals for the new year:

1) Hang my laundry on the inside line more. We recently added this indoor clothesline to my office. It can be taken down when I have visitors and clothes dries in about 8-9 hours.

2) Keep composting throughout the winter. This is something I've not been good with in the past. It's a trek to get to the compost bins in the snow but this year I'm going to do it as much as possible.

3) Keep buying used whenever possible. Recycling is great, but it still takes energy to transform something old into something new. A better option is to use something old if possible.

4) Fix things instead of throwing them away. My laundry basket's handle broke and I was wondering if I would have to recycle it. Then I decided to try to fix it instead, inspired after reading "The Tightwad Gazette". I used a drill and made a couple of holes and then wired a paperclip through to hold it together. Feels sturdy to me!

5) Find more like-minded friends, business acquaintances and others in my community to connect with. It's great to have so much information online regarding green living. I have my favorite blogs which I read regularly, and I read magazines like Mother Earth News, Grit, and Mary Jane's Farm for inspiration. But as wonderful as all of these resources are, there is nothing like talking with someone who's on the same page as you are. It makes you feel much less alone in your journey toward more sustainable living.

6) Eating real food. For the past couple of weeks I've been trying to incorporate a lot more fruits and vegetables into my diet, along with more natural sources of protein. I have noticed a big difference in how I feel--less moody, more balanced and more energetic. This is something I definitely want to continue in the new year.

7) Making home a homestead. I have a whole list of ideas I'd like to eventually incorporate to make our home and 3/4 acre a true "homestead". I'm going to be prioritizing my list soon, and hopefully will successfully complete at least three things on the list before next fall. At the top of my list for this year? Building raised beds for the garden, building a cold frame and planting berry bushes or strawberry plants.

These are just a few goals for the new year. I've got lots of others, but these top my list. What are some of yours? They don't have to be environmentally related, share them anyway!