Friday, August 28, 2015

Battling with Teachers - Strike Hard or Surrender?

Ahhh the first day of school. It's that time of year again. Things are a bit different in our home this year. I've officially been out of the corporate working environment for one full year (hallelujah!). My youngest, and last child ever, is going to preschool (I only cried for a few hours). And my big girl, my 4th grader, finally has a new teacher.

Last year, my eldest baby girl wound up in the classroom of a very new, very inexperienced young woman. Now I consider myself a young mom...I was blessedly knocked up when I was 21 for crying out loud....so it's rare for me to walk into my kid's classroom and feel like the oldest person in the room. Last year, however, on Meet the Teacher day, I definitely found myself wondering if this woman had ever even heard of Bone Thugs n' Harmony. Prolly not. Her hip hop knowledge base likely began with Lil Wayne and Rhianna.

I knew right then and there things were going to be off.

And they were. Boy, were they ever.

Now my kid can be loud and boisterous when excited, but is also extremely introverted and terrified of authority. She is also, and this isn't proud mama talking, extraordinarily smart. She was reading at a 5th grade level in first grade, people. The kid is smarter than me. Which should be awesome, right? Teachers typically eat that stuff up, right?

Not this one. No, her 3rd grade teacher chose to focus on my kid's biggest weakness....her social ineptitude. My lovely firstborn struggles deeply with relating to and understanding other kids. Her teachers up until last year had been wonderful - coaching her through her interactions with other kids, helping her focus on her education and studies, redirecting her when she became bored in class. Her 2nd grade teacher actually referred her to a special advanced program for 3rd graders and beyond - it allows kids with above-average learning skills to join other like-minded kids in separate classes for math and language arts. It was a godsend. My kid came home spouting sonnets about her advanced classes. She was challenged and excelled. Her two advanced class teachers praised her regularly and provided me with positive feedback during parent teacher conferences. "She is wonderful, and very, very bright." I could've cried I was so happy.

Can't say the same, however, about the feedback from her 3rd grade homeroom teacher. I received phone calls about my kid "bullying" other children and refusing to listen in class. My angel baby received referral after referral after referral for behavioral issues. In the beginning, I attempted to work with my kid on her "problems." I didn't know the teacher and gave her the benefit of the doubt in those first few months. I thought she was honestly looking out for the well-being of my child and believed her when she said my kid was indeed being a bully.

But then I started to wonder. I'd ask my daughter to break down her interactions with her classmates and the teacher. I spoke to my kid's other teachers (she had 3, after all, and that's not including her art, music, and PE teacher). No one else encountered any problems with her behavior. And these "bully" instances? Well, the worst of them, the one that was escalated into a full-blown "she could be suspended for this type of behavior," consisted of my kid drawing a picture of an animal with it's tongue out and crazy hair and big teeth and a caption that said, "*insert student name* is crazy."

Now, I did coach her on how that could be interpreted as negative by the child she'd named. I told her she needed to be careful about what she said, did, or wrote about other children. But did I ground her? No. Did I think she needed anti-bully intervention? No. Did I think her homeroom teacher, who called me and talked in her serious voice to deliver what she considered outlandishly terrible news, overreact and step out of bounds? Absolutely, I thought so.

You see, as I continued to speak with my kid about what she'd done I learned she'd drawn the picture at the request of a group of kids who were drawing everyone in their classroom as animals. Also, in our house the word "crazy" is a good thing. I was voted Most Crazy in high school, as a matter of fact.

I get it. How could the teacher know that? Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors...which is why I would've expected the teacher to, at the very least, ask. Use a little common sense. I was deeply pissed about the quick-draw accusations and not giving my kid a chance to explain. This teacher had blacklisted my kid as a bully and it was affecting my kid's ability to learn. She would come home crying, leave worried, and get "stomach aches" all the time. This, from a kid who loved school and learning and books and teachers. But could I blame her? During one of my phone conferences with this woman, the teacher explicitly told me she'd heard "other" teachers talking about my kid and they all agreed, my kid was a bully. She was "viewed as a bully throughout the faculty," and this teacher "just hated to see that happen to someone as bright as" my daughter. I was floored. Teachers were standing around the water cooler talking shit about my 8-year-old kid? Who's the bully here?

Eventually, communication with this teacher disintegrated into highly emotional screaming matches, with me doing most....ok all....of the screaming.

"Stop referring to my kid as a bully, lady!"

"She looks up to you and you say things like that about her? And you wonder why she doesn't listen?"

"Do your teacher buddies know you're telling parents what they say during their lunch break?"

"Maybe if her teacher didn't label her as a bad person, she wouldn't be acting like one!"

Oh I went nutters. I was not nice. I did not respect this lady. But I kept my kid in her class. And the school year ended with my kid saying for the first time in her life that she never wanted to go back to school. And I absolutely despised this teacher and wanted nothing more than to stomp in there and tell administration everything this stupid lady had told me. I wanted her fired. I wanted her head on a platter for me to send on over to whatever craptastic facility she graduated from so all the other jerks-in-training could see what happened when bad teachers did bad things.

But of course I did none of that. I smiled and got excited for the new school year and now it's upon us and my kid has a new teacher and we're both looking forward, hoping for the best.

Because I don't know what the right answer is. You see, people are people - imperfect and flawed. There are people who excel at their jobs, like my mom and dad in-law, both retired teachers who rocked the educational pathways of the youth placed in their care, and then there are people who suck at their jobs, like my kid's 3rd grade teacher, who knew neither what she was doing nor where her boundaries existed.


As parents we can go nuts, like I eventually did. I mean, I could've taken it to the next level, and the next, and possibly gotten her into some serious trouble with her boss. It's the mama claws. The urge to fight, to defend, to strike hard against anyone who in any way harms your kid.

But then there's the flip side. Reality isn't nice. Real-life can be a bitch. I know I've worked for people that didn't like me. I've worked for people who weren't fair, or nice, or even knowledgeable. And I worked there anyways, often because I needed the money. That's adulthood in corporate America right there. It's not fun, but it's real. And the sooner I can teach my kid to understand her self-worth and abilities are in no way dependent on what another person says, does, or thinks, the better.

So part of me is glad I chose a middle ground. I struck hard and gave that teacher hell near the end....but I also surrendered my kid to a real-life learning experience. And now that she's experienced it, this mama's dang sure it won't be happening again ;) Here's to a new school year! And thank you to the teachers who view their kids with new eyes each morning. You are a shining majority that reins supreme over the few bad apples every profession is forced to claim.

What about you guys? How do you feel about fighting teachers? Ever had a bad teacher yourself? They seem to stick with you, don't they? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)

Jen

Friday, August 21, 2015

3 Simple Herbal Remedies for Your Holistic Medicine Closet

As some of you know, I am totally amped up about the Mother Earth News Fair I attended a few weeks ago. Feeling motivated by the crunchy power, I decided to concoct a few herbal remedies in preparation for winter. Winter around here is cold, snowy, and long, and gosh knows with two kids in school and my spouse working in a germ factory (aka, your standard office with cubicles), we're bound to get some nasty bugs floating around our home.

Now before we get started, this is your public service announcement to be wary before ingesting anything new into your body. Certain herbs don't mix well with medications or pregnancies or kids or hair colors or toenail polish so be sure to do your homework and speak to a medical professional if you have any questions. I am a trained combat medic, not a medical professional. I've done my research and know my medical health status, and also really love green crap I can soak in liquor and then ingest to make myself feel better. The blog's name is Flaws, Forgiven, people. Tread at your own risk.

One of my favorite words in the English language is "free." Free to be me. Free stuff. Free day. Free ice cream. Free is a good.

So when I began researching which herbs and plants I wanted to use, I immediately looked up plants I can literally see right out my front window.

The first is plantain. I've got plantain everywhere. Matter of fact, my entire front lawn isn't grass, but plantain.


Plantain is like the superweed from heaven. It can calm stings and rashes from both insects and plants. It has antibacterial properties and can stop bleeding. Fun fact: if you get stung by a bee, chew up a plantain leaf and smudge it on the sting site. Plantain will draw out the toxins and calm the sting. It's great for your skin (acts as an astringent) and also soothes sore throats like a boss. That last part is especially attractive to me, as I tend to get strep throat anytime a respiratory infection sets up shop in my life. 

So what did I make with my lawn plantain? Cough syrup, that's what. It's the easiest thing in the world. Leaves, jar, honey, done.

Plantain Cough Syrup:
1. Go outside and pick a bunch of healthy-looking (green, non-bug-chewed, full) plantain leaves. 
2. Spread them out on a towel or table to check for bugs. Remove any bugs.
3. Wash your plantain leaves if you wanna. I get my plantain from my front yard where I know no chemicals have been sprayed, no fertilizers used, and no dogs pooped, so I skip this step entirely. I'm a lazy herbalist.
4. Shove your plantain leaves in a jar. I filled my jar about 1/3 the way full of leaves. You can cut them up, put them in a blender, juice them, or mush them if you wanna. Some people do that. I am lazy and do not.
5. Pour honey on top of your plantain leaves (preferably local honey). Fill the jar to the top.
6. Use a spoon or knife to push the plantain leaves around in the honey to release any air pockets. You want those suckers really coated.
7. Screw the lid on and let sit for a few weeks so the leaves really infuse the honey with their goodness. Give it a nice turn upside-down every now and then if you remember to. Some sites insist sunshine is the best for infusing, some insist darkness is needed. I just went with what's easiest for me and put the jar with the rest of my stuff in my medicine closet. 

That's it! Take a teaspoon or two when your throat hurts. You can strain the leaves out if you want. I won't. Bet you can guess why. 


The next plant I have in abundance in my yard is Queen Anne's Lace. Now this is one warning I am serious about - if you are not sure whether the plant you have is Queen Anne's Lace or not, don't use it. There is some impostor plant out there called Water Hemlock that is poisonous and will kill you. It looks very similar to Queen Anne's Lace and I repeat, it is poisonous. It will kill you. I actually read that Socrates drank Poison Hemlock to commit suicide. Well isn't that fun!

Luckily, there are some easy ways to tell the difference between the two. 

#1: Queen Anne's Lace is hairy. Some people say "the queen has hairy legs." Fabulous. The stems will be hairy. 

#2: Queen Anne's Lace smells like carrots. 

#3: Queen Anne's Lace has a little dark purple/red dot in the middle of the flower. 

If you're unsure, check around the web. There are a ton of sites like this one that can help you ID what you've got. I've got Queen Anne's Lace, which rules because this flower packs some power.


Queen Anne's Lace helps with depression, psychosis, schizophrenia, and is just started to be recognized for its treatment of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. It's anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial, but is also a natural contraceptive and labor inducer...so be careful, preggos or preggo wanna-bes. Fun fact? It's called Queen Anne's Lace because this one time Queen Anne of England pricked her finger while sewing lace.....that little dark dot in the middle of the flower is supposed to be her blood. Creepy and cool all at the same time!

I wanted to draw the benefits from this flower in the purest way possible, so I made a tincture. A tincture is typically done using vodka but you can use apple cider vinegar too. Although shoving things in vodka just sounds better, don't you think?

This is very similar to the cough syrup above, only using vodka. Flowers, jar, vodka, done.

Queen Anne's Lace Tincture:
1. Go outside and pick the heads off some Queen Anne's Lace. Be sure you know it's Queen Anne's Lace.
2. Spread the flowers out on a table or towel so all the bugs fly off or crawl off and you can squish them or shake them free. 
3. Shove your flowers into a jar. You can also wash your flowers. Like with the plantain, I found no need to do this. 
4. Pour vodka over the flowers. Fill up the jar.
5. Poke around in there to be sure all the air has escaped from the little flower crevices. 
6. Put the lid on and store in a dark place for 3-4 weeks. Shake it every now and then if you want. Strain out the herbs when it's done sitting around if you want. The vodka will preserve them indefinitely. 

Done. I'll be taking this on days when I feel especially pressed against the wall. Some chicks take it 3x a day for contraceptive purposes, but that's not really my aim here. You can put some under your tongue with a dropper or dilute a few teaspoons in water and take it that way. I might be taking it by the shot, depending on my mood. Just sayin.


The last plant in my arsenal is a good one. A very, very good one. This flowering beauty is said to be one of the best anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-illness plants in the world. It's a #1 holistic recommendation for those suffering from cancer as it's said to boost the immune system like nobody's business. Some swear by it's ability to shorten the duration of colds and even slow down our bodies' aging process. 

What is this awesome miracle herb?

Echinacea....aka coneflower. 


You see these things in gardens everywhere, man. I have a huge purple coneflower bush in my front yard. The butterflies, bees, and birds love it...and I mean LOVE it. Just watching those guys go nuts over the plant motivated me to go out there and nab a few blooms for myself.

Now some people say the roots have the highest concentration of goodness. That's great, but I don't like diggin all that much. So leaves and petals is where it's at for me.

Ehinacea Tincture:
1. Go outside and snip off some flowers and leaves. Careful! The middle part of a coneflower is very hard....and pointy.....and stiff. *snicker*
2. Pull the petals off the flowers. You can save the seedheads for later if you want to replant or you can compost them. I say more flowers is more good! Save the pollinators!
3. Put the leaves and petals on a towel or table to check for bugs. Squish those bugs. Or let them fly free.
4. Wash the leaves and petals if you want.
5. Shove the leaves and petals into a jar. 
6. Fill the jar with vodka (or apple cider vinegar). Get those air bubbles out.
7. Put the lid on and store in a cool, dark place for 3-4 weeks. Shake it when you wanna. Strain it if you wanna.

You can take the tincture every day if you want, but I won't be. I will take it when I feel the start of a cold coming on, or when flu season hits its peak, or when my kid comes home with a runny nose. Just like with the other tincture, you can place some drops under your tongue, mix a few teaspoons in water, or just take it straight. 


See? Not that difficult, right? Just pick, clean, and stick in jars with vodka or honey. Easier than running to the store. And the herbs were free. And if you upcycle your jars from pasta sauce and jelly like I do, you'll have a surplus of containers to choose from. The only things I needed to buy were the liquor and sweet sweet honey. Frugal, fast, and fun!


I am pumped to have some clean, happy herbal remedies to use this winter. I am even more pumped to share this stuff with you guys. Any of you tried holistic remedies before? If so, which were your favorite? If not, what is your problem? Ha just kidding....I would love to hear about it all in the comments down below :) As always, thank you so much for reading!

Friday, August 14, 2015

2015 Mother Earth News Fair: The Greatest Thing That's Ever Happened

Picture this:

You're at the library and you head over to your favorite book section. You are browsing the aisles carefully, quietly, trying not to bump into this chick next to you. Her arms are full of books she's already carefully selected and you notice she has one or two titles you've already read. They are good books, you remember them well. You consider telling her this but decide against it. Too weird. You're feeling like a weirdo for checking out her books (did she notice?Totally makes me self conscious when people look at my books!), so you grab the first book you see and start to walk away.

"Oh, that one is awesome," the chick says, quietly. She is still facing the bookshelves, has barely turned toward you, actually. She turns her head and smiles lightly before speaking again, "It's really good. Sorry, not trying to creep on you or whatever. Just thought I'd let you know if you like that book you'd better sign up for the sequels on the hold list. They are never in!" She makes a kind of weird, high-pitched chuckle and her face starts to flush. You smile back. She's just as uncomfortable as you are. You walk away feeling like you just met a mirror image of yourself, only on an opposite reading schedule. 

That is what the Mother Earth News Fair was for me.

From Saturday afternoon until Sunday night, I was surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of people who were just like me, but knew something a little extra, had an experience that was a little different from mine, and wanted to share it with me. I saw a chick in a hippie skirt get really pumped up about free tea at the Mountain Rose Herbs booth. Me too! I bought organic fair trade chocolate from a hot guy wearing blue eyeliner because why the hell not. I love blue eyeliner! My books were checked out by a lady who gave me invaluable advice for the book signing I wanted to go to. How did she know it was the most important thing ever to me? I sat behind a dude with the most envious, gorgeous dreads I've ever seen. I love dreads!

Despite my honest-to-goodness anxiety about having conversations with strangers, I found myself chattin' it up all dang weekend.


I met a lady who lived right outside my hometown (random because I'd traveled a little over 2 hours to get to the fair). She'd served in the military and outranked my ass big time, so I joked about going to parade rest and made her laugh. She told me about her dream to sell off her gardens and move north so she could live off the land in peace. Really cool woman.

You ever seen PS I Love You? You know the Irish guy she falls in love with after her husband dies? Billy or whatever? Well his doppelganger was there. He wasn't an Irish guy in a band, though. No....he was a vendor who custom built his own cedar chicken coops. And by chicken coops I mean chicken palaces. These things were gorgeous and amber-colored and smooth and smelled like the forest and built by a man with melon biceps who tried politely to hide his laugh when I tripped over my words trying to compliment him and a little bit of drool came out of my mouth.

I talked to a super-nice chick in the book signing line (yes, Joel Salatin signed my book ... I almost died) who inherited a farm and was working to become self-sufficient. She told me about a few other festivals in our area that she attends regularly and was genuinely interested in my fears about butchering my first bird. I mean she really felt my pain. And wanted to listen to me!

We visited hundreds of vendors selling everything from seeds to grass-fed beef, reusable cloth maxi pads to pans that cook without water, compostable toilets to beehives....I met a CSA owner who was so passionate about her produce and a book that showed her how to cook in season, that I snapped the 2nd-to-last copy of that book up immediately. Anyone who reminds me of me in the passion department needs to be taken seriously. 

I stayed at an organic B&B, hostel, campground, CSA, and teaching facility called Wellspring. It was founded over thirty years ago by a nature-loving woman named Mary Ann. 


We were greeted by beehives.


We stayed in a barn loft that'd been converted into bunkhouses. 


We ran amok in hoop houses.


And rows upon rows of vegetables.


And of course I found some chickens.


I think the best part of the fair, however, was seeing Joel Salatin. More specifically, seeing my kid interact with Joel Salatin. You read that right. My kid not only met him, she helped him process some poultry.

Now I get some of you will think chicken processing is not all that awesome. I get some of you may think my kid shouldn't be seeing a chicken processed. And to that I say, you better not be eating chicken.

Chickens aren't dino-shaped, kids! ***one of many awesome one-liners from Joel

Joel teaches people how to be responsible consumers and farmers. He did a live processing demo at the fair to show hundreds how to process a chicken respectfully and humanely. He believes we, as humans, were never meant to kill animals on a daily basis. He said killing drains the soul...and he couldn't be more right. I take this entire killing business very seriously and as I type this, on the eve of my very first chicken processing attempt, I can tell you with 100% certainty I am nervous, queasy, and yep, a little sad that I'm going to take the life of another living thing.

But thank gosh for people like Joel, and events like the Mother Earth News Fair. Because at least now I know how to do it the right way, the respectful way, a way that's sustainable and healthy for everyone involved. 

Including my kiddo. 

Now when Joel processes chickens he uses a cone to calm the bird, makes a small incision to bleed the bird (they are upside-down in a dazed state when he does this - very similar to the lightheaded feeling you get when you stand up too fast), and once they fade away (less than 2-3 minutes), the birds are moved to the scalder. After they are warmed up, they are sent over to the plucker/picker. After the feathers are gone they are ready to be rinsed in cool water and cleaned. 

Joel doesn't like to make a ton of cuts in the birds....so he never chops heads off. Instead, they are pulled off after the birds are bled, feather-free, and rinsed. Queasy people stick with me I promise I have a point. After processing a few birds Joel invited the kids, who'd been watching just behind him, to try pulling the heads off for him. One little boy stepped up to the plate but got a little nervous and freaked and went off to the side. Joel looked around him and there was my kid, my big girl, and he said "You wanna try?" and she nodded and quietly walked up there and in 2 seconds flat got the job done. The whole crowd cheered for her and Joel praised her and my heart exploded and I tried to take a thousand pictures and my mom whooped next to me and my daughter had this beautiful smile of pride on her face. 


It was hands-down my proudest moment as a mother....and my favorite part of the fair.

Now if animals and processing meat isn't your thing, don't worry. They had a ton of other topics to learn about, including organic gardening, food storage, making your own lotions and shampoo, building an eco-friendly home, raising food-conscious kids, making jelly, I mean, you name it, it was there. I went to a seminar on building a home made of junk. The dude was awesome. I also learned how to tune into my inner vibrations and use my intuition to harness the power of flowers. True story! Flower essence post coming soon! Ha!

So I can't say it enough - the Mother Earth News Fair was the best, greatest, most incredible fair ever. I was truly surrounded by what I felt were my people. Everybody was so accepting, so excited about the same things I love...it was glorious. I came home with an exercised body and soul and a whole lotta stuff.....

Hoping they have it near me again next year. And if you're looking for something fun to do with the kids, consider going to this fair. They have seminars like "Dirt Building" and "Chicken POOP for kids" and "Build an Electric Car" and a TON of other fun things to do, plus anyone under the age of 17 gets in FREE. Schweet!

Happy to be home and excited to share some of my new-found knowledge with you in the next few weeks :) Any topics you're interested in? Let me know in the comments down below! Thank you, as always, for reading :) 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Own a Chicken, Own the World

Just poppin' in real quick to say............

We've got eggs. Or, more appropriately.......WE'VE GOT EGGS!


Ruby, one of my barred rock hens, started laying this week. Might as well have opened the nesting box and found a watermelon-sized diamond in there. I ran screaming into the house, calling my big girl outside to witness the miracle upon miracles.....EGG! EGG! EEEGGGG!


Ruby makes the most perfect, cute lil brown eggs, don't you think? She's given us 4 so far in the span of 5 days....a little workhorse! The eggs will get larger as she gets older - but in all honesty I am loving how cute and tiny these things are. Check out the side-by-side with the store-bought:


I don't think I've been this excited since I brought the lil' girls home from that big farm store.



Obligatory my-girl's-egg-is-healthier-than-your-store's-egg shot:


Deep yellow yolks indicate I'm essentially the best chicken farmer this side of the Mississippi.

I feel incredible. It's funny -  this whole homesteading wanna-be thing has shown me just how excited I can get about things I never thought twice about before. Eggs. Popping out of chicken butts. Awesome.

So apologies for the short post, but I gotta boogie. Off this weekend to the Mother Earth News Fair in Wisconsin.



Heading up there with my big girl and my mama....we're staying in a barn hostel....on an organic farm. Yep, I might just be peein' my pants right now.

I'm bringing one of my favorite books (Folks, This Ain't Normal) written by one of my favorite people (Joel Salatin) and hoping I don't have to knock anyone out in the book signing line. I can practically hear the pen as he puts his signature right on the first page. Obviously freaking out just sitting here typing about how I'm thinking about meeting him. Sure I'm going to ooze sophistication and style once I get there and actually have to speak to him. Don't worry. I'll report back next week on how it all goes down.

Going to be an incredible weekend :) Enjoy the day everyone and thank you, as always, for reading :)
Jen

Friday, July 31, 2015

Mommy Isolation: From Fear to Fierce

Mommy isolation.

An overwhelming loneliness brought on by having children. The sense that nobody understands despite vehement evidence others have, indeed, raised children. That moment in the middle of the day when all the "successful" women are busy at work or shuffling their children to the museum or creating another beautiful art picture with muffins baking in the oven and you are standing in front of a window, glassy-eyed, contemplating jumping through the ground-level pane of glass just for giggles because seemingly every miniature being in your care cries, poops, and hurts themselves all the same time.

Mommy isolation.

Your child-free friends have plans every. Single. Weekend. Which makes saying no more frequent than saying yes. Which makes your friends think you're an asshole. Which makes you feel pretty friendless and alone. Your friends with children are only marginally better, gently reminding you of overdue playdates that you never seem to find the time for, when in reality you get so freaked out about adding yet another thing to your to-do list that you stutter out excuses before you even have a chance to really think about what you're saying. A self-sabotage that makes you doubt yourself and feel like you probably just shouldn't have friends since you suck so bad at putting in the effort to keep them.

Mommy isolation.

You're at the point where screw it all, who needs extra stress? I'll stick with my family. Blood ties forever. But then your family has their own troubles, their own opinions on how you should do things, and you start to realize you couldn't possibly ask them to take your kids when you feel like drowning because they, themselves, are barely floating on the waves and you're not even sure you row the same ocean as they do. And so you do your best to continue wading water even though what you really need is for some Great Aunt Beverly who thinks and looks just like you to randomly jump out of the woodwork like Mary Freaking Poppins and decide to take your kids so you can breathe again and figure out what it is you are these days.

Mommy isolation.

So you say the heck with all of it, stop depending on others and make this about the kids! Your beautiful children! Think of how precious these moments are and how much you longed for them when you were working outside the home! Take them out! Go have fun! And so you get up early so you can still sneak a workout and then start to pack for the fun day ahead when the little one gets up, screams violently, and pukes all over her bed and then the older one starts sneezing uncontrollably and then crying about the sneezing while pushing her younger sister and saying "she ran into my arm!" And so your day begins with the kids, the loves of your life, who can't possibly understand how much pressure is on them to make mommy's day.

Mommy isolation.

I've read articles on prevention. Get active. Get social. Get out. Hire a babysitter. Take time away from the kids. Spend more quality time with the kids. Have a date night. Ask for help when you need it. Take up a new hobby.

These are good tips.

But what if you're like me? What if the thought of meeting other moms with their kids in tow makes you want to run into oncoming traffic? What if going out at night with your friends makes you so anxious and self-conscious that you need to down a couple glasses of wine before even heading out the door? What if you try and spend time with your kids and it backfires in your face? What if you have a hard time justifying the money spent on a good babysitter, let alone the effort of finding and trusting one? What if the thought of asking for help makes you feel so ashamed and burdensome that you'd rather just deal with it yourself?

Like I said, those were good, generic tips. And I've tried each and every one of them. And I will continue to try them....in moderation. Because despite my suspicion-laced attempts at doing what my therapists and friends and family tell me (be more social! get out of the house! ask me for help!), I still fall deep into my own little hole of isolation. Even when I'm standing with a group of my friends. Even when I'm surrounded by my family. When I'm with other moms.

When push comes to shove, we're all different. What soothes me doesn't soothe everyone. What constitutes life and living for me doesn't mean the same to everyone else. And these differences, while beautiful, act as barriers to understanding. She may love eating somewhere fancy. I prefer a home-cooked meal any day. He may be perfectly fine with his kids staying out with him until the stars come out. I can't fully relax until my kids are warm and snug in their beds. She may use Crest. I make my own toothpaste. Differences. It doesn't mean we can't all get along. But when a person starts to feel like those around her are on totally separate playing fields, the game definitely gets lonely. And scary. What if nobody comes back to play on your team. What if they start to play against you. What if your team consists of only you. What should you do?

The answer isn't to change yourself. This blog is all about self-acceptance, remember?

I think I might be on to something. I think the answer might be to move from fearful and anxious to fiercely confident. Don't shake your head. You can do it. We can do it. Because this is my new plan for the next few months.


1. When I make a decision, I need to stand by it.

I'm not going to keep this super-open, empathetic mind that's nineteen steps ahead each time I make a decision anymore. I am getting to the point where my decision process looks like this:

Should I do this to make Person A happy? Because if I do that Person B might be upset. Well and because Person B and Person C are together, both Person B and Person C will be pissed. But what about Person D? Should I just tell Person A to deal with it so I can make Person B and C happy? Or what about the invite from Person E?

Honest to gosh, that is how I make plans in my head. I weigh who I perceive will get the most pissed and then typically do what that person wants. How about deciding what I want without taking into account everyone else's needs and desires? Is that even possible these days? I know I've never mastered that skill. Hell, I've never even apprenticed in that skill. Until now.

2. Time to stop defending my choices.

Wonder why she chooses to stay married? Wonder why her kids need to be in bed by 8? Wonder why she doesn't do her work at so-and-so-time so she can be free to do the things I want her to do? Wonder what she does all day since she doesn't really work?

Well, keep wondering.

3. People, we don't need to prove ourselves to anyone other than...well...ourselves.

So you are pretty. Awesome, love on yourself. So you've got a good man. Awesome, love on your man. So you've got sweet babies. Awesome, love on your babies. So you're taking a vacation. Awesome, enjoy your vacation. I am happy for you, and I mean that with all sincerity. But don't think your achievements make you any more of a person in my eyes. Just like your falls, your epic falls from whatever tower of doom you've built for yourself, will not change who you are in my life. You don't need to prove yourself to me. If I love you, I love you, end of story. And that should be a two-way street. 

4. Be responsible for my own happiness.

Time to stop thinking a "good day with the kids is all I need!" or "a date night is all I need!" or "a relaxing night out is all I need!" because let's face it, that's not all anyone needs. And when you put that much pressure on something you can't control (like, say, another person), you're setting yourself up for failure.

It's time to immerse yourself in the things that bring you, yourself, alone, joy - regardless of how happy they make other people. So you love reality TV. So watch it. So you would kill for the chance to sit alone in bed wearing only a pair of fuzzy socks and a bumpy blanket made of unread novels. Go for it. This is your happiness, your life. You alone are responsible for ensuring your own happiness. This is my happiness, my life. I alone am responsible for ensuring my own happiness. 

5. Can't be everything to everybody. Just accept it.

I can't be the greatest daughter, sister, aunt, friend, mother, spouse, employee, church member, table leader, co-op contributor, chicken-raiser, and 2-mile runner. It's just not possible. There's so much to experience in this life - so much awesomeness - that I often find myself overwhelmed with "callings" to be this, do that, be there, do more. And the people I meet along the way always want just a little something more. Some time. Some work. Some favors. At some point, I really do think I will learn to accept that I will never be exalted as the Queen of the Volunteers. Nor will I ever get an award for being The Best Daughter Ever. Or even The Greatest Friend Who Ever Lived.

But I have a theory that if stopped caring so much about the awards and started living without all the approval-seeking, that I might end up nabbing one of those honors. Or at least get to a point where I just don't care about them anymore. To be honest, either outcome would be fine because both would mean I've learned to accept I can't make everyone happy.

Because fierce chicks don't wake up and say "I'm going to let everything else run my life today!" No. No they don't. They run it themselves. And take responsibility for it. And gain the confidence they need to know that, alone or not, they've got this. Let's see if I can make it happen :)

What do you do to beat isolation? It doesn't just happen to mommies! I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading.
Jen

Friday, July 24, 2015

An Affordable Chicken Hoop House

This is a tale of woe and further woe, followed by a pretty sweet lesson that might save you some hardship if you're looking to keep your hens safe.

My 5 girls liked their little coop of white-trim love.


It was a gift, purchased through MyPetChicken and given to me as a goodbye present last year when I left my full time corporate job to pursue writing and homesteading and kid-raising. I painted the cute coop and kept it tidy, but alas, less than six months after being outside, the wood pulled up in places where it should lie flat and the joints cracked. It worked out in my favor, actually. Gandalf, my surprise rooster, grew to the size of a dog and was crowding my ladies in there like sardines. I knew it was time to look into alternative living arrangements.

I must've read about 50 articles and blog posts on hoop houses. Everyone did something a little different and I fell in love with the customization options for a DIY playpen for my girls.

And then, because apparently someone up there knows I am a procrastinator, I was given a huge, giant shove a little push of motivation to get this hoop house done.

We came home late from church on Sunday (that's right, I went to church, and no, I didn't ignite or anything....Hallelujah!) and as I was changing out of my nice clothes I was informed we had chickens in the front yard.

Now my entire backyard, where I let my flock free-range, is surrounded by an 8-foot privacy fence. These are huge, heavy breed birds, we're talking here. They typically don't fly higher than 4-5 feet, max. But no, somehow, our birds were in the front yard. My roo was actually across the street under a pine tree. Took some work getting him home, let me tell you.

Panicked, I ran from the front to the back yard, moving my overheated girls (did I mention it was almost 90 that day) as fast as I could, one by one. I counted, recounted. Four girls, one rooster. I see two barred rocks, one white rock, one silver-laced wyondotte, and a buff orpington. Where's my other buff?

I must've ran up and down the street 10 times. I yelled out to neighbors like a basket case. "HAVE YOU SEEN ANY CHICKENS!" I was sweaty, my dress was crooked from throwing it back on in haste, and I had that wild look in my eye that makes most people run the other direction. Goes without saying my neighbors didn't say anything back to me at all - just stared. Can't blame 'em.

I came back home defeated. No buff. No fifth hen. I began to worry I was never going to find her. And then I went in the backyard. And found the trail.


There were piles upon piles of feathers under a tree, then right in the middle of the lawn, and then finally a long, clear trail leading up to the tall prairie plants we have growing in the back of the yard. No blood. Just piles upon piles of feathers. And no bird.

I googled and read the surprisingly common answer to my question: fox. A fox leaves piles of feathers with no blood. I'd spied foxes in our hood before. I just never imagined they could get through my huge fence. No wonder my flock flew higher than they ever had before.

After bushwhacking the perimeter of my fence line with a machete, I finally discovered my little lady. Neck broken. Left under some bent plants. Right in front of a hole in my fence that I'd casually put some hardware cloth over earlier in the spring....except now the hardware cloth was swatted aside, lying in the mud. And my sweet little Sunset was dead, hidden for later, cut down only 3 weeks from when we expected her first egg, a symbol of what would come to the rest of my girls if I didn't get them protected.

The need to create a bigger, better living space became urgent.

I'd already purchased chicken wire. You know. To keep the chickens in their run and to keep hawks away and stuff. No need to plan for larger animals that could eat through chicken wire, such as opossums, raccoon, and foxes. No need. I have a ginormous fence. Riiiiight.

So aside from that huge flub in logic, what follows is a detailed description of how I (with help - you'll want at least 2 people on this job) constructed my somewhat-stable, affordable, and fun chicken hoop house.

I started by pricing my materials.

I wanted at least 8 "hoops" over my house to help distribute the weight of the snow we are no doubt going to get this winter. And yes, I am still disillusioned enough to think this might just hold up in the winter. I'll be sure to come back with an update once we get into the season. 

I also wanted it to be high enough for me to walk in comfortably. 2 10-foot pieces of PVC stuck together on top? That awwta do it. 16 x $1.41 = $23


And I wanted the base to be big...big enough for me to not feel guilty all winter when they are, quite literally, cooped up. I bought some treated pine (since this is not for my garden and the birds will not be consuming it, treated is perfectly fine by me, especially as this stuff will quite literally be touching dirt and prone to rot). 2 10-foot 2x4s = $12 and 2 12-foot 2x4 = $18


I wanted something strong to hold the PVC into place at the bottom of each "hoop." Rebar is cheap! 16 pieces of rebar = $18


I coulda built a door but I didn't wanna. New screen door = $22


I also purchased the chicken wire (mistake #1 - it was deceptively cheap at $36), corner brackets ($4), some baling twine ($4), two cheap-o tarps (mistake #2 - get better tarps as $10 2-fers already have holes), some nice bungee cords ($10), some really nice wood screws at 2" and 2 1/2" ($16), PVC fittings ($7) and some hinges for the screen door ($8). So right now we're looking at a total of $188.


You'll see I had some leftover, thinner boards found in my garage....they were maybe 1x4s? who even knows, not this girl....at about 8 feet each. I also had two old sliding closet doors, bricks, a cinder block, some old cabinets, a random piece of plywood, and tree branches galore.

The frame was first. I wanted framing along the back to help with stability and to secure the closet doors - those doors are to act as a makeshift windbreak at the rear of the hoop house (you'll see them in action later). We screwed metal corner brackets along all 4 corners of the frame. It wasn't enough to keep the wobbles at bay, however, so we added 2-foot wooden corner braces cut from scrap wood and fitted in at an angle. Can't see them yet. That's because I took this picture before I had to help cut wood on an angle. You know. Back when I was still happy.


Time to secure the PVC together. I used super cheap, 80-cent, 40-degree 1/2-inch fittings. So all I had to do was stick the two pieces of PVC into a fitting, hammer the rebar into the ground at equal intervals along each vertical side of the frame, and then shove the PVC over each piece of rebar. The setup was super easy and shockingly secure, even with the super-soggy soil we had at the time. Those fittings also created a bit of a pitch on top, which I hope will help with the snow and rain runoff. Here's a pic with the frame done, the doorframe getting all lined up and ready to cut, the PVC hooped and ready, and the closet doors prepped for attachment.


From there things got tricky and by tricky I mean, we had to get the door frame up, hang the screen door, wrap the bottom half of the hoop house in chicken wire (because why not, I had plenty...), and then get the tarps on. Too bad this happened:


Once things kinda dried out, we went back to work. We secured the tarps, tearing them on the baling wire in the process because I bought the super cheap kind. The door was secure. I even hung a cute lil' sign my mama got me.


You can see those closet doors along the back. Screwed 'em right into the frame. They also help hold the roost branches up there. Got my nipple waterer hanging for lots of fun water time. My electric waterer (unplugged for summertime) is chilling on an overturned, brick-filled plant pot. I took this pic and then realized the feeder was stupid high, so I replaced that overturned tupperware with some shorter bricks and put the tupperware under the old cabinets (far back corner there). Those cabinets were later filled with pine shavings and will (fingers crossed) become nests.


I became trapped in the hoop house so this stick did the trick of becoming an interior door handle :) Obviously one of my favorite parts.


The girls are over the moon about the structure. They happily roost, climb, eat, drink, and lounge in there comfortably with no hawk or raven threats. Ruby approves.


Now because of my fox issue, I re-wrapped the bottom layer of the hoop house and the screen door with some hardware cloth. I went and purchased 1/3 the amount hardware cloth as I did chicken wire....for $50. Yep. It's $14 more for 1/3 the amount of hardware cloth. You see why I was swayed into thinking it would all be alright if I just bought the super-cheap stuff? Right?

Also, I do not have an anti-digger mechanism in place for the hoop house. That frame is super easy to get under, especially in the uneven areas. My hope is to work on securing the perimeter of my fence line so my girls can still free-range. It's either that or employ some anti-digger methods in the fall when I can better afford getting myself into hardware cloth debt. Not sure which option is the better answer there. I'll also need to invest in some really nice tarps. Shoulda done all this to begin with, you know, but then this flaw-filled story would've never ended up on this blog now, would it? :)

When all is said and done, my $188 original total came closer to $250. Damn you Mr. Fox. Still better than the $450 total on the little website-bought coop, right? Right? That coop will become my chicken hospital for bruisers and babies :)

Lesson to be learned: know your predator threats and plan for all of them, even if it seems there's no way a sneaky fox could ever get into your yard. It'll save you time and money!


What do you guys think? Ever built anything like this before? And let's do a little poll for strictly my benefit....would you work on building security into the privacy fence perimeter or work on securing the crap out of the hoop house? Which one is the sounder investment in your opinion? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below.


Also trying something new - a blog hop! Check out these other awesome homesteading blogs :)

Hope you all have a wonderful day and as always, thank you so very much for reading!

Jen


Friday, July 17, 2015

5 Ways to Deal When You Just Can't Deal

I strongly believe everyone has a specific tolerance level for BS. Some people, like Mother Teresa, are experts at weeding out the BS and not letting it disturb their lives. Other people, like me, dwell on the BS to extreme levels and pretty much let it run the show.

I just can't tolerate the BS. I totally suck at it. 

Take the light to moderate piles of BS, for example. These smaller piles of BS include things like:
  • Screaming kids and sales people showing up at my door at the same time
  • A check I wrote two months ago clearing today
  • Kids skipping naps (aka: mommy's work time getting blown up)
  • A package with expensive 2-day shipping getting delivered to another house
  • Someone's stupid dog walking into my yard/garage/life with no leash
  • Hurting my toes somehow (it happens more often than you might think)
  • A super-clever and/or passionate Facebook post getting 2 likes
  • Anything related to Kanye West
  • My neighbor's kid screaming bloody murder outside like an asshole at 10PM

Now I can handle about 5-6 of these in one day before I start to lose my cool. They're petty, irrelevant irritations, right? No big deal. But then you've gotta add in the big, sometimes enormous piles of BS:
  • Feeling like I have no control over my kids
  • Dealing with an insecure marriage
  • Worrying about how much money I can afford to spend on groceries
  • Hurting for a family member struggling with illness
  • Hurting for a friend struggling with death
  • Balancing what I want with what other people say I should want
  • Juggling demanding relationships
  • Feeling like nothing I do is ever enough to make anyone happy, including myself
Those are a few of the big, steamy, smelly piles of BS that sulk in the background of my mind. Combine a couple of those huge piles with a few of those small piles (especially when the small piles hit upwards of 5-6 a day, which is pretty much every day) and you get me - a woman who needs to deal but just can't deal. My grace is gone. My energy is gone. My drive is gone. And it's humiliating and shameful and annoying all at the same time. 

But I've found a few ways to make it work. A few methods to keeping my head up. A few mechanisms to moving forward even when you want to head indoors and just say screw it. Here we go.

#1: Just say screw it.
No, seriously. It's important to care about others, but every now and then, you need to tell everything and everyone to just piss off for a while. I did this once and it was glorious, honestly. Take an hour to get away from people and phones and laundry and work and any influence of negativity or obligation and just let it all go. Nobody is going to hate you for it...and who cares if they do. This is about keeping yourself sane, here, people. We're not trying to make you blissfully happy at other peoples' expense...we're trying to keep you sane so you don't end up doing something dangerously destructive to yourself or to someone else. This is helping those you love even if they don't understand or appreciate it. 

#2: Eliminate the cupcake.
If you don't want to eat it don't have it in the house, right? This same mentality can be applied to my primary mood-killer - comparisons. I don't mean to do it, but I compare myself to everything....especially when I'm already feeling down about myself. I let the outside world influence me way too much and to reduce the temptation to compare and be destructive to my own self-worth, I often need to eliminate the source. Turn off the TV. Stay off Facebook. Spend less time with electronics that connect to the endless world wide web and the vast number of shaming sources. Don't go into online forums for answers to your questions - trust me. Get the overexposure out of your world for a little while so you can refresh.

#3: Hang out with a puppy.
Or some flowers, or a forest, or a kid. The only kids I'm amazed by are my own. I get a distinct sense of awe from watching them figure things out. When they say funny stuff I laugh real hard - like a belly laugh times a thousand. Sometimes just their faces, the curve of their cheeks, their tiny fingers, is enough to bring me back to reality. The BS isn't the reality, people. "Peony starts with P, Mommy!" Puppy feet. That's what life is all about. Bees on buds. Tree shadows. Find something that isn't tainted and dip into the purity for a little while.

#4: Develop your talent.
Did you enjoy an art class in high school? Dabble in creative writing in college? Have a thing for dancing in your car, in the kitchen, or at weddings? Where is your happy place? A dear friend of mine danced ballet for years and to this day, running through her positions makes her feel at ease. Granted, she uses the back of a chair instead of a barre these days, but it doesn't matter. Her talent is in her feet and her arms and her heart. What do you love? Do more of it. Make time for it even though the BS piles are telling you there's no time for it. Ignoring BS piles is a surefire way to destroy their power over you. 

#5: Set one goal and take one step.
Redirect all the energy wasted on BS. What do you want? Pick something tangible, concrete, specific. Figure out one thing you can do this week to help you achieve that goal. I, for example, want to travel to a one-bedroom cob cottage I found on AirBnB and stay there for a full week with very limited contact with the outside world. What do I need to do to get there? I need more cash. How can I get more cash? More clients. How can I get more clients? Visit them in-person with some well-researched proposals. How can I visit them when I have kids? Use their time in school this fall wisely. You get the point, right? Find something you want and create a path, however long-term it is, to get what you want. Take the first step this week by just making the plan. Redirect your anxious energy onto something gloriously all about you.

Obviously I'm no expert here. I still can't deal on almost a daily basis. But you know what? I fake it. I say screw it. I try to set my attention on things that make me who I am....because as much as I love people, the only thing in the world I can control is myself. And I want to be happy. I want to stop doubting every decision I make. I want to stop feeling the pressure to defend myself. I want to deal with the BS like a boss. Isn't that all any of us can ask for?

What about you, dear readers? What is your favorite way to deal when you just can't deal? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading.