Monday, May 23, 2016

10 Fantastic (and Frugal) Things to Do Alone

I had my very first night alone on Friday. Oh yes. And I don't mean I had a night without the kids, no. I had plenty of those when I was married. What I mean is, I had a night alone. No kids, no man, nobody. That's right. It was just me.

I didn't know what to do with myself at first. I made dinner plans with friends ahead of time, so that was good. Kept me busy Friday night. Saturday morning rolled around though and I thought I would sleep in a little but the new puppy had other ideas. So there I my house....alone.

I went about my business, you know, the standard. Did some yoga. Ate some leftovers while watching House Hunters Renovation on Netflix. Fed the chickens. Fed the puppy. I tried to soak up my alone time. I felt so lucky and free. But then 8AM came and I started to panic. Only a few hours left. Am I using my time wisely? What should I do? What do people do?

Now I know what some of you are thinking. Chick, you are free. Just go do something. Be happy. And I am with you! I was so happy! I'd been waiting for this moment for months! But where does one begin? How does someone who's constantly surrounded by people learn to feel comfortable alone? And if you're like me, how does someone who struggles with anxiety deal with running around public places all by her big-girl self without her cloak of kids? How do I dodge the infamous "Netflix series all day!" black hole that definitely has its place but won't help me grow like I wanna while I have this precious free time?

I'll tell you how I did it. And how I'll do it again. And how you can do it too.

1. Walk
Outside is your best friend. I mean it. You are never alone when you are outside because the outdoors will surround you and swallow you whole. I don't care if you live in the city and are surrounded by steel and people or if you're in the country and are engulfed by fields and flies, the minute you leave the house something visceral just happens to your mind and your body. You notice insects, birds, cars, noises, smells, and even the air as it moves around you. You are not alone when you are outside. You are part of it all.

Saturday morning I packed up the doggy and headed on over to my very favorite nature preserve. We walked the trails all by ourselves. It was glorious. I walked whatever way I wanted. No one needed to use the bathroom or complained about the weather or the bugs. I even stood in one spot and just listened without hearing a single voice. It's good for the soul, walking. Give it a try.

2. Sit still
Sometimes sitting and doing absolutely nothing is the best use of time. I took time on Saturday morning to just sit in my backyard and listen to the birds. I tried to relax and lean my head back and not let my mind wander. I watched the leaves and flowers blow around, I watched my chickens peck at the ground, I watched the light shift slowly from one area of the yard to the next. It was supremely relaxing and gave me time to just wipe my mind clean of the various things I stress over. Kinda like meditating without closing my eyes.

You can do this in town too - more like people-watching than nature-watching but the concept still applies. Allow yourself to think your thoughts but then let them go and immerse yourself in your surroundings. Breath it in and give yourself permission to be still. It's incredibly hard to do at first...almost annoying....but I've heard with practice it gets better and better.

3. Sip at a coffee shop one town over
Everyone has their favorite coffee shop. I don't even drink coffee and I have a preferred place to sit and sip. When you're not meeting someone and you have nobody else's preferences to worry about other than your own, take a risk and head out of town. Allow yourself to learn a new menu, try something for the first time, and don't forget to ask the person behind the counter about the local favorites. Coffee shops are perfect for anxiously-alone-type-people like myself because nobody looks at you. Everyone is either talking or working, so you're the farthest thing from their minds. It's glorious. And delicious.

4. Visit animal shelters
Almost every animal shelter has a need for attention. If you can't contribute your money, see if the shelters in your area need help with animal interaction. Offer to take the dogs for a walk or to play with the cats or clean out the kitten pens. Animals provide an instant jolt of energy and life, one that is unmatched by human interaction. When you've earned their trust they love you for life; it's reflected in every move they make. Therapy-via-animal is a real thing!

5. Explore other libraries
They have this cool library network in my area - if you hold a library card, you're welcome to borrow from any of the surrounding libraries in the area. All libraries, whether you're a cardholder or not, will allow you inside, however. Try checking out a library you've never been to before. Figure out where the best seating areas are. See which giant nonfiction art books they have. Visit the children's section and try and find a favorite book you loved to read as a kid. Libraries are intricate and welcoming and they smell good. A definite must-do if you're alone, it's raining, and you don't need to worry about rushing.

6. Test drive cars
I have yet to do this but it's on my list. Car dealerships are intimidating so this might take some guts, but the payoff is your booty behind the wheel of a 2017 Camaro ZL1. That, my dear readers, is called "rewarded risk." Go in with a plan, a story, and stick with it. I'm checking out cars for my teenage daughter, sir. I just got married and my husband is flying back from business in LA so he told me to come decide what I wanted, sir. I know nothing about cars but really like that red one, sir. I mean really play it up. No car seats to move. No husbands or passengers to scream "oh shit!" Just you, a new car, possibly a creepy car dealer, and the open road.

7. Go on a photo shoot
I love taking pictures. One of my favorite classes in high school was photography. My teacher was the best. He showed me how just shooting something off-center completely changes the way the image makes you feel. Light, angles, perspective - each one invokes a different reaction from the person viewing the photo and I am obsessed with how 10 pictures of the same flower could create 10 different emotions in the same person. So grab yo camera, grab yo phone, and go take some still-life shots. Nature, again, is perfect for this....but so is architecture. You can photograph a mailbox from 3 different angles and end up with a completely different shot. Go nuts!

8. Try your hand a new, time-honored skill
I want to make cheese so bad, it's stupid. I'm always afraid to get started, though, when my kids are running around. I can never find the time. Same thing with soap making. Soap making chemicals are no joke and I don't want to bust those things out around little fingers when I don't know what I'm doing. Alone time is the perfect time to try something for the first time. Nobody is around to laugh at you or scream when you mess up and you have nothing to distract you from the job at hand. Old-school skills like chopping wood, canning food, and even sewing a dress can be incredible learning opportunities.

9. Browse a farmers market
If I had a million dollars it would all be gone after visiting a farmers market. I love buying produce and supporting local vendors. What I don't love is how broke I am afterward. So instead of heading to the market with my usual wad of cash, I like to go empty handed and just check it out. I make mental notes in my head of which booths I like the most and how I could effectively stop using the grocery store and make all my meals from items purchased from the farmers market, instead. It's challenging but fun, especially when you're alone and you can take all the time you want to really figure out what you can cook and spend.

10. Visit 5 National Historic Landmarks
Did you know that every state has a slew of National Historic Landmarks? These places are, according to the National Park Service, "nationally significant historic places designated by the Secretary of the Interior because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States." My state alone has 88 places delegated as a National Historic Landmark. Some of them may be boring, some may be awesome, some may be far, others close, but who cares? You have nobody to answer to but yourself.

Time alone doesn't need to be anxious, or rushed, or filled with chores and visiting others. Time alone can and should be used as just that....time alone. It's time to reconnect with yourself and your surroundings, time to expand your realm of possibilities and interact with the world as an independent individual free of outside influence. Time alone doesn't need be scary, or expensive, or even productive. It just needs to be.

How do you reconnect with yourself, dear readers? Any of you feel anxiety at being alone or are you in your happy place when you get some privacy? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)


Monday, May 16, 2016

A Great Pyrenees Puppy - Companion, Protector, or Both?

Let's go ahead and talk this out. What should a newly-single, grow-your-own-obsessed, working, writing, and worrying mom of two girls and 12 chickens do to calm down and add a little balance to life?

Well if that woman's name is Jen, the answer is to pile on more stuff.

We adopted a puppy.

Meet Delmi, our "noble protector." We call her Mimi for short. She was born to a purebred Great Pyrenees mama and daddy, both relinquished by their owner to Rescue Me Clifford, a fantastic shelter in southeastern Illinois. 

Now some of you, including myself most days, are asking, "Why?? Why would you get a puppy at this juncture of your life?" And to that I say - I am insane! Oh and also for these reasons:

1. My chickens are good eatin'.
I love my birds. I raise them up and hold them and coo at them and let them poo on my shoes and jeans. I name them and sweet talk them and carry them around and train them to come when called. I put lavender in their nesting boxes and the absolute best apple cider vinegar in their water. I am tired of losing them to predators and would love a protective animal to help guard my substantial backyard.

2. There's a hole in our bucket.
Divorce means different things to different people. To me and my family, it means quite a bit of loss. There's a hole. A hole at the dinner table, a hole in the weekends, a hole in the car, a hole in our lives. My oldest is particularly struggling and I decided therapy-via-fluffball would be a good route to take. So far she is loving her little puppy and I think I've made the right choice. What I didn't expect was how much that hole in my own heart would be filled by Delmi's presence. Her Pyr smile and wiggle butt and sweet smell makes my morning and my night. I feel better every time I look at her....and that, considering my traditionally-utilitarian viewpoint on animals, is quite magical. 

So with those two driving factors in mind, I'd started checking my local resources back in February and trying to figure out a way to get a livestock guardian dog without paying out the yim-yam and needing to fall back on a breeder. Side note: I believe breeders have their place in this world, but I've always been a rescue mama, and I will always be a rescue mama. It's just how I roll. The way I finally stumbled upon Delmi was actually quite divine.

I was scanning my Facebook feed one day when I noticed a post from my Sustainability Group's feed. A lady had written something like, "I don't know where my previous post went and I'm sorry if I broke the rules, but I thought I'd repost in case it was an accident - purebred Great Pyrenees pups were just born and given to Rescue Me Clifford, they have great transportation too, just thought I'd mention it...."

I obviously freaked out and applied for a puppy right then and there, without even reading the full requirements from the shelter. I later apologized....then sent them an email.....then a couple Facebook messages....then eventually called (4 times)...because when I want something, I go gaga psycho stupid a little over-the-top. 

I didn't think I would be chosen. I watched the Rescue Me Clifford Facebook Page like a hawk day in and day out, waiting for updates, and watched as litter after litter of other puppies were featured and snatched up quicker than you could say "awwww!" I figured by the time the Pry pups were ready to go home, there was no way I'd be chosen. I went over my application answers in my head over and over. I had chickens! And small kids! Maybe they didn't like that I put Zeus down last spring? Maybe they were worried about the cat? Maybe my fence wasn't high enough? Maybe they wanted someone more local?

My mama and my best friend didn't hear the end of it for a good three days straight. And then...finally.....I got the call. My application was accepted! They wanted to know which puppy I wanted and suggested taking either a female or the smallest male as they would likely be the last to get adopted out. I remembered my big girl liking one of the small white females. I was granted my request. When my big girl came home from school, the shelter had updated the female puppy's online pictures with a tag that said, "I am Anya's dog." I had not seen my daughter smile like that in a long, long time. We drove out to get the wee little white marshmallow and we've been loving on her ever since.

But here is where my story really gets unique. 

In all of my research, I had yet to read anything about training a Great Pyrenees to be both companion (indoor) and guardian (outdoor). Matter of fact, everyone shared very strong opinions against allowing a livestock guardian dog into the house. Also, pet-only-proponents specifically state Great Pyrenees cannot be trained because they are stubborn and you just have to deal with their bad habits. Here are, according to the internet, some of the rules....and then of course, Jen's Rebuttals. Where would a Flaws Forgiven post be without some of those ;)

1. Make the pup sleep with the stock from Day 1.
Jen's Rebuttal: I can't have a puppy sleep with my chickens because my chicken home is not large enough for the puppy. I do not have a nice warm barn, I have a hoop house. Plus, I am certain it would anger my hens and I simply cannot have them all worked up. It scrambles the eggs.

2. Ensure the pup's parents are livestock guardian dogs.
Jen's Rebuttal: I adopted my puppy and am so, so happy I did. Too many doggies born and tossed, in my humble opinion. So I have no idea what her parents did - and that is not her fault. Sometimes parents are terrible and kids are great! Or kids are great and parents are terrible...right? 

3. Keep them outside.
Jen's Rebuttal: An isolated dog is an unsocialized dog. An unsocialized dog, especially around children, is a dangerous dog. I cannot possibly expect a dog that does not spend time with me and my kids to listen to me and my kids. I want her to bond to me so she listens to me. Would it be great for her to bond with the chickens too? Yes....but you know what would be better? Earning her trust and respect so she will listen to me. Thousands of animals are trained each year to override their instincts....the key? Training. And since I don't live outside...that means she stays indoors.

4. Never leave them alone with your livestock until they are at least a year to two years old
Jen's Rebuttal: This is just a huge contradiction to rule number 1. So should we all sleep in a hoop house together? Or....should I keep the puppy kenneled all the time? Or.....should I keep them separate? Here's what I've been doing - puppy stays by my side, always. She comes with me to the chicken house. She comes with me inside. She comes with me when I feed the chicks and change their bedding. She is always with me and supervised....but that means we break rule #1. 

5. Tie chickens around the pup's neck if she kills one.
Jen's Rebuttal: I sought out this dog for two reasons - I love my chickens and I wanted some love for my oldest baby. There is no way on God's green earth she will ever be ok with seeing one of her dead chickens tied and rotting around her puppy's neck. Talk about reversing the therapy!

6. Your Great Pyrenees will never listen to you or will do so rarely because it is their breed and their nature and that is that so don't fight it. 
Jen's Rebuttal: I think this is kinda crap. I hate breed profiling. Can we agree that every dog is different and that predispositions are great and all, but not the say-all, end-all of dog ownership? I've noticed people in this camp like to only point out the, "Great Pyrenees are stubborn and aloof and don't care so you better watch it," instead of "Great Pyrenees were bred to guard animals and you will be fine." Don't come at me with yo drama, dawg!

7. If you love your dog, you cannot leave it outside. It's abuse.
Jen's Rebuttal: I think leaving a dog outside who is visibly disturbed and suffering is abuse. I also think, however, some dogs love being outside and prefer it to being indoors. I have no idea which way Delmi will swing as she's still so small, but my hope is that I can create a sense of security both inside and outside so she may enjoy both. 

What's a Jen to do? I can't follow the livestock guardian dog "rules,".....but I'm also expecting her to protect my birds, which means I don't follow the standard "pet dog" rules, either. 

So you know what I'm going to do instead? I'm going to blaze my own trail. I am going to love on my pup and teach her right from wrong and strive to create a relationship with my doggy that results in both companion and protector, love and strength. I will teach her to stay away from my chickens (because everything we teach dogs goes against "instincts," people) and I will teach her to love on my kiddos. I will teach her where she can poop and I will teach her how to walk on a leash. I will work with this baby girl each and every day until we get it right. I will earn her respect and I will learn to trust her. I will teach her to be an indoor livestock guardian dog....something as rare as a unicorn....and I will do it with love and affection. I don't know about you, but she looks like she has what it takes :) 

Get ready to hear all about my attempt to bridge the two sides, dear readers, because this is sure to be a learning experience. Welcome to the family, little Mimi. We love you.

What is your favorite dog-training technique? Any Great Pyr owners out there? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments down below and as always, thank you for reading :)

Monday, May 9, 2016

My Buckwheat Hull Bed Adventure: A Review

So as some of you know, my girls have two homes with Daddy, one with Mommy. We've had to divide and conquer stacks of belongings and weed our way through countless online ads for used furniture. All of this administrative busy work is necessary, though, to keep me from getting lost in my own thoughts. I welcome it. I welcome the craziness of moving toys and searching for sustainable home furnishings.

And can I please tell you, if you're ever looking for a great way to keep yourself busy for countless (and I mean countless) hours, look no further than researching an affordable, eco-friendly, organic mattress.

I think I've read close to 50 articles on peace-love-dope hippie bed options. I've scoured website after website and my eyes are still blurry from the seemingly-endless array of latex, rubber, cotton, and of course, foam mattresses available on the market today. Each of them had a price tag well over $1k for a twin. I was checking out full sizes's just me now. And my Daryl Dixon pillow. I'm strangely ok with that.

Just as I thought I would need to resort to toxic, off-gassing mattresses, the glory of all glories fell upon me and I read about buckwheat hull mattresses.

Buckwheat what?

Buckwheat hulls.

So get this - buckwheat is a grain, right? People eat it kinda like quinoa or amaranth. You can bake bread with it. It's a great cover crop - farmers can use it between growing seasons to keep soil healthy and weeds at bay. The little tiny black outer shell on the buckwheat grain (seed) is called the hull. They are shells, that's it. They smell like bread. And they make a "swish" noise when you put a bunch together in a bag.

Now why would anyone want to sleep on buckwheat? 

Buckwheat hulls are strong...they don't squish under your weight when you sleep. Your body, with all of its curves and corners, is supported. They're also great for those with allergies. No synthetic fibers or feathers or chemicals or flame retardants. The hulls allow a ton of air to pass through, too - dust mites don't like airy quarters. Last cool little tidbit? Buckwheat hulls do not retain heat. That means if you turn into a sweaty hog like I do sometimes, you won't need to worry about it while sleeping :)

But the real question - is it comfortable? Like, in real life, Kevin? Well dear readers, I'm about to tell you. That's right. I bought a buckwheat hull mattress kit and I've been sleeping on it for two weeks.

So first, I need to note, I was not paid a dime for this review. I did not get any discounts or perks or any special treatment .... it's just been such a cool experience, I had to write about it. Of course. 

I ordered my DIY mattress kit and buckwheat hulls from Open Your Eyes Bedding.

The kit comes with organic cotton sleeves to put the hulls in. My hulls came in 5 large white bags, all delivered to my house via a sweaty UPS driver (giggity). I had my sleeves, I had my buckwheat, all I needed was a partner to help me build the mattress.

So I called upon the power of my sweet little 4th grader :) She helped me every step of the way.

We filled the little pod sleeves.

Wove them together one by one.

Row by row.

And then - done! :)

That's great Jen, but how does it feel?

In two words? Freaking fantastic. 

It is VERY different from a traditional mattress. You know all those times you've ran into a room and took a flying leap onto the bed? Yeah, well if you try and do that with this mattress, you'll break a hip. There is absolutely zero squish factor. If you punch it, it punches back. That being said, when you get into bed you kinda wriggle into your space and it's awesome. I wriggle my butt and shoulders into the hulls and make little grooves and it is glorious because the rest of the hulls form to my body. Like a lil' buckwheat hug.

Also the hulls smell fantastic. Reminds me of the bakeries in Germany. I love it. I wake up and smell like bread and I love every single minute of it.

It's been two weeks of awesomeness and I'll never go back. I'm getting one for my allergy-suffering big girl. Organic, affordable in comparison to the other options out there, and sold by a small business owner who actually does her own customer service. Could not be more happy with my decision to go buckwheat.

Have you ever considered alternative mattresses? What's holding you back? I'd love to hear about it and your experiences in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)

EDITED and UPDATED, September, 2020 - I am still using my mattress :) I've actually given it to my oldest daughter as she was ready for a full-sized bed. I've ordered more pillows from Open Your Eyes and still adore and support them as a healthier alternative to traditional bedding.

This post has received a lot of attention, which I love very much because good, transparent businesses deserve good publicity. Sadly, I've encountered a few trolls in the comments who've accused me of being "affiliated" and "not reading studies." I've addressed my personal opinion about endotoxins in the comments, in addition to my feelings about an over-publicized and incredibly limited/flawed study that does not apply to this post (my buckwheat hulls came from Canada, and are certified organic....they were not from Korea). 

Please remember, my personal opinion is all that really matters here, as this is my personal blog, not a scientific study or university research paper. Any of my true, long-time readers know I do not willingly and knowingly share false, misleading, or corrupted information. I stay true to what I believe and learn during my own research. As consumers, we (and that includes you, dear readers) all have responsibility to do our own research using professional, valid resources that include large sample sizes and information we can read and process. At the end of the day we all make decisions based on perceived risk and after much consideration, the decision to go with an Open Your Eyes buckwheat bed was mine (a decision I am extraordinarily happy with and to this day support and would do again).

I am going to close comments on this post as it was originally written in May of 2016 and my life has changed dramatically since then. I am now a birth worker, herbalist, flower and veggie farmer, soapmaker, owner of my own business, and still grinding away at a full time corporate gig. I don't have the time to argue or answer repeat questions, although I appreciate all those who were genuine and helpful in the comments. This is a great option for natural bedding and I still recommend with all my heart.