Saturday, April 8, 2017

DIY Chicken Coop: Dancing Feathers Farm Chicken Palace Reveal!

Hello my lovely readers. It's the moment we've all been waiting for. I've hinted at it for almost two months now.....and I am thrilled to share my big and beautiful news with you.

I have a brand-new, gorgeous, humongous, elevated chicken palace. 

A feather-friendly castle in the sky. 

An abode de' aviary. 

Do you remember me talking about a smart, gorgeous bearded man once or twice in my more recent posts? Yes? Well. His beard is not the only thing that's amazing about him.

Some of you may remember my chicken hoop house. It was a wonderful and very simple design that worked well for my girls, even in the winter. But you see...I have a problem, and that problem is chicken math. 1 hen plus 2 hens somehow becomes 14 hens...I have no idea how it happens. Some weird and crazy chicken mathematical anomaly. But the bottom line is I wanted something sturdier, warmer, bigger, and brighter for my girls to live in, especially during our long winters.

Enter, bearded man. "Don't worry," he said. "We can figure something out."

You guys, can we just take a second to express gratitude for not only beards in general, but for the wonderful men they are often attached to...? I am an extremely lucky woman. 

He didn't even use plans, people. This is how it went:

Step 1: Estimate square footage.
I knew I would eventually end up with 16 birds. We built this coop so it could comfortably house 16 birds, even in the winter with the doors closed and them all cooped up **see what I did there**.

Step 2: Gather supplies and try not to die when you see how much everything costs.
We definitely tried to re-use what I had...but bearded man was only in town for a limited time. Had we more time, I would've garbage-picked and gathered more pallets. We used leftover shingles from my roofing project all those many, many years ago. The previous owners left some single panes of glass in the shed. I had hardware cloth and chicken wire and baling wire. The wood, plywood, screws, and landscaping timbers were purchased from Home Depot...and they were not cheap. The total for our Home Deport run came out to a little under $500. I bought the net that covers my run online for $40. The roosts are branches from my yard. The nesting box curtains were cut from landscaping burlap I had in the shed.

***Side note about the pricing - when I left my other corporate job my wonderful leaders purchased a pre-fab coop for me - it cost a little under $500. It holds 4 birds and is currently my medical coop. The hardware is falling apart, the wood is warping (even after I painted it), and the overall quality is simply cheap, cheap, cheap...and not in the cute chicks-in-spring way. It was $500. $500. FIVE HUNDRED dollars. That should give a little perspective on the power and potential of building your own. This new coop was about the same price, yet it holds four times the amount of hens, is made from better materials, is more functional, is better secured, and is far more stable. Plus, it has everything I've ever wanted and is customized for my girls, my yard, and my needs. Worth it!

Step 3: Start building.
It took him a little over a week to build the coop. He worked an average of 5-6 hours a day on it and did most of the work alone. It probably would've gone quicker had I not needed to work and been available to help....but I had supplies to pay for so work, I did.

Step 4: Get more supplies.
Always get more screws than you think you'll need. We also went back for more lumber. The total for our second run was about $20, I think.

Step 5: Praise Jesus for giving handsome bearded men building skills. He made something come together out of air. It was pretty magical. I may've swooned.

Intentional Design
Passive Solar:I wanted the southern and western walls to have the most surface area. Those directions capture the most sun in my backyard and the greater the surface area, the greater the chances that sun will warm my girls.

Dark, Cozy Nesting: The east and north sides are smaller and I wanted the nesting boxes on the north side so the girls would have their preferred darkness while they sat on their nests.

Latches: I used special, raccoon-proof latches on the coop doors and the door to their run.

Elevation: I asked bearded man to build the whole thing off the ground, thereby reducing creepy-crawler pests and predators.

Sunken Cloth: He dug a nice deep trench (about 12-16 inches down) all around the three outside walls of the coop so I could attach hardware cloth and deter digging pests. One wall is exposed to the run and doesn't have that same protection, but the run has it's own protection around it.

Run Protection: I enclosed the run in a combination of chicken wire (aproned out about a foot to again discourage the diggers), cattle panels (because I had some), and a large, hawk-proof net. The chicken wire will not keep an extremely determined predator away but to be completely honest, I wanted their coop to be 100% secure (and I think I achieved that) at night when they are sleeping. The run has layers of security around it to prevent and deter (I have a wooden privacy fence around the whole yard, a layer of chicken wire, and a net), but the security around the run is not 100% perfect. I just can't afford that much hardware cloth!

Crevices: I used hardware cloth within the coop to cover any exposed ventilation gaps.

Nesting Box Weight: The door to open the nesting box is extremely heavy. No raccoons will be poppin in there!!

Sliding Floor Door: This is by far my favorite security feature. The girls are nice and secure at night because bearded man installed this amazing sliding door in the floor of the coop. We have little pieces of wood that prevent the door from being lifted from underneath when in the "closed" position and the handle to open the door is closest to the house, making it super easy to let them in and out every morning.

Ventilation: I am really, really obsessed with ventilation. It was something that was lacking in the hoop house and my girls did get frostbitten combs because of the moisture build-up. To combat this, I requested nice, large openings along the top of all four sides of the coop. Bearded man graciously obliged and I am pleased as punch. They will be warm without being wet! heh heh heh

Doors: I have a massive, huge door on the "run" or "front" side of the coop and a smaller, wide one near the back of the coop. I can climb in through the front if I need to; it's that big of a door. I like to open it in nice weather and let the fresh air in while the girls graze. The smaller door is used to sweep out pine shavings into my wheelbarrow. I can also open that puppy up and check on my sleeping ladies any time I want without needing to walk into the run.

Shavings: The floor of the coop is plywood and I really wanted something absorbent but pine shavings it is! I clean out the coop about 1-2 times a month. The poopy pine shavings go right into my compost pile - they are amazing and break down really, really well! I like to line new garden beds with poopy pine shavings too - it helps my veggies grow so healthy and strong.

Nesting Boxes: I of course have more than I need....this is what chicken mamas do. My girls use only 3 of the 6, and those are good numbers when compared to other chicken mamas. I wanted them deep and comfy and secure and dark. Bearded man delivered on all fronts :)

Food and Water: I keep the girls' food and water outside, under the coop. The elevation helps keep everything dry and gives them a place to hang out when it's raining or snowing. I love not having the food and water in the coop itself because it reduces moisture and messes. It also ensures my girls come outside for fresh air even when they're feeling lazy and don't want to. Mandatory henercise! hahahaha! ......mkay yeah that was bad.

Jen's Favorite Things
Roosts: I adore the roosts. They are so pretty. Bearded man selected and stripped and sanded some branches he found in my yard and then secured them in this amazing and spacious pattern - the girls love them and so do I.

Nesting Box Curtains and Toekick: I've found my girls lay better when they have nesting box curtains, so I cut these from landscaping burlap and stapled them over each box. They are cute and sweet and functional and I love it because they are all three of those things at once. Bearded man also installed a toekick so the girls don't kick their eggs out on accident. Things get crazy in those nesting boxes sometimes!

Greenhouse: The hoop house, in all of it's now-defunct glory, is still valued and cared for. I will grow things in here eventually and for now, the girls have a secondary enclosed-yet-open space to scratch around.

Didn't think a chicken coop could bring such joy to a Jen's heart, did you? Well, now you know. I am excited to try whitewashing this beauty over the summer - it should help protect the plywood from the elements. Until then, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments down below! 

Would you like to see this coop virtually? Check out my very first vlog on YouTube!

As always, thank you so much for reading :)


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Working Single Mom Season of Life

Well lovely readers, I am here. I am officially at the point I promised myself I would never be.

When I was young, I watched my own single mom juggle work and school and mothering and fathering. I watched her pinch pennies and suffer through week-long migraines and figure out how to fix stuff around the house and worry, always worry, about her kids. She struggled with insomnia and was beat back by disrespectful coworkers and missed every PTO meeting and she even sometimes cried. I watched her sacrifice peace, health, and her own personal goals so I could have a good life. I noticed and I appreciated and I was great expense to my mama.

Right around the time I realized babies were made mostly by choice, I promised myself if I ever had kids, I would make sure I was in a perfectly unbreakable, good, stable situation. Good, stable financial condition. Good, stable housing. Good, stable relationship. If I couldn't make those things happen, then no kids for me.

I was a silly little thing, wasn't I?

Once upon a time, Jen met a man, had kids, and planned a life for herself and her little family. About a decade later, that same Jen had to make a choice. She had to choose between self-respect and stability. Honesty and falsity. Divorce, and all the terrifying, expensive, messy things that come with it, or marriage to a man that made her feel trapped by her own needs. Jen, as we all know, chose self-respect, honesty, and divorce.

And I'm struggling. I'm struggling because a large piece of me wants to slam the door on that part of my life forever and run in the opposite direction for miles and miles until the ground under my feet is so unfamiliar I can no longer feel the sting of my own stupidity. Another part of me cries for familiarity, for something, anything, to resemble calm and contained and careful. Everything is so messy. I don't trust myself to make the right choices. I second guess everything. I struggle to trust those around me. Everything is new, or needs to be dreams and my goals are no different.

And I cannot run. I have these two beautiful dancing babies who need me now more than ever. Their relationship with me has become so critically and understandably needy. I can't slack. I can't disappear into the bottom of a beer can. I can't shout at and hit the man who disgraced me. I need to be on point 99.9% of the time, even when they are not around, because I'm the parent who puts them first. The pressure and isolation is suffocating....especially when combined with a distrust toward my own inclinations. Am I doing this right? Am I messing them up even more? Every time I give to one place, I take from another. Am I balanced? Is this ok?

And the rage. I have so much of it. It hits me out of nowhere, it when I drop a grocery bag on the ground and that jar of sauce I really needed breaks and my mind flashes to the memory of him carrying the grocery bags five at a time with no problem. Or when I feel my baby's forehead and it's so, so hot and I'm out of medicine, again, and I don't want to drag sick and sleeping babies out to the cold truck for a late-night trip to Walgreens. Or when my daughter tells me she is scared and I don't know what to tell her and I wish like hell there was another adult, someone who shared my love for this child, to help me come up with a solution for her pain. I curse him for making me choose between self-respect and stability, for putting me in this position, for his lies and false vows, for the loss of so many dreams, for the introduction of so many insecurities, for rejecting me in the most hurtful and harmful way a person can be rejected. I curse him for making me scared for my children. I curse him, but I still love him. I still appreciate him. I still hope he has a good day and that he one day wakes up and finds the strength to be the man I still somehow believe he can one day be.

Between curses and tears, surges of strength and pride in myself for making this work, and sheer exhaustion, I realized I needed to take steps to secure my future, however compromised and imperfect and uncertain that future may be.

But every time I give to one area of my life, I take from another.

I am both blessed and pained to say I started a new job this month. It's a corporate position, in a corporate office, surrounded by corporate coworkers and ruled over by corporate leaders. I make money for people. I make money doing things that do not, in my mind, positively affect the big picture of peace and prosperity for all. The job does not fit into the goals I had for my life. It does not align with my morals, my personal needs, my sense of satisfaction and pride. It is a paycheck. It challenges my mind and business skills. It challenges my ability to prioritize, and when I leave the house each morning and make the choice to put money ahead of time with my kids, it breaks my freaking heart. Why is this the only option? Why is this my only option? There's that rage again.

I'd swapped all my business casual clothes for flannel, you know. I'd purged my closet with so much hope and joy, knowing with certainty I would never need to dress to impress anyone other than myself ever again. Then last month, a week before my start date, I hauled over $100 in office wear from Goodwill into the house, plopped it all down on my bed, and sighed. Back here? I'm back here now, hm? How long are you going to do this, Jen? What happens if this becomes your new normal? What if you never achieve those dreams...or worse, what if you work this job so long you forget about your dreams entirely? What if this changes you into a different person, one who doesn't value the important things anymore?

So much fear. So much uncertainty. So much negative thinking.

I know this job is an opportunity....and I know this opportunity is something to be extremely grateful for. Most single moms don't get a fancy corporate job that financially allows for an in-home nanny and comes with the word "manager" attached to it. Many single moms are stuck taking whatever jobs they can get, sometimes multiple jobs, sometimes without benefits, or with horrific hours, or under horrific working conditions. I know this happens because my own mama worked one or two of those jobs. I am extremely blessed - the actions and work I'd done five years ago paved the way for where I am now. I proved my worth back when I was a younger corporate slave and consequently, I've been given a huge financial lead over most single working moms.

But that doesn't take away the sting in my eyes when I drive away from the two most important things in my life each morning. It doesn't keep my heart from racing with anger when my ex complains about how tired he is. It doesn't negate the pain I feel when I miss yet another one of my daughters' milestones. It doesn't soothe my doubts. It doesn't comfort me when someone I love dearly passes away and I remember that life is short, so, so short, and I am wasting it by sitting in this car, driving 90 minutes one way. For what? I scream it to myself, in my head, multiple times a day. For what, Jen? My rational side answers. You're in this position now, like it or not, so what are you going to do about it?

I'm gonna keep truckin'. I'm going to try and keep the faith that all of this, all of it, in its ugly, disgusting unfairness, is leading to something. I don't know what it is, and I don't even particularly believe it is a future set in stone, but I know it's coming. I know what I am doing now is preparing me for that future. And I know every day I spend allowing the rage to take over is another day wasted, another day I could be seeking the good, and the light, the calm. I am wasting my days by hating my days. And breaking that bad habit seems impossible. But I'm not giving up. Today I sang one of my favorite songs of all time on my way into work. Tomorrow I get to wear my new-to-me blue work dress. Thursday I get to work from a local coffee shop instead of driving into the office. My children love me. I have a beautiful dog. I found a great nanny. My friends are amazing. My ex-husband's been cool lately. My family, both biological and from my previous marriage, is rooting for me. I have this really incredible bearded man who's been talking to me for some time now....he reminds me of the big picture. He reminds me of my dreams. He makes me smile. What an incredibly lucky woman I am.

I had grand plans this month of sharing something homestead-ish and special with you, my treasured readers. Those plans will need to wait a little longer. I am keeping my head above water, but just barely, and my writing sits on a low rung now. I couldn't stay away tonight, though. I am sleepy and missing time with my kids as I type this, but I just had to. Words have been slithering around my head for weeks. It feels good to get them down...even though my kids will be getting to bed late. Every time I give to one area, I take from another.

My mama had to give to her career, and her chores, and the millions of other areas within her life. The funny part? I had no idea. She smiled brightly when she picked me up. She celebrated every holiday with joy. She danced and sang with me. I never wanted for anything. I had no idea that for my mama, to give to one area of her life, she had to take from another. I had no idea. No clue whatsoever. There's a lesson to be learned there, I'm sure of it. Maybe by the time I complete this season of my life, the season in which I am a working single mom, I'll have it figured out.

As always, and I truly do mean always, thank you so much for reading.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

2017 Renewal Challenge: Self

We've made it, dear readers. It is the end of February, the end of "winter," the end of our 2017 Renewal Challenge. We slowly made our way around the house, cleaning, re-purposing, and releasing that which does not serve us. We spent time revisiting our eating habits and the decisions that carry our food from farm to table to our bodies. We examined the way we rest, paying extra attention to releasing guilt and allowing our minds to freely exist in whatever season we're facing. We reflected on the way we interact with others, specifically those who seek to understand us and provide our lives with light and love. We also took time last week to focus on refreshing our daily perspective, keeping our minds in the moment, and surrounding ourselves with the environment we need to find fulfillment.

This last step is definitely the hardest, at least for me.....this last step is all about self - acceptance of self, but more importantly, intentional, purposeful celebration of self. Buckle up, lovelies.

So I'm not the most patient woman in the world. I get emotionally bogged down in negativity, I get territorial, I get insecure, I get lazy, I get overwhelmed, and I get greedy. I change my mind a lot about what I want to do with my life. I start projects sometimes that do not get finished. I am aging and am physically softer than most men prefer. I really don't enjoy working out to lose weight.

Some of these things I intend to change. Some of these things I do not intend to change.

I think the key to accepting who we are is to acknowledge our flaws, decide which flaws we'd like to change for ourselves, put a positive spin on flaws we have no intention of changing, and then find forgiveness when we slip up and hate on ourselves.

I do hope to finish what I start more often. I hope to get rid of my insecurity sooner rather than later. I think silencing insecurity has a rippling effect on territorial behaviors. I hope to realign my thoughts with positive things instead of letting the dark take over. On the flipside, I will always be emotionally charged and reactive, it's ingrained in who I am. It makes me a great storyteller, a passionate person, a whole-soul lover. Happy Jen will always be physically softer instead of chiseled. My body is a comfortable place for babies and my curves are a physical manifestation of the peace and prosperity I am experiencing in my life.

Some things about ourselves can be changed, while other things simply are the way they are. Try and see the positive side to your flaws. They exist for a reason and sometimes that reason is something good...maybe even invaluable. Without my passion I would have no voice. Without my reactive nature I would have no urgency to my actions. Without my greed, I would have no motivation to go and get it, Jen....go get it. Invaluable, these flaws, for they provide me with the characteristics I need to propel myself along.

So you have things you'd like to change about yourself, yes? Me too. But how?

Just begin. Doesn't matter if you start to change and fail a thousand times as long as you continue to begin again. Try again. Make the effort again and again and again.

I struggle immensely with self value. I worry that what I do is not enough, either with my work, my parenting, my friendships, or as a daughter. What I provide, my mind tells me, is not valuable enough. I need to do more to prove I am worth love and effort, attention and time. I need to do more to prove it's worth it to be around me, even though I am sometimes moody, smelly, sensitive, stubborn, unattractive, crying for no reason, chubby, or any of the other things about myself that I perceive others find distasteful and obnoxious.

Somewhere in the far corners of my heart I know I have an enormous amount of value and that I am worth going to the ends of the earth for. But that voice of light is smothered by bombarding insecurities and worries fueled by my ability to quite consistently compare myself to what I deem "beautiful, stable, functional, worthy."

This flaw of mine drives me nuts. I am capable of projecting a confident, strong woman on the outside, but I want to feel that way on the inside, too. So I work on it. I avoid comparisons by purposely staying away from "fashion" propaganda - it helps that I have zero interest in makeup and clothing lines and chicken-patterned rain boots count?

I look at myself in the mirror each day and pick out one thing to complement myself on. I spend time reading or baking or puttering around in my yard because that is where I can center myself, those places are where nothing can touch me. I can reconnect to the core of my own beauty - I can paint an image of myself surrounded by my flowers and my children and my chickens and my dog and I can put to rest my worries that I will never be enough because in that image, I am everything to all of them.

I fall back into my flawed nature all the time. But then I wake up the next morning and start walking, one step at a time, consistently dedicated to moving forward. Always take steps!

Last year's challenge was centered around self-sufficiency. I broke down ways to become more self-sufficient with our food, homes, health, money, and time. There's nothing more freeing or beneficial to your sense of self than learning. Decide what you want for your life and then learn how to accomplish the dream. It doesn't need to happen overnight - in fact the journey is as important as the arrival point. So take your time. Read all the books. Make notebooks. Listen to others. Learn how to build things yourself. And be sure to glance back to see how far you've come...that is the most magical part.

Build Confidence
I had to brainstorm some confidence-boosting tricks last summer when my new single-mama status had me feeling down. If you don't have time to click the link to that post, that's ok. Here's a quick and basic run-down of my tips, which I will repeat here for myself because I forget my own advice constantly my lovely readers because I love you.

Positive People - yep, get with them
Be Alone - get comfy in your own, independent lil' skin
Music Magic - light up your brain with some good tunes
Mirror, Mirror - Don't let your feelings of rejection cause you to give up on the things that make you feel beautiful
Flirt - It's fun and exciting and can accomidate all types of relationship statuses
Be Selfish - Pamper yourself with intention! Often!
Fake it - 'till you make it
Critical Challenge - Don't say anything critical about yourself for one entire day, then a week
Got Kids? - Talk to yourself the way you want your kids to talk to themselves
Don't Keep Your Head - Fall in love with yourself, with nature, with others

Trust Yourself
Rebuilding trust in yourself after a particularly hurtful time in your life can seem impossible, but the truth is it just takes time. I need to relearn how to trust my instincts. I sometimes think because my ex-husband was unfaithful and I stayed hopeful in such a broken and dark marriage for almost a decade that I am the most gullible, idiotic woman on the planet. I sometimes think my naivete and ignorance to the true feelings me ex harbored for me pretty much solidifies I am a complete moron. I confuse my marital devotion with ignorance all the time. I feel so, so stupid when I think back and see just how long I allowed someone to walk all over me, lie to me, disrespect me, and drag me through the mud of his own addictions and issues. Where was the confident Jen my daughters needed? Where was my sense? My intelligence? My no-crap-taken mentality? My strength?

It helps when I journal all the signs I purposely ignored - kinda proves I wasn't completely ignorant, just stubbornly dedicated to forcing a broken relationship to work. Hindsight and all that. But rebuilding trust in myself is, I'm learning, less about exploring the past and more about approaching the future without fear.

I do have the ability to make sound decisions for my life. I will one day believe in my intuition again. I will one day learn to take advice and suggestions lightly and forgive myself for the mistakes I've made. If everyone were born brilliant and with this whole life thing figured out, we'd have no need to learn and live at all, right? We'd be stagnant and boring, muted versions of ourselves. I prefer to glitter and shine....risk be damned.

We are who we are, beautifully flawed and hopelessly imperfect. Our lives are tiny little pinpricks of light in this big, bold world and to waste our fire on doubt and self hate is a tragedy. Celebrate who you are. Throw yourself a party. Invite others, or don't. Turn off your inner critic. Celebrate your verbosity. Call a friend and talk their ear off. Celebrate your thighs. Wear the shorts. Celebrate your mood swings. Write stories and paint pictures and take photographs of things that reflect how you feel. Relish the changes your body is experiencing, for you're well on your way to becoming a wiser and better version of yourself. If your head feels rainy, soak in the water for a minute, then find your sunshine - friends, family, kids, pets, flowers, or maybe the rain is your sunshine. Doesn't matter. Just find it. Carve out time for people who make you laugh, laugh, laugh. Carve out time to just be. Let people come to you. Know that you are enough, what you do is enough, and you don't need to do a single thing more unless it contributes to your own happiness. Make this year the year of you. I think you are wonderful and worth celebrating.

I am so glad you've come along on this Renewal Challenge, dear readers. I would love to hear your favorite renewal tip in the comments down below and as always, thank you so very much for reading.

Looking for some unique ways to feel renewed? I've got you covered :) Check out the other posts in my 2017 Renewal Challenge:

Monday, February 20, 2017

2017 Renewal Challenge: In the Moment

This post is dedicated to Mama Lynnette, a true believer of living in the moment.

The moments following the loss of a loved one are always raw and unfiltered. Thoughts are muddled by pain, grief, confusion, and a gaping hole where someone amazing once existed.......but strangely enough, intentions and actions and perception is remarkably clear. Nobody cares about things like dents in the truck, trolls on Facebook, or whether the apple you're trying to choke down is organic or not. The important things in life stand out one right after the other, little toy soldiers marching past the trivial and setting up a defensive wall against all the regrets and what if's and should-i-have's. You get by minute by minute, hour by hour, and you cling to those left behind and vow to never take them for granted. 

I think it's awful that we need to experience such heartache to truly appreciate the goodness around us. I think it's terribly unfair that we need to be dismantled and broken to truly recognize love, friendship, peace, kindness. I wish we could consistently acknowledge our blessings and understand how good we have it without getting yanked from our comfy places and dragged through despair. 

But that's not the way life works. We're not that perceptive. It's not our fault. Loss, lessons, juxtaposition, a balance of good and bad, and the living, sighing, breathing realization that until you experience sorrow, you'll never truly know joy...this is simply reality, both horrendously ugly and titillatingly beautiful.

I sometimes force myself to close my eyes during the good times - my eyelids are a camera shutter, capturing and imprinting how I feel to memory. I'll try and breathe in the smells around me, commit faces and voices to memory, memorize how they feel in my arms, the swell of love in my heart, the light shining on me. Remember this moment, Jen, I'll say to myself, cuz it will pass and then you'll fall back into your less-discerning coasting mode, where you worry about the small stuff and try and control all the things that don't matter at all. And then something bad will happen and you'll look around and wonder why you wasted so much time.  

Maybe there's a few tricks we can implement, aside from pretending like our eyes are cameras, to keep a very natural and human "coasting mode" from kicking in. Maybe we can lean on a couple tools to help us stay in the moment more often.

Soothing Places
Imagery is incredible and imaginations are powerful. I sometimes become so enveloped in my daydreams that they become reality. This can be good and bad; sometimes my daydreams are more like daymares. I can become filled with anxiety and spend way too much time reliving painful moments I wished I'd handled differently. I find it extraordinarily helpful to have a few soothing places to go in my mind when I can't seem to shake negativity.

One of my soothing places is my bed. I feel the sheets, I can smell the scent of my pillows, the light is cozy and gentle. I picture myself cocooned in soft blankets and melting into my safe spot, tucked away from chaos and experiencing nothing but rest. Another one of my soothing places is the seaside. I can smell the water, hear the gulls, feel the sand under my feet. I shade my eyes from the sunlight sparkling off the water, and hear the waves lapping at the shore, salty water crashing against my ankles, the rhythmic and constant pulse of the ocean sweeping shells onto the beach and then drawing them back out to sea again and again. Over and over. I could be hurting. I could be feeling like it's all over now. But the waves keep coming in and out. They will keep washing onto the shore whether my life is over or not. My problems' insignificance is comforting. Life continues with or without my approval. There is consistency and security to be found there.

Soothing People
I love each and every one of the distinctly different people in my life. Some are incredible at giving advice, others are my logical, grounded go-to's. Some love on me from afar with sweet texts and quotes, others show up on my doorstep and stand there ready for my pain. I know great cooks, I know wonderful listeners, I know comedians with hearts of gold and humor. I have friends who will fly with me into dreamy and unrealistic plans for the future and others who prefer to remind me of my credit card debt when I'm feeling impulsive. There is incredible value to all styles of friendship and love and support.

That being said, there is nothing wrong with using discernment during the various seasons of life. Sometimes I really need the friend who is logical and honest. Sometimes I really need the one who will lie to my face because she knows it's what I need to hear. I'm finding that at this particular moment of my life, I am drawn to the steady, consistent, accepting, gentle people in my life...the uncomplicated, unquestioning, quietly supportive souls speak to the anxious and fearful parts of me. Those anxious and fearful parts of me seem to be running the show these days and need the most attention, so I seek out those most soothing to my specific ailments. Find your soothing people and love on them and let them love on you. They will remind you to stay focused on this very moment and guide you gently to the next.

Disconnect from the Feeds
Nothing good comes from comparison...and that's kinda what social media is all about. Sharing and comparing, it's just what we humans do. If you're truly interested in living in the moment, you gotta shut it down. At least for a little while.

I've realized checking my social media feeds over and over is typically a sign of depression and boredom. I rarely go on there when I'm with other people or when I'm busy, but I am on there all the time when I'm feeling crummy and alone. What a terrible way to handle my sorrow - compound it with a good dose of social comparison! I don't know why I do it, but it's almost like I can't help it. I get bored, I want to see what people are doing, so I check my feeds. I never feel better after doing this. Now to be fair, I do read and see some pretty inspirational things on social media - especially after I get done blocking people and adjusting my feed content - but I can also find that kind of inspiration in books....or photo albums.....or outside in nature....all without the steady stream of not-so-inspirational things that often outnumber the good posts at least 2:1.

I have to force myself to do it, but when I do, putting my phone down and disconnecting almost always makes me feel better. I yearn for my phone and struggle, quite frankly, and feel naked without it, but once that panic passes and I become engrossed in another activity, I always end up feeling refreshed and happy and productive. I feel like I did my part to enjoy that moment, to truly soak it up and not miss a thing. It feels good.

Find your Church!
There's a very handsome and wise man I know who isn't particularly religious, but goes to church every chance he gets. And by church I mean some kind, any kind, of water with fish in it. The water is his place to reconnect and recenter himself. He typically goes by himself, sometimes late into the night, and always comes off the water happy, even if he doesn't catch a fish. I picture him out there with the sun setting, the water lapping against his kayak, the breeze softly blowing, every now and then feeling that tug of hope and possibility on his line, and I could see how he'd find God out there.

You don't need to be Christian. You don't even need to believe in a higher power. Find your sanctuary, your place to go and be when you need a change of heart or some time to think. Sit there, or stand there, or dance there, and reestablish your perspective. When your mind wanders into worry, bring it back to where you are at that very moment. Let yourself escape and acknowledge and be free from guilt. Your church is your place to worship and give thanks and be serenely and wholly you.

Is there truly a way to live in the moment, all the time? I don't know. Really, I don't. I'd like to think some enlightened minds out there somewhere have made it to the point where they can filter out all the garbage and just be. I'd like to think that maybe one day, with practice, I will be capable of keeping the perspective of someone who's just lost someone they love....the running-with-the-wind, time-is-short, Mama Lynnette way of living. Let's do this, she'd say. No time like the present! 

No time like the present. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

2017 Renewal Challenge: Relationships

There are two primary groups of thought when it comes to Valentine's Day:

Group A: It's a wonderful day filled with flowers and pink, hearts and dinners! An opportunity to show love and appreciation! A day of guaranteed romance! Bring on the chocolates and balloons!

Group B: I wish Cupid would literally stab me directly in the heart so I wouldn't need to endure the tragic, materialistic, greeting-card-concocted waste of money and time that is Valentine's Day.

I fit nicely right in-between the two. I adore flowers, but hate that close to 80% of the flowers found in the grocery store are shipped to America via poor Ecuadorian and Colombian farmers who are treated unfairly and paid even worse. I love chocolate, but again, poverty-stricken, unfair trade practices make it difficult to justify a few sweet bites of goodness at someone else's expense. And then there's the extravagant jewelry....yet again, stones shipped in from unknown places, mined by unknown, mistreated people, all so I can smile for an hour or two on a holiday the people who provided my goodies prolly never even heard of. So I suppose if done correctly, fairly, and with the right intentions, I could like Valentine's Day. But in my perfect world? Love would be celebrated and shown every single day.

And what better way to celebrate then by committing to renew the relationships in our lives?

Gather Friends Close
One of my best and wisest friends, when confronted with my worries that I am too "co-dependent" because I don't like being alone, reassured me with the following advice: "We are human beings, biologically made to exist in groups. We were not designed by nature to be alone and isolated. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be around others."

I get the need to be alone. I'm learning how to venture out and be comfortable alone more and more each day. But when push comes to shove, I am a gregarious creature in spirit, heart, and mind. I laugh harder, smile bigger, worry less, and learn more when I am around others. It doesn't need to be a huge group, nor does it need to be a specific person. I just grow better in a garden.

I often put pressure on myself to cut ties with this "needy" mentality of mine. I feel guilty for wanting to be around people. I worry that I'm not "being enough for myself" and therefore will never be enough for others. But I think that's the catch - if I really want to be true to myself, I need to accept all parts of myself....embrace them, even. And that means soaring high with my inner empath and allowing myself to depend, however vulnerable it makes me, on others.

On the flip side, some excel best on their own. They relish and delight in isolation. And I respect that, despite not relating as much to those needs.

But if I could go out on a limb here and just quickly speak to those isolationists.....friends enhance the world around us. Good friends, real friends, yes they require work, yes they can make you tired, yes they can disappoint you. But good friendships, really good friendships, they offer a hand to hold while you're at your weakest. They offer a sounding board. They offer a soul to share your joy with. One of my favorite quotes is by Emery Allen, who said, "You don't need another human being to make your life complete, but let's be honest. Having your wounds kissed by someone who doesn't see them as disasters in your soul but cracks to put their love into is the most calming thing in this world."

In exchange for vulnerability, you receive love....a love that will stand beside you while you work to be independent, while you work to make yourself happy, and while you strive to learn from your mistakes. Gather your friends close. They can be rays of sunshine on your cloudy days.

Renewing relationships can be as easy as shooting off a quick text or sending a Facebook message. Want to meet for coffee this Tuesday? What day works better for you? I'm heading out tonight if you're around! It can also be incredibly hard and awkward.

Life gets in the way of plans. Life gets in the way of forming connections. Life gets in the way of relationships. Sometimes our perspective becomes complacent on accident, like when we're so ridiculously busy with our own internal drama that we forget to include a friend in plans or forget to reach out and wish a good friend a happy birthday. Other times our relationships purposely take a back seat to new priorities in our lives. Children. Work. Travel.

The good news is, almost every broken relationship can be resolved by simply making a choice. Do you want to make the time for this person? Do the benefits to having them in your life outweigh the work it will take to reconnect? Are you willing to apologize? Are you healthy and strong enough to accept they might not accept your apology?

If you miss someone and you truly want them back in your life, you've gotta be willing to be humble, you've gotta be willing to take responsibility for allowing the relationship to slip without projecting any of that on the other person, and you've gotta be prepared for the other person to turn you down flat. It's that simple. That is your choice. You cannot predict what the other person will say, or do, and that's ok. If the only way to resolve a disconnected relationship is by permanently closing the door, then so be it. At least you've got closure...see what I did there. Hopefully the person on the receiving end of your effort will also make the choice to be humble, to take responsibility, and to apologize. Or maybe it truly is all your fault and you've just got to eat that. Or maybe the reconnection process won't have an ounce of drama at all and you can just pick up where you left off.

The point is, you are in control of your half of every relationship. If you're missing someone, take consistent, solid, repeating steps to bridge the gap. Make the choice to invest in that relationship and make it a priority. Maybe it will blossom, maybe it will fizzle into obscurity, but either way you can say you tried your best and are taking steps to improving your relationships with others.

Retrain Expectations
One of my favorite things about being around other people is how much I learn. Everyone is so different...even those I am close to and deeply care about sometimes have different opinions from me. It's incredibly interesting to me when a large group of people engage in friendly, intelligent debate. I love watching reactions, seeing tempers quietly flare, and feeling the passion coming off everyone in the room.

But the flip side to this diversity is that you won't always see eye to eye. Yes, it is great to hear other perspectives, but sometimes those perspectives work against the relationship you're trying to form.

A perfect example of this is my tendency to be extremely territorial of those I care about. For someone who considers herself a half-empath, I sure do turn my back on how others feel when they try and become a part of my close knit-relationship circle. Now I could wax poetic about how I was isolated and bullied as a kid and dip deep into the psychological reasons behind why I am the way I am, but then this post would be 400 more words and to be honest my kid will be up from her nap real soon here so let me just say - I am extremely territorial. Do not encroach on my relationships with others or behave in any way that I could perceive as threatening to the bonds I've worked tirelessly to maintain. I speak about this at length in my understanding territorial behaviors in females post - I get to "cut-a-B" levels when I feel like my relationship with someone I love is disrespected.

Unfortunately, those who are new to the group or who have not met me or know anything about my history don't understand this. They unknowingly walk right into the fire, a fire that burns as a deep grudge within my heart for way longer than it should. Did I mention I also suck at letting things go? I do. I suck at letting things go. Which is basically a death sentence for the new girl who tries to invite my best friend to coffee without me. First impression destroyed, wedge driven, mind shut.

Ultimately what this all leads to is me snarling in a corner while the newcomer looks around wondering why this lady is hunched over and snarling in the corner.

I need to retrain my expectations, you see. I cannot expect everyone to know my backstory. I cannot expect them to understand my version of a threat vs the traditional version of a threat. They do not and cannot read my mind. The same can be said of friends who've known me my whole life. They don't always know how I'm feeling. They cannot always understand why I'm upset. And instead of holding that against them, I need to understand this is the flip-side of the diversity that I love and hold so dear to my heart in almost every other circumstance.

Because we are different, we are never 100% one. This is the joy and this is also the sadness. I'm gonna hafta be a big girl and explain myself...which I've gotten better at doing over the years (lots of practice! heh heh! Hehe...ugh). I'm going to need to practice forgiveness and compassion. And yes, I'm going to need to provide for and tend to my own feelings instead of expecting them to be constantly met and coddled by those around me. Friends are wonderful, but like I said before, relationships are enhancements to your life.....a life you, yourself need to build on a steady and sturdy base.

Release the Weight
It doesn't happen often, but every once in a while I need to let people go. I think a healthy part of renewing your life and your relationships with those around you is to occasionally step back and ask if the relationship is serving you well.

Now I purposely wrote this section under the "expectations" section because if you go looking for flaws in your relationships, you're bound to find one or two in every single one of them. Everyone judges your decisions, especially those who care about you and think they know better than you do. Some are outward about it and others try and remain neutral but everyone has an opinion and will judge you from time to time. There are ways to deal with that judgement, and ending relationships is not one of them.

But every so often there are relationships that need to be released. You don't need to hate the person, you don't need to not care about the person, but sometimes your efforts are better spent elsewhere. I wrote a pretty long post about dealing with painful people last fall when things really started to take a turn for the worst with my ex-husband. It is very hard to get me to a place where I will no longer try, but once that happens, I've mentally and emotionally closed the door on that relationship. I do it for my own safekeeping. I do it for the safekeeping of the relationships that truly do nurture my soul and understand me and see me for who I am. And I do so with the understanding that should anyone I once made an effort to love ever came to my door in need of food and shelter, I would open it to them without question. I don't beleive that love ever really dies. It just gets locked up. And that's ok.

If you have relationships in your life that are weighing you down instead of helping you fly, that make you feel worse about yourself than better, it might be time to close the door on that relationship. Hope that one day the person shows up on your doorstep changed and filled with perspective....but do not count on it. It's hard but this step is imperative to renewing the relationships you do have left...the ones with those who truly do love you and need your attention.

Ooze Gratuity
One of my biggest fears (outside of losing relationships because the other person randomly decides I am not what they want....another story for another time) is being taken for granted. Getting comfortable with your relationships is inevitable. You become intimately attuned to the other person's mannerisms....the same things don't make you laugh any more. The little quirks are no longer unique, they are just a part of that person's persona. The touches and phrases become routine instead of tingling. It's what happens, naturally, as part of a relationship's natural rhythm.

But screw rhythms. It's perfectly ok to be comfortable and secure. It's a completely different thing to become lazy. Relationships take work....lots and lots of work. They take discomfort and inconvenience and sacrifice. For the right person, especially in the beginning, that discomfort and inconvenience and sacrifice might not seem like work at all. But once you start to truly know another person, it takes unique, appreciative, and proactive thought processes to keep relationships alive.

I will forever be grateful to my best good friend cuz despite being friends for over 20 years, and despite me having kids and us both moving far far away from each other multiple times and despite relationship troubles and post-partum depression and changes to our circle of friends she has always, consistently made time for me on my own terms. She will come to me, she is flexible with me, she does not ask for anything in return except my willingness to go along with the plans she's already created. She calls me, she texts me, she deals with my crap, and I deal with her crap. We are far from perfect and we fight. But despite our differences I have so much appreciation in my heart for who she is and what she's done to keep our friendship alive over the years.

That kind of appreciation is often forgotten. We get bogged down and we forget to say thank you. We forget to pay it forward. We forget to return kindness with kindness. I am so, so guilty of not wanting to leave my house much. I like it here and this is where I am most comfortable. But I tell you what, you come over, and I'll try and reward your effort by feeding you good food and giving you all of my attention and treating you like the most honored king or queen in all the land.

You don't need to return kindness in the exact same way it is delivered. The idea is to simply return the kindness. Try. Make effort. Do the best you can without needing to be reminded that yes, it takes two to make things magic. Be grateful for those in your life and don't take them for granted. An appreciated relationship is a rewarding relationship.

I think the hardest part about tending to our relationships is the fact that we need to really look at ourselves and evaluate what we could be doing differently. Relationships include at least two people, always, but you as an individual can only control one side of that equation. Dive into your relationships with a grateful heart, an understanding spirit, a selective eye, and a willingness to view those you keep close as embellishments on a canvas that should already be sparkling with all the wonderful things you have to offer this world. Keep your garden clean, nurtured, and loved, and everyone will blossom :)

How do you handle the relationships in your life? Have you found children, work, or other priorities getting in the way of holding on to those outside of your own home? What's your favorite way to bring the "spark" back into your relationships? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading.


Looking for some unique ways to feel renewed? I've got you covered :) Check out the other posts in my 2017 Renewal Challenge:

Monday, February 6, 2017

2017 Renewal Challenge: Rest

One of my absolute favorite places in the whole wide world is my bed. I love laying down in my bed, reading in my bed...I've even been known to eat candy and cake and french fries in my bed. It's a place of comfort to me, where everything I need is right there at my fingertips and relaxation surrounds me.

Except lately. Lately I've been jumping onto my phone in the morning and at night and my pulse starts to quicken. We are a divided country and the things I see and hear and read keep me up at night, they inspire me to take action, they push my worries and anxiety into overdrive.

A little light reading before bed, yes Jen? How about getting drowned in inequality and rich man puppetry and shaming and removing the rights of others and fearing for your daughters' safety instead. Meh-heh-heh sweet dreams, Clarice! 

I've never really been one to just let things go. I completely suck at it, frankly. I dwell and obsess until the problem is resolved. This flaw of mine has an upside: it's instilled a sense of purpose to my life and I often find myself saying, "if you don't like it, do something about it." So I act a lot. Sometimes irrationally. Almost always reactively.

The activist within me hates to rest. The humanitarian within me feels guilty for resting. The young woman within me screams at me to get out and live before it's all over. And the mama within me shames me for not making the most out of my babies' childhoods while I still can.

Resting does not come easily to me. Resting is most definitely a challenge.

Release the guilt!
Everyone needs sleep and everyone deserves peace, even us well-off, white, suburban moms. My mind, recalling images of starving, war-ravaged children, often fights me on this. What do you have to complain about, Jen? What are you tired for? Do you have any idea how easy you have it? Are you appreciating your privilege enough? Are you getting lazy because it's "the American way?" What could you be doing instead of resting?

Every now and then, particularly when I'm around someone who validates a restful, relaxed lifestyle, I can coerce my brain into letting me shut down for a little while. But the guilt still seethes.

One of the only things that works for me is the reminder that without rest, I am acting with only a portion of my potential greatness. When I think about all the things I want to accomplish, when I actually envision myself on the ground, making things happen, I never imagine myself standing there with dark circles, a furrowed brow, and a hazy consciousness. Nope. The successful Jen in my dreams is always alert, quick-thinking, anticipating. She is confident, composed, ready. She most definitely is not yawning and snapping at her kids and bursting out in tears at ASPCA commercials.

The only way I can be the very best mom, friend, daughter, significant other, and Jen I can be is if I give myself permission to release my focus and zone out every now and then. Shut out the worries. Stash away the fear. Give my mind and my heart a break. Live fully in my privilege and realize that once I'm done resting, I'll get right back to working and passing freedom and privilege to others.

Have you heard of this yet? Hygge is a Danish word that kinda sorta means "coziness." It's an idea, or rather a collection of ideas, that purports our standard, ho-hum moments can be transformed into special, meaningful, delicious experiences simply by tending to the small stuff. Blankets, hot chocolate, soothing music, warm lighting, good company, long books, drawn-out meals....these are just a few things that can create hygge. The Danish have long winters with very little daylight, so they created hygge as a way to continue happy, healthy, appreciative, enjoyable lifestyles despite the bleakness outside. When we take the time to light candles, create warmth, and set the stage for comfort, we are forced to focus on that very moment - the attention to detail helps you appreciate the moment you've created for yourself and for others.

I tried my hand at hygge last week and wouldn't you know it? It was wonderfully restful. I lit a candle, I turned my TV into a cross-country train ride (check out SlowTV on Netflix), I brewed myself some tea, grabbed my blanket, and set out my seed catalogs. With each "settling in" step, I found myself anticipating the warmth, serenity, and relaxation ahead. My mind focused on creating a peaceful environment, one filled with things I love and find soothing. By the time I'd fallen into the beautiful abyss that is springtime seed planting, the worries I'd previously been obsessing over were shoved to the back burner. My mind was resting and it felt glorious.

Resting doesn't need to mean sitting on the couch watching TV. It doesn't need to mean sitting at all, actually. One of my favorite ways to rest is by way of creation. When I'm trying a new cookie recipe, I am resting. When I'm painting or coloring, I am resting. When I'm digging new seeds into the dirt, I am resting. Each of those things require a great deal of concentration and with every scoop of flour, splatter of paint, and sprinkle of seeds, my worries slip farther and father into the background.

Think of something enjoyable that challenges your brain and requires total focus. It could be swimming. It could be writing. Heck, it could be playing an online hidden object game. Write them down or save them to a note in your phone. Next time you find yourself getting overwhelmed and in need of rest, whip out that list and pick something, anything, to give yourself a break. The things you need to worry about will be there waiting, so give yourself permission to walk back to your problems refreshed and ready to tackle them with a clear head.

A Life of Seasons
Our world cycles back and forth, round and round, from sunny summer days to freezing winter nights. Our lives are no different. Sometimes we are stuck in a season of stress and inconsistency and worry. Sometimes we are flying high in a season of security and potential and excitement. Each season calls forward its own set of needs, including needs centered around rest and renewal. Sometimes we can go a whole week without needing a time out. Other times we need to take 10 time outs a day.  Your seasonal swings are natural and they are ok.

If you're not able to cope today, don't cope. Take care of the bare minimum obligations and then get out of your head for a little while. When your mind is telling you it can't do it, listen. Give it a rest. These sleepy, exhausted moments can carry on for a couple days - let them. You don't need to "make up for it," the next day, that will happen naturally once you've regained your strenth. Sometimes I can look at the world with a sense of awe and inspiration. Other times I see nothing but sadness and darkness. What goes up must come down.....every storm runs out of rain.....and change is the only constant. Allow yourself to circle round and round and accept the seasons of your life. The hard times create the contrast we need to truly recognize the give yourself a break and rest up when you're feeling down.

It's not easy to clear our heads from the clutter of the day. I'm not going to lie, most of these posts I write here on this blog are for me. I can't tell you how many times I've revisited the blog and tried to remind myself of what I just the one about being too busy living to be busy in any other way, or tips on how to stress less. I've read the dealing with judgement gracefully post more times than I can count. I write these things down to serve as reminders to myself. My head is at its peak darkness right before I rest. One of the very first things I do when I get to the point where I am about to explode from anxiety is (and this is gonna sound insane.....because it kinda is insane) I get on Google. I get on Google and I type my problem right in the search bar and I read. I read for perspective. I read for comparison. And once I've gotten my fill of internet insanity, I start to wean down my content into pieces that distract me and make me feel good.

You don't need to read blogs (although, let's face it, they're pretty dang fantastic). You can read poetry. You can look at pretty pictures. You can listen to music. You can watch funny videos. The point is to find content that is not social media (you cannot control or predict social media content) and use the content to propel you into a more restful state. Sometimes escaping to a good book or a 22-minute-long video of The Office outtakes is all you really need to center yourself. True story.

Resting does not come easily to some of us. This week's challenge is to find new, sustainable ways to rest so we can all operate during our active phases at our full potential. The monarch butterfly rests in that cocoon for two whole weeks before emerging in all of her beautiful glory.....pretty sure we can take a half hour to watch cats on YouTube, sip on tea, read a good blog post, and laugh.

What are your favorite ways to rest? Do you struggle to let go and really immerse yourself in relaxation? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below. As always, thank you so so much for reading :)

Looking for some unique ways to feel renewed? I've got you covered :) Check out the other posts in my 2017 Renewal Challenge:
Around the House


Monday, January 30, 2017

2017 Renewal Challenge: Eating

Hello again my lovely readers. I have missed you. I have some very exciting things to share with you, things that will explain my absence and hopefully inspire your creative side....but I am a mean ol' blogger and you'll need to wait to hear about those things until March.

You see, we have some renewing to tend to.

These last few days filled my heart with fear, anger, and pain. Our political climate is the most volatile I've ever personally seen it and as I sit back and let wave after wave of heartbreaking news crash over me, I find myself feeling extraordinarily powerless. I feel trapped and I feel afraid....and like most animals in my predicament, my first instinct is to bite, snap, and do everything in my power to regain control of the situation. But instead I read....I read everything I can. And instead I march. And instead I sign petitions. And donate money. Instead I have conversations with my daughters. I talk to my friends. I read a little more. And of course, I write.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my hope is that this series develops into a little bag of tricks we can tap into when our soul needs some healing. I started slow a few weeks ago, talking about how to renew our homes and the spaces around us, and will continue to "up the ante" each week and get a little closer to true introspection as time goes by. Today's post, therefore, doesn't come close to addressing the personal turmoil and anarchy that has moved into my soul as of late. Instead, I am staying dedicated to taking it slow...step by step....and maintaining hope that by the end, light will have reached all the dark places.

So today we talk about something simple....something we can control...something that is constant and biological and often times in need of reflection.....


I absolutely adore food, don't you? I love flavors and textures and trying new things. I have a super sensitive "spicy" palate that makes those around me laugh and I can devour an entire pizza all by my lonesome like any true All-American Woman should. I love cooking and testing out new recipes. One of my favorite things of all time is taking something I've grown, making it into a meal, feeding it to others, and watching their faces light up. Food is life and love and opportunity.

But then, on the flip side, there's my reflection in the mirror. I poke, pinch, grip, lift, squeeze, and prod at the areas of my body that don't match up with whatever perfect Jen image I've concocted in my head for the day. I notice dimples and wrinkles and more flesh in my hands and I start to despise food, or rather my disconnection from it, and begin to see food as an enemy. If I eat you, I lose. If I taste you, I've let myself down. It sometimes gets to the point where just an aftertaste of something I've recently eaten triggers feelings of immense guilt and shame. You've failed again, Jen. You weren't supposed to eat anything at all today. Let your body eat all the fat you've got, kay?


My relationship with food is quite two-faced.

It's times like these, when the winter cold and early dusk keep me inside and inactive, that those destructive and cloudy thoughts begin to shake my happiness tree. All the fruits of an active, healthy, happy summer and harvest season come plopping down around me and I start to sink in the mushy, stinky decay of self-loathing. Working out is no longer attractive. Eating good food is no longer attractive. Cooking is no longer attractive. In my head, I am no longer attractive. My entire being - heart, mind, and body - turns into a self-fulfilling prophesy.

And that's where this particular page of our renewal comes in. It's at this very moment, these most destructive times, that we need to find the courage to stop ourselves...pause, recognize we're sad, recognize it's ok to be sad, but then also recognize it's time to regain our happiness. Time to realign the power struggle. Time to reconnect to our plates in an intimate and loving way. Time to renew ourselves in the most basic and primal of forms.

Choices, Choices
The buzzwords are, homegrown, GMO, pesticide-free, cage-free, free-range, hormone-free.....I don't need to tell you anymore that reading labels and choosing foods that are as close to nature as possible is by far the very best way to keep good food, and only good food, on your plate. Processed foods are no good. Fast food drive-thrus are no good. Excessive amounts of anything is no good. We know all this.

Contrary to popular belief, I do partake in all those no-good-things I mentioned above. It happens. I'm imperfect and I love to eat garbage, especially when I'm distraught. But I beg you, implore you, if you're looking to renew your eating habits and feel more connected to your food, quit the no-good-things. Quit them cold turkey. Forgive yourself when you mess up and then come back to the green side. I've found my sugar cravings go down when I decrease the amount of candy I eat. I found my cravings for McDonald's cheeseburgers go down when I stop eating McDonald's cheeseburgers. Weird how that works, hmm? Almost like, maybe, the manufacturers are placing addictive additives in those products that cause us to chemically depend on them and therefore want more...and more...and more....dunno, just a theory.

Producers, Producers
I absolutely love pork sausage. I buy pounds of it every month and use it in practically every meal requiring meat. Now I could just go to the store and buy a package of pork sausage made from pigs from all over the world....but instead I order my meat from a farm....with a farmer who comes out, himself, to deliver his product.

Remember that disconnection from our food I mentioned earlier? This is a beautiful way to reconnect. Meet the people who make your food. Listen to their stories, follow them on social media, and regain confidence in what you're eating. Using discretion when buying food reestablishes producer-to-consumer relationships that were long ago buried beneath the wheels of refrigerated trucks. As an added bonus? When you buy from someone you know, that someone is likely nearby. Eating in-season foods that naturally grow around you is incredibly beneficial to your health. And it's not as difficult as you might think...I break down some of my favorite "eating seasonally" tricks in this post.

Choose good things from good places delivered by good people. Such action reforges the broken chains of our food system and helps us connect to our food in very personal, responsible, and cooperative ways.

Grocery Shopping Woes
I don't think we'll ever be rid of grocery stores forever. I'd love to sit here and dream that we'll all one day have our own gardens and everyone will be more self-sufficient and the major food conglomerates will all go out of business...but one look at the McDonald's drive thru on a Saturday morning in 2017 when we all know that stuff ain't good clearly shows me people do not care enough to make my dreamland come to life. And similarly, I don't have the time to drive to a few different farms each week to get everything I need, and the local winters' market doesn't sell it all (yet....fingers crossed the food movement will one day make it so our farmers carry everything we need). Until then, we will always need grocery stores to feed our people.

And people, grocery stores are expensive. All those no-good-things I mentioned earlier? Well in addition to being more readily available and addictive, they're also cheaper. I'm a single mama with a chicken addiction and a big ol house of growing females to feed. I don't have the money to be dropping hundreds each week on food...even when I know the money is supporting organics and local food. I've found myself choosing between organic milk and grassfed butter recently. Eating good food on a budget is not as easy as they say, especially in the off-season when the ground is frozen, and especially if you're looking to get your shopping done at one place instead of 5.

And so I've found myself at Aldi recently. Yes. You heard me. This is not some kinda sponsored-blog-post thing, this is my real-life-learning-experience thing. I went there because I was gifted a gift card. I walked out with my mind blown. They had organic produce. Organic dairy. Organic snack crackers and cereals. They even had sprouted grain bread - sprouted grain bread! And let's face it, if the standards of organic labeling are slipping (which they are), then an organic pepper from Aldi is no lesser of an organic pepper than one from Trader Joes or Whole Foods or any of those other high-priced places. Frankly, if I have to shop at a grocery store, I'm not buying local anyways, so I may as well shop somewhere that allows me to stay within my budget and holds me over until my growing season starts.

Ideally I'd shop during the off-season at a co-op...because food co-ops are way better than any grocery store.....but my local co-op is not open yet. So until then, finding affordable ways to eat the food that makes me feel good is the way I'm heading.

Are you struggling to afford the good-for-you-foods? Get outside your comfort zone and try somewhere new. Maybe your winter farmers markets are better equipped than mine - farmers market prices are comparable or even cheaper than grocery stores, especially when you're buying organic.

You might've caught me mentioning the "off-season" up there in that previous in northern Illinois, food doesn't start popping up till the ground thaws sometime in May, and even then, we are short on the fun stuff (tomatoes, corn, pumpkins, summer squash, cauliflower) until August at the earliest. I've tried my hand at growing things for the past three years and only last year did I produce enough to preserve anything for the winter.

Gardening is by far the most cost-effective, enriching way to connect to our food. I wrote an entire Growing a Garden Series based on my experiences and the tips and tricks I wish I knew in years 1 and 2 of my gardening adventure. It takes time, yes, and money upfront, yes, but once you get into your groove, and start to literally bear the fruits of your labor, there is nothing more satisfying or fulfilling than eating healthy, delicious food from your own backyard. This is my favorite eating renewal tip - grow something!

Meal Planning
It might seem like a no-brainer, meal planning, but it's hard. Meal planning is hard. You've gotta look at what you have, and compare it to what you need, and then compare all that to what you ate last week, and see if you can turn anything into multiple meals, and take your work schedule into consideration, and plan for days when you have the kids or don't have the kids, and keep meals on hand for nights when plans fall through or you're running late.

But it's so, so worth it.

I do not like cooking when I'm in my food funk mood. I don't want to eat healthy, I want to sit and be fed and then sleep. Cooking requires me to get up, take action, think, prepare. I don't like doing any of those things when I'm depressed. I just want to be watching Netflix.

But can I please tell you, once I'm in there, and I toss that garlic into the olive oil, and I add some meat and veggies, and the smell of homemade biscuits hits my nose, I feel something....and it's not the shadowy feeling I felt on the couch while watching's like a high. I get high off productivity. And meal planning forces me to be productive. If I have a menu sitting there I know I've got ingredients, many of which are perishable, sitting around waiting on me to dice them up before they go bad. If I have a menu sitting there I know I've spent time and money selecting a good healthy meal for my family. If I have a menu sitting there I don't need to scramble to throw something together, I just need to get up and cook it.

Meal planning motivates me to cook, keeps me on a nice grocery budget, assures I use everything in my fridge and pantry, and eliminates some of the stress of serving dinner. I feel better when I cook. I feel better about what I eat and I feel joy when others eat what I serve. It's a lovely experience once I get off my butt and get to it...which is what my weekly menu gently nudges me to do.

You might not be good at it. Do it anyways. You might not particularly like it. Do it anyways. If you are looking to renew your relationship with eating, you gotta learn how to create the things you eat. Start small. Have your kids help you cook. Take a weekend and create a bunch of freezer meals and basics like homemade bone broth or pasta sauce so when you're short on time, your meal is just a jar away.

And I challenge you to step away from the microwave. Try making tortillas from scratch. Mix up your own buttermilk. I do this super-amazing thing where I make double the recipe of some of my favorite sauces and then freeze half of them so next time I make that meal, I can be lazy.

Cooking connects you to your food much like purchasing from a farmer connects you to your food - it injects personality and emotion and effort into your eating experience. I feel proud when I serve food I've cooked. I am proud of myself and I want to keep cooking because I feel good about what I've accomplished. I don't get that same satisfaction from microwaved chicken nuggets. Granted, I'll get that's always a win....but there's always something missing from that experience...something that causes me guilt later.

Give cooking a shot. Start small - make macaroni and cheese or chicken and rice or ravioli. It's an experience that leads to a deeper appreciation for what you're putting into your body. 

The Physical Act of Eating
When I lived in Europe one of my favorite culture shocks was the dining experience. No waiters bugging you every five minutes, no time limit on how long you can sit and talk, and absolutely zero pressure to buy anything. Every restaurant I ate at, from Germany to France to Luxembourg, shared this one thing in common: let them eat.

I still notice the difference today in America. Every time I go out to eat, the waiter or waitress will come by my table 3, 4, sometimes 5 times in under an hour to "check" on us. He will ask me if I want to see desserts before I've finished packing up my entree. She will bring the check well ahead of when I've finished sipping my drink. There is a urgency to turn, turn, turn the tables and get more people in, get them fed, get them out. It's sad to me - and in my opinion, completely indicative of the disconnection Americans have with their food and eating experiences.

I loved sitting at the heavily-carved wooden tables and laughing and talking for hours - literally hours - over my half-finished plate of schnitzel and pomme fritz. I loved that I had to wave wildly and flag someone down if I needed something instead of getting interrupted moments before sharing heartbreaking news, or delivering a hilarious punchline, or getting kissed by someone I love. I adored eating in Europe because it was about the experience of breaking bread with others - not about flipping tables as fast as you could.

Eating in America has become a frenzied, frantic action of "squeeze in a quick lunch" or "I gotta get out of there within the hour." We eat on the go - supper in a sack, breakfast in a cup. In the case of green smoothies, this is an entirely acceptable solution to a poorly-planned morning, but everyday? Or on a nice night out? Or for dinner every night? All that time spent cooking....just to get up and walk away from the table 10 minutes later?

I've worked very hard to slow down my try and taste my food, to talk to those around me. A few years ago I implemented a "how was your day" practice around my dinner table. Now my four-year-old initiates it every night. "How was your day today, Mama? What did you do today? Tell me all about it!" Her little voice is like a rolling and bubbling's soothing. And it connects me to my plate, the moment, the people around me. I learn about my kids and what they're thinking and experiencing.

Slow down. Take a breath. Relax. Make it about every bite, not every plate. And enjoy those around you.

Eating is supposed celebration of flavor and life, dear readers. It is intended to be a source of nourishment and enjoyment, a respite from the chores that never seem to leave our side. In a world that is increasingly chaotic, one truth always remains....we all gotta eat. Eating can be transformative in all the right ways - it just needs to be approached with a sense of joy and purpose.

And to all the readers out there who, like me, hate food this time of year, be kind to yourself. Be gentle. Try to renew your relationship with food. And remember, those blessed enough to live a long life rarely look back and say, "I wish I hadn't eaten so much pizza and cake. I wish I hadn't had that second glass of wine. I wish I'd spent less time laughing around the table and more time working out at the gym." We all hope for a happy and healthy life. Let's make it so and start loving the way we eat.

Do you struggle with food this time of year? What are your favorite ways to stay aligned with nature and nourishment during these cold winter months? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading!

Monday, January 2, 2017

2017 Renewal Challenge: Around the House

Welcome, dear readers, to Week 1 of the Flaws, Forgiven Renewal series. I wanted to kick 2017 off with some positive, practical, and easy ways to rejuvenate our daily lives....cuz let's face it, after 2016, we're all feeling a little less-than-fresh.

Each week in January we'll bring the renewal challenges up a notch, graduating from easy tasks around the house to more challenging suggestions aimed at evaluating and lightening the soul. My hope is that by the end of this series we'll have a happy lil' bag of tools and ideas to gently, joyfully guide us through these last winter months.

To start things off we're gonna go can we embrace renewal around the house?

Now I know what I'm you're thinking. Jen, what is this, little miss Suzy Homemaker time? I don't need to be told to clean my crap up. I know how to clean and if I don't, it's cuz I don't wanna. I get you. But hear me out. Our environment always, always affects us, whether we want it to or not, whether we admit it or not, whether we realize it or not. These next few ideas may sound simple, but can have profound effects on our emotional, spiritual, and yes, physical well-being. And it's not even all about cleaning, kay?

Ok so this one, tiny suggestion really is all about cleaning. I promise this is the only one. I'm not going to suggest you implement a weekly routine, or print out a checklist, or get down and scrub grout. I am instead going to suggest you find one thing, one element of your house that hasn't been touched in a while, and try to make it look new again. It could be the grease trap over your stove. It could be the windows. It could be the baseboards. Find one category or thing in your house, preferably something you can see or notice every single day that drives you nuts, and clean the ever-lovin' crap out of it. Like the stained shower curtain you always stare at when you're going pee. Or the dirty spot of carpet you see every time you do yoga. Or the books in your bedroom that are obnoxiously leaning in the wrong direction. Find something that makes you squirm and roll your eyes and clean it.

My go-to, feel-good cleaning task (and this sounds insane) is scrubbing my walls. I never, ever wipe down my walls, in every room of this house there are smudges, crusty bits of something, hand prints, dust (that's right, it can collect vertically, on a wall), hair, and weird splotches of liquid from gosh only knows where. Once a year I go around my house with a wet cloth in one hand and a dry cloth in the other and I wipe down my walls. I wipe down the corners. I wipe down the wall behind my kids' dinner chairs. I wipe down light switches and the areas over our heater vents. I wipe down the walls surrounding the sinks and around the door frames. And when I'm done, guess what? I get to walk into my bedroom and not be like, "who the hell flung toothpaste onto the wall next to my bed!" Renewal!

The amount of things in my home overwhelms me. Sometimes I get the biggest urge to pick everything up and throw it on the street....and I mean everything. All these stupid "coordinating desk items" that are staring at me right now as I type, for instance, are toeing the line. They say clutter and mess weighs on your person and can influence your mood the minute you wake up. They say it sucks up your energy even when out of sight, like in a closet or a basement. I say it's just annoying, moving things to clean, washing things because they sit there and get dirty, finding places for things to go when I'm tryin to impress people with a clean house. The less we have, the more we have.

A surefire way to get rid of stuff is to give everything an expiration date. If I don't touch a baking pan at least once a year, for example, I don't need it. Even if someday I might host a party that might make use of a special ribbon-shaped bake pan, oh well. I'll hafta bake with one of the pans I kept and used regularly, instead. Hair care and personal beauty products might have a shorter shelf life. If I don't use that bottle of straightening balm at least once a month, I don't need it. And no, nobody wants it. Throw it away and remember this feeling the next time you're faced with a shelf full of expensive hair products that you think you've gotta have, Jen. Same with clothes, same with toys, same with keepsakes and cards and photos. It's not easy, throwing away or donating things I've spent money on or become attached to, but the feeling I have when I open that closet or cabinet and see my very favorite things sitting there, smiling at me from a clean and uncluttered spot on the shelf, makes me ridiculously happy. Renewal!

Let the light in....literally. Every morning I get up and walk around my house opening the curtains, even if it's not entirely light out yet. Now I am no morning person, so I look more like the stepmother than Cinderella when I throw open those shades, but when that morning light filters in it absolutely changes my mood. We as humans need light to see by but light is also used to judge the time of day, to orient us to our surroundings, to help us gauge the heat or coolness of the day. Light is vital to the management and stability of our internal clocks; allowing yourself to fall into rhythm with the light of each season helps your body undergo the natural cycles intended for all living creatures. Winter is a time of rest. Let yourself be cocooned in darkness a few hours early. If you're like me and you can't reasonably go to bed at 4:30PM, invest in some pretty lamps with gentle glows, or better yet, have a few nights where candlelight is your guide. Light is a fantastic source of energy and heat, so if you're feeling depressed or cold, get creative, lean on our shared sky, and let the light shine through. Renewal!

This is maybe my favorite suggestion of the week. One of the best things in the whole wide world is taking something that would've gone in the trash and turning it into something awesome I can use and enjoy for as many years as I want. There's a little bit of backstory to this see, I have two small kids, a young dog, a cat, and chickens. Nothing, and I mean nothing, in or outside of my home is safe from destruction. I've made the foolish mistake of purchasing nice, white, clean, pretty, fragile, Mama-only things before, and they almost always get broken, smashed, massacred, stained, scratched, or chewed. And it makes me angry when my things get broken. And then I get angry that I am angry about things getting broken.

It's way, way easier to furnish my home with things I don't care so much about. Things that I found on the side of the road. Things somebody gave me. Things destined for the trash. Free things. Lost things. Repurposed things. These things, when broken, do not represent a loss of money (something I constantly stress about) and are easy to replace (I'll just make another one). It's really, really freeing to have things I enjoy but do not need to protect or covet. My most recent project included an old kitchen window and some sample paints from the hardware store. I am not the best artist, and to some this thing is not worthy of primo-wall-space right over my dining table, but I love the bright colors and the reminder that spring is coming. I painted a symbol of rebirth in rejuvenating colors on a repurposed window...and I absolutely love it. And guess what...if it breaks, I can just toss it out, no tears necessary. Renewal!

Sometimes no amount of lipstick will make you wanna kiss a pig. I mean if we're really talking about kissing pigs here, I would kiss any of them with or without lipstick, no questions asked, but I digress....Sometimes you really do need new sheets. Sometimes your towels are gross and falling apart. Sometimes you see a beautiful throw pillow and you imagine yourself sinking into it and you smile and decide you're gonna buy it. It's ok to replace things in your home. The only warning I have is to be sure the items you're purchasing really are replacing something else - not simply adding to a collection. Be sure to live within your means and really think about the item you're replacing.  Bonus points if you take the old item and find a creative way to repurpose it.

I always, always splurge on bedding. My bed is my sacred space and blankets, to me, are like wrappable clouds from heaven. I own three sets of sheets, all of them GOTS-certified and organic, because I am a prissy bed queen and I gotta accept that. I take time a few times a month to air out my bed, wash my sheets, and cycle on through to the next set. I'm bonkers about soft blankets. This is my area of excess. But I feel like I redeem myself when the sheets start to go...because I turn them into pillowcases or curtains for the chickens (chickens need window treatments too). And then I buy new bedding. And I feel guilty about it for exactly 5-6 hours until I sink into that freshly-made bed and let out the most genuine and joyful sigh I've ever felt in my whole life. Replacing old, worn, broken things is ok. Consider it an improvement to your environment and enjoy every bit of the selection process. Renewal!

Renewing your home and the area around you can be as simple or as detailed as you like. If you find you enjoy the deep-cleaning process, or the decluttering process, or repurposing things around your house, do it again. If you hate it, try another idea. Pay special attention to the areas around your home where you spend the most time. A few small changes to your physical surroundings will positively impact you spiritually and emotionally...and what better way to start the new year?

I'd love to hear some of the ways you're renewing things around your home in the comments down below and as always, thank you so very much for reading :) Happy New Year!