This Week’s Project Download…

Happy Maple Syrup Sunday!

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In Maine we celebrate Maple Syrup Sunday on the second to the last Sunday in March.  Did you know that Maine is the second largest producer of maple syrup in the U.S.?

Here are some other interesting factoids:

– It takes 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to make one gallon of pure Maine Maple Syrup.

– It takes freezing cold nights and warm sunny days with temperatures in the 40’s and up before the sap will run.

– It takes approximately 40 years for a sugar maple tree to reach tapping size.

Our home has once again taken on the challenge of tapping our own trees.  Each year is a bust for us when it comes time to make syrup.  But I am determined to one day get it right, without having to spend thousands of dollars on industrial equipment.  We shall see what the next couple of weeks bring.  Hopefully it will be some syrup… even if it’s just a small pint!

I didn’t get much done project wise.  I think I needed some down time after all the stress from the Pinewood Derby.  I also needed a couple of days to get this house in order before my husband came home.  His patrol is finally over and the kids and I will have some time with him before he takes off yet again in another month.

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One thing husband and I did was start some cool weather crops down in the basement.  Using grow lights we (or should I say he) planted cabbage, brussel sprouts, onions, peas and beans.   We are so excited to finally get the garden started this year.  We have so many ideas and plans.  I hope to have an over abundance of crops.  Enough to share with our friends and neighbors!

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I love knitting, although I love yarn more.  I wish I had more time to knit and learn more knitting techniques.

Last summer, when I found out I was having another baby girl, I began knitting a blanket.  Here we are over 8 months later and the blanket is no where near finished.  I’ve promised myself that this darn blanket is going to be finished by the time summer arrives.  That should give me more than enough time… right?  Let’s hope so!  Or else Baby Girl will end up using this blanket as a towel cloth instead!

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This week I read “Touch Blue” by Cynthia Lord.  The story takes place in Maine so, of course, I had to enjoy the book.  I always love how authors depict Maine and New England in general.  It’s so refreshing and peaceful.  I can literally smell the ocean air and feel the sand gritting between my toes.  It’s fantastic.  In “Touch Blue” families volunteer as foster parents to meet minimum state requirements to keep their school open on the island where they live.  The story focuses on 11-year old Tess and her new, older, foster brother Aaron, a veteran of the foster care system.  I particularly like how each chapter begins with a superstition.  My favorite is Chapter 16, ‘If you write your wish beneath the stamp on a letter, the letter will carry the wish with it.”

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Life’s Lesson… What is Winning Worth…

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Ahh… not only is spring around the corner, it’s Pinewood Derby time.  The Pinewood Derby is a racing event for Cub Scouts in the Boy Scouts.  Cub Scouts, with the help of parents, build their own cars from wood, usually from kits that contain a block of pine, plastic wheels and metal axles.  Truth be told, I didn’t know what the derby was until last year when my son joined the Cub Scouts.

The derby came right at a time when my husband began a 2-month patrol.  If you ask me (and him), horrible timing.  I panicked.  I have no clue how to build things, let alone build things that are suppose to move.  A neighbor offered to have my son build his car with their son.  At first it sounded appealing but after a lot thinking I knew this was a project my son and I needed to tackle on our own, even if dad wasn’t around.  In the end, we did it!  My son and I built a derby car!

At one point in the building phase I considered making a Facebook status that said, “who needs a man when a tool-deficient mom can do this?”  But I quickly remembered the kind old man at Lowe’s who quickly showed me how to operate my dremel tool in 10 seconds (I tried for hours at home and couldn’t figure it out).  I remembered the YouTube video (featuring a man) showing me how I’ll sand and polish the wheels.  Last, but not least, I remembered the numerous emails back and forth to my husband asking his advice.  And, most importantly, I reminded myself that this project was not about me, but about my son.  About us working together.  So, instead, I kept my lips sealed.

You see the whole idea of the Pinewood Derby is to encourage a bond between a boy and his parent/guardian.  They should work  together.  And, yes, they should build a car that looks cool and goes fast.  But the overall focus should be on fun and growth.  Right?!?!  At least that’s what I think.  However, I get the distinct impression that the derby is more about dad’s flexing their muscles desperately attempting to out race every other grown man.

I have worked hard with my son.  My son drew his design and was very adamant that his design was “the one”.  When it came time to saw I did the work.  But he helped sand and he painted.  He guided me every step of the way, down to the “x marks the spot” carving he wanted on his car.  It truly was a project he was 100% involved in and had 100% input.

These past few days have been an overflow of emotions.  I’ve broken down in tears three times… all over this damn derby car.

It all began when a fellow parent posted pictures of his son’s derby on a social media site.  Looking at the car I immediately knew it was a car completely made by the parent.  As I looked at that car the only thing I could think of was how much my son will be disappointed because his car didn’t look as “cool”.  I began to obsess at how I could just do something to make his car better.  And as awful as it sounds, I even contemplated buying a car on eBay.  Thank goodness for my husband and my wonderful kids.  They quickly snapped me out of this horrible funk.  However, it led me to do some research and reading on the whole concept of competitive parenting, parents taking on their children’s assignments as their own.

Did you know that a recent study found that up to 70% of kids will plagiarize, cheat and pass off others works as their own before they graduate college?  The study suggested that kids are under greater pressure than ever before to succeed, and that they have a greater number of daily stressors than any other generation.  It’s a tough world out there, I get that, but does this mean parents need to start doing their children’s work for them?  Don’t you think that by doing more for our kids we are actually doing less, creating the inability to learn about life’s lessons on their own?

This derby has inspired me to create a rule in our house:  Projects will be done by our kids.  My husband and I buy materials, advise and even make suggestions.  We encourage the kids and guide them but we also make sure they take ownership of the project/task.  They need to learn how to develop skills to complete a project from beginning to end.  This new rule came at a time when my daughter was also assigned a project in school.  Sh needed to create a poster on why our family loves Maine.  It was a family project.  My daughter insisted I come up with all the reasons why we love Maine.  I helped, but I left the rest to her.  And guess what?  She came up with the best reason why our family loves Maine, on her own!

Whether it’s a derby car or some other project, when parents give their children sufficient guidance and freedom to let their imaginations soar (without imposing their own viewpoints or worse, taking over entire projects) we give our kids the confidence and self satisfaction that helps them grow into secure, assertive adults.

I like to think I chose the high road on this one.  Was I tempted to cheat after seeing all of those pictures of glossy pieces of wood and glue?  Hell yes I was, but I didn’t.

We did this together and made the most of what we have, time and love.

And that is what I love the idea of living simply, and the whole homesteading movement.  I think perhaps Robert Frost was right.  Choosing the road less traveled may very well make all the difference in the world.

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**At the completion of writing this blog I came across a movie on Netflix, “Down & Derby”.  It’s a comedy that satirizes the desperate behavior of parents who compete with one another through their children.  It was a hoot to watch… and made me thankful I never went off the deep end.

**To read Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” click here.

Be the Gardner of Your Mind…

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This morning as I sat in front of my laptop thinking about my next blog I received an email reply from my father.  A brief rewind…  my parents are in the process of preparing for retirement.  We have convinced them to leave sunny San Diego and come here to Maine, at least part-time.  Things are now starting to progress and we are now preparing to build an attachment on to our house.  There has been a lot of  discussion back and forth on design, location, etc.  The hottest of topics… a garage.

This was the dialogue this morning…

Husband (via steel maritime vessel):  “What about a carport instead of a full walled garage?

Me:  “No way the old man will agree.  He has to wipe down his car every day.  He’ll have a hellava time doing it on days like today.  (We got another foot of slushy snow).

Husband:  “What if we got horses and hitching posts instead?”

Me:  “I’m in!”

Father:  “There’s always a smart ass in the crowd.  We can always say the hell with it altogether and there are no worries.”

A conversation that could have been silly banter back and forth quickly turned sour and negative.  This quick email exchange made me realize that it’s easy to fall prey to negative thinking.  Having negative thoughts can cause a fog where it’s almost impossible to loosen up, have fun, and see the brighter side.

Negative thoughts drain you of energy and keep you from being in the present moment.  The more you give in to your negative thoughts, the stronger they become.  On the contrary, a small positive thought can have the same effect blossoming into a beautiful outcome.

As we all know when we start to have negative thoughts, shifting our focus to something positive is much easier said than done.  But, I have found, it’s the only way I can personally get turned around.  Nothing gets me moving in the right direction more easily than “choosing” to look for the silver lining in my life.  Frankly, I just don’t have time to be or deal with a Nasty Nelly.

I’m not saying everyone should walk around happy all day long, skipping down the street, whistling show tunes.  I’m also not saying that happy thoughts is the cure all for every ailment known to  mankind.  What I am saying is that if we all just lighten up just a little bit we can avoid going down a path that can be potentially painful and unnecessary.

It wasn’t long ago where “I chose” to see the worst in everything.  If I had to pick a phrase my husband would use to describe this time it would be the “duck and cover” period.  He even got the kids in to it.  When he would calmly say, “Hey, I think it’s going to be a full moon tonight” it was code speak for, “Mommy is going to go bug crap crazy soon.  Seek cover.”  To this day if my kids see a full moon I can hear them whisper, “uh oh”.

Fortunately for me, my third child was born, and “I chose” to re-focus on my family and home.  As a way to reinforce my newly acquired outlook I decided to start a blog and began to enjoy the life around me.

Here are some things I do to help overcome negative thoughts, perhaps they’ll work for you, too:

1.  Meditate or do Yoga.

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My favorite is hot yoga.  When the husband is away I do what I can at home, especially  with a little one.  Even listening to meditation music at night before bed does wonders.  I’m blessed I have two older children who, believe it or not, dim the lights, turn on the music, take the baby, and just let me relax.  Who cares if it’s only for 5 minutes before the crying and fighting starts.  5 minutes is better than nothing!  Meditation and yoga helps me stay present – the only moment, the most important moment.

2. Smile.

We all gotta do it.  It really does help change your mood and relieve stress. And, believe it or not, it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown.

3. Surround yourself with positive people.

When you’re stuck in a negative spiral, talk to people who can put things into perspective and won’t feed your negative thinking.  Whether it’s a Facebook group I’m part of, fellow bloggers, or a neighbor, surrounding ones’ self with those who encourage and support me in my goals keeps us positive.

4. Change the tone of your thoughts from negative to positive.

You don’t know how many times my husband calls/emails and tells me his schedule has changed and won’t be home when expected.  The old me would instantly freak out and get mad.  And, yes, perhaps, a few threats of divorce.  What I failed to see is that the change was not his doing.  So, as a family, we make do with the cards we are dealt, and remain thankful for our strong family unit that is fortunate enough to live in a beautiful state.

5.  Don’t play the victim.  You create your life – take responsibility.  

If I am unhappy with a situation I think of what I can do to change it.  We always have the choice to make change happen.

6.  Help Someone.

Every so often I like to take the focus away from me and do something nice for another person.  I admit, though, my husband is much better at this than I am.  When the Nemo blizzard hit I plowed the driveway of an older couple up the street from my home.  I am no expert snow plower… I only took out a small tree, a flower bed… then there was some sod… hmm, I digress.  I did what I could.  In the end, my neighbor was happy(ish), and I felt great about myself.  It’s addictive.  Choose to help someone else.  Random acts of kindness last forever and make us feel great about who we are.

7.  Remember that no one is perfect and let yourself move forward.  

It’s easy to dwell on mistakes.  Learn from them and move forward.  I always remind myself that my mistakes led to where I am today… my family, this home, this present life surrounded by nature and clean air.

8.  Sing/Dance.

I’m an awful dancer, and even worse at singing.  But when I do it I feel great.  Singing to “Call Me Maybe” in the car with my kids, or dancing in front of my baby while she’s in her bouncy seat… it’s an easy way to cleanse, providing quick, and cheap, stress relief.   

9. List five things that you are grateful for right now.

When things are really crazy I stop, breathe, and appreciate what I already have. Here’s my list: My husband, my children, my home, my health, and my new found path in life.  This week I am also especially grateful for electricity.

10. Read/Write.

Whether it’s a book, positive quotes, keeping a journal, or writing a blog.  Reading and writing is an amazing outlet.  Just writing this blog has already made me forget the emails I exchanged with my father this morning.  I was able  to go back and write to him as if nothing had happened, in a normal tone.

In the end… remember this…

Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

This post was featured at the Homestead Barn Hop

Barn-Hop

Leap of Faith…

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Life only happens ONCE.  And it is either what you make it, or what you allow it to be.  

When I began my blog I had one mission:  to be as debt-free as possible, which should allow me to stay home with my kids and take up homesteading.  It’s been a wonderful year of self-discovery, focus, education, and, yes, many sacrifices.

Though the odds seemed stacked against me, I am happy to say that my first goal has been achieved.

Last week I took the biggest leap in my journey… I quit my job.  As terrifying and nerve racking as it was I felt completely liberated.  I’m not going to cry.  I’m not fretting.  I’m not second guessing myself.  I am savoring this moment and looking forward to the future.  “I’m all in”, as my husband says.

Most folks would slap me silly for leaving my job.  In retrospect I did give up a fairly big position, full of advancement potential and salary to boot.  I am also very aware of the situation in today’s economy where there are thousands of people looking for employment who are not as fortunate as I am.  However, when balanced against my goals, after months of nail biting and angst over the decision, I surprisingly sailed out that door and I haven’t looked back yet.

Am I crazy?  Perhaps.  But I was not happy any longer.  I needed something more.

My life has taken a dramatic turn over the past few years.  I’ve always teased myself (and have been teased) that I’m the black sheep of the family.  I’m much like my late grandmother, Rosie.  These years have reinforced it.  So rather than fighting it, I choose to embrace my heritage.  I am what I am and I like to think Rosie and I would see things the same way.  I have her traits, her preferred way of life, her somewhat obnoxious attitude.  It’s “the Rosie gene” that has guided me to the realization that I must do what makes me happy in life.

When my grandmother died she was still very young.  I was only 16 at the time.  It was unexpected.  What made it most heartbreaking was that she still had so much to give, and had such a fire for life.  She always had something going on… her garden to tend, her cooking, her trips to the lake with her best friend Babe, her collections of chickens, and her old, yet cool, light blue VW Rabbit.  I would have learned so much from her.  She was just a lunch lady at the local high school who always had a waiting line because of her good cooking.

Although she didn’t make a lot of money her life was rich with accomplishment.  That is what I aspire to be.  A person beyond the flashy dollar sign and the latest gadget.  I want to downshift.  To get away from “living competitively”… job stress, consumerism, and feeling I have to live up to someone else’s expectations.  I am not okay with this anymore.  It no longer fits… if it ever did.

So, goodbye rat race.  I am going to pursue the things that enrich my soul.  For me, I am choosing to be home with my children.  I choose to live a lifestyle that may seem simplistic to some, but to me it has all the potential of the rich loamy soil in my garden.  I can grow anything with what I have.

I’ve heard life is what you make of it.  If so, I see a challenging, exciting road ahead of me.  I am going to make something I can be proud of.

And so can you…

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This post was featured at the Homestead Barn Hop

Barn-Hop

No regrets…

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I recently read an article that listed the Top 5 regrets of the dying, created by Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who cared for patients during the last 12 weeks of their life.

Courtesy of The Guardian, here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

So, in the end it’s the little things, folks.  Not the big monetary “stuff” you’ve accumulated.  Not the “status”.  Just the simplicity of life itself.

Will you have any regrets?

Technology at its Finest…

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Technology has come a long way hasn’t it?  I remember the days of the 8-track tape, cassette tape, rotary phone, knob dials on television, dot matrix printers, and the walkman.  In today’s world everything is at your fingertips, all with a simple ‘click’.

I love technology.  I certainly wouldn’t be here typing away if I didn’t.  I’ve ordered online.  I do my fair share of Facebook posts.  I upload cute pictures of my kids via Instagram.  I’ve even ordered some burgers online.

But you know what I haven’t experienced… until today?  A virtual playdate.  Yes, a virtual playdate.

There is an app out there called “ooVoo”.  I’m sure most of you have heard about it.  ooVoo is a video and instant messaging app .  It’s basically like Facetime (for all you Apple fanatics), but you can chat with up to 12 people.  I only know this because yesterday my daughter asked if she could download ooVoo on her iPod as well as the home iPad.  As soon as that app was downloaded the door to her room was closed and she disappeared.

Now normally I wouldn’t have allowed my child to disappear in her room for hours fully hypnotized by today’s technological advances.  But all I could hear was four girls, friends since they were in pre-school, giggling and chatting away about the silliest things.  And when evening came they met up again after their showers and all picked out which pajamas they would wear.  I don’t know this for certain (because my old, batty self was asleep within minutes of setting my head on the pillow) but I’m sure they all fell asleep together while online.  For me, that is the awesomest form of a sleepover.  No real girl drama to deal with, no crazy screeching sounds… and if there was a simple click of the red ‘end call’ button would cease it all.

The next morning it was another ooVoo day.  Totally bad mom for me to allow yet another virtual playdate take place.  But you know what?  Every time I checked on my daughter she was online crafting with her gal pals.  At one point they were all on sewing machines.  Yeah, that would not be possible if they were all at my house.  Lunch time came and they sat down and ate together.  Then came the painting of nails… each girl on the screen polishing away.

It’s okay… I know you’re still trying to grasp this whole concept, but it really worked and it worked well.  Not only did it make my daughter happy to see her best friends over the long holiday weekend, it connected them on a level where there was no fighting, no yelling… no drama!  Just 100% pure girl’s day.  And, for me, that was worth it… even if I get criticism over this new found virtual playdate concept.  If anyone, Scary Mommy would support me.

P.S. Tomorrow my daughter and her girlfriends have a “real” in-person playdate.  They’re getting out to enjoy the outdoors up in our neck of the woods… ice skating and sledding.

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It’s 2013… Another Journey Begins!

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As I close the door on 2012 and open a new one in to 2013 I am excited for what lies ahead.

2012 was the year to focus on my ultimate goal.. to be as debt-free as possible, which will allow me to stay home with my kids and take up homesteading.  I am happy to say that goal was achieved and I am fully prepared to bid adieu to the corporate working world and say hello to the simplistic, homesteading way of life.

I can stay home, raise my kids, take care of my family, garden, learn new skills and, top if off, raise some chickens and get some beehives.

Thus today begins another journey.  Join me for another year of storytelling, education, soul searching, and, yes, some more husband belly rubbing!