The amazing story of two 40-something women on the path to matrimonial bliss

It just keeps getting better...

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Nature Ain't Reading My Calendar

This week has been a good reminder all around that all the lists, calendars and datebooks in the world don't exactly dictate the schedules or behaviors of the natural world.  We've got plants coming up in unsuspecting places in our garden, chickens working together to get through fencing to devour newly-planted cauliflower starts and our 3-month-long anticipated arrival of our well-researched new breeds of baby chicks has been upended by the mere fact that the eggs haven't hatched.  What?!  We've had the date circled on our kitchen calendar!  We did our part and got everything cleaned and ready!

I don't know if I speak for other gardeners and farmer sorts, but I think the unpredictable frustration is part of what gets us hooked.  We just never know what's going to happen.  This time of year always reminds me of my late Grandpa Darrell--he was a plant-early-take-risks sort of gardener and I remember many chats about frost damage, replants and battles with time and weather.  I must have got the bug from him as I am forever taking chances, wrangling disappointment and wondering what to try next. 

It is good to be reminded that I'm not really in charge--I may have bursts of control and the best of intentions, but in the end, there is a natural world that doesn't operate by my check lists and datebook scribblings.  Damn.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Gardening with Chickens?!

No one promised us a rose garden...or, more aptly, no one promised us that having a vegetable garden, a mini-fruit orchard and a free-ranging chicken flock would be an easy merging.  In fact, we read books, we debated, and we strategized and then we finally just took a leap of faith and decided we'd figure it out as we went along.

Well...we're going along.  Last year was easy peasy--first they were chicks and then by the time they were out in the fenced back yard, the garden was big enough that they couldn't really do much damage.  This spring is a whole different situation!  Now, our veggie garden is a series of grates, fences, plastic coverings and any other sort of barriers we can come up with to keep those persistent henpeckers from our tender plants!

Yesterday, as I was attempting to plant out the Brussels sprouts, and as I was getting one jumbo flat planted, I was not only pushing the girls away, but trying to keep them from devouring the other flat I had on standby to plant next.  Just so you know, "Shoo!" doesn't really work with chickens--especially tame ones who pretty much think they rule the yard.  They aren't dummies--they want the worms unearthed while I dig, the tender leaves of the sprouting plants and to get their big 'ole scratching chicken feet into the soft, yummy compost.

I remember  how adorably cute I thought it was last Fall when they followed me around as I did my garden clean-up chores--having them under foot, ready to snatch up a freshly planted onion bulb isn't nearly as adorable. So we're back to talking about whether to build a run--at least a temporary one while the veggies are getting started.  We love the idea of letting them free range and they've come to expect it; but we'd like to have some vegetables survive their feet and beaks too!  Meanwhile, we are facing off and we are two gals trying to outsmart a trio of determined hens...stay tuned!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Spring on our Urban Farm

Trudy--the Jersey Giant who has yet to lay an egg
The grass is getting thick and green, the Currant bush is leafing and the spring flower bulbs all seem to grow 2 inches a day.  Despite the fact that we have had rain, hail, frost and bouts of sunshine for our wacky weather lately, there can be no ignoring the signs of spring on our little urban farm on Cedar Street.

Our easy-going Buff Orpington hen, Hilda, is fluffing back up after a pretty raggedy moult that started after Christmas and our shiny Black Australorp, Ginny, has been laying now since late January. The wild card and severely late bloomer, Trudy, actually seems to be looking like she might figure out she has a hen's job to do pretty soon as well.

Hilda, our Buff Orpington who is on the upside after a late-Winter moult. Her comb and wattle are still a little muted and she's not quite back to laying yet.
 Meanwhile, we've got the brood box scrubbed with vinegar and ready for the arrival of the new babies this week. Brood box=big grey plastic tote! Our plan is to bring home three new ones mid-week so we can start this hen-raising ride all over again and see if we can't round out our beginner's flock to a respectable half dozen. We are choosing three more heritage breeds--although this time, we are going for medium-sized birds (our current girls are some of the largest heritage breeds available--Trudy being THE largest.)

Ginny--our Black Australorp has her shiny new post-moult fluff and she is up to laying about 4 big eggs a week.
Hyssop, Rosemary, Brussels Sprouts and Cauliflower awaiting their new home in our garden.
On the garden-growing side of things, we run out between rain showers and hail storms to prepare veggie beds, plant onions and work on the creation of our new herbs-for-bees beds in the front yard.  This time of year is always a mix of excitement, hard work and mud as we fight the urge to stay curled up inside for one more weekend, knowing full well that this really is the time to get a good start on the Brassicas and spring stuff if we want to have a good show of things!

And, in the window sills, our tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings are, hopefully, getting a solid start.  We are tolerating the boxes and trays as part of our current decor in anticipation of a fat smattering of vegetables this summer.  I'm always amazed how no matter how much planning and plotting I do during the winter, the first of March comes along and I already feel like I'm behind!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Cracking Open Creativity

Two dozen herb-dyed eggs--dipped and dyed naturally with herbs like hibiscus, curry powder, cinnamon, calendula, spinich powder, turmeric, black & green tea, and chaga mushroom--all for an Easter-inspired article.
Up until recently, I was the executive director of a small, dynamic, financially-strapped, forty-six-year-old nonprofit organization.  My days were full and long--meetings, grant proposals, donor visits, personnel management, committees, task forces, work plans, budgets, etc.  It was great, hard and inspiring work and I feel privileged to have been allowed to do it; I got to work with some of the most amazing people in the world--but the universe has moved me in another direction and it is taking some adjusting of the creative variety...

I am now doing marketing and public relations full time as part of a young, creative marketing department at a very upbeat, very environmentally aware and mission-driven company.  I don't have to supervise anyone and there are no 7 am or 8 pm meetings--but what is required is an almost constant focus on communication and creativity--ideas, answers, angles, images, and words.  My creative capabilities have gotten a bit constrained in the past few years so I feel myself having to stretch, crack open, and get back in touch with fun, playful, exciting, expansive, and collaborative processes. There is a whole lot of saying "Yes" and "Let's" and that just hasn't been my world for a while!

I have had a few different models for getting older and I feel myself making some intentional choices as I'm solidly hitting middle age. There are those who want to move into authority, comfort, and being a solid and safe expert; there are those who want to settle in quietly among their peers, looking back at the collective "good old days" and reminding people that in their day, things were done a certain, perfect way; and then there are those who let themselves be challenged, learn from younger folks and newer ideas, reinvent, let go and start over--I'm pretty sure that is the tract I'm on!

I don't have a need to feel settled and while I've learned a great deal, I imagine there are always people with newer and better ways and ideas.  I don't mind admitting when I've failed or its time to step aside and let someone else make the calls and there are always so many different ways to tackle a problem or a challenge. But, while problem-solving is a form of creativity, it isn't the all of it!

So, while I'm getting used to working with new people in a new space, I'm also trying to get back in touch with the less serious and weighted part of me--I'm trying to dig around in the back of my mental and spiritual closet and find the sassy jeans and the big jewelry; the slightly irreverant and punkish gal who can turn products into stories and find themes and captivating images in the every day--she's there--she just has to climb out from under the stacks of budgets and bitterness!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Spoiled for Tea

For our Valentine's gift to ourselves, we spent last weekend at a locally lesbian owned day spa getting hour-long massages.  While we were waiting to be called upstairs into the inner sanctum of Yanni music and warm towels, we served ourselves up a cup of hot tea.  Teri turned to me and made a pinchy face after the first sip of ordinary tea bag tea and whispered "You've spoiled me for regular tea and it only took a few weeks!" True.  Who knew how quickly we'd become absolutely addicted to fresh, loose leaf teas?

In the matter of just a few weeks, we went from skeptical doubters, clinging to our grocery store bought boxes of chamomile and mint tucked in little paper pouches, to full-on adventurers--mixing pots of nettle root, dandelion leaf and spearmint.  Teri has collected a half dozen different types of tea infusers--including one in the shape of a tiny metal robot.  We've made it by the cup and by the pot and, I confess, I've even thrown a handful of herbs into a big beer mug and poured the hot water over; slurping in the floaty leaves as I drink.  Ah, what a slippery slope to strawberry leaf and dried hibiscus!

It's good stuff--the taste far surpasses anything we've had this side of freshly harvested from our garden, but I don't think that is the all of it.  We've been enjoying the experimentation, the ceremony, the opening up of jars and taking big deep smells of leafy, rooty, flowery goodness.  We've started to do a little research, trying to educate ourselves on what herbs are supposed to be good for what, but to be honest, that part hasn't really turned us on as much as just the flavors and feel-good act of sipping freshly brewed herbal tea.  We have become addicts and snobs all in a matter of a month!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Girl Scout Cookies!

It's that time.  No, not Valentine's Day or Spring or President's Day or even St. Patrick's Day.  It's another sort of celebration of the green--It's Girl Scout Cookie Time (GSCT--not to be confused with PST or any other ST--as in standard time). Today, we plunked down $20 for 5 boxes of Girl Scout cookies...and we did it for a dozen different reasons and without the tiniest smidge of guilt.
Yes, the cookies are yummy, but honestly, there is no other time of the year where I would pay $4 for 14 coconut and chocolate cookies (yup, the Samoas are my favorite) and there is no other time of the year where I will eat that entire box of 14 cookies in one day.  But, it feels like my duty; it feels like the most feminist, pro-lesbian, pro-free enterprise, loyal thing to do all around. 
Teri and I have both been Cookie Moms; we both have tales of stacking, counting, and selling cookies out of the backseat of the family car.  In the years we've been together, there has not been a GS cookie-free February.  We've driven around town looking for a card table and brown beanies, we've pre-ordered and, like today, we've rushed through our grocery shopping to make sure we got back outside to let loose of our twin tens in time to walk away with a few boxes of Thin Mints and Samoas.
It feels especially revolutionary this year as the Boy Scouts are finally getting their day in court (sort of) for some pretty intense homophobic and hateful carryings on.  While they've been busy with their hate and discontent, the Girl Scouts have always been pretty darn inclusive, empowering and not the slightest bit fussy about the Ls or the Ts in GLBTIQ--at least as far as I know.
My daughters went to Girl Scout camp, sold cookies and sewed badges to their chocolate brown Brownie vests but I don't think that's the only reason I still buy cookies.  Honestly, it just seems like an awesomely good thing to do.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sweets for the Sweet!

I am not always the world's best gift-giver--mostly because I am neither a good shopper nor a good consumer.  With the way our birthdays pile up right after Christmas and then Valentine's Day comes right on the heels of those--sheesh! I'm not afraid to admit I struggle.

This Valentine's Day, I decided to go low-key and heartfelt.  I actually MADE everything--which was pretty fun--even the card and, just so you know, cut and paste is not exactly where I shine.  What you see are two recipes I made up: Mint Chocolate Body Scrub (smells incredible and is entirely edible--just in case a gal gets a chocolate craving while in the shower) and Lavender Shortbread Hearts...

I will share if y'all would like to make your own versions!

Mint Chocolate Body Scrub:

1/4 cup or so of cocoa butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 Tbspn cocoa powder
1/4 cup sweet almond oil
1/2 vanilla bean
15 or so drops of peppermint essential oil

Melt the cocoa butter in a glass Pyrex bowl over boiling water or in the top of a double boiler (glass cleans easily).  Meanwhile, mix the brown sugar, cocoa powder, and scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean (discard the pod or, since I make my own Vanilla Extract, I just drop the pod into the jar of that).  When the cocoa butter has melted, stir in the almond oil and then the rest of the ingredients.  Add the peppermint essential oil.  Stir and cool.  That is so it!

Lavender Shortbread Hearts

1/2 cup lavender sugar (I keep a jar of sugar with a cheesecloth wrapped bundle of good lavender flowers in it--after a couple weeks, it becomes all infused with lavender yummyness)
1 cup sweet butter
2 cups flour
1 Tbspn good quality lavender flowers

Cream the sugar, lavender flowers and butter in a bowl (I use our stand mixer, but you could also do this in a food processor or with a hand mixer or even by hand.) Add the flour and mix until it almost forms a ball.  This can take a while.  You can chill the dough here if it is too soft.  Roll out and cut into heart shapes.  Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet in a preheated 300 degree oven.  I bake them for about 15 minutes or until the bottoms are just starting to brown.  They will be soft put not at all gooey so handle carefully.  Let them cool for a minute or two on the sheet before you remove them to a cooling rack. You could frost them if you like, but I think they are delicious as they are--buttery, with a nice initial taste of lavender and just the right sweetness.  They look pretty adorable too.

So, consider these my Valentine's Day offerings all around--after all, Love is meant to be shared!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Trading Places

Tonight, I am home--baking bread, cooking pork ribs that were first well-rubbed with garlic, salt and freshly ground peppercorns, and then roasted in a spicy mango barbecue sauce.  I am making some smashed parsnips and potatoes too.  I am reading, doing some other chores and generally taking care of little domestic-y things that I enjoy.  Tonight, Teri is out tabling at the her second event this weekend. While I worked in the garden yesterday and played with the chickens--she was at a workshop doing her best to be an awesome board member.  I feel a little guilty, I feel a little like I might be missing out--but I don't feel enough of either to give up my evening at home baking bread and roasting ribs...

One of the truths Teri likes to make very clear is that I don't speak for her.  I have tended to be a bit more public in my work and volunteer stuff, but she has done a dandy job of finding her own passions and causes.  We've been known to tackle some projects together, but lately, I think we've both enjoyed my moving into the background a bit and making room for her to take up the sash, so to speak!

Sometimes, I think the secret to life is to just listen to the yearnings and tantrums of the soul--it pulls us in the directions we need to go.  For me, there have been times when that means a public face, a seat on a committee or board, or deep involvement in the problems of the world.  Other times, those yearnings are for more creativity, problem-solving in a more immediate sphere, learning a new skill or task, or just participating in the simplest pacing of a day.  Sometimes, it's her turn and sometimes, it's my turn--I think we both sort of groove on the reality that in our relationship, we get to shake it up, wear different hats, and no one gets stuck playing one role for long.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Pots, Jars & Concoctions

We have been embarking on a new exploration in our little world.  Actually, it is a rehydration of an old interest for me, but a relatively new one for Teri.  I'm not sure which came first--the yearning to reconnect with a more expanded world of growing, gardening, herbs and natural creation, or my new job in the marketing department of an organic herb company.  I sort of went searching, but it sort of found me too.  Regardless, it is a bit serendipitous!

At the ending of last summer, Teri and I started our expanded plans for this year's garden and yard.  We decided that we would get ourselves ready for bees and that meant planting more of our favorite herbs and plants--namely, lavender, bee balm (monarda), rosemary, and calendula.  This led us to thinking about making our own soap, which led us to thinking about making creams and salves and bath salts and the like, and this led us to thinking about natural and organic cleaning and cleaners, which got us to thinking about toxins and plastics and other unsavory things and what we could do about them--so here, we are: our home-built bee hive box off-gassing in the gayrage, calendula tincture steeping away in a dark corner of the kitchen, two new raised beds built among the others, and jars of lavender honey, pine resin soaking in sunflower oil, and a gallon jar filled with dried chamomile flowers all tucked away in the pantry.

Oh, my Lord!  We are evolving into those kooky people! In days past, surely two women living together stirring up concoctions and talking to their chickens would be considered eccentric at best, but most likely wicked heretical witches.  Seriously.  And we have two independently-minded black cats too!

While I've been mixing up concoctions in preparation for our foray into soap and lotion making, Teri has been exploring the wonderful world of tea.  It's been kinda fun watching as she's tried out different tea strainers and hot cups of yummy dried herbs in various combinations. As she's been telling it, who knew she'd like dandelion leaf or fresh spearmint? We have had to dedicate an entire corner cupboard to the growing collection of different jars filled with a plethora of colors and smells.  It sort of looks like a middle school class photo with the tall and the short and the skinny and the wide jars all nestled in there full of leaves, flowers, stems and barks.

It's definitely fun and it's definitely inspiring some creative interest in both of us as we learn what plants do what--whether it's the anti-inflammatory properties of calendula or the antioxidants found in blackberry leaves--or just the simple pleasures of opening up our big canister of lavender flowers and taking a big whiff!

All in all it is a good reminder that we're never too old to learn and explore new things and, honestly, nothing seems to bring the world back in order like a nice hot cup of tea...

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Happy Birthday to...Me

I am starting the morning of my 46th birthday eating blueberry muffins that my son, Stuart, made me and drinking the trusty cup of coffee. Some birthdays have been big, obnoxious celebrations for me and others have been more folksy commemorations.  This one has been overshadowed by other life events and, true confession, I've been a bit apathetic.

Nope, not depressed or anti-birthday, just not exactly whoo-hoo-and-a-cake-a-flame-with-candles. It's not like me.  I know this. But it feels as though it ought to be honored as it is just the same.

46 is not a very glamorous year.  We haven't had a 46th president of the United States yet and the only famous person I can think of who died at this age was John F. Kennedy (in keeping with the presidential theme.) My grandparents were grandparents by the time they were my age and, as my daughter, Lucy, pointed out--this is the year when she is exactly half my age and the same age I was when I gave birth to her.  It all seems more of a riddle than a celebration.

Now, don't get me wrong, I still love birthdays and I'm thrilled to be able to claim another year--it all seriously beats the alternative.  I'm savoring the angel food cake Teri made me and appreciating all the cards and well-wishes; I'm soluting my famous birthday buddies (Chris Rock and Ashton Kutcher) and wondering if anyone made them blueberry muffins and angel food cake. I'll march myself off to work and tell everyone that today is my birthday--surely my young coworkers will think 1967 sounds like a hundred years ago; I'll call my mother and wish her a happy labor day--I'll do the deal, but it just might not be all glitter, rainbows and balloons this year.  Happy Birthday to me.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Can You Hear Me Now?

I am not going to lie--there is a part of me that wishes relationships (parent-child; spousal, work, friends, you name it) could be smooth sailing all the time.  It still perplexes me how things can seem amazingly simpatico one day and two days later, there can be such a disconnect and misunderstandings abound.  You may as well be whispering to each other from across a crater.  It confuses me and, straight up, makes me a tad cranky!

I don't have all the answers, but, I have learned a few things.  Speaking for me, much of the time, I just need to feel genuinely heard.  I'm not looking for solutions or absolution or any other lution--I just want to feel like my experience, version, imaginings, emotions, etc. are receiving a bit of validation.

I think I know my kids pretty well--but I don't know them all the time.  Especially now that they are grown and living on their own.  I try hard not to define them as who I knew them to be 5, 10 or even 20 years ago.  Still, they have huge chunks of their lives that really have absolutely nothing to do with me.  We may have a great conversation one day and I'll feel like I know right where they are at; and then two weeks later, I feel like I fell asleep and lost track for 100 years!  

It can be tough to be sweet to the people you see the most.  How is it that our best manners, kindest smiles and friendliest banter seem to be reserved for strangers, acquaintances and those whom we barely know? We listen intently as the person on line at the grocery store tells us their recent woeisms (as in woe-is-me-isms; a term invented by my daughter, Lilly) but shrug off tales of the inner spiritual churnings of our closest friends?  Why is it one is easier to hear than the other?

I am compelled by connection and communication; you might say I crave authentic communication (and maybe that is why I do the work I do); it is one of the reasons I am less of a stickler for perfect grammar and classic sentence structure than some of the other writers/grammar zealots out there; all I care about is: did communication occur?  How easy was it for connection, understanding and the transfer of thoughts and feelings to go down? I don't really give a hoot if you use perfect spelling or Oxford commas; I don't really care if people mispronounce words when we are chatting--if I understand them; if communication is happening, then good things are afoot!

So, it would probably stand to reason that lack of groovy communication and disconnect are realities of this human experience that get me down--especially with those I spend most of my living time with!  I wish it was smooth, easy, consistent but, as Teri reminds me when I get frustrated about this, we are all different people.  Other folks are not merely extensions of me and we are often speaking different personal languages; it takes work to get and stay connected and communication is the journey--not the end result.