Sunday, 25 January 2015

Midwestern Wanderer

"Agriculture, Alcohol, Loneliness, and Other Motifs of the Midwest," is the title of an essay reviewing a favourite literary journal of mine.

Without reading the article at all, the title stayed with me.

I mean, this is what people think of the Midwest. Not a question. This is what I think of the land I live in. This is my landscape. Living here for the last twenty years has not changed my opinion of the landscape. I wrote a poem that sums up these feelings- lust, dust, and rust. Things dissolve into each other. 

I am having a really hard time finding subjects for my photography assignments. Right now, real life is dreary and blah. Browns and muted yellows against a grey sky. The house is messy, the kids are restless, I spend my afternoons writing in a grocery store cafeteria or next to a pile of laundry in my bedroom. Sometimes I imagine that pile suddenly animating like the Trash Heap in Fraggle Rock to give me advice and foretell my future, "There is more laundry to be washed! Always!" Then collapsing back into a heap of unfolded clothes for me to fret and worry over instead of writing. Like right now.

The loneliness and the dreary dead landscape view out my window is enough to nudge me toward the Scotch bottle for sure. Fulfilling the Midwestern legacy put forth by the article title. I resist and instead fill my cup with little cinnamon candies and plough on, word after word.

When I was sixteen and living in a small town in Illinois where everyone pretended to actually be from Chicago when they moved on to college out of state, my father told me we were moving to Iowa. My friends joked that my days would be filled with cow tipping and riding escalators for fun and that I would grow fat eating corn. Which is funny, considering that the town I moved from is more rural than the city I moved to in Iowa (Des Moines), though the year I moved here there were some unfortunate news headlines about teenagers riding escalators at the mall and getting clothing caught in the teeth of the moving stairs. Funny.

The Midwest sure is a strange place to live.  A landlocked, wet prairie, desolate, beautiful place to be exiled in. I have said this before, that I feel like mermaid stuck on land, homesick for something unattainable ever again, or maybe for something I have never known. Still, I am coming to this thought, unravelling at the seems, and wondering if maybe this homesickness and heartbreak I feel isn't for a physical place, but rather a yearning to be accepted by a place. I have spent the last year travelling all over and not once did I land my feet on the ground in a place that felt more like home, than my own farm. I had moments of bliss and beauty, vistas and magical places to roam, but never did I feel more loved and safe and beautiful than in my husband's embrace.

This was driven home to like a steak knife to my heart, in a bar in Prague, left alone at the table with another academic who was completely ugly drunk. He was pushing at me, asking why my husband would let me travel alone, why would I travel half way around the world if my bonds were secure and sacred? This is certainly an interesting question, even out of the context of this drunk stranger trying to get me to go home with him for the night. Why would my husband let me travel on my own? He could not stop me, not with pleas nor violence. I am my own wandering soul. He knows that and encourages and nurtures my dreams. Why would I go? Because I need to see. I need to climb to the top of a thousand year old church and breathe in the history and pray and be. I need to walk twenty miles until my shoes fall apart. I need to place my feet where revolutions have shaken the foundation of centuries of tradition, baptised in blood. Touch the bones that are said to cure blindness. I need to wander physically. My heart does not. My heart is with my family, sacred and secure, and I bring my stories and photos home to them. I am tethered by my heartstrings and my devotion and without that, would be completely lost.

And the evening ended with me threatening to gut the drunk bastard with my car keys if he dared try the grabby hand thing under the table again. You don't mess with a Midwestern farmer, even if she is on her own in a foreign country. I may have also made the threat in a Scottish drawl, strange as that may be. Goodness. I do thank the drunkard for the story though, without his terrible behaviour my last night in Prague would have been less story worthy, perhaps.  Less broken glass, at the very least.

And so, even though this place I am right now is dreary and cold, the food is fantastic and the present company close to my heart, always.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Balance of Ego and Vunrability

When I signed up for the photography class, I was kind of full of myself. I mean, I have published art photography and sold framed prints. I love my own work, I find it pleasing.

But I have never taken a class, barely understood the how to books I bought, and just rely on my instinct and auto setting. Finding and framing the moments.

I walked into class, the very basic beginning class at our local community college. First, there are students in the class that I am pretty sure have taken classes from me online. I'm on the other side of the fence now and it is really hard to readjust to being a student instead of in charge of the classroom dynamic. Second, there are professional photographers in the class. Actual professionals with successful businesses, mostly portrait and weddings. There are also students who have never used a camera other than their phone to take selfies and/or are semi literate (can't read or understand the syllabus, the class notes, or the assignments). I am too used to being the smartest person in the room and it is unsettling.

And necessary.

There are other times that I feel like an impostor. I've written about that before. That my lack of experience or credentials will reveal me to be a big faker. The thing is, over and over, I have faked it until it was real. At least, that's what it feels like. I was a city girl, in Target muck boots, pretending to farm- now I teach others farming ethics and techniques. I was a stumbling 1st year professor/grad student using a template syllabus and borrowed textbooks and assignments and ten years later I am a seasoned professor, creating my own lesson plans and creating new syllabus that others use.

I am taking the class because I love photography and need help learning the technologies involved. The math is really getting me. The vocabulary is confusing me. The technology is complicated. It feels very much like when I attempted fiber arts, but instead of my fingers fumbling, my mind is tangling up around the textbook concepts and camera settings.

Still, I am hanging in there. Dedicated and determined.

Here's a link to the work I am posting for the class (and some of my older work):
Danelle Stamps Flickr

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Midnight Writing

I've said this before: everything seems more meaningful when done at midnight. Baking bread? Mundane. Baking bread at midnight? Magical. Writing poems? Meh. Writing poems at midnight- 3am? Brilliant and beat poetish. Cooking anything, making art, even just listening to the things outside are just simply more interesting in the middle of the night.

Except when one is battling coffee induced insomnia and it is one in the morning, then everything is just freaking annoying.

So, here is my Eat The Frog post for the morning.

This weekend Chad and I had a date night. We went to an antique shop and then had dinner with friends and played Cards Against Humanity. Whoa is that an interesting game.

 I am inspired. I really want something just like this to store my camera items next to my desk.

And this for the bedroom someday. Love the look.

Snacks while we chatted before dinner. Iowa cheese. Oh yum.

And this was a couple nights ago, but so beautiful. I ran to the car to get something and found this, pulled out my phone and captured it into my visual record of moments I have stood in awe. This is why people can believe in something greater than just the here and now, beauty like this overwhelms us.

I am still hanging in there, getting work done, preparing for the travel next month, and cleaning and grading and creating art. This is my life, the busy punctuated with moments of quiet grace.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Farmiversary and Reverse Bucket List Update

In 2010, just days before Isaac was born early I wrote this: The Reverse Bucket List. Someone, I don't even remember who, called me a failure. I was mad and sad and pregnant and huge and well, when I feel like that I write.

Today, I don't feel like that at all. Nope. I do feel like adding to it though.

First, the five things I wanted to add to my list in 2010:  

Things I would like to do:
1) swim in the Mediterranean
2) walk inside a building that is more than a 1000 years old
3) drink milk still warm from the cow
4) finish my novel(s) 
5) help someone else succeed at breastfeeding

Did all of those except #1. But I was pretty darn close. And #2? The building was probably only 800 years old, to be fair, but I say it counts.
  1. Gave birth to a special needs baby, on my own terms, with a c/s that was how I wanted it to be. 
  2. Fought to breastfeed and taught a doctor how to measure how many ounces a baby drinks from the breast by using a scale. Seriously. 
  3. Learned how to audit my own hospital bills for errors. 
  4. Learned how to shop around for better prices regarding hospital tests and labs. 
  5. Learned how to ask for help.
  6. Learned how to milk a cow and that Chad is better at it so it can be his job. Ha. 
  7. Made cheese. Made a lot of cheese.
  8. Explored caves. 
  9. Started dying my hair purple again.
  10. Tapped maple trees and made my own syrup.
  11. Taught others how to tap and boil for syrup too.
  12. Took a pottery class and made my own dishes.
  13. Loaded pigs in a trailer, alone. 
  14. Brought chickens to the butcher and helped in the initial kill. 
  15. Returned to Chicago after a really long time.
  16. Found her. She's not dead.
  17. Applied and attended a writer's retreat in Georgia. 
  18. Rode a bus cross country.
  19. Assisted, alone and with the vet, pulling lambs from a ewe in labour distress.
  20. Bottle fed lamb, calf, and piglets.
  21. Published photography.
  22. Published poems.
  23. Published an essay. 
  24. Got my passport.
  25. Went to Europe. Took pictures.
  26. Sang at Karaoke.
  27. I wrote poetry again. 
  28. I took myself seriously as an artist. 
  29. I prayed at the Bone Chapel in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic. 
  30. I rode a train across the countryside in a faraway country. 
  31. I learned how to make tinctures and teas. 
  32. I healed some more.
  33. I cooked a pheasant.
  34. Hosted a holiday meal at my home. 
  35. Learned to kayak and row.
  36. Built fence and rotated livestock.
  37. Attended a wound that required actual first aid to stop the bleeding.
  38. Learned to hula hoop.
  39. Wrangled a loose calf.
  40. Kept bees.
  41. Rebuilt relationships, and nurtured other important ones.
  42. Learned about Permaculture and shared it with others.
  43. Made time for my art, and nurtured my own being again.
  44. Helped a mama get donor milk for a baby in NICU.
  45. Did the right thing even though it was really hard. 
  46. Encouraged someone else to take their writing seriously too.
  47. Got back on stage and read poetry aloud again after 16 years of being terrified to do so.
  48. Learned how to cook lamb.
  49. Bottled and started selling my secret spice mix.
  50. Raised food for 60 other families in the last 5 years.
  51. Stopped complaining about my toe. 
  52. Grew my hair to my waist. 
  53. Loved fiercely.
  54. Walked on ice.
  55. Brined olives (it takes two months and is kind of hard!)
  56. Taught my son to walk. 
  57. Started and admin several facebook groups that do a lot of good in the world. 
  58. Read more books. 
  59. Photographed a punk concert.
  60. Ate Vegan food and didn't die. It was delicious actually! 
  61. Learned to spin wool, even though I am terrible at it.
  62. Sent that packet of poetry back in, revised. They didn't want it after all this time, but I got a personal response back and at least now I know. 
  63. Didn't let rejection shut me down again.
  64. Learned that most of the time, when people are being jerks, it's not actually my problem or about me. 
  65. Learned how to apply eyeliner. 
  66. Threw myself a birthday party. 
  67. Joined a book club.
  68. Made Crown Roast. 
  69. Learned that I am my own worst anchor, let go of that chain.
  70. Toured Jim William's mansion. 
  71. Tracked wild pigs in Georgia. 
  72. Watched turtle lay eggs and later watched the eggs hatch.
  73. Drank Kumbacha. Yuck.
  74. Rode a horse. 
  75. Paid attention.
To do:
  1. Go on a sail boat. 
  2. Visit California. 
  3. Write and Finish the fairy tale book I am working on.
  4. Take a photography class. 
  5. Set up my own website for my writing and art.
  6. Go to Ireland and go fishing. 
  7. Return to New York City and read poetry there.
  8. Take pictures of mountain.
  9. Play with my kids more. 
  10. Learn to fly a plane.
  11. Learn to drive the tractor.
  12. See Lady Chablis perform live.
  13. Write even more.
  14. Love even harder.
  15. Grow more food, feed more people
Here's to six years on the farm, a fantastic adventure, and a freaking awesome life.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

"It is never too late to be what you might have been." - George Eliot

At Bonaventure Cemetery. Not anyone I actually know.
"It is never too late to be what you might have been." - George Eliot 

Part two of my photography bio. This is the hard part, the personal part.

My grandmother was a photographer. My mother's mother. She was good too. This was in an era of dark rooms, chemical developing, and actually knowing how to use the aperture on a film camera. She took amazing pictures- of her children, landscapes, of things happening.

My grandmother was also abusive to her children, enough that two of them danced on her grave when she died. Their memories of her photography are tainted by this abuse. To me she was a doting grandmother when I was a child and a sickly old woman with a temper and dementia when I was a teenager. She once grabbed me, by my neck, from across Thanksgiving dinner to accuse me of being a lesbian because I invited my female best friend to eat with us that holiday. I know she was mean and violent and I never doubted any of the stories told about her.

I know that she handed out a lot of pain to people in her lifetime. I have a difficult time sifting through all the memories of my family though because every single person was also a liar when it came to telling it to us as children.

For example: A drunken uncle once told us he had secret documents relating to the JFK assassination taped to the back of a picture at his house. Later he told us that our grandmother was the Babushka lady, the lady with the headscarf seen unflinchingly taking photos of the assassination and that no one has yet tracked down.

She was in Denver when John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Another family member claimed that Melba was actually Princess Anastasia of Russia and showed us a hand typed autobiography that she had written about her escape to America.

She wasn't even born yet when the Tzar's family was killed.

It was all bullshit. Intertwined with accusations of child rape, drug abuse, and other illegal harms. We believed it all, as children often do. There are no dinosaur gizzard stones that the Smithsonian tried to buy. The Life magazine didn't steal anyone's negatives. My grandmother was not the elusive babushka photographer nor was she Anastasia.

So when one of my family members reminds me that my grandmother was a photographer too? That my work reminds them of her daring work? It is very much not a compliment. It is the worst insult they can think of in the moment, a sweet and subtle emotional stab wound to the heart. No one overhearing the conversation could know what horribleness that drips from such words, but I do.

I write poetry like my grandfather and photograph the world like my grandmother. I still have all my fingers though and I try really hard to be the end of abuse in a line of awful mothers, cherishing my children and being mindful of the power and cruelty of words as well as hands.

I am sure I take more after my aunt than I do any of the others in my family, not just because she is one of three people from that side that still talk to me. I hope I also take after my dad's side too, I know I look quite a lot like his grandmother Madeline. But how much of this inheritance actually matters? I am not them. I have my own life experiences that have shaped me, my own abuses, loves, and travels.

I am not them.

This is the anchor that holds me to the seafloor when pursuing photography as an art. Twisting and twining of seaweed and rusty chains, these associations are what hold me back- not just in art but in writing too. When I dredge up these family and childhood memories, they are not just mine and it picks at the wounds of everyone involved. I can only hope that they all understand that I tell my own history, tell my own stories, and that telling them sometimes keeps me up at night.

This is the photo bomb that I was thinking of yesterday. Legacy and letdown. The phoenix rising from the ashes of a dysfunctional history.

Can I take from this and create some new legacy without whitewashing the histories that brought us here? What is it that is said in writing?
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.
-- Anne Lamott”

It isn't too late for me to be a photographer, a poet, a memoirist. It isn't too late for any of it.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Photo Bomb

It is a complicated history I have with my camera. I have always loved photography.

I loved the mildew smelling old photo albums we had when I was little. I loved the machiney feel of my dad's old Nikon film camera. I loved black and white films and pictures. I just loved it all. When I decided that my habit of getting woozy and passing out at the sight of blood eliminated the career track of trauma surgeon, I turned to photography. I worked on the year book at the first high school I went to. I played around with cameras as much as I could, though this was when it was all film and I understood nothing about aperture or shutter speed or film type and when I would get packets of developed film back from Walgreens I would say a little hopeful prayer that something good would have come out of the roll. Usually just 1-2 photos did. It was so frustrating. This was before the Internet was the amazing trove of human knowledge too and our library had nothing of help.

It was frustrating to have this vision in my head, to be in so many moments that I knew could be artistically saved, and not have a way to save any of it. Of course I could throw words on to the page and I taught myself to draw and paint eventually, but I longed for the experience of creating photos that saw what I saw in the world. Captured the magic I encountered.

When we moved, the new high school had a photo lab and a professional vocational class. It also had a waiting list a mile long and students had to start at year 1 of 4. At least that's what I was told. Crushed. The same was true of the drama program. Theatre had also been a huge part of my life at my first school.

So I wrote. I painted. I drew. I dreamed. I read. I experienced.

I went to college eventually. In that time, photography changed. It changed fast. Digital cameras happened.

After college, my first job was an internship at the State of Iowa Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), because at that point my interest was deep into historic architecture and old house restoration. Working there gave me access to the files on my neighbourhood and house. My job was to drive all over the state and photography, with a digital camera, old houses and buildings.

I could take a picture and right away see if it turned out. My job was to take pictures of historic architecture of all kinds, rural and urban. Public, fancy, residential, shanty. Oh, it was the best job. I loved it. LOVED IT. I wanted a camera like this, but alas, I was a new college graduate and the camera was something like 9,000K$. Yike. Still, madly in love. The biggest heartbreak when the job was downsized and I was let go, wasn't having to go t o work at a credit card call centre (though that was pretty darn soul crushing and awful), it was breaking up with that camera. Packing it away and saying goodbye. Tears. Big awful, ugly, tears happened.

When Lily was born, Grampa gave me a tiny point and shoot camera so we would take more pictures of her. I did that and I used them to start a blog. There was no photo editing, pretty low quality pictures, but again, I was able to see and shoot. I did my best with what I had and was grateful.

Chad saw how happy it made me to take pictures. Christmas when I was pregnant with Holly, he bought me the D40x Nikon. I still had no idea how to use it. I carried it everywhere with me, it fit in the diaper bag. I just shot on auto.

That worked for me for years. Three kids in though, it was just harder to manage to bring with me. Soon, I only took photos with my phone. I missed out on a lot. When we upgraded to smart phones and Instagram, that just became the default. It wasn't as sexy as the feel of a real camera, but the best camera for the moment is the one you have with you.

That brought me to the point of having my photos published. So many people commented on some of my creative photography, especially the landscapes, and encouraged me to submit the work....and I did. It was very well received actually.

This was taken without filter on an overcast day with my phone. No, I take that back, I increased the colour saturation to make the photo match the actual colour around me. The camera adjusted it to be blander. I held it up and made the colour match. So the world could be in my moment. This was after I decided that the alligator was not actually going to eat me. See it there in the water? Perhaps it didn't see me?

I still didn't know how to use my Nikon off the auto setting though. That bothered me.

Recently, I began looking into classes, whoa money. Then the brilliant idea hit me.... I work for a college that dose tuition waivers for employees AND offers photography classes. Bingo.

Last night, I purchased the book, filled out paperwork, and walked into a classroom as a student.

There is more to this story. I'm not sure if I have the words put together in my head to share it just yet.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Fennel and Leek Soup With a Fairytale Twist

Fennel bulbs were on sale at the local grocery. I can't resist buying up weird veggies when our rural shop gets them in. I knew this would be destined for a soup so I grabbed a bunch of leeks too. Mmmmm. Leeks. I love leeks. They are perfect for soups.

I had turkey stock on hand, celery, and leftover mashed potatoes. It all simmered for hours and then I pureed it into perfection.

A perfection that my children decided to name.....

Ogre Snot Soup.

Because it looked like,  you guessed it, ogre snot. Thank kids.

It was so good though. Lily had, not one, not two, not three....but four bowls and had it for breakfast the next day. I am quite sure that part of it was the disgust that Holly had at the mere sight of the soup in the bowl and Lily's slurping took her disgust to the next level- the run and hide and play ponies upstairs level.

Here is the recipe, if you dare:

Fennel and Leek Soup With a Fairytale Twist

One entire bulb and frond of fennel.
Two stalks of celery with greens on the end.
Four whole leeks, green and bulb.
       Chop that whole lot into smaller bits.
2 quarts of broth. I used turkey.
Simmer until it is all soft and then add 2 cups of mashed potatoes (or diced potatoes, about 4, and add at the beginning with some butter).
Once package of sour cream.
Salt, thyme, tarragon, cayenne, and white pepper. I used our Prairie Fire seasoning salt.
Simmer some more.
Then take off and cool down a bit, puree in blender in small batches, and return to the pot.
Bring back up to simmer for about 10 minutes.
Serve into soup bowls and garnish with white cheddar and croutons.

Tell your kids that it is made from ogre snot and they will have to eat it all up or their hair will fall out. Just kidding. I didn't do that. I did read the original Sleeping Beauty to them, all the way to the end, where the Prince's mother, who is half ogre, tries to eat Sleeping Beauty and her two beautiful children while the Prince, now King, is off making war. Spoiler, the evil Queen throws herself into the giant vat of broth and makes herself into soup.

Mmmmmm. Soup.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Winter Mists and Reflections

Fall on the farm was busy, then there is my job, recitals, deliveries, escaping livestock, paperwork.....fall is non stop. I actually get excited for blizzards and standstills and even technology outages because it means just a little time to catch my breath.

I don't get time to write. I don't get time to make art. I don't even get time enough to enjoy a cup of coffee in silence because I am grading papers, entering cut sheets, answering questions, booking meetings, and parenting my three kids at the same time. Even if I leave the house without them- brain is on that.

This time is critical for me as an artist and it is not lost. Instead, this is the life I write about. Without this, I am simply experiencing fingers on keyboard and not the amazing and breathtaking life of a homeschooling, permaculture farmer. It is one thing to know how to write and another to have something to write about. Ink without muse is just smudges on surfaces.

It is still hard to remember this when my hand reaches for my pen and I fall asleep before the thoughts escape. It is hard to remember this when my boots are full of muck and it is a freezing rain and an animal is conversing quietly with death as I can do nothing but hold her head through the transition. It is hard to remember when the laundry piles up and the children are fighting each other like angry wild things over toy or turn rights. It is damn hard to remember what my husband's kiss feels like when my mind and body are torn from chores and business work that takes all of my time and energy and not even coffee can restore my senses long enough to return affection.

Yet, this season will pass, transition to the next, and we press on.

Farming is hard. Living is hard. Being human....hard. You get the idea, yeah? I live this life intensely so I can feel it that way, then I write about it.

One day a fellow writer asked me what I love about this landscape, because what I write in my poems is desolate and heartbreaking. Why do I continue down this path, why not move to a city apartment and be happy buying veggies at the grocery store?

Good question.

Because I love it. I love how close to life we are here but that means we are always a breath away from the work of death too. I can see the stars at night, see the heavens light up with twinkling wishes. In the city the sky was always an orange haze at night or just darkness that seemed like it would swallow me whole. Here it is quiet, but in a musical way, with chirpings and hoots and the wind in the trees. In the city it was always loud, people fighting, having sex loudly, blaring music, cars driving, cars breaking, sirens, noise, noise, and noise of people living. Garbage trucks, snow ploughs, delivery trucks. Just noise. Clunky, screaming, horrible noise. Here? I have found peaceful refuge. Here my children can play without fear of sex offenders that live next door. Here my children can climb trees all day if they want because there are trees to climb. Here in this wide open space of prairie and timber, we are free.

That freedom comes with a cost. To offset that cost, we grow extra food and sell it to friends and family. The benefits are pretty amazing though.

So though I may dread lambing season and predation in ice storms and the cold wet mud of winter thaws and so many other things.....I'll take that over the sickly, polluted, and unsafe life we lived in the city. I'll take making food that heals people and changes the world one acre at a time over being a prisoner in my own home because of neighbourhood violence.  Self reliance over being at the mercy of a storm when the power is out for a week.

There it is. Back to work now. Winter is here.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Words are powerful.....sharpen your pencils.

Words are so powerful that people get murdered over them. And it's not even the words, it is the ideas. These ideas can be communicated in song, in art, in cartoons, in dance......and ideas can make people so angry that they kill.

Sometimes they just get so angry that they start their own facebook group and talk a lot of crap about the idea.

Sometimes they take a gun and go kill the artists.

Sometimes they get the government involved and pass laws that bring SWAT teams to organic farms.

Anyone who writes, who arts, who tills the earth knows this. We know the risks. We know the kind of intricate and subtle terror that takes many forms. It would be so much easier to just stop. It would be so much easier to be silent.

More than once have I written something I thought was harmless that enraged someone to talking about revenge and threatening me and my family. 

The editor St├ęphane Charbonnier at Charlie Hebdo said in 2012, "I am not afraid of reprisals, I have no children, no wife, no car, no debt. It might sound a bit pompous, but I'd prefer to die on my feet rather than living on my knees."

That's what happened this week. He and eleven other artists and writers were murdered by extremists trying to silence them.

Like you, I am afraid sometimes. When I get nasty comments in my inbox, when people threaten to harm me in graphic ways just because I let my kid play the trumpet at age five or because I dared ask questions about paediatric use of Miralax (it's not on the label to use for children at all), or because I question the ethics of conventional farming when the processes that are common pollute and poison our watersheds and river and the physical cruelty done to animals in factory farming.....ect.... I worry about the anger that swells up in people.

I worry more when it comes from people I know in real life. I worry when it comes from strangers and I can't gauge if they are harmless crazy or stabby crazy or they will hunt me down for real crazy. Or maybe they will just make false complaints against my farm and drown us in legal work.

Even though I worry, I still stick my shovel in the earth. Well, not really, no-till gardening really is better. I am still out there educating, sharing knowledge, asking the hard questions, trying new things, and living my life in the public realm. I aim to make the world a better place and that will not happen if I cower under threats and go home. It will not happen if I shut up and "be a good girl" or "a good wife" or "trust the folks in charge to make the right decisions".......I question. I always have.

Well, not always. Once I caved.

It was 6th grade and our school was infested with cockroaches. I wrote a letter to the local paper, but a school official caught me and took my notebook. I wrote another when I got home. I organised a protest, a sit down with posters and a chant. I loudly pointed out that the "exterminators" that the school brought in during school hours had vacuum cleaners and were clearly fakes. I was LOUD.

When the protest time came? My English teacher locked her door and stared me down. Told the class none of her students would be leaving the room.

I stayed in my seat. Panic.

Everyone who protested was suspended. Not me. No, I was safe in English class.

I regret that day so much. Nothing changed. The school continued  to be plagued with cockroaches in the lockers and lunchroom. Nothing physical changed.

Something lit inside me. My words made the people in charge nervous. Adults were upset by a child's words. And other students risked their time and got suspended to follow through. Ok, maybe they were just excited to get attention or get our of class or be a part of something, I don't know.

I do know that it was a beginning. Right there.

I also know, that no matter how many comments or emails I get making fun of my writing, or threatening my family, or just plain mean...... I know that I have stirred something up and made people think about what they think. Yes, it scares me at times, but I too would rather die on my feet than cower because someone brutish, sad person is upset by what I have to say.

Everything I do makes people mad. I homeschool (unschool), this infuriates some people who are incredibly offended that I don't send my kids to the public school. I cook my own food, sometimes, and sometimes it is meat. This makes super organic vegans mad AND folks who eat processed foods mad. I drink raw milk. Oh my is that a controversy. I refuse to sell it to anyone until it is legal. I stand up for difference. I support marriage equality and workplace equality and support the idea that people get to be who they are in safety. I let me kids play real instruments at their own desire but I also pay for lessons when they are old enough to want that. I could go on and on. And on. And on some more. The saying goes, everything I want to do is illegal- that's not exactly true. Most of what I do is perfectly legal, I can't think of anything that isn't, but write about things that are so different? And how much happiness is cultivated on our farm right along side the grass fed lamb and pastured pigs? THAT really upsets some people.

Cognitive Dissonance is what it is called. Or maybe jealousy. Or maybe that's how they roll, thriving on conflict and anger. Whatever it is, I cannot control it. That's right! I can't control how people react or feel! Amazing. What I can do is keep on. Keep on living, keep on writing, keep on sharing, keep on loving. That honours all who have fallen before us and hopefully brings about a better world.

Write on friends. Write on. Today I am sharpening my pencils as a tribute to all who have fallen for what they have dared say. I will place that pencil on my desk and remember what a powerful tool for change that slip of wood and lead is, that mighty sword will fall at the whisper of change.

Write on.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

What I know to be true for me.....

When Lily was born I was overwhelmed with everything. Bathing a baby? Oh my no, who ever thought bathing a baby was easy? You get a helpless yet squirmy thing wet and soapy and try and hold on, over water?! It was scary. Everything was like that, like I was holding her over water while she was squirmy and slippery and yowling.

I went back to work. I asked the day care lady to bathe her instead of me. I couldn't do it. I couldn't do any of it and I was overwhelmed and feeling like a failure. I enrolled in more classes, took on more hours, and yet everything was falling apart around me.

My day care lady quit with just about no notice and no reason. I had one semester left to finish my MA degree. My job was getting frustrated with my "mommy" hours. I struggled with breastfeeding, but was committed to it. My baby would scream if she wasn't in my arms, probably why the day care fired us.

Then one day, it got easier. I quit my job and found a part time one that paid just as much. I found a better child care option for us. I finished my degree. Bathing and feeding her was less scary. It felt like it all got better overnight. It was at the 9 month mark though, not overnight, and learning to babywear helped 100% in how I unfolded into motherhood.

So I threw myself into motherhood full on. I resigned my committee obligations, scaled back on volunteer work, stopped writing, stopped wood working, gave up all my personal hobbies and focused on motherhood. of course that meant....more children.

When Holly was born I felt like I really had this parenting thing down. She was the easiest baby ever, even when she was fussy. She still is my easiest kid, though she feels like I don't always hear what she has to say.

Then we moved to the farm and Isaac was born and he was not easy, he was complicated from the pregnancy on. His diagnosis of 22q was one of the most difficult things I have had to emotionally process as a mother and as a person. And somewhere in this fight, I threw myself into motherhood more.

Except I was no longer succeeding at this whole thing. My house was messy, I have never been a good housekeeper, and my relationships were either crumbling, on fire, or just slowing sneaking out the back door and then full on running away from the train wreck of me. (This is where I am so thankful for those who stood by and held me up anyway). I hired someone to come help with the house stuff, and like Nanny McPhee she put more than just the toys in order.

But that is not what I want to write about now. Not my point. That is all just background so you understand where I was at the moment things changed.

One day a friend posted how much she was struggling too, with motherhood. Me? I was still on the shore sopping, dripping wet from almost drowning in it, I knew and felt exactly what she meant. I wrote her a poem about it. I had not written poetry in 15 years, even though it was one of the great loves of my life, motherhood had pushed out the time for it. I had let it.

Penning those words imploded something inside me.

We shared tears and this deep emotion that was inside of us both. That's what art should do, connect us through shared experience and emotion. I was blogging again at that point and raising livestock that connected me to Georgia and in my email and news feed an advertisement for a writer's retreat kept appearing. It showed up for family members and friends too, and they kept sending it to me.

The deadline to apply approached. I had a HUGE list of reasons not to attend. My kids needed me. Chad would have to take vacation to care for them. Isaac's immune system might tank, he wasn't even weaned yet. I had never been away from my kids since Lily was born, save for a few overnights at grandma and grandpa's. Money. Travel complications and cost. Goodness, how could I even think I would be good enough to get in? And what would I send them? Old stuff from when I was a teenager or blog posts? Ugh.

Then like dominoes, excuses fell away. Isaac weaned. Chad suggested I go to work on the farm cookbook, bus ticket was $50 round trip, and a friend offered to take me from Atlanta to Savannah so no excuses for travel. None. Money happened for tuition. I sent the new poem and a few from 17 years ago with the application. I got in.

My only real obstacle at that point was me. I was anxious about going, about leaving the kids at home. 8 days is a long time. I was so intensely immersed in motherhood that I could not imagine myself outside of it, nor did I really want to. That's right. I didn't want to. I was scared spit-less of what I might find, who I might be outside of that framework. What if they suffered without me was not as scary as....what if they were fine, just fine without me? What if I am not really needed? What if there isn't a me outside this.

I got on that bus trembling with fear.  That bus ride was a story or horror in itself and someday I'll write about it. Maybe. But really it was a lot like childbirth, excitement, thinking yeah ok, labour is fine I can do this, then scary unexpected layover in an ice storm in the middle of the night, the folks in charge are fucking insane, and then after 36 hours I was disoriented and DONE. Just done. But I couldn't just get off the bus. I had to ride it out. SO MUCH LIKE LABOUR. At least that's how it was for me, well, but without stranger's sticking their hands in my business. Thank God for that. 
I got there. I did it. I did it alone without my husband, kids, or friends. Except that isn't really true, is it? I had my kids cheering me on, my husband (eventually) sending me off, and my friends and family at every doubt volleying back my excuses and then actually getting me on that bus, on the other end driving me to the island and back. There is no mistaking that this community of incredible, inspirational people (many of them named Jennifer) got me safely there.

And where is there? A year later I am preparing to return to the island. I have had work published, performed at an art festival, which was a big deal for me and my stage fright, and I actually feel like a writer again. I am excited to return to this magical place, but the truth is this: I inhabit it everyday. It isn't the island itself that holds the magic at all but the community of friends and support that hold me up everyday. Many of them are writers too, but not all.

Photo by Maggie Howe

I didn't give up the intensity of motherhood to find myself again. I always thought that it was a choice between the two, and no doubt that my kids needed me to be there in that intense way for the time I was, but having this creative side nurtured and traveling all over the world makes me that much better of a woman to be a mother to my children. I feel more alive and more in love with my own life. That is so important.

That is the back story behind the adventure.  The adventure continues.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Southwest View

My desk still  not quite the space I want it to be, but this view? Oh this view is so distracting, beautiful, heartbreaking.

It is a conventional field we don't own. When we first moved here it was used for hay, all of it as far I I could see was green and gold grass. Every year that hay field shrinks in favour of soybean crop and with it the crop duster issues, last year the plane flew so close to our house that the tops of the maple trees crackled. That can't be good for the plane either. For almost a week, the plane buzzed our house and the woods right over the beehives over and over again. I had to blast NPR podcasts to drown out the noise, which to me is the sound of death and poison.

This is tragic for me in so many other ways too. I am the daughter of a pilot. I grew up around planes. I wanted to be Amelia Earhart when I was little, getting a pilot license was high on my list and I absolutely LOVED when planes flew low enough for me to read their numbers. The crop dusters here have ruined that joy for me.

I need to find a way to make peace with them. Send a letter, post more no spray signs. One of the things we have tried really hard to do here is respect the conventional farmers that are our neighbours, respect their land and their farming and foster relationship. Maybe they just don't understand what we are trying to do here? That we are trying to develop new methods of agriculture that can undo the damage of the last century of farming and move forward with better, healthier soil and water? According to the fliers and rhetoric I have heard at the co-op- our goals are the same.

This is what I thought as I gazed out this window. Also, that if I ever finish that novel and it makes enough $$, maybe I can buy the view and everything that flows into our watershed and make this land and this water better. One handful of dirt, one drop of water at a time. That's what everybody dreams of right? Healing the earth? I think perhaps I am more of a tree hugging hippie than I have ever admitted before. My dream is to own the 3000 original acres that went with this homestead and create regenerative agriculture systems that folks can learn from and that can provide for my community, healthy affordable food and nutritional medicines.

Those of you who have read here for a while, you all know, when I have a dream and set a goal? It gets done. Eventually. You have to have a destination to make a map, then you have to take the first step. We are leagues into our journey already. Even if we don't get all of the things done, we will have made progress and the world a better place if even just for a moment.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

First thing in the morning......

Instead of saving blogging for right before bed when I am bone deep tired from the day or for the times I can escape to a coffee cafe with free wifi, I am going to give writing a go before I even get out of bed.

Why not? The floors are so cold today that I spilled water in the kitchen and I swear the puddle froze. I went right back to bed. Farm life, yeah.

This is my view right now. Chad moved my desk to the bedroom last night but I have not yet set up anything, there is a giant pile of laundry on the floor waiting to be checked for sizes and either put in storage or put away, and there are odd and ends everywhere. Bed isn't made because I am still under the covers, the 7 layers of quilts.

Nah, it really isn't that cold here. Not really. I am a southern girl in my blood though and the cold hurts. It feels like an insult to my human form. I thrive when it is hot, hot and the air is so think with luscious humidity that you can swim in it and drink it raw right from the air. Why do I live here, in this arctic vortex? It is a compromise with my love, he melts and dies in the heat a million deaths and feels like he is drowning. He likes the cold and is up and alert and alive when the temps drop. He'd move to a pole if he could, or at the very least Canada/Alaska, and be really happy. Not me. Oh no. I neeeeeeeed the heat.

When I do get up, it will be right into long johns, double wool socks and insulated boots, maybe even two sweaters. Then I make cinnamon and ginger tea. I add cayenne to everything. Still, after all that, my core body temp is still fighting the cold air that I breathe in. Come on winter, let's get you over with.

I do love the beauty of the snow though. I love how my kids love to play in it. I love that it kills ticks and fleas and cockroaches. I love how peaceful everything looks when it is snowing big fluffy flakes of wonder. I love soup. I love that when the weather gets like this I can make soup all the time and I don't get as many complaints. Today I am making fennel bulb and leek soup with croutons and Dubliner cheese. Molasses bread with beef gravy and fried potatoes for lunch. Oh it is going to be so good today in the kitchen. So good.

"If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first."
Mark Twain

Focus. This is what I need to do. I need to get up early and get shit done. Every day. Last year when I would head out to grade papers or plan lessons, I would submit work and blog first. I still got all my work done, but I also got the work for myself done. I was blogging almost every day. I was getting my work out and writing done. I got out of this habit in the fall because fall is killer here on the farm, but also because I unplugged myself for a bit. I needed to just be in my own head for a bit, process what our life was evolving into, and be there for my family in a really intense sort of way. That time is easing up though, and Spring brings with it more travel, lambing, and a heavier course load. I will need to stay focused so I don't end up crushed by obligations and workload. I can do this. I can eat the frog like it is my job. It is you know. The farm, writing, teaching, caring for my family- these are my jobs.

Today, I will crank up the music, get my creative space organised, cook nourishing food for my family, and dance through all the tasks. Lunch I will eat and then sit down to work on lesson plans since classes start next week. After dinner, I will head out for coffee and cake and write an essay that is floating in my head.

What frog will you eat today?

Monday, 5 January 2015

Selfie of the Prairie Life

Someone asked me last week if I were a patron saint of something, what would it be? If I was a goddess, what would my domain of power be?

To me theses are separate questions entirely. I used to really admire Saint Theresa, my middle name sake, the saint of little things, of household tasks. I once did a huge pencil and acrylic art piece of St. Theresa in modern times, asleep on the floor, with yellow latex gloves, mid floor scrub. The judge in the art review paused in front of it for quite a long time, just looking at it. Whispered, "Interesting." and that was it. It didn't win, but to me as an artist, the pause, the moment that stopped the viewer? That was what it is all about to me.

That is how I feel with my writing as well. When someone reads a poem or a blog post and it stays with them, they think about it, they feel something. That is enough. That is art. That feeling. That feeling is why I keep coming back to the page and lens trying to capture it when I feel it, trying to keep the darkness from eating me up.

And today, a lovely amazing woman I know posted a challenge to us all to take more selfies, not less. Take more pictures of the mundane moments in our life, not less. It is not self centred. It is not narcissism. It is trying to capture and share who we are, our own histories, our own beautiful imperfect lives. This is a challenge I live every single day. Or I try to.

It is true that often I leave out the hardest or the ugliest parts of my own life and relationships, but when I can, I post the real moments, the raw ones. It is always a balance to tell our stories while respecting the relationships that dwell inside them. I can only tell my own narrative point of view. This means leaving out the conversations I have with my 10 year old about private struggles she is having about growing up, leaving out conflicts I have with family members over personal choices I make when sharing them would show them in a bad light. Because I love them. I am not a saint of anything, but I try really hard to respect relationships in our everyday lives. I let friends go gently when they ask to be released, I respect the silences that grow from conflict, I nurture the spark of understanding, and I try really hard to be my authentic self the whole time and not hold back who I am even if it makes people uncomfortable sometimes. We all have our own struggles and issues. I get that. When I can accept my own self, I can accept yours.

I am a prairie dweller now. An artist and a caretaker of the land.

And this is rambling. I suspect that forcing daily posts will sometimes produce more and more ramblings than I like, but there you are. This is my mind.

This is how I spent my Sunday afternoon:

 Paper dolls, angry birds, and frying up "circle eggs" for Isaac.

Holly decided to cut out and glue together her own name. It was actually too huge and fell apart, so she joined Lily on the couch to learn about volcanoes and octopus bio-camouflage.

Lily actually is still pretty weak from her bout of the flu in December. She was the first to fall with body aches, migraine, and fever. Then Chad and me. The two littlest had Influenza A in 2011 and so when they got sick, they had some natural immunity and they only fevered and coughed for about 2 days with no asthma incidents. Thank goodness.

Chad and I though? I was so very sick for a long time. Week three now and I still have lingering symptoms. I feel like I am on the mend though. I shall send out Christmas cards soon, maybe. Ha.

Sunday was also our anniversary. We had "not really" tacos. I went to bed really early with a headache.

When I woke up this morning though, I was thinking about the selfie and the domain power questions. Right now, my calling is to document our everyday histories. To share my story. These questions intertwine. I am the goddess of the mundane and the quiet moments, of beauty in the everyday and small things.

What is your calling? What will you be remembered for or what will you want to remember a year from now?

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Happy Anniversary Love

Today is our 16th wedding anniversay (I think, I've never been very good with math, but we were married in a snow storm in 1999, so I think my math is right.....). This is also our 6th farmaversary. We moved into the farmhouse 2009, on our 10th wedding anniversary.

We have 3 children, 16 years, 3 houses, 100 pigs, 3 bathroom tear outs, 2 kitchens, 4 gardens, and so many more adventures. So many more adventures to come.

This year though, this year was the hardest of our marriage. We'd survived three major house remodels/restorations (one was a full blown "divorce" house), three surgical births, one medical needs diagnosis for our youngest (the kind of dx that tears families apart), a major bank fiasco selling our other house (also recipe for marital strife), and a car accident. But this year? This year when everything seemed very stable and very calm, that's when it became difficult.

Why? My best guess is stress fatigue. We could finally collapse after surviving the years that nearly killed us. Collapse we did. And hard.

Luckily we fell into each other eventually. Not at first though, and that was a really scary part.

I went to Georgia to pursue poetry. I came back ready to move forward with that artistic endeavour. Chad was deep into learning about permaculture and studying the design aspect. It was not the first time our interests took us in opposite directions, but it felt like it. It felt like a huge distance was growing between us.

Spring came and was absolutely gorgeous. We tapped and syruped the trees. We had piglets born. We began to make space for each other, though terrified at what was happening, at least I was. I thrive on open physical space, but I have always needed the closeness that was our marriage and family. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know who to talk to. I didn't know what needed to be done.

This is the crucial part. I realised that I was looking for a physical space to recreate what we had when we were first married. I needed a porch. My porch, however, was filled with construction debris that needed to be there. So, there it stayed but block by block, every night I moved a few to the perimeter. Soon, the kids joined in. Then one week Chad finished it all. We hung the porch swing. We moved some chairs out. Soon enough this became where we spent our mornings, afternoons, and evening. Dinner was shared out here. Games were played. Art was made. Long, long talks, often with blankets wrapped around us, candles lit in lanterns, and music playing, happened on the swing. Sometimes early in the morning. This space had existed all this time, but was unusable because of all the junk that was piling up.

The distance that was between us filled up with love. Block by block, things that were problems shifted to the outside. Still there, but not in the way.

We came to a place where we realised we really didn't know each other anymore, but wanted to. That was an important part of it: we both really wanted to. We dated each other all over again, made time each day for connecting (usually doing chores together), and made space. Then, once we felt stable again, we really talked about what needed to change to keep things good. We did more things with the children, invited them to our porch space, into our art and music space.

So.....Chad quit his job. The commute was killing him. The sitting in an artificially lit box at a desk all day was killing him, actually and physically. So he quit. We have a farm. We have a farm business, I have a job I like mostly, and the kids need him too.

I need him. More than ever, I need him here. We discussed a lot of other options though and this is the one that made sense, that felt right, and was doable.

This. This making space. Making time. Making room. This is what saved our family. I feel more married and connected to the thing that is us than I have ever before this year and for that I am really grateful.

Happy anniversary, Love.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Daily Grind

Everyday there is beauty. Small things, the way the light filters through the dusty window that has sticky fingerprints from curious children, brought to the window at breakfast because one of them sees a deer in the field. The syrup from breakfast gives away their moment of joy, leaves rainbows on the table cloth when married to the sunlight.

I will wash the windows later, when I forget about the beauty and sweetness of this moment.

That's what happens to our days, the ebb and tide of duty with happiness and childhood play, brings us back to the mundane and in and out of the fantasy play of the small ones.

Today I am working. I will work at the keyboard until my mind is scrubbed numb, then return home to hugs and laughter, make dinner, and scrub dishes and sticky floors until my hands are scrubbed numb. Maybe they will help. Maybe I will lure them to service with the promise of my own made up fairy tales. They cannot get enough of those some days. Other days I tell them their own creation stories. How they were wished for and born into the world. Or stories of their own heritage, grandmothers' struggles, swamp lore, or just stories of my own childhood shenanigans.

I may get a moment to steal away and go into the woods.

There is a blizzard coming tonight. The pond has frozen solid and clear. A dangerous kind of ice, dangerous because without cutting into it, it is too hard to tell how thick or strong the ice is but the clear view lures the curious out farther and farther over deep water, the underwater creatures dancing and waving and we almost forget we are human and would meet and icy wet death if we joined these creatures even for a moment.

This is the kind of thing fairy tales are made from. A warning, too late.

We will bundle up, stoke the fire, eat a simmering and nourishing soup with fresh hot bread, put extra blankets on the beds, make hot tea with honey, and watch the storm roll in. Pray that we put enough bedding in the animal shelters, that they find the water they need in the storm, and that Spring will eventually come back.

I think I will move my desk tonight, to a window with a view of the prairie and the storm fronts.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Focus: Word for 2015

I really struggled with choosing this word. FOCUS kept coming back to me though, and I would reject it as not being poetic enough, pretty enough, anthem-y enough. I wanted something as powerful as SABOTAGE and something that had a Beastie Boys type song to blast with it.

But that is not what I need this year. This year my artistic heart needs discipline. I need the reminder to get up early and get to work. I need the quiet reminder when facebook lures me into the trans-dimensional time suck. I took on more teaching this semester so I will need to also keep on a schedule for completing student grading and lesson planning, scheduling time for that works for me better than any other strategy I have tried to keep up with the work load.

I need to get more work out to be considered. I need to write, edit, and revise more work to be able to send it out. This goal also needs focus and time set aside. If I sit at the table and taunt the muse, maybe she'll join me sometimes, yeah? But if i keep standing her up for our coffee dates in favour of arguing with strangers online about pig genetics, even if it is amusing as hell when the fanatics get all Harry Potter Slytherin about PURE BLOOD lines, the muse will eventually get fed up and go hang out with more dedicated artists.

And what comes of courting the muse?

 Being published.

Experiencing amazing things and making art from the experiences. Having my camera with me as much as possible so that even a moment of inspiration in a bathroom at a concert can be met and played with.

Being published some more.

Going to Prague. Going to Prague to eat the food, experience the social and religious art, and then make some art of my own. I did that.

Essay, photography, poetry......4% of my submissions being accepted which is a pretty good rate of acceptance according to the tracking application that I use.

So. Focus is what I need. Discipline. Tracking. Time.

My goals this year are to see more, take photos of it, and write. I'm going to have a go at a fiction project too. 1000 words a day is a lot, so my goal will be simply 100 words every day. Just that much.  I can do that. If I fail? I will start the next day to meet the goal and not beat myself up for missing a beat, a word count, or a day. Life happens, yeah? Sometimes we take a breather, but the journey is long and even small steps get us there eventually.

On the docket for the year so far:
Ossabaw Island Writer's Retreat. Again. I have to. It's paid for. Ha.
Take a photography class. I'm on the waiting list at our local community college (I work there so I have to wait for students to fill it and then see if I get in.....).
Write more thank you cards and mail them.
Say I love you more.
Send out 25 poems. Twice.
Take 3000 more pictures of interesting things.
Take my camera off auto and learn how to use it.
Be there.
Have a professional photo shoot of myself done. Or try my hand at some self photography that is more creative and less hand held phone head shots.
Attend a permaculture convergence.
Speak/present at a permaculture convergence on the storytelling and social media aspect of farming.
Learn to draw fairies and monsters.
Dance more.
Walk places.

Learn about:
HDR photography
mass tree planting
medicinal herbs
vintage make up and hair
jewelry making
mushroom growing
green houses
learn Yoga and make it a daily routine

What is your word for 2015? Your goal? Your dream? Have you drawn up your travel plan to get there yet?