Thursday, January 22, 2015


Sorry, bit of David Bowie there. Did I get enough ch's in?

Since beginning this blog early last year I've been running it alongside my older blog, which deals more with every-day life on the homestead with photos galore. It's been interesting, keeping my sharing separated, wondering which posts would be better suited to which blog. It's not been easy, as aspects of my life aren't often conveniently detached from one another. As a result I think I've actually blogged a good deal less than I used to.

That said, I've decided to merge my blogs, using just this one and posting all pictures of my family and critters here, garden harvests, the raising and schooling of children, long stories of DIY madness, and continuing with my thoughts of humanism and atheism as an unbeliever living in the Bible belt. I hope that you will benefit from the mash-up and enjoy knowing me better.

In other news...

Here you are, enjoying the various things I share on my blog (you are, aren't you?) and commenting on the posts that strike your fancy (aren't you?) and you've even bought a copy of my first book (you did, didn't you?) and you're wondering if there's anything else you can do to show your support (right?). Good, good. Well, I have news for you. There's now a quick and easy way for you to offer a little something more. (No pressure or anything.)

Patreon is a website and community connecting artists and other creative folks with the people who adore them. I've set up an account over there and you can, too (it's free). Better still, with the click of a button you can pledge your financial support; anything from $1 per month on up. I will continue blogging here and sharing my life with you free of charge, so no worries. Financial support is an option.  And at various pledge amounts I will offer perks to my patrons, so keep your eyes on that.

Every bit of financial support you give helps free me up to create more of the content you love, both for the blog and the upcoming books.  

Support me at: Kaleesha's Patreon page.

I can't tell you how much your support is appreciated!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

DIY Well Pump Replacement

January 20, 2015

Home ownership is not for the faint of heart.

Here’s what Denny and I were doing Monday morning:

Gorgeous, sunny, spring-like day. Missouri winters are my kind of winters, sometimes bringing the snow I love, but also offering stretches of beautiful mild days. Den and I had decided it was a good day to salvage some old cedar fencing and repurpose it into shelving inside the house. We’d just finished stage one and were inside taking measurements when my seven year old announced that no water was coming out of the tap when he turned it on. While Denny checked the other faucets, my brain went into troubleshooting mode:

Pipes frozen? No way. It is January, but like 60°F outside.

Power out? Glance over at the fish aquarium, see the light still on. Not a power outage.

One of the kids messing with the main shut-off located in the bathroom? Doubt it. Even the kids are wary of the area behind the toilet.

Fuse in the box in the well-house? Let’s find out, shall we? A moment later we’re walking down the hill to the well pump house, a dark, dank, cobwebby place with a configuration of electricity and plumbing that I have, for the most part, managed to avoid familiarizing myself with for the eight years I’ve lived here. I was only partially sure I knew which was the pressure tank and which the pump itself…

We opened the door and were immediately met with a burnt smell, recognizable as something mechanical gone horribly wrong. After knocking down some cobwebs, with Denny rigging up a light, I checked the ancient fuse box. All was well. Hmm. I turned an ignorant eye to the plumbing. What next?

Call Mom and Dad. Duh.

I’m thirty-four years old and still call on my parents in times of need because, frankly, they are the most experienced and knowledgeable people I know when it comes to practical things around the house, farm, or automobile. They live half an hour away and Dad often comes over to give us a hand with such things. Unfortunately, he won’t be able to come over this time because he and Mom are halfway to Florida on vacation. Damn the luck.

Oh well, maybe they can help over the phone. I leave a message.

Meanwhile, back in the house… 

Yeah, this was the pile of dishes awaiting washing at our sink. We generally let breakfast and lunch dishes pile up and the kids take turns washing them after lunch. Of course, it would be a heavy dish day.

Denny is starting to stress a bit. For some reason, I don’t stress over these situations. I might even like them. Sick, right? I know. I mean, knowing it’s going to cost us gobs of money that we don’t have bothers me as much as it bothers Denny, but worrying about it doesn't change that. It is what it is and I often sort of shine in emergency, make-it-do sort of situations. Not that I have a pocketful of DIY skills or any such thing. I’ve patience and perseverance and I like to think I exude a calmness that helps everyone else stay calm; that makes me feel good. (I save my stress for daily, run-of-the mill things.) But you know what I think it really is? I'm able to focus for a change.

All day, every day, so many things clamor for my attention. I juggle them all, sometimes more efficiently than other times, but it’s often difficult to know where to focus my attention. The kids' schoolwork? Writing? Book promotion? Building friendships? Cleaning? Can I relax now? Nope, meals need preparing. You get the idea. But then something like this happens and bam! There’s one thing and it needs doing now. Everything else has to wait and I don’t have to feel guilty about that. I’m not sure I’m ever quite as happy as when I’m elbows deep in a project that takes my entire focus. It’s like a bloody vacation for me. (I inherited this particular illness from my parents.)

All that said, Denny did very well at not freaking out. We ended up calling a professional and arranging for him to come out the next morning because, as much as I like to do whatever I can myself, I thought I’d be in way over my head here and Denny is a self-professing whatever-is-opposite-of-a-handyman and abhors mechanical sorts of issues. (Lucky for him he’s good-looking and genius at everything else.)

My parents got back with me a short while later. My Dad walked me through some basic troubleshooting. He’s so patient. I eventually figured out what the pressure switch was and how it worked. Would you believe my nerdy mother even had, on her laptop, with her in a Winnebago at a rest stop in Louisiana, a photograph of my well house, pump and all? Believe it. Dad was able to look at that and guide me accurately.

Unplug the pump. File the points with an emery board. Plug it back in. Nada. The motor housing was hot to the touch and I don’t know much about pumps, but I was beginning to see there’s not that much to this system, not much that can go wrong. It’s likely frozen up. But the idea of trying to pull it myself and replace it… nah. And what if it’s something else? I’m still a little daunted and like the idea of having a pro evaluate it and do the work. Later Mom sent me a link to an inexpensive pump on Amazon that should do the trick and maybe I could have someone help install it? But I’m drawing a blank; I can't think of anyone right off who is familiar enough with plumbing. We decide to wait on the professional.

Now, about water. Just for such an occasion, I have a five-gallon container of drinking water stored in the back of the pantry. Water is one area it really pays to be prepared. That should last us two to three days, depending upon how much we use for cooking. Also, there’s two gallons of clean water in a pot on the wood stove. Fortunately and unfortunately, it’s been warm enough to go without a fire, so the water isn’t hot (which reminds us to go up and turn off the water heater, just because). A quick search turned up three empty five-gallon mud buckets. Denny and I head to the creek.

I admit, I found the situation somewhat romantic. I wouldn’t want to have to do it all the time, but there’s something I find deeply satisfying about taking care of our basic needs in a rather primitive fashion. Thank the Invisible Pink Unicorn that the weather was forecast to be mild for the next few days. It’s nice to be out. Especially when you have this to look at:

Tucker Creek Shut-Ins
Who’s complaining?

(Note the three children climbing around in shorts and t-shirts.)

One bucket goes in the bathroom for flushing the toilet. The rest goes in the kitchen for dishes. Den and I quickly figure out a system for washing the dishes, with water heated on our gas cook stove, a few drops of bleach added for bacteria, and so decide to excuse the children for the day and take the chore upon ourselves. Something about listening to tunes and washing dishes with this man really turns me on…


The following morning we kindled a fire in the wood stove and set on a pot of water to warm for dish washing. We had a bumpy start talking about finances, I confess--we're as human as the rest of you-- and I was a little out of sorts when the plumber arrived. He was an odd man, quickly deciding the pump was bound up and told us he wouldn't be able to get to it for a few days. Said he'd check on a pump. We asked how much the pump would cost and were shocked to discover it’s almost twice the cost of the one my mom had found online. Yeah, you often get what you pay for, but the reviews on the online pump were decent and this guy has no reason to shop around for a better deal than whatever he usually buys. He doesn’t even give us an estimate on the labor before he’s in his truck and pulling away, saying he'll call us.

Back on the phone with Mom and Dad, trying to decide if we should get the cheaper pump and find someone to help with it. I return to the well house and take a closer look at what I would have to do to get the old pump out. Now that it’s been confirmed what the trouble is, I’m a little more confident. That, and I’m getting used to this space. A little cleaning and some paint and it could be my new office. Not.

Now I see where I would have to disconnect the pump—different from my impression the day before—and there were only hose clamps holding the black ABS pipe pieces onto the fittings. Well heck, that shouldn’t be too hard. And it had to come off anyway, so it’s not going to hurt to try it. I had Mom order the pump for me. (She has Amazon Prime and can have it overnighted. She’s fancy like that.)

Back to the house. I was starting to feel pretty good. My grit was kicking in. No, not my grits, my grit; my determination, my courage, my resolve. I admit to being partially driven by the fiscal meeting that morning and was thinking; if I can save my family a few hundred dollars, it’s almost the same as earning it, right? By gum, I’m going to do it!

In the bedroom I changed into work clothes and put my hair back. I felt like I was getting my armor on, heading into battle. I thought about war paint, but decided to forgo it this time. There may or may not have been Rocky theme music playing.

(Sorry, OCD people, for not fixing my collar.)

I grabbed a couple of tools and told Denny what I was going to attempt. I watched his face light up. I rather lit up myself when he turned to one of the kids he was helping with schoolwork and said with pride and awe in his voice, “Your mom is awesome."

I mustn’t fail. They are counting on me.

My dad’s last bit of advice was to use a hair dryer on the ABS to soften it. The man’s a genius, I tell you.  Every homeowner, homesteader, and handy-person should have a hair dryer. I always end up using my hair dryer for these sorts of things and I can count on two hands the times in my life I have actually used it on my hair. Oddly, I still keep it in the bathroom drawer instead of with the other tools.

softening the ABS with hair dryer
When I'd loosened the hose clamps I'd realized there was still a good bit of water in the lines, so I'd grabbed two clean pots from the house and set them up to catch the water. Waste not, want not. 

Had to wait about ten minutes for that to drain out of the spigot on the outside of the well house. The hair dryer worked a charm on the first pipe. More water. More waiting. Finally, I got busy on the other two pipes that needed disconnecting. I wrestled with that forty pound pump for about fifteen minutes, pulling and twisting and prying, my fiery resolve cooling considerably as I met with no progress whatsoever. 

Reminded me of this play on a famous poem:

They said it couldn’t be done  
But she with a grin replied
She’d never be one to say it couldn’t be done 
Leastwise, not ’til she’d tried. 
So, she jumped right in 
With the trace of a grin 
She tackled the thing that couldn’t be done! 
And she couldn’t do it.

 So what? I shed a few tears of frustration, tasting the salty sting of failure. Give me a break, I’m not Wonder Woman.

At that point, my back, something of a mess generally, beginning to groan and complain. I realized I would need some help. Now that the situation had gone from “scary and complicated” to “simple and stubborn," I thought of a friend who is both smart and strong and would likely be willing and available to help. I took a break and told Denny my mind. He was unwilling to call in a friend until he had given it a go himself. I was disappointed at first, but after some thought and further discussion I understood. He was not happy about it, but he put on his big boy pants and, wielding a large rusty wrench that I’m surprised we even owned, he tackled the fittings. 

When he lived at the lake, he and his brother-in-law had some similar plumbing issues and he remembered they used a wrench this way. This man o’ mine twisted and twisted and kept on twisting the ABS (after a minute with the hair dryer) until it worked loose. He did the next and final fitting, all in ten minutes or so. I can’t believe it. I’m so happy and so proud of him, all the more because I know how he hated doing it. Alas, he doesn’t share my sense of satisfaction in completing this sort of job. (Later I fished around and thought of an area of life in which I similarly despise having to participate and that made us both feel better. Not everyone is cut out for everything, you know.)

We fetched some more water from the creek before returning to the house where we popped popcorn for lunch, and washed it down with some much deserved Redd’s Strawberry ale (you know, to conserve water). We make a fine team, if I do say so myself. 

And that was only half the day. Denny did school with the kids, and some design work. I took a nap, worked on some book promotion stuff, posted and sold some items on Craigslist, cooked and ate dinner, helped with dishes, checked with kids about their schoolwork, tucked kids in to bed, and wrote this here blog post. I’m tired, but satisfied.  The new pump should arrive tomorrow. We’ll take a look, run to town for any necessary fittings (as well as pick up groceries, and we’ll probably haul some trash in, too), and then we’ll see what happens. 

Tomorrow morning we’ll have the kids fetch water from the creek to drive home the lesson about water conservation. Yeah, we homeschool.

Just another week at Make-It-Do Farm.

(You know, after today’s work, I’d really like to take a hot bath. Doh.)

The following day....

Things pretty much went according to plan. I only had to call my parents three or four times, with minor questions. I'm also right grateful to FloTec for writing decent installation instructions-- with diagrams and photographs. Our first set-up leaked a bit, but we tightened up our work and by mid afternoon when we had a properly functioning system and water to the house again. And slightly improved water pressure, to boot! 

I don't think we'll go into the plumbing trade, but we are feeling rather pleased with ourselves.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Peace in Life and Death

Today Denny laid to rest one of his closest friends, his little dog, Talula, who has been with him since he rescued her as a pup about fifteen years ago. 

He posted a picture to Facebook, of Talula on her last day, and the condolences began to roll in. Among them, however, there was a comment from a local chap with whom we are nominally acquainted, a Christian who never comments unless he sees an opportunity to witness to us. Why we have remained friends online is a mystery even to me. Maybe I’m reluctant to shut anyone out. He’s not been unkind, just pushy about his faith. He likes to argue and feel like he’s making a point. I’ve occasionally engaged with him when he’s commented on my wall because he’s a perfect example of the bold, condescending, and ignorant nature of evangelical Bible believers in my area.

Among the many unbelievers who offered their condolences and love to Denny, here’s this man's comment:

(I’m leaving his typos in for the full effect.)

“In times of sorrow and sadness for the loss of loved ones and things I am able to turn to my faith for solice. I know we share no faith but you always can turn to that cold mistress science that says the matter that makes up that wonderful creature that you have known for 15 years is never destroyed but only changes form. Science says your pup will live on throughout the eons changing form and shape over and over again. Now to me that doesn't give much hope but ya gotta work with what ya brought. Hopefully the chemicals that cause the emotional bonds to your pet fad quickly so you pain responce will ease and mend post haste.”

It took quite a bit of control not to post something in response, something along the lines of “Using someone's grief as an opportunity to discuss your beliefs and mock theirs… How very Christian of you.”

Out of respect for Denny and his grieving process, I’ll just say it here instead. Ha.

But it did get me to thinking about peace. I had my moments of peace while I was a believer, sure. Now I know it wasn't supernatural, it was just me and occasionally the kind words of friends. But I have far more peace in my life these days than I’ve ever had before. I'm not the only one; others I know who have come out of religion, and some who were never in it, feel the same: an overwhelming, solid sense of peace. (To be fair, not all the unbelievers of my acquaintance know this peace, but most do.) I’ve yet to help a Bible believer to begin to comprehend how that’s possible. As far as they're concerned Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the Sam’s Club of happy feelings, and if you don’t buy a membership, you aren't allowed to shop. Try getting them to see the same feelings grow as wild and plentiful as dandelions, free for the taking.

I have no reason to believe in an afterlife and so I no longer entertain the possibility. It doesn't bother me in the least because I love the fact that I am made of stardust and to stardust I will return. I have a deep sense of peace knowing that the molecules that make up my person will return to cycle through the earth and then through the universe for eons. That's something which I'm able to truly know and draw comfort from. Yeah, Bible believers believe the same, but for the faithful that’s just the beginning. From there it branches off into various beliefs based on myth and hope. The thing is, the purely natural cycle doesn't ask us anything in return. It happens whether we're good, bad, or ugly. It's as simple as simple can be. 

And I'm not just saying this because as an atheist I have no options. It true does console me. I don't wish for or need anything more than this.

As a believer I had so many doubts, as any honest believer does, and always wondered whether I was pleasing to God. Did I understand him correctly? Was I living the way he wanted me to? Was I spending enough time with him, learning him, living for him, witnessing for him? I didn’t know if I would make the grade when judgement day came, but I gave God everything I had and hoped for the best. There's precious little peace in that. I dare say my occasional peace came not because of my ideas of God, but in spite of them.

Rest in peace, Talula. Maybe we'll get together in five billion years or so and partake in the birth of a star.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Writing, Warts, and the Atlas Complex

What I thought being A Real Writer in the Slow Winter Months would be like:

Waking up in the morning while the house is quiet, grabbing a cup of tea and cozying up by the wood stove with my laptop and a purring cat at hand. Excited because I woke up with the greatest idea for the next part of my new book, I write 500 words before the first of the children plods down the stairs asking about breakfast. We eat, do their lessons, eat again, do a craft, I write another 500 words and spend an hour promoting my book online before dinner, after which I respond to email and relax with Denny.

Er… Yeah. Well, it’s not the above, let’s just say that.

Just like you, I’m sure, I dream of a day, just one day, that goes according to plan. Or even a day where I can get the head space to make a plan to stick to. But the hours go zooming by and it takes life right along with it. Half the time, like Bilbo Baggins, I feel, “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread."

I suspect it comes from some combination of my perfectionist nature and the sheer quantity of lovely things in life to enjoy. I can’t do it all. If I do one or two things well on any given day, I must be neglecting other things. There’s no winning. Some days this doesn’t bother me and some days it does. You ever have those days where you end up just spinning your wheels because you can’t settle on a direction? Last week I met myself coming and going. One afternoon I realized I had fixed myself an iced cappuccino, drank half of it and then, 15 minutes later, popped it in the microwave because I thought I might enjoy it better hot. I just didn’t know where my head was or what I wanted.

I wrote about writing and Denny and getting it all sorted in a recent post. I suppose I needn’t repeat myself, tempting as it is because the same thoughts still zigzag through my brain. Denny and I are still trying to find our groove, with both of us working and schooling the kids at home.

So what’s new? Well, today I’m sitting in our small public library. I’ve found a study desk where I can set up. I have headphones on so I can listen to music and tune out the goings-on around me. I’ve set myself a time limit; three, maybe four hours. No distractions. Whatever I get done, I get done. Going to try to do this one day a week. I have the most difficult time setting aside other things and making writing a priority. I want to write; I love to write, but it takes head space. My head is often crowded with other things all screaming for attention. I foolishly think that if I just get the other things done, I’ll be able to write. The other things are never done, at least not for long. Getting out of the house for a few hours narrows my focus only by a small margin, but it helps sometimes.

I really don’t know how other writing mothers do this. I want to be a good mom, an engaged mom, and for me that also means being a good teacher, raising my own children and giving them a better foundation for life than they would receive anywhere else. I want to be a good partner to Denny, spending time with him, making sure his needs are met, enjoying him, his interests, and the life we are building. I want to learn new things, to study and explore my corner of the world, as well as a few other places. I want to eat right, feed my family nutritious and delicious meals, exercise, get enough sleep, take truly relaxing breaks, keep a clean house (or at least get it clean a couple times a week), and build and enjoy worthwhile friendships. I want to express myself creatively, to write for myself and others, while making a small profit to help support my family.

Lofty goals. Maybe not so different from yours. Do you spend too much time feeling like you can’t keep up? Like time is getting away from you? And do you, like me, know full well that you’d be way more productive and happy if you stopped tripping on the idea of being productive and happy? Let’s see if I can summarize and share the great advice that I don’t always follow:

Let it go. 

There, that was easy enough. And you learned that much watching Frozen.


Okay, the point is, both for your benefit and mine, that we’re not perfect. Agggghhh! I know! How many times do I have to say it before it sinks in? I’m not perfect, you’re not, no one is. That’s right, no one. Nope, not even Supermom on that charming blog you always read. I guarantee you that her kids bicker from me to time and that she, too, has to decide between cleaning her house and writing or something else she wants to do. And she occasionally cheats and buys bread from the store instead of baking her own. Let’s cut ourselves a little slack.

I wonder if folks had a better perspective when we lived next door to each other in small communities like our grandparents did? Or intentional communities like some do these days. What are we missing by not living and working beside each other daily, sharing our ups, downs, bumps, bruises, laughter and tears, unable to hide our imperfections? Has our ability to realistically see each other altered our ability to realistically see ourselves? To what effect?
How close does your best friend live to you? How far away is your family? How often do you visit? Who else do you relate to? How much of the honest lives of others are you able to witness on a regular basis? Do you only see the things they present on the phone? Their blogs? On Facebook? In the occasional email?

“Oh yes, the kids are all doing well. We spent two hours studying Native American Indians this morning and we ate a traditional Indian meal,” says your friend in an email. While she’s typing, the children have just finished watching Disney’s Pocahontas and are now grumbling about who’s turn it is to wash dishes. For lunch they devoured four bags of microwaved popcorn and cold canned pumpkin drizzled with Mrs. Butterworth’s. Not sayin’ all of your friends are lying to you, but each of us can definitely present things in such a way as to make us feel better about our lives. We might not be comfortable letting people see our warts. Though, admittedly, sometimes we are honest--painfully so--but because of where others are in their lives they just can’t see that you struggle, too. Instead of comforting them, your realness threatens them. (I had a recent reviewer suggest that my account of my life in Free to Be is dishonest. I had rather a good chuckle over that. Bad reviews always seem to say more about the reviewer than about the item being reviewed, have you noticed?)

For me, taking my writing seriously has involved an honest examination of my ideals and my perceived failures. It has involved hours of self-doubt as well as a certain amount of neglect in other areas of my life, no matter how smooth it looks from your end. It’s true I spend too much time comparing my accomplishments with my ideals. I make more progress when I put my head down and barrel through, oblivious to the inner doubts as well as everything others are saying, positive or negative. When it’s just me, just doing what I do, that’s when I shine. A bit of self-acceptance goes a long way toward shining.

But someone has to bake the bread, make sure the house gets cleaned, plan meals, juggle appointments, remember birthdays, comfort the sick, teach English, read Dr. Seuss…  Oh well. I’ll do what I can and will try not to beat myself up over it, instead enjoying the moments because they’re all worthwhile. And I will learn to lean on the ever-willing and lovingly supportive Denny, who is quite capable of doing many of the above practical things, as well as knowing how to boost my morale. I spent entirely too many years doing it all myself with nary a pat on the back and old habits die hard. He’s a good one, that Denster. They don’t get any better.

Well, whatever the case, I reckon there will eventually be some balance of life and acceptance. It’ll all come out in the wash. Speaking of which...

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year, Old Year

Until further notice celebrate everything
Yesterday found the Williams Henke family settling down into a typical evening. Eat dinner, wash dishes, chat with the kids, retire to our respective spaces to unwind before bed. No staying up until midnight, no New Year’s champagne or kisses. I've spent most of my life on the outside of American holiday traditions, so I don’t usually pay them much mind. Though vehemently opposed to religious holidays when I was religious (yeah, you read that correctly. Funny thing about religion, any other than your very own can twist your knickers), these days I could take or leave most of them. I don’t always have the umph required to celebrate the arbitrarily assigned holidays, but friends change things. Good friends are always a reason to celebrate. A holiday is just an excuse to spend time with the ones you love.

A sweet three minute holiday greeting in video form from our friends across the pond got me into the spirit of this new year/old year business last night. There they were, champagne in hand, sitting on the hearth with a warm fire behind them, telling us how much they have enjoyed getting to know us over the last several months, saying a little something for each of the nine of us by name, looking forward to the new year with us in their lives, and making me melt into a puddle of tears. Afterward we chatted online and counted down to the new year with them, six hours in advance of our own. We celebrated by snacking on some of the British biscuits they’d sent us a couple weeks before. Today we gathered and recorded our own greeting in response. A bit longer, as there were more of us to cover, though it was like pulling teeth to get the kids to say anything at all. Little beasts. Denny, clever man that he is, added cricket noises over the kids’ silent shrugging. Perfect.

It’s all got me reflecting on the year past and feeling right hopeful about the year to come. Here’s where I get teary-eyed.

Two years ago today I gratefully took a seat at my dining table with family and friends (one of which was Denny—who’d have thunk he’d be moving in almost eight months later?), fresh bread and hot tea, and a cozy fire in the stove. I’d spent most of the previous month in bed with a back injury and, just for fun, a kidney infection. I was happy to be recovering, to have friends over again, to bake bread again. I was feeling vivid and alive with my new freedom and my new friends. It felt like a splendid way to bring in the new year and I considered making a tradition of it. It didn’t happen this year, in part because some of the kids have a touch of a cold, but no matter. In the past several days we’ve spent all kinds of time connecting with our dearest friends, the people that make our lives worthwhile. Some on the phone, some in person, some online. So what if it didn’t all happen today?

If that were all, I’d feel right rich and content, but there’s more. This year I’ve matured and developed deeper character while exploring what it means to be me, to be free. I love who I am today. I feel like I have my very own identity for the first time in my life. And I love all the changes and challenges and people that helped shape me; Denny, my children, my parents, my friends, my readers, my reviewers.

Thanks to Denny, last year I was inspired to dig within and scrounge up the gumption to complete and publish my first book, the first of many. I did it for him, I did it for the children, I did it for myself. What I didn’t anticipate was the floodgate of responses. I’ve been completely humbled by the kindness and warmth with which my words have been received. Because of the autobiographical nature of my book people feel they are directly connecting with me when they read it and many have reached out; some to encourage, some out of curiosity, some even for help. I have wonderful friendships at the turn of this new year that I didn’t have at the turn of the last, simply because of the writing and publishing experience. It was unexpected and is very rewarding. There’s no feeling quite like it.

Last year I explored new aspects of motherhood at the side of Denny, who has been embracing and exploring fatherhood. I’ve heard “you’re such a good mom” more times and more sincerely than I’ve heard the whole time I’ve been a mom. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed having a partner who cares about the children as much as I do, and cares about me while we’re doing this parenting thing. As a family we are learning to navigate the teenage years, transitioning these young people into adulthood with as much grace as possible, while giving the younger ones a good foundation and happy childhood. Perfectly? Heck no. But we communicate, we love, we strive for understanding. I’ve thought a lot about my past and my mistakes, but I wouldn’t undo a moment of it because wow, these kids are astounding.

Our home school has cranked up a few notches in quality. The older children are writing up a storm in the form of reports as well as creative projects. Instead of a narrow history of the earth starting six thousand years ago and involving a worldwide flood, the children are learning about the history of the universe, evolution, our place among the stars and the animals. Social studies happen regularly as we discuss events current and past. The children are inundated with some form of science study nearly every day and all seem hungry for it. Algebra has found its way to the table. We are also learning gobs about Britain, thanks to our friends over there who love to share their knowledge and experiences. We’re very much looking forward to traveling to the UK as soon as we can afford it, probably within a few years. (Donations accepted!)

Together we have worked and sacrificed to pay off debt and, aside from a moderate mortgage and a small dental bill, we’ve done it. Not only that, but we’ve managed to get my and the children’s health up to snuff with dental visits and vaccinations. (Without a dime of support from my ex. Just sayin’.) We’ve improved our home with some orginzation, lots of shelves, a bit of paint, and sundry other things. Our property saw the addition of a duck pond, two cedar arbors and some trellises, hugelkulture garden beds, and many perennial herbs and flowers. In a bittersweet vein, we parted with our goats to free up time and energy to pursue other things. But we still make and sell soap.

We’ve had a lot of laughs, shed a few tears because we’re really just big softies, and enjoyed the year thoroughly. Thanks to all who have been a part of it. I can’t begin to imagine what next year will bring to my door, but I greet it with open arms.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Free to Be Promo

Been a while. How about another chance to download Free to Be for free? 

Feel free to grab the above image and share it.  =)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Time Is On My Side

Tock, tick, tock, tick, tock.

CozyThat classic sound of time slipping away is announced by the grandmother clock above my mantle. A birthday gift from my dad two years ago. (Or was it three? Tricky time.) Somehow it’s wormed its way into my heart as one of the most soothing sounds in the world. If I can hear it, it means the house is quiet. The only other sound on this wintry afternoon is the hiss of the water pot we keep simmering on the wood stove. And the occasional slurpy sip of hot Yorkshire tea with a little cream and sugar—that’s me, being cozy. Every now and then I hear a shout or a note of laughter drifting from the yard, where my younger four children are at play, bundled up in snow suits, hats, mittens and boots of assorted colors. (I love that my boys don’t mind wearing pink.) Make it do or do without. There’s no snow on the ground today, just an inch of ice and sleet. It’s a make-it-do winter.

My older three children are upstairs doing their school work. When the younger ones come back in I will fix them some hot cocoa and we’ll read together on the couch and then they’ll do some copy work at the table. Maybe today I’ll break out the sewing machine and teach Blue to use it; she’s been asking me to. Denny is in the back working at his computer. I see an occasional flutter at the bird feeder outside the dining room window as titmice, nuthatches, chickadees and cardinals fly in for a quick snack.

But it’s mostly quiet. Stillness prevails. I am basking in it.
We must, as parents, you know. We must pause to note life's peaceful moments. Did I say parents? As people—with children or otherwise. Slip away from the children or send them outside, set the iPhone aside, turn off the TV or radio, find somewhere inviting and just be for a few minutes. Funny, we have to unplug occasionally to fully recharge. (For the record, I did spend at least nine minutes this way before I thought how nice it would be to write it down and grabbed my laptop.) 

I enjoy the house at this moment with the awareness that someday the children will be grown and gone, the days more still and quiet than busy and noisy, and I’ll go about my days and nights with more time to remember how full of life it once was. Not that I anticipate the fullness going out of my life when my kids are gone--I have plans, ideas, hopes—but it will certainly be quieter and… different. I’ve read the mommy poems about the fingerprints on the walls growing higher and higher and finally disappearing. I’ve cried my share of sweet and bittersweet tears as I’ve watched my children play together, say the darnedest things, reach personal milestones, snuggle next to me on cold mornings and give me hugs when I needed it most. Childhood is fleeting. Time is fleeting. I’m neither in a hurry to see it pass nor longing to hold onto it. Sometimes I’m just incredibly aware of it. And in those moments it seems to stand still.

My mind snaps photographs, desperate to capture the moments. I take actual photos or write down descriptions if I’m able. It’s a process of observation, pausing to acknowledge my life, to memorize and appreciate it. I take the moments in and they shape me, help to make me who I am and who I will be. I don’t want to rush by them and end up at the end of the road wondering where my life went, you know? My house will likely be very quiet one day, but, if I’m careful to capture them now, it will be full of vivid memories. What’s more satisfying than the knowledge of a life purposefully lived?

Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick.