Friday, May 05, 2023

Good time to repost this: What Happened When I Stopped Trying To Do Everything

 Oldie but goodie post from 2017. We had to take a break for 9 months this year from our farm and house help, but recently restarted it for a day every other week. We’ve had two days now of the same amazing people coming in and helping. We pay a very good wage, what they more than deserve, and we get relief from some of the things we find it hard to get done. Win/win. I’m so grateful. I bolded the paragraph that I need to clearly remember! 

What happened when I stopped trying to do Everything

A few months ago my husband and I decided to hire someone to come once every other week to help us get the fenceline on two sides of the farm clear for the fencing that will be done in November. Through a serendipitous referral we found the exact right person to do this job, and quickly realized that a number of my projects could be expedited with his help. He started coming one day a week and then two days a week.

What happened next?

The nightmare of honeysuckle, wild muscadine, and trumpet vine living under our front porch was dug out and cleared out of the beds around the porch.

The beds were cleared and prepped for planting.

The farm was weedeated on a regular basis.

The mowing was done.

The fenceline, a total thicket of poison ivy and other invasive things, was cleared.

The pastures were cleared of fallen sticks and weed patches.

The very back wooded area is about 2/3 clear now, with stacks of firewood and kindling waiting for the woodstove if it ever gets cold this year.

A month ago we decided to have someone come help me with cleaning inside the house once every other week.

Every room but the master bath has now been deep cleaned and kept that way.

For years I've said I can do three things in a day. Barn, house, family. Ride, family, house. Pasture, family, house. Family, writing, house. The bottom line is that family, which includes the 11 animals we currently live with, is always going to be one of three. That is as it should be. But what it meant was I never got to everything, because there are really 5 things that matter to me: family, write, ride, house, barn/pasture/farm. So I was forever juggling it all, making bits of progress, then losing it again as other things piled up.

Now what happens is a couple of amazing people do one of the things while I do the others, and at least some of the time, I see projects getting done much more quickly than they otherwise would.

I'm an introvert at heart so some of the time I go through a half hour of stress about having someone here, but once that passes I appreciate the help and am grateful that at this point in our lives we can afford to make the choice to put some resources toward getting it.

Yesterday while the downstairs was being managed by someone other than me, I sat in my garret and reduced three piles of paperwork to nothing, checked about 6 things off my to do list, and prepared the sleeping set-up to accommodate having the attic AC/heat unit inspected and two rooms painted. It's amazing what I can get done when the pressure of trying to do it all is removed.

The message beneath all this is not about hiring people to help, although that is part of it. At its core, the message is about me allowing for the fact that I can let go of my own desire to Get Everything Done. It's something I have worked on for years but hiring people to help has not only helped get some needed work done, it's shifted my mobile, to use an analogy I often use with clients. When we change something, just one thing, it shifts everything else around. So often we think we have to make huge changes to see a difference in our lives, our relationships, our selves. But many times just making one change results in a whole new way of being. Like a mobile hanging in a room. If you touch just one part, the whole things shifts.

And that is what I've done.

Monday, May 01, 2023

November Hill farm journal, 181

 The first day of May! Which means our busy April has come and gone, with many birthdays celebrated, including Apache Moon, Keil Bay, dear husband, and dear daughter, whose cake has become a tradition for all of us:

We’re so proud of her graduating this week and moving on to her PhD program in the fall. She earned the honor of Outstanding Senior in the School of Sciences and these two birthday lemurs showed up to commend her. 

In other news, the herd had hoof trims on Saturday and the trimmer said she thought Keil Bay was the most stable she’s seen him, so I’m very happy that was noticeable to her. Overall he’s doing well and the biggest challenge to the herd these days is our see-sawing weather. Rain, heat, chilly, you name it. 

This week we had two very big rains and our garage flooded - not totally but it’s been awhile since we had this happen, so it was not a great surprise. Drying things out with fans and have reached out to see if we can have some waterproofing done. 

Am continuing to work in the garden beds and enjoying all the blooming things. I added a couple of new native species to my front bed - foam flower and woodland phlox - and will update my native plant series soon. 

Spending time at the desk Mondays - Wednesdays with a plan to soon get to spending some time there Thursdays with writing work. I enjoy my space and the work I do and I also love the joyful things I have arranged there to give me little breaks and good energy:

I found this pony figure at a craft fair several years ago and the name of the studio? Fat Pony Studios. I could not resist. 

It’s time, in my personal opinion, for a calm and easy month of puttering and working and enjoying the season. May you have that too, in whatever form makes you happy. 

Monday, April 24, 2023

An oldie but a goodie post that was getting some traction last night/on horses and intention/empathy


lest you think horses lack intention and empathy

This morning Salina had an appointment with her massage therapist. Salina is 28 years old with one eye, arthritic knees, and I have said many times that she has become the heartbeat of November Hill. There is nothing that happens on this plot of land that escapes her attention. She is my partner. While I am inside, not always alert to the goings-on in the pastures that surround our house, my most trusted way of checking the "temperature" of the herd is to look out the window and find Salina. During the summer in the daytime she is often in the barn with hay and fans, and she seems to know when I look out that I need to see her face. She almost always puts her head out her window at just the moment I glance out needing to know what's going on. I know when things are okay from the way she holds her head and ears.

 At night she will come to my bedroom window and whinny if she needs the help of the humans in the family. There is no mistaking the tone in her call. It means COME NOW. 

This morning everyone had breakfast tubs and I had allowed Keil Bay to come to Salina and the donkeys' side of the barn thinking that while Salina got her massage I would groom Keil Bay and get him ready for a ride. I had all kinds of thoughts flowing about what we might do in the ride. I even thought I might take him into the back field and jump a few baby jumps.

But I never got to that point. At the appointed massage hour, Keil Bay went into Salina's stall and planted himself in front of her, head emerging into the barn aisle, clearly waiting for something.

When H. arrived, Keil was ready. Keil Bay loves body work. He loves chiropractic adjustment, loves massage, and basically just loves attention of all kinds. He's the only horse I've ever seen who greets the vet with the same enthusiasm with which he greets almost everyone. He is a horse that will come and wait at his stall door or at the gate if he has an injury. Keil is a horse, but he trusts his people to take care of him. Today it was obvious he was asking for a massage.

Even when I got him out of Salina's stall, thinking he would walk on out of the barn, he stopped, and as if to accentuate the point, Salina came out behind him and lined up - LINED UP - behind him, along with both donkeys. If we had been doing structural family therapy I would have noticed that they were physically, literally, putting him FIRST IN LINE. It was not my most observant moment. 

I am embarrassed to say that I did not listen. I stood and to my credit I apologized to him that it was not his turn. With a tighter budget not every horse here is getting regular massages right now, and I have Salina on a monthly schedule mostly because of her age and her infirmities. In my mind she has earned that monthly massage and the relief it brings her.

So I told Keil Bay he would get a turn as soon as I could manage it, and I headed him to the front field gate, which I had left open, and which he had ignored, because as much as he wanted the grass, he wanted that massage more. I quite literally shoved him through the gate, with both my hands on his hind end, and being the good sport he is, he went.

I walked back to the barn aisle expecting Salina to be ready for her massage. It always takes her a minute to relax and give up her role as boss mare, but she generally does it and then goes into endorphin bliss as H. works her muscles from head to tail and back up to her head again. I have seen Salina almost fall to the ground due to the extreme relaxation she experiences from this work. The benefits she gets from it are concrete and measurable.

Today she would not have any part of it. She tossed her head, snapped her lips at me, and tried to walk out of the barn. I fussed at her in English and in German. I tried cajoling her. We walked her to the edge of the barn aisle so she could see out. We tied her. She was absolutely furious and let us know in the most emphatic gesturing I've ever seen her do that she was NOT getting a massage.

Finally, in frustration, I unhooked the lead line and said "What are you trying to say?" She walked out of the barn with as bold and fluid a stride as I've seen her take in months. She headed straight down the grass paddock and began looking down the hill.

I turned to H. and said I would just go get Keil Bay. By this time, he'd gone down the hill to the front field and Cody had come up near the gate. So I said, well, maybe Cody is the one who needs it today. I opened the gate and went to get Cody and he walked up to me and then RAN past me to Salina who was pacing back and forth still looking down the hill.

I went and got Keil Bay. As soon as he was in the barn aisle and H. put her hands on him she said "He really does need this." As she worked, it became clear to both of us that in fact Keil REALLY needed the work. He had many tight muscles and some sore spots. As soon as he was in the barn Salina completely settled down and began to graze. Her agitation simply disappeared. About halfway through the work, she came up and looked in, as if she were making sure he was getting what he needed. I herded her back out, and closed the barn doors so we wouldn't end up with a crowd of equine spectators. She came around to the end stall and stood mirroring what Keil Bay did. He rubbed his eye on my shoulder, she rubbed hers on the stall wall. He shook his head, she shook hers.

And throughout his massage he would turn to look at H. with soft eyes and big yawns and licking and chewing.

Nothing these horses and donkeys do surprises me any more. They are advanced beings as far as I'm concerned, and they share more with me than I ever knew to expect when they came into our lives. What surprises me every single time is how absolutely dumb I can be when it comes to listening to them. As much as I watch and note and look for, as devoted as I am to trying to see what it is they have to say to me, I still miss the most obvious statements. I do my human thing and they try their best to say what they need to say ten different ways until they hit on one that clicks for me.

And when I finally get it, when I actually listen and act on what it is they're trying to tell me, they are ALWAYS right. But never are they smug or anything but grateful that I listened.

I've written this before but I feel the need to write it again. If you think equines don't have feelings, don't feel emotion, don't have the brain matter to form thoughts and plans and intentions, that's fine. All I can say is you are missing out on a relationship that is pure and honest and has more to teach than I can put into words.

The only thing you have to do is open your heart and your mind and listen.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

November Hill farm journal, 180

 Have I already lost control of spring farm and garden chores? It feels like it at the moment but I’m going to think of it as riding the waves of all the things growing and thriving and be content with every single thing I manage to do to help, manage, and monitor.

I’m getting better at picking a few things to work on each day and leaning in to the reality that this is what life is, not catching up, not checking off every to do list item, but paying attention and taking joy and tackling a few things that need doing as one part of a day’s journey.

Working with clients again has reminded me in a very big way of our need to listen to and often shift our own interior monologues, which is generally called self talk. I’ve done this work before with great success, but it is an ongoing process. My brain is wired to track things, and I can get into the motion of trying to keep up with doing all the things or into the space of being so overwhelmed by all the things I feel stuck doing none of them. 

Changing my brain to doing a few each day has been a good way to work with both places.

A good example - someone in my native plant group said in response to my query about the overwhelming number of Japanese honeysuckle coming up on the farm this spring: just pull some every day and that will eventually take care of it. What a relief that was to my racing brain!

So, everything is growing madly, horses are shedding, Keil Bay has been sticking a hind leg out which worries me but it comes and goes since the EPM and right now he’s doing it but is otherwise fine, we found a tick in the house this week, all the vehicles are nearing inspection time at once, and so on and so on. 

Meanwhile we are celebrating birthdays: husband’s, daughter’s, Keil Bay’s and Apache Moon’s. Daughter’s graduation is nearing. April is almost always a very full and busy month, and paired with all of nature bursting at the seams outside, it just feels fast and wild and … yes … out of control. Maybe that is how it’s supposed to feel. Maybe we need to be in that space sometimes to fully appreciate being alive.

Interestingly, this past week two things that had been off the schedule for awhile came back. We’ve been on a tighter budget the past 10 months and took a break from having farm and housekeeping help as well as massage therapy. On Monday I finally got back to the massage table and on Tuesday our farm and housekeeping helpers returned. Doing without definitely brought the feelings of gratefulness and appreciation front and center. It was so good bringing these two things back to the schedule. 

This week also brought a beloved first to the schedule for me: my grandson is coming over to spend time with me each week and this week we did gardening together. Oh, what a joy to slow down and see the tasks through a two-year old’s eyes. The satisfaction of using a real tool that works well. The joy of the water coming through the hose. The simple joy of filling a syringe with water and spraying it at grandma, aka “ga.” The closing of a big gate that takes two hands to push. The digging in to the mulch pile. The wonder of sawing an old stump and seeing ants emerge with tiny white eggs. 

It was the perfect way to end this very full week. 

Monday, April 10, 2023

November Hill farm journal, 179

 This photo says everything about my time out on the farm these days:

A beloved native plant waking up for spring while in the background an invasive non-native does the same. For some reason we are besieged with Japanese honeysuckle this year and I am pulling some every time I go outside, trying to make a dent in its growth. 

It’s not the only non-native thing growing, but some, like the purple dead nettle, come and go, and don’t seem so insidious. 

We just came through a 3-day rain and cold event here, and it feels like yesterday when the sunshine returned the trees leafed out en masse, overnight. We’re feeling the privacy that spring, summer, and fall offers us on this little farm on its hill. 

Every time I go outside, I spend some time cutting back old growth in the beds, pulling non-natives, and looking at what is coming up. The golden Alexanders and wild columbine are the stars right now in the front beds, and the curly heads I planted last summer are precious with their bell-shaped flowers. The downy wood mint plants are HUGE but not yet flowering. It’s exciting to see things coming up and I really have to finish up the cutting out of old stems so I can enjoy the new spring plants even more.

I took a walk along the woods’ edge strip yesterday and was thrilled to find a young willow oak growingin exactly the right place for it, as well as a winged elm also in a good spot. There are many shagbark hickories too. I’m going to protect these young trees as the next generation in the strip. I’m very excited they are there. 

This month I’m doing Jeannine Ouellette’s 30-day writing exercise, in which she provides a prompt each morning that involves being aware, noticing, and increasing awareness of what’s around us, and then using a writing constraint to springboard from awareness to writing. Look for her on Substack if this appeals. She’s an amazing writing teacher and a kindred spirit. Jeannine was one of the moms in the email list group that started when I had my firstborn, and it’s amazing to me that after all these years my writing life has synced up with her teaching writing life in a very beautiful way.

I’m also doing small bits of work on the TV series pilot and feeling like all movement is progress these days. 

In the house, I’ve been tackling tiny areas of deep cleaning, specifically looking for the “hot spots” and taking the generally small amounts of time it takes to clean them up. I’ve done behind toilets, behind one pedestal sink, the kitchen sink window, the cat flap window, and the guest room, which has now become husband’s home office. That was a bigger project, donating the double bed and moving a twin bed from daughter’s studio into the guest room/office, moving exercise bike into her studio, etc. The cats have officially been closed out of the office (as they are from the studio and my garret) and in a wave of guilt I set up the loft with all their perches and puzzles and toys and added a new three-story cat condo with rooftop deck. Only Isobel has taken up residence in the lower condo, but eventually they’ll discover its fun. 

I also got into a flurry of painting the stairway spindlesand. Made some good progress this rainy weekend. Still a ways to go but I’m up to the landing now!