The Greenhorn at Blue Rock Station: Post #4

THE HAPPINESS FACTOR #3: ESTABLISH LASTING FRIENDSHIPS

All too often I meet people who have made it their sole mission in life to seek out one person who will give them indestructible happiness. This is a mission that is doomed for failure. Not only have they made an investment with impossible expectations for their significant other, but they have set themselves up to be resentful when those expectations are not met. It also creates a situation in which one will be all alone if the connection with the other ever severs. What happens if their lover dies, or they have to leave for a while, or it just doesn’t work out like it was originally planned? Happiness isn’t found in one person; it spawns from the multiple lifelong connections you have made within your world. As Aristotle once said, “in poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. They keep the young out of mischief; they comfort and aid the old in their weakness, and they incite those in the prime of life to noble deeds.”

Now, I admit that I am not the most sociable person in the world. I can even be a bit snotty about it. I only let in people who I absolutely adore, mostly because I find social interaction to be exhausting. If I get to a point in my life where I feel like I have let too many people in, or if they are hanging out with too many people I do not want to let in, I disappear. I learned quickly that people get upset if you just ignore everyone for an indeterminate amount of time, so once I got a vehicle I began finding more excusable ways of escaping. I might change jobs, transfer schools, or work as an intern in Ohio. It’s like I have this unspecified social quota that I let slowly fill up, and once it’s filled I dump everything to start again. I should probably say that I plan to work on this, but I feel like I know myself well enough at this point to know that expecting anything else would be me not respecting the way my brain is wired. Though, I suppose I will eventually need to find less drastic ways to “recharge”.

Being Introverted doesn't mean I don't enjoy the comfort of being surrounded by friends.
Being introverted doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the comfort of being surrounded by friends.

I always come back to the ones I love.  I may be extremely introverted, but I am not heartless. I require their support as much as any extroverted soul. I am only less overt with my appreciation. During my stay at Blue Rock Station, I have witnessed how exponentially important friendship becomes with age. People die, careers are halted, homes are loss, children can be ungrateful, romance may fade, but true friends are always there when you need them. For this reason, one should always make room for friendships in life. They fill your days with songs of laughter and joy, whose melodies will give you comfort in times of sorrow.

Photo credit:  Anna Marie

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Day #2 THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH

Day #2     THANKS FOR NOTHING Month                               Sunny/Frigid

“Just for today I will touch the arm of every person I speak to face-to-face.  This one act has the power to create a connection between us.”
????????????????????? Mornings during THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH are a challenge during these beginning days of the month.  Each year we forget how much thought goes into the process of having hot water.  And hot water is the first thing needed in the morning, and nearly the last thing required in the evening.

Ralphie is mesmerized by the morning fire.

The wood stove in the living room is the only active source of heat for our home, an “Earthship” designed by the architect Michael Reynolds.  The home is constructed with rammed-earth tires, cans, bottles and lots of other re-purposed items.  Because the basic premise of the home is to use the concept of thermal mass for heating and cooling, the house naturally never falls below 55 degrees F, even with no heat source.

The only sources of hot water include a large old-fashioned enamel water kettle, and a small modern metal tea pot which are heated on of the top of the wood stove.  This hot water is used for washing dishes, filling up the solar shower bag that’s used for an evening shower, and, most importantly, for hot tea and coffee.  It takes a bit of planning to not run out of hot water, and that’s where our month of no electricity and money gets off to a rocky start.

For example:  Unless someone gets up in the night to put wood into the stove, in the morning the water in the tea kettles is only lukewarm.  The room is still plenty warm, and the stove is still hot, but the tea kettles loose their heat rather quickly.  Since Jay loves his morning cup of coffee, and I crave a proper cup of morning tea, this causes us to huddle around the stove, waiting for the smaller tea kettle to begin to “sing” that it’s finally hot enough.

After the first night, I’ve decided that if I wake up, no matter how much I hate to get up, I’m going to refill the wood stove.  Last night I did wake, and I tried telling myself that it didn’t matter, we could wait for our tea.  But then I remembered that there would be people joining us for a consulting visit and we would not have the luxury of hanging out until we’re good and ready to begin the day.

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With my head lamp shining brightly, I wandered down the hallway like a coal miner and filled up the stove.  Unlike a coal miner, I had the added hazard of avoiding stepping on any of the cats that sleep wherever they find a bit of warmth.  Then back to bed, to dream of warmer days.

Last year I tried hoarding hot water by filling up insulated water carafes.  It didn’t really work.  Lukewarm water just doesn’t make a great cup of coffee or tea.

I’d love to hear an idea or two about how I might keep the water hot enough over night to have a nice hot cup of tea, and not have to wait around for 30 minutes to get the day in high gear.  I’m considering putting some clay bricks on top of the stove (slight thermal mass) and putting the tea kettle on top.  My hope is that the bricks will hold more heat then the top of the stove.

The saga of how to keep the water hot over night continues.  I hope to hear from folks about possible solutions.

Menu
Breakfast:
Fresh fruit with yogurt

Lunch:
Left over butternut squash/potato soup
Rye bread with butter
Fresh hot pepper raw milk goat cheese

THANKS FOR NOTHING Month Day #1

Day #1 THANKS FOR NOTHING Month           Snowing

Tom & Annie preparing for Yule
Tom & Annie preparing for Yule

“Thoughtfulness takes practice.  Just for today I will be thoughtful in my approach to those around me.”

This past year we have tried to make it a time of spiritual renewal, and my hope for the new year definitely includes more opportunities for growing spiritual connections and restful fun.

The beginning of a new year should allow time to rest and review the year.  For us at Blue Rock Station, it is also the beginning of THANKS FOR NOTHING month.  Each year we try to challenge ourselves with an entire month where we spend no money, and avoid using energy.  This is our third year of this practice – and we find ourselves looking forward to the pause, rather than feeling challenged by it.

Each year we try to push just a bit harder, so rather than creating a menu for the month (and going shopping that last week of December), we decided to use what was already on hand – and clean the freezer instead of shopping.  Normally the 31-day menu would be in place well-ahead of January 1st, and all the food stored.  This year, however, we’re eating completely out of the freezers and larder.  The only thing we purchased was a stash of cheese for Jay (he hates my goat cheese), and some fresh fruit to go with the bounty of fall apples still in the larder.

Going a month without money requires a bit of advance planning.  For some reason, the animals on the farm don’t share our commitment to the spiritual growth that comes from doing without.  So on Tuesday I decided to pre-pay for some chicken feed at the hardware store in Duncan Falls, just in case I ran out before the end of the month.  The grain storage bins only hold four 50 lb. bags and those chickens are eating like frat boys at an all-you-can eat buffet.  The hay guy, who is also prepaid, will probably need to bring 50 bales before the end of the month – it’s going to be bitter cold so the goats and llamas are going to need extra feed to keep warm.

We should have taken a before photo because it didn't look anything like this before we started cleaning.
We should have taken a before photo because it didn’t look anything like this before we started cleaning.

After chores, our neighbor from a nearby ridge, Tom Winland, came by to visit.  Jay and I were in the midst of cleaning out the freezer and sorting everything according to categories – cheese, milk (saved for when they are dried up while I’m in France), meat, fruit, leftovers and miscellaneous.  Tom sat and watched, drinking a cup of hot tea made from water heated on the wood stove.

I decided I am going to keep a little notebook of what’s in the freezers, so we can cross off or add to the list.  That way I’ll have some idea of what’s available.  I was surprised at how much grated goat cheese we had.  There was also quite a bit of frozen basil pesto.  I kept telling Jay that he could tell the things that I like to eat by how much of it was stashed in the freezer.

We were so inspired by the clean and organized freezer, and possibly by Tom’s story telling, that we decided to clean the frig.  Jay’s hope was that we might throw out some of the many jars that take up quite a bit of space.  I’m not sure what he wanted to put in the place of these jars, as what is there is what we get – at least for the next 30 days.  We only discovered two science experiments – plastic containers filled with mold.  The rest were unlabeled containers of jelly, jam, pesto, and fruit syrups for waffles.

After lots of sorting, making lists, and scrubbing the frig shelves, we were pretty pleased with our afternoon of visiting and the clean refrigerator.  Thank goodness the bitter cold is coming or we might have been tempted to move on to bigger and more cluttered items.

Even though there were only two spoonsful of Whit's Frozen Yogurt Jay saved the treat for evening.
Even though there were only two spoonsful of Whit’s Frozen Yogurt Jay saved the treat for evening.

Instead we spent the rest of the afternoon working with Tom to plan February’s maple syrup project.  Tom wants to tap a few trees to gather sap so his family and ours will have some maple syrup for 2014.  It’s an exchange of our resources for his labor.  We love sweetening desserts with the delicious flavor of maple syrup, and using it as waffle syrup.  Plus it’s fun to have projects that involve people who will show up with good stories, and bring their good mood on a cold day.

The clean refrigerator, and Tom’s visit are a reminder that 2014 is going to be full of spiritual abundance, and loads of restful fun.  Happy New Year to all, and we hope you’ll join us during this month of living simply.

Menu for today:
Breakfast – Jay had cream of wheat and I had gluten-free waffles, real butter and raw honey plus a banana

Late-afternoon meal – pizza with toppings (we each like something different) and fresh green salad.  The crust is pre-baked.  Jay will have pepperoni and cheese and I will have goat cheese, olives and basil.  The dogs will have whatever falls on the floor.

Blue Rock Station Diaries

Jay, the writer

Blue Rock Station Diary                                                                March 1, 2012

62 F indoors                 44 F outdoors

The sun is shining again this morning.  What’s the world coming to – it’s Ohio, after all?  Even though it’s a little chilly in the house, that bright light in the window is going to heat the walls of the living room for an afternoon temperature indoors in the ‘70’s.  It must be April.

Last night when I went up to shut up the chickens the bull frogs were singing in the pond that refuses to hold water for more than five minutes.  They sounded so happy.  I could just picture them forming a little circle (this is what they do) and then calling out to each other. After lots of vocalizing one swims towards the center, then the singing stops for a second of two.  Who knows what it all means because the frog then swims back to his place and the singing resumes.

Yesterday (the leap year day) I finally went over to the east field to start cutting down saplings so I can create a willow field.  It was so warm that I had to strip down to my t-shirt and bib overalls.  The wind was fierce but it was a wonderful afternoon of working physically hard, with the dogs and I enjoying the work.  Today I hope to plant all of the curly willows Bill Johnson gave me.  After that there are more pussy willows to plant, and then the paw paws I ordered will arrive.  I think this year will be a record for planting trees – around 200 or more if I don’t wear out before I finish my task.

There’s a lot to think about in spring.  The buildings always look so ratty and in need of little repairs – that’s on the list of first tasks to complete when it dries up a bit.  First I worry if the goats are pregnant – it’s impossible to know until they start showing.  Then I worry that they are pregnant.

Getting the raised beds weeded is next on the list, and where to plant everything.  Jay didn’t want me to raise turkeys this year so now I am thinking about how to keep pigs down in the woods, and the design for all of the fencing that will be built this spring.  Where we will get all of the time to do these things, plus finish the book?

Part of the reason (this is my excuse anyway) that I feel a bit anxious about the long list of things to do is that I believe we have to get them down now.  MY PREDICTION:  the summer is going to be so darn hot we’ll have to get up at dawn to work, and then rest until dusk.  We’ll be like the factory farmers at night mowing hay with their spotlights in the field, trying to work in the dark to escape the heat.

Please don’t think this is about complaining (except in regards to the prediction of excessive summer heat).  As a dedicated goal setter, there could be nothing more encouraging then to create a long list of activities month-by-month.

But at the end of the day, when I look around to see who is going to help complete this ever-growing list I have to be realistic that the main assister is sitting across the room from me, writing his little heart out.  He gets religiously gets up at 5 AM every morning to write about all those thoughts that run through his head.  After WHEN THE BIOMAS HITS THE WIND TURBINE is completed (end of March), there will be the revision for the GREEN TECHNOLOGY book.  And then the GIVIING THANKS FOR NOTHING book to be ready by December.  All of this requires either that he writes and I edit, or I write and he edits.

The solution?  It will all come down to whatever makes the most noise to be completed…the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  The loud voices of producing food (there’s only so many months of warmth), visitors, family obligations, friend time, caring for livestock, repairing buildings, teaching, and writing make for a full life.  It will be rewarding to look back over 2012 to see how it all shook down.

The Spring To Do List

Blue Rock Station Diary                                                                March 1, 2012

62 F indoors                 44 F outdoors

 

The sun is shining again this morning.  What’s the world coming to – it’s Ohio, after all?  Even though it’s a little chilly in the house, that bright light in the window is going to heat the walls of the living room for an afternoon temperature indoors in the ‘70’s.  It must be April.

Last night when I went up to shut up the chickens the bull frogs were singing in the pond that refuses to hold water for more than five minutes.  They sounded so happy.  I could just picture them forming a little circle (this is what they do) and then calling out to each other. After lots of vocalizing one swims towards the center, then the singing stops for a second of two.  Who knows what it all means because the frog then swims back to his place and the singing resumes. 

Yesterday (the leap year day) I finally went over to the east field to start cutting down saplings so I can create a willow field.  It was so warm that I had to strip down to my t-shirt and bib overalls.  The wind was fierce but it was a wonderful afternoon of working physically hard, with the dogs and I enjoying the work.  Today I hope to plant all of the curly willows Bill Johnson gave me.  After that there are more pussy willows to plant, and then the paw paws I ordered will arrive.  I think this year will be a record for planting trees – around 200 or more if I don’t wear out before I finish my task.

There’s a lot to think about in spring.  The buildings always look so ratty and in need of little repairs – that’s on the list of first tasks to complete when it dries up a bit.  First I worry if the goats are pregnant – it’s impossible to know until they start showing.  Then I worry that they are pregnant. 

Getting the raised beds weeded is next on the list, and where to plant everything.  Jay didn’t want me to raise turkeys this year so now I am thinking about how to keep pigs down in the woods, and the design for all of the fencing that will be built this spring.  Where we will get all of the time to do these things, plus finish the book? 

Part of the reason (this is my excuse anyway) that I feel a bit anxious about the long list of things to do is that I believe we have to get them down now.  MY PREDICTION:  the summer is going to be so darn hot we’ll have to get up at dawn to work, and then rest until dusk.  We’ll be like the factory farmers at night mowing hay with their spotlights in the field, trying to work in the dark to escape the heat.

Please don’t think this is about complaining (except in regards to the prediction of excessive summer heat).  As a dedicated goal setter, there could be nothing more encouraging then to create a long list of activities month-by-month. 

But at the end of the day, when I look around to see who is going to help complete this ever-growing list I have to be realistic that the main assister is sitting across the room from me, writing his little heart out.  He gets religiously gets up at 5 AM every morning to write about all those thoughts that run through his head.  After WHEN THE BIOMAS HITS THE WIND TURBINE is completed (end of March), there will be the revision for the GREEN TECHNOLOGY book.  And then the GIVIING THANKS FOR NOTHING book to be ready by December.  All of this requires either that he writes and I edit, or I write and he edits. 

The solution?  It will all come down to whatever makes the most noise to be completed…the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  The loud voices of producing food (there’s only so many months of warmth), visitors, family obligations, friend time, caring for livestock, repairing buildings, teaching, and writing make for a full life.  It will be rewarding to look back over 2012 to see how it all shook down.

 

Blue Rock Station Diaries February 9, 2012

23 F outdoors          65 F indoors

TODAY’S HAPPINESS FACTOR:  6 out of 10

Image

 

Samuel Sheets.  I will never forget the first time I heard those words.  How could I know that the person that belonged to that name would walk into my life and steal my heart?

There’s a history with this guy – he’s young, handsome and smart.  He also has had some challenges in this life, but when he was with us those things were off in the distance and he belonged.

Sam is good hearted.  He is a joy to work with because he can take any situation and make something good out of it. 

I hesitate to re-tell some of the stories that involve his life at Blue Rock Station because he’s in the Army now, and apparently at the ripe old age of 19 there is a lot to make fun of if you’re from Ohio, particularly farmland Ohio.

His one mistake in life, as far as I can see, is that he decided he was in love with our granddaughter.  Since there can be no choosing anyone over her, Sam’s days with us eventually became measured by when Miss America was off on a trip, or doing something away from the farm.

Since his birthday is two days apart from Jay’s we had some wonderful birthdays together – sometimes taking a little trip, or holding a party, or just doting on him.  Sam loves a party.  He really truly enjoys bringing people together to talk, to play music, to have fun.  I really like that about him.

Even at Christmas he would join us after Miss America went off to her mom’s house.  He also really loves holidays.

So when I saw him in the library two years ago I wasn’t surprised to see him wearing a stocking cap with the word “ARMY” on it.  He waltzed right up to me to tell me he had enlisted, and I promptly burst out crying, right in the middle of everybody.

Last spring, after he graduated from high school, he spent quite a bit of time with us.  He worked on some projects to help out, and we shopped for the things he needed to take with him to basic training at Ft. Benning, Georgia.

I confess that the day I returned his Army-issued backpack (the one I had to take apart and re-sew because it was already falling apart) I planned that I would not be officially saying “goodbye”.  He was leaving in two days at that point, and I hate goodbyes.

That was the last time I saw him until I arrived at graduation at Ft. Benning.   While I waited in the cold morning air just for a glimpse of him I was surrounded by hundreds of parents and grandparents.  There were also wives and girlfriends.  We sang “God Bless America” and recited the pledge of allegiance.  I felt really traditionally American sitting on those hard seats waiting to see this person I hold dear to me.

When he marched out with his battalion unit I spotted him immediately in the sea of gray camo.  His Army-issued glasses changed his face, but it was still Sam.  The sign I’d made the night before “Sam Sheets – our hero” signaled to him where I was standing (actually on top of a chair – I’m short).  He never broke that serious expression, but later he said that he saw me right off.

ImageFt. Benning graduation – Sam and Annie

 

When they finally broke rank and he came to give me a hug I could hardly believe how strong those muscles felt.  But some things never change – he wanted a new pair of boots and to eat something.

Off we went to the military store where he did find a pair of more comfortable light- weight Army-issue boots.  We also managed to find a pizza buffet where he ate every type of pizza twice.

I spent those two days just drinking in Sam – the boy I first met because Miss America drug him home; The young man who tried to find his way through fishing and teaching kindergartners; The guy who was trying to figure out what it means to grow up in a world with so many mixed messages.

 

Image  Home for the holidays – Miss America, Annie and Sam re-creating the Georgia pizza experience

 

After a stint at Ft. Gordon for more training, and home for the holidays (recreating each pizza style we ate in Ft. Benning) Sam is in Hawaii.  He reports that the Army says he will be there for 18 months.  He can’t believe his good luck. 

From the moment he left until the moment he returns I am dreaming of his future.  I can see him coming back here – to Blue Rock Station to be a part of our work.  He can contribute to our conservation efforts by teaching fishing and hunting.  And, he’ll know a lot more about the mechanics of things – plus bring all of that charm.  In his heart he is a country boy.

Maybe he won’t stay, but I also keep reminding him that he has a place to come back to when the time is right.  There’s a lot to be said about having a bunker for security, and we want to provide that for him.

In the meantime he’s busy making, as many mistakes as possible so that he gets all of it out of the way for when he faces even more serious challenges in life – like building a house, finding the right mate, and living an everyday life.  I can’t wait to see how he’s going to pull all of this off, but I am hoping I get to watch from a ringside seat.

 

DIARY February 2, 2012

38 F outdoors           61 F indoors

TODAY’S HAPPINESS FACTOR:  7 out of 10

Image Steven Turville, budding Ohio University photo journalist tries pickled beets for the first time.

Yesterday was terrific!  Even though I was sick, it was warm and the sunshine made up for feeling bad.  I took a little nap in the afternoon, then sat out at the overlook with the sun in my face.  That was so healing.

Steven, the Ohio University student photo journalist arrived on time.  While I cut pussy willow whips he snapped away.  Then he followed me around while I was trampled by goats.

Isabella, the hen with the chicks, was supposed to begin staying in the chicken run since she hates the dog kennel.  That required a lot of chasing around after biddies, and Sophie running one into the fence.  The photographer was out of breath, running after me as I tried to make sure all eight of the little buggers got in with their mother.

Sometimes I wonder why I commit to such things as photo shoots for students.  I am about as photogenic as a mud wall.  Usually I couch this part of my vanity by saying, “It’s impossible to capture my true essence”.  When, in fact, there just hasn’t been a camera invented that can make me look good.  Then, if you add to the fact that I’m chasing biddies, or being pushed around by goats – you get the picture.

The reason I agree to work with students though is that they need practice.  I’d much rather help them practice, then pay perfectly good money to a lawyer, a medical doctor or a dentist, who all profess to be “practicing”.  I often wonder why they are still “practicing”.  They went to school, they have a string of degrees and they make tons of money.  I’ll stick to the students.

Today I will be practicing being sick.  I’m going to do chores and see if I have energy for hanging out the laundry.  Otherwise Carolyn the cat and I are going to finish reading a book.

Image We’re still using the candles after dark – it’s a very relaxing atmosphere