Archive for the ‘Happiness’ Category

I was talking to one of my best friends a few days ago.  We were talking about tough things that have recently happen in our lives and how we are handling them. I was reflecting on how hard the hot summers are on me here, and how they wipe out a lot of my energy. As they drag on, my mood gets worse because I am unable to do a lot outside and feel like I am not accomplishing anything.Sudeley Castle- 1

We were talking about my recent health issues and how well I am handling everything. I was initially super frustrated as I started realizing how many things I could not do, but once I wrapped my brain around my condition, I realized that there was only so much I could do and just needed to slow down. I had no choice but to slow down. I told my friend that since I could mentally acknowledge my physical limitations I have had a much easier time acknowledging the pace at which things will (or will not) get done. I am at peace with that.

The temperatures here are now into the 90’s and there has been some humidity with that. I have taken a huge step backwards in my stamina and energy. I know it is the heat, but it is still frustrating.  I have also started physical therapy to help increase my lung capacity and endurance. That is helping, but there is still a long road of recovery ahead of me. If I think about the amount of work I used to do outside and where I am now, I would estimate I am possibly at 40%. It is really hard to put a number on that. When I got out of the hospital I could only walk at a snail’s pace and just walking across a room was challenge. I am able to walk a bit faster than that now (and talk at the same time), but it is still slow. I am doing some tasks in the yard, but I do get out of breathe fast and just stop and rest. I have chairs placed all over the backyard so I have a place to sit and rest when I need to.Rose scented geranium 1 - Copy

When I am feeling a little frustrated, I just take a look around the yard, or even in the house, and I realize that I have so much to be thankful for. When I am having a hard time figuring out what the heck I have accomplished today, yesterday, last week – again, I just look around and realized that I have accomplished so much. There is always more to accomplish. There is always more to do, but if I just step back and breathe, things look a little better.

Do you have to take a step back and breathe every now and then?

Sincerely, Emily

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This year Spring has actually come on quite slowly for once down herein South Texas. Although our temperatures are all over the board, it has been nice. A few days ago we were 90F, while today we struggled to hit 70F. (Sorry, I know many of you in the Midwest are digging out from the latest snow fall or trying to stay upright on icy sidewalks!)

With days that have already been in the high 80’s and up to 90F, I notice “Cat Tummy Season” is already here.  What the heck is “Cat Tummy Season?”

Kivuli tummy

I think that explains it.

Kivuli tummy 2

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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For those of you that are used to doing your own things (working the garden, around the house, around the yard, trimming your own trees, hauling your own dirt) you completely understand me when I tell you how frustrating the last 7 weeks have been for me. My mind, for the most part, is working normal (ok, normal for me), but my body is under strict limitations. My limitations have not been lifted yet, but I have been given the go ahead to walk a bit. I can’t get too excited and head off on a mile long, flat road walk, I am able to just bump up my walking a bit.  I am still under strict limitation to only carry 10 lbs. Mind you, I can’t lean over to pick a 10 lb object up or lean over to put a 10 lb object in the oven.

The time has passed when I normally would have started my vegetable seeds. It is time, if I had started them, to get them up into gallon pots and start setting them outside weeks ago to start hardening them. Instead, I headed out to a few local nurseries and bought my veggies this year (and someone carried them to by truck for me.) I also picked up the peppers and tomatoes that my neighbor grows at the same time.

potting plants

I am unable to even pot up those purchased vegetable plants into gallon pots… so, I get by with a little help from my friends. I took all the plants over to my neighbors and they did all the work and got them potted up into gallons pots. Not only did they do all the work, but they kept my plants to oversee them and move them in and out to harden them off and make sure they get a nice dose of sun and wind.

One of the plants I hadn’t found was Anaheim peppers, so we were both keeping our eye out for them. I found them just the other day and delivered the plants next door for more potting.

I wasn’t real sure how I was ever going to have a garden this spring if I can’t start seeds or even plant the actual plants. I am grateful for my neighbors friendship and I am grateful for their help getting my plants ready right along with theirs. This puts a little bit of happiness in my day.

Next step will be actually getting the plants into the garden. It is very frustrating for me not to do my own things. Frustrating having to ask for help. Frustrating to rely on others. I find that I have to take many deep breathes throughout the day, write something down on a list so when someone comes along I can ask them to do it. As I heal and recover I have to rebuild basic strength and energy. I have to be patient and build up stamina. Dang I get tired easy! But what I look forward to the most is doing things myself again.

Until then, I get by with a little help from my friends!

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.


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Bells 1The year we stopped decorating at Christmas I pulled several small bells out of the ornament boxes.

I hung them on my office door, and on our outside doors. Whenever someone goes through these doors, the bells gently chime. It always puts a smile on my face.

Turns out, it’s feng shui. In particular, a bell on your main door, tied with a red ribbon, brings money luck into your house.  The noise of bells can also help control bad chi energy, especially when you choose the materials carefully– metal or ceramic, crystal or wood. While feng shui states that you should hang bells on only the main door, I like having the small chime ring whenever I enter or leave the house, by any door.

Bells 2

Bells 3

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I have zucchini. This is happiness to me.

The story is, I can’t seem to grow zucchini at all. The dang squash vine borers are horrible. So I out smarted them and planted zucchini in my neighbors garden.

We watched the plant grown and develop beautiful leaves. Watched the flowers open and then the little zucchinis start to develop. In the blink of an eye – shazam – it was time to harvest (you know how sneaky that zucchini can be!)  The plants are loaded and I had to leave town! No kidding. All that waiting. The thrill to watch the zucchini start to develop and grow… and I leave town. My neighbors aren’t interested in eating zucchini, in fact, they have never had it before, but they will pick and shred it for me while I am gone.

So, I promise to bake them zucchini bread. I promise to stir fry some for them. Promise Promise promise. It will be great (I love zucchini!) I picked the zucchini in the above photo the day before I left town. I shredded them and stashed it in the freezer.

I am dreaming of zucchini fritters or poor mans crab cakes. I am dreaming of zucchini in my spaghetti sauce. Oh, I am dreaming of zucchini bread.

How are you preserving your fall harvests? How about your zucchini… How do you preserve that so you can use it later?

Sincerely, Emily

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There are many joys in community gardening. I’ve run out of fingers, toes, the fingers and toes of my family, and of my friends, to count the amazing people I’ve met since I started gardening in a community, instead of just in my own backyard.

Sometimes when I’m feeling overwhelmed, or lonely, I hop on my bike, or into my car, and head over to a Peterson Garden Project site, or one of the many other nearby community gardens, and just walk around, looking at everyone’s garden. Sometimes I’ll talk to the rare gardener there in the middle of the day, but sometimes I just like to look at the swelling zucchini, or count the pollinators, or listen to the breeze blowing through the greenery.

Community gardening also brings its hazards, of course. If your neighbor has a bug, chances are you’ll get it, too. Gossip can start to coalesce, not around “did you hear what Mary did?” so much as “oh dear lord, look at this new garden pest I just found out about—let’s look for it!

And I want to say, stop.

Not every bug in an organic garden is a pest. Not every pest will kill your plant. Not every lost plant is a disaster. Not every neighbor will take care of his plot like you would; not every lost plant is someone else’s fault (or anyone’s “fault”).

By focusing on what can go wrong, you’ll start looking for what can go wrong. I get a lot of calls asking me to look at a plant that the gardener is convinced is on the way out.

And what I find is a fundamentally healthy plant, maybe with a case of the sniffles.

Last year, I lost all the tomatoes in the 7 plots I was caring for on behalf of Peterson’s Grow2Give™ plots. Every. Tomato. Plant. I felt really bad. But in their place I planted kale and beans and herbs, and ended with a giant harvest for our food pantry partners. It was just a different harvest than the one I originally planned.

Before I started community gardening, I barely thought about pests at all.  After I started community gardening, I’ve been fascinated at the complex ecosystems that spring up where formerly there was a slab of weedy concrete.

And that includes the pests—the aphids on the corn, being assiduously farmed by ants. The blossom end rot that kills your tomato harvest. The scary wasps and hornets (which by the way, are eating the Japanese and corn worm beetles). Even the rabbits, yes alright even the rabbits, which are eating the beans, but also depositing lovely herbivore manure.

The biggest pest is not the beetle, or the larva, or even the $@($&*# rabbits. The biggest pest is the gardener who can’t see past the hazards. So chill. Stick your hands in the soil. Remember that there is no problem that can’t be mitigated. Remember that the apocalypse has not come yet, so there’s still a grocery store if one of your plants dies. Think of the pests and failures as knowledge building, not as gardening failed.

Focus on the positive, and the joy in gardening, or you’ll never go the distance.

Do you have space in a community or allotment garden? How do you handle the negativity?

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Glass jars are one of those things that I have a hard time parting with. If I do part with them, they go into the recycling bin, but most of the time I keep them… ALL of them. I don’t buy a lot of things in cans or jars anymore, but from time to time a jarred item makes its way to my kitchen and after it is empty, that jar will be put into service in a second life storing something.

It isn’t just my own jars I keep, I have some friends that will give me their empty jars and I also have been known to lean into the recycle dumpster from time to time if I spot a jar I can’t live without. Sometimes those certain jars just call out to me.

I might as well fess up right now; I also save any lids that come my way. Why? For those jars that canning lids won’t fit on and over the years, the originally metal lids will start to rust and your just never know when you might need a new one – well, I have them in all shapes and sizes, metal and plastic. My way of thinking is (and by all means my thoughts aren’t always “normal”) that I am recycling them my way first before they end up at the recycle center later.

Back to the jars. I mentioned a rather large canning jar purchase here this past summer when I brought home a few more boxes (ok 7 boxes) of canning jars from an estate sale. I had told myself that I didn’t “need” any more canning jars and there I was piling more in my truck. Since then I have brought home 4 more boxes of canning jars from a garage sale. I have high high hopes that one day I will have more tomatoes then I know what to do with (or peppers or fruit) and I will be a canning-fool filling all those jars. I will have those jars, ready to use and I won’t have to run to the store for more jars. My jars also cost me less than half of what new jars would cost.

Again, my way of thinking is why not buy them when I see them (used, well-loved and ready for more action at a decent price) and they will happily wait on my shelf to be put into service. I haven’t counted to see how many canning jars I have now (I don’t count on purpose because that would give it a number… numbers aren’t always good to know.)

Well, numbers are good to know if you are already canning and preserving and you know exactly how many jars of tomato sauce or green beans it takes to keep your family in food throughout the winter and until your next harvest. I am lucky to live in a climate where I can have a spring, fall and winter garden, but I still want to be able to preserve some of the wonderful things like tomatoes, peppers or fruit,

Yesterday I did it again…. I came home with more jars. These are special jars though (they all are, right?) I went to an estate sale at a farm. Oh, it was a neat place. The back roads call out to me. The farm calls to me. The jars called to me. There was a small outbuilding that looked like it was used for making wine and storing canned things. There were several crocks and old wooden wine kegs (might not be the right term for them) and an entire wall made into a storage cupboard that was filled with old old canning jars with the wire bails on them. Most of them were out of my price range, but I managed to poke around and find 6 half-gallon canning jars for $1 each and a few gallon jars for $2 each. MINE!

As I left this cute farm and drove out the driveway I pulled over and just took it all in. I just filled up my soul with the scene. It stirs something in me. I gazed down at my “new” jars and smiled.

Am I the only one out there that has an obsession with jars?

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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Since everyone is talking about goals and resolutions for the New Year, I’ll let you in on two very big ones I’ve set for myself, and how each year I am usually able to achieve them (or at least get close!)

My first resolution is to stop letting external situations affect my happiness. Sounds very Zen, right? I’ve tried many times over the years to meditate, but I lead a very active life and have a hard time sitting still. When I’ve tried, I always become too aware of physical aches and pains. And I find in trying to detach myself from outcomes I become too much of a zombie, feeling neither the highs nor lows of life.

Years ago I heard a radio program about Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, who later wrote the book “Man’s Search for Meaning.”  Because of the suffering he and others endured in the concentration camps he came to his most important conclusion that even in the most dehumanized and painful situation, life has potential meaning and that therefore even suffering is meaningful. Specifically, he realized that no matter what happened, happiness was the one thing no one could take away from him. This profound idea has stuck with me, on the backburner of my mind.

Honestly, 2011 was one heck of a year: narrowly missing getting shot by a stupid neighbor’s stupid hunter, our well going dry and having to haul water for six months, having sudden bouts of debilitating bursitis, losing our aged pet wolf dog, accidentally catching the kitchen on fire, a young guitar student carving her name into my coffee table, just to name a few highlights of my personal distress. Maybe these things are worthy of anger, fear, depression, sadness. My usual outward response is trying to be humorous, but inwardly I had given permission to these events to rob me of happiness.

Do you let life’s troubles rob you of your happiness? What is your coping mechanism?

Secretly, I had hoped 2012 would go easier on me–but no such luck. I started the year with a head cold, and just two days before our trip to Chicago to visit family (from where I am writing) my husband cracked a molar and had to make an eight hour round trip to an oral surgeon to have it extracted (I told you we live in the boonies). The same day our heat pump stopped working and the repair people said the compressor is shot and the repair would be 7,000 dollars. The day before the trip our farm sitter had some heart trouble and was taken to the hospital, so I had to train a friend the hour before leaving how to care for 90 animals. The icing on the cake was the blizzard that hit Chicago the day we were to arrive, a five hour delay boarding three different planes, only to be de-planed and put up overnight in Memphis.

Welcome to Chicago

Amazingly I have not let these things rob me of my happiness. I recognize something in me has shifted by simply setting the resolution. I was thankful there was a doctor that could work my husband in, and glad he has experienced so little pain. I realized we have plenty of dead trees from the drought we can cut down and burn in the fireplace, and that we’d even bought ourselves a new chainsaw for Christmas. I was thankful to have such a kind and trustworthy friend willing to take on our farm at the last minute. I found a lovely -12 degree coat on sale and felt quite rested after a night in Memphis. I felt empathetic for the harried airline employees, and the airline comped everything, and even gave us vouchers towards our next trip. By the time we arrived in Chicago the blizzard was over, the snow beautiful. The car rental agency was out of econo-cars, so they gave us a sports car! I’m having a nice time. Nothing can rob me of my happiness!

My second lofty goal is to start earning my living as a fine art painter. I’ve never doubted I could do it–if I only could find the time to paint enough pieces. But I always found excuses of why I didn’t have time. (That’s very easy to do when you let life’s troubles affect your happiness). When you stop and look at all the tribulations that great writers, artists, inventors, and scientists have gone through and yet still been able to produce movingly beautiful, ground-breaking, and incredible works, you realize it can be done. These people didn’t have life any easier or let excuses get in the way of their passions.

You might say I’m on my own search for meaning. On New Year’s Eve, I had the great fortune of meeting a woman that has been making her living as a fine art painter, and she’s graciously been encouraging me and telling me how to get my foot in the door. To my own astonishment I ordered 50 blank canvases of various sizes and amid all the current chaos was able to lay the foundation work of two paintings in just two days before we left.

Do you let excuses get in the way of following your passion and aspirations?

Red Admirals underpainting by Sage Austin

Ripples underpainting by Sage Austin

I’ll be sure to post the finished versions of these soon.

One of the ways I’ve been able to stay on track with my resolutions and goals over the years is through accountability. My best friend (who lives in another state) and I decided about 15 years ago to act as life coaches for each other. Each new year we email our goals and resolutions to each other and set up regular phone or email sessions each month to check up on how we are doing, and to encourage one another. We have been doing this for so long we’ve learned that we achieve most of our goals when we stay on track, and the years that we’ve strayed from our accountability sessions we don’t usually reach our goals. I would highly recommend this method to anyone serious about their resolutions and goals.

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