Monarch

I was out in the yard when I saw my 12-year-old returning from an adventure earlier than expected.  The leaves in his hands gave away what else he must be bringing home.

On our hikes and walks we are always looking under milkweed leaves for monarch eggs or caterpillars and this time he struck gold.

Jack placed the caterpillar in my terrarium with some milkweed leaves until we could get it a better home.  We bought a critter cage and the boy made it his mission to bring home and wash fresh leaves a couple of times a day.  Caterpillars eat a lot and their poop is bigger than mouse poop.

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In a few days our caterpillar was hanging from the top of the cage.  A few days after that (we need to keep better records, eh?) we discovered it had turned into a chrysalis.

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A week or so later I noticed that there was a line or zipper looking thing near the top of the chrysalis running at a right angle to the length.  About a week later the chrysalis turned black.  It was not dead.  A few hours later a butterfly was hanging there.  We let it hang for an hour or so and then brought the cage outside and loosened and propped open the top, with the butterfly still hanging upside down.

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When we checked a few hours later, the butterfly’s wings were dry, but it was fluttering around inside the clear plastic box and seemed to be having a hard time getting out of it. I offered it a twig and it obligingly stepped onto it.  I lifted the stick out of the box and the flutterbye fluttered fluttered fluttered up up up and into a tree.

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Move More

What is the most effective exercise?  That’s a little like asking what’s the best toothbrush:  it’s the one you use regularly.

A coach recently told me that consistency beats intensity almost every time.  Screwing up all your willpower and going hard for a couple of days or weeks or months is not going to carry you as far as doing something at a more moderate level that you can and are willing to sustain long term.

Some people think that means you should love love love the exercise you do, so that you’ll want to do more of it.  And sure, exercise can take so many forms that most people can find SOMETHING they like:  indoors or outdoors, fast or slow, competitive or not.  But when you are out of condition, it can all feel too hard and it’s difficult to imagine ever WANTING to make exercise a regular part of your life.

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I don’t hate running, hiking, and walking on trails.

So here are the insights I’ve gained over the past year and a half that are helping me to make exercise a regular part of my life.

  • Go easy, but go regular and you’ll be able to do more very soon.  Make it a habit.
  • You don’t have to love it the first time, but you shouldn’t hate it.
  • Be willing to give new things a fair try.  A fair try means you give yourself time to get past the initial adjustment period – be that three times or a month.
  • Be honest about why you dislike something before you give it up.  Boring dance class?  Drop it.  Challenging dance class?  Take it down a notch, but don’t give up.
  • There is some debate in fitness circles about activity vs. intentional exercise.  What counts as exercise depends on what you’re already doing and your current fitness level.  If taking out the trash, or going to the mailbox, or walking the dog,  are not things you regularly do and they’re a challenge, then yes, that counts.  If you’re trying to estimate a calorie burn for that in order to adjust how much you eat for weight loss, don’t do it; it’s likely too small a number to be accurate and you’ll frustrate your efforts.  But for exercise?  For general health purposes?  Yes, in my opinion, it counts.  Increasing general activity is a great place to start because it’s easy to work into your life and it doesn’t have to be too physically difficult.  Plus, you’ll be more productive.
  • Even if exercise never becomes something you are passionate about, you should still do it because it’s part of general care and maintenance of the only body you’ve got.  And it beats the alternative, which is disability and early, uncomfortable death.  (Yes, yes, I’m aware death comes to us all.)  After all, I’m not particularly passionate about my toothbrush, but I still make regular use of it because I’d like to keep my teeth as long as possible.

Still At It

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I’ve been spending my summer finishing up a math curriculum with the boys, painting a porch and a bedroom, putting disposable foot socks (as if there’s any other kind) on peaches because apparently that’s what people do, but I want to let you know that, yes, I’m also still doing the fitness thing.  This will probably be my last explicit post about it because, apparently, I still can’t talk about something important to me without messing it up.  I must choose – discuss or do.  Not both.

Health has many components, but losing weight has everything to do with eating fewer calories than you take in.  There may be variations in how much an individual burns, and it’s all estimates anyway, but still.  So, you can increase your activity or decrease your food or both but that’s what has to happen.  You can do it by counting calories or by instituting some kind of rules that help you restrict.  I have lost the majority of my weight (about 60 pounds) by counting calories (and exercising) but am now experimenting with other methods because I’m burnt out on counting.  I’m playing around with drastically increasing vegetable/fiber consumption and limiting the number of hours per day that I allow myself to eat.  There’s nothing magical about these things except that they (might) help me to eat fewer calories.

For physical and mental health and because I want to look good naked, I also work out.  I lift weights.  I do CrossFit.  I walk, hike and run.  I do (banded) pull-ups and (raised) push-ups and kettle bell swings and thirty flights of stairs.  I don’t do all of these things all on one day and I didn’t start out doing all of them.  I get bored easily and I need to mix things up if I’m going to keep going.  When I start to slack off, I’ve learned that it’s not the beginning of the end of my resolve to be fit, but just time to do something else.  It means that I have to step out of my anti-social comfort zone and be willing to look like a doofus a lot, but it’s working for me and I’m getting used to looking like a doofus.

I have also increased my general activity.  Many of the things I’d put off or delegate, I’ve taken on as a matter of fitness.  It’s really incredible how many steps you can get putting away laundry, walking the dog, emptying the compost bin, mopping the floor.  On Saturday I did about six miles just pushing a reel mower around in circles on the lawn.

Anyway, I’d like to lose another ten to twenty pounds, but if I find that too difficult to be worth the effort, I’m pretty happy with how I look now and will be glad to maintain my current weight and focus on fitness goals for the future.

So that’s it:  eat less, move more.   🙂

Thoughts on Selling Eggs

The spring egg flood got off to a late start this year.  I’m not sure, but maybe it’s because we used electric lights this winter in order to keep up supply.  We didn’t keep them on all night, every night, but for a few hours most nights and it did keep us from having to buy in eggs for home use.

But then, instead of the huge rush that usually begins in late March, we had a slow and steady increase until now, when we’re getting about a dozen a day from about twenty-five hens.  This is our threshold for being able to use the eggs in creative home cooking, so we sell our surplus.  IMG_0007_2

I tried putting out a sign and selling from the front of the house, but it was not all that successful. We don’t have enough to put out dozens every day, so I couldn’t really be consistent.   Also, we live in a rural community, many people keep chickens, the Amish selling eggs up the road have a steady supply as well as the cute factor with the tourists driving through, and everyone else buys cheap eggs from Walmart.

Fortunately, we have a relative who lives in an upper middle class suburb of the nearest city, whose friends like fresh, quality eggs, and who is willing to be our distributor.   It’s nice to have that relationship so that we get a visit as well as business when we make the trip every few days.

An egg is laid with a “bloom” – a protective coating.  It’s best not to wash it off, however my state requires that eggs be washed and refrigerated as soon as possible after laying, so that’s what we do.

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The law also requires that we cover/obscure/remove identifying marks from the original user of the cartons.  We could buy blanks, but they cost between twenty and thirty cents apiece and doesn’t seem worth it at this point.

I try to make sure to evenly distribute the blue and green eggs among all the cartons.    They taste the same and look the same once you crack them open, but people seem to like them.  I like them too, actually.  🙂

I keep odd sizes, strangely marked, and cracked eggs for home use.  We have plenty.

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In case you think you might be interested in selling eggs as a profitable stay-at-home venture you should know that we are not making money.  Keeping chickens costs more than buying cheap eggs and labor counts for something as well.  It’s about even with buying fancy eggs.  When we have a surplus, we are able to cover the cost of feed for those months, but there is no profit.  There are things we could do to improve the money-earning potential, but I’m not really looking to go into the egg business full-time.

This is another thing  we do because it’s interesting and “fun” and because the easiest and cheapest way isn’t always the best way.

 

Perfect Day

Have you ever played  the If I Win the Lottery game?  Variations include If Money Were No Object, If You Couldn’t Fail, What Do You Really Want To Do, No Regrets On Your Deathbed.

Perfect Day is my favorite iteration.  To play correctly, you must master some subtlety.  The danger is that you will only dream big and those dreams will stay out of reach, or you will dream too small and never realize the amazing possibilities.  You must know how to dream big and small.

I’ll put myself out there to show you what I mean.

Big Dream:

I am an artist, sought after for my one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted whatchamacallits.  I spend my early mornings alone in the studio with a wall of windows and the sunrise streaming in.  The coffee is hot and black.  Two perfect croissants, a small platter of cheese and fruit, and cold cucumber water magically appear without any effort from me.  It is quiet except for birdsong and breeze.  I work on creating something beautiful and useful. I review the orders for my creations, leave instructions for my assistant, who will arrive to process the orders after I have gone.

Midmorning is spent working vigorously at something outdoors in the company of like-minded friends – hiking strenuously or digging ditches or building houses for charity.

In the afternoon, I shower, read, and write.

Evenings are for laughing and singing and music and food with family with twinkly lights and a warm atmosphere.

Small dream:

Looking it over, my big dream doesn’t really seem crazy.

How do I make it happen within the limits of my life as it is, within the confines of my responsibilities?

Without abdicating my role as queen of domestic the realm?

I believe my current role here is important.  Occasional escapist fantasies aside, I’m not really looking to run away and join the circus leaving my kids to forage for nuts and berries while I live a life only to satisfy me.  I know my calling – I’m just trying to figure out how to answer it a little better.

So, I’d need someone to take over cooking and cleaning and laundry and teaching.  That ought to clear up a few hours.  How could I make THAT happen?  I’m brainstorming here.

I could train the children to take over quite a few of the household chores.  Not in a slave labor way, but in a we’re all a part of this team and you must contribute more sort of way.  It’s not unreasonable that they should all be doing their own laundry from beginning to end on a regular basis.  It’s reasonable that summer could be a focussed training time to teach them proper K.P. duty.  And it doesn’t have to be unpleasant.  It could give them an encouraging feeling of autonomy and responsibility.  It’s probably what I should be doing anyway to help equip them for adulthood.

We have an out building on our property that is in terrible disrepair, but the sunrise does strike it in a lovely way and the windows are large… Maybe someday?

As for the rest of it… it seems like mostly time management and some strategic lighting, doesn’t it?

Do you see why I like this game?  It’s creative and inspiring and points out fixable flaws in our systems.  It’s telling me that there are things I can do to create a more satisfying (and productive) life for me and my family.

So, do you have any big and little dreams?  What’s your perfect day?

 

Mr. McGregor Is Rolling

My boys were transplanting tomato plants into our vegetable garden when they caught the sweetest little thief.  After showing him to me, they returned him to his feast because he paid for all with his cuteness and we have enough to spare this year.  So says me.

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And while I want to snuggle and kiss the bunny, it has somehow renewed my 12-year-old’s interest in keeping rabbits…for meat.

I said, “HOW COULD YOU WANT TO EAT THE BABY BUNNY!”

“Well, they’re tasty.  Besides, I don’t want to eat THAT one,” he said, as if that makes it any better.

“What kind of monster are you?  Bunnies aren’t for eating!”  He doesn’t get it from me.

Look, we already keep chickens for eggs and meat.  We process them ourselves.  But CHICKENS AREN’T CUTE!  and yeah, I’m OK with any apparent hypocrisy you might think you perceive here.

Hard Work is Good Medicine

I was feeling pretty foul yesterday.  To be honest, I’m still not right.  Hormones.  You all understand how everyone else is wrong, I am terribly persecuted, and I’m living with a bunch of selfish pigs whose mission in life is to make me unhappy?  Glad we have that settled.

So, I waited until everyone’s back was turned and I sneaked off by myself.  I went out on the porch – the one we’re scraping and sanding and painting – and I put in a couple of hours.  I have dreams of a haint blue ceiling, hanging ferns, and paint that isn’t peeling.  It’ll take a while.  There’s a lot of detail – spindles, spindles, spindles and that fussy dental woodwork.

My people found me soon enough, but there’s nothing like the threat of hard work on a beautiful sunny day to scare away little boys and my solitude was soon returned to me.

And it was the best I’d felt in a couple of days.  Monotonous work, done alone, whose doing makes a visible difference, is apparently my happy place.  Hard, repetitive, manual labor, especially outdoors, zones me out in the most pleasant way.  I need to remember this good medicine.

And, while my instinct is to hide when I feel this terrible, to not inflict myself too much on those around me, and to stew in my own pity party, it is good to be available and approachable to my people.

As I sat cutting in under a window, my children came to me with a baby bird they’d found.  We had a brief lesson on robins and how to determine whether an animal actually needs help, and letting nature do her thing.  At the time I resented the intrusion, but in hindsight I’m glad to have been so easily accessible to these excited, compassionate children.  And they will remember that I was there.

Gift from the Sea

I read a book.  To myself and not aloud to children.  From beginning to end.  Nobody made me do it and it didn’t take me six months.  So, twelve and a half years after the birth of my first child, and almost eight years after the birth of my last, I’m finally getting my brain back.

Reading used to be my chief pastime, comfort, and joy.  I read everywhere and everywhen:  at lunch, on busses and trains, walking, waiting in line, sitting at bars, in restaurants, at the beach, on the front steps, in the yard, in bed.  In school I’d hide books under my desk.  And I read everything:  classic literature, modern novels, the dirty parts of Judy Bloom books, and toothpaste boxes.

Now I read slower, better, absorbing and remembering more, but I can only concentrate on a very little at a time.  Because I have limited brain capacity, I’m also choosier about what I read.  Anyway, it seems appropriate that I should tell you about the book that seems to be the rekindling of a beautiful friendship between me and books.

I just finished Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea.  It’s about “[t]he search for outward simplicity, for inner integrity, for fuller relationship.”  Oh, is that all?

Mrs. Lindbergh compares stages of life to various seashells.  It sounds trite when I say it, but it works in her writing.

There are so many little helpful nuggets confirming my suspicions, or stretching my thinking.  The need for alone time, creative outlets, quiet, solitude, nurturing relationships, and how these things don’t easily blend with modern life and the practical needs of a family.

She writes about the evolution of one’s self and the evolution of relationships, especially the marriage relationship.  Anyone in a long-ish marriage can testify that there are ups and downs.  Lindbergh doesn’t say “ups and downs,” but “ebb and flow.”  Much more apt because it points out the inevitable return of connectedness and intimacy.  What goes out comes back in, dependable as the sunrise tide if you only wait for it.  I cannot say whether this is universally true in relationships, but it seems to be so in mine.  The tide always returns.  Faithfully.

But Mrs. Lindbergh’s husband wasn’t technically faithful.  Or maybe it’s more true to say that he divided his faithfulness between several families.  So, is this ebb and flow idea just a lie she told herself?  And if it wasn’t true for her, is it not true for anyone?

And if Mrs. Lindbergh was lying to herself, why?  To be able to stay married?  But why?  For the good of the children?  Financial concerns?  Respectability?  Because other relationships wouldn’t be as satisfying or they’d be much the same?(A friend’s mother says, “I had to get married twice to figure out they’re all assholes.”)

But maybe the facts of Mrs. Lindbergh’s marriage are irrelevant.  Am I committing an error in logic by criticizing an idea based upon its origin?  (genetic fallacy).

Whatever the message of this book, it was the calm seaside feeling that I really enjoyed.  I admit to being jealous, that though Mrs. Lindbergh struggled with many of the same issues that bother me, her wealth gave her a buffer that mitigated many of the problems. She wrote much of this book while on a beach vacation ALONE for several weeks, even though she had five children.  I can’t even imagine.

I’ll be off to Goodwill in the next day or two to pick up my next book.  Wish me luck!