Cultivating presence in DIY

Fence. Completed.

We believe in DIY in our household. There is almost nothing that we can’t do on our own. If we don’t know how to do it, we ask someone for help. That person is usually our neighbor because we all believe that he knows how to do everything. Sometimes we just have to figure it out.

My husband has been known to watch YouTube videos to learn how to fix certain parts (complicated parts like the dashboard) of his car. And then, actually fix it! We have built bathrooms, fences, and chicken coops, dug French drains and re-landscaped every part of our house at one time or another. DIY builds self reliance.

DIY also builds something else, presence. This weekend my husband and I had a marathon work weekend in the yard. We pulled weeds, built two rock walls, spread landscape fabric and hauled gravel. We painted our deck. We pulled more weeds. When I see my husband DIY, I see him in his true element, open, singing, hard-working and happy. I see the stress from his finance industry day job fall away. When he’s enthralled in DIY projects, there is an ease with the process, moving rocks and dirt from one place to another, and trusting the outcome. It is his creative action. It is his art.

That is the beauty of DIY in our household.

Fence. In progress.

Each of us have our niche. My husband will take on any household or car related project he can get his hands on. Going to the dump is as fun as taking apart the BMW. He and my son, with my neighbor, will spend hours on projects. And he has a list long enough to keep them busy for several years to come. The list is constantly shifting and growing based on what breaks, or who finds something too cool to pass up. But there are projects, lots of them, to keep everyone thinking and ending the day with sore muscles, a bit too much sun and a smile.

And me, I bake. Anything I can buy tastes better homemade. Pastries or fig pudding, mayonnaise or marshmallows. The journey of making my own and then sharing it with family and friends is, I think anyway, what truly makes the world go round.

Recently, my neighbor made bacon jam. She has a thing for bacon (don’t we all!) and she’s constantly trying out bacon recipes. Even though the bacon milkshake was not high on our list, she and I love the process of experimenting and perfecting. Me, I’m always in search of the most perfect melt-in-your-mouth cake recipes. But I’ll settle for creating my own recipe for the perfect kale juice or lettuce wrap too. It is a standard joke in my house that we never eat the same thing twice. I always say, there is more deliciousness in eating my new food creations.

In some ways DIY can be brutal. My hamstrings were aching like crazy by Sunday night. And DIY takes time. Sometimes I find myself all tied up in anxiety about how much time a project will take. I have a list of chores and other work that won’t get done because of the project. But 45 minutes into DIY, that list disappears from my mind. There are always chores, and there is always work. And in the end, my aching hamstrings felt so good. It was evidence of my hard work. I felt stronger. I mean, who doesn’t feel strong when they fill wheelbarrows with gravel and haul them around the yard all day! My husband always says that all his body aches and pains feel loosened up after a long DIY weekend. He lets the stress out of his shoulders, and relaxes his gait. DIY helps him become firmly placed in his self again, through the physical work, and he experiences life as it is. That is the beauty of presence.

That presence, whether gained through bacon, pastries or rock walls, makes for a good weekend. A good life. We didn’t finish our project, and my husband noted that there is so much more to do, but we could see the progress. We sat and enjoyed how clean and fresh the deck looked. We also felt satisfied; we savored our work and how it gives us hope. That is all good.

 

Newest rock garden. In progress.
Newest rock garden. In progress.
Homemade Apple Tart
Homemade Apple Tart

 

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Bushwhacking Education

My son at the summit of his first 14er.
My son at the summit of his first 14er.

I had never considered myself “that kind of mom.” Last year I let my son drop out of school. He was not yet 16, the “legal age” a person can drop out. In order to work around those legalities I was confronted with owning the title “homeschool mom.” In the last year, I’ve come to respect this title because of what has happened in my house since taking this less-traveled path.

The public school system was not working, and Ez had struggled through a couple of very challenging years. We decided that the best decision was for him to skip high school and go directly to community college. It felt like a bold move. It was a hell of a bold move actually. For the last year, we have been basically bushwhacking our way through his schooling. We’ve not known for sure if we were headed in the right direction, but the signs have felt right.

We tried the online school idea, and he found that it is basically a ridiculous task to learn Algebra II from pre-recorded lectures. He needed people. And I respected that. My most memorable learning moments have happened with people, teachers, professors and classmates, who changed my view of the world. I saw Ez missing those opportunities. So we took a bold step to find those opportunities. It has been scary and uncertain, but I have supported him and driven him on to bushwhack because I saw him change. And I continue to see him change in beautiful ways.

Since Ez started this adventure in his education, he has taken 23 hours of college courses, which he has been dedicated to and enjoyed immensely. He has excelled. He has become a person who is confident in being seen as smart, and he’s started supporting other students in his classes, most of whom are ten years older than he. He is becoming a leader and an inspiration to others. And most importantly, he and I have ongoing conversations about what is best for him, what his dreams are, and where he wants to go. These are amazing and thoughtful conversations to have with a young person.

The biggest question he’s gotten from other people is, “Aren’t you going to miss going to prom?” His response is “sure, but I might still be able to go to a prom if I had a girlfriend to go with. And prom isn’t a reason to go to high school.” But prom represents a something bigger, a more reliable and known paved avenue that is comfortable, even when it doesn’t lead a summit worth climbing for.

There are valuable, beautiful aims in life, and if Ez wants to aim for those, then I will face my own fears and support him to climb. Like learning. Like happiness. Like using strengths and doing beautiful thinking. Like letting him push those as far and wide as he can or wants to. Like supporting him to be as awesome as he can imagine.

I kind of think about it like driving to the grocery store. I can do that drive in my sleep, and probably do half the time. Going to middle school was like that for Ez. It was driving him to sleep. There was a lot of work, and he was busy, but he could not drive to any of his own interests. It was so prescriptive that I saw him settle into a numbness that was disturbing. Bushwhacking on the other hand, keeps him aware and thinking, looking for ways to ascend to the skyline or to descend along a creek or around a steep drop off.  He has to use his tools, gather more tools, and rely on his dead-reckoning. There is no sleeping, just more awareness, and learning to trust that the summit is reachable. There is a truth in self about bushwhacking that builds self reliance.

Now that he’s had a year of bushwhacking, he has found other teenagers who have skipped high school. We have read about learning communities that support teenagers who have dropped out of school. He has found other people who have taken the road he’s chosen. And I think, well of course, if a person sets out on a mission, inevitably you find others on the same mission.

We recently watched (and Ez read the memoir) the documentary of Laura Dekker, the young woman who sailed around the world on her own at 14. It was remarkable in many ways. She had the drive, tenacity and trust in herself to embark on that adventure. She was beautiful and poised, and she trusted herself. I think it said a lot about adults and our fears too. Sometimes I find myself thinking, “I could never do that,” or “I could never let my child do that.” I try to ask myself “Is that because of my own fear?” Most of the time it is. And when I can set aside my fear and recognize that there is an incredibly capable and strong person in front of me, I let go of aiming to control his actions with my fear.

That fear of the unknown is most often what keeps us from taking the less-traveled path, even if something inside us says “that road leads to beauty unseen before.” My son embraces that road that with such grace that wherever he ends up, I trust that it will be f**king awesome.

Snow in a mountain town

WProcessed with Moldivhen it snows, I mean really snows, our little town totally changes. The atmosphere completely shifts. Our town often has an air of depression surrounding it, but when it snows, that lifts immediately and those snowflakes bring in a feeling of celebration that is palpable. For the last week, the snow has heralded a beautiful celebration in our town. People arrive ready to ski. Children and teens take off to the valley, boards and skis in hand ready to catch new powder. My son brags about the runs he and his friends will do before any tourists even get up the lift. I remember what it was like when I first moved here, before the drought really hit hard. I remember what it is like to live in a ski town. The community that happens when it arrives. I remember that I love snow.  The stories that arrive with the headline “massive snowstorm blankets Taos Ski Valley.”

I also remember that I love making soup, warming up my house and snuggling up with a novel. I prefer to ski after the crowds have gone. I finished two novels this week, and to me that is almost heaven. It is worth celebrating the powder in the ski valley — I get to read! I do a bit of celebrating in the snow too — shovel the drive, chase the dog around and build the snow fort, but I also like to take advantage of town closing down. I can truly hibernate for a bit and let myself sneak away into a good book. And that is a change for me.

However we enjoy the weather, inside or out, it is good to recognize the good. The ease at which we move into and through more than a foot of snow (more the three feet in the mountains). It is more deliberate, and joyful. It is more hopeful even. That certainly makes me hope for more snow!

 

Oh, the snow….

Taos Mountain on a glorious winter day
Taos Mountain on a glorious winter day
Snow Forts are much better than a snowman . . . You can climb inside!
Snow Forts are much better than a snowman . . . You can climb inside!
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Taos Ski Valley

Winter can be long and cold in the southwest. The sun is glorious during the day, but the evening cold can make you want to hibernate like a bear. When the sun sets at 5pm and warmth of the sunlight gives way to below zero temperatures within minutes, it is challenging to venture out and stay active.

I notice that my dog even faces the challenge of being active in the winter, which makes me laugh. He gets plump every winter, and it gives my niece great pleasure to call him “Sausage” for four months of the year. He prefers to lay by the stove and stay warm, watching us move about for the day. One thing can get him going though — my running shoes. The moment he sees me putting on my running shoes he’s up and jumping around, pleased to go out for a run. Though the snow and ice are a bit of a challenge, as we both slip around for a bit, once we find some solid ground, the crisp air feels good and I think we’re both reminded of how good a run feels.

Whether it is going for a run, heading up to the ski valley or building a snow fort to stash snowballs in, once we get ourselves off the couch, the rest is easy. The snow offers us different opportunities for activity than the summer and it gives me some variety in my life. And it is certainly better to find fun in the snow, then to sit around and put on the pounds in front of the TV all winter.

Are children in rural areas happier?

Generally research states that people who live in urban areas are happier than those in rural areas.  Most indicators of health mirror this research; urban children generally have brighter health status than rural children. Unless the question of crime comes up, most indicators of happiness and health status are higher among urbanites.  That begs the question then:  if you have the choice, why raise kids in rural areas if the odds are that they are not as happy or healthy?

My friends and I, my husband and I have talked about this many times. We think it comes down to experiences.  It is true that my son does not have as many high quality sports programs to choose from as he would in the city.  His schooling options are certainly below standard of just about any city we would live in.  He even has less options when it comes to the sheer number of people he can choose to develop a peer group with.

But given these downsides, I beg you to find an urban area where a child can begin skiing at age five and grow up feeling like he has a mountain as his backyard.  My son knows his ski mountain, every run and bump in it.  He’s skiied it, biked it, hiked it and this summer he ran it.  Two weeks ago he ran it, a 10k over it.  He’s twelve.  I was feeling a bit nervous for him because he was the only person under the age of 23 signed up.  His comment for me was: “Mom, I know the mountain. I’m not scared. It’s easy.  I’m scared of middle school, but not the mountain.”   He ran up and over 11,500 feet.  For him, this mountain is his neighborhood.

I ask you to find a place where a child can experience the wide open spaces of wilderness and challenge himself intellectually and physically within the natural world.  He understands the practicality of fixing a car and building a treehouse.  He knows how to care for livestock and his dog.  He studies geometry and language arts, and his cross team runs national forest service trails after school.  He’s played championship chess with masters who seek solace in the mountains, and plays guitars with others who do the same.   If we were urbanites or suburbanites, lessons, I’m sure would be more regimented and would end with recitals.  Here, guitar recitals are around a evening fire singing with friends and food.  Certainly there is something to be gained from both approaches to learning.

My child faces a life that is not presented in manicured lawns and fenced in playgrounds.  There is not money for that in our schools.  Sometimes I feel bad for that, and I also am reminded that the real world can get pretty dirty too.  It is about struggling to understand your place in a harsh landscape, and diversity and disparity are the unspoken norm.  I hope that with my guidance he can grow to be a stronger more compassionate human being from learning to navigate the world from a real place. And that he can find beauty in real places because his place, rural places, are places of grand beauty where skies are open where he can run over mountains and mesas with no roads.

There is something to be said for research and statistics–and I cannot ignore the very real challenges that rural areas face because of the lack of resource parity in our country.  But I would hate to abandon the open spaces and the experiences to be found in open spaces and the small nooks and crannies found out here because of that research.  Kids need those spaces and those spaces need kids.

Raising Chickens

Birds are crafty creatures.  They’re busy bodies too.  After a year of raising chickens my son have a pretty thriving business going.  We have steady egg clients, and we have grown to enjoy our chickens like backyard pets.  We have found that chickens are strange and beautiful creatures.  They spend their days sunbathing–spreading their wings and lying in the sun.  They dig elaborate nests and pile on top of each other to sit in them together.  They play catch with heads of cabbage. And one sweet one, she sits on her roost and waits for me every morning.  She waits for me to give her a good petting before I open the coop door and give them breakfast.  She’s become my friend, my sweet speckled hen.  She knows me and enjoys my company.  She waits for me, and so I stop hurrying . . . for a moment. Funny from a woman who is not so fond of animals.

Now we have our second flock, after a summer of sharing with the coyotes.  Of course, the wild creatures needed a small share of our stock.  The hens have taken to the chicks as their own and we have more mamas in our household than we can stand.  I’m reminded that it is good for everyone in my family to be closer to the cycle of living and growing, and to be reminded of our similarities with wild creatures and bird creatures.  It certainly brings my husband back from  his work brain and it broadens my son’s remembrance that he is part of a larger world.  I admit to myself that as an after school hobby it may be easier to do something like scrap-booking, but the ability to be connected to our food system is longer lasting habit, one that serves my family and my community.