Uppity Woman: Ruth Stout

Spring brings gardening. After a very long winter of too much snow, temperatures driven by the polar vortex, and ice that seeps into my bones, being out in the garden under the sun is glorious. Digging through the soil is meditative, uplifting, and grounding. I imagine the weeds of my garden as cartoon villains, the rose as an abuse loving damsel, the Stella d’oros as good citizens. My garden is an ongoing science experiment. I don’t expect much from it anymore. I am learning to do what I like in it, with it. If it gives me some strawberries, basil and a few tomatoes– that is a grand thing.

I read a fair amount. Study. I need to keep learning– so I have many subjects I delve into. Sustainable gardening is one of these.

I was introduced to a video of Ruth Stout a couple years ago at a permaculture design certification class offered at the Midwest Permaculture Institute

Ruth Stout gardened in a traditional manner for the first fifteen years of her gardening career. She was frustrated with having to wait to have her garden ploughed. In 1944, she decided to not plough and just plant her seeds. The “no-work” method of gardening was born. Ms. Stout lived to an old age and died in 1980. From 1955 through the 1970s Stout wrote several books on gardening and spoke throughout the US. Her method of gardening involves mulching with hay and not rototilling to simultaneously build the fertility of the soil, hold in moisture, and maintain fertility. The attached video is in English and translated into another language through subtitles. Ms. Stout was a free thinking, strong woman who was gardening and providing vegetables for herself and another through her old age. Uppity woman: Ruth Stout– she is an inspiration.

Ruth Stout’s Garden

Obstacles to Goals


“Fairytales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

I have been writing about goal setting and achieving goals the last couple days because I have had some set backs in my current goals. I need the pep talk. If someone else benefits– woohoo!

I can honestly say that I have failed the majority of things I have set out to do. I know quite a bit about failure– how obstacles can stop you in your tracks, how sometimes you have to reassess your goals, how the expectations of others can get in the way, how you simply are not in control of every possibility and sometimes the world shifts and you have to shift, how easy it is to be distracted, how easy it is to get discouraged, etc. There are always obstacles to goals. Sometimes setting off to achieve a goal is simply an exercise of faith. One has to believe that the endeavor will succeed. But you need more than this to improve the chances of getting to your goal. After years of failing and trying to learn from my mistakes, I have come to the conclusion learning something new, reaching a desired goal, or developing a new habit requires 3 things: persistence, planning/problem solving, and self-control.

Obstacles will arise on any path to any goal.

You may think your writing is the next great sensation, while your writing group evaluates your writing as needing serious work. So you have at least a couple obstacles: 1. developing your writing ability and 2. developing your inner editor to be able to see your work more clearly. Should you simply give up because a handful of peers said your writing is not so good? No, but you may have a lot of work ahead.

You may want to lose 50 pounds, but your first two weeks of dieting and exercising every day result in no pounds lost. At this point should you decide that losing weight just won’t happen? No, but you may have a few obstacles to overcome– like maybe you need to get a better sense of portion control, maybe you have a slow metabolism and losing the weight is going to take a very long time, etc.

You may set a goal to get a job and send out 765 resumes and not get one job interview. There may be many obstacles in your way in this scenario. Perhaps the job market for your field is saturated and you will have to be more persistent, get additional training, be willing to volunteer, be willing to move to a different part of the country, etc. Perhaps, your resume needs a professional career counselor to help you evaluate and re-write it. Perhaps, your age, race or gender are negatively impacting your chances of getting hired and you need to make more personal contacts or get more creative about how to get a job.

You may want to save $100/month. Perhaps after three months  of saving, your car breaks down, requiring a $600 repair. Should you give up the goal of trying to save money?

I can name more obstacles– caring for young children so there is no time to exercise/read/go to the bathroom alone; no money to buy that thing you think you need to help achieve your goal; friends and family around you that are less than supportive and ridicule you; not getting signs of success in a timely fashion; etc.

In my opinion, addressing the obstacles that stand in your way is as important and visualizing your end goal. I think we need both. We need a vision of what we are aiming for and we need to be willing to look at, problem solve and plan for things that will stop us from getting there. I think visualizing the goal without looking at the obstacles can be too easy and has its own weird reward in the act of fantasizing. Looking at just the obstacles in the way can be demoralizing. Imagining the future and considering the obstacles can be a powerful way to create a realistic action plan.

By way of example, I have been trying to get in shape. Our bodies are very dynamic and efficient. Most people’s bodies will acclimatize to the amount of exercise they are doing and the number of calories being eaten. This means that unvarying routines don’t always work to achieve large weight losses or to maintain the weight loss. I was walking 10 miles per day and gaining weight while dieting. I decided my efficient body had acclimatized to my walking (obstacle 1) and I needed to do more strength training. I did not know the first thing about weight training (obstacle 2) so I hired a personal trainer. Money was a problem in hiring a personal trainer (obstacle 3). I chose a higher deductible on my health insurance plan to save money to pay the personal trainer. A housemate of mine lives in the room below me so I cannot use my treadmill in the morning and needed to find other times to work out consistently (obstacle 4). I planned my workouts before or after classes. I am still not losing weight, although I am in better shape, and I suspect my metabolism is adversely affected (obstacle 5). I have had tests done and am seeing a doctor. I may need to suck it up and realize that I will never be able to eat more than 1300 calories a day, will need to exercise a lot to maintain the weight, and losing weight may only be possible by eating 1000-1200 calories per day. I am still sorting this out. This is my planning/problem solving to get to my goal. I am not giving up. I may need to re-evaluate the goal.

Another example, I would like to write, publish a book, and have my book on a library shelf. I have been unemployed and need to get this sorted first. My time at present needs to be directed towards getting skills that an employer needs. This is the main obstacle that needs to be addressed before I can work on my skill as a writer (obstacle), developing a habit of writing daily again (obstacle), and developing a habit of sending material out for submission (obstacle).

One last example, I am in the process of changing careers and am working on learning to program in C++ and Java. I am taking a course through the local community college. Obstacles that I have had over the last several months: 1. I am frequently the only woman in my classes or one of a small number; 2. I have to organize my studies around caring for my children; 3. Going back to school is expensive; and 4. Not all courses are created equally and I still need to learn to code. For the first obstacle, I found a friend who was willing to listen to me vent on occasion via email and I began going to the local Girl Develop It group meetings. For the second obstacle, I plan out my week ahead of time and stick to my schedule so I do not get behind. For the third obstacle, I pulled monies from my retirement funds. This was scary to do but because of the retirement funds, I do not qualify for financial aid and student loans are very expensive. In regards to the last obstacle? I spend a good amount of time researching the material and teaching myself how to code because the coding classes are often taught by instructors who are not teachers but rather are former programmers. One instructor was self taught and then got a degree. He understands how to teach the material. Other instructors are not so good. I take the attitude that learning the code and teaching myself is just one more problem to solve on top of the coding assignments.

I think other people can help brainstorm solutions to obstacles that are in the way of getting to a goal, but ultimately the person who wants to achieve the goal has to determine for themselves what those obstacles are and what the solutions are. Ignoring obstacles or dismissing their importance is a way to set oneself up for failure.

And now I need to go work on learning Java programming.

The Art of Goal Setting


As a child growing up, every New Year’s Day I witnessed family members kicking back on the couch to watch the parades and football games while eating full plates of holiday food. Inevitably an aunt or uncle would declare their “resolution” to lose weight. Soon the resolution conversation would begin with other family members declaring it was time to get fit, read more, clean more, etc. And mostly they never followed through.

As a young adult I saw friends declare their majors in college and layout a whole fantastic cache of fabulous future careers. Friends were going to preside over the United Nations, display their photography in New York, start communes, be the next poetic sensation and make greater impact than Ginsburg, etc. Often my college friends changed their minds a week later before going on to graduate and take the first available job that was offered. How many administrative assistants once wanted to be artists? How many accountants once wanted to be developers? How many contract lawyers once wanted to right injustices?

Goals are a good thing. Resolutions are a good thing. Putting forth one’s intent to accomplish a particular achievement or action is a good thing. It gives direction. It can be used to measure progress. It is good to fantasize and project oneself into possibilities to try them out, to figure out if they are workable, to walk in that skin and know if it is yours. Writing goals is an art form. The art of goal setting is an art form anyone can master. Ideally a goal should be measurable and achievable and something truly desired.

For instance, if you are a writer and want to work towards getting published a workable goal might be: “I will write 500 words per day. I will submit two written pieces to ten potential publishers per month.” Both parts of this goal are measurable and achievable. An unachievable goal would be: “I will write 10,000 words per day every day of the month and publish two novels per month.” This goal is unachievable for two reasons. First, writing 10,000 words per day for a month is Herculean. Secondly, no one has control over the minds of others and the publishers may have different ideas about publishing the novels. An unmeasurable goal would be: “I will be a brilliant writer.” Questions an amorphous goal like this raise are the following: by whose estimation and how do you define a writer.

I can think of many things and situations that are desirable. I would like to move to Barcelona. I would like to write and publish several non-fiction and fiction books. I would like to lose weight, get fit, and stay in shape. I would like to be able to travel on a regular basis. Etc.

Desire is important. Not so much in a warm and fuzzy or passionate way, but rather in a nitty gritty, “How much do you want this?” sort of way. When writing goals, the “shoulds” need to be thrown out. Achievable goals are uniquely personal, owned, and ultimately “wanted” in the way of committing to the effort. It requires one know oneself or be willing to learn about oneself. A goal that is based on what one “should” do won’t hold enough importance to get through set backs, the long term slog, the derision of folks who will be naysayers, etc. Any thing worth doing or achieving will take effort and will be, if not uncomfortable, downright painful at times. There are always things one has to give up to get to goals. For instance, instead of having a leisurely morning of drinking coffee and waking up, perhaps this means donning running shoes and walking out into the pre-dawn to run 2 miles. Maybe it means instead of watching two hours of television after dinner, sitting at the kitchen table and working on a manuscript or a java program. Maybe instead of taking a lunch hour to go out with co-workers to a restaurant, it means sitting in the break room and learning Spanish. One has to know oneself to set goals and create a doable action plan.

I need to work on my Java homework right now. I have a goal in a chain of goals to obtain an associates degree in computer science with an emphasis in programming. More tomorrow about thinking about the obstacles in the way of getting to one’s goals because I think these are as important of setting goals and it is important to write out or at least think about an “action plan” to get to a goal.

Mother’s Day


My mother died at the beginning of November two and a half years ago. She never approved of my choices and our relationship had dwindled down to speaking on the phone once a month. Mostly, the monthly conversations amounted to her telling me how bad my choices were.

In part, I moved back to Michigan in August 2012 because after she had complained about her hip hurting and a subsequent ultrasound revealed a pelvic fracture. She told me she had lung cancer and her bones were weak from chemotherapy. That was how I found out she had lung cancer. I looked for work in earnest in Michigan and took what turned out to be a horrible job teaching in a charter school. My mom fell the end of July, went into hospital, then to a nursing home. Ironically, I visited my mom infrequently because I could not be sick and go see her; working with small children from August on, I was always sick; and the charter school company did not give us any benefits like sick days. The last week in October, my aunt Mary called me and told me my mother’s condition was deteriorating. Two of my children and I drove to see my mother. She had aged decades in a matter of a few weeks. She had sores in her mouth and was no longer eating. She drifted in and out of clarity. To see her, my heart sunk. My mother had always been active– she loved to hike and hunt for morrel mushrooms or be out on the river fishing all day. My mother had been beautiful with a vivacious smile, twinkling blue eyes, and gold-blonde hair. She now stooped in a wheelchair, her eyes were sunken, and her hair was thin and brittle from recent chemotherapy. The change in her condition hit me like the universe coming down on my head. We are all so fragile, things change in a heartbeat, and nothing is forever.

My kids visited with grandma for a bit and then I called my ex-husband to come and get them. My aunt and I sat with my mom through the weekend. The oxygen tube hurt her nose and I got angry glares every time I replaced it. She did not speak except to nod in affirmation when asked if she wanted some whiskey and to say that she did not want to die. She reached for things unseen. She was on as much morphine as was possible and was still in pain. She fought to hang on and the battle was fierce. The nurses kept saying she could go anytime. My aunt and I kept reassuring her it was ok to let go.

Near the end, my mother’s vital signs indicated her body was losing the battle and we were moved to a different room. My aunt left the room for a few moments to speak with my uncle. I sat with my mother and her body appeared to sag and go still. She had died.

Over that weekend I found out things about my mother and my life I had never known. Our mothers are not just our mothers and oriented around the relationship of giving birth to us. This is just one of many of their roles/faces. Some women joyously embrace the role of stereotypical motherhood; embrace sewing Halloween costumes, baking cookies, and more; and find much meaning in the role. But not every woman does– even those who are mothers. Our mothers were young girls once upon a time. They had aspirations and visions of what their lives would look like that maybe they have achieved and maybe they never were able to. They made choices along the path of their lives that lead them to where they are now.

My mother’s day wish for everyone is to get to know your mothers as individuals. Bring her flowers, sit with her, ask her what she wanted when she was 13 or 17, and get to know your mother’s choices, the history of her life, and who she is. Please listen with compassion.

Photograph: Buddha Statue

Photograph: Buddha Statue

When I am in London, I enjoy going to many of the tourist spots– like the British Museum. I am not sure many Londoners ever go there. There is a sarcophagus in the museum that is so beautiful– the first time I saw it, I was overcome. I began to cry. Seeing the Elgin Marbles was a profound experience for me. As was walking amidst the Assyrian and Egyptian statues. I took this photograph of a Buddha statue after spending many hours sketching and meditating with the Buddha. Seeing the photograph calms me even now.

Photograph: Buddha Statue

Halloween Portraits


A few years ago I took a photography class. I decided to do a photo shoot for a project for the class. Because it was Halloween, I asked participants to come, dress up in spooky attire, and allow me to take photographs of them. The afternoon and evening turned out to be rainy and so I set up in my basement a backdrop. The lighting I had available was not necessarily what I would have preferred. Many of the photographs were quite stunning and made striking by the harsh lighting provided by several Ott lights. I would like to do another photo shoot with a super heroes theme!

Mardi Gras Paraders in Pink

Mardi Gras Paraders in Pink

A couple years ago I visited New Orleans at the start of Mardi Gras. New Orleans is truly one of the great cities of the world! There is no place like it! I went on my own because I was researching material for a book and I just wanted a bit of fun. I ate beignets and drank coffee at the Cafe Du Monde. Ghost walking tours are readily available and I walked the streets with a guide telling me of all the haunts such as the LaLaurie House. I visited Marie LaVeau’s grave. Street music played on every corner. I watched the Mardi Gras parades and dodged handfuls of flung beads. This picture was from the Krewe of Cork’s parade as the Krewe was assembling to parade. It shows two Mardi Gras paraders in pink babydoll costumes, which is one category of traditional costumes.

Mardi Gras Paraders in Pink


Liberte, Egalite


Despite being an amateur photographer for a while now, I decided just recently to start sharing some of the photographs I shot over the last handful of years. For this reason, I offer this photo.

This photograph of three boys was taken in Paris in one of the squares near the Canal St. Martin. Paris is architecturally a beautiful city with many statues and inscriptions declaring liberty and equality. I loved how the lion was so strong and appeared to my eye to be protecting the boys while they played in the nearby fountain and climbed over the statues.

I like to look through a camera lens and discover what stories I can find.

Spring! Happy Easter!


Tomorrow is Easter. I am a vegetarian. I have been for a long time. And still I horrified myself with thoughts of hasenpfeffer. On the eve of Easter. The day when the white rabbit, not to be confused with Alice’s white rabbit, comes hippity-hoppity hopping down the road to leave enough candy at my house to make a child sick. I still cannot eat chocolate covered cherries. One time I was sick when I was a small child because I ate so many on Easter morning before going off to sit on a hard pew in a stuffy church beside my grandma who kept me quiet with butterscotch lifesavers. I still associate butterscotch with monthly budget sermons– I was raised a Lutheran. Well, not quite, grandpa was an atheist. So the egg-laying bunny is still a feature of my clan’s mythology. One of our lovely fictions. But while I am usually a pacifist, this week I have been contemplating violence. Against rabbits. Or a rabbit.

Given just the above paragraph, is it any wonder why I drove Pastor Carlson bananas through the four, yes four, years of confirmation classes.

And speaking of religion, I garden. I didn’t garden when I lived in Colorado. I was in the Roaring Fork Valley which had an official growing season of about 60 days. I just wasn’t too certain how to re-orient my gardening and take that on. But I garden. Gardening is cool. Lot of work. But cool. It is like this ongoing science experiment. Bwahaha, what will happen if I grow zucchini next to the melons? Frankensquash!

Science experiment as in: So if I put the tomato plants in the garden space at the north end of the house, what will happen? Answer? They grow scraggly and barely flower. Or, what if I put the basil plants in large pots with almost pure compost? Answer? They become lovely, pesto-happy basil bushes! Planting by the phases of the moon? I am still out on that one, but I will say it makes planting seeds much more enigmatic. Especially if done in the nude. To Mozart. Not that I have ever done this.

The last few springs I have planted 1 pear tree and 2 apple trees. Actually three years ago I planted 2 pear trees and 2 apple trees. And the deer or the rabbits keep eating the bark off my 3 baby fruit trees. Every year. The one pear tree they don’t seem to eat. Hmmm.

I have been experimenting to find a way to keep the rabbits and deer from eating the fruit trees. So far turning the dog out to chase the deer works. Kinda. Good thing I have a great dog that comes back and I don’t have to drive to another county to retrieve him. Don’t ever try this with Irish setters or wayward children. When I asked other people how to keep my fruit trees from being eaten most of the responses involved urine. Good thing I grew up with male cousins. Although tin foil is looking like an attractive option. Just do not assume if you drive up to my house that I cover everything in tin foil.

Of course, Thursday morning I went to leave the house for school and I almost stepped on a rabbit as it dashed out from under my porch. Almost every spring I find nests of baby bunnies in my front garden, in my north garden, in my south garden, and in the back garden. That’s a lot of bunnies. And the papa and mama bunnies, with their accomplices– the deer, are eating my fruit trees. And in the spring they eat my strawberries. So, the thought of hasenpfeffer went through my head. And the Easter bunny. And kind of left me stunned with where my thoughts might troll. I think I will let the bunnies alone and eat a chocolate bunny.

Happy Easter!