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Turns out, I miss this place. I went on for many months quite happily without the computer. Working on my farm projects. Summer was banner this year, and my plate was manically full. But somewhere around July, I started to itch for writing. A place and a way to express my thoughts, to communicate all the stuff that crowds my head. Ears who care to listen.

Now, don’t go creaming yer panties, I’m not coming back here on a regular basis. But, maybe just a quickie now and then, in the laundry room.

Besides, I have some important addendums to the inherent subject matter of Apron Stringz. My life as a ‘mama who likes to get shit done’ continues to evolve, and it seems wrong to leave off when new discoveries are being made.

Not that I have come to any conclusions. As usual the farther I get into it, the more confusled I become. Certainly nothing has become clear to me, in my absence from blogging. I have not come back to share brilliant epiphanies. But that’s why you love me right? For laying bare the absolute bewilderment of life and loving?

I do have one particular thing to say, the thing that has made me come back, an admission.

For the record– it didn’t work.

This whole ‘yielding to motherhood and the inglorious work of housewifery’ thing, it didn’t work. I mean, I guess it worked for a while, gave me some peace when I needed it most. Allowed me to survive a period of intensity that otherwise might have destroyed me. I still recommend it, wholeheartedly. If you can manage it, submitting to the humble task of motherhood is a strangely liberating experience.

I just want to make sure you understand the further evolution of that story. Although I cultivated it successfully for a few years, as soon as the life-or-death necessity for submission had worn off, I abandoned it like a leaky rubber boot. I went straight back to my old ways– taking on way too much for someone with small children, trying to do it all, wanting it all with an almost debilitating lust, then beating myself up for failing on all accounts.

Part of that is just summer in Alaska. It all happens so fast. It’s winter and winter and winter, and then all of a sudden– BAM. It’s summer and it’s going to be over before you can finish even half the projects on your list, so hurry the fuck up!

But I can’t just blame summer. There’s more to the story.

Six years ago now, we had our first baby. I slowly and painfully began to set aside my own projects and passions for the all-encompassing work of motherhood. Two years into it, we moved to New Orleans, My Man went to law school, and we had our second baby. Enter the Submission Phase, blah, blah, blah. I gave up on accomplishing anything of consequence, outside of raising up two beautiful new souls. I didn’t submit easily, in fact it was emotionally akin to amputating both legs. But I did it– I put my own, separate, non-mama path on hold for a few years. I relegated my passions and what I consider my real work to ‘charming hobby’ status.

Then My Man finished school. Moving back to Alaska was something of an anti-climax because even though I was back in my own home turf, surrounded by my previous years’ work on our little property, My Man was studying harder than ever for the Bar. Time and energy were still too tight for me to take back up those passions in any meaningful capacity. So, I squelched them back down and screwed the lid on once again.

Our little backyard homestead lay in a state of dormancy, fertile soil covered in a dense blanket of weeds. It would have to wait.

My mind lay similarly neglected. After years of fighting for each little scrap, I had acquired a resident apathy. I could hardly remember what I might care to do with myself, should I ever have time to do anything in. As someone who had been vehemently motivated to do cool stuff, before I had kids, the apathy was perhaps the most disturbing thing of all.

But, here we were– back home in my chosen context, with all the things I claimed to care about around me. And that is when my greatest fear of all surfaced. What if I had just changed? What if I didn’t care about homesteading and wilderness and harvesting anymore? What then? What would I care about if not that?

This is the identity crisis which I alluded to in my few posts last summer, but never had the guts to write about. I was terrified. I had built my entire life around this homesteader dream, the possibility of it’s loss was haunting.

Our girl started kindergarten that fall. Suddenly I had just one kid again, for half of every day. The desperation of mothering two littles began to ease. I had finally settled back into Alaska. My Man passed the Bar, and started working. At long last, the 3YO began to sleep through the night and into the morning, allowing me a good night’s sleep and an hour or two of quiet solitude at the beginning of each day. I took a deep, wonderful breath.

My mind opened tentatively into that extra space, like a hermit crab poking out of it’s shell. Is it safe? Is there really room for me again?

It was at that moment in time, serendipitously, that I discovered permaculture. I was ripe and ready, it was exactly what I needed. Knowledge! Learning! Permaculture was the next step to everything I had done before I had kids– an advanced course in gardening and homesteading. I was consumed, like a hot, teenage crush. It was so exciting to be excited again. Even now, when I hear the intro song to Thomas the Train (which allowed me many an hour to sit around learning) I feel a wave of giddy joy.

And that is when I realized that I had not changed at all. I had not lost my love for all things which grow from the soil, and a life which relates to wild nature. Rather, my lust for learning had just been squashed by too many loads of laundry, I had had too many attempts to try something new crushed into the ground by a screaming toddler. I had given up.

I had tried for graceful submission, but in the end had settled into apathetic resignation. Not towards my life as a whole, but certainly towards my personal passions and ambitions.

I still believe that graceful submission would be a beautiful thing. I did hit it for small moments, and they were good and sweet. I don’t begrudge the resignation either, it is acceptable to me on a short term basis. It served me well when I needed it.

I was so thrilled to find my own spark still alive, so relieved that it was (conveniently) still flaring in the same general direction, that I hardly cared whether it had been submission or resignation or what. I flung my painstakingly acquired good mom habits out the window and set right into ignoring my kids in the name of backyard homesteading.

I weeded out three years’ worth of creeping buttercups and planted all my old garden beds. I started teaching classes, something I had always wanted to, in bread making, gardening and wild plants. I butchered, packaged and froze two black bears given me by a local guide. I started making herbal medicine. I picked gallons of wild blueberries. But, most significantly, before summer had even begun, I ordered fifty chicks and ducklings thereby turning my nice little gardens into a full fledged small farm.

I ordered the birds while there was still snow on the ground. I had spent the winter drawing up a totally awesome permaculture design for our property, and had convinced myself on paper that I could build an addition to my coop which would quadruple it’s size, before the chicks grew out of their brooder.

I had forgotten that I was in fact still a mama! You can throw the ole’ submission idea out the window, but the kids don’t seem to notice. Well, I’m sure they noticed something. Like the fact that I had stopped taking them to kid activities around town, stopped doing crafts with them, stopped reading stories in the middle of the day, and started a hell of a lot more yelling.

It wasn’t all bad. There were some absolutely amazing days, the kind of days I imagined motherhood would be– working outside building the coop, or digging in the garden; a little pack of kids ranging around between our yard and our neighbors, happily playing in the sunshine with sticks. Brilliant days, which I did have the good sense to stop and appreciate, recognizing these moments as the best of the best, what I had always hoped my life would be like.

I don’t regret my regression back into project-land. Mamas busy with projects are a good thing. But there’s busy and then there’s too busy. I do regret ordering fifty birds. What the fuck was I thinking? I could have simply doubled my flock, like a normal person, just dabbled in raising meat birds; but no, I needed to quintuple my flock so that I could put a year’s worth of birds in the freezer, and still have several different laying breeds left to trial.

The stress of all those animals under my care, inadequately housed (barely better off than factory farmed birds for a while there) gave me actual belly cramps during the month of June. I just couldn’t build fast enough. It seemed like I managed to nail up about two boards/day.

At any rate, here I am now, at the end of it. A nice big pack of roasters in my freezer, and a beautiful flock of laying hens and ducks. I am learning new things, evolving my homesteading skills, moving forward on my path again.

Occasionally I miss those days when I just let taking the kids on an outing, doing laundry and making dinner be enough. I am still often jealous of the mamas who can sustain that kind of devotion. But I am not that mama. For me, submission was a temporary helpmate.

And for you other mamas out there who used to like to get shit done, who now feel your own passions numbed by motherhood, understand that you can submit for a few years and still resurface intact at the end of it. It might take some time to wake your mind and passions back up, but don’t be frightened by a little apathy. When the time comes, your spark will reignite.

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Despite my absence here for the last month and a half, I have not been master goddess of my domestic realm. I am always surprised when I take a break from blogging, I mean you’d think that the extra 1-2 hours per day would get me something. And of course it does, it gets me a slower pace of life, a calm that I do appreciate when I can manage to acknowledge it. But it does not get me a cleaner house or happier children. At this very moment (and most others) the kitchen is a mess, the table is stacked with four loads of clean laundry waiting to be put away, the floors are disgusting, and I have no idea what I’m cooking for dinner. I feel that depthless falling feeling lately. The list, by which I mean The List, is miles long and filled with projects like “replace linoleum in the kitchen,” “put up the year’s worth of salmon,” “rebuild collapsed woodshed roof,” and subsequently “cut and stack five cords of firewood for the winter.”

And I can’t even get the fucking laundry put away.

The disappointment of times like this always starts me to grasping for a cure, and lately my obsession has been the Waldorf concept of Rhythm. The idea is that a flexible but regular schedule is essential for children; that knowing, generally, how their days will unfold gives them a sense of peace and stability.

Duh.

One of the things I hate about parenting dogmas is how impervious they are to differences in personality. Although I think a predictable schedule is generally agreed to be good for kids, I suspect there are kids who will never adapt to a schedule and furthermore don’t need to, as well as kids who’s lives could be turned around by a strong rhythm. Those are the kids who thrive on Waldorf, and “prove” the success of the ideology.

What I am realizing lately is that I was one of those kids, who’s need for a predictable, peaceful and quiet daily routine was never satisfied as a child. And as happens in a developing brain when a need is unmet, I am consequently malformed.

I have always had a near obsession with routine and yet an inability to actually execute it to any satisfying degree. I need it because I didn’t get it as a child, but I don’t know how to do it, because I didn’t get it as a child. My journals are always studded with multiple attempts to corral the chaos of my days. Literally,

“Summer Schedule
6:00 wake up, coffee
7:00 breakfast
7:30 walk
9:00 outside chores”
etc, etc.

I write it all out, earnestly believing every time that the mere act of writing will create the calm rhythm and self disciplined schedule I crave. Later I am convinced that it hasn’t worked because I just haven’t gotten it right, haven’t divined the Perfect Schedule. Inviting yet another attempt.

That’s me– forever believing that there is a formula for perfection. Not universal, but personal to me. If only I could figure it out.

Having kids of my own I have only stepped up this madness. Desperate for a handle on life, I feel sure that I am just missing something. If I could just get the kids to eat right, they wouldn’t have these stubborn screaming fits. If I could just get the house clean and stay on top of it, we would all feel so much more calm and relaxed. If the 2yo would just consistently sleep enough at night. If I got the kids enough exercise and peer play every day. If… If….

And then the kingpin– If only I could get us on a schedule, then I would (magically) have time to fit all this in to every single day.

Then, then! Life would be all soft watercolors and silk scarves. Hallelujah.

Looking around online for Waldorf rhythm is excessively discouraging. The blogshine that I always rail against is rampant in the Waldorf crowd. One that I read this morning went on for an entire post about their morning ritual of waking softly, lighting candles and singing morning songs and how sweet and perfect it all was. Well, perfect pink wool felting mothers of the world, damn you if you’re lying, and damn you more if you’re not.

I started this post weeks ago, in the midst of an obsession. Now as I come back to finish what seems worth finishing, I am trying to divine the lesson. Did I learn something? I do in fact feel like in the last few weeks I created some kind of order in my universe– the house is clean, the laundry is caught up, the kids are happy. But as usual, in retrospect, I find myself wondering if I created that order and peace, or if it created itself.

Do I follow a pattern of sinking to the bottom and then pulling myself up by the bootstraps? Or does life follow a pattern of chaos and hard times, which lead inevitably to a relative peace and better times? Or is it (more likely) both? Do we feed off of each other, me and life, and oh– don’t forget the kids, in their own two separate cycles.

Waldorf appeals to my depressed self because it is based on the premise that if you do everything “right” (and they’ll tell you how) your life and your children will be sweet and quiet. It taps directly into my innate compulsion to believe that there is a Perfect Way, I just have to figure out what it is. It feeds heavily on my propensity for mama-guilt, because if my life is not so perfectly sweet and quiet, it is my own fault. I have failed myself and my family.

Like any religion, it takes a human being in their weakened state of sad, disappointed confusion, and props them up on the idea that there is a prescribed way out. Just follow the master plan, and it will all be taken care of. The idea that there is in fact an underlying order, a secret to life, is so incredibly seductive to us. We want so desperately to believe, to be Believers.

For whatever cosmic reason, me and the kids were at a real low. I was desperate, I was vulnerable. I delved into the ‘rhythm as panacea’ concept, even started doing a Waldorf circle time with the kids every afternoon. I summoned my will and attempted to implement a stronger routine than what we already had. I checked out Over the Rainbow Bridge from the library. I berated myself appropriately over their movie watching, the overflow of plastic toys and my own yelling mad self. (This last one works wonders– beat yourself up about being a mean mom. Just see how sweet it makes you. Wow. It was from this place of yelling at myself for yelling at the kids that I told them I wanted to chain them up so I could just please fucking carry the fucking groceries the two blocks up the fucking hill to our house.)

The problem, for me at least, is that feeding the belief in achievable order interferes with the work I really need to be doing. Accepting the chaos.

Submitting.

Shit, there it is again. Not submitting to motherhood this time. But submitting to life. The universe. Everything. The greater-than-me. The things I can never know, and never understand. The mystery. Submitting to the fact that I am not ruler of this world, or even my world. There is no plan so perfect that it will tame my wild children. Thank god! My life is not reducible to a calm, clean, quiet procession of handcrafts. It is an uproarious mess of bewilderment and kitchen projects. My kids are LOUD because they are full of piss and vinegar, they run around the house breaking shit because they are full of nearly explosive curiosity for how the world works.

We are movers and shakers, a whole fam damily of them. Our life together is bound to be complex.

I’m not altogether done with the rhythm concept, or Waldorf in general. Of course, just because they have not created The Master Plan doesn’t mean there isn’t some valuable takeaway. Just because a solid rhythm would not singlehandedly create peace on earth, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t help create a bit more peace in our own household. Or at the very least, in my own brain.

As usual, I walk a weird line between wholesome organic crafty mama and ranting punk bitch, and it’s sometimes hard to know quite where to set my bags down. I guess my real work in this life is to just be without need to label, to search without need to find, to try without need to master, to take what comes as it comes. Chaos, order, chaos.

That’s not too much to ask, right?

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Do you ever buy onions or citrus in plastic mesh bags like these? Do you hoard them under the sink like I do?

More than a year ago now I figured out how to turn a pile of these into a scrubbie and I have been washing dishes with one ever since. I finally gave up the nasty *dish sponge* and I have not missed it. In fact, I still have to keep sponges around for the occasions when My Man washes up, and I am not even tempted to use them anymore. What a gross and unnecessary invention, that nevertheless took me many years to figure an alternative to that I liked using.

(Many people use a wash cloth and like them just fine, but I found them too flappy aroundy. I did eventually find some terry cloth diaper inserts that are a good size for dish washing, and I use them often, but this scrubbie fits perfectly in my hand and has the full force of scratchy nubs to clean the dishes!)

So, to turn your pile of bags into a scrubbie:

Step 1: Cut off all the end closures so you have just plain sleeves of mesh.

Step 2: Starting with one, curl the ends around itself so that it rolls up into a circular sausage.

Step 3: Repeat with each sleeve until you have a big fat wad, much bigger than you think it should be (it will get scrunched up).

Step 4: Reserve you longest, nubbiest one for the last. Instead of rolling it in like the others, tie a knot in one end to reform the bag, turn it inside out (so the knot is on the inside bottom of the bag) then insert your sausage roll. Work the knot up into the center of the roll. Scrunch the wad up inside the bag until it feels like a good scrubbie size and density, then tie up the top of the bag, fold the top back under and tie again so that your outside bag is wrapped twice around the whole shebang. Tie again, but this time attempt to not pull the end all the way through the knot so that the scratchy ends are not pointing up into your hand.

Scrunch the knot down flat and then use with the knotted side cradled in your palm.

 

Didn’t I say it was perfect?

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The last two months have been packed with three different batches of visitors, totalling seven adults and two kids. It’s been a lot of fun, but my desire to get on top of the house really fell away from me, round about visitor #1. Although everyone was very helpful and the basics of clean up were maintained just fine, the behinds and underneaths have really suffered.

oh look, kids! a buried treasure! lucky me!

These next few weeks I really need to take the house in hand. I need to be on top of my game, because My Man has finals starting at the end of the month and next month will be a manic wave of packing and moving, we leave here May 18th! A mere 42 days away!!! Holy fuckorama!

Several people have said that if we’re leaving so soon, why bother cleaning now? But when you have two little kids and a man finishing up his law degree, you simply cannot wait till the last week to start the massive cleaning and packing project that is a family move.

Tackling a really filthy house can be daunting, especially at first. Especially with two littles underfoot.

I take it one room at a time, making a first pass over the house where I do a basic picking up of everything, including all corners and underneaths, clearing of stacks on shelves and tables, and a good thorough sweep. This takes at least a week at the pace I can uphold with kids. When I finish that I make another pass (of course having to pick up a week’s worth of detritus first) giving everything a good thorough wiping/moping/scrubbing/dusting– the sort of stuff I usually almost never get to.

This week I have started the ball rolling with a first pass. I have five rooms done, hallelujah! Here’s my tactic for picking up a ridiculously messy room: I put several boxes or baskets in the middle of the room– one for dirty laundry, one for stuff that needs to be put away in other rooms (if your room is really truly ridiculous you might want a basket for each destination, ie: bedroom, kids room, kitchen, etc), one for give away, and a trash can. Then I make my way around the perimeter, on my hands and knees, methodically chucking shit into the respective boxes. I find this much easier than picking things up one at a time and dealing with them, and the chucking is quite satisfying.

caution: this is a frustrating job to do while the kids are in the room, they will pilfer your carefully organized boxes. but, what else are you gonna do? use your precious kid-free time to clean the house?

When I get done picking every single thing up, I take the baskets and put stuff away, then come back for what is usually some epic sweeping.

Ahhh, now doesn’t that look good? It makes me feel literally lighter. Whenever I clean my house like this, I enjoy it so much it makes me wonder why I don’t keep it like this all the time.

Oh, right. Now I remember. Because this serenity lasted all of three hours, and that only because I took the kids out for a walk. By the next day, you couldn’t tell I’d done a damn thing.

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Every little piece of plastic saved adds up right? So instead of covering the little bit of leftover tuna with plastic wrap, use a wide-mouth canning jar lid!

I know we’re not supposed to keep the tuna in the can at all (or even buy tuna in cans in the first place), but I don’t need any extra dishes in my sink thank you very much. I open the can, drain the water out, mix the mayo in right there in the can, apply to sandwiches and, if there’s any leftover at all, snap a lid on and put it in the fridge. It gets eaten up so soon that I have decided not to worry about it.

The wide-mouth lids fit so perfectly they seem like they were made for tuna cans.

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I think often about those of you who are new to this work. I myself feel so blessed to have been raised by hippies and given a good education in DIY homemaking. The values and the habits of green, ethical, DIY living are second nature to me. I wonder what it must be like to jump, feet first, out of mainstream America and into such unknown territory. I think about those of you who read and identified with Why Are We Doing This? but who are still at the outset. Why is a good question, a vital question. But moving forward from there, how do you do it? Especially for those of you who are parents and whose time and energy are so acutely limited.

I have wanted to write directly to you for some time, to give you my two cents of advice on your monumental task. But I wasn’t sure what I could say. What kind of advice is really useful anyway in this world of vastly distinct personalities and situations?

In my experience the psychological aspects of this kind of work are the biggest hurdles. Learning to execute the tangible skills takes time and energy, no doubt. But learning to maintain a lifestyle which is considerably more difficult, more time consuming, more physically sapping and certainly more austere than the standard is very challenging. We could probably all list out the skills we need or want for our DIY homemaking, the skills we aspire to– cook from scratch, grow a garden, keep chickens, fix stuff, build stuff, make stuff. But what are the qualities that enable people to incorporate all those skills into an every day real live life? And to keep on doing it for the long haul?

These psychological qualities are much harder to lay your hands on. I have thought quite a lot about what these might be and, although I have no doubt there are many more, I offer up this small list: thrift, efficiency, organization, creativity, generousness, flexibility, courage, perseverance, wonder, and the ability to take pleasure in simple things. These basic virtues are fundamental to everything else. And although you cannot change who you are– you cannot learn to be organized like you can learn to make yogurt– you can work to become more organized. You can identify that organization is a weakness, acknowledge that yogurt making will function better if you stay organized, and consider it an opportunity for improvement. (Ahem. This is an entirely theoretical example.)

I feel that the tangible skills of DIY are quite adequately represented in books and blogs, but people rarely talk about these fundamental homesteader qualities– perhaps because they are considered inherent to our personalities, immutable. Nevertheless I think it’s important to recognize them, to give them the credit that they so absolutely deserve. Because although change on this level is hard and slow, it is also real and lasting.

Furthermore, what I want to say today is that these psychological building blocks are a perfect place to start. right. now.

Whether you live on your dream homestead or in a studio apartment, whether you grow all your own food or eat frozen pizza every night, you can work on the virtues necessary for the lifestyle you aspire to. No space is too small! No budget or investment necessary! It’s the ultimate ‘start where you are’ opportunity.

But how? How do you change such fundamental personality characteristics? This is where we circle in to the meat of this post. The only tool I have yet identified to effect change in myself. The incredible power of habit.

Although this well might not be true for others, for me habit is what brings it all together. I can sit around bullshitting all day (oh my can I!) and pine away for change all night, but the only thing that really makes it happen is the slow incorporation into my daily life of habitual thought and action.

What got me started on this post idea was eating vegetables. I was lamenting yet another bag of my good garden veggies languishing in the fridge and composing a post in my head about how the deceptively simple habit of eating more vegetables is an essential first step toward a more sustainable life. Growing a garden is great, and if you have the dirt I encourage you to give it a try. But I can tell you one of the biggest and most common gardening challenges, it’s one they basically never discuss in gardening books– Eating what you grow.

Most of us were raised on a very meat and dairy based diet. Even myself, although I adore veggies, I have never gotten my head around planning dinner (let alone any other meal) based on the veggies. They remain an afterthought and therefore if anything rots in my fridge, it’s usually green. So if I were going to recommend a first step to aspiring gardeners, it would be simply incorporating veggies into your daily belly-filling consciousness.

The more I thought about that post, the bigger the idea grew. Thinking about the habit of eating vegetables led me to the habit of wondering what’s in the fridge to eat rather than wondering what you want to eat and going to buy it; which led me to the habit of making do rather than buying something.

Doing without or creatively making what you already have work are absolutely habits. They are thought patterns that you lay down in your mind. It takes time, first you have to rip up the old one (buy whatever you want, whenever you want it), one pesky brick at a time. Then you have to lay down the new one, one pesky brick at a time. But once you are going on it, it gets easier. You gain momentum. Actually what you gain is habit. The habit of making a habit. The habit of being conscientious.

I warn you, it can get annoying. After a while it will be ingrained in you to think about everything you throw into any trash can anywhere. You will size it up and add it mentally to everything else in the trash can, and every other trash can on the block and feel a pervasive, occasionally engulfing guilt. But all those thinking moments will start to leak into other moments, and eventually you will find yourself rewired.

Eventually. It can take years. A lifetime really, a work in progress. Have you ever heard the Redbird song, Patience? “I spent all day yesterday watching the grass grow. What I learned is that grass really grows slow.”

Yes, ma’am. Slow. But darned if it doesn’t grow in the end. And grow and grow and grow.

How to Become a Punk Ass DIY Housewife

  1. Start small.
  2. Establish conscientious habits.
  3. Have patience.
  4. Take joy in small pleasures.
  5. Keep at it.

 

 

 

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And what to do with it?

Why, put it on an upturned yogurt lid of course! Though it took me years to figure that out.

Save a baggie and still keep your fridge from smelling like an onion sandwich.

This also works brilliantly for lemon and apples.

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