Thursday, March 21, 2019

Yes, it brings me joy

Since moving into this place a few years ago, I feel I've gotten my relationship with material possessions in balance. Now, most of the stuff lying around my home adds to its charm.

When I was a kid and a young adult, stuff-management felt like longing for the new, wading through the clutter of the old, and occasionally expending a little energy cleaning, sorting, reorganizing, or even hiding the mess of it in order to make my spaces presentable to friends and family. For a while, my hospitality style was something along the lines of, "oh crap, someone's coming, better clean up!"

I'm no neat freak, but I'm proud of the fact that my hospitality style now aligns better with my heart's intentions: "Yes! Come by! Any time!" You'll see crayons all over the table and dogs all over the couch . . . nothing at all to be ashamed of.

I haven't done a major Kondoesque purge, but after four moves in five years I have gradually given away almost everything that doesn't serve a clear purpose or give me great joy. I have little nooks and crannies all over the house filled with beloved objects—things that remind me of people I care about, or that just speak to me for one reason or another. My walls and refrigerator are covered in art by people I love and admire. My second-hand wardrobe suits my style, which X has coined, "thrift pixie."

If it looks like clutter, walks like clutter, and quacks like clutter, it's probably clutter. I have a few more heaps to face—the upstairs closet, the workshop, the kitchen cupboards—but I'm well on my way to a clutter-free home.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Surgery Day

Today's the day! I check in for knee surgery at 1 pm and may be released as early as 6 pm. Thanks again to every reader, donor, dinner-bringer, and well-wisher who helped get me to this day.

One positive side effect of this injury has been that I've become a more careful steward of my financial health. Knowing that I'm not only facing big medical bills but also investing the hard-earned money of my beloved community in my recovery, I've been careful to watch every penny that leaves my wallet for any reason at all. It may take months or years, but with your support I believe I can emerge from this experience both physically AND financially healthy.

I started budgeting carefully about three years ago, but I fudged a bit. "Oh, I know I'm over budget but one dinner out won't kill us." "Oh, I know I don't have anything allocated to gifts this month but she would LOVE that." "Oh, one blueberry bush won't break the bank." Now, I'm proud to say that I have not spent one un-allocated cent in January, February, or March. Where I used to assume my tax refund could go toward my budgetary overruns from the 11 preceding months, now I assume it goes straight to medical bills. I feel I'm beside every person who's given to my medical fund, pulling this $13,000 weight together. I feel I have friends at my side, making the work more bearable.

I am in good spirits today and I am, as always, so very, very grateful.

With love and gratitude,

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Thoughts on mortality

It's been a long time since I blogged here. Sorry about that! It's been a full month—of work, of doctor's appointments, of slow but steady healing, of cow kisses and dog cuddles, of births and deaths in my small community.

I am having knee surgery Tuesday, for—at a minimum—bone fragment removal and cartilage repair. There may also be some cartilage grafting and ligament reconstruction. Whether my recovery timeline will be six weeks or six months, I don't yet know. In preparation for the procedure, I was asked to ensure my last will and testament, health care directive (living will), and durable power of attorney for health care were up to date.

This is a safe procedure, and my doctor and I feel great about going forward. I've seen an internist who gave my heart two thumbs up (I have a common and mild heart defect and a history of TIA), and I and my care team are absolutely confident that I'm going to be sitting on the couch Wednesday morning watching House reruns. Nonetheless, preparing these documents made me thoughtful about my own mortality in ways that were challenging and sweet.

I wrote an addendum to my living will, "My values regarding death," from the perspective of a 39 year old mother, for my three daughters just starting out towards adulthood. From the perspective of a daughter, for my healthy, active parents. From the perspective of one piece of the universe writing to another, and knowing full well that these particles will only travel together for so long before they disperse again. I wrote with tears falling down my face.

I hope to rewrite this document when I'm 80, 90, or 100, when my parents are no longer reading and my daughters are no longer young. I wonder if it will be as hard then, or as sweet.

In the words of my beloved friend Hilary, "Is today the day? Probably not. But maybe. Do what you want with that. It's a mystery to me, and probably will always be. Being OK with that is the practice."

I'm glad we're alive on this planet together today, you and me.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Habitat

Those of you who read "Brays of Our Lives" back in the 00s may remember "the Habitat"—a 400 square foot patch described before as, "rotten plywood, mangled barbed wire fences, old metal hardware, cinder blocks, burn barrels and fiberglass boat hull sections. A section of the property that will be allowed to return to a natural state, obscuring the items that are not a)burnable, or b)recyclable. You will build a nice safe fence around "the habitat", and you will enjoy hearing the tap-tap-tap of the yellow-bellied sapsuckers and seeing the flutter of goldfinches hopping out of the underbrush and into the pasture through gaps in the woven wire." 

Even here at the Ark, where my lot measures a mere 7,200 square feet, I have a Habitat—a place in the corner of the yard where fallen branches, raked up yard-debris, and old Christmas trees go. I think of it less as a yard-care quick fix, and more as a way of giving back to the wild creatures with whom I share this home. 

When Matt and I bought Bent Barrow Farm, we had 7 tons of scrap metal and a 30-foot pile of garbage to contend with. We sorted, hauled, and recycled as much as humanly possible, but there were still rusted objects hidden away beneath the underbrush. This habitat is all natural, and I leave it here on purpose—it really does provide space for squirrels, chipmunks, voles, frogs, mice, birds, and insects to dwell.

Looking at the Habitat in the daylight after a snowfall is fascinating—it is absolutely riddled with bird tracks. The rest of the yard is dotted with the little pathways of traveling feet, but the habitat looks like Grand Central Station—so many interwoven trails that they blend together into an abstract maze. 

Animals need place to hide, forage, and get out of the wind. I'm glad that there's space in my little yard for the private lives of little critters. Next up, a place to dine: I want to spend some time learning about and planting perennials for pollinators, and I hope they'll find my garden more and more delicious with every passing year. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Human. Being.

photo by Michael Foley

It's been three and a half weeks since I broke my knee on that fateful sledding trip (pictured above). I have managed to fit a lot in while somehow also being more still, for more days in a row, than at any other time in my adult life. I've vacuumed once, arduously, with one crutch. I've participated in a four day workshop at work, kept up the 9-5 pace except for a few excursions to doctors' offices, and watched from the sidelines as the cows relocated but I've also done a whole lot of nothing.

I've watched my kids do all sorts of chores they didn't know how to do before. I've ordered my dog and cat food online. I've sent my dad out for hay and sent my boyfriend out for groceries. I've worked from the comfort of my couch, invited the kids to tuck me into bed a few times rather than making the climb to their upstairs bedrooms, and read books in bed during the day more than once—something I loved to do as a child.

I think one of the lessons of this accident is that it's ok—good—delicious—to sit still. Maybe not always, but sometimes. I'm going to give myself permission to read books in bed even after my recuperation, and try to remember that I am not a human doing, but a human being. 

Monday, January 14, 2019


Ooooh, I almost forgot this week's most exciting news! You can now see Dahlia and Rosie Cotton on a live barn cam. Access the CaMooRa here:

MRIs and Mooving Days

From left: Rosie Cotton, Dahlia, Joan, and Nicolas

This week has been so full! Full of generosity, challenges, joy, learning, healing, and exciting transitions.

The cows moved on Saturday to Ballydidean Farm, where they'll have beautiful accommodations and be tended by a wonderful family. They're just five minutes from my home, which will come in handy when I can drive and walk again (still crutching, and still staying in a straight leg brace at least until my January 22 surgical consultation).

My friend Marta at work started a fundraiser to help me with my medical costs, which is a tremendous relief. I am in communication with a banker about cashing out some home equity if needed but that sort of thing moves slowly, and the bills are arriving now. I'm so grateful to those who've chipped in so that I don't have to choose between groceries and surgery!

Getting a more substantial brace on Friday made a huge difference in my comfort. It immobilizes my knee completely and limits me to a really tiny range of motion, which makes me substantially more comfortable at all times whether I'm sitting, walking with crutches, or testing out a little weight-bearing in hopes of working up to walking with just a cane. Surgery is still in my future to remove a bone fragment from beneath my patella and mend a couple of ruptured ligaments, and my swelling has finally decreased to the point where my doctors can make a more accurate assessment of the joint.

Getting an MRI was weirdly anti-climactic. I wanted to feel magnetized, like a super-hero or sci-fi adventurer. Instead, I felt normal—mildly tense—slightly bored. My injured knee did start to experience a weird nerve twitch during the 30 minute procedure, which they later told me was a common side effect. It didn't mess up the results, so I didn't mind.

Finally, I also got to spend four days last week in a Language of Spaces Certification course. It was the beginning of a 9-month learning journey with an inspiring cohort from around the world including Australia, Japan, Holland, and Croatia. I feel as though we'll emerge lifelong friends, and I think the program will be equally supportive of my professional and personal growth.

I've set it before, but I just can't help myself—I'm so, so lucky.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2019 State of the Ark Address

Laid Up

A new year is dawning and all is well, my right knee excepted. I injured myself in Sun Valley—luckily, on the final day of an otherwise wonderful vacation. Sadly, I wasn't up to anything glamorous like snowboarding or heli-skiiing. I was on a sledding hill—spectating on a sledding hill no less. I turned to look at my daughter for a moment, and in that moment I was struck from the side by a little boy on a great big sled. I got an ambulance ride, a reset patella, and weeks to months on crutches, with the extent of my tendon and ligament injuries yet to be determined.

I'm noticing how many people care for me. Neighbors and friends have dropped in to visit and leave care packages. My boyfriend has stocked the fridge and pantry so my kids can help themselves to easy meals, and this morning he blew his "I don't cook" cover by making me a delicious breakfast. My daughter made me a delicious lunch. A dear friend from work made an unsolicited donation toward my medical expenses, and my coworkers have blessed my decision to work from home until I'm cleared to drive.


Rather than making resolutions, I tend to set my intentions by reflecting each December on what word best captures my hopes for the year ahead. It started in 2014, when my word was Transitions. In that year, I gained a nephew, gained a niece, adopted a dog, adopted three rats, staged a house, listed a house, sold a house, bought a house, moved to Old Pietila Ln., moved to Woodland Hall Ln., moved to Moonstone Pl., moved to Junco Rd., left the Humane Society, left the Timber Framers Guild, visited New Hampshire, visited Massachusetts, and enrolled the kids in a new school. I'd say my word worked.

My 2018 word of the year was Commitment. I am committed to this home, to these kids, and to these animals who depend on me. I am committed to my beloved partner. I am committed to anti-racist learning and action. I am committed to my work. I am committed to my writing project. I love what's going on in my life right now, and for me the word Commitment means I'm all in for more of what's going right.

My 2019 word is Health. I would like my knee to become a healthy, stable, strong joint. I would like to continue to grow the organizational health of the Whidbey Institute. I would like to nurture healthy relationships, bring greater health to my friendships and community, and have a healthy happy human and animal family. I would like to prioritize my financial health by being frugal and responsible, sticking to a budget and prioritizing debt reduction and savings despite the major financial setback of this knee injury. (The most frustrating thing is the timing: my 2018 ambulance ride and ER visit will be 80% covered after a $7,500 deductible, while my 2019 diagnostics and rehab will be 80% covered after a NEW $5,500 deductible. Remind me not to get injured at the end of December!)

When I'm ready, I would like to get back to a daily exercise habit and drive less for the health of my body and the planet. Let's vsualize my knee happily propelling me to and from work by bicycle!

photo by Gabriel Schiavone

Evolution at Work

So much is going right in my world. I am deeply in love, and my partner, children, and parents are happy and healthy. 

My oldest daughter, Mia, is loving life in San Francisco. She has exciting goals, including a solo trip to Thailand and community college enrollment in the spring. My younger two are rocking 6th and 8th grade, and their dad is engaged to a wonderful woman with a daughter of her own. 

I'm incredibly excited about work, and so proud of what the Whidbey Institute team is achieving together. I have some wonderful professional development opportunities coming up, including Evolution at Work's 9-month Language of Spaces Certification Program. I'll be part of an international cohort of individuals working in self-organizing businesses and organizations.

State of the Ark

I made great headway on the house in 2018, with essential projects for health and comfort completed. Rotten porch boards, drooping gutters, musty carpets, and dangerously overhanging branches are things of the past. I have a fleet of functional appliances including a new dishwasher, duel fuel stove, washer, dryer, and ductless heat pump. We're warm and cozy now, and can set a more leisurely pace on the remaining aesthetic upgrades. 

I've really appreciated getting to know more neighbors, including my friends Nico, Tabitha, and Durand and my coworker-neighbor-friends Sommer and Meg who joined the Whidbey Institute team this year AND live on Blakely Avenue. A bizarre and wonderful twist of fate.

Raining Cats and Rabbits

We were honored to welcome Mama, an older New Zealand Red rabbit doe, to the family this year. She is sweet, dignified, serene, and beautiful rabbit. I must admit that the rabbits don't feature as heavily in day-to-day life as they did when Harriet, my late rex rabbit, had the run of the house, but they are happy and healthy and have plenty of room to roam and play in our attached greenhouse. Olive and Hazel, the mini-rexes, despise Mama and I've had to create a double barrier since Mama bit Olive's nose through the fence. Olive has recovered fully, but her velvety nose is now permanently off-kilter.

Milo and Tiger, my kitty boys, have been with us just over a year and have fully settled in. They're now part of the pack, lining up with the three dogs for dinners and breakfasts and sleeping on the bed. Milo is the loveliest cat I've ever known, and as a die-hard dog person I love him more than I thought possible.

State of the Bark

Russell, Clover, and Brodie are shiny, happy, healthy (knock on wood), and even bordering on polite! Today, two separate guests dropped in to check on my injury and none of the three barked or rushed to the door. I think this is a first for Clover, who upholds the yappy chihuahua stereotype nicely in most cases. Even Russell has been gaining confidence and has been downright civil to most of our visitors these last few months. 

Brodie has been fully restored to health after his dangerous decline last winter, and is thriving on a combination of insulin and vetoryl to manage his diabetes and Cushing's disease, respectively.

All three dogs could use more long walks—something I had resolved to give them, prior to my knee blowout. Perhaps my kids will show an interest in walking dogs during the months ahead while I regain my strength.

How Now Brown Cow

Dahlia (pictured) is loving her new companion, Rosie Cotton, and the two of them are already fast friends. Rosie is a miniature belted galloway and shouldn't get much bigger than she is now—waist-high and only slightly bigger than a Saint Bernard. The two of them are moving from Oak Harbor to Clinton in two weeks, and I am so grateful to the folks at Ballydidean farm who are A) eager to host them, and B) excited to proceed on schedule despite my inability to help with mucking out or other farm chores for the foreseeable future.

Dahlia recovered from a severe eye infection (intraocular injections! Ick!) with her sight fully restored, which is a big relief to all of us. We are all hoping for a thriving, healthy 2019 free of veterinary crises!!

Arrietty is thriving in care lease as a companion to a lonesome mare. They're a happy pair and she's beloved already by her new foster family. While I miss her, I feel great about her having companionship again after the tragic death of Fenway in June.


The word "thrive" is overused. It shows up in too many ads. It sells spa visits, expeller-pressed juices, diet plans, and yoga pants. Nonetheless, I'm having a hard time finding a better word for what I'm doing now. I feel so fortunate to have purpose-driven work with colleagues I trust and admire; a joyous family life full of fur, love, and laughter; a generally healthy body that takes me on wonderful adventures and will rebound quickly from this unexpected injury; an inspiring community of neighbors, friends, and loved ones; a sound home full of warmth and nourishment; and simple goals that feel compelling, authentic, and attainable.

Life is good.