Welcome this is a Farmhouse

Since this is my blog, where I can be a sloppy writer if I want: I don’t know the rules about ripping off song lyrics to use as a blog title, so I’ll just say that the title of this post is from a Phish song called Farmhouse. You should listen to it.

As of July I live on a farm. This was my grandmother’s home for 50 years, and my grandfather’s home for the last 26 years of his life.

The driveway goes to the back of the house. So what we call the front is really the back

The driveway goes to the back of the house. So what we call the front is really the back

They moved to the farm from Bloomington when my dad was six. There is so much to say about the story of this place in relation to my family, but I think that’s for another time. This is just an intro to my personal relationship with this place, and my new way of being here.

This is technically the front of the house. But we call it the back.

This is technically the front of the house. But we call it the back.

My dad has been the primary caretaker of the farm for my entire life. My grandpa had a stroke when I was pretty young…maybe six or so? And from there on out, grandma took care of grandpa until his death, and dad took care of everything else. My dad worked nights when I was a kid, and during the summer he was at the farm at least four out of seven  days, which means my brother and I were here, too.

The barn in February. We have since torn the silo down.

The barn in February. We have since torn the silo down.

I was also very close with my grandma growing up, and spent the night out here frequently. So the farm was basically a second home to me. My brother and I ran wild outside here, did a lot of baking with grandma, ate a lot of her amazing pancakes, and hung out and watched TV with grandpa. All family holidays were here. I  had several childhood birthday parties here, including a hayride. And when I grew up, I got married here.
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Suffice it to say that the farm has never not been a very special place to me. And now I get to live here.

Despite loving the place, I was worried about whether or not it would be really hard to adjust to living here. I mean, I did live in the most populace neighborhood in Minnesota before moving out to the stix. I was used to constant over-stimulation. I was worried that I would be bored or lonely. I was worried that I would be scared to be there alone, especially at night. I was worried that I would grow to hate the commute to downtown so much that I would just hate my life. I was also really worried that it would never feel like my home; it would always feel like I was a visitor at Grandma’s house. That concern wasn’t so much about my grandma imposing her will, but was more about overcoming my own childhood attachment to the place.

Outbuildings

Outbuildings

So far all of my worries were for naught. There is so much to do out here in terms of actual physical labor that being bored is practically a sin! Also, I have been spending a lot more time on writing and reading than I did with all the distractions of the big city, and that makes me very happy. Basically I’ve been making up for lost time with all of the introverted things that I like to do and haven’t done enough of while I was busy being hyper-social.  I have been  enjoying the peace. And being a little on the hermity side.  However, it is also very important that I have still been making an effort to get together with my friends. I’m no longer able to go to everything that I once did due to the distance, but I’ve still been trying to get together with people a few times per month.

Crazy jungle-like garden which I intend to tame this spring!

Crazy jungle-like garden which I intend to tame this spring!

The commute is long, but I finally relented a little bit of my Luddite  tendency (and gave up on feeling that I was  somehow cheating on actual books), and got a Kindle. I’m so in love with it I can hardly stand it. I’ve been reading double-time (which is excessive since I already read a lot before!). Anyhow, I actually enjoy the commute at this point because the 20 minute drive to the park and ride is pretty, and then I get an uninterrupted hour of reading or journaling time!

So far I have not been scared of being there alone at night (well, except for a couple of times when I’ve been letting the dog out and my brain dared to think: what if that thing crashing around in the pasture isn’t a deer or a racoon or a coyote, but a human being? It doesn’t take that long then for my brain to go down the path of adding an ax, chainsaw, etc. to that human. *Shutting mind to possibility of human in pasture*). Otherwise there is nothing creepy about the place, and I think my childhood experience there actually helps a lot. It feels very homey and comforting to me.

Despite the childhood memories, I’m actually surprised by how not weird it feels for me to live there. I feel like the extensive interior updating (pics forthcoming. This time I promise I will actually do it. I will post pics!) has made the house feel like my own, but the memories still overlap the facelift in a way that makes it very comfortable for me. In any case, right now I feel very much like I get the best of both worlds in a lot of ways: City for work and fun and country for home and rejuvination. After a full year of more intensive chaos than is even usual for me, I am feeling pretty blessed.

Farm Update

You may recall, if you have ever read this blog before, that one of my recent-ish posts explained (including helpful flowchart) that Dave & I will be taking over the homestead at my family’s farm pretty soon.  What it did not mention is that my grandma didn’t have an end-of-life plan other than, apparently, dying quietly at home one day while nobody was watching. Since she’s not a farm cat that is sneaking away into a field to die, and her family actually loves her and takes care of her and checks on her, that is not what happened (much to her chagrin – man it’s pesky to have people all “carin’ about you” and stuff!). Anyhow, there have been a lot of arrangements to be made and extensive work to be done. It took about a month to get most of Grandma’s things (items of some use/beauty/value) moved into her apartment. It took another month or so to get her remaining stuff out of the farmhouse. And for the two months we’ve been chipping away at the many, many repairs/renovations that need to happen there before we move in. These include:

  • Scraping wallpaper off in 5 rooms (4 rooms done)
  • Painting almost the entire interior of the house including all woodwork, most ceilings, and the insides of closets (3 rooms done, 3 rooms to go)
  • Pulling up carpet in 3 ½ rooms (done- I pulled up all the carpet in the back of the house myself, and it turns out that’s a real bitch.  But I have to say, I did feel pretty badass wielding my crowbar!)
  • Paint & install base shoe around floorboards in all rooms where carpet came out.
  • Refinishing hardwood floors in 3 ½ rooms (2 ½ done)
  • Installing new (well, gently used) kitchen appliances (we have the stove and fridge, but the electric needs to be redone a bit, so they’re not hooked up. Still need a dishwasher).
  • Stripping old-school  linoleum in kitchen
  • Wainscoting in ¼ of kitchen
  • Re-grouting kitchen tiles
  • Having bathtub refinished
  • New bathroom cabinet/lighting
  • Installing new water-filtration system
  • Tearing down all the wood paneling in the basement family room to make way for fixing the foundation

Those are just the items that need to happen in the house before we move in. There is still plenty to do outside as well! Thus far Dave and I have mainly been responsible for most remodeling decisions and my mom and I have been mainly responsible for implementation. David and his brother have been primarily responsible for sanding/re-finishing the wood floors (which has been the project from hell for numerous reasons). Also, my dad nearly killed himself tearing the wood paneling down in the basement. He is on serious restriction for any further work involving his back (well, we try to keep him on restriction, though he raked up yard debris all day on Sunday, which is no picnic for the back). My uncle and dad have been mainly responsible for legal/financial/repair decisions and associated running around.

We’re aiming to move in on or around June 1, so we’ve been busting ass to get things done, while each still maintaining our normal work schedules. That is why we have not seen most of the people we love for several months and why we will not be making any plans to do so in the very near future. Life has been chaotic and we very much miss having any kind of routine and/or fun.  We just have to keep reminding ourselves that this is a finite project and when it’s done we’ll have a beautiful place to live!

Before/After photos forthcoming!

Editing for Greater Than

For the last 1 ½ years or so, one of my main spiritual/emotional quests has been tracing the trail of wanting to be cared about. I’ve been looking at how and why so many of the things I do and the choices I make are completely affected by this haunted feeling that if I don’t do certain things a certain way, nobody will care about me. I guess I have this deep inner fear of being judged “unlovable” based on an ever-shifting set of criteria. I know on level deeper than my mind that my fear is unfounded, so right now I feel like my main focus is to edit the criteria, to really look at all of the things that affect my level of happiness with my life.

The main set of criteria are created by the society I live in, and are a very strong template for what is and isn’t acceptable. I’m not talking about on a moral level. I’m talking on a very physically observable level. Judgment of worthiness in this society is based on material wealth, a particular form for physical beauty, and the acquisition of stuff. The main intangibles of importance are titles, images, brands, and to some very small extent, actual knowledge (I don’t think advanced degrees, wisdom, or experience buys that much cred anymore). Behavior, putting your money where your mouth is, is only important insofar as what your image can support. People can get away with all sorts of crimes if their image portrays them as not being a criminal. Integrity, showing yourself to be exactly as you are, is almost unheard of.

I think that most people, including myself, can’t have full integrity because they’re so confused by image, by our social template, at this point that they have a hard time knowing who they essentially are. We are so dogmatized in the church of stuff and image that many of us don’t even know we’re trapped. Those of us that know we’re trapped can remain in the unpleasant task of sorting dogma from reality for years, if not a lifetime, because the dogma is so all-pervasive in every aspect of our lives. We can easily become so wrapped up in one or a couple of the many socially-tangible angles (politics, religion, economics, pretty much any “ism”) that we fail to ever recognize that all of those things are just a different kind of trap.

Similarly, when we first begin to reject the dogma, I think that a lot of people (again, including myself) go into a kind of psycho-spiritual free-fall where they look for any available cliff to cling to. Often the cliffs we cling to are just another set of “isms,” but they are an “alternative” to the more mainstream “isms.”  The so-called “alternative lifestyles” (they are so ubiquitous now that the public can just refer to them that way and know that people will have a general idea of what is being discussed!) have their very own sets of criteria and dogma, and they can be even more confusing precisely because they offer an escape from the mainstream dogma. Ultimately, some of the tools we learn down these paths as we’re fumbling towards bliss can be helpful. But in the end most of these systems and templates of being just obscure the one key that each of us hold to our own individual happiness: Ourselves.

It’s very common in psychology and alternative spiritual paths to hear the phrase “you are enough” or “I am enough.” I have been thinking deeply about those phrases recently, thanks to conversations with friends and various things that pop up on the web. I think that those phrases are very powerful and real, but I want to make a final edit in this post: I think that they are easily misunderstood as simply “stop beating up on yourself.” I think that they do mean that, and that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up, but that they also mean that we are greater than all the criteria that the world puts on us. It means that I am an essence beyond any image I might feel the need to portray. It means that to find joy all I really need to do is strip away all the layers of bullshit and get back to the very core of who I am (spirit). I don’t need to add more things, more stuff, more practices, and more activities; if something doesn’t feel authentic for me, even if it is something I admire or know that others admire, I am free to reject it. And that, as far as I currently understand, is the way out of any spiritual trap (even if it takes a long time!).

Gratuitous Self-Pity

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find an embeddable clip of my favorite example of gratuitous self pity in a movie, so here’s a link to it!

Do you ever come out of a funk by just realizing how absurd you’re being? That happens to me pretty frequently. I by no means intend to invalidate clinical depression or any other mental illness – I know that these things are very real. In my case it is pretty atypical for my depression to get very bad for very long. There have been three times in my life thus far that doctors have advised me that antidepressants would help, and I have been able to decline the meds and deal with it behaviorally each time (though none of those times were super-fun. My depression tends to manifest as anxiety and/or compulsive behavior).

At this point in my life, the line between depression (feeling utter lack of motivation or hope, accompanied by obsessive thought and usually excess of some kind; whether it’s eating, drinking, smoking, whatever) and wallowing (feeling sorry for myself) is pretty clear. Usually I can avoid depression all-together if I stay on top of my game in terms of eating well and getting enough exercise. However, sometimes at the tail end of an episode of depression I will catch myself dragging it out by wallowing. Let’s face it: feeling sorry for yourself can feel pretty good. Wallowing in self-pity and blaming everything and everyone but yourself and thinking about how the-whole-world-is-against-you-and-you-can’t-help-it can be strangely comforting. It protects you from taking any responsibility for your life and from doing the work that you don’t feel like doing.

When I was just coming out of my most recent bout of depression in March, I had one of those “lightbulb” moments while I was talking with a friend. I had been relating some of my woes about my financial situation and feeling like a failure and blah, blah, blah; and there might have also been a little bit of “so and so doesn’t realize how good they have it.” Then, just as a charitable gesture, I said “but it’s all relative. One person’s terrible situation seems ridiculous to someone whose situation is terrible for real.” In that moment, it suddenly dawned on me what a jerk I was being whining about my student debt and my lack of a house or kids or other tangibles.  I said “Wow. I just realized that I pay $18 per month to not be fat (Weight Watchers), while a huge percentage of the world’s population is starving.” Um, yeah. I have nothing to feel sorry for myself about. Wallowing desisted. The depression was over.

I think that this is why it’s funny in movies, etc., when you see scenes of gratuitous self-pity. It’s funny because we all do it, and because deep down we all know we’re being ridiculous. We’re lucky to exist. We’re lucky for so many things just by being alive. We’re luckier still if we are not hungry, have access to medical services, water, etc. If we’re lucky enough to be watching a movie or reading a blog, we’re luckier than most of people on this planet.

 Ah perspective. Ain’t she a bitch and a blessing sometimes?

The Tale of the Squirty Birdie

So, this happened yesterday. For real:

David got home from work to find Stella all wound up and frantic. He thought it was kind of weird, but didn’t think too much about it (she is wont to have freak-outs sometimes!) until he heard a flapping noise coming from the back bedroom. He went back there to find out what it was, and lo and behold there was a GIANT FRIGGIN’ BLACK BIRD in our apartment! Apparently this bird was first in our neighbor’s apartment; she figured that it got in through a hole in the wall around some of the plumbing in the bathroom (our building is 104 years old, so holes around pipes aren’t that weird!). Of course, she was all freaked out because, well, there was a crazed bird in her apartment, so she panicked and just locked it into her bathroom. Instead of making its way outside, the bird apparently made its way in to our bathroom and out into our apartment where we think it realized, “SONOFABITCH!!! There’s a big ol’ dog in here!!!” and proceeded to fly all over the apartment, with Stella in tow, literally losing it’s sh*t. The dog must have finally cornered it in the back room where David then found it, still freaking out.

One of the many hilarious things about what ensued after David was in the picture is that he hates birds. He is almost phobic of them thanks to being exposed to Hitchcock’s The Birds at way too early an age. Once he processed the fact of a giant bird in his home, he then had to force himself to suppress the image of the guy with the pecked out eyes in said movie (*shudder*) and make the leap over the threshold of the back bedroom to begin trying to shoo it outside. He decided that his best option for getting the bird to hit an exit was to usher it towards the sun porch (giant door that goes directly outside, rather than into a hallway). Unfortunately, he and his feathered friend were at the opposite end of the apartment from the porch. So began the flailing and swearing and continued pooping across the full length of the apartment. Hold this image in your mind: David, a grown-ass man, wildly flapping his arms, chasing this wildly-flapping bird, and dealing with his own bird-neurosis by spewing a Tourette’s-like stream of “FUCK! DICKHEAD! ASSHOLE!” at the poor scared bird, who finally escaped out the sun porch, and may or may not have immediately dropped dead of a heart-attack (and/or apparent loss of it’s entire digestive system).

Here is David’s final damage-assessment report from the situation:
From: David Thompson
Date: Mon, Apr 30, 2012 at 2:47 PM
Subject: Blackbird!!!!!
To: Alissa Thompson
HOLY $HIT!!!!

33 of them to be exact, at least, what I’ve FOUND!!  Here are some of the highlights:

Our stuff:

Wireless router
Base for computer monitor
Butter dish
Scrub Brush
Liquid Vitamin D bottle/dropper
Stove
Dining table twice
Gazelle
2 bills
Flowers from Grandpa’s funeral
Kitchen counter several times
Sink
Stove
Frying pan
Roku remote
Couch

My stuff (I win!):

Toothbrush!
Open can of Coke (mostly full!)
Massage Table
Personal check written out to me

Alissa’s stuff:

Fleece Jacket

Stella’s stuff:

Food dish

Floor?  Only 4 times!!!  How the bleep does a bird have that much $hit??!!!  And only manage to hit the floor 4 times??!!

Thought you might get a kick out of that!

Love you!!!!

Ah, hilarity. All the crap has been cleaned up at this point, and life is back to normal. Except I’m pretty sure our dog now has PTSD.
The end.

A Small Gift Amongst Many Big Ones

Holy Crap. This has been a strange week. It’s not often that a family patriarch passes away at the same time that you’re just beginning to pull yourself out of a three-week dead-eyed depression. But that is what has happened this week.

The man in question was my husband’s grandfather. He was truly a patriarch in the old-fashioned sense: He was an active Lutheran pastor for 70-some years. He had 5 children and 11 grandchildren, and he performed baptism and marriage ceremonies for almost all of them (including our wedding!). At age 94 he was still a fountain of support for his family, spiritually, emotionally, and physically, right up until he got sick less than a year ago. Even though he was quite elderly, he was the type of person that it was nearly impossible to imagine ever dying. My husband said “I just really have always felt like he was invincible.”

Grandpa (which everyone in the family calls him, regardless of whether or not he is your grandpa, specifically) lived simply in terms of material wealth, and was a very busy person. He was a master gardener, a key member of the senior cooperative he lived in, a family man, and continued as a substitute pastor and otherwise active church-member until the end of his life. He was passionately faithful, and he lived it out by being passionately giving and open to others. I knew him for nine years and never heard him utter anything remotely judgmental.  In other words, the man did not pull any punches. He was the real deal, a true model of what it means to “live a good life.” Because of all that, his passing, once his discomfort ended (he wasn’t in pain, but for some people, dying can be hard work. One of the last things he said was that he felt “dead tired;”and yes, that was meant to be a joke!), hasn’t been terribly mournful. Everyone is sad and grieving because they will miss him, but everyone knows that he was satisfied with his life here, and was ready to move on.

I am lucky to have known him, and to have had him as a little bit of a surrogate grandfather (both of mine passed away a long time ago). As for the depression, it is impossible to remain in a funk when contemplating such a well-lived life. He wasn’t super-famous, or accomplished in any superhuman ways, he just did a really good job at life. It’s a little gift that he didn’t even know he was giving: whatever you’re doing, don’t be bummed that you’re not doing something “better,” don’t think so hard about it. Just do a good job.

“O me! O life!…of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless — of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these O me, O life? Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.”
Walt Whitman

The Experience of Change

It seems like a lot of people that I know are currently going through big changes in their lives, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how change is experienced (well, and I’ve been experiencing my own changes, too!). Change, whether it is self-imposed or imposed by the universe, can feel very scary. I think change is scary because it feels lonely. Even if it’s a positive change. Even if you have a lot of support. Even if you feel cared-for. Even if you know that you are loved. The experience of change is very personal, and nobody can know how it feels to you. Depending on where you are at, or what the change is, your perception of the situation can make the responses of others feel very thoughtless and mean when they are actually quite innocent. Also, you know that nobody can really know how you feel, because they aren’t walking around in your head. So, even if people are trying to give you support, your mind can twist away from it, just because you know that they don’t really understand how it is for you. Finally, change is transformation. It is moving away from what your loved ones, and sometimes society in general, expect from you, and a lot of us have a very hard time tearing ourselves away from what other people want from us.

For me, the changes that I’m intensely trying to make in my life are imposed by me. They are only loosely dependent on my relationships. Nothing catastrophic or sad has happened to me. The process is, for the most part, under my control. I feel lucky for that: not only do I get to choose own perceptions about my results, but I am also the instigator of the change in the first place. However, it can be a little bit confusing sometimes. I get frustrated or sad because I feel isolated. But I’ve been isolating myself deliberately, so I can’t really go shaking my fist at the sky! I chose to take it easy on the social front because I needed some space to get into a new groove before putting myself in situations where I’d be likely to derail myself. When I look at it that way I am forced to acknowledge that feeling sorry for myself is silly and unhelpful and not a real problem but one I’m creating in my head. And then I feel like an asshole and immediately make myself feel better by laughing at what an asshole I am being. Problem solved!

Another side to the loneliness of change is that my default is still, though much less so than at other times in my life, to want to put the desires of others before my own needs. I struggle with guilt, and feel like I have been a terrible friend/daughter/granddaughter/sister/etc. But, as cheeseball as it sounds, I’ve grown to really believe that you can’t really love others fully if you don’t love yourself – kindness isn’t as kind as it could be if your acts of kindness are, deep-down, about self-validation. This concept is totally self-help 101; I’ve frequently heard it on The Biggest Loser, for god’s sake. But for some reason it’s a hard one for a lot of people to grasp.  Ultimately the thought that helps me get through those moments of guilt is that I want my relationships to be about mutual love and support and happiness. Not about validation or control on either end (I realize that there are some relationships that are dependent by nature – they have to be! But I am not a parent yet, so now is a good time for me to get a grip on these concepts!).

Are you experiencing a big change in your life? How are you feeling about it? Is it scary? Lonely? Exciting? Invigorating? All of the above?