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Alone on the (Beautiful) Farm

We live on a beautiful picturesque farm outside Charlottesville in the mountains of central Virginia with horses, goats, chickens, sheep, a few dogs and a token cat (www.riverrockfarmva.com). All told it’s close to 40 acres and sidles right up alongside a gurgling, sometimes rushing, river. In addition to the animals, we maintain a sweet little guest cottage that rents short term on a vacation rental website. It is idyllic. It is full of breathtaking colors, views that stretch for days, and happy little boys who frolic about without a care in the world. It is lonely. It is hard work and it is severely isolating on many days. There is a disconnect, quite literally. I sit writing this blog post in the library in the city, because we lack the infrastructure for fiber internet. When all the houses between us and the connection box are home, it can slow to a crawl that would make you mourn for the days of dial up.

For the past two years my wife has been coaching full time and I’ve been in charge of the farm and the rental quite a bit, and then there are our boys. At five and seven, life is full of sweet questions, heated arguments, picking and fighting, and endless needs. My hands are never idle. And yet, my brain feels full of absolute gobbledygook: songs that make no sense, reminders to record Ninja Warrior, relentless grocery lists, dates for visitors, dates for opening and closing the pool, dates for potential wedding events that utilize our new venue, birthday wishes, underwear sizes, lunch preferences, water bottle locations, stain removal secrets.

I spend my days teaching kindergarten (no, literally, I do), cramming in training runs, cleaning toilet after toilet after toilet, washing the craft table, vacuuming dog hair, fixing creative kid dinners, organizing gift baskets and flowers for guests, calling Century Link for the 8000th time (you know those calls take over an hour each), taking a sick cat to the vet, feeding a crazy ram who wants me to pet him but will actually end up killing me I’m sure, looking for baby lambs to drop any minute, tossing hay (I’m hyper allergic). I’m so tired of listening to my shit I can’t write anymore about it.

The other day, exhausted, I came home and reluctantly googled “tired mom farm business” and pulled up two op-ed type pieces about the typical hang in the mom, you’re doing a great job BS, and then some farm businesses that cater to small children and families. I was looking for some camaraderie, similar voices. I found none.

So, I’m writing about it myself. I’m freaking tired and I’m beat and I feel super isolated on my farm with my kids.

So today I’ve been googling home swaps. In Chile, or Bali, or Sweden, or Spain. Anyone interested? I have a really great farm with sweeping Blue Ridge views and picture perfect farm critters.

Extreme Momming, Laird Hamilton, Wim Hof and Ironing

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Laird Hamilton & Gabby Reece

So I opened my mid-morning Sunday with some yacht rock and a core workout, but I’ve been thinking about this Wim Hof method lately because I’m currently reading Scott Carney’s book What Doesn’t Kill Us about his adventures in pursuing Wim Hof, his breathing method, and his various disciples. I just finished the chapter on Laird Hamilton who I’ve admired for years because of his devotion to the water and his genuinely over the top approach to his own fitness. Dude does squat jumps from 12 feet under water with 50 pounds of dumbbells. Insane. But he also rides 40 foot waves. His XPT program is another post entirely. I digress.

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Passing out

Wim Hof. Anyway. I’m doing my measly 40 minute core workout on dry land, in a climate controlled home, and I think, why not just see if the breathing/push-up thing is something? So, post measly workout, I get into the easiest position I can for falling into pushups. (NB: I tried this yesterday and I nearly blacked out. Of course, I was in a hot shower and had just finished running 10 miles.) At any rate, I’m taking precautions today. I breathe 1 second in and 1 second out for 40 breaths. I expel all the air I can and drop into pushups. I manage 15 before I need to breathe. I was hoping for 20. I check my heart rate – 122. That can’t be right, but I take my pulse at my carotid and it is. I start over and this time I hold my breath and manage 23 pushups. Pulse is 124, it rises slightly to 134 before dropping back again. I try again and get to 25 pushups. For real?

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Wim Hof

Tip of the iceberg. Literally. Wim Hof’s method also includes extreme cold training – running shirtless in the snow, ice baths, meditating barely clothed on ice, and alternatively, spending time heating up in the sauna. All of this in an effort to tap into human abilities we have seemingly underutilized over the course of our relatively quick evolution. Our bodies are far more capable than we realize. Given time and the proper training Hof postulates that humans can essentially heal themselves.

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XIT Extreme Iron Training

All of this leads me to this. My workout is done, my silly little test is complete for today and now I am ironing and it looks like this:

Travels with the River Rock Crew: Christmas in Eleuthera Edition

 

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Over Christmas break our family traveled to the Bahamas for 12 days in paradise. Once you know we traveled with children you might assume this was a trip and not a vacation. I am writing to assure you that it was indeed a vacation for all of us. My wife spent time with her kids and her sisters and mother, my kids engaged gleefully with their Montana cousins and I read books, stand up paddled, napped in a hammock, day drank, and still maintained my training schedule. We had all the fabulousness because we rented the amazing Five Palms beach house on Eleuthera, an out island in the friendliest place in the Caribbean. How did you get there? How did you find the house and what made it so special? What did you eat and what did you feed your children? What activities are there? How was the weather? These are the things you want to know and I will tell you.

 

How did you get there?

My wife and I have been to Eleuthera once before in 2009. We rented a house in the busiest area of the island, Governor’s Harbour, specifically, Banks Road. When I say busy, I mean probably the easiest place to be if you are feeling somewhat out of your element and you need to be surrounded by others just like you. Although, truthfully, Harbour Island is more for you if you’re feeling this way, but that’s another post. My point is, we knew that Eleuthera was slower, less populated, and much more rustic than some of the other places in the Bahamas. Just our style. We enjoy places that are somewhat difficult to reach. It keeps the riff raff out. You must fly into Nassau and catch a Bahamas Air or Pineapple Air flight into GHB (Governor’s Harbour), ELH (Northern Eleuthera) or RSD (Rock Sound). Alternatively, you can fly from Fort Lauderdale into ELH, but that’s mainly for people headed to Harbour Island – it’s way north, and Eleuthera is a LONG island. You could also charter from Fort Lauderdale, West Palm or Nassau. During the Christmas holiday, that’s not a bad option, but $$$.

We flew Charlottesville to Atlanta to Nassau and then overnighted before our Bahamas Air flight the next day or so we thought. Bahamas Air, for whatever reason, delayed so late that evening that the “sunset rule” came into play. No flight can and on the out islands after sunset. What?! So we had to spend another night unexpectedly in Nassau and that was $$$. We could have chartered at that point. My advice? Book Pineapple Air. All their flights got out on time. But they only go from Nassau.

I was weary of schlepping our shit and our kids’ shit. But we made it, the next morning and all was well. We were greeted at the airport by the lovely house manager and our rental van which, by the way, accommodated our entire party of 11. The van came with the house at an additional fee and was perfect for our needs. When in Eleuthera, be advised, there is no Enterprise rent a car, you must know someone who knows someone. Ask your house manager or the people you’re renting from or the hotel you’re staying. Cabs are $$$ and inconsistent. You’ll want a car.

 

How did you find the house?

I started looking almost a year in advance and I found Five Palms on VRBO. It had stellar reviews, it accommodated my large group nicely with 7 bedrooms, plus an additional guest house if you need it, and the owners’ don’t change the rates for holidays. HUGE BONUS. When you’re looking at rates, remember to factor in a huge VAT tax (13%), cleaning fees, and tips for the house manager and team. This house also had the added bonus of its own website so we could see additional information such as local fishing rentals, in home cooking services, and we avoided VRBO’s ridiculous service fees which would have added over $1000 to our cost. We booked directly with the family through their paypal. Easy peezy, lemon squeezy. My biggest concern was that the house was so far south for us, but it turned out to be the perfect location.

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Why was it so special?

Five Palms has room for all the family to have their own space and bathrooms. That’s crucial. It also had everything we needed. The game room and entertainment space for the kids (and the rest of us really) was amazing: cushy wrap around couch, big tv and over 250 movies for movie night, games galore, books, puzzles, gobs of legos, an art center for the littles, a wii system and games. I’ve rented all over the world from VRBO houses and I’ve never seen one this stocked. We had access to washer and dryer, the house was fully stocked with paper products, cooking products including two coffee makers, waffle maker griddle, crock pot, margarita maker, pizza stone, lobster pots. The kitchen was spacious and was even able to handle all the people who wanted to be in it at the same time. The dining room was set up perfectly for large families and included lots of placemats, cloth napkins, coasters, candles, everything we needed to make our dinners magical. Julian, the caretaker, was there every single morning to clean the pool and beach and pull out what we needed: kayaks, surfboards, SUPs, fishing gear, boogie boards, floats, life jackets, snorkel gear, chairs, towels, you name it. They even had sunscreen, bug spray, coolers, and beach bags. The beds were super comfy, the bunk room for the kids was a dream and they all wanted to sleep there together. That was a first for us and very special. Sunrise every morning was a shared event either on the back deck or through the gigantic wall of windows across the living, dining and kitchen area of the house. My mother in law liked to jokingly say, “Another terrible day on this god-forsaken island!”

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We could have stayed at the house everyday, but we did venture out. We explored Ten Bay Beach twice, the beach across the street was great for shelling and snorkeling and we drove up to Harbour Island one day, too. It was horribly crowded and we were so glad to get back to Five Palms, stopping by French Leave for sunset on the way back.

What did you eat and what did you feed your children?

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We ate mostly what we eat at home. Beryl, our lovely house manager, stocked us before we got there with my own grocery list I emailed a week ahead. She also ran out for us mid-week because it was a holiday week and we were running out of milk. She called around, found it and ran to get it for us. And she was the best price in Eleuthera, guaranteed. Very is also available to cook for you. She made dinner for us one night and it was spectacular local grouper. What a treat! We did take down a cooler of meat we’d frozen before we left. We brought organic beef from Costco, a huge whole filet tenderloin (for Christmas dinner), chicken breasts, and pork chops. Fresh fish can be bought on island. Also, the best grocery store in Eleuthera is in Rock Sound, minutes from your doorstep. Fresh produce, cereal, milk, eggs, cheese, ovaltine, doritos, organic chicken, whatever you need. But expect to spend big bucks at the store. That’s just the rule. Everything is brought in. We ate dinner out one night at Rainbow Inn – love the atmosphere. The food is fine. Mostly we ate meals in or packed lunches for the beach.

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Activities?

We sailed, swam, snorkeled, fished, shelled, walked, ran, stand up paddled, boogie boarded, sunbathed, kayaked, explored, and boozed it up a little. I read a lot. The kids did all of the above and created lots of art, played games, watched a couple movies (at night) and did sparklers, danced, surfed on floats in the pool, you name it.

No one was ever bored.

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How was the weather?

AMAZING. I was super worried it would be shite. The year we went (2009) it was cloudy, overcast, gray, dreary, rainy and crap. It was even cold, windy, uninviting. I was so paranoid it would be like that again, but it was a dream. Every day was in the 80’s and sunny. We had one windy day at the house and we simply trotted over to the beach across the island and it was perfectly calm and delightful.

I cannot rave enough about this vacation. It was a very special one for our whole family and we are so incredibly grateful that we found this place and were able to gather together for memory making. Our kids will talk about it for a long time. Forever I hope.

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Super Mom, Super Tired

This fall I will turn forty. My first notion was to book a fabulous beach vacation somewhere that requires a passport and invite all my friends, but then I realized what a pain in the ass it is to take time off from work and family, spend money (not necessarily on a place you want to go), and just to simply be out of your routine for more than a couple days. So I bagged the idea of asking my friends to join me.

Once I knew it would be a solo adventure, I started to narrow down my list of locations. The rules were as follows:

1. It must be somewhere I have never been;

2. It must have an amazing beach and warm sunshine;

3. There must be alcohol (in other words, we’re not going to the Perhention Islands).

My list included Peru, Sri Lanka, Portugal, and Hawaii. I want to hike, run, swim, stand up paddle, do some yoga, maybe some pilates, definitely have cocktails. So long story short, I picked Hawaii, which seems SO LAME compared to the other more exotic locations, but I’ve never been and then there’s this – One of my former students who was born and raised on Maui is leaving four years in the Peace Corps in Uganda and returning home this summer, so I have a home base, a connection to the localness. That was the final straw. I booked the ticket. Done and dusted.

But that’s not enough, is it?

I just happened to look up some running options for that week in Maui and it just so happens that it’s the weekend of the Maui Marathon. So, I registered for the half. I swore I would NEVER run more than 8 miles, but you know what? I have lungs and they work. It seems these last few years people I love have been losing their lung abilities. Well, I still have mine and they work and I can run. So that’s that.

Except now I’m training and this is what I feel like all the time:

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Just Finished Reading…

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I just returned home from a quick trip to Colorado and I had loads of time to kill while there as I was on bed rest for a day and a half. I started reading Next Stop by Glen Finland on the way out and finished it on the plane into Denver. My wife picked up Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan for me to read while I was on bed rest. I finished it before we left the hotel to come home. Days later back at home and inundated with playing catch up (and catch the little people) I am still thinking about both stories. 

SIMILARITIES:

Strong parent advocacy for a child

Mental illness and the stigma associated with its diagnosis

Disease with shockingly many unknowns

Misdiagnosis

Strong parental relationships (despite divorce, hardship, etc.)

Resilience and independence (the child’s)

Incremental growth or recovery in very small, sometimes painful baby steps

At the center of Brain on Fire is Susannah Cahalan, a successful, but young reporter for the New York Post whose normal daily functioning is quickly overtaken by some unknown ailment which causes her to deteriorate into a state of psychosis. Next Stop is one mother’s story of her son David who is born with Autism, but of course, it takes years of doctors’ visits, special schools and repeated testing in order to arrive at this diagnosis. In both stories the parental support is vital to the eventual diagnoses and treatments.

ISOLATION. There are many moments in Brain on FIre where the reader can feel the total isolation of Susannah and, at times, her father as he follows her every step of the way into the darkness of her disease – the outbursts, the paranoia, the escape attempts, the awkward uncontrollable limb movements and eventually the catatonic state into which she slides before meeting Dr. Najjar. It is so very clear that as the physical ailments slowly get ticked off the list of probable cause and the shift moves toward complete psychological diagnosis, doctors and nurses slowly turn away from her and her parents. “I can’t help you, I’m off the case,” they say. Glen Finland writes in Next Stop of feeling isolated in the grocery store even when she recognizes a father and his autistic son in the aisles. She wants desperately to pat him on the shoulder and say, “You’re doing a great job,” but she realizes that once you’ve met one autistic child, you’ve met one autistic child. Every single one is different. Even in physical therapy with her son David at  very young age she looks around the room and sees so many other overwhelmed and tired faces (of parents) that she is reluctant to share her story or her feelings with the other parents. How isolating is that? You’re all going through similar things and yet you can’t share the burden. It’s already too much.

RESCUE. Susannah’s case is eventually turned over to Dr. Souhel Najjar who through a series of simple tests including one in which he asks her to draw a clock, he discovers that she has a disease only recently named in 2007 – Anti NMDA receptor encephalitis. Its progression of symptoms include (taken from Wikipedia):

  1. A prodromal phase of nonspecific viral-like symptoms (fever, headache etc).  
  2. Psychiatric disturbances with schizophrenic-like manifestations (hallucinations, visions, suicidal ideation). This is usually the phase that patients are admitted to hospital.
  3. Memory impairment – in particular anterograde amnesia.
  4. Dyskinesias (especially orofacial) and seizures (often tonic clonic but not associated with epileptiform activity as assessed by electroencephalography).
  5. Loss of responsiveness, low Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS).
  6. Hypoventilation/central respiratory depression.
  7. Autonomic instability (e.g. variations in blood pressure and salivation rates).                                                                                                            You can see how one might be considered a psychiatric patient headed for a for-life facility. And the shit kicker for poor Susannah is that even when she’s on the mend, she has to go back through each stage in order to reach full recovery (which no one was sure she’d actually reach).

David’s consistent support and rescue team includes his parents (mostly his mom), his brothers and, in a few cases, some of his brothers’ coaches. Public school, private school, back to public school, vocational school, and finally a program in Florida that is meant to be training for life on his own. All the way through, his mother is there, watching, taking notes, pushing and making sure David gets the care he needs. Eventually she sets him free on the metro – to explore, to learn, to become fully independent.

PROCESS and CLARITY. Susannah, a trained and skillful reporter, leans on her strengths in order to process the life changing experience, particularly since she cannot recall at least one month of her life. She looks for clarity through interviews with doctors, family members, nurses, co-workers, and neighbors; video of her time in the epilepsy ward at NYU; journals her father and mother kept while she was in the hospital; personal research on her disease. She slowly pieces together and writes her story. David runs. He runs so fast and so hard and so long that his high school track coach picks him up for the cross country team. He runs for his independence, for his sense of self, for the simple pleasure it gives him. He runs the Marine Corps Marathon – perhaps the most emotional point in the story for me (and there were MANY). 

Certainly these are very different stories about very different people, but they’re so fresh in my mind, I just can’t help but see the similarities.

No parent will get through Next Stop without some serious emotional connections. Heartbreakingly beautiful. I dare you to get through Brain on Fire without being horrified at how simple it would be to disappear into a psychiatric ward in an unforgiving and inflexible health system where psychiatric disease still has so much stigma still attached to it. Also, it totally makes me rethink Linda Blair and Emily Rose. And all the other crap shows I’ve watched on demonic possession.

  

 

 

Devaluing the American Worker: Millennial Style

So, here’s another piece of the puzzle to the discussion I posted last week on the consistent devaluing of the American worker. According to the article cobbling together jobs from temping, part-timing and free-lancing is the new way of creating a full time work experience for the Millennial generation. It’s just a more mature, better educated version of the unpaid internship and it continues to not only devalue the worker, but it has long-term ill effects on the recovery of the economy. Piecing together work in this way makes it impossible to maintain benefits, less likely to gain access to lines of credit (making access to disposable income more readily available), and nearly impossible to qualify for home loans (to boost the real estate sector). Is this really what the new workplace looks like? Are we being conditioned to accept this as the new reality?

Read the story: NPR’s Marketplace Piece – For millenials, a patchwork quilt of part-time jobs will have to do.

Memory Recall

I lifted this quote from a piece in the Oxford American:

The tending of fields, like the rendering of memories, is as much a rendering of fields as a tending of memories.” Casey Clabough

It made me think about my dad.

Dad & JillI am old enough to remember the sound of my father polishing his shoes, sitting on the green carpeted steps that dropped into his and my mother’s dressing room from their bedroom. His knees, tall and pointy as they gathered up to hold his forearms and elbows alternatively as he held his shoe just slightly out in front of his body – shoes in one hand, brush in the other, can of polish by his foot. Swish, scritch, swish, scritch, back and forth, his long fingers holding the brush like an extension of his hand, moving in quiet practice. There is the smell of the polish, strong, waxy and clean and the smell of my dad – like suits from the dry cleaners, fine old hats, worn out top siders, undershirts, deodorant, lipsyl all rolled into one. I can sit below him at the edge of his closet near the rows of shoes. I can see mine and my brother’s sleeping bags from here folded in the back of his closet, waiting for the next camping trip. But right now my father is polishing his shoes, the shoes he wears with his Navy uniform. Next he will polish the shoes he wears with his suits in court. I pick at the ugly green carpet and watch. I never tire of watching.

 

Foray into Personal Information

Mommy and JCR on the FarmThis is my first blogpost as River Rock Mom. I decided that I had too many personal issues to hash out that were inappropriate for the business blog. So here you will find my thoughts and musings and judgments on all sorts of things – some mommy related, some business related, some just plain silliness. Thank you for joining me on this new adventure into personal information.