7 Simple Ways to Grow a Life You Love

Do you want to grow a life you love?

We all have the ability to grow a nourishing life.  To grow more beauty and joy.  To become more alive everyday.

We can shift from mindlessness to mindfulness, from going through the motions to being inspired.  We all have the ability to grow a life we love.

And we all get stuck sometimes, too.

For the times you’re stuck to the times you’re flowing and need an extra bit of wind at your back, here are 7 simple ways to grow a life you love.  Like everything in life, they’re all connected, so use them together, root down, stretch up, and grow~

 hands in the soil, up-potting organic celery

1. Write it down

Whatever you want in life, writing it down increases the chances you’ll make it happen.  A study done by Dr. Gail Matthews at Dominican University shows that those who write down their goals are 42% more likely to achieve them then those who don’t.

To grow a life you love, grab a pen and paper and start writing.  I do this 2-3 times a year, both for short-term and long-term goals.  It helps me stay on track, and reviewing my previous list reminds me what I’ve achieved.

To make this practice more effective, share your goals with a supportive friend, and then regularly check in with that person on your progress.  The support and connection will keep you on track and motivated to keep going when you hit a bump in the road.

2. Get your hands dirty

There’s a reason gardening relaxes you—and it’s more than the fresh air, the space to unwind, and the miraculous ability to transform a seed into a beefsteak tomato.  Mycobacterium vaccae, a bacteria found in soil, stimulates serotonin production in your brain.  Serotonin makes you happy and relaxed.

So take off your gardening gloves and feel the soil. 

Dig, seed, tuck transplants into the earth.  Let the soil work its way into your fingerprints and under your nails.  It’s so much easier to grow (your life and your garden) when rooted in joy.

3. Eat Well

When you eat well, you are well.

All plants grow better when they get the nutrients they need.  Take care of yourself as if you were a seedling: create a positive environment and feed yourself good food.

Eating well is different for everyone, but whether you’re an omnivore or vegetarian, paleo or carb-loving, all good food is organic.  Local is even better.

Because food connects us to the world, eating local food roots us to our home and creates a sense of belonging; when we belong we take care.  We participate in creating and sustaining health for ourselves, our communities, and our home.  (Growing a garden gets your hands dirty, connects you to the land, and lets you eat well).

Eat in a way that supports your well-being and the Earth’s well-being.

4. Clear out

Before you grow a garden, you clean the beds.  You pull weeds by the roots.  You clear the space so something new can grow.

If you want to grow a life you love, you have to clear out the metaphorical weeds. 

Start by saying no to anything that doesn’t spark joy.  Continue by clearing out clutter.

Our internal and external environments are linked.  When the external is spacious and clear, it’s so much easier to be clear inside yourself, which in turn makes it easier to dream, plan, and grow a life you love.

For me, this means emptying my closets, cleaning the house, and giving away the things I haven’t used in a year.  It also means stepping down from boards or volunteer roles that create stress.  This is more painful than bringing a bag of clothes to the thrift store.  When others depend on you, it’s hard to step away.

It’s hard, too, to pull the tomato plants when they’re still producing in October.  But if you don’t, you’ll lose the window for planting winter greens.  So ask yourself: do you want to hold on to a few more summer slicers, or eat fresh food all winter?

Decide what you’ll say yes to, and say no to everything else.  For more on this, read the book Essentialism, by Greg McKeown.

5. Hang out with trees

Call it forest bathing, call it going on a walk.  Whichever you prefer, commit to spending time around trees at least once a week.

Just as soil relaxes you, time spent in the forest decreases stress (and your blood-pressure).

More than that, it reconnects you to the natural world, where life thrives on connection—not smart phones or social media, but real connection—the interplay between leaves and sunlight, trunks and roots, soil and water and microbes reaching out in continuous conversation.

Find your voice in the conversation.

6. Practice Gratitude

If you want abundance in your life, start by saying thank you.  These two simple words can shift your mindset from negativity to positivity.

There are many ways to practice gratitude: write a list of everything you’re grateful for; call a friend and thank them for their friendship; notice one thing each day that brings joy into your life and pause for a moment to soak it in.

The more you practice gratitude for all you have, the easier it is to see abundance and welcome more of it into your life.  When something goes wrong, a baseline of gratitude will help you be more resilient, solve problems, and move forward.

7. Breathe

Breathe deep.  Fill your lungs.  Fill your whole body, from toes to fingers to the crown of your head.  Let your breath make space inside yourself.

Mindful breathing decreases stress, improves your mood, and clears your mind.

When your life isn’t growing the way you want, mindful breathing will bring you back to center and help you figure out what seed to plant (literal or metaphorical), what to tend to, and how to root into intention as you grow toward the sunlight.


bee pollinating organic echinacea flowersDid this help you?  Share it with a friend, and sow the seeds of intention, beauty and joy together.

Are there tools or strategies you love that aren’t on the list?  Leave them in a comment below.

Songs I sing on the tractor (they’re not country)

tractor brush-hogging the field

Whenever I’m scared, I sing.  

It’s always the same song that comes to mind first, always the same words evoking what I need to steady myself:

“Love, love, love.  Love, love, love.  Love, love, love, love, love….”

(do you know it, yet?)

“There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.  There’s nothing you can sing that can’t be sung…”

These words and rhythm set into mind as I brush-hogged the field last week.  It’s been three years since sheep grazed our 6 acre pasture, and without them, annual mowing keeps the land open.

In the past we hired our neighbor to mow, but we finally bought a tractor this year.

I’ve never liked tractors very much.

There’s the engine noise, blocking out birdsong.  There’s the metal heft of it.  Then there’s the imprint of my first farm job, where each time the engine started up my boss would call out, “Okay, we have all increased our chances of injury or death by 200%.”  As a seasonal employee then, I didn’t drive the tractor.

Eventually I did learn how to drive tractors on a subsequent farm, though their land was flat.

Driving a large tractor on our hillside farm takes some getting used to.

The roll-bar and seat belt add safety, but it’s the singing that calms me.  Eventually that opening refrain morphed into the Elephant Love Medley from Moulin Rouge, and then into Your Song, both the movie and the Elton John version.

And because I can’t hear anything above the noise of the tractor, no one else can, either.  I sing out loud, missing all the high notes without care.

Before I began Edge reassured me, “You’re not going to tip over anywhere on this slope.  Except maybe there.”  So when I got there I went back to the Beatles, readjusted my direction, and took it slow down the slope instead of across it.

Love, love, love.  I did it.

Eventually, I relaxed.  I even enjoyed it.  The scent of goldenrod, asters, and fleabane washed over me as I mowed; fallen apples filled the air as I traced along the old apple tree that juts out on the western border.

As I breathed it all in, I thought about trust.

Trusting myself to do something uncomfortable.  Trusting Edge, who went through all the steps with me.  Trusting the land and the conversation between slope, tractor tires, and myself.

But more than that, I thought about how it’s the same in any situation.

“All you need is love” has played in my head more times than I can count, reassuring me, deepening my breaths, helping me move beyond fear.  When I forget to sing, I stand locked and uncompromising.  When I remember, I soften and open up.

It took three evenings to mow the field.

The vegetable field still demands most of our daylight hours: preparing beds, transplanting fall and winter crops, harvesting, and so on.  But each evening I jumped on the tractor more ready than before, and mowed into dusk, singing.

 


Tell me, what do you do when you’re scared?

Do you sing, too?

Share your song in the comments below, and we’ll create an unstoppable playlist 🙂

Homemade Tomato Sauce & Lessons from Dad

 organic heirloom tomato

The first tomato sauce I ever made from scratch came from the Cook’s Illustrated Best Recipes cookbook.

It was a fresh, chunky sauce, and simple, too, with extra virgin olive oil, minced garlic, two pounds of ripe tomatoes, a few tablespoons of fresh basil and a dash of salt.

I diligently followed each step, coring the tomatoes, immersing them into boiling water, then into ice water, and peeling and discarding the fleshy skin.  I cut each tomato into 1/2 inch chunks and added them to the hot pan, where the garlic was already releasing its sweet pungency into the oil and air.

I remember my clumsiness as I peeled the blanched tomatoes, how my hands covered in red juice.

I remember the clear afternoon light of the summer sun streamed into my parents’ kitchen, and the gurgling sauce offering its song up to the silence.

I remember my dad coming into the kitchen as I stirred and telling him of the incredible contentment that comes from making sauce.

Mostly I remember what he said to me:

“Never lose the time to do this.  Never lose the time to do the things that you enjoy.”

I was still in college then, going into my Junior year, and he was working at home on a weekend.  He couldn’t remember the last time he cooked for pleasure, though he was good at it, and he enjoyed it.

He was an entrepreneur, and at that time in his life his company was well-established, as was his constant traveling to teach, his many nights of working from home, his two-week vacation time for the year.  But he was passionate about his work, and if not for our conversation that day, I’m not sure I’d have known that he missed these moments of time sinking away into sauce.

I chopped fresh basil as the tomato chunks softened, and then added them to the pan, the delicate green flecks bringing the sauce alive into summer.

The simplicity of homemade tomato sauce invited me to make it more often, and eventually I’d learn to make it by feel rather than recipe.  The only instruction that I held to was the one from my dad: never lose time to do the things you enjoy.

Eventually I became an entrepreneur, too, though the nature of my work keeps me outside, close to the land and my food.

Still, we work long hours for much of the year and at the end of each season we look again to our quality of life goals: time for fun, time for creativity, time for exploration and learning and leisure with family and friends.

These goals are a reason I started this blog.  I do it because it’s fun, because it stretches my writing muscles, and keeps me writing on a regular basis.  I do it because it connects me to this community of fellow gardeners and farmers, all working to grow a deeper life, seed by seed.

It’s another way of making sure I never lose the time to do what I enjoy.  And hopefully, it adds a bit of enjoyment for all who read, too.

All the while, the acts of cooking and writing remain a steady counterpart to the work of farming.

Now I’d love to know, what brings you joy?  What are the things you make time for, the things you never want to let go of?

Is it making homemade tomato sauce?  Or taking photos?  Or reading books?  Whatever it is, leave a comment below and let me know.

And better yet, let me know how you make it happen (because despite my efforts, there are still the inevitable days when I don’t make the time and dinner is less than inspired.  Suggestions & strategies welcome.)

Lyme, Sleep, and Roasted Tomatoes

September Morning

September is here, waking us up with cool mornings and sails of fog rising from the valley.

For the first time in a year, I’m looking forward to a month without achiness and exhaustion.  In June I was diagnosed with lyme disease, and though I’d been crashing every day, I pushed through. With the diagnosis I finally gave myself permission to rest.

Hence the silence here.  And in other parts of my life, too.

Taking care of myself meant emptying my very full hands, laying down, and sleeping.  And while that meant I missed many summer sunrises, it’s brought me here to this point, to feeling better.  (Along with the help of antibiotics, herbs, and a change in diet, that is).

Sleeping was the easy part.

The shift to an anti-inflammatory diet was a bit trickier, given the 22×96′ greenhouse filled with tomatoes, and the rows of peppers, eggplants, and potatoes growing in the fields.  Surprisingly, cheese was much easier to give up than tomatoes.

But that’s all I’ll say about that.

Because now winter squash is ripening, spinach is rooted in the hoop house, and the autumn weather has me craving carrot soup, apples, and pumpkin bread.

The September bounty eases the temptation of roasted tomatoes.

heirloom tomatoes for roasting

Which I’ve been making a lot of for our Fall Harvest CSA.  Roasting tomatoes for the freezer is my favorite way to store them.  I’ve tried, but I’ve never been one to do much canning.  Instead, our chest freezers hold a winters’ worth of summer harvests.

I first came across these roasted tomatoes through Margaret at A Way To Garden, who shared Alana’s recipe from Eating From the Ground Up.  (And if you’re a cook-book lover like I am, you’ve got to get a copy of Homemade Kitchen).

Roasting tomatoes is easy and versatile.

Keep it simple with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Or drizzle some balsamic vinegar, add sliced onions and basil.  Whatever calls to you, add it.

Alana calls for a low, slow roast, but I have so many tomatoes to process that I set the oven 325º and roast for 1-2 hours, depending on the tomato type (longer for juicy slicers, shorter for paste).

Roast until the juices have released, the edges are dried, and the whole kitchen smells like the most delicious sauce.

Let cool, then transfer the tomatoes to a freezer bag, label and freeze.

Eat them up all winter.

One of my favorite ways to use roasted tomatoes is to puree them with an immersion blender, add a little parmesan cheese, and pour over noodles.

Wholly Inefficient Tasks

summer solstice sunset

summer solstice sunset

In the evening, when the day’s field work is done and dinner has been eaten, I do wholly inefficient tasks.

You know what I mean?

Tending to those things on the outskirts of the production garden, the things that get perpetually forgotten because they were forgotten once and the weeds overcame them and it became easy to walk by without stopping to scribble it on the to-do list.

For me, it’s the seaberries.

I went to them, finally, and hand-pulled the tall grass that was engulfing their 100-foot bed. Fistful by fistful, I loosened and yanked.

Two years ago we hastily planted the trees at the base of our field.  They’d been yelling at us all summer, the way root-bound plants yell, with their yellowing leaves and stunted growth.  Each time I’d walk by them I’d whisper: We will plant you.  We just have to do everything else first.

And then I’d offer them some water and they’d drink it the way a toddler who’s been bribed with dessert eats dinner: impatiently.

seaberries

seaberries

Seaberries, also known as Sea-buckthorns, are fruit-bearing trees that grow from 6-12′.  They fix nitrogen in the soil, can act as a windbreak, have few pest or disease issues, AND produce bright orange berries high in Vitamin C.

We were very excited about them when we bought the saplings from a friend’s nursery.  And then we were very embarrassed when he asked how they were doing, and we had to admit they weren’t yet in the ground.

But that was two years ago.  I’ve given up my embarrassment and embraced the fact that sometimes I have to let things go.

And sometimes, the things we let go of come back.

Last night, as I bent and pulled, I cleared the seaberries from the shroud of grass.  At the end, I stood up and looked down the row, seeing them again for the first time in a year.

There’s something satisfying about tending to the inefficiencies on the farm.  They’re a guilty pleasure along the edges keeping a bit of wildness in our days.  (Don’t tell Edge I said this…he doesn’t love tending to the inefficiencies.  Mostly I agree with him.  Mostly).

There’s no practical sense to keep the seaberries where they are, tangled with grass roots, unkempt.

There’s no sense at all, really—except to enter the weeds, bare hands, muscle, swatting at black flies; to remember what it takes to make space; to remember I can do it, if I’m willing to.

 


 

Vermont has a handful of seaberry experts; you can learn more about seaberries here: 

Vermont Seaberry Company

Whole Systems Design