Confessions From a Female Farmer: Part 1 – Mom Issues

I confess to keeping secrets from you, my loyal readers and dedicated followers. This past year at Runamuk has been filled with some big changes for both farm and farmer. I’ve faced down some serious mom-issues, restructured my financial situation, and fallen in love with the man of my dreams. I took a long hiatus from writing, giving that energy to the farm and to my family. Waiting to see how events would play out before I dared validate them, I’ve kept my cards close to my chest. Now, as we slip deeper into the Dark Days of the Year, I am ready to write once more. I’m ready to continue for you the story of my journey as a female farmer in the western mountains of Maine.

Mom-Issues

the boys
My 2 handsome sons: BraeTek (left), William (right).

This part of the story is about the farmer who is also a mom. These are fairly personal issues and therefore harder to share publicly. Yet, I feel strongly that these are the issues steering the course of a farm─any farm─and things like this need to be acknowledged. Family is at the heart of farming. Ask any farmer why they are willing to work so hard for so little pay, and I’m willing to bet that he or she will tell you they do it for the lifestyle it provides their family. They do it for love. With that in mind, I confess that I’ve faced down some pretty challenging mom-issues this year.

William at 17

Early this past spring, my son William stopped coming to the farm for his regular weekly visits. Now 17, he had long since decided that he no longer needed a mom, he loathed going back and forth between two homes, and he preferred to reside full-time at his father’s. Finally my ex and I capitulated, and I was forced to accept that my baby was grown up and no longer needs his mom.

World’s Okayest Mom

I have long since accepted the title of “World’s Okayest Mom”. No where near the worst mom, but a far cry from the best. I used to think it was me─my own maternal failing. It took another mother to recognize the cards and point out to me that I’d been dealt a particularly challenging hand.

I have 2 sons, William and BraeTek, born 4 years apart. At the age of 3, William was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Now 17, William has been reevaluated and labeled level 2-autistic─meaning he needs support to be able to function within normal society.

william
William at 17

“Can you tell?”

Someone asked me recently if you could tell by looking at William if he was different, and I said yes. He is a handsome young man now. Tall and slender─like my father was─with the same dark hair. But it’s his mannerisms that set him apart instantly.

On a good day, William can be charming and engaging. He loves to tell stories and be the center of attention. He’s very dramatic, and will wait for just the right opportunity to play out some prank he’s been scheming. William loves to read and research, has an obsession with old comics like Garfield, TinTin, and Foxtrot. Quick-witted and smart, with a memory like an elephant. I love those days.

On a bad day, William can be surly, or grumpy, withdrawing from the world to the sanctity of his bedroom. He has a fairly rigid perception of the world (The World According to William) combined with a significant lack of tolerance and some impulse control issues. Thanks to his everlasting memory, he holds a grudge like no one’s business, and will sometimes fixate on an event or particular conversation from the past. On a really bad day, that combination can cause him to self-combust. He might even work himself into an angry tizzy in which he is a danger to himself, and to those around him.

William’s Wrath

me n my son
It’s getting hard to get my boys to take a pic with their dear old mum!

I admit that I have been a target for William’s wrath for years now, and his resentment toward me seemed to grow with every passing birthday. He resents the bees. He resents the farm. BraeTek is 13 now, and William still resents me for having a second child lol. He resents the divorce. Change is hard for him, and going back and forth between two homes upsets him. Most of the time he is even offended by my unconditional love (but maybe that’s more a teenager thing than an autism thing?).

I could write a full-length book about what it was like raising William and trying to raise a farm at the same time lol. Maybe some day I will…

Suffice it to say that William’s behavior escalated to the point where my ex and I could no longer deny his right to choose where and how he will live. Shortly after his 17th birthday William stopped coming to the farm every week. I was left blaming myself, questioning my priorities and my maternal capabilities.

I wonder─do all mothers and fathers feel that same sense of self-doubt when their children leave the nest? If you have any experiences or sage words of wisdom to share, please feel free to drop a comment below─or shoot me an email if it is too personal for you to share here.

Quiet House

William having fledged the nest was a rough adjustment, for sure. This big old house was a lot quieter with only BraeTek and I in it. Eventually, I worked through my feelings of inadequacy, putting into perspective the challenges that I had faced in raising my children. Though it still pains me, I accept that William is just more comfortable at his father’s. I can pick myself up and carry on, knowing that I have always done the best I could to do right by my children, while still being true to myself and my own dreams.

In the wake of that acceptance, I began to see a new opportunity to focus my maternal energy on my younger son, BraeTek.

Tradeschool for BraeTek

It was a long series of events, actually, that led me to induct my son into “Runamuk’s Tradeschool for Recalcitrant Teens”. BraeTek had been struggling at school for the last couple of years. He was having trouble keeping up in class, had fallen behind in math pretty significantly, and his handwriting was atrocious. He was depressed and lacked confidence, but played it off as indifference.

BraeTek_Summer 2020

He railed against what he perceived as injustices against himself or his friends amid the junior-high society, and I was being called into school frequently for one incident or another. In the face of these struggles and the stress of having an autistic brother at home, BraeTek had become resentful─withdrawing into internet media just as so many kids today are inclined to do.

Lazy

Then he started bragging about being lazy…. My son!

I was aghast. Lazy is the ultimate dirty word in my book. While I feel taking the occasional lazy-day is completely acceptable and sometimes necessary to recharge, lazy as a way of life makes me cringe violently.

child with pine cone
BraeTek at age 3

Maybe it is the active farmer inside me, or the naturalist closer tied to the land than to society, that cringes when she looks around to see so many people, young and old, lost to the cell-phone void. I see tomorrow’s generation of up and coming bright minds─seemingly with no clue of how to actually do anything. Young people with no motivation or work ethic to accomplish much in life─largely because they are completely and utterly addicted to their screens: tablets, computers, cell-phones, and video game boxes.

Then the covid pandemic set in, and kids everywhere were suddenly home fulltime. Though BraeTek had a few chores, there was so now much time in the day that he was spending hours upon hours in front of a screen─either his phone, a computer, or the TV. That just wasn’t acceptable to this mom.

A Valuable Opportunity

I decided this was a valuable opportunity to instill a sense of work ethic in my son. I offered him $25 a week, or $5 a day, to work for Runamuk Monday through Friday. Still in it’s infancy here in New Portland, the farm cannot afford to hire outside help. It can, however, afford $25 a week for an unskilled, underage apprentice.

BraeTek has always been something of an entrepreneur─motivated by money. At 9 years old, he was selling lemonade at the Madison Farmers’ Market. By 11 he had added homemade dog treats to his stand. Now he leapt at the chance to earn his own money by working for the farm.

BraeTek as my apprentice.

Over the course of the summer, I began to see how I might create an education for my son right here on the farm. I had homeschooled my kids before─William til he was 12, and BraeTek til he was 7. There was no reason I couldn’t pick that back up. I’d always enjoyed learning with the kids, exposing them to new things, and sharing my days with them. By the time school started up again this fall, my mind was made up. BraeTek would not be going back to public school.

Acclimating to Working Life

It was a little rough at first, as BraeTek acclimated to working life. He had a new routine, higher expectations, and increased responsibility. The money was great─$25 a week is a lot when you’re 13─but he learned pretty quickly that he would actually have to work for it and that mom has some pretty high standards. Runamuk is growing and gaining financially, but $25 a week adds up to $100 a month, and that is still a lot of money at this stage. As a farmer, I have to be able to justify that expense even if it is my son.

I’m excited, though, to have this opportunity with BraeTek. He needs to be able to work at his own pace, maybe with a little extra support, and a lot more physical activity. I can give that to him right here on the farm. What’s more, looking around at the masses of humanity zombified by their screens, effectively rendered useless to society, I can’t help feeling fairly passionately that learning to work, and developing a strong work ethic is going to be a huge asset for him.

Steered by “Mom”

I know that parenting is never easy, and perhaps letting go is the hardest part of the job. William fledging the nest was certainly a tough adjustment for this mom. Of course I will still see him from time to time, but he’s beyond needing me at this point. BraeTek on the other hand, will need me for at least a few more years, and I have big plans for him. It will be interesting to see the impact this young man will have on the farm─and how much of an impact the farm will have on him.

fresh carrots
William has always loved fresh veggies straight from mom’s garden!

In truth, Runamuk has always been steered by “Mom”─by the choices this farmer has made as a mom. Afterall, it was for my children that I ever started growing food in the first place. It was our family’s low-income situation that drove me to make my own, to DIY. Learning to bake and cook from scratch allowed me to stretch our grocery budget so that we could eat better. Now that we have settled in New Portland and the farm is really growing, I can’t wait to see how my children will steer Runamuk through the next phase of it’s journey.

Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest posts directly to your inbox; OR follow us on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm.

A Single Mom Farming Alone

It was never my intention to be a single mom farming alone─in fact, I rarely think about my situation that way. Beginning farmer? sure. Female farmer? absolutely. Single white woman farming with 2 kids in tow? Not so much. It was recently pointed out to me on facebook, though, when another page shared Runamuk’s post with this remark: “Think being a single mom prevents one from starting a farm? Think again. This mom shows how it’s done in Maine!” I was startled by their assessment and it’s been nagging at me ever since, so naturally I have to tell a story about it.

Kids Bring Farming to Another Level

My 2 sons, BraeTek on the left, and William in the foreground.

Farming is hard under even the best of circumstances, but having kids on the farm brings it to another level. Kids have to have routines, they need to be cared for and fed, educated and molded into responsible citizens with good values and moral principles. I’m happy for the moms out there who have family and friends to help them along their child-rearing journey. I believe that a child should have a village in his or her life; a diverse array of people to learn from and draw a wide-range of experiences from. Unfortunately, I have never had that kind of support in my own child-rearing journey.

When my boys were very young, I was especially isolated and I struggled with it in a big way. I’ve had to learn to juggle my passion for farming with my motherly responsibilities. In fact, trying to farm and be a mom at the same time has been as big a challenge as securing property for Runamuk’s forever-farm was. Bigger, actually─because if I had never developed strategies to make it work for both my children and I, then I wouldn’t have been able to grow Runamuk to the point that I could convince the FSA to help me invest in this property.

I’m that mom…

First, let me explain to you who my children are…

fun in the mud
We’ve always had lots of fun playing in nature!

You know those sweet little ones who are polite, clean, good-natured and well-behaved, toddling along behind their mother as they go through the grocery store? Yeah─those aren’t my kids. My kids are the ones who burst into the store already arguing with each other; they’re the ones who race up and down the aisles, bump little old ladies, or stop to scream at the cheese (yes. This really happens…regularly...). I’m that mom, too frazzled to bother taming her hair, who never really seems to have control of her kids.

I don’t really want to control my kids though. That’s not who I am, and that’s not how I parent. I believe that children are individuals just like you or I; they have their own needs, feelings and desires that should be respected. And, they have their own challenges in life too, just like you or I.

The Role Autism Has Played at Runamuk

My eldest son, William, is Autistic. He was diagnosed on the spectrum by the time he was 3: “High-Functioning Autistic”. He’s smart as a whip─reading by the time he was 3─and can remember facts and events like it’s nobody’s business.

William is also a visual thinker, and a bit of a ham. He often reenacts skits from various cartoons, comic strips, books, or movies that he’s seen or read. Check out the first few seconds of these 2 clips to see where screaming at the cheese in the dairy aisle comes from…

William is able to communicate fairly well, but struggles to understand social cues. He gets overwhelmed in social settings, and has such keen hearing that he’s very sensitive to loud or noisy situations. He has some extremely rigid thinking that impedes his daily life. And mine…

It’s hard to say if it’s the Scottish lineage of my ex-husband’s side, or if it’s just William’s nature to be quick to anger, but that’s traditionally been how he copes with his disability. He gets so angry when someone says or does something that doesn’t match up with what he expects or wants it to be, that sometimes he lashes out at the people around him─either verbally or physically.

He also struggles with impulse control, so teaching him that it’s not right to hit, use hurtful language, or reenact inappropriate skits, has been exceedingly challenging.

As a young mother I had an extremely difficult time dealing with society’s judgemental nature. Among the professionals who were supposed to be helping me walk my disabled son through various treatments and therapy programs, I felt judged incompetent because I could not control my son. By the teachers leading the preschool program, I felt inadequate because my son could not sit in circle time without hitting the child next to him. And I especially felt judged by other moms we tried to connect with; rarely were we invited back for a second visit.

It’s hard to say if it was William’s behavior, or my own reclusive nature that got in the way back then. I was insecure, highly sensitive, and overwhelmed. I tried, but I could not control my young son. I could not make him do what they wanted; William only does what he wants.

After BraeTek came along it became extremely difficult to take William on outings by myself─even a trip to the grocery store was an ordeal. I remember one time I had BraeTek in his infant-carrier, strapped atop the grocery cart and I left him there while I chased William 2 aisles away! Mercifully my baby was still there when I returned, heart in my throat, 4yo William tucked under my arm kicking and screaming.

Ups & Downs

with william at borestone
My attempt to get a picture with William

As he’s grown older, and especially since my divorce, William and I have had some serious ups and downs in our relationship. He resented me for the divorce. My living situation in the years leading up to the purchase of Runamuk’s farm was rough on the kids. It’s gotten much better since we’ve finally found home, but even now it seems to come and go in waves. Some days William is a happy prankster, re-telling Garfield comic strips. Other days he can be so aggressive, and so difficult for me to remain calm in the face of his raging fury, that I am reduced to sobbing in the bathroom at the end of the day.

That’s why he only stays with me 2 nights each week.

Mother of the Year I am not.

My ex-husband is an excellent father though, and it is a consolation for me to know that William has grown in all areas with his father as his primary care-giver. Meanwhile, BraeTek is at Runamuk 4 nights a week, and seems to be doing well with me as his primary care-giver. Following our divorce, my ex and I have learned to co-parent with the best interests of our children at heart, and I’m grateful for the amiable relationship we now share.

Still, I can’t help but harbor some guilt for the mistakes I’ve made in raising my boys. I can’t help feeling some level of guilt for the fact that I couldn’t give up my farm-dream to put their needs first. And I can’t help feeling guilty that I get overwhelmed by my own son.

Strategies & Attitudes

fresh carrots
William has always loved eating straight out of the garden!

The boys are 16 and 12 now; looking back on it I can see how I adapted different strategies and attitudes with my children that allowed me to cater to their needs and the needs of Runamuk at the same time.

Eventually I learned to ignore other people’s judgemental attitudes. William looks like a normal 16 year old boy; they don’t realize that he has some serious issues to contend with, and so I forgive them their harsh judgements.

When we are in a store or social situation, I’ve learned to focus solely on William so that I can thwart those impulses of his. And for special events, my ex and I have learned to team up to coax William through.

I’ve learned to plan my week around William’s visit. I don’t work off the farm on those days so that I can supervise William, and I stay within earshot of the house when he is at Runamuk. On days when William’s mood is more volatile, I’ve learned to be flexible enough to drop whatever I’m doing in order to work him through it.

Keeping a good routine with the kids has been imperative, I’ve found, and so I stop farm-work by 4 to cook dinner and spend time as a family.

And I’ve learned to use screen-time to my advantage. They’ll work through a number of chores for the promise of 2 or 3 hours on the internet. And when they get out of line, the screens are the first thing to go.

World’s Okayest Mom

Motherhood is probably the biggest challenge of my life, and as such it is also the biggest source of insecurity in my life. That’s why I was so taken aback by that facebook post: “This mom shows how it’s done!”

Obviously they don’t know me, lol.

If any of the cashiers from the Madison Hannaford supermarket are reading this, I’m sure they’re chortling with laughter right now. They’ve seen my kids (and me) at our worst─unwitting bystanders to this show I call “My Life”.

I’m really not the mom to show anyone how it’s done. Laughingly, I refer to myself as the “World’s Okayest Mom”─not the worst by far, but certainly not the World’s Greatest Mom.

strawberries on greenstalk
BraeTek, age 12.

I never gave up though. I’ve given my kids everything I could─emotionally, physically and financially─even while trying to build this crazy farm-dream of mine. I may not always get motherhood right, but I’m always giving it the best I have.

Older now, and more confident in myself, I’ve found a new level of freedom in not caring what anyone thinks of me─or my son. This freedom has allowed me to create a life all my own. It allows me to be wholely and completely myself─quirky, weird and passionate, life-loving me─and there is no one I am more myself with than my children.

You know the mom in the grocery store who is talking and laughing─maybe just a little too boisterously─with her children as they shop? The mom who uses different voices when reading a storybook aloud, who actually gets in the sled with the kids, makes a mud pie, a blanket-fort, or takes up a swash-buckling stick-fight with her son? You know those moms who make ordinary days magic, and holidays extraordinary?

I’m that mom.

Go forth and farm, ladies!

My favorite picture as “Mom”.

I’m damned proud of how far I’ve come with my children, and the mother that I am. It hasn’t been an easy road, but if it hadn’t been for the experiences I had as a young mother, I surely would not be the person I am today. And yes, I’m proud that I’ve managed to build up this farm even while coping with the struggles of motherhood.

I hope that my story does inspire other women to follow their hearts and lead their own farming-journeys─even with their kids in tow. I hope they look at me and say, “My kids are way better behaved than Sam’s; if she can do it, so can I!” Go forth and farm ladies; the world needs us!

Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your in-box; OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the day-to-day goins-ons of this bee-friendly Maine farm!

Winter solstice & dawning realizations

winter-solstice-dawning-realizations

As the Wheel of the Year turns the seasons and we move deeper into the darkest half of the year I want to pause for a moment to reflect on the journey that has brought me to where I am today. I’ve spent a lot of time this fall looking inward, thinking about who I am─the experiences that have shaped me as a person, and the choices I’ve made that brought me to this place in my life. Traditionally fall has been a time for honoring the dead, a time for self-reflection, for letting go and saying farewell. A time to release resentments and regrets.

Life is rough

winter-solstice-dawning-realizations
Traditionally the dark weeks leading up to the Winter Solstice are a time for reflection and letting go.

You know it’s been a rough one when your nine year old son looks at you with somber eyes and says to you “Mom…you’ve had a sad life….” These last few years have been especially filled with struggle─but that’s nothing new to me. Mine is a tale filled with pain and tragedy that I am not comfortable sharing online for the whole world to read. No─I’ll save that story for the memoir I’ll write someday, lol, and you’ll have to read the gory details from the pages of my book!

Maybe it’s just a survival tactic I’ve picked up along the way, but I’ve come to view times of trouble as “life lessons”. They’ve become opportunities─a time for self-reflection, exploration and personal growth.  And after each struggle I have emerged stronger, wiser, and perhaps (to my continuing detriment) even more stubborn. At this point I feel I have a pretty clear understanding of who I am, what I want, what I am willing to do to get it─and what I’m not. I’ve realized I’m a very principled person, but that my principles don’t always align with those of the mainstream public. I live largely by two guiding rules. The first: if it’s good for the Earth it’s good for me. and the second: live a full and happy life.

Who am I?

samantha-burns
“If it’s good for the Earth, it’s good for me.”

As a child growing up in Maine I was the proverbial tomboy; I ran through the woods, caught frogs and turtles in the ponds, turned over rotting logs looking for salamanders, played in the dirt with my brother and went fishing with my father. Over the years I have spent a lot of time wandering through the fields and woods, seeking the comforting solace of nature. Nature has healed my spirit, allowed me to feel accepted, loved, and worthy of being loved. I have a connection with nature; it’s only natural that I should want to protect something I care about so deeply.

Becoming an environmentalist, a farmer, beekeeper and advocate was the easy part. Learning to live a full and happy life─that one has been harder to realize. I had to first figure out that the key was to be true to myself─I mean the me that I am deep inside, the one who wants to hide for fear no one will like who and what I am. To do that I first had to figure out exactly who I was. That’s probably easier for some people to figure out, but for me there were a lot of barriers to overcome in order to do so. By the time I began to comprehend who I was and what I wanted, life had already swept me away far down the wrong road.

I am living proof of how a grisly childhood can lead an inexperienced young adult to make poor choices that can affect them for the rest of their life. A testament to how behaviors ingrained in us as children become part of who we are and shape who we become. That being said, I also believe the person we become is dependent upon the individual’s strength of character, their strength of will, and their ability to accept that turbid past, to learn and grow from those ordeals to become the person they are meant to be.

My runaway life

All of this has become clear to me over the last few years as I’ve worked towards living a life true to who I am. It wasn’t easy coming to terms with the fact that I just wasn’t happy in my marriage and that no amount of volunteer work, advocacy, or self-improvement was going to fix what was wrong in my life. Divorce is quite at odds with the lifestyle I lead in farming and I agonized for years over what I knew in my heart needed to be done. Before making the leap I even researched it─looking for guidance online from divorced farmers. Turns out it’s a pretty uncommon occurrence in the ag-industry. It’s incredibly difficult to separate marital assets when farming is involved. And if you think about it, “family” is synonymous with farming. Generally speaking, farmers just don’t get divorced.

finding-the-strength
I looked after Dad for 5 years in an increasing capacity before he died; I didn’t realize til he was gone how close we’d come to be.

It wasn’t until my father died that I finally found the strength to reign in the runaway horse and wagon that my life had become. Changing the direction of your life after 17 years down the wrong road is no easy feat; it took everything I had to wrench that wagon off the road I was on. Some critics asked why I couldn’t have made the leap before my husband and I had taken a mortgage against the parcel of land that his parents had gifted us. Sadly, sometimes those life-altering realizations come to you belatedly, and for me it took losing my father to find the courage to make the changes in my life that my soul so desperately craved. No one regrets all those years of turmoil more than I; I will forever live with the knowledge that I hurt a number of people because I was not strong enough to take control of my runaway life.

I’m sure there are a great many people who believe I should have soldiered on, accepting those choices I made early in life, suffering through life for the sake of my children. I prefer not to live my life that way however, and I would not want my children to grow up to live their life that way either. I am a deeply principled person who regards a full and happy life as the second-most important guiding principle─I could not ignore the fact that for the entirety of my adult life I had not been happy in my marriage. And because I believe that any one person has the power to make changes in their lives no matter how big or small, I endured the uncertainty that followed─wading through the darkness in search of new light and a life that might make my heart sing and my soul soar.

Vulnerability, shame, connection and worthiness

forest-spirit-tattoo
My first tattoo! Forest spirits from Hiyao Miyazaki’s animes; stories of man’s connection to nature which resonates with me personally.

So anyway─in the weeks leading up to and following our “Great Farm Move” I was pretty low and spent quite a lot of time thinking about the choices I’ve made. I thought about these principles that are important to me, that I want to live my life by, and what I want out of life. I spent some time indulging myself, doing some self-care: I started watching a lot of inspirational TED talks and I began to pick myself back up again. I went to see Young Frankenstein the musical at the Waterville Opera House with a colleague from Johnny’s, spent an afternoon shopping at local thrift stores with my sister, and just recently got my first tattoo. In another couple of weeks my sister and I will be going back to the Waterville Opera House to see the Nutcracker in honor of my late father, who had longed for years to take his girls to see that seasonal ballet, but never got the chance to do so.

In the midst of all this I came across Brené Brown’s TED talk on YouTube in which she talks about vulnerability and shame, two emotions that I am acutely familiar with. She says shame is the fear of disconnection. We all want to feel connected in life: connected to our families, to our co-workers, and connected within our community. I want to feel connected to the Earth and nature; that’s why I’m a farmer. Connection gives purpose and meaning to our lives.

Stay with me here; it all circles back around…

Brené says shame and vulnerability prevent the feeling of connection that we all crave, and no one wants to feel grief and disappointment, ashamed or vulnerable, anxious and unworthy─so we numb those difficult feelings. The problem is that you can’t selectively numb emotion; when we numb fear and anxiety, we also numb joy and gratitude and happiness. And then we find ourselves miserable and feeling vulnerable, so we numb.

According to Brené Brown we are the most in-debt, overweight, addicted and medicated society in U.S. history. We don’t want to feel the hard feelings so we numb them with alcohol, with prescription medications, food or whatever it is that comforts us and helps us not to feel vulnerable about who we are and our place in the world. We attempt to perfect ourselves, our children, our homes and our lives─we don’t want anything to be wrong or out of place so that no one can find fault in us because we want to maintain those connections which are so crucial to our existence. And Brené says we also pretend: we pretend to be like everybody else, or we pretend that we agree with the general consensus─we do what we have to do to fit in so that we can feel accepted.

In all of her research Brené found that there were two types of people: those who have a strong sense of worthiness and belonging and those who struggle with it, who are always wondering if they’re good enough (I would belong to this later group). She wanted to know what the first group had that the people in the second group did not, so Brené focused on just the people who possessed that sense of worthiness, calling them “the Wholehearted” and looked at all of the data she had collected from those kinds of people through her work as a researcher. She found that Wholehearted people all have one thing in common: they have courage.

Note: Brené points out that there’s a difference between “bravery” and “courage”, and that the word courage is derived from the Latin word “curr”, which means “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”

Embracing imperfection

embracing-imperfection
Family fun photo!

These Wholehearted people simply have the courage to be who they really are─imperfections and all. These people embraced vulnerability. They live with the belief that what makes you vulnerable also makes you beautiful. The Wholehearted experience a deeper connection with those in their lives and with the world around them as a result of authenticity. And that is inspiring to me.

I lost count of how many YouTube videos I watched of Brené, fascinated with this concept of embracing our imperfections and living a courageous life of authenticity. I even bought 2 of Brené ‘s books: The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly. No one likes to admit that they’re vulnerable; that we have fears and anxieties─that we struggle. But Brené Brown has studied vulnerability and shame over the course of her career, and she talks about letting go of who you think you should be in order to live a wholehearted life.

I know it sounds cliche, but sometimes in life, when you hear something at the precise moment in time when you need to hear it most─when you’re ready to hear it─something shifts inside you. Suddenly it all makes sense. I had been fighting to live my life with authenticity, but I didn’t know that’s what I was fighting for.

A friend of mine told me not too long ago that she thought I was courageous for persevering in the face of the obstacles and challenges that have made up my journey thus far as a farmer. I was embarrassed at the time; I scoffed and shrugged it off─knowing that inside I’m perpetually scared that I am not enough, and forever afraid that I really don’t belong.

But she was right. It may be a struggle, but I am living my life with courage and authenticity. I just didn’t realize it until I listened to Brene Brown’s TED talk.

And to further enforce the concept there was this video. Brené calls this talk her “Sweaty Creatives” talk. You don’t have to watch this video, I can’t force you─but I promise you’ll be inspired if you do.

There will always be critics

She quotes a speech that Theodore Roosevelt gave during the early 1900s which has since come to be known as “the Man in the Arena” speech:

It’s not the critic who counts, it’s not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done it better. The credit belongs to the person whose actually in the arena, whose face is marred with blood and sweat and dust. Who at best, in the end, knows the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst─if he fails─he fails daring greatly.”

We have no control over who is in “the Arena”. But if courage (telling our story with authenticity) is a value we hold─we have to show up and be seen. We have to look those critics in the eye and say, “I see you, I hear you, but I’m going to do this anyway.” Because in the end, it’s not about winning or losing; it’s about living a Wholehearted life, true to ourselves.

Brené goes on to say that “if you’re not also standing in the arena getting your ass kicked, then I’m not interested in your feedback.” And that concept has been hugely freeing for me. I’ve long known that not everybody puts themselves out there like I do. Many people are happy enough to coast through life in their own little bubbles, never really doing much of anything, never connecting with the people around them, living solely to pay the bills─just another cog in the wheel of the machine that makes up our mainstream society. Maybe they feel it’s safer that way. I’ve encountered many people who would dictate or pass judgement from their comfy seat on the living room couch with the tv blaring before them. Well I’m sorry, but unless you’re out there in the field sweating in the hot sun, sore and exhausted but still working to give it your all─I’m just not interested in your feedback.

Again, this was something that I “knew” somewhere deep inside, but felt guilty for and struggled to recognize. Brené’s talks really brought it home for me.

runamuk-at-winter-market
Runamuk set up at the Somerset Abbey’s Winter Market in Madison, Maine.

Before I learned about vulnerability and the Wholehearted I was forever at war with myself, I knew in order to be happy I needed to live a life true to who I am─but I always felt guilty for doing so. One part of me felt I didn’t have the right to live a happy life. I didn’t feel I was worthy of love, or even friendship. And I certainly didn’t feel I belonged. Who am I to teach anybody anything, let alone about bees? Who am I to claim to be some environmental activist? Why do I have to write about everything? take photos of everything? This is the part of me who says: “you’re not a farmer”, “you’re not a writer”, and “you’re certainly not doing anything new” or “you’re not qualified”. All this while another part of me says, “Yes I am.” and “Yes I can.”

Well I’m still perpetually at war with myself; fighting with the many different sides of my own self. But Brené Brown has validated what I had known all along: that it’s ok to be imperfect. That having the courage to live authentically is crucial to feeling connected, and that if courage is a value we hold─there are going to be consequences.

Yes, I have fallen a few times along my journey: my divorce and consequent loss of land to farm on, the death of all my hives in the harsh winter of 2014-15, and then losing Jim’s farm… If you’re putting yourself out there, trying to live a full and happy life that is true to yourself, trying to tell your story with courage and integrity─sometimes you’re going to fail. Sometimes you’re going to get your ass kicked in an outright knock-down, drag-out brawl; you’ll be bruised and bleeding and crying for your mommy…but you’ll pick yourself up, limp away to lick your wounds…and you’ll try again another day.

The winter solstice and new beginnings

I think it’s significant that these dawning realizations have come to me as the darkness has gathered this fall. This is a time of year to release old thought patterns, fears, relationships, situations and things that no longer serve you. It’s incredibly freeing to unburden myself of those things that have weighed me down in the past.

At long last my journey of hardship and heartache has brought me to this place where I am performing the work that satisfies my soul; I am surrounded by people I have connected with as a result of that work and because I choose to live this authentic life. I have made so many wonderful and caring friends in the community as a result of volunteering my time and skills to teach others about bees, through serving the community of Madison-Anson as manager of its farmers’ market, and through my work at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I have found that I am not alone in my struggles, and that sharing your journey with those around you leads to a richer and more fulfilling life. I am truly grateful to have each and every one of these people in my life. They have touched my heart and brought a deeper meaning to my existence.

son of runamuk
My youngest, now nearly 10.

As the Wheel of the Year turns to the Winter Solstice and we look forward the rebirth of light to the Earth, I’m turning my attention to the coming year. I’m excited for this new beginning. Runamuk and I may have floundered, yet in spite of it all my kids, the farm and my apiary are still growing. I have a new and dedicated partner in life and in business; Runamuk currently has 15 beehives, 37 egg-laying chickens, 4 meat-rabbits, 3 lazy farm-cats, 1 Murphy-dawg, and 40-something acres to work with. There are exciting opportunities on the horizon and you can be sure I will continue to put myself out there, telling my story with honesty and courage.

Happy Winter Solstice from all of us at Runamuk!

Thanks for following along with my farming journey! Stay tuned for more stories, articles, and misadventures!

Sustainability through the family garden

arugula markerI managed to set up 2 mini hoop-houses and planted a number of lettuce seedlings, yet April was a cold and windy start to the gardening season that left me longing for more.  So far May has made up for it in spades!  I’ve been out in the garden practically every day for the last week, working on preparing one bed or another, planting lettuces and other greens, such as Bok Choy, Mizuna, Tatsoi, Mache, and Arugula.  I’ve planted spinach, and yesterday I planted peas. Read more

Take action this Earth Day

the earth from space
Photo credit: fotopedia.com

At Runamuk Earth Day is a big event.  Any significant event celebrating nature is a big event here because we make it so, the Winter Solstice, Mid-Summer’s Eve, the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes, Arbor Day, Pollinator Week, Compost Awareness Week, just to name a few.  Keith and I are both nature lovers, passionate about embracing nature, preserving and protecting life, and our goal is to foster that love in our children in hopes that they will grow up to value this Earth, and be good stewards of the land. Read more

Unschooling at the Runamuk Homestead

hard at workOur youngest son “Summer” is never more content than when he his hard at work fixing something, and while the Runamuk truck is down for maintenance, Keith thought it the perfect time to include Summer in the repairs.  This is the rear axle that they are tinkering on. Read more

Luce’s saphouse preserves Maine’s heritage

Every year many of the locals from this area venture out to Pease Hill here in Anson to visit Luce’s Saphouse.  This year, the 30th annual Maine Maple Sunday was no different.

luce's saphouse from the road Read more

Maine Maple Sunday!

Keith and I are taking the boys off to the local sugarhouse today in honor of the 30th annual Maine Maple Sunday. We’re excited to see one of Maine’s most traditional agricultural industries at work, to support local farmers, and to introduce the kids to the heritage they were born to. Read more

The start of a new era

old farmhouse demolitionThings are moving forward at the future site of the Runamuk Acres diversified farm, in preparation for our new beginnings.  After much deliberation and–at times–heated debate–Keith and I hired a team of local loggers to do some careful thinning of this un-kempt forest in preparation of our upcoming endeavors. Read more

Snow-Day!

What could be better than staying in the comfort and warmth of your house during one of Maine’s famous snow-storms?

winter stormThis is the view from the back door of the Runamuk homestead.  From here you can see down over the hillside, and across to the neighbors’ through the snow and wind.  The gardens of the summer have all been blanketed; only the boys’ blue plastic wading pool (which we somehow neglected to bring in for the winter) breaks the monotony of white and brown and grey of the day.

So the order of the day calls for baking!  And the homestead has been filled with the wholesome aroma of my tried and true, oatmeal bread.

oatmeal bread

Enjoy the day!