Right before each Rosh Hashana, I make a list that has two parts. The first one is a list of everything I wanted to accomplish that I have accomplished this past year. It includes small things and large. Small things like tuning the piano, regasketing the stove doors, expanding goat fence, rearranging the pantry and making 10 more jars of pickles than last year. Big things like qualifying as foster parents, Simon learning to chant Torah, Isaiah learning to read fluently, expanding our business, getting up our sign, having our largest crop of baby goats, our first experiments with beef cattle, making better willow hay, starting the woodland native plant beds, bringing in our first kids school groups to see the farm work, finally repairing the old cistern and expanding the perennial plantings.
The second part is a list of things we have accomplished over the past 10 years – I keep this as a running list, so I don’t have to do it over again. It includes building the addition onto the house for Eric’s grandparents, paying down the mortgage, putting in a new well line, adding children, putting in the forest garden, adding the woodstoves, reinsulation, renovation, and all of our agricultural projects from our first garden to our first CSA, from our very first chickens to our first cattle.
I do this because like many people, I have a tendency to look at my world and see mostly what is undone, not what is done. Looking back over the year, it would be easy to see my to-do list and see the year as full of things left undone. I didn’t get the shallow well pump on the cistern. I didn’t get in most of the woodland plant beds I wanted to. I didn’t get any salsa canned, or fall raspberry jam. I didn’t put up as many herbs as I intended. I didn’t get up a greenhouse. I didn’t get Asher reading fluently. I didn’t get Eli fully toilet trained. I didn’t get a foster placement. I didn’t keep the house clean. I didn’t plant many fruit trees…..
The glass half-empty is, I think, an inevitable result of a constant list of “to do” items in any life, particularly one that is simultaneously living in the present and preparing for an anticipated future with less. It is also a lot less fun than living a half-full life.
Thus, I try and remind myself both daily and yearly of what I have done – and I think it is a fairly impressive list. In a decade my husband and I went from being graduate students to farmers, have managed to raise successfully quite a number of animals for milk, eggs and meat, supplying food to a wide variety of friends, family and customers. We ran a market garden for 5 years, and are in the process of shifting the business towards started plants and new projects. We supply about 60% of our family’s food (and it could be more if we didn’t enjoy other local sources). We built an addition to our home and cared for Eric’s grandparents for the last years of their lives, shared our home with a wonderful housemate and now are looking to another new arrangement. We have done major renovations on the house, filled it with kids, books and bookshelves , expanded our gardens and diversified our plantings, built several strong communities, shared our resources with others, done some good deeds, built a barn, I’ve written books and put out a bazillion blog posts, given a few hundred talks and helped rebuild an organization. my husband has taught variations on our environmental predicament to close to 10,000 undergraduates, our kids are bright, healthy, strong and learning, and are working on expanding our family.
Looked at this way, my failures look writ small – we are not perfect, we have not done all we wanted to, but it has been enough. I depend on my view of what is undone to push me forward every morning – I need to be able to see the half-empty glass each day. But I also need regular refreshment from the half-full glass, the sight of my accomplishments, placed in the perspective of what I can do, to remind me that what seems to take forever really happens in the blink of an eye.
It is easy to get frustrated when you haven’t got the time or the money or the energy to accomplish something this day, this week, this year. It is easy to feel that the time scale on your ambitions is far too short, and that you’ll never get it all done. And that last is true – you never get it all done – you can only do enough, and move on, but days full of enough rush forward like the wind, and the glass fills up, drop by drop.