Jenny O’Connor: A Well-Nourished Life

Posted by on Mar 18, 2013

I am excited to share with you the next installment of The Well Nourished Life. This series is about going beyond what people eat, and finding out what creates a well nourished life.  (Though the ingredients vary for each of us, I believe learning how others do it can enrich us all.)

 

Recently I interviewed Jenny O’Connor from The Little Ragamuffin. Jenny is a farmer, artist, musician and all-around sweetheart who is living a most inspiring life in Altamont, NY. Read on and see why. (Click the photos to enlarge and enjoy- she is a great photographer as well!)

 

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– Jenny at work on the land she farms in upstate New York

Jenny, reading about your life on your blog and your adventures as a musician, artist, and farmer it is hard not to feel that you are leading a well-nourished life. What is a typical day like for you?

 

aI am fortunate to live my life according to what the season has in store for me. A typical day varies depending on what time of year it is, but my mornings are always the same. I wake up with my husband Eric, make coffee, pack his lunch and breakfast. If he’s not in a particular hurry to get to Capital District Community Gardens ( www.cdcg.org ) where he works, we’ll enjoy a cup of coffee together and chat about the farm, music, or life.

 

IMGP1027While I eat breakfast (homemade muesli and yogurt) I check my emails and my Etsy shop. I return messages about order inquiries, gardening advice, and contact buyers about when their items will ship. Sometimes I get right to work filling orders. The busiest time of year for my shop is during the Holidays, and then again in late winter when everyone is planning their gardens and buying the seeds I grow here on our farmstead. During the Holiday season I work full time making my cold process soaps and handmade seed packets, filling orders, and making deliveries to the Village Post Office.

 

Imgp8500In the spring, summer, and fall my days are filled with chores around the farmstead: getting the gardens up and running, amending soil, flipping compost, planting seeds, and then general maintenance once the farm has been planted which mostly includes weeding, harvesting, canning, and collecting and preparing seed for storage.

 

I finish up my day by preparing a homegrown and homemade meal which Eric and I share before getting started on music.

 

Do you feel that you are leading a well-nourished life? 

 

I would say that I feel like I’m leading a well-nourished life about 90% of the time. Toward the end of winter I find it particularly difficult to work from home. By this time all of the major indoor projects that had been on my list are finished and the Holiday rush is through. The ground is still too frozen to get to work outdoors. I find myself in this strange limbo and I really start to miss the animals and insects that keep me company throughout the year. Working alone can be quite lonely, but I’ll take the 10% loneliness for what the rest of this challenging and rewarding lifestyle provides me 90% of the time.

 

Right now I reading  ‘Radical Homemakers’ by Shannon Hayes. She talks about the need to move away from our consumer culture and reclaim the art of domesticity. When you decided to move into the farmhouse where generations of your family lived, work the land and engage in projects at home, did you feel like you were doing something radical? 

Kirk Estate
At the time no. My husband and I had just returned from living for a year in Bangkok, Thailand where we taught English at a University. We planned on coming back to the US for only a short time before moving to Uganda. The house where we now live had been empty for several years and my parents, who inherited the place from my grandparents, were having trouble keeping up with the endless demands of a 19th century house that they didn’t live in. Eric and I needed a place to stay while we sorted ourselves out, so we agreed to become both renters and caretakers for an unspecified amount of time. The plan was for us to catalog the house’s contents and put the majority of the items into storage so the house could be rented to someone who was not in the family. When we discovered what incredible history this house held –letters my great-great-uncle had written from the Front in WWI, photographs dating back to the early 1900s, paintings and quilts my grandmother made, and when we learned that my great-great-grandfather and mother once farmed this land in order to sustain themselves as well as my grandfather and his sisters when they moved in during the Depression…we began to feel our roots growing.

kirk photos

As I look back on it now, we were definitely radical, and I suppose we still are, but moving into a house with drinkable water, electricity, and a kitchen (despite how antiquated these utilities are in comparison to most modern homes in the US) this didn’t seem radical at all. It actually seemed quite soft. Eric and I had gotten so used to living in a developing country that we spent the first week we lived here sleeping in our tent in the backyard. The amount of space and material were just too overwhelming for us. We needed to find a balance in order to feel comfortable with so much land and so many things.

 

IMGP0994Our time in Bangkok, which is fondly referred to as the “concrete jungle,” inspired us to take a journey to Green New Zealand before returning stateside. For a month we WWOOFed (World Wide Opportunites on Organic Farms, www.wwoof.org ) at farms around the country, learning important skills and fulfilling our deep desire to be back in nature and working with the land. We didn’t know it at the time, but our WWOOFing experiences would directly shape the direction our lives took when we found ourselves at The Kirk Estate.

 

I suppose that what we are doing is considered radical in this place and time, but in the grand scheme of things I think it’s quite conventional.

 

 

IMGP2252What has surprised you most?

 
I am most surprised by how much a human being can do with their hands. It astounds me that every year we make lists of improvements to the farm, to the outbuildings, and to the farmhouse, and every year we manage to make them happen with the use of shovels, hammers, saws, wheelbarrows, and endless amounts of elbow grease.

 

I am sure while your life has a lot of joys, it is not always easy. What rituals or practices keep you grounded?  

I keep Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now and A New Earth beside my bed, as well as Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, The Tao of Leadership adapted by John Heider. These writings have been immensely helpful to me when I start to worry too much.

Band practice is always a good grounding tool for me. I can have the worst day and then gather in the parlor with our friends and bandmates to make music and it’s completely freeing, a genuinely positive experience. It helps to shake out whatever blocked negative energy is inside me.

I also love staring at bugs.

Besides food, what other elements must be present in your life to feel fulfilled and well-nourished? 

 
People always talk about well-balanced meals and I think having a well-balanced life is equally as important. Whenever I find myself involved in too much of one thing I start to feel my balance shift and my train cars begin to derail. I think it’s important to have a healthy diet for the mind and spirit as well as the body.

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I know you are in the middle of recording a new album. Can you tell us a bit about it? 

 

We are sort of in the process of recording two albums simultaneously. One is very upbeat where the majority of the songs deal with creativity as an entity. I think many people who consider themselves creative tend to feel that creativity is something that exists outside of themselves, like a friend who comes to visit. This is perhaps a bit vague and confusing, and sounds like it would make for a boring album, but that’s the reason we write music –because putting thoughts into words sometimes just isn’t enough.

 

The other album is more downcast. My mom was quite sick last year and nearly left this world physically. This album is about going through the experience of losing someone and then coming out the other side. It’s been very cathartic for me.

 

When you are deeply involved in a creative project how do you support yourself mentally, physically and emotionally??

 

I am grateful that my musical partner is also my life partner. We know each other so well and are able to support one another by filling different creative roles. This takes some of the pressure off. We’ve been making music together for almost 15 years and we’ve learned how to let go if something’s not working, or take a break if we feel like we’re grasping too much. This patience ends up preventing a lot of frustration and wasted energy and allows us to take a step back and look at our work from a distance. I think a lot of this has come from reading Eckhart Tolle. We’re no longer as attached to our creations, and our creations are no longer our egos. When feelings aren’t getting hurt and egos aren’t getting in the way it’s easier to create something that we both can agree is a better finished product.

The Parlor-5 15 12-6-1b

 – Jenny with her husband, partner & bandmate, Eric Krans

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

 

I can recite all 50 states in alphabetical order in twenty seconds.

(I learned this in 3rd grade because of a song we sang for Flag Day).

 

For folks who don’t know about you, how can we find you and your work?
I write about my life at the Kirk Estate on my blog:

www.thelittleragamuffin.com
You can find my Etsy shop here:
www.thelittleragamuffin.etsy.com
You can learn more about our band and watch music videos featuring 8mm footage found in the farmhouse here:
http://b3nson.net/theparlor

 

Note: All of these great photos are from Jenny’s delightful blog. I highly recommend checking it out.

 

What are the elements of your well-nourished life? 

4 Comments

  1. Thank you for letting us know about these interesting people. They are leading an inspirational life.

  2. Hi Pamela,

    Thanks for a lovely glimpse into another person’s life. Meaningful work, good friends, engaging regularly in beloved activities – all important ingredients for a nourishing life. I enjoy the Tao Te Ching too, though I’m reading Ursula K. LeGuin’s translation.

    I look forward to reading more in this series!
    ~Allie

    • Hi Allie! Jenny is a big inspiration to me as well. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

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