Two Words That Can Move Mountains

Come take a gander with the Mountain Farmgirl at two of the Most Important Words in the English language (or in any language for that matter!). Do you know what they mean? More importantly, do you know how to use them?

I love words … I have as long as I can remember; they fascinate me. One of my earliest known requests to Santa as a little girl wasn’t for a doll, or a game, it was for a dictionary!  As a first grader I published a “newsletter”.  It had a whopping circulation of ‘1’, my parents. (All right, then, let’s call it ‘2’; ‘sounds a lot better). All throughout school I couldn’t do math worth beans, but I won spelling bees, I aced vocabulary tests, I was intrigued by word origins and etymologies. But it may surprise you to find out that two of the most important words of my acquaintance aren’t hard to pronounce or tricky to spell.  Their secret power lies in knowing when to use them.  It might also surprise you to know that my “most important words” aren’t what you might first have guessed them to be … they aren’t “Love” or “Sorry” or “Thanks”, which are vitally important action-words in all our lives. Where would we be without them? No, the words that I’m thinking about here are even more basic than that, and combined, they are comprised of only 5 letters.  Give up? They are, of course, ‘YES’ and ‘NO’!  These two little words can get us into more hot water than overalls on washday. On the other hand, they can also open up doors of opportunity beyond our wildest imaginations, and bring us great rewards. 


Sometimes you can almost size up a ‘Yes’ person or a ‘No’ person at first glance, can’t you? I’m not recommending that we judge either a book or a person by their covers, but their general ‘Can” or ‘Can’t’ Do attitudes often permeate everything about them, giving us a glimpse of which one they are even before they speak their first word to us. The ‘No’s’ tend to have a permanently set scowl on their faces, seeing the glass half empty most of the time. On the other hand, the ‘Yes’s’ are usually raring to go and ready to tackle the next in a long line of projects or challenges with a smile on their face, in typical Farmgirl fashion.

MaryJane often talks about her mother Helen with glowing adoration, for giving her loving guidance and direction as she was growing up. Similarly, I owe much of what I am to my mother, who, now in her 80’s, still has that “I can do anything” attitude, a trait which she fortunately passed on to me.  She once wrote in my baby book, now pretty tattered and dog-eared, that my very first sentence was: “Cathi Do It!” and that still pretty much sums me up in a nutshell.  I like ‘getting the job done’, and I pretty much believe that I can do whatever I put my mind to, or at the very least, I can learn how to do it.

The fact that I am more naturally inclined to say “Yes” than “No” has had its rewards in my life.  The first time I can consciously remember it having a big impact, was right after I graduated from college.  My husband and I were living on the family farm, and starting our ‘back to the land’ lifestyle. To supplement our income, I answered an ad in the newspaper for a job at a local museum. Loving history as I do, I had been in love with this place since I first went there in the 2nd grade with my Brownie troop. The Museum Village at Smith Clove was a reproduction “village” made of authentic/ historic buildings that had been purchased from various locations in New York State and moved to this one. They formed a made-up village that might have been found almost anywhere in America in the early 19th century. It was a living history museum in the sense that paid interpreters were hired who looked and acted the parts, demonstrating Americana crafts and trades, such as the job for which I was applying. The only problem was that I was answering an ad for a Blacksmith, a skill I had never attempted personally, but which I knew full well I could learn (and enjoy)!  And so, when asked if I could ‘blacksmith’ at this museum, my answer was a resounding “Yes”!  (This was not an untrue statement because I knew that with a little practice, I definitely could!).  I apprenticed for 2 weeks with the outgoing blacksmith, a true farrier by profession, who gave me all the basics I needed for making horseshoes and nails. These were the items I would end up demonstrating so often throughout the day to museum guests, that I would soon be able to make them with my eyes closed.  To prevent boredom, I eventually taught myself how to make door latches and hinges, items that were soon being sold in the museum gift shop to paying guests, along with my sets of ‘newly minted’ tournament horseshoes.  Imagine that! I tell you these things not to impress you with my blacksmithing skills, but to illustrate what I might have missed out on had I said “No” during my initial interview instead.   (‘Yes’ is not an appropriate answer in all situations, of course … I absolutely draw the line at brain surgery!!).  However, there are so many things we CAN do if we just think we can. Before I left this museum many years later, I had also demonstrated spinning and weaving; apple cider and sausage making, as well as open-hearth cookery; candle dipping; broom-making, and the use of a small hand operated printing press. The museum even hired me to stay on after the museum closed for the winter, to become an assistant curator.  I did research on various items in their collection and re-wrote the labels for some of the exhibits. Eventually, I helped run an educational program for 4th and 8th grade students for the local schools.  Ahhh, the awesome power of ‘Yes’!

Life is nothing if not serendipitous, and another real-life ‘Yes’ example followed several years later. I was visiting one of my favorite shops, an art gallery located in a spectacular old post and beam barn not far from our farm. It featured the work of prominent local artists, selling everything from gold and silver-smithed jewelry, stained- and hand-blown glass, to pottery, paintings, fiber arts and sculpture. I had gone there to buy a birthday gift for someone, when I noticed that the back of the gallery had been recently renovated to house the most adorable little restaurant in the whole world! It hadn’t opened yet, so to make conversation as I checked out, I told the owner that I would be one of their very first customers, as I had always wanted to have a restaurant just exactly like that. How prophetic those words would soon become. At the time I spoke them, I paid for my item by writing a check and I went promptly home, not giving it another thought. Within the week, however, a letter appeared in my mailbox from the gallery owner. (She had my name and address from the check I had written).  Her letter said that although they also shared the dream of having a restaurant in their gallery, they did not have anyone in mind to run it when they built it.  Since I had expressed an interest, would I be interested in having my own restaurant?    Here was a “YES” moment in the making if ever there was one!!!   My husband and I had just lost our first child (a son) at birth, and I needed a new project on which to focus my energies in a positive way.  This turned out to be IT. I ran the restaurant for 3 years – loving EVERY minute of it – until I eventually came to the conclusion that a catering business would be more profitable and give me much more free time in-between jobs than a 7-day a week/ 1-woman-show restaurant ever could. It led to my acceptance at the Culinary Institute of America and a whole new business (ad)venture soon followed. Imagine if I had said “No, I can’t run your restaurant …I’ve never done that before …” and never even gave it a try … Ohhh, I hate to think!

There are so many other examples I can think of, too numerous to elaborate upon, but here is a brief list of a few personal examples that stand out in my mind and  illustrate the magic of “YES”:
• We built geodesic domes as an alternative to college dorm living. (Many people thought we were crazy and tried to talk us out of it, but we had a dream and a vision and we decided to ‘go for it’ anyway).
• We lived in a tipi to save money while building a house and I gave birth to a baby there (You can’t imagine how many people delighted in relaying birth horror-stories, and telling us why this would be a big mistake). We had supreme confidence in our midwives and in our decision, and it was totally awesome. Yes!! Moment.
• We once took a rather ‘wild’ foray into foreign (urban) territory as we ‘country folk’ took a job as resident directors of a Quaker International House in the heart of New York City. My husband was in law school there, and during our time there we filled the shoes of Business Managers, Food Service Director, overseers of a total renovation of the 150 year-old brownstone, and wearers of many other hats as well. We jumped in with both feet, but had we known all that it was to really entail, we would (justifiably) have been scared off! As it turned out, however, ignorance was bliss, and we rose to the occasion.  Having a positive outlook overcame many, many obstacles and after 5+ years there, it was a win-win situation for all involved.
 My husband and I decided to homeschool our 4 children at a time when it was not yet a popular choice. It put us up against much opposition from folks who felt we were making a terrible mistake at the expense of our children. Our strong convictions – (we KNEW that it was right for our family) – helped us to succeed despite a tremendous amount of negativity from family members and friends (in the beginning, anyway.  After we ‘proved’ ourselves it was another story). All in all, it was probably THE best ‘YES’ decision that either my husband or I have ever made (or ever will make) in our whole lives.
• Building a post and beam house from the ‘drawing board’ design phase to its final interior decoration touches was a challenge for our family that we eagerly anticipated. However, it  required us  to ‘stretch’ ourselves out of our comfort zones at times, as we learned how to mill our own beams on a portable sawmill which we borrowed from a friend. Both my husband and I took turns operating our own backhoe to build the foundation, and learned to use a crane we borrowed from one of his clients, to put the stress skin panels in place (yup, I’m proud to say I did it!) … I laid the cement block for the entire foundation and built a 3-story stone chimney … Even though I had hardly ever held a hammer before I met my husband, and I’m here to attest to the fact that the first step of that ‘1000-mile’ house-building journey began with a single “YES” and a bunch of trial & error  and perseverance.
• Uprooting ourselves after 12 generations in New York State to become family ‘pioneers’ at Innkeeping in the White Mountains of New Hampshire was another chapter in our family story that has also had a happy ending. Just the other day we were all imagining the wonderful things we might never have done had we not taken the plunge and ‘re-invented’ ourselves in this way, so geographically far from our original roots. This was a step that took a lot of courage for all of us, but saying ‘yes’ to the decision was a critically positive move.

There are, of course, many other opportunities that have come about as a result of us saying ‘YES’ … but you get the general idea. Never underestimate the power of this important little word.  It can move mountains

That being said, we must never overlook the ‘Power of No’, either. Obviously, the flip side to all this ‘Yes talk’ is that ‘No’ does have the ability to close as many doors as ‘Yes’ can open.  But it doesn’t always have to have a negative connotation. ‘NO’ is also a vitally important word in an extremely productive way when used appropriately. If you, (like me) tend naturally to be a ‘Yes-Person’, then here are a few things that I’ll bet are fairly sure things in your life:
• You probably get a LOT accomplished.
• Because you’re competent, people are always asking you to do other things, more things. (You know the old “Ask a busy person” sort of thing …)  With “Yes” rolling so easily off our  tongues, soon we have too much on our plates, which leads to:
• Burnout, the inevitable result of too much ‘Yes’!

Burnout is a danger we need to protect ourselves from at all costs, and ‘No’ is an important weapon in our literary arsenal to prevent it from happening. (“No, I can’t fit that in right now” is a perfectly acceptable, guilt-free response that we need to learn and practice as required). Without it, we would soon have too many responsibilities and commitments on our shoulders; be on too many committees, involved with too many groups and have worn ourselves so thin there would be nothing left. A dear, sweet friend of mine from years ago comes to mind to illustrate this point, and though we’ve lost touch and I haven’t seen or heard from her for more than 10 years, I know she wouldn’t mind me sharing her story. 

‘Lennis’ was a lovely Christian woman, a former teacher who was a devoted and accomplished wife. A homeschool mother of 5 children, her husband was frequently unemployed and she had a part-time job tutoring other people’s kids on the side. She was also extremely active in her church. Lennis ran the homeschool Spanish club, and another club for young girls and boys who earned badges for their accomplishments and skills (much like MaryJane’s Sisterhood merit badges). Her mom was living in a nursing home with Alzheimers at the time, and she faithfully visited her several times a week. She ran craft sessions with some of the more “with it” patients, and she organized a cookie drive and homeschool caroling programs at Christmas.  She also cared for her adult brother who had Downs Syndrome. She had a ‘more-than-full plate’, to say the least! One day I stopped by her house to drop off an empty casserole dish she had delivered to us … it had previously been full of a yummy lasagna she had made for our family after the birth of our youngest child.  She was sitting on her living room floor surrounded by mounds of material, frantically sewing five quite elaborate costumes for a play that was coming up at her church the next day.  “What on earth are you doing?” I asked her, and not knowing whether to laugh or cry, she explained that on top of everything else going on in her life, she had somehow volunteered to make these costumes to ‘help someone out’! Now on the outside (if you didn’t look too closely), my friend appeared to be a Saint, a Supermom. The truth was, however, that she was heading toward a breakdown, which is what eventually happened. My friend didn’t understand the liberating limits of ‘No’.

Does this kind of scenario sound even remotely familiar to you?  I know I’ve been there more times than I care to remember, as have most women of my acquaintance. Under such circumstances, the appropriate use of the word ‘No’ can be as beautiful as its antonym.  I used to do quite a lot of calligraphy, and after her costume episode, I lettered up an artsy little montage of the word ‘NO’ in various frilly scripts, which I framed and gave to my friend shortly after. It was intended as a reminder to her that ‘No’ can be beautiful, and that as busy wives, mothers and farmgirls, it is a word that we need to keep in our vocabularies and at our constant bidding. ‘No’ … a word that can be gorgeous, graciously spoken, and (with a little practice), guilt-free.

We all know that good things come in small packages, and I have found that ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ are two little word-gifts we can give to ourselves that can pack quite a punch with HUGE results.  In fact, they have the power to make ALL the difference in our lives. The trick is to remain vigilant and not to be afraid to use them as needed.

How about it, my dear Farmgirl friends … where do you stand with  these two words? Have you had any ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ moments lately that have changed your lives?  Do you (like me) sometimes struggle with when and how to use them? Just like a picture being worth a thousand words, I always believe that real life examples are the very best learning tools.  We’d all love to hear about how these little dynamo words have changed your life!

Until next time (when I expect the maple’s vibrant colors will start keeping company with these crisp mountain nights we’ve been having here in New Hampshire), I hope you all enjoy autumn’s entrance and have a great week.

Mountain Blessings to all,
The Mountain Farmgirl


By: Ruth
On: 09/20/2010 15:23:46
SO TRUE!! I loved ALL of your article, but it IS empowering learning to say "no!" It doesn't mean we no longer care or are being less generous; one simply has to learn that taking care of SELF is part of the package, too! If we experience a breakdown or get sick due to being exhausted, are we truly giving in a healthy way?? Of course not! We women have long been considered and defined by our caretaker role. It's a role I cherish, too! However, we need also to give to ourselves! There's nothing selfish about taking time for ourselves - to replenish, to give opportunity for our own growth, and to recharge our own batteries. It's only through finding that balance of giving but also being mindful of our own needs that we can truly be solace and help to others in a consistently productive way. I SO love Mary Jane magazine for renewing ME, and the blogs are a wonderful extension of her offerings, too!! :), Ruth
By: Denise
On: 09/20/2010 15:35:25
I'm a believer in the yes I can theory. Of course I sometime call them the givers and the takers. Your way sounds so much nicer.Short on time tonight and only have time to read 1/2 the blog.You just finished running the restaurant a dream of mine Will read the rest asap.Have a great day
By: Nicole in Oregon
On: 09/20/2010 15:55:43
Thank you for your beautifully written words. I have sent a link to your post to the ladies of my church. I'm the president of our woman's group and have to frequently remind the ladies it is okay to say NO. In fact I will often say, when asking them for help with a project, "I would rather have an honest NO than a YES that you can't follow through with".
By: Mary Anne
On: 09/20/2010 18:08:21
Another alternative to yes or no is "I'll get back to you in a day or two!" It gives one the opportunity to really think things through-positive and negative! I have found some treasured experiences by saying yes, and been able to step back when the no's where needed, so "Hey! You can get back with this e-mail message later!!!!!!
By: Donna Kelso
On: 09/20/2010 18:26:16
Thank you for your inspiring article.
I recently ended a 30+ year relationship with a woman I had called a "friend." I met her when I was married to my first husband, who worked for her husband at the time. We began talking and I suppose we kept talking just because it was convenient. We really didn't have anything in common, she is a stone cold city girl and me, a little bit country. I was always frustrated, crying or upset after we spoke and I seriously began wondering why I felt so responsible for this woman's feelings since she certainly didn't feel responsible for mine. I felt that because I had known her such a long time that I couldn't hurt her feelings by shutting her out of my life. However, why I kept allowing her toxicity into my life . . . I wondered. Finally, I said NO, enough of this and did the "dirty deed" and told her that just like an old familiar marriage that was difficult to end, I just had to end our so-called friendship. That it didn't feel like a friendship - my other friends make me happy, inspire me and egg me on to success while she acts like a know-it-all about everything and her continuous drama about every little thing and all the rotten people in her life every day just turned me sour on her. I told her how my feelings had been hurt so many times but didn't go into details of any particular scene. I had always said YES to her before but finally, for my own sanity, I said NO. Even with what I said she still didn't understand why I was walking away from her. It was a very difficult thing for me to do but I can honestly say that I feel freedom and calmness, not so riled up from listening to all her senseless dramas. I told another old friend of mine that I thought God would send me to hell for doing such a thing and she said, "He's probably been wondering what took you so long!" Ha! Leave it to a good friend to clear the air and set me straight!
Thanks again.
By: namePatricia G Hayes
On: 09/20/2010 19:22:40
Yes, indeed, however one does learn, although rather late in life, to say NO!!!! Having never said NO most of my life, I found when I moved from NH to FL, did say YES a few times. One too many times, when I realized I had bitten off to much, and traded the YES for the NO. Left a few hard feelings along the way. However we did all manage to get thru it, (although on my part, feeling so guilty.) In the end it turned out just fine, none of us are indispensible one learns.
The first time you do something different than you normally do is very, very hard.
I finally had come to the realization that the wonderful decision of what was best for me at that time has made my life so much easier now, consequently so much more fun. NO, is a necessary word sometimes.
Thanks for your thoughts.
By: Sonya
On: 09/21/2010 06:45:32
I am always so happy to read my e-mail from Mary Jane's Farm. This time was extra special as I turned to the article by Cathi Belcher. Even before I read her name I knew her smiling face. She may not remember me, but I remember her very well. We lived in the same area & home schooled our children at the same time, & Lennis, of this article, was my best friend.
That being said, I am encouraged by the truth that she spoke of...YES & NO are very important to learn. I have been on both sides of this special coin, and not always at the right time.
Recently, I said yes at the right time & found myself in Florida for ten days, helping to care for my sister-in-laws father who is dying. Having gone through caring for my own father, as he was dying, gave me an insight to what his two daughters needed. They took care of all his bodily needs ,while I sat with him for hours, every day, & held the same conversation with him, over & over, & over again. That is something that a child finds difficult to do, but a loving stranger finds fun & even encouraging. Each time he remembered my name or the fact that I married Johnny Palumbo, was like finding a piece of gold. I was so blessed to see his, toothless, smile when he saw me enter his room. He struggled to remember stories to tell to me, and I watched him really live in the time I was there. Live in his childhood memories, his memories of being shot down in WW2, of his wife, & of growing up in New Hampshire. Napoleon, reminded me of all I wished I could have been for my Dad. But as I said...listening to a parent repeat himself is much different that listening to someone else do the same thing. So I thank God that I said yes, & spent 10 days with Napoleon. He asked Jesus to save him, while I was with him, & I found myself enjoying my own Dad again, through this special man.
Thanks for this wonderful article, & for sharing yourself with women of like mind.
It was great to see you.
Love, Sonya Palumbo...><>...
By: Keleen
On: 09/21/2010 20:14:56
One of my dearest college friends in the 1970's was a girl who was born without arms. When the internet came along and we kept in touch by email, her address began with "Jan-I-Can". That said it all! She passed away in 2003, but I will never forget her indomitable spirit.
By: Sunny Crowley
On: 09/24/2010 14:05:56
Lovely! Your an inspiration. There are many of us quietly, or loudly leaving a trail of love and beauty! I am far from the mainland, but we still have mountains here. The sea has always spoken to me, and I am grateful for all that I have experienced. I come from a long line of "pioneers, and hope some of my eight grandchildren carry this on. Peace and Love---are the quieter forces, while anger, greed and hate, yell, and make the majority think they are in power! Look the people, faces and hearts that you connect with each and every day......what do you see ?? I see mostly love!

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir