Starting From Scratch

Farmers, as a general rule, don’t live by clocks. At least the vocational ones don’t. They live by days and seasons. Unless, of course, they have an appointment with the bank, or there’s an auction afoot. Then they’re right on time with a watch and cowbells on, because it’s unacceptably rude to keep people waiting on your sorry butt.

Days are divided Hobbit Style:

Morning Chores

Breakfast with newspaper & Farm Report

Second Breakfast

Noonday Chores



Evening Chores


Nighttime Chores (especially during Harvest Season)

Dessert & Entertainment

Sleep…Unless the cows get out. Then you’re screwed. Ain’t nobody sleepin’!

Because, historically, farmers were the world’s true Hobbits, they didn’t (and don’t) leave home much. They survey the world primarily from the barn roof, the tractor cab, the front porch and the books they got from the public library, along with the occasional nature or travel show on the idiot box. In so doing, many vocational farmers also double as philosophers and poets without meaning to; you could call it an occupational hazard. When your hands and heart are busy, your mind wanders into deep places, puzzling together the meaning of things.

I’m a packrat so, naturally, I kept all the love letters given to me by the man I should have married in the beginning, a philosophizing farmer. He was a fifth generation dairy farmer with an accounting degree, just in case things went badly one day and he “got crippled up.” Most practical man on the planet. And, of course, his love letters were peppered with the earthy practicality of an eighth generation agrarian. It’s in his blood.

Believe it or not, I can still read that chicken scratch. Basically, it says that he went hunting for another farm to buy for us, but wishes he had made a better offer on the 70 acre one I loved – and lost to an auction – down the road from where I grew up (it’s now a subdivision); he installed a new pressure washer in the milking parlor (watch out!); a cow tore a teat and Doc Lange had to sew it back together (the cow later lost said teat), and his sister crashed the crop duster, dashing her husband’s hopes for a plane trip to a reunion. Mindblowing, eh? That’s life in the big…errr…country. And, man, what a life!

Other letters talk about rain, watching the light change on the mountains, waiting for the humidity to be right to bring in the silage corn, the way ice sheets covered the January windblown pasture like mirrors reflecting the heavens. These letters, at the time, made me homesick and terribly angry. It was like he was baiting a hook, trying to reel me back to the farm. I wanted to leave the city and go home. Screw college, screw the world. Go home and grow some pumpkins under the gladiolas and hollyhocks, make some sweet tea, and call it a life. But I refused to budge. In hindsight, I wish I had.

One important facet of getting back into the swing of agrarian life many years more-or-less divorced from it is learning the simple art of stopping the clock and watching the sky. When the sky is black, to go bed. When the sky is periwinkle, you’re probably late getting up. When the sun shines and the breeze blows, get everything done that needs doing dry. When it rains, clean the house and the barn and maybe sneak your favourite calf into the kitchen when no one’s around to cuddle whilst the bread bakes.

I’m not gonna lie; I’ve been sleeping entirely too much this past year, and it’s cost me dearly. I should have things established, already, but I don’t. Part of it, I know, is lingering depression and loneliness; part of it is the dreadful feeling of being pulled in different directions by the responsibilities of work and classes and making things to sell when I really need to be pounding fence posts. But I’ve been awake and alert enough to find my true North anywhere on this hillside without a compass in any light, even in the woods. I’ve watched the seasons change here and, whilst I’m dreading Winter, I have a pretty good handle on what to expect next year. I’ve walked every square inch of this earth, and I know what grows where, how to find the creek in the woods with my eyes closed, and where the morels and puffballs make their homes. I’m excited for next season, and I’m ready to spend the Winter months planning for new gardens in the Spring.

My friend, Mary, send me some comfrey roots from Georgia. I only got to plant them this morning because it’s been raining nonstop for the last week. The billie goat is pissed at me because I’ve made him mow the lawn during torrents, and I don’t really blame him, but I also want him to have gotten as much varietal herbiage as he can devour before the show flies and his diet is nothing but hay flakes, alfalfa pellets and the occasional handful of sweet feed.

The dogs are more reluctant to leave their beds to go outside…except Baby, he’s ready for anything, and loves to check in on the chickens, and whine at them when they aren’t where he thinks they should be. He likes to sit in the tall grass, all stately and dignified, looking out over the valley like a king surveying his domain. And I like to watch him. I wish I could be that still and focused.

Clouds jet across the sky, turning violent shades of violet and black; more storms coming, snow not far behind. I’m debating about making some banana bread, or zucchini bread; definitely need a chicken in the pot today, maybe some liver and onions. “Grandma” gave me two big buckets filled with apples, so applesauce is on the agenda this weekend, along with a carboy of cider vinegar. Winter is coming, Days are getting shorter, and I’m just relearning how to remember that days were always meant to be lived according to moments in season, not clocks.

Working for The Man Because of Breton Rose

I’m in the process of repairing my credit, and the damage that being “married” did to it. Not that I’ve ever had any spectacular history with money, because I haven’t.

My granddad taught me how to invest, and I had a nice little nest egg going when I was in my twenties, making bank at the hospital, thinking that I was all that and a bag of chips. Then I got a call from the guy who handled my mutual fund accounts. I had this particular account with a thing called “Strong Funds” and, it turned out, that it was a Ponzi scheme; my Prudential guy wanted me to trade it (but didn’t tell me why), so I did. A few weeks later, the front page of The Pioneer Press had a story about all of these retirees who lost their shirts on the same fund I had just sold without a second thought.

You’re not supposed to get emotional about money, especially not investments. My grandfather told me that it was all “a big, eternal game of checkers;” the same number of pieces always exist, they just move around and switch positions, and you just have to play slow and steady to make sure you get to say “king me!” most often. Well, I did get emotional. I knew from my college Econ classes that money is just an illusion, but in this case, that illusion was causing very real suffering for a lot of very real people, most of them elderly, and I had walked away from the gameboard without a scratch. I felt terrible.

Around the same time, I was lying on my sofa one night, looking around my posh airy apartment in the tony little brownstone looking over the downtown skyline, and I thought, “Someday, I’m going to die, and someone is going to have to get rid of all this stuff.” My mind went to extremes.

I called Mavis and asked her to come over. I cleaned out both of my big walk-in closets that I had filled with clothes from Macy’s and Dayton’s and the mall, emptied my dresser drawers, stuffed everything into oversized lawn bags, threw it all over the balcony onto the street, and then Mavis and I stuffed her car to bursting, and dropped it all off at Joseph’s Coat in the middle of the night, right next to the dock sign that read “NO AFTER HOURS DROPOFFS!”

My furniture went next to St. Vinnie’s, followed by all of my household gear, which was given to a ministry that served pregnant women in crisis, so that some poor girl wouldn’t be sitting alone in a studio apartment with nothing but a can opener and a beanbag chair. My investment portfolio, I signed over to a charity in town, and didn’t think about it again for decades. When everything I owned was either gone or sent back to my parents, I got on a Greyhound bus and headed for the Catholic Worker, and then the monastery.

The weird thing about stuff is that there’s entirely too much of it in the world. I don’t know why furniture stores even exist. Tell people you’re starting a house of hospitality, and it’s fully furnished with zero effort in a week. Nothing matches, of course, but that’s the romanticism of voluntary poverty; eclectic decorating always results in a home that looks comfortably lived in.

So, for years I was in the habit of replacing disappeared spoons and broken dishes one at a time with things I thought were pretty from thrift shops and yard sales. In other words, nothing ever matched in the kitchen, either. When we did holiday meals, every place setting was different, and I liked it that way. A blue Mikasa bowl nested atop a yellow-banded Pfalsgraff salad plate and a handthrown, green-glazed English stoneware charger on the white lace tablecloth, tie-dyed in port wine, indigo paste and nettles tea to hide the coffee stain it came with, all different colours and patterns in the candlelight, was lovely. Our cupboards resembled something only a hobbit would recognise as well ordered, and it was truly beautiful.

But somewhere over the past couple of years, a flip has switched inside me; losing what was once yours by the dishonest measures of others has a way of making you…pissy. Maybe it was the experience of cooking in a beautiful borrowed kitchen where everything went together, or maybe it was going back to collect my things only to find that the woman I had thought for years was one of my best friends had carted so much of it away without a word thanks or explanation, but I was over with making do. After moving here, I gave myself a $200 budget and started hitting all of the thrift stores to replace my kitchen gear. It didn’t go quite as planned. I got a stack of pyrex mixing bowls, pie plates and baking dishes from the nuns in Steubenville for $7. Scott’s mom gave me the surplus bakeware she had stockpiled when she downsized. I replaced all of my rammicans, pyrex egg bowls and loaf pans at Goodwill for a dollar a piece. Then I found an insanely huge collection of Revere Ware pots and pans on an eBay auction for $100, and that’s where it all went wrong. Silverware!

My favourite table service pattern of all time is the Kanney/Grace Breton Rose Stainless from post-WWII Japan. Rogers and Oneida pale in comparison, and you really can’t find this stuff anymore. I grew up with it, and carried a Breton Rose soup spoon around with me from the time I was a teenager onwards; that spoon went camping with me, lived in my car, my backpack and my bookbag; it went to college with me. It was even on my honeymoon with me. It was heavy and balanced enough to pound picture nails into walls, beautiful, well weighted, and reliable to cook with on the fly; it outlasted the Victorinox Swiss Army knife I got for Christmas my 8th grade year, and has often doubled as a garden spade when I needed to harvest plants out of forests all over the country. It’s gone with me everywhere I have ever been, and it needed friends and, sure enough, eBay has it. Or, I should say, they did.

I’ve spent the past year aggressively cornering the market on Japanese Breton Rose Stainless one ridiculously overpriced serving utensil, fork, knife, spoon and place setting at a time from all over the U.S. and Canada and, for the first time in my life, I now have a full set of matching flatware that no one will ever use but me. I. Am. An. Idiot.

There’s this dude named Mark in Waterville, Minnesota, and I’m pretty sure he must know me personally, because that bastard has been torturing me one freaking teaspoon at a time for months on end. I’m not kidding. I buy one, then he waits a week, lists another, and messages me a photo. His packages eventually began arriving with mocking little smiley faces drawn on the envelopes. I want to punch him in the face everytime I have to spend ten minutes trying to unwrap the “protective” spongey mound of plastic cling wrap from yet another crusty, half-washed utensil that came tied with a snotty tiny red ribbon bow. The douchenozzle.

These purchases have filled me with a certain degree of guilt, and my anarchist heart has trouble reconciling such things. On the one hand, I love this pattern, on the other, someone else is still going to have to get rid of this shit when I die, and it bothers me…mostly because I spent so much effort to gather the full set together, and I don’t want it divided when I’m not around to guard over it. And partially because spending a small fortune to have matching silver service that will never be used for dinner parties like my grandmothers used to throw is exactly the kind of consumerist stupidity that I’ve been railing against for years. The only thing that makes it halfway tolerable is that the partial set I inherited of Mavis’ Oneida Independence flatware turns out to be even more expensive and in demand on the worldwide flea market circuit than my Breton Rose, and the only thing more unbelievably outrageous than spending three dollars on a butter knife is actually selling another one of a different pattern for the low, low (by comparison) price of $15.

I’ve been working my ass off this past year, branching out in different finely-trickling money streams to build a new home. A service project here, a production gig there, a batch of soap, an occasional needlework piece, and jobs that can be worked on the fly have been the bread and butter of my recent life. My goal is to be able to pay down all of my reported debt, most of which is medical bills, so that I can rebuild my credit well enough to qualify for a USDA farm loan before the landlord croaks. When that’s done, I can concentrate on film projects. It’s not been easy, and I am blessed to have a tight group of great friends who have filled in the cracks here and there when I’m in a corner. Yesterday, I borrowed $400 because the pressure line in the power steering broke whilst I was driving down the I-77 freeway, and the whole system had to be replaced because it was completely corroded from years of road salt and no undercarriage washing; I’ll pay the cheddar back tomorrow when I get paid, but I can’t help but feel this nagging twinge of guilt…if only I had left my money in the credit union, instead of spending it on things like a group lot of six pretty place settings, or replacing the perc pot I only use twice a year for making heat infusions, I wouldn’t be robbing Peter to pay Paul. Or would I? I don’t know. But I spent several hours in the mechanic’s waiting room in a prickly, guilt-ridden sweat going through receipts for things that aren’t truly neccessities, and it bugs the hell out of me.

I still feel like I’m 12 years old, and I don’t ever want to really grow up. I still want life to be a faerie tale, no matter how much of a nightmare it’s become. I still want to live in the little stone cottage under the big shady tree with Nell’s peasant family in “Legend,” hang my laundry on the line to whip in the sunny fragrant wind whilst the goats and the chickens graze in the overgrown acreage and my dog lays at my feet waiting patiently to play….

…I can hear my granddad chuckling, ice cubes tinkling in his swirling tumbler of scotch, warm cigarette smoke curling up from the crystal ashtray on the polished mohogany side table to the right of his wingback chair. “You can have the faerie tale, Mike (yes, Mike. And my grandmother called me ‘Maggie’ when my mother was absent),” he’d surely say with a familiar wink, “Just as soon as you pay what you owe to the real world for living here. Artists still have to buy paint if they want to put their dreams on canvas, don’t they….”

When GOD was handing out the talents of discipline and practicality to my batch of incoming babies, I was off frolicking in a sunny meadow with the gnomes, learning how to make daisy wreaths. I’m not so fond of the real world. Never have been. I don’t care how necessary money is, it’s stupid. But the older I get, the more necessary it seems to be, and the more I wish – halfheartedly – that I hadn’t signed away my immoral investment portfolio. At least all of my silverware finally matches. And it’s pretty. There’s that.

What *I* Would Do, Were I Diagnosed With Cancer

When I was 27, I had surgery on my back following a routine physical that lead to the discovery of some very ugly “dysplastic” lesions right under my bra line. The surgery left a deep, nasty, painful scar and an irregular hole under my thinned skin where the lesions had been excised full thickness with the surgical version of a cookie cutter punch; the pathology report was unsettlingly contradictory, noting abnormal cells with “an admixture of markers for carcinoma and melanoma.” That same month, I began taking herbalism classes in Minneapolis and, in the course of my reading – both the journals at the hospital where I worked and the books I was reading at home – I came to the personal conclusion that allopathic oncology is a massive, diabolical, albeit insanely lucrative scam, an idea that has become all the more reasonable with the passage of time and evermore expensive, patented proprietary drugs hitting the market each year. Radiation and chemotherapy were both recommended to me following my surgery, but I refused them. Actually…I just never returned the persistent calls from the clinic, and eventually cancelled my phone service. The following year, I quit healthcare altogether, finished my herbalism classes, and moved to New York by way of a summer stop in Rock Island before heading to the monastery. And, funny thing, I’ve never had a recurrence.

Cancer rates have exploded in recent years. At the turn of the 20th century, numbers were rare. By the 1940s, the rate of cancer diagnosis was 1 in 20. Today, it’s 1 in 3 or 1 in 2, depending on who you believe. When I was still working in healthcare and going to school, the medical journals I read were chock-full of peer-reviewed articles claiming that we were right on the verge of discovering the genetic marker for predisposition; today we know that genetics accounts for less than 5% of all cancers, and that viral and bacterial loads, coupled with high-carbohydrate consumption are far more important indicators for cancer development and cancer recurrence than any family history.

This year alone, I have had nine friends thus far diagnosed with cancer, most of them women. A couple of these are experiencing recurrence, but for most it’s a new experience. And I’m not shy about voicing my opinion on this issue: allopathic medicine is a for-profit industry that uses human suffering and fear to turn patients into life-long revolving door consumers. Get that? Your life is a commodity for someone else’s monetary profit, and so is mine. Mainstream medicine is a business, not a human service.

To that end, the FDA is trying to make cheap, effective, unprofitable treatments for cancer – like intravenous vitamin C – illegal. The Fed is trying tooth-and-nail to hold onto their bullshit claim that the herbs in the cannabis family should remain a Schedule 1 “drug” whilst brushing scientific fact under the rug…along with the patent this same government awarded itself back in October 2003 for the therapeutic anti-inflammatory benefits of cannabinoids in medical treatment (you can find that lovely little gem of governmental treachery here: And Big Pharma, in the name of “truth” in medicine is doubling down with the FDA to pull a wide variety of food “supplements” off the market because, as Ayurveda and Chinese Eastern Medicine are becoming more well-known to progressive clinicians and patients, people are slowly but surely figuring out that there are better, less damaging, less debilitating, less lethal ways to deal with inflammatory disorders like cancer. Western medicine, called by it’s full title, “Toxic Molecular Allopathic Medicine,” (“opposite treats like”) is only a century old, and as it becomes more powerful, people become weaker and more sick. The FDA claims that, as a matter of law, only a patented drug may be used to diagnose, treat or cure any disease, despite the fact that most disease goes away when you feed the body right and clean up your environment. And I call bullshit on the whole damned thing.

There’s a reason why I never had a recurrence after my surgery when I was 27 and, for the record, I’m a piss-poor, sloppy example of what to do and how to do it, but I believe wholeheartedly in the method and the rationale behind it. I have used the recipes I share below for decades, but never consistently, and never with any regularity. Honestly, I generally use them during the Winter months with an aim to get rid of old stock before the next growing season, or before my media goes rancid from age. The only thing I do with any regularity is longterm fasting, which will knock out inflammation and the pain that comes with it in just days. But I’m the first to admit that I’m a sugar whore, and cancer loves sugar like a fat kid on steroids; that’s exactly what cancer is, a fat, bratty, tantrum-throwing hormonal baby who screams to be fed candy by the bucket and stay up til all hours. If it were a kid, you’d deny it what it wants for it’s own good, ignore the screaming, turn out the lights, and let it starve until it shuts the hell up and submits to water and broccoli before going to sleep. And that’s the only thing I would do if I ever got another bad diagnosis.

Late last year my very best friend in the world died just weeks following a cancer diagnosis. I think she would still be here if not for the fact that her stomach was in her chest cavity, fused to her lung, collapsing it–a fact that went undiagnosed until five days before she died. Oddly enough, the stomach trouble she’d been having for two years was repeatedly written off as GERD until someone finally saw a single shadow on one of her ovaries (but still ignored the giant, glaring hole in her diaphragm), and then the oncologists were on her like white on rice, recommending immediate chemo, radiation and surgery whilst admitting that the same would kill her within weeks (she refused them all, precisely because she knew what I know).

Since then, too many of my peeps are calling me to say that they’re getting sick, and I’m getting overwhelmed, so here are my main recipes and regimens. For the most part, this is what I do (tweaked here and there, depending on the situation and circumstance), and would do in the event of a diagnosis. Make copies, spread it around.

And if you don’t know me, don’t agree with me, and want to bitch, please save yourself the wasted effort. I don’t give a flying rat’s ass about your opinion, and I’ll delete it without reading it. As my kids love to say: opinions are like butts; everyone’s got one, and they’re all full of shit. If you do know me, and want more information you can’t find researching my recipes, just call me.

I love extended fasts, and though I’ve slacked off the past couple of years, I try to do at least one (usually two) 40 day water fasts following the Church calender. People who think that fasting is dangerous have never spent any time with sick animals, who naturally stop eating and sleep more when they are unwell. Historically, so did humans. Fasting is the body’s reset button. It puts your digestive system to rest and allows your organs and nervous system to do a deep clean and purge. Don’t believe me? There’s a wonderful French documentary that’s now been dubbed in English and available on Amazon called, “The Science of Fasting.” Not only is fasting ancient medicine that works, and works well, it’s also a standard of clinical practise and care across Europe. And, just an aside, if I don’t eat, then neither does cancer. Even better, as my body transitions through cycles of autophagy, the first things that get consumed are diseased tissue, scar tissue and wrinkles.

When I end a fast, it’s with green juice fasting (for quick nutritional uptake, not “cleansing” or “detoxing”) and broth. Bone broth has made a big comeback over the past few years as the slow food movement has taken hold, and it’s just old farm wisdom: bone marrow is filled with minerals, and cartilage is just unmelted collagen, building blocks of healthy cells. I love making stock and broth, freeze it when I make too much, and drink it almost everyday all Winter long….

If I got another diagnosis, I’d extend my green juice fast by two or three months, and do it under the supervision of a functional medicine specialist who also does IV vitamin C therapy.

It looks like a lot, but it’s really not. It’s all about method, and living in the seasons. I got the fire cider (which is a reduced volume version) and zoom ball recipes straight from the mouth of the fairy godmother of American herbalism, Rosemary Gladstar. The recipes I use are good for strengthening the immune system, whilst “treating” what makes us sick and reducing inflammation. And they are, oddly enough, all amongst my favourite and most used recipes.

Have you ever wondered how cannabis came to be called “weed?” It’s all got to do with the government (again), the Hearst newspaper empire and a Hoover-era jagoff by the name of Aslinger. The agricultural definition of a weed is “any plant growing where it is not wanted.” And in pre-World War II America, big business definitely didn’t want hemp.

The real war against cannabis began as a war in industry, not medicine, with the lumber and steel industries using racial stupidity, fear and the power of media to quash the industrial application of hemp following the ingenious invention of “The Excoricator” in the early 20th century. The excoricator was a machine that would have made the separation of long and short fibres in hemp stalks mind-blowingly fast and easy (compared to the labour-intensive board-and-nails threshing method that’d been the norm until then), and could have revolutionalized the paper and building material industries, making hemp an even more valuable, easily replenished commodity than it already was. Henry Ford’s first cars were built with hemp plastics, which were stronger and more durable than steel, and hemp paper, canvas and rope were the materials on which America was built from the time of the 13 Colonies onward, not to mention the method by which most farmers paid their taxes until just this past century. Not only that, but before the ban on cannabis in 1937, cannabis sativa and cannabis indica where the very cornerstone of the American Pharmacopia. Why? Because it was (and still is) good medicine, and widely used in its whole complements in all kinds of pharmaceutical preparations, like coca and opium still are, regardless of the damage they do as isolated, purified and synthesized extractions. In other words, we’ve been gyped by generations of crooked robber barons and lying politicians in ways that most people can’t even imagine, and it’s costing us our lives….

Anyhoo, this is the basics of what I would do, and what I already do. Because, after all, it’s my body, and my choice. I think it’s your choice, too.

Addendum: Every person needs to make their own decisions, and you should always thoroughly research your healthcare decisions and the reasons behind them. For myself, the choice is simply this:

I know, based on my own lived experience and research, that the cut/poison/burn methodology of allopathic oncology never promises longevity, but it does guarantee the absolute probability and reality of permanent disfigurement, weakness, secondary infections, disabilities and cancers, organ failure, and really horrible ways to die. For many of the same reasons that I am not an organ donor and never will be, you’ll never see me accepting treatment from an oncologist. Diagnostics within reason, yes. Treatment, never.

Cancer is rarely an “emergency.” It takes years to develop, and unless I’m already in the final process of dying, I always have the power to control and conquer what’s in me. And I stand by the ancient adage that modern societies around the world with far lower cancer and cancer mortality rates than ours still respect and observe, “Let food be thy medicine.”


Searching for My Childhood: A Plea for Help HAVE YOU SEEN THESE BUGS???

When I was a toddler, I played in the kitchen most often. My earliest memories are here, and according to my mother’s notes in my baby book, I much preferred pots and pans to dolls and teddies – proof, I think, that some things really never change. But I also had a thing (and still do) for 1970s kitch. The flowery illustrations on the packs of Eve cigarettes, Holly Hobbie shadowboxes, the covers of Top-40 record albums, the oh-so-groovy books by Richard Scarry and Edward Gorey that kept me engrossed and amused for hours on end. And then there were these little beauties:

Amongst my earliest memories, in the singlewide military housing trailer across the river from Ft. Benning, I got a ton of mileage out of these ladybugs that my mother kept on the fridge. I sat on the Harvest Gold linoleum floor, repeatedly pulled out their antennae, tried fruitlessly for years to push their fat little magnetic bottoms together, and admired the strange depth of their stained colours that seeped into the wood like delicious little worlds all their own.

They came with us to Ft. Carson, where our military housing trailer was moved, and then traded for a monstrous brown-and-beige doublewide, where two of my brothers were born. Then they made the trip to Idaho with us, when my father was discharged after 8-1/2 years of service as an Army MP. They were there on the fridge in every house I lived in growing up, including my Gram’s when Daddy was still overseas, until I left home, and then I took them with me.

These same magnets graced the tiny fridges in my dorm rooms and every apartment I ever had, were saved in a jewellery box when I was in the monastery, followed by a half-dozen Catholic Worker houses, then they lived for more than a decade on the rusting old fridge at Gilbert House…until I got married, then abandoned, then divorced. And then they were lost.

I don’t know how, but somewhere between Tennessee and Ohio, my beloved ladybugs disappeared, and I truly miss them. I’ve actually lost sleep over this. I think about them more often than is probably healthy; a house is not a home without them, and I kinda need them back.

I’ve looked for them on Ebay and Etsy now for nearly two years, no dice. I’ve written letters to the Tagahashi (importers) family in Seattle, San Francisco and Japan to see if there’s a way to find another set or two with no response (crazy lady file, I’m sure). Okay, so, here’s the proof I’m cracked, bonkers, completely off my nut: my life is simply incomplete without a fifty-year-old set of refrigerator magnets. I’m not even kidding. I admit it. I’m fruitloops. But I really do miss them. And I’m tired of missing all the things I’ve lost. I just want these back.

So, here’s your assignment:

Help me find my ladybugs, please. Carpetbomb social media. Spread this around on Pin-ter-ridiculous and Facewreck and Twits-R-Us. Call up the Tagahashi’s grandkids if you know them. Look in your granny’s junk drawer. Ask your reefer-tokin’ uncle if he has these in his VW camper in the back 40. Please, spread it around. I’m not usually consumerist-minded, but this is really *bugging* me. I want my little magnets back. It will make me happier than I am to have them home. I’m sure somebody somewhere has them….

I miss my bugs like a fat kid misses chocolate. I wanna try to push them together some more, and have them living on my fridge again. If I ended up with a dozen, I’d have a stroke from the overload of joy, but just to have any of the bugs on my fridge again would be serendipity.

The Beauty of Autumn

My one surviving pumpkin vine (the others were mercilessly snacked to death by stink beetles) gave me three fat, healthy pie pumpkins, and one tiny faerie pumpkin that I have given to my elderly neighbour, Shirley, to decorate her table. Today, I roasted one of the three (and froze half) for lunch, and made a jar of fresh mayonnaise whilst I waited to use in the macaroni salad that happened by accident when I spilled a jar of dried pasta all over the wet counter that I had just scrubbed. I used some of the pickled dilly eggs I made last Spring that have been waiting patiently on the same counter without a single nod, and the last of the radishes out in the yard, so it looks like I’m noshing on this and roasted pumpkin seeds for the next few days.

The day that began sunny and blustery has given way to damp cold and low, crackling thunder that comes in irregular rolling waves in the fast grey sky. It’s a good day for Autumn fare and doing quiet things indoors. I’m bored with cleaning, and it’s too cold to wash walls for painting. I’ve been reading Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” quintet, resurrecting an old October tradition of mine for the first time in many years, but today is not a reading day, exactly…unless I make some cocoa and go back to bed. Can you do cocoa and pumpkin on the same day? I wonder….

I finished a cross stitch of dark dragon silhouettes banded by peacock colours that I now need to find a frame and a home for, began another of a trio of owls for Miss Robin, and I’ve been fingerpainting one of those old-fashioned roll-up canvas window blinds to look like a dreamy watercolour garden when it’s drawn down; it will be hung in the North window behind my bed when it’s finished, to help keep out the cold on nights when Winter winds blow.

This past week my friend, John, died; his funeral was yesterday. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. One night, he went to bed with his beloved wife, Mary, told her goodnight with a kiss and a hug, rolled over, and was gone. Just like that. Poof! Done. I do not think that there is a more perfect, simple way to die, right on the heels of doing something so kind and ordinary. What a great way to end an exemplary life! A few days later, another friend who called to tell me (again) that John was gone, told me about how shocked she had been to go to a funeral recently for a woman whose children had her buried in her fluffy pink bathrobe; I think she was put off by my saying that my hope is to be buried in my nightgown, wrapped in my favourite quilt (how unseemly!)….Then I realised that I still haven’t made any nightgowns for this Winter.

When I die, it will likely be something entirely stupid, requiring great pain, a tremendous, expensive fuss and a lot of swearing, but there is now a pile of white flannel on the kitchen floor, cut into pieces from my favourite pattern to be sewn into new, warm gowns to last me a while. Knowing my luck, I’m going to live until I’m 107, but if I go at anytime after next week when my sewing project is finished, you all know what to do. In the meanwhile, I’m thinking about making a pumpkin pie with a graham cracker crust. Few things go better with sewing. Except brownies. Brownies trump everything….

I wonder what would happen if I put pumpkin in brownies.

The Trouble With Long Weekends

Nothing ever goes the way you plan it on a holiday weekend. Because I planned to go take care of my billie goat on Sunday, I ended up driving to Youngstown on Saturday afternoon with a truck full of Winter feed and straw to take care of an emergency with another goat that went rogue. Came home late that night without the goat and nothing accomplished. And I half-considered turning around and parking before I left North Jackson, because there was a fantastic lightning storm on the Northern horizon over Cleveland, and I felt gyped not getting to watch it.

Sunday after Mass, I drove three quarters of the way to Youngstown – without my cell phone, which I had thoughtlessly abandoned on the front porch – and ended up on the side of the road with a spike in my tire. By the time I got home last night, it was well after dark again, but I had hours to read “A Wrinkle in Time,” sitting in a lush, unfenced roadside field under the warm sun whilst I waited for someone to stop and let me use their phone, so it’s all good.

This morning, I used the very last of my gas to drive to Youngstown one more time, forgot absolutely everything that I was supposed to take with me, leaving the basket on the kitchen counter, but at least the truck was empty and 300 lbs of feed and a stack of straw bales was tucked safely away in the barn after twelve trips up and down the stairs.

The good news is that something I needed to do months ago finally got done today: I built a milk stanchion out of warped and split scrap lumber in trade for the elf-eared La Mancha sire I adopted this past Spring.


It looks like crap because I cut it out on the fly with a borrowed jigsaw and a dull blade, no straight edge and no miter box, so it’s loppsided, cockeyed, and one leg is a half inch shorter than the others because the ends are cut at an unintentionally slight angle. It may look like shit, but that sucker is pinned together quite nicely with a whole box of 3″ ceramic-coated decking screws; You’d have to throw it off a cliff from a truck going 70mph to break it.

By the time I was finished, I looked like my mother covered from head to toe with sawdust, and I had wood scraps laid out all over this family’s garage apron. It’s done, though, and that’s what counts. Finally!

These people have been calling my goat “Rusty,” but I’ve only ever called male goats “Butch,” if they’re sires, or “Bobbie” if they’re cut – a lifelong habit I picked up in junior high from my Ag advisor, Mr. Wilder, who raised sheep, and whose father was my favourite veterinarian. Within a week, he’ll be another Butch for good. I can’t help it.


On the way home, Butch wouldn’t shut the hell up. He started getting on Baby’s nerves which caused a not-so-minor growling, snapping scuffle on the dark highway, so I cranked up the radio and started flipping through stations; this is how I learned that Butch likes classic rock best. Play him Boston, AC/DC, or the old British dude who used to bite the heads off of bats, and he’s as quiet as a church mouse. He does not seem to appreciate Rob Zombie, however, which I think is a tragedy. We’ll have to fix this…after I sleep for about twelve hours, and my leg stops pounding from sitting in a car for three days straight with little movement. For now, Butch is tied up on a grazing line under the security lamp, mowing the front yard because the chickens scare the shit out him. I hope he pipes down, soon.

…Now all I have to do is find some gas money to get to Tennessee and back so I can collect the rest of my menagerie before it turns cold and the roads start getting bad. Then all will be well for Winter…just so long as I can remember not to do it on a holiday weekend when my head isn’t screwed on straight.


Autumn Has Finally Come

I’m sitting in the kitchen tending two big stockpots; one is filled with a batch of not-so-lovely peaches that I’ve hovered over since yesterday afternoon, and the other holds about twenty pounds of cut up pickling beets that I’ve got simmering, waiting for a spicy Harvard brine like my Grandmother taught me to make. The 28 remaining chicken babies are out on the porch in the bathtub, squawking discontentedly at me because they want desperately to be fed for the third time today, and Baby is smiling at me, pleased with himself, soaked from head-to-toe because he’s been out romping around in the woods for the past hour. The tomato paste that I had so carefully run through the food mill and had cooking down scorched on the bottom because I left the burner up when I drove down the road to buy a bag of sugar for the beets; the former will be skimmed from the top and frozen into cubes tonight when everything else is bottled and put away. I’ve got six or seven pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes baking in the oven to make hash out of tomorrow, the rest (about forty pounds of so) are curing with my sweet potatoes (not such a good crop) on the kitchen floor, which is strewn with newspaper until I can safely stash them all in a milk crate under the sink.

There are two big crocks of dill pickles fermenting on the drainboard next to the sink; I rescued the cucumbers from the “sharing” table in the vestibule after Mass last week; a notice pinned to the wall above the bags of sweating veggies said that the Diocese of Stupidville has turned their finance records over to a government prosecutor’s office because Judas has been messing with the purse again. This batch of peaches I’m working on came from a little old lady I met at the farm store a few months ago when I was buying canning jars to put up some jam; she runs a food pantry for her church group in the next county over, insists that everybody she meets calls her Grandma and hugs her when she sees them, and now she calls me when they have fruit they can’t get rid of because she knows that I’ll “be a good Ruth” and take care of it. This time it was nearly thirty pounds of very sad looking freestone peaches from North Carolina that I cleaned up and simmered overnight until they were reduced by half to make some almond peach butter. She also gave me three heads of perfectly good cabbage that I’ve packed into a gallon jar to make sauerkraut, and a big burlap bag of oversized carrots that I will likely be turning into relish because I don’t know what else to do with them.

The rain began to fall yesterday in soft constancy bringing with it cool air, the faint scent of spent grass and green light; I am hoping that this is Autumn come to stay.

I have begun to wonder how I ever lived in cities, and why I ever left home for a big city to begin with. Cities come with nothing but stress. I’ve spent my day in the quiet of a warm kitchen, the rhythm of harvest time starting to pick up around me, hands under the spigot washing sink after sink of messy pots and pans and spoons and ladles so that I can dirty them up again, the door open to the cool breeze, the chicks chirping, the occasional scolding hummingbird, the glistening green of my quiet little hillside, and I cannot fathom what I must have been thinking.

…The peach butter is done. The beets are next. I need to walk across the pasture below to deliver a couple of jars to my elderly landlord and his wife before it gets dark so they can have it warm with their nightly bowls of ice cream. The only decision I have to make now is whether or not to put on barn boots or go barefoot.

I must have been crazy to have ever thought that living in a city was a good idea….

The People Who Made Me…

Yesterday morning I woke to the distinct smell of clove cigarette smoke in my bedroom. I don’t smoke. When I opened my eyes, someone who was not one of my dogs was sitting in the gold velvet armchair in the corner, looking back at me; it was my old friend, David, with a big, cheesy smile on his face. “What are you doing here,” I asked aloud, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world to wake up to the odd man sitting in my bedroom unannounced, and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes as I sat up. When I opened my eyes again, he was gone. But the smell of clove cigarette smoke lingered for hours.

I lost track of David a few years ago. The last time I saw him was in Florida, holding – of all things – a box of abandoned kittens he found, outside of the hospital where I had just had yet another surgery on my hand, that he was determined to raise himself so that they wouldn’t be killed at the shelter. After this surprise visit yesterday, I broke down and called his sister, only to learn that they buried David last Saturday, next to his mother. No one really knows what happened, she told me; she had seen him the week before, and he was fine. All anyone could say for certain is that a friend found him collapsed on the bathroom floor one morning, and the medical examiner will have a toxicology report in three month’s time. That’s going to turn up a bit fat nothing of useful information; David’s drug of choice was chocolate anything. Still, 50 is far too young to die. Whilst I’m not really surprised by this, I’m saddened and disappointed by the knowledge that I just missed him. I’m forever telling myself that I need to call this person, or that cousin, to tell them that I love them, only to learn that they’re gone forever. You always think that you have time, but you don’t. Time is an illusion, the stupid pet trick of a selfish, procrastinating mind; after that, all that is left are memories that will die with you, too. They fade, like the familiar spicy smoke coiling in silky gossamer tendrils out the open window of my room….

My friend David was tall, built like a tank, athletic, with dark curly hair that never behaved and eyes the very same colour as the Atlantic Ocean that he loved so well. Like me, he was an artist interested in too many things at once. Unlike me, David could draw perfectly proportioned animals and landscapes in fine detail with his eyes closed, and it was fascinating watching his long, elegant fingers trace coal across the page in lines as fine as sharp pencil without effort. He taught me how to snorkel and free dive (I was too much of a chicken to learn SCUBA, even though he offered many times to teach me) and, by necessity, how to treat a jellyfish sting without peeing on anything. We had fun collaborating on silkscreens we cut images for in layers with pen knives from emptied Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch boxes. My memory of him is his handsome face peering out over the Eastern horizon, dark hair tousled by the misty wind as he sat smoking cigarettes on the beach, whilst giving me minutely detailed, exacting instructions on how to take care of my sea aquarium so that my clown fish (kidnapped by me from the sea years before anyone had heard of Nemo) would live long, “happy, happy fish lives.” Girls, babies and animals loved him, men respected him and, whilst it was amusing to watch, he legitimately deserved their admiration and trust.

About twenty years ago we had lunch together at some forgotten food court; he said to me, “Write this down,” as he sat drawing a live skulking tiger from memory, and he dictated a long, beautiful poem. “Bleeding heart, filled with barbed wire…praying for peace,” it began. When he was finished, I considered the page, then asked him what it meant. “That’s you,” he said tersely with a furrowed expression, as if I had missed the obvious. I blinked, and read it again, only vaguely understanding then. To this day, it is one of my most cherished possessions; turned out that he knew me far better than I could have imagined, even when he was not quite in this world, with his head in the clouds of his own artist’s reason.

David is the fifth beloved friend and family member I’ve lost this year. Whilst I’m relieved to know where he’s at, I’m truly sick and tired of losing people. Especially people whom I consider solid touchstones in this world of swirling uncertainties and darkness. Last year I asked another such friend, “how many times can a heart break before it can’t be put together again?” I don’t think I’m ever going to find the answer.

Anyway….Thanks for the visit, David. I’m sorry I missed you. Very, truly sorry I neglected our friendship…I have no good excuse for it. But I am genuinely relieved, if not happy, that you are safe with your mom, and I hope that you have peace. I suppose it’s never really too late to say I love you. And I do, Good Man.

Scripture is pro-death penalty. Why does Pope Francis want to ignore the Bible?: My Letter to the Editor

It’s been a fews years since I’ve written one of these. A LttE published yesterday at the L.A. Times (which google thought I should like to read) annoyed me:

To the editor: The editorial on Pope Francis’ declaration that the death penalty is never OK in any circumstance fails to use the word “murderer.”

The Torah — the first five books of the Christian Bible and the law of Judaism — in numerous places states that God directed mankind to execute murderers. And Jesus, whose teachings and life form the foundation of Christianity, said, “Not the least point nor the smallest detail of the law will be done away with.”

I cannot understand why the pope does not address its need to ignore the scriptures upon which his church’s faith is based.

Mel Wolf, Burbank

…I have no doubt that if the L.A. Times ever does bother to post my response, it will be butchered into nonsensical tweet form, so I’m putting it here, as I wrote it, for safe keeping.

Dear Editor,

A letter addressed to you regarding Pope Francis and capital punishment popped up in my newsfeed today, and I would like to respond to it. It reads in part:

“The Torah — the first five books of the Christian Bible and the law of Judaism — in numerous places states that God directed mankind to execute murderers. And Jesus, whose teachings and life form the foundation of Christianity, said, ‘Not the least point nor the smallest detail of the law will be done away with.'”

Actually, in context, what Christ said was, “I have come not to abolish Torah, but to fulfill it.” In so doing, He releases us from it. Torah is not addressed to “mankind,” but to the Hebrew nation; Christ’s salvic mystery is for all, Jew and gentile. This is why you don’t find Catholics eating kosher, stoning televangelists to death in the streets as false prophets, absolving themselves from burying the dead lest they become “unclean,” taking ritual baths, cutting off the hands of women who grab men by the family jewels in anger, or stoning their children in public for being disrespectful little punks to their parents…though I can think of a few who might actually deserve it (I’m not kidding…my brother’s kids when they were younger immediately come to mind). On the contrary, Christians are only bound (according to Christ’s own words) to this law: “That you shall love the Lord you GOD with all your heart, mind and strength, and that you love your neighbour as yourself. This is the whole of the Law and the Prophets.” (which is why, I’m certain, my nephews are still breathing) And, according to Matthew 25 part 2, the price of admission to Heaven is mercy to “the least of these My brethren.” There is none so pitiable or “least” in society as the rapist and the murderer, for their souls know only pain and malice apart from conversion, and an executed corpse cannot repent, nor find forgiveness. The Gospel [Christ] also calls on us to forgive pefectly (70×7), to pray for our enemies, and to bless those who persecute us. Additionally, out of 613 mitzvot in Torah, Christians are only bound by ten of them, and those are the first that were given directly from YHWH to Moses (the other 603 were delivered by “angels of YHWH”), the 5th of which reads, “You shall not kill.” It doesn’t say anything beyond that. You. Shall. Not. Kill. Period. So simple. So direct. Straight from the anthropormorphized lips of GOD; I seriously doubt He changed His mind (Numbers 23 says He doesn’t, and can’t). And one has to remember where the Jews were when Torah was recorded: they weren’t exactly known for their superior privatized for-profit prison system, for crying out loud. Do you really think that a dinky tent and an old guy with a stick in the wilderness is going to be an effective deterrent against a criminal with a bloodlust after a month on a diet of quail and manna? Execution may have fit the crime 5,000 years ago, but we have no such excuse today.

It’s fine to disagree with the Pope when he’s actually wrong and spouting nonsense, which he has been known to do (I groan on these occasions; the secondhand embarrassment is strong with this one), but this is not one of those instances. Vengeance does not belong to us as disciples of Jesus Christ anymore than the Mosaic prohibitions on pork and lobster, and just as no one has any business telling a Catholic that bacon and delicious butter-swimmin’ sea seabugs are verboten, so no man can say that capital punishment is our Christian duty, doctrinally or secularly. You can never make a good out of answering evil with evil (Isaiah 5:2), and killing is always evil, regardless of who the victim is. Even a murderer is a child of GOD, made in His image, belonging to Him alone. We have no right, no divine directive, to destroy His creation. Unless it’s to make bacon. I’m sorry, but bacon is just the best proof we have that GOD loves us and wants us to be happy, and we could never have that ecstasy if Catholics were bound under Torah. Thanks be to GOD for the Gospel, which has freed us from kushrat and killing our brothers!


Miki Shiverick
Three Graces Farm

Making Hay Whilst the Sun Shines

“The woman does not work because the man tells her to work and she obeys. On the contrary, the woman works because she has told the man to work and he hasn’t obeyed.”

~G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With the World

The last argument I had with the person I “married” before he left me (without admitting that that was what he was doing) began with him telling me late one night about all of the imaginary awards he was going to win for projects he hadn’t even begun to work on, whilst I (in a prickly hot sweat) was sitting on the bedroom floor adding up the new stack of bills in my lap and comparing the total to what I didn’t have in the bank to cover them. I lost my temper and cried.

“Tell me,” he said, “Tell me what I need to do to make you happy.”

“Get a job! My answer is the same now as it’s been for the past two years: stop sitting on your ass living in your computer’s Neverland and exchanging text messages with my best friend, and get a freaking job! I don’t care what it is, just help me pay the bills so that I can stop being stressed to the gills 24/7. You want me to be happy? Do your duty, and be a husband.”

He walked away without a word. A week later he flew out to stay with his parents in Atlanta under the guise of looking for work; a month after being camped out on her sofa in front of Fox News blaring on the television, his sick elderly mother finally took matters into her own hands and got him a job with a landscaper…and two days into this? He yelled at me over the phone, and told me how angry he was that I had “forced” him away from his “destiny” of being a filmmaker, and that working outside under the hot sun “with a bunch of wetback spics” was “demeaning” and “humiliating” and I was an “abusive bitch for emasculating” his manhood this way.

That was the day I learned that I’d not only “married” a closet racist, but a boy who did not understand the sacramental dignity of work. It was also the day I lost most of what respect I had remaining for the person I had yoked myself to.

Yesterday was my wedding anniversary, and it began in the front yard, transplanting feral St. John’s Wort from the unkempt lawn and weeding the front walkway before retreating to the breezy shade of the front porch to scrub pots and pans and season my dutch oven. It’s been three years plus a month since that nasty conversation, and I chuckled at the memory of it. Where would I be had he not left? I shudder to think.

Manual labour is one of those things that all too often gets mislabeled as boring drudgery, but there is a certain freedom in work. When your hands are occupied, your imagination is free to roam, and you are creating physical order whilst ideas emerge inbidden. That’s the secret of work: it’s not just one thing…it’s multifaceted, and has secret benefits that you cannot know until you land upon them.

I like this part of life. The sweet, clean breeze around me, the sunshine on my back whilst I yank out long self-braided tendrils of morning glory and set fat dandelion taproots aside to dry for Winter coffee, and my mind meanders down the winding road of possibilities for projects that I want to create for my own fun and frivolity. Tonight, after I’ve taken all the recycling to the dump, I’m going to be making a watercoloured box from a sheet of handmade paper I found in a long forgotten box the other day. I saw it already finished in my head whilst I was absently chewing on lambsquarters leaves as I ripped their feetsies from the earth.

I had an awesome anniversary yesterday. The first one, actually, since that whole mess began. Who would have thought that such a simple thing as pulling weeds could turn out to be the best gift I could have given me. 😉

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