When You Feel Well

I absolutely hate it when people say “I feel good.” Good is chocolate chip pumpkin bread still warm from the oven, spread with a fat dollop of freshly made butter. Good is finding out that you ran a $20 bill (that you really need) through the washer and it survived. I have the same reaction to the word “good” as a descriptor of emotional stasis as my daddy has to the word “fine.” It sets my teeth to grinding; it’s just nuts.

Except for the smell of a dead deer getting ready to explode behind the house (which I did not find until today), the last four days at Chez Verdant on the Hill have been heaven on earth: 50°F days filled with sunshine and no wind meant that the chickens get to roam free from dawn to dusk for most of the week, and that the ground is still soft enough to pull up grazing stakes and move them to virgin pasture. It meant being able to mix up 250lbs of Winter feed rations out on the porch and move it all to the bins in the barn without horrible pain in cold hands. And it meant composting the remaining cardboard boxes I’ve been unpacking in the house – I hate cardboard boxes more than I hate communists; that should tell you something.

Today was so much fun, I even made a new batch of Kailua (half moonshine, half rum, extra strength coffee syrup reduction with tinctured Mexican vanilla bean) on the stove whilst I worked on all my other weekend chores. It was a good day, and I felt well. I felt healthy and strong and settled and genuinely productive for the first time in many months. Not happy, necessarily, but much better than I did on this day three years ago, or last year, for that matter.

I’ve had this ongoing exercise in gratitude going on for quite some time now, forcing myself to acknowledge at least one thing everyday – no matter how small or insignificant, no matter how bad the day has been – to be thankful for. A wise man once told me that this is the way to not want to die, and he was right. Today was the very first day in a long, long time that I woke up and wasn’t disappointed or angry about it.

I am well, and it doesn’t suck. Imagine that.

Farm Life in Times of Stress

Yesterday afternoon the wind chill fell from 33°F to 17°F before I realised it. As dusk fell, I heard the goats calling to each other whilst I was journalling, and I thought that all was well. An hour later, fattening night ration prepared, I went to bring Calypso into the barn first, but found her lying prostrate on her side, legs straight and stiff, clearly hypothermic. It was that awful, sickening feeling, when you accuse yourself of being a horrible steward, and pray to GOD not to smite you, and not to lose the beastie you are responsible for.

I brought her into the house without a lead or a tieout, holding on to just one horn as I walked her around the house and up the stairs, and she didn’t even try to fight me. Wrapped her in my fleece barn jacket, laid her on the kitchen floor, and went to rummage through my bathroom stash to find a couple of clean syringes before turning up the thermostat, opening the vent, and shutting the bathroom door. With a quart jar of warm water shaken with a teaspoon of sea salt, I spent twenty minutes shooting water down her throat until I heard her stomach start to gurgle (thanks be to GOD!), and then I laid down beside her on the kitchen floor and started rubbing her down under the thick jacket to stimulate her blood flow and warm her up.

She didn’t really move except in shivers for about three hours and during that time, still lying on the kitchen floor, I called Nancy to let her know that I wasn’t really confident how things would go overnight, Calypso was still so listless; I didn’t want to have to call her later and tell her that I had managed to kill her miracle goat who had survived two months alone on her own in just one afternoon of carelessness….

I put an old down comforter down on the bathroom floor, carried her in, and then went back outside to get Butch, who had been yelling at me for hours since he had first seen me bring his girlfriend into the house. The dogs were very concerned, and whined as I brought pinestraw in from the barn, and a feedbucket in from my messy porch, filled it with bath-warm salt-spiked water and put it in a milk crate (to keep it from being tipped by Butch the Bad) before taking it to the bathroom for both goats which was, by now, the warmest room in the house. I could think of nothing more annoyingly stimulating for a stiff, cold nanny than to be forcibly snuggled by a hot, smelly billie.

It’s times like this that I wish I subscribed to a newspaper, and I made a mental note several times over that a cotton-clad down comforter can be composted, and all carpetless floors and walls can be scrubbed down and mopped clean. I spent the night cleaning the house and watching movies to keep myself awake, so that I could repeatedly set the timer to make hourly visits to the bathroom to check on the ruminants, swipe spinning spoonfuls of molasses under Calypso’s tiny silvery-grey tongue, and make sure there was more water gone from the untipped bucket.

The hallway reeks of goat this morning. My heart hurts from worry, and my head hurts from sleeplessness. We all made it through the night, and Calypso is standing on her own looking no worse for wear, though my bathroom will need to be fumigated, possibly burned to the ground. My nanny kid (I keep having to remind myself that she is not yet a yearling) will be spending the rest of the Winter locked in the barn unless the sun is shining and there is no wind; she just doesn’t have the fat layer she needs to sustain herself outside. Pity, too, because Alpines are so good at foraging in snow, but I’m not willing to risk it. I’ve lost too much the past few years to even take a chance, and the very real idea of losing an animal to cold is just too horrible to bear.

This morning, I put Butch back outside early so that he’d stop making a racket climbing the toilet to look out the window. I didn’t used to be sentimental about stock animals, but I’m obviously getting soft with age. So I sat in the stinky bathroom whilst the perplexed dogs whined in the hallway, and marvelled over the Wonder Goat who seems to be so nearly indestructible, and shed a few tears of relief before trying to sleep for a bit before moving Calypso up to the barn to be shut in for the duration, and feed the chickens.

I can do this. I’m tired, but I’ve still got it. I just need to remember that anything can happen, and being overprotective is always better than laxity. Just never trust the weather; it knows no mercy.

When You’re Wrong, You’re *WRONG*….How I Was Nearly Killed Today.

The morning after I brought Calypso home, I noticed that she’s lame; her rear right leg is heavily favoured. We’ll never know if this happened whilst she was on the lam (<giggles> I amuse myself…), or if she injured herself destroying Nancy’s garage/prison, but one way or another, I’ve got to baby her until it heals. Which is why what I did today was just stupid beyond imagining. Like, STOOpid stupid. After doing my best leaving her alone to settle in and calm down this past week, I threw her down and pinned her yesterday to take care of her hooves, check her teeth out, spray her down for lice, and feel her up for broken bones or dislocations, and she let me do it all without too much of a fight. All is well. So, today seemed like a perfectly good day – being that it was warm enough to sit out in the orchard for longer than an hour without wanting to cry – to let Butch get close enough to do more than sniff out the new nanny. Oh, dear GOD in Heaven, was I mistaken.

See, I’m twelve. I don’t give a flying rat’s ass how many bullshit mailings the AARP sends me, saying that I’m now allegedly ancient enough to qualify for Old People’s Insurance plans, I’m *twelve*. Get it? End of story. But there are days when my fat, overheated, perpetually injured body swears otherwise, and a day like today, when the ground is slick and soggy from snowmelt, and I’m on an inclined patch of pasture that’s been chewed down to nubbins, just happens to be one of those days. Seems like an ideal offortunity [sic] to try and get myself killed. And I didn’t make it up to the orchard to do it, either. Actually, I didn’t even get more than twenty feet from the damned barn.

So, there I am, thinking I’m being so freaking smart about this; I clipped a grazing line around my waist, and hooked the other end of it to Calypso’s collar so that she couldn’t bolt whilst my hands were free, and then I started dragging her slowly up the hill (I’ve become convinced that she might be half mule; she does such a great impression of one) and, just as I’m thinking I’ve got this shit under control, Butch busts clean off his line up above and comes screaming, googly-eyed down the hillside like his hair is on fire. Of course, this startles the still-skittish nanny goat, who takes off behind me and heads back in the general direction of the barn, yanking me off my feet and onto my back head first, whilst being simultaneously trampled by a sex-starved billie goat who seems to have forgotten who has thumbs and primary access to the big steel can filled with his coveted treats. Chickens scattered, dogs yelped and ran for cover. From there, it was just a noisy, screaming flurry of stabby horns and sharp, pointy hooves….I think I know now why Jesus likened the devil to a goat. I’ve met him, and he is pure hedonist evil.

So, then, holding on for dear life, trying – and not succeeding – to right myself and get the hell out of the way whilst Butch loses his everloving mind trying to mount the only woman standing [read: rolling in the mud] betwixt him and his future baby mama. Oh, dear GOD, put that back inside! I mean it! And stop kicking me, you dumbass!

Calypso, being the intelligent one in this three-way wrestling match, had the good sense to lie down, be still and play dead and I decided that this might be my only chance to avoid losing an eye, so I did the same. Butch turned away from me, and started pawing at what he hoped would be a match made in purgation, bleating and bawling at her limp carcass like a drunken, enraged linebacker trying to get it on with a coked-up stripper, then finally got bored, calmed down, and wandered off to graze. I decided that this was our chance to get the hell away from him…I thought wrong.

I’m covered in mud. My hair is plastered in mud, the right side of my face is caked in it, My clothes are heavy and wet. There’s even mud inside my barn boots. I’m going to have to hose myself and this stuff down before I put anything in the washer. So, I finally get my feet under me, and I’m so sore; I feel like I’ve been beaten with a shovel. That’s when I realised I was bleeding, as a hot, heavy stream trickled down the back of my head and down my neck, and I reached up to touch…that’s not blood. Oh, for fuck’s sake! I just got dumped on by a horny goat…AND HERE HE COMES AGAIN!

I heard the pounding hooves before I saw him and sat down hard just in time to miss being bowled over by the charging psycho maniac, who aggressively mounted the poor mewling Calypso, who stood up trembling, then cowered beside me, and then it happened….

Remember how I said I hate the smell of bucks? Yeah, well, this is why. That damned goat stood right beside me and sprayed me down like a overgrown tomcat. In the face. Repeatedly. >: (

So, there I am in the mud, rolled over on my belly, one goat hitched to my waist, one grasped by his broken tether in one hand, covered in mud, semen, blood and fresh, potent goat stench, gagging, nose pouring, hurling and dry-heaving on my hands and knees – Baby whining at a safe distance after I yelled at him to stay away – stinging onion tears rolling down my icky face where I’d been caught by one particularly nasty stream of naughty. Asphyxiation. Oh, my Lord, it reeks! The humanity! Have you been saving this up??? What the everloving hell??? Your treats are gone for a month, Mister! No more molasses balls or gumdrops for you! Damned billie goat….

I layed in the mud for what felt like eternity, gulping in deep hoarse gobs of damp air, trying to catch my breath to not be sick, and snapped a couple of photos (Nancy asked for them) before I tied that bastard to a nearby branch and limped down behind the house with Calypso in tow. I stripped out of my clothes and tethered her to the T-post I drove in last Spring so that I can find the septic vent in tall grass, before pulling the cover off and jumping into the clean, cold cistern above…I’ll bleed and flush it out tomorrow; it shouldn’t be this full anyway, with snow on the way…. I’ve never been so grossed out in my life.

I’ve decided that I’m going to keep the nanny here for a few days, right outside my back bedroom window where I can keep an easy close eye on her whilst we both recover from our shared trauma; the grass is tall and lush here over the leach field, and will keep her busy, happy and quiet whilst the weather holds. I’ve been supplementing her pasture with alfalfa pellets and sweet feed spiked with rolled oats, sea salt and extra molasses to boost her minerals and put some fast fatty weight on her before it gets really cold. I’m just dumbfounded that a beast who can’t possibly weigh more than forty pounds managed to knock me clean off my feet. I’m going to have to work more on my strength and balance, because I want her to weigh in at a solid 70 – 80 pounds by Spring, and I’m not keen on getting dragged around. No one needs to be sickly, here; I can’t afford the vet bill, or an emergency room visit, for that matter. Not only that, but I intend on making buddy-buddy with this willful thing over the Winter, and the next time she gets charged by an oversexed buck, I expect her to kick his fool ass, preferably before I get used as a boot-scraped doormat. Damned smelly goat….

Streamlining Possessions…Like Movies??? Ebay is My New Hub.

Life is messy, and death is annoying. Stuff is torture.

I’m not really certain why a librarian would want to own THOUSANDS of DVDs, but one of the things Mavis left to me when she ran off to the Great Cat Rescue in the Sky was more than 15,000 movies (not kidding; one of our friends counted them as she packed them). And there’s only one thing that’s more annoying than plastic in my house: selling the plastic taking up space in my house. I actually *own* exactly one DVD…I’m considering listing it. There’s a reason why GOD invented streaming. Electronic files. I love them.

I’ve been selling Mavis Ann’s movie collection on Ebay because a lady at Half Price Books told me that I was ripping myself off giving them away to them. But it’s soooo slow.

Like movies??? I keep adding more. And since speaking to Ebay customer service, I’m pretty sure I’m now allowed to post 5,000 of these things at a time (it was 50 total, with no way to add more each month unless others sold). So that’s what I’m doing…every freaking day.

Dirt cheap. Buy them all. Please!!! I’m begging you. Spread it around! Email a link to your cousin Guido! I want them out of my hair.

Proceeds are being used for soaping supplies, animal feed, and heating oil for my stupid piggy furnace. And (bonus!) the sooner they’re all gone, the sooner I’ll have space to unpack my books. My beloved, beautiful, sweet-smelling musty old books….I miss them so much.

Look here, check back often, help me unload this stuff asap:

MikiDaShrew’s Ebay Nonesense

The Accidental Nanny Goat

A few weeks ago I drove up to Youngstown to collect my weaned goat sire, build a half-assed milk stantion in trade – that has since been painted a rockin’ shade of hopeful kelly green – and spend the rest of the day searching for a missing milking dam. Except for coming up empty on the goat hunt, it was actually a profitably good day that ended with me finding a local source for $1 square bales of beautiful, fragrant virgin hay.

The big story that eventually unfolded, though, went that the nanny was bought at the auction the month before I knew about her, and she eloped the moment the car door was opened in the driveway (I’ve transported live cows stuffed into the back seat of a Ford Escort; this is a more common potentially-lethal occurrence than you realise. Hold my mason jar of ‘shine and stand over there…I’ll show you…). Of course, I didn’t know that she’d been missing for a month, already, until I’d spent a couple of hours driving up and down railroad tracks and pasture access roads searching for her. So, I secretly told myself that she’d been eaten by coyotes, and I told her tender-hearted owners how best to coax her into the herd enclosure “when she [came] around,” before I took Butch home to mow my messy acreage. And, then, I promptly forgot about her.

This past Sunday, I’m told, the police called. Turns out that this miraculous marauding nanny had not only survived out in the world all alone, she had recently ensconced her scraggly emaciated, dehydrated self with a commercial sheep herd ten miles away from her would-have-been home, and the rancher in charge wanted her picked up post haste. Not long after, I got a call and a flurry of messages from my frantic friend asking how to get a wild, pissed-off NOT-A-TINY-PYGMY goat to eat and drink. The simple answer to this question is you don’t. Not until she calms down and decides she wants to. But I offered to my tired, exasperated friend that they could drop her off at my place, and I’d work on her for a few of weeks to tame her down again for them. My friend’s husband immediately threw up the white flag of surrender without any hesitation.

I ended up going back up to their place yesterday to rescue the rogue goat from her perceived jailors. By the time I arrived this go around, she had trashed their car, their garage where they had her thankless bony ass quarantined, and obliterated several perfectly good bales of hay and a seriously pricy lawn mower in the process of raging against the looming prospect coerced domesticity; I was tempted to call her Eliza. She had also injured my friend in a fit of thrashing anarchist’s fury (hence my trip to them), and when I arrived, my friend’s husband met me at the truck with a stern look and a wagging finger and told me that this goat is “just no good” and he doesn’t want me bringing her back. Why? Because she doesn’t want to be loved on…. <le sigh> Patience of Job, that one.

After spending the better part of the past three years on my own in the forests, I get exactly where this goat is coming from. People are freaking scary, man. And life is not a damned bit of fun when you’re forced into confined spaces and have to wear clothes all the time…or a collar. So I stuck around whilst my friend did a couple of loads of my laundry for me (to make space in the truck) whilst I made nicey-nice with the feral eloper in short visits, and caught her twice to hold her stabby, horny head whilst the visiting veterinarian did a physical, inspected the long, hairless wound healing along her spine where she had torn the skin off going under a fence somewhere not long ago, and dewormed her. Hours later, after I vaccinated my friend’s shy, rather angry cat (the vet had left long before), we ate together, and my laundry was dry, we loaded the goat into the back of my truck, and I drove her home, radio blaring, Baby whining with concern, in the moonless, starless night without killing anything but Peter Rabbit’s distant fifth cousin, thrice removed. Poor bunny.

I didn’t realise until after midnight last night, when I was reclining with the dogs on the cool, grassy hillside above the house with the strong, rich smell of doe on my hands and skirts, and foehn-feeling winds blowing over us under the deep, roiling sky, just how much I have been missing all of my animals. I love the smell of does (not bucks…*gross*) almost as much as I love the smell of cattle…which I love almost as much as the smell of fresh horse sweat, which is almost, but not quite, as intoxicating as the divine scent of Spring lambing that carries for miles, which is right up there with the heavenly odors of pine forests on hot days, orange trees in fresh bloom, a butt-polished saddle, new-mown hay and angelica wine. It’s not just the smell of farm animals that is home to me, but the feel of them, too; the way they lean into you like a fence post when they show their trust, and lie alongside your lap with their heavy, sweet breath filling the space when they want to nap with you. The rhythm of daily feedings, the sound of water being poured from buckets into waterers and troughs, the sound and feel of the rasp when you’re trimming hooves and capping horns, the growing, radiant heat of birthing – all of it is just warm, sedate, and pregnant with quiet purpose. It amazes me, in moments like these, that society has grown so divorced from the land because the older I get, the more aware I am that I cannot be comfortable apart from it for very long. Cities may glow and twinkle, but it’s a cold, false light that fades to a hardened, sterile grey when the sun comes up; concrete will never be as inviting or as useful as forest litter and sweet, fragrant hummus.

The one great thing I realised last night is that this nanny goat, who lost her original harness and lead ages ago whilst running amok, has managed to keep a USDA herd tag in her ear, and it dawned on me whilst watching the heavy sculpted clouds sail on that the USDA keeps registration records on livestock for 20 years minimum so, early this morning, I called the State of Ohio USDA commissioner to do a herd search. This girl is less than two years old. She’s a purebred French Alpine milk doe with a superior papered pedigree and has yet to be bred. How the hell did she end up at auction? I don’t know, and I don’t care. French Alpines do incredibly well in extreme temperatures, love hills and are skilled at harvesting buried winter forage without destroying the turf…I’ve seriously lucked out. This is a valuable goat, capable of producing the media for some of the finest yogurt and cheese on the planet. If I take care of her well, she can be producing for the next decade or more.

…I went out to water everybody around noon, and Baby and I sat under the ancient, gnarled orchard trees betwixt Butch and the nanny, who still visibly shook with that now-familiar wild-eyed panic when she first spotted me coming up the hillside. The secret to making friends with any animal is something that I learned early on as a preschooler when Daddy taught me to fish at Cripple Creek: sit very still on the big-rocked bank, be very quiet, and watch the wind in the sparkling evergreens instead of the racing water; let them come to you by touch, and when they do, reel them in without hurry. It could take hours, it might be minutes, it all depends on how likeable you are, and that you don’t spook them. There’s an additional step to making friends with livestock, and I was still very young when I learned this, too, but I don’t think anyone ever told me, I just picked it up by instinct whilst wandering around like a fearless idiot amongst the heifers in the dry cow pastures near our house: sit or stand very still so that you’re at eye level, keep your open hands soft and slow, avert your gaze but pay attention, and when they bring their face close to yours, take a deep breath, and exhale through pursed lips long and low directly into their nostrils so that they can pick up your true scent; keep doing this until they’re satisfied and relax their stance. That’s when they decide that you’re safe to be with. When they get to the point that they’ll turn their backs to you to graze, or lie down in your presence, you know that you’ve been adopted.

I made friends with the rogue nanny goat on this blustery day today whilst the sun shone cold. My fingers were stiff and aching, my cheeks stung with tears, and my ears burned like fire by the time she determined that I wasn’t really a monster, I just resemble one from afar. She willingly followed me and Butch to the barn tonight without a fight – which did surprise me, as I was certain it would take at least a week to get her in there at all – and she let me tether her to the loadbeam before lying down in the deep straw to chew her cud and rest until tomorrow. All is well, for now….

I’ve named her Calypso. It means “she who hides.” It’s weird to think you have a lot in common with a goat, but I do.

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: https://patents.google.com/patent/US6630507B1/en). 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.

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