Tag Archives: home

on love, loss, and living: scenes from a hopeful past

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Prelude.

“He comes to you and you are a white door full of bright light to be stepped through, open to him always, and illuminated. With him, you glow, shimmer and shine before your eyes through the dark and the breathing.” 11/25/08

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“First snowfall yesterday morning- Sunday sleet stuck around, and became an overnight blizzard. Not so bad… and bright! And all the better for snuggling. My mind is already planning next year’s gardens… Garfield Park fire escapes, rooftops, whisky barrels, and squatted lots… and already you’re mentally sorting your possessions, what will stay, what will go… with you and him and into the future- a bright beautiful hopeful soothing promise of a string of tomorrows, like bright beads on a strand of days spent waking with your beloved.” 12/02/08

Years pass. Rising.

“Winter has nosed past the long fall, now oddly warm days have gone and the cold outside has descended, a numbing chill that stabs at bare flesh. And so you burrow into blankets and new books, and blot out the freezing outer world, and retreat into the comfort of words and stories, mostly agricultural. There is soap to be made, and balms, and endless baskets of sewing, things to be photographed, cataloged, posted, and sold, chickens to feed and ice to break from buckets and waterers, apples withering, waiting in the chill to be turned into pies and sauce, preserved in jars for future hungers, fish to be fed, greens to sow and snip, manuals to be written and a story to be told. You’re writing it as you go along, but yearn for a quiet and spare orderly place to work on them in. I’d daydreamed yesterday, while reading farmer stories, of taking the laptop to the cabin, lighting a fire, making tea, and working there, free from the ever-present internet temptation, there where I could plug in but safely unplugged.

Falling.

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And then I walked into the house. It was bitterly cold outside, and there was still a solid core of ice in the chicken waterer that had sat in the sink in the unheated house all day, though a space heater hummed under the cabinet below to thaw the pipes. Every surface was covered, with tools or screws and parts and dirt. Broken drywall strips leaned on the wall by the stove, and would all have to be moved, as would the too-close bins of scrap wood and kindling on the other side, as well as the things on top of the stove itself before I could even think of lighting a fire. It all seemed so overwhelming and oppressive. And as I looked at the chaos, the clutter and the sheer volume and weight of the project before us, first slow, then fast tears slid down my cheeks, hot, then quickly cold as they met the chill of the air inside. I wiped them away and looked for an empty chair, and not finding one pushed back a box so that I could at least perch on the front of one and let myself sob for a second, then was quickly calm. It would get done. Besides, I had to go home soon, back to the studio, and I had to knock it off or my face would freeze on the two block ride back from the house. The fella would be home and wrap me up in a big bear hug and we’d try to make a plan. We spent the evening cleaning and sorting piles at the studio, and made a tiny dent in the disarray. Bit by bit…”

 

Rising.
Reassuring images come back- it is late summer, and we are sitting at night on the back porch, our back porch, ringed with potted peppers and petunias and the green trees are dancing as a storm blows in. We sit in silence, watching the rain begin slowly and then blot out everything in thick blowing sheets. I thank him, for this moment, this place… making it possible.  I feel a sense of deep calm, so blessed to be watching the trees sway, the heart-leaved cottonwood rustle, the air electric, and all of it ours.

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Falling.
I’m not quite sure where home is sometimes, or where I belong. A part of me yearns for the patch of land where I grew up, where the ghosts of my greats and grandparents wander the empty fields, like lost cattle out on the red clay and fescue, rambling but rooted there for over a century… and for my father, brothers, family… but outside of that small comforting refuge of an idea is a larger community that bears little resemblance to the place I’d like to imagine going home to- sprawling, suburban, stripmallish and tacky. Shiny trucks and suv’s doing no real work, four-lane highways between everything and everyone in a hurry. Walmart and Tyson own every damn town, every store, job, working farm… and so I return to the city from each visit, and feel some semblance of relief of having arrived “home” again, here where my bike waits to convey me through the somewhat-familiar grid, and where friends and like-minded folks get together at late-night gatherings in backyards and around bonfires over good food and homemade beer… and yet… here still life churns at breakneck pace, days and weekends scheduled weeks in advance, always things to do and never any time to sit and listen, for being still, and above all, not enough space.

Rising.
As much as I love parties and company, I also have a contrary side which just wants room, and quiet, and to be able to go for a damn walk without seeing anyone, or especially without getting hollered at and constantly feeling in your pocket for the knife or can of mace reassuringly placed there… I know I would not be happy in isolation, but sometimes I crave it, especially now in this crowded loft that is mostly his, for the proverbial room of one’s own, and a dog, which he really doesn’t understand and you’re not sure he ever will. On some level, you’re closer now than ever before in this city to having the home you crave, a patch of dirt and a quiet spot where you can feel safe, and secure, and to think and plan ahead without starting over and over and over constantly on a new patch of rented or squatted ground. But for all its comforting sureness, it’s still so small, and the lot to the west of the house still such a sliver of uncertainty… and though you have his word and know his heart on many levels, still you are not married, to him or thus to the land, the house… and when he jokes that you could move out any time, really, if you’re not happy with the way things are it cuts deep into that core of dread and uncertainty, that he will leave you like the others, that you will prove unreliable and unloveable ultimately. And your rational mind recognizes these fears as unfounded, absurd, untrue, but they remain there, ready to spring upon you without warning, quickening your breath, heart racing irrationally with fear of losing everything you’ve grown and grown to love.

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Falling.
Ever the anachronism, I’m not sure I’ll ever really fit here the way things are. As I struggled with the bucket full of water yesterday, carrying it out the front door, around the yard and house, over the temporary barrier in the gangway set up to keep the chickens in the back yard, and then to the coop in the farthest corner of the yard, I wished I could have just gone out the back door, so simple… but not, barricaded with a heavy steel pry-bar propped against an unhung solid wood door, which was propped against the locked proper door, and behind all that, a scissor-gate was padlocked securely across. I thought of the home I’d grown up in, doors unlocked, indeed, unlockable even… of how “locking” the front door meant hooking the screen door eyelet, the back door almost always left open. We were latch-key kids without need of keys, at a place where my granny could watch from her kitchen window and just see when we got off the schoolbus at the crest of the next hill, where the biggest dangers were the bull in the field, the muddy pond, or crossing the street for the mail- our rural route now a two-lane highway that dead-ended into the lake a few miles from our house.
And now I live in a place where I also can hear gunshots at night, but they’re not coonhunters out with their dogs, treeing some critter, or practicing with their new deer rifle, but possibly people dying on either end of the bang over something small. I yell at people in the street who cavalierly toss their litter over their shoulders as they walk, without hesitating or missing a step… and I pick up bags of it that blow into our unkempt garden on a squatted city lot- chip bags, paper wrappers, styrofoam, shopping bags, cans, condom wrappers, mcdonalds bags, hypodermic needles, and with each piece my resentment grows. I try to stay light and cheerful but it weighs on me. No place is perfect or immune- when I was a child, we’d clean our chosen lake spot and each time (though we were often there every day in the heat of the summer, even the tepid water a welcome relief from the torpor of an Arkansas August without AC) we would find fresh beer bottles, soda cans, hotdog wrappers, tangled fishing line and soiled diapers. I still can’t comprehend the elan with which some folks fling their spent filth and detritus, but here on the west side in a rundown neighborhood wracked with poverty, the sheer volume of it overwhelms me. It’s depressing and I can’t possibly stop it all. I’m a minority here, an outsider who will never really belong. I dream of raising pigs with my chickens, and dairy goats and whole orchards full of fruit trees… and yet I don’t want to be forced to rely on a car to get around, don’t want to be isolated from the community of folks I’ve grown to love. I don’t want to leave this life and my comfortable things behind, but also dream of an utterly different life- but who doesn’t?” 5/6/2012

Denouement:

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And now here we are, exactly where in some ways I’d feared I might end up.  And you know what?  So what.  I had hoped to not have to start again, but what is life if it is not always beginning?  When you stop creating your world anew each day, you’re dead.  I fought and struggled against this outcome for so long… trying to keep those dreams alive and at what cost?  No place, no person, is worth giving up your self, your spirit, and your sense of worth, to always acquiesce, to accept without comment or question.  I admire confidence, and being capable, but hubris and too much machismo,  not sexy.  And so I’d stopped feeling, gone numb, tiptoed on hollow eggshells…  No more.  Girl, life is for living.  And look at you go!  Shhh… stay. It’s alright. I may not know where I’m going or how I’ll get there- but I know how I’ll start- one step at a time.  Each day.  It starts with work, for others but also for yourself.  It starts with striving, with action and a plan, and the grace to adapt when life has other plans than you’d considered.

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neighborly soup and gestures

This week has been filled with laughter and hospitality.  My gal B called me on Monday asking if I was home, and if I had any adult beverages.  But of course.  The fella owns the kegerator, so I’ve had to start getting creative with the bar lately.  I pulled out a cheat sheet and looked at my available ingredients- since we primarily drank beer, our bar is a mish-mash collection of liqueors and odds and ends… but I had orange juice in the fridge, and spotted a giant bottle of tequila a friend brought to a party last year, and an ancient bottle of grenadine… I told her the options were mystery wine from the cellar (probably homemade, possibly good, possibly terrible) or a shaker of tequila sunrises.  “Tequila! Sunrise!” she replies. She lost a lot of her stuff to a space heater fire a month or two ago, and is just starting to get moved back in after splitting her time between her folks’ place up north and her fellow’s apartment a few blocks away, and was feeling a little overwhelmed by the work to be done at home.  A not-at-all unfamiliar feeling, so I was happy to help provide a little liquid courage.

She’d bought some new houseplants to inject a little life and green into the space, done some rearranging and sprucing up, erasing and replacing charred memories, and we both agreed her place was looking pretty good!  I poured us both a couple of drinks which echoed the brilliant ruby tones in the upholstery on her new cushions, and we leaned back and had a lovely conversation.  She also fairly recently went through a painful break-up with a not-entirely-dissimilar man and it’s always encouraging to see someone else not too far from your situation, thriving.  We share tales that lend perspective… such as her mom asking her, of her former partner, “Do you remember how X would come over in the afternoon and have a jumbo cup of soda from 7-11 and he wouldn’t offer us any… because it was half vodka?”  And we’d both laugh knowingly… and she’d look at me and say, “Yeah… that’s not normal.  And we don’t have to deal with it anymore”.

This girl’s spunk and spirit always get me out of whatever funk I might be in… one of a million reasons I’m as torn up about leaving the house eventually, as it’s so close to her place, and I’d looked forward to years of similar spontaneous hang-outs.   I’d love to buy it but I’m certain he won’t sell it, especially now that one of his best friends just closed on the house next door… I’d asked the first time around if he would, when we split up back in April (when B had already bought the house across the street), and he said he loved this house from the first moment he walked in the door, had done way too much work to part with it, and how would I ever finish it on my own?  Though of course when it was convenient and we were arguing, he’d say he’d never have bought it if it wasn’t for me, I’d “tricked him” into a giant project that wasn’t what he’d have chosen and wasn’t helping him enough, blaming me for all of the hardship and difficulty… which, since he owns it, and I get to walk away from the work that I put in to the house and garden, I don’t buy for one minute.  His default response when we had disagreements was “if you don’t like it you can always move out…”.  There was no negotiation, no discussion, no give-and-take… just my-way-or-the-highway.  It’s all the more motivation to get my game together and figure out how to get my own place (before the damn speculating investors buy up everything from here to the expressway… urgh. Stop. It.).  But this girl is in control of her own destiny.  Look out!

Some neighbors to the south invited me over on Tuesday for a soup supper- goulash (in honor of their recent trip to Belarus).  Spent the evening around their kitchen table chatting with some old friends and making new ones, and lots of laughs… and as always, I am blown away by what dynamic, compassionate, eloquent and interesting people who live in a three to five block radius of me.  We shared stories, of breakup disasters and squirrel-i-cide, of world travels and butterfly gardens, rain barrel maintenance and litterer-confrontation catastrophes, and lots of deep-belly laughs.

Last night, around another table, with the VK’s, another neighbor who stopped by with a freshly-repaired guitar (“no charge… but I’m going to drink some of your beers”), and one of their fellow homeschooling moms whose unrented and vacant condo had just suffered catastrophic pipe freeze-thaw-flood damage.  She’d discovered the disaster yesterday, and of course after calling her husband, her first call was Mrs. VK… because the woman knows how to get things done.   She got the water shut off, and came up with a triage plan.  Today was the aftermath, waiting for workers to come deal with the larger problems… in the meantime, this woman needed comfort.  “Insurance isn’t paying for anything.  I’m at Home Depot buying an industrial shop vac.  Then I’m coming over.  Your mission is to get me drunk and to have Sweet Home Alabama playing when I show up, and then meet me in the barn”  (she’s from Kansas, don’t judge… and meet me in the barn is code for “I’m going to have a cigarette”- a very occasional vice for her).

Papa VK was making gumbo, with amish chicken and his homemade andouille sausages, and the kitchen filled with layers of spice and delicious smells as he seared the various ingredients, and as the stock slowly simmered on the back burner, bright punctuation notes from the sweet and hot peppers rose above the deeper savory aromas of browning meats and caramelizing vegetables to permeate our conversations with bubbling sizzle.  A bowl of pasta with lemon-cream sauce, red onion brunoise, and capers showed up in front of me, and a couple bottles of beer and then a glass of cava.  More heartfelt laughter and stories… and then a ride home, with a stop on the way at the fella’s place so I could grab my poor banjo that I left out in the backyard while taking a carload of stuff back to the house (thanks for the help, Tree!), and a stop to drop off guitar-repairing neighbor, who loaned his dehumidifier for the Operation Condo-rescue cause.

I’ve made more progress in two days than in the previous two weeks in rearranging the house into a place that I’m delighted rather than dismayed to come home to.  I’m getting the last of my things out of the studio… and mostly down to books and pantry items from the apartment (a chef’s pantry and a bookworm’s library are not a small undertaking to move… but it will get done a bit at a time).  I’ve got long term and short term plans to look forward to, and a few exciting surprises (good things always happen when you’re not looking for them).  I’m nervous, but in the good-butterflies way, not the anxious dread of weeks ago.  I’m going to Barbara and Barbara this afternoon and getting my hair done- it’s been almost exactly a year since my last cut… way too long.  I’m sick of everyday boring braids, about all I can do with it at this length… and i could use some of that confidence boost I remember from the last time- feeling frumpy going in and coming out fabulous.  I’m singing at the top of my lungs in my chilly house… only I and my sleeping dog can hear.  I’m writing, and finding my voice, and remembering all the things I used to love… It feels good.  As Cici said the other day, “Go gettem tiger!”.  You bet.  Grrrrawow!!!

 

 

songs of gratitude

Once again, I’d like to thank my people, for getting me out of the house and back up on it.  Thank you all for being born, and for celebrating those days, and bringing us all together from wherever else we’d been.  I’d also like to thank Dr. J’s lounge, and gin, and Mike’s gin to tonic ratios.  Most of all, thanks to Bobby Blue Bland and Otis and Sam and all the rest of you good souls, who know all about it… you’ve got to hurt before you heal.  I’d like to thank you all for dancing.  Yes, you know who you are, all of you, and especially you…  I would like to thank The Smiths, and This Charming Man.  I would like to thank being in the right place at the right time.  Do you feel better yet?  You bet.  I would like to thank throwing caution to the wind.  Thanks for the lift.  I would like to thank sweat, devil-may-care, and god-damn-it, who got us all to where we are today.  I would like to thank you all for listening, and for playing along.    I would like to thank Zeus, even though it may go to his head.  I would like to get some sleep, and I would like to stay up all night.   I would like to implore you mothers out there, and the papas, teach your baby boys to dance, and to be kind.  I would like to ask the universe to go easy on me for awhile.  I would like to take some chances.  I would like to do what I would like, and I will.  I would like to thank all the people who’ve ever given me a chance to shine.  I would like to give you all a hand, and a hand-up if you ever need it.  This song’s for all y’all.

 

 

 

the vortex and cosmic ordering

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Today, when all the world is deep frozen and drifting, but bright, I sit, the fire at my back, and try to heal. Outside is arctic, a polar vortex of frostbiting winds colder than Siberia, than the south pole, colder even than the dread in your heart.  Cosmic ordering, like The Secret, is simply writing down what you want.  Hell, I’ll try anything these days.  I’ll start with where I am, then get to where I hope to be going.  It’s good advice.

You’re taking a break.

A break from drinking a pot of coffee a day. Too-long to-do lists left yet undone. Unrealistic expectations. Trying to justify my day before I have even entered it. Saying yes always, and I’m sorry too often when I fail, or am slow to succeed, or just have different ideas. Feeling guilty, or burdensome, or afraid. Scratch that- I’m terrified… but also relieved. Relieved to only have my own problems to solve, but grief-stricken and angry and still trying to be productive… in my own way. If that means reading and writing and cooking all day, so be it… no one is going to come home at 5:30 and ask accusingly, “yes, but what did you DO all day?”.  I wrote a few good paragraphs. The ricotta and serviceberry pancakes were delicious. I am glad I spent the time in July, while working two jobs and helping him at night, to go pick and freeze those berries- their nutty blueberry-almond notes, a hint of bitterness to go with the sweet. I tended the fire, and the animals. I did not freeze.  I drank bitter healing tea, and dandelion wine I made in and from the sunshine of several years ago. Dinner will be spaghetti with sausage and homegrown tomato sauce, baked acorn squash with brown sugar and butter for dessert. He can drink his… mine will be better. I’ve missed having dinner… he always wanted a big lunch (leftovers) to eat at his desk, and usually beer only after work. It’s not like you had a table to sit down at together anyway… or you did, but it was always heaped up with his clutter, in spite of your many requests to please please keep it clear.  Now you have three tables.  Sometimes you still eat standing over the stove.

I hated that, but I dealt with it, like everything else, until I was just a shadow in his world, hanging on to the dream that it would all get better with time. Just finish this project, or that one, and those, and then we can just relax and enjoy being together again. It wasn’t always bad. Sometimes it was god-damn amazing, or I wouldn’t have stayed. And we really were so aligned in so many ways, so close to getting it right that it’s heartbreaking to be where you are now… “You’re so close to perfect,” he’d say, deadpan… “why can you just BE perfect?”. Well… because. I’m not. No one is. The fact that you unreasonably expect that of anyone, and can’t let past mistakes go and truly forgive means you’re right; you’re not ready for a partner. Call me when you are, and realize what a mistake you made… maybe I’ll still be around. In the meantime, clear the clutter out of your own head and heart and house, and stop living in the past and for some idea of a perfect future. Stop living for and through things, and learn to let things go. You let me go. I can’t believe that could be easier than paring down physical objects and crap that made it so difficult for you to truly share your space and your life with anyone else. I know you have hurt, deep hurt. The stuff is a crutch. It’s not who you are, and it’s bogging you down. It drove me crazy, and I only lived with it for five and a half years. That’s my only advice. That, and of course, to take care of yourself, and the pup. Rest. Drink water. Eat real food. Cry.  Know that you are loved by many. It won’t make it better but it will keep you strong enough to deal with it.  Hey, it’s working for me… I’m not giving you any advice that I’m not first testing out on myself.

I hold a glimmer of hope that both your ways could still work, dreams still converge, but there would have to be real change in both of you and more forgiveness than many could measure. What you had started out comfortable, like the favourite pair of pants that you want to wear every day. You feel great in these pants, and everyone tells you how perfect they are for you. Put them on, and you can conquer the world. Go anywhere. Try everything. Those pants were with you in some of your best and worst moments. You didn’t always treat them with care, but thought they’d be there for you regardless. But by the end, all that was left was a broken thing that just got more tattered the more you tried to mend it until the threads couldn’t hold the patches together and it all came apart. Now that you’re naked, it’s cold, but you wouldn’t even think of going back there (there is no “there” there), but sometimes dream of making a new thing together better than what we had- take the good pattern and inspiration you started with (altered to fit the shapes you are now), and more durable fabric, and take them to an exceptional tailor. Forget about the holes, the duct tape patches, the worn places and heartache and stains on the last pair you two made… but it takes a lot of time to make something exceptional by hand, and not many folks are left who remember how to do the work. You are willing to make changes, but not if you are the only one.  It’s not a perfect metaphor.  It’s your whole world we’re talking about here, not a stupid pair of pants.  But you get the idea.

I will not settle for conditional love, for one that wants me in health but not in sickness. I’m holding out for one that puts a proper value on care and nurture, for putting the “home” into homesteading, and that values all the traditionally devalued “women’s work”. You may have brought home the bacon, but I cured it, smoked it, sliced it, tended it in the pan and then did the washing up.  I deserve kindness, and patience, and most of all, respect. For someone to believe that the work that I do, that I can do, has value and equal merit… for my partner to want what I have to offer and not what they think that I should. The difference is everything.

You hope, and you still love, but you’re not holding your breath. You are holding on to your dreams, at least the ones you can do for yourself… putting your heart back in your work (and you’re back at work, which feels so good). Trying to figure out where you’re going to land after this freefall, and how best to steer to get there. Outside, the polar vortex blasts half the country with frigid gusts. Inside, you try not to drift into that dark spiral of heartache and loss, the void and nausea. See it, yes. Touch it, carefully. Try to know it, without falling in. Feet firmly planted on the floor, hands at work, hope, always. Remember all the other kinds of love… your dog is ever faithful, and you are his world. Family, friends, neighbors, all there for you… and of course, the love for yourself. This glorious world we all walk around it, with all its imperfections and many flaws, like each of us, beautiful. You can’t change the whole thing. Just the important parts… and we each get to decide what the important parts are. Isn’t that grand? Now get started!

Polar vortex preview

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Did a late round of chores last night to try to get ahead of this storm… Zeus helped, in his fashion… Tearing through the snowdrifts as I took bedding and water to the hens, snuggled the beehive with strawbales, and filled the wood bin… Batten down the hatches, folks.  More snow on the way all day, then negative 46ish windchills on Monday. Shudder.

Of weasels and rings

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I would like to learn, or remember, how to live. I come to Hollins Pond not so much to learn how to live as, frankly, to forget about it. That is, I don’t think I can learn from a wild animal how to live in particular–shall I suck warm blood, hold my tail high, walk with my footprints precisely over the prints of my hands?–but I might learn something of mindlessness, something of the purity of living in the physical sense and the dignity of living without bias or motive. The weasel lives in necessity and we live in choice, hating necessity and dying at the last ignobly in its talons. I would like to live as I should, as the weasel lives as he should. And I suspect that for me the way is like the weasel’s: open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will.

I missed my chance. I should have gone for the throat. I should have lunged for that streak of white under the weasel’s chin and held on, held on through mud and into the wild rose, held on for a dearer life. We could live under the wild rose wild as weasels, mute and uncomprehending. I could very calmly go wild. I could live two days in the den, curled, leaning on mouse fur, sniffing bird bones, blinking, licking, breathing musk, my hair tangled in the roots of grasses. Down is a good place to go, where the mind is single. Down is out, out of your ever-loving mind and back to your careless senses. I remember muteness as a prolonged and giddy fast, where every moment is a feast of utterance received. Time and events are merely poured, unremarked, and ingested directly, like blood pulsed into my gut through a jugular vein. Could two live that way? Could two live under the wild rose, and explore by the pond, so that the smooth mind of each is as everywhere present to the other, and as received and as unchallenged, as falling snow?

We could, you know. We can live any way we want. People take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience–even of silence–by choice. The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse. This is yielding, not fighting. A weasel doesn’t “attack” anything; a weasel lives as he’s meant to, yielding at every moment to the perfect freedom of single necessity.

I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you’re going no matter how you live, cannot you part. Seize it and let it seize you up aloft even, till your eyes burn out and drop; let your musky flesh fall off in shreds, and let your very bones unhinge and scatter, loosened over fields, over fields and woods, lightly, thoughtless, from any height at all, from as high as eagles.” -Annie Dillard, from “Living Like Weasels” (full text)

I remember being assigned this in AP Language in the 11th grade, remembering first singly devouring and then as a group picking apart the sentences… clinging to the words. So. I still adore these words. Thanks, Mrs. Kay Rosetti. At the time, a bookish and awkward teen with writerly ambitions (ok, so I’m almost twice as old but otherwise very much the same) words like these rang to the bone with a deep resonance that still holds. As did this a year or two later:

I Saw Myself
I saw myself
a ring of bone
in the clear stream
of all of it

and vowed,
always to be open to it
that all of it
might flow through

and then heard
“ring of bone” where
ring is what a

bell does

-Lew Welch-

Times like these, one clings to these things… to reminders of and to becoming. Someone asked how I was feeling… “Like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders, until I look down. The ground has dropped out from underneath me and I’m in free-fall.” But it will be ok. I will just remember weasels and rings, or living like wild things. And the only ring I need is that ring of bone… that reminder to be very, very alive and very open and to listen, listen. Everything else may be falling but it will fall into place. Of that I am certain. Some days you find the ceiling on the floor, and other days you find a floor under filth. Sometimes they are the same days… and some days you find you have no floor and no ceiling but must keep on… these some days you hope never to find again but know you will be all the stronger for getting through them. These are those days. These are your feet. This is your work, though this is not your floor, though it was once and it could be. Your feet, and your steps and way of working and walking, you own these. Go forth.

the sky is falling in plaster dust and chips and cracks and the warped fissure in the center where your heart lives

the sky is falling in plaster dust and chips and cracks and misses the warped fissure in the center where your heart lives, rises up clean at the cleft where the floor buckles and heaves the flotsam falls away until you sweep it all clear


years of muck and angry spackle rent asunder by whirling sand belts and will to warm wood and goodness

years of muck and angry spackle rent asunder by whirling sand belts and will to uncover warm wood and goodness where you would have put your larder full and clean


moldy carpet and padding and cracked linoleum and two layers of paint and then solid scarred oak where you would have slept after you knelt there

moldy carpet and padding and cracked linoleum and two layers of paint and only then solid scarred oak in the room where you would have slept sound after you knelt there for many days in devotion, you do not own this room but these feet they are your own and you will do what you will, and gladly again

dead air

Where’d we go? Explainations forthcoming. Spring is in the air, the egg avalanche continues, seeds are planted and many more want planting. Planted seeds want watering. Coops need cleaning. Dogs walking. Sunshine to bask in. Budgets to reconcile. A house and a two-flat to remodel… more on that later. A studio full of crap treasure to liquidate. Relationships to heal and nurture. And always, always, so much work to be done. And yes, we’re crazy but wouldn’t have it any other way. But it’s all good. Here are some pictures of some of the fun you’ve missed while I wasn’t sharing. More drama to come, dears, and more back-dated updates…

Here are those Eostre eggs, naturally hued and naturally dyed- beets and turmeric are almost as pretty as easter-egger green and the various browns and tans

naturally hued and naturally dyed- beets and turmeric are almost as pretty as easter-egger green and the various browns and tans

and the glamour girls who made them...

and the glamour girls who made them…

Two-egg pizza, with arugula and oyster mushrooms and a multi-grain crust.  Nom!

Two-egg pizza, with arugula and oyster mushrooms and a multi-grain crust. Nom!

baby, it’s cold outside!

100_3691
Just when you think spring must be coming… for it must! It MUST! The nightshades are sprouting, but in the basement, under lights, where what would they know of snow? They’re ready for the world, but it’s not ready for them. The snow’s coming down, roads are a mess, and all the world is in a tither. Will we get to work on time? What will the roads be like on the way home? Are we ready? Is there milk in the fridge? Cocoa-fixins? Beer???

A few things help ease the mind on days like these. A full larder… plenty of feed for the animals (should have ordered the chicken feed and fancy dog kibble on payday, doh! There are a few days of layer mash, and worst case, stored grains that they could nosh in a pinch… and the dog will not die eating just the middle-brow department store chow without the duck and cheese Frohm’s mixed in for extra noms…). We have a shed full of wood, flashlights with batteries, a lantern with oil, candles, and plenty of provisions- even a downed power line would not be the end of the world. We have shovels, and salt, and strong backs. It’s cold enough that we could store the pig in coolers under the back porch until the freezer came back on, or just start putting pork chops in jars and canning them up (not as good as fresh-frozen, or we’d do that already…). We’re acclimated to the cold (55 is a cause for celebration around here… and do-able without the furnace, especially as we’re adding insulation and tightening up the building envelope upstairs), and own plenty of wool sweaters, socks, long-johns… We’re lucky. Not everyone is prepared, or would fare so un-fazed and un-froze.

Here are some tips to stay warm and safe, no matter what the world throws at you!

First, the basics. Wear pants. And underpants. Thank you Mr. MoneyMoustache… I know, seems like common sense. Cold? Try clothes! But some folks haven’t gotten the message yet…
The Oil Well You Keep in Your Pants

And then, the advanced course, from Sharon Astyk!

How Not to Freeze: Living without Heat

Even the most crappily insulated houses in the US (and there are some truly appalling houses out there – the older parts of mine not wholly excluded) are far better in many cases than the shelters people survived with for millenia. I know I keep harping on this, but badly insulated is a relative thing – yes, more insulation would be good – and contacting your congressperson to get more funding (especially including *GRANTS* for low income families to reinsulate) put to insulation is essential – but it is worth remembering that the Lapps routinely dealt with -50+ temperatures in tents made of one layer of reindeer skin and heated only by body heat, and that when people began living in the US, winter temperatures were considerably colder than they are now, and windows were made of oilskin over holes in the house and houses were heated by a central fire pit. Human beings can manifestly live without central heating. I know you don’t think you can, but you can. It is in your genes. “

If you get a chance, take one of her online courses, or at least read her books or blog! Thanks to a scholarship, I got to participate in one of her Adapting in Place classes… what a great learning experience! I hope to pay it forward with future classes of my own… and to spread that all the preparedness-skills and stores in the world will do you less good than engaging with your local community. Which reminds me, we’ve got a ward meeting coming up! I usually look forward to these with as much joy as a teeth cleaning (actually, that’s not true… I’m years overdue and would relish a dental day-spa over sitting through a ward meeting, haha. Oh, health insurance. What’s that like, anyway?), but have promised to accompany the fellow this time around rather than making him go it alone. Because if TSHTF… it’s not what you have, but who you know, what you know, how we help each other, and how you relate to your local and larger community that will ultimately determine how we all fare. Let’s stack that deck, shall we?

Be careful out there, stay warm, and take care of each other! Check in on your neighbors, especially the elderly… be a real saint and shovel their walks too while you’re at it (and maybe next time you’ll wake and find that one of them did the same for you- it’s a race on our block some days…)! And don’t forget to go have some fun if you can- snowpersons and flat-land tobbogening, here we come!

Oh, and update on the suspect list- when the fella let the dog out late last night, there was an ENORMOUS long-haired siamese Catzilla hiding out in the woodshed, final scene of the crime. Chalk up one point for “bad-ass alley cat” theory. I hope it was that and not a raccoon, as it will be easier to keep a cat out than a nimble-pawed raccoon. For now, the girls are cooped up in the more secure coop and run, and not the outer run. They hate the snow, so not too different than what today would be, and safer. Not a long term solution, as it’s a little crowded in there for them and I worry that they’ll start picking on lil’ scrappy, the smallest Red Star. Might be time to cull the Marans, who are over four years old and haven’t laid in a loong time. Was going to give them till the spring, but I think five chickens could pretty happily live in the inner run and coop, with only supervised trips to the great outdoors… at least for awhile. We’ll see how it goes. They have a full feeder, which hopefully will keep them occupied (and warm!) today.

Also, while we’re doing depressing winter farm updates, that beehive is empty. 🙁 We lost the italians, again. I think that hive is cursed. I cracked it open on the last freakishly warm day, after noticing the Carnolians flying and no activity from the yellow hive… and there was a hive full of very hungry and now very dead bees. Le sigh. I fed them all fall, and the early spring, but the one-two-three punch of a tough drought summer and constantly fighting off the hornets and the other bees took its toll. Of course, the docile bees died and left us with the cranky, wonky-comb building bee bitches. But hey, I’ll take a crotchety hive full of hustlin’ survivors over nice dead bees anyday. I think we might be Carnolian-keepers from now on. Keeping my fingers crossed for them…

no, that's not snow ice cream the gals are enjoying... it's gmo-free soy mash, aka okara, from a local tofu producer.  Yum!

no, that’s not snow ice cream the gals are enjoying… it’s gmo-free soy mash, aka okara, from a local tofu producer. Yum!

It finally looks like winter, for real out there- we got a couple inches of white stuff this morning to dust off the single digit and teens temps we’ve been “enjoying” this past week. I must say, I’m enjoying the change of scenery! After a fair number of dismal gray days, the bright sparkle was most welcome!

We tucked in early last night, after stopping into Revolution Brewpub for a pair of pints to cheers our friends’ John and Steven formerly of Grid Chicago as they announced and celebrated their blog’s virtual move to Streetsblog Chicago. Had a slice of awesome arugula pizza with shaved parmesean and lemon-infused oil to go with my ESB and Coffee Porter… we almost stopped in at a friend’s for their homemade pizza as well, but missed their street while cutting through the park, which was a minor bummer but for the best. We had planned to come home early (and the Bella Wooski was eagerly awaiting our return, and her bathroom break and dinner), as we fully intended to get to work… but were overcome by a powerful and undeniable sleepiness. Best laid plans… and sometimes the nap wins.

So instead, we got up with the sun and the chickens, the fella at five and I at six, got caffeinated and got to work. We rearranged a bunch of materials on the second floor, and the fella used the newly assembled tablesaw to make a pretty badass rolling cart for the pair of sawhorses organizing most of our framing lumber, which will soon have foam stacked ceiling high on top. I made us a breakfast of Tribble and Eggs- we had a bumper crop of Lion’s Mane mushrooms last week, so I finally got to bring one home to try… and they DO taste like lobster! Only cuter. And less crustacean-y. I caramelized half a minced onion in a goodly pat of butter, chopped and sauteed the mushroom pieces, broke three eggs in the pan, added a sprinkle of cheese, and served it up. Awesome. The fella commented at 7:57 that he had three minutes till he had to leave for work, still furiously loading wood onto the cart… I joked, great. Three minutes till I can get back in bed! Just kidding… and took over the wood-loading duties, then put on my mask and swept and shop-vacced the whole second floor, took out the trash, shoveled and salted the front walk, took down the christmas decorations, fed and watered the hens (see pic), rescued a cat the dog had trapped under the woodshed (really, I just distracted the dog so the cat could make a break for it…), a bolt of fluffy black lightening so fast that dumb-dumb dog didn’t even see it get away, and spent the next two hours wedging herself behind the fence and under the shed as far as she could fit, alternately, trying to find the thing. Oh, Wooski…

Time to feed the fish before I head back to the studio to cut soap- I’m really happy with that new Orange Chai batch. I checked on them this morning in the molds, and they look and smell fantastic! Can’t wait to start cutting them- it’s always a surprise to see how they look inside, especially these marbled batches!

of pigs and ponies, and urban cowgirl dreams

chicagohorses

I was biking back from the Peggy Notebart Nature Museum, after dropping off my final paperwork from the weatherization program I help out with each year, and decided to take a different route home, just following the grid and the sun-compass roughly in the direction of home, when I stopped dead in my tracks. I was in a pretty dense, high-dollar northside neighborhood, but here in a large well-fenced but empty vacant lot were two enormous horses. They had obviously spent a lot of time here, not just appeared- there were two half-full, half-frozen water troughs, some hay, and a deflated ball to kick around. The ground was frozen, but pockmarked with hoof-prints. Of course, I had to get closer and say hello! The gelding near the fence stuck out his muzzle in greeting, and I gave him a soft pat as he munched his hay. I stood for a moment, breathing in that intoxicating horsey perfume that anyone who’s ever loved and been near horses knows all so well, while I cleared space in my camera phone memory bank to snap a photo. I had to send one to my friend, who’s ridden and worked with horses far more than I could have ever dreamed growing up… we’ve got this probably pipe-dream about a horse or two (I really just want a large pony, or a small horse, trained to ride and drive… not much to ask, right? haha) kept nearby. It works in North Philly… so I’m not utterly in fantasy la-la-land, right?
This American Life: Horses in North Philly

Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club

Stormy Moon- what a pretty boy, no?

Stormy Moon- what a pretty boy, no?


I technically have a horse, but he’s an ancient sway-backed Arkansas pasture ornament, and after over a dozen or more years away in the city, and possession being nine-tenths of the law, he’s my dad and stepmom’s pet by all rights. Overcome by teenage romanticism, I named him Stormy Moon, though Stormy was all anyone ever called him. He was the result of years and years of reading, dreaming, and talking horses… of saving my allowance and birthday money and babysitting cash… of combing the swap-ads at the local filling station, until finally finding and buying the first horse we saw, the first one I could afford that almost met all my requirements. Of course, I knew the CARDINAL rule of horse buying (“don’t buy the first horse you see”) but it was such an ordeal to coordinate and cajole my parents into the idea that I didn’t want to risk it not happening again… I was in high school, planned to go away for college (somehow) so I was running out of time for this particular dream. He was a grey gelding, part-Arab, and to my eyes, the most beautiful thing in the world. He came with tack, or at least a western saddle and some assorted gear. I already owned an english bridle, and other horsey accoutrements. I learned early that putting the cart before the horse is not necessarily a bad plan… and made inspiring wall decor until it could be useful. The Mennonite family that sold him to us said he was gentle and that their kids rode him, but didn’t ride him enough so he needed a new home. He was gentle, from the ground, and as it turned out, more green-broke than kid-broke… My horse experience up to that point was mostly seat-of-the-pants, thick on book-learning and a bit of bareback trail-riding on a friend’s older sister’s bombproof retired show horse. Misty, also dapple grey, was a Quarter Horse that had won trail and halter classes, and competed in barrel-racing and pole-bending before a pasture accident ended her ring career and left her with one eye- she was dead-calm and kid-proof in spite of the affliction, and she carried my friend Jeanie and I, riding double through blackberry hollows, fields, and roadsides without incident. For Stormy and I, our combined inexperience was a bad combination indeed.
And an ornery little bugger...

And an ornery little bugger…

My cowboy cousin-in-law Stacy helped haul him home, saddled him up, and said to hop on. Unlike his rodeo horses, which were used to trailer travel and unfamiliar situations, this guy was rattled and already a little out of his element… but I mounted, and set off downhill into the pasture at a walk, then a brisk trot. My poppy (grandpa) and other cousin were baling hay that day, and Stormy caught an eyeful of a square bale ejecting from the machinery and tumbling out onto the field, and decided that this tractor-demon was very dangerous indeed. He sped to a run, whirled and reared, and I went flying. After a mid-air backflip, I broke my fall with my left arm outstretched over my head, and half-broke a bone in the process. Everyone came running as I sheepishly and painfully dusted myself off. True to form, cowboy cousin says “get back on the horse”, which I did with a leg-up, and rode to the back of the hill, where the house and bags of ice were. Spent six weeks in a cast with what the doc called “a greenstick fracture” as one of the two bones in my forearm had bent and snapped on one side but not the other under the strain of the landing… a lucky break, and it healed well… but I never rode that horse much either. I’d spend time with him, and brush him, but we didn’t have the girl-and-pony mind-meld and endless adventures I’d dreamed about for years. I loved him, and admired his beauty and power, but was also more than a little intimidated by it, and more than a little afraid to climb back up there and try again. I was in over my head, and it’s not the last time I learned that kind of lesson. Riding lessons would have helped both of us… or should have been essential, but there was no budget for such things. Someday I’d like to try again, with some guidance and groundwork first. And a dead-broke schoolmarm of a horse. And a helmet, haha. My bones aren’t as pliant as they were back then… but I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot of lessons about falling. And getting back up.

In other news, our pig is ready, at the locker in Chenoa, IL, waiting for us to drive two hours, pick it up, and start turning it into delicious bacon and sausages. I consider it a good omen that my friend, who works at the Spice House, just brought us a jar of their italian sausage seasoning, and didn’t even know about our pig purchase. The fates are with us! He was one of four raised on pasture by a woman in Lemont, on a diet of organic feed, food scraps, and acorns. If he’s half as delicious as the pig I raised in FFA, we’re in for some great meals. 241 pounds of great meals- we requested pretty much “everything but the squeal”. Who wants to fry up some pork rinds with me? We have to render the lard first…

Have more realistic urban livestock dreams, but not sure how to get started? There’s an Urban Livestock Expo event at the Garfield Park Conservatory on February 16th… come learn about chickens (the gateway drug), bees, rabbits, and goats, and meet other current and aspiring urban farm folk; talks and Q&A to follow! It’s being put on by folks from Advocates for Urban Agriculture, Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts (two great list-servs that I’m on) and Angelic Organics Learning Center, among others I believe? I’m hoping to attend if I can wiggle my work schedule… it’s 10 am-1 pm, which might make it tough. Looks to be a fun event, so put it on your calendars now!