Tag Archives: winter

new and improved! vortex mashup


So that last polar vortex- was -15, windchill -46. I was not mentally or physically ready to deal with that, and still reeling from everything else life had thrown at me. I confess, I gave the chickens extra food, water, and bedding the night before, filled the wood bin, and did not set foot outside all day (just cracked the door enough for the dog to run out, who came in as quickly as he could go). It was cold, inside, and outside. Brutally cold, and bitter.

Saturday night I was really looking forward to a post-holiday party at the Manor, seeing some folks I love, meeting a new baby, and all manner of hilarity and hijinks… but worked late, serving for someone else’s party that dragged on and on… when I got home, after ten, I was spent, and had to be back in at nine am on Sunday. Ended up staying up too late anyway, but just down the street at the VK’s house with B and others… they asked, was something wrong? I was quiet and distant… disappointed in myself for not getting on my bike for the not-too-long ride west. I had a nice time anyway, of course, always do there, especially when there are guitars and whiskey and neighbors singing in harmony… which is often. But still… I wished I’d just gotten it together and stuck with the plan.

Fast forward to round two Tuesday… true, this vortex redux was certainly milder- today was a brisk -2 at daybreak, with a high of 11… and I rode my bike well over 20 miles to a meeting, errands, and grocery shopping. It was slow going at times, I got lost, was late, and then found my way… but I felt like a champion in spite of it all. I splurged on a maple-bacon fancy-pants donut and a coffee refill for my empty mug- fuel to stoke the fire and carry me through towards home. I stopped at Ciclo Urbano for some chain lube and chatted with a friend who works there, went to the bank, bought dog food and groceries and other necessities. I was sweating, and smiling. The fresh fluffy snow sparkled… even the salt spray on my face and glasses couldn’t dim the bright glare and glowing megadose of vitamin D. Winter is for winners! At least today. I got two women set up with worms to start their own vermicompost bins, one for her home, and another for her classroom. I then moved two truckloads of books and canned goods from my ex’s apartment with the help of two great gals… I’m so close to having all my stuff under one roof. It’s shaping up into a comfortable home as I unpack all of my favourite things… I have dinner dates lined up with a few old friends, and one new one. It’s going to be a great year. I can’t wait to see where it takes me… don’t you see that road up there? It’s not always easy (and luckily, this was a side street- main ones were slushy but smooth sailing)… but seriously, do you see that bright light up ahead? Oh hey, sunshine… where’ve you been? There the whole time? You don’t say.

the vortex and cosmic ordering


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



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.

new year, reality check


So, sometimes I’m rosy and reductive and carefully edit the mood of my posts to try to keep the blog positive and upbeat.  No sense dwelling on the ugly bits, right?  But those not-so-pretty-parts are real, and just as big a part (these days, sometimes more) of life as celebratory optimism.  A perfect online world is all photo-ops, hot chocolate, playing in the snow with puppies, chickens that do tricks for treats, and cozy moments.  The real world has those moments, true, but it also has days where you walk to the unfinished upstairs (contemplating putting your bedroom there, where there’s bright light, if a mess of construction) and find that not only is it 40 degrees (compared to the cozy 46 downstairs…), but that the dog you thought was just running upstairs to bark out the window at people on the street below was also using it as his indoor bathroom all week (too cold to go outside, wretched beast?).  You throw sawdust on the wet spots and barricade the stairs so he can’t get back up there and steel yourself for the clean-up later.  Upstairs, where you and the fella spent a couple nights a week all last winter working together, caulking, cutting insulation, caulking, cutting insulation… hours upon hours of work.  Sometimes you fought but mostly you listened to music and enjoyed working together, in your recollection, though he says now he was always frustrated that you hadn’t done more on your days off (I worked part-time then).   At any rate, you were making progress, together.  Then life got even more complicated, and he bought another building, and another.  He says it was for you, but all I ever wanted was to have all my stuff in one place.  He was convinced that we had to do the whole building at once- I just wanted to finish the second floor, move up there, and then do the first.  If he had less stuff, that might have worked.  And all the while, the studio rent was a constant drain.

It’s snowing, still, and the roads are a mess, but you still have to trudge 3 miles each way to go unfreeze the water of the chickens you’re tending until next week because the solar-powered water heater in the fancy-pants architect-designed chicken coop can’t keep water unfrozen and there are no outdoor outlets to plug in a heater that actually works.  Two of those chickens are in your basement, cooing and pooping and kicking straw and newspaper everywhere, and the roads are too terrible to try to transport them back to join their friends, even though they are healed from the injuries their flockmates gave them.  You’re late to get there, not because you’re nursing an awesome party hangover, but because you’re recovering from both a broken heart and a stress-induced sinus infection that has migrated to being a nasty chest cold, so you’ve been hacking your lungs out all morning.  Your house is dark and cold and in disarray, and the wood you put in the stove to try to get a cozy fire going with is hissing angrily instead of burning- still wet.  You’ll wait till it’s totally cold and pull the big log out and dig in the shed for some cured wood when you get back from the snow-slog to chicken tending.  There’s some sort of probably rodent-creature scrabbling around in the bathroom ceiling.  The sink is half full of dishes, and as you stand over them turning them into clean ones, and thawing your icy hands in the hot water, you spontaneously sob for all of your lost hopes and lost love.

The fella apologized last night after dinner for being such a jerk for the past few years, and said he hoped you didn’t feel like you had wasted your time.  Of course not, though this is not what I thought I was waiting and putting up with it all for… I was holding out for the amazing home we’d have when this was all over with, for a folky backyard wedding, surrounded by all our friends and family, and then a family of our own.  For a home that we would share, for security and promises and a garden you could tend for years and years and years.  You planted fruit trees and planned and hauled mountains of wood chips and compost… putting down roots.  You buried your dog there.  You put all of your savings (enough to pay off your last student loans) into trying to buy land nearby to make your urban farm dreams come true- a place that would feed you, that could grow with you and your life.  It’s not a portable dream.  You never thought you’d be living on borrowed time here.  You started out both sharing that vision, or parts of it… but he gave up on it working long before you, while he was busy working on everything else.

But frankly, the two of you have been a mess for awhile- him frustrated and critical, controlling and mean.  You depressed, also frustrated, feeling micromanaged and like nothing you did was ever good enough, and totally inadequate to help in the giant projects you were trying to do together… he always saying he felt he was on his own, and you being afraid to try and fail, and meet criticism once again.  Him not understanding why things take you longer than him, or why you’re afraid to do things like teach yourself to tile a bathroom- because you are angry at him for not taking the time to teach you, rather than expecting you to figure it out on your own, but feeling that he didn’t actually believe in your ability to do it… I’ve never been particularly good at mechanical or construction projects, much as I’d like to be.  And I have a hard time with being told what to do, rather than asked, or with working with someone who is convinced that they are almost always right.  I know I’m no dream to work with at times also- stubborn and sensitive, sometimes selfish, and by the end, the two of you were almost unable to work together at all without fighting.  I finally shut down and mostly stopped trying. He started drinking more, and assumed if I didn’t immediately pick up the phone during the day that I must still be in bed not doing anything… which sometimes was true, but often as not was not.  I wasn’t always working on his to-do list, which I suppose is about the same thing.    Our friends suggested therapy, which he said he’s try, but that it wasn’t going to work and it would be a waste of money and since I didn’t have any, he’d end up paying for it like everything else.  Ouch.  In short, we were a disaster.  But still… years of love kept us together, or made us try again, even when we were being anything but loving towards each other.

And I resented all the stuff in the way, the piles of clutter and collections and just plain junk.  And he always said he was trying to bring home less stuff, to clear out the stuff that was there, but the net movement was always always more and more and more stuff to try to move around and clean.  I wanted to throw half of it away, and eventually mostly gave up on cleaning.  I spent hours reading minimalist and tiny house blogs, daydreaming about a yurt or little cob studio out back that would be all mine and almost empty- a space where I could think, and breathe.  I requested one room of my own at the apartment- the smallest one- originally for an office, but then when he acquired a bunch of woven grass tatami mats, you planned to make it a yoga room.  Just a few plants and white walls.  And even that room filled up with things- your books, sure, but became a collecting point for more things while you worked on the rest of the place so quickly that you couldn’t even get in the door without climbing over things.  Temporary… or would it be?

And the snow keeps coming down, possibly a foot by the end of tonight.  I shovelled the walk this afternoon and will have to do it again soon.  I’ll be taking the train tomorrow, I’m pretty sure.  I just want to burrow down and lick my wounds for awhile, drink some potent hot chocolate and get this fire going, but alas, the world has other ideas.

PS, creepy dude who was stalking me a while back, none of this is an invitation to reappear if you’re still reading.  I will still mace your face and then call the cops if I see you lurking around my house or if you try to email me again.

Urgh, here’s hoping 2014 sucks less than this one.  It can only get better, right?

baby, it’s cold outside!

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…

“Winter’s end savings event!”

“What could be more superstitious than the idea that money brings forth food?”
― Wendell Berry

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”
― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

Our found-object woodshed, which once was a shipping crate for solar panels, and is covered in vinyl signs we also found in a different alley.  The kicker? Our shed proudly proclaims that every day is a "winter's end savings event".  Ah, justice...

Our found-object woodshed, which once was a shipping crate for solar panels till our neighbor stumbled upon it, and is covered in vinyl signs the fella found in a different alley and somehow strapped to his bike to drag home. The kicker? Our shed proudly proclaims that every day is a “winter’s end savings event”. Ah, sweet justice!

I’ve always loved that second quote, and was reminded of it when a few folks on the ChiChickens group changed it to their signature line (I’m tempted, but have had my cornbread-slogans as my tagline for so long that changing them now would feel like “goin’ back on my raisin'”, haha)… the first is a new one to me but it reminds me of the quote that inspired the infamous Greenpeace banner… “When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.” -Alanis Obomsawin

Today has been that sort of mixed-up high and low-tech day. The coffee and milk, organic and very store-bought. Oats, also. Lunch was mashed potato pancakes with pesto… the eggs came from the backyard, I grew the basil at work, hand-milled the grain which I picked up in 50 lb sacks last fall with a bike trailer from the farmer’s city apartment a few miles north of here (the wheat she and her dad grew a few miles away, of course), and the potatoes were from Wisconsin but by way of Restarant Depot (another 50 lb sack, bought in the fall for about $7. Slightly sprouty, but still good in the cellar). Rabbit cacciatore soup on the side- the rabbit a present from our dog-treat making friend (it’s high-quality, and packaged for human consumption till he grinds it up into dog jerky…), oyster mushrooms also from The Plant that were a little too squishy to sell but still mighty tasty, a jar of tomatoes from our 2011 garden (I love the safety net of being a year ahead in tomato canning when I can pull it off, and found this guy in the back of the pantry, still as perky as they day they were put up), home-canned rabbit stock (see above), some white beans grown on a small Michigan farm that a neighbor left us when she moved to California, and an ancient jar of green beans- 2009! from the first year I gardened at the studio (the fella had installed a small herb and hop garden before that, but that was the year we really started going with our first garden here long before we bought the “cabin”. I love being able to know the whole story behind what we’re eating, which in these days of extreme home-rehab is sometimes tough. I’ll admit it, the temptation to throw some extra cheese and giardinara on a frozen pizza is strong some nights, more than I’d like… but as gross as that is, it beats dropping insane amounts of money to have someone drive one over that’s not much better.

So today has been this weird mix of eating local and far-flung foods, typing away in the virtual world as I figure out this website move, and all the while, stoking the woodstove. I take it as a point of pride if the furnace doesn’t kick on all day, especially after I got the last gas bill… the first one since we lit the furnace for the first time. Yowza! $160, and we kept the thermostat somewhere between 47 F and 55 F. Granted, there were two very cold days in there where we had giant holes in the house while swapping out for more efficient windows (worse before it gets better) and at least one evening that we cranked it up to 60 so that the caulk would cure upstairs between the foam board insulation layers… add in that our eaves were still mostly open for most of that month and you can see how it would add up. Can’t wait to see how much better it gets next time! I’m glad, in a way, to have that first bad bill as a baseline for how much energy we’ll be saving after we finish insulating and air-sealing upstairs, and eventually the first floor as well. Since we are currently burning only scrap wood from our and others’ construction projects (untreated of course) and storm-killed local downed wood, it’s about as green as we can get in this house without moving underground or shutting off the water and sleeping in parkas instead of long-johns three months out of the year. We’ve done that, by the way… and I hope to never do that again! Brr.