I have always found lichens fascinating. From the start, nothing is what it appears. They grow in a myriad of different structures and forms, all over the world. Lichens are not plants, instead it is a symbiotic relationship between alga and fungi. The fungi offers the structure of the lichen and the algae photosynthesizes the sun to provide food.
Here in Maine, they are some of the only green things to wildcraft during the winter. Lichens should not be gathered off of trees, I like to go around after storms and gather from downed branches or just wait for them to blow along my path like tiny eastern tumbleweeds. Most lichens are incredibly slow growing, so it is important to harvest respectfully.
Lichens have many uses, and ID can be difficult since there are so many variations. Some are powerful medicine, others can be used as dyes and they are all beautiful. There are a few that are poisonous, including Letharia Vulpina or wolf lichen. Bright, almost neon green, it can be used as a dye and was once used to poison wolves. One of the most widespread and medicinal lichens is Usnea, sometimes called Old Man’s Beard. Usnea comes in many different lengths, colors and formations, but there are a few things that are very specific to Usnea that I use when identifying it.Read More
I have been tracking elder plants in my area over the last few years. A lot of the time I visit them, just to say “hi”, and I would be lying if I said that this behavior was pandemic related. It’s been like this for a while now. Out of the dozens of patches and plants I watch, only a handful of them will be harvested. Last year was a sad one on the elder front, we had a drought in Maine and New Hampshire and these water loving plants suffered mightily.
Adding to the problems faced by these amazing beings, is that they are slow growing and incredibly fragile. The woody structures are hollow and snap like dry twigs even during the high season when they are full of life. I bet in southern parts of the country they grown much quicker, but harsh New England winters make that difficult. They love having “wet feet” and this affinity for water means they often grow on the side of the road in runoff ditches and are subject to mowing in the summer and plow damage in the winter. Even a head high bush can be mowed to the ground with ease. Every August I find myself mourning my friends, destroyed and torn asunder along with the grasses and brush. Erasing years of hard earned growth in seconds.
In a natural situation this breakage is a means of propagation but it seems that when assisted by man this possibility fades. When they are mowed the branches are chipped and damaged too much to come back and damage by plows happens at a time of year when the broken bits will die before spring.
Of the dozens of shrubs I track, many are rendered inaccessible by either location or the plants that surround them. Often the road side patches are edged with poison ivy and I don’t dare try and make it through. Two summers ago, I notices a huge elder in the middle of a field close to our house. The field is full of wicked brambles and during the summer harvest, a sea of hip high, tick laden grass fills the spaces between gnarled, sickle throned brambles and poison ivy. I have admired it from afar for a while now.Read More
This quote has been making the internet rounds and while it is a very catchy meme, it has really started to bother me. I like the sentiment, but it confounds the most devastating details of the ‘burning times,’ in many essential ways. Primarily, it implies that those murdered had no family, and that it is only the linage of those who outsmarted persecution, who remain. It erases the generational trauma that these executions created and makes light of the mechanism used to control any who would dare step outside the boundaries of the patriarchy.
This quote is misleading from the start; executions for witchcraft were often by hanging (especially in the US), not burning. It also implies that they were not mothers and grandmothers snuffed out. Those persecuted were not old barren hags who lived alone and apart from the world, perhaps in forest cottages on chicken legs. They were stripped from the arms of loving husbands and children to be taken to the gallows. They left behind daughters and sons, grandchildren, husbands, wives, and siblings.
The burning times were not a culling of outlying populations; it was the public display of the power and authority of the church to deal-out death, at a whim. A reminder that what didn’t fit the mold of the patriarchy would be destroyed physically, and slandered eternally.
As a child, my mother was told that one of our ancestors was executed as a witch in colonial times. This story was a way to invoke a woman unjustly accused, a woman history tried to erase. A person that our family was tasked with remembering for who she was, and not how she died. During the not so ancient times of dial up internet, my mom got really into genealogy. She managed traced our ancestors back to Cambridge in the 1600s and Elizebeth Cogan Holly. After coming to the colonies from England, Samuel Holly died, leaving a parcel of land on the South side of the Charles River to his wife, Elizabeth and son, John Holly. Elizabeth soon remarried John Kendall (a younger man. *gasp!*) and became Elizabeth Holly Kendall. All of this can be easily verified though Samuel’s will, marriage records and land deeds.Read More
Last week, a beloved friend of mine posted a beautiful letter to her mother on the second anniversary of her death. I tried to think exactly how long it had been since my dad passed, and I couldn’t do it.
Was it 2012? Or 2013? What month is it now anyway? Is it seven or eight years gone now?
What a change from years past when, like her, I knew almost down to the minute how long it had been since he died. Then the other day this picture popped up in my “memories”.
His smile, that shirt, his hands, all reminding me of the time before. I have done a lot of writing about his death. The creation of this blog was largely inspired by it. A way for me to write down all the things he was missing, each post an unofficial letter to him about what is going on in my life. Me, reaching out for a hand that wasn’t there anymore. Very often, ten hands reach back to me. Ones I can still hold, and that has been a great comfort and tool throughout this process.Read More
PJ and I are very fortunate to be able to stay home, so we do. During the warm months it was easy to spend the days outside; walking in the woods, playing with the chickens and tending the garden. Winter has given those outdoor activities a time limit before she turns into a toddlercicle. I keep on flashing back to when the boys were this age, and all the cool stuff we would go do during the winter. Trampoline parks, indoor play areas, museums, walking around the mall, movies, etc. New England is well equipped to get active kids through the winter months.
Not this year.
To add insult to injury, she is finally at an age when she would be aware of, and really enjoy these activities. Lockdown happened a month before her second birthday and we are soon coming up on her third. The growth this year is incredible. There is a part of me that is super happy she don’t know what she’s missing but I know how much she would be getting out if it this year, so that has been bittersweet.
The other day it was a balmy 16o and I decided it was time to take a drive, and go to the beach. When we first moved east we settled in Kennebunk for a couple years. I loved living close to the ocean as it has always been a big part of my life.
We had an ice storm the day before gilding everything, it’s breathtaking. I tried to get a couple pictures but they hardly do it justice, but you a least get the idea.
I thought of calling them Swarovski shrubs, prism pines, glass trees, gilded forest, etc. All I know is that it’s sublime, each turn in the road brings about a new vista dripping with light.Read More
With our Christmas money I got us a present, a new set of Global knifes. After over 20 years of professional kitchen work, I have found there is no better kitchen tool than a very sharp knife. Globals are my favorite. All metal, light, perfectly balanced and just right for my smaller hands.
True to form, within the first week of ownership I whacked off the whole side of my index finger. It was my fault for trying to go quickly in-between toddler demands, while using a serrated utility knife, I knew glances slightly to the left, to cut a butternut squash. It was operator error entirely. There was a lot of blood. I had cut it clean off and applying pressure was excruciating. The only thing worse was when the bandage shifted at all, rubbing against the rawness there, plus any sideways pressure shifted the clot and caused more bleeding. I needed a way to stop the bleeding before my daughter got up to anything else.
What could I do?
I look at this little creature and I see myself.
My face, eyes and hair, all copied in this little elf.
It stops my breath and I plead “please, little one- don’t be like me.”
Then we walk in the wood, she grabs my basket and takes the lead.
I remember she is made of so much more,
The thirteen mothers that came before.
Her father’s people guide her too,
A long and noble queue.
The woods stop their spin
I am grateful for the company we’re in.
She is not looking at my footsteps to see where to go.
And that is all I need to know.
Most days during this pandemic, I start by calling my mom and telling her all the things her granddaughter did to me the day before. More often than not, she laughs at me without remorse. After she regains her composure, she tells me I should write about PJ’s antics. Toddler shenanigans have delayed those efforts but I have been piecing this post together bit by bit.Read More
Right before COVID took over our lives, my Oma made a huge decision. At 94, she realized that it was no longer the best idea to live alone in her home without help. After carefully weighing all her options she made the very practical decision to move to a live-in community and sell her home of over 60 years.Read More
I have worked in restaurants my whole life. Till the little monster was born almost two years ago, my life revolved around executing meal services. Front and back, top to bottom. I have held every position possible in the industry from dishwasher to department manager. Service culture is a universe in and of itself; with its own language, practices, traditions and philosophies.Read More
Last year, at the first herbal apprenticeship class, we each drew a card from a plant tarot deck. I drew Elder. A plant of wisdom, magic and powerful medicine. I was aware of its existence, but had very little experience with it. I vowed to change that, and dubbed last year my year of Elder.Read More
Hope is the splint we use to bind and tie, all the things broken by the weight of a lie.
It is feeling of relief that kindness brings, when we realize the giant is here to help fix our tattered wing.
Hope is being cradled through worst moments of our lives, with the assurance that action and time will make it right.Read More
Valentine’s Day is often associated with freshly cut long stem roses. The redder, softer and more fragrant the better- as if that is the only incarnation of a rose that could represent love. A soft, fresh, fragrant specimen picked before it has properly bloomed, separated from it’s roots and stripped of all it’s thorns.Read More
What was the step too far? Where have we gone so wrong?! At what time did we lose sight of that essential thing that kept us in balance with everything else? Was it when we stopped roaming with the seasons and started cultivating fields? When we settled into towns and then cities? Was it the arrogance of proclaiming ourselves better than all the other beings on this earth? What would living in line with our nature even look like in modern times?! Braiding Sweetgrass really flushed out these questions, systematically untangling the roots of the tree that is ‘modern man’ and explored how we can once again participate in the Honorable Harvest.Read More
*I wrote this a while back. It has taken this long to edit and post. All accounts of the gardens and sheep are not current 🙂
Adjusting to having a daughter has been surreal and overwhelming in every way possible.
There is anxiety that at any second I could make a mistake that might result in her being injured or worse. Pair that, with the change of going from working a high stress job with a three-hour daily commute to being at home for days on end. I went from talking to dozens of people every day to having only the company of the critters much of the time. It’s not totally horrible or unpleasant just, very different. All while healing from the corporal aftermath of pregnancy and birth. (Which IS mostly horrible and unpleasant.)
I judge a “good” day to be one where I keep the baby and other animals alive. A “great” day is one where I mange to keep the animals out of the gardens so the plants aren’t murdered by two and four-legged assailants. We (by which I mean my husband) have just started a new sheep pen, so of course the sheep have figured out how to get out of their old pen and have taken to escaping in turns and wreaking havoc on the less secure gardens.
Sometimes, I get to clean the house or eat (but not both.) Any attempts at art, writing and (let’s be honest) bathing; are so far down the list of “things to do when the baby is not clamped to my boob” they might as well not even be on it but… as this writing proves it CAN happen.
*Insert sinking feeling the sheep have gotten out again and go check the pen.*
Ok, they are still in.Read More
I hope this letter reaches you. My warden/guard/fellow prisoner will no doubt try to intercept this correspondence. (To date- she has postponed it’s creation by a week, using nothing more than dirty diapers and grunts of discontent.) She will stop at nothing to make sure that my access to the outside world is limited. On the bright side, she can’t read- so even if she does get a hold of this there’s not much she can do about it.
Three days ago, I decided I would get some writing done! I was going to pen (type) beautiful pros about motherhood, growth, life and other profound stuff. Things did not go as planned. I thought I could accomplish this feat because Ry is home and could therefore take care of the little snapping turtle, while I roam free. FREE I tell you!!!. I sat down to the keyboard and heard the sheep blatting. My sleep deprived brain thought: “I should use my new found morning mobility go feed the outside animals really quick, then come back in a write. I will be a hero!”
That’s where things went sideways.
I mentioned in my last post that skunks have been getting into the chicken coop and causing all sorts of issues. I can say skunks plural, because we have already caught and relocated three this year. We drive them miles and miles away, so it is not the same skunk multiple times. My husband has been taking their mug shots as well, in order to make sure we are not dealing with just one super smart skunk, equipped with GPS and a quad. Last year, we caught four before the summer was out and this morning it appears that we tied that record, and it’s not even July.
Seriously, what the heck is this?! Are we on some sort of skunk grocery map of the area?
I don’t know how it happened, but May is almost over. Shoot, it might BE over by the time I hit ‘publish’ (I have been working on this post for a couple days). Somewhere in-between midnight feedings and dirty diapers a whole month slipped through our fingers. Ry went back to work yesterday. I can’t articulate how grateful I am he got paternity leave at all. It was amazing to have the time to figure out what our home life looks like now. He also put in almost all the gardens for the summer, including an expansion of the garden outside the front door.
It might not look like much from the deck, but up close you can see the beginning of popcorn on the ridges and black beans in the valleys. We decided last year that these crops are friends.
We planted two cherry trees and two pear trees in honor of Persephone’s first spring to add to our apple trees in the big yard.
We even got a few flowers on the apple trees this year.
The only things I got around to planting were bulbs, some of which we won’t see this summer. Others have already come out to play!
Child birth is often touted as the most pain a person can experience and I can’t say that I disagree. I can say that it is a fortunate thing the body has no capacity to remember that pain. I remember it happened and that it was excruciating but I cannot call back the exact nature of the pain and that is FINE with me!
I went into labor early Friday morning April 27th. My sister is an amazing Photo Journalist and she was there to document the whole thing. I had contemplated a home brith, but given that the nearest hospital is almost a hour away I opted for a hospital birth. On my mom’s side the past 9 births over two generations have all resulted in C-sections, most of the emergency type. For my own birth; my parents and aunt went to the hospital and were told to go home. Upon their return, almost a day later the nurse couldn’t find my heartbeat. They had to give my mom general anesthesia to get me out. With my sister, our mom had another emergency C-section but this time only got local anesthetic. Again, after 22 hours of labor. I decided an hour is too far to go if there are complications. I am glad I made that decision.
At my scheduled Dr. appointment the day before I was 3 cm dilated but other than that not really bothered by my condition.
I had gone to bed with cramps and a feeling different than the now familiar sensations of pregnancy.
The dogs knew something was different even though I was still in denial.
My husband just made fun of me, par for the course in that regard.
When I woke up early the next morning, it was a whole new ball game. Ry had to leave for work before 6 am and my mom was on a red eye from California set to arrive around 11am in Maine. By 7 am I could honestly call the sensations contractions though they were not that bad, yet. When my mom walked through the door 4 hours later I was ready to get to the hospital. May poor mother had to get right back in the car, she was such a trooper!
On the way to the hospital the contractions had gotten so bad that I was unable to talk through them. All I could do was breath as they came at ever shortening intervals. Halfway to the hospital I had a revelation as the timing closed to 3 minutes. Hesitantly, I asked my mom “are these going to continue to get closer and closer together till there is no time between them?!”
The look she gave me said it all. This was not going to be a good time.
This week proved once again (and still) how awesome the boys are. I am officially 8 3/4 months pregnant and in this state it could be a real drain to have two rambunctious kids running round for ten days, but true to form the boys were more of a joy than ever. Sure, they are loud and have more energy than a bunny on red bull, but it is tempered with kindness, love and a superseding impulse to help. Lord knows there is a lot around here that we desperately needed to get done so their efforts were appreciated.
The week got off to a cold start with snow and ice blanketing the ground once again but it ended with sunshine and thawed ground! That is a big deal in Maine. We were able to drive fence posts and expand the front yard for the dogs to the other side of the rock wall. The husky as been endlessly pleased with her new territory.
The chickens have forgotten why they have a fence in the first place and have been flying the coop and roaming the yard.
I see the ground!
Before I moved to New England, this would have seemed like a very odd statement indeed, but now it is an event to be celebrated. Most of the snow in the yard had gone liquid and returned to the land from whence it came. Daily activities around the homestead have also changed and since I am homebound; waiting for the impending arrival of our daughter, I have actually had time to focus on spring activities, instead of trying futilely to fit them in-between full-time work and weekend boys.
We were late for sapping but still managed to get a decent supply of syrup from our land. The sap is still running but now has gone bitter as it tends to do at the end of the season.
We did get a bunch of grade A syrup before it turned and that is better than nothing!
I extracted MORE honey from the empty hives and we got the unfortunate news from one of our neighbors that the field across the street from us has been using industrial amounts of Round-Up on his feed corn every year. Since corn is a grass, the bees collect pollen from it (to make bee bread) but not nectar. This is the main staple of food through the winter months for the colony. I’m not too worried about the honey I have pulled but it explains why both hives collapsed or swarmed yet again.
Here we were, for years thinking it was something we did when in reality 300 yards from the house there was a poisoned field of death. In light of this new knowledge we have stopped apiary plans for now since we cannot control our little buzzers and so bringing more into the area would only perpetuate the problem. It was sad news indeed, just another reminder that we are all apart of the web of life and the decisions people make for themselves are not isolated to their own harvest.
As the light retuned to our days, I got busy with processing eggs from the ladies.
When I got backed up I turned them into little temporary planters for the millions of spider plant babies our house plants have seen fit to produce.
I used the lazy vinegar method I discovered a few years back.
I cannot wait for all the indoor plants to be outside again! I might be the only one who cares though.
It doesn’t help that my husband can grow anything, anywhere. I mean, we have an eight foot banana tree in the boys room! That’s just silly. I have tried to explain that we live in Maine but he just shrugs and keeps on planting.
Since I am no longer spending 70+ hours away from the house each week, I have had ample time for projects and basic chores. The first weekend the boys walked in the door and the oldest looked around and marveled “It’s SO clean!”
Amazing what one can do when not working full time, managing scores of people and driving three plus hours a day- on the days we don’t have to drive four hours round trip to get or return the boys to and from Massachusetts.
I do miss seeing Mt. Washington up close daily.
But something tells me it will be around when I have time to visit it again. Easter this year I had time to come up with a very difficult Easter puzzle for the boys’ hunt.
It involved invisible ink and dirty tricks.
When paired with their Dad’s advanced egg hiding; the whole thing took three hours. They had asked for it so I didn’t feel too bad and in the end they were rewarded with spring bulbs, gardening equipment, homemade maple candies and chocolate eggs molded using real ones.
We have had time for walks to the top with the sheep. Lulu is in bad need of a hair cut and will be shorn as soon as this baby arrives. Daisy has started to shed and I am collecting her hair for lanolin extraction soon.
The flock is doing well. Though the new Guineafowl are as suspicious of me as the old ones, even though they too were raised from day old chicks.
The long and short of it, is that life has gone on around the homestead. The impending arrival of a new baby has added to the list of things to get ready. But all, in all, it has been nice to have so much other stuff to keep me distracted as I wait.
Soon enough I will have a new critter to worry about, life will continue to change and that is about as good as anyone can hope for. As we go into this new chapter of our lives I am cautiously optimistic about all of it.
Thank you for taking your time to read this scattered recap, there has been a lot to report but I have allowed myself time during each day to rest. This has been an important lesson in not driving myself too hard as everyone keeps on reminding me my decisions effect more than myself right now. I have allowed myself time to sit on the couch, take naps and just be. Each one of these pictures could have been a post unto itself but look how much time I saved us both!
Be well and happy spring!
I am expecting my first biological child this spring. We had been trying for many years. Just when I had decided it was not in the cards and turned my attention to enjoying all the advantages that came with my step children getting older, we find ourselves on the verge of the decent back into dippers and juice boxes.
I had accepted the benefits that part time parenting of older kids offers. They can make their own meals, say “please” and “thank you” with no prompting, we can watch more grown up movies and TV shows, they are funny, smart awesome people and I can actually let them play outside without constant hawk like supervision (for the most part.) I have written many times before just how much I love having them around and that has not changed in the least.
At first, I thought it was sad that there will be such a large age gap between the new addition and her older half brothers but the first time I fell asleep in the middle of the day and woke up to them eating a lunch they made themselves- I realized the error of my ways. They are kind and understanding about the process I am going through. They cut me slack when I am exhausted and don’t want to run around or make them an elaborate meal. I don’t have to do any of the basics for them and they are extremely helpful with anything I need to get done.
Have never known a manicure or file.
They are bitten rather than clipped.
They have been painted less times than there are fingers to paint.
In many places they are more scar than skin.
The fingers on the right appear to have been badly broken long ago, though they never were.
They often spend their days covered in food, blood or dirt.
Lovingly touching things that make others cringe.
They are not spectacular for how they look but for what they do.
They have created meals that nourish and astound, providing me an income for my modest household.
They have made many things of beauty that fill my house and life.
They have healed and comforted the beings I love.
They are strong and can hold fast when I need them to.
I hope they have given more than they have taken from this world.
Because through helping others they have made me whole.
They have become more than the sum of their parts and I believe that they are truly beautiful.
I am grateful to have such tremendous alleys at the tips of my fingers.
Today, I am beyond thankful for the simple gift of my hands.
What would you do if you were is 1930’s Germany witnessing the rise of Hitler? Would you realize that something was very wrong with the trajectory of the leadership? What would you do about it?
Before the current era in politics this was a purely hypothetical question that now seems to have become painfully relevant. It was the question that inspired Stanley Milgram to conduct his experiments on obedience in the 1960’s. His hypothesis was that there was something about the German people that made them more likely to carry out such atrocities. He tested the hypothesis:
“How far would people obey orders given from an authority figure, under circumstances that contradicted their beliefs?”
To his horror; he proved that all it took for most people to shock someone they have never met into unconisness and beyond, over arbitrary nonsensical questions- is a man in a lab coat who says he “will take the responsibility.” I could write about the procedures used in the experiment but I think this short video says it all:
Many of my paintings or attempts at art, never reach final draft status as the stacks of unfinished watercolors on my bookshelves can attest to. Awhile ago I painted The Eye of Horus on canvas with acrylics. It was a rough draft as so many paintings are. I put it on our mantle and it sat there literally staring at me for years. I like working with acrylic paint because if I mess up I have chance to wait and try again. Watercolors are much less forgiving. I love the challenge of working in watercolor and ink.
Sometimes it is nice to use the more forgiving mediums, like acrylic. They offer the chance to play, mess up and try again. Attempts with watercolor and ink are often a slow process filled with second-guesses and anxiety. One wrong brush stoke and they will be added to the stack of rejects. With acrylics I am fearless. I can try things that may not work, admit my wrongs and do it over. This can mean starting over from the very beginning, keeping only a faint outline. It is a nice change. A couple weeks ago I got back to the eye. My family asked what I was doing. They asked “why?” it wasn’t done and I the only thing I could think of was “because it can be better.” They had just assumed it was on the mantel because it was done, when it was really on display to remind me I needed to get back to it at some point.
I like the process that comes with these attempts at beauty. The reward of doing something for its own sake. The Eye of Horus has special meaning and so I thought it only right to try and do it justice. Also known as the “Eye of Ra” or the “all seeing eye.” Each aspect of the symbol are representative of the 6 senses: smell, sight, thought, hearing, taste and touch. (It should be noted that I took some artistic license with the classical proportions of the elements in the repaint.)
This is the way it was left for a very long time. When I took it up again I realized I would have to rework the form entirely for me to like it. This process of acknowledging my shortcomings is daunting and empowering in equal measure. Like any basic transformation it is hard not to hold to the progress that has been made, even in the realization I am headed down a path I don’t want to follow to the end. I took a deep breath got out the white and began the reconstruction.
For my husband and me, a spoon full of honey does more than just help “the medicine go down” often the honey is the medicine. For colds and coughs we combine it with summer tinctures or it’s eaten with pineapple (Pineapples contain an enzyme called bromelain that has anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce the irritation at the backs of our tongues and in our voice boxes.)
For cold symptoms that persist I add raw ginger, which is a beast to swallow without the honey but works wonders. I also make a tea with raw ginger, lemon, orange and honey. I was raised on homeopathic and eastern medicine, on this topic I have always said “taste bad, work good.” The honey goes along way to mitigating the harsh tastes.
We had recently run out of our own personal honey stash and so this last spring we got two new nucleases and started keeping bees again after taking last year off. We have not had good luck when it comes to keeping bees. This year kept with that trend and we had both hives swarm and go off within the first two months. They re-queened successfully before they did so even though the populations dropped we still had functioning hives. My husband was even able to find one of them in the middle of the woods, living high up in a hollow tree.
This winter, our track record of poor hive results continued and it would seem that in the fall hive #1 swarmed again, this time in totality. Leaving us with an empty hive, which was sad. We had half of an eight-frame deep box of capped honey, which was not! last week, after confirming that the rest of the hive was indeed vacant we brought it inside to be processed.
Since it was such a small amount I decide to extract the golden treasure without the help of any mechanism. I used the lazy (wo)man’s method of cheese cloth, gravity and time.
Here we are again…
I think everyone has experienced one of those relationships, romantic or otherwise where the same issue comes up over and over again. The same conflict argued round and round with no resolution in sight. Each person believing wholeheartedly that their argument is so inherently virtuous that neither side is willing to give an inch. Even new valid points are seen in old rags and no progress can be made. These relationships are fought from fox holes, both sides entrenched and unmovable.
I feel like this is our nation’s state when it comes to the topic of gun control. My Facebook newsfeed bares this out in meme after meme from both sides. I find myself in no man’s land watching people I love; lob ideological thought bombs toward the other camp only trying to conquer the desolation in-between; no longer listening to reason, only waiting for the chance to fire back.
Meanwhile, children these days have active shooter training from elementary school on. Unlike the nuclear drills of our parents’ generation these drills prepare for sad days that have proven to be inevitable.
The first time I shot a gun capable of killing I was probably seven or eight. It was a big deal. My dad and I met my grandpa at the shooting range and my firearms training began. The first thing I was taught is that you NEVER point a gun at anything you don’t intend to kill. This meant you were ALWAYS aware of where the muzzle was pointed. There were only three options; downrange, up at the sky and down and the ground. Your gun should never point at a human for even a millisecond.
Anytime you picked up a firearm you checked the breach to confirm that it was unloaded no matter who handed it to you or what they told you. All guns are always treated as if they are loaded and live.
The range we went to was policed by military vets, rules were stringently enforced. During cease-fire times all guns had to be made safe (in a rack or on the bench, breaches open) everyone had to step back from the benches and you were no allowed to approach the area during these times for any reason. A safety officer would go down the line and check each gun to verify all were unloaded. Only then was the ‘all clear’ given for you to go forward and check, move or replace your targets. After a trip to the range, each fire arm was taken apart, cleaned, oiled and put back together. These things were nonnegotiable.Read More
I have thought many times before that children are the ultimate measure of time. Their progress is one of the most palpable demonstrations of daily growth. Children change at a rate that is impossible to ignore, as long as you are paying attention.
It is easy to habituate to change, to focus on all the things that don’t matter, to get wrapped up in the daily grind and not take proper time to enjoy the little things that may seem the same everyday even though they are in constant flux.
A few days ago I started a public Instagram account for wickedrural. It was inspired when I wanted to rejoin a photo challenge I participated in years ago and found that my blog friends were not doing one for 2018. In the spirit of challenging myself I needed motivation to take time out of my day, stop and really look at all the things I pass as I rush from one thing to another.
There have been countless times this winter when I see beautiful things on my commute and don’t stop to appreciated them. Taking pictures is my way of tricking myself into to taking that time. Winter means there are no roses to smell but there are never-ending micro cosmos to explore. Often my internal excuse is that the picture could never do the scene justice, that some things cannot be captured digitally but this is a copout. There is no reason I should not or stop and soak in the beauty that surrounds me.
I should not need a photo challenge to motivate me. Unfortunately, I am stubbornly driven by goals; meeting challenges and deadlines. It is one of the reasons I push through my three-hour round trip commute to work, even though it is now that rare my position necessitates me being RIGHT ON TIME. Most of this internal mandate is driven by my commitment to my employees, why should I be flippant about start times when I must insist that they are not?
In the morning I point my car toward Mt. Washington; no more than a thin white strip on the horizon from my house, I end at that the feet of that lovely lady.
*Almost four years ago…*
Yesterday, the internet filled to capacity with pictures and stories both good and bad about Valentines Day. Most of my friends on FB posted pictures of the flowers or gifts that their sweeties had given them. AWWW (truly no sarcasm, I promise) and others posted vents about gifts that were not so well received for one reason or another.
“It’s the same thing he got me last year!”
“He got his mother something better!”
“How does he not know I hate that type of chocolate?!”
“He only wrote my name on the top the card and nothing else, I’m not dating hallmark!”
I do not envy the male of the species on Valentines Day. First of all, I highly doubt that the modern traditions and practices would have been ratified by a comity of men if there had ever been an opportunity to do so. It seems to have become a day where female expectations often far exceed natural male ability.
Oh sure they can be trained, and the smart ones learn the Valentines day tricks early. But ask yourself; if not acted on my multitudes of women and the media would men choose to cram a year’s worth of affection and expectation in to a 24 hour period.
I think not.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good (wo)men to do nothing.”
The current state of our immigration policy is something I have tried to publicly ignore but like my Planned Parenthood post I feel the discussion has reached critical mass and I can’t sit idle. The discourse seems to be driven by fear and misinformation and an astonishing lack of logic and facts. My attempt here will be based on my first hand experiences and I ask that anyone with a conflicting point of view to read on with an open mind.
I respect that others have different views and experiences but this is mine, that of a woman who grew up in a place dependent on immigrants. I hope to present the argument that you too are dependent or at least the daily beneficiary of these people and that they do not represent a threat to you and yours.
First and foremost, I was born in a place where “immigrants” both legal and illegal make up a huge part of the population and economy. I have put immigrants in quotes because I am from Saint Cross County, just over the hill from Saint Joseph and south of Saint Francisco.
I was born and raised in Santa Cruz County just over the hill from San Jose (now more commonly referred to as the Silicon Valley) and south of San Francisco. These were not places settled by Caucasians who thought it would be a good idea to call them fun names in a different language. They were founded, settled and inhabited by the Spanish Mexicans until the Mexican province of Alta California was taken in the Mexican American war in 1848. California was accepted into the Union in 1850. During this transition it was not as if all the people who lived there were driven back over the border, my county has always contained a large Mexican population. In fact it is the Caucasian that is the most recent immigrant to my home place.Read More
A few weeks ago I was unmotivated to do anything but sit- rendering me voluntarily couch bound. My inability to completely veg-out resulted in my making a baby registry on the ipad. Among the items requested were plain cotton onesies, fabric dye and tuct tape. My sister bought me all three, proving that I might be weird but I am not alone.
I take my cues from nature. I always have. As I get older I find there is no greater source of knowledge and perspective than natural systems and their inhabitants. I don’t include humans as inhabitants of these systems. I believe that we have lived in our own artificial creation for so long, we have lost touch with the basic wisdom and truth that is readily available in the natural world.
This week brought liquid snow, or ‘rain’ as it is more commonly known outside of New England winters. The mounds of snow that had hidden layered months of leaves and detritus melted away reveling a not so beautiful aspect of the season, the dirty things trapped in between the storms.
As I passed drifts of brown road snow reveled by the rain it occurred to me that time is like snow. It separates the nasty bit of our deeds and doings, holds them suspended and away from each other allowing us time to minimize and cover our ugliness. White washing the past in beautiful, glittering, forgetful drifts. It makes it easier to pretend that we are made of the things we say we are during the time in-between our actions and not the actions themselves.
My mom was a school teacher before my sister and I were born. When we were a little older she started a pre-school at our house called Kid’s Garden. (Sara got to attend the first year but I did not. I’m totally over it…obviously because I don’t even have to mention it anymore.) My early life was filled with children’s books, arts and crafts. There is a book I know is one of her favorites, it is one of mine too. It is called Miss Rumphius.
It is a beautiful illustrated story about a little girl named Alice. She grows up in a city by the sea (from the illustrations it is most likely an East Coast city) She helps out in her grandfather’s shop. He is an artist who carves prow figures and statues for ships and stores. In his youth he traveled the world before he settled by the sea, and at night tells her stories of these far off palaces. She declares to him that she too will travel to far off lands and when she is older she will settle down by the sea.
He tells her “that is all well, little Alice… but there is a third thing you must do.”
“What is that?” asked Alice.
“You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”
“All right,” said Alice. But she did not know what that could be.
The story goes; that she grew up and traveled far. On one of her travels she falls off a camel and hurts her back. It is then she decides it is time to find her place by the sea. She settles into a small cottage. It looks like the Maine coast. There are few other places that look like it!
In 2017 I started more drafts of posts that have gone unpublished than ever before. There is so much I have felt I needed to say but I lack the time to get them to a place worth sharing. These scattered unfinished thoughts have been the benchmark of this past year for me. It is ironic that during the most impotent year of my existence a new life stirs in my belly.
2017 has brought overwhelming feelings of inadequacy and ineptitude, not knowing where to start or where I am headed. It has been hard to find hope and yet this is the time when I need hope more than ever before.
As in so many years passed, work overtook my life. Too often, I put it first and that might be my one regret. I do not lament the time I spent with my coworkers but it came at the cost of time spent at home with family. That being said, the relationships I forged there became a great asset after the news of this new impending change. I could hardly have wished for more supportive group of people to help me through the transition and fear.
My husband and the boys had me brainwashed into thinking it was going to be a boy. All the conversations we had about the new baby used the pronoun “he.” My husband kept insisting that he “only makes boys” (he was kidding, kind of) and with two boys in the family already the concept of another boy seemed natural.
On my husband’s 40th birthday we had an ultrasound and it looks like I managed to get him something he didn’t already have. When the ultrasound technician said “it’s a girl” I think I laughed at my poor husband for about 5 minutes straight. After I got a hold of myself, it hit me- “holy f*ck, it’s a girl.” The thought of a boy was easier for many reasons. Anxiety came flooded in soon after the giggles subsided.
I know how hard it was for me. The battles I fought. The insecurity, fear and pain I felt. The scars that my independence cost me are still livid against my sensitive skin. It is every parents’ dearest hope that our knowledge, experience and hindsight will spare our children the grief visited upon us. The thought of raising a girl in this atmosphere of complex sexual tensions scares the hell out of me.
We often think it is boys we must teach how to fight. It is far more important for the female of the species to be trained in this manner, as she will be threatened by foes who’s natural strength will outweigh her own. I don’t want to make her aware that threats will come to her in the guise of kindness. That she must be aware of entering into unspoken contracts where her virtues will be expected collateral.
I don’t want her to have mistrust be her default. I wish I could hand her a world that was safe but that will do her no favors. By the time the parent is ready to talk of such things- it is often too late. I know what steps I have to take and the path that must be followed, it is just I had hoped for the easier of the two roads. We prepare the boys for the dangers of the fringe but for girls the fringe is so much closer, the path that much narrower. I never realized how scared I was until those three words were spoken aloud.
Four years ago, we were preparing for my dad’s funeral by early morning light. I was back in my childhood home under the redwoods in my mom’s kitchen; writing a joint eulogy with my sister and pouring some good whiskey into a flask for the three of us. It was rough but we were determined to make the best of it, in our own special way.
Many of the day’s events we planned were unique, using our grief as an excuse to have some fun. We decided to end the doins’ with a game of “what’s this for?” A game where we showed the crowd stuff my dad had made for very specific reasons and had them guess what its function was.
For instance; this is a sock hamper, specifically designed to keep terriers away from your dirty socks and ONLY used for socks.
Needing some purpose in the days before I could fly out west, I started the WWDD Homeless pack project in order to introduce and explain our intentions for the memorial the following week. Instead of flowers we asked that everyone bring survival supplies: backpacks, rain gear, toiletries, first aid, socks, etc. We set up some tables along the wall and asked at the end for everyone to compile “homeless packs.”
Homeless packs were a thing my dad used as an excuse to buy military surplus items in bulk. He would put together kits filled with useful things for people living out of doors. He would keep two or three of these in the trunk of his car at all times and giving them out when he ran across people in need of such items.
The response was unexpected. As people arrived, they bought their items with them, overflowing three whole tables with gear and supplies. During the event we explained that this was meant as a personal act of kindness, an opportunity to look someone in the eye and not only acknowledge their suffering but to give them a gift that might help alleviate it somewhat. It means stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something nice without expectation of reciprocity.
It might be a bit of a shock that over the last four years of this blog I have left out one of the major aspects of our life together. One of the main reasons behind leaving my job for a simpler life after my dad passed has gone wholly unmentioned. The time has come to ‘go public’ and the best place to start is always the beginning.
In the spring of 2014 I got a call from my husband and The Boys as they made their way north from their mom’s house. It went a little something like this-
“The Boys and I discussed it and we decided you should go off birth control and we should try to have a baby.”
“YAHHHHAH!!!” The little ones yelled from the back seat.
I was taken aback. Before we married we had discussed the possibility of another child and decided we wanted to try but only after we managed to knock down some of the massive debt we had accrued after the relocation cross country. We had made progress in this respect but were far from debt free. The Boys were 5 and 7, growing by the minute and over the moon about the possibility of more siblings.
I thought it was interesting that I was told about the decision instead of asked, but not really surprised. The surprise had come years before when I was shocked to find out that my mate wanted more children with me. Knowing the back story of his first marriage I had assumed that he was content with two and without conversation I had accepted the reality that I would only be a stepmom. His desire for more WAS unexpected but welcome.
I am not the type of person that had planned my life in any long term fashion; instead, I directed my choices from the options I actually had in front of me. As a youth; when asked about my plans for a family I always said that if I was married and had a husband who wanted kids too, then I would love to have some, but I never put too fine a point on it. Who knew if I would ever find a worthy husband in the first place? Athing I considered that a prerequisite for children. I was not a girl who vowed to have children at any cost and for most of my life I made sure to take percussions against any such situations. I have always been around kids in some capacity, from communal child minding of morning Jazzercise, to private babysitting, the preschool my mom ran out of our house and the kids I mentored in collage- I knew that children would be a big part of my life one way or another.
Children and animals are my favorite forms of life.
After my relationship blessed me with two stepsons (who I think are the best people I have ever met) and after multiple years of trying to conceive I had come to a place where I accepted the reality that another baby may not be in the hand I was dealt.
I can honestly say I never felt there was a void in our family unit that needed filling or fixing. Of course I wish everyday the boys were with us more than they are (weekends during school, Mon-Weds in the summer and alternating vacations) but there is something to be said for having time with just the two of us. I value my alone time (as I consider myself good company) and have always been very aware of the all encompassing effort young ones require.
When talking about one long term plan or other, the boys would often bring up the possibility of a new sibling. Last year I started adding that it may not be something we need to plan for since by now it normally would have happened. They were still hopeful but I would remind them that it’s also a lot of work and a baby has a huge impact on daily life. We discussed how nice it is not to have to watch ‘baby shows’ and now we can all go on long hikes and participate in more grownup activities.
The end of this summer I found myself in the bathroom at work, with a positive home pregnancy test in my hand. My first disjointed thought was that I had finally won the ‘stick in the box game!’ After years of taking them hopefully at the end of every month this really did feel like an achievement. The next thought quickly followed “holy shit! I might actually be pregnant!” The possibility had seemed so slim for so long, I could hardly believe it.
Ry was on his way home from a meeting out of town and I had to wait half a day before I could tell him in person. He was excited but didn’t want to get his hopes up before we confirmed with a blood test. After years of false alarms we were both in shock.
A blood test the next day text confirmed I was indeed with child!
We celebrated. I giggled all night at how obviously proud he was of himself. The elation was tempered by the realities of the first trimester of pregnancy while maintaining a heavy physical/stress filled work load. In the spring, I had taken on the Executive Chef position on top of my Director of Food and Beverage duties at the hotel. We were booked up with back to back, double and (some days) triple overlapping events. This was on top of the summer transient occupancy that comes along with being a vacation destination in the White Mountains.
My coworkers and staff were amazing. They were the first people to know since they would be the ones most effected by my new limitations. My shift supervisors could not have been more understanding and helpful. When I had contemplated having a baby I was always sad it would be away from my community support back home. I was so wrong. Every time I was scared or worried there were at least three people I could text, call or talk to who would instantly tell me it would be ok along with a story from their own experiences. I cannot ever thank them enough for the love and care I was given.
To say I was exhausted is a massive understatement. I felt horrible. With a three hour daily commute to work and four hour round trip weekend drive to go get the boys- I had never been so drained in all my life. It became obvious to the kids that something was “up” with me. I was taking naps and making excuses to rest during beautiful fall days, something they did not normally see me do. Without knowing what was going on they humored me and again proved themselves to be some of the kindest most considerate people I have ever met.
After a couple of scary days, the first three month were finally behind us. Initial Dr. visits and the like all taken care of. We got to see the little bean (who already had fingers and toes!) at an ultra sound around 13 weeks. It was crazy to see it moving around alive and well. It was time to tell the boys and they were as happy as any parent can ask at the prospect of a new addition. As a rule they are involved and present in our family doin’s and it was such a relief to have them so excited.
The other week while talking about the future- the oldest declared that I “was going to be a grandma” and he was going to be an “uncle.”
“Your brother got someone pregnant?!? He is 9!!”
“No!” he said shocked and confused. “But you are already a mom. What does this one make you??”
“A mom” I replied now unable to keep a straight face. I explained that you only get to be an uncle when your siblings have offspring as it became apparent from the conversation that he assumed there was some sort of age gap promotion at work. A logical conclusion in hindsight. I blew his mind by telling him you could be an aunt or uncle and be the same age or even younger your niece or nephew. That was news to him.
We just had another ultrasound today and saw that all its little organs were where they should be. Normal heart rate, fully formed spine, ten fingers and toes. It was nice to see the little geeter again as I haven’t felt too much in terms of kicking, yet.
It would appear this spring we will add a new human to the homestead instead of a new batch of critters. I promise this will not become a “mommy blog” though I’m sure there will be future mention of this new wrinkle in our plans. The only sure thing is that the addition will have the best dad and big brothers the world has to offer. Truthfully, I have been too scarred and tired to be excited, there is still a whole labor to get through before I get to hold our little bundle.
All I can hope is that everything keeps going well and try to prepare as much as possible for the new path we are headed down. This will be an adventure for sure!
Be well and thank you for reading!
When I was young, I was allowed to roam the mountain behind my house. Covered in ancient redwoods this steep ascent climbed about a mile to the summit where I could explore the top of the little ridge that cradled my childhood. The lookouts were endless and offered views that seemed to show the ridges of god’s own fingerprints.
In the time before cell phones I know these excursions caused my mom some concern. Not only where the woods home to mountain lions and rattlesnakes as well as the ever-present black widows (though these were more of a concern in the jumble of my dad’s ‘Clampet area’ down by the welding shed.) Adding to the danger, the terrain itself was far from stable or safe. In high school, a good friend from up the street lost her older brother from a fall on the same ridge we often played on.
Preparation for these trips started with snacks and water but most importantly a 9 inch survival knife, strapped to my waist for easy access. I usually brought a couple other blades or weapons for protection since I was alone. These implements were mostly in case of mountain lions but would serve the purpose should I come across other humans with ill intent.
There were no trails, save the ones made by the forest creatures and it was far more likely I would be menaced by four-legged beast than two-legged ones, still as a girl on my own I took precaution. In that four or five square miles of ravines and outcroppings no one would hear my screams.
I went on these trips blithely, preparing for trouble but never really believing any would befall me. As I entered the woods I would make a silent vow that if something did try to kill or hurt me that the experience would not be an easy one, I would fight till my last breath using every resource at my disposal. I wouldn’t be a victim or easy prey.
In my mid-teens I entered to woods of professional kitchens, a place full of danger and people who would not take care of me. As the lone girl in the room I was often harassed, tested and hazed. I approached that situation with a similar attitude as my solo hikes and made it my duty to take on all comers. Making them think twice about their assumption that I was a thing present for their pleasure or purposes. I would not be given a place at their side, I would have to take it.
I made a career of it.
When the #Metoo phenomenon was exploding, I didn’t bother to make my declaration. I noticed that many of my female chef friends didn’t either. For us, harassment was a way of life. As was taking matters into our own hands. I cannot count how many times I have been assaulted, I can count on one hand (with fingers to spare) how many times it happened twice in the same kitchen.
None of my tactics where kind or politically correct. One time I overheard a coworker telling a cohort in Spanish he wanted to bend me over the prep table and have his way with me. I beckoned him over under the guise of needing help, grabbed him in a vulcan neck pinch and bent him over the table, while threatening his rear with an uncut carrot and asking “¿cómo le gusta esto?”- “how do you like this?”
He was also unaware that I spoke Spanish and would take no shit. He did after that and within a day so did everyone else. It is an odd thing to say that after most such incidents my coworkers and I become friends, but it’s true. After all, they could not take the moral high road at my behavior as that was not the path we meet on.
One time, a new coworker placed my share of the kitchen tips on his lap and told me to “come and get them” smirking lewdly. I smiled and told him “wait a second.” Grabbing the nearest butcher knife I approached him and told him to “hold very still” as I used it as a spatula to claim my tips. It was amusing to watch a man of Jamaican decent blanch to a shade of Caucasian. We become good friends.
“Care to join me for a hike?” Dennis Gobets 2009.
Since Thanksgiving is not anchored to any particular date the anniversary of my dad’s death seems to fall on two days some years. This year is one of them.
Black Friday is always the hardest for me. Since he technically passed on the 29th of November, today marks four solid calendar years without him. I don’t really know how to characterize it, except to say that I have adjusted.
Progress has been made, I no longer refer to him in the present. Talking about what happened has grown easier as these things so often do. The sharpness of the pain has dulled but the scar is still there, a marked part of the living flesh. Sometimes it feels like only I can see it now. When it first happened the injury is raw and ragged, your defining characteristic to others in the know. A thing they can’t look away from or ignore. Now, it would seem that the only time people see it is when I point it out, since from the outside it looks much the same as the other bits of my existence. Greif is a process and we have been traveling down this path for awhile now. We have with us the pack of tools we have gathered along the journey.
In the beginning; just after the fall, we struggle to our feet undeniably broken and unable to move in any way without pain from the shock of such a severe insult. It feels like you are crawling, scraping for each inch of progress and knowing that the only choices you have are to continue on or give up and die where you lay. Everything hurts, each effort sharp and stinging so that sometimes the only thing you can do is stop all forward progress and breath.
We all chose to live on. The sorrow didn’t drown us as it felt like it could at first. We got through the logistics of arranging final rites and tying up loose ends, until they are all neatly knotted and safely separate from everything else. All of us finding our own outlets, the individual crutches to help us along our own way. Just like being on a hike with others- each one of us is responsible for our own progress though we started from the same point and share much the same trail.
All night I tossed the turned, dreaming fitfully of the morning’s macabre task. Each time I woke- my stomach dropped as I realized it had been a dream and the deed still lay before me.
I woke up before dawn and headed out to prepare my station. I cut the top and bottom off a milk jug and screwed the handle to a log, machete at the ready. I entered the coop with a sock in my hand. I bid the rooster a good morning and picked him up him gently, fitted the sock over his head to calm him. He struggled very little at first and then not at all as most birds tend to do once in the dark.
Outside, I grabbed his head through one side of the jug, pulled it through with my left hand so that his neck stretched along the length of the log, while grabbing the blade in my right. Three whacks later, what was once one body lay in two parts. Blood stained the fall leaves and splashed the stone wall. There was the usual post mortem flailing and I sat back and bowed to my kill, apologizing and thanking it for its life. I cried a little, sorry for the pain I had caused. It is always beyond me to see suffering and not be struck down by the sorrow of it all.
I reminded myself that this is where all meat comes from. With each of these kills I am faced with the reality that eating meat, means taking life. Most people will pass their whole lives and never look their dinner in the eye. They don’t have to watch as the body and soul part ways- never mind preform the deed personally. I truly understand not wanting to take part in the brutality but for myself I think it is important to participate in the nasty bits before I reap the harvest.
This rooster came to us this summer by way of my well-meaning husband. He arrived home from work and called me out into the yard.
“What is that doing here?!” I said gesturing to the caged bird that had not so magically appeared on our land.