Sunday, January 18, 2015

Life: A Rant

I'm on antibiotics twice a day for five days. My lack of joy is so un-exuberant I can't find the words to express it. But, I'm grateful. Grateful for antibiotics. Without them I'd be quite the misery muffin. No worries out there, it's nothing serious. With medical care, this is no big deal. Without medical care, it may have been a whole different story.

With antibiotics, however, come certain side effects. It's only day two and my stomach is already preparing to go on strike. Yogurt is the best medicine for it. I hope the stuff in the fridge is still good, because it's on my to-nom list.

Medicine for medicine. It seems that's how the world goes 'round.

I have this worry about the world, especially the western world. Worries are useless, you do realize. Worrying does nothing. Worrying is that thing people do when they're helpless to do anything about something. Waiting for their kids to come home from a date. Watching international negotiations over nuclear weapons. Reading reports about searches for plane debris.

I worry about medication use. Overuse of antibiotics has gotten a lot of publicity, and I think most people paying the least bit of attention understand that they shouldn't take antibiotics without a positive diagnosis of a bacterial infection (not viral! antibiotics don't help with viral infections) and then, if they do end up on antibiotics, they must be very faithful about taking every dose exactly on time so that there's less of a chance of bugaboos surviving through weak or incomplete dosage regimens. Those survivor bugs have a chance of becoming an antibiotic-resistant strain, and those are very, very bad news.

But that's not what I worry about the most. What I worry about the most is the entire pharmaceutical mentality, most especially in the United States. I think it's linked to the litigation-happy society Americans live in . For example: I recently delivered a bookshelf to a woman's car. While she lowered the back seat to make room, she made the comment that the first time she lowered the seat, it just about knocked her out, and that the manufacturer was crazy because 'someone's child could be hurt and then they'll have a lawsuit on their hands.' First of all, I think it's been so long since she's had any kind of conk to the head (if she ever has) that she probably has no idea about what it feels like to actually be 'almost knocked out'. I'm sure it was very unpleasant. She may have even fallen and whacked her elbow and/or knees in the process. It may have even been the fault of the seat. But I strongly feel that the world is not a safe place and not everything in the universe must be turned into a Disneyland version of a functional device to limit the manufacturers' liability claims. Don't take away my sicklebar mower because it might mow a child's feet off. That's on me. My responsibility to make sure my child is under control enough to keep them safe. And if they do run in front of the mower, or release the seat catch and get smooshed (harmlessly, most likely) by the seat and cry, that's called an accident (fueled by the child's inexperience and lack of understanding). That is not the fault of the car manufacturer or the sicklebar mower. Period.

In court, the jury has this whole concept of 'reasonable' to look at in multiple ways. Reasonable doubt. What a reasonable person in a similar situation would do. Where is the reasonable-ness in safety? Putting poison on or into toys is unreasonable. Being forced to create a so-called child-proof latch and/or a super-slow release hinge to spare clumsy or inattentive people a bit of a padded blow to the noggin is not reasonable. I'm sick to death of such things. If people got hurt more often, they'd be less likely to get killed doing something stupid. Think about that. Pain is a great teacher. Without it, we quickly become oblivious, bumbling idiots bouncing from lucky encounter to lucky close call until we blunder in front of a bus and end up under it. And the bus driver is taken to court.

It's the same with medications. So many medications attempt to make people feel normal, happy, and completely well. There seems to be no allowance for the idea that if you're sick, injured, or otherwise damaged, you will be in pain and you won't function as well as someone who isn't sick, injured or otherwise damaged. I'm not saying make people suffer when they don't have to. But this impossible goal, and the extensive medicating that happens in an effort to reach that goal, is expensive and insane.

A lot of people I know are resistant to taking any kind of medication. I think that's a good thing. The body is remarkable and it does a better job of fixing most things than pharmaceuticals could ever hope to do. I don't think it's doctors. This seems to be driven by the patients and their expectations. Not only of what medication can do for them, but what they themselves have to do and/or live with.

The doing is the hardest part. So many people come to the store and park in the handicapped parking space when they can function so much better than Gary, victim of a massive car accident that permanently damaged his short-term memory abilities, and barely gives him the ability to hobble with the use of a cane through the store. He fights for every step. He'll never get any better, but do you know what? He won't get weaker and weaker and weaker as his remaining muscles atrophy because that amazing bastard fights to keep what he has. And it's hard. And it hurts. And it's no fun. And yes, people who haven't been in an accident, or who are old, or who have cancer do not have it as easy as people who are young and in perfect health. I want those handicapped spaces there, especially for those really, really bad days when it's a struggle just to get out of bed, but damnit, they need a can of soup and some bread and they're going to rally and shop. That fighting spirit leaves me in awe. It doesn't have to be exceptional. So many sunsets are breathtaking ... and normal. That's what human life should be like. The miracle of a garden in springtime is created through the battle for space, light, moisture and nutrients by every plant that sprouts there.

I don't know what's going on with a given person. I do my best not to judge those who do whatever they do on a given day, because I don't know them or what they're going through. Yet, over time, patterns emerge. The woman who claims to be in too much pain to pick up something off the bottom shelf at the store, but runs, waving her arms, screaming at someone because they parked in the handicapped spot and they don't look like they need it. Seriously.


What risks, and what pain and suffering can we live with, if we truly understand that it's not the destination, but the journey itself that makes us strong and makes the world a beautiful and wonderful place? What if everyone understood that feeling healthy is a gift, and that feeling awful is normal. That's right, normal. It doesn't always need to be fixed. A lot of times it can't be fixed, and the mitigation is worse than the symptoms not just because a medication makes you feel dull but because you stop fighting and let something else take control. Sometimes, not always but sometimes, illness just has to be battled in our own bodies on our own if we ever have a hope of coming out the other side as free beings. How less screwed up would our society be if people admitted that yes, this sucks, but you're not alone or abnormal in some way? Stop Googling new treatments for your friend's disease and f***ing appreciate the time you have with them and encourage them to keep fighting. Because it's exhausting, and sometimes the best medicine is to vent, or go to the movies, or to have a cheerleader hold your hand to get through the really, really bad stuff. Read the book Gimp sometime. Or The Fault in Our Stars. Fight. Live. Not to be normal. Just, to be all that you can, and to attempt to achieve what you want most to achieve. There are no guarantees, no promises, no happy endings, but that's ....


Monday, January 12, 2015

Goatie Poopie Dog

Today my DH and I spent most of the daylight hours working on the farm. How much did we get done? Oh, about 1 percent. Maybe. Hopefully.

The big project was getting gravel on the main paths that my DH uses to feed the animals every day. He has an unstable knee that won't see surgery until late spring, so traction is crucial or he'll tear what's left of the support system. He turned Brian and Finn, the Great Pyr puppies, loose in the upper pasture so that the goats would be on their best behavior. Then we got a load of gravel and went to work. He loaded up the wheelbarrow and ran it up and down the hill, while I cleared out the accumulated manure and old, slimy, moldy alfalfa that had turned into a disgusting slip-n-slide near the gate where we fed the boys alfalfa on the way to the shed where they got their grain. I slung pitchfork-fuls of this fragrant slop over the fence into a pile, to be delivered to the veggie garden later.

Meanwhile, Chase, the border collie mix, ran along outside the fenceline, following Rory up and down the hill and occasionally making a run at the fence in a lame attempt to scare the goats into running. At some point we stopped paying attention to her until Rory let out an oath of disgust. "Chase, no!!"

I looked over and guess who was playing in the pile of ick? Guess who had rolled in it thoroughly and now was covered in partially dry goat poop, mole hole dirt, and whose fur was stained green from rolling in rotted, piss-soaked alfalfa? Well, I can tell you this. It was not me.

Chase was so gross, so filthy that Rory didn't want to let her trot through the house to the bathroom, so he picked her up at the door and carried her straight to the tub.

Her white fur is now once again white, and her black fur doesn't look suspiciously olive-toned. Clean dog. She got a lot of exercise today, watching us work, so she's curled up in an adorable ball on the sofa. The way she's acting, she worked harder than any of us. And maybe she has.

We've had some beautiful days, with lots of opportunity to work outside. I hope Mother Nature keeps them coming. There's plenty more out there to do. Next time, though, I think I'll stage a second wheelbarrow outside the the fence right next to the goat shed to avoid future, ah, breaks to play.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Roasty Goodness

This is for all of you who either have a toaster oven you never use, or you just got one for Christmas and you're thinking it's going to take up way more counter space than it's worth.

You are going to cook like a gourmet cook because of this device. Seriously.

Last night, as I was roasting baby peppers as an ingredient for dinner, while simultaneously toasting an old, hardened croissant in a damp paper towel (which came out incredibly tender and even more delicious than when I bought them fresh), I thought: I have arrived in gourmet heaven. And I didn't spend all night in the kitchen cooking, either. It went by fast.

So I decided to share my morning cooking with you. It took a little longer than usual because I was snapping pics the whole time.

First, the roasted peppers. I bought a whole bag of baby peppers because I thought they would make good New Year's Day nibbles, especially with some onion dip. Did I actually cut them up and serve them? Of course not. BTW, I could have as easily used tomatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, or whatever as the roasted yummy. But, I have this huge bag of peppers, so peppers it is.
 I got some olive oil, pepper, sage, sea salt, and I chopped and crushed a clove of fresh garlic. I put them into a cheap plastic sandwich bag with my slices of baby peppers and mushed it all around until the peppers were coated with oil and seasonings. Yum!

Then, I stuck them in my wonderful toaster oven. You can see how mine has a warming chamber above my main oven compartment. They're nice to have, but not strictly necessary. That's where I warmed up my croissant. (Delicious! Wish I had one more left.)

I set the toaster oven to broil, low, and set the timer for ten minutes. I've roasted peppers for as long as fifteen minutes before. It blackens their edges a bit, which actually adds a lot of flavor without making them taste nasty and burnt. But suit yourself.

A word about eggplant. They will soak up an infinite amount of oil. Put as much oil as you care to in the bag, and no more than that.

 Meanwhile, back at the range ....
Here I have my last two eggs in the whole world, because my lazy chickens don't lay in the wintertime. Actually, I could make them using a light, but I think they need the rest after working hard all spring, summer and fall.

I add milk, seasonings, some more of the crushed garlic (which is roasting with the peppers in the toaster oven and making the kitchen smell awesome), a touch of salt, and I use a fork to beat it all together.

 Now comes the weird part for some of you. You can be satisfied with eggs scrambled with roasted peppers, which is admittedly delicious, or you can be daring and pull a slice of your favorite bread (I like eight grain) into small chunks and mix it into the egg.

Heat up the pan with butter. I don't want to hear about your obsession with vegetable oils. These are eggs. They like butter. :) I pour the eggs and bread into the pan when it's hot enough to make pancakes.
 So, what's going on in the toaster oven in the meantime? Roasted goodness, that's what! I just pull out the peppers and admire their delicious, garlic-y goodness. I can't help but set one aside for nom nom nom all by itself. Because I'm like that.
 Look how clean the bottom of the pan is when I stir in the peppers! Cast iron should work basically like a non-stick pan, except without the weird peeling-off bad-for-you coatings and the risk of cutting the pan, causing irreparable harm if you should be so foolish as to use a metal implement. Do you know what happens when I scratch my cast iron pan? I rub oil into it and keep on a going. In a month you'll never even know it was scratched. They're gorgeous. But I digress.

No egg (cooked with butter!) dish is complete without cheese. I throw caution to the wind and finish the cheese inside my cast iron pan because I don't fear no cheese in my pan. It'll come right out. Besides, then the cheese has a chance to do a tiny bit of browning here and there and I love that. Love love love it.

Check it out. I clean the cast iron pan right after I pour out the egg stuff. A little stuck here and there, but you know what? It came out easy. I cleaned the pan under full hot running water in the sink. If you like you can spray on some diluted soap to get rid of any excess grease, but never full strength soap and don't stop the water flow. You can do emergency cleaning by boiling (slightly!) soapy water in your cast iron pan, but it will smell soapy when you heat it up for the next couple of times. It's only worth it if you didn't clean it while it was still hot after cooking (you foolish mortal, you!) and you have really stubborn food remains that are glued in there like cement. Baked dishes that use rice are a little famous for doing this.

Toaster ovens and cast iron pans. Awesome. And if you don't like roasted veggies, fine, be that way. Your toaster oven is still awesome. You never, ever have an excuse not to make garlic bread because you don't want to heat up your oven 'just for bread.' You have the toaster oven now, you lucky dog, you. Plus, there's no better way to reheat leftover french fries or to put the crispiness back in fried chicken that you take home from Popeyes but leave on the counter or in the car just a little too long. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Training Continues

I can almost read her mind.
Staying home all day is sooooo boring and the only thing to do is mess with the cats but I'm not allowed! Seriously?

Otherwise, Chase is adapting well to home life. She gets loads of attention, both positive and negative, but not owie negative (though sometimes she gets scared.) She gets to sneak cat food. She doesn't have to share her doghouse (although she has to stay in it at night.) She can vacuum the kitchen whenever she wants. There are fun new tricks to learn, like stay, though stay is very, very confusing. But getting released from stay is the best thing ever!

Bummer, though, she's had two baths this month. Two! Humans are so weird.

I'm a little worried that she might put on some weight, now that she's not chasing cars all day. She goes out about every two hours, but not for long and she's not allowed anywhere near the road, so she doesn't get past a doggie trot in speed. I'm thinking, maybe she should get a play hour in the morning and another in the evening, right around rush hour, so she can chase cars and get some exercise. My worry is, though, that she'll go right back to bullying Brian instead of going on patrol. So we'll see. If Brian came in during that hour, that would be one thing, but Brian is afraid of the floor and won't come in.

Wish us luck! So far, so good, though it's a process, like anything else.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Learning Overload

We have Chase, our OCD Border Collie mix, inside full time now. It's a lot of fun, but man oh man, it's a lot of work, too.

Chase is a rat-killer. That's her most-useful function. In her mind, though, her most important duty was to chase cars. (Hence the name.) That's how we originally got her, actually. As far as we can understand, her previous owner wasn't too concerned about her safety and just tossed her out periodically into an unfenced yard. She chased cars all the way to our place. We returned her once, after having no contact/no interest in her for a month despite fliers, asking around, and contacting the Humane Society in case someone went looking for her there. Ultimately a friendly neighbor let us know who she belonged to, and he came and picked her up.

We got the owner's phone number and the next time she turned up, we called for over a month. He didn't even bother to answer our phone calls. After consulting the Humane Society, we learned that she was essentially abandoned at that point, so we adopted her. Incidentally, the previous owner never contacted us again, though he lives less than a quarter mile from us and certainly drives by from time to time, if not daily.

She's better off here. Trust me.

Anyway, because of residual abuse issues (like I said, she's better off here) she guarded food and was generally badly or rather un-socialized as far as other animals are concerned. The food guarding gradually improved, but she started to get more and more aggressive with the other dogs. When I came home one day and saw her savaging Brian's face, that was it. She had to be indoors, full time, crated at night and while we're away from the house (to keep the cats safe) and is under constant supervision by day.

Sometimes she doesn't need us reminding her every five seconds. Those are the good times. I love having her inside all the time, but much better when she's snuggled up on the sofa with us. When she goes into endless predator stalk mode with Huntress, or gets into the cat food, or gets incredibly snuggly (as in she has to be licking your face with her forelegs on your shoulders and her body sprawled across yours) because she becomes consumed by epic levels of insecurity, confusion and general overwhelmed-ness, that's when my DH and I get really, really weary.

We can certainly separate her from all temptation. Move the cat food, keep her isolated from the cats, etc. but we want to train her, not make it so that it's not possible for her to do anything bad or bothersome ever again. And she's learning sooo fast! She's very smart. But she's bored and there's not much for her to do around here. We have to come up with stuff. For now, it's pretty much a full time job to herd our herding dog. In the meantime, she'll be stressed out some of the time because she doesn't understand all these seemingly-arbitrary rules, we'll be aggravated because it seems pretty obvious to us what we want of her, and the house will be in chaos. But chaos is okay sometimes. From chaos comes creativity, possibility, and a bunch of other -ity's. We'll discover new ways to interact with our 'difficult' dog, learn a bunch of stuff, and have the fun of having a dog around the house to play and cuddle with and to let us know when there's a horse in the orchard.

That's another story.

Monday, October 27, 2014

An Ode to Passion

Dr. Who takes Vincent to the Museum

This video has gone viral for so many reasons. For me it heals a wound I felt when, as a child, I learned about Van Gogh's art and a little about his life. I'm sure there's much more than what 'everyone knows'. Some of it can't be known because of the time period, lack of records, etc. Still, the popular portrayal of the man connects with a lot of people who struggle with rejection.

The questions–why did he paint, and what ultimately caused him to end his own life–go beyond one man's art and life. Every person exists with their own questions, whether they look at them or not. Why do we do the things we do, and what keeps us going? In some ways, it seems to me that Vincent Van Gogh had more consciousness and control, even amid the chaos that seems to have been his life, than most people who just drift. To act, to create with purpose and will, and to struggle to live every day, is the story of humanity and is linked the survival of our species. Those that fight and strive do great things. Not necessarily memorable things. Farmers that kept their families and communities alive don't have their life's work displayed in a museum. But their success, their art (and a well-managed farm is a wonder to behold) sustained the people all around them.

When you take away the struggle, when you take away the pain, that is wonderful and good and comforting to the animal part of us that needs food, shelter, water, etc. (And, apparently, a smart phone ....) But will a person who is always in such a good place ever become strong, ever create anything of their own? Maybe. When there's no struggle to survive, no necessity to run, to hunt, to invent things, to come up with new solutions to really tough problems, what becomes of us?

The Russians sent stuff and people into space first. If that hadn't happened, would the United States Space Program have achieved what it did? And when the U.S. got really far, far ahead of everyone else, what happened to the program? It gradually dwindled. In fact, it's dwindled world wide as other massive problems needed to be addressed.

And within these problems, there are people who are suffering ... and innovating, and struggling to live day to day. While big governments move the pieces around on the chess board, somewhere there's a man who is putting all his will and all his strength into keeping himself and his family alive every single day. He's lost in a sea of humanity, unknown, uncelebrated. Maybe he writes poetry in the quiet hours, expressing himself as a form of comfort or because he has no choice. It's in his blood. No one may ever find that poetry. No one else may hear his wife sing, or watch his daughter work out a better way to defend the family from invaders, or witness an innovation developed by this man and his friends. Their work could all be crushed. And maybe it may become too much to keep on going. In dark hours, exhausted, seeing no point in going on and finding it all too unbearable, because one by one family dies all around them or because they're isolated and ignored or told they're worthless, subhuman, disgusting, tainted ... sometimes they take their own lives. Perhaps it's to escape. Perhaps it's the last bit of control they'll have before others enslave or torture them or kill them at their own pleasure.

We all die. Maybe nothing we do, be it art or endless video gaming, murder or callous bullying, makes any difference to anyone. Someday, Vincent Van Gogh's paintings will crumble completely apart. All our works, all our lives, will be forgotten. So what's the point?

Vincent, and oddly the video, explains it all. Because it all goes away in the end, it matters all the more. Every day, every breath. And those that don't have to fight for it might not realize that until it's too late. Vincent didn't realize what an impact his life and work would have. He gave up everything. Even if he'd lived longer, eventually he would have died. But every moment he lived was precious to the art world, to the spiritual world, to so many of us that the number of people who adore his work can't be counted. So many people wish that he'd lived longer, produced more work. So many people who are dying right now wish for another moment, another breath, beyond all hope, one more day in which they could do something, see something remarkable, laugh one more time, hold their loved ones close, write another page in the manuscript. So many people, watching helplessly as a beloved friend or family member is taken away from the world, wish for five more minutes.

Loads of people have those moments, those days, those opportunities but don't take them because each moment doesn't feel imperative, there's no imminent threat, and they're not driven by a passion. Those with passion, under threat of loss or destruction or no, create anyway. Those with a passion for life live with an enviable exuberance. Those who love deeply and feel unworthy of that love and grace feel blessed and never-ending gratitude. Those who recognize the fragility of peace, good weather, and a safe harbor appreciate the cup of coffee early in the morning and that precious sense of being home. The video clip doesn't just heal a tiny but elemental fragment of the wound made in the world by Vincent Van Gogh's art, suffering, and suicide. It reveals the essence of life and living, art and love, struggle, achievement, and loss.

It's all bound together in a gift we're given the moment we're born. Time. What will you do with yours?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Not Quite an Edwardian Farm

It's that overwhelming time of year when farm work goes completely nuts. You'd think that with the weather changing and everything going dormant, we'd be pretty much done for the year. Time for hot chocolate and some quality writing time, right?

I wish.

Because the animals are spending more time indoors in their various barns, coops and stalls, that means more cleaning. The cooler weather means everyone is eating more, too. That means more trips to the feed store, or alternatively, setting up the barn to store extra feed in such a way that the rats can't infest and spoil it. I haven't decided which route to go, which means I have some feed in a half-assed situation that is sort of okay, and some feed that I'll have to keep running down to the feed store to re-buy every three weeks or so.

Shorter days means fewer daylight hours in which to do this stuff. It was dark at 7pm today. And when I woke at 7am, it was pretty darned dim outside. Plus, I have a long list of things I want done before spring. Remember the anti-deer fence around the vegetable garden? Didn't get finished. Now there's a new-ish plan that hopefully will be better in the long run, but there are some potential issues that have to be addressed if the plan is going to work.

I've been watching BBC's Edwardian Farm, and it's actually helped me a lot as far as trying to sort out priorities and setting things up so that they'll work more efficiently (which means less work for me in the long run.) All technology has done has taken some of the back-breaking out of the work. The work itself remains the same. And since we don't have nifty things like tractors around here (or horses, alas,) then any and all insights that might help are very welcome.

The farm on the show is both simplified and more complicated, probably to make for more interesting viewing and to make sure that a lot of history gets some stage time that it otherwise might not. After all, in the end, the show is an educational venture first and foremost. It's been doing a splendid job, and I'm learning a lot from watching. Small details jump out at me, like the depth of turned earth when they're plowing to suit various crops, and how their schedules adapt to the seasons. They take advantage of every single moment of every day. That inspires me to attempt to do the same, or at least look at how I budget my time.

For a while I used to get up early so that I could work out and have some quiet time in which to write. Now I'm thinking about getting up early to try to get some of those farm chores that just aren't getting done often enough (like cleaning and repairs) as a form of exercise and using the remaining time before work to write. Gone are the days when I could do some chores after work. Even when I work 'early' there's too little daylight left by the time I get home to do anything except maybe race around and make sure the animals are all okay.

This all means that even when I retire, I'll still have more work than I know what to do with. Typical farm life. I love it, but there are times when I think about how lovely it would be to sleep in or have a day off. But I would miss my animals, and I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing. Good work, no regrets.