Homestead Hurdles

The only fresh, local, certified organic vegetable at the co-op right now is cabbage. My partner made miso soup for dinner, to try to wipe out this cold. Carrots (Cali) and lots of ginger (Cali) and probably a whole head of garlic (Cali). Tofu (not sure where from), miso (non-GMO soybeans), and whole wheat noodles.

I’m in the midst of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I would miss ginger if we did an all-local diet.  I mean, I would miss chocolate, black and green tea, and spices from the east, too. I could give up coffee – I’m already working on that. But ginger?

It’s hard eating locally in the winter. Left work early this afternoon because my head was pounding and I was starting to feel that dizzy hot/cold flu-y stuff, and walking past the row of vegetables…I wanted every one. Two or three bunches of bursting, flowery kale, a few heads of broccoli, a full parsley salad with dikon radishes…I was craving all those summer vitamins the way we yearn for longer days this time of year. Sickness brings that to the surface, I suppose.

Next year, I hope to have plenty of stored garlic for my January miso soups. Beets, carrots and celariac buried in buckets filled with sand in a root cellar. Canned tomatoes and pickles and frozen berries and rhubarb…

How does one do all this? How do you start from scratch and produce a full-fledged, functioning homestead? I’m having trouble finding time to stack this year’s firewood, not to mention start cutting and splitting and seasoning next years’ cord or two. What gives? Can’t stop paying the bills, bettering myself, building family, taking time to relax. (The latter of which, latent, is surely what causes the sniffles and headaches I find myself plagued with every few weeks.) And when I get sick, or she has a bum knee, or we have a dog crisis, or the holidays burns us out like an old oak struck by lightning, well, then it feels like ten steps backwards. And when you’re the plumbing in and out of the house, and there’s not quite enough room from side to side to sweep the dirt into a corner, getting behind becomes a crisis in itself, and I suddenly wonder if it’s all worth it, if we should just go rent an apartment in town with all its amenities.

But did you know that goats lick their lips when they see you approaching with hay? It is the sweetest thing in the whole world. And when they stop chewing mid-bite, letting you stroke their neck and jaws for minutes upon minutes…



1. Be on time to work
I don’t even want to admit how many times I’ve clocked in late this last year. Completely unacceptable. Makes me feel like a bad employee. A bad person. Who wants that? So how will I accomplish this goal? Make a point to be more aware of time on a regular basis. Catch myself slipping in “just this one last thing” or “just five more minutes” of whatever.

2. Track the year with a daily blog post
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If three quarters or what I write is total shit, that’s still more than ninety decent posts. A haiku would be sufficient on exhausted days. A single word that paints the sum of the day’s parts, on days when even three lines feels like climbing Everest. I want to do this for myself because I haven’t been able to keep a regular blog for years and years, and because I believe this is going to be an important year for me. (P.S. After midnight counts. Sometimes, a day becomes a run-on sentence and I have no reason to fight that.)

3. Complete the twelve weeks of The Artist’s Way sometime this year
I’ve started this wonderful course in spirituality and creativity several times, and I think I’m on the brink of sinking my knuckles in deep (as in a mound of dough) and working through the weeks sequentially and completely. I may start and stop again a few times, but I intend to get through it this year. I think it will change my life. I began yesterday, again.

4. Take more responsibility for cooking meals at home
Home cooked meals are about as important to me as breathing right now. I crave local food and the sensuous act of chopping vegetables and seasoning a stewpot, whole grains and bleeding meat sliced with a self-sharpened knife. I crave cooking slowly and intentionally, taking the time to make food that is truly good for the body and soul. And I am tired of feeling guilty for spending too much hard-earned (and badly needed) cash on food prepared by someone else. I want desperately to know my food, inside and out, from start to finish. How will I accomplish this? Work on getting my kitchen set up. Get the water flowing, buy a stainless steel cookware set and a few more good knives. Make the time for cooking. Clip recipes. Be patient with myself as I learn.

5. Continually create myself
Last year I learned that I have deeper to fall than I ever thought possible, and that I have the ability to climb out of darker holes I ever thought existed – with stumbles and grace all at once. I learned that I don’t find myself; I create myself. I don’t want to lose this lesson. I am never stuck in something lesser; I don’t have to wait to “find myself” or wait for my life to “get better.” Yesterday I read: “We become what we envisage” and I know this to be true. (Claude M. Bristol said this.) I will accomplish this resolution by remembering these two truths.

6. Start running with the dog
I’ve got a lot to learn about discipline* and follow-through, especially with exercise, so I’m not expecting to do a 5K in three months or anything. Just to start running. Keep running. See where that takes me. Maybe I’ll just make it out with my sneakers once this month. Maybe I’ll manage to chase the fog three mornings a week. I’m leaving this one to the breezes of chance and change and time.

7. Create monthly and weekly health goals that reflect my overarching desires
I just got incredibly sleepy from expounding upon these resolutions. This is pretty damn self-explanatory anyway.

*Someone recently defined it for me so well. Discipline: the organization of

(Georgia O’Keefe, ‘Pelvis with Moon’)

“In the old world, bees were known to be prophetic.” Our bees are dying so fast that we’re shipping them to the US from Australia via airplane. Have been for years. Vanishing of the Bees is possibly the most important movie for our time that I have seen.

Forty-Three Fahrenheit?

Bouts of pouring rain douse the laundry, frozen in a heap in its basket next to the lumber pile, so I can make a trip to the laundromat tomorrow. Just in time; I’m down to wearing my dress slacks again. The chickens are moist but no one’s shivering. Forty-three degrees Fahrenheit at eleven P.M. on New Year’s Day – what’s up twenty-twelve? Is this swampfloody mess the new normal? Am I overreacting? (After all, my baby sister was born during a January rainy spell in Wisconsin almost sixteen years ago.) Clearly the weather is changing, but maybe it’s too much to talk about The Coming Changes all the time. I’ve been having nightly dreams about the apocalypse for months.

Anyway, the intention is to track this year with a blog post a day. I’d love to start the year off with a brilliant post, but to be quite honest, all the buildup to this new year (self inflicted, I know) created nothing short of a big ‘ol…I dunno. So I’m going to have a glass of red wine, snuggle deep into the down, and watch the latest movie about Colony Collapse Disorder. Go bees. Is there anything sexier than being a beekeeper? I do believe I’d like to have a go at it sometime soon…

(And no, I don’t always “relax” by watching documentaries.)


From: Andrew Mellen
Topic: Organization
Question: When I look back over 2011 and think about how time, choices and objects have been organized, do I see harmony and ease? Did I seek out the natural place for things to land and rest? Where did I struggle to force things into literal or figurative containers? Do I recognize the order in the universe and see my life reflected in that order?

I have always considered myself someone with such poor discipline, life organization. Yet where am I today, in the last light of 2011? So much of my life – whether I admit it or not – is as I want it to be, or peddling fiercely in that direction. I struggle, I suffer, I spend money and time and energy on things I don’t care for, I fight and resist. And yet, I live in a small home with chickens and goats and a soulful dog, a partner with a sweet imperfection that matches me perfectly. I’ll be getting married in less than eight months. I am employed in a place where I am respected. And I am constantly changing within myself, creating my self. What more could I ask for? How could I say my organization of last year was at all flawed, when it brought me here, to this moment?

But still. Getting that second dog was a disaster. (Junebug, I hope your big bug eyes and your sweet loving self is persuading some lovely human with lots of energy to pluck you out of your cage and bring you home.) I probably should have waited, and done some more research. Also, building the fence before the goats arrived would have created less stress, too. And I could have organized my time to spend less time cleaning the house and more time splitting wood. Speaking of wood, when is it s’posed to snow around here? The soggy weather has made me lazy, and the firewood still topples in heaps on the bare ground like stumpy pick-up-sticks.

And the organization of transition. But that’s another egg to hatch some other day. Another feather to preen. Another rooster to soothe into comasleep with whispers of thanks and a meek invitation to another world, before grasping those warm, scaly legs in both hands as the machete is lifted…


Question #2

From: Ken Robert
Topic: Shadows
Question: In what way have I been living in the shadows in 2011? How might my life change if I came out into the light in 2012? What strengths could I discover and share if I gave up hiding my weaknesses?

The first shadow that comes to mind, of course, is makeup.

From a conversation that was recently shared with me:

So, I was doing a deep cleaning mud mask and Louie walks up and…
Louie: Why do you have that on your face?
Me: Because I’m trying to make my complexion look better.
Louie: Why do you need to make you com-plex-em look better?
Me: Because I wear makeup, and makeup damages my skin.
Louie: Well, why do you wear makeup then?
Me: To make my skin look better.
Louie: Um, Mom, you’re caught in a crazy circle.
Me: Makeup could also be a form of war paint.
Louie: Then who are you fighting?

Her answer was “men” but mine is “myself.”

Brooding this shadow, fluffing all my feathers to keep this shadow warm.


A shadow of expectation. From my society, my parents, my friends, my lover. But most of all, what I expect from myself. To be as accomplished and good and gentle as those I admire and place on pedistels. To be the person the world knows me to be. To be the kind of partner whose lover understands her soul.

If I am constantly competing with expectations, when can I shine as just me?


A shadow of literary inadequacy, writer’s block, and a fear of my own words on the page.

That’s the reason for this blog in the first place. And my strongest New Year’s Resolution. (Yes, I’m a sucker for resolutions.)

Blog every day for a year. Three hundred and sixty six days. Just a rant, a sentence, a word, even. Just put something on the page. The way I see it, if three-quarters of what I write is absolute shit, that’s still ninety-one decent blog entries.



December 26th ~ Question #1
From: Patti Digh

Topic: Body (Bendiness)
Question: Where have I learned and lived in 2011? In my head, in my body, or both? What would living more fully in my body in 2012 bring to me? How can I embody life and learning as I move through this liminal space between now and next?

My back burns like I’ve been pulling boulders from a Colorado river, building a footpath, but I’ve only been standing in one place. Cashier, bitch, irritable housewife. The whole length of my back hurts, from the pelvic bone right up my neck, in streaks like from a paintbrush. Side to side, too, reaching around my ribs, a corset pulled tight, a searing frustration.

I’ve been angry this week, and it’s been tugging at my back muscles, the way saddness and devastation lays itself down in my hips. I’ve been so wrapped up in holiday nonesense and personal bullshit that I’ve forgotten my body exists at all – except each morning when I to coddle it back to sleep like a newborn. Just five more minutes.

I’ve lived in my emotions in 2011, and that hasn’t exactly been a bad thing. I’ve been in my brain for too many years. But I have yet to live fully in my body, I do know that.

Doing so would include taking up yoga, no doubt. Dance. I would learn to dance. I would not only create time for the serious exercise my body needs so badly, but also the little chances for change. Just split that log there before work. Just spend ten minutes rubbing the full, warm bellies of my beloved goats.

And I would install my bathtub.

A Half-Assed Experiment in Cleansing the Body and the Pocketbook

I’m half way through my second attempt at meal planning, and my first real attempt at a cleansing diet. I’ve been reading about cleansing, Ayurveda mind-body purges involving mediation along with fancy pants “meals” of wheat grass teas and plain brown rice, which I’m sure experienced cleansers accomplish with no hesitation. I’ve fasted for a day at a time as a teenager, mostly just to see if I could do it, and I’ve given up sugar, alcohol, and coffee (separately) at various times for a week or more. But after a couple weeks of drinking more beer than I care to on a daily basis, and less water than I’d ever imagine a body being able to live off of, I decided to put some basic health desires to the test – just for six days.

– no alcohol
– very limited processed sugars
– reduction in coffee consumption
– intentional fats
– home-cooked meals as whole and balanced as possible
– lots of garlic, ginger, cayenne, water, herbal tea, seaweed and nutritional yeast

Sunday, the meal plan. I did my best scheduling whole and well-balanced meals featuring plenty of veggies (thank you, Brattleboro Food Co-op holiday gift certificate) and an excess of herbal teas (several cups in the morning, and at least one in the evening). I’m going for a reduction in coffee consumption, but not an elimination. No alcohol though (a gifted bottle of wine will make the perfect Christmas exception, however); limited processed sugars. Soaked sunflower seeds and almonds with dark chocolate sundrops make satisfying snacks.

For those of you who are like me and love to see the details of others’ lives (is there anyone out there who doesn’t?), I’ll allow some narcissism and post the meal plan:

MONDAY BREAKFAST: peppermint tea, steamed kale, poached eggs, brown rice
LUNCH: lamb cube stirfry & soba noodles
DINNER: miso soup w/ boc choy, mushrooms, leftover rice, tofu, ginger

TUESDAY BREAKFAST: chamomile tea, oatmeal with soaked sunflower seeds
LUNCH: tempae burgers, seaweed salad
DINNER: roast: beef, carrots, potatoes, celery, garlic

WEDNESDAY BREAKFAST: hibiscus tea, barley groats, a poached egg
LUNCH: sliced roast beef salad
DINNER: barley salad with feta, scallions, celery

THURSDAY BREAKFAST: peppermint tea, cheesy grits
LUNCH: salad: greens, roasted tofu, sunflower seeds, oil+vinegar
DINNER: quinoa w/ nutritional yeast, steamed kale, roasted chicken

A few impulse-buys provided plenty of extra teas and spices, some of which I’d never had before. One big goal for me was to stop eating out so much. A cleanse of the pocketbook also. (Who needs to spend ten or twenty bucks on a not-very-nourishing meal?) I see this as a beginning – I’d love to do a week without heavy fats, and only the simplest of carbs – like bulgar and barley, cracked wheat.

Have I been sticking to the meal plan? Not really. We didn’t have anything clean to make the roast in yesterday, so I swapped a meal, and I must admit I’ve been a little lazy with the vitamins. A free loaf of whole wheat raisin bread was a treat for yesterday’s breakfast. And what’s with the white flour bagel I just bought for breakfast without thinking about it? But I’m doing pretty well with the overall goals of less coffee and no alcohol, and fuller, cleaner meals cooked at home. Yesterday Moriah made a lovely tea of wheat grass, nettles, a fresh squeezed lemon, raw honey, and Pau d’Arco – a blood cleansing bark tea I’d never had before. It was amazingly delicious, which I wouldn’t have expected, and I downed at least three cups after a wood-stacking party with my family. Tonight I’d like to try the Pau d’Arco on its own, though, so I can fully taste it.

What are your experiences with cleansing rituals, nourishing diets, and follow-through of lofty goals like – gasp – basic health?

Long, dreary day. Had trouble getting out of bed and the day just slid down into the mudpit after that. Perhaps I put a just a wee bit too much emotional effort into things. Just glad to be home with my Pinot Noir, is all.

It’s getting chilly in southern Vermont, finally. I can drive up the driveway (after 6pm or so) without risking the sure slip into the ditch from all this mud. It’s like late March, but without the maple sap.

Not that I’m complaining. Still got much to much to do before the projects get covered in a lasting layer of snow and are left until spring. Finish piping the water in, get that greywater system figured out, dug and graveled, pick out a sink (afford it) and install…Then there’s the pile of crap that generally hides in one’s garage, but just looks like crap in our yard. That should be covered. And the goats, they really do deserve proper winter shelter. And the roosters, we really do desire them in the freezer. God, save me from another emergency slaughtering at 3am. That was not what I would call a good death. It wasn’t brutal, but it didn’t feel great, either. Rather not do that again.

Got weekend plans? I am excited about a good family Saturday night evening, followed by a Sunday where I will clean this difficult week right out the door. Literally. I am getting rid of that excess furniture, washing the floor, doing all the laundry, and buying myself a houseplant for my new writing desk. I really wanted to buy this today:

I’m going to check the used book store next week. I am absolutely certain that the state of my home – down to the placement of houseplants and the direction my bed faces – affects my physical health and my moods. Any stories out there about this?

Lost Generation

Penny Kelly says that we are to be the lost generation. That we will throw grenades, level machine guns, and set cities alight, and I see her descriptions from 1998 painted real in Egypt, Libia, Norway and Britain of recent. She says that as societies begin to crumble, the states of our minds will shape our future: panic, fear, a desperate kind of survival. Rick Hanson says that we can shape our minds to be anything we want them to be: as the Buddha did, so many centuries ago. That we can grow our brains the way we grew sunflowers this year: From seedling, love and sunlight, to tall and effervescent. I never knew the center of a sunflower smelled like some kind of honey, but mustier, like the inside layer of tree bark. Or that the seed pattern was so incomprehensibly intricate that one felt like they were contemplating the expanse of space, or the depth of the brain.

The tree we cut in preparation of the hurricane disobeyed all commands to fall northward into the stretch between the forest and the garden, snapped the ropes that had been winched taught the day before, and came down smack in the middle of the sunflower field, brushing against the screen door and testing the dexterity of the porch on its way down. Now, our seed crop is mangled, lays in smashed up mess as if the high winds had indeed ripped apart our little nook in the world. Most of the stalks are broken a few feet off the ground, leaves are bent at odd angles, and the flower heads adorn my kitchen table, brilliant, but soon to fade slowly into compost.

One of the blooms remains intact in my front yard. She is like a refugee, grieving her fallen family before deciding whether to live or to let go. I watch her with my morning tea and wonder about the ability to shape our future. I don’t fear most of the change I imagine is coming: an ever rapidly depleting source of energy from the earth making driving and grocery shopping ever more obsolete. A return to things mostly forgotten: growing potatoes and goats, finding water from breaks in bedrock, learning the real value of things.

I fear most of all the lost generation, and I fear to be a part of it. The cry of a desperate soul, unable to provide for the family, unable to cope with the corruption in every part of our lives. I wonder if Richard was part of the lost generation, unearthed by his pending future. I wish I had gotten to know that man before he became a murderer, somehow, out of the blue, like some kind of earthquake that tears through the linoleum floor, past the cases of cakes and cookies, past the rows of cabbage and celery, right through the center of those isles. Weeks later I wonder: did he walk past the bags of raisins and rye berries, or did he march his gun past the chips and chocolate, past the tension tamer tea. Did he look up, see the dragon on the Celestial Seasons box, and pause?

If I learned anything from him, from this year, I learned that even I have the ability to level a semi automatic and shoot someone in the back of the head. Someone I love as a comrade, as an imperfect being, as a coworker, a lover, or a member of my family. In some ways, this year, I was as lost and as low to the ground as Richard was, walking casually through those isles, purposeful, but utterly lost in a changing world, in a changing self.

~ August 2011

Life and Risk

Dog fight this morning. I thought my baby was going to tear half of the new puppy’s face off, so tight were his jaws around her ear, through her skin. He wouldn’t let go. I was screaming at the top of my lungs, kicking at their faces to try to get them to stop, but those jaws just wouldn’t let go. He was in a trace, I think, eyes bulging out of his little skull…

I thought he was going to rip her ear off. I thought they were going to kill each other over that dead animal they found in the woods.

Now, they rest in separate rooms (or, as separate as they can get in a one-room cabin – Junebug in her crate, Barley on his own personal sofa). After the vet had slathered her in antibiotics, especially the puncture wound in her ear canal, after the shot of penicillin and the long rest in the heated car, Moriah brought her in to see Barley again. They are both completely loving dogs; nothing ever got between them in their months together – except food. He had fretted about her all afternoon, watching out the window…He probably thought he killed her.

When Moriah brought Junebug into the house Barley’s tail stood straight up in the air, his hackles raised, his body tense. He sniffed her ear, and wouldn’t play with her, no matter how much she begged. She jumped on top of him, play-bowed, waggled her little bum everywhere. In my imagination, he could not believe what he had done to her. “I hurt her that bad,” he thinks. And, “I might have killed her.”

“I really pulled that trigger?”

I can’t think of a worse thing than to be in such disbelief at ones self.

We have to find a new home for her now. Those lovely, soulful eyes, that endless energy forcing us into the woods and down to the river. I wonder if she’ll miss us. I know she’ll love another family, that we’ll be okay – relieved even – with just Barley as our baby again. I am afraid of what he has learned from this street girl from the Bronx, tazed to submission at the concrete shelter: to hunt chickens, to jump on strangers, to disregard our calls when running loose in the forest…but most of all the fighting. He’s gotten a taste of another dog’s blood between his teeth – can he ever be trusted with other dogs again? Ever?

It breaks my heart. Such sweet animals, coyotes, wolves, dogs. What on earth made someone desire to breed them to tear each other to shreds? What pleasure could one possibly glean from the horror I glimpsed this morning? So much love to receive from this breed, so much sensitivity to be learned. You can see a soul through their shiny coal eyes. In the fifties they were trusted to watch the babies, the pitt bulls.

I hate to admit it, but for one shaky moment I thought we might have to put them both down. How can we live with the risk of something so terrible happening?

But then, how could I ever consider having children? Or even, continuing to live myself? The risk of terrible things happening is such a visceral reality, isn’t it. This last summer painted that reality the way Georgia O’Keefe paints bones: with a simply horrible, unexplainable beauty. The strokes swept across the page with a wide, wide brush in my little town, my little home, and my little self.