Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Bigger Picture

As the kids got older, they resisted more and more having their pictures taken. And they certainly don't want them on a blog.

But tonight I wish I could take a picture. I'm pretty proud.

Mostly because they're my kids.

But particularly tonight because now they're both working "real" jobs. With gusto. And that's a beautiful thing at 14 and 15. I guess we didn't screw them up irreparably.

They're both doing manual labour, for different people. In both cases, because they'd been "checked out" while working at other jobs. I love these lessons. We've always told them that anything they're doing out and about gets noticed, but to have it come home like that is an excellent thing. They get it, for real.

And tonight I'm pretty proud. It's so cool to see your kids growing up and being so independent. Not that we want rid of them, but it's good to see that they can make it without you if and when they need or want to.

Did I mention that I'm feeling pretty proud?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

DIY Washing Soda

I've been wanting to make my own laundry soap, but all the recipes call for "washing soda", which is rarer than hens' teeth in my part of the world.

But then, this! I found this instruction on how to make your own, and it couldn't be simpler. Hurrah!

We'll see if laundry soap makes it onto my to-do list this very busy weekend.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Just Back Up The Truck

I've decided that what I really want in life is everything.

I want to live in the country, and I want to be in the city. I want a practice that serves rural needs, and I want exposure to the wider demographic of urbania. I want to make money, and I want to spend serious time doing gratis work. I want chickens. I want art. I want room to be impulsive, and I want stability. I want to be a hands-on intellectual. I want to learn, hard, forever. I want sleep. I want clean windows. I want to love my little family, and run away from them on a regular basis too. I want to work with other people, and I want to work alone. I want to build my business. I want to spend time growing and cooking good food. I want friends. I want to stay home. I want to see more of the world. I want to know things in my gut. I want to fling myself willy-nilly into living.

I'm not settling down. It's just not happening. Yes, I'm tired, but I'm more tired when I just stop. I want some of EVERYTHING. Forget choosing one or the other. I choose it all.

There is a concept in Chinese medicine, and I can't pretend to really understand it much at all yet, of shaoyang, or a pivoting place. A door that opens and closes. Being able to transition from one thing to another smoothly. Well-oiled hinges. That's what I want. Smooth hinges. I want to go in, or out, and find pasture.

If you're shaoyang, just be shaoyang. Everyone else should be what they are too. But I need to choose to be what I actually am.

Whew. Glad I got that sorted around.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fear NOT!

Ain't easy, bein' mortal.

I've got several patients dealing with cancer right now, of various types in various stages. Lung, breast, prostate, bone... It's an education. I'm learning about standard western treatment protocols, and alternative treatment options. And I'm learning a lot about people and our capacity to deal with illness and the possibility of death in the real rather than the theoretical.

There are those who just pick a path and go there. They accept the facts of where they're currently at, look it in the eye, and decide on how they're going to deal with it. Or not. But either way, it's face-on, and they're not playing games. One of my breast cancer ladies is like that. She's in the tamoxifen process right now, and will be for several more years. I'm sure she worries from time to time, but she decided how she wanted to deal with it, and continues her life as if she's alive. Which she is, and looks to be for at least another decade. At least. She feels relatively healthy to me.

But another patient, choosing the same protocol, carries on her life of utter terror, always looking for doctors with authority to tell her that everything is going to be fine, that she's doing everything perfectly, that she's eliminated every possibility of recurrence. I have to bite my tongue constantly. She can't hear me, and I don't want to make things any worse for her. I can't imagine what it must be like to "live" in that cage.

And then there's the man who's refused western treatment, and catches me up to date on the world of alternative treatment every time we meet, but somehow never has time to go out and do any of it. There's lots of time, right? Maybe next week, if he can finish painting his daughter's basement and make an appointment... I mean, after all, he feels fine. Yeah, I suppose he is. For now. Very robust, hale. But those bad old numbers keep climbing with every interval of bloodwork, and he keeps me appraised of those too.

At the last appointment I did something I maybe shouldn't have done. I mildly lost it, and told him I wanted to still be treating him 20 years hence, and for god's sake, DO something! Something! If it's not going to be western treatment, then get on that alternative train NOW. He knows it's progressing, and is too young and strong to die without putting up a struggle, so I told him to take that vitality and use it like the resource it is before this creeping disease sucks it dry. Get those freaking supplements you keep talking about! See that herbalist! PLEASE!

Which is my own issues talking, of course. My Inner Psychic Paramedic that sees the emergencies before they happen and wants to leap into kit and fire up the sirens. But dang if that Paramedic's paranoia doesn't keep my eyes and hands sharp for picking up the little signs of big problems.

It's all about fear, and a dedication to reality I figure. I'm not a fan of the Bible at this point in my life, but those constant admonitions to "Fear not!" are good advice. An eleventh commandment if you will. Of course we experience fear, but it's no better advised to let it rule our roost than it is to let any other passion take unchecked control.

I fear. I spent all this past week in a panic attack over something I know is craziness, but couldn't control the emotion that went along with it. But what I can do is talk to myself about the crazy, and not let it wear the pants. Keep going. Act on reality, not my phantasms.

Having had cancer myself, I have some fear about that too. Some. But on the other hand, I've done that and came out the other side, so that's a known quantity and less scary because of it. I keep an eye on my internal weather and shift sail accordingly. I try to live proactively.

I also have a person who denies he has cancer at every possible turn. Didn't tell me until after the fact that he was in radiation therapy, even though it was booked for two days after our first appointment. I wouldn't even know there was cancer at all if I hadn't looked at the history, clicked that something wasn't adding up, and called the referring doctor. This is so far advanced that I'm guessing pain control is the only applicable protocol left.

That's very sad, to me. That such a short time is left in this leg of the journey, and not be able to use it fully because the denial and fear are so strong.

It's going to be an interesting day. Eat your fresh garden greens and live happily and bravely, ladies and gentlemen!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Micro Loans, Macro Impact

G'wan! Make a $25 loan with someone else's money!


Monday, July 16, 2012

Myth-Busting in the Garden

I grew up in an area up north with higher fertility than the one I presently live in. Half an hour to the west of us, things grow much more readily too, but right here it takes a bit more doing. This is taking a bit of getting used to.

I'm still very much a novice gardener, so there's definitely a clueless factor as well. I'm learning as I go, and gardening isn't my #1 priority. It's up there, but it's not #1. Climbing the ranks, mind you.

And then there is the Pioneer Gardening Myth. You know this one? The myth of the woman who had no time to tend her garden much, but just threw seeds at the ground, stepped into the soddie, had triplets unassisted, and when she stepped back out in late August the garden had laughed up a glorious crop. Or something along those lines. She then tied the babies to the legs of the table and rolled up her sleeves to can.

This was in the back of my mind somewhere. It got uprooted when we took a visit to the local Ukrainian Pioneer Village and saw such a garden. Brothers and sisters, those pioneers weren't living on fresh vegetables. There's a reason everyone was wearing flour-sack clothing and eating perogies. Such gardens don't usually produce much.

So, re-adjust. Keep reading.

Plants need food.
Plants need water.
Lots of both.

And in these parts, it's best to start your seedlings indoors. You see those lovely tomato and lettuce plants on the front right? Those came from seedlings started by a friend who spends 6 hours a day gardening, and begins her seedlings in greenhouses. She does amazing cauliflower and broccoli too, and has it timed so her plants are fruiting (vegetabling?) before the cabbage moths can set in to ravage.

This year Chive put our compost heap in the middle of the garden. I'm still not entirely convinced this is the best spot for it. Off to the left is a stand of willow, and their roots invade the garden. The middle is one of the more-or-less fertile areas, so I'm loathe to use it for processing compost. I'd prefer to have the heap over to the left (west). Maybe next year.

I'm also lining up containers for next year. We have a little deck off the front of the house, facing south. The front door is blocked off, and the deck itself is too uneven and hot for people-time, but I figure it would be great for tomatoes and such.

Food. Water. Good soil.

Bees are nice too. I'm advertising for someone to set up bee-boxes on our land so I can watch it happening and hopefully undertake my own hives some year. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pork Futures

...Wizards mostly lived in universities down in the big cities and weren't allowed to get married, although the reason why not totally escaped Tifffany. Anyway, you hardly ever saw them around here.

Witches were definitely women, but most of the older ones Tiffany knew hadn't got married either, mostly because Nanny Ogg had already used up all the eligible husbands, but also probably because they didn't have time. Of course, every now and then, a witch might marry a grand husband, like Magrat Garlick, as was, of Lancre had done, although by all accounts she only did herbs these days. But the only young witch Tiffany knew who had even had time for courting was her best friend from up in the mountains: Petulia - a witch who was now specializing in pig-magic, and was soon going to marry a nice young man who was shortly going to inherit his father's pig farm*, which meant he was practically an aristocrat.

*Possibly Petulia's romantic ambitions had been helped by the mysterious way the young man's pigs were forever getting sick and required treatment for the scours, the blind heaves, brass neck, floating teeth, scribbling eyeball, grunge, the smarts, the twisting screws, swiveling and gone knees. This was a terrible misfortune, since more than half these ailments are normally never found in pigs, and one of them is a disease known only in freshwater fish. But the neighbours were impressed at the amount of work Petulia put in to relieve their stress. Her broom-stick was coming and going at all hours of the day and night. Being a witch, after all, was about dedication.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


So I picked up my messages off the phone last night, and there was one from an insurance agent in my Dear Relative's town, informing me that I need to "make a decision" concerning a policy that names me, my husband, and my son. Not my daughter. I suspect she's got a policy all to herself.

I'd like this all to stop, but I suspect it'll go on as long as she lives. I must say, though, I'm getting better at detaching.

There's no decision to be made that wasn't made years ago. Next!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Holy Bees

Summer is usually my not-dreaming time. I have two theories about that. The first is that fall-winter-spring are much darker times here in the north, and create a quieter canvas for the mind to write its stories. The other is that summer is a bit of a dream in itself; the colours are intense, the growth is prolific. Birds and animals are constantly appearing and sounding. What the winter mind needs to create as images, the summer mind finds served up externally. Those are the current theories. Who knows? It could very well be that other people experience the opposite.

This summer, even though I'm not dreaming much, I'm definitely very restless for image. I'm thinking a lot about art and meaning, and life-story, and how we talk to ourselves about ourselves and how deep a chasm lays between the story we tell ourselves and the story we actually live. I've always loved stories, and I could toss back books like a drunk on a weekend binge. But in the last year I find I'm reading a lot less, and looking for pictures a lot more. I'm noticing which images pull me hard. I'm trying to be awake to the what and the why and the when, and what story I'm telling myself about myself with the pictures and colours I surround myself with.

Something I did with my "new eyes" was to go through my fabric stash. Of course. I mean, of course, right? I'm not a draw-er or a painter. I'm a fabri-phile, and a sometimes-sewist. I rely on fabric-design artists to create my working palette for me, and then I can hack away and hopefully come up with something both useful and soul-bolstering.

Last year (or was it two years ago?) I found this bee-fabric, and I had to have some. I needed those bees. I got it, rolled around in it for a couple days, then folded it up and tucked it away. Every now and then I'd rediscover it in a rummage for something else, and I trace my fingers around a bee, and leave it again.

This spring/summer, after jumping out of that shipwreck of an acupuncture program, I was feeling altogether bruised and contused. I needed to make something. Particularly I needed to make something slowly, slowly enough that I could re-evaluate the project at every stage, and let it talk to me about what it wanted to be. I wanted to have a go at doing things just because they satisfied something in me. The tendency is to throw fabrics into a likely jumble, pick a few happy colours, and sew like a fiend until it's done. That's not a bad thing in itself, but it's more utilitarian than a balm for the soul, in terms of process. I tend to be more project oriented than process oriented. Thus the headlong rushing through every. single. moment. of my life. Yes, I get quite a lot done. But it's not a bad thing to intentionally delay every now and then. This was one of those now and then moments.

I wanted my spirit-bees.

I remember, and oh gosh this is from a loooong time ago, hearing about Sarah Ferguson's wedding dress being embroidered with bees, and that took my mind by storm for some reason. I would have been in my early teens, I suppose. (And typing that, what idea doesn't take your mind by storm when you're a teenager? It's like a 10-year multi-lobe hurricane.) That was before internet entered my life, so I tucked the information back into my head's filing cabinet somewhere, and from time to time I'd find something in a book, or hear something off-hand somewhere, and it would go into the same file.


A little bee on the fabric is shorthand for all that and more in my personal iconography, which is informed and built on the iconography of bees through history. It's awesome, and I mean that as in "inspiring awe", that we humans can tap into a deep reservoir of collective dreaming and story-telling to find our images. Sometimes I get frustrated by the seeming need to reinvent the wheel on a personal level, but when I take a step back and look at things, more often than not it's just an old story re-telling itself. It's only new to me.

I needed a new tea-cozy too. ForTOOOitus.

I had the base fabric (a Fasset that I have to keep myself from sticking in my mouth, I love it so much), and the extra fan-blades from a quilt made last year. I also found the buttons in my stash, purchased back in the day when I was still able to lie to myself convincingly enough that I actually believed I was going to sew garments. Probably. I don't really remember buying them, but there they were. I wanted some embroidery on this one, and I didn't have any, so I bought a few skeins of that, and a stained (tea-stained, so it's been broken to the task) cotton doily from the thrift shop. The inside lining is cut from an old massage-sheet.

It's done now. Every day I run my hands and eyes over it and get my fix of colour and texture and satisfaction at having made something that I find both beautiful and useful.

I've made myself an icon.I don't know what I need these bees for, but I can feel the rightness of it, and how they're shaping something inside of me, and pulling at threads of consciousness.

When it's not too hot, I light a beeswax candle in the morning while I drink my honeyed tea and contemplate those bees. If I was really motivated I'd go sit by the raspberry bushes with the whole kit and listen to the bees too. I can do without the stinging, mind you. That's a sensory experience I can remember clearly enough without having to re-enact it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Quilt Story

It was near this time last year that I finished this quilt. Ages and ages and ages ago. I was in the midst of whatever I was in the midst of, thinking this was going to be the last baby quilt of the year because I was going to start school. It wasn't. I squeezed in another one that fall, a fan quilt. Electric fan. The colours were that bright, that intense.

This quilt, the one up there, went to a baby born to a newly widowed mother. Her partner, also a friend, and client of mine, hung himself in their farmyard when he found out they were expecting again. He'd been unwell for a long, long time. Longer than I'd known him. Longer than she'd known him. Maybe always. I suspect this pregnancy coming so soon after the first baby was more than he could imagine coping with. He definitely took a turn for the worse after the first one arrived. She was only about six months old when he died.

He killed himself in November. Her parents came to help their daughter deal with all the myriad details of death, and suicide, and property matters. An ex-girlfriend was stealing things out of the yard, and claiming the property for herself. His birth family, threatening to sue for custody of the grand-children, threatening to sue for the property, but not willing to travel back West for the funeral. It would be hard to imagine a worse scenario, and it was all for real. It was all worse than this, actually, and went on for a year, but there's no point in me telling it. Unbelievable. The sort of train-wreck you'd read about in the news.

He'd stopped dealing with garbage in the months before he died. And what can anyone do in a situation like this, except bring food and boxes, hold babies, help clean? So that's what we did, those of us who could or would. I still had the elderly van at the time, so I took charge of the garbage situation. Thank the gods it was November and not July. Instead of taking things to the dump, he'd just stashed bags and bags of trash in all the little outbuildings scattered over the property. So I went searching, found what I could, skated it back to the van and took it to the dump.

Her dad pointed out the shacks where he knew for sure there was garbage. He took me into the lean-to and showed me the footprints in the dust on the metal trash-can lid. "This is where he did it," he said, pointing at the rafters above us. "This is where she found him." Because she did find him, after hiding from him for two days because he was behaving so violently. She came back to the farm with her mother beside her, the baby in the back seat of the car, came to get her things and move out. She walked to the house, realized what she was seeing in the lean-to, turned around and walked back. She didn't go look. She didn't go look, because she knew what she was seeing and what was the point? She didn't look, and she's so glad that her professional mental-health training kept her from looking. Who needs that picture forever?

My picture is those footprints in the dust, on the lid of the trashcan. I don't think of it too often. When I do, my imagination supplies too much information as it is.

I didn't talk much about this at the time. I didn't realize when I first posted this picture that I needed to talk about it now.

I saw him a couple weeks before he died. I invited them over for tea and a lunch, and they came with the baby and we visited around the table, and his eyes were wild. He talked about the red-road spirituality that he'd adopted as his own, about his experience at the lake when a spirit reached out of the water at his face and screamed at him. What did he see? "Not all spirits are good spirits," I said. This is true. I don't know what the spirits are, whether our own fractured selves manifest so clearly in moments of stress that they take on shape and form and personality, or whether these are otherlings, but that there is something, this I know. And not all spirits are good spirits. I talked a bit about power, and that in the end, kindness trumps most everything else. He listened, but I don't know if he heard.

When he left I had nightmares for days. I went to my acupuncturist, told her what had happened, let the needles pull me back into myself. Yes I love acupuncture because it makes our bodies well, but I love acupuncture because it's a window into your own soul, too. It helped. I was able to clear out the noise and trash he'd left behind. I think that's the only time in my life when I felt so polluted by an interaction with another person.

Then I got her phone call and gasped for days while arranging meals and running back and forth to the dump, tears raining down my cheeks behind the wheel.

I dream sometimes. Three days later I dreamed that I was driving along a vast lakefront, and there was a house on fire, but very very slowly. More like a creeping cinder that was definitely consuming the building, but over the course of days rather than minutes. I stopped because I could see children running in and out of the front door. I went in, and there was a woman packing clothes and boxes. The house was utterly decrepit, broken windows, peeling lino, empty spaces in the cabinets where drawers had been. I asked her how it was going. She smiled wearily and said it was time to go anyway, that there was a better house waiting for her. I left and drove away, and watched a raven diving into the sea after fish.

I told my friend about it later. She started to cry and told me his totem animal, the one he felt most connection to, was the raven. She felt that this was a sign that he's moved on. I hope so too.

I still wonder if I should have said more when I realized there was something really wrong. But I can't imagine what that would be, or even that he would have listened, or that it would have made a difference. Sometimes things just have to unwind the way they're going to and all you can do is stand witness. Maybe, as brutal as it is, the kindest way is the way he chose after all.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

End of the Tunnel

It's been quite a while.

Since last April, I went to a private acupuncture college for eight months beginning in September. What a disaster. The school was a joke, a calamity, and a byword all rolled into one. So I quit a couple days ago, and have submitted my application for the acupuncture program at the local(ish) university. I'll go part-time, take this at a more leisurely pace.

It's all learning. I learned a lot about Chinese medicine, but I learned a lot more about myself and my family. Yes, I can do it. No, I don't want to do it like that. There are things I wish I could expect, but can't. Just ain't gonna happen. No one's advice trumps my own misgivings. Ever, ever, ever. I'm not mentally deficient. I can keep up with the "big kids", rather nicely.

That last one was a big one for me. One of the gifts of my upbringing was that I should never believe my own eyes or ears, that what I heard said, or saw done, never happened. Which leaves a person in a peculiar position. It's taken me a long time to learn to trust myself, and act on that trust. By the time I was in my teens I was convinced that I must be mentally handicapped, and that there was a conspiracy of kindness wrapped around me to keep me from having to realize it. Seriously. I thought all my teachers were just being "nice" to me, marking me up on assignments just to pass me through without having to deal with my disability. Yes, that was weird. And yes, on the other hand the facts just weren't measuring up. But it makes sense, when you know what was happening in the background, which I don't really want to go into.

Anyway, here I am a looong time later, and I took the plunge. I jumped into post-secondary education, nearly puking with fear of failure and confirmation of the fact that I'm not up to snuff. And I Did Just Fine. Better than that, even.

I recently sat in a classroom alongside an RN, and across from someone with a four-year university science program behind her, and when the instructor introduced the theory of Spontaneous Generation and asked each class member individually whether or not they thought it was true, no one knew. Nobody knew. No idea. Except me. This isn't a sign of genius, but I think it's definitely a sign that you can get through a lot of "higher education" and come out the other side without overly energetic reasoning skills.

So here I am, with a suddenly-free summer ahead of me when I thought I'd be trapped in school, and looking at all the possibilities. I'm going to plant things. Sew things. Paint walls. Do an English correspondence course so I don't have to do it later when I'm busy with studying other things. And keeping up with the acupoints, so when I come back to them later it'll be like a hot knife through butter.

And I'm very, very glad of it all. Today life looks beautiful.