Jan 30, 2008

Easy Duvet Cover

We do not use top sheets at our house as they are tedious and instead we use duvet covers, most of which are made out of sheeting. So we wash our covers often, not only because of the fact that there is no sheet between us and the duvet, but because we have a dog who sheds black hairs all over them, and a kid who bleeds a lot. You can buy fitted sheets without the top sheets, of course, but more often than not I find sets of them and end up with unused top sheets.

So I devised a brilliant plan to use the top sheets as the underside of duvet covers and using my copious amounts of fabric to make tops for them. I used an old duvet cover as my template and laid it out over my top sheet on the floor. I used it as a guide to cut off the extra length and width. (I used tailors chalk and a ruler to mark evenly where to cut once I measured the difference in size between the two).

When I cut out the top fabric I used the same length as the (now) cut top sheet plus two inches for a hem at the top where I would be putting button holes. It took two lengths of fabric, one for the center, and one cut in half (lengthwise) for the sides, serged together to make up the width of my queen size comforter. I had to make sure I had the pattern going all in the same direction since it's directional.

After I made my hem at the top I serged the top and bottom together (right sides facing) and then turned it right sides out and pressed it. Next I put five button holes across the top and sewed on some buttons. It was very easy and now I have a bright cheerful duvet cover. The fabric is a Martha Negli fabric covered in a dahlia pattern that I got 40% off.

I didn't end up making bread but at least I got one duvet cover done. I may tackle a second one today. It sure feels good to get something done that's been on my mind for months now. I get tired of things hanging out in my head all the time.

Now that I have such a bright cheerful duvet cover on the bed in the guest bedroom I notice that the walls are a dreary white...

Jan 29, 2008

Baking With Buttermilk
on a cold winter day

Something about a day dusted with snow that makes me want to bake. I'm not a big baker but I do make corn bread, one of the few things Max will eat that doesn't come in a package. About a week ago I bought some low fat buttermilk with the plan to make some twice baked potatoes with buttermilk in place of butter to see if it would be good. I don't have much experience with buttermilk and it kind of weirds me out because of it's thickness. Thick milk seems wrong.

However, I made the corn bread in Deborah Madison's book "Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone" and they are a hit. I substituted the milk with buttermilk and it worked very well. They didn't rise a lot, but that may be because I substituted half the white flour for wheat flour (since that's how Max likes cornbread best). Small but good.

I also used the buttermilk for the twice baked potatoes and I hear they were good. I didn't have one myself but Philip said they were very good and I have the word of my dog Chick, who ate four of them when I wasn't looking, that they are not lacking at all in allure. Now I'm wondering what else I can use the buttermilk in. I don't make pancakes much though that would be the obvious use for it.

A totally bizarre affect of my new increased dose of Paxil is sleepiness. I went to bed early Sunday night. Then I woke up early Monday morning all fresh faced, yet by eight am I was hardly able to keep my eyes open and so fell asleep for two more hours. I woke up in time to take Max to school late which is lame because school had already been delayed by snow for two hours. I trudged him to school, came home again, and fell promptly asleep for another hour. Last night I was sleepy by five pm but hung on until 9pm at which time I fell fast asleep. That's a lot of sleep for a person who doesn't sleep well or generally much. I hope this isn't a permanent feature of an increased dose of Paxil with a decreased dose of Welbutrin. Getting some sleep is good stuff, but I hate sleeping too much, it makes me feel queer, as though time was slipping away from me and it makes me feel slightly disconnected from life in my waking hours.

I'm really hoping the change in medication will result in me shedding my inertia, not adding constant drowsiness to the table of contents. Often the side effects of phyche meds are temporary. I hope that's true here. What I desperately need is ENERGY.

Here's what I'd like to do today: make bread, make duvet covers. Somehow I cannot seem to get these kind of things done. Why? I must do it today. I must not let anything get in my way! Bread and duvet covers. New duvet covers would make me feel so happy. Most of mine are covered in Max bloody nose stains (have I mentioned recently how bad I am at doing laundry?*) or they are worn out to the point of being depressing. Not to mention not being very attractive.

Speaking of bloody noses, Max has been having them again. We did get a respite for about a month and a half. Not many of them and very mild ones now replaced by lots of bad ones. I dread having to put Max through the nasty (and expensive) nose cauterization he went through in the other side of his nose but it was effective. I don't have any bed linens without blood stains on them. I'm going to need to buy one set just for guests that must never be on the guest bed except for when guests are over. Very embarrassing to present the guest bed and have to explain that those dubious looking stains aren't from me having messy menstrual cycles but from the kid's nose. Like that's so much more comforting.

I cannot seem to get a handle on my house. On organizing it, putting it together, putting everything in a place, or on clearing things out, so I can actually clean it. My house should take between 1.5 and 2 hours to clean with the laundry only taking one day. I can barely make a dent in it in that time. I didn't come up with that time frame arbitrarily. That's how long it used to take me to clean it at my old place where everything more or less had a place to go so that I could straighten up quite easily. Now I start straightening up and three hours later I've barely made a noticeable change.

Yeah, this is why I need more energy, not LESS. Plus my brain needs to be in better shape. Not frizzy and jumping all over the place all the time.

Today is a new day. A day with buttermilk muffins and winter squash soup. Maybe today is also a day for a cup of caffeine? (We only have decaf coffee right now) Stormy, cold, grey, quiet, and I'm home. Something good's gotta happen!

*You would be proud of me Dominique for having used the Fels Naptha several times to good effect, but I cannot keep up with the blood stains around here. That would require energy that I don't have.

Jan 28, 2008

The Parsnip Lines Of Western Oregon

There's been all kinds of speculation around the local eating tables about the possibility that if everyone was to realize how important (and better) it is to eat locally grown food that small farmers will not be able to meet the demand for it. Land is expensive and there isn't a whole lot of it available anymore for agriculture.

Whenever I hear this I think about how people have thought the world is gonna end real soon for the last two thousand years.

Of course, it's true that there has been mass starvation in the world. You don't have to go far to find someone who remembers the dust bowl depression of the last century in our own country when many of our own great great relatives were starving. Hell, there are people in the United States who are starving right now. So I'm not going to dismiss the fact that finding food can be a serious business everywhere.

But an increased demand will always come before a surfeit of supplies. That's economics. In order to get our country to produce more of it's own food, to turn more of it's arable land to responsible crop production, there must be an uncomfortable demand for it. There's plenty of land not being used for food that could be. There's plenty of land being turned to the production of corn for fuel right now that could (and should) be used to grow more food. Instead we're trying to figure out how we can continue living exactly as we are, without any change in our comfort, without any alteration in our consumptive habits. Americans apparently think having cars is more important than eating.

Yesterday at the farmer's market in Hillsdale there were long lines for some of the vendors. We waited twenty minutes to buy freshly ground polenta and some very expensive parsnips and winter squash while the savoy cabbage I also wanted to buy sold out at the next stall over. Greens were in very short supply. As in: there were none except for cabbage. I said to my friend Nicole "This is like waiting in breadlines in Russia, except that we know we'll end up with some food at the end." Then I waited in line at another stall to buy one head of cabbage (the regular kind, the ONLY kind left at the whole market) and the guy behind me says "This is like waiting in line for food in Eastern Europe."

He then went on to predict that this very well may become more and more of a trend as food is harder to find here, more expensive, and everyone needs to depend on local growers. I told him not to be so dire. At the same time I thought "I just waited in line to buy some grain and some parsnips."

What to do? What to do...? (Lots of hand wringing ensues...)

Victory Gardens are the answer. Who has room for vegetables in their yards? Hmm. Let's see...according to this article there are 40 million acres of lawn planted in the US. That's 40 million acres that could be planted in edible crops and plants. That's a whole lot of room for extra food. Do you want to see a patch of perfectly coiffed green in front of your house or would you rather eat?

Perhaps all these predictions of shortages are a bunch of hyperbole. I, for one, don't believe the world is going to end anytime in the near future. I do believe that if every single one of us supplemented our produce supply by growing some of our own, as they did in World War II, we could all be taking part in our own destiny instead of waiting for someone else to come up with some painless solution that doesn't require us to do a lick of work.

During World War II the government was entreating all Americans to plant a victory garden to help ease the burden of demand for produce, to help ourselves from starving, to can our own food so that our supply of commercially canned goods could be shipped to our troops; they requested that all Americans start a victory garden in an act of patriotism.

I think it's time they reopened that campaign.

The biggest lesson I have learned with this eat local challenge is that in my region it's not too difficult to get your hands on root vegetables but if you want a steady supply of greens in winter you must grow your own. Which is why I will be establishing a ton of kale, chard, and collards for overwintering next year. In addition to that I am going to build two cold frames so that I can grow lettuce through much of the cold season.

All I can say is that I'm glad I'm getting my garden established now. I may have to wait in line to get some grains, but I won't have to wait in line to get some fruit, vegetables, or eggs.

Jan 26, 2008

The Road Home

This is the road home from Portland where I stayed the night with my mom. But this is also a very familiar landscape of the past as well. It's been my road home since I was a kid. There is something wonderful about rain hitting the windshield, tail lights reflected in the road, and lush conifers lining the roadsides. It reminds me of listening to Simon and Garfunkel, of always heading somewhere good, especially when it's leading you back to your fireside.

My MECCA: Powell's Books. I come here to worship at the foot of knowledge. I come here to inflate my thirst for new words, new worlds, new guides, and new skills. There are several floors of all of this to explore here, though I confess that I almost always spend every minute of my time on the first floor amongst the crafts, garden, and cookbooks.

Get to know your local herbal! My mom took me to her new favorite herbal shop. She took my sister here too so now it's like our family spot. It smells so good in there. The bars of bees wax look like tiny ingots of gold. There are tins for filling, jars of everything mysterious and wonderful, and oils to scent.

23 rd Street at night. My mom's neighborhood.

I realized that I have a motto to go with this new year of ours: Every Little Bit Counts. I've been applying it to every corner of my life and mind. It's been crawling all over my posts too. I just didn't realize it until last night. It's kind of nice to have a motto.

Some of you probably already know that what I think of Royal people (of any country) is extremely uncomplimentary and generally points mean fingers at a heritage that has become so narrow that it has been known to suffer some classic inbreeding problems and generally accuses members of Royal families of being pretty useless. In general I will probably always cherish this view point. However, I think it shows some ability on my part to overcome my prejudices that I can honestly say that there is one unlikely member of the British Royal family that I have come to admire.

Prince Charles. Seriously, there could not be a weirder person for me to admire, yet I do. The man has actually made himself useful and is doing work that any person could be proud of and is (in my non-British opinion) doing a good service for his country that I could only wish the leader of my own country would do.

He is championing organic practices of gardeners and farmers and has been working to get historical kitchen gardens in Britain rebuilt and put on display. Not only that, he was instrumental in getting the sale and use of GMOs banned in his country until there is more proof that they are not harmful to people and the environment.

I realize that Prince Charles isn't spending most of his time mucking about in the dirt and I realize that he will never truly be one of us regular people, but it is known that he is passionate about gardening and I just can't help myself, I like him. I have my opinions about how he and his ex (dead) wife conducted their marriage, and it is easy to believe that all the Royals of the world are just titular heads of their respective countries at this point in history, but I think it's too facile to let that be the only thing we judge them by.

I like him. So it was extremely hard not to buy his book about organic gardening. I was terribly bummed that I didn't get to see him when he visited Pt. Reyes California to talk about organic gardening...some people are so lucky! The next best thing would be to get his book. I don't need to know how to garden organically, I've already got references for that, but I want to read all his quotes. I really want to read everything he has to say. Yes I do.

Totally bizarre.

I didn't buy it though because I already had a stack of preserving books I've been wanting for a long time. Prince Charles' book cost forty dollars, so I'll just have to wait. It will be on my wish list though.

Which just keeps cracking me up.

I wonder if I could get an autographed copy?

Jan 25, 2008

A Brand New Chapter
In which Angelina takes up knitting needles once more
(but will not be knitting anything challenging)

So very much has happened recently that when life gets quiet I get nervous about what it might be brewing up. On the other hand, I feel a line has been crossed. A finish line in an endurance race which just makes me think of the time my Dad made my try out for the track team in sixth grade and I had to run the four hundred run in front of T, the love of my life* from the time I was 8 until I was 12, and I passed out on the field. When it comes to endurance I'm clearly not a champion.

Still, the atmosphere around here is clearing up. I have that feeling that a new era is dawning.

Total random side note: I love Janeane Garofalo in Mystery Men. I love Mystery Men**. The guys are watching it in the other room. Seriously my kind of hero movie.

Anyway... there's always room for more crisis in life, there's always room for more tragedy, we all know that. That's a given. There's no point where you can't experience more. People like to say that "God" will only give you what you can handle and I take great exception to that. If God only gave people what they could handle then people like the Yates woman wouldn't have murdered all of her children in an act of desperation. My great uncle wouldn't have spent the latter part of his life in an insane asylum. People wouldn't be going postal all over the planet. Those are people who couldn't handle what life gave them. You could argue that they're all examples of truly insane people, but aren't insane people still people worth God's consideration? Shouldn't God be especially considerate of their limitations?

No, lots could and still will happen in our life here. Both bad and good. Life doesn't sit still. But today feels quiet. In a good way. You know, if I can just stop my mind from wringing it's hands, so to speak. Even with all that could continually go wrong, it really feels as though a corner has turned. Or a new leaf. A fresh day. Pick your cliche, they all work here.

Max apparently told Philip that he can't go any amount of time without cats in the house. So we are putting the word out that we're looking for two kittens. We want them young (8 weeks old) so that Max can have the experience of having kittens instead of an older cat which is what Ozark already was when Max was born. So if anyone local to us hears about some one's cat about to have kittens or whose cat just had kittens- please let us know. Although I do not feel that getting more cats really soon would dishonor the memory of our recently departed cranky old bastard cat that we loved so dearly, I must admit that I can't think of getting an orange male tabby any time soon. Also, we won't get purebreds. Not only couldn't we afford them, but we prefer our animals of mixed heritage. We also prefer them free.

My visit with my new psychiatrist went much better than my visit with my ex-therapist. I feel that I am now in competent hands to deal with my head. You know when you have found a good match because you just feel relief. The Doctor gave me a much needed medical vote of confidence.

Now that I don't have a business to run or worry about, I can take up some dropped projects and reluctantly abandoned activities such as knitting. Three years ago I promised Philip a knitted scarf. I bought the yarn and still had it sitting around. I think I knew I would have to return to knitting at some point. Although I do want to learn some crocheting as well, I don't know any crocheters here in my town to show me the ropes. So I will wait a little to tackle that one. This week I re-learned to cast on under the supportive eye of my knitting friend Lisa E. and am working on a very simple garter stitch scarf for Philip.

I just talked to my sister last night who has also started knitting. It gave me such a warm fuzzy feeling. My sister is a very urban, cool, chic, hardworking person and I absolutely LOVE the idea of her knitting because it is so domestic (yes, I know, all kinds of non-domestic type people knit these days...I maintain that it's still a very domestic activity) and there's a part of my sister that is very home centered, though she has not been able to focus on that for a very long time. Knitting is something you can do anywhere and although maybe, like me in the past, Tara won't keep at it, but it still made me so giddy to hear that we are both knitting now.

I have a cold. I'm alright with that. I mean, I wish I didn't have a cold, but I'm just rolling with it as though I was a really mellow person who isn't bothered by the small stuff.

I haven't been able to focus on my yard in such a long time. I turn my eyes to it now and feel that stirring of excitement I often feel when I have all the planning in the world to do. In my Master Gardening class yesterday we spent half the day learning about growing berries. Berry growing is so much more exciting to me than conifer growing, so I was in heaven. I'm thrilled that I don't like raspberries much because to grow them here is to sign a binding contract with ROOT ROT. We learned about strawberry growing as well and they come with a butt-load of diseases and problems in this region, yet when grown well produce a better quality fruit here than when grown in California. Philip loves strawberries so I keep wanting to grow them for him.

Yes, I said "Butt-load".

I finally have my new camera back from the shop. Fixed and ready to record all my new adventures.

One more tidbit before I run off to do some dishes and take a shower...

If anyone has been hoping for a bath bomb tutorial, Whipup will be posting one I wrote on January 31st, so be sure to stop by and check it out. Obviously if you have any questions after reading the tutorial I will be more than happy to answer them either here or there.

*Fully unrequited love. Just as well. I heard that later he dropped acid like it was candy.
**On line reviews of this movie aren't too great but that's such a crock. It is brilliant.

Jan 23, 2008


May 1995 - January 23, 2008

Pasta Twists

When I go to the pasta isle at really good grocery stores I am enchanted with the many shapes in which you can buy it. All of them have their own name, history, and uses. I use my Kitchenaide pasta attachments all the time to make pasta but there comes a time when more spaghetti or fettuccine just isn't exciting enough*. I kind of think that if your name is Angelina you should be known for your stylish pasta, not for sharing your moniker with a husband stealer.

So witness the twists! Easy to make. Easy to eat. But this is just a slight variation on the bow tie pasta so I do believe I will need to play around for a while until I hit on something really cool and I promise that if I do I won't copyright or trademark it so you can make it to your heart's content and bring on your Louis Prima vibe!

*Total unabashed lie. I am NEVER tired of any kind of pasta.

Jan 22, 2008

From Seed Back To Earth
Or so the story goes

I am practically holding my breath. This whole dying thing is much quieter, more private, and full of anticipation than I really knew. I suppose it must be tenfold worse when it's a person and not just a cat. Yet, I have to say, I really don't know if the death part is all that different. Sure, you will miss some people more acutely than you would a loved cat, but, the dying isn't really different. I find myself wondering about my own death. I can't tell you how many times I plotted and planned for it when I was much younger. Now that I don't really want it, it has a different taste in my thoughts.

Will it be quick? Will it take ages? Will I have to watch my loved ones watching me endlessly for the last breath? Will I be able to crawl away to die alone? I used to think that the worst must be to die alone. I don't think that any more. I can see that my cat doesn't want us to bother him too much. He has periodically dragged himself out to lay inert near us, and then stumbled back to the privacy of dark corners. Right now he is in the office which is where he will die unless I physically move him. He is not dead yet, though his breathing is slow and shallow and he can no longer hold himself up at all.

I told myself that if he was still alive today I would call the vet to make the appointment to put him to sleep. But part of me feels that it would be cowardly of me to do that. He seems quite at peace, just breathing. That's all he's doing and it almost seems like he's meditating. He's in the ultimate essence of self as he's preparing to die, because that's all he is now, a being, breathing. He doesn't even look like he's waiting.

If I die slowly without pain I will tell Philip not to call the vet for me. I will crawl into the closet where I will cease to worry about corporeal concerns and just breath. (And pee on the towels, probably.) A simple beautiful part of life. It's the first thing we do when we exit the womb and it's the last thing we do before we leave. Breathing is the essence of being. I understand why it's so important to our connection with the universe.

I'm lucky to live in Oregon where I can, under certain circumstances, be assisted in putting myself out of misery when I get to the end of my life. It makes me feel comfortable knowing that I have the option.

I don't think Ozark is much aware of us now. To move him would be to interrupt his privacy. His last quiet moments here on earth. There is no way of knowing how he feels, what his kitty brain registers but I'd be willing to bet it isn't full of regret or sorrow or other things us humans indulge in.

Life and death really are the great equalizers, aren't they? We all unfold limb by limb (if we've got them) until we reach some kind of apex in life, and then we all begin to gradually fold back inwards. Some more quickly than others. Like the life of a flower. Donald Trump will one day be exactly as a blowzy flower about to drop all it's petals and his wealth will be meaningless. Unlike Ozark he may feel regret. We all borrow bodies, whether they belong to ants, to melons, to humans, or to birds, and then we shed them.

What I find humbling is the extreme selfishness of those who are being left behind by another being. We have all these expectations and demands, we feel we have all kinds of rights when it comes to us and our loved ones. We feel outrage when anything we love dies. We are hurt. We are lonely. We miss who and what we miss. We have longing. We have needs. We want death to work out a certain way so that us, (the ones not dying), can get through it as easily as possible.

I find myself impatient of this whole dying process. Why is Ozark hanging on so long? What is he doing? I'm going to have a ton of cat piss to clean. I want to start cleaning now but aside from the great inertia I've been experiencing lately I know I won't do it until Ozark is finished. I wonder if I should go dig a grave now? Or later? Will he die at a convenient moment for us to dig a big hole and bury him? What if I have to have his dead body hang around for a day? Will I really ever be able to go through this again? Maybe we shouldn't ever get more pets. It's going to be even worse with Chick because she's so much bigger. Oh god, what if I have to watch Philip and Max go through this? What if I'm the last one standing?

I guess if that happened I would have no problem dying alone.

Then I listen to myself.

And I wonder what my rush is. What's my discomfort? Is it that I'm worried that Ozark is in pain or that I am in pain? Every time he tries to stand up I feel like I would like to die in his place if only he would not make me see how he can't walk, how helpless he is becoming as his body is shutting down. Maybe it scares me because I wonder if that's going to be me one day, trying to get my bladder to a toilet and falling down like a drunken sailor instead. I suddenly think that maybe I was wrong in thinking that the worst way to die is in an accident or by being murdered. Would that be better than to slowly shut down while everyone around you just holds their breath and waits?

Why should I be in a hurry to get this over with? Death is just another one of those facts of life that humans have become increasingly detached from. People used to die at home because there was nowhere else to die. Their families would have to dig the grave, prepare the burial clothes, and then prepare the body itself. All of which I'm going to do for my cat.

When he gets around to dying.

So I was asking myself what my real discomfort is and I suppose the answer is that it pains me to see an animal I have known for over thirteen years, and loved unreasonably, become incapacitated. I am powerless to help him.

Then I look at him just turning inward and I recognize this as a universal process. This is, what is. There are a million ways to die and I think that this is one of the most peaceful ones.

I really don't like this whole dying thing. But I want Max to understand that it's natural and not something to turn his back on. So I'm not turning my back on it either.

It's weird though, I have had the urge to take a couple of last pictures of him but I cannot let myself do it because it's already too late. It would be like photographing someone while they were on the toilet, or while they were vomiting, or crying. I just know it's not right. It's a line I can't cross. So I have gotten the last pictures of my kitty. I am trying not to constantly bother him. I am trying to be mature and let him pass in peace. I'm trying really hard not to gather him up in my arms for a last snuggle. I know he doesn't want me to do that. I know that all of that is just for me at this point. A selfish desire of the living.

I want to write about other things. I'm ready to make pasta and take pictures of it (I got my camera back). I'm ready to talk gardening. I'm ready for all kinds of levity and offense, but I can't seem to move on from this topic until Ozark does.

All for a cat. Who started as a tiny seed. Just as I did.

I want to know what other people think about death, about the process, about your own hopes? I want to know what makes you most uncomfortable about seeing a pet or another family member die? Do you feel only blinding sorrow or have you found a philosophical view of it as well? What comforts you the most when you have lost a loved one? Do you fear it? For yourself? For others?

It shapes us all. I'm looking at it now. I think that life without death is like a run on sentence and eventually the eye wants a period. The mind wants a period. It offers rest to everyone.

Jan 21, 2008

Jane Austen Didn't Smoke

I rented the movie "Mansfield Park" this week. Not the one that was done in the seventies, but the more recent one featuring Jonny Lee Miller as the parson-bound hero. Yeah, more on that later. First though, I just want to make a complaint against all modern film makers of historical stories in which they feature the cigarette as a symbol of women's liberation. I'm not saying there is no chance in hell any woman smoked a cigarette before the 1920's, because it would take some exhaustive research to prove that, and I may find that buried under a thousand tomes in which women in history never touched tobacco, is the one story, the one biography in which a woman in the early 1800's indulged in smoking.

But here's the deal: smoking tobacco was not a widespread indulgence in the early 1800's for anyone. Snuff was regularly indulged in and perhaps sometimes even by racy women (though this is debatable) , but you would have been mighty hard pressed to find cigarettes anywhere at that time. Now, assuming you could find it, you wouldn't, as a "modern" 1800's liberated woman even think of smoking a cigarette to show your freedom from convention. Smoking as a symbol of your free spirit and staunch independence did not find it's place amongst women until the 1920's.

In "Mansfield Park" the character Maria Crawford is supposed to be a liberated, somewhat wild, "free spirited" woman of questionable moral center but solid social standing. Uh huh. So in this version of the film she is shown playing pool and smoking a cigarette. I've seen this slipped into some other modern versions of historical stories. It's supposed to help us relate our modern sensibility to a much more complicated and archaic sensibility that I guess the directors don't think modern people are capable of understanding without these little suggestive devices.

I really hate it when film makers try to jazz up perfectly perfect classic stories with their modern humor. As in the miserable Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma in which the quiet humor Jane Austen wrote into the original story was dumbed down in an effort to make it funny to modern audiences.

The whole beauty of period pieces, for me, lies in how unlike modern times the stories are. The enchantment is to be taken to a time when women didn't wear g-strings to the beach. I don't want to see a period film in which all the characters are exactly like modern people. Society and it's expectations have changed dramatically, what value is there in a period film if all it does is dress modern people in antiquated styles of clothing? All the fun is gone out of period films for me when directors don't understand the material they are working with, or understand it but don't think it's good enough for us liberated people of the twenty first century.

So, when I see women smoking in period films set in the 1800's, I get really annoyed. Such a lazy cheap device.

About Jonny Lee Miller... I thought his version of this character was a little milkier than necessary, yet he was good. Unfortunately I had a very difficult time keeping Angelina Jolie's face out of my brain every time he came on screen. As in: what kind of man marries Angelina Jolie?

In other news, my cat has crawled away and I can't find him. It didn't occur to me to lock his kitty door to keep him inside but I'm afraid he may have exited stage left for his final and private scene and while I would be relieved if he has finally let go of his poor poor body (he hasn't eaten in four days, yet as late as 5:45 am he was tottering around the hallway, mostly still alive) I don't want to have to search for his body in the yard, because, what if we don't find it until the dog does?.

We've been spending lots of time snuggling up to his bony little body and telling him how much we love him and last night we all sat in the bedroom watching Scooby Doo (I suffer!!) and it was such a nice family moment. Ozark on the bed with us all. I had hoped that Ozark would die while in our arms or in our little circle of warmth because I didn't want him to die alone. But perhaps most dying beings do prefer to die alone. Is it, after all, the most private moment in our lives?

Oh, back to blithering about idiotic things... can anyone actually imagine Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt still together as old people? I can't. I can't even imagine them being old separately. Will Angelina still be adding to her zoo of children when she's seventy?

The sky could not be more blue out there this morning nor the air more frigid. It's a gorgeous winter day. I think winter is the best time to be born and the best time to die. What to do on such a day? I have a feeling that it will, at least in part, be spent digging a grave. I have all these random things floating around in my head waiting for a chance to air and all I can talk about is grave digging and crawling away to die. Typical Angelina. My blog sure has been a dark place to come lately. Where's the levity gone to? I wonder what other dark events await me?

The queer thing is that even though my blog still wears it's serious colors, I feel so much lighter inside. (Except for the agony of watching my tabby die). I mean, I do feel that something has opened up in my life and let the doves out. I feel as though a new beginning has finally unfolded itself in the light of day and is no longer a tight bud of unknown possibilities waiting for spring under the dark cover of winter. I feel like the blade of a daffodil breaking through cold hard ground in midwinter. Carrying with me all the potential for bright yellow scented hope.

I can't tell anymore if my lack of desire for travel is because the idea of traveling with my child makes me so anxious and exhausted I almost want to crawl right back to bed, or if it's because it feels like all the adventure I could want is right here, under my nose. Is it anxiety or contentment? There is an expectation amongst my peers (it feels like) that any person of real character and culture desires the chance to travel far and wide. I've been to Israel, Paris, New York, (plus many other states), and Scotland.

Time to go get dressed and look for my cat.

Update: I found the cat in my bathroom cupboard- STILL ALIVE. I believe he has hunkered down there to die unseen. So I will not disturb him there but will lock the kitty door in case he gets another weird burst of life. He can barely walk but clearly he is reluctant to let go of life. This is getting a little tortuous for me. But I have promised myself that unless he appears to be in pain I will not call the vet. The vet is unlikely to be available today anyway. I'm trying not to let myself be a coward about this. I do not like death at all.

Jan 20, 2008

Making Medicine At Home
(not a recipe yet)

It is getting increasingly difficult to find recipes and instructions for making your own medicines at home due to our litigious society and people's expectations for 100% cures and our willingness to believe that only laboratories can make effective medicines safely.

I am never shy about telling people that I take psyche meds and I will probably need them to live comfortably for the rest of my life. I am not necessarily a big mouthpiece for western medicine, but I can tell you that I tried every herbal and spiritual remedy before using my laboratory made chemical brain adjusting pills. For some things, modern medicine really kicks butt.

So when I tell you that it's a shame for the average human to lose the knowledge of how to make simples in their own kitchen, you should at least know that I am not on a mission to obliterate modern medicine's place in the world.

There are a number of urgent medical situations for which I would not turn to herbal remedies for help unless I had no other choice. Bladder infections are one of those things. It is so acutely uncomfortable (as in "I want to rip the plaster off the walls" kind of fun) and can quickly turn into a much more serious situation (kidney infection can kill you), so I tend to deal with UTIs as quickly as possible. Herbal medicine doesn't fix things fast. It does, however, fix them gently and with a lot less damage to the rest of your system than your average laboratory made medicine does. Modern western medicine often fixes one thing at the expense of something else in your body.

For herbal medicine to be effective you have to use it often in your life. Take the natural approach as often as possible. The more you treat your body with respect, and take care of it all along the way, the better it will respond to simpler more natural remedies. The first step is to try to live healthily. Sounds so much like a useless platitude, doesn't it. Yet, how many of us are taking as good a care of ourselves as our bodies deserve?

Are you getting as much exercise as you need to keep your vascular system in shape? If you are getting enough exercise then everything will run more smoothly in your system, because every part of our system is connected to the rest. I know this from breaking a hip. All your bones are connected and when one is broken and you try to move it you can feel the excruciating pain reverberate throughout every other bone in your body in an outward ripple of discomfort.

I know I'm not getting enough exercise. I'm just starting to get back on my bicycle by riding it to the store for my groceries and to my Master Gardening class. I have never been in poorer shape in my life than I am right now and I'd like to change that.

Are you eating food that is close to it's original source? Meaning: are you eating food without artificial colorants, preservatives, and flavors? Are you eating simple sugars or high fructose corn syrup? Your body cares a lot even if you don't. Are you eating a balanced diet? Meaning: are you eating enough vegetables with your meats and grains? Are you eating lots of steak and other red meat or are you eating a good portion of your meat in lean varieties? Are you drinking lots of alcohol? (I know I am and I am about to address this too). All the stuff you put in your body has to be processed by your liver and kidneys. Where do you suppose all those chemically produced food additives are going? What do you think your body does with an extraordinary surplus of sugars, especially the super processed complex kinds that your body can't even really use?

I'm not trying to shame anyone or bust any one's balls. I'm just asking that you think about these things a little. I haven't been treating my body very well in the last couple of years and it's beginning to tell on me. Because I am going to be taking psyche meds for most or all of my remaining life, which puts more stress and work on other parts of my body even while it's helping my brain, I want to start treating my body much better so that I can get results from natural medicine whenever possible.

Natural medicine works, but it takes more time, and it won't fix a trashed liver fast enough to save your life if you've been busy shoving crap into yourself nonstop. A well cared for body will respond to natural medicine faster than one that has a thousand compound problems from poor all around health.

Learning to make your own medicine should be required life knowledge. Instead it is becoming more and more obscured beneath people's fear of herbs, fear of doing themselves harm, and because people are being told that they are not qualified to know these things unless they have a doctorate degree in medicine.

Like all things in life, the things we now look to professionals to advise us on are things that the professionals learned from regular people. Food preserving was learned first by housewives and sailors and farmers, people like you and I. For centuries people preserved food without the USDA to tell them what was safe and what wasn't. The USDA knows a lot of what it knows because people already experimented and discovered (to some personal cost, of course) what is safe and what isn't. All the USDA has really done is to confirm WHY some things are safer than others.

Medicine is the same way. No, don't just go outside and eat whatever you find. The knowledge about what herbs are safe, or what quantities of an herb are safe and how to use them well is already out there. Read about them first. This is not crazy "New Age" shit. People have been making salves and tonics and teas and remedies for thousands of years. That's a lot of time to cultivate a reputable store of knowledge.

My mom is teaching me to make salves. This one is an anti-fungal salve to help me clear up my athlete's foot which I'm prone to when I wear the same shoes all the time. Which I'm doing now because I have only two pairs of shoes that fit and only one of those pairs is fit to be seen in public. It may not be as effective for me right now as could be hoped because my body is fairly trashed. It's out of balance. But while I start to eat better, exercise more, drink less alcohol, and work on my emotional health, I am also going to be learning to treat my body with more respect. With more care.

I am not going to learn to make a million herbal remedies, but a select essential few. Our next project is a burn/wound salve. If you peruse the isles at the drug store you can still find ointments and formulas that list ingredients such as "arnica" and "calendula" and "camphor". These are all natural ingredients. Just because something comes in a package with a warning label a mile long doesn't mean it's better than what you can safely make yourself.

As I learn to make these simple medicines I will streamline the process and the recipes and I will share them here. I will tell you how to apply them safely and I will trust you not to eat things that I've labeled "for topical use" because I trust most people out there to approach projects like this with common sense and intelligence.

The thing is, we need to remember how to do this ourselves. We need, as a whole people, not to let knowledge like this slip from our collective memories. We need to redevelop these skills. Besides, it's really fun to make salves!!

If you are like me and a long way from being healthy, don't be too hard on yourself. Figure out where a couple of your least healthy habits are and start strategizing how to make change. Start with small but steady steps. Read the labels of everything you consume, it will be a fascinating and eye opening education.

I can't emphasize that enough: READ ALL LABELS.

It isn't an all or nothing proposal. If drinking soda is one of your main pleasures in your comestible life, then drink soda. Just don't drink a liter of it a day. Maybe ditch all high fructose corn syrup items from your diet besides soda. You don't have to spend every day at the gym or run a marathon to be in better shape. Just move more. Ride your bike. Walk more often. Walk your kids to school if you're only ten blocks away from it. Yeah, you have to wake up earlier, but you'll all feel better too.

You don't have to be skinny to be healthy, but not being obese is a huge health benefit. I myself will always be plump. I don't desire a really skinny body anyway, which can be as unhealthy as a really fat one. But I know that I am heavy enough right now that my body is putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on my joints. So no joint relieving medicine is going to help my joints if I continue to put so much weight on them.

Making change takes time and the commitment to living deliberately and consciously which is so much more fun than it sounds.

Now that I have stirred myself up, I am going to go walk the dog to get some fresh air and get this flesh of mine in flight. Right after I apply some salve to my foot.

Jan 19, 2008

Midwinter Eating
(Local Eating Challenge Update)

Apples at the Hillsdale Farmer's Market. They have a "Newtown Pippin" that I tried this week and it was amazing! I rarely munch an apple for a snack but fruit is pretty limited right now and I brought one to my Master Gardening class in an effort to avoid their evil "snack" table which is a nightmare of sugar goods. The apple was huge, juicy, crisp, tart, and flavorful. I also bought a couple "Black Twig" apples to try but I admit I'm afraid of finding out that I don't like them which would be a shame since they have such a great name.

There is a surprising amount of variety to be had at this winter farmer's market. Lots of onions, potatoes, sun-chokes, salsify (I am not attracted to anything that can be described has having an "oyster" flavor), turnips, cabbage, collards (I got some because I've never had them before), leeks, chard, apples, pears, cheese, mushrooms (way too expensive for me but they look wonderful!), fresh milled polenta made from locally grown antique corn varieties, and a few winter squashes. I'm a little alarmed by how little winter squash is left. I am going to try to grow a lot more on my own this year. I also plan to bake and freeze more squash in the early season.

Some vendors came with lettuce but most of that was sold out by the time we got to the market. I got a very expensive bag of "lettuce" mix which mostly consisted of tough baby winter greens like baby kale, chard, beet greens, radicchio, and very little actual lettuce. Soon I will be planting my own.

I am waiting for only a couple more seed packets now to complete my seed collection for planting this spring. I am especially excited to grow "Lazy Housewife" pole beans. I am now trying to come up with strategies for seed saving this year. I need a good reference book for seed saving and I think "Seed To Seed" is the one I will get. I have been intimidated by seed saving for years. You have to isolate many plants whose seeds you want to save to prevent cross pollination or you have to net the plant entirely. I'm considering asking some various people with property to let me plant specimen plants for seed saving on their property if they are not also growing what I am.

I am beginning to lean more on my freezer goods. Last night we had pesto pasta with a sauteed bag of mixed frozen vegetables. Frozen vegetables will never be a favorite of mine but when it gets difficult to get my hands on broccoli and cauliflower I'm happy enough to be able to pull some from the freezer.

Speaking of the freezer though...I am still concerned by the use of so much plastic. I am beginning to experiment with glass jars but my soup didn't turn out (potato) which Lisa B. tells me isn't surprising since potatoes often don't freeze well. I would like a much larger proportion of my frozen goods to be frozen in glass rather than plastic. For things that really seem to need to be in plastic, if anyone knows of a safer (and biodegradable) vacuum seal bag product, please let me know. I'm concerned about the plastic contaminating our food. Lisa B. also mentioned the possibility of vacuum sealing jars for which there are attachments. I'm wondering if they make the vacuum seal lids for canning jars? These are things I must look into.

Mustard. I made some more mustard this week using mustard powder and I have to say that I'm not satisfied. It's too hot and I want something more similar to my standard Gulden's*. I don't like hot mustard and I don't like it to have that horse-radishy finish that Dijon usually has. It's funny because Gulden's calls itself a "spicy brown" mustard but I would call it mild and tangy. If I can't make a decent home version of Gulden's then I might be forced to re-examine my exceptions list and trade something out.

Mustard is really important when you are trying to prepare tasty foods using less fat. As boring as it is, I'm trying to cook food that isn't as fattening. Potato salad isn't too fattening if you don't use too much mayonnaise and add a lot more mustard.

The trick is finding the right mustard seeds. There are at least three different varieties commonly used in mustard making. I think a book on making mustards might be really useful at this point too since I seem to have exhausted my Internet resources for mustard making information.

Some things I will be pulling from the freezer this week: ratatouille, Brussels sprouts, green beans, hot peppers, zucchini fritters (just like latkes but with zucchini).

*I have just read that Gulden's is a ConAgra product. Even though the recipe is supposedly "140 years old", and it's nice to note that there is no crap in Gulden's mustard, I don't want to support ConAgra in any way if I can avoid it. So I really must work hard to become a great mustard maker. It isn't a difficult condiment to make, but it is certainly tricky getting the right seeds to start with.

Jan 18, 2008

The Expected Guest

How does one go about watching another being die? Are we supposed to wear a certain face? A speakingly sad posture? Is there an acceptable voice modulation specific to using around those who are not long for the world? How do you talk to them? What do you say? Do we walk through rooms in whispers? Do we allow any light to crack through the grim shadows growing long?

I knew my cat was dying before we did these last tests, just to be sure. So when I found out today that my cat is definitely dying, I wasn’t surprised, but I was surprisingly sad. I say surprisingly because I’ve been preparing myself for this news for two weeks now. Honestly? Longer than that. I don’t know if it was obvious from Ozark’s growing body hollows or from his face, but I saw it coming. It’s not really a mystery I think. He’s been changing pretty seriously over the course of the last six months.

Is death any different for animals than it is for humans? I don’t really think it is. I think that when it comes to death we’re all pretty much on the same plane. Or, we would be, if humans didn’t constantly muck every simple process up and make it into something we can’t talk about, can’t face, can’t approach, or even admit to.

I will admit, without qualms, that if my child’s kidney was failing I would absolutely put him on an organ donor list whereas I will not do that for my cat. However, it is more natural to just let go when the body shuts down than to desperately stay the moment of truth indefinitely. Even for humans. I understand why we do it. I do. But I will tell you that if I get cancer I will try to treat it within reason, but I don’t intend to live the rest of my life doing chemo and just hanging on to hang on.

There are so many different ways to approach death. I know that for most people it’s important to fight for your life no matter what that really means. And if anyone suggests they don’t want to fight any more? Others jump into action full of fear, indignation, desperation, as though death was something unnatural. Often it is avoided temporarily at immense cost to everyone involved, and most of all to the being who is closest to the “other side”.

If I say I know for sure that I wouldn’t want a transplant for my heart if it was failing I’m willing to bet that anyone within earshot would vehemently deny that I could know what I would do once in that situation or that I would definitely decide to try for a transplant. Maybe, but I looked death in the eye when I was fifteen and it wasn’t a fear of death that kept me from killing myself. Fear had nothing to do with it at all. I wasn’t afraid to kill myself. I first didn’t do it for the sake of a friend. And later I didn’t do it because I realized that I was only seventeen and I might be able to build a good life on the one flicker of hope I had left. But if my heart was dying? My loved ones might want me to do anything to save myself, but I think I’d like to recognize when my natural time has come, and face it with grace.

I haven’t been so good with the grace lately, but hopefully my own time is far enough away that I will have time to develop more elegance of the heart.

You can’t ask a cat what he wants in his last bit of time on earth. He can’t tell you how he’s feeling, if he’s in pain, if he would like you to stop injecting him with huge quantities of water that pool around his legs before being absorbed into his body. You can’t ask if he’s too warm or too cold or just wants you to sit with him all day. You can’t ask if he would like you to just let go or try giving him the rest of the antibiotic even though the answer is still death, and soon.

People don’t like talking about death.

At the vet’s office I was handing Ozark over to get his blood taken and I started to say “Don’t worry, you’ll be alright” but stopped myself and said to the vet and his assistant “I can’t actually tell him that, can I? Because he’s not OK.” And turning to my sick cat, said instead “Well, Ozark, we’re just trying to find out how we can make you feel better.” It doesn’t seem right to lie to an animal. Even though they can’t know our language well. I don’t think animals would lie to us.

What I’m hoping is that he’ll die quietly on his own, and soon. I don’t really want to have to choose to put him to sleep. Although I kind of think that I might like someone to do that for me when life has definitely already closed it’s doors on me and I’m just waiting for my body to let go.

He hasn’t eaten since yesterday. He didn’t want food this morning and didn’t want any this afternoon. I think he’s letting go.

I think people need to talk about death more. People need to accept the inevitability of it. No one has a right to something that is a gift. All this talk of “Right To Life” bothers me sometimes just for the inherent arrogance that that implies. Life is a gift with a use-by date. We get life on condition that we will at some point die and make room for others to have their turn. Some of us have shorter turns than others.

I wish I could know what Ozark would most like right now. I’m just uncomfortable with death waiting in the house. A thankfully rare guest at our table. I’m uncomfortable because no one’s ever told me how to approach it. No one’s ever told me how to care for the dying. How to behave or prepare for it. We don’t talk about these things in our culture so that all of us are caught unprepared.

So I will watch. I will tell Ozark the truth. And we will give him love. And hopefully we will know when the moment has arrived to make decisions and be able to make those decisions with courage.

Botanists Are Fun People Too
(and how growing food is better than growing plants for cats to pee on)

I'm noticing a trend in teaching methods at my Master Gardening classes. Many activities are prefaced with "This is an activity that we use to teach children...blah...blah...blah" or "This is an activity that has proved very successful with children..."

I look around the room and think to myself: now, I wonder if any one of these senior citizens finds it insulting that most of the activities in the Master Gardening course were designed for children? Then I realize that I'm probably the only real senior citizen in the room. The seventy year old crowd seems to love games.

So we were learning plant parts yesterday by building weird food creatures. I suppose this is to loosen us all up and make us realize that botanists are cool people too. Personally, I thought it was plenty exciting looking at the ova of an alstroemeria at a 10x magnification. I dislike silly activities that are designed to loosen curmudgeons up and help us all shake our social phobias and learn that doing group activities is invigorating.

I do not like group activities or games.

And no, I don't think that makes me cool. And no, I am not proud of it. If you knew how much it makes my innards rearrange themselves with anxiety you would realize that my happy brash way of announcing to everyone in the world how much I hate games is me trying to get it out in the open and out of the way in order to avoid the inevitable heckling and weird arm wrestling people often do to try to get me to "have (their version of) fun".

Did I mention we were supposed to name our food "creatures"? All I could think of was Melvin which was in my head because Elizabeth of The Late Bloomer has a new guinea pig named Melvin which I think is a great name.

Botany doesn't need games and "fun" group activities to keep me from napping in class. I feel like doing that little food activity wasted some valuable time in which I could have been using my pocket lens to look at other cool plant parts and be learning more about how plants do what they do, which, is pretty amazing.

In spite of the fact that almost shouting out loud "Damn, that is SO COOL!!!!!!!!!!" when looking at the alstroemerias sexual organs under magnification proves I am a plant geek of the first order, it will always rankle me when someone gets gushy over ornamental shrubs that don't, for all I can tell, actually do anything cool. Just because I could look at a cross section of that shrub's fleshy matter and get as excited as a kid before Christmas doesn't mean I want to see that shrub 365 days of the year doing nothing interesting in my landscape. When I hear someone say about Pieris "Oooh, that's a wonderful shrub!" I just want to ask "Why? What is so wonderful about this shrub that every cat in the neighborhood comes in my yard to pee on?"

I know that some people in my class (who will remain identity-less, though I have fond pet names for them here at home) have gardens full of almost exclusively ornamental shrubs. Gardens in which no food is being grown. Gardens in which flowers are not prized as highly as shrubs that are green. In my opinion, vegetable gardens are the most ornamental of them all. What riot of color and shape you can arrange with them! I feel that there is room in every garden for some interesting plants that neither feed people nor animals, but I also feel that what Americans really lack is an appreciation for the beauty of food producing plants.

Many Americans see food producing plants and trees as "work", or "messy", or "too much work" or say things like "The fruit falls on the side walk and then I spend all season trying to clean it up. It's too much work."


Part of the problem is we haven't all tweaked our lives to accept free food. We haven't figured out where it fits into our busy world. Fruit producing trees and plants are an incredible gift to us where ever they grow. I would wager that in most countries, where a plant grows delicious fruits, people do not let it drop to the ground in a heap of waste.

I must admit that we let a lot of fruit molder on the ground around our very old and diseased pear tree. It has a terrible mite problem that we didn't address vigorously enough last winter and most of the fruit was spoiled before it matured. But this year we will attack the problem more intently.

If only I could show people the wonderful kitchen gardens all over the world, the front yards in Britain and France in which vegetables are allowed to be seen by the neighbors ("Good God! Is it true?!"). If only I could show them how even in winter, a potager* can shine because of it's planned structure. If only I could show how artfully herbs can be grown. When flowers for beneficials are integrated with your kitchen garden you have eden in miniature. But most of all? How beautiful the most chaotic vegetable garden is when you just think of the people who are being nourished by it's bounty.

I am left cold by ornamental shrubs. Or anything that can be described as "landscape plants".

I built my last garden into a semi-formal potager and it was really satisfying. I surrounded it with roses and herbs and we had fruit trees and all of it compact, fit into a smaller lot than I have now. I wish I could access my pictures of it but most of them are trapped on our old hard drive (another little bit of fun the universe threw our way after breaking our bones and all the other fun). I have a city lot. It isn't farm sized. It isn't even a quarter of an acre.

But it's bigger than what I had before and I have yet to make it shine like my last one. Something wonderful about this new garden of mine is that I can grow peonies here. I can grow berries here. I can grow rhubarb, which I will learn to love because I've got a gorgeous little patch of it that was already here. I see now that what I need to do is show McMinnville that vegetable gardens can be so much more magical than a yard filled with "low maintenance" plants.

Dare I hope that this year I will have time to dedicate to the cultivation of my own private heaven?

*A more formal kitchen garden in which a kind of symmetry is built into the plan and structures such as arches, pergolas, and boxwood give it a more formal backbone.

Jan 16, 2008

Snow Bird Comes Home
(but without the snow)

It's fitting that after such a rough day yesterday I would wake to a ghost landscape all covered in white; the last gasps of past dreams clinging to stems and freezing in whorls on glass. For a few minutes the sun cut itself a hole in the clouds and made glitter fall from the sky. Tiny icy particles in the air lit by sun as though the finest fairy dust was drifting down. I made Philip look to make sure I wasn't hallucinating. Because that would have been alarming what with me not being on drugs and all.

My garden has been hugely neglected since we've lived here. We have done some things in mad spurts only to have to let it go wild again while we were trying to make the store work out, or looking for work, or making stuff for my business. My last garden got so much more attention and even though I am not the kind of gardener to stay on top of weeds even in the best of circumstances, it was a wonderful place to hang out.

At last I can turn my attention to my house and garden. I can make things for us, rather than others. I can spend more time cleaning up my yard and shaping it. This year is shaping up to be one in which everything is pared down, streamlined, simplified, and returned to some kind of rhythm. It's been a long time since I've had a daily rhythm.

It also seems symbolic that today my first seed order arrived from Territorial. Symbolic because seeds are the ultimate in new beginnings; hope in the tiniest package; promise of abundance and they bring us from the present to the future seamlessly.

Everything still feels raw, which isn't surprising since my whole life shifted yesterday, so I'm not yet feeling the relief of lifted weight off of my shoulders, not entirely. A small little part of me, though, is already beginning to feel a great whoop of freedom explode from my chest. A great big happy holler that I'm so ecstatic to be returning to my life of "drudgery" as:


An Urban Homesteader!

Being a housewife or a homesteader is only boring and drudgery if you... damn, I will never understand why some people find it boring. We're all different, let's leave it at that.

I do have to buckle down on Friday to produce a tutorial for Whip Up who have kindly expressed interest in posting my instructions on making bath bombs. But I'm not doing it for pay or for traffic to my blog. I'm doing it because this project I'm going to share is so cool and really fun for kids. I'll keep you posted on when they might post it (which will depend on me giving them the tutorial in a timely fashion!)

A new/old/loved chapter of my life is opening up. I'm glad it's still midwinter so I can adjust before having to kick into gear in the yard. Tomorrow is my Master Gardening class and I intend to bring healthy food so I don't raid their nasty donut stash. So I'm off to make potato salad.

Really, I think my life may have just turned a corner. It's too bad it had to be so painful, but at least I'm home again.

Jan 15, 2008

I'd Rather Work For Love (tm)

As I walk away from thousands of hours of hard work; of designing the best work of my life; of hitting the pavement for sales; of killing my feet walking trade shows which are 99% trademarked trash; as I say good bye to commerce I know that there are lessons here. Valuable lessons for everyone. I have been working on Dustpan Alley for almost four years now and I am mentally, physically, emotionally, and now fiscally drained. Point blank.

Was it a waste? Right now it absolutely feels like a 100% waste. It has cost us $100, 000 to find out that I am not capable of being a successful business woman. So yes, if I could go back, I would not do it again. Because if I had not chased a dream I would probably not be having to let go of my healthcare. I would probably not have to get a gas station job in the near future. I might still be able to cherish the fantasy that maybe there is some part of me capable of being a success. Once you’ve come this far, there is no room left for dreams.

  • Business is always personal. Anyone you encounter in business who says “it’s not personal” is trying to make themselves feel better for having bested you in some way. It doesn’t make a person bad for saying it, it shows they feel bad about winning. If you are ever tempted to say that to someone, think very carefully about how honest that is. I’ve had it said to me today and it added insult to injury. There are few things more personal to each of us than our ability to succeed.

I set out to heal during the next thirty days and have unwittingly set off a bomb in my own house. How much longer will it take to recover now? I am shell shocked, they can fix that, right? I am right up against the demons of the past now. I have been told many times that I am not capable of making it in the world. The constant refrain in my head since I was, well, for as long as I have had memory, is “FAILURE”. There is honestly nothing to back up a claim to the contrary. At every possible turn I prove that those voices are true. It never really stops hurting.

The expected thing is for me to say that I’m going to be OK. Because that’s my job. To make sure that everyone else can sleep at night while I lie awake in the close darkness and try not to hear the world screaming. Saying that I’m going to be OK is like saying that business isn’t personal. It’s just what I say to make myself feel better because worrying others with the truth will only make me feel bad for making the rain come for everyone else. I’m not going to insult anyone today with my usual lies. I don’t know if I’m going to be OK. That’s like trying to predict weather.

  • Before design comes law. Learn it now if you are a designer and don’t know it. The most insidious thing I’ve found out today is that a person can have something trademarked but opt to have the information invisible on the USPTO website so that if you want to know if something you’ve thought up is already trademarked before you invest time and money into it you must make a formal inquiry with the trademark office.

I will have no part in a business in which you must first run everything that comes out of your head across a lawyer. This is more and more how everything is going. The government owns seeds now whose volunteers they also own, so that even if those volunteers end up in your back yard through no fault of your own they can prosecute you for theft in a court of law.

Design ideas are much the same. People are buying up words, phrases, names, and ideas at such an intense rate that there is no way for any of us to keep up with it all. “Branding” is a word that I have decided to have no truck with. It’s evil. Yep, those who do it are always going to make more than me. But the only people who make less than me right now are most likely on welfare.

Because I am a conscientious person I never thought I’d have to find this stuff out. I don’t copy people’s ideas. I don’t lift people’s work. Unfortunately I didn’t realize that people could own words now that aren’t names of brands. Philip has pointed out that the patent and trademark office are perfectly willing to hand out indefensible trademarks to people. But who wants to go against that? Don’t think you own your own ideas until you check the patent and trademark office.

I’m not going to “brand” myself. When I said I sold my soul to the devil, I was kidding.

I know that all along the way there have been people who knew I wouldn’t make it. I could tell by the kinds of questions they asked. I could tell by the tone of their voices as they suggested that Philip get “real” work while we opened our store. I could tell by the alarm in so many people’s voices. Don’t worry. I don’t hold it against you. I just want to say- “hey, good call.”

It is lucky for us that we can’t even afford for me to stay on my healthcare right now because if we had more money I might find myself trying to win again. It’s time for that to stop. All I have is my big fat mouth and my writing. Which I know has given some people headaches, makes lots of people uncomfortable, almost loses me friends, and never ever stops.

I am letting go. I realized today that this, more than the bitterness, is what I’m meant to let go of. From today forward I will not worry like a mother hen about how much traffic comes to my blog. I will still write it because outside of my men folk, my pets, and my home, it’s the best thing I have going in my life. I love all the friends I’ve made here and hopefully you all will keep visiting- please don’t go! But there is no business end to this. I want to share what I know, what I learn, and what I’m thinking for free. I will keep Blogher on site so that if by some weird chance Armageddon strikes and I start getting heavy traffic, maybe I can buy myself a new stock pot.

We plan on making some changes so that my blog will have categories you can search separately like: recipes, how-to’s, mental health, etc. I would like this site to become more useful to you and me both. But it will be a while before those changes happen because Philip is working his ass off trying to make enough money to stave off the doom and I may be joining him (temporarily) soon. (After my month of no worrying about the coming doom.) Bring on the doom, because the rest of it all has fallen. If there are any friends out there who have been thinking of letting me go or letting me have it, I suggest you do it now so that I can just get it all out of the way and get on with living. I will never forgive you if you wait until later.

  • It doesn’t matter how much people think your work is great, it doesn’t matter how many people think your designs rock, that doesn’t mean you will sell enough of it to buy extra bandages with which to sop up the blood you spilled trying to build yourself into something. The proof is in the pudding as some silly people like to say. If you are going to succeed at what you’re doing it won’t take three years to see it coming.

One of the people whose trademarked words I unwittingly used wanted to be kind and suggested that just because I can’t sell my “needle junkie” shirt doesn’t mean I should shut everything down.* She told me my work was great- so creative! From their perspective it’s just the question of that one design. (And all the other ones they’ve trademarked.) But it’s not just that…how many other people have silent trademarks for things I might think up? She still thought that she and I were on the same plane. How can the loser explain to the winner how meaningless their encouragement is? They saved themselves about $40.00 by defending themselves against me. I wonder if those trademarks are going to pay off? What if the next unwitting victim of “branding” decides to challenge them? Will it still be good value?

  • There are no original ideas, there are only riffs on the same ideas we all have. Nothing you can think up hasn’t been lifted from somewhere else at least in part. All words have been said. The only thing that really separates us from each other is how we execute our ideas. That and who can give money to the government the fastest. You cannot battle collective thought. I once designed a dress when I was thirteen without ever having seen it anywhere in real life, then as I devoured my first ever Vogue I was shocked to find that some designer named “Beene” got there first. The EXACT same dress. You can’t own ideas. Not really. But go ahead and pay for them if it makes you feel more secure against the competition out there.

There is one thing that I have been very successful at: being a housewife. Keeping house. Urban homesteading. Home keeping. Home making. Whatever you feel comfortable calling it. I’m good at it, I love it, my men-folk love it when I’m doing it because I’m happier with them and my vegetables and not belonging to committees of any kind or having to small talk or defend myself against everyone wanting a piece of my failing business. I shine at home doing what really matters in life anyway: cooking, growing food, nurturing people, nurturing myself, feeding my hens, sewing interesting and sometimes beautiful things that I don’t have to search for in the trademark office or consult over with a lawyer. Home. Ever since first staying home I knew it was something I excelled at. I don’t need to make a salary to know my self worth.

  • The most corrosive thing I’ve done for my self esteem in the past few years is try to have a successful business. Why did I do it? All the usual reasons. It seemed like a fun flirtation when I started, back when I didn’t truly need the extra money. Then I was driven insensibly forward by our intense need for money, driven to spend more and more money we didn’t have in an effort to make money. They always say you have to spend money to make money. I don’t know how much you’re supposed to have to spend, but I spent us down to nothing and now I get to sleep with that.

The best thing I ever did for my self esteem was to stay home and not earn a living. I was a housewife even before I was a mother and it was the best, most satisfying, wonderfully fun, rewarding, and freeing job. Every step I take now is to lead me back to that place. I will work for money only when our circumstances absolutely demand it.

I would much rather work for love.

*Philip is right that you can't copyright words, but he's not up to date on his trademark laws, so it turns out that we really are obligated to not sell any garments with the words "needle junkie" on them. This has been the catalyst for me shutting down my business. The proverbial straw. But not the whole reason for giving up. Isn't it classic that the annoying cowardly anonymous hecklers in my happy shirt post turn out to be right? I sure hope they take a moment to pat themselves on the back. And no, I don't care if they are reading this.