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photo by Sheri Dixon

Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year 2011

In with the old
Out with the new
This year's plumb wore out
And I am too

From great to horrific
And all things between
This was the most noteworthy year
We've ever seen

Perhaps "noteworthy" isn't
The word I am seeking...
But my goal is to write this
Sans cursing or shrieking

To all of our family both chosen and born
I wish you peace and joy starting off New Year's morn
May your troubles be few and be easily conquered
Now I'm rhyme-stymied cornered so I guess I'll just

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

One Week and Counting

In theory, one week from right now, thanks to the efforts of a burly moving crew employed to be here at 8am Tuesday next, we'll be sitting in our new house with our furniture surrounding us.

In theory, we will also have bathroom facilities, running water, lights, and heat even though none of that is a reality as of this writing.

Oh, the animals will still be here at the old house till the fences are complete, and 99% of our clothing, dishes, knick knacks and books will move room by room, box by box, absolute favorites first and working our way down till the new house looks finished- then that's it. No more may pass.

We probably won't have TV or internet hookups yet and we're leaving Joe here to guard all our debris.

I have high hopes of going through it all and dividing the chosen from the left-behinds, holding some sort of True Rummage sale (no sorting or pricing- just root through the mess and ask me "Hey- what do you want for THIS?"), donating/dumpstering the remains and doing a general hose-down of the place well before our turnover date of February 1st.

And that'll be that.

This grand old house will pass from our care to someone elses'- and we won't be coming Home to Here anymore- Home will be There.

After 15 years, the road Home will be different. Familiar, similar, but different.

For 15 years, these walls, this roof, embraced first me as a single woman, then myself and Ward as a new couple, saw the birth of Alec right here, was our refuge in sickness and health, in good times and bad.

Built in 1890, our occupancy only amounts to 13% of its age so far- so much history before us, so much more to come.

I'm not whining, and I'm not complaining. This move, this new place, this transition, is something we've worked very hard for and waited a long time for, and we're all excited about it- the new Home will be a perfect fit for us...forever.

I just hope our old house knows how much we love it and how very grateful we are for its shelter and protection, for its lessons on how a structure should be built for climate control using natural ventilation, taking advantage of natural lighting via window placement, but most of all for its very real sense of Home.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Caffeine + Christmas Cookies = Breakfast of Champions

People love my Christmas Cookies. Not because they're beautiful, because they're not- they're round (using a juice glass for a cutter) and frosted with uncolored frosting and all the sprinkles a young boy can fit on them.

They're loved because they are absolutely the best melt in yer mouth sugar cookies ever devised and baked by the human hand.

The recipe came from my friend Lynn, who I've unfortunately lost track of over the years.

Lynn and I were Jaycettes way back in the dark ages when being a Jaycette meant you had to be married to a Jaycee. Jaycees/Jaycettes were basically community service organizations that raised money for good causes. That those fundraisers took on the cloak of being big ol' excuses to drink beer, eat good food and play cards didn't matter- we did honest good while having a riotously good time. (Back then, the organizations were also limited to folks between the ages of 18-35, ensuring that no party got sullied by some old farts trying to run things).

The Jaycettes in Racine Wisconsin circa 1980- 1990 were a tight group. We bowled two mornings a week- leaving the kids in the nursery and noshing on sweet rolls and coffee while making a half-assed attempt at keeping track of who was "up". We were a disgrace to the "serious bowlers". The only time we gave a damn was if our trophy for last place was endangered- then we just tried harder...errr...less...whatever.

We lived for the KaffeeKlatch- most of us were stay at home moms, or had part time employment, and we took to heart the importance of socializing our youngsters. (At least I think they were socializing, we sort of lost track after we tossed snacks and toys into a bedroom, waited till they all scurried in there, then shut and blockaded the door so they wouldn't interrupt our conversations- in the summertime we did the same thing, except in the backyard).

The afternoon Lynn had us all over for strawberry daiquiris went down in Jaycette history as an epic example of "Wow. Those taste great and go down SO easy. Why is the floor spinning?" It was the only time the husbands had to be called to drive all the wives/kids home, but it was totally worth it.

Eventually, of course, "progress" reared its ugly head, and some idiots took the Jaycee/Jaycette organizations to court as being unconstitutional- some unmarried chicks wanted in but didn't want to go to the trouble of marrying to gain admittance.

Like there weren't other, non-marital-status related community and/or beer drinking organizations to join? Puh-leeze.

The day we were told "There will be no more segregation- everyone is now just Jaycees" was the day we all quit.

I mean, what the hell? It was supposed to be a "leadership training" organization for young adults. When they opened it up to both sexes, guess what happened? All the hard, onerous jobs? Yep. The men immediately backed off and 'let' the women do them.

Besides, our Jaycette meetings were OUR night AWAY from the guys- seriously. If you've ever spent 30 minutes with a man under the age of 35 (especially with a beer or four in 'em)you know it's like having one more kid around to watch. "Don't lick that". "Stop making that noise". "Dude. Basic hygiene and personal space".

We were together through thick and thin- literally as we all grew tummies and gave birth to children, celebrated good times and bad with our families.

So every time I make these cookies, I think of Lynn- who besides blending up Killer Strawberry Daiquiris, was an excellent baker. And all my other Jaycette Sisters-

Lynn and her husband went bankrupt and moved to Chicago, Cheryl's little boy survived cancer, Karen's husband hung himself in their basement, hopefully Donna got some help for her wild dark mood swings, Barb, Sandy and Jill just sort of drifted out of my radar after I moved to Texas, and Cathy and Chris remain in my very best friend circle- even after 30+ years.

Hope your Christmas was Merry- but just because it's the 26th of December doesn't mean you can't make more Christmas cookies.

And stop licking that.

Lynn's Sugar Cookies and Vanilla Butter Frosting

Cookies-
1 1/2c powdered sugar
1c butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 1/2c baking mix

Cream sugar and butter. Add egg and vanilla/almond extract. Stir in baking mix and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
Divide dough in half and roll out. Cut into shapes, place on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes at 350. Cool and frost with

Vanilla Butter Frosting

1/3c soft butter
3c powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
about 2 tbsp milk

Cream butter and sugar. Stir in vanilla and enough milk to make frosting.
Color frosting if you like, decorate with sprinkles as desired

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas in the Twilight Zone

So we're building this house. What a happy day it will be for everyone around me when I can say "So we BUILT this house"- I know ya'll are getting plumb wore out from hearing about it.

But lets talk about ME.

More specifically, lets talk about the mess our current house is in, the lack of amenities in our new house, and how that all relates to and affects the Christmas Spirit in our family this year.

Because we're supposed to be moving (first promised "in by Thanksgiving" then "in by Christmas" then "probably in by the housewarming we've already sent invitations out for")I was loathe to haul out the boxes and decorate this house. Why do that when we'd have to take it all down right in the middle of the season?

Of course, there's nothing to hang a decoration on over yonder yet.

The one thing Alec requested that we retrieve from the holiday boxes was Christmouse.

Christmouse is a little stuffed rodent who hops (with the help of Alec, and his brother and sister before him) from one numbered pouch to the next from December first through the 24th.

So we lugged the boxes out of the attic and scrounged around till we found Christmouse, then pushed aside samples of stain and sealer, made a weak attempt at eliminating cobwebs from his spot on the wall, and- thanks to a loose nail- hung him crookedly in place.

Ta Daa. Oooooooh. Festive.

The tree is up- it's always up. It is also, however, somewhere behind a gabazillion boxes awaiting packing and still decorated with September's decorations, which are fall leaves and sunflowers.

Fa la la la la
La la.
La.
La.

How to describe our house?

In the best of times, I'm a very casual housekeeper. If there is a game trail from one room to the next, and the bathroom fixtures aren't actually talking back to us, we're good.

Oh, I've got my 'pet things' that have to be done for me to feel like we're living in a house and not any ol' landfill- the dishes must be done, the bed must be made, and the laundry clean if not folded and put away.

With all the time spent at the new place, and the lack of energy and basic give-a-shit-ness after working all day at the new place, the house is...startling. And not in a good way.

Pack rats all, our stuff has taken on new configurations and astoundingly, the more we haul out, go through and throw away, the less neat the house is. It's even spreading from the bedrooms (main repositories of clutter) to the hallway to the living room to yea verily the kitchen counters that have somehow shrunk from 2 ft wide to about an inch and a half wide.

I took a deep breath and with a dramatic sweeping gesture I made enough room on the kitchen counter to bake a single solitary batch of sugar cookies, which we will frost and sprinkle tonight.

My family is terrific.

They're right there beside me, behind me, doing all things asked and unasked in an amazing constant never ending show of love and devotion that humbles me and makes me want to do more for them.

More Christmas.

More decorations.

More cookies.

More patience.

More time.

More.

We'll be working at the new house tomorrow- Christmas Eve.

After waking and opening presents Christmas morning, we'll be back out there.

Working.

Making our home a reality.

Together.

And I realize that we don't need More.

Because what we're doing together is enough.

After a hellishly difficult year, we're together.

And that's enough.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book Excerpt- "A Reincarnationist's Guide to Graceful Living- Over and Over and Over Again"

I've really had nothing but good experiences with www.blurb.com as a self-publishing venue- the books are very high quality, there is no huge up front fee or million-book minimum order, and they are delivered extremely quickly.

So it was only natural that after three text-only books, I'd want to play with the photo features of Blurb- because that's what it's mainly used for- commemorating weddings, family reunions, graduations, all that jazz.

I didn't want to just have page after page of photos, and had always wanted something to have "in hand" that sums up what I've grown to believe over the years since no one religion or faith seemed to line up for me.

The result is this little book.

Inside is a short story- a dream memory- that is still as clear to me today as the morning after I dreamt it- almost a decade ago. So that's what I'm ending my book excerpts with.

Today is the shortest day of the year, and the day Mother Nature says "It's time to start over- the last year is behind us now and every day will be longer and brighter".

As we wind down the human calendar year and wind up over the human Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa holidays, take a minute to give a little nod of thanks to Mom Earth- if she ever gets tired of our abuse and kicks us out of the house, we'll be in deep shit.

Merry Solstice.


Cricket Song


I found myself in a place I'd never been surrounded by people I'd never met. The little town was isolated and perched atop an emerald hilltop; picture perfect and quaint, yet comfortable and real.

Weary from travel, I was welcomed by the locals and quickly found a tiny house to rent, furnished with worn but lovely furnishings and nestled in the heart of a cluster of similar homes. Each house had a small neat front yard overseen by a large front porch and a huge back yard with big old trees and tidy vegetable gardens.

The townspeople all worked locally at trades thought of as extinct in more urban areas- shopkeepers, butchers, farmers, and a contingent of displaced artists like myself who were considered an oddity to be coddled and humored.

This artistic sub-community consisted of a young girl from California with frothy blond angel hair who painted watercolors so ethereal viewers instinctively held their breath lest the subjects blow away, a Mexican matron with permanent smile lines and dancing crinkly eyes whose pottery was so beautiful any food served in it was automatically delicious, a dark handsome gentleman who hailed from South Africa and surrounded himself with woodcarvings vibrating and humming with inner fire, and one storyteller - the woman who gazed back at me in my mirror.

The four of us had been drawn to this place all around the same time and had settled into a easy routine. We tended to take our meals together and took turns cooking for each other, coming together in our strangeness.

As a group we were welcomed by the people who made up the community, and we participated in the events therein- the dinners, the church programs, the concerts in the park and the fairs and festivals. We knew them as individuals and as families, friends and teachers- every one of them tied to this place by history and blood.

As peaceful as we all were here, and as everlasting a feeling there was about the place, there was an aura of anticipation permeating the town, a palpable waiting. It seemed odd to us newcomers, but not in an unsettling way; and it seemed built into the very character of all the townspeople.

Waiting.

But such a lovely place, with the lovely views and the feeling that you could reach right up and pluck yourself a handful of starlight on a clear night. Standing on the peak of the hill, wrapped in a comforter of darkness, the only sound was the singing of the crickets and like the stars, their song was clearer and more enveloping than any I'd heard before.

In this place, we passed days, weeks, months; each of us finding renewed energy and inspiration among these quiet accepting folk.

Then, almost imperceptibly, there was a change.

The waiting turned to subdued excitement.

Everyone in the town seemed lit from within with the knowledge that the waiting was almost over yet it was never verbalized and never questioned. We four newcomers were the only ones troubled by this.

One day our woodcarver was poking around in the attic of his little rented house and he found a book.

A very old book.

That evening at dinner he brought it out and we blew the dust off of it and opened it up. We took turns reading the fantasy within. For although it was written in journal form, most assuredly it was fantasy.

The journal told of a world that had gone mad. Not mad in a noisy violent way, but a more insidious madness; the madness of waste. The human population of this world had spent it's resources almost to extinction and showed no sign of wanting to conserve anything for their descendants. Eventually, the world had had enough. A mist settled over the earth and while they slumbered, every human was transformed into a cricket. It was decreed that the humans and the crickets would walk in each others place for 1,000 years. There the journal ended.

Nervously and feeling a little silly, we checked the date of the last entry.

The end of the 1,000 years was upon us.

Silently we stared at the book left open on the table before us, our coffee cold and forgotten, the sound of the crickets growing louder till it filled our minds. As if from a great distance, we heard the townspeople gathering at the town hall for a community dinner, and we remembered that we had been invited.

It was a community dinner identical to many we'd attended, yet something had shifted and we were not participants, but an audience. As we made small talk and ate of the good simple foods, we each one of us looked a little harder at these people, our friends. They WERE our friends and we were conscious of burning the essence of them into our hearts- how they looked, talked, smelled, felt.

Just in case.

We lingered till the last person left for home, then we returned to our little houses, OUR homes. Although we gave each other the same goodnight embrace that we had shared every night of our stay, this time the embraces were just a little tighter, just a little longer.

Nothing was said.

Except 'Goodnight'.

I was awakened shortly after midnight not because I heard something untoward, but because of the absence of sound.

No crickets. The night world was silent for the first time since I had arrived. Filled with sadness, I fell back into a fitful slumber.

Dawn was grey and the four of us gathered in the square of an abandoned town, our grief stark in our eyes, flashing from one face to the others. Although there were many questions none of the answers seemed to matter much.

Where did they go, our friends? No matter- they were gone.

Why were we still here? No matter- we were, and we were alone.

We four were artists and our sadness would come alive in our art. To report. And record. And remember.

We shared one last embrace, then silently headed down the emerald hill, traveling in the four directions from whence we had come.

Weeks passed, then months, then years.

As if by appointment, a road-weary aged quartet found ourselves once again standing at the peak of the emerald hill, for nowhere else had ever been home for us. None of us was surprised to see the others, and we quietly traveled a familiar road into the unknown.

Our little houses were empty, but clean, and apparently awaiting our return.

The journal was nowhere to be found.

We were dreading the absence of our friends in familiar places, and of course they were not there.

And yet they were.

From every shop and every yard the people of the town smiled at us with calm friendly faces that were ever so dear, ever so missed.

We were greeted by name, as if we'd never left.

The peace in the town was enhanced by a new aura- that of Care.

Care for the earth, care for all that grew, all those who inhabited it, large or small. Nothing was wasted, nothing and no one taken for granted.

Filled with relief and overwhelmed with happiness, the four of us knew that our travels were over. We were truly home, and would leave no more.

The song of the crickets swelled to a fever pitch and my eyes flew open. I was lying in a tent in the woods, my family snuggled next to me sleeping, oblivious to the noise outside and the turmoil inside me.

A dream.

It had all been a dream.

And yet every detail of this tale has stayed with me, in my heart, for a long time now, as fresh as when I first dreamt it.

And I wonder.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Book Excerpt- "Almost Invisible- a different kind of survival story"

This short little book popped up in my head and niggled me till I wrote it down- from how it's arranged to how it unfolded, I had no idea how it was going to end till it did.

Mainly written to counter all the current End of the World survivalist books that have everything happening violently, suddenly, very dramatically, this is the story of Now, of Here, of the reality that we're all of us in the middle of our own end every single day.

And the real truth that while things could certainly get worse, they could just as easily get better if we all stop looking for and fearing the Big Monsters, and start caring for our own neighbors (human and otherwise), and our own neighborhoods (with or without human habitation).


Chapter Three- Shelter

During mealtimes at the senior citizens' home, a perky young activities director would announce the many social opportunities for the residents to enjoy.

Mostly her voice was background noise,so much buzzing mulling around and under the real conversation, but one day the buzzing became words and the words piqued her interest.

"The Childrens' Hospital is looking for volunteers to read stories to the patients- if you're interested, please see me after lunch".

The children loved her.

She had a way of making the fairy tales come to life, the characters all having different voices and expressions- all framed by the purple hat, which became her identity.

"Where's Purple Hat Granny?" the children would wonder to each other if she was even 10 minutes late.

While their parents brought them stuffed animals and the candy stripers brought them treats and the medical staff brought them things that were "good for you- and it'll only hurt for a minute", she brought them treasures from the park- acorns, feathers, pebbles and leaves.

She reported on the magical images in the clouds, the sunshiny warmth of the air, the call of the common creatures most grownups couldn't hear anymore- squirrels, frogs, cicadas, sparrows.

All the things they missed by being in the hospital.

She brought the gift of playing outside inside.

And after her reports, she listened to theirs.

Not just the fears and frustrations of being who they were and where they were, but of things remembered- snowflakes turned liquid on a tastebud, baking cookies with their mom, beloved and comical pets at home waiting for them, what they were going to be when they grew up.

Eventually they'd get around to the story.

She picked the stories with care from the library- only those with wild free colors and fabulously delicious words were acceptable. The colors had to leap off the pages and wrap around the childrens' imaginations while the text burst rolling, roiling,boiling and churning along- carrying them all away triumphantly for just a sliver of time.

Out of the hospital. Away from their hurt, their germs, their helplessness.

While most volunteers came and read their story, passed around a treat, patted heads and cheeks and were gone in an hour, she spent all afternoon in the company of her children- none of them had anywhere else to be.

She left the hospital each day along with the rush of day staff, relatives and office workers- all with thoughts of the evening ahead of them, while her heart stayed firmly behind.

One evening, returning to the shelter, she noticed not for the first time, the people outside.

Between the floods and the drought, the downturn of the economy and the swelling of unemployment, more and more people were jobless, homeless, hopeless, families stressed and stretched till they broke- and the shards fell sharp and fresh on the doorstep of the shelter.

She had status as 'permanently homeless'- her mental capacity not feeble enough for hospitalization, but not orderly enough for employment, plus she never caused anyone a moment of bother, so her spot in the shelter was secure.

She smiled kindly at the children, who tried valiantly to smile in return. The adults' eyes were fixed inward- unable to look beyond their own troubled thoughts.

Except for one.

She'd smiled at the boy- a young man of about 12- not a little kid anymore yet not quite a teenager, he had his arm around the shoulder of his mother- a gesture both protective and needy.

The corners of the boy's mouth turned up but his eyes were defiant, troubled, ashamed.

Puzzled, she glanced at his mother. The evening shadows were reflected in her tired eyes, her faded hair, and the bruise on her cheek. The shadowed eyes questioned, begged, and pierced straight into her soul with an attack of recognition.

And she knew for sure and for true that this boy, right at the threshold of becoming a man, had had to deny any likeness there was between himself and his father- for one thing the boy would not allow himself to become was like him- the man who was supposed to be his role model.

And she knew for sure and for true that this woman was herself.

Gently, she touched the boy's arm. "Come with me- it's going to be alright".

Entering the office, she told the secretary "I won't be needing my place here anymore- my son has come to take me home".

Surprised, but in a hurry to close up the office, the secretary asked, "I thought they said you don't have a family. Where does your son live?"

"He's from Neshkoro. He's a missionary and has just returned form doing good deeds in Africa. He'll be here in just a little bit to pick me up. I want you to give my spot to these people, please".

And she gathered her few things and left the shelter for the last time.

Although she was tired from her afternoon at the hospital, she appeared fresh and happy when she reported to the evening shift.

"I'm here to be the overnight volunteer".

The charge nurse looked confused. "I wasn't aware that we were starting an overnight program", she sighed. "They don't tell the night crew ANYTHING, but we surely are glad for your help".

And from that moment on, any child who woke alone and hurting and afraid in the dark had Purple Hat Granny to firmly hold their hand, whisper stories of hope and light and tuck them in with promises of a better tomorrow.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Book Excerpt - "Easterchicks Gone Bad"

And now for something completely different.

Easterchicks Gone Bad was the first of (a bunch) of articles I've written for Neil at
www.homestead.org , the venue that first gave me an appreciative audience for my writing that wasn't related to me by blood or loyalty. My assignment there is to produce short articles suitable for publication that both educate and entertain. Compiling them all together was done at the request of the readers over there.

I'm always surprised and genuinely flattered by the cyber-fan letters I receive regarding my articles, but would like to remind people that all articles published over there need permission to reprint from Neil Shelton- I googled "Easterchicks Gone Bad" once and found it copied/pasted in a quilting forum. To their credit, the poster did not TAKE credit, but none was given to me or homestead.org.

Once we get this little house project out of the way, I'll be back to my sort-of-monthly schedule there- I promise, Boss.


Drawing a Circle in the Sand- Teaching Awareness to A Consumer Society

The following is a true story. Names have not been changed to protect the innocent.

On a picnic one fine day several years ago, my son Alec and I were lunching with my friend MaryHelen and her twin boys James and Noah, also my son’s age. Approximate age of these boys at the time is right around four years old.

My son was busy munching his Happy Meal and took a moment out from ingestion of grease and preservatives to inquire if the liquid in the wax carton was cowsmilk or goatsmilk. I told him it was cowsmilk and he accepted that without comment.

My friend’s boys however, were suddenly very quiet and eyeing their wax cartons with grave suspicion.

“What do you mean, what KIND of milk???” they asked Alec.

Alec cheerfully explained. “The milk at OUR house is goatsmilk. Every morning my mom goes out and feeds the goats. Then she gets down on the ground next to them and milks them like this (insert visual of young boy doing realistic rendering of milking a goat). She brings it into the house, strains it and puts it in the fridge for us to drink.”

After a stony silence, James announced, “Well, OUR milk comes from the STORE”.

Alec allowed that most people do not have goats in their yard and that for the unfortunate masses; store-bought cowsmilk is the only sad alternative for a calcium-laden drink. James and Noah were STILL not happy, saying that THEIR milk does NOT come from COWS, it comes from the STORE.

In the manner of most pre-school and congressional discussions, this rapidly escalated to fisticuff status.

Now, MaryHelen is a veterinarian and these boys are exposed to many animals both in and out of ‘nature’ all the time. The Circle of Life is not a stranger to them. Or so she thought…

At James’s pronouncement, followed by the zealous statement of belief, and the impending physical assault, MaryHelen was alarmed, and rose to the occasion with alacrity.

“WAIT- you are ALL right!” she hollered, the scruff of one boy in each hand, while I held my combatant at bay also. She then detailed how the cowsmilk that is usually in THEIR sippycups goes from the cow, to the automatic milking machine, into a truck with a lot of other cows’ milk from a lot of other farms, to the factory to be cleaned up, sterilized and cartoned ready to be delivered to their local store. That’s the point where they become personally involved with said milk. From cows. And that Alec spoke truth when he told them where HIS milk comes from.

Once the light of righteous indignation left the eyes of the three boys, they were loosed to resume their meal in silence. James and Noah would have nothing more to do with their milk.

I whispered to MaryHelen “Just wait till they learn that eggs come out of chickens’ butts- they’ll never eat another egg”.

She blanched and looked alittle faint.

Americans have always been farmers. Most of our founding fathers had huge farms and spent at least as much time in the fields and barns as thinking up Important Documents to sign. Then something happened.

We moved off of the farms in droves- driven by emancipation, drought, depression, disillusionment, the siren call of the cities who were hungry for manpower to run the ever-larger factories and accompanying businesses. Obviously this factory-workin’ thing was not a cushy gig by any stretch of the imagination, but the promise of weekly wages that relied on your ability to get to work and do your job instead of your life resting on whether Mother Nature rained on your crops or not was a welcome relief to many.

A fundamental drive of the human soul is the wish that your children have a better life than you do. In the urban world, the way to a better life lay NOT in going back to the land, but to college for an advanced education. When the children of these factory workers reached their teens they did NOT swing BACK, they swung forward.

Teachers, lawyers, doctors, dentists, art history majors, mechanical and aerospace engineers began rolling off of the collegiate assembly lines like the Buicks and Frigidares that their fathers made.

This puts the average American at least two generations off of the land.

So what the heck does all that have to do with James, Noah and Alec dukin’ it out over the source of their moo juice?

Somewhere in all this mess we call ‘advancement’, we not only abandoned the rural ways, we learned to shun them as well.

Clone-like orbs of vegefection that taste as interesting as they look have replaced fresh veggies from the garden, still warm from the sun and as individually scarred and lopsided as we are. Small details like vitamin content and flavor have been cast aside for uniformity, toughness under shipping stress, and shelf life. The veggies we buy at the supermarket have been genetically altered, chemically fertilized, drowned in pesticide, power-washed and dunked in wax, but thank GOD they aren’t DIRTY.

Meats (actually chickens, pigs and cows- who KNEW?) are grown in horrendous conditions and fed enough steroids to make them grow fast and enough antibiotics to keep them alive till we kill them. Of course ‘we’ does not technically refer to ‘us’, because ‘we’ don’t really want to see them till they are killed, gutted, soaked in anti-bacterial preservatives, hosed mostly off and wrapped in shrink wrap. They aren’t really animals anymore then, they are tenders, chops and steaks. Cuz eating dead animals would be gross.

“We get milk from cows and eggs from chickens” is our standard line to children. Are we even aware that when they put a picture to this statement they most likely get a mental image of various barnyard animals in white coats, manning the assembly lines in the milk and egg factories?

And let’s look for a moment at the other end of things.

There’s a most magical vehicle that comes into your neighborhood on a regular basis. You can hear it from blocks away by the sound it makes. People run out of their houses to meet it. People look forward to it’s coming. People are very sad when they miss it, and some have actually been known to chase it down in their cars. By your smile I know you know what I am talking about.

Ice cream? Who said anything about ice cream?

I’m talking about the garbage truck, silly.

That phantasmal chariot that swallows our trash like a giant metal pelican and carries it off. Poof. It’s gone. If a child is precocious enough to ask, “Mommy, where is the garbage truck taking our stinky putrefied wastes?” the answer will be “to the dump, honey”, and that will be the end of it.

Our food comes from the store and our wastes go to the dump.

The Circle of Life has been replaced with the Tunnel Vision of Consumerism.

We need to take our precious children and challenge them. If they stop asking ‘why?’ we are lost. “Why?” must be answered, and then “Before that?” and “Then what?” need to be addressed as well.

“We get our food from the store” must be followed with “But BEFORE that- it comes from the factory and BEFORE that it was grown and harvested on the farm using compost in the soil to help it grow”. If any link in that chain includes anything that we are ashamed of or don’t want our children knowing (or ingesting) we must change it, either by demanding that changes are made, or by growing our own.

“Our trash go to the dump” must be followed with “And AFTER that, it goes into landfill which takes up huge amounts of land area and pollute the earth, air and water. We must make sure that our additions to the landfill are minimum by recycling what we can, composting what we can, reusing what we can, and then and only then, throwing the rest away in biodegradable bags, not those quilted plastic nightmares that are advertised to be able to stop a runaway train.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, compost to compost, everything goes around and around in a circle as old as the earth itself.

Traveling in a straight line is exciting in a brash, blazing a trail kind of way. Taming of the wilderness (natural or corporate) and all that. The future is unknown, and there is no past before your tiny self appearing on the scene. If you are a proper consumer, you are also teaching your children to grow up blazing their own trail.

Taking what you need where you find it and discarding after use is unsustainable, irresponsible and ultimately discouraging. Because no matter how hard we try to hide it behind and underneath chemically processed hair, botoxed faces, designer-clad bodies that have been liposuctioned into submission, encased in our autos thundering down the highway with our cell phones attached to our ears there is still a core of organic matter right in the center of our souls, that little core needs roots, and roots need compost, dangit.

The Circle of Life requires a lot more thought and care to travel than a straight line, because it’s a CIRCLE and you will be back around this way again. Judicious pruning and mulching must replace slash and burn. Attention is required to preserve the knowledge and cornerstones of the past both for use today, and for our children’s’ use in the future.
The child who finds an egg, sees that egg hatch into a chick, feeds that chick till it grows and lays eggs of it’s own has learned a valuable lesson.

Planting seeds together, watering, weeding, playing in the dirt in general, harvesting and eating something you planted together will make an impression that will last long after the last cucumber is pickled.

Helping at milking time early in the morning has its payoff later in the day with homemade chocolate ice cream.

It’s our duty as homesteaders to not only keep our own family and farm in order, but to teach others how to do the same, because our ‘family’ is everyone and our ‘farm’ is this whole planet.

Quietly, gently, patiently, one perfect free-range egg, soft juicy taste bud tingling tomato and fresh cranked bowl of ice cream at a time, we can and will ease this generation out of the long dark Tunnel of Consumerism and back into the grandmotherly hug that is the Circle of Life.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book Excerpt- "Cancerdance- a love story"

Hey kids- it's less than 2 weeks from Christmas- do you have your shopping done?

This week I'll be posting excerpts from my books in an effort to bump up sales enough to help defray our moving costs...errr...spark ya'lls interest and as a reminder that the gift of a BOOK (especially one signed by the author) is ALWAYS a good idea.

Remember- to be signed by me, the books must be ordered through my website, not the Blurb website. All books will go out within 24 hours via US Postal Service expedited delivery.

"Cancerdance- a love story" is told mostly in journal form, typed out as the events of our first 7 years living as a Cancer Family unfolded.

*small but important spoiler- I don't read (or write) books without happy endings*

So without further ado-


31 October 2007 at 6:28pm

We have to be at the hospital at 5:15 tomorrow morning.

Alec has just informed me that he has a sore throat.

How the heck will I be two places at once???

I can't 'fudge' and say Alec's fine if he's not, and bring a germy kid into an environment of all immune suppressed people.

And I can't just dump Ward off a the curb.

Shit.

31 October 2007 at 10:01pm

No fever yet- we've had dinner and Alec's had his shower, so I'm drugging him up good with Childrens' Advil Cold and Flu, and trying to get Mr. Night Owl to go to sleep early.

LAST surgery I did have my friend here-

this time, no one.

...Figures.

01 November 2007 at 6:27pm

Alec so far is holding tough, so that's positive.

We got to the hospital at 5:15am and they took Ward back at 7am. He was in recovery, sitting up watching TV at 11am and in a room by noon. No swelling at all. Looking great. We were happy and optimistic about going home over the weekend.

*Fools*

Then the doctor came in.
-He wants to keep Ward till at least early next week so they can get him back on blood thinners for his clotting issues, and keep the stitches AND the drain in for 'a long time' so his thinned blood does not do what he thinks happened last time (see below).
-From what he saw during surgery, what he thought was tissue swelling after the first surgery was more likely the socket filling with his nice thin blood and pushing the graft forward. That blood then kinda sat there (ick) and finally started oozing out the edges (double ick).
-Of course Ward needs to be on some sort of thinner so his annoying cardiac clots don't come back, so the doctor is not completely convinced that it won't happen again and we'll lose the graft, which can't be re-done since he's already used all the parts needed for one.
-He mentioned the use of therapeutic leeches.
-Oh, and by the way, he's leaving for Japan tomorrow night.

So tomorrow I need to sit outside the cardiologist's office till they can see me and tell me what they are planning to put him on- since the Coumadin was causing him to break out in hives for the last month.

"They" said that was not a side effect, but dang if 12 hours after going off Coumadin he was completely freakin' healed- like not an itch or even a light bruise left, and he had been positively purple all over from scratching.

I think we'll be ordering pizza delivered tonight.

If there is a God, they will also deliver cheesecake.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Resale Value Bugaboo

So we're building this house.

I may have mentioned that before a time or seventy.

This little house is everything that our little family desires for us to be comfortable. You'd think that would be a good thing, an understandable thing, universally. But we found out differently.

The young man with the computer program who turned my drawing in pencil on graph paper into an actual blueprint kept trying to draw in a dishwasher. I have three dishwashers, and their names are Ward, Alec and Joe. In my entire life I've had one mechanical dishwasher and I hated it. For the most part I used it to hide dirty dishes till I could wash them by hand. It WAS handy for cooking Lake Trout, though...

While doggedly drawing in a dishwasher I didn't want, he also kept leaving out the second stove in the kitchen- in addition to the gas range, we have a wood burning cook stove.

Causing the most consternation was the HVAC closet. When asked where it was going, I said, "We don't have one". Which he couldn't wrap his head around, since how can you have a house without central heat/air???

Like this- the house is site specific- set and arranged to take advantage of every ray of light, every prevailing breeze, every one of the hundreds of trees around it.
Considering our climate is truly temperate, most of the time the windows will be open. When we do need artificial cooling or heating, we have window air conditioners (one for each of the two bedrooms) and heaters- both wood burning and propane.

Why heat and cool rooms you're not using? So I told him we are installing "Zoned Temperature Control" and averted the explosion of his head.

Showing the blueprint to my best friend (lets call her Cathy), she asked where the refrigerator is in the kitchen. I told her it's not IN the kitchen, it's in the pantry, along with the microwave cart. The kitchen is in the actual center of the house with the dining room/kitchen/living room all being one big space, and I didn't want a big stupid fridge sitting in the middle of it, and the pantry is right off of the kitchen. Putting the fridge in the pantry makes it...exactly as far away from the sink, work area and stove as it is now in this house.

Cathy sighed (she's done alot of that in the 30+ years I've known her) and said carefully, "Sher, what about resale value?"

Here's the thing.

We're not going anywhere.

This house is not an investment, not being built to look like the houses around it, not supposed to impress anyone.

It's our Home, and once we move into it, we're not leaving.

And yanno, in years past that's how people built their houses. The old houses were filled with character, color, quirks of all sorts to shelter and nurture the people who were going to live there- not till the market went up, but for generations.

New houses are built in neighborhoods where one house pretty much looks like the next one, except for differences so slight as to be inconsequential. The interiors are stark, neutral, and once stripped of the portable things of life- furniture, things hung on the wall- revert quickly back into what they were built as- gigantic totes to hold stuff temporarily, till the next step, the next job, the next transfer, the next move.

And I can't help but wonder if our Housing Industry is a symptom or a cause of some of our societal ills- our pervasive sense of impermanence- of never setting down roots too deep- because while roots are unsightly on An Investment, they Anchor a Home.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Confessions of the Lesser Parent

My husband is a wonderful father.

Right from the git-go, the second I went into labor and calmly informed him "You are to take my hand and not let go...till it's over" and the man seriously did not so much as pee till 12 hours later when Alec made his entrance into the world.

Oh, there was that one time that he dropped the baby on his head, but not very far, and it WAS onto the carpeted floor.

But other than that, Ward's clearly the better parent.

Take a few nights ago.

Alec is sick- sore throat, fever, headache...and it broke night before last. Poor boy woke up twice in tears, which I know because Ward joggled me and asked "Is that Alec?"

The first time I surfaced to consciousness long enough to listen to the low, mournful, repetitive noise coming from the direction of my son's room. "No- I think that's coyotes" I mumbled, sinking back into slumber. Some time later (not much later, maybe a few minutes) I came fully awake since my nice warm husband wasn't next to me anymore.

I stumbled into the next room where he was already ministering to our son- feeling his head, calming him down, telling him it was going to be OK.

And while part of me searched for something that *I*, as The Mother, should be doing, the other part thought "Cool. It's all under control and I can go back to bed now- my side of the bed is probably still warm".

See?

And that's just one example. I got a million of 'em.

Seriously.

Monday, December 6, 2010

In Lieu of a Post- Take Two

I'll admit it- I check my "traffic stats" sometimes...often...daily...every few hours...OK I'M A STAT WHORE- DON'T JUDGE ME.

*ahem*

And for some reason, my "In Lieu of a Post" post comes up as being seen daily, which is weird, since there's not much to it except the recipe for my world famous Triple Fudge Kickass Brownies.

What alot of people DON'T know is that almost as yumlicious (according to those I feed every day) is my apple cake. In fact, the apple cake is almost universally requested more than the brownies, more than chocolate chip cookie bars, even more than apple pie- and I make a mean apple pie.

So, since I got nuthin' as far as anything funny or brilliant, and I haven't even had time to read the book I bought for my next book review, I can at least provide this-

Mama Dixon's Apple Cake

butter an 8 X 11 cake pan and preheat oven to 350

make topping and set aside-
2 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 c sugar
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp cinnamon
blend together till it's crumbly

in large mixing bowl stir together-
1 egg
1 c sugar
1/2 c butter, softened
1/2 c milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c baking mix (I use Pioneer)

add 4 apples, peeled and chopped

spoon into pan, sprinkle with topping and bake for about 30 minutes

Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream if you desire undying gratitude out of your family, heated for 20 seconds in the microwave for breakfast as an extra guarantee of devotion.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

100th Post

Really? This started out as a little experiment, a lesson if you will in discipline.
I wanted to know if I could manage to produce something written, that was even remotely interesting, on a timely basis, thrice weekly.

And here we are, nine months later, and I've done it. Well, the volume, anyway, and I've got a few regular readers, some of whom I'm not even related to, so I must be saying something at least as interesting as anything else on the interwebs.

Therefore, since you- my readers- have proven yourselves to be as faithful as Family, your 100th post punishment...err...reward will be the very first appearance of the 2010 Dixon Family Newsletter that will be going in our Christmas Cards.

Sorry...err...enjoy!


It was the best of years, it was the worst of years.

Seriously. 2010 will go down in Dixon Family History as both the happiest and most horrifying year...ever.

By January of this year, it was apparent that Ward's graft of almost 2 years was not going to remain viable, and the doctors were trying to (again) wait till that recurring clot in his heart was gone to do surgery. Which involves the administration of coumadin.

February and March saw us in the emergency room four times for bleeding that wouldn't stop- and they admitted him for 2 nights at one point.

April they did another "routine" graft replacement. Due to some medication errors and other unforeseen mishaps too depressing for a holiday letter, but that included 2 weeks in ICU after an emergency graft repair, heart failure,pneumonia, and several bouts of "We THINK he's going to make it", we ended up staying in Houston for almost 6 weeks instead of one week. Poor Ward left the hospital in a wheelchair a full 45 pounds lighter than when he walked in 6 weeks previously.

That was the worst. Thing. Ever.

Thanks to Ward's tremendous courage and fortitude, and with the help of physical therapy and roughly 53 apple pies ala mode and as much home cookin' as I could ladle into him, he's back to almost 100% on all counts.

Which is the best. Thing. Ever.

Through it all we were supported and loved by many friends- Jordan, April, Christine, Cathy, Uncle Jim...all came physically to care for us, and many many more sent cards, gift boxes and a continual wave of strength.

We are especially thankful for our Joe- who kept the farm running and everyone on it fed while we were gone- thanks to him I never once had to worry about the things I've had to worry about in the past when we've been detained at the hospital- care of the animals, and how to pay for extra hotel nights.

Alec is in 6th grade home school, and Ward is a wonderful patient teacher. Alec continues his study of Tae Kwon Do and is now a 2nd degree level 3 black belt. We attended three tournaments this year, including the National in Mississippi and he brought home medals every time.

Erika has a new career as manager of a running store, which she loves and is much less stressful than her years on The Hill, much as she loved it and as good as she is at it. She continues to run competitively, and the last few races she's been in she's beat her personal bests while finishing way, way WAY at the head of the pack. She also got engaged to a fellow runner, and we hope to meet him in the very near future.

Dave is in Racine and is now working at Merchants, like his dad, but still sending out resumes and going on interviews for something in his chosen field. He and his girlfriend share custody of a guinea pig named Sophie.

Finally, our land at last has A HOUSE on it- we signed the construction loan mid-September and are already doing the finish work- since we had plenty of time (like YEARS) to get everything lined up just right. Once we got the "go ahead", boy howdy, did we ever.

Considering I drew out the house on graph paper, it's moving from 2 dimensional to 3 dimensional reasonably smoothly- with credit for that going to the building crew(s) involved who are not only gifted craftsmen, but have an excellent sense of humor and the patience of saints.

Every time I see it, it actually takes my breath away, not for its size or elegance (it possesses neither), but for its aura of safety and security. Of Home.

The plan is to be moved in by Christmas (give or take a week or so), then clean out our current house for its new family, who will be buying it on land contract.

Along with our considerable accumulation of stuff, we'll be moving 1 horse, 1 sheep, 8 goats, 2 cats, 3 dogs, 5 guinea hens, 9 chickens, 6 ducks and about 70 guinea pigs. Lord help us.

2010 saw the loss of 3 of our very special canine family members- Spooj, Galut and Tiny Ramon- all of considerable age (16, 9 and 20) but all left holes in our hearts which will take a long time to heal. We still have Sugarbearmarshmallowdog and Kate the Wonderdog, as well as Fizzgig- the new lap warmer/comedian/shredder of all things alive or dead.

I'm still at the Tyler Animal Emergency Clinic, still writing for homestead.org, still working on book projects...all while having acquired a renewed and passionate awareness of how very precious my friends, family and life are.

Wishing you the same passion in your lives this holiday season,
and a very happy new year.

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