THREE TREES

THREE TREES
The horse's pasture to the East...

Thursday, May 28, 2015

WHIPPED CREAM, AND SEEDS IN THE GARDEN

Good, real food. There's such joy in the process of discovering food. All of the flavors, textures, colors, smells and even the sounds associated with eating and food bring us such joy. We're hardwired for it, need all of our senses focused on food because, without it, we die. 

Do you remember how much fun it was when your Mom gave you a beater loaded down with real whipped cream? Ah, now there's a sadness. Some of you reading this have never had whipped cream except from a can full of aerosol. It's fun to play with, makes cool looking little clouds on top of your pie, but it isn't real. Your Mom didn't whip it up in a bowl from thick, heavy cream. And you weren't there when she sweetened it, just a little, with vanilla and a few teaspoons of honey or sugar. And you never got to lick the beaters or the bowl, feeling like a prince because it's a treasure better than any shiny metal. Real food equals good health and anyone who has dealt with illness can tell you that your health is worth more than a king's ransom. 

Somehow we've lost our way, disconnected from Nature, the soil, the water and weather, the animals and our place on the path. We buy our food in plastic packages and tubs, metal cans and boxes with bright pictures on the outside and we have no idea where or how the stuff we eat was prepared, where it came from. We're always in a hurry, hurry, hurry, rushing here and there, keeping schedules and appointments. We watch the clock, tap our feet, loose our patience because there's somewhere we need to be. 

Food gets put on the bottom of the list, eaten on the run, bought from fast food drive in restaurants and coffee shops. We've forgotten how to enjoy and rejoice in our meals. And we've forgotten how to grow our own food, how to harvest it, the excitement of seeing the new sprouts come up in the spring from carefully hoarded seeds we've saved all winter. We've lost the rhythms of weeding and composting, adding to the value of the soil. And animals? Forget that. Hardly anyone knows how to care for chickens, pigs, cows, goats or horses. Meat, if you eat it, comes in tidy little plastic wrapped packages. There is no connection to the animal who gave it's life for you!

Farming is hard work and not all of us are suited to it, but gardening is something that anyone anywhere can do. Even if you live in the middle of a big city in a tiny apartment you can find one window sill and place three little pots on it, grow your own herbs. Or you can grow your own salad greens on a rack vertically on the wall with a grow light over it.

Better yet, join in a community garden and if there isn't one, start one. Find a vacant lot, some friends who are interested in helping and gardening with you, clean it up and begin! It's going to take some patience on your part but then that's what a garden is about, slowing down to match the natural rhythms of the world. That's what all of us need, our hands in the soil and the physical process of getting dirt under our fingernails and reconnecting. At first you'll laugh at yourself in disbelief because you become a weather geek, paying attention to the humidity, rain patterns, temperatures . But the first time you see a tiny seedling uncurl because you put it there is going to make it more than worth it, I promise.

You'll hover over that tiny green sprout, encouraging it to grow, exclaiming over the miracle that it's there, came out of a tiny seed not much bigger than a grain of sand because you took the time to work the soil and planted it. Magic! And you'll find yourself wanting to teach your children how to garden too, even just giving them a place to live surrounded by green living things is a gift.

One of my life long passions has been learning what to eat, how to balance my diet, hearing that inner voice that says I would rather have a peach or grapes than an apple. If you listen to your body it will tell you what you need. The problem is that most of our population is now addicted to highly processed , greasy, salty, laden with high fructose corn syrup and white sugar, chemicals and preservatives, herbicides and pesticides crap. We are a nation and rapidly becoming a world addicted to nothing that comes even close to real food. And the other half is starving for lack of food. There is no balance and we've done it to ourselves.


Thankfully we can turn that around. When you begin to research the possibilities in your area, you'll find there are seed exchanges, horse ranches with an abundance of compost available for free, seed companies and grants for funding a community garden project. There are vacant lots that have been unused for decades, sitting there, waiting. You can buy second hand flower pots at garage sales and flea markets for 25 or 50 cents, information on youtube and google, libraries and garden clubs for free. For those of you living in suburbs with yards, the choice is very simple. Stop spraying your lawns, period. Plant part or all of it, putting in winding paths, with vegetables, fruit and nut trees, flowers and prairie grasses. Get rid of your lawnmower and create a wild life habitat with bird feeders, places for butterflies to drink water, a bench or two to sit at and enjoy the little paradise you've brought back.And if there's an issue with your neighborhood association, hire a landscape expert to design your gardens(although I think you can do it yourself using online information sites).


If you've never gardened before it can be intimidating, overwhelming even. But it is doable and the value it brings to your neighborhood, your part of the city or suburb, is immeasurable. People will stop to exclaim over it, ask if they can walk there. And when you share with them (a gardeners ritual, perhaps because sharing abundance is one of our oldest traditions) they'll walk away smiling, in awe of the fact that you've given them something as beautiful as a red pepper and a bunch of carrots with a real green top to them. And you will have friends for life too. No one will vandalize a garden that is shared from. And the gift that you bring to children that have never seen a tomato growing or a bee dancing from flower to flower is the gift of a lifetime. Everyone who gardens as a child always comes back to it later in their life. 

I'm going to list some of my favorite seed companies. All of them have on line websites and will send you a free catalog if you request it. Over the next month I'm going to write articles on how to compost, how to amend the soil, different types of gardens for areas suffering from drought. And I'm going to share recipes using real food, easy things you can teach your children how to make. I'll connect you to other websites and bloggers who are passionate about the earth, growing and nurturing. 

www.edenbrothers.com 

I've been shopping from Eden Brothers for more than twenty years. Their seeds have a more than ninety percent germination rate, at least for me they have. I've bought vegetables, herb and wildflower seeds from them and can highly recommend them as an excellent source. And don't forget to look up their coupons also. Once you get on to their mailing lists they will send you emails about upcoming sales and some of them are doozies, up to seventy percent off! I usually buy from them during their winter sales. This year was my year for buying several pounds of different types of wild flowers. I'm celebrating a soon to be new addition to the family. (And I'll let you know about that when it happens!)

www.territorialseed.com

You'll love the catalogs from this company. They're chock full of lovely illustrations, excellent prices and selection on non GMO and heirloom seeds, most of them organic. It's a whole book and in the back are some of my favorite tools such as dehydrators, compost bins, hand tools for the garden, canners and just about anything you could want for saving seeds and preserving your food for the winter. And they have sales too so be sure to get on their mailing list.

www.highmowingseeds.com

Everything this company sells is organic and non GMO, certified no less. There's a huge selection of heirloom seeds too, and it's a virtual dictionary on each of the plants, how to amend the soil, expected yields and the best times to plant. This one would be a wonderful educational tool with a whole section on the seed from pollination to harvest, how to save the seeds for the next year and begin the cycle again. I met these folks at a Mother Earth Festival a few years ago, super nice and excited about gardening. They are highly motivated and love to assist new gardeners as well as experienced gardeners.


www.rareseeds.com

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is a cornucopia of information. Their online site is beautiful to look at with images of rare, old forms of every vegetable you could possibly want. It's an excellent resource to learn from, showing you what the seeds look like as well as the vegetables you'll be harvesting with a history showing their point of origin . They also have a free catalog that is like a book with stories about where they've found the seeds they sell, and how to save those seeds to replant the next year. Really nice family who love their lifestyle and are, again, highly focused on customer satisfaction and the preservation of organic, heirloom seeds.

It really is all about your family, your health, and the connections that we haven't begun to fully understand but we've always known, intuitively, were there. If I could take you all out in to my world, where you can hear the birds, watch the bees and butterflies, the ants finding their way back to their home, show you what it feels like to kneel in the wet grass after a rain and, literally, see the seeds come up. Gardening, like horses, is an opportunity to learn all the way through the passage of your life. 

Good food, soil that is alive, and the green, growing things that sustain us body and soul... it all comes together in perfect circles. 

Oh, the recipe for today. This one has to do with the soil. Ready? Set? Go!

You'll need as many old cardboard boxes as you can save. Choose your garden site, preferably one that gets at least six hours of sun but there are shade plants and shade gardens too, so find your location and mark it out. You can do that by mowing the shape, if there's grass on the site, or by laying a piece of string on the ground. Gardens come in all shapes and sizes; oval, round, square, rectangle and even triangles. It's your garden so have fun with it.

Take the boxes apart and, after clearing the area you're going to garden on of trash and debris, if that's an issue, or mowing it as close as possible to the earth, begin to layer the boxes over the surface. Leave no space uncovered. The cardboard will help to prevent weeds from coming back and it will decompose so a nice way to recycle. 



Add a layer of hay or straw or grass clippings. Add another layer of newspapers over the hay, making sure all surfaces are covered. 

Add a layer of compost (this is where contacting horse ranches in the area or outside the city will help. They have, I promise you, more composted manure than they know what to do with! An average horse creates 75 to 100 pounds of manure every twenty four hours. Believe me, they want you to cart the stuff away. And it's the cleanest most blameless manure in the world too, very easy to work with. Most ranches have active composting going on. We have three horses and a donkey and usually have up to thirty tons of active compost we are happy to share.) over the top of the newspapers, as much as you want.

Now add soil. Top soil is the best but construction sites will also have soil available. You may have to sift it for nails and rocks but it will be free. Some cities have soil available for free also. 

Repeat the layers; cardboard, hay or straw, newspapers, compost, soil. Now leave it for the winter. Come back and add coffee grounds (you can usually get big bags of it for free from most coffee shops), ground eggshells (you can smash them by hand or toss them in a blender), and work it in as you add to it.

If you're keeping an active compost pile next to your garden site, save kitchen scraps, shredded paper and paper towels, eggshells and grass clippings, leaves and other greens that have died back and keep adding them to the compost, turning it ever so often. In the spring you'll top dress your soil and gently work it in.

While you're working and layering your new garden bed, begin to think about whether you need a fence or not. In the country you almost certainly will or you'll be feeding every raccoon and opossum for miles around, not to mention bunnies and deer. In the city a fence might be there for vines to grow on and flowers to put in front of, something that is more ornamental. And some gardens need no fences. It's all up to you.

By the spring you will have a lovely one to two feet deep garden bed, ready for your seeds and your imagination the only thing that inhibits you...or sends you on a journey that gives inestimable pleasure.

I am, ever yours, Nancy, mellowed out with dirt under my fingers and flowers in my hair, smiling...

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

THREE MEALS AND A PIE; GOOD, REAL FOOD

Home. When I think of home  the first thing that comes to mind is the kitchen. I love a big comfy kitchen with a table to sit at, a window to look out of and a pretty table cloth on the table. I keep tea cups and a tea pot handy, cushions on my old mismatched chairs and a bowl of apples or peaches on the table. 

I love the smell of good food cooking, people moving around in the kitchen, helping each other, laughter, talking about their day. Ours begins and ends in the kitchen. 

I love the spring and summer in Kansas. It's our growing season. Herbs and early vegetables, wild and potted flowers start our year. As soon as the wet season backs off the winter wheat is harvested and the rituals of a Midwestern life begin. 

About this time of the year is when the weeds are overwhelming and the lawn is a meadow because the rains haven't stopped long enough to get a good mowing in. But my vegetable garden is going gangbusters and it's always exciting to run out in the morning to see how much it grew over night. Every year we have set backs with certain things, huge crops of others. It's all weather related and never dull. Three years ago I bottled more than fifty jars of cucumbers. We're still eating those pickles!

Setting a beautiful table, putting out mismatched pieces of china, yellowware bowls and my Grandma's platter with biscuits or muffins on it, making sure everyone is comfortable, is an art form. I love to make it so wonderful to look at, so delicious to taste and smell that people want to sit there and dine, take their time, tell stories, relax. Most people gobble. Eating should be a place where you stop to catch your breath, spend time with someone you care for or even just a good book as your companion, while you eat one easy bite at a time, savor the textures, flavors and colors. 

As our lives speed up we miss out on the best parts, the reasons we're doing all the busy things for. Somehow people have forgotten how to cook, how to garden, how to watch the weather, amend the soil, put their hands in the dirt. Fast life, fast food, processed food, stress, compromised immune system, insomnia, headaches, the list goes on and on. We've lost our way.

I'm not going to pontificate on good old fashioned values blah, blah, blah. I am going to talk about real food, organic food, gardening, canning, freezing, dehydrating and nutrition. I should add in here that I am not a professional nutritionist. But you don't have to have a degree to understand how to eat vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, eggs and so on and so on and scooby dooby do on. You really are what you eat. Your Grandma had that one right.

It isn't that hard to find your way to a better style of eating. As you use up the processed and canned stuff, begin to add in more local produce, organic and seasonal produce.

Make a soup with canned tomatoes but start with an onion, some celery and carrots chopped in to bite sized pieces. Put some olive oil in the bottom of your soup pan, sauté the vegies for a few minutes, adding in a chopped clove of garlic at the end, add your can of tomatoes and a container of organic vegetable broth (or make your own. This is my idea of a quick meal so I use one of those boxes of organic broth from Pacific or Imagine), toss in a cup or so of frozen organic peas and maybe some organic corn, add in a can of beans of some sort, season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and simmer for ten minutes. Voila!

 Homemade soup and it's all organic. In the summer you can make it with all fresh veggies from your garden. In the winter you can use fillers from your garden that you've stored like beets, turnips and parsnips, potatoes and carrots. People, it's all real food! And it only took you a half hour tops to make it. Unless you have teenagers (who clean every pot to the bottom at every meal) at home you'll have enough for lunch the next day too.

In the mornings have oatmeal with nuts, raisons and cranberries. Put two to one proportions for your oatmeal in a pot. Ie. 2 cups liquid to 1 cup oats. Make it richer by making the liquid half milk and half water. Add a pinch of sea salt, a handful of raisons and a handful of cranberries, a handful of pecans or walnuts. While you put your lunch together you can stir the oatmeal ever so often. Just bring it to a boil, turn it down to simmer. Takes about five or ten minutes. The oatmeal comes out creamy and the raisons and cranberries plump up and flavor it. Serve it with honey or real maple syrup and milk or cream. I promise you it will carry you through to lunch. You'll have more energy and so will your kids. It takes 10 minutes to make!

Taking your lunch to work with you? Put 8 ounces or so of real yogurt, stick with the plain organic kind like Nancy's or Stoneyfield, in a container. You can buy it in small containers too, but it's more expensive that way. Put a banana, sliced, and strawberries in another container with honey or maple syrup if you need to sweeten it. Mix them at lunch. Better yet mix them at home. Your yogurt will taste great when you open it for lunch. Add a handful of nuts and you have a filling, elegant meal. Need something more? Take an apple with you to snack on. I love mine smeared with peanut butter.

If you have time, make your own yogurt. You'll save even more. Better yet you can make it with local raw milk or goat milk. There are yogurt makers you can buy that will make the yogurt over night or during the day while you're at work. More than worth the investment. Ours paid for itself in the first month with the savings from making our own.

There's three meals, all real whole foods, and none of them took longer than 15 to 30 minutes to make. You can live without fast food. It's a choice and an adjustment if you're used to doing the hamburger/fries or pizza thing every night. It's hard to break an addiction and, I promise you, you are an addict if you eat like that. Take it in small steps, make the change over to eating real food one or two meals a week, then two or three the next. In a couple of months your diet will be considerably different. An aside here; if you are over weight as more than two thirds of our population are, you will begin to slowly lose weight when you eat real whole food. 

You will begin to lose your need for salt, sugar, grease and over processed foods. You'll sleep better, and the headaches will begin to disappear. Your energy levels will begin to come up too. You'll find that need to sleep away your afternoon or evening will be less of an issue. Your jeans will begin to fit again and maybe even that sexy little spaghetti strap dress you've got hidden at the back of the closet. 

Your skin will have a glow and your hair really will get thicker and softer. You are what you eat. Dump the processed foods, chemicals and preservatives, fast foods, sugar and grease. Better yet make the food with your kids or grandkids. Learn how to cook together! Both of my sons left home knowing how to cook and they still cook for their lovely wife and partner too. 

This month I'm going to spend talking about food, nutrition for you and your family, your dogs, horses. It's a subject near and dear to me. Eating should be a ritual that you enjoy, that makes you feel better because it's real food and not a place that you go to because you're unhappy or stressed out. My next several posts aren't going to be about going on a diet. I don't do that. I never diet.


Just for fun I'm going to end this post with my Grandma's Apple Pie recipe, the one for which she always won Best of Show. She won so many times that her friends asked her to give them just one year to compete without her Apple Pie in the standing.

CRUST: In a large crockery bowl cut together with a pastry cutter or two knives 1 and 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, 1 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour, a tsp of sea salt and a cup of room temperature butter (Grandma used lard). It should look like crumbly pea sized or smaller bits. Make a well in the center and add 1/2 cup cold water. Keep some extra water in case you need it but only add a few drops at a time. Mix it with a wooden spoon. At the end you will need to flour your hands and gently mix it together in to a nice ball. While you do that fold it over ten or so times, to give it flakey layers. 

Cut in to four pieces. This is enough to make two double crust pies. Roll each piece out on a well-floured cloth or board. When you put it in to your pie pan make sure you leave a half to one inch over the top edge. You'll need that later when you pinch the edges together. 

One caveat: when you work with whole grain flour be gentle. It will toughen if you work it too much. It may take a little practice but, I promise, it will be worth it. Making your own crust is an art form worth learning. It's meditative and so satisfying when people exclaim over how good it tastes. 

FILLING: You'll need a mix of apples. I like Jonathan and Granny Smith but any mix of sweet and crunchy and tart and crunchy will do. (I hope you're sticking with all organic ingredients. Even if you aren't cudos to you for working with real ingredients. Keep taking those baby steps). Wash them well and put them in a bowl. You are NOT going to peel them or core them. You'll need a good grater, a big crockery bowl, some good music and a little attitude. 

Start grating. Put the cores in to a container to add to your compost (What? You don't have a compost? We'll work on that later.) and keep grating. You are going to need enough to make a nice, high mound in your pie plate, on top of that bottom crust. Fill up a nice sized crockery bowl to begin with. Obviously there isn't a whole lot of measuring with this but it's an old recipe handed down for almost two hundred years. No measuring then either. Cooking was an art form and that's what we're bringing back.

You'll also need more butter cut up in to tsp size pieces, brown sugar, cinnamon, a nutmeg to grate and some powered cloves and a few tbsp of flour.  Start with a first layer of grated apples. (Grandma did not use sugar. I added that in if you want to use it. I don't use sugar either.) Put dabs of butter here and there on the apples. (aren't they pretty with the skins on?), sprinkle a tiny bit of flour, sugar and one of the spices. Pinch the spices between your fingers and barely dust it on, like new fallen snow. 

Another layer of apples, pack it down with a nice pat, pat. Add a few dabs of butter here and there, sprinkle on sugar if you're using it (sparingly please!) and repeat with flour and another one of the spices.

Another layer of apples. At this point you should be mounding it up towards the middle, kind of like when you play in the sand. Add more layers of sugar, flour and another one of the spices. 

And now one last layer of gently packed grated apples, dabs of butter, sugar if you're using it, a dusting of flour and another spice. I use the cinnamon twice but that's up to your preferences. You might be more of a nutmeg or clove person. 

Now, roll out your top crust. Make it big enough that you have about a half inch to an inch extra around the edges. Carefully lay it on top and GENTLY shape it over the mounded apples. Use a bit of water on your finger to wet the edges of the crust where they will meet,  fold the top over the bottom and pinch them together in a pretty pattern between your finger and thumb on one hand and your thumb on the other. You'll have to experiment with that one. I've been doing this since I was a little girl so I've played a lot with the edge of the pie. Simple is best but, please, avoid the smash it together with a fork thing. Muddle through and have fun. You'll begin to get it as you try this again.

Cut with the tines of a fork or the edge of a small, sharp knife your own pattern in the top of your pie. You need this to allow steam to escape. You can also brush some beaten, just a little, egg whites over the top crust and a tiny sprinkle of sugar for color and texture. Keep it very light though. Simple is best.

Put it in a hot oven, about 425 to 450F for fifteen minutes. Turn down the heat to 350F and continue to cook for 40 to 45 minutes. Your crust will be browner on the edges and a light golden brown on top.

Take it out and let it set for at least 30 minutes. It needs to cool and set a bit. If you have a coyote living with you keep an eye on the counter. Coyotes love this pie! (I can personally attest to that) Serve with real vanilla ice cream or raw milk, aged cheddar cheese or real homemade whipped cream. 

If you have guests or teens at home expect there to be nothing left. It will disappear in one sitting. Excellent with good coffee or English Breakfast tea. 

I am, ever yours, Nancy, smiling because you are going to be so glad you have this recipe!

PS. My Grandma made this or cherry pie every day for breakfast. She was a farm wife and both of them loved to eat. Neither ever had a spare ounce on them either because they worked so hard. But that's another story. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

LITTLE TEACHER, SIX POUNDS OF ATTITUDE

I never know where words will take me. Writing like this has a tendency to take on it's own momentum and direction and it always surprises me. 

I'm sick. Not a serious sick, just the flu. It sidetracked me this week. I'm not used to being slowed down like this. I'm not the one who gets sick. Everyone around me does and I take care of them. Guess this is my catch up week.

Slowing down sped my mind up though. The words took over and then the need to "do" something, anything. I have this slightly flawed idea that if I'm not doing, not helping, not accomplishing or reaching for a goal then I must not count. Intellectually I know that's wrong. Of course I count. We all have an important role in the never ending story. We enter stage left (or right or center, depending on where the beginning is) and play our part. Without us there's a noticeable hole in the delicate tracery of life. And we all want our part to stand out, to be the place that counts. By just being, we count. Pretty simple. Just hard to wrap myself around that concept emotionally.

Annie's ancient in cat years. I don't know what the math is for cats (as compared to dogs or horses) but in her life span here, she is older than I had any hope that she would be. 

She's one of the cats I rescued twelve years ago as a kitten from a horrible place I stumbled in to while teaching myself the art of how to find a horse, how to make the right choice for me and the horse. None of the commitments I make are taken lightly. There is no go back, no do over for me. I'm in for the long haul, always. Annie was the first we have living here with us now. And she is still running the show twelve years later.

She was tiny, malnourished, wild as a March Hair and so fierce she had no idea that she was nearly gone from this plane. She was so weak she couldn't stand up but that didn't stop her from crying for help and hissing at anything that came too close. I picked her up from between the front hooves of an equally frightened, malnourished colt who, if I'd had access to a trailer that day, I would have taken with me too. She weighed all of about four ounces and two of that was attitude. From the beginning she was my teacher.

She's an irritating, crabby little cat who whips everyone's butt first thing. A few healthy swipes, a scratch or two and she has established her territory. She even hood winks Apache. I watched her latch on to his tail one day, growl, take a ride across the field until he stopped, exhausted. She dismounted, groomed herself, waited for him to acknowledge her superiority and then she walked home right across the middle of the field, tail straight up and attitude on with Apache following, his nose on her! Horses and barn cats have these complicated, fascinating relationships ie. the tiny predator and the huge super prey. 

In Annie's mind Apple is just another big, smelly, rude kitten. She grooms Apple, sleeps with her, follows her around and walks right up to smack Apple if she thinks Apple is breaking one of Annie's Rules. Annie always eats from Apple's bowl first, taking the best bits, and Apple sits there quietly, allowing it.

And when Annie is outside she will seek out Apache, fierce stallion of the Cimarron, and lays down on top of him. She will even call him to the fence so she can sit on top while he walks her around the field. It's a relationship that baffles me and anyone else who sees it. She still doesn't weigh much, maybe all of six pounds, and she can control a thousand pounds of willing for her, willful for others, horse. 

 How does she do it? She directs her energy. No one messes with six pounds of Annie, no one! She is very clear with her requests, pushes out this tiny arrow of energy that, somehow, grows as it gets closer. If she wants milk she comes to me, stares at me and waits. That's it. She waits. It's the perfect example of polite and passive persistence in the proper position.

And when I fulfill her request appropriately, she rewards me by ignoring me. Pressure motivates, release teaches. She has the milk and I am released to take care of the other minions. 

"You may leave my presence now." She is the queen, the divine ruler, the empress and she knows it without any doubt at all. And, so far, no one who has encountered her has refuted her position. The cat ROCKS! You know the popular phrase "like a boss"? Annie is the perfect personification. 

It's all about presence, attitude, expectations. She is, obviously, the CENTER of everything therefore everyone follows her lead, no exceptions. Talk about a teacher!


I think a lot about the power of words, the energy that we put in to the world. Annie rules because there is not a doubt in her mind that she runs the show. She isn't cruel, just assumes that you will learn when she wants you to know. I remember that when I get frustrated. When I back off, think about what I need, things begin to happen that carry me towards that goal. And I don't have to hurt anyone to get there either. The doors begin to open and I am given the opportunity to walk right through the middle of that field with my tail straight up, goal firmly in my vision. 

Every day with Annie is a revelation. I keep waiting for someone to depose her. But I don't think that will happen, not now and not here. She will go out in a Blaze of Glory and I have no doubt that she will walk right over that bridge everyone knows about, tail straight up, and right up to the gates. She will stop, look at whomever the Saint is manning the gates that day, and they will bow to her with a smile and open the gate. In she will stride with all of her confidence intact, everyone along side the road cheering and waving, perfect. And I don't have to tell you who's lap she'll end up in. " Ahhh. I've been waiting for you." And she will curl up ready to survey yet another kingdom,  polite and perfect in a passive position, happy to be home.

The trick for me is learning while she's here, remembering my role on the stage and enjoying the ride. And paying attention to the words I use, the effect I have when I "strut" across that field, tail up. 


Here's to the things that I expect, the feisty little angel who lives here with us and the power of words that heal, that build, that make us who we are. And here's to all of the surprises along the way. And here's to catch up weeks and listening to the teachers sent to lead...



I am, ever yours, Nancy, listening, thinking, sneezing and laughing at the way things go.







Thursday, May 14, 2015

SCARY, SWEATY THINGS, ROUND HOUSE KICKS AND CHOCOLATE

A year or so ago I was trolling through Facebook when I saw a challenge pop up on my newsfeed. The person who wrote to me wanted me to write three positive things about my day for five days in a row. OK. Easy. I can do that. I like a challenge, especially when it's a no brainer. 

But then it wasn't . I procrastinated in all kinds of directions. Organized a closet, cleaned the litter boxes ( I know! Cleaning closets and litter boxes is major league avoidance.), made granola, anything I could think of to keep from writing three positive things for five days in a row. Something was wrong, undeniably wrong, if I was working this hard at writing something positive about my day. 


Oh man. Things were sadder than I thought. I was major league depressed, not sleeping well or eating right, accomplishing very little with my Art, doing only day to day maintenance with my herd. An old pattern was back and it sat on my shoulders like a two hundred pound hod (a hod is what a brick layer uses to carry bricks). And I knew why too.

January 2nd, 2012 at about 8:30 in the morning I broke my arm. I didn't just break it. I smashed it to smithereens, both bones broken just above my wrist, ligaments and tendons torn, snapped like broken rubber bands. My hand was bent all the way backwards and hanging there like over cooked spaghetti. By the time we made it in to the hospital it was turning blue grey and getting cold because all circulation had been cut off. It was critical enough that the doctor told me the pain meds did not have time to take effect. He was going to have to move it back in to place to get blood flow back. He took my arm, apologized and moved it. Whoa doggies! I had no idea I knew that many cuss words. My language was awe inspiring! But the color came back. Step one complete. 



Pain is a necessary function, a critical one in fact. Without it we have no feedback about injuries or illness, no way to know that our body needs attention. I can tell you, from personal experience, that when you're in the middle of pain you wish you could turn it off! But even then you need it so you remember to avoid running in to things, burning yourself or any of the other hundred and one things that can happen to your mortal envelope. It is one of the prices we pay to be here, probably one of our most important tickets.

The day after my break I was scheduled for surgery. A simple realignment of the bones and a cast was not going to do it for me. Things needed to be pinned and sewn back together. This Humpty Dumpty made a big Mo Fo crack in the shell that needed to be pieced together and it was going to take a lot of glue to get the job done. 

I was hungry, exhausted and just wanted to move on with it. I was missing my cup of tea and all of the other morning rituals I use to get my motor revved up for the day. And then the phone rang. It was a family member, someone very close. One of my in laws had committed suicide. That was like being hit by a locomotive you never saw coming. WHAM! I had been there, down in that deep, dark hole, years ago. But I never did anything, never tried to hurt myself. I went to find a counselor, to face my demons and they were doozies. Horrible repressed memories that made me physically ill when they broke through. 


But I had surgery, had to go. No way to get around it. If I wanted function back in my right arm, my dominant arm, I had to do this. So, I cried, cried some more and went to the surgery center. I also got calls from my sons, friends, and other family members telling me they were sending love, hope and prayers. Stay focused. It was going to be OK.

Two days after that was the funeral. I was horribly embarrassed. I had to wear sweatpants and had a cast sticking out. I was supposed to keep it above my heart line so I did, held it in the air, even slept with it propped up. I couldn't do my hair or even take a shower. I was mortified. I knew the funeral wasn't about me but going like that felt like I was showing a complete lack of respect, especially under the circumstances. Everyone was in shock, appalled and frightened for the immediate family members. Suicide always hurts the people left behind much more than the person who died, always. Terrible ripples flow out for years and years, sometimes forever, after a suicide.

I went through all of the physical therapy, gave my PT 150% . And it was no fun, I promise you. It scared me silly having to take my brace off several times a day to do my exercises. I did not want to look at my arm and hand, did not want the support taken away. And I most certainly did not want to go through anything like that again! So I did my therapy and I cried, sweated, shook and pushed myself through it. I wanted full function back in my arm and hand. I needed my hand to continue working as an artist, playing with my horses, working in my garden, remaining fully independent. I was way too young to be a burden to anyone. 


Pushing myself through those barriers over and over was hard work. And it hurt too. I had made a decision to use no pain meds, none at all. There are addictive behaviors in my family. I did not want to test those waters. No pain meds. So I cried and throbbed and cussed and sweated and I did get through it. And I did get full physical function back in my hand. But I also fell in to a pit of 'stuck'. It was like standing in quick sand, pulling my boots off trying to get out and sinking deeper in. The color started to go, things were grey around the edges. I was at a stand still and even moving backwards as far as emotional issues went. Getting hurt like that and watching my whole family grieve just days after I had hurt myself had triggered old memories, old pain, old nightmares. I was inside out, backwards, face to the fifty foot solid brick wall stuck. I could not move, could not even write three positive things. 

So I had a meltdown, a total fall on the floor, cry until I threw up, lost it completely, way scary and out of control melt down. It was worse than the physical pain of breaking my arm ever was! I was out of control and, I thought, all because of a "challenge" on Facebook. Course that was just the fluttering little leaf in a big wind that rocked the tree and nearly broke the trunk. It wasn't the challenge. It was all of that past pain brought up to the surface by the broken arm, surgery and an unexpected death in the family (the very worst kind, in my opinion). I was in big time trouble and I knew it.


I started a quest. I was going to have to treat this like more physical therapy, push my way past barriers, sweat, cry, shake, have the nightmares. I was going to treat it like a double dog dare, the kind that I never backed down from as a kid. Except I wasn't a child anymore. I knew way too much about consequences, pit falls, earth quakes. I was going way, way outside my comfort zone on this one for extended periods of time and with the support of only a few people. I was going to make myself face the dark and yell at it!

I sat down at the table and turned on my iPad. And I made myself sit there, not reading the news or watching kitten videos on Youtube, not responding to anyone on Facebook or Email. A piece of really good Green and Black super dark chocolate and a cup of hot tea would be my reward, but I wasn't going to have that either until I wrote that damn Five Day challenge, three positive things first. And I sat there. And I sat there, and sat there. I stared at the iPad, watched it turn itself off. I turned it back on. And I sat there. I sweated, chewed my fingernails off, even thought seriously about picking my nose. I had a war right there in my kitchen. " Do it. Do it Nancy. Do it. Come on you beeeaatch! DO IT!" 

My hands were shaking, sweating. I'm pretty sure I didn't smell very good either. I sat there and found every reason in the world not to do it, to write those three positive things. I cussed, cussed in french too. I tapped my feet, jitted around like a kid in class who wanted to go outside lots more than they wanted to be there doing classwork. I wiggled and jiggled, thrummed on the table with my hands. I spent so much energy and time on not doing a simple task I was angry with myself. How hard could it be to write something positive? 


And then I did it! I can't, for the life of me, remember what I wrote. I suppose I could go back and look it up. But I do remember what that chocolate tasted like. Heaven! And I let myself have three small squares of it too. It was definitely a three square achievement. I made my first tiny breakthrough.

I kept going with it too. I did my five days and each one was easier than the day before. Just about the time I finished another friend sent me another challenge. This time it was one positive thing for one hundred days. Oh yeah! Bring it on! I was ready.

And on the tenth or eleventh day I began to procrastinate again. The house and barn got all kinds of clean and orderly. I kept trying to tell myself it was all good. I was getting things done, right? No worries. It was all good ... sort of. Sort of is not good enough. It never is. It's an old pattern reestablishing itself. I was sliding down that slippery slope again and the abyss  was deeper and dark each time. It looked mighty scary down there. 

I decided to make it a habit. I would be gentler on myself this time, a kind of Approach and Retreat. 100 days was a big deal. I kept a journal next to the bed. In the morning I wrote down one positive thing when I woke up. And sometimes I didn't sleep either. Without meaning to I was working myself in to another dither, but writing things on paper was another pattern I had started eons ago when I was a kid. It was the only part of my life, along with academics, I could control. It was a kind of lifeline. 

I wrote something every evening too. I had a mob of demons I was trying to face down. I did my best to be polite and passive in the proper position, insistent, firm but not demanding. And in the evening, before I went to bed, I wrote it out on Facebook, an extremely open forum. Everyone was going to see this. Whew. I had left the comfort zone about two thousand miles back. I was in a desert and waiting for the prickly things to bloom. And I was tired, so very tired. But I did it anyway. When you're stranded in a big open place and have no idea where to go, you either stand still and die or move forward in any direction, take your chances it's the right one and that it will lead you to cool, clean, fresh water. 


As I came up on day 98, people began to write to me. They told me they were going to miss my 100 Happy Days posts, they looked forward to them. " Please don't stop! I need to read your posts. They give me hope." Oh my. Here comes the scary part, the pick it up and keep it going part. And I wasn't doing it just for me anymore either. It was a seed that was growing because I'm one of those gardeners who is just too damn stubborn to let the bugs have my tomatoes.

So I turned it in to 200HAPPYDAYS. And I kept going. It had become a habit and , low and behold, it was beginning to work. I was sleeping better, making clear, well thought out decisions, finding my direction again, laughing, breathing and still enjoying my most excellent chocolate, but not because I had to. I ate it because it was fun! And so was finding my way past being afraid of my horses (yes, the break happened while working with my horses), drawing and sketching again, writing short stories, and bringing home another puppy. I was hop, skip and jumping ahead again. And when I stumbled I laughed! Oh yeah. I was back!


Yesterday was the end of my 200HAPPYDAYS posts on Facebook. I finished it with a 10 to 1 countdown because I had put off ending it. That sneaky old pattern was trying to come back, that fear of completion and then what? So I did it in a blaze of glory, ten things in one day. 

Here's the cool thing. It wasn't hard to do! It was fun. I felt great! And there were more than ten things I wanted to write too. I was changing my direction. Instead of walking sideways or backwards, in circles or wallowing in my latest stop, I was moving forward again. Sometimes the steps were short, hesitant. But I was moving! And sometimes I leaped, did base jumps and bungee cord leaps, danced and twirled around. 

I am making messes again in my studio, writing again, telling stories and working on my word for this year, CONNECT. I'm not just peaking from between the leaves. I am swinging on a tire right out over the water, whooping and hollering and then letting go! 

I am back. I am growing. And I have ideas I am working on, places to go, people to meet, things to do. And when the sweats happen (and they always do), I am coming in to the center swinging. Better be careful. I have a pretty good round house kick and I've been practicing! Take that you bounder! Sweaty, scary, nightmare stuff had better be prepared for a fight. I've gotten pretty good at smothering it, knocking it out of the way, even changing it with laughter, good stories and positive chocolate reinforcement. 

I AM BACK! 



Monday, May 11, 2015

AND, OH, THE STORIES...

"Australian Aborigines say that the big stories—the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life—are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators hunting their prey in the bush. "—Robert Moss, Dreamgates
I loved the beginning of my adult life. I was seventeen and so ready to shake the world up, grab it by the short hairs and make it different. Everything was in front of me; love, travel, education, work, family and children, pain, Everest sized highs, Grand Canyon lows, friends lost and gained. Anything was possible. Life was a buffet and I was hungry.

 I never stopped to ask if anyone else felt that way. I was seventeen, still worried about pimples and whether that cute guy at table 7 was smiling because he liked the menu or because he thought my blue jeans fit just fine. The world was "According to Nancy", mine to shape, mine to create. I still had never been out on a date, never went to Prom, and my only forms of transportation were my feet and my bicycle. It was 1968, the Summer of Love, the year Martin Luther King was assassinated, riots and protests, The Viet Nam War, and Woodstock. It was a time of agonizing reappraisal. And I was ready to take it on!

I was an honors student, thought I knew where I was going, had a budget of $7 a week for groceries and lived in a tiny studio apartment with a bed that folded out of the wall and a tiny bathroom that was nearly bigger than my apartment. It was luxury! I could go out and walk in any thunderstorm that I wanted to, ride my bike for as far as it and my legs would take me and live in blue jeans and embroidered filmy tops made in the exotic land of India. 


But time is a funny task mistress. She has a sense of humor that, like most good comedy, comes from anger and pain. It hones you, gives you lines and wrinkles and a melting face. It just keeps on ticking in a relentless forward position. It pushes you along in a tide that catches you in the undertow, snagging and depositing you on a distant shore that you had no idea existed. And, oh, the stories!


Stories are everywhere. We trail them after us like banners in the wind. When I stopped to ask myself what I liked best about all of the many different jobs I've had, my answer was meeting people, listening to their stories, watching the theater all around me. I've loved their faces and expressions, laughed at some of the stories, gasped, cried, commiserated, and, most of all, listened. 


“Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.” ― Eudora WeltyOne Writer's Beginnings (William E.Massey Senior Lectures in the History of American Civilization)

Story telling was a tradition in my family. On Sunday mornings my Mom would ask me if I wanted to hear her read the Sunday comics. We'd curl up together in bed and I'd put up with them for a couple of rounds of Brenda Starr and Peanuts. " Mama, tell me a story. Not a comic, a real story." 

She would sigh, mumble something about little girls who were too smart for their britches and then she would tell me a story. Most of the time those stories were about Marie Curie or Joan of Arc, numbers that took on personalities ( my favorite was the story about Nine ) and elements who talked about iron and oxygen and what happened when they ran in to hydrogen. She was, after all, a chemist and mathematician. And, for a while, I was content.

But I saw the world through a tinted glass with crossed senses . And I was one of those very lucky children who had extra hours to lay in the grass and make pictures from clouds. My imagination grew faster than I did, took me to exotic places when I found addresses to write to and began pen pal friendships with people in England and France. I even wrote to the Prince of Lichtenstein and he responded two times, on beautiful hand made paper in a flowing cursive style. I thought I was probably famous if people I didn't know would write back to me and oh, the stories I told. I was a wild cowgirl who rode with my Grandfather across the plains, always west. I carried a six gun even though I had no idea what a six gun was. And my horse could talk, my dog rode in the saddle with me and sometimes, when no one was looking, my horse who was really Pegasus would unfurl his shimmering, magical wings and we would fly through clouds that looked like giraffes and elephants.



I've always wondered if any of those little girl stories were saved, maybe in a dusty box under a bed somewhere.

Later, as a young Mom with two little boys, paint on my jeans and more imagination than money I continued the story telling. We kept a story going for more than ten years about Archimedes, a talking dog and Mike, who was really an alien from outer space who somehow got separated from his Mom and Dad. He lived with The Captain, who ran his own tug boat. And there were all of his friends; Mr. Groceries, a very fat squirrel, the Little Blind Boy who lived in a cabin in the woods and others that came and went over the years. There were talking dinosaurs (one named Ralph) and cows with crowns, Ravens who flew all the way from the edge of the Grand Canyon to bring Archimedes and Mike news. But the best part of the stories were that they were round robin stories. Everyone added to them. Ryan and Ben, friends who spent the night, John, Me and Lightfoot, our Golden Retriever or Mr. Boogie, our huge silver grey cat who was really a Russian Prince in disguise.


The rule was that no one ever dies in the story and they can come back in to the story line at any time. And once we give them a name, we really, REALLY give them life. They are still there, waiting to reappear, all of these years later. They never age unless magic makes them age and anything can happen, well except dying. And magic can make them young again too. And now the stories live again with our Grandchildren. It's a never ending story.


...and now I tell the stories to my horses. They're patient listeners, walking along quietly while I tell them about flying tigers and Time Machines that open doors to the past and future, to other planets inhabited by flying horses and the King Of Horses who is really Apache's long, lost father. We lope down a road together lost in our world and always heading home where the stories begin again. There are ancestors and outlaws, mysteries and flying monkeys who just happen to get blown the wrong way over the rainbow. And my partner for the day is always happy to hear my tale, appreciative of the carrots at the end and new horizons in between.

And here's a little secret, just between you and me. I still feel like I'm seventeen, like the world is a banquet and I have a very big plate to fill. If you don't have a chance to stop by I hope you'll pick up the thread and carry the story forward, add your characters, your heroes and villains, ghosts and elves. Tell your stories with friends and keep the Round Robin going. You can have Archimedes visit you, Mike and the Captain, and don't forget Mr. Groceries. (He could use the exercise. He wobbles just a bit.)

If you listen, the characters will start it for you, take you in to their world. So listen, take a deep breath and begin the round again. And then come back here and write a few lines out. I promise I'll find them and we can begin a story told round the world.

Ready? Once upon a time, in a place not too far from here and a time not too long ago there lived...

Your turn! GO...

I am, ever yours, Nancy, listening and rocking down the road, waiting for the next chapter, smiling...

PS. What are you waiting for? Go tell a story! Paint it! Act it out! Sing it and dance it. GO...

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

GARDEN MUSIC, Dancing With The Muse

There's nothing better than 
sticking your hands deep in to loamy soil for connecting you to life. I always feel better in the Spring when my nails and skin are grubby with pollen, tiny seeds, compost and dirt. If I hold still long enough I feel the thrumming, like the beating of a giant heart, in the ends of my fingers. 

The realists in the audience are thinking, " Nancy, that's your own heart beat you feel. " But isn't that the point? My heart beats, the World moves to it's own rhythms, and we connect , listening to each other, moving together in an ageless dance on a floor called The Garden. 

According to an article from The Atlantic, June 11, 2013 about a study conducted over a five year period with the National Institutes of Health's Human Microbiome Project, we need to stay connected to a soil resource for the sake of our health.


We have been hearing a lot recently about a revolution in the way we think about human health -- how it is inextricably linked to the health of microbes in our gut, mouth, nasal passages, and other "habitats" in and on us. With the release last summer of the results of the five-year National Institutes of Health's Human Microbiome Project, we are told we should think of ourselves as a "superorganism," a residence for microbes with whom we have coevolved, who perform critical functions and provide services to us, and who outnumber our own human cells ten to one. For the first time, thanks to our ability to conduct highly efficient and low cost genetic sequencing, we now have a map of the normal microbial make-up of a healthy human, a collection of bacteria, fungi, one-celled archaea, and viruses. Collectively they weigh about three pounds -- the same as our brain."


In other words, when you plunge your hands in to the soil, you are connecting with another type of intelligence, one that we are an integral part of. The microbes in the dirt, trees, plants and fungi are also inside the human envelope we inhabit and it all communicates in ways that are, for want of a better word, intuitive. It isn't the logical part of our brain talking with the trees and flowers. It's the spirit, the soul, and literally, our heart that feels that thrumming, that unacknowledged beat.

 Kneeling on the ground with your hands in the soil, your knees wet with dew and mud, is a direct form of "prayer" . You are in a "church" that is limited only by the outer edge of our atmosphere. You are an active, living, breathing member of the Mother Earth. And when you take the time to slow down, to listen with your eyes to the endless color around you, to taste the music with your ears, to feel the Mother talking to you, nurturing you along with all of her other children, an inexplicable peace comes over you. Memories come to the surface of other tomato gardens, sweet pea vines and herbs growing in the aisles, escapees from seeds dropped the year before.



It was my Grandfather who gave me my love for gardening. He was a dairy farmer who converted his farm to truck gardening, with acres and acres of tomatoes, onions, watermelon, sweet corn, okra, squash and beans of all sorts. He grew spinach and several kinds of lettuce, herbs for my Grandma's teas and pecan and walnut trees. He taught me how to pull insects off of the plants rather than using chemicals, a job that was, in my little girl voice, "Icky Grandpa!".

 I would walk along with him carrying my bucket and he would show me where to look for the caterpillars and squash bugs who loved the vegetables as much as we did. It wasn't my favorite part of gardening. But there was an upside to the bugs too. They brought birds of all kinds who would sit in the trees around us and sing while we worked along the rows. And the caterpillars would turn in to butterflies of all shapes, colors and patterns. We always left a certain number of caterpillars in the parsley. They would turn in to zebra swallowtail butterflies with bright yellow wings and black stripes with long tails on the outside edges that fluttered when they floated past. " There's a balance Little Miss. If the caterpillars don't like the corn, then you shouldn't eat it either. Butterflies are poetry in the fields. They're a place for us to rest our eyes when we're tired." 


I loved my Grandad, the philosopher. I'm pretty sure he never talked to his other grandchildren like that. They were all boys. I was one of only two girls and his shadow in the Summer when he gardened. He talked guy talk with the boys but he showed me how to squish mud between my toes when it rained, how to eat a ripe tomato like an apple and lick the sticky juice off of my dirty hands.

 He showed me how to smell the soil and compost, looking for that sweet scent that tells you it's ready for the seeds. And he taught me the value of rain barrels full of collected water over tap water for the garden. "No reason for machines when we have horses. They give us compost. And never any reason for chemicals. They smell bad and destroy the good, clean earth. " And then he would taste the dirt, encouraging me to do the same. I always went in with him at the end of the day with freckles from too much sun ( "Shame on you Fred! Where's that girl's bonnet gone to? Look at those spots on her nose!"), dirt around my mouth and fingernails that my frustrated Grandmother would spend "more wasted time!" scrubbing and picking at, rubbing my skin afterwards with some of her lotion that smelled of lavender. 



All these years later my fingers are thicker and stronger, some of the grace of my years as a dancer lost. My fingernails are short now and constantly dirty from grooming my horses, gardening, painting. I scrub at them too, like my Grandma did, but they are what they are; tools for hard work. My skin is rough from the sun and wind, my hair always in a braid down my back and anything but fashionable. But my eyes drink all of the endless greens and pastels of Spring and the mockingbirds sing me to sleep at night. And when I stop to listen, I can feel the four four time of the seeds as they wake up and my fingers can hear the Winter stories the trees have for me when I kneel in the soil with my hands in the Mother Earth. And when I dress the garden, getting her ready for this year's tiny crop, it's my hands that dance, following the music that my body feels as our place, our tiny bit of paradise, wakes up and stretches, ready for a new dress of greens and reds, pinks and yellows. 

Life is good and I am, ever yours, Nancy, dreaming and dancing, head back and laughing at the way things go!