There’s this guy in our hay barn

After the last time, the Hubbit and I promised each other never again to invite someone to share our home. For years we had (irritably and messily) shared an office, while the spare bedroom just sat and looked pretty for months on end until I succumbed to guilt and suggested to Himself that some or other lost soul really needed it … and he never bloody said no! And, despite my best intentions, almost every attempt at sustained hospitality ended with all parties seething.

There was Sewerbreath, a close friend whose marriage broke down a few weeks before we were due to leave on a prolonged visit to South Africa. “Come stay at our house!” we warbled. “Bring your dog! You can look after our animals, and it’ll give you three months to get on your feet!” While we were gone she fell and broke some necessary bone or other and wasn’t able to work. We returned home jet-lagged and unfazed. “It’s Christmas! You can’t be homeless over Christmas!” we caroled. “You’ll soon be back at work, and meanwhile you’re welcome – it’s fine!” She got a job at a grocery store early in the new year. “Congratulations!” I trilled. “No need to pay rent – save up for a deposit on your own place! And don’t worry about the food – three is as easy to feed as two! – just check in before you leave work to see if we need anything – save me making a trip to the store in between my regular shopping days!” So then I learned that expecting a grown woman in her forties to “check in” was offensive, and things pretty much went downhill from there.

I kicked her out the following April, seven months after she’d moved in. I forget the specific reason, but I think it was either because she refused to clean her bathroom (removing the crunchy toothpaste from her sink after she left was an exercise in archeology!) or because I got fed up with her attempts to allure the (blissfully oblivious) Hubbit.

There were the teenage daughters of old friends of mine, who wanted to leave the Pacific island where their parents were missionaries and start life in America. They didn’t have work permits, but were going to find jobs under the radar as tutors, nannies, house cleaners – you know the sort of work – to cover their personal expenses while they studied at the local community college, or maybe online – they were going to figure that out. Only … they were so tired after years of missionary life, they felt they deserved a little vacation. So for eight or nine months they lolled around, not studying, not working, not volunteering. I tried to engage with their parents via email, only to learn that these delightful young ladies had access to the parental email account and were deleting our messages as fast as I sent them. When their parents quit the mission field and returned to South Africa the girls decided to go home, and we sang the hallelujah chorus and waved them away.

There was Peter Pan. I call him that because when I met him he seemed joyous and wild and a little bit magical … but in truth he was more of a Lost Boy. He arrived one day with Wonder Woman’s teenage protégé, to spend a few days helping out, camping in a grassy corner of our farmlet, and canoodling like bunnies. Less than 24 hours later the protégé roared away down our driveway, and I went outside to find Pan standing outside his tent and looking forlorn. Well, we needed help and so did he so we invited him to stay, and that year was pretty good. He was a hard worker, giggly and zany (he was high a lot of the time), the animals loved him, and I fell a little bit in love with him myself – nah, don’t be stupid; he was sort of like a beloved nephew. Since my actual nieces and nephews were all clear around the other side of the planet, and my grandchildren-by-Hubbit were by then not speaking to me, I felt the lack of a young person to love and mentor and indulge. And as someone who had been severely abused and neglected by his parents, he lapped it up. After a while he went off with a girl, but he kept in touch and it was all good.

Verruca arrived shortly after Pan left. She showed up with someone who’d advertised on Craigslist, looking for temporary accommodation for her pet chickens. I’d invited the chickens to rough it with the flock of not-pet-but-very-happy chickens hanging out in my veggie garden, so she came to take a look and brought Verruca with her. They arrived just in time to distract me from a full meltdown caused by several hours spent trying to sign up with WWOOF because the Hubbit and I desperately needed, but could not afford to pay for, help on the farmlet. Only the WWOOF website kept crashing, and I was brimful of angst, gloom and fury. Well, Verruca looked around, and gazed longingly from the river to me, and said, “I don’t suppose you need someone to help you out in return for a place to stay, do you?”

The Olde Buzzard and the Hubbit, down at the river near where I met Angelo and Charlie (see below). The Fogies also spent a year with us. Memories built despite some stormy weather, and kept close to my heart.

So Verruca moved in, and for maybe a week or two it was great – we were like sister wives (only with certain duties allocated, not shared). And pretty soon she started educating me about how the world really works. Like how the government is using contrails to rain down poison upon us all, and how Nibiru is going to destroy us all, and … oh man, she believed so many things! I wrote a lot of them down to share with you, but now I can’t find the list … It was a while ago. Anyway, I was enthralled! I was fascinated! Sometimes I asked questions, but that just annoyed her. I learned it was better to shut my trap and listen.

And then … I don’t know, I guess she had a revelation. She realized that our water was contaminated. She stopped eating anything we raised, and would consume nothing but energy drinks and canned soup. (Of course I bought them for her – I’m a sucker!) But she just got sicker and sicker, and eventually I took her to the doctor, who diagnosed Hepatitis A. “Yikes! That’s contagious!” I said, hurling myself at Google, where I learned that it’s common in homeless shelters (she’d lived in several) and among addicts (she’d lived with her addict daughter and son-in-law prior to moving here). Then she announced that she was going to sue us for making her sick. Testing our well water (clean and sweet) and ourselves (ditto) had no effect. The situation got ugly and depressing and – as I read up on Washington State law pertaining to eviction (not good for property owners. Not at all) it got scary.

But one day she up and left, and suddenly peace was restored, and the Hubbit and I agreed “Never again”. Only then Pan came back and of course we figured he’d be okay. We knew him. He was practically family. It was a bit stressful that this time he had a bunch of friends who liked to hang out in our shop or my kitchen, and often some stayed over, but I loved Pan and kind of enjoyed having a houseful of youngsters, and the Hubbit tolerated the invasion. Only pretty soon it became clear that Pan had … changed. I’ve done some reading since then about mental illness that emerges in young adults and … well, I don’t want to write about that. I already told you how it ended.

So after that the Hubbit and I agreed never, ever again under any circumstances for any reason to invite anyone to live in our home, double pinky promise. To reinforce that promise, while he was in rehab for the months following his altercation with a tractor I transformed the spare bedroom into a Hubbit Hole just for him. It’s inconvenient not to have a spare room when the Girl Child or the Young Bull come to stay, but a lot easier to tell myself “We don’t have room” when, in fact, we don’t have a spare room.

And then, a few weeks ago I was down at the river with Argos, and there was this guy with a Chihuahua. Conversation ensued. The Chihuahua – a cutie who occasionally answers to Charlie – needed to be spayed and vaccinated, so I got that done, which led to more conversation. In the middle of all this conversing we had the mother of all windstorms. I pulled together some food and a tent and went down to the river – did I mention they were living there? Under a bush? Well, technically, under a piece of tarp, but shrubbery was involved … Ugh, sorry, I digress. My point is, I went down to check on them, and Charlie came hurtling out of the bushes and leaped into my car with a look of the most profound relief, which was followed by a look of bewilderment when her papa didn’t join her in this comfy place out of the wind, and then plummeting dismay when he took her in his arms and disappeared back under his bush as I drove away.

We really don’t have a room.

But we have a row of horse stalls, and the end one – where we keep hay in winter – is empty. Or was. It now has a tent in it, and a random assortment of other stuff, much of it rather smelly. When the heat gets unbearable (right now it’s 108F out, and the heat wave is only getting started) they come inside and cool off. (They’re watching Penguin Town on Netflix as I write this.) Lying in bed the night after they moved in, I started feeling guilty that I had a comfortable bed and a house, and they have so little. A better person, I thought, would invite them inside. But then I slapped myself upside the head and counted their blessings. They have shelter from the weather, a fridge and freezer, drawers for storage, a place to cook, and food any time they ask for it. They have electricity and wi-fi, and the use of our guest bathroom. They have walls and a door and privacy. Cops don’t hassle them to move on. Bikers don’t roar up and start a middle-of-the-night party a few feet from where they’re hiding under their bush. They can ask for a ride into town when they need one. And that’s as good as the Hubbit and I can make it and still be okay inside ourselves and with each other.

I wish I could say “It’s all good,” but really it isn’t. The thing about most homeless people in this country is, there are reasons they’re homeless. There are reasons Angelo has been kicked out of most of the places he’s lived in. A few days ago I got so mad at him I was ready to dump him back at the river and let the damn heat dome cook his skinny ass! I didn’t because of Charlie, and a little bit because that’s not who I am, and mostly because I heard my hectoring voice getting shriller and angrier and … I was ashamed.

The thing about not being homeless is, you hold all the cards. You have all the power. It doesn’t matter how broke you are, or old, or sore, or disappointed in yourself or your life … if you have a piece of this earth you can call your own, you have everything. And if you have the power, you can’t use it against someone who is powerless and still feel good about being you. So the next morning I sought Angelo out.

“Hey,” I said. He looked at me warily. “Can we agree to a truce?” I asked.

He sighed with relief. “Oh,” he said. “Yes please.”

Charlie – never so happy as when she’s with her papa.

He is a good man – Charlie told me so. He is also a profoundly annoying man, moody, often irrational, desperately needy, and not very clean. Keeping my temper in check is going to be hard. But we promised him a place through the summer, until we need the stall back for hay. In return, he helps out – sometimes with begrudging carelessness, and sometimes pouring his heart into making our lives so very much better. I’m hoping we can make it work.

I might have to come on here to vent occasionally. I hope that’s okay.

Plum boozy

Well, on Monday the north half of the planet tipped over to the Dark Side – and no, I’m not referring to the day’s usual bucket load of news crud. I’m thinking about the arrival of autumn, and with it the frantic last weeks of harvest time for lazy gardeners who have been neglecting their veggie patch. The Hubbit trundled next door with a large bucket swinging from a sticky-out thing on his tractor, and brought it back full of plums.

Okay, full disclosure: He did that a couple weeks ago, when I was inundated with dogs, and the plums in the bottom half of the bucket (we’re talking a 20 gallon bucket here, okay? Nothing small about the Hubbit!) went squishy and oozy and … Well, I sweetly requested more plums, and while he was off getting them I tipped the first lot into the sink.

They had started to ferment. But dang … that many plums was way too many for my few remaining hens. My flock has declined inexorably over the summer; two more fell to a visiting husky last week, and I’m now down to seven. Twenty gallons of fermenting plums is way too much for seven hens, even aided by a large roo.

Plus, I’d been googling plum preserving recipes on various websites, and some people intentionally ferment their plums. Meanwhile, regular fruit canning recipes demand juice. Long story short, it went against nature to waste these organically fermented remnants of juiciness, so I didn’t. I washed them off, picked out the pits, squeezed and massaged, and after adding water and straining off the chewy bits (for chickenly delectation), the resulting juice was quite pleasantly plummy. I put it in a large pot, added a couple cups of sugar and a generous slosh of lemon juice, and let it boil while I got busy halving and depitting the nice firm plums the Hubbit had brought me following his second trip to the neighbor’s tree. (Only half a bucket this time, thankfully!)

I filled seven quart jars and topped them off with the juice. Oh – I should mention, before adding the juice, I made it even more delicious by sloshing in about half a bottle of witblitz, aka mampoer, which the Hubbit insisted on buying on a visit to South Africa about 10 or 15 years ago, even though neither of us is an especially enthusiastic drinker. Witblitz (pronounced vitblits – it means “white lightning”) is the Boer answer to moonshine. It claims to be 50 proof peach brandy but it also works quite well as rocket fuel. Also, turns out it tastes not too bad when it’s been sitting in the back of a kitchen cupboard for 15 years.

In any case, the plum juice is bitchin’, and I know this because one of the quart jars didn’t seal properly during the canning process, so of course ice cream was acquired and … yum-meee!

Juicy plums and ice cream, with a hint of witblitz. Can life get any better? I think not.

Anyway, that took care of most of the plums. This morning, I processed the last of them while chatting with my bestie, Twiglet, via WhatsApp. Dang, I love technology – don’t you? Forget all the nastiness and spying and manipulation … I just love being able to sit at my dining table, sorting and slicing plums, while chatting to someone I love even though she’s clear around the other side of the planet. I ended up with a little over five pounds of sliced, still firm plums, which I dumped into a large bowl along with some cinnamon sticks, a slosh of vanilla, a sprinkle of cloves, a couple cups of sugar, and about five cups of non-witblitz brandy. (You’ll find the actual recipe here.) That’s now in a couple of jars, hiding in the back of a cupboard and waiting for the holiday season.

So much for plums. Tomorrow I tackle the tomatoes. And oh, holy cow, do I have a LOT of tomatoes! Well, one tomato at a time they will be peeled and cooked, and then canned or frozen.

I’m really not good at the domestic goddess thing, generally. Or the farm wife thing. But for all that, I find this work immensely satisfying. It will be so good, in the chill dark of January, to eat food that I raised myself in our good earth under a summer sun.

Do you find yourself feeling sad as the days start to get shorter? Or do you welcome the change in seasons? Would a dop of African moonshine make you feel better about it?

Start with a gasp

I’m a shower-before-bed person. I’ve never been able to understand how a person can get between the sheets all dusty and sticky from the day, and actually sleep. Even if I haven’t done much to raise a sweat and I feel cleanish and I’m tired so I don’t bother, as I lie there I can feel the gross stickiness of skin ooze and air crud. Ugh! Gotta get up, shower it off, rub dry, and then I can sleep.

Well, sometimes. Insomnia is a thing. But that’s a topic for another post.

Returning to the topic of this post, there’s this blogger that I sort of follow, by which I mean that I receive her posts in one of my many extra email accounts – the one dedicated to efforts at self-improvement. I believe in having lots of separate accounts because I wear different mindsets when I’m trying to be a better person, or farming and gardening, or dealing with our finances, or writing, or blogging. If all my emails go into a single account the result is a mess worse than the top of my desk, and I can’t find anything and nothing gets done.

On the other hand, I don’t check all those accounts every day, and as for the self-improvement one … well, I read the email topics as they come up as notifications on my phone, but usually that’s about it. Self-improvement is something I aspire to wanting to do, but most of the time it’s hard enough just to be as good as I already am.

Anyway, this blogger – she calls herself “Dr. Stephanie” and she writes mainly about keto and fasting, and she offers various courses, none of which I’ve actually done – wrote a post about how effective humans kick-start their day. It happened to land in my inbox on a day when I was lying in bed, hating myself for lacking the energy to get the hell up and do something with whatever was left of my pathetic life … and I read it.

Most of her suggestions I’ve forgotten. They were things like “feel gratitude” and “journal”, which are lovely feel-good ideas, but in the moment didn’t feel sufficiently like the kick in the butt I was craving. The cold shower, however … Now that sounded like a punishment worthy of the name! That I deserved.

cold-showerSo I dragged my bloated, sweaty (this was back when nights were hot) almost-corpse from between the sheets and into the shower. And I turned the faucet on to cold. And wailed.

It was so horrible!

Oh. My. Word. It was so horrible.

But then a strange thing happened. First, my eyes – clenched shut against the bright light of the bathroom – popped open. Then my skin stopped cringing from the rush of icy water, and I found myself intentionally exposing places like my armpits and the back of my neck and the crack of my butt – not exactly enjoying the rush of cold, but welcoming it anyway.

She recommended five minutes. I didn’t time myself but I doubt I lasted that long. I simply rinsed all over, rotating and bending to let the water get at all my less accessible spots. I didn’t use soap or a cloth, just cold water. Then I stepped out, found a fresh towel, and scrubbed myself dry.

I felt … Amazing. Invigorated. Energized.

Fun fact: this insanity is actually good for you. This morning when I went poking through Google in search of funny free images of cold showers, I found any number of articles touting cold showers as a solution to obesity, depression, low sex drive, bad skin, low energy – in short, pretty much all the ills that might beset your fleshly self.

Plus it was kinda magical, actually, how it made me feel.

img_20190614_133157394_hdr
Irrelevant photo of a happy memory. That’s another kind of magic. And being able to enjoy a happy memory … That’s the magic I really want to flow through me.

So I did it again the next day. And the day after that. And again a few more times. Then came a day when I had to rush for an early appointment and didn’t have time, and I felt icky all day, so the next day I made sure to shower again. Every now and then I skip for a day or two … but I keep going back to it.

It is always horrible. The only way to do it is to drag myself out of bed and get under the shower before I do anything else, because giving myself time to think about it – for instance while I put in contact lenses or brush teeth – just makes it worse. And now, as the nights get cold and the early mornings are chilly and I’m waking up before dawn as often as not, it’s really, really hard. Frankly, given my record for doing really hard things, I’m not that optimistic that I’ll keep going when winter really sinks its teeth into us. But … I hope I will. I intend to try.

Because that moment when my eyes pop open? When suddenly and with no effort of will going back to sleep is not only impossible, but also not remotely desirable? Holy cow, it’s a rush like no other!

Hey there – talk to me! What’s your favorite way to mortify your flesh? Does it make you feel as good as a cold shower?

Breaking the day

Every morning when I open my eyes, the first thing I do is check my phone. The third thing I do is vow that I will stop starting every damn day this way, because the second thing I do – Reading All The Things – invariably takes hours and leaves me with a headache, an aching bladder and a bad mood.

So henceforth, starting tonight (and continuing tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow) I will leave my phone on my desk, next to my computer, so that I have to get vertical and actually leave the bedroom in order to check it. And that will automatically push it back from the single-digit events of the day – because I’m an old lady, or getting to be, and therefore can walk only so far without attending to bladderly duties even when not under extreme pressure to do so. And if I’m going to schlepp all the way from my side of the bed (the window side) to the bathroom (which is on the Hubbit’s side) I might as well take my contact lenses with me and poke them in, and if I’m at the sink anyway I’ll brush the teeth, swallow the apple cider vinegar and pop the pills. It would be nice to say that at that point it would make logical sense to take two steps sideways into the closet and get dressed, but between sticking a finger in each eye and glugging down ACV and monster pills (all supplements; I’m still off drugs – yay!) and wielding a vigorous vibrating toothbrush I usually need to sit down at that point and think about the coming day.

Which of course is another reason to leave the phone in the Woolf Den rather than next to my bed. The early morning read-while-still-horizontal is achieved without contact lenses – in other words, phone about two inches from one eye while clamping other eye shut with one finger.

The Hubbit has never photographed me in this position, but if he did I’m guessing “alluring” wouldn’t be the first adjective to come to mind.

Ermm … no, I don’t wish to discuss other positions, alluring or otherwise, that the Hubbit may or may not have photographed me in during the course of the past two decades. Now if you’ll let me get back to the point of this post…

… Sitting and thinking about my day usually involves looking at my calendar (on the phone) and to do list/s on Evernote (also on the phone), which exposes me to the immediate peril of new incoming texts, emails and news alerts – not to mention (the horror!) possibly even a phone call. Many a promising start to a day has been derailed in this way.

So anyway … Today I prized open the bleary windows to my soul and fumbled for my phone and there was a text from someone I didn’t know, who had clearly dialed the wrong number before hitting “send”. I responded helpfully. Things went downhill from there.

Morning message

Yea verily, between literacy louts and Trump-infested news held excessively close to my face (the up-close view doesn’t improve him – ask Melania) I need a better wake-me-up than my phone. Looks like I need a new charger, too. Pthah!
So what do you do to get your day off to a chirpy and cheerful start? Does it work?

There’s a black hole in my pocket

I lost a friend today because I was late. Well, maybe not a friend … but someone I liked, who I’d thought liked me, blew up in my face to lasting effect because I kept her waiting fifteen minutes.

The incident hurt surprisingly much.

In the greater context of this year’s overall shittitude it was a small thing. This wasn’t a key relationship, and while it’s possible that she’s been pretending to like me while nursing a growing grudge, it’s more likely that she was just having a bad day and I made a convenient target.

white-rabbit late
The White Rabbit – more than just a fantasy animal.

It hurts that she had a valid complaint that I seem powerless to address. I am always late, and no matter how carefully I plan, how early I set my alarm, how fast I drive from here to there, after a lifetime of trying the best I can do is damage control. When I know punctuality is especially important to someone I can usually, with considerable effort and anxiety, keep my lateness within a ten minute margin, which most seem to accept provided I call when on my way to tell them how late I’m going to be, and am sufficiently apologetic when I arrive. Everyone else is best advised to bring a book – or, if waiting annoys you, start without me – I won’t care. I wouldn’t have cared today when my formerly-friendly acquaintance canceled our arrangement. What hurt wasn’t that she got on with her day; it was the ugly and unexpected intensity of her anger, and my powerlessness to answer it.

I won’t defend a bad habit. Instead, here’s some perspective for the benefit of the model clock-watchers out there, and in particular those whose sanity is challenged by us tardies. (I know I’m not alone.)

First, we know our perpetual lateness is annoying – but as annoying as it is to you, it’s embarrassing and frustrating uto us. You see it as rudeness and lack of consideration; we see it as weakness, a defect, a failure to do something everyone else finds easy. We read books and make lists and watch TED Talks, but it’s like dancing: some people have rhythm; others, no matter how religiously they chant the “one-two-three one-two-three one-two-three” of daily life, cannot keep in step with the minute hand. For you it’s easy – you plan your day, you look at your planner, you know how time and distance and traffic fit together, and everything glides so smoothly into place you simply can’t understand how we manage to trip and stumble every damn time.

Well, allow me to enlighten you. Basically, this happens.

Soft Watch - Dali
Soft Watch, by Salvador Dali. This is any timepiece I use, at the precise moment of impact with having to be anywhere.

I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve concluded that I and people like me have hooked a heel on a loose thread in the fabric of the space-time continuum. We, too, plan our days and check our planners. We can figure out how long it will take to get from here to there, and what the time should be when we leave. We understand the different kinds of “leaving” – the kind that involves stopping what we’re doing, and the kind that involves actually driving through the gate. We know to add five or ten minutes for bumps in the road, and what we have to do before we go, and how long it will take to get our shit together. We figure all that out and then we start our day, and that old minute hand goes ambling around in its lazy circles, and some of the things on our to-do list get done and some don’t. And then our electronic planner twitters a warning … and at that exact moment a quantum cowboy blips into being, lassos our deadline, and vanishes with a resounding fart and a clatter of hooves through the black hole inside the clock on our smart phone – which at that moment typically shows five minutes to our scheduled time of arrival.

Arriving presents its own challenges. Quite often, this happens…

Escher stairs
Infinite Relativity, by M.C. Escher. How I get from here to there.

I’d like to say my new year’s resolution for 2019 is to be on time, but I already have a full tureen of bubbling resolutions to toil and trouble over before the Hubbit comes home. And while it turns out that I have two months longer than I thought I did – because he’ll likely be in rehab until well into March – that doesn’t necessarily mean anything in terms of getting from where I am now to … anywhere at all. Time and space are tricksy devils, whether you count with a clock or a calendar.

Doesn’t mean I won’t try, mind you.

There is no try

Yeah, well … seriously, Yoda, you need to shut the fuck up. Go read a book or something. And if you don’t know by now that there’s more to me than one bad habit, and that I’m worth waiting for, then … yeah. Better you leave without me.

Let’s talk. How do you relate to time, schedules and to-do lists? Whether you are a Tardy or a Timekeeper, how do you feel about the other kind of human? Do you ever secretly think Yoda is a self-righteous pain in the ass?