Living on a small holding in rural Alberta, raising kids and animals, growing stuff, creating things with fibre, and living with PTSD. See more at www.applejackcreek.com.
27 December 2013
24 December 2013
Cooking poultry the Apple Jack Creek Way
I’ve decided that I vastly prefer dealing with all the cutting and chopping and butchering of a chicken or turkey before it is cooked. We can’t eat a whole bird in a meal, and even if we could, having to face that pile of bones and meat after dinner is just depressing, in my books. Who wants to be wade through all that after having had a nice meal? But I can’t stand to let meat go to waste, and the cleanup has to happen somewhere along the way, so I came up with an alternative.
Basically, I do all the scrounging and scavenging before I cook the bird. I looked in the Old Green Cookbook (this is absolutely far and away the best cook book ever – if you like cooking real food with real ingredients, hustle over to Amazon and buy a used copy, it has *everything* in it!) and found out how to debone a chicken, then I just got out my big peasant knife and a cutting board and went to work.
The bones, wing tips, and all the other yukky bits go outside – because the chicken hasn’t been cooked, it’s okay for the outside animals to eat off the bones. They can’t have cooked bones, and the outside dogs and cats really can use some extra protein at this time of year, so the fact that I could toss them the remainder of the carcass without worry was actually a fairly big reason I started doing this. (Our outside dogs gladly scavenge what the hunters leave behind during deer season, so they are quite accustomed to raw meat. This is not the case with all dogs, so just because ours can handle it doesn’t mean yours will – consider yourself warned.)
The drumsticks come off intact (there are people here who will be happy to eat a roasted drumstick at some point) so those stay whole. The rest is just taken apart bit by bit, small pieces of meat that don’t come off cleanly get dropped into a bowl and the neater, larger pieces are laid out on a cookie sheet. Today, the drumsticks, one chicken breast, and one thigh went in the freezer for another day, and the remaining breast meat was sliced thinner and laid out flat on the cutting board.
All the small pieces then go through the meat grinder with a bit of bread crumbs (and today I tossed in some crumbs from the bottom of a Vegetable Thins cracker bag, for seasoning) and then the ground meat is mixed with some seasonings and liquid smoke to make a chicken meatloaf type mixture. This is an idea I got from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, a fascinating book from 1860, which refers to this kind of preparation as forcemeat. It is actually a really handy way to use the small bits and leftovers of meat while vastly improving the appearance – you don’t have all these tiny chunks, you have a very presentable, shapeable mass of meat that cooks up nicely and holds whatever seasonings and additions you might wish to add. With veggies or spices as appropriate, it is a really handy addition to a lot of recipes. Skim through Mrs Beeton’s book, and you’ll get plenty of ideas!
What I do with it when I’m preparing poultry is to ball up the forcemeat and pack it into the centre of the chicken breast, which is then folded around it. If necessary, some big skewers will hold it all in place, or I could tie it with butcher’s twine and make a roll. Today, it all held together nicely by itself so I plunked it into a Corningware dish, put a bit of olive oil on the breast meat so it won’t get too dry, sprinkled everything with poultry spices, seasoning salt, and ground pepper, and it’ll go in the oven tomorrow for roasting.
See? Now when it’s time for dinner there’ll be a lovely chicken roll, easy to slice and serve, and when it’s time for clean up, the Corningware can go straight into the dishwasher, the leftovers can be sliced and put into Tupperware, and that’ll be it.
And today, the dogs and cats are having a Christmas Eve feast of fresh, farm raised chicken. Everybody’s happy!
19 December 2013
What does your Brave Girl look like?
My counsellor asked me that this week.
“What does your Brave Girl look like?”
I thought for a minute.
She has a sword in her hand, held up high. And a leather shield … embossed with the horse of Rohan.
Then I knew.
She looks like Eowyn.
Eowyn, who faced the Nazgul king and said NO.
Eowyn, who was wounded, and spent a long time in the Houses of Healing.
Eowyn, who became well at last when she opened her heart to the love that was offered.
Yes, that is what my Brave Girl looks like.
There’s a shawl design in the making now, for her: it will be called Shieldmaiden’s Courage.
It’ll be awhile … it’s big.
15 December 2013
12 December 2013
When the brain is on overdrive
Lately, my brain is on overdrive: scattered, frazzled, hard to focus on anything, trouble remembering things, the usual. After effects from the relapse, I am sure.
My family have been wonderful about helping out – The Boy has done chores for me so I can stay inside and rest, and everyone’s tried hard to help me feel better. I appreciate all their efforts, very much.
I’ve been doing my fibre arts work as a coping strategy: I can’t focus well, though, so I have a bunch of projects on the go and I keep switching from one to another, it’s like being in kindergarten and going from one station to the next! I have a sock in progress out of some stunning yarn from Mayhem and Chaos, the Elizabeth Zimmerman sweater, which is now getting a lace border added to the hem, some mittens, and a hat that I am inventing as I go. Oh, and some merino/silk on a spindle, because, hey, merino and silk makes any day better, much the same way a cup of tea improves even the worst day at least a little bit.
I was at a knitting party last night, working on the hat, and I explained that I had been feeling very scatterbrained and so although I’d looked at a bunch of patterns and even started one or two of them, following a pattern just wasn’t gonna happen so I had to make something up myself.
It was pointed out to me that for most people, feeling scatterbrained means they need to follow a pattern, not that they immediately go off and design something brand new right out of their heads.
Yep, I have a weird brain. :)
But it’s a cool pattern, I think it’s gonna work well. Yes, I’ll publish it when I’m done … if it really does work out as planned. I’ve decided to call it Ekaterin, for Ekaterin Vorsoisson Vorkosigan, from the fantastic universe created by Lois McMaster Bujold. It seems like the kind of hat she’d wear.
Linen stitch. Integrated i-cord. Variegated hand dyed yarn. I think it’ll work.
ETA It’s posted on Ravelry now!
09 December 2013
Crazy Bird Lady
01 December 2013
An online friend recently got a couple of new birdies, and as I read her posts about them I kept thinking … I miss having a bird. I have had finches and budgies in the past, and I always thought they were sorta like decorations only they moved and had a bit of a personality. The small parrot family birds, though … way more than decorations! Little packages of personality and charm and chirp.
So I asked my husband one night if he’d care if I got a bird. He said as long as it stayed in the south wing (which is ‘my’ part of the house) he didn’t care. (Now, when he found out today that I actually DID get birds, he does not remember the conversation … I think he didn’t think I was serious, and just kinda blew it off. Oh well, I did ask!)
Right. So I had permission (well, I thought I did … now I will just have to earn forgiveness), the next step was information. I read about different birds on the web. I messaged my friend with the new birds, and she gave me lots of practical information and sent me links to more web pages. Then I posted on Kijiji (like Craigslist) that I was looking for a bird.
Eventually, I heard from a lady who had two male lovebirds, over 10 years old (they live 10-20 years, so these are senior birds) that she’d inherited from her mother and she was thinking they’d be happier elsewhere. Friendly guys, if territorial about their cage, and they came with everything I’d need. Deal! I went and picked them up today.
They are Kiwi and Melon - Kiwi is obviously the green one, Melon is blue with a cantaloupe coloured forehead.
The house they came from apparently had indoor smokers … everything smelled awfully of smoke, so I got rid of the rope perches, washed everything, put in natural wood perches from outside, and wrapped up a couple of the wooden toys in newspaper, if the stink goes away, then I can use them again. They’ve been on a seed-only diet, so it’ll take some time to transition them to healthier food, they don’t even seem to recognize snap peas or cut up grapes as being edible, but I am sure they will figure it out eventually.
They spent a bunch of time climbing the bars of the cage and cheeping loudly, they are now settled on a perch together and preening, making the occasional chirp. When they get going they are LOUD BIRDS but hopefully once they calm down and get the hang of some of the enrichment toys I plan for them (mostly ‘foraging for food by ripping apart packages with food hidden inside’ type things) I suspect they will be happier.
For the next bit they have to just stay in the cage, everyone has to get used to the change … but they are right beside my chair here and looking out at me and I am happy. :)
And for my mom, who worries about zoonotic illnesses, handwashing and clean cages are important to reduce trasmission risk – and they’re no riskier than the chickens we have outside. :)
As for why I felt like birds would be good for me right now … my friend with the new birds put it really well: “Birds need things humans need. And its easy to forget for both. We need sun, and air, we need water both for drinking and bathing. We need nutritious food AND treats. We need to be willing to try new things. And we need exercise and playtime. And sleep. I think when humans and birds have those things they are both much happier. And birds have no other purpose but to live and play. You don't have a 'working bird'. Birds are not 'mousers'. They are for the living.”
I’m hoping Kiwi and Melon can teach me something about living.
30 November 2013
I have had a rough time over the last little while.
I was carrying on in what seemed like a perfectly normal fashion … doing chores once a day (love the new feeders The Boy made, one top up per day is enough to keep everyone fed!), keeping up with the online store, doing my knitting projects, working on the new book … just … you know, living and staying within my limits, not pushing anything too hard.
Then I woke up one morning last week a little bit later than usual, and headed out to do chores without first eating breakfast.
I came in after feeding the animals, and just didn’t want to eat yet. Lunch came and went, I wasn’t hungry.
I made supper for everyone … but I wasn’t feeling up to table conversation so I went in the other room and came back just to do cleanup.
I went to bed early. I hadn’t eaten all day. I knew something was not right.
The next day, I did the same thing. I realized that I could hear Scared Girl in my head, screaming “Don’t stop working, whatever you do, KEEP MOVING!”. I cleaned, I did laundry, I made meals that I did not eat. I made it another full day with no food. I did drink a glass of milk and two small glasses of water. I’d had nothing else for two days and just couldn’t stand the thought of eating, even though I was hungry. Scared Girl wouldn’t let me go near food. Or ask for help. Or slow down.
I went to bed early again. I was miserable. Everyone knew it. They tried to stay out of my way, and I just felt worse.
The third morning, I still couldn’t eat. I was doing every job I could think of, yet feeling completely at loose ends, and utterly terrified for no reason I could identify. The Reluctant Farmer said, “You are safe here. It’s okay.” I yelled at him and said that it wasn’t safe, he was lying, it’s NEVER safe. He actually took it all very calmly, which is much to his credit. I was way over the deep end by then.
Finally, after everyone else had eaten dinner and everything was cleared up and put away … I heated a small plate of spaghetti and slowly, carefully, managed to take a bite.
It was far more difficult than it should have been to put that first bite to my mouth and taste the food. But once I got started, I was able to finish the whole serving … and I reheated some more and ate that too. Things began to look up when I was no longer starving.
I talked to the Reluctant Farmer, a little bit. It was hard. My words would not come. He was very kind and supportive.
I slept. I rested. I had no energy.
I am slowly regaining my strength, but I do not really know what happened to knock me on my backside so thoroughly. It was like the old stuff just overwhelmed me out of the blue, and I was back in the nightmare.
I will see my counsellor in a few days and we’ll see what we can sort out. In the meantime, I am doing only the bare minimum, and resting. My mind is thoroughly scattered, but I’m at least taking care of myself now.
I’m calling it a relapse, for lack of any better phrase. Something just … caught me, pulled me under, and it took a lot of patience, support and strength of will to choose to come back out.
It goes to show that I still have a ways to go to get to full healing, I suppose. For all the breakthroughs in my understanding, for all the insight I’ve gained, all the compassion and forgiveness and empathy I have found … my biochemistry is still fragile, and without proper care and attention, I can be very unwell in very short order.
Hopefully with the help of my counsellor we can figure out how to get me on more of an even keel … maybe what I thought was “not doing too much” was, in fact, more than I can handle. Maybe there was some small triggering phrase or event that tripped me up and I didn’t notice because the reaction was delayed. Maybe we can defuse those triggers, find those boundaries, and stabilize things some more.
At least now, I recognize what’s happening. Even in the middle of it all, I knew I was terrified – which was a step forward. Before I didn’t recognize the fear, I thought I was just angry about being such an inadequate human being. This time, I heard the fear – and although I couldn’t conquer it as readily as I would have liked, in the end, I *did* choose to step towards the light, and I did choose to ask for and accept help. It was really hard, but I did it.
So why write this post, and tell everyone about something so embarassing, so frightening?
Because I have made a commitment to speak honestly about my journey out of the darkness that is PTSD – for the sake of others who walk this road, or who walk alongside someone travelling this road. I want people to understand that even when someone seems to be doing really well, even after they have made the connections and come to grips with the past and found peace with all that happened, there are still obstacles wired into the psyche and the body that can trip you up with no warning. That healing from trauma is a lot more than just “finding closure” or “making peace with the past” – that even after you have thought and talked and written your way through the old mess, the hard-wired, deeply conditioned responses to (frequently invisible) triggers are still there, and those take longer to undo.
I didn’t go over the edge because of anything I was *thinking* … thinking wasn’t even involved. I just … reacted. To something. I have an idea what it might have been, but honestly, even if I’m right in identifying the trigger, it was just an ordinary, every day kind of thing that to anyone else would have been utterly unremarkable.
Yet my mind reacted to it like the dogs to Pavlov’s bell.
In time, and with hard work, we can get that response deconditioned, but oi. In the meantime … one foot after another on this road to healing. I know where I’m headed, and I know I’ll get there. With help, and support, and hard work.
I’m okay now, really. But I felt compelled to write about what happened, because I have chosen not to hide anymore.
Yes, I’m wounded … but I am healing. Verb. Active process. Still ongoing.
Thank you for bearing witness to my journey.
19 November 2013
I had counselling today.
I got some good ideas.
I have a new strategy.
I know I need to ‘open the door’ to let the old memories come up, and let the old feelings be expressed, and then send them on their way. PTSD is, in lots of ways, what happens when feelings aren’t able to be expressed at the time (because it wasn’t safe, there wasn’t time, etc.) .. and until those feelings have their moment in the spotlight, their chance to say “see me, hear me, let me be..” they cannot go on to peacefulness, but stay stuck, and causing problems.
So, I need to let the old stuff surface.
The thing is, I can’t bring it all up at once. It would be overwhelming and I would end up in Ponoka (the town in our province where the big Mental Hospital is, it’s where you get sent if you are REALLY CRAZY).
So I need to let the old stuff out a little at a time. How do I do that?
Today we decided on a strategy.
I will take my book - Just Keep Knitting - which is the story of … well, my story. Then I will use random.org to pick a page at random and then I will write about THAT part of the story in my journal. But I must write from the Third Person perspective, the Observer, so that I do not get caught in the old story, but I can stand back, and “see it”, witness it, be there to say “I SEE THAT THIS HAPPENED”.
And then I will say, “That day, on that page of the story, it was sad.”
Because really, all of that story was sad.
And when I can find the sadness, the sorrow, that is but one step away from healing.
I can do sorrow. I can do sadness. I know these feelings. They are familiar and comfortable - if painful. They are not fear, not anger, not frustration … just … sadness.
Because really, it was a sad story. It could have gone so differently. It could have been better. It could have been full of grace, full of forgiveness, full of compassion. But it wasn’t, and that is sad.
And I can be sad. And then, when I am done being sad, I can heal.
And so this is what I will be doing next. But only one page per week. No more, or I may overwhelm my coping skills.
So, this is what I will be doing.
And I know you will all be with me, holding my hands, making sure I do not fall, reminding me that NOW in THIS MOMENT I am safe, and loved, and treasured for WHO I AM.
You are part of my healing journey.
Thank you all for being here for me.
18 November 2013
Yesterday, I attended another fantastic yoga and journal writing workshop with Angela Weins of Yoga Inner Spirit.
Today, I am working on my next book – More Beautiful Than Before, an exploration of fibre arts and journalling for self-expression and emotional healing.
Because you see, at the workshop, as I anticipated, things got shaken loose … and I am inspired to work and to write.
Here is a small excerpt from the writing I did … and which will be in the next book, too, apparently.
Openness, the card says.
As I began today, I prayed “Show me. Show me what it is that needs to come up to the surface, whatever it is that is lying behind the locked door of memory and fear.”
One must open the door.
Allow the memories to surface – allow the feelings their expression. Openness. Not the slamming, closing door, the angry burst of sound as the door hits the frame. Openness is the wind blowing the door open, letting the crystal snowflakes drift across the floor.
Openness is being willing. Being willing to see where things go – to open your arms and embrace the sky. To open your heart and embrace your life. Even if your life is not the way you had envisioned it. When you are open, you allow the Universe to bring change to your world … and what Has Been … it’s uncomfortable. Constrained. Unhealthy.
Openness. Let the wind blow open the door of your soul and deliver tiny crystalline gifts to your heart.
11 November 2013
I am a pacifist for many reasons.
War is wasteful – of lives, of resources. Politicians send thousands of men and women into battle … and those who decide that our soldiers need to fight will not, themselves, be on the battlefield like the kings of old. They will sit safely ensconced behind oak desks and order men and women into strange lands to kill other people, to dodge IEDs, to watch for treachery among the civilians they are supposed to be protecting, to be on guard every moment of every day.
And then we bring those soldiers back, and expect them to go back to home and hearth and adjust.
More and more, those soldiers cannot adjust. It’s always been hard – “battle fatigue” was identified centuries ago – but modern warfare seems to be taking an even greater toll on our soldiers. They don’t just march out to a big open field and line up against the enemy for a day or two of living hell: now the enemy could be around any street corner, could be a woman with a stroller, a bomb on a deserted road. There is no “eve of battle” … the war goes on and on and on, every moment of every day.
Is it any wonder that when they come home they cannot unwind? That the nightmares deprive them of rest? That they cannot let their guard down enough to love their families and children freely? That the suffering and pain drive many to suicide?
I live with a relatively mild version of PTSD – and it has turned my world upside down.
Canada is making efforts to care for our soldiers (and our police officers, who, more and more, are dealing with the kinds of violence and trauma that lead to mental health crises). Our efforts are not always successful, of course, but there is at least official recognition of the “human cost of military operations”. Even the military admits, however, that their resources are overstretched: new clinics have been set up to address Operational Stress Injury, but people still have to wait for help, and they suffer while they wait.
There is more awareness about PTSD and Operational Stress Injury in the general public, but we still have a long way to go. People are still told to “suck it up” to “stop being a wuss” to “get over it already”. Nobody would ever say that to someone who needed physiotherapy to get an injured leg back to full functionality, but we haven’t quite gotten to the place where everyone recognizes that the brain – like any other part of the body – may be injured, and need treatment and therapy to heal. Like any other part of the body, healing may be complete … or not. Someone might be left with a limp after having a leg shot or crushed or broken. A mind might be left with a limp, too – situations or smells or sounds that trigger unavoidable (and probably embarassing) overreactions.
Be kind. You have no idea what kind of battle another is fighting inside their mind – whether the trauma they lived through was combat, a horrible accident, abuse, or a close call with death. It hurts. Help them heal.
And since it is Remembrance Day …
Yes, wear your poppy for remembrance, and work for peace. But please, don’t thank our soldiers for “fighting for our freedom”.
Think back over your history lessons …
The War of 1812: Okay, yup, our borders were threatened. It happened because we were a British Colony, and the only way the US could strike at Britain was through us, but hey, we were in the way, and we got shot at. We shot back. Of course at the time we weren’t even a country, and didn’t have our own military, so really, this was a battle between the US and Britain. No “Canadian Military” fought in this war. There wasn’t a Canadian Military then. It went on for a couple of years and in the end, the borders were put right back where they had been at the start.
Now, we did have our own army by the time World War I came about. Were our freedoms threatened by anyone in WWI? (World War I was primarily about imperialism, trade, and power). Nope, we joined because we were legally bound to help Britain. But it wasn’t about us or our freedoms. It was about our obligation to help political allies.
Okay, but WWII … the Holocaust! Yes, the Holocaust was an evil that needed to be stopped: but the war began out of the ashes of the first war. The ‘war guilt’ clause of the Treaty of Versailles created many of the conditions for the second war … and once again we had nationalism, economics, and the desire for military power in play. The racism came in later. (It hasn’t gone away, either – “ethnic cleansing” still happens: sometimes we step in, and sometimes we don’t.)
Korea? The Gulf War? Afghanistan? Iraq? Libya?
None of this has had anything to do with Canadian freedoms. So let’s stop saying it, shall we? Our freedoms were negotiated by – heaven help us – politicians.
The Canadian military does plenty for Canadians: the Red River Flood, the Ice Storm, the BC Fires. And they participate in peacekeeping missions … which are not always very much about peace, but are one way of helping to make the world a better place.
Let’s thank them for what they really do, and make sure they never actually have to fight for our freedom.
Let’s see if we can make sure they never have to fight at all.
01 November 2013
It's the first day of hunting season here - which means I'll be hearing the noise of gunshots for the next month, and worrying about my guardian dogs. They are usually pretty good about staying home near the sheep but they do wander off into the Crown land at the corner (which is open for hunting), so I am always a bit anxious during November lest someone not be sufficiently cautious with their aim. I have no problem with people taking deer for their freezers, don't get me wrong, but not everyone is as careful as one might hope … I worry about having someone knocking on my door for first aid because someone wasn't clear on their target before shooting or some such thing. People are injured every year - though not close to us, so far.
All the snow we had last week has melted away, which is a little unusual for this time of year but not really strange - we usually have snow before Halloween, and sometimes it stays, sometimes not. We do need a good solid snow pack or we have drought in the following year, so hopefully the snow will start up soon ... though I have to say it's nice to have it not be so cold yet.
I have a fire going in the woodstove, heating water for tea and warming the house. A friend had some land cleared last year and had a bunch of trees down, so yesterday he and The Boy brought a pickup load full of long logs for The Reluctant Farmer to chop into firewood ... that'll top up our existing wood pile and see us well through the winter, even with both stoves going frequently. Yay! Because firewood is free and natural gas is not, we try to keep the fires going in the south wing every day (where we spend most of our time) and then in the north wing in the evenings, to warm the bedrooms for the night. It takes a big dent out of the heating bill and is cheery to boot.
Of course this means it’s nearly time to put the bubblewrap on the windows, and start closing the drapes every evening to keep the warmth inside.
Today, though, it’s still pretty nice outdoors, and I have other things to work on: I am doing my “final exam” for my first aid instructor course this weekend (teaching a standard first aid class with another instructor) so I have some final preparation to do.
I’d best get back to it, I suppose … now that the tea is ready.
24 October 2013
Getting my brain to focus these days is like trying to do obedience training with a beagle in the midst of a field full of rabbits.
18 October 2013
The new sheep feeder
Today was the first test of the new sheep feeder, designed by me but built mostly by The Boy (I did help a little).
The prototype was built earlier in the summer, as I mentioned here. We did modify things a little: instead of cutting the hog panel in half, we bent it, so that if you look at it from the side it makes sort of an L shape, with the long side of the L coming off at an angle. This way the feeder is deeper and can hold more hay – the smallest squares of wire are along the bottom (and yes, some hay will fall through but they will eat it off the ground under the feeder … if it becomes a problem I can always lay boards in there, as well), and then the larger squares are up on the angled piece where the sheep poke their noses through to get the hay.
I’m hoping that because of the height of the feeder and the way it angles down, they will stop pushing their heads all the way through the wire squares, which is seriously annoying (and not good for either the sheep or the feeder). The feeder looks like it’s taller at one end than the other, and it is, but it’s level in the larger scheme of things … the pasture itself is on a bit of a slant. We went with level as opposed to ‘even height from the ground’ so that one end is closer to the ground than the other, which will make it easier for sheep of different heights to eat comfortably.
There’s still a bit more to do out there – those posts leaning up at the end are going to be needed for fence repair and to get the cow’s feeder built – Sasha is out on a tether munching the long grass in the ditch this afternoon, she’s easy to lead out to other grass, so she will be fed that way for a while longer. The grass is free (hay is not!) and she’s portable, so that just makes good sense. Plus it makes her easier to catch when she knows that “most of the time when the person puts that long leash thing on my halter I get to go out and eat all the grass I want”.
Rolling a couple of bales over (with a lot of help from The Boy, whew those are heavy bales!) and feeding everyone and picking up a few things was all I had energy for today. But, I had energy for that, and I did it, and so yay.
Oh, did you notice the bales are all up by the feeders? We didn’t have to move them! My Hay Farmer was able to drive the truck right up the hill and drop the bales where we needed them. Yippee!
Now I can do some indoor work on the computer, which is tiring to the mind but not the body. Oh, but first I need to call the butcher and arrange for some of those sheep to be turned into lamb meat – anyone want some? :)
13 October 2013
Getting ready for the snow
Before we know it, the snow is gonna be here. The pressure to get the summer jobs finished is now at maximum.
I split a pile of wood today, and then stacked it all (we really really needed that done - and the splitter is borrowed from a neighbour so I had to do it in one go, and then send it back).
This is what I did:
I am very happy with the new wood shed. Much tidier than what we had before, and it was pretty easy to build - those are giant long fence posts (which I got by accident, I didn't think to specify length when I ordered them) with scrap wood for the ends and a piece of metal roofing on the top. We did have to stand on something to pound in the posts, but the resulting structure is tall enough that I can stand in it. There are pallets on the bottom, to keep the wood up off the ground, as well as one in front so you can stand on that to get a load to take inside. The kindling goes in rubbermaid buckets that are kept outside – there’s bits of wood and bark all over the ground after splitting, I will ask the Small People to pick that up when they are here next, it’s a good job for people who start off closer to the ground than I do.
The Boy was outside working, so after I came in for lunch, I went back and helped him get finished. We now have finished sheep feeders, and the steps to securing the winter pasture are about 75% done, maybe more. All that's left is to get a gate mounted, so that the barnyard can be locked off from the rest of the pastures, make a feeder for the cow (that's easier than the sheep feeders, just needs a couple of posts and some existing panels and pieces of wood attached in different places than they currently are), and clean up of the barn and barnyard (i.e. shoveling and raking, and moving stuff around).
Then we have hay to be delivered and that'll need to be moved from where it gets dropped off, and the water trough will need to be put into it’s winter box (there is a lid that covers half of the trough, keeping the evaporation down). If I get organized enough, I’d like to set up a recirculating heat reservoir, but I don’t know if that’s gonna happen in time. Hmm, I’m not actually sure we have a working trough heater, either – need to check on that too.
The plan, of course, was to have a lot of this done earlier in the summer, but plans have a way of just doing their own thing and so … well, here we are. Further ahead than in many other years, thankfully, but we still have a few more important jobs to finish up before the snow comes. I still remember one October when it snowed and I said “oh well, that’ll melt in a couple of days” … and it didn’t melt. That was the start of winter that year! So, I try to be ready by the end of September if possible, mid October at the latest … just in case Mother Nature decides to pull a fast one on me again.
We’re not quite there … but we’re close. Whew.
07 October 2013
Weaving with bamboo and organic cotton
I have some lovely bamboo here in a nice bright green, and I thought it would be great woven up into some baby blankets or something similar. I ordered some organic cotton to go with it, and wound my warp bouts this morning.
I didn’t have enough yarn to do the full width for a blanket, so I warped up what I did have and pondered a little. It is about 25” in the reed, which will shrink down by 10-15% once it’s off the loom and washed, so the width is just about right for a placemat. I leafed through the weaving drafts I have printed out by the loom, and found this one, from LeClerc, for a tea towel. The fabric is a nice texture, and it really shows off the different threads nicely … plus the treadling is easy.
Note for other weavers: I do the tie-up so that I can “dance the treadles” – left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. In this draft, I tie up as shown, but to treadles 4,2,3,1: that way the treadling is 1-3-1 (left-right-left) and then 2-4-2 (right-left-right). It makes knowing where your feet are on the treadles a lot easier: I can tip my foot sideways a little to feel if I’m on the outermost treadle or if there’s another one next to my foot, which makes confirming that I’m on the right lever a very quick, tactile thing. I’ve been weaving a 1-2-3-4 twill lately, so I have to concentrate a little to keep the alternating pattern on this one, my feet automatically want to move across to the next treadle after each throw, so being able to check quickly without bending over or having to raise the shed and then look to see if it’s right is a big bonus.
Here’s a picture of the first sample piece:
I put on around 12-15 feet of warp, and each placemat takes one full 50 gram ball of the cotton. I have ten of those, so I should be able to weave most of them on the warp I have. I may do a set of six placemats and then a few longer pieces (table runners, centre pieces, tea towels, something like that) if I get bored, and I think I should have some variety for the craft show … which is coming up soon, so I have to get this weaving underway!
I wasn’t planning to head back to the loom, but maybe I will do just a little more. It’s such enjoyable “work”!
04 October 2013
The Next Step: self-care
At my counselling session earlier this week, we talked about Scared Girl and Selfish Girl and Mean Girl and the rest of the crew. I realized that Scared Girl’s been in charge for a long time: we’ve been in our own little “war on terror”, and the one best suited to the Generalship in a war like that would, of course, be Scared Girl, who is always on watch, always on guard, always ready to call up Mean Girl to bully the recalcitrant (whether self or other) into doing what is necessary to keep us safe.
And, since it wasn’t safe to express my own needs, Selfish Girl was shoved under the bed and told to hide. “Don’t you dare poke your head out from under there”, said Scared Girl, “or he will get mad and hurt us more. Just stay there and be very, very quiet.” And Mean Girl was put in charge of shoving Scared Girl back under that bed any time she made a move. “Needing things is bad,” Mean Girl would say. “You are being self-centered and rude. Suck it up, Sunshine.”
And so Selfish Girl hid under the bed and stayed very, very quiet. So quiet, in fact, that it became impossible to ever know what I might actually need – because saying “I need this” is Selfish Girl’s job … and she was in hiding. So I couldn’t hear my body saying “I need to rest”, I couldn’t hear my spirit saying “I am lonely and I need someone to care about me”, I couldn’t hear my heart saying “I am broken and hurting and I need to be comforted”. We’re not talking about the hissy fit, whining, overwrought, selfish sort of fussing, but true, honest, real needs. Couldn’t hear them. Didn’t know I needed anything. Didn’t take steps to meet those needs. And thus I got flattened when eventually, from her little spot under the bed, Selfish Girl silently grabbed the rug and yanked so I’d fall on my butt and have no choice but to start listening.
I still have a hard time hearing those needs. It’s hard for me to recognize “tired” – I always think it’s “laziness”. It’s sometimes hard for me to recognize hunger – it’s easier to skip meals and just not pay attention to what my body is saying. Taking the time to make good food for myself seems … overindulgent. Wasteful. Shameful, somehow.
A lot of people dealing with trauma learn to be kind to themselves early on in the healing process. I did a little bit – at the beginning I was so knocked out that I had to rest more, I simply couldn’t do anything else. Then I did the hard work of remembering my story, working through the memories and processing the narrative through the writing of Just Keep Knitting. But once that was done, I shoved Selfish Girl back under the bed and returned to my old bad habits, abandoning therapy for a whole year and trying to pretend I was “all better”. Yeah, it didn’t work.
I’ve been working hard in therapy again, and the next order of business is not so much work as rest. My body is still reeling from the effects of long-term overdoses of stress hormones: I was walking on wounds that never seemed to slow me down* for oh, about sixteen years … but all that time, I was flooding my body with adrenaline and all the associated chemicals that are necessary in an emergency – and toxic in chronic doses.
The way to detoxify involves taking care of myself. And this is the last, the absolute last thing, I want to do.
I know. It sounds stupid. It sounds like I am being an over-dramatic martyr queen or something. But the truth is, I am really bad at looking after myself. I don’t like doing it. It scares the crap out of me, and so I resist it with all I’ve got. I can feel myself pushing away from the idea, saying “no, no, that’s not good, that’s dangerous, we’ll get in trouble!”
Scared Girl still wants to be in charge, you see. She’s the General of my little army and we are *at war*, dammit. Well, she thinks so. When the memo arrived that told her the war was over, she shredded it and said “NO! It will NEVER be safe! There is no peace!” She’s been offered an honourable discharge, full pension, benefits, heck, she can even stay on as a contractor … she just doesn’t need to be in the office full-time anymore. Really. On-call is more than sufficient (it’s not like her response time is ever going to be very long – she’s honed her skills over a good chunk of my adult life, and they aren’t going to get rusty, much as she fears they will.) Scared Girl is not happy about her forced retirement. She keeps trying to sneak in and give orders like she always has.
But it’s time for Selfish Girl to come out from under the bed and have her say – we really do require her input after all these years of silence. She’s poked her nose out a little ways, but she’s not very comfortable with this whole idea yet, because, well, she’s been under that bed for a long time. And Scared Girl keeps saying she really ought to stay under there, because it isn’t safe to come out, and Mean Girl reinforces this by repeating the old mantra about how “everyone else’s needs must always come before our own, or else we are sinful, self-centered, greedy, nasty people who deserve punishment.”
My task, according to my counsellor, is to coax Selfish Girl out from under the bed, remind Mean Girl that Jesus said we are to treat others as kindly as we treat ourselves and thus we need to treat ourselves just as kindly as we treat others, and oh yes, keep Scared Girl from coming back to run the show.
And how do I do this?
I have to be good to myself. I have been ordered to be kind to myself.
This is not going to be easy, but I am sick of being sick – I’m terrified of doing this, but I have to try.
I am now following a regimen of kindness and rest, based on the treatments for adrenal fatigue. Admittedly this is not a diagnosis that most GPs are comfortable with, but the general idea is fairly sound and the treatment protocol is reasonable whether you agree with the underlying hypothesis or not. Peer reviewed scientific studies have shown that the hypothalamic-pituitary axis is mucked up in people with PTSD – some have too much cortisol, some too little, but basically, it gets out of whack, and when it’s out of whack, a bunch of physical symptoms happen … and to fix it, you have to make life easier for the stress response in the body. That’s what the treatment for adrenal fatigue is all about.
The short version of the treatment strategy for someone as far down the path as I am looks like this:
- eat every 2 hours: high protein, low sugar, no caffeine, no junk / processed food
low blood sugar stresses the body: keeping blood sugar levels stable says “the environment is safe”
- exercise 1-3 times per week, just 5-20 minutes of gentle exercise, nothing strenuous
exercise is good for you, but only when it does not exhaust you: at this stage of the game, strenuous exercise would be interpreted by my body as ‘danger’, so only gentle exercise is allowed
- sleep at least 8 hours per night
using herbal sleep aids as needed
- take two 10-15 minute rest breaks during the day
this is not as hard for me, as I am not holding down a full time job, but I do have to remember to stop and rest
- take appropriate supplements to encourage the body to reset
for me, this is a stress-formula multivitamin, as well as hops and St John’s Wort
- drink tea, all day, every day
green tea is especially healthy
- practice deep breathing
shallow breaths say “worry!”, deep breaths say “safety”
- eliminate environmental toxins
a stressed body cannot cope with extra burdens – we don’t have many to eliminate, but there are a few things to clear out
- make recovery a priority, do not overbook
learn to say “this is all I can do today” and stick with that
So, that’s the new strategy. It’s hard work. Stopping to eat (mindfully, purposefully) every two hours, resting, purposefully balancing my chores with my energy … it’s hard for me.
But I’m trying. Because as terrifying as this is, things have to change.
Gotta go, it’s time to eat again.
10 September 2013
Dealing with the Mean Girl Inside
I had a long evening a little bit ago, talking the Princess Girl down from another of her Emotional Catastophes. Goodness, that poor child has such Big Feelings about everything! However, I understand better than I would have in the past: I live with Big Feelings all the time now, and have, lucky for her, been learning new coping skills that I can share. :)
We discussed how to talk to “the Selfish Whiny Girl inside” and the “Mean Girl who says awful things to you about yourself”. You see, it’s possible to say, “Listen here, Selfish Girl, you are whining. You do not NEEEEEED the thing you are fussing about and we are NOT going to throw a hissy fit because that would be unkind and we will just feel guilty afterwards. You need to go in the corner and stop your whining.” You can say, “Mean Girl, we do NOT talk to anyone that way - not even ourselves! You be quiet now.” And you just keep telling them to be quiet and sit down until they obey.
Most of us grownups also know the Inadquate, Not Measuring Up Girl … she shows up to tell you how useless you are, and before you know it, the Scared Girl is there shouting, “We CAN’T be less than perfect! Someone will be angry and it won’t be safe! hurry, hurry, try harder!” and then Mean Girl shows up saying “you insert-nasty-words-here … you are never good enough … insert-self-deprecation-and-beat-up-words-here…”
And before you know it you have a big ol’ nasty party in your head.
And they ALL need to be told to get to their corners and behave.
Because we sometimes need these Girls - but ONLY when we REALLY need them. We need the Selfish Girl to protect us from people who will use us up with no regard to our feelings or needs – then it’s her job to come out and say “Hey, I need to be heard, I need this and you need to pay attention to me right now!” If we truly ARE NOT trying, then it’s okay for the Inadequate Girl to say “you know, we could do better if we gave this a little more oomph.” And if we are truly in danger, we need Scared Girl to say “RUN! RUN! RUN!” and if we are being bullied, we need that Mean Girl to come out and tell other people to buzz off in no uncertain terms.
But we don’t need those voices turned in on ourselves in destructive ways.
It turns out that the simple step of asking the Girls if the situation really warrants their involvement seems to help.
“Is that something we need, or just something we want? Right, we’re just whining and being unfair to the people around us. Quiet down now, Selfish Girl.”
“Am I doing my best? Yes? Well then, Inadequate Girl, you be quiet - all anyone can do is their best.”
“Is this situation actually dangerous? No? Well, then, Scared Girl, thank you but your input is not needed right now.”
“Do we EVER speak to ANYONE in that kind of language? No. Right. So Mean Girl, you need to apologize and behave.”
It sounds silly but it really works.
I told the Princess Girl that I knew about talking to these ‘Girls Inside’ from dealing with my PTSD, and explained that mostly I have a Scared Girl I need to talk to. That when I start acting strange, it’s because the Scared Girl inside me is screaming that we need to HIDE RUN DO THE THINGS THAT MAKE US SAFE! And I have to tell that Scared Girl that the things she wants me to do don’t help, they make it worse, and we really are safe and she needs to just take a few deep breaths and stop shouting. Of course, I explained all this with the full play-acting experience of me speaking sternly to the Scared Girl and the Scared Girl cowering and squeezing her eyes shut and stomping her foot and covering her ears and saying “NO NO IT’S NOT SAFE WE HAVE TO RUN AND HIDE AND ACT ALL WEIRD THAT IS HOW WE STAY SAFE!” I startled the Princess Girl, but I could see that she could relate to having such Big Feelings about things.
I explained my Big Feelings, the ones that come with my PTSD, are like when you have a nightmare and you wake up but you are still scared even though the lights are on and you know you are safe, you are still shaking and terrified: my nightmare happened in real life, and the scared from that time still comes to me, and that’s what is happening when I act so strange: my Scared Girl is shouting that we are not safe and we need to do these weird things because then we will be okay.
“I didn’t know all that,” she said, big tears in her eyes. “Is there anything I can do to help when you get like that?”
Bless her. Such a loving heart that girl has.
I said that she was very, very kind and I appreciated it very much. I suggested that when I start acting all weird (best description for it, at her age – everyone in the household recognizes it when it starts, it looks a lot like grumpy, but mostly I think it’s recognizable at a visceral level as ‘stay clear of this person, they are volatile’) … when she sees that, she can say “Hey, it’s okay, you really ARE safe now” … and then just get out of the way, in case I’m not in a place where I can hear, but it would at least be a good try and I wouldn’t get mad if she said it. :)
She promised to do that. Such a sweet kid. And then she went to bed, calm and collected, with new coping techniques.
Her brother overheard the conversation and told me that he has a Scared Kid inside sometimes, and he thought the way I suggested talking to the Scared Kid might be really helpful.
Yay for increased return on investment for therapy: sharing what I learned with others! Win all around!
05 September 2013
This is not a gadget.
The Reluctant Farmer decided that purchasing a robotic floor cleaner would be a good investment in our relationship. I was skeptical, I mean, I ought to be doing the floors myself. It’s expensive. It’s a gadget. Surely a broom and a mop …
Well, the broom and mop haven’t really been keeping up very well, since they are powered by me. And I haven’t got a lot of extra juice these days. So I accepted his generous offer, and today, the Braava 380T arrived in the mail. A little square device, a bit smaller than those countertop sandwich makers that were popular in the 90s, it was super easy to set up. Batteries for the little cube that it uses to assist with navigation were even included in the box!
Now, I wasn’t really sure how well this thing would work. Obviously, I figured it would be better than what I was doing – sweeping with a broom every other day or so and mopping with either a steam mop or a sponge mop about once a week – but I really wasn’t sure how it would work on our floors. We have wide plank hardwood in the south wing (which is badly scratched and dinged up and needs to be sanded and refinished, but that’s another tale) and engineered hardwood in most of the north wing.
I was STUNNED by how well it cleaned.
I made things a little more straightforward by putting the chairs up on top of the dining table, like you do at the end of the shift at the restaurant, and I moved most of the spinning wheels out of the way so it would have fewer obstacles to go around. Then I just watched.
The cats weren’t quite sure what to make of it at first, but after stalking it for a little while, they decided it was harmless and ignored it. It went under the couch and around the table legs and puttered back and forth across the floor for about 45 minutes.
By the time it was done, the microfibre cloth was thoroughly loaded with pet hair and dirt, because I hadn’t done a preliminary sweep with the broom – I wanted to see what it could do by itself. As it went around the room, I did occasionally swipe the dust bunnies off the side, but when it returned the starting point and sang it’s little “all done now” song, I was amazed. The floor felt way cleaner to my bare feet than it does after sweeping: no doubt the effect of having been gone over very slowly with a microfibre cloth rather than quickly with rather tired synthetic broom bristles.
Now that the worst of the dust and dirt were picked up, I filled the little water reservoir at the sink, rinsed and wrung out one of the damp mopping pads, and set Matilda loose again.
(She is called Matilda because the movement of the mopping action looks like a waltz step to me: forward and to the right, back, forward and to the left, back, forward and to the right…)
The damp mopping amazed me even further.
The floor is CLEAN.
I am barefoot, and it feels wonderfully clean. Of course it’s not as clean as having been scrubbed on hands and knees, but it’s way cleaner than I normally get it, even with the steamer. Again, no doubt because it has been gone over slowly and methodically with a damp cloth, rather than quickly and haphazardly with a squishy mop.
And I didn’t have to do any scrubbing. Or sweeping. I washed the mats, since they needed to be picked up anyway and were pretty dusty, and I moved a few things around to clear the path, and that was it. While Matilda swept and mopped, I worked on an assignment that needs to be done for the weekend.
Now, see, you need to realize that I do not like gadgets in general. I used to have a food processor, but I got rid of it: I prefer a bowl and a spoon for mixing and a knife and board or my v-slicer for chopping things. I don’t want a rototiller. I have no need of a panini press or a toaster oven or an electric can opener or any of the fancier gadgets. This high-tech machine is not the kind of thing you’d expect a girl like me to be impressed with. I mean, it sweeps and mops. I can sweep and mop.
Except that when I sweep and mop it costs me spoons. When I sweep and mop, it costs me spoons and even then, it’s not a great job – it’s just enough: never any more than enough, and often not quite enough, truth be told. But I have so few spoons to go around and such a big list of things to do that it gets tough to prioritize floor mopping.
Matilda is not a gadget, see.
Matilda is spoons. In a little black box that meanders across my floor in near silence, quietly sweeping up the mess and leaving me free to spend my spoons on other tasks.
The Reluctant Farmer bought me spoons.
04 September 2013
I love my work.
Hand dyed yarns which will be packaged with my knitting patterns as shawl or sock kits.
Gradient dyed alpaca/wool lopi, which will be weft for a coat/vest/blanket (not sure which yet).
One blanket finished, the next started.
You might be able to tell that the twill direction changes at the centre: if you look at the second blanket, with the lighter weft thread, you can see the diamond that forms at the centre of the dark purple stripe which is the middle of the blanket, that’s where the angles meet. It isn’t particularly noticeable on the first blanket, but it’s showing up nicely on the second.
31 August 2013
How much is ‘enough’?
I’ve had a few realizations lately: one big one being that my constant worry over whether or not I have “done enough” is actually a (really ineffective) strategy for seeking safety. See, if I can just do enough, I tell myself, then I nobody will be angry with me, then I can be sure it will be safe. So I push and push and push myself, trying hard to do as much as I possibly can, and then I exhaust myself, and get resentful and angry and tired, and of course, my attitude annoys everyone who runs into me. And then I say, “See? they are mad! I didn’t do enough! Dammit, I gotta try harder!” It’s one of those self-perpetuating, self-defeating coping strategies that makes perfect sense to a PTSD brain.
Anyway, I’m working on that one.
One of the ways of approaching the issue was to take a good factual look at what I really do each week. I spend a lot of time telling myself I am lazy, that I hardly get a thing done, things are always a mess (that much is true, actually, no matter how hard I try, the housework always leaves a bit to be desired: a combination of a very large house, multiple pets, a farm, and a low-energy-dislikes-housework-in-general cleaning person). But you know, let’s get some hard evidence before we go off making assumptions.
I do have training in the sciences, so I know how to do observations and document what I find. Here is what I discovered:
Monday to Saturday I have chores that show up on a list on my phone: it rotates through different tasks so that everything gets done, for instance, Monday it’s do the north bathroom and the floors in the north wing, Tuesday it’s bathroom and floors in south wing. Plus things like changing sheets (one room one day, another room another day, so it gets spread out), scrubbing down the kitchen properly (white cupboard doors get nasty in very short order), getting hand prints off the walls, that kind of stuff. That work takes about 30 to 40 minutes per day (though it’s gonna go down when my robot gets here! :D).
Then there’s meals: when everyone is here (so half the time) that is taking from 2-4 hours per day! This morning, I got up at 10, had about an hour of housework stuff to do as I was away yesterday and had to catch up, then it was time to make muffins for lunch and get the table set and unload the dishwasher so I could clean up my mess and then eat and then clean up again … and by the time that was all done, it was 12:30. Feeding lunch to all five of us took … an hour and a half. Because of course there was kitchen cleanup in the midst of all that. Dinner today: I went the easy route and did pizza, but again, with all the things I do while it’s in the breadmaker/oven, that was from 4-5:30. When it’s just The Boy and I here (half the time, due to The Reluctant Farmer’s work schedule), it’s considerably less, but still, the 2 hours per day average for meal stuff is probably valid. (It includes me sitting down to eat, as well, but it’s “allocated” time, regardless).
I should do my three pages in my journal every day as well - that takes about half an hour too. My mental health is notably better when I write every day, so this is important to schedule in.
Then chores: in the winter, farm chores are about an hour a day (hopefully less if the new feeders work as I hope), in summer, maybe 15 minutes. But then there is the intermittent outside work, or bigger inside projects, so … call it 30 minutes per day average throughout the year.
So, what’re we at now, 3.5 hours a day? Yeah, approximately. Anywhere from three to five hours per day on just household and farm ‘treading water’. Six days a week, so that’s a minimum of 21 hours. Sundays I still do meal prep and some other things, but I do try to take that day off as much as possible. Since some of the days during the week probably aren’t a full three and a half hours, let’s just say it’s 21 hours per week.
Guess what that amounts to?
That’s a half time job, right there.
I am up and moving by 10 just about every day (I wake up sooner, but I have to lie in bed for awhile and get up slowly, anything else is too hard on my system at this stage of my healing), and we eat around 5-6 pm. So, 10 am - 6 pm is 8 hours: a standard full work day. Three and a half of those hours are allocated to household management and maintenance stuff and mental health maintenance work. That leaves four and a half for other things: working on the shop, weaving, writing, whatever.
And then evenings - when I really do need to be relaxing (right now I’m spending my evenings knitting small things for sale at the craft show in October, which is quite fun - small projects are so rewarding, they get done so fast!).
So what’d I learn from all this?
One, that I’m doing more than I thought I was. Yes, maybe someone else could get all this done faster or more efficiently … but given my current state of health, working fully half time is impressive. Because on top of that half time job I’m also managing Flannelberry Creek, keeping up with my writing, and doing weaving and knitting and dyeing for sale.
So, yay me.
Second, I learned that I have only got about three or four hours in a day that can be allocated to those other jobs of mine - I can arrange it so that I have more time, by planning and having quick and easy meals, for instance, or doing some of the housework a day early, but generally speaking, I shouldn’t try to book more than three hours. Then I’ll have buffer time.
Third, I learned that I can be done by suppertime and know I have, in fact, done a FULL DAY OF WORK and it is okay for me to sit down and rest. This is a big thing for me, as I never feel like I have done enough to justify sitting still and resting. I should do more. I should do more so nobody gets mad.
Right. I am already safe. I did do a good day’s work. I can sit. Right.
Now, I’ll have to see how I handle it when I maintain this pace for a few months: I’m going to keep tracking it for a while and see how things go - my husband says he can tell much sooner than I can when I’m “not coping”, so his information can shorten my feedback cycle. Still, this is a long-range experiment, not a quick “try it for a day or two and see” … more like “live this way for a few months and see”.
But, anyway, it was very educational to actually MONITOR what I was doing for a week. I highly recommend this to anyone else who, like me, feels like they’ve gotten nothing done. :)
You might just surprise yourself!
29 August 2013
A blog post review of The Rookie’s Field Guide
Well, not here here, over there, on the Taylor R’s blog, FlakyMomCrafts.
If you’ve read the Field Guide and have something to say about it, we are still doing our prize giveaway for book reviews posted anywhere: your blog, Goodreads, the place you purchased the eBook, Ravelry (there is a thread in our forum), even post it here in a comment and we’ll put you in the draw for a prize.
27 August 2013
Life is precious.
An online friend made it through breast cancer treatments and a double mastectomy in the last several months. She had reconstruction and the whole nine yards, and she was doing awesome – she even participated in the cold cap study and managed to keep her hair throughout her chemotherapy!
Then, at her follow up appointment, they found cancer in a lymph node ... and the end story is that it's metastasized throughout her chest and surgery isn’t an option, nor is radiation. Chemo may control it for awhile.
She is younger than I am. Brilliant. Married. Fabulously funny and creative and talented. And this.
I am heartbroken.
I am also chastised. I take the gift of my life for granted so often … her struggle is a reminder that I should not do that any more.
The community of friends (most of whom have never met in person) have banded together in support and we are doing what we can to encourage and share our love.
Life is a precious gift. I promise to do my very best to appreciate it from now on.
26 August 2013
What would you tell your grade 7 self?
Someone I know on Ravelry posted a list of the advice she’d have given to younger self … and it really got me thinking.
My 7th grade self was in some turmoil - I had been in split grade classes all through elementary, and they stopped offering that at grade 6, because although our school went up to grade 8 (we had K-8 and 9-12), the 7s and 8s had classes that were more like junior high, so the split didn't work anymore.
Anyhow, I'd sort of gradually migrated up a year in school - my teachers all knew it and I just worked with the more advanced materials and that was that. But then in grade 6 when there were no more advanced materials there for me, I was horribly bored. The school sent me for a bunch of academic testing and the experts came up with this huge complicated educational plan for me that would have made me into an even stranger person than I ended up becoming by completely eliminating any hope of a normal social life. My parents, bless them, said "just put her in grade 7 and be done with it". My principal and teachers agreed, told the experts to stuff it, and I moved across the hall. It was only weird for a few weeks, I'd been in school with all these kids for years anyway so it was not too bad.
But I was always a bit of a misfit, and this made it harder, despite all the kindness and support I was shown. It was hard to be so different.
So, what would I tell that mixed up girl?
I think I'd tell her ...
Not everyone will like you. You don't like everyone else either, so that's cool: find people who DO like you to hang out with and don't change who you are so others will think you are cool. Cool isn't important: integrity is.
Find some way of creating that nourishes your soul. Reading and learning are awesome, you've got those down pat, now find a way to put something INTO the world that adds to the beauty and wonder of the place. And then do that, regularly.
Don't assume you are not creative. Just because you can't draw recognizable stick people doesn't mean you aren't creative. Find other media, other techniques. You need to create things. You just don't know that yet.
If you can look yourself in the mirror and say "I really did try my best", then you have done ENOUGH. Your best is all you can do. If someone else says you shoulda done more, or better, or tried harder, well, ask your SELF if you tried your hardest. If you didn't, and you really were slacking off, well, then try harder next time. But when's the last time you didn't try your hardest? Yeah, I can't remember either. So don't take their judgment of your capabilities as gospel. Only you live in your mind and body. You know. They don’t.
Never date anyone you don't want to be married to for longer than six months. If at six months you don't already know you want to live with this person for the rest of your life, break up and find someone new. Don't waste your time and theirs: you already know you are destined for partnership and not meant to live alone, so treat the search for a loving and supportive partner as the serious, life-impacting task it is. Don't wait for fate to drop someone in your lap. Date "on purpose", don't just fall head over heels by accident. Well, okay, you're going to fall head over heels by accident - you're wired that way. So try to at least set up the accidents so that you're falling for guys who will at least be reasonable candidates for Life Partner. It stinks to fall in love with someone who is utterly ill suited to you as a partner - no matter how awesome and fun they are to be with. Because the rubber meets the road in the end, and then it really, really hurts. Avoid that by being intentional about your romances.
And you really, truly DO deserve someone who will love you for WHO YOU ARE. Who will not see you as a renovation project, or "good enough until something better comes along". He should be your biggest fan and your honest friend and your fun companion. If he makes you feel crummy about yourself, GET OUT FAST. Dating is a *trial run* for long term partnership: if it's not fun at the start, when everything is new and exciting, what on earth makes you think it's gonna get better if you just "try harder" and "suck it up a little more"? Ahem. See earlier conversation about "trying harder".
You are very smart: but you haven’t actually learned how to learn. Find a way to develop those skills now, before you hit university and discover that your brain is a tool that you’ve been using in ‘beginner mode’ all these years, and now you have to learn to make it work in the real grownup world, where information does not just magically soak into your brain out of the ambient atmosphere. School – even high school, even International Baccalaureate classes – is not preparing you for the world of self-directed learning, even though you think it is. Stop coasting, find real challenges, and find them now, while you are young.
There’s probably more … but those would be the big ones.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
25 August 2013
Working on your relationship
The phrase “working on your relationship” has always been a bit of a puzzle to me. I mean, what, exactly, does “working on your relationship” look like? Going to counselling? Having date night once a week? Reading the same book and then talking about it afterwards? I’ve never really been clear.
Well, today I think I have found a new way to look at the whole concept.
One of the major issues in this household is keeping up with the housework. It’s hard to keep things clean – it’s a big house (1100 square feet in the south wing, 1300 in the north), and it’s a farm, so dirt comes in on everything (though we leave shoes at the door). Plus we have pets (with muddy feet and shedding fur), we have open windows that blow in dust, we have a wood stove and the concomitant ashes … it’s dusty and the floors are never clean, no matter how hard one might try. I do try, honestly I do, but it’s hard to keep up with it all and I am always budgeting energy and making trade offs. If something has to get left aside, truthfully, it’s probably gonna be the housework. And this annoys The Reluctant Farmer, who has a not at all unreasonable wish to be able to walk barefoot through the house without picking up a bunch of cat fur on his feet.
The Reluctant Farmer recently got paid for some of the work he’s done for Fire Services, and he decided to put some of that money towards “working on our relationship”. See, if there was a way for the housework to be done more easily, then I would have more energy (and therefore be less stressed and less apt to go over the edge into the craziness that takes me sometimes) and he would have less to be annoyed about (and therefore be more content and less stressed by having to bite his tongue, knowing I can only do so much but still wishing things were a bit tidier). This could only be good for our relationship.
So, for the price of a few counselling sessions, he purchased an automated floor cleaning machine. There is a new machine out that is basically a robotic Swiffer, the Braava. If you have fairly clean floors to start with (i.e. you swept up the bread crumbs and dropped pasta bits and just have a couple of days’ of pet hair and dust on the floor) it can, apparently, keep up and keep things clean by dry mopping and damp mopping.
My job would then be reduced to sweeping up the bigger messes (something I already have no trouble doing), doing a full and proper wash “every so often”, and putting a clean cloth on the little robot and sending it off to mop the floors.
Now see, *this* is what working on your relationship looks like: noting the things that give you headaches and taking action to mitigate the circumstances that lead to trouble.
I think I picked a good guy to marry.
Dyeing in the Garden
We had a lovely day at the Pegg Garden today, dyeing yarn and silk scarves with locally sourced materials.
Fourteen people showed up to play with colour and fibre, and we had beautiful sunny weather for our experiments. I had spent the last couple of weeks preparing dye baths: wood chippings and amur cherry and apple tree prunings (helpfully provided by George Pegg Garden staff), grass clippings (provided by The Boy), thistle and tansy (harvested by me from the ditch), and onion skins and frozen flowers (also provided by the Garden).
The frozen flowers were bundled into a silk scarf before everyone arrived and set to steam, then we chatted about dyeing with plants, and got our yarn into the water baths. We got lovely colours from everything this year!
Then we had our lunch, followed by a tour of the garden led by our intrepid County Horticulturalist, who told us about the kinds of plants we can grow here and showed us samples of many of the ones we were using for dyeing growing right there in the Garden.
While we walked, we harvested materials for the silk scarf dyeing, and then everyone made patterns on their silk and rolled it into a sausage for steaming. We didn’t have enough time to get everything thoroughly steamed, but people could take them home and finish the steaming or leave the bundle to sit for a few days or weeks until the colour develops.
(Yes, that’s a baby sleeping on a blanket under the umbrella. She was an adorable little angel, didn’t cry once the whole day!)
Our yarns came out in fabulous shades – I didn’t get enough pictures, but it really did turn out great. I have more dye bath liquids here at home and some fibre I need to dye for a weaving project, so you’ll be seeing samples soon. The amur cherry prunings gave a really lovely reddish gold that I hope to get more of, and the grass clippings gave more colour than I expected, too! A nice rich brownish green.
I have one more silk scarf steaming now, the one I did for a sample today turned out amazingly well and is at the Garden for show and tell for a little while longer.
… here it is!
It was a lot of fun. Flowers that don’t give much colour in a dye bath extracted for wool can still make fabulous prints on silk, and weeds that you have to cut down anyway make awesome dye baths for colouring your plain yarns. And it’s natural, no nasty chemicals involved, the waste products go in the compost heap … what’s not to love?
19 August 2013
Summer in a Jar
I do buy a lot of my produce at the grocery store – it’s just more convenient than the market. I try to buy Canadian wherever possible, and organic when I can. With canned goods, it gets tougher: we use a lot of canned tomatoes and mushrooms, and I worry about the conditions the workers have been subjected to (particularly in the US, though Canadian growers are not always awesome employers for foreign workers either). So, I do what I can … and I can what I can.
My neighbour dropped off some giant zucchini that had escaped timely harvesting, and at the Fair this weekend there was an extended farmer’s market so I was able to pick up six big bags of tomatoes. Today I have cooked down two of the giant zucchini, some leftover veggies that were in the fridge, and all but two bags of the tomatoes. The resulting ‘thick juice’ gets acidified (for safe canning) and canned in jars – it makes an excellent substitution for a can of crushed tomatoes or tomato juice in soups and stews.
I also got a big bag of sour cherries from a friend, and I made jelly out of those: I actually boiled up the cherries and strained the juice, then returned the pulp to the pot with a few cut up plums that were in the fridge awaiting some sort of fate, and a big jar of crabapple juice from the pantry, left over from the huge crabapple jelly making spree of a few years back. This meant I got three litres of juice from my gallon bag of cherries, and one whole water bath canner full of jam.
The jam and one batch of veggie juice are cooling on the rack, and the crock pot has been filled with the processed juice from several pots of zucchini/tomato/garlic/onion so it can thicken over the next day or so – the crock pot makes a nice gentle but steady heat so it will evaporate down but not scorch. To make the sauce I just cut up the vegetables (I used my awesome mandolin slicer that The Boy got me for Christmas, which made quick-cooking thin slices in no time flat) and cook them with a bit of water to prevent scorching until the whole thing is one big pot of mush. That gets run through the food mill (it needs the medium grate, otherwise too many zucchini seeds make it through), and the resulting juice is either canned as it is (well, with the addition of lemon juice and/or cider vinegar to assure acidity) or put in the slow cooker to thicken, and then canned.
Local tomatoes (and zucchini), and local jelly, eco-friendly and as ethical as I can get it.
18 August 2013
Fair Weekend 2014
We are home from the Fair!
Tired, of course, but we had fun.
I help out at the Bench Show, taking notes for one of the judges and stapling ribbons on the tags and so forth. I helped the Handcrafts judge this year, which I probably shouldn’t do as I have things in those categories, but she didn’t know which things were mine as the tags are all folded up, and I really wanted to hear what she had to say about everything!
There weren’t very many entries this year in the fibre arts categories – local spinners and knitters, join in the fun! A ribbon is nearly guaranteed, and it’s really cool to do. You even get prize money!
Here’s my collection from this year:
The Creamsicle Coat had to be entered in the ‘any hand crafted item’ category, which this year only had one other entry – a lovely wicker basket. It’s so hard to judge apples and oranges that way, but the judge did put first on the coat and she said she liked the use of buttons – there are four different buttons but they do all coordinate. The pink shawl is made with yarn my friend dyed with natural dyes, in the Prism Polygon shawl pattern. I had a few loose strands that should’ve been better woven in, but this was a last minute “oh heavens, what can I enter in this category?” entry so for it to have even gotten a ribbon was exciting for me. The ecodyed scarf took first in the natural dye category, I think mostly because it was so different (the other two were yarns, both very nicely done and the judge had a hard time choosing how to place the whole cateogry – in fact, she left it for last and came back to it, it was that difficult). She liked the subtle colours on the fabric, as do I (this is one of the amur cherry and common ninebark scarves). The merino/silk yarn was up against my friends’ Shetland, which she had done a lovely job of very fine spinning … again the judge had a hard time choosing, but she liked the poofy woolen spun and went with that in the end. The socks took second to my friend’s STUNNING handspun, hand knit shawl – but the judge did comment that the knitting was very even and that it was a good use of Corriedale fibre!
The kids didn’t have as many entries this year, but they came home with ribbons too (including a first place ribbon for the eggs that The Smaller Boy selected and entered, and a second place for the Princess Girl’s chocolate chip cookies). The Boy was busy volunteering and is, in fact, still at the fairgrounds, helping with cleanup.
The Reluctant Farmer was out today with the fire crews, demonstrating how to use a fire hose and putting up the giant sprinkler, which is a huge hit with the kids on a day as warm as today:
Some of the kids were too sandy (from digging in the pile of sand mixed with money that is dumped on the fairgrounds every year by one of the local construction companies, it’s called the Money Pit and it’s great entertainment for the kids) and asked to be hosed down:
So yep, we’re tired, we’ve had a lot of sunshine, and we are, as ever, grateful to all the people who make the Fair possible.
16 August 2013
Sunny Dee: a new shawl pattern available
A little while ago, there was talk in one of my favourite Ravelry groups of the ongoing projects some of us had on the needles that were destined to be gifted to other people. One of the knitters had a whole bunch of things on the go, and said “I wish someone would knit for me!”
Well, I was in the I-need-to-rest kind of place that day, plus I had the sense that there was a new design burbling somewhere in my head that needed to come out. I decided I would be the one to knit for her: I would design and knit a new shawl, and send it off to my knitterly friend.
And, that’s just what I did.
I looked through some pattern books, found a bit of inspiration, and sat down with paper and pencil and needles and yarn and started knitting. I had to restart a few times, as is inevitable when designing, but in the end I came up with a shawl that would knit up quickly in bulky yarn (I finished the prototype that very day), but would also work in finer yarns. As it is a tip-to-tip design, as long as you can divide your pile of yarn in half and the pile is about 200 grams to start with, you’ll end up with something workable.
The shawl is based on garter stitch and the ‘lace’ is just a matter of paired yarn over/knit two together stitches, so it is not complicated at all. The top of the shawl forms a slowly increasing (then decreasing) triangle – you can make it a shallow triangle by working increases/decreases every other right side row, or a more traditionally shaped triangle shawl by working the increases on every right side row. The border is really wide, but a very easy to memorize pattern repeat that forms small points at the bottom edge.
(Yes, those are sheep in the background.)
It’s been made in fine mohair, which creates a beautifully haloed fabric (worn by the knitter’s granddaughter as “her princess cape”), in bulky, super bulky, and worsted weight. All of them look great – hopefully the knitters will add their projects to Ravelry so that you can see them.
The pattern is available now – you can see it on Ravelry or just …
15 August 2013
Another week for George, and a new sheep feeder
George the calf has has his two summers and a winter, and it’s time for his ride to the last stop before the Big Pasture in the Sky. However, he was originally scheduled to go last Friday … but there was a snag at the butcher’s and they needed to rebook to this Friday … and then today when we went to hook up the trailer to the borrowed truck, we found that the hitch ball was the wrong size (and very firmly stuck in place). So, we just rebooked for next Friday when the Cruiser will be home, which we know for sure has the right hitch. George can mow the pasture grass for one more week.
So, instead of heading to the butcher I built a sheep feeder. I’d been doing some research on different feeder shapes, again. The one we’ve been using wasn’t bad: it’s essentially a piece of hog panel stapled to the fence posts with a piece of plywood tied to the back on an angle, making a sort of V shaped trough into which the hay is pitched twice a day. The only problem with that set up is that the bigger sheep climb up on the panels and reach over to eat, which is hard on the panels and sometimes pulls the staples out, and the smaller ones stick their heads right through the squares on the panels and occasionally (or frequently, depending how stupid the particular sheep is) get stuck there. Yanking them out several times a day gets old fast (but they STILL put their heads through).
I was also hoping to find something that could hold a little bit more at one shot, so that I can maybe get down to one feeding per day instead of two. I settled on something like the Premier fenceline feeder, as I think the angled base will help the hay settle to where it’s easily accessible, and with higher sides, I can get it pretty full.
I built a small one in the ‘sleeping pen’ today as a test run, and it worked out pretty well. It wasn’t even all that difficult.
The Boy assisted by cutting a hog panel in half the long way, with the side with the smaller openings being reserved for the base of the feeder (the other piece is actually attached underneath, to serve as a fence and prevent anyone from escaping under the feeder).
The front and back are made from fence boards screwed into fence posts: the back posts were already there, they were part of the original fence, and the front two posts were added today and not pounded in as deep so that the front of the feeder is high enough that the sheep can’t climb up on it (or jump over it).
Two thicker boards (2x4s, well, I think one is a 2x6, but whatever, it’s the 2 that matters) are screwed to the inside of the posts, the front board higher than the back, and the cut hog panel piece laid on them. Fencing staples are hammered over the wires of the panel to hold it to the boards, and then thinner boards are screwed to the inside of the fence posts going up the front and back of the feeder, creating a big trough. I left gaps between the boards to allow air circulation, save on lumber, and let me see how full the feeder is without having to go outside and peer down into it.
Here is a sheep’s eye view:
I can probably lower the whole thing a little bit, most of our sheep are pretty short. I’m also going to cut the hog panel one more ‘square’ up from the bottom on the next one, making the angled base a little bigger in area.
The hay is going to fall through and collect on the ground under the feeder, but the sheep will eat that stuff too – they do quite well eating off the ground, actually, if they don’t end up lying in it. We’ll see how these go – the plans actually call for a tray underneath to catch the hay as it falls through, so that’d be another option (I figured the ground made a perfectly acceptable tray … we’ll see).
This is a small one and won’t hold very much hay at one shot – hopefully if I extend the bases on the long row of feeders I have yet to build, I can widen the whole assembly a little and get a bit more in at one time.
It’s really hot out today, but it was good to get this done. I’ve wanted to have a feeder next to the sleep shelter for some time now, because we can use that area as a catch pen (with a little creative fencing, which is on the list of things to do before winter as well). If you fill that feeder, everyone will run into the pen and then you just slam the gate before they figure out that you are trying to catch them in there. Sheep are very easily bribed with food.
Okay, that’s enough hard work for one day … I’m going to go rest now!