Happy Halloween!

Steve and I enjoy an ongoing game of “arcane book ideas”.   Yesterday, it was The History of Halloween.  I wonder if that book’s ever been written?  In our neighborhood, trick or treating was commuted to Sunday.  There was a block party followed by an hour and a half of trick or treating at certain houses designated by orange and black balloons tied outside.  It was a very organized affair.  An informative flier went out a week ago with a tear-off response section on the bottom.  There was even a neighborhood bank account set up to receive contributions.  As far as I could tell, the block party was moved indoors because of rain.  The barricades remain on the parkway and never went up.  But we could hear the children, teens, and parents slogging through the drizzle in the dark.

Halloween is a big thing here in the Midwest.  I lived in California for 15 years and never saw more than a dozen trick-or-treaters.  (Okay, spell check didn’t like that term and offered me an alternative: trick-or-anteaters.  Can you imagine?  Love the visual on that idea!)  Maybe people there are just way too suspicious of their neighbors and scared to let their children roam.  We were.  My husband used to reminisce about trick-or-treating in his cul de sac with the parents following doing their own trick-or-drinking.  Candy for the kiddies, cocktails for their parents.  Very Californian.  My mother was the most unpopular Halloween hostess on the block.  She kept trying to think of low-sugar alternative treats.  Most years, it was little boxes of raisins.  One year, it was balloons.  Deflated ones.  This was before choking hazards got much press.  Another year, it was nuts in the shell.  Again, before nut allergies got much press.  I was always so embarrassed (and disappointed) by our “candy bowl”.  She was adamant about limiting sugar for the sake of our teeth long before healthy choices were fashionable.  She was also a stickler for sunscreen before SPF was displayed on every bottle.  Now that I’m almost 50, I should thank her every time I look in the mirror and a full set of teeth and a smooth pair of cheeks smile back.

In my day, Halloween had very few rules.  You went to school in costume, partied all day, and then trick-or-treated all night (or for as long as your mom would let you).  When my kids were young, that was the initial routine.  Then the village posted trick-or-treat hours, usually from 4-7pm.  Then there was the year that parents and teachers decided that too much instruction time was being lost on this dress up holiday with occult overtones.  So they had each grade level run a study-themed costume and activity day.  The third graders were doing a prairie unit, so they all dressed in pioneer outfits and made corn-husk dolls and bobbed for apples and that kind of thing.  The fifth graders were doing a Native American unit, so they wove tiny patches of yarn onto looms, deciphered symbols, and ate popcorn.  I really liked the idea.  They got to dress up and have treats and play games, but they were very creatively centered on specific social studies units.  I was rather a serious mom myself.  But my kids got candy.  Sacks of it.  And I raided their stash every year.  One year, when my oldest was just a toddler and we were living in California, I bought some Halloween candy (Mounds, my favorite) and ended up dipping into it myself before the big night.  I figured we wouldn’t get many visitors anyhow.  Well, we got a few more than I expected, and I ran out of candy.   So when the doorbell rang, my darling daughter ran to the door to see the costumes.  “We don’t have any more candy because my mom ate it all,” she explained.  Well, at least I taught her honesty.

I enjoyed my part at the Nature Center as the witch.  I’m glad we did it two weeks ago when the weather was a bit drier and warmer.  The prosthetic nose and chin were rather a pain.  My pointy toed boots were even worse, though, after three hours on my feet.  But the wide-eyed little tykes in fairy wings and hockey gear were just as adorable as ever.  I will never get tired of playing dress up…or eating chocolate.

Mixing It Up

“Politics and science don’t mix.”  “Religion and science don’t mix.”

These are comments posted on an article about a skeptical physicist who researched global warming under a grant provided by the Charles Koch foundation and found that land temperatures are indeed rising.  I read this article not long after reading an MSNBC article entitled “Do Science and Politics Mix?”.  It focuses on some comments made by Mitt Romney and their interpretation by Lawrence Otto, author of Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America.  He says that today’s political framework is based on “values” rather than facts.  In other words, politicians are dogmatic about certain positions that they figure will stand them firmly in the good graces of their constituents and tend to dismiss scientific challenges.

Well, hell, what is science for if not to inform your decisions and opinions about politics and religion and education and health and economics and…everything?  I mean, why bother to make observations at all if you’re going to ignore them?  Why not just walk around blindfolded?  And the same goes for science itself.  Let your political and religious and educational and economic observations inform your decisions and opinions about science.  It doesn’t make sense to be dogmatic in any of these areas.

Isn’t our world an interconnected web of infinite variables?  There will always be more data to gather and look at, and there will always be vast areas where we have no data at all or no conclusive data.  Mystery still abounds.  But the point is, keep your eyes and ears and mind open.  Make your decisions and form your opinions with as much humility and flexibility as you can muster.  Always be willing to entertain and embrace new information and ideas.

What would you call that posture?

Squirrels are like fiddlers on the roof: light on their feet

Well, the media calls it “flip-flopping” or “waffling”.  The media seems to like dogma and dislike progressives.  People are fed up with the status quo and call for change, but those who embrace change are mistrusted and “hog-tied” by various conflicting structures.  So we get nowhere new.  What a pity.  What a waste.

Have you ever heard the Zen koan, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”?

If you believe you have the correct image of what it means to be Enlightened, you’re wrong.  Throw it out and keep practicing and meditating.  As applied to our political situation: if you believe you have the correct platform to reform America, you’re wrong.  Throw it out and keep listening to the people, keep observing the environment in the cities and the farms, keep choosing and deciding and recording consequences. Keep moving forward.  Even if something seems to work, things will change.  Review and renew.  Be light on your feet.

Now, who’s got the courage to do that?

My Biology, My Self

There’s one question that keeps coming up, begging for my attention.  “Who am I?”  Perhaps this is a Socrates Cafe revolving door.

How much do you identify with your body?  Or your gender?  Or your ego?  How much do you identify with your Big ‘S’ Self?

What’s a Big ‘S’ Self as opposed to a small ‘s’ self (or what I call the Big Ass self)?  Steve describes it like the tip of a pyramid.  It has a base, but sits on top of a much, much bigger base –  The Big ‘S’ Self  – which is all about simply recognizing the world as it is without trying to impose any ego imprints on it.  My question today is “Where does my biology fit in?”  At almost 50 years of age, I certainly recognize how my biology has impacted life as I experience it.  It seems intrinsic to my being.  I couldn’t possibly imagine being a man.  My reproductive cycles, my hormonal moods, my childbirth experiences, my posture of surrender, my physical life and psychological attitudes that arise from that seem to be very much “me”.  And yet, all of that is in flux, changing all the time, even while The Change is looming in my not-too-distant future.  So maybe there’s a Big ‘S’ Self that isn’t affected by all that.  Would that be my soul?

How do I bring my Self and my self into a relationship?  How do I interact with someone else’s Self and self?

Sometimes it seems like it would be so much simpler just to have a body without such a brain dominating it.  Eat, sleep, have sex, die.  Nothing to philosophize about.  Sometimes it seems like I’m trying too hard to live well.  Morally.  Conscientiously.


Steve surprised me.  He bought me a picture book about a baby elephant.  It came in the mail today.  Sometimes the simplest thing is just to accept a gift….like life.

Living on the Land – or a few feet above

I am considering bird feeding options.  I would love to have some cardinals visit our small south yard this winter.  They do anyway, but I want to encourage them to linger a while and refresh themselves.  I stopped in at a wild bird and pet shop to look over some of the products.  I was pretty much appalled at the prices.  Suburban homeowners around here spend a lot of money on their yards.  I am only an unemployed renter, so I’m going the DIY route.  We have a weathered old wicker chair frame and a CD storage chest that have been sitting outside for a few seasons.  I’ve decided to try to build a feed station using them.  Recycling, don’t ya know. So I went online to read up on bird feeders and squirrels.  There seems to be a conflict among humans as to the desirability of squirrel activity in proximity to our dwellings.  They are amazing animals who don’t mind being observed.  They also have been known to move in with us humans and destroy property.  I see squirrels in the trees and in the garbage around the duplex, but so far there haven’t been any signs of them moving into the attic and eating books.  I want to keep it that way.  I don’t think the squirrels need any assistance in finding food around here, so I’d like to provide a food that’s not attractive to them but will be attractive to cardinals and other song birds.  I’ve read that safflower seeds may be just the thing.  So this is my goal: to construct a platform feeder using the chair and storage chest parts and buy safflower seed for the winter.  Then we’ll see what the birds and squirrels do.

Do these guys care about Game 7?

Might Itchy-Twitchy become tempted to move inside?

Even if I didn’ t do a thing, I’d still have cardinals and squirrels as my neighbors. I doubt my project is going to make a difference in their survival over the winter.  I don’t imagine that I have any role as a wildlife manager in this situation.  I could pat myself on the back and say I’m being wildlife friendly, in a way.  But it’s not that big a deal.  I’m really only doing it for my own amusement.  I often wonder at the decisions and efforts I’ve made to be eco-minded.  For example, the online petitions and letters to my congressional representatives urging them to take certain actions on various pieces of legislation.  Does that really make a difference?  So far, I’ve noticed that it only generates more junk mail from Republican officials who write to thank me for my input and inform me that they have no intention of doing what I suggest.  I could take the next step and send money to the originators of these petitions, but I have no income at this time and have therefore decided not to do that. I don’t know what effect that might have if I did.  I have moments when my idealism dares me to hope great things, and then I have moments when my realism admits the futility of my individual efforts.

Making ripples that travel in unknown directions.  Will we contribute to a tidal wave?  Will we send a blessing bobbing toward a distant shore?   We have no way to know.  I do my best to have good intentions.  I hope my Buddha smile makes the world a kinder place somehow.



Despite it’s governor, Wisconsin is a great state.  There’s biological diversity, geographical diversity, seasonal diversity, National Forests, and culture (and I don’t mean just cheese!).  It’s really a great place to live and explore.   Today, we climbed up to the top of the shrine at Holy Hill.  We had been there before, one January when there was a wedding going on.  The steeple tower was closed and the stairs were covered with ice, so we peeked into the chapel only and didn’t get the full view.  I’m glad we went back because this is worth the 178-plus steps!

Not far from the Hill is a county park with trails for hiking, cross country skiing, and snowmobiling.

I really love the seasons here – yes, even winter.  It’s not like people in Wisconsin stay indoors for 6 months.  They go out anyway.  I just wish that fewer of them used gas-powered toys as part of their recreation.  These fall days, though, are almost too precious to bear.  The sun is still warming us enough to make hours out in the chilly air pleasant, and I hesitate to come inside at all.  Nights are coming on sooner and colder, though.  We go to bed earlier; we eat more.  We muse about hibernating like bats in their caves.  And we love the whole thing.  Change.  The Earth.  Being alive.  I am grateful for it all.

The Sound of Silence

I was at the Wehr Nature Center this morning with a group of 11 first graders, looking for ingredients to cook up a batch of soil.  Soil.  It’s one of the two most precious substances on this planet (along with water).  We wouldn’t have anything to eat if it weren’t for soil.  So why not teach first graders to appreciate it?  We went out on the trail to find the living and non-living ingredients in soil.  It’s been raining pretty heavily and steadily this week, so all the trails are soft with soggy wood chips and all the leaves are damp.  Suddenly, I noticed something: silence.  The cloud cover and the moisture and the dropping temperatures are keeping people away, I surmised.  After waving goodbye to the kids, I decided to spend an hour on the trails alone, relishing the quiet.

There is a graciousness to quiet.  It’s very hard to cultivate in an urban setting.  Noise pollution is ubiquitous, so mostly we deny it.  I am particularly aware of this functional denial because I employ it every moment.  I have a cyst on the arachnoid membrane beneath my skull.  I discovered this about 6 years ago when I went to the doctor with tinnitus and got an MRI.  My hearing was tested, and I got a follow-up image 6 months later.  Basically, the cyst has put some pressure on my auditory nerve and caused the ringing in my right ear.  It’s not growing, and I don’t get headaches, so I opted to leave it alone.  I have ringing in both ears now, but it’s not usually a recognizable tonal ringing, more of an ‘ocean sound’ that causes some hearing difficulties.  It’s very easy to ignore.  When is life ever so quiet that you’d hear the blood rushing in your ears?  The only time that it bothers me is when I am lured by the elusive possibility of complete silence.  Sort of like light pollution.  When does light bother you except when you are lured by the elusive possibility of a perfect starry night?  Or when you’re trying to fall asleep?  And when is it ever a good time to have elective brain surgery??  Certainly not while my husband was dying, and certainly not now when I don’t have medical insurance.  So I’ll skip it.

But stillness and quiet at the side of a pond is a magical gift.  I did startle some mallards who were hiding by the reeds.  Two flew away, but the other two just paddled a few feet out and then turned around.  I came quite close to a fat, male cardinal and a red-headed woodpecker.  I got the feeling that everything was in a subdued mode.  The colors were muted, the sounds were muted, animal activity was less raucous than usual.  A holy hush, perhaps.

The Lord is in his holy temple, let the all the earth be silent before him. (Hab. 2:20)

That reminds me of my Dad.  So did the cardinal.  Dad could whistle the cardinal’s song and used it to call us to attention.  I learned to do it, too.  (My kids probably hate the sound, but it works.)  Who do you think of in silent moments?  What calls to you out of silence?

In Search of a Good Life

I am reading a book called Back from the Land: How Young Americans Went to Nature in the 1970s, and Why They Came Back by Eleanor Agnew.  I am glad to have found this book at the beginning of my homesteading research.  Many of the reasons hippies started a “back-to-the-land movement” are the same reasons I have for being drawn to that kind of life in this decade.  I, too, am fed up with capitalism, the technologically-driven status quo, agri-business, election politics and the failure of progressive promises.  I have the desire for freedom, natural good health, self-sufficiency, community, sustainable living and a gentle relationship with the land.  If these motivators moved more than one million Americans in the 70s from urban lifestyles into homesteads, communes and small farms, why aren’t they still there?  “A study by the Stanford Research Institute estimated that ‘from four to five million adults were wholeheartedly committed to leading a simple life and that double that number adhered to and acted on some but not all of its basic tenets.”  Economic uncertainly fueled some survivalist rationales in that decade and could certainly be applicable today, right?  What happened in the “Me Generation” that brought these people back into the consumerist culture?

I’m only on Chapter 5, but I’m beginning to see the pendulum of privilege to poverty coming into play.  The homesteading hippies were largely white middle class folk who had no family experience of farming or living on the land.  The longer they stayed out there, the more “improvements” they began to incorporate into their lives.  The authors writes that she and her husband spent all of the capital they had on land ($1,000 for 62 acres in Maine!) and planned to heat their cabin with wood.  Their house in the city didn’t sell until late November, so it was December when they moved into the 34 x 24 foot log cabin heated with one wood stove.  The temperature inside the house was largely unaffected by the one stove, so they bought another stove and stayed with neighbors for 10 days until the thermometer hit 60 inside.

You could say that most of these folks were naive about the realities of nature.  Living more closely with natural surroundings means living more closely to natural processes.  Weather.  Change.  Unpredictable events.  Death.  I suppose being realistic would be to decide well in advance how you would prepare for certain conditions and how you would accept conditions for which you were not prepared.  And then to do the preparing you could do.  Am I prepared to be cold or injured or repulsed by sights, smells and sensations?  Am I prepared to be afraid?  Am I prepared to experience failures and setbacks on many levels?  Do I want the freedom of danger?

Is it all golden leaves and smiles?

There are also pages and pages of first hand accounts that assert that the years spent homesteading were the best years of life.  For many, the positives far outweighed any negative memories.  So the question for our next Summit Meeting is: How do you want to live?  And I want details as well as values.  Do we have electricity? Plumbing?  Do we slaughter animals?  How will we use money?  How will we build community?

I don’t want to say that somewhere out there is a perfect way of life.  I’m not sure that is true.  I want to say instead that in the discussions and efforts and experiences of this process, we will find ourselves living.  Let that be the epiphany we celebrate.

Suffering Attachment

Today was a cottage industry day.  Mondays are good days to get all the book orders from the weekend off to the Post Office.  It’s always interesting to peruse the stack and see who’s buying what and where it’s going.  Today there was a book on mourning going out.  I couldn’t help myself, I had to look into the table of contents and see what helpful and insightful pearls of grief I may have missed.  Philosophical or practical nuggets on this subject still pertain, right?  So there I was, reading about identity and widowhood, and it still struck a chord.  How am I almost 50 years old and still not sure who I am?  I have been working really hard on this for 3 and a half years now.  I am working on updating relationships, working on being as honest as I possibly can in order to face myself and my changes directly.  I am working on my memories a bit more slowly, I suspect, because I don’t live with my kids who share those memories, and I don’t mention all the ones that occur to me when I’m with Steve (not that he’d object in any way).  What do I mean by “working on my memories” anyway?  Well, I guess I mean identifying the emotions associated with them.  Maybe the primary work is the identification of attachment and expectation and the acknowledgement of the suffering that produces.

Jim was my first love, my high school sweetheart, my only husband, and my best friend for 30 years.  I expected to be reminded of that head-over-heels falling in love stage on a daily basis for the rest of my life.  It’s starting to fade.  I see my daughter and her boyfriend together, and I am reminded of that youthful, giddy feeling…and I realize that I don’t feel it anymore.  It’s an attachment I developed.  It’s not necessary in any way.  Many people don’t feel that way and never did.  Why can’t I just get over it already?  Jim was a singer.  He sang to me frequently.  I expected to be serenaded throughout my life, I suppose.  It’s not happening.  I miss it.  The fourth finger of my left hand feels occasionally naked, and I will twirl the phantom ring that is no longer there with the surrounding fingers every once in a while.  I wish I could just stop doing that.  In brainstorming with my kids about possible homestead arrangements, it feels weird that Jim isn’t part of that family meeting.  I suspect that I have a million small expectations and maybe a couple of dozen rather large ones that I have not been able to exorcize.

Grief seems to be the gift that just keeps on giving.  My identity was very much associated with being Jim’s wife, and I am working on getting to know myself as just myself.  And I keep on working.  Here are a few things I know about me:  I am a visual person; I like pictures.  I like figuring out how to do stuff.  How do you treat deer skin after you’ve field dressed your kill, and turn it into leather? (I wake up in the middle of the night wondering about stuff like that.  No kidding.)  I am an introvert.  I managed to live without “partying” and “dating” for my entire life so far.  I am a “natural woman”.  What do you mean by that?  I liked getting pregnant and having babies.  I like taking care of people.  I like preparing food.  I also like being silly and childlike and entertaining.  I like sensual experiences: fragrance, textures, tastes, sounds, sights, juxtapositions.  I like enjoying them unhurried.  I have a million insecurities and anxieties and a huge desire to be a good person.  I have fantasies of being really good at something and recognized for it.  I am a bit on the “dreamy” side and rather afraid of meeting the world head on, but I work hard at being practical.  Relationships are really important to me.  I want to be loved, and I want to be loving.

I like camping and building fires.

And all of this might change.  What happens if I get to know me and get attached to me and then develop Alzheimer’s like my dad did?  Best to stay light on my feet and light in my thinking, not get dogmatic about it.

Life is suffering and life is wonderful.  And sometimes I just feel sad about the attachments I’ve developed.  And that’s the truth.

Functional family time

I love my family.  I love hanging out with my kids and doing stuff together.  I visited my “twins” (they’re 2 years apart, but they are best friends) in their new location for the first time this weekend.  My youngest was there as well.  We played in the dirt and planted trees, we played on the roof and planted an antenna, we sang, we brainstormed, we drew pumpkin decorating designs, we walked the dog, we ate pizza and drank wine, we watched a Bears game.  And we talked.  About dreams, about their dead dad, about relationships, about farting, about how children learn to talk, and how growing up is an organic and holistic process.  My favorite thing was that my youngest daughter remarked that she is so happy that she doesn’t feel the need to hide anything from me anymore.  We’ve been through a lot together, my kids and I.  Can I say that they are my best friends?  For someone who thought she had no friends, this is a happy epiphany.

Girls play in the dirt, too

I invested a lot in my relationships with my kids.  My youngest was in junior high when I started my first full-time job.  Ever.  I am forever grateful to my husband for making it possible for me to be at home all those years.  The world my kids will inherit will be a different place.  Things are changing, protests are raging, systems will fail and fall.  And that’s all good.  In order to feel “safe”, it seems like options spread out between building a fortress of security and being light on your feet.  Maybe the best of that spectrum is having an inner fortress that includes confidence in being loved and an outer flexibility of skills and adaptability to change.  We are each of us working on building those things, and we support each other in our growth.  The dream we have is to live together somewhere, on some land, in some place and work on that in community.  Right now, we are all renters in 4 different places in two states.  Some day, we’d like to be on a multiple-family homestead supporting  ourselves (and perhaps others) sustainably.

“Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow.  All it takes is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground.”  And hard work.  And a dream.  And love.  I am grateful for inspiration and pioneers like the Dervaes family and for reminders to stay open in the process.  We are pointing our canoe and paddling.  We’ll see where we get to.


Because I’m going on the road today to visit my children, I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the internet.  So here’s my suggestion: spend the time you may have spent reading my blog checking out this website.


This family is amazing.  They settled in an urban house in Pasadena in 1985 and converted it to a working small farm that produces nearly all of their food and subsistence needs, including biodiesel, clothing, health care products, and much more.  They now have an institute and do educational outreach all over the country.  Having lived in Southern California myself for 11 years, I find this fascinating.  I hope you’re inspired.